Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ultimate Strength and Power, Part Four

Heavy Singles

     When I first made the switch from focusing on bodybuilding to focusing on power training, I immediately enjoyed the training and the results they brought me.  One of the reasons I enjoyed strength and power training so much was the implementation of heavy singles into my programs.  It was enjoyable to lift near maximum weights on a regular basis—and to get great strength gains from all the uber-heavy training.
     One thing that worried me about heavy singles, however, was losing a lot of my muscle size.  I had originally been taught—by bodybuilders who were friends of mine or through the various articles in the bodybuilding magazines each month—that singles were good for building maximal strength, but would have little to no impact on gaining (or even maintaining) muscle mass.  I had always been taught that for maximum hypertrophy you needed to concentrate on sets in the 6 to 8 repetition range.  I thought if I started training with sets of 3 reps, 2, or (God forbid) 1 rep, I would be training my nervous system, and making my tendons and ligaments stronger, but I wouldn’t be getting any hypertrophy gains.
     Imagine how surprised I was when, not only was I keeping my muscle, but my arms were soon larger than they had ever been.  And the only things I had been doing for my arms were barbell curls, reverse barbell curls, and close-grip bottom-position bench presses—all for singles.  I have been sold on singles ever since.
     There are several good ways to implement singles into your training programs.  Two of the best ways are to either use progressively heavier singles or to perform multiple singles with the same weight on all sets.  The workouts below will use both of these methods.  These workouts are great to use after a few months on the programs in Part Three.  They will also prepare you for all the hard and heavy work you’ll be doing in the workouts in the upcoming parts of this series.

New To Singles

     This first program is for those of you who are new to single-repetition training.  It will also prepare you for the routines that are to follow.  In this one (as in the others we have followed so far) you will be using the heavy/light/medium method of full-body training.

Heavy Day

·      Full Squats—3 to 6 singles.  I wrote down full squats because I don’t want you to get in the habit of doing half squats since you will be using more weight than you are used to handling.  Leave your ego at the gym door (or at the garage door if you train at home as I do) when squatting for singles.  For this exercise (as with all the core lifts in the program), I want you to start out with a weight where you can get at least 3 singles (usually about 90-95% of your max) after a sufficient warm-up.  Add singles at every workout until you are able to do 6 singles with the weight.  When you get all 6 singles, add weight at the next workout and repeat the process.  This is one of the time-proven methods to build maximum strength.  It has worked for such all-time great strength athletes as Doug Hepburn, Paul Anderson, and Pat Casey.  If it worked for them, it will work for you.
·      Flat Bench Presses—3 to 6 singles.  Use the same method that you used on squats.  As for your technique, I want you to make sure you pause for a count of one second at the bottom of each repetition.  Don’t get in the habit of bouncing the weight off your chest despite the heavy weights.
·      Deadlifts—2 to 4 singles.  On this exercise, you won’t need to do as much  volume (deadlifts, by their nature, simply don’t require as much work to bring them up as squats and benches).  For that reason, I want you doing no more than 4 multiple singles at around 90-95% of your maximum.
·      Bent-arm Dumbbell Pullovers—3 sets of 10 reps.  George Turner (one of the greats in bodybuilding) once called this exercise the upper body squat, and for a good reason—it works your triceps, shoulders, lats, and chest (especially your lats and tris).  Work hard on each set, but take every set a rep or two shy of failure.
·      Dumbbell Curls supersetted w/ bench dips—2 sets of 20 reps (each exercise).  Work each set hard, and concentrate on getting a good pump.  Because of all the heavy singles at the beginning of the session, you don’t need low repetitions on these exercises.  As with the pullovers, don’t take any set to failure, but still work them hard.
·      Abs—3 sets of 30-50 reps.  Pick any of the ab exercises you have come to enjoy and work one of them very hard.  If you need to, add extra weights via a plate on your chest (on crunches or sit-ups) or a dip belt (hanging leg raises, knee-ups, etc.).

Light Day

·      Full Squats—6 singles.  For all 6 of these “work sets” use a weight that’s around 80% of the weight used on heavy day.  Alternate between 3 different stances—2 sets wide, 2 sets close, and 2 sets medium.
·      Flat Bench Presses—5 singles.  All these sets should be done with 80% of the heavy day’s work weight.  Concentrate on using good form (pausing on your chest, keeping your hips on the bench, driving the weight up with your feet, etc.)
·      Deadlifts Off a Box—4 singles.  Use only around 70% of the heavy day’s weight for conventional deadlifts.  Your lower back will need the extra rest.
·      Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extensions—4 sets of 10 reps.  Take every set three to four reps shy of failure.
·      Abs-3 sets of 30-50 reps.

Medium Day

·      Bottom-position Squats—3 to 6 singles.  Your goal here is to use 90-95% of what you used on your heavy day for all of the singles.  For many, it’s going to be hard to even do that much.  Train this exercise hard (I can’t stress that enough) and it will pay off big time, however.
·      Bottom-position Bench Presses—3 to 6 singles.  Use the same system that you used on the squats above, setting the pins at chest level.
·      Rack Deadlifts—2 to 4 singles.  Set the pins in the power rack so you start this exercise at about knee level.
·      Barbell Curls supersetted w/ Close-grip Push-ups—2 sets of 20 reps (each exercise).
·      Abs—3 sets of 30 to 50 reps.

