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It Doesn’t Matter how Heavy it Feels!

We don't lift it because it's light...

“It doesn’t matter how heavy it feels!” If you’ve trained with me long, you have undoubtedly heard me say that (as well as ‘Stop shaking your head, if you can argue, you can finish the **** lift’, but that’s for another article).

I once (inadvertently) went from 490 lb to 650 lbs, 60 lbs over my max at that time, on consecutive squat attempts in a competition. Even walking it out 650 lbs felt impossibly heavy. Oh, wait, yeah that squat attempt crushed me, bad example.

More to the point, I recently had a trainee fail on a deadlift in training. It was obviously far too heavy, and wouldn’t even budge off the floor. So with the utmost concern for the success of her training, I removed a 10 lb plate from each side of the bar…and replaced each of them with two 5 lb plates. Encouraged by my ‘lightening’ of the weight, she easily completed the pull.


Back Workout of the Week (BWOW): Week 2 Building Your Back Strength

Last week I introduced you briefly to why training your back is so important (training balance, support your squat, deadlift and bench press, creating the classical ‘V-shaped’ upper body). In my own experience, a heavy emphasis on rowing exercises has led to a very strong bench press (two Washington State records, one USA Powerlifting national meet record, and a gold medal at the IPF masters world championships).
Week 2 training is very similar to week 1. We are still focused on building your strength foundation. Although the overall plan is very similar, we change the exercise selection to prevent your body from adjusting to the stimulus.

BWOW – Week 2:

Goal:Building Your Strength Base

T-bar Rows:

  • Warm up to your working sets
  • 5 sets/4 repetitions per set
  • Select a weight where you are using nearly maximum effort to complete your reps, additional reps would require cheating
  • Minimize cheating – avoid using upper body momentum to complete your reps; one of the reasons to switch from barbell rows to t-bar rows this week to reduce the tendency to cheat on the lift
  • Use wrist straps if necessary to hold the bar
  • Rest between sets should be sufficient to fully recover (3-5 minutes); emphasis is on building strength, not conditioning

Dumbbell Rows – Unsupported:

  • 3 sets/6 reps per set
  • Select a weight where you are using maximum effort to complete the set, you should be unable to complete more than the specified reps
  • While we switched to the t-bar to reduce cheating on your primary exercise, the dumbbell row is performed unsupported to allow slightly more cheating; you should be able to pull more weight than last week when using the bench for support – force your back and biceps to move a little more weight than you normally would during your dumbbell rows
  • Use wrist straps if necessary to hold the dumbbells
  • Rest between sets should be sufficient to fully recover

Hammer Strength Rows:

  • 3 sets/12 reps per set
  • Select a weight where you are using maximum effort to complete the set
  • Pull your elbows straight back and really squeeze your lats tightly to finish each rep; you really want your muscles burning when you finish each set
  • Rest between sets should be sufficient to fully recover

Pull-ups:

  • 3 sets to failure; use spotter assistance or an assisted pull-up machine if you cannot complete 6 reps
  • Pull-ups should be extremely challenging after hammering your back and biceps
  • If you can still complete more than 8 reps, complete your pull-ups with extra weight (and add more weight to your t-bar and dumbbell rows next time you do this workout)

Hammer Curls:
I know we did hammer curls last week, but to quote Louie Simmons (West Side Barbell) hammer curls are “something that should always be done” (Dynamic  Bench Press)

  • 3 sets/10 reps per set
  • As with pull-ups, you will have to drop the weight from your normal bicep workout, your biceps should be spent by now
  • Hammer curls are meant to work your biceps – don’t use your whole body to complete the reps; if you can’t do the work with your biceps drop the weight

Back Workout of the Week BWOW2

If you want to start at the beginning, you can check out Back Workout of the Week #1 – BWOW1



Back Workout of the Week (BWOW): Week 1 – Building the Strength Base

Why is strengthening my back important? To the less educated, a big upper body means large pecs and (unfortunately) large biceps. In fact, your back consists of a larger group of muscles than your chest, and quite frankly it is a massive back that lets you blot out the sun as you step through a doorway.

But that’s not why we emphasize the back at Brute Force. If you read What Is Brute Force, you recall that rule #2 is to follow a balanced training program. Your back (pulling exercises) needs to balance out your pecs (pushing exercises). More importantly a strong back results in bigger lifts.

Bench Press: Your lats are the foundation you press from. Build strong lats and you’ll feel like you’re pressing off a granite table.

Squat: A strong back will help prevent you from crumpling when you hit the hole with a massive load on your back. Although a leg exercise, where does the bar rest during the squat? On your back!

Deadlift: Your back anchors the weight and is the transition point between the weight hanging from your arms and your power base driving down through the floor.

Brute Force approach to back training:

As with other Brute Force workouts, working your back is meant to be simple and straightforward.  Focus is on the horizontal/transverse plane, and emphasis is on your basic compound lifts (again, rule #2) – lots of rows. This workout is intended to maximize the carryover to your bench press.

