On Sunday, I wrote The Origins of the 242 Method. When all is said and done, I wanted the 242 Method to be an eBook about my “go-to” program. And after I wrote the first part Sunday, my mind was whirling with ideas. But when I opened up the Word document Wednesday morning, I was blank. Completely. Blank.
After whining and throwing temper tantrums for an hour, I did something I should have done from the get-go: I breathed, I read Rework, and I simplified.
Rework is my baby because it reminds me that compelling need not be complex. And that there’s no harm in breaking down individual thoughts into individual sections. And that one sentence in itself can be one small idea, not necessarily conjoined to its surroundings. And that starting a sentence with “and,” even if three in a row, is quite alright.
So instead of trying to architect a grand piece of prose, I simply broke each of my thoughts down and said what needed to be said.
The organization is a bit skewed. Some ideas are repeated. But I kind of like how it turned out.
The Philosophy of the 242 Method
The downfalls of choice
Every week, I try a different coffee because I can. Because the selection is available.
When it comes to training and hopping from program to program and exercise to exercise, even the littlest bit of equipment gives multitudes of choice.
This past year alone I program hopped. Yeah, me. The same guy that once compared program hopping to clubbing baby seals.
We can’t run from choice, or our desire to try different things, without causing problems. Instead, embrace it.
The fitness industry’s problem
The fitness industry has a problem. Not an information problem, but a direction problem. There are so many paths; the paths themselves are overwhelming—even though they all lead to the same place.
Popular set exercise programs
Most programs out there are three or four day per week training routines centered around the squat, bench press, overhead press, and deadlift.
They are popular because they are safe, reliable, and generally decent programs. For an average person, they are almost fool proof.
If I recommend one to you—a popular practice—and you don’t see results, you’re at fault. Not me. So they are always recommended to people looking for programs.
It’s just like any recommendation. It better be reliable. No one recommends a crapshoot. No one refers a friend to a new restaurant unless they visited it themselves and have verified its worthiness.
People hate choice. But they love thinking they have the ability to choose. So even if a program has choice built in, no one really wants it.
They want to know what rowing variation to use. They want to know the best bench press assistance exercise. They want to know how many sets and reps to do.
They want to do what’s best. And since they trust the program maker, it’s the maker’s job to take decisions out of their hands.
People want reliability. They want their chocolate chip cookies to be the same as everyone else’s. They want to fit in with the masses.
But this is short lived.
Initially, no one really wants choice. They just want the feeling of having choice. But eventually, everyone wants the actual choice. Safe and reliable programs are only appealing for a little while. And when that little while ends, riskier “new age” becomes appealing.
The same thing that attracts eventually repels.
The classic four day per week template—regardless of the specifics—is usually an upper and lower body split with one main focus daily. Assistance work and other shenanigans are thrown in to enhance the main exercise. So all four days end up being rather exhaustive.
Take an overhead press day, for example. After doing overhead presses, assistance exercises like upright rows, lateral raises, dips, and skull crushers fill in the rest of the workout. But because they are designated as “assistance,” they are usually taken to failure.
But assistance work is assistance for a reason. Does it make sense to expel so much muscular and nervous energy performing it?
Rethinking traditional scheming
On most four day templates, each day has some mentally stressful or boundary pushing exercise, whether it’s repping out a main lift or taking an assistance lift to failure.
There’s also exercise overlap. Rows and chins intertwine with front squats and deadlifts. Just because something is “upper” and something is “lower” doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive.
So there’s mental recovery and physical recovery issues on most four day programs.
Rethinking assistance work
If assistance work is nothing more than assistance, should it be taken to failure? Or is going through the motions with some intensity and meaning “enough?”
Wouldn’t training it exhaustively turn it into a main exercise?
From a mental and energy expenditure perspective, most people put more stock into assistance lifts because they aren’t as physically demanding. Is it sensible?
If turkey is the main attraction on Thanksgiving, shouldn’t it get the most prep attention?
What if the turkey was left to burn in favor of concocting a slew of mashed potatoes? And the mashed potatoes were awesomely presented in massive proportions? (I’m not sure I would complain about this.) Wouldn’t the potatoes—a usual side dish—now be the main attraction?
Shouldn’t the side dishes compliment, and not exhaust, the main dish?
The concept of main lifts
I think the concept of main lifts is a bit dysfunctional because everyone associates “main lift” with barbells. Why can’t a chin-up be a main lift? A dip?
The popular answer to this is: they can’t be loaded or progressed as easily, readily, or tangibly.
Does that automatically bump them down to a second tier of care?
By the same logic, using front squats as a main lift over back squats freaks some people out. But does it matter if the back squat can be loaded more?
The front squat can be overloaded by the same mechanism (barbell and plates) and it’s still a squat.
Isn’t that what matters?
All about the weird
The fitness industry is in a mass rut. Go to any beginner forum and see how many people recommend either Starting Strength or 5/3/1.
Hint: it’s a lot because they are safe, reliable, and easy choices.
If you can’t progress on these program, well then that’s your problem. After all, everyone else progresses.
But do they?
And what did people do before these programs existed?
Sadly, I’ve even fielded questions like, “is it possible to get strong without Starting Strength?”
Of course it is. But everyone (or so I’m told), in today’s world, does Starting Strength.
But I’m not interested in everyone anymore. I’m interested in those that are willing to de-conceptualize the idea of main and assistance lifts.
