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The Poliquin Group™ Cover Image: Asen Zlatev photo by Bruce Klemens Copyright © 2018, Poliquin Performance Center 2, LLC. All rights reserved First Edition, 2018 All materials, content and forms contained on or in this publication are the intellectual property of Poliquin Performance Center 2, LLC, and may not be copied, reproduced, distributed or displayed without the expressed written permission of Poliquin Performance Center 2, LLC. Poliquin Performance Center 2, LLC, does not warrant, either expressly or implied, the accuracy, timeliness, or appropriateness of the information contained in this publication. Poliquin Performance 2, LLC, disclaims any responsibility associated with relying on the information provided in this publication. Poliquin Performance Center 2, LLC, also disclaims all liability for any material contained in other publications. Notice: Before beginning any exercise program, consult with your physician to ensure that you are in proper health. This book is not meant to provide medicine advice; you should obtain medical advice from your private health care practitioner. No liability is assumed by the Poliquin Group for any of the information contained herein. Warning: All rights reserved, 2018 Poliquin Group. No part of the work embodied in these materials and covered by the copyrights hereon may be reproduced or copied in any form or by any means – graphic, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, taping or information storage and retrieval systems – without the written permission of the publisher.
GET BIGGER FASTER BOOK I INTRODUCTION SECTION 1: GOALS
Chapter 1 Begin a Set with the End in Mind 4
Chapter 2 Follow the Six Steps of Effective Goal Setting for Strength Training 5
Chapter 3 Take Measurements and Set Strength Goals 8
Chapter 4 Train for Structural Balance 14
Chapter 5 Strive to Increase Your Poundages for Reps 16
Chapter 6 Be Quiet in the Gym 18
Chapter 7 Change Your Perception of the World 19
Chapter 8 Strive to Be Strong at All Angles 21
Chapter 9 To Train for Size, Train for Strength 23
Chapter 10 Coax, Do Not Force, Your Muscles into Strength Gains 24
SECTION 2: TECHNIQUE Chapter 11 Start with Dumbbell Work 29
Chapter 12 Alternate Agonist and Antagonist Work 31
Chapter 13 Perform the Most Effective Exercises First 33
Chapter 14 Emphasize Neutral-Grip Exercises 34
Chapter 15 Favor Seated Arm Exercises over Standing 38
Chapter 16 Use Thick-Handled Dumbbells and Barbells 40
Chapter 17 Master Unilateral Work Before Bilateral 42
Chapter 18 Scrap Exercises You Cannot Feel 43
Chapter 19 Consider Body Position 44
Chapter 20 Focus on the “Most Bang for Your Buck” Exercises 46
SECTION 3: LOADING PARAMETERS Chapter 21 Vary the Speed of Contraction of Your Reps 51
Chapter 22 Use the Trick of the Last Slow Eccentric Rep 54
Chapter 23 Experiment with Partial-Range Movements 55
Chapter 24 Use Cluster Training for Greater Strength Gains 57
Chapter 25 Apply the Concept of the Back-Off Set 60
Chapter 26 Challenge the Strength Curve with Chains and Bands 61
Chapter 27 Train Twice a Day 63
Chapter 28 Do Exercises You Like 66
Chapter 29 Perform Drop Sets 68
Chapter 30 Become Stronger with Functional Isometrics 70
INTRODUCTION This is the first book in a two-part series, Get Bigger and Stronger. The series builds on our 2010 publication Bigger, Stronger Arms, and has been expanded to cover not just arms but all body parts. One advantage of these two books is that the content can be read in whatever order is most useful to you. We advise starting with the first section in book one – which is about goal setting – but after that, feel free to move on to any chapter in these books. The chapters are written independently of each other, so it’s fine to skip around. Knowledge about training is continually evolving, and this book series represents the latest scientific and empirical evidence on the subjects of getting bigger and getting stronger. Within these pages we hope you discover many useful ideas that you can apply immediately in your training.
SECTION 1: GOALS
CHAPTER 1 Begin a Set with the End in Mind In his biography, Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “You must know why you are doing a set before actually doing it, and have a clear picture of what that set will bring to you.” Explaining all there is to know about goal setting is beyond the scope of this book, but many professional writers have already done an excellent job of it. If you have problems with goal setting and time management, here are some excellent books: The Aladdin Factor by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen First Things First by Stephen R. Covey Life 101 by John-Roger and Peter McWilliams The Success Principles by Jack Canfield The Answer by John Assaraf and Murray Smith These books will provide you with insights on how to set goals and stick to them. Discovering the goal-setting techniques that work best for you will help you use the normative information in this book to achieve greater levels of size and strength. Just ask yourself before you do a set of any exercise: “Why I am doing this?” When you are able to answer this question seriously and without hesitation, watch what happens to your training intensity!
CHAPTER 2 Follow the Six Steps of Effective Goal Setting for Strength Training To make changes in athletic performance or body composition or just because you’d like to be stronger, you need to take a serious look at goal setting. You’ll find it effective to look at goals as “challenges.” Whether your intention is to build a fortune or build Herculean strength, challenges are essential. You have to stretch the envelope to get ahead. Call it semantics or splitting hairs, challenges are more motivating than goals: “I bet you can’t do it” are very motivating words. Effective goal setting goes beyond simply jotting down a wish list of how much you want to lift and posting it on your refrigerator. You will have to put some work into it and understand that it is an ongoing process. To get you started, here are six basic steps that will enable you to set achievable goals and outline a plan to achieve them. Step 1: Determine the goal in a specific and measurable way, and set a deadline. With goal setting, the more precise you are, the better. Just saying a positive affirmation such as “I want to be the biggest and strongest I can be” is worthless because it (1) is not specific, (2) is not measurable, and (3) doesn’t include a deadline. Instead, make a specific goal such as “I will bench press 300 pounds with a close grip by December 1st of this year.” The date is especially important, because if there is no deadline, you will procrastinate. Step 2: Assess your starting physiology. You should determine where you are physically so you can determine what might be limiting your progress. For example, if you have a low testosterone level, it may be difficult for you to add muscle; or if your zinc status is deficient, you may not be able to manage your excessive inflammation and have enough androgen in your system to achieve your goals. At the start of any program of body transformation, and periodically during your program, physiological assessments are a must. The following assessments are recommended: adrenal stress index, hormonal profile, and comprehensive metabolic profile. Step 3: Ask, “What are you willing to do?” Make a list of what you need to do to achieve your goals, and then make a list of what you must give up to reach those goals. Keep in mind that no worthy goal is ever reached without making some kind of sacrifice, and don’t underestimate how lapses in discipline can affect your training. For example, if you smoke a joint every Friday, your testosterone is suppressed till the next Monday. Step 4: Determine the behaviors that go with Step 3. Because your subconscious does not recognize the past or the future, positive behaviors should be written in the present tense. Rather than writing, “I will consume two grams of protein per pound of body weight daily,” you should say, “I consume two grams of protein per pound of body weight daily.” Here are a few more examples: I eat a healthy breakfast! I alternate one squat workout with one deadlift workout!
Step 5: Make a list of intermediate goals with deadlines. You have to be able to repeat your physiological assessments on a frequent basis to determine if you are on the right track. If you’re not progressing as quickly as you want, you need to change your approach. As one example, you may find after testing that your protein intake is fine but your carbs are too low. Set short-term goals to help you move closer to your end goals. Step 6: Keep a detailed training and dietary log. Keep a detailed journal of your training program. According to Tommy Kono, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner who set world records in four different weight classes, there is no single better training aid. A well-kept training journal allows you to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of your training program and helps you to set short-term goals. No matter how big or strong you are, a training journal will keep you on track for long-term success. When using your training journal, make certain the training conditions were identical. For example, rushing through a workout shortens the rest intervals and thus makes it difficult to compare that particular workout with a normal workout. Also, consider that honesty is critical to derive success from a training log, and this means you should record only the reps done in proper form. The training journal is a tremendous help to a strength coach or personal trainer in deciding how to orient training from phase to phase for every single client. At our training center our training diaries are computerized, so we can produce ongoing statistical analyses of the training process and its effectiveness for each client. Methodical log-keeping has made it possible for us to develop structural balance norms and optimal and precise volume and intensity prescriptions for specific lifts. Follow the above six steps and you’ll have the tools you need to reach your goals.
