Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

Filtering by Tag: Strength Training

Rest longer to get bigger and stronger

The "hypertrophy specialist" Brad Schoenfeld has published yet another fantastic study detailing not only the greater strength gains from longer interset rest periods, but the greater muscular growth adaptations too.

Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men

Abstract

Abstract: Schoenfeld, BJ, Pope, ZK, Benik, FM, Hester, GM, Sellers, J, Nooner, JL, Schnaiter, JA, Bond-Williams, KE, Carter, AS, Ross, CL, Just, BL, Henselmans, M, and Krieger, JW. Longer interset rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men. J Strength Cond Res 30(7): 1805–1812, 2016—The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of short rest intervals normally associated with hypertrophy-type training versus long rest intervals traditionally used in strength-type training on muscular adaptations in a cohort of young, experienced lifters. Twenty-one young resistance-trained men were randomly assigned to either a group that performed a resistance training (RT) program with 1-minute rest intervals (SHORT) or a group that employed 3-minute rest intervals (LONG). All other RT variables were held constant. The study period lasted 8 weeks with subjects performing 3 total body workouts a week comprised 3 sets of 8–12 repetition maximum (RM) of 7 different exercises per session. Testing was performed prestudy and poststudy for muscle strength (1RM bench press and back squat), muscle endurance (50% 1RM bench press to failure), and muscle thickness of the elbow flexors, triceps brachii, and quadriceps femoris by ultrasound imaging. Maximal strength was significantly greater for both 1RM squat and bench press for LONG compared to SHORT. Muscle thickness was significantly greater for LONG compared to SHORT in the anterior thigh, and a trend for greater increases was noted in the triceps brachii (p = 0.06) as well. Both groups saw significant increases in local upper body muscle endurance with no significant differences noted between groups. This study provides evidence that longer rest periods promote greater increases in muscle strength and hypertrophy in young resistance-trained men.

Research has previously told us that greater rest periods are superior to shorter rest periods when it comes to strength and power adaptations, but there hasn't been nearly as much support and evidence suggesting the same for hypertrophy training.

The belief that shorter rest periods are ideal for training for hypertrophy purposes is challenged with research like this. Not only do we know that longer rest periods are superior for strength and power adaptations, research like this is indicating that longer rest periods illicit greater muscular growth as well. One could postulate that longer rest periods allow for greater recovery and therefore greater force and output on every subsequent set. More force and output on each set allows for greater overall training volume, which would increase the training load.

I also appreciate the fact that this study was conducted on trained individuals. Many strength and hypertrophy studies are conducted on non-trained individuals, who more often than not improve their strength and muscular size simply by being in the study alone (noob gains).

So, how practical is this for you, the reader?

Well, it would appear that rather than slugging through sets with short rest periods, you would be better off resting for longer periods and allowing your muscles to recover more in order to maximize the potential on each subsequent set.

The disadvantage to this training style includes the obvious fact that workouts could potentially take much longer if you are resting for longer periods and one of your primary goals includes getting stronger and increasing muscular size. Rather than waiting around between sets, however, you can get creative with your training and do good old fashioned circuits, training antagonistic movements. For example using an EMOM (every minute on the minute) setup, training bench press on the first minute, barbell row on the second minute, an accessory or core movement on the third minute, rest the 4th minute, and then repeat. This allows the time between exercises to be at least 3 minutes yet keeps you moving the entire time to save on overall workout length.





Back to Basics

Back to Basics is a program based on gaining maximal muscular strength, size, and function. This program is based on the program StrongLifts. If you haven't heard of StrongLifts then I highly recommend heading over there to check out that program. It may very well be the perfect program for you, as-is. There have been many individuals who have greatly benefited from such a program, and you can too.

Over the past couple of years, I have experimented with a program like StrongLifts on not only myself, but clients of mine as well. I have personally found that the program is missing a couple key elements or need a few adjustments made to the scheduling or programming to suit my needs. I believe that these changes and adjustments will benefit many of you as well.

Here are the main additions/adjustments that I have made:

Dynamic Warmups - I have taken some of my favourite and most useful movements to warmup the body through various planes and wide ranges of motion. The key areas of focus are the hips and shoulders. The shoulders and hips are the link, connecting strength and power from the core, out to the limbs. It is smart, and in good training practice to make sure they are warm and prepared for the work.

Warm-up Sets - I am not a big fan of the warm-up sets that StrongLifts recommends you do. Instead, I have included my own variety.

(Optional) Accessory Work - I have included some of my favourite and most useful accessory sequences to aid the main primary lifts. Especially when just starting a program like StrongLifts, I have found that many users can get the feeling of "not doing enough" by just doing 5, 5-rep sets of the primary lifts. There are a couple key aspects to note here:

  1. The emphasis and energy for the day (on strength days) should be to focus on improving numbers on the main lifts. The accessory work is there to work as a supplement. The original StrongLifts program was designed with some accessory work but too many people were focusing too much on trying to improve their numbers with their accessory lifts and neglecting the main lifts.
  2. Some days, if you are pushing for a personal best on bench press, for example, you may not even have the strength or energy to do the accessory lifts, so either don't do them at all for that day, or back off on the weights you have previously used.
  3. If you fail at getting 5x5 for your lift for the second straight workout, then skip the similar accessory for for that day (discussed in more detail below*). One may think that plateauing or stalling on a weight should require more volume/intensity, but in actuality, you probably need more recovery.

*Let's say you fail at a lift for the second consecutive workout (for that lift) and are forced into a de-load:

Strength Day 1:

Bench Press - attempting 200lbs.
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 4 reps (fail)
Set 5 - 3 reps (fail)

Strength Day 3:

Bench Press - attempting 200lbs. (2nd attempt)
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 5 reps
Set 5 - 4 reps (fail)

On that second workout, in this case - Strength Day 3, skip both the incline press to bent over row and dips. Both of these accessory lifts use the shoulders, triceps, and chest just like the bench press does so taking extra recovery time will benefit you more than trying to fight through the accessory lifts. You would only skip those accessory lifts for that one workout. Alternatively, if you failed on the squat for the second time on Strength Day 3, then you would have the option to do the incline press to bent over row and dips.

Exercise Selection - Just a small change to the warmup sets for deadlifts on Strength Day 2 & 4 (utilizing snatch deadlifts).

Recovery Days - I have included recovery days that focus on "active recovery" for the muscles that have been worked the previous day. I am a firm believer in active recovery, as an increase in circulation can aid in repair and recovery. This includes some flexibility training, some mobility training, as well as some core and assistance work. Keep in mind that the point of the recovery days is to allow your body to move through various ranges of motion to aid in recovery as well as strengthen your synergists.

Front Squats - When starting this program, it is great to back squat 3x/week to build up your strength. However, I really like the front squat for a number of reasons, including preparing your body for Olympic Lifts down the road, improving posture, and most importantly, making your back squat that much better. Once you are able to back squat your own body weight 5x5, I recommend you start front squatting 50% of your 5x5 back squat on Strength Days 2 & 4, in place of back squats. So, if you are 180lbs and can squat 180lbs 5x5, start front squatting 90lbs on Strength Days 2&4, increasing in weight the same way you would with the other lifts by adding 5 pounds to the next workout, every time you successfully lift 5x5.

Who is this program for?

Still making progress, 370lbs #deadlift for 5 reps #motivation #exercise #lifting

A video posted by Tyler Robbins (@trobbinsfitness) on

Men, women, young, and old. If you are interested in lifting heavy weights, gaining strength, increasing muscle mass, and just being a total fuckin' badass, then this program is for you. Keep in mind, however, that if you are wishing to gain, you must commit to the program and not worry about gaining weight. The way I see it, there are 3 types of people reading this blog right now:

  1. For some of you, gaining weight is a tough thing to do and you are willing to do anything to put on some size. Well, get ready to eat a lot and lift a lot!

  2. For others, you may be stuck in this limbo zone where you are lean and have a decent level of strength, but just haven't reached that ripped level you are looking for. You find yourself stuck between not wanting to lose any more weight and lose muscle, yet you don't want to gain weight either because you are afraid of getting fat. Well, I was stuck in that zone too until I started to eat more and lift more. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at all hours of the day (see: resting or basal metabolic rate).

