Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Mass-Building, Split-Training Ultimate!

The Mass-Building, Split Training Ultimate!
Creating the Ultimate “Split” Workout Program
Within the last few weeks I’ve been receiving e-mails that go something like this: “Okay, Sloan, I get it! Full-body workouts are perfectly capable of building muscle mass—hell, they might even be the best muscle building workouts!—but the problem is this: I don’t enjoy full-body workouts. So... if you were to design a split workout program for someone, what would it look like?”
Before we go any further, let me say this: I am not “opposed” to split training programs. I just think for the average lifter/bodybuilder who has limited time to lift weights—and also doesn’t mind a little something called effort—full-body workouts are the best way to go.
However, I also understand that there are a lot of serious lifters who love following split workout programs. And—since you’re not going to stick with a workout program that you don’t enjoy doing (not for long, at least)—I almost always recommend that these guys (or gals) follow a split workout.
And just what kind of split program do I recommend? Usually something that looks a heck of a lot like the following regimen.
(Note: This workout is primarily aimed at gaining muscle mass—not strength. Yes, you will gain strength with it, but that’s not its primary goal—despite some of the low reps that are utilized. In other words, this is meant for bodybuilders; powerlifters, don’t complain.)

The Science of Gaining Massive Muscles

Before we get to the actual workout, you’re going to have to allow me to do a little explaining on just why I think this workout is so effective. (And allow me to unleash my inner bodybuilding geek.)
For years, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, and strength coaches in the Western world thought the best way to build mass was with something called linear periodization. Basically, this involved focusing on different aspects of strength training throughout the year. In other words, an athlete would work on building muscular endurance for a couple of months (one phase). For the second phase, the lifter would then focus on hypertrophy training. The third phase would focus on power. And, finally, in the fourth phase, the lifter would concentrate on building maximal strength. All of us in the West said, “Hey, this linear periodization is really damn good.”
Then came the Russians. Russian strength coaches and researchers were determined to find the fastest, most sure-fire way to produce rapid strength gains. They tried several different systems of training. And they decided that linear periodization, for all intents and purposes, sucked. With a capital S! Big Time!
The Russians saw no reason to focus on different aspects of training throughout the year. Instead, they thought that all the different methods should be trained each and every week. This system is called conjugate periodization.
One thing they did discover about conjugate periodization, however, was that lifters shouldn’t try to combine different methods during the same workout. In other words, one day should be devoted toward developing maximal strength, one day should be devoted toward building speed and power, and so forth. When methods were combined in the same workout, results were lessened.
Too bad it took us so long to finally listen! But then—thank the bodybuilding gods—along came Louie Simmons to save us from our linear ways.

The Powerlifting Factor

Conjugate periodization became popular in powerlifting due to Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell Club. Westside training involves maxing out on an exercise for a week or two and then switching to another exercise. The important factor is that they hit a one or three rep max every week. This method of training is done once each week for upper body and once for the lower body. Another day of the week is devoted toward training for speed—9-12 sets of 2-3 reps using 50-60% of the lifter’s one-rep maximum.
At this point, you may be wondering what all this talk of commies and powerlifting has to do with our mass-building, split workout program. It just happens to be that the Westside template is really good for building muscle mass—not just strength—as long as a few adjustments are made.
The first adjustment is that instead of a “speed” day, you will use a “pump” day. Usually, if a muscle is capable of a good pump, muscle growth will be a result.
The second adjustment is that on the “maximal strength” day, you will limit your maxes to either a 7 rep max, a 5 rep max, or (at most) a 3 rep max.
This program is a four days per week routine. You will be training your upper body on two days per week and your lower body on the other two.
The Split Training Ultimate Workout Program

Day One—Upper Body Pump Day

1. Bench presses, dumbbell bench presses, parallel bar dips, or incline bench presses: 8 sets of 10 reps. Pick a weight where you can get about twenty reps before reaching failure. Use this weight for all 8 sets. Take only about two minutes of rest between each set. Once you have been training on the same exercise for a few weeks, change to one of the others.
2. Wide grip chins, bent-over rows, or wide grip lat pulldowns: 8 sets of 10 reps. Use the same technique as the first exercise.
3. Barbell curls or dumbbell curls supersetted with skullcrushers or triceps pushdowns: 5 sets of 10 reps (each exercise). Take each set one or two reps shy of failure. Take about a one-minute rest between each superset.
4. Lateral raises, dumbbell presses (seated or standing), or military presses (barbell): 4 sets of 10 reps. Your shoulders should be pretty pumped from all of the other exercises. This is the reason you are only going to do 4 sets.

Day Two—Lower Body Maximal Strength

1. Squats, Olympic-style squats, box squats, bottom-position squats, or deadlifts (sumo or conventional style): Work up to a max set of 7, 5, or 3 repetitions. Pick one of these exercises and work up over at least 5 sets until you reach your maximum weight for your repetition range. In other words, if you chose squats, and your max set was 375 for 3 reps, your set/rep sequence would look like this: 135x5, 225x3, 275x3, 315x3, 350x3, 375x3, 405x2 (lifter reached failure on third rep with 405). Stick with the same exercise for two to three weeks, attempting to break your record each week, and then rotate to another exercise.
2. Lunges: 5 sets of 5 reps. Perform all 5 sets with the same weight. Only the last two sets should be really taxing.
3. Incline sit-ups: 3 sets of 20 reps. Perform these on a steep incline bench.

