Sunday, October 31, 2021

Priorities of Strength - By RJ Hicks: MS, CSCS

One of the major strength training topics Bob and I talk about is intensity. Intensity is defined as the amount of work done per unit of time. I have been mentored by Bob for many years and have had his personal definition of increasing Intensity ingrained into me. Bob believes there four ways to increase intensity. Poundage progression or adding weight to the bar. Training with sets to muscular failure, forcing the muscles to do more work in one set. Reducing the amount of rest you take between sets, allowing you to do more work in less time. Lastly, using good form during your training. This forces the muscles to perform more of the work, rather than using momentum and gravity to assist with moving the resistance. All of these methods will increase intensity, but it is essential that you train with progressive resistance in good form as it is the backbone of all successful strength training programs.

Sets to Failure There are many professionals in the field who believe training intensely only means lifting a weight until momentary muscular failure. They forget all about poundage progression and believe as long as they train with a high level of effort to failure, they will maximize their muscular size and strength. There are training facilities across the U.S. that utilize training to failure as their main goal for their clients’ workouts. They book appointments in 30-minute blocks and use high end strength training machines so the clients can safely train to failure in all of their exercises. This is both a great business plan for business owner and for the client. The business owner can train twice as many clients in a day and double their profit. While, the client can receive an extremely hard work-out and only sacrifice 30 minutes of their day.

There is zero doubt that intensity is one variable to maximizing muscular size and strength, however it is the way some trainer’s priorities the different methods of raising intensity that detract from the goal of maximizing strength. Training to failure can be a very beneficial way to train, especially for athletes whose sport doesn’t involve a barbell. It is a productive way to train, because it requires fewer work sets to be done. Usually, training to failure only requires one hard all-out work set with a moderate rep range as opposed to performing three to four work sets of a specific exercise. It is time efficient because less work sets are required to produce the amount of muscular overload needed to increase muscular size and strength. Bob and I both agree training to failure can be a great way to train, IF it is done progressively.

You can go to failure with light weights all you want, but if you never increase the weight, you’ll progress little. Going to failure with light weights has the same pitfall that training with only calisthenics present. It deemphasizes strength (the amount of muscular force you can produce) and emphasizes muscular endurance (the amount of repeated submaximal force your muscles can reproduce over an extended period of time). If they weight is too light your muscles will not improve the amount of muscular force they can produce. You will only get better at lifting light weights to failure. If this wasn’t the case there would be no need for weights and everyone would just use calisthenics. You can make training to failure a productive element of your training, but without poundage progression your ability to maximize strength will be limited.

For most of Bob’s years competing in powerlifting he never focused on training to failure and only focused on trying to get the goal for each work set. Failure happened by accident, but was never thought of as the goal. It was a natural byproduct of training hard and heavy. It wasn’t until later in his training years after reading “Heavy Duty” that he started to alter his training. The main exercises (bench, squat, deadlift, incline press and behind the neck presses) were still trained in a pyramid style fashion, but the supplementary exercises were done in a high intensity training manor. He knew it doesn’t really matter if you go to failure, it just makes you do less sets.

Many of the Oldtimers never trained to failure either and made tremendous gains in muscular size and strength. Most of the training courses advertised in the early “Strength and Health” and “Muscular Development” magazines used a double progressive system, meaning the reps were increased first and then at a certain point the weight was increased. Take the arm curl as an example on a routine that trains three days per week. The athlete would choose a weight which they could complete the arm curl at least ten times, and for four exercise days it is repeated for the same number. Then it would be tried for 11 times for four exercise days. Then 12 times for four exercise days until the athlete is able to repeat the arm curl twenty times for four exercise days. At this point five pounds would be added and the process is repeated until another five pounds is added, and so on. The old-timers built up to handling large weights on the basic exercises through consistently prioritizing POUNDAGE PROGRESSION. They didn’t worry about training to muscular failure, burn-out sets or creating large amounts of fatigue in their muscles.

Rest Between Sets Reducing the amount of rest between work sets is another great way to increase intensity. The less sitting around you do the more challenging each exercise will feel. Your heart rate will stay at a higher pace as you continue to lift weights not fully recovered. I think reducing rest between sets is great way to increase the intensity of your workout, but if you get too carried away with limited rest it can negatively affect your muscular strength development.

