T Nation

Why Do Odd Programs Work?


#1

hey...thought I´d run one by you guys to help me understand why people can actually grow from the next 5 training regimes I will describe next...

I have seen lately some guys at the gym who are the total opposite of what you´d call "genetically gifted",they are 5 guys, 3 latinos, one being greek and the one left from cyprus, they look the same, not to say anything bad about it, they are short, long torso vs short arms and legs, shoulders are narrow, small back, small pecs and very slim delts, with the classical fatty bags on the torso....or at least they were....

all of them lifting for about 1 to 2 years following the rule book and using good advise, with odd techniques or set-ups as given by very good trainers which get results fast without any weird stuff, including one who made me feel capable of going to the beach without my prosthetic leg for a swim and have people focus on my muscles and abs rather than my missing leg, which can tell you how good he is...

Anyways, these guys started these odd programs because a guy gave them each a little elp about 5 months ago, and suddenly, it´s like someone turned on the Hypertrophy engine and set it to maximum power on these guys....the guy won´t be back until February, but hey, I am wondering about giving him the chance to train me as well, but I am puzzled, and can´t stand the enxt 2 months asking myself these questions so I though someone here could tell me why the next programs can work.

Program A

He got one of the guys to do 2 exercises per bodypart, training each bodypart 2 times per week, normally, doing a push /pull routine and no leg trainin g because the guy´s right leg is pretty shot up too like mine, so he does physical therapy and that´s why he didn´t go anywhere below abs...

He said to him to do 3 x 15, 12, 8, 5 but the trick is, he does 3 sets of 15 reps, progressively heavier, his 1st attempt being an approach set, the 2nd being a work set, and the 3rd one being a set to go as heavy as possible for 15 reps, sort of hit his 15 reps maximum load. Same with the 12-rep set...so he does 15 + 15 + 15 + 12 + 12 + 12 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 5 + 5 + 5 on bench press, then does the same on shoulder rpesses, then the same on tricep presses, then does abs, and then repeats the same from another angle.

The guy started at I´d say a fatty, but not fat, 170 pounds, he´s about 165 pounds now, and his bodyfat is about half of what he had earlier, but his muscles had to grow at least to double their original size ratio.

Program B

He got a guy to do max rep sets...using the proper load, favoring bodyweight exercises such as dips and pullups, with added weight, hitting a first set betwen 15 and 20 reps, and then continuing to do sets, until he could not complete a 6-reps set, like his first 5-rep set was the signal to stop working that bodypart. Only 1 exercise per bodypart , done 2 times a week.

Normally, the guy´s set/rep scheme goes like 20 + 18 + 17 + 15 + 15 + 12 + 11 + 10 + 10 + 9 + 9 + 8 +8 +8 + 6 + 6 + 6 + 5 or something like it. He was skinny, but now, I´d say he jumped from a 160 pounds 12% bodyfat to a 10% bodyfat 175 pounds.

Program C

Maximal number of low-rep sets. This guy got this program because he was strong as an ox and well, he is also a veteran and got his share of dmage too, some grease burns on 1 arm and his leg and half the back, nothing worse, thankfully. He goes for 5-7 rep sets with a given load, done with weight dropping, basically, the guy starts at 5-7 reps with about 200 pounds and then eventually starts stripping off weight, like 10 pounds per side, and he does as many reps of 5-7 reps as he can until the load he has on the bar is 2/3rds of the original one, l´t´s say like 120 pounds or something.

Also, 2 times a week and 1 exercise per bodypart. He may have a beer belly but he went from looking like Robin Williams to looking like Michael Clarke Duncan, the white version of course, think of a pot-bellied muscle head like Nathan Jones or so, only 5'7'' height that´s all.

Program D

This one really is the weirdest. it´s a sort of pre-exhaustive training of sorts, involving the use of cheating moves but it is also a gigantic drop set, or cheat set. Allow me to explain.

Normally the guy starts after doing a 5 x 5 intro workout, where he is not going to a maximum, i´d say he is using a 7-8 RM load. Then he goes to do chest flyes, and when he is tired, he presses the dumbells up and the downward motion or negative is done as a flye, then he begins pressing up and letting the negative be a dumbell press negative as it should be, and then he reduces the load and tries it again, no rest in between, like a gigantic rest-pause set.

