Sunday, March 28, 2010

Old-Time Bodybuilding Methods: Train Through the Soreness

Old-Time Bodybuilding Methods:
Train Through the Soreness

I know this method's going to be a bit controversial, given all the emphasis in muscle magazines the past few years on giving your muscles enough time to "recuperate" and "repair." But, let me explain, and maybe I'll have a few converts (especially once you put the method to proper use).

I think it's mistakenly believed that bodybuilders of the past trained so frequently (usually 3x weekly for each bodypart) because they simply didn't know any better. But, if you were to ask the great Bill Pearl if he would change the way he used to train considering all the new "knowledge" about recovery, he would flatly tell you, "no." The same goes for longtime Iron Man contributor George Turner. He's seen it all, and done it all, and still believes frequent, volume-oriented training is better.

One of the reasons bodybuilders who train each bodypart once-per-week get so sore is because, well, they train everything once-per-week. This never allows you to increase your rate of recovery, because the demands are never placed on your body to do so. Sure, if you start training everything two, or even three, times a week you're going to be sore, but after a couple of weeks the soreness will subside. Then, look out, because it's growth time.

Strength coach Bill Starr has trained a lot of lifters over the years, and he still believes three-times-a-week training is best for each bodypart. Even if his lifters could get the same strength gains from once-a-week training that they get from 3x training, he wouldn't let them do it. Why? With once-a-week training an athlete simply never gets in good condition. Old time bodybuilders knew this.

Now, I'm not suggesting you rush to the gym and start performing the same "heavy," all-out workout you've been doing once-a-week and increase it to twice-per-week. Start off by adding an extra "light" workout 72 hours after your "heavy" session (no matter how sore you are). After about a month, increase the frequency to three times-per-week, using a heavy/light/medium rotation. The longer you train this way, the harder you will be able to start training at each session. And remember, it does take years of training to reach up to the type of regimen Bill Pearl used.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The 10 Sets Method: "Old-School" Style

I talked to my Uncle Kirk tonight.

He lives in Texas.

He stands about an inch taller than me—he's 5'7". He weighs about 10 pounds heavier than I do—he's 200 lbs or so.

He's also 58 years old, and built like the proverbial brick shit-house.

He also trains in a barn—squat rack, a bench press, a few barbells, lots of dumbbells, and a whole crap-load of weights—with a few guys who are probably 30 years younger than him.

He's been training since his teens, can bench press in the mid-300s, and can deadlift around 500 pounds—not as strong as he once was, but all-in-all still a pretty strong S.O.B.

He calls me to talk training, and we just like to keep each other updated as to the kind of progress we're making and the kind of workouts we're performing.

"What'd you do tonight?" I asked.

"A 10 sets workout," he replied. I know that my Uncle doesn't use a "split" routine—never has—so I was interested in just what this workout might look like.

"Oh yeah. What exactly did you do in it?"

"10 sets of 10 on squats, 10 sets of 10 on bench presses, 10 sets of 10 on deadlifts, and then a few sets of 25 reps on some push-ups—you know, just for a finisher."

I laughed a little. I doubt most guys half my Uncle's age could even make it through half that workout.

Kirk once told me that when he was at his biggest and his strongest—sometime in his mid 30s—he would perform 10 sets of 10 on squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and barbell curls 3 times per week. The workouts would last 2 and a 1/2 to 3 hours. Nowadays, guys call that overtraining. My Uncle calls it hard work.

Which reminds me of an old Iron Man article I once read by the aging-but-still-great George Turner. For putting on muscle mass, he recommended a regimen of barbell curls, bench presses, and squats for 10 sets of 10 reps performed Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Once you had plenty of size, then you could start using multiple exercises.

High-intensity pundits and other briefer-is-better lifters in our era would call those kind of workouts performed by Turner and my uncle "crazy." Perhaps, however, there's a little more to it. Perhaps they know something a lot of others don't realize: frequent training, plus hard work, plus full-body workouts equals big-time results.

It's just a thought.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

High Frequency Focus Training

Over the past year, two of my workout programs seem to be the most popular—at least, I get asked the most questions about these two programs. The first program would be my "Mass Construction" program. The Mass Construction routine is ideal for anyone who needs to pack on as much muscle as possible in a relatively short amount of time. However, I think that the second program—what I call "High-Frequency Focus Training"—has the most potential. It's not just a workout program, but rather it's a system of training with a lot of potential—and by this I mean that it is a template that you follow, but it allows for plenty of variety, hence its potential.

