Smart Training. Variations for Size and Strength.
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.