Step by Step Shredded: The Methods

In the first part of this article we discussed who this plan is for and the basic guidelines for diet and training. Check that out first if you haven’t already.

The First Step – Figure Out The Food

No step in this process is more important than the first one. In fact, it’s the one that all of the other steps are built upon and lays the groundwork for us to move forward.

Diet is the keystone to being shredded and recovering from your weight training workouts. As such, the rule with food is to eat as much as possible while still losing the amount of weight we are after, as opposed to eating as little as you can get away with. It sounds obvious to many, but a large part of success is mental and if your mindset is one geared towards eating the most food versus the least food. I have seen many people who desire to lose weight immediately default to the “2 chicken breasts a day diet” which will prove to be a lesson in futility.

Not a whole days worth of food
Not a whole days worth of food

The goal of this step is to achieve two weeks of consistent weight loss with no deliberate cardio. (If your normal weekly routine includes some form of “cardio” like a dog walk, and it will be in place the entire duration of the time you are using this strategy we will simply count that as baseline and not worry about it.) I use 2 weeks because body weight can fluctuate on a daily basis, and this step is so important to the process that we can’t leave it to chance that we calculated this part on an accidental measurement. I like to see 1 pound each week here, but slightly more or less will not matter.

 

I typically see this happen right around bodyweight x 12-14. For a 200 pound lifter, that’s somewhere between 2400-2800. Those with faster metabolisms err on the high side, those with slower ones head to the lower end. Those of you who generally don’t gain or lose weight on their current plan simply subtract about 500 calories and start there.

 

If you don’t know where to begin, simply pick the highest number and start there. Leave the calorie estimators alone as they will only be a guess for you anyway.

 

Step one is over when your weight loss stalls for 2 consecutive weeks. This may take a few weeks, and the longer the better because we want to milk each step for all its worth before advancing to the next one.

 

Step 2 – Figure Out The Cardio

No one ever accused Al Gore of being lean and shredded, but he does know a thing or two about Inconvenient Truths… And when it comes to entering the realm of extremely leanness its both true and inconvenient that very, very few people can get away with doing no cardio, or energy systems work, or WODs, or metcon, or GPP or whatever the cool kids are calling it these days.

"You sir, need to do cardio to get #StupidShredded"
“You sir, need to do cardio to get #StupidShredded”

As mentioned above, I like to keep the food intake as high as possible for as long as possible, so the next step is not to drop calories when the weight loss stalls, but to add in a small amount of cardio.

Given that cardio sessions only burn a few hundred calories(especially low-to-medium intensity ones that do not increase your metabolism much), I have found that only adding one session is generally not enough to get things moving again, and even two is a bare minimum.

As such I recommend starting with 2-3 cardio sessions a week, ideally separated from your main weight training workout by 6-8 hours or on off days, but they can just as easily be done afterwards with extremely minimal difference in results for those short on time.

For the sake of simplicity I will consider “a session” to be either 20-30 minutes of low to moderate intensity cardio, or 10-15 minutes of your favorite HIIT. In the beginning when we aren’t doing much I like to add HIIT as recovery should still be good and then we will add on less taxing cardio as we get deeper into the plan. Start at the bottom end of the time range for now and in future steps it will give us room to increase it.

If you have access, the best form of cardio is some kind of sled or prowler work. Push it, pull it, drag it, sprint it, grind it… It doesn’t matter. When performed with some PLAZMA or even Mag10, it can even aid in recovery and potentially facilitate even more muscle growth during the cut.

For the HIIT, The type really doesn’t matter all that much as long as you are sucking wind and going HARD for the intense sections.

I’ve had the best experience with the recumbent bike as you can really hunker down, press back against the seat and just blast away. I have also had success with the rower (if you can keep good form), and even the elliptical if its a well built one. Not exactly hardcore, but it gets the job done and has the added bonus of working more, and different, muscles than the bike. Treadmill sprints can work, but I find the risk of injury and joint wear-and-tear to not be worth it.

Zone out and go HARD on this bitch
Zone out and go HARD on this bitch

Warm up for 2-3 minutes before starting to count the time, so a 10 minute interval session will actually take 12-13 minutes.

I encourage rotation throughout the week to avoid local over-training of the legs (remember you’re still squatting and have a regular leg day or 2 every week as well), repetitive use injury potential, and quite honestly just sheer boredom. I’ve even been known to do 10 minutes on 2 or 3 different machines.

The regular cardio sessions can be any of the above done with less intense parameters, or simply walking at a brisk pace if you don’t have time to go to the gym or just want to get outside.

Step 2 is over when your weight again stalls for 2 consecutive weeks.

 

Step 3 and Beyond

Once you have established your baseline level of calories, and then added in the minimum level of cardio to get the scale moving again almost all of the hard, intellectual work is done. From here you simply “add a step” in the form of another cardio session, extending previous cardio sessions, or by dropping calories by 200 when your fat loss stalls again. This should jump start your fat loss back up again.

As mentioned above I prefer to add cardio since keeping food intake as high as possible should be a priority. I personally believe it is better to burn the calories than the omit them.

Putting It All Together: A Sample Plan

As always we will use the quintessential 200 pounder lifting 4 days per week. This is what a typical plan may look like, not an exact layout of what to do every week. Yours may look similar, but different.

