Monday, December 28, 2009

Staggered Volume Training

Staggered Volume Training

     This little gem was designed by an exercise physiologist named Douglas Christ over a decade ago.  He claimed—and probably still does—that it’s the best program for maximizing growth hormone release.  I wasn’t sure about that claim when he first made it, and I’m still not sold.  However, what I do know is that it’s an excellent way to pack on some muscle mass when stuck in a rut, particularly when you have been pounding away at more heavy duty, low rep style routines.

     Here are the three factors to making this program work:

  1. Always perform full-body workouts 3 days a week.
  2. Pick one exercise for each bodypart.  The exercises selected should be “bang-for-your-buck” ones—exercises that work a lot of muscle groups at once.
  3. Perform a high volume of work.  Depending on your fitness and strength level, you want to perform 8 to 12 exercises for 12 to 16 reps each.  Also—and here’s the kicker—perform all sets in “jump-set” fashion, alternating exercises for antagonistic bodyparts after 4 sets have been performed on a particular exercise.  For instance, after you have done 4 sets for your chest, do 4 sets for your back, then go back to 4 sets for your chest, and continue in this manner until all prescribed sets have been performed for the exercise.

     Okay, here’s what 2 programs look like.  The first one is for beginners—or anyone not conditioned to full-body workouts—and the second one is an advanced program.

Beginning Staggered Volume Training

 Perform the following program 3 non-consecutive days a week

  • Leg Presses – 4 sets of 12 to 16 reps
  • Lying Leg Curls – 4 sets of 12 to 16 reps
  • Leg Presses – 4 sets of 12 to 16 reps
  • Lying Leg Curls – 4 sets of 12 to 16 reps
  • Incline Bench Presses – 4 sets of 12 to 16 reps
  • Wide Grip Chins – 4 sets of maximum number of reps
  • Incline Bench Presses – 4 sets of 12 to 16 reps
  • Wide Grip Chins – 4 sets of maximum number of reps
  • Barbell Curls – 4 sets of 12 to 16 reps
  • Bench Dips – 4 sets of 16 reps
  • Barbell Curls – 4 sets of 12 to 16 reps
  • Bench Dips – 4 sets of 16 reps
  • Lateral Raises – 4 sets of 12 to 16 reps
  • Incline Sit-Ups – 4 sets of 20 to 30 reps

     Here are a few more pointers to get the most out of this program: 1. Don’t approach muscular failure except on the last rep of the last set of each exercise.  2. Use approximately 50-60% of your one-rep maximum—this should keep the intensity at the right level.  3. Take at least 1 minute between sets; any less and you will become too fatigued.  Don’t take more than 2 and a ½ minutes between sets; any more and you won’t be working your muscles hard enough.

Advanced Staggered Volume Training

     This program is for those of you who are already at a high level of strength and muscle development or it can be used after training on the beginning program for a couple of months.

Monday and Friday

  • Squats – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Stiff-Legged Deadlifts – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Squats – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Stiff-Legged Deadlifts – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Squats – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Stiff-Legged Deadlifts – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Incline Barbell Bench Presses – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Wide Grip Chins or Lat Pulldowns – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Incline Barbell Bench Presses – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Wide Grip Chins or Lat Pulldowns – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Incline Barbell Bench Presses – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Wide Grip Chins or Lat Pulldowns – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Barbell Curls – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extensions – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Barbell Curls – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extensions – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Standing Overhead Presses – 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Hanging Leg Raises – 4 sets of 20 to 30 reps

Wednesday

  • Leg Extensions – 4 sets of 20 reps
  • Lying Leg Curls – 4 sets of 20 reps
  • Leg Extensions – 4 sets of 20 reps
  • Lying Leg Curls – 4 sets of 20 reps
  • Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses – 4 sets of 16 reps
  • Bent-Over Rows – 4 sets of 16 reps
  • Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses – 4 sets of 16 reps
  • Bent-Over Rows – 4 sets of 16 reps
  • Dumbbell Curls – 4 sets of 16 reps
  • Skullcrushers – 4 sets of 16 reps
  • Dumbbell Curls – 4 sets of 16 reps
  • Skullcrushers – 4 sets of 16 reps
  • Dumbbell Curls – 4 sets of 16 reps
  • Skullcrushers – 4 sets of 16 reps
  • Seated Overhead Dumbbell Presses – 4 sets of 16 reps
  • Incline Sit-Ups – 4 sets of 20 to 30 reps

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The 3 to 5 "Plus" Program

     Here's a simple program that really works well when it comes to gaining strength and plenty of muscle to go along with it.  In fact, it may be more conducive to muscle growth than to pure strength.

     Okay, first things first.  Go back and read my post on "The 3 to 5 Method for Strength and Power."  Here's a quick link.

