Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sets And Reps - Morris Weissbrot

Sets and Reps
by Morris Weissbrot

I was sitting at my desk the other night, going through some of my voluminous correspondence, when the thought suddenly struck me – what a strange turn my lift has taken! All of a sudden I’ve become an “expert” on weightlifting and training. People from all over the world are writing to me asking for advice on their lifting, their training, asking me to write out schedules for them to follow. I seem to have become a kind of lifting expert or advisor. I’m highly flattered and deeply touched, and if I can help any aspiring lifter in any way I am more than happy to try and do so.

I get dozens of letters each week, and numerous phone calls. From all of these a definite pattern has emerged. The one question asked most often is simply, “How many sets and reps should I do?” Naturally, each individual is different, each lifter has a different problem, each man will react differently to any given program. But experiments in training have shown me quite clearly that everyone will benefit from working with repeated sets of 5 repetitions in ALL of the lifting movements.

Let’s take the power clean, for example, i.e., whipping the bar into position at the chest with a slight dip of the knees and a quick thrust of the elbows. IN EVERY CASE, without exception, working in sets of 5’s has resulted in very substantial gains. You start with a light weight, using the straps, and work up in 10 or 20 pound jumps. Your first workout might go something like this: 135x5, 155x5, 175x5, 185x5, 195x5. The first rep from the floor, the next four from the hang. It’s a great way to develop second pull! Suppose your best power clean is now 205, and when you try 195 all you can squeeze out is 3 reps. Okay, stick with this routine for several workouts. Before you know it, you’ll be making that 195 for 5 and by this time you’ll be doing 205 for 3 or more reps! NOW what’s your best power clean for a single??? After a couple of weeks have gone by, you’ll find that you can now knock out 5’s with the weight that used to be your best for a single! Is this just a theory, or will it really work? Well, let me illustrate with a little case history. Arthur Drechsler is a 15-year-old lightweight who trains with us at Lost Battalion Hall. His best power clean for a single was 195 pounds. He seemed to be stuck t that particular weight. I had him start doing his power cleans in sets of 5’s, one from the floor and 4 from the hang. He followed this program for two weeks, doing his cleans two nights a week. After the second week, he was handling 195 for the full 5 reps. “How much should I be able to do now for a single?” he asked me. We put 205 on the bar and it was so easy he did a double with it! Then 215 on the bar and it fairly flew up! “Okay, Artie, don’t go any higher today,” I told him. “In another few weeks you’ll be handling 205 or more for your sets of 5.” And he will, too! Why didn’t I let him go higher? Well, I don’t feel that it’s necessary to go “all out” in the gym, especially on the assistance exercises. Develop a good basic foundation of power by working in reps, and save the big lifts for competition.

The same thing applies to the snatch. Working in sets of 5’s will not only result in better technique, but also in added power. PLUS, it’s great for building endurance and stamina! You can’t build stamina or promote cardiovascular and respiratory activity by doing heavy single attempts. I know, from watching the Poles train, that they never do heavy singles in any of their assistance exercises and they can’t understand our preoccupation with such things as heavy bench presses or squats or deadlifts as competitive lifts. And, when they train on things like power snatches and power cleans, they use the actual lifting movement, using very light weights as a warmup. This business of warming up with the Olympic lifts serves a double purpose. It not only warms up the lifting muscles thoroughly and properly, but it also reinforces the patterns of movement which the man must use to make a successful lift with a minimum of energy expenditure and wasted motion. There just is no better warmup than repetition snatches or clean & jerks. Believe me!

Just for fun, y’wanna try a real humdinger? Here’s a warmup that I’ve used many times. Take 95 pounds and do flip snatches, 3 squat snatches, 3 split snatches, shift your hand spacing and do 3 squat cleans, 3 split cleans, and then 3 drop jerks. That’s 18 continuous reps! You’ll puff and pant like you’ve just run the mile in four minutes! And that last jerk with 95 pounds will feel like a ton. I’ve been experimenting with this type of high repetition training. At my age, I feel this cardiovascular stimulation is a heckuva lot more important than trying to handle heavy poundages. For myself, I mean. But it’s also important to the younger generation of lifters too, because it serves to build up the foundations of endurance, stamina, style and EFFICIENCY upon which the subsequent big lifts in competition are based.

I’ve been getting a lot of comment from young lifters from all over the country on my articles, and many of them have criticized me for dealing only in generalities and never getting specific enough. Well, it’s not all that simple. As I’ve said before, there can be no hard and fast routine of program which will serve everyone equally well. Success in any field of endeavor is largely a matter of inspiration, regardless of who, what or where it comes from. Each man is different, and will respond differently to any given program. But you know how it is – everyone wants to see the magic formula set down on paper, in the hope that this is the routine that’ll work for him.

Okay, let me set up a more-or-less typical routine for these fellows to follow. Let’s say you’re 16 years old and weigh 160 pounds. You can work out only three times a week. Your best lifts to date are a 200 press, 190 snatch, and a 250-pound clean & jerk. Nothing too spectacular, right? Here’s one way you might set up your program:

1st week

Monday – Warmup (25 minutes of stretching, jumping, calisthenics)
Power Snatches – 95x5, 115x5, 135x5, 145x3, 155x2
Power Cleans – 135x5, 155x5, 175x5, 195x3, 205x2
Push-Jerks – 135x5, 185x5, 205x5, 225x2
Front Squats – 135x5, 185x5, 205x5, 225x5, 225x5, 250x5

Wednesday – Warmup

Power Snatches – 95x5, 115x5, 135x5, 145x3, 155x2
Squat Snatch – 95x5, 135x5, 145x5, 155x5, 165x5, 175x3
Snatch Pulls – 135x5, 185x5, 205x5, 225x5, 250x5
“Technique” Press – 135x5, 155x5, 175x2, 185x2
Back Squats – 135x5, 185x5, 225x5, 275x5, 300x2

Friday – Warmup

Power Cleans – 135x5, 155x5, 175x5, 195x3, 205x2
Squat Cleans – 135x5, 155x5, 175x3, 195x3, 215x2, 235x2
Clean Pulls – 225x5, 250x5, 275x5, 300x5
Jerks From Rack – 135x5, 185x5, 205x5, 225x3, 250x2
Rack Presses, 3 positions with hold – 185x3
Squats – 135x5, 205x5, 225x5, 250x5, 275x5, 305x3

Notice that at no time are you handling limit poundages – nothing higher than 85% of maximum in the lifts. But you’re building up the foundations which will result in higher maximum performance levels. Follow this for three weeks, and for the second and third week try to push the final poundage in each exercise for the full five reps, or add five pounds to the upper limit. After three weeks try yourself out. Just go for a single in each lift, like you were in a contest. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts you’ll make at least 210, 200, and 260. You can just about guarantee a 30-pound increase on your total. Not half bad, eh? And how hard have you really worked. Well, using the total poundage system your first week breaks down into about 13,000 pounds on Monday, 19,000 on Wednesday, and 23,000 on Friday. Considering that most of the poundage comes from pulls and squats, that’s not really too much to handle. Naturally, some of you will be using slightly different poundages, but you get the general idea.

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