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5×5 for the not so beginner

Look through any history book and you will see, sometime after the creation of rocks but slightly before the creation of dirt, the first 5×5 training protocol. Despite the fact that a new version of this protocol seems to come out every few years with some “new” twist that makes it even better, 5×5, in all its forms has been around forever. In fact, I’d bet it’s safe to say that it is probably one of the oldest structured training programs ever devised.

Even though there are, no doubt, many thousands of articles concerning this type of training that cover just about everything imaginable, I have decided to throw my hat into the ring and give a version of 5×5 that I like and incorporate with come clients. In this program I draw a lot of inspiration from many of the previous incarnations of 5×5 including Bill Starr, Rippetoe, Madcow, and, of course, Reg Park. In fact, it was through Park that I was first introduced to this type of training. If you are well read on training concepts you will, no doubt, recognize some other influences.

Before getting to the program let me stress one important point. I hate “light days.” At least as most people, and most 5×5 programs, tend to do them. I like to go as heavy within a given rep rage as often as possible. Obviously this won’t work for very long unless you don’t care about shitting spleens all over the place. However, this is possible IF you structure the program to take advantage of underloading. What’s underloading you ask? Underloading is training a movement that is harder, but lighter, and you are weaker at than a similar movement. For example, high bar pause squats will always be less weight than a wider stance power squat.

The program is split into heavy, medium and light days. It breaks down like this:

  1. HEAVY DAY – 93% of best 5 .
  2. MEDIUM DAY – 80% of most recent heavy day
  3. LIGHT DAY – 70% of most recent heavy day

Day 1

  • Squat – Medium = CAT squats (focus on acceleration through the concentric range)
  • Bench – Heavy = Competition Bench
  • Deadlift – Light = Stiff legged Deads standing on a small platform

Day 2

  • Squat – Light = Front Squat or High Bar Pause Squat
  • Bench – Medium = Close Grip Bench
  • Deadlift -Heavy = Deads from floor

Day 3

  • Squat – Heavy = Strongest Stance
  • Bench – Light  =  Incline Bench Press
  • Deadlift – Medium = Deficit or Snatch Grip Deadlift

Each week add 5 pounds to the heavy day and follow the percents for the other days. If you don’t complete AT LEAST 1 set of 5 on the heavy day, don’t add weight to anything the following week. It won’t take long to surpass your previous PR so don’t be an ass hat and start at, or above, your PR. Let yourself build some momentum to crush PR’s.

*You can choose to go for 1 top set of 5 and a few down sets or try to complete all 5 sets with the same weight. You can even stick with a weight until you can do all 5 sets before adding weight. This is the day with the most leeway as to set up.

EXAMPLE

Here is an example week for a lifter who has 5 rep PR’s of 315, 225 and 405 for squat, bench and deadlift, respectively. The starting numbers for the “heavy” day will be 295, 210 and 375

DAY 1 

  • CAT Squats: 235 5×5
  • Competition Bench w/pause: 210 5×5
  • Stiff Legged Deads on Platform: 265 5×5

DAY 2

  • High Bar Pause Squat (3-5 seconds in the hole): 205 5×5
  • Close Grip Bench:  170 5×5
  • Deadlift from floor: 335 1×5, 375 1×5, 350 3×5

DAY 3

  • Squat: 295 3×5, 265 2×5
  • Incline Bench: 150 5×5
  • Deficit Deadlift: 300 5×5

There you have it.

Simple. Hard. Effective

What’s your weak link?

Frank was a Barbell Man. Of all things one might discern from a glance, this was undeniable. Even the most ignorant 98 pound weakling could see that Frank had spent the majority of his life moving  iron and lifting heavy forks. He was a walking powerhouse that  weighed 260 if he weighed an ounce and had that look of indeterminate age that so many men of his disposition often have. If you had told me he was 30 I wouldn’t have been surprised any more than if you had said 50.

I had seen Frank around the gym since my first day there. It was hard to miss him, he had the kind of size that made it hard to breathe when he walked into a room from the sheer displacement of oxygen. Like most people there, I had never spoken to him because I assumed he was a jerk and probably kind of stupid. After all, his training was so simple. He’d do a few heavy sets of big lifts, usually around 5-8 reps, and leave. If he was really pushing it he’d hit 4-5 sets of 10 or 12 reps of a smaller exercise like curls or lateral raises.

