The Total Annihilation Program
Classic Training Meets Modern Bodybuilding Tactics
By Jared Smith
Old School Influence
I can remember sitting in the living room as a kid watching Conan the Barbarian, and watching Arnold being transformed into a behemoth-of-a-man through suffering. Once he became huge then he became deadly as he was forged in the fires of combat, along with being trained by warriors from the East. In addition to this, my father was a very large man who spoke very little and—to this day—is the very essence of the strong silent type. I grew up with a clear vision of what a man should be: big and strong!
When I was about eighteen, I decided that I needed to “live up” to the vision that I had grown up with. In my high school library, I was lucky enough to find Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding. This was my first education in terms of training. This inspired me to go to the local Books-A-Million and raid the magazine rack for bodybuilding magazines. While I thought the modern bodybuilders looked cool, I was really into the “throwback look” that I saw in the old black and white photos of guys like Reg Park, Bill Pearl, and Larry Scott. After reading for a while, I realized a glaring difference between the way today’s bodybuilders train and the lifters of yesteryear is the fact that many of the old-school guys performed full body workouts with much lower rep ranges. One of the popular routines was Reg Park’s 5x5 program, which centered on major lifts like the squat, overhead press, front squat, deadlift, and bench press. Needless to say it is much different than your FST-7’s and German Volume Training-styles that involve countless reps and many times include several isolation lifts.
|Reg Park doing some dumbbell overhead presses|
Rise of the Machines
After several years of training, I was turned on to “High-Intensity Training” by the owner of a gym where I trained. I began delving into the writings of Mike Mentzer, Dorian Yates, and Arthur Jones. My own training had never been insanely high in volume but these guys were talking about minimal sets with through-the-roof intensity. While the “pump-lover” in me was somewhat turned off by the notion of only doing a handful of sets, the nerd in me was intrigued by the idea of constant progression and how recovery was related to strength and hypertrophy.
H.I.T. seemed to employ way more machines than I’d ever used in my own training, and I was a traditionalist, believing that isolation lifts translated into being a sissy. However, as I continued to learn, I realized that this type of guided resistance could put more stress on a target muscle without incorporating as many stabilizing muscles, thus overloading it and leaving something “in the tank” so that I could then use a multi-joint movement to push that muscle deeper into failure without having to tax the hell out of my joints. This—combined with a much slower rep tempo—would prevent trauma to my joints, and keep my training balls out for a much longer period of time.
|Mike Mentzer, the originator of the "Heavy Duty" form of HIT|
Upon the decision to embark on a more High Intensity mission, I knew that my workouts would need to be short due to the intensity level. Some would argue that this is laziness, although they’ve never trained to muscular failure, much less beyond even that. Once a set is taken to the point of momentary muscular failure, and then beyond, one will be physically unable to continue. I once believed that volume was the sole reason for muscular growth, and while I still go through voluminous phases of training, I realize that only the most difficult set of any program—or of any training style—will actually elicit the growth response that I—or anyone else—would need. If one were to never push past the previous limits or level of performance, then the body has no reason to adapt. Why would the body adapt when it is not being presented with anything that challenges it? It will not! Seeing as building muscle is the body’s adaptation to stress you must place the body under enough stress to cause this adaptation! As Dorian Yates and his old training partner Leroy Davis would so eloquently put it: “No fucking about!” Let’s get nasty!
Combine and Conquer
Many times, I have been asked which is superior: free weights or machines. The answer is that, rather paradoxically, there is no answer. Both have their places. Free weights will stimulate systemic growth via taxing, not only the target muscle, but all the supporting groups required to maintain proper technique throughout each lift, as well as give you a hormonal “up tick” from utilizing compounds lifts. Machines tax the target muscle, and exhaust it without as much interference from supporting muscle groups. I firmly believe that you can combine the two and thus ignite growth on a larger scale than with split training.
|Mentzer hitting some "highly intense" dumbbell curls!|
The Meat and Potatoes
Now for the meat and potatoes of it all: THE PROGRAM! These workouts are to be performed on three nonconsecutive days per week, and each set taken to the point of momentary muscular failure with only one set of each exercise. If you have a partner, or the movement permits you to go beyond failure, then do so! The optimal rep range is 6-12, six being the basement, and twelve being the ceiling. However, if you can complete more than that number, continue until you fail and increase the resistance the next time you perform that exercise! Each rep should be done with a very controlled tempo to prevent momentum from coming into play thus insuring that the muscle are moving the weight and contracting optimally. Shooting for a 4/0/4 tempo will usually do the trick. If the movement provides ample resistance in the contracted position—such as leg curls, leg extensions, or pulldowns—then you should hold the contraction momentarily, making the tempo 4/0/4/1. Rest as little as possible between sets, which will keep the intensity level high. Do not alter the order of exercises, as this will compromise the effectiveness of the program. Muscles are pre-exhausted to make sure that each is pushed deeper into failure and taxed to the max!
Standing calf Raises
Barbell Bench Presses
Straight Arm Pulldowns
Barbell Shoulder Presses
Close Grip Palms-in Pulldowns
Toe Presses on Leg press Machine
Lying leg curls
Pec Deck flies
Incline Dumbbell Presses
Bent Arm Barbell Pullover
Bent Lateral Raises
Reverse Grip barbell curls
Overhead Cable Extensions
Hanging leg raises
Repeat workout 1, but stop each set about 2 reps shy of all out failure to facilitate recovery of your central nervous system, as it will have taken a beating from the previous days.
The Annihilation Concludes
So there you have it, a program both brief and brutal. This type of training will require a mental focus that few of us possess, and will test you both mentally and physically. Your mind will be trying to convince you to stop, but your muscles are still capable of much more than your puny brain wants to admit! As C.S. has said before on this very blog: HOW YOU FEEL IS A LIE! Good luck and train hard!