Category Archives: Basic Strength

6 Best Exercises for Strength

by Mike Robertson – 5/7/2013
What would you do if you could only pick 6 exercises to put into your strength-training program?
Here’s a better question: What if strength was only one component of your entire program?
If you compete in strength sports such as powerlifting or Olympic lifting, picking your exercises is easy. But if you’re an athlete, you have hundreds, if not thousands, of exercises to choose from.
How do you whittle it down and only focus on a few exercises, the ones that would be the most impactful to your overall strength and physique?

The Athletic Strength Conundrum

These are the exact questions I was asking myself a few months ago.
I’ve been lucky in recent years to work with a handful of professional and Olympic-caliber athletes. The problem is, in my mind, I’m a “weights” guy. In my estimation, everyone can benefit from getting stronger.
And I  feel that way, no matter how many books I read, conferences I attend, etc. But I also realize that for an athlete, there’s a lot more to athletic success than simply being strong in the weight room.
If I’m trying to get someone ready for a 90-minute soccer game, we’re doing a ton of conditioning in that last phase or two leading up to camp. I don’t have a ton of time to do 6, 8, or 10 lifts in one training session.
So what do I do? Forget about weight lifting? Lose all the strength that we’ve taken precious time to develop in the off-season?
Absolutely not.
What we have to do is focus on a handful of big-bang lifts that will not only improve performance on and off the field, but maintain our mobility, strength, and power as well.
As a result, I came up with a list of the following exercises. I call them “athletic strength” exercises, not because you can’t get strong off them, but because the powerlifter or hardcore meathead may not totally agree with them. I’m okay with that.
If you’re a powerlifter, squat, bench, and deadlift until the cows come home.
If you’re an Olympic lifter, snatch and clean and jerk repeatedly.
However, if you’re an athlete that wants to not only get strong but also develop and maintain other critical qualities such as power, speed, mobility, and general athleticism, these are your exercises.

#1 – The Power Clean

6 Best Exercises for StrengthWhile no one will confuse me with an Olympic lifting purist, I definitely respect the power of the Olympic lifts.
And I’m not even going to get into the whole “should you take the time to coach them?” debate – that’s been beaten to death already. Regardless of your stance, we can all agree that the Olympic lifts are fantastic for developing power and explosiveness.
Can you do this with a med ball throw? Or jumping exercise?
To a certain extent, sure. But these exercises belong more on the “speed-strength” side of the continuum.
The power clean is a great way for an athlete to improve or maintain explosiveness and power. If you’re comfortable coaching or training it, I highly recommend using it.

#2 – The Front Squat

6 Best Exercises for StrengthThe front squat is an amazing exercise for athletes and it provides unique benefits from its cousin, the back squat.
If you’re an athlete, you need strong quads. Quads are critical not only for improving your vertical jump, but your ability to decelerate, plant, and cut as well.
However, quads are just the starting point. The front squat is an amazing anterior core exercise. You know how you can get totally caved over and still manage to finish a back squat? Yeah, that ain’t happening with a front squat.
If your abs are weak, do a 2-3 month front squat cycle and you should walk away impressed with how much stronger and more stable your core and trunk are as a result.
Last but not least, the front squat is an amazing tool for maintaining your mobility. Front squatting ensures that you maintain ankle, knee, hip, and thoracic spine mobility, which is why it’s a mainstay in my programs.

#3 – The Trap Bar Deadlift

6 Best Exercises for StrengthWe all know that deadlifts are awesome. After all, the deadlift is my favorite lift, so there’s no way I’m going to downplay its importance.
For athletes, though, mobility could be a concern. Or in the same vein, they may not have adequate strength in the posterior chain to do conventional deadlifts safely and effectively.
The sumo deadlift doesn’t work either as it doesn’t get you into a very athletic position. This is why I’m a big fan of the trap bar deadlift.
When you use the high handles you can get someone into a very vertical tibia/inclined trunk position. This combo gives the trap bar deadlift the potential to be very posterior chain dominant.

Trust me, if you work with enough athletes, you know they often have the posterior chain strength of Gwenyth Paltrow. They need stronger backsides, period.
Also, if you’re working with an athlete who has the mobility of a stone golem, the trap bar deadlift is a great starting point. It allows you to load their hips effectively while addressing other mobility needs throughout the “corrective” part of their programming.

#4 – The Close-Grip Bench Press

6 Best Exercises for StrengthAs much as I love wide-grip bench pressing for powerlifting performance, I feel as though the close-grip bench press is a superior alternative for athletes.
Think of it this way: if your hands (or elbows) are out really far from your body and someone is coming to push you off your spot, you’re going to lose.
However, if you have your elbows and arms in tight to the body, you can maximize leverage, as well as effectively tying together the legs, trunk, and upper body.
The close-grip bench is also an ideal exercise for building upper body strength. I know the bench gets a bad rap, but there’s something to be said for being flat-out stronger than your competition.

#5 – Resisted Push-ups

As awesome as the close-grip bench press is for developing the upper body, it does have limitations. The biggest issue when benching is that even if your core and lower body are tight, they’re rarely the limiting factor in your performance.
While close-grip benching is great for developing upper body strength, it doesn’t necessarily tie that strength together by unifying the upper and lower body. Which is why we do heavy, resisted push-ups.
A well-executed push-up with the core stable and in neutral spinal alignment will absolutely crush your anterior core. And even though this isn’t a coaching article per se, try this little trick to get even more core development:
Set up in the top position of a push-up and before you start moving, think about exhaling hard. After you’ve exhaled, pull your head and neck back to get into a more “neutral neck” position.
It may sound easy, but getting into a more ideal position through the neck and core will definitely crank up the intensity. The other huge benefit you get from performing a push-up versus a bench press is scapular stability.
When you’re doing a bench press, the goal is to “pin” your shoulder blades back and down. The scapulae are stable, but it’s a very static kind of stability. On the other hand, a push-up is similar to actual sporting movements since you’re forced to actively control the position of the scapulae.
Instead of simply pinning them back and down behind you, you need to make sure they’re moving appropriately and in the right place at the right time.
Finally, the push-up is a closed-chain pressing variation, meaning it’s awesome for developing rotator cuff strength and stability.
Next time, instead of doing 3×15 shoulder external rotations with a Theratube to crush your rotator cuff, bang out 2-3 sets of high-quality push-ups.
You’ll get more out of the exercise, and look infinitely more awesome to boot.

