The Great Debate: Supplements vs. Training

The Great Debate: Supplements vs. Training

Putting supplements and training in perspective

By Strength Sensei CP


“Vegetables are what food eats!” is a popular joke among non-vegetarians, but what if those plants are malnourished?

The most popular fertilizers only contain three elements, resulting in soil that is often deficient in nutrients. Because our favorite meat-eaters consume those plants, their nutrient quality is deficient. Eating organic helps, but there is no question that supplements are now especially important, particularly for athletes.

I am often asked about the specific benefits and dosages of various supplements. These are excellent questions, as the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) created by the United States Institute of Medicine are based on deficiencies associated with a single disease. One way scientists determine their numbers is to find the populations with the lowest intake of that nutrient but doesn’t have that disease, and this becomes the RDA.

Before concluding that your lack of progress in training is due to a lack of supplementation, complete the following checklist of 10 Training Rules. Following these rules will beat any supplement protocol, anytime:

  1. Squats are the center of your leg training workouts. Not hyper-wide box squats performed in a squat suit, but deep squat performed without a belt or knee wraps. To quote a motto popular with the strongest Iron Game athletes, “If you don’t have the squat in your program, you don’t have a program!”
  2. You deadlift from the floor at least three times a month. I’ve written extensively about how deadlifts complement the squat. One effective training cycle for those who want to get total body strong would be to alternate between cycles emphasizing squats and those emphasizing deadlifts.
  3. Most of your upper body work centers around dumbbell training, particularly with thick implements. You should be able to press 90 percent of what you can barbell press for a given number of reps in a neutral grip. If you bench press 100 kilos (220 lbs.) for 5 reps, you should be able to use a pair of 45 kilos (99 lbs.) for 5 reps in the neutral-grip, flat dumbbell press.
Squats should be the central focus of training. (Photo by Photo by Ryan Paiva,


  1. Your upper back training includes multiple variations of chin-ups and pull-ups. Note that I didn’t say lat pulldowns!
  2. You perform at least one strongman session a week. Or, at a bare minimum, you regularly practice lifting cumbersome objects, such as heavy kegs.
  3. You perform heavy power rack work for partials one workout out of four on presses, squats, and deadlifts. This work is in addition to, not in place of, the full range movements. Partial training helps ensure that all points of the strength curve are sufficiently overloaded.
  4. Do you practice Kaizen? Kaizen is a Japanese word that translates into “constant and never-ending improvement.” The Japanese believe that long-term progress is achieved by making small, daily refinements. Interestingly, there is no equivalent word in English for Kaizen.
  5. You have written goals. Write down both short-term and long-term. As legendary weightlifter Tommy Kono said, “The palest of ink is better than the best of memory.”
  6. Your workouts are between 40 and 60 minutes. This time restriction is after warm-up. If your workouts are longer than 60 minutes, you’re not training but making friends!
  7. You stretch regularly. Some form of stretching should be included in your training, and this can include dynamic stretching or static stretching the antagonist muscles between sets.

Bottom line: Supplements are great, even essential for maximum performance, but no amount of supplement will ever replace basic hard work! (SS)

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