 

Step 1: Set calories to body weight x 14 to begin, 2800 in this case, and check weight for 2 weeks. If weight loss is not happening drop 200 calories from your daily menu and recheck. Repeat if necessary. Lets say we end up needing to start at 2400 before weight loss begins.

Step 2: Once weight loss has stalled, add in two 10 minute HIIT sessions of bike sprints, and one 20 minute Medium Intensity session.

Step 3: After 3 weeks weight loss stalled again, extend the HIIT sessions by 5 minutes a piece, and the Medium intensity by 10 minutes.

Step 4: To keep ahead of the fat loss stalling add on another 20 minute session the following week. Our lifter is now doing cardio after every lifting session.

Step 5: Time is becoming an issue so now we bite the bullet and drop 200 calories from our daily intake.

Step 6: Add on 2 minutes to each HIIT session, and bring the second medium intensity session to 30 minutes.

Step 7: We have hit a wall at 14 pounds of fat lost and our lifter is already doing cardio at every session. Very pleased with how he looks but want to take it a bit further to really see what being lean looks like. Drop 200 calories again (now at BWx10)

Step 8: Approaching the level of leanness he is shooting for, but already very low on calories, our lifter decides he is willing to wake up early 2 days a week for a few weeks to get in 2 more medium intensity sessions at 30 minutes before work.

Step 9: Success! Utilizing this stepwise approach our lifter was able to achieve his fat loss goal. It was tough towards the end, but it was simple to plan out all along the way.

Step by step you reach the top! Or in this case the bottom levels of body fat
Step by step you reach the top! Or in this case the bottom levels of body fat

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Q – What do I do after the I reach my target weight?

A – At the end of the plan most people are doing too much cardio and eating too little food for the plan to be sustainable. The goal for most lifters should be to transition back to Step One + 200 calories in about four weeks, increasing calories and decreasing cardio in that time frame.

If you remember Step One is our “No Cardio Weight Loss” level, so by adding a few hundred calories to this it should put us back in line with our metabolic rate. From there you can decide to maintain your weight or add another few hundred calories and attempt to add on more quality mass.

Q – How long does this plan take?

A – This plan isn’t for beginner and as such you shouldn’t have too much fat to lose. Having said that, You should experience about 1lb fat loss per week from start to finish. Depending on how much fat you have to lose it could take anywhere from 12-20 weeks.

Q – How low can I take the calories?

A – I generally don’t see people doing very well mentally once they start going below 10 calories per pound. It can be done for short periods towards the end of the plan, but as a general rule this is the point where people start getting very hungry, mentally foggy, recovery is impacted and some people can even start getting headaches and lethargy.

A strategy I have used with success are to have one or two “low days” where instead of dropping 100-200 calories per day every day throughout the week, you drop the calories to something like 500-700 on just one or two days. This works great with an intermittent fasting approach where you just have a moderate sized dinner.

Many people would rather suffer bigger on 2 days than suffer a little bit every day of the week.

Q – Can I speed up the process at all? I want to be shredded NOW!

A – A bit, but not much. If you aren’t in a rush the slow and steady approach is the best way to ensure that you are losing the highest amount of fat, but if you want to “get it over with” in 8 or 12 weeks, you can decide how much you are willing to do cardio wise, how long you can tolerate being at 8-10 calories/pound and just backtrack from there.

In one of my earlier experiments with the plan (when I was young and single) I was willing and able to do two, short HIIT sessions a day. So I started at 3 sessions and added a session every week until I was doing 2-a-days for a few weeks, in addition to weights 5 days a week. Along with that I dropped 100 calories every week. Worked great and didn’t take long, but is ultimately unsustainable.

Step by Step Shredded: Setting The Stage For Maximum Leanness

 

Beyond Casual

 

Most people who lift weights, exercise, and generally eat right are what I like to call “Casual Lifters.” They generally look pretty good and they might even be “The Big Dude” in their circle of friends.

 

But being casual about anything only gets you so far…

 

At some point in almost every lifters life he or she will often wonder what it what be like to be incredibly lean. “Stage lean” or “contest ready” as it’s known to those in the competitive bodybuilding ranks. Maybe you don’t want to get quite to the point of seeing your vital organs, but this plan will get you however lean you want to be if you follow it.

 

So if you are ready to take a step, or many steps, beyond casual than boy do I have just the ticket for you.

Beyond Casual
Beyond Casual

The Deep End

 

If you’ve been around the iron game long enough, you may have heard that getting from 20% to 10% is the easy part. Its getting from 10% to 3% that separates the men from the boys. Or the boys from the women, as the case may be.

 

The following strategy has been used successfully by many, myself included several times (several times for “fun” and once for a bodybuilding show),  and is one that I have adapted from natural IFBB pros Skip Lacour and Jeff Willett.

 

It has taken me many “dry runs” and many years, but I have worked to simplify this process as best I can and I can honestly say that while this plan is not easy to undertake, it is easy enough to understand that just about anyone should be able to do it if they are dedicated enough.

 

The plan will take you to absolute limits of leanness, and it’ll take you there step by step. Honestly, The only way to not end up as shredded as you can get is to deviate from the plan, or quit early when you realize the last few pounds might not be worth it after all. And truthfully unless you are stepping on stage they might not be.

