Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Knowing When You Are Ready for an Intermediate Program - Brooks Kubik


Let's determine an intermediate trainee. 

First, see here: 

So, how do you know when you're ready to move from beginner-level programs to an intermediate program?   

I define an intermediate trainee as a trainee who has: 

1) Completed three to six training cycles using either single or double progression while doing ONE set of each exercise in his three-times per week program; 


2) Completed three to six training cycles using either single or double progression while performing TWO sets of each exercise in his three-times per week program; 


3) Completed three to six training cycles using either single or double progression while performing THREE sets of each exercise in his three-times per week program. 

To put things in concrete, specific terms, an intermediate trainee will have progressed from performing one set of each exercise to performing three sets of each exercise in his three-times per week workouts -- and he will have increased the amount of weight handled in his upper body exercises by 45-90 pounds, and increased the weight in his squats and deadlifts by 90-180 pounds. 

Thus, the intermediate trainee will be ENORMOUSLY stronger and better conditioned than he was when he began his training -- and will be carrying much more muscle mass. 

He'll also know how to perform all the basic exercises safely and efficiently, and he'll understand the mental aspects of strength training. He'll know he needs to concentrate and focus on his training, avoid distractions, stay positive and optimistic, and be confident that he will succeed in building the strength and muscle mass that he desires. 

He will have developed what I refer to as "the Success Habit" -- meaning that he has experienced steady increases in reps and weights, and steady increases in strength and muscle mass. He KNOWS that strength training works -- and whenever he trains, he EXPECTS each workout to be another step on the road to even greater strength and muscle mass. Thus, he trains with quiet confidence. And because he expects to succeed, he does. 

Developing the Success Habit is one of the primary benefits of the single and double progression systems. They not only strengthen your body, they strengthen your mind. By allowing you to succeed over and over, they teach you to view success as inevitable. That's an incredibly powerful asset for anyone seeking to build Herculean strength and muscle mass.

Successful lifters of the past developed the Success Habit early, and so will you -- IF you have the patience and self-discipline to start slow and easy, and to use single or double progression to progress -- slowly, steadily, and inexorably -- to the level of an intermediate trainee.

But what if you've been training for a while, and you're beyond the beginner state, but you didn't follow the progression system that we outlined for beginners, and you're not sure if you qualify as an intermediate? 

In that case, let's put it in simple terms. At a minimum, an intermediate should be able to do the following: 

1) Barbell bench press - 3 x 6-8 reps with bodyweight.
2) Standing military press - 3 x 6-8 reps with 70% of bodyweight. 
3) Squat - 3 x 6-8 reps with bodyweight plus 50 pounds. 
4) Deadlift - 3 x 6-8 reps with bodyweight plus 50-75 pounds. 

If you're an older trainee, you may need to lower these numbers to reflect your age. This second book in the series explains how to adjust your numbers relative to age in greater detail . . . 


Enjoy Your Lifting! 

Bodybuilding With Cables - John Grimek (1958)


Years ago we featured, in an advertisement on the back cover of this magazine, the impressive back pose of one Fred Rollon. 

This picture arrested the glance of all who happened to look at this particular issue, causing them to scrutinize the picture with more than a passing look. 

It was the ridges and furrows which covered this man's back, indicating hard muscularity, that was so amazing and eye catching. 

And almost without exception those who studied it were bound to ask: How did this man develop such a muscular back? What type of exercises does he do? These plus many other questions dealing with the development of the back were asked. 

The simple truth is, that at the time we used this photo in the advertisement mentioned above, we did not have very much information about the man or the training method he employed. Eventually we got the full details and everyone here was surprised to learn that among his favorite exercises was the use of a chest expander. In fact he admitted that chest expanders played a very important part in developing his fine physique. Moreover, he was a very extraordinary cable puller and openly made claims that this training was responsible for his physical development. 

