JM Blakely Appreciation Thread
More people will know of this guy because of his exercise the JM Press but JM Blakley was a bad man bench only competitor with a competition best of 710lb's @ 308lb's bodyweight. I came across him due to the recent Chaos and Pain blog posts on gaining weight which reference one of JM's most famous PL USA articles on bulking. A lot of you will recognise this mealplan from an EliteFTS article by Dave Tate:
The Big Boy's Menu Plan by JM Blakely
Cold, hard fact number one: If you gain weight, you will get stronger. Everybody already knows that. Even if most of the weight is not good weight, it will nevertheless have a positive effect on strength. Of course, there is the argument that the weight one gains should be quality weight (i.e. muscle, which is preferable) but the truth is that even adipose and water weight can contribute to heavier poundages lifted. It is beyond the scope of this article to address the exact physiological mechanisms for this but tissue leverage is commonly cited as the main reason for the phenomenon. My purpose is not to explain why this happens but rather to explain how to take advantage of the fact that it happens. Weight moves weight!
If you understand and accept this, you have probably tried to bulk up?Eat some point in your training. You also have probably experienced the frustration, first-hand, of just how difficult it can be to gain weight. Anyone can gain 15-20 pounds (and they often do on accident!) but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm speaking of adding on 35-40 pounds on purpose with a combination of extra-heavy lifting and extra-heavy eating! If anyone is confused about what I'm saying here then this article is not for you. I won't waste your time explaining and justifying the need for some lifters to put on weight. But for those of you who have been desperately trying to get your weight up and crack through a plateau, let's get to it. Why can't you seem to gain weight?
DO THE MATH
Quite simply, you aren't eating enough! I know, I know, you eat all the time, you eat more than everyone you know, you have a fast metabolism, yadda, yadda, yadda. I know all the excuses. I used them myself. I even believed them. But there are rules in the universe. We are bound by the laws of physics and no one is pardoned. Creating a positive caloric balance is completely defined by the equation: calories in vs. calories out = calories net. That's it. No one escapes it. If you eat more calories than you use in a day, you will gain weight. Period. There is some fluxuation for metabolic shifts and the efficiency of the body's absorption of calories, granted, but this effect is small and it is the rare person who exhibits a metabolism that could bear the blame for one unable to manipulate their weight. More about this later, but for now get it straight- your metabolism is not to be a scapegoat for your lack of discipline. You must eat more. If your metabolism speeds up then you must eat even more to cover that. There is a limit to how fast your metabolism can run. You must stay ahead of it. And you must learn to control it. Above all, you must accept the unarguable fact that you must put more food into your mouth.
My favorite question to ask those people who think they are eating tons of food but not gaining weight is, "what do you weigh?" Then when they answer (let's say 195 lbs. for example) I respond "and how long have you weighed that?" They almost always answer that they have been at their current weight for over one year and often much longer. To this I quip "then you are eating enough to maintain 195 pounds. If you want to weigh 215, you need to eat more than a person who weighs 195. You have to eat like a person who weighs 215! You have proven that you eat only enough to keep your weight steady. You've been 195 for some time now! And what you're eating is enough to hold that. But it's not enough to drive it up. So if you think you're eating all this extra food, think again. You're eating a maintenance feed lot. You need a growth feed lot! If you've been eating like a 215 pounder all last year, you would weigh 215 now! You're not eating any more than any other 195 pounder! Try harder! Eat more!"
The only hole in this example is the energy output of the individual. But all things being equal, I hope you are getting the point here. You can't gain weight if you don't eat more.
The general principle is this: train as hard as you can to create a stimulus for growth. Then feed the body everything it needs to adapt. You must cover three needs. The recovery, the repair, and the growth. Some trainees only eat enough to recover from the last workout. They will end up overtrained because they aren't meeting the need for repair and their tissues begin to break down under the strain of heavy lifting.
Other lifters will eat enough to recover and repair, but not enough to cover the expense of growth. These lifters end up on a constant plateau, having hard workouts, recovering from them and not overtraining, but never seeing progress. It's a stalemate (the maintenance feed lot group). They train for years and somehow excuse the lack of results to genetics or another bogey man.
You have to cover all three aspects of nutrient need recovery, repair, and growth. First , eat enough to recover from the stress of a training session. Second, eat enough to repair any damage the workout may have caused.(If you are training very heavy, there is always micro-trauma occurring at the cellular level). Third, you must eat even more to cover the cost of your body building itself up. If you don't eat these extra calories, where will the body get the energy to do the building? And what ,pray tell, do you suppose it will use for building material? Your body needs stuff (matter) to build with. You can't build something out of nothing. The body needs substance to convert into body mass. That substance is food.
