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A question of strength Part 29

Eine Frage der Kraft Teil 29

Q: What sporting challenge do you think is the best test of overall strength and athleticism?

A: Ask any coach who has experience in making people strong (in other words, not the coaches who make their athletes bounce around on a Bosu ball) and they will tell you: running with a load on your back will quickly tell you if someone is athletic or not.

An example of this would be the Super Yoke at Strongman competitions.

A side note: In Hungary, there used to be competitions where athletes had to perform all sports...except their own discipline. Here the pole vaulters always won (and the skiers came second).

Why the pole vaulters? Apart from the guts you need to practice this sport, they have to be fast, need a lot of upper and lower body strength and must have a very good awareness of time and space. They are real freaks - athletes who can do anything.

Q: I recently heard something about "rhythm squats". What are they?

A: Rhythm squats are an exercise used to improve vertical jump height. I learned this exercise from Romanian weightlifting coach Istvan Javorek. I use it to work on the elastic component of the muscle structure.

Basically, it's a set of quarter repetitions or partial repetition squats with 50 repetitions. For the first 10 repetitions you go up onto your toes, for the next 10 repetitions you keep your heels on the floor. Repeat this until you have reached 50 repetitions.

Rhythm squats are a good exercise to increase an athlete's vertical jump height before going to training camp. I have used this exercise with volleyball and handball players. This exercise works very well with athletes, but is not for bodybuilders. Q: Is there by far the best exercise for improving overall athletic performance? Something like an exercise that all athletes should do regardless of their sport?

A: Power snatch - unless your sport is kayaking. With that exception, power snatch is the best exercise for any sport that involves the lower body.

If you went to the Olympics and asked all athletes to perform power snatches, you could accurately predict performance in power sports. In other words, the correlation is very strong. Athletes who are good at power snatching are also good athletes. And if an athlete improves in the power snatch, then their speed performance will also improve.

A short story: I've seen elite shot putter Adam Nelson perform three reps with a shoulder-width grip and 140 kilos.

I've also seen a world champion javelin thrower throw 120 kilos. Pretty much anyone who is good at a speed sport can move a significant amount of weight in the power snatch.

Q: Is there an exercise that you would never let an athlete do?

A: One exercise I don't particularly like for athletes is box squats. I don't let any of my athletes do this exercise.

For one thing, there are a lot of better and less injury-prone alternatives. Many exercisers, when they become fatigued or lose their concentration, will bounce off the box and fracture their sacral vertebrae. I have maybe 70 different tools that work and that are safe and one that can potentially be unsafe. Which one do you think I'm going to choose when I'm working with highly paid athletes that I need to get strong in 11 weeks?

If you are using box squats for powerlifting application purposes, you should remember that it requires very good coaching and a training partner. I would never let an athlete do box squats alone. With deep squats, however, you won't see these injuries.

Furthermore, the mechanics of box squats are not found in any other sport apart from powerlifting. I don't know of any sport where the knee flexors don't move forward to generate more momentum.

You can use box squats sparingly in your training if you are a bodybuilder. This exercise will certainly induce gluteus and hamstring hypertrophy, but bodybuilding is not an athletic endeavor in the true sense of the word.

Q: What is the most ineffective exercise that people usually use? And how do you explain its popularity if this exercise is really no good?

A: In the average gym, the most ineffective yet popular exercise is the crossover cable pulldown. There are a lot of better muscle building exercises for the chest. So why is this exercise so popular? Well, it's fun to do while watching yourself in the mirror.

And in bodybuilding magazines, this exercise makes bodybuilders look fantastic in competition form.

Another popular exercise is the incline bench press on the multi press. Milos Sarcev pointed out to me that professional bodybuilders rarely use this exercise and yet you see them doing it all the time in magazines. Why? Because it makes a fantastic photo.

Take a guy with 50 centimeter upper arms and take a photo of him in the middle range of free incline bench press. And then take that same bodybuilder and have him do incline bench presses on the multi press. He will look more muscular on the multi press. That's why you see this exercise so often in magazines like Flex. Naturally, the average gym-goer will start using this exercise, assuming that this is the way professionals train.

It's a bit like porn. It's better to have a woman with small hands to make other things in the movie look bigger...

Milos also told me that the reason many of the photos of scott curls in magazines show an incorrect arm position is because the photographer is doing everything in their power to make the bodybuilder look as bulky as possible, even if it means poor form of exercise execution is required.

Think squats. Where are the photos taken? In the lowest position? No, they take the picture when the bodybuilder is slightly above the position with his thighs parallel to the floor, when his thighs look their best. However, this doesn't mean that everyone should do partial reps on squats!

In the old days, bodybuilding magazines would often publish pictures of Arnold and other bodybuilders during their actual workouts when they were using real weights. This showed how these guys really trained.

Today, all those pictures are posed - something to keep in mind the next time you flip through a bodybuilding magazine.

Q: I always listen to music when I work out, but I've heard that some strength coaches don't recommend it. What do you think about this?