What follows in this post is the basic program—with a beginner routine and an advanced routine. After this post, I'm going to add some others that deal with specialization while on the HFFT system, since that's the area where a lot of questions get asked.

High Frequency Focus Training

Sometimes the most efficient methods of training often seem to be contradictory in nature. For instance, one of the most effective ways to train for strength and power—not to mention thick muscle growth—is by following a whole body program that has you working the muscles of your legs, back, and upper body 3 days a week with heavy, compound movements. Another highly effective method for gaining muscle and strength is to train 4 to 6 days a week, working only one (or, at the most, two) bodypart(s) on each training day. This form of training allows you to really focus on each muscle group, giving you a fantastic pump and hitting the muscle from all angles.

The first training program works by frequently exposing each muscle group to a high level of stress with exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and barbell bench presses. When training in this manner, you want to stay clear of “training to failure,” and instead perform multiple sets of a single exercise, always leaving a little “in the tank,” so to speak. This is the kind of training favored by Russian and East European strength athletes, and it is the reason they dominate most powerlifting and Olympic lifting meets.

The second form of training is the kind favored by most American bodybuilders. It works by “annihilating” a muscle group, then giving it plenty of time to rest and grow big. If muscle growth—and only muscle growth—is your goal, then you could argue that this is the most effective form of training.

On a personal note, I can say that I have used both methods of training and got really good results out of either one. For instance, when I was at my largest and most muscular (weighing between 210 and 220 lbs of —fairly—lean muscle at a height of only 5’6”) I was using a once-a-week bodybuilding regimen, training Monday thru Friday, and then taking the weekends off. However, when I was at my strongest (weighing around 181 lbs and squatting and deadlifting over triple my bodyweight), I was training Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on a heavy/light/medium program. I squatted at each training session, performed some kind of bench work at each workout, and performed heavy back work at each session.

Now, this is the question that remains: is there a way to combine both of these methods into one training program, allowing you to reap the benefits of both? I believe the answer is “yes.” In fact, there are several ways that you could probably go about doing this. This article offers one such way.

I have chosen to call this method High Frequency Focus Training—HFFT for short—because although each muscle group is trained frequently, you will only focus on a couple of muscle groups (at the most) at each training session. Here’s how it works:

Every training session will begin with the high frequency portion of the workout. This is done by training all of the large muscle groups with a few sets, using a moderate to heavy amount of weight and fairly low reps or using a light weight for a high number of reps. When this portion of the workout is finished, you should feel refreshed and invigorated instead of tired and exhausted.

Once the high frequency portion is finished, it’s time for the focus portion of the session. This is done by picking one or (at the most) 2 muscle groups and hitting them with multiple sets of multiple reps—a typical bodybuilding style workout.

If all of this sound a little confusing, it won’t be after you read the two programs below. The first program is for beginners, or anyone who is not used to training their whole body several times each week. The second program is for anyone who has developed a combination of good conditioning and good muscular development—in other words, advanced lifters.

Beginning HFFT Program

This one is a three-days-a-week regimen. The most popular days to train would be Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Day One

High Frequency Portion

  • Squats – 5 sets of 3 reps. Perform two warm-up sets of 5 reps, followed by 3 work sets of 3 reps, using approximately 70-75% of your one-rep maximum.
  • Deadlifts– 5 sets of 3 reps. Use the same set/rep format as the squats.
  • Barbell Bench Presses or Incline Bench Presses – 5 sets of 3 reps. Same set/rep format as the squats and deadlifts.

Focus Portion: Chest and Arms

  • Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses – 4 sets of 10 reps
  • Incline Dumbbell Flyes – 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Cable Crossovers – 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Dumbbell Curls supersetted with Dips – 8 sets of 10 reps on each exercise.

Day Two

High Frequency Portion

  • Squats – 5 sets of 3 reps. Perform two warm-up sets of 5 reps, followed by 3 work sets of 3 reps, using approximately 70-75% of your one-rep maximum.
  • Power Cleans – 5 sets of 3 reps. Use the same set/rep format as the squats.
  • Overhead Presses– 5 sets of 3 reps. Same set/rep format as the squats and power cleans.