     Read it?  Good.  Now, the one thing I want you to do different with the training program here is I want you to limit your training to just 3 days each week (as opposed to 4 or 5).  This way you have enough energy to perform the "plus" part of the training program—don't worry, we'll get around to just what the "plus" part is in a moment—and enough recovery time between workouts.
     So the 3 to 5 part of the workout might look like this:
Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 3 reps
Bench Presses: 4 sets of 5 reps
Close-Grip Chins: 4 sets of 5 reps
     When you are finished with that portion of the workout, you will now perform the "plus" portion.  For this, pick a bodypart that is lagging behind the others and needs a little "specialization" work.  Then, pick a good "bang-for-your-buck" exercise to train the muscle group.  If your chest is sub-par in development, for instance, you could choose the dumbbell bench press.
     On this exercise, perform 100 reps.  Pick a weight, however, where you would typically reach failure between 25 and 30 reps.  Don't count sets.  Just count reps.  Do however many sets it takes until you reach 100.
     If you have a bodypart that is really lagging behind the others, then you could work it at each training session.  If you have several that need attention, then rotate exercises at each training session for a different muscle group.
     A week of training might look like this:
Monday
Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 3 reps
Bench Presses: 4 sets of 5 reps
Close-Grip Chins: 4 sets of 5 reps
Dumbbell Bench Presses: 100 reps
Wednesday
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Power Cleans: 5 sets of 3 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 3 reps
Bent-Over Rows: 4 sets of 5 reps
Dumbbell Squats: 100 reps
Friday
Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 3 reps
Bench Presses: 4 sets of 5 reps
Close-Grip Chins: 4 sets of 5 reps
Pullovers: 100 reps
     This is another one of those workouts that looks simple on paper—and it is.  But that doesn't mean that it's not highly effective.  It's that too.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Advanced Heavy-Light-Medium Power Training

Advanced Heavy-Light-Medium Power Training

     What follows is a program designed for intermediate to advanced powerlifters who would like to use the H-L-M program.  This program is not for outright beginners.  It's also best suited for those of you who are actually "built" for the three powerlifts.  (Or at least built for two of them.  This kind of training, for instance, is very effective in bringing up the numbers on my squat and deadlift.  I have short legs, a fairly short torso, and long arms.  Squats and deadlifts increase for me without my having to do much else other than squat and deadlift.  For the bench press, I need a little something extra—but we'll get to that in due time.)
     This workout program also tends to add muscle mass, so it might not be ideal for those of you who have trouble staying in one weight class.
      Without further ado, here it is:

Monday: Heavy Day
Squats: Perform 3 to 4 progressively heavier sets of 5.  Follow this with 5 work sets of 5 reps.  An example series of sets might look like this:
135x5
225x5
315x5
375x5x5
Bench Presses: Perform 3 to 4 progressively heavier sets of 5.  Follow this with 5 work sets of 5 reps.
Deadlifts: Same as the squats and bench presses; 3 to 4 progressively heavier 5s, 5 work sets of 5 reps.
Finish the workout session with a couple sets of overhead presses, dumbbell curls, skullcrushers, stiff-legged deadlifts, bent-over rows, or ab work.  All of these sets should be fairly "light" and not all that taxing on your body's ability to recover.  (More on what exercises you should choose in a little bit.)

Wednesday: Light Day
Squats: Perform 1 to 2 warm up sets of 5 reps, follow this with 5 sets of 5 reps with a lighter weight than on Monday.  If you performed 375x5x5 on Monday's workouts, this session might look like this:
135x5
225x5x5
Dips or Incline Bench Presses: 2 to 3 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps, followed by 5 sets of 5 reps
Chins: 5 sets of 5 reps
Good Mornings: 5 sets of 5 reps (not counting warm-ups)
Ab Work

Friday: Medium Day
     Even though this is a "medium" day, you are going to train heavier than on Monday.  Don't worry, your total workload will be less.

Squats: Perform 3 to 5 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps, followed by 5 sets of 2 reps with a weight heavier than on Monday.  If you squatted 375x5x5 on Monday, this workout might look like the following:
135x5
225x5
315x5
350x5
405x5x2
Bench Presses: Perform 3 to 5 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps, followed by 5 sets of 2 reps.
Deadlifts: Same as the squats and bench presses.
Finish the training session with some assistance work the same as on Monday, but rotate between different exercises each week.

     When you come in to train on the following Monday, you will now try to use 5 sets of 5 reps with the same weight that you used 5 sets of 2 reps with on Friday.  This goes for squats, bench presses, and deadlifts.
     Make sure you begin the first week of training by not starting too heavy on all of your core exercises.  This will give you some time to adjust to the volume and the intensity of the 5 sets of 5s on all of the Monday workouts.
     This exercise program looks amazingly simple—which it is—but it's also tougher than you think... and effective.

     If you are not built for a certain exercise, then this is where the majority of your "assistance" work should be focused.  This means that if you have short legs, short arms, and are built like a "brick shithouse"—in other words, you ain't exactly built for deadlifting—then you need to make sure that you are doing plenty of rows, stiff-legged deadlifts, and other stuff of the like on your Monday and Friday workouts.

     Okay, like I said, this program is really simple, but don't let that fool you (I mean, really don't let that fool you).  After a few weeks of training, the "heavy" days should be pretty brutal to just make it through the squats, bench presses, and deadlifts.  But the effort—if you can handle it—will be well worth it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New "Planet Muscle" article

     Okay, everyone, be sure to check out the latest issue of Planet Muscle magazine (Jan/Feb 2010 issue).  If it hasn't already hit your local newsstand, it should do so soon.
     I have an article in it entitled "Split Training for Ultimate Muscle Size" (pg.61).  I really do believe that the workout I lay out in the article is the best split workout in existence if your goal is muscle mass—as opposed to just strength.  (And, yes, I still love full-body workouts.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Training Entry #1: The One with the Colds and the Christ Presence

     First things first—before we get to the actual training for today—as you can probably tell, this will NOT be your typical training journal (for the most part).  I will try to also include plenty of the psychological and the spiritual in my entries.  Hopefully, this will allow you to see—if not completely understand—how physical training (especially certain kinds of physical training) can become a true mind-body-Spirit process.

