Monday, October 21, 2013

Strength - Flex (2013)












Few things are more impressive than watching a dude load up five or six plates on each side of a squat bar and taking it deep to the bucket before driving it back up with authority -- for six or eight reps. And to make matters worse, when you glance over you notice legs the size of tree trunks. Likely, your first thought will be, "What is this guy doing in his training that I'm not?"

Strength is the first test of man's will to overcome. It's the genesis of lifting and fitness, and dates back a few thousand years, when it was a tremendous asset for survival. Fast-forward to the late 1800's and early 1900's, and feats of strength were the main attraction at any venue. Today, strength testing is still being performed, but has taken a backseat to size-building and shaping the perfect physique. But ask anyone who's anyone in the sport of bodybuilding and they'll tell you they began by lifting heavy, and that before they even considered trying to build and shape their massive physiques, they were in the gym working to build strength.

While volume reigns as the best way to build size, there's no better way to lay down dense muscle fiber and build a rock-solid base than to train strength. And whether you're a novice or a longtime veteran of the bodybuilding game, a solid strength cycle is a must every few months, if not more often. It's not a stretch to see the reasoning behind a good strength program. Lift more weight and increase your strength, and you inevitably hit more reps at the weight you did before, as it becomes lighter.

This example should serve well to illustrate. 70% of 100 is 70. 70% of 150 is 105. While pursuing biceps bliss, would you rather be curling 70 or 105 pounds for your reps? Furthermore, if you've increased your max, the weight you used to do do will feel much lighter. At your former load, you'll be able to bang out plenty of reps - just like the big benchers who take 225 for a 40-50 rep ride. While physiology will define it, math will prove it. It's simple. Don't be afraid. Don't avoid it. Embrace it and watch your lifts increase and your size benefit as an aftereffect.

I don't need to explain this scientifically, since the proof is definitely in the pudding - but I will anyway. Why? Because we need to define some rules as to what strength really is. More importantly, we need to prevent guys from doing 1/8 or 1/4 reps, throwing things around, making asses of themselves in the gym and occupying space needed by people who really want to see results. I'm tired of watching guys waste time loading up machines to do less than even a partial rep. They make a spectacle of the loading, disappoint on the lift, take 10 minutes between sets, then don't put their shit away. Another reason why science is necessary is for those who forget their legs exist. Let this serve as a reminder not only that friends don't let friends skip leg day, but also that strength training, by definition, will force other muscles to fire and get big. Take a look at the abs of the leaner, heavy squatters and deadlifters - trust me, no need for situps when you lift big.


Entire Body Builds Strength

Scientific evidence has shown that even muscles not being trained improve during strength training. To balance big loads you need to activate additional stabilizer muscles and even antagonistic (opposing) muscles. If you're a competitive bench presser you already know that your lats, when combined with your pecs, will produce much  greater force and drive out of the bottom of your lift. Build a thick back and your pushing strength goes up. Build solid legs, and all your lifts go up. Muscles need to work together to lift the big stuff. If you've ever gotten yourself under some heavy weight, whether it was helping a friend move furniture or in the weight room, you know that a three-rep max or even a one-rep supermax leaves you breathless for a while. It took every ounce of muscle you had to do it while getting plenty of help from stabilizers and assistor muscle groups. We know that because a day or two later you're wondering why some obscure muscle has DOMS and it's preventing you from getting comfortable. That's strength, and that kind of training is what makes muscle fibers activate, fire, and grow big. This is not news, though, it's been decades, long enough that research has proven this fact and confirmed it several times over since.


Recruit More Fibers

It stands to reason that if you want to lift big, you need all the help you can get. One of the benefits of big strength is that you'll recruit additional fibers to join in the parade. Just like a tug-of-war team can overpower its opposition by adding another person to their side, teaching your muscles to join in and fire means that more fibers are being used. This means that two things are happening. One, all of the fibers in your muscle will get activated, and two, if they haven't been used before, they certainly will now and thus you have a few more fibers to aid in your girth goals down the road. But unlike the rules in tug-of-war where both sides have to be equal, you make the rules for the strength game, so why not overpower your opponent and beat them by increasing your odds of success? One of the tricks we can pull out is that we can alter the stimulus to force more fibers to get involved. We can vary position, technique, set and rep schemes, and exercise selection to excite dormant muscle fibers. With consistent normal training, your body preferentially recruits fibers, and becomes almost automatic in which muscle fibers fire and how it does a lift. This, while good for someone like a baseball pitcher who needs to get a ball into a strike zone, doesn't bode well for those of us who continually try to see our muscles grow during a hypertrophy-based program week in and week out. But rather than just shock your muscles by attempting to confuse them or continually changing your routine, it's best to get them to up their effort by forcing them to lift big. By doing strength training under a strict regimen, you'll simply get better overall muscle fiber recruitment and avoid those annoying plateaus that make you wonder why you ever began with weights in the first place.


