Monday, 28 January 2013

There's a METHOD in the MUSCLE.....

There’s a method in the muscle.....

How many of these hypertrophy methods have you tried? and with how much success?
Pick one and try it out to accelerate your gains, or if you’ve already tried all of them, why not revisit one method. Nothing revolutionary here, just tried and tested methods for improving muscle gain.

20 rep Set Method
  • Following your working sets on your main lift of the workout (eg. Squat) you take   50% of your unequipped 1RM, and perform a 20 rep set of the same exercise.
  • Next workout, if you got all 20 reps, you increase the load by 5% and attempt to hit 20 reps again. If you do not hit all 20 reps, you stay on this weight each time you do this workout until you can.  Once you hit the 20reps then you make the 5% increase.

The ‘Boring But Big’ Method
  • This one is taken from Jim Wendlers 5/3/1 notes.  Simply perform 5 sets of 10 @ 60% or above  following your main working sets on the exercise. 

EDT - Escalating Density Method
  • Pick 4 exercises. 2 for one bodypart, 2 for an opposing bodypart (agonist / antagonist). Set in agonist / antagonist supersets (A1-A2 and B1-B2).
  • Perform exercises A1-A2 back to back for a 20min timed period. Attempting to get as many sets in as possible in that time.  Rest time is ‘as required’ and expected to go up as fatigue sets in.  Normally you would use a 10RM load for each exercise but only aim for half the reps possible, in other words a 10RM load would mean aiming for 5 reps per set.
  • Then have 5 mins rest, and then repeat process for B1-B2.

Pre-exhaustion Super-set Method
  • Use an isolation movement to ‘pre-exhaust’ a particular muscle group, before performing a more compound exercise straight afterwards.  In other words a same muscle group super-set.  So A1 might be a dumbbell chest flye for a set of 15 reps which will preexhaust the pectorals muscles prior to performing A2 which could be a heavy flat bench dumbbell press.  These are typically used when there is a lagging muscle group which the trainee wants to bring up, or when a trainee has trouble feeling a muscle working or activating it sufficiently. 

Post-Exhaustion Super-set Method
  • Basically the opposite of pre-exhaustion.  Following a compound movement, you pick an isolation exercise to perform to focus on a specific muscle group.  To use the same example as above, you would perform the chest flye straight after the heavy dumbell press.  This would be to further recruit any motor units within the muscle and provide more stimulus for tissue damage (leading to hypertrophy) as the muscle would be ‘finished off’ by an exercise which specifically targets it.

The Drop Set Method
  • Very simple here.  Load the bar / machine etc up with multiple plates allowing for suitable drops in weight each time fatigue is reached.  You will need at least one very attentive spotter here who can be ready to strip weight off the bar when needed.  Essentially what you will do is start your set at a given weight which you can get a certain number of reps (for example your 10RM, depending on your goal though this may change and be as high as 20 or as low as 3-5 reps). Perform a set until very close to absolute failure, when you cannot complete any more reps unassisted or without a significant breakdown in form, then your spotter should take 5-10% off the bar and then you will perform as many more reps as you can at this weight, your spotter then reduces the weight still and you once again perform as many reps as you can.  How many ‘drops’ you do if up to you and again dependent on work capacity and training goal, however 3-5 is usual and probably recommended. 

Basic agonist / antagonist Super-set Method
  • By super-setting opposite muscle groups / types of movements you allow more work to be done in a session than when performing classic station training where you do one exercise after another.  You will also increase muscle activation because the ‘resting’ muscle is still active during the opposing movement. You will also increase work capacity because more work is being done in a shorter period of time, however you actually end up with more rest time per set. It also ensures that you balance your training in terms of how much time you dedicate to both the agonist and antagonist muscle groups.(ie. balancing bicep training with tricep training etc).

The High Rep Finisher
  • Simple concept with lots of different protocols that will work.  The simplest one is the 100 rep challenge. Perform at the end of your workout, focussing on one or a few muscles you have focussed on for the rest of the session.  Pick a load which is comfortable to perform at least 25 reps on.  Then perform 100 reps in the shortest time possible.  If using a unilateral exercise like a split squat then perform 50 per leg. An example might be perhaps performing 100 reps on a tricep push down after a chest and tricep workout, or 100 reps on a bicep curl after an arms specific workout.  Bare in mind these methods do not only apply if you split your training by body parts and are also very effective when using upper/lower splits or even full-body training programmes. 

