Tuesday, August 4, 2020

A Little More Ken Leistner Stuff

Courtesy of Liam Tweed

Fifty Percent Sets

One of my favorite high intensity approaches to training is the 50% method. I have used this to prepare for powerlifting contests and for my off-season football programs. It is intense, brief, and very result producing. 

Theoretically, one all out set is best for building strength and muscular tissue but many individuals can't put enough effort into that set to really progress. Doing more sets is not the answer because quality of work, not quantity of work, determines growth and improvement. However, the 50% program, although using 2 sets per movement, still answers the requirements for effective exercise.

The number of exercises in the program is limited to avoid overtraining. Because I usually begin the program with an overall body warmup and a major exercise like squat or deadlifts, I am adequately warmed up when I approach my other exercises. 

If I'm doing upright rows, as an example, an exercise that is a very good and seldom used movement for the anterior deltoids and biceps, I'll do on all out set to failure/fatigue, trying to do 10-12 reps. I'll take a very brief rest, no more than one minute, and either increase the weight slightly or use the same weight for a second set. I attempt to do at least 50% of the reps I achieved on the first set. If I completed 10 reps in good form - and only properly completed reps are counted - I attempt to get at least 5 or 6 reps on set two. If I did 12 reps, I'll do as many reps as possible on the second set, but make sure that I do at least half the number of reps I did on my first set.

I've found that if I go all out on any first set of an exercise, and if I'm not bulljiving myself and going through the motions, I'll be hard pressed to get 50% of those reps on a second set. Thus, if I push myself to get those reps, I know that I'm truly working hard on both sets, and believe me, two sets, done correctly, are all anyone needs on any exercise.

There have been times when I've been able to reach inside myself and after getting 12 reps with 105 lbs, and damn near dying in the process, I'd increase the weight to 115 and push out 9 or 10 reps.

Except for the major competitive lifts like the squat, bench press, or deadlift which require a bit of specialized warmup, you can attack 10 or 12 reps in all of your other movements without a specific warmup. An exercise which works large muscular structures around a number of joints will prepare you for the "smaller" movements, and any exercise that can be done for 10 to 12 reps can be exceptionally intense but is not very "heavy" in terms of what the muscle can actually withstand, so injury possibility is minimal.

Many lifters and coaches can't seem to accept the fact that brief, intense workouts are all that's needed to take one to the limits of muscular size and strength and this particular program is more effective than you can imagine.

Partial Squats

An adjunctive training mode used by many powerlifters is the box-partial squat in the power rack. It has long been believed that using 50-100 lbs more than one could do a full squat with, in partial movements, would increase the strength of the muscles and connective tissue in the lower extremities, and allow the body to somehow adapt to the "feel" of very heavy weights. 

Partial squats, especially if done so the buttocks contact a bench or box in the 1/4, 1/3 or 1/2 squat position are extremely dangerous and in fact, will do little for the competitive squat. 

Heavy overloads will compress the spine, often severely, with resultant nerve compression. Inflammation of the soft tissue surrounding the bony segments of the spine can create mechanical compression of nerve roots with accompanying protective muscle spasm and limitation of movement. Doing squats to a high bench or box is even worse.

Many football coaches erroneously believe that full range squats will damage the connective tissue of the knee. The full squat is not a threat to the vast majority of trainees if caution is taken to avoid bounding at the bottom of the movement, pausing in the bottom position, rapidly descending and ascending, or "duckwalking" with a weight on the shoulders. 

Damage to the  spine becomes an increasing probability if one squats to the point where the butt contacts a bench or box before ascending because the compressive forces of the bar are then transmitted throughout the length of the spine, with little or no opportunity for dissipation via the lower extremities. Essentially, the spine is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, with the bench or box below the spine and the heavy weight across the upper back or shoulders. 

It is especially dangerous to the adolescent lifter due to immaturity of the bony tissue. If doing these heavy, short range movements were necessary to improve one's ability to squat, it would not be worth the risk.  

Observation has shown that there is little correlation between the ability to do very heavy incomplete movements and the ability to perform a very heavy full squat, so this makes the use of partials unpardonable. 

