WEAK: Five Lifting Problems Solved!

All too often, I get a new sob story from fellow gym rats complaining about the pain that they’re in. They claim they’re doing everything right: pressing before flies, static stretching between sets, jogging for five minutes on the treadmill before they hit the weights, drinking a liter of water during their workout…all the good stuff, right?

So what the hell is the problem?

The problem is that all that stuff is (virtually) worthless. It’s not the 90s any more, folks. We’ve learned some new methods and it’s time to accept and implement them.

The term “prehab” has been around for a while now, and yet, all I see from weightlifters is rehab. Waiting until a joint or muscle is so torn down that you have to take three months off to heal isn’t smart. I don’t know about you, but I like lifting weights. In fact, I like it so much that by the time I’m 50, I’d still like to be doing it and not be bitching about how bad everything hurts.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the things you may be screwing up that may be screwing you!

Common Mistakes That May Cause Big Problems

Most weight lifters have a few things they could do differently in their training that would allow for better strength increases, more hypertrophy, increased range of motion, and increased stability.

A few of the most common mistakes I see are discussed below. I’ll identify the problem, give a few reasons why it’s a problem, and then offer a solution.

Mistake: Poor Range of Motion

Poor range of motion at either the bottom end of the eccentric phase, the top end of the concentric phase, or both.

Consistently reducing the range of motion of a specific movement pattern over and over again for a course of several weeks, months, or years can have a devastating effect on the length of the muscle(s), and the way that the muscle functions and repairs itself.

Over time, these muscles may become shortened while opposing muscles become overly elongated or atrophied. Obviously, this results in poor stability across the board and makes an individual much more prone to injury.

Solution!

  • Properly warm up your muscles and stimulate your CNS (Central Nervous System) prior to starting any loaded movement. Warm up with movements similar to the lift you intend to perform, but not with the actual movement. For example, if you intend to do heavy squats, warm up with spiderman lunges, single-leg bodyweight RDLs, goblet squats, bodyweight good mornings, and box jumps.
  • Always lift with a complete range of motion relative to your body’s ability. If you’re squatting and your hips don’t allow you to move “ass to grass” without rounding your lower back, then you’re well beyond your proper range of motion. Start the squat higher and gradually increase the distance you travel. When pressing and pulling, always maximize the range of motion. You’ll recruit more overall muscles, even though you may have to significantly reduce your weight.
  • The less range of motion and stabilization strength, the lower your ceiling for overall strength and growth.

Mistake: Poor Technique

This is easily as common as the previous issue. Very few lifters take the time to learn proper lifting technique and are in way too much of a hurry to start stacking plates on the bar. Once again, without learning proper technique, you’re overstimulating some muscles, understimulating others, and probably not even hitting certain little muscles.

Over time, you’ll develop too much strength in one area, too little in another, and may even develop a problem with muscular balance and symmetry.

Also, certain movements were designed to be executed in a specific manner.  You’re not smarter than the folks who created these, so don’t try to manipulate them because “it feels better”.

Finally, many compound movements are difficult to “feel” when you’re lifting properly (or improperly, for that matter). This can cause poor movement patterns even with good intentions of lifting correctly.

Solution!

  • Take the time to learn the movements you want to perform, but don’t just do the lifts you like all the time.  Study, watch experts, and practice the movements with zero weight. Tape yourself so you can see what you’re doing wrong, and have someone critique you
  • Stop focusing on how much you’re lifting, and focus more on how well you’re lifting.

Mistake:  Stupid Training Programs

Improper warmup is still among the top issues with most current training programs I see.

Poor frequency of muscular stimulation for a given week of training is another one. Your typical chest and triceps routine requires recovery for only 2-4 days maximum, leaving you in a state of zero growth for the remainder of the week until Monday strikes again.

Poor exercise selection, inadequate recovery times, improper workloads, and lack of intensity round out the biggest culprits of crappy programming. Too many routines revolve around isolation exercises, don’t specify recovery periods, include improper volume, and don’t have adequate loading parameters.

Solution!

  • Don’t get your training programs from “I’m Jacked Magazine”. Get them from Wannabebig! (Check out HCT-12)
  • Start learning proper warm-up methods, and allow yourself 15-20 minutes to perform a good warm-up each time you’re in the gym. Your warm-up should be a powerful gateway to your routine. You’ll have stronger lifts, improved mobility, and better recovery between sets. Nick Tumminello happens to have written a couple of good articles on warm up routines for Wannabebig (Upper Body Warm-Up and Lower Body Warm-Up).
  • Get help!  Seek out a strength coach, or get advice from some of the pros (professional strength coaches) you know of online or offline. Sometimes it’s just a matter of sifting through all the BS till you find a great program, but once you start and stick with it, you’ll be happy that you searched.

Download the HCT-12 Bodybuilding Program (3.29MB)

Common Gym Rat Weaknesses and Solutions

We’ve all made mistakes in the gym.  More than likely, we didn’t do much about it until there was a problem. Let’s get into how to correct some current weaknesses you may have developed from past mistakes, or how you’re going to prevent them from happening if you’re not dealing with them now!

Shoulder and Thoracic Mobility

Probably the most common issue I see among lifters is severe tightness in the anterior shoulder, and weakness in the sub-scapular muscles, lower trap, and the thoracic extensor muscles. The culprit of such problems is typically too much pressing, poor pulling, and poor stretching.

Forget the assessment; your shoulders and posture could probably use some love.

Getting the tension out of the pecs, rhomboids, and traps will help to alleviate the stiff rounding of the upper back, which will help keep the shoulders open, the pecs/traps/sub-scap muscles working efficiently, and the shoulder blades moving properly:

Hip Mobility

Poor hip mobility is next in line in the “I have no idea how to warm up” department.  Obviously, over time, this lack of attention can create some serious problems with mobility of the hips, as well as the strength and stability of the knees and lower back. This lack of mobility can destroy your squat and deadlift and leave you sore for much longer than you should be.

Get these puppies opened up and moving correctly, and you’ll see big gains in your lower body pushing and pulling, along with a large reduction in back stress and knee pain:

Posterior Chain Strength and Hip Activation

You don’t see a lot of deadlifters anymore, and you certainly don’t see a lot of good deadlifters. Neither do you frequently see the clean, snatch, proper RDL, or SHELC. What you do see is a little lunging, a lot of poor squatting, and a good deal of Smith machine activity. Oh, and lets not forget the leg press, leg extension, and seated hamstring curl!

A weak posterior chain will do a great deal of damage to your movement patterns and your joint health. Along with mobility of the hips, you also need strength!  Isolation exercises have their place, but when it comes to really creating a strong posterior chain and pulling strength, you need to activate small muscles in the hips and perform larger compound movements to stimulate the synergy of the posterior chain.

Here are a few movements to help you wake up your backside and put it back in the game:

Anterior Chain Strength

If you’re not familiar with the term “anterior chain”, let me explain. The anterior chain includes the muscles (and their relationships to each other) of the pecs, abdomen, obliques, hip flexors, quads, and tibialis anterior.

