Mix It Up To Keep The Gains Coming!

I need a way to minimize the price and maximize results of hardcore training. Is there such a method? Here are some principles, methods and a chest routine to prove there is. Learn more!

I'm back! After a few articles of being off on a tangent, having a little rant about this and that, I am back focusing on my true 'core' passion - advanced training strategies for the natural athlete.

The way I work is pretty simple. I am an athlete first and foremost. Everything I do is 'results' driven. To keep those results coming, sometimes you need to think outside of the box and look at things from a variety of angles. I am always asking myself,

"Is my current approach the best it can be?
Am I getting results at a fast enough rate?
Am I getting results - period!"

Lately, whilst my training has been delivering the results, I have also been experiencing my fair share of scrapes and near misses, constant joint aches and stiffness. Well in the politically correct term - is really starting to "piss me off!" - has lead me to question my overall approach.

I have always trained low reps (3-6, maybe 8 as a mis-calculation) and the heaviest weights I can handle, and as I said the results are coming. But with anything in life, there is always a price to pay and right now, that price is discomfort. Also, you know that little voice that tells you something 'real bad' is about to happen - that too.

So I need a way to minimize the price and maximize results at the same time. Is there such a method? Well honestly, I think I might be onto something.

What Is Overload?

We all throw the term overload around like we all know what it is but in all seriousness, very few of us actually do. I am just as guilty as you; getting caught up in the ego-antics of the gym and seeing how much I can lift with my buddies, but is that overload? Maybe we could call that 'ego-overload.'

Overload (in the muscular sense referring to training) boils down to putting the targeted muscle under the most intense, muscle growth producing stress possible - period. It is not about X amount of weight, it is all about the stress generated. If you are not handling that weight correctly, then you are missing the point of training in the first place.

Have you ever done a warm-up set of an exercise and really felt the muscle work, then onto the work set with a heavier weight and it just doesn't feel the same - not as intense?

Basically, your form has had to compensate for the heavier load and you have just ventured onto the path of diminished returns. You need to find the weight that gives you the best of both worlds (weight and form) to generate best results. Apply with intensity, and you're done!

Lets Talk Form:

Some of us like to refer to 'perfect form' as the 'be all and end all, do it or get nowhere,' whilst others are quick to throw around terms such as 'controlled cheating' etc. I used to fall into the 2nd group.

grey area

Hey, if I just loosened my form just a little so I could put an extra 5kg on the bar, well 5kg is 5kg and that will lead to greater overload and better results right? Well, this is another bit of grey area.

There is a balance between form and results, just like there is a balance between weight and results. Lately I have been using the term 'personal resolve' when talking about form. I won't rave on about this too much, as I have heaps to talk about, but what it means is that you need to keep yourself in check. Don't worry about what your buddies are doing, this is about you and your results.

When it comes to weight progress, ask yourself... are you really entitled to increase the weight? Up until this stage, has the muscle been doing the work or are you throwing the weight up? Are you cheating the weight up in another manner (i.e: momentum) or has your form been slipping over the past few weeks and you have not even noticed?

I am all for weight progression and I am (as you should be) always trying to lift heavier weights - these days I do so ONLY when I am entitled too, not because my ego wants me too. This was my first step to being pain free.

The Light!

As I said, I was sick of beating myself up during every gym session. I used to joke that if I tore a muscle, that's ok, I will heal. Got to be low reps, got to be hardcore all the way remember! But the funny thing is, most guys fall into the trap that higher reps = great form and lower reps means your form can go out the window... just as long as you can get that d@mn weight up.

So I sat down for a bit of soul searching, trying to figure out what I actually wanted out of my training. I'm 30 now, and in this game I am still a pup. But I also knew that I was lucky as h*ll that I never had a serious injury. Maybe this is all part of the growing process.

Not only do I love training now, but I still want to be training in 50 years. I know that if I keep on my current path, it's not a matter of 'if' I break, but more likely when. Being hardcore is also about being SMART.

The Principles I Need To Follow To Be My Best:

I put together a quick checklist that I thought might help my quest of finding the perfect balance between weight, form and application (nothing tested, nothing gained). They might sound ever so simple, but I am the first to admit that with my own training I have been ignoring some of them for quite some time now.

If I can ignore them, then so can too. Just have a look and see what you think, it might spark something in you too:

1. Feel The Work:

I need to feel the muscle doing the work, and control the weight at all times: If you cannot feel the muscle doing the work, then it is safe to assume that you are not performing the exercise correctly. Also, the weight needs to be controlled during every part of the rep.