Really, I was intimidated.

My first encounter with Frank happened by mistake. I was trying to Jerry-rig a Glute-ham raise out of the lat pulldown seat. I would fall so fast that I’d have concussed myself on the first rep if my arms hadn’t caught me and pushed off. In the middle of performing this circus act I fell right into Frank as he walked by.

“Whoa, careful big guy,” said Frank as he scooped me up like a feather and placed me on my feet.

“Sorry. Did I hurt you?”

“I think I’ll live. You know that works better if you face the other way.”

“Huh?” I said confused from the daze I was still in from falling into the brink wall that was Frank.

“The lat pulldown. Generally you face the other way and, you know, pulldown.”

“Oh. I was trying to do some Glute-ham raises. This set up isn’t ideal but this stupid gym doesn’t have a proper Glute-ham machine.”

Frank thought on this for a moment. “Well. Get after it.”

I went back to cursing the ill-equipped gym between each grotesque rep of raises while Frank headed to the squat rack. He had been working up and finally reached the weight that seemed to be his top set. It looked to be around 505 for 6 smooth reps. He racked the bar and wiped the beads of perspiration that had formed around his forehead. After a short sit to catch his breath, Frank came back my way.

“What’s that for anyway?”

“The glute-ham raise?” I asked, surprised that he didn’t know. “It’s to strengthen the butt and hamstrings. Probably one of the best movements around for that.”

“That’s not what I meant. The name kind of tells you what it does. I meant why are you doing that?”

“Oh I see. I’m trying to get my deadlift up and my hamstrings are my weak link holding that back. By doing this I can strengthen them and drive my deadlift up without getting over trained by it.”

“Hmm,” said Frank, nodding in thought as he went back to the squat rack and hit a few drop down sets of 8 at 430.

Later on, after I completed many rounds of “core” training, I ran into Frank in the locker room.

“I’m Frank by the way,” he said as he gripped my hand like a vice and shook it.

“Shane. Nice to meet you,” I replied, glad that my initial beliefs about Frank were turning out to be false.

“So you’re hamstrings are weak, huh?”

“Yeah. I think so. If I can get those stronger I know my deadlift will go up. I really want to hit three plates.”

“Three plates? You mean 315?”

“I’m so close. I hit 300 two weeks ago and I know if I can just strengthen my weaknesses I’ll hit 315, finally.”

Frank sat silently looking at his locker with a concerned look. He finished packing his bag and started heading for the door.

“You know, I don’t know much about weak links or Glute-ham raises but it seems to me, if you’re deadlifting 300 your weak link isn’t your hamstrings.”

“It isn’t?” I asked excitedly. This is the moment I had been waiting for. I was about to hear the golden ticket to help get my deadlift moving.

“Nope. At that weight, and I don’t want to sound like a dick, your weak link is that you’re weak. You aren’t strong enough to have a weak link because everything is weak. Anyway. Nice to meet you.” Frank turned and left.

I sat on the bench hunched over in the most defeated hangdog posture imaginable. I mustered myself and managed to finish packing up and leave the gym. For the next few days those words echoed around in my head. “…your weak link is that you’re weak. You aren’t strong enough to have a weak link because everything is weak.”

Quest to 3 Pounds Per Inch – Training Details

The last two posts I went over my new goal of trying to get to 3 pounds per inch of height, 215 pounds, and the dietary guidelines that I have created to reach that goal. This post will be the training program.

It’s nothing fancy. Simple periodization. I’m doing this because, as said in earlier posts, I haven’t given this it’s fair shake and it’s time that I do. This is my second cycle (for the squat anyway) and I added weight the first time around. I also can benefit from the volume since my goal is to add muscular weight.

I train 7 days per week. Why? Because I can and I want to and, frankly, I have no reason not to.

