Brogram Design 101

The last few months, during my yearly layoff from hard training (I’d rather spend my free time at the pub during New Zealand’s nice summer weather, and “yearly layoff” sounds nicer than “lazy slug”), I’ve been gravitating towards less demanding, more fun kinds of lifting.

Regular readers will know of my love for autoregulated daily training, but I’ve discovered that I really only care for this during the winter months. For whatever reason, I find myself uninterested during the summer. That reason is beer and sunshine.

Instead, I prefer a more unstructured and unfocused approach, which you might call “screwing around”.

The last few weeks, I’ve been messaging back and forth with JC Deen about good old fashioned Bro-training. You know the stuff: body-part splits. Having an arms day. Pumping the hell out of everything to get that hurt-so-good burn.

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Intensity & Training to Failure [Muscle Gain]

Heavy is always better, right? That’s the going mantra. Lift heavy things and you’ll grow and get stronger. I push this position myself, because I think it’s mostly right. If you want to reap gains from a strength training workout, you focus on the basics. Anything involving a barbell, picking it up, putting it overhead, or squatting it — or any combination thereof. Low reps, as few as one and as many as six, allow you to use challenging weights.

That’s the time-tested recipe, whether you’re trying to get big, build muscle, or get strong. I don’t think that ever changes. If you’re after strength or big muscles, the bulk of your training should revolve around that foundation of heavy, simple lifts. This is proven by the practices of strength athletes and by scientific research.

Lifting heavy weights teaches you how to lift heavy weights. The training is as much neurological as muscular; indeed, most of the adaptations to heavy lifting happen in the nervous system. When you load up enough weight and lift it, you produce very high tension in the working muscles, which in turn activates all your available fibers. High tension, which is usually cited as roughly 80-85% of the maximum voluntary contraction, is sufficient to bring all the motor units into the movement.

The heavy lifting mindset suggests that heavy, slow, and strenuous is enough to build a great physique. And I largely agree. Lifters following the minimalist approach inevitably build impressive bodies. The evidence is all there.

Bodies are built with heavy weights. Science validates the idea. You’d think there’s no reason to do higher reps if you’re concerned with maximizing the growth stimulus.

Those tidbits of information aside, bodybuilders all do it. Bodybuilders train with higher volume, if you measure total tonnage and muscular work done in a workout, and on average use higher reps, and more diversity in their rep ranges, than strength-focused athletes. Bodybuilders may focus their attention on work sets from single reps to 20 (or even more), with 10 being the unspoken average.

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A Trip to the Gun Show: Thoughts on Training Arms

It’s a bit of a status symbol to have big arms, at least if you’re a guy. Looking around I’m noticing that some of the ladies want these muscles developed too – they just use the code-word ‘toned’ (which means “just a little muscle and a lot less fat” for those not in the know). Depending on who you ask, you’ll get two different answers as to the best way to develop this “muscle group”.

Orthodox bodybuilders are going to tell you to do 5-10 different curl exercises, 5-10 different kinds of triceps extensions, and if history is anything to go by, you’ll be told to do this for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps. The “new wave” of Internet strength-training doctrine, however, is going to suggest almost exactly the opposite: very limited arm training, maybe even none at all.

Who’s right? This is one of those instances where I don’t think there is a completely correct answer for all situations. There’s some merit to both sides depending on what you’re after. So let’s have a look.

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Limits of Muscle Mass

This is a topic that’s argued endlessly: how big can you really get as a natural? What’s the limit for a truly natural bodybuilder?

The mainstream viewpoint, promoted by the media and held by naive gym-rats, is that even the biggest guys can be totally clean. Guys that are “average” height, say 5’7 to 6′ or so, holding less than 8-10% body fat while being 250 lbs or heavier. It’s nice wishful thinking, especially for the anti-doping zealots and the denial crowd, but no. Just no.

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