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12 Training Tips I’ve Stolen From My Friends in the Fitness Industry

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Forever a thief... er... student.

Don’t even act like this picture didn’t shock you.

I’m a thief. I admit it. I steal and steal and I seem to never get caught. I’m like a modern day Artful Dodger…only older, and more muscular. And I’m not British. And I can’t quite pull off the top hat.

Other than, I’m exactly like the Artful Dodger, because I be stealin’, and using what I steal to make the world more awesome. Or…maybe that makes me more like Robin Hood.

Whatever. Point is, I don’t know everything. I know a lot, but there are plenty of people who know more than me; or, at the very least, know something I don’t. And I know that.

As a result, one of the reasons I’ve managed to be so successful in this industry is the general malleability of my methodology. Certainly, I have some perspectives that are pretty static, but I am always looking to change, grow, and learn…particularly from other people.

Just about everyone has something to offer, and if you read enough stuff and talk to enough people, every now and again you’re going to say, “Huh. Yeah, that’s smart. It’s better than what I’m doing. Totally stealing it.”

Okay, okay, perhaps “stealing” is too strong a word. Well, it definitely is. On account of, you know, no one owns information. Still, it seems odd to me that people get pissed off when other coaches pick up on their ideas. Doesn’t make sense.

It’s like this:

  1. Form hypothesis
  2. Test
  3. Come to conclusions
  4. Present conclusions
  5. Make strong argument in attempt to convince people you’re right
  6. Success
  7. Get pissed off when other people realize you’re right and start doing it
  8. Internet Rage

Anyway, if you’ll forgive the mini rant, the truth is I have gotten my best ideas from a lot of influences, and being able to take something someone else thought of and mold it to my purposes has been responsible for some of my biggest successes.

This article is intended to give you some insight into that process, and show some love to the people I’ve learned from and the ways they’ve influenced me as a coach. And, to be fair, most of the coaches on this list aren’t dicks about people using their information. Moreover, every single one of these people had one idea, method, or wrinkle that got me curious, got me thinking, and got me changing.

One of the cool things you’ll notice is that small things can often make pretty big differences. So, check out the tips below, and the experts who showed me why there were awesome.

1. The Improved 4-Day Split

Stolen From: Eric Cressey

The Gist: I love four-day splits, because I like to train a lot. Historically, I used the old standby of training Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it turns out there’s a better way.

Cressey had an improved version: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. A small change, of course, but a helpful one. With Cressey’s split, you have more “fresh” days; by adding an extra day between the two later workouts, you allow for a bit more recovery.

The Saturday workout is almost always better than it would have been on Friday. For whatever reason, I didn’t think of this myself, because apparently nobody told me that you’re allowed to train on Saturdays. At that point, I probably still thought it was a global mandate that Monday was Chest Day, however.

The article I linked to was published in 2008, but Cressey convinced me of this some time in 2005. Still, for a while, I was hesitant to assign it to clients because I figured they wouldn’t want to train on weekends. Incorrect. People love it.

It’s almost impossible that in the 12 years I’ve known him, this is the only thing I’ve stolen from Eric. He’s one of the smartest guys I know and we all steal from him constantly. This is just the one that came to mind first.

If you train 4 days per week, try this split.

 

2. Hip Dom/Quad Dom Leg Days

Stolen From: Ian King

The Gist: Speaking of 4-day splits, this is a good time to talk about one of the biggest changes I made to my training when I was just a young’un.

Like many young bros, I did a lot of bodybuilder-inspired split routines. Sometimes they were simple, like upper/lower, or push/pull/legs. Most of the time, they were a bit more involved, and included chest day, back day, arm day, shoulder day, leg day…

You may already be seeing the problems. Although I prided myself on not being one of those guys who skipped leg training, I was committing a pretty obvious transgression: I was minimizing my legs. And I didn’t even know it.

Here’s the thing: do you really think that your chest deserves the same amount of attention as your legs? No. It’s not even that chest is a small body part and legs are a big one, although that’s a factor. It’s that you’re aiming to train your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves in same amount of time you spend on your chest. Not smart.

