Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Myths of Might

Here's an article that I wrote for Iron Man back in 2003. It's probably been my most "controversial" article (or, at least, it was when I wrote it, which was probably a year or two before it was actually published).

If I was to write this again, there are some things I would change—my training theories have evolved slightly in the seven years since. Nonetheless, it's still a pretty good article (if I do say so myself).

Myths of Might
If you’ve been bodybuilding for a long time, listening to your buddies at the gym and reading the garbage that appears in bodybuilding magazines, and you have not given any serious thought to powerlifting or strength-event training, the warning at right is for you. The fact is, almost all of the trainees at your local health club know virtually zero when it comes to getting truly strong. That doesn’t have to be you.

Read about the following myths, trust in the truth of what is said, and if you’re still not a believer, try the sample workout, I guarantee you’ll become one.
Myth 1: Bodybuilding is a good way to build strength.
Yeah, I know. I just ticked off a whole slew of you. The truth is, though, that bodybuilding training, as it’s done by the average pro in today’s era of going for the pump with high-rep non-free-weight exercises, does not build much strength and power. Sure, you get stronger than if you’d never picked up a weight, but you won’t be anywhere near as strong as you’d be if you followed a truestrength-training program.
Most of your average bodybuilders know absolutely nothing about dynamic, or explosive-rep, training, ultra-low reps or the proper exercises to use for assistance work. They also know very little about how to regulate volume properly. They just train a muscle as hard as they can, thrash it and then give it a week or so to recover if that.
Famed powerlifting coach Louie Simmons once wrote that bodybuilding has ruined strength training in America. He caught a lot of flak for it, but he had a point. And the point was that modern-day bodybuilding is the least effective way to train with weights and build spedd, power, strength and conditioning.
Myth 2: Training for muscle mass is the same as training for strength.
This myth is closely tied in with the first one, and it’s the ultimate reason that bodybuilding training is not very efficient at building strength. It’s perpetuated largely because of the obvious correlation between weight training and strength. If you train for muscle mass, you’ll often gain some strength, and if you train for strength, you’ll often gain some muscle. That last part is not absolute because there are ways to avoid building muscle when you’re in a strength-training program.
The requirements for increasing the size of a muscle cell are flat-out different from those for making a muscle stronger. Bodybuilders favor-among other things-higher reps, slower speed of movement, relatively higher sets, going for the pump and a good deal of recuperative time between workouts, which they need with that kind of training. That doesn’t mean those are the best ways to train for strength, however. I think there are better ways to gain muscle mass too, but that’s an entirely different article. To get results with a strength-training program, you have to include these elements: quick movements, low reps, more-frequent training and fewer sets per muscle group. The Russians did a lot of research into building muscle and strength, and they came up with three distinct ways to train: the dynamic effort method, the repetition method and the maximum effort method. Bodybuilding programs focus on only one of those methods, repetitions, and thus neglect the other two, which happens to be the best for building strength and power.
Myth 3: Nutrition is the most important aspect of building strength.
Pick your jaw off the floor. That’s no misprint. In bodybuilding circles common wisdom holds that nutrition is 75 percent of success in weight training, while the training itself is only 25 percent. The fact is, nutrition has very little to do with your success in moving a lot of heavy iron. How can that be? And if I’m right, why have you been shoveling six meals a day down your throat and counting your protein intake as if your life were at stake?
To begin with, nutrition is more important of bodybuilding purposes than it is for strength building. When it comes to intense strength training, such as that done by powerlifters and strongman competitors, however, nutrition really isn’t that big of a deal.
You don’t believe me? Just check out the powerlifters’ programs, and you’ll find only one or two who actually count calories and protein. At the Westside Barbell Club in Columbus, Ohio, Simmons and his followers don’t even begin to think about following a diet. They simply eat whatever they want. Are they successful? You bet. At the 2003 World Bench Press Championships they swept every single weight class. All from a little gym where the lifters don’t pay attention to what they eat.
The Russian powerlifters have dominated the sport for years, and you know what? Some of them eat little more than bread and potatoes year-round, and they don’t get near the protein the Americans do. Yet they lift more than the rest of the world.
Why isn’t nutrition important? The answer is fairly simple: It’s the training that’s important. Take two lifters of about the same weight, age, training experience and strength. Put one of them on a bodybuilding program and a strict nutritional regimen, and put the other on a proven strength regimen and let him eat-or not eat-whatever he wants. You know who will be the strongest at the end of the program? Without a doubt the second lifter.
A lot of strength programs focus on increasing neural strength and making the motor units fire faster and more efficiently. There’s no secert diet you can follow that will make your body move heavy iron with force more efficiently.
Myth 4: Split routines are the most effective way to make progress.
Once again, I’ve probably upset a lot of people, especially those who follow multiple-split routines. You know, the ones where you train one muscle group a day in order to prioritize it and give it a lot of rest? The most effect way to train is with a whole-body workout, and that goes double for strength athletes who also compete in team sports such as football or basketball. If you’re new to strength training, just give a Bill Starr-style program a go. Stick with it for a couple of months, and I guarantee you’lll be a believer. Starr’s approach is based on training the entire body three times a week using a heavy / light / medium rotation. For advanced athletes he believes in four whole-body program for the very reason that it works your whole body. How many football players go out on the field on Saturday afternoon and just use their quadriceps? Or their biceps? None. If you compete in full-body sports, you need to condition yourself with full-body weight-trainnnig sessions.
