Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Guest Post: "Commercial Manipulation and the REAL Key to Massive Arms"

My friend—and fellow iron-pumper—Jared Smith (a big, hulking power-bodybuilder) sent me the following training "mini-article". Jared has some good advice in this piece. And most of you who read this blog for training advice might actually follow it. (Unlike a lot of the so-called bodybuilders who read most of the newsstand mags.)

So... here it is:

Commercial Manipulation and the REAL Key to Massive Arms
Jared Smith
I can't tell you how man times I've picked up a magazine that only glorifies abs and biceps and tells you that the key to bigger arms is simply to curl until your brain goes numb. Before I even get into the meat and potatoes of the program I'll outline, don't get the idea that I am anti-curl, but the curl aint gonna put size on those arms.

What puts size on your arms are the same things that put size on the rest of you: COMPOUND MOVEMENTS. Benches, dips, deadlifts,chins, squats. Now before the vast majority of everyone who reads this get confused, allow me to explain why these are the keys to massive arms and massive everything else.

What muscles are involved in the bench? Sure, your chest is the primary mover but your triceps take a huge amount of the workload no matter how great the mind/muscle connection or the amount of concentration you put into it. Keep in mind that the triceps make up 2/3 of your upper arms thus without them you'll never have a massive set of arms. This brings me to the next exercise, Dips. Not only will dips torch your lower pec line but this is the ultimate compound exercise that will overload the hell out of your triceps, and eventually transform them into something that resembles the hooves of a bull.

Now on to the biceps...the most over-talked-about muscle in the bodybuilding world. First and foremost are deadlifts. This is the mother of all exercises in my opinion. I'm sure you're thinking, "Jared, bro, how am I supposed to grow my arms doin deads?". To that I say this: How much weight can you possibly handle doing any form of curl? I'm sure that number won't reach much over a hundred pounds. Keep in mind that the deadlift is a movement that engages your forearms,biceps,brachialis...every muscle that's required to make your arms swell to grotesque proportions. How much weight and compound force can you put into deadlifts? Uuh Huh...I see the light bulb over your head already. Yes, hundreds upon hundreds of pounds. Up next are chins, the most affective exercise for biceps... period. Make sure to squeeze hard at the top. Now I'm sure alot of people are thinking "Dude, I can only do X amount of chins". Who cares? Do the number of sets outlined in the program for as many as you can and after a few months you'll be repping them out.

Now on to the exercise that'll put hair on your balls. Squats. Ok, I know you're scratching your heads now at why I'd even mention squats. How do you think you'll move monster weight on any other movement if you don't have a strong foundation?Nothing will add to the stability of your torso and lower back like having a strong set of quads and hamstrings. Nothing will make you feel a surge of power like having a ton of weight sitting on your back and cranking out reps. It'll make you tired but yet make you want to pound your chest like a silverback gorilla, and let everyone know that you're as powerful as they come.

Now it's time to get to work.........
Day 1
Squats 5x8-10
Dips(weight added if needed) 5x 8-10
Palms-In Chins(weight added if needed) 5x as many as you can
Decline Situps 3x 10-12

Day 2

Day 3
Squats 3x10-12
Bench Presses 5x8-10
Deadlifts 5x8-10
Leg Raises 3x10-12

Day 4 and 5 rest and begin the cycle again on day six.

Note: Train calves on any day you choose. Pick one exercise and do 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

Pyramid up in weight on each set, but keep your form tight. Slow on the negative stroke and controlled, not explosive, on the positive. This will insure that you'll stimulate the maximum number of muscle fibers in addition to keeping you injury free. Give this program an honest try and I guarantee that in a few months you'll not only be stronger, but you'll have a much larger set of arms. Don't buy into all the complete crap that is printed in much of the publications you'll find on the shelf at your local supermarket. After all, they want to sell magazines, not help you grow. Once you've added quite a bit of strength with a program like this—which consists of the basics—you'll have enough mass to begin a program that does have some isolation movements involved.