Cables Very Popular at One Time

Cable training used to be very popular in this country years ago. It still is in some parts of the world, particularly England. In fact England is one of the few places left where cable pulling contests are still much in vogue, in much the same way as weightlifting is featured here and in other countries around the world. 

Note: Imagine if Bob Hoffman had put the entire of his funds and energy behind cable training instead of Oly lifting. Later, Weiders Ben & Joey would see the financial and "legacy" opportunities in this, and proceed to battle the Yorkies for dominance in the now-popular (thanks to Arnold Be-Doucheful and his popularizing antics) field of this business of expansion and contraction at the ends of cables and springs . . . This would have, in my view, made delivery drivers given the task of hauling endless weight sets up eternal flights of stairs very "happy" and they tended in this parallel universe to look down on and despise the crude and rough lumpers and loaders of heavy iron fitness equipment in their simple and primitive alternate world. 

During the Roarin' 20s when many of the train you by mail systems were popular, most of them sold chest expanders exclusively. Earle Leiderman . . . 


. . . now a feature writer for Strength & Health, used to sell such a training system. He had, I think, one of the best cable sets offered to the public. I know, I owned one. 

Other old-timers may remember the novel type of chest expander that Charles MacMahon . . . 

here performing a somersault with 30-lb. dumbbells

. . . offered for sale which consisted of 20 strands; 10 strong, five medium, and five weak. This idea was good and permitted faster progress by using a weak cable when the person wasn't quite strong enough to use a heavier one. 

Note: it's possible to micro-load expanders with stretch bands but we all realized that already. 

However, besides the two men just mentioned there were dozens of others who sold this type of apparatus with varying tension strands. Some were good, while others were only fair and could not be used to advantage. 

Outstanding Development Possible

It's a certainty that fellows who use cables exclusively almost always develop some outstanding feature, such as exceptional arms, massive shoulders, rounded chests or muscular backs. Unlike any other form of training cables do stimulate muscular development faster. 

Personally I favor this type of training and used it extensively in earlier years. However, my experience proved to me that, although this form of training does increase the size of the muscles, it does not improve the strength in proportion to this size. Later, others with whom I was acquainted also confirmed this conclusion through their own experience. 

In other words, most fellows who used this type of training do acquire amazing muscular size and even look strong, but when it comes to actual tests of strength they flunk miserably. 

It was this deduction that prompted me to give up cable training and turn my efforts to weights. Later, after I'd given the matter considerable thought, I decided to COMBINE the two for better results. 

I found that cables helped me to pack greater strength into the muscles. I'm convinced that when BOTH of these training methods are combined, this COMBINATION makes the ideal training program for obtaining size and strength. 

Another thing, cables offer such a variety of unusual exercises which activate the muscles in such a diversified manner that improvement is bound to result if training is persistent and serious.

The main advantage of cable training is the ever-increasing resistance one gets as the cables are stretched to their full length. To illustrate this point more clearly let me cite the curl with cables for example. As you begin to flex (curl) the arm the resistance keeps increasing until it is many times greater than it was at the start. In other words, resistance at the beginning is almost nil, but as the cables are stretched to their full length, the resistance continues to mount. Then, as the forearm reaches the halfway position (forearm parallel to the floor), the resistance begins to make itself felt, and by the time full flexion of the arm is complete, the resistance is vastly increased. This is the advantage that cables have over weights and because of it you can develop bigger and better shaped muscles. 

When curling with weights the reaction is quite different.  The resistance with weights can be felt right from the beginning and is felt throughout the entire exercise. The greatest resistance, you'll agree, is felt about the midway position when the forearm becomes parallel with the floor. But as the curl reaches completion, the weight brought up to the shoulder, the resistance becomes somewhat reduced because the leverage between the hand and the shoulder is lessened, decreasing the resistance. 

Not so with cables. 

They continue to exert stronger resistance with every inch they are stretched. This, as anyone can see by this example, is why cable training is excellent for increasing the size of the muscles . . . ever-increasing resistance. 

