Question of Strength
by Charles Poliquin
Q: I take a few weeks off from training several times each year, and I am concerned about whether this is counter productive. I have long-term goals of staying fit while continuing to get stronger. I race mountain bikes in the summer and hit the weights harder in the winter. The down times seems to be vital to my motivation. Should I try to stay ON all the time?
A: No, you should not try to lift year-round, unless you're committed to be world class powerlifter, bodybuilder, or weightlifter. Even those types of athletes can benefit from taking a week off from training once every 12 to 16 weeks.
During that week off, I do recommend, however, that you stay active doing whatever it is that you enjoy: tennis, windsurfing, biking, whatever. If you stay inactive, you'll experience mood swings due to the circadian regulation of hormonal output. There is some evidence that these mood swings may also be due to insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate uptake.
Keep in mind that the current Olympic gold medalist in the bobsleigh can power clean 160 kilos (352 pounds) while strength-training only five months out of the year. Similarly, the best weightlifter in the world in that same weight class can do about 212.5 kilos (467.5 pounds) in that lift.
You don't need to train year-round to have appreciable amounts of strength.
Q: I just received your book "The Poliquin Principles" and have read it cover to cover. I am 21 years old and am currently studying for a degree in sports nutrition. In the book, you outlined some routines for building mass. But I would be interested in a routine for building strength as well. Got any suggestions?
A: When training for relative strength, the following loading parameters apply:
Loading Parameters of Maximal Weights
Repetitions: 1-5 RM
Rest Intervals: 4-5 minutes
Concentric Tempo: 1-4 seconds*
Eccentric Tempo: 3-5 seconds*
Total Set Duration: Under 20 seconds*
Because of the high number of sets you'll be doing for this type of routine, you'll only need to do one to three exercises per workout. You could, however, do as many as four if you pair agonists and antagonists together, as opposed to working agonists alone.
Researchers have found that the ability to achieve full motor unit activation (MUA) is enhanced when immediately proceeded by a contraction of the agonists. For example, after doing a 3-repetition maximum (RM) set of close-grip triceps presses, rest 2 to 3 minutes and perform a a 3- to 4-RM set of dumbbell curls for the biceps. Rest 2 to 3 minutes and repeat for the required amount of sets.
This method has the added benefit of allowing you to double the workload per training session.
Q: I'm using the "Poliquin's Maximal Weights for Arms" workout that I found on your site and I'm making great progress. I started off doing dips with a 35-pound dumbbell for 5x5, and I've moved up to a 50-pound dumbbell in six weeks, working the arms once a week on average. Anyway, I'm getting ready to start the 4x6 phase and I have no clue what "rack lockouts" are. Can you guys help me out here?
A: Rack lockouts are partial reps in the bench press. The range varies between 1/3 and 1/4 of the normal range of motion. This shortened range is predetermined by using a power rack. Normally, the bar is paused in the bottom position so that you cannot use the elastic component of the muscle.
Set your bench up in the power rack. Situate the supports so that when you rack the bar, it's considerably higher than chest level. That way, when you press the bar off the rack, you'll only be pushing the bar a short distance: 1/3 to 1/4 of what it would normally be.
Q: I am a personal trainer at Lees Mills World of Fitness in Auckland, New Zealand. I have a copy of "The Poliquin Principles," and it's the most helpful tool I've come across in my two years as a trainer. I must admit that I've directly lifted some of the workouts from the book and used them on my clients, and they've been incredibly successful and worthwhile.
Following your programs did change my thought process, though. Now I am writing a similar style of program under my own steam, which leads me to my question.
I've been training some of the members of Team New Zealand?the New Zealand America's Cup team. One of them has asked me to prepare him for Sydney 2000 in an individual yachting event. I guess they think I know what I'm doing!
We've seen some great results in the last three months?radical changes in body fat lost and muscle gained?but I know I can offer them more.
Are you able to give me advice on how to periodize something for the next two years and, if so, what are your fees for email, phone consultations, etc.? If you are not able to help, are there any reference books that I should be reading that may give me a little more to go on?
Thanks again for being quite an inspiration.
A: Although I don't have any plans on coming to beautiful New Zealand in the near future, I do offer consulting at the rate of $350 an hour (American dollars).
I realize that this is kind of steep for most people, so here are some textbooks that you can use to learn more about the physiology of strength training:
1) Strength and Power
By Paavo Komi Ed
Published by Blackwell
2) Theory and Methodology of Strength Training
Published by Human Kinetics
3) Designing Resistance Training Programs
By S. Fleck and W. Kraemer
Published by Human Kinetics
The fourth book that I would recommend is "Fitness and Strength Training for All Sports" by Hartmann and T?nnemann. Don't be misled by the title. The original title of this book, in German, was "Modernes Krafttraining," which more accurately translates as "Modern Strength Training Methodology."
