STRENGTH TRAINING ON A LIMITED SCHEDULE

For the past couple of years the amount of time I can commit to training has been severely curtailed. My business life literally runs from about 8:15 A.M. to 9 P.M. (or later) six days per week. I have thus been relegated to primarily training on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings (I will sometimes get in late mini-workouts in my basement).

As you may know I am a huge advocate of Louie Simmons’ Westside training methodologies (www.westside-barbell.com). The Westside program when properly adhered to calls for at least four training days per week. Mini workouts to add additional volume (especially for weak points) are also indicated and can be done on otherwise “off” days. Following this protocol is optimal, but not viable due to work and other life considerations for many individuals interested in increasing their absolute size, strength, or both.

I don’t promote excuses or weakness. Many people who claim they can only find the time to train once or twice per week simply lack the will to do what must be done. With that said, there are some people who truly cannot devote more time to their training and yet want to see results. For those of you who are in this category, take heart, it CAN be done. In fact, it has been done at the highest level. I remember reading some time ago that one of the greatest strength athletes in history, Jon Cole, trained twice per week at his peak. Jon set powerlifting records that stood for 40 years!

Jon Cole
Jon Cole, one of the strongest men who ever lived.

If Jon did it, so can YOU. Well, not set records that stand for 40 years, but get darn big and strong training only twice per week. The key is the right mix of intensity, volume, and exercise selection.

For the purposes of this article I am going to focus on a blend of size and strength. What follows will provide you the information you need to train twice per week and add both lean muscle mass and strength.

Total Body Sessions

When your training time is limited to two sessions per week it is imperative that you hit all of the major muscle groups each session. Training the total body in one session requires a low volume of work by body part. As the target reader of this article has a severely curtailed amount of training time, the length of a given session is necessarily short. Even if one had more time, sessions much in excess of an hour have been shown to produce diminishing returns (hormonal and other considerations being the presumed culprits). The good news is that despite what you may have read and heard, given a proper level of intensity and mix of rep schemes etc. the actual amount of volume required to add size and strength is much less than commonly accepted.

Prescribed volume for the vast majority of trainees on a twice per week system is 2-5 working sets by body part/group. Working sets are defined as post-warm-up work. See below for more specific recommendations:

Chest – 3-5 sets
Upper back – 3-5 sets
Whole body movements such as squats and deadlifts – 2-5 sets
Accessory work – 2-4 sets

Each of the above sets should be taken to near concentric failure (concentric failure defined as the inability to complete a rep). Rep counts should be varied targeting absolute strength with reps in the 1-3 range, and then following up with higher repetitions to promote growth of the contractile myofibrils and conditioning/thickening of the connective tissues. Here is a sample chest workout to illustrate this concept:

* Only working sets will be noted. The set and rep scheme will be presented in this fashion – 4 x 3/3/12/12 – this indicates four working sets of 3 reps for the first and second sets to be followed by 12 reps each for the third and fourth sets.

Floor Press: 3 x 1/5/12
Incline Press: 2 x 8/15

In the case above the floor press is the primary movement of the day. After an appropriate (specific to the individual) warm-up the first working set is a training one rep maximum/near maximum (max) attempt. A training one rep max attempt by definition involves very little psychological stimulation. In other words, the lifter doesn’t get “crazy” for the attempt. He or she simply concentrates and handles a very heavy load in a calm state. Training singles should consist primarily of such attempts as excessively psyched max attempts are very draining in general, to the nervous system in particular, and can quickly lead to training stagnation.

A heavy training single is very important to, if not optimal for, the building of maximal strength. The ability to move a near maximal load for one repetition requires neural optimization relative to the specific movement pattern and loading. While multiple repetitions can and do build absolute strength (up to a point), only heavy single attempts can optimally stimulate the adaptation required to maximize absolute strength. This is the S.A.I.D. (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand) principle in practice. Human physical adaptation is highly specific and the neural coordination required to move a maximal load through a specific movement pattern can only be peaked with single repetition practice (yes, repeated for emphasis…).