German Volume Training
  • Couldn’t leave this one out.  I won’t give all the details of the GVT programme, but understand the basic concept that you have two primary exercises per workout, and two secondary (assistance exercises).  The primary exercises are performed as a superset for 10 sets of 10 reps per exercise, usually at a 4010 tempo, with minimal rest in between exercises, and only 60-90seconds rest in between sets.  The assistance exercises are normally only for 3 sets for anything from 8-12 reps.  This is a great system for those wanting exclusively to focus on muscle gain and perhaps a little fat reduction.  For those wanting to maintain/build strength however this perhaps is not a method to use for great lengths of time as it does involve using relatively light weights due to the high volume, time under tension and short rest times.  It can however be utilised by strength athletes during a ‘rest’ or post competition phase, used to recuperate and gain some muscle in preparation for the following heavy strength phase of training. (for heavier training with this type of method, see Advanced GVT)

The continuous tension set.
- This can be used for many exercises, one such example would be the back squat.  You make the exercise more challenging by never locking out the weight at the top and keeping continuous tension on the muscles involved.  This is a technique used by many bodybuilders.  Muscular tension is a key factor when trying to develop muscular mass, and you must focus your mind on the muscles involved and consciously contracting them as hard as you can each rep. In other words a set of 20 would involve 20 hard contractions of the muscle to move the weight, and not simply being concerned with moving from point A to point B 20 times.

Friday, 18 January 2013

A few lessons on learned in 2012

Here are a few concepts, largely revolving around programming, which I thought I would share with you... Nothing revolutionary, but often we need to be reminded of some of the fundamental principles that training should be based upon.  I will soon be bringing out a more in depth multi-part article on programming in which most of these points will also feature.

The Only Person who can truly know which programme is going to give you the best results is you. How do you find out?  Years of dedicated intelligently planned out training.  However do not be the guy who hops from programme to programme without ever really giving any of them a proper chance to give results.  Also do not tamper with it or alter the programme in any way. Certainly not unless you have equal or greater experience  than the coach who wrote the programme in the first place.  Chances are you have not earned the right to, and if you do not get the results you wanted, certainly don’t review the programme negatively unless you have followed precisely.

Educating yourself as to varying training methods and programmes is fantastic provided you can use your inbuilt filter.  By this I am referring to the fact that for many lifters, the grass will always be greener.  They spend hours online researching different training programmes and methods, and each week they come in and tell you that they are thinking of trying it out for a bit.  The trouble is they rarely stick to anything long enough for it to have an effect and because they are not truly committed to the programme they are doing (due to the fact that everything else looks so much more appealing).  Educating yourself about training is a highly important thing but you should be able to pick and choose what you take from everything you read.  Filter out the things which do not seem appropriate, and note down and take on board the stuff which matters.  Sometimes there might be one sentence in a whole article which is of actual use to you.  Sometimes it might be one specific little details about a programme which you could utlise. However just because you read something, doesn’t mean you necessarily need act on it and change what you are currently doing.

Believe in your system / programme.  This sounds cheesy but my point is that with every creeping doubt that you allow to come into your mind that what you are doing isn’t giving you the results, you will undoubtedly put less and less effort in to what you are doing.  You must stay focussed and determined and trust your gut.  Confidence in a programme can be considered more important in a lot of ways than the actual programme content itself.  This is why some people have made some phenomenal gains from some abysmal poorly structured training programmes.  They have donespan>

Have a system and a method of progression for every element to your programme.
If your not improving, you’re going backwards. Too often I see people only focussed on a small number of elements to their programme and everything else just gets put in the shadows and neglected.  I am talking about things like your assistance exercises which you apparently understand are supposed to aid your main lifts.  These assistance exercises need the same focus and dedication as your main lifts.  Some of these assistance exercises may not have as much importance to spent any of their life actually building up some real life experience.  I’m talking about countless hours, weeks, months, years trying and testing.  Learning, accumulating information, dismissing some of it, storing the rest, and implementing all the time so you understand in practice how it all works. 

