Stuck in a rut? If you exercise regularlybut can’t ﬁgure out how to smashplateaus, you’re in the right place.This plan, by IFBB ﬁtness pro Fiona Harris,will trim inches off your thighs, tone and sculptyour arms, perk up your glute-ham tie-in,and create deﬁnition like your Insta-idol@NicoleMWilkins. By manipulating variablessuch as intensity and frequency andincorporating different training techniques—like heavy/low-rep and light/high-frequencybody-part splits, plus cardio, HIIT, andplyometrics—you WILL keep your bodyprogressing right to the top.
Name: Karina Baymiller
Occupation(s): Team Bodybuilding.com; Cellucor athlete; ACSM Personal trainer
When I first picked up weights a few years ago, maximal lifting wasn’t even on my radar. I ran around in circles with my 10-pound dumbbells, completely unaware that I was missing out on an entire world of fitness.
In the world of 1RM strength, you set specific goals and work for weeks or months to inch closer to them. You push your body to its limits to achieve a triumph that only lasts a couple of seconds. But you also get rewarded with a rush unlike anything else. It’s a great world to be a part of, and it’s changed the entire way I view health and fitness.
I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on heavy lifting—yet. But I’ve still learned some important lessons along the way, and I’m confident you’ll find them just as helpful as I did. If you’re looking to find your numbers or move them up into uncharted territory, here are five rules you need to take to heart.
1 Train Systematically
Why Bother With Maximal Lifts?
- Heavy weight is instructive. You can cheat your way through a 10RM, but not a 1RM!
- Going for an occasional PR helps you to separate your training into phases.
- Stronger muscles are more efficient muscles. Having more strength in reserve will boost your endurance and athleticism in surprising ways.
- Big numbers take time to achieve, but they feel great when you achieve them.
- In life, and in the gym, there’s no substitute for brutal strength when you really need it.
- For fun!
If you’re currently training in the 10-20 rep range and have limited experience with anything less—think 3-8 difficult reps—then you aren’t ready for a 1RM test. Attempting a max test when you’re mentally and physically unprepared is a bad idea. You’re just setting yourself up for failure.
I highly suggest using a program that trains specifically for the kind of intensity you’ll find in a 1RM test. I used Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 system successfully for several months before getting a more personalized powerlifting training program from the Strength Guys. Trust me, proper programming makes all the difference both in terms of performance and safety. Squatting 3 reps at 85 percent 1RM is an entirely different ballgame than doing 15 reps on the leg press. Programs like 5/3/1, the Westside System, or Stronglifts 5×5 will prepare you for the intensity that lies ahead.
If you’re unsure of your max or haven’t yet had the chance to test it, I suggest using a 1RM calculator initially. Just enter your best lift, and it does the work for you. The heavier the weight and the lower the number of reps, the more accurate the calculator is. For example, 200 pounds for 5 reps is more accurate than 150 pounds for 9 reps. Nothing is as accurate as actually getting under the bar and testing your 1RM—preferably with some supervision from somebody who’s done it many times—but, these calculators can give you a sufficient idea of what your max should be. You’ll need that number in order for the percentage-based training of strength programs to be effective.
2 Learn How To Get in the Right Headspace
Testing your 1RM requires a serious amount of intensity and concentration. You won’t be frolicking in the land of unicorns, bunnies, and rainbows here. To be honest, testing your 1RM sucks. It usually hurts physically, and it always challenges your body’s idea of what is “possible.” Putting that kind of stress on your body is more than just a physical trial, though. It’s a mental one, too. Before you step up to a barbell to try for your max lift, you need to be a master of these three skills:
If you find your mind in 35 different places and none of them are at the gym with the bar, it’s not the day to test your max. There may be no such thing as the perfect day, but there are optimal conditions that give you a shot at hitting your best numbers. You want to be present and composed with mental clarity. Your focus should be on one thing and one thing only: moving that heavy weight.
