Tag Archives: bodybuilding

Do You Really Need to Deload?

Deload week is one of those concepts that’s engrained into our heads as a way to force feed a recovery period into our training.

You’ll see it in a lot of prominent strength and muscle building routines, and while deloading does work, I will also tell you that the traditional deload is a complete waste of time.

Let me elaborate.

Traditional deloading typically looks like this:

  1. A planned week of rest (or light activity) following 3 weeks of intense training.
  2. Intensities ranging from 40-60% of your 1 rep max (RM) for the entire deload week.
  3. Lots of bodyweight training.
  4. Mobility and tissue work.

diagram-21Check out the training cycle above.

The traditional deload falls into the “recovery” phase. It is followed by the “supercompensation” phase, which I call the “rebound” phase where your body rebounds to come back from fatigue with a heightened level of performance.

The problem with the traditional deload doesn’t lie in its premise or concept as it relates to recovery. The guidelines for a deload are effective and have a time and place; but the problem lies in that it fails to take into account the specific needs and performance variances of the individual.

So Do You Really Need to Deload Every Four Weeks?

Of course not.

I’ve personally had intense training cycles last for upwards of 6-8 weeks before I saw any dip in performance. If I would have taken a prescribed deload week, I would have lost a week of heightened performance and gains.

Let me put it to you another way. One week of deload for every four weeks of training equates to 13 weeks off from training per year. That’s not a recipe for success.

Maybe there comes a point when you need to take a week off. That is up to you. For me, and most people I know/train, those times are few and far between. In fact, I usually feel worse after a week off and have to play catch up from taking the extra rest time.

With that being said, there are better ways to deload.

A Better Way to Deload

A much better way to approach your deload is through a concept called cybernetic periodization, a term coined by sports scientist Mel Siff.

Cybernetic periodization is essentially programming your deload days according to how the weights feel that certain day. Doing it this way allows you to account for the daily variances in your training as opposed to putting blanket guidelines on yourself.

For example, I had a girl come into the Primal Strength Gym about a month ago. We were talking and she was expressing disappointment that it was deload day.

As she was warming up, she realized that the weights felt light and her body was primed to perform. A prescribed arbitrary deload was not optimal for her progress that day. Instead of a deload, she kept pushing the weights higher and higher.

The result? She set a 10lb deadlift personal record.

Never sacrifice training performance and momentum for prescribed deload days. Ride the highs for as long as you can take them.

(Note: There is a difference between riding the highs and not being honest with the feedback your body is giving you (the key to using cybernetic periodization). Ignoring negative feedback from your body is a pathway to crashing and injury.)

arnold-bench-press
So with the concept of cybernetic periodization in mind, here are two ways to deload:

#1: Autoregulatory Deload

In non-scientific terms, I call this the “play it by ear” deload. This deload is simple in concept, but it may take an advanced lifter to recognize when to apply it.

Essentially, you have no prescribed deload days. As with any program, your training volume and intensity will cycle but there are absolutely no planned deload days (not to be confused with days off in the training program).

Instead, you deload based solely on how your body feels on that given day. This takes honest self assessment and heightened body awareness but in my opinion, this is the best deload strategy you can use.

How do you put this into practice?

  • Weights feel light and your body says it’s time for Hulk Smash?
    • Push yourself to the extreme and aim for some PRs.
  • Weights feel moderate and you have good energy?
    • Push yourself above par but no need to max out.
  • Weights feel sort of heavy and energy levels are so-so?
    • Follow the program and meet your expectations, but don’t push yourself too hard. Technique above intensity.
  • Weights feel like immovable lead and you feel like shit?
    • Deload to 40-60% of your 1RM and back off the volume.
    • Walk away after a thorough warm-up and self assessment. Give it a honest shot (some of my best days have actually come after starting sluggishly), but take the day off from the bar if need be and get some solid stretching and foam rolling in.

#2: Max Effort Deload

This one is similar to the “play it by ear” deload but it has a prescribed rest period while still utilizing cybernetic periodization.

Basically, you will plan to have two consecutive deload days within a 4-8 week training window (around week 6 is most common). They are not scheduled but you will base the deload days on how you feel in a given day.

As soon as you hit a “feel like shit” day that I mentioned earlier, your two day deload starts. In this two day window you will:

  1. Drop the intensity of your max effort barbell lifts to 40-60% of your 1RM
  2. Or drop the max effort barbell lifts entirely and focus solely on accessory work.

