Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Mass & Strength for Young Skinny Guys -- Paul Carter (2010)


This article's online already, but I like it so much I wanna put it here. 

Chronic Routine Changing -- 
The Bane of the Young and Inconsistent Lifter

If there is one constant with young guys I talk to on the interent or in real life, it's that they sweat all of the small stuff in training and never worry enough about the simple shit. 

And because of this, they're consistently changing their routine. I don't know if it's a "grass is greener" thing or if they see some other kid bigger and stronger than them and want to do his routine, thinking it will do the same for them. 

But there are very few kids who stick with a program long enough to see if it actually works or not. I've read guys write, "I did that program for two weeks, and it did nothing for my bench." 

Two weeks? So a few workouts probably. And because he didn't turn into a young Bill Kazmaier in those two weeks. the routine must be crap. 

Supplements are the other part. Don't get me started on that. Most young lifters don't eat enough and worry far too much about throwing something that sounds like it goes into the failed transmission of a race car down their throat. "It gets me pumped, man!" I bet! It's probably also causing your body to grow a fat baby's arm inside your small intestine. 

Every legit guy I know who has a good training program out there gets asked the same questions over and over again by young guys sweating small details that in the big picture of training aren't very relevant. Or they want to use a program and call it a "hyrbrid" routine, but they bastardize it all to hell until it isn't even close to the original program anymore. When it doesn't work so well, they say, "I tried that routine for two weeks. It didn't work for me. I'm using something else now, except instead of doing it exactly like it's laid out, I'm gonna . . ." 

Round and round they go . . . 

Your Training Ritalin = Progression

I believe one reason that many young lifters are all over the map in their lifting is because they read a lot of bodybuilding material and believe they need to hit every muscle from every angle in order to look massive and get strong. 

This simple isn't the case. 

 Now, I do believe there is some merit to hitting body parts at different angles for the advanced competitive bodybuilder (if you don't fit that description you shouldn't be worrying about such things). To have a very full, completely developed physique capable of winning competitive bodybuilding shows, you can't really narrow down your entire lifting to squats, benches, deadlifts and chins. 

You have to do calf raises too. 

But to quote someone (I don't know who, but I bet they're smart!), you can't carve a giant sculpture from a pebble. You have to get the mass in place before you start worrying about side laterals and concentration curls. 

Your routine should be made up of the usual basics -- squats, deadlifts, presses, benches and incline benches, dips, chins, rows, and curls. 

Lifting for Mass

The real key to hypertrophy is getting stronger but within a specific repetition range. This is something sometimes lost on younger lifters and skinny guys (these terms will be used in a synonymous fashion throughout this article by the way). 

Getting bigger from a training standpoint is about pushing heavier weights for medium to high repetitions. Doing singles, doubles, and triples will most definitely get you strong, but it won't get you big. Gaining mass is a byproduct of moving the heaviest weights you can within the 8-20 rep range (and sometimes higher for legs). Yes, sets of five will build mass as well but not quite as well as sets that go to eight reps and above in my opinion. The only exception I will add in here is the deadlift. Many guys will continue to pull well after their form has broken down and grind out reps. I advise against this for injury prevention purposes. When you feel you can no longer MAINTAIN YOUR ARCH, that's it. End the set. 

The other common pitfall young lifters fall into is that they believe they need to train 5-6 days a week. I have no idea why. Training three times a week is plenty and very ideal. 

The split I recommend to a young lifter trying to gain as much mass as possible is as follows: 

Workout A (warmups are included)

 - Squat. 5 x 10 reps to a top set of 10. 

 - Deadlift. 5 x3 reps up to a top set of 3.

 - Dips. 4 sets of as many reps as possible for each set. If you can't do 8 reps per set, have someone hold your legs. If no one is there to hold your legs, set your feet up on a bench behind you. This works for both dips and chins as well as deeps and cheens. 

 - Chins. I don't care how many sets it is, but equal the number you did for dips. Yea, I know dips are easier than chins, but almost everyone has shitty chinning strength so remedy that early on. An easy way to do this is to do a set of dips followed by a set of chins. Don't go back to dips until you total the number you did for that set of dips. 

Rest 1-2 Days Between Workouts.

Workout B (warmups are included)

 - Bench press / incline press (alternate these two from workout to workout on this day. 6 x 8 to a top set of 8.