  • DAY 1 – Heavy Squat/Legs/Biceps
  • DAY 2 – Light Bench/Heavy Press/Triceps
  • DAY 3 – Light Deadlift/Back
  • DAY 4 – Light Squat/Legs/Biceps
  • DAY 5 – Heavy Bench/Light Press/Triceps
  • DAY 6 – Heavy Deadlift/Back
  • DAY 7 – Extra shoulder and triceps volume work work

The periodized cycle, which I am currently 4 weeks into, looks like this

Start each heavy day with an over-warm up 5,4,3,2,1,1,1 approach with the singles starting at around 85% and not going above 93-95% of current max.

SQUAT and DEADLIFT:

  1. 60 x8 then 3×10 @85% of top weight
  2. 65 x8 then 3×10 @85% of top weight
  3. 70 x5 then 3×8 @85% of top weight
  4. 75 x5 then 3×8 @85% of top weight
  5. 80 x5 then 3×8 @85% of top weight
  6. 85 x5 then 3×5 @85% of top weight
  7. 90 x3-5 then 3×5 @85% of top weight
  8. 95 x2-3 then 3×5 @85% of top weight
  9. Max Test

BENCH

Same percentages but 3 sets at the top weight. Same back off sets/reps.

This is pretty basic stuff and I’m far from reinventing the wheel here. The twist that I add to this is on the top set. I look at those listed reps as a minimum at that percent. So for the top set, or the first of the three top sets for bench, I go for a rep maximum, stopping shy of failure. Generally my goal is 1.5 to 2 times the amount of original reps. On “light days” I only do the minimum reps. If I am having a shitty day I only make sure I get the minimum reps and call it good.

My accessory work will vary somewhat but for bench I will do close grip and illegal wide grip bench, both for 3 sets of the weight and reps listed for back off work. Squats are the back off sets but with pauses. Heavy deadlifts  are the back offs from a platform.

Really you can see a lot of similarities with 5/3/1, LRB and Purposeful Primitive. I’m not ashamed to say that all three of these things were a big influence.

In addition to this I am conduction a little experiment and turning myself into something of a modern day Milo of Croton. Instead of a bull I am wearing a weight vest all day every day. At the moment it weighs 35 pounds. So far I can say that my traps are a bit tired, my feet hurt, food is not satiating and I fall asleep much faster than normal, much to my wife’s chagrin.

A Complex Matter

Complexes. Just saying the word can send shivers of terror down the spine of any trainee who knows the vomit inducing power of complexes. I’m sure that by now most trainees have heard of a complex and, very likely, have tried them on a few occasions. If you happen to be reading and scratching your head in confusion, allow me to elaborate.

A complex, very simply, is a series of exercises right in a row using a barbell or dumbbells. Generally the movements flow smoothly from one to another. The amount of reps can vary from 3 of each exercise to 20 if you so wish. Even the movements can vary widely. So long as it follows this basic format it can be called a complex. An example might be something like this:

  • Stiff Leg Deadlift x10
  • Bent Row x10
  • Power clean x10
  • Front Squat x10
  • Military Press x10
  • Back Squat x 10

This would equal 1 set. As you can see this would be a very challenging and very effective to burn some fat. In most articles you read concerning complexes, fat loss is the usual purpose discussed. This is understandable as there is little else quite as effective for this purpose. However, I like them for another reason altogether.

When Istvan Javorek created complexes way back in the 60’s they were done to accomplish more than fat loss. They could be used to increase strength by the use of lower reps while increasing conditioning and work capacity as well as movement practice or “greasing the groove,” to borrow a term from Pavel. It is this purpose that I love complexes for.

As a trainer, I may only see a client 1 hour per week yet I still have to get them results. As such, I try to use any tool that allows me to combine multiple goals in one. I love to use a complex to efficiently accomplish many things:

  1. Warm up (by pyramiding in weight or reps each set)
  2. Groove proper movement mechanics for various lifts by the use of sub-max weights (i.e. Squats)
  3. Increase work capacity
  4. Increase power/explosiveness
  5. Grip strength
  6. Fat loss (of course)

A great way to start adding complexes into your routine is to use them for a few sets of higher reps, 10-12, at the beginning of your workouts to warm up (as stated above) and then finish your sessions with another few sets of lower reps, perhaps 3-5, for more strength and fat loss.

What’s your max?

