Ok, bare with me on this one, I'm going to get into some nitty-gritty shit when it comes to growing and responding better to your training. Some of this is going to seem “out there” to some of you, but all I'm saying is that this stuff works for me and it may work for you too.
Let's take a brief look at most of your common training systems out there. There is progressive overload (every week you add on weight and try to get same rep count as last time). High intensity training where sets are commonly less but intensity is higher with time under tension.
There's slow rep speeds, static holds, and a few other HIT principles such as rest pause training (you only rest a brief 10-15 seconds during a set and then try for a few more reps with the same weight) and deload weeks (a week of training at half volume and weight lifted to give the body a further recovery period but still train)
There are powerlifting techniques such as speed days, dynamic lifting days, the tonnage system (more overall weight lifted through more sets of less reps for overall more heavy sets lifted during the workout) and a list of other techniques that I cannot think of off the top of my head right now, but it's a lot more!!
But let's go beyond these techniques and dive even further into the black hole of tricks to grow more. Welcome to the school of unorthodox training and personal techniques that have worked well for me. Pay attention here, you may just get huge!!
#1- HEAVY SETS AS A WAY TO FINISH THE WORKOUT, LIGHT SETS TO START
This is the total opposite of how most people train. A lot of people want to hit their heaviest work first when they're fresh, then transition to the lighter accessory work.
Lets reverse this once in awhile. Lets do most of the workout with light to moderate weight you can control and achieve maximum contraction, THEN OVERLOAD AT THE END!! Here is an example of a chest day for me;
- exercise #1- incline hammer strength press for 4-5 sets of 12-15 reps performed light to moderate weight with a slow range of motion.
- exercise #2- flat or low incline Db fly's done for 2-3 sets of 20 reps slow and controlled using light weights and max peak contraction. (Think 35 lb DB's here if you normally get to 60's and 70's)
- exercise #3- 3-4 sets of 5 reps on HEAVY incline DB presses.
Nobody ever thinks about going heavy near the end after you're already spent. I say challenge yourself in the end sometimes and give your body the heavy work in the end.
It' not used to that, you probably always do the opposite and train heavier at first and then do lighter accessory work. Reverse the order and see if you aren't more sore the next day!!
#2- CHANGING THE MIND-FRAME FOR A MARATHON DURING THE SETS
Think of riding a bike up hill. When you ride a bike up a hill there are plenty of times when it's easy to want to stop, but if you're physically able to keep going then you keep going.
This is going to sound ridiculous, but during my sets sometimes I envision myself riding a bike up a hill, when the set begins to get difficult I just tell my mind that it's halfway through the uphill climb. I begin to think of sets not just as a rep # but as a bike ride up a hill until I get to the top.
This may not be making any sense to you right now, it's ok, it's something you have to experience and train your mind to do. Stop counting reps and just keep doing the motion.
When you constantly have a rep count in mind what you're doing is training your mind to know it's going to fail at a certain rep count. Go beyond that and break all the rules.
Lose count of reps and get your mind totally involved in just pumping out the motion, over and over, like peddling up a hill.
Here is a way to train yourself to think this way that I speak of;
#3- THE ONE SONG PUSH-UP SET
Pick a song, any song that gets you amped up. Now, the only goal at hand here is to continue to do pushups throughout the entire duration of that song. I want you to lose rep count and put your rhythm and mind into working to the song.
You will probably need to rest briefly in between for a few times (keep it to 10 seconds rest and then begin pumping out more pushups until you fail again. Continue to do as many pushups as you can until the song ends.
Change hand positioning if you have to in order to get more pushups, do some partials, do some hindu pushups, whatever you need to do in order to continue on through the song. Your chest will be big and pumped beyond anything you've ever experienced.
Add this at the end of your chest routine, just one giant set of pushups where the pectoral muscles have to work under fatigue and endurance the entire time.
You will go well beyond normal failure point simply by changing your mind-frame to a song and do your push-ups in a rhythm. When they begin to get extremely difficult I want you to envision yourself riding the bike up that giant hill.
When it gets hard you keep peddling, you may peddle slower, but the goal is to continue peddling until the song is over with (once you get to the top of the hill with your push-ups as your bicycle.)
It's going to get hard a minute in, so what? If your physically able to keep going then keep going. This can be performed after all other normal chest work. Expect an extreme soreness from this.
Next time you go back into the gym for chest day you're going to be stronger on all exercises for chest pressing, I guarantee that shit!!
You can use this technique for pretty much most exercises, but I have found bodyweight exercises and accessory moves (bicep curls, tricep pressdowns, etc) to work best.
I don't think I'd be attempting this with a weighted barbell on my shoulders due to form failure before complete leg failure.
Try it out and see if it doesn't improve pump and overall strength when you get back into a more traditional set.
#4- THINK OF YOUR ABS AS A MEASURE OF OVERALL HEALTH AND CONDITIONING, NOT JUST AB WORK!!
