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Fitness Success Secrets: Secret Techniques From Elite Athletes

Everybody, including celebrity athletes, has secrets. No, I’m not referring to scandalous dirt or shocking rumors about people in the fitness industry! (Let’s leave that to reality TV, shall we?) I’m talking about a hidden cache of secrets which athletes keep hush-hush about how they look the way they do, where their strength comes from, or the secret sauce to their training.

Ever wonder about the close-kept training or eating methods of your favorite athletes and fitness models? Top athletes may hold these tips—which take years of crafting and honing—near and dear to their hearts, but Cellucor’s ripped warriors peel back the curtain a little to let you peek into their methods for top physical and mental performance. (Just promise that you won’t share a single word or a piano may mysteriously fall out of the sky.)

Heed the words of elite athletes Karina Baymiller, Colton Leonard, Jen Jewell, and Craig Capurso. Their secrets can make you stronger.

Karina Baymiller
Her Secret

I secretly enjoy conditioning! If you know anything about me, you know that I love lifting heavy more than anything, but what you don’t know is that I love conditioning work just as much.

I talk a lot of crap about cardio, and it’s true, you wouldn’t catch me dead on an elliptical or doing low-intensity, steady-state. But when it comes to cardio work that gets my heart pumping like crazy, I’m obsessed. Maybe it’s the adrenaline junkie in me, but I can’t get enough of sprints, barbell complexes, jump rope, plyometrics, kettlebell work, and even some short distance (2-3 mile) running.

I do conditioning work 2-3 times per week and give it major credit for helping me stay in shape all year long … Just don’t tell anyone! Winky face.

I secretly enjoy conditioning! I talk a lot of crap about cardio, but when it comes to cardio work that gets my heart pumping like crazy, I’m obsessed.

Colton Leonard
His Secret

My secret? Use heavy weight and high reps to challenge your mental and physical strength, and take your training to the next level. One thing I have always incorporated as part of my strength program is repetition workouts. In strongman, not only do you need to possess the power to perform a lift at maximum intensity, but you often find that you need to do so repeatedly.

7 Strongman Lifts For The Non-strongman

You don’t need to be a strongman competitor to use the lifts! These strongman moves and their variations can help you achieve your goals!

For instance, we don’t just load an Atlas stone; we have to load them either for maximum reps under time, or, at minimum, a five-stone series. You often find deadlift events in strongman, which also require you to perform a maximum number of reps under time. These events led me to start incorporating this type of lifting into my training.

Several times each month, I pick a lift or movement commonly found in competition. After warming up, I complete one all-out set with as many reps as possible. This type of training not only contributes to overall strength, size, and conditioning, but will test your mental fortitude as you approach failure and your body starts to scream for you to stop.

Here’s the real trick: 2-3 times each month, pick a major movement, set the weight at approximately 70-75 percent of your max and, after properly warming up, perform one set of as many repetitions as you safely can in 60-90 seconds. Choose from these exercises to test your guts: deadlift, squat, clean and press, or T-bar row.

Write down your max reps and test yourself again down the road to track your progress. If this set does not leave you crawling away in pain and agony, you weren’t trying hard enough!

Jen Jewell
Her Secret

Of all the fitness tips, diet tricks, and booty-sculpting workouts out there, my ultimate fitness secret is simple: Stop comparing yourself to others! Instead, constantly work on becoming your fittest and healthiest self. I always say that I’m a work in progress, en route to becoming my best self. Having adopted that mindset has been incredibly beneficial to my health, outlook, and self-confidence over the past couple of years.

Sure, at first glance, it’s easier said than done. With the onslaught of bikini-clad or underwear “selfies” that have seemingly taken over fitness social media, the physiques of others are right in your face when you log on to Facebook, Instagram, and so on. (It’s a bikini booty free-for-all on my Facebook newsfeed!) While some of these posts from fit individuals can be inspiring and motivating, these types of updates are not always that simple.

Seeing others’ progress, cellulite-free legs and buns, and solid six-pack abs can begin to take a toll on your own self-esteem. Inevitably, they compel you to constantly compare yourself to others and how your progress or fitness stacks up against theirs.

The moment I stopped comparing myself to others and focused on my own journey was pretty darn liberating. Charting your own progress from day one—whatever level of fitness your day one may be—and using that as your measuring stick can be extremely motivating. We are all in the gym working hard to set new personal records. Why not maintain that mindset when it comes to progress in your physique, as well?

Admire the physiques and hard work of your favorite “fitspos,” but always keep in mind that the reflection in the mirror is your real competition. Be in competition with yourself, striving to become better each and every day. That is the true secret!

Craig Capurso
His Secret

When I’m trying to manipulate water for shoots, I take full advantage of infrared saunas. An infrared sauna is an effective tool for detoxifying the body and an aid for shedding excess subcutaneous water, yet few people utilize it. While traditional saunas help with water loss, the added benefit of infrared light penetrates the body tissue to help excrete toxins and bring out your musculature.

This has been a trick that I’ve used to come dialed into photo shoots and contests for years. It really makes a difference!

Infrared light penetrates the body tissue to help excrete toxins and bring out
your musculature.

The Secret Is Out

Embrace the valuable information that contributes to these athletes’ success and see how it could fit into your own life and goals. Have you got a secret method few people know about? Tell us in the comments below … unless you’d rather keep it secret.


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Leg Training: 8 Unique Quad Exercises

For a lot of us, leg training is pretty simple. A heavy dose of squats, leg presses, lunges, or any other torturous exercise is usually all it takes to demolish your lower body. But what happens when you fall into a rut and your quads already know what’s coming?

