Go into any gym, head to the free weights section and start looking for Dragonball Z fans. If your gym is like mine (and every other gym I’ve ever been too), you won’t have to look far.
I’ve always wondered:
Does lifting cause people to like DBZ or does DBZ cause people to like lifting?
Of course, when I first started watching DBZ as a kid in the 90s, I was a little too young to be lifting weights (according to my parents, at least).
Regardless of which causes which, there is something special about DBZ that causes it to resonate so strongly with such a large percentage of lifters.
I’m sure we all our own reasons for loving DBZ, but I’d like to share a few of the things that I’ve learned from the show.
To do so, I have assembled the top seven strength training tips from DBZ. And while I can’t guarantee that Shenron is going to appear, I will say that if you master these seven tips you will be well on your way to going Super Saiyan!
Create an Environment for Growth
There’s no denying it: A saiyan is always…about that life. Saiyans are naturally strong, but their true strength lies in their ability to constantly improve over time and raise their power levels.
The formula for growth is apparent: eat, sleep train.
You have to eat enough and rest enough to support your training. And you can’t just train hard…you have to train smart!
One thing that the Z fighters make abundantly clear is the importance of progressive overload.
Remember when Goku flies to the planet Namek to fight Frieza?
During his flight he is able to train in a chamber that manipulates the level of gravity. At first he struggles to train in twenty times Earth gravity, but by the end of the trip he is able to train in one hundred times Earth gravity with ease.
Shortly thereafter, he becomes a Super Saiyan…coincidence?
The key takeaway here is that you need to find ways to make your workouts more challenging over time.
This is the key principle of progressive overload.
For the most part, this overload should come primarily from getting stronger in basic compound lifts. As you become more advanced you can start to manipulate other training variables such as rest periods, total volume, and workout density. This principle, along with eat/train/sleep is one of the most important lessons from DBZ. If you do these things for long enough, you will see results!
Just as a saiyan grows stronger after recovering from a near-death experience, you must subject your muscles to increasingly difficult tasks in order for them to grow!
Post Activation Potentiation
No fight scene would be complete without Goku and Piccolo taking off their weighted clothes to up the ante when things get serious.
As a kid, I remember being blown away by the concept of using weighted clothes as a means to increasing one’s strength. I quickly fashioned vests, ankle bracers, and wrist bands with weights duct taped to them and ran around my town climbing trees and forcing my little brother to fight with me.
Unfortunately, while weighted vests can be a great way to help overload bodyweight exercises, wearing it around every day is not really feasible as an adult—trust me, I’ve tried!
Additionally, the benefits don’t really pan out like you think they would. It doesn’t automatically result in long-term increases in strength and speed. Plus, it can be pretty hard on your joints, especially if you do any high impact cardio.
The idea behind using weighted clothes to increase performance and strength does have merit, however, as it leads us to an interesting training principle…
It’s called Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP).
PAP occurs when muscular performance is temporarily enhanced as a result of the contractile history of the working muscles.
In other words, if you lift something really heavy and then lift something that is comparatively light, the lighter weight object will feel extra light (lighter than if you had just picked it up on its own).
While the research regarding the use of PAP for permanent increases in strength and athleticism is somewhat mixed, there is enough evidence to make its inclusion into your training worth considering.
I like to utilize PAP as a way of incorporating more explosive exercises in my workouts in a very time efficient way.
The idea here is to take advantage of the window of increased muscle activation and recruitment that occurs as a result of the heavier set to increase the performance of the subsequent explosive movement. Ideally, the PAP will be enough to overcome the fatigue incurred by the heavier set.
Here’s one way to set it up:
There are a lot of variables that can affect whether PAP will be effective for you, so you may have to do some tinkering to get it to work. When it’s working, your performance in the explosive movement should be greater than it would have been had you not lifted the heavier weight first.
For a much more in depth breakdown of PAP, you can check out this article by Bret Contreras.
Accept your Genetics
Ah, Vegeta. Perhaps the most complex character of the DBZ series. As he so often reminds us, Vegeta is a saiyan prince from an elite royal bloodline. He should be much stronger than Goku.
…but he’s not.
No matter what he does, Goku always seems to be one step ahead of him. And it’s not for lack of trying! During the course of the series, Vegeta repeatedly subjects himself to some of the most intense and grueling training possible—all in order to become better than Goku (or Kakorot as he would call him).
Ironically, it wasn’t until he stopped caring that he was finally able to become a Super Saiyan!
He had to let go of the weight of his obsession to be better than Goku before he had the strength to ascend to the next level.