I still see a lot of guys doing floor sit-ups, decline sit-ups, leg raises, and cable crunches.  Let me ask you this: do you frequently target the lower back, or do you increase its strength with movements that target the rest of the chain (in this case, the hamstrings, glutes, and mid and upper back)?  I’m going to assume that it’s the latter. Why wouldn’t you do the same for the anterior chain?

Mid/Upper Back Strength

Along with mobility issues of the thoracic spine and shoulders, you’ll see some weaknesses in the mid/upper back. The problem isn’t that most weight lifters aren’t pulling, it’s that they’re pulling incorrectly, using mostly biceps and minor lat recruitment while not focusing on thoracic extension (upward tilt of the chest cavity) and scapular retraction/depression at the start and end of each repetition.

Here are a few possible problems with your current movements and how to fix them:

Putting It All Together

In the end, we’re all lifting for a specific goal, right?  Whether it’s to look better, feel better, or be stronger than your ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend so you can kick his ass, we all have a goal we’re trying to achieve. When it comes to your training, the smarter you train, the faster you’ll reach your desired results.

So the next time you go the gym or outline your workout for the week, ask yourself these necessary questions:

  • What are my strength and mobility weaknesses?
  • Why am I weak in those areas?
  • Does my program have movements to help me with my weaknesses?
  • Does it include an efficient warm-up?
  • Does it include any post-workout stretching to accommodate for the stress I’ll have put my muscles through during the workout?

If you can’t answer the first two questions, consider getting some help or taking some time to figure out your strengths and weaknesses.  If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to the rest of the questions, get a new program or dramatically modify the one you’re doing!

Written by Mike Scialabba

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 – WEAK: Five Lifting Problems Solved! discussion thread.

About Mike Scialabba

Mike is the Director and Owner of the Missoula Underground Strength Training Center located in Missoula, Montana.

He’s an Expert Strength Coach and has been in the business for nearly a decade working with hundreds of individuals utilizing conventional and unconventional training methods.

Michael has sent over a dozen kids to collegiate football and basketball and has spent endless hours in the trenches getting dirty with real training and real results.

Be sure to check out his blog!

Programs that won’t address topics such as these are a surefire way to get yourself into an early rut and guarantee an appointment at your local physical therapist’s office.

Switch Things Up With Suspension Training

Every now and then, I think every hardcore weightlifter hits somewhat of a mental blah.  You know the one…you roll into the weight room, look at all the steel, run through your planned routine and why you’re doing it in your head, then suddenly think, “I’m getting a little bored!” 

There are a handful of experts that would say, “you must be overtraining…your CNS must be fatigued.”  Yeah, maybe that’s the problem.  And maybe you ARE just a little freaking bored!! 

It’s not crazy to switch things up from time to time and use a few training modalities that are far from your current scope of practice, especially if you plan to use such methods appropriately and incorporate them with good planning toward your goals.

I have to admit, there’s nothing like ripping an intense amount of steel off the floor or grinding out speed sets on the bench press, but every now and then, our brain and bodies are hungry for something a little different. 

If there’s one way to maintain all your meat and increase fat loss, joint stability, and core strength while feeling brutally challenged and mentally stimulated at the same time, then this is it.

Bring on Suspension Training

You mean that Hollywood crap those dudes on the infomercials are doing and claiming is the ‘fastest, most efficient way to trim and tighten your core, blah blah blah’?  (Am I the only one that thought that?) 

Yup, that’s what I mean.  You know there’s something to this stuff when you see such a wide array of coaches and athletes advocating its use, coaches in sports from powerlifting, triathalons, the NFL, and NBA, CrossFit, etc.  Many great athletes are using this type of training either as a secondary exercise modality or as a primary, believe it or not. 

So why wouldn’t you or I use it? 

What is Suspension Training?

Suspension Training is a type of training that uses the body and gravity as the primary loading device and allows users to move within a variety of ranges of motion.  With the majority of the training exercises, it’s next to impossible for the body to not to engage nearly every muscle available in order to sustain and perform the movements. 

Because of the lack of stability within the suspension device, the body is forced to stimulate a large amount of stabilizers throughout each movement along with the prime movers and antagonist muscles.  This obviously creates an increased demand on the body, upping the challenge of each movement, and offering a completely different approach to strength training than the typical world of resistance training you’re used to.

Suspension can be utilized as a primary exercise choice for athletes by basing the entire workout around the strap system for resistance and core work, or as a secondary movement system by either super-setting the movements with traditional body weight or free-weight movements, or using them as finishers after focusing more on dumbbells, barbells, and medicine balls as the primary exercise devices.

I know what you might be thinking: If this stuff is so great, where’s it been your whole life?

“Best Total Body Tool” – Awarded by Men’s Health Magazine

Suspended in Time

Believe it or not, this stuff wasn’t invented in Hollywood and certainly wasn’t born out of an infomercial, though it may seem like it from the latest T.V. ads and internet links.  Even still, a good number of individuals are touting that suspension training is a ‘new’ and ‘advanced’ method of resistance training.  I’m sorry, but this really couldn’t be any further from the truth. 

We’ve all seen the good old gymnastic rings, haven’t we?  Those suckers have been around since the mid 1800s and while I will agree that they were mostly used for swinging at first, the rings were still part of an intensive method of suspension training.  In fact, movements like the Iron Cross, Muscle-ups, Hand Stands, and Dips were soon developed, and these are only a few of the incredible exercises many of the early innovators of this type of training performed. 

Today, most trainees are lucky to pull off a good suspended pushup while performing their new ‘advanced’ method of resistance training, so I’m going to go ahead and say the “advance” is more like a mutated fitness regurgitation of something that once was and still is great: gymnastic rings.

However, with respect to the efforts of most individuals attempting to achieve a better physique, joint stability, and core strength, the suspension method is certainly more advanced, and in my opinion much more effective, than what they’re probably currently doing, and it is certainly ‘new’ to most individuals who typically spend the majority of their workouts in the circuit room or performing a myriad of low-load isolation movements. 

So if it wasn’t a spikey haired, bosu-ball worshiping Hollywood aerobics instructor who invented these, then who was it?

It’s said that the ‘rings’ have been around for nearly 2000 years and were invented in Italy, but it’s pretty hard to find any solid research or evidence of application during those times.  However, suspension training came to light in Germany around the middle 1800s via a man named Adolf Spiess.  This new method of training soon gained popularity and was first introduced into the Olympic Games in 1924 in Paris.  The sport now known as ‘Still Rings’ is obviously still a major event in male gymnastics today and is very much the foundation of the suspension training we see today. 

Suspension Training Today

We’re seeing it all over the place at present, in home gyms, hotel gyms, large chain gyms, private high-end personal training studios, yoga facilities, and even in the hardcore training centers…they’re all using the suspension devices and hopefully using them well.  It seems like if you’re not implementing some sort of suspension device into your training today, then you’re missing the boat somewhere and are left wondering if there’s a good reason you should board that puppy any time soon.