What’s more, you’ll never be in good condition-and you’re not necessarily in good condition just because you can see your abs-unless you train your body as a unit. Do you think that training your chest all by itself, without working any other muscle groups, is going to get you in shape to go out on a basketball court several times a week and play effectively? Of course it won’t.
If you do follow a split program, then just split your body in half, using a upper/lower split. Train your upper body on one day and your lower body the next. Rest one day, and then repeat the split. Rest two days, and begin the cycle again. Keep it simple.
If you want to gain strength on a split routine, take a look at the routines of elite powerlifters. All of them stick with a two-day split. You may want to consider, however, that the Russian powerlifters almost always use whole-body workouts, and Olympic lifters never split their programs.
Myth 5: A slow rep speed is just as effective as a faster one.
Had to include this one, although it’s not as prevalent as the others. It’s mainly perpetuated by lifters and writers from the high intensity school of thought. Those same people are quick to point out the importance of specificity in training except where it applies to rep speed. Some of them even take it to the extreme, recommending super slow reps that exceed five seconds.
Keep this in mind: Training slowly will make you slow. If you want to be really powerful not just strong you need to incorporate some type of speed training into your program. For instance, if you always train with really low reps, then your rep speed will of necessity be slow. If you do that consistently over several weeks, then you’ll be teaching your muscle to move the weight slowly, and as a result you’ll get weaker. You need speed work.
As a side note, when you perform speed work, try to keep your repetitions to no more than five. More than that, and you start to slow down, as your reps just don’t have the power that the first ones had.
Myth 6: In order to optimize strength and mass gains, you need to train each muscle group infrequently.
Every time you train and train properly by regulating your volume many good things happen to your muscles thanks to the anabolic environment that occurs in your body for the next 36 hours or so. They include protein synthesis and increased testosterone, IGF-1, prostaglandins and other anticatabolic factors. After three days you’re reduced to what’s at best a semicatabolic state. So, when you allow yourself to recover for a week, you’re not taking advantage of that anabolic environment.
There are better ways to optimize your recovery and, therefore, your strength gains. The best course is to add a light workout or a couple in addition to your heavy session. Once again, I recommend Bill Starr’s programs.
If you’re really serious about strength training, you need to separate your speed workout. In addition, when you use really low reps for both dynamic sessions and maximum effort sessions, you place far less strain on your muscles. You don’t do any traumatic tissue damage, as you do with repetition workouts. You simply don’t get as sore, so you’re ready to lift again after two to three days of rest.
If you have a body part that lags behind the others in strength gains, try adding some extra sessions. For example, say you train your upper body two days a week, using a speed workout on Monday and a heavy, maximum effort workout on Thursday, and your lagging body part is chest. Try adding a light workout on Saturday, something like 30 percent of your maximum weight on the bench press for 12 sets of four reps each. After a few weeks add another light workout on Tuesday, say 10 sets of pushups for five reps each.
If you don’t get anything else out of the busting of this myth, at least understand that there are better ways to recover than just sitting around watching television and claiming that you can’t help around the house because you have to recuperate.
Myth 7: You cannot gain a lot of mass and a lot of strength at the same time.
Despite my previous comments regarding the difference between training for mass and training for strength, a lot of lifters and writers are wrong when they perpetuate this myth. All you have to do is look at he super heavy weight powerlifters or Olympic lifters or any of the World’s Strongest Man competitors.
At the Westside Barbell Club the main complaint from some of the lifters is that they gain to much muscle and have to move up two or three weight classes. And that’s despite their efforts to keep that from happening. The added mass is simply a by product of their training.
Old time lifters like Doug Hepburn and Pat Casey were very good at gaining both strength and muscle. The key was that they performed all their low rep strength work first. Then, when their nervous systems were properly heightened, they did their repetition work.
You can do the same. Whether it’s a heavy session or a speed workout, do your repetition work after your low rep work. Just don’t go overboard with the number of sets. Four to five sets maximum should be optimal.
Now that we’ve busted some of the most basic myths about building strength, let’s design a program that puts your new knowledge to use.
Pure Power Routine
This workout is designed with competitive powerlifters in mind, but it will be equally effective for beginning lifters who need to use a full body workout or for bodybuilders at any level who have only trained with repetition workouts to this point. The bottom line, however, is that it’s a good all around routine for anyone who wants to focus on strength and power alone.
You perform the workout three times a week. The most popular schedule is Monday, Wednsday and Friday.
Workout 1: Dynamic and Repetition
Speed squats 10 x 2
Speed benches 8 x 3
Power cleans 6 x 3
Chinups 4 x 6-8
Parallel bar dips 3 x 8-10
Hanging leg raises 3 x 20
Workout 2: Light and Recovery
Front squats 8 x 3
Explosive rep pushups 8 x 3
Pullovers 3 x 10
Cable Curls 3 x 10
Steep-incline situps 3 x 20
Workout 3: Heavy and Maximum effort
Bottom position squats or sumo deadlifts 5-8 x 1 - 3
Bottom position bench presses, rack lockouts or incline presses 5-8 x 1 - 3
Bent over rows 4 x 6 - 8
Skull crushers 3 x 10
Barbell curls 3 x 10
Hanging leg raises 3 x 20
Summing It Up
Hopefully you come away from this discussion with a better understanding of strength training. Despite the apparent similarities, there are some striking differences between strength training and bodybuilding. The better you understand that, the better you’ll be at either one.

