Courtesy of Robert Wildes
Last month I discussed how the dangers of overtraining can be fueled by misdirected emotion and compounded by lack of a logical, rational game plan for your progress.
Continuing that train of thought, this month I present a method of training that brings both gains and the reduction of injuries.
The most effective means of achieving your training goals is to get back to the original concept of progressive resistance exercise. This applies to bodybuilders, Olympic weightlifters, powerlifters and track and field athletes, as well as to recreational trainees.
Most beginners simply want to get bigger and stronger. Intermediate trainees usually have a variety of problems, including confusion about the right way to train, injuries that begin to interfere with their training, and other priorities, such as school and career, that take more and more time from their workouts. Most trainees never get past this intermediate stage.
Any trainee who gets to the advanced level has learned to listen to his or her body and go with what works. Granted there are exceptions, but these athletes often have flash-in-the-pan careers due to injuries and other factors.
The training method I recommend is by no means new or innovative -- just effective and time-tested. The basic idea is to plan an eight-to-twelve week progression of your poundages on a few exercises.
Powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters have had great success with this system; however, I'm advising its benefits for all trainees. The tradition-based training methods used by bodybuilders are in need of a drastic overhaul and updating. With few exceptions the bodybuilders of today train like those of yesteryear.
Your game plan of steady poundage progression must be based on your own honest and realistic evaluation of where you are now and where you can be in 8 to 12 weeks. If you can bench press 250 pounds now, "I want to bench 400 pounds in 12 weeks" is not a realistic goal. Don't give in to the delusion and defeat yourself before you start. If you are benching 250, a reasonable goal would be to achieve 275 to 280 pounds in that time frame.
By exposing your body to progressively heavier weights, you will become stronger and larger -- if you also give your body ample time to recuperate. The recuperation is part of your training, and if you don't get it, you will suffer tghe consequences: 1) lack of progress, and 2) numerous injuries.
I remember an article by Terry Todd that appeared in Muscular Development back in 1974. The subject was the then up-and-coming powerlifting star Doug Young. Todd predicted that Young would go to the top (which he did) if he could avoid injuries.
At the time I thought that was a very strange comment. Not clinically knowing what I do now, I assumed that anyone could avoid injuries if he "trained right." Unfortunately, the definition of what that meant was very loose at best.
But that was then. To help illustrate my point about basic progressive resistance training, I have asked two advanced weight trainees who use it to tell about their training and accomplishments. What these men do in the gym is simple and effective.
Powerlifter David Shaw is a five-time world-record holder. John Brenner is a World Games bronze medalist in the shot put. Both men are world class strength athletes, weigh more than 275 pounds and can bench well over 500 and squat 800.
According to Shaw, "Few bodybuilders know how to train for power and strength. Gaining strength is not just eating more and lifting heavy weight. Also, many bodybuilders think that the bench press is the primary strength exercise. That is why there are so many injuries. if the trainee feels good on a particular day, he doesn't stop and instead lifts too much weight."
David also pointed out that many bodybuilders train heavy at contest time, when they are at their leanest, which leaves them susceptible to injuries. We see this often at the Soft Tissue Center. The fatigue level at contest time is not conducive to strength, and the depleted stores of glycogen are likely to be a factor as well.
"Bodybuilding trainees are not following a set routine or cycle; they are just lifting by how they feel," Shaw continued. "The injuries demonstrate the trainees' lack of knowledge of strength and power."
Most trainees have gotten the idea that "cycling" is very complex and too sophisticated for them. Consequently, previous articles that addressed the subject have been generally overlooked.
I can't stress my point enough that progression, or cycling, is a sane and effective training system for everyone who lifts weights, not just world class powerlifters and Olympic lifters.
"The frequency of training is a vital component," David explained. "If a bodybuilder feels good, he may train the bench press heavy two to three days per week. The bench should be trained heavy only once per week and moderately once per week. On the heavy day the reps would range from one to six, with a maximum of 12 to 14 sets, including the warmups. The moderate day would include not less than five reps and no more than 10, with a maximum of six sets.
"The point about the frequency of the heavy day even applies to curls. The heavier the workouts become, the more important the mental phase becomes. You can't just walk into the workout anymore; you must be prepared. Visualization helps the mind to prepare, and it helps to control the adrenaline. This can be done one hour before the workout of just before."
Both Shaw and Brenner acknowledge many of the popular bodybuilding magazines: "The idea is that if you are serious about training, you will want a routine that you can follow for life, whether you get married, have a career or have children," said Shaw. "You cannot train like a bodybuilding champion for life. Longevity is key in this sport. Get rid of the "more is better" idea. How many of the top competitors from just eight to 10 years re already gone? Lack of recuperation and fatigue from the workouts kills desire."
David follows the more standard 12-week cycle, of progression, of poundages, while John uses six to eight week cycles due to the frequency of his track and field meets.