After those two days, you can ramp your training back up and start progressing as normal.

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Wrapping Up

  • A deload is effective and will work, but in a traditional sense, it is not optimal or necessary for training progress
  • Deload needs to be based on individual needs and feelings, not prescribed programming
  • Cybernetic periodization should be the main factor in deload programming
  • There are two optimal ways to deload
    • Autoregulatory Deload
    • Max Effort Deload
  • Deload programming requires honest self assessment and being in tune with your body
  • DO NOT sacrifice performance and training momentum because a program says you have to deload

All the best Primal Nation,

— Tank

How Much Training Volume is Enough?

Training volume is one of the key components to any lifting program.

The problem lies in identifying how much is enough and how much is too much.

Training without enough volume will not induce strength or hypertrophy gains, and on the flip-side, too much training volume can lead to CNS fatigue and jeopardized recovery times. Training volume will also vary greatly depending on whether your goals are to gain mass or strength.

The-Rock-Biceps-Team-Hercules

Mass Gain

Primal policy for hypertrophy is to train predominantly in the 70%-85% of your 1 rep max for sets of no less than 6 reps (primarily 6-8 rep sets).

Total number of sets will vary but you should be aiming to train around 100 solid reps per muscle group per week. I emphasize per week because of my endorsement for higher training frequencies and upper lower splits (versus marathon training sessions and body part splits). I train the same muscle groups multiple days a week so my weekly training volume of 100 reps for each muscle group is split over the course of several sessions.

Each session does not have to be equal; for example on a upper-body day where I emphasize bench press, my training volume for chest will be on the higher side and I’ll round out my 100 reps for chest in a smaller workout a few days later.

Strength Gain

I don’t have any solid recommendations for training volume when training for strength because strength gains are largely focused on training intensity.

If I’m trying to increase my deadlift max for example, I may not even eclipse 30 reps in a training week. But I’m also predominantly training with weights greater than 85% of my 1 rep max, so my capacity to handle more training volume is diminished.

Bottom line? Focus on intensity and not volume.

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Troubleshooting Training Volume

While 100 reps per muscle group per week is a solid foundation to work from, like any other approach you will need to tweak your training volume as you go based on the gains (or lack thereof) you are making.

The more experienced a lifter you are, the more adept your body will be at handling higher-training volumes. If you are not gaining size with 100 reps per week, bump those numbers up to 120 and re-evaluate your progress.

You may also need to implement more training volume depending on the body part as well. Arms and calves for example respond well to higher training volumes, whereas larger muscles (like legs) take longer to recover and don’t necessarily need more reps for growth.

For some ideas on how to implement more training volume into your programming, check out this post:

How to Implement More Training Volume

All the best,

— Tank

Is There Such Thing as a Perfect Training Program? Applying the 25% Rule

In my previous post, I talked about the four most important components to building a training program.

To recap, those components are:

  1. Your Goals
  2. Volume-Intensity Relationship
  3. Training Frequency
  4. Exercise Selection

arnold schwarzenegger bodybuilding photos_on3

I finished that post remarking that there is no such thing as a perfect program and that all training programs are flawed to a certain degree. While a program might yield results for a period of time, inherently our bodies adapt and our progress stalls. This is where the 25% rule comes into play.

Athletes and lifters have a tendency to entirely scrap a program when their progress stalls, rather than taking a sensible step back to examine the current state of their training and identifying what to manipulate. In other words, 75% of what you’re doing may be adequate, but you need to tweak 25% of it to induce gains.

The key as a lifter is to identify that 25%, make an adjustment, and keep everything else the same. This will keep you from program hopping, which is one of the worst mistakes you can make in your training.

Your Goals

If your goals are the thing you decide to tweak, it is important to know you don’t need to change your overall goals.

Maybe your goal is to add 50 pounds to your squat and you’ve been unsuccessful. You don’t need to change that goal, but you should add in some mini-goals that will help you achieve the big one. Maybe you have weak hamstrings and glutes that are hindering your squat, so your immediate goals should be to strengthen those while keeping your overall squat goal the same.

Volume-Intensity Relationship

This is fairly straightforward to manipulate. Maybe you need more or less volume, more or less intensity, or more or less of both. This variable is also very goal dependent.

