A lot of people (including myself) have been bandying the term “old school” when referring to strength training. But this term is not that definitive when it comes to what it actually refers to in our workouts. The phrase “old school” seems to bring to mind more of an emotional response than it does an actual way of training.
To me, when I hear the words “old school muscle building”, I get distinct images in my mind of 19th Century dudes in stripey one-pieces, bent pressing shot loaded barbells, while simultaneously twirling their handlebar moustaches. Or alternatively, mid-20th Century guys benching, squatting, dipping and posing down on Muscle Beach while the “ordinary” folks gawk at them like monkeys at the local zoo.
This is because this is the image strength publishers, from Sandow through to Weider, portrayed as the muscle ideal of the time. Image and the "ideal" sold magazines, dubious supplements and barbells but had little to do with the way strongmen trained.
Now personally, I don’t feel all that comfortable about donning a striped “onesy”, or for that matter pulling on a pair of Speedos and pushing weight down at my local beach. For one thing, I don’t want to scar the lives of the general public at the sight of this hellish spectacle.
But I do want to strength train in an old school way. So what, to me, does this entail?
Having a training system firmly and resolutely based on strength.
Train using the principles of Progressive Resistance. This means initially adding more weight to the bar each training session and incorporating a periodization program at the advanced level of lifting.
Having my exercise routine based on the compound lifts.
This means variations on the “Big 3” squat, deadlift and bench press. But you should also look at versions of the press, bent press, row, clean and snatch.
Utilizing short and intense workouts.
Training sessions should last no longer than 40-50 minutes and should be intense. Be disciplined on the rest periods you decide on and save the traditional gym banter until after you finish training. Famously, Vince Gironda was known to throw people out of his gym who wasted time in this way. That said, he was known to throw out trainees for a variety of reasons.
Incorporating bodyweight training into my routine.
Exercises to include are varieties of push up, pull up, and dips. There are many more exercises to include and many varieties, but if you incorporate the basic bodyweight exercises you are walking along the right path.
Eating wholesome and nutritious real food.
Avoid refined sugar and processed carbohydrates like the plague. They are the reason for the blight of obesity in the Western World. Eat organic, if you can but definitely go the unprocessed route. If you are looking to burn fat eat fewer calories (but only moderately so) and manipulate your macronutrient ratios. There are many more nuances but this is the basic premise.
Engaging in cardiovascular training if you are an older lifter.
This does not necessarily mean hours of boring miles on a treadmill. There are a lot more efficient ways to train your cardiovascular system using prowlers, punchbags, farmers walks, hill sprints – the list goes on. Better still take up a sport. Competition keeps interest levels up as well and has a positive influence on your emotional well being.
This is not necessarily “old school”, but it is an effective tool for successful body recomposition. I find it pays to be pedantic when measuring your lifts and tracking your results, but I am less restrictive when measuring calories as long as I have eaten approximately my goal calories and I know I have the right macronutrient ratios then I am satisfied. If my bodyweight is starting to go the wrong way, either upward or downwards accordingly, then I will make a general adjustment.
Getting enough sleep.
This is a widespread problem in the modern world (certainly in mine). Get 8 hours a night religiously. Some of the reasons your sleep might be affected can be attributed to is overtraining, poor nutrition and poor respiration. Turn off the computer and television at least 2 hours before sleeping and give your mind a chance to chill out.
Making time for everything else in my life.
If your mind and body are solely concentrated on the iron game 24 hours a day and it isn’t your primary source of income then you need to get a life. The last thing you need is a broken marriage, dwindling friends and an empty wallet just because you are getting an obsessive compulsive disorder over your lifting program. You know the type of person I’m talking about – there’s one or two in every gym. On the whole, they’re boring, bad tempered and not altogether sane. Don’t become one of these people. Time manage your day to fulfil all your life’s duties.
These are the main concepts I see as contributing to an old school strength program. One of the best products I recommend that follows these principles closely is Jason Ferruggia’s Muscle Gaining Secrets 2.0. There are an almost infinite number of programs out there, but I find this one is a perfect blend of old school principles and modern training methods.