It took me a while to be convinced that this stuff wasn’t just for the short, jacked men in tights and hot chicks who were afraid of weight training, but after examining the movements a little more, I thought I could definitely see some major reasons to attempt this type of exercise modality.

For most general exercise enthusiasts, fitness efforts usually involve using low intensity weight training movements with poor muscle recruitment, poor need for muscular or joint stability, and poor core stimulation.  To paint a little better picture, just think about what you see the majority of gym goers doing: riding the elliptical for 20 minutes, then cruising around the circuit room using every machine for three sets of ten, then possibly cruising over to the lower end of the dumbbell rack, and performing a few bicep curls and side bends. 

Hopefully I didn’t just describe any WBB readers’ workouts, but even still, it’s not terribly frequent that the slightly more advanced weight lifter puts some serious efforts into performing major functional movements or spends any serious amount of time on increasing joint stability and core strength beyond the scope of leg raises, dumbbell presses, and dead lifts. 

So it’s obvious that if there’s an exercise method available that can stimulate a large amount of muscles, increase caloric output, increase joint stability and core strength, and still aid in overall muscular strength, function, size, and power, then you should probably find a way to implement it into your training routine from time to time, right?

You’re Suspended!

There’s a pretty good selection of exercises you can perform with suspension devices that range in difficulty levels, so you’ll have to rate your strengths and perform them accordingly.

Also, there are obviously more exercises you can perform with this type of equipment; however, I’m only displaying a few of the movements that I feel can provide equal to or superior training performance over that of other training methods.

Try these movements first, then either get creative or do a little extra research and begin compiling more intense workouts for yourself.  You’ll be hooked!

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Suspension Training – Upper Body Exercises

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Suspension Training – Lower Body Exercises

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Suspension Training – Core Exercises

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A Changed Routine

If you think you could use a little diversity in your training routine for a while in order to keep your mind fresh and keep the boredom at bay, then there are several ways you can begin to implement this into your current routine.  You can also simply change your routine to suspension training only for a while to work on joint recovery, fat-loss, core strength, and stability while giving yourself a little break from the more heavy load-bearing movements.   

Here’s a few ways you can do it:

  • Cross-set or superset every free weight movement in your routine with a similar suspension movement.

Example – Incline Dumbbell Press (ss) Single-Arm Suspended Pushup OR Incline Dumbbell Press (cs) Single-Arm Inverted Suspended Row)

  • Simply replace most of your current free weight movements with the same movement pattern in suspension.
  • Replace all core movements of your current free weight routine, with all suspended core movements.

1 Day Suspension Routine – Because I love ya!

This is a one-day routine that you can pretty much throw in anywhere as part of your current routine.  Consider it a metabolic conditioning day.  Do keep in mind that this is still resistance training and will still require pre- and post-workout recovery like anything else, so plan accordingly.

1 Day Full Body Suspension High Intensity Routine

Lower Body Combo – 4 x 10 x 10, No rest

  • 1a) Balanced Lunge
  • 1b) Single-Leg Hamstring Curl

60 seconds recovery

Upper Body Combo – 4 x 12 x 8, No rest

  • 2a) Suspended Pushup
  • 2b) Inverted Row

60 seconds Recovery

Core/ Arm Combo – 4 x 8 x 10 x 10 x 8, No recovery

  • 3a) Fallouts
  • 3b) Bicep Curls
  • 3c) Tricep Extensions
  • 3d) Shoulder Flys

60 seconds recovery

Lower/ Core Combo – 3 x 8 x 8 x 8 x 20

  • 4a) Single Leg Squat
  • 4b) Pike
  • 4c) Hip Abduction
  • 4b) Bicycle

Repeat (Just kidding!)

Wrap Up

TRX Suspension Training: Get Beach Body ReadyIn the end, all that matters is the end results.  How we get there is not nearly as important as what it is we’re seeking.  Don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s about your personal goals and reaching them as effectively and efficiently as possible. 

You’ve got to take care of every part of your car to keep it running, and the same goes for your body and mind.  If your joints are weak, find ways to make them strong.  If your core is pathetic, make it better.  If your brain is burnt out, find new ways to keep it challenged and fresh for your training so you can continue towards your goals!

Suspension training may just be a new way for you to continue on without getting hung up.  There are a variety of different suspension devices available, and I’m sure if you ask around, you can quickly come to some sort of opinion as to which ones are for you.  However you do it, just get on it and try something different!

Lastly, here is a link to the official TRX Suspension Training website – TRX Suspension Training. You can pick up TRX Suspension Training gear, DVDs and all types of quality stuff from here – check it out!

I’ll see you in suspension!

Written by Mike Scialabba

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 – Switch Things Up With Suspension Training discussion thread.

About Mike Scialabba

Mike is the Director and Owner of the Missoula Underground Strength Training Center located in Missoula, Montana.

He’s an Expert Strength Coach and has been in the business for nearly a decade working with hundreds of individuals utilizing conventional and unconventional training methods. 

Michael has sent over a dozen kids to collegiate football and basketball and has spent endless hours in the trenches getting dirty with real training and real results.

Be sure to check out his blog!

Four Laws of Training and Growing: The Perfect Hypertrophy Plan

The Pursuit of Hugeness

There’s a lot of talk online these days about all the ways to get thick: HIT training, body-part splits, full-body training, push/pull programs, compound movements only, biceps curls every hour for 12 hours…

Doesn’t it get a bit overwhelming?

If you’ve spent any time in a commercial gym, then I’m sure you’ll have seen and tried plenty of different methods while attempting to gain muscle. 

Now I don’t debate that many methods work. However, I do feel that we often don’t explore the simple laws of gaining intense amounts of muscle mass that lead to the best gains of your life.

As I pondered the idea of how hypertrophy works, I was reminded of the 6th grade science topic:

stimulus = response.

But first, let’s talk a little HGTV (Home and Garden Television).  

The Grass is Always Greener…When You Train Smarter!

You may not be a homeowner, but bear with me. If you wanted to take a decent lawn and turn it into a badass lawn, you’d need to do a few things to make it happen.

First, you would need to mow it. Cutting the grass would act as a stimulus for it to grow.  It spreads seeds and activates the plant to regenerate. 

Secondly, you’d need to water it. As we all know, water is a critical nutrient for plants and all living things, and therefore without it, the grass will not grow or survive.

Next, it needs sunlight, another critical nutrient that keeps the grass alive.

Finally, you need to add fertilizer. Think of it as a “supplement” for your lawn, an optional ingredient your lawn could live without, but would surely benefit from if administered correctly. 

You’ll notice that out of the four things you can do to increase the health and look of your lawn, only one of them is the stimulant. The other three are all components of adequate recovery! 

Some of the same rules of growing a badass lawn will apply to building muscle. The response, or recovery strategy, has to be appropriate for the stimulus, and the stimulus has to be appropriate for the planned recovery strategy in order to yield the targeted response.   If you do one without the other, you won’t get anywhere! 

