Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ultimate Strength and Power, Part 10: Tailoring Your Program


Tailoring the Workouts to Suit Your Needs and Body Type
     For this final part of the series, we are going to look at ways you can tailor all of the programs presented to this point so that you can accommodate such things as age, training experience, body type, and goals.
     If you are new to training, then make sure that you haven’t skipped ahead to this part, thinking that you need to read this one first in order to better understand your body type.  You don’t!  The first thing you need to do is perform the rest of the programs in a systematic fashion.  (Okay, I realize that a lot of you reading this blog have every intention in the world to keep reading this post—that’s cool; I like the readership.   However, realize that you do need to return to the rest of this series after reading this final part.)
     After you have utilized most of the programs to this point, you should have an understanding of how your body works.  Some exercises probably make you grow faster than others.  For instance, you may have discovered that sumo deadlifts really cause the muscles of your back and hamstrings to grow, while conventional deadlifts just don’t do that much for you.  Or you may have discovered that incline bench presses, dumbbell bench presses, and dips do wonders for making your chest grow, while flat bench presses seem to do little other than give you big shoulders and arms.  And everyone who tried all of the routines should know two things: First, you should know whether you respond best to full-body programs or to two-way split training.  Second, you should know whether you do best on a program that uses only a few basic exercises (such as the workouts in parts 2, 3, 4, 5, and 8) or whether you do best by routinely rotating from exercises and repetition ranges (such as the workouts in parts 7 and 9).
     Keep in mind, too, that once you reach a more advanced level, all of the programs should only be considered as outlines.  After I write these programs and you start using them, I’m not there to make changes based on how your body responds—or doesn’t respond—to the workouts.
     The rest of this part will take a look at four key components of all of the programs in this series—and all good strength programs in general, such as the rest of this stuff on my blog.  They are: core exercises, sets and reps, weight progression, and workload at each session.
C.S. squatting around 500 lbs at a bodyweight of 170
Core Exercises
     There are plenty of lifters—especially competitive powerlifters and Olympic lifters—who are perfectly satisfied with doing essentially the same core exercises year-round.  While other lifters need constant change to either 1) stay interested in the workouts they’re doing, or 2) to continue to make progress.  For the most part, I would put myself—for instance—in the former category.  I’m happy training the squat and deadlift year-round without rotating much to other exercises.  I enjoy both of these exercises more than just about any other, and I can increase both of them by just, well, training both of them.
     The difference for myself is the bench press.  In order to make progress in this exercise—and other upper body pressing movements—I need to rotate exercises on a fairly consistent basis in order to progress.  If I don’t rotate bench exercises, then my progress will soon start to stagnate on the lift.
     For a vast majority of you that are reading this (assuming you have completed the workouts up to this point) you will need to change routines every 5 to 6 weeks, and exercises every 1 to 2 weeks in order to not grow stale and hit sticking points.
     Let’s now take a look at the kind of training I typically utilize in order to keep my lifts continually moving upward in terms of raw strength and power.  Remember, I need to rotate bench exercises regularly, and I can just train the squat and the deadlift in order to keep those lifts moving.  (Keep in mind, as well, that this is the kind of training I need to do.  But it should give you a good example of the kind of variety you need in order to continue to make gains.)
     First, I would (typically) begin a training cycle by performing 4 weeks of advanced-style full body training (such as the second workout in part 3).  After that, I would switch over to 4 to 6 weeks of Russian style two-way split training.  At this point, while my squat and deadlift should be consistently gaining in strength, my bench would start to stagnate (keep in mind that variety is built into the above two programs, but my bench needs even more than what those two programs offer).  Now, it’s time for me to utilize 8 to 10 weeks of Power Volume Training.  With the Power Volume Training, variety is already built into the system—how much variety is up to the individual lifter.  For myself, I will rotate bench exercises on a weekly basis, in addition to rotating assistance exercises for the bench at least every two weeks.  For my squats and deadlifts, however, I have to do little more other than just squat and deadlift.  In fact, all I really need to do is rotate two weeks of squatting with two weeks of deadlifting.  Throw in some bottom-position squats and some deficit deadlifts on occasion, and my squats and deadlifts—for the most part—will continue to gain in strength.
     Now, the biggest problem I run into when lifters change exercises is that they pick easier lifts instead of hard ones.  The new exercise has to be as demanding as the one you’re trading it out for.  Also, if you’re using Power Volume Training or the Westside-style program (part 9), not only do you need to rotate exercises on a regular basis, but you also need a large number of exercises to rotate from.  The more advanced you are, the more exercises you need in your arsenal.  The important thing is that you must trade a heavy exercise for a heavy exercise, a medium exercise for a medium exercise, and so on and so forth.
Sets and Reps
     While strength training is an art in addition to being a science, let’s keep in mind that it is a science, as well, and there are optimum numbers of sets and reps that you need to implement in your training.
     When deciding which program to use, or how you might need to alter the number of sets and reps in one of the programs you’ve already performed for a certain length of time, you need to take into account your goals.  If you are solely interested in building strength, then there is no reason to do a lot of sets, or as much “extra” work in a session.  This means, for instance, that if you’re following Power Volume Training, and you’re just trying to gain strength, there is no need for a lot of progressively heavier sets until you reach your max weight (more on this in a little bit), and there is also no need for as many sets of “assistance” work.
     If you’re trying to gain strength and muscle mass, then the opposite is true.  You need the additional work.  The more you train, and the harder you train, then the better your body gets at adapting to the stress.  (For the most part, at least; some lifters do better with lower volume—when gaining muscle mass—than other lifters.)
     As with core exercises, you need some variety built into your programs.  Just how much variety will—once again—depend on your body type.  Here’s an interesting thing to keep in mind when tailoring the programs in this series (or any other programs you come across that you want to try): When training for strength, rotating exercises is more important than rotating from different set and rep sequences; when training for muscle growth, rotating different set and rep schemes is more important than rotating exercises.  This is because for strength and power, you need to stick with sets of really low reps (5 reps would be considered high if strength is your goal).  However, since a certain amount of variety has to be built into your program, you must rotate to different exercises.  The variety for strength, then, entails rotational exercises.  (This is the basis for Westside training and my Power Volume Training.)  Muscle growth is different.  Of course, you already know that I’m a big fan of heavy-weight, low-rep training for muscle growth, but you can certainly have weeks where you rotate to more high-rep workouts.  In fact, I believe that kind of training is paramount for advanced lifters to continue gaining muscle mass.  When it comes to hypertrophy, you can really do the same exercises almost year round and get good results.  However, rep ranges must be altered.
     To explain how you might choose to rotate sets and reps, let’s use the second program in Part Three—the more advanced program—as an example of what a month of training might look like for a more advanced lifter.  For this, I will use myself—and my body type—as an example.  If I was trying to gain muscle, while also keeping my core lifts increasing, the following is what I would do during 4 weeks of training:
The great Reg Park, who built his physique with similar full body workouts
Week One
Heavy Day
·      Squats.  7 sets of 5 reps
·      Flat Bench Presses.  7 sets of 5 reps
·      Deadlifts.  7 sets of 5 reps
·      Wide-grip Dips alternated w/ Wide-grip Chins.  4 sets of 5 reps (each exercise
·      Barbell Curls alternated w/ Pullover and Presses.  4 sets of 5 reps
·      Incline Sit-ups.  3 sets of 30 reps

