Can a program like Body Beast be modified to be more strength-focused?
I received this question the other day:
Could one tweak the Body Beast program into a quasi-strength training program by decreasing reps and increasing rest time, but sticking to the same exercises?
As I mentioned in my Bodybuilding vs. Powerlifting blog, you will gain some strength from virtually any type of resistance training, especially if you are a beginner. Beginners mostly improve through neural adaptations, or in other words, their brain to muscle connection becomes more effective.
It just so happens to be that BEST way to gain strength, especially for those of us who have some experience resistance training, is to use much lower repetitions and longer break periods. This is because the muscle fibers are challenged the most during highly intense sets, and the long break periods allow you to fully recover from every set in order to maximize your effort on every subsequent set.
So, can a program like Body Beast be tailored to be more of a strength program? Possibly, but not really in the way that you think. Here's why:
- Let's get the obvious out of the way first and foremost. The break periods in Body Beast are designed to keep the muscles under "attack" and therefore keep the metabolic demand high. This is when you get that "pumped" or "burning" feeling in your muscles. Because you are playing around with various repetition goals with very short breaks (less than 90 seconds), the program is specifically designed to maximize hypertrophy with just a relatively basic selection of weights found at home.
You could hit the pause button here and there to extend the breaks during the workouts, and in fact I highly recommend this as you become stronger and increase your weights, but in order to maximize your strength and completely recover after every set, your break periods may force the length of the Body Beast workout to become unacceptably long, especially considering the number of sets involved.
- Strength training is accomplished (mostly) through compound movements. Compound movements, also known as "core" exercises, work large muscle groups with more than 1 joint involved. For example, a bench press is a compound movement because it is working a large muscle group (pectorals), and it is using more than one joint (shoulders, elbows). This allows the body to better distribute the load being placed upon it.
There are a lot of isolation exercises in Body Beast targeting a small group of muscles or a very specific muscle. This is what bodybuilding is all about, sculpting the body to look a certain way. In my opinion, only compound movements can and should be used for strength training. For example, a biceps curl, in my opinion, should not be trained with loads that target the 5 and under rep range. I believe that puts far too much stress on the muscle, connective tissues, and joint involved in the exercise.
So what can we do to increase strength. Well, if you are working out at home with a relatively small selection of dumbbells, then you can still continue to use Body Beast to increase muscle size and strength. Yes, you will gain some strength from Body Beast.
Another option that will probably be most common, and one that I have personally tried in the past, would be to try and lower your rep goals for compound movements. So, for example, if you were doing a flat dumbbell chest press, you could target 6-8, 8-10, and 10-12 rep ranges instead of the standard 8, 12, 15 reps that the program uses now. Keep in mind that the higher your resistance climbs to lower your repetitions, listen to your body and take extra/longer breaks when needed.
Also realize that Body Beast uses a wide range of pyramid-style sets (increasing resistance, decreasing repetitions), as I said, to maximize your fairly limited selection of dumbbells at home. Standard strength training involves doing compound exercises first in a workout (with warmup sets) when the muscles are rested and more capable of generating force. Once you start messing around with moving sets around, increasing break periods, and exercise selection, then the program starts to look less and less like Body Beast.