Everyday I have clients ask me about some exercise or routine they’ve read in a magazine. Usually the secret routine of Mr or Mrs ”exactlyhowiwannalook”. Most recently it’s that dude from Thor. If you look at his routine it’s based around squats, deadlifts, bentover rows, bench presses, dips and chins for 4 sets of 4 to 8 reps each. How sad is it that this is considered “new” by some people! This is the way people have been putting on muscle since long before Zubas started overcharging for gas pants! Don’t get the 80’s reference? Thats ok! All you need to know is that exercise magazines make their $$$ by selling copy and no ones going to keep buying them if every copy says: “Use basic exercises and try to get a little better at them week to week. Make sure you don’t do too much more so you’ll have a little left to go up again next week”. Right now crossfit is taking the exercise world by storm! What are they doing? Squats, cleans, presses, dips, chins, jumping and running… all the basics! They package them neatly in small bite sized easily digestable morsels to keep things interesting and give them cute little names like “Fran” or “Isabell”. They then do timed rounds or post maxes so that everyone is competing with themselves trying to get better. Nothing new at all, just a way to keep working out interesting and bring a commuinity of like minded people across the world together with a giant team atmosphere. Again, nothing new just hard work at trying to improve on the basics. Later!
The other day I was training someone and after having them do a set of 20 burpees they commented “That was so mauch harder than when I did them in gym class!” after I got over my initial shock that a gym teacher actually had the kids doing exercises we talked a little about the differences: 1. I made him do a full pushup each rep. 2. I made him try and touch my ceiling each rep. In other words I made him put effort into each rep. There is a big difference between doing burpees with a half assed pushup and a little hop at the top and doing a full crisp rep and a powerful leap like you mean it. Its like jumping rope: Its great for little kids singing songs at the park and for pro-boxers getting ready to go 10 rounds with the champ…It’s all in the effort!
The number one question I seem to get asked by new trainees is “How many sets and reps should I be doing?” Talk about a loaded question! Now of course there are certain rep ranges that are more applicable to one goal than another and a host of variables that will contribute to the answer. However, no matter what the long term plan is the answer for now is always “a little bit more than you are currently doing”. When planning out training the long term goal must be taken into consideration along with the current plan. For example: If the person is currently doing 2 sets of 15 to 20 reps of 2 exercises per bodypart training 3 days a week and they decide they want to powerlift I won’t automatically start them on 7 sets of 3 or 5 sets of 5 or some other popular program. This is because they are programmed and conditioned to doing sets of 20. If I drop their rep range down to 5 they will find that they cant even express their true 5 rep max because they are so conditioned to doing higher reps. They will usually find that if they can do 5 reps they could probagbly do 8 or even 10. It will take a while to get to the point where they can express a truly productive all out set of 5. Also, going from 2 sets up to 5 with that much more weight will lead to overtraining and burn out quickly. So I have them start adding 5 or 10 lbs a week to their 2 sets of 20 and just do as many reps as they can. So it may look like this: week 1 100x20x2 sets. week 2 105x19 on set one 17 on set 2. week 3 110x18 on set 1, 16 on set 2…. and so forth until they get to a weight that limits them to 10-12 reps and then I will increase to 3 sets still increasing weight by 5-10lbs weekly until they are at 3 sets of 5 with a good solid weight. the next week I may have them stay at that weight for 4 sets then the next week for 5 sets. This way they will have continually adapted and made gains for the entire time and will be 100% conditioned to the 5x5 when they get there. Also, the end result is usually at least 10-20 lbs stronger in the same amount of time as if they had just went to 5x5 with a slightly heavier weight and just added weight weekly from there.
Pyramid training is as old as the hills and has been written about in all the major muscle magazines since the dawn of ironman. Basically you do your first set of an exercise light for a lot of reps then increase weight each set and decrease reps until you end up somewhere around your max for the day. For example: Set 1: 45lbs(empty bar)x15. Set 2: 95×10. Set 3: 135×8. Set 4: 185×6. Set 5: 225×4. Set 6: 275×2. Set 7: 300×1. This is a good basic way to train for beginners and intermediates. It allows practice with the lighter weights, plenty of warming up and a good solid heavy weight at the end. The pyramid system has been criticized as crossing too many intensity zones and it has been suggested that staying within 10% of your targeted intensity zone will yeild better results. Depending on what your goals are this may or may not be true.
If your goal is to get as maximally strong as possible it may be smarter not to waste too much time on your warm up sets and focus more on weights 85% or closer to your max. If you are focusing on speed it may be better to do multiple sets with 50-60% of your max explosively. However, if you are trying to get a solid combination of size and strength this is a great system. Lets take a look at 2 ways it can be used:
1. Traditional way: Add a couple pounds to the max set at the end and plan your weights on the way up accordingly using the original example (45×15 95×10 135×8 185×6 225×4 275×2 300×1) as workout one the next workout would be planned with 305 or 310 as the top set and would look something like this: 45×15 95×10 135×8 185×6 225×4 275×2 305×1.