Stay tuned, my next installment will contain a more advanced routine. Listen to your body, stick to the basics and avoid the commercial manipulation.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Is Having a Positive Attitude Overrated?

Over the last few months, I've written a couple of articles for Mike Mahler that have appeared on his website—www.mikemahler.com—or in his "Aggressive Strength" magazine. In the past, I have enjoyed reading some of Mahler's articles on training—his stuff is not necessarily revolutionary but he is very good at assimilating ideas from great lifters both past and present. However, it was only recently—after reading a lot of his "Aggressive Strength Living" articles—that I came to appreciate just where Mahler's strength lies.

Perhaps it's Mahler's background in Eastern philosophies—Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism—that causes me to like him so much, but I think it's more of the fact that he's not your typical "self-help", "positive thinking" sort of writer (as the article below will clearly show).
I picked out the following article because it resonated with me, but I hope you will use it as a springboard to explore more of Mahler's "Aggressive Strength Living" articles.

Is Having a Positive Attitude Overrated?

By Mike Mahler

There were no self-help groups, personal coaching, cheerleading, or handholding. The philosophy was very basic. You know what you want. You know what you have to do. You know how to do it. Just do it. If you can’t then tough shit!

Randy Roach, Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors

Self-help gurus often talk about the importance of having a positive attitude, claiming it's fundamental to the success of any and all endeavors. On the contrary: attitude is irrelevant. Couple the brightest of attitudes with a flawed plan and you'll create only failure, while taking that same action with an effective plan--even if your attitude is less than cheerful--will surely succeed. Quoting former Navy SEAL Team Six leader Richard Marcinko, you do not have to like it--you just have to do it. This is the critical factor in success: Doing what needs to be done even when it's the last thing you want to do.

If you're only capable of taking action when you're attitude is positive--then don't bother. If you require extrinsic motivation to make your move, you should just give up, now. If you only perform at a high level when you're feeling your best, then you are the exact opposite of a professional and destined to remain an amateur at life and everything else.

Not only is positive attitude beside the point, it can actually hindermeaningful change...and ensuing success. I'll share a personal example.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Article: "3 Keys to Monstrous Muscle and Strength Gains"

Mike Mahler—over at www.mikemahler.com—puts out an excellent on-line magazine called "Aggressive Strength Magazine". The magazine always has plenty of great information, and best of all... it's free. (Mike, by the way, also seems like a wonderful person. He's one of the few vegan strength coaches/athletes that you'll find. Read over his personal articles and you'll see that he has a very spiritual side to him—we need more guys like that in the business.)

The latest issue of "Aggressive Strength" is out, and I have an article in it entitled "3 Keys to Monstrous Muscle and Strength Gains".

Monday, January 18, 2010

Training Entry #2: The One with the Bottom-Position Squats... and the Poundage... and Tapping into The Source

Training Entry #2: The One with the Bottom-Position Squats... and the Poundage... and Tapping into The Source
Sunday, January 17th

Since my last training entry, several things have happened to me. For one—and this is the most impacting—I severely pulled a pectoral muscle. A couple of years ago, I had a partial pec tear, so I've had to take it kind of easy while training my chest muscles. However, even training easy didn't help in this case.
I haven't let the minor setback keep me from training heavy, however. I have—since my last entry—been training quite heavy on squats, deads (various kinds), overhead presses (I can overhead press without much discomfort), and various sorts of upper-body pulling movements (chins, for instance).
The other is that I have been using the 5 to 7 Method of training. (Read the post a couple below this one for more info on that form of training.)
Now, on with this entry....

