Monday, July 20, 2015

Pause for Strength - Jay Ashman (2015)

Jay Ashman (2015)

What if I told you about a program that has had these results:

Increased a lifter's deadlift from 560 to 630 in 12 weeks.
Allowed a first-time powerlifter to win his class and set a national record for bench press.
Helped a man set a lifetime PR for his deadlift that he had been chasing for over a year.

You would probably be intrigued, as most of us would be who pursue strength in the weight room. The good news is that you are going to get a sneak peek into this program.

This peaking program makes liberal use of pause lifting work, the Rate of Perceived Exertion method, and targeted accessory exercises designed to build the supporting muscles to support bigger lifts. It demands effort, it asks you to be honest about your own lifting, and it requires the discipline to stay within the parameters of the daily workload. It has also been tested on dozens of real people who have sen impressive results from it.

Pause Lifting

Pause lifting is very simple to do, in theory. At a specified point in the lift, you will stop and hold the weight before you continue on the concentric path of the movement. With the squat, you will pause in the hole for the specified time, wither a one, two, or three count. The bench press will be paused on the chest, and the deadlift will be paused about two to three inches after breaking from the floor. It is absolutely critical that you maintain your tightness during these interludes. You cannot relax in the hole or rest the pause on your chest. When you relax, you defeat the purpose of the pause by not training the muscles to fire out of the lift.

Pause lifting is beneficial because it helps improve your strength by virtue of holding the weight in a static position for a short time. It can help improve explosiveness by erasing the stretch reflex and teaching your muscles how to 'pull the trigger' without the benefit of a rebound. It also builds core strength and body confidence because you're holding the heavy weight with sheer muscle strength. 

All of these are good reasons to utilize pause lifting in your strength program, but like any good concept, the timing is imperative.

RPE Method

RPE stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion. This is a concept that has been around for a while and is becoming  more popular as of late, as opposed to percentage-based training where every lift is predicated on your one-rep max. What RPE means is that you will lift according to you daily state in the gym, instead of trying to force a certain percentage that may be too heavy for that day. 

Here's a simple example:

You're tired from a long day of work, but your program calls for 90% of your one-rep maximum. You have it in your head that you have to hit these numbers or your workout is a wash. When it comes time to reach 90%, you need help getting the bar to move and it is a failed lift. Discouragement sets in.

Consider the same situation, but instead of using percentages, you have the RPE method programmed to determine your daily intensity. This day calls for a RPE of nine, which is leaving one rep in the tank. RPE 9 is similar to 90%, but it allows deviations as to how you feel for that particular day. Since the RPE is not based off a predetermined number, it allows some flexibility on days when you're not feeling up to par as well as on days when you feel like you can push more weight. 

The RPE scale is simple to follow:

An RPE of 10 will be a max-effort lift, the absolute most weight you can move that day.
RPE 9 is leaving one rep in the tank.
RPE 8 will have you stop two reps before failure.
RPE 7 is submaximal and often used for rep work or speed work when lifting.

The RPE method demands that you be honest with yourself. It requires an element of self-awareness because you'll be asked to judge how many more reps you can or cannot do. It's important to keep this in mind and constantly be self-assessing as you train.

If you do this correctly, the results you experience will be very comparable to the results you read about in that first paragraph. This is a proven program in which my clients run a personalized version according to their needs and where the testing groups for the upcoming book have all made tremendous progress across the three main lifts as well as with their overall muscularity.

The Program

To give you a sample of what to expect, the first week of the program is laid out for you here. Day one will center around the squat, day two will be a bench day, day three is for deadlifts, and the fourth day is a bodybuilding-style program day for hypertrophy. Each week has four days of training and three days of rest. You don't need more than that, and you won't want more than that in your quest for strength. Each phase of this program is broken down into three-week intervals followed by a deload week, for a total of three phases, each one with a slightly different focus.

The main lifts will utilize the pause technique and the RPE scale. (Note the parentheses next to the main exercises, which list the RPE number and the sets and reps). Perform accessory exercises like standard bodybuilding sets. 

Day One 

1) Pause Squat - RPE 8, 3 sets of 4 reps.
The goal today is to find your RPE for four reps and then repeat that for 3 sets of 4. You will use the same weight for all three sets. Perform a one-count pause in the hole for each squat rep.

