Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Best Leg Workout You've Never Tried!

The Best Leg Workout You’ve Never Tried!

     Two things work the best when it comes to moving massive amounts of weight, and/or gaining massive amounts of muscle: Simple work, combined with hard work.  Nothing else is going to cut it.
     As Mark Rippetoe once remarked, “the most valuable lessons of the weight room: a simple, hard program works best, and that you get out of your training – and your life – exactly what you put into it.”
     I could never have said it better myself.
     I also have a good feeling that a whole lot of lifters know that simple, hard work is absolutely the best way to train for building slabs of muscle that is also capable of hefting ponderous poundages, but they don’t do it.  And I think they don’t do it for a couple of reasons.  First, either they’re lazy and/or have convinced themselves that fancier programs that don’t require hard work—brutally simple hard work—work just as well.  Or, second, sometimes they just want to do something different than a steady regimen of regular, flat-footed barbell squats, overhead presses, conventional deadlifts, bench presses, and barbell curls.
     I can’t help the first group.  Nor do I care to do so—lazy “lifters” who don’t want to work hard, but instead would rather just talk about training, are a segment of the population that I could care less about.  No, this article is here to help the second group.
     Below is an extremely simple workout program for those of you who understand that heavy, hard, basic training will always be the crème de la crème, but who also want something a little different.  This is it.
     Perform the following workout program about once every 4 to 6 days.  It is meant to be used with a “split” program, so the other training days should be a couple of upper body days.  A good split for this program might look like this:
Day One: Legs (workout below)
Day Two: Upper Body Pressing (bench press, overhead presses, and one or two other things should fit the bill)
Day Three: Off
Day Four: Upper Body Pulling and Arms (bent-over rows, chins, barbell curls would be par for the course)
Day Five: Off
Day Six: Repeat
The Best Leg Workout You’ve Never Performed!
     The first exercise is my favorite squatting exercise of all-time: the bottom-position squat.  At one time in my lifting career (when I was forced to train alone all the time), I used the bottom-position squat, and nothing but the bottom-position squat, to hit a triple-bodyweight raw squat (no suit or wraps, only a belt) in a competition.  (I weighed 163 pounds and squatted 510 at a powerlifting meet about 15 years ago.)
     For this part of the workout, you are going to do ramps.  Work up over several sets of 5 reps until the sets of 5 get extremely tough.  At this point, switch over to triples.  Once it becomes near impossible to get a triple, switch to singles.  Stop when you hit a near max.
     Currently, my weight progression in the bottom-position squat would look something such as this (just to give you an idea):
Bar x 2 sets of 5 reps
     Your bottom-position squat should start right below parallel (for most lifters).  Here is a video of me hitting 405 for a single:

     For the second exercise, you are going to perform deficit sumo deadlifts.  After squats (in all of the multitudinous squatting varieties), I think this is the best exercise for building muscle and strength.  It works your legs—particularly your glutes and hamstrings—hard, but it is also equally as mass-producing for your lower back, traps, and mid-back muscles, plus it works the grip hard, as well.
     Work off of a box that is between 4 and 5 inches in height (on average).
     Once again, you are going to use ramps, but this time you are going to perform double ramps.  Also, you are going to use 5 reps, and only 5 reps, all the way to your 5-rep max (or damn close to it) for the day.
     Here is what my typical double ramp of 5s would look like:
     And, yes, I’m well aware that this is 30 sets of squats and sumo-deficit deads, and we’re not even done yet.  Don’t worry, it is not too much.  The truth is, the weaker you are, the less sets you will have to perform to get to your max weights, and the stronger that you are, the more sets you need to perform in order to bump up your volume and intensity.
     Now, for the last exercise: backward sled drags.  This exercise will be a great way to finish the workout.  First, it fries your quadriceps.  And this is a good thing, since our first two exercises are a bit more hamstring and glute happy.  Second, it’s primarily a concentric exercise, and this means that it won’t make you near as sore as the first two exercises.
C.S. performing a backward sled drag