BWOW – Week 1:

Goal: Building a Strength Base – move as much weight as you can with good form

Barbell Rows/Bent-over Rows:

  • Warm up to your working sets
  • 5 sets/4 repetitions per set
  • Select a weight where you are using nearly maximum effort to complete your reps, additional reps would require cheating
  • Minimize cheating – avoid using upper body momentum to complete your reps
  • Use wrist straps if necessary to hold the bar
  • Rest between sets should be sufficient to fully recover (3-5 minutes); emphasis is on building strength, not conditioning

Dumbbell Rows – Supported:

  • 3 sets/6 reps per set
  • Select a weight where you are using maximum effort to complete the set, you should be unable to complete more than the specified reps
  • Use wrist straps if necessary to hold the dumbbells
  • Rest between sets should be sufficient to fully recover

Cable Rows:

  • 3 sets/6 reps per set
  • Select a weight where you are using maximum effort to complete the set
  • Minimize cheating – rocking back using momentum to complete the reps
  • Squeeze the weight tightly with your back at the top for a moment before lowering it between reps
  • Rest between sets should be sufficient to fully recover

Pull-ups:

  • 3 sets to failure; use spotter assistance or an assisted pull-up machine if you cannot complete 6 reps
  • Pull-ups should be extremely challenging after smoking your back and biceps with 11 sets of rows at a high intensity
  • If you can still complete more than 8 reps, either you are a hero, or you didn’t push yourself hard enough on your rows; in either case do your pull-ups with extra weight

Hammer Curls:

  • 3 sets/10 reps per set
  • As with pull-ups, you will have to drop the weight from your normal bicep workout, your biceps should be spent by now
  • Hammer curls are meant to work your biceps – don’t use your whole body to complete the reps; if you can’t do the work with your biceps drop the weight
Week 1 is just a start. You may not be darkening the doorways yet, but I think you’ll find progress is remarkably quick. Next week we’ll continue building the strength foundation.
BWOW Workout Plan:  Back Workout of the Week BWOW1



Leg Training – Brute Force Style

I was at the gym a while back, and a guy there was asking me questions about bench pressing. I had questions of my own – so naturally the subject of leg workouts came up.  ‘I don’t squat because of my knees and back’, he says. I’m obligated to ask… ‘What’s wrong with your knees and back?’ ‘Nothing,’ he replies, ‘my uncle, who’s a powerlifting bodybuilder said squats are bad for them’.

How do you argue with a powerlifting bodybuilder uncle? Now I’m not going to tell you why you need to work your legs, which, for the record consist of over 50% of the total muscle mass in your body. If you’re happy covering your sticks up in your sweats, while casually distracting onlookers with the biceps you shower with hours of bicep curl attention, then this article is not for you.

If, however, you’d like to wear a pair of shorts occasionally, then let’s do this right!

    • Balance: Too many leg workouts are actually quad workouts thinly disguised with the token leg curl exercise thrown in at the end. An effective leg training plan balances your quad training with your posterior chain work.
  • Emphasize Compound Exercises: Particularly for novices, the majority of your leg training (70-80%) should consist of compound lifts*.

*A compound lift is an exercise that uses multiple muscle groups to complete the work, as opposed to isolation lifts which isolate an individual muscle (example: the squat is a compound exercise that works the entire lower body strenuously, whereas leg curls isolate the hamstrings).

  • Focus on Technique: Performing your exercise with proper technique minimizes your risk of injury, and maximizes the effectiveness of the exercise.

Putting it all Together

An effective leg training program doesn’t have to be complicated. Three ‘simple’ exercises will leave you hobbling out of the gym feeling completely wasted – that is the goal, right?

  • Squat: Performed properly, squats anchor an effective leg workout. A proper set of squats hammers every muscle in your lower body, taxes your core, and strains your central nervous system. To do them right, you need to take them all the way into the hole. Above parallel, the squat over-emphasizes your quads. You need to drop your hips below parallel to get maximum activation of your glutes.

Squatting at the IPF World Championships

  • Leg Press: Leg presses let you push some serious weight to isolate the lower body muscles you’ve already exhausted under the squat bar. When done right, your quads will be on fire at the end of each set. If they’re not on fire, keep on repping. As with the squats, leg presses need to be completed with the full range of motion – bring that platform down until your knees are pressing into your chest.
  • Stiff-Leg Deadlift: Stiff-leg deadlifts, or romanian deadlifts are, in my humble but correct opinion, the best exercise there is for your posterior chain. They will help you build powerful glutes and hamstrings. To hit the hamstrings hard, keep your knees completely straight and slowly stretch down as far as possible before snapping it back up powerfully.

If you still feel the need to hit the machines to isolate your quads or hamstrings after the big three, it’s likely you’re doing something wrong…

Exercise Technique: Here are some simple pointers to make sure you’re performing these key lifts properly:

 



What is Brute Force Strength?

I used to say ‘I lift weights because I don’t have the skills for other sports…’, then I actually learned how to lift. Take the deadlift for example. Simple exercise, right? Just grab the bar and pull. What if I were to tell you that to lift it properly you’d have 21 steps to follow: feet close together, toes forward, grip the bar at shoulder width, hands over-under, drop your hips, head and chest up, drive through your heals, etc…

Brute Force Strength isn’t mindless muscle versus iron, but it is about simplicity. You don’t need the latest wonder-workout. You don’t need NukeExplode 7000 to fuel your workout. Simply follow four basic rules and you will get stronger:

  1. Perfect your technique on every lift. Regardless how long you have lifting, continuously look for ways to improve your form.
  2. Set up a balanced training program centered on your big compound lifts and your individual training goals. Follow your training plan consistently.
  3. Establish a clean, balanced diet with plenty of protein and sufficient calories.
  4. Expect steady progression. Push yourself, but lift only what you are capable of lifting with proper technique.

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