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So you want that look, huh?
You know what I’m talking about; the “power” look. I’m often asked by guys in the gym and from the far reaches of cyberspace how to gain the type of build that just screams raw power. More often than not, the ideals they point to are American football players.
What gives an athlete this look? The more noticeable features include thick traps and lats, big triceps, and tree trunk legs. Coming with this look is the functional power, quickness, and athleticism football players are known for. That sounds fantastic, but how do you get it? Well, the short answer is really simple. Train like a football player!
Since you’re reading this, I’m betting that the short answer wasn’t what you were going for. In this article we’ll detail a plan to build a big body that looks good on the field and in the gym. Heck, you might even find yourself being a little more athletic, too!
This program is similar to a program I use for off-season football players looking to gain mass while maintaining their explosiveness. It’s leaned a little more heavily on hypertrophy development than I would use for them, but your goals are more about size and less about pure athletic development. Also, most of the trainers reading this article don’t have the time, resources, and requirements that high level football players do.
Before I hit the meat of the plan, I’d like to talk just a little bit about the three primary types of strength that we’re going to be targeting. If you understand the targets of the program, then it’ll be easier for you to understand. “Black Box” training is usually much less beneficial than a studied and digested program.
The first type is maximal strength. Quite simply, how much weight can you move from point A to point B one time. While focusing purely on maximal strength isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get big, it’s rare to find someone who squats 200 pounds that has more lean mass than someone who squats 400 or 500. The body will adapt to the increasingly heavier weight by stimulating hypertrophy as well as inducing neurological improvements.
The next quality of strength is speed strength. Speed strength is often synonymous with power. There are a few types of speed strength, but basically look at it in regards to rapid, explosive movements. If an athlete bench presses 300 pounds in three seconds, while another one benches the same weight in one second, the second athlete has substantially more speed-strength.
Finally we come to strength endurance. I know, some of you out there are gasping because I said “endurance”. Well, focus more on the “strength” and you’ll feel better. I’m certainly not talking about running ten miles or curling a pink dumbbell 100 times. I’m talking about moving real weight for reps. It is all well and good to be able to move a high one-rep max, or even to do it quickly, but in the world of athletics you’re going to have to do it over and over again. This even plays a factor in a stop and go sport like football.
Enough blather, on to the gym! You’ll be hitting the weight room four days per week, and doing some form of exercise at least five days per week. I recommend at least one day of rest per week, and two might not hurt. The routine is set up for twelve weeks. After which I very strongly recommend a week off for recovery.
Here is the day by day breakdown. I’ve put it into a convenient Monday through Friday routine, but feel free to adapt that as your schedule dictates. Keep the days in the same order, though.
Day 1: Monday: Upper Body Maximal Effort, Easy Interval Training
Day 2: Tuesday: Strength Endurance Lower Body
Day 3: Wednesday: Hard Interval Training
Day 4: Thursday: Strength Endurance Upper Body
Day 5: Friday: Lower Body Maximal Effort, Slow Recovery Cardio
Day 6: Saturday: Rest
Day 7: Sunday: Rest
I’ve set up a routine of exercises here for you to get started with. That’s not to say that other exercises couldn’t be used, but I think you’ll find this to be pretty comprehensive. For a good illustrated explanation of each exercise, see here. Now we’ll go through the plan for each day.
Before each bout of exercise, make sure to do a comprehensive warm-up including some light cardio or agility work along with dynamic stretching and mobility training.
Upper Body Maximal Effort Day
- Maximal Effort Exercise: See explanation below.
- Light Back Exercise (Assistance Exercise): Pull-ups, Assisted Pull-ups, or Seated Pull-downs (depending upon ability). Four sets of ten reps.
- External Rotational Exercise (Assistance Exercise): Face Pulls. Two sets of twelve reps.
- Heavy Abs (Assistance Exercise): Weighted Decline Sit-ups. Four sets of eight to ten reps.
Strength Endurance Lower Body Day
- Explosive Pull Exercise (Power Exercise): Power Cleans. Three sets of five reps.
