Personal Note: If you tired of wasting your time at the gym and seeing minimal results than take the time to read this article. The knowledge presented by this respected author may be the best supplement that you will ever use.
How did we get so lost?
Training for Results
How did we get so lost?
Note: This information is geared towards genetically typical trainees not using steroids. It also works extremely well for gear users off cycle, and MOST people while on, although many people can increase the volume and frequency somewhat while on cycle. It is a given that anabolic steroid use increases the threshold point at which overtraining occurs and gear users can USUALLY tolerate more training without overtraining. Even while on gear the single biggest reason people do not grow is due to the fact they overtrain. This is excerpts and a compilation of articles I have written for Hardgainer magazine. Most of this information was also on a web site I produced geared toward hardgaining trainees. The web site is now closed but I am sharing this info for the board reader's benefit. Don't dismiss this information because you use steroids. It could have more impact than anything you have read if you take its advice to heart.
How to achieve your Physical Potential
When you hit the gym I'm willing to bet you do some truly brutal things, how about trying something truly brutal? How about being brutally honest with yourself? How about taking a moment to review your success in building the body or lifting the poundage's you want. Are you truly moving closer to your goal each workout? Or are you stuck in a rut waiting for the next supplement or routine by the latest Mr. ____ (pick the name) to somehow catapult you to the body you always knew could be yours. Let's be honest, you probably have made marginal gains for quite sometime now, and some of you haven't made significant gains since you first started training.
All of the magazines you read tell you what to do and assure you that you will get incredible results by following the latest routines of the "champions". Do they ever tell you what to do if this approach doesn't work? They are not lying to you (most of the time) when they present the routines of the pro's, the routines presented are usually (definitely not always!) what the pro's are using. What they do fail to say is that these types of routines only work for the genetically elite and usually chemically enhanced.
If every time you got in your car to go to work or school you ended up somewhere else how many times would you attempt the trip without getting the right directions to get you to your destination? My guess would be not too many. So why are you willing to go to the gym day after day and not reach your goals? I'm sure for most of you it's not lack of dedication or lack of effort. For the VAST majority of trainees that make little or no progress it is their training methods that are responsible for the lack of progress. What you say? You train just like everyone else in the gym, even the huge guys that out-lift three of the typical trainees. The fact of the matter is that the popular training methods that have created most of the world class physiques DO NOT WORK FOR THE AVERAGE TRAINEE. Look around you in the gym and you see countless members slaving away week after week, year after year and for all their effort barely look like they workout at all. And often those that do look like they train are usually stuck at the same weight, lifting the same poundage's, for months, sometimes years on end. I once read a pretty good definition of insanity; "doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result. If your training is not working for you now, how is supposed to "magically" start working one day?
The truth is out there to quote the popular intro to the X Files, and no, it's not a conspiracy by the bodybuilding publishers to keep you from achieving your goals. It's just the simple fact that the publishers have found the formula that "sells" and aren't going to risk losing their audience. Think about it for a moment. Haven't you always assumed that those with the biggest and leanest physiques must know the most about how to get big and strong? The publishers of the popular training publications have always counted on that assumption and have presented the genetically elite as role models. Truth be told they are correct role models, but only for those with similar capacity to gain size and strength easily and using the same chemical enhancement. As you have no doubt noticed, IT DOESN'T WORK FOR THE MAJORITY OF TRAINEES. Also, when you either directly sell supplements and/or rely on the supplement companies advertising dollars, it pays to have a somewhat "frustrated" audience always looking for a quick fix for their lack of progress. I WILL SHOW YOU WHAT DOES WORK AND SHOW YOU HOW TO APPLY IT TO ACHIEVE GAINS YOU THOUGHT IMPOSSIBLE. I won't guarantee you will build a show winning physique or even become the biggest guy in the gym. What I will guarantee is that you will start gaining size and strength and have all the information needed to help achieve your genetic potential.