Advanced Program

     After you have done the above program for at least six weeks, your body should be well acclimated to single-repetition work and ready for a more advanced regimen of heavy singles.  This program has a greater total workload and better prepares you for the workouts to come.  You will notice that this program also contains an extra light workout.  If you have been training Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, then this extra light session would fit in best on Tuesday.  While not everyone needs this extra session, it will work wonders for a lot of lifters who need to add in some extra work, but don’t need to make their heavy workouts any longer than they are already.

Heavy Day

·      Squats—2 to 5 singles (followed by a possible max effort), followed by 1 set of 5 reps and 1 set of 10 reps.  After the initial program, your nervous system should be more efficient at moving heavy singles, which is the reason I have you starting with a weight you can only get 2 singles with.  If you manage to get all 5 singles with the weight you’re using, then go for a personal record on a 6th set.  Never attempt a weight you have done before—go for a new record every time.  After your final single, drop down in weight for a set that makes you work hard for 5 reps, followed by one that makes you work hard for 10 repetitions.
·      Flat Bench Presses—2 to 5 singles (plus max effort if necessary), followed by 1 set of 5 reps and 1 set of 10 reps.  Use the same method as the squats.
·      Deadlifts, Deadlifts Off Blocks, or Rack Deadlifts—5 to 7 progressively heavier singles, followed by 3 sets of 3 reps.  For these use a different method than the squats or bench presses.  Rotating between the three exercises every week, work up over 5 to 7 singles until you hit a maximum weight.  After your final single, drop down to 80-85% of that weight and perform 3 sets of 3 reps.
·      Dumbbell Curls alternated w/ Close-grip bench presses—varying repetition ranges.  Change the sets and reps every week, using 4 sets of 10-15, 2 sets of 20, 5 sets of 8, etc.  Shoot for around 80-100 reps total between both exercises.
·      Abs—5 sets of 40 to 60 reps.  Pick a hard exercise for this day—hanging leg raises, steep incline sit-ups, etc.
Light Day (one)
·      Front squats or Overhead Squats—5 singles.  Use a weight that’s around 50-60% of the weight used on squats the previous day—just don’t go over 60%.  Alternate between these exercises, doing the overhead squats every third week.  As for form, on the front squats make sure the bar is resting high across your chest, almost on you neck.  This will make you squat very upright and will work your quadriceps hard.  For the overhead squats, press the weight over your head.  Once it is locked out, keep it there as you squat down and up over the course of the entire set.
·      Overhead Presses—2 to 5 singles, followed by 1 set of 5 reps.  Use the same technique as the bench presses from the heavy day, just make sure to drop the second down set of 10 repetitions.
·      Snatch Grip Deadlifts—3 to 6 singles.  By snatch grip, I’m talking about using a wide grip, with your pinky finger almost touching the power rings—the same grip used by Olympic lifters when performing the snatch.  This exercise is naturally tougher because of your grip and the way it works your back muscles.  Still, make sure you use no more than 50% of what you used on your back exercise on the heavy day.
Light Day (two)
·      Close-stance, High-bar Pause squats—2 to 5 singles.  Use the same method with these as the squats on Monday, omitting any of the down sets.  Make sure you pause for a count of 2 to 3 seconds at the bottom of the movement.
·      Incline Bench Presses—2 to 5 singles.  Use the same 2x5 system as the pause squats above.
·      Rounded Back Good Mornings—4 to 5 progressively heavier singles.  Work up to a weight that’s around 90% of your maximum on the final single.
·      Dips—5 progressively heavier sets of 8, 5, or 3 reps.  Use a dip belt to add weight on these.  Alternate between the three different repetition ranges each week.
·      Abs—5 sets of 40 to 60 reps.

Medium Day

·      Box Squats—2 to 5 singles, followed by 1 set of 5 reps and 1 set of 10 reps.  Use the same method with these as the regular squats on heavy day—without the maximum attempt after all 5 singles.  The nature of this exercise should take care of how much weight you use, just make sure you don’t exceed 90% of the weight from the heavy day.  For form, use a box that, when you sit down on it, is below parrallel.  Make sure you sit back on the box, not straight down.  Pause on the box briefly, relaxing your hip muscles but keeping your other muscles tight.
·      Close-grip Bench Presses—2 to 5 singles, followed by 1 set of 5 reps and 1 set of 10 reps.  Use the same set/rep format as bench presses on heavy day, except don’t attempt a maximum attempt at the end of the 5 singles.
·      Barbell Shrugs—5 to 7 progressively heavier singles.  Start out with a couple of light warm-upsets of 5 reps.  After that, work up over 5 to 7 singles until you hit your max weight for the day.
·      Barbell Cheat Curls—5 progressively heavier singles.  For these, don’t just let your biceps do the work.  Intentionally cheat throughout the concentric portion of the movement by using your hips and back to swing the weight up.  Throughout the eccentric portion, lower with control.
·      Abs—5 sets of 40 to 60 reps.


