Smart Training. Variations for Size and Strength.

Charles Poliquin’s

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Q: Why is variety so important for strength development?

A: In addition to stimulating growth, variety helps prevent repetitive-strain injuries. Carpal tunnel syndrome is epidemic in this country, but it’s not because typing is such a strenuous task—it’s because typing in the same manner for long periods is stressful. One physical therapist in California said that when he treated bodybuilders for biceps tendinitis, one common denominator he found was that they had been performing the same biceps exercises for months without change.

The changes you make don’t have to be extreme. About 20 years ago at an NSCA convention I bought a pair of Pignatti lifting shoes, which had a slightly lower heel than the Adidas I’d always used. Once I got home, like a kid with a new Christmas toy, I couldn’t wait to try out my Pignattis on 10 sets of triples in the squat. When I got out of bed the next day, I was so stiff that I thought I’d been whacked on the legs with bamboo sticks by a crowd of Kendo practitioners. The only difference was the lower heel height of the shoes.

If a change as minor as that can cause a major response, it’s easy to understand how effective you can make a workout by simply alternating your grip or foot stance. To prove it, try an omni squat workout. That means you vary the type of squat you perform over the sets. I have more than 25 workout variations in my computerized program; here’s one of them:

Omni Squats Mode 1

Set 1: Back squats, medium stance, elbows under the bar, 6 reps

Set 2: Back squats, wide stance, hands to the ends of the collars; lean forward 15 degrees, and keep the trunk angle constant through the entire set, 6 reps

Set 3: Cyclist squats, heels 4 inches apart, elevated 6 inches or so, 6 reps

Set 4: Back squats, medium stance, elbows under the bar, 8 reps

Set 5: Back squats, wide, hands to the ends of the collars; lean forward 15 degrees, and keep the trunk angle constant through the entire set, 8 reps

Set 6: Cyclist squats, heels 4 inches apart, elevated 6 inches or so, 8 reps

Set 7: Back squats, medium stance, elbows under the bar, 12 reps

Set 8: Back squats, wide stance, hands to the ends of the collars; lean forward 15 degrees, and keep the trunk angle constant through the entire set, 12 reps

Set 9: Cyclist squats, heels 4 inches apart, elevated 6 inches or so, 20 reps (yes, 20 reps; do not write in to ask if I really mean 20 reps)

Do that routine, and see how well you can tango for the next few days. It may not enable you to lift a full-grown bull the way Milo did, but you’ll achieve gains you never thought possible.

Q: You’ve been a strength coach for more than 28 years, so what do you consider strong?

A: What really impress me are big lifts made by athletes who use weight training to help them perform in their primary sports. For example, I saw an East German javelin thrower, a woman weighing about 130 pounds, split-snatch 242 pounds. And I saw a Russian wrestler bench-press 540 pounds for eight reps at a 4/2/1/0 tempo, which means he lowered the bar to his chest in four seconds and then paused two seconds on his chest before pressing it to arm’s length! Now, a powerlifter, wearing supportive gear, might not raise his eyebrows at that particular press, but the Russian was a wrestler who probably thought that supportive gear for strength training was a jockstrap.

I’d like to share with you a few strength feats that I’ve witnessed. In the past bodybuilders often competed in weightlifting because they were as strong as they looked. John C. Grimek, for example, was a member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic weightlifting team and also a winner of the Mr. America, the most prestigious bodybuilding title at the time. Strongman Mike Dayton trained with Arnold Schwarzenegger and said Arnold could bench-press more than 500 pounds; and Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu, at only 5’5”, could challenge the best powerlifters in the deadlift, claiming a personal best of 750 pounds.


Rep Range

Eric Broser

Rep Range

Almost every day I’m asked the same question by fellow weight-training fanatics: “Why can’t I grow anymore? I used to grow consistently, but it just stopped!” Although the answer to that question can be quite complex and the result of many factors, I find a commonality among those who have hit the wall on muscle growth: They use the same rep range day in and day out, week in and week out, year after year.

Muscle-Building Excerpts From IRON MAN’s Online E-zine

Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson

Muscle-Building Excerpts From 
IRON MAN’s Online E-zine

It’s one of IRON MAN’s most popular features, and it’s not even published in the magazine. It’s the weekly IM e-zine that’s delivered directly to your e-mail box free—once you sign up (it’s easy and there’s absolutely no charge; see the editor’s note at the end of this feature). Each issue offers insightful commentary, and the authors often dissect new research or analyze how the champs train. They explain exactly how to use the information to make your hardcore muscle-building workouts more efficient—and effective—than ever. In fact, that’s the entire purpose of the online newsletter—to get you bigger faster with quick blasts of useful info.

How to Refresh Your Instinctive Workout

Larry Scott

How to Refresh Your Instinctive Workout

We human beings seem to be slow at absorbing new ideas—especially if the new idea is directly in front of us. As Irish poet Aubrey T. de Vere said, “Prejudice, which sees what it pleases, cannot see what is plain.”

We’ve all heard of instinctive training, or I.T. Many consider it the most effective method of training, at least for advanced bodybuilders. It can generally be described as a system in which the trainee tries to intuitively discover the unique combination of exercises that will be most effective for his body. I.T. recognizes that each trainee is unique and therefore that the system of exercises just right for him may not be right for the next fellow.

Starr Power

John Balik

Starr Power

Bill Starr’s landmark training book, The Strongest Shall Survive, was first published in 1977. I remember devouring it in one night. Bill wrote with such clarity, conviction and enthusiasm that you just wanted to get into the gym and have a superintense workout, and over the past 25 years his wisdom has stood the test of time. The book is a reference I’ve revisited many times—and must reading for aspiring strength athletes.


Steve Holman


It was almost like slow motion. I vividly remember the time I nearly split open my head doing flyes in my home gym. I was clanging my adjustable dumbbells together at the top of each rep—I hadn’t discovered Arnold’s continuous-tension technique yet—when one of the collars came loose and sent a plate plummeting toward my cranium. Luckily, only the 2 1/2-pounder on the end slipped off with the collar. It left a small red-and-purple impression on my forehead, but no stitches were necessary. It also gave a whole new meaning to the term “drop set.”