My goal now is to be fitter next year than I am now, and to do that without injury, feeling worn down or getting bored. It should be yours as well. I want to increase my strength and conditioning in a patterned, structured way. I want to train effectively and intelligently and I want to enjoy it. Also, I want to be able to enjoy my time between workouts without pain or complete exhaustion.
In order to do this I have switched almost completely over to kettlebell training. I follow the advice of a trainer named Pavel Tsoutline. His method is that of low rep ladders for slow strength and high rep ballistic movements for cardio and endurance training. This allows you to do as much work as possible while being as fresh as possible. The intention with kettlebells is to build strength and endurance without building an unreasonable amount of size. They will allow you to become stronger while maintaining functionality.
If you would like to use barbells he has a plan for you as well. Two sets of 5. As heavy as you can go while leaving one or two in the hole (i.e.…never going to failure). You must also use some form of cycling. Cycling is when you start out at at weight you can perform fairly easily and increase that weight. You continue to increase this weight until you are unable to perform 2 sets of 5 with a given weight. At this point, instead of getting stuck on a plateau, you drop the weight down to a lighter weight (but heavier than the original starting point). Then you work your way up once again, this time surpassing your previous plateau and continue training. This will allow you to build strength without injuring yourself or overtraining.
I am more interested in training for lifetime fitness and functional strength instead of looks. Here is a great part of an interview with Pavel Tsoutline.
How do you train soldiers differently than civilians? For example, how would the training of a soldier compare to the training of an athlete?
Pavel: Let us use strength as an example. An athlete can afford to be strong due to large muscles but a soldier or a Marine cannot. In wartime and even during exercises muscle rapidly melts away, thanks to malnutrition, sleep deprivation, and stress. A military man must gain strength by retraining his nervous system to contract his, even shrunken, muscles harder.
The above style of neural strength training is ideally done when the trainee is totally fresh. But a soldier must exert himself when he is exhausted. Therefore at least some of the strength practice must be conducted in a state of fatigue, sometimes extreme fatigue. In the Spetsnaz it is an SOP to initiate a new guy by putting him through all sorts of hell and then have him fight a few fresh and experienced guys hand to hand. Applied to neural strength training, you could hump ninety pounds of gear on uneven terrain or go for an ocean swim, and then do your pullups and kettlebell snatches.
To sum with an analogy, an athlete is like a racecar that performs like a clock on a perfect track, with top grade fuel and oil, etc. Pull it out of its ideal environment and you have got a problem. A soldier is a Hummer that will perform under most adverse conditions.
The above is from Girevik Magazine. http://www.powerathletesmag.com/archives/Girevik/First/interview.html
I would much prefer to be the Hummer with a social life than a racecar without one. In fact I just recently ran all over Enchanted Rock (Texas) with a light pack on with my girlfriend and dog at the tail end of a bout of illness without much difficulty. I am very pleased with the efficiency of my workouts. Ill continue to train with kettlebells and will probably add in free weights when I get a chance down the line.