My bodybuilding career has taken me through three decades so far. As much as training paradigms have changed in that time, one thing remains constant for me: I've always been the guy described as "unconventional." It used to puzzle me. Now I just accept that I interpret the operating principles of training and nutrition differently, and figure I must be doing something right.
Increasingly, I depart from the conventional wisdom when it comes to specificity. All of us who train people for a living know the acronym S.A.I.D. — "specific adaptations to imposed demand." In other words, train your body to do what you need it to do.
A lot of trainers today are experts in one sport or one type of training. To me, that's a limitation, not a bonus, but my opinion is in the minority right now. More and more, those highly specialized trainers are able to convince people — athletes, clients, other trainers and coaches — that training techniques and protocols need to be vastly different from one sport or activity to the next.
The specificity principle has its place — I'd never say it didn't. But I think it's being applied today with too much zeal and too little consideration for what all sports and physical activities that require strength and conditioning have in common. This is especially true in bodybuilding.
In pursuit of specificity, bodybuilders focus on single-plane, single-joint training. This creates neural confusion, since muscles aren't meant to be worked this way. Neural confusion leads to stagnant and lagging body parts. Paradoxically, this encourages bodybuilders to isolate them even more.
You can't develop a weak or unresponsive body part with the exact same training techniques that made it that way. The muscles get stronger and respond better if they're employed as part of a kinetic chain, in an explosive application. That's why I use the following workout, which I call "explosive conditioning day," with all the athletes I train — football players, hockey players, MMA fighters, and, yes, bodybuilders.
The Crossover Effect
The workout includes six biplexes, which challenge you in almost every possible way. You have to produce force and reduce it. You're expressing explosive power in your upper body as well as your lower body. You'll battle both vertical and horizontal gravitational forces. And you'll put tremendous demands on your energy system, along with your metabolism.
It's exhausting, but it's more than that. As one of my hockey players said, "This is the only workout that has ever intimidated me."
The workout adheres to the principle that power initiates from the ground, and is driven through the core. I've often described the core as the black hole of strength in bodybuilding training. A weak core limits progress, which leads to lagging body parts, which leads to an overemphasis on isolated training for those unresponsive muscles — exactly the problem that a workout focused on explosive conditioning is designed to address.
Your goal is to create a carryover effect, with residual and cumulative benefits that improve your work capacity along with your neural efficiency.
On the first three biplexes, take as little time as possible between the A and B exercises. When your breathing is almost back to normal, begin the next set. This is where you'll derive most of the benefits of the explosive-conditioning workout.
Explosive Conditioning for Athletes and Bodybuilders
|1A Dumbbell burpee snatch with push-up||4||10-12|
|1B Cable or band alternating biceps curl||4||12-15 *|
|2A Total-body explosive push-up||4||10-12|
|2B Full-range-of-motion jump squat||4||15|
|3A Medicine-ball crossover push-up||4||10-12 *|
|3B Alternating full-range-of-motion split jump||4||8-12 *|
|4A Lat pulldown (any variation)||4||12-15|
|4B Machine rear-delt fly||4||15-20|
|5A Body-weight bench dip||4||15-20|
|5B Sit-up (any variation)||4||15-20|
|6A Dumbbell seated shoulder press||4||12-15|
|6B Back extension||4||15-20|
* each arm or leg
Dumbbell burpee snatch with push-up
This is one of the most exhausting exercises you could ever perform. You stand holding a pair of dumbbells, lower them down to the floor, extend your legs behind you, do a push-up, bring your legs back, then set your body for the snatch, with the dumbbells just below and to the outside of your knees. Now do a snatch. That's one rep.
Cable or band alternating biceps curl
Because the first exercise in the biplex leaves you drained of power, the second exercise is relatively simple and easy. Just do alternating curls with bands or a cable machine.
Total-body explosive push-up
Now you're working against horizontal gravitational forces. You want your entire body to come off the floor on each push-up. When you get exhausted, don't slow down; instead, use less range of motion by spreading your legs farther apart.
Full-range-of-motion jump squat
For these body-weight jump squats, you want to use the deepest range of motion you can. When exhaustion sets in, shorten the range of motion but don't slow down the repetitions.
Medicine-ball crossover push-up
No matter how well-conditioned you are, your body will be fatiguing quickly by this third biplex. This, of course, is the whole point of the workout. Still, you want to do the rest as explosively as possible, and to get the maximum range of motion for as long as you can. As before, you can shorten the range on the push-ups, but don't sacrifice explosiveness.
Alternating full-range-of-motion split jump
Go for maximum air time on the jump, maximum range of motion on the descent, and minimum time with your feet on the floor. As you fatigue, you can shorten the range of motion when fatigue sets in by spreading your feet farther apart, but don't sacrifice speed or reactive force.
You should know the exercises in the final three biplexes. They aren't particularly challenging, which is all you'll be able to handle at this point in the workout. The exercise selection is arbitrary, and obviously more specific to bodybuilders. Feel free to change the exercises if you want. Don't feel as if you need to make the exercises more difficult; single-plane, single-joint movements are fine.
Andy Sinclair used Scott Abel's explosive conditioning program to help him get an unusual gig: the cover of a romance novel.
Because this workout is so challenging, and requires so much recovery, I recommend doing it once every two weeks, and always taking the following day off.
Just don't kid yourself into thinking it doesn't offer anything to you because it isn't specific to physique training. Kevin Weiss, the natural bodybuilding champion who demonstrates the exercises in these videos (his first article for T NATION is here), has used it successfully. So have Allen Cress, a competitive bodybuilder and powerlifter based in Kentucky, and Andy Sinclair, a model who does everything from fitness magazines to the covers of romance novels.
As one of my clients wrote me after doing this workout, "If you ain't dyin', then you're lyin!"