Monday, November 17, 2014

Journal of Strength: Training the Ageless Athlete (aka: High-Frequency, High-Volume Lifting)

Journal of Strength
Monday, November 17, 2014

     Today I did something that—to some lifters, at least—might seem rather odd.  I performed a full-body workout of whatever I felt like doing, for relatively moderate to high reps.  I had no idea what I was going to do, with the lone exception of the first exercise, until I actually started training.
     This might seem even more odd for those of you who read this blog regularly, which includes me often praising—rather highly, I might add—the benefits of high-frequency training for multiple sets of low reps.
     And here’s the thing: I actually think the kind of workout I did today can be highly effective, for a certain segment of the lifting population, at least.
     First, a little backtracking is in order.
     Last week I mentioned that I have been training using a regular program of high-set singles for the past few weeks.  I also mentioned in a previous post that I have been having some pain and numbness in my left hand and arm from a pinched nerve in my neck.  Well, the last few days—in addition to being sick—the pain in my arm and neck had increased dramatically, so I knew that it was time for a change[1].
     I decided for the next several weeks I would perform a high-frequency, high-volume, low-intensity training program where I will train my entire body every day at each training session.  I will work out 5 to 6 days each week, basically just taking a day off whenever I feel as if I need it.
     I first discovered how beneficial this program could be about 8 years ago from the strength-training guru—and my mentor, though I have never met him—Bill Starr.  At the time, I was coming off of neck surgery for a couple of herniated disks.  It was almost six months after the surgery before I could train, and when I did train, I couldn’t resume my ultra-heavy training that I had done for the decade previously.  (Now, let me add that, unfortunately, I attempted some very heavy training at first, which only resulted in unnecessary injuries, because I trained too heavy, too quickly.)  I was familiar with Starr’s theories on training for the older athlete, which basically involves full-body workouts performed 5 to 6 days each week for fairly high reps, and, so, I thought I would give it a shot.  Although not “old” by any stretch of the imagination, my body needed the break until I could recover more fully.  (I must add that during this time I first started experimenting with bodyweight-only training during some sessions, as well, and found that it could be quite effective.)
     I was surprised with the results I was getting at the time, and it cemented my belief that high-frequency training was the most effective all-around way to train, but that it didn’t have to necessarily be performed for multiple sets of high-reps.   It could, in fact, work well with both high-volume and high-frequency.
     I must caution something here: this training is probably best done by those who have trained for many years, and have a keen understanding of how training affects their bodies.  This is one reason that this kind of training works well for the older athlete—the older athlete understands his body very well.
     The fact is that it’s simply harder for novice or intermediate lifters—or even some advanced lifters—to train using high-volume and high-frequency.  High-frequency, high-intensity programs (with low volume) and high-volume, high-intensity programs (with low frequency) are simply much easier for the average lifter to understand/control.
     I will perform this new program for the next 4 to 6 weeks, at which time I will go back to heavier training—assuming the pain I’m having abates.  I am also fully aware that, at some point, I will need to perform this kind of training for the remainder of my life—which may not be for another 10 or even 20 years down the road—because this is the best form of lifting for the older athlete.  It’s great for focusing on the muscles without overloading the joints, tendons, and ligaments.
     Tonight, here’s the workout I ended up performing:
  • Deadlifts: 4 sets of 20 to 30 reps with 135 pounds
  • Bench Presses: 1 set of 50 reps with 110 pounds (warm-up)
  • Dumbbell Bench Presses: 3 sets of 20 to 25 reps with 50 pounds
  • Dumbbell Pullovers: 3 sets of 15 reps with 40 pounds
  • Dumbbell Shrugs (seated): 3 sets of 20 reps with 50 pounds
  • Barbell Curls: 3 sets of 20 reps with 55 pounds
  • 2 sets of Hanging Leg Raises for 10 reps
     One of the keys is to not feel overly tired at the end of each session.  This will allow you to train with the frequency you need.  You may (or perhaps should) be a little sore the day following each workout, but it should be slight.
     The workout I did may not seem as if it was much[2], but the key is to string a lot of workouts such as this one back-to-back-to-back.  Tomorrow I will probably perform something along the lines of lunges, overhead presses, dips, forearm curls, and calf raises.  The day after that it may be squats, chins, dumbbell rows, pullovers and presses, and push-ups.
     When I feel tired, I’ll take the day off.
     And when I feel like pushing it “balls-to-the-wall”, I’ll do that, too.
     You get the drift.  Doing this consistently, day-after-day, not missing a workout, can add up to some nice gains in the course of a couple of months.
     Now, about that doing whatever you feel like thing: for guys such as myself who have been training for 20-plus years (and have spent much of that time doing full-body workouts), this kind of training is ideal.  I know my body.  It tells me what I should—and shouldn’t—do during training.  I know when to back-off, and I know when to push it harder.  I know when I can do 5 sets of high-rep deadlifts, and when I should only do 1 set, but this isn’t for everyone.  Most of you need to be on a specific program, knowing exactly what exercises you will do on each training day.