On other days, he begins with weighted dips, like program B does, but he does not go too heavy and when he is having problems at the end of his set, he does the same as on a kipping pullup, he uses his legs like he was doing leg raises, knees to the chest, to propel himself up, kinda the same rationale of a kipping pullup of transferring lower body power to the torso, a typical cheat form method, and when it runs its course and he can´t do more dips, he drps down to do pushups and then bitch ups.

He does this on each bodypart, moves on to the next one, like, doing it on chest, then back, then legs, then shoulders, then a long set of abs, then he repeats the cycle until he hits a point where, by cycle 3, or 4 he just knows he can´t do more than a half-power, half-assed giga-set like this.

He can do it only once a week or twice a week, normally when he goes for 2 times a week, he does one of the sessions with the dips method and the other one with freeweights. He is fatty, but he started looking like Hurley, from the series Lost after a bad liposuction and now looks like the latino version of Jean-Claude van Damme on his bulkiest form.

Program E

The guy on this program is also a patient of my doctor and goes to counseling with other guys I also help, he´s a bit bitter about being on a wheelchair and in his case, it´s both legs so no prosthetics work for him, so he became a couch potato, you would find more muscle on a 15-years old anorexic model than him. My trainer got him to get some gains in 3 months but nothing noticeable until the guy i mention came along.

He got him into doing a 5 x 5 or 6 x 6 routine, going really heavy, using a spotter, sometimes some help, and some cheat form, to power up, then follow it with a 10 x 10 routine of sorts, actually more like 15-20 on initial sets (the sets are progressively heavier) at high speeds which of course decrease as the laod increases and fatigue sets in, sometimes going up to 15 or even 20 sets, doing unilateral work.

Nothing too crazy, he uses dumbells and starts as if on a normal dumbell press, dumbells being the same load and all, but only one of his arms does the 10-15 or 20 reps, while the other one is holding the load at the bottom of the normal motion, then he switches. Now, both arms are working, the non-pressing one may be at the bottom, just ready to begin the motion, but it is having some tension on it holding the weight there.

He has the best definition of them all, while he is not the buldies per se, his muscles seem so defined, it´s more like a supehero cartoon, just like when they draw comic book heroes in their spandex suits which show every single muscle and tendon and shit, looking at him without the shirt when they give him his shots and treat his shell burns is like looking at a human being seemingly skinned alive, because of the definition he has, totally weird but cool.

Well, he´s the thing. My interest behind figuring out why these work is to improve myself, although i have what I need and I am realistic as to what I can get to look like with my wown burns and scars and a missing leg being on a chair, but I figure other vets and other patients can get soemthing from this, and especially, a bunch of scrawny ethnic kids can benefit too.


#2

These guys spend more time lifting and trying to get big than thinking and worrying about every nuance of their programs.


#3

Didn't read that newspaper u posted, but I will say the gains are probably because they are changing the stimulus. Either changing rep schemes, rep speeds, or different exercises all together will typically result in some gains.


#4

This is a classic example of not realising what the body is capable of once you focus on the goal 100%.

The problem that I see in the gym with other guys who never make much progress is that they are too limiting with their training approach and they simply just don't have it in them to go that hard to force an adaptive response from the body. Above all, most of these guys are also not feeding themselves properly.

Always keep it in your mind too, that 'genetically gifted' is arbitrary. I've seen guys that you wouldn't have thought to be able to put on much size end up stacking on 70lbs within a couple years without chemical enhancement. Of course not all lean gains, but they sure as hell weren't fat by the end of it.


#5

Well it seems like a classic example of progressive overload in relatively untrained population producing results.

Lots of ways to skin a cat (not sure if that is actually true, but various training methods have proven advocates).

What I would say is that they are all training progressively to get from point A (untrained) to point B (more trained), in ways which enable them to keep going despite their limitations, which are all as unique as we are.