The only way to be absolutely certain that you are getting the most out of your workout is to eat more than you need for recovery, repair, and growth. You will begin to see a bit of bodyfat start to accumulate. Please don't misunderstand me and think I'm telling everyone to get obesely fat. I'm only suggesting a light layer of "winter weight" or a "softening" You should never let your bodyfat percentage rise above unhealthy levels, and never put on what you can't get off.
This is what I call bathing the cells in nutrients. You give them all they need and then a little bit extra which you can see usually around your middle. Remember; it's OK to put it on to gain strength if you also plan to take it off later and maintain your new strength level when you diet. Just make sure you get around to dieting sooner or later! This way every workout has the nutrients it needs to give it the chance to be fully effective.
Step one is the realization that you are ,in fact, not eating enough. Some trainees will admit this but then have trouble with the work of eating. To this I say only: DISCIPLINE! You must eat on schedule. You must eat what you are supposed to. You must not excuse yourself from eating what you are supposed to when you are supposed to. This is the self same discipline that everyone recognizes the need for in losing weight. It is no different for you who would choose to gain weight. No one feels sorry for a person who says they are trying to lose a few pounds and then proceeds to attend meetings with Ronald McDonald, Ben and Jerry, and Bud Weiser. And I don't feel sorry for those who lack the discipline to eat more.
I know how difficult it can be. But I am reminded of the time I was complaining to a friend about how hard I was trying to get my weight up to 300 pounds and how tough it was for me to eat so much, and boo-hoo-hoo. The friend looked at me, clearly fed up with my whining, and remarked "I see several people over 300 lbs at work (he was a physical therapist) and they really don't seem to be trying all that hard! They weigh 300 and they don't try!"
This put it in better perspective for me. I even had the advantage of working out with weights to help boost my weight and these guys were out eating me and my best effort without so much as a second thought. If people can do it on accident, I could certainly do it on purpose! And I did. So can you.
Admit that you are undereating. Then admit that you are not trying your best. I don't believe you if you tell me you can't eat any more than you are eating now. If you tell me you can't eat any more, I'll tell you that you just can't have what you want then. (I never argue with someone who tells me they can't). That's the universe's law, not mine. If you can't do the work, you can't have the reward. Sorry. Now, do you really mean can't or is it more like won't? If you want it, you can. Ask anybody who has.
Those are the two biggest roadblocks to gaining weight. Admitting that you are not doing the job and that your effort has been less than stellar, and realizing that if others can do it so can you. Once you accept those responsibilities, instead of complaining and passing the buck, you can get to the business of getting down to it. And that, my friends, is the same in all endeavors, if you are willing to pay the price, you can have the reward. I will readily admit that it seems to be easier for some than others. But the price is relative. You are not anyone else. You must not compare the ease or difficulty which you are presented to anyone else's situation. So what if it is easier for your pal to gain weight than you? What does that have to do with you? Nothing. Your task is your task. If you must eat 400 calories more than him to get the same results, then that's the price for you . You decide for yourself whether to pay up or not. Oh yeah, I should mention - life's not fair. He got a discount and you got taxed. So what? You can still both have it. Are you willing to pay or not? If you're not, you're not. But your reason shouldn't be because it cost you more than someone else. When someone wants something bad enough they'll pay double! They don't care- they are just happy to get it.
What I'm telling you is that you can gain weight if you accept the fact that it is possible and that it is going to be hard. I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it. Get rid of any excuse or explanation for not gaining other than I'm not trying hard enough. I must try harder. Then you're on your way. Blame only yourself for past shortcomings and resolve to bring whatever it takes to the table from now on.
Tricks of the Trade: Big Boy's Menu Plan
One secret is caloric density. Learn to eat foods that provide more calories per unit volume. That is, they give you lots of calories for how much space they take up in the gut. 250 calories of salad fills you up even with the dressing but a chocolate bar would only feel like a snack.
Also, add lots of condiments to your food. Carry mayo with you and add lots of it to everything. Same goes for Thousand Island dressing and chocolate sauce. Be creative and never eat anything that you don't add calories to in some way. Melt provolone cheese over your pasta. Put ranch dressing on your pizza. Dip potato chips in honey. I don't care what sick and twisted combinations you come up with, as long as you find it palatable. You wouldn't believe some of the things I've eaten. ( Try a bowl full of peanut butter smothered in maple syrup and a stick of butter in the microwave for 30 seconds. Lay two Hershey bars over it to melt and you'll just start to understand.)
Carry food with you. Always have a jar of peanuts in your car. Carry Pop-Tarts, Slim Jim meat snacks, candy bars, anything handy that travels well and needs no special preparation. Never get caught away from food. Put it in your desk, your locker, your gym bag, your brief case, hell, carry some around in your pockets if you have to! Never miss a meal because you couldn't eat. What's that? Couldn't eat? It takes less than 50 seconds to eat two candy bars. That's over 500 calories. Even if you have to sneak it on the job, go to the john and wolf them down. You must never be without food. Take some with you. and never say you didn't have time (50 seconds?!) or opportunity. Find time or make time.