The following is an example of a basic bench press workout on the 12-week cycle. It is based on the goal of a 180-pound bench. Add weight on the last set only, five pounds every other week; for example, during week four add the five pounds to make 160 only on the last set. Start with preliminary sets:
95 x 10
115 x 10
130 x 8
140 x 6.
Then do two to three working sets of 3-5 reps each:
Begin with 150 pounds; week two - 155 pounds; week four - 160 pounds; week six - 165 pounds; week eight - 170 pounds; week 10 - 175 pounds; week 12 - 180 pounds.
A similar cycle is based on the goal of a 275 pound bench press. For this one add weight to other pyramiding weights too. Start with preliminary sets:
Then do two to three working weight sets x 3-5:
Begin with 245 pounds; week two - 250; week four - 255; week six - 260; week eight - 265; week ten - 270; week 12 - 275.
After that do two cool down sets:
"The next cycle would begin one to two weeks after this cycle has been completed," explained Shaw. "If you wanted to try a maximum single, the 12th week is the time to do it, as opposed to just walking in the gym one day and deciding to do it, since the body has been adjusting to the heavier weight. Overenthusiasm has hurt a lot of people."
For your training routines David advised adding five pounds per week on the squat and deadlift for beginners, and 10 pounds per week for advanced trainees. Here's a routine based on a 315 maximum squat or deadlift. Note that maximum reps on the deadlift should never exceed five.
Start with 260 pounds; week two - 265; week three - 270; week four - 275; week five - 280; week six - 285; week seven - 290; week eight - 295; week nine - 300; week ten - 305; week 11 - 310; week 12 - 315 pounds.
Your final workout in the 12th week would be:
For barbell rows add five pounds every two weeks. For pulldowns add 10 pounds every two weeks. For barbell or dumbbell curls add five pounds every two weeks, with two workouts per week -- one heavy session with 5-7 sets of 8-10 reps and one light workout with 5-7 sets of 12-15 reps.
Even if your reps drop to less than you had planned, it is okay because you are getting stronger and will be able to handle that weight and the weight on your next cycle with greater ease," said Shaw.
Brenner feels that it is important to know what you can lift and to be honest about it. "During 1987 and '88 I only missed tow squats -- not squat workouts, but just two squats," he reported. " I would feel like a failure if I didn't make the lift I had planned on. That is why I would postpone the workout for a day if I was sick. I knew that each pound I gained on the squat would add that much more distance to my shot put."
It takes brutal honesty with one's self to miss only two lifts in two years, but that is exactly what I am asking you to give yourself in your workouts. In his progressive resistance training John uses eight-week cycles with one week of rest in between.
As an advanced trainee he adds 10-20 pounds per week on the squat. His starting weight might be 550x4. Over the eight weeks his reps would drop, and the next cycle would start 20 pounds heavier (at 570x4), and again he would add 10-20 pounds per week. John feels that he gained a major psychological edge by not failing with any reps. He values the "not giving up" attitude.
Note that John has used only four exercises in his entire career:
He performed each exercise only once per week, each in its own workout, thereby giving him four workouts per week. Cycling his workouts enabled the 6'4", 295-pound Brenner to work up to 500x4 and a 550 single in the bench, an 800 pound squat, a 460 pound power clean and a 290 pound power snatch.
On his 12-week cycle Shaw accomplished an 840 squat, a 523 bench, an 848 deadlift, a 465 bentover row, 100-pound concentration curls and pulldowns for 300x10.
These men certainly evidence the fact that impressive size and power can be built on a foundation of the basics.
Many trainees question the point of reaching a certain poundage in an exercise and then reducing it, only to cycle up again. The answer is that we are not capable of staying at a peak level of performance for extended periods of time, much less permanently.
No top powerlifter can walk into a gym any day of the week and perform his maximum lifts. It may even take several cycles for a great lifter like Bill Kazmaier or Ted Arcidi to reach his astronomical bench press poundages.
A champion boxer can't walk into the ring on any given day and be in top form, nor would you expect a track and field gold medalist to give an award winning performance under those circumstances.
Why, then, would a bodybuilder, champion or otherwise, think that he can continue to increase poundages or intensity, day in and day out, without any rest or planned progression? You can't stay at that 12-week peak forever.
Once you become used to the cycles and make steady progress with them, you will see that you are handling the poundages you were already handling and making progress -- but without aches, pains and fatigues. For just a few weeks you are handling lighter poundages, but the flip side is that for a few weeks of the year you are handling poundages that you never achieved before. Plus, you get rest and recuperation both during the cycle and also for a week once you reach your peak.
If you have not tried this approach, I urge you to do so.
If you have been training steadily and have experience the pitfalls and fallen prey to the fallacies that abound in weight training, try something that has produced results and champions. It's an approach that may give you the results you were looking for originally.
There is no sugar coated media hype needed for the truth; it speaks for itself.
Enjoy Your Lifting!