Day Three—Off

Day Four—Upper Body Maximal Strength

1. Flat bench presses, close-grip bench presses, bottom-position bench presses, close-grip bottom position bench presses, rack lockouts, board presses, or incline bench presses: Work up to a max set of 7, 5, or 3 repetitions. Pick one of these exercises and work up over at least 5 sets until you reach your maximum weight for the chosen repetition range. Your flat bench press workout might look like this: 135x5, 175x5, 225x5, 245x3, 265x3, 280x3, 300x2 (missed the 3rd rep with 300). Stick with the same exercise for at least two to three weeks before rotating to one of the other exercises.
2. Wide grip chins, close grip chins, bent-over rows, or t-bar rows: Work up to a max set of 7, 5, or 3 repetitions. Use the same format as the first exercise.
3. Barbell curls, e-z bar curls, reverse curls, or dumbbell curls: Work up to a max set of 7, 5, or 3 repetitions. Use the same set/rep format as the first two exercises.

Day Five—Off

Day Six—Lower Body Pump Day

1. Squats, front squats, leg presses, or hack squats: 8 sets of 10 reps. Use a weight that allows you about 20 reps before reaching failure. Use this weight for all 8 sets. Take about two minutes rest in between sets. Rotate exercises every few weeks.
2. Leg extensions: 6 sets of 20 reps. Perform these with a weight that will allow you about 30 reps before you would normally reach failure.
3. Leg Curls: 2 sets of 25 reps. You simply won’t need very much hamstring work due to the first exercise in this workout and your lower body maximal strength day.
4. Hanging Leg Raises: 3 sets of 20 reps.
Day Seven—Off

Some Words of Advice

This program actually looks pretty simple, doesn’t it? But don’t be fooled by its simplicity. It’s actually quite tough. The pump days are harder than they look, and you’ll have to really push yourself on the maximal strength days.
If you need work on them, then don’t be afraid to add some calf work on each training day. Standing calf raises, seated raises, and donkey calf raises would all do the trick. Use higher reps on these exercises.
If you want to gain as much mass as possible, then make sure you’re eating enough calories and protein each and every day. This isn’t a pre-contest regimen, so don’t be afraid to eat bread and plenty of red meat, not to mention drink a lot of milk while you’re on this program. Make sure you get enough calories every day, as well. Eat at least 12 times your bodyweight in calories each day. 15 times your bodyweight would be even better.
Final Thoughts
Is this the “ultimate” split workout program? You won’t know until you actually try it.

Alien Mass: The "Director's Cut"

What follows is the unedited version of my last article that was in Planet Muscle magazine. I love PM—it looks great, Everson includes plenty of articles with varying opinions—but when my "Alien Mass" article appeared in it, I was a little disappointed (and not just because Josh Bryant's name was attached it to). PM had changed some of the content to make it more "bodybuilding magazine friendly." What follows is the original draft that I wrote.


Alien Mass
9 Keys for Out-of-this-World Muscle Growth
The movie “Plan 9 From Outer Space” is generally considered the worst movie of all time. That’s saying something when you consider just how many bad movies have come out even in the past year. Well, while “Plan 9” might be a disaster of epic proportions, in this article I’m prepared to unleash my own “Plan 9” alien mass attack—to allow you to grow epic proportions of muscle mass.
Here are 9 keys for outrageous, out-of-this-world muscle growth.

Key #1: Train as Frequently as Possible While Being as Fresh as Possible.

The bottom line (no matter what “style” of training that you adhere to) is that you need to train frequently. You also need to be “as fresh as possible” each time that you train.
Every time that you pump iron a whole slew of good things happens to your muscle cells—especially when you apply proper peri-workout nutrition (but we’ll get around to that in a little bit). A properly executed workout raises testosterone levels, enhances GH levels, and makes your muscle highly susceptible to the proper anabolic environment.
Do you enjoy full-body workouts? Then train 3 days per week using an H-L-M system of training. And if you’re advanced and enjoy full-body workouts, start using an H-L-L-M system, training 4 days per week. (You don’t know what the hell an H-L-L-M system even looks like? Then go immerse your ass in a study of Bill Starr.)
Or perhaps you rather enjoy training each muscle group once per week, obliterating each muscle group with lots of sets, reps, and plenty of intensity techniques? Then train every day, using a one-bodypart-per-day split. This is much better than training 3 days per week, hitting several different muscle groups at each session.
Enjoy splitting your muscle groups but training with less intensity than the above scenario? No problem. Use a 3-on/ 1-off split. Keep your “work” sets limited to 9-10 per muscle group.
Lastly, don’t forget this tidbit: No great bodybuilder ever became great by working out only once or twice per week.

Key #2: Use C.A.T. for the Ultimate Repetition

It was Fred Hatfield—also known as “Dr. Squat”—who coined the term compensatory acceleration training (C.A.T. for short) for a repetition where you move the weight as fast as possible through the concentric range of motion. This doesn’t mean, of course, that the weight necessarily moves fast (though it certainly might with certain styles of training). The point is for you to accelerate the weight as fast as humanly possible (even if you’re going for a one-rep maximum). This kind of training, I believe, is the most effective for long-term muscle growth.

Key #3: Train Heavy and Hard for Your Body Type

The heavier and harder that you train, the better off your muscles are for it. Using C.A.T., pick a weight that has you approaching failure somewhere between the 6th and the 12th repetition. Why the discrepancy in rep ranges? It all depends on your body type. I believe that most training—at least as far as hypertrophy is concerned—should be done with weights that are approximately 80-85% of your one-rep maximum. If you have a lot of fast-twitch muscle fibers, this means you will hit failure somewhere around your 6th repetition. If you’re more of a slow-twitch type, you should be approaching 12 reps or so with the same percentage. And, if you have a mix of muscle fibers, it should be somewhere in between.
Now, I’m not suggesting that all of your training should be performed in your particular repetition zone, but I would advise to do so about 75% of the time.

