Sunday, July 16, 2017

Building Impressive Strength in the Older Athlete, Part One





Dr. Kevin Fast is a 54-year old priest who once pulled a plane weighing 188 tons—a then world-record.

There are several different methods, workout programs, and tricks of the trade you can use to build an impressive amount of strength.  Most of them I've written about here on my blog, so it's not that hard to find a good method or program to use.  When you factor in not just this blog, but the rest of the good blogs and sites that are available these days, well, you have a plethora of methods at your disposal.

Maybe too many.

The problem is not in finding the right program, but in finding the right program for you.

The gist of this article is going to be about methods of strength training for the older athlete—along with an example program—but the methods employed could also be used for the younger athlete, as well, especially one who develops strength well on lower-volume programs (this would typically be larger athletes) or one who has a 9-to-5 job that is especially strenuous and physical (such as construction worker).  But I think the majority of younger guys and gals would do better on a more voluminous routine composed of much more frequent workouts.  If you are in your 20s, in good health, and basically sit on your ass most of the day, then you would be better off with Sheiko-style workouts, Bulgarian-style methods, or one of the "workout-every-damn-day" methods that I have written about extensively at Integral Strength.  It's not that that this program wouldn't work for the younger athlete—it most certainly would—but the fact would remain that it wouldn't produce results as quickly as volume-oriented, daily training programs.  Some of those programs produce such quick results that it shocks the lifter who uses them for the first time, and the lifter, in many cases, is incredibly surprised at the strength produced, especially if all that lifter has done—up until that point—are Western-style programs, and if the lifter has drank the Kool-Aid of American bodybuilding that still often claims—for no good reason other than ignorance—that the best results are obtained with low-volume, infrequent training.

Having said the above, let me emphasize this: the methods I recommend in this article are not the only methods that can be used for the older strength athlete.  This is just one of a few.  Now, keep in mind that, if you're an older athlete, you don't have the option of a multitudinous amount of programs at your disposal, but you do have the option of a few very good ones.  This one just being one of those.  In future posts, I'll give you what I think are the other two great ways for building strength in the older lifter.  Keep in mind, too, that this is for the older lifter who still wants to strength train.  If you are interested in bodybuilding or just looking good, then there are still several more good programs at your disposal.

The Art of Building Strength

Any good program available will always properly manipulate the three key variables of any program: volume, frequency, and intensity. When it comes to building impressive amounts of muscle, or a combination of impressive amounts of muscle with a boatload of strength to boot, then, typically, the program does well by always keeping the frequency high, and then properly manipulating the other two variables to suit its goals.

If strength, and only strength, is your goal, then the most important variable is intensity, with the other two manipulated properly depending on the style of program that is being used.  To put it another way, the workout itself is what matters when your only goal is strength, not the volume or frequency of the workouts.  It's not that muscle won't grow with these style of workouts, but when hypertrophy occurs, its simply a side effect, not a bi-product of the methods employed.

As a matter of fact, in the past, if I ever trained a lifter who had trouble staying in a weight class because he gained muscle too easily (yes, this is a problem for some lifters, believe it or not, all of you self-proclaimed "hardgainers"), then I would have him do a very high-intensity workout, with low to mid-volume and low-frequency.  (For those of you who haven't figured it out at this point or who haven't read my past articles/posts, "intensity" here refers to the amount of weight lifted not how "hard" the workout is, so in no way does "high intensity" refer to "momentary muscular failure" or some other absurd Mentzerian nonsense that I pretty much abhor, mine and Jared Smith's recent "Cemetery Circuit Training" aside.)

For the sake of this particular program, we are going to employ high-intensity workouts combined with low-frequency and a volume methodology that will oscillate.  (And for those of you familiar with both my early writing in the mid '90s—when I wrote tons for Iron Man magazine and MuscleMag International—and with my more recent ideas over the last couple of years, you may—or may not—find it a breath of fresh air that I still recommend, when the situation dictates it, low-frequency programs.)

The Methods of Low-Frequency Strength-Building

First things first: these are the methods of building strength that this program employs.  These are not the only methods for building impressive amounts of strength.  Do not see what I am writing here as contradicting other methods I have recommended.  The situation, and the lifter himself, dictates the methods employed.

in Part Two of this series, we'll pick up right where Part One leaves off, with some specific methods, followed by an example program to begin putting the methods into practice...