Training Entry #1: The One with the Colds and the Christ Presence
Tuesday, December 15th, 2009
     When I arrived home from work this afternoon, I absolutely—and in no friggin' way—felt good.  I had (and have as I write this) a cold.  My body ached—not too bad, but plenty enough to be annoying—and my throat was sore enough that it was hard to swallow.
     I walked through the kitchen, dropped my keys and my wallet on the counter, then headed straight to the bedroom.  I took a 30 minute nap, but made sure I set the alarm on my phone so that I could call Puddin'—one of my workout partners—at 4:30, when he gets off work.
     4:30 came, I woke, then dialed the big lug's number.  "I don't feel good," he said upon answering.
     "What do you mean you don't feel good?" I replied.  "Thought you were over that funk a day or so ago."
     "Guess I wasn't."
     "Yeah, and now I think you've given it to me.  I feel like crud."
     "That's because you got the crud," he said, laughing.  I didn't think it was funny.
     "We training?" he asked.  "I called Rusty"—(note: our other training partner)—"and he said he has to work until 7 or later, ain't no way he can make it."
     I knew where Puddin' was heading.  He thought—with both of us being sick—that maybe we should not train.
     "You bet we're training," I said.
     Here's the rule I follow: colds, you train; flu, you don't train.  It's as simple as that.
     And here's something else—a little something that anyone who lifts weights needs to know—often times you will be stronger on core exercises for low reps when you have a cold.  This is one that I picked up from Bill Starr.  Starr would often have his lifters train heavier when they had colds.  And here's the other thing: He wouldn't have them train for a lot of reps or do much—if any—assistance work.  Although a cold will make you slightly stronger for triples or doubles or singles (probably due to a heightened nervous system), it will make you weaker when you attempt to perform sets of multiple reps.
     I planned to take a page out of Starr's book for this day.
     I then explained to Puddin' the opinion of Bill Starr.  He said okay, he was willing to give it a try.

     Puddin' and I arrived at our gym—which we have affectionately nicknamed "The Wrecking Crew Gym"—about an hour later.  A friend of mine owns a wrecking service.  He has an absolutely enormous garage, and he recently agreed to let me store my home gym at his place.  And it's a heck of a place to workout.  Although I call it a home gym, I have just about everything you need: 1,300 pounds of free weights, squat rack, a Forza bench, deadlifting platform, plenty of dumbbells, a weight sled, and plenty of bands—like I said, just about everything you need.
     We walked in, turned on the lights, cranked up the music—the latest "Daughtry" album being our current selection—then prepared to do some squats.
     "Remember," I told Puddin, "we're training heavy, might even work up close to a one-rep max."  (I have only recently returned to squatting heavy—after a far-too-long hiatus—so I was a little worried about how much I could handle.)
     The first set—135 pounds—felt pretty good for a set of 5.  The second set—225—didn't feel too bad either.  The 3rd set was also 225 pounds for another set of 5.
     The 4th and 5th sets were both 315 pounds for sets of 3 reps.  And both of these really didn't feel as good as I was hoping.  I was kind of having second-thoughts about Starr's theory, but I was about to discover if it was true or not.
     For our 6th and 7th sets, we did 405 pounds for 2 singles.  They felt okay—deep, butt-to-the-floor—but I wasn't so sure about going heavy.  "What you think, Puddin'?  Should we do a few sets with 450 or 475?"
     "Nope, let's go ahead and hit 500.  I got 500 in my head, and I plan on doing it."
     We loaded the bar with 505 pounds.  Our 8th set—a single—felt like hell for me, but I got it with plenty of depth and enough power that the bar moved with more acceleration than I had expected.  We then followed it up with two more singles—make that sets 9 and 10—and each single felt stronger than the first (for both of us).
     We followed this with one more set—set #11—with 405 pounds for 3 reps.
     Maybe it was the combination of my cold, and all of the heavy training we had just done, but I was feeling good—and it was more than just the endorphins kicking in.
     This was different.
     Perhaps it's all the meditation that I've done over the years, but this was a very concentrative feeling that I could tap into—a Source that dwells within, and only seems to rise to the surface during intense prayer, or meditation, or a hard, heavy session like we were having.
     Centered in my Source (I could tell that Puddin' felt a little different, as well; something almost palpable was in the air), we hit deadlifts next.
     250 for 2 sets of 5 reps.
     340 for 3 sets of 3 reps.
     420 for 5 singles; 5 explosive, powerful singles.
     And on about my 3rd single with 420, it hit me: this wasn't just some kensho (although it was that too), this was a Presence.  It seemed to swirl around me, filling me with Divinity.  It seemed to come from my heart-center—that place in the middle of my chest—but it was also beyond me, transcending me with its Other power.
     I connected to It; It and I were one and the same.  ("I and my Father are One.")  Centered, standing as the Awareness of What Is, the next two singles that I performed were the strongest yet, so strong that it seemed as if I could have done twice as much weight.  The bar was ripped from the ground.  But it also seemed as if it wasn't me that was doing the lifting—it was Something Else—and I was simply its vessel.
     Puddin' and I talked very little for the rest of the workout session.  There was very little to say—Silence seemed the best answer, and all else seemed as if it would have been a blasphemy.
     We were tired, spent, but also focused as ever.  Finishing off the workout with bench presses, we did 135 for 2 sets of 7, 225 for 3 sets of 5, and then 275 for 3 sets of 3.
     That was it.
     
