As expected, last month's material
brought in quite a bit of mail and comment so we'll amplify some of the training methods mentioned.
Frequency of training is perhaps the most controversial area. It's been proven time and time again that one will get stronger and develop more muscle tissue if he or she trains with progressive overload, i.e., adds some weight to the bar each workout or every few workouts, adds a rep, adds a set (within defined limits), etc. One, in other words, has to make the workout progressively tougher in order to improve and while this sounds awfully simple, it seems to pose an insurmountable problem for most lifters.
Every time PLUSA hits the mailbox, guys rush through it with the intention of finding a routine, perhaps THE routine that will nudge that total up a few more kilos. No doubt that PLUSA gives you all kinds of solid training information, as do the various courses and training manuals, but most lifters only have to train a bit harder on the basics, get more rest and keep their emotional turmoil under control to get where they want to go.
One way of planning the routine is to give two days a week to it. For those who are hopelessly hooked on the gym social scene, this of course will be close to impossible. Unfortunately, many lifters, many superb lifters in fact, get little satisfaction from their employment, family, interpersonal relationships, hobbies, or friends, and their lifting serves as the touchstone of their personal image. For the guys who are looked upon as yo-yos at work, turkeys by members of the opposite sex, and misfits by family members, wives included, the positive reinforcement received at the gym will be tough to cut loose. These are the guys who might show up for an hour or two, just to B.S. or spot, on nights when they're not scheduled to train, or all of their friends are also powerlifters and time out of the gym is spent talking about little else but sex (or the dearth of it) and training.
For those hooked on the "more is better" theory of running one's life, two days a week will also be tough to endure. "Well, if I only squat once a week and DL once a week and improve, I'd do almost twice as good if I DL twice a week and squat two, or even three times a week. If course, I'll go light some of those days."
Man, talk about reciprocity failure!
Train with bodybuilders? If you do less than 10 or 12 sets of assistance work they'll have you believing that you won't "have enough muscle tissue to do your big lifts . . . got to pump the tissue, man."
In with Olympic lifters? Almost as bad, as most U.S. lifters are into the Eastern European six day per week, fourteen workouts a week system, complete with divorce, loss of work time and all of the other wonderful things that await those who sacrifice everything for a few pounds on their push press.
Two days a week gives you as much, if not more latitude than training three days per week. For one thing, you're forced to choose your exercises with care, as you won't be able to do too many movements per day, thus, you'll be confined by necessity to cut the excess out and do only those sound, basic movements that work, at least for you . . . sort of Bill Starr's Big Three revisited.
You work the muscles that are involved in the competitive lifts (albeit most of them) with major movements, and do enough for the minor members to prevent imbalance and injury. You will obviously be a bit closer to simulating meet conditions if you have to do two or all three of the lifts the same day, than if you bench one day, squat day two, bench day three, deadlift day four etc.
How many guys run out of gas, strength, psyche, and speed prior to or during their DLs? Most often, this is a reflection of their training.
Starr warned me early on of this pitfall. If you expend little energy on training day, don't expect a miracle to come meet time because it won't be there. Thus, if training is not a whole lot different than a meet, in terms of gearing up physically for two or three major lifts the same session, you won't be on strange ground when it's time to throw down the gauntlet.
If you're one of those lifters who squat and DL with similar stances, similar styles, you have to make a decision to squat once per week while DLing once, of squatting twice per week and DLing once, and I see this as a major decision. So many top competitors called me prior to the Seniors as they do every year, and tell me that they have done 650/670 in training and thus will squat 670 and DL over 700 in the meet. More likely, they wind up with 650 and 625, getting only an opener, because they trained the two big lifts on separate days and ran out of any or all of the above mentioned.
Some guys have to split the two lifts, because they can't do justice to the DL after squatting earlier in a particular session. Some have poor or fair recuperative abilities, and can't physically recover workout to workout and still squat well and DL well within the same week.
