Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Two Keys to Massive Strength and Size Gains

     Do you want the two secrets that unlock massive strength and size gains?  Do you want the two keys to becoming the strongest and all-around biggest mutha-trucker walking around in the gym?
     Okay, here goes.  You ready for it?
     Key #1: Heavy Leg Training
     Key #2: Heavy Back Training
     Did you expect something else?  Did you think I was going to talk about some new supplement that just came out on the market?  Or did you think I was going to lay out the latest "super-diet" to massive gains.
     Well, some things never change.  People want the easy way—they want to take the road most-often travelled.  But it is the road least travelled that makes all the difference.
     Your average gym-rat will gladly read the latest chest-training article or the latest gimmick for arm-training.  But it is the lifter who concentrates on heavy leg training and heavy back training who makes the most gains.

     Now, I'm going to give you something that you probably want: an actual training program for gaining lots of mass—and lots of strength to go along with the mass.
     (If you don't realize why this kind of training is so effective, then make sure you go back and read my last post on Bill Starr.)
The Massive Size-And-Strength Program
Day One - Heavy Day
Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps, 2 back-off sets of 8 reps.  Work up to a 5-rep max over 5 progressively heavier sets.  Follow this with 2 back-off sets of 8.
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps, 2 back-off sets of 8 reps.
Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps.
Wide-Grip Chins: 5 sets of max reps.
Walking Lunges: 3 sets of 20 reps.
Day Two - Light Day
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps.  Perform 5 progressively heavier sets.
Power Cleans: 5 sets of 5 reps.  5 progressively heavier sets.
Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps.
Day Three - Medium Day
Squats: 3 sets of 5 reps, 2 sets of 3 reps.  The last set of 3 reps should be heavier than the last set of 5 reps from Day One.
Deadlifts: 3 sets of 5 reps, 2 sets of 3 reps.
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps.
Close-Grip Chins: 5 sets of max reps.
Bulgarian Squats: 3 sets of 15 reps (each leg).

     Make sure you do some heavy ab work on each day.  Also, make sure you are eating plenty of protein and calories so that you get the most size and strength gains possible out of the program.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bill Starr's Simplified Training

     For those of you who don't know—and most of you who have read my training articles do know—my primary inspiration in training and writing has always been Bill Starr.  Perhaps nowadays people—powerlifters, strength athletes, readers of the major bodybuilding magazines—think that Starr is too "old-school."  Well, old-school, in my book is just fine.  Bill Starr is still, and always will be, one of the best-of-the-best.
     When I grow tired of writing training articles, I return to Bill Starr.  (Who writes damn good, by the way.)
     When I grow tired of my current training program, I return to Bill Starr.
     When I grow weary of all the modern gadgets—stuff like training balls, chains, bands, and one-legged whatever—I return to Bill Starr.
     When I grow weary of all the modern "trainers" and all of their methods (like everyone that writes for T-Muscle, for instance—as much as I like that magazine), I return to Bill Starr.
     And when I just need a reminder of why I love to write and love to lift in the first place, I return to Bill Starr.
     For those of you who don't know who Bill Starr is the following article—from Iron Man magazine—is a great place to start.  His programs—as simple as they may seam (and they are anything but when you delve into them)—are some of the most result-producing you will ever come across.
     (On a side note, if you don't think this kind of training is effective—if you think it's too basic—then go purchase the current copy of Planet Muscle magazine.  PM has a great article about Mike Bridges (easily one of the three greatest powerlifters of all time) and read about his training program.)

     For now, it's time to delve into the wisdom that is Starr:

Bodybuilding Success Blueprint: The Big Three

By: Bill Starr

During the past year I've received a pile of requests from IRON MAN readers and friends to look over their programs. They're all stuck and want some advice on how to move forward again. In every instance I find the same problem—they're trying to do far too much, either for their current strength level, their age or both. I look over a list of exercises that would make top competitive weightlifters and bodybuilders cringe.

Even so, when I suggest that they should eliminate at least half of the exercises, they insist that they need to do them all if they want a complete full-body workout. Well, I reply, if you're preparing for the Mr. Olympia contest or the Olympic lifting Nationals, then perhaps you do need to hit all those groups individually. That is, if you have a couple of hours a day in which to train, have a surplus of funds to buy all the supplements you'll need to aid your recovery and don't have to worry about earning an income. Otherwise, you're doing too much.