     We said very little to one another on the drive home, as well.  Words would have seemed superfluous; the feeling I had—and I'm pretty sure my friend had it too, although his might have lacked the depth or the profundity of mine simply because he's not experienced in having these experiences—was almost preternatural.
     I stared out the window of the truck.  Other cars passed by.  The city lights dazzled in the distance.  And all was filled with the All.  But it was an intimate All, a Presence that you could relate to, and that's when it seemed most fitting to say it was a Christ Presence.
     I closed my eyes (Puddin' was driving), and prayed.  It wasn't a prayer where I was asking anything, where I wanted anything—it was a prayer where I just wanted to be with the intimate Christ of All That Is.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advanced Strength and Power

Advanced Strength and Power Training
Exceptional Training Methods for Exceptional Results

A Soviet strength coach once remarked that “exceptional athletes require exceptional training methods.”  He was referring to the sheer volume and intensity (weight) in training that his lifters utilized.

     In the west, where reduced volume and infrequent training has become popularized by pro bodybuilders, such routines as ones used by Eastern Bloc nations and former Soviet countries are often scoffed at.  They are considered only beneficial for “genetically gifted” strength athletes or lifters on a heavy regimen of anabolic steroids.  It’s unfortunate that many western lifters have never taken a serious look at these methods.  If they would, they’d find a wealth of information at their disposal—they would discover the type of training advanced strength athletes need to utilize.

Taking it to the Next Level

     I want to make no bones about it.  This article is intended for lifters who have already reached a high level of strength and want to take it several steps further—or for those who want to see how you design programs for such athletes.  This article is not for those of you who have aspirations of becoming a pro bodybuilder.  It is for any smaller athlete who benches close to double his bodyweight and squats and deadlifts close to triple it.  It is for those heavy lifters out there who bench press 400 pounds and squat and deadlift 500 to 600—or more.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

     If you’re going to take your strength and power to the next level, you need to understand the exact type of training that needs to be done.  You need to look at how a strength athlete needs to train compared to a bodybuilder or recreational lifter who is interested solely in gaining muscle mass.  The chart below demonstrates the differences in hypertrophy training compared to strength and power training:

Hypertrophy Training            Strength and Power Training

Sessions per week (each muscle):   1-2 days                            2-6 days

Exercises per muscle group:           2-5                                   1-2

Sets per muscle group:                   2-6                                   5-15

Intensity (% of max lifted):              65-80%                             50-100%

Reps per set:                                6-12                                  1-5

Bodypart splits:                             2,3, or 4 way split                full-body or 2 way split

 

     When you look at the above chart, you notice an immediate difference between the two, even though they cross paths frequently enough.  Now, the more advanced you become—at either building muscle mass or strength and power—then the more the methods should deviate.  For example, beginning lifters interested in building either strength or muscle mass would do very well training each muscle group twice per week, using two exercises per bodypart, using five sets per muscle group, staying around 80% intensity, and using 5 to 6 reps per lift.  He or she would also do well using either a full-body or a 2-way split.  Advanced strength athletes and bodybuilders are completely different.  For example, an advanced bodybuilder does very well training each muscle group once per week.  An advanced Olympic lifter or powerlifter does better with upward of 6 sessions per muscle group, per week.  Another example would be sets.  An advanced bodybuilder needs very few sets per exercise to fatigue his/her many muscle fibers (and therefore stimulate growth).  An advanced powerlifter does better with 10+ sets per exercise in order to greater enhance neural stimulation.

Putting the Methods to Work

     At this point, you should understand the type of training an advanced lifter solely interested in strength and power should be utilizing.  The question is, what should such programs look like?  Don’t fret.  I’m going to discuss in detail the two methods that are the cornerstone of successful strength and power routines designed for advanced lifters.

Method #1—Frequent Training.  American lifters have often scoffed when I explain this is an essential component for advanced strength athletes.  Vladimir Zatsiorsky summed up the reason for frequent training simply enough when he said, “You need to train as often as possible while being as fresh as possible.”

     Advanced bodybuilders get good results when they train with multiple exercises and then allow their bodies 5 to 7 days to “recover” before training the muscle group again.  A strength athlete would do better by spacing these exercises out over the duration of a week.  The more advanced the strength athlete, then the more sessions that are needed.

     There are several reasons why multiple sessions for each lift work well for the advanced athlete.  The first is simple: workload.  The more advanced (stronger) the athlete is, the more workload he or she needs to bring up the lifts.  When a beginner or intermediate athlete needs to increase workload, then the answer to the dilemma is simple.  All they need to do is add another set or two to each exercise, or maybe add an additional exercise to their workout.  This only works up to a point, however, at which time you eventually reach a point of diminishing returns.  For advanced lifters—who may already be training upwards of 2 hours on their “heavy” days—adding more work to an already long workout is not an option.  Adding more workouts is.