 - Clean & Press. Clean every rep (so clean, press, lower, clean, press lower). 5 sets of 6 to a top set of 6. 

 - T-bar rows. 6 x 10 to a top 10. 

 - Curls. 3 x 8. 

Rest 1-2 days and repeat

When you start the program, a "top set" for the first week should be something where you still have 2 or 3 reps left in the tank. If you go too heavy early on in the cycle, you will stall early and the program won't work to its potential. Be patient and start light. You will understand why you must do this in the next section. 

Log all of your workouts in a training log. 

Spare me the crap about how you can't do squats and deadlifts in the same workout or how it's too much work for your lower back. Squats work as a great warmup for the deadlift, and plenty of world class powerlifters squat and deadlift in the same workout. 

The 2/5/10 Progression Scheme

So now that you have a training plan in place, understanding how to work some simple progression is the next key.

Some guys don't really understand when to up the weight or what to do when a lift goes stale or stalls for too long. I will make this simple for you. Add a rep each week to your top set until you're getting 2 reps more than listed. Then up the weight by 5% for the next workout.

For example, let's say you squat 225 x 10 in your first workout, 225 x 11 in the second, and 225 x 12 the third. Up the weight by 5% (roughly 10 lbs.) and start over at 10 reps. Continue with this progression until you stall for three consecutive workouts. 

In other words, you get to 275 x 10 and can't get to 11 reps for the next two workouts. At that point, reduce the weight by 10% and start over. So, it could look like this in your training log: 

245x12 (increase by 5%)

This is why it's important to start off and work up to something where you know you have quite a bit left in the tank. The more conservative you are in the beginning, the longer the gains will come. 

This plan will work. If you're a skinny and weak stick dude and you work up to handling 315 x 10 in the squat, 405 x 3 in the deadlift, and d275 x 6 in the bench and can do a crapload of dips and chins and deeps and cheens, you will be significantly bigger, especially IF YOU'RE EATING ENOUGH, which brings me to my next point . . . 

Chowing Down

Eating for mass is simple, but it's very difficult at the same time. You have to be willing to endure some pain. Let me add that even if your goal is just to add 10 lbs., this will still need to be done. 

Skinny guys tend to have out of this world metabolisms. 

I don't even advise counting calories. 

I just advise eating every three hours as much as humanly possible. 

If you need a plan, here's a quick and dirty plan that even a young kid in school could work: 

large bowl of cornflakes or cereal with whole milk.
two bananas
two breakfast bars

Mid-morning: Pick an option or have all three; I don't care: 
peanut butter and jelly sandwich
two Snickers bars
two or  three chocolate milks

If you bring lunch, bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with some apples and fruit. If you're eating school lunch, see if you can get double servings or load up on as much whole milk as you can and drink it with your lunch. Finish every lunch off with dessert if you can. 

Same as mid-morning.

Approach this each day like it's the last meal you will ever eat before a long starvation diet. That's the only way I can explain it. You might not feel hungry, but you had better chow down. If you have a lot of siblings and one of them is eating more than you, eat that sibling. That's a two for one right there. 

Two Hours Post-Dinner:
peanut butter and jelly sandwich (see a trend here?)
whole milk


A skinny guy with a Ferrari-fast metabolism isn't going to gain mass on chicken breasts and rice. Calorie dense foods are the key. I won't get into the whole cholesteral/fat debate on this. If you're obese, worry about it. If you're young and a stick, don't. 

One thing I used to do to gain weight was use my insomnia to its advantage. I sometimes wouldn't sleep for 24-30 hours at a  time (not because I didn't want to sleep, but because I couldn't). During those times, I would make a plan to eat every two hours. And I'm not talking just potato chips either. 

I would eat all the leftovers that were there were. 

Then I'd go through sandwiches of various kinds.

Peanut butter on crackers and vanilla wafers. 

A gallon of milk with cookies. 

Packages of ramen noodles. 

Protein shakes. 

Microwave pizzas.

Hot dogs, and 

more . . . More . . . MORE!

I don't recommend this unless you have insomnia. I was just using it to my weight gain advantage, and there's always ways for you to adapt any weight gaining plan to your own special circumstances too. If you're going to be awake, eat. If not, sleep is more important. I grew far more the summer I made sleep a real priority than the other years where I winged it on sleep. Just make sure to get in plenty of food before you do crash for the day. 


