Another forum member, Confusion, suggested I do an icebreaker post.
I was inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger to get into the gym. Like most teenagers it was all about getting laid. Muscles help. A few years on, I think adding another zero on to the end of your annual income will do just as well. I am more of a keyboard warrior than an expert. My only particular qualification is that I’ve gotten it very wrong for many years. In the last year and a half I’ve started making progress, and below I share some thoughts on lifting and bodybuilding. Take it with a grain of salt.
I consider myself to be a lifter who trains for general strength and power. That means I’m chasing numbers on the bar. I’m very interested in lifts that have good transfer to other activities, i.e. power cleans improve vertical jump, squats improve sprint times etc. I believe this focus builds an aesthetically pleasing body. Aesthetics are governed by criteria; I like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. A body that is fit for hunting & gathering, building shelter, and defence is a good looking body. I think that this approach is easily missed because many of the high paying BB contests are muscular beauty pageants which require no measurable athletic output. BBers in these use an athletic process to prepare their bodies for competing, but they are not athletes… there is no requirement to lift the greatest weight, or do something in the shortest time, etc. American Football uses the term “Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane” to describe this. This isn’t to say an elite BBer isn’t strong, or powerful, just that their training is specific to the stage, and there is no need for that training to have good transfer to anything athletic. The nice thing about calling myself a weightlifter rather than a bodybuilder is that I don’t have to justify my appearance, I simply point to the numbers I am doing, the numbers I was doing, and I can demonstrate that I am getting better at what I do, e.g. I Bent Pressed 25kg in May and 55kg in November.
I change my lifts rarely, I think that muscle confusion is daft, I want smart muscles that can contract powerfully; the only way to get good at something is to do it often over a long period of time, switching lifts is like switching codes, a rugby player won’t become a better rugby player by playing golf! A squat is a squat, it doesn’t get better by doing some other leg exercise. Rather than changing lifts I prefer to alter volume, load, rest, and intensity.
Training wise I do three things:-
- Pick stuff off the floor and put it overhead
- Pick stuff off the floor and put it over there
I train 6 days a week for 9 to 12 sessions. Two heavy days, two light, and two medium. Every exercise uses the entire body, except squats. Squats are my only lift that moves 3 joints, all other use more. I came to this method after becoming frustrated with a ‘typical’ BBing split of legs/chest & back/arms (Intermedaite lifting programme from Arnie’s Encyclopedia). June 2013 I moved house, and added bumper plates and a DB rack to my gym, started buying books, and moved towards compound only lifting.
By switching lifts one at a time, and through my training diary, I have been able to make the following observations:-
- Breathing Squats, Cleans (One & Two hand), One Arm Snatches, Farmers Walks, Two Hand Waiter Walks build traps and neck. Each one adds volume, and together they are awesome
- Pulling from the floor builds lats (DL, Cleans, & Snatches). I know this because I stopped doing pullups and rows four months ago and my lats are bigger (opinion from looking in mirror)
- One Arm Barbell lifts build grip; forearm muscles. All the force generated, and supported, by two legs and the torso is transmitted through one hand to the bar.
- One Arm Snatches are the daddy of external rotation exercises. They help reduce shoulder pain associated with Bench Pressing
- The single best way to stop Bench Pressing from hurting the shoulders is to stop Benching.
- Bent Presses build daddy strength. Everday lifting around the home, and at work, is easier. Even weird positions like being in the drivers seat and reaching back to lift something heavy from the rear passenger seat. They also help reduce shoulder pain associated with Bench Pressing
- Bent Pressing builds forearms, biceps, triceps, delts, traps, lats, spinae erectors, quadratus lumborum, obliques… pretty much every muscle that extends, or rotates the spine, or controls the shoulder. It is the king of lifts, and deserves to be held in the same regard as squatting. It is the method which will allow you to lift more overhead with one arm than any other. 175kg (370lbs) is the record for this lift.
- A low volume of pullups can maintain bicep size.
- A suprising number of curls can be added to a programme through lowering the weight from the shoulder to the waist, under control, after lifting overhead
- One Hand Cleans can be viewed as a Power Curl
- Volume is helpful in building muscle. My pecs were biggest when I did Bench Press, Incline DB Bench Press, Decline DB Bench Press, and DB Flies. They were middling when I did DBBP only, and they are quite flat now that I do none at all.
- Pressing builds delts. I once did a series of Pressing followed my Front, Side, and rear raises. Now I do One Arm DB Press, Push Press (cleaning at the start of the set), Clean & Press, and Bent Press. My delts are the better for it.
- Pressing builds triceps. More pressing builds more triceps. Pressing works better than various tricep extension exercises.
- Get Ups can be done heavy with a barbell (200lbs was once common among top lifters).