     One misconception that a lot of bodybuilders have is that their workouts need to be intense in regards to both the weight lifted and the effort put into each session.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If an advanced powerlifter bench presses 3 to 6 days a week (it’s not uncommon for a lot of world champions to train their bench press more frequently than even this), only one of these sessions would be “heavy.”  The other workouts would focus more on things such as “explosive” and “ballistic” training (we’ll get to these two methods in a little bit), or focus on improving “synaptic facilitation.”  Some strength coaches have referred to synaptic facilitation as “greasing the groove.”  Basically, the more you perform a certain lift, the better and more proficient your body becomes at doing it.  In other words, you get stronger.

     Some examples of athletes who have benefited from synaptic facilitation include Alexi Sivokan, the greatest pound-for-pound powerlifter of all time.  At 146 pounds, he has bench pressed 450 pounds, deadlifted over 700 pounds, and totaled more than 1800 pounds.  Those are some staggering weights.  And how many times does he train his lifts?  He does four lower-body workouts per week (squatting and deadlifting twice) and performs 5 bench press sessions every week.  Another example of synaptic facilitation would be 165-lb. bench press champion Greg Warr, who has benched 550 pounds.  At his strongest, he would train his bench four times each week.  He performed regular-grip benches twice a week and close-grip benches on another two days each week.  Must be something to that “greasing the groove” stuff, huh?

     Another benefit of frequent training for each lift is it lets you focus on several different training methods—without having to do them all at one workout.  There is quite a bit of research, for instance, which demonstrates the need to train for “maximal strength” on one day, and “explosive,” and/or “ballistic” strength on another.  Results are generally diminished when you try to combine different methods in one workout.

     Another thing you need to understand about frequent training is you don’t have to train the classical lifts at each session.  Although frequent training of the lifts you are trying to increase is the best way to take advantage of synaptic facilitation, it’s not the only way to train frequently.  Lifters at the Westside Barbell Club—where a lot of world record holders lift—train very frequently, yet they rarely perform the classical lifts.  They train one day (per lift) a week for explosive strength, and one day (per lift) each week for maximal strength, then they add in 2 to 4 additional sessions (on average) each week.  These extra sessions—whether they are actual weight workouts or GPP work—work the muscles that assist in the bench press, squat, or deadlift, but never is any actual benching, squatting, or deadlifting done.

Method #2—Use a Variety of Effective Training Methods.  Bodybuilding workouts tend to focus on one method of training, and one method only—the repetition method.  Although the repetition method should, and needs, to be used by strength athletes, the other methods should be used more frequently.  The other two effective methods include the maximal effort method and the dynamic effort method.  Emphasis should be put more on both of these than repetition training, although the most emphasis should be placed upon the maximal strength method.

     Maximal effort method refers to training performed in the 85-100% range of the lifter’s one-rep maximum.  Obviously, there won’t be many reps performed on these sets; 4 reps and under.  Also, you can’t always use the same exercises when lifting this heavy or you will quickly burn out on them.  Advanced athletes adapt to exercises the quickest; therefore they need the most change.

     There are 3 ways that I believe are the most effective for advanced athletes to take advantage of maximal effort training.  The first is by changing the repetitions on a weekly basis (between 1 and 5 reps) while sticking with the same exercise, or only a slight variation of it.  A lifter, for example, could max out on the bench press with sets of 3s one week, then max out on 5s the next week, followed by singles the week after.  The next three weeks would see the same reps performed (3,5, then singles) but the close-grip bench press would be used.

     The 2nd option is to max out w/ singles on a weekly basis, but to change exercises every week.  For instance, a 4-week training block would see you max out on inclines, then board presses, then declines, then close-grips on week four.  The more advanced the athlete, then the more exercises are needed.

     The 3rd option would be to do a combination of both methods.  Here is a sample of how I have some of the lifters who work with me train:  On week one, they will perform incline bench presses working up to a max set of 4 reps, the next week will be flat bench presses working up to a max set of doubles, the third week will see board presses hit for a max set of 6 reps, and the fourth week will see flat bench presses performed for multiple singles at around 95% of the lifter’s max bench.  Even though one of the weeks sees the reps going up to a high 6, the weights are still heavy and the constant change of both exercises and repetitions works wonders for the lifter.  Also, the set of 6 reps sets up the following week’s singles rather nicely.

     Also, even within the above three methods, you could have some slight alteration.  For instance, on some days you don’t have to work up to a max set of whatever repetition range you are choosing.  Instead, you could do several sets at around 90% of the usual weight that would be lifted.  For instance, instead of working up to a max set of 3 reps on squats, you could work up to 4 sets of 3 reps with a weight you would usually reserve for 5 repetitions.

     Obviously, this heavy maximal effort training (whatever form you use) should only be done once a week on the lifts—the only exception would be maxxing out on a light bench-helpful exercise like overhead presses on another day.  So, the question is: what should you do the rest of the week in order to take advantage of frequent training?  The answer is in another method of effective training, either the repetition method or the dynamic method.  The repetition method should be used sparsely, especially on squatting and deadlifting exercises, so the dynamic effort method is what should be used the most for the rest of the week.