Weight training is a truly unique pastime, in that for an activity as popular as it is, there is an EXTREME OVERABUNDANCE of information that is ENTIRELY UNSUITABLE FOR THE VAST MAJORITY OF THOSE THAT PARTICIPATE. It would be almost acceptable if the information given in the popular books and periodicals clearly stated that the information contained within them was only appropriate for those that are genetically gifted at building muscle tissue and in many cases also using massive amounts of steroids. This fact is never (or rarely) mentioned. It would also make the situation better if there were popular publications catering to alternative techniques suitable for the masses. Unfortunately this is not the case. The publishers go with what sells, and since the public is mistakenly under the assumption that those with the biggest muscles must know the most about how to build an awesome physique the problem propagates itself. The training information in the popular books and magazines works spectacularly well FOR THE GENETIC WONDERS (usually using steroids also) that garner all the publicity. What these methods don't do is deliver the results for the masses (yes, you and me).
Before you just go to the routine section and look at the suggested routines and decide that they can't possibly work, wait until you have read everything before making your decision as to whether this style of training will work. Let me give you an example of why it's important to get all the facts before making a decision. If I promised you $5 million dollars to jump out of an airplane without a parachute, would you do it? If you quickly answered "no" you lost an easy $5 million. You see, the plane I was asking you to jump from was parked on the ground.
Don't lose again by "jumping" to conclusion about the concepts you are about to read. Please read everything before making any judgments.
Below is part of my story:
I am not a very experienced writer but I'm experienced in what does, and does not work for me. And pretty well versed in training principles that work for the average person, thanks to Hardgainer, Super Squats, and Brawn. For a large portion of my training career I made marginal progress because I was spellbound by the popular training techniques in current use. My early years mostly consisted of making so little progress it was hard to tell I was a serious lifter. Getting injured or disgusted with my results and taking time off to either heal or have my desire to train rekindled only to once again reach a point of complete desperation because all of my time and effort in the gym seemed to be for naught.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Please read on. The answer to your training problems lay ahead. Since discovering how real word people need to train for real results I have made progress I could have never imagined before and have trained many who had genetics ranging anywhere from beyond excellent to those you looked at and thought, "have you really lifted weights before". During this time I have NEVER had Hardgainer style training fail. Transform yourself from a "before, to an after".
The Genetic Factor
While the big names may know a whole lot about what is required to build their physiques to EXTREME levels they more often than not know ALMOST NOTHING about the requirements of those less genetically inclined to add muscle tissue. What is almost never mentioned is that in addition to having been blessed with out of this world genetics they also use massive amounts of steroids and other growth enhancing drugs. That this type of training is the type responsible for the top name physiques is of little relevance for the typical trainee trying to add bodyweight and strength. In fact, it is about as opposed as day and night for those that have difficulty getting big, here is why:
More is not better
The average competitive bodybuilder does anywhere from 9 sets on the low end to 20-25 sets per body-part. Why so many? And if 20 sets are good why not do 40 sets and double the results? The reason is many, if not most have tried this approach and found out it led to over training. It wasn't because growth wasn't stimulated during the course of the workout, it was, but because so much of the body's resources are being used to merely recover from the workout nothing is left for additional growth. In fact, in MOST cases the trainee will actually become progressively smaller and weaker on such a schedule. If the sheer volume of training were the factor responsible for weight training success the workouts would need to become progressively longer until the only factor that would limit ones growth would be the availability of gym time. This is clearly not the case as the top names are usually paid to train and have no other responsibilities, yet they do their two or three hour routines and get out of the gym.
It goes to reason that if doing too high a volume of training leads to over training, that training to frequently will also hamper growth. If training four days a week produces good gains why not train twice a day 7 days a week? Once again, this has been tried by many and positive results were not achieved. Once you come to grips with the fact that OVER TRAINING IS THE BIGGEST POSSIBLE MISTAKE YOU CAN MAKE, AND IS RESPONSIBLE FOR MORE BODYBUILDING FAILURES THAN ALL OTHER FACTORS COMBINED, you are on your way to becoming "all you can be", to quote the popular Army slogan. Once you adjust your training volume and frequency to the correct levels you will have done more to increase your ability to gain than any thing else short of taking growth-enhancing drugs.
