Speed Strength Article Generating More Questions
Q: I saw your material on Speed strength training and I want to know more about the specific exercises, such as how to modify if I do not have access to certain things. The Swiss ball crunch to be specific.
A: You can simply perform a high-cable rope crunch, for example. Not a problem. On the other hand, it wouldn’t exactly take an act of congress to obtain a Swiss ball!
Also, I am in the 7th week of a strength training routine and will be done in 3 more. I have gone that way to build up strength before I begin working on gaining size specifically. I have gained some size which has been really encouraging at my age. I am 38 and have lifted most all of my adult life. Never with the intensity as I have for the past 5 months though. I am feeling like I have a lot of untapped potential and your article on this other type of strength training sounds exactly like what I want to get into.
I wonder how you decide on the weight to use for each exercise. Do you use a percentage of your max or some other trial and error?
A: Use a consistent weight load for the sets and reps indicated. In general, I am not a fan of percentages of 1RM, since you never really know what your 1RM is at any given time.
I do not have ready access to any consistent partner to lift with is that a problem with this regimen?
A: It is FAR preferable to have a knowledgeable, hard-working training partner, as opposed to the alternative. It is not strictly necessary however.
I am currently using some protein supplement drinks and would like any advice on some specific supplements I could use to bolster strength and size. Some of the folks articles have also mentioned the use of yohimbe for fat burning effects. Is that an isolated supplement or found in several types of supplements?
A: I’m not “up” on the yohimbe research— I’d suggest you ask Lyle, Elzi, Pat, or Bill about that. [Editor’s note: See Fat Loss, alpha2-Adrenoceptors and Yohimbine, Part I by Elzi Volk]. As for supplements, just whey protein concentrate, creatine monohydrate, that’s about it. It’s more important to examine your diet and make sure that is in order first.
Well, enuf! Just am pumped about this new routine and want to see if it really works. Sounds well thought out and thorough. Hope to hear soon. Take Care, Steve
Hypertrophy Training Alternatives
Q: Dear Mr Staley,
What do you think is a better way (or are they both alternative ways) for hypertrophy training: Going to failure every set or leaving one or two reps ? The first for me would look like this: e.g. chest: Dumbbell press 80 lbs x 10, 70 lbs x 9 (fatigue!), 70 lbs x 8, 70 lbs x 7.
The other way looks in my training like this: 80 lbs x 8, 80 lbs x 8, 80 lbs x 8 (failure), 80 lbs x 6 (obviously I’m able to work with the same weight til the last set, cause I’m not fatiguing that much as by giving all out in the first sets). So what gives ? I’ve read an article from you where you say that you don’t have to train to failure every set.
Thanks for answering. Torsten, MD Sports medicine, Germany
A: Well, let’s do the math:
In the first scenario, your total volume (weight multiplied by reps) is 2480 pounds, and the average intensity (volume divided by reps) is 72.94 pounds.
In the second scenario, your total volume is 2400 pounds, and the average intensity (volume divided by reps) is 80.00 pounds.
So, both methods generate similar numbers: the second method yields 9.6% greater intensity for a trade off of a 9.6% reduction in volume (Hey! Are you setting me up here??!!)
In any event, If I had to choose, I’d opt for the latter method because volume probably has a more telling effect on hypertrophy than intensity. If strength development was my goal however, you’d be slightly better off using the first scenario.
I also think that carrying a set to technical breakdown (by definition of failure) is appropriate for hypertrophy training, but not so for strength objectives.
Box Squats: Good or Evil?
Q: Dear Mr Staley,
I am interested in your position regarding Box Squats wherein you actually sit on the box then rise. I read an article by Louie Simmons where he promotes the above stated method of box squatting. I have begun to use this method and have found great results in terms of strength gains, I usually do 10 sets of 2 reps with 30 seconds of rest with no gear at approximately 60% of max. Should I discontinue? I keep my back tight at all times and sit in a very deliberate and controlled manner. Thank you for your time.
