“Assistance Work”: Are You Getting it All Wrong?

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A couple of days ago I conducted a call with one of my Personal Coaching clients whose primary area of focus for this session was his lack of progress in training his body. This man had been unable to establish the requisite consistency in his training to really produce the results that he desired in terms of improvements in his levels of strength and conditioning, and in his physical appearance. My conversation with him inspired me to write this article, and to include a clarification of sorts in my soon to be released book “By the Power: The Ultimate Guide to the Greyskull Methods” on this topic as well.

This particular client has a rather erratic work schedule. He finds himself traveling many days out of the month, often on short notice. He has long found it difficult, if not impossible, to adequately plan his training with any kind of success since he is rarely able to accurately predict where his travels will take him, or where/when he will have access to a decent gym. As a result, he has predictably been coming up short with regards to accomplishing his personal goals in the training of his body.

He told me, like many do, that he has previously experienced the most success when using my Greyskull LP program. He genuinely enjoys the format, and appreciates the efficacy of the layout. He expressed that it caused him much frustration, not being able to make it to the gym consistently enough on the necessary days to produce the results that he wants.

My first question to him was how he was progressing in his Frequency Method work. For those who are unfamiliar with the Greyskull LP, the Frequency Method is one of the most important, yet often most neglected if not outright ignored, components of the program. It is the practice of performing bodyweight exercises daily, in an incrementally increasing fashion, the result being an increasing volume of submaximal work performed over the course of the week. The results of those who skip this all-important piece, and those who possess the resolve to actually complete the work, are not easily mistakable. The latter group always produces a much more powerful result in all measurable metrics across the board.

Predictably he had not been doing his FM work at all as of late and, like many, expressed to me that he had implemented the practice in the past at various times (always corresponding with times where his strength training in the gym was able to be more consistent), but had never really “stuck with it”.

At this point I knew that it was time for him to learn a very valuable and game-changing lesson about training.

Despite my many efforts to clarify this point, he was still of the opinion that the FM and other bodyweight work was to be thought of merely as “assistance work”, designed to positively augment the more important, foundational layer of the program consisting of the two to three days per week in the gym spent lifting weights in the GSLP format. He would soon experience an inverting of this logic that will serve him immensely well in the coming months, one that those who have trained with me personally over the years have understood as law by shear indoctrination.

It is imperative to consider your strength training in the gym as the “assistance” work to, and layered over top of your daily bodyweight work if you are to truly maximize your results from your training efforts.

Had it been a video call, I am certain I could have actually seen the light bulb go off over this client’s head.

No longer would he experience stress or frustration over not being able to train due to his erratic schedule. His logistical concerns for being able to conduct a workout for the day were now reduced to potentially having to get a bit creative in locating or fashioning a chin up bar on which to do his chinning work if the day called for it.

Since his perceived inability to be consistent in his training as a result of the perceived obstacle presented by his schedule had previously brought him down mentally with regards to the entire subject of training, he was now liberated from his shackles, and ready to make some significant progress.

I challenged him with a question that I ask of many clients, something to the tune of:

“If you did X amount of pushups each and every day, and X amount of chin-ups, do you suppose you would see a change in your body in eight weeks?”

Of course, like all, his answer was a resounding “Yes”.

I then asked him if he thought that adding in six or eight strength training sessions in the gym, using the GSLP format, per month would produce an even more dramatic result when layered on top of the existing bodyweight work.

Again his answer was a “Yes” without a hint of delay.

To rectify the concerns over not being able to access a gym with the same ease that someone with a more conventional schedule could, I tasked him with creating a number of sessions that he wished to complete per month, each to be thought of as one “perfect brick” in the overall wall that he was constructing. This was a crucial shift from his “I need to get into the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays” logic of old.

We agreed that eight sessions was an easily doable number for him. They need not be completed on certain days of the week, and would not necessarily always be spread out in even intervals. The important part however, was that he’d have nearly thirty days per month (assuming he took one day per week off from bodyweight work) where he trained in a progressive manner with bodyweight exercises, and at least eight days per month where he lifted weights in a progressive manner in the gym (I say at least eight because he would have the option of adding extra sessions if his schedule permitted).

That sounds like a can’t lose recipe for some progress if you ask me.

The lesson that he learned was simple; success comes as a result of continued action taken in its direction. The days on which the actions are taken, or how they are organized are of much less importance than the simple idea of their consistent application in a progressive and evolving manner.

Consider this if you are like he and many others who have read my Greyskull LP, or perhaps even experienced some excellent results with a version of the program. Are you considering the less “sexy” daily work as “assistance” to the workouts in the gym? If you are, I challenge you to invert that logic and see what happens when you make the focus of your training your daily work, and think of your weight training sessions as hairspray on the proverbial flame created by your most consistent layer, the layer that is responsible for the hardened physiques of prison inmates who I promise you have less freedom to organize their training than you do (if they are even able to access weights).

Give this some thought the next time you read me write about bodyweight work and think,

“Yeah, I should probably start adding in some FM work again”.

Take action now, and take it often.

Best of luck in your training.

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6 Responses

  1. Sam

    How much daily work (monday to saturday) would you recommend? How far can we take it? And how fast? One element at a time?

    I.e.

    Daily burpees – month 1

    Daily burpees and pressups – month 2

    Daily burpees and pressups and pullups – month 3

    Or just dive straight in with all 3 every day?

    Thanks, love all the enlightening words JP!

    Sam

    October 23, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    • You can definitely begin with all three movements. It’s more an issue of keeping all of the sets of each well below maxes.

      For the push-up and chin-up this means stopping the set before the reps where they start to get difficult. For the burpees this means keeping the number low enough that you can relatively easily complete them in a three seconds per rep pace.

      From that point the reps and even the number of sets per day can be gradually increased (normally week to week). In the beginning, a little goes a long way.

      October 23, 2014 at 1:36 pm

  2. Sam

    Ah that’s great! And what about other daily exercises for different goals? I understand that you would layer them in slowly and safely, but to what extent can the average guy take this?

    Greyskull approved conditioning everyday?
    Sprints every day?

    I’ve heard that Herschel Walker claims to have worked up to thousands of pressups and situps, as well as sprints daily. This sounds like crazy volume!

    Big help, thanks

    October 23, 2014 at 1:47 pm

  3. Joe

    I’ve been doing the base program LP with conditioning and getting the best results in my entire training life. Thanks for continuing to put out great information. I wish I had started this program about about 5 years ago!

    October 25, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    • As the old Chinese proverb reads: “The best time to plant an oak tree is twenty years ago or today”. I’m very happy to hear that you have been experiencing the progress that you have. Keep up the good work, and welcome to the winning team!

      October 28, 2014 at 2:50 am

  4. Kevin

    Johhny, I`ve decided to switch to the two day Greyskull template for my weight sessions each week due to my erratic and crazy work schedule as a mail carrier. Does this look solid? Day one(Tuesday or Wednesday) Bench Press, Trap Bar Deadlift, One arm rows. Day two(Saturday or Sunday) Angled log bar overhead press, EZ-Barbell curl, squat, and farmers walk in back yard.

    Also, after reading this, I realize I need to get serious about chin ups and push ups. I prefer the ladder method done once daily. How would I arrange these within my week, do I alternate, chins one day, push ups next day and so on taking one complete day off or should I do both each and every day? Also I can`t do even one single good form chin but I have assistance bands, should I do your negatives as described and a chin ladders with increasingly harder assiatnce bands until I no longer need a band to help complete the chin up?

    Thanks man,

    Kevin

    October 28, 2014 at 10:44 pm

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