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Death and Iron

It's been almost six months since my last post.  Three months ago, if I am honest, I didn't think I would be sitting here now, typing these words.

I thought I would be dead.

I am not going to get into all of the details - not yet, anyway.  I will save all of that for another post, when I am feeling more of a combination of elegiac and poetic, and when I think I'm ready to write about my declining health, and how it has affected my life in ways - often, amazingly - better, but bitter, as well, than I imagined such declining health could.  

But my health has caused some real problems.  Until only a few weeks ago, I haven't been able to write, and I haven't been able to do the one thing I almost love more than anything else I do on this green Earth of God's: lift weights.

But I am writing again.

And I am lifting again.

Hopefully my health will continue to improve even more, which means even more writing and more lifting.  Often, the more I lift, the more I write.  Or maybe it's the other way around.  I don't really know.  But I know that somehow the two are intrinsically intertwined with one another.  It doesn't even matter if I'm not writing about "lifting matters" at the time - the two are still interconnected.
My son Garrett, taken a few month's back.

Last night - while my eldest son Matthew was at the local gym "priming" and "pumping" his chest and arm muscles with a cascade of cacophonously glittering machines - Garrett, my youngest son, and I decided to do nothing but an old-fashioned "grease-the-groove" deadlift routine in our dungeonous garage gym.  It was hot as hell - to use a much cliched term - outside, and one of the overhead lights went out in the garage when we stepped outside, casting an eerie glow over the whole bar-bending event, as we quickly broke into high-humidity-induced sweats.

Iron Maiden serenaded us in the background as the deadlift bar clanged more times than I could count.  Occasionally, the dog next door howled over the proceeds, whether it was from the iron, or the "new wave of British heavy metal" screaming through the speakers, or simply mine and my son's presence, I don't know.

The bottom line: it was good to be alive.  And it was good to be lifting weights.

And it is good to write once more.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Cemetery Circuit Training

C.S.'s Note: The following is a training program that Jared Smith and I have had in the works for some time.  It's Jared's brainchild.  He came to me with an article that outlined the program.  I made a few tweaks here-and-there, added some notes on classic bodybuilders, and what you are reading here is the end result.

In honor and promotion of our new program, the template here at Integral Strength has changed—as you may have noticed—to a more ghoulish and ghastly image.

If you have any questions or comments regarding the program, please post them in the "comments" section instead of emailing me.  That way, Jared can reply as well.

And just why are we calling this program "Cemetery Circuit Training"?  Read on, discover, and (hopefully) enjoy!


Cemetery Circuit Training
Pump-Inducing, Hellish Training for Muscle Building Heaven!
C.S. Sloan and Jared Smith

