faster results

Simple Strength & Size Workout

One of the best lessons I’ve learned is simpler is almost always better. With that in mind, here is a program I have used off and on with pretty decent results. I call it “On the 5’s and 10’s” and it’s pretty simple – pick two exercises and do one for 4 sets of 5, the other for 4×10. I have also played around with 5×5 & 5×10, which works, but I don’t notice a big enough difference to dedicate the extra time for the sets. If I have the time to do two lifts for five sets each, I can usually make a better workout.

There are two common ways this can be utilized – either you’re pressed for time each day and can’t spend an hour in the weight room, but still want a quality lift, or you want to improve a movement/muscle group that is lacking.

Example 1

You can get to the gym every day, but only have about 20-30 minutes, but still want to focus on mass and strength.

Set Up – After a warm up, these two lifts are done as a superset, with only as much rest as needed between rounds to get the reps at your weight.

Lift 1: Deadlift – 4×5
Lift 2: Military Press – 4×10

Lift 1: Bench Press – 4×5
Lift 2: RDLs/Glute Bridge – 4×10

Lift 1: Squat – 4×5
Lift 2: TRX Rows – 4×10

Lift 1: Chin Ups – 4×5
Lift 2: RFE Split Squats – 4×10

With Lift 1, we hit the king exercise of each movement, then use less demanding exercises for reps. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but if you only have time for two exercises, you can do much worse than deadlift and military press.

Example 2

For whatever reason, you’re not where you want to be for your squat. You can deadlift a semi, but struggle coming out of the bottom of your squat.

Set Up – In addition to your normal workouts, add this in on an extra day where squat isn’t emphasized (while still allowing recovery – remember, the issue may be overtraining and under-recovering anyway).

Lift 1: Barbell RFE Split Squats to Airex Pad – 4×5
Corrective 1: Hip Flexor Stretch

Lift 2: Dual KB Goblet Squat w/ Pause at Bottom – 4×10
Corrective 2: Ankle Mobility

In addition to improving strength out of the hole, the corrective work will help with mobility and limit internal resistance during the movement.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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5 Ways to Improve Your Training Results

Sorry for the long hiatus. I have been working on a few other projects and focusing on my reading. I want to be certain that whatever content I put on the site is worth your time and not just…well, crap.

With that said, let’s take a look at a few ways to bust through a plateau or achieve those goals you haven’t quite reached yet.

  1. Do Everything you Don’t Want to do – For most lifters, this means legs. Specifically, squats and deadlifts. Yes, they are hard (if you’re doing them properly) and yes, I know your legs will be sore for a couple days, but there’s a reason they are so difficult – they work! What is more difficult, a circuit of leg curls, leg extensions, , hip adduction/abduction, glute bridges, calf raises, planks, and back extensions, or heavy squats? Better yet, what’s more effective? Don’t kid yourself into thinking because you trained your legs on machines that you did a leg workout. Use the barbell, load it up with plates, pick it up off the floor, and stand up with it on your shoulders. Likewise, most exercises we avoid are ones we should be doing because they are holding us back. Look back on your workouts, whatever area you avoid or do easy, crank up the intensity and bring it up to par. Your body wants to keep some symmetry, so if your stuck in place with one muscle group, growth in the others will be limited.
  2. Time is Your Most Precious Asset – Imagine you only have 20 minutes from when you enter the gym to when you leave, how are you going to spend it? Probably not with ten minutes with a treadmill “warm up” or mixing your workout drink…I hope. Treat your workouts with a sense of urgency, attack the weights with intensity and get your work done. Instead of pretending to warm up on a cardio machine, try a barbell complex or short total body circuit to get everything ready. Then, big weights and big lifts. Remember, intensity is more important than duration in training. Power, strength, and explosion happen fast, not gradually over hours. Think of it this way, who won the 100m dash in the Olympics? What about the 5000m? Exactly.
  3. Don’t Treat Ab Work as a Main Movement – I’m not going to say your abs get all the training they need from other lifts, but abs/core should be treated as auxiliary work. Use core work as active rest between sets of main lifts or as a circuit later in a workout, don’t dedicate five sets strictly to abs and resting from abs. That’s not how you get a six pack.
  4. If you Haven’t Done a Lift in the past Month, do it – This works off number 1, but also serves as a reminder to vary your workouts. You may have found a program that’s great and gives you results, but don’t get complacent – eventually your body will adapt. That doesn’t mean scrap the whole thing every week, just try different grips, stances, or weights/reps/rest schemes. Instead of incline bench, try it with dumbbells, single arm DB bench, or replace deadlifts with sumo or wide grip. Small changes, continuing progress.
  5. If You’re in a rut, try this – Classic 5×5 workout, with some additional tweaks. 5 main exercises, each for 5×5, with the first three sets acting as warm-up/acclimation sets, and the last two as your true working sets. For the rest period during the first three sets, there will be auxiliary work to be done as active rest. Set 1 will be 50% of your working weight (not your 5RM, but the weight you will use in set 4), set 2 is 70%, set 3 is 85%, with the final two as working sets.