- Unilateral Movement Exercise (Assistance Exercise): Walking DB Lunges. Three sets of six reps.
- Quad Endurance Exercise (Assistance Exercise): Olympic-style Barbell Squats. Three sets of twelve reps.
- Lower Back Endurance Exercise (Assistance Exercise): Hyperextensions. Three sets of fifteen reps.
Strength Endurance Upper Body Day
- Explosive Push Exercise (Power Exercise): Push Press. Three sets of five reps.
- Explosive Pull Exercise (Power Exercise): High Pulls from the rack. Three sets of five reps.
- Pectoral Hypertrophy Exercise (Assistance Exercise): Incline Dumbbell Bench Press. Three sets of eight reps.
- Heavy Back Exercise (Assistance Exercise): T-Bar Rows. Three sets of six reps.
Lower Body Maximal Effort Day
- Maximal Effort Exercise: See explanation below.
- Lower Body Stability Exercise (Assistance Exercise): Overhead Squats. Three sets of five reps.
- Hamstring Hypertrophy Exercise (Assistance Exercise): Stiff-legged Deadlifts. Three sets of six reps.
- Bicep Hypertrophy Exercise (Assistance Exercise): Hammer Curls. Four sets of eight reps.
- Light Abdominal Exercise (Assistance Exercise): Reverse Crunches. Three sets of twenty to thirty reps.
Now we’ll going to go through a bit of specifics about how each type of exercise should be done.
Maximal Effort Exercise
This exercise will go in three week phases, and focuses on heavy compound movements. Here’s where you’ll get strong. I’ve include a list of potential exercises below. For two weeks I want you to work up in sets of three to a heavy set of three after some light warm-ups. When you can no longer complete three good reps, then you’re finished. Take small enough jumps in weight so that you accomplish at least five sets. An example for a lifter who can bench press 250×3 might be as follows:
- 45 lbs x 15 reps
This lifter would not be able to do 255 for the complete three reps.
The third week is where it gets fun. Rather than work up to a heavy triple and focus purely on maximal strength, we’ll throw in some heavier maximal strength work and even sneak in a little bit of strength endurance. On this week warm up normally, and start moving up in weight to warm up for heavier lifts. Don’t go anywhere close to failure. Rather than jump close to your three-rep max, you’re going to be aiming for six single reps of a heavier weight. Use 105% of the weight that you successfully hit last week for your triple.
Your goal is to do six single repetitions of this weight with 30 seconds of rest between repetitions. For example, our lifter who hit 250 lbs for his bench press three-rep maximum would try to use 105% of 250 lbs for six singles. This comes out to 262.5 lbs, which doesn’t fit neatly on the barbell. In this case, err on the side of conservatism and use 260 lbs.
Week four involves you picking another exercise and starting again.
Take some time between sets, especially as the weight gets heavier and you approach your max. For the three rep weeks, take two to four minutes between sets once the weight starts becoming a challenge.
Example Maximal Effort Upper Body Exercises:
- Flat Barbell Bench Press
- Incline Barbell Bench Press
- Decline Barbell Bench Press
- Board Presses
- Rack Lockouts
- Close-grip Flat Barbell Bench Press
- Close-grip Incline Barbell Bench Press
Example Maximal Effort Lower Body Exercises:
- Barbell Squats
- Good Mornings
- Rack Deadlifts
- Sumo Deadlifts
- Conventional Deadlifts
- Deadlifts while standing on blocks
- Box Squats
Obviously there’s a lot of room for variation. There are hundreds of variations of these movements that are possible and viable. Check out Elitefts or Westside Barbell for more information about maximal effort lifting and maximal effort exercises.
The power exercises are based on Olympic movements and focus more on developing your speed strength rather than your maximal strength or strength endurance. That being said, they can be quite a workout on their own. These movements are fairly technical and the emphasis is on form. I want each rep of each of these movements to be done perfectly.
Take a two to three minute rest between sets. Our focus here is on perfect and explosive performance.