  3. Finally, there may be some of you looking to lose weight and gain some strength. Fine. This program can still work for your, but if you are over 20% body fat, you may wish to start the program at a caloric deficit (eating less than you burn) which will work for a while, and you will definitely gain strength, but your strength gains may plateau quicker than others who eat at a caloric surplus. That, however, is based on the individual.

For folks who fall into category 1 or 2, all I can say is, if your goal is to gain size and strength, stick to the goal and eat and lift. There will be time to "cut" body fat later. I recommend that you partake in a program like Back to Basics during the winter when you are probably going to be covered by your clothes for much of the time anyways. That is, if you give a shit about what others think about what your body looks like.

By the way, if this program becomes popular enough, I will have a follow-up program in the spring specifically focused on getting you more lean while maintaining muscle.

The Workouts

Strength Day 1
Strength Day 2
Strength Day 3
Strength Day 4

Recovery Day 1
Recovery Day 2
Recovery Day 3
Recovery Day 4

Back to Basics Schedule

The schedule runs on an 8-workout, repeating rotation. Here is how you would incorporate the 8 workouts into a 3 week schedule.

Week 1
Monday - Back to Basics Strength Day 1
Tuesday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 1
Wednesday - Back to Basics Strength Day 2
Thursday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 2
Friday - Back to Basics Strength Day 3
Saturday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 3
Sunday - Recovery/Off Day

Week 2
Monday - Back to Basics Strength Day 4
Tuesday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 4
Wednesday - Back to Basics Strength Day 1
Thursday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 1
Friday - Back to Basics Strength Day 2
Saturday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 2
Sunday - Recovery/Off Day

Week 3
Monday - Back to Basics Strength Day 3
Tuesday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 3
Wednesday - Back to Basics Strength Day 4
Thursday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 4
Friday - Back to Basics Strength Day 1
Saturday - Back to Basics Recovery Day 1
Sunday - Recovery/Off Day

Etc.

Diet

With a quick internet search, you can find a number of Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) calculators. TDEE calculators are a good place to start to get yourself a ballpark figure as to how many calories you should be consuming. If you are interested in gaining weight, aim for at least 250-500+ calories a day over your calculated TDEE. Although I recommend putting away quite a few calories, remember that too many calories isn't necessarily ideal.

In order to grow muscle and improve your strength, you need a surplus of calories. More often than not, individuals get stuck in a limbo zone between not wanting to gain body fat so they don't eat at a caloric surplus, yet they want to increase the size and definition of their muscles.

Future edits of this blog will have some of my favourite recipes linked here.

Supplements

This is going to be a hotly-debated topic. My personal opinion is that majority of the supplements on the market are full of empty promises. Most supplements are designed to make you think that they are the "latest and greatest" in the world of health and fitness. Don't listen to the salesperson at the supplement store.

Don't pay attention to the marketing materials. I almost guarantee you that the supplements that some of these extremely fit (and/or muscular) folks who are trying to sell you supplements either don't use the supplements they are marketing themselves, or have other *ahem*....help with their results. I really like using the site examine.com to check the latest research on specific supplements. Feel free to search for some of the products or supplements you are currently taking and see if it/they are worth as much hype as you've been made to believe.

Having said all of that, I know folks will ask me what I use for my supplements, so I will share what I use. All of these are absolutely optional and should not be taken as a prescription from me.

Creatine Monohydrate - one of the most widely-researched supplements in the history of exercise science. Nothing fancy here, no other products carry any additional benefits or "perks," regardless of what someone may have told you...I promise. I take 5g in my post-workout recovery drink. More questions/info needed? Check here.

Whey Protein - Again, nothing fancy. I take a basic vanilla flavoured whey protein that I buy at Costco. You don't need any "state-of-the-art" delivery matrices or any other marketing mumbo jumbo like that. Whey isolate digests quick enough, and your body only transports so much protein per hour so don't worry about all of this marketing promising faster muscle absorption or uptake, etc. It should be noted that actual food always takes precedence for me. I never have more than 1 whey shake per day. I try and get at least 90-95% of my calories and protein from whole food sources and then have a shake when I either run out of time or am busy with other things.

Fish Oil - Fish oils (EPA and DHA) have a wide range of benefits.

Coffee - My pre-workout stimulant. Not much to say here. Caffeine - that's about it.

Vitamin D - I take 1000IU in the form of a pill during the fall/winter months (I live in Canada). During the summer I try and get as much sun exposure as I can, so along with Vitamin D in Shakeology I feel like I have my bases covered. Lots of benefits to supplementing with Vitamin D as well.

Strength Journal

Whether you use Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers, some sort of journal app on your phone or tablet, or even just plain old pen and paper, I highly recommend you keep track of your 5-rep max (5RM) weights for your lifts. You can then use this information to keep track of your theoretical (calculated) 1RM.

Why is this important? Well, knowledge is power, and whether you are moving on to another program that involves using a certain percentage of your lift or just your buddy asking how much you bench, you will know your numbers. 

Q&A

What weights should I start with?

Understand that strength training is training not only your muscles, but your central nervous system as well. The goal here is not to "pump" up your muscles, like what happens during hypertrophy training. Instead, we are working to not only strengthen the muscle fibres themselves, but to also improve the mind to muscle connection. We are focusing on training the nervous system to be more coordinated and effective at recruiting high amounts of motor units to "fire" together and generate maximum force.

From StrongLifts: If you start too heavy, you’ll get sore legs which can make you feel like skipping workouts in the first week. Better to start light so your body get used to Squatting three times a week. The weight will increase quickly anyway since you’re adding 2.5kg/5lb per workout (that’s 30kg/60lb per month on your Squat). If you’ve done the Squat, Bench and Deadlift before, with good technique, you can start with 50% of your five rep max. If you’ve never done these exercises, or you haven’t lifted in years, or you have no idea what I mean with a “five reps max”, just start with these weights:

When should I increase weight?

If you can get 5 repetitions of the same "working weight" without breaking form, then increase your "working weight" by 5 pounds for the next workout you do that exercise. For example, if you squat 135lbs 5x5 during Strength Day 1, increase to 140lbs on Strength Day 2. If, however, you get 135lbs, 5x5 on the bench press on Strength Day 1, you wouldn't increase to 140lbs until Strength Day 3. The one exception to this is on the deadlift. You can increase weight by 10lbs from workout to workout. For example, if you can deadlift 95lbs for 5 repetitions without breaking form, the next workout you complete deadlifts, you can increase to 105lbs.

What if I don't lift the same weight all 5 sets?

First of all, you should at least attempt to lift the exact same weight for all 5 "working sets." Even failed sets have you lifting 1, 2, 3, or 4 reps of a weight you have probably never lifted before; that's still progress!

If you don't get 5 reps during a set, make sure to rest for 5 minutes before attempting the same weight on the next set. Remember that you are only increasing by 5 pounds on an exercise from workout to workout so your body is making gradual changes. You should not be failing by more than a rep or two unless you are seriously short on sleep, not eating enough, or drinking enough water.

Shit happens, however, so some days just won't be as good as others. Let's say you get all 5 reps for your first 3 sets and then only 4 reps on your 4th set, and finish off with just 3 reps on your final set, fine, this is still progress. The next time you do this exercise, attempt the exact same weight. If, you still can't get 5 reps in all 5 sets, then you need to de-load by 10%. After you de-load, work your way back up 5 pounds per workout as you did before. Here is how it looks:

Strength Day 1:

Bench Press - attempting 200lbs.
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 4 reps
Set 5 - 3 reps

Strength Day 3:

Bench Press - attempting 200lbs. (2nd attempt)
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 5 reps
Set 5 - 4 reps

Strength Day 1:

Bench Press - attempting 180lbs. (10% de-load from 200lbs.)
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 5 reps
Set 5 - 5 reps

Strength Day 3:

Bench Press - attempting 185lbs (180lbs. was successful)
Set 1 - 5 reps
Set 2 - 5 reps
Set 3 - 5 reps
Set 4 - 5 reps
Set 5 - 5 reps

The key to this program, and any other strength program to be honest, is that each individual must keep the integrity to stick to as perfect form as possible. I am telling you right now, it is far more beneficial (and impressive) to do full squats at 200lbs than to do half or even 3/4 squats at 250lbs. If you can't do a repetition with near-perfect form, it doesn't count. Either try the same weight again next time or de-load, and work your way back up!

