Monday, April 27, 2015

CHALLENGE WORKOUTS AND FINISHERS

As part of a semi-continuing on my topic on programming, I will be providing some examples/ideas of "get tougher" workouts that I either have employed or at least drafted up for my training.  I've already written extensively on one of my original workouts (how to increase your 6rm by 9 reps), and these others are in a similar style.  Some are tested, others not, but they all operate on the same principle: generate maximal amount of misery.


TESTED IDEAS


ZENO SQUATS

Image result for Zeno philosopher
Proof that the current beard fad is SOOOO retro


The most recent addition to my training, named after Zeno of Elea, famed for his paradox describing motion being impossible.  The crux of his argument hinged upon the notion that, if we take a distance between two points, and always travel halfway between these two points (ie: between a mile we travel half a mile, then between that half mile we travel a quarter mile, etc), we will never actually reach our end destination.  This squat workout pays homage to that line of thought.


-Start out with a heavy weight (5-7rm ish).  Perform as many reps as possible.
-Take 15 deep breaths.
-Perform half as many reps as the first set (rounded up)
-Take 15 deep breaths.
-Perform half as many reps as the second set (rounded up).
-Repeat until you end up at 1 rep.
-Strip off 50-90lbs (either a 25 or a 45 per side)
-Perform as many reps as the very first set of the workout
-*BONUS MISERY*
-
Continue the above approach with your new weight until you reach the empty bar.


I have yet to perform the bonus misery round of this workout, but intend to once I am off season from a contest.  Will report results.  As of this moment, the current iteration of Zeno squats do an amazing job of making life suck and my entire lower body sore for most of the next week.  I'm probably getting bigger and stronger too, so I mean, that's cool.



DROP 50

Image result for 50 cent in zimbabwe
Ran this one a while back and was very pleased with it.  It's a drop set with a fluctuating rep scheme. It's got built in recovery while still really pushing the body, and allows one to make even small weight seem like a herculean effort.  


I started off with 455, since this meant I would have a 25 on either side. This is going to be a drop set where those plates keep coming off and going back on (hence the "drop 50").  You may need to scale as necessary, but the point is to have big plates and small plates on the bar to be able to bounce between.

455 for 5
405 for 6
365 for 5
315 for 7

Etc. Basically, anytime the 25s are on the bar, do 5 reps. Anytime they aren't, add one rep to the previous non-25s set.

Only rest as long as it takes to change plates.  With this set-up, I managed to work down to the bar for 10 reps at the end.  If you want more volume, you may consider using even more smaller plates to make shorter jumps and spend more time in the rack.  Just remember to keep bouncing back to that set of 5 in the middle.  On paper, you may think that set of 5 is going to be cake, but it's honestly just about as tortuous as everything else.  You should be barely hanging on the whole time.



MATT KROC'S 40 REP SQUATS

Pictures are worth a thousand words.  Here is a video, so that should be like a few million.


Being that I am a mortal, I have yet to work up to this weight, but I have managed my own approach with 405 for 8, 315 for 8, 225 for 8, 135 for 8, and the bar for 8, which also sucked greatly.  You can't go wrong with squats and drop set.



DUELING PRESS LADDERS




A non-squat based workout, but still a decent one.  You'll need two different pressing implements to pull this off.  Choose between an axle, barbell, log, keg, sandbag, etc.  

The approach here is simple enough.  Clean and press the first implement once.  Move on to the other implement, then clean and press it once.  Go back to the original, then clean and press it twice (either clean once, or clean each rep depending on your goals).  Then go to the second and do the same.  Repeat until you are unable to increase reps or meet the previous implements rep total.

Whereas the other workouts were pretty much 1 and done, this one can be hit for a few sets.  




MECHANICAL ADVANTAGE DROP SET PUSH-UPS




These are a favorite of mine to get a wicked chest pump at the end of a workout.

Execution is straight forward.

-Hit a set of dips for as many reps as possible (yes, I realize the title says push-ups, stick with me)
-As soon as you are done, drop to the floor and perform as many push-ups as possible
-As soon as you are done, perform push-ups with your hands on an elevated surface (gripping the sides of a keg or having your hands in a log works great here.  Otherwise, a barbell on the floor with some 45s loaded on either side works well, as can a squat box or a bench
-Continue getting your hands higher and higher.  A good approach is to have a bar in the powerrack and just keep moving it up with strategic pin/j-hook settings.


By the time you are done, your chest should feel absolutely nuked while you are performing some of the wimpiest looking push-ups in the world.  Bonus points if you don't lockout the reps, and just focus on pec contraction.



