Monday, May 19, 2014

Double-Split Training, Part Two

Double-Split Training, Part Two
Understanding Why Double-Split Training is Effective

     Here’s a cool thing about double-split training: there’s an endless amount of variety that you have at your disposal when it comes to double-split workouts.  In fact, however-the-heck it is that you like to train, you can make your training a bit more effective by turning all of those workouts into double-split programs.
     Do you like to train each bodypart once-per-week, by training one bodypart-per-day, and blasting the living hell out of it, then giving it a week to recover?  (As I’ve written many times before, this was a very effective training system that I used to pack on pounds of muscle when I was much younger.)  If that’s your cup of tea, no problem, here’s what your double-split program could look like:
Mondays: Chest
Tuesdays: Back
Wednesdays: Legs (quads and hamstrings)
Thursdays: Shoulders
Fridays: Arms and calves
     And here’s what your Monday workouts would look like:
Workout One: Flat Barbell Bench Presses for 10 sets of 8 reps
Workout Two: Incline Dumbbell Presses for 4 sets of 12 reps, Wide-Grip Dips for 3 sets of 10 reps, and Incline Dumbbell Flyes for 3 sets of 10 reps
     Do the second workout about 4 hours after your first workout (so that soreness has yet to set in from all of the flat bench presses) and you should be on your path to an effective once-per-week program.
     All of your other workouts should be of a very similar variety, and as long as you’re optimizing your peri-workout nutrition for both training sessions, you should have no problem gaining plenty of muscle on just such a program.
     Okay, here are some quotes from several other bodybuilders/writers/strength trainers, and their thoughts about double-split workouts.  As you can see, I’m not crazy for recommending such frequent training.  It’s been used by others for quite some time in the bodybuilding world.  And, besides just bodybuilding, Olympic lifters have used such training methods for decades.
     The first quote is from John Meadows, a popular bodybuilding writer (and bodybuilder in his own right):
     If you don’t like being in the gym, this program isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you’re a true M&Fer, you can’t wait to get back in there after every session. Sometimes you even wish you could go back sooner. If this is your attitude, or you’re a college student with an open class schedule or a guy who’s currently between jobs and must vent his frustrations by lifting as much heavy iron as often as possible, two-a-days are exactly what you need.
     Training twice a day is a concept as old as bodybuilding itself but was popularized by Arnold more than anyone. He firmly believed his “double-split system” allowed him to separate himself from the pack and win his first Mr. Universe title. His rivals criticized it, saying it was too much training, and to their point, two-a-days have run many a lifter into the ground. But applied scientifically, there may be no better method for making big gains in a short period.
Double-split training was obviously effective for Arnold
     The reason is frequency. Provided you can recover from each session, the more often you train a body part, the faster you can deliver a growth stimulus and the sooner your muscles will respond. Training your chest so hard that it takes a whole week to recover before you can hit it again isn’t as effective as hitting it light one day and then hard three days later. That’s two chest-building workouts in one week, so you essentially double the stimulus.[1]
     And here’s what another popular bodybuilding writer, Christian Thibaudeau, has to say about the way that European bodybuilders often train.  I personally find these insights the most interesting:
     The more you're involved in the world of strength training, the more you get to meet interesting people and learn new training methods. Last year I attended the Weider International Grand Prix of Canada, a bodybuilding contest organized by the Quebec Federation that included several of the world's best amateur bodybuilders from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, Poland, etc.
What's interesting is that these countries aren't under the same influence as North American lifters. They haven't been contaminated by muscle rag propaganda. Rather, their methods are heavily influenced by the training of their Olympic lifters and powerlifters. In some cases, athletes from all three sports train together and some even compete in two or all three of these events!
So when you get to know these guys and learn how they train, you realize there’s more than one way to get big, and you don’t need to follow the 3 x 10 dogma to do it!
     Needless to say, these guys know how to train for size. But exactly what are they doing? The following will explain their training system and how it can be adapted to fit the North American lifestyle.