There are still trainers that like to utilize a method of reducing rest called “the rush factor”. I know people who swear by this method and whose workouts only last 15 to 20 minutes. It is a non-stop workout where you move from one exercise to the next with no rest in between. Some motivated enthusiast even run between exercises to further reduce their resting time. Using the rush factor brings cardiovascular benefit to the workout and certainly raises the intensity level, but it is not a priority in maximizing strength. There are no physiological strength benefits from putting your body into metabolic shock. Vomiting and rolling around the floor at the end of your workout looks hardcore, but does nothing to build greater strength. When you severely decrease the amount of rest you take between sets you actually hurt your ability to maximize your strength. Without rest your muscles are unable to produce enough force to optimally provide overload to the muscles. You get a watered-down version of strength training most times, because your cardiovascular system ends up holding you back. That is why powerlifters take plenty of rest between their heavy work sets.

The truth is reducing the amount of rest you take between sets plays no part to increasing your muscular strength. You can rest as long as you want between exercises and make fantastic strength gains, as long as you are focusing on poundage progression. Paul Anderson used to rest for several hours between exercises, while he trained. He would do some heavy squats, then go inside to eat and relax, then he would come back outside an hour or two later and do some heavy military presses. As long as you get all of your training done within the day, it really doesn’t matter how much rest you are taking if you are looking to just increase your strength.

For a business this is not an optimal way to train clients, because you are charging them by the hour. Nobody wants their money wasted by sitting around for three to four minutes between every work set. Too much rest also takes away from the overall workout intensity and can play mental games on clients. One way Bob taught me to strategical build in rest between work sets is to add in tinkering exercises between the basic compound exercises. An example of this would be to go from the bench press to the seated row to an abdominal exercise. You may be only resting 30 seconds between each exercise, but there is a three to four minutes rest before you return to do another set of the bench press or seated row. This way you are increasing the number of exercises done in the hour, while prioritizing lifting the heaviest weight that you can.

Good Form Good form is the third variable to increase the intensity of a workout. Good form is a given and always expected to be used during training. Good form forces your muscles to work more to contract against a certain load, raising its intensity. Good form means using a safe full range of motion and not allowing momentum or gravity to assist in moving the weight. Good form is always needed and doesn’t even need mentioning, however, there are some who take good form to an extreme and train with a very slow speed of motion.

Slow training was a method of performing repetitions that was popularized in the 90s and is still imbedded in many trainers’ philosophies today. The idea behind it is to move the weight so slowly that the momentum is nearly all eliminated from the movement and that every repetition can mirror the next to accurately measure progress. The most popular repetition cadences seen from gym that follow this philosophy are 10/10 rep speed (10 second raising the weight and 10 seconds lowering the weight). 10/5, 8/8 and 6/6 are other popular cadences, but a 10/10 rep speed is the most common.

There are advantages to using a slow speed in some instances and it is without a doubt a workout intensifier technique. A slower rep speed compared to a fast rep speed can be safer since less force is imposed on the surrounding muscles, ligaments and tendons. A slower rep speed forces the muscles to stay under load and contract longer than a fast rep speed does. The problem arises when trainers overemphasize the form of exercise, but decrease the speed of movement

The disadvantage of the normal way slow training is administered when it comes to maximizing strength is that it prioritizes rep speed over poundage progression. Slow training dissuades the use of heavy weight, due to the strict rep rules. You can get strong in the beginning using slow training, but once the weight gets heavy you can’t finish the rep. It is against the rules to pick up speed to finish the rep, you are constricted to lifting at a specific cadence. This makes it very difficult to move heavy weight. The weight ends up holding you back from getting stronger, because you cannot push through the mid-range of the rep. The only gains you’ll make over a few months is a couple of 2.5-pound plates.

Drew Israel, a frequent guest on Bob Whelan’s “Natural Strength Night” had a very similar experience with slow training. Drew used slow training for two years and found his strength was diminishing from what his previous training built. He noticed a loss in overall size and strength when he experimented going back and forth between using normal speed training and slow training. He did note that slow training can still be beneficial to beginners or if you have injuries that are bothering you, since it could allow you to train on exercises that your body couldn’t tolerate at normal speeds.

