As I went over in my previous post, I have been using drop sets for strength gain. Drop sets are when you build up to a max effort of 2-10 reps, then drop to 90% of that weight and that will be your working weight. These are excellent for strength gains, at least when they’re programed correctly… Programing is just like cooking, it takes preparation and forethought to what the ultimate goal is and I have found an excellent resource in Quick Paleo Meal Prep for this area of my life. The book goes over the specific needs of individuals and how to structure your diet accordingly, I helped co-author this book so I fully support it’s contents. As for drop sets, I’ve learned that the programing for these requires a bit more thought than “JUST DO IT!” so let’s look into the smart way to get you as strong as possible using drop sets.
WHAT WORKS FOR OTHERS
Westside Barbell is a group that I’ve been following for about 2 years now, and aside from producing the strongest powerlifters on the face of the earth, the owner Louie Simmons is a wealth of knowledge about all things liftng. If you have studied Westside’s training at all you know the term “conjugate“, which basically means you’re not lifting exclusively heavy for the sake of lifting heavy, instead you’re training all aspects of the art of lifting heavy. With the conjugate method that Louie teaches you will lift for a max effort on one day and for speed on another day, this is incredibly helpful when you are at a meet or competition and are going through what would be a “grinder” (very slow and painful rep). Instead of just grinding through the rep in hopes of actually completing the lift you have trained to not only lift weights, but to lift them FAST. And along with learning to lift weights fast you have given your mind and muscles a break from the damaging affects of lifting heavy every single day!
So after running myself into the ground for a few weeks with drop sets with a PURE STRENGTH focus I’ve gone till the wheels started coming off and brought back a little common sense. So I will keep using drop sets in my strength program, but there will be designated days for speed training or “dynamic effort days” as Louie calls them to focus on lifting fast and efficient, along with allowing my body to rest the needed amount to continue on the gains train! I will still build up to a heavy double or triple on speed days, but instead of taking it down only 10% I’m going to bring it down 40-50% so that the weight is light enough to move at the right speed but heavy enough to be an actual stimulus. I think this will be a great switch and I recomend it for anyone who’s looking to get strong, and linear programing just isn’t working anymore.
MY TRAINING SPLIT NOW [FREE TEMPLATE]
(Drop Sets will be used every day to figure out the weight for the lifts, and the reps and lifts will vary depending on how you’re feeling that day and what weaknesses you need to work on. This is just a general outline, learn what you need and program that in to win!)
Monday- Squats DYNAMIC
Tuesday- Press HEAVY
Thursday- Deadlift HEAVY
Friday- Bench DYNAMIC
Monday- Squat HEAVY
Tuesday- Press DYNAMIC
Thursday- Deadlift DYNAMIC
Friday- Bench HEAVY
I don’t focus just on heavy lifting in all of my sessions, this is usually just what the first 20 mins looks like. After the strength work with drop sets I will use a crossfit/bodybuilding hybrid style of training to work on weak points and improve muscular endurance. But again you need to design your program for follow one that fits your needs.
If your focus is on strength right now, which it should always be if you’re looking to increase your lifting career, then take a few months to follow this outline. Check out Westside Barbell for ideas on how to use different lifts to fix your weaknesses and get stronger in all areas (not just the bench…). Strength is the key to everything!
Have you ever started a new strength program because you looked at it ahead of time and it was mostly just a max effort everyday that promised to get your lifts up 400% in a month? Yea well this was pretty much my experience with drop sets. I wasn’t thinking ahead at all on this one, kind of like not preparing your food before the week starts and you fly off the rails with your diet, but that’s much easier to remedy with resources like Quick Paleo Meal Prep. That short book will outline every necesary aspect of your diet whether your a strength training athlete or a desk jockey 90% of the day, and I trust it completely. But that story is for a later time, let’s talk about why not to be stupid when programming for yourself.