CHAPTER 3 Take Measurements and Set Strength Goals When Johnny Weissmuller first swung across movie theater screens as Tarzan, he was considered to be very muscular. Kids all over the country beat their chests, bellowed their Tarzan yell, and dreamed of building up their arms to look like the Ape Man’s. In reality, however, Weissmuller’s upper arm measurement was a paltry 15 inches in circumference. Nowadays, even six-year-old kids know that a big arm has to be at least 20 inches. Bodybuilders have always been obsessed with arm size, but even the general public can recognize an impressive pair of guns when they see them – maybe it has something to do with those old movies that we used to watch. In any case, the obsession with big arm measurements has led many a bodybuilder to flat-out lie about them. One of the first authors to tell the truth about bodybuilding measurements was Nautilus inventor Arthur Jones. He published the real arm measurements of elite bodybuilders such as Mr. America Casey Viator, Mr. Universe Mike Mentzer, and Mr. Olympias Sergio Oliva and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In his Nautilus Bulletin #2, Jones recounts that the most muscular arm he ever measured was that of Sergio Oliva. At 20-1/8 inches, Sergio’s arms literally dwarfed his head, making him appear the target of some weird voodoo curse. However, Jones’s book was published in the early 1970s. Since that time, the average bodybuilder has evolved considerably, due in part to improvements in nutrition and training methodologies. In general, improvements in arm measurement are related to gains in lean body mass. A good rule of thumb is that for every inch you want to gain on your arms, you need to gain roughly 15 pounds of equally distributed body mass. In other words, to make significant improvements in your arms, you have to gain mass all over your entire body. The human body is a finely tuned machine that will only allow for a certain amount of asymmetry. Therefore, if you were to devote your training energies solely to building big arms, you’d eventually reach a point of total stagnation because you weren’t training your legs. In other words: no wheels, no wings! There are some interesting correlations and relationships that show up when you compare bodybuilders’ heights, weights, and arm measurements. For instance, a 5 foot 7 inch bodybuilder who weighs 214 pounds and has a body fat percentage of 8 percent should have arm development between 19-1/4 and 19-5/8 inches. Yet, many individuals will claim to have arms that are over 21 inches, a measurement that’s quite rare, regardless of height and body weight. For the sake of comparison, here are stats of four professional bodybuilders who placed in the top eight of a show; the measurements were taken about ten days after the show, presumably when they were at their biggest from all of the post-competition carbs ingested. Here are the results:
Bodybuilder A Height: 6’0” Weight: 286 pounds Cold arm measurement: 20.62” Bodybuilder B Height: 5’3” Weight: 228 pounds Cold arm measurement: 20.25” Bodybuilder C Height: 5’7” Weight: 214 pounds Cold arm measurement: 19.62” Bodybuilder D Height: 5’11” Weight: 258 pounds Cold arm measurement: 18.9” If you saw pictures of these bodybuilders, you’d see that bodybuilders A and D were famous for their leg development, while bodybuilders B and C sported larger arms in relation to their lower bodies, which were still quite well-developed by any standard. Bodybuilder B, though, had the highest ponderal index (weight/height), so his arms were enormous in comparison to the other bodybuilders. To put things in perspective, bodybuilder A would need to weigh about 310 pounds to match the ponderal index of bodybuilder B. Let’s say that you weigh 176 pounds and are 5 feet 8 inches tall. Assuming that your body fat is below 10 percent, your arms should measure roughly 16 inches. One professional bodybuilder bragged about his arms having been over 22 inches, but it was simply not true. At 6 feet 1 inch tall, this man would have had to weigh about 308 pounds for his arms to be this size, but his competition weight was roughly 235 pounds. Measurement Goals Let’s continue our discussion about arm measurements. Traditionally, there have been three different methods for estimating arm growth potential. Two of these methods are simply not true: (1) that you arm should be a certain multiple of your wrist measurement and (2) that your arms can only be a certain number of inches greater than your wrist size. What is true is that your arm size is a reflection of your ponderal index, which is how much muscle mass you have for your height. This approach takes into account that arm size is a byproduct of overall mass gains.
Genetic factors play a big part in arm potential. Generally, the following three genetic factors ultimately determine arm growth potential: 1. Number of muscle cells. A Canadian study of elite bodybuilders revealed that those bodybuilders with the greatest quantity of cells are, in fact, the ones who normally achieve the largest cross-sections of muscle. 2. Length of muscle belly. The lower a muscle inserts (the closer to the elbow joint), the greater that muscle’s potential for hypertrophy. Consider the late Larry Scott’s biceps compared to Franco Columbu’s. Larry’s biceps had a very low insertion point, which gave him great potential for arm growth. Columbu’s insertion was relatively high, but his lats inserted very low – and that, of course, was his most famous body part. 3. Hormonal makeup. This limiting factor is obviously the easiest to circumvent, and that’s why steroids are so popular with the genetically challenged. Regardless of your particular genetic limitation (if you have any), don’t simply resign yourself to fate and accept that you’ll never have big arms. Anyone with the proper knowledge can expect to gain a significant amount of overall muscle – and that, of course, will translate into arm mass. How to Take Arm Measurements If you’re really serious about developing your arms, you should periodically take measurements to gauge your progress. First, you should definitely take some measurements before you begin a serious armtraining program. To be accurate, always take your arm measurements “cold” or, in other words, in an unpumped condition. Furthermore, always measure your arms at the same time of day and in the same state of hydration. The results may be initially damaging to your ego, but perhaps it will provide the motivation you need to train harder. The most accurate measurements are done with a flexible steel tape attached to a tension measuring device. Kinesiologists call this a Gulick tape. It allows you to always take measurements with the same degree of tension on the tape, ensuring that your measurements are accurate and not influenced by wishful thinking. It’s also a good idea to let someone else take the measurement for you so you’re not tempted to stick your finger under the tape. When you are ready to begin, position your upper arm so that it’s parallel to the floor, with your elbow pointing directly ahead of you. Measure your arm at its greatest girth, which should be at the peak of the biceps. Make sure that the circle formed by the tape is perpendicular to the ground. Ideally, measurements should taken by kinesiologists who specialize in kinanthropometry. But if you’re conscientious about how you do it, you can get very accurate measurements. As for the frequency of measurements, some bodybuilders are so compulsive that they measure their arms every morning. This method will only lead to anxiety. Arms don’t grow on a linear basis – rather, they grow in spurts.
From an empirical standpoint, increases in arm size are correlated to progressions in armtraining poundages. Therefore, you should only take measurements 48 hours after hitting a previously determined arm-training poundage goal. Another option is to have your measurements taken every six weeks by a kinesiologist familiar with kinanthropometry. This section focuses on the arms, but you should take measurements of all major muscle groups. Although taking measurements may seem like an exercise in vanity, they provide a good yardstick (or, in this case, tape measure) of progress and may help spur on your training.
CHAPTER 4 Train for Structural Balance You are only as strong as your weakest link, and this is especially true in strength training. Failure to achieve balanced strength ratios will greatly limit your gains in both hypertrophy and size. Fortunately, it’s easy to ensure your body parts are structurally balanced by using the strength norms. The idea of structural balance came about by studying the workout systems of European weightlifters. Olympic lifters often use formulas to determine what areas they need to work on. For example, athletes who want to clean and jerk 200 pounds probably should be able to back squat between 255 and 280 pounds. There are formulas you can use to determine such ratios as back squat to front squat, snatch to power snatch, and clean to power clean. Such ratios can yield valuable information about how to modify your training: For example, a trainee whose back squat greatly exceeds his or her snatch probably needs more work on relatively lighter weights to improve speed and technique. For the upper body, there are optimal ratios among six key lifts, from highest percentage to lowest, as provided in Table 1. Table 1: Optimal Strength Ratios in the Male Elite Athlete for Upper Extremity Structural Balance. (Poliquin, ©1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003) Parallel Bar Dips
423 lbs 117%
Close-Grip Bench Press
360 lbs 100%
Scott Barbell Curls
166 lbs 46%
Incline Dumbbell Curls @ 45 Degrees 160 lbs 44% Lying Triceps Extensions
144 lbs 40%
Standing Reverse Curls
126 lbs 35%
Notes: The norm for the dips includes the athlete’s body weight, and the weight for the incline curls is the total weight of the two dumbbells combined. The beauty of structural balance testing is that it gives you a set of specific training goals. Attaining specific strength will then boost your training drive and enable you to make significant increases in strength and size.
CHAPTER 5 Strive to Increase Your Poundages for Reps In the days before bodybuilders became walking pharmacies – namely, in the era of Mr. Universe winners such as Reg Park and Bill Pearl – they were strong. Very strong. Reg Park, who played Hercules in several films, was the first bodybuilder to bench press 500 pounds and was known to press-behind-neck more than 300 pounds for reps. Bill Pearl could squat 605 pounds, clean and jerk 365 pounds, and military press 320 pounds; he also had an impressive strongman act that included ripping license plates in half and blowing up hot-water bottles. Back then, gyms were not as abundant as they are today, which meant that all iron game participants – weightlifters, bodybuilders and powerlifters – trained together. As such, there was considerable peer pressure for bodybuilders to develop muscles that could lift heavy weights; besides, they knew that muscles that could lift big weights for reps were going to be larger muscles. Today this very simple piece of logic has been forgotten. The training variables of time under tension and the amount of weight used are the critical factors to elicit hypertrophy gains. A simple way to ensure results is to focus on using heavier weights for a specific repetition bracket. If your best performance in the close-grip bench press is 225 pounds for 6 reps, you could set a goal of performing 245 pounds for 6 reps in 12 weeks. If you achieve that goal, you can be certain that at the end of those 12 weeks your triceps will be significantly larger. If you were to use single-rep performance, or 1-repetition maximum, as your goal, you might achieve it without necessarily becoming larger. Powerlifters and Olympic lifters often put 40 to 50 pounds on their lifts without gaining significant body weight; for them this is desirable, as they compete in weight classes – those who lift the most weight for their body weight (i.e., relative strength) will win competitions. If they were to get the same poundage increase for 6 reps, they would gain body weight and be forced to compete in heavier weight classes. A basic rule of thumb to keep in mind is “A weight increase of 10 pounds for reps for a major lift translates into a gain of one pound of lean tissue.” In other words, increase your close-grip bench press reps by 50 pounds and you will have gained five pounds of muscle mass. It’s great to have large muscles, but there’s also a special sense of pride in knowing that those muscles are not just for show. You’d be wise to follow the examples of Reg Park and Bill Pearl, bodybuilders who were as strong as they looked.
