Dysmorphia Training

In today’s era of hyperspecialization, most iron-game enthusiasts consider powerlifting and bodybuilding to be two very disparate training modalities. I constantly hear the cry of bodybuilders that they don’t care what they lift (‘Lifting heavy is dangerous!’, and ‘Why risk it?’) because all that matters is how they look. Alternatively, I hear powerlifters disparage the idea of hypertrophy-specific work as ‘pumper fluff’ or the like. Both camps have it dead wrong.

From the point of view of an individual, it is an immutable fact that a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. Why? Because some percentage of any hypertrophy is going to come from growth of the contractile myofibrils or that which makes the muscle contract and produce force. The myth or confusion regarding size and strength lies in the nearly all-pervasive tactic of making comparisons between individuals. In other words, the age-old idea of the big guy who is not nearly as strong as the smaller guy is used as proof positive that bigger muscles are not necessarily stronger muscles, a fallacious line of reasoning if there ever was one.

This article is aimed at bodybuilders but will not include the normal bodybuilding dogma. No, this article is going to teach those who are willing to listen how to optimize their muscular size via training for both maximal strength and size. The truth– no matter how people want to spin it — is that optimization of either size or strength requires optimization of both. In other words, you cannot be your strongest or biggest without maximizing both physical qualities. For the dullards reading this article, this does not mean you can’t get really big without being strong or really strong without being big; it simply means that you as an individual cannot be YOUR biggest or strongest without maxing out both qualities.

Joe DeAngelis knows how to build big shoulders!

This article will present a unique combination of training techniques borrowed from the best of the best in both strength training and bodybuilding. The end result will be a program which I am dubbing Dysmorphia Training (DT) in homage to the disorder known as body dysmorphia sometimes ascribed to those of us who want to be as big and strong as possible (which in that case is called ‘bigorexia’).

The best of the best in strength training is Louie Simmons’ Westside method (www.westside-barbell.com). Louie is the mad scientist of strength training, who borrowed ideas from the Russian and Bulgarian weightlifting teams that dominated their sport (as well as from numerous other influences) and then tinkered with them to create a program that is truly unrivaled in terms of its ability to make a person brutally strong and/or more athletic. I have trained at the famous Westside Barbell location many times and have been lucky enough to work with Louie at his powerlifting certification for CrossFit affiliates. I have thus personally experienced Westside’s benefits and have seen what it can do for athletes of all types. Needless to say, I firmly believe Westside is the finest strength-building program in existence.

My first weight training love was bodybuilding, and I still have an affinity for it although my personal training has shifted to powerlifting. I have always been the type of person that utterly immerses himself in his hobbies (in fact, you might say that they become all-consuming). Getting bigger and stronger has been my only interest (outside of family and friends) since I was 17 years old. Over the years, I have read about and/or tried virtually every bodybuilding method ever devised. For my money, the best of the best in bodybuilding training methods is Dante Trudel’s Dogcrapp Training (DC). Yes, the name is a bit of a goof, but rest assured that the training is not. I have always felt that Dante was heavily influenced by Arthur Jones’ (of Nautilus fame) High Intensity Training (HIT) system and by the musings of a man by the name of John Parrillo. John first came to prominence in the bodybuilding world in the 80s with his promotion of fascial stretching and extremely high caloric intake (not to mention MCT oils). You can see elements of Jones’ and Parillo’s teachings in DC, but just as Louie did, Dante took good ideas from others and refined them to create a unique system that is superior to its influences.

Westside and DT

As mentioned above, DT training borrows from the best of the best. In order to understand the Westside component that has been incorporated into my system, you first need to have a cursory understanding of the Westside training template.

The Westside template utilizes four major training days per week. Each of these four days is either a maximum effort (ME) or dynamic effort (DE) training session with one day of each reserved for upper body (bench) and lower body (squat).

Westside ME training involves the use of a compound exercise that trains the primary movers of the bench press or squat taken to a one repetition maximum (1RM) attempt.

Example: A low box squat is the ME movement for squat day. The lifter warms-up to a 1RM attempt. The set and rep scheme might look something like this:

135 x 5
225 x 3
315 x 3
405 x 2
495 x 1
545 x 1RM

Mike Francois did his time in the trenches at Westside Barbell and was one of the biggest and strongest bodybuilders ever for his efforts.

