Monday, November 21, 2022

Advanced Strength and Power Techniques - C.S. Sloan

After spending considerable time with the beginner and intermediate programs, you should have quite a lot of strength and muscle mass. At this point, it's time to explore some of the more advanced techniques for gaining strength and power -- techniques that will allow you to put on more muscle and strength than you had ever thought possible when you first picked up a barbell. 

No matter what you hear from some lifters, there's no such thing as having too much strength. I bet when you first started out lifting you thought it would be great just to bench a rep with a couple of 45 pound plates on each side, and maybe squat with three a side. Time passed, and, "If I could only bench 315 and squat 405, why, then I'd be happy!" And now,  by the time you have reached the advanced stages, you may have achieved these goals . . . Are You Satisfied? The answer is, unequivocally, "NO" because there's no such thing as having too much strength. 

Well, never fear. This chapter is going to lay out some methods that will bring you the greater strength and power you're craving. Here, you'll find the techniques that are used by the greatest powerlifters and Olympic lifters in the world. If you have been keeping up with the field of strength and power training over the past several years, then chances are that some of this will be familiar to you, while some of it won't. And for a majority of readers, this will be some new, innovated, exciting stuff. 

You hear this kind of training called several things -- dynamic work, speed training, iso-ballistics, and the late Mel Siff coined the word "power-metrics." 

What it means is moving the weight as fast as possible, throughout both the concentric and eccentric portion of the movement, while maintaining good form (no bouncing of any kind, etc.) and using weights in the neighborhood of anywhere between 40-70% of 1RM. The weight used depends, it depends It Depends IT DEPENDS on what method of explosive repetition training you choose to employ. 

Of course, the first question generally asked is "what is the benefit of this sort of training?" 

Explosive (dynamic) repetition work has several benefits (such as improved neural function and helping reversal strength; we'll get to reversal strength later here), but the best benefit of this type of training is that it lets you constantly train heavy (with weights in the 85%-plus range) without the heavy weights causing your muscles to slow down -- and thus resulting in what would be loss of strength.

To help you understand the benefits of this, let's take a look at a hypothetical bench presser who has a max of 315 pounds. "If I could only bench 405 . . . " You AGAIN? Let's say he goes to the gym and works up to a max single, hitting 315 pounds. Now, let's say the next week he goes back to the gym and decides to add another 2.5 to 5 pounds and try for a new max. He gets it. The next week, he comes in and once again tries to add weight, but this time he misses it . . . 

No problem (or so the lifter thinks); he just assumes that he'll get the weight in the following weeks. The problem is that when he comes in the next week, he doesn't get it. And, in fact, if he were to keep on trying to max out week after week, he would get weaker. 

Why? Is he losing strength this way all the time? Technically, no. Yes, he's weaker, but that's because he is getting slower. Explosive repetition work helps to counteract this problem. Because when you always train with weights in the 90%-plus range, you're going to get slower. You need something to counteract this slowness -- explosive repetition work -- allowing you to constantly train heavy. 

There are several ways to go about doing explosive reps. The most popular method was made so by the Westside Barbell Club in Columbus, Ohio, where Louis Simmons trains a number of world champions and world record holders.


At Westside, they like to reserve sessions solely for speed work, where they use 50-60% of the lifter's 1RM on exercises such as the bench press and box squat for 8-12 sets of 2-3 reps. Simmons believes that doing more than 3 reps results in speed degradations, something he strictly wants to avoid.

I have used this method with some degree of success, though I must admit that it's not the sole method I use for myself or for the lifters I train. I can tell you this, however: A couple of years back I was training a guy whose maximum bench was 220 pounds when he first came to me. I immediately knew that his problem was lack of speed, not strength, for the bar moved very slow off his chest, and you could tell he wasn't producing enough force. I had him train his bench press three days a week. The first day was reserved for heavy single rep training, working up over 5 to 6 progressively heavier singles each week. The 2nd and 3rd day of the week were both reserved for speed work, where he used between 40% and 60% of his max, respectively, for 8 sets of 3 reps. Within two months he had added more than 100 pounds to his bench press.