Another Advantage Not Usually Known

Cables have another advantage which is not generally know -- they may be used by even the weakest of people. Perhaps this is the reason why unusual strength cannot be acquired through this medium: They require no strength to hold or support while the exercise is being done. Let me give another example. 

If you were using a 5-pound dumbbell to do a one hand curl you would be conscious of this poundage right from the starting position. But with cables you feel only the weight of the set alone, which may weigh a pound or two at the most. However, as you begin to curl with cables you become aware of the ever-increasing tension as the cables are stretched to the full distance needed to complete the curl. 

Not so with weights. 

When you use a dumbbell, suited to your strength, you feel the full resistance just holding it preparatory to doing the curl. It gets heavier as the forearm reaches the parallel position with the floor, but once past this stage the resistance actually becomes lessened because of the leverage factor. In fact there is a detail I would like to point out that some of you may not be aware of in connection with curling with cables or weights.

After you've passed the midway position with weights you seldom fail to complete the curl. But with cables the story is different. Even after you've passed this stage there is still a possibility of failing to complete the movement. Cable resistance continues to mount up to the very completion of the movement, but weight resistance tapers off after a certain point is reached, governed by leverage. 

Cable Training for Invalids 

Our old friend Dr. McCloy from Iowa University was the first to adopt this system of training for those who had suffered some form of heart attack or had some cardiac condition. 

He theorized and, subsequently proved, that even light dumbbells weighing five pounds or less could prove too much for those who had any kind of heart ailment. Cables offered the best solution. These did not involve any strain while holding them as was the case with any weights. 

Such training could be safely employed by these people without danger so long as they avoided excessive resistance. But any cable set can be readily adjusted to fit the strength requirements of anyone and, moreover, the resistance stopped at any point. 

For example, if one begins to do the regular curl pull and finds the resistance too strong to stretch out all the way, even when one strand is used, he stretches it only as far as he feels he is capable without subjecting himself to any strain. The strand is allowed to retract and stretched out again to the previous position. In time the strength of his muscles improves so he can complete the full movement without danger to himself, thus continuing to improve his muscle tone and strength. 

Cables Are Easy to Carry 

Cables are convenient to carry on trips and are easily concealed in traveling bags. How well I recall the incident that happened in the lobby of a Chicago hotel during the time of the 1947 National Championships. 

Eric Pederson, then a competitor in the Mr. America contest, walked into the lobby lugging his heavy suitcase. One ambitious bellhop, anxious to make himself a tip. asked if he could carry the case for him. 

An odd grin seemed to pass over Eric's face as he nodded his approval and then stood aside. It was comical to watch this slender bellhop put up a heroic battle to lift the bag only to give up in mad frustration as he suggested that Eric carry his own bag. Everyone who saw this incident had to laugh, because Eric then reached down and lifted the bag quite effortlessly and continued on. 

Later we did learn that Eric had a couple heavy plate dumbbells packed in the bag . . . no wonder the anemic-looking bellhop couldn't move it. 

More than once I've carried with me on a trip a set of our flat natural rubber cables to keep my muscles toned up. 


It didn't take too many repetitions to work the muscles and make them feel "pumped up." Moreover, it didn't require a prolonged workout to achieve this condition, only a matter of minutes, since more concentration can be imparted to each movement. 

The above does not imply that I favor this type of training exclusively. I don't. In fact I gave up regular cable training years ago. However, I do include them occasionally for a diversion and do believe there are certain advantages that can be had from cables which other apparatus does not provide. 

There may be times when you find it rather inconvenient to visit the gym or use the weights at home, and under such conditions cable training will fit the bill perfectly. 

Or you may be inclined to include cable training on some of your alternate days, especially are the type that requires more than the usual recommended training. In any case, however, give the chest expanders aa workout once in a while and feel the reaction they have on your muscles. 