Seemslike you are a good listener/ask lots of questions to get all that info on their routines, I suggest you choose which one you really like the look of, and try it for minimum 3 months, increase poundages and food intake, then let's see where you are at. Good luck


#6

So they're each doing different workouts? It sounds to me like an intelligent trainer assessed what each individual's strengths and weaknesses were, how their current routines were "working" within their unique parameters, and prescribed a better routine that would better take advantage of what their bodies were capable of (ie. If someone is a strong arm-presser, give them a pre-exhaustive routine, if someone has been locked into high volume and low frequency work, give them low volume and high frequency, etc). Nothing magical, just smart.

S


#7

These programs are actually all based in the same principle, progressive Metabolic Drive and overload through adequate fatigue-management volume settings. I will share something that has worked here for every scrawny poor guy without the money for gyms, supplements or steroids and without genetics.

I am a poor man in what you gringos call the Third World, I live in a favela, like the ones Edward Norton lived in when he played Bruce Banner in the second Hulk movie (the ONLY good one I might add) and here, we do not have your fancy machines and protein shakes or steroids, not the money to buy them either if they had those nice toys.

The park here has parallel bars (ours are like 3 meters long, 10 feet, so 4 people can use them at the same time, it is a poor neighborhood) and pull up bars, under the mango trees cool shade, with the ocean breeze blowing and they are just set on the sand, so you have something soft to fall on when you get tired or get a cramp.

Our guys do dips and pullups/chinups (always to max reps) and then, at the end of the set, throw some cheat reps (using the Kipping technique you mentioned), as many as they can do, and then, if they still feel they got energy, do pushups, and if they still got something left, bitch ups. They rest and repeat as much as they feel like it.

And by the way, people here do these exercises, always, with added weight, like 50 pounds and more, some guys go as heavy as 100 pounds, using a backpack to load it with sand and rocks. And they put out 100% of their force, they do NOT hold back, they lift each time with full force output, the speed at which the weight moves being uninportant, so they do NOT count tempo. They do worry about form and posture.

The key here is to know that each hing you do conditions what other thing you can do. If I do all my sets like that, I may do very few sets per session in total, if I go heavy, and I do, for example, 8-10 dips, and then 2-3 cheat reps, and then throw in 5-7 pushups and end up with 3-4 bitch ups, I am gonna do longer sets but fewer total sets and reps than if I just did dips and then cheat reps and pushups, or just dips and cheat reps, since each set is less dense and demanding, I do more sets then. Same rationale applies when I do the sets with less weight and I crank out 12-15 dips and then 3-4 cheat reps and 8-10 pushups with 5-6 bitch ups.

By the way, the whole goal is to do as many as you can per set (it is up to you if you wish to do it like that or you think dips and cheat reps with pushups is enough or just dips and cheat reps) but you also know that eachs et will use the same load, but you will get less reps per portion and less overall reps per set as you grow tired and fatigue sets in.

Some guys go home when the overall number of reps, or the reps for the primary exercise (the dips and their cheat reps are primary, pushups and bitchups are secondary, because the exercise is like a drop set, you are lifting lighter by using a different exercise, angle of motion and strutural tension posture and all) eventually go below 50% of what they hit on the first sets, or even when it hits a third, or a quarter of those, depending on the guy.

The more you wait and let the reps decrease, the more overall work and fatigue you will get and the less sessions per wek you will do as you WILL need more time to recover.

I like to do warm up sets, and then throw in some weight and continue. I can say that when I go to the bars and put some sand on the backpack and start, I hit my best when i do 14-16 reps, with a 75 pounds load on the backpack, other guys may think they get the best pump at 10-12 reps with 80 pounds, or even with lighter loads than 75 pounds even if they could match my strenght level, and other guys may go for a 6-8 reps with heavy loads. It is all about which combination of load and rep-range gives you the best pump feeling.