Even worse, what happens when you get bored of your normal leg routine? More than likely, you’ll end up just going through the motions and quitting on a body part that demands your utmost attention and intensity.

When you hit a lower-body wall, reach into your little bag of tricks and pull out one or more of these eight unique quad exercises! When it comes to fitness, I’m always trying to keep things different and think outside the box. My creativity usually leads to great gains. And that’s what you’ll get with these distinctive quad moves—some craziness that will take your legs to a higher level!

1 German Volume Leg Extensions With A Twist

For this exercise, I put together two things most people are familiar with: leg extensions and German Volume Training, which is basically 10 sets of 10 reps for a total of 100 reps. But, I also threw in a brutal twist. You only get 10 seconds of rest between sets.

Leg extensions are a basic quad exercise, but doing them for 100 reps with hardly any rest will leave your lungs burning and your quads wondering what hit them. While you’re going through the reps, you’re going to hurt. Power through and keep the rest to an honest 10 seconds—not a slow 10-count that takes 30 seconds—and you’ll be impressed.

2 Close-Stance High-Bar Olympic-Style Squat

I like to call these dive-bomb squats because it’s all about going really deep —ass-to-grass deep. Keep the bar high on your back—on top of your traps—and your stance close. The position of the bar and your stance will ensure that the bulk of the focus is on your quads.

If you’re normally a low-bar squatter, changing the bar placement and stance will definitely be a challenge. These are great to add in at the end of a workout. Use them as a finisher and don’t be afraid to do a lot of reps.

3 Track Lunges

The concept of bodyweight lunges may sound simple, but I crank up the intensity to max levels. You’ll be doing bodyweight lunges for a distance of up to one mile, and no less than 400 meters, or one lap around the track.

If you’re feeling really frisky, put on a weighted vest and go for a mile. It may take you up to an hour to complete, but you’ll find out how mentally tough you are in a hurry. The key is to keep moving. Don’t stop for many breaks. Push through the pain and push through the burn and the carryover to quad development and your squat strength will be massive.

I basically replaced my cardio work with these track lunges and the difference was huge. I build muscle while I do cardio—that’s an ideal scenario. One final warning, though: be prepared for mad soreness.

4 Frank Zane Single-Leg Leg Extension

Frank Zane gave me this idea after I asked him about his freaky quad separation. He credited single-leg leg extensions for his great quads, but he added a few little secrets.

He told me that he only did the top quarter or even half of the movement, focusing on squeezing the quads at the peak of every rep. He also explained that he did extensions without rest. He simply switched legs and went back and forth for a killer 6-8 sets of 20 reps per leg!

This is an awesome finisher to any leg workout and you’ll notice how effective they are, especially when you squeeze at the top of every rep.

5 Sissy Squat

This exercise might have the worst name in workout history, but let’s focus on how effective it is. It’s a lost exercise for most guys—likely due to the name—but it can blow your quads up.

To perform sissy squats correctly, keep your hips up and make sure you push up through your quads. You’ll get an unbelievable pump! I recommend 20 reps for this movement, but if you want to get crazy, superset them with another exercise in this article. It will be mind-blowing, that’s for sure.

6 28-Method Squat

The 28 Method takes quad punishment to an entirely new level. You’ll do it like this: perform 7 normal reps, 7 slow reps, 7 quarter-reps in the hole, and 7 quarter-reps at the top.

The worst part of this method is the seven slow reps. You have to stay slow on the descent and there’s no rebound out of the hole. Stay slow out of the hole to torch your quads. The tension you’ll feel on your muscles during those seven reps is incredible.

Believe me, you will need to go much lighter than you might expect, but the payoff is immense. These are a definite go-to for me when I want to get a little crazy with my quad routine.

7 28-Method Leg Extensions

We stay with the 28 Method here, but trust me: Just because you’re doing leg extensions doesn’t make it any easier. Your quads will be screaming the entire time and the slow reps are absolutely brutal.

By going slow, you take all of the momentum out of the lift and your quads work overtime on each rep. This is another perfect finisher for any leg workout.

8 Russian Split Squat with quarter-rep method

The finale in this crazy quad lineup includes another of my favorite techniques: the quarter-rep method. When you apply it to the split squat, it’s almost like you’re doing a pump fake out of the hole. Your quads fall for it every time.

Every time your knee touches the floor on the way down, come back up only a quarter of the way, and then drop back down before finishing the full rep. Your quads will be wondering what the heck is going on, especially after the sixth rep. Doing 8-12 reps per leg can reap some serious benefits.


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Bigger, Faster, Stronger, Happier: Learn More From Steve Cook

If you’re into fitness then the name Steve Cook should resonate with you already. Pick up any respectable fitness magazine in the world today and it’s unlikely you find a copy without a picture of his smiling face and ripped torso stirring back up at you.

In 2013, he solidified his place as arguably the planet’s most sought-after fitness model. Steve Cook has the physique most fitness enthusiasts aspire toward, with a soaring international fan base, a list of blue-chip corporate sponsors, and more photo shoot requests than half of Hollywood.

But what makes Cook tick? What are the training philosophies of the professional fitness model and men’s physique bodybuilder? TRAIN traveled to his home town of Boise, Idaho, for a week of training with the fitness icon. We discovered an athlete who is only getting started with his athletic aspirations.

THE BASICS

Born in the middle of a family of seven children, Steve excelled at sports growing up. Cook was already in great shape after a childhood that was built around a training rewards system, like being able to watch TV after he’d finished his daily push-ups! He played football in college and eventually graduated with a degree in Integrated Studies (biology/psychology).

Steve maintains that those early training memories, instilled into him from his father, are the key to staying in shape today. Cook insists that getting the basics right, no matter what your fitness level, offers the key to a healthier, fitter lifestyle, especially if your gym visits aren’t as frequent as you may wish.