UNTESTED IDEAS

As the intro to this blog noted, my mind is always running, and that's where most of these workout ideas come from.  Below are some ideas that I have come up with, but have yet to test.  Use them at your own risk, and if you live through them, let me know how they worked out for you.



SQUAT DOUBLES

Image result for double double burger
I'm sorry, I should have labeled this post NSFW

As usual, start with a heavy weight (5rm ish would be ideal).  
-Squat 5 reps.
-Strip a plate (or 25 as applicable), squat 10
-Strip a plate, squat 20
Continue with this approach until 40.  Only rest as long as it takes to change plates.



SQUAT/FRONT SQUAT HELL


Strongman: Making even front squats look cool

*Notes: I refuse to use the term "back squat" because it's as silly as saying something like "barbell bench press" or "boot shoe" or "katana sword".  So, if the below confuses you, remember that "squat" refers to a barbell on the back, while "front squat" would be a front squat.

-Squat around 5rm
-Strip weight to front squat 5rm
-Front squat for 5rm, then immediately squat for AMRAP
-Strip a plate (or 25 as applicable).  Front squat AMRAP, then immediately squat AMRAP
-Continue until death


Monday, April 20, 2015

DEEP THOUGHTS

-If the monolift came before the rack, would people still insist that the walkout was part of the squat?

-Mexican food must be the most anabolic food of all time due to all the amiƱo acids.

-I eat terribly when I am really pushing my training.  I have to find it a little bit ironic considering most people associate exercise with health and fitness.  As with everything, moderation is the key.

-Kalle Beck’s “Starting Strongman” facebook group makes facebook worth having.  Very positive and productive group.

-Ever notice how people opposed to weight cutting are bad at it?

-I beat one of my co-workers who is really into crossfit at some sort of push up challenge he came up with.  However, 3 minutes after the challenge, he was chipper and I was dying.  Who really won?

-Why is it that the people who rag on crossfit aren’t big, strong, or in very good shape?

Image result for elgintensity exercises in futility
Just saying

-I wonder how many more years I have to spend hitching my deadlifts before it “catches up to me”?

-I got a lot better at strongman once I stopped training like a powerlifter and started training like a strongman.  How crazy.

-As soon as I bought a deadlift suit, every competition I entered banned them.  I just bought a yoke, hopefully the same thing happens.

-My home gym is ridiculous.

-Accept no substitutions!  One of the most offensive things you can do to the author of a program after they bother to draft out a great routine is immediately ask them how to substitute certain movements.  If other movements were acceptable, they would have been listed.  Do the program or don’t, but don’t say you are running the program when you’ve changed it.

-On the above, don’t be powerless.  Just because you don’t have the equipment doesn’t mean you can’t train.  It just means YOU need to take the risk and figure out how to make it work.  Or save up your money and get some gear.

-Finally started using my spud deadlift belt: for the clean and press.  My inzer lever kept getting in the way, while the spud belt can pretty easily be turned around to avoid this.  Still doesn’t offer a lot of support, but better than nothing.

-Every gym needs a roll of gorilla tape.

-Need to strong for log in strongman but don’t have one?  The keg goes a long way in replicating the clean and press mechanics.  Seriously wish I got one earlier in my training.  Sandbag isn’t a bad choice too.

-T-nation recently disabled comments on their articles.  I am torn.  I greatly enjoyed reading the author’s comments, but maybe this will force people to quit asking so many damn questions and just go out and train.

-I have the guilty pleasure of going to /r/fitness and reading “gym story Saturdays” just to chuckle at the pompousness of so many posters.  It amazes me how arrogant and passive aggressive individuals become once exposed to just the barest of knowledge.  On the plus side, it also gives me ammo for future blog posts.

Image result for powerlifting triathlon for men t-shirt
The most upsetting part is that usually the people on r/fitness talking about this are not actually powerlifters

-Watching Eddie Hall break the deadlift world record was awesome.  Watching the internet explode over straps, the deadlift suit and him being fat was predictable.

-The car deadlift simulator is my new favorite quad exercise.  Even if I don’t have this event in the horizon, I plan to keep the movement in my program.  Set-up isn’t terrible, there is minimal spinal load, and it nukes the quads.

-I should be sponsored by Pop-tarts.

-I should take it as a compliment when my co-workers think I am a bodybuilder.  It’s way better than when they think I compete in Toughman.  Or Ironman.

-One of my favorite “oh crap I forgot to eat” meals is a bowl of wild blueberries with natural peanut butter and a protein shake.  I feel like it covers all my bases and takes no effort/time to make.

