Excluding the Middle: Not Just a Fallacy

In virtually every textbook and manual about strength training that I’ve ever read, the suggestion for “hypertrophy” workouts is always something like 3-5 sets of 10-12 reps at around 70-75% of your 1RM. This tends to double up as a suggestion for beginners, as well – the rationale being that they need to use lighter weights and build a foundation before moving into heavier weights.

Of course there are some differences of opinion there; Bill Starr suggested sets of five, and this has been continued by Glenn Pendlay and Mark Rippetoe with their ongoing use of the now-classical “5×5” workouts.

In reality it seems that it just doesn’t matter much what beginners do. They’ll grow and get stronger regardless of the program as long as they’re showing up and trying to get stronger. And in Maximum Muscle, I questioned the idea of the “hypertrophy protocol” to begin with. This entire notion is based on these beginner gains, firstly, and secondly, on the notion that the hormonal response elicited by this kind of training actually correlates with muscle and/or strength gains.

Keep on reading &rarrow;Excluding the Middle: Not Just a Fallacy

Problems with Over-specialization

I’ve been slack with my blogging lately, I realize. I’ve been busy elsewhere, doing other Internet things and spending more time out in the Real World. I’ve not abandoned you, my five readers, I promise.

Specialized Training for Casual Lifters

The last six weeks or so I’ve been training for a powerlifting meet, which is in a little over a week.

To train for this, I adjusted my training away from the very generalized program I’ve been doing while trying to starve myself pretty (which I call MattFit to avoid trademark issues).

I’m now wondering if this wasn’t a mistake. My deadlift has gone up compared to my local maxima PR* of 230kg (506 lbs) at the end of September, as I hit 232 and 237 (512 and 523 lbs, respectively) the other day, and plan on at least 240 in the meet. This is good news, because it’s one step achieved in my plan to get back up into the 250+ (550 lb) range. The ultimate goal of course is to break 600 lbs, so the target is 272 hopefully before the end of 2010.

* Which means I’ve done more in the past, but these current lifts are my best post-trainwreck status

However that’s about the only good news. My raw benching hasn’t really gone down, but it’s not up any, either. That may or may not be a big deal, since I’ve been doing a heavier shirted bench session in my Titan F6 as well. Not much past data to draw on here, so I can’t really say either way.

Keep on reading &rarrow;Problems with Over-specialization

Training with Supportive Gear

For the longest time, I’ve been against most people lifting with any kind of supportive equipment. Maybe against is too strong a word, because I do see a value in some situations. My beef with it is that people with no real business wearing gear end up wearing the most of it.

I’m not really talking about powerlifters here. They’ve got their reasons, and not all of it is the latest trend of gear-whoring (which is why we see squats and benches shooting through the roof since around 2000, while the DL has gone up maybe 50 lbs in 30 years).

No, the quintessential example here is Gym Curl Guy. This guy is in every gym. He’s the one walking around with a leather belt on; if he ever actually touches a weight, he’s doing something like concentration curls.

I have to wonder what this guy is protecting. Since this is also the same guy that will try to tell you that deadlifting will wreck your back, well…you know. It’s an old football injury from high school, surely. Nothing to do with the fact that he’s never bothered actually strengthening the core or anything.

Keep on reading &rarrow;Training with Supportive Gear

Using Feedback to Manage Your Training

If you’re familiar with my rantings on the forums, and understand anything about my philosophy, you’ll understand that I’m pretty much anti-program.

This doesn’t mean that I’m against the idea of you having a plan. It means I’m against pre-made off-the-shelf solutions. I don’t think that the secret to your success lies in the latest workout from a magazine, and certainly not in the new e-book that costs $70 for 10 pages of information you already know.

Let’s face it: there’s really nothing new under the sun. What you see in any program is going to simply be someone’s take on the same handful of rules.

Not all pre-made programs are bad, per se. The problem isn’t that. The issue boils down to one simple thing: the stronger you get, the more that progress is determined by things that aren’t written down on the page.

What do I mean by that?

Keep on reading &rarrow;Using Feedback to Manage Your Training

High Volume Training: What’s the story? Part 2

In the last segment , I went over the concept of high-volume/high-frequency training.

To summarize briefly, high volume weight training as used by bodybuilders isn’t very productive; but a high volume of work used by strength athletes can be of benefit.

Why doesn’t it work so well for bodybuilders? Bro-ish bodybuilders use high volume because they’re after a pump. In their mind, the pump is more important than anything else; more important than progression, weight on the bar, or tension-time.

Since those concepts are the responsible factor behind muscle hypertrophy (aka, bigger muscles), these are what you should work on. Something like 5 sets of 5, or 3-4 sets of 10, or something along those lines will go a lot farther towards getting a muscle bigger than doing 10 variations of the same exercise for 5 sets of 12 each.

The story changes for a strength athlete. When you have an exercise that you want to improve, it makes sense to train it often. The nervous system likes repetition. If you’re a powerlifter, you want to get good at the squat, bench press, and deadlift. If you’re an Olympic weightlifter, you want to improve the clean & jerk and the snatch.

Keep on reading &rarrow;High Volume Training: What’s the story? Part 2

High Volume Training: What’s the story?

When we discuss weight training, one of the key things we talk about is the volume of work done. Volume can mean different things to different people.

To Mike Mentzer and the HIT gang, volume was the number of sets done. Most bodybuilders still think in these terms; the number of sets per body part.

To athletes and strength coaches, volume takes on a different meaning. In this circle, volume is generally measured as the number of barbell lifts done (NL), or as the tonnage of a workout (sets * reps * weight used).

Volume is also manipulated by the frequency of workouts. If you lift once a week, you’ll have less volume than someone lifting three times a week, all things equal (note that this isn’t always the case; you can take the workload of a single workout and spread it across multiple sessions).

Keep on reading &rarrow;High Volume Training: What’s the story?