CHAPTER 6 Be Quiet in the Gym Gyms are full of signs with practical rules such as “Put away your dumbbells” and “Use spotters when you lift heavy weights.” Good advice. But one rule that is missing that really needs to be there is “No talking in the gym.” This is because the proverbial non-gainer is often the guy who yaks away in the gym. Talking between sets about irrelevant topics detracts from the focus needed to use optimal loads for the prescribed number of reps. That means no cell phones or even texting. The only talking permitted would be training related, such as encouraging your partner or telling him or her how much weight you want on the bar. Training must be conducted in a businesslike manner if you are serious about making gains. Concentration on every rep and every set is essential to putting forth maximum effort and therefore achieving maximum results. The best way to develop laser-like concentration is to learn meditation. Serious gyms don’t have mirrors, as they detract from optimal lifting. The rule is simple: Go heavy or go home. Also, there are no chairs to sit on to sip your post-workout drink, because lounging around will destroy a great atmosphere. Once our clients finish their workouts, we give them their post-workouts in a bottle to drink on their way home. The gym should be considered the temple where you build your body. This is why when it comes to gym etiquette, silence is golden.
CHAPTER 7 Change Your Perception of the World In the 1970s a vast array of self-help books promoted the value of a positive attitude. Although unconditional positive thinking can at times seem rather silly, changing your attitude can have positive effects on your training. Likewise, a negative attitude or too much stress in your life can impair performance. Cortisol is a hormone that is produced in response to stress, and interestingly, how you perceive reality has a lot to do with your cortisol output. If you perceive the world as being dangerous, your body will increase production of cortisol, and this will interfere with gains in strength and size. That is why after the events of 9/11 there was a dramatic increase in sales of comfort foods and a very sharp drop in sales of supplements. Many Americans felt unsafe and were self-medicating their elevated cortisol levels by eating carbohydrates, which have the effect of raising insulin levels and therefore decreasing cortisol levels. If you watch CNN before going to bed instead of watching a Kevin Hart movie, your body is more likely to produce a spike in your cortisol levels. Of course there are many other stress-reducing modalities such as yoga and meditation that can help decrease your cortisol and increase your gains in the gym. In a study involving Olympic lifters who engaged, after their regular training, in autogenic training, a form of relaxation through mental suggestion, the lifters decreased their cortisol levels far more rapidly compared to their counterparts in the control group. This drop in cortisol correlated to improvements in the long term in the snatch, clean and jerk, and squat. Change your perception of the world and watch your cortisol levels plummet. Almost instantly you will “positively” feel better!
CHAPTER 8 Strive to Be Strong at All Angles It’s important to strive to make gains in major multijoint exercises such as squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, but it’s also possible to take this approach too far. For example, when athletes apply the principle of performing the most “bang for your buck” exercises, they often make the mistake of neglecting other valuable exercises. They may do the flat bench close grip but won’t perform the same exercise on an incline. Or they will do standing barbell curls but not Scott reverse curls. These are the same individuals who will incline barbell press only if the bench angle is set at 45 degrees or less, for fear of not appearing strong to their fellow lifters. So what? If your bench is set at 62 degrees, it is the recruitment of new motor units that counts. If you understand the concept of structural balance, you won’t neglect to train lifts that are not your favorites or are difficult for you, as you know that not doing so will interfere with your progress. Take the example of Ed Coan, a world champion and world record holder who is considered one of the greatest powerlifters of his time. At one point in his career Coan made an impressive jump in his bench press performance, and when asked what he attributed it to, he replied that he had brought up his results in the press behind the neck! When you follow this principle, besides gaining muscle mass faster you also will be more likely to remain injury free, as your strength levels will be balanced. Overuse of certain exercises leads to pathologies similar to repetitive pattern conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Don’t let your ego determine the pathway to your gains. Use sound training principles, such as the concept of structural balance, and you will get there faster.
CHAPTER 9 To Train for Size, Train for Strength Before professional bodybuilding became a game of chemical warfare, bodybuilders were known to build up to impressive poundages in their quest for impressive arms. Incline curls with 80- to 90-pound dumbbells and close-grip bench presses with 400 pounds were the norm. Very few modern-era bodybuilders can match those poundages. Here are the facts: Hypertrophy brings a fivefold increase in maximal strength. In novice athletes, it has been shown that for a 17 percent gain in lean body mass, there should be an 85 percent increase in strength. The same 1-to-5 ratio applies to elite athletes. Experienced strength coaches will agree that for every one-kilo gain in lean body weight, there is a five-kilo strength increase in each of the Olympic lifts and the raw form of the major compound movements such as squats. Do the math. If an athlete weighs 176 pounds and bench presses 264 pounds and subsequently gains 198 pounds of lean body weight, that athlete’s incline press should now be 374 pounds. What this means to natural bodybuilders is that they must strive to increase maximal strength in their bodybuilding exercises to foster hypertrophy. The time under tension for every set should be at least 20 seconds per set, but for best results the time under tension should be 40 to 60 seconds.
CHAPTER 10 Coax, Do Not Force, Your Muscles into Strength Gains One of the most common reasons that people fail to get bigger arms is they are stuck using a given set of dumbbells for a precise number of reps. It is easier, physically and psychologically, to increase weight in small increments. Unfortunately, the smallest plate available in most gyms is two and a half pounds, so the smallest weight increment on a barbell is five pounds. That’s usually the smallest increment for dumbbells as well, so it’s actually ten pounds when you’re using them in pairs. You can easily see how a five-pound increase with dumbbells is too big a jump if you’re using, say, a single 40-pound dumbbell for a curling exercise – that’s a 125-percent increase in load. It would be like trying to jump straight from a 400-pound bench press to a 450-pound bench press. The best way to coax your muscles into adaptation is through application of the Kaizen principle. In Japanese, kaizen means “constant and never-ending improvement.” It is a philosophy that small, incremental improvements made consistently will, over the long term, produce large gains. In terms of practical advice for loading, this means you need to increase the weight at every opportunity, even if the increase is very small. There are several ways to increase the weight in small increments. Here are a few: • PlateMates • Small discs • Combinations of pound and kilogram plates • Assorted weight collars One approach is to use PlateMate magnetic weights. The principal advantage of PlateMates is that they attach easily to dumbbells as well as to barbells. They are available in 2 1/2-, 1 7/8-, 1 1/4-, and 5/8-pound sizes in two shapes: donut and hexagon. The donutshaped fit both circular and hexagonal dumbbells. Alternately, you can use Eleiko Olympic small discs of 2.0, 1.5, 1.0, 0.5, and 0.25 kilograms. They fit on Olympic-size bars and dumbbells. The discs come with a friction option (which is great, because they can act as collars) or in a less expensive metallic version. You can also use combinations of kilogram and pound plates along with the EZ bar solid collars. For example, 1.25- and 2.5-kilogram plates weigh 2.75 and 5.5 pounds respectively. An EZ bar collar weighs about 1.5 pounds. If the base weight on the bar is 225 and your personal best for one rep is 240, you could apply the Kaizen principle to increase the weight in the following manner: 225 + 2(5) + 2(2.5) = 240.0
225 + 2(5) + 2(2.75) = 240.5 225 + 2(5.5) + 2(2.5) = 241.0 225 + 2(5.5) + 2(2.75) = 241.5 225 + 2(5) + 2(2.5) + 2(1.5) = 243.0 225 + 2(5) + 2(2.75) + 2(1.5) = 243.5 225 + 2(5.5) + 2(2.5) + 2(1.5) = 244.0 Finally, you can use collars of various weights. The Olympic Okie Grip Collars weigh 2 pounds each, the Olympic Metal Quicklee Collars weigh 1 pound each, and the Olympic Muscle Clamps weigh 0.5 pounds each. Combinations of these collars allow you to increase the weight by 1, 2, 3, or 4 pounds at a time. Okie grips have a rubber inner lining that prevents slipping, even with very heavy loads.
SECTION 2: TECHNIQUE
CHAPTER 11 Start with Dumbbell Work When Benjamin Franklin said, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” he undoubtedly wasn’t thinking about program design. Even so, the motto works, at least as far as barbells and dumbbells are concerned. During arm training it’s often best to start with dumbbell work. It was an idea heavily promoted nearly three decades ago by former Mr. Olympia and strongman Franco Columbu. His rationale was that it helped prevent injuries; during dumbbell exercises the elbows and wrists are not forced into a locked position as they are with barbells. Also, you’ll find that if you start your arm training with dumbbell work, barbell exercises are much easier to perform later in the workout. Here are the facts. If you want big muscles, you will have to commit to training for several years. If you have an injury, even a slight one, it will compromise your training efforts. Musculoskeletal injuries are insidious, like cavities; they sometimes take years to develop, but once they show up, they are a nagging pain that will bring your training and progress to a full stop. Besides exercising the muscles through greater ranges, dumbbell work requires greater stabilization of the weight, which makes barbell work comparatively much easier. Also, because dumbbells allow for a free pathway of movement, the number of variations possible with dumbbells is far greater than with a barbell. One man who understood the importance of dumbbell work is the legendary Pat Casey, who is credited with the first bench press of 600 pounds (a great book written by Bruce Wilhelm about Casey is Pat Casey: King of the Powerlifters). Casey did plenty of heavy dumbbell incline presses before he reached that landmark weight in the bench press – he was known to perform reps in the dumbbell incline press with 210-pound dumbbells! Even if a 210-pound dumbbell incline press is not on your must-do list, the principle of performing dumbbell work first is an important guideline that can help keep you injury free so you can keep getting bigger and stronger.