LEARN FROM MY EXAMPLE PLEASE
This is how I got started on this journey to the level of wrecked that I am right now. I was listening to a Barbell Shrugged Podcast; however, before I go any further you need to know I support these guys completely and it was my own ignorance that did me in, so I was listening to the podcast on how to get stronger and the lessons they’ve learned from an average of 15 years lifting. This was mistake number one when I look back, I was one fifth of their training age and I was not even close to being on par with their numbers in olympic or power lifts so the arrogance with which I listened like I was on their level is astounding. They talked about how they all loved the concept of drop sets, drop sets are when you build up to a 2-10 rep max in a given lift and then drop to 90% of that max and you work with that weight. This is incredibly smart because instead of following numbers you plugged into a spread sheet at the beginning of the month when you were at your peak, you’re working on what your max is THAT DAY and not pushing yourself at the same intensity month after month, which would be unsustainable. But I soon found it’s just as unsustainable to train for PURE STRENGTH EVERY SINGLE DAY. By the second week of my training the wheels were coming off FAST, I was out of energy at the end of the weeks and would not want to live life on the weekends outside of bed. Clearly I was pushing the boundaries of what should be done and should have realized myself for what I was at that point, which is a NOVICE at best when it comes to lifting. I’ve been lifting for around 7 years but that’s nothing compared to the guys I was aspiring to be, so no wonder I was running myself into the ground like a mad man!
Training split went something like this:
Monday- Squat, build to 1-5 RM (rep max) then worked at 90% of that broken into a few sets to total 20 reps (this was the same for the rest of the days)
Tuesday- Overhead Press
Wednesday- Rest (ish)
Saturday- Long and slow cardio, running, biking or hiking with a weighted pack
I’ll post the revised training tomorrow and what I have adapted to ensure longevity with progress that won’t wreck me.
Analyze what you’re doing now in your training for your specific goals, if you feel great and are making progress then continue on! If you usually get 2-3 weeks into a program and need to take a week to a month off then it’s time to come up with something that won’t kill you slowly!
I’ll open this post with the same comment I hear from most people who have tried to add muscle to their frame using the Paleo Diet, “the Paleo Diet works so well that it’s virtually impossible to gain muscle mass while following the paleo diet.” There will be people on both sides of this fence, there will be those who claim a strict paleo lifestyle as the only option, and there will be those who choose to not follow a paleo diet at all and think it’s a fad. In the end we know that extremes are never a good thing, keep that in mind. If you’re going to use the paleo diet for mass building it will take prior preparation to maintain a proper diet, and I have found no greater resource than Quick Paleo Meal Prep. This book takes you through the common questions and concerns with starting the Paleo Diet, and gives examples of how to easily custimize your Paleo Diet for yourself. But let’s get into the meat of this question “Is it Possible To Gain Muscle Following The Paleo Diet?”
THERE’S NO SIMPLE ANSWER
I can only speak from my personal experience, which if you’ve read the blog for any period of time you know is that extremes are bad, so I personally follow the 80/20 principle. It simply means that you can devote yourself to this “thing” for 80% of the time before you start coming off of the rails after too long. So to counteract that I make time for the 20% and plan for it, this gives me the freedom to enduldge when I feel like it and not have a feeling of guilt afterwards or think that all my gains are now gone. This philosophy goes well with the Paleo Diet and Muscle building, because in order to build muscle there needs to be a calorie surplus of some kind to facilitate growth. So if your goal is really to gain muscle and size while following a mostly paleo diet then you need to take full advantage of the 20% of your diet. Now it needs to be said that if you are following a STRICT Paleo Diet (no tubers or potatoes, rice, beans or dairy) you will have one heck of a time putting on mass, it’s not impossible but it’s not easy either. There are plenty of examples of vegitarian bodybuilders who’ve added loads of mass with a veggie lifestyle, that’s not what I would want at all, but it’s not about me it’s about you and what you want from this. So yes it’s possible to gain mass with a strict paleo lifestyle, but it’s much easier and will keep you sane longer if you adapt your diet to your goals.
WHAT I FOLLOW (suggestion not doctrine)
I’ve followed the 80/20 approach for about 6 months now, and have seen results in both directions of weight depending on how I adjusted the ingredients and quantities. When I started 6 months ago I was a fluffy 178 lbs. I was stronger than I’d ever been, but I was not in any shape to do anything athletically well. I applied the 80/20 principle on a weekly basis to start out, meaning I ate nothing but clean for 5 days out of the week and I mean CLEAN, as in grilled chicken breast and a few beans with green veggies for every meal…every day. BUT on the weekends I let go for one whole day and half-ish, nothing was off limits for one day and then I pulled back for the next day. I lost weight and I looked as shredded as I wanted to be at the time. Then I started the gain train back up with a little more efficient steam, now I follow a 80/20 diet for the day, 80% clean (Breakfast, Snacks and Lunch) and for post workout its 2 cups mashed sweet potatoes and 2 cups ground beef. I’ve addressed this in a recent post that I’ll link here. And for dinner it’s a not so clean meal with a focus on what the next training day looks like (if it’s a heavy lifting day I’ll carb up and if it’s a speed day I’ll add a moderate amount of carbs). I’ve worked my way up from a 165 lb. bodyweight to a just as lean 169 lb. bodyweight in a few weeks. Again this isn’t doctrine, it’s just what I choose to follow, you’re going to need to find what works best for you and your goals.