     Here you are going to perform 2 sets—and only 2 sets—all-out.  Load your sled with 5, 6, 7, or 8 45-pound plates (less if you’re not very strong, I suppose), and drag until you just can’t drag anymore.
     Yes, this workout was simple.
     Yes, this workout was hard.
     And, yes, this workout will produce awesome results!
     To capsulate the whole thing, this is what it should look like:
  1. Bottom-position Squats: ramps of 5, 3, and 1 reps
  2. Deficit Sumo Deadlifts: double ramps of 5 reps
  3. Backward Sled Drags: 2 max sets
  4. Eat a big steak and drink a lot of beer when you’re finished, followed by a nap.

Seneca on the Quality of Life

     Although my posts on Stoic philosophy are not as popular as those on lifting (or drinking beer, or good literature), I am going to continue with them nonetheless.
     For those interested in lifting weights – whether you’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or just casual lifter (or, hell, even for you Crossfitters) – Stoicism is the philosophy par excellence.  Lifting weights, particularly hard and heavy lifting, can teach us a lot about how to live our lives, but we have to learn to listen to what our lives have to tell us.  For some, the art of listening is a little more difficult.  This is where philosophy comes in.
     This particular piece comes from Seneca.  Seneca has long been my favorite of the Roman writers on Stoicism.  Perhaps this is because he is not just a Stoic, for he borrows on other philosophies of antiquity when they serve his purpose.
     This piece on death, and how it’s one thing to live a life, and it’s another thing to just exist, is also one of my favorite writings from Seneca.  I have edited it from, and I have changed some of the wording to (hopefully) make it more readable.