Training Frequency

Again, easy to manipulate. You either train more or your train less. If you need to train more, maybe you consider multiple small workouts a day instead of one marathon session. There are lots of options to tweak this variable.

Exercise Selection

This can take some specialization and a good diagnosis of your lack of progress. This will also be largely goal dependent variable.

If you are trying to gain mass in certain parts of your body, or strengthen certain parts of your body to improve some of your big compound lifts, you may need to perform more isolation movements. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are trying to become more explosive, you may need to do more compound lifts and plyometrics.

Closing Thoughts…

Most of the time, sweeping changes to your training program are not necessary to make the gains you are seeking.

Keep the adjustments subtle and apply the 25% rule. Manipulate one of the four critical training components at a time and continually monitor your progress. You will make far more progress using this approach than making major changes each training cycle.

Keep on keepin’ on…

— Tank

Building Lifting Programs: 4 Vital Characteristics

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll notice I don’t put a ton of lifting programs up on my site.

That will probably change in the near future but for now there are many reasons that I don’t. The overarching reason is because I pride myself on educating lifters so they can think for themselves, not just follow a program blindly. The fitness community is inundated with thousands of lifting programs that people can follow, but ask the average user to develop their own program and describe the inner workings of their training and they likely can’t.

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime”

I’d much rather teach you how to do your own programming so you can sustain yourself over a lifetime, rather than trying to find the next greatest thing after the end of an 8-week cycle.

Log-Press
So in designing your own lifting program, what are the major factors that you need to develop it around?

#1: Your Goals

Far too often when I talk to someone about lifting, they don’t have a clear definition of what their end game is. When embarking in lifting programs, you need to train to both your short-term and long-term goals.

Do you want to add on mass? Or do you want to gain total body strength? Maybe your goal is lift specific and you want to add 25 pounds to your bench press?

You need to have your end game in mind. If you want to add mass, doing programs meant for powerlifters may not add a lot of hypertrophy, and inversely, if you want to get stronger, high-volume bodybuilding style programs probably won’t get you there.

All of your training must be done with intention.

Never Change The Goal
#2: Volume-Intensity Relationship

To induce a training effect you have to stimulate your body with enough volume under heavy enough loads.

Training to your goals will take care of a lot of this dynamic. Strength seekers will favor less volume with more intensity and the mass seeker will probably favor more volume with lighter intensities.

Knowing the relationship between volume and intensity is paramount and may take some manipulating to make the gains you are looking for. Throughout the course of your training life, you will come across periods where your body needs more volume to induce growth, whereas other times you may need to add weight to the bar to boost your gains. Unfortunately there is no magic recipe for this. This comes down to your knowledge as a lifter, understanding what your body is telling you, and your ability to manipulate your programming to what your body needs.

For some general guidelines on volume and intensity check these out:

How to Add More Volume To Your Training

Crank Up the Intensity

What Rep Range Should You Use to Gain Mass?

#3: Training Frequency

This is how often you train, and more specifically, how often you are stimulating your various muscle groups.

Depending on how you break-down your training sessions, your training frequency may vary but typically you should be training at least 3 or 4 days a week.

Your training frequency will also be dictated by the volume-intensity relationship as higher-volume or intensity sessions may require more time in between training sessions. Rule of thumb for Primal lifters is that you allow for 48 hours rest in between muscle groups.

#4: Exercise Selection

This is a big one for me. I’m a firm believer in recruiting more muscle to build more muscle, so I favor a lot of compound lifts. However, you must be careful when using a lot of compound movements and ensure that you are getting proper recovery and not over-training your nervous system.

This is not to say isolation movements don’t have their merits, but you just have to know when and how to use them.

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In Summary…

There are four major components of program design:

  1. Your Goals
  2. Volume-Intensity Relationship
  3. Training Frequency
  4. Exercise Selection

These are the only things you need to think about when designing a lifting program.

Any time I write a program for Primal, I am building it around these components. So as you progress in your lifting career, these are the things you need to think of in order to give yourself the proper programming to make both short and long-term gains.

As a parting thought, I want to finish by saying that there is no such thing as a perfect program. It just doesn’t exist.