Principle #1: Intensification/Accumulation Split Training
     These athletes have two training sessions per day (on the days they train). The morning session is a high load workout, while the early evening (or afternoon) session is an "intensive" workout.
     Don't confuse "intensive" with intensity strength training jargon. Intensity normally refers to the weight used (e.g. an intensity of 90% of your 1RM). Intensive means the use of advanced intensity techniques such as supersets, drop sets, forced reps, etc.
     The heavy session is performed first when the CNS is fresh and ready to go. That's a very important point. At least 4-6 hours separate both workouts to allow the athlete enough time to use restorative measures and ingest two or three meals.

Principle #2: Mornings Are For Strength
     In the morning session, train for strength. East European countries have a large background of Olympic lifting and this is reflected in the training of their bodybuilders. The bodybuilding coaches (they do have a national coach and a whole organized coaching system for their top athletes) were often old Olympic lifters. The same could be said about some of their athletes.
     While they don't perform the Olympic lifts in their first session, they do employ an Olympic lifting mentality of using few movements (two or three) performed for a lot of sets of few reps, normally above 85% of the athlete’s maximum. This training session serves several purposes:
     • It greatly increases muscle density and hardness (myogenic tone or "tonus").
     • It can enhance neural efficiency, especially the capacity to recruit high threshold motor units. This means that subsequent bodybuilding-type training will be more effective since the body now has the capacity to recruit more muscle fibers.
     • It can increase muscle size in its own right.
Principle #3: Evenings Are For "The Pump"
     In the early evening session, train for "the pump." Well, the objective isn't the pump per se; it simply means that in the second workout of the day, the methods used are high-volume and high-density (a lot of work performed per unit of time).
     Rest intervals are kept as short as possible and density training techniques such as supersets, pre-fatigue, post-fatigue and drop sets are used, as well as intensity techniques such as slow eccentrics, isometrics combined with regular reps and forced reps.[2]
      In the next installment of “double-split training”, I will include some of the workouts I personally believe can be the most effective when using many of these techniques mentioned above.

[1] From the article “How to Build Muscle: Two-a-Day Training” from Muscle and Fitness magazine. 
[2] From the article “East European Bodybuilding:
Muscle Mass Secrets from the Old Countries”
by Christian Thibaudeau, from the online bodybuilding magazine T-Nation.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Double-Split Training, Part One

     In the summer of ’91, I dove headlong into training.  I read all of the various bodybuilding magazines that I could get a hold of—or, at least, all of them that I could both afford and get a hold of.  I was lucky, however, in that I had an off-again/on-again training partner who had stacks of magazines from around that time frame—primarily Ironman, Muscle and Fitness, and Flex—and I also had an uncle who had many older issue of Iron Man and Flex, plus things such as Strength and Health, and other such forgotten magazines that seemed (to me, at least) as if they were from another era.
     Ironman had the most influence on me due to the “hardgainer” articles written by such writers as Steve Holman, Randal Strossen, Bradley Steiner, and Richard Winnett.  All of these preached a “less-is-better” and “hard and heavy, but infrequent” training philosophies.  (Not to say that Ironman only presented training philosophies from these sort of writers.  They also included plenty of pieces from Gene Mozee and Greg Zulak, and neither one of those guys preached a “less is better” style of training, and in time both Zulak and Mozee had a much greater influence on my personal training philosophy in the mid to late ‘90s.)
The July, 1991 issue of Ironman
     Anyway, the gym where I trained also sold current issues of Ironman, and none of the others, which meant that I spent hours sometimes sitting in the lobby reading them either before or after a workout.  In June of ’91 (I remember it decidedly), I picked up the July, 1991 issue of Ironman and discovered—what seemed to me at the time—the oddest form of training: double-split workouts.  The article in particular was one about the training of Francis Benfatto, he of the almost Greek god-like physique.  Benfatto used a style of double-split training where he would train a muscle group twice in the same day.  The early workout would typically use just one exercise for the particular muscle groups of the day, working on density and muscle mass, and the second, later, workout would consist of multiple exercises for the same muscle group, working on “shaping” a muscle.