“As long as you stick to the basics then you won’t go far wrong,” Steve says. “Things like bench press, squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, movements that work a lot of muscle groups. If people reading this can’t get to the gym as much as they’d like, then at least make sure you do the compound exercises.

Pull-Up

“The basic stuff, like deadlifts, that works the back, core, legs and shoulders are essential. By sticking to those types of movements you’ll see the biggest results.”

Focus on your own goals and achievements matters most, states the IFBB pro men’s physique competitor. Allowing someone else’s achievements or performance to cloud your own aspirations is a surefire way to stunt your growth.

“Don’t compare yourself to other people,” Steve says. “Whether it’s in competition or just in the gym, there is always going to be someone out there with better calves or a better chest, but the minute you start comparing yourself physically to other people is the minute you’re not going to be happy with your training.

“If you concentrate on your progress and getting better from month to month then you will be satisfied. The minute you start comparing everyone else’s best features to your worst features you’re in trouble. I’ve been there myself in the competition world when I’ve felt like crap because I may not have felt like I was lean enough or big enough.

“The best advice I can offer is to focus on yourself, focus on your goals and achievements, and don’t allow anybody else’s progress and scupper your fitness plans.”

BODYBUILDING VS CROSSFIT

Cook doesn’t see his own fitness potential as a job, however, but more of a lifestyle. He doesn’t stereotype himself as a professional bodybuilder, rather as more of a full-time athlete, a guy who through commitment and training has provided himself with an opportunity to live his life the way he wants.

Sure, it’s through conventional bodybuilding that he has found himself in the public eye. But Cook’s training regimen is so much more than pumping iron. He lives for new challenges, is determined to try anything at least once, and embraces all forms of exercise, including CrossFit.

The strength and conditioning training phenom has stormed the planet in recent years, but along the way he noticed a divide between traditional bodybuilding practitioners and a generation of CrossFit devotees. However, Cook insists there’s plenty of space on the planet for both to not only coexist but even embrace one another’s core values.

“There is a big issue between bodybuilders and CrossFitters, and I think there’s negativity on both sides,” Cook says. “CrossFit people say that bodybuilders don’t have functional muscle, while bodybuilders say that CrossFit is just a surefire way to get injured. But I don’t see why there has to be such disconnect.

“Obviously, there are bodybuilders out there who fit the stereotype of not being athletes, just concentrating on isolation movements that don’t really do anything in regard to functionality. At the same time, there are also CrossFitters who really don’t know the technique of the lifts they are doing. But stereotyping is dangerous.

“For me, I train pretty instinctively now and I always like to try new things. So I will always incorporate movements like the clean, always try things like the muscle-up, on top of my bodybuilding exercises, like biceps curls or your bench press, things like that. I like doing both.

“Whether you are a CrossFitter or a bodybuilder it should always just be about improving your life.”

“I like to lift to be a better athlete and to live healthier, but yet I also like to lift to look better too . It should all just be about health. Whether you are a CrossFitter or a bodybuilder it should always just be about improving your life. And so if I can do both and have fun doing it, as well as make progress in looks and performance, then I’m a happy guy.”

So, does this mean we may even see him compete in CrossFit arena one day in the future? “I wouldn’t mind giving it a go,” Cook says. “I’m the type of guy who likes a new challenge. I’ve got my pro card and I’ve competed on the Olympia stage and while I’m not saying I am done doing that, I am also starting to look for something else to push my body.

“When you are a bodybuilder, and you’ve competed on the stage, it’s easy to become depressed after a competition because you look back and you know that you’re not going to look as good as you did on the stage. So now you’re back in the gym and what are you striving for, to get bigger and leaner for next time?

“What I want to do is concentrate on other goals, so I’m not obsessed just with how my body looks. I really want to look at what my body can do, and that means improving all of my best lifts through the winter. It means improving my cardiovascular system too, and getting my mile time down or going swimming more.

“And by having more performance driven goals it keeps me from getting bored with my training, and that’s really something everyone can take from my own experiences. Nothing beats training with a smile on your face.”

SWOLDIER OF FORTUNE

Training happy is the key to keeping Cook interested. While he’ll happily play around with different exercises and programs in the gym, outside of it he’s even more adventurous.

“I like trying new things for sure, and there’s no better opportunity to try new ways to work out than when you’re on the road,” Steve says. “Of course when I compete I want to be the best and I enjoy being good at something, but I also want to try everything and anything I can. There is no better feeling than taking something you’re not too good at and making it your strength.

“I’ll do yoga, I go trail running, I enjoy getting out into nature especially. I enjoy getting out of the gym, opening my mind to new experiences and really living life. It’s actually as much a spiritual thing as anything else. What better way to work out than swimming in the ocean or surfing. I grew up in the mountains in Idaho so using my surroundings to stay in shape is too good an opportunity to miss.

“Recently, I was over in Hawaii so I went surfing, ocean kayaking, I was running on the beach, standup paddle boarding. And this is on top of going the gym for 45 minutes every day too. And it’s all because I wanted to experience things I could only experience in Hawaii.

“There’s no better way to start your day than doing something active. And then you don’t have to worry about all the little details of what you are eating, because you’re being so active and burning off everything anyway. There’s no such thing as the wrong cardio, in my opinion. As long as you’re enjoying it, then that’s it.”