A: Sam, please see my earlier response to this question in the Staley on Strength archives. In a word, however, I advise strongly against them— and I have performed them in the past, so I know whereof I speak!
Aerobics: Good or Evil?
Q: I know that aerobic exercise trains the slow twitch muscle fibers and resistance training trains the fast twitch muscle fibers, and I’ve been told that if you do aerobics, it will take away from your muscle building by making your muscles more like slow twitch fibers.
A: That’s a bit of an awkward way to state it, but yes, you’re correct— it can be a problem.
Obviously, everyone who lifts wants a muscular build more like a bodybuilder and less like a marathon runner. Does doing aerobics really affect your upper body “look” that you are trying for?
A: I don’t know— I guess it depends on what “look” you’re interested in!
If so, why would doing aerobics change your upper body muscles if the lower body muscles are the primary one’s being used?
A: Although excessive aerobic activity of any type can potentially slow your efforts to build lean mass, I would speculate that, for example, lower body aerobic activity would have a more adverse effect on your lower body than your upper body, and vice versa. I think the reasons for this are intuitively obvious.
Or is it possible for someone to do aerobics and continue to get closer to their goals of building big muscles? Just for you to get an idea of what I mean by doing both is for instance, lifting four days a week and running the other three.
A: Better to cycle your aerobic activity in my opinion, don’t simply apply a standard “three days per week” approach. So for example, you can do your aerobic activity three times on week one, twice during week two, and once on week three. Then repeat the three week cycle. Life proceeds in cycles, and I feel that training should reflect this reality. The above cycle will allow for better recuperation than a symmetrical approach.
Training for Bench Pressing; Arm Wrestling
First off I would just like to let you know that you are considered a tremendous source of valuable info by all my fellow firefighter/police lifting partners. I will be competing in August at the Police/Firefighter games in the bench press and arm wrestling competitions. I have never competed in either one of these events before. I am 33 years old and have been lifting weights for about 15 years. I have a relatively good base of muscle at 6 ft. tall and about 225 lbs. I am injury free and have what I think would be considered good balance between all my muscle groups. Could you tell me a generic off the shelf program of yours that I could use to train for the bench competition in 6 months? Also what specific exercises would you prescribe for the arm wrestling event? I know that you’re a very busy man and I would appreciate any help whatsoever that you could give me.
Thank you for your time, Nick
A: Nick, just for starters, let me offer you an initial impression: if you’ve been weight training for 15 years and at age 33 you are still injury free, you either are lucky, or are already doing a lot of things right, or both!
Once in a while, I run into someone who has a refined intuitive sense about their body while allows them to avoid injuries— you sound like one of those people.
In any event, if you’ll check out the last two installments of this column, you’ll find two peaking cycles which can be very effectively employed for the bench press— these should help you in that regard.
For arm wrestling (which is kind of a misnomer— it really involves the entire body of course) I recommend paying particular attention to wrist flexion (can be done with dumbbell or barbell wrist curls), biceps, and rotator cuff muscles. In this discipline, the principle problem is managing fatigue over the course of a microcycle: between practicing and strength training, the tendency is to develop chronic overload and fatigue of the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and their respective musculo-tendonous attachments. I suggest that you employ skilled soft-tissue therapy, and supplement your diet with glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin (which is a good idea for any athlete anyway).
Lastly, I couldn’t quite tell by your letter if you are competing in both these events during the same competition, but if so, training for bench press and arm wrestling concurrently, but if so, your shoulders, particularly the dominant-side shoulder, will be at risk. Maintain constant awareness for shoulder pain or symptoms, and use post-training ice applications after every upper-body workout, and also after every arm wrestling session.