Keep in mind, you only de-load in weight on the exercise(s) that you failed to achieve 5x5. If you de-load on the bench press, for example, still attempt weight increases on your other lifts (squat, barbell row, etc.)

Can I use dumbbells instead of a barbell?

The primary lifts (squat, deadlift, overhead press, bench press, barbell row, Romanian deadlifts) are designed to utilize a barbell for a number of reasons including weight optimization (you can move more weight with a barbell than a pair of dumbbells) and safety. You may be able to start this program with dumbbells, however, I would highly recommend either investing in a squat rack/cage and barbell for your home gym or become a member of a gym that has the appropriate equipment.

Can I adjust the schedule to lift more often or less often?

You should allow at least 1 full day "off" from lifting between lifting days. There are many similar muscles worked during every single lifting day, so proper recovery is a must. If, however, you only lift every 3 days rather than 2, that should be fine. I wouldn't allow too many days between lifting days, however, as that could hinder progress.

Do I have to use front squats?

Of course not! This is the program that I have used. This is what I consider to be the best fit for me and should work for many of you. To be honest, you don't really have to follow anything I recommend here. I have 2 goals with sharing this information.

  1. A few people will use this program and have great success.
  2. A few people like some of the ideas and changes my program presents and uses them for their program.

I believe that front squatting, combined with back squatting will make you a stronger and more well-rounded athlete. Even if you do not play sports, keep in mind that well-rounded and physically fit "athletes" tend to do everything better and more efficient. If you can front squat and back squat efficiently and effectively, I believe it will improve your overall health and fitness.





Back to Basics: Strength Day 1

Warm-up

The warm-up shouldn't take you more than about 5-10 minutes to complete, especially once you become familiar with the exercises and sequencing. Watch the video to get an idea of how each exercise is done.

Quadruped Shoulder Series x 240 reps
Open/Close x 15 reps
Scarecrow x 15 reps
Scapular Retraction x 10 reps
Plange Push-ups x 10-15 reps
Face Pulls with Scapular Retraction x 15 reps
External Rotations x 10 reps
Overhead Squats x 10 reps
Leg Swings x 48 reps
Scorpions x 8 reps
Fire Hydrants x 20 reps

Strength

Back Squat - all sets are 5 repetitions
40% of "working weight"
50% of "working weight"
60% of "working weight"
Working Set 1
Working Set 2
Working Set 3
Working Set 4
Working Set 5

Bench Press - all sets are 5 repetitions
40% of "working weight"
50% of "working weight"
60% of "working weight"
Working Set 1
Working Set 2
Working Set 3
Working Set 4
Working Set 5

Barbell Row - all sets are 5 repetitions
*shoulders and body should be warm by this point, only a 60% warm-up set should suffice
60% of "working weight"
Working Set 1
Working Set 2
Working Set 3
Working Set 4
Working Set 5

Each exercise has anywhere from 1-3 warm-up sets with 40, 50, and/or 60% of your "working sets" weight. All "working sets" weight stays the same for all working sets. I usually round to the nearest 5-pound increment for my warm-up sets. This is where 2.5lb. weight plates come in handy so that you can micro-load your barbell with 5 total pounds.

A set of squats (180lb. "working weight") would therefore look like this:

40% - 70lbs. x 5 reps
No rest
50% - 90lbs. x 5 reps
No rest
60% - 110lbs. x 5 reps
90 second rest

180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps

*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps

*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps

*There is no set rest time between warm-up sets (besides the time it takes you to load your barbell), however, the following guidelines should be followed for the working sets:

  1. If you complete all 5 repetitions with ease and no break in form, take a 90 second break before the next working set.
  2. If you struggle with one or more repetitions to reach 5, take a 90-180 second (1.5-3 minute) break prior to starting your next working set. Do not be in a rush to start the next set, as your body requires time to recover from the previous set's effort. Your central nervous system also needs time to recover.
  3. If you miss one or more repetitions, which means you either fail to lift the weight at all, or substantially break form to complete (not recommended), then rest for 5 minutes before attempting the same weight again.

If you complete all 5 working sets with the same weight then you increase your weight by 5 pounds for the next workout you complete this exercise.

Accessory

Incline Press/Bent Over Row - 6-12 repetitions per set, 3 sets

Incline Press - 15, 12, 8, 8, 12, 15 repetition pyramid set

You will notice that I do not have single-muscle and/or single-joint accessory exercises (bicep curls, tricep extensions, etc.). The main strength lifts across all 4 strength days cover essentially every muscle in your body. Coupling that with some of the accessory work to aid in strength and growth, muscles like your biceps and triceps get plenty of work. For example, during a bench press or overhead press, although your are primarily pressing with your pectoral muscles of your chest or deltoid muscles of your shoulder, your triceps are heavily involved in the movement. By doing these exercises, your triceps will get stronger and grow.

Remember that these exercises/lifts are here to aid your main lifts. All of your focus and energy should be focused on your strength work. If, however, you wish to complete the accessory exercises, do not be as attached to previous workouts' numbers and wish to increase numbers. For example, you may have pressed 40lb. dumbbells for 8 reps on the incline press, but as you get stronger and push your bench press numbers higher, you may be more fatigued by the time you reach the accessory work, forcing you to either get fewer reps or drop the weight of the dumbbells a bit.

I use 90 second breaks between each set. I complete all sets of an exercise before moving on to the next exercise. I do not super-set. For example:

Incline Press/Bent Over Row x 6-12 reps
90 second rest
Incline Press/Bent Over Row x 6-12 reps
90 second rest
Incline Press/Bent Over Row x 6-12 reps

One exception to this workout in particular is the Incline Press Pyramid Set. I use 30 second rest periods between the 15, 12, and 8-rep sets, a 90 second break at the half-way point. For example:

Incline Press x 15 reps
30 second rest
Incline Press x 12 reps
30 second rest
Incline Press x 8 reps
90 second rest
Incline Press x 8 reps
30 second rest
Incline Press x 12 reps
30 second rest
Incline Press x 15 reps

The goal with the pyramid set is to choose a weight that forces you to struggle (close to failure) on the last 2-3 reps of each set. You will therefore increase in weight on the "up" portion of the pyramid (decreasing in reps from 15 to 8) and decrease in weight on the "down" portion of the pyramid (increasing in reps from 8 to 15).

Questions/Comments/Concerns? Make sure to comment below!





Back to Basics: Strength Day 2

Warm-up

The warm-up shouldn't take you more than about 5-10 minutes to complete, especially once you become familiar with the exercises and sequencing. Watch the video to get an idea of how each exercise is done.

Quadruped Shoulder Series x 240 reps
Open/Close x 15 reps
Scarecrow x 15 reps
Scapular Retraction x 10 reps
Quadruped Torso Twists x 10 reps/side
Face Pulls with Scapular Retraction x 15 reps
External Rotations x 10 reps
Overhead Squats x 10 reps
Leg Swings x 48 reps
Scorpions x 8 reps
Fire Hydrants x 20 reps

Strength

Back (or Front*) Squat - all sets are 5 repetitions
40% of "working weight"
50% of "working weight"
60% of "working weight"
Working Set 1
Working Set 2
Working Set 3
Working Set 4
Working Set 5

Overhead Press - all sets are 5 repetitions
40% of "working weight"
50% of "working weight"
60% of "working weight"
Working Set 1
Working Set 2
Working Set 3
Working Set 4
Working Set 5

Snatch Deadlift** - all sets are 5 repetitions
40% of deadlift "working weight"
50% of deadlift "working weight"
60% of deadlift "working weight"

Deadlift - 5 repetitions
Working Set 1

*Front Squats - When starting this program, it is great to back squat 3x/week to build up your strength. However, I really like the front squat for a number of reasons, including preparing your body for Olympic Lifts down the road, improving posture, and most importantly, making your back squat that much better. Once you are able to back squat your own body weight 5x5, I recommend you start front squatting 50% of your 5x5 back squat on Strength Days 2 & 4, in place of back squats. So, if you are 180lbs and can squat 180lbs 5x5, start front squatting 90lbs on Strength Days 2&4, increasing in weight the same way you would with the other lifts by adding 5 pounds to the next workout, every time you successfully lift 5x5.