The bench can be worked twice, but for many it's better to bench once, heavy of course, and then do another major pressing movement such as inclines or overhead presses on the second day.
You have to be exceptionally careful with the assistance work. First, recall what works for you and what hasn't in the past. Forget that this month's PLUSA noted that all the big guys were into DB inclines; it may not mean anything to you.
The deadlift requires you to make up your mind to DL heavy, and probably requires the least in terms of assistance work, if you work your tail off on the basic lift. The Head Pull is usually good for most but there is a tendency to get weight conscious and sacrifice form for poundage. A Head Pull is a DL from below, at, or just above the kneecap. If done correctly it should work the scapula retractors and the traps, but primarily the major retractors and elevators (other than the upper trap fibers) of the upper and mid back. The erectors and intrinsic spinal muscles, as well as the internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum, and abs get a hell of a workout.
A major mistake is to do these sumo style if you DL off the floor in sumo fashion. This movement does not lend itself well to sumo stance, and most sumo lifters need to work the muscles mentioned in a manner that will involve them a bit more than what is generated in sumo syle.
Thus, even for the sumo lifter, the Head Pulls should be done with a conventional stance and grip.
Most guys really pile the plates on, break form, and it degenerates into a long, slow hitch. You want each rep to be very clean if there is to be any benefit from it at all, and speed and explosiveness must be exhibited on each rep.
This is one movement I've always been good at and I've suffered for it. At 150-155 pounds, I've done a very strong 705 x 5 on a number of occasions, but have never been able to convert that into a really big DL, primarily because I would start altering my foot space, my hip movement, the timing of my hip thrust and at times my grip, in order to keep this movement soaring. Meanwhile, a couple of weeks down the road
it was so far from simulating my regular DL that there was no carryover from it. It is also extremely taxing, and can't be done too often, although the ability to elevate 500, 600, 700 or 800 pounds and turn everyone's head in the gym can often tempt you to do it far more than is necessary.
Stiff-legged DLs can be extremely dangerous, or extremely beneficial, depending on technique.
Most guys don't or can't do them correctly, and should not do them for the sake of their backs. This point would require an article in itself, so I'll leave it at that.
Conventional shrugs are almost a waste of time for the powerlifter, although Starr's explosive shrugs as described in The Strongest Shall Survive, like Head Pulls, will beat the holy hell out of your traps.
There's an explanation of "Dynamic Shrugs" from Starr here:
Ah Hell, here's the photos and written section from that book . . .
In performing the shrug, you will again use straps. If at all possible, set the loaded barbell at a level so that it strikes you just above your knees. This will enable you to do the shrug without lifting the weight off the floor. You will eventually be able to shrug much more than you can deadlift, so you do not want to limit the amount of weight that you will be using. Also, if you have to deadlift a heavy weight (I am talking about 400-500 pounds plus) you will drain so much energy that you will not be able to put your full effort into doing the shrug itself.
Set the loaded barbell on two blocks or boxes or at knee level on a power rack (old metal milk crates make ideal blocks). The power rack is ready-made for this exercise. Walk to the barbell, strap tightly to it and set your body in a very solid pulling position. Your pulling position should duplicate the position you would have as if the bar was passing that particular point on your body in the power clean or power pull.
Do not attempt to jerk the bar from this starting position. Ease it off the blocks slowly, making sure that your body stays very tight, and accelerate it rapidly.
As the bar leaves the blocks, the hips will drive quickly towards the bar and the traps will lift upward.
The arms bend very slightly and then only at the last split second of the upward pull. The upward pull is concentrated in the trapezius. Think of pulling the traps up towards the ears.
At the very top of the pull, resist the bar and try to hold it high for a second. Lower it down to the blocks slowly, making sure that your back is still flat on the descent.
Reset your body position and pull again.
The general tendency of most trainees is to jerk the weight from the blocks in hopes that this initial acceleration will carry over to the top. Alas, this is not true. Rather, the opposite happens. When the bar is jerked from the blocks the lower back and shoulders round. When this occurs the body is no longer in a position to utilize its most favorable leverage and the pulling strength is greatly diminished.