 

Having said that, it is not for everyone. If you haven’t yet learned how to get to and maintain a respectable level of leanness, this isn’t the strategy for you. It is neither desirable nor even necessary to use a strategy this meticulous and inflexible when you still haven’t figured out how to lose that spare tire.

 

Likewise, if you are not willing to make a very intense commitment to getting to finish line, this again is not the strategy I would recommend using. You will most certainly have to track your calories, eat the same thing most every day for simplicities sake, lose strength temporarily, and depending on your metabolism towards the end you may be doing more cardio than any sane person should be doing.

 

But if you are the type of person who currently is maintaining a very respectable build and is in good health, but isn’t quite sure how to wade into the deep waters of being extremely lean and want to do it correctly, this is exactly what you need.

Into the Deep
Into the Deep

A Word on Training Programs

 

I hope this goes without saying here, but It is assumed you will be training on a program, and training hard.

I have tried out enough programs and have seen others try out enough to come to the conclusion that provided certain needs are met, the training program really doesn’t matter all that much, especially for fat loss. The single most important factor is that you are training hard and pushing yourself on whatever program it is that you are on.

As I have worked to tweak and simplify this program, I’ve gone through it several times now over the last 10 years, and in the name of experimentation I’ve used a different training program each time including 5/3/1, EDT, and Six Weeks to Superhero right here from T-Nation. All worked almost equally as well. The key is to keep pushing yourself so that your body understands that the muscle mass you have earned through the years is still very much necessary and you cannot afford to get rid of it.

If you want to make sure you are training hard enough to tell your body you need as much mass as possible, look no further than any of the Mike Rashid tested training programs.

Make Sure Your Body Knows It Needs The Muscle With This Program
Make Sure Your Body Knows It Needs The Muscle With This Program

 

You can tip the scales in your favor by incorporating some metabolic work or density based training, but in general any smart training program that prioritizes heavy weight training will do the trick. If you are currently using one and getting results, just stick with it and don’t worry if you are on the “right kind” of training.

 

A Word On Diet and Macros

While I personally utilize a low carb approach (while still including peri-workout nutrition) with weekly re-feeds, you may use whichever approach you have found success with up until this point. Many a bodybuilder has gotten shredded to the bone on good ol’ Chicken and Rice, and many have had success with a lower carb approach. If you aren’t sure where to start you probably are not knowledgeable enough about your own body to be doing this program. #toughlove
A word to the wise; I generally recommend that aside from your intra-workout nutrition all of your calorie intake should come from whole foods as you will likely be hungry, especially towards the end, and you will be kicking yourself for downing a protein shake and being hungry again in 60-90 minutes.

If you would like to learn the basics of eating right for this style of program before you jump into going into the extreme ends of dieting like this, look no further than the Clean Bulking method.

  • Next week we will go into detail on the step-by-step method for getting stupid lean.

Modern Nutrition Approaches For Casual Lifters

 

You may not have noticed this, but the bodybuilding culture tends to attract some… Intense personalities. Along with those personalities come some intense ideas. The good news is that the vast majority of the population doesn’t quite need to be so intense to get the gains they are after though. They want to be strong, look good, and then go about their life. They are fine with sacrificing the extra 10% of the gains that come with living a life devoted solely to the iron.

I’ve been lifting since right about the year 2000. The internet lifting culture was just getting started and only had a few sources of information. Certainly not the hundreds of blogs, youtubers, and websites that are out there now.

By and large the information coming from those sources was information that was coming from actual, real life bodybuilders. People that were after maximum muscularity, skin erasing conditioning levels, and complete development at the expense of all else… even their health if need be.

These weren’t the kind of people who wanted to be big, lean AND be able to come in first at a tough mudder on a whim. They only cared about the first two.

Not running a Tough Mudder this weekend
Not running a Tough Mudder this weekend

Needless to say the methods coming out of that culture were a bit extreme, and while they certainly work and optimize the pursuit of being big and lean, they are a bit suffocating to the average person looking to get bigger, leaner, stronger, and be ready for a day at the beach without a 3 month notice to “contest prep”

 

The practices from back then are what are now known as the standard body building advice. Everyone knows it… Stuff like:

 

  • Eat every 3 hours or else
  • Rice/broccoli/chicken all day, e’ry day
  • pre breakfast, low intensity cardio
  • One body part a day, train each body part once a week

Enter The Internet Explosion

Once the internet got it hands on the fitness culture all of these practices got put under a microscope and really tested out by a huge number of people. There is little doubt that these practices work, and work well… But do you need to get quite so specific, intense, and narrow to get the results most people are after? Probably not it turns out

So what can we glean from the last 15 years of internet fueled nutritional experimentation? Lets take a look

 

What to Eat

Chicken, rice, broccoli. The standard body building diet is so cliched that its almost an SNL joke at this point. Its just what you ate back then… and everyone was happy to do it because it worked very well for building a muscular, lean physique.

Okay, maybe not for every meal.
Okay, maybe not for every meal.

Naturally when you start to include millions of people in on the pursuit, the limiting food choices are going to be the first thing on the chopping block.

 

Suffice to say that now there are more books and websites devoted to tasty food that also helps you achieve your physique goals than ever before. It turns out you really dont need to live off of the same few foods to have a respectable physique.

 

Not only that, the success of diet strategies like Keto, Paleo, and a host of others have expanded the food choices for people so that no matter your unique biology you should be able to find something that you can eat on a regular basis and still get your gains on.