Focus Portion: Legs

  • Leg Presses – 3 sets of 20 reps
  • Leg Extensions – 3 sets of 20 reps
  • Lying Leg Curls – 3 sets of 20 reps
  • Standing Calf Raises (machine or barbell) – 2 sets of 30-50 reps

Day Three

High Frequency Portion

  • Squats – 5 sets of 3 reps. Perform two warm-up sets of 5 reps, followed by 3 work sets of 3 reps, using approximately 60-65% of your one-rep maximum. Less weight is used on this day because of the heavy leg training on Day Two.
  • Deadlifts– 5 sets of 3 reps. Use the same set/rep format as the squats.
  • Barbell Bench Presses or Incline Bench Presses – 5 sets of 3 reps. Same set/rep format as the squats and deadlifts.

Focus Portion: Back and Shoulders

  • Lat Pulldowns – 4 sets of 10 reps
  • Bent-Over Rows – 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Dumbbell Pullovers – 2 sets of 20 reps
  • Lateral Raises – 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Front Raises – 3 sets of 10 reps

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

    1. Train hard and consistent on this program for 4 weeks. On the 5th week, take a “down” training week: perform the high frequency portion of all of the workouts but omit all of the “focus” portions. On the 6th week, resume training hard for another 4 weeks, before taking another down week on the 11th week of training. On the 12th week of training, it would be a good idea to switch to another program.
    2. Increase the weight being used whenever possible on all of the “focus” exercises.
    3. Remember, you should always feel refreshed and invigorated after the high frequency sets. At this point of the workout you should be “fired up” for the focus sets.
    4. Train hard on the “focus” sets but still stop one or two reps shy of muscular failure.
    5. Eat big; this program is designed for mass building, not for getting in contest shape.

Advanced HFFT Program

This one has you training 5 consecutive days before taking a day off. The most popular days would be Monday thru Friday, then take the weekends off. The other difference is that you will now use different rep schemes on different days of your high frequency portion.

Day One

High Frequency Portion

  • Squats – 5 sets of 5 reps. Perform 5 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps. The last set should be a little tough, but you should still have no problem getting all 5 reps.
  • Deadlifts – 5 sets of 5 reps. As with the squats, perform 5 progressively heavier sets.

Focus Portion: Chest

  • Barbell Bench Presses – 5 sets of 10 reps
  • Wide Grip Dips – 4 sets of maximum reps
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses – 4 sets of 15 reps

Day Two

High Frequency Portion

  • Squats – 2 sets of 20-25 reps. These sets should give you a slight pump, but should not be done with enough weight as to be taxing on your body.
  • Dumbbell Bench Presses – 2 sets of 20-25 reps. Perform these the same as the squats.

Focus Portion: Back

  • Wide Grip Chins – 3 sets of maximum reps
  • One-Arm Dumbbell Rows – 4 sets of 12-15 reps (each arm)
  • Dumbbell Pullovers – 2 sets of 30-40 reps

Day Three

High Frequency Portion

  • Barbell Bench Presses – 5 sets of 2 reps. Perform 5 progressively heavier sets of 2 reps. The last set should be done with 80-85% of your one-rep maximum.
  • Dumbbell Deadlifts – 5 sets of 5 reps. Perform 5 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps. The last set should be with about 70-75% of your one-rep maximum.

Focus Portion: Legs

  • Leg Presses – 3 sets of 20-30 reps
  • Leg Extensions – 4 sets of 20-30 reps
  • Lying Leg Curls – 4 sets of 20-30 reps
  • Sissy Squats – 2 sets of maximum reps
  • Standing Calf Raises (machine or barbell) – 2 sets of 30-50 reps
  • Donkey Calf Raises – 2 sets of maximum reps

Day Four

High Frequency Portion

  • Bodyweight Squats – 2 sets of 50-100 reps. Your legs will probably be pretty sore on this day, but these 2 sets will help them recover.
  • Push Ups – 5 sets of 10-20 reps
  • Close Grip Chins – 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps. None of these reps should be anywhere close to failure. Each repetition should be strong and powerful.

Focus Portion: Shoulders

  • Military Presses – 5 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raises – 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Seated Dumbbell Presses – 3 sets of 10-12 reps

Day Five

High Frequency Portion

  • Squats – 10-12 sets of 2 reps. These should be performed with about 50-60% of your one-rep maximum.
  • Dumbbell Bench Presses – 10-12 sets of 2 reps. Use the same set/rep format as the squats.
  • Deadlifts – 8 sets of 1 rep. Use approximately 70% of your one-rep maximum on all sets. Work on every single rep being strong and powerful.