I'm not talking about that crap you put on your hair after you shampoo. I'm talking about conditioning as in running, pulling a sled, pushing a Prowler or car around, running hills, and doing sprints. 

After each squat/deadlift session, pick one and do it. 

Not for time. I hate that. 

Do it until you feel done or pick a number of sprints/hills/pushes that you want to do that day. This will vary depending on your wellbeing that day. Just don't be a sissy and talk about how worked you are from squats and deads. There are bigger and stronger guys then you who move more weight than you and still do plenty of conditioning on wobbly legs. 

Your lifts, especially your squat and deadlift, will take a bit of a dive at first. Don't fret this. They will come back once your legs harden up to the running and conditioning work. You will actually get stronger over the long run.

You don't have to go crazy and throw the hell up all over the high school football field or in front of your mom's house. 

I mean, you can, and this is cool, but it isn't a requirement. But do some hard conditioning. When you're done, you should be able to say, "That was hard." 

There  . . that's your gauge. 

And don't lie to yourself about it. 

Gaining mass and strength isn't worth anything if you become a fat lard ass tjhat breaths heavy sitting on the couch. Don't be that guy. The lifting world is full of those guys. 

Be better than that. 

Get big and strong while keeping a solid level of conditioning under your belt. Your work capacity will improve more quickly this way, your body absorbs Snickers better this way, and when you have to throw down after school over a "he-said-she-said" incident, you'll have the upper hand over the fat ass, or at least feel damn good about your chances. And if you're not still in high school, it doesn't matter. 

The feeling of being in shape AND being strong is unbeatable. 

Strive for the whole package. 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 




Monday, May 29, 2023

Five Tips for Elevating Your Bench Press -- Joseph Lucero



Control the Weight: Conquer the Iron

One of the most gruesome things to witness in the world of strength training has to be the sternum-blasting bozos who train at the university rec centers. 

The problem with this concept is that at some point, you have to question yourself in regard to using your structure as an advantage to elevate your bench pressing power. 

Your sternum can only handle so much abuse, and hell, it shouldn't handle any, period. But to cultivate the ability to load heavier weight on the bench press, we need to learn how to control the iron, especially throughout the descending phase of the eccentric contraction. 

Consider the elastic potentiation that can occur from the well-developed controlling motion that spans from the unracking position to the chest. One common misconception is that if you are to lower the weight slowly to your chest, many would argue this could become an unnecessary waste of energy as it could exhaust the potential of your powerful pressing motion. This misconception does have some merit, but it all stems back to one thing . . . 

"Lifting with Intent" 

This means that as you lower the bar, your goal is to control the weight instead of lowering the weight with the intent of disrupting the musculature as an individual would for aesthetic development in a bodybuilding routine. When you descend with the barbell, your mind should exhausted with the concept of building tension and keeping the chest as tight as possible. This is so that when the press command is given, you can redirect stored energy to deliver a blow harder than Iron Mike Tyson.

So why does this concept work -- the concept of elastic potentiation? 

It stems from the mindset of utilizing cellular biology. Even if this seems like a daunting concept, we will simplify it enough for you to understand the physiological components of muscular contractions and appreciaste the development of movement through cellular level biology.

It all starts with the intent of generating movement. Once this occurs, the brain will send a signal throughout the body which reaches our muscles through the neuromuscular junction. When this signal reaches the musculature, calcium is sent throughout the sarcoplasmic reticulum in order to allow the muscle fibers to be able to connect to each other through the smallest extensions of the muscle fibers known as the actin and myosin. During this condition, the myosin and actin can only connect if ATP is present. 

ATP is an abbreviation for adenosine triphosphate, and this molecule is key to movement. If ATP is present, movement can take place! So, when the myosin and actin are connected through the many cross-bridges in the muscle fiber, they can start to slide over and over which cause the muscle to stretch and shorten.

Why is this cellular level of movement important for us to know? The fact is, if we are building tension and keeping the muscle fibers tight throughout a controlled stretch of the bench press, those cross-bridges will stay stronger and connected. 

So, when we do press upward, we will be able to effectively and efficiently use our muscles to generate the strongest of movements! If we are reckless and let the barbell dump on our chest to get the rebound from our sternum, this could cause the cross-bridges in the muscle fibers to not be as effective, and we will lose the ability to generate the strongest of contractions for the strongest of movement. 

