Now having said that you can look at routines that have worked for a lot of people and tweak them to better suit your goals. One way that builds strength and muscle is the Westside Barbell Method of training but for the average guy at the gym that only wants to get bigger and stronger this is not the way to go, mainly because main stream gyms don't have chains, band etc.
If one wants to get bigger and stronger, they must first understand the reasons that they aren't big and strong. You will need to change your style of training but change is good. One thing that most people will agree with is that in order to get big you need to challenge and force your body to grow. Isolation is undesirable and unachievable in this situation, so from the perspective of getting the most "bang" for your buck you should use compound movements in a simple set rep scheme. If you are ready for a challenge then you have meet your match.
You Are Going To Use 3 Exercises, They Are:
Before you start to scream that your muscles won't grow enough from only three exercises you need to realise that there is a method behind my madness. Look at all the old Greek statues, especially Hercules.
That is what a strong man looks like. Broad shoulders, a small amount of pecs, back muscles that stand out in bold relief, wiry arms and rugged forearms that look like steel cables, a well built midsection and legs that could probably jack up a truck.
Ok back to the method behind my madness. When it comes to strength not every thing is as it seems. While there are a lot of guys that read men's health and they PUMP up their muscles to look good for the ladies. Compare their training and physique to that of a middleweight Olympic lifter or powerlifter and you will see a big difference. The first thing that will really strike you is powerlifter's and Olympic lifters have very defined muscles. This is mainly due to the amount of tension in their body and is a side effect rather than the result of their training.
Tension is what makes you strong, muscle tone is also residual tension in the body. Tension also equals force. The tenser your muscles are, the more strength you will be able to display, and it is really that simple. You will need to learn how to generate as much tension as possible in order to make yourself stronger, bigger and harder. You will only achieve all the results above if you gain strength learning to generate tension rather than by just building muscle.
Here Is A Quick List For Generating Tension:
- Perform your exercises in a slow manner 5:5 ratio (5 up, 5 down).
- Maximise muscular tension through "flexing" regardless of the weight used.
- Use heavy weights 80-95% of ones maximum.
Now my plan for building bigger stronger muscles is quite simple as all solid science is. You will train the three lifts 3 times a week, for an example we will use the normal Monday, Wednesday and Friday routine.
Each day you train you will be using a different set scheme, like I said before there is no number one way to get bigger and stronger so lets use several, besides changing the load every session and breaking up the length of your sessions (yes some will be shorter than others) will help you to adapt to the day-to-day surprises of life and your well being. According to Russian scientists, if you manipulate the training load from session to session then you will make quicker progress.
Also don't worry about training the same body parts session after session. You are having a break in between sessions for your body to adapt and the Russian powerlifting team trains the bench press up to 8 times a week.
Start each exercise with an easy set of 3 working up to about 85% of your 3RM then do heavy triples 3x3. Do this for each exercise. Rest anywhere from 1-3 minutes max between sets and 5 minutes between sets and exercises.
Start each exercise with an easy set of 5 then work up to 85 % of your 5RM, now do 5x5. Rest anywhere from 1-3 minutes maximum between sets and exercises.
Start out each exercise with a relatively light single say 70% of your 1RM. Continue to work up until you reach about 95% of your 1RM then do 3 more singles with that weight.
As you can see it is very simple. There are some things that you will need to take into consideration they are recovery and overtraining. If you recover enough you won't over train so that means that you will need to eat well and sleep even better. After each training session feel free to do about 15-20 minutes skipping, I recommend this over running for a few reasons but mainly you won't want to run and skipping will keep you quick on your feet.
Also on your fourth week do half of what you have been doing this will help your periodization/cycling and in the end strength gains. As you can see the volume of the lifts is a fair bit more than what you have been doing normally. No matter what you have been told, high volume rules when it comes to making profound and lasting changes to your strength and body. Russian scientists have been harping about it for decades so why not try it?
You might be asking yourself why I choose weighted pull-ups and can you use the lat pull down machine instead? The answer is no you can't, why would you want to, look at guys who do pull-ups (both bodyweight and weighted pull-ups) they all have spectacular lat development and are usually very strong guys.
