Category Archives: Gain Muscle and Strength

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.

Reasons You’re Not Gaining Muscle

4 Reasons You're Not Gaining Muscle
You hit the gym on a regular basis and you train hard – really hard – but for some reason you’re just not making the gains that you should. All that sweat and effort, and without much to show for it.
If this sounds familiar, chances are you’re making at least one of the four critical mistakes outlined below. The good news is, with just a few simple tweaks to your program you can once again be packing on some serious muscle. Here’s how.

Mistake #1: You’re not varying your rep range.

The optimal number of repetitions for hypertrophy-oriented training is a source of ongoing debate in the fitness field. Although the research is by no means conclusive, evidence indicates that a moderate rep range (approximately 6-12 reps per set) is generally best for maximizing muscle growth.(1)
This is often referred to as “bodybuilding-style training” as it seems to provide the ideal combination of mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress – the three primary factors involved in hypertrophic gains.(2) The problem is, most lifters seem to think this means all training should be carried out in this rep range and thus they rigidly adhere to the same loading patterns. Wrong assumption.
Understand that maximal muscular development is built on a foundation of strength. 
Stronger muscles allow you to use heavier weights, and thus generate greater muscular tension in the moderate repetition ranges that optimally stimulate hypertrophy. By increasing muscle tension without compromising metabolic stress, you’re setting the stage for enhanced growth.
Provided that training is carried out at or near your sub-rep max, lower intensity sets help to increase your lactate threshold, the point at which lactic acid rapidly begins to accumulate in working muscles.
The problem with lactic acid is that beyond a certain point its accumulation interferes with muscle contraction, reducing the number of reps you can perform.(3) (Technical note: it’s actually the H+ component of lactic acid that hastens the onset of muscular fatigue.)
Here’s the good news: Higher rep training increases capillary density and improves muscle buffering capacity, both of which help to delay lactic buildup. The upshot is, you’re able to maintain a greater time under tension at a given hypertrophy-oriented workload. In addition, you develop a greater tolerance for higher volumes of work–an important component for maximizing hypertrophy (see Mistake #2).
Take home message:  This is best carried out in a structured, periodized program. Both undulating and linear periodized approaches can work, depending on your goals. Whatever scheme you employ, though, make sure you include the full spectrum of loading ranges.
Sure, hypertrophy training is probably best achieved with moderate rep sets, but higher and lower intensities are nevertheless important for optimizing muscular development.

Mistake #2: You’re not using sufficient volume.

4 Reasons You're Not Gaining Muscle
Back in the 1970’s, Arthur Jones popularized the so-called high-intensity training (HIT) approach to building muscle. HIT is based on the premise that only a single set of an exercise is necessary to stimulate growth, provided you train to the point of momentary concentric muscular failure.
According to HIT dogma, performing additional sets beyond this first set is superfluous and perhaps even counterproductive to muscle development. Other prominent industry leaders such as Mike Mentzer and Ellington Darden subsequently followed Jones’s lead and embraced the HIT philosophy, resulting in a surge in its popularity. To this day, HIT continues to enjoy an ardent following.
Now before I get accused of being anti-HIT, I’ll readily admit that it’s a viable training strategy. There’s no denying that it can help build appreciable muscle. And if you’re time-pressed, it can provide an efficient and effective workout. That said, if your goal is to maximize muscle development, HIT simply doesn’t do the trick. You need a higher training volume. Substantially higher.
The prevailing body of research consistently shows that multiple set protocols are superior to single set protocols for increasing strength and size. Recent meta-analyses published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research show that multiple set training results in 46% greater increases in strength and 40% greater increases in muscle growth when compared to single-set protocols.(4, 5)
Whether the hypertrophic superiority of multiple sets is due to greater total muscle tension, muscle damage, metabolic stress, or some combination of these factors isn’t clear. What’s readily apparent is that multiple sets are a must if you want to maximize your muscular potential. Problem is, even if you employ multiple sets it’s very possible you’re still not training with sufficient volume.
The optimal number of sets needed to elicit superior growth will vary from person to person and depend on a host of individual factors such as genetics, recuperative ability, training experience, and nutritional status.
But individual response is only part of the equation. The size of a given muscle also has relevance. Larger muscle groups such as the back and thighs need a higher volume than the smaller muscles of the arms and calves (which, by the way, also get significant ancillary work during multi-joint exercises).
Another important consideration here is the structure of your program. All things being equal, training with a split routine allows for a greater daily training volume per muscle group versus a total body routine.
And if you do indeed follow a training split, the composition of your split will influence training daily volume (i.e., a 3-day split allows for a greater volume per muscle group compared with a 2-day split). Accordingly, training volume is best determined on a weekly basis as opposed to a single session.
Whatever your target weekly volume, optimal results are achieved by taking a periodized approach where the number of sets are strategically manipulated over the course of a training cycle. Understand that repeatedly training with high volumes will inevitably lead to overtraining.
In fact, evidence shows that volume has an even greater correlation with overtraining than intensity.(6) Only by embracing periodization can you reap the benefits of a high training volume while avoiding the dreaded overtrained state.
Here’s a periodized strategy that I’ve found to be highly effective. Let’s say you’ve determined that your maximum weekly volume should entail performing 18-20 sets per muscle group. 
Follow this with a brief period of unloading or active recovery to facilitate restoration and rejuvenation. Given that it generally takes one to two weeks for the full effects of supercompensation to manifest after completion of an overreaching cycle, you should realize optimal muscular gains sometime during the restorative period.