     After several months on the above programs, I can guarantee you will be bigger, stronger, and thicker than before you started either program.  You’ll also have the muscle and strength in all the right places since these routines focus on the rear of your body just as much as the front.  Even if your goal in training is to be a competitive bodybuilder, I don’t want you skimming over this part without trying it (or any of the future parts with programs that include singles).  Trust me: even if your main goal is hypertrophy, your body will benefit from these workouts.  There’s a noticeable difference between the look of muscle built with heavy, low rep training, and the type built with high-rep pumping workouts.  Never forget it!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ultimate Strength and Power, Part Three

Full Body Workouts

     After you have spent at least eight weeks on Part Two’s workout, then you should be ready for some of the training routines below.  You should also have an understanding of how effective full-body workouts can be.  And that’s a really good thing.  Because, in today’s bodybuilding dominated world, many have forgotten about how effective full body workouts are for adding muscle mass, strength, and power.
     It’s really sad that full body workouts have lost their popularity.  It’s especially sad among bodybuilders, considering the fact that some really good physiques were built on such programs (if you don’t believe me, then search “full body workouts” on this blog—you should find plenty of old-school examples).  In fact, you can still find a fair amount of powerlifters and athletes in various sports who use full-body programs, while it’s rare to find a bodybuilder who does so.  Even though plenty of the steroid-induced pro bodybuilders have what some would call a good physique, they are, pound for pound, about as strong as my 80-year-old grandmother.  If only they would at least occasionally indulge their bodies in the type of full-body workouts I’m going to present to you here, then they could be a lot stronger than they are.
     I have to be fair here, however.  It’s not just pro bodybuilders who have almost brought down the demise of these effective workout programs.  It’s also the various rantings and ravings of different authors (in mainstream bodybuilding magazines) who would have us believe that if we train a bodypart any more than once-per-week then there’s no way in the world we’re going to grow bigger, stronger muscles.
     I want to tell you—right here and now—that’s complete bunk.
     Here’s some of the advantages to whole body, three-days-a-week workouts for building not just strength, but muscle mass, too—even for advanced strength athletes.
     One advantage of full-body training is that all of the muscles of your body get equal and complete attention.  This allows for proportionate strength and growth (don’t you hate to see a guy with chicken legs who has eighteen inch arms?), and allows you to focus on any weak bodyparts.  Okay, most avid followers of the split routine are crying foul at this moment—or they think I’m nuts (which, I assure you, I’m not).  That’s the whole purpose of a split routine, right?  Isn’t it to allow the lifter to blast one or two bodyparts per day, therefore giving them more rest between workouts and a better pump at each session?
     I have found that, with most lifters, the split system of training does the opposite of what it was intended.  More often than not, the bodybuilder will miss a lot of sessions involving training the muscles of the legs or the “trunk” (hips, abdominals, lower back) and will show up for more chest, shoulder, or arm training sessions.  If, however, the lifter resigns himself to performing squats and lower back work at the beginning of each session—not allowing him/herself to work any other muscles until the leg and back work is finished—then the lifter will have a much more balanced and symmetrical physique.
     Another excuse I’ve heard a lot is this one: lifters who say they can’t do justice to their other bodyparts if they train their legs first.  They claim they’re too tired after squats to get a good workout for their chests, shoulders, and arms.  You know what?  Maybe they can’t get a good upper body workout after all that squatting—not at first.  The reason is because the lifter is out of shape.  After a few weeks on a whole body routine, the lifter will find his/her strength is back on all bodyparts, and before long the lifter will have surpassed all of his/her personal records, even on exercises performed at the end of the workout.
     One of the best advantages with full-body workouts is you get to hit your muscle groups frequently (see Part One) without having to go to the gym too often.  This is great for lifters who are on a busy schedule.
     The programs you are going to see here are based on the heavy/light/medium concept of training.  The first training day of the week is going to be your heavy day.  The other two sessions are going to be light or medium workouts.
     This first program is the best one to graduate to after completing the Beginning Workout Program.

Program One

Heavy Day

·      Squats.  5 sets of 5 reps, followed by 1 set of 10 repetitions.  Perform two warm-up sets, followed by 3 all-out sets of 5 reps (similar to Part Two’s workout).  Add weight at the next workout whenever you get all 5 reps on each set.  After the final set, drop down in weight and do 1 set of 10 reps.  This set should be very tough, but make sure you use a weight where you will get all 10 reps.
·      Flat Bench Presses.  5 sets of 5 reps, followed by 1 set of 10 reps.  Use the same protocol as the squats.
·      Deadlifts.  5 sets of 5 reps.  Same as above, but omit the 10 repetition down set that you performed on the squats and bench presses.
·      Overhead Push Presses.  5 sets of 8 reps.  Perform these with an Olympic bar.  Start the set with the bar resting across your shoulders.  Generate momentum at the start of the lift by using your legs.  Two warm-up sets of 8 reps, followed by 3 all-out sets.
·      Barbell Curls.  5 sets of 8 reps.
·      Incline Sit-ups.  3 sets of 30 reps.  Perform these on a steep incline bench.  Perform 10 reps as regular sit-ups, 10 reps twisting to your right side, and 10 reps twisting to your left side.