Focus Portion: Arms

  • Barbell Curls supersetted with Skullcrushers – 5 sets of 10-12 reps on each exercise
  • Seated Dumbbell Curls supersetted with Rope Pushdowns – 4 sets of 15-20 reps on each exercise

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of this advanced program:

    1. This program is strictly for advanced lifters. Do not try it until you are ready.
    2. Remember, you should always feel fresh and invigorated after the high frequency portions of the workouts. On Days 4 and 5, you should feel decidedly better after you finish the high frequency portion than when you started the session.
    3. On the focus portion of the workouts, train increasingly harder for 3 weeks before taking a complete break from the focus portions on the 4th week. For instance, on Week One stop each set several reps shy of failure. On Week Two, stop each set only one rep shy of muscular failure. And on Week Three, take every single set of all focus portion sets to complete momentary muscular failure. On Week Four, only perform the high frequency portion of all workouts.


Give these workouts an honest try for a few months, and you won’t be disappointed at the results. They might not be what you are used to doing, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Low-Rep Lowdown

The following is an article from the always-great Bill Starr entitled "Low-Rep Lowdown." Starr, of course, always remains my favorite strength coach and writer—I'm amazed sometimes that he still gets so much attention from the mainstream magazines. But, then again, it could be that Iron Man—never one to shy away from heavy, basic training articles (after all, I have written for them since the early '90s)—knows what they have in Starr, and they don't plan on letting him go.
Anyway, it's always nice to see Starr's byline next to an article—you know it's always going to be good stuff. This one is no exception.

Low-Rep Lowdown
by Bill Starr

Currently there’s a trend in strength and fitness training to shy away from doing lower reps—threes, twos and singles. It’s largely due to the influence of those who are responsible for programs in high schools, colleges and the pro ranks. And, of course, personal trainers. The reason: safety. What those in charge are really worried about, however, is having a player get injured in the weight room. That would lose a personal trainer a client and might cost a coach his or her job.

The contention is that low reps are a great deal riskier than higher reps on any exercise. That isn’t true. In many instances, in fact, higher reps pose a greater degree of risk than lower ones. When athletes attempt to do, say, 10 reps on an exercise and are handling as much weight as possible, they typically tire as they reach the eighth, ninth and 10th reps. When they become fatigued, they begin to use faulty form and can get hurt rather easily if they persist in doing the movement incorrectly. That’s especially true in the early stages of training, before they have built up a solid strength base.

Another reason so many advocate higher reps is that athletes can do them less precisely than the triples, doubles or singles. So coaches and personal trainers can get by with a minimum of instruction—which suits them, as they have no idea how to do some of the more complicated exercises that are so beneficial to anyone seeking a higher level of overall fitness.

While I’m a proponent of lower reps, I do keep the numbers fairly high on exercises that involve the lower back: back hyperextensions, reverse hypers, good mornings and almost-straight-legged deadlifts. I have athletes stay with eight or 10 reps on the last two movements and run the reps way up on the two versions of hyperextensions, keeping the resistance minimal—bodyweight or a small amount of weight. When athletes become advanced, however, it’s okay for them to do heavy threes on the good morning. Powerlifters in particular can benefit a great deal from using lower reps on that specific exercise for the lumbars.

You must include lower reps in a strength program at some point if you’re going to continue to make noteworthy gains. Lower reps involve the attachments—tendons and ligaments—much more than higher reps, and the attachments are the source of strength in the body. The attachments help secure the joints and must be given direct attention. That’s especially true for athletes who engage in sports with a great deal of contact: football, hockey, rugby, soccer—even baseball and basketball. A head-on collision with an opponent can cause serious damage when the structure is not strong.

Many of my athletes who have finished their eligibility have told me that they’re no longer interested in pure strength work. They just want to maintain a certain level of overall fitness and keep a decent build. Bodybuilders tell me the same thing. Keeping the joints protected from injury, however, is critical to everyone, not only to those playing sports. We need strong ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and backs throughout our lives. Bodybuilders need to understand that the process of getting larger muscles is directly linked to strength. High reps are excellent for shaping muscles that are already there, but to obtain them in the first place, they need to make lower reps part of the program.

I should note that I’m directing this to younger men. Should you be getting a senior discount or drawing Social Security, you don’t want to do lower reps—just the opposite, in fact. I’ve gone into detail about that in past articles dealing with older athletes and will comment on it again. For now, I’m aiming at athletes ranging from their teen years to their early 50s. Of course, there are some exceptions—there always are—yet the basic rule of thumb is low reps for the young, high reps for the not-so-young.

