Taking a look back at some of the old school strength training techniques that were utilized back in the day gives us a good glimpse at how strength training has changed over time. The way they used to train ‘back in the day‘ is often quite different from how most people train today, but that doesn‘t necessarily mean one method is right and the other method is wrong.
The truth of the matter is that the best way to evaluate which method is going to be right for you is to look at old school strength training techniques and see how they align with the goals that you have today.
Let‘s have a look at what you need to know with regards to old school strength training.
The very first thing to consider is the type of split often used in previous times. In today‘s strength training world, more and more people are making good use of full body programs with concepts such as the 5 X 5 program or other full body approaches that yield maximum frequency while still maximizing rest time.
In previous years however, this was not the case.
The most common old school strength training programs had users working just one or two muscle groups at once per session. So they might do a set-up that looked like this:
The idea behind this approach is that they would go into the gym and blast each muscle group to full exhaustion. Only when they couldn‘t perform another set or rep would they leave the gym and start the rest and recovery process.
Furthermore, after each session of simply destroying that particular muscle group in the gym, they‘d then have the full week to allow it to recover before it was hit again (with the exception of arms as they would be hit twice, one on arms day and once on back or chest day).
While this approach does tend to build a decent amount of strength, recent studies in exercise physiology do show that a higher frequency protocol does tend to produce better results, so this caused many people to shift away from the old school strength training body part splits.
Some still do make use of them to a degree, but combine a few more muscle groups so that they can hit most muscles twice per week total.
The second thing to think about with regards to old school strength training is the amount of volume that was often performed. Volume refers to just how much weight is lifted total. If you were to multiple how much weight you were using by how many reps and sets you performed each workout, you would then have your total volume number.
Generally speaking, old school strength training fell into two camps, very low volume, full out protocols and very high volume protocols.
The low volume old school strength training programs would have you doing one set at maximum intensity. The general thought pattern was push yourself to complete failure once and then allow the body to recover.
These sessions were extremely intense on the central nervous system and while they did tend to lead to good gains in muscle strength, they also have the higher potential to evoke central nervous system overtraining. They were very demanding on the CNS and most users found themselves very fatigued by the end of the week and unable to lift as much weight as they normally would.
At the other end there were the high volume programs. These were the ‘bodybuilding‘ programs that were out there that would have users performing five to six different exercises per muscle group, doing three to five sets per exercise.
Since they were only working one muscle group per session, the total workout volume was still in line with some full body workout programs done today, but the difference was users were doing these sessions five days a week.
Like the low volume, these did lead some people to great results, but with this one the potential for muscular overtraining was much higher.
There really is a fine line with regards to the right amount of volume that will yield the best results and most old school strength training programs weren‘t quite getting this correct.
Finally, the last thing that should be considered is the overall mode and methodology that was utilized. In previous times, users were very much strictly focused on utilizing barbells and weight plates for their exercises. Dumbbells were added in from time to time, but barbells were the go-to piece of equipment that would allow them to perform their main compound lifts.
Now, more and more people are getting into alternative methods of strength training such as using kettlebells, resistance bands, or even suspension trainers to help build greater strength.
Furthermore, there has been a big shift from traditional weight lifting movements where the primary goal was to simply move as much weight as possible, to exercise that focus a little more on functional movements along with adding more core activation into play by reducing the base of support and throwing the user off balance.
Both approaches will lead to good results, but the types of results do differ.
So there you have the main points to note with regards to old school strength training. Many of the concepts that were used back then will still apply today, but you really need to think long and hard at what it is that you want to accomplish and then how to go about integrating the old school strength training techniques into your program plan.