Eat immediately upon arising. Start right away. You lost time sleeping - you weren't eating! Fill up first thing in the morning. Don't wait! You went several hours without any food. The longer you wait the less time you have to get all the food your supposed to eat down. If you wait long enough it will be impossible to make it. You'll run out of time. Get off to a solid start. Minimum first meal calories: 1200. Eat over a grand right away and the rest of the day will be easier. Eat less, and you'll be playing catch-up all day long.
Eat just prior to bed. You are going to go for hours without food?Euel up! This is your last chance to feed your body for a long time give it one last push. This is uncomfortable for many, but with practice you will adapt and be able to eat a good calorie load before retiring. Shoot for 500 calories minimum.
Try foods you used to dislike or have never eaten before. After several weeks of overeating, everything begins to taste the same. Even your favorite foods lose their flavor. You exhaust your repertoire of choices. Open it up. Go for the calamari or the shark fin soup. Try a quiche. Eat at an ethnic restaurant. Find new favorites that you can eat lots of. I hated cottage cheese as a youngster, but now I mix it in with spaghetti and dump it into soups! I even eat the fat free variety on a reducing diet! You will surprise yourself. Don't be afraid to try. You may still dislike salmon, but you may get a taste for artichoke after all.
Drink regular soda pop (possibly caffeine free) and whole milk. Never drink any fluids that don't have calories. No tea without sugar, no coffee without cream and sugar, no diet beverages whatsoever. No plain water! Canned soda pop is an excellent source of purified water. But it also has precious calories. Gatorade is fine and has electrolytes as well. 108 ounces a day is the minimum. But don't fill your stomach without putting some calories in along with. A 12 0z. can of soda pop has about 150 calories. Quench your thirst and give your body more calories at the same time. ( I'm not knocking water, folks, I'm just illustrating that you can hydrate yourself and get calories in the bargain. )
Count your calories. You may think you are consuming an abundance of food, but you're probably giving yourself too much credit. It is very hard to eat over 5000 calories every day for weeks on end. And if its 7 or 8,000 you think you're getting in every day I think you'd better check that. Often a trainee will eat 6,000 calories on Monday, but then stoop to 3500 or so for the next two days. Then Thursday maybe get 5500 and follow that for two days of 3000. all the while they believe that they are eating 6000 every day. Avoid this kind of fluxuation. Keep a solid average. And keep track. At least for a series of days every now and then. A few days a month check up on yourself. If your goal is 5500 calories a day add it all up and make sure. You'll soon get better at estimating and you won't have to go through this so much. But take my advice, if you are not seeing the scale move the way you think it should, double check your count. You most likely are overestimating your intake. This gives you feedback so you can make adjustments. Even if you're an old pro at calorie counting it's a good idea to take account every so often.
Issues and Precautions
This kind of diet is admittedly not the most conducive to your overall health. But we should get one thing straight - you are not doing it for health reasons, you are doing it for better performance in your chosen sport. This is one of those "quality of life" issues. You choose to pursue powerlifting because of reasons other than improved health such as challenge, personal pride, self esteem benefits, sense of strength, or any other of a basket full of psycho/emotional reasons not to mention the sheer fun of it! There are plenty of health benefits to the sport of powerlifting and weight training in general which have all been outlined many times before. I acknowledge those, of course, I'm just saying that if you are competing and trying to bulk up, you probably have more personal motives for continuing to put so much into this sport. And those motives most likely supersede any health benefits.
Having said that, let me turn the table back on your health. This style of diet can have very serious effects on your body. One effect is a dramatic improvement in your strength. But another effect is an increase in your blood cholesterol level! It would be irresponsible of me to ignore the down side?E So I'll give a few suggestions of what I feel is prudent and responsible behavior that would accompany such an eating program. (It's all common sense, anyway!)
Have your cholesterol checked before you begin. Get a baseline. If you have high levels, you may want to reconsider and see your doctor about options to lower it.
Check your cholesterol every 15-20 pounds that you gain. Or every 10 weeks on the diet. Set a limit with your doctor as to how high you will permit it to rise and remain on the diet. If it goes above such-and-such a number, abort .
Do some form of cardiovascular exercise. Minimum 3 days per week. I know you don't want to spend the precious calories on cardio, but the cv exercise will help keep the cholesterol down as well as abating some of the inevitable sluggishness that comes with weight gain. I've done it both with and without cv and I feel much ,much better with a daily walk. And you can eat just one more snickers bar to cover it. All the while your heart gets some exercise and your metabolism doesn't get so loggy.
Check your blood pressure at the start and then every four days while on the diet. Get your own monitor or find one of the countless free places that you can have it taken for you. Use the same equipment every time. Expect some increase in bp. Consult your doctor and make a decision as to what you both will tolerate. If your bp goes past the limit you have set, abort.