If you like slow training than do it. There is nothing wrong with slow training and it is a great way to get a challenging workout in. Some trainers will have you performing repetitions between two and three minutes, which is a killer cardiovascular wise. There are ways to add it into your training as a specific theme for the day as a form of variety or on a specific movement that causes irritation. One of my clients suffered from a shoulder impingement for years and was unable to do any consistent overhead pressing. I had him train the overhead press for several months using a 10/10 speed which allowed him to get stronger and remain pain free. I prioritized poundage progression by setting the goal at three reps and not being overly critical on the timing/form. his way he was still training in the anaerobic energy system since no set lasted longer than 60 seconds. If he had to pick up speed naturally on the last rep to finish, so be it. The speed was still slow enough not to cause any pain.

Poundage Progression Poundage progression is the fourth variable, yet equally important as good form when it comes to increasing intensity. Without poundage progression none of the other three methods will maximize your muscular size and strength. The principle of poundage progression goes all the way back to the late 1800 in the United States when physical culture really started to take off. Everyone in the know knew poundage progression was the main focus for developing strength. That’s why tools like the adjustable barbell are so valuable to the Iron Game, because it was the first tool of its kind to easily allow users to incrementally add more weight. Every barbell and dumbbell course published during early to mid-1900s was built around the premise of continuously adding weight to the bar overtime. Every authority in the field agreed that training with tools that allowed you to progressively add resistance were far superior compared to calisthenics. It was even the main method of muscular rehabilitation during World War II. Poundage progression is the key-ingredient that makes different training routines work. It doesn’t matter if you use machines or free-weights, high reps or low reps, one set or multiple sets, or prefer to do Olympic lifts over bodybuilding movements. The key is that no matter what you are doing if you systematically implement a method of adding weight overtime then you will get stronger.

To force a muscle to grow larger and stronger you must provide muscular overload. This occurs when a muscle is driven to work beyond what is comfortable. Training progressively does this by increasing the weight against which the muscles develop tension. The heavier weight the muscles are able develop tension under and create movement the stronger the muscles become. This is the best intensity variable to use to increase the total work output during a training session.

There is no one best progression scheme for anyone or for any one specific lift. There are many ways to set up a progression scheme best off of your preferences and instincts. The main rule is to have a set/rep goal and to add a little weight when you are no longer straining to reach it. The exact load to increase by varies amongst individual and is base on the current ability of the muscle’s groups being trained. The key is once you have a systematic progressive scheme in place is to stick with it for several weeks before switching to another.

All of these ways of increasing intensity can be thought of as a It balancing act. The more emphasis you put on any of the four ways of increasing intensity, the more you must take away from the other variables. How you prioritize each variable is ultimately up to your preference and goal. If you prioritize poundage progression you must decrease the emphasizes on reducing rest. If you prioritize limited rest between exercises, you must decrease the amount of weight you are handling. Each variable of increasing intensity comes with its own benefits and can be made to work as long as some form of increasing resistance is systematically applied. As Bob has stated numerous times “poundage progression is the unifying factor in all successful training programs”.
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Friday, October 1, 2021

Training Liberation or Wisdom From Bradley Steiner - By Jim Duggan

Over the years, I've written articles based on material obtained from old issues of Strength and Health magazine, usually from the 1930s and 1940s. I've always believed that quality training information is timeless, and that we can all benefit from the wisdom of the past. Naturally, common sense training advice is not limited to a certain period of time. I recently looked through an old issue of Muscular Development from August 1988. What I found interesting about this magazine was that this issue was definitely NOT before my time. Indeed, in 1988 I was 24 years old, and had been competing in Powerlifting for several years. Additionally, by 1988, Bob Hoffman had been dead for several years, and John Grimek had retired. But guess what? There was still useful, pertinent training advice written by some of the most prolific Iron Game authors. A casual glance at the contributing authors of this edition of MD shows names like Dr. Ken Leistner, Jan Dellinger, and Bradley Steiner. Any list of the most talented Iron Game writers off all-time would include these three gentlemen. Incidentally, I would also include "Maximum" Bob Whelan, and Brooks Kubik to this list as well. 