On the Quality, as Contrasted with the Length, of Life
     WHILE reading the letter in which you were lamenting the death of the philosopher Metronax, as if he might have, and indeed ought to have, lived longer, I missed the spirit of fairness which abounds in all your discussions concerning men and things, but is lacking when you approach one single subject, as is indeed the case with us all.  In other words, I have noticed many who deal fairly with their fellow-men, but none who deals fairly with God.  We rail every day at Fate, saying "Why has A. been carried off in the very middle of his career?  Why is not B. carried off instead?  Why should he prolong his old age, which is a burden to himself as well as to others?" But tell me, pray, do you consider it fairer that you should obey Nature, or that Nature should obey you?  And what difference does it make how soon you depart from a place which you must depart from sooner or later?  We should strive, not to live long, but to live rightly for to achieve long life you have need of Fate only, but for right living you need the soul.  A life is really long if it is a full life; but fullness is not attained until the soul has rendered to itself its proper Good, that is, until it has assumed control over itself.  What benefit does this older man derive from the eighty years he has spent in idleness?  A person like him has not lived; he has merely tarried awhile in life.  Nor has he died late in life; he has simply been a long time dying.  He has lived eighty years, has he?  That depends upon the date from which you reckon his death! Your other friend, however, departed in the bloom of his manhood.  But he had fulfilled all the duties of a good citizen, a good friend, a good son; in no respect had he fallen short.  His age may have been incomplete, but his life was complete.  The other man has lived eighty years, has he? Nay, he has existed eighty years, unless perchance you mean by "he has lived" what we mean when we say that a tree "lives."
     Pray, let us see to it, my dear Lucilius, that our lives, like jewels of great price, be noteworthy not because of their width but because of their weight.   Let us measure them by their performance, not by their duration.  Would you know wherein lies the difference between this hardy man who, despising Fortune, has served through every campaign of life and has attained to life's Supreme Good, and that other person over whose head many years have passed?  The former exists even after his death; the latter has died even before he was dead.
     We should therefore praise, and number in the company of the blessed, that man who has invested well the portion of time, however little, that has been allotted to him; for such a one has seen the true light.  He has not been one of the common herd.   He has not only lived, but flourished.  Sometimes he enjoyed fair skies; sometimes, as often happens, it was only through the clouds that there flashed to him the radiance of the mighty star." Why do you ask: "How long did he live?" He still lives!  At one bound he has passed over into posterity and has consigned himself to the guardianship of memory.  And yet I would not on that account decline for myself a few additional years; although, if my life's space be shortened, I shall not say that I have lacked aught that is essential to a happy life.  For I have not planned to live up to the very last day that my greedy hopes had promised me; nay, I have looked upon every day as if it were my last.  Why ask the date of my birth, or whether I am still enrolled on the register of the younger men?   What I have is my own.  Just as one of small stature can be a perfect man, so a life of small compass can be a perfect life.  Age ranks among the external things.   How long I am to exist is not mine to decide, but how long I shall go on existing in my present way is in my own control.  This is the only thing you have the right to require of me – that I shall cease to measure out an inglorious age as it were in darkness, and devote myself to living instead of being carried along past life.
     And what, you ask, is the fullest span of life?  It is living until you possess wisdom.  He who has attained wisdom has reached, not the furthermost, but the most important, goal.  Such a one may indeed exult boldly and give thanks to the gods - aye, and to himself also - and he may count himself Nature's creditor for having lived.  He will indeed have the right to do so, for he has paid her back a better life than he has received.  He has set up the pattern of a good man, showing the quality and the greatness of a good man.  Had another year been added, it would merely have been like the past. And yet how long are we to keep living?  We have had the joy of learning the truth about the universe.  We know from what beginnings Nature arises; how she orders the course of the heavens; by what successive changes she summons back the year; how she has brought to an end all things that ever have been, and has established Herself as the only end of her own being.   We know that the stars move by their own motion, and that nothing except the earth stands still, while all the other bodies run on with uninterrupted swiftness.   We know how the moon outstrips the sun; why it is that the slower leaves the swifter behind; in what manner she receives her light, or loses it again; what brings on the night, and what brings back the day. To that place you must go where you are to have a closer view of all these things. "And yet," says the wise man, "I do not depart more valiantly because of this hope -because I judge the path lies clear before me to my own gods. I have indeed earned admission to their presence, and in fact have already been in their company; I have sent my soul to them as they had previously sent theirs to me.  But suppose that I am utterly annihilated, and that after death nothing mortal remains; I have no less courage, even if, when I depart, my course leads - nowhere." "But," you say, "he has not lived as many years as he might have lived.  There are books which contain very few lines, admirable and useful in spite of their size; and there are also the Annals of Tanusius[1] - you know how bulky the book is, and what men say of it.  This is the case with the long life of certain persons, - a state which resembles the Annals of Tanusius!  Do you regard as more fortunate the fighter who is slain on the last day of the games than one who goes to his death in the middle of the festivities?  Do you believe that anyone is so foolishly covetous of life that he would rather have his throat cut in the dressing-room than in the amphitheatre?  It is by no longer an interval than this that we precede one another.  Death visits each and all; the slayer soon follows the slain.  It is an insignificant trifle, after all, that people discuss with so much concern.  And anyhow, what does it matter for how long a time you avoid that which you cannot escape?  Farewell.

[1] This is what the “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biographies and Mythology” has to say about Tanusius: a Roman historian who seems to have lived about the time of Cicero. The exact nature of his work is uncertain, although we know that in it he spoke of the time of Sulla. (Suet. Jul. 9.) Plutarch (Plut. Caes. 22) mentions an historian whom he calls Γανύσιος, and whom Vossius (de Hist. Lat. 1.12) considers to be the same as our Tanusius. Seneca (Epist. 93) speaks of one Tamusius as the author of annals; and it is not improbable that this is merely a slight mistake in the name, for Tanusius; and if this be so, Tanusius Geminus wrote annals of his own time, which are lost with the exception of a fragment quoted by Suetonins.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Old School Arm Training Secrets: John McWilliams's Arm Training Routine

Old-School Arm Training Secrets: John McWilliams’s Arm Routine

     My most popular posts here at Integral Strength typically fall into two categories: old-school bodybuilding programs or serious strength and power routines.
     With that in mind, I thought I would do a series of articles on various old-school lifters and bodybuilders (the two overlapped once-upon-a-time), and on various old-school methods for training different bodyparts or lifts.  Thus, this first entry is on old-school arm training, but others will be on old-school chest, shoulders, back, legs, squats, bench presses, overhead presses, power cleans, etc.  And for this first entry, I decided upon an old-school bodybuilder cum powerlifter that many of you may never have heard of: John McWilliams.
McWilliams's back double-biceps pose.  He was impressive even in his 40s.