#6 – Chin-ups

The last exercise on my list is the chin-up. Just like the previous exercises, chin-ups are an incredible “bang-for-your-buck” exercise.
In most sports (and strength training programs), there’s a ton of emphasis on “pushing.” All you have to do is observe the posture of someone who “presses” all the time, without balancing it out with upper back work, to see why this is an issue.
These athletes are a disaster waiting to happen. Chin-ups, however, will help balance out the equation.
Another awesome benefit of well-executed chin-ups is developing the lower trapezius muscle. The lower trap is not only a key shoulder stabilizer, but (along with the upper trap and serratus anterior) constitutes one-third of the upward rotation force couple.
The key with chin-ups is that you need to focus on getting your chest to the bar and actively depressing your scapulae down. Here’s a short video on how to maximize chin-up performance:
Bottom line, if you only have a limited amount of time to strength train, at least some of that needs to be geared towards strengthening the upper back.
The chin-up will give you a ton of benefits and should be a staple in your athletic strength program.

What? No Single-Leg Exercises?

I know someone is going to come on Live Spill raging because I didn’t include single-leg work in my programming. Look, I’m a big believer in single-leg work, but this article is called “Athletic Strength,” not “Athletic Stability.”
Single-leg work has a time and a place. If you have a stability limitation, then single-leg work may be ideal, but if you want to get seriously strong or powerful, train on two legs (or arms).


Whether your goal is to be a beast on the field or court, or to simply look like a beast in the gym, the exercises included in this article are tried and true.
Make them a focus of your upcoming training programs and I guarantee you’ll see results not only in your physique, but in your performance as well!

6 Interesting Things About Strength

The Contreras Files IV: 15 Practical TipsStrength is a seductive temptress and I have no shame in proclaiming my love for her. But like anything in life that gets your juices flowing, to truly understand strength you must consider both the stuff you like and the stuff you don’t like.
Here are 6 very interesting things about strength.

1. The Best Thing About Strength

The best thing about strength – in my opinion of course – is that anyone can improve from their starting level of strength. I’m not suggesting that everyone is capable of becoming a world record holder, but everyone can get better.
You might start out struggling to bench the bar and then a year later be using 150 pounds – not fantastic but still a lot better than where you started.
Being strong is an inherently relative concept. The good news (which I say with tongue planted firmly in cheek) is that as the general fitness level of the average person declines, it actually becomes easier to set oneself apart and become that much stronger than average.
Train several hours a week or more, train hard, incorporate the main lifts, follow progressive overload, stick with it for an extended period of time (measured in years, not months), and you’ll get significantly stronger than when you started, not to mention a hell of a lot stronger than a “normal” person. In addition, as the strength comes, so do all the health benefits that accompany it.

2. The Worst Thing About Strength

The worst thing about strength – in my opinion – is that strength is specific, not general. Most people think strength is a single, all-encompassing quality, i.e., a person is strong or not.
An example of this line of thinking would be the comic book character The Hulk. The Hulk is super strong, which means he can do anything that’s related to strength – pick up cars, throw tanks, cause earthquakes by smashing the ground, even fly because he can jump super high. Hell, his muscles are so strong that bullets simply bounce off him.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way, as there’s no single “strength quality.” If there were, then the world champion arm wrestler, powerlifter, weight lifter, shot putter, and the World’s Strongest Man would all be the same person. But it’s not, nor has ever been the same person. Fact is, nobody’s ever been on top in even two of those categories, except for the immortal Bill Kazmaier.
The reason for this all relates to the principle of . Muscles don’t function independently of the nervous system, and for every movement we need a motor pattern. In order to operate at very high levels, this motor pattern must be trained regularly. If it isn’t, an individual may not be able to use the strength they’ve developed in one context in another, unrelated one.
In the classic Supertraining, Siff states that strength should not be viewed as “the ability to produce force by the action of the muscles,” but instead that “strength is highly context dependent” and “can manifest itself into many forms.”
To be clear, I’m not saying that there’s never a relationship between strength in one activity and strength in another; what I am saying is that it’s more of a tenuous relationship than one might assume.
If two activities are very similar – for example, deadlifting and picking up the back end of truck – there’s likely considerable transfer, but bench pressing and punching through bricks might not be as related.
Strength is specific and not general, and therefore we can’t simply rank people on something as broad as “strength” and accurately predict how they’ll perform in all settings.

3. The Best Thing About Strength that Gets the Least Attention

Strength is easy to measure if you accept the common standards of testing it, such as seeing how much weight can be lifted with a barbell. This is an invaluable though often overlooked attribute – because strength can be easily measured, every set and rep gives the lifter precise, instant feedback.
Consistent practice with a focus on self-improvement is the key to mastery of any skill. Strength training brings that idea home like nothing else.
Imagine if an expert sat behind you as you typed up a paper, and after every paragraph gave you feedback about what was good and what was bad. Initially it might drive you crazy, but because she had expertise in the subject, the feedback would ultimately make you more confident in what you were writing about.
Nowhere else in life do we get such constant, clear feedback as at the gym, and this goes a long way towards building confidence and boosting self esteem. It’s very empowering to see yourself succeed at something challenging as a result of your hard work, and I believe that all those positives can be traced back to the fact that strength is easy to measure.

4. The Thing You Might Not Have Known About Strength

8 More Random Thoughts and Training TipsFor a single, all-out effort, assuming accuracy and injury are taken into consideration, it’s likely impossible to be too strong. However, for other activities, particularly where endurance is a component, one can be too strong for the activity.
A few years ago I was helping my brother move. He’d boxed up everything and packed it into a U-haul truck and drove to his new place, and then I unloaded everything for him.
Let’s assume we both did the same amount of work (i.e., we each moved the same number of boxes and the boxes weighed the same). My brother is moderately fit but not strong, certainly not by powerlifter standards – I would estimate he could deadlift 350 as his 1RM. To keep it simple, let’s say that I’m twice as strong as he is, at least in the deadlift.
So there I am, unloading the truck and moving 120 boxes into the house and I started getting tired. More specifically, it was my erectors that were getting tired. How could this be possible if I was twice as strong as him? How could he do the same amount of work without much problem?
Each muscle has a certain number of motor units (a motor nerve and their accompanying muscle fibers) in it. Each motor unit can generate some level of force. Let’s say for simplicity’s sake that we both had 100 motor units in our erectors. Keep in mind that one benefit of training is the trainee learns how to better contract, or turn on, the tougher-to-fire motor units (type IIB), which generate the most strength. Also remember that the boxes didn’t have weights labeled on them, and when moving objects of unknown weight one typically over-contracts to make sure their muscle force overcomes the resistance.
When my brother was loading up the boxes he may have contracted half or fewer of his motor units, and he was likely hitting mainly the slow twitch ones with just a few fast twitch thrown in. These motor units don’t generate much fatigue and these boxes weren’t super heavy – most were likely less than 50 pounds – so a huge level of strength wasn’t required to lift them.
I theorized that I’d be more likely to stimulate the bigger type II motor units, which generate more force but also produce more waste products when they contract. Each individual box likely felt a bit easier to me but rep after rep, my erectors were over-contracting, using too much force per motor unit to get the job done, which ultimately led to the feeling of fatigue.
It’s worth noting that training doesn’t increase the total number of motor units you have; instead it increases how much force each one can produce and how many motor units you can use.
To summarize, my brother might have been contracting 50 of his motor units, each one generating 2 pounds of force, and thus his total level of fatigue wasn’t great. I might have been contracting 65 motor units, each one generating 4 pounds of force, and thus I was working too hard for the task at hand.
So in essence, I believe one can be too strong for certain tasks, especially in relatively low resistance, endurance type activities.