If your goal is weight gain then take time to consider the paleo diet as a guide for your meals surrounding your workout, and then having your binge meal directly after the workout session. This will promote LEAN GAINS, and keep your energy up while not having to yo-yo your diet.
Change is required of all of us if we are to become anything more than what we are. And the things that require lasting change really aren’t what you’re expecting at all. Like making a few changes in the kitchen to work on looking and performing better. Which by the way of that is your goal, then I would highly recommend getting your hands on Quick Paleo Meal Prep as a guide to the gains! For now let’s talk about what it’s going to take that doesn’t involve a kitchen to get you on the path to achieving what you’re wanting.
MAKE THE CHANGES MEASURABLE
There’s nothing more frustrating than to begin on the journey and feel like you’ve been grinding for ages, only to find out that you haven’t made much progress in the area that you’re working towards. If you don’t know where you’re going or what it will take to get there then you need not start. Making the changes measurable means that if your goal is to create an email list of 20 subscribers per week, then you’ll need to find what your average is now and what it will take to get there. A number is much more quantifiable and traceable than a feeling or an instinct. Simply setting a goal to “look good” won’t get you the results effectively and efficiently, and unless you have plenty of time and energy to waste then you need to do things as effective and efficiently as possible. Instead set a goal of “I weigh x now, and I want to weigh y.” This goal will easily be tracked as you weigh yourself at the same time and following the same routine every morning. We can go over the importance of weighing in on the morning and after rituals at a different time, for now let’s focus on making lasting change!
SET UP REWARD SYSTEMS
I’m not sure about how you handle things, but I know that I love to be rewarded for doing the right thing, and if being rewarded and getting closer to my goal happens at the same time then rock on! So don’t be afraid to set aside a short “rest” or break period. Stefan Pylarinos exemplified this best lately, he set goals for himself to make more money and acheive health goals in a certain time, and the reward was a few weeks in Paris, not a bad trade for making more money and getting healthier. Now you may not be able to afford to do this yet but take time to reward yourself for your hard work, otherwise you’ll begin to hate what you’re doing and it won’t be enjoyable anymore. And the second what you’re doing stops becoming fun is when you start seeking other interests. So if your goal is to lose weight, then set one or two meals aside each week to reward yourself for staying on track! Not only is this a great motivation, but will help your body with a caloric reset and burn fat more efficiently. If you’re growing a business, then take a few months to make sacrifices and reach the income or audience growth you want and take a week off to celebrate AWAY FROM YOUR AREA! I emphasize getting away because you associate work with your habitat, and if you stay in that habitat you will naturally be drawn to work, so get away. I hope these examples are helping!
MAKE THE CHANGES SMALL
Making the changes small makes them achievable and will build success momentum. If you think you can add 30 lbs to your bench in six months then add 15-20. Don’t set lofty goals that are seemingly impossible to reach from where you are. Set a goal that’s monumental and set other tiny goals to stair step your way there if need be and all you can do is think big. The overarching theme is that you don’t want to discourage yourself and make it seem like you’re the problem. Most of the time people people try to build a sky scraper with their tiny toolbelt, and after a year of failure they say “it’s impossible!”. It’s not impossible, it’s just that they weren’t equipped to handle it. If they started with building a bird house, dog house, play house, apartment, office building and then took on a sky scraper they would look at it with a completely different set of eyes and scope of what to do. All I’m saying is the person you are now may not be capable of making 1mil per year or squating 1,000 lbs. but with practice and study you can become that person!
Make a small goal that will get you closer to what you’re wanting to acheive. Whether it’s monetary, emotional, spiritual or physical just make a small goal and acheive it to build your success momentum!