2) Front Squat - RPE 7, 3 x 6.
The front squat is meant to be much lighter than the pause squat and designed to be a quad accessory lift.

3) Dumbbell Lunge - 3 x 10 per leg.
Unilateral work is often overlooked by lifters because it is so difficult. Learn to embrace lunges because they use muscles you don't often utilize much with squatting. These stretch your hips, work your stabilizers, and add more work to your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

4) Leg Curl - 3 x 15.
As with all accessory work, do not train to failure. Performing clean, hard reps across the set will bring up weaker areas and allow you to gain muscle.

5) Romanian Deadlift - 3 x 10.
This is a complex lift, but it is still an accessory movement. Remember, all accessory work is to complement the big lifts, not take away from them.

6) Plank - Max effort for time.
Your abs can never be too strong. If you want to lift heavy weight, you need strong abs. This is not debatable. Suck it up and get it done.

Day Two

1) Pause Bench Press - RPE 8, 3 sets of 4.
Instead of the one-count pause, you will pause the bar on your chest for a count of three. You must stay tight on your pauses. Just because it's a longer pause does not mean you rest the bar. Keep your body tight and ready to push the bar off your chest.

2) Close-Grip Bench Press - RPE 7, 3 x 6.
The triceps are often a lifter's weak link when it comes to the bench press. You won't see too many lifts missed off the chest, but many lifters can't lock out their arms on a heavy press.

3) Dumbbell Incline Bench Press - 3 x 20.
The idea here is to include extra chest and shoulder work. Keep the weight light and get the reps in.

4) Cable Crossover - 3 x 20.
After performing three pressing movements for the upper body, I like to add in a stretching exercise at the end. No need to go heavy on these. Keep the weight light, and focus on the stretch and the movement of it. If you have to strain for the last few reps, you're doing them wrong.

5) Straight Bar Pressdown - 3 x 20.
This exercise develops size and strength in the triceps and mimics the position your hands are in when you bench press.

6) Hanging Leg Raise - 3 x 15.
You can use straps for the leg raises or even a Roman chair. Be sure to bring the feet above waist level on every rep.

Day Three

1) Pause Deadlift - RPE 8, 3 x 4.
This is a difficult exercise, so choose that RPE carefully. Once you break the bar from the floor, pull for a couple of inches, then pause for a one count before finishing the lift.

2) Deficit Deadlift - RPE 8, 3 x 4.
Standing on only a 45-lb plate makes this lift harder and helps you learn how to use leg drive without making the deficit too large and creating a movement pattern that is unlike the actual deadlift.

3) Barbell Row - 3 x 10.
Keep your back mostly parallel to the ground and don't cheat these reps by moving the weight with body English.

4) Leg Press - 3 x 15.
Perform these with your feet close together and in piston style, moving the weight quickly through the range of motion and without coming down so far that your lower back rounds. Piston-style leg presses help build quad strength to allow for a better leg drive on the deadlift.

5) Dumbbell Row - 3 x 12.
Perform these rows one arm at a time with your other arm and that same-side leg leg braced on a bench.

6) Plank - Max effort for time.
For a more challenging version of this exercise, brace your forearms into an exercise ball. This will demand that you stabilize your body to keep the ball from rolling.

Day Four

1) Dumbbell Front Raise - 3 x 20.
Day four is the bodybuilding day, dedicated to the reps and chasing that pump. Dumbbell front raises help build up the front delt so you can support a bigger bench.

2) Rear Delt Machine Flye - 3 x 25.
These not only protect your shoulders during bench pressing but doing them on a machine allows you to isolate the delt, control the reps, and focus on where you want to build the muscle.

3) Shoulder-Width Pulldown - 3 x 15.
The next two exercises represent 90 reps of back work. A strong back is a major key to your lifting. If your back cannot support a weight, you will not lift it.

4) Close-Grip Pulldown - 3 x 15.
Change the bar handle to the neutral-grip V-shaped handle for this exercise. Don't slack on training the back or your lifts will not progress.

5) Dumbbell Hammer Curl - 4 x 15.
We end the week with old-fashioned biceps curls. Yes, even when you're training for strength, you still need to hit your biceps. 

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