Visualize yourself easily pulling your deadlift max. Then see yourself adding some more weight and pulling again with ease. Picture your bench max going up without a hitch. Visualizing not only gives your confidence a much needed boost before you tackle your lift, but it can also actually improve motor performance, making your 1RM attempt a major success.
Not everybody needs music in order to get into a PR headspace, but for many of us, it’s crucial. Listening to music during a training session has been proven to improve performance; it can also be a great boost of motivation when you’re aiming to venture into uncharted waters. Some people like screamo heavy metal to get their blood pumping, and others prefer electronic music, jazz, or film soundtracks to help calm their mind and set the scene for an epic triumph. Whatever works for you, do it!
3 Embrace The Routine
Everyone has their own way of getting ready for a max. Some people do a specific number of warm-up sets, and some people listen to a particular playlist or eat a particular meal. Find a routine that works for you and stick with it. For people who haven’t yet had the chance to take a 1RM, this is what I suggest the first time around:
An extensive warm-up process is essential to get an accurate 1RM and prevent injury. I start with some basic mobility work, taking my joints through a full range of motion, and then I move to my warm-up sets.
Get heavy slowly
Opinions vary about which rep scheme to use as you work up to a heavy weight. Your program or coach might have a specific way of doing this; if so, follow it. Here’s the routine that I like to follow when testing my max or going for a PR.
- Bar x 10
- 50% x 5
- 60% x 3
- 70% x 2
- 80% x 1
- 90% x 1
- 95% x 1
- 1RM attempt
High reps don’t have a place on max day. I want to know that I can push or pull heavy weight, which is why I perform several sets of a single rep as I get closer to my max. Each of these reps boosts my confidence and prepares me mentally and physically for the pinnacle lift.
No matter how you choose to arrange your warm-up sets, they should fully prepare your muscles, joints, and central nervous system for the lift ahead. I always leave at least 2-3 minutes of rest between my warm-sets, and then I give myself an extra minute or two as I get closer to my max attempt.
“High reps don’t have a place on max day. I want to know that I can push or pull heavy weight.”
4 Find a spotter
I like to train alone. If you see me in the gym, my headphones are usually in, my hat is down low, and I have a leave-me-alone-until-I’m-done look on my face. On max day, it’s a different story. It’s crucial that you have someone spotting your bench max, unless getting pinned under a barbell sounds like your idea of a good time.
Utilizing a spotter on squat max testing isn’t always necessary, particularly if you squat in a rack with safety bars. If I’m testing my squat, I generally use the safety bars for warm-up sets and then grab the most experienced lifter I can find to spot me for my max attempt. Pulling a random spotter off the gym floor isn’t something that I mind doing, but if this is something you’re uncomfortable doing, bring a friend you trust to put your nerves at ease. And maybe have them read up on the rules of spotting first.
There’s no way to spot a deadlift physically, since you either pull the bar off the ground or you don’t. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invite a mental or emotional spotter along for the ride. If you feel like having someone yell “light weight!” in a Ronnie Coleman voice would help you move a heavy weight, then by all means make sure they’re there!
5 Make Your PR A Lift Like Any Other
The time has come. You’ve been training for this moment for months. You’ve done your warm-up sets, you’re focused and ready, and now it’s go time. All of your prior training has led you to this moment. Scary, right?
“I’m nervous, I’m pumped, I’m motivated, and I want to do something I’ve never done before.”
I’m always a mixed bag of emotions right before my lift, but I think that’s what carries me through and gives me the best possible lift. I’m nervous, I’m pumped, I’m motivated, and I want to do something I’ve never done before. Somewhere in that mess of emotions, I usually just say “Enough! I’m ready to do this,” and then I go for it.
Aside from this inevitable dialog, though, the mechanics of a max attempt should be the same as all the other lifts you practiced up until this point. This isn’t the time to do a quarter-rep or forget to engage your lats when you deadlift. As you visualize your lift, you should be taking note of form and remembering all your normal cues. A max lift where you injure yourself in the process doesn’t count in my book.
After your initial attempt is complete, step back and assess. How do you feel? How did the lift go? Are you ready for more, or did it take everything out of you? I like to keep going until I either miss a lift or know there’s no logical way I can get that weight back up. But many people will stop after one, and that’s fine.
