When was the last time you tested the waters of strength? If you seem to have reached your limit, it's probably time to fortify your foundation to find out just how strong you can truly be. Now's your chance, so choose wisely.
Most strength articles you'll find focus on a couple of important elements: load and rest. And you won't find us in disagreement. Load (or intensity - that is, choosing a weight that corresponds to your maximum lift strength), and proper rest periods are both crucial to the success of someone seeking great gains in strength. And those typical strength-building articles rightly gravitate toward compound exercises and prime movers that don't rely so much on stabilizer muscles, since stabilizers limit the amount of force the big moves can create. Still no real argument here.
However, that's exactly where this particular strength feature finds its independence. See, we want you to focus on the auxiliary muscles because they support the joints of the major muscle groups, and their ability - or lack thereof - could be the limiting factor in your own progress. Even if the muscles most responsible for a particular lift are strong and capable, the underlying and unseen structures that support the joints might not be able to keep up with what you're trying to lift. And when it comes to strength, sometimes he devil is in the inner details. If you know your weakness lies in stabilizer strength, then the devil you know beats the devil you don't.
The most important detail in this strategy is the systematic order of exercises. It's the order of exercises for each muscle group that makes the greatest difference in progressive strength in both stabilizers and major lifts. The exercises in and of themselves are not earth-shattering or novel. But much like the correct numbers to a lock combination or a substrate to a chemical reaction, the order of exercises will trigger a response unlike any you've experienced.
Each day, you'll be training in a way that takes you from the exercises requiring the most stabilizer activity to those requiring the least. That way, as you move throughout the day's program, as the synergistic muscles and stabilizers tire out, each new exercise you move on to will require less stability (and thus less work on the part of those highly fatigued stabilizers) than the one before it. You're basically working from the inside out, and by going deeper and training the smaller, intricate stabilizers first, you'll ultimately ensure progressive strength and size of the dominant muscles over the long term.
On chest day, for example, you might go from a dumbbell move to a barbell move and then finish on the Smith machine. At the end of the day, you'll have attacked the chest with exercises (using dumbbells primarily, then barbells) that tax the stabilizers of the joints responsible for working the chest, as well as with exercises (on the machine) that solely blast the chest without much stabilizer work. When you melt the benefits of each exercise together over the course of a series of four week cycles, you can imagine how much stronger you'll become. And your chest will look it. Big and strong - isn't that what we're here for?
You might be wondering whether we're breaking a cardinal rule of training called specificity, which says that in order to gain strength in a particular lift you have to perform that lift. Also known as training skee-ficifity in honor of Norbert Schemansky. We're absolutely not breaking the rule; we're only enhancing the body's ability to perform all major lifts. As you'll see in each workout, the major lift is prominent, just strategically placed within each day. We realize that if you practice the leg press, for example, it won't necessarily translate to a better squat. However, if while you practice the squat you also attack unfamiliar muscles that are indirectly and directly related to your squat performance, then you'll have the best of both worlds.
You might also be curious as to whether we're breaking our own rule that says to hit your major lifts early in your workout when you're the freshest. Again, no. This scheme isn't designed to replace your standard bodybuilding or strength-training plan; it's meant to be a technical tool to be used in conjunction with your current routine. For at least the next four weeks we're going to have you training each major bodypart twice per week, following a three-day split. The first time you hit a bodypart you can use your standard program; the second time you hit it that week, you'll follow the inside-out approach.
So, let's go back to our chest example.
On the first chest day of the week, you'll hit your typical routine, in which you begin with, say, incline barbell presses before moving on to flat bench dumbbell flyes, decline presses and cable crossovers. Perfect.
On the second chest day of the week, you'll go from exercises requiring the most stabilizer assistance to those that require the least. The fact that you've never tried this will likely mean substantial increases in how much weight you'll ultimately be able to lift after following this program for just a few weeks.
We realize that it's not sexy and doesn't sell magazines, but we want this it at the top of your mind -
Injury prevention and safety.
Intentionally working to strengthen your stabilizer muscles will absolutely, positively help prevent injury over the course of your lifting life. If most of us dedicated ourselves to this type of inside-out workout routine, there would be less nagging shoulder, elbow, hip and knee pain - all culprits of both short- and long-term setbacks.