 

Bottom line is that while the old school diet works great, there are plenty of other options available to the lifter now a days that don’t require the severe limitations and monotony of the old timers diet. You can literally have your cake and eat it too… just not every day.

 

When and How Often To Eat

 

While the standard bodybuilding advice was to eat every 3 hours on-the-dot or else your muscle tissue will surely wither into naught but single strands of fibers, the real world evidence is a bit more forgiving.

The rise and popularity of things like Lean Gains intermittent fasting, the warrior diet, alternate day fasting show us that you can in fact go more than 3 hours without eating. Hell, you can go a whole day without eating and it won’t really have a noticeable effect on your gains.

I remember being obsessed  with eating every 3 hours. I used to take protein shakes to Disneyland with my girlfriend at the time. Turns out I could have just eaten a nice, big breakfast and had lunch and dinner like a normal person and I would have been just fine.

That isn’t to say that eating frequently doesn’t have benefits or optimize the process, and I think all things being equal it probably is the best way to go about it, but the evidence is clearly in that you won’t be wasting your time in the gym if you occasionally go 6 hours instead of 3.

So if you find yourself on hour number 3 and it doesnt look like you can eat again for a few hours… Breath easy knowing you arent going to arrive to dinner looking like Christian Bale in The Machinist.

Where to Begin

The road to begin on has never been easier to walk than it is now. There is such a vast amount of information out there though that it can be hard to figure out where to start. If you wan to cut down on the you might waste figuring this stuff out on your own, look not further than this page for your resources.

Not only do we post articles every week, but we have books available that can shrink the learning curve down to a few weeks or months, instead of the years that we put into this.

If that sounds like something you would be interested in, here is a good place to start.

Skip years of mistakes and learn from the pros
Skip years of mistakes and learn from the pros

How To Lift Weights

The purpose of this article is not to expose “one weird trick” that you currently aren’t and by incorporating it you will magically sky rocket your gains. Given that everyone in the world can lift things up and put them down again, it seems like a dumb topic to cover.

But often times in lifting, and in life, we have to take a step back and really reflect on if we are doing the basics correctly. They set the foundation for all the success in a program, so if you are doing them wrong your results are going to be sub-par at best, and nonexistent at worst.

It seems like a trivial question… But many lifters never really consider how to lift weights. Of course there is the obvious Lift-Weight-Up and Put-Weight-Down mechanics of lifting, but there is actually more going on inside than meets the eye, and I actually find that most guys (yes I am singling out guys here) think that they know how to lift weights from day one, when it fact they really don’t.

The often used phrase “Mind Muscle Connection” comes to mind, and it means to really concentrate on the muscle you are lifting, to squeeze it against the resistance of the weight, to make sure the muscle is really working instead of the weight simply moving through space. If you are unfamiliar with the idea try this.

Try This Right Now

Stand up and, without any weight in your hand, do a bicep curls where you simply bring your hand up to your shoulder and back down.

Pretend that the weight is in your hand
Pretend that the weight is in your hand

Now I want you to do the same thing except imagine there is a 100 pound weight in your hand. DON’T focus on simply moving your hand, rather focus on squeezing your bicep as hard as possible, almost an isometric contraction but just one step shy of it… And your hand will almost “move on its own” as your bicep shortens.

You should be able to feel an immediate and vast difference in the effects those two types of curls produce. The first one is almost zero, while the second almost feels like you could fry your biceps without any weight at all.

You can see that to the untrained eye or observer all that is happening is your hand is arching through space… but INSIDE there is a vastly different process happening

 

How To Lift (and Lower) Weights

Since most people who are doing this are doing it to basically be big and strong, we will focus on our attention on the style of lifting that best accomplishes that. People specializing in Power Lifting and Olympic Lifting may want to train a bit differently, but for the general purposes of most people the following is basically the best advice

Lift Fast, Lower Under Control

For our chosen population of lifters as described above, the point of any given set is to both recruit the most amount of muscle possible, and then to work those muscle fibers enough to require a growth response. This is best achieved by lifting a weight fast, but then lowering it quite a bit slower.

The Lift Fast portion of the rep can be confusing to some people. When I have taught this advice to others they get confused because a fast rep seems easier than doing a rep more slowly and deliberately… The fast rep just flies right up to the top, but you can really strain against a slower rep… And isn’t harder better?

It usually is that way, yes… But the reason the fast rep is “easier” is because more and more of your muscle fibers are being called to work. So in a very real way you are literally working harder and more efficiently at the same time by lifting the weight fast.

As the weight gets heavier and heavier you obviously will not be launching the weight off your chest like a slingshot, but the intent to move the weight as fast as possible does the same thing for us… Which is to get as many muscle fibers involved as possible.

CHEST INCLINE BARBELL on Vimeo

In what seems at first an ironic twist, you should do almost the exact opposite while lowering the weight. If you think about it for a moment it makes sense though… If you let your muscle go limp the weight will fall to your chest quite fast, but even adding a small amount of resistance will slow that down.

In order to get the most muscle fibers involved in the lowering process you should find that happy medium between letting the weight free fall and doing the rep so slowly as to exhaust yourself after the first rep.

Remember our example above with the bicep curls… That is the kind of mental effort and mentality you should be using when you lower the weight. FIGHT THE WEIGHT DOWN, don’t just let it drop. You don’t need to do it quite as intensely as in the example above, but that is the basic idea behind it.