RECOURCES Stefan Pylarinos, Tim Ferriss, Elliott Hulse
if you’re looking to get that total up as fast as possible you need to consider the aspect of your programming that doesn’t involve training, your REST days! Not to say that just focusing on rest days will solve all the problems, not at all, you need to address your diet and training always. And when it comes to your diet there’s no better solution that I’ve found for keeping the quality up and the time involved down, than with Quick Paleo Meal Prep, this book goes over all the need to knows and things you need to know but don’t want to hear about eating for performance and ease. But for now let’s address the rest.
DO YOU EVEN SLEEP BRO?
I lose count every time I think about the number of times people say ” I function better on 4-6 hours of sleep”, what they meant to say was “I’ve adjusted to how crappy I feel when I only get 4-6 hours of sleep”. If your attempting to be competitive in any sport then sleep needs the main priority! 8-10 hours per night EVERY NIGHT, and if you can manage, put black out shades in your room as well as invest in a noise canceler. This will improve your quality of sleep dramatically, check out this episode of barbell shrugged when they interviewed a sleep doctor who studies athletes and sleep patterns and I’m sure you’ll agree.
ACTIVE REST IS THE BEST REST
The main reason people who train for strength don’t take time off is because they don’t want to lose all that they’ve worked for right? So don’t do it! Active rest is simply staying active while giving your mind and body a chance to re build and catch up. So instead of sitting on the couch meditating about cucumber water and zen world peace, go to the gym with some lightly playing headphones (keep all stimulus low), warm up and mobilize for a little longer and then go through some reps with 50-60% of your max. This will not only keep your body active and awake but you’ll possibly make some gains on your rest period! Who’d of thunk it.
CLEAN OUT YOUR SYSTEM
I used to be in the camp of those who looked at a rest period as a time to do as much carb loading and artery clogging as possible! But like I’m sure most of you know, that this will end in disaster when you’re back in the gym. You’ll lose any fitness that was there and you’ll look like hammered poo. So instead do a juice cleanse for 2-3 days and keep a strict Paleo diet for 80% of the day, let’s not get carried away here cause we all need that fix at least once per day ;). So focus on rest on the inside as well, your body works hard to keep you moving forward so show it some love once in a while.
On your next rest period apply these principals to your rest and note which helped and which you could toss out. Let’s face it, what works for some won’t work for all, so tweak the system as needed to fit your situation.
if you walk into the gym feeling like a beat pile of dog poo, then odds are you’re either at the end of a strenuous training cycle or you’re just not getting enough carbs. If you’re consistently lifting 3-5 times per week at a moderate to high intensity, then you need to be highly concerned with the quantity and quality of carbs in your diet! This is addressed in the resource Quick Paleo Meal Prep, which outlines how and why to prepare meals ahead of time for quality control and ease. This post however is about how and when to carb up for lifting so strap in and let’s get into it!
SIGNS YOUR CARBS ARE TOO LOW
If you get 2-3 sets in on a moderate strength load and you feel like you need to sit down and recover…you’re way too low. Also if the weights feel like they’re moving slower than expected even on a “weak day” then I would address this as well. You probably know the feeling of being fully charged in the gym and having the weights jump because of your quickness. Coincidentally this probably happened the morning after you went out for pizza and beer with the guys, and you might have even ordered a side of bread sticks to complete the mood of the carb festivities. Whereas if you decided to have a big salad with oil and vinegar dressing topped with grilled chicken, no salt and no pepper, then I wouldn’t expect to be crushing any PRs the next day.
WHY CARBS FOR ATHLETES?
Do you want to run 4 sec 40 Yd dash and not pass out? You need carbs. Do you want to get stronger in every workout and recover? You need carbs. Do you want to look vascular as all get out for them females?? You need carbs! Carbs when broken down are the fuel for your energy systems and partial brain function. To run the 4:40 more than once you’ll need more than a whole head of broccoli the night before, seeing as how the calories required for something like that are around 300 up front calories and a metabolic “afterburn” of 700 for the rest of the day just for that one exercise. Look up in the nfl how many vegan running backs there are, and should you find any you won’t be too impressed with their stats. Carbs found in calorie dense foods like pasta, sweet potatoes and rice are the best fuel to get athletes beyond their limits, but moderation and timing are important.
