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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.

Break some rules

That’s right. There are a lot of “rules” when it comes to training. Some of them are so ingrained in our minds that they border on dogma.

Hypertrophy is in the 8-12 rep range.

Behind the neck presses are bad for your shoulders.

Lift slowly and never use momentum.

You can’t build size and strength with bodyweight

You can’t urinate in public places.

These are but a few of the man rules that I’m sure we’ve all heard. It’s time to start breaking them. Do you think you can’t build size doing 3, 20 or even 40 reps? How will you know until you try? Everyone is different.

Don’t let what other people say hold you back from trying new things, even if those people are respected and knowledgeable.

Let me give you an example. Mike Boyle, who is a very smart guy and highly respected in the industry, has said that he considers single leg training to be superior to bilateral and this idea is starting to become a bit of a trend in the strength and conditioning community. Does this mean that I should go and drop any bilateral movement for all of my clients? No.

Mike works primarily with athletes. This means that they already have a physical base and some sense of body awareness. I work primarily with regular people who want to start seeing results in, at most, two weeks. Should I sacrifice the muscle building and fat burning potential of big movements like squats and deadlifts while they learn how to balance on one foot and can’t use weight for a month?

I don’t think so. A better solution would be to keep those bilateral movements and include single leg work as accessory.

Most of the strongest lifters in the world do behind the neck pressing. Using a touch and go bounce on deadlifting can sometimes be used when doing reps. Try doing some handstand push ups and tell me your shoulders didn’t get a hell of a workout (if you can even do them!).

There is only one rule that can never be broken: No curls in the squat rack.

Arm Days

Mr. Arms himself

I like to think that I handle being wrong pretty well. In fact, I might go so far as to say that I will be the first to admit when I am wrong. So I am not afraid to say that in the past I was wrong about how to train arms.

I used to fall into the category of trainers that say you don’t need to train them. If you’re doing your big compound pressing and pulling movements the arms will get plenty of work. Or so the theory goes. It’s true that your arms get worked and will grow to a decent level from that work. But who just wants to be decent?

I’m now of the opinion that direct arm work is an absolute NECESSITY, and not just to attract hot babes from across the room every time you lift your fork to your mouth. No, in fact it does serve a number of purposes, such as injury prevention (ever see a bicep tendon rupture during a deadlift? Not cool) and increasing strength.

Think about a bench or a row. They aren’t just chest and back movements. Weak triceps or biceps could be holding you back from increasing weight and, therefore, growth.

Having said all of this, however, I do not, under most circumstances, support a traditional “arm day.” It just doesn’t accomplish much in terms of fat loss, muscle building and overall smart time management. Unless you compete on a stage in bodybuilding there is no need to waste your time with it. But you can, and should, still work your arms. I believe that frequency is of utmost importance when it comes to arm training so 3 times a week is not unheard of in my programs.

Let’s pretend for a second that a guy comes to me and says he has 8 weeks until his high school reunion. All he cares about is having massive arms to impress Lucy Ricardo, who has recently been divorced, his old crush. Let’s say that he currently lifts the classic three times a week of Monday, Wednesday and Friday (Monday chest/back, Wednesday legs and Friday shoulders/arms). I would recommend, instead, something like this:

MONDAY –

  • Shoulder Press variation (whatever sets and reps)
  • Deadlift Variation (whatever sets and reps)
  • Shoulder accessory (whatever sets and reps)
  • Deadlift accessory back emphasis (whatever sets and reps)
  • Preacher reverse curl -superset with- preacher curl 2×12 each rest 60 seconds
  • JM Press -superset with- overhead cable extensions 2×12 each rest 60 seconds

WEDNESDAY –

  • Bench Variation (whatever sets and reps)
  • Squat Variation (whatever sets and reps)
  • Bench Accessory (whatever sets and reps)
  • Squat Accessory (whatever sets and reps)
  • Barbell Curls – 5×8 superset with:
  • Rolling DB Tricep Ext. – 5×10

FRIDAY –

  • Deadlift Variation (whatever sets and reps)
  • Vertical Pull Variation (whatever sets and rep)
  • Horizontal Pull Variation (whatever sets and reps)
  • Press Variation – his choice of shoulder or bench (whatever sets and reps)
  • GIANT SET: Reverse Grip Bench press, Cross Body Hammer Curls, Standing French Press, Incline DB Curls, Rope Pushdowns, EZ Bar Curls – x6 reps of each exercise, no rest between exercises. Rest 60-90 seconds between each giant set. Perform 4 rounds

There it is. His arms get worked 3 days per week. They get worked heavy and maximize the pump, giving him big and strong arms. This may be an extreme example but 3 days per week of training for arms (at a lower volume usually) is still a fine way to go.  You may notice that he deadlifts twice a week. I think most people should deadlift more. It’s awesome.

Feel free to give something like this a try for 6 weeks or so and watch you go from having arms to having GUNZ!!!! Or at least they will get bigger, whether or not that turns you into a bro is optional.

Traffic Jams

This is my hell

I had the pleasure of spending a the Memorial Day weekend down in southern California visiting friends and family. It was tons of fun and I spent most of Saturday with my fiance banging out the details with our “wedding planner” (I put this in quotes because she isn’t really a wedding planner. She’s just the nicest person you will ever meet and is letting us use her beautiful house for the wedding) for our upcoming nuptials in August.

Good times were had by all…until the drive home. Generally when we go down to so-cal we drive; it’s a lot cheaper for two people than flying and the way I drive I can easily bang it out in 5 hours. As much as sitting in the car for 5 hours sucks, I can generally handle it pretty well. The home, however, took ten and a half hours! That’s 10.5 hours. Excruciating.

We sat in 5 hours of traffic that, if moving at all, was less than 10 miles per hour. Luckily I did get some benefit from sitting there trying my hardest not to go all D-Fens Foster on the world.

 

F***ing merge!!

The cause of this traffic was that the left lane of the I-5 freeway was closed some 10 miles ahead. That’s how much notice they gave us. 10 miles. Apparently that isn’t enough for many people. Whereas I promptly got over at the first opportunity, many of the drivers decided to wait until the very last second, 5 miles down the road, when there was no choice but to merge.

I understand the thought process of the people who wait until the last second. They think that they will fly by all of the other traffic and just jump in at the end. The problem is it doesn’t work like that. Instead, you just get 2 lanes a cars backed up for 20 miles or more and moving at a snails pace. Despite this, people still wait until the very last second to merge. They may get to the end a little faster than me (maybe 4 or 5 cars which, we all know, really makes the difference) because I didn’t wait to get over. Great for them but they really are missing the big picture. What should have been a minor slow down became miles and miles of stopped traffic so, even though they got ahead of me, they still sat in traffic for 4 hours!

I know this has been a (very) long analogy but I think there is a valuable lesson to be learned. What you think might be a short cut could actually be you slowing you down. You may think that freebasing fat burners in the bathroom at work all day is going to make you ripped but it won’t make up for the 3 nights a week that they go out and have 5 beers with nachos. You can take every supplement and/or steroid under the sun but you won’t get to jacked city if you’re lifting like a grandma.


You can train like this grandma

Do the things your supposed to do. Do them right and you will get there faster than if you try to cheat around them.