Exercises to help with improving your control with the barbell include tempo pressing and the Spoto press. The tempo press is just as it sounds -- working the barbell with a tempo or cadence in order to promote a slower movement pattern. This helps the body adjust to the concept of lowering the bar to the chest with control and stabilization. I know that earlier we discussed promoting control of the bar by not just simply lowering the weight. However, with the tempo press, we are specifically working to promote a movement power that would replicate a slow cadence, so when the weight does become heavier, you'll have a better opportunity to be successful based on this prerequisite movement. 

In addition to the tempo press concept, the Spoto press is another opportunity to help with controlling the bar for successful pressing. The Spoto press was created by one of the finest pressers, Eric Spoto. This exer consists of lowering the weight within one to two inches from the chest, pausing or bringing the bar to a halt, and then bringing the barbell upward.

Some people will work this movement at various parts of their program, but the concept of this movement is to work the barbell with a slower tempo. Why? Because if your intention is to be ballistic and malicious, you won't hit your target point of bringing the barbell a couple inches from your chest. 

Tuck Your Elbows, You Filthy Animal

When discussing the planes of movement, we brought up a controversial discussion of the bench press being either a sagittal movement or transverse movement. 

 - Sagittal Plane: cuts the body into left and right halves. Forward and backward movements. 

 - Transverse Plane: cuts the body into top and bottom havles. Twisting movements.

Note: Might as well go a little more into this. 

When we consider the anatomy of movement, planes of movement are an important topic to discuss. When describing the bench press, there is a level of controversy on the planes of movement. People would describe the bench press as either sagittalm, transverse, or both. 

Sagittal movement occurs with the intent of going forwards and backward. While the transverse plane explains the body moveming in a horizontal fashion, and, in this case, talking about the shoulders going though horizontal 

The big controversy over discrepancy is that even if we try out best to keep this movement in the sagittal plane, many people realize abduction and horizontal adduction. To understand better, imagine doing a flat dumbbell bench press with your elbows flared outward and at shoulder height. 

For us to be powerful pressers, we need to have this conversation about planes of movement. So we press with the intention of performing a sagittal movement, or do we press with the intention of pressing with horizontal abduction and adduction? With my experience, I believe it's necessary to bring the elbows in tight. This allows more biomechanical proficiency and utilization of the triceps, anterior deltoids, and pectoralis major. This harmony allows lifter to get full recruitment of all three nuscles. The minute your elbows flare is the minute you start to lose that back-arm strength.

Understand, though, that even if your goal is to keep the elbows tight in order to perform the bench press in a sagittal plane, it can become hard to stay true to this concept as most people will show some level of elbow displacment during the ascending motion of the bench press. But let's remember that before the ascending phase is the descending phase, and it is a scientific fact that (in regards to the bench press) that the body can withstand a much heavier load during the descending phase than the ascending phase. 

For a moment, let's focus on the descending motion of the bar during the bench press. If you can handle a heavier load and focus on the phase, work hard to keep the elbows tight so that during this motion the elbows are engaged and much more involved than if they hadn't been at all. 

Big picture -- even if the elbows become displaced into a biomechanical disadvantage, the "intention" of performing the bench press with these top cues will make you much more successful than mindlessly plowing through heavy iron with a complete disregard for your body. 

Back to . . . the big controversy over discrepancy is that even if we try out best to keep this movement in the sagittal plane, many people (especially those who press heavy) will start to show horizontal adduction of the shoulder joint. This motion would cause the lift to occur in the transverse plane as well. But, the goal is to continue to focus on keeping our elbows tucked in. This focus will incorporate more of our triceps to have an even more effective press. 

In order to make this a biomechanically successful concept, it also requires us to discuss hand placement on the bar. Many have adopted the wide grip bench press to limit range of motion in order to get an advantage amongst other lifters. 

Doug Hepburn, wide.

Doug Hepburn, medium. 

If this is your jam, trust that I am not jelly. Everyone is different, and everyone abides to different rules and policies. I do believe, however, the more effectively we can balance leverage amongst the pectoralis major, triceps brachii and anterior deltoids, the better we can press and the more confidently we can press. 