Serge Nubret was an old school bodybuilder from the 1970's who did up to 2,000 sit-ups in an ab session. Although a very unrealistic approach for most (and not necessary for abs), Serge did make some sense when he talked about his ab routine. He said it was for “overall health and conditioning”, not just working the abs.
Think about this for a minute, when you're in shape it's easier to perform ab work. You never see a fat guy busting out hundreds of reps for abs. I myself do 500 reps when I work my abs (most of the time).
Pick ANY combination of ab exercises and work on a rep goal. For myself this would include rope pulldowns behind the head, hanging leg raises, crunches, or light weight on a crunch machine.
Make up your own ab circuit if you want, it may take away some of the monotony of ab training. I usually perform sets of 25 reps until I eventually hit 500 reps total.
This will also get you into the habit of contracting your abdominal muscles harder throughout the day and on all other exercises.
I focus primarily on just bodyweight movements (with the exception of weighted rope pulldowns behind my head and maybe 10-20 lbs on a lying crunch machine) because as you get older your abs naturally get larger.
We want to keep a tight waist and that streamline V-taper, so doing weighted abs just isn't necessary for the most part.
#5- GET USED TO GOING THROUGH A WIDER RANGE OF WEIGHTS AS YOU BECOME MORE DEVELOPED
The range of weights I use for dumbbell presses could be anywhere from 40 lbs to 125 lb dumbbells. Some days I'll get to the 125's and other days I wont get beyond 40-50 lbs. It's not that I cannot lift it but once you become more advanced you begin to lift based on how you feel.
Which brings me to my next point on maximum physical development….adding weights in your mind!!
When you gain the bulk of your size (which should happen within the first 5 consistent years of weight training) the focus on further development will come from the mind/muscle connection that you establish.
You should be able to pick up a 10 lb dumbbell and through enough peak contraction and focus, make that 10 lb dumbbell feel as challenging as curling a 50 lb dumbbell.
You do this through the mind. This is one key factor that provides a more volumized and pumped looking muscle. It takes experience and many reps to get better at this, but in due time you will begin to see the results!!
But as I said before, there are many days where the weight range you lift is a huge gap. Just because YOU CAN bench press 400 lbs doesn't mean that you cannot benefit from days where you only climb to 200 lbs!! Listen to your body and train smart.
Think of your body as a Lamborghini, just because it can go 200+ mph doesn't always mean you're driving the car 200+ mph everywhere. But when you want to punch it on a wide open road you have the ability to!!
#6- ONLY TRAIN THE DEADLIFT TO FAILURE ONCE EVERY 4 WEEKS
The deadlift is one of the most effective exercises for gaining overall mass and strength. Unfortunately it's also the exercise that crushes your recovery ability and nervous system the most.
Out of any lift to fail on, the deadlift is the one lift that completely zaps you!! You can fail on a bench, squat, curl or pulldown, but the deadlift is the #1 killer in recovery ability.
I actually moved my deadlifts to every other week a long time ago due to this recovery factor. I found that I was stronger when I did them once every 2 weeks as opposed to every single week(the exception being a new deadlifter who is steadily climbing up in strength each week).
But once my deadlift got to over 500 lbs I found that performing them every single week that heavy became far too demanding on my recovery.
If you have hit a plateau in deadlifts then try moving them to every other week, and my expert advice would be to only try to hit a max rep or set count once every 4 weeks. DO NOT TRAIN YOURSELF TO FAIL EVERY TIME YOU DEADLIFT!!
It's actually a good idea not to train yourself to fail at most lifts every workout. You'll actually grow faster from this!!
#7- DON'T PERFORM A LIFT JUST BECAUSE IT'S WHAT SOMEONE ELSE DOES
There are plenty of routines that guys continuously try to copy exercise for exercise. If you're injured, have tendonitis, or some other nagging issue then it's absolutely stupid to go through an exercise that aggravates it.
Some people have bodies with longer torsos or legs, longer arms or shorter arms, and their limbs act like different types of levers.
If something hurts you then find a substitute for it. If you have a herniated disk and squatting aggravates it then switch to a leg press.
If you are experiencing shoulder impingement (like I am right now) then it makes no sense to do heavy shoulder presses where the a/c joint is in the most vulnerable position possible at the top of the movement near lockout.
Experiment with partial reps where you don't lock out or avoid an exercise until the injury gets better. Also know that what you read most places probably isn't even someone's real routine.
Take Arnold for example; in his encyclopedia of modern bodybuilding he has the “perfect workouts” laid out that he used to perform right? Well then he comes out and says that he would have training partners and “someone would come up with an exercise that day and we'd just do it.”
Lee Haney was 8x Mr. Olympia and he ate pineapple or fruit cocktail at night (and I know this for a fact). But wait, aren't carbs bad at night? Not for 8x Mr. Olympia
Don't believe everything you hear, bodybuilding is full of lies. Most arm measurements are exaggerated, most routines are never what they say, and I'm sorry but not every post workout meal is dextrose sugar and protein powder!!