When a program includes a dozen or so exercises, you end up spreading your energy too thin to allow you to make substantial gains. You can't recuperate from the long sessions in the gym, and since you're not giving enough attention to any one muscle group, everything stays the same. Or worse. In many cases the numbers start slipping backward.

Keep in mind that I'm referring to beginners and intermediates. Advanced strength athletes can do a great deal more work in the gym and recover from it. That's due to the fact that over an extended period of diligent training they've established a wide, firm foundation of strength. Most trainees who will read this are not in that category.

The notion of simplicity in strength training has gotten lost in recent years. Currently, any program worth its salt must include lots of exercises done on specialized machines, and, of course, there have to be a few gimmicks such as large balls and chains thrown in for good measure. After all, that's what the modern athlete needs to be competitive'which is pure bullshit.

The truth of the matter is, gyms that feature only the most rudimentary equipment'like those found in basements and garages'where the athletes build their routines around a few primary movements, turn out stronger men than the multiexercise programs in la-di-da facilities.

Another primary reason that so many programs have so many exercises in them is the influence of articles that appear in fitness magazines. I look at programs that fill an entire page and shake my head, wondering, What is a beginner to think? Most likely that the authors are experts and know what they're talking about. If they say that I need to do 15 exercises in a session, that's what I'll do. And since the gym is filled with machines, it only makes sense to use all of them.

So, instead of hammering away on full squats, our beginner moves from machine to machine, working his legs in a variety of fashions. It's a good idea on paper, but it doesn't get the results that attacking a primary exercise and using a couple of machines for auxiliary work does. There's also the point that few like to admit: Working on a machine is easier than doing free-weight exercises.

Understand that your body only has so much energy for training, and once you've tapped that supply, you're not going to make any further progress on that day. When you continue to pound away, even on the smaller muscle groups, all you're doing is fatiguing the muscles and attachments, which will adversely affect your next workout. In other words, you're overtraining.

To gain strength, you need to do one primary exercise for each of the three major muscle groups: shoulder girdle, back and hips and legs. Then add a few auxiliary movements for the smaller groups, and leave the gym. 

Whenever a beginner follows that course, gains come consistently'and there's no doubt in my mind that the greatest motivator in the weight room is making regular progress. Nothing'well, almost nothing'feels as great as improving one of your primary lifts. Achieving a personal record makes you eager to get back in the gym for your next session. In contrast, if you're stuck on every lift, you'll be inclined to skip the next workout, flop on the couch and watch TV.

I should mention that using too many exercises in a program is not a new development. I pointed a finger at machines for being partly responsible, but in truth trainees started doing it long before the machines came on the market. In the late 1960s strength training for athletes made a huge leap forward due largely to the articles published in Strength & Health and Iron Man about sports teams and individual athletes using heavy weights to improve their performances.

Football led the way. The San Diego Chargers, under strength coach Alvin Roy, had a tremendous influence on the mind-sets of college and high school coaches. If the pros lifted weights, we should too, was the thinking. Tommy Suggs and I took it upon ourselves to go forth and preach the gospel of strength training to the masses. We were in ideal positions to be considered authorities on the subject: Tommy was the managing editor of Strength & Health, and I was his assistant. We'd both won national titles in Olympia lifting and had represented the York Barbell Club, the national-team champion. That gave us an in, and we began putting on demonstrations and clinics at high schools and colleges in the area. Bob Hoffman understood the financial implications of what we were doing and backed us 100 percent'although, I should add, we never received anything extra in our paychecks for our efforts. Even so, we surged on. We were on a mission.

To read the rest of the article, go here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Training Journal: Bodyweight Conditioning and Awakened Training

     I thought it would be good if—from time to time—I discuss what a training session looks like for me.  All of these will be under the heading of "Training Journal".

Bodyweight Conditioning and Awakened Training
     Of late, I've been doing a lot of bodyweight training.  (Read my earlier post on bodyweight training to understand why.)  For today's particular session, I thought I would take the opportunity to also do what I call "awakened training."  If you want to understand more about awakened training, then I have a couple of past posts on the subject.  If you don't, then it basically goes something like this:  Awakened training is my take on what used to be called "instinctive training" and has been called by the bodybuilding legend Dave Draper as "freestyling."  For this kind of training to work, you must really know your body.  You also need a firm foundation in "basic" training.  Basically, with Awakened training, you just do it.  As my old sensei used to tell me many years ago: "You must learn to fight without fighting.  Let go of your mind—I have trained you enough where you already know what to do.  Now, just do it!"