When I discovered Ian King’s work, I immediately recognized what I was doing wrong, and used King’s method to fix it. And that method was to split leg training into two distinct days, based on the types of movement involved and the muscle used.

From that moment on, I made the switch. On hip dominant leg days, I trained deadlifts, RDLs, and anything else that was more of a pull than a push, or involved the hamstrings more than the quads. Quad dominant leg days were reserved for squats, leg press, lunges, and the like.

This fit in very nicely to a 4-day split:

M: Hip-dom legs
T: Chest/Back
W: OFF
Th: Quad-dom legs
F: OFF
S: Shoulders/Arms
S: OFF

This is pretty much the basic set up for anyone who is trying to gain both size and strength, and the one I default to in my own training.

 

3. Glute Bridges and Hip Thrusts

Stolen From: Bret Contreras

The Gist: Since we’re on the topic of hip-dominant versus quad-dominant movements, let’s talk about these two exercises. In both cases, you basically, place a bar over your hips, flex your butt, and drive. Cool. And these have quickly become some of my favorite hip-dom movements.

Here’s the thing: when it comes to trying to figure out who “invented” an exercise, everything is speculation at best. When it comes to figuring out who made it popular, things are a bit easier. In the case of glute bridges and hip thrusts, we need look no further than the Glute Guy himself, Bret Contreras.

YouTube Preview Image

Sure, it’s possible that Bret isn’t the first trainer to ask himself, “what happens if I take this loaded barbell, rest directly against my junk, and begin air-fucking like the goddamn apocalypse is imminent?” It’s possible.

I can’t prove things one way or the other, so I’m giving all credit for these exercises to my boy Bret. What I know for sure is that he’s the one I (and the rest of the industry) stole them from. I use them in my programming, and I’ve got Big B to thank for that.

Bret, you’re a goddamn champion. Thanks to you, seems like everyone in the world’s got a better butt and stronger hips these days. Powerbottoms everywhere owe you a debt of gratitude, and I owe you a high five.

 

4. Deficit Quad Work

Stolen From: Ben Bruno

The Gist: Before we move on, let’s close out this discussion with some of my favorite quad-dominant stuff: deficit work.

To perform an exercise at a deficit means to position your body in a way that extends the Range of Motion. In the case of lower body work, it typically just means you’re standing on something.

Up until about two years ago, I never really thought much about doing deficit work. It’s not that I didn’t like it; it’s just that I didn’t use it. Then, I started paying attention to a young trainer named Ben Bruno. If you’re not familiar with Ben, I wrote about him here.

Anyway, here was this kid with killer quads who was doing tons of high rep sets of trap bar deadlifts from a deficit, and posting videos all over the place. Check him out beasting some here:

 YouTube Preview Image

As you can see, it was very impressive. The more I read of Ben’s stuff, the more I liked it, so I decided to try it. After two workouts, it’s safe to say I was hooked.

From that point forward, just about all of my trap bar deadlifting (and many of my conventional deadlifting) was performed from a deficit, with me standing on a few plates. This creates much more quad emphasis, particularly the VMO. While you’ve gotta drop the weight a little bit, it’s a solid tradeoff.

Ben has since become a good friend, and I’ve come to love deficit trap bar deads so much I included them in Engineering the Alpha.

 

5. The Jefferson Deadlift

Stolen From: Jen Sinkler

The Gist: The J-dead is a deadlift variation during which you straddle the bar. It’s an old lift, and Jen certainly didn’t invent it, but she’s definitely responsible for the recent surge in popularity among the general fitness community.

J-Sink hittin the J-dead

The Jefferson deadlift (pictured left) is a nice variation to help address any weak spots you have, either in your legs or lower back.

I stole it from Jen and now I give it to you. I talked a bit about this here.

I once tried to steal a pair of Jen’s Lululemon pants to wear to the gym, but she guarded them jealously and I had to settle for the deadlift. Almost as good.

 

6. Biofeedback Training

Stolen From: Dave Dellanave

The Gist: Test your range of motion; perform a few reps of an exercise; test again; make a few small changes to position; test again; repeat. Basically, it can help figure out the exact right stance, grip, or other set up of a given exercise. When your ROM increases, you’re on the right track.