Something may work for a while, but your body will adapt and your gains will stall. This doesn’t mean the program is garbage, it just means that you need to manipulate a portion of the program to reach your desired end state. This is what I call the 25% rule. To read more about the 25% rule, stay tuned for my next post…

— Tank

Will Alcohol Ruin Your Gains? Common Sense Approach to Alcohol and Lifting

To live a fulfilling life, you need to be able to have a good time and relax.

Sometimes that means putting business and training aside, and letting loose out on the town. For a lot of us, letting loose means having a few drinks, sharing some laughs, and maybe even causing a little trouble.

I know when I go out, my “good time” usually involves my friends Mr. Makers Mark and Mr. Tequila Shot.

As someone who takes the fitness game seriously, what you shouldn’t do is swear off alcohol because you are afraid it ruins your gains or makes you fat. That’s a myth, a fear tactic, plain ol’ nonsense. However you want to put it. There is no reason to think alcohol and lifting can’t co-exist.

If you want to have a few drinks , especially after working your ass off for extended periods of time, by all means do it. Reward yourself. If you stay in the grind too long, you will burn out, which in my opinion leads to far more problems than nursing a hangover every now and then.

This doesn’t mean I’m advocating being a heavy drinker, nor am I saying that you need to drink to have a good time. My intention is to just shed some light that a little bit of debauchery a few nights a month will not wreck your progress if you are associating alcohol with negative effects on your strength gains and physique.

wedding_crashers

With this in mind, there are two things to consider when drinking that will allow you to have a few guilt-free adult beverages.

#1: Do Not Cave to Drunken Munchies

Alcohol does not make you fat, but a night of drinking does push the boundaries of self-discipline in your diet.

How many of you have hit up a night at the bar, and then crushed the fast food drive-thru or pizza place on the way home for a night cap of binge eating? I know I have.

Nailing down your diet during the day, but then finishing the night off with a 1000 calorie munchie-impulse meal will surely put add some thickness to your midsection. That’s the kind of shit that makes you fat, not a few drinks at the bar.

If you know you’re going to be hungry at the end of the night, have some stuff on hand at home to either make yourself a healthy meal or have something prepped and ready to go that will cure the munchies and feed your physique in a responsible way.

#2: Lay Off the Girly Drinks

Much like I’m a minimalist in my training, being a minimalist as a drinker is important as well.

Complex drinks that are loaded with sugary mixers have a ton of excess calories, plus they will give you one hell of a hangover…

Stick to the basics. Alcohol + Zero/Low Calorie Mixer. Vodka Soda is a good example.

Fancy cocktails should set off warning signs in your mind that say “Don’t Drink Me”.

A rule I give to a lot of people is to “Never drink your calories” and this applies perfectly to this scenario. 800 calorie margaritas on top of your daily allotment of food calories will put you way over surplus amounts, an even bigger problem if you are trying to shed weight and need to be in a deficit.

#3: What About Beer?bud light chick

There have been a lot of studies highlighting the estrogenic effects, carb amounts, and inherent weight gain from drinking beer. While there is some truth to those studies, beer is one of those vices where “everything in moderation” applies.

Having a few beers here and there won’t hurt you. What will hurt you is when you are drinking 5+ a night trying to maintain a buzz (which is why I like taking shots, but that’s beside the point). Do that several times a month and boom, you’ve added a couple of unwanted pounds to your frame.

Moral of the Story

Don’t obsess over whether or not you have a drink or two.

Like going out and having a good time? Then do it. I can guarantee you that the memories you make causing trouble with your buddies will far outweigh the pound or two you see on the scale or that you add to the bar.

Don’t make it an unhealthy habit, but don’t restrict yourself to the point that it has unwanted side effects on your personal life and relationships. I was that guy once in college when training consumed my life, and looking back on it now, I regret not going out with my buddies as much and creating even more memories than I have now. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and let yourself live a little…

— Tank

How to Spread Your Wings: Building Bigger Lats

Conventional thinking will lead you to believe that to add mass to your back, you need to work with high-rep sets and more total volume.

However, when you take a closer look at the fiber composition in your back, you’ll see that your lats have about equal numbers of both fast and slow twitch muscle fibers. So to build bigger lats, you don’t necessarily have to drop the resistance and crank up the reps.

Working with a variety of rep and resistance ranges will induce hypertrophy while still allowing you to make strength gains and get stronger in your main compound lifts.

bigger lats

Knowing this, what exercises should you focus on to build bigger lats?