2. Train Smarter:

I need to train smarter and have more purpose in the gym - There is more to it then just lifting weights. I need to go into every rep (not just a session) with more purpose and be more deliberate with my actions.

3. Low Reps:

I need to use low reps - I need to use low reps to target the Type IIB (white - fast glycoltic fibers), which are the fast twitched muscle fibers. These guys have the greatest growth potential, but not at the expense of ignoring points 1 and 2.

4. Higher Reps:

I need to use higher reps in a range of 8 to 10 - I need to mix it up during the session, in an attempt to fully stimulate EVERY muscle fiber - Type IA and Type IIA. I will also use a higher rep range to ensure this happens.

5. Train To Failure:

Must train to failure (or pretty close too it) - I need to put forth maximal effort in every rep, of every set of every session. I must ensure that I give my muscles a reason to grow and adapt.

6. Mix It Up:

Mix it up with angles, free weights and machines - I used to be anti-machine at all costs, but you know if used correctly they can be pretty d@mn effective. For your 'core' exercise (that's the one that cops the low rep treatment), try and stick to free weights but after that, with the exercises experiencing the higher reps, feel free to experiment. Also vary your angles to target the muscle slightly differently.

7. Recovery Between Sets:

Between set recovery is important - To maximize strength, make sure that you rest a full 3 minutes between working sets. This is approximately the time it takes for ATP levels to fully replenish. If you need a little extra that's fine, just don't get too lazy.

8. Mental Intensity:

Don't forget the mental intensity - This game isn't just physical. Make sure that you give everything you have, both physically and mentally.

9. Nutrition/Supplementation:

Pay attention to nutrition and supplementation - Just as training creates the spark, nutrition and supplementation provide the building blocks to growth. Without them, you don't grow so follow through with your efforts with a sound plan of attack.

10. Recovery:

Volume is not the key to effective training, but efficiency is. Get in, get the job done and then get out and grow.

Putting It All Together

You might be wondering how you can put this all together into 1 session, and keep the training time under an hour - simple! I have been using the above strategies with a new re-found mental focus for a short while now and I can honestly say, I am growing like a newbie again. I could not think of a better way of summing that up.

As we all love training chest, this is what I will focus on and give you a demo:

Chest Training

    • Objective - To completely overload the muscle to ignite the greatest growth response possible.

    • Exercises - Incline barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press and machine press.

    • Structure - 5 x 5, 2 x 10, 2 x 10

    • Philosophy - 5 x 5 to target strength gains, 2 x 10 to target hypertrophy gains. Includes a basic free weight exercise for the 'core' work (5 x 5) and a combination of free weight and machines for the 'complimentary' work (2 x 10). Bar, dumbbell and machine work to capitalize on the individual benefits of each, and also includes incline and flat work to hit the muscle on slightly different angles for different sets.

There you have it - all objectives taken care of.


Exercise Sets Reps Purpose
Incline Barbell Bench Press 5 5 Overload the muscle with low reps and maximal weight - targeting the IIB fibers
Flat Dumbbell Press 2 10 Targeting the Type IIA fibers with free weight and higher reps
Machine Press 2 10 Targeting the Type IIA fibers with a controlled resistance and higher reps - emphasize the contraction

The Verdict

On April 12, I performed this exact workout. During the entire session I kept an eye on what it was I was trying to achieve, and I also made a commitment to myself:

"I will use as much, or as little weight as is needed
to get the job done effectively! Unless I can generate
the greatest muscular response as possible and work
to my fullest capabilities, then it is a wasted effort!"

I stuck to my guns and no joke, this was one of the best sessions I have had in the last 10 years. I have done a lot of training in that time, but this completely opened my eyes and I now know there is more too it then just sheer weight!

Regardless of how you train, you will always generate 'some' results. The only variant is in how big the rewards are. I am like you and am not prepared to waste one single opportunity. I don't want my goals next week - I want them NOW! In instances like this, sometimes you need to re-evaluate your goal, and the plan you will use to get there. Where there is a will, there is ALWAYS a way.

About The Author

Josh Dickinson is a Natural Bodybuilder/Fitness Professional/Contest Coach based in Australia and runs the highly successful www.physique-essentials.com. You can contact him for Natural Bodybuilding advice at: info@physique-essentials.com.