If you feel like you’re ready to conquer another max attempt, I suggest giving yourself 7-10 minutes of rest before you step up to the bar again. Add no more than 5-10 pounds to the bar; don’t get greedy. Even if you leave that second or third max attempt unrealized, you should feel damn good about what you accomplish!
6 Don’t Overthink It
I’m often guilty of beating myself up after the fact. Did I eat too much? Too little? Could I have done another rep? Should I have done more weight? We all do it. When you’re completely invested in something—like so many of us in the world of health and fitness are—you want to be perfect.
But when you’re waging war against big numbers and percentages, there’s nothing to be gained by harboring regrets. Nagging doubts and questions can take over your brain and prevent you from improving, but just as importantly, they can keep you from enjoying an important victory.
The best possible advice I can give you is to let go. At no time is that more crucial than during and after your 1RM attempt. If you walk up to the bar wondering if you’re going to miss, or questioning your preparation, or revisiting the failed lifts of the past, you’ve already lost. You just have to go for it.
You’re ready. It’s time to believe in yourself. Pick up that weight and show the bar who’s boss.
Recommended For You
Having trouble ripping that iron off of the ground? Clean up your deadlift and hit a new PR with these five tips from a strong fitness model!
Karina Baymiller may have had 6-pack abs, but she wasn’t happy. Learn how she let go of her obsession with image and built a healthier, happier, stronger body and mind!
This article will explain exactly how to conduct one-repetition-maximum testing and suggest ways in which test results can be applied across a range of training objectives.
The key to rocking shoulder-baring sweaters and blouses this season is pairing them with a strong, toned upper body. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to speed hours in the gym to achieve an eye-catching upper body. What you need is a challenging workout—one that cranks up the intensity on your muscles and eliminates every last ounce of flab. Enter Tabata training, also known as the 4-minute fat-burning workout.
Name: Al Kavadlo, CSCS
Location: New York, NY
Occupation: Trainer, author, lead instructor of Progressive Calisthenics Certification
It’s become a common cliché that bodyweight athletes don’t have strong legs. Look at the comments on any YouTube clip showcasing advanced calisthenics, and you’re bound to see someone hating on the lack of lower-body development. A number of coaches also insist that it’s impossible to build a strong, powerful lower body without external weights.
Balderdash, I say! Bodyweight exercises alone can make you every bit as strong as can barbells and dumbbells. You just need to push yourself and get a little creative.
While newcomers need to spend some time honing their bodyweight squats and lunges, it usually doesn’t take long for these basic exercises to max out on their strength benefits. Once this occurs, however, adding weight is not the only solution; you can continue to build strength by simply progressing to more difficult bodyweight exercises, like I discuss in my book Pushing The Limits.
Ultimately, I recommend working up to single-leg movements like the pistol squat to get the most out of calisthenics leg training. However, these types of advanced movements may remain out of reach until you’ve built more strength. As an intermediate step, jump training can add a challenge to your lower-body workouts without the need for weights or equipment. And even if you’re well-versed in pistol squats, some of these simple exercises may offer you a new challenge and a welcomed change of pace.
1 Jump Squat
A jump squat is like a regular bodyweight squat, except instead of simply standing up at the top of your range of motion, you jump as high as you can, lifting your knees toward your chest at the top. You can do them jumping in place or up onto an object.
Though your legs obviously do most of the work, jump squats are a full-body exercise, so use your arms to generate momentum. Remember to stay light on your feet and avoid landing with your knees locked. Keep your joints relaxed and do your best to absorb the impact as gently as possible.
Try to go directly from one jump into the next, taking advantage of the elasticity of your muscles and their stretch reflex. If you’re not able to do this at first, however, just reset and take a few seconds between reps as needed.
“Though your legs obviously do most of the work, jump squats are a full-body exercise, so use your arms to generate momentum.”