**Snatch Deadlift - Just read at how great this variation to a classic is. What's nice about this setup is that you probably won't be deadlifting as much with a snatch grip versus a clean grip, so as your traditional deadlift increases (clean grip), your snatch deadlift can increase accordingly based on the percentages. For example, if you are deadlifting 200lbs, your snatch grip sets will be 80, 100, and 120lbs. As your deadlift climbs to, say, 260lbs, you will then be lifting 105, 130, and 155lbs with the snatch grip. The snatch grip deadlift forces you to squat a bit deeper since your hands are further apart so you will get a bit more activation and stretch in the posterior chain and legs preparing you for the heavy set of clean grip deadlifts.

Each exercise has anywhere from 1-3 warm-up sets with 40, 50, and/or 60% of your "working sets" weight. All "working sets" weight stays the same for all working sets. I usually round to the nearest 5-pound increment for my warm-up sets. This is where 2.5lb. weight plates come in handy so that you can micro-load your barbell with 5 total pounds.

A set of squats (180lb. "working weight") would therefore look like this:

40% - 70lbs. x 5 reps
No rest
50% - 90lbs. x 5 reps
No rest
60% - 110lbs. x 5 reps
90 second rest

180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps

*There is no set rest time between warm-up sets (besides the time it takes you to load your barbell), however, the following guidelines should be followed for the working sets:

  1. If you complete all 5 repetitions with ease and no break in form, take a 90 second break before the next working set.
  2. If you struggle with one or more repetitions to reach 5, take a 90-180 second (1.5-3 minute) break prior to starting your next working set. Do not be in a rush to start the next set, as your body requires time to recover from the previous set's effort. Your central nervous system also needs time to recover.
  3. If you miss one or more repetitions, which means you either fail to lift the weight at all, or substantially break form to complete (not recommended), then rest for 5 minutes before attempting the same weight again.

If you complete all 5 working sets with the same weight then you increase your weight by 5 pounds for the next workout you complete this exercise.

Accessory

Romanian Deadlift (RDL) - 3 sets of 5 repetitions completed the same as the strength lifts. Use the same weight for all 3 sets. If you get 5 reps easily, rest 90 seconds between sets. If you struggle to get 5 reps with the given weight, rest 3 minutes between sets. If you miss a rep or break form to complete a rep, rest 5 minutes before the next set.

Sumo Squat/Walking Lunges - 3 sets of 6-12 repetitions. Every set is 6-12 squat reps immediately followed by 6-12 lunging reps.

Chin-ups - Here you can essentially aim for max repetitions (3 sets). If your goal is to train for hypertrophy/strength gains, I recommend adding weight via a weight belt to keep your repetitions lower (6-12 range). This is the dip belt that I have. These should be done strict, no kipping. Trust me when I tell you that there is nothing like having a weight belt hanging in front of your genitals to prevent you from kipping to get more reps!

You will notice that I do not have single-muscle and/or single-joint accessory exercises (bicep curls, tricep extensions, etc.). The main strength lifts across all 4 strength days cover essentially every muscle in your body. Coupling that with some of the accessory work to aid in strength and growth, muscles like your biceps and triceps get plenty of work. For example, during a bench press or overhead press, although your are primarily pressing with your pectoral muscles of your chest or deltoid muscles of your shoulder, your triceps are heavily involved in the movement. By doing these exercises, your triceps will get stronger and grow.

Remember that these exercises/lifts are here to aid your main lifts. All of your focus and energy should be focused on your strength work. If, however, you wish to complete the accessory exercises, do not be as attached to previous workouts' numbers and wish to increase numbers. For example, you may have pressed 40lb. dumbbells for 8 reps on the incline press, but as you get stronger and push your bench press numbers higher, you may be more fatigued by the time you reach the accessory work, forcing you to either get fewer reps or drop the weight of the dumbbells a bit.

I use 90 second breaks between each set. I complete all sets of an exercise before moving on to the next exercise. I do not super-set. For example:

Sumo Squat/Walking Lunges x 6-12 reps
90 second rest
Sumo Squat/Walking Lunges x 6-12 reps
90 second rest
Sumo Squat/Walking Lunges x 6-12 reps

Questions/Comments/Concerns? Make sure to comment below!





Back to Basics: Strength Day 3

Warm-up

The warm-up shouldn't take you more than about 5-10 minutes to complete, especially once you become familiar with the exercises and sequencing. Watch the video to get an idea of how each exercise is done.

Quadruped Shoulder Series x 240 reps
Open/Close x 15 reps
Scarecrow x 15 reps
Scapular Retraction x 10 reps
Plange Push-ups x 10-15 reps
Face Pulls with Scapular Retraction x 15 reps
External Rotations x 10 reps
Overhead Squats x 10 reps
Leg Swings x 48 reps
Scorpions x 8 reps
Fire Hydrants x 20 reps

Strength

Back Squat - all sets are 5 repetitions
40% of "working weight"
50% of "working weight"
60% of "working weight"
Working Set 1
Working Set 2
Working Set 3
Working Set 4
Working Set 5

Bench Press - all sets are 5 repetitions
40% of "working weight"
50% of "working weight"
60% of "working weight"
Working Set 1
Working Set 2
Working Set 3
Working Set 4
Working Set 5

Barbell Row - all sets are 5 repetitions
*shoulders and body should be warm by this point, only a 60% warm-up set should suffice
60% of "working weight"
Working Set 1
Working Set 2
Working Set 3
Working Set 4
Working Set 5

Each exercise has anywhere from 1-3 warm-up sets with 40, 50, and/or 60% of your "working sets" weight. All "working sets" weight stays the same for all working sets. I usually round to the nearest 5-pound increment for my warm-up sets. This is where 2.5lb. weight plates come in handy so that you can micro-load your barbell with 5 total pounds.

A set of squats (180lb. "working weight") would therefore look like this:

40% - 70lbs. x 5 reps
No rest
50% - 90lbs. x 5 reps
No rest
60% - 110lbs. x 5 reps
90 second rest

180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps

*There is no set rest time between warm-up sets (besides the time it takes you to load your barbell), however, the following guidelines should be followed for the working sets:

  1. If you complete all 5 repetitions with ease and no break in form, take a 90 second break before the next working set.
  2. If you struggle with one or more repetitions to reach 5, take a 90-180 second (1.5-3 minute) break prior to starting your next working set. Do not be in a rush to start the next set, as your body requires time to recover from the previous set's effort. Your central nervous system also needs time to recover.
  3. If you miss one or more repetitions, which means you either fail to lift the weight at all, or substantially break form to complete (not recommended), then rest for 5 minutes before attempting the same weight again.

If you complete all 5 working sets with the same weight then you increase your weight by 5 pounds for the next workout you complete this exercise.

Accessory

Incline Press/Bent Over Row - 6-12 repetitions per set, 3 sets

Dips - Max repetitions. Like pull-ups and chin-ups, if your goal is to train for max repetitions, I recommend you aim for just that on every set. If, however, you would like to increase strength and size, if you can reach 12 repetitions on sets consistently, then I would recommend using a dip belt to add weight to sets as you increase in strength.

You will notice that I do not have single-muscle and/or single-joint accessory exercises (bicep curls, tricep extensions, etc.). The main strength lifts across all 4 strength days cover essentially every muscle in your body. Coupling that with some of the accessory work to aid in strength and growth, muscles like your biceps and triceps get plenty of work. For example, during a bench press or overhead press, although your are primarily pressing with your pectoral muscles of your chest or deltoid muscles of your shoulder, your triceps are heavily involved in the movement. By doing these exercises, your triceps will get stronger and grow.

