Building High-Performance Muscle™

The Eight Keys, Part II
A complete guide to maximum strength development


Strength

To be strong you must have strength. Pretty simple concept, don’t you think? So did I, but then I started getting a lot of e-mails telling me strength isn't important for sports. So I had to go back to the drawing board and rethink this one. After many hours of deep thought I still have to say: strength is very important! A quick football example and I'll move on to how to develop strength.

I've been told there's no need for a lineman to be able to squat over 350 pounds as he'll never have to move more than that on the field. This may be true if he had to move the 250 pound guy one time and it didn't matter how fast he moved him. We know in the game of football that the rate of force development is very important. You don't want people being moved slowly. We know from Mel Siff's writings that max force in the barbell squat can be measured at around 60%. At Westside we've found close to the same percentage to be true.

The other thing we know is the average play will last under ten seconds and there'll be between three and ten plays per drive. Our lineman who squats the "recommended" 350 will now be able to create max force at 210 pounds and may or may not be conditioned to do this more than one time. Too bad the guy across from him weighs 350! Who will wear who down?

Now, if the lineman could squat 600 pounds he'd create max force at 360. Does he have to actually squat 600 pounds? No! But he better be able to create max force with 350 pounds for eight to ten sets of two to three reps (around ten seconds set length) with 45 to 60 seconds rest. If not, he's at a disadvantage.


So how do you get strong?

We use a method called the max effort method. This is lifting heavy weight for one to three reps. There are two max effort training days per week, one for the lower body (squat) and one for the upper body (bench). One max effort movement will be completed for each day. The best movements for beginners to use are listed below:


Max Effort Squat Movements

1) Deadlifts standing on 3 inches of mats or boards for 1 rep max.

2) Good Mornings for 3 to 5-rep max sets. When you become used to the movement, then singles should be performed.

3) Close Stance Low Box Squats for 1 rep max . Set the box so your hip at the crease of the leg joint is three inches lower than parallel.

4) Safety Squat Bar Squats — If you have one of these bars then start using it. It's one of the best ways to build the muscles that squat and deadlift.

The reason for this is the bar is trying to toss you forward and you have to fight to keep it in a good path. It also takes the weight off your shoulders as you don't have to hold the bar as you would a regular squat bar. You'll hold this bar by the front yokes. Don't hold onto the rack and pull yourself up, either.

If you don't have one of these bars, then try to do anything you can to change the center of gravity of the movement. This can be done a number of different ways. You can use what's called a Manta Ray that snaps onto the bar; you can do high bar squats; or you can wrap a thick towel around the bar so it'll sit higher on the back. Each of these will all work the body differently.

5) Pin Pulls for 1 rep max. I like to have lifters use pins below the knee at various positions for this movement. Only pick one position per day.


Max Effort Bench Movements

1) Various Board Presses — Same as bench press except you'll bring the bar down to a select number of 2 x 6 boards on your chest. The two board press would be two 2 x 6's (one on top of the other). The board is usually around 12 to 16 inches in length to make it easy for a spotter to hold it in front of you.

If you don't have a spotter to hold the board, you can tuck it under your shirt, use a band, or use one of those rubber waist trimmer things to go around both you and the board.

2) Floor Presses — Lay on the floor and perform a bench press with a one second pause at the bottom. This exercise is designed to strengthen the midpoint of the bench press. It's also very effective in increasing triceps strength.

3) Close-Grip Incline Presses — Use a low to steep incline with one finger on the smooth part of the bar.

4) Pin Presses — Place a bench in a power rack and a bar on the pins. Adjust the pins (safety supports) to change the range of motion. Do these from various positions, from just off the chest to two inches below lockout.

5) Reverse Band Press — This movement is the same as a bench press except you'll use two large flex bands to hang the bar from the top of the power rack.


So how many sets and reps should I do for this max effort movement?