Many Unusual Exercises Possible

Cables can provide unusual movements for the lats, shoulders, arms and chest. I doubt if you can find anyone who has employed chest expanders exclusively that didn't develop some part of the body to an unusual development does occur. Therefore, by combining cable training with weight training you will not only achieve size, shape and definition, but strength, something not possible through exclusive cable training. Cables help to increase the bulk and size of the muscle, while the weights help to pack power into them.   

Before listing some of the better cable developing exercises I would like to answer a question I am often confronted with in regards to chest expanders, namely which is the best type of expander; the elastic strands, the steel springs, or the newer flat type? 

This, of course, is a matter of preference, but for my money I would prefer the flat natural rubber expander, which is sold exclusively by York. They are easy to adjust (as are all other types for that matter), and there is never any pinching of the skin, which sometimes happens when steel springs are used. 

Also, this flat rubber expander can be used with or without handles. Moreover, it is possible to make them any length one desires, which is impossible with any other expander unless special sized cables are made for it. This flat cable can be shortened simply by pulling it through the handle to the length desired and then fastening it by pushing or tightening down the eyelet to secure the cable in place. In this way you always have the choice of using a shorter or longer cable for different movements as may be required. 

Shorter and Longer Arms

Another interesting item about exercise expanders which few people know about is that shorter arms usually make cable pulling easier. Official contests of this type are not determined by the number of strands pulled out, but rather by HOW such cables are stretched out. 

In determining the winner increasing weights are hung on one end of the cables to stretch them out to the same distance the contestant pulled them. And whatever weight it took to stretch them out to that distance is the poundage the contestant is given credit for. 

For example, if a long armed individual pulled only six cables but stretched them a foot more than a short armed fellow who pulled seven cables, a heavier weight might be required to stretch the six cables out to the longer distance than it would take to stretch the seven cables to the shorter distance. Because, if you remember, the farther the cables are stretched the greater the resistance becomes. 

That is why our flat rubber expander is better; it can be adjusted to fit the needs of any man, whether he is tall with long arms, or short with short arms. This is a definite advantage to have a custom made expander, and our flat expander is just that.  

Outstanding Cable Exercises 

Almost every exercise with cables seems to involve the triceps and shoulders to some degree, making those who use this form of training possess outstanding development in these parts. 

Therefore, it is more important for those who lack development in these parts to undertake some cable training along with their regular barbell work to increase the size and muscularity of these parts. 

The following are some of the better known exercises, but any true enthusiast could easily discover dozens more, much more than it is possible to list here. 

See Photos Above. 

1)  Archers' movement.
2)  Overhead pull down to back.  
3)  Same as above but down to thighs, front.
4)  Lateral raise.
5)  Same as above, one arm anchored at side.
6)  Front chest pull, arms extended front.
7)  From thighs (back) to overhead.
8)  Chest press, front. 
9)  Back press.
10) Pulley exercise for pectorals.
11) Lat exercise. One arm remains stationary, other arm is extended. 
12) Triceps, with reverse grip straighten arm.
13) One hand curl.
14) From thighs to overhead, front. 
15) Press down for triceps.
16) One arm press. 

Enjoy Your Lifting!  


Monday, October 30, 2023

The Progressive Set System - Brooks Kubik

Intermediate trainers are ready for harder and heavier workouts than beginners, see here for more on this: 

and if they train properly, they will see enormous gains in strength, muscle and power when they begin their more advanced and demanding programs. 

The workouts I outlined for beginners in the previous section were three-time-per week total body workouts. Intermediates will do better by switching to a divided workout schedule, where they train three days per week, but use a different workout on each training day. 

You perform Workout A on Monday, Workout B on Wednesday, and Workout C on Friday. Thus, you train each primary exercise just once per week. This allows you to train harder and heavier on all of your exercises, particularly squats, deadlifts and all forms of pressing (including bench pressing), which are the primary strength and mass builders in your program.