But even if we intend to keep the elbows tucked in, sometimes even the heaviest of lifters will begin to showcase a shift in elbow placement that has their elbows flared outward , which could cause strain and damage to the shoulder joint In order to fix this, we need to make sure and promote triceps strength through various movements. The biggest exercises I believe that will develop triceps strength are: 

Close Grip Bench Press
JM Press
A TON of Volume! 

When doing the close grip bench press, it seems much more realistic to keep the elbows tucked in so that they are underneath the wrists throughout the movment. Some people have a distorted understanding of the close grip hand placement, so, to me, it depends on the individual's current press grip, and if this concept is even applicable. 

For me, I bench press with my pinky on the inside rings of the bar. To bring me to close grip, I place my palms within thumb length of the knurling of the bar, which might very well be about a full hand inside my bench press grip. For people who already have a naturally close grip bench press, they could consider other exercises. 

Dips have to be one of the more effective movements I prescribe to individuals. Trust me, I am not the "originator" of this concept, but just because you don't prescribe a gimmicky movement to an individual doesn't mean you aren't a reliable source of information. Sometimes it's even more effective to stick with what's already being used and seen as worthwhile, even if that means you aren't the biggest innovator. 

Dips, especially weighted, can load the triceps based on the grip of the movement. This movement really forces the elbows to stay in a position that stays true to the sagittal plane, not to be confused with the sagettal plane. 


When you descent with the dips, you will start to feel an immediate tightness of the anterior deltoid muscles. This, plus the amount of leverage on the elbow joint will help you develop and grow tremendously, and that will translate over to the bench press. If you grow your triceps and deltoids, then why wouldn't your bench press grow as well? 

The JM Press is an effectual movement as well. During this movement, you will go through a movement pattern, hey, watch the video if you don't know this one . . .  

. . . you will go through a motion pattern that doesn't seem to be as traditional as other ones you could perform, such as the skull crusher or the triceps pressdown. 

The way I like to perform the JM Press is to use a straight bar to help translate more to the bench press. Afterwards, I have them keep the bar at "eye level" so that the arms are at a lean throughout the movement to help keep the triceps engaged. During the descending phase, I have the lifter work to come down slowly and keep the bar at eye level. So, whether it's the descending, ascending, or the lockout phase of the lift, the triceps are always engaged and cause a higher level of fatigue for a higher level of development! 

This movement also looks to mimic a part of the bar path that individuals naturally acquire as they learn to bench press more effectively. Bench pressers will place the bar at the lower part of their chest, and then as they press, the barbell's path will showcase an "arc" shape that will place the bar in a higher position than when it was at the bottom phase of the lift. This has to do with the power position from the arch and leg drive. Don't worry, we'll get to this concept of the power position later. 

Lastly, in order to keep the elbows tucked I promote a TON of volume to help elicit growth and development, but this isn't a tactic used year round.  

{He uses lots of volume on the bench accessory stuff, hypertrophy stuff, speed work. Close grips, Spoto press, speed bench, paused bench, bands, flyes, low inclines with BB and/ofr DBS, etc., etc. So, when he talks about only benching heavy three times a month with a deload every fourth week, he's doing quite a nice stack of bench stuff other than straight benching. I like that approach and my shoulders agree.}

During the offseason or initial parts of programming, we want to keep programming more basic but provide much more volume. This is what happens during the hypertrophy phase that helps to build the musculature to develop some slabs of beef that would intimidate the post-insult manly Mac from the old ads. 

To work this heavy volume, it's possible to try different levels of volume such as multiple sets of 12, 15, or 20 reps with limited rerst, or even working a single set of 80-200 reps all at once! It does truly depend on the lifter and their experience. 

An example of  this type of tricep work would be as follows: 

1) Triceps Pushdown. 5 x 20 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

2) Triceps Pushdown. 1 x 100 reps with 10 seconds rest at fatigue points (try to be get as many consecutive reps as possible between the 10-second rests). 

Difference between a triceps pushdown and a pressdown?

Pushdown, elbows out, heavier, cheaty, humped over to use bodyweight enabling higher poundage, pile on the weight, get a rhythm

Pressdown, elbows tucked in, stricter, more erect posture
 concentrate, stretch & squeeze. 