Make sure to only do one max effort movement per session. The sets are dependent on how strong you are and how you work up. If you only bench 185 pounds, it wouldn't be wise to start with 135, then jump to 155 for a set and then finish with 185. There's very little volume completed this way. It's better to use a set rep scheme as follows:


2 Board Press (Max 185)

45 pounds for 3 sets of 5 reps

95 for 3 reps

135 for 1 rep

175 for 1 rep

The last one should be an all-out effort. If not, keep working up. There's nothing wrong with missing a weight on the movement. As you can see, the volume is much higher and the work load more productive to strength gains.


What do I do after the max effort movement?

Your choice of movements after the main max effort movement should be based on where your weaknesses are. For 90% of the lifters and athletes I've seen, this movement would be something for the triceps on bench days and hamstrings on squat days. These would be followed with other movements designed around the individual lifter. To better illustrate, see the sample templates below:


Max Effort Bench, Upper Body Day

Warm up

Main Session

A) Max Effort Movement — Board Presses. Pick one movement from above and work up to max.

B) Triceps Movement — Pick one or two of the following listed below:

2) Dumbbell Triceps Extensions with elbows out

4) Close Grip Incline Press

6) Close Grip Board Presses (mid to high)

8) Close Grip Push-ups with hands on hex dumbbells

Sets and reps are dependent on what each lifter feels he needs to do. Most have found one heavy day and one lighter day per week to work best. I'd recommend the heavy day to be on the max effort day and the lighter day to be on the speed or dynamic day.

For the heavy day, work up to one to three heavy sets of five reps. This can either be the same weight for all sets or it can be staggered weight for the three sets of five reps. The light day will consist of 4 to 8 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

C) Shoulder Movement — You should only do one or two light shoulder movements as the shoulders get hit in every session anyway. For example, when you squat, your shoulders are getting pounded. They also get trained each time you bench press. I believe most shoulder injuries are a result of overuse and overtraining of the deltoid area. With this in mind, I'd suggest all the shoulder movements be part of the raises or rotation categories. These would include:

2. Side Raises of any kind

4. Rear Raises of any kind

The sets and reps would average around 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

D) Lat Movement — I used to feel all lat work should be performed on the same plane as the bench press. In other words, all lat work should be rows. While this makes sense in theory, it doesn't hold up in real life. Too many lifters don't do this and many bench a hell of a lot more than me!

Yes, I do feel rows are a better choice but there are advantages to the pulldown and chin-up movements as well. I'd suggest mixing them up and doing one to two movements per session. The best of the best in this category include:

1. Chest Supported Rows — Performed on any rowing machine where your chest is supported on a pad.

2. Barbell Rows

3. Dumbbell Rows

4. Face Pulls — Stand in front of a lat machine and pull the bar to your face.

5. Chins to the front

6. Pulldowns to the front with close or wide grip

The sets and reps on the lat work is somewhat tricky and will depend on the movement. All movements should be done strictly and with good form. This will keep the weight relatively low. For the chins, training to failure on each set seems to work best, while the rows seem to work better with lower reps (5-8) and fewer sets (2-3). The pulldown and face pulls all seem to feel and work better in the higher reps range (12-15) for higher sets (4-5).


Max Effort Squat or Lower Body Day

Warm Up

Main Session

A) Max Effort Movement — Low Box Squats with Safety Squat Bar. Pick one movement and work up to max

B) Hamstring Movement — There are tons of hamstring movements but only a few that'll make my list as the best of the best. Most hamstring movements are a complete waste of time for strength because they only work the hamstrings from either the hip or knee and not both at the same time. The best of the best list includes:

Three sets to failure

One hundred total reps (using as many sets as needed)

Three heavy sets of 5 to 6 reps while holding weight across chest

Three heavy sets of 5 to 6 reps while holding weight behind head

Three heavy sets of 5 to 6 reps with the back of machine inclined up 4 to 30 inches.

Dynamic GHR sets — Here you get to the top position and drop fast and rebound out of the bottom with as much force as you can. You can use a heavy medicine ball or weight to lower faster and drop the weight at the bottom.