Mistake #3: You’re not adhering to the principle of specificity.

4 Reasons You're Not Gaining Muscle
Most lifters don’t just want to get big, they also want to get leaner in the process. During the initial stages of training, this is a viable goal. Beginners can pack on serious muscle while simultaneously losing body fat without much of a problem.
The same applies for those with significant weight to lose (more than 30 pounds or so), as well as regular lifters who’ve taken an extended break from the gym. And yes, pharmacologic enhancement also will enable you to get huge and shredded in a hurry.
But if you’ve been training for more than a year or so, are fairly lean, and not “anabolically enhanced,” the quest to gain muscle while shedding fat becomes exceedingly difficult. At a certain point, you ultimately need to choose between one or the other.
If your choice is to bulk up, then this needs to be your training focus; otherwise results will be compromised. And this entails reevaluating how much aerobic exercise you perform.
The issue with concurrent training (i.e., combining resistance exercise and aerobics) is that it can interfere with the processes that drive anabolism. This is consistent with the AMPK-PKB switch hypothesis, which postulates that endurance and strength-related exercise activate and suppress distinct genes and signaling pathways, and these pathways have conflicting actions.(7)
Specifically, aerobic exercise regulates AMPK (adenosine monophosphate kinase), which is associated with pathways involved in carbohydrate and fatty acid metabolism. This of course has beneficial effects on fat loss.
Problem is, AMPK also inhibits activation of PKB-mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin), an anabolic pathway that’s critical to protein synthesis and thus muscle building.
Now this doesn’t necessarily mean you should refrain from performing any cardio. While evidence supports the concept of an AMPK-PKB switch, recent research shows that it’s overly simplistic. Instead of a “switch,” adaptations between aerobic endurance exercise and resistance training appear to take place along a continuum, whereby substantial overlap exists between pathways.(8)
So while frequent, lengthy cardio sessions are bound to compromise muscle development, a more moderate aerobic routine likely won’t. And if nothing else, cardio is certainly good for your health and well being.
How much cardio is too much? Impossible to say. As with all aspects of exercise, individual response will vary based upon numerous genetic and lifestyle factors. Remember, too, that everyone has an upper limit to how much exercise they can tolerate before overtraining sets in.
Add in a cardio component to your routine and you increase the total amount of exercise-related stress placed on your body. At some point, these stresses can interfere with your recuperative abilities and bring about an overtrained state.
So for those looking to maximize muscle growth, the best advice is to err on the side of caution and limit the frequency, intensity, and duration of your aerobic sessions.  but again this will vary from person to person. Monitor your progress, stay in tune with any signs of overtraining, and tweak your program as needed.

Mistake #4: You’re not taking in enough calories.

This mistake goes hand in hand with Mistake #3. In an attempt to get shredded while packing on mass, lifters will frequently restrict caloric intake while continuing to lift hard and heavy. Bad idea.
As previously noted, losing fat while gaining muscle is improbable for well-trained, natural lifters. If you fall into this category, it’s imperative that you consume a surplus of calories in order to support muscle growth.
This is consistent with the first law of thermodynamics, which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; only changed from one form to another. Simply stated, take in more calories than you expend and the excess energy will be stored in the form of body mass.
All-too-often lifters will take this to mean that it’s okay to eat everything in sight. This is consistent with the old-school “bulking” and “cutting” cycles where bodybuilders would scarf down massive quantities of food to get as big as possible and then go on an extreme diet with calories cut to starvation levels.
. Sure, you do gain muscle, too, but much of that is catabolized during the subsequent dieting process.
When all’s said and done, you’re lucky to retain half of your muscular gains. Worse, repeated cycles of bulking and cutting can reset your biological “set point,” leading to higher body fat levels in future cycles.(9) Bottom line, it’s simply not a smart nutritional strategy.
So what is an ideal caloric consumption for building muscle without porking up like a Sumo wrestler?  If you’re a 200-pound guy, this equates to a target caloric intake of about 3600 to 4000 calories a day.
Those who are endomorphs typically do better with slightly lower calories, while those who are ectomorphic usually need a higher energy intake; as much as 25 calories per pound for extreme hard-gainers.
Once you settle on a given caloric intake, monitor results over time and adjust consumption according to your individual response. If you’ve been lifting for a while, a realistic goal is to gain 1-2 pounds per month when focusing on mass-building.