Light Day

·      Olympic-style Pause Squats.  5 sets of 5 reps
·      One-arm Dumbbell Bench Presses.  5 sets of 5 reps (each arm
·      Rounded Back Good Mornings.  5 sets of 8 reps
·      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
·      Incline Bench Presses.  7 sets of 5 reps
·      Deadlifts Off a Box.  7 sets of 5 reps
·      Reverse-grip Chins.  5 sets of 5 reps
·      Lying Barbell Extensions.  5 sets of 5 reps
·      Hanging Leg Raises.  3 sets of 20 reps
Week Two
Heavy Day
·      Squats.  4 sets of 8 reps
·      Flat Bench Presses.  4 sets of 8 reps
·      Deadlifts.  4 sets of 8 reps
·      Wide-grip Dips alternated w/ Wide-grip Chins.  2 sets of 10 reps (each exercise
·      Barbell Curls alternated w/ Pullover and Presses.  2 sets of 10 reps
·      Incline Sit-ups.  3 sets of 30 reps

Light Day

·      Olympic-style Pause Squats.  3 sets of 8 reps
·      Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses.  3 sets of 8 reps (each arm
·      Rounded Back Good Mornings.  3 sets of 12 reps
·      Dumbbell Curls supersetted w/ Lying Dumbbell Extensions.  5 sets of 12 reps (each exercise)
·      Crunches.  3 sets of 60 reps

