Dave Draper, Hugo Labra, Mike Bonoire
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Getbig Bodybuilding Forums' History - Stories and Memories Section:
Originally Published in This Issue (May 1983)
The Author: Tony Pagano
Photo Courtesy of Mark Mills
Article Courtesy of Bob Wildes
Developing strength, like anything else in life, becomes much easier once you learn the proper way of going about it. As you might have read in some of my other articles, it calls for a vastly different approach than to developing muscles. (There is really no equitable relation or ratio between the size of one's muscles and the amount of strength or force that can be derived from those muscles.) I'm sure that we've all occasionally witnessed or heard about someone who had no immense muscular size but possessed amazing strength.
The reason for this is that much of the body's strength is derived from ligaments, tendons, sinews, and bodyweight. Another very important contributing factor is the psychological state at the time that bodily strength is summoned to perform a feat or task. Lastly, but also of importance, are the muscles of the body.
To strengthen ligaments, tendons, and the sinews of the body requires intelligent training with maximum poundages. Adding bodyweight means having to eat more than you consume daily in the form of energy expenditure. I'm sure that this topic of gaining weight has been dealt with very thoroughly in an unending series of articles by other authors. So I will not go into it here, except to mention (a) gain the weight slowly - it's healthier and you put on more muscle, less fat; and (b) gain weight from foods that have superior nutritive value, rather than from pizzas, cakes, sodas, candy, etc.
A proper psychological state of mine that will be conducive to summoning greater physical effort from within you is also achieved through the use of maximum poundages in your strength training. Did it ever happen to you that you're busily doing something, let's say, writing an article. You're not thoroughly familiar with all the fact you want to put in your article, so you keep picking up the heavy encyclopedia sitting on your desk to look up the information. After doing this five or six times, you unconsciously put the encyclopedia down on a different spot on the desk. Then, unconsciously, you reach for it again to look up something and the book comes flying off the desk. You're amazed. You look into your hand and notice that you have mistakenly picked up the much lighter dictionary which was placed right next to where you had placed the encyclopedia.
Psychologically, you were conditioned for a much greater effort - lifting the heavy encyclopedia instead of the lighter dictionary. That's why the dictionary felt so light. If you had been lifting up the dictionary the last five or six times, you would have become accustomed to its weight, and it would not have felt as light as it did when you got mixed up and picked up the dictionary instead. That is what I mean when I say the "psychological factor" in developing strength. If you accustom your mind to handle heavier weights, the previously heavy weights become psychologically lighter.
Developing and strengthening your muscles is also important to increasing your strength and for preventing injuries when making those maximum efforts. Well-developed, well-conditioned muscles are the backup team to the front line offensive of the mind, the tendons, the ligaments and the sinews.
Here's what I found to be the most effective strength routine of my career:
First, there are the exercises. Some exercises cover more major muscles in one movement than others, so they are to be preferred for strength training. The exercises or movements I found particularly effective are the:
Deadlift (the very best)
Clean & Press
Of extreme importance is the selection of poundage, reps, and sets used in each exercise. I used the following sequence on the deadlift as well as all of the other movements:
DEADLIFT (let's say my max for one rep is 440 pounds.
1 x 10 reps, 200 pounds, for warmup
1 x 4 reps, 300 pounds, for slow preparation to reaching max
1 x 2 x 350, for slow preparation to reaching max
1 x 1 x 400, same as above
1 x 1 x 420, same as above
1 x 1 x 440, for maximum
1 x 1 x 445, trying to exceed max
Rest 3 or 4 minutes before -
1 x 1 x 445, another attempt to exceed max
Rest 3 or 4 minutes before -
1 x 1 x 445, final attempt to exceed max
3 x 10 reps x 300, to develop the back and grip muscles.
The same method of weight progression, reps, and sets is used for any other movement you wish to improve at.
It is very important in the deadlift that once you reach Set 4, you make poundage increments of no more than 20 pounds. I found out from experience that once I reached Set 4, if I attempted to make increments of more than 20 pounds, I felt a scary pressure between my legs, whereas, if I kept the increments between 15-20 pounds I felt no pressure at all.
When you go through Sets 7, 8, and 9, make a good attempt to lift the weight at least an inch or so off the ground. Eventually, you'll be able to raise it two inches off the ground, then three inches, until you've achieved a complete movement with that 5 pounds above your previous maximum.
When you've reached Set 6 (your present max), do not try to go to step 7 by increasing the weight by more than 5 pounds. This is extremely important. If you increase the weight by 10, 15, or more pounds above your present max it will not speed up your progress, it will slow it down. Here's the reason: By increasing your present maximum poundage in any given lift by 5 pounds, you should be able to get some movement in the lift, even if only one inch of movement, the first time. This is highly beneficial both physically and psychologically. You were able to at least lift that new weight partially off the ground. It'll only be a matter of time before it goes all the way up," you'll say to yourself. You leave the workout with a positive mental attitude, eager for your next workout.
Also, the more range of movement you're able to get with the new weight, the more your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and sinews are worked and strengthened. On the other hand, if you go 10, 15, or 20 pounds above your max, you'll find that you won't be able to budge the weight off the ground. This will be very discouraging, and you'll lose out both physically and psychologically.
Adding good, solid bodyweight will certainly add to your bodily strength. I used to notice that every time I put on five pounds of good bodyweight, my bench press shot up 20 pounds or so, as well as my other lifts.
I must now caution you about this program. It is more strenuous than it appears. You'll find out once you try it. When going through Sets 8 and 9 make a good concerted effort to budge the weight, but don't be so determined or don't continue the effort to the point where you'll injure yourself. Be sensible. Remember, you are trying to budge the weight, slightly more over time and over repeated training sessions, and this can call for a different mindset than aiming to lift the weight through a full range of motion. You will understand this mindset much better after the first few sessions.
It's better to be healthy and moderately strong than to injure yourself for life trying to be the world's strongest man. If you use a sensible approach to this system, and train at it regularly (whether it be once or twice a week, it should be regularly, without being fanatical about it), you'll make the strength gains you want over time.
Also, I mentioned five exercises that are effective for strength training. I think that if you go through the full 10 sets, it may be too much to do all five exercises in one workout. Choose two. You could do the other two or three on your next workout, then on the following workout go back to the first two.
I don't recommend using maximum poundages when training alone. It is too dangerous, unless you are properly set up with a rack and safety catchers for all your heavier sets.