-Someone asked me how to stretch their quads the other day.  It’s comical how little I know about stretching.

-I have never liked training barefoot.  I think having long, thin flat feet is to blame.  I need some sort of surface between me and the floor.

-I really dig “every minute on the minute” workouts.  I did one that was 3 sandbag cleans, and my wife is doing 4 burpees.  I have heard that log cleans work well too.

-I am as semantic as the next guy, but can we stop the whole “that’s not Tabata” crap?  Yeah, we get it, it’s only tabata with exercise bikes and speed skaters, everyone else gets that we’re talking about 20 seconds on/10 seconds off for 4 minutes.

-I only own 1 set of fixed weight dumbbells.  I am getting the most out of them by starting out with flat bench, and once I can hit 3 sets of 10, moving the incline up on my adjustable bench by 1 click.  Once I can hit 3x10 of that, I’ll start my next workout 1 click higher.  Goal is to eventually work to overhead pressing, and once I can manage 3x10 of that, I’ll start mechanical advantage drop sets.  You can get a lot down with little equipment.

Image result for third world gym
But I totally get how it sucks that your gym only has 1 rack

-I don’t miss the gym at all.  Especially now that I train so early.  It also helps that I train with crazy crap that can’t be found in most gyms.

-Christian Thib’s “Power Look” workout seems like a decent base for a strongman workout template.

-I am having difficulty reconciling the fact that I will soon be one of the “old guys” at my competitions.

-It amazed me how little “Generation Iron” appealed to me.  I thought Branch Warren was pretty cool though.

-Movements I think are valuable that I just don’t seem to do any more: good mornings, weighted dips, kelso shrugs.

-I actually feel less energized if I sleep past 0450 and don’t lift in the morning.  I find myself getting up early even on my days off to get my lifting in early.

-People wonder how I train first thing in the morning without a pre-workout supplement, large meal, shower, 30 minutes between waking up and training, etc etc.  The joy of getting stronger is enough to get me going.  I myself wonder why these people train if it takes so much to get them motivated.

-An athlete is an athlete.  My wife is a distance runner, and we get each other.  I understand her frustrations and victories, and she understands mine.  These people that act like there is some war between crossfitters, powerlifters, bodybuilders, and strongmen tend to be none of the above.

-I’ve noticed a resurgence of the term “functional strength/muscle”.  Didn’t we get past all this?

-I always enjoy the various rationalizations that come out whenever some Hollywood hunk puts on a bunch of muscle in a short amount of time.

Image result for Captain America transformation
Steriods?  Twins?  Steroid twins?

-I bought an econo yoke from Pitbull Strongman equipment.  He built and shipped the yoke to me within 2 weeks.  It was dirt cheap, and is super hardy.  If you are on the fence, buy from him.

-Getting crucified is probably good training for the yoke. …maybe it’s the other way around.

-It was really hard to avoid throwing in a “crosstraining” pun in the above statement.

-Many people approach me wanting to be my workout partner until they discover what my schedule is like.

-What is the point of a workout partner anyway?

-I buy tons of super nerdy t-shirts and cut the sleeves off immediately so that the only time I allow myself to wear them is when I am training.

-On the above, I can’t wear a tanktop anymore without feeling self conscious or getting some dumb comment.  Kind of funny considering a lot of people turn to lifting to build confidence to wear more revealing clothing.  Either way, this sucks for someone who is perpetually overheating.

-I tire of non-competitors having opinions on sports.  To call themselves “fans” is a disservice to the term, as these people follow everything on youtube.  Show up to a meet/comp/show, pay the ridiculous spectator fee, and THEN your thoughts will hold some weight.  Otherwise, why should anyone care about your thoughts when you contribute nothing to the sport?

-It’s a running gag, the idea of someone competing in a strength sport while wearing posing trunks with a spray tan.  The “lost bodybuilder”.  I want to see the opposite: someone competing in a bodybuilding show wearing a squat suit and covered in tacky.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

PROGRAM DESIGN: HOW I DESIGN A TRAINING PROGRAM



SPECIAL EARLY RELASE: I want people to really think about what is written here, come up with their own ideas and do some discussion, so you get your article early this week.


It dawned on me that, no matter how “different” I think a program is when I write it, they all boil down to the same principles.  My intent here is to share the guiding principles that are at play whenever I train, such that anyone who wishes to employ my technique can design their own program.  As with everything in life, nothing here is set in stone, and things are constantly in flux and changing, but this is at least a basic template one could employ in order to vector their training.