Quote of the Day: Masutatsu Oyama

"If someone asked me what a human being ought to devote the maximum of his life to, I would answer: training. Train more than you sleep."

—Masutatsu Oyama (founder of Kyokushin Karate-Do)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Quote of the Day: Dan John

"So the lesson here is, stop separating things out. Stop drawing these artificial lines from the person you are in the gym to the person you are in church. It comes down to one thing: integrity.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sucker Punch: Dan John

I enjoy reading T-Muscle. Overall, they have more good articles than most any other bodybuilding magazine or on-line bodybuilding site, but I have to say that the best thing about them is Dan John—if it wasn't for T-Muscle then I would never have been introduced to some of the best training articles (and honest advice) from the pen of Dan John. He ranks right up there with Bill Starr and George Turner. If you don't believe me, then be sure to read T-Muscle's latest interview with him. Just click on the link below:

Sucker Punch: Dan John

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mass Insanity

Here's my article from the March, '10 issue of Iron Man magazine:

Mass Insanity

March 12, 2010 by C.S. Sloan

Mass Insanity Crazy Training for Insane Muscle Gaining

Stuck in a rut? Need something different from the run-of-the-mill training program you’ve been doing for the past several months? Sometimes in order to keep the muscle gains coming—or to bust out of the rut you’re stuck in—you have to get a little crazy. Enter mass insanity.

Mass Insanity Crazy Training for Insane Muscle Gaining

On the following pages, I’m going to outline several training programs that I guarantee you haven’t been doing lately. In fact, it could be that you’ve never attempted—or even thought of attempting—them.

I’m including four different plans. Variety is a crucial component of making continual gains, so you don’t want to perform any of these gems for more than three workouts in a row.

To read the full article, go here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

You Don't Know Squat

Here's some more fantastic wisdom from Bill Starr—this time on the squat. I learned A LOT about the squat by voraciously reading everything that Bill Starr wrote. (My best competition squat was 605 while weighing 173, although I have squatted more than that in the gym—so I think Starr was a pretty damn good teacher.)

One thing that Starr always emphasized—and the one thing that a lot of other so-called "coaches" don't understand— was the need to perform squats below parallel, because deep squats are BETTER on your knees than half-squats. Anyway, you'll learn about that and more if you read the entire article.

Only the Strong Shall Survive: You Don't Know Squat

By: Bill Starr

get a lot of questions from strength athletes regarding squatting. Some say they're stale after doing the same squat routine for a number of years. Others relate that they're unable to do conventional squats due to an injury or shoulder surgery. Still others want to know how they can build more variety into their squat routines.

While some authorities believe that there's but one way to perform full squats, they're wrong. This basic, core exercise has many variations'many more than most imagine. When I list them all, athletes are often amazed, but they're also happy because it means they have lots of choices. Building variety into your program is always a plus. Doing any new exercise boosts motivation, since the gains come faster, and even changing the way you perform an exercise helps to strengthen some neglected groups.

