The Pump

The Bottom Line Up Front:

  • Hypertrophy is the golden ticket to the construction of muscle mass.
  • “The pump” is just part of the bigger picture of effective hypertrophy training.
  • Working the complete cross section of the muscle will result in maximal growth.

A must see for any aspiring bodybuilder, is the legendary “Pumping Iron,” the movie that really brought the hidden world of bodybuilding to the public eye, carried through the charismatic and hyper competitive personality of Arnold himself. And if you don’t find yourself motivated to watch a full length film, at least find yourself a few minutes to hear Arnold explain “the pump.” Not that you’ll learn anything new, but I personally feel it is one of the most unintentionally funny moments of film. Set against the musical backdrop of what could be a 70’s, sci-fi themed porn flick, Arnold seems to read off a script that could ALSO be a weird 70’s porn flick. Except its not. It’s all about the glorious pump that we all seek.

If one adopts the idea of bodybuilding for appearance (or for the sport of appearance) with little regard for absolute strength gains, the pump is traditionally the name of the game. Hypertrophy for bodybuilders is achieved differently than it is for strength athletes. While strength athletes like weightlifters and powerlifters have numbers to crunch to dial themselves into the “ideal” rep and weight ranges for results, bodybuilders can follow a similar approach. The two models of hypertrophy are knowns as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (“for bodybuilders”) and myofibrillar hypertrophy (“for strength athletes”). Because building of muscle purely for mass can be approached from more angles than simply “the pump,” it would be wise to cast your net a bit wider to catch the most benefit.

Hypertrophy for Strength Athletes

  • Aims to grow the contracting elements of the muscle
  • Typically developed through low rep sets (2-6 reps) of higher percentage (70-90%)
  • An extra focus will be given towards dynamic effort, or bar speed of the movement
  • Set tempo is key
  • Sample:
    • Bench Press: 8 sets x 3 reps @ 80%, 60 sec rest between sets

Muscle growth from this approach is going to increase the size and amount of the actual, contractile muscle fibers. This is often why you see strength athletes who seem to be smaller than bodybuilders, while being able to move more weight. The actual working portion of the muscles receives the most stimulation, and as a result, more adaptation.

Hypertrophy for Bodybuilders

  • Aims to grow the supporting structures of the muscle
  • Typically developed through a higher rep range (8-12 reps) of lower percentage (60-75%)
  • Tempo still vital
  • Sample:
    • Bench press: 5 sets x 10 reps @ 60%, 60 sec rest between sets

This method is what is more traditionally referred to as “the pump,” as it develops the fluid and cell structures surrounding the muscle fibers. It does not do as much to provide stimulus to the contracting muscle fibers. This is very effective for developing full muscle bodies, which is why it is most closely associated with bodybuilding training.

The Complete Picture

If someone is to take the approach of training purely for muscle mass, it is important to NOT get lost in the rabbit hole of “bodybuilding hypertrophy” type programs. Your goal is to grow the entire muscle, so why focus on the supporting cell structure and disregard the actual contractile muscle cells? This is where workout programs like Layne Norton’s “Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training” (P.H.A.T.) program are highly effective. When taking an entire day devoted to hypertrophy, a program such as this will approach the full scope, which in turn will develop the muscle fully.

It is also important to note that both the “strength” approach and the “bodybuilding” approach may have carryover into the other. There is no golden rule that says bodybuilding templates will NOT develop ANY contractile muscle fibers. Similarly no rule exists that suggests that the strength athlete will NOT develop ANY of the non-contractile tissue surrounding the muscle fibers. But for the bulk of humanity (there will always be freaky outliers) each of those methods will yield results that predominately focus on those aspects of your muscles. So while choosing one method and relying on it entirely may still provide SOME benefits, you will achieve greater overall results by utilizing both methods in conjunction.

Whether you are taking a program from an established source, like Dr. Layne Norton modifying a program for your own use, or writing a program from scratch, make sure you have a deliberate and planned method. This is a principle I will preach til I am blue in the face regardless of what your training goals are. But in this specific case, if you are training to build lean muscle mass for the sake of just GAINZ, take the time to plan for all aspects of hypertrophy, and don’t just focus on seeking the orgasmic feeling of THE PUMP.

Odd Object Strength

Strongman is the king of moving odd objects, and this often requires massive grip strength. But does a world exist where my inability to actually deadlift a car, or log press my own bodyweight won’t count against me, and a world where I can put my lifetime of…. uh, forearm strength development to good use?

Meet The vise Grip Viking Odd Haugen, and meet the sport of Armlifting.

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Odd Haugen at The Fit Expo, Los Angeles (from www.thefitexpo.com)

Armlifting is a sport that can essentially be compared to various deadlift variations, typically performed with a single arm, and utilizing many different grip methods. There are many different competitions, and federations with their specific rules, but the general, common goal is simple: grab the object, and stand while maintaining control of the grip and the weight. And Odd Haugen, the Norwegian-American strongman, is the long lived king of the sport.