     When I first came across an article about McWilliams (written by Gene Mozee) in the early ‘90s, I had certainly never heard of him, despite the fact that I already had immersed myself in the programs of many other old-time bodybuilders.  In the 1950’s, McWilliams built arms that stretched the tape at over 20 inches.  That’s absolutely massive when you consider the decade his muscles were built—before the advent of rampant steroid use, and when most of the biggest arms on the planet were around 17 inches.
     When “the Myth” Sergio Oliva saw John McWilliams’s physique, he remarked that his arms were “too big”, and that’s saying something when you consider the fact that Oliva had some of the biggest and best arms in the history of bodybuilding.
     Here’s what Mozee had to say about McWilliams and his massive pair of “guns”:
     In 1951, when I first began bodybuilding, I used to go to Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, California, every day during summer vacation and on weekends during the rest of the year. The superstars of that era – Steve Reeves, Armand Tanny, John Farbotnik, Marvin Eder, George Eiferman, Malcomb Brenner, Joe Sanceri, Clark Coffee, Ed Fury, Joe Gold and Zabo Koszewski, among others – were always there, and you could watch them train at the beach or at Vic Tanny’s famous gym, which was just a couple of blocks away.
     Today’s stars are practically unapproachable, but the atmosphere was totally different in those days. The champs and Muscle Beach regulars were accessible and easy to get to know. Once they understood that you were sincere and that you weren’t a flake who was wasting their time, they would freely give helpful training advice. My brother George and I got a lot of workout ideas and routines that way.
     There will never be another era like that in bodybuilding. From 1950 to 1980 I met almost every great bodybuilder in the world. I had the opportunity to interview them and discuss their training and nutrition secrets, and I even had the opportunity to train with several of those great superstars. It helped me to build 20-inch arms at a bodyweight of 220 pounds and bench press 455 in strict form.
     In 1956, I bought the Pasadena Gym from Farbotnik, who held the titles of Mr. America, Mr. World and Mr. Universe. That’s when I began to use all of the great training techniques and exercise routines that I learned from Reeves, Eiferman, Jan Dellinger, Clancy Ross, Vince Gironda, Bill Pearl, Farbotnik, Sanceri and many others on my clients. We produced dozens of pro football players, track and field record holders, baseball and basketball stars and weightlifting, powerlifting and bodybuilding champions.
    One of the greatest physique athletes of the pre-steroid era was John McWilliams. It’s believed that McWilliams and Bud Counts were the first bodybuilders to have arms that measured more than 20 inches cold. John was also one of the first men in the world to bench press 500 pounds. I met him at a powerlifting meet in San Diego. At the moment he was working as the training director of George and Beverly Crowie’s gym in the San Diego area. He had most of the top stars of the Chargers football team under his guidance, including All-Pros Jack Kemp, Keith Lincoln and Ron Mix.
     McWilliams was more than 40 years old at the time, and he’d trimmed down to a bodyweight of 186 pounds. Bill Pearl’s mentor, the immortal Leo Stern, measured John’s arm at 19 ¼ inches cold, his chest at 52 ½ inches and his waist at 31 inches. These are phenomenal numbers for someone who weighs 186 pounds, and he got them without steroids or the benefit of today’s nutritional supplements.
     John and I became friends, and he described one of his favorite routines for building more massive upper arms. Not only did I use this workout myself, but I put 37 members of my gym on it. The average gain was 1¼ inches in six weeks.
     So, what were McWilliams’s secrets for building such massive arm muscles in such an era?  Read on.
Train for the Pump
     One of the more popular ways of training that most old-school bodybuilders followed was something often referred to as “chasing the pump.”  The workouts were frequently performed with minimum rest periods between sets and plenty of volume to boot.  This, obviously, results in a large pump in the arm muscles.
     The better the pump—or so it was believed—the better chances that the workout would result in muscle growth.
     In order to keep rest periods between sets to a minimum, McWilliams liked to employ giant sets, where he would perform a minimum of 4 different exercises consecutively—working both his triceps and his biceps—until his entire arms were engorged to the maximum.  Here is McWilliams’s favorite arm routine:
Giant set