Pick It Up, Put It Down

Going beyond this basic advice would defeat the point of this article, so we are going to stop here. There are a lot of words here… but they really can be summed up quite nicely in the “Lift Fast, Lower Slowly” mantra.

Think about this next time you are in the gym and make sure you are not just mindlessly lifting and lowering the weight.

All the Basics Covered Right Here
All the Basics Covered Right Here

 

 

Getting Started With Front Squats

Everybody’s Doing It…

Olympic Lifters Love Them And Do Them Frequently

Power Lifters Use Them To Bring Up Their Squat Numbers

Body Builders Use Them For More Quad Work

For the regular gym going crowd it seems to be everyone’s favorite movement they arent doing!

So what gives? Why are Front Squats seemingly loved by the pro’s but shunned by the masses?

I think the answer is quite simple… They are awkward as hell, and difficult to learn with a lot of weight on the bar. Most lifters don’t seem to be willing to humble themselves, start light, and do front squats with 95lbs or 135 to get the mechanics and grip down.

So today we are going to talk about how to start incorporating this great movement into your routine without interfering with your regular squat workout. First, search around the net and find some videos on proper front squat form, mechanics, and technique. That is beyond the scope of this article, but if it’s your first time trying these out you want to make sure you are doing it correctly.

After you have done that, watch this video:

 

This video shows the basic outline of what we are going to be doing with the front squat, which is to use it as the “warm up” for the regular squat. It also shows a few different grip options that might work for you: The “Front Rack” position, the “Wrist Strap Handles” option, and the standard BB style cross-armed shelf. I favor the later, but those with better wrist flexibility will like the first position. I’ve never been a fan of the wrist strap option myself, but have seen others use it successfully.

How To Get Started

Due to the nature of the front squat you simply can’t handle as much weight as the regular back squat… Which we are going to use to our advantage. With that in mind we are going to start with just the empty bar for a set of 10. Really concentrate here on getting your mechanics down, sinking into the right “hole” in between your legs. Things get heavy quick when you are just learning this movement, so don’t consider this a foo-foo light weight set, its going to set the stage for the rest of the workout.

If you are really brand new to front squatting, do the same thing with just 10’s on the bar. Next move up to 95lbs and do a nice, crisp set of 5.

From here I like to advance with the 25/45 method (described here) in sets of 5 until you cant get all 5 reps. So it might look like this for someone with an exceptional back squat (In the video Mike Rashid, who has a 500+ back squat has to “tap out” at 315):

Bar x 10

65lbs x 10

95 x 5

135 x 5

185 x 5

225 x 5

275 x 3

Since we couldnt get 5 with 275 we call it a day for the front squats and move on to the regular squats starting at the weight we left off with, in this case we would do 275 x 5, and continue on with whatever your regular squat workout for that day was.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming
Back to our regularly scheduled programming

To The Front Of The Line

Okay, I’m all out of front puns for the day, which means its time to wrap it up.

Use this easy way to warm up with the front squat to start getting used to it, after a few weeks you should be able to add more and more weight to the bar, do more reps, and start reaping the benefits that the front squat offers.

Olympia Sized Back Workout

In honor of the 2015 Mr Olympia, we are taking a break from our usual sort of articles to bring you a workout you can do to build a championship back. We all know Body building shows are “won from behind” as they say, and stacking together workouts like this week after week will help to get you ahead of the pack from the back.

This week, in true Mike Rashid style, we are going for a good blend of heavy weight, but still getting a huge amount of volume in.

Pull Ups

Though simple, the humble pull up remains a staple the gym because, as basic as it is… It works. So well in fact that it can be a staple movement in your program week after week. Mix up the grips from time to time and you will hit slightly different areas of the back each time, adding to the fullness of your back development. I prefer the hands nuetral position, and doing them on hanging olympic rings works especially well. Here is how to do them this week

Up, up, and Away!
Up, up, and Away!

Up And Down The Ladder

  • Body weight for 3 sets of 10 to get warmed up
  • Add 10 pounds and rep it out, leaving 1 in the tank
  • Add 10 more pounds and rep it out again, stop 1 shy of failure
  • Continuing adding 10 pounds until you can only get 3 rep
  • Now, instead of resting between sets you will do one big strip set where you keep taking 10 pounds off and AMRAP-ing it down the ladder until you rep out with just body weight in the end

T-Bar Rows

Here is where we are going to get volume really cranked up. We are going to start light and do sets of 10, using the 25-45 method (add a 25, then swap it out for a 45, add a 25, swap it out for a 45, etc…)

Continue up until you get to a hard set of 10 and do 3 sets at that weight. After that take off whatever the last plate you added was (25 or 45) and rep it out until failure.

 

Pull Downs

Going back to the vertical plane here, and while similar to Pull Ups, I find Pull Downs hit the back a bit differently and you can really focus on different areas.

If you have a workout partner this is where to use them. If not you will just have to do the best you can here.

Random Selection

This is a tried and true technique used in many of the vids you see online… Start at a weight about in the middle of the stack and do 10 reps. Have your partner move it up and down randomly and you do 10 reps at the weight they move it to. Rest only as long as it takes to move the pin. Your partner will have to use a bit of judgement and give you a bit of a break when it looks like you need it and challenge you when you can handle it.