The Growth Factor
So we know that sheer volume of training is not the factor responsible for growth, what is? Simple, increase your strength significantly and muscle size will go up accordingly. This simple concept is left out on most articles in the glossy magazines. Why? It should be included in bold print capitols in every article printed. There should be a statement such as; IF YOU ARE NOT USING PROGRESSIVELY HEAVIER POUNDAGE'S IN ALL YOUR LIFTS ON A CONSISTENT BASIS EVERY OTHER DETAIL IS IRRELEVANT. SEEK TO GET STRONGER AND SIZE WILL FOLLOW!
How to unlock your potential
The key to getting stronger on a consistent basis is finding the correct volume and frequency of training YOUR BODY can handle and then always training well within these confines. This is so simple it is almost laughable, yet so few ever really consistently apply it, even after being exposed to proper training techniques. The most common reasons for not staying the course are always finding a reason (excuse) to add exercises, and being swayed too easily by others. Going into a commercial gym and watching others train, and often times even being told by others that; "you can't possibly gain on a routine like that", and "that's not the way so and so trains" more often than not leads the trainee to add exercises and training days to the routine to the extent that the growth process is short circuited. Don't be another failure that gives up on lifting because it doesn't work!
The REAL Requirements
From reading the above, the uninitiated trainee is probably beginning to get the picture that Hardgainer style training consists of training less frequently, and doing less sets per body-part to avoid what they now understand to be the reason for their lack of progress-over training. The uninitiated are probably thinking something like great, I'll cut back to three days a week instead of six and only do eight sets per body-part instead of sixteen. Then WHAM-instant buff! This volume and frequency will still lead to frustration and stagnation for many hardgainers. Some people do well on this amount of volume, and many fall flat on their faces with ONLY this much work.
What few are willing to grasp is just how severe heavy lifting is to the body. Not only must localized (in the muscle trained) recovery occur before growth will take place, but systemic recovery (the body as a whole) must occur also. Once recovery has occurred guess what? You are still no stronger than before the workout took place-adaptation (growth) only occurs after your body has fully recovered. Only after both of these events have occurred has the muscle grown bigger.
Most people short circuit the growth process by training before full recovery and adaptation has occurred. That's why they find themselves doing the same weight workout after workout. Here is what happens: they do so many sets the body is in a state of constant depletion, then before their poor beat-up body has even had a chance to recuperate from the last work out the body is hammered again. True, different body-parts are worked, but the systemic depletion is only made worse. Your body is chronically over-trained and growth does not occur.
The solution to the problem of over training is shocking to most trainees who have only been exposed to the training techniques of the "champions". Be that as may, your only hope of developing a good physique is to ensure you ALWAYS train within your body's ability to recuperate between workouts. How will you know if you are recuperating adequately? Simple, you will be able to add weight or reps workout to workout. There may be days when you are feeling down and the energy level is just not there, but days like this should be the RARE exception not the rule. How much weight should be added? One-half to two pounds on the smaller movements such as military presses or curls and one to five pounds for the big movements like squats and deadlifts. Not enough you say? Assuming the trainee bench presses one day a week and is able to add but one pound to the bar each workout. Also assuming a couple of weeks were missed due to illness or other commitments, this still amasses a 50 pound increase in bench press ability. Do even this small increase over two consecutive years and the trainee that was previously "stuck" at 185 x 6 is now doing 285 x 6 and has a better bench than almost all the other members in the gym. Of course not all progress will be linear and there will be times when the trainee will have to cut back the poundage's for a time in order to let the body fully recuperate. But there will also be times when the increases are much higher than the suggested increments. In fact, if you are new to hardgainer style training 5 pounds a week for small movements and 5-10 pounds a week for the big movements may be attainable-and body-weight may skyrocket also. Most trainees (if truly training within their limits) will add from 10 to 30 pounds during the first three months. Please keep in mind that the 30-pound figure is not the norm, but 10-20 pound body-weight increases are.
Small Gains are Sustainable
Once you are past the beginner stage, or the beginning three or four months of training correctly, it's time to start looking at training for the long haul. By that I mean structuring your routine inside and outside the gym to ensure that all the requirements of growth are being met. One of the key ingredients of the growth recipe is ensuring that you do not try to add weight to the bar faster than your body is actually building strength. Adding weight to the bar by loosening your form and speeding up your rep speed does nothing but stoke your ego, and set you up for injury.