If I fire up my lawn mower and mow my lawn every day (stimulus), I’m not only going to look like a meth-head who just hooked up, I’m going to end up with nothing but a giant mound of dirt. And if I only mow twice a month, I’m going to end up with sparse grass and weeds all over my field of dreams!

Now if I mow just like I should, once every five days or so, but don’t get sunlight or water, I’ll end up mowing the same pathetic field of thin gangly grass I started with, getting nowhere.

OK, enough grass analogies. Let’s focus on the weights.

You lift weights as a stimulus to do what? Grow mad amounts of muscle, of course. If you stimulate something, you’ll get a response. The less intense the muscular stimulation, the faster the recovery, while the more intense the stimulation, the longer the recovery. 

So when setting up your weight training routine, you need to strategize your appropriate recovery method.  So let’s talk about how to do that!

The 4 Laws of Training

The Program

Your weight training program is your stimulus. This will determine what you’ll need to do during your recovery phase in order to achieve any kind of growth. If the muscles you target aren’t appropriately stimulated, you won’t achieve the desired effect.

When outlining your program, you’ll need to take a few things into consideration:

  • How frequently will you be able to “consistently” hit the weights?
  • How much time will you have during each training session? 

If you’re limited to three days per week of gym time, then a body-part split is obviously not a good choice for a mass routine.  If you can get there five days per week, but are limited to 30 minutes, then I wouldn’t suggest full body training if you’re trying to get huge!

If you know you can get to the gym three or four times per week, but you don’t have any consistency as to which days those are in any given week, then you may need to work with upper and lower body push/pull splits and forget about full body and body-part splits for a while.

Now we’ve all seen the controversies surrounding each method of training and the myriad of haters of a specific training practice.  However, all things considered, most of them work and it’s not the method that becomes the problem, but the individual training parameters and execution of those methods. 

They all have their place in the hypertrophy department.

It’s how these routines are put together and how much time and effort you take inside and outside of the training program that yield your results, good or bad.

Volume

Too much is worthless, and too little is worth even less. Too many guys will show up and absolutely crush a muscle group, only to wait six days to do it all over again.  We’ve all seen it.  Monday is National Chest Day across America.  Roll into any commercial gym around 5:30 PM on a Monday and you’ll have to shoot craps to try and get your shot at using a flat bench. Roll in any other day and you could take a nap on any given chest-orientated machine that’s not being used as a cell phone perch. 

FACT – Monday is National Chest Day across America

Somehow, people got the idea that training one muscle group per week was the absolute most effective way to get bigger and stronger. For the average natural trainee, this is absolutely false.

You need to stimulate your muscles frequently and adequately. Once a week won’t cut it, even it you hit it like Hiroshima. You’ll be recovered before your six days are up and your muscles will already have started to atrophy. In order to prevent this, you’ll need to hit those muscles again as soon as recovery has taken place.  For the sake of not having to write a book on this topic, I’m going outline a few programs for you at the end of this article. This will help you to increase muscular stimulation frequency, and find appropriate loading parameters within your hypertrophy routine. 

I often use Chad Waterbury’s method of loading parameters outline in his book “Muscle Revolution”, and because I appreciate his research and don’t want to steal his lunch money, I’ll leave it up to you to buy the book and read it. It’s a good starting point for learning how to increase muscular stimulation, get adequate recovery time, and how to not destroy the nervous system along the way.

Intensity

Too many times I hear these gym rats saying crap like, “Slow and controlled…really squeeze it at the top!” or “Ten more sets of over-head triceps kicking flutters! C’mon baby!”

Now I’m sorry, but that’s not what I mean by intensity.

I’m talking about speed. If you’re not putting every ounce of mental fire power behind every rep, you’re not working in a manner that’s going to make you get bigger.

Look at the thighs of a marathon runner. Large? I think not. Now look at the thighs of a sprinter, longer jumper, triple jumper, or speed skater. Large? You bet your Wannabebig ass they are, especially in proportion to the rest of their bodies. Every rep behind the training of these individuals is intense! 

Now keep in mind that the speed of the bar doesn’t clarify the speed of the contraction.  If you’re working a bench press set and doing reps with 225 pounds, but are capable of 355 pounds, then you’ll be able to move that first load much quicker than you will the latter. However, when under the bar at 355 lbs, you’ll certainly be pushing with more than equal intensity and speed of contraction when performing the heavier set. 
 
Keep in mind the effort and force production you apply when performing every set. Whether you think its light or heavy, you need to give it every ounce of effort you’ve got in you.

Now, on a side note, I’m not as much of an advocate of simply moving the bar through the set as fast as possible, nor do I employ ridiculous eccentric phases.  Simply lower the bar with stability and control, and fire it off as fast as possible in the concentric phase. 

If you want to stimulate a muscle, put some intensity behind it!

Movements

I’ve hinted at this a few times already. Personally, I feel as though you should rotate through each phase every four to six weeks in order to prevent injury and promote CNS (central nervous system) health, which will only lead to better muscular gains. 

The movements you’d perform during a five-day split would certainly need to be less intense movements than what you’d perform during a three-day split. 

For example, exercises on a five-day split may look something like this:

  • Plyometric Pushup 4 x 5
  • Barbell Floor Press 4 x 4
  • Incline DB Press 4 x 8
  • Neutral Grip DB Flat bench Press 4 x 8
  • Blast Strap Pushup or Rings Pushup 4 x 12

Exercises on a three-day split may look something more like this:

  • Box Squat 5 x 4
  • Floor Press 8 x 3
  • Chest-supported Row 6 x 4
  • Standing Barbell Press 4 x 6
  • Russian Barbell Twist 4 x 8
  • Face Pull 4 x 8

The more recovery time available, the more intense the movements and the loads need to be.

How do you increase the intensity of a movement?  Increase the amount of muscle groups required to move the weight (i.e., dead-lift to snatch), increase the speed and load, or decrease the reps behind each set. 

Let’s outline a few training rules for deciding on what training parameters you’ll be attempting to utilize in order to change your physique. 

Load:  Keep your load in the range of 70% – 90% of your 1RM, occasionally dipping into a max effort once every six weeks or so.

Duration of Phase: You should shift gears on your hypertrophy training parameters every four to six weeks.  For example: Full-body three-day split at 90 percent loading for four weeks followed by Upper/Lower split at 75 – 80 percent loading for four weeks.

Frequency of workouts: Within each week, this will depend on the volume within each workout. However, unless you’re an “assisted” athlete, you’ll need to be hitting each muscle group no less than two times per week and no more than three times per week. 

Recovery time between sets: No less than 45 seconds and no more than 120 seconds. The fewer joints involved in a movement, the less recovery time required.  The more joints involved, the more recovery time needed. 

Sets and reps per muscle group: This will be determined by the frequency of stimulation.  The fewer times in a week you stimulate a muscle group, the more sets you’ll need to do, and visa versa. As a general rule of thumb, you can refer to Chad Waterbury’s “24-50 principle” for stimulation volume. These rep ranges are refer to training frequency from two to four times per week, but not to stimulating a muscle group once per week.