As far as sets and reps to, the 5 x 5 system is perfect for intermediates. It provides the right amount of volume, and allows you to work with heavier weights than you used in your beginner programs. The heavier weights will build much greater strength and power, and it will promote muscle growth by: 

1) Targeting the deep muscle fibers that lighter weights won't hit. 

2) Thickening the muscle fibers. 

3) Working the bigger, stronger muscle groups (such as the legs, hips and back) harder than ever before and

4) Thickening your bones, tendons and ligaments, which gives you a stronger and thicker foundation to build greater muscle mass.

There are several ways to perform the 5 x 5 system. You can perform: 

1) Two progressively heavier warmup sets, followed by three sets with your working weight. This works well on standing presses, curls, pulldowns and close grip benches. It doesn't work well on squats, deadlifts and shrugs, because you use heavier weights and need more warmup sets. Also, it's very difficult and extremely fatiguing to do 3 x 5 work sets in heavy exercises such as the squat or deadlift. 

2) Three progressively heavier warmup sets, followed by two sets with your working weight. This works well for many exercises, but again, it may not give you enough warmup sets if you are doing heavy squats, deadlifts or shrugs. 

3) Four progressively heavier warmup sets followed by one work set with your top weight. This works well on all exercises, particularly squats, deadlifts or shrugs.

However, you can combine all three of these 5 x 5 alternatives by using them in a systematic and progressive fashion. I call this the "progressive set system." It's an excellent method of progression for intermediate trainees.

The progressive set system is similar to the single and double progression systems used by beginners, except that you add sets rather than reps, and then increase the weight by a small amount and drop back to the original number of sets. 

To use the Progressive Sets System, do the following: 

1) Perform each exercise in Week 1 by doing four progressively heavier warmup sets, followed by ONE work set. 

2) When you repeat the same workout in week two, perform four progressively four progressively heavier warmup sets followed by TWO work sets (using the same weight on each work set). 

3) When you repeat the same workout in week three, perform four progressively heavier warmup sets followed by THREE work sets (using the same weight on each work set). 

4) Use the "stabilizing principle" by repeating the week three workout in week four. The stabilizing workout allows you to consolidate your gains by repeating a workout you know you can do and focusing on performing each rep in better and tighter form. This gives you a good workout, but helps keep your mind and body strong and fresh, and helps avoid staleness and sticking points. 

5) In week five, add a small amount of weight to all of your sets, and drop back to ONE work set. Try to add 5 pounds for upper body exercises and 10 pounds for lower body exercises. 

In the weeks where you perform multiple work sets, you'll actually be performing 6 x 5 or 7 x 5. That's fine. 

Here's a specific example that shows how to put it all together. I'll use the bench press to show how to arrange your workouts and your progression. Of course, you would include a variety of other movements in your program, and you would use a similar system with each of them.

Let's assume you can bench press 220 pounds for one set of five reps. 

You would begin the program with 200 pounds for your working weight. You don't want to begin with too heavy a weight or you won't be able to make 3 x 5 work sets in the third week of the program. The end goal is to work up from 200 x 5 to 230 (or even 240) for 3 x 5 -- which would be an enormous gain in strength and muscle development. 

Week One (do one work set with 200 pounds) 
200 x 5

Week Two (do two work sets with 200)
200 x 5 x 2 sets 

Week Three (do three work sets with 200)
200 x 5 x 3 sets

Week Four (this is the stabilizing week, so you repeat week three)
200 x 5 x 3 sets.

If you prefer, you can follow each workout where you add a set with your working weight by taking the same workout the following week. In other words, you take a stabilizing workout every other week. This results in a slightly lower rate of progress, but gives you more workout at each step in the program and helps build a better foundation for future gains. In this way, it is similar to the double progressive system used by beginners. 