I recently wrote an entire blog post about Biofeedback Training, specifically mentioning Dave and how he helped me, so check that out.

 

7. Pre-Squat Box Jumps

Stolen From: Jason Ferruggia

The Gist: When I’m not deadlifting, I’m squatting, so let’s change gears and talk about that. Basically, you include a few sets of box jumps into your warm up before doing your squat workout.

It’s pretty interesting how well it works. I’m not in the mood to write anything science-y, but I would imagine this would have to imagine that the application of some explosive training creates a little extra neurological oompf, and allows for greater overall muscle recruitment; probably of high threshold motor units.

I dunno. But, it works and seems to allow for not only more weight on the bar, but smoother sets, especially early in the workout.Thankfully, this works just as well for front squats as it does for back squats, because I really don’t like back squats.

To my knowledge, Jason hasn’t written about this. Jay is a good friend and we happen to train at the same gym, so I got to steal this one in person, which is always nice.

As a side note, a few other things I’ve learned from Jason include goatee-grooming, headbutting, and being a stone-cold badass.

 

8. Single Arm Floor Press

Stolen From: Anthony Mychal

The Gist: This exercise is awesome for your upper chest. At least, that was Mychal’s argument when he wrote an article about it a while back. It’s turned out to be true. The single arm floor press works exceptionally well for training the clavicular head of the chesticles.

Anthony getting his Franco Columbu one.

This is partially because of the set-up of the exercise: stopping the ROM when you hit the floor (rather than allowing the elbow to pass the torso) minimizes the involvement of the deltoid, so more stress is placed on the pec. If you go heavy enough, you can overload them pretty easily. The single arm works better for this than the bilateral variation, most likely because unilateral exercises recruit a greater number of HTMUs.

Anthony is a smart guy with a lot to offer. I wrote a bit more about him in this blog post, but as far as I know this is the only thing I’ve stolen from him.

 

9. Overhead Shrugs 

Stolen From: Christian Thibaudeau

The Gist: Again, this isn’t a case of saying that Christian invented an exercise; I’m just telling you who I stole it from. The first place I learned about overhead shrugs was Thibs article The Power Look, back in 2002. They’ve been written about by everyone from Cressey to Paul Chek, but I associate them with Thibs.

Outside of being an awesome trap builder, I like the overhead shrug because it helps increase capacity for holding or carrying heavy stuff above your head. Moreover, if you’re someone who sits in scapular depression, this can be a good exercise to help bring you up to neutral.

Just don’t drop it on your head. Not that I’ve don’t that. I’m just sayin, it happened to this one guy I know. Not me.

 

10. Band Pull-aparts All Day Errryday

Stolen From: Joe DeFranco

Joe D is a bad mofo who trains some of the baddest mofos around. At his gym in Jersey, he trains more pro athletes in a week than most coaches do in their entire careers. He works with a ton of football players, and is something of a Combine specialist.

However, despite the fact that Joe is known for beast-building, the dude knows a thing or two about a thing or two, including shoulder health.  A few years back, he wrote an article on shoulder training for T-Nation. In it, he gave an awesome tip, which I stole, and I will now pass on to you.

Simply: do 100 band pull-aparts every day. His reasoning is simple: most of us sit all day, look down at computers or phones, and generally do everything we can to mess up posture. This creates the round-shouldered issue caused by constantly shortened pecs. I touched a bit on standing more to save posture here, but this is something you can do to be even more proactive about things.

The pull-apart, especially in high doses, not only helps strengthen the low traps, rhomboids, etc, but because you’re doing this frequently, it keeps them stimulated, helping you to pull them back. Overall, good for posture and shoulder health, and not really that intrusive—just keep a mini-band by your desk, and do a few sets of 10-20 pull-aparts throughout the day. You can increase or decrease difficulty by adjusting how far apart you hold your hands on the band.

BONUS TIP: If you want to kick it up a notch, try Joe’s 3D Band Pull-aparts here:

YouTube Preview Image

 

11. GH/Lactic Acid Training

Stolen From: Don Alessi

The Gist: Back in 2002, I read an article on T-Nation called Meltdown Training. In it, author Don Alessi suggested that training in a way to maximize production of lactic acid would lead to increased production of Growth Hormone, and therefore increased rate of fat loss.

