Tag Archives: intensity

Finding Value in a Gym and a Coach

By far, my least favorite thing about being a gym owner and a coach is “selling myself”.

The truth is, I’m about as straight a shooter as you’re going to get. I don’t sugarcoat things nor am I a “salesman”.

Perhaps that is one of my vulnerabilities. Like I said, I don’t “sell”, but across the fitness industry as a whole, there are tons of salesmen, fakers, and frauds. Hell, I would venture to guess that there are more pretenders than their are legit experts, which is disheartening to say the least.

But the longer I’m in this business, the more I realize that it’s not my fault that lifters fall for the gimmicks and the snake oil salesmen. It’s not my job to “sell you”.

It’s YOUR fault for not recognizing value when you see it.

I get “tire kickers” all of the time at Primal Strength Gym. They will come in, take a look around, ask the usual questions about price, and be on their way.

When I follow up, I’ll hear the typical excuses if they don’t want to join.

“Globo Gym down the street is $20 cheaper.”

“I want to go to a gym that offers more classes.”

“I don’t know how often I’ll actually use the gym to make it worth it.”

“Wish you had a stair stepper.”

I could go on.

My initial reaction is to want to shake them and wake them up.

How can you not see the VALUE in a place like Primal?

  • Primal is home to multiple nationally qualified athletes, which means they continually compete against some of the strongest people in the nation.
  • Primal continually wins competitions. In fact, I can’t name one competition we attended that we didn’t place in the top 3.
  • Primal athletes have set national records.
  • The training environment Primal offers is unrivaled in the area.
  • The diversity and quality of equipment in the gym is second to none.
  • Primal coaching is first class.

I have people that commute in from hours a way, sometimes multiple times a week, just to train at Primal Strength Gym. Now those are the people that see value, far beyond the perspective of monthly membership dues.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rant. Maybe this whole post rings with a little bit of irony as I tout Primal’s accolades after I open the post saying I’m not a salesman. Perhaps I’m selling you a bit, but more than 90% of my readership reaches far beyond my local market area.

So my main intention is to really just change your perspective and to implore you to examine the hidden value of opportunities in your training future.

Ditch the globo gym and towel service, and pay a bit more for a quality environment and lifting culture.

Train at the places with the most USEFUL equipment, not the shiniest.

Drive the extra 20 minutes to get quality coaching.

Recognize the quality of other lifters in more hardcore gyms, even if it makes you feel weaker initially. And soak up every ounce of knowledge they have.

Train at the place that scares you a little bit. Don’t be the strongest guy in the gym because that is a sure fire way to make you stagnant.

Stop getting hung up on price comparisons and adjust your perception of true value!

Lift on my friends,

— Tank

Should You Train to Failure?

If you’ve been with me for a while, you know I preach not training to failure. However, there are a lot of training to failure proponents out there.

So who is right and who is wrong?

Of course I’m not going to throw myself under the bus, so let me elaborate on why I’m an opponent to training to failure, and what you should be doing instead.

Continue reading Should You Train to Failure?

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.

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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

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

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

Avoiding Central Nervous System Fatigue

I’ve never really been a firm believer in physically overtraining.

Not because it doesn’t exist, but because I rarely see someone in an actual overtrained state.

(Beginners can be the exception as they tend to be the ones staying in the gym 5-7 days a week pumping out high-volume routines and marathon lifting sessions.)

As we get more and more advanced after years of training, we are guiltier of not working hard enough rather than too hard.  If you have been in the iron game for a while, reaching a state of true overtraining is much harder than you think.

However, what I do believe in and is much more common in strength athletes is what I call “mentally overtraining”, or scientifically termed central nervous system (CNS) fatigue.  CNS fatigue is brought on by a lot of things, but not limited to:

  • Not recovering properly in between workouts
  • Training to failure too often
  • Lifting too heavy for too long
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Normal everyday stress

CNS fatigue will impair your body’s ability to perform.  More specifically, neurotransmitters, which are responsible for sending signals from your brain to your muscles, will not function properly and cause dips in performance.  You may also suffer from a poor mood (and indirectly a lack of motivation), reduced cognitive ability, and false perceptions of perceived exhaustion (i.e. thinking you are working harder than you really are).