Light Day

·      Squats.  5 sets of 5 reps.  For these, use a weight that’s around 80% of the weight used on Monday.  In other words, if you squatted 400 pounds on Monday for your three work sets, then you would squat around 320 pounds on these for your final 3 sets.  Also, concentrate on speed and explosiveness during your three work sets.  The concentric portion of each lift should be fast.
·      Flat Bench Presses.  5 sets of 5 reps.  Use the same system that you used with the squats above.
·      Good Mornings.  5 sets of 5 reps.  Perform 2 warm-up sets followed by 3 heavy sets of 5 reps.  Heavy, of course, is relative on this exercise (which you should know if you stuck with the program from Part Two).  No matter how hard you push this exercise, you won’t be able to approach the weights used for deadlifts on the heavy day.
·      Seated Dumbbell Presses.  5 sets of 8 reps.  Use the same system as the overhead push presses you did on the heavy day.
·      Seated or Standing Dumbbell Curls.  5 sets of 8 reps.
·      Crunches.  3 sets of 30 reps.  Perform these as you did the incline sit-ups on the heavy workout.  These are good for the light day because they require a short range of motion and also don’t require the effort that other ab work does.
Medium Workout
·      Squats.  5 sets of 5 reps, followed by 1 set of 2 reps.  For this day, you’re    going to do 2 warm ups of 5 reps, followed by 3 sets of 5 reps with a weight around 90% of what was used on the heavy day.  In other words, if you squatted 400 lbs for your 3 work sets of 5 on heavy day, you would use 360 here.  After your fifth set, rest a couple of minutes and perform a heavy double with more than what was used for your last set of 5 reps from the heavy day.  In this case, our hypothetical 400 pound squatter would use 410 pounds for 2 reps.  This will help the lifter prepare for the upcoming heavy day, when the weight used for a double here will be attempted for 3 sets of 5.
·      Flat Bench Presses.  5 sets of 5 reps, followed by 1 set of 2 reps.  Perform these in the same manner as the squats.
·      Stiff-legged Deadlifts.  5 sets of 5 reps.  Here, it’s 2 warm-up sets followed by 3 sets of 5 reps.  The weight used on these should be somewhere in between the good mornings on the light day and the deadlifts on the heavy day.
·      Seated Barbell Presses.  5 sets of 8 reps.  Use the same protocol here as you did with the shoulder work on the other days.
·      E-Z Bar Curls.  5 sets of 8 reps.
·      Hanging Leg Raises.  3 sets of 30 reps.  Perform 1 set raising your legs straight up, 1 set twisting your legs to the right side, and 1 set twisting your legs to the left side.

Program Two

     This routine is going to help take you to the next level in your development of strength, mass, and power.  In order to do it, however, I want you to make sure you have spent at least sixteen weeks (and much longer than that if you’re not an intermediate to advanced lifter) on the first two programs I’ve outlined in this series.  If you don’t take the time to work up to the volume and the intensity of this workout (not to mention the upcoming programs), then there’s no way you’re going to see the progress that you are capable of getting out of the routine.  You don’t build a house without first laying the foundation.
     This program also incorporates the heavy/light/medium concept, but goes about it in a different manner.  In this workout, different lifts are performed on each day, and the exercise itself will determine which day it will fall on.
     Also, I want you to now realize this: what follows is an example of what a more advanced lifter should be doing, for the more advanced you get the more variety you need in your training.  Feel free (after a few weeks) to change exercises on the light and medium days on a regular basis—as long as they fall within the guidelines of each training day.  Confused?  Soon, you won’t be.  Here it is:

Heavy Workout

·      Squats.  7 sets of 5 reps.  This is one exercise that I never want you deviating from on the heavy day.  The full squat—or some version of it—should be the cornerstone of every workout in every routine.  Here, however, you will be doing 2 more sets than the previous program.  Perform 3 progressively heavier warm-up sets, followed by 4 work sets of 5 repetitions.  Once you can perform 5 reps on all 4 sets, increase the weight at the next session.
·      Flat Bench Presses.  7 sets of 5 reps.  Use the same set/rep protocol as above.
·      Deadlifts.  7 sets of 5 reps.  Same as above.
·      Wide-grip Dips alternated w/ Wide-grip Chins.  4 sets of 5 reps (each exercise).  You should be well warmed-up from the first three exercises, so I want you jumping straight into your work sets on these.  Perform a set of dips, rest 2 minutes, perform a set of chins, rest 2 minutes, and continue back and forth in this manner until all 8 sets are completed.
·      Barbell Curls alternated w/ Pullover and Presses.  4 sets of 5 reps.  Alternate on these the same way you did with the dips and chins.  If you aren’t familiar with the pullover and press, here’s how it’s performed: Lie on a flat bench with a barbell or e-z curl bar.  Take a close grip and lower the bar to your chest.  When it touches your chest, keep your elbows bent and bring the weight behind your head until the plates on the barbell touch the floor.  Raise the weight in the same manner, and then press up as if you were doing a close-grip bench press.
·      Incline Sit-ups.  3 sets of 60 reps.  Use the same scheme on these that you used in Program One, simply doing more reps on each set.

Light Day

·      Olympic-style Pause Squats.  5 sets of 5 reps.  These should be performed with the barbell resting high on the traps, almost on your neck.  Use a close stance and squat down as low as possible.  Pause on the bottom for one or two seconds before “exploding” back to lockout.
·      One-arm Dumbbell Bench Presses.  5 sets of 5 reps (each arm).  This exercise is tough for lifters when they first try it because of the coordination it takes to lift weights with just one arm.  Don’t be deterred, however, for this exercise has a great carryover to regular bench presses.
·      Rounded Back Good Mornings.  5 sets of 8 reps.  Make sure you’ve spent an appreciable amount of time on regular good mornings before you attempt these.  Rounding your back will allow you to go much deeper on the negative portion and will work your lower back very hard.  (A note of caution: if you have had any kind of lower back problems in the past, do not perform these; stick with the arched back version instead.)
·      Dumbbell Curls supersetted w/ Lying Dumbbell Extensions.  5 sets of 8 reps (each exercise).
·      Crunches.  3 sets of 60 reps.