Key #4: Use a Relatively High-Volume of Training

The amount of volume will obviously depend on just how frequently you plan to train. Just make sure that you use as many sets as your work capacity—and your bodypart split—can handle. Don’t cut yourself short.
And learn to build up your work capacity. Obviously, you shouldn’t start out by performing 15 to 20 sets per bodypart. But you do want to work up to the point where your work capacity can handle that sort of training.

Key #5: Stop Most of Your Sets Shy of Momentary Muscular Failure

For the most part, you don’t want to take your work sets to the point of failure. (There are exceptions, of course. If you’re using a one-bodypart-per-day routine, for instance, then you can afford to throw in a few intensity techniques. Just don’t overdo it.)
When do you want to stop the set? Try stopping when you begin to slow down. If you’re using C.A.T.—and moving the weight as fast as possible throughout the concentric portion of the rep, and you’re training heavy—then stop the set when your repetitions become slow.

Key #6: Do Less Early On in Your Workout So You Can Do More Later

A lot of bodybuilders make the mistake of training too hard at the beginning of their workouts, then burning out too quickly. (This is one of the main problems with typical H.I.T. workouts.) If you enjoy training to failure or doing stuff like forced reps, drop sets, or another of the various intensity techniques, save that for the last 1/4 of your workout.
A typical chest workout using this principle might look something like this:
· Bench presses: 5 sets of 6 to 12 reps (using C.A.T.)
· Incline dumbbell bench presses: 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps (using C.A.T.)
· Weighted Dips: 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps (using C.A.T.)
· Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses: 6 “strip” sets of 10 reps each set, going down the rack.

Key #7: Get Plenty of Rest

When not lifting weights, make sure that you’re getting plenty of rest and recuperation. This means sleeping plenty each night—7 to 9 hours of sleep are good numbers to shoot for. It also means “slowing down.” If your life is too hectic outside of the gym, chances are that you are diminishing the results you will get from your efforts inside of the gym.
Eat your meals slowly. Eat while sitting down at a table, not while on the go. Read a book instead of watching television. And relax. (On a personal note, I’m very keen on meditation—there’s nothing more restorative to your body, mind, and Spirit.)

Key #8: Add “Extra” Workouts

Despite how it sounds, this is not contradictory to key #7. Extra workouts should be “active recovery” sessions. They should be relatively light, should increase your GPP (general physical preparedness), and should make you feel better after you do them compared to when you got started.
Extra workouts of this sort increase your work capacity and aid in recovery between your intense sessions.

Key #9: Take Advantage of Peri-Workout Nutrition

Peri-workout nutrition refers to what you eat or drink prior, during, and after your workout. If utilized properly, peri-workout nutrition can be the key to massive muscle growth.
Here’s what I recommend so that you can ensure that your workouts become nothing more than massive muscle-building stimulators:
· Eat a meal consisting of about 40 to 45 grams of complex carbohydrates and about 30 grams of protein one hour prior to your training session. This meal can be whole food, a protein/carb drink, or a meal replacement bar. (My personal favorite choice here is one of the Met-rx “Big 100” meal replacement bars—just saying.)
· At the onset of your workout session, drink a protein/carb drink that contains at least 30 grams of protein. Sip on this slowly throughout your training session. (You might want to carry a bottle of water with you, as well. I drink both during my workouts.)
· When you are finished training, consume a post-workout meal that is nearly identical to your pre-workout meal. The only thing you might want to change would be the addition of more carbohydrates to this meal—60 to 70 grams of carbs would not be a bad idea in order to replenish lost glycogen stores.


There you have it: 9 out-of-this-world keys for growing gargantuan mounds of muscle. While “Plan 9 from Outer Space” might be the worst movie ever made, these 9 keys might just be the best this world—or any other—has ever tried when it comes to gaining alien amounts of mass.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Morphing from Blobby Bodybuilder to Bad Ass

Every so often I come across an article that I wholeheartedly agree with. The following article, from T-Nation, is one such piece. This one's written by a guy named Jackson Yee—who I've never heard of—but if this article is any indication of his training philosophy, then I'm sure I will enjoy other stuff that he writes.

What he says about full-body workouts is especially true. Although it's been many years ago—as in back in the mid '90s for me—I went through something similar when I switched from one-bodypart-per-week training to full body sessions.

Check it out:

Morphing From Blobby Bodybuilder to Bad Ass

For 20 years I was obsessed with getting big.

I was a bag of bones when I graduated from high school and didn't even break 100 pounds. I was tired of looking like a skeleton, so I put all my effort into developing as much muscle mass as possible. I was fully dedicated to transferring my skinny five-foot-four frame into a meathead.

With hard work, I was able to gain seventy-five pounds by my mid-twenties. My success was due in part to training at World Gym and Gold's Gym in the early 80's, where I was inspired daily by watching the routines of bodybuilders like Arnold, Franco, Tom Platz, and other greats.

My 20 years of training at these great gyms enabled me to try every bodybuilding technique and method ever invented, even though I never thought of actually entering a bodybuilding competition. I was horrified at the thought of wearing Speedos on stage. Still, bodybuilding training and packing on muscle was my passion.

I continued to do single-body part training into my 30's with some major changes. I pretty much stopped squatting, doing deadlifts, or picking up anything heavy from the ground. My only leg and back work was on machines. Also, I rarely trained my abs. In my mind I was still that skinny runt that couldn't break 100 pounds, so being chiseled wasn't first and foremost in my mind.

