Easy Now, Tough Guy

In University I worked out in a renovated strip club. Seriously.

My buddies and I went there because it was a cheap alternative to the school gym, which was dated (think ‘soviet prison’) and incredibly, in the pre-ipod era, didn’t have a radio playing in it.

Anyway, I remember another member at our gym who had a disability of some sort.  He had these huge Something-About-Mary-esque headphones on all the time and had a peculiar habit of only using the smallest plate denominations (2.5s, 5s and 10s), no matter how much weight he needed. Often he’d use the bench press and, instead of using a couple 45-pound plates, literally gather up every single small plate in the gym, starving us of the equipment. Quite annoying.

The thing is that, for a long time, I thought our plate-gobbling friend from the strip club served as a caricature of a healthy workout program.

Take it slow, progress in small increments and over time, like with compound interest, you’ll get big results.

Well, now I’ve learned something new.

Mark Reifkind coined a term I like, called the “tough guy cycle”.

The idea is cautionary perversion of Sports Periodization. Periodization is an approach in which athletes organize their training regimen into microcycles and the microcycles into mesocycles, which in turn, to complete the orgy of Greek prefixes, are part of macrocycles.

A very important phase of these cycles involves nothing but rest.

So, a healthy program would go something like this:

1. light, heavier, peak

2. rest

3. light, heavier, old peak, new peak

4. rest


Conversely, the “tough guy cycle” goes like this:

1. light, heavier, heavier, heavier, INJURY

2. rest and recovery

3. light, heavier, etc…

To quote Pavel Tsatsouline on Tim Ferriss’ blog:

The point is that you’re going to go lighter and rest no matter what, so you might as well plan for it.

I just finished a tough guy cycle, myself, actually, and am currently in physio therapy for my sins. It’s really hard to escape the mindset that rest is foregone opportunity to progress.

And of course I’m heavily influenced by guilt from the “lazy teenager’s cycle” of my youth:

1. medium-heavy, heavier

2. can’t be bothered and regress

3. medium-heavy, heavier

4. can’t be bothered and quit

You learn the lessons one way or another. And I get to sit on my ass and think about it for a couple weeks still.

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