Why are you warming up, when you could be priming your muscles for growth?!
by Jared Smith
I have never been one to just take the word of a scientist in a lab coat with no real world training experience. Many experienced lifters figure things out years before science finally catches up. For instance, look at the golden era of bodybuilding when antagonistic supersets were all the rage. Science now shows that training a muscle's antagonist increases performance for both! Well before the days of "human performance "labs", much like the one headed up by Dr. Jacob Wilson at the University of Tampa, time-tested meat heads were pumping opposing muscles to get the most out of training. Some of the methods I’ve come to love are unconventional, even by the standards of those who do love the pairing of agonist/antagonist muscle groups.
|Arnold —seen here looking cool—was a big fan of pairing agonist/antagonist muscles|
For instance, I’m a firm believer that stretching a muscle before there is any blood in it is dangerous. We know that static stretching prior to weight training can compromise performance. With that said, how do we effectively warm up without compromising performance?
(Before anyone thinks that I’m anti-stretching, I am not. There just happens to be a time and place for everything, stretching included.)
Prior to training, a muscle needs to be activated and the connective tissues need to be made pliable. A dynamic stretch of sorts is needed. A brief stretch repeated several times is great, provided that it ends in a contraction! An example of this is pumping the biceps with some high-rep work prior to training chest. A barbell curl will activate the external rotators as well as stretch the triceps tendon a little bit without having to hold it statically. Remember, the only way for a muscle to be completely contracted is for its antagonist to be completely elongated. With the elbows now primed and ready to go, you also have a pumped bicep that will act as a buffer zone at the base of a bench press (and should make you feel much stronger). As you can see, I am a proponent of stretching, as long as it’s not static, prior to loading your muscle tissues with heavy weights. (Static stretching does have a place, but we will get to that later.)
There are some movements that felt terrible on my joints, until I started pumping another muscle before training it. The barbell overhead press was definitely one of those. No matter how many “warm-up’’ sets I did, it never ceased to make my shoulders feel as if they were being ground to bits. To remedy this problem, I decided to engorge my traps and rear delts with blood. Once these muscles had a good, solid pump, I found that my joints felt more stable. Though the weights were slightly down when I performed my work sets, the contraction was much more intense, which is what will make your muscles grow!
The next combination that I’ve found to work well is one that I admittedly "jacked" from D.C. Training creator Dante Trudel. I find that pumping the calves, followed by an intra-set stretch, promotes greater flexibility and allows me to keep my heals seemingly "glued" to the ground when squatting. I will also perform several sets of leg curls prior to training quads. This allows for my quad tendons ready to be "primed" and preps my knees for the compound assault!
This protocol is perfect for anyone who has some years under their belt in the gym, as well as any wear and tear on their joints. I must admit: I was surprised at how much my performance increased once I started utilizing this approach.
In addition to priming before training, I added stretching where it matters most—after training a muscle! Once I’d thrashed the muscle—and pumped it with plenty of growth-enducing blood—I performed static stretching. I’ve found that this facilitates recovery and loosens the fascia to allow the muscles to expand, which I’ve found is great at eliminating that “tight” feeling the days following a workout.
Let’s Prime and Pump it!
Here is what several workouts should look like using this technique:
Workout 1: Chest/Biceps
Preacher Curls 3x 25,15,10
Incline Dumbbell curls(supinate on the way up and pronate on the way down)3x10,15,25
Reverse curls 3x30,20,10
Dumbbell Bench Presses 4x8-12
Incline Barbell Presses 3x8-12
Weighted Dips Superset with Dumbbell flies 2x8-12
Workout 2: Quads/Hams/Calves
Standing Calf Raises 3x10-12. On the last set, hold the stretch position for 10 seconds on each rep.
Lying leg Curls 3x8-12. Hold the contraction for a two count on each rep. You can perform a rest-pause set on the final set if you want to ramp up the intensity, just keep a slow, deliberate tempo and squeeze the hell out of it!
Squats 5x8-12. Make sure to keep tension while squatting. The best way to do so is by imagining that you’re pulling yourself down by the hamstrings. This will force you to keep everything tight. The weight will be somewhat limited by this, but the pump and (good) pain you’ll feel in your quads will be tremendous! The last set should be almost impossible. If you don’t quite get the designated number of reps, that is fine. The point is to push as hard as you can and once you fail, that is all she wrote!
Leg presses 4x30,25,20,15. Keep these moving like a piston to finish off your wheels. If you need to rest-pause these to get all the volume in, feel free!
Workout 3: Shoulders/Triceps
Bent-over Dumbbell Trap Row 3x 30,20,15. This movement is a hybrid—not quite a lat row, and not quite a rear lateral. I find that these get blood into the rear delts, as well as the mid/lower traps, very well. Give them a try and I promise you’ll love them!
Standing Barbell Shoulder press 4x 8-12. Keep these under control. You will find that after the trap row, there will be an intense pump in your upper back and rear delts, which will make this movement feel much better. Being more aware of your upper back when pressing has a good advantage—this will allow you to stay tighter and really torch your shoulders.
Lateral Raises 8x10—Run the rack. Start off with a light weight for ten, and increase three times with no rest. After you’re done with the fourth set, go back the other way. Brutal, but awesome! Your shoulders should be screaming!
Triceps Pushdowns 4x30,25,20,15
Skull Crushers (straight bar) 3x8-12
Workout 4: Back
Before you begin training back, perform a few light sets of flyes for chest, then stretch it out. Since the pecs are the antagonist for the lats, you need to make sure they aren’t tight so that you can get your back in a fully contracted position. Once your pecs feel stretched, only then should you begin.
Stiff Arm pulldowns 4x30,25,20,15. Keep the tempo piston-like and try to get a solid pump before moving on.
Wide grip Pulldowns 3x 8-12. Perform a rest-pause on the last set.
One Arm Dumbbell rows 3x8-12
Deadlifts 3x4-6. These sets should feel like torture after what proceeded them, but the result will be a much thicker back.
So there you have it: a program geared toward packing on the beef without killing the joints. Wear and tear will happen, but it doesn’t have to slow you down. I’ve given you the tools, now it is time for you to hit the gym and perform some priming and pumping of your own!