The Four Laws For Growing

1) Food

The most important part of your recovery phase is going to be the food you eat and when you eat it. 

We learned a long ago that the more protein constantly floating around the bloodstream, the more opportunities for the muscle to use it, particularly when paired with a low-glycemic carbohydrate. In other words, you need to be eating frequently throughout the day, and you need to eat high amounts of protein in every single meal. What are high amounts?  No less than 1.5 grams per pound of body weight. See protein, eat it!

If you’re one of those guys who are always claiming that you eat a ton of food, and still can’t gain weight, you’re mistaken. You just don’t really know what eating a ton of food is. When my athletes are trying to gain weight, they have three to four days out of a week that they consume upwards of eight thousand calories a day. Now that’s a lot of food! 

If you really think you’re giving it all you got in the stuffing-my-face-for-size department, don’t give up hope.  Keep your protein high and your low glycemic carbohydrates higher. You need to eat to grow, and if you’ve got the metabolism of a hummingbird, you need to eat a lot!

If you’re a little carb-phobic, then you may need to follow the eating recommendations of fellow Wannabebig author Christopher Mason and reread his article on Eating Optimally For Massive Size and Strength.  No need to rewrite a great article. Just read it and pay attention!

If you’d rather keep it simple and follow a few rules, try these on for size (pun intended)!

Rules for Big 

  • Eat at least your weight in protein every day.
  • Eat six to eight times per day.
  • Make protein the staple of every meal.

Start consuming about 50 grams of high-glycemic carbohydrates and 30-50 grams of easily digestible protein 15-20 minutes before you begin training, while maintaining consumption throughout the workout in order to stimulate insulin and load the bloodstream with sugars.  This type of “pre- and peri-workout” nutrition has been proven to lower interleukin-6, which is a catabolic inflammatory cytokine highly stimulated in the muscles during exercise. In layman’s terms, bring down IL-6, bring down stress, which we both know (or should know) does not help in building muscle!”
 
Consume another 40-50 grams of high-glycemic carbohydrates and an additional 30-40 grams of easily digestible proteins immediately following your workout to further improve your anabolic threshold, further increase protein synthesis, and keep glycogen levels up to par.

If you want to grow, you gotta get your nutrition in order

2) Supplements

If you’re really serious about packing on the pounds, you may want to strongly consider the use of supplements if you’re not already doing so. 

When it comes to supplements, there’s a good deal of confusion and hype that can negatively influence what you use and how you use it.  

For the sake of getting huge, we’re only going to talk about the supplements that I believe will pack the most punch for your money, and that are absolutely proven to work when it comes to building muscle mass. 

Protein – By and large, protein is the most important supplement in your arsenal. Unless you’re able to eat solid meals as outlined above, you’re absolutely going to need to add an additional protein supplement to your grocery list. 

Choosing a protein like Nitrean is a surefire way to know that you’re getting what you’re paying for!  It is an excellent tasting, clean, and highly bio-available product that obviously stands out in the crowd.  
 
Carbohydrates – Wait?  Supplement carbohydrates?  That’s right, and usually in the form of dextrose, maltodextrin, or waxy maize. Trust me…it’s a lot easier to knock down some Nitrean with a 50 gram serving of dextrose or waxy maize immediately following a gut buster, than it is to eat five pieces of white bread and ten egg whites.

It’s especially convenient to mix up a solution of the two so that you can sip on it while you train.  This will greatly aid in the prevention of muscle catabolization and will decrease fatigue. Opticen is a great choice for a post workout, combined carbohydrate and protein hit. You’ll get 35 grams of carbohydrates and 40 grams of protein per serving.

BCAAs – Branch chain amino acids make up approximately 35 percent of your total muscle mass and are quickly depleted during intense weight training.  By supplementing them before, during, and after your weight training, you’re preventing catabolism and encouraging protein synthesis, which is muscle growth!  Yes, you get a good amount of them from the high quality proteins that you eat, and even more so from a good protein supplement like Nitrean.  However, supplementing BCAAs is a cost-effective way to saturate your muscle tissue and save on excess calories.

Creatine – People can argue all they want, but anyone who has used creatine knows that it works.  Does it build muscle?  Not really, although some research does suggest that it may aid in protein synthesis.  Does it aid in building muscle?  It absolutely does.  Without getting too scientific, creatine plays a role in the creation of ATP, which is the chemical energy on which muscular contraction is based.  The more creatine available, the faster your body can produce energy, which means increased intensity and decreased fatigue during weight training.  Better stimulation to the muscles = better muscular response! Check out AtLarge’s Creapure Creatine Capsules for a convenient way to supplement with Creatine.

Fish Oil – If you’ve spent any time reading about health and fitness, then I’m sure you’ll have come across the benefits of omega-3’s, especially from fish oil. They’re downright ridiculous!  However, for the sake of muscle building, I’m only going to name a few.  They can help to decrease inflammation, and we’ve all had achy joints and mad trigger points. If there’s a supplement that can help decrease joint pain, and in return, allow you to move heavy loads properly again, you should probably take it! 

Fish oil may also help to increase focus and elevate mood.  Feeling a little down?  Not going to make the gym?  Maybe that wouldn’t happen if you were taking your fishies. Fish oil may increase insulin sensitivity and can aid in the body’s metabolism of carbohydrates, allowing more carbs to be stored within the muscle tissue (and not your waistline). It also aids the heart and cardiovascular system, aids in preventing stroke and certain types of cancer, and has been proven to help prevent and treat many mental disorders among children.  Get on it!  You can grab some here – Fish Oil Capsules

3) Sleep

Let’s face it…you’re busy. You wake up around 9 a.m., eat a bowl of Cheerios with skim milk, throw a granola bar in the backpack, and head out to school or work. You get to the gym around six, check out some girls, do some bench press, and hit the shake bar. You get home, play some Halo with your online crew, and hit the sack around 1 a.m. with a stomach full of Lil’ Caesar’s Hot n’ Ready. 

You don’t have time for sleep, I get it. I also get why you’ve got the chest of a Calvin Klein underwear model and the arms of a marathon runner. You need to sleep! 

Hopefully, your diet and workout are a little better than I projected.  However, if you’re not sleeping, you’re not growing. When and how we sleep is when and how our body repairs. Would you like spotty healing for 4-5 hours, or intensive full blown healing for 7-9 hours?

When you sleep, your body produces the growth hormones responsible for allowing your CNS and muscular system to adapt to the training you’ve performed that day, also known as Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand (SAID).  This happens when we sleep, so it’s obvious that if you want to adapt–or in other words, to GROW–then you need quality sleep!

How do you get it?  Here are a few rules to follow:

  • Reduce alcohol and stimulants.
  • Reduce spicy foods and foods that are high in saturated fats several hours before bed.
  • Avoid large meals directly before bed.
  • Eliminate all lights and shut off your computer.
  • Meditate.
  • Supplement with ZMA (can be a wild ride the first two or three nights).
  • Wake up earlier.
  • Be consistent.