[1] Also, the Nativity Fast has just begun for us “Eastern Christians”, which means that, until Christmas, I will primarily subside on a vegan diet of relatively low calories.  This will necessitate some lighter training, as well.
[2] For some lifters—those of you who I have referred to in the past as “low-volume lifters”—this may actually be too much.  My ex-training partner—and dear ol’ friend—Puddin’ (search for past blog posts if you would like to read some exploits) would do just fine, for instance, with about half of this volume.  In fact, I have a feeling that he would gain muscle rapidly.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Lifter's Bushido

     While reading Nick Horton’s good blog “The Iron Samurai” the other day[1], I came across this quote by the samurai Yamaoku Tesshu: “In order to learn about the Way, forget about self and awaken to the truth… Exerting self is a mistake… We should not say “myself” — in truth there is no such thing… When there is no thought of self, true Bushido develops.”
the samurai, and Zen master, Yamaoku Tesshu

     The essence of Bushido is summed up in the last sentence.
     When there is no thought of self, true Bushido develops.
     Bushido—for those of you who are unaware—is often translated as “the way of the warrior” or, a more literal definition, “the samurai’s way.”  It is the way of one who practices Budo.  (Budo means “martial path”.)
     I have often thought of lifting as a form of Budo, and my gym as the dojo.  (This is one reason that I enjoy lifting at home, in my garage dungeon gym.  It is not commercial, and, therefore, becomes more of a dojo than anything commercialized.  The furthest thing from a dojo, for instance, would be Planet Fitness.)
     Lifting as Budo becomes even more true when performing only one or two exercises at each workout for multiple sets each.  A lot of lifters who train in both martial arts and Olympic lifting understand this the best—martial arts training (particularly the Japanese martial arts, which I’m partial to) and Olympic lifting allow one to lose thought of self—what my sensei would refer to as “mushin”—and, thus, attain true Bushido.
     I don’t think this can really be explained adequately in a blog post—or in any writing, for that matter—so I’m not going to even try to do so.  As my sensei was also fond of saying throughout the course of a training session: “Fight without fighting and think without thinking.”  He never attempted to explain this to anyone.  If you didn’t “get it”, or if it didn’t dawn on you at some point during your Budo practice, I doubt he thought there would be much point.
     The only way for any of us to develop true Bushido, and experience this directly, is to train.  Training is the path.  The path is the goal.
     When there is no thought of self, true Bushido develops.

[1] I read his blog once every two weeks or so—I would read it more but, to be honest, I’m afraid I simply don’t peruse the internet enough, which I think is a better trade-off than perusing it too damn much

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Journal of Strength: Benefits of High-Set Singles