Biceps work and lots of benching dominated my workouts. Having big arms and a huge chest was pretty much my focus for a whole decade Having big arms and a huge chest was my identity.

By the time I turned 40, my training had stagnated. I wasn't bored; I still loved going to the gym, but I'd reached a plateau. I stopped getting big and the only thing that was growing was my gut.

I was fat, soft, terribly out of shape and suddenly on hypertension medication. When I finally was ready to face my denial, I knew I had to change. Bodybuilding was my life, but now I knew I'd run my course with this type of training.

I didn't jump into strength and conditioning work immediately. I was too afraid and skeptical of anything other than the old-fashioned bodybuilding split routines. Over time, I experimented and tried out different training protocols. I struggled, but I persevered. The new methods I discovered now define who I am.

The transition from bodybuilder to a conditioning athlete was never easy. I wrote the following tips because I know how isolated your journey is going to be, IF you decide to make the switch.

I made the transformation and can't conceive of ever going back to the way I used to train. With the growing popularity of MMA, the shift is changing from wanting to look big like Arnold to training to look like Georges St. Pierre. For those of you ready to make the great leap or if you're just conditioning-curious, here are some ideas to help you make the change.

1. Change your aesthetic goals

Accept the fact you'll never win the Mr. Olympia competition. Be grateful for all those years of bodybuilding and that you got as huge as you possibly could. Be realistic with yourself and possibly assess that you're overweight, a little flabby, and probably might have some heath issues to address.

You need a change. Pick an ideal physique that you want to attain. So instead of looking like Arnold, pick an athlete that looks like a bad ass, such as GSP. And most importantly, remember that chicks dig guys with abs. You can get in the best shape of your life if you work your ass for it. It won't be easy, but it's definitely attainable with hard work and a different training regimen. Being open-minded is a must.

2. Full body workouts

After reading about the alternative to single-body part workouts, I wasn't convinced. For 20 years, single-body part training was the belief system that I never, ever, questioned or doubted. I stubbornly refused to believe that full-body workouts would be effective in packing on massive muscles.

There are many arguments to train the whole body in one session, but what convinced me to give it a shot was my need to learn how to move my body as one unit. Not only was I out of shape, but I also wasn't athletic.

I don't want to use overplayed words like 'non-functional,' but I was definitely borderline clumsy. Playing a softball game with friends at the park on a Sunday afternoon had the potential to be a very embarrassing situation for me. Going on a hike with one of my dates was never a good idea, unless my date had an oxygen tank in her picnic basket.

But reality finally hit me when I had to help a neighbor move a heavy sofa and I struggled until it landed on my foot. For a guy with a lot of muscle, I sure wasn't very strong.

For twenty years I'd hid behind my muscles, posing as an "athlete," but now I'd been exposed. Too many years of isolation muscle work and not working my muscles together as one powerful kinetic chain had finally caught up with me. My big muscle groups, like my back and glutes, were dormant.

As result, I was weak as shit.

So the change of pace to a full-body strength program now seemed more appealing to me. I focused on compound movements and for the first month I didn't know if I was getting much out of the workouts. I hadn't done any deadlifts, squats, or heavy rows in years, so I wasn't sure how my form was or, for that matter, what the hell central nervous system training was all about.

However, I persisted and the once in a blue moon full-body workout turned into a twice a week workout and eventually a three times a week workout. I was soon motivated by how much weight I was able to move. The quick improvements fascinated me.

I went from trying to build bulky muscles to learning how to get my CNS to recruit as much muscle as possible during each lift. I was getting stronger and my body composition started to change. To my surprise, I was getting bigger overall.

For those of you who want to incorporate a strength training protocol to your regimen, I suggest you pick basic compound movements like a deadlift, a front or back squat, military press, barbell row, barbell hip thrusts, pull-ups, pushups, or good mornings. Stick to the basic multi-joint movements.

Remember you're now on a strength program so you've got to go heavy. A simple protocol is to pick 4 movements, do 5 sets for each movement, and keep the reps low from 4 to 6 reps (except for pull ups and pushups which you train until near failure).

Notice I said near failure and not to complete exhaustion. When I was bodybuilding it just seemed logical to lift until I couldn't budge the load for even an inch. With this new plan, you want to hold back some and learn to leave some extra fuel in your reserve tank.

How do you train hard when you can't go all out? It's a fine line, I know. So I did my research and found that all the C & S coaches that I respected were vehemently against training to failure. It's the direct opposite to what I used to do with my bodybuilding training where I usually extended the exhaustion with half reps and drop sets.

I just felt I wasn't doing enough unless I trained to complete failure. It was a hard concept to give up until I started to see my PR's go up. Once you see your strength numbers going through the roof, you'll understand how training to failure is a detriment to your strength development.

It took a while, but I finally saw the correlation between getting strong and building muscle. Even now I could kick myself in the head for all those thousands of training sessions using relatively light weights for high reps or screaming in pain while doing concentration curls.

To read the rest of the article, go here.

New Planet Muscle Article: "Alien Mass"

First off, the good news: I have an article in the latest issue of Planet Muscle magazine entitled "9 Keys for Alien Mass."

The bad news: Josh Bryant is listed as the author, and not me.

Oh, well; it was an honest mistake by Everson and crew.

Anyway, check out the article; it's more "bodybuilding" than some of my other articles, which means that you will probably enjoy it either more or less than the others.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

High Frequency Training That Works

First off —for those of you who enjoy reading my blog—forgive me for my lack of posts. I have been inundated as of late with work (I have a regular job, and have had to rotate shifts recently—which really blows!) and with family obligations (both of my sons play football, so I have multiple practices—and games—to attend). So, when I have had time to write, I have been working on articles. On top of that, add in the fact that I try to fit in 3 to 4 workouts per week, and, well, this blog just kind of took a back seat. Hopefully, however, I can fit in at least 3 or 4 posts per month from now. So—with that out of the way—on with this latest post...