Here's my list of ways to do squats: Olympic-style, where the bar rests high on your traps; powerlifting-style, where the bar rests much lower on your back; front squats; Smith-machine squats; wide- and narrow-stance squats; jump squats; pause squat; squats performed inside a power rack; and dumbbell squats. They all serve different functions, and anyone seeking a new approach can benefit from using them.

There's one requirement: In all the styles listed, you must squat to below parallel to the ground. That's critical to building balanced strength in your back, hips and legs, and it's also much less stressful to your knees.

High-bar, or Olympic, squats are, in my opinion, the best of the lot because they work the muscles of the hips, legs and back more directly'and therefore more completely'than any other version. If you want to do full cleans or compete in Olympic weightlifting, it's imperative that you do this exercise.

High-bar squats are so named for the simple reason that you place the bar high on your traps, which helps to keep you from leaning forward and so forces the powerful muscles in your hips and legs to provide the power. You move up and down like a piston, and the strict upright stance carries over to racking cleans and recovering from the deep position.

Even so, many strength athletes aren't interested in doing full cleans and find that they can move more weight on squats if they lower the bar down their backs a bit. I've also had cases where athletes were unable to go deep enough with high-bar squats but didn't have that problem when they lowered the bar. How low? It depends on your structure, flexibility and ability to fix the bar firmly in place when you do the lift. You must not let the bar move at all. This powerlifting-style squat places a huge amount of stress on the shoulders, and if you set the bar excessively low and it slips further down, you can be injured in a heartbeat.

When you want to try moving the bar lower on your back, lower it only an inch or two and stay with that position for a couple of months. In other words, be cautious.

The first time you squat with the bar lower than usual, stay with a moderate weight to see how the new stress affects your shoulders. You won't learn that until the next morning'or later'so don't go for a personal record in your first session with the newer style, even if the weights feel really light.

When you position the bar low on your back, you lean forward out of necessity. Some lifters even try to place their chests on their thighs. That's fine, just as long as your lower- and middle-back areas are prepared for the more intense direct work. If you're planning on using the low-bar style, you must spend lots of time strengthening your lumbars and middle back. Otherwise, when the weights get heavy, you'll keep on going forward, and the bar will tumble over your head.

So a low-bar squatter's routine must include plenty of good mornings, almost-straight-legged deadlifts and bent-over rows. What I said above about going low applies here. It's much easier to cut these off than it is the high-bar version, but if you squat deep from the very beginning, you won't have any trouble doing it when the weights get heavy.

If you use this style of squatting, you must make sure your shoulder girdle is thoroughly warmed up before you do your first set. I've had athletes who were using the low-bar style complain of severe shoulder pain during or after their squat workouts. Sure enough, they weren't doing anything to warm up their shoulders before squatting. Once they started spending five to 10 minutes on light presses and dumbbell front and lateral raises, the problem went away.

After you warm up your shoulders, take a moment to stretch them well, and continue to stretch them between sets. I believe it's a good idea for trainees who prefer the low-bar style to do some Olympic-style sets periodically. They hit the squatting muscles differently and have a very positive effect on your low-bar squats as well.

Front squats are the purest form of the exercise. When European Olympic weightlifters want to know someone's leg strength, they always ask, 'How much can you front squat?' Back-squat numbers are inconsequential. Front squats are pure hip and leg strength, and there's no way to alter the form to make them easier. Anyone interested in doing full cleans or competing in Olympic contests must do them. Your ability to recover from a heavy clean is directly dependent on your front-squatting prowess.

To read the entire article, go here.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Training and Diet with George Turner

George Turner is one of the greatest bodybuilders/trainers/writers who ever lived (and ever put pen to paper). He also knows more about training than just about any writer still writing for the major muscle magazines. Probably a lot of younger lifters who read his stuff think that he's crazy—because of all the high-volume programs he recommends—or that he's too "old-school."

The Q&A below comes from a column he used to do for Iron Man magazine. There's more wisdom in the below piece—dealing with how you should train if you're young and how you should adjust that as you get older—than most folks will ever realize. For those of you who DO realize it, then welcome to the wisdom that is George Turner.

Question: How have you adjusted your training and diet as you’ve gotten older?

Answer: My training has changed a number of times over the years. Back in the 1940s I trained my entire body every time I worked out. When I got out of the service in 1946, I continued training that way and was lucky enough to get a lot of help in planning my workouts from Clancy Ross. In 1948 I got a job running the weight room at the YMCA where I trained, and around that time I began working out four days a week. To my three-hour, Monday, Wednesday and Friday workouts I added a Saturday session. I was still training my entire body each time and actually added a set to each of the dozen or so exercises I did. I was 30 years old, and I thrived on all the work.