That all sounds pretty bad right?  Now that you know what it is, you need to know how to prevent it.  Most of it comes down to common sense and training smarter, not harder.  But there are specific things you should consider.

strength training strongman central nervous system

#1: Do Not Train to Failure

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it here again.  Slow grinding reps are gain killers.  They delay your recovery times, not to mention it is just poor form.  Always leave one rep in the tank.

#2: Give Your Body Parts 48 Hours in Between Workouts

If you’ve been around Primal long enough, you know I only advocate training full-body or with an upper/lower split.

So by this rule, if you train full body one day, your next day should be a day off.  If you train with an upper/lower split, you would give yourself 48 hours between upper sessions and 48 hours in between lower sessions.  This would basically equate to two days on, one day off.

#3: Don’t Overdo Sprints or Plyos

Sprints and jumps are stressful on your CNS and should be treated as a heavy lifting session.  If you read my article on how to plan your high-intensity cardio, you’ll remember me saying to pair your sprints and jumps on the same day as your lifting sessions.  Hitting up a heavy day of squats, then sprinting your ass off the next day, for example, is a recipe for CNS fatigue.

This is also relative to intensity.  Training at 100% effort for your sprints, or jumping as high as you can every single plyo session is just not sustainable.  Vary your efforts just as you would in the weight room.

#4: Don’t Train Above 90% Frequently

Speaking of intensity, training at or above 90% of your one rep max day in and day out can fry your CNS.

While it is necessary to train near max effort to make strength gains, it is simply not necessary to do all of the time.  When you do train above this threshold, keep your reps low (1 – 2 per set).

You can still make a lot of strength gains by training sub-maximally.

#5: Get 8 Hours of Sleep a Night

We are all probably guilty of this.  In today’s day and age, between television, video games, and computers, we stay up way later than we should.  Sleep is for recovery and if you aren’t sleeping enough, you aren’t recovering enough either.

Now I’m not trying to be alarmist and throw all of this at you as some scare tactic.

In the grand scheme of things, you should all be working your asses off.  We don’t live in a perfect world, especially when it comes to our training, so you are going to have to break the rules from time to time. But like I mentioned above, train smarter not harder.  We all want to make continuous progress and that simply can’t happen if you have a fried CNS.

Evolve!!

— Tank

Explosive Power for Strength Gains

Explosiveness is key for generating force and strength.  Without it, you will never meet your potential at the big lifts like bench press or deadlifts.  While most gym rats focus on gaining size and developing strength via training heavy, developing explosive power to augment your raw strength can be your competitive edge.

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys
There are a number of ways to develop explosiveness, and here is what I would recommend.

#1: Up Your Tempo

This one is probably the most obvious, but if you take a look around the gym, I’m willing to guess that less than 20% of the average Joes are doing it.  The problem is people read too much junk on the internet and lift with 4/2/1 tempos or spend an ungodly amount of time on each rep trying to maximize time under tension.  For most barbell lifts, you should be doing them as fast as you can and with explosion (controllably, not like a damn maniac).  This means a 2/0/2 tempo at most.  Move the bar with some authority.

If you start doing all of your reps with some explosiveness, it is inevitable that over time you will become more explosive.

#2: Do Speed Work

This is a classic remedy for when you get stuck at a strength plateau and you need to be able to apply more force and accelerate the bar in order to put up bigger numbers.

Some of you may ask, isn’t speed work just upping your tempo?  Yes and no.  When I spoke about upping your tempo above, I’m assuming that you can increase the tempo of your current working sets (in that 70-85% of 1 rep max zone I talk about here).  If you can grind out a working set of 5 reps on the bench with a slow tempo, I’m betting that you can do the same, if not more, with a higher tempo.

But with speed work, you are reducing the weight you can handle greatly to about 50-75% of your 1 rep max and banging out sets of 5-8 as explosively as possible.  Working with the lighter weights, you will be able to up your tempo more controllably, and while it may seem easy, you are priming your body for improved neurological efficiency.

Spend too much time on the left side of this curve, and your explosiveness will suffer. You need to incorporate some speed work in order to help augment maximal strength.

#3: Learn the Olympic Lifts

There is nothing better for athletes than learning the explosive lifts.  While squats, deadlifts, and overhead press remain my go to gym lifts and mass builders, the olympic lifts are some of the most explosive lifts you can do.  While they are highly technical and can be hard to learn, for someone trying to develop explosive power they can be essential.