2 Broad Jump
Another fun plyometric squat variant, the broad jump is essentially the same as the jump squat except you jump forward, not upward. You still want to lift your legs high as you jump, however; this will help you clear more distance. Leaving your legs dangling isn’t as aerodynamic. You’ll need a lot of space to practice broad jumps; I recommend a park or field.
Again, try to go from one rep right into the next, though feel free to take a few seconds between reps if you need to when starting out.
“Lunges are one of my favorite leg exercises, but like anything else, they need to be progressed once they cease to be a challenge.”
3 Jump Lunge
Lunges are one of my favorite leg exercises, but like anything else, they need to be progressed once they cease to be a challenge.
Start out with a stationary jump lunge by lowering yourself down into a split squat and jumping up at the top, gently landing back into the bottom position with your knees bent. Do several in a row, and then switch legs.
When you get comfortable with those, the cycle lunge is a more advanced jump lunge worth trying. It starts out the same as the stationary jump lunge, but once you’re in the air, you’ll have to quickly switch your legs before landing. Continue to alternate legs with each rep, going from one right into the next. Feel free to swing your arms for momentum or keep them at your sides. It might take a little practice to land comfortably without losing your balance.
Though often overlooked, running is arguably the most natural and fundamental of all lower-body calisthenics exercises. Though most people associate running with long-distance cardio training, sprinting turns up the intensity to such a degree that the body’s response is more like performing a heavy set of barbell squats than jogging a 10K. Yes, you can actually build strength and muscle through sprinting!
“The body’s response to sprinting is more like performing a heavy set of barbell squats than jogging a 10K.”
Remember that when you sprint, both of your feet are often in the air at the same time, so sprinting is pretty much a form of jump training. You can do sprints for time or for distance, but either way, keep them brief and intense for the most strength benefits.
Here’s a simple routine that can be done anytime to help you find your footing in jump training.
Perform all exercises consecutively, with 1-2 minutes rest between each set.
There is no single strength building method that’s guaranteed to work best for everybody. Weight training will forever have its place in strength and conditioning, but there will always be alternative options to help build athleticism outside of the traditional weight room setting. Bodyweight workouts are often the most practical means of getting a quick but effective workout when you’ve got a busy schedule and/or don’t belong to a gym.
Give the workout above a shot. I promise it will leave your quads aching and your hamstrings hammered.
Recommended For You
Pistol squats pop up all over the place, but that doesn’t make this classic movement any easier. Commit, do the work, and let Al Kavadlo be your guide!
Don’t believe that high-level calisthenics are only for athletes who look a certain way. Everyone can benefit from the unique challenges that come with bodyweight training!
You’ve heard the benefits of high-intensity cardio for weight loss, but you’re concerned it’ll cost you hard-earned muscle. Learn the truth!
Edgar ArtigaWORKOUT BY: Luis Buron, Spartan SGX Coach In this workout we’re simulating a Reebok Spartan Race. The mix of running in place and stepups imitate running and climbing uneven terrain and the moves mimic Spartan Race obstacles (as noted in parentheses). The workout finishes with Spartan signature penalty, burpees, and we go for 2 min.
Just about every Muscle & Fitness reader knows that tobuild cannonball delts, you need to start with heavy presses followed by an isolation exercise for each of the three deltoid heads. Astute readers even cycle the order in which they train each deltoid head from one workout to the next, knowing that the move that comes first will be trained harder as energy levels and focus are higher earlier in the workout.This workout takes that training philosophy one step further for hardcore gains. After a pair ofcompound moves, you’’ll do two shoulder exercises back-to-back for the targeted deltoid head (Shoulder Workout No. 1focuses on the front head,Workout No. 2the middle andWorkout No.
Name: Lee Boyce
Occupation: Owner of Boyce Training Systems.
Hit the health club on any given Monday, and you might think there’s an audition in progress for a new episode of “Maury Povich” about the bench press and the men who love it. After all, what better way could there be to start the week than getting under a loaded barbell and pushing it for all you’re worth?
Well, I can think of a couple, but that’s for another article. Look, I understand the allure of the bench press. It’s the ultimate glamour movement in the gym for men, and it’s also a great movement for upper-body size and strength.