     I quickly dismissed such a form of training.  After all, or so I reasoned, that kind of training was only for “genetically gifted” and “chemically enhanced” bodybuilders.
     In case you haven’t already surmised it, I don’t exactly feel that way any more.  Not that I would recommend a style of training exactly like Benfatto’s, but I do think that double-split training can be quite effective if used properly[1].
Starting Off
     This first program is for those of you who would like to do a double-split workout, but have never done a high-volume program.  However, I would recommend at least a couple months training on a 3-days-per-week, full-body workout before attempting this one.
     For this program, both workouts of the day will involve only two exercises each.  Technically, yes, you could quite easily do both workouts as one workout, but you will gain more muscle at a faster rate if you don’t do this.  Using two workouts on each training day allows you to recover faster and take advantage of peri-workout nutrition, not to mention the fact that it allows you to have two more intense, focused workouts.
Day One
Workout One:
  1. Squats: 5 sets of 3 reps.  After warm-ups, use approximately 80% of your one-rep max for all 5 “work” sets of 3 reps.
  2. Bench Presses: 5 sets of 3 reps.  Same set/rep scheme as the squats.
Workout Two:
  1. Walking Lunges: 4 sets of 10 reps, each leg.  After warming up for a few sets, use approximately 70% of your one-rep max (with either dumbbells or a barbell) for all 4 work sets of 10 reps.  These sets should be tougher than the squats earlier.
  2. Incline Dumbbell Presses: 4 sets of 10 reps
Day Two
Workout One:
  1. Barbell Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 3 reps
  2. Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 3 reps
Workout Two:
  1. Seated Dumbbell Presses: 4 sets of 10 reps
  2. Dumbbell Curls: 4 sets of 10 reps (each arm)
Day Three: Off
Day Four
Workout One:
  1. Deadlifts: 5 sets of 3 reps
  2. Power Cleans: 5 sets of 3 reps
Workout Two:
  1. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts: 4 sets of 10 reps
  2. Dumbbell Rows: 4 sets of 10 reps (each arm)
Day Five: Repeat Day One workout, but take off on day 6 before starting a 2 on, one off/ 2 on, one off cycle again
     After about three weeks of training, change over to some different exercises and/or some different rep ranges.  On the heavy workouts, change over to either 5 sets of 2 at 90% or 5 sets of 6 at 70%.  Conversely, on the lighter workouts, perform some heavier work at 4 sets of 8 reps, or some lighter days at 3 sets of 15 reps.

     In Part Two, we’ll take a look at some advanced workouts for those of you brave enough to try them.

[1] I will be honest, here.  I don’t think this training is practical for those of you who train at a commercial gym, unless you feel like traveling there twice each day.  It’s suited more for those of us who have a home gym, or for those of you who want to perform one workout at a commercial gym, and the second one at the house.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Putting the "Integral" Back in Integral Strength

     When I started this blog several years ago, it was with the intention of making it an “integral” blog – hence the name “Integral Strength”.  At the time, I was quite enamored with Eastern philosophy – Buddhism in particular, having practiced strains of both Theravada and Zen for some time – and so I thought it would be a great way to combine my love of lifting weights and philosophy, not to mention martial arts – a passion of mine that has existed since childhood – into one website.  Add into the fact that I was also reading quite a bit from the “integral” philosopher Ken Wilber at the time – some of my earliest posts that you can still find on here attest to this – and you can see why I thought that Integral Strength would be such a cool, not to mention accurate, name.  (Let me say this right off the bat, however: I don’t care much for Wilber or his philosophy any more.  I think it is, on the whole, quite reductionist, and actually has many of the problems that plague fundamentalist religion – especially Christianity of the sort that espouses things such as “intelligent design” or other strains of “theistic personalism”.  To further this problem, Wilber tends to distort philosophers and their thinking in order to align them with his personal “AQAL” line of thought.  He does this the most, I think, with the great philosopher, and founder of what came to be known as “Neo-Platonism”, Plotinus.  As someone who has slowly become something of a Neo-Platonist, I find this quite annoying.)