And right now Steve is training with a smile on his face. He’s living out of a suitcase, and has spent only around a week or two out of the last few months actually at home in Boise, due to demands for his time. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I was actually talking with my sister on the phone just the other day and complaining to here that I was travelling so much,” Steve says. ” But she’s a nurse back in Idaho where its five degrees and here’s me complaining while sitting in my shorts on a beach in Hawaii, so she helped me put things into perspective that’s for sure. Hotel rooms and airports are a drag, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Front Squat

As for his conditioning? “Right now I’d like to incorporate a lot more strength movements into my training, and do CrossFit at least once or twice a week too,” Steve says. “Trying out more of the Olympic lifts and concentrating on getting stronger are really the main focus in the off-season.

“But I’ve been doing so many photo shoots that I’ve actually had to stay pretty lean this winter so my training has been a much quicker pace. I’ve been doing a lot of supersets, lots of dropsets, with not a lot of rest periods in between.”

STEVE COOK WEEKLY WORKOUT

Select 3 of the following exercises and do them in a circuit

Superset

21s Technique: 7 reps of top half of ROM, 7 reps of bottom half ROM, and 7 reps full ROM

Abs: 4 rounds to failure

Select 3 of the following exercises and do them in a circuit


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The Road To Two Plates: You Can Squat And Deadlift 225 Pounds!

The barbell is calling your name. You’ve been going to the gym for a quite a while now, and you’re comfortable doing the usual lower body machine exercises. Now you feel like you’re ready for a new challenge, and you’re sure it should involve barbells. But how, and to what end?

You could go a couple of different ways here. You could tinker around on those thin-handled barbells over by the dumbbell racks, doing your best to perform squats, lunges, and Romanian deadlifts in a crowd of people doing curls and presses.

Or you could step into the squat rack or onto the platform, make the commitment to learn how to handle an Olympic bar and plates, and work toward the goal of a nice, round number.

Don’t sell yourself short. Get serious, learn proper form, and make yourself proud in the weight room this year!

Who is Barbell Training For?

Lower-body free-weight training is an entirely different beast compared to lower body machine-based exercise. The leg press, knee extension, and leg curl machines have their place, but if you want to develop lower body strength and power, you’re going to have to squat and deadlift.

These closed-chain kinetic exercises—meaning your feet are in contact with the floor—challenge your legs, core, and hip stabilizer muscles in a totally unique fashion. If physique transformation is your goal, they provide a more powerful full-body stimulus than any machine, in half the time. These exercises also have better transference to athletic qualities such as sprinting and jumping.

Barbell Deadlift

You’ll hear people brag about big numbers, but ignore them for now. No matter what comes afterward, 225 in the squat or deadlift is a respectable milestone for any non-powerlifter, amateur athlete, or weekend warrior.

A 200-plus deadlift is also a tough but realistic goal for most fit women. I’ve known many who’ve already achieved it, and many more who can. The back squat is a more difficult lift for many women to go heavy, but squatting heavier than bodyweight is still a worthy goal to start, and this program can get you there.

Endurance athletes like distance runners, cyclists, and rowers can also benefit from adding heavy squats and deadlifts to their injury-prevention routine. Lifting greater than bodyweight improves neuromuscular efficiency to the fast-twitch type-II muscle fibers; and it has been shown in studies to lead to better performance in endurance sports. Despite the “thin and weak” stereotype, endurance athletes can benefit immensely from more strength—and don’t worry, 225 isn’t a number that you’ll need to get “bulky” to achieve.

So what’s the best approach to reach two plates on each side of the barbell? Well, first and foremost, you need to be able to execute each lift with optimal biomechanics. Once you get the form down, just take that light weight you move around, and make it heavier.

The Essentials of the Squat

A number—be it, 225, 425, or 75—means nothing if it’s done with bad form: knees caved, torso doubled over, and a back that looks like it’s about to break. I’m only interested in helping you own the number, and that means squatting with your hip crease dipping below your knee crease at the bottom of the squat, which is referred to as an “ass-to-grass” squat.

If you can’t squat that deep, well, you’re in the company of many, many gym-goers. But you’re not off the hook! Just place a 10-pound plate under each heel. This will create a slight anterior weight shift and make up for tight ankles. Still, drive your knees out and keep most of your weight from your mid-foot to your heel.

There should be a slight lean in your torso, and your lower and upper back should have good alignment without excessively rounding or arching.

Last, your knees should be held outward, with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart and your heels flat on the floor. Ideally, you would have a barbell on your back in the “high bar” position, resting mainly on your trapezius muscles and the upper ridge of your shoulder blades.

Back Squat

A great tip from the world of powerlifting is to push your knees out as if you were spreading the floor with your feet. This results in greater stability as your hip muscles tighten up to hold your knees outward.

Pull the bar into your traps as if you are trying to break it across your back. This cue will activate your lats, create more torso stability, and prevent you from falling forward.

The Essentials of the Deadlift

The hip hinge is the major movement pattern involved in a conventional deadlift. Essentially, the hips act like a hinge and flex, while your torso leans forward and your shins stay relatively vertical—that’s the difference between a hinge and a squat. No ass-to-grass here; the hip motion is primarily back-and-forth rather than up-and-down.

As with the squat, however, the spine stays aligned and doesn’t round or extend during a deadlift. But you should feel more tension in your hamstrings than a squat, particularly at the bottom of the movement, where the bar is on the ground.

Also, make sure you perform this movement with soft or slightly bent knees. We’re not doing stiff-legged deadlifts here.

To perform a conventional deadlift, step up to the bar with a hip-width stance. Bend your knees and hips, and grab the bar with a double overhand grip to the outside of your shins.

Push your hips back and puff out your chest. Your spine should be straight with your shoulders just in front of the barbell and slightly higher than your hips.

The squat (left) is a quad-dominant exercise. The hip-hinge (right) is the major movement patter of a deadlift, in which the hips act like a hinge and flex, while your torso leans forward and your shins remain vertical.