Sorry to say this, but for the vast majority of you reading this you are not going to be the next Arnold, Dorian Yates, or Ronnie Coleman. The chances are, if you are reading this you are reading out of the desperation of trying everything and getting little or no results. I can't and won't promise that hardgainer style training will make you the next Mr. anything, or even make you the biggest guy in your gym. What I will promise you is that these techniques, applied with passion and persistence will deliver results that will astound you.
While no one can define your strength training goals for you some basic guidelines are necessary to ensure you achieve them.
1. If your reading this and are thinking: I don't want to be some huge guy who scares people because of his sheer size and can't even scratch his own back. Keep this in mind; you can only do one of three things to a muscle. A) Make it smaller/weaker through improper/no training. B) Keep it the same size through improper training or deciding you are as big/strong as you want to be. C) Make it bigger through proper training. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TONING A MUSCLE. If you ever reach a point where you are satisfied with your size and strength you can easily maintain that condition by ensuring you never increase the poundage you are using. How many of you are really worried about getting too big/strong?
2. Trying get a big chest and arms while neglecting to work hard on the big muscle groups, i.e., legs/back is a surefire formula for failure for Hardgainers.
3. If you want to be big and impressive by any standards (other than competition oriented bodybuilders) you had better fix your sights on aiming high on the poundage's used in your training. I will quote Stuart McRobert's guidelines for strength based on the average 5'9 190 pound drug free, successful Hardgainer: bench 300, squat 400, deadlift 500. You should allow 10% leeway high or low, and take into consideration body type, as some will be natural squatters and others will be far better at deadlifting. Some may also (if educated) substitute the parallel bar dip for the bench press if they are not structurally suited to bench press. Although the dip doesn't get anywhere near the recognition the bench press does, it actually works more muscle than the bench. Lighter or heavier bodyweight lifters will need to adjust their goals accordingly.
If these figures seem out of reach take heart, they seemed an impossibility to me also when first exposed to them after reading Stuart's first book; Brawn. That I reached these goals within approximately 2-1/2 years seemed like a dream to me. My transformation physically was equally startling. I went from an experienced (so I thought) trainee with years of training under my belt that had reached the pinnacle of 175 pounds at 6'1 to a 235 pound trainee experienced in what really works.
4. If you are trying to trim down and get bigger at the same time you are asking your body to make a very difficult task almost impossible. Either lose the excess fat before trying to get big or plan on losing it after you have added some serious size first. And if you are happy with your bodyfat level don't be afraid to let some fat come along when adding muscle. Trying to get big and stay very lean is a task difficult for even the genetically elite, and next to impossible for the hardgainer.
How Hard to Train
Doing a limited routing that has the trainee properly regulating the volume and frequency of their routine will still fail if the critical growth factor of intensity is ignored. Many people train with the intensity of an old lady knitting. This usually occurs because of either pure laziness, or the trainee is so accustomed to doing endless sets to ensure "complete development" that they only train half-heartedly out of pure survival instinct. You cannot do set after set at high levels of intensity. You can train hard, or you can train for long periods, but you cannot do both. And since we know that doing set after set (even at low intensity levels) will lead to over training the choice becomes clear. Train as hard as possible, as briefly as possible, and get out of the gym.
How hard is hard as possible, and can you train too hard? This too is an easy question to answer. If you take all your sets (after warm-ups) to failure, you will have done everything necessary to achieve growth stimulation. Failure is defined as ceasing the set when it is impossible to get another rep without breaking form. Do not contort your body and cheat the weight up any way possible in attempt to get another rep. As long as you are pushing like your life depended on it to attempt the last rep you have achieved your goal. Forced reps, negatives, and other beyond failure techniques are not needed and usually are the fast track to burn-out for Hardgainers. Some intensity enhanching techniques can be used productively but only if the overall volume of the routine is extremely low. Doing lots of beyond failure training will result in CNS and overall metabolic burnout very fast for almost everyone. Do not train to failure on deadlifts unless you are very experienced with them! Leave the last rep in you. Just make sure you truly are right next to the limit when ceasing the set, not many reps away.