I attended an olympic lifting seminar a while back taught by the head football strength and conditioning coach from the Virginia Military Institute, and he spoke of how he has his athletes olympic lift several times a week.

At the very least you should learn how to clean and press, which is something I’m required to do a lot training for Strongman.  If you could only do one upper body exercise for the rest of your life, this would be it.

Laura Snatch

#4: Embrace Plyometrics

Back when my vertical jump was at its highest, so were my squat and bench numbers.  I was jumping twice a week and developed explosiveness that directly translated to my performance in the weight room.

Jumping for height and distance is all you need to do once or twice a week.  Nothing fancy, but it needs to be part of your training.  Not only will this help with explosion, but it’s a great conditioning tool as well.  Vertical jumps, box jumps, hurdle jumps, and broad jumps are all you need here.

Evolve!!

— Tank

4 Ways to Bust Through Strength Plateaus

If you’ve been lifting long enough, then you’ve probably hit strength plateaus before.  It’s inevitable.

While it’s an awesome feeling to be breaking personal records (PR’s) day in and day out, the reality is that it’s just not sustainable.  Enjoy it while it lasts because as soon as you hit a sticking point, the process of getting past it can be damn frustrating.

strength plateaus

But it’s okay.  I’m here to help.  Here are 4 surefire ways to help you eclipse those strength plateaus and get back on the fast track of smashing PR’s.

#1: Supramaximal Adaptation Training

I came across this technique in one of the bibles of strength training called “Supertraining” by Yuri Verkhoshansky.

The technique is fairly simple and the logic is sound.  The idea is that you get your body familiar with training loads that are much greater than your current 1 rep max just by supporting the weight or training with the weight in a limited range of motion.

If you have ever done drop sets, the logic is similar.  In a drop set, you take a load and do it for a specified number of reps, and then reduce the weight and do another set.  On the lighter set, the weight feels much lighter than it actually is because your body just trained with a heavier load and your body is able to pump out more reps (usually).  Drop sets are normally used in high-volume training and focused on hypertrophy, not 1 rep maxes.

Supramaximal adaptation training is built around a similar premise, but is treated in a much different way than you would a drop set since we are going for pure strength gains.

For one, the loads that you use will be considerably higher than your 1 rep max.  I used this type of training to get over a sticking point in my squat, and the loads I used to do it were over 100 pounds more than my 1 rep max.

Secondly, you will probably use this type of training for several weeks before you attempt a new 1 rep max.  For my squat, I trained with “supramaximal” loads for 2 weeks before going for a new PR.  Unlike a drop set, you don’t simply train one set with a higher load, and then immediately go for a new record.  Patience is key, and take the time to let your body adapt.

Third, this type of training is not meant to be done with a full range of motion.  For some, just supporting the weight may get you to where you need to be.  When I used this to train for a new squat PR, I regressed to box squats with the higher loads to get my body adapted to the much heavier weight.  Then when it came time for my new PR, I ditched the box and went for it.  I set a new PR by 10 pounds.

strength plateaus

#2: Set New 2 and 3 Rep Maxes

If you get stuck on a 1 rep max, it is natural for you to keep going after it until you break it.  I wouldn’t fault anyone for that as long as you are doing it smartly.  Take the time to tweak your technique, change the intensity of your warm-up sets, or even take some time off.

But sometimes, none of this will work and you are truly stuck.  No biggie.  Instead of focusing on a new 1 rep max, focus on 2 and 3 rep maxes instead.  Don’t even mess with your 1 rep max weights for a while.

If you can set new 3 rep maxes for instance, your body will be much better adapted to handling a new 1 rep max.  This sort of falls in line with the Principle of Progressive Overload, but sometimes this basic principle gets overlooked when you are trying to crush some new weight.

Like the first tip above, be patient with this.  Just because you set a new 2 rep max doesn’t mean you should attempt a new 1 rep max immediately after.  Strength is a journey and a process, not a race.

#3: Tweak Your Warm-Up

This is one of the biggest mistakes I see people make.

Don’t get me wrong, you need to be properly warmed up to be at optimal performance and reduce your chance of injury.  But there is a fine line between being warm and overdoing it.