     There are two ways to take advantage of dynamic training, and that’s through either “explosive” reps or “ballistic” reps.  Explosive reps are done with weights anywhere in the 50% to 70% range of the lifter’s one-rep maximum.  The weight should move as fast as possible in both the concentric and eccentric portion of the lift while maintaining good form at the same time.  The reps should fall between 1 and 3, depending on the % of one-rep maximum that is being used.  Sets should be relatively high, anywhere from 6 to 15.  The number of sets will also depend on the % of one-rep maximum being utilized.  The lower the reps, then the more sets that should be performed.  Also, more sets can be used on exercises that don’t stress the recovery system as much.  Some good exercises for explosive repetition training include squats, box squats, bench presses, floor presses, conventional deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, and deadlifts performed while standing on blocks.

     Ballistic training can be performed with weights as low as 25% of the lifter’s one-rep maximum, although I think 40% is probably the best range.  With ballistic training, the weights are “thrown” or the body “jumps” from the ground.  Once again, reps should be kept low and the sets should be relatively high.  The best repetition range for ballistic training would be from 4 to 2 reps.  The best number of sets would be anywhere from 6 to 12.  Good exercises include jumping squats, jumping box squats, jumping bottom-position squats, smith machine bench presses (throwing the bar out of your hands), and push-ups in which your hands leave the floor.

Conclusion

     I hope this article has helped to shed some light about the methods of training an advanced lifter needs to use in order to produce exceptional results.  If you’re a lifter who is after the ultimate in strength and power, then I urge you to give these methods a try.  You have nothing to lose and all the strength in the world to gain.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Big Weights... Big Sets

     Here's an older article of mine that appeared in "Iron Man" some years ago.  It's still pretty good... and it's still one of my favorite ways to train.


Big Weights...Big Sets

A Fresh Approach To High-Volume Training

 

     If you have read any of my past articles, then you understand that I am a big proponent for basic, brief and intense training sessions, especially for building muscle mass.  It's the type of training that has proven itself over the years to be extremely effective for a large majority of lifters.

     Also, you might have noticed that at times I have touted another form of training to be very effective, especially if you are after a combination of size and raw strength.  That form of training is high-set, low-rep lifting.

     Unfortunately, most bodybuilders and powerlifters perform way too many sets and reps in their training.  When you lift with high sets and high reps, you are asking for trouble.  This type of training does at times produce a large amount of muscle mass (especially for setroid users), but this muscle mass will always be unproportional to their strength.  And muscle without strength is nothing but an out and out joke.  As for drug-free lifters, this type of high-rep training can also wreak pure havoc on cortisol levels, and this is definitly not what you want if you ever plan on having an ounce of muscle on your frame.

     As for high-set, low rep training it is something quite different.  This type of training, like no other, can produce phenomenal strength and size gains.

     If you doubt it, then consider some of these examples of bodybuilders, powerlifters and strength athletes who achieved awesome results with this type of training.

Charles Poliquin.  Strength-coach extraordinare Charles Poliquin has said that he never really got his arms to grow (that's right, his arms) until he began to use a regimen of low-rep and high-set training.  He says that the key is the numerous sets.  In fact, Poliquin (who has a very large pair of guns) says that he averages 3 reps per sets.

Brooks Kubik.  Author of the popular strength training book "Dinosaur Training" (see the article by the same name in Ironman's Ultimate Guide To Building Muscle Mass), Kubik, a past national champion in the bench press, says that he got the best results in terms of both size and strength when he performed numerous singles on one exercise.  For example, he would often perform 20 sets of singles in the bench press with about 85% of his one-rep max.  He also likes the same type of training for the squat.

Doug Hepburn.  Considered by many, including himself, to be the strongest man who ever lived (due to the fact that he never used any anabolic steroids), Hepburn was a collosus whose specialty was the bench press.  For training the major lifts, Hepburn would work up in singles until he reached a weight he could handle for 3 to 8 singles.  Once he could acheive 8 singles with the weight, he would add poundage at the next workout.  After the singles, he would perform 5 sets of 5 reps on the same exercise.  His reps never got higher than 5 and he had tremendous strength and mass combined.

Pat Casey.  The Babe Ruth of powerlifting, Pat Casey was the first lifter to bench press 600 pounds, the first to squat 800 pounds and the first powerlifter to total 2000 pounds.  Casey enjoyed training the bench press with lots of singles (in either flat bench presses, bottom-position benches or midrange partials), followed by heavy sets of threes.  Afterwards, Casey would perform more reps for a pump but the foundation of his training was based on high-set, very low-rep work.

Magnus Samuelson.  The World's Strongest Man winner for 1998, Magnus's approach to strength training is "old school" in that he trains much like Hepburn and Casey.  On all his major lifts (squats, deadlifts, benches, and overhead presses), Samuelson performs five sets of singles, starting with something "heavy" but not too heavy and works up over his five singles until he reaches about 95% of his max.  After this, he performs three progressively heavier sets of 5s until he reaches a near max set of five reps.

Lee Priest.  Probably more familiar to Ironman readers than the above men, Priest is one of the few modern-day bodybuilders who still adheres to this type of effective training in that he believes in both extremely heavy weights and lots of sets.  Priest averages about twenty sets per bodypart and an average of 4 to 6 reps for each set.

     If you didn't believe in this type of training before, then you should at least be getting somewhat of an idea that it can be very effective.  No need to fear, however, once you try any one of the below routines it is highly likely that you will never go back to any other type of training again.