Brace your abs and engage your lats. As with the squat, you should feel most of your balance and body weight from mid-foot to heel. With your chin slightly tucked in, stand up with the bar, keeping it close to your body.

Finish with a deliberate hip extension and glute squeeze. Don’t lean back excessively; this places unwanted stress to your lumbar spine. Now slide the bar down your thighs as you push your hips backward. Once the bar passes your knees, sit the bar back to the floor. Reset your position and prepare for the next rep.

The Road to 225

The best way to get stronger and better at a lift is to perform it more frequently throughout the week. This plan will focus on getting your high-bar back squat and conventional deadlift to 225 in a straightforward, systematic way, using three full-body workouts per week. Here, I’ll just illustrate the squat and deadlift routine; feel free to add any upper-body lifts as you see appropriate, as long as they don’t detract from the work you do here.

For the first workout, use a weight you can confidently lift for 5 sets of 5 reps, but which still feels somewhat heavy. If you’re successful at completing all reps in each set, add weight in 5-pound increments and attempt to perform all 5 sets of 5 reps the following week.

Keep moving up in this manner until you hit what feels like a limit. Don’t attempt a rep if you suspect you might not make it; just end the set. If you fail and your reps go like this: 5, 5, 4, 3, 3, use the same weight the next week, and attempt all 5 sets of 5 reps again.

Details, Details

Mixed grip or overhand? Sumo or conventional? Straps, belts, or nothing at all? Focus on learning the squat and deadlift movements first. You may find later that a mixed grip or a sumo stance is more comfortable at heavier weights.

For Wednesday’s workout, use a submaximal weight (roughly 60 percent of the weight used on Monday) and perform speed deadlifts. The execution of the deadlift is the same; however, the bar is to be lifted as fast as possible with correct form. For the jump squat, execute the squat as written above, but explode from the bottom position and jump off the ground. Land lightly and prepare for the next rep.

Last, for Friday’s workout, start with a light weight and perform 5 reps. Add a little bit of weight, and after your rest, perform another 5 reps. Keep adding weight over the next 5-6 sets to reach the maximum weight you can perform 5 reps with, which is called your 5-rep max (5RM). In week two, work up to a max set of 3 reps. In week three, work up to a max set of 1 rep.

This program can be performed month after month until you reach 225 or a different goal number in each lift. You’ll notice a deload week in the fourth week to allow your body to recover before the next phase.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

  • Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift
    3 sets of 5 reps (70% of week prior’s weight), 2 min. rest
  • Barbell Squat Barbell Squat Barbell Squat
    3 sets of 5 reps (70% of week prior’s weight), 2 min. rest
  • Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift
    3 sets of 3 reps (70% of week prior’s weight), 2 min. rest
  • Barbell Squat Barbell Squat Barbell Squat
    3 sets of 3 reps (70% of week prior’s weight), 2 min. rest

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Using Multiple Rep Schemes: Your Program For Power, Size, And Strength

If you listen to conventional bodybuilding and strength training wisdom, you probably believe that lifting for size and lifting for strength are totally separate endeavors. For decades, gurus and gym rats alike have been parroting the same old “3-5 reps for strength, 10-12 reps for size” mantra, and few people seem to question it.

Know what? I think it’s bullshit.

Have you ever seen a guy with huge legs, a broad back, and a massive chest who couldn’t put up some serious weight? On the other hand, how often do you see skinny guys lifting more than the experienced bodybuilders? Sure, you’ll see a 180-pound monster every now and again who can bench 405 or squat more than 600, but for the most part, size and strength go hand in hand.

The truth is that training for size and training for strength are basically the same. Instead of thinking about any single rep range as a “strength builder” or “size builder,” use them all to your advantage to train every fiber in your body and elicit maximal growth!

The Multiple Rep Range Program

Beyond Periodization

Periodization is the practice of transitioning from higher reps and lower weights to lower reps and higher weights (and vice versa)—over the course of a planned training cycle. It’s an effective, proven technique that’s long been used by powerlifters, weightlifters, and other strength athletes. But I think there’s a better way, at least for the more physique-oriented trainee.

Since each rep range is going to affect your strength, size, and overall look a bit differently—and because one isn’t more valuable than another—I favor a routine that includes them all in every workout. Instead of transitioning from one rep range to the next, I like to constantly improve my numbers in a variety of rep schemes, only taking steps back when my body needs a break.

“Periodization is the practice of transitioning from higher reps and lower weights to lower reps and higher weights (and vice versa)—over the course of a planned training cycle.”

Keep in mind, this may not be the optimal plan if you’re specialized or purely focused on powerlifting, but I find it yields the best results for maximum muscle size, strength, density, and tone. If you want that hard, constantly flexed look that experienced bodybuilders all seem to have, then you need to use multiple rep ranges.

Your Main Lifts

Of course, we can’t talk about rep ranges and progression schemes without actually discussing the lifts you’ll be performing. Think you’ll get away with doing nothing but leg presses for legs, machines for chest, and wimpy pull-downs for back? Think again!

I know some bodybuilders claim they get better fiber recruitment and mind-muscle connection with machines. That’s great for super-advanced guys, but if you aim to gain slabs of muscle, you need to do the big, basic lifts which tax your body and mind the most and place the greatest demand on your body to grow! These basic lifts are the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press.

“These basic lifts are the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press.”

Don’t worry, you’ll do more than just those four movements in this program, but they make up the four cornerstones of your training. You can certainly pick variations as long, as they allow you to use lots of weight and make relatively quick progress! You can’t chicken-out and substitute light dumbbell lunges for squats, for instance, but you can pick between high-bar and low-bar squats, vary your foot placement, depth, and other factors.

