40 Movements for Rapid Strength - Part 5

The Art of Program Design Plus 5 New Exercises


Dave Tate is the co-owner of Elite Fitness Systems and has been involved in the sport of powerlifting since 1982. A true testament to his skills rests in the 10,000 hours of personal training and strength consulting sessions he has performed with novice to elite athletes. Numerous clients have broken barriers they never thought possible through the use of maximal, dynamic and absolute strength development methods. Dave's self-motivation plays a vital role in the driving success of many of his clients, as he is still an active athlete himself in the sport of powerlifting. His success is evident with personal best lifts of a 935 squat, 610-bench press, 740 deadlift and a 2205 total. His success under the bar and his extensive education are a testament to his dedication to the development of maximal strength and power.

"Where do these exercises fit into a program?"

That's the question I've been hearing since I began writing this "Tool Box" series. I've also been asked to write a few programs containing some of these new exercises and training methods. Sorry, but all pre-written training programs suck! Before the e-mails begin flying, let me take a moment to explain.

Programs for Everyone

The program is never a direct reflection of the author’s real knowledge. I know many coaches and trainers who've made several attempts to write programs. The thing is, these coaches are far better than the programs they're writing.

The knowledge and experience of many of these writers is unbelievable. If they were to consult you on your training program, your results would be awesome! But, they're trying to put together a program for everyone. In most cases it'll work for 50% of those who try it. The program will fail for the rest because it doesn't address their specific weaknesses.

Tested Programs

Some of the programs you read in magazines have never been used in real training situations. It's pretty easy to see that they were tossed together with the use of very high powered training books, journals and articles. This is great for stimulating ideas, but not so great for training application. Something may look great on paper, but when it comes down to it, it won't work in the gym.

Real Issues

Following a program is, in many ways, avoiding the real issues of training. The training process needs to be grounded in science and application, but it also needs to be instinctive. You have to know where you're going and what the best methods are to get you there, but you also need to know what adjustments need to be made along the way.

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

1) What happens if you can’t perform the prescribed training percentage for the prescribed number of repetitions?

2) What if you get hurt?

3) What if you don't have access to the equipment needed?

4) What if you're feeling overtrained?

5) What if you have to miss a workout because of other outside obligations?

6) What if a specific prescribed exercise is causing you pain?

You've got to be able to make adjustments!

The Turning Point

The real turning point in the training process is when you begin to "know" what you need to do, how to do it, and when to do it. I discovered this years ago when speaking to very successful bodybuilders, powerlifters, strongmen and Olympic weightlifters. They all agreed that there was a time when they became accountable for their own results. They took it upon themselves to discover what worked for them, created their own basic training template, and built the program from week to week, and day to day.

The trick is, how do we take the average guy and get him to this level of thinking? Programs are a good introduction to the training process, if you understand what the program is trying to do.

Training Philosophy

Every athlete, coach and trainer should have his own philosophy of training based on where he's going. Do you want to get stronger? Do you want to add more mass? Do you want to get ripped? Do you want to use training to better your sport of choice? Do you feel being stronger is the key to success? Do you feel being better conditioned is the key? Do you feel you need all these variables? In other words, what do you really want to achieve from your training?

Key Indicators

Once you know this, the next step is to select what "key indicators" you'll use to gauge your process. For a powerlifter, some of these may include: the bench press, the squat, the deadlift, weight used for dynamic training, specific max effort movements, weights used for triples, etc.

To further illustrate, I can gauge my squat on my best three-rep max on the good morning, and I can base my bench press on a specific percentage of my best two-board press or floor press. I know others who can predict their best bench or squat on their best triple while training for a meet. These items are very specific to each individual but are indicators used to determine if you're moving closer to, or further away from your goal.

If adding mass is your goal, then your indicators would be lean body mass, circumference measurements and body weight. When you have your indicators set, then you make sure to track them as your training progresses. If your indicators are going in the right direction, then you stay with what you're doing.

If one indicator falls off or quits progressing, then you address it in your training to get it back on track. The larger and more specific your list of indicators, the better your progress will be.

The Training Template

Once you know your philosophy and key indicators, you can then go to work to create a training template. I've presented one template in the Periodization Bible and a couple more in the Eight Keys articles. These are just a few of the templates I work from. I've compiled a list of over twenty other templates in my training templates manual. These are by no means all the templates you can work from. They're just a few of the templates grounded in the training philosophy I believe in.

Sample Template Development

Now, let's look at another example of how this all works. I've been dealing with a few overtraining injuries for some time now and have noticed that many of my max effort, flexibility, mobility and conditioning indicators have fallen way off. It was time for a change.

My current state was limiting my ability to strain with max effort work and I noticed I lost quit a bit of muscle over the past year. I used this information to set a new template targeted toward increasing muscle mass and mobility while maintaining my dynamic strength.

What I did was to pull my max effort days out of the template and replace them with mass building training. I know from past experience that I need three to four movements per body part in a higher rep range to develop muscle mass. This coupled with added mobility training would become a very long training session.