On the subject of bodybuilders, let’s say an aspiring bodybuilder wants to pack more muscle on his shoulders and arms, which is always high on anyone’s wish list. So he does a variety of exercises for his biceps, triceps and deltoids using no fewer than 10 reps and sometimes as many as 20. If he works hard, he will indeed achieve a higher degree of definition in those groups, although nothing much in size. The muscles will be better shaped but still small—not what he wants. That’s because the attachments haven’t been brought into the mix.

Our bodybuilder needs to select a few primary movements for his arms and shoulders and attack them with lower reps. That will make those bodyparts considerably stronger. Exercises such as overhead presses, flat benches, incline benches and weighted dips would work well. At the same time he should be gulping downprotein shakes and getting lots of rest to help those abused muscles and corresponding attachments grow. Once the desired size is obtained, he can go back to the higher reps to sculpt the new growth. From there specific exercises—different angles of curls, triceps pushdowns, straight-armed pullovers, lateral and frontal raises—will produce the effect he’s seeking: large, well-defined shoulders and arms. That’s the way it’s always been done and the way it has to be done—that is, unless a person is willing to go on the juice, which is not only foolish but proof positive that he’s too lazy to follow the difficult route to success.

Lower reps should not be utilized right away, however. You must first spend time establishing a firm foundation, and that is best accomplished not with high or low reps but something in between. Research has shown that the very best set-and-rep formula for a beginning routine is four to six sets of four to six reps. As most readers know, I advocate the mean—five sets of five—not because they’re superior to fours or sixes but because the math is so much easier when I’m coaching a large number of athletes.

The middle range of sets and reps is ideal if you’re just learning how to do the various exercises in a strength program. Five reps hit the attachments more than higher reps and also provide sufficient volume to enhance the overall workload, both of which are most important in the beginning stage. In addition, fives aren’t that demanding, which means you can perfect your technique as your strength improves.

Once athletes show good form and have steadily expanded their workload, I insert lower reps into their routine: triples first, then later doubles and singles. That has many benefits. It helps break through number barriers, it involves the powerful attachments even more, and it improves technique.

Make no mistake about it: Getting stronger is all about beating the numbers. The even ones cause the most trouble—200, 300, 400 and eventually 500. So when athletes are approaching 400 for five reps, I have them do their last two sets for that day for just three reps. That enables them to skip right over the troublesome number to 410 or 415. Now they’re mentally prepared to handle the 400 for five. If they’d edged up to it without doing any triples, making it for the required reps would have been much more difficult. Plus, they’ve got the added bonus of making their attachments stronger with the heavy triple.

One of the main reasons I put lower reps into routines is that they force athletes to concentrate harder on using correct technique; form has to be more precise than with higher reps. They also require a higher degree of determination. For many athletes it’s the very first time that they’re placed in a position where success or failure depends entirely on them. It’s an individual effort, not a team event. So they’re forced to reach deep into their fortitude department and find out how much grit they really possess. Learning to apply themselves 100 percent to moving a heavy weight through a range of motion without any assistance is a rewarding experience, and while that’s especially true on a max single, it also applies to doing heavy triples and doubles because there is no margin of error. Miss or make: It’s all up to you.

Winning the battle with a new number for a triple, double or single is extremely motivating, and that’s why so many strength athletes become addicted to the discipline. There are few situations in life when people are in complete control of the outcome of what they’re trying to accomplish. Weight training is one of them.

That’s yet another reason I don’t like high-rep routines. You don’t get the same satisfaction in moving an exercise for 10 reps that you get when you break a personal record for a single, double or triple. Saying, “I benched 225 for 10,” doesn’t have the same ring to it as, “I benched 300 for a single.”

I also dislike the common practice of testing athletes with repetitions rather than having them do a single. I understand why coaches like the idea. Testing can be completed a lot faster than having each and every player work up to his limit. Proponents, of course, contend that doing as many reps as possible is a great deal safer than attempting a heavy single. I don’t agree. Earlier I mentioned that beginners doing high reps generally become fatigued on the final reps of the final sets and use sloppy form. Same thing happens on rep-out tests. Since the only thing that matters is rep numbers, form is thrown out the window. I’ve watched players rebound the bar off their chest during a bench press test, then twist and bridge until they looked like a circus act in order to add another rep to their total. All the rebounding and squirming did was leave them open to being injured. With a max single the lift is made or missed. Spotters are present, so where is the risk? Besides, as I mentioned, bragging about how many reps you did just isn’t as impressive as mentioning what you can handle for a single.