The same goes for the other moves: You might do incline or decline press instead of the regular bench press, sumo deadlifts rather than conventional, and do seated instead of standing military presses. Just make sure you stick with one choice per movement pattern for at least a couple of months at a time, otherwise you won’t be able to gauge your progress and gains.

“Here’s a good rule: No matter which rep range you use, always aim to leave one more rep in the tank.”

Choosing Your Reps

The rep ranges you utilize will vary based on experience level. Most lifters do best with three ranges: 3-5 reps, 6-8 reps, and 9-12 reps. If you’re a rank beginner who still doesn’t have great technique and a feel for each lift, you need to increase those rep numbers a bit—to 6-8, 9-12, and 13-15 reps.

I don’t like prescribing one-rep max percentages to determine how much you should lift for each rep range because some people can do a lot more reps with a given percentage than others. So here’s a good rule: No matter which rep range you use, always aim to leave one more rep in the tank. This means you should never miss a rep in training unless you’re testing your max.

In general, you should finish each set feeling like you probably could have just barely put up one more. Trust me, you’ll do enough overall work that you won’t need to blow a gasket on each and every set. You want to stay somewhat fresh and ensure progression from one workout to the next.

“Bodybuilding” Work

While those four basic lifts are by far the most important aspects of your program, you still don’t want to leave out your accessory work. Weightlifters might call this “bodybuilding work,” but in my opinion, just about any athlete who needs to get bigger and stronger should do these movements. Accessory movements are things like pull-ups, abdominal work, calf raises, biceps curls, and the like. The point of these movements is to “fill in the gaps” left by the four main movements.

Skullcrushers

There are hundreds, if not thousands of different accessory movements you can choose. So your accessory work is basically up to you. I will say, however, there are a few rules to follow:

  • Your upper-back work should include barbell rows, dumbbell rows, pull-ups (not pull-downs), and maybe some shrugs if the deadlifts aren’t doing enough to build your traps.
  • For your arms, use variations on the curl, triceps extension, and rear-delt raise—don’t do the same movements over and over.
  • For lower body, you’ll need heavy calves and abs exercises as well as a couple of additional moves for quads and hamstrings. As much I love the squat, you’ll probably run out of steam too soon if you try to do nothing but squats for your legs, so don’t be afraid to use the leg press or hack squat machines once your core (and mind) are too fried to do another set of squats.

The Program—Finally!

Alright, here’s the basic template. The most important things here are the basic movement patterns, the rep ranges, and the progression of weight and reps from week to week. Remember, you can sub in other exercises or exercise variations as long as they meet the same goals. Rest for a couple of minutes or as long as necessary between sets, because these sets will make you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck!

Main lift
Main lift

Main lift
Main lift
  • Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift Deadlift (standing on 45-lb plates)
    2 sets of 3-5, 2 sets of 6-8, 2 sets of 9-12 reps
  • Upper Back
  • Bent Over Barbell Row Bent Over Barbell Row Close-Grip Barbell Row
    4 sets of 10-20 (all the same weight)
  • Secondary
  • Hack Squat Hack Squat Hack Squat
    4 sets of 10-20 (all the same weight)
  • Sit-Up Sit-Up Sit-Up (weighted)
    4 sets of 15-20

The Progression Scheme

Since there’s no traditional periodization here, your progression from one workout to the next is going to be simple. For your main lifts, add 5 pounds to the bar for each rep range every workout. Once you’re not able to get at least the bottom-end number of reps for any particular rep range, take 15 pounds off the bar (yes, I said 15) and start anew. You will be able to get more reps immediately and, in a few weeks, blow past your old sticking point.

For your secondary lifts—and any others for which you’ll do four sets of 10-20 reps—keep using the same weight until you’re able to get at least 15 reps for all four sets in the same workout. At that point, you can increase the weight, but not by so much that you can’t stay within the 10-20 range for all four sets.

“For your secondary lifts—and any others for which you’ll do four sets of 10-20 reps—keep using the same weight until you’re able to get at least 15 reps for all four sets in the same workout.”

Finally, for all of the upper-back work, use as much weight as you can without sacrificing form or missing reps. Ideally, you’d use the same weight for all four sets, but don’t worry if you have to lighten the load for the third or fourth set to stay within the rep range. Once you hit near the top of the range for all four sets, it’s time to go heavier!

Let’s Go To Work!

Seems almost too simple, doesn’t it? But that’s how your training should be, at least most of the time! Far too many new lifters spend hours upon hours over-thinking their programs. Smart training is essential, but your progression should rely on consistent hard work, not some overwrought, pseudo-scientific program. The greatest lifters—whether they’ve competed in powerlifting or bodybuilding—have busted their asses with simple programs to reach their level of success.


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Fitness 360: Samantha Ann Leete, Training Program

Samantha trains to overcome her weaknesses. She doesn’t cherry-pick workouts for her strengths or make excuses for lagging muscle groups. Her most productive days in the gym are when she’s learning a new lift, working on muscle groups that need extra attention, and moving heavy weight. Her desire to build a better body and become a better athlete fuels her through every workout.

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Mixing It Up

Samantha likes to use multiple training strategies so she never gets bored. “I love incorporating supersets, giant sets, circuits, HIIT cardio, low-intensity cardio, dropsets, and negatives,” she says. “I also like to switch up my rep ranges, tempo, and exercises.” These constant changes help keep Samantha excited about her workouts and motivated for her future goals.

Although she uses different modalities to train various muscle groups, Samantha likes to keep her split fairly consistent. “I usually lift three or four days per week and do sprints or plyometrics once per week. For my upper body, I usually stick to a 10-12 rep range. For my lower body, I do 10-20 reps per exercise.”