High Frequency Training That Works

Most of you know that I have long been a proponent of high-frequency training. While I don't think that it has to be performed all the time—and there are certainly other ways to train—I do think that it's one of the more effective forms of training. For instance, I would say that a properly designed high-frequency training program is more effective than a properly designed one-bodypart-per-week routine—at least, for most lifters.

The key words here are properly designed. What follows are some keys—in no certain order—to allow you to properly design your own workout program based on your needs, goals, and your level of strength/fitness:

  • You cannot combine high-volume with high-frequency... at least, at first. If you want to embark on a high-frequency training program, keep your sets per bodypart relatively low until you are able to build up your work capacity.
  • At first, stick with a whole-body program. You can't go wrong with a Bill Starr-style heavy-light-medium program to start things off right.
  • Perform between 30 and 50 reps per bodypart three times per week.
  • If you are solely interested in gaining muscle mass, then 5 sets of 10 reps is a good set/rep combination.
  • If you are interested in a combination of size and strength, perform multiple sets of low reps. 10 sets of 3 is a standby that cannot be beat.
  • If you decide upon a 10 sets of 3 program, use a weight where you reach failure on the 6th repetition.
  • As you get more advanced, you can start adding back-off sets for more volume. For instance, you could start off with 10 sets of 3, then add 2 back-off sets of 8 reps with a lower weight.
  • Once you adapt to high-frequency training, incorporate heavy singles into your program. These are a must if you want to get as strong as possible.
  • As you get more advanced, you can also begin to add extra sessions. These should be light—nothing too taxing— and can be performed on your "off" days.
  • Once you become advanced, you can start splitting your bodyparts, training half of them on one day, and half on the next. This, of course, also means training 5 to 6 days per week, but if you have the time, it can be highly effective.
  • And, finally, the best piece of advice I (or anyone else) can give you: be creative and have fun. Training should be enjoyable—even when it's hard. If you're not enjoying your workouts, then something's wrong. (And this goes for all kinds of training.)
If anyone has a question about HFT, don't be afraid to shoot me an e-mail.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Tao Athlete

Only recently—as in the past six months or so—have I started paying attention to the bodybuilding coach Scott Abel. He's been around for a long time—I first became familiar with his name some 15 years ago when he had some articles about him (probably articles written by Greg Zulak) in MuscleMag International. And although I was somewhat familiar with his training concepts—I seem to recall that his "innervation training" was the first thing I heard about—I never really thought that he had anything revolutionary.

As with a lot of things in life, it turns out that I was dead wrong about him. Abel might just be the best bodybuilding coach out there. Now, when you first read his training programs, you probably won't think that—not until you understand all of the nuances and details that his programs entail; nuances and details that I am really just starting to grasp.

So, by all means, I would encourage anyone interested in bodybuilding to immerse yourself in studying—and then applying—his theories. (If you're into powerlifting, strongman, or other strength sports, then Abel might not necessarily be your cup of tea, but you should still study his techniques so that you can use the things of his that do apply to your strength sport.)

With all of that being said, the reasons above are not the reasons that I am doing this post. The reason is this: Abel is a very integral-minded bodybuilder—whether or not he even knows this himself. He seems to have a firm grasp of psychology—including some of the problematic psychological issues you will find among a large segment of bodybuilders—and philosophy. In the post below, he shows his grasp of that ever-illusive eastern philosophical idea known as the Tao.

I hope you enjoy what follows. I certainly did.

The Tao Athlete
by Scott Abel

I’ve taken some time out from writing my new book to address this months Blog topic about the Tao Athlete and the Tao in general. To give some background I will use myself as an example. I realized very early on in my bodybuilding pursuits that I was somehow different in the way I looked at bodybuilding than almost anyone I had come in contact with at that young age. For years I could never put my finger on it but I just knew that when I interacted with other bodybuilders, I just didn’t pursue bodybuilding in the same way or for the same reasons as my fellow competitors. That realization would follow me my whole career. It wasn’t until the last few years that I even became acquainted with the concept of the Tao athlete; and of course the Tao itself.

At one of my very first seminars I answered a question that would be most revealing over the next 20+ years. I was still in my 20’s and I was asked about motivation for a contest. I really had no prepared answer because I had been an athlete, even mentally my whole life, so the idea of being unmotivated or not motivated never actually occurred to me till that very moment. But my answer had some people shaking their heads. I said what motivates me is that my body is the house where my true self will reside for the rest of my life. Like any house, the more I like the surroundings and lack of clutter and the more clean and organized that environment, than the more likely I am to think more clearly and “be” a better me. That was my answer even way back then about motivation.

And the thing was, it was the truth.

Early on that is exactly how I felt about my training and workouts. Even then I had connected my spirit self with my athlete self. The Tao nature of that would become obvious over time. I was never comfortable identifying myself as a bodybuilder. My whole career, instead I saw myself as an athlete, who did bodybuilding. It was a difference that still exists today.

The Tao and the Tao nature is about the path, the fulfillment or filling you up from being on the path. It’s about YOUR path. It is unique. The Tao is about balance. It is beautiful in its context that it can be about pure devotion and commitment but at the same time not be about obsessive compulsive preoccupation with outcomes, or results or externals that take us off its path and away from balance. It is said even to discuss the Tao is to lose it. It’s kind of like trying to hold on to running water. It is a natural truth that you know only when you know it. Seek it and it cannot be found, live it, and you become just like that flowing water. There is no need to hold what you are part of, and what is part of you.

