The Look of Power
by Ken Leistner
When you see an individual who has built his or her muscle tissue mass to an advanced degree, and has done it with basic, heavy exercises, they have a certain look about them. It’s hard to describe in words, yet everyone knows it when they see it. Extremely developed bodybuilders often lack this “look.” They have a high level of muscle tissue, and perhaps very large measurements. Still, they look, as my younger brother once noted, “like bodybuilders, like a bunch of bodyparts.” One who uses “the basics” and is capable of using relatively heavy weights for moderately high repetitions looks powerful and strong. It is an almost indefinable, yet undeniable, truth.
You must stimulate the large muscular structures of the hips, thighs, lower and upper back to attain this “power look.” The ability to carry as much muscular mass as possible, at any bodyweight, is limited it these areas are not developed to the greatest possible degree. Needless to say, these can be the most neglected areas because they are the most difficult to train. There hasn’t been a market yet for shirts with cellophane windows so the spinae erector groups are highlighted for the public. Posing in front of a mirror yields a lot more information about the pecs, lats, delts and arms than it reveals about the scapulae retractors and the lower trapezius fibers. And when was the last time anyone asked you to flex our hamstrings or para-vertebral muscles in order to assess your worth as a true strongman?
You can get excellent results by concentrating periodically on these potentially strong groups for eight to 12 weeks. As always, a wide variety of equipment can and should be used, but keep in mind that free weights can be used where machines are listed. It’s the effort that’s important, but keep in mind that high intensity training on the large muscle groups will require sufficient recuperation time. Don’t worry that the “other” muscle groups of the upper body are being neglected, and don’t do additional sets for the biceps, deltoids, etc. Stick to the suggested program for a reasonable amount of time before passing judgment. Emphasize an effort to be PROGRESSIVE. Add weight to the bar or do additional repetitions each and every workout. I believe it’s important to continue a certain amount of cardiopulmonary work at all times, at least two sessions a week. Try to choose activities that will not fatigue the lower extremities or cause joint irritation. Swimming or rowing may be a wise alternative to jogging or cycling. Some may find it beneficial to complete the strength training work on Monday, for example, rest 15 minutes and go through a cardiovascular program. Rest on Tuesday so the next workout is attacked with enthusiasm ad more importantly, with as much recuperation as possible.
This program should be done three days per week. The emphasis will obviously be on the muscular structures of the lower extremities and the back. But if the work given to the other muscle groups is of sufficient intensity, surprising improvements will occur in all groups. Note carefully that I said the work must be of “sufficient intensity,” not quantity. This program is not designed to “hold the line” or “maintain” development in the upper body structures. Increases in strength and muscular size should occur, especially for those who usually overtrain those “showy” bodyparts.
Squat – 1 x 20 (rest 3 minutes)
Squat – 1 x 10-12
Stiff-legged Deadlift – 1 x 15
Pullover – 1x12
Pulldown – 1 x 8
Shrug – 1 x 15
Pullover – 1 x 9-10
Row – 1 x 10
Shrug – 1 x 10
Four-way Neck – 15 reps each
Leg Press – 1 x 30
Side Bend – 15 each side
Bench Press – 1 x 12
Upright Row – 1 x 8
Bench Press – 1 x 6-8
Barbell Curl – 1 x 12
Lateral Raise – 1 x 8
Front Raise – 1 x 6
Dip – 1 x 10
Barbell Curl – 1 x 8
Dip – 1 x 8
Standing Calf Raise – 1 x 20; 1 x 10
Seated Calf Raise – 1 x 15
Leg Extension – 1 x 15
Squat – 1 x 30 (rest three minutes)
Regular Deadlift – 1 x 15-20
Leg Curl – 1 x 12
Chin – 1 x 10
Shrug – 1 x 15
Row – 1 x 10
Scapular Retraction on Top Leverage Row – 1 x 8
Shrug – 1 x 10
One Arm Dumbell Row – 1 x 8 each
Leg Press – 1 x 20
Crunch – 1 or 2 x 15
This program is short and simple. The demands on “the system” however, are severe and one has to be especially careful to get as much rest as possible between workouts. Every effort should be made to use as much weight as possible, in proper form of course, in each set. As difficult as it may be, do not hold back or “save anything” for later sets. (And believe me, it is very tempting to hold something in reserve on an all-out set of 20 or 30 squats.)