5. The Thing You Kind of Know About Strength

Joint health is extremely important to strength. The body has sensors and proprioceptors throughout its framework to tell it what’s going on. Joint stability and joint integrity is a very important concept for the body. If your joint is in pain, the body will turn off (deactivate) parts of the agonist muscles that cross the joint and produce the movement.
The body does this because the lower levels of force represent a reduced chance of injury to the already fragile joint. This is why, in my opinion, it’s generally not advisable to train through joint pain. Even if you’re tough enough to do it, you’re using less of your muscle so you’ll get compromised results – this is ignoring the fact that the pain is a warning something is wrong and further work might really mess up the joint.
While many factors affect joint health, a big one is joint stability. This is a reason why lifting aids like a belt or a bench shirt have become popular – the belt adds to the stability of the joint by externally stabilizing it. This allows the muscles that cross the joint to contract more strongly (recruiting more motor units) and thus more weight is lifted or more force generated.
This is also why powerlifters who wear gear (bench shirts, squat suits, etc.) often have a hard time calculating how much their gear helps them. In one sense it’s simple – how much can you lift raw versus how much can you lift in gear – but another factor is how much the gear is adding to the stability of the joint and thus allowing the muscles to contract more forcefully.

6. The Thing You Always Read About Strength But Never Take to Heart

Bodyweight has a huge impact on strength. Some exercises are more affected by bodyweight than others, such as the bench press, military press, and squat. It’s not just how much actual muscle or lean mass you have, but simply total bodyweight.
This ties in closely with the point made above. One of the ways to boost joint stability (and thus increase the muscles ability to contract) is to gain weight.
As you gain weight (10 pounds is usually enough to notice a bit of a difference) your surrounding tissues (even if it’s extra fat) will buffer and support the joint, similar in the way that an external wrap would cover and help the joint. This increases stability and in turn increases strength (relative strength may or may not increase, absolute strength almost assuredly will).
I’m not advocating you gain 50 pounds of fat so your bench goes up 10 pounds, but I am suggesting that if you’ve been at a plateau for quite some time (both with your strength and your bodyweight), you might think about allowing yourself to gain weight to see if that allows your strength to increase noticeably.
That increase in turn, tends to make the training more fun, your enthusiasm is renewed, and you always have the option of losing that weight later on and seeing what happens to you.
Take a look at the line-up from the World’s Strongest Man competition. None of them look ready to step onto a bodybuilding stage, but they all look like they’re ready to dominate some serious weight, and that extra bodyweight is increasing their joint stability.

It’s Time For Strength To Shine

8 More Random Thoughts and Training TipsThere you are my friends, 6 interesting tidbits about strength. Some may seem more obvious than others but I’d argue they’re all important. Which points do you agree with or disagree with? Which one’s are new to you? Have you any points of your own?
That’s what the Live Spill is for. See you there.

Sandbags For Strength

Sandbags For Strength

Is the sandbag the key to elite strength and conditioning? Probably not. It isn’t a miracle tool and likely not the missing link between you and strength training glory. However, used properly, sandbags can certainly be an effective adjunct to a solid resistance-training program.
Before you rush out and start stealing sandbags from the stack your neighbor has holding up his kid’s swing-set, you need a rationale for using them. This article will discuss how sandbags can help you build strength, conditioning, and power.
Often regarded as a “poor man’s choice” for strength and conditioning, there’s a distinct split between those that use sandbags (and other odd-shaped lifting devices) and those that train with traditional resistance, namely barbells and dumbbells. For some reason, we rarely find people that consistently work at both ends of the spectrum. Why?
  • It’s difficult to “grease the groove” with sandbag training. Although your technique will undoubtedly improve over time, you’ll still find yourself fighting for most lifts. Most don’t like this.
  • Sandbag training, being unstable and constantly shifting, will prevent you from lifting as much weight as you could on a more fixed device, like a barbell. This means that most who train for absolute strength tend to write them off.
  • Sandbags aren’t always employed for their unique properties. They’re often used for sandbag variations of regular barbell exercises, meaning that serious trainees just end up lifting less weight than normal. As a result, the comparable results between sandbag training and barbell training aren’t that impressive.
If you’re considering adding sandbag lifting into your training program, it’s important to first qualify what it will, and what it won’t do for you.

Functional Fiction

Sandbags For Strength
The annoying functional training “buzz” has come full circle. People are now wise to the fact that the modality used (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, sandbag, etc.) and exercise selected don’t necessarily make it functional. What makes these things functional (and indeed anything) is how they relate to you and your individual needs.
Subsequently, we’re starting to see a return to programs that are more functional for most people. Programs based around good, compound lifts are now common – and this is a great thing.
Does this mean that we should avoid those other “real-life” lifts altogether? I say no, provided we realize why we’re including them in our program.
Most avoid “odd-object” lifting because it’s tough and they find themselves struggling to make many of the lifts, even at moderate loads. For those aiming to increase absolute strength this can become an issue. I’m proposing that you don’t substitute sandbag training for barbell training, but use it as an additional tool.

What Makes The Sandbag Awesome

  • The sandbag is awkward to lift, requiring that you fight hard to perform exercises with it, just like working with a “real-life” object or person. (Hello, mixed martial artists, bouncers, and amateur mud wrestlers.)
  • Sandbags require great levels of grip strength to lift. You’ll find that you naturally grip them in positions like the bear hug, Zercher, or shoulder.
  • The sandbag is malleable. It will adjust to your body and how you’re using it. Like Spiderman’s alter ego Venom, it’s particularly effective in “molding” itself to your body and is perfect for carrying, dragging, and throwing.
  • The sandbag is unstable and will develop great core strength. This is the opposite of most “core” training where the surface you’re standing on is unstable. Working with an unstable object is much more akin to the demands of real life.
  • They’re a great way to push past plateaus. Get used to lifting a 200-pound bag of sand above your head and you’ll be stronger when you go back to the relatively “stable” barbell.
  • Finally, sandbags are inexpensive. They’re perfect for anyone on a budget. Just show up to a riverside community in the weeks following a spring flood – they’ll pay you to take them away!

