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Old 10-16-2009, 11:43 PM   #4
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The Indirect Effect

This is one reason why the ‘A-B Split Program’ is THE PROGRAM that will give you the results you dream of.

In my estimation; which by the way comes from 32 years of training and over 20 years of hands-on coaching, 99% of the weight trainees of the world have ‘real lives’. By ‘real lives’ I mean they have real life responsibilities / loves such as family, career, academic, spiritual, and social to name a few. The flip side of this is that most of the training information that these 99% use, comes from trainees who don’t have real lives – their only responsibility (or choice thereof) is to train, eat, sleep, and more than likely take steroids. Even some of the rare well-intentioned writers gleam most of their training info from these trainees. These programs or even toned-down derivatives of these programs will not work (or work very well) for you. Be honest. If you have been trying to make a program work for you that is based on the information derived from the 1% - is it really getting you to where you want to be? I know it isn’t.

I can make such a bold statement because I’ve taken a trainee like you (I’m guessing here although I have a 99% chance of being right) put you on a program like that which will be presented in this article, and produced results that will make you as happy as a pig in poop. It will make you incredibly stronger and more muscular. And within a couple of months it will rekindle your belief that you can achieve great things in the gym. Boy, there is nothing like rekindling the human spirit to believe in great things.

For those of you who are not aware here is a basic, generic A-B Split Program performed two times per week that you can refer to, so that you can better understand this article.

Workout A (performed for instance on Monday)

1. Sit-ups

2. Squat

3. Stiff leg deadlift

4. Bench press

5. Dumbbell rowing

6. Barbell static grip

Workout B (performed on Thursday)

1. Sidebends

2. Deadlifts (Bent-legged)

3. Military press

4. Barbell curls

5. Close-grip bench press

6. Standing calf raise

The Indirect Effect

The term ‘Indirect Effect’ is a bit of a misnomer because every exercise stimulates multiple muscles ‘directly’ at the same time. But it is accurate if you take the rationale that the muscles stimulated by a particular exercise have a ‘prime mover’ (the muscle that does the most work and is stimulated the most), and other muscles that ‘help’ the prime mover do its job – which I’ll call ‘synergist-supporters’ in this article. The synergists help out the prime mover to move the weight. The supporters basically have to contract very hard in an isometric fashion to stabilize the body, or parts of the body so that the prime movers and synergists can do their job. What most trainees don’t take into account is that the synergist-supporters have to work almost as hard, and in some cases harder than the prime movers. This means that these muscles are getting stimulated to get stronger (and bigger) and must get sufficient recovery time. If you don’t account for this when designing your training program it will lead to overtraining, overuse injuries and you won’t get nearly the results that you are capable of!

The indirect stimulation of a muscle (or group of muscles) must be figured into the entire scheme of a training program when determining exercise frequency. For instance you must take into account that after performing a single arm row that the bicep got ‘hit’ hard even though it is not considered the prime mover. If the row was performed properly and at the right intensity level the bicep work received during this exercise must be counted as an ‘arm’ workout even though it is primarily considered an exercise for the upper back muscles. Again, if the row was performed properly, no other bicep work needs to be done that workout. Sure you could still perform curls, but they would be performed with much less weight due to the fatigue, and damage accumulated during the row. Also performing curls after the row could take away from complete recovery of the bicep – which you will need for the next workout of the week where direct bicep work is performed. So, the bottom line is that by performing the row (or other major upper back movement) one time per week and performing a curl at another workout, the bicep got stimulated hard twice; it is like you have performed two curl workouts. Now let’s take this example further to see the comprehensive effect of the indirect effect of other exercises on the biceps.

Anyone who squats as hard as they should knows that the arms, especially the biceps, take a beating. So, shouldn’t this be ‘counted’ as a bicep workout? You betcha. Why shouldn’t it? Again, if you are squatting properly; I mean hard, your biceps are worked from holding the bar on your back while retracting the scapula. And as you get more developed, and can squat with more weight the harder your biceps need to work. It is much harder to hold 500 pounds on your back for a set of 5 reps than it is to hold 300 pounds for 5. I’m not saying that a beginning squatter doesn’t get some serious bicep work from holding onto 150 pounds – he does – it’s just that the 500 pound squatters’ biceps have to work even harder. So, the bottom line is that now (counting the bicep work above from the row and curls) you have hit the bicep hard three times.

Taking It Even Further …

Have you ever done serious ab work? I mean sit-ups with a 100 to 200 pound dumbbell held up under your throat with a serious, real, one-second pause at the top of the exercise for a set of 5 to 10 reps? Work up to the point where you can do this and you won’t believe what a beating your biceps take to hold these ponderous weights in position. In actuality it doesn’t even take weights of this magnitude to make the biceps work very hard during this exercise, especially for beginners. Now the bicep has been hit four times; one time directly through barbell curls, and three times very hard indirectly (the rows, squats and sit-ups).

Further Still …

If you do serious grip work – and you should – your biceps get one heck of a workout. Imagine holding a 300 pound barbell with an overhand grip, or two 120 pound dumbbells for two sets of one-minute duration while maintaining a slightly retracted and elevated shoulder position. When you do this the elbow joint should be slightly bent activating the bicep muscle to fire – and fire hard. Again, it won’t take a 300 pound barbell to have a tremendous effect on the biceps. A beginning trainee holding on for dear life with 120 pounds will do the job. When you have worked up to training at the proper intensity on this exercise not only will your arms be ‘fried’, but also your entire body will be shaking. Your biceps will be pumped as if you did a set of high rep curls.

Getting the Point to Sink in.