Journal of Strength
Wednesday, November 12, 2014

     My current workout program is a bit haphazard.  But it’s also enjoyable and effective for my current goals.
     It’s haphazard in the fact that I pretty much do whatever I feel like on whatever days I feel like training.  Of course, to be honest, that’s not entirely the case, but it’s close to it.  There is some structure—I always begin each workout with high-set singles of one exercise.  I rotate between a few different exercises.  Deadlifts, power cleans, power snatches, full snatches, clean and presses, or one-arm dumbbell presses are the typical exercises, although occasionally I will do flat bench presses or squats.  Also, I sometimes do two exercises for high-set singles instead of just one, and I always finish the workout with two or three additional exercises of whatever I feel as if I should do, for two or three sets each of whatever rep range I feel like doing.
     There is structure, true.  But there’s also chaos—or what seems to be chaos to someone who witnesses my training on a regular basis.  Truth be told, there’s really nothing too chaotic about it, for the structure of the high-set singles—the single-pointedness of such a technique—leads, often, to something akin to flow states, and, so, what seems as if it’s nothing more than chaos is really the flow of what my auto-regulated body-mind knows that it should be doing.
     (Typically, I would write this journal entry immediately after training, when the training is fresh on my mind, but I’m rather tired this afternoon, and may be that much more tired once my evening’s session is finished, and I’ve consumed my fair share of grilled salmon and red wine—a pinot, perhaps, or maybe several glasses of a cabernet sauvignon.  So, be that as it may, this entry comes before the actual workout.  But I digress…)
     Tonight I will be doing one-arm dumbbell overhead presses for 15 to 20 sets of 1 repetition—at least, that’s the plan.  And since I haven’t done this workout yet, I have no way of knowing exactly what my auxiliary movements will be, although I suspect something along the line of chins, bench presses of one sort or another, a curl of some sort, and maybe some thick-bar dumbbell deadlifts.
     Last night I did power cleans with a relatively light weight—only 205 pounds—for 10 singles, and then I followed this with some Bulgarian split squats for 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps (each leg), some walking lunges, and some dips.
     My weight was light because I currently have a herniated disk which is pinching a nerve, and causing some pain and numbness in my right arm.  Eight or nine years ago, I had surgery to repair two herniated disks in my neck, and I don’t really want to repeat that, which brings me around to the subject of this entry: the benefits of performing high-set singles.  (My herniated disk is also one reason that good ol’ barbell squats are not on my list of “regular” high-set single exercises.  For everyone else reading this thing, they should be on your list.)
     I enjoy workouts of high-set singles, and I have for some time.   I also think they are, hands down, one of the most effective ways to train (along with high-set doubles and triples, to be fair).
     One of the greatest benefits is that they allow you to get a relatively high amount of work done in a short period of time—without suffering form degradation.  In my workout last night, I was able to perform all 10 singles in less than 10 minutes, and every rep was fast and explosive.
     When performed with heavy weight—90-95% of your one-rep maximum—this becomes even more evident.  For instance, my current max in the deadlift is probably around 500 pounds (I have not done these very heavy lately, due to the pinched nerve, so I’m not entirely sure.)  If I was to put 450 pounds on the bar—90% of my max—and perform 2 or 3 rep sets, I would not be able to do many.  Fatigue would set in fairly fast.  If, however, I elected to perform multiple singles, I would be able to get 8 to 10 reps in without too much of a drop in speed and power with each ensuing set.
     But even when not performed with heavy weights, the workouts are still effective.  This is especially true when doing the various quick lifts.  Cleans and snatches in all of their varieties should not be done for sets of high reps, no matter how many times Crossfit “lifters” do such a thing.  Form degradation quickly breaks down when you exceed 3 reps per set on these lifts.
     But I don’t think it’s just the quick lifts that multiple sets of singles (or low reps) should apply to—I also like them (obviously) with bench presses, squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses.  When you are only doing 1 rep on all of these exercises, technique remains perfect and speed and power quickly escalate over only a few weeks of training.
     When I was teaching martial arts, I never let any of my students perform more than 5 consecutive repetitions of a single movement before taking a short (albeit, sometimes a very short) break.  After a few reps, speed and power are reduced, and form breaks down—even though it’s only slight in advanced practitioners, I’ll admit—this despite the fact that most people would be able to continue with hundreds of reps of each movement if they so chose to.  Obviously, the load is very low when punching air, but form breakdown occurs nonetheless.
     Here’s the thing: when practicing karate-do this way, I would still do hundreds upon hundreds of punches and kicks in each session, just not consecutively.  If I had tried to do them consecutively, then I simply wouldn’t have been able to do enough in each workout compared to doing them non-consecutively.
     Do less early so that you can do more later.
     That’s another benefit.  High-set singles—and their siblings: multiple sets of doubles and multiple sets of triples—allow you to do a lot of work in each session.  If you don’t believe me, then load your bench press barbell with 80% of your one-rep maximum and see how many sets of 5 to 6 reps you can do.  At the session after that one, load it with 80% of your max and see how many singles you can perform—you might be a little surprised when you crank out 50 singles, whereas I doubt you could manage 10 sets of 5 reps[1].
     Another benefit—and this is one my favorite—is that you can recover quicker from high-set singles than you can with sets of multiple reps.  And the quicker you can recover, the quicker you can train again.  And the more you can train, the faster are your gains going to be.
     If you want to get really strong on just a couple of lifts—the power clean and the bench press, for instance—then perform those exercises almost daily for high-set singles.   You may be shocked just how quickly you get really strong.
     But you don’t have to only pick a couple of exercises.  You can certainly do as I’m currently doing and have a lot of exercises at your disposal.  You could even do just one lift per-day using this technique, and train each lift only once-per-week, without adding any auxiliary movements.  Here is what 5 days of training may look like:
Monday: Squats
Tuesday: Power Cleans
Wednesday: Bench Presses
Thursday: Power Snatches
Friday: Deadlifts
Saturday and Sunday: Rest a lot.  Eat a lot.
Next week: Repeat

[1] This is especially true if you’re a power athlete who is “built” for power, for lack of a better word.  If you’re one of those lifters who finds that you can only get about 5 to 6 reps with 80% of your one-rep max before reaching momentary muscular failure, then there’s no way you would be able to manage 10 sets of 5 reps.  This is not entirely true for those of you who have more “endurance” fibers, and can manage to crank out 10 reps—or more—with 80% of your max.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Journal of Strength: Teenage Muscle-Building