Tempo is uninportant, anyways, but we always try to lift as fast as possibly by trying to put out as much force as we can, but we don�´t want to be countign seconds or trying to be fast, just to put it all out, and it is a common and old joke here that if it was not for the backpack, we would end up jumping off the bar by the sheer force of our arms, or "kiss the bar" as it happens to newbies when they try to do the same motion. You can go slower if it lets you go heavier, but kids here want to be fast and explosive, is is a favela, we have people here from gracie and Vacica Jiu-Jitsu, Chuteboxe and MMA as well as boxing, Muay Thai and several disciplines and being slow is a big no-no that they cna�´t afford.

Some guys, once they find their rep range, want to keep there. They can eventually drop off some of the load and try to keep at the same rep range, as long as they get a level of tension that keeps the pump there, and that sounds to me like you "Program B".

It is perfectly ok. Other guys even start at 15 reps, and start loadin g up like your "Program A", but when they hit the 5-rep sets, they try to do as many as possible and when they see they can�´t continue, lower the load, like your "Program C" and keep at that range or do a reverse pyramid, they start taking off weight and doing more reps, looks like 15-15-15-12-12-12-8-8-8-5-5-5-8-8-8-12-12-12-15-15-15 or so and if you read clsoely, our program here is like your "Program B" and "Program D" mixed up and the unilateral work here is done for arm exercises and shoulders too, so i don�´t see this trainer discovered anything but the obvious. He is smart, but not a genius discoverer, that�´s all.

I hope my post works, been silent too long and probably more since Xmas is coming and New Year Eve and all...

Merry Xmas, and a Happy New Year 2010 people....keep lifting heavy, keep going strong


#8

Yes, very good, i think that the trainer was smart, not magical, not a genius discoverer, but smart. I do have to say, that I am not exactly fan of Pre-exhaustive methods, the park has dumbells, which are secured, to prevent use in vandalism or robbery, with a steel cable, but you can use them just like normal ones, no movement or range restrictions, and do flyes for the chest or for the back and such, maybe we can throw some isolation moves before our sets to see if that eliminates the need for pushups and bitch ups and even cheat reps, it is all about learning, people do not do it here for they focus on force, strenght, and pre-exhaustion do not works that area well. But it is worth a try if someone has good arms and a shitty torso, thank you for making me think of that....


#9

That post is too long to read but all programs are just different variations of the same thing: placing your muscles under a load, fatiguing them, breaking them down and allowing them to recover afterward.


#10

I recommend an articule..."The Problem with Hypertrophy Programs" and this should wrap it up...for me and my recommendations...


#11

was that just "help", or is elp a new magical secret?


#12

Most of those programs don't look that weird to be honest. I agree with Stu, nothing magical but possibly smart. What I'm curious about is if they've been getting help with their diet as well, do you know this? If they weren't eating well and the trainer helped them fix that issue that could be a huge reason for their growth.

Also, some of those guys seem a bit on the small side. Small guys that have been halfassing their training and eating for 1-2 years suddenly get help fixing their diet and get a decent program and bam, they should grow pretty well. Another thing that might matter is that perhaps they trust this trainer and just getting help from him make them motivated so they simply train harder, don't underestimate stuff like that. It's actually not unlikely that increased motivation might be the biggest reason.


#13

I will now go out on a limp here and explain what these programs are and possibly why the programs work.

The first program is typical for a guy who always sticks to a 10 x 10 routine and probably does not lift all that heavy, or that fast, he´s doing a half-assed rep as he is not going to a limit, going heavier and using high tension through high speed as a measure of force output.

Second program is for the type of guys I train, fighters which need to get fit and lean but also strong, to make a weight class and deal with accumulated fatigue, it is alla bout going past a primary and even a secondary failure point through cheat motions and resistance decreasement.

Third program is basically a drop-setting program fitted as a volume program, going progressively lighter to accomodate a high-tension, low-rep set with a lot of set volume.

Fourth program is basically a pre-exhaustion program, and the Fifth program is a 5 x 5 mixed with a 10x10 philosophy, but done unilaterally for even growth, since the guy had an accident, i assume there´s some disimmetry on his body and his capabilities, like when your arm is weaker if you break it and have it in a cast while the healthy one keeps training.

Now I will make a suggestion.

I am a big fan of Thib´s HSST 100, but I am realistic and I know it definetely does not take the same program to get the same guy big and strong, it is not a one-sie-fits-all thing, even if you had a bunch of clones, there would be differences.