As for the interpolation charts, those who use them have announced that they know nothing about training athletes. A coach who uses the goofy chart doesn’t have to teach the correct form that athletes need to be successful with a heavy single yet can still boast of having 15 300-pound benchers on his team. It makes him look good and helps players get recruited. Well, the bird always comes home to roost, and it doesn’t take long for a college coach to recognize that the numbers that were sent in were phony. Which, in turn, makes the college coach wonder what else the recruit has hedged on.

When I begin inserting triples into routines, I continue to use fives and add back-off sets with higher reps. I need the fives and 10s to make sure the athletes are constantly expanding work volume while increasing intensity in the form of lower reps. The triples very much depend on how much total work is being done for that bodypart.

I’ll use the back squat to illustrate how I mix the various elements in a weekly program. Monday is heavy day, so the athletes do five sets of five, working to absolute max, then add a back-off set of 10 with approximately 50 pounds less than the last set of five. Wednesday is the light day, which simply means that less top-end and total work will be done. Some like to use percentages, but in the early stages of training on a program, I have the athletes work up to what they used as their third set on Monday. Our sample lifter did 400×5 on his heavy day, using these increments: 135, 225, 315 and 400, all for fives. So 315 is as high as he goes on his light day. After doing that for a month, I have him do three sets with the selected poundage on his light day to nudge the workload a bit higher.

Friday, medium day, finds the athlete doing this sequence: three sets of five followed by two sets of three, with the final set being five or 10 pounds more than what was used on Monday. That means our lifter will be attempting 405 or 410 for three on Friday, depending on how easy or hard the previous sets were. Another back-off set of 10 is included at the end of the week.

At the next heavy session he will top out with the same amount of weight he used for his final set of three on Friday, but he will do it for five reps. That’s how the numbers climb steadily yet not too fast, which is an important consideration. Progress needs to come slowly to make sure that all the muscle groups, including the smaller ones, are keeping pace. As the top-end numbers climb, so does the volume. When athletes do this consistently and with dedication, they can add 10 pounds a week to the squat for three months straight. I know that because I’ve watched it happen countless times.

To read the entire article, go here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Train Long, Not Hard

The following is an article that I wrote a few years ago for T-Nation (now "T-Muscle"—I always thought T-Nation had a better ring to it). If you're into full-body workouts—and if you're not, then you NEED to get into them—the training program presented herein is one of the best.

Train Long, Not Hard

You hear it all the time. It's one of the favorite sayings from high-intensity pundits and other "briefer is better" trainees. It goes something like this:

You can either train long or you can train hard, but you can't do both.

You know what? It's a pretty damn good quote, one I wouldn't mind using myself when I talk to different lifters seeking advice. The problem is that everyone seems to assume that the answer is to train harder. I don't exactly agree. In fact, I think the better option is to train longer, not harder.

If you've been reading Testosterone for any lengthy period of time, then it's possible that you've come to the same conclusion. It's unfortunate the majority of trainees in the good ol' U.S. of A. just haven't figured it out. Bodybuilders, however, haven't always thought this way. In fact, old-time lifters knew the benefits of training long and not hard. Bill Pearl, for instance, always advised taking all sets one or two reps shy of failure. Why? So he could train longer, of course!

There have been many good writers in the field of strength training and muscle building over the years, but I think one of the greatest would have to be Anthony Ditillo. Unfortunately, the name has been forgotten by many. I have a feeling, however, that if Ditillo were still writing he'd be contributing to Testosterone. And I know one thing: he'd agree whole-heartedly with strength coaches like Chad Waterbury, Charles Staley, and Christian Thibaudeau.

Ditillo believed in training each body part three times per week, performing multiple sets at each session for a low number of reps, never to failure. He also stuck with the basics — squats, benches, deadlifts, barbell curls, behind-the-neck presses. There's something else you should know about him, too: he was freaky big and strong!

When I first tell bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other strength athletes my belief that you should train longer and not harder, they look at me like I'm some type of weird blowfish at the local aquarium. "Ya' gotta be jokin'," they might say. "I've gotten much better results since I started trainin' just an hour each session instead of two." But longer doesn't necessarily have to refer to the length of the workouts, but rather the amount of sets versus the amount of reps.

Most lifters use set/rep schemes like three sets of ten (why the hell is this always the favorite?), two sets of fifteen, four sets of eight, etc, etc. However, I think everyone would get much better results if they flip-flopped their set/rep sequence. In other words, perform ten sets of three, fifteen sets of two, eight sets of four, etc. You get the point. And the point is: the first method (the common one) is theharder method, the second is the longer one.