As the name implies, this attempt should encompass the absolute maximum weight that the trainee can handle using good form on that day. As per the conjugate system of training, these exercises are rotated weekly to avoid neural stagnation and to create a form of chaotic (as I characterize it) periodization. The neural component results from the fact that repetition of the same exercise at an extremely high intensity (defined in strength sports as a percentage of one’s 1RM) can quickly overwhelm the nervous system and lead to stagnation or regression in progress. The periodization of volume is a result of the different exercises dictating varying loads and thus varying total training volume. In other words, a box squat and good morning are going to use different loads and thus result in different total training volumes even if the set and rep counts are identical.

In my opinion, ME training and incorporation of conjugate variation are the major factors in Westside’s success. No other strength training system allows for 100% intensity training with such frequency, and as Louie says, ‘he who trains the heaviest most often is the strongest.’

DE training is also known as speed training. It may surprise some who already know about Westside that the reason DE days were originally incorporated was because the vast majority of trainees could not tolerate two ME workouts (for both bench and squat) per week. Thus, the DE day essentially became a form of active recovery with the added benefit of increasing one’s explosive power. It is my personal opinion that speed work with light loads (typically 50-60% intensity plus accommodating resistance) translates modestly to explosive power for ME lifts and contributes almost nothing to hypertrophy. I therefore feel that, for a bodybuilding program like DT training, the DE day is not an optimal use of one’s limited ability to tolerate and benefit from resistance training.

Ok, brief Westside description done! In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the Westside component I am borrowing for DT is the ME training completed with an adjusted version of conjugate variety. The conjugate variety adjustment will be accomplished via frequency. Louie has his athletes switch ME exercises weekly, but for bodybuilding purposes, I don’t feel that is optimal. When one has not performed a given exercise in a few weeks, the nervous system experiences a form of detraining. Performance of the exercise elicits re-adaptation. For the next few sessions, the nervous system will continue to acclimate to the movement and become more effective at recruiting motor units, etc. This can allow the bodybuilder to tap into more muscle cells and thus more effectively stimulate growth. Therefore, variety is important, but exercise rotation should occur less frequently for the bodybuilder than in the Westside template.

1RM Training for Hypertrophy?

What’s that I hear? 1RM training does not stimulate growth? I know that is the common wisdom–and there is some truth to that argument because it is certainly not optimal for hypertrophy if practiced as the sole form of training–but when incorporated as a component of an overall regimen, it allows for optimization of the hypertrophy response.

HUGE multi Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman knows that training for both absolute strength and size is necessary for optimal results.

Assuming one is not in a caloric deficit (and especially if one is eating for size), 1RM training will contribute to hypertrophy both directly and indirectly. The direct effect is the body’s adaptation of hypertrophy of the contractile myofibrils in order to address the need for greater strength reserves in order to handle the tremendous loads incurred with such training. The indirect effect is a result of an increase in absolute strength that allows the trainee to handle greater loads for multiple repetitions and thus to incur a greater hypertrophy stimulus.

DC Training

Let’s switch gears now and discuss DC training. DC training involves a high intensity of effort, significant time under tension with a relatively heavy load, and the limited volume that training to failure requires. In other words, it has all of the elements of a program that is very effective in stimulating skeletal muscular hypertrophy.

An important component of DC is its version of rest-pause (RP). DC RP is a bit different than that of other techniques that go by the same name. To my knowledge, the term was first used by Arthur Jones and was definitely popularized by bodybuilding legend Mike Mentzer when he incorporated it into his interpretation of HIT training. Mike’s version was very interesting in that it was essentially a small series of singles. After a warm-up, he would choose a weight that would make for a near 1RM. He would do ONE repetition (rep), then rack the weight and wait 10 seconds. He would then do another rep with the same weight and again rack and wait. This would continue for 3-5 reps with the last one or two often requiring aid from a competent spotter. The DC version involves a more standard bodybuilding set of 7-10 reps to concentric failure (getting stuck on the positive part of the lift, e.g., the press up when benching) followed by a break of about 10-15 breaths (about 20 seconds). The trainee then performs another mini-set to failure with the same load; this typically results in about four more reps. This is followed by another 10-to-15-breath break and then a final mini-set to failure. Most trainees will be able to squeeze out two reps or so on this final set for a grand total of 13-16 reps.

Rest-pause will be the training method I borrow from DC. As with conjugate variety from Westside, the rest-pause in DT will be a variant of that used in DC.

Training to Failure, Growth Stimulus, and DT Overreach

Very little definitive science exists on the topic of hypertrophy, but years and years of empirical evidence, including the experience of the best bodybuilders in the world, has taught us a few truisms about optimized hypertrophy training. First, training to concentric failure is an absolute requirement. Please note: we are talking about optimized hypertrophy. You can certainly get bigger without training to failure, but in my experience and in the experience of those who have created the greatest physiques ever, training to failure (assuming one does it properly…more about that as we go on) provides for an optimal growth stimulus.