This is Tao, and at the same time, not Tao.

To read the entire post, go here.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Best of the Web: 4 Hot Topics from the Beast

For the latest "Best of the Web" entry, I've selected an article from Christian Thibaudeau. Thibaudeau is a strength/bodybuilding coach who has written a ton of article for T-Nation. A lot of his articles are really good—as far as methods for building muscles mass goes, I would say that he's the most integral of all bodybuilding writers; he selects from various methods and incorporates them into a syncretic whole without just coming up with some wild mish-mash of training protocols that simply don't work. This article—"4 Hot Topics from the Beast"—is my favorite of his T-Nation articles.

4 Hot Topics from The Beast
by Christian Thibaudeau

1. Train Hard, Recover Harder

I've said it time and time again: The more you train without exceeding your capacity to recover, the more you'll grow and the stronger you'll get.

I'll go one step further and say that most people don't train hard enough to progress past the beginning of the intermediate stage. When they first start, they gain because any training represents a drastic increase compared to the hole they were wearing through the couch. But as soon as they get past the beginner stage, gains become exceedingly rare because now that their body is used to physical stress, it takes a lot more of it to force adaptation.

One of the reasons why these people fail to train hard enough to stimulate gains is out fear of overtraining (which is often just a justification for laziness).

Well, let me tell you this: True overtraining is exceptionally rare. In all my life as an athlete and coach, I've only seen two real cases of overtraining, and in both the guys were Olympians training over 30 hours per week under tremendous psychological stress.

In reality, most elite athletes train over 20 hours per week, with some even hitting the 40-hour mark. Not all of this is strength training; speed and agility work, conditioning, and skill practices are also on the menu.

Before you throw the doping argument in my face, I've seen a ton of young athletes who were obviously not on drugs follow that type of schedule. I've worked as the head strength coach of a sports academy where kids ranging from 12 to 18 would go to school from 8:30 am to 12:00 pm, then train or practice from 1:00 to 5:00 pm every day. Their programs included daily strength work, agility training, and practices cumulating over 20 hours per week. None of them were overtraining; all of them progressed quite well.

Similarly, most high-level Olympic lifters train for three hours per day spread over two or three daily sessions. Heck, Canadian National team member Marilou Dozois-Prévost engaged in two sessions daily, each lasting two hours, and would often extend these to do additional jumping or gymnastic work... when she was 14!

The benefits of youth? Maybe.

But how do you explain the case of Marcel Perron, who at 68, would lift for two hours in the morning, sprint for 30 minutes before lunch, and train for two more hours in the evening? His partner, Emery Chevrier, who power cleaned 285 and power snatched 225 pounds at a bodyweight of 170 when he was 70, would do the same minus the sprints.

And on the practical side, I've known quite a few farmers who chugged along for eight hours straight day after day, doing work that'd bury the most hardcore gym enthusiasts, without overtraining.

The problem is that most people lack the recovery capacity and don't take the necessary means to recover properly.

The Barbarian Brothers, two of the hardest training bodybuilders mankind has ever known, said that there was no such thing as overtraining, only undereating.

Hot Topics

While not 100% accurate, they have the gist of it. Most people who think they're overtraining are simply under-recovering. While you can't make your body invincible to overtraining by pigging out, undereating, and especially undernourishment, can drastically reduce your capacity to recover.

Here are some things you can do to increase your recovery capacity:

To read the rest of the article, go here.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Best of the Web: Heavy-Light-Medium System for Strength and Power

For my second entry in this "best of the web" series, I've selected one of my own articles. I wrote this one for the Dragon Door website.

I have chosen this entry not necessarily because it's the best of all of my articles, but because it's probably the one article that more lifters need to read. And they need to read it because they need to give its suggestions a try.

If you're not squatting and deadlifting at least double your bodyweight, and bench pressing at least 1 & 1/2 times your bodyweight; and if you're not comparably strong on a lot of other lifts, then you have no business using multiple-split training, or using bands and chains, or using steroids, or—well, let's just say you have no business doing any of the nonsense a lot of (so-called) lifters do. You save all of that stuff until after you've laid a very good foundation of basic training. And I have no doubt that the workout in this article is the best foundation that you can lay for future—and immediate—success.

Here it is:

The Heavy-Light-Medium System for Strength and Power

For many years now, I've felt that the best all-around system of training is the heavy/light/medium system. It's great for beginning strength athletes since it teaches them how to properly regulate intensity and volume (and how to handle 3 full-body workouts in a training week). It's also great for anyone interested in not just developing strength and power, but also developing the muscle mass to go along with it. Add in the fact that it's capable of getting lifters in great condition, and I think it's hard to argue against its effectiveness.

The best-known advocate for this style of training is probably Bill Starr, who made the system popular through his classic book "The Strongest Shall Survive" (published in the '70s), and in many subsequent articles for Iron Man Magazine. Of course, Starr didn't invent the program. Before his book was published, many bodybuilders and powerlifters from the '60s and '70s used it. (Some of these lifters did prefer a medium/light/heavy system of training, however, thinking it best to save the heavy stuff for the last training day of the week.)

The purpose of the article is to show how to properly use a heavy/light/medium system. Although many people advocate this program as a good means for gaining both size and strength (a search of the many internet forums should attest to this fact), I have found that many lifters don't understand how to utilize it correctly. Since I have trained many others and myself—usually either powerlifters or football players—using the system, I believe I understand its nuances better than most. I have also used this system for extended periods of time (as long as six months), which is something that needs to be done in order to really understand any training methodology.