Medium Day

·      Bottom-position Squats.  7 sets of 5 reps.  This exercise will bring new meaning to the words “hard work” if you’ve never performed it before (and you know how I feel about training hard).  It is, in fact, a tougher exercise than regular squats.  The fact that you aren’t able to use much weight on these, however, is the reason it fits on the medium day.  Use the same 7x5 system on these that you used for squats on the heavy day.
·      Incline Bench Presses.  5 sets of 5 reps.  Here, you will do 2 warm-up sets of 5 followed by your 3 work sets.  Shoot for 90% of the weight used on the heavy day.
·      Deadlifts Off a Box.  5 sets of 5 reps.  For this one, you are going to need a box you can stand on that is no more than six inches off the ground (I’ve found that four or five inches works best).  Do these as you would your deadlifts from the heavy day, but the extended range of motion is going to make it a harder exercise, and, therefore, one in which you can’t use as much weight.  Use the same system of sets/reps as the incline bench presses.  Your goal should be 90% of the weight used on deadlifts.  Don’t be deterred if, at first, you can’t get that much.  Stick with this movement and it will have a great carryover to your conventional deadlifts.
·      Reverse-grip Chins.  5 sets of 5 reps.  Use a relatively close-grip on these.  Use the same weight that you used on the wide-grip chins on heavy day.
·      Lying Barbell Extensions.  5 sets of 5 reps.
·      Hanging Leg Raises.  3 sets of 60 reps.

Summing it Up

     Here are some tips to help you get the most out of this program:
     Remember, this workout is only a guideline.  The more advanced you become, the more variety you need.  There are a multiple number of chest, back, and squatting exercises to choose from, so you should never go stale on the program.
     Consume a good amount of protein while on this program.  You should be training intensely at every session, so your body will need the nutrients.
     If you feel overtrained, avoid taking a layoff.  Simply switch to some exercises for a week or two that require the use of lighter weights or drop one or two assistance movements.  This will decrease your total workload and should get you back on the gaining track.
     After a couple of months, don’t be afraid to add some back-off sets of high reps on your core exercises.

Ultimate Strength and Power, Part Two

A Beginning Workout Program

     The second part of this series will present a solid program for anyone just getting started.  In addition to the workout, I will also explain the exercises in detail, which will help you as you make the transfer to the other programs in the series.  I also encourage anyone who has never given either strength and power training or full-body workouts a try to use this program before using any of the others.  Even if you have trained for a few years using some serious strength and power workouts, it might be a good idea to use this program as a means of preparing you for the harder programs that are still to come.
     This program incorporates all of the elements from Part One, and does it without introducing too much workload to the beginner athlete.  After you use this regimen for eight to twelve weeks, you will be bigger and stronger than you thought was possible—even if you’ve been training for years using more “conventional” workouts.
     This program is a three-days-a-week routine.  The most common days to train for most lifters are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, though any three non-consecutive days will work.