I prefer this variation, and I think it's a better option for most trainees, particularly older trainees. It's much better to gain slowly and steadily for a long period of time than to make rapid gains for a few weeks and then hit a sticking point. 

Thus, the program would look like this: 

Week One (do one work set with 200 pounds) 
200 x 5

Week Two (stabilizing week)
Repeat week one. 

Week Three (do two work sets with 200 pounds) 
200 x  5 x 2 sets

Week Four (stabilizing week) 
Repeat week three. 

Week Five (do three work sets with 200 pounds) 
200 x 5  3 sets

Week Six (stabilizing week) 
Repeat week five. 

Week Seven (start new cycle with 205 pounds as your working weight.)
205 x 5 x 1 set . . . 

You can use either variation of the progressive set system. Or, if you prefer, you can use the first variation for one training cycle, and the second variation for your next training cycle. This will allow you to see which of them works better for you.

You can use the progressive set system for as many training cycles as you desire. It should work well for you for at least three to six training cycles. 

Your workout (using a divided workout schedule) should look something like this:

Workout A

1) Begin with a light 10-minute warmup, including several very light sets of the various exercises you will use in today's workout.

2) Squats or front squats, 5 x 5

3) Very light breathing pullovers (or Rader chest pulls) after every set of squats (for rib cage expansion) 5 x 15

4) Standing barbell curls, hammer curls or dumbbell incline curls, 5 x 5

5) Close grip bench press, 5 x 5

6) Forearm or grip work of your choice, 5 x 8-10

7) Calf raises, 5 x 10. 

Workout B

1) Same style warmup. 

2) Pullups or pulldowns, 5 x 5

3) Bench press, 5 x 5

4) One arm DB row, 5 x 5

5) DB bench press or incline DB press, 5 x 5

6) Gut work of your choice (eating don't count wiseass), 2 x 10-20. 

Workout C

1) Same style warmup.

2) Standing military press or standing two dumbbell press, 5 x 5

3) Deadlift or trap bar deadlift, 5 x 5

4) Shrugs (regular or trap bar), 5 x 5

5) Forearm or grip work of your choice (but different from Workout A), 5 x 8-10

6) Gut work of your choice (cherry pie, whipped cream, two quarts Get Big Ditillo shake combo)

This program should keep you gaining for a long period of time . . . 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 


Sunday, October 29, 2023

Kroc Rows - Matt Kroczaleski


I don't think any book I'm writing can be complete without including a section about the exercise that I was fortunate to have named after me. 

Back in college, I began performing heavy dumbbell rows but never realized how important they were in my training until I stopped doing them. 

In 2002 I graduated from college, bought a new home, and moved several hours away to start a new job and raise my family. Because of the move, I had to start training in a commercial gym for the first time in years. 

Inadvertently, I stopped doing the heavy dumbbell rows in favor of using some of the new equipment I now had available to me. About a month before the 2002 USAPL Nationals, I went to pull some heavy deads to evaluate where my strength was at. For the first time in my competitive career I had the bar slip from my hands on every one of my heavy singles. 

I was pulling around 700 pounds at the time and had never had grip issues in my life, so it befuddled me when I couldn't hang on to the bar at lockout for a heavy single. I was ripping the bar from the floor, only to have it peel its way out of my hands near the top. 

After that training session, I went home and tried to figure out what had changed in my training that would account for such a dramatic loss of grip strength. I pored over my training logs for the previous several months and realize that the only thing I had really changed was to stop doing dumbbell rows. I quickly added them back in, and at the nationals a month later I went nine for nine and pulled all three deads with no grip issues. 

From that point on, I was committed to keeping heavy dumbbell rows as a part of my training. The gym I was training at only had dumbbells up to 150 pounds, so I began going for rep records since I couldn't increase the weight. This was what first led to my performing sets of 20 to 30 reps without straps in this style. 