For an understanding of why training to failure is optimal, we must first gain a general understanding of why hypertrophy occurs. Skeletal muscular hypertrophy is an attempt by the body to adapt itself to the profound stress imposed upon it by intense resistance training. In other words, the body wants to make resistance training ‘easier’ for future sessions. This adaptation via increased muscle mass is a metabolically ‘expensive’ and unnatural state not easily induced and one the body will quickly move away from as soon as the stress is no longer regularly present (hence the rapid atrophy that occurs when individuals stop training). Due to the body’s reluctance to incur or maintain hypertrophy (especially the extreme type favored by bodybuilders), the nature of the training stimulus must be powerful in order to induce it. Training well within one’s means (e.g., performing 5 repetitions with a load easily handled for 10) is not a powerful stimulus for adaptation. As momentary fatigue or training-to-failure nears and then is reached, the stimulus for adaptation increases accordingly. Assuming that proper training, nutritional, and supplemental regimens are in place (to facilitate recovery and potential supercompensation), training to failure or beyond is the optimal way to train for hypertrophy.

When training to failure (and beyond failure with methods like forced reps, RP, etc.), training volume must be limited. This is an immutable law that is universally recognized. You can train hard or you can train long, but you cannot do both. If you try, overstressing and overtraining will occur eventually, leading to a reduction of exercise specific coordination, suppression of the immune system, and potentially even worse outcomes. Training to failure for optimal results is thus a very difficult juggling act.

DT takes a unique approach to this conundrum by embracing the ‘dark side’, if you will. DT may be the only bodybuilding program in the world that willfully incorporates overreaching (otherwise known as purposeful overtraining). The point at which each practitioner will begin to experience this phenomenon will vary individually and with circumstance, but the basic purpose is to push training up to and beyond the body’s limits to allow for what is called delayed transformation. Delayed transformation is exactly what the name implies–a delayed beneficial adaptation by the body to an imposed stress. The key is that the stress causes overreach and once said stress is removed (in most cases completely), the body has a chance to realize a powerful beneficial adaptation.

During periods of overreaching, the body may undergo a positive adaptation (in the short term – not long term), but the degree of that adaptation will be relatively insignificant compared to that experienced during delayed transformation…if timing is correct and sufficient rest is allowed.

Sergio Oliva, one of the only men to ever defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger, was a true mass monster of his time!

The Nuts and Bolts of DT

Ok, now that I have provided a rather exhaustive lead-up to my new training system, let’s get into its nuts and bolts.

This approach includes four main training days per week that hit each major body part twice per week. The first session will be DT’s version of an ME day with the second akin to a ‘light’ day, much like the heavy/light systems that have been around for so long. The primary difference from those heavy/light systems is that the loads will still be very taxing thanks to training to failure, thus making the second day more hypertrophy-focused with a bias towards non-contractile or sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

For the purposes of this article, we will assume a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday training split. The important part is that at least 36 hours of rest by body part are allowed between the first and second days.

Unless otherwise stated, all sets other than 1RM attempts are to be taken to concentric failure. Forced reps are allowed but should NOT be the norm. Form is a consideration. The term ‘good form’ is normally a bit nebulous. For DT purposes, ‘good form’ includes using a full range of motion (ROM), controlling the load at all times (no bouncing), and moving at a speed that allows the lifter to still feel the muscles working throughout the ROM. This program is for bodybuilding and exercise execution must accommodate that goal.

The first training day by body part applies the ME system (warming up to a 1RM) followed by a RP set with the same exercise. The RP format will consist of 15 reps to failure for upper body exercises and 8 reps to failure for lower body exercises, followed by a 20-second rest and then a second attempt with the same load to failure. After another 20-second break, a third and final attempt to failure will be performed. For most trainees (using the upper body rep scheme), the second set will net 4-6 reps and the third, 2-4 reps. This style of training REQUIRES the use of a competent spotter and should not be attempted without one (unless you are using a selectorized exercise machine).

The second training day (Thursday and Friday, in our example) skips the ME and RP training and consists of straight sets and supersets taken to concentric failure for 12-20 repetitions. Different primary compound exercises will normally be used, but the same assistance movements may be repeated.

As already alluded to, all training for each major body part will begin with a compound exercise. After completion, various assistance/accessory exercises can be employed. They will be used to complement the primary compound movement, address weaknesses, and stimulate hypertrophy via time under tension (TUT).