    But things change.  We are not static individuals, or shouldn’t be at least.  If you believe in adulthood the same things that you believed in childhood, that is, sad to say, just, well, sad.  Even when I started this blog, I was beginning to have doubts about many of the philosophical strands of thought in both Buddhism, and, even more so, in the other Eastern philosophies.  I was growing – or to put in a more decidedly Christian point-of-view, I was being led not away from Eastern philosophy per se, but into the very depths of which Eastern philosophy intuits: the Logos of God.  And the more that I read of Greek philosophy, and then of Christianity as it was (is) practiced in the ancient Christian East, the more I decided that I must become Christian.  Or become Christian again, you might say, since I grew up with a rather evangelical Southern Baptist upbringing, a form of Christianity I had almost entirely rejected by the time I was 18.
     Due to a “crisis of faith”, or something very similar, I stopped writing on this blog for quite some time – more specifically: almost for one year, between July of 2011 and June of 2012.  During that time, I converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.  It was really quite a natural thing, since I found in Orthodoxy a form of Christianity that still adheres to a “Classical Theism” philosophy of ancient antiquity, and still practices a form of contemplative, or “mystical”, philosophy as it has done since the early centuries of the Church.
     But when I returned to writing on this blog – which, since June, 2012, I have tried to do more or less ever since – I was reluctant to write much on philosophy or (and especially) anything “integral”.  I decided to focus almost exclusively on strength training posts/articles until I could work out my philosophical thinking in more depth.  Don’t get me wrong, I will never stop growing philosophically, nor should any of us.  But I think, at this point, I am ready to once again include some philosophy, especially as it pertains to the intersection of philosophy, contemplative practice, and lifting weights/building muscle.  There is, after all, something very “spiritual” about lifting weights, as anyone with years of training under his/her belt should be able to tell you.  (And, for those of you who don’t think Christian spiritual practice can be combined with bodily practices, then you need to study your ancient Christianity, specifically that of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.  There was a time when, to be a Christian contemplative, it meant forms of prayer that included standing, walking, working, prostrating, crossing – you name it.)
     The only exceptions to this lack of philosophical output has been my select few posts on Stoicism, which I enjoy writing about, practicing, and including on this blog because I think that it has such a direct influence – or can, at least – on lifting weights.  However I also believe that Stoicism has its limits, hence I do not consider myself a “Stoic” per se, even though I espouse, on occasion, some very stoic philosophy in my personal life (or on this blog), which still makes me rather integral.
     Which finally brings us around to the subject of this post.  I’m still an “integralist”.  Although specifically an Orthodox Christian, I am still very fond of Greek philosophy – specifically Neo-Platonism – as well as Buddhist and Taoist philosophy.  (What I am not, and what I will never be again, is a syncretist.  I believe ancient Eastern Christianity to be the fulfillment of all other philosophical cum religious systems.)  And so I am, once again, going to include “integral philosophy” on this blog if I think it will be of interest to the readers, who primarily come here for stuff on strength and power training, or bodybuilding.  It’s just that the integral philosophy I espouse will be (and is) influenced by the fact that I’m also a classical theist.
     With all of that being said, if anyone is interested in anything specifically theological or philosophical to be written about here, please email me about what it is you would like for me to write about, or you can post your thoughts in the “comments” section below.  It’s time to put the integral back in Integral Strength.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Mass-Building Mistakes

The 10 Most Common Mistakes Lifters Make When Building Strength, Power, and Muscle Mass
     What follows are 10 of the most common mistakes that lifters make when trying to add muscle mass and build strength.  Fix these mistakes and your mass-building/strength-gaining plateaus will be a thing of the past.