The program on Day One begins with squats. These have to be pushed. While I have had competitive powerlifters tell me that “20-rep sets are too light” to bring progress, few of them could do more than 10 with the weight I recommend. This is the key: You must be willing to work very, very hard and do 20 reps with a weight that would normally find you racking the bar after 10 or 12. Yes, it often requires a force of will to complete those last eight reps, when you feel as if your chest has been hit repeatedly with a ball peen hammer. But this is the name of the game. After a short rest, try another set of squats with the same weight, trying to get in at least 50% of the reps you achieved in the first set. Once you adapt to the program, a 10% increase in weight may be possible between the first and second sets.
Stiff-legged Deadlifts, too, should be done carefully and safely, but heavily. Take care to keep the bar close to the body and to move it in a controlled manner. Maintain a very slight “break” or angle of flexion in the knee to remove stress from the hamstring insertions.
I believe the Nautilus Pullover Machine, especially the plate-loading model, is an under-and inefficiently-used piece of equipment. When used properly, it gives a very high order of work to the major muscle structures of the upper back and other muscle groups as well.
The pulldowns can be done on the leverage machine, or with a conventional pulley device, bringing the bar to the base of the neck on each pull.
The Leverage Row is a very effective way to train the scapular retractors without involving the lower back. You can do prone rows, by lying face down on an elevated bench, or cable rows with a long, low pulley. It’s important that you do not “rock” back and forth while doing cable rows. This exposes the lumbar spine to unnecessary risks and uses momentum to elevate the weight. Get a full stretch in the lats and upper back. Sit straight in a controlled manner. Pull as hard as possible, concentrating on bringing the scapulae (shoulder blades) together and the elbows to the rear. Like every other movement, complete the fullest possible range of motion and pause in the contracted position. Jerking the shoulders up and down in a rapid, “bouncy” manner will do little to stimulate your muscles.
Follow now with another set of pullovers, supported row and shrug.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of neck work. Neck development is essential for a finished look of power. This workout is finished – and so might you be – with a set of leg presses. Work very hard on this movement and your hips and thighs will be screaming. The session concludes with a set of side bends.
The “other” muscle groups of the upper body are trained on Day Two. Rather than panic because the biceps are receiving only one day of “direct stimulation” per week, work as hard as possible on the barbell curls (using a thick bar on occasion, and the pulldowns and rows. Remember, the biceps are getting quite a bit or work from those two movements on your other training days.
The bench presses can be done on the Leverage Machine or with a bar or dumbells.
The upright rows can be done with a strap or a bar. Do not perform these explosively. Pull to the bottom of the chin, pause, and return under control.
Lateral raises can be done with a low pulley, dumbell, Leverage Machine, or against manual resistance.
Do the dips hard and heavy.
Don’t train calves as an afterthought. Go after them as hard as you would work any other muscle group.
Day Three, like Day One, is strenuous. The leg extensions will pre-exhaust the quadriceps somewhat, prior to squatting. Thirty rep squats, if done heavily enough, will make the twenty rep sets of Day One seem like a vacation from training.
The deadlifts should be treated like the squats: all out and as heavy as possible. This is one movement, with the stiff-legged variety of deadlift, that we stop just short of failure. You conclude the set when form breaks down to the point where injury is possible. It is important to maintain proper form and avoid bouncing the bar between reps. Place the bar on the platform, make sure you’re set, and then pull. Your hands never leave the bar for the entire set. But make sure that you begin each pull in the proper position.
Leg curls, like stiff-legged deadlifts, give great work to the hamstring group, and should be taken seriously.
Chins should be done with as much weight as possible. When you can do ten perfect reps with a 100-lb. plate suspended from the waist, you can take a break.
One arm dumbell rows must be done with concentration to achieve a full, smooth range of motion and again, the coup de grace is supplied by the leg press.
Complete this session with abdominal work.
Gaining muscular weight in the hips, thighs and back gives you a great feeling of strength – the type of strength that carries over to other activities. The impressiveness of the physique will be appreciated even more after a specialization program of this type. So go for it.