     Most of us who have attempted to build muscle for a significant length of time can attest to the fact that muscles often respond to a variety of methods. There will come a time when simply adding weight to the bar will not work.  There are also times when increasing volume is an awesome, kick-ass way to get your muscles to start growing again.  And, there will inevitably come a time when you realize that one cannot spend every-waking-moment in the gym. The point is that nothing will make you grow forever, no matter how efficient or scientifically sound you think the workout regimen might be. With that in mind, the following is an 8-week program designed to shock you into new growth if you have stalled or have simply become bored with what you’re currently doing.
     First, however, we’ll have to walk you through the various methods behind the madness!
King TUT
     Before you get the bright idea that we’re going to rant about ancient Egyptian rulers, allow us to explain. (First, and foremost, we just thought that “King Tut” sounded awesomely cool!)  To understand how this program works, you must first understand the mechanisms we will be “tapping into” that make this program effective. The first of these is muscular damage.  You will be using a 6-count negative and positive in some sets of this program. This portion— especially the negative phase—is where the vast majority of muscular damage is caused. The increased time under tension will cause the muscle damage essential for making gains. The small micro tears in the muscle will have to be repaired so that the muscle can grow back thicker and stronger. This portion of the workout will also burn and it will like the fires of hell. This painful feeling needs to be embraced if you intend to push past any plateau you have reached and/or you just want to induce maximum hypertrophy. Because, when it comes to hypertrophy, time under tension is king!
The Nile Runs Red
     Blood volume is also a huge contributor to growth. Nutrients and oxygen are carried to the muscles via blood. The more blood one can force into the muscle, the more volumized the cells will become, which in turn will cause hypertrophy. As a matter of fact, cell swelling is more correlated with growth than muscular damage.  Here, we have in mind old-time bodybuilders such as Sergio Oliva, Reg Park, John Grimek, or Serge Nubret (the list could go on-and-on).  They understood the importance of pumping—or flushing a muscle, as it was often called back then.  They knew that a muscle that pumped up easily was more likely to grow than one that didn’t.  It was nothing for bodybuilders of the ‘50s and ‘60s to do 30 sets of bench presses or barbell curls—whatever it took to get their muscles swollen like balloons.  In our Cemetery Circuit Training, we want to induce just such a mind-blowing pump, only we’re going to achieve it with far less sets.  (In fact, this workout program might even make the likes of Mike Mentzer proud—we envision him smiling down at us from his Ayn Rand/H.I.T. training heaven!  [C.S.’s note: I always like to imagine that God has reserved a special place in hell for Ayn Rand and followers of her “objectionist” ilk, and perhaps Mentzer, tormented by real philosophers such as Plato, Plotinus, Aristotle, and Epictetus there in that little corner of Hades, can find some measure of amusement and relief by this article.  But one can only dream.])
     While doing this type of training, it is important to stay hydrated and keep nutrients flowing to the muscles during your workouts. When you are utilizing a blood-volume style of training, your intra-workout nutrition is extremely important. When at rest, there is very little blood in skeletal muscle, but the amount is increased tremendously during training. So if your blood is saturated with nutrients, you will shuttle them directly to where they need to go. While training, consume some simple carbs, as they will get into your system quickly, and—if possible—utilize creatine and BCAAs. This combo will make certain that you will expand your cells and saturate them—priming them for the pump.   
     There are other theories associated with blood volume training such as hyperplasia or cell splitting—the forming of multiple muscle cells from a single cell.  Another thought on blood volume work is that it will fill the muscle with blood to the extent that the fascia—the connective tissue that keeps the muscle fibers in bundles—will be stretched, allowing for expansion and growth of the muscle.
     You may wonder why we are pointing out theory rather than fact. The reason is that if you look at the evidence, you begin to realize that it is a real possibility. German Volume Training—Charles Polliquin’s ten-set-per-bodypart program that he first popularized 20 years ago in the old Muscle Media 2000 magazine—is an example—brief rest, lots of volume, and plenty of time under tension. Training programs such as Hany Rambod’s FST-7 is another example of the validity of such programs. Could it simply be the added volume? Sure. However, one cannot look past the fact that there are plenty of people who do the same amount of work but do not achieve the same fullness and density to the muscles than those bodybuilders who focus on engorging the muscle with blood.
The Training Dark Ages
     The next eight weeks will be miserable, yet you will feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment upon completion of the workouts. Keep a workout log to track progress.  Odds are, the first couple of sessions will leave you gassed if you haven’t been using such a system, and you may not be able to finish the last required reps.  When you are able to complete all reps for all sets, then increase the weight.  Although strength is not the cornerstone of this program, nor is it the goal, knowing that you have surpassed your previous performance will let you know that you are on the right track to growth! This is not the dark ages, so write it down and keep up with the progress you make.
Number of the Beast
     For the first set of all exercises, perform them with a “normal” cadence—a controlled negative, followed by a fairly “explosive” positive portion of the rep. The next set will be done with a 6 second negative, followed by a 6 second pause, then ending with a 6 second positive. Put it all together and you have the devilish scheme of 666—Iron Maiden would be so proud! These workouts will be done in giant set fashion—or circuits, if you will, hence the title of the program. That means no rest between movements, and ponderous amounts of lactic acid, which will lead to maximizing hypertrophy gains. You will rest for 3 minutes between each of these hellish giant sets!
The Cemetery Circuit Training Program
Brace yourself!
Weeks 1 through 3
Day 1
Squats: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Bench presses: 1x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Deadlifts: 1x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Standing Military Presses:  1x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Chins: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Dips: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Note: If you are unable to complete designated number of reps for dips and chins, simply cheat on the positive phase and do negatives until you can no longer control the negative phase of these movements.
Day 2: Off
Day 3
Bulgarian Split Squats: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Dumbbell Bench Presses: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Stiff Leg Deadlifts: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Skull Crushers: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Barbell Curls: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
 Day 4: Off
Day 5:  Repeat Day 1
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Off 
Weeks 4 through 8
Day 1: Chest/Back
Bench Presses: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Dumbbell Flies: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Dips: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
One Arm Dumbbell Rows: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Chins: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme (If unable to complete all reps, cheat your way up on the positive and do negatives until you lose control or have a negative that lasts less than 3 seconds.)
Deadlifts: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
 Day 2: Off
Day 3: Legs
Squat: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Bulgarian Split Squats: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Stiff-legged Deadlifts: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
 Day 4: Off
Day 5: Shoulders and Arms
Standing Barbell Shoulder presses: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Dumbbell Lateral Raises: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Barbell or Dumbbell Curls: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Reverse Curls: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Dumbbell Skull Crushers: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Dips: 1 x 6 reps at regular cadence; 1 x 6 reps of 666 scheme
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Off
     After week 5, increase the circuits to 3 at each workout for weeks 6 and 7.  On week 8, perform a total of 4 circuits!  After week 8, take a week off from training, rest, recover, and grow bigger than ever!  At this point, you can switch over to an entirely different program, or have another go at one more 8-week training cycle.