Absolute strength is a combination of neural optimization and the force production capacity of the contractile myofibrils (actin and myosin – the contractile components of skeletal muscle). Maximal individual demonstrable strength is thus achieved via a combination of contractile hypertrophy and neural adaptation. This is the reason for the combination of both heavy singles and moderate and higher repetitions. Moderate reps (4-8 or so) target both maximal strength and hypertrophy while higher reps stimulate what is commonly referred to as non-contractile hypertrophy (hypertrophy of the non-contractile elements of muscle fibers) and the maintenance/hypertrophy of the very important connective tissues. The importance of the repetition blend cannot be overemphasized.

To clarify the force production capacity statement, the contractile components of the muscles cells are known as the aforementioned myofibrils actin and myosin. Individually speaking, the larger the myofibrils the greater the force production capacity, but greater capacity does not automatically equate to greater expressed strength. A automotive analogy is appropriate to illustrate the concept. With an automobile engine and transmission the transmission is required to take the force production capacity of the engine and translate it to the wheels so the car will move. In the body the nervous system is loosely analogous to the automobile transmission and the myofibrils to the engine. The myofibrils need to have the capacity for high force production and the nervous system must orchestrate everything in one of life’s most beautiful symphonies, the symphony of physical expression.

Want the laymen’s translation? If you want to be really strong make your muscles big and practice heavy singles…

Varying Movements and Intensity

Followers of Westside know that exercise variety is one of the cornerstones of the program. Maximum Effort movements are varied weekly by cycling through 3-4 primary movements. Twice per week trainees should approach things a bit differently. The reduced volume dictated by the program changes the paradigm such that repetition of the same movement is beneficial, at least for a longer period of time than with a standard Westside protocol.

The legend Louie Simmons holding court.
The legend Louie Simmons holding court.

Westside switches Max Effort (ME) movements weekly because Louie Simmons’ research led him to the conclusion that it is optimal for the vast majority of those practicing his program. The higher the level the athlete, the less frequently a one rep max attempt can be made for the same movement. In practice, Louie observed that for most of his athletes the same movement one rep max cannot be repeated for more than 2-3 weeks before stagnation occurs. Weekly rotation proved to be superior as it permitted the most consistent progress with a minimization of injuries from overuse as an added benefit.

This brings us back to some specific verbiage I used earlier in this article. I noted the use of the training one rep max/near max. The reason for the inclusion of the “near max” terminology is that with my program the prescribed one rep max attempts differ from those practiced at Westside in that majority of them are lower in intensity. With my program instead of only one max effort weekly for either a bench or squat variation there are two such attempts. The performance of two very heavy singles per week dictates a reduction in intensity when compared to a true training one rep max. In practice I have found that doing so leads to more consistent progress.

Not to confuse the issue, but my program also relies on a degree of autoregulation. Performing two near max singles per week by body part weekly can overwhelm even those with above average recovery ability, so I encourage practitioners of my program to monitor their progress and make adjustments as needed. When I feel that my body is getting too beat up with heavy singles, and or stagnation sets in, I will switch to a higher rep scheme. In most cases only a week or two of less intense work is needed to right the ship.

A Sample Week of Training

Wednesday:

Rack pulls (from about 2″ off the floor): 1/5
Floor press: 1/5

Giant Set (3 rounds)*:
Original Nautilus pullover: one arm at a time – 12 reps
Close grip pulldown: 10
Machine chest press: 15-20
Machine lateral raise: 10
* No rest is taken between exercises. The trainee moves as quickly as possible from one exercise to the next.

Scott Wilson
Bodybuilder Scott Wilson built those boulders with low volume and frequency.

Leg press: 15-20/15-20 – these are done using a rest pause style. Reps are continuous until fatigue demands a break and then the load is held at lockout just long enough to take a few deep breaths and to allow the burn to subside. A few more reps are then done until fatigue again demands a brief break. This is repeated 2-3 times per “set” until the target rep count is hit.