Integrating Sandbag Training

The simplest way to incorporate sandbag lifting is to use the bag as an alternative to deadlifts, squats, presses, and pulls. This isn’t the most effective use of the sandbag but it will give you a taste of the benefits therein.
How you integrate sandbag training into your strength and conditioning will be highly specific to your own individual needs. The following three options will provide you with some starting points:
  • Substitute an existing session of lifting for sandbag variations. Replace the lifts you’d normally do with a traditional free weight with the sandbag. Do this 1-2 times per month.
  • Add in a unique sandbag lifting session. Use some of the sandbag exercises described below and try a session that’s either strength based (high weight, low rep, long rest periods) or conditioning based (light-moderate weight, moderate-high rep, minimal rest periods).
  • Use sandbags for a sport-specific session. Push it, pull it, drag it, and throw it. Treat it like an opposing shopper at Best Buy on Black Friday and be creative.

Sandbag Exercises

The following exercises will give you the best of what the sandbag has to offer. They’re exercises that you probably wouldn’t normally do, and that’s a good thing!

Sandbag Windmill

Sandbags For Strength

If you’ve ever tried a windmill with a kettlebell or dumbbell you’ll appreciate that it can be a tough exercise. It requires great flexibility, core and shoulder strength. Try it with a sandbag and it goes to a whole new level. The constantly shifting load of the sandbag will challenge your shoulder stability like nothing else.

Sandbag Bear-Hug Load Carry

Sandbags For Strength

This is the type of exercise that the sandbag was designed for. The bear hug will develop the kind of strength that’s difficult to get from regular lifting. Couple this with a load carry (or sprint for supreme conditioning) for a great strength and conditioning exercise. You could move the bag between platforms or chairs, or perhaps set out a course to cover.

Sandbag Floor Press with Bridge

Sandbags For Strength

The floor press is a great exercise for developing pushing strength, and the sandbag version encourages greater development of grip strength and shoulder stability. Plus, you can be creative with it. MMA athletes can try escapes and transitions with the sandbag.

Sandbag Clean and Press

Sandbags For Strength

Lifting a bag of sand above your head is no easy feat, and the added challenge from the sandbag is enough to justify its inclusion in the list.

Wrap Up

There’s absolutely no substitute for the basics, namely barbells and dumbbells. However, just as the Prowler and kettlebells can be effective additions to a solid weight-training program, so can the dirty old sandbag. It might just be the plateau buster you were looking for!

Why You Need More Strength

Why You Need More Strength

Why You Need More Strength

In order to be powerful, you must be strong.
Developing huge levels of muscle force takes a lot of maximal strength, but it’s only after you enhance your ability to quickly reach that peak level of force that you achieve head-turning power.
Power is defined as work divided by time (P=W/T), so in order to become more powerful you must decrease the amount of time it takes you to perform a certain amount of work. Let’s say two guys can achieve the same level of peak force. The guy who can reach that peak force faster is more powerful.
The typical way a strength coach will build a power athlete is with a combination of speed and maximal strength training.
Speed training uses submaximal loads with fast tempos. For example, you’ll put a load on the bar you could lift 10 times but you’ll only perform three super-fast reps.
The goal of speed training isn’t to enhance your peak force, but instead to enhance your ability to reach that peak force in less time. Put another way – speed training won’t increase your maximal strength and this can be problematic for most power athletes.
For the purposes of this discussion, a power athlete is someone whose sport mandates lightning fast movements. Think of a MMA fighter or a running back.
Ironically, the only sport with the word “power” in the description – powerlifting – doesn’t mandate fast movements. Whether it takes you two seconds or eight seconds to lock out the deadlift doesn’t matter; either is acceptable in that sport. Nevertheless, speed work is important in powerlifting. There are two reasons.
First, speed work enhances your ability to reach peak levels of force. The inability to reach max force can cause you to miss the lift. The second reason is because, in most cases, powerlifters aren’t doing anything outside of the gym that challenges their speed. They need to train for speed in their workouts because they’re not getting it anywhere else.
You must be able to tap into your peak force very fast to get bigger and stronger. But this article isn’t an overview of how to train for speed. Eric Cressey already did an excellent job covering that in Training Speed to Get Strong.
Powerlifters aside, most power athletes don’t need additional speed work. They need to develop more maximal strength. That’s the focus of this article.

How to Target Maximal Strength

Maximal strength is your ability to produce the highest level of force possible. Based on motor unit physiology, your ability to maintain maximum continuous force decreases at the 10-second mark. So any set or exercise that lasts longer than 10 seconds of continuous tension isn’t directly training maximal strength.
There are two different ways to increase maximal strength. The first is with those big, compound exercises that you love to do in the gym because you can load plenty of plates on the bar. I’m talking about the deadlift and back squat, among others. You lift heavy, you keep the reps low, and you keep the rest periods long.
The other way to build maximal strength is with high-tension exercises. These exercises don’t require much external load but they’re brutally tough. Heck, in some cases you don’t need any external load before you have to stop.
Two examples include the iron cross on the rings or a body weight glute-ham raise. Most strong athletes can’t complete a single, full range of motion rep of either. So even though there’s no external load, it’s still maximal strength training since you can’t maintain muscle tension for more than 10 seconds.
There’s no new way to build pure strength. You need to lift heavy and use high-tension exercises. Thirty years ago a professional football player would practice to build his game and lift heavy in the gym to build his maximal strength. But then something changed.

The Sport Specific Training Setback

Why You Need More Strength

By the 1990’s, sport specific training became the rage. The concept was simple – try to mimic in the weight room what you’re doing in the sport. That way, what you develop in the gym will directly correlate with an increase in sport-specific performance.
Take a 100-meter sprinter, for example, whose replay video shows a high knee kick throughout the race. His strength coach has him perform a bunch of high knee kicks with a resistance band to build strength in that movement pattern because, well, that’s what the sport shows.
Yet, this type of sport specific training didn’t help. What proof do I have? Well, the progressive strength coaches who ended up removing those crazy exercises out of their athlete’s programs saw no loss in sport performance. In many cases, the athletes actually improved their speed and strength once those fatigue-inducing exercises were put on the shelf.
I was reminded of this fact when I recently met up with sprint strength coach savant, Barry Ross, to talk shop. He’s a guy who’s known for having his athletes perform an extremely basic strength-building program; I mean, really basic. His strength program focuses on building the deadlift and not much else.
A deadlift-focused program for sprinters seems about as far from sport-specific as training can be. Yet Ross consistently produces some of the fastest sprinters in the world.
He doesn’t have his sprinters perform a high knee kick against resistance because he figured out that the high kick was merely a rebound effect from the huge amount of force his sprinters were able to pound into the ground from their monstrous deadlifts.
Another example – back in 1997 I was fortunate to spend time around another legend in the world of strength training, Tim Grover. He’s the guy who trained Michael Jordan throughout his career, in addition to many other top NBA players.
One really smart thing Tim did was measure his players’ average heart rate on the basketball court. He wanted to see it decrease over time as they got further into the off-season strength and conditioning program he set up for them.
Tim didn’t have Jordan or Pippen run up and down the court wearing a weighted vest with ankle weights while shooting a 20-pound basketball. He used basic strength exercises to get them stronger. Grover knew that making his basketball players stronger would allow them to perform jump shots with less effort. This kept their heart rate down and, by default, increased their endurance.
I mention Barry Ross and Tim Grover for a reason. Ross’ athletes only need to run in a straight line for a very short amount of time. Grover’s athletes had to run in multiple directions for a long period of time. Yet both focused on a basic maximal strength-building program to improve their athlete’s performance, and both are hugely successful with their methods. They didn’t fall victim to the sport-specific training nonsense.
The problem with the sport specific training craze is that the exercises weren’t nearly as effective as training the sport itself. Those exercises just accumulated fatigue that kept athletes from practicing at their peak on the field or in the ring.
The idea of taking any sprint, punch or kick and adding resistance to it in order to build sport specific endurance is akin to prescribing a 4/0/2 tempo for the step-up. Both approaches set the strength and conditioning industry back 20 years.