Medium Day

·      Bottom-position Squats.  4 sets of 8 reps
·      Weighted Dips.  4 sets of 8 reps
·      Deadlifts Off a Box.  4 sets of 8 reps
·      Reverse-grip Chins.  4 sets of 8 reps
·      Lying Barbell Extensions.  4 sets of 8 reps
·      Hanging Leg Raises.  3 sets of 20 reps
Week Three
Heavy Day
·      Squats.  8 sets of 3 reps
·      Flat Bench Presses.  8 sets of 3 reps
·      Deadlifts.  8 sets of 3 reps
·      Barbell Curls alternated w/ Pullover and Presses.  10 sets of 3 reps
·      Incline Sit-ups.  3 sets of 30 reps

Light Day

·      Front Squats.  8 sets of 3 reps
·      Incline Bench Presses.  8 sets of 3 reps (each arm
·      Rounded Back Good Mornings.  5 sets of 8 reps
·      Crunches.  3 sets of 60 reps

Medium Day

·      Bottom-position Squats.  8 sets of 3 reps
·      Three-Board Bench Presses.  8 sets of 3 reps
·      Sumo Deadlifts.  8 sets of 3 reps
·      Reverse-grip Chins.  8 sets of 3 reps
·      Lying Barbell Extensions.  8 sets of 3 reps
·      Hanging Leg Raises.  3 sets of 20 reps
Week Four
Heavy Day
·      Squats.  3 sets of 12 reps
·      Dumbbell Bench Presses.  3 sets of 12 reps
·      Deadlifts.  4 sets of 8 reps
·      Wide-grip Dips alternated w/ Wide-grip Chins.  2 sets of 20 reps (each exercise)
·      Barbell Curls alternated w/ Pullover and Presses.  2 sets of 20 reps
·      Incline Sit-ups.  3 sets of 30 reps

Light Day

·      Olympic-style Pause Squats.  3 sets of 12 reps
·      Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses.  3 sets of 12 reps (each arm
·      Rounded Back Good Mornings.  3 sets of 12 reps
·      Crunches.  3 sets of 60 reps