     In true countdown fashion, we’ll start with #10 before we make it down to the #1 mistake that the majority of trainees make—not to mention coaches.
#10: Using a Percentage-based Training Program
     For some of you, this may seem like an odd thing that I would pick as a mistake.  Especially considering the fact that the most-effective powerlifting program I ever used was (is) a percentage-based program: the training plans of Boris Sheiko.  But Sheiko is the exception, not the rule, and it’s not something you need to attempt until you have plenty of training under your belt.
     The training program that I most recommend that lifters follow—Bill Starr-style heavy-light-medium training—is decidedly not percentage based, as are the vast majority of effective training programs and lifting styles.  For instance, probably the most popular form of powerlifting training in the world (or, at least, the most well-known), Westside Barbell, is not percentage-based.
     The fact is that your strength will oscillate, it will ebb and flow, from one session to the next.  You shouldn’t lock yourself into doing a certain weight, or using a certain number of exercises, at each workout.  When you’re strong, go for it, and when you feel like pure hell, feel free to back off.
#9: Not Properly Manipulating (and/or Understanding) the 3 Variables of Frequency, Intensity, and Volume
     If a training program is going to be effective, two of these variables must be high, and the third variable must be low.  Only highly advanced lifters can get away with having all 3 variables high.
     At one time, the primary mistake lifters in the West made was having all 3 variables high, but this changed when H.I.T. and other “lesser-is-better” training philosophies became popular.  Now many lifters also make the mistake of having one variable high, while the other two are low.  This is the main problem with H.I.T. or any one of its offshoots.  The programs have a high level of intensity, while having low frequency and volume.  This may work in the short term, especially if the lifter using it has been training with all 3 variables high for an extended period, but eventually it will stop working, usually sooner rather than later.
     Most bodybuilding programs in the U.S. utilize a high level of volume, combined with a high level of intensity, and a low level of frequency.  This works when trying to just gain muscle mass—in other words, if it’s “aesthetics” that you’re after—and it’s popular because it’s easy to manipulate.  Basically, you just train the hell out of a muscle group—or a lift—with a lot of sets and reps, and then you give that muscle group a week to recover before training again.  But for my money, I think it’s best to utilize either high-volume with high-frequency or high-intensity with high-frequency.
     For more of my thoughts on this subject, read my post “Train Easy, Lift Big.”  I’ve written about this subject in that post, as well as several others.
#8: Not Incorporating “Light” and “Medium” Days into the Program
     One of the reasons that the high-intensity, high-volume, low-frequency mentality is so prevalent in bodybuilding and “fitness” circles is because lifters and trainees just don’t understand the need for light and medium days.
     You don’t always need to train all-out.  Light and medium days help to facilitate recovery between workouts—one of the reasons Starr’s programs are so effective—as well as aid in “greasing the groove” on particular lifts.
#7: Training Too Frequently
     Yes, I’ve pushed high-frequency training ad nauseam in recent years, and, yes, I believe that frequent training definitely has its place, but too many lifters—especially novices—do too much too soon.
     You must lay a foundation that the rest of your strength and mass gains can be built upon.  And this foundation is laid with training on the fundamentals.  Two to three-days-per-week on a handful of exercises is all that’s required for the beginner.
     By the way, if you’re not relatively strong, then you’re just a beginner.  For most, this means if you can’t bench press at least 250 pounds, squat and deadlift over 350, and overhead press around 200 pounds, then, sorry, you’re still in the rank “beginner” status.  (While I’m at it, let me add this: no one, and I mean no one has any business training others in strength and power if he can’t meet these requirements.  The only exceptions would be females who are damn strong for their size, and older strength coaches and personal trainers who spent years being this strong when they were younger.  I’m sure one day—maybe when I’m 80—I’ll fit into this latter group.)
#6: Not Training Heavy Enough, Frequently Enough
     If you’re going to get strong and big, then you’re going to have to pay your dues by training ultra-heavy on a fairly regular basis.  If strength, power, and mass is your goal, then you should devote at least one training session—for each lift—per week that focuses on heavy training of 3 reps or lower.