#1: Pull-ups and Recline Rows

I like bodyweight pulling variations for a number of reasons. First, they save wear and tear on your body from things like heavy row variations. They also allow you to work with higher rep-ranges and make great finishers and circuits.

On days where I’m trying to focus on my lats, I will follow heavy row variations with a pull-up and recline row circuit. For example:

1) Single Arm Dumbbell Rows x 6 reps (heavy)
2a) Pull-up Variations x Submaximal Reps (leave 1-2 good reps in the tank)
2b) Recline Rows x Submaximal Reps (1-2 good reps left in the tank)

So I’ll perform 2a and 2b back to back without rest as a way to add more volume into my training without using heavy lifts.

#2: Heavy Row Variations

As the lower rep, more resistance component of my lat training, I like using heavy row variations. Your rowing movements should be built around these variations:

  • Bent over single arm dumbbell rows
  • Bent over barbell rows
  • Kroc rows
  • Chest supported rows

Bent over barbell rows and dumbbell rows are my staples. I favor dumbbell rows braced over a bench because a) since they are single arm movements, you eliminate strong arm dominance, and b) going heavy on barbell rows can be difficult because you must fully engage your hamstrings and glutes, which could detract from the max resistance you can use.

For rows, I primarily work in the 5-8 rep range. Crank up the resistance here and focus on lifting heavy, not for a lot of reps. As I said before, your lats are made up of equal fast and slow twitch fibers, so lift heavy and then couple the heavy lifting with the bodyweight examples I gave you above.

#3: Cable Rows and Lat Pulldowns

I tend to stay away from machines, just because free weight movements engage more muscle, but cable machine movements are a good way to isolate your lats if you’ve done a lot of compound lifting in your training.

bigger lats

Another good thing about machines, since you have the mechanical assist and little risk for injury, you can do both high-and low reps with the entire range of intensities. They are also a good way to incorporate circuits or supersets.

One of my favorite lat blaster circuits, especially after a day of heavy overhead pressing or hang cleans, is to couple lat-pulldowns with seated cable pulley rows. This is a great way to pump a lot of blood and nutrients into the muscle. For example:

1a) Lat-pulldowns x 12
1b) Seated cable pulley rows x 12

Departing Caveats

  • The key to building bigger lats is to incorporate a variety of rep ranges.
  • I always emphasize #1 and #2.
    • The possibilities are endless with pull-ups, especially when you start incorporating resistance by adding plates to a weight belt.
    • Row variations, for the most part, should be done with heavy weight and low reps.
  • Machines are a good supplemental tactic but free weight movements should always be emphasized.

— Tank

When Should You Use Isolation Movements?

Compound movements will always be king. I stress it in all of my writing and programs, and no matter how you spin the argument, you must recruit more muscle to build more muscle. The beginner lifter, or the person struggling to add mass or strength should be focusing on compound movements.

But…

That’s not to say that isolation movements and bodybuilding does not have its place. Quite the contrary in fact; you just need to know how to use isolation movements in your training to maximize your results.

The following situations are times where I incorporate isolation movements.

#1: Adding Pounds to Big Lifts

Accessory work is vital to improving your numbers on things like overhead press, squats, and deadlifts.

A big part of that is isolating the primary and secondary movers on those lifts and building size and strength in them.

If you want to be a better presser, you have to build up your triceps and shoulders, so things like tricep pushdowns and front and side delt raises are great movements.

Want better squat and deadlift numbers? Glute ham raises and RDL’s are crucial to isolate your hamstrings.

This situation is, by far, the most prevalent time I and a lot of my Primal Strength Gym members use isolation, and we usually hit at least one isolation movement per training session.

#2: Direct Arm Work

Arms tend to respond well to higher-volume training, and while I train my arms indirectly through pull-ups, row variations, and heavy pressing, it may take some added sets of curl variations and tricep work (push-downs, dips, close-grip bench) to add mass to your arms.

I tend to do a lot of direct arm work on my lower body days, as opposed to upper body days where my arms already get a lot of indirect time under tension. I also use movements like light banded curl variations for tendon health and rehabilitation from strained and achy muscles.

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#3: Bringing Up Weaknesses

If you are doing a lot of compound lifts, especially if you split your routines into an upper-lower split like I recommend, chances are you will need to incorporate some isolation movements to bring up neglected muscles, imbalances, and weaknesses.