Rather than cause an adaptation to heavy weights, heavy partial movements severely compress the spine and expose the lifter to unnecessary danger. The stance and performance of the trainee during these exercises rarely mimics that used during competition, or when performing full squats, and I have rarely seen any real carryover from one exercise to the other. 

A wise decision would be to immediately eliminate these sideshow demonstrations of supposed strength and channel training energy into the performance of high intensity sets of full range of motion squats. 

Purposeful Training 

When I first began my weight training activities, I was fortunate because I did almost everything correctly. I used a limited number of basic multi-joint exercises that provided work for the major muscular structures of the entire body. 

I did one or two sets of each movement, using as much weight as I possibly could for 8-20 repetitions per set. I would usually terminate a set when I could no longer push out another complete or correctly performed rep. I trained three times per week, but often had to cut that back to two when very tired or involved with other athletic activities. 

Without knowing a damned thing about proper strength training procedures, I became very strong and gained approximately 50 pounds of muscular bodyweight in a two year period, much of that coming in my first six months of proper training.

Note that I said that most of my gains came in my first months of proper training. Like most youngsters who are interested in getting bigger and stronger, I read most of the available muscle building magazines. My first few months of barbell work was patterned after the routines I saw in these publications. Although I worked as hard as I thought was possible, my progress was limited. 

I shunned the basic heavy work for easier isolation type movements, just like the "champs." Having a certain amount of naturally occurring strength, I was puzzled as to my lack of progress. Fortunately, I more or less stumbled upon the common sense principles that were not within the magazine pages, but which truly promote increases in muscular size and strength, and was well rewarded for my efforts. 

Over many years of training, I would occasionally leave my own garage, basement, or loft for the stimulating environment of a commercial gym or club. Unfortunately, I would often be influenced, as most trainees are, by the lifting activities I was exposed to. 

In literally every instance, my progress suffered because I was swayed from my usual training procedures. 

Training has to be purposeful to be effective. 

Every rep of every set has to count for something. 

I believe that one can make progress on almost any type of routine if he works hard at it, but training should be efficient, providing maximal gains in the briefest period of time. This includes time spent in the gym and the accumulation of training time over weeks, months or years. 

Training must lead to the attainment of a goal. 

One of the major problems with most strength training programs designed for football players is that most of the emphasis is placed upon the lifting of heavy weights, not necessarily the increasing of strength specifically for improvement as a football player. Powerlifters do many things in the gym that are either unnecessary for or counterproductive to progress. 

Each movement in the program should serve to get you closer to the goal you have set before you.

A major problem with most training is that a premium is placed on the completion of the program. If the routine calls for 5 sets of 3 reps, the sets are done, possibly recorded in a training log, and then forgotten until the next workout. 

Each set should be seen as a building block, taking you closer to your goal. That set should be addressed as a do-or-die situation, and concentration should be placed upon the proper performance of each rep.

I've seen too many lifters do 135x5, 275x5, 305x5 and 320x5 as a bench workout. I'm in complete accord that one has to warm up before attempting to lift "heavy" weights, but if one can comfortably handle 320 for 5 reps, what is 135, 225 and 275 for 5 going to accomplish, other than to wear you down so that you in fact have to use 320 for 5 instead of 330? This is the antithesis of purposeful training because 80% or more of the workout did not serve to bring the trainee closer to the training goal. Most training is approached in this manner: go through the sets in order to complete them as opposed to attacking the sets in order to make them work for you in terms of improving. 

Part of the improvement that comes from purposeful training is psychological. I've heard many athletes talk about the benefits they receive from their weight training programs. The words most often used are "discipline," "toughness," "goal-oriented," and "sacrifice." After observing the training scene for so many years, most of these individuals couldn't possibly learn anything about the above from their training. How could they when they cruise through their workouts doing but a percentage of the work they could do, operating at a level of intensity that brings growth stimulation almost by accident? 

When great efforts are put into a task and the reward is forthcoming, much can be learned about one's emotional/psychological terrain. This is one more reason for going into the gym, remembering why you're there and then doing those things that can take you closer to your goal as best as you possibly can. 

A Comment on Gaining Weight

The one frequently asked question is that related to gaining muscular bodyweight - 

"How do I get bigger. How do I put on muscle tissue?" 