Here, I present a 9-week training template to provide an example of how the system works. I implore you to then use the basic template and customize the program to suit your needs.

Weeks 1-3:

ME movement – incline barbell press
Rest-pause with incline barbell press
Flat dumbbell press – 2 x 15
ME movement – t-bar row
Rest-pause with t-bar row
Curl-grip pulldown – 2 x 15
Dumbbell pullover – 1 x 15
Seated alternate dumbbell curl – 2 x 15
Dumbbell triceps rollback superset with
pressdown – 2 x 20
Ab exercise – 2 x 20
Calf movement – 2 x 20

ME movement – box squat with bands
Rest-pause with box squat with bands
Leg extension – do these very light with highly controlled form and a slow cadence. Do them until failure and then stay on the machine and rest a few seconds (long enough for the burn to subside). Continue the set until failure again, and repeat the waiting process. Continue the set for one last bout of strict, slow, controlled reps to failure.
Leg curl – 2 x 12
Leg extension – the same as above
Ab exercise – 2 x 20

Barbell bench press – 1 x 15
Flat dumbbell pres – 2 x 15
Wide grip chin – 2 x failure
Seated row – 2 x 15
Barbell curl – 2 x 10
Standing low pulley cable curl – 1 x 15
JM press – 2 x 12
Overhead extension (single dumbbell – two hands) – 1 x 20
Ab work – 2 x 20

Leg press – 1 x 15 (continuous reps – no rest to get additional reps)
Glute-ham raise – 2 x failure
Walking lunge – 1 x 20 reps per leg
Shoulder press machine – 2 x 20
Seated side lateral – 1 x 15
Ab work – 2 x 12
Calf movement – 2 x 15

Weeks 4-6:

ME movement – board press (2 boards)
Rest-pause with board press
Machine bench press – 2 x 20
ME movement – bent over row – Dorian Yates style
Rest-pause with Yates rows
One arm cable rows – 2 x 15
Skull crusher superset with pulley pushdown – 2 x 10 for the skulls and 15 for the pressdowns
Preacher curl with e-z curl bar – 2 x 12
Lying cable curls to forehead – 1 x 15
Ab work – 2 x 20
Calf work – 2 x 20

ME movement – Olympic style high bar squat
Rest-pause with Olympic style high bar squat
One-legged leg press – 2 x 15
Hyperextension superset with leg curl – 2 x failure for hypers and 15 reps for leg curl
Ab work – 2 x 15

Low incline dumbbell press – 2 x 15
Dumbbell flye – 1 x 20
Seated cable row – 2 x 20
Overhead cable row while seated on the ground – 2 x 12
Standing alternate dumbbell curl – 2 x 12
Hammer curl – 1 x 10 then down the rack to failure
Tate press – 2 x 15
Overhead one arm dumbbell extension – 2 x 15
Ab work – 2 x 15

Sissy squat – 2 x failure
Stiff-legged deadlift – 2 x 15
Glute bridge – 2 x 20
Upright row – 2 x 20
Dumbbell lateral raise – 1 x 20
Bent over dumbbell lateral raise – 2 x 15
Ab work – 2 x 15
Calf work – 2 x 20

Weeks 7-9:

ME movement – barbell bench press
Rest-pause with barbell bench press
Weighted dip (with a slight forward lean to emphasize pecs) – 2 x 15
ME movement – plate loading rowing machine
Rest-pause with plate loading rowing machine
One arm dumbbell row = 2 x 15
Barbell curl – 2 x 12
Cable curl – 1 x 20
JM press superset with push-up – 2 x 15 JM press and failure for push-ups
Calf work – 2 x 15
Ab work – 2 x 20

ME movement – hack squat machine
Rest-pause with hack squat machine
Stiff-legged deadlift – 2 x 20
Dumbbell leg curl – 1 x 15
Ab work – 2 x 20

Flat dumbbell press – 2 x 15
Cable crossover – 1 x 15
Dumbbell pullover – 2 x 15
Pulldown with a v-bar grip – 2 x 15
Curl machine – 2 x 12
Lying dumbbell curl – 2 x 15
Dumbbell rollback – 2 x 10
Pressdown – 2 x 20
Ab work – 2 x 15

Giant set – squat, leg extension, leg press – 10 reps each to failure
Hamstring curl – 2 x 15
Dumbbell shoulder press – 2 x 10
Standing one arm dumbbell side lateral – 2 x 12
Calf work – 2 x 20
Ab work – 2 x 15

Template notes:

  • To reiterate, a training partner/spotter is a necessity for anyone wanting to give this program a run.
  • All sets listed above are ‘working sets’. This term is defined as post-warm-up sets that are taken to concentric failure unless otherwise noted. Anywhere from 1-4 warm-up sets per exercise should be performed at the trainee’s discretion.
  • ME work for upper back exercises is a bit trickier than for the rest of the body. Working up to a 1RM can be more difficult due to the nature of the movements. Maintain strict form even when attempting the 1RM. There is no need for tremendous lower back ‘heave’ in order to lift more weight.
  • Questions concerning the performance of any exercises or sets listed above should be directed to the author here.
  • For all exercises, the loads should be progressively increased to the degree possible from week to week during the 3-week mini-cycles. If an increase in load is not viable then the trainee should, at the very least, attempt to increase the number of repetitions performed by 1 or more.
  • Abdominal and calf work exercise selection is left to the discretion of the trainee. There are a myriad of them available and care should be taken to frequently alternate the exercises used.
  • Jump stretch bands are a tremendous tool for the bodybuilder. You can purchase them at www.westside-barbell.com. I recommend the mini through average sets. For an idea of how to use bands see the following videos:
  • On the leg press, be sure you use as full a range of motion (ROM) as possible. Lower your legs until right at the point at which your pelvis begins to lift off the seat. Going further can place the spine in a compromised position and is not advisable.
  • Learn how to make your own bench press boards here: http://www.prowriststraps.com/board_press_bench_press_boards
  • See a video of board pressing here (boards are added towards the end of the video): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8Iy6-3zvtA&feature=player_embedded
  • With the supersets and giant set, no rest should be taken between exercises. You should move between them as quickly as possible with the exercises set up ahead of time.
  • The sissy squats done on weeks 4-6 on Friday should be a bodyweight exercise. This exercise is best performed with someone to help. Place a 2×4 or something similar beneath the heels of your feet in order to elevate them. Hold a towel or rope with your hands and have your partner hold the other end. Lean backwards with all rotation around the knee joint. Your upper body and upper legs should all stay in line with each other. Lean as far back as possible while keeping the rotation solely at the knees. Return to the starting position and repeat. This movement will target your quads like no other.

Diet and Supplementation

Because DT training is geared to stimulate optimized hypertrophy, a necessary quantity and quality of nutrients must be present for your body to realize its growth potential. I will devote future articles to a more in-depth look at diet for DT, but for the purposes of this article, suffice it to say that you need to be in a caloric surplus state (for most men this will require at least 20 calories per lb of body weight), consume 1.5g of protein per pound of body weight, and keep your carbohydrate intake relatively high.

In terms of supplementation, if you want the most from DT you need the following:

RESULTS – is a proprietary and very potent combination of Creapure® creatine monohydrate, ß-Alanine, HMB, and dextrose. Nothing on the market is better for size and strength.
BCAA+ – is a branched chain amino acid product with added glutamine to prime your body for optimized protein synthesis, blunt catabolism, and keep your immune system strong even in the throes of overtraining.
ETS – is a product with a very appropriate name (Extreme Training Support). ETS reduces muscular soreness, enhances recovery, and can help with the minor joint pain associated with intense weight training.

All supplements available at www.atlargenutrition.com.

Use the supplements above along with the dietary recommendations, and the sky is truly the limit on what you can gain with this program.

Final Notes and a Wrap

DT is extremely taxing to the body in a systemic manner. A 1-week complete rest break should be taken prior to commencing DT AND at the conclusion of nine weeks,. This is not a week of active rest; it is a week of total rest and recuperation to the degree possible based upon the normal demands of everyday life (work, family etc.). For the break after the program, the week of total rest should be followed by a week of active recovery activities such as walking, swimming, bicycle riding, and other forms of pleasurable yet easy-on-the-body exercise. This will get the blood flowing and help to speed the supercompensation associated with the delayed transformation process. As such, none of these exercises should be stressful or difficult. A new DT cycle can be started at the beginning of the third week.

My training partner Justin Tooley with a big ME box squat (I’m spotting). That’s 620 lbs of bar weight and about 400 lbs of band tension.

I cannot stress strongly enough the REQUIREMENT for the rest sessions before and after the program. When I was younger, I was so obsessed with being big and strong that I would not rest for fear of losing size and strength. Do not let obsession get in the way of results. Take the rests, follow the program to a ‘T’ (including dietary and supplement requirements), and while it may sound a bit like embellishment, it is very likely your family and friends (not to mention strangers) will accuse you of being on steroids. Yep, DT is no game; it is a stone-cold badass program that will have you reveling in your newfound size and strength!

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