Hamstrings are the prime example of this as it seems the vast majority of the population has weak hamstrings.

Upper back can be another common area, especially if you train a lot of compound movements.  For example, outside of deadlifting and farmers carries, I have to be conscious to make sure my upper back is getting trained frequently enough. So at least once a week, I’m dedicating some time to isolate my upper back with face pull variations and even shrugs.

Those examples aside, directly targeting and isolating any muscle that is lagging behind in development is a great strategy if you aren’t getting the results you want from heavy compound lifts.

#4: Adding More Volume to Increase Hypertrophy

Sometimes, especially for more experienced lifters, the solution to build more muscle mass is to increase training volume. If you are doing a lot of compound movements and recruiting a ton of muscle, your physical and neurological exertion will be elevated, making it very difficult to increase your training volume effectively (and it’s stressful on your central nervous system (CNS)).

Isolation movements are a great way to introduce more volume into your training to try and produce mass gains and hypertrophy, without over-taxing your body and CNS.

All the best,

— Tank

Contrast Training To Boost Strength Gains

Contrast training is one of the most effective ways to increase your strength levels, power output, muscle mass, metabolic function for fat loss, and overall performance levels.

contrast training
Sprinting with a parachute or sled, followed by sprinting with no resistance, is a great example of contrast training.

I first read about contrast training in Yuri Verkhoshansky’s Supertraining, but I have seen it employed elsewhere for a variety of different training goals and applications.

The concept is simple. Taking an example from Verkhoshansky and something we’ve probably all done in our lives, imagine picking up a can that was half full of liquid when our mind thought it was full. Typically what happens is we move the can with much more force than we intended and make a big mess. Our nervous system was primed based on past performance and therefore muscle capability was enhanced.

Now apply this to strength training. There are two different ways I use contrasts in my training. I use contrasting movements (an explosive movement after a heavy lift) and I use contrasting tempos (lighter loads with explosive, faster tempo than normal).

Using either of these, think of the above water example. Working in explosive movements/tempos after a strength movement recruits more motor units and produces more force. The benefits are straightforward. The more muscle you recruit, the more explosive, strong, and powerful you are. Contrast training also increases the amount of work you are doing giving you a greater metabolic boost than normal training. And obviously, the more muscle you recruit, the more hypertrophy you can induce (although you may want to up your reps slightly for a hypertrophy focus).

Putting Contrast Training Into Practice

Ok, so you get the concept, but how do you actually implement it? As mentioned before, I use contrast training in two different ways.

#1 Contrasting Movements

Start with a 5-8 rep set of a heavy lift and pair it with an unloaded explosive movement with the same rep scheme. For example, a heavy set of squats followed by a set of box jumps; or a heavy set of bench followed by a set of plyo push-ups; or a heavy sled drag followed by an all-out sprint.

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Heavy squats followed by max effort box jumps will increase your strength and explosiveness.

Your unloaded contrasting movement should be done with maximal effort. Rest times in between your heavy lift and contrast movement can vary and is goal dependent. If you goal is maximal strength, rest for 3 minutes. If your goal is for increased athletic performance or fat loss, rest for 30 seconds or no rest at all. For hypertrophy, split the difference somewhere in between.

Four to five sets (of each movement) will do the trick. Use the lower end of the rep scheme for maximal strength, and the upper end for hypertrophy and fat loss. You don’t need to use contrast movements every training session, as I don’t recommend training maximally for extended periods of time, but continuously keep it as part of your training toolkit.

#2 Contrasting Tempos

For this, you are doing the same movement (bench, squat, deadlift, etc.) for three sets, but varying the tempo in which your perform it. You start with a set of slow tempo emphasizing the eccentric movement of the lift, then perform a set faster than normal, and then perform a normal one. Here is an example:

Set 1: Using a moderate weight (70-80% of your 1 rep max), you use a very slow tempo (about 5 seconds on the negative portion of the lift) and then pause near the bottom of the lift for 2-3 seconds. For squats the pause would be at roughly parallel, for bench, the bar just above your chest, etc. The idea here is that you keep full body tension. After the pause, you perform the concentric part of the lift normally. This set is done for 2-3 reps, and then you rest for 2 minutes.

Set 2: This set is done with lighter weight (60-70%) but done explosively. You control the eccentric portion, but explode from the bottom applying as much force as you can. This set is for 3-5 reps, and then rest for 60 seconds.