2. Building the base. Now what if you’ve been training a while and 300 may or may not fall on a good day. What if you miss 305 continually? Well you could narrow the base so you would have more strength left over for your top set and maybe you would hit 305 and 310 maybe even 315. Something like this: 45×10 95×5 135×3 185×2 225×1 275×1 305×1 easy! Next workout repeat and hit 310 then the next repeat and hit 315! After a few workouts you will stall. Now what? Now we go back and start building the base. workout number 1 may be 45×15 95×12 135×10 185×8 225×6 275×3 300×1 see how we added just alittle bit of work to the sets on the way up and ended at our old max of 300? Next workout would be 45×20 95×15 135×10 185×8 225×6 275×4 300×1. Were still keeping the top set at 300 but slowly increasing the work we are doing before it. This can be done because none of those sets were an all out effort to begin with. Next workout would be 45×20 95×15 135×12 185×10 225×8 275×4 300×1. The next may be 45×20 95×15 135×12 185×10 225×8 275×5 300×2. The next may be 45×20 95×15 135×12 185×10 225×8 275×6 300×3. Then the inevitable comes and you miss 275 on the way up because the last workout took too much out of you and you didn’t heal and come back stronger. It looks like this: 45×20 95×15 135×12 185×10 225×8 275×4 and failed on the 5th one. So you end it there and come back a week later and narrow the base up like this: 45×10 95×5 135×5 185×5 225×5 275×5 300×4-and you PR with 300×4 because now you aren’t burned out from the earlier sets. The next workout you go 45×10 95×5 135×5 185×5 225×3 275×3 300×5-and PR again on 300 for reps because you further narrowed your base. The next workout you could come back and do 45×10 95×5 135×5 185×3 225×2 275×1 300×1 325×1 for a new max PR! Next time you come back and do 45×10 95×5 135×5 185×3 225×2 275×1 300×1 330×1 another PR! Maybe you could hit one or 2 more weeks with a new max if you are lucky. Let say your final max looks like this: 45×10 95×5 135×3 185×2 225×1 275×1 315×1 340×1 and you know for sure you wont hit another max next week. You just start back wideing the base with 315 as the new top. This method works great for beginners and intermediates that aren’t real close to their potential. It also works good for advanced guys as long as they are careful not too push too hard and get overtrained. The added bonus is if you pay attention and keep accurate notes you will learn a lot about how your body responds to various rep schemes and how long your strength cycles should last when considering future workouts.
Train smarter and harder!
These days most of the people I train are into “fitness” versus the old days when everyone wanted to be jacked! I think it’s the same the world over judging by how many ellipticals you see in most gyms and how many power racks you do not. I guess it makes sense most people don’t care about being strong they just wanna look good naked! So if everyones into fitness why do we need heavy weights? Well if your absolute strength increases you can use more weight on your fitness exercises. “So? I don’t care about moving weight, I just wanna look toned and burn calories” you say? Well check this out: Lets look at it using basic physics: If your max squat is 400 lbs you will be able to do your reps with 300 lbs no problem. 300lbs x10 reps x3sets=9,000 lbs of work. Now if your max squat is only 200 and you are doing your sets with 150lbs x10reps x3 sets=4,500lbs of work. Leaving out all the other variables and benefits of being stronger and concentrating merely on the work performed. Which is going to burn more calories? 9,000lbs of work or 4,500???????? Using one of my favorite crcuits as an example lets compare 2 athletes Jason and Jim. Jason is a powerlifter who watches his diet and stays very lean at about 220. Jim is a tri-athlete who also lifts weights and weighs about 175. They both carry about the same amount of bodyfat (around zero-lol) but Jim spends about 3 times the amount of time working out as jason. They both eat a very similar diet, their calories almost identical. How is this possible? Jasons muscle mass burns much more calories at rest than Jim and when they train cardio Jason’s body is burning more calories than Jims because it takes more calories to move a bigger body through space. Also, they both train conditioning with the following circuit:
Kettlebell thruster, Kettlebell Swing, Pushups with weight, pullups 5 rounds of 10 reps each.
Jim’s Weights: 25x10 50x10 200x10 175x10=22,500 lbs of work in 5 rounds.
Jason’s Weights: 50x10 96x10 265x10 220x10=31,550 lbs of work in 5rounds.
I hope this simple math convinces you of the need to increase your limit strength. Jim sees the need and is constantly trying to improve his limit strength as well. Conversely, Jason is always trying to improve his conditioning. Even though they are on extreme ends of the spectrum in relation to their athletic goals neither will overlook the importance of being well rounded physically.
Your ultimate diet is about what works for your lifestyle and what you are willing to sacrifice to achieve your goals. You must ask yourself what your goal is and what its worth. If you weigh 300lbs and HAVE to eat ice cream every night to be happy, weighing 200 with rippling abs may not be worth the sacrifices you have to make. Conversely, if you weigh 150lbs fully clothed and soaking wet and hate eating you may want to think twice about your dream of winning ESPN’s “World’s Strongest Man” contest. Life is give and take. You need to figure out how much effort you are willing to give and how much crap you are willing to take! Let’s assume your goal is to get as lean as possible and it’s worth giving up eating your nightly twinkies after finishing off a bottle of wine because nothing will ever taste as good as walking down the beach with a 6 pack on your waist instead of in your cooler will ever feel.
99% of our foods should be found in nature and be as close to their natural form as possible…..
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Next time you train legs try finishing with 2 sets of car pushes. An suv works best because its a little higher. Get someone to steer. For the first set put your butt against the back of the car so you are pushing backwards. Try and go at least 100 feet-300 would be better. For the second set push it normally with your hands on the bumper. Make sure your good and warm fist. If you are in awesome shape try and go as fast as possible. If not start off slow for your first few times until your body gets conditioned to it then start picking up the pace. If you put your heart and soul into it its definitely a puker!
If you follow powerlifting or strongman you’ve most likely heard of hanging chains on the bar for dynamic effort, or speed work. This is also a great technique for bodybuilders and fitness people to use. Why? Because as the bar goes down the chain deloads on the floor. When the bar raises the chain comes off the floor increasing the amount of weight in hand. On most exercises this is in line with how the strength curve works anyway. This was a big selling point for nautilus back in the day: The weight gets heavier as you move into the contracted postion. With the use of chains or bands you can now have this effect with free weights. Which, by the way, pretty much everyone agrees are far superior to machines for most exercises. Try it out! It can also be used on machines as well. I especially like bands on leg extensions, any chest pressing, tricep extensions, and pushdowns.