Issues of sleep apnea can develop. This is a tough disorder in which you interrupt your breathing for a few seconds all through the night and wake up in the morning exhausted from gasping for 8 hours! This affects a huge number of people in the US but commonly is made worse by gaining weight. If it affects you, you may not know it?Eouíre asleep while it's going on. But sooner or later someone will tell you, your wife, your girlfriend, your next-door neighbor. It's often confused for a bad case of snoring. But after a couple of weeks of full nights rest and an accompanying deep fatigue, you will begin to suspect something is wrong. I wish I had some sort of fix-it for this but the only advice I can give is to try propping yourself up at a slight incline when you sleep and put up with it as much as your significant other will allow. If it is too much of a problem, seek medical attention and decide what else to try. If you must , abort. You won't see the progress you want in your training if you're not getting the rest you need.
Have a full blood work up done (this will most likely accompany your cholesterol but ask for it any way. These days health care professionals are cutting costs and if you ask for cholesterol values that may be all that gets run!) . Of special interest are : triglycerides, liver enzymes, thyroid levels especially T-4 and TSH, and any values having to do with pancreatic function. These can become upset with drastic changes in dietary habits and need an eye kept on them.
Measure your bodyfat percentage. Set a limit to how high you will let it go. Remeasure it every 10 pounds you gain. See how many pounds are muscle and how many are fat. A good bargain is 1 pound of muscle for every 2-3 lbs of fat.
If you are a master lifter, consider your medications and consult your doctor about the effect weight gain may have on any of them especially heart meds. Your dosage may need to be adjusted.
Remember that the weight gain is to be temporary. You should plan a reducing diet to follow at a specified time in your training. This is where you attempt to maintain most of the new strength you amassed during the bulking phase while lowering your body fat to the same level you started at. You are not training to get stronger, only to hold the strength you have while dropping the excess. Commit yourself to the goal of returning to your starting level of bodyfat and see how much of the new strength you're kept. If you diet right, it should be above 80%. So that is your true gain. The gain you keep after gaining and losing the excess bodyfat is what counts. If you gain 20 lbs on your bench and lose 15 when you diet, you missed the point. If you gain 20 lbs on the bench and keep 15 (16) you've achieved something and done it correctly. Now repeat this process as necessary!! I suggest that you only hold your weight heavy for no longer than 5-6 months before you diet back down. Each time you repeat this process, you will hold more strength and have more muscle mass than before. Avoid staying heavy too long. It is only temporary!
These things will help you minimize the risks associated with the rigors of body weight manipulation. Competitive sports all have risks. Every highschooler who puts on a football helmet on Friday night and knocks heads with the cross-town rivals takes the risk of spinal injury. Risks are unavoidable and usually increase with the level of play. Just be responsible. Take care of yourself within the risks. Do what you can to minimize them. Pay attention. If you don't watch your blood pressure, how do you know if you might not be begging for a stroke? For Christmas sake, at least know what you're levels are. You can always decide to do what is right for you. Continue or stop. Or continue on a different course. But at least do the best you can to stay as healthy as you can.
Remember: If you want to beat the man, you've got to out -eat the man!
JM Blakley's tips for a bigger bench press
Whatís the fastest way to a big bench? I get asked that all the time. ďWhatís your rush?Ē I respond. Building a big bench (or any substantial amount of strength in any lift) requires time. But nobody wants to hear that and nobody wants to wait.
So, for the impetuous among us here are my top tips to the big iron! These serve as a primer only and are only superficially explained. However, they should all stand up to the gauntlet of common sense and Iím sure that at least a few will be of use to you. Read on and ďload the bar!Ē
1. Strengthen your triceps. Many lifters do very well or better in the bench press after pec tears that go un-repaired. Think about it!
2. Donít do endless ďotherĒ pressing movements. It is way too easy to over train the chest and shoulders. Limit your workout to 2 exercises per body part. Remember: more is not better, only better is better!
3. Keep your elbows at no greater than 45 degrees away from the sides of your body when pressing. Nothing puts more stress on the anterior joint capsule and related structures than benching with your elbows straight out. Well maybe not nothing, but itís got to be close to one of the worst habits you can get into.
4. Do some kind of rotator cuff work. A more stable shoulder joint always pay off in probable protection from injury and by limiting the loss of power transfer from the chest to the arms. Tight is right!
5. Simplify your program. I donít know you. I donít know what you do. But Iíll bet your program is too complicated. Do lessÖbetter. Put all your energy into totally mastering a few things rather than making almost un-noticeable headway in many things. Keep it simple and show real, tangible progress in only one thing. This allows you to put all your energy in a concentrated area. Once youíve seen substantial gains, move the focus to another aspect. One thing at a time you see growth. After a while you will have it covered! I know this sounds like the whole ďit takes time thingĒ again but really, like a great wine or a fine cigar, some things will not be rushed!