It seems simple, but it’s often the little things in life that take you the furthest.  Count sheep, do yoga, pray, read the Anarchist’s Cookbook, whatever you gotta do to relax.  Nobody gives a damn but your body, so get some damn sleep!

4) Soft Tissue Work

Hopefully you’ve recently read Nick Tuminello’s Upper Body Warm-Up and Lower Body Warm-Up articles and were somewhat introduced to the art of foam rolling.  If you haven’t, do so when you’re done here and learn a little something about warming up! 

You can take similar principles and apply them greatly toward your recovery.  More specifically, utilizing SMR (Self-Myofascial Release) techniques helps to unlock adhesions and allow blood flow and muscular contractions to function as normal.  If your muscles are locked up with trigger points, then your movement patterns will be greatly flawed. Your mobility will suck and only continue to worsen, and your active muscles will become hypertensive and overactive, while your inactive muscles will begin to atrophy and become more inactive, providing your body with zero aid for movement.

As this happens, your performance will obviously decrease and you’ll be primed and ready for injury like an X-51 Hypersonic Cruise Missile.  If you undo the damage by utilizing SMR techniques, allowing your muscles to heal and become balanced again, you’ll significantly increase your muscles’ ability to do their job.  Therefore, you’ll stimulate more motor units, yielding a better opportunity for growth.  As a personal side note, SMR techniques and dynamic mobility have become the cornerstone for my training. Since implementing these methods over the last two years, I’ve been able to increase performance much faster than before, decrease pain like never before, and increase size without feeling like Frankenstein. 

Start taking ten minutes prior to every workout and roll your tissue out!  If you don’t know how, considered purchasing Nick Tuminello’s DVD on Self Myofascial Release, or just do some of your own research.  However you go about it, just start doing it, all of it!

Self-myofascial for Hips and Glutes at Nick Tuminello’s Training Facility

Wrap Up

Ok, let’s reiterate a few strong points that’ll get you shopping in the big and tall department in no time!

  • Change your programming modalities frequently; however, when following a program, be consistent!
  • Focus on speed and power during every rep of every set!
  • Don’t write your own programs.  Find someone who knows what they’re doing when it comes to programming and listen to them.
  • Don’t beat the crap out of yourself every single day.  Too much stimulation is just as bad as too little.
  • Don’t ever walk into a gym for bicep day.  Please, just don’t be that guy.  Be the guy who bends bars during deadlifts and hogs the squat rack with front squats and rack pulls.
  • Eat like the biggest animals in the world, not like the smallest.
  • Be smart about your supplements.  Buy what you know works, and spend the rest of your money on good food!
  • Sleep and grow.
  • Give your muscles a little ghetto spa treatment.  Foam roll and stretch.  It’ll be the best thing you’ll ever do. 

Now go, do yourself a favor….lift something heavy!

A Little Somethin’ for Reading the Whole Thing…

I’ve provided three different hypertrophy routines for you to give a go – a three, four and five day split!

Full Body 3-Day Split

Note: Day 1, 2, and 3 are separated by one off day while Day 3 and 1 are separated by two off days. 

Day 1

Begin with a proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – full body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. * Box Squat  6 x 4/2 x 8 120 sec 80-85/70
2. Floor Press 8 x 3 90 sec 85
3. Chest Supported Row 6 x 6 60 sec 75-80
4. Push Press 5 x 8 90 sec 70-75
5. Weighted Chin 3 x 8 45 sec 70-75
6a. ** FB Neutral DUmbell Press 3 x 10 30 sec 70
6b. ** Bent-over Lateral Raises 3 x 8 30 sec 70-75

* Perform 6 sets of 4 reps at 80% of your 1RM, then lighten the load to 70% of your 1RM and perform 2 sets of 8 reps.

** Perform set (a), rest 30 seconds, perform set (b), rest 30 seconds and repeat.

Day 2

Proper 20 min warmup minutes including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – full body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Walking Barbell Lunges 5 x 20 (10/side) 120 sec 70
2. Incline Dumbell Press 6 x 8 90 sec 75
3. Neutral Grip Pulldown 8 x 4 90 sec 80
4. DB Lateral Raise Cheaters 5 x 8 60 sec 70-75
5. Single Arm DB Row 3 x 8 45 sec 70-75
6a. Weighted ½ Dips 5 x 4 60 sec 80
6b. Barbell Curls 5 x 4 60 sec 80

Day 3

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – full body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Sumo Deadlift 5 x 6 120 sec 80
2. Bench Press 6 x 4 90 sec 80-85
3. *Pullup 6 x 4 90 sec 80-85
4. Upright Row 5 x 8 60 sec 70-75
5. Incline Neutral DB Press 3 x 8 45 sec 70-75
6a. Leg Extension 3 x 10 30 sec 70
6b. Single Leg Barbell RDL 3 x 8 30 sec 70-75

* Add weight to your pullup if necessary, and if body weight pullups are still too difficult, move to prone wide grip pull downs.

Upper/Lower 4 Day Split

Day 1 Lower Body

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Lower body and back

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Broad Jump 4 x 4 90 sec Body Weight
2. Sumo Deadlift 5 x 6 120 sec 80
3. *BB Bulgarian Split Squat 4 x 8 60 sec 70
4. Romanian DeadLift 3 x 8 60 sec 70-75
5. Hack Squat (Full ROM) 3 x 15 60 sec 60-65
6a. Weighted Jump rope 4 x 45 sec 45 sec Body Weight + 15-20lbs
6b.  Seated Calf Raise 4 x 10 45 sec 70

* This works best when utilizing a barbell and elevating the forward foot 3-4 inches.

Day 2 Upper Body

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Upper body and hips

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Incline BB Press 5 x 6 90 sec 80
2. Neutral Grip Pulldown or Pullup 4 x 6 60 sec 80
3. FB Neutral DB Press 4 x 8 60 sec 70-75
4. Bent-Over Lateral Raise 4 x 8 60 sec 70-75
5. Barbell Push Press 4 x 8 60 sec 70-75
6. EZ Bar Curls 4 x 6 45 sec 70
7. *Single Arm Preacher 2 x 25 60 sec 40-50
8. Russian BB Twist 3 x 16 (8 each side) 60 sec 70

* Only perform this movement if using a Hammer Strength type machine, selectorized machine, or a cable attachment.  If you only have dumbbells and barbells available, move to a standing single arm supinated dumbbell curl, possibly adding a forward lean.

Day 3 OFF

Day 4 Lower Body

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Lower body and back

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Box Jump 5 x 3 90 sec Body Weight
2. Front Squat 5 x 6 120 sec 80
3. Elevated DB Reverse Lunge 4 x 8 60 sec 70
4. Weighted Squat Jumps (Dumbbells) 3 x 10 60 sec 60
5. *SHELC 3 x 8 60 sec Body Weight
5a. Weighted Jump Rope 4 x 45 sec 45 sec Body Weight + 15-20lbs
5b.  Seated Calf Raise 4 x 10 45 sec 70

* If 3 x 8 is too easy with two legs, move to using one leg at a time.