Despite the gobbledygook presented by the various weight training magazines and the manufacturers of food supplements, the process is really not exceptionally difficult to understand. 

In order to gain muscle tissue one first has to expose the muscular structures of the body to an overload and stimulate the cell machinery to grow in response to the imposed demands. Without this, the body has no reason to increase its muscular bodyweight or size. If the existing muscle tissue allows the organism to do all that is asked of it, there is no growth stimulation. If an overload is imposed, the body, while being asked to do more than it is momentarily capable of doing will, under the right circumstances, respond in a way that will allow it to meet the demands of the overload. 

Assuming that the cells have been overloaded properly, one then has to provide enough rest and nutrients for growth to occur. It is difficult if not impossible to violate the laws of thermodynamics, and although the supplement manufacturers have built a multi-billion dollar a year business based on the contrary, you need only to provide more calories than are burned in order to gain bodyweight. 

Of course, one does not want to eat too many calories over and above that needed for bodyweight maintenance because the human organism can only accommodate a limited, though indefinite gain in functional muscle mass in a given period of time. Thus, one needs to provide calories which supply all of those nutritional factors necessary for good health and body repair.

This can be done, despite the protestations of the food supplement industry, from easily available, reasonably priced foodstuffs commonly found in any American supermarket or produce stand. There may be those who need additional amounts of vitamins, minerals or protein due to individual metabolic demands or disorders, but the vast majority of trainees never need indulge in the exotic supplementation seen as a biological necessity by those who profit most from their purchase. 

To put it simply, train hard, and eat a bit more than usual if you want to gain lean tissue mass. 

One of the techniques we like to use with our trainees is to first determine the number of calories necessary to maintain their existing bodyweight and then reduce that intake by approximately 5-10% for a four week period. During this time, my wife Kathy and I train them as hard as they can tolerate and benefit from. The slight caloric deprivation usually results in an increase in muscle tissue with concomitant decreases in fat stores, as fatty tissue is utilized as an energy source during this four week period. There is usually little fluctuation in overall bodyweight (adjustments in dietary intake are made if bodyweight drops rapidly) during this first month of training. 

We then have each athlete increase caloric consumption by 5-20% over maintenance levels, continue to train at a high level of intensity, continue to do aerobic work as an adjunct to their strength training, all of which usually contributes to significant gains in lean muscle tissue mass over a six to twelve month period of time. 

Muscle Isolation  

My definition of isolating a muscle differs from that of those who write for the various muscle building magazines. Most of them are intent upon finding THE exercise that will work the biceps femoris to the exclusion of other muscles, or give stimulation to the clavicular head of the pec major in the most efficient way possible. At best, this is counterproductive, as the primary factors necessary for stimulating muscle growth are usually ignored in the process. 

The kinesiology of the human body is such that it is difficult, if not impossible, to use a barbell or machine and give work to one individual muscle. While the biceps femoris may be the primary flexor of the leg, other muscles like the gastrocnemius (calf) also cross the knee joint and serve to flex or bend the involved bodypart.

If an exercise gives work to the muscle it purports to work, then you are "isolating" that muscle. A supine grip lat pulldown "isolates" the lats because it gives them a high degree of stimulation assuming that one trains in a manner that leads to growth stimulation. It's true that the biceps and other forearm flexors and the pecs are working too, but the lats, the muscles you wish to work, are in fact being made to work. 

"Explosive," jerky movements which impart momentum to the bar are the antithesis of proper training technique and make it almost impossible to provide a high degree of intense work for the involved muscle groups and should be avoided.

Instead of thinking of ways to suspend individual bodyparts on the available equipment to force its primary movers to work "in isolation" from other parts, one is better off using basic, time honored exercises movements which allow for a high percentage of direct work that can be done in a manner which allows for highly intense, all out training. One may better isolate the deltoid with lateral, front, and rear delt raises, but I imagine that the man who has progressed to the point of performing 150% of bodyweight for 10 good reps in the overhead press will have the superior shoulder development, because the press too gives the delts all the work needed to grow. 

Each exercise in your program must serve a purpose, must work the muscle you wish to work if done with proper form. If your exercises do this, you have done all the isolation you need ever do.




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