Set 3: This set is done with the heaviest weight (80-85%) using normal tempo (2 seconds down, no pause, 2 seconds up). This set is for 4-6 reps and then you rest 3 minutes.

You perform this series of sets (all 3) 2-3 times, giving you a total of 6-9 sets.

After your last set, try to end your training with the tempo that is most conducive to your goals. For example, if you are a strength athlete always end your training with the heaviest set. If you’re a an athlete and are trying to develop explosiveness, then add in an extra set of set #2 at the end of the series. For hypertrophy, end the series with an extra set of #1.

contrast training
This is perfect position for pausing at the bottom of the squat.

Training Smarter, Not Harder

Use contrast training to help boost your performance, but know how to tailor them to your goals based on the recommendations I gave above. These are easy to integrate into any strength training program, so use them to your advantage and break through your plateaus. But as with anything else, do not overuse them to the point that they lose their effectiveness.

— Tank

3 Simple Ways to Add to Your Training Volume

One of the biggest factors in making gains in the gym is your training volume. With all of the troubleshooting you can do with your training programs, sometimes the recipe for success is simply doing more work.

training volume

You must incorporate enough volume in your training to produce a training effect, and the more experienced you are as a lifter, the more training volume you likely need.

For some set and rep guidelines, check out some of my past articles:

How Many Sets Should I Do Per Training Session?

What is the Best Rep Range For Building Muscle?

But expanding on those, what are some simple ways to increase your training volume to help induce hypertrophy gains?

#1 Drop Sets

This technique is popular among bodybuilders, but strength competitors and athletes can get a lot out of drop sets as well.

I tend to stay away from drop sets on my major lifts (with the exception of squats from time to time), but I employ drop sets frequently on my assistance lifts (especially direct arm work). The idea here is that for your last set, you reduce the resistance by 30% from your heaviest set and crank out as many reps as possible.

Drop sets are best used on lifts that have a low risk for technical error like rope-pushdowns and other tricep movements, curl variations, recline rows (and some other row variations like cable rows), hamstring curls, and other isolation movements. You can employ drop sets on compound lifts like bench press and squats, but they also produce the greatest injury risk, so you must maintain strict form and train smart.

Drop sets will only add a minute or two to your total training time but they add a significant amount of volume to your training and pump a ton of blood into your muscles shuttling vital nutrients.

However, use drop sets strategically and avoid using them on the same movements or muscles week in and week out.

#2 Load-Up Your Warm Ups

I’ve mentioned this before as a way to incorporate more bodyweight training and bring up weaknesses, but your warm-up is also a way to add more training volume.

For your warm-up sets on your main lifts, or even some of your assistance work, use higher reps than normal. Your overall max numbers on your top end sets may suffer a little, but that’s the price you pay if more volume is a solution to making more gains. After a few weeks, your body will adjust anyway so your strength loss will only be temporary.

This also accentuates another point I make with a lot of lifters. Instead of looking at your progress from a set to set basis, start viewing the bigger picture of total training volume. An extra 10-15 reps during your warm-up sets will likely add a lot more to your total work output (total pounds lifted) even if it means you sacrifice a few reps on your higher-end sets.

Jamie Eason

#3 Grease the Groove

I picked up this term through a mentor of mine, world class strength coach Zach Even-Esh.

It’s essentially active recovery, but with a more judicious approach. In between training sessions on scheduled off-days, you can use grease the groove to throw a bit more volume into your overall weekly workload. Keep in mind however that grease the groove training is meant to be short-duration (20-30 minutes) and low-impact.

For my own training, I keep a fairly strict schedule with Monday and Thursdays being upper-body days, and Tuesday and Fridays being lower-body days. Wednesdays and the weekend are my “off-days” but Wednesday is where I will typically get a grease the groove session in.

Since I emphasize training Primal style with heavy compound lifts, I don’t do much direct bicep work and sometimes my bodyweight work (outside of warm-ups) takes a backseat to barbell and kettlebell training. Wednesday’s grease the groove session then becomes my avenue for curl variations, push-up and pull-up training, and any other work that I may be neglecting.

You must be conscious of what movements you are doing on these days and the intensity in which you train, which is why I stress grease the groove being low-impact. Otherwise you jeopardize your recovery times from your main lifting sessions and the extra work you are getting ends up being more detrimental than beneficial.

