Beast Building – Part 2

The second phase of a three-month plan designed for those who want to get bigger and have the power and strength to back it up.

“Gros, Cut, Fort!”

That’s what coaches Poliquin and Benoit always used to say before their workouts. It’s Frenglish (French and English) for “big, cut, and strong.” I always promised myself that I’d find a way to work their famous catch phrase into one of my articles, and at last, I can. Because that’s what this second phase of the Beast Building program is all about; it’s a bridge to big, cut, and strong…well, mostly to the big and strong part.

Phase 1 of our training program was all about jacking up your nervous system: improving your capacity to recruit the highly trainable high threshold motor units (HTMUs), and inhibiting the protective mechanisms that prevent you from becoming a true beast.

In this second phase, we’ll take advantage of the neural improvements you made over the preceding four weeks. We’ll now be able to more easily tap into the HTMUs, which have a great potential for both strength and size gains. And getting bigger and stronger is why we signed up for this program, right?

Last time, we placed almost all of the emphasis on the CNS, which required a very high frequency of training with a low volume of work for each muscle group. This time the focus will be divided pretty much equally between the CNS and the muscular system (while in our last phase of training, the muscular system will be the main focus), which still necessitate a relatively high frequency of training.

However, that frequency will be lower than during Phase I, to allow us to increase the amount of work being performed per session for a muscle group. Previously, each muscle was worked directly or indirectly four days a week using a whole-body approach. This time, we’ll still be training four times a week, but each muscle group will receive only two stimulations per week as we’ll use an upper body/lower body split.

One basic principle to remember in regard to the frequency of training (referring to the frequency for each muscle group, not to the total number of weekly sessions) is as follows:

The more emphasis placed on developing the neuromuscular system, the higher the frequency, and the lower the total volume of daily work for the muscle/movement pattern. The more emphasis placed on stimulating muscle growth, the higher the daily volume for a muscle, and the lower the frequency should be.

In other words, when you want to improve the neuromuscular aspect, train a muscle often, but don’t fatigue it too much. When you want to increase the size of the muscle, put more stress on the muscle in each workout, but give the muscle more time to recover.

The following graphic illustrates this concept:

So this second phase will be “mixed,” meaning that frequency will be decreased (as we already saw) while the average workload/structural training stress of the workouts will be increased.

Rejoice, ye fans of big guns, we’ll start to include some of your beloved isolation work in this phase! Don’t rejoice too much, though, because it’ll still constitute a relatively small portion of the total workload. Our goal is still to build a foundation of overall strength and size, and that means more big compound movements!

Weekly Workout Plan

As I said, in this phase we’ll use an upper/lower body split where each muscle group is being trained twice per week. One of these sessions will be more neuromuscular in nature, while the second one will put slightly more emphasis on muscular development, while still targeting strength gains to a significant extent.

So the schedule will actually look like this:

  • Monday: Lower body/neuromuscular emphasis
  • Tuesday: Upper body/neuromuscular emphasis
  • Wednesday: Off
  • Thursday: Lower body/muscle growth and strength
  • Friday: Off
  • Saturday: Upper body/muscle growth and strength
  • Sunday: Off

Lower Body: Neuromuscular Emphasis Workout

Even though neuromuscular improvements occur very rapidly with proper training, and it’s likely that the first phase of this program already led to some serious neural efficacy gains, we still want to maximize the development of the nervous system. Remember, our goal is to improve the capacity of the nervous system to recruit the high threshold motor units, and these are the most important muscle fibers to stimulate when it comes to gaining strength and size.

Of course, if we’re gonna continue stimulating neural improvements, we have to ramp it up a notch. Enter the Beast Complex, which is a modification of the Bulgarian Complex method.

In the Bulgarian Complex, you use 4-5 exercises targeting similar muscle groups or movement patterns. Each of these movements emphasize a different physical capacity of the strength spectrum (limit strength, strength-speed, speed-strength, ballistic strength, reactive strength, etc.). In this complex, you start with the heaviest (limit strength) exercise and work your way down.

The exercises are performed as a circuit. You start with one set of the first exercise, rest for the prescribed amount of time, perform one set of the second exercise, take the same rest, perform one set of the third exercise, and so on until you have performed a set of every exercise, at which point you’ll start the complex over.