Later, I began putting together my own garage gym, so I went looking for the biggest dumbbells I could find. I was able to find a pair of handles that I could squeeze 225 pounds onto by using vise grips as collars. Around this time, I was knocking the 225's out for sets of 25 reps, and my upper back strength and size were increasing significantly. 

Another thing I noticed was that the previous problem I had with locking out my deadlifts had disappeared, and now I was able to easily finish any pull that I could get to my knees. It was around this time that I became part of the Elitefts.com team and traveled to London, Ohio, to train at the compound with Dave Tate and Jim Wendler for the first time. 

I performed a set of dumbbell rows for 225 x 25, and afterward Wendler asked me why I was doing them and how I believed they helped me. I explained to him that they had vastly improved my grip strength and had added significant size and strength to my upper back, which had improved my deadlift lockout. 

After giving them a try himself, Jim recommended the rows to some other powerlifters that he knew, and all of them noticed an immediate improvement in both their grip and upper back strength, which also carried over to their deadlift maxes. 

Jim began referring to this exercise as "Kroc rows," and that's how they came to be known. A little while later, after searching without success for larger dumbbell handles, I approached my brother, who is an ironworker, about making a custom pair of handles that could hold in excess of 300 pounds. My brother ended up finding a pair of 36-inch long, double-threaded bolts that were actually made for anchoring large buildings. They were made from hardened steel and were long enough and strong enough to hold the amount of weight I needed. My brother welded some inside collars onto them, and I began working toward the 300 pound rows that I am now known for. 

As a result of frequent questions from lifters looking for their own set of dumbbell handles with which to do Kroc rows, I partnered with a manufacturer to produce very high quality Kroc Row Dumbbell Handles that will hold over 300 pounds each and are virtually indestructible. 

Not coincidentally, when I began really increasing the weight and reps on this exercise, my deadlift climbed from the low to mid 700's to over 800 pounds, all while remaining in the 220 pound class. 


As mentioned previously, Kroc rows can add slabs of muscle to your upper back and forearms and dramatically increase your grip and upper back strength, helping anyone attempting to increase their deadlift. 

Performing them without using straps for high rep ranges will work your forearms and grip strength better than anything else I have tried. 

The high rep ranges combined with heavy weights are also great for adding lots of thickness and width to your upper back. My back is my strongest body part on the bodybuilding stage, and Kroc rows are the primary reason why. 

Doing them with really heavy weights will also strengthen your upper back like nothing else, allowing you to lockout any weight you can pull to your knees. 

Of course, this exercise doesn't just offer significant benefit to bodybuilders and powerlifters but to strongman competitors or anyone looking for strength that carries over well to lifting and moving heavy objects in everyday life. I've used my back strength to carry engine blocks, furniture, washers, and even a fully loaded refrigerator all by myself. 

There is no doubt that possessing a very strong upper back will make you much more powerful not only in the gym but also in the real world. 

Proper Technique

Anyone who has ever watched me perform a Kroc row of given one a try themselves knows right away that this is not the dumbbell row that your spandex-wearing, buck-o-five weighing, certified personal trainer has taught you to do. There is no pulling back in an arc or squeezing at the top while holding a shiny chrome 15-pound dumbbell. No, Kroc rows are all about heavy weight, high reps, plenty of sweat, and sometimes even a little blood. 

While the form may be somewhat looser than your standard row, don't believe for a minute that you won't be working the desired muscles. Simply put: anyone would be hard-pressed to move a weight from arm's length to their chest in a bent-over position without using the upper back musculature to a significant degree. Those are simply the muscles that must be used to move a weight in that fashion. 

However, I don't want you to think that form doesn't matter, because there are a couple key technique points that must be followed to get the greatest benefit possible from Kroc rows. 

The first thing you need to concentrate on is getting a full range of motion by fully extending the shoulder at the bottom of the movement and really pulling it up and back at the top of the movement. This will ensure a full stretch in the lats in the bottom position and complete contraction in the top. 