If your muscular development has stagnated, it’s likely you’re making one of the aforementioned mistakes – perhaps you’re even a multiple offender. Fortunately, you’re not doomed to remain in a training rut. Identify the errors of your ways and then employ the solutions discussed above; you’ll soon be back on track to getting the most out of your muscular potential.


1. Wernbom M, Augustsson J, Thomee R. The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode of strength training on whole muscle cross-sectional area in humans. Sports Med. 2007;37(3):225-64.
2. Schoenfeld BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2857-72.
3. Debold EP. Recent insights into the molecular basis of muscular fatigue. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Feb 9.
4. Krieger JW. Single vs. multiple sets of resistance exercise for muscle hypertrophy: A meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Apr;24(4):1150-9.
5. Krieger JW. Single versus multiple sets of resistance exercise: A meta-regression. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Sep;23(6):1890-901.
6. Kreider RB, Fry AC, O’Toole ML, editors. Overtraining in sport.
. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 1998.
7. Atherton PJ, Babraj J, Smith K, Singh J, Rennie MJ, Wackerhage H. Selective activation of AMPK-PGC-1alpha or PKB-TSC2-mTOR signaling can explain specific adaptive responses to endurance or resistance training-like electrical muscle stimulation. FASEB J. 2005 May;19(7):786-8.
8. Gibala M. Molecular responses to high-intensity interval exercise. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009 Jun;34(3):428-32.
9. Nagaoka D, Mitsuhashi Y, Angell R, Bigley KE, Bauer JE. Re-induction of obese body weight occurs more rapidly and at lower caloric intake in beagles. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2010 Jun;94(3):287-92.

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!


>The Truth Behind 7 Muscle Myths


By: Scott Quill

The guy lifting beside you looks like he should write the book on muscle. Talks like it, too. He’s worked out since the seventh grade, he played D-1 football, and he’s big.

But that doesn’t mean he knows what he’s talking about. Starting now, ignore him.

The gym is infested with bad information. Lies that start with well-intentioned gym teachers trickle down to students who become coaches, trainers, or know-it-all gym-rat preachers. Lies morph into myths that endure because we don’t ask questions, for fear of looking stupid.

Scientists, on the other hand, gladly look stupid—that’s why they’re so darn smart. Plus, they have cool human-performance laboratories where they can prove or disprove theories and myths.

Here’s what top exercise scientists and expert trainers have to say about the crap that’s passed around in gyms. Listen up and learn. Then go ahead, question it.

Slow Lifting Builds Huge Muscles
Lifting super slowly produces superlong workouts—and that’s it. University of Alabama researchers recently studied two groups of lifters doing a 29-minute workout. One group performed exercises using a 5-second up phase and a 10-second down phase, the other a more traditional approach of 1 second up and 1 second down. The faster group burned 71 percent more calories and lifted 250 percent more weight than the superslow lifters.

The real expert says: “The best increases in strength are achieved by doing the up phase as rapidly as possible,” says Gary Hunter, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., the lead study author. “Lower the weight more slowly and under control.” There’s greater potential for growth during the lowering phase, and when you lower with control, there’s less chance of injury.

More Protein Builds More Muscle
To a point, sure. But put down the shake for a sec. Protein promotes the muscle-building process, called protein synthesis, “but you don’t need exorbitant amounts to do this,” says John Ivy, Ph.D., coauthor of Nutrient Timing.

If you’re working out hard, consuming more than 0.9 to 1.25 grams of protein per pound of body weight is a waste. Excess protein breaks down into amino acids and nitrogen, which are either excreted or converted into carbohydrates and stored.

The real expert says: More important is when you consume protein, and that you have the right balance of carbohydrates with it. Have a postworkout shake of three parts carbohydrates and one part protein.

Eat a meal several hours later, and then reverse that ratio in your snack after another few hours, says Ivy. “This will keep protein synthesis going by maintaining high amino acid concentrations in the blood.”

Squats Kill Your Knees
And cotton swabs are dangerous when you push them too far into your ears. It’s a matter of knowing what you’re doing.

A recent study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that “open-chain” exercises—those in which a single joint is activated, such as the leg extension—are potentially more dangerous than closed-chain moves—those that engage multiple joints, such as the squat and the leg press.

The study found that leg extensions activate your quadriceps muscles slightly independently of each other, and just a 5-millisecond difference in activation causes uneven compression between the patella (kneecap) and thighbone, says Anki Stensdotter, the lead study author.

The real expert says: “The knee joint is controlled by the quadriceps and the hamstrings. Balanced muscle activity keeps the patella in place and appears to be more easily attained in closed-chain exercises,” says Stensdotter.

To squat safely, hold your back as upright as possible and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor (or at least as far as you can go without discomfort in your knees).