The first German edition was published in the former East Germany and was recognized as the strength training Bible of East German coaches. This excellent book delves at length into the physiological mechanisms of strength and mass building without getting overly scientific. Chapters of interest to you would be:
The Biological Basis of Strength
Muscle Contractions and the Dynamics of the Neuromuscular System
Training Components and Principles
Strength Training Methods and Programs
Foundation Strength Training Methods and Programs
Maximal Strength Training Methods and Programs
The physiology isn't entirely cutting-edge research, but it's better than anything aimed at the coach and athlete market. The authors go to great lengths to explain the methodology of strength and hypertrophy training. All loading parameters (sets, reps, tempo, etc.) are well described. Those are the best chapters in the book.
The section on nutrition is nothing to write home about. Some sections, like the one on speed development, will probably not interest the average Testosterone reader.
At times, the translation leaves a lot to be desired. For example, the word "weightlifter" is used when the term "bodybuilder" should have been used. For German speaking readers, I'd recommend the original edition. Unfortunately, the book is not widely distributed. It can be purchased by phone from the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto (416-977-7009). These guys are good?I got the book three days after I ordered it.
Q: Excellent job on the site?it rocks!
First, I want to tell you about an exercise that I've been using that almost makes me puke! It was initially introduced by Joe Lewis. We call them manual biceps. If you've never done them, then get ready to feel pain like no other biceps exercise you've imagined. It involves maximal resistance throughout the entire range of motion and every rep. You'll need a partner for this one.
Set up a preacher curl bench, but get rid of the weights?you won't need them. Grab a broom stick or a bar and sit as if you were going to do a regular set of preacher curls. Start at the bottom of the movement. Your partner will resist your curling motion by pushing down against it so that the broomstick/bar is creeping along its arc while you're using maximal force to curl against the resistance provided by your partner.
Once you hit the top, the motion changes. Now you resist your partner who is pulling back against your biceps toward the ground (most normal people are a whole lot stronger here). After the eccentric portion, reverse the resistance. Again, you are curling against your partner's resistance. Continue this at whatever tempo you desire.
I generally stop when I can no longer slow down the broomstick. At this point there is no feeling in your arms from your shoulders to your fingers, and your hands will be a nice shade of white or red.
This is a great exercise to break through plateaus. I've used this type of resistance with triceps extensions, lateral raises, leg curls, and even crunches. It's pretty flexible, depending on the strength of the muscle (you obviously couldn't use it with squats).
I find that it's a good idea to pre-exhaust the muscle for the benefit of the person providing the resistance. Otherwise, you might be able to resist their entire bodyweight, and that makes it a little too much work for them. Try this and tell me what you think.
It's a good form of punishment for pissy friends too, as a set of manual biceps will make anyone surrender and bow down!
A: Assuming that I've never heard about this is a mistake. No bowing down to you. Sorry to disappoint you, but I did manual bis back in 1978 in my basement with my fellow kinesiology student and training partner. We started doing them after listening to a lecture on isokinetics in our class.
In fact, I have a better way for you to do it. Yes, using the preacher is good idea, but try using a towel instead of a broomstick (working one arm at a time). This works better for your training partner as he will be able to apply resistance more appropriately matched to your strength curve.
Q: I'm a discus and hammer thrower for a college in upstate New York. I'm trying to gain muscle mass as well as relative strength. I'm going back and forth between a relative strength program and actual muscle growth workouts every four to six weeks. I'm lifting four times a week now.
For the relative strength program, I'm doing Olympic and powerlifting-type workouts (power cleans, power snatches, lowbar squats, miscellaneous pulls and jerks, etc.) with progressively lower reps (1 to 5).
As far as trying to gain muscle mass, I have been using different exercises than before with a higher rep range (8 to 10), more time under tension, supersets, dropsets, and less rest.
I want to try Tribex-500. Where do you think it will fit in best?in which phase? Do you think what I am doing is going to accomplish my goals? Is there a better way to lift in order to make me jacked for the 2000 season? If so, would you please send some info about it to me?
A: "I'm a discus and hammer thrower for a college in upstate New York..." Why does this sound like the beginning of a letter to Penthouse magazine? Oh well, here are some tips for your training:
1) Don't exceed eight reps in your hypertrophy phase?otherwise, you'll dive into the lower threshold motor units that won't help your throwing much.
2) Cycles should be of three-week duration, max.
3) Use eccentrics in your relative strength phase.
If you're on a limited budget, Tribex will help you most during your hypertrophy phase. Take four tablets before the workout, and four tablets after the workout. Use it four days a week or so.
By the way, in case you didn't notice, my first book was a bodybuidling book and not necessarily geared towards strength training. Strength training for sport is an entire different issue. I'm in the process of preparing sport specific books.
Best of luck with the getting jacked program.
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