Recently, in the introduction to an article on EliteFTS.com, powerlifter Marc Bartley wrote:

"Today, because of the internet (and pure laziness), many ideas on training are based on perception, NOT reality."

Marc went on to write an outstanding article, and it really got me thinking about how perception – and taking what we read for granted as truth – interferes with conveyance of the actual truth in the world of performance and physique enhancement. To that end, I'm going to explore a few written words and ideas that I believe to be a load of, well, you know.

My Beef with Wave-Loading

Anyone who has read my stuff knows that I'm a huge advocate of singles over 90% for strength gains in advanced lifters. Lift heavy stuff with a focus on quality rather than quantity, and you'll get stronger.

I also love the stage system (e.g., 2x3, then 2x5). Post-activation potentiation has been proven in multiple studies.

I think cluster training is fantastic as well. All else held equal, do more work at a higher percentage in the same amount of time, and you'll progress faster.

And, we know that straight sets have gotten beginner and intermediate lifters strong for generations.

I'm going to be blunt, though: I think wave-loading is the biggest load of foolishness you'll encounter in terms of loading parameters in the strength-training world.

For those of you who aren't familiar with wave-loading, an example would be sets of 3, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1 (three "waves" of 3,2,1).

Your heavier singles make the subsequent triples feel easier (allowing you to get in more work at a higher percentage of your 1-rep max). This is the part I buy (and why I endorse the stage system); it's just post-activation potentiation.

However, it's also been "postulated" that on each successive wave, your singles will improve by some magical number (2.5% is one that I've heard) due to a "neurological phenomenon." I can't explain it, but perhaps the purple unicorn you train with could.

Let me ask you this...

If the secret to magically increasing your best lift is simply doing sets of 3 and then 2 before attempting a single, why haven't powerlifters started racing to the warm-up area to take sets of 3 and 2 between their singles on the platform?

Can you imagine Andy Bolton deadlifting 1,000 pounds – and then running to the back room to hit a triple with 900 and a double with 930 before heading back on stage to pull an "easy" 1,025? Or, the 1,051 on his third attempt? Sometimes the non-discoveries are as profound as the discoveries...

And, for the folks out there who have benefited from wave-loading, I have two potential reasons for you:

  1. You read it and believed it (everyone loves the placebo effect), and confidence and motivation made you stronger.
  2. You're just so new to training that you simply needed extra practice between sets. If you magically took your bench from 100 to 105, it's hard to extrapolate results to guys who are actually moving appreciable amounts of weight.

So, with all that said, you're probably asking, "How do I get strong with the above templates?" Rather than just criticize, here are your solutions.

Try these protocols for your main movements, rotating exercises weekly if you're an experienced lifter, bi-monthly if you're an intermediate, and monthly if you're just getting into strength work (beginner +). Keep in mind that your assistance exercises will follow a different template altogether.

Protocol — Singles over 90%

Categories: Experienced and intermediate
Subcategory: Too weak for one's cross sectional
Week 1: 8 singles over 90%
Week 2: 6 singles over 90%
Week 3: 10 singles over 90%
Week 4: 2 singles over 90%, or 2x3 easy (5RM load)

Protocol — Singles over 90%

Categories: Experienced and intermediate
Subcategory: Size and Strength are roughly on-par
Week 1: 8 singles over 90%
Week 2: 6 singles over 90%
Week 3: 6x3
Week 4: 2 singles over 90%, or 2x3 easy (5RM load)

Protocol — Stage System

Categories: Experienced, intermediate, and Beginner +
Subcategory: Strong, but wants to get bigger
Week 1: 3x3, 3x5
Week 2: 2x3, 3x5
Week 3: 3x3, 3x5
Week 4: 3x5

Protocol — Stage System

Categories: Experienced and intermediate
Subcategory: Wants to get stronger, but is worried about maintaining muscle mass
Week 1: 3x1 (>90%), 3x4
Week 2: 3x1 (>90%), 3x3
Week 3: 5x1(>90%), 3x4
Week 4: 2x1 (>90%), 2x3

Protocol — Cluster Training

Categories: Experienced and intermediate
Subcategory: Strong, but wants to get bigger
Week 1: (*3x2) x 5 – 10s
Week 2: (3x2) x 4 – 10s
Week 3: (4x2) x 5 – 10s
Week 4: (3x2) x 2 – 10s

(*Do 2 reps, rest 10 seconds; do 2 reps; rest 10 seconds, do 2 reps, rest 10 seconds–that's one set.)