The problem is that most people gauge their success only by benching as much weight as possible, and they disregard the crucial setup process and downplay the importance of form to perform the lift correctly. This ends up creating a lot more ex-benchers than strong benchers.
Don’t let your favorite lift beat you down. Use these tried and true techniques to skyrocket your bench and blast off to new levels of mass and strength!
Lee Boyce On Proper Bench Press Technique
Watch The Video – 04:43
Upper back exercises are crucial for making the bench press pain-free, stable, and strong. As I mentioned in the video above, the bench press places stress on the shoulder blades and four rotator cuff muscles that originate on the scapula. Having the ability to keep the scapular muscles nice and tight is a key to stability for any pushing movement.
I program my back workouts before my chest workouts whenever I’m isolating specific body parts. This ensures that the back muscles get sore, tight, and are limited in range of motion and flexibility to help fix the shoulder blades on chest day. On a full-body workout, I pull before I push.
Make sure the following exercises are included in your back training day to really build scapular stability and strength:
If building big bench is important for you, you need to get scientific about it. Break down your lift and figure out where you’re weakest, and then focus on turning that weakness into a strength.
Barbell Bench Press
In most cases, a lifter going for a max-effort rep hits a wall or reaches a sticking point around the halfway point coming off the chest. If this is you, it means you lack lockout strength. Luckily, there are many great exercises to help you improve this sticking point.
Use a barbell or two dumbbells and lay flat on the floor with the weight in the bench press bottom position. The elbows will be on the floor and the weight around six inches off the chest.
Keep your upper back tight and shoulders retracted. Breathe in, drive the weight up to full-extension at the arm, and keep the legs held together and straight on the ground. Pause at the bottom of each rep. Perform 3 sets of 8 reps.
Set up a bench inside a squat rack to create a bench press station. Position the safety pins 4-6 inches above your chest. Lay the bar on the pins and position your body under it. Assume your preferred bench press grip and drive the bar to the top position.
After lockout, lower the bar quickly to the pins. This exercise allows you to focus on max effort. Due to the lack of eccentric control, you’ll have more juice in the tank to lift.
Give yourself a couple seconds between reps to get tight and reset your body. Perform this exercise for 3 sets of 3-6 reps.
Attaching chains to the bench press makes the load heavier as you progress through the concentric portion of a rep. It’s a great way to make your triceps do more work during lockout.
In rare circumstances, the sticking point happens at the bottom of the lift, which indicates that chest and shoulder strength is a weak link from a biomechanical perspective. Implementing starting strength exercises can help exponentially with this issue.
Bent over barbell row
Starting Strength Exercises
On the bench press, lower the weight slowly and pause for at least one second on the chest. Remember to stay tight during the rep without slackening your grip or exhaling. You won’t be able to lift as much weight as usual with this method, so lower the weight to 80 percent of the normal amount you can lift for reps.
This exercise cuts off the stretch reflex so you can’t use momentum at the bottom of the lift. Momentum tricks your chest into thinking that it’s performing well, when in reality, it’s nothing more than kinetic force that propels the weight out of the hole.
Pause reps are a staple in competitive powerlifting routines everywhere.
One and a half reps are my favorite way to improve chest activity in a bench press. Ensure that you’re set up correctly and lower the bar to your chest like normal.
Press the bar off the chest to the halfway point, where you have a 90-degree angle at the elbow. Lower the bar to the chest again and drive the bar to the top for one rep. Repeat for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.
The science behind this madness is simple: For every rep of 1.5s, you’re doing 2 reps with just the chest and 1 rep with the triceps at lockout. At the end of a set, your chest will have done twice as much work than your triceps.
Like most physical activities, if you want to improve at something, you must practice it. Building a stronger bench press happens in part from benching frequently. Make like the Bulgarians and up your weekly volume—without going overboard, of course!
Boyce Post-Workout Burnout! Bench Press 225×15
Watch The Video – 01:11
Post-workout burnout sets are money when it comes to adding benching volume. At the end of every isolation workout, do a couple quick warm-up bench press sets and then perform a burnout set with 60 percent of your max. Rep it out until failure for one big set.