High-Set Singles

     Probably the most popular form of low-rep training among the "old-timers", this training is highly effective at making a muscle neurally stronger.

     I believe the best way to incorporate singles is either in the trend of Doug Hepburn or Brooks D. Kubik.  On your lift of the day, start off with a weight inwhich you absolutely know that you can get at least three singles with.  Remember, it's better to start off too light than too heavy.  Make sure you warm up sufficiently for the lift using very low reps.  After about a five minute rest after warm-ups, go directly into the singles.  Perform a single, rest five minutes, and then perform another single.  If you manage to get eight singles, then stop the lift and add two and a half to five pounds at your next workout and start all over again.

     If your goal is simply to be stronger, then stop the workout at this point.  If you're after muscle mass to go along with the strength, then rest five minutes and perform three to four sets of three to five reps, with minimal rest in between these sets.

     Below is an example workout that you could use that incorporates this approach to training.

Day One: Chest, Arms

Bench Press- 3 to 8 sets of 1 repetition, followed by 3 sets of 3 reps.  Utilize the method described above.

Incline Dumbbell Press- 5 sets of 3 reps.

Barbell Curls- 3 to 8 sets of 1 repetition.  Utilize the same technique as with the bench presses but eliminate the triples.

Close-grip Rack Lockouts- 3 to 8 sets of 1 repetition.  This exercise will give you even more tricep involvement than regular close-grip benches, plus it takes the chest out of the movement so that you don't end up overtraining your pecs.

Day Two: Off

Day Three: Legs

Squats- 3 to 8 sets of 1 rep.  To be performed the same as the first workout.  Do not substitute another exercise for regular squats, they can't be beat as an overall mass-booster.  Also, don't sell yourself short by doing a partial or parrallel squat.  Go rock-bottom for the best benefits.

Front Squats- 5 sets of 3 reps.  In order to get maximum quadricep involvement into the workout, use these instead of the regular squats for your follow-up triples.

Day Four: Back, Shoulders

Weighted Wide-Grip Chins- 3 to 8 sets of 1 rep, followed by 3 sets of 3 reps.

Close-grip Bent-over Rows- 5 sets of 3 reps.  Use an underhand grip on these in order to get more lat recruitment, as opposed to mid-back, out of the exercise.

Standing Military Press- 3 to 8 sets of 1 rep.

Day Five: Off

Day Six: Off

Day Seven: Repeat Day One

     After four to five weeks of the above workout, if you want to try something new, then use the same workout, but stick more to Kubik's approach.  Drop the poundages you are using by about 10% and try performing 15 to 20 singles on all of the major exercises.

Accelerative Low-Rep Training

     This type of high-set, low-rep training is becoming popular among strength coaches in various sports, powerlifters, and olympic lifters.  It only makes sense that bodybuilders should start taking advantage of it as well.

     Powerlifting super-coach Louie Simmons uses a form of it to acheive the awesome results he gets with his lifters.  Another proponent of this training is strength/bodybuilding coach Charles Staley.  His method is similar to what I prefer when it comes to building muscle mass.  It's probably the method that would best be preferred by the majority of Ironman readers as well.

     Basically, for accelerative low-rep training, the force produced by each rep is more important than the amount of reps performed in each set.  More sets are performed to compensate for the lack of volume.  Let me explain.

     Let us assume that you can perform 10 reps in the bench press with a weight that is approximately 70% of your 1 rep maximum, and you set about to do so at your next workout.  After your first set, you rest several minutes and then perform another set of 10 reps, just barely getting all 10.  After a few more minutes, you perform a third and final set and this time you also manage, but only barely, 10 repetitions.

     You just performed a total of 30 repetions.  Now, what if I told you that the better way to perform those 30 repetions was to perform 10 sets of 3 reps (accelerating as fast as possible on the positive portion of the rep) with the same weight, instead of 3 sets of 10.  With 10 sets of 3 reps, you perform the same total workload but each rep is much more productive because you are able to put maximum force production into each and every rep.  This is what builds raw strength, in addition to muscle.  The 3 sets of 10 reps might build muscle, but it also makes the lifter very slow.  Accelerative training builds explosive power and gives you the same, if not better, hypertrophy response than the high reps.

     You might be scratching your head a bit at this point, but don't worry.  Give the below routine a try and I promise you'll be a believer.

Day One: Chest, Lats, Shoulders

Bench Press- 10 sets of 3 reps.  Use 70% of your one-rep maximum, taking no more than one minute of rest in between each set.  Use about a 2 second negative, pause on your chest for no more than one second and then explode to lockout.

Wide-Grip Chins- 10 sets of 3 reps.  Stay with the same 70% rule as above and perform each set with the same rep cadence.

Dumbbell Bench Press- 5 sets of 5 reps.  These sets should be heavy.  Rest two to three minutes between each set.

Bent-Over Rows- 5 sets of 5 reps.  Same scheme as the Dumbbell Benches above.

Seated Behind-The-Neck Press- 10 sets of 3 reps.  70% of your one-rep maximum should be used once again.

Day Two: Off

Day Three: Legs, Hips, Lower Back

Squats, alternated with Deadlifts- 10 sets of 3 reps (each exercise).  You might have thought the first workout was easy, but you'll be feeling the pain after this one.  Use 70% of your 1 rep max on both exercises.  Perform a set of squats, rest 1 minute, perform a set of deadlifts and so forth.  Never take more than one minute between each set.