At the bottom, really let your shoulder drop; you should feel the stretch in your lats and middle-upper back. 

At the top, concentrate on retracting your scapula as far back as possible as you pull your elbow up and back, essentially trying to squeeze your shoulder blades together. 

Your shoulders should be kept higher than your hips and your upper back should be at approximately a 15-degree angle in relation to the floor. Think of putting an adjustable incline bench at the lowest setting: that is the angle you are shooting for. This angle will focus the movement primarily on your upper back. 

The dumbbell should be pulled in a straight line from directly below your chest up to the lower portion of your rib cage. I make it a point to lightly touch the dumbbell to my rib cage at the top of every rep. A little bit of body English is acceptable, but don't use momentum to make the movement easier. 

Explode the weight using your upper back muscles, but do not do it in a clean-type motion that will use momentum to move the weight, since this will reduce the amount of work your muscles are required to do. 

You can perform Kroc rows with one hand and one knee on a flat bench or standing with your non-rowing hand braced on something solid that will allow you to maintain the proper angle of your upper back. You can post your hand on the end of a dumbbell rack, a different piece of equipment, or any solid structure that allows you to stabilize your body but still provides clearance for the large dumbbell. Once I started using dumbbells that weighed in excess of 225 pounds, the three foot long dumbbells were too long to use on a regular bench without making contact with it, so I had to perform the rows using the standing technique. 

Contrary to popular belief, Kroc rows can be performed with wrist straps. In fact, I often rotate back and forth between performing them with and without straps. Obviously, performing them without straps is an excellent way to increase your grip strength. But if your focus is on building upper back strength and size, it is perfectly acceptable to use straps from time to time to allow you to handle the most weight possible. 

While I have done 40 reps with 175 pounds and 30 with 205 without straps, there is no way I could have hit my PR of 13 reps with 300 pounds without throwing the straps on. Using the straps allows me to focus on my upper back and to hit it with the most weight and intensity possible without having to worry about my grip failing. I believe it is best to rotate between both styles to reap the greatest rewards possible from Kroc rows. I often simply perform them one week with straps and then the next week without and rotate back and forth on a weekly basis. 

Regarding set and rep structure, I have found the benefits of Kroc rows to be greatest when working up to one set to failure. I typically perform 2 to 3 warmup sets and then go all out for one max set, attempting to hit either a weight or rep PR every time I perform them. 

I recommend shooting for at least 20 reps and not increasing the weight until you can get at least 25 reps with each arm. I have gone as high as 40 reps per set, and my back was pumped beyond belief afterward. 

Performing Kroc rows with heavy weights and high reps will leave you gasping for air like a drop set of heavy squats. 

From 2007 . . . 
all done as one continuous drop set. 

They are definitely not for the weak minded or faint hearted. If you really want to get the most out of Kroc rows, you need to dig down deep and keep going until you truly reach complete muscular exhaustion, which most lifters think they reach at the end of a set, but few actually do.


1) Ensure a full range of motion by fully extending the shoulder at the bottom of the movement and really pulling up and back at the top. 

2) Your shoulders should be kept higher than your hips and your upper back should be at approximately a 15-degree angle in relation to the floor. 

3) Row the dumbbell in a straight line from directly below your chest up to the lower portion of your rib cage. 

4) You can perform Kroc rows with one hand and one knee on a flat bench or standing with your non-rowing hand braced on something solid. 

5) Rotate back and forth between performing Kroc rows with and without straps to reap the most benefit from the movement. 

6) After two or three warmup sets, go all out for one max set, attempting to hit either a weight or rep PR every time you perform them, shooting for at least 20 reps per set.

7) Perform Kroc rows with as much weight as possible and strive to go to complete muscular failure on the final set.

Follow these key technique points, use as much weight as physically possible, go until you reach complete muscular exhaustion, and watch both your back and strength and size increase like never before.  

Enjoy Your Lifting



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