What follows is a week of workouts designed for anyone that's new to this style of training. Pay close attention to all of the details, and read the training plan several times before you attempt the program. After I have finished going over the program in detail, I will offer a few pointers so that you can properly tweak the system based on your goals and your level of strength fitness.
To read the full article, go here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Best of the Web: Christian Mysticism of the Future

For a while now, I've been wanting to do a "best of" series where I post links to what I consider to be some of the best web posts/articles that you can find on the internet.

Lately, I've been very busy writing articles, and so my posts here on my blog have taken a bit of a back seat to the rest of my writing. But since I've found time tonight to sit down and actually do something here, I thought it would be a good time to start this "best of" series.

My first pick comes from Carl McColman's delightful mystical Christian blog Anamchara: The Website of Unknowing. The post is entitled "Christian Mysticism of the Future" and its my favorite of all of Carl's posts. (And he's written quite a lot.)

By the way, after you've read this, be sure to check out the rest of his site. His last few blog posts alone are wonderful reading.

Christian Mysticism of the Future

One of my gripes with Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence is that she provides little or no insight into where she thinks the church is headed during this period of emergence. I think everyone kind of gets it that post-modernity is a hinge time, where we’re after something that no longer works (modernity) and we don’t really know yet what it is we’re before. (as an aside, I figure it’s either going to be a new renaissance that will make the 15th century look like a dress rehearsal, or else it could involve environmental devastation and resultant trauma on a scale never before imagined. And it all really boils down to how effectively we can curb our appetites!).

Okay, well, I can hardly whine about Tickle’s lack of forecasting, if I don’t do a bit of my own. So I’m working on a chapter in my book that will explore my conjectures about the future of Christian mysticism. This is utterly un-scientific: I am only basing my thoughts on what I have seen and read and intuited. So feel free to disagree — but if you do, please post a comment as to why. I’d be curious to hear what other contemplatives sense about where the Holy Spirit is leading us.

But for now, here are the seven characteristics that I (currently) believe will shape the future of Christian mysticism:

  1. Christian mysticism in the future will be increasingly Trinitarian. I believe the success of William Paul Young’s The Shack is at least partially due to its lovely presentation of the trinitarian nature of God. Obviously, the Blessed Trinity has always been central to Christian theology, but I believe its importance will only increase, as a healthy alternative to monism and dualism — both of which have dogged Christian spirituality for too long.
To read the full article, go here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Some (Very Random) Thoughts on Bodyweight Strength Training

I haven't lifted weights in almost a week. My sons and I took a trip to the mountains of Tennessee for a few days. We arrived back this afternoon.

After taking it easy at my house for a spell, we decided it was time they return to their mother—she was missing them, after all.

And I was DYING to hit the weights again.

Once my children were safely returned, and their mother and I said our cordial goodbyes, I headed over to the "wrecking gym" where I train. Only to find, much to my chagrin, that the garage was more than just a little bit infested with... fleas. Must be this sweltering Alabama heat—I know summer has just arrived, but it seems like every day for the last month the heat index has been over 110 degrees. Could be all the dogs that hang out around the gym. Well, whatever it is, tomorrow it will be time to spray the pesky critters. (Yes, yes, I'm aware that the fleas are—technically speaking—a "sentient being", but I'm afraid they're still getting sprayed.) But, until the spraying can commence, I decided it was time to head back to the house.

And do some bodyweight-only strength training.

I'm pretty keen on bodyweight strength training (read some of my early posts on the blog), and tonight I really had a hell of a workout by doing nothing more than squats (about 500 of them), some push-ups (150), and some sit-ups (don't know how many—a lot).

All of which got me to thinking. And so here are some (quite) random thoughts on bodyweight-only strength training:

  • This kind of training should be done frequently. There's no reason that—if bodyweight training is going to be your only form of resistance training—you shouldn't train six-days-per-week for 1 (beginners) to 2 hours (intermediate to advanced) per session.
  • You recover fast from this sort of training. This is good—and bad, I suppose. Not only should you train more frequently, you really need to train more frequently.
  • This stuff is great for conditioning—and getting you in shape fast. As Paul Chek has said, the key to being in great shape is to perform anaerobic exercise until it becomes aerobic. Bodyweight training can easily fit the bill here.
  • Bodyweight-only training is excellent for the athlete who wants to be ageless. You want to live to a ripe old age, and be able to look half your age, have sex like you were half your age, and out train guys half your age? Then these kind of workouts should be the staple of your training.
  • This kind of training is great for mixed martial artists. If you are into MMA, I would advise that you lift weights 2 days per week (HEAVY) and the other 4 days a week should be comprised of bodyweight-only strength training.
  • When performing bodyweight squats, don't count reps during a set, count the time of your sets. You should work up to 5 to 10 minute sets of squats. Then you will be in very good shape.
  • This kind of training teaches you to eat well. You can't do these workouts and eat like a super-heavyweight powerlifting competitor—you'd be winded within 5 minutes of starting your workout. You need lots of lean protein, and plenty of complex and fibrous carbohydrates.
  • Everyone should do this kind of training at least once per week. (Yes, that even goes for your super-heavy powerlifters I was talking about.)
  • These workouts are great as "extra workouts" in your powerlifting arsenal, especially if your workouts in the gym are mainly comprised of "maximal effort" training and "dynamic effort" training.
  • You will not lose your muscle mass if you switch over from typical bodybuilding training to bodyweight-only training. Don't believe me? Try doing 100 push-ups, 50 chins, and 500 bodyweight squats six days per week for the next month. You'll be absolutely friggin' sold.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

To Fail or Not to Fail

To fail or not to fail... that is the question.