Most trainees, even when tasked to train to complete failure come up many reps short, especially on the "big" exercises. Why? Because it hurts. I will not go as far as saying that progress cannot be made without training to failure because the truth is that all training methods work-for some people. Unfortunately in order to fully stimulate growth in as few sets as possible and get out of the gym training brutally hard is a requirement. The alternative is to do more sets to make up for the lack of intensity. This is rarely a good idea for the Hardgainer. Train hard or stay home, sorry!
The Path to Excellence
In order for you to achieve all that your genetic endowment will allow you must understand and APPLY the following guidelines on a consistent basis until you have achieved your physical potential or are as big as you care to be.
Please read the following carefully, the need to include a heavy full body movement in your routine is crucial to your lifting success!
The typical hardgainer can forget about making big gains throughout the body until they get the thigh/back musculature growing. Think about it this way, if your body is not very efficient at growing muscle tissue and your current routine is like that of most trainees, (what I call the double B's, bench and biceps) how much of a demand have you placed on your body to become more efficient at growing? Working chest, delts, tri's, and biceps works approximately 10% of your overall lean body mass. Working hard on deadlift's (bent legged, Trap Bar, or sumo) or squatting (not necessarily at the same time) works more like 70% of your musculature at once and sends a STRONG message to your body to GET BETTER AT GROWING NOW! Because the demands on your metabolism are so great when doing these movements the results are also great. But like anything worthwhile in life it comes at a price: brutally hard work done consistently with ever increasing poundage's.
The original "recipe" for success for those that were previously unable to register significant gains in size and strength was the 20 rep squatting routine with one set (after warm-ups) to failure done along with a handful of other basic exercises, no fluff, just brutally demanding hard work done infrequently with an emphasis on heavy eating. If you have never done high rep squatting or deadlifting with limit poundage's you will no doubt be amazed at how difficult they are. They will probably be the most demanding things you have ever done inside or outside of the gym. They will for sure be the most productive thing you've ever done in the gym.
Twenty Rep squats are not done by putting a light-weight on the bar and doing twenty quick reps and racking the bar. They are done by using a weight that the trainee will have to almost kill himself to get 15 reps with. By rep 10 or so you will be breathing like a horse and gasping for your breath. You will fight to get the 15 reps, then instead of racking the bar you keep it on your shoulders and rest/breath long enough to get the next rep, and the next, then the next. You will have to fight every fiber in your body telling you to dump the bar. But you persist and make it to rep 20. Rep 21 should be impossible should you have attempted it. If you are able to do another set after this one you weren't trying hard enough. For this reason I always do high rep squats (or deadlifts) as the last movement in the routine. Try them and see why!
Many times I have trained people who swore they worked like animals in the gym and had them on the floor gasping like fish out of water, unable to continue with any additional work after one limit set of squats. These were people that swore they trained as hard as possible and were sure the proposed workout could not possibly be able to stimulate growth in so few sets. By the way these were usually people that were previously unable to add bodyweight and went on to become quite big and strong by applying Hardgainer techniques to their training.
High rep squatting has a history going back to the early days of the Iron Game. For a detailed history and training program promoting high rep squatting I suggest you purchase the book "Super Squats" by Randall Strossen. While the main routine contained in this book will prove to be too much for most Hardgainers, the abbreviated routine given is excellent (contained in this manual, see description) for those needing to cut back to the bare bones in able to gain. This routine was promoted by Peary Radar (IronMan Magazines previous Editor/Publisher) as a surefire routine for those unable to gain on even the basic 20 rep squatting routine consisting of squats, barbell curls, bench presses, rows, and military presses. Peary championed the 20 rep squatting routine for years during his time as publisher of IronMan. Unfortunately his voice was drowned out by the Weiders "champion" routines. His magazine also did not have the exposure of the Weider publications at the time. When IronMan was procured by the current owners the newer formula (big names, long routines) was ushered in and the tradition of basic training with heavy squats as the core of the routine was almost lost to future generations. Were it not for Stuart McRobert, Randall Strossen and a handful of others that had learned this most productive method of training and promoted it to all that would listen.
While there has been more exposure given to the squat in bodybuilding circles than deadlifting it is time this changed. For many trainees, especially the long limbed type that Hardgainers tend to be, the deadlift may be the single most productive movement that can be done. Even surpassing the mighty squat that has become famous for making strongmen out of people that previously could not make significant gains. I strongly recommend some type of deadlifting in everyone's routine (physical limitations not withstanding). Not only will you have gone a long ways towards achieving your physical potential, you will also help yourself avoid lower back injuries.