Remember that these exercises/lifts are here to aid your main lifts. All of your focus and energy should be focused on your strength work. If, however, you wish to complete the accessory exercises, do not be as attached to previous workouts' numbers and wish to increase numbers. For example, you may have pressed 40lb. dumbbells for 8 reps on the incline press, but as you get stronger and push your bench press numbers higher, you may be more fatigued by the time you reach the accessory work, forcing you to either get fewer reps or drop the weight of the dumbbells a bit.

I use 90 second breaks between each set. I complete all sets of an exercise before moving on to the next exercise. I do not super-set. For example:

Incline Press/Bent Over Row x 6-12 reps
90 second rest
Incline Press/Bent Over Row x 6-12 reps
90 second rest
Incline Press/Bent Over Row x 6-12 reps

Questions/Comments/Concerns? Make sure to comment below!





Back to Basics: Strength Day 4

Warm-up

The warm-up shouldn't take you more than about 5-10 minutes to complete, especially once you become familiar with the exercises and sequencing. Watch the video to get an idea of how each exercise is done.

Quadruped Shoulder Series x 240 reps
Open/Close x 15 reps
Scarecrow x 15 reps
Scapular Retraction x 10 reps
Quadruped Torso Twists x 10/side
Face Pulls with Scapular Retraction x 15 reps
External Rotations x 10 reps
Overhead Squats x 10 reps
Leg Swings x 48 reps
Scorpions x 8 reps
Fire Hydrants x 20 reps

Strength

Back (or Front*) Squat - all sets are 5 repetitions
40% of "working weight"
50% of "working weight"
60% of "working weight"
Working Set 1
Working Set 2
Working Set 3
Working Set 4
Working Set 5

Overhead Press - all sets are 5 repetitions
40% of "working weight"
50% of "working weight"
60% of "working weight"
Working Set 1
Working Set 2
Working Set 3
Working Set 4
Working Set 5

Snatch Deadlift** - all sets are 5 repetitions
40% of deadlift "working weight"
50% of deadlift "working weight"
60% of deadlift "working weight"

Deadlift - 5 repetitions
Working Set 1

*Front Squats - When starting this program, it is great to back squat 3x/week to build up your strength. However, I really like the front squat for a number of reasons, including preparing your body for Olympic Lifts down the road, improving posture, and most importantly, making your back squat that much better. Once you are able to back squat your own body weight 5x5, I recommend you start front squatting 50% of your 5x5 back squat on Strength Days 2 & 4, in place of back squats. So, if you are 180lbs and can squat 180lbs 5x5, start front squatting 90lbs on Strength Days 2&4, increasing in weight the same way you would with the other lifts by adding 5 pounds to the next workout, every time you successfully lift 5x5.

**Snatch Deadlift - Just read at how great this variation to a classic is. What's nice about this setup is that you probably won't be deadlifting as much with a snatch grip versus a clean grip, so as your traditional deadlift increases (clean grip), your snatch deadlift can increase accordingly based on the percentages. For example, if you are deadlifting 200lbs, your snatch grip sets will be 80, 100, and 120lbs. As your deadlift climbs to, say, 260lbs, you will then be lifting 105, 130, and 155lbs with the snatch grip. The snatch grip deadlift forces you to squat a bit deeper since your hands are further apart so you will get a bit more activation and stretch in the posterior chain and legs preparing you for the heavy set of clean grip deadlifts.

Each exercise has anywhere from 1-3 warm-up sets with 40, 50, and/or 60% of your "working sets" weight. All "working sets" weight stays the same for all working sets. I usually round to the nearest 5-pound increment for my warm-up sets. This is where 2.5lb. weight plates come in handy so that you can micro-load your barbell with 5 total pounds.

A set of squats (180lb. "working weight") would therefore look like this:

40% - 70lbs. x 5 reps
No rest
50% - 90lbs. x 5 reps
No rest
60% - 110lbs. x 5 reps
90 second rest

180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps
*90 second rest
180lbs x 5 reps

*There is no set rest time between warm-up sets (besides the time it takes you to load your barbell), however, the following guidelines should be followed for the working sets:

  1. If you complete all 5 repetitions with ease and no break in form, take a 90 second break before the next working set.
  2. If you struggle with one or more repetitions to reach 5, take a 90-180 second (1.5-3 minute) break prior to starting your next working set. Do not be in a rush to start the next set, as your body requires time to recover from the previous set's effort. Your central nervous system also needs time to recover.
  3. If you miss one or more repetitions, which means you either fail to lift the weight at all, or substantially break form to complete (not recommended), then rest for 5 minutes before attempting the same weight again.

If you complete all 5 working sets with the same weight then you increase your weight by 5 pounds for the next workout you complete this exercise.

Accessory

Romanian Deadlift (RDL) - 3 sets of 5 repetitions completed the same as the strength lifts. Use the same weight for all 3 sets. If you get 5 reps easily, rest 90 seconds between sets. If you struggle to get 5 reps with the given weight, rest 3 minutes between sets. If you miss a rep or break form to complete a rep, rest 5 minutes before the next set.

Dumbbell Swings/Push Press - 3 sets of 6-12 repetitions per arm.

Pull-ups - Here you can essentially aim for max repetitions (3 sets). If your goal is to train for hypertrophy/strength gains, I recommend adding weight via a weight belt to keep your repetitions lower (6-12 range). This is the dip belt that I haveThese should be done strict, no kipping. Trust me when I tell you that there is nothing like having a weight belt hanging in front of your genitals to prevent you from kipping to get more reps!

You will notice that I do not have single-muscle and/or single-joint accessory exercises (bicep curls, tricep extensions, etc.). The main strength lifts across all 4 strength days cover essentially every muscle in your body. Coupling that with some of the accessory work to aid in strength and growth, muscles like your biceps and triceps get plenty of work. For example, during a bench press or overhead press, although your are primarily pressing with your pectoral muscles of your chest or deltoid muscles of your shoulder, your triceps are heavily involved in the movement. By doing these exercises, your triceps will get stronger and grow.

Remember that these exercises/lifts are here to aid your main lifts. All of your focus and energy should be focused on your strength work. If, however, you wish to complete the accessory exercises, do not be as attached to previous workouts' numbers and wish to increase numbers. For example, you may have pressed 40lb. dumbbells for 8 reps on the incline press, but as you get stronger and push your bench press numbers higher, you may be more fatigued by the time you reach the accessory work, forcing you to either get fewer reps or drop the weight of the dumbbells a bit.

I use 90 second breaks between each set. I complete all sets of an exercise before moving on to the next exercise. I do not super-set. For example:

Dumbbell Swings/Push Press x 6-12 reps
90 second rest
Dumbbell Swings/Push Press x 6-12 reps
90 second rest
Dumbbell Swings/Push Press x 6-12 reps

Questions/Comments/Concerns? Make sure to comment below!





Back to Basics: Recovery Day 2

The goal of this recovery workout is to increase circulation to many of the primary and secondary movers from the previous days' workout, increase range of motion and flexibility, and finally work on some core strength. You will gain much of your core strength and stability from squatting, deadlifting, overhead pressing, etc. but I believe that extra core-specific work is beneficial to keep a solid midsection, improving overall health and strength.

Warm-up

The warm-up is actually a series of mini-complexes. Each complex is to be done sequentially in its entirety before moving on to the next complex.

For example, if there are 3 exercises in the first complex, and you are to complete 3 sets of each exercise, it would look something like this:

Exercise 1
Exercise 2
Exercise 3

Exercise 1
Exercise 2
Exercise 3

Exercise 1
Exercise 2
Exercise 3

Break periods should be kept relatively short, moving from one exercise to the next in a timely manner.

Here are the complexes:

Warm-up 1
Band Shoulder Rotations (Vertical) 3x10/arm
Walking Twisting Lunges 3x10
High Knee Walk to Spiderman with Hip Lift 3x6

Warm-up 2
Side Bridge Lift 2x30s

Warm-up 3
Roller Angel 3x10
Band Pull-downs 3x10

Warm-up 4
Figure-4 Sequence 1x4 pos.