The Bent Press was chosen because it will develop everything that you miss with the deadlift and weighted pull-ups, your midsection will be taxed so there is no need to go out and be a crunch junkie, just have some faith and if your abs are not harder, more defined and stronger then can send your hate mail to the round file, I can guarantee that you will have harder abs after 4 weeks of this training provided you keep your whole body tight.
Last but not least I choose deadlifts over squats for a few reasons, first and foremost, the deadlift is a great all body strength builder, not enough people are doing them correctly and I don't mean that you should do fitness model stiff legged deadlifts, real power lifting deadlifts. You will develop great strength and a hell of a strong grip. Also the deadlift carries over into day-to-day life more so than the squat, people can relate to picking something up off of the ground more than they can squat with some weight on their backs.
I also see that hardly anyone does deadlifts these days, for whatever reason that it may be. The lamest reason I can think of is that people are scarred of hurting their backs, this is not the case if you keep your whole body tight. If you see below you will find easy to follow instructions that will allow you to preform all the exercises I have listed above safely and correctly.
How To Perform The Exercises Safely
First off you need to forget what you think you know about pull-ups. The version of the pull-up that you will be preforming will be Palms facing away form you normal grip. You will not wrap your thumb around the bar either.
Reach up and grab the bar. Place most of the weight on your last two fingers, this tip will help you recruit the lats to a higher degree, this is quite generic advice but for awesome pull-up strength you need to really know how to recruit the Lats. If you have trouble recruiting the lats you pull-up strength will be almost non-existent. John Allstadt has a great visualization technique to help you recruit the Lats:
When I first began doing pull-ups, I used the following technique to teach my lats how to work: Grip the bar with a thumbless grip, hands just slightly wider than shoulder width. Now, imagine that you have had both arms amputated from the elbows up, and that your hands and forearms are hooks attaching your elbows to the pull-up bar. In this manner, you will be forced to initiate the pull with your elbows, the goal being to activate your lats before your biceps kick in.
If you do this properly, and are indeed pulling from your elbows only, you will feel a strong contraction in your "armpit" muscles. Congratulations! You have just activated the strongest muscle in the upper body, the latissimus dorsi.
You had better listen to john as he can do one-arm pull-ups and can do a weighted chin up with 61.5 kg's attached to himself. Now that you have learned to get you lats in on the action, you also have to get your other muscles into the game. You will do this by using simple body tension and just contracting as many muscles as possible. Flex your biceps as hard as possible when pulling. If you have your whole body tight, including your midsection and butt you should shoot up like a rocket. When you are going down don't just fall down, as this will be no good for your joints, slowly go down building up as much tension as possible then pull your self back up to the bar.
Remember that this is a strength drill you want to use as little momentum as possible. For 1 rep to count you have to make sure that your neck touches the bar. In Belarus and other eastern European countries if your neck doesn't touch the bar then the rep is null and void, the Spetznas standard is 18 dead-hang pull-ups with 20lbs attached to themselves.
The bent press is an old time strength drill that was a favourite of many old time strong men such as Arthur Saxon, Edward Aston and Eugene Sandow to name a few. Some say that it is a trick drill and not really a press. To a point I would have to agree with these people because you really need to recruit the Lats to get the weight up, but it is still a press, it will strengthen and build your body like no other.
You can see that most of the best-built men in the history of weightlifting were Bent pressers. Get the bell to your shoulder, stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Take a step forward slightly with the foot on your non-lifting side (if you have the bar in your left hand, step forward with your right foot). Lean forward keeping your weight on the back foot and keep the knee of your non lifting foot SOFT, this imagery will help you get in the right position.
As you can see from the photos below, the kicked out hip coupled with the forearm and the straight leg all support the weight like a strong/solid pillar. Remember that throughout the entire movement you should keep your whole body tight.
Keep your lat flexed it is what essentially moves the weight. You see the flexed lat is what moves the weight up by pressing on the flexed tricep. You cant bent press much weight just using the tricep. Now lean forward and to the side in a corkscrew/spiral movement while keeping your lat flared and your eyes on the weight. Imagine that you are turning away from the weight; again this imagery will help you maintain correct form.
Keep folding your body under the weight; maintain a straight leg for as long as possible, until your arm is straight. When you have reached the bottom position of the drill you should do a small squat and then with you free hand press on your lifting leg to help yourself up.