     This program might feel like hell on earth, but we are positive that your results will feel as if hypertrophy manna has rained down upon you from the bodybuilding gods!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

2016 Year in Review

It has been far too long since I last posted something here at Integral Strength.  For those of you who have enjoyed reading my blog over the years, please forgive my dereliction.  Hopefully, starting with this post—and God willing—things in 2017 will be different.

I usually don't make this blog too much of a "personal" thing.  At least, not to the degree that you see on many blogs.  But, I thought, "what the hell", maybe I can make more "journal" entries at IS, ones that are reflective of not just my physical growth—as in strength and muscular development—but ones that also reflective my personal growth: mental, emotional, spiritual.  Not just body, but mind and spirit (or even Spirit, if you will).

Don't worry, I have not stopped training, or even writing, since my last post, though both have been more haphazard than I would like them to be.

Writing first: I have been fairly hard at work on a memoir-esque book dealing with my life as an Orthodox Christian over the past 5 to 6 years, and, more specifically, my spiritual life as it has been influenced by Orthodox saints.  The tentative subtitle of the book would be something along the lines of "Living with the Orthodox Saints," or "My Life with the Orthodox Saints".  The Saints of Orthodoxy are a bit different than what you tend to find in the saints of the West.  They are ones defined more by a spiritual "interiority"—a life lived in the "cave of the heart", one of humility, asceticism (some of the asceticism is of an heroic extreme), and spiritual warfare.  This kind of ascetic spirituality produces a different kind of "person" than what you often find in western religion.

For me, personally, my Eastern Orthodox spirituality has allowed me to get through some of my struggles of 2016, struggles that have largely been physical, but have also allowed emotional pains to enter in because of the physical pains.  My writing has become a sort of spiritual therapy too, as I learn myself—not just teach—about the Orthodox saints.  And, trust me, the saints of the Eastern Church have a lot to teach modern western man, who has become more and more susceptible to psychological, emotion, mental, and spiritual ills than at any time in the west's past.

Training: Because of my physical health, my training has been more limited than it has been in any year before 2016.  Further down in this post, I will give you my current training "split", along with my plans moving forward.  (As a note, this will also include quite a few posts in 2017 dealing with "Training After 40—And Beyond!" sort of entries.)

I have trained significantly less in 2016 than in any other year that I can remember.  Yes, I did have the year—about a decade ago—when I had surgery for several herniated disks.  Although that year prevented me from training for almost six months straight, I trained consistently for the six months afterwards, and I was able to get back to hard, frequent, regular training—even if the training wasn't always as heavy as before—for many years after.