Hack Squats- 8 sets of 2 reps.  Since squats don't work your lower quadriceps very hard, perform these as well.  Once again, use 70%, but with 2 fewer sets and only 2 reps per set.

Day Four: Off

Day Five: Arms, Calves

Barbell Curls- 10 sets of 3 reps.  Once again, use approximately 70% of your one-rep maximum.  Make sure that you use 70% of a "no-cheat" maximum, in other words, whatever you can curl in strict form.

Lying Barbell Extensions- 10 sets of 3 reps.  Using the 70% rule, alternate these with the above exercise.  In other words, perform a set of curls, rest 30 to 60 seconds and perform a set of curls, alternating back and forth between the two until you have completed all 10 sets of each exercise.

Standing Calf Raises- 10 sets of 3 reps.

Day Six: Off

Day Seven: Repeat Day One

The 3x3x3 Method

     This approach will probably seem a bit more conventional to most bodybuilders and, thus, easier for them to get used to than the previous two approaches.

     The premise is quite simple.  Perform 3 different exercises for each muscle group for 3 sets of 3 reps each.  If you haven't been acheiving any results with the more popular approach to volume lifting, high reps, then this method might be just what you need.

     This method also allows for more exercises for each bodypart and would probably result in the most muscle growth if you've already used the prior approaches for a few months.

     Here's a sample workout:

Day One: Chest, Shoulders

Pause Bench Press- 3 sets of 3 reps.  For your first exercise, perform 3 progressively heavier warm-up sets of 3 reps, followed by your work sets with an all out weight.  Pause on your chest for a count of 2 seconds on every rep.

Incline Bench Press- 3 sets of 3 reps.  You shouldn't need any more than one warm-up sets before your work sets on this exercise.

Dumbbell Bench Press- 3 sets of 3 reps.

Seated Behind-The-Neck Press- 3 sets of 3 reps.  Perform at least two warm-up sets.

Standing Dumbbell Press- 3 sets of 3 reps.  It's always good to integrate some type of standing exercise into your shoulder training.  This helps to build more functional strength in addition to just large muscles.

Dumbbell Lateral Raises- 3 sets of 3 reps.

Day Two: Legs

Bottom-Position Squats- 3 sets of 3 reps.  For this exercise, set the pins in the power rack so that you have to start the movement from a rock bottom position.  After the first rep, lower slowly and pause on the pins before beginning the second rep.  This exercise will probably burst your ego the first time you try it since you will have to use so much less weight than what you normally handle.  Don't let that discourage you.  You won't find a more productive exercise.

Front Squats- 3 sets of 3 reps.

Leg Presses- 3 sets of 3 reps.  I don't generally reccomend this exercise since it has zero carryover effect toward your squat or building real-world strength.  It is good, however, at targeting your quadriceps.

Standing Calf Raises- 3 sets of 3 reps.  Most people don't train their calves heavy enough, thus you should get a burst of growth from training them in this manner.

Seated Calf Raises- 3 sets of 3 reps.

Donkey Calf Raises- 3 sets of 3 reps.

Day Three: Off

Day Four: Back

Wide-Grip Chins- 3 sets of 3 reps.  Most lifters should have to use some weight strapped to their waist in order to train heavy enough for this one.

Close-Grip Bent Over Rows- 3 sets of 3 reps.  Use an underhand grip on these to maximize lat involvement.

Seated Pulley Rows- 3 sets of 3 reps.

Day Five: Arms

Barbell Curls- 3 sets of 3 reps.  Why is it that very few lifters still do curls with a straight olympic bar?  It's a shame because this exercise is about as good as they get.

Lying Dumbbell Extensions- 3 sets of 3 reps.

Dumbbell Curls- 3 sets of 3 reps (each arm).

Close-Grip Rack Lock Outs- 3 sets of 3 reps.

E-Z Bar Curls- 3 sets of 3 reps.

Straight-Bar Pushdowns- 3 sets of 3 reps.

Day Six: Off

Day Seven: Repeat Day One

Summing It Up

     There you have it.  Three very good routines for adding a great combination of both size and strength utilizing low reps and multiple sets.  Of course, I could have added more routines, but the three above are a good foundation to start with.  My advice is to give these workouts an honest try.  After that, you should be hooked.

Training Journal: Return of the Powerlifter

     After a couple of years of "light" training—including a lot of bodyweight-only training this past year—I have returned to some heavy powerlifting training.  I absolutely love training heavy (as much as I've avoided it as of late) and so I'm glad to be back doing it (as long as my body holds up).
     Anyway, I thought I would begin to share a lot of my training with you as I continue to do it.  Also, I'm training a handful of lifters who would like to (either) enter competition or get back into competing again.  And so I'll also include some of their training, as well.
     I've been training hard again now for a couple of weeks, and after two weeks of training I'm already using over 400 in the squat and over 400 in the deadlift for reps (not bad, considering that I haven't trained either of those lifts in about a year).
     So... continue reading all of my posts entitled "Training Journal" if you want to see how my training goes—and if you want to learn a little something about hard, heavy full-body workouts.  (By the way, I'll also post some video clips of my training in the future—I used to do that occasionally on my old blog.)