You don't have to always do your explosive work on separate days from your heavy stuff. I have had lifters get good results with this type of training by adding it either before or after their heavy work. For those who had the speed, but not the strength, I had them do their explosive work after their strength work. For those who lacked speed, I had them do their speed work first.

Note: The first time I realized the importance of speed/dynamic training was from a fella who was helping me with my pathetic bench press one day at my place of work-outs. He really honed in on exploding off the bottom after a pause. Even just standing there pulling our outstretched arms to the chest and then waiting for his count and . . . .EXPLODING OUT, well, it was obvious he had way more speed than me. No worries, it CAN be developed with work over time. He also showed me this thing with sinking the bar a little into the chest and then, well, that's not what this one's about. 

Another method that can be employed is to do the speed work in between heavy sets, alternating back and forth between the two types of training. In the past, Russian and Eastern bloc lifters had success with this type of explosive training. Russians called them complex sets -- and this is another effective method to use, especially for anyone who is lacking speed on their heavy sets. 

How do you know if you are lacking speed on your heavy sets? After all, the weight is heavy, and it's going to always move relatively slow [read stuff on CAT, compensatory acceleration training]. The question is how slow? Anyone who takes 5-6 seconds to complete a max single, and gets the rep, has the strength but not the speed to back it up. Explosive rep training will make a BIG difference for this sort of lifter. 

Synaptic Facilitation 

Taking advantage of synaptic facilitation is one of the best things you can do to take your strength to the ultimate level. In the past, some strength coaches have referred to this method as "greasing the groove," or "GTG" training for short.  

Repetitive and intense (up to a point) stimulation of a neuron increases the strength of its synaptic connections. Some researchers think it might even form new synapses. In other words, repeatedly performing a certain lift will "grease" the lifter's groove for that particular lift. 

This is one of the reasons why a lifter, when he switches from squatting only one day a week to two or three days each week, gets such good results. He is "greasing the groove." Personally I know that the more I squat (once again, up to a point), the stronger I get at it.

Vladimir Zatsiorsky -  

 - one of the greatest strength researchers who ever lived, and author of several books (link above), summed it up best. He said (this isn't verbatim), "for building strength, train as often as possible, while being as fresh as possible." 

Over the past few years, a popular method among bodybuilders is to do a whole lot of volume at one workout, then  give their bodies a week (sometimes longer) of rest before training their bodyparts again. Russian strength researchers such as Zatsiorsky would have told them they had it completely backwards. It would be much better to take that same amount of volume and, instead of doing it at one workout, spread it out over two, three, or four sessions. Russian powerlifters and Olympic lifters always fragment their training volume in this manner. 

Accentuating the Eccentric

The eccentric phase -- also known as the negative or "yielding" phase -- is unique from the concentric, or positive, portion of the repetition because of the amount of weight that can be handled. During the eccentric portion, you can handle weights that are 50-100% heavier than during the concentric portion.

This uniqueness of the eccentric phase tells us two things. One, most lifters don't stimulate their muscles enough during the yielding phase because they don't place enough emphasis on it. Two, there is enormous potential when the eccentric is accentuated. 

There are three ways to accentuate the negative and take advantage of its benefits. The first is easy (and the most often used). It simply involves radically slowing down the eccentric portion of the lift. How much should you slow it down? The table below demonstrates the kind of eccentric training I often have the lifters I work with employ. 

Listed as:

Load | Reps per set | Eccentric time under tension

50-70% | 3 | 15-10 seconds
70-80% | 2 | 8-6 seconds
80-90% | 1 | 5 seconds

As I sais, this is a v ery simple way to start training negatives. It will give you a quick return for your efforts in the form of more strength.

The second method I like to employ -- albeit sparingly -- is "supramaximal" negatives, by using weights that are 100-150% of the lifter's one-rep maximum. The lighter the supramaximal negative, the slower the repetition. Here are some guidelines for what I am talking about. These aren't set in stone and can be adapted based on the lifter's eccentric strength: 

100-110% -- 12 second negative
110-120% -- 10 second 
120-130% -- 8
130-140% -- 6
140-150% -- 4

Also, these shouldn't be done for anything more than singles. Most lifters don't have the recovery ability to handle more than one rep per supramaximal set. 5-10 singles, depending on the weight, is plenty adequate.