JM Blakleyís 4x6 Bench routine
I. BENCH DAY
Pattern Warm-Up (Mental and Physical Readiness)
* for example: 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 2 (nothing too heavy)
Skill and Neuromuscular Work
* 2-3 sets of singles with near max weight, but light enough to be a sure thing with perfect form (around 85% of raw max)
* For a shirt trainer the same pattern with the shirt (2-3 x 1 @ 90% of shirt max); should be done at least every other week
* Bench with pause 4 sets of six starting at the raw 6RM. Stay at this weight until you get six reps on all sets and then raise 5 lbs and start over Öand so on ad infinitum
Once all sets of 6 are done you are done. Go home.
II. ACCESSORY DAY (Tricep Day)
4 sets of six in the same manner as on the Bench day for two exercises (JM covers 30 plus exercises in the XTM tape but 2 combos he liked where Floor Press with Chain and Reverse Band Press and 3 Inch Rack Lockouts with Comp Grip and JM Presses). Exercises are changed when they start to go stale, roughly every 8 to 12 weeks.
Depending on the weaknesses of the lifter, the Bench day or the Accessory day can be exchanged for a shoulder cycle, an A/C repair cycle or a chest drive cycle.
Chest Drive Cycle
Keep your tricep day the same but drop the regular bench press. Pick 2 exercises from his chest selection: deep weighted dips, camber bar bench, deep dumbell press, wide grip floor press. Do 2 of these for 4x6 when not preparing for a meet.
This cycle is to be done after a meet. Once again no regular bench pressing but do one giant set of collar to collar grip bench press, bench to neck, rainbow press(aka bradford press), 1/2 reverse grip press. Do these for 4x20 doing each exercise one right after the other and then resting after each series. (Emphasis on Technique is Stressed)
Speed work, 3 sets of 7, can be added last on both training days as long as it is light enough not to raise a recovery demand. A quick note about Blakley speed benching: JM did it differently than Westside by starting out slow and progressively increasing the speed of the reps until working at max speed. With the last three being all-out. His rationale for this was to give the body something to compare fast against (slow, faster, faster, faster, FAST, FAST, FAST!!!). On the tape, he mentions being inspired by the fartlek drills runners do.
Closer to a meet or peaking event, the weight can be raised to 4x3 for four to eight weeks.
More about Blakley
12 weeks out from a meet Blakley trained nothing but bench and triceps. When he was benching under 600 he did that chest and tricep routine on the same day every 5 days! He also had a standard back and bicep day and leg day just like a bodybuilder. He had a rule though that he would never do more than 2 exercises per bodypart. He was a big believer in shrugs and also rode the bike a lot. He only trained shoulders for 6 weeks after a meet doing his standard shoulder cycle. He trained shoulders to provide support not strength. Towards the end of his career, when he was getting into the 700 and 800s he only had his bench day and tricep day.
Fixing the Lockout
Letís face it, most benches fail just slightly past the sticking point some where between 60-90% of the way up. It is rare to see a bar fail below 30% or on the chest, unless the lifter has delusions of grandeur and has seriously miscalculated their strength. On occasion the bar will stop at the traditional sticking point, but curiously many a lifter will clear this supposed toughest of spots only to stall short of lockout on max attempts. There are mechanical and physical reasons for this but without a long -winded discourse on the subject, letís just deal with it. Weíve all seen it or felt it at one time or another. What can we do about it?
The main problem deals with triceps drive. And there are two answers. Train the triceps to be stronger, and change the timing of the triceps drive to engage earlier.
Practical Lockout Exercises
Any triceps exercise will help with lockout strength. But to really see a dramatic change you should do specific lockout work. Hereís a list of top shelf lockout drills to really make finishing your strong suit. Included is a template for sets and reps which can be modified to your needs.
One major warning, though: be careful not to overtrain! Lockout work tends to be heavier than normal bench work due to the abbreviated nature of the stroke. Itís easy to get carried away and overdo it. The rewards come fast and moving the big poundages is addicting. Heavy lockout work should be limited to 4-6 weeks. The joints will need the rest after a good cycle. You can return to it in as soon as 6-8 weeks and drive the finishing strength even higher. Just keep an eye on inflammation and general soreness in the shoulder and elbow joints.
Traditional Rack Lockouts
Set up in a power rack so that the bar rests on the cross-pins and will allow you a three inch movement to full extension. This distance can be lengthened (5 inches+) but not made any shorter. Assume a competition grip and take a normal lift-off. NEVER pick the bar off the rack yourself for the first rep. It is difficult to feel where to start when the bar is suspended in an unfamiliar position. It is very hard to find the groove on the first rep if you donít lower it as you normally would. You may start the bar too low and torque a rotator cuff muscle, or you may start too high and tweak a deltoid. Or you may just do a sloppy energy-wasting first rep. Avoid all this by taking a normal lift-off and lowering the bar as you would a normal full rep.