Romanian Deadlift

Like most of us, Samantha has a tough relationship with cardio. “Sometimes it can be fun and I look forward to it, especially when I’ve had a stressful day and could use a cathartic sweat session.” She’ll squeeze in a cardio session during lunch at work, but if she’s in the gym, she prefers the arc trainer, the stepmill, or plyos.

Unlike some elite competitors, Samantha believes in rest days. “I just try to listen to my body,” she says. Sometimes a rest day means hitting a hard cardio session, sometimes it means going for a long, fun hike, and sometimes, rest just means rest. “Rest days can literally mean just chilling out and watching a movie,” she explains.

Samantha’s Training Split

Cardio

These are examples of cardio workouts that I might do during the week

Cardio workout #1
45 minute Arc Trainer

Cardio workout #2
Treadmill lunge intervals
3-minute incline lunge
3-minute incline run
3-minute incline walk
Repeat for 30 minutes

Cardio workout #3
Treadmill HIIT sprints
30 second incline sprint
30 second incline walk
Repeat for 20 minutes

Cardio workout #4
HIIT circuit
2-minute row
1-minute rope jump
100 mountain climbers
Rest 30-60 seconds
Repeat for 20 minutes


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3 Benefits Of Weightlifting Complexes And 3 Sample Complexes!

The hottest topic on most people’s lips is fat loss, whether they’re getting back in shape for the New Year, getting ready for spring break, or getting into that old dress or their favorite pair of jeans. This is the perfect time to recalibrate, refocus, and recommit to your fat-loss program.

One of the best training methods in my arsenal is complex or matrix-style training. These methods work extremely well after the strength-boosting component of your program, when you’ve already made a concerted effort to build some muscle.

I first learned about complexes back in the late 1990s when I was just getting started in the iron game. Istvan Javorek is widely regarded as the pioneer of complexes, and while he used them to improve the Olympic lifts, I feel as though they’re great as a workout finisher as well.

But before we dive head first into a few sample complexes or matrices, let’s first discuss why you might choose to include them in your workouts.

Complex or matrix-style training work extremely well after you’ve already made a concerted effort to build some muscle.

BENEFITS OF COMPLEXES

Complexes and matrices have quite a few benefits, but here are just a few that spring to mind:

1 They’re Fat Loss Friendly

This is an obvious benefit for long duration, low intensity cardio targets such as improved cardiovascular function and parasympathetic tone etc.—but not maximal fat loss. Anaerobic intervals in the 1:1-1:3 work:rest ratio are some of the best ways to shed body fat. You don’t want to use them all year round, but if you want an all-out assault on body fat, they’re the real deal.

2 They’re Fast

If you’re looking to get lean, more training volume isn’t always better. In fact, this is the ideal time to use faster, more high intensity methods. Complexes are fast and brutally effective, which gets you in and out of the gym quicker.

3 They Efficiently Use Space and Equipment

One of the big issues when it comes to fat loss training is equipment and/or space. Not everyone has sleds, prowlers or a hill in the backyard to train with. Complexes and matrices are not only space efficient—they can often be done in a small area—but theyrequire minimal equipment as well. With only one barbell, a sandbag or even just your bodyweight you can knock out an intense workout.

THE BASICS

When performing complexes, I typically prescribe 24 total reps. My favorite options are either four exercises with six repetitions each, or six exercises with four repetitions each. You’ll perform each exercise for the allotted number of repetitions, and then move immediately into the next exercise. Go through the entire series of exercises, and then rest for the same period of time, or at the most, twice as long as it took you to go through the series.

As your conditioning improves, work to decrease the rest period so that you adhere to a 1:1 work:rest ratio.

SAMPLE COMPLEXES AND MATRICES

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at a couple of sample complexes you can take to the gym and start performing today!

The Basic Barbell Complex

This is a super-efficient complex that even the most seasoned iron veteran will enjoy. All the big lifts are tied into one awesome series!

Front Squat

Week 1: 3 complexes
Week 2: 4 complexes
Week 3: 5 complexes
Week 4: 6 complexes

Complex
  • Romanian Deadlift: 4 reps
  • Bent-Over Row: 4 reps
  • Front Squat: 4 reps
  • Push Press: 4 reps
  • Good Morning: 4 reps
  • Back Squat: 4 reps

Bodyweight Leg Matrix

If you struggle with body fat in the legs, this lower-body matrix will help you blowtorch it like no other!

Lunge

Week 1: 2 matrices
Week 2: 3 matrices
Week 3: 3 matrices
Week 4: 4 matrices

Matrix
  • Vertical Jump: 6 reps
  • Squat: 6 reps
  • Step-Up: 6 reps
  • Lunge: 6 reps

Sandbag Complex

Last but not least, if you want something a bit different, give this sandbag complex a shot. It’s not only fun, but the sandbag also creates some unique challenges due to its non-conforming nature.

Overhead Press

Week 1: 3 complexes
Week 2: 4 complexes
Week 3: 5 complexes
Week 4: 6 complexes

Complex
  • Sandbag Shouldering: 6 reps
  • Bent-Over Row: 6 reps
  • Romanian Deadlift: 6 reps
  • Overhead Press: 6 reps

SUMMARY

As you can see, fat loss training doesn’t have to be complex (pun intended). Instead, basic exercises performed in series at a breakneck pace can absolutely help you achieve your goals quickly.

For the next month, finish at least one, if not two, of your workouts with one of the complexes or matrices outlined above. I guarantee it’s going to fast track your fat loss progress, and get you on your way to the lean, sculpted physique you’ve been looking for!