So if you’re going to use 200 pounds for your working set in power cleans, set 1 is 100, set 2 – 140, set 3 – 170, set 4 – 200, set 5 – 200+. Simple enough? If it’s easier to round the weights, that’s not a problem (185 is a lot quicker to load onto a bar than 180). Here’s how the workout will look:

  • Hang Clean – 5×5 (Hip Flexor Stretch – 30 seconds after each of the first three sets)
  • Squat – 5×5 (Push Ups – x10-20)
  • Wide Grip Deadlift – 5×5 (DB Rows – x8)
  • Single Arm DB Military Press – 5×5 (Single Leg RDL – x8 with light weight)
  • Pull Ups – 5×5 (Planks – 30-60 seconds)

Other exercises can be substituted, but keep the general outline – Olympic/power movement, squat variation, deadlift variation, press, pull. No machines for main lifts (unless you’re unable to perform heavier than body weight pull ups for five).

Good luck, if you have any questions you can reach me on Twitter, Facebook, email, or on my cell.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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Step Back to Move Forward: Looking at Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Method

I was planning to write a long post, detailing the 5/3/1 method and then sharing my view on it, but I realized I kept referring to the same source. This article on T-Nation is an excellent piece on Jim Wendler and the 5/3/1 program. It’s an older article, but I have read it quite a few times and stumbled across it again the other day. I strongly urge you to read it, especially if you are looking to add raw strength to your powerlifts. 5/3/1 is a perfect example of the difference between simplicity and ease. Put another way, the 5/3/1 method is simple, but far from easy.

One of the key concepts of 5/3/1 is to calculate your weights off your 90% 1RM rather than using the actual 1RM. This demonstrates an excellent point of training – sometimes, you need to step back to move forward. Egos can get in the way of results; be honest with your abilities and allow them to progress. Strength training is not a wonder pill (those are illegal most of the time) with immediate results, especially if you’re an experienced lifter. It takes time to allow incremental gains to build into significant results. Too often, we’re focused on the quick fix for immediate gain to add 50 pounds to a lift in a month or make other drastic changes in a relatively short time. The truth is, outside of individuals new to training, rapid gains are hard to come by. Think of building a skyscraper – one I-beam may not be much, but look at what time and effort can produce using these relatively small pieces.

Injuries and over-training occur when you try to do too much in too short a time. Focus on longer term goals of at least six months, or preferably a year, and realize that it’s better to make steady progress than monumental gains followed by an injury.

If you’re an aspiring powerlifter, or just looking for pure strength in the powerlifts, than I suggest taking a look at 5/3/1 and giving it a try. Its simplicity makes it an easy program to implement and follow, while requiring very little equipment (if you’re in a facility with limited choices). Step back, analyze what you can actually do, then move forward with consistent gains.

If you are looking for more information on 5/3/1, you can purchase Wendler’s ebook here.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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5 Ways to Boost Your Workouts

It happens to everyone, we all get bored with our workouts from time to time. Maybe you’ve just been doing the same thing for too long or your training partner has skipped out on you lately, so you haven’t been as motivated. Then again, maybe you’re like me and enjoy trying new things in the gym and playing around with them in your workouts. Whatever the reason, here are a few ways to put the spark back in your love/hate relationship with training (because some will leave you cursing at me and/or the chair you try to sit on the next day).

