That’s What They Said – Chad Waterbury


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This installment of That’s What They Said draws inspiration from a trainer that has really influenced the way I think about designing training programs.

Chad Waterbury is a hugely popular trainer, who got his break on t-nation over a decade ago. He has a MSc in neuroscience from Arizona University, and much of his writings centre on getting the most out of training by using techniques to maximise motor unit recruitment and minimise Central Nervous System (CNS) fatigue to allow for more frequent training.

Chad rose to prominence in the early to mid 2000s, a period when there was a mini-backlash against traditional bodybuilding in fitness writings. Chad championed full body workouts, minimal to no isolation work and multiple sets of few reps, all which flew in the face of traditional training lore.

However, the results where there, and Chad now trains a large number of professional mixed martial artists. He has continually been refining his methods in order to produce stronger, more powerful athletes whilst minimally impacting their actual sport training.

Waterbury has also published 2 books, Muscle Revolution and Men’s Health Huge In a Hurry. The latter is the culmination of years of Chad writing about the importance of lifting speed as it pertains to strength, power and size developments, based on the size principle (a physiological theory about the order of motor unit recruitment).

Chad Waterbury

Chad Waterbury

Whilst I could probably find dozens of gems in the articles he has written over the years, I think the following, from his 2004 article Lift Fast, Get Big published over at t-nation, sums up his philosophy best:

If you want strength and size, you better learn to start lifting fast. How fast? As fast as humanly possible without compromising form!

It’s so simple, yet I see so few people doing it.

Why? For years, popular media has presented the notion that lifting weights ‘slow and under control gives you more benefits.

Well if your goal is to not get bigger or stronger or faster or leaner then sure, you get more benefit.

Notice the leaner part. That is not a typo. Fast lifting is more metabolically demanding than slow lifting, and considering resting metabolic rate is the biggest determinent of how many calories you burn each day, I’d say that lifting fast has just got a whole lot more attractive.

In sports, speed is king. How often do you see a young player burst onto the scene and make a huge impact because he has a great burst of speed? Speed allows players to get away with more, which is invaluable, particularly as the game wears on a fatigue sets in, leading to more mistakes.

Getting strong is important for getting fast, but if you lift fast, you are training your nervous system to produce high levels of force quickly,which is paramount for athletic performance.

Lifting as fast as possible also creates more muscular tension, which, when combined with enough volume, leads to a powerful growth stimulus. So for hypertrophy, fast lifting is also beneficial.

Remember, the muscles do what the nervous system tells them to do, so if you concentrate on lifting fast, the nervous system will be forced to activate the high threshold motor units – those which are the biggest and most powerful. These have the biggest growth potential, and demand a lot of energy.

This seemingly golden combination is what makes fast lifting such a powerful body transformation tool.

How do you put this into practice?

Chad has a novel approach: instead of designing workouts by sets and reps, he will designate a total number of repetitions to be performed for a certain exercise, for example, 25.

He will then say pick a weight that you can lift 4-6 times and perform as many sets as possible to get to 25 total reps. The sets are terminated when lifting speed slows down.

Whilst Chad’s approach definitely has merit, in my experience, lifting fast works better with certain exercises, namely pushing exercises: squats, deadlifts (you push the floor away) and presses work really well in this regard.

Perhaps it is because they are compressive in nature – that is, the joints are being approximated by the load, which makes them more stable?

Whatever it is, I’m not sure, but compared with rows, chins and posterior chain work like RDLs and hamstring curls, pushing movements respond well to fast lifting. With the aforementioned ‘pulling’ exercises, a more constant tension approach seems to work better.

Again, perhaps this is by design, we are used to carrying things in front of us, so the back muscles are doing a lot of supporting and isometric, constant tension work? This is just my personal anecdote, Chad demonstrates fast lifting with pulling exercises as well, so like always, you have to find the approach which works best for you.

Of course, every rule needs an exception, and the spanner in the works here are the Olympic lifts (and their variations), which are classified as pulling. These have to be done fast to be done at all.

Regardless of whether you utilise Chad’s approach, elastic resistance, or a more traditional set and rep scheme, the message is clear: lift fast for better results.

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