Warm-up 5
Child's Pose 2x30s
orld's Greatest Stretch 2x4/leg

I by no means expect you to know how to do all of these exercises so make sure to watch the following video on how they are done.

Complex

Similar to the mini-complexes above, this complex should be done as a circuit, completing all 3 exercises sequentially before repeating for 3 total sets. Use the above video to learn how to do each exercise.

Hanging "L's" 3x12-15
Squat Cross Reach 3x8/leg
Stir the Pot with Knee Raise 3x12-15

Foam Rolling

If you haven't already started, I highly recommend using foam rolling (myofascial release) as part of your recovery. Foam rolling at the end of the recovery day workouts is a perfect time to do so as your muscles and body are warm. I don't recommend foam rolling prior to the strength workouts as some research has shown that myofascial release can hinder strength output.

This looks just like the foam roller I have (no affiliation).





How to: Overhead Press

The Overhead Press is a full body compound exercise. It is, arguably, the most difficult of the 5 main lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift, barbell row) due to the fact that you are targeting a relatively small muscle group (compared to the other lifts) and pressing weight overhead.

Safe and effective barbell training is designed to distribute the load being lifted above our centre of gravity in order to use our bodies in the most mechanically advantageous way possible. A movement such as the overhead press, although appearing to be dangerous, can actually be a very safe and effective way of lifting, targeting the shoulders, triceps, upper chest as primary movers as well as your legs, back, abdominals, and traps to help stabilize.

Keep in mind, however, that as with any form of exercise, there are inherent dangers associated with lifting weights, and if you have a history of injury or are unsure about a specific movement, it would be best to speak to a qualified medical professional such as your doctor to seek their opinion on whether or not you should partake in a particular exercise or program.

Setup

The most ideal starting position for the overhead press is to have a rack to start the bar around the height of your shoulders. However, if you do not have a rack, you can "clean" the bar into position.

If you do not have a ceiling high enough to accommodate the bar (along with weight plates) being pressed overhead, I suggest finding a room that has a higher ceiling. If that is not an option, you can do a seated overhead barbell press, however, remember to keep a neutral spine. There are many other benefits to doing a standing overhead press versus a seated one, such as increasing the strength of your core, so try and find a high enough ceiling if you can!

Approach

  1. Approach the bar and grab it with a ever-so-slightly wider grip than shoulder width. Your hands should be as close to the width of your shoulders without actually touching your shoulders.
     
  2. Feet are hip-width apart.
     
  3. Bar is to sit in your palms with fingers and thumbs wrapped around the bar.
     
  4. Keep your chest up and squeeze your glutes to not only engage the muscles of your core and upper back but to put your spine in a neutral position as well.
     
  5. Look forward, at a fixed point on the wall throughout. Do not look up.
     
  6. When looking at your starting position from the side, the points of your elbows should be slightly forward of the bar. Your upper arms should not be parallel to the floor, but enough of an angle to get your elbows under and slightly past the bar.

Execution

  1. The trajectory of the bar should essentially travel straight up and down over the mid-point of your foot. The bar will track slightly up and back towards the end of the push, but should not go far beyond your ears.

  2. In order for the bar to move in this manner, you will have to tuck your chin and slightly move your head back in order for the bar to travel past your chin and nose.

  3. As the bar reaches the level of your forehead and clears your head, you should be bringing your head and face forward between your upper arms.

  4. Press the bar overhead until your elbows lock out. Squeeze your traps to support and maintain posture at the top of the press.

  5. Exhale at the top of the press and then inhale to activate the Valsalva maneuver. Your breath should be held during the movement to tighten the core and protect the spine.




How to: Barbell Row

The barbell row, like the deadlift and straight leg deadlift, is a fantastic way to strengthen your posterior chain. Although your lower body is stationary during this exercise and the movement comes via the upper body, the lower body is forced to work hard to stabilize the body during the lift.

I can't stress enough how much I not only enjoy this exercise, but highly recommend it to others who have had lower back pain. The unfortunate part about an exercise like this is that it may immediately seem dangerous to those of you with a history of back problems. Not only that, but this exercise alone will be of tremendous benefit to those of you who have postural issues (slouching, slight kyphosis, etc.).

Safe and effective barbell training is designed to distribute the load being lifted above our centre of gravity in order to use our bodies in the most mechanically advantageous way possible. A movement such as the straight leg deadlift, although appearing to be dangerous, can actually be a very safe and effective way of lifting, targeting the muscles that make up the posterior chain in order to strengthen the connective tissues there.

Keep in mind, however, that as with any form of exercise, there are inherent dangers associated with lifting weights, and if you have a history of injury or are unsure about a specific movement, it would be best to speak to a qualified medical professional such as your doctor to seek their opinion on whether or not you should partake in a particular exercise or program.

The Barbell Row

The barbell row is a fantastic exercise to strengthen your upper back (rhomboids), posterior deltoids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and biceps. Not only that, but other posterior chain muscles, similar to those worked during the straight leg deadlift such as the hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, etc. are also working hard to maintain form throughout.

Setup

If you have a setup that uses olympic weight plates and an olympic barbell, then your bar at starting point should be approximately 9 inches off the ground. A few inches higher or lower than that should not be a problem, although be aware of the ramifications due to the height differences. Lifting weight higher than a 9" starting position could activate less muscle fiber due to less distance for the resistance to travel. However, lifting from a deficit, or having the resistance start closer to the ground may activate more muscle, form may be compromised due to a further distance the resistance has to travel.

Note: Not all weight plates are the same diameter. If you are fortunate enough to have plates that are the same diameter, then you will be able to begin practicing the deadlift with a lower weight yet have the bar start at the same distance from the floor every time. If, however, you are unable to start with 135 pounds for your deadlift (45 lb. bar + 2x 45 lb. plates) then you can use other plates to stack and create a desired height for the bar's starting position.

Approach

  1. Stand behind the bar with your feet, hip distance apart, slightly underneath the barbell. When viewing the barbell from directly overhead, the barbell should line up with your mid foot.
     
  2. Squat down to grasp the bar with a pronated or overhand grip (your palms should be facing behind you. Your hands should be just slightly wider than shoulder width.
     
  3. Look at the floor about 6 feet in front of where the bar is. Keep your eyes locked on this position throughout the exercise.
     
  4. Keep your upper back engaged by squeezing your shoulder blades and keeping the curvature in your lower back. You want to keep this neutral spine throughout the exercise but don't force the issue to the point where you are hyper-extending your lower spine.
     
  5. The toughest part from here, is maintaining a neutral spine as you raise your hips up so that your back is parallel to the floor. At this point, the bar should remain on the ground as we have not begun the lift yet. It is not only normal, but highly recommended that you maintain a knee bend at this point. In fact, depending on your arm length as well as your hamstring flexibility, many of you will have a more intense knee bend than what you will use in the straight leg deadlift. Make sure the bar remains over your mid foot as you push your glutes back and bend your knees whilst maintaining perfectly upright lower legs. In other words, your shins should remain perpendicular to the floor. This will also keep your knees back and out of the way of the bar's trajectory.

Execution

  1. Most of the work has already been completed during the setup. The main focus throughout the exercise is for your body to remain as perfectly still as possible throughout every repetition. The only thing moving is your arms and the muscles that are pulling the bar up to your chest.

  2. Grip the bar very tight and lift the bar to your lower chest. The bar should touch your chest just below your nipple line, or the very bottom of your breast bone. Think of raising your arms throughout your elbows, this will help squeeze your shoulder blades together, working the upper back.

  3. Once the bar has reached your chest, lower it, under control, back to the floor. I prefer returning the bar to the floor after every single repetition.

  4. Repeat.

7 Tips to Master Perfect Barbell Row Technique (from Strong lifts)

  1. Row Each Rep From The Floor. Because you’ll never train your upper-back fully if you let the bar hang in the air. Barbell Row like you Deadlift: with the bar starting and returning to the floor on each rep. The barbell should be above the middle of your feet when you start Rowing, same stance as on Deadlifts.