Also, on the list of stabilizer muscles within this inside-out approach, the core musculature is near the top. Since the core is so involved with single-arm and other unstable exercises - because of torque and required balance - it also gets fatigued early in the workout before you move on to exercises that require less. Add a stronger core to the list of reasons why you'll be much stronger on each lift you attempt at the end of the program - especially on the major lifts.
At the end of the day, the best way we've found to work the stabilizers is with dumbbells. So, for our inside-out approach, in the second half of the week, for each bodypart, you're going to be working first with a dumbbell exercise, then with a barbell move, and finishing with a machine move. Again, the reason we start with dumbbells is that dumbbell exercises, which allow the greatest range of motion in all sorts of directions, require the stabilizers to work overtime to keep the bodypart on the right path of motion on each and every repetition. As you move on to the barbell move, that reliance on stabilizers decreases until you hit the machine, where you won't have to worry about balance or stability at all.
How much weight you lift on each exercise (as a percentage of your max lift for each move) is referred to as the intensity, and on this program you'll stair-step the weight, gradually decreasing it with each successive exercise. Thus, the heaviest sets will fall under those dumbbell exercises that allow a lot of freedom, which makes heavier weight even more challenging. Of course, the major target muscles are also highly at work, which is why, by the time you get to the machine moves, you can decrease the weight slightly, since they'll be somewhat prefatigued.
Finally, we've focused our attention on the major bodyparts whose major lifts are the most crucial for overall strength. It's fine if you want to continue your standard training for bodyparts such as arms, traps and calves during the first few days of the week, but keep in mind that you might want to modify the total number of sets and the intensity during the first half of the week to accommodate the inside-out style later in the week.
The inside-out workouts in the program - for legs, chest, shoulders, and back - are designed for you to insert into your training split, specifically, to build up your strength in the basic core lifts: squat, bench press, overhead press and bentover row. You'll also see that we've allowed you to train your biceps and triceps, but feel free to save those for the first three days if you so desire. If you're not accustomed to training each bodypart twice a week, this will certainly be a shock, and the attention you'll give your stabilizers will up the physiological ante. Ultimately, this program is a sound way to build strength and size, and it follows a logical progression, which is especially useful when other methods come to a grinding halt or have temporarily failed.
THE INSIDE-OUT SPLIT
Standard - you can cater the first three days of your week to accommodate your current bodypart combinations and routine, keeping in mind the order of bodyparts you'll work in days 5 to 7.
Day 1 - Legs
Day 2 - Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
Day 3 - Back, Biceps
Day 4 - Rest
Day 5 -Legs
Day 6 - Chest, Shoulders, Triceps*
Day 7 - Back, Biceps*
* Optional. You can skip arm training in the second half of the week if so desired.
Note: we suggest you test your strength and performance on four major lifts:
Squat, Bentover Row, Bench Press, Overhead Press.
After each cycle of the program you can re-test your strength.
Days 1 to 4
Your regular routine for Legs/Chest, Back, Shoulders/Back, Biceps/Rest
Bulgarian Split Squat, 3 x 6-8
Squat, 4 x 8-10
Smith Machine Squat - 5 x 10-12
Leg Extension, 3 x 10-12
Lying Leg Curl, 3 x 10-12
Standing Calf Raise, 3 x 25
Flat Bench Dumbbell Press, 3 x 6-8
Bench Press, 4 x 8-10
Smith Machine Bench Press, 5 x 10-12
Incline Dumbbell Flye, 3 x 10-12
Smith Machine Decline Press, 3 x 10-12
Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press, 3 x 6-8
Overhead Barbell Press, 4 x 8-10
Machine Overhead Press, 5 x 10-12
Dumbbell Lateral Raise, 3 x 12
Seated Bentover Lateral Raise, 3 x 12
One-Arm Dumbbell Row, 3 x 6-8
Bentover Barbell Row, 4 x 8-10
T-Bar Row, 5 x 10-12
Straight Arm Pulldown, 4 x 12-15