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Power Pairings: Effective Supersets For Strength And Size

As nice as it would be to have unlimited training time, it’s simply not in the cards for most people. The gym is great, but a little thing called life often throws a wrench in your best-laid plans. Realistically, even the most dedicated people can only attend the gym 3-5 days per week for an hour per day, and that’s with a little luck.

The good news is that one hour per session is plenty of time, if you use your time wisely! You just have to be smart with your exercise selection and workout program. Enter “power pairings,” which are specific superset-style exercise pairs I created to help you get the most out of your precious training time.

As with any superset, you perform power pairings without resting between the paired exercises. Take a bench press and chin-up pair, for example. You perform one set of bench press followed immediately by a set of chin-ups. You won’t rest until after you complete both exercises.

Pairing Power

“Full-body workouts are my go-to method when life gets hectic.”

Power pairings can be useful within full-body routines or body-part splits, but for this article I’ll explain how to use them in full-body routines. Full-body workouts are my go-to method when life gets hectic. In a full-body routine, you’d use a power pairing after your primary lift. This allows you to give your first lift maximum attention and strength.

Start your workout with a big-bang strength movement and devote your full energy and attention to it. When you finish your main lift, implement a power pairing as your finisher. Power pairings use one piece of equipment and require little to no setup, which makes them easy to use even in crowded gyms.

Here are four power pairings that you can add to your own training program to cut down on your overall workout time and still get a great training effect!

1 Ring Dip And Chin-Up/Hip Thrust Combo

Pair ring dips with a chin-up/hip thrust combination exercise I created to blast the back, glutes, and hamstrings simultaneously. Rather than confusing you by trying to explain the exercise, here’s a video of what it looks like in action:

From a strength and muscle-building standpoint, this pairing works well because the exercises focus on different body parts, so they won’t negatively impact each other or impair your strength. From a logistical standpoint, it’s a great pair because the ring height is the same for each exercise, which means no necessary adjustments between sets.

To up the ante, try the pairing in a countdown format, as demonstrated in the video. Rather than doing straight sets of each exercise, start by doing decreasing sets of 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2 reps of each exercise with little to no rest between sets. Be warned: This is not for the faint of heart.

Use it: This pair works as a brutal finisher to cap off a great heavy, knee-dominant exercise like the front squat, back squat, split squat, or lunge.

2 “Bottoms Up” Front Squats And Inverted Rows

Instead of starting in the standing position, “bottoms up” squats call for you to start at the bottom of the rep and lift from the squat rack’s safety pins. Pause after each rep! This is a great front squat variation to hammer your quads and core, and help you build strength out of the hole.

After you finish the front squats, leave the bar on the pins and use it to perform a set of inverted rows. The bar will be at a perfect height to allow for full range of motion with no adjustments. It works great from a logistical standpoint.

In the video below, I use chains on the front squats, which is great if you have chains at your disposal, but they’re not essential.

Use it: This pairing is an ideal finisher after a heavy bench press or overhead press variation.

3 Rack RDL And Split-Stance Row Combo

I recommend doing RDLs and barbell rows from the safety pins of a squat rack. Reset after each rep to take stress off your lower back and encourage proper form. I also recommend doing barbell rows with a split stance to take stress off the lower back, because the split stance helps prevent against lower-back rounding.

Fortunately, the proper pin height is the same for each exercise, so it works well as a pairing. You’ll almost undoubtedly be able to use more weight on RDLs than barbell rows, so you’ll need to change the weight, which is a breeze because the bar is raised off the floor. This video below shows how the pair looks in action. I use an oversized trap bar, which is great if you have one, but you can just as easily use a standard barbell.

If you use a barbell, here is how the rows look.

Use it: This pair goes well after a heavy pressing day.

4 Overhead Press And Front Squats

Pairing overhead presses with front squats works well because you don’t need to waste time adjusting the bar in the rack. It’s set to the same height for each exercise, making this a killer combo.

I recommend doing the overhead press before the front squats, because after much experimentation, I found that the overhead press doesn’t negatively impact the subsequent front squats. Alternatively, if you do the front squats first, the overhead press suffers.

It’s also important to note that most people will be much stronger on front squats than overhead press. This gives you two options: add weight for each set of front squats, or simply do more reps. I usually choose the latter and do twice as many front squats as overhead presses, as I do in this video.

Use it: This pairing works perfectly as a finisher after doing a heavy chin-up or row variation. It’s also ideal as a standalone workout when you’re really pinched for time and still want to get a good training effect.

Putting It All Together

Here’s an example of how to utilize these power pairings within a full-body workout program to keep your workouts brief but effective. Shoot to train 2-4 days per week and rotate the workouts as necessary.

Workout 1:
A1. Front Squats: 5 sets of 6 reps
B1. Ring Dips: 5 sets of 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2 reps
B2. Chin-Up/Hip Thrust Combo: 5 sets of 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2 reps

Workout 2:
A1. Incline Bench Press: 5 sets of 6 reps
B1. “Bottoms Up” Front Squats: 4 sets of 10 reps
B2. Inverted Rows: 4 sets of 10 reps

Workout 3:
A1. Dumbbell Bench Press: 5 sets of 8 reps
B1. Rack RDL: 4 sets of 8 reps
B2. Split-Stance Rack Row: 4 sets of 8 reps

Workout 4:
A1. Chin-ups: 5 sets of 6 reps
B1. Overhead Press: 4 sets of 6 reps
B2. Front Squats: 4 sets of 12 reps


About The Author

Ben Bruno graduated Summa Cum Laude from Columbia University. He lives in West Hollywood, California, and trains clients at Rise Movement…

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