Now, take a moment to analyze the following:

· Squats with 400 pounds: biceps contracting as hard as possible to stabilize 400 pounds on your back for a duration of at least 25 seconds per set (based on a set of 5 reps) for 3 sets.

· Single-arm dumbbell rows with 120 pound dumbbell: bicep contracting to its limit to help the upper back muscles lift the 120 pounds for 3 sets of 5 reps.

· Sit-ups with 150 pounds: bicep squeezing to hold a 150 pound dumbbell at the collarbone for 2 sets of 10 reps with a one-second pause at the top position.

· Barbell grip work: biceps contracting as hard as possible to help stabilize and protect the elbow with 300 pounds for duration of 60 seconds (for 1 or 2 sets) at the end of a workout.

· And now mix in at a second workout later in the week … Barbell curls in which the bicep is the prime mover for 3 sets of 5 reps with 110 pounds (with a one- second pause at the top).

After digesting this, do you really think the bicep needs more work on a per-workout or weekly basis as a long-term training strategy? Now, there are instances when it is advisable to perform a particular exercise (such as a barbell curl) more than one time per week, like during a specialization period. But do you think the bicep really needs several sets of incline curls, concentration curls and preacher curls after several sets of barbell curls, all performed two times per week to reach their potential after all the work described above? I’ll answer this for you: No way! I hope you can clearly see why most trainees overtrain their biceps and get nowhere near the arm strength and development they are capable of.

I’ve used some fairly impressive poundage’s in the examples given above because I wanted to create an impressive visual representation. But, I want to reiterate that a beginning trainee will get the same effects with much lighter weights – it’s all relative.

Putting it all Together

By utilizing the phenomena of the indirect effect on the entire musculature of the body, the A-B Split provides an almost perfect level of stimulation while allowing for complete recovery through two workouts per week. This program stimulates all the musculature ‘directly’ at least one time per week, and ‘indirectly’ (usually multiple times) during the other – and in some cases both workouts. And as pointed out in the bicep example above, the ‘indirect hit’ is very close in magnitude to a ‘direct hit’- providing quality stimulation. The direct/indirect combo while preventing overtraining in general also prevents specific overuse injuries caused by moving a joint through a specific ‘groove’ with a large force too frequently; such as performing the bench press with maximal loads/volume three times per week.

Let’s walk through this exercise-by-exercise using the A-B template above to see how many muscles, and how many times each of these muscles, gets worked as either a prime mover (directly) or as a synergist-supporter (indirectly). I am going to leave out many ‘smaller’ muscles that contribute to the exercises in order to keep things simple. And the nomenclature used for the specific muscles is going to be kept in familiar gym vernacular.

Workout A


Prime mover(s); abdominals, hip flexors

Synergist-supporters; obliques, biceps, delts, traps


Prime movers; hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, quads

Synergist-supporter; lower back, upper back, abdominals, biceps, calves, forearms

Note: when squatting properly, no muscle is left out of the game!

Stiff-legged deadlifts:

Prime movers; hamstrings, glutes, lower back muscles

Synergist-supporters; all upper back muscles, calves, forearms

Bench press:

*Prime movers; Pecs

Synergist-supporters: delts, triceps, upper and lower back muscles

Dumbbell Rowing:

Prime movers: lats, traps, rhomboids (all upper back muscles), rear delts

Synergist-supporters: biceps, lower back muscles

Barbell static grip:

Prime movers: forearms

Synergist-supporters: all upper and lower back muscles, biceps

* I need to interject here that some strength authorities claim that the triceps are the muscle that does most of the work during a moderately wide grip (competition legal) bench press. This is true only if you are using a bench shirt (especially a tight one) because the shirt is basically replacing the pecs. This is evident when watching a ‘bench-shirt’ bencher compete. When they can’t make the lift it is usually because they can’t lock-out the weight at the top of the movement; the bar will literally shoot off the chest (due to the bench shirt – not real strength) only to come to a complete stop about 3 to 4 inches from lockout. The reality is that the bench shirt can’t help the triceps. This is why strength coaches who advocate competing with a bench shirt push the triceps as the most important part of the bench – which is not true in the real world of strength where a competitor displays his real strength without the help of an artificial aid. Now, I’m not saying the triceps isn’t important – it is – but it won’t mean diddly if your pec strength isn’t up to speed.

Workout B


Prime mover: internal and external obliques

Synergist-supporters: abdominals, all upper and lower back muscles

Deadlifts (all bent-legged varieties)

Prime movers: hamstrings, glutes, hip-flexors, quads

Synergist-supporters: lower back and all upper back muscles, delts, forearms, calves (again, like the squat most of the musculature of the body is hit hard)

Military press

Prime movers: deltoids

Synergist-supporters: triceps, pecs, all upper back muscles (especially traps)

Barbell Curls

Prime movers: biceps

Synergist-supporters: forearms, deltoids, all upper back muscles

Close-grip bench press

Prime movers: triceps

Synergist-supporters: deltoids, pecs, all upper back muscles

Standing Calf Raise

Prime movers: calves, soleus

Synergist-supporters: glutes, hamstrings, quads, traps

Do the math – that is a lot of work for every muscle in the body. Experience has taught me that it is an optimal amount of work combined with an optimal amount of rest when performed two times per week.

In Summary

The indirect effect of an exercise must be taken into account when considering the optimal amount of work for each ‘part’ of the body. Not taking this into account is one of the major reasons why most trainees programs don’t produce the results that they should. And it is major cause of overuse injuries. I’m confident that if you apply what you’ve learned in this article your training will soar to new heights – your strength will jump, you’ll pack on new muscle tissue and you’ll feel great going into each workout.

Destroy That Which Destroys You

"Let bravery be thy choice, but not bravado."

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