Overhead cable crunches: 20/20

Sunday:

Box squat with various bars: 1/5 (I will normally switch bars every 3rd-4th week)

Bench press with pause: 1/5

Giant Set (3 rounds):
Seated cable rows with the two handed rope attachment: 10
Seated machine chest press: 10
Machine lateral raise: 10
Seated Nautilus shoulder press: 10

Leg curl: 12/12/12

Triceps pushdowns: 1 set performed in a rest pause fashion for 15-25 reps. Choose a load which allows for 10-12 strict, unbroken reps.

Overhead cable crunches: 20/20

Wrap

You can get bigger and stronger training twice per week. Is it ideal? No, but if your schedule truly precludes a more expansive training regimen a twice per week program can and will be effective if properly executed.

No excuses, you can get bigger and stronger no matter what your life schedule looks like.

Chris Mason

Author Chris Mason is the owner of AtLarge Nutrition, LLC and an accomplished author in the fitness genre. He has written for numerous websites and magazines.

Shock Your Legs!

Time to grow some legs – already got them..? Time to make them even better. This

program will shock your entire lower body into growth very quickly. Be warned, it

isn’t easy and at times you may feel the urge to quit – don’t do it!

Phil Hill has some of the most amazing legs ever!
Phil Hill has some of the most amazing legs ever!

If there are two things that stop guys or girls training their legs hard, they are:

• It’s hard, and you don’t like hard

• If you have weak legs or under-trained legs, it seems embarrassing to start with

smaller weights

If you are guilty of the first point, this programme probably isn’t for you… unless you

want to make a change and challenge yourself (which I highly recommend).

If you are guilty of the second, there is one solution – face your fear and get down to

the nitty-gritty of a supremely effective leg shocker.

On the other hand, if you do hit the legs hard but they have stopped growing, other

factors come into play:

1) Exercises used for too long a time with insufficient variation have caused a

plateau

2) Too few exercises choices that are preventing the needed muscles getting the

attention to grow

3) Over-training – using high volume or high intensity training methods too

frequently or for too long

If points 1 and 2 apply, no need to worry – this program is your ticket. If point 3

applies, take 2 weeks of downtime, or easier training to gain sufficient restoration

before starting this routine.

Tom Platz is the undisputed all-time quad development freak of bodybuilding.
Tom Platz is the undisputed all-time quad development freak of bodybuilding.

This is not a traditional bodybuilding leg training program – it is a little different, and

the reasons for this are:

• There are a greater selection of exercises that are often not used in a traditional

body-builder’s arsenal

Now, what will this program do for you? It will:

• Build crazy amounts of muscle

• Raise your squat

• Raise your deadlift

• Increase your sprinting and jumping ability

• Allow you to do all of this year round with a very high time economy

Sound too good to be true? Let’s test it out and get cracking on the nuts and bolts of

the matter.

The program is performed 2 times per week, preferably with 72hrs in between

sessions.

Ben Johnson knew the importance of strength training for athletic performance.
Ben Johnson knew the importance of strength training for athletic performance.

Day 1:

Warm-up – choose from one of the following:

• Seated vertical jumps (on box/chair/bench) – 3-4 sets of 5-6 maximal height

jumps

• Seated vertical jumps(on box/chair/bench) with light dumbbells – 3-4 sets of 5-

6 maximal height jumps

• Seated vertical jumps (on box/chair/bench) with light ankle weights – 3-4 sets

of 5-6 maximal height jumps

Maximum strength – Choose one of the following and work up to a 1RM

• Deficit deadlifts (wide or close stance)

• Below parallel box squats (front or back, wide or close stance)

• Snatch grip deadlifts

• Below parallel pin squats (front or back, wide or close stance)

• Rack pulls

• Full Olympic squats (with brief pause at the lowest point)

Assistance work: choose from one of the following:

• Exercise A: Deficit deadlifts or snatch grip deadlifts – 6-8RM

• Exercise B: Hanging bent leg raises or hanging straight leg raises – 8-15RM

• Exercise C: Below parallel wide stance front box squats or below parallel wide

stance front pin squats – 5-6RM or 3RM

• Exercise D: Alternate arm dumbbell suitcase deadlifts or alternate arm barbell

suitcase deadlifts – 6-8RM(per side)

One heck of a seated good morning!
One heck of a seated good morning!