CHAPTER 12 Alternate Agonist and Antagonist Work Let’s review some basic definitions. One way to classify muscle groups is with the terms agonist and antagonist, and as a group they are known as an antagonistic pair. Here’s the deal: When muscles contract, they can only produce a pulling force against a limb; they cannot reverse the contraction to move the limb back to its original position. Instead, to return that limb to its starting position, the formerly contracted muscle will relax and an opposing muscle group will contract to pull that limb in the other direction. If the first muscle didn’t relax, there would be no movement – the resulting muscular stalemate is referred to as an isometric contraction. The muscle that is causing the primary movement is called the agonist, or prime mover (because the contraction of this muscle is primarily responsible for the movement). While this contraction occurs, the opposing muscle is relaxed; this muscle is called the antagonist. Thus, when you curl a weight, the biceps is the agonist and the triceps is the antagonist; but when you perform a triceps pressdown, the triceps is the agonist and the biceps is the antagonist. By having the antagonistic pairs contracting alternately (such as a set of an elbow flexion exercise followed by a set of an elbow extension exercise), you enhance the ability to achieve full motor-unit activation in a muscle. That’s the science – now let’s look at some practical applications. For most arm exercises, you want to alternate exercises that work agonist muscles with exercises that work antagonist muscles, while respecting long rest intervals so you do not develop so much fatigue that it interferes with the amount of weight you can use. For example, after completing a 3 RM set of close-grip triceps presses, rest 2-3 minutes and then perform a heavy set for the antagonist muscle with a 3-4 RM set of dumbbell curls for the biceps. After resting another 2-3 minutes, repeat the described-above procedure for the required number of sets. By training this way, a method often referred to as supersetting, you will find that you can use more weight per training unit. Alternating antagonist pairs results in less-steep drop-off curves than using traditional standard sets, commonly referred to as station training, even with complete rest intervals. You will have as much as 40 percent greater work capacity for a given workout compared to using the old standard sets approach, due to less cumulative fatigue from the greater rest time between each exercise. This approach also allows you to double the workload per training unit. Alternating triceps work with elbow flexor work will make planning workouts easier and more effective, as you will ensure that the elbow muscular structure is balanced. It’s true that opposites attract, at least in weight training!
CHAPTER 13 Perform the Most Effective Exercises First Those who write time management books and planning diaries always talk about setting priorities with “To Do” lists. This is good advice, because to achieve your goals it’s best to focus first on those tasks that will provide the most impact, increasing the likelihood they will get completed. Likewise, a sensible guideline in training is to perform the most effective exercises early in the workout. What are the most effective exercises? In arm training, those would be exercises that recruit the maximum amount of muscle fibers. For example, the triceps has three heads: long head, lateral head, and medial head. You should generally perform exercises that work all three heads rather than just one or two. An excellent resource on what exercises work which muscle groups is Target Bodybuilding by Per A. Tesch, PhD. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Tesch was able to determine which muscle groups were used in 60 common exercises, many of them arm exercises, and how hard they worked. A practical way to determine which exercises activate the most muscle fibers is by how much weight can be used in those exercises, obviously assuming that proper form is respected. Therefore, dips on V-bars will do far more for your triceps development than triceps kickbacks, and triceps pushdowns will not be as effective as close-grip bench presses or seated-half presses in rack for rapid strength and mass gains in the triceps. For the elbow flexor, one-arm Scott hammer curls will recruit more fibers than lying prone dumbbell curls or incline bench concentration curls. Now that you have your priorities straight, it’s time to get to work!
CHAPTER 14 Emphasize Neutral-Grip Exercises When it comes to getting bigger and stronger, there is more than one way to grip a bar. One of these ways is with a semi-supinated grip, also known as a neutral or parallel grip, so that your palms face each other. Variety is essential to making progress, and by simply changing the positions of the hands you can provide a new stimulus to the muscles. As a bonus, a neutral grip often feels more natural and as such may be easier on the joints. To keep your training going stronger and longer, try these neutral-grip variations of popular exercises. Neutral-Grip Overhead Press. The overhead press is a great exercise for packing on muscle mass to the shoulders and triceps. The standing log press enables you to perform the exercise with a neutral grip, and is a popular event in strongman competitions. By the way, strongman Zydrunas Savickas has lifted over 500 pounds in the log press! To properly perform a standing log press, you have to lean backwards slightly to avoid hitting your chin. This technique may cause discomfort in those with a history of back pain. To get around this problem, simply perform the exercise with dumbbells using a neutral grip. Neutral-Grip Bench Press. The bench press is unquestionably the most popular upper body exercise in the iron game, but overuse of a pronated grip can cause shoulder issues – and many individuals find the supinated grip awkward. Two great types of neutral-grip bench presses are the Football Bar bench press and the log bench press. The Football Bar offers several different grip angles, one being a neutral grip. Thick-handled variations of the Football Bar are available for an even greater challenge. As for the using the log press bar for bench presses, for safety reasons it should be performed in a power rack starting with the bar resting on safety supports set at chest height. Neutral-Grip Row. One issue with doing bent-over barbell rows from a standing position is that too much neural drive is expended to maintain good posture. As such, the lats and other upper body pulling muscles don’t receive an optimal training effect. Further, the range of motion is restricted when the bar touches the chest. One-arm rows performed with a neutral grip allow you to brace your upper body with your other arm, thus allowing you to devote more effort to the upper body muscles. It also enables you to perform the exercise through a greater range of motion compared to using a barbell. Of course, rows also can be performed on a low-cable unit with neutral-grip handles, which also provide a greater range of motion. Neutral-Grip Biceps Curl. Neutral-grip curls, also known as hammer curls, are performed like dumbbell curls except the hands remain in a neutral position. This is a valuable exercise for the arms because it increases the work of the forearms, and weak forearm development can affect the growth of the biceps. If you are structurally balanced, your neutral-grip curl should be 15 percent greater than your supinated-grip curl.
Neutral-Grip Triceps Extension. There are several possible variations of the lying triceps extension. You can achieve a greater range of motion by using dumbbells with a neutral grip than you can by using a barbell because the dumbbells travel alongside your head. Neutral-Grip Chin-Up. Changing from a pronated or supinated grip to a neutral grip changes the work of the elbow flexors. The medium neutral-grip chin-up is usually your strongest grip. This variation increases the work of the elbow flexors and should be performed with your hands about 22 to 24 inches apart. A narrow, neutral grip increases the work of the shoulder extensors and should be performed with your hands about six to eight inches apart (a V-handle usually works for this exercise). It is considered an advanced exercise. Neutral-Grip Front Squat. The front squat is a great lower body exercise, but many individuals cannot keep their elbows up during the lift due to flexibility issues. You can bypass this problem by using a safety squat bar that has parallel grip handles, or by using lifting straps and holding the straps with a neutral grip. To perform the lift, hook the straps around the bar at shoulder width, or whatever position you find most comfortable. Position your shoulders under the bar and hold the straps, with your palms facing each other. How high up you grab the straps is determined by your flexibility, such that those with extremely poor flexibility will have more space between the bar and their hands. Now lift the weight off the squat racks and start squatting. You’ll find that using straps in this manner enables you to keep your elbows high without discomfort. Neutral-Grip Deadlift. The deadlift is a great exercise for building overall size and strength. By using a hex bar, you can perform it with a neutral grip. The hex bar is a hexagonal-shaped barbell with handgrips placed near the inside collars of the bar. The hexagonal shape allows you to perform the exercise while standing inside the encompassing bar. This enables you to perform the lift in a more upright position, which in turn increases the work of the legs. This type of barbell was created more than 30 years ago and was inspired by the “trap bar” developed by North Carolina powerlifter Al Gerard many years earlier. The design of the hex bar allows you to perform the lift with the center of the barbell in line with your hips – in contrast, with the straight barbell your legs get in the way. Your hands are positioned at your sides with a neutral grip. Neutral-Grip Squat Jump. The hex bar is a superior tool for performing squat jumps. A study published in 2011 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that the biomechanics of a hex bar jump (compared to jumps with straight bars) more closely resemble the jumping that occurs in sports. With a hex bar you can jump higher and produce greater force and power than you can with a straight bar. As a bonus, the hex bar jump will also develop the traps as you shrug during the jump. Neutral-Grip Shoulder Shrug. The hex bar, trap bar, dumbbells, and many types of shoulder shrug leverage machines enable you to perform shrugs with your arms at your sides with a neutral grip.
As opposed to dumbbell shrugs, a straight bar provides a much smoother motion because there is no friction from having the weights sliding up the legs. Perform the exercise in a power rack with the barbell set across the pins. You can then brace yourself with your free hand against one of the power rack posts, which will allow you to keep your torso in an upright position. Variety is the key to success in strength training, not just to give your muscles reasons to grow and get strong, but also to ensure that your joints can stay healthy longer. For all these reasons, give neutral-grip training a try.