To do this, Alessi prescribed inverting the traditional tempo method—rather than lifting explosively and lowering more slowly, Meltdown used very slow concentrics and fast eccentrics. The reason for is that the concentric phase of a movement has a greater effect on the production of lactic acid; resultantly, it was best to accentuate the positive, so to speak.

If you’ve been following my work for a while, you know that some variation of GH/Lactic acid training has appeared in a number of my programs, from Final Phase Fat Loss all the way to Alpha. It’s a great method overall, but I’ve made a few changes. The most notable of these is that I don’t often prescribe long periods of using this exclusively.

While the original Meltdown Training was pretty decent for fat loss, it was pretty bad for everything else. As I’ve said a few times, lifting weights slowly for 6-8 weeks makes you really efficient at that… and pretty terrible at lifting weights quickly.

Put another way, if you train this way for longer than four weeks, you’ll like have to play catch-up with your strength levels when you switch to something else. Not worth it. I like to use this for 4-week blocks, or to have 1-2 days of this type of training per week (as in FPFL.)

Great method, and one I stole from Don.

(Unrelated but necessary side note: As I was Googling to pull links for this article, it came to attention that earlier this year, Mr. Alessi was arrested for allegedly spiking a young woman’s drink with GHB. I have no idea what’s currently going on with the case, but it should be obvious that such actions are reprehensible. More to the point, please know that my acknowledgement of Don’s contribution to my development as a coach is in now way an excuse for or endorsement of his actions.)

 

12. Density Training

Stolen From: Charles Staley

The Gist: I’ve written about density a number of times, and I usually kick some love to Staley. His Escalating Density Method was the first exposure I had to density training, and really the first time I thought about using time as a primary training variable.

Over the years, I’ve made extreme changes and radical departures from EDT, so much so that they’re wholly my own, but Charles was still the man I stole this from many years ago. For those interested, here’s an article I wrote touching on Charles’ method, one on my method of designing density training workouts and programs, and one on using density training to maximize the benefits of cheat days.

 

Closing Thoughts

As you can see, I spend a lot of my time actively learning as much as I possibly can from other people. This was particularly true early in my career, when I had so much more to learn, which is why some of these links are so old.

Of course, I’ve made a few contributions to the fitness industry, and every time I see one of my methods pop up on a blog, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that I’m helping another coach get better.

Stealing or not, the best coaches in the world are certainly teachers, but they remain forever students.

I think everyone on this list would agree.

 

Sound Off 

I still have a lot more to share—the entire realm of NUTRITION! 

So: what have YOU stolen…er, learned from other people and coaches? 

About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

  • mfmaxpower

    In your four day split, why do shoulders/arms get their own day? Why not give Chest and Back their own days, and train Shoulders with Chest, and Arms with Back? Isn’t that better in terms of giving priority to bigger, more important muscles?

  • Then all great teachers are thieves. They all had to start somewhere right? Tell you what, I’ll steal some of your idea and re-write that on my blog hahaha >>> http://www.medtrip.com/news

  • Javier Lozano Jr

    And now, I will steal what you just posted and use it to improve myself and my coaching abilities. Thanks for encouraging learning. Being a student of the game is critical in self-improvement.

  • John panzer

    Good post! Never tryed the overhead shrug. :)

  • Elizabeth

    My life require Sun, Mon, Wed, Fri training… I have to do the pull aparts! Ever since I shattered my clavical I’ve had shoulder issues.

  • Anita

    Hi, I read the posts and I am a girl :-)

  • Jon Chew

    Great post, Roman! You’re not stealing, you’re just borrowing/ spreading the love! And I totally loved that cat/LOTR meme! Hilarious! :D

  • Rob Bout

    Best workshop I ever did was Essentials of Elite Performance by Dr. Eric Cobb at Z-Health performance solutions. There’s a guy worth stealing from. He’ll help you fix stuff you never realized was in need of fixinz.