I also know that it's easier to recover from repetition training than it is from max effort training. This would allow me to train with more sessions per week than if I used the standard strength template. The results are as follows:

Monday — Muscle building and mobility for legs, calves and abs

Tuesday — Muscle building and mobility for back, biceps and abs

Wednesday — Muscle building and mobility for chest and triceps

Thursday — Muscle building and mobility for shoulders and abs

Friday — Dynamic squat training and powerlifting specific squat and dead training

Saturday — Off

Sunday — Dynamic bench training and powerlifting specific bench training

Along with this, I've set key indicators of lean body mass, bodyweight, and repetition goals for muscle building movements, mobility and dynamic strength work. I'll run this cycle for a three week wave. I like three week waves because this seems to be the best timeframe for results and testing.

After three weeks I'll review the indicators and determine what my next three week wave will be. If all goes well, then my next cycle will be more strength oriented. If my indicators aren't met, then I'll make adjustments to my mass building cycle and repeat it again.

How This Works

Here's the really cool part about this process: everything doesn't break at the same time. In other words, most of the indicators will increase while some may not. Let's take a closer look at what I mean. Let’s say I have the following goals for this training cycle:

Body weight at 280

Body fat under 10%

Full range of hip mobility

Full range of shoulder mobility

20 reps with 125 pound dumbbells in the dumbbell press

Box squat 405 for 2 sets of 15 reps

5 sets of reverse-hypers with 300 pounds

4 sets of 20 on the GHR

10 chin-ups

Chest supported rows, 4 plates for 15 reps

Speed pulls with 405 for 8 easy singles

Lactic acid tolerance squat training with 365

No knee pain

20 sets per session

This is actually a short list of the goals I have for this period of training. Many of these indicators are much more specific than what I've listed, but you see the point. Usually my list of indicators in much shorter per cycle (around five or six), but I have a ton of things that need to be addressed before attacking the big ass weights again. I understand and know from past experience that it may take three or four cycles to get to where I need to be. After I get there, I'll begin strength waves with a whole new set of indicators.

After three weeks many of my goals will be met; some others may not be. Now, since I'm working from a template, I don't have to change my entire program. I keep the things that are working the same while making adjustments to get the other things rolling.

Let’s say after three weeks I've accomplished everything but my dumbbell press record. All I then have to do is adjust the training movements, sets, reps or other variables that may be affecting the results of my dumbbell press. It really is that simple when you know what you're looking for!

The Value of Written Programs

There are still many values to written programs (at least from authors who know what the hell they're doing). You should read them and look very closely at how they pair movements, cycle training weights, exercise selection and so on.

Also, look at what's not written. That’s where the gold is. When you get to the point where you can find the methods to their madness you can then apply these methods to your own training template and will never have to ask, "How does this fit in?" or "Can you write me a program?"

The Tool Box

Now, what's in the tool box for this installment? This is exactly what you should be looking for. This is a list of some of the exercises and methods used to overcome different weaknesses. You'll find many different valuable tools in this series. Use the ones that fit your needs!

Reverse Hyper Leg Curls

Category: Accessory

Muscles Targeted: Hamstrings

Exercise Description: Leave it to Louie to come up with a new movement using the reverse hyper. I noticed him doing these a few months ago and just let him be. It looked like a good movement so I figured I'd watch and see how it worked for him. After about two weeks he was running around the gym telling everyone, "This is just what you need!"

I know when he starts saying this that he's stumbled upon something that works for him. A couple weeks later I noticed his squats and pulls were both looking better. In fact, he set some huge max effort PR’s. Maybe it’s the movement; maybe it's all the training he's doing, but either way it's something that has to go in the training tool box!

To perform this movement you'll need to have access to a reverse hyper, but you may be able to just hang off a high bench with a dumbbell between your feet. The movement feels better with the roller version of the hyper, but can be performed with a strap version of the reverse hyper, too.

You first jump on the machine so your hips are just off the back end. From this position, arch your back and perform a standard leg curl. Nothing fancy, just your basic leg curl from a bent-over position.

This takes most of the back and glutes out of the movement, giving you a great feel in the muscle belly. This exercise seems to work better when performed with moderate weight for a large volume such as 5-6 sets of 10-12 reps.

Training Mistakes:

Using so much weight that you can’t curl it to the finished position.

Rotating your hips at the top of the movement.

Using a fast rep speed. Take this one slow and controlled.

Not allowing the hamstrings to stretch fully at the bottom position.

Cable Up Row Press Out

Category: Accessory

Muscles Targeted: Shoulders and Traps

Exercise Description: This is another movement I picked up on my weekend trips to Westside many years ago. When you train in a gym with very limited equipment you come up with interesting ways to train different muscles. This is one movement that I've continued to do over the years. It's one of the most effective shoulder movements I've ever done!

You'll need access to a single "D" handle. (I've also used a kettlebell for this movement with very good results.) Attach the handle to a low pulley device and begin with your arms in front of you. Pull the handle up as you would an upright row until you get to your upper chest. Make sure when you pull that you keep your elbows up.

When you get to the top position, rotate your wrists so your palms face outward and press the handle up and away from you so you'll finish with your arms straight overhead, directly over the line of pull. This also seems to be a great movement for a large volume of training (reps over eight.)