Try front squats if you find yourself leaning forward. Although it’s a more advanced move, the weight rests on the fronts of your shoulders, helping to keep your back upright, Stensdotter says.

Never Exercise a Sore Muscle
Before you skip that workout, determine how sore you really are. “If your muscle is sore to the touch or the soreness limits your range of motion, it’s best that you give the muscle at least another day of rest,” says Alan Mikesky, Ph.D., director of the human performance and biomechanics laboratory at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.

In less severe instances, an “active rest” involving light aerobic activity and stretching, and even light lifting, can help alleviate some of the soreness. “Light activity stimulates bloodflow through the muscles, which removes waste products to help in the repair process,” says David Docherty, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at the University of Victoria in Canada.

The real expert says: If you’re not sore to the touch and you have your full range of motion, go to the gym. Start with 10 minutes of cycling, then exercise the achy muscle by performing no more than three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions using a weight that’s no heavier than 30 percent of your one-rep maximum, says Docherty.

Stretching Prevents Injuries
Maybe if you’re a figure skater. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed more than 350 studies and articles examining the relationship between stretching and injuries and concluded that stretching during a warmup has little effect on injury prevention.

“Stretching increases flexibility, but most injuries occur within the normal range of motion,” says Julie Gilchrist, M.D., one of the study’s researchers. “Stretching and warming up have just gone together for decades. It’s simply what’s done, and it hasn’t been approached through rigorous science.”

The real expert says: Warming up is what prevents injury, by slowly increasing your bloodflow and giving your muscles a chance to prepare for the upcoming activity. To this end, Dr. Gilchrist suggests a thorough warmup, as well as conditioning for your particular sport.

Of course, flexibility is a good thing. If you need to increase yours so it’s in the normal range (touching your toes without bending your knees, for instance), do your stretching when your muscles are already warm.

Use Swiss Balls, Not Benches
Don’t abandon your trusty bench for exercises like the chest press and shoulder press if your goal is strength and size. “The reason people are using the ball and getting gains is because they’re weak as kittens to begin with,” says Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S. You have to reduce the weight in order to press on a Swiss ball, and this means you get less out of the exercise, he says.

The real expert says: A Swiss ball is great for variety, but center your chest and shoulder routines on exercises that are performed on a stable surface, Ballantyne says. Then use the ball to work your abs.

Always Use Free Weights
Sometimes machines can build muscle better—for instance, when you need to isolate specific muscles after an injury, or when you’re too inexperienced to perform a free-weight exercise.

If you can’t complete a pullup, you won’t build your back muscles. So do lat pulldowns to develop strength in this range of motion, says Greg Haff, Ph.D., director of the strength research laboratory at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.

The real expert says: “Initially, novice athletes will see benefits with either machines or free weights, but as you become more trained, free weights should make up the major portion of your training program,” says Haff.

Free-weight exercises mimic athletic moves and generally activate more muscle mass. If you’re a seasoned lifter, free weights are your best tools to build strength or burn fat.


>Strong in the Stretch:5 Exercises for Size, Strength, and Mobility


Step into a commercial gym around 5 PM any day of the week. Sure you’ll come across some “strong” people who can lift heavy weights, but if you take a closer look, it’ll become painfully obvious that most meatheads have simply lost the ability to move with any semblance of fluidity.
Poor daily posture leads to tight, inhibited muscles, which leads to poor movement, which then compounds the issue, which killed the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built…and eventually we’re left with serious inefficiencies and often injuries.
As avid T NATIONers, we know training to be anything but thoughtless and poorly contrived. We train hard week in and week out, and as readers we’re privy to a constant flow of solid information and training advice, but no matter what our focus in the gym consists of, we come to T NATION to separate ourselves from the “regular folk” who are simply sheep in the flock.
Touching back on my original thought, however, many of us don’t realize that the focus on mobility can elude us and when it does, it’s something that can be very difficult to recapture.
This article isn’t intended for you to change your approach to training, or to take away from your main lifts. However, many of these exercises can replace current techniques you use now, and with a little hard work and effort they can help take you to higher levels of strength and movement.
This short list is something you can incorporate in your current program that will help you lengthen your range of motion, build size and strength, and oh yeah, hurt like hell.

1. The Long Duration Sumo Squat Hold

This is a great foundational exercise but can double as much more. In our young athletes, it teaches proper squat technique in regards to the pelvis and spine, and the kids find out how much mental toughness they have, fast. It’s pure hell, and it’s the last thing our athletes do on Fridays before they go home. In fact, they often crawl out of here!
The holds are between 45 and 60 seconds and we do them for 3-4 sets.
The better you become at this movement, the more gravity just keeps assisting you into a deeper hold. You’ll soon see some dramatic changes in hip mobility.
For anyone looking for size, loads and long times under tension can provide a great breeding ground for some new muscle.