How could that be? You have been told that deadlifts will wreak your back. Consider that most lower back injuries occur when someone (weight trainees included) with little lower back strength bends over to pick up something relatively light and something "lets go". Building a strong lower back through deadlifting will go along way towards insuring you don't have the same thing happen to you. As long as structural weaknesses are not preexisting, you maintain perfect form while deadlifting (this applies to ALL exercises), and if you are new to deadlifting, you start VERY light and build up your poundage's slowly while perfecting your form, you should be able to never be injured by deadlifting. Almost all weight-training injuries are preventable.
Trap Bar Deadlift
I could write pages praising the advantages of the Trap Bar and it's value in assisting the trainee to reach their physical potential. This piece of equipment, when used correctly has the ability to transform physiques. Muscles worked when using this movement are thighs, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, upper back (lats, mid back, traps), forearms, and abs/obliques. In other words, the same muscles used a when performing the bent legged deadlift. So what makes the Trap Bar so special, and makes it a superior movement to the strait bar deadlift? Simple, works the same muscles as the conventional deadlift while making it a safer movement by avoiding undue stress to the lower back and providing more stress to the thighs. Because it reduces the need for extreme technical proficiency as required during the strait bar deadlift most trainees are able to push harder and move more weight. The sum total is a super productive movement that works approximately 70% of your lean body mass relatively safely.
To top it off, this piece of equipment sells for $174.00 U.S. dollars from www.fractionalplates.com
Performance of the movement is relatively simple, stand inside the bar and hold onto the two parallel handles. Keeping your lower back slightly arched and your head up push down into the floor with your feet trying to keep the weight on your heels. Do not round the lower back, and do not take the movement to absolute failure (stop one rep short), and you can rest assured you will have sent a strong signal to your body to grow
If finances allow, this is a must purchase item for the home gym trainees. Unfortunately most gyms do not have a Trap Bar. If possible talk your gym owner into purchasing one, or allowing you to purchase one and deduct the price from your membership. After using my Trap Bar only one time, my brother purchased his own and carried it in the trunk of his car to the gym on leg/back day. This option should not be overlooked.
Are the high reps the only way to go?
Many of you are probably wondering if the high reps for squats and deadlifts are really necessary to achieve big gains in size and strength. The answer to that question is absolutely not. They just happen to be the most efficient and safest way (assuming your form doesn't deteriorate to get all your reps) for most trainees. They also provide a big-time stimulus to the cardio-vascular system at the same time you are weight training.
Sets of between 5 and 20 reps all work very well as long as the intensity level is high. You will make great progress on any rep scheme as long as all other training factors are in proper place. Besides if you've ever done them you know that they are almost as hard mentally as physically. Your body and mind will both need some well deserved rest after a hard 20 rep (15 reps works almost as well) squat or deadlift cycle. Rotate between whatever rep schemes work best for you. But everyone should take the time to devout at least 8-16 weeks to a 20 rep squat or deadlift routine. You may find out a lot about your mental character as well as your physical potential. Will you dump the bar at rep 16 because it HURTS SO BAD, even though if you really tried, you could have gotten all your reps? Don't be surprised, this is what most do when faced with the challenge. Do you really want to be like most people?
What if you can't squat or deadlift?
Let me first start off by saying that there are very few of you out there that legitimately can't either squat or deadlift, especially using the Trap Bar. I will also go out on a limb and state that most readers will have many excuses why they can't and also add that many HAVE NEVER EVEN TRIED TO DEADLIFT. Most trainees will have at least tried squatting and after realizing the tremendous effort required to squat heavy weights decided leg extensions and maybe a couple of half effort sets of whatever leg training apparatus is handiest and easiest will suffice on leg day. The thought being.well, after all, we don't want to use up all that energy that would be best applied to endless sets of curls. This is the road to nowhere! Get competent instruction on how too properly squat and deadlift. I highly recommend the book "The Insiders Tell-All Handbook on Weight-Training Technique" even if expert coaching is available. You may need to work on your flexibility to become a more proficient squatter. If this is the case invest the time needed on a proper flexibility routine performed twice a week. This will pay off big dividends once you are able to squat correctly and will go a long way towards making you more injury proof.