The bar will contact the pins three inches down and you will be in your groove. Touch the pins lightly and evenly and return the bar to arms length. Itís important not to bounce the bar off the pins which is the most common mistake. A short pause on the pins will eliminate this tendency but is not necessary if you maintain good control.
Triple lockouts have always worked best for the lifters I have coached although sets of 4,5, and 6 could be considered. My own best results were seen with sets of three. Although many sets can be performed before the trainee senses deep fatigue I suggest limiting the total number of working sets to only 3 (not counting warm-ups).
A variation on the competition 3 inch lockout ( which I feel has the most benefit) is a close grip 3 inch lockout. This is performed as above but with a narrow grip (8-14 inches between hands). It emphasizes the triceps even more but changes the angle of the lockout from that of a normal bench press lockout. Although not my favorite, it has merit and should be explored. Of course there are all the grip widths in between too. These are a compromise of either of the methods (competition or close) and are luke-warm in my opinion. Stick with either a bench-specific lockout or a close grip. They will do the job just fine.
The use of chains was introduced to me by George Halbert and Lou Simmons on my very first visit to the famous Westside Barbell Club. An unorthodox method to be sure but ingenious all the same. Let me explain how it works.
The barbell is set up in a power rack to do floor presses (for those who are not familiar, a floor press is a bench press without the bench! Lying on the floor the bar is brought toward the chest until the elbows come in contact with the ground. Then the bar is driven back to arms length). Weights are loaded to the bar in normal fashion to about 60-80% of the total load. This percentage can vary with application for either strength or speed work but the principle is the same.
The remaining weight is added by draping heavy steel chains over the ends of the barbell on the outside of the plates. They should just barely touch the floor at the top of the movement. As the bar descends toward the chest, the chain links begin to pile up on the floor. At the bottom of the motion the total bar weight is reduced by virtue of the fact that now half the weight from the chains is sitting on the floor and adding no weight to the bar! As the bar is driven upward, every link that is picked up now adds weight steadily to the bar. Every inch higher the bar travels, the more it weighs because more chain is now hanging from it!
This makes the lockout phase the heaviest portion of the movement. The bottom is light, the top is heavy. This places more work on the triceps and is a great specific overloader of the lockout.
This is done in either competition grip or narrow grip as outlined above. For the most specific help to your lockout, use a competition grip. For massive triceps development and power production, a narrow grip can be employed. I have no favorite grip width on this one, they both work great.
Triples again seem to work best. Six reps are just too fatiguing with the big weights used. Triples are quick and clean and you tend not to get sloppy on the last reps. I think that despite the higher loads, triples are safer. Four sets is the max.
Chain work can also be used for speed enhancement but will not be discussed here. This article deals with strength development, but bear in mind that the chains have many uses. Lou Simmons has written plenty on this subject already.
These are really not high on my personal list but have worked so well for so many that I felt I needed to mention them.
Board presses are performed by placing several 2x4s on the chest and lowering the bar to them and returning to an arms-extended position. The boards can be 2, 4, or 6 inches tall and shorten the bar stroke by the coinciding distance.
This is a partial movement similar to rack work from pins. The bottom of the motion is avoided and the stroke is limited to the top or lockout portion.
There are advantages and disadvantages to doing board presses. The major advantage (over setting up pins in a rack to corresponding heights as the board stacks) is that it is a more natural feel to the press. Pressing off rack pins is awkward and difficult to balance both sides evenly. With board presses, the bar touches at only one point in the center of the body as opposed to two points on the rack pins. The board presses feel like a real bench press more.
The disadvantage is not in the exercise itself, but rather in the performing of the exercise. Cheating runs rampant! I have rarely seen this exercise done with good form! The two main methods of cheating are literally bouncing the weight off the boards ( which is so common I think that it has become part of the exercise description nowadays) and sinking the bar and boards down into the chest and heaving up like a bucking bronco! Worst of all is a combination of both.
In my own experience, I found it very difficult to refrain from employing these cheating advantages myself. Nonetheless, the exercise works in principle and in the gym. Even lifters with atrocious form seem to benefit some! But beware! Many lifters fake progress in this exercise by beginning with good form and then getting sloppier and sloppier over time. They keep adding weight and keep lifting it by bouncing more and more! Theyíre no stronger, theyíre just better at cheating.
There is no reason why this can not be a fine lockout developer if kept in reasonable strictness. Stay tight, touch light, and never heave. Four sets of 3-6 reps will be sufficient.
This exercise works the lockout in a slightly different way. Sure, it builds triceps, but it also does something else. It helps enhance the neuro-muscular link to aid the timing of the triceps drive.
Have you ever seen a lifter who blows the weight off their chest and youíre sure itís going to go through the roof, but then the weight seems to abruptly stall and even fade before the lifter recovers and grinds the weight slowly up to the top? Well, thatís timing. They had the strength to lift the weight, but there was a lapse in the explosion of the chest drive and the initiation of the triceps drive. It looks like a two-stroke movement. One-two and itís finished. The triceps are late and the chest drive momentum runs out. The bar stalls and must be re-started by triceps alone. Thatís the hard way!
