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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Advanced Techniques - By Dave Yarnell

Old school progressive training programs are about as un-complicated as it gets. It is where just about everyone that has picked up a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell began their journey, and the beauty of it is that it works. It works for everyone, even us so-called “hard-gainers”. Now there is an interesting term, perhaps over-used over the years just a wee bit. In my opinion, the majority of strength and body- building trainees fit nicely into this category.

Then you have your Steve Reeves types, which really are few and far-between, being highly blessed in the gene pool game. So if old school linear progression works just fine, why the need for all the other variations that have come down the pike? Well, because though simple straight-forward progression works, it gradually slows or even stops producing gains for most of us over the long haul. The same awesome adaptability the good Lord built into our amazing bodies that causes them to grow stronger in response to being over-loaded, ironically is the problem when it comes to sustaining gains. Your body adapts to the stimulus and the stimulus no longer creates new adaptation. 

There are a whole bunch of possible responses to this predicament; one of which is to just give up, get back on the couch, grab the chips, your favorite beverage, and live vicariously through all those fitter and faster folks that earn their bread and butter through athletic endeavors. Many, unfortunately have chosen that path, but if you are taking the initiative to read this article, you probably are not in that group. Another route is that well known short cut to gains known as performance enhancing drugs, which also have lured many, but though the promised gains are legit, they do not come without strings attached. Again, if you are reading this article, posted on, this path is clearly not the one you have chosen, and I believe you have chosen wisely in that case. 

So where does that lead us? It leads us to what many have called ‘advanced techniques”, or “plateau busters” or some other such jargon. Such techniques as forced reps, super sets, giant sets, negatives, time under tension manipulations, heavy partial movements, cheating movements are just a few that come readily to mind. You will run into those folks who swear by one of these as superior to all others, and some who bad math most of them, or still others that have tried with some favorable results just about all of them. My friend Joe DiMarco, one of the founding members of the original Culver City Westside barbell club has an interesting idea about these plateaus we all face. His mindset is to just stay with the program and be content with slow or no gains for a while. Perish the thought? Heresy? Joe’s reasoning on this is that tendon and ligament strength just takes longer to respond than does that of muscle tissue, so the plateau is like your body’s little trick to keep things in balance. Eventually, when the balance has been restored, the gains start to improve again, according to Joe. I cannot tell you if this is scientifically valid, but it is certainly an interesting viewpoint, at least. 

The concept is a hard sell in today’s instant gratification society, though. OK, so let’s talk about some of these advanced training techniques. There are 2 that jump to mind as the most misunderstood and overly used in the game. You guessed it, my friends, I am talking about forced reps and cheating reps. In every commercial gym I have been in, I have seen these 2 methods horribly abused, often to the point of absurdity. I think we have all seen the “spotter” doing heavy rowing motions over the “lifter” supposedly doing bench presses with far more weight than he is capable of properly handling. This form of what are alleged to be forced reps is pretty much worthless and a waste of time for all involved (excepting maybe the spotter getting a good workout in some cases). The old Culver City method was called “the touch system”, and there were several articles in the old Muscle Builder magazines about this system (all reprinted in my book on the group). In their application, the spotter would more feign assistance than actually give any. As soon as the spotter touches the bar, the lifter assumes he is getting just enough help to finish the rep, and he naturally follows through.

This was more of a mind game than a physical thing, and most of us that have spent lots of hours in the gym realize just how important the mind is in accomplishing anything worthwhile in the iron game. This method was (is) vastly superior to the version commonly practiced by most folks these days. What about cheating? There have been volumes written on the pros and cons of the cheating method, with an on-going debate over whether it is a valid method at all. I think much of the controversy is based on the over-use and abuse of what I believe to be a very valid method. Some wise man once said “there is cheating, and then there is CHEATING”. Duh, right? In most areas of life, cheating is not a good practice, but in the iron game, a little cheating goes a long way. My rules for acceptable cheating? First, don’t jump right into cheating in any particular exercise; rather, perform some strict, full range movements with weights that allow this. Next, cheat only as much as absolutely needed to complete a rep(s) with a challenging resistance level. For example, using a little bit of swing or “body-English” to complete a heavy curl, then fighting the descent of the weight on its way down offers far more benefit than loading up twice as much weight as you can legitimately handle and swinging the weight with all the momentum you can muster to complete every rep. These ideas are far from rocket science; really just common sense which sometimes seems sadly lacking in some of our training environments. Maybe next time, we will cover some other of these techniques. Until then, train hard, train smart, and God bless your endeavors.