For those of you that are not familiar with this bar (probably the majority of readers) it is a bar with a padded yoke that has the weight-bearing portion of the bar angled forward. This moves the center of gravity forward and in conjunction with the padded protrusions of this strangely shaped bar allows "hands free" squatting. This allows the hands to be used to hold onto a squat or power rack and stabilize the upper torso. In fact proper use of this bar will allow almost any trainee to squat in any position from a "lean forward" powerlifting style to an actual "lean back" position, something that is impossible with a regular bar.
The Tall Hardgainers Curse
A common complaint of many tall Hardgainers is the amount of forward lean necessary to stabilize the bar makes the squat a great hip and back movement while leaving the legs only moderately worked. The Safety Squat Bar has the potential to mitigate these factors and provide a first class leg workout with minimal knee and back stress. With the Safety Squat Bar I am able to squat upright and move my stance in, my legs and hips get hammered while my back is only moderately worked.
I have trained a tall (6'3") novice who due to extreme inflexibility and body mechanics could not get much past the half squat position without his heels coming off the ground and almost falling down forward. He was so tight he had difficulty bending down to pick up a standard Olympic bar with 45lb plates loaded, yet with the safety squat bar he was able to find a pain free squat position with this bar and squat to almost parallel.
Here's how it works. The bar is loaded (preferably in a power rack, although a squat rack will suffice) and the trainee dips under the bar and removes it from the rack. Because of the padded lateral stabilizer bars and the forward cant of the bar it stays in place on the traps/shoulders without assistance of the hands, the hands are used to hold onto the power rack. Special handles that attach to the rack are included with the bar, but it works fine just using the posts of the rack for support. By using the hands/arms to stabilize your torso you will find you are able to maintain a very upright position while squatting thus allowing your legs to take the brunt of the work.
Stance width and foot angle are only limited by what is comfortable and safe. The one reservation I have about the use of this bar is the extreme flexibility of positions that one is able to use. If you set up in an unnatural position and attempt to use heavy weights you are asking for trouble. It is possible to use positions with this bar that will put extreme stress on the knees, don't do this! Common sense should tell you when you're about to put yourself in harms way. Find a comfortable stance and position that is an improvement of your normal squatting position and work with that.
One of the variables to keep in mind is foot placement relative to the rack posts you are holding onto. The closer you place your feet to the posts the more upright your torso will be. Setting up well back of the uprights will have you leaning forward more and will put more pressure on the back.
Most trainees will find they can use much more weight with the Safety Squat Bar than they can with a regular bar. The factors involved that makes this possible are the ability to find a natural "strong" posture and stance, and the ability to use the arms to pull past the sticking point. The use of the arms can be a help or a hindrance dependent on how they are used. If one always uses arm strength to pull through the difficult portion of the lift, little will be gained and the sticking point will only be made worse. However if arm use is kept to a minimum and used only during the last very tough reps of a set, one is able to really up the intensity and get in some very productive reps that would be impossible otherwise.
The Safety Squat Bar has been advertised in Powerlifting USA for some time now and can be ordered by calling 831-637-0797. I'm confident once enough trainees give the Safety Squat Bar a try it will become a very popular piece of equipment, especially with tall Hardgainers who have suffered under the squat bar for many years. It has many advantages unique to machines, yet has the flexibility of free weights.
If you can find a leg press that doesn't put your knees in peril by providing to great of a range of motion, and doesn't place undue stress on the lower back or potentially "crush you" by having the weight carriage come down too far when failure/fatigue is reached you will get good results as long as you are able to push like your life depended on it. However you need to keep in mind that the leg press should be used as a last resort if all efforts to squat and deadlift productively have failed. You will have to expect decreased results, but if the choice is leg press or no heavy leg-work at all the choice is easy.
That being said, I think the leg press is a valuable piece of equipment for all trainees. In fact I think enough of it to have purchased my own. Why own a piece of equipment I truly believe to be inferior to the squat and deadlift? For me the reason is to be able to continue with leg work during times when my lower back needs a rest from continual heavy squats and deadlifts, or when just needing a change of pace. I also use it when training someone who cannot squat or deadlift due to prior injury or physical limitations. It can be a refreshing break from squats and deadlifts, but not a substitute.