Static-Dynamic GHR — Start at the horizontal position and have a training partner place his hands on your back for a three to five-second count. While doing this, drive into your partner’s hands as hard as you can. After the five seconds, your partner will pull away and you should fire up as fast as you can to finish the rep. This is best preformed with 5 to 6 sets of 3 reps.

Yielding GHR — For this version you'll break the movement into three holding positions, each for 5 to 10 seconds. Start at the horizontal position and hold for 10 seconds, raise halfway and hold for another 10 seconds, then rise to the top and hold for 10 more.

Timed GHR — In this version you'll give yourself a set time and do as many reps as you can. For example, you use five minutes and end up with 70 reps the first time you do it. The next time you'd use the same time and try to beat the 70 reps.

GHR with bands — This is a movement for the more advanced lifter. Strap each of the bands around the bottom of the GHR and place the other end around your upper traps. The bands will add heavy resistance at the top.

Forced GHR with heavy eccentric — This is a good version for those who aren't strong enough to get one rep. With this version the training partner will help the lifter get to the top and then he'd lower the rep on his own. Only enough assistance should be applied to help the lifter get one rep. Sets of 3 to 5 reps are best with this style of the GHR.

Three to four heavy sets for 6 to 10 reps — This is a looser style then many are used to. After you get on the machine you'll use a couple of reps to get the weight moving (these don't count for the total). When you get a full range of motion, you'll try to catch the weight at the bottom of the motion where the axis of the plates begins to cross the front legs of the machine (closest to your head). This way you reverse the weight before it reverses you. This style seems to hit the hamstrings and glutes very hard.

Strict sets for 3 to 4 sets of 15 reps — To do the strict reverse hyper, set yourself on the bench so your hips are 3 to 4 inches off the back of the machine, then arch your back as hard as you can while keeping your chest off the machine. This will put your body in a diagonal position.

To perform the motion, you'll begin with the axis of the plates even with the back legs on the machine (closest to your hips). From the start position, focus on arching the weight up with the lower back. You'll only be able to get the weight so high. When you get to the top, try and hold the position for a one count. This will be impossible to do but try your hardest. The tempo of this movement is twice as slow as the first style of hyper. You'll feel this style more in the lower back than anywhere else.

Timed Reverse Hypers — This is a classic Louie Simmons movement. Use much less weight than you would with the other two styles. Either style of the reverse hyper can be used for this. Pick a designated time (usually 3 to 5 minutes) and continue with the set nonstop for as long as you can or until you hit your time deadline.

C) Torso Work — These torso movements are intended to train the muscles of the lower back and abdominals. This could very well be the most important group of the entire training program.

Many great movements for the training of maximum strength are listed below. Choose one for the lower back and one for the abs. If you feel the need, two can be performed for each muscle group, but try to keep the total main session movements down to four to six movements. If you feel the need for more torso work, add it to the warm-up or an extra workout later in the day or on an off day.


How do I cycle the max effort movement?

You have to always remember that with this style of training every movement has its own life cycle associated to it. In other words, each movement cycles independent of the other. Also, each day cycles independent of the other days.

For the max effort day, the first movement (max effort movement) will rotate in a one to three week cycle. There are several ways to accomplish this. The more advanced the lifter, the faster the movement has to change. An advanced lifter will need to change this movement every week. An intermediate will change every two weeks while a beginner will change every three.

How do I know if I'm a beginner, intermediate or advanced? If you have to ask this question, then you're a beginner. Everyone new to this style of training should treat himself as a beginner. There are checks and balances (C & B's) throughout the program so you'll know when to change. The C & B's for the max effort movement are if you're breaking records or not. If you chose two board presses and hit 315 on week one, 320 on week two, and 335 on week three, then you should use a three-week rotation.