The Fatigue Factor

Why You Need More Strength

Fatigue is the number one enemy of any athlete. Anyone who’s a fighter, or trains fighters, has a clear understanding of how detrimental fatigue can be.
Look, if you’re a running back, fatigue will decrease your agility so you’re more likely to get tackled. That’s not good. However, for MMA fighters, the inability to maintain their reflexes at the end of a fight could be a career ender.
It’s this respect for my fighter’s safety at the end of a fight that made me put such a large emphasis on speed training and sport-specific endurance development when I first started working with them. In those days, half of our training would be speed with endurance work, while the other half was maximal strength training.
But I wasn’t satisfied with their maximal strength development. I knew the problem – they were doing too much overall training throughout the week to recover. So I started tapering off the amount of speed work I had them do. Of course, their maximal strength went up.
And their endurance and explosive strength also went up!
I determined an increase in endurance by their ability to maintain a lower average heart rate while they were sparring. The explosive strength enhancement was determined by an increase in their broad jump score.
Of course, training for nothing but maximal strength won’t make you an endurance athlete. However, when I cut out the speed/endurance exercises, they were able to put more energy into their kickboxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, and boxing.
In other words, they had the extra energy outside of our strength workouts to literally build sport specific endurance by practicing their sport more frequently and with greater intensity. And remember that having higher levels of maximal strength means you can perform the sport with less effort.
The only type of sport specific training worth doing is the sport itself. I like battling ropes for MMA athletes as much as the next guy, but it’s still inferior to letting them spend that energy on actual striking.

3 Guidelines for Training Power Athletes

Why You Need More Strength

Use the deadlift as the ultimate measure of high-load training strength with being able to pull at least a raw double body weight lift with an unmixed grip as the goal. Focus on building the glute-ham raise, iron cross, muscle-up, and handstand push-up from rings for body weight high-tension exercises.
A key with maximal strength training is to rest at least three minutes before repeating an exercise. This doesn’t mean you need to sit around for three minutes, though. Here’s a sample sequence I like for developing the core and posterior chain.

Exercise Reps Rest
1A Pallof press-hold for 10 seconds 60 sec.
1B Deadlift* 2 60 sec.
1C Body weight glute-ham raise ** 60 sec.

Repeat 1A-1C four more times.

If that doesn’t work, add battling ropes, sled work, sprints or something similar into the program, one at a time. Make sure whatever you add in is improving their sparring endurance.

The broad jump is a versatile tool in athletic settings. Not only is it an accurate way to test your potential increase in RFD, but it’s also a good measure of which young athlete might be genetically predisposed to being a great power athlete.
The kid with the longest broad jump is often the one chosen by an Olympic coach who’s looking to build his resume.
In science, all possible variables must be kept consistent through subsequent trials or the data will be skewed. This need for accuracy, of course, is just as important when testing athletes. The biomechanics of the broad jump must be as consistent as possible.
In subsequent trials, if the athlete uses a wider or narrower foot placement, if he’s wearing different shoes, or if he’s jumping from a different surface, you won’t get an accurate measure of his changes in performance.
Testing Surface: Ideally you’ll jump from a hard surface and land on a slightly softer one. Think of a basketball court floor for takeoff and a hard rubber surface like you see in gyms for landing. A surface that’s too soft, however, isn’t helpful either since it’s difficult for the athlete to land solid. It’s not imperative that you land on a softer surface, but if one is available, use it.
Footwear: I usually have my athletes perform the broad jump with bare feet. Any shoe with minimal cushioning will work, too. Avoid testing athletes who are wearing shoes with thick, cushioned soles.
Foot placement: When the athlete is ready to perform a broad jump, measure the distance between the inside of his heels and place two marks on the floor with tape so his heels are the exact same width with each subsequent attempt. Whichever foot placement feels most powerful is what you want to test. That stance width will be slightly different for everyone.
Attempts, Measuring and Calculations: Perform three broad jumps with three minutes of rest between each attempt. If the athlete loses his balance on the landing, it doesn’t count. Wait three minutes and perform another attempt.
Measure from the front of his toes at takeoff to the back of his heel at landing. Measure to the heel that’s closest to the takeoff line if the feet aren’t perfectly even. The longest jump is the one that counts in your data.
Testing frequency: Test the broad jump every four weeks. Ideally, you’ll test it on the same day at the same time with the same warm-up, if you choose to use a warm-up (as little as 10 jumping jacks one minute before the first jump is usually sufficient). The key is to keep whatever warm-up you’re doing consistent over time.
Now, in a perfect world the athlete would refrain from any heavy weight training for two days before testing the broad jump. If you test the broad jump two days after a heavy deadlift the first week, and retest it one day after a heavy deadlift the fourth week, you’re going to skew your data. Be smart with your timing of the broad jump test and try to keep all variables as consistent as possible.
It would be easy to get into a scholarly discussion over what constitutes an ideal broad jump distance. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that your broad jump is consistently increasing over time. Once it stops increasing, add speed exercises into your training program if you feel that’s what’s lacking.

Final Words

This article isn’t a slam on speed training. It has its place. If you’re an avid lifter who doesn’t compete in any sport and wants to get bigger and stronger, traditional speed training should be a part of your program.
However, if you’re a power athlete it’s important to remember that your sport probably gives you all the speed training you need, if you practice it enough.
What you’ll most likely get the greatest benefit from is maximal strength training. This is especially true if your goal is to be the next MMA champion!


Training Speed to Get Strong

Training Speed to Get Strong

Training Speed to Get Strong
Imagine two lifters standing near one another – each with a barbell loaded to 405 pounds on the floor in front of them.
Assume these two are identical in every way – except for one key fact. Lifter A was a high-jumper, but Lifter B got his physique from more traditional bodybuilding methods.
Neither of these guys has ever deadlifted 405 previously.
Which of the two do you put your money on to hit the PR if you don’t know anything else about them?
Ten times out of ten, I take the high jumper – and I’d guarantee you that most folks in the human performance industry would do the same. Why?
Based on his athletic background, you can assume that he’s learned to apply force quickly.
These two might have the exact same peak force capabilities, but the guy who can put force into the ground the quickest to break that bar from the floor stands a better chance of completing the lift.
The take-home message is very simple: learn to apply force quickly and it’ll make you stronger. The optimal approach, however, is not that simple; in fact, it’s different for everyone – and that’s what I’ll cover in this article.