  2. Grip The Bar Like You Bench Press. For maximum carry-over to your Bench Press, your Barbell Row should be the exact opposite movement. This means no underhand grip but both palms facing you, using the same grip width as when you Bench. Thumbs around the bar and squeeze it hard for maximum strength.

  3. Pull With Your Elbows. This simple trick will help you use your upper-back maximally rather than turning your Rows into a biceps exercise. Pull your elbows towards the ceiling instead of merely pulling with your hands. If you don’t “get” it, briefly Barbell Row using the thumbless grip to get the feeling for it.

  4. Row Against Your Chest. If the bar doesn’t hit your chest, it’s like doing a partial Squat or half Bench: the rep isn’t completed and you’re not getting the most out of the exercise. So always Row the barbell against your chest. Where exactly? Same position as where you touch the bar on the Bench Press.

  5. Keep Your Upper-back Parallel. Don’t let yourself get carried away by your ego or you won’t get the most out of Barbell Rows. Be strict: your upper-back should be doing all the work. If your Barbell Rows turn into 50° shrugs or you’re cheating with your hips and knees, the weight is too heavy. Lower it. Proper Barbell Row Technique: Barbell starts on the floor, pulling with the elbows, bar against chest, chest open, shoulder-blades squeezed together.

  6. Open Your Chest. It’s – again – the same position as for the Bench Press: squeeze your shoulder-blades together at the top as hard as you can and open your chest up. Don’t try to hold the weight at the top, that’s all unnecessary nonsense because adding weight builds muscle. Simply pull the weight hard and fast against your chest, and then return it to the floor.

  7. Keep Your Head Down. Do not try looking at the mirror in front of you in your gym, or you’ll get neck pain. Don’t look at your feet either otherwise your lower back can round and hurt. Simply look at the floor below you and tape yourself from the side you want to check your Barbell Row technique.




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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.





Bodybuilding vs. Powerlifting - Hypertrophy and Strength Gains

A common topic of debate/discussion amongst strength coaches and fitness enthusiasts has been the optimal repetition range to train in for both muscle size (hypertrophy) and/or strength gains.

Studies in the past have shown that hypertrophy training (bodybuilding) is best achieved in the 6-12 rep range, forcing a metabolic demand of the muscles, therefore stimulating a demand for growth. Powerlifters, on the other hand, train at a much lower repetition range of 5 or fewer repetitions but with greater loads. It has been thought and believed in the past that training at a sub-5 repetition goal is less effective at increasing muscular size, however much greater at producing greater gains in strength.

Well, what if it could do both?

A recent study by Brad Schoenfeld wished to look at these differing training modes to discover any noticeable differences in both muscular growth and strength adaptations.

Abstract: Schoenfeld, BJ, Ratamess, NA, Peterson, MD, Contreras, B, Sonmez, GT, and Alvar, BA. Effects of different volume-equated resistance training loading strategies on muscular adaptations in well-trained men. J Strength Cond Res 28(10): 2909–2918, 2014—Regimented resistance training has been shown to promote marked increases in skeletal muscle mass. Although muscle hypertrophy can be attained through a wide range of resistance training programs, the principle of specificity, which states that adaptations are specific to the nature of the applied stimulus, dictates that some programs will promote greater hypertrophy than others. Research is lacking, however, as to the best combination of variables required to maximize hypertophic gains. The purpose of this study was to investigate muscular adaptations to a volume-equated bodybuilding-type training program vs. a powerlifting-type routine in well-trained subjects. Seventeen young men were randomly assigned to either a hypertrophy-type resistance training group that performed 3 sets of 10 repetition maximum (RM) with 90 seconds rest or a strength-type resistance training (ST) group that performed 7 sets of 3RM with a 3-minute rest interval. After 8 weeks, no significant differences were noted in muscle thickness of the biceps brachii. Significant strength differences were found in favor of ST for the 1RM bench press, and a trend was found for greater increases in the 1RM squat. In conclusion, this study showed that both bodybuilding- and powerlifting-type training promote similar increases in muscular size, but powerlifting-type training is superior for enhancing maximal strength.

In case you don't know, hypertrophy training is selecting sufficient resistance to target a 6-12 rep range, with 90 seconds or less recovery time between sets. Strength training, on the other hand, involves higher resistance to target 5 repetitions or fewer, but with much longer rest periods between sets (3 minutes or more).

Bodybuilders have used the greater rep range with shorter break periods as a way to stimulate the muscles through metabolic demand. By creating a "pump" in the muscles, it can give an individual an almost immediate feeling of muscular growth. The "pump," however, is a collection of fluids in the muscles that does in fact increase muscular size, and can feel as though the muscles are expanding, although this is just a temporary adaptation and the muscles will lose this swelling within a few hours following a training session.

It is becoming more widely-accepted that although strength training doesn't necessarily deliver the same "pump" feeling that hypertrophy training does, it is stimulating muscular growth at a more structural level by forcing the muscles to adapt to the stimulus by increasing strength of the contractile framework in the muscle fibers.

A few studies in the past have found that hypertrophy training is superior in increasing muscular growth, however, there were discrepancies in the way the studies were completed, namely the amount of volume that was completed.

Volume is the amount of resistance used, multiplied by the number of repetitions. For example, a bench press of 100lbs. for 10 repetitions would be 1,000lbs. A bodybuilder may get to 3,000lbs. by bench pressing 100lbs. in 3 sets of 10 repetitions, whereas a powerlifter could get there with the same sets but fewer repetitions - 3 sets of 5 reps at 200lbs. The study mentioned in this blog worked to overcome this discrepancy in overall volume to really focus on comparing apples to apples.

When comparing strength training to hypertrophy training, volume corrected, this study found that both styles of training induced similar hypertrophy gains. However, the strength training program produced much greater gains in overall strength with the participants used in the study (MT = Muscle Thickness).

In conclusion, the results of this study provide novel insight into muscular adaptations associated with resistance training in well-trained individuals. Based on the findings, strength- related gains seem to be maximized by performing heavy- load training as compared with moderate-load training, although both protocols significantly and markedly improved indices of maximal strength. However, increases in MT in experienced lifters seem to be similar in body- building- and powerlifting-type when volume load is con- trolled, at least over a relatively short time period. The greater time efficiency of bodybuilding-type training would seem to make it a superior choice for those seeking to increase muscle mass, although these results are limited to the biceps brachii and cannot necessarily be generalized to other muscles. Whether combinations of different loading schemes would produce a synergistic response that enhan- ces muscular adaptations remains to be determined and requires further study.

What about Body Beast or other hypertrophy-centric programs?

Beachbody's Body Beast is an at-home workout program designed to maximize hypertrophic gains by using a small selection of equipment in a home setting. Body Beast works well by using varying repetition ranges as well as different styles of bodybuilding sets such as super sets, pyramid sets, drop sets, etc.

We know that lifting weights to the point of failure in virtually any repetition range will generate gains in muscle size (along with eating at a caloric surplus). So assuming you are pushing yourself with a program like Body Beast, and eating more calories than you are burning, of course you will gain some weight and muscle. We should note a couple things, however:

  1. Resistance training causes muscular adaptations as well as neural adaptations. Basically, your brain needs to learn how to coordinate muscle contractility more efficiently and effectively. You can squat because your brain knows how to coordinate the muscle actions in order to bend at the hips and knees in order to squat your butt closer to the ground. However, if you were to add resistance to said squat, your brain suddenly needs to learn how to synchronize more muscle fibers in order to "recruit" them to complete the action.

    Beginners' initial gains, when it comes to resistance training are almost entirely neural adaptations upwards of the first 8 weeks of a resistance training program. Sure, your muscles may be swelling a bit due to fluid and glycogen (muscle sugar) retention, but your strength gains are almost entirely due to your brain just getting better at contracting those muscle fibers.

