Friday, July 13, 2012

Real High Intensity Training


Make Real Gains with Brief, Intense Workout Programs

     For years now, high intensity training (commonly referred to as H.I.T.) has been one of the most controversial training methods in the bodybuilding world.  The proponents of H.I.T. seem to think that it’s the only method capable of truly transforming the “average”, drug-free bodybuilder.  On the other side you have proponents of volume workouts (one such proponent has been myself) that seem to think that H.I.T. training is the bane of bodybuilding existence.  So which one is correct?  Well, I believe that the answer is “both” and “neither.”  Confused?  Read on and I’m going to attempt to straighten everything out, and then I’m going to outline some brief, intense workouts that actually do produce real-world results.

The Rise and Fall of H.I.T. Principles

     In the beginning of the barbell, strength-training universe—we’re talking early twentieth century—almost all of the physiques and the strength gains were built with fairly brief, fairly intense workouts.  Old-time strongmen and bodybuilders built their strength and physiques with full-body workouts, commonly performing these workouts in just three days per week.  Most of the time, they rarely performed more than 3 to 5 sets per bodypart and they kept their repetitions fairly low.  Over time, they would slowly add sets and exercises to their programs, but they would take their time doing this and they would still perform three-days-per-week, full-body workout sessions.
     This kind of training worked, and worked really well.  It produced some of the greatest physiques (and strong physiques) of all time.  Men such as John Grimek, Steve Reeves, and Reg Park trained in this manner.
     In time, the volume grew and grew.  Split workouts and steroids were introduced to the scene, and it didn’t take long before the brief, hard, intense full-body programs of the old-time lifters was all but gone and forgotten.
     Enter the ‘70s, and such men as Arthur Jones, Ellington Darden, Mike Mentzer, and Casey Viator (infamous prodigy of the Colorado Experiment).  From these men—Jones in particular—H.I.T. arose, preaching such things as full-body workouts (once again), heavy training, minimum sets (usually 3 to 4 per bodypart), and (here is the most important factor of them all) really hard work.  For the men—and women, I suppose—who decided to take up this form of (new?) training, there was little doubt: these programs worked.  Gains were made in almost record time for many H.I.T. trainees.  Brief, intense, full-body workouts were back in vogue.  (And rightly so.)
     But—as things inevitably do—it all went awry.  Minimum sets of 3 or 4 began to give way to only one set for each bodypart.  Full-body, 3-days-per-week workouts gave way to 2-day-per-week workouts where the body was—to make things even worse—split into 2 different sessions.  (At one point, some H.I.T. proponents even started to preach once-weekly workout sessions, where you would train each bodypart only once every 2 weeks.)  And leading this charge was Mike Mentzer, preaching the gospel of some crazed, pseudo-intellectual Ayn Rand-esque philosophy of his own making, determined to prove once-and-for-all that his brand of H.I.T. was the only form of training in the muscle-building multi-verse.
     Sane, hard, reasonable training had given way to a group of muscle-less H.I.T. enthusiasts whose grasp of reality and the bodybuilding truth of big muscles was anything but sane and reasonable.  Their form of growing muscles worked in their minds, but did very little in the real world of actually gaining muscle mass.
     But it doesn’t have to be this way.  The kind of training that worked for the old-time strongmen of the early twentieth century and worked for the early H.I.T. explorers of the 1970s can still work today.  It’s time to resurrect real high-intensity training.
The Rules of Real H.I.T.
     First things first: Many H.I.T. enthusiasts probably won’t approve of what I’m branding “high-intensity.”  That’s fine with me.  The training I’m advocating is for guys (and gals) who actually want to grow big and strong, not just sit around and talk about it.
     What follows are the “rules” for my brand of high-intensity training.  Take these rules seriously or don’t grow muscles at your own peril.
Rule #1: Perform Full-Body Workouts.  For some time now, I’ve been touting the efficacy of full-body workouts.  When performed properly, there is simply nothing like them when it comes to producing real-world results in terms of both muscle mass and strength gains.
Rule #2: Perform Basic, Compound Movements.  For full-body workouts to be effective, you have to choose the correct exercises.  Dumbbell curls, sissy squats, and push-ups are not going to cut it.  Instead, you need squats, deadlifts, chins, bench presses, overhead presses, rows, cleans, snatches, barbell curls; well, you get the picture.
Rule #3: Keep the Reps Fairly Low.  In other words, you need to train friggin’ heavy.  Sets of 10 to 12 reps—or worse, sets of 20 reps like a lot of H.I.T. proponents recommend—are not going to get the job done.  Sets of 5 to 8 reps—and occasionally lower—need to be staples of your training.  (Save the high-rep stuff for one or two sets at the end of the workout.)
Rule #3: Utilize a Limited Number of Exercises.  You really don’t need more than 3 to 5 exercises per workout to get your muscles growing.  Workout routines that utilize more than this—even if they’re not H.I.T. workouts—are overkill.
      The program presented here will have you doing 3 exercises per workout, plus a finishing movement at the end of the session.
Rule #4: Train Frequently Enough to Elicit Gains.  One of the good things about Jones’s programs in the ‘70s was that he had his lifters train their entire bodies three days each week.  That’s frequently enough to elicit gains.  When training all-out, I like to rotate between weeks with 3 days of training and weeks with 2 days of training.