#5: Not Training Frequently Enough
     After reading #7 above, surely you didn’t think I wouldn’t include this one, did you?  Sorry, but despite what you’ve heard from mindless bodybuilders, or some of the bodybuilding magazines over the last 20 years—or, hell, some of the stuff I wrote at one time—there comes a time when doing more is not a bad thing.
     Once you have laid the foundation with heavy, fairly infrequent basic training, not only can you get away with more frequent training, but most of you reading this actually need frequent training.
     As Nick Horton says: “More is not always better, but it usually is.”
#4: Using the Wrong Program or Not Being on a Program
     Vince Gironda said it many years ago (and I have repeated it often in many of my articles over the years): “Are you on a training program, or are you just working out?”
     First, you need to be on a program.  Second, you need to be using a program that produces the results you are looking to attain.  Want to get big and strong?  Start with a Bill Starr-style H-L-M program.  Use that for six months to a year.  (To learn how to manipulate it, read a lot of my posts on just that very thing.)  After that, move on to some similar programs such as Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 program, and stick with it for another six months or so.  At this point, you should be big and strong.  And now it would be time to kick it into really high gear with either some Westside training or something along the lines of a Sheiko program.
     By the way, doing some random “workout-of-the-day” is not being on a program.  That’s just working out.
#3: Using Too Many Exercises
      Even when many lifters get on a “program”—and I use the term loosely here—they often get on one with way too many exercises.  Honestly, if you’re just starting out, then you only need a handful of exercises.  And most advanced lifters can get by just fine with less than a dozen exercises that are rotated into the workouts.  The exception, of course, would be something such as Westside Barbell, but, even then, you are only using a few basic exercises at each session.
#2: Using the Wrong Exercises
     I hate to break it to you, but if you’re not training on the correct exercises, then you can do everything correct regarding mistakes #s 10 through 3 and you’re still going to be out of luck.  Machines?  Rubber band-crap that attaches to your door?  One-arm or one-leg whatever?  High-rep snatches and cleans done with god-awful form such as you see at the average Crossfit “box”?  Jumping anything?  Nope.  None of that crap is going to cut it.
     What will cut it, you ask?  How about the good, old-fashioned barbell basics.  Here’s your list just in case this is the first of my articles/posts that you’ve ever read (or just in case you’ve never read one good training article in your whole life): power cleans, power snatches, deadlifts, back squats, front squats, standing presses of various kinds, bench presses, clean and jerks, barbell and dumbbell rows, and barbell curls.  (The barbell curl, unfortunately, has been much maligned in recent years, but let’s start today with the goal of making up for that.)
     Now that all of that’s out of the way, what-in-the-hell could be the one thing worse than even using the wrong exercises?  Drum roll please…
#1: Letting the Means Justify the Ends
     People do this all the time, in every gym, in every garage, and in every high school and college weight room in the nation, but nothing—and I mean nothing—is worse than this mistake.
     Just for clarification—in case any of you are staring at the screen, confused over what I’m writing about—the “ends” are the “results” that you are trying to attain.  (In this case, it would be to get bigger and stronger.)  The “means” are the workouts.  The ends must justify the means, never the other way around.  The results you are trying to attain must justify the workouts that you are doing.
     A workout is only a “good” workout if it leads to the desired goal.  How many times have you heard someone say—or possibly heard yourself say—“I just had a good workout”?  Many times—too many times, in fact—what they mean by a “good” workout is that the workout was exhausting or tiring.  Let’s get the fact straight: just because you are lying in a pool of sweat at the end of your workout doesn’t mean that it was “good.”  Just because it produces extreme soreness the next day, does not mean that it was a “good” workout.  The problem with both of those examples is that in either case the means are justifying whatever ends are achieved out of it.
     Here’s the good news, however, if you follow the tips in this article—if you don’t make any of the mistakes I’ve listed—then you’ll be well on your way to letting your ends justify your means.