For example:

Lower Body: Bulgarian Complex

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1. Back Squat* 2-3 3-5 2-3 min.
A2. Power Snatch or Power Clean* 2-3 2-3 2-3 min.
A3. Jump Squats** 2-3 10 2-3 min.
A4. Depth Jumps (from 0.5m) 2-3 10 2-3 min.
A5. Vertical Jumps 2-3 *** 2-3 min.

* load of 85-95% of 1RM
** load of 15-20% of the back squat 1RM
*** As many jumps as possible in 15 seconds

Because of the high number of exercises, you should perform the complex only 2-3 times per workout.

Modified Bulgarian Complex, A.K.A. The Beast Complex

While the complex we’re going to use is inspired by the original Bulgarian Complex method, we’ll only use three exercises per complex. One of these exercises will be a functional isometric movement, the second one will be a limit strength exercise, and the last one an explosive drill.

We’ll perform two different complexes during this workout: one will be quads dominant, and the second one will be hips/posterior chain dominant.

Exercise 1: Functional Isometrics

Former Olympic lifting team member Bill March experimented with a type of training called “functional isometrics,” and it improved his lifting performance at an astounding rate. Of course, data also suggests that March was one of Dr. John Ziegler’s first guinea pigs for Dianabol use. Because of this fact, functional isometric training was dismissed on the grounds that March’s gains were due to the drugs, and not the training methods. That, in my opinion, was a big mistake!

First of all, March took only 5 to 10 mg of Dianabol per day. That’s an extremely low dose, especially considering that using ten to twenty times that amount in conjunction with other drugs is considered a “normal” cycle by most bodybuilders! So although the 5 to 10 mg of D-bol per day probably did make a difference, it can’t explain the absolutely phenomenal gains made by March.

What are functional isometrics? Recall that isometric training refers to exerting strength without movement. The classic form of isometric training is pushing or pulling an immovable load. We used these “overcoming” isometrics in Phase I.

Because you recruit more motor-units during an isometric action than during a concentric action, it’s arguable that isometric exercises can lead to greater strength stimulation. However, there are some problems with pure overcoming isometric training:

  1. It’s impossible to quantify progress. Since you’re not moving a load, you don’t know if you’re improving, or even if you’re exerting maximal effort. This can surely decrease progression and motivation.
  2. Isometric training is angle specific, meaning that you’ll gain strength only at the joint angles being worked (with only a 15-20 degree carryover of strength gains).

Functional isometrics are a bit different. You still exert force without movement, but you’re actually lifting a load. Here’s how it works:

Start the bar at a specific height, and lift it two to three inches against a second set of safety pins. Then hold the position for six to nine seconds. Keep on adding weight until you can’t lift it. Just hold the bar firmly against the second set of safety pins for at least six seconds, while maintaining a good lifting posture.

A functional isometric set-up for bench press.

This way you’re actually lifting weights, and can quantify your progress. Furthermore, since there’s a short dynamic phase to the movement, the transfer of the gained isometric strength to an actual dynamic action is more important.

You can use functional isometrics either at the sticking point (the second set of pins being set at your sticking point so the bar actually starts 2-3" below your sticking point) or on contrary, at a very strong point in the range of motion (close to the lockout or past the mid-range point).

In the first case (weak point) the benefit is obviously to strengthen a weak link in the chain. In the second case (close to lockout) the goal is to prime the nervous system as much as possible: close to the lockout is the position where strength production will be at its highest, which will have a greater potentiating effect than all other positions.

Unless you are specifically trying to bring up a sticking point (if you’re a competitive powerlifter, for instance), I recommend using the “close to the lockout” position for the Beast Complex.

For the first complex of this workout (quadriceps dominant), I recommend the functional isometric front squat, if you have the shoulder, back and wrist flexibility to do it. Otherwise, you can also go with the back squat version.

Again, remember that the bar rests on a first set of safety pins and you push it against a second set of pins that’s 2-3" above the first one. You work up to the max weight you can push against the pins for at least 6 seconds.

For the second complex of this workout, I suggest a functional isometric deadlift. But because we want to put more emphasis on the whole posterior chain, not just the lower back, we’ll use the below-the-knees position of the deadlift. The lockout position only targets the lower back, upper back, and traps.