CHAPTER 15 Favor Seated Arm Exercises over Standing Countless articles in bodybuilding magazines have stated that the best biceps builder is the standing barbell curl. But the fact is, seated isolation exercises are essential in achieving maximum arm hypertrophy. Electromyography (EMG) is a scientific method that measures the electrical activity of muscles. The greater the muscle contraction, the higher the measurement. EMG studies have shown that Scott curls and seated incline curls produce greater involvement of the elbow flexors than so-call “mass exercises” such as standing barbell curls. One reason is that there is no wasted neural drive to stabilize the body. During the standing barbell curl, some of the neural drive goes to the anti-gravity muscles involved in remaining upright. For example, some of the neural drive will go to your glutes and erector spinae muscles just to offset the weight moving in front of you during the curls – in effect, you could say that the standing barbell curl is a back stabilization exercise. In contrast, during the seated incline curl, those anti-gravity muscles don’t have to fire, which means that more neural drive can go to the elbow flexors. The result is maximal activation of that crosssection of muscle. With standing arm exercises there is also the increased likelihood of using poor technique. Reverse-grip power cleans – misnamed heavy cheat curls – are better for making your chiropractor richer than for helping your arm development. Many advanced bodybuilders finally make progress in their arm development once they lighten the loads they use and concentrate on proper form. Kneeling forms of dumbbell exercises are quite effective for developing hypertrophy, a concept attributed to the late bodybuilding author Bill Reynolds. This is because minimal cheating is possible in this position. Such exercises can be done supinated, offset, hammer or Zottmann style. However, for comfort you probably want to have your knees resting on a padded surface, such as a towel. This is not to say that you should never do standing forms of curls, especially if you are not a bodybuilder, because those exercises do have carryover in certain sports. For hypertrophy and maximal strength purposes, in the case of the upper arms, isolation is of paramount importance.
CHAPTER 16 Use Thick-Handled Dumbbells and Barbells The origin of training with thick-handled implements can be traced back to Alan Calvert, one of the fathers of weight training. He recommended this type of training in 1924 with the publication of his book Super-Strength. Changing the diameter of the grip can be a challenging training stimulus. Try these favorites: extra thick dumbbells (2 inches to 2 1/2 inches) and barbells (3 inches). Thick-handled bars and dumbbells can be used for all upper-body exercises, even for deadlifts. Thick-bar pressing movements (such as the seated press, incline press, and the bench press) should be performed in a power rack with safety pins, as it’s easy to drop the bar at first. There are many great reasons to use thick-handled implements. Here are four of them: 1. Increases motor-unit activation. The more motor units you recruit and the higher their firing rate, the faster you gain in strength. Even though this theory has yet to be verified in a strictly scientific setting, Jerry Telle showed that electrical activity of the muscles in exercises using thick handles was higher than in exercises using standard dumbbells. In fact, one of the mechanisms responsible for the enhanced recruitment could well be the fear factor; for example, when you are using a 3-inch handle in the bench press, you must concentrate on not dropping the bar. Chiropractors and neurologists have been consulted to identify the exact mechanism responsible for the strength increase. The best answer so far is that the thick handles may inhibit an inhibitory reflex. If you inhibit an inhibition, you are stronger. Lifters who train using thick handles typically find they can handle 10-12 percent more weight when they return to smaller-diameter handles. With thick handles you can’t shift into the mental “autopilot” that is operating when you’re completing most reps. 2. Builds functional strength. In real life, when you push or pull against something, whatever you are gripping generally has a larger diameter than the 1 1/4-inch-diameter dumbbell. For example, athletes from grappling sports such as jiu-jitsu will have to grab limbs that far exceed the diameter of bars. In strongman competition, more often than not, gripping strength is the limiting factor. 3. Provides great grip and forearm work. Those who use thick-bar training experience increases in grip strength and forearm development, as the fingers, wrists, thumbs, and forearms are more challenged by the bigger diameter. You will find that the muscles that adduct the thumbs will be quite sore when you start using these bars. This will also help you forgo the use of straps for chins and rows, as the straps will become unnecessary. Hence your strength will be more functional. Try doing chins or curls with oversized bars for a new kind of training effect for the elbow flexors. Tape, foam, plastic pipe, or a combination of both can be used to thicken your bars.
4. Corrects the bilateral deficit. There is a doctoral thesis showing that subjects using thick dumbbells versus standard dumbbells corrected the difference in strength between the nondominant arm and the dominant arm. This unexpected finding, with an as-yet unidentified physiological mechanism, is an important positive byproduct of thick-bar work.
CHAPTER 17 Master Unilateral Work Before Bilateral When lifters need to specialize on their arm workouts, they often benefit tremendously from starting their arm workouts with unilateral work such as one-arm concentration curls and one-arm Scott curls. Professional bodybuilders such as Dorian Yates and Lee Labrada have also espoused this principle. Findings from the field of neurophysiology clearly indicate the superiority of single-arm work over bilateral work when looking at recruitment of higherthreshold motor units. Also, unilateral work does not lock the elbow joints into a position; thus it permits a safer warm-up before the barbell work that normally follows. Further, it teaches the athlete better concentration skills, with obvious added benefits. One of the best exercises for your elbow flexors is the one-arm barbell Scott curl. Yes, you read right: barbell, not dumbbell. This is quite a nasty exercise. Due to the width of the barbell, you are forced to engage the supinators of the elbow intensively to keep the barbell parallel to the ground. Because of that, the soreness you’ll feel in your elbow flexors the next day will be out of this world.
CHAPTER 18 Scrap Exercises You Cannot Feel What this concept boils down to is if there is no mind-muscle connection, you are wasting your time. In other words, sometimes you have to go with your gut. Specifically, what this means is you should train from a base of exercises that you can feel well, and then vary your program from that base of exercises. This concept may be attributed to Franco Columbu, a former Mr. Olympia who was pound-for-pound one of the strongest bodybuilders of all time. (He was also the training partner of Arnold Schwarzenegger, both at his bodybuilding peak and during his formative years.) Columbu said he felt nothing from doing decline barbell presses, so he scrapped them from his exercise base. Seven-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates agrees with this concept, as does Milos Sarcev, who has won many bodybuilding titles and has placed in the top ten of the Mr. Olympia. Sarcev starts every arm workout with very light concentration curls. He focuses on the shorteninglengthening cycle to the point where he can feel the mind-muscle connection, and then he proceeds with his planned workout. Unconventional, perhaps, but it works for him. So perhaps the motto shouldn’t be train with pain, but train with brain!
CHAPTER 19 Consider Body Position Knowledge is power, and in the case of resistance training, it also equals strength and muscle mass. One topic in our PICP certification and personal training programs is how body position affects muscle fiber recruitment. Let’s look at how the training stimulus changes according to your position when performing triceps extensions: flat, incline, or decline. Because all three heads of the triceps (long, lateral, medial) join at a common tendon, it is impossible to purely isolate a single head of the triceps. However, by changing the orientation of your upper arm in relation to gravity and to your torso, you can affect the percentage of contribution of each head. Here are a few examples: From incline to perpendicular: The further away your arms are from your belly button, the greater the recruitment of the long head of the triceps. This means there is a greater contribution of the long head when you’re doing an overhead triceps extension than when you’re doing an incline triceps extension. Flat: In a flat position, there is a greater contribution of the lateral head and the long head of the triceps. A supine triceps extension is an example of this type of exercise. Decline: The closer your arms are to your torso, the greater the contribution of the medial head of the triceps at the top position (end range of motion). At the bottom position the lateral head is the prime mover. Of course, you also have to consider your hand position. As a general rule, pronation increases recruitment of the lateral head of the triceps, and supination increases recruitment of the medial head. Now let’s put it all together. If you are a bodybuilder with relatively poor medial triceps development, here is a workout that will fix the problem: A1. Decline, EZ Bar Triceps Extensions with Chains, 4 x 6-8, 4110, rest 10 seconds A2. Decline, Elbows under the Bar, Close-grip Bench Presses, 4 x 6-8, 4110, rest 120 seconds With the first exercise, the strength curve that is altered by the chains increases the overload on the medial head of the triceps. However, with the second exercise, it is the elbow orientation that increases the recruitment of the medial head. There are many more practical examples of how even slight modifications in body position can affect the results of any weight training program. So, be smart and use this knowledge to your advantage!