Day One

     Begin the first workout with the granddaddy of all exercises: the squat.  The squat has been responsible for putting more muscle mass on more lifters than any other exercise.  For squats on this day, we’re going to do 6 sets of 5 reps.  The first three sets will be warm-up sets while the last three sets will be performed with the same weight, something that makes you work hard to get all  reps, but a weight in which you only come close to reaching failure (or reach failure) on the final set.  Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.  You might start out with 135 pounds for 5 reps, followed by 175 for 5 reps, and then 225 for 5 reps.  Those three sets will be considered warm-ups.  Now it’s time for your “work” sets.  You pick 285 pounds.  The first set is tough, but you manage to get all 5 reps.  The second set is a little harder than the first one, but you still manage (just barely) to crank out the last repetition.  The third set is very tough.  You get the first 4 reps (and it takes everything you’ve got), but, as you are coming up with the 5th rep, you reach failure.
     To perform the squat correctly, start out by getting in the power rack, and setting the pins so that—if you do reach failure—you can sit down and set the weight on the pins.  Set the collars for racking the weight at just under shoulder height.  As you get under the bar, it should be just below your trapezius muscles, in line with your rear deltoid (shoulder) muscles.  Unrack the weight, and take a couple of steps backward.  Use a stance that is a little wider than shoulder width.  For most lifters, this will be your optimal stance (as a beginner at least), though some will like a slightly narrower stance, and some will prefer one a little wider.  Squat down on each repetition—the negative, or eccentric, portion of the movement should take about three seconds—until your hips are below your knees.  Look ahead the entire time, and keep your back as upright as possible (although most lifters will have a natural tendency to bend over at the waist slightly at the bottom of the movement).  Once your hips are below your knees, explode back to lockout.  At least, try to explode.  Obviously, on the last three sets, you will not be moving very fast.  But as long as you are attempting to explode, you will be on your way to building the power you need to lift big weights.
     Rest two to three minutes between each set.  Once you get all 5 reps on all 3 “work” sets, increase the weight used at the next workout.
     The second exercise is going to be the deadlift.  Deadlifts are great for building hamstring, lower back, abdominal, lat, and trap strength and development.  If the squat is the granddaddy of all exercises, then the deadlift is the daddy of them all.
     You will find a lot of lifters that prefer to wait until later in the workout, once they feel as if they have recovered from the squats, before commencing with the deadlifting.  I think this is a mistake, especially for beginning lifters.  You need to do the deadlifts while your lower back is still warm, and the muscles full of enough blood to prevent injuries.
     For this exercise, you are going to use 6 sets of 3 reps, instead of sets of 5 reps.  This is a good time to use 3s because of, once again, how well warmed-up your lower back is.  The first 3 sets will all be progressively heavier, while the last 3 will all be performed with the same weight.  Thus, the technique for the sets and reps doesn’t differ any from the squats.
     There are two completely different forms for deadlifting.  You can do either traditional (sometimes called “conventional”) deadlifts or you can do sumo deadlifts.  I prefer for beginners to stick with the former instead of the latter.  Once you are moving massive weights, then you can decide if you would like to make the switch to the sumo deads.
     Step up to the bar and stand with your feet a little closer than shoulder width apart.  Your shins should be only a few inches from touching the bar.  Bend at the knees and grasp the bar.  Use a grip with your hands just outside the smooth part of the Olympic bar.  Look straight ahead.  Keep your back arched—not rounded—and pull the weight off the floor until you are standing straight up, and your knees are locked out.  At no point throughout the movement should your elbows bend; keep them completely straight.
     As per the squats, keep your rest time between sets to around two to three minutes.  Whenever you manage all 3 reps on all 3 “working” sets, add weight at the next Day One session.
     Your next exercise is going to be the flat barbell bench press.  Use the same 6x5 system you used with the squats.
     To perform this exercise correctly, take a grip with your pinky finger on the “power rings” of the Olympic bar.  Keep your butt on the bench and your feet on the floor throughout the movement.  Un-rack the weight and lower the bar until it touches just below your nipples.  Pause for a count of one second and “explode” back to lockout.  Rest about two minutes between sets.
     Your fourth exercise of the day is going to be close-grip chins.  It is preferable that you do these on a straight chinning bar with your palms facing you and your hands about three to four inches apart.  This exercise will not only work the lat muscles of your back, but it will also provide a good biceps workout.
     Use the same 6x5 system you used on the squats and bench presses, adding weight via a dip belt.  I realize that some trainees will have to just use their bodyweight on all 6 sets.  That’s fine.
     If you aren’t capable of completing all 5 reps, even on the first set, but are able to do 2 or 3 reps, that’s also fine.  Just stick with the exercise until you can perform all 6 sets of 5 reps using just your bodyweight.  At this point, you can start adding weight.
     I also realize that some beginners won’t even be able to perform one repetition.  If this is your case, stick with lat pulldowns on a machine until you build enough strength for the chins.
     Rest two minutes between each set.
     This is all you are going to do for Day One.  Go home, eat a big meal, and get a good night’s sleep, so you will be ready for the next session a couple of days later.

Day Two

     The first exercise for this day is, once again, the almighty squat.  However, I realize that you are still going to be sore from Day One.  Therefore, you are going to work up to a weight that’s around 80% of the weight used for your final 3 sets of the first squatting session.  For most lifters starting out, the 3rd set used on Day One’s workout will equate to about 80%.
     Here, you will do 5 sets of 5 reps, instead of 6x5.  If you did squats on Day One for 135lbsx5, 175lbsx5, 225lbsx5, and 285lbsx3x5, then you will do 135lbsx5, 175lbsx5, and 225lbsx3x5 at this workout.
     Use the same form and the same rep tempo that you used on the first workout.  However, feel free to reduce rest time between sets.  This will help to get you in even better shape, especially if you get to where you are only allowing one minute’s rest in between each set.
     The second exercise for this day is going to be the good morning.  This is an exercise you read about often (if you read powerlifting magazines, at least) but you hardly ever see anyone use it in the gym.  That’s a pity since it can work wonders for bringing up the numbers on both your squat and your deadlift, not to mention the fact that it can give you a well-developed set of abdominals and an impressive pair of erector muscles.
     For the good morning, you will be using a scheme of 4 sets of 8 reps.  Work up over 4 progressively heavier sets of 8 repetitions.  The last set should be the only one that approaches reaching muscular failure, and that only on the 8th repetition.
     Here’s how to use proper form on the exercise.  Un-rack the weight as if you were going to perform a squat, using the same bar placement across your shoulders and back and the same foot placement.  Arch your back and bend over at the waist, keeping your legs relatively straight (though there should be a slight bend to your knees to prevent injury).  Bend over until your upper body is parallel to the floor, then rise up.
     Your third exercise is going to be the bottom-position close-grip bench press.  You will need to do this exercise in the power rack.  Set the pins so that the bar touches your chest at the start of the movement.  You will quickly discover this is much harder than standard close-grip benches where you don’t start at the bottom.
     Use the 6x5 set/rep cadence on these, the same as the squats and the flat barbell bench presses from Day One.  Make sure you lock the weight out completely at the top of the movement, and then lower the bar with control.  Pause on the pins for one or two seconds, relaxing your muscles as you do so, then explode back to lockout again.
     Your final exercise for this day is going to be the barbell curl, preferably using an Olympic bar.  Once again, use the 6x5 system of sets and repetitions.  Take a medium grip on the bar, with your hands a couple of inches outside of the smooth.  Don’t use any body momentum.  Keep your upper arms locked against your body and bring the weight up without any “swing” of your upper body.
     That’s it for the Day Two workout.  Get plenty of rest and food over the next day so you’ll be ready for the Day Three session.