Exercise 2: Limit Strength

This one is pretty straightforward: good old heavy lifting! We’ll simply use an exercise targeting the same movement pattern or muscles as those stimulated by the functional isometric exercise and work it for sets of 2-3 repetitions. Challenge yourself, use a heavy load and attempt to get stronger and stronger. But stay within the limits of perfect lifting form.

Remember that the goal of this whole program is to build strength and size, not to peak for a strength test or a competition. Sets of 2-3 with 87-90% of your max are more than enough to get the job done, even if you still have one or two reps left in the tank.

Obviously you want to use a movement that’s close to the first one in the complex. This means either a back or front squat for the quadriceps dominant complex, and a deadlift, sumo deadlift, Romanian deadlift, or snatch-grip deadlift for the hips/posterior chain dominant complex.

Exercise 3: Explosive Strength

For this third exercise of this complex you have more choices. Go with whichever of these exercise you wish:

  • Traditional lifts with max acceleration: for example a speed squat (à la Westside Barbell) which is a squat set performed with 45 to 55% of your maximum. You control the lowering portion of the repetition but accelerate as much as possible during the lifting phase. Sets of 3-5 reps are recommended.
  • Olympic lifts: these are to be done only for the hips/posterior chain complex. Various variations of the power clean and power snatch with 70-80% of your maximum for 3-5 reps fits the bill.
  • Ballistic exercises: these refer to jumping with added weight. For example the jump squat performed with 20-30% of your maximum squat. The jump squat is a great explosive drill for the quadriceps dominant complex.

For the hips/posterior chain complex you can always perform jump lunges or jump deadlifts. In the jump lunge, you use around 10-20% of your bodyweight, and jump in the air from a lunge position (don’t switch legs in the air, switch on the ground). The wider your stance is, the more of your glutes and hamstrings you use.

The jump deadlift is quite simple: use 15-20% of your max deadlift. Lower the bar as if you were doing a Romanian deadlift and from that position you execute a vertical jump as high as you can. Remember to push your hips far back to stretch the hamstrings when you lower the bar to your knees.

Ballistic movements are best performed for sets of 8 to 10 total reps (this means only 4 or 5 reps per leg for the jump lunges).

This is how to put it all together:

Complex A: Quadriceps Dominant

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Functional Isometric Front or Back Squat * 4-5 6 sec. 2 min.
A2 Front or Back Squat 4-5 2-3 2 min.
A3 Jump Squat or Speed Squat 4-5 8-10 / 3-5 2 min.

* Isometric Squat — Maximum weight.

Complex B: Hips / Posterior Chain Dominant

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
B1 Functional Isometric Deadlift 4-5 6 sec. 2 min.
B2 Deadlift or Sumo/Romanian/Snatch-Grip Deadlift 4-5 2-3 2 min.
B3 Power Clean from Hang or
Speed Deadlift or Jump Lunges/Deadlift
4-5 3-5 2 min.

* Isometric Deadlift — Maximum weight.

Upper Body: Neuromuscular Emphasis Workout

Ok, now that we have all the science stuff out of the way we can jump right into the teeth of this training day. The structure of the workout will be essentially the same as the preceding one. We’ll also have two complexes: one push and one pull. The only difference will be with the isometric method used for the pulling complex. Functional isometrics are almost impossible to properly perform for the pulling muscles. So we’ll use a dynamic/isometric contrast instead.

What you’ll do is perform one repetition with a near-maximal weight on a rowing exercise, then tense your back muscles as hard as humanly possible.

Good exercises for this isometric hold include: chest-supported T-bar rowing, chest-supported dumbbell rowing, seated rowing, weighted chins, and weighted pull-ups.

For the upper body push isometrics, you stick to functional isometrics using either a bench press, incline press, or shoulder press. Remember the concept: two sets of safety pins set 2-3" apart, the bar starts on the first set, you press it against the second set and push it for 6-9 seconds. You can add weight as long as you are capable of firmly pressing against the pins for at least 6 seconds.

So the workout would look like this:

Complex A, Option 1: Upper Body Horizontal Push Dominant

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Functional Isometric Front Bench Press or Incline Press * 4-5 6 sec. 2 min.
A2 Bench Press or Incline Press 4-5 2-3 2 min.
A3 Speed Bench or Ballistic Bench** 4-5 3-5 2 min.