After you go, have your partner go and give it right back to them.

Do 3 sets this way.

Unleash the Cobra!
Unleash the Cobra!

Dead Lifts

Your back should be good and fried by now, so we are going to finish it off with something that brings your lower back and traps into the mix a bit more than the “repping” muscles used in the other exercises.

Gonna keep it simple here, after warming up to the weight, do 3 hard sets of 5 and call it a day.

Rest It Up

A workout like this requires recovery in spades. If you can, take a nap after and eat a good meal. Whatever workout follows this one should be a bit easier, like arms, or not use any of the same muscles, like chest or shoulders. Your next squat heavy workout should be at least a few days away.

Get at it boys and girls, this one will bring the pain and then bring the gains.

Mental Jewels: Less Whining, More Winning

Mental Jewels: Training For you Brain. Mike Rashid and the Alpha Crew like to have more than just big muscles… Life is about more than that. You guys know we love the saying “A word to the wise is sufficient” so we are only going to tell you once…

Nothing Worse Than A Whiner

My God, there is nothing worse in life than listening to someone whine about their life. I understand there is a time and a place to discuss your problems, hardships, and all the things you are going through in life… But if you aren’t going to do anything about it just shut up. This is doubly true when it comes to whining about anything involving the iron game. I thought we did this shit to get Strong as fuck, Alpha as Fuck, and to improve ourselves. Nothing is as opposite to those principles as whining like a little kid not getting their way.

Ladies Is Alpha Too
Ladies Is Alpha Too

There is especially true with training and dieting. These are not life problems, these are activities you willingly subject yourself to because you believe they enhance your life. No one cares if you are hungry on the diet you willingly chose to be on. Did your spouse suddenly reveal they are leaving you at the same time you got laid off from your job? Okay, that’s some real shit to talk about… But being hungry for the 90 minutes until your next meal? I cant even begin to describe how grating that is to hear coming from someones mouth who is supposedly “mentally strong enough” to do what the general population can’t get done.

Only Good Things Happen To Me

So many events that happen in life can be positive or negative based solely on how you look at them. Even in the “worst case scenario” I described above where you are getting divorced while losing your job, a winning attitude is one that looks at both of those things as something that will impact your life positive eventually. This is not to say that these will not be hard, painful events that without any negatives or down sides… But you could choose to look at the divorce as your spouse allowing you to live a life that is not stuck in a failed relationship and giving you a shot to be in one with someone who cares for you as you deserve. Losing your job could be viewed as a new opportunity to find your true passion, or maybe it was the incentive you needed to move or start over some place new.

Only Good Things
Only Good Things

Again, these things will be hard and they will hurt quite a bit, but as with almost everything in life worth having, if it is hard and it hurts those are typically the events that shape us as people the most and are the memories we will hold onto the most into the future.

I’m sure all of us have those events in our lives where it seemed like the end of the world at the time, but when we reflect on them a year later we are thankful they happened, and couldn’t imagine our lives any different, and we certainly wouldn’t go back in time to make sure it didn’t happen.

We believe in this philosophy so much here at the Alpha Academy we made an apparel line out of it so we can remind ourselves of the message throughout the day and week.

Reflect On Adversity

A “mental training” exercise I like to do is remind myself of the hardest times of my life and about how they did, in fact, not break me, but rather I came out of the other side even stronger than before.

It empowers me to know that there were times where I felt it was all over, my life was changed for the worse, and there was nothing that could be done about it… But then I did do something about it. Not only that but I wouldn’t go back and change anything if I could.

Doing these exercises lets me breeze through hard times that happen in the future. If anything I look forward to them now, knowing that rich rewards await me on the other side. Just like a deadlift or squats can be a real bitch while you are doing it, when you get through the other side you are better for having done it. Not doing them is not an option. 

So this weeks exercise is to reflect back on the hard times, the bad times, and the times you thought your life was over. Reflect on the situation, what you did, how you reacted. Reflect on where you are now. Look toward the future and realize that if you encounter another life changing event in the future that you can handle it and you will be better for having done so.

Unconventional Super Sets for Size… And Health

Anyone who’s been in the iron game for any length of time knows all about super sets. Conventionally used for hitting multiple body parts at the same time, increasing training density, getting a massive pump and then getting on with your life Super Sets are a staple of modern weight lifting.

Today we are going to introduce some unique and unconventional super sets to not only help you gain size, but help stave off injuries and keep your arms and shoulders healthy for years of lifting to come.

If you’re anything like me, Injury prevention training doesn’t sound like fun… And quite honestly it isn’t the most satisfying and fun training you can do. But if you want longevity in the gym, if you want to be like CT Fletcher banging the iron into your 50’s and beyond… Avoiding injuries along the way is paramount.

This should go without saying, (which I find are the things that need to be said the most) but injury prevention is best done before you get an injury… Ground breaking stuff, right? I know.

However, if you can bullet proof your body before the bullet comes… you’ll be that much better off.

These combos are something I developed myself after dealing with near-injury scenarios myself, and they help me to keep lifting and staying healthy. I use them religiously now and the problems have subsided.

Squat and Band Pull Apart

The How

Do a set of 20 band pull-aparts during all your warm up and work sets. These work well because they get a huge amount of blood flow into the deltoid, stimulate the rear delts which are often neglected in peoples routines, and are low intensity enough to not further risk injuring the shoulders.

