Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rack Attack - Mike Mahler (2014)

An Old-School Method of Fostering
Size, Strength, and Mental Toughness
Mike Mahler

Many trainees waste a lot of time with ineffective training programs that do more damage than good. too many just love complexity and try to avoid the basic power moves - even though they're the ones that provide the most bang for your buck. Others want training to be entertaining and don't want to repeat the same workout twice. The problem is, muscle confusion may be great for selling videos, but it will never build serious size, strength and mental toughness.

If you really want to excel, you must master the skill of the basic power moves. Whether your goal is to get stronger, get bigger or improve your physique composition, the compound power moves will always be the best options. That's something Peary Rader, the founder of this very magazine, understood extremely well.

The author of The Rader Master Bodybuilding and Weight Gaining System, he knew the value of hard work focused on bang-for-your-buck exercises such as the squat and deadlift. His squat program was so effective that Rader put on almost 100 lbs of muscle in a year! A gardgainer, he'd weighed just 130 lbs before starting the program.

You're probably incredulous at Peary's gains on the squat program. That's because you've never done it. Peary's squat routine is brutally difficult, and most will give up before they complete the first workout.

Rader ascertained the benefits of intense squat workouts from fellow old-schoolers Mark Berry and J.C. Hise. Berry had difficulty putting on size but managed to add 29 lbs of muscle in one month on the squat program.

Hise was another exasperated trainee. After learning about Berry's results, he gave the squat program a shot and acquired 10 lbs in one month, a total of 75 lbs over the next two years.

Rader believed that the squat should be the main focus of an effective weight gaining program, and all other exercises should be secondary. If trainees were short on time, he let them go through periods in which the squat was the only exercise they did.

Rader's program is known by a number of names, including '20-rep squats' and 'breathing squats'. Rader recommended that beginners start with two sets of 10 reps or one set of 20. More advanced athletes could do as many as three sets of 10 to 15.

Each set had to be an all-out effort, and Rader told lifters to add weight whenever possible. He cautioned them to start out fairly light and gradually work up to more intense, heavier sessions. You need to get good at the skill of doing high-rep sets before ramping up the weights.

For added benefits, Rader recommended a precise breathing method that maximized the squat's effectiveness. He call it the 'puff and pant' method. Hold your breath during each rep, and then pause between reps, with the barbell still on your back, and take a deep breath.

Make sure you breath through your mouth, as deeply as possible, so you use the entire chest cavity. Don't breath into the lower chest or diaphragm. That's not where you want expansion. Focus on the upper chest.

On the first five reps take one deep breath between rests each time. After that go up to three breaths f more, as needed. By the time you get to rep 15, you'll probably be taking eight to 10 breaths.

If you're not, you likely picked a weight that's too light to be effective. That's not a big deal early in the program. Just increase the weight at the next session, and remember that the best gains will come when you're working brutally hard.

Some trainees who jump into this program get hung up on how many breaths they should be taking between reps. Rader believed that the breathing should come naturally; take as many breaths as you need for the next rep - and no more.

Keep in mind that until you get used to the technique, you'll likely find that the deep breathing between reps makes the set seem more difficult. Yet, with enough practice, the deep breathing will facilitate your use of much heavier weights for more reps.

When you're doing a 20-rep set properly, you'll try to talk yourself into stopping short of 20. That's where mental toughness becomes a must. If you aren't mentally tough before you start, you will be once you get deep into it. (If you aren't, you won't stick with it long enough to get results.) Every part of you will be begging to rack the weight, to rest, to quit. Fight that urge and finish the set, and you'll have a real sense of accomplishment. Of course, you want to make sure you squat in a power rack and for added safety have a capable spotter.

The key to finishi8ng one of these sets is to take it one rep at a time. The last thing you want to be doing is telling yourself that you have 'only' five more reps to go. Instead, focus on the next rep. That's the only one that matters. When you're on rep 16, your only focus is finishing rep 17. Don't rush through the deep breathing between reps; take your time, and focus on the moment without being attached to the end results.

Rader suggested going to just below parallel on each rep. When you're about to reach that point, tense your glutes and hamstrings in preparation for rebounding out of the bottom position.

Rader called if a 'bouncing squat' and believed that it protects the lower back from shock at a weak point. To clarify, you want to avoid pausing in the bottom position. Minimize the time there, and drive back up as fast as you can.

Rader recommended a stance in which your feet are 12 inches apart, with your toes turned out slightly, but he wasn't adamant about it. He believed that a lifter's stance is an individual thing, and that you should do what works best for you.

Your eyes should look straight ahead - never up or down - throughout the lift, with your back as flat as possible. Rader believed that leaning forward constricts breathing, which will in turn have a negative effect on performance.

Program Options

You have many options to choose from. You can do one all-out set of 20 reps two or three times per week, or you can vary it - do one set of 20 in one session, two sets of 10 in another and two sets of 15 in the third workout of the week.