 

Each training day boils down to 4 phases within the training day: Get stronger/better, get bigger/stronger, get healthy, and get tougher.  The first and the fourth phase tend to only include 1 movement, and in most cases just 1 set, while phases 2 and 3 tend to be where the majority of time is spent.  A typical training day ranges anywhere between 60-80 minutes.  If there are any questions, write a comment.

 

Phase 1: Get stronger/get better




The first movement of the program is our primary goal for the training session that day.  This movement can break down to 1 of 2 primary purposes: getting stronger, or getting better.  I’ve written extensively on this topic in the past, but to reiterate, we are focusing either on grinding a movement and exerting ourselves as much as possible (getting stronger) or improving technique in order to move more weight (getting better).  Both will still pose a challenging workout, but they take different avenues.

 

If the goal is to get stronger, pick a movement that one has relative mastery over (something simple is ideal here, like a squat, bench, deadlift, etc) and work up to 1-3 heavy sets.  Anywhere from the 3-10 rep range works here.  The goal is to really grind, push, exert, and employ effort.  You should see stars and your hearing should go out during the absolute peak of these movements. 

 

In order to prevent burnout, I cycle the movements on these days (either using ROM progression or different implements, such as an axle, log, keg, sandbag, etc).  Doing the exact same thing every week for multiple weeks tends to not work out so well, and since the goal here is strength instead of skill, there is no concern about “falling out of the groove” between weeks.  This movement is about learning to strain above all else, and teaching the body how to call in all the muscles it needs and brace as hard as possible in order to accomplish this.

 

If the goal is getting better, pick the movement you want to improve and focus more on maintaining ideal/improved technique.  In these instances, it’s still good to go heavy, as technique differs with a heavy weight versus a light weight, but you don’t want to strain to the point that you have tunnel vision.  Use rest periods liberally, train for a set amount of time versus a set amount of reps/sets, set up event medley’s, etc.  This is especially easy to map if you have a specific contest coming up, as you can simply set up this movement as it will be performed in the contest and perform 1-3 rounds of the event. 

 

You should still get a decent workout from the skill based training, but more likely it will tax your cardio and get you a pump versus shorting out your CNS. 


Here is an example of a "get stronger" movement


https://youtu.be/dJhjEyyOark


And this would be a "get better" workout




https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTe7YL1fJ9U


Phase 2: Get stronger/get bigger

 

The second series of movements of the day is designed to support/compensate for the first movement of the day.  No matter what you did for the first movement, you want to use this opportunity to get bigger, BUT, if you trained to get better for the first movement, ensure you use this opportunity to also get stronger.

 

Getting stronger is once again a fairly simple approach.  Here, we don’t need to exert maximal effort like we did with movement once, but still want to push some fairly heavy weights.  The 6-10 rep range for a big compound lift works well here, anywhere from 3-5 sets.  You can either pick a movement that mimics what you trained for lift 1 (ie: DB bench for movement 2 supporting Bench press for movement 1) or utilize something with similar muscles but a different plane of movement (ie: swiss bar overhead press supporting bench press, a squat for a deadlift, etc).

 

For getting bigger, we’re going to employ a more “bodybuilder-esque” approach for the assistance work.  Movements selected will be less directly analogous to the first movement of the day and instead be movements that specifically build up the muscles involved in the first movement.  If today was a squat day, we could use glute ham raises, reverse hypers, ab work, pull throughs, kettlebell swings, leg presses, lunges, etc etc.  Basically, a lot of movements wherein it would be unreasonable to train them as a strength movement, but still contribute toward making one stronger.  You can still go heavy here, like with a reverse hyper, or light, like with lateral raises, but the goal is not to push the most weight but to stimulate muscles and get a pump.  Focus more on feeling the muscle and improving the areas you need to improve and less on how much weight is on the bar or beating PRs from the previous weeks.


Some "get stronger" work


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPu-xh6uTTw


Some "get bigger" work


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6Ft15yZavc

Phase 3: Get healthy

This is where a lot of filler work goes, the stuff that needs to get done but no one gets really excited about.  Band pull aparts, ab work, pre/re-hab, etc.  There will sometimes be overlaps here between the “get bigger” movements and these, and don’t be too worried if you get a pump while doing these, but the point here is less about making things bigger and more about keeping the body in a state where it can continue to train.

 

For personal examples, my right shoulder/labrum is pretty much hamburger, and if I don’t keep up rear delt work I get in pain pretty quick, so I’m constantly hitting up band pull aparts in my upper body training.  Additionally, I am fairly certain I have some undiagnosed herniated discs in my neck, and if I don’t use a neck harness regularly it starts to act up, so this is a good place to train the movement.  Other folks might use this to do some mobility work, rotator cuff work, etc. 