How does someone determine a max on any given lift? To me this is a question that hasn’t been, and needs to be, addressed in a little more detail. Given that most training programs run off of a percentage of 1 rep max, I believe it is essential to determine what, exactly, a 1 rep max represents. To me, there are three categories of 1 rep max:

  1. Competition max
  2. Gym max
  3. Exhausted max

COMPETITION MAX

Just as the name implies, this is the 1 rep, usually the third of three, that you do in a competition and should always be a personal record, which means a weight you have never lifted before. If you don’t compete the guidelines still apply to attempting a gym PR.
Generally speaking the day this PR is established will come at the end of a planned training cycle that peaks on this day. You will attempt the lift refreshed and rested, both mentally and physically. Stimulants will often be used to a degree that wouldn’t normally and you will get yourself psyched up to do this lift and, most likely, that one single rep is all you will be able to manage with the weight. In all honesty, most people will never experience this type of max. They simply don’t have the mental fortitude to dig that deep (and that’s okay).

GYM MAX

This max is the one that most people will be familiar with. I define this as a feel good max. When you are lifting and everything feels good (explosive, smooth, rested, etc.) and you’re doing some max effort work, this will be your top weight for the day and may or may not be a grinder. This is a weight that you wouldn’t always be able to do and would take some time to eclipse in a Bulgarian influenced daily max situation.

High-Fives almost mandatory for a Gym max

For most people this would be what I consider their “true max.” Not something they could manage on a daily basis but something that would be more commonplace than a competition max. In a Westside inspired template this, in my opinion, is the weight that you would base training percentages on.

EXHAUSTED MAX

I’m sure most readers are scratching their head about this one and I can understand why since I may very well have invented this idea, although I think Jim Wendler probably shares a very similar sentiment. I think, however, that it is a valuable programming tool. Unlike the gym max, this is the max you can manage when you are at your worst. And I mean worst.

This is the weight you could walk into the gym after 2 hours of sleep because you were awake all night puking up that left over hamburger you found in the back of the fridge that you couldn’t remember when it was from but decided to eat despite that slightly vinegary smell because you were too tired to cook and didn’t want food to go to waste, and still manage to lift it. I can’t give a specific percent of gym max because everyone is different and it will vary with every exercise. It’s just something you have to think about or test.

In the next part I will cover how and when to program using these maxes as a guide. Stay tuned!

My Experiment

I generally don’t post much about my personal lifting, to me that’s not really what a blog is for. I did a training log page for a little while but it didn’t get much traffic and I assumed that people weren’t very interested. However, this week I started something that I think might be an interesting journey to chronicle.

I started the Smolov Squat Cycle. For deadlifting.

If you aren’t familiar with the Smolov cycle you are probably wondering why it warranted the drama of having it’s own 2 sentence paragraph. I will fill you in on the specifics but a quick Google search will show that there is quite a mythos around the brutality of this program. There are literally hundreds of forum pages filled with people talking about how hard (and effective) this program is, how you will overtrain, hate life, almost die, etc. It is also commonly said that you,

1.) Should not do anything other than the squats as dictated by the routine and some light upper body work

2.) Not to attempt this for deadlifts.

Being that I am contrarian  in nature, I have decided to do BOTH. I will be doing the Smolov cycle for deadlifts and I will continue lifting in my usual fashion, which means 2-3 times per day 6-7 days per week doing heavy compound movements such as squats, cleans, snatches, rows, presses, etc. for many sets of 1-5 reps.

I have decided to make a daily training log every day to show my training. In addition I will be including my macronutrient totals for each day and a photo/weigh in each week. This is to check any new hypertrophy that my result from doing this routine which, although not the main purpose of the cycle, seems to be a reasonable side effect that I will gladly take.

I have upped my calories a bit by adding in more carbs than I usually eat but it is by no means extreme calorie intake (except Fridays when I will easily exceed 10,000 calories since it’s pizza night). If I feel that I need more food, however, I will eat more.