Here’s a video of me doing a post-workout burnout set after a long Olympic lifting workout. My max is around 345 pounds, so 225 pounds is about 65 percent of my max.
Recommended For You
Strength coaches Tony Gentilcore, Dean Somerset, Lee Boyce, and Todd Bumgardner offer their best deadlifting cues. Rip the barbell from the ground!
Thinking about abandoning your fitness goals? Strength coaches Tony Gentilcore, Dean Somerset, Lee Boyce, and Todd Bumgardner can help you train hard and heavy for life.
Lunges are vastly underutilized strength training weapons capable of producing big gains. Harness their advantages to strengthen your quads, glutes, and hamstrings!
Michael Svoboda/Getty Images Plenty of people are perpetually unhappy with their weight. Even these folks wouldn’t be considered obese, per se, they might just have enough extra pounds to be considered overweight. But we have good news. Whether your spare tire is a result of holiday overeating or some long-term unhealthy habits, you can beat those last 15lbs by following a killer workout plan. We consulted with Andrew Borsellino, C.S.C.S., co-founder of Precision Sports Performance, and Thomas King, C.S.C.S., strength and conditioning coach with JK Conditioning, to build the ultimate workout routine to get you confident and shredded in two months. [RELATED1] “The hardest part always is just getting started,” says Borsellino. “If you lack self-esteem and are wary about walking into a gym or studio, or visiting a nutritionist to get your journey going, an important first step should be trying to find a place where you feel comfortable and a coach or trainer that you connect with.” But if you’ve been fit in the past and know the ropes around the gym and want to go it alone, our simple plan will help you get off on the right foot. “When getting started, make sure you start the right type of program,” says Borsellino. “If you get going on a program that is way too intense right off the bat, it may keep you from continuing and reaching your goals.” Furthermore, if you’re unprepared for a high-intensity workout program, you could potentially be walking the path to injury. At the same time, starting a workout program that’s too easy or not stimulating could just lead to boredom—and boredom makes you more likely to quit. King adds: “In my experience, the easiest way to sneak fat loss work into your routine is through the use of circuits and complexes. Nobody really wants to spend an hour running on a treadmill when you could be doing more engaging exercises like kettlebell swings, thrusters, and squats. I also like to include at least one more traditional strength training day per week. It allows for recovery from the demanding circuits and the lower reps will help preserve muscle tissue during the fat-loss stage.” [RELATED2] Finally, remember that not all workout plans work for everyone. Everybody is different, and different stimuli will lead to different results, but the most important thing to remember is that this is a lifestyle. “Small changes at a time lead to big improvements and lay the foundation for a healthy life,” says Borsellino. The workout The following workout program, which comes courtesy of King, incorporates three workouts per week: two days of circuit training and one day of strength training. Perform these workouts on nonconsecutive days for eight weeks. Before each session, do a light warmup that includes aerobic exercise (like walking on the treadmill for 5-10 minutes) and dynamic mobility work (like banded shoulder dislocations and rotational hip dislocations). Instructions Day 1 circuit: Perform one set of each exercise before resting. After you have completed one full round, rest for two minutes and start again. The goal is to complete five rounds as quickly as possible. For an added challenge, time yourself and see how you progress as you move through the eight-week program. Day 2 strength workout: The strength day will stick to the basic lifts and pair two complementary movements as a superset. Perform exercises in the same superset (marked A and B), then rest 1½-2 minutes. Repeat for the prescribed number of sets. Day 3 circuit: The second circuit incorporates a dumbbell complex. Choose a dumbbell weight you can use for all the exercises, and be sure to do each exercise without putting the dumbbells down. If that’s not difficult enough, after each complex, row 100 meters as quickly as possible. Complete five rounds of this circuit in as little time as possible. Time yourself and see how you progress over the next eight weeks. [RELATED3] Topics: Fat LossStrength TrainingBurn FatBuild Muscle