This exercise is hardly seen in the gyms today, you may see some fitness model wanna be doing straight legged deadlifts while looking at his butt in the mirror, but this is not how you will do it. The deadlift has been given a bad name in magazines but it is really the number one full body exercise that will lend itself to heavy poundages and a ripped physique.
Stand facing a barbell. Have your feet facing the way they would if you had just landed from a jump, you should have the barbell above the centre of your feet. Using your eyes try and look all the way over your head - almost as if you were trying to see what was happening behind you - take a deep breath, this will increase your Intra Abdominal Pressure (IAP), which will help you to lift the dead weight off of the floor with out IAP the weight will stay glued to the floor and if you could pick up a weight it would hurt your back.
Keep a tight arch in your lower back and keep your shoulder back don't round them down or let them drop this will help you become a human crane. Remember that you need to use all of your body to do the deadlift correctly; it cannot be stressed enough that you must remain tight.
Keeping all the weight on your heels, your IAP high and a good arch in your back will help you use your legs in the lift, don't look down as many people do or you will be lifting only with your back and that means you are taking away power from your lift by not using your legs, they are prime movers and shouldn't be neglected, you know this already so I will move on.
When you are going to grab the bar you should avoid just squatting down and picking up the bar, you will not be capable of lifting as much weight as you are capable of lifting. Make sure your body stays tight and keep your arms straight and locked. To lock your arms and make them super hard just flex your triceps as much as possible, this will result in huge tricep definition can you say horse shoe? To keep your body tight you should imagine that you are a tight spring that is being loaded with a heavy weight, it works and coupled with the IAP you will have turned your body from powder to pillar.
While squatting down to grip the bar push your butt back while keeping your knees slightly bent, imagine that you are moving an object like a chair or even better you are trying to sit back into a chair that is a bit to far behind you.
This will recruit your hamstrings to a higher degree, which will result in more power and a harder contraction when you are trying to lift the weight off of the ground, don't let your knees move forward, the closer your shins are to vertical the better.
Keeping your triceps flexed grip the bar (without looking at it, keep your eyes looking towards the ceiling), you can adjust your grip just don't look down, don't spend too much time trying to get a perfect grip as you shouldn't hold your breath for too long, just let go of the bar and start again.
When you are gripping the bar use a staggered grip, this will allow you to hold onto the barbell better.
Ok, its time to pull. Remembering everything that you have learned, slowly rip the weight off the round. Do not actually pull the bar; forget your arms just think of them as steel cables that are holding the weight. Remember that you are a crane now, a Russian study by Sokolov that you lose a he 40% of your strength by trying to pull with bent arms, another reason why you should keep your triceps flexed.
When you are lifting the bar it helps to think of pulling the bar towards you rather than straight up. By the time you have pulled the barbell towards your knees, your legs and especially your shins should be vertical.
You have heard me say over and over again that IAP should remain high, to maintain this keep your ABS and GLUTES highly flexed. Once you have the bar at knee level drive your hips forward while maximally flexing your butt, at the same time shoot your shoulders back while keeping your chest high, as if you are an old school Venice beach bodybuilder, remember how they used to walk around with their chests out? This visualization will help you maintain correct posture.
Once you are finished you should have the bar hanging by your thighs while standing straight, don't lean back as it is unhealthy for your spine, to avoid this problem try and flex your glutes as hard as possible.
Take a quick breathe inhale again and head back down, not at an exaggerated pace, push your butt back quickly - remember the sitting in the chair trick - let the bar almost fall back to the ground. Stay on your heels through out the entire movement and do not look down. Make sure that you let go of the weight when it has reached the ground, this is important for re-setting your deadlift groove, if you ever try powerlifting you will see that they let go of the bar after every rep.
That's it, it is simple but for great results you will only need to use a simple plan after this you may choose to go onto a specialization program, that is your choice but it really won't be needed. Try the routine for 8 weeks and see where you stand. Until then stay strong, go and be awesome.
About The Author
Simon Forsyth RKC is a freelance journalist who is available for group and private sessions; he has also started online coaching for all your needs. He was Australians first certified Kettlebell instructor. Simon actively peruses strength in all of its forms. To contact him please e-mail: simon_forsythRKC@bigpond.com
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