  • JackBlack

    Fantastic

  • ffjr

    Pull aparts will now be part of my day, evrrrry day!

  • Kim

    Bruce Lee did the same thing in martial arts. He took what he thought best from different styles and made his own.

  • Jess

    Love reading your articles! ( not just for dudes ;) )

  • LeAnn

    I love your posts. Great tips! simona: you are not the only girl here. :)

  • jasonstacy

    Thx for sharing!!!
    Stealing is a big part developing talent… in so many industries it is a common practice. though it is most often referred to as “influenced by”… There’s really not much new out there, but for sure lots of new adaptations on things… Nothing wrong with “stealing” If someone says they don’t, they are likely full of it!! Steal as much and as often as you can… If there is a person/group that is great or better than you in an area you wish to improve upon then Watch, listen, learn, and steal from them… just give credit where credit is do!! Take ego out of it and just learn grow share…. for sure you will steal and tweak what you “stole” which in turn is creating or evolving the original idea into 2, 3, 4, or more ideas…. it’s a constant process!! sorry, ramble over….

  • I’ll definitely steal a few of these tricks for my training! I’d love to hear your thoughts on rep ranges and about mixing rep ranges during the same workout or within a week.

  • ny

    As always, awesome article!

  • Stephanie

    Ahhh great stuff! I use the M/T/Th/Fr… Maybe I’ll have to try switching it up to a Saturday lift!

  • Eric Horvat

    Dang it, now I have about 3 weeks of reading saved to pocket! Great info and sources, thanks.

    Any advice on doing pullups or modifications to help with tendinitis pain? Or just “don’t do it”?

  • nick

    Next post… stolen diet strategies! Yeah we all do it and it is nice to credit the source when able or even donate to their cause / buy their product.

    I do the same over at caloriepilot.com. Lets face it…at some point we all were just some skinny kid in the early 80s wishing for a DP weight set for Christmas…. or 90s and a bowflex… etc

    Keep up the good work Roman!

    Nick

  • Joe Campos

    “One cannot teach what they have not yet learned” –Me

  • Dan Totten

    awesome read roman- real excited to try the band-pull aparts…hoping it will really help my posture and shoulder stability.

  • Natalie

    Great stuff as always [:

  • Chuck V

    “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that seeks counsel is wise.” Proverbs 12:15

  • Autumn

    interested in the 5 nutrition tips

  • Dock Holliday

    Intermittent fasting: Roman’s blogs, which led me to lean gains.
    Floor Press: Roman’s posted fitocracy workouts
    Doing some heavy back work on chest day: Roman. Cannot not do this now.
    Zero fuckarounditis in gym (ie max efficiency): Martin Berkham
    Strategic use of carbs: Kiefer
    Keep it simple (almost opposite of keifer): Jason Ferrugia
    Goal of doing 1 muscle up: Fitocracy/Youtube

  • GregP

    Aw man, now I have to change my routines to try and incorporate more of this stuff! Awesome post Roman, as usual!

  • Stephen

    Great tips here Roman. All can be applied at some point in a training career. Also, Jason Ferruggia is the epitome of stone cold badassery.

  • Great stuff indeed. Like others, looks like I have fun new things to try!

  • Garrett Genge

    Will definitely be picking up a mini-band for the Office today. Been looking for ways to keep my posture healthy…

  • Cainooo

    One of your best articles man good shout outs!!

  • Joshua

    love it!

  • Ryan Graczkowski

    I have shamelessly stolen my programming ideas from Steve Kamb, Ross Enamait, and Al Kavadlo. They’re all about gymless approaches, and they’re the ones that taught me about how much you can do with just a push move, a pull move, a squat move, and a core move. I use that when training clients now.

  • simona

    The more I read your posts, the more I want to read your posts. Am I the only girl here?

  • Bret Contreras

    I’ll tell you what John, I’m probably going to “steal” this blog idea from you and write my own haha! I’ve stolen from a bunch of fitness folks myself. Thanks for the mention!

  • Andrew

    the world needs more badass MoFos

  • Jeremy Partl

    Great stuff here Roman! I think it is always great to have a few different tools in your bag to work with.