In 1950 I opened my first gym and began training five days a week on a two-way bodypart split. One week I worked legs, chest and back on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday, and shoulders and arms on Monday and Thursday. The following week I simply reversed the bodyparts worked, with Wednesday and Saturday always my off days.

I moved to Santa Monica and the Muscle Beach scene in 1957, and managed the famous Dungeon for two years. For the next ten years I did variation on the five-day schedule. By now my workout included many sets and again lasted about three hours.

In 1967 I began separating upper- and lower-body training. I worked my entire upper body on one day, then on the next I ran two miles and trained legs and abs. I’d follow that schedule as many as 12 days in a row before taking a second day off. I continued training that way until late 1968, when I opened another large gym.

I was now 40 years old and had been training very hard for 26 years. I realized that I’d begun to need additional recovery time. I was quite strong but was beginning to experience wear-and-tear problems, tendinitis, muscle pulls and the like – not really injuries but clear warnings. To give my body the recovery time it required, I cut back to three days on/one off and started warming up thoroughly before each session. That way I was training each bodypart seven or eight times a month. I was still separating upper- and lower-body training. It’s a simple principle: You cannot work upper two days in a row, no matter how different you think the bodyparts might be. It just knocks the top off the recovery cycle.

I continued this method very successfully for a number of years, but by the early ‘80s even the three-on/one-off schedule began causing me to experience the overwork syndrome again. I knew quite well what the problem was – it’s called aging.

By 1984 I’d brought down my weight – which had been approximately 230 for 30 years – and settled in at a constant 208 to 210 pounds, even dropping to 185 to enter the Open division at the ’84 Mr. USA. I also started spreading my three workouts over five days, as follows:

Day 1 – chest and arms
Day 2 – cardio, legs, lower back and abs
Day 3 – rest
Day 4 – back and shoulders
Day 5 – rest
Day 6 – start again

I don’t sacrifice any heavy free-weight work with this schedule. I squat and deadlift religiously six times a month, heavy! I always warm up for 10 minutes on upper body days and ride a Lifecycle hard for 12 minutes to start my lower body workout.

My diet is very simple. I take a shitload of vitamins and supplements every day and have for the past 50 years, and because my metabolism has slowed, I eat just three moderate-size meals a day. I also take a meal replacement drink in the afternoon after my workouts. And, by the way, I eat two dozen eggs – including the yolks, of course – a week and about three pounds of meat. My cholesterol is 168 and my blood pressure is normal, as it’s been all my life.

I hope this long-winded answer to your question helps inyour training.

The Two Exercise Program

I have, for a long time now, been a proponent of one-exercise-per-bodypart routines. I think this kind of training is effective for building muscle, building strength, or just getting in great strength.

Bodybuilders of old would use this form of training in the off-season, where they would train one (or at the most, two) exercises for each of their muscle groups. In general, most "old-timers" thought this was the best form of training for growing muscle, not to mention becoming bigger, stronger, thicker lifters. It wasn't until a couple of months from a contest that they would switch over to a multi-angular approach. They (rightfully, I might add) believed that multi-angular training splits were best done for "shaping" and "detailing" the muscles, but NOT for building big muscles in the first place.

Not only, however, is it good to limit the number of exercises performed for each bodypart, but it's also wise to limit the number of exercises per workout.

Enter the "Two Exercise Program."

This program is great for building muscle mass. If you used this program for the majority of the training for the rest of your life, then you would end up with a lifetime of great workouts, and plenty of good training experience.

Don't worry, there's also plenty of variety inherently built into this program.

First, I'm going to outline this program's parameters, then I'll give you an example of an actual training program. Here's the parameters:

1. Use only two exercises at each workout.

2. Pick exercises that use a lot of muscle groups at one time.

3. Use a (fairly) high amount of volume for each muscle group.

4. For the most part, alternate exercises from workout to workout.

5. For the most part, alternate set/rep ranges from workout to workout.

6. Train 3 days per week.

Here's what an example program (one week of training) might look like:

squats: 100 reps using the 2, 3, 5, 10 workout plan
dumbbell bench presses: 100 reps using the 2, 3, 5, 10 workout plan

snatch-grip deadlifts: 10 sets of 3 reps
barbell curls: 10 sets of 3 reps

dips: 5 sets of 5 reps
chins: 5 sets of 5 reps

Above all, have fun and be innovative with this program. It looks simple, but it's also highly rewarding.