1. Tabata Protocol

If you didn’t just get the chills, then you’ve never experienced the horror of Tabata front squats, allow me to explain. Tabata is essentially an interval training protocol created by Izumi Tabata and involves eight rounds of 20 seconds work to 10 seconds rest. So four minutes total (3:50, technically), what could be so tough about four minutes of work? The answer – everything. The ten seconds goes by in a hurry and the twenty seconds seems to last about three weeks. The demand on the anaerobic system is incredible, and the added rest periods (brief as they may feel) result in higher demands on the aerobic system as well. If you want to use weights instead of machines for cardio, try Tabata – specifically front squats or goblet squats. You won’t need much weight and these two exercises are great at forcing good form, whereas back squat or deadlift technique would suffer as you fatigue. If your form begins to fail you in a front squat, you drop the weight – a much safer alternative than straining your lower back.

2. Vary your Sets & Reps

While it might seem simple, often times this is all the variation needed to break through a plateau. For athletes who are training on their own without a coach providing the programs, or active individuals not using personal trainers, it’s easy to get locked onto a specific workout. The most common I see is someone staying on 3×10 work for months at a time. If it’s been a while since you lifted heavy, try a 5×5 program or some variation that demands more weight. Besides, I know for me it’s a lot more fun to lift for a triple than move moderate weights for 8-12.

3. Cluster Sets

If your in a phase where you NEED to maintain heavy weight training and don’t have the luxury of tossing in a week or two of higher rep workouts, then try cluster sets. Basically, cluster sets are groups of mini-sets with intraset rest periods. An example of this would be to take your 5RM deadlift and perform three sets of triples, with a 15-25 second rest between each. So in one set, you completed nine reps of your 5RM, nearly doubling the volume you would be able to complete without the short rests. The only limitations of cluster sets are you need to use heavy weights that can be split into manageable mini-sets (such as 3×3, 3×2, 4×2, 3-2-1, etc.) and lifts that aren’t power-based (like Olympic lifts).

4. Pyramid/Countdown Sets

This is another set/rep variation that I’ve used as cardio or to mix things up. Pick two or three exercises (any more and it just becomes a circuit, I prefer just using two) and do one rep of each, then two, then three…up to ten or twelve. Then head back down, nine reps each, eight reps, seven…then go invent some new curse words because your water is too far away. That’s a Pyramid set; it has other names, but Pyramid always made sense to me. A Countdown set is just the second half of a Pyramid, start at a set number of reps (again, I usually suggest between ten or twelve) and alternate exercises as you go down. With Countdown sets (also known by other names by other people) you can do two or three rounds, switching in different exercises to hit different muscle groups. For both varieties, be sure you’re using compound lifts to actually get the cardio benefits. Deadlifts, squat variations, lunge variations, push ups, presses, chin ups, rows, etc.

5. Interval Sprints

In case you haven’t noticed with the above suggestions, I like interval training as a change of pace or conditioning tool. The key difference is this time I am suggesting using actual cardio machines for your cardio – shocking. I’m not a huge fan of the treadmills in commercial gyms, they are usually more style than substance, but if you’re lucky enough to have a Woodway treadmill, sprint intervals are a whole new level of exhausting. If you’re one of the many who don’t have access to a Woodway (or similar, heavy-duty treadmill), then I suggest either a Schwinn Airdyne or a Spinning bike. I like the Airdyne because it’s the only bike I know of that involves your upper body, and spin bikes are great because you can stop and rest without needing to reset everything, as is the case with normal stationary bikes. There are several variations of sprint intervals, but coming from a track background, I recognize fast sprints – 10, 15, 20 seconds – instead of rapid jogging (30+ seconds).

Once you decide on how hard you want to run/bike, then it’s easy to program – start on every minute. So if you’re doing a 15 second sprint, you have 45 seconds to rest, then at 1:00 sprint another 15 seconds, and so on. The time of the sprint dictates the intensity, you should be spent afterwards and in need of the rest period. Speaking of the rest period, it’s just that – rest, no light jogging, walking, pedaling, anything. Recover as much as you can so you can hit the next round with maximum intensity. 8-15 rounds is a good way to end a workout, or if you like to mix it in during your lift (it instantly cranks up the intensity), 5 minute bursts work well.

These are just a few ways of giving your workout a boost or change of pace. Remember, use each independently, a workout consisting of all the above would – a) take several hours, b) probably kill you, or at least leave you unable to function for several days. Moderation is always important when using little boosters like these.

I hope you give them a try and enjoy the change. As always, if I can ever help you or your program, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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