Day 5 Upper Body

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Upper body and hips

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. 1- Board Press 6 x 3 120 sec 85-90
2. Chest-Supported Row, wide grip 5 x 6 90 sec 80
3. *Weighted ½ Dips 4 x 8 75 sec 70-75
4. High Pull 4 x 6 60 sec 70-75
5. Single Overhead DB Press 4 x 8 60 sec 70-75
6. Blast Strap or Ring Pushups 3 x failure 45 sec Body Weight
7a. Weighted Chin 3 x 8 60 sec 70-75
7b. BB Rollouts 3 x 8 60 sec Body Weight

* Serious forward lean

Day 6 and 7 OFF

5 Day Body Part Split

Day 1 Quads

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Lower body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Front Squat 4 x 6 60 sec 75
2. Walking Barbell Lunges 4 x 20 (10/side) 60 sec 70
3. DB Squat Jumps 4 x 8 60 sec 70-75
4. Hack Squat 4 x 15 60 sec 60-65
5. Leg Extensions 3 x 12 60 sec 65-70
Free Time Calves 2 movements > 30 reps, < 50reps    

Day 2 Chest/Triceps

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Upper body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Incline DB Press 4 x 6 60 sec 75
2. Floor Press 5 x 6 60 sec 75
3. FB Neutral DB Press 4 x 8 60 sec 70-75
4. Incline Cable Fly 4 x 10 60 sec 70
5. Weighted Dips 3 x 8 60 sec 70-75
6. Supine DB Extension 3 x 8  60 sec 70-75

Day 3 Back/Biceps

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Upper body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Weighted Pullups or Supine Pulldown 4 x 8 60 sec 75
2. T-Bar Row 5 x 6 60 sec 75
3. Neutral Grip High Low Cable Row 4 x 8 60 sec 70-75
4. Single Arm DB Row 4 x 10 60 sec 70
5. * Bicep Death March      
6. ** Preacher Curl Up Set      

* Use an EZ Bar and one pair of DB’s: EZ 10r, DB 20r, EZ 8r, DB 16r – 60 sec rest- EZ 8r, DB 16r, EZ 6r, DB 12r – 30 sec rest- EZ 6r, DB 12r, EZ 4r, DB 8r, EZ 2r, DB 4r – DONE

** Start with a weight you can perform easy for 6 reps.  Do 6 reps as fast as you can, add 5lbs, repeat: focus on speed and eliminate all recovery time between additions.  Reach the peak and drop back down by 5lbs performing only 3 reps again for speed until you reach starting weight.  One set only.

Day 4 OFF

Day 5 Hamstrings

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Lower body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Sumo Deadlift 4 x 6 80 sec 75-80
2. Romanian Deadlift 4 x 8 60 sec 75
3. Barbell Glute Bridge 4 x 8 60 sec 70
4. SHELC 4 x 10 60 sec Body Weight
5. Seated Hamstring Curls 3 x 8 60 sec 70-75
6. Free Time Calves 2 movements > 30 reps < 50 reps    

Day 6 Shoulders

Proper 20 min warmup including dynamic mobility and foam rolling – Upper body

Movement Set/Rep Recovery Load % 1RM
1. Barbell Push Press 4 x 6 80 sec 75-80
2. Lateral Raise Cheaters 4 x 8 60 sec 75
3. Upright Row 4 x 8 60 sec 70
4. Face Pull 4 x 10 60 sec 70
5. Seated Arnold Press 3 x 12 60 sec 70-75
6. *Single Arm DB Shrug 4 x 8  60 sec 70-75

* Heavy forward lean.

Day 7 OFF

Written by Mike Scialabba

About Mike Scialabba

Mike is the Director and Owner of the Missoula Underground Strength Training Center located in Missoula, Montana.

He’s an Expert Strength Coach and has been in the business for nearly a decade working with hundreds of individuals utilizing conventional and unconventional training methods. 

Michael has sent over a dozen kids to collegiate football and basketball and has spent endless hours in the trenches getting dirty with real training and real results.

Be sure to check out his blog!

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 – Four Laws of Training and Growing discussion thread.

Kettlebells for the Uninitiated

If you’ve been busting your ass with barbells and dumbbells for the past few years and are looking for something new to help add slabs of muscle to your body and improve your overall conditioning, it may be time to add something new to your training tool box.

Enter the kettlebell…

Sure, it’s a little funny-looking, but training with the kettlebell – a large, cannonball-shaped piece of steel with a tall handle protruding out of the top is no laughing matter.

Although it was first designed as a counterweight for outdoor markets in Russia in the early 1700’s, throwing and swinging the kettlebell quickly became the exercise of choice for a few of the locals. A couple of decades later, the kettlebell was introduced to the Russian military where it gained much popularity.

Just to give you an idea of how obsessed the Russians were with kettlebells, I learned that the Russian military did ten consecutive minutes of single-arm snatches with a 53 pound kettlebell for their conditioning tests. In the U.S., we do push-ups (it’s not too difficult to tell who may be in better shape).

But kettlebells aren’t only for the militant! Dozens of European track and field teams have been trained exclusively with kettlebells and have frequently achieved personal bests in their event after using this archaic-looking tool…no fancy equipment needed.

Additionally, in the very recent past, major universities across the world have begun using kettlebells to complement the training programs for their sprinters and throwers. And do I even have to mention the current fitness craze? I mean, hell, you can find pink kettlebells in Wal-Mart!

The good news is you don’t have to become a card-carrying member of the Russian Kettlebell Club to reap the benefits of training with ‘bells.

We weren’t joking – you really can buy Pink Kettlebells!

But what are those benefits?

Well, you can learn to generate incredible power while adding some muscle to your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

You can markedly increase your core and shoulder stability.

If you’re feeling frisky, you can throw in some circuits for a quick fat loss routine that will have you sucking air, lying on the floor, and possibly gently cooing for your mommy.

Just pick it up and go!

Sure, there are a lot of movements that will take months, if not years, of dedicated practice, but the nice thing about the kettlebell is the shallow learning curve on some of the most basic and effective movements.

Movements like the kettlebell swing, one-hand swing, side swing, front squat, goblet squat, and press are easy to learn within your first five minutes. These movements will also establish a fundamental base that you can build on.

I’ll lay out some pictures, descriptions, and sample program templates a little later on,  but first, let’s say you don’t give a damn about conditioning. How could you incorporate kettlebells into your strength program?

Let’s assume you’re in the gym for your lower-body day. You can simply add a few rounds of kettlebell swings and front squats to your program, or just pick an exercise and swap your barbell for a kettlebell.