Real H.I.T. Mass-Building

     I think you’ve been reading long enough.  Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, the reason you started reading this article in the first place: some real-world workouts.
     The following mass-building program is for those of you who have been training at least a few months, are ready to give some serious workouts an actual try.  Stick with this program religiously for the next two to three months, and you might be quite surprised at just how much muscle you pack on your frame.
     This program contains 5 different workouts spread out over 2 weeks.

Day One

Squats: 5 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps.  The last set should be all-out—high-intensity, in other words.  If your max for 5 reps is 315 pounds, then your set/rep progression should look something like this: 135x5, 175x5, 225x5, 275x5, 315x5
Incline Bench Presses: 5 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps.  The same methodology as the squats applies to this exercise.
Close-Grip Chins: 3 sets of maximum reps.  Use your bodyweight on this exercise, and take each set to momentary muscular failure.
Dumbbell Bench Presses: 1 or 2 sets of maximum reps.  Here is where the high-rep stuff comes into play.  Pick a weight where you should reach momentary muscular failure somewhere around the 20th rep.  One set should probably be enough for a lot of you, but don’t be afraid to add another.
Day Two: Rest
Day Three
Deadlifts: 5 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps. If your max for 5 reps is 315 pounds, then your set/rep progression should look something like this: 135x5, 175x5, 225x5, 275x5, 315x5
Weighted Dips: 5 Progressively heavier sets of 5 reps.  Same methodology of progressively heavier sets as the deadlifts.
Overhead Barbell Presses: 5 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps.  Same methodology as the deadlifts and dips.
Trap Bar Deadlifts or Dumbbell Deadlifts: 1 or 2 sets of maximum reps.  If you have access to one, use a trap bar on this lift.  If not, then use a heavy pair of dumbbells. Pick a weight where you should reach momentary muscular failure somewhere around the 20th rep.
Day Four: Rest
Day Five: Repeat Day One
     At this point, you want to make sure that you’re resting two or three days before training again.  Most of you will do best by resting just two days.  This is preferable since it allows you to train on set days each week, say Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  When you do train again, start off with the day three workout, and repeat in the same manner.  Also, don’t be afraid to add a rest day occasionally whenever you feel it might be necessary—just don’t overdo it.
     I wouldn’t recommend following these workouts for the rest of your training life.  For one, I would find such a thing boring-as-hell.  For another, your body needs variety in order to continue to grow bigger and stronger.  So give your body what it needs.
     Training is an art, not a science (although science is definitely involved), so make sure that you change exercises—or even add exercises—as you see fit.  For instance, if you feel as if you need some direct arm work, then don’t be afraid to add a few sets of barbell curls at the end of one workout, and a few sets of skullcrushers at the end of another.
     Now get your ass to the gym, train heavy, train hard-as-hell, and resurrect some real high-intensity training.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

On Being Flexible

As I get older (although I'm only 38, I have been a dedicated lifter for 20 years), certain things remain important to me, and—to be honest—many things do not.  For instance, I no longer want to have 20 inch arms, or be the biggest bloke alive (that's the kind of stuff I wanted 20 years ago), or be the strongest dude walking the planet at my bodyweight (that's what I wanted 10 years ago).  But I do want to be strong, and I don't mind being fairly big, and most of all I want to be healthy.

And I want to keep learning.

And I just love to train.  Period.

So... as I get older, and as I learn more, the most important lessons are the ones that I have learned about myself.  It dawned on me—not that long ago, to tell the truth—that I train just to train.  I love the feel of a tough, two-hour workout where I squat something, put something heavy over my head, pull something heavy off the floor, and tote something heavy across my lawn.  When you train just to train, when you train because you enjoy spending time with the weights and yourself, you also learn more—more about yourself and more about what it takes to see results.