#8- INNER-SET WARM-UPS
While I don't always do this I will do this from time to time. There are ways to do a warm-up within a work set.
The first rep of any set is the most dangerous rep you can do, the last rep usually the safest. This is because throughout the set your body is warming up to avoid injury. Most injuries you see are from that very first rep (or first few).
One way to avoid this is to do a slower range of motion during your first few reps of a set. After those first few slower reps you can carry on through the “working part of the set.” That's right, you can do your warm-up and your work set all in the same set.
This technique should be used only for very experienced lifters who know their bodies. I've had workout where my first set of squats was 405 lbs.
What this does is it allows you to go further on with a weight than you could by overexerting yourself through warming up. This was popularized by the Arthur Jones crew (inventor of Nautilus equipment) which included Mike Mentzer and his brother Ray, Boyer Coe, and Casey Viator.
Partially adopting this method of warming up came Dorian Yates, only Yates would modify this technique of warming up by performing a light weight warm-up, moderate weight warm-up, and a heavy weight warm-up, and then just 1 work set that was balls to the wall!! But his warm-ups would be considered working sets if he took the rep counts further.
For example, 275 lbs on a bench press is a warm-up for me when I'm training this way. It's still working weight, but the difference is I'm only doing 3-5 reps and not 15 reps, therefore it's considered a warm-up.
#9- RUNNING THE RACK BY INCREASING VOLUME AND OVERLOAD AT THE SAME TIME
This is brutal, but highly effective and should be used sparingly. You can do this with a dumbbell rack, tricep pressdown, or any pin loaded machine.
What I'm about to tell you is going to be one of the most brutal things you're ever going to do in the gym, it's volume and overload all in one giant death set!!
I'm going to use the DB curl for example. I curl both arms at the same time for this due to time sake and allowing no recovery time for either arm between running the rack. Here is how it works….
For every jump you make in DB's you do as many reps as the DB's are. Start with 10 lb dumbbells for 10 reps, then jump to 15 lb dumbbells for 15 reps, then straight to 20 lb dumbbells for 20 reps, then 25 lb dumbbells for 25 reps, then 30 lb dumbbells for 30 reps, etc etc. You make the jumps with no rest, you keep going until you totally fail. That's 100 reps in a row!!
Congratulations, you've just done volume and overload all in one giant set. your bicep workout will be over with in less than 10 minutes max. If you can get past 30 lbs then your an absolute beast in my book!!
I occasionally do this with dumbbell curls and right after that I do it with tricep pressdowns. You'll be cursing me throughout your set!!
#10- START TAKING YOGA CLASSES ONCE A WEEK
Don't knock it until you try it, yoga is an excellent way to stretch muscle fascia and establish a new pain threshold when trans-versing into the weight room.
The bigger you are the more effective this will be. Yoga is a way to hold a deep stretch while training your mind to relax during pain. Eventually the pain becomes comfort as the mind releases and relaxes.
Not to mention, this type of stretching will release all sorts of toxins built up in the muscles. It's sort of like getting massage but doing the work yourself. Through yoga you'll develop a total body awareness that will help you contract muscles that you may not have been contracting before.
Now take this into the gym and you're not only going to contract muscles harder but you're going to improve your range of motion. You're going to develop a new pain threshold that allows you to break barriers you couldn't break through before.
Sets that once stopped at 15 reps will become 20 reps. Remember, you aren't the average person with average flexibility. Chances are you're rigid and this is something you need.
Most people simply aren't disciplined enough to stretch to this degree on their own unless they're in a class. You probably won;t know all of the stretches either, so it's easier to learn from someone who can instruct you.
I haven't even mentioned the benefits yoga can have on connective tissues and joints yet. The issue with building your body more muscular is that connective tissue and joints can become tighter.
Think of these as being shrink wrapped and yoga is your tool for loosening them up. It'll help you avoid injury and you'll develop a stronger spine as well as a better spinal alignment.
It'll also help you sleep better and your hips and back will also thank you for it. I've seen people with everything from spinal stenosis, workout injuries and numerous other physical disabilities completely restored through taking yoga classes.
Everyone may laugh or call you fag because you are taking a yoga class, but they don't understand the benefits of it and why you may be doing it.
When your up in the gym killing it, sleeping more soundly, and developing your body light years beyond what they are doing then the big joke is on them!!
There is only so much time in a given week to do everything involved in fitness from all angles, but if you can find one given day a week to take a yoga class then my best advice is to try it!!
KEEP AN OPEN MIND WHEN IT COMES TO DEVELOPING YOUR BODY AND TAKING CARE OF IT!!
You never get too old to stop learning, my Grandfather always told me that and he was right. Hopefully some of these tips are things you can try out and maybe include in your own fitness regimen.
Remember, it's not always supplements, drugs, and over-eating. The smart and open-minded trainer will eventually prevail!!
Try new things, don't believe everything you hear, and health is always #1. Train hard!! -JD