Thursday, May 9, 2013

Bulk Building Brutality

 Bulk-Building Brutality
H.I.T. Training Using the Big 5 System

Mike Mentzer, the most well-known H.I.T. proponent
     I'll admit it: I’m not a big fan of high-intensity training.[1]  While a few people are neutral on the subject, most people either love or loathe high-intensity training principles.  I have, for the most part, been in the “loathe” category.  However, I do think it has its place, and I also think it’s been effective for a lot of lifters—when used properly, at least.
     In the past, I have been critical of it for several reasons:  I think it breeds laziness.  I think that it doesn’t allow the lifter to build enough power and strength when performed for high repetitions.  I don’t think that it’s effective at increasing work capacity.  I think it’s for “whiners” and “complainers” who claim to be “hard-gainers”, but who in fact want an excuse to not train frequently.  (The “hardgainer” is one of those categories of lifters and bodybuilders that you hear a lot about, but you never actually see, and you never actually meet one.  In this case, I think it was Dan John who said that they are “sort of like Bigfoot”—not an exact quote.  When a lifter tells me that he’s a “hardgainer”, all I have to do is take a look at his training and his diet to see where the problem lies: he doesn’t eat enough, he doesn’t train frequently enough, and he sure as hell doesn’t train heavy enough.)  Oh, and did I mention that I think it breeds laziness?
Kevin Tolbert - adopted son of Ken Leistner
     But then I got to thinking: what if a balls-to-the-wall, hardcore powerlifter, bodybuilder, or strength athlete decided that he had to use H.I.T.[2]?  What if I had to use H.I.T. when training myself or my lifters?  What would H.I.T. look like if designed by lifters or coaches who actually knew how to train?  The answer is that I think it would look a lot like the training routines presented here.
     First things first: These principles—and the programs that follow—are for people who want to gain a lot of muscle, and muscle is their primary goal, not necessarily strength.  This training is also for guys—gals, too, I suppose—who do want to be really strong, not just big.  However, this is not for guys whose main focus is just to get stronger.  Pure strength—the kind craved by elite powerlifters and Olympic lifters—will never be acquired through H.I.T.  Having said that, you definitely can get really big and really strong while following these workouts, and ones similar—in fact, this training will give you a good combination of both size and strength.
     Here are the “rules”, if you will, of my Brutal Bulk Building program:
  1. Train with full-body workouts.  This doesn’t mean that you need to train your entire body in one session, but it does mean that you need to do at least one upper body exercise, one lower body exercise, and one total body exercise in the same workout.
  2. Focus on power.  One of the things that I always disdained about typical H.I.T. training was its constant use of slow and controlled repetitions.  These things have their place on occasion, but the majority of the reps should be performed by moving the weight as fast as possible.
  3. Begin each workout with a pure strength movement, working up to one maximum set of 5, 3, 2, or 1 repetition(s).  I know that this is technically not H.I.T., but I think that it’s good for a couple of reasons that make the rest of the workout really “click” (for lack of a better word).  This exercise allows you to increase your workload without adding extra H.I.T. sets, and it “enhances” your nervous system, thus making the rest of the workout more effective.
  4. “Wave” your training frequency.  H.I.T. is hard on your recovery system.   This doesn’t mean that you need to always wait until you are “fully recovered” before training again, but it does mean that if you consistently do so, you will start to lose strength and power.  To counteract this, you want to train 4 or 3 days per week for a few weeks, and then have a “down” week where you only perform 2 weekly sessions.
  5. And last but certainly not least: Incorporate my “Big 5” system[3] throughout the training session and the weeks of training.
     After reading over the rules, you may be thinking, “Okay, but what the hell does that actually look like during a workout?”  Here are some example workouts using these principles.  Keep in mind that these are just examples.  Ultimately, you always need to find what’s best for you, and you also need to adjust workload based on your work capacity.
Workout One: Basic Total Body Session
  1. Squats: Work up over progressively heavier 3s until you reach a max triple.  (This is your only “neural-enhancing” power movement of the workout.)
  2. Clean and Presses: 1 to 2 “work” sets of 10 reps to failure.  Be sure and warm up with 3 to 4 progressively heavier sets before attempting your work sets.
  3. Rest-Pause Deadlifts: 1 set of 20 reps (after 1 or 2 warm-up sets).  For these, pick a weight where you would typically reach failure around the 10th rep.  When you are doing the set and approaching failure, rest and pause your set for 20 to 30 seconds before continuing.  Do not stop until you reach the 20th rep.
  4. Sled Drags: 2 sets for distance.  Each set should be “all out.”
Workout Two: Basic Total Body Session
  1. Deadlifts: Work up over progressively heavier 3s until you reach a max triple.
  2. Incline Barbell Bench Presses: 2 “work” sets of 5 reps to failure. Be sure and warm up with 3 to 4 progressively heavier sets before attempting your work sets.
  3. Chins: 3 “work” sets to failure.
  4. Farmer’s Walks: 2 “all out” sets for distance.
  5. Rest-Pause Power Snatches: 1 set of 30 reps.   Use a similar approach as with the rest-pause deadlifts from the first workout.
Workout Three: Example Chest-Specialization Program
     Occasionally, you may want to “specialize” on a certain bodypart during a session in order to bring it up to par with the rest of your physique, or in order to “shock” it into new growth.  Here is an example “chest specialization” workout, but this technique applies to all other bodyparts, too.
  1. Squats: Work up over progressively heavier 2s until you reach a max double.
  2. Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses: Work up over progressively heavier 5s until you reach a max set of 5 reps.
  3. Incline Barbell Bench Presses: 2 “work” sets of 10 to 12 reps.
  4. Wide-Grip Dips: 2 “work” sets of 10 to 12 reps.
  5. Rest-Pause Power Cleans: 1 set of 20 reps.
  6. Walking Lunges: 1 “work” set of 20 to 30 reps to failure.
     Begin by training 3 days per week.  Do this until you start to feel as if you’re having a hard time recovering from your workout.  At this point—probably every 2 to 3 weeks—reduce your training volume to twice per week for a week or two.
     Be sure that you don’t neglect the “5th pillar” of the Big 5 Program; after all, you need to eat big to get big.

[1] This article works under the proposition that the reader already understands high-intensity training.  If you are not familiar with high-intensity training—commonly referred to as H.I.T.—it’s a “system” of training where you perform only a few exercises, train to the point of momentary muscular failure on each exercise, and train infrequently.  If you are not familiar with H.I.T., search my site for older posts.  You should find enough information.
[2] Before I get questioned on the subject, the truth is that I do think there have been occasional lifters—typically bodybuilders—who did fit into this category of “serious” H.I.T. athletes.  There was a very good powerlifter who trained in the mid ‘90s that comes to mind—but his name eludes me.   There’s Dr. Ken Leistner and his son in particular.  And, of course, there is young Mike and Ray Mentzer.  For more on where Mentzer’s training went Ayn Rand-crazy and derailed, see my previous post entitled “Real High Intensity Training.”
[3] There’s no reason to mention details of the “Big 5.”  If you aren’t familiar with it, read my previous post entitled “Mass Made Easy” or my earlier post entitled “The Big 5 Program.”

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