    This is noteworthy when it comes to a resistance training program because it has been shown that nearly all beginners will have some sort of muscular growth and "strength" gains regardless of training style or mode used. This is why individuals starting a new workout program generally feel pretty good when they get started. Whether its P90X, Crossfit, Body Beast, Strong Lifts 5x5, Mad Cow, Ice Cream Fitness, etc., your brain is going to be trained to be more effective at lifting heavy things, so you will get stronger simply by getting better. This is not a bad thing, just remember that just because you are feeling good at your workout program that you started 3 weeks ago does not mean that that is the end-all-be-all of workout programs.

  2. Increasing muscular size does not necessarily make your muscles stronger, or in other words, increase their ability to generate force. Having said that, increased muscle size can increase the affinity for the muscles to become stronger with strength training.

    If an individual just wishes to exercise for aesthetics alone, then a hypertrophy-only program may work just fine for them. However, if someone wishes to increase muscular size and improve overall strength as well, then a program that uses strength training will likely be the best option.

Final Thoughts

I think that various styles of training have their place with a wide range of individuals and scenarios. Beginners, for example, could greatly benefit from a higher repetition training program due to the ability to "practice" correct form with safer overall loads and greater repetitions. Oftentimes, beginners need a feeling of a "pump" or that muscular fatigue associated with greater rep ranges, to feel as though their training session was effective.

As this study pointed out, there are pros and cons to each style of training. Strength training puts more stress on the connective tissues and joints involved due to the increased loads and can therefore increase the likelihood of injury. Strength training may also take longer to complete than hypertrophy training - when training volumes were equalized for both training styles.

The HT protocol took approximately 17 minutes to perform, whereas the ST protocol required a time commitment of more than 1 hour.

What has been known for quite some time now, and has just been further confirmed by this study is that overall increases in the amount of force one's muscles can generate (strength) is improved the most by training in a 5 or lower repetition range. What this study also tells us, however, is that strength training can also produce gains in muscular size, once previously thought to occur most optimally in a higher repetition range. 

Other training programs that use higher repetition training modes are beneficial for other purposes and will elicit some strength gains, especially for beginners to resistance training, however, standard strength training is superior to improving overall strength.





How to: Deadlift

The deadlift is one of the greatest strength exercises of all time. Although primarily targeting the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and lower back, this compound exercise recruits muscle from nearly the entire body.

All of my explanations during this guide will refer to the use of a standard barbell and plates. Because the deadlift is essentially just lifting weight and putting it back down, these actions can be mimicked with dumbbells or other forms of resistance, although, the barbell should be the resistance of choice when possible.

Setup

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If you have a setup that uses olympic weight plates and an olympic barbell, then your bar at starting point should be approximately 9 inches off the ground. A few inches higher or lower than that should not be a problem, although be aware of the ramifications due to the height differences. Lifting weight higher than a 9" starting position could activate less muscle fiber due to less distance for the resistance to travel. However, lifting from a deficit, or having the resistance start closer to the ground may activate more muscle, form may be compromised due to a further distance the resistance has to travel.

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Note: Not all weight plates are the same diameter. If you are fortunate enough to have plates that are the same diameter, then you will be able to begin practicing the deadlift with a lower weight yet have the bar start at the same distance from the floor every time. If, however, you are unable to start with 135 pounds for your deadlift (45 lb. bar + 2x 45 lb. plates) then you can use other plates to stack and create a desired height for the bar's starting position.

Approach

  1. Approach the bar and stand so that your mid foot is directly beneath the bar. When you are squatted, your shins will then come in contact with the bar.
  2. Your feet should be parallel to one another, approximately hip distance apart. Your feet should be slightly more narrow than shoulder width to allow room for your hands which will grab the bar outside of your knees.
  3. As you squat to grab the bar, your hands should be shoulder-width apart so that your arms are hanging straight down, or perpendicular to the floor.
  4. When squatted, shoulder blades should be directly over the bar.
  5. A flat back should be maintained throughout, maintaining a curve in the lower back. This can be achieved by sticking your butt behind you and driving your chest up.
  6. You should be squatted with these key points in mind:
    1. Bar over mid foot
    2. Shoulders over bar
    3. Bar touching shins
    4. Flat back, maintaining natural curvature

Execution

One of the key things to note during the movement of your deadlift is to keep your back flat (naturally curved) throughout the movement. Your goal is to lift the bar by extending at your knees first, followed by the hips. This is accomplished by maintaining a constant torso angle as your legs are extended first. Once the bar passes the height of the knees, your shoulders then begin to rise as your hips are driven forward by engaging your glutes.

One common mistake, especially when people try lifting more than they can, is for the hips to rise too soon and rise quicker than the shoulder, causing the lower back to bear most, if not all of the load. This can lead to injury.

Keep the bar centred over your mid foot throughout the movement as if the bar is "scraping" your shins on the way up. One of the primary goals of the lift is to extend the hips forward by flexing (squeezing) your glutes at the top of the lift.

Your chest should be up, which should come natural with the proper alignment of your spine. As you lift the bar, your head will move as your spine does. Once the bar reaches about knee high, think about driving your hips forward.

Do not, and I mean do NOT arch your back at the apex of the lift. Your goal during the deadlift is to lift the weight up and place (or drop) it back down. There really isn't anything to be accomplished by arching your back at the top of the lift besides herniating a disc in your back. If you wish to add a shrug or other trap work, I suggest doing that separately.

If you are deadlifting at a proper lifting station, you have the option of simply dropping the weight to the floor once you have completed the lift. However, if you are lifting on any other surface, reverse the actions of the lift by breaking at the hips first by pushing your butt back.

Grip

Overhand Grip

Overhand Grip

As long as your grip can muster the strength, I recommend gripping the bar with an overhand grip. This way, both arms are exercised in the same way. However, as you begin to lift more and more weight, you will notice that your grip strength may be holding you back from maxing out your lifts.

"Switch" or Alternating Grip

"Switch" or Alternating Grip

What happens is that the bar will "roll" out of your hands. The solution to this is a mixed grip, where one palm is facing forward and the other is facing backwards. This allows you to keep the bar in your hands by preventing it from rolling out of your grip. What happens is that the bar may begin to roll out of one hand, but will be kept in place by subsequently balanced out by the other hand facing the opposite direction.


Dumbbell Deadlift

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A lot of people do a dumbbell deadlift by placing the dumbbells out in front of their feet or at a slight angle. This is fine and may work well, but I actually prefer placing the weights beside my feet (dumbbells parallel to each other) to better align the load over my mid foot, similar to a barbell deadlift. By placing the dumbbells out in front of your feet, you are putting extra strain on your lower back and can therefore increase the risk of injury in my opinion. 

Chances are, you are going to be squatting a bit deeper with a dumbbell deadlift as well since the handles of the weights will be closer to the floor than when using a barbell. Either make the adjustments to drop your butt closer to the floor during your squat, or use a sturdy platform or riser for each dumbbell to better mimic the height of a barbell deadlift.

Preferred

Preferred

Other than that, make sure to use (for the most part) the same setup and technique used during a barbell deadlift.

I was actually going to do a quick video on all of the cues, tips, and advice to a proper deadlift, but I came across Alan Thrall's video and felt that there was no point trying to top what he has done, so enjoy!

Q&A, Miscellaneous Facts/Tips

Body mechanics and genetics actually play a pretty big part in strength training. What I mean by that is varying body types have advantages/disadvantages based on the lift being performed. For example, individuals with longer arms generally are at a disadvantage when it comes to the bench press due to the greater distance the bar must travel.

On the other hand, someone with longer arms may outperform someone with shorter arms on the deadlift because of the way their body aligns when doing this lift. By keeping the bar centred over mid foot, and under the shoulder blades (as described above), someone with longer arms has less depth that they have to squat down in order to grab the bar, and therefore get it off the floor.

Q: Should I deadlift in bare feet?

A: That is up to you. I prefer bare feet, or at least "minimalist" shoes because I feel like I have a better feel for the floor beneath me. If your shoes are too soft then you may actually have a bit too much instability to really plant yourself comfortably. Instability training may have some benefits to other forms of exercise, but lifting as much weight off of the floor as you possibly can at once is not a good time to practice that.

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