What You Can Learn from the Crazy Father of an Unathletic 14 Year-Old

At Cressey Performance, we train a lot of high school athletes. Roughly once a week, we have a father come in and tell us that his kid needs more “agility training” in his program because he isn’t quite fast enough. I encourage them all to read this article: Make My Kid Run Faster.
The basic gist of the article is that you can do all the speed training you want with a young kid, but unless he has a foundation of strength, it won’t help much at all. It’s the equivalent of swapping out the fuzzy dice in the mirror of a car with no engine.
Sprinting and change-of-direction work involve substantial ground reaction forces, and without adequate strength to provide eccentric control, unprepared bodies turn to mush. You have to have force in order to display force quickly.
How does this apply to incorporating speed work in a strength-training program? Very simply, if you haven’t built a solid foundation of strength, incorporating specific speed work in your program probably won’t do much for you.
What’s a solid foundation of strength? If I had to estimate it based on previous experience, I’d say a 1.5x body weight squat, 1.25x body weight bench press, and 1.75x body weight deadlift.
With folks that aren’t quite at that level who still want to give a passing nod to speed, I typically just recommend that they add a few additional warm-up sets on their first exercise of the day. On these additional sets, their focus is outstanding concentric bar speed in perfect technique. So if a 185-pound guy is working up to squatting 230×3, he might proceed as follows:

A normal work-up for this guy might be 45×8, 95×5, 135×3, 185×3, 205×3 – and then on to his first work set at 230. In this instance, however, he adds an additional three sets of speed work without beating up on his body or adding unnecessary volume that could interfere with his more important work sets.
In the process, he not only gets a chance to practice technique, but also learns that he should always accelerate the bar as fast as possible. The intent to develop force quickly is where it’s at – even if the bar speed isn’t tremendous, that bar speed will come in time.

What Constitutes Speed Work, Anyway?

Training Speed to Get Strong
I’ve seen some blanket recommendations about how to best train bar speed in the weight room, but I’m not sure that there’s one that’s universally accurate. You see, the slower you are (regardless of how much force you can develop), the lower the percentage of one-repetition maximum (1RM) you’ll need to use.
Conversely, the fastest guys usually don’t even need to train speed; their natural reactive ability allows them to just lift heavy stuff and continue to get faster. You can usually identify these naturally fast-twitch guys as people who will absolutely smoke a lift at 99% of their 1RM, but get absolutely stapled by 101%. They either crush a lift or don’t get it at all (whereas most folks will have to grind them all out).
As the saying goes, “It’s easier to make a fast guy strong than it is to make a strong guy fast.” Most folks (myself included) are somewhere in the middle.
With that in mind, I like to let the bar “sound” dictate whether the weight is right. In most cases, if you’re accelerating the bar with good speed, you’ll hear the plates rattle against each other in the strongest portion of the movement.
In fact, a good way to test this out is to simply load up a bar to roughly the weight you think you should use, but use several 2.5- and 5-pound plates in the process, then put the safety clamp about 1″ away from the weights. If you’re smoking big weights, the plates will make some noise – but you won’t get this if the bar is too heavy.
At what weight will this take place? In most cases, 40-70% of 1RM is your best bet. Of course, there are exceptions; as an example, jump squat percentages will be lower because you’re actually leaving the ground. And, of course, the Olympic lifts – which are absolutely fantastic for improving rate of force development – are self-limiting in that if you can’t move the bar fast, you simply won’t complete the lift.
Of course, all the preceding paragraphs assume that you need external loading to improve speed to the point that it’ll carry over to lifting. That’s not necessarily the case.

Ten Ways to Train Speed in Your Strength Training Program

A lot of folks get stuck in a rut when it comes to training speed in the context of strength and conditioning. It seems like everyone’s all about just doing box squats and bench presses – but there really are a number of other options.

  • Sprinting: No equipment needed. It might not carry over perfectly from a specificity standpoint, but running fast will never make you less athletic. In terms of resisted sprinting, I’ve never been a fan of sprinting with parachutes, but we will use sprinting with sleds.
  • Box Jumps: You go up, but don’t come down – so the pounding on the body is minimized. I’ve read of quite a few high-level deadlifters who have utilized box jumps with outstanding success.
  • Countermovement (Vertical) and Broad Jumps: You can do these with body weight only, or against added resistance. Band-resisted broad jumps are arguably my favorite exercise for training posterior chain power.
  • Medicine Ball Drills: These might not carry over from a specificity standpoint, but frankly, people spend too much time in the sagittal plane – and power training is no different. Plus, it’s fun as hell to try to smash medicine balls. You can do overhead, rotational, and scoop variations. I’d also put sledgehammer swings against tires in this category.
  • Non-Sagittal Plane Plyos: Like medicine ball drills, they aren’t necessarily “specific” to lifting, but there will be carryover, and you’ll certainly move better on the whole. We utilize many different variations of heidens with our athletes.
  • Olympic lifts: As noted earlier, assuming you learn proper technique and you have the adequate mobility to perform them correctly, you can’t go wrong with Olympic lifts if you’re trying to improve universal bar speed. Cleans, snatches, high pulls, jerks, you name it; if you’re slow, they can help.
  • Squat Variations: Following the percentage variations I noted above, you have loads of options for variations: different bars (straight bar, giant cambered bar, safety squat bar), free squats, box squats, Anderson squats (from pins or chains), and different forms of accommodating resistances (chains and bands).
  • Deadlift Variations: I increased my deadlift from 510 to 628 in just under a year, and I’m convinced that it had to do with the fact that my programs included speed deadlift variations twice a week for that entire period. You can do conventional, sumo, trap bar, and snatch grip variations.
  • Bench Press Variations: As with the last two examples, variety is easy to include. You can vary grip width, change bars (straight bar, multipurpose bar, thick bar), perform the movement with or without a pause at the bottom, and implement different accommodating resistances.
  • Plyometric or Clap Push-ups: These can be a good change of pace for those who are bored with speed benching – and they can be great exercises to take on the road if you don’t have a lot of equipment at your fingertips.
  • How to Pick the Right Speed Exercises for You

