Sunday, March 29, 2009

High-Volume, High-Frequency Training

     For many years now, high-volume/high-frequency training has had a bad reputation.  This all started sometime in the early '90s (about the time I got seriously interested in bodybuilding and strength training).  Natural bodybuilders of that era—is that even far enough back to be considered an era?—decided (and rightly so) that the high-volume workouts done by pro bodybuilders only worked if you were either 1) genetically gifted, 2) on a buttload of anabolic steroids or other performance enhancement drugs, or 3) a combination of the two things.  Unfortunately, however, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater (so to speak) because high-frequency training—combined with a fairly high amount of volume—definitely has its place in strength training.  In fact, whether your goal is to build muscle or gain strength, high-frequency workouts might just be the most effective training programs in the muscle-building, mass-gaining multi-verse.
     The reason that the high-frequency, high-volume workouts performed by most bodybuilders of the '80s and '90s wasn't effective for the average lifter is because it combined a lot of sets with a lot of reps with moderately heavy (to heavy) poundages.  For the average, natural bodybuilder who also has a regular life and job outside of the fitness industry, this threefold combination of sets/reps/heavy weight is nothing less than the hypertrophy harbinger of doom.
     For high-frequency and high-volume training to be effective, it must follow the two following "rules":
     1) If the weights lifted are going to be heavy (by heavy I am referring to 70% of one-rep maximum or higher—preferably higher) then the reps must be low, and the sets can be high.
     2) If the sets and the reps are going to be high, the weight lifted needs to be light.  And by light, I am talking about sets with 50% of one-rep maximum, or even lighter.
     Now, let's take a look at how these two methods should be utilized:

     If you have followed a lot of my articles or training programs, then you are probably familiar with "rule #1."  Without boring you to death with explaining this form of training, I'll go ahead and show you what an example week of training might look like.  This program would be the kind utilized by a powerlifter who wants to both 1) increase his strength on the 3 lifts, and 2) gain some muscle mass.  Here goes:
Squats: Work up to a fairly heavy weight (approximately 95%) of one-rep maximum following the "21 Rep Rule."  (See my earlier post on the "21 Reps.")
Bench Presses: Same as squats
Deadlifts: 8 sets of 3 reps with 80% of one-rep maximum
Bench Presses: 10 sets of 3 reps using 75% of one-rep maximum
Squats: 10 sets of 1 rep using 85-90% of one-rep maximum
Bench Presses: 12 sets of 2 reps using 80% of one-rep maximum
Deadlifts: Use the 21-Rep rule on these, same as Monday's exercises
Squats: 10 sets of 3 reps using 75% of one-rep maximum
     In addition all of these core lifts, you could also include several sets of overhead presses, barbell curls, chins, dips, and some abdominal work.  Just be sure to keep either reps or sets low on the assistance work.

     On to "rule #2."  If you have read my articles in the past, then you might be surprised that I would recommend this kind of training.  Well, as you get up in "training years"—I've been lifting weights hard now for about half my life, and I've been training really dang heavy a lot of the time, which does take its toll—you begin to learn some tricks of the trade that allow you to still train frequently and stay in good shape, without having to train heavy all the time.  Besides, I learned about this from Bill Starr.  And like everything Bill Starr writes, while I might not agree completely with him, he always does have some damn good advice to dish out and serve.  One thing that Starr always recommended for older athletes was ultra-high rep training done very frequently.  (I believe that Starr himself currently trains this way—could be mistaken—performing a full-body workout 6 days per week with a lot of sets and a lot of reps.)
     For this kind of training to be effective, first off it can't be done with heavy weight.  In fact, if you decide to give this kind of training a go, start really light, and add weight every day if you have need to add weight at all.  Second, it must be done frequently.  If you are using 50% of your one-rep maximum, for instance, on the dumbbell bench press, you are going to be able to recover so that you can train the lift—or the muscle group—three, four, five, or even six says per week.
     Of course, this is also the benefit of this form of frequent training.  When you are training with such light weights, you CAN train frequently.  This training doesn't take a toll on your central nervous system—and if your central nervous system has recovered, then you can train again.  Those of you who have ever tried any bodyweight-only training—like the kind that has been recommended by Matt Furey or the kind performed by some of the folks over at Dragondoor—will understand what the hell I'm talking about.
     Okay, for this one I'm not going to outline any specific routine.  This kind of training should be more "instinctive"—or if you understand my pseudo Zen/Tao way of training then it could be described as "awakened" training.  However, there are some ground rules that should be followed (at least, at first). Here they are:
     1) Train your entire body 4 to 6 days per week.
     2) At each session, pick 3 to 5 exercises that work the whole of your body.  For instance, dumbbell squats, steep incline dumbbell bench presses, deadlifts, standing overhead barbell presses, and barbell curls would be a good choice of exercises.
     3) For each exercise, perform 3 to 5 sets of at least 30 reps.  Remember, keep the weight light at first and add weight as you get used to the high reps and the frequent training.
     4) As you get more advanced, add sets and reps to your exercises instead of adding exercises.