2. The Dumbbell Iso-Dynamic Elevated Split Squat

This exercise is based on the standard split squat, just adding a couple of boxes to elevate both feet. By standing on boxes you’ll allow for greater range of motion and that’s precisely the goal of the exercise.
The athlete pulls himself deeper into the hole with each rep (3-5 second holds). This not only hammers away at those pesky tight hip flexors, it also develops a great amount of starting strength by working the athlete in his greatest (and weakest) joint angles.
If you’re looking for some serious upper leg development, then try a few heavy sets of these and feel sore in some places you didn’t even know existed!

3. Elevated Barbell Reverse Lunge

This is without a doubt one of my favorite exercises for developing the glutes, hams, and adductors.
If you’re new to these be careful on your volume initially as you may find it hard to walk for a few days. Not only do they provide a tremendous strengthening effect on the front leg, but the dynamic flexibility component they provide to the rear leg hip flexor and rectus is incredible.
In some cases when we’re focusing on the range of motion in the rear leg, we have the athlete bring the rear leg all the way through and up to waist height (you’ll end in a position similar to a step up, with one leg on the box and the other knee driven up).

4. Iso-Dynamic Band Resisted Push-up

This exercise can be very humbling when you’re not used to full ranges of motion.
The video below will show a 320 + lbs. bencher struggling on the sixth rep of a push up. The reason for the difficulty is the combination of the extreme joint angle (weakest point) and the accommodating resistance of the bands.
In my opinion, the deep isometric push up is one of the best scapular retraction exercises out there. By lengthening the anterior shoulder and pecs, you place the muscles that move the scapulae in the best leverage position to contract maximally.
For people who have naturally poor posture or jobs that require them to sit in poor posture all day, this exercise can be just the thing to help even out their overworked anterior body.
Besides postural benefits, this exercise can be great at developing strength and size in the upper back and will allow the anterior portion of the shoulder to get a solid stretch that could also translate into better recovery and muscle production.

5. Band Resisted Iso-Dynamic Chin-Up

This may be the most difficult one in terms of perceived difficulty because it’s the only exercise that’s RESISTED by gravity instead of assisted. To make it worse, gravity won’t be the only thing pulling you back down to earth.
Place a band around your waist and have a partner stand on the band. Alternately, you can hook the band under a rack or dumbbell.
While in the hanging position, squeeze/contract the muscles of your chest and triceps as hard as possible, which will protect the shoulders and allow the major muscles of the back to lengthen.
After a short hold (3-5 seconds), pull up with as much speed and power as possible. The band will kick in near the top and slow you down to a snail’s pace. The answer to overcoming the added resistance? Pull HARDER. It’s just you against the band, and of course Sir Isaac Newton’s old buddy, gravity.

To reiterate, again I’m not trying to tell you what you’re doing is wrong or that you need to replace all of your trusty go-to lifts with these options. I’m merely offering alternatives, ones that I think are of great importance and value to any serious lifter.
If you want to continue to train hard and heavy, there will someday come a time when quality of movement must be prioritized. Why not start now?


1. Buchenholz, Dietrich. The Best Sports Training Book Ever. Inno-Sport Group, 2003. Print.
2. Shroeder, Jay. “Iso-Extreme Lecture Notes.” Be Athletic Seminar. College of the Holy Cross, Worcester. Lecture.
3. Uram, Paul, and Dave McKinnis. Refining Human Movement. Butler, PA: Paul Uram, 1971. Print.
4. Verkhoshansky, Yuri Vitalievitch., and Mel Cunningham. Siff. Supertraining. Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky, 2009. Print.