    Speed Training

    Several factors influence which of the above modalities you choose, but the foremost of these factors are a) your goal and b) your current training experience.
    If your goal is to deadlift a Buick, then you need to go with specific options. I’d use speed deadlift variations almost exclusively, and perhaps just use some broad/box jump variations and a bit of hip dominant squatting for speed as variety. Specificity will always rule if lifting heavier weights is the only goal.
    If you’re just an Average Joe trying to get more athletic with some solid carryover to your strength training program, I’d rotate my “speed work” on a monthly basis. Each month, in both the upper and lower body, I’d do one movement with minimal external loading (jumping variation, sprinting, medicine ball work) and another with more appreciable loading (speed box squats, speed deadlifts, or Olympic lifts).
    If you have two upper-body and two lower-body training sessions in each week, you could simply do one in each as the first movement of each session. I’m in this category, and I tend to do one day of speed benches and one day of speed squats or deadlifts per week, then supplement it with a bit of sprinting and some medicine ball throws. In other words, I get some general, and some specific.
    If you’ve got decent speed already, chances are that you can get away with just once a week in both the upper and lower body.
    As you can probably tell, I don’t see any reason to devote specific training sessions, weeks, or entire blocks specifically to training speed. Rather, I see it as one component of a comprehensive program – and something that can be trained alongside other strength qualities in each training block. You might do more of it at certain times than others, but that doesn’t mean it should be performed to the exclusion of everything else; heavy lifting and rep work definitely still has its place!

    When to Include Speed Work

    Training Speed to Get StrongMost of the time, the best place to put your speed drills is first thing in your strength training session, right after the warm-up. In other words, it’d be your “A1.” There are, however, a few exceptions to the rule.
    I’ve often done my speed deadlifting as my “B1” exercise after heavy squatting.
    We’ll also integrate complex training, in which a speed exercise is preceded by a heavier load. In other words, you might do a heavy set of 2-4 reps on a front squat, and then do a set of five countermovement (vertical) jumps within 20-30 seconds.
    You’d rest 2-3 minutes, and then repeat the process. Through a principle known as post-activation potentiation, the heavy loading of the front squat increases neural drive and recruitment of high-threshold motor units, which in turn allows for greater power output on the subsequent task. It can work great, but if you do it all the time, you can burn athletes out.
    Finally, in certain cases, it might be necessary to do a separate speed session altogether. Sprinting and medicine ball work, for instance, may need to take place in a separate location than lifting, so for sake of convenience, you’d just perform those exercises on their own.
    Basically, the idea is to train speed when you’re fresh. Doing a bunch of box jumps at the end of a heavy lower body training session isn’t just unproductive; it’s dangerous.

    Wrapping Up

    Everyone needs speed, but some certainly need to improve in this regard more than others – and some don’t even “qualify” for dedicated speed work because they haven’t already built up a solid foundation. If you use the aforementioned strategies for implementing speed training in your training programs, I’m confident that you’ll start hitting big weights faster than ever.

>8-Week Basic Strength Plan


T NATION | 8-Week Basic Strength Plan

8-Week Basic Strength Plan

Sometimes, the answer is simply that you need to get stronger.
Being stronger in the basic barbell lifts makes everything else you do in the gym easier. It makes it easier to get bigger, build endurance, and perform conditioning work. It’s even easier to cut up when you’re stronger as you can handle a higher load and perform more work in the gym.
Unfortunately, this simple fact – that strength is paramount – has been forgotten in many modern-day programs. Instead, misguided trainees chase a pump or a burn, or do endless high-rep circuits to the point of projectile vomiting. While there’s nothing wrong with some ass-whupping hard work or getting your swole on, these are all of secondary importance to increasing the load.
Just visit any commercial gym to see for yourself. Lots of people lifting, but how many are constantly trying to push more weight? And how many are making noticeable progress?
That’s the purpose of this program – to make you noticeably stronger than you are today in 8 weeks. In turn this will make whatever your long-term goal is (build muscle, lose fat, perform better) easier to accomplish. It really is a no-brainer, provided you do your part.
What I need from you is a simple commitment. You’re required to train hard with weights, three days a week for 90 minutes each day. That’s it. If that’s too big of a commitment for you, then you might want to head off to another site. Craigslist has a fitness forum. Feel free to get your wisdom there in between the ads for concert tickets and escort services.

The routine is as follows:

A Monday, Wednesday, Friday setup works great with this routine but it’s flexible, so pick three days that fit into your schedule. If you just have to be in the gym more frequently, then you can add in some off-day core work, conditioning, foam rolling, stretching, etc., but you should always be fresh and ready for the main lifting day when it comes. If you’re not, reduce the outside work.
Every week is laid out for you. The exercises are presented in the order that they’re to be performed. Only work sets are listed. Warm-up as much as required; a few sets before the first work set of the first exercise is usually sufficient.
Do what’s listed here, no more, no less. If you fail on a main lift on the first week of the program it means you’ve no idea what your 1RM is and you way overestimated it. Only in weeks 3 & 4 and 7 & 8 should you have any chance of failing, and if you set up things properly from the get go you shouldn’t fail in a main lift for the entire two months.
However, that doesn’t mean you won’t work hard, it just means you won’t fail. There’s a difference. Blasting out reps to failure is a helpful way to test strength, not necessarily develop it. The plan here is to reign in the ball busting sets for 8 weeks in exchange for intelligent progressive loading.
But don’t worry, you’ll get a chance to bust ass at week 9, when you show off all the new strength you developed. How much strength? It’s common for an intermediate level lifter to put 10-25 lbs. on their bench and 20-50 lbs. on their squat and deadlift with a routine like this. Think those plates on the bar won’t be noticeable in the mirror? Think again.

Chest and Back

Weeks 1-4

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Bench press 5 sets of 8 @ 60% 1 set of 3 @ 75% 4 sets of 8 @ 65% 1 set of 3 @ 80% 3 sets of 8 @ 70% 1 set of 3 @ 85% 2 sets of 8 @ 75% 1 set of 3 @ 90%
Incline press 5 sets of 8 4 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 2 sets of 8
3-Board press 5 sets of 5 4 sets of 5 3 sets of 5 2 sets of 5
Pull-ups 32 reps Minimum 4 sets 32 reps Minimum 3 sets 32 reps Minimum 2 sets 32 reps Minimum 2 sets
45-degree bent over row 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 8
Dead-stop DB row 3 sets of 12 3 sets of 12 3 sets of 10 3 sets of 10

Weeks 5-8

Exercise Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8
Bench press 5 sets of 5 @ 65% 1 set of 1 @ 80% 4 sets of 5 @ 70% 1 set of 1 @ 85% 3 sets of 5 @ 75% 1 set of 1 @ 90% 2 sets of 5 @ 80% 1 set of 1 @ 95%
Incline press 5 sets of 5 4 sets of 5 3 sets of 5 2 sets of 5
3-Board press 5 sets of 3 4 sets of 3 3 sets of 3 2 sets of 3
Pull-ups 40 reps Minimum 4 sets 40 reps Minimum 3 sets 40 reps Minimum 2 sets 40 reps Minimum 2 sets
45-degree bent over row 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 8
Dead-stop DB row 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 6 3 sets of 6

