Training Hard, Heavy and Smart
Getting stronger only happens if you keep yourself in the gym. Learn how to manipulate a few key variables to keep pushing weight.
By Johnnie Jackson, IFBB Pro; Photography: Jason Breeze; Model: Johnnie Jackson, IFBB Pro
[Q] Johnnie, I read a lot about people doing a lot of warming up ⎯ a few minutes on the treadmill, some dynamic stretching and then a few specific warm-up sets. Is all that really necessary?
[A] I think so, but it all depends on your level of training. If you’re a beginner, the warm-up is very important because your body isn’t used to any of the exercising. So giving all of it a chance will lower your risk of injury. If you’re a highly trained athlete, I’d recommend some warming-up and light stretching before training. The heavier you go the more important it is to warm up; in fact, you should never hit those heavy benches or squats with cold muscles.
[Q] I train balls-to-the-wall everyday ⎯ heavy weight, low reps, crazy intensity. But recently, I hit a rut. I feel weak and my body isn’t changing anymore. What gives?
[A] It sounds like you’re overtrained. At this point, you’ve trained your body to its max. You need to let your body rest and recover so you can get stronger. You’ve got to change up the workout. I train in a similar way ⎯ hard and heavy ⎯ only I don’t always do low reps. I’ll switch it up maybe every other workout and do 15–20 reps using the heaviest weight I can handle. Or, maybe I’ll change up my exercises to lighten up the weight for a week or two. The key is to set a goal, reach it, rest a bit, then set a new goal and go after it. Don’t just continue to pound your body in the same way at full intensity, or you’ll never see growth.
[Q] Every few months I like to mix in a short break ⎯ maybe 3–4 weeks where I barely train or don’t train at all ⎯ in order to give my body a chance to fully recover. But I find when I come back it’s like starting all over. What can I do differently?
[A] You stop training? (Laughs). It doesn’t make any sense to stop training for 3–4 weeks, to then come back and complain about starting over. You are starting over! If you’re going to take a break, refrain from lifting so heavy. Instead, do some band or stability-ball training or cable work. But don’t stop training altogether. I take seven days off after a contest and that’s about as far as I can go. I’m usually chomping at the bit to get back into training because I love it so much. But it all depends on your body. Take a week off and see how your body feels. Then from there, pick it up again. I go light-to-medium but you don’t have to ⎯ give yourself some resistance. Just be careful and be safe about it.
[Q] Johnnie, do I really need to stretch? I’m a bodybuilder, not a gymnast.
[A] Yes, it’s very important. I’m a good example. I’m really tight in some of the exercises that I do, and they’re difficult to do right because of how tight I am when I don’t stretch enough. It’s very important to keep the muscles and tendons flexible so they don’t shorten, which can happen over time when you train. That only sets you up for injury, and if you’re injured you can’t train. Stretching also helps with muscle recovery. You need to get blood in and out of the muscle so it can repair itself. Post-workout, your muscles are tight and compacted and blood is pooled and can’t disperse well ⎯ and that hampers recovery. All of the aminos, supplements and nutrition are in your blood, and if new blood can’t get in with the old blood pooling in there, you can’t build new muscle tissue. Stretch it out to help promote recovery.
JOHNNIE’S 4 TIPS FOR TRAINING SMART
1. WARM UP: “If it’s chest day, I’ll start with just the bar and do 15–20 reps, then do some pectoral stretching for 45–60 seconds. Then I’ll start with something like 135 and do two sets of that before starting to work up to my heavy loads.”
2. STRETCH: “As the muscle starts to warm, I’ll do 45-60 seconds. You don’t want to overdo it. Just get the blood flowing and work on increasing the range of motion. Afterward, take your time. The more time you have the better, because it reduces muscle soreness, tightness and enhances recovery. I like to linger and take at least 10 minutes to stretch the muscles I’ve worked.”
3. DON’T OVERTRAIN: “Just be smart about your training cycles. If you don’t do training cycles, you should start. Each cycle should last 10–12 weeks. Set a goal with each, then meet that goal and take a week off and get back into it nice and easy. I believe wholeheartedly that you need a plan – don’t just wander around the gym.”
4. BE CONSISTENT: “It’s very important to be consistent in everything you do. If you’re not consistent in your career, you don’t reach goals or get promotions. The same rule applies in the gym. If you don’t stay consistent, you’ll always feel like you’re starting over and catching up to everyone else … and your body will never change.”