Even though the workload is the same with both methods, longer is better for a number of reasons:

1) You get the most out of every rep and your form doesn't degrade.

2) Each rep is much more accelerative. Let's say you can bench 225 for ten reps. How much force do you think you're producing on your last few reps? I can guarantee you it's not much. Now, how much force would you be producing on each rep if you did two sets of five? What about five sets of two? The bottom line is, the "longer" method is much better for producing power and maximum strength, not to mention the muscle that goes along with it.

Okay, hopefully, by this point, I've convinced some of you to train longer, not harder. Now, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty, the good stuff: the workouts.

Startin' Out

If you've been performing brief, infrequent, hard workouts, then this first workout is going to be a good introduction to longer training and it'll get you ready for the more advanced sessions I've got in store. Even if you've been training longer (like my Frequent and Furious workout), you still might want to perform this one before moving on to the advanced stuff. It should be a change of pace from almost anything you've been doing.

The workout is very similar to the type of training Anthony Ditillo used to recommend. It's a three-days-a-week program, so I've listed the days as Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, though any three non-consecutive days will work. (Most of the exercises are pretty basic, but if you're not familiar with one of them, just look it up with the T-mag search engine.)




Repeat Monday's workout, using the same set/rep sequence. The next week, you'd switch up the workouts. On Monday and Friday, perform the Wednesday workout. On Wednesday, perform the Monday and Friday workout.

Additional Tips

Remember, don't take anything to failure. On your progressive sets you should work up to a final set where you come one to two reps shy of failure. On an exercise where you use the same weight throughout your sets, stick with a poundage that allows you to make all your reps. Only the last couple of sets should approach failure.

Stick with this workout for four to six weeks, then move to the advanced program below.

Advanced Program

This program is also performed three days per week. This time, however, you're going to follow a heavy/light/medium system. Anyone who tried my "Frequent And Furious" program or has tried any of Bill Starr's routines will be familiar with this. The difference with this program is going to be the volume. This is a high volume, fairly low-intensity workout, though if you've been following a typical bodybuilding regimen it might not feel that way — and it'll kick the ass of other hypertrophy programs!

I'm going to present a three week training block. After three weeks on the program, you should understand the parameters and be able to make the changes needed on your own.

Week 1




Additional Considerations

Do some type of ab work each session in this advanced program. There are plenty of good ab exercises illustrated here at T-mag. Just use the search engine and pick a few. You may want to perform exercises that hit mainly the "upper" abs in one workout, then choose those that train mainly the "lower" abs in the next.

Also, don't be afraid to add some extra calf work and/or high-rep sets on the leg extension and/or leg curl machine. Don't add this extra work, however, if you feel at all drained.

Week 2




Additional Considerations

As with the first week, do some type of ab work at each session. Don't be afraid to include some extra work for your calves and legs if you feel up to it. None of these sets should be taxing, however.

Another option to consider is adding some type of accommodating resistance on your squat and bench work via bands and/or chains. Be careful with the bands, though. They offer better results than the chains, but take more of a toll on your recovery system.

Week 3




Additional Considerations

By the third week of this program, you should understand what you can (and can't) handle in terms of extra ab, calf, and leg work. Also, spend some time stretching after each session or on days off. You could also try adding some very light extra workouts on your off days (see Chad Waterbury's 100 Reps To Bigger Muscles).

Wrapping It Up

After following the above program for three weeks, you should comprehend how this type of system works. Once the three weeks are up, you have a couple of options. You can go back to week one and try to beat your poundages from that week, or you can try a different set/rep scheme altogether, combined with some different exercises.

Some other good set/rep combinations include fifteen sets of two, six sets of four, eight sets of eight, etc. What you choose should be a matter of your training experience. If you've been training for less than a year, then repeat the three week training block at least two more times. If you've been training (properly) for longer than that, add a couple more weeks using different combinations of sets/reps before repeating anything.

For years, I toiled with "hard" and brief workouts, wondering why I wasn't making the type of progress I read about in the muscle rags each month. Surely, Arthur Jones knew what he was talking about when he said, "You can either train long or you can train hard, but you can't do both." Too bad it took me so long to discover the answer. You don't have to go through years of trial and error like so many lifters. Give the above workouts a try and you'll discover the answer for yourself.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

The "O" Word: Overtraining

The "O" Word:
The Often Misunderstood, Always Talked About Issue of Overtraining

The Barbarian Brothers—those crazy bastions of strength and muscle mass that I often admired in my teenage years—once said: "There is no such thing as overtraining, only undereating." (Or something along that similar vein; could be that I slightly misquoted.) The Barbarians were often derided for that statement. The argument against their statement would go something like this: "It's easy for them to say such a thing. They are genetically predisposed mutants of muscle-building who are on butt-loads of anabolic steroids, HGH, and no-telling what else."