Here are just a few exercises you can substitute:

Lower body

Exercise to replace Substitute with
Romanian Deadlifts

Single-Leg RDLs

Back Extensions

Hamstring Curls

Double or Single-Hand Kettlebell Swing
Back Squats

Front Squats

Lunges

Leg Extensions

Kettlebell Front Squats

Goblet Squats

Reverse Lunges

Upper body

Exercise to replace Substitute with
Chest-Supported Row

Seated Row

Dumbbell Row

Bent-Over Rows

Kettlebell Renegade Row

Ballistic Row

Seated Dumbbell Press

Standing Military Barbell Press

Kettlebell Press

Just to be clear – any of the exercises in the left-hand darker blue columns can be substituted with those in the right-hand lighter blue columns.

So for example, Chest-supported rows, Seated rows, Dumbbell rows or Bent-over rows can all be replaced with either a Kettlebell renegade row or a Ballistic row.

Are you more of a visual person?

Well, here’s a sample two-day template…I’ll give the “traditional” version first and the kettlebell-infused version second.

Example Current Resistance Plan:

Lower body Push/Pull

1) Explosive box jump 4 x 3
2) Scissor Sprint 4 x 10
3) Back Squat 5 x 4
4) Single Leg RDLs 3 x 8
5) Leg Extensions 3 x 15
6) Prone Leg Curl 4 x 8

Upper Body Push/Pull

1) Standing Military Barbell Press 4 x 6
2) Neutral Pull Down 4 x 6
3) Wide Grip Bench Press 4 x 6
4) Chest Supported Row 3 x 8
5) Upright Row 3 x 8
6) Blast Strap Pushup 3 x failure
7) Russian Barbell Twist 3 x 20

Kettlebell Infusion:

Lower Body Push/Pull

1) Explosive box jump 4 x 3
2) Scissor Sprint 4 x 10
3) Back Squat 5 x 4
4) Single Leg RDLs 3 x 8
5) *KB Front Squat 3 x 10
6) *KB Swing (two hands) 4 x 20

Upper Body Push/Pull

1) *Standing KB Press 4 x 8
2) Neutral Pull Down 4 x 6
3) Wide Grip Bench Press 4 x 6
4) *KB Renegade Row 3 x 8
5) Upright Row 3 x 8
6) Blast Strap Pushup 3 x failure
7) *Alternating KB Side Swing 3 x 20

Once you pop, you can’t stop!

Try adding a few kettlebell movements per training session and I bet you’ll want to keep adding more and more, especially once you see the increased mobility, muscular endurance, and aesthetic improvements.

The benefits and ease of implementation of this tool is truly what makes the kettlebell so appealing. You just can’t go wrong.

Alright, Mike…but what about conditioning?

The beauty of kettlebell conditioning is that you can move from movement to movement with amazing quickness and ease. This obviously takes some practice, but considering that an individual can move through ten or more compound movements in less than thirty seconds makes the journey well worthwhile. 

Even with the small arsenal of kettlebell movements discussed in this article, you can put together amazing cardio-crushing intervals without having to move more than three feet. 

Fair warning: if you’re going to use kettlebells for conditioning, be prepared to be humbled. I’ve worked with athletes from all over the spectrum, from high-level athletes, college guys, and ultra-marathoners to some badass soccer moms who’d put most guys to shame. But when it comes to intensive kettlebell work, these athletes don’t even know what hit them! Kettlebell conditioning is truly one of the best ways to torment the body into becoming hyper-metabolic, burning fat, and increasing the body’s ability to move with supreme efficiency. 

Here’s a simple kettlebell conditioning protocol you can try the next time you get into the gym.

Each round is performed hands-on.  In other words, your hands don’t leave the kettlebell unless it’s airborne!

Round 1

  • KB Russian Swing x 6
  • KB American Swing x 6
  • KB Russian Swing Alternating Hands x 6
  • KB Alternating Side Swing x 6
  • 60 Second Break

Round 2

  • KB Russian Swing x 7
  • KB American Swing x 7
  • KB Russian Swing Alternating Hands x 7
  • KB Alternating Side Swing x 7
  • 60 Second Break

Keep going for three more rounds, adding one more rep to each exercise with each round. You should end by doing 10 reps on every exercise.

Please note, I don’t recommend this workout directly after or before a lower body strength training day.

Performing The Movements

Loading the Kettlebell

When loading the kettlebell for any type of press or top mounted position, make a pocket with the forearm and upper arm with your wrist slightly bent.  Measure your elbow placement by bringing both forearms together in front of the chest (guys with more chest development will not be able to close the gap as well as others).  Keep the elbows tucked tight into the body, and try to prevent separation from arm and body throughout your movement.

Kettlebell Press

Load the kettlebells tightly into the body.  Squeeze the glutes and tuck the hips prior to beginning your press.  Press directly upward, driving the elbow almost directly past the ear.  This is not a dumbbell press!  The elbows should stay tight to the center of the body.  Your hands and elbows will rotate out at the peak of the movement.  Bring the kettlebells back down quickly; the bell should nearly drop back into the original pocket. 

Kettlebell Reverse Lunge

Top mount your kettlebell on one side only, following the previous instructions.  Stride back into a reverse lunge, moving the loaded leg backwards and driving forward off of your stationary heel. 

Kettlebell Front Squat

Load both bells in the top mount position.  Stand with feet shoulder width apart, and drive the hips back and down while maintaining a neutral position with the lower back.  Attempt to keep your elbows pressed into your sides; however, if doing so compromises your low back position (causes rounding of low and upper back), then allow some space to become present.  Drive upward out of the heels and repeat.

Kettlebell Goblet Squat

Hold one bell at the top of the chest with two hands, cradling it like a globe.  Stand with feet shoulder width apart, and drive the hips back and down while maintaining a neutral position with the lower back.  Attempt to keep your elbows pressed into your sides; however, if doing so compromises low back position (causes rounding of low and upper back), then allow some space to become present.  Drive upward out of the heels and repeat.

Kettlebell Renegade Row

Place two bells about 1 foot apart on the floor.  Place hands on both bells and get into a pushup position.  Be sure that your bells lie directly under the chest and not the shoulders.  Push one elbow back tightly to the outer ribs while maintaining a flat body position.  Return the bell to the floor and switch sides.  Keep in mind that you can elevate your feet some if necessary.

Double Kettlebell Swing

American Swing

Russian Swing

Side KettleBell Swing

Alternating Single Swing

Wrap-up

Let’s face it…your program probably needs some spice. Kettlebells are becoming a trend among moms, actors, political figures, and the general layman, but they have more to offer to the avid weight lifter.

If your gym doesn’t have kettlebells, find a new gym, or go to your local fitness store and buy one (but please don’t get a pink one).

Written by Mike Scialabba

About Mike Scialabba

Mike is the Director and Owner of the Missoula Underground Strength Training Center located in Missoula, Montana.

He’s an Expert Strength Coach and has been in the business for nearly a decade working with hundreds of individuals utilizing conventional and unconventional training methods. 

Michael has sent over a dozen kids to collegiate football and basketball and has spent endless hours in the trenches getting dirty with real training and real results.

Be sure to check out his blog!

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 – Kettlebells for the Uninitiated discussion thread.

Well, you can learn to generate incredible power while adding some muscle to your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.