For those that do not know, this is the Smolov Cycle (minus 2 intro weeks that I felt I didn’t need):

Base Mesocycle Week 1

  • Day 1: 4×970%
  • Day 2: 5×7/75%
  • Day 3: 7×5/80%
  • Day 4: 10×3/85%

Week 2 Add 20lbs to all %

  • Day 1: 4×9/70% + 20 lbs
  • Day 2: 5×7/75% + 20 lbs
  • Day 3: 7×5/80% + 20 lbs
  • Day 4: 10×3/85% +20 lbs

Week 3 Add 30lbs to all %

  • Day 1: 4×9/70% + 30 lbs
  • Day 2: 5×7/75% + 30 lbs
  • Day 3: 7×5/80% + 30 lbs
  • Day 4: 10×3/85% + 30 lbs

Week 4

  • Day 1: REST
  • Day 2: REST
  • Day 3: Max 1RM
  • Day 4: Max 1RM

After that there are 7 more weeks. I haven’t decided if I will pursue it to that extent. It will depend on how much I get out of the Base Mesocycle, some say it is reasonable to get 30 pounds (with the entire program potentially giving 100 pounds). We shall see.

The only change I made was how I based my max, which I did so very conservatively. My best every deadlift is 540 which I have done on three separate occasions.  I would say that my feeling good max is around 525-530 while my any-time-feel-like-shit max is 500. I know that I can walk in off the street with 3 hours of sleep and only minimal warm and manage to pull 500. Therefore, that is the max I went with. If I have learned one thing from my years of training, it is better to start light(er) than you probably could.

I will be shooting to eat – Protein: 400 Fat: 150 Carbs: 140. These numbers will change if I feel they need to but that is my baseline for this week.

That is all for now.

Some outside fun

Now that labor day has passed summer has officially started in San Francisco. This means I’ve been doing a lot of outdoor training. As I have touched on in previous posts, I try to get outside and lift as much as possible, but it is so much more enjoyable when it is sunny/warm/not-hurricane-winds-and-fog.

Although many readers may be in more conformist climates (that’s right, even the weather in San Francisco is hipster), it is still a good time get outside and enjoy the last bits of summer. For many people this presents a challenge because, unlike me, they aren’t obsessed and haven’t spent a bunch of money on lifting equipment to stash in their garage and take outside with them. Does that mean these people are doomed to the gloom of indoor lifting? Far from it.

It would be easy enough to just go outside and kill it with some burpees and pull ups at a local park or push a car around but I will offer an additional or alternative to those with exercise ADD.

Wheelbarrow pushes.

The hottest new fitness gadget

This movement is a classic with variations done in most strongman competitions that will challenge your grip, cardio, legs, core and basically every muscle in your body. It’s very simply. Get a wheelbarrow. Load it with as much weight, dirt, scrap, friends, etc. as you can. Once it is loaded down lift it and walk. You can go for a specific distance, time or speed. Do it a bunch of times. If that is too easy, push it up an incline.

Don’t own a wheelbarrow? Ask to use a friends or steal* one from a construction site.

 

*Note: I don’t condone theft. If you return it when you finish your training it isn’t stealing.

Training for Women

It was brought to my attention that this blog might seem, to those that aren’t familiar with my training, male oriented, that my posts aren’t applicable to women. The fact of the matter is that women have made up a large part of my training clientele over the years.

Why don’t I post more pictures of women? Frankly, I assume that there are enough fitness blogs full of pictures of hot chicks but, if people are concerned that my blog may be lacking, I will try to remedy this situation in future posts. That leaves why I don’t post more female specific training information.

WOMEN AND MEN SHOULD TRAIN THE SAME WAY.

There is nothing I write that can’t benefit a women if she utilizes that information. Get strong, work hard, eat right. Simple and effective.

I won’t address all of the asinine worries and concerns from women about getting too big or any other such nonsense. Frankly, I’m too lazy to deal with that today. I will only go so far as to say that women CAN’T look like men due to hormonal differences unless they take steroids.

Instead I will give some examples of women who train in a manner similar to what I espouse. You can decide for yourself if they work.

JEN COMAS-KECK – STRENGTH AND PHYSIQUE ATHLETE

 

MOLLY GALBRAITH – STRENGTH AND PHYSIQUE ATHLETE

 

MOLLY SQUATTING 185 POUNDS

Real Women have squats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HANNAH “MINX” JOHNSON – POWERLIFTER

CROSSFIT HOTTIES

 

 

 

NATALIE BURGENERUSA OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTER

I think that is enough examples. What is the lesson learned? Women can train just like a man and still look feminine and sexy.