     As of late, I have—for multitudinous reasons—found it hard to write very much.  (Please forgive me, in fact, if I have yet to respond to anyone’s email questions—I will as soon as possible.)  Not that writing itself, per se, is hard.  Once I sit down to my computer, open up Word, or once I sit down on my couch, notebook in hand, I find writing to be—while not the easiest thing—not much of a chore.  No, I have been busy with so many other things that, unfortunately, I just haven’t found the time to write much on my blog.  And when I have found the time, I have attempted to work on some articles, or some other stuff that actually makes me money writing—or, at least, has the potential to make money.
     Despite my inability to write as much as I need to, I would really like to write on this blog more, despite the fact that I don’t know if I always have something very important to write about.  (Most of my writing here, in fact, is very much the same stuff said different ways, but, I suppose, that’s how it is with most muscle magazines, power training articles, and the like.)
     Until now, I had not found a solution out of my dilemma—my dilemma being how in the world do I post multiple writings each week, as opposed to a few times a month, or maybe just once every month or two?
     The solution is what you are currently reading: a “journal” of sorts, where I will write my various thoughts for the day involving workout principles, diet strategies, or—when the mood strikes me—musings of a more philosophical bent.
     My goal is write a couple “journals” each week, along with my usual stuff.  I hope you will find the result at least somewhat interesting.
Journal of Strength
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
     On Tuesdays and Thursdays, my sons walk over to my house from their high school, and we (of course) lift.  (They stay with me on the weekends, and we train every Saturday, and Sunday, as well.)
     My youngest, Garrett, who is 14, wants to compete in a powerlifting meet soon.  He’s small—only weighs 105 lbs—but he bench presses 165 lbs.  Not shabby.  He alternates between days when he squats, days when he deadlifts, and days when he just bench presses.  His goal is to be as strong as possible for his bodyweight, and so far the workouts are paying off.
     Typically, when training someone Garrett’s age, I wouldn’t allow him or her to train with such a “split” routine unless the sole goal is strength, so this kind of workout is fine for Garrett.  It would also be fine for any teenagers who need strength—but not necessarily more muscle mass—in their chosen sport.  An example would be a teenager who wrestles or competes in martial arts.
     My oldest son, Matthew, 15, simply wants to be as big as humanly possible for a teenager his age.  I would, in fact, say that he’s a bit obsessed with it.  Here’s his current program:
Saturday: Upper body “density” day
Sunday: Lower body “density” day
Tuesday: Full body “high rep” day
Thursday: Full body “maximal strength” day
     The two density days are performed with multiple exercises, using multiple sets of low to moderate reps.  The goal is to get as many reps as possible in a relatively short period of time with relatively heavy—or at least moderate—weights.  Typically, for instance, Matthew begins Saturday’s workouts with chins, performing multiple sets of 3 reps with very little rest between sets.  He usually gets 20 to 30 reps done in ten to fifteen minutes.  He then follows—hypothetically; the exercises change—with something such as bench presses, overhead presses, power cleans, power snatches, and curls.
     Sundays it’s more of the same for the lower body.
     Tuesday is a full-body workout using such things as squats, benches, overheads, lunges, curls, farmer’s walks, and sled drags.  The sets are about 3 to 4 per exercise with relatively high reps in the 15 to 25 rep range.
     “Maximal strength” Thursday means that he will pick two—maybe three— exercises and work up to a heavy set of 5 reps (typically).  Bench presses and deadlifts are good choices, as are overhead presses and squats.

     This program, by the way, is a sound way for any teenager to train—so long as he or she has cut their teeth on full-body workouts.  Matthew, for instance, put in his share of full-body workouts centered on nothing but squats, bench presses, and (either) deadlits or heavy overhead presses for a long time before he switched over to this workout.  (And, I must admit, I let him perform an even more “bodybuilding-friendly” program before this one.)
     The program is, for the most part, still centered on full-body workouts—a “must” for teenage lifters—but, because the weekends are “split” workouts, it also allows the teenage lifter to do stuff that I might not always be that fond of—such as lots and lots of dumbbell curls—but that most teenage boys seem to love.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Old School Muscle

     The following article is a combination of a couple of different articles I wrote for some different magazines, and a few brief posts that I've written on this blog in years' past.  I hope you enjoy the outcome—and find that it offers some valuable insight, AND a kick-ass training program for packing on the mass!