WHEN AND HOW TO CARB LOAD
The best template I’ve found is the modified Paleo approach. You’ll maintain the typical mostly meats and veggies between workouts and down time, but the night before your heavy morning lifts or morning games you’ll need to carb up. This will take some trial and error so don’t save this strategy for an important game day, test it on other days first! How your body reacts to different qualities and quantities of carbs is different from everyone else on the planet. For example, what works best for me the night before a heavy morning squat session is a THICK peanut butter sandwich with whole wheat bread and the morning of I’ll eat a slice of plain bread on the way to the gym. That probably won’t work for you, body weight, activity level, stress and current diet all play into how this works for you so take time to customize it for YOU. If you’re working out later in the day I would get a container of high quality dextros for like $20 and a container of BCAAs, mix a two to one ratio (20 g BCAAs and 40 g dextros), but again find your sweet spot. And DONT FORGET POST WORKOUT!!!! This is by far the most important meal of your training day! I have a blog post about it that I will link here.
If you’re dragging when you get a third of the way through the workout, or aren’t seeing results anymore, look at your carb intake prior to lifting. Check out the blog post for details on how and get started on your progress!
if I had a nickle for every time I’ve heard this question I’d need to wear two belts to hold my pants up, cause that’s be a lot of nickles! I would think that if it’s dangerous it would’ve been shut down by now, but let’s talk about it just to appease the internets. Also with crossfit comes Paleo, and Quick Paleo Meal Prep is the best beginners and advanced resource manual I’ve found. So check it out. Let’s look at 3 things when determining CrossFits safety for now, reported major injuries, longevity and scalability.
REPORTED MAJOR INJURIES
I’ve followed CrossFit for over 3 years and have only heard of one serious injury, Kevin Ogar. Kevin is the only person who I’ve heard of in the last 3 years who has had a SERIOUS injury. Kevin was competing at a local competition and during the 1 rep snatch event he lost control of the weight and bailed (intentionally moved out from under the weight) forward; however, he stumbled and fell back as the weight was bouncing up and it collided with his lower back. To clarify, by no means was Kevin a “novice” in weightlifting. The weight he was attempting would have been considered competitive on any national stage, so he had the experience as a weightlifter to handle the weight and know how to get out from under the weight. Kevin was left paralyzed from the waist down, but instead of being bitter towards crossfit and blaming the company for his injury he’s been the biggest advocacy of the sport. Also he’s competed in the 2015 world open workout and submitted a non scaled workout with muscle ups all while still being paralyzed from the waist down. So I would think that if the person who was injured in the most permanent way possible is able to recognize that while what happened was a freak accident, that crossfit still holds value to all people.
Let’s look at longevity in the sense of being able to perform the sport for an extended period of time, as well as how well the sport crosses over to age groups. Starting with the ability to perform the sport of CrossFit for a long period let’s note the fact that it’s been around since 2007 and there are athletes who have been competing since 2009 in the 2015 games. These aren’t just weekend warriors who are competing but athletes who have devoted their lives to the sport, and have only shown signs of getting better every year. In the case of most individual competitors who might not be rising to the level of competition now, they’re going into team competitions. So there’s no evidence of “breakdown” from the sport among the most competitive which indicates that the weekend warriors are even more safe. Now the question of which ages can stand the training is even more interesting. There are men and women in their 70’s who have taken up the sport and learned the practices. Not only have these elders become more active now, but they’ve been shown how to mobilize themselves as well as strengthen their bodies to improve movements in daily life. There’s are many 70 something’s who credit CrossFit with giving them the ability to sustain a fall they had at home, and that’s impressive!
I’ve referenced the scaling term and now let’s talk about it. Is it possible to come into CrossFit with no athletic background and work your way into the shape of a competitive athlete? The simple answer is yes. I started in CrossFit with a small background in bodybuild and no real athletic potential, but I started at the bottom learning the basics of mobility and weak point training to better myself. Through two years I’ve pushed through and developed myself to the point of being somewhat competitive at a beginner level. In short scaling is the process of lowering the weights and difficulty of movements to a point that’s manageable to get the benefits cardiovascular and muscular. I hope this helps you wherever you’re at.
Go join a CrossFit gym on a free trial basis to learn the ins and outs of the sport before jumping to conclusions. Assess your mobility and imbalances muscullarly. Do real research on the benefits of training with functional movements consistently.
Resources CrossFit Journal, Barbell Shrugged and CrossFit.com