For the past several weeks, I have been lifting using the 5 to 7 method. I train on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays—but by Thursday of last week I was feeling so overtrained that I knew I needed a break, so I decided to take the day off. Also, I knew that this week I would need to cut back on the sheer amount of volume and training density that I had been performing.
So I decided that this training day should be my first heavy day of squatting since the last training entry (approximately one month ago). Since I had been averaging 5 to 7 sets of 5 to 7 reps on most of my exercises, I knew that it was time to test the ol' one-rep max. I also knew that this kind of heavy training would also be a good way to both get a good workout and decrease my total workload for the week—as long as I didn't add any back-off sets on my core exercises.
"What we doin' today?" Puddin' asked when he picked me up, and we were headed to the "Wreckin' Crew Gym".
I had already told him I wanted to max out on some exercise, he just didn't know what I had in mind. "Bottom-position squats," I said. "We haven't done any of those since we began training together again," I added.
"Sounds good," he said. "I don't like them damn things, but it still sounds good."
"Well, since you don't like them, that probably means that you need to do them."
Words to the wise for anyone reading this: If you don't like to do a particular exercise, chances are that's an exercise you need to do. I don't like overhead presses, but I've been doing them anyway. And I don't like them because they have always been tough for me, and I am not near as strong on them as I am on almost everything else. But I also know that all the work I've been doing on them will be good for me when I finally resume bench pressing—in fact, I will probably be stronger on benches at that time.
We arrived at the gym, changed into our workout clothes, turned on the stereo—"Somewhere Back in Time" from Iron Maiden being our current CD selection—, then hit the squat rack.
I knew I was going to have a slight advantage over Puddin' for this exercise. Puddin' is over 300 pounds, and he's a couple inches taller than I, which means that when we set the pins at bottom-position for him, we're setting it about an inch above parallel for me. Still, since he has the decided weight advantage—I currently weigh between 185 and 190—I suppose it's close to being a wash.
We began with 135 lbs for 2 sets of 7. We did these conventional, without starting from the bottom position.
Next it was 225 lbs for 1 set of 5 reps.
We set the pins in the rack so that Puddin' was below parallel. As expected, I was right at parallel, only slightly above it if that.
Next up it was 315 lbs for 1 set of 5.
"Now let's begin doing doubles or singles, so we can conserve energy for a max set," I said.
Puddin' just nodded. He was trying to get in the zone: skullcap pulled down to his eyes, his mind lost in the rhythm of Maiden's "The Trooper".
Then I hit 405 lbs for 1 set of 3.
"Thought you said we were doing doubles or singles," he said, looking at me askance.
"Two felt easy; felt like I needed to do one more." I paused, then added, "You ready for another plate?"
It was time for the singles now. 495 felt strong; looked that way for my partner, too.
"Two 25s or two 35s?" I asked, eyeing what our next set would be.
"35s," Puddin' replied with determination.
We loaded the squat rack with 565 lbs. It had been a long time since I squatted that much weight—bottom-position or otherwise.
I took a good three minutes to prepare myself for the lift, careful not to get too psyched up before doing it.
I approached the bar, stood with the bar right next to my hips, made sure that my feet were in the proper place before I squeezed under the bar.
The key to lifting big weights is saving enough energy until you need that energy. You have to know when to flip the switch.
I flipped the switch.
The weight was a little too slow coming up for my liking, but I made the lift, then set the bar down slowly on the pins.
Puddin' followed suit. It didn't look much easier for him—or any easier, for that matter.
"How you feeling?" I asked.
"Not bad."
He nodded.
We loaded the bar with 605.
Three to 4 minutes later, I was ready to commence. A part of me didn't think I would make the lift—565 had felt awfully slow—but another, deeper part of me knew that I could do it.
What I'm about to say might not make a lot of sense to some of you reading this. And that is because it must be experienced. And in order to experience it, you must learn to cultivate it.
There is a Power that knows the way. It's inside of me, inside of you, inside of all of us. It is the Source of all that is. And, no, it's not there just so that you can set records on lifts, or win powerlifting contests (or make money, or any of that other crap).
But It is there, and there's no reason that lifting heavy weights cannot become a communion of its own; no reason that it cannot become a source of inspiration to you, and to others.
There is no reason that lifting weights cannot become an Integral spiritual practice all its own.
And so I found the Source that lives within, surrendered to it, and knew that it was not me that was about to lift this weight, but the Power that knows the way.
605 lbs felt easier than the 565.
Not that I wasn't spent once I was done with the single. I had to sit down for a minute, my head was swimming and dazed.
My workout partner missed the weight about halfway up; it wasn't that he couldn't lift it, but I think the weight had just gotten inside his head, so to speak, when it really does have to be the other way around.