I’d also strongly suggest that you perform low-intensity, moderate volume internal and external rotations using a piece of elastic tubing attached to an immovable object at slightly higher than waist level. In both exercises, you grasp the tubing, walk away from the distal attachment to put tension into the tubing, anchor your “working” elbow against your side, and then perform slow, controlled external and internal rotations to promote blood flow and range of motion to the shoulder (an area which has notoriously poor blood flow). Perform 3-4 sets of 20-30 reps three days a week (after bench press workouts whenever possible). Don’t work to fatigue on these— you’re just trying to pump blood into the shoulder— that’s all.
Lastly, remember to taper for the competition— no need to train at all for the 5-6 days before the events, excepting the rotations described above.
Powerful Legs for Hockey
Q: Dear Mr. Staley,
I want to know what exercise is the best to build powerful legs. I play hockey and it is essential for me to have strong legs. I have gone to gyms were I have had a trainer who set a program specifically for my sport, but I didn’t see any vast improvements in my game. I think squats are but I don’t know, but is a leg press machine better. If you could answer this message I would be very grateful.
A: The funny thing is, to a very real extent, the concept of sport-specific weight training is a bit of a scam. Yes, hockey players require a different approach than swimmers, for example, but when I construct strength training programs for my clients, believe it or not, the sport they happen to play isn’t the most defining characteristic. Instead, the first things I consider are the athlete’s health status, injury profile, posture, physical proportions, and past training history, for starters. If the athlete is 6″6,” with long femurs and chondromalacia, you’re going to have a difficult time convincing me that squats should be the core component of his leg training program.
In your case, I’d be willing to bet that the reason you didn’t see any improvements in your game was related more to periodization errors than it was with exercise selection, although both factors, as well as others, may have been responsible. For example, you haven’t given me details regarding set/rep parameters, etc.
Don’t think in terms of best exercises. There really is no single best exercise, or program for that matter. Think of training like nutrition: there is no such thing as a “best” food, although there are a wide range of healthy foods, and some not-so-healthy choices as well. For hockey, you want healthy potions of squats, lunges, step-ups, reverse hypers (if you have access to a reverse hyper machine), leg curls, calf raises, deadlifts, and Olympic lifting variations such as power cleans and snatches.
Vertical Jumping Fantasyland
Q: Hi! My name is Dave. I would like to increase my vertical jump by 10-12 inches in 7-8 months. How would I go about doing this?
A: Dave, you may want to consider having hydraulic jacks surgically implanted in your lower legs. I think it would be rare, if not impossible, to improve your VJ by 12 inches over your entire adult life! Let’s look at it this way: very few athletes in any sport every vertical jump past 36 inches. If you currently can do 24 inches (which most reasonably strong kids can do by the age of 18), then you’d reach your lifetime potential in 7-8 months! This would be similar to trying to put 300 pounds on your best squat in the same time frame.
The answer is to get as strong as possible, and hope that you chose the right parents. In the mean-time, check out my article on speed strength training for more information on the subject. And if you do manage to add 12 inches on your VJ in 7-8 months, just tell everyone that my training program was responsible for it!
Strength: What is it Good For?
Q: I’m 18 years old, have been lifting seriously for the past 3 years. I think I’m fairly strong, but don’t know what path to take with my lifting. What I mean is, how can I tell if I should try to get involved with powerlifting, bodybuilding, Olympic weightlifting, strong-man contests, or what? I feel sort of unmotivated about lifting because I can’t really see what direction to go with it. I could just lift to stay fit, but that seems completely boring. What do you think?
A: I think you probably have more insight than the average person— you should take your confusion as a sign that you’re an intelligent person. I’d suggest that you attend some competitions for all of the disciplines you’ve mentioned. Watch, listen, learn, and interview some of the competitors.
Find out what kind of personality it takes to succeed, what are the skill levels required, what kind of body-types are best for the sport, what kind of injuries are common, and so on. Also find out if there are training centers or clubs in your area. In time, you’ll get a sense of what seems to “fit” your needs and talents the best.