Strength Training Can Bust Plateaus

Ever had one? A plateau. Well if you've been training for long and you said no, you're lying and you  can stop reading this and go back to your perfect world. It's inevitable. It's also the downfall of training for regulars of the strength world. Without doubt, continually lifting heavy will cause a plateau. So why would we suggest strength training to bust plateaus? Easy. You're not doing it now, right? Or you will engage back in a good volume and/or hypertrophy program soon enough and you'll plateau at some point down the road. Besides, a single strength workout or two mixed in to your normal routine isn't enough.

Instead, embark on a six-week challenge and reap the benefits of real strength. The truth is that plateauing is not unique to any single kind of training. The body strives for normalcy and will make even the toughest tasks in the world normal with enough practice. So for those who regularly strength train, you need a different stimulus to break plateaus (save that for another time). But for those who work mainly on their physique, this strength program will get you over the hump in addition to giving you more to work with when you go back to your standard program.


Method to the Madness

Since strength is finite and wanes very quickly, instead of slowly ramping up your strength sets, you need to have a quick warmup and hammer out the big weights early. This ensures that maximal muscle recruitment occurs and that you haven't fatigued those much-needed muscles before the heavy weight. But before you get to lifting that big set, you need to make sure that you've properly warmed up. Each day of the program starts with 2-4 warmup sets of the first exercise you'll do in the program. For example, you'll do 2-4 warmup, lighter-weight bench presses before going on to your first actual workout set. You'll then do the prescribed number of bench press sets before moving on to the next exercise (such as incline press). Note though, you don't need to perform warmups before any other sets that day, just the first.

Next, a unique thing to strength training over hypertrophy training is that exercises are targeted by by function not by muscle group. In strength training, there is no chest day, rather it's bench day. While for many those will seem like the same thing, they're quite different, as follow-up exercises are designed to increase your bench strength, not necessarily target the pecs. Exercises are chosen based on a particular phase of a single-rep max. So, for bench and squat you have - a lowering phase, a brief pause, a drive out of the bottom push, and a lockout or finish. For pulls you have - an initial drive phase, a pull through the movement to the end, a brief pause, and a  controlled lowering phase to finish the rep.

After you perform the major exercise you'll do specific exercises  that work those portions of the lift. It's like solving an equation. One step at a time, you deconstruct the lift and attack the segments. Strength training uses low rep sets, from 3 up to a max of 6, but anything more and you start to cross over and your strength gains will be limited. Four sets are the norm, and five sets are preferred for the first few exercises of each training day. This six-week program adjusts your reps at the midway mark, dropping them from the standard 5 down to 3. Of course, when you do this, you should up your weight accordingly. Rest periods should be at least 3 minutes and up to 5-6 minutes. Rushing through will limit your gains. That means that these workouts will require a little more time than normal, so plan on it. I continually get this question - "What should I do if I don't have enough time?" My answer - MAKE TIME. If it's important enough to you, you'll find the time.

With big strength, you'll only hit each movement once per week. At first that'll look like it won't do the job, but if you lift like it's the last thing you'll ever do, you'll wonder if you shouldn't have taken up bowling or billiards instead. Oh, and don't worry, we add an extra day, bringing your total to five days, to nail your arms and shoulders one more time - this time for size and shape. And lastly, you should be attempting to increase your weight each session. Don't be a wuss. Get on it.


Starting Point

I am regularly asked about calculating maxes and using percentages for training. I am not a fan. Sure, you can calculate your max, but working off percentages assumes that you have the right numbers for each day. What if you have an unusually good day - or worse, a really bad day? Then your initial starting point may be more or less than what you actually need. This will affect your weights on all your exercises and workouts, forcing you to lift heavier than you should or lighter than you want. Instead, you need to pick a weight appropriate to your strength that particular training day and go. If you have been doing sets of 8 reps, start 5-10% more weight than you normally lift. If you've been doing sets of 10, go 10-15% more for starters, and if you've been doing sets of 12 or more reps start with at least 15% more. Within a few reps you'll know where you stand, and within the first few sets of each session you'll know how heavy to go. Work hard to complete your target reps but don't cheat by using crappy form or shortening your range of motion.

Strength training is not about gimmicks. It's about the desire to push past your body's natural urge to quit. Rather than trying to determine what you should be lifting, just go out and lift heavy.


Monday Day 1 - Squat

 - Squat
(warmup) 10, 8, 6 (2 minutes rest between sets)
5 sets of 5, weeks 1 - 3 (4-5 minutes rest between sets)
5 sets of 3, weeks 4 - 6

 - Wide Stance Squat
5 x 5, weeks 1 - 3 (3-4 minutes rest)
5 x 3, weeks 4 - 6

 - Narrow Stance Squat
5 x 5, weeks 1 - 3 (3-4 minutes)
5 x 3, weeks 4 - 6

 - Leg Press
5 x 5 (3 minutes)

 - Leg Extension
5 x 6, weeks 1 - 3  (3 minutes)
5 x 5, weeks 4 - 6

 - Leg Curl
5 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)
5 x 5, weeks 4 - 6