You see, training is an art, not a science.  It never was a science.  It never will be a science.  (I know I've said this in the past in previous posts, and maybe even said it better, but it bears repeating.)  When you train because you enjoy it, and when you train not just for the results, something odd tends to happen: you get better and quicker results than before.

I think one of the reasons for this is because of flexibility.  I'm not talking about flexibility as in the ability to do the splits (although joint and muscle flexibility is important, no doubt), but I'm talking about the art of being flexible about your workouts.  It's important to be flexible about the kind of workouts you're doing, but I think it's even more important to be flexible within the workout itself.

With this in mind, here are a couple of tips on ways you can be more flexible during your workout sessions:

Stop following a prescribed number of sets and reps.  I like to train heavy.  I also like to do a fairly high number of sets per exercise.  But these days those are really the only two guidelines that I follow when performing a lift.  (And I don't always follow that protocol.  One thing that I enjoy doing on a fairly regular basis is bodyweight training.  And when I perform bodyweight exercises—or sometimes kettlebell training for that matter—I typically do a moderate to high number of sets with a high number of reps.  But once again, that's just a guideline.)  You want to get big and strong?  Perform several sets at approximately 5 to 8 reps.   Just want to get strong as an ox?  Then perform multiple sets of 1-5 reps.  Other than that, just train.  And if you're at all confused of what I'm talking about, then here's an example of an overhead pressing workout that I did recently:

I began by warming up with a set of 8 to 10 reps with 135 pounds.  I rested a few minutes, and then did another set.  After that, I put 185 on the bar and figured I would do somewhere between 5 to 8 sets.  The first set felt kind of heavy.  I did 3 reps.  The next set felt about the same.  I did 4 reps.  After resting several minutes, the next set felt easy; I did 8 reps.  After resting a few more minutes, I did 5 reps.  I rested.  Another set with 3 reps.  Rested a little more.  And another set of 8 reps.  I rested some more.  Then finished with a set of 3 reps.  I knew the last set was enough.  My muscles felt full, and the 3 reps weren't done with a lot of speed.  (I generally like to stop a set when my reps start to move slow.)

Keep in mind, that was just the overhead pressing portion of my workout.  I also squatted, and did some farmer's walks.  And I did those two exercises in a similar fashion.

Stop following a prescribed training split. I prefer to follow a guideline split (or a guideline number of days per week if you're training full body).  I must caution here, that at first this is not something that you want to do if you just began training.  If you're a beginner, then you have no business doing anything other than a full-body workout three days per week—and you want to be regimented about the days you train.  With that being said, as you get more advanced, you may want to throw the regimented schedule out the window.

If I'm performing full-body workouts, here's one of the things I do: I go to the gym (in my case, this means my garage) and do some heavy squats, a couple of heavy pressing movements (one of these is always an overhead movement), a heavy pull, and then some kind of strongman exercise.  If I feel good after all this, then I add in some arm work and an abdominal movement, or maybe even a high-rep kettlebell exercise as a finisher.  The next day, if I feel good, then guess what?  I do another full-body workout, but this time with exercises that force me to use light weights: power snatches, good mornings, dumbbell work, etc.  I will then take a day off, maybe even two days, go for another hard session.  Sometimes, I may train three days in a row.  Sometimes, I may train every other day for a couple weeks straight.  And sometimes I may train every third day for a week or so.

A lot of times, I don't do full-body workouts such as this.  In fact, about half of the year, I perform what I refer to as full-body split workouts.  For instance, day one may be a squatting movement paired with an overhead movement.  Day two may be a heavy pulling movement (deadlift or clean varieties) coupled with some form of bench press.  And day three may be strongman training coupled with two or three arm exercises.  In this case, I usually train a couple of days, then take a day off, train a couple of days, take a day off, and repeat until I begin to feel tired or burned out.  Then I'll take two or three days off.  And if I need to take off any night for anything, then I don't sweat it.  I take that day off too.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

New Planet Muscle Article

If you haven't already, please do yourself a favor and go out and buy the July/August issue of Planet Muscle.  I have an article in it entitled "The Big 5 Exercises for Real Mass."

I've written a lot of stuff over several years, and I feel pretty confident that this could be one of the best articles I've ever written.  I think it's definitely my personal favorite article.