Training Mistakes:

Trying to press the handle back over your head. If the cable hits you in the face, take this as a clue.

Pressing too far in front so you end up with the top position of a front range.

Using a handle with a fixed grip. It can be done, but works much better if the handle revolves.

Piston Pushdowns

Category: Accessory

Muscles Targeted: Triceps

Exercise Description: I'll begin by saying that this isn't a great mass builder. Many would regard this as a finisher movement. It's great for those who are dealing with elbow pain or sore triceps. This is a very effective movement to shuttle a lot of blood into the muscle without a lot of tissue breakdown. Because of this, it can be used very nicely multiple times per week without any negative effect on strength. Actually, Louie used to have some of our lifters do 100 rep band pushdowns daily when their bench would become stale.

With this type of training it's very important to select movements that don't break muscle tissue down very much. The added benefit of this is you'll get a killer triceps pump. I know it doesn't mean shit, but it's awesome to leave the gym with jacked up triceps!

To set this movement up, attach two bands around the top of a power rack, chin bar or anything else that'll give you enough tension. Start on your knees. While keeping your elbows tucked, begin firing off alternate rep pressdowns. This is where the piston name comes from.

After reaching failure, stand up and keep going until you reach failure again. A few sets of these and you'll be jacked.

Training Mistakes:

Make sure to select a moderate band tension. This isn't a marathon so a good goal would be to get 20-30 reps per position.

I recommend you do this last in your training session. It's also great to do on your non-triceps training days if you're looking to add some volume to your triceps training or trying to overcome a growth or strength sticking point.

Power B’s "Jack Me Ups"

Category: Accessory

Muscles Targeted: Chest, Shoulders and Triceps

Exercise Description: A couple of years ago, Jim Wendler and I made a trip out to ASU to see Joe Kenn and his staff. Joe is the strength coach at ASU and has done a tremendous job over the years. He's also one of the most educated coaches I know. While Joe was in some meeting, Jim and I decided to raid his video collection to see what he had. We popped in Power B’s Bench Video.

I'd sent this to Joe a couple years earlier and hadn't seen it in a very long time. Jim hadn't seen it yet so we decided to check it out to see what we could find. It's always a great idea to review your educational sources because you forget about a lot of stuff. In this case I'd forgotten about a lot of things shown in this tape.

This is a hardcore training tape put together by Glen Buechlein (over 700 pound bench press at 242). Glen takes you through several of his team's training sessions in 100% hardcore fashion. He trains in a very small private gym and has had to come up with different ways to attack the bench press. One of these is what I call "Power B’s Jack Me Ups."

To perform this movement, set up any way you can to perform your standard push-up. I like to use hex dumbbells or a power bar lying at the bottom of the power rack to do this. This keeps the wrists in the same position we bench press in.

Next, select a set number of reps and add one chain per rep group. For example, you'll do three reps, add one chain, three more reps, add one more chain and so on. Work up to the point where you can do the prescribed number of reps, then go back down by removing one chain and doing three more reps and so on.

The trick is to make sure you load the chains across the back so one end falls over the shoulder and the other end over the opposite lat muscle. Each chain will cross over the next forming an X across the mid back.

Training Mistakes:

Placing the chains across your neck.

Doing too many reps per group. Start with 3-5 and see how high you can go.

Arching your back. Just use good push-up technique.

Fat Bar Chain Press

Category: Max Effort

Muscles Targeted: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps

Exercise Description: The chain press is a max effort movement Louie came up with some years ago to help develop the lockout power of the bench press. I personally like to use the El Gordo fat bar for this movement. This bar seems to be easier on my elbows and shoulders. The diameter of the bar disperses the weight throughout the arms, shoulders and pecs. This isn't to say a regular straight bar can’t be used however.

There are many ways to do this movement. Some like to use a set number of chains and then work up to a bar weight max triple or single. The way I'm going to present it here is one of the best ways I've found to utilize chains for this movement.

Warm up and work up to 70% of your best raw max bench press. At this point add one chain per side for each additional set until you max out. The chains should be set up so half the chain is on the floor while the bar is resting in the uprights. When the bar is lowered to your chest there should be a total deload of the chains. As you press the bar back to the finish position, the chains will be gradually added to the bar. It's best to work up to a five, three or one rep max on this movement.

Training Mistakes:

Setting the chains up so no deloading occurs.

If you feel the bar path is being affected by the chains loading on the floor, try to readjust the chains so they fall evenly or increase the percent bar weight so less chain has to be used.

I have enough stuff to keep this series going for a very long time, so until next time, load the bar, kick some ass and break some records!

Note: Dave has a couple of new DVDs out that cover many of the movements presented in this article series. The first covers upper body movements and the second covers lower body exercises. Check 'em out!

Dave Tate is the founder and CEO of Elitefts and the author of Under The Bar. Dave has been involved in powerlifting for over three decades as a coach, consultant and business owner. He has logged more than 10,000 hours coaching professional, elite, and novice athletes, as well as professional strength coaches. Follow Dave Tate on Facebook