CHAPTER 20 Focus on the “Most Bang for Your Buck” Exercises An exercise is only as good as the time it takes you to adapt to it. Provided you use enough weight for enough time, all exercises can build muscle – it’s just that some exercises are better at it than others. This phenomenon has to do with what German strength physiologists call the scale of motor unit recruitment. For example, cam exercises for a given number of reps recruit less motor units than a pulley exercise, and pulley exercises recruit less motor units than a dumbbell exercise. The more you stick to what we were designed for as animals – lifting rocks, carrying carcasses, and generally just fighting against gravity – the better off you are. What that means is using free weights over machines. Some coaches argue that every exercise should be done standing if possible, but that would not be a wise practice. If you look at research on motor unit recruitment, the fewer muscles you involve in other parts of the body, the better. For example, there’s more motorunit recruitment during the seated incline curl and the Scott curl than standing curls. When you stand and curl, your whole posture changes so you don’t fall. When you’re doing curls while seated, you can send all your neural drive to those motor units and get better recruitment. EMG studies at the York University in Toronto showed that the more you can isolate the exercise with a free weight (in a single-joint movement), the more motor units are recruited. It’s true that if you measure motor-unit recruitment in the quadriceps on a leg extension versus a squat for a given number of reps, you’ll always get more motor-unit recruitment in the squat. But when we’re talking about single-joint exercises, the more you can isolate your neural drive for the targeted muscle, the better recruitment you’ll get. The Seven Levels of Muscle Activation One of the keys in strength training is to choose the right exercise, what is often referred to as the “most bang for your buck” exercise. Here is a modification of Dietmar Schmidtbleicher’s chart on what he refers to as the 6 levels of muscle activation. This chart rates exercises on a scale of 1 to 6, with level 6 having the highest degree of muscle activation. The chart includes a 7th level added by Riccard Nillson. The higher the level, the greater the muscle activation, so your training should include mostly exercises of level 5 and above. Compound vs. Isolation Exercises (Neuromuscular Activity = NMA) Level 1 Isolation exercise on variable resistance machine Examples: Leg extension on cam-type machine (such as the Cybex leg extension), DAVID
leg curl Level 2 Complex exercise on variable resistance machine Examples: Nautilus leg press, LifeFitness incline press Level 3 Isolation exercise with constant resistance machine Examples: Scott pulley curl, triceps pressdown on pulley machine Level 4 Complex exercise with constant resistance machine Example: Leg press on standard machine Level 5 Isolation exercise with free weights Examples: Scott barbell curl, lying flyes Level 6 Complex exercise with free weights Examples: snatch pulls, power cleans Level 7 Complex exercise with free weights Examples: power snatch, dips on rings, rope climbing, split jerks When you involve several fiber types, you recruit more motor units as well. If you do a split jerk, there’s more recruitment of the triceps because without it you could drop the bar on your head. The snatch or power snatch will recruit more motor units than the power clean because there’s more risk with those exercises than with the power clean. Risk equals more motor unit recruitment. Also, adding chains or bands can actually help elicit greater recruitment. Machines offer variety to your workouts, but as a general rule they should not encompass more than 20 percent of your training. Free weights will give you the most bang for your buck in terms of muscle fiber recruitment, and those should be the ones taking up most of your workout time.
SECTION 3: LOADING PARAMETERS
CHAPTER 21 Vary the Speed of Contraction of Your Reps Let’s start with some definitions. Speed of contraction refers to the rate of movement of the implement or limb involved in any given strength exercise. In sport science circles, it is normally described or measured in terms of degrees per second. For simplicity, you can measure speed of contraction as the amount of time it takes to complete each phase of a repetition. The term tempo can be used collectively to describe the total amount of time it takes to complete an entire repetition. Tempo is an important component because it influences the effectiveness of a given exercise. Even if you complete a specific number of repetitions for a set as prescribed, this does not ensure that you are applying the appropriate stimulus. For example, if two athletes perform a dumbbell row for 10 reps, one might perform each repetition slowly and finish the set in 45 seconds, whereas the other athlete might perform the exercise as though they were trying to start a lawnmower and finish the set in 8.2 seconds before dropping the weight to the floor. Variations such as these make it difficult to determine the effectiveness of a given workout, as obviously each athlete was receiving a different training stimulus despite performing the same number of reps. Tempo Formula With credit going to Charles Poliquin and Australian strength coach Ian King, one way to prescribe tempo is to use a four-digit formula that deals with all the major phases of a repetition, such as 4212 (explained below). The formula is broken down as follows: The first number refers to the eccentric part of the exercise. An eccentric contraction occurs when a muscle lengthens, such as when you lower the resistance during the descent of the squat. Eccentric training is often neglected by American strength coaches, to the detriment of their strength training programs. In fact, research by renowned biomechanist Tom McLaughlin shows that the most successful powerlifters are the ones who have the best control of the load eccentrically. The second number refers to the isometric pause in the stretched position. This pause usually occurs between the eccentric (lowering) phase and the concentric (lifting) phase of a repetition, such as when the barbell makes contact with the chest during the bench press. Pauses in the “disadvantageous” position of a lift (i.e., where you have poor leverage), such as the bottom position of a squat, increase intramuscular tension, which can further boost strength development. The third number refers to the concentric contraction. The concentric contraction occurs when a muscle shortens, such as when you curl a barbell to your shoulders. If X is used in the formula, it implies explosive action with full acceleration. Obviously, it would be dangerous to use X for the eccentric contraction of exercises such as squats and bench presses, so X is used only as the third number in tempo prescriptions.
The fourth number refers to the isometric pause in the shortened position. This is the type of contraction that occurs at the end of the concentric phase, such as when a bench press is locked out. Pauses in this “advantageous” position (i.e., where you have good leverage) also increase the recruitment of more fast-twitch fibers, which are the fibers that will provide the most increases in strength and power. Putting it together, a 4212 tempo prescription for the bench press would mean you would lower the barbell to your chest in 4 seconds, pause for 2 seconds when the bar makes contact with your chest, press the weight to extended arms in 1 second, and then rest 2 seconds when the barbell is locked out before performing another repetition. Of all the loading parameters that can be manipulated to design resistance-training programs, speed of contraction is probably the most misunderstood and neglected aspect of training. But if you master the application of tempo prescription, you will enjoy greater control of your program, which will bring faster and greater gains in strength and muscle development.
CHAPTER 22 Use the Trick of the Last Slow Eccentric Rep Eccentric training is a tool you can use to handle heavier weights than you would in a concentric contraction. However, it also can be used in exercises in which you have a particular weakness in the concentric portion of the exercise. If you have an especially difficult time performing chin-ups, such as only being able to perform 2 repetitions, you will find it particularly useful to lengthen the time of the eccentric lowering on the last repetition. Why? Performing the last rep in this manner will increase the time under tension and therefore accelerate your strength gains. This method is especially successful in boosting the scores of female athletes in chins and dips. Here’s an example of a woman who can only complete 2 chin-ups on a 4020 tempo. At the end of the last concentric range, her coach tells her to lower herself as slowly as possible for the last eccentric range. That might be 18 seconds. Next workout, the coach asks her to go to concentric failure and then shoot for a record lowering time, which would climb up normally to 22-25 seconds. Her success will boost her confidence and her subsequent progress. Anytime she can reach a 30-second lowering time, it’s certain her concentric performance will go up by 1 rep the next workout. Another trick anyone can do is to increase the load for the eccentric portion: Lift yourself up for the concentric range, and then have a spotter add a weight (such as a dumbbell you will hold between your ankles) for the eccentric portion of the lift.
CHAPTER 23 Experiment with Partial-Range Movements When it comes to lifting more weight, whether the goal is strength or hypertrophy, an effective approach is to break down a repetition into its individual parts and use a weight appropriate for that specific portion of the repetition. For example, due to improved leverage, you can use a higher intensity of resistance by performing a 1/4 deadlift rather than a full-repetition deadlift. If you only perform full repetitions, the amount of weight you use will be limited by what you can lift past your sticking point. The key to eliminating sticking points (which, if neglected long term, lead to strength plateaus) is to use a higher intensity of weight when you possess the mechanical advantage. You can accomplish this by modulating resistance via chains, bands, or eccentric hooks for overload, but you’ll have much greater precision by using partial-rangeof-motion repetitions instead. Depending on the rules and regulations of your training facility, you might not be allowed to use devices such as chains anyway. However, by using a power rack with a set of safety bars, you can choose to intentionally overload a few specific degrees of the range of motion, such as your sticking points, while avoiding the wrath of your local gym management. Here is a workout using partial range of motion to improve your deadlift: A1. Top 1/4 Deadlift in Rack, 4 x 4-6 reps, 2210, rest 100 seconds A2. Lying Leg Curl, Feet Neutral, 4 x 4-6 reps, 4010, rest 100 seconds B1. Top Half Deadlift in Rack, 4 x 4-6 reps, 2210 tempo, rest 100 seconds B2. Lying Leg Curl, Feet Outward, 4 x 4-6 reps, 4010 tempo, rest 100 seconds C1. Full-Range Deadlift, 3 x 6-8 reps, 4010 tempo, rest 90 seconds C2. Lying Leg Curl, 3 x 6-8 reps, 4010 tempo, rest 90 seconds While you might be tempted to change the order of the exercises, don’t. Perform the exercises in this specific order so you begin with the variations that allow for the greatest loading. One of the tenets of weight training, whether for strength or hypertrophy, is to always perform the exercises that allow for the greatest loads first in your workout. Depending on your conditioning, the difference between performing the top 1/4 deadlifts first or last in your workout can mean a 25-35 percent reduction in the weight you can use. Why? The explanation is simple: You’ll expend so much energy overloading your sticking points that you’ll have nothing left when it comes to handling the heaviest loads.