Day Three

     Your final workout of the week begins, again, with squats.  This time, however, you are going to use a 6 sets of 2 reps regimen, working up to a weight that’s heavier than what you used from Day One—this system of lower reps and heavier weight will prepare you for the next Day One squatting session.
     Here’s what a hypothetical session would look like for our lifter who squatted 285lbsx3x5 in the Day One workout.  Start out with 135x2, followed by 175x2, then 225x2, 285x2, and, finally, 295 for 2 sets of 2 reps.  Your goal on the final set should be to use a weight that you will use on next week’s Day One for your final 3 sets of 5 reps.  Even though the weights being lifted are heavier here than in Day One, this workout is not as hard, and is easier to recover from than the first one, while working your squat muscles a little more than on Day Two.
     For your back, you are going to do deadlifts in the rack, with the pins set around knee level.  You should be able to use more weight on this exercise than you did on Day One.  You won’t be taxing your muscles as much, however, because of the fact this is a partial movement, and partial movements simply don’t make you as sore or take as long to recover from as full-range movements.
     Start this exercise with your legs flush against the bar.  You should use the same form as on the regular deadlifts.  For this exercise, use the same 6 sets of 3 reps system that you used for Day One.
     Your major upper body movement for this day is going to be incline barbell bench presses, using the same 6x5 system as flat bench presses on Day One.  Attempt to work up to a weight that is around 90% of what you used on the flat benches.
     For form, use a medium-wide grip and bring the bar high on your chest, the closer to your neck the better.  Lower the bar for a count of three seconds, pause briefly, then “explode” to lockout as hard as possible.  Rest two to three minutes between sets.
     Your final exercise of the day (and the program) is going to be bench press lockouts.  Set the pins in the power rack so that you are moving the bench press through the last four to five inches of the exercise.  Work up over 6 progressively heavier sets of 2 reps.  Only the last set should approach failure on the 2nd repetition.
     That’s it for this beginning workout program.  Here’s an outline of the entire regimen:

Day One

Bench Presses—6x5
Close-grip Chins—6x5

Day Two

Squats (light)—5x5
Good Mornings—4x8
Bottom-position Close-grip Bench Presses—6x5
Barbell Curls—6x5

Day Three

Rack Deadlifts—6x3
Incline Bench Presses—6x5
Bench Press Lockouts—6x2

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Life Lessons Learned from Lifting