You can approach your warm-up 2 different ways when you are trying for a new PR.  You can decrease the number of sets you do, but increase the intensity on each set.  This will require you to make much bigger jumps in weight on your warm-up sets.  Here is an example for bench press:

  1. 135 x 6
  2. 185 x 6
  3. 235 x 4
  4. 265 x 2
  5. 285 x 2
  6. 305 x 1 (new PR)

The second approach is to keep your warm-up sets the same, but decrease the number of reps each set and use lower increments of intensities.  A lot of guys I see will hit 8 reps or so a set, but if you are trying to set a new max, you may be expending too much energy leading up to it.  By decreasing the number of reps, you are leaving “some gas in the tank”.  Here is an example (bench press):

  1. 135 x 4
  2. 165 x 4
  3. 185 x 4
  4. 225 x 2
  5. 255 x 2
  6. 275 x 1
  7. 295 x 1
  8. 305 x 1 (new PR)

If you are a slow starter and it takes you a while to get warm, this may be your best bet.  As compared to the first approach, your body is making an adaptation to higher weights more gradually with 2 extra sets, but you are still doing less total reps (18 versus 20).  While 2 reps may not seem like a lot, if you are going for a new 1 rep max, those 2 reps may be your saving grace.

deadlift strength training

#4: Take Time Off From Heavy Lifting

There is not much to say about this one really.  The title speaks for itself.  After repeated failed attempts (over the course of weeks I mean), your best bet may be to just take some time off.

This is not a cop out or a wuss move.  Your ability to break through the barrier may just be your body’s way of telling you to take a break.  Any smart lifter always knows to listen to his body.

I had to resort to this strategy last winter with my deadlift.  I couldn’t beat my personal best. After 2 months of trying other strategies I decided to just step away.  After 3 months of not lifting heavy I came back with a vengeance and beat my personal best by 30 pounds within 2 weeks of lifting heavy again.

So, bottom line?  Listen to your body.  If other strategies don’t work, lose the ego and take some time off.  Time off should be a minimum of 2 weeks, but could span months depending on how long you have been lifting heavy.

Wrapping Up

Keep in mind also that these are just examples, and you can tweak what I’ve laid out here but still stick to the premise and logic that I’ve given you.

So give these a try when you reach strength plateaus.  I’ve personally tried all 3 of these, and they work.  The key is being patient and methodical.  Strength is a journey and lifelong pursuit.

You may spend weeks or months trying to hit a new PR, but you will get there!  Stay strong and never, ever quit…

Evolve!!

— Tank

What Rep Range Should You Use to Build Muscle?

For most of you out there looking to build muscle, the prime rep range you should be working with is 5-8.

Mind blowing I’m sure, especially if you read too many magazines or bodybuilding websites.

But for most of us who have ‘average’ genetics, are drug-free, and simply want to get jacked and ripped, a 5-8 rep range will do the trick.

The key here is pumping out enough volume with an ample amount of resistance, and you simply can’t do that by training with high-rep sets above 12.  To build both size and strength, you need to work with heavier loads.  The more weight you can use, the more muscle you will build.

rep range
Kirk Karwoski built this physique training sets of heavy 5’s.

I don’t know about you, but if I train high volume, I feel completely drained. This is because high-volume training can be really stressful on your central nervous system (CNS).

But by keeping your reps low and resistance high, not only will you be signaling your body to make strength gains, you will remain fresh as well. Plus, the trauma done to your body is less severe, meaning you can train more frequently.  The more frequently you can train, the quicker you will be able to build muscle.

“But Tank, if I cut back on my reps, I don’t feel a pump and I don’t even get sore.”

That’s a good thing my friend.  Getting a pump, while it feels nice, has nothing whatsoever to do with an actual training effect.  Sure your muscles are full of blood, but that won’t necessarily make you bigger or stronger.  Being sore doesn’t either according to scientific evidence.

You may look bigger after high-volume training, but like the pump, it’s just swelling of the muscles (scientifically termed sarcoplasmic hypertrophy).  This type of size increase does not result in any strength gains and some of that size will go away once you de-load.  You’d be far better served slapping on extra barbell poundage and building real muscle than swelling yourself up artificially.

When can I go over 8 reps?

There are times when you can aim for more than 8 reps, but these high-rep sets should only be a small part of your training.