Incidentally, when I said that you probably have more insight than the average person, I’m referring to the fact that you seem to understand, even if only intuitively, that you’ll be more successful when you have specific goals in life, rather than just being a “hobbyist.” Check out my article called “Goal Orientation: Train Your Brain for Maximum Gains” in a future issue of Mesomorphosis.com. I think you’ll find it informative and inspirational!
Kristy: Good or Evil?
Q: Hi, my name is Kristy and I just moved to this state. I need someone to chat with and maybe get together with, I am 21 and a cheerleader in college. I am 5’11” and have blond hair, and I am very sexy. Thistakes you to my page where I have sexy pics and *FREE* porn links!
A: Hi Christy, if you are looking for strength training information for cheerleading, I think a personal consultation would be the best approach.
Why don’t you e-mail me your phone number and… hey…wait a minute…what the hell??!! Hey, does anyone out there know of good anti-spam software for Macintosh? Jeesh!
Stretching: Good or Evil?
Q: I’ve heard you advise people not to stretch prior to strength training sessions. I think you’re rationale was that stretching would make you weaker. However, if you are tight to begin with, wouldn’t it be wise to stretch so as to prevent injuries?
A: You have taken my advice slightly out of context— stretching may make you either weaker or stronger, depending on where you’re starting from.
The microscopic functional units of muscle tissue, called “sarcomeres,” contain two types of contractile filaments which interdigitate with each other to allow the sarcomere to shorten upon the command of the nervous system. The sarcomeres of normal, healthy muscle at rest have about 50 percent overlap of it’s actin and myosin filaments. From this position, the sarcomere has an optimal “length tension relationship,” meaning that it is in an ideal position to shorten or generate tension.
When a resting muscle is “tight,” it means that either or both of the following conditions are present:
1) All, or a large proportion of that muscle’s sarcomeres are more than 50 percent overlapped. When this is the case, the sarcomere cannot realize its full potential to generate force, because basically, it is already shortened.
2) The muscle in question contains “tight” connective tissue, such as fascia, perimysium, scar tissue, muscle spasm, and so forth.
I have found in my practice with athletes that when you apply contract-relax type stretching (often somewhat incorrectly called “PNF” stretching), you can get a sense of which of the two above scenarios is predominant.
If you get an immediate, significant improvement in muscle length after one or two stretch-contractions, the former cause is predominant (i.e., the nervous system, for whatever reason, has “set” the muscle’s length).
However, if several “sets” of stretches fail to render a significant improvement, the muscle is probably tight due to restrictive connective tissue— a situation that is best addressed through skilled soft tissue therapy.
Now that I’ve said all that, how can you tell if a certain muscle is too tight?
Physical therapists use a battery of assessments to determine minimal acceptable length for most muscles in the body, but in the “real world,” there are two primary things to look at:
1) Does the muscle prevent you from performing the skills of your sport and/or everyday activities? For example, can you easily turn your head to 90 degrees to each side? Is your range of motion the same on both sides? If the answer is “no” to either question, you may have inadequate range of motion in your neck, which could surface in a future injury.
2) Do you suffer from chronic injury patterns, such as constant pulled hamstrings or intermittent lob back pain?
If the answer to either or both of the above questions is “yes,” you may well have tight muscle groups which should be stretched— lightly before training, and more aggressively after training.
There are numerous stretching methods (I prefer those which feature a contraction of the target muscle before it is stretched), but the key concept is to perform repeated, low effort stretches throughout the day, as opposed to a single heavy-duty stretching workout every day. You have to gently “teach” the nervous system that it’s “OK” for the muscle to achieve greater length— that won’t happen if the body perceives your stretching sessions as grueling sado-machochistic events!
When can stretching make you weaker? When you already have adequate or more-than-adequate muscle length. If you stretch such a muscle, it ends up with very little overlap between the actin and myosin filaments, and when exposed to tension during a strength training workout, it now has an increased risk of injury.