I don't think the Barbarians were exactly dead on in their assessment—don't get me wrong—but they did have a point. Proper training—hard, heavy training in their cases—and diet are the keys to success. Overtraining, in their minds, was just something that was entirely overdone by the magazines and all of the natural lifters out there in the land of the bodybuilding, strength training Weider-verse.

On the opposite end of the spectrum—and this is the "end" that came to be the prevailing viewpoint, even among a lot of steroid users—was the viewpoint that overtraining is not just important, but it's the most important factor when it comes to hypertrophy success. This line of reasoning says that you absolutely must recover between workouts before training again. If you're sore, don't train. In fact, you probably don't need to train again until a day or two after your soreness has dissipated.

Needless to say—and this shouldn't surprise most of you—I don't exactly agree with the second viewpoint.

It is between these two extremes that success in muscle building lies. Let me explain:

First off, you do need to get enough rest and recovery in order to grow larger, stronger muscles. If you overtrain too much then you risk not growing muscles, but it's also not as if overtraining is going to make you shrivel into some 98-pound weakling who will be getting sand kicked in his face all the time.

The Keys to Growing Bigger And/Or Stronger Muscles and Just Where the Hell Overtraining Fits into the Picture

Quickly, let me outline some of the keys to growing bigger, stronger muscles, and just where overtraining—or undertraining, if that's the case (which it could be)—fits into the entire picture of bodybuilding success.

First and foremost, you need to have a goal in your training. If you're still reading this post, then I would imagine that growing bigger and getting stronger are the two keys you're after.

If strength and mass are your primary goals, then you need to be on a program. You should not (or at least only on very rare occasions) just go into the gym, "blast and bomb" your muscles with a bunch of different exercises, and then rest 5, 6, or 7 days until you train those muscles again. This kind of training is just a really crappy, and ultimately fruitless, way to train, despite the fact that a great number of bodybuilders train this way nowadays.

Before we get to the gist of a good program, let me say this: Your nutrition is very important when it comes to gaining muscle mass. The faster you can recover, the faster your gains will come. And one of the best ways to recover faster is through proper nutrition. I'm not going to get into the nuts and bolts of a great diet for mass-building here, however. (I'll save it for another post.)

A good program should encompass several aspects—and overtraining kind of weaves its way through all of these aspects. A good program should involve (a) workouts that use a lot of muscle groups at each session, (b) fairly frequent training of all the major muscle groups (2 to 3 days per week, for instance), (c) heavy training, and (d) drumroll please... ever-increasing workload.

By increasing your ability to handle more workload, you thereby increase your work capacity. As your strength and size increases, so should your ability to handle more and more work. In essence, not only should you be able to out lift other bodybuilders, you should also be able to out train them.

Here is where the aforementioned statement by the Barbarian Brothers fits into the picture. With their level of development and work capacity, that statement was basically true. The more training that they performed the better... so long as they were getting enough nutrition in the form of calories, protein, and good carbs.

Someone who doesn't have a high work capacity cannot make such a statement. For this kind of lifter, the reality of overtraining is a verifiable fact; if he/she trains too much he/she simply won't grow bigger and stronger.

And (by this point) you might be asking: What do I do to increase my work capacity so that I can reach Barbarian Brother status (or at least something that approximates it)?

The Tao of Work Capacity (and Big, Mutha' Truckin' Muscles)
Here are the Ways that I best think allow you to increase your work capacity—while at the same time making you significantly bigger and stronger:

1: Start off with full-body workouts. Full-body workouts allow you to train your muscles frequently—and therefore start you on the path of increased work capacity from the beginning.

2: When you switch over to "split" workout sessions, resist splitting your body more than two ways. Upper body/lower body splits would be a good starting point.

3: Use workouts that utilize multiple sets of low reps. 5 sets of 2 is always better than 2 sets of 5, for instance, even if it's with the same weight.

4: Slowly—and I mean slowly—increase the number of sets and exercises you do in each workout. And never make these increases unless you are already getting bigger and stronger before increasing sets and exercises.