DO NOT USE THIS AS AN EXCUSE TO NOT SQUAT OR DEADLIFT. Used by those that can use them safely bent-legged deadlifts and squats are the most productive movements you can do, bar-none. If they are done in a fashion that leads to injury they are also a liability. Learn to do these movements correctly and learn to savor the satisfaction of knowing you have done what is needed to stimulate big gains throughout the body.
There are many other machines that approximate the squat in body mechanics that will allow those that may be otherwise unable to perform free weights squats to get in a good workout. If you can find one that works the leg/hip structures without putting your knees or back in jeopardy by all means give it a try, there are some very good machines in production. There are also a lot machines that are very poorly designed and likely to hurt you if you use them. BEWARE!
"Volume, Frequency, and "Overlap"
Here is part of my experience learning how to properly modulate training volume, frequency, and exercise overlap to find what worked best for me. And while we are all different in our ability to recover from workouts the following formula has been the most successful for almost every hardgainer I have trained.
It was during the course of a heavy 20 rep squat routine cycle that I hit the wall after only four weeks of maximum poundage training having taken three weeks to build up to a weight where rep 20 seemed like a "fight for life". I decided to cut back to squatting once a week and see how I did on this new frequency. I was hard to mentally make the change as even many hardgainer routines are designed around twice a week squatting. Fortunately every once in a while common sense prevails, and the right choice is made.
Immediately after going to once a week squatting my poundage progression took off! It was only after going to once a week that I started to notice that many respected authorities recommended squatting once a week. Why hadn't I noticed this before?
I then decided I would try training all my lifts once a week to see if this was also the answer to upper body progression. I made the change and have never looked back! The results were immediate and consistent, which brings up a point that cannot be stated strongly enough, if you are training effectively within your ability to recuperate you should be seeing progress in the form of strength increases from workout to workout. This should be either weight or rep increases. These don't have to be (and should not be) big increases. A one-repetition increase with the same form is significant. One half or one pound increases for small movements and one to three pounds on big movements is about right for most trainees. Early on in a cycle you can add five pounds a week to big movements but this rate of increase is not sustainable.
What is the correct frequency and training volume? You will have to find out for yourself, but if you always err on the side of doing less instead of more your training will be more productive. Everyone can gain on abbreviated routines (and very abbreviated routines) but once you start training outside your ability to recuperate real progress stops.
There was a wonderful article in Hardgainer #29 by Jack Stocks describing his training experiences. Jack found he could only maintain meaningful progression on two movements, and He has to do these movements on different days of the week. Some may be asking, what kind of strength and development can be achieved by such limited training? Well, anyone who read the article knows that Jack is very strong on the movements he does. As far as development goes, I am sure he is not as balanced as someone whose recuperative abilities allow them to do more movements, so what! He has found his limits and trains within them. He is far more successful than those that slave away for months and years on end using puny poundage's with little development anywhere.
Hopefully your tolerance for training volume will allow you to do more movements for more complete development, (if this is what you are trying to achieve) the point is, you need to determine the volume and frequency that works for you and train within these confines. Knowing I am a Hardgainer and will only respond to a limited amount of training, one of the biggest mistakes I have made in the past is trying to find the limits of my ability to recuperate. Gains come at a snails pace when compared to the progress that is possible when training well within your limits. Grasp the last sentence and apply it, NO, REALLY APPLY IT! Don't keep adding exercises until you are on the edge, or worse yet, over your ability to recuperate.
Before coming to grips regarding proper frequency and duration of training load, the goals often stated in Hardgainer of 300/400/500 bench, squat, and deadlift seemed as though they would be definite, limit lifts for me, when and if I reached them. After applying the techniques contained within these pages these goal, adjusted UP because of my higher bodyweight were achieved. Had I continued training using the popular methods I am quite certain I may have achieved a 250 pound bench and 300 pound squat, and probably would have never deadlifted. Of course I would have only achieved a physique to match. The worse part is after a time I would no doubt have done what MOST lifters do; quit, because weight-training just did not work for me.
Part two coming soon...
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