We're talking training to failure, of course.

On one side of the spectrum, you have strength coaches such as Chad Waterbury and Charles Staley (and I suppose myself in recent years) who seem to never recommend training to failure. On the other side of the spectrum, you have the great strength coach Charles Poliquin, and bodybuilding writers/trainers such as Steve Holman, Eric Broser (and whoever the hell invented that Doggcrapp—yes, that's the actual name of the training system for those of you who don't know— crap) who seem to always recommend training to failure.

The million dollar question: Who's right? I think the answer is both—as long as certain criteria are adhered to for the most part.

I haven't always felt that way.

If you read my early writing for Iron Man magazine and MuscleMag International—I used to write quite a bit for those magazines 10 to 15 years ago—then you would have assumed I was a training to failure sort of guy. And I was.

I began writing for Iron Man and MuscleMag when I was 19 years old. I had devoured those magazines for years—ever since I first picked up a weight at the age of 15, an old DP set. My early training inspirations were writers such as Stuart McRobert, Bradley Steiner, Steve Holman, and then not long after that guys such as Greg Zulak and Gene Mozee. The first set of writers recommended brief, ultra-intense workouts. Zulak and Mozee tended to recommend a lot of volume. By the time I was 19—and at the time when I first put pen to paper for Iron Man—I had come to use an amalgam of the various writers above. I trained using a lot of intensity—almost every set to failure—but I also did plenty of volume, and generally trained my muscles about once every 5 to 7 days. (At the time, such infrequent training was just becoming popular—it now seems to be the norm.)

Being young, I thrived on such training. I also had the perfect lifestyle to allow such training to work. I worked as a personal trainer and taught some weight training classes at a local college—which means that the only really stressful stuff I did all week were my actual workouts. I also had enough to time to eat 6 to 8 meals a day, consuming somewhere between 1 to 2 grams of protein per bodypart, and between 3,500 to 4,000 calories per day. I was lean and pretty big—only 5'6" but my weight fluctuated between 205 to 215 pounds.

I thought my style of training at the time was the ultimate. I trained so hard that very few people wanted to be my workout partner. That fact kind of made me proud.

But was such ultra-intense training really the best way to train?

Around 1997, I discovered the writings of two important people—Brooks Kubrik (he of the "Dinosaur Training" fame) and (even more importantly) Bill Starr. Starr had always written stuff for Iron Man, but for some reason I had ignored him until then. Like a lot of readers of that magazine back then (and now), I thought that Starr was too "old-school", that his methods were outdated.

I also discovered powerlifting around this time, and fell head-over-heels in love with the sport. Long story short: I switched over to more frequent workouts, lost a lot of weight to compete in the 181 pound division in powerlifting, stopped training to failure, started experimenting with workouts that were essentially a combination of Bill Starr, Kubrik, and Louie Simmons' methods, and got a hell of a lot stronger than I had ever been before.

I also started to write even more articles for Iron Man—sometime during the late '90s it was not uncommon for me to have an article in each issue for almost a year straight. Because of my exposure to Simmons, Staley, and Bill Starr, I rarely ever recommended training to failure—instead I relied on volume and frequency to illicit gains in both myself and my readers.

But things change—that is the nature of life, after all.

Recently, I have once again started recommended training to failure. Not all the time, but I now know that it does have its place in a properly designed workout program.

What happened? For one, I started to have a lot of injuries (including surgery for some herniated cervical disks), and I also hung up the powerlifting singlet. I have no intention of ever stepping on a platform again—or a bodybuilding stage, even though I'll always be somewhat of a bodybuilder at heart.

Yet I love to train. I now probably train harder than ever.

I'm bigger than I've been in a long time: I weigh somewhere around 200 pounds. I'm gaining muscle mass, but I'm also training for strength.

And I've discovered that it's best to train to failure, but only toward the end of the workout. (At least, it's best to do this kind of training if a combination of strength and muscle size is what you're after—and I'm assuming that fits the bill for most readers of my articles.)

Never—or at least very rarely—should you train to failure at the beginning of the workout. Train easier at the beginning of a workout so that you can train harder at the end. (For a more in depth explanation of this line of reasoning, I recommend this article by Chad Waterbury.)

As an example, here is what I did at my workout today (which was a chest and lat workout):

Flat bench presses: 135 x 2 sets x 15 reps (these sets were very easy), 225x10 (nowhere near failure), 275x6 (strong, fast reps; nowhere near failure), 295x4 (fast and explosive as possible), 315x2 (another explosive set)

Keep in mind on the bench presses, I was trying to use compensatory acceleration on all my sets.

Flat bench presses (225 x 4 sets x 12 reps) alternated with wide-grip chins (bodyweight x 4 sets x 6 to 8 reps). Each one of these sets was stopped as soon as I felt myself slowing down. I was actually surprised I stayed fast on all of my bench press sets.

Incline dumbbell bench presses (80s x 4 sets x 10 to 12 reps) alternated with close-grip chins (bodyweight x 4 sets x 6 to 8 reps). Once again, all of these reps were performed as fast as possible—nothing slow.

At this point, I switched over to some failure training:

Wide-grip dips (bodyweight x 4 sets x absolute momentary muscular failure—usually around the 8th to 10th repetition; I was a little fatigued from all the flat and inclines) alternated with machine pulldowns (140 pounds x 4 sets x momentary muscular failure—somewhere between 30 to 15 reps; 30 toward the beginning of the sets, 15 toward the end).

If I would have performed so much failure training at the beginning of the workout, there's no way I would have been able to perform that much total work—which would not have been a good thing.

To fail or not to fail... I guess it's still one of THE questions even after all these years.