Powerful Pressing -- The Intent of Being Ballistic 

We have explored the topic of massive pressing, implementing concepts of controlling the weight, and tucking in your elbows to incorporate those massive tree trunk arms. But in addition to these principles of strength development, we need to explore the concept of working power into your routine to hoist the heavy iron with massive speed. There are many ways to develop this concept of power and we'll get into it in the next section . . . 

Enjoy Your Lifting!   


Sunday, May 28, 2023

Tailor-Made Strength -- C.S. Sloan (2006)


There's a truism in strength training: 

The best program is the one that works for you. 

Nonetheless, there are some ground rules that I believe apply to all lifters who are serious about building muscle and the strength that goes along with it. Once you've applied those rules properly, you need to change the program to accomodate such things as age, training experience and goals. 

Before we get to the alteration process, however, let's discuss the things that the most successful strength routines have in common. 

Full Body Strength

If you read any of my previous articles, you know my dislike of so-called split training routines. I believe that the best routines are ones in which you work your entire body at each session or-- at the most -- split your body over two sessions. If you don't work all the major muscle groups at each session (shoulder girdle, back, legs), you need to work at least two of them. Do some type of pressing work for your chest and shoulders, followed by either heavy back work or heavy leg work, if not both.

That type of training is critical for strength athletes. Unless you're some type of lift specialist, like a powerlifter who only competes in the bench press, you compete in a sport in which you use most of your major muscles. It's only logical that you'd want to strengthen all of those muscles in the same session. Athletes who train that way have no problem being in shape on competition day. 

Heavy Training

Your training must always be heavy. Don't succumb to the notiong that to get in great shape you need high reps, even on your core exercises. If you're trying to lose bodybat, let your aerobic conditioning and, more important, diet take care of that aspect. 

If you compete in a strength sport heavy training is a must. And when I say heavy, I mean heavy. We're talking sets of 5's, 3's, doubles or singles. Only rarely do I have any of my lifters perform more than five reps on their core lifts.

Explosive Strength

No matter what your goals, you need to perform some type of speed work. The problem with ultr-heavy training is the fact that it makes you slower at the lifts you're performing. That's where dynamic lifting comes in. Combine it with heavy training, and you'll become stronger, bigger and faster. 

Customizing Your Strength Program

Keep in mind that any program is just an outline. That's one of the problems with written programs: The person who writes it is not there to make changes based on how your body responds -- or doesn't respond-- to the workouts. 

Core Exercises 

There are plenty of lifters -- especially competitive powerlifters and Olympic lifters -- who are perfectly satisfied with doing the same core exercises year round, while others need constant cahge to stay interested. I would have to put myself in the first group, but since I lift with three of the lifters I train, and since they need change to stay interested, I rotate exercises at least every two weeks.  

One of my uncles holds the state masters record in the deadlift in Texas -- or did at the time of this writing -- and he's happyh doing the same core exercises, squat, bench and deadlift, all year. That works well for him because he doesn't have a consistent workout partner, and it brings him good results. He's been training that way for many years and enjoys doing it, but most people need more variety.

Many lifters have to change their routines or they grow stale and hit sticking points. That's particularly true for advanced lifters. Many need to change their exercises every week -- and if they don't change the exercises, then need to change the reps. 

The biggest problem I run into wheh lifters change exercises is that they pick easier lifts instead of hard ones. The new exercise has to be as demanding as the one you're trading it out for. Many who have read my articles understand that for strength and power work I use a heavy/light/medium system of training that is, basically, a combination of Russian and Eastern-bloc methods and a lot of the methods of strength coach Bill Starr, with a few extras thrown in. 

For advanced athletes I usually recommend switching to a new exercise at each workout instead of benching three times a week, squatting three times a week, etc. And the more advanced the athlete, the more weeks of different workouts I have him use. The important thing is that you must trade a heavy exercise for a heavy exercise, a medium exercise for a medium exercise, and so on.

Another important decision is how many core exercises to do at each workout. If you are competing in football or basketball (the two most common types of athletes who ask me for advice), I recommend squatting at each session, followed by some type of bench work and, finally, a core lift for the back muscles -- for example, deadlift, power clean, high pull, etc. 

If you compete in power events in which you do fewer than three lifts (push/pull competitors, for example), it's perfectly fine to do only two core exercises -- one for your chest and shoulder girdle and one for your lower back, legs and hips. 