I agree with Vandal on the fact that posture and form are important, a Gironda Dip works different than a normal dip, and arching up and out your sternum pushing the shoulders back and down to the heels turns a bench press into a pec exericse taking out much of the delt and even tripcep stimulus, or matching them both and you must always contract the muscles hard, lifting has heavy as possible can be imitated by lifting as fast as possible, or trying to, with a respectable load that lets you know from rep 1 or 2 that you have got to do your best.

My routine for lifting does come close to what Vandal Savage advised.

I go to the gym and I lift with an starting scheme to work up to my 5-rep max, doing something like 10 starting reps, then 8 reps, then 6 or 5 reps, then a little bit ehavier to really work to a true 5-rep max set, hang on tho it as much as I can doing as many sets with it as I am capable of and then reverse it, taking off some loád but adding reps, going back to sets of 6-7 reps, 8-9 reps and finally hitting a 10-repper.

I am a boxer, so guess what: I am truly Arm-dominant, I beging with flyes, following the same scheme as above, but starting at a weight for 20 reps or less, going heavier and hitting 15, then 12 and so, but never under 8 reps and back up again.

As a consideration, I do not like to go slow because I box, I cannot get to be slow but I admit that some loads require a slower speed to really feel the effect as they are too light, and some need you to go slow for caution and also because they are heavy enough so you may try to but you cannot lift it really that fast.

After my heavy set which is preceded by my flyes, I drop off the load and go to a similar scheme than on flyes, but I do it with dumbells, which allow for a better form and are more hypertrophy-oriented to me.

If I had an inbalance, one tricep slightly bigger than the other, slightly weaker, I go with unilateral work using dumbells, as it was described by the OP. I do differ on something. I don´t do 10 reps with one arm and 10 reps with the other on with the same load on each. I do 10 sets of 10 reps for one side, for example, and on the side which needs more care, i go like 10 sets of 8 reps, going heavier, or 15 sets of 10 reps with the same load. I probably would like more to go heavier. The rep range is also different, i´d go to 15 reps with the side that does not need so much work and go 10-12 on the one that needs the extra.

I do finish my routine with a 1-minute motion. remember the H.I.T. pundits and their 1-minute dip (30 seconds spent going up and 30 going down) ? That is one long isometric rep to me, and I do something like that too, or I just do a 1-minute negative. Just 2 or 3 at most, althoguh normally 2 is the most you get.

One thing...do extreme stretching as in DoggCrapp´s program. Works wonders, I must say...as long as you do it like 30 seconds only, no less than 2, for some 4-5 sets or 2-3 sets of 60-90 seconds if you can go heavy, but you never do it with light or even medium weights.

Just my 2-cent´s worth of advise from the ghetto gym. As boxers, we have a lot of advise to offer regarding getting big with fast speeds, even high reps, and getting lean muscles....

Merry Xmas Yáll, be safe and peace...


#14

I think this is overkill......but it can work if done right, since I am an arm-dominant guy in torso exercises like pulls, rows and presses. And i hate counting seconds and moving slow.

I normally do a compound exercise, like a barbell bench press, for a heavy set of 5-7 reps, then do a set of 15-18 reps with dumbells, light, like a warm-up weight just to accumulate tension and stimulus on the chest and then move to a 10-12 rep set of dumbell or barbell presses, with moderate-to-light weight.

The heavy set gives great fiber activation, the isolation part keeps TUT there and tension and the 10-repper finishes up carrying the muscle past its point of form decreasement (hate the word and concept of failure)

I don´t count tempo, but this has worked with a 1010 tempo and I am being generous thinking it does take a full second. I do as manys ets as I can and then go to another bodypart.

Adding some unilateral work seems like the best idea for guys with inbalances on their muscle size, which happens a lot for guys like me who are arm-dominant. Extreme stretching is something I have alsways done and it works wonders for definition and bulging, and the 1-minute rep concept works with any tinkering you add to it as long as the weight is not causing you to actually overstimulate the muscle and fry the damn fibers.