The first option - one murderous set of 20 at each workout - will work for some people but will wear down most, mentally as well as physically. Having more variety gives you a better chance of sticking with the program long enough to get what you want out of it.

Make sure you do at least 10 reps per set and at least 20 total reps at each workout, and don't do more than three sets. If you're an overachiever, you may think that it makes sense to go for the maximum across the board and do three sets of 20. Trust me, you don't even want to try. Once you've done a seriously hard set of 20 squats, you'll cringe at the idea of doing three such sets per workout.

New trainees will probably do best with three workouts per week. More advanced trainees will make better gains with two sessions, with two full days off in between. If you don't know which category best describes you, start with two sessions per week, and take advantage of the extra recovery time.

Rader's Recommended Routine

While you can go through a brief period of doing squats and only squats, you'll get better results by adding assistance exercises to give you a well-balanced program, like this:

Two Arm Dumbbell Pullovers - 1 x 20
Standing Barbell Press - 1 x 10-12
Barbell Cur - 1 x 10-12
Barbell Bench Press - 1 x 10-12
Barbell Bentover Row - 1 x 10-12
Situp - 1 x 10-12

Use a very light weight for the pullovers - probably about 20 to 30 pounds - and do your set immediately following the squats, with no rest in between. After you finish the pullovers you can take as long a break as you need before tackling the rest of the exercises.

When your strength and bodyweight stall, increase the volume, going up to two sets of 10-12 reps of each exercise. If you hit another plateau, increase to three sets of 10-12.

My personal recommendations are to do weighted pullups instead of barbell curls. I'd also skip the situps and do hanging leg raises, dragon flags or power wheel rollouts instead.

Feel free to add as much variety as you like within Rader's template. Just don't make the mistake of overly complicating the program.Remember that the squat is the main moneymaker of the regimen, and all efforts should be applied there before moving on to any other exercise.

The Deadlift Option

As effective as the squat program is, it's certainly not the best fit for everyone. For example, taller lifters typically don't do well with barbell squats. Others have injuries that make the squat a bad choice - and some just don't like doing squats two or three times a week.

Fortunately, you can do a similarly effective program with deadlifts.

If anything, Rader saw the deadlift program as the more strenuous option and believed that you should minimize or even avoid other exercises for the first few weeks. The goal is to focus all your energy on the most important exercise; however, few lifters will find a one-exercise program appealing, so at minimum you should include overhead presses, weighted pullups and perhaps some core work.

Just make sure you do the secondary exercises after the deadlifts. That applies especially to ab work, since a fatigued midsection is the last thing you want before brutal deadlift training.

The Plan

If you've never done high-rep deadlift sets, you're in for a humbling experience. Rader strongly recommended a gradual build-up. Start you first workout with one set of 18-20 reps, using a moderate weight. Take a few weeks to work up to one all-out set of 20.

As with the squat program you don't have to do the same reps and sets at every workout. You can try one set of 20 in one workout, two sets of 10 at the next, and two sets of 15 at the third.

Again, more advanced trainees will probably find that doing two sessions a week is more productive than three. You may even find that one session per week is all that you can handle. When you really push hard on the deadlift, it tends to break you down; so, when in doubt, take more rest days.

Breathing With the Dead

There are different ways to do breathing deadlifts. You can take three deep breaths at the midpoint of the lift, when you're standing with the weight locked out. Or you can leave the bar on the floor at the end of the rep, stand, take three deep breaths, and do the next rep. Then, instead of pausing again with the bar on the floor, do your next rep, lock it out, and then take your breaths while holding the bar.

With either option, breathe as deeply as possible into your chest, rather than your diaphragm.

Deadlift Variations

Rader cautioned against using the Romanian deadlift or stiff-legged deadlift with this program. Stick with the standard deadlift, keeping your back as flat as possible, with your hips low.

Low hips means bent knees, which Rader encouraged. He wanted lifters to use their legs as much as possible, minimizing the strain on the lower back and maximizing the work for the largest and strongest muscle groups.

I recommend using a trap bar for high-rep deadlifts because the weight is evenly distributed, away from your lower back. It's halfway between a squat and a barbell deadlift, and fits perfectly with this program. It's also much more comfortable and won't scrape your shins the way a barbell would.

These two programs are both winners. You just need to figure out which one best suits your skills and interests, and see it through. I would also recommend a back-off week after every three weeks of hard work. Even if you feel strong during the back-off week, enjoy the reduced intensity, and you will feel even stronger when you resume. Make sure you apply recovery and restoration appropriately. Get a recovery massage every other week and make sure you get as much sleep as you need and you're much more likely to stay on track.

Finally, whether you choose the squat program or the deadlift option, it's important to eat your preworkout meal at least two hours before training for optimal digestion. The last thing you need is an upset stomach in the middle of one of these brutal workouts. 




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