So far we have looked at four program design tips John has to offer (see here, and here) now we might like to take a more specific look at (one can assume one of many) periodization technique/s, entitled the “AIT Formula”. Johns periodization program comes from two main beliefs:
- Not believing in peaking.
- Related to 1., he doesn’t really believe in periodization.
He claims these beliefs to be heretical, but he does explain: (1) – he states that there people who have peaked, but many more so who have attempted to peak and failed, the exmaple he provides is the Olympics. Many athletes have their worst performance in years at such games, and while John concedes it might be the pressure, which he’s ok with, he also notes it could be that the pressure comes from the “imagined need to peak, the change in training to allow a peak, and, ultimately, the pressure to respond to the need to peak.” (p. 118) Regarding (2)- he states that all the number crunching, graphs, charts and percentages doesn’t get poundage on the bar, that perhaps there is a part of ‘paralysis by analysis’ going on here. John states his periodzation model accounts for that pesky little thing called life, which can often get in the way of the most organized program, it’s a three stage system:
Transformation (John, 2009, 118)
John’s periodization schema are seemingly more meta than simply advocating linear, or undulating periodization, his methods are life lessons one brings to a life-time of training, competition and self improvement, as such his series will take on a different tone than simply parroting the science.
Part 1: Accumulation
John’s phase one is about what he feels most programs are lacking; variety. He’s talking more than simply varying from the decline to incline for pec development, he’s talking about walking on the treadmill, then doing a few sets of benches and a few machines then hitting the steam room (p. 119).
This is far from an overstatement. The first part if the AT formula is accumulation, and doing just a few exercises a year is the antithesis of what I’m hoping you’ll adopt. Accumulation is actively seeking and learning new sports, lifts, moves, ideas and games. One literally accumulates a number of new training moves and attempts a low level of mastery of each. (John, 2009, 119)
John states this is a design we practiced often as children, playing various games both organized and not, developing different skill sets, working different energy systems, and it’s an art, he says we need to look for again. But, more than simple variation, this is about new skill sets, new training concepts, new challenges, both to our training and our philosophy. He states that the general idea of variation is to change, as we mentioned, bench press positions, but what he’s asking is to consider is a sport, if you lift weights try a powerlifting or Olympic lifting comp, if you have done that, try a triathlon. The very act of entering these competitions will open your training up to principles and practices you haven’t tried before. Even if it is the simple lesson: “seek out new training concepts – not only to add variation, but also to challenge our long-held notions of strengths and weaknesses.” (p. 120) This is the idea of accumulation versus simple variation.
The Rules for Accommodation
Try something new. Join a team, a club, a sport, or take up a new hobby. Meet new people; learn some new skills and have fun.
Continue your chosen sport or continue working on your body composition goals. Monitor your progress in all the usual ways: before-and-after photos, body fat measurements and athletic achievements.
Through the lens of your new endeavor, rethink and re-imagine your primary goals. This, of course, is the key to the whole process. (John, 2009, 120)
Part 2: Intensification
For John this is as simple as adding new ideas and challenges to keep you interested and motivated in your training, that this very simple concept is often overlooked by people. I know this myself, in that when I’m training for fat loss I might stick to too high a rep range, same when I’m looking for hypertrophy, or strength. Dan asks us, in a kind of thought experiment to think, what if we only had 45mins/week to train? What exercises would you leave in, or take out? Whatever you would leave in tells John what you need to be focusing more on; this comes from an adage he uses often throughout his book (stolen from Olympic wrestling champ Dan Gable): “If it’s important, do it everyday. If it isn’t, don’t do it at all.” (p. 123) John states three ways we might be able to achieve this:
You can do the old Arnold trick: Work your weaknesses first each workout. In this example, do the most important thing for your training first. Perhaps twice a week do nothing but whatever lifts or exercises you chose in the political prisoner situation [that is: only having 45mins/week to training, broken up into three 15min workouts as you’re a political prisoner, hypothetically]. My wife, Tiffini, has a one-line time-management system. If you have to eat a plate of frogs, eat the biggest one first.
Measure your workouts only by how you answered the political prisoner question. All the extra stuff is great, but it’s only icing on the cake.
Using the lessons from some of the information gathered during the accumulation phase, try to see if you’re making improvements in the areas you found in need. (John, 2009, 125)
The goal of intensification John states, it’s only rule, is to: “do what you say you need to.” (p. 125)
Part 3: Transformation
The third phase is potentially the simplest of them all: add all you’ve leaned and put it together in practice. John states your training should have a strict teleology, that is it should have a design, it should lead somewhere, and that you should not add things to your programs that do not reach said goals. As such John breaks his program down as follows: Day one: push, Day 2: Leg day, Day 3: Games, Day four: Pull, Day five: recovery activities, Day six: easy cardio, Day seven: compete. Let’s now go into a bit more detail.
Day One: Push Day: for his athlete John does what he calls “skill” and “tactical” work everyday, but he states those training for body composition may change these variables to suit their specific goals, but the workout consists of military presses, power curls (essentially a power clean with a curl grip) and isometric ab work (he recommends a hanging leg raise with your legs held folded in front of your chest). All exercises are performed at his famous 3 sets x 8 reps, with a minute rest. (John, 2009, 126-7)
Day Two: Leg Day: John states simply to do front squats and overhead squats at 3×8 for this, and provided you do your “skill” and “tactical” work (or whatever assistance exercises suit your goals), he states to add some hill sprints or sled pulls.
Day Three: Games!: yeah, this is pretty straight forward, go have some fun! Throw a ball, play some sport, get amongst it.
Day Four: Pull Day: John’s favorite pulling exercises for his “peaking” athletes are variations of the snatch, whether it be clean-grip, whip or wide grip. Again he follows a 3×8 with one minute rest protocol.
Day Five: John states to merely do your warm up drills here, then go home.
Day Six: he suggests light cardio here, some easy hill runs for example
Day Seven: Compete: he states of course you can move any of these days to suit your competition day or date. He does offer some basic tips for the week however:
Stay tight on the diet and keep the workouts fast to keep some of the pudge off.
Dont go crazy and try to make some massive leap overnight. Enjoy the benefits of all the work up to this point.
Have some fun; enjoy yourself. Reap what you sow. (John, 2009, 128)
In summary John states to always be open to new ideas and experiences and that you shouldn’t be afraid to put your new knowledge into practice. He begs that you take the time to consider what’s important, he might ask you to do this in all areas (and I’d agree), but for our purposes he’d we can simply state he’d want you to do it with your training. He also states that when testing, or one can assume competing, that you know when to ease off, that keeping an eye on your body fat percentage levels is important, and also to find an outlet for your new and excess levels of energy (p.128-9).
That might bring my series on John to a close for now, I can tell you I’ve only scratched the surface of the amazing things he has to offer, and I highly recommend you follow his blog, or buy his books as his simply no-nonsense approach to training, even where you might disagree with him, is still invigorating.
John, D. (2009). Never Let Go. Aptos, Cal. On Target Productions.
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