Life Lessons Learned from Lifting
     In my life, I have learned much from people and from paths.  My life is not my own.  It belongs to God, and to those that have molded me.  My life is fleeting and temporal—as are all of our lives.  All men die, but many do not live as they were meant to.  I can only thank those that taught me well, that my life will not have been a complete waste.
     From my father, I learned of decency, a mild temperament, kindness to others, and the value for a man to attain a scholarly mind.
     From my mother: piety, morality, and the ways in which a woman should behave.
     From my uncle Kirk: that austerity, toughness, and raw strength in a man can be balanced with tenderness and love—that a man can be a man and still cry as much as he needs.
     From my friends Chad, Josh, and Puddin’: that it is okay—even necessary—to tell another man how much you love him.
     From my children, Matthew and Garrett: how to love another as unconditionally as a human is possible of doing so.
     From Tara: how to accept love unconditionally.
     From Buddhism: the importance of mindfulness as I go about my daily life; that the twin pillars of compassion and wisdom must always co-exist in an eternal embrace.
     From Stoic philosophy (especially that of Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius): the importance of equanimity in all situations; that man should only concern himself with what is under his control; what God decides to give to me or take away from me is His business and not mine; my business is to live my life to the best of my ability with what has been given to me.
     From Orthodox Christianity: the value and necessity of asceticism and repentance, and that love of God and selflessness cannot occur without them; that Truth is a Person, known and loved by the human heart.
     And from lifting I have learned what follows:
     The iron is impersonal and unchanging, and this is one of its greatest strengths.
     My friend Puddin’ and I lifted for many years together.  Half-jokingly, he would sometimes say right before lifting, “time to worship at the altar of the bench press.”  Puddin’ is not religious, nor does he plan to be.  His philosophy is one of an existential optimism, and I always knew what he meant when he said this, even though he never made an attempt to explain himself.
     Many things will happen to you in your daily life.  Friends and loved ones leave you or die.  On a smaller scale, you have good days and bad days, you make good decisions and bad decisions, you have injuries or you get sick.
     The weights do not care.
     A 45-pound plate is always the same weight.  A 400-pound squat is always a 400-pound squat.  A 300-pound bench press is always a 300-pound bench press.
     There always was, and always will be, something comforting about this.  Many things change, and that is okay, for we must learn to change too.  But the iron does not.  Cold and impersonal, it is only what it is, nothing more and nothing less.
     How you feel is a lie.
     This is the mantra of Olympic lifting coach John Broz.  It is one of the truest statements ever uttered when it comes to training.  And life.
     I cannot count the number of times that I didn’t want to train, didn’t feel good, or lacked energy, and yet had one of the best workouts ever when I trained anyway.  I have shattered PRs while sick or depressed.  And I have had awful workouts despite being full of energy, excited about working out, and/or plenty rested and “recovered” before the workout.
     When you come to realize that how you feel is a lie, an important thing happens: you learn to just show up and do the workout, come what may.  As you do this, you will begin to realize that you have more good workouts than bad workouts, and these have nothing to do with how you feel.
     This understanding carries over into life.
     Too many people in our society are concerned with feeling, and this hinders them from doing what is necessary, whether it’s lifting weights, doing a hard day’s work, or anything else that they either want or need to do.
     I will give another example.  For many years, I have tried my best to meditate for a half hour in the morning and another half hour in the evening.  A lot of times, I wake in the morning, and I want to do anything except meditate: sleep in for another thirty minutes, go ahead and leave for work, read a book—you name it.  And sometimes, yes, I really want to meditate upon waking.  But here’s the thing: how I feel about it has little to do with the “results” I get.  Sometimes my meditation is “good”—I enter deep states of tranquility.  Sometimes it just plain sucks.  But whether “good” or “bad,” how I feel upon doing it is a lie.
     So it goes with life.
     Life is a skill that must be developed as with any skill—in fact, it is developed along with developing other skills—whether that skill is lifting weights, meditation, prayer, relationships, loving, making love, cooking, parenting; the list could go on.  But the fact remains: all of these skills are developed despite how you feel.
     Nothing is worth having that doesn’t require hard work.
     In today’s world, people want the easy route.  They want the latest pill, the latest fad diet, or the latest fad workout to build muscle or burn body fat.  But fads never have worked and never will work.  And even if they did work, they would not be worth the paper they are printed on (so to speak), for nothing is worth having in life that doesn’t require hard work.
     If you want results in the gym, you must learn to train hard.  No matter the lifter, none of them ever had success with anything less than hard work.  You hear it said sometimes in bodybuilding circles that “less is better,” but I’m here to tell you that most of the time this simply isn’t true.
     If you want to bring up the numbers on your squat (and this is just one example), you do this by training harder, and probably by adding extra workouts.  Nothing easy about that.  And that is exactly as it should be.
     Stress is not something that should be avoided.
     These days, we are told everywhere that stress is bad.  We are told that we need to be stress-free in order to live “happy” lives full of well-being.  And if we do get stressed—by work, family life, relationships, our “wounded” psyches—then we are told we need to “de-stress.”  Don’t worry, be happy, as the saying goes.  I agree that worrying over something does little good—in fact, I think worrying should be avoided, for the most part—but we need a better slogan: Don’t worry, adapt!
     In order to grow bigger and stronger, you willingly submit your body to stress.  Without stress imposed upon your body, there is no adaptation, and there is no growth.
     It may come as a surprise to many of you, but in life it is little different.  If you want to grow—in love, in virtue, in compassion for others, in dignity, in self-control—then you must not avoid stress.  In fact (and this is going to be the shocking part for some of you), at least part of the time you should go out of your way to seek stress.
     I was once asked that why—as an Orthodox—do I fast?  Fasting—abstaining from all meat, all dairy, and eating very little food for an extended period of time—seems like an odd form of spiritual practice to a great many people.  (And it probably seems especially odd in America, a gluttonous country, to be sure.)  My reply: Its purpose is to attain freedom.  If you are a slave to your many desires, then you are just that: a slave.
     Fasting is stressful.  But you adapt, attain freedom, and grow stronger.
     Do not be afraid of stress.  Embrace it, and learn to obtain a strength and a tranquility that many others will have rarely obtained.
     Training is the important thing, not thinking, talking, or reading about training.
     I’m afraid that most people who take up lifting like the idea of being a bodybuilder or a powerlifter, of growing bigger and stronger—but very few actually become that which they desire.
     Thinking about training will not make you bigger and stronger.  Talking about training will not make you bigger and stronger.  Reading about training—especially reading “profiles” and other crap about people who are not you—will not make you bigger and stronger.  Only training will make you bigger and stronger.
     Read enough to acquire the knowledge you need to train (I’m not denying that knowledge is power).  Other than that, spend time training and eating correctly.  And once you are on a program—you must be on a program, instead of just “working out”—stick with it.  Don’t talk about it all the time, and don’t think about it all the time.
     Many years ago—in the early to mid ‘90s—I worked as a personal trainer.  The clients I had who were the most successful were the ones who didn’t spend time reading magazines or think about training outside of the gym.  They simply showed up and did what I told them to do.
     The ones who were not successful were the ones—typically young men—who spent their time away from the gym reading too many bodybuilding magazines (this was before the internet) and talking to too many of their buddies about different training programs.  And these same guys—when they did train—were the ones that gave less than their all.
     So, the question remains (and always will remain): do you want to be a lifter, or do you just like the idea of being a lifter?
     This article is not all encompassing.  Lifting has taught me more things than just the ones listed here.  Perhaps in the future, I will do a second part if there is enough interest.
     If you would like additional information about many of the topics addressed here, I recommend the following books:
  • “The Way of the Ascetics” by Tito Colliander
  • “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius
  • “A Guide to the Good Life—The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” by William B. Irvine
  • “Letters from a Stoic” by Seneca