Every effort must be made to make the press only one movement from bottom to top involving all the muscles synchronized together and performing optimally. This timing usually involves teaching the trainee to fire the triceps earlier. There is no better exercise for that than unloading.
This exercise was taught to me by Lou Simmons just prior to my moving to Los Angeles. I liked it so much, I purchased my own bands (Jumpstretch rubber bands) to continue my work with it in California.
The bands are suspended from the top of a power rack. They are attached to the outside of an Olympic bar on the sleeve. The bar is now also suspended from the top of the rack. Place a bench in the rack and add weight to the bar until it stretches to your chest level if you were in competition pressing position. This amount will vary on the band strength and the height of the rack. Modifications should be made so that the amount on the suspended bar at your chest level is 150-225 lbs. That means the bar is hanging from the rack by the bands with 225 lbs on it just at your chest. The bar weight is effectively zero here even though 225 lbs are on the bar (modifying this takes a bit of creativity but get as close as you can to this by elevating the bench or fastening the bands in a different configuration).
As you lift the bar in normal form, the bands begin to go slack and at the top of the lift you are now supporting nearly all the weight (200 or so pounds). As the bar descends the bands begin to stretch and get taught thereby supporting more and more of the weight as it is lowered. By the time the bar is on your chest, it weighs practically nothing and is suspended by the bands almost in full.
This again works the lockout portion of the lift exclusively. The bottom is easy and the top is hard (the bands go slack and youíre left holding the bar up!).
Training the timing is accomplished by adding weight to the bar so that you can get only 6 reps. If you have 425 pounds on the bar, remember that the bottom only weighs 200! The top feels all of 425 but the bottom is light!.
This teaches you to accelerate through the easy portion and build power as you extend. If you wait to build momentum on the bar until the bands go slack youíll get stuck! You have to carry through the whole movement. By accelerating the bottom and thinking to kick in the triceps as early as possible, the weight rides the wave to the top. If you wait with the triceps drive it will be too late, the help from the bands will be gone and you and your triceps will be staring at a still bar 3/4 of the way up.
The whole idea is to use everything: bands, chest , and triceps to accelerate the bar and glide through the sticking point and continue to accelerate all the way to the top! This training technique is especially helpful when applying this to using a bench shirt which performs a similar function as the bands, helping the bottom of the motion more than the top.
It is amazing how much this exercise helps you understand the timing principle. Get some bands!
This exercise also has speed work applications as well as Iím sure you can imagine. Again, those are best left to another article and author.
Four sets of 6 is recommended.
In summary, try to add one of these lockout builders to your routine once a week. Never do this kind of extra heavy work more frequently as overtraining is a risk. These exercises are similar and doing more than one of them in a cycle may be redundant. Pick one and go at it like hell for 6 weeks. Take a break and return and try another. There are plenty of other exercises for lockout development , but there are none better. If you already have a favorite , work a few of these into your rotation. Chains can be cumbersome and expensive so if you do not have access to them buy some bands. They can be used to simulate the chains by securing them beneath the bench and over the bar. As you press up the bands tighten and provide more resistance at the top. They are smooth and quieter than the chains, too. Chains are superior in my opinion as they add inertia and momentum factors which the bands do not. Both methods will work for you, though. Good lifting, J.M.
Give It A Rest
It is easy to get caught in the trap of under-recovery. And we can all understand why. We associate getting stronger with the gym. So standing on that assumption, we feel that more time and days we spend in the gym will surely equal more strength for us. And of course in the early years of training this thinking is supported by the facts. We add to our modest efforts andÖpresto!Ömore results. Itís hard to argue with that kind of reinforcement.
But the truth is that one DOES NOT get stronger in the gym. One gets stronger during RECOVERY after the workout in the gym is long over. One actually gets weaker in the gym. Thatís right! Think about it, could you produce a higher one rep max on your way to the gym or on your way home from the gym? If your workout was worth anything youíll be exhausted and your strength will actually be down (temporarily) as a result of the training youíve just done! So does the gym make you stronger? No! it makes you weaker, it tires you out, it exhausts you! What makes you stronger is your bodyís response to that exhaustion. The gym has only an indirect effect on your increased strength. Itís direct effect is to lower your strength. Strength gain comes during recovery when youíre miles from the gym!
What Iím getting at here is that too often an intermediate or advanced trainee will begin to (and I hate to use this phrase) over-train. They associate more in the gym with more results. And sadly, after the novice stage, nothing could be more of a mistake. This is a source of deep confusion and real frustration for all who canít shake the Ēmore is betterĒ attitude.
My own answer to that is that more is not better; only better is better. You must fully understand the importance of recovery if you are ever to tap your full potential.