Theories of Building the Body:-
Controversy abounds below. I base my theories on what is useful to me as a lifter who relies on solely on food for fuelling growth and lifts as a hobby.
“If you get stronger you will get bigger”
If you’re adding weight to the bar, then you’ll be gaining mass. The question is, what is the best method to add weight to the bar. Which exercises are easier to progress in?
Now this is a continuum, at either end the mass gains are lesser. E.g. 6 sets of 1 rep will develop the nervous system more than the muscular, and 1 set of 100 will develop the circulatory system more (at the extreme end are marathon runners who actually go catabolic). The nature of that growth isn’t important, maybe your muscles are bigger because the fibres grew, maybe they divided, maybe they’re bigger to hold more fuel. This is splitting hairs. Bigger is big.
“Big weights, over big distance, give big results”
Compounds allow the muscles to work together to lift more weight than can be lifted if isolated. Measure a training session by total tonnage x distance. E.g. grippers don’t cut it, just a few kilos over a few centimetres. Farmers walks with a multiple of bodyweight for many metres will load the forearms significantly. This isn’t to say that isolatating a muscle isn’t of benefit, just that compounds take priority… and if that means there is no time for them then that is ok… You’ll get bigger if you do your squats and miss your leg extensions, you won’t the other way round.
“The smaller the increment, the easier it is to progress”
Compound lifts are easier to progress in because the percentage increase is less than that of isolation exercises" E.g. Joe can do a DB Tricep extension of 20kg, and Press 45kg, the standard increment of 2.5kg means to progress in the DBTE requires a 12% jump, but the Press is only 5%.
Barbells are better than kettlebells for this reason, the jump between KBs is greater. Kettlebells 100 years ago were used by showmen who’d use them as something comfy for an assistant to sit on whilst the lifted them overhead. They died out when barbells started to be mass manufactered. They came back via the Russians. Russian’s are renowned for getting great results with a small budget. E.g. NASA spent millions to create a pen that would work in space… the Russians used a pencil. A barbell set is more expensive to buy, requires a suitable floor, and is not easily portable. Kettlebells are wonderful if you want to cram lots of customers in to a small space for training, or if you are travelling, or if you live in an apartment. Kettlebells may be superior for teaching a movement pattern, or as a corrective. But this is only for specific use cases. All the big world records for lifting have been done with bars, e.g. biggest Squat, Deadlift, Snatch, C&J, Bench Press, Press, Bent Press, etc. Kettlebells get results, but barbells do it faster, and better.
“Favour exercises with transfer to each other, and to the world outside of the gym”
Squats help you to sprint faster, and jump higher. They will also help your cleans and deadlifts.
Wrist curls help you to… shake peoples hands (not my first choice for an example)
“Tempo is bollox”
Our bodies are designed to complete tasks. Doing a job slowly will get you tired, or fired. Lift as fast as you can! If you want a slow tempo, increase the weight and call the lift by a different name. E.g. What can’t be snatched, can be power cleaned, then high pulled, then deadlifted. All of which involve similar muscles, but at different speeds.
“Ab training is bollox”
The purpose of the abs, the core, is to hold, or move, the torso in the best position for transmitting force from the ground against the resistance. To help you breath, or to valsalva. They are not there to help you get your face closer to your crotch. Strength is limited by the weakest link. Sitting down to lift robs you of the opportunity to use them. How can you get strong by sitting on your bum? Wearing a belt robs you also (wear one to win a lifting competition, or if injuries require it, but not otherwise).
If you don’t have a six pack you need to eat less.
“Eat like an adult”
Dan John is bang on with this saying, Have dinner before dessert. You don’t get a lolly because you’ve been good, you don’t get a tub of icecream beacuse you’re crying over someone calling you a nasty name. I find I eat best when I’m working, and worst on holiday. Routine is helpful for discipline. Preparing food is part of training. Just as we go to the gym, we go to the kitchen. Powder is not food! I believe the best source of protein comes from animals, meat & eggs.
The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding - Arnold Schwarzenegger
Pumping Iron (DVD) - Arnold Schwarzenegger
Mass Made Simple - Dan John
Intervention - Dan John
Easy Strength - Dan John & Pavel Tsatsouline
Beyond Bodybuilding - Pavel Tsatsouline
Strength Stretching (DVD) - Pavel Tsatsouline
Olympic Weightlifting (Book & DVD) - Greg Everett
Special Strength Training Manual for Coaches - Yuri & Natalia Verkhoshansky
Science of Sports Training - Thomas Kurz
Muscles Testing & Function -Kendall, McCreary, & Provance
Taming the Bent Press - Dave Whitley
Practical Programming for Strength Training - Mark Rippetoe
Starting Strength - Mark Rippetoe