A New Progression Technique For Benching

I guess it isn’t new in any sense. In fact, it’s probably older than most of the people reading this blog, but it’s probably new to you.

The inspiration for this style of training comes from Doug Young, one of the greatest powerlifters of all time. This is how he progressed his benching and, as someone who benched 612 pounds in just a T-shirt, he knew a thing or two about bench training.

It is a 12 week rotation. The first four weeks are the most important and were you will see the most gains. From the calculations that I have done it seems like Doug would start the cycle at 1.35 times less than his max. This is a little less than 75% of max so start in the 70-75% range. Here’s were the progression comes in. Your fourth and final set is a limit set (if you’ve ever done Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 you should be familiar with this concept), which means max reps, AT THE SAME WEIGHT. Every rep over 6 that you get is equal to 5 pounds added to the bar the next benching session. If he couldn’t do more than 6 reps, the weight didn’t go up until he could.

It can be neither denied nor confirmed that epic chest hair is reponsible for epic strength

Doug would bench twice a week using this system.

Lets use a 300 pound bencher as an example:

Workout 1: 220 x 6, 220 x 6, 220 x 6, 220 x 10 (this equals 20 pounds)

Workout 2: 240 x 6, 240 x 6, 240 x 6, 240 x limit

And so on for four weeks.

After four weeks he would split the benching into two different days. One day with the 4 x 6 and the other day as a 5 x 3 (this day going for straight sets as heavy as he could for triples) for another four weeks.

This puts us at 8 weeks. The final 4 weeks are split into two week segments. The first two weeks are twice weekly 5×3. The second two weeks are twice weekly 5×2. After five days rest attempt a single rep max. Start over.

I just looked over everything I wrote. I have a feeling people will be confused so I will try to simplify.

WEEK

DAY 1

DAY 2

Weeks 1 – 4*

4 x 6

4 x 6

Weeks 5 – 8

4 x 6

5 x 3

Weeks 9 – 10

5 x 3

5 x 3

Weeks 11 – 12

5 x 2

5 x 2

Week 13

REST

NEW MAX ATTEMPT

* Follow the weight progression explained above for each workout.

There you have it. Pretty simple but, as Dan John is so fond of saying, DEFINITELY not easy.

Enter the Sandbag (part 2)

So many possibilities...

**In case you missed yesterday’s post and you don’t feel like scrolling down the page or clicking the link, we mostly went over the construction of a (basic) and cheap sandbag. I suggest you read it**

Today I will lay out how to use your sandbag for a kick ass workout. A few notes first:

Use a weight that is appropriate for YOU. If you have never used a sandbag start lighter than you think you can handle. To put things in perspective I would use a 100 pound bag for this workout and it would be hard work.

If you are a rank beginner with exercise in general you are better off sticking with basic bodyweight movements for the time being. Save this for a month or two down the road when you have some semblance of body awareness.

I’m writing this workout with the idea that the only equipment that is available is this sandbag so certain bodyweight movements will be left out (i.e. pull ups)

Now let’s get to it!

WARM UP

  • Broomstick shoulder mobilization x10
  • Leg swings front to back x10 each leg
  • Leg swings side to side x10 each leg
  • Squat Stretch x10
  • Reaching lunge with thoracic rotation x5 each side
  • Overhead squat with broomstick x10
  • Inch worm x10

This should take no more than 5 minutes and should be completed as a giant set with no rest between movements. Warming up is important. Do it!

WORKOUT

1. Shouldering with reverse lunge – 4 x 8 each side

2. Zercher Squat – 3 x 15

3. Clean and press – 4 x 1 minute. Max reps you can get in 1 minute. Rest 2 minutes and do another minute, trying to beat the previous reps.

4A. Bent Over Rows -2 x max reps

4B. Push ups with bag on your back – 2 x max reps

4C. Overhead carry – 2 x 100 yards or a few trips around your backyard if you don’t have that much space

Perform the ABC group as a tri-set. After the overhead carry drop the bag, rest as little as needed and start the second set.

Simple but hard as hell.