3 Ways to Immediately Boost Your Strength

Imagine this scenario. You’re sitting in the audience at a strength and conditioning conference, there to learn a thing or two about building bigger, stronger muscles, and the speaker calls you up to the podium.
The speaker has a barbell onstage with a stack of plates next to it. He tells you that you’re going to test your maximum strength for the deadlift in front of the audience.
You’re a little nervous, but you get yourself onstage and go through a typical warm-up that consists of a handful of sets with progressively heavier weights. You’re not a powerlifter, just a regular gym rat, so you know the pull isn’t going to impress anyone in the powerlifting game. But you don’t care. You’re in front of a couple hundred people and this is your time to shine.
After a few minutes you’ve got the weight dialed in. With all the effort you can muster you manage to pull 350 pounds. This load, clearly evident to yourself and anyone watching, is your true one repetition maximum. Five more pounds and you would’ve failed.
“Not bad,” says the speaker. “And guess what? Today is your lucky day. Let’s see if you can pull more weight with motivation from some dead Presidents.”
The speaker reaches behind the podium and pulls out a briefcase, opens it, and shows you a million bucks – cash. This isn’t that snooze-fest television, Deal or No Deal – this is the real deal and you know it.
“All you have to do is pull 20 more pounds and the cash is yours,” the speaker says. He throws another 10-pound plate on each side of the 350-pound barbell, now making it 370 pounds, and smiles.
Think you could pull that extra 20 pounds for a million bucks? Of course you could!
With most things in life, though, reward doesn’t come without risk. This contest is no exception. You just took a million from the speaker and he wants to up the ante in order to get it back. I mean, really up the ante.
So he reaches behind the podium and pulls out a chainsaw. Like a scene straight out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he fires up the gas-filled tree killer, hoists it in the air, and swings it around while belting out a hellacious howl. You’re not sure what’s on the line, but you’re damn sure whatever it is ain’t good.
You were right.
The speaker looks you dead in the eyes, and with a tone that makes Johnny Cash sound like Alvin the Chipmunk, he passes on this little gem.
“You must add another 20 pounds to your deadlift or I’m going to cut off both of your legs.”
You and your legs don’t doubt his dedication to the chainsaw swinging craft, so you decide it’s best to proceed. After all, that half-inch you added to your calves didn’t come easy, and your vastus medialis muscles have been looking pretty impressive in those board shorts your girlfriend bought you at Patagonia.
The speaker adds 20 more pounds to the bar, making it 40 pounds heavier than when you started, and then gives you a nod while gripping the chainsaw with the most ominous look you’ve ever seen.
Now, here’s my question: Do you think you could pull those extra 20 pounds if your God-given wheels were on the line?
I’d be willing to bet both my legs, my arms, and my autographed Miley Cyrus poster that you could.
Why? Read on.
Release The Brake
When I speak at a seminar my goal is to leave the attendees with a few bits of information they’ll never forget.
While in graduate school one of my professors had the reputation for being able to talk about virtually anything and make it sound exciting. (I guess such a gift for gab is necessary when your goal is to make people giddy over the sodium/potassium pump.) But he was also very effective since his students, myself included, would retain most of what he taught.
Of course, I frequently asked him for advice before I had to speak in front of grad students and professors. He’d say, “Waterbury, you must tell them what you’re gonna tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them.”
Repeat whatever is important at least three times, in other words.
When I give a presentation about the nervous system to a good group of trainers, coaches, and athletes what do I usually tell them three, four, maybe 10 times?
The nervous system is akin to a parking brake that’s partially engaged on your muscles.
And this is why my introduction, no matter how far-fetched it might seem, is important to appreciate. There’s no better way to instantly boost your strength than to get really motivated, or scared to death. Indeed, neuroscientists like to amuse themselves by saying that lunatics, people who are drowning, or those suffering from tetanus are extremely powerful.
They are.
Why? Because in any of the three cases the nervous system is running full speed ahead. It’s not because the people are powerlifters or gifted strength athletes, it’s because their nervous system has released its brake and put a plethora of neural drive straight to the muscles.
Release that brake and you’ll get stronger and recruit more muscle fibers – instantly!
So, the question is, how do you release the brake without risking a limb or two? I wish I could motivate you with a million bucks because you’d have newfound respect for the nervous system, but since I can’t, these are the next best ways.
1. Light The Fire
Before you pull a heavy lift; before you start your first warm-up set; heck, before you even step foot in the gym your nervous system must be ready for action. If it’s not you’ll be relegated to playing catch up as you wait for your nervous system to turn on. You must walk into the gym and feel like you’re ready to chew on rusty nails.
The simplest way to enhance your focus and nervous system output is to drink a cup of black coffee about 30 minutes before your workout. This only works if you don’t drink a lot of coffee to begin with, and it doesn’t work equally well for everyone (coffee, believe it or not, puts me to sleep).