A: The research on this topic is very confusing. Some recent studies have concluded that music increases strength in 50% of the subjects, but the same music decreases strength in the other half of the subjects.

The people who listen to music and get stronger are the people who are inherently motivated by external rewards.

There is no music in my weight room. However, if someone wants to use an iPod, they are welcome to do long as I don't hear the music. Hey, if sniffing napalm between sets makes you stronger, I don't care if you do, as long as it's not on the doping list. The point is that I don't discourage something if it works for a person.

I myself don't like music during training. I find it easier to concentrate without music.

Q: Are there any workout ideas that you once thought would work, but later changed your mind after finding out they weren't effective?

One of them is high frequency training. Back in 1982, I realized that in a doping-free environment, training one muscle group every 5 days is best for most athletes. Train those muscles hard, train them heavy and then let them recover. That was the time when I started to make a name for myself in the sport.

Back then, people were training the same muscle group at least 3 days a week. I started getting results with my clients as soon as I ditched this concept of training frequency.

There are high frequency training advocates out there who say you need to train a muscle group three days a week to get strong. Well, the only thing I can say to those people is that they should pit the five strongest guys they've ever produced against the five strongest guys I've trained. Their athletes will look weak compared to mine.

Another idea I've given up on is a full body workout. I tried it decades ago and knew there had to be a better way.

T Nation: I train deadlifting for bodybuilding purposes and have no interest in competing in powerlifting competitions. In order to use heavier weights, should I use a mixed grip like in powerlifting or is an overhand grip better for muscle development, even if it means using lower weights because my grip strength decreases at the end of the set?

Use a regular overhand grip, but use grip aids. You want to increase the time under tension for muscle development, which means you should perform more than 5 repetitions. Without grip aids, the strength endurance of your grip muscles will diminish before you exhaust your lower back, gluteus, hamstrings and quadriceps.

For those who want to compete in powerlifting competitions, however, it's a good idea to use a mixed grip, alternating the grip from set to set. If you always use the same style of mixed grip, you could tear your biceps sooner or later.

For competition, use the grip that feels best.

Q: I have the calf development of a parrot. Do you have any training programs I could use?

Here's a quick solution:

  1. Start with calf raises standing on the calf machine and perform 8 repetitions with 2 seconds rest at the highest point of each repetition.
  2. Pause for 10 seconds.
  3. Load a barbell with about 25% of your body weight. Hold the barbell in a squat position and jump up and down with minimal bending of the knees using the calf muscles. Perform 30 repetitions of this. The eccentric muscle damage that occurs during the landing will promote your hypertrophy.
  4. Repeat this superset four more times.

If this doesn't make your calves grow, nothing will!

Q: I can't do squats for medical reasons. What is my best alternative?

My first question would be what medical problem is responsible for this.

The reason I ask is because most people who ask me this question are really saying, "I'm a lazy sod and don't want to do squats. What can I do?" They just want me to justify their use of leg presses or whatever.

Anything that works your knees and your hip extensors should also not be doable if you really have medical issues that prohibit you from doing squats. And if you have back problems, then leg presses will not be tolerable either. The same goes for knee problems. Some of these people may think they can do leg presses without problems, but this is only because they don't go far down.

My answer, without knowing what the medical problem is, is simple: deal with your medical problem and then do squats!

Q: I want lower abs like an underwear model - those guys with the V shape below the belly button. What exercises can I do to achieve this?

The first thing you need to do is get your diet under control so that you become as lean as an underwear model.

Next, remember that the primary multi-joint exercises - pull-ups, deadlifts and squats - build abs better than most ab exercises. This includes the lower row of the rectus abdominis, which is responsible for the V-shape you're aiming for.

Q: A trainer at my gym told me not to work my abs first in my training session. If I did, I would exhaust my core, which could jeopardize my other exercises. Is this true?

Yes, this is true. If you do squats and have done a lot of abdominal training beforehand, then your ability to control the weight will be compromised. Anyone who trains with high amounts of free weights should not train their abs at the beginning of the training session.

Direct abdominal training is something that is meant for the end of a training session.

Q: My goal is fat loss. Because of my schedule, I need to do my weight training and my energy system training during the same training session. Is it better to do the cardio workout first or the weights workout first?

Weights. Always.

This is related to the rule of motor unit recruitment. Always start with what is hardest to recruit and end your workout with what is easiest to recruit.

Want an absolutely honest answer? Forget the treadmill. Work out with weights for an hour and then go home. Let your diet take care of the fat loss.

Q: I think I'm overtrained. But maybe I'm just a wimp. Is there any way to find out if I'm overdoing it at the gym?

Here's an easy way to find out: Write down your body weight every morning after you wake up and use the restroom. If your diet hasn't changed recently and yet you suddenly see a 3.5% reduction in body weight, then you may be overtraining, which is another way of saying you're missing out on recovery. The change in weight is caused by a loss of muscle mass.

So if you are an experienced athlete and typically weigh 90 kilos and your weight suddenly drops to 87 kilos without you doing anything about it, then you are overtraining. The solution is to reduce the number of your training sets but not your intensity.


By Charles Poliquin

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