Old School Muscle
Training Strategies of the Classic Bodybuilders

     Most bodybuilders today think that newer is always better; doesn’t matter if it’s the latest pill, protein powder, diet, or workout program.  Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not always the case.  I think it’s time some of the old-school training strategies once again saw the light of day.  In fact, I think if you combine many of the ideas of the “old-timers” with today’s state-of-the-art supplements, the results could be amazing.
     In the following article, I’m going to outline many of the best strategies the old-time bodybuilders had for building slabs of muscle mass—and then I’ll outline a sample program using these strategies.  It’s time for an old-school resurrection.

Enter Old School

     The following training regimen is based on principles that a majority of old-time bodybuilders adhered to.  Before we get to the nuts-and-bolts of the program, let’s look at a few of these principles.
Principle #1—Don't go by the mirror, go by the weight on the bar.
     One of the major mistakes current bodybuilders make is to assess their progress based on the results they see in the mirror.  A lot of this has to do with the way they lift.  When you train for the pump, you often go by feel, and never make many strides toward increasing the weight that is used.
      There are a lot of problems with going by "feel" or "looks."  Often, your memory lies to you.  You think you look better than you did three months ago when, actually, there isn't any change (or you look worse).
     While bodybuilders of the past enjoyed the benefits and the feeling from getting a good pump—they often called it “chasing the pump”—they worried more about increasing their strength.  It's the reason they used methods like 5 sets of 5 (a favorite of Reg Park's), 5 sets of 5/4/3/2/1, and heavy singles.  With these techniques, the emphasis is on performance, though the looks will soon follow.
Principle #2—Train through the soreness.
     I know this method's going to be a bit controversial, given all the emphasis in muscle magazines the past two decades or so on giving your muscles enough time to "recuperate" and "repair" (although I do think the pendulum is beginning to swing the other way).  Let me explain, and maybe I'll have a few converts (especially once you put the method to proper use).
     I think it's mistakenly believed that bodybuilders of the past trained so frequently (usually 3x weekly for each bodypart) because they simply didn't know any better.  But if you were to ask the great Bill Pearl if he would change the way he used to train considering all the new "knowledge" about recovery, he would flatly tell you, "no."
     One of the reasons bodybuilders who train each bodypart once-per-week get so sore is because, well, they train everything once-per-week.  This never allows you to increase your rate of recovery, because the demands are never placed on your body to do so.  Sure, if you start training everything two, or even three, times a week you're going to be sore, but after a couple of weeks the soreness will subside.  Then, look out, because it's growth time.
Principle #3—Train long, not hard.
     A favorite quote of Arthur Jones goes something like this: "You can either train long, or you can train hard, but you can't do both."  And everyone seems to immediately assume that the answer is to train hard.  Not many consider that training long might be the better option.  Bodybuilders from the past, however, understood this well.  It's the reason Bill Pearl always advised taking sets about two reps short of failure.  This allows one to perform more sets.
     This training long option doesn't necessarily have to apply to the length of the workout.  It applies more to the duration spent on an exercise.  For instance, what do you believe is the better sets/reps method for the squat?  Three sets of ten reps or ten sets of three?  Three sets of ten is definitely the "hard" method, even though both schemes involve the same total workload.  And if you were to ask this question in the gyms of today, you would undoubtedly get the answer that three sets of ten is the best.  Any lifter who trains with me, however, would immediately know my answer.  Ten sets of three is the better method.  Though both involve the same workload, only the ten sets method allows for maximum force to be applied on every rep.  It also ensures that all reps are performed with perfect form, and none are taken to failure.
     Principle #4—Perform only one or two exercises per bodypart.
     When Reg Park was in preparation for a bodybuilding contest, he would always perform multiple exercises-per-bodypart (sometimes as many as eight), but he didn’t train this way in the off-season.  He was adamant about using only one to two exercises-per-bodypart, as were the vast majority of other lifters from his era (and before).
     There are several benefits to the multiple sets of one exercise approach.  One, it allows you to get really strong on your core exercises: benches, squats, deadlifts, curls, overhead presses, etc.  And remember, you are worried about the weight on the bar.  Performing multiple sets on bench presses, for example, allows you to improve your synaptic facilitation on the lift, or what Russian strength coaches would call "greasing your groove."  Basically, the more you perform the exercise, the better (and, therefore, stronger) you get at it.
     Another benefit is it allows you to really focus on the bodypart you're training.  I can't tell you how many times when I was performing the multiple exercises method that I lost focus (and pump, strength, etc.) when, after a couple of sets on my first exercise, I moved to something else.
     Vince Gironda called one-exercise-per-bodypart training the "honest workout."  Why?  Because he knew it worked like no other.
The Old School Mass from the Past 5x5 Program
     The following is a program for almost 4 months of training.  Don’t be fooled by its simplicity when you first look at it.  And make sure that you move through it progressively by following each phase.
Phase One
     Perform the following workout for 4 weeks.  The weights lifted do not include warm-ups.  Be sure that you perform 2 to 3 warm-up sets on each exercise before proceeding to your work sets.  Make sure that you train on 3 non-consecutive days per week.
Day One:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work of your choice
Day Two:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Chins: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Three:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Power Cleans: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
     Rest 2 to 3 minutes between work sets.  After you have finished 4 weeks of training, perform a “down week” where you perform the same workout, but you cut your weights used in half.
Phase Two
     This phase will also last four weeks.  The first week, your body may have to adjust to the increased workload, so there’s a possibility that you will still be sore on days 2 and 3.  That’s okay—train through the soreness.
Day One:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Weighted Dips: 5 sets of 5 reps
High Pulls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Two:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Seated Behind-the-Neck Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Three:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Chins: 5 sets of 5 reps
Power Cleans: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
     Rest 2 minutes between work sets.  Following 4 weeks of this workout, be sure to take another “down week.”  On this week, cut the weights and the number of exercises in half.
Phase Three
     Phase three is a killer.  It’s so tough that there’s no way you would be able to finish it unless you have first completed phase one and two.  With that in mind, perform the following phase for only 3 weeks before taking a “down” week.
Day One:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps
High Pulls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Two:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Weighted Dips: 5 sets of 5 reps
Power Cleans: 5 sets of 5 reps
Wide Grip Chins: 5 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
Day Three:
Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Front Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Bradford Presses: 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps
High Pulls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 5 reps
Abdominal work
     When you are done with this phase—and after you’ve taken your “down” week—you will probably want to try something different.  You could continue with full-body workouts, but start using the 5/4/3/2/1 method, or 5 sets of 3s or 2s.  Either of those methods can be productive.  Another option would be to perform some split workouts, but only split your body two ways, and follow the same principles.
     One final thing: Make sure that you get plenty of sleep and eat plenty of protein every day.  This program requires that you take your nutrition and recovery methods seriously.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