Now, if you hit 315 on week one, 320 on week two, then can’t do 315 on week three, then you should switch every two weeks. The longer you use the method, the sooner you'll be switching every week. There are a few alternative approaches worth looking into:

1) Many coaches have found it best to use a two week cycle with their athletes where week one would be an intro week to the movement. Here they may use a percentage based scheme for a week (such as 70% of their best with the same movement for 2 sets of 5 reps, or 80% for 3 sets of 3 reps). These coaches have found the athletes do much better on week two (when they hit the one rep) when they use an intro week to the movement.

2) Another approach similar to the first one is a three week cycle based on 70% for 5 reps on week one followed by 80% for 3 on week two and then 100 plus on week three. I personally don't like this as I feel the chance of injury is too high with the higher reps when compared to the singles.

3) One approach told to me by a very successful lifter overseas was to cycle the down sets of the max effort movement. This lifter would work up to a one rep max and then hit a down set of a prescribed percentage. He'd use 70% for 2 sets of 5 reps on week one, 72% for 2 sets 5 reps on week two, 76% for one set of 5 reps on week three and 80% for 5 reps on week four. The max effort movement would change every week but the down sets percentage went up for the fourth week, then the cycle would start again.


Do you do the max effort movement every week?

This answer depends on what you're doing on all the other days as well as the individual. If you're hitting it very hard with bands on the dynamic day, then you may find you can’t hit the max effort movement every week and may have to take it easy one workout of the month. If you find you're not recovering, then you'll want to take it easy one of the workouts each month. When you "take it easy" (not a day off) you'll replace the movement with higher rep work using a movement intended to train the same muscles.


How do you know if you went heavy enough?

If you have to ask this question, then you're totally missing the boat. This movement is about straining as hard as you can. If you make the weight and have something left then you need to add more weight and go again. When using the max effort method you must strain to gain!


How do you cycle the other stuff?

The max effort movement isn't the only movement that has to cycle on this day. All the supplemental movements must also cycle. These movements won't cycle at the same rate as the max effort movement as they can be cycled longer. The four ways I recommend cycling these movements are weight related, rep related, set related, and movement related.

1) Weight Related Cycles — With this method you'll try to use more weight for the same reps with the same movement until you can’t increase any longer. At this point you'll switch the movement.

For example, let's say you choose dumbbell extensions for your triceps movement. For week one you perform 50 pound dumbbell extensions for 3 sets of 10 reps. The next week you do 60 pound dumbbells for 3 sets of 10 reps. The third week you use 70 pound dumbbells for two sets of 10 reps and one set of 6 reps. Now it's time to change the movement or the method of training the same movement.

2) Rep Related Cycles — With this method you'll try to get more reps on each set of a given movement. For example, let's say you choose the GHR for your hamstring work and get one set of 6, one set of 5 and a third set of 5. The next week you want to try to get more reps then you did the last time. After three to four weeks (or when you can no longer add more reps), you'll switch the movement or the method for training the same movement.

3) Set Related Cycles — This method is one of the best for increasing volume fast over the training cycle. All you do here is add an additional set to the movement with a desired number of reps. For example, you decide to use reverse hypers as your lower back movement. For week one you do 2 sets of 10 reps. Week two, 3 sets of 10 reps, for week three, 4 sets of 10 reps, and on week four you get 4 sets of 10 reps, but only 7 reps on the fifth set. This is when it's time to change the movement or method.

4) Movement Related Cycles — With this method you'll switch the movement every week and cycle the sets and reps from week to week. This is the best choice for the more advanced lifter as they've already figured out how to train on feel.

The actual movement doesn't need to change every three weeks but something has to change every few weeks. I feel the reverse hyper and GHR are both very important to my training and both are trained two to four times per week. This would be an example of how I'd cycle my GHR movement for the main session:

GHR Cycle

Weeks 1-3

Monday: GHR, rep related cycle

Weeks 4-7

Friday: GHR on 10 inch incline, rep related cycle


Closing

That wraps up the strength portion of the eight keys. In the next segment, I'll cover the speed element of the Westside training style.

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