The Why

Good for the legs, not so great on the shoulders
Good for the legs, not so great on the shoulders

This may not apply to the young bucks out there, it certainly wasn’t an issue with me when I was 10 years younger, but often times when you are going all out on squats you might notice your shoulders start taking a beating. Wrenching your arms behind your back, hooking them under a bar and loading that up with hundreds and hundreds of pounds meant for the gigantic quads can take its toll on your relatively small deltoids and the joint which aren’t really meant to loaded with with hundreds of pounds, especially in such a poorly leveraged position.

I’ve even seen some lifters write that they have given up traditional barbell back squats for good because their shoulder health is not up to the task.

Yikes… Having to give up the ultimate exercise, the king of the man makers, the premier beast builder just because your shoulders can’t handle it? Call me insane but that is unacceptable.

To try and help with this shoulder issue, and the get a bit more stimulation in for the shoulders without further fatiguing them and increasing their risk of injury I tested out this super set and it has been doing the trick ever since. Extra shoulder growth is a free bonus. You’re Welcome.

Dead Lifts and DB Curls

The How

Quite simple, do a set of light, 10-20 rep sets of your favorite DB curls during your dead lifts warm up sets. These are not to failure, and Don’t worry about them during your main sets, as the point of these is to get blood into your biceps to avoid injury and not to keep getting arm work in and detracting from the dead lifts.

Get That Blood Flowing. Rep. Rep. Rep. Rep...
Get That Blood Flowing. Rep. Rep. Rep. Rep…

The Why

The two most common injuries I see in lifting are pec/shoulders injuries due to bench pressing, and bicep tears due to dead lifting.

While both of these are largely technique and loading issues, the biceps are quite vulnerable in the dead lift because of the sheer amount of weight being held during the lift. The massive quads and legs are quite capable of hoisting the massive weights, but the biceps are small in comparison and in the most vulnerable position for them to be in… fully extended and ready pop.

To make matters worse almost everyone that dead lifts does it as the first lift in the day so they are at their freshest and can hoist the most weight.

But lets face it… You gotta lift this shit, right? So the answer isn’t to skip dead lifting.

Rather a solution I’ve come up with is to do some light weight, pumping, constant tension style curls while you are warming up to your working weight on the dead lifts. These will get tons of blood flow into the biceps and the elbow joints which will help to protect the bicep while you are pulling heavy shit off the ground.

 

Mental Jewels: Fail Forward, Learn Lessons From Failure

Let’s face it… All of us will fail at something at some point in our lives. and the real truth is that the loftier your goal, the more often and bigger you will risk failing. The person who sits at home all day watching TV, content to have an average life probably isn’t failing all that much (except maybe at life… But that’s not for me to judge)

 

Those of us who aspire to set records, to change the world, to achieve new heights in our development, or  to impact thousands or millions will likely “fail” or fall short of our goals at some point. Road block will come up, people who we thought supported us will show their true colors, and we may even appear to fall flat on our faces several times.

 

Thomas Edison said of his many unsuccessful light bulb attempts that he didn’t fail to make a light bulb 1,000 times, The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.

1,001st Step
1,001st Step

 

The only way any of these events truly become a failure is if they stop you from pursuing your ultimate goal, or if you don’t learn the lesson that these events taught you. Even in defeat there is plenty to learn… Some even go so far as to say that is the only time you truly can learn anything.

 

Applying this idea to weights, lifting, and having a physique that projects the beasts that we all know ourselves to be is quite easy. If you are trying to hit a certain number on the bench press, say 315 for the first time, and you build up to it for 8 weeks but miss it… Well technically you failed to make the lift, but there is plenty to learn from that experience.

 

  • Did you miss the lift because of technique?
  • Did the program allow you enough rest to make sure you were fresh to make the lift?
  • Did the program stress you enough to warrant an increase in strength?

 

There is plenty of opportunity to reflect, learn, and grow from this supposed failure. The only way to truly fail here is to give up on ever trying to lift more, to not learn anything from the event, and to just move on.

 

The “secret” here is that this idea is not just confined to weight lifting. As with Edison above this could be applied to a new invention, or music as Jay-Z has alluded to similar concepts in his songs –

 

But I will not lose, for even in defeat

There’s a valuable lesson learned, so it evens up for me

Never Defeated, Always Learning
Never Defeated, Always Learning

 

So go forth Alpha warriors, conquer what ye will and fear not the failure that is inevitable. It is simply a necessary part of the process of becoming great at something, or forging a new path.

 

Progression Obsession 3: Even More Gains

This week we are going to wrap up our series on how to keep the gains coming when adding weight to the bar just isnt feasible or isn’t a big enough stimulus to significantly add to the workload you are doing. 2.5 pounds just isn’t all that taxing on the body, some times you need to throw away the chisel and break out the jackhammer.

In Part One we talked about adding weight on a set by set basis, jacking up the volume with extra reps and sets, and increasing the density by shrinking the rest intervals down.

In Part Two we talked about some approaches that had nothing to do with adding weight or reps, but rather mastery of the weight and confidence.

This week we are going to talk about the more demanding methods of progression. The ones that require the most intensity, tap the deepest into your recovery ability, and for this reason should be used sparingly and for short periods of time.