I want to talk to those that have weighted muscle-ups as their “main lift,” because they’re bold enough to break away from the pact and create new methods.
Even assuming a traditional four day split centered around the bench press, overhead press, squat, and deadlift, why are each separated on their own day? Can’t they be tiered?
Day One – Squat, Bench, Best Squat Assistance, Best Bench Assistance
Day Two – Deadlift, Overhead Press, Best Deadlift Assistance, Best Overhead Press Assistance
That way there’s only two big mentally and physically taxing days per week.
Of course, the question then becomes, “What do I do the other days of the week?”
My response: “Does it matter?”
High level athletes
Go heavy or go home.
That’s the modus operandi of most lifters. But perhaps it’s why Pavel and Mark Reifkind can joke about something they call the “tough guy cycle”: Heavy, heavier, even heavier, injury, light…(this originally appeared on Tim Ferriss’s blog).
Some people are adverse to “light” days.
But nearly all high level athletes have “light” days. Sprinters jog and do aerobic work when they aren’t sprinting at max speed.
“Light” days promote blood flow and recovery to tissues stressed the day prior. Even though the same muscles are trained, the lower intensity work becomes somewhat stimulating, meaning they feel better after having done it.
The 48 hour rule states a muscle needs 48 hours to recover.
The 48 hour rule needs to die.
What if I do one set of squats at 60% of my max weight for 50% of my max reps? How much recovery do I need?
How do I walk up steps after a heavy squatting session if my muscles need 48 hours to recover?
Lighter workouts are side dishes to the main course. Sometimes, they just need to be there. And most times, the meal is never ruined by their presence, but rather enhanced.
The big problem
People want cookie cutter. They want to fit in with the masses. That is, until they see someone with a gigantic unique cookie and get jealous.
It’s like learning how to drive. When you first learn, you can’t look anywhere but the immediate road in front of you. One year later, you’re texting and mooning school busses.
Set programs only work as long as we’re comfortable with the settings. The fact that the program works is secondary.
Although contradictory, people rarely want something that works. They want immediate progress.
How many people abandon ship after realizing that doing 5/3/1 and starting at a 10% drop off means it will be months before any sign of progress is had? A lot. And one of the many reasons people don’t start at the 10% drop.
And since no program, unless you’re a beginner, yields immediate results, long term results are irrelevant.
Any set program, no matter how well constructed, gets boring.
This quest for immediate progress fuels program hopping. New exercises lend themselves to immediate results and instant gratification, so everyone wants to incorporate them into previously set programs.
“When should I do “x” exercise in “y” program.”
In nearly every case, however, progress isn’t a result of assistance exercise. The assistance work is there only because it’s expected to be there and it gives a semblance of choice.
You can’t have a hotdog stand without hotdogs. But most hotdog stands have condiments. Are condiments necessary? No. But they’re there.
Instead of having “main lifts” and “assistance lifts,” it’s better to have three categories:
Best – A select “forever” lifts—the one’s you never want to stop doing. It could be as little as two or as many as four.
Better – A pool of useful lifts that interest you that you wouldn’t mind regularly doing without as much focus as the Best category.
Good – Where most things are, especially those things that don’t readily interest you.
A better program
Consistency is one the most important aspects of any program. So the best program is one that promotes consistent training with the Best lifts.
Having four mind blowing days is a tough operation because four days of the week you have to be “on.” What if you slept bad? Had to stay up late? Had bad eating patterns?
And you have to show up. What if you can’t make it to the gym one day? Bye bye consistency.
So on most programs, four days consume your week. Hair cuts are rescheduled. Doctors appointments, cancelled. And before you know it your entire week is shot because your schedule revolves around four days that have to be perfectly planned to maximize results on each day.
A note on frequency
I’m looking at hockey schedules right now—one of the most grueling sports, schedule-wise—and more often than not, there aren’t more than three games per week.
Yet we choose to have four heavy, mind blowing sessions per week. We’re afraid of training the entire body in one session and we’re afraid of foregoing our wonderful assistance exercises. And the only way to accommodate both is to spread the workload over four days.
Power of two
Sticking to just two “heavy” days per week—not to be confused with two total training days per week—does a few things.
- It means we only have to be “on” and “in the game” half the time.
- It promotes consistency. Bring it twice, that’s all.
- It’s easy to work around schedule conflicts.
- It makes recovery easier.
- It promotes experimentation.
- It keeps the focus where it should be.
- It gives you time to have fun and experiment with other things.
- It means you only have to have two perfectly planned days instead of three or four.
The other days
What about the other one, two, or three days of training? What should be done on those days?
Whatever you want.
CONCLUSION AND THANKS
The finalized 242 Method will be rolled out within — fingers crossed — the next month (with a new website). And I wanted to say thanks.
I take each comment to this blog seriously, and I respect everyone’s opinion. Rarely does a comment go by that doesn’t get my reply, holding true to Facebook, Twitter, and even email. I can’t thank you enough for participating and sharing your opinions. It’s an honor to get to know all of you more and more simply from your participation.
I’m going to release the 242 Method for free if enough interest is sparked. Is there anything that YOU would want in a book about a specific training method? What areas of programming are lacking coverage in the fitness world?
Enjoy this article? See the first one in the series -> The Origins of the 242 Method (Why Cheese is Like Exercise).