3 On/1 Off Redux

Three On/ One Off Redux
A New Twist on an Old Classic

     When I began lifting weights – sometime in the late ‘80s – there was really only one training split that most bodybuilders used: the three on, one off scheme.  For any of you unfamiliar with this split, it works like this: You split your body three ways, and then you train for three days straight before taking a day off.  After your day off, you begin the split over again.

     Most bodybuilders of that era trained legs on one day, and then split their upper body into two sessions; some lifters trained antagonistic bodyparts together on one day – chest and back, or biceps and triceps – while others would train all of their push muscles on one day – chest, shoulders, and triceps – and their pull muscles on the other day – back and biceps.
     But the three on, one off split eventually fell the way of the dinosaurs.  In the early ‘90s Dorian Yates entered the scene, bringing with him his “blood-and-guts” style of training.  This training consisted of minimum sets, heavy weights, ultra-intense sets (which might be an understatement), and plenty of rest between workouts.  It didn’t take long for other bodybuilders to follow suit.  Within a decade, almost all of your top bodybuilders were taking a week off between training each bodypart, and hardly ever training more than two days in a row without taking a day off.  The same, more or less, still holds true today.
     But I think there’s a lot of value to the three on, one off split.  It just needs a little tweaking.  Get ready for a 21st century three on, one off redux.
Principles of Three On/ One Off Mass Building
     First, let’s look at what I believe are the “keys” to rapid muscle growth if you are going to use this program.  This will allow you to understand why my version of the three on/one off program is designed the way it is.
     Key #1: Frequent Training – I know that this one is a bit controversial, considering all of the emphasis these days on giving your muscles enough time to “rest and recuperate.”  But you can’t argue with this: The more frequently you can train a muscle, the faster it will grow.  The secret is in training just enough to stimulate the muscle so that you can train it again a few days later (which is a real benefit of this training split).
     Key #2: Heavy, Multiple Set Training – One of the most effective forms of training that anyone can perform is “neural training”; in other words, using heavy loads for multiple sets.  These kind of workouts tend to produce “mass that lasts” more so than higher-repetition training.  What you must keep in mind with neural training, however, is that you can’t go overboard with maximal loads to near failure.  You must always leave something in the tank, so to speak, when incorporating this method.
     Key #3: Don’t Forget the High Reps – Neural training may be highly effective, but you don’t need to neglect the benefits of getting a good pump, which helps to build muscle via sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
     Key #4: Stay Away From Training That Induces Too Much Trauma on Your Muscles – The good thing about neural training (when not taken to failure) and high rep training (also when not taken to failure) is that you can recover from these sessions relatively fast.  The kind of training you don’t want to perform on a three on, one off program are maximal and even sub-maximal loads taken to the point of momentary muscular failure or beyond.