If coffee isn’t your thing try Spike by Biotest. Take one tablet 30 minutes before training, or drink half a can of their liquid version that you can find in 7-11. This will boost neurotransmitters, alertness, and strength.
2. Secure Your Foundation
Okay, so now your nervous system has been lit up with a pre-workout stimulant. For most people, that’s enough to add some appreciable weight and intensity to the workout. Now you can take it a step further. Your next job is to let the nervous system know your body isn’t going to crumble when it releases the brake to your muscles.
As any good engineer will tell you, the foundation must support the building. If you own a 10-story building and feel the need to add five more floors on top of it, the foundation must be able to support the extra burden. With regard to strength training, I’m talking about the added stress that comes from putting more load on your muscles and joints.
Your support system comes from your glutes, abdominal wall, and lats. When these muscle groups fire together it forms a super-stiff foundation to support whatever lift you’re pulling. That’s why Dr. Stuart McGill calls the synchronous firing of the glutes, abdominal wall, and lats, “super stiffness.” When these muscles fire together, the nervous system will release more neural input to all your muscles. This is why boosting your squat will also enhance your bench press.
Putting your body in super stiffness mode is simple. You only need two exercises to do it. Start with two sets of three reps for the Romanian deadlift. Be sure to lock out your hips and squeeze the glutes as hard as possible at the top of each rep. Then, do two sets of three reps for the ab wheel-rollout exercise. These two exercises should not waste you of any energy so there’s no need to go for a max lift, especially with the Romanian deadlift. The goal is to simply add tension and neural input to the right muscles in order to strengthen your foundation before training.
To ramp up your nervous system, do this before your strength workout:
Romanian Deadlift
Sets: 2
Reps: 3
Load: moderately heavy (a weight you could normally lift 7 or 8 times)
Ab wheel-rollout
Sets: 2
Reps: 3
Load: body weight
3. Harness the Power of a SMH 
At this point your neurotransmitters are pouring out, and your foundation is strong and solid. The nervous system is approaching its apex of neural output. Now you just need one more boost to release that proverbial parking brake.
The most effective technique I’ve ever used to instantly boost strength is the supramaximal hold (SMH). It’s a key component of my Total Strength Program program in Muscle Revolution and it’s also used in the advanced strength phases of Huge in a Hurry.
Put simply, you’ll hold a weight near lockout that’s more than you could ever lift through a full range of motion. This tricks your nervous system into releasing more neural drive to your muscles. In essence, your brain thinks you’re really going to try and lift that monstrous load so it releases the brake on your muscles. There are many mechanisms at work – some that are still ambiguous – when you hold a supramaximal load, but one of the most well-documented is postactivation potentiation. Research by Baudry and Duchateau have demonstrated the power of it.
The SMH serves as a conditioning contraction – a primer for your muscles, in other words. For all you science buffs, postactivation potentiation increases the number of cross bridges that attach by increasing the sensitivity of contractile proteins to ionized calcium.(1) This allows the muscles to produce more force. However, the effect only lasts for about a minute, so you’ve got to get straight to your work set after the SMH is finished.
The SMH works awesome, but it’s pretty taxing to your system so you must limit the amount of times you do it. It’s best to use the SMH for exercises that give you the most bang for your buck. It’s perfect for squats, deadlifts, and presses. Curls and kickbacks, not so much.
An excellent workout to reap the benefits of the SMH is the deadlift and seated shoulder press. For each lift you’ll hold 120% of your one repetition maximum near lockout for 6-8 seconds. It’s important to use the power rack with pins set just below lockout for both exercises. Within 30 seconds of finishing the hold you’ll crank out as many full range of motion reps as you can with approximately 85% of your one repetition maximum (this number doesn’t have to be exact, just a ballpark estimate).
1A Deadlift SMH
Load: 120% of full range of motion maximum
Duration of hold: 6-8 seconds
Rest 30 seconds
1B Deadlift (full range of motion)
Load: ~85% of 1RM
Reps: as many as possible
Rest 120 seconds and repeat 1A and 1B pairing three more times
2A Seated Shoulder Press SMH
Load: 120% of full range of motion maximum
Duration of hold: 6-8 seconds
Rest 30 seconds
2B Seated Shoulder Press (full range of motion)
Load: ~85% of 1RM
Reps: as many as possible
Rest 120 seconds and repeat 2A and 2B pairing three more times
This workout looks deceptively simple, but it’ll take a lot out of you. However, it’ll add strength and muscle fast. Feel free to add a few less demanding exercises at the end. Do this workout twice per week (Monday and Friday). On Wednesday, use more traditional strength building methods such as 5 sets of 5 reps, without the SMH.
You’ll benefit by using steps #1 and #2 before all your workouts. Step #3, the SMH, should be reserved for the times when your nutrition and recovery is really dialed in. However, keep the SMH in your arsenal to boost big lifts while your nervous system learns that you’re ready for more strength and muscle.
1. Baudry and Duchateau. J Appl Physiol. 102: 1394-1401, 2007.
Stay focused,