Progression will be steady on these exercises. Do not go to failure. Add weight in small increments each week if possible without hitting failure.
These are the ones that will really make you work up a sweat. The focus on these exercises is to induce muscle hypertrophy, build strength endurance, and maintain muscular balance.
Rest times are shorter between these sets. Try for rest periods of one to one and a half minutes.
As with the power exercises, we’re looking for progressive overload here as the scheme for growth. Try to add small amounts of weight to each of these exercises every two weeks or so. Hitting failure on a set should be infrequent. The weights should be very challenging, but generally one should stop one rep short of true failure. For many people this is farther than they actually go. A lot of trainers may think that they only have one rep left but could actually pull off another three reps or so. For growth you’re going to have to be really working.
Energy System Work
So, football players lift heavy and fast. What else do they do? That’s right, they sprint. All of the sprinting they do in training and in games has a great effect on their physique. In addition to making them powerful and explosive, it helps them retain muscle mass and stay fairly lean.
You will perform three energy system workouts per week targeting each of the body’s primary energy systems. One will be a very intense interval session, one will be a shorter interval session, and one will be a slightly longer, slower steady state session for active recovery purposes.
Remember to warm up well before doing any interval training.
For your interval sessions, sprinting on a track or field would be ideal. If you have the resources to do this then your hard workout will consist of five to ten sprints. These sprints will be ten seconds in duration. Remember, when I say “sprint”, I mean sprint. You are to go 100%. Recovery between the sprints will consist of fast walking. If you’re not in top shape, start with five sprints per workout alternated with 50 seconds of walking. As you become more conditioned move towards the end goal week by week of ten sprints with 30 seconds of recovery walking.
Your lighter intensity interval session will consist of a similar scheme of sprinting, but only perform half of the sprints that you perform on your high intensity day. The end goal will be five sprints with 30 seconds of recovery.
If you do not have access to a field or track, then the treadmill can be used. Cross training machines and elliptical trainers are good alternatives. Stationary bicycles are acceptable as well, but many find them less challenging. If this is the case, do a few more intervals.
The active recovery cardio is performed once per week after the Lower Body Maximal Effort workout. This can also be performed the day after. So if you lift on Friday, this workout could be done on Saturday to help alleviate DOMS and promote recovery.
The active recovery cardio will be some sort of low, slow cardio workout. This could be walking, biking, or something similar. An intensity of around 60%-70% of your maximal heart rate is appropriate. The duration of this activity should be between 20 and 30 minutes. While this will improve your cardiovascular ability, we’re more interested in getting the blood flowing through your beaten up lower body to promote recovery
This program is a lot of work. Recovery is very important in order for you to keep making gains. Make sure to get adequate sleep and rest. Remember the old adage: “You grow outside of the gym, not in it”. These workouts are kept fairly short for a reason; they are to be intense. Realistically you shouldn’t be spending much more than an hour with the weights per workout.
Sauna treatments, whirl pools, hot tubs, and contrast showers are all excellent means of heat and hydrotherapy that can and should be utilized to enhance relaxation and recovery. I have found these methods invaluable in keeping my athletes and myself going after weeks of workouts and competitions.
Dynamic stretching will go a long way towards limbering you up and keeping blood flowing through your muscles. This will enhance your flexibility, encourage recovery, reduce soreness, and possibly promote growth.
The most effective way to implement this program is on a hypercaloric, or mass gain, diet that will help promote growth and recovery. Drink water like it’s going out of style. A gallon of water a day is a good starting point.
If you’re trying this program on a cutting diet, then overtraining might become an issue. If you feel that you’re overtraining, then an acceptable way to cut down on the volume is to drop a work set from each of the assistance exercises.
If you’ve ever seen a big linebacker or fullback walk by and thought: “Wow, I wish I had the genetics to look like that…”, then I say genetics be damned. If you eat hard, rest hard, and lift hard then there’s no reason that you can’t be walking around with your own “power look”.
Written by Isaac Wilkins, CSCS, NCSA-CPT
Discuss, comment or ask a question
If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Power Look discussion thread.