Barbell pullovers 2 x 12

Close-grip bench presses 2 x 12

Barbell pullovers 2 x 6

Close-grip bench presses 2 x 6

Giant set

Barbell curls 3 x 12

Triceps presses 3 x 12

Dumbbell curls 3 x 10

Dumbbell triceps presses 3 x 10

Lying barbell triceps extensions 3 x 12

Close-grip bench presses 3x10*

One-arm kickbacks 2 x 20**

*Go right into the next exercise without taking any rest

**Per arm
Train Antagonistic Muscle Groups Together
     Notice something else about McWilliams’ program?  He liked to train his entire arm in a single workout.  But he wasn’t alone.  Most old-school bodybuilders—Arnold Schwarzenegger among them—believed that the most muscle growth occurred when blood (the pump) could be localized among antagonizing muscle groups.  And arms respond particularly well to this technique.
Arnold's arms weren't too shabby, either.

Train the Triceps!
     Ask the average lifter or gym rat what he does for his arm routine, and he’ll probably spit out the usual about barbell curls, dumbbell curls, concentration curls, etc.  The problem is that the bicep muscle only makes up about 1/3 of your total arm mass (or should!)—the rest is all triceps.
     McWilliams’s triceps were massive (I was going to say something clichéd about them even needing their own zip code, but I’ll refrain).  In fact, as big as his biceps were, it was his massive tris that accounted for his 20-inch arms.  (Of course, not all old-timers trained in quite as intelligent of a manner—even Arnold’s triceps were a little small compared to his peaked, almost otherworldly biceps.)
     If you’ve been neglecting your triceps, and would like a pair of “guns” that stretch your shirt-sleeves, then try the below arm routine.  I used one similar to this to much success when I was younger, and it meets all of the criteria that McWilliams—and the rest of the old-school arm trainers—would have adhered to.

  • Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 12, 10, 8, 6, and 4 reps.  Take several minutes between sets so that you can push each set close to your “limit”—only leave about one rep “in the tank”, so to speak.  Add weight with each subsequent set.
  • Close-Grip Bench Presses: 5 sets of 12, 10, 8, 6, and 4 reps.  Use the same technique as the barbell curls.
  • Tri-Set:
    • Dips: 3 x 10
    • Standing Dumbbell Curls: 3 x 10
    • Skullcrushers: 3 x 10
  • Tri-Set:
    • Bench Dips: 3 x 20
    • Concentration Curls: 3 x 15
    • Kickbacks: 3 x 20

Last But Not Least: Feed the Biceps (and Triceps) Beast!
     John McWilliams had three fundamentals that he lived—and trained—by:
1)    consistent hard training
proper nutrition, including supplements
3)    sufficient rest, relaxation and growth promoting sleep.
     I can’t stress the importance of all three of these enough, but if I had to pick one that is most important when trying to add muscle mass, I would pick #2.  You can’t grow big and strong without eating enough quality, muscle-building nutrients.  Consume at least 12x your bodyweight in calories each, and every, day, and make sure you consume—at the minimum—one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
     For every 10 pounds of muscle that you gain, you can expect 1 to 1 and ½ inches to your arm girth!  So get gaining, and get growing those biceps and triceps muscles.