CHAPTER 24 Use Cluster Training for Greater Strength Gains In traditional relative strength training, a workout prescribed for an athlete often uses the following loading parameters: 5 sets of 5RM (repetition maximum), 4-minute rest intervals, achieving muscular failure on the last repetition of every set. Here’s one example: an athlete performs a total of 25 repetitions at 85 percent of 1RM in roughly 25 minutes of work. As an alternative to relative strength training, let’s look at cluster training. Cluster training uses intraset pauses, much longer than the 1-2 seconds used in most tempo prescriptions. These pauses will enable you to use a higher percentage of your 1RM, such as 90 percent instead of 85. A cluster workout could look like this: 5 x 5RM, resting 10-15 seconds between reps and 3-5 minutes between sets. (Note: athletes with a higher percentage of fast-twitch fibers would use the longer rest interval of 15 seconds.) In this example, the athlete performs a total of 25 repetitions at 90 percent of 1RM in the same 25 minutes. Note that these repetitions are performed at higher forces and lower velocities than when performed in the traditional method. As a result, there is increased total training time under higher tension for the high-threshold (fast twitch) fibers, a prerequisite for reaching hypertrophy of these fibers. This may seem contradictory to the concept of relative strength, but hypertrophy can be beneficial if applied to the appropriate motor units. As you can see, cluster training can be a great tool, but here are some important things to know: 1. Success in all sets and reps is critical. It is better to use a weight that is initially too light than a weight that is too heavy. Let’s say your best close-grip bench press is 300 pounds, and your 3RM is 270 pounds; normally you can start your first cluster at that weight: 270 pounds. Instead, you could start your clusters at 255 pounds, and then move up if it is too easy. Use your best judgment to adjust the load, not your ego. 2. Concentrate on maximal acceleration during the concentric range of all reps. 3. Forced reps for survival may be necessary. An occasional forced rep is fine on the last rep of a cluster to prevent you from being pinned by the bar, but be sure to record only the reps that are successful. 4. Only increase the weight if all reps and all sets are successful. 5. Increase the load by 1-3 percent when you achieve all your repetition goals. 6. Initially start with only three clusters and build up to five clusters over the next two workouts. 7. Train in groups of two or three athletes to facilitate loading, unloading, and measuring rest intervals.
8. Use a metronome to count rest intervals between repetitions. If no metronome is available, a training partner should count out loud the seconds remaining in the rest interval in descending order, such as 10, 9, 8 . . . 9. Be sure to record all sets, reps and rest intervals for the purposes of motivation, monitoring, and program evaluation. Here is a sample arm training routine using cluster training: Part 1: Cluster Training Only A1. 10-Degree Decline Close-Grip Bench Press, 3-5 clusters (5 x 1), 50X0, rest 120 seconds A2. Scott EZ Bar Semisupinated-Grip Curl, 3-5 clusters (5 x 1), 50X0, rest 120 seconds Part 2: Supplemental Hypertrophy Work In this concluding part of the workout, you’ll do supplemental work to hypertrophy the highthreshold fibers that have been excited by this training method. What usually works best is to do an exercise that is different but about 90 percent similar, such as the ones listed below: B1. Close-Grip Bench Press with Chains, 4 x 5-7, 4010, rest 100 seconds B2. Scott Close-Grip Barbell Curl, 4 x 5-7, 3110, rest 100 seconds Although the rest interval between repetitions in a series has received very little attention from the strength training community, it is an extremely important lvoading parameter.
CHAPTER 25 Apply the Concept of the Back-Off Set A workout program is only as good as the time it takes you to adapt to it. This is why it’s important to experiment with different programs, even if you enjoy your current workout and even if other programs seem inferior or illogical. One system to foster faster strength gains is to do a back-off set of high repetitions (about 60 percent of maximum) after working with loads in the 80-85 percent range. Variations of this method have been created by many weight training authors such Don Ross (bodybuilding), Bill Starr (weightlifting), and Fred Hatfield (powerlifting). Here is an example: A. 5 x 4-5 (85-87.5 percent of maximum), 40X0, rest 240 seconds between sets, then B. 1 x 20-25 (55-60 percent of maximum) on a 10X0 tempo A group of Japanese researchers showed that adding this back-off set elicited more hypertrophy and strength gains than just doing the straight low-rep sets. The extra gains have been attributed to various factors, such as these: • Further stimulus for lower-threshold motor units • Anti-catabolic mechanisms from the growth hormone output associated with high reps • Increased glycogen storage No matter what the exact mechanism is, you can use back-off sets to always get a greater return from your training investment.
CHAPTER 26 Challenge the Strength Curve with Chains and Bands One popular way to describe the purpose of powerlifting is “to lift the heaviest weight the shortest distance.” This goal, and the relatively slow speed at which the three lifts are performed, may create a misconception that the training methods of powerlifters have no application to other sports. Not so. Arthur Jones, inventor of the Nautilus and MedX machines, was a proponent of using chains for accommodating resistance curves. Later on, powerlifters further refined the concept of the use of chains and bands and contributed to the innovations appearing throughout the field of strength and conditioning. First, however, here are a few caveats regarding the use of bands and chains: Because of the instability of bands, you must be trained in using them properly and have the emotional maturity to use them. Whenever spotters are used, they must be extremely attentive. It’s also important to continually check the bands for damage to help prevent them from snapping during use. Recent trends with chains and bands include the following: 1. Changing equipment design to accommodate band use. With the increased interest in band training, there are now benches, power racks, and even lifting platforms designed to accommodate bands. 2. Using chains to help with squat technique. Many individuals have trouble performing deep squats. If you’re one of them, using chains will help you on a subconscious level because you will feel the load lighten as you go deeper. 3. Improving chain design. There are many different types of chain designs to allow for more precise overloading. The best types of chains are those that are attached to a collar that easily slides onto the end of an Olympic barbell sleeve; earlier chain designs used a knob that easily broke. The newer chain units are more efficient because they can often be used as collars, rather than requiring the lifter to put an additional collar outside. 4. Using chains on machines. The resistance curves of many leverage exercise machines often are not optimal due to the various lifters’ anatomical differences and training backgrounds. You can use chains instead of, or in addition to, weight plates to change the resistance curve of the machine. You can also use a combination of weight plates and chains to accommodate the changes in a strength curve due to fatigue. For example, let’s say you are using a leverage bench press machine; you add the weight plates first and then place a chain collar on top of them to make the exercise more difficult at the finish. When you reach concentric failure on this exercise, you will be able to start the weight off the chest but not be able to finish it. At this point you would take off the chain, which not only reduces the load but also changes the resistance curve so that the load is more evenly distributed throughout the lift – that way, you can prolong the time the muscle is placed under tension.
5. Refining loading parameters. There are many research studies on the value of chain and band training as well as the most effective loading parameters. A study published in the September 2011 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research determined that with deadlifts, power production was better when 15 percent of an athlete’s 1RM was used rather than 5 to 8 percent, a ratio that has been used in other studies. Whatever innovations may come next, one thing is for certain: Chains and bands are here to stay!
CHAPTER 27 Train Twice a Day A few decades ago when a 500-pound bench press or running 10 flat in the 100 meters was a big deal, training once a day and perhaps only three days a week was enough to get the job done. That was then, but to compete at the highest levels today requires much more time in the gym. The question is, how do you maintain a high quality of training with longer workouts? The answer is, you can’t – but you can train harder and longer without doing marathon workouts. You simply increase the frequency of training. An increase in training volume increases anabolic hormone output. This is one of the problems with the one-set-to-failure approach of the so-called “high intensity” proponents. Although these workouts can result in progress for short periods, especially in overtrained athletes, the inferior hormone response is one reason you should not perform this type of training for long periods for any bodybuilder or strength athlete. Although twice-a-day training offers many benefits, you need to be patient with it, as it can take up to six months to fully adapt to this type of training – although especially motivated athletes can do it in three months. It’s best to increase your training volume gradually, such as starting with two 20-minute workouts a day. You can also start by just focusing on the weak bodyparts, say on those areas that were deficient in a structural balance test, and the results will encourage you to progress to the entire body. However, the maximum amount of time you should spend in twice-a-day workouts is about 40 minutes, excluding warm-ups. Longer training sessions would be counterproductive, as you will not be able to put as much energy into your workouts and you could overtax your recovery ability. Here is a sample twice-a-day program for the torso muscles, designed to be performed for two weeks. Monday-Thursday AM A1. Close-Parallel-Grip Chin-Up, 5 x 6-8, 3010, rest 120 seconds A2. Incline Dumbbell Press, 5 x 6-8, 3010, rest 120 seconds B1. Seated Cable Rowing to Neck, 3 x 8-10, 2012, rest 100 seconds B2. Unrolling Incline Flye, 3 x 8-10, 2110, rest 100 seconds Monday-Thursday PM A1. Cambered Bar Press, 4 x 8-10, 3110, 90 seconds A2. One-Arm Cable Row, 4 x 8-10, 3011, 90 seconds B1. Incline Cable Flye, 3 x 10-12, 3010, 75 seconds B2. Hammer Lat Pulldown, 3 x 6-8, 3013, 75 seconds
You need to take plenty of time between workouts to achieve an optimal training effect, which means about four to six hours between training sessions. This time spread is critical. If you use a shorter one, you will be too fatigued; and in a longer one you will negate the nervous system activation effect of the morning workout. Exercise scientists refer to this phenomenon as a super compensation effect, which is the body’s response to stress with a decrease in an individual’s fitness preparedness followed by a resistance phase in which the body adapts to a higher fitness state. Even though super compensation usually refers to a longer training period, such as a few weeks, it can also occur in the same workout, as after a few hours the nervous system will rebound to a higher level. One workout plan that works well with twice-a-day training is to organize the training into three 5-day cycles. In the first two cycles you train twice a day, and on the third cycle you unload with a cycle of cutting back to once-a-day training – because it’s normal to lose some lean muscle mass as you begin this type of training. In fact, studies conducted on American and Finnish weightlifters who trained twice a day for short periods found that testosterone production can be temporarily depressed when they start this type of training. However, the testosterone will shoot right back up during an unloading cycle such as the one suggested. Here’s a tip: Start twice-a-day training on a Saturday so you can nap during the first two days of the cycle, which will help you adapt to the training. One final piece of advice with training twice a day is to be patient. Yes, you will get very tired, but you will get stronger. Most individuals will quit this type of training because they don’t have what it takes to mentally overcome the initial fatigue bouts – but stick with it! If you quit prematurely, you are missing a great opportunity to achieve new levels of mass and strength.