The first step is to let go of the old attachment to the gym. I know that this is almost impossible to do. The gym has been a place of psychological power and self-esteem and the layers of mental attachment are too deep for me to tackle here. People like us hold the gym environment in an almost sacred light. And itís no wonder. We have gotten so many great emotional benefits from one particular place that itís hard not to kind of aggrandize the whole thing. We feel great there. It makes us feel good just to go there. Even if we have a lousy workout, itís better than that awful feeling we get when we miss too many workouts. You know what Iím talking about. The weights are a very unyielding mistress! And we will always be drawn to them for reasons other than physical.
But at times this can hamper our progress. We seem to just be going through the motions and hit the dreaded (and I hate to use this phrase) plateau.
We work harder and harder but our results are not forthcoming. So we give it that little bit extra. We dig deep. We say more must be what it takes. And still, meager results or worse even a slight decline! Frustration! And somewhere between the stale workouts, the inevitable small injuries, and the re-determined will to try harder we come to accept that we have reached our so-called ďgenetic potentialĒ and without saying it try to feel satisfied with where we are.
I donít believe that anyone knows what his or her full potential is, I donít believe in genetics as a ceiling for performance, and I donít believe in plateaus. If I did I would have stopped lifting when I hit a 500 pound bench for I assure you I was convinced that that was all I could ever lift!
You shouldnít believe it either. If you do youíre lost. You can always fall back on one of those excuses for sub par performance. And some people always do. But if you are to break away to the next level you must evolve your thinking.
REMEMBER THIS: what got you here got you here. It is not necessarily what will take you on ahead. If you keep doing what you always do youíll keep getting what you always got.
The answer to most plateaus is added recovery. You want an answer that involves more? OK! Rest more!!! Take more days in between workouts. The training program you are using must be somewhat sound or you would have aborted it long ago. The reason you cling to it now is that it used to work! And it probably still will. Give it a rest. Add one or two extra days between training sessions. Thatís my big magical answer. Just plan in more recovery. Then watch the numbers begin to climb like they used to! This is what needs to evolve. Not necessarily your training (but eventually this too must change) but for now adapt your recovery schedule.
The Law of Recovery
The rule is simple: the harder (meaning heavier) you train, the longer it takes to recover. Thatís the law. Donít miss this! Iíll repeat: you need more recovery the heavier you lift. Thatís the whole point of this article. If youíve been making progress on your current program your strength has undoubtedly gone up. What modifications in your recovery have you made to coincide with this? Iíll bet none. Iíll bet you train on the same schedule as you did when you began the program when you were 20% weaker and your training loads were ĺ what they are now. You did not observe the rule! The harder (heavier) you work, the more rest you need. I am suggesting that if you invoke the rule you can remain on your current program and still see good results. (bear in mind though that at some time this too will pass).
Stretch out your recovery time. This is very,very uncomfortable to those who hold fast to their gym attachment. They feel they will get weaker if they donít bench every so many days and go into a mild panic when told to stay out of the gym. This is irrational but understandable. There have been efforts over the years to alleviate this gym withdrawl by prescribing ďlight daysĒ of exercise to help the gym addict make it to the next real training session. I generally disagree with this. If a workout is not of a sufficient level of intensity, it will not induce growth or strength gain. Going in and squatting a couple hundred pounds for a few sets and reps will in no way cause strength increase for a 650lb squatter. In my opinion it is senseless and cuts into recovery time if done too heavily. So there is no chance of gains but a decent possibility of making recovery incomplete. I donít like the odds. Stay out of the gym! If you want to loosen up or get circulation going to aid recovery, use a non-gym approach. Perform stretches or walk or swim or whatever at a low intensity level. Going back to the gym is just too tempting and you may hinder rather than help. For the love of God,people,thereís a whole wide world out there!! You can exercise without weights.
This article was written to emphasize the need for two things. The need for added recovery with increased workloads, and the need to let go of the gym and evolve your attitude of where strength really comes from. My advice is to take a few extra days (1 or 2) in between training bouts.
I write from personal experience. This was a very difficult lesson for me to grasp. Each month I was having fewer training sessions per body part. It seemed backwards. But four intense, all-out, balls-to-the-walls workouts a month will get you a hell of a lot farther than 12 mundane, mediocre go-through-the Ėmotions workouts. It is all linked to the quality and intensity of your training. As you progress you will get stronger. Your training loads will go up. You canít expect that your body can recover just as easily and in the same time span as it did with the lighter weights. You must adapt your recovery time. Your thinking must evolve. You will have to find something to do with yourself outside the comfort and security of the house of pain or the dungeon or whatever you call your little iron sanctuary. Read a book. Smoke a good cigar. Take the wife out to dinner. I donít know. But if youíre at a plateau and youíre frustrated, stay out of the gym. Give it a rest.
Great thread and posts LtL.
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