Year in Review

The BAD Stuff First

2016 started in one of the worst ways I could have ever imagined.  My beloved priest—Father Demetrius Edwards of Saint Gregory's Orthodox Church in Tuscaloosa, Al—passed away (or "fell asleep in the Lord" as we say in Orthodoxy) at the very beginning of the year.  I loved him like a father.  In fact, he was a father to me.  He was my spiritual father, and had become equally as dear to me as my earthly father.
Father Demetrius marrying me and my wife Tara


Starting in 2015, and even some in 2014, I had quite a few physical pains.  Severe joint and back pain, primarily, but also lethargy that increased as the months of 2016 progressed.  Father Demetrius was always there for me during these times, guiding me spiritually as my health declined.  With his death, I felt lost and bereft of the guidance I had trusted since becoming Orthodox in 2011.

For the first quarter of 2016, my health continued to get worse.  Extreme lethargy, combined with some extreme back, stomach, and chest pain.  Toward the summer, I got a little better once I had surgery to remove my gallbladder.  Apparently, it was so inflamed that it should have been removed at a considerable time prior to the surgery.  It was infected, which also caused me issues before and after the surgery.

I was hoping that the surgery would make things better.  And, yes, it did, in that it eliminated much of my pain.  But I knew that things were not "right", so to speak, with my health.  As the year went on, I developed more and more lethargy.  Some days, I could hardly get out of bed.  When I did, I would be exhausted with the simple act of showering, brushing my teeth, or putting on my clothes.  It affected my work—I have never been one to miss days of work in my "regular" job as an Industrial Engineer.  I have always valued a good, strong work ethic.  But there were days that I could hardly function, and would have to miss a day or two of work at a time, or I would often have to go into work late once my lethargy subsided.  On weeks where I did work my regular 8, 10, or 12 hour shifts, I was so exhausted when I returned home that it made training or writing damn-near impossible.

I am not going to lament my pain at length in these pages—I won't no sympathy, only prayers for those of you who believe (or know) that there is a Power That Knows the Way.  I will only say this: as it turns out, I have a severe neurological disorder that attacks my central nervous system, and this affects both my brain and my muscles, to greater or lesser degrees on certain days.  Some days, I feel perfectly fine, as if I could train for hours at a time, whether in martial arts, or when lifting weights.  Other days, simply moving my body is more laborious than a two-hour-long training session.

Now the GOOD Stuff

There is always a "silver lining", as they say.  My health has allowed me to enter into a deeper prayer life.  One that is marked by a deep, abiding sense of serene joy and peace.  My pain has been a gift, as simple as that.

My health has also allowed me to focus on training others during this time, particularly my sons and some of their training partners.  As I have always said on this blog, you won't learn much about training if you have only ever trained yourself.  This is the reason some of the largest, strongest, most muscular guys in the gym suck at training others.  What works for themselves, won't necessarily work for others.  Especially those not as genetically gifted.
My son Garrett doing a set of dumbbell curls

My son Matthew demonstrates his arm development after a biceps session

It's safe to say that my son Matthew is one of the biggest, most well-developed 17-year old bodybuilders you will ever see.  My son, Garrett, is not far behind him.  Garrett is not near as big, but he is "ripped" and "shredded".  He is also on his high school's track team, which is one of the most elite in the state, and runs one hell of a 100-meter dash.
Garrett's impressive back development can be seen during a set of barbell curls


Looking Forward

In posts to come, I will have several entries dealing with both of my sons' training styles.  Matthew is pure, old-school bodybuilder—get as massive as humanly possible, while also having the strength to boot.  Garrett is all about building the most strength and power as can be built, while maintaining a lean, good-looking physique.

Matthew will get back to writing some posts, on occasion, while I will write others dealing with his training.

Jared Smith—long-term contributor here—has had some life transitions which have limited his training, and his writing, but he has recently told me that he has some stuff in the works, and he would send me plenty of new material soon.  In addition—and this might be one of the most exciting things here at IS—Jared and I have co-written an article outlining a new, unique form of training we have developed that is specifically for building muscle.  It will be first in an on-going series between the two of us.  I think it will be both instructional, and entertaining.

My writing for 2017 will focus on four areas: old-school bodybuilding and power training (per the usual), training for the over-40 crowd, journal entries that outline my life as it pertains to diet, exercise, and spiritual practices, and, lastly, some posts that are pure integral philosophy.

2017 is going to be one for both erudite learning and bad-ass training here at Integral Strength!