Back to the August 1988 edition of Muscular Development. There is an article titled "The Liberated Trainee," written by Bradley Steiner. Mr. Steiner passed away almost a year ago. He has been rightfully described as one of the greatest strength training writers ever. He always advocated sensible training with an emphasis on hard work, determination, and desire being the keys to success. And he was against the use of steroids and PEDs. Many people claim to be against drugs, but Mr.Steiner actually had the guts to speak out against them. Many people pay lip service to being against steroids, but people like Brad Steiner and Larry "Bruno" Licandro didn't just talk the talk. They walked the walk and fought the scourge of steroids. In this particular article, Mr.Steiner details the challenges faced by the vast majority of trainees. He refers to these people as "hardgainers" but he could very easily be referring to those lifters who are drug-free. He brings up a number of valid points which i would like to share.

"The saddest thing is being a hardgainer and quitting because you feel that it is useless to expect satisfactory gains." If you are a "hardgainer," or if you are drug-free, there is absolutely no reason to quit if gains are coming slowly. You can build impressive size and strength without the use of drugs if you are willing to work hard. In addition to working hard, you must also work smarter. Do not blindly follow follow the routines of the so-called champions. Most, if not all, of these "champions" are steroid-bloated druggies. Learn to listen to your body and learn what works for you. "Hardgainers require very limited programs and carefully controlled schedules of exercises." 

Mr.Steiner hit the nail right on the head with this statement. Training bodyparts, with endless sets on a six-day-per-week program is a sure way to overtraining, burn out, and injury. Many new trainees simply can't believe that you can make great gains by lifting only two, or at most three, days per week. "Start thinking in terms of simple, brief, and intensive workouts." Another solid statement. Squats and Deadlifts are the bedrock upon which the most effective strength-training programs are built. Developing the legs, hips, and lower back will build great all-around strength. In other words, pumping your arms and "pecs" may build showy beach muscles, but it will do little in terms of building overall body piwer. "A hardgainer's program should be built around Squats, Presses, Deadlifts, and Bent-over Rows." Truer words were never spoken. Naturally, you can make substitutions based on leverages, age, past injuries, etc., but if you wish to build strength then you must include some form of Overhead Press, a heavy pulling movement, and leg work. Concentration curls, triceps pushdowns, and other useless exercises simply will not get it done. 

"Do not organize a drawn-out program of training if you are a hardgainer." Another spot-on observation. If you are drug-free your body will not be able to recover from long, drawn-out workouts. A few hard, heavy sets on the basics is all you need to get stronger. If you train at a commercial gym and suggested abbreviated training to the vast thong of pumpers and toners you would probably be considered some sort of weirdo. But you probably walk into the gym, perform a few heavy sets of Deadlifts, Presses, Rows and be finished while the toners are still sitting around and texting their friends. "Don't grind away at any exercise to the point where you're ready for a stretcher." A common sense piece of advice. 

As drug-free Lifters, we only have so much energy to expend in any given workout. Even on a wonderful exercise like the Deadlift, you can reach a point of diminishing returns. Don't do too many sets of any movement, no matter how strong you may feel. "Be sure that heavier weights and not more exercise is your main goal." Heavier weights. Poundage progression. Adding weight to the bar. The key point of progressive resistance training is increasing the resistance. If you're not adding weight to the bar, then performing additional sets will not help. It may even hurt. Poundage progression is the "since qua non" of any strength training program, and don't let anyone tell you differently. "Avoid any tendency to train with any degree of frequency that forbids rest days between hard sessions." This was mentioned before. Give yourself adequate rest between workouts. By rest days, I mean days of NO lifting whatsoever. 

How many rest days between workouts? Again, everyone is different. Some people, due to age, work sschedule, etc., require more rest than others. Listen to your body. Nobody knows you like you do. If you haven't sufficiently recovered from your last workout, give yourself an extra day it two. Your body will thank you. " Discouragement is your worst enemy." If you love to lift, then it will be easy to maintain your enthusiasm. Many hardgainers have been able to develop great strength. You can too. Don't allow the occasional bad workout to deter you from achieving your goals. There is one other point that Mr. Steiner mentions throughout the article, and I will conclude this aarticle with his words regarding steroids" "Never use them!"
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