For most full powerlifters, I recommend three core lifts -- some type of squat followed by chest and back work; however, I've worked with guys who got better results by alternating a back exercise and a squatting exercise. Usually, those are wide-stance squatters who work the same muscles when they deadlift as when they squat.

Sets and Reps

I don't give a damn what any pseudo-zen bodybuilder claims, strength training is not an art. It's a science, and, therefore, there are optimum numbers of sets and reps to use. 

For building muscle mass and strength, doing 3-6 sets of 3-6 reps is best. For building dynamic strength, it's 1-3 sets of 1-3 reps.

For lifters who are just starting out, I recommend 4-5 sets of 4-5 reps. The math is very easy, and it's the best way to train a large group of people. I discovered that a few years back when I was asked to teach a strength-training class at a local college. I had so many students, most of whom were not athletes, and such a short time in which to train them that I had to find a system that would produce results across the board. 

I stuck with the 4-6 sets of 4-6 reps rule, and everyone who adhered to it made good gains in only one semester. It was also a very easy concept for the students to understand and take with them once they left to train on their own.

As you get more advanced, of course, you can add sets and reps. All of the guys who train with me have at least a year of training under their belts. After we perform whatever sets and reps are the order of the day, I almost always have us do at least one or two back-off sets for anywhere from 8 to 20 reps. One or two sets is usually all we need; any more cuts too much into recovery.

If you're interested solely in building muscle and don't give one whit about strength (I know there are some of you out there), then doing more reps on most of your sets will suit your needs better. Start off with 4 sets of 10 as your base, and switch to another set and rep combination after about three weeks; for example 3 sets of 12, 5 sets of 8. 

Weight Progression

This confuses many lifters, and the reason is that weight progression is different for everyone. There, however, som basic guidelines. 

Never use a pyramid-style weight progression, in which you add weight and drop reps on each successive set. I understand that it's a popular method with bodybuilders and has been for many years, but it's an awful way to build strength. As you add weight, keep your reps the same. In other words, if 5's are the order of the day, start off with 5's and stick with them until your last set. After you're finished with your final set, you can drop weight and do the higher repetition work. 

The exception is when your goal is heavy doubles or singles In that case do two to three progressively heavier sets of 5 and then start with the doubles or singles. 

Make sure that your jumps in weight are as balanced as possible from the first set to the last. For instance, if your goal on squats is to beat your previous week's five-rep record of 315, your jumps should look like this: 

135x5 / 185x5 / 225x5 / 275x5 / 325x5. 

If you were to make all five reps on the final set, then you could add one more -- or quit where you are -- and try to beat the record the next time you use fives. 

I have a couple of lifters who prefer eto do the fourth set with weights that are closer to their final set. For instance, they might use 300 for their 4th set before jumping to 325. Conversely, I have some lifters, usually more advanced ones, who prefer for their 4th set to be lower than in the above scenario. They might go from 225 on their 3rd set to 250 on the 4th and then jump all the way to 325 on the 5th. You'll have to experiment before you find which works best for you muscles and nervous system.

Workload at Each Workout

No matter how a person's body responds to different levels of volume, all lifters must consistently build up their volume -- to a certain point. The starting point for volume, however, is different for everyone. Even though you lift with someone of the same age, training experience, strength and bodyweight, you still might need a different amount of volume from what your partner needs. 

Some lifters thrive on a lot of volume, while others at the same level get burned out quickly that way.

I discovered a long time ago that I need less total volume than others who are at my level and have the same goals as I do. Even after more than a decade of training, I still respond well toabout 7-10 sets per lift, and that included warmups. In fact, there are many days when I only do 5 sets per lift, even at my heavy workout.

One of the lifters in my group almost always adds an extra two to three sets per lift over what the rest of our training partners do Every time he drops the extra volume, his lifts begin to regress.

The same goes for speed work. I usuallyu stick with 7-9 sets per exercise on speed work, whereas other lifters I work with do better with 10-15. That's not to say that you can't add extra work occasionally -- you can -- but you need to temper it with the wisdom of knowing what works best for your body. If you respond well to lower workloads, then learn to cut back on weeks following higher workload weeks. 

Summing it Up

I hope this article has helped you to clarify many of the questions you may have about training programs.

Just make sure that you enjoy your workouts. The best program is not only the one that's best for you, but it's also the one that you like doing the best. 

Enjoy Your Lifting!   

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