Have a system and a method of progression for every element to your programme.
If your not improving, you’re going backwards. Too often I see people only focussed on a small number of elements to their programme and everything else just gets put in the shadows and neglected.  I am talking about things like your assistance exercises which you apparently understand are supposed to aid your main lifts.  These assistance exercises need the same focus and dedication as your main lifts.  Some of these assistance exercises may not have as much importance to you in the great scheme of things but if they didn’t matter at all then they shouldn’t be taking up valuable space in your programme.  For example, often I see people throwing in token gestures towards training muscle groups.  For example, somebody may understand the concept that they need to achieve some sort of muscular balance in regards to their biceps being relatively strong in relation to their triceps.  However too often I see people simply throwing in the same old bicep exercise at the end of their session.  The biggest problem is that they put such little importance and emphasis into this part of their session that they never really look to make any real progress.  I have seen some people perform curls or rows with a certain weight at the beginning of the year and come the end of the year they are still dealing with the same kind of load.  This attitude of ‘its just an assistance exercise, it doesn’t have to be that heavy’ is damaging to progress.  You should be looking to make progress in all areas that your programme is designed to improve.  If you have included straight bar standing bicep curls and you start the programme with 30kg, then you better be damn sure that by the time you have finished that programme you are at least curling 40kg or 50kg or 60kg (depending on ablility and length of the programme).  Remember your main lifts will not get stronger unless you build every other piece of the puzzle as well.

There is no perfect programme. Forget searching for the perfect programme because it doesn’t exist.  There are good programmes and excellent systems, however nothing will work forever. A programme is only effective for as long as it takes you to adapt to it.  This is why I am a big proponent of some Soviet Influenced Methods and Westside Barbell Methodology, because Louie Simmons has developed a system which enables the lifter to rather apply principles and then from there the programme is constantly evolving in the name of progress. 

Utilising the Slingshot for the Bench

For those who have not yet heard of, or used one yet, the Slingshot is a supportive device used for the bench press.  Do NOT however let anyone tell you it is anything like a bench shirt, IT IS NOT!!  The slingshot is made out of stretchy material, bench shirts are not. They are a world apart and anyone who tells you they are similar has clearly never used a bench shirt.  They do however enable an overload to be utilised (the original slingshot usually allows for 10-15% more load to be used).  This excellent training tool was designed by Mark Bell, owner and founder of SuperTraining Gym in Sacramento, California.  Credit has to go to Mark for such a useful and simple device. This training tool has enabled me to handle greater loads for higher reps and with a greatly reduced risk of injury.

Some of the best ways to utilise the slingshot if you are a RAW powerlifter.

1. To enable an overload, handle more weight than you could raw, so get your body accustomed to a heavier load.  So you could max out raw, and then add the slingshot to enable you to perform a few heavier sets, or perhaps handle the same weight but for more reps.

2. To reduce the risk of overuse injury, especially when performing a high volume of work.

3. For higher rep work (works also very well on high rep press up sets)

4. To learn how to use your upper-back more effectively and also to enable a better tuck of the elbows.

I would suggest that performing singles with the slingshot will be of little use to the raw lifter (although no doubt some people will disagree and have success with this method).  I prefer to perform sets of 3-6 reps with the slingshot and have found this excellent for building strength and size in the triceps.

If you are an equipped lifter the slingshot can be utilised....

1. To enable speed work to be done at a higher percentage as an overload.

2. To reduce risk of injury in general.

3. To enable more weight to be handled on days you are not using your bench shirt.

4. To make warming up less taxing, when the main focus is on the work that is to be done in the shirt.

5. To bridge the gap between your raw weights handled during a warm up, and your first working set in the bench shirt.

All in all, the slingshot in my opinion is a priceless piece of equipment that everyone who wants a big bench should be carrying around in their gym bag. They are relatively inexpensive and a tool which not only can help you lift more but I believe actually makes you lift better and more safely.  The one pitfall to watch out for is that you don't get carried away and forget about your raw benching altogether.  You must still build strength raw whether you lift raw or equipped.  It is easy for some people to get carried away and keep putting the slingshot on when they get to a certain weight and not actually try and increase their raw strength, only focussing on their slingshot maxes.  Keep sight of your raw, slingshot and bench shirt maxes and keep trying to improve them all and you will find this training tool invaluable.

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