Eccentric Volume

The eccentric portion of the lift is the “lowering” portion. Bringing the bar to the chest, lowering the weight into a squat position from standing, or bringing the bar from overhead down back to the shoulders are a few examples.

elevator
Going Down

 

The eccentric portion is also where most muscle damage, and thus muscle soreness, comes from. It’s part of the reason body building routines only train a muscle group once a week, while Olympic and Cross Fit programs can train them more frequently… Body Builders general do more reps, and thus are doing more time in the eccentric phase, while Oly Lifters and Crossfitters can be seen dropping the bar in some cases, bypassing it all together.

The way I like to build up eccentric volume with a weight you are having trouble getting passed is to keep the load consistent, but increase the eccentric time from 1 second to 3 seconds. Basically a “controlled descent” becomes a “slow and controlled descent.” To conceptualize it, in a regular rep the bar is almost falling, and the lifter would have a hard time reversing it. In a slow and controlled eccentric the lifter maintain constant tension on the bar during the lowering phase, and could easily reverse it at any point along the rep.

This method is quite taxing, and I recommend you stick to this for 3-4 weeks, then try and up the weight and go back to “regular reps” that dont stress the negative quite as much.

Finishers, Intensity Techniques, and Fatalities.

Call these whatever you want to… These are the bread of butter of a Mike Rashid approved workout. The true sign that you are at the end and have officially earned the right to call it a day. When “regular” sets and reps just arent doing it, and even the techniques we’ve talked about so far in this series aren’t getting the gains trains moving on the tracks, it’s time to break out the biggest guns there are.

These techniques all generally fall under the umbrella of “beyond failure” … You essentially do a certain weight for as many reps as you can do, and then somehow extend the set beyond that by stripping some weight off, resting just a little bit, or changing the movement slightly before continuing on until you again reach muscular failure. This can happen several times in a single set.

Some Favorites:

Drop Sets – 3 drops is generally a good starting point, and will get a large amount of volume done in a very short period of time, while hitting every muscle fiber along the way. Here are some ways to do them:

  • Run The Rack / Strip Sets – A CT Fletcher Favorite, Using a DB movement (presses or curls generally) you basically start at a weight you can get 20 reps with, and when you do you drop to the next smallest dumbbell and continue on until you are handling weights that anorexics will laugh at you for using.
    • For the truly sadistic… Run the weight back up. It seems impossible but somehow you can do it if you truly gut it out. Check out Big Rob and Mike doing it below with DB Tricep extensions. Many a Metro Flex arm day has brought men to their knees with this gauntlet.

  •  Double Double – With this method you will drop two times. Cutting the weight in half both times, BUT doubling the reps. It generally works best with 6-12-24, but anything works really… 5-10-20, 10-20-40, 25-50-100 for those really looking to have some fun.

 

  • Wheels Away – For the truly strong and truly insane, start with as many 45’s as you can per side and when you hit failure take one off each side and keep on repping. Continue down until you finish up with one wheel per side. Spotters are hugely useful here, both to strip the weight and the keep you safe during the set… Its brutal and with the muscular fatigue here safety is definitely a concern on any big money lifts. The more mortal among us can use 25’s for this method to the same effect.

Minimal Rest Sets

This intensity technique has many variations, but unlike above where you end up using very light weights by the end of the drop set, you are going to be using heavy ass weights the entire time and the rest periods are going to be cut WAY down. 2-3 minute rest periods have no place here. Here are some ideas:

  • DC Style Rest Pause – The staple of DoggCrapp training, these are considered so brutal and effective that the entire DC Routine is built around doing only one such set as the entire workout. Yikes… You do them by picking a weight you can get 8-15 reps on the first “set” … Then take 10-15 deep breaths and go to failure again, followed by another 10-15 breaths, and go to failure again.
  • Cluster Sets – Take a weight you can do for approx 5 reps, and do a single rep. Rest 10 seconds and do another rep… Keep going until you know you cant get another rep. This generally allows you to get 8-10 reps with a weight you can normally only get 5 reps with.
  • 5-4-3-2-1: This time start with an 8-10 RM, do 5 reps and rest 10 seconds, do 4 reps, rest 10 seconds, 3 reps, rest 10 seconds, 2 reps, rest 10 seconds, and finally 1 last rep. You have now done 15 reps with a weight you could normally only get for 8 reps… These are brutal. Credit to CT over at T-Nation for this one and the next.
  • Hard 5’s – Again pick a roughly 8RM, Do 5 reps and rest 10-15 seconds, do 5 more reps and rest again for 10 seconds, and a final set of 5.

These techniques don’t quite have the intensity and WOW factor of drop-set-style sets… But the weight is much higher, which brings the intensity way up as well.

Again, these techniques are extremely stressful to the body and should be used as a plateau buster of sorts, or as a once-a-month challenge kind of thing.

Get to Gaining

So there you have it, tons of methods for stimulating new gains. I hope I have shown you that more weight isnt the only way to make gains, and it certainly isn’t the only thing to focus on when lifting. Even these 3 articles are only skimming the surface of ways to challenge your body in new and novel ways. For an even greater list check out Mikes “Book of Fatalities” to really get some direct guidance on how, when, and what to do in your own workouts.

Open The Book, Shut The Mind Off... And Grind it Out
Open The Book, Shut The Mind Off… And Grind it Out