Protocol — Cluster Training

Categories: Experienced and intermediate
Subcategory: Wants to get stronger, but is worried about maintaining muscle mass
Week 1: (4x1) x 5 – 15s
Week 2: (4x1) x 4 – 15s
Week 3: (4x2) x 5 – 15s
Week 4: (3x1) x 2 – 15s

Protocol — Straight Sets

Categories: Intermediate and Beginner +
Subcategory: Wants to get stronger, but is pretty fast twitch and grows relatively easily
Week 1: 8x3
Week 2: 6x3
Week 3: 10x3
Week 4: 4x3 (intensity is maintained or increased)

Protocol — Straight Sets

Categories: Intermediate and Beginner +
Subcategory: Decent strength, but looking for a blend of strength and size
Week 1: 5x5
Week 2: 4x5
Week 3: 6x5
Week 4: 3x5 or 5x3 (intensity is maintained or increased)

Important Notes

  1. For the singles over 90%, how you get those numbers will depend on your personal record (PR) for the day. Here's what it might look like on a bench for you on a day when you want to get six singles over 90%:
    45x10
    135x5
    185x3
    225x3
    275x1
    300x1 (PR for the day – all you've got in you)
    90% of 300 is 270, so only the 275x1 and 300x1 would count toward your total (you've got two over 90% by this point). So, to get four more singles, you'd take between 270 and 300 for your remaining sets. If you MISS a rep, count it as two singles over 90%.
  2. For the Cluster format, here's how you interpret it: For (3x2) x 5 - 10s, for example: this would be five total clusters. Each cluster consists of 3 sets of 2 reps with 10 seconds rest between sets. After the cluster, rest at least two minutes and go at it again.
  3. If you want to get strong, don't be afraid to rest. Racing from one set to the next is one of the biggest mistakes I see in guys who just aren't getting stronger.
  4. With each of these protocols, think quality and not quantity. I've had several training partners who made much better progress when they realized that being the last one to finish at each training session was only rewarded by being the weakest guy in the gym. Building strength isn't like shooting free throws after practice; extra work won't make you better, in most cases.

The Problems with Super Mass XXXL Turbo-Size Weight Gainer

It's the same stuff, but marketed under 857 different stupid names. When it really comes down to it, you're drinking "swept off the floor" quality protein, a bunch of fat, and enough sugar to cause an insulin-induced coma.

Take a glance at one of these products' labels and you'll find that three scoops equates to 2,200 calories, 16.25g fat, 441g carbs (131 from sugar), and 74g protein. You get a whopping 5g of fiber from this serving size. If you're lucky, you might have solid stool once a month; the rest will be nasty wind and pissing out your arse.

Many include glycocamine, which – as David Barr pointed out – increases homocysteine levels and potentially the risk of heart disease.

Most young athletes don't know what is healthy, PERIOD. They don't even know what contains protein, carbs, and fats – let alone how much to eat to succeed. This is like looking over someone else's shoulder on an algebra test instead of just learning the material; you're screwed when you get to calculus three years later.

Need further proof? Last month, a 17-year-old who wants to play Division-1 college baseball brought this two-day diet record in for me:

Monday

7:00AM – Cheerios Crunch, Skim Milk
7:30AM – Energy Drink
11:00AM – 3 Double Chocolate Cookies, Skim Milk, Pasta w/White Sauce and Chicken
4:00PM – Sub w/ Grilled Chicken, Bacon, Mozzarella Cheese, and Red Sauce, Coke, Cookies
6:00PM – Sprite
8:00PM – Orange Soda
9:00PM – Buffalo chicken and ham calzone with blue cheese
10:30PM – Gatorade

Tuesday

7:00AM – Cheerios Crunch, Skim Milk
7:30AM – Energy Drink
11:00AM – 3 Double Chocolate Cookies, Crispy Fried Chicken
12:00PM – Gatorade
3:45PM – Medium Iced Coffee, 2 Doughnuts
7:00PM – Popcorn, Candy, Soda
8:00PM – Grilled Chicken, Gatorade
10:30PM – Gatorade

The scariest part is that neither of these were training days. When he submitted it, I handed him a pen with an assignment: circle everything you would classify as "shit." He circled everything but the chicken and milk. Sometimes we need to make kids smarter before we start to try to simplify things.

To that end, I don't like the fact that weight gainers encourage ectomorphs to rely heavily on concentrated forms of calories, as this "phase" is going to wear off eventually when they hit their 20s and get sedentary jobs and beer guts. I'd rather foster positive habits early on and then refine them quantity-wise down the road rather than try to "undo" a sugar and saturated fat addiction.

External Rotations Don't Fix Everything

By now, most T-Nationers know that it's important to have excellent strength in the posterior rotator cuff muscles, teres minor, and infraspinatus. They help to depress the humeral head during various movements so that our rotator cuff doesn't impinge on the underside of the acromion process of our scapula. In these actions, they counteract the strong pull of larger muscles like the the pecs, lats, and anterior deltoids – both via their depression and external rotation roles.

However, what people don't recognize is that there can be imbalances within the rotator cuff itself. The teres minor and infraspinatus both pull the humeral head anteriorly, whereas the subscapularis pulls it posteriorly.

The subscap counteracts the strong anterior glide of the humeral head caused by pectoralis major activation when you bench; the teres minor and infraspinatus both exaggerate it. So, the role of subscapularis can't be overstated; it's got to depress the humeral head, help internally rotate the humerus, and resist the anterior glide of the humerus caused by the external rotators and pectoralis major; no wonder it's the rotator cuff muscle with the largest cross-sectional area!

When the subscap doesn't work, and teres minor and infraspinatus start to work overtime, you get what we call a stiff posterior capsule and glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD). This condition is very common in overhead throwing athletes who develop so much external rotation during the cocking phase of throwing/hitting/serving/swimming that they actually lose range of motion in the opposite direction.