* Maximum weight.
**Ballistic Bench is performed on the Smith machine. You use a load that’s 20-30% of your max bench and you project the bar in the air for 8-10 reps.

Ballistic Bench

Complex A, Option 2: Upper Body Vertical Push Dominant

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Functional Isometric Military Press or Seated Shoulder Press * 4-5 6 sec. 2 min.
A2 Military Press or Seated Shoulder Press 4-5 2-3 2 min.
A3 Push Press 4-5 3-5 2 min.

* Isometric Press — Maximum weight.

Note: During a workout you only select one of these two options, either decide to go with a vertical or horizontal push, not both.

Complex B, Option 1: Upper Body Horizontal Pull Dominant

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
B1 Iso/Dynamic Contrast Chest-supported Rowing or Seated Rowing 4-5 2 min.
Use close to your maximum on the lift, holding it in the contracted position for as long as you can.
B2 Chest-Supported Dumbbell Rowing or T-bar/Seated/Bent-over Row 4-5 2-3 2 min.
B3 Speed Bent-over Dumbbell Rowing 4-5 3-5 2 min.

Complex B, Option 2: Upper Body Vertical Pull Dominant

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
B1 Iso/Dynamic Contrast Chins or Pull-ups 4-5 2 min.
Use close to your maximum on the lift, holding it in the contracted position for as long as you can.
B2 Weighted Chins or Weighted Pull-ups/Lat Pulldowns 4-5 2-3 2 min.
B3 Speed Chins/Pull-ups 4-5 3-5 2 min.
Use a block to stand on and “cheat” by simultaneously jumping and pulling yourself up as fast as you can.

Note: During a workout you only select one of these two options, either decide to go with a vertical or horizontal pull, not both. Obviously select the option directly opposite of the push option you selected.

Lower Body: Muscle Growth and Strength

Finally something normal! On this third (and fourth) workout of the weak we’ll get back to good old regular lifting! We’ll be training in the hypertrophy and functional hypertrophy zones.

Since this workout is fairly straightforward, let’s jump into it.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Front Squat 4-5 4-6 90 sec.
A2 Romanian Deadlift 4-5 4-6 90 sec.
B1 Leg Press 3-4 6-8 90 sec.
B2 Pull-Through or Reverse Hyper 3-4 6-8 90 sec.
C1 Standing Calf Raise 3-4 6-8 90 sec.
C2 Lying Leg Curl 3-4 6-8 90 sec.

Upper Body: Muscle Growth and Strength

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Chest-supported Dumbbell Row 4-5 4-6 90 sec.
A2 Bench Press 4-5 4-6 90 sec.
B1 Pull-ups (weighted if possible) 4-5 6-8 90 sec.
B2 High-Incline 45°-60° Dumbbell Press 4-5 6-8 90 sec.
C1 Preacher Curl 4-5 6-8 90 sec.
C2 Decline EZ-bar Triceps Extension 4-5 6-8 90 sec.

Supplementation to Enhance the Efficacy of the Program

The supplements to use during this second phase of training are somewhat similar to those used in phase I because there’s still an important emphasis on the nervous system. So the use of Spike is still recommended pre-workout, but only prior to the first two workouts in the training cycle. Caffeine Free Brain Candy should also be used after those two workouts to enhanced neural recovery. Since we’re still lifting heavy weights, the use of Flameout to reduce inflammation is also a good idea (a high quality fish oil should always be part of your program anyway).

As always, Surge should be taken post-workout to speed up the recovery process and maximize the anabolic response to training.

Obviously, you can still do the program without the supplements. However, using them in conjunction with this plan will give you significantly better results. It’s up to you to determine if the added gains are worth the small investment.

A Quick Footnote

I know that some people might read this article and will want to do it by itself, without using Phase 1 first. Can that be done? Sure. Although this series is designed to present a 12-week program aimed at maximizing overall strength and size, each phase can still be used as a standalone. In the case of this second phase, it’s better suited to those who want to gain both strength and size in proportional amounts.

Phase I, if performed as a standalone, is best kept for those who want to focus mostly on strength, while the upcoming Phase III will present a good option for those mainly interested in gaining size. But for optimal gains in both aspects, following the whole plan is the best option.

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