Friday, 17 January 2014

Alternative ways of progressing other than increasing weight and reps

There are more ways of progressing than simply increasing the weight or the number of reps...

Try an appropriate selection of these methods to see better progress...

  1. Rest less between sets
  2. Use greater range of motion
  3. Introduce short pauses at or near sticking points
  4. Use better technique (knee tracking, neutral spine, increase depth on exercise like squat)
  5. Use less ‘psyche up’ on heavy lifts
  6. Use less supportive gear (belts, wraps, suits etc)
  7. Train alone or with no music
  8. Use fewer warm up sets than normal (take bigger weight jumps)
  9. Perform more reps during warm up sets. Pre-exhaustion.
  10. Perform the exercise further down the workout order.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

'BRB Method 1' - Beginner / Intermediate Basic Strength Programme

This is a simple system which I have used to great effect with several clients now and so I thought I would detail it here so that you can try it out for yourself.

Programme Split
3 days per week
Monday/Day 1 - Chest + back
Wednesday/Day 2 - Legs
Friday/Day 3 - Shoulders and Arms

Exercise / Order
Day 1 - 
Use basic set and rep scheme for all exercises on this day. See below for rep scheme.
A1 - Bench Press
A2 - Neutral Grip Chin Up
B1 - 30ยบ Incline Bench Press
B2 - Bent Over Supinated Grip EZ Bar Row

Day 2 - 
Use basic set and rep scheme for Squats and Deadlifts, and 4 sets of 10-12 on C + D.
A - Squat
B - Deadlift
C - Dumbbell Split Squat
D - Choose one Ab exercise from Ab wheel roll outs, Hanging Knee Raises, Standing Cable Crunches, Dumbbell Side Bends, Weighted Decline Sit Ups.

Day 3 - 
Use basic set and rep scheme for all exercises on this day. See below for rep scheme.
A1 - Standing Barbell Shoulder Press
A2 - Single Arm 'lean away' Dumbbell Shrugs
B1 - Tricep Dips
B2 - Standing Barbell Curls

The basic set and rep system is as follows
Either test 1 RMs in all main lifts prior to starting programme or estimate 1RM if you think you can do this accurately. I would urge you to choose a weight which you can hit on any given day, whether you are feeling good or bad. Do not choose something which is only obtainable when you are at your very peak as this will lead to a quick stall in the programme.

Preceed all of the given sets and reps with an appropriate warm up as follows
Dynamic Warm up, then 3 sets of 3 reps @ 30-40%, 2-4 ramping sets of 2-3 reps to enable you to get to your working weight.
I have given % ranges below, (eg. 70-75%).  I have used this programme with both the lower percentages and the higher percentages both with equal success.  It does depend on the person, but if in doubt, then only use the lower %'s and you will be able to increase the weights more significantly for the following 4 week cycle.
In other words, either choose 70,75,80 and 85% as your programmes percentages, or choose 75, 80, 85, 90%.  In my experience, the higher percentages are normally more suited to people with a slightly longer training history with a bit more experience.

Working Sets are as follows...
Week 1 - 6 sets of 6 reps @ 70-75%
Week 2 - 7 sets of 5 reps @ 75-80%
Week 3 - 8 sets of 4 reps @ 80-85%
Week 4 - 10 sets of 3 reps @ 85-90%

Following end of 4 week cycle, add 2.5 - 5kg (approx) to all weights and repeat.
Every 2-3 cycles, use a week to test your 1RM's on all lifts again.


1. Missing Reps - If you miss any reps during a session then this is not the end of the world, however if you begin to miss reps prior to half way through then you may have selected a working weight which is too heavy.  In my experience you should not really be missing more than 2-4 reps per exercise (total over all the sets).  So if on week 1 you got 6, 6, 6, 6, 5, 4, then that is acceptable as you have only dropped 3 reps out of 36.  However if you only managed 6, 6, 5, 4, 5, 4 then you have dropped 6 reps in total out of 36 which is really an indication perhaps you have overestimated your max or perhaps increased the weights too much between cycles. In this instance I would drop the weight slightly and recalculate all your %'s.

2. Choosing to use either the higher %'s of the lower %'s - For some people achieving 10 sets of 3 at 90% of their max would be near impossible (initially anyhow), whereas some people have the ability to produce quite high reps all the way up very close to their max.  You should decide which percentages to use based on whether you think you are the sort of person who is better at performing high intensity (load) singles but fall to pieces if someone asks you to do some reps and repeat this effort multiple times, OR if you are someone who can knock out lots of sets at a reasonable weight but the second someone asks you to max out, your form breaks down and you aren't able to maximise your potential.  If you are the former, then using lower percentages would be better, but if you are the latter and are better at performing reps, then you can choose the higher %'s.  You must also consider how long you have been training.  Very often the stronger you get the harder it can become to perform higher reps at a high percentage of your max.  This is because the % increases start representing much bigger increases in weight, so going from 85 to 90% is a bigger jump for someone lifting 200kg than it is for someone lifting 100kg. (stating the obvious I know, but all this must be considered when choosing your weights).

3. If in the programme you will be performing the deadlift, for example, having already squatted, then do not use a 1RM, for the deadlift, which you have achieved when fresh having not done anything prior to it.  The same goes for all other exercises in the programme. Remember that you will undoubtedly be able to lift more weight if you perform an exercise when fresh, but these numbers will not reflect what you can achieve whilst running the programme. I would recommend when testing your maxes, to run the programme in the same exercise order, but simple perform singles up to a max.

4. If you will be sometimes training alone, without a spot, then use the weights you are comfortable attempting on your own for the programme and not the weights which you tried once when you had the luxury of a programme. Again this is something that will skew your numbers. Whatever your regular training circumstances will be, run with those for the whole programme. If you then get the luxury of a lift out from a spotter, then great, but do not count on this if you know it will not always be available.

5. Pause at least 1 rep of each set on the bench press.  My preference is pausing the last rep on the chest for at least 1-2 seconds.  This will build starting strength in the lift, and perhaps also keep your ego in check. 

6. Do not sacrifice form for the sake of increasing weight. The typical one here is sacrificing squat depth for the sake of adding weight.  Keep form to a standard on all exercises.  If you train alone then film EVERY SINGLE SET YOU DO, if you have training partners then get them to give you an honest appraisal.  Do ensure they know what to look for in terms of quality though as a training partner who tells you you are doing great when every lift really looks awful is not your friend and is wasting your time and simply massaging your ego.

7. Alternative exercises can be substituted for the main exercises if preferred but these main lifts should give you strong foundation so think carefully before changing them and always examine the reasons behind the switch.  

If you decide to try using this Method, then I would love to hear how you get on so any feedback is appreciated. Email with your thoughts / questions / progress.

Happy Lifting