The rest of the workout was fairly routine for both of us. Puddin' did a few sets of benches. I did three sets of overhead presses. We then followed that with 5 sets of chins, and 4 sets of skullcrushers. And a little ab work.

End Note: Bottom-position squats—if you haven't been performing them—really are one of the best exercises you can utilize. A lot of people don't like to do them because you require some flexibility in order to squeeze under the bar and most people have to surrender their egos at the gym door. Until you get accustomed to them, you will find that you are decidedly weaker on bottom-position squats as opposed to regular squats.

Power Volume Training

     Power Volume Training is a system that I came up with a few years ago, and wrote an article about it in the November, 2004 issue of Ironman.  Since that time, this is the one program that I have used more than any other when training someone who is solely interested in maximal strength—powerlifters, for instance.  Although mainly geared toward building strength, it’s also a great means of building muscle mass, especially when you have been performing workouts with higher reps.  (It would be a great form of training, for instance, after a couple months of Staggered Volume Training.)

     Power Volume Training works by incorporating 4 distinct methods of training into one week of workouts.  The methods used are:

  1. Dynamic lifting
  2. Very heavy training—max singles, doubles, and triples; and never more than five reps
  3. Partial reps
  4. Frequent training

     Like a lot of good methods of strength building, the parameters of this program aren’t set in stone.  However, there are a few ground rules that you must observe.  They are:

  1. Train each lift up to three times a week on a heavy/light/medium system of training.  (Highly advanced lifters can train up to four times a week, but we’ll save that for another post.)
  2. Keep track of your workload on each lift—keep a training log and calculate your total poundage lifted.  Without keeping a training log, it’s too easy to slip into overtraining.  You need it to make sure you’re not doing too much work on your light and medium days.  When I say "heavy" I'm talking about total workload being performed on that day.  This is important—without keeping track of their workload, many well-intentioned lifters will start performing too much total volume.
  3. The first day of the week is your “heavy” day.  Here you will work up to a max set of low reps (between 1 and 5) on 2 exercises—one for your upper body and one for your lower body.  You will regularly rotate exercises to keep your body from adapting and to keep the strength coming.  The more advanced you are, the more exercises you need in your arsenal and the more frequently you need to rotate them.  (This training day would be very similar to the "maximal effort" day used by Westside Barbell Club.  Westside training was my inspiration for Power Volume Training—I just wanted something that used full-body workouts and would be more conducive to "raw" lifters.)
  4. The second day of the week is your “light” day.  Here you will use 50% of your maximum weight on two core exercises (one for upper body; one for lower body) for 8 sets of 2 to 3 reps.
  5. The third workout day of the week is your “medium” day.  You will use 70% of your one-rep max on your core exercises for 8 to 10 sets of 2 to 3 reps.
  6. Each session also incorporates various assistance exercises.  These are used to keep your lifts moving up and to build mass in parts of your body that need a little extra work.  Heavy and medium days will involve assistance exercises of the more “compound” variety.  Light days will see you using exercises that limit you to less weight.

Sample Beginning Program

     Here is sample week worth of training.  Remember: you rotate from your core exercises every week or two, but the week below will give you a good indication of how things work.

Monday: Heavy Day

1) Incline Bench Presses (core upper body exercise): 135x5 reps, 175x3, 225x3, 245x3, 270x3, 290x3, 290x3, 300x3 (barely able to get the last rep), 305x2 (missed the 3rd rep)

     Total workload for lift: 5,800 pounds

2) Lying Triceps Extensions: 135x 2 sets x 8 reps

3) Close Grip Chins: bodyweight x 2 sets x 8 reps

4) Bottom-Position Squats (core lower body exercise): 135x5 reps, 225x3, 275x3, 315x3, 365x3, 405x3 (hard lift, barely got the last rep), 425 x1 (failed on the second rep)

