There are many different approaches to increasing muscular size. Although an increase in muscular size indicates increased strength, each of the approaches results in different types of strength. I’ve written a lot about sustained strength from heavy, nonstop descending-set and superset training. Endurance strength from high-rep training, on the other hand, allows you to do more with lighter poundages. When most people think of strength, they envision explosive strength – those huge bench presses, powerful squats, and big overhead presses.
This is why people want to see you arm wrestle the local tough guy at parties. If you can tear a telephone book or bend a spike at a get-together, they’ll be more satisfied than if you just flexed your muscles. People want to see strength performances. Seeing is believing.
Practically speaking, that extra strength can bring about victory in athletics. It can save the day in an emergency situation where strength is needed at once to move a heavy object. Strength makes emergency tasks possible. All through life you will run into situations where you’ll be glad you took the time to train for strength.
The early bodybuilding champions almost all trained for strength, and the strongman bodybuilders remain legends – from Eugen Sandow, John Grimek, Marvin Eder, Reg Park, Chuck Sipes and Franco Columbu to contemporary muscular powerhouses like Dean Tornabene, Ray Mentzer, Tim Belknap, and the list goes on into the future. Those who do well in physique shows but whose poundages are lacking can improve their strength considerably by incorporating the following techniques into their training.
In most cases you should do your strength training during a period of gaining weight. These workouts should be short and basic with days in between for growth and mental and physical recuperation. Shorter workouts with fewer exercises and sets allow you much more energy for power. At first, while your mind is conditioned to longer bodybuilding workouts, this may seem too brief, but if you stay with the program you’ll experience that excess energy in the form of increased strength.
The Power Bodybuilding Program
The exercises may look simple – they’re mostly basic movements – but any accomplished power-bodybuilder will tell you that it’s not so much the complexity of the exercises as it is the effort and attention to correct form.
Begin each exercise with warmup sets. Do deep, slow movements to stretch ligaments and tendons, while “waking up” the mind and muscles. Next, do your heavy sets. Explode on the positive movement, and use controlled return movements.
Bench Press, medium-wide grip, lowered to mid-chest, elbows out.
2x6, 2x4, 2x2, 2x1.
Incline Press. Use a barbell and set the bench to 35 degrees.
Dips. Add weight, lean forward, keep your elbows out.
One set each of 6, 5 and 4.
Bentover Row. Use a medium grip. Keep your body parallel to the floor. Pull the bar to your body, hold, and lower slowly.
Use added weight, and straps if needed. Stand on a box or bench and boost yourself up, then lower slowly. Do the first set with a wide grip, the second with a medium grip and the third, narrow.
3x6, one set of unweighted chins x max reps.
Power Curls. After a set of strict curls for 10 reps, take a heavy barbell. Rock forward, then swing the weight to your chest, using momentum and keeping your back slightly bent. Lower the bar very slowly, then immediately begin another rep.
Day 3 – Rest
Squat. Go down to just below parallel.
2x8, 2x4, 2x2.
Front Squat or Leg Press. All the way down.
Bottom Half Squats. Start in the full squat position. Come up halfway.
Calf Raise. Use three toe positions.
Day 5 – Rest
Day 6 – Supports and Lockouts.
Bench Press Supports. Begin with 20% more than your maximum bench press. Lie directly under the racks with the bar set at a height that requires a two or three inch movement to lock out. Lock out the weight and support it for 10-20 seconds or until the weight forces itself down to the racks. Do 3 sets, trying for 20 seconds. Now remove 20% of the weight and try to do a set of 6-10 lockouts.
Squat Supports and Lockouts. Perform this exercise as you did the bench press supports. Keep your legs locked for 3 sets of up to 20 seconds. Reduce the weight by 20% and do a set of 6-10 short-range lockouts.
Overhead Press Lockouts. Set the bar on a rack so it is level with the top or your head and don’t stand on tiptoes to measure this. Press the weight overhead, using a weight that lets you do 6 reps and no more. Do 3 sets.
Deadlift. This is a full-range movement. Take a few deep breaths between reps. Do 3 sets of 4 reps.
Day 7 – Rest
Now let’s review the strength techniques used. Use lower reps and ascending-set progression. Take longer rests between sets – around 3 minutes, or enough to completely regain your energy for the next set. Use controlled negative movements when lowering the weight. Use some cheating on the high pulls, power curls and power chins. On leg day use partial movements, breaking the squats into several different range of motion exercises.
Having been around both lifters and bodybuilders, I have observed that bodybuilders trying to apply bodybuilding philosophies to power training often incur injuries. They always go for more and always go to failure. Experienced lifers, on the other hand, back cycle frequently in poundages and take a light week every 4 to 6 weeks. The results of this are often continuous gains without setbacks due to injury and staleness.
Let’s take the bench press as an example. You work up to 2 sets of 2 with 300 pounds. On the next workout increase your bench press sets by 2½ to 5 pounds. Do the same on your third workout. For the fourth workout go back down by 5 pounds. 300, 305, 310; 305, 315, 320.
Ted Arcidi uses another method. On the first workout he goes all out for maximum efforts. The next time he uses the same exercises for the same number of sets and reps but lifts 40 to 50% less weight! In this way, he alternates heavy weeks with maintenance weeks.
A study of the techniques used by Olympic and Powerlifters will help you avoid injuries and bypass staleness while seeking strength.
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