Note: A few mornings ago I was looking through a heap of magazines and noticed one that had this blog's first article entry in it. Box Squats, by Garry Benford, posted Jan. 28, 2008. It was taken from the Dec. 1982 issue of Muscular Development magazine.
At this time Jan Dellinger was the Associate Editor of the publication and John Grimek the Editor in Chief, with Bob Hoffman still listed as Publisher. In a short time Mr. Dellinger would be listed as the Editor in Chief (John Terpak, Publisher), and throughout these times the magazine became very interesting and informative, complete with top shelf visuals featuring some of the best lifting and physique photographers around. Let's just say that the magazine during this period was a cut above.
My books and magazines are in disarray, just the way I like them to be, but I did come across and rip out a couple more articles from issues of MD in the mess, and will be posting some selected training articles from them in the next while, with any luck.
Taken From This Issue (Dec. 1982)
Understanding the 'Stress Load' Principle
by George Elder
In any good strength training system it is extremely important to use weights and repetitions that have a sound basis for full strength potentials to be realized. It would make little sense to use a very light weight and a great number of repetitions in order to improve one's maximum in a particular lift as expeditiously as possible. On the other hand, always doing maximum single attempts may not be the answer either.
Individuals respond in such a variety of ways that making any absolute rules for strength training is folly. There are some generalizations, however, that most experts would agree on. But before going into them,it is always important to understand the rationale behind any system in order for you, the individual, to apply it properly or reject it.
When training for strength, most people tend to use stress loads of between 80% and 100% of their current maximum, for between one and eight repetitions on their heavy sets. Similarly, in most European and Soviet systems, stress loads of 90% to 100% and beyond are advised to best enhance strength gains.
Most Powerlifters and Olympic lifters in this country also use these prescribed loads during their heavy training phases, so there seems to be a general consensus. Hence, it would seem sensible to use what has worked best for most people as the basis for a generally valid system. Therefore, we can assume that stress loads of at least 80% of maximum should be used, with a bias toward levels in the 90% to 100% range.
Having ascertained generally valid stress loads, the matter of proper warm up must be considered. After all, one cannot simply jump under a bar loaded to 90% of his best and expect to perform well. He must warm up but not to the extent that it detracts from his performance on the heavy "strength sets."
There were many old training systems that took warming up into account, and one of the most popular was the 10-8-6-4-2-1 pyramid approach. The lifter would start off with a weight he could handle for 10 reps and then add 20 pounds or so for his next set and do 8 reps. He would keep going up in regular steps until he reached a weight he could do only once.
Needless to say, the majority of the work with this method was done at the lower stress level sets, and frequently the lifter would "burn out" by the time he reached the 4-2-1 "strength sets," which were actually the only sets of 90% or more in the whole pyramid. This system definitely warmed up the lifter, but then again it put too much emphasis on the lighter weight sets.
The next step was one that is still regarded as a very good system. This is the old Five-by-Five system which Bill Starr has really brought to the forefront. In this system, the lifter did his first set of 5 reps with a weight that comprised about 70% of his maximum. The following set of 5 was performed with roughly 80%. Then, the last three sets -- which were continued for 5 reps each -- were done with 85% to 90% of his best.
This system avoided early fatigue and guided the lifter to his strength sets as expeditiously as possible. He warmed up sufficiently to heighten the many nuances that are necessary for realizing maximal muscle contraction, but not to the extent that the muscles became excessively fatigued. A balance had been achieved and this was the start of advanced strength systems.
The five-by-five approach works well with both Olympic and Powerlifts. However, the only drawback to this method is the fact that none of the work is done with stress loads above 90%, plus some critics feel that the warm up is inadequate. The latter point is debatable, but the former is a generally realistic criticism. The problem now becomes one of putting in more heavy sets but not overdoing it on the way up to those heavy sets.
The current system that is used at the University of New Hampshire is a variation of the five-by-five method. In this system the same basics apply as to the five-by-five but there is a greater emphasis on heavy sets. The following is our current general strength training system:
60% x 6-8 reps
75% x 5
85% x 5
90% x 3-5
95% x 2-3 reps, 2 sets.
We have had great success with this system and it is very workable with most people. The above routine is used on Heavy Days, whereas on the Light Days the program looks like this:
60% x 6-8
75% x 6
85% x 6 reps, 3 sets.
The rationale behind alternating these systems is that very high stress levels tend to burn out the lifter over time and it would behoove our interest to prevent this. In point of fact, this system can be criticized because of its very high stress levels. That is why it is advisable to use that light workout day every week.
After each workout, some lifters like to do a wind down set with approximately 70% for 6-8 reps. This is fine and won't detract from the system at all; in fact, if you have the time I would advise it!
In closing, we should consider that there is no ideal system and all we have done here is formulate a system out of generalizations. In the great majority of cases, though, the systems presented here are valid, but they are not necessarily for everyone.
You may be one of those who responds to repetitions of a high nature, or one who only responds to maximum loads for single repetitions. KNOW YOURSELF and only then can you evolve a personally valid strength training system.