Full Body Training Part 2: Gain Muscle and Strength

In part 1 I outlined three of the reasons why full body training is so effective, along with cool sample workouts. Now I’m going to show you how to design a total body program with two specific goals in mind: muscle growth or maximal strength gain. I don’t know any natural guy who thinks he’s too big and strong.
Before I get to that, let me quickly touch on one reason why there’s so much controversy surrounding the body part split vs. full body training debate.
You see, it’s common for people to look for training advice from the biggest guy in the room. That’s why every guy who’s looking to build muscle wants to know how Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, or Jay Cutler trains. That’s exactly what I wanted to know back in my teens. And many bodybuilders with massive amounts of muscle follow some type of body part split. Yet, I’m telling you that a full body training program is the best way to build muscle.
Why the discrepancy?
First, and most obvious, is the fact that every top bodybuilder uses huge amounts of steroids and is a genetic freak. These guys can build muscle on virtually any type of program – but that’s not really important. What’s important to remember is that a bodybuilder is near his genetic limit of muscle growth (even with boatloads of steroids in the equation), so to gain muscle he has to go through extreme levels of training to add an extra 8-10 pounds to his frame.
If a pro bodybuilder wants to add a half-inch to his 19″ arms he has to train them with an insane amount of intensity and volume because, as I said, he’s near his genetic limit. By default, a bodybuilder will follow a body part split because a full body workout simply isn’t possible when you need that much volume and intensity.
So for the other 99.9% of guys out there. I’m talking about natural guys with average genetics who still have plenty of muscle left hidden in their physiology, full body training is the way to go. I’ve experimented with every type of training system out there over the last 16 years. If a body part split added muscle and strength fastest, or if it was best for fat loss, I’d be extolling the virtues of it right now. After all, I don’t own any stock in a full body training company.
Make no mistake about it: if a million bucks were on the line to transform a natural lifter as fast as possible, even the biggest proponents of body part splits would have the person follow a full body program.
Body part splits are for elite bodybuilders that just need to add muscle to specific areas of their body. If you’re someone who needs to add 15 or 20 pounds of muscle to your entire frame, a full body program will get you there in one-third of the time that a body part split takes.
Now, let’s get to the good stuff: training.
Full Body for Strength
When strength is the goal you must lift heavy. I prefer three reps per set with the heaviest load you can handle. The overall volume of the workout must be kept low so your body can recover within 48-72 hours. For rest, I recommend following a circuit style of training because by the time you repeat an exercise you’ve had a few minutes of rest.
One big misconception about rest periods is that they must be passive. To get three minutes of rest between sets of deadlifts you shouldn’t just sit around for three minutes because it’s a waste of time. Furthermore, sitting down for minutes at a time doesn’t help. You could be training upper body movements during that time without any negative impact on your recovery between sets of deadlifts.
Here’s a sample workout for strength.
Load: 3RM for all sets. You can adjust the weight up or down with each round, the weight doesn’t have to be static. It should be the heaviest load you can handle for 3 reps.
1A Upper body pull for 3 reps
Rest 45 seconds
1B Upper body push for 3 reps
Rest 45 seconds
1C Squat or deadlift for 3 reps
Rest 45 seconds and repeat 1A-1C twice more (3 rounds total)
Two or three exercises per workout works well for maximal strength training.
Full Body for Muscle Growth
In order to gain muscle fast, you should lift as heavy as possible. However, hypertrophy requires more volume per workout than pure strength does. Since you can’t lift super heavy with a high volume the relationship between intensity (load) and volume must be like Goldilock’s porridge: just right.
I’ve found that a volume of around 25 total reps per exercise with a load you can lift no more than 6 times the first set is ideal. The rest periods can be a little less than for maximal strength, however, it’s still ideal to get as much rest between exercises as possible. This is why, once again, I favor a circuit.
Here are three examples that all follow the rules I just mentioned, but each takes a slightly different path to the finish line. Use whichever version best suits your available time.
Example #1
This first example is based on doing as many reps as your body can handle at any moment. Therefore, there’s not a target number of reps in each set. I wrote about this type of training, and the value of it, in my book Huge in a Hurry.
Load: start with a weight that allows no more than 6 reps for the first set and continue using that same starting weight until you complete 25 reps per exercise.
1A Upper body pull for as many reps as possible (AMRAP)
Rest 30 seconds
1B Upper body push for AMRAP
Rest 30 seconds
1C Squat or deadlift for AMRAP
Rest 30 seconds
1D Single-joint exercise (curl, calf raise, triceps extension, etc) for AMRAP
Rest 30 seconds and repeat 1A-1D until you reach 25 reps of each exercise
Example #2
Another way to reach 25 total reps is with the classic 5 sets of 5 reps (5×5) combination that Bill Starr made famous.
Load: the heaviest weight you can handle for 5 reps with each set. The load can change throughout the workout.
1A Upper body pull for 5 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1B Upper body push for 5 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1C Squat or deadlift for 5 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1D Single-joint exercise (curl, calf raise, triceps extension, etc) for 5 reps
Rest 30 seconds and repeat 1A-1D four more times (5 rounds total)
Example #3
In this example you’ll complete 8 rounds and do 3 reps per set. This is the type of training that most guys prefer because it works incredibly well for adding muscle fast.
Load: the heaviest weight you can handle for 3 reps with each set. The load can change throughout the workout.
1A Upper body pull for 3 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1B Upper body push for 3 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1C Squat or deadlift for 3 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1D Single-joint exercise (curl, calf raise, triceps extension, etc) for 3 reps
Rest 30 seconds and repeat 1A-1D seven more times (8 rounds total)
Three to five exercises per circuit is recommended in any of the above three samples.
Be sure to revert back to part 1 since it’ll answer many of the program design questions that you’re probably asking yourself right now. In that installment I show you how to switch exercises throughout the week so you’re not repeating the same exact workout structure.
In part 3 I’ll uncover all the tricks I use to create some of the most intense and effective fat-burning workouts you’ve ever seen.
Stay Focused,


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