— Tank

Implementing a Full Body or Upper Lower Split

The only two training splits I recommend are either full body or an upper lower split.

Body part splits and bodybuilding style training has its place for supplemental programming, but it’s ill-suited (as a primary focus) for the average gym rat or athlete who wants to get both strong and huge. Training full body or with an upper lower split recruits far more muscle, allows you to train much more frequently than body part splits, and will build both size and strength concurrently.

If you want a more detailed look into why I advocate against body part splits for the average gym rat, read this: Ditch the Body Part Split

upper lower split

I favor an upper lower split personally because I think it has a few advantages over full body training, but I’ll give you examples of both just so you can decide for yourself what suits your needs and schedule more.

Full Body

For a full body split, it’s pretty straightforward. You train your entire body each training session so no movement is off limits.

The disadvantage to full body training is that your training sessions will typically be longer than normal and your recovery times increased. You may also be hard pressed to fit everything you’d like to do in a single training session.

As a general rule, no matter what the split, I train my biggest/heaviest lifts first and follow that with assistance work and specialty training such as plyometrics and explosive movements. Several days a week, I will end with 20 minutes of high-intensity cardio.

Here is an example full body training plan:

  1. Big Lift (Bench, squat, overhead press, deadlift)
  2. Assistance (row variations, tricep and bicep work, hamstring and posterior chain movements, floor presses, squat variations, single-leg exercises, etc.)
  3. More Assistance (different movement from your 1st assistance exercise)
  4. Bodyweight or Explosive Movement (push-up and pull-up variations, dips, kettlebell cleans and snatches, barbell hang cleans, heavy push presses, plyometrics)
  5. Core Work and/or Conditioning (sprints, hanging leg raises, medicine ball throws, kettlebell swings, battle rope, weighted crunches, farmers carries)

* For some of your explosive work, if it’s really taxing, you may perform that as your second movement to reduce the possibility of technical errors and injury, as well as increase the actual training effect of the exercise. *

Training hard with a full body approach, you only need to train 3 days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday for example), with some light to moderate active recovery sessions on your off days.

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Upper Lower Split

Upper lower splits are a progression from full body training and are what I typically use in my own training and with my clients. Your training sessions are split into upper body days and lower body days.

The upper lower split is more flexible than a full body split and allows you to hit your entire upper/lower body within a reasonable time frame (a typical training session would be about an hour). It also allows you to train more frequently, several times a week for both your upper and lower body.

Sticking with some of the considerations I laid out above (heaviest lift first, etc.) an upper lower split would look something like this.

Upper Body

  1. Big Lift (bench, or overhead press)
  2. Upper Body Assistance
  3. Upper Body Assistance
  4. Bodyweight or Explosive Movement
  5. Core Work and/or Conditioning

Lower Body

  1. Big Lift (squat, deadlift)
  2. Lower Body Assistance
  3. Lower Body Assistance
  4. Bodyweight or Explosive Movement
  5. Core Work and/or Conditioning

For an upper lower split, I take a 2 days on 1 day off approach. A sample schedule would be something like this:

Monday – Upper
Tuesday – Lower
Wednesday – Off Day/Active Recovery
Thursday – Upper
Friday – Lower
Saturday – Off Day/Active Recovery
Sunday – Off Day/Active Recovery

If you are looking for some set and rep guidelines for both full body and upper lower split programs, check out these two articles:

How Many Sets To Build Muscle?

What Rep Range To Build Muscle?

If you want an 8 week program centered around an upper lower split, check out Uncaging Your Primal Strength. You can download it from my programs page. It comes complete with an exercise list, rep and set guidelines, and built-in printable training worksheets.

Since its release, people from all over the world have been crushing the program, breaking strength plateaus, building muscle mass, and shredding body fat.

I also have a ridiculous deal going on for 3 of my eBooks, where you can get Uncaging, The Primal Mind, and Primal Strength Nutrition for a 30% discount. Don’t miss out before I come to my senses and raise the price back to face value!

If you want something even more dynamic and personalized, check out my online coaching portal: Primal Online Coaching.

By investing in online coaching, you will get 8 weeks of personalized programming, video critiques of your lifts, and a lot of interaction with me. Why not invest in the same training that is producing the nationally ranked athletes and record holders from the Primal Strength Gym?

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— Tank