Much later in the series, Vegeta is finally able to fully come to terms with this as evidenced in this moving scene:
The takeaway here is this:
There will always be someone better than you. Time spent comparing yourself to others is wasted energy; instead, focus your efforts on improving yourself.
In honor of Halloween, I'll share something with you guys which I've kept hidden for years...
This is a picture from Halloween 2002. That's me on the left, dressed as Goku along with my best friend (aka Gotenks).
Believe it or not, I was nearly 17 years old in this picture and weighed 120 pounds (soaking weight with clothes on) at about 5'11". I was very active growing up (lots of pushups, pullups, sports, etc.), but I had not yet started a true resistance training program.
Even though I've come a LONG way since then, I still have to accept the fact that there are plenty of people who started out at a place that took me YEARS to get to.
Does that bother me?
At times, it does...
but only in moments of weakness.
No one's journey will look the same. My sole focus now is becoming the best version of myself.
That should be your focus too.
Unlock your Hidden Potential
You have the ability to do tremendous things.
All it takes is proper planning, hard work, and patience and you can make incredible progress towards your goals. One of the best examples of this is Gohan.
Ever since he was a small child, Gohan had a mysterious latent power that only seemed to surface in times of great need. Through training he was able to harness that power and, for a time, even surpassed Goku in strength.
If you’re still a beginner in strength training, then you are a lot like Gohan right now.
As a beginner, you are able to progress in strength much faster than you can build muscle. This is because of the neural adaptations that quickly occur when your body is exposed to resistance training for the first time.
Like Gohan, you are learning to use the strength that you already have within you.
It’s hidden, untapped power!
Gohan lacks the fighting instinct that is so strong in a pure-blooded saiyan, but that didn’t stop him from kicking butt in the Cell Saga!
Yes, genetics may limit your potential in comparison to other lifters, but they should never be used to put a limit on yourself.
The human body is can do incredible things in times of great stress.
There will always be something on which you can improve.
Find that thing and keep on the grind!
Hide your Power Level
One of the attributes that set the Z Fighters apart from many of their enemies was their ability to suppress their power levels when the situation called for it. This caused their opponents to underestimate them on numerous occasions.
What can we learn from this?
Let your accomplishments speak for themselves.
Don’t be that guy going around asking if people want to “see your abs.”
Don’t constantly brag about PRs you set in the gym.
In many ways it comes down to the difference between Goku and Vegeta. Vegeta spends much of the series talking about how powerful a fighter his is (despite the fact that more often than not, he gets his butt kicked), while Goku is much more humble and simply steps up to the plate and delivers when the situation calls for it.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Arnold:
The better you get, the less you run around showing off as a muscle guy. You know, you wear regular shirts-not always trying to show off what you have. You talk less about it. It's like you have a little BMW - you want to race the hell out of this car, because you know it's just going 110. But if you see guys driving a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, they slide around at 60 on the freeway because they know if they press on that accelerator they are going to go 170. These things are the same in every field.
Results Take Time
Even with saiyan genetics, bodybuilding is all about patience. Trying to get results overnight will only leave you disappointed and possibly injured. When preparing to fight Cell, Goku realized that in order to make the progress necessary to have a chance, they’d have to make use of the Hyperbolic Time Chamber where he could get a year of training in a single day.
If only such a device existed in real life!
As a beginner you can make progress workout to workout. As you become more advanced however, you will eventually only make progress on a weekly basis; then monthly; and eventually, yearly.
We’re in this for the long haul, so you might as well enjoy the ride.
Speaking of which…
Enjoy the Journey
A true saiyan never settles; he is always striving to reach the next level. On the one hand it may seem like this is a path to despair. After all, how can you be happy if you’re never satisfied?
Enjoy the journey!
Whatever goal you set for yourself, whether it’s getting to a certain body fat percentage or simply getting your power level up over 9,000, you’re not suddenly going to become happy and content once you’ve reached that goal.
And that’s a good thing!
That’s how we’re constantly able to push ourselves to the next level!
Happiness that comes from achieving a single goal is fleeting.
Find the things that make you happy and make them a part of your life now.
You may not always feel like training; but overall, you should enjoy what you do in the gym.
If you don’t, then it may be time to reevaluate what you’re doing.
There are many paths that you may take in fitness—choose the one that you enjoy and can stick with!
As you probably already know, these seven strength training lessons from DBZ only scratch the surface: DBZ has a near endless amount of parallels to the fitness world. These are just a few of the ones that have impacted me the most.
In what ways has DBZ impacted your training?
Let me know in the comment section below!
Oh, and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!