If you aren’t performing compound lifts and are doing more isolation work like barbell curls or dips, then hitting a high-rep set here or there is fine.  In fact, to get bigger arms you may need to amp up the volume.

Even a high-rep set of 20 on the squat is effective at building bigger legs (provided your form and technique is spot on). Just remember the effect that this will have on your CNS; so don’t start crushing 20 reps sets multiple times a training session.

Never, ever do high-rep sets on deadlifts or Olympic style lifts. Your margin of error here is small and the chances of injury are increased.  It’s simply not worth it, and you should be training heavy here anyway.

As you get older and more experienced, maybe you go for more than 8 reps here and there. But what I said earlier about how sets of 5-8 keep you fresh longer applies here more than ever. As you get older, your recovery times will increase. Crushing your body with large amounts of volume is going to reduce your training frequency substantially the older you get. Depressing to think about if training is what you love!

Crank up the weight, tone down the reps, and stick to the 5-8 rep range.  Hit me up when you start to make killer gains.

If you want to know about the number of sets you should be doing per training session, click here.

Evolve!!

— Tank
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Underground Strength Coach

Cardio For Getting Shredded

It kills me every time I walk into a gym and see 50% of the real estate covered in cardio machines.cardio

People churning away, reading magazines on a stationary bike, watching tv on the elliptical, chatting with their friends on the treadmill.  They are totally crushing the ‘fat burn program’ on that $3,000 heap of metal. They will be doing that for hours multiple times a week.

The problem is that there are far better ways to get shredded in much shorter amounts of time…

Steady State Cardio and the Fat Burn Zone Confusion

First, let’s clear up a misconception.  Word on the street is that you burn more fat during low intensity steady state cardio, such as walking or jogging.  Totally false.

While your body does burn a higher percentage of fat at lower intensities (50% of calories from fat) versus higher intensities (35% of calories from fat), at higher intensities you burn far more calories overall, ultimately leading to more fat calories (in a much shorter amount of time).

Confusing?  Let me put it this way.  If I walk on the treadmill for an hour and burn 250 calories, I may have burned about 125 calories from fat.  But let’s say I train Primal style and run several sets of hill sprints, followed by a high intensity finisher.  In about 20 minutes, I could burn 500-600 calories, with 210 calories from fat.  One-third of the time and far more fat burn…

Pretty eye opening right?

Get off the treadmill, crank up the intensity, and do work!

cardio

So what exactly do you do?

You have a number of options.

Hill Sprints or Sprint Intervals

Sprint hill.  Jog back down.  Repeat.

Sprint intervals are the same concept.  Sprint 20 seconds, rest for 20.  As you get better, increase the duration of the sprint and decrease your rest time.

Sled or Prowler Work

Load up the sled or prowler, strap yourself in and get to work.  Pull or push for distance.

Lately, I have been loading up a prowler with about 60% of my bodyweight and sprinting 40’s while pushing it. About 4 sprints with this is enough and a great finisher to heavy weight lifting.

MetCon (Metabolic Conditioning)

MetCon is really just a fancy word for interval training.  It is a short duration, fast paced workout designed to kick your metabolism into high gear and turn you into a fat burning machine for long after you have left the gym.  Under the MetCon realm, there are a number of options:

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

  1. You could lump hill sprints and sprint intervals into this, but when I think of HIIT, I use it with weights and different exercises.
  2. Weight circuits, where you pick 5 or so exercises, and perform them all consecutively for specified reps, with no rest in between.  That is one set.  Do several sets.
  3. Intervals, where you pick one exercise (say bodyweight squats), perform for a timed duration, then rest, and repeat is another.  Plyos work well here too.

Random Guidelines for High Intensity Training

women's cardio

  • Coupled with a 4 day a week weight lifting routine, 2 sessions a week should be enough.  Anything more and you are jeopardizing your recovery times.
  • Sessions should last roughly 20 minutes or so.  Anything more is overkill.
  • This is not meant for everyone.  If you cannot perform high intensity training initially, start with steady state cardio until you are capable.
  • High intensity is not an excuse for poor form.  Form trumps all.
  • Train outside when possible.
  • Metabolism is a function of muscle mass.  The more muscle you have, the better your metabolism is, and the more effective your training will be.

All the best!!

— Tank