The 3rd method involves "overspeed" eccentrics, or moving as fast as possible throughout the negative portion. This is the type of eccentric-accentuated method employed with great success at 
Westside Barbell.

A fast lowering of the weight accumulates kinetic energy, which will lead to more force being produced during the concentric portion of the lift.

The best way to take advantage of overspeed eccentrics is by not only lowering the bar or your body as fast as possible, but by pausing for a heartbeat at the bottom portion of the movement, when blasting the weight back to lockout.

Conjugate Training

In America, a popular way to train for an upcoming powerlifting meet is periodization. Or, rather, Western periodization. [Note: I use this when viewing old John Wayne and Randolph Scott movies.]. This form of periodization involves adding weight and decreasing reps each week as the powerlifting meet aproaches, using pre-set weights and reps.

Russians threw this form of periodization out the window a long time ago. Why? Because they discovered that there are far better ways to train. 

The main problem with western periodization is the fact that you are training for different things at different phases. For instance, training with higher reps at the beginning of a periodization cycle does nothing for your maximal strength, and in fact hurts your strength gains further in the cycle. This is the reason the Russians abandoned this form of training.

Of course, if you're not going to use periodization, then what are you going to do? If you've made it this far along with me, then you probably have a good idea of some of the answers. One thing that won't work, obviously, is to constantly train with heavy weights on the same exercises. This simply burns the lifter out, slows the lifter down, and, instead of his lifts going up, they soon start to regress.

So, how can you constantly train heavy (which is needed) and keep from burning out? 

In the 1970s, the Dynamo Club, an Olympic weightlifting team in the Soviet Union, discovered the answer in the form of what is now termed conjugate training. 


The coaches for the Dynamo Club came up with a system of training where their lifters rotated between 20-45 different exercises in order to improve the Olympic lifts. Each workout consisted of 2-4 different exercises which were rotated from on a regular basis (1-3 weeks). As their strength on such lifts as good mornings (performed in various manners), front squats, Oly squats, and various pulls (with different grips) improved, so did their snatches and clean & jerks.

When you combine conjugate training with the other forms of strength training already presented, you have a very formidable weapon for more strength and power.

At first glance, it would appear as if the conjugate method and the method of synaptic facilitation cannot coexist with one another (as some authors have claimed). I don't think this is the case. For instance, a method I have used with several of my powerlifters is to do heavy benches on Monday (with different rep ranges -- a form of conjugate training), followed by a different bench exercise on Wednesday, and still a different bench exercise on Friday. One week they might perform close grip benches on Wednesday followed by incline benches on Friday. The next week they might perform reverse grip benches on Wednesday, followed by close grip bottom position benches on Friday. They are still training the muscles that bench press often -- thus "greasing their groove" -- without performing regular flat benches done in exactly the same manner every week.

Accommodating Resistance

The fifth method for advanced strength development I'm going to discuss isn't one that has to be performed all of the time, and, in fact, you will need a break from it periodically. It is, however, one of the best methods for taking your strength to that next level. 

Accommodating resistance means using special means to accommodate for resistance throughout the range of motion, rather than just a specific point. Take the bench press as an example. On the bench press you are capable of lifting far more weight on the top half of the exercise than on the bottom half. From your chest onward, the resistance less and less. Now, what if you were to use something to make the bench press have the same resistance throughout the entire range of motion? Renewed strength when you switched back to doing the exercise without the accommodating resistance, that's what. 

What can you use to accommodate resistance? The two best things are bands and chains. And of the two, the bands are the best. 

By using bands in the power rack, or by attaching chains to the end of the bar (whether you are doing squats, benches, or any variation thereof), you can have zero added resistance at the bottom of the movement. As the lift progresses the tension stays the same (or increases) depending on the amount of chains or the weight of the bands. 

Accommodating resistance is one of the best methods employed among powerlifters, Olympic lifters and kettlebell lifters in recent years. Use it and you will be surprised by the results it will bring.


In the next few chapters, I will outline some programs that will incorporate the above advanced strength and power techniques. In addition, they still contain all of the elements for successful strength training that I outlined here:


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