Though there are limitless ways to test grip and arm strength, some of the more common events you may see in a competition include:

Hub Lift

Rolling Handle Lift

Pinch Block

The Horn

The Gripper

One Chart to Rule Them All

The Bottom Line Up Front:

  • If you look closely, you may notice this article has very little to do with actual Olympic Weightlifting advice. You are a crafty observer.
  • If you are in pursuit of strength and power, methods developed by Olympic Weightlifting coaches have paved the way, and you can apply their research and methods to general strength training and powerlifting.

There is no doubt that the sport of Olympic Weightlifting was pushed to its limits by the performance of Soviet and Eastern Bloc athletes. Starting in the 1970’s, Olympic programs within the Soviet Union groomed top performing athletes. The scientific approach to creating super athletes was somewhat spoofed in Rocky IV, as Ivan Drago was under constant supervision and study from a myriad of trainers and doctors. The cynic might also point out that some pharmaceutical enhancement was part of the training regimen, and that part of the movie is also accurate. Should we really trust the methods of folks who probably relied on various doping methods to achieve performance? My short answer is “yes,” and the long answer of “still yes” is saved for another day.

Enter A.S. Prilepin, one of the most pivotal and influential strength training coaches to ever glimpse at a barbell. His work was based upon the training logs of over a thousand elite level weightlifters, and continues to serve as the backbone of many effective strength programs, spanning beyond strictly Olympic weightlifting. What is often passed along as simply “Prilepin’s Table” should become familiar to you as you expand your strength training journey, whether a Weightlifter, powerlifter, or just an athlete seeking effective strength training.

PercentageReps per SetOptimal RepsRep Range
55%3-63018-30
60%3-62618-30
65%3-62418-30
70%3-62012-24
75%3-61812-24
80%2-41510-20
85%2-41210-20
90%1-264-10
90+%1-232-4

If you are firmly wedged in the “clueless beginner” phase of lifting, you may just show up to the gym and knock out countless reps of countless sets of poorly designed workout days. And honestly, this may work for a very short time. Your body is transitioning from “zero stimulus” to “some stimulus” and your methods of adaptation find this new and exciting. Inevitably you will find yourself no longer responding to this, and searching for an actual method to progress. And most of the methods you will initially attempt are based, to an extent, on this table.

Though not expressly written into percentages, the Starting Strength and StrongLifts 5×5 methods will wedge you right into the ideal rep range, and rep total for your day. Programs like Wendler’s 5/3/1 actually are based on percentages, and attempts to bridge the gap between different level’s of intensity within the table. And lastly, should you attempt to create your own programming, the table is an ideal place to start structuring your work sets.

For an example, lets say I got a harebrained scheme to knock off Wendler’s idea, and create a cyclical program based on weeks of 6 reps, 4 reps, and 2 reps, around 85%, 90%, and 95%. Wendler himself recommends using 90% of your true max as your training max, so that actually turns out to 76.5%, 81%, and 85.5%. And instead of doing bonus reps, we are just going to do multiple sets of 6, 4 or 2 with that weight, and we aren’t going to do the work up sets. So let’s get frisky and see where it takes us.

  • Week 1 – sets of 6 @ 76.5% 
    • The table tells us that the rep range is ideal for that percentage (3-6) and the ideal TOTAL number of reps is 18, but can land us between 12-24 which depends on individual needs. So this leads our home-cooked workout to give us 3-4 sets of 5@76.5%
  • Week 2 – sets of 4 @ 81%
    • The table tells us that the rep range is ideal (2-4) and the ideal total reps is 15, but can land us anywhere between 10-20. Our home-cooked workout program looks like 4-5 sets of 3@81%
  • Week 3 – sets of 2 @ 85.5%
    • The table tells us that the rep range is ideal (2-4) and that the ideal total reps is 12, but can land us between 10-20 just like the previous week. Our home cooked workout program looks like 6-10 sets of 2@85.5%
  • Week 4 – deload…. if you believe in that sort of thing.

This is a beginner’s intro into understanding Prilepin’s Table for building effective strength training programs. One need not actually design their own workout, you can find an abundance of effective strength programs online. But this can serve as a sniff test for any programs you find. If you are in pursuit of STRENGTH and POWER, the program you choose should resemble something that fits within the limits of this table. If not, approach with caution.

 

 

A Case for Oly Shoes in Your Powerlifting Training

Bottom Line Up Front:

  • There is a time and a place to utilize Olympic Weightlifting shoes in your training.
  • If you are a back strong squatter. Oly shoes can help you develop a more balanced squat.
  • If you are already loaded down with high intensity demands on your posterior chain, Oly shoes can help ease some burden.
  • If your hip structure is built for a narrow stance.

Conventional powerlifting bro science would suggest that Chuck Taylors are the only footwear you will need. The concept of flat footed performance with minimal cushion is deeply rooted in strength training in general, and nothing embodies that concept better than Chucks. These days, there are other options to accomplish this same goal. Some squat in wrestling shoes, others prefer the minimalist shoe approach. Some opt only for socks, or even barefoot, to hearken back to simpler times.

A look at some of the top squatters of our time, both large and small will more often than not, show a preference for a flat shoe.