The bar must be kept very, very close to your body throughout thet movement.
I suggest that you do not wear a belt when shrugging as the bar will catch on it either going up or coming down and a nasty pinch on the tummy will result.
I once took a workout in York and after my heavy shrugs (a la Starr), I was beat. Before I had finished showering and dressing, I felt trap soreness coming on. Within the hour I had a nasty headache, and my entire back felt like it had been fragged by mortar fire. Bad scene. In light of this it was a lot easier rationalizing a weekend in rural Pennsylvania, getting totally wasted. "Hell, did you expect me to drive home with a migraine and crippling soreness?" No lie, whenever I do this correctly, I'm useless for a week.
The lighter movements, for the most part, ain't gonna make it.
Hyperextensions, like stiff-legged DLs, can be useful or dangerous, dependent on style, but it's more effective for rehabilitating the back (despite the Russian's exploits on this particular piece of equipment). If you've gone about as far as you can, DLing heavy but not too often, and have tried the "big" assistance moves, then give them a try (to utilize it as one of your staples is probably not good advice).
Cable rows (another scapulal retractor), are most often done in a manner which primarily, and incorrectly, works the low back and is more useful as a bench assistance movement.
Lat pulls in many varieties, DB rows, barbell rows in very strict fashion, all may be beneficial, but you will be better off, generally speaking, with snapping shrugs or Head Pulls as it relates to the DL.
Cleans, pulls, and snatches have been discussed at length in previous articles, so I'll pass on it here.
The key to working the DL is to do it very heavy, but not too often.
Squat assistance work looks a lot like DL work.
You probably won't need too much of it if you squat heavy and hard.
Leg curls and extensions are effective for rehab work but when you start pushing 150-250 pounds the risk of ligament damage in the knees far exceeds any possible benefit.
The hack squat will give the quads some work but so will high bar or Olympic-style squats, and I think it's important for the PL man to be squatting if it's leg work (or hip work) that's desired. Besides, hacks are awful tough on the patella tendon for most people.
The leg press can be useful for some, but this is a peculiar movement. If I had a dollar for every time someone declared that "I get as much out of leg presses as I do from squats, so I'll do leg presses," I'd be quite wealthy.
This is one of the standard gym copouts. Most people don't like to squat, so they leg press and convince themselves that the benefits are similar. No way. Depending on the machine being used, the knees and/or low back, primarily the low back, take a beating. Some sumo DLers have found it to be useful, especially on one of the angled leg press machines, but most guys still use it as a carryover from their early days in the gym or "to rest from all those squats." It can be useful when one has a hurting low back, but I'd let them slide otherwise (no pun intended).
Half or quarter squats are more often than not a problem, as one will ten to utilize different foot spacing in comparison to the competitive lift, and like the Head Pulls, when all the gym dogs start ooing and aahing over your macho ability to grind out 6 with 800, well, you're the one in trouble, not your competitors. Low back and thoracic compression can become one of your constant companions, and you may have trouble converting any of it to your meet squat.
Supporting heavy weight, say 50-100 pounds over your best double, and standing with it for 20 seconds can be useful if you also walk it out of the rack yourself, set up yourself, and then walk it in yourself. I've seen a guy enlist four training partners to hump 900 out of the rack, help him take a step back with it, steady it while he got it balanced, and then take it off of him after 15 seconds of quivering and shaking. You really think that will help your connective tissue or overall squatting ablilty?
The bench is, as I stated a few months ago
perhaps the most overworked lift, in terms of assistance work. Obscure, almost useless exercises have been awarded almost mystical powers in some circles, all in the name of larger pecs or a better bench.
I promised a separate article on this so I won't make further comment here.
We'll also note specific two a day routines, methods of cycling towards a meet on two a week programs, and get further into the rotation method of training the three lifts in the next installment.