The Big 3
In almost every solid program some form of progression in the press, deadlift, and squat should be implemented. Obviously everyone’s own individual goals will dictate volume, frequency, and intensity. However, progression is a must for progress to be made in these lifts or some close variation of them for strength and overall health and fitness.
Someone may not wish to enter a powerlifting meet. I have found that powerlifting or strength programs that stop around three reps for the heaviest work sets seem to work well for everyone from a strength athlete to an average person. Basically, sticking to moderate to high reps all the time in these lifts can severely limit results. You need to work towards moving some serious weight between 3-5 reps at some stage in the program.
I utilize a variety of approaches ranging from traditional western periodization programs to more advanced powerlifting routines. Every training cycle, a new personal record is hopefully set in some form depending on the individual’s goals. Then a new cycle is started. This has provided my clients a goal to work towards each training period and increases individual competitiveness and drive to hit lifts every week.
For good reasons, most traditional bodybuilding methods such as excessively high volume and chasing the burn harder than if you were in a Jane Fonda class, have gone out of style. The raw powerlifting, Crossfit, and strongman movements have introduced the mainstream to the science of strength training. This has helped many people make efficient use of their time in the gym and get great results.
Most people will see incredible body composition changes by focusing on basic strength training. I believe it has also helped to prevent injuries, believe it or not, due to improved mobility and core strength. I have seen more young athletes come into the gym with their foam rollers, lever belts, and Chuck Taylors than ever before. I think this has been a great step in the right direction.
Before everyone throws their stringer tanks and gallons of water away, there is still something to be taken away from traditional bodybuilding training. First of all, despite the need for the basics for someone looking for aesthetic improvements, such as bigger shoulders or more defined thighs, sometimes genetics will prevent getting away with just the basics.
For myself as an example, my pecs have always been a dominant muscle group that have taken over during pressing movements; leaving my delts and triceps far behind. Therefore, I was unable to rely on just basic pressing variations for total upper body development. To improve my delts and triceps I had to incorporate a variety of accessory work and intensity techniques to bring them up to par.
Hypertrophy is primarily a physiological response to damage to the muscle fibers. If you have a stubborn muscle group it may not be getting the stimulus it needs for maximal hypertrophy or development from the basics. This is the time when pulling out that old Muscle & Fitness magazine with 10-page articles on how to blast your biceps might not be a bad idea. I’m not saying to join Rich Piana for an 8-hour arm workout, but utilizing drop sets, negatives, and of course training to failure can offer a great benefit.
I have many clients and myself focus on a lagging muscle group for a training cycle lasting anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks. We implement a variety of techniques during this time to improve the area and then, usually, move on to another area during the next training cycle. This is also when I like to utilize before and after pictures because this is usually the best evidence that this method has worked. A tape measure or scale can always be skewed. A more defined back or bigger delts is obvious in a photograph.
You may not wish to pull a diesel truck across a parking lot or lift a 400-pound atlas stone, but to ignore the benefits of strongman type training would be a huge mistake. Strongman training challenges the muscular skeletal system, various energy levels, coordination, and conditioning in an extremely unique way. I prefer to implement some strongman discipline in every workout.
You may not have access to equipment like a log press or stones. A variety of exercises are used by strongmen everywhere during workouts that carry over to the performance of specific events. This would include heavy farmers carries, sled presses, and weighted rope pulls.
I have seen clients maintain a low bodyfat percentage while eating a tremendous amount of calories by implementing this kind of training in their routine. Due to the unique physiological and metabolic demands, I myself, and clients, normally finish a squat and deadlift workout with either sled pushes or heavy farmers carries for time.
For upper body workouts I utilize heavy kettle bell push presses, seated rope pulls, or weighted sled pulls. Since I have implemented this in my own training as well as my clients, results in body composition, strength, and overall conditioning have been dramatic.