     I got off work early today—yes, I do have a regular job as an industrial engineer for a manufacturing plant, in addition to the freelancing I do—so I decided it would be a great day to train however long I damn well pleased.  On my drive home, I stopped by the gas station, picked up a bottle of "Naked" protein fruit juice—love that stuff, wish more places carried it—and a "Monster" energy "shot".  I guzzled the energy shot, then spent the rest of the drive home drinking the juice.
     I was "rarin' to go"—as we say in the south—by the time I got home.  I grabbed a bottle of water out of the fridge, picked up my pair of 40 pound dumbbells, and went outside.  Nice day to train outside—65 degrees or so, sunny.
     I picked four exercises.  The first was "Bulgarian squats".  I did 15 reps each leg, don't know how many sets.  I didn't count.  I just did them.  Six or seven sets (I think) later, I was ready for the next exercise:
     Bodyweight squats.  Here, I didn't count reps.  I counted sets.  I did three sets, don't know how many reps—75 to 100 if I had to guess.
     My legs were pumped.  I rested 5 minutes or so, then did some push ups alternated with dumbbell curls.  Here, I couldn't tell you how many reps or how many sets I did on each exercise.  I just trained them.  Until my chest and arms were "pumped" to the max.  Until a euphoric bliss set in.  Until time and space fell away.  And I lived in an eternal now.  And there was only ever That.
     The workout lasted about an hour and a half.
     I went inside, drank a protein drink, decided to sit down and do a little writing.
     All in all, it was a good day of training.

Friday, November 6, 2009

3 Exercise, Full-Body Split Workouts

The Benefits of Full-Body Workouts 
    As anyone who reads this blog—or any of my articles—knows, I'm a big fan of full-body workout programs.  I'm a fan of them for a number of reasons: they allow you to train your muscle groups frequently (yes, dammit, that's a good thing!), they allow you to train your muscles frequently without being in the gym all the time, and they act as a sort of anabolic "trigger"—stimulating muscle growth throughout your entire body better than split workout programs.
     Don't get me wrong.  I am in no way opposed to split training programs.  If you look throughout this blog you'll find a number of good workout suggestions and routines that use a split schedule.  Also, if you read past article of mine from 10 years back or so—mainly in Iron Man magazine and MuscleMag International—you will discover back then that I recommended split workouts almost exclusively.

Strength Coaches, Personal Trainers, Writers, and Their Personal Efficacy
     Here's the thing: I recommend that—after laying a good foundation during your first year of training by using almost exclusive full-body workouts—you experiment with different training splits.  Two-way splits, three-way splits, four-way splits, one-muscle-group-per workout splits, double-splits—you name it, I recommend that you try it.
     But if you're going to do so, you need a good strength coach or personal trainer that understands the territory.  (Preferably this trainer/coach should be able to train you in person; if not, find someone—such as myself—on the internet that understands how to apply his/her training principles.)  If a strength coach/trainer doesn't know how to use a particular split and/or full-body program, then they aren't of much use.  And, yes, some trainers are very good at making split workouts programs "work" and some are not.  The same goes for full-body workouts.
     Myself, I understand full-body workouts.  I have used them on myself and others in order to gain lots of muscle, garner plenty of strength, train for powerlifting competitions, etc.

3 Exercise, Full-Body Split Workout Programs
     Which brings us around to the subject of this post: 3 exercise, full-body split workouts.
     There are a number of full-body workouts that are effective depending on your physique, your training experience, and your training goals.  Solely for the sake of gaining muscle mass, I like this particular form of training.
     Here's how it works:
     Train three days each week (say, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).  On each day, pick either a lower-body pushing exercise or a lower-body pulling exercise.  Also, pick one upper body pushing exercise and one upper body pulling exercise for each session.  At each workout session, rotate exercises.  On each exercise, perform 5 to 8 sets for 5 to 8 reps.
     A week of workouts might look like this:
Deadlifts: 8 sets of 5 reps
Wide-Grip Chins: 5 sets of 5 reps
Dips: 8 sets of 5 reps
Squats: 5 sets of 8 reps
Bent-Over Rows: 5 sets of 5 reps
Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 8 reps
Deadlifts: 8 sets of 5 reps
Wide-Grip Chins: 5 sets of 5 reps
Dips: 8 sets of 5 reps
     On the following Monday, you would repeat the Wednesday workout.

     Not that complicated.  But highly effective.