The Redux Training Program
     The following program involves two different phases.  Each “phase” lasts for three days.  After taking a day off, the second phase is performed.  This form of training is often called micro-periodization (as opposed to macro-periodization).  With micro-periodization, the training will fluctuate during a week of training, allowing you to train multiple aspects within a short period of time.
Phase One: Neural Training
     The first three days of training focus on using near maximal loads for multiple sets and low reps.  You should be able to recover from these workouts within 72 hours.  Keep in mind, however, that you may be sore at first, especially if you have never performed this kind of training. Don’t worry if this happens.  Train through the soreness and your body will adapt in no time.
Day One: Neural Leg Training
Squats – 10 sets of 3 reps.  After warming up with two to three warm-up sets, load the bar with a weight that would typically allow you 6 to 8 reps before reaching failure.  Use this weight for all 10 sets.
Donkey Calf Raises – 5 sets of 10 reps.  Calves tend to respond better to higher reps, hence the lack of neural training on this exercise.
Day Two: Neural Chest and Back Training
Incline Bench Presses – 8 sets of 3 reps.  After warming up with two to three warm-up sets, load the bar with a weight that would typically allow you 6 to 8 reps before reaching failure.  Use this weight for all 8 sets.
Wide Grip Chins – 8 sets of 3 reps
Day Three: Neural Shoulder and Arm Training
Standing Military Presses – 8 sets of 3 reps
Barbell Curls – 6 sets of 3 reps.  Once again, use a weight that would typically allow you 6 to 8 reps before reaching failure.  Perform less total sets, however, due to the indirect work your biceps received with all of the chins the day before.
Lying Triceps Extensions (a.k.a. skull crushers) – 6 sets of 3 reps.  As with the barbell curls, there is no need to perform more than 6 sets on this exercise.  Your triceps have already received plenty of stimuli from the military presses and the incline bench presses.
Day Four: Off
Phase Two: Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy
     The following sets should be taken a few reps shy of muscular failure.  None of the sets listed include warm-ups.  Perform at least one warm up set for each exercise.
Day Five: High Rep Leg Training
Hack Squats – 2 sets of 25 reps
Walking Lunges – 2 sets of 30 reps
Stiff Leg Deadlifts – 2 sets of 25 reps
Standing Calf Raises – 4 sets of 30 reps
Day Six: High Rep Chest and Back Training
Wide Grip Dips – 2 sets of 15 to 25 reps
Incline Dumbbell Flyes – 2 sets of 20 reps
Feet Elevated Push-ups – 2 sets of 20 reps
Wide Grip Pulldowns – 2 sets of 25 to 30 reps
Close Grip Pulldowns – 2 sets of 25 to 30 reps
Dumbbell Pullovers – 2 sets of 20 to 25 reps
Day Seven: High Rep Shoulder and Arm Training
Seated Dumbbell Presses – 2 sets of 20 to 30 reps
Dumbbell Lateral Raises – 2 sets of 20 to 30 reps
Dumbbell Curls – 2 sets of 20 reps (each arm)
Concentration Curls – 2 sets of 20 reps (each arm)
Lying Dumbbell Extensions – 2 sets of 20 to 30 reps
Bench Dips – 2 sets of 20 to 30 reps
Day Eight: Off
Closing Remarks
     This program is designed for building muscle mass, so make sure that you’re consuming plenty of calories every day.  As a starting point, consume at least 12 times your bodyweight in calories on a daily basis (although 15 would be even better).  And be sure to get plenty of protein.  Eat at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight daily.
     When not training, make sure you rest and relax as much as possible.  And I don’t just mean to sit around on your couch, watching television mindlessly.  That kind of behavior can actually be very “non-relaxing.”  Take a nap, practice a relaxation technique (such as meditation), and read a book.  Relax and grow.
     After two to three weeks on the above program, you may want to rotate to some new exercises.  Just make sure that the new exercises are as equally demanding as the originals.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

High-Volume "POF" Workouts

     Sorry for the long delay in posts.  I will try to make up for it this month by publishing numerous posts/articles.  Here's the first:

  For years—back when I was writing almost monthly for IronMan magazine—IM’s editor-in-chief, Steve Holman, penned many articles on his personal brand of high-intensity, briefer-is-better, training: something Holman called “positions-of-flexion” training, or just POF for short.
     Holman first revealed this “new” form of training sometime in the mid ‘90s.  I can’t remember the exact year, but I think it was sometime in ’94 or ’95, and it was highly touted by IM as a new “state-of-the-art” form of high-intensity training.  (IM took advantage, at the time, of the rising popularity HIT was experiencing, especially under the incarnation of it that Dorian Yates was espousing as the key to his Mr.O dominance.)
     POF was based on something that I thought—and still do think—to be fairly inventive.  Holman’s thought was that if you trained a muscle using only one (at least, it was usually just one) exercise for each “position-of-flexion” for that particular muscle—a midrange exercise, a stretch exercise, and a contracted exercise—then you could better enhance growth—not to mention achieve an out-of-this-world pump—with minimum sets.
     At the time, I experimented with some of the POF principles, but I never “test drove” the program exactly as it was written.  During those years, I was primarily training with a lot of volume, a lot of intensity, and a lot of rest between each workout for each muscle group.  While the POF strategy employed the second and third tactic that my training employed, it most decidedly did not employ the first.  Nonetheless, I thought, at the time, that it was good form of training, and I still do—with some minor adjustments.
     What follows is a high-volume approach to POF training that I still think is highly effective.
     First, however, let’s briefly (one again) outline the three variables of training, and how they should be properly manipulated in order to achieve muscle growth.  The three variables are volume, frequency, and intensity.  Two of the variables should be high, while the third variable should be low.  The exception is, however, if you decide to keep all three variables moderate.  A case in point, for instance, would be the classical three on/one off program used ad nauseam by bodybuilders in the ‘80s.  In this case, if you train with, say, a three-way split, and perform 9 sets for each muscle group—3 exercises for 3 sets each, for example—without training to the point of momentary muscular failure, then you are using a program that has a moderate amount of volume, a moderate amount of intensity, and a moderate amount of frequency.  (This isn’t my favorite form of training, but there is a reason that it worked for a lot of bodybuilders for quite a long time.)
     For the sake of discussion, the reason that Mentzerian HIT training sucks, and the reason that the original POF training will only work for so long, is because HIT keeps one variable high (intensity), while keeping the two other variables (volume and frequency) low.  This also, possibly, is one reason why Arthur Jones’s original variations of HIT were so successful.  Jones kept intensity high, volume low, but frequency relatively high by training each muscle group 3-days-per-week.  And one reason that Mentzer’s style of HIT often worked for lifters is because the lifter’s that employed it were coming off of programs where all three variables were high, and so the reduction of two of the variables drastically improved their results.  But, alas, I don’t have time to discuss all of this here, so we’ll just save it for another post—or comments at the bottom of this post.
     The most popular manipulation of the three variables among bodybuilders these days is to keep intensity and volume high (sky high, in some cases) while keeping frequency low.  This is the reason my training in the ‘90s was so effective at building muscle mass.  When you train this way, and consume a lot of food while doing so, it can be a very effective program for adding slabs of muscle.  This is currently, for instance, how almost every pro bodybuilder on the planet trains.  And the pros also (duh) add enormous amount of exogenous testosterone to this mix, which enhances this form of training even more.  (I won’t get into all of the details, but I think anabolic steroids work even better for muscle growth when the lifter trains this way compared to any other form of training.  But that, as they say, is for another tale.)
     Here is an example of what a POF program would look like using the high-volume, high-intensity, low-frequency model:
Day One: Chest
  • Incline Barbell Bench Presses: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
  • Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
  • Incline Flyes: 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps
  • Cable Crossovers: 6 sets of 20 reps
Day Two: Legs
  • Sled Drags: 5 sets for distance, adding weight each set
  • Squats: 6 sets of 6 to 8 reps
  • Sissy Squats: 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps
  • Leg Extensions: 5 sets of 30 to 50 reps
Day Three: Shoulders
  • Standing Overhead Presses: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
  • One Arm Overhead Dumbbell Presses: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps (each arm)
  • One Arm Lateral Raises: 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps (each arm)
  • Close-Grip Barbell Upright Rows: 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps
Day Four: Back
  • Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 reps
  • One Arm Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps (each arm)
  • Power Snatches: 4 sets of 3 reps
  • Dumbbell Pullovers: 4 sets of 20 reps (perform these “cross-bench” style)
  • Bent-Over Lateral Raises: 4 sets of 20 reps
Day Five: Arms
  • Close-Grip 3-Board Bench Presses: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
  • Skullcrusher/Pullovers: 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps
  • Dumbbell Kickbacks: 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps (each arm)
  • Barbell Curls: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
  • Alternate Dumbbell Hammer Curls: 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps
  • Incline Dumbbell Curls: 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps
  • Concentration Curls: 4 sets of 20 reps (each arm)
     Take days 6 and 7 off, then repeat.
     If you want to perform some calf work, not a problem.  Every couple of days, perform a couple sets of standing calf raises, a couple of sets of “donkey” calf raises, then a couple sets of high-rep bodyweight only calf raises.