• Exercise E: Seated good mornings or thoracic extensions – 6-10RM

Day 2:

Warm-up – choose from 1 of the following:

• Maximum broad jump – 10 sets of 1 rep

• Maximum broad jump with light ankle weights – 10 sets of 1 rep

• Maximum broad jump with light dumbbells – 10 sets of 1 rep

Follow immediately by:

• Sub-maximal broad jumps – using about 70% of your max broad jump do 8

sets of 3 reps emphasizing short ground contacts. Use the same resistance as

the max broad jumps used in each session. Rest 15 seconds between sets.

Assistance work:

• Exercise A: Broad jumps or rope pull-through – 3-4 sets of 5-6 maximal

distance jumps/8-12RM

• Exercise B: Kneeling broad jumps or kneeling pull-through – 3-4 sets of 5-6

maximal distance jumps/8-12RM

• Exercise C: Backwards sled drags or leg extensions -16-20 steps/8-12RM

• Exercise D: Straight leg sit-ups or decline straight leg sit-ups – 8-12RM

Pallof press
Pallof press

• Exercise E: Pallof press or pallof press & static hold – 8-12RM/15-30 second

hold

Notes:

• The amount of sets can be decided according to your ability to recover – as a

guide, with the amount of time you will have for your workouts, 2-4 sets will

work well. Rest periods should stay at a maximum of 2 minutes.

• If you need extra work on a weaker muscle/muscle group, simply increase the sets by 1 or 2

and reduce the sets by 1 or 2 from an exercise/muscle that is a strength.

• Seated vertical jumps are performed by sitting on a surface then jumping up from

that surface as high as possible with maximal vertical leg drive. Immediately

descend to the surface and do another rep. There should not be long pauses

between each rep. Rest 60 seconds – no more, no less between sets of all

5-6RM jumping exercises, rest 15-60 seconds for 1RM jumps and rest 15

seconds for sub-maximal broad jumps.

• The limits of a persons maximum strength will cap whatever they can do for

reps. The best way to build maximum strength is to work up to the heaviest

weights that can can moved with volitional, controlled effort

• Maximal strength is best trained where you are weakest. For example, if

you fail out of the hole when doing Olympic squats or fail to lockout heavy

deadlifts, rack pulls and below parallel squat variations are very sensible

choices. On the other hand, if you are weak to start heavy deadlifts off the

floor, snatch grip or deficit deadlift variations are sensible choices.

• Working up to a 1RM is great. It doesn’t have to be done every week, but

it can be done if you want to. A 1RM max that trains your particular weak

point should be attempted no less than once per month. Other weeks can

consist of 2 or 3RM maxes or occasional deloads.

• Work up to around four or five 1RM or near 1RM attempts once per week at

around 90-100% of your max for that day.

• If you would like to continuously progress on this program simply

rotate the rep ranges of the exercises here or slightly change the exercises e.g.:

Change from body weight broad jumps to broad jumps with ankle weights

or switch to dumbbells. Switch from deficit deadlifts for 6-8RM to deficit

deadlifts or snatch grip deadlifts for 3RM etc – this will help prevent excessive

accommodation

• Keep training sessions to 60 mins at most

• You can do each session once per week or once every 6 days. For example, day

one on Monday, day two on Thursday, day one again on Sunday and so on.

• Don’t spend forever maxing – allocate 10 or 15 minutes at most to this section

– any more time will eat into other work that needs doing. Rest 2 minutes

between sets of 1RM.

• Before commencing high intensity jumps in a warm-up, do one set of 10 easy

jumps and one set of 10 moderate jumps

The author, Will Vatcher
The author, Will Vatcher

Will Vatcher is a strength & conditioning coach based in Cambridgeshire, England. He has published articles online on several major websites, including interviews with experts such as Louie Simmons, Fred Hatfield & Natalia Verhoshansky

You can contact Will at willvatcher@hotmail.com