Legs and Lower Back

Weeks 1-4

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Squat 5 sets of 8 @ 60% 1 set of 3 @ 75% 4 sets of 8 @ 65% 1 set of 3 @ 80% 3 sets of 8 @ 70% 1 set of 3 @ 85% 2 sets of 8 @ 75% 1 set of 3 @ 90%
Deadlift 3 sets of 8 @ 65% 2 sets of 8 @ 65% 1 set of 8 @ 70% 1 set of 8 @ 65% 1 set of 8 @ 75% 1 set of 8 @ 70% 1 set of 8 @ 80%
Leg press 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8
Front squat 5 sets of 8 4 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 2 sets of 8
Glute ham raise 10 reps 12 reps 14 reps 16 reps

Weeks 5-8

Exercise Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8
Squat 5 sets of 5 @ 65% 1 set of 1 @ 80% 4 sets of 5 @ 70% 1 set of 1 @ 85% 3 sets of 5 @ 75% 1 set of 1 @ 90% 2 sets of 5 @ 80% 1 set of 1 @ 95%
Deadlift 3 sets of 5 @ 75% 2 sets of 5 @ 75% 1 set of 5 @ 80% 1 set of 5 @ 75% 1 set of 8 @ 85% 1 set of 5 @ 80% 1 set of 5 @ 90%
Leg press 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8
Front squat 5 sets of 5 4 sets of 5 3 sets of 5 2 sets of 5
Glute ham raise 18 reps 20 reps 22 reps 24 reps

Shoulders and Arms

Weeks 1-4

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Military press 5 sets of 8 4 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 2 sets of 8
Power lateral raise 2 sets of 12 3 sets of 12 4 sets of 12 5 sets of 12
Power rear deltoid raise 2 sets of 12 3 sets of 12 4 sets of 12 5 sets of 12
Close grip bench 5 sets of 8 4 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 2 sets of 8
Pullover skullcrushers 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8
V-grip triceps pushdowns 3 sets of 12 3 sets of 12 3 sets of 12 3 sets of 12
EZ biceps curls 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8, 1 set of 6 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8, 1 set of 6 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8, 1 set of 6 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8, 1 set of 6
Tim’s curls 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 8

Weeks 5-8

Exercise Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8
Military press 5 sets of 5 4 sets of 5 3 sets of 5 2 sets of 5
Power lateral raise 2 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 4 sets of 8 5 sets of 8
Power rear deltoid raise 2 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 4 sets of 8 5 sets of 8
Close grip bench 5 sets of 5 4 sets of 5 3 sets of 5 2 sets of 5
Pullover skullcrushers 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8 1 set of 12, 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8
V-grip triceps pushdowns 3 sets of 12 3 sets of 12 3 sets of 12 3 sets of 12
EZ biceps curls 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8, 1 set of 6 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8, 1 set of 6 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8, 1 set of 6 1 set of 10, 1 set of 8, 1 set of 6
Tim’s curls 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 8

The Exercises

Bench press. You know this one. Touch the chest and press back up. If you’re a powerlifter, you can pause all reps on weeks 5-8 to build strength at the bottom.
Incline bench press. Touch your upper chest, just below the clavicle. These are straight sets (no change in weight each set). Each week try to add 5-10 lbs. Training weights for incline pressing are usually about 80% of bench press loads so use that as a gauge.
3-Board press. Briefly pause the bar on the boards. Straight sets, increasing the weight about 5% each week. (So start light.)
45-degree bent over row. Ascending sets (weight increases each set), about 10% increase each set. Each week the weight should go up 5-10 lbs. per set so it might look like this:

It’s important to start light so you can make continual progress. Straps are okay, so is a little leg kick. I prefer a supinated grip here but overhand is acceptable.
See the video below for a demonstration of form:

Dead-stop DB row. This is similar to a standard one-arm DB row except for each rep the weight is paused on the floor for one full second. This eliminates momentum and provides a nice stretch for the lats. Go a little lighter than normal as the pause increases the difficulty. These are straight sets; do the same weight for two weeks in a row. When the program calls to drop the reps simply increase the weight by 5-10 lbs.
Leg press. These are ascending sets; increase by about 10% each set. Every week go up 5-10 lbs. per set – most males can handle a 10-pound increase per week for the full 8 weeks if they push themselves.
Front squat. Straight sets, each week increase the weight by about 5%. Front squat strength can vary – if this exercise is new to you don’t be afraid to start light. Ultimately, most lifters front squat about 75% of their back squat but don’t rush into that weight until you’re ready.
Glute ham raise. The number given is the total reps to perform; take as many sets as necessary to get there. These are the “knees on the pad” version to hit the hamstrings more. As your strength increases, try to use less total sets to get the number of reps prescribed.
Military press. This is done standing with a barbell, although if necessary you can substitute the seated dumbbell military press if your shoulders doth protest too much. Perform straight sets, increase the weight each week by 5-10 lbs. Most lifters can military press about 60-70% of their bench press as a rough guideline.
Power raises. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and maintain that angle throughout the exercises. These are easier than strict lateral or rear delt raises, so go 5-15 lbs. heavier than normal. Perform straight sets, and use the same weight for each month – increase the volume by adding one set a week to build adaptation.
See the video below for a demonstration:

Close-grip bench press. Take a grip that’s 10-14″ wide from index finger to index finger. (Two fingers on the grip and two fingers on the smooth also works well.) Perform straight sets, increase the weight each week by about 5-15 lbs. Most lifters usually close grip 80-90% of their bench press as a rough guideline.
Pullover skullcrushers. I love these. Combine a pullover motion with a traditional triceps skullcrusher to increase the recruitment of the long head. Use an EZ bar and increase the weight each set by about 10%. Be sure to start light, and go up by 2.5-5 lbs. per set each week. These are easier than regular skull crushers once you master the form.
See the video below for a demonstration:

V-grip triceps pushdowns. Perform straight sets and go up in weight as you feel you can.
EZ biceps curls. Perform ascending sets and increase the weight by about 10% each set. Shoot for an increase of about 2.5-5 lbs. per set each week. A little swing is okay but in the final position your back should not be excessively arched.
Tim’s curls. Perform straight sets and go up 5 lbs. every other week. This is a compound set using dumbbells. Start with a set of supinated curls (perform the twist by at least the halfway point), and then after 30 seconds rest, do a hammer curl for the same number of reps. Rest 90 seconds and repeat for a total of three sets each. The goal is to do the same weight on the hammer curls as the supinated curls, but you can use 5-10 lbs. less if you have to.

Stronger = Better

There are infinite ways to make a program more complicated, but when it comes to getting results, complicated does not equal better. If what you see in the mirror isn’t matching the effort you’re investing, I suggest taking a step back and focusing on the basics. Getting stronger in the old school barbell lifts is never, ever a step backwards. Start this program now and you’re 8 weeks away from real progress.
What’s stopping you?


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