     Total workload for lift: 5,855 pounds

5) Hanging Leg Raises: 3 x 20 reps

Wednesday: Light Day

1) Flat Bench Presses: 150 x 8 sets x 2 reps

     Total workload for lift: 2,400 pounds

2) Bench Dips: bodyweight x 2 sets x 15 reps

3) Sumo Deadlifts: 225 x 8 sets x 2 reps

     Total workload for lift: 3,600 pounds

Friday: Medium Day

1) Flat Bench Presses: 225 x 8 sets x 2 reps

     Total workload for lift: 3,600 pounds

2) Parallel-Bar Dips: bodyweight+45lb plate x 2 sets x 10 reps

3) Wide Grip Chins: bodyweight x 3 sets x 10 reps

4) Olympic Style Squats: 275 x 8 sets x 2 reps

     Total workload for lift: 4,448 pounds

     Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of this program:

  1. If this is your first time training on such a heavy weight and high-volume system, stick with the same core exercises for 3 weeks.  If you are a more advanced lifter, rotate exercises at least every 2 weeks.  Also, if you are a "raw" lifter, then you probably don't need as many exercises to rotate from.  For instance, in order to increase my squats and deadlifts, I would routinely rotate from bottom-position squats, regular squats, deadlifts, and sumo deadlifts.  That's all that I really need in order to make progress.
  2. Don’t worry as much about calculating workload on your assistance exercises unless the assistance lifts you are doing are compound movements and more damaging to your nervous system.
  3. After a couple of months of training, take a “down” week.  On this down week, do reps instead of max lifts on your heavy days, and cut out your light day altogether.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The 5 to 7 Program

     There are several programs that I have touted on this blog because of their efficacy—the two that I get asked the most questions about would probably be the H-L-M system of training and the 3 to 5 method.  I like both of these systems for a few reasons: 1) They use full-body workouts. 2) They allow you to train your muscle groups frequently while still being fresh at each session.  And 3) while they are training templates they both allow for enough variety to keep the lifter from getting stale and/or bored.
     Now I would like to introduce another template of a training system that I think is even more effective for advanced strength athletes.  I call it the 5 to 7 Program.
     The 5 to 7 Program works for advanced athletes because of a simple reason: it forces you to use more volume than with the other above systems.  (Despite the bull that is often espoused in some of the various bodybuilding magazines, as you get more advanced you don't need less training you need more.)
     To begin with, I'm going to outline the parameters of this training method.  Don't worry, it's fairly simple:
     1) You train your entire body 3 days each week.
     2) You perform 5 to 7 different exercises for 5 to 7 sets (each exercise) of 5 to 7 reps.
     3) You should select basic, "core" exercises.  You should also utilize more lower body and rear-of-the-body exercises than upper-body exercises.
     4) You should train hard, but not so hard that you can't recover from each training session.  In other words, don't give the workout 100% of your effort—more like 90-95%.
     That's it.  It really is quite simple.  The two things that it requires are hard work and consistency.
    As you get more advanced, you need to learn to train more "instinctively" (or what I call "Awakened training").  Although I wouldn't recommend such a tactic for beginners, advanced athletes should understand their bodies and how they respond to training volume, training intensity, and training intensiveness (of effort).
     With the 5 to 7 Program you have a template that allows you to make instinctive changes whenever they are necessary.
     Here is what a week of training might look like:
Squats: 7 sets of 5
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5
Bench Presses: 7 sets of 7
Power Cleans: 5 sets of 5
Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 5
Chins: 5 sets of 7
Dumbbell Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5
Squats: 5 sets of 5
High Pulls: 5 sets of 5
Clean and Presses: 7 sets of 5
Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 7
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5
Squats: 5 sets of 7
Clean-Grip Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5
Dips: 7 sets of 7
Chins: 5 sets of 7
Sumo Deadlifts: 7 sets of 5
Standing Dumbbell Presses: 5 sets of 5
     Although you will be training somewhat instinctively, make sure that most of the exercises are staples of your program.  If you just used the exercises I included above, they would be all you ever need.  Just change the order of how you do them from workout to workout, and from week to week.