CHAPTER 28 Do Exercises You Like In searching for new training ideas, one place to look is at the regimens of amazing bodybuilders and strongmen from the past. Many people don’t care to learn these valuable training tidbits because they’re from “old-time” athletes, and this is a shame, as many of these ideas are extremely valuable. Let’s take a look at one top bodybuilder who had a lot of great training ideas that still apply today: Reg Park. Park won the overall title in the amateur NABBA Mr. Universe in 1951 and the pro divisions in 1958 and 1965; in 1973 he came back to place second in the tall class in the pro division of that year’s Mr. Universe. He sported legitimate 20-inch arms, was the first bodybuilder to bench press 500 pounds, and appeared in five Italian-made Hercules movies. In an article he wrote in 1952, “My Shoulder Training,” Park stressed the philosophy that what works well for him might not work well for someone else. He wrote, “The opinions of some weightlifters and the teachings of certain instructors are conditioned by their experiences and the results they have obtained. If, for instance, a man gets a huge chest and muscular latissimus dorsi from the practice of the straight-arm pullover, he will maintain that the exercise is a marvelous and productive one. If, however, he uses the pullover and gets nothing but badly sprained deltoids and sore elbow joints, he will rightly conclude that the movement achieves nothing but injury, that it is no good.” Expanding on this idea, Park said that it’s best to use exercises that you enjoy doing because you will train with greater zest, enthusiasm, and determination. “Because of that simple fact of performing a labor of love, you insert more into your task, get much faster results together with a feeling of wellbeing and a sense of accomplishing something,” says Park. “It is a favorable psychological reaction that reverberates and builds upon itself.” The take-away idea here is that if you don’t feel a mind-muscle connection in an exercise, you are wasting your time and you should scrap it. Great bodybuilding champions of the past knew this idea works, and it will work for you too.
CHAPTER 29 Perform Drop Sets The first Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott, learned about drop sets from Steve “Hercules” Reeves. Rather than increasing the weight every set, as Scott had been doing, he learned from Reeves to start with a heavy weight and then decrease the weight for several sets without resting between sets. One reason drop sets became so popular with bodybuilders is that it created a tremendous “pump” in the muscles. Let’s say you can curl 100 pounds in a biceps exercise for 10 reps. As soon you complete the 10th rep, immediately decrease the weight by 10 pounds and do as many reps as you can. Then drop the weight another 10 pounds and perform 10 more reps. Due to the effort required to complete such training, it only takes a few sets to produce results – say by performing just one set of drop sets in a workout as a “finisher.” Although drop sets are a popular method for building muscle, they also can be used to develop strength. The major difference when strength is the goal is to use lower reps, which increases the intensity of the exercise and enables you to use heavier weights. Intense exercise with heavy weights recruits more fast-twitch motor units, which produce the most powerful muscle contractions. The following are two workouts using drop sets to increase upper body strength. One is designed for a beginner, and one for an advanced athlete. Note that the exercises are performed in “push-pull” superset fashion to provide more complete recovery of the muscles, which is necessary to develop higher levels of strength. The drop sets in these workouts are indicated by a forward slash. If you see the formula 4/4/4 for a set, this means you perform 4 reps, reduce the weight and perform 4 reps, reduce the weight again and do 4 more reps. For best results, rest no more than 10 seconds total between weight reductions. Beginner Drop Set Workout (drop sets in “B” supersets) A1. Scott One-Arm Dumbbell Hammer Curl, 6,6,4,4,2,2, 40X0, rest 120 seconds A2. Close-Grip Bench Press with Chains, 6,6,4,4,2,2, 40X0, rest 120 seconds B1. Standing Thick-Bar Curl, 3 x 4/4/4, 30X0, rest 120 seconds B2. Triceps Pressdown, Pronated Grip, 3 x 6/6/6, 4010, rest 120 seconds Advanced Drop Set Workout (drop sets in all supersets) A1. Front Lat Pulldown, Wide Pronated Grip, 3 x 6/6/6, 5010, rest 120 seconds A2. 30-Degree Incline Barbell Press, 3 x 6/6/6, 4020, rest 120 seconds B1. Pulldown to Chest, Leaning Back, Medium-Parallel Grip, 3 x 6/6/6, 5010, rest 90 seconds
B2. Dumbbell Punch Press, 3 x 6/6/6, 3210, rest 90 seconds C1. Incline Dumbbell Flye, 3 x 10/10/10, 3010, rest 60 seconds C2. Incline Prone Lateral Raise, 3 x 10/10/10, 3010, rest 60 seconds Give this workout a try and see your strength levels rise. The bodybuilders got it right on this training method, but it delivers more than just big muscles. If you want to get strong, your motto should be “Drop sets – they’re not just for bodybuilders anymore!”
CHAPTER 30 Become Stronger with Functional Isometrics A muscle can produce 10-15 percent more force during isometric contractions than during concentric contractions. For that reason alone, it’s a method of training worth considering – but there’s more! A muscle will gain at the point of an isometric contraction, plus or minus 15 degrees. That is, if you train at 45 degrees of elbow flexion, you gain strength from 30 to 60 degrees of elbow flexion (45 plus or minus 15 degrees). When used as a part of training, isometric contractions should be maximal and should last 6-8 seconds. However, to avoid injury there should be a gradual tensing-up of the muscle followed by progressive relaxation. More than 30 years ago, lifters were introduced to this training method under the term isometronics, which is a contraction of isometrics and isotonics. German strength experts Jürgen Hartmann and Harold Tünnemann prefer to use the term auxotonics to describe this training method. The current most popular term is functional isometric contractions (FIC). Whatever term you like, the idea is to use the best of what the isometric method can offer and combine it with conventional lifting into what is known as isotonics. With FIC you make use of the specific joint-angle strength gains of isometrics after prefatiguing the muscles involved by using heavy short-range repetitions in the power rack. In the biceps and triceps workouts that follow, you’ll perform exercises focusing on three ranges of motion: start range, mid-range, and end range. In all three ranges you will select a weight that you can move from the bottom of the range of motion to its top position. In all ranges, you will regulate the amplitude of the movement by pushing the bar against the pins of a power rack. Here is how to perform a set: Perform 4-6 partial reps in the normal fashion on a 2020 tempo. When you come to the end of the last concentric repetition, push the bar against the top pins. Apply as much force as hard as possible for six to eight seconds, trying to blast through the pins! Do not hold your breath during the isometric contraction; instead, use a very brief cycle of breathing, alternating rapidly between short inhaling and short exhaling. If you’ve performed this set properly, you should not be able to perform another concentric repetition after lowering the barbell – if you still can, the weight you used was simply too light. The following two isometronic biceps workouts involve 9 sets of rack work: 3 sets of 4-6 reps of isometronics at three different ranges. Don’t be surprised if you’re prone to intense shaking upon completion of the routine – this is evidence that your nervous system is shot. Due to the severity of the stress this workout imposes, it should only be performed once every two biceps workouts. Low-Range Barbell Curl. This exercise will improve the power of your start in all curling exercises. Set the pins in the power rack at a point where the barbell will travel for 45-50 degrees of your range of motion, starting from the bottom position (arms extended). At this
angle the range of motion is quite limited, so only lower the barbell for a count of 2 seconds. Mid-Range Barbell Curl. For the barbell curl performed in the conventional manner, this is where most individuals encounter sticking points – but functional isometric contractions will help you blast through it! Set the pins at a point where the barbell will travel for 80-90 degrees of elbow flexion. For this range, lower the barbell for a count of 3 seconds. Top-Range Barbell Curl. This is the hardest position in which to maintain proper ergonomics. Set the pins at a point where the barbell will travel for 130-140 degrees of elbow flexion. As you fatigue, you will have the tendency to lean back, a technique fault that creates trauma in the lower back that can cause injury. To prevent you from swinging the weight, you can have a training partner support you with their back against you. You will perform 3 sets of 4-6 reps of isometronics at this range, resting three minutes between each set. Once you have completed these 9 sets in the power rack, finish off your routine by performing any of the following: Option A Barbell Curl (full range), 1 x 6-8RM, 4010 EZ Bar Reverse Curl, 3 x 6-8RM, 4020, rest 180 seconds Option B Barbell Curl (full range), 1 x 6-8RM, 4010 Incline Dumbbell Curl, 3 x 6-8RM, 3110, rest 180 seconds Option C Barbell Curl (full range), 1 x 6-8RM, 4010 Scott Close-Grip Curl, 3 x 6-8RM, 5110, rest 180 seconds Instead of performing power rack training on your alternate biceps workout, perform 4 sets of 4-6 reps of full-range barbell curls at a 4010 tempo, followed by option A, B, or C. When you first perform these workouts, you’ll be surprised at how hard you’re working. You’ll be pleased with the results.