Medium Day

·      Bottom-position Squats.  3 sets of 12 reps
·      Dips.  4 sets of maximum number of reps using bodyweight only
·      Deadlifts Off a Box.  3 sets of 12 reps
·      Reverse-grip Chins.  3 sets of maximum number of reps using bodyweight only
·      Close-Grip Bench Presses.  3 sets of 12 reps
·      Hanging Leg Raises.  3 sets of 20 reps
Weight Progression
     One of the most important—yet often neglected—components of strength training is weight progression.  The kind of weight progression you utilize should be based on your goals, your body type, and the number of repetitions being used on an exercise.
     When beginners start on a heavy/light/medium, 5 sets of 5 reps program, for instance, one of the first things they need to understand is how to progress in weight over the course of the 5 sets.  For most lifters, the 5 sets should be evenly spaced apart as far as weight goes.  The 4th set, however, is often the “tricky” set for lifters.  A lot of lifters—myself included—like to take a 4th set that is very close in weight to what will be used on the 5th set.  For instance, when I do this it actually makes my 5th set stronger.
     Using squats as an example, here is what 5 sets of 5 would look like for myself: 135 for 5 reps, 225 for 5 reps, 315 for 5 reps, 405 for 5 reps, 425 for 5 reps.  To be honest, I would actually use more than 5 sets on this exercise.  The amount of weight that I use—and my age—entails that I do so.  Otherwise, I would be risking injury.  Here is an even more “realistic” version of what my squat would look like if I were using 5 rep sets: 135 for 5 reps, 225 for 5 reps, 275 for 5 reps, 315 for 5 reps, 365 for 5 reps, 405 for 5 reps, and (finally) 425 for 5 reps.
     Other lifters, who are just as strong as I am, prefer to take a 4th set that is not so close to their 5-rep maximum.  Assuming one of these lifters was using 5 sets of 5 reps, this is what his (her) weight progression might look like: 135 for 5 reps, 225 for 5 reps, 315 for 5 reps, 350 for 5 reps, 425 for 5 reps.
     Another factor here is the number of reps that are going to be utilized.  Generally speaking, the higher the number of reps in a set, the fewer sets that need to be performed.  Let’s assume that a program calls for sets of 10 reps in the squat (we’ll stick with squats as our example exercise here).  The number of sets for 10 reps will depend on the level of strength-fitness of the lifter.  Generally speaking, for sets of 10 to 12 reps, there is no need for more than 3 or 4 sets.  Possibly more for advanced lifters who are both well-conditioned and have a high level of endurance-strength.  And it would possibly be less for rank beginners who reach their 10-rep maximum on the second set.
     If I was doing sets of 10 reps in the squat, my progression would look something like this: 135 for 10 reps, 185 for 10 reps, 225 for 10 reps, and 275 for 10 reps.  Obviously, this is a pretty good squat session, even though only 4 sets are involved.
     Okay, now let’s say that I am going to do sets of 3 reps for my squats.  Here, my weight progression would be different.  For one, not only would I be using a lot more sets, I would also begin with a few sets of 5 in order to warm up properly.  Here is an example of my weight progression for 3s: 135 for 5 reps, 225 for 5 reps, 275 for 5 reps, 315 for 3 reps, 405 for 3 reps, 450 for 3 reps, 465 for 3 reps, 495 for 3 reps.
     Now, keep in mind that not all of the programs incorporate progressively heavier sets as in our examples above.  Several of the programs entail “straight” sets where you use the same weight on all of your “work” sets.
     Let’s say that I am going to use a squat workout that requires 5 sets of 5 reps using the same weight on all sets.  Here is what my hypothetical weight progression would look like: 135 for 5 reps, 225 for 5 reps, 275 for 5 reps, 315 for 5 sets of 5 reps.
Workload
     Another component that you need to have an understanding of (and keep up with until you grasp its concept) is “workload.”  When a program in this series—or on this blog—calls for 3 days-a-week of heavy/light/medium workouts, what makes a workout “light” or “heavy” is its workload; workload being amount of weight lifted times number of sets times number of reps.
     I have had lifters write me or talk to me requesting that I outline a program for them.  (If you’ve made it this far in this series, you’ll probably never have to do this.)  If they’re at the beginner or intermediate level with regards to their goal (strength, muscle growth, or a combination of both), then I always have them perform a heavy/light/medium, full-body workout.  Invariably, several of these lifters will call me or write back wondering why they are not making enough progress.  When I have them write down what they’re doing in order to assess the problem (even though I’ve already guessed what the problem is), they’re usually surprised to hear that they’re simply doing too much work on their light and medium days.  The extra work is usually because they don’t feel as if they’ve had enough of a “workout” on the light days, so they do a bunch of sets of curls or push-ups, or chins, or, well, you name it.  Because they’re doing these assistance lifts with such light weights, they assume it makes them perfect for the “light” training day.  But when we look at their total workload throughout the week, it’s clear that their “light” day is actually heavier (more total workload) than their “heavy” day.  While training with such workload is fine for a week or two—in fact, I require it from some lifters I work with—it can lead to overtraining if done persistently over the course of several weeks.
     Let’s take a look at two of the hypothetical squat workouts I used in our “weight progression” discussion to further understand just how workload affects your training.  If you look at the workout I used for 10 rep sets of squats (135 for 10 reps, 185 for 10 reps, 225 for 10 reps, and 275 for 10 reps) and the workout I used for 3 rep sets of squats (135 for 5 reps, 225 for 5 reps, 275 for 5 reps, 315 for 3 reps, 405 for 3 reps, 450 for 3 reps, 465 for 3 reps, 495 for 3 reps), you would probably assume that the 3-rep workout was the “heavier” session, using more total workload.  But is this the case?  Well, actually, it is, but not by much.  Despite the fact that much heavier weights were used and twice as many sets, the workload for the 3-rep workout is 9,565 pounds, and the workload for the 10-rep workout is 8,200 pounds.  If I had performed 5 sets of 10 reps instead of just 4 sets of 10 reps, then the 10-rep workout would actually have been heavier.
     In case you haven’t already figured it out, this is also what makes “straight sets” so particularly demanding on your muscles and your nervous system.  Sticking with the squats and using my straight-set “5 sets of 5 workout” above (135 for 5 reps, 225 for 5 reps, 275 for 5 reps, 315 for 5 sets of 5 reps), the total workload for that workout is 11,000 pounds, more than either of the previous squat workouts.
     One more thing about workload: As you get more advanced, your total workload should consistently go up.  The more workload you can tolerate (up to a point, obviously), then the bigger and stronger you’re going to be.

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