 - Standing Calf Raise
4 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)
4 x 5, weeks 4 - 6

 - Decline Weighted Situp
4 x 8 (3 minutes)


Tuesday Day 2 - Bentover Row

 - Bentover Row
(warmup) 10, 8, 6 (2 minutes rest between sets)

 - Bentover Row

5 x 5, weeks 1 - 3 (4-5 minutes rest between sets)
5 x 3, weeks 4 - 6 (4 - 5 minutes)

 - Chinup
5 x 5, weeks 1 - 3 (3 - 4 minutes rest)
5 x 3, weeks 4 - 6 (3 - 4 minutes)

 - Pulldown
5 x 5, weeks 1 - 3 (3 - 4 minutes)
5 x 3, weeks 4 - 6 (3 - 4 minutes)

 - Seated Cable Row
5 x 5 (3 minutes)

 - Reverse Grip DB Row
5 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)
5 x 5, weeks 4 - 6 (3 minutes)

 - Rear Delt Flye
5 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)
5 x 5, weeks 4 - 6 (3 minutes)

 - Barbell Curl
5 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)
5 x 5, weeks 4 - 6 (3 minutes)

 - Preacher Curl
4 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)
4 x 8, weeks 4 - 6 (3 minutes)

 - Standing One Arm Cable Curl
4 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)
4 x 8, weeks 4 - 8 (3 minutes)


Wednesday Day 3- Bench

 - Bench Press
(warmup) 10, 8, 6 (2 minutes rest between sets)

 - Bench Press
5 x 5, weeks 1 - 3 (4 - 5 minutes)
5 x 3, weeks 4 - 6 (4 - 5 minutes)

 - Wide Grip Bench Press
5 x 5, weeks 1 - 3 (3 - 4 minutes)
5 x 3, weeks 4 - 6 (3 - 4 minutes)

 - Close Grip Bench Press
5 x 5, weeks 1 - 3 (3 - 4 minutes)
5 x 3, weeks 4 - 6 (3 - 4 minutes)

 - Incline DB Press
5 x 5 (3 minutes)

 - Barbell Overhead Press
5 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)
5 x 5, weeks 4 - 6 (3 minutes)

 - Weighted Dip
5 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (4 minutes)
5 x 5, weeks 4 - 6 (4 minutes)

 - Lying Triceps Extension
5 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)
5 x 8, weeks 4 - 6 (3 minutes)

 - Triceps Pushdown
4 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)
4 x 8, weeks 4 - 6 (3 minutes)


Friday Day 4 - Deadlift

 - Deadlift
(warmup) 10, 8, 6 (2 minutes rest between sets)

 - Deadlift
5 x 5, weeks 1 - 3 (4 - 5 minutes)
5 x 3, weeks 4 - 6 (4 - 5 minutes)

 - Sumo Deadlift
5 x 5, weeks 1 - 3 (4 minutes)
5 x 3, weeks 4 - 6 (4 minutes)

 - Straight Legged Deadlift
5 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 - 4 minutes)
5 x 5, weeks 4 - 6 (3 - 4 minutes)

 - Hack Squat
4 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)
4 x 5, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)

 - Leg Curl
4 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)
4 x 5, weeks 4 - 6 (3 minutes)

 - Seated Calf Raise
4 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)
4 x 5, weeks 4 - 6 (3 minutes)

 - Weighted Lying Crunch
4 x 6, weeks 1 - 3 (3 minutes)
4 x 5, weeks 4 - 6 (3 minutes)


Saturday Day 5 - Shoulders and Arms

 - Seated Barbell Press
3 x 10, weeks 1 - 3 (2 - 3 minutes rest between sets)
3 x 8, weeks 4 - 6 (2 - 3 minutes)

 - Dumbbell Press
3 x 10, weeks 1 - 3 (2 minute)
3 x 8, weeks 4 - 6 (2 minutes)

 - Side Lateral Raise
4 x 12, weeks 1 - 3 (2 minutes)
4 x 8, weeks 4 - 6 (2 minutes)

 - Lying Triceps Extension
3 x 10, weeks 1 - 3 (2 - 3 minutes)
3 x 8, weeks 4 - 6 (2 - 3 minutes)

 - V-bar Pushdown
3 x 12, weeks 1 - 3 (2 minutes)
3 x 8, weeks 1 - 3 (2 minutes)\

 - Close Grip Bench
4 x 12, weeks 1 - 3 (2 minutes)
4 x 8, weeks 4 - 6 (2 minutes)

 - Barbell Curl
3 x 10, weeks 1 - 3 (2 - 3 minutes)
3 x 8, weeks 4 - 6 (2 - 3 minutes)

 - Preacher Curl
3 x 12, weeks 1 - 3 (2 minutes)
3 x 8, weeks 1 - 3 (2 minutes)

 - Standing Cable Curl
3 x 12, weeks 1 - 3 (2 minutes)
3 x 8, weeks 4 - 6 (2 minutes)
















 








 


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