The driving force that leads powerlifters away from Olympic type footwear, is that their squat is not an Olympic type squat. Where an Olympic squat will tend to be narrower in stance, and deeper in depth, powerlifters shift towards a hip dominant wide stance. This stance doesn’t have the same knee and ankle flexion as an Olympic squat, and thus very little is gained by the footwear (who’s purpose is to give a stable platform while cheating a few extra degrees of ankle mobility in the bottom of a squat).

But there are still times when wearing an Olympic style shoe can benefit someone who is following a powerlifting training program. By their design, they function to increase the amount of flexion in the knee and ankle, which translates to an overall more upright posture in the bottom of a squat. This slight shift in posture can provide the changes in your training that will help develop more effective strength.

You Are Back Strong/Leg Weak

A common issue with many lifters of a younger training age is a relative imbalance between thigh strength and back strength. And the majority of the time, this manifests itself as the lifter having a back that is relatively stronger than the thighs. You will often see a lifter resort to the dreaded squat-morning method, where pushing out of the bottom of a squat looks more like a dirty dance move from a rap video, the hips and butt shooting up, followed by the back flattening out. When combined with a low bar position, this can become even more glaring.

The addition of better shoes in this instance will help create the upright posture. With a more upright posture, the leverage isn’t going to allow you to fold over as easily, and allow you to rely on your strong back as the driver of the lift. With this upright posture, you can:

  • Develop better squat mechanics, so you can learn to actually squat the bar instead of shooting the hips up and ugly-ing out some abomination of a lift.
  • Develop the actual thigh strength for a more balanced squat.

Similarly, this logic can be applied to people who are already taxed enough on their posterior chain. Whether it is from occupational work loads, or sport specific workloads, or prior injury, some folks would be better advised to take the steps necessary to ensure a more favorable posture under load.

You Have a Narrow Stance

If your hip anatomy leads to you having a narrow stance, this will inherently become a more thigh dominant movement for you. This is a more common theme for Olympic Weighlifters, as they are typically as likely to squat narrow as a powerlifter is to squat wider. But if you are one of the few weirdo powerlifters who squat this way, you may want to borrow their tactics and tricks, namely the shoes.

  • The result of this narrow stance, you will be subjected to a significantly higher degree of forward movement from your knees.
  • Increased ankle mobility from a raised heel will enable more efficient forward movement.

squat shoe.png

You Like Them

The final group of folks would be people who just like them. And that may be you. If you haven’t trained in weightlifting shoes, you may be missing out and you don’t even know it. Though its a “conventional” method to aim for Chucks, its not universal. And there are some freaky strong powerlifters who still squat in Oly shoes.

The one consistent thread between the two shoe camps is that both offer a solid base. The lack of squish is the more important factor. So don’t feel like you are breaking any rules that are etched into stone if you choose an elevated heel, weightlifting type shoe.

Because SOME of You Insist on Using Your Garage as a Garage…

The decision to pull the trigger on a home gym or a garage gym is always tough. Not only does the initial sticker shock of some power racks and benches make it easier to just stick to paying gym fees, often time space is a concern. Because most of us buy homes without “home gym” being a priority, we end up having to find spare space, usually in the basement or the garage. And in all likelihood, both of those spaces are STILL being used to house something else, like your epic collection of vinyl Poison and Def Leppard albums in the basement, or the car in the garage.

An easier way to handle this challenge is with a fold back rack. These are racks that can be fully functioning for your workouts, that can be folded flat against a wall when not in use. You can maintain space for your car and your totally bitchin’ music that you never listen to anymore, and you can still get righteously swole in the convenience of your home.

TITAN T-3 FOLD BACK WALL MOUNT

  • 91″ height – can fit most standard ceiling heights
  • Available with 21″ and 41″ depth, for varying amounts of space
  • 2″x3″ steel construction
  • $315 to get started

ROGUE RML-3W FOLD BACK WALL MOUNT RACK

rogue rack.jpg

  • 90″ height, it can fit most residential ceilings
  • Available in 21.5″ or 41.5″ depth
  • 3″x3″ steel construction
  • $495 to get started

Weighing the Options

Durability

Rogue is the winner here, with not only heavier duty support members, but also the actual wall mount itself. Titan does not provide any backing material for a solid wall mount. This is not a big problem to fix, it can be remedied with two lengths of 2×8 lumber, but Rogue provides the option for you, with carefully measured and custom stringers.

Simplicity

Its a wash, both systems are simple enough for anyone who has at least seen a power tool once in their lifetime. If you are not confident with simple home repairs and upgrades, a little shoulder tapping should find you someone with enough skill to give you assistance. Perhaps even your 8 year old child, because its really that simple to mount either rack.

Price

Titan wins in this category, coming in over $100 cheaper. $100 can go a long way in helping shell out for other gym toys.

The Winner

Rogue is my personal choice, for the simple sake of durability. Lifting weights isn’t a delicate activity, and I want something that is going to be built a little more solidly to withstand the repetitive stress. If you want to be getting under a bar, I will always lean towards the equipment that will be overbuilt.