     Now, to be honest there are even more ways to use these 2 rules than what I've laid out—and there are even ways to combine the rules; see my "High Frequency Focus Training" in the March '09 issue of Iron Man magazine, for instance.  However, we'll save that for another post or another article.  Besides, it's time to go train.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Renaming the Blog (a.k.a. Integral Spirituality/Strength Training)

     Okay, for those of you who care, you'll notice that I have renamed this blog and changed the sub-heading.  The reasons are a few-fold.  (Is "few-fold" even a word?)
     First, when I changed to this new blog, I thought I would focus on just strength training, but that is proving hard to do.  Like, really hard to do.  My spirituality—which is integral to all things that I do—infuses Itself and weaves Itself around and into all aspects of my strength training.
     You see, my spirituality is something that bursts forth from the Kosmic no-thingness (which is also an All-Thingness) at the depths of my being; and it bursts forth, outward, upward and all around-ward until it becomes an all embracing, life enhancing Fullness.  And this fullness creates a spontaneity that is part of my writing, my living and breathing, and most certainly the weight training and martial arts sessions that I perform.
     My strength training and bodybuilding would not be what it is without my spirituality.  (A spirituality that I term True Spirituality; I'll leave it up to you to figure out just what that means in later posts.)  My nutrition and holistic/contemplative lifestyle would not be what it is without my spirituality.
     Now, many of you who read this blog just want to know how to get bigger and stronger, or in better shape—you don't really care anything about this I Am spirituality that I am going on about.  Well, don't worry, there will still be plenty here for you, as well.  In fact, you may find that my philosophy—and that's what it is: a philosophy and a Spirituality; not a religion—enhances your strength training in ways that you never thought about until you applied some of these philosophical Ways to your training.

     Another reason I am changing the name and the contextual outlay of the blog is because I want to focus on some of the more holistic aspects of health and fitness that I was going to neglect if I hadn't made this change.  Yep, that's right, you don't train to just look better or to get stronger.  You train to be more whole, to be more complete— to have a true metanoia if I am to put it in spiritual terms, and in terms of Spirit.

     Keep up with the blog.  Things are about to get interesting.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Designing a Full-Body Workout for Stimulating Muscle Growth

     This week, I have received several e-mails from lifters who wanted help—in some way or another; whether it was for muscle growth, strength, or both—in setting up a full-body workout.  This is my first post which will deal with this issue.
     This li'l mini-article that you're staring at on your computer screen will deal with how to set up a full-body workout for muscle growth.  In other words, these tips are for anyone whose primary goal is just muscle growth.  (I suppose I could have titled this entry "How to Look Friggin' Good Naked with Crazy Full-Body Workouts."  That probably would have gotten more attention.  But alas...)
     You will, of course, gain some strength out of workouts designed in this manner, however these programs are not for aspiring powerlifters or other strength athletes.  These are for bodybuilders—or anyone who just wants to gain the most muscle growth possible in the shortest amount of time.
     Here are what I consider to be the "keys" to making full-body workouts work for muscle growth:
1. Train 3 days each week.  Some lifters, unfortunately, think that for muscle growth they should only use a full-body workout 2 days each week.  This is a mistake.  (A mistake usually influenced by proponents of a H.I.T. training, where the extra days off are thought to aid in recovery.)  Two days per week training is actually better for folks interested in strength gains, and just strength gains—lifters who don't want to go up in weight class but still maintain or gain strength.
     Three days is needed for muscle growth to occur at the fastest rate.  Monday, Wednesday, Friday; Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday—whatever days fit best into your schedule.  Don't be lazy and train less.
     As you get more advanced, you can actually increase this amount of training to 4 days per week, or you can increase it to every-other-day training, where you don't take 2 days off after every third workout.  But for most lifters, 3 days is plenty at first.
2. Squat at each session.  There are other great exercises in the muscle-building universe, but nothing beats full, butt-to-the-calves squats.
3. Rotate exercises at least every 3 workouts.  The squats should remain the same, but other exercises should be rotated from on a regular basis.  If you're an advanced lifter, you should be rotating exercises at every session.  If you're not advanced, then at least rotate exercises at the start of each training week.
4. Perform between 25 to 50 reps for each exercise.  More reps than this on each exercise, and you're going to be overdoing it.  Less, and you won't gain enough muscle mass.  If the reps are on the low end of the spectrum, then you should be lifting with heavier weights—a 5 sets of 5 reps scheme, for instance.  If your reps are on the high end of the spectrum, then the weights should be lighter—a 5 sets of 10 scheme for example.
5. Rotate rep ranges at each workout session.  For instance, on the first training session of each week, use a 5 sets of 5 reps scheme.  At the second session, use a 2 sets of 20 reps scheme.  At the 3rd workout session, use a 5 sets of 10 rep scheme.  At your first workout for the next week, you could use a 4 sets of 8 reps scheme.  Change, change, change.
6. Every 4th week of training, take a "down" week.  Train really hard for 3 weeks, then make sure you have a "down" week on the 4th week.  This is what really aids in recovery, not training just 2 days per week or taking an entire week off of training.