Here is an example video of getting healthy


Some examples of "getting healthy"


https://youtu.be/83DBRilawig




https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpy2RSXA8dU


Phase 4: Get tougher

 

We save this for last, because after this you’ll have nothing left.  Whereas everything up until this point was meant to improve us physically, this is meant to improve us mentally.  For this portion of the workout, we’re going to pick something that absolutely sucks to do yet still has some similar qualities with the main goal of the day.

 

Examples include

 

20 rep breathing squats
Squat drop sets
Heavy yoke walks
Farmer’s carry with straps (no chance of dropping implement)
Sandbag/keg carry for distance/time
Bench burnouts/drop sets
Etc

 

It’s not that difficult.  Push past your comfort zone, use a lot of intensity amplifiers (drop sets, forced reps, rest pause, short rest periods, etc) and get smoked.  You should basically be crawling away from the gym after this.  Creativity is highly encouraged, as there is really no wrong way to go about this.  This is also an excellent opportunity to sneak in some strongman training/conditioning if you have an upcoming contest, with medleys being awesome for making life terrible.

 

You’ll note that this is the final movement of the day.  The reason for this is two-fold.  1: after you perform this movement, you should have no energy left for any other sort of training.  2: already being in a state of fatigue will mean that you need less weight to elicit the desired outcome, which should hopefully put you at less risk for injury/burnout.

 

The “get tougher” portion will also function to meet the goals of getting bigger, better and stronger too (as do really all movements in the program, nothing exists in a vacuum), but the goal is really about just pushing past one’s comfort zone.  Your breathing should be labored, your muscles should burn, and you should wonder why you choose to do this for a hobby.




Some "get tougher" exercises


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdDs9jtrbK8


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPDBflCl3-I


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KkvrVq_0CM

 

*Hacks

Since I train at home, I have a bit more liberty in how I go about training, and have utilized the following approaches to cram as much as I can into my training in as little time as possible.  The key here is that nothing is too rigid or structured: we approach training with a basic idea, but the execution is less relevant than simply meeting the goals.

-Alternating movements/supersets:

I am a big fan in alternating between my “get stronger” and “get bigger/healthier” movements when I train, especially if I’m working opposite muscle groups in doing so.  I find it helps to speed up my recovery and keep blood flowing while I train, and also helps me squeeze in more training in a shorter amount of time.  Band pull aparts work incredibly well here, throwing them in between sets of just about everything on upperbody days, but I also like doing this with heavier back movements (lat pulldown, rows, chins, etc).

 

Ideally, you do want to use a movement that isn’t going to interfere with the recovery of your larger movements.  Supersetting bench press with band pushdowns may prove ineffective, whereas bicep curls shouldn’t have too negative of an impact.  You can either perform the movements immediately following each other or rest a little in between each.  The key is to not get stuck in the mindset of “now I am training strength and later I am training size”, but instead realize that the goal is to hit all the movements at some point in the workout. 


-Giant sets

 

Giant sets are similar to supersets, we’re just throwing in a greater number of movements.  This is an effective way to include a lot of “get bigger” work in the program, or to combine the “get stronger” “get bigger” and “get healthier” portions all in one.  An example would be if we were doing dumbbell benching to get stronger, we could follow the set with some chin ups and then follow the chin ups with some band pull aparts.  You can rest between movements or follow one immediately after the other, resting at the end of the giant set.  Once again, this is just about squeezing in more work in less time.    

 

-Volume/fatigue accumulation

 

Whereas the first two methods mentioned were about squeezing in more work in less time, this is more about getting a certain amount of reps in without affecting recovery.  You’re still going to be training movements in between other movements with this approach, but the goal here is to NOT go to failure with the second movement, and instead just get a few reps in.  We’re working toward a total amount of reps by the end of the workout with this approach.

 

An example would be if, in between every exercise on our upperbody day, we throw in 3 chin ups.  Depending on how many exercises we have (and warm-ups), we could pretty easily work up to 50-60 reps in this fashion, while at the same time remaining fresh to hit other movements.

 

Additionally, if one still wants to elicit a pump effect from this training, we can spend the entire training day performing 1 movement in between all other movements, and then at the end of the training day perform 1 all out set, aiming for as many reps as possible.  We will be in a fatigued state at this point, which will mean we require fewer reps to get our desired result, but still be able to push ourselves and leave feeling pumped.

 

An example of this approach would be if we performed 3 reps of dumbbell rows between every exercise, and then at the very end performed 1 all out set of kroc rows with each arm. 


If you have any questions, let me know.