     For my next post, I will discuss full-body training where your only goal is to be the pure d strongest sumbeech (as we say in Alabama) on the block.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Heavy-Light-Medium System for Low-Volume Lifters

     Since I had my most recent article published at Dragon Door ("The Heavy-Light-Medium System for Strength and Power"), I have received a few e-mails from lifters with a wide range of questions.  I thought I would use this post—and some later ones—to answer some of those questions and to help some of you lifters who might need to adapt the system to fit your particular needs.
     This post will deal with adapting the system for "low-volume" lifters.  First, let's categorize what a low-volume lifter is, then we can get on to designing an actual workout.  When it comes to the heavy-light-medium system I categorize a low-volume lifter as a lifter who 1) responds well to workouts that contain less volume (most lifters respond well to moderate-volume, and some—about the same number of lifters who respond well to low-volume, in case you're wondering— respond well to high-volume), and 2) gets stronger on the top-set of a core lift with a relatively low number of progressively heavier sets.
     I first discovered this category of lifters on this system myself a few years back.  I was training with three other powerlifters, and we decided to start using a version of the heavy-light-medium system while training for an upcoming meet.  Since all of us were relatively advanced strength-wise (pound-for-pound I was the strongest, but all of my training partners were as strong as me, if not stronger—they just weighed more), I decided it would be best if we trained with a moderate to high amount of volume.
     All of us got good gains out of the program for the first few weeks except my best friend Puddin'.  (Puddin', in case some of you don't understand this, is a very southern redneck nickname—and my buddy is the only person I know with the name; I assume there are other Puddins out there in the redneck universe, but I could be wrong.)  Puddin' actually got weaker on all of his core lifts except for his squat.  He didn't get weaker on his squat, but his numbers didn't go up on it either; just stagnated.
     At first, this didn't compute.  Puddin' was the strongest of all of us.  He  weighed over 300 pounds at a height of 5'9", could bench press more than 450 pounds raw, could squat 600 pounds raw, and could deadlift around 500 pounds.  (He was too short and his arms too stubby to have a really big pull.)  He was also—considering his weight—in really good shape.  After all, he was capable of doing about 20 reps on dips—really good considering his size—and could do quite a lot of reps on chins.  But then I got to thinking.  He was also bad about drinking too much beer, and laying off from the garage gym once every three or four weeks or so.  He was also known to show up to our workouts having already drank far too many beers—which usually meant he wasn't going to do near the workload as the rest of us.  And you know what?  He always progressed as fast as the rest of us did.
     With this revelation, I made a decision.  I had him cut out all of his assistance work.  He went from 5 to 6 sets of progressively heavier sets of 5 or 3 reps to only 3 to 4 sets of 3 to 5 reps.  Also, I had him cut out all lower back work on his "light" day.
     Lo and behold—you know what happened?  His lifts skyrocketed.  And he soon broke all his personal bests.
     Puddin' was definitely a low-volume lifter.

     Here is an example of what a heavy-light-medium workout should look like for low-volume lifters.  Keep in mind that when the program says 4 sets of 5 or 3 sets of 5 on a "core" lift, this means 4 or 3 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps.  The last set should be "all-out."  Although you want to get all 5 reps, 6 should be impossible if you were to attempt it.

Monday (Heavy)
Squats: 4 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 3 sets of 5 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 4 sets of 5 reps
ab work

Wednesday (Light)
Squats: 3 sets of 5 reps
Standing Overhead Presses: 4 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curls: 4 sets of 5 reps
ab work

Friday (Medium)
Squats: 3 sets of 5 reps, 1 set of 3 reps (This last set of 3 reps should be with a weight heavier than your 4th set of 5 reps from Monday.)
Dips: 4 sets of 5 reps
Good-Morning Squats: 3 sets of 5 reps

     Here are a couple of other tips:
     First, don't do this program if you're a moderate-volume or high-volume lifter just because you're lazy.  This program is meant for those who actually thrive off less-volume.
     If you're a moderate to high-volume lifter but you work a job that requires a lot of heavy manual labor (construction worker, for instance), then this program is good for you in this case.
     This program is also good for moderate to high-volume lifters who are athletes and are "in-season."  The workload is low enough that you should still be able to perform your other workouts for your sport and compete in your chosen sport.

Friday, March 13, 2009

21s for Strength and Power

     Big Jim Williams - who died not that long ago at the age of 65 - was one of the great legends of strength and power that you just don't hear that much about.  What a shame.  Not only was Williams strong (he bench pressed 675 pounds in a meet wearing nothing but a t-shirt and lifting belt, and did an "unofficial" bench of 700 pounds in the gym), but he was massively muscular and had a wealth of knowledge for anyone interested in getting bigger and stronger.

     One of the techniques that Williams liked to use - especially for more advanced lifters or for lifters who are "built" for a certain lift - was something called "21s."  And, no, these are not the 21s that are popular for bodybuilders.

     Here's how real 21s work: On your major lifts (squats, benches, deads, overhead presses - whatever lift it is that you're trying to get stronger) you perform no more than 21 total reps for that lift in the workout.  Using this technique you then train the lift rather frequently.  Anywhere between 3 to 5 days per lift, for instance.  (On deadlifts you might want to do less; the muscles of the lower back simply take longer to recover for most lifters.)

     Let's say that you have a max squat that hovers somewhere in the 400 pound range.  Using 21s your workout might go like this: 135 for 5 reps, 225 for 5 reps, 275 for 5 reps, 315 for 3 reps, 375 for 2 reps, 400 for 1 single.  You then repeat this workout another 2 to 3 days during the week.  Because the volume is so low on the lift, your body can handle the frequent training.  Slowly increase the weight over the course of a few weeks, and before you know it your squat is better than ever.

     Here is what a week of training might look like for a powerlifter trying to increase all his/her 3 lifts:

Monday: Squats: 21 reps, Bench Presses: 21 reps, chins for 5 sets of 5 reps, lying dumbbell triceps extensions for 3 sets of 10 reps

Tuesday: Bench Presses: 21 reps, Deadlifts: 21 reps

Wednesday: Squats: 21 reps, barbell curls for 3 sets of 10 reps, front plate raises for 3 sets of 10 reps

Thursday: Deadlifts: 21 reps, Bench Presses: 21 reps, bench dips for 2 sets of 20 reps

Friday: Squats: 21 reps

Saturday: Bench Presses: 21 reps

     It's a shame you don't see more of this kind of lifting performed nowadays.  Maybe it's not very popular because it's just too straightforward and basic.  There's nothing glamorous about it, that's for sure.  Of course, there was nothing glamorous about Jim Williams either, just a heaping mountain of mass and might.  That's all.

     May Jim Williams rest in peace.  He deserves it.  But may his training programs get more respect and more use by modern lifters.  He deserves that as well.

I have two new articles this month already out.  One of them is in the latest issue (April '09) of Iron Man magazine - see pic to the left - and the other is at the website
The Iron Man article is entitled "Total Training" and it deals with full-body workouts for advanced lifters.  Which, despite what many of you "split" advocates might believe, is still the best kind of training that can be performed.
The Dragon Door article is entitled "The Heavy-Light-Medium System for Strength and Power."
Check both of them out.

Welcome to my new blog

Welcome to my new blog.  I've changed from my older one ( because of the ease with which I can update this one, and because I would like to get some more traffic moving to it.
One thing that you might notice which is different is that this blog will focus on strength training, bodybuilding, health and fitness, and martial arts.  My last blog - and my other website in general - also included plenty of spiritual stuff (integral spirituality, non-dual mysticism, contemplative Christianity).  However, I found that many folks who read my blog for the strength stuff really didn't have much interest in the spiritual side of my life.  And vice-versa.  (With a few exceptions, of course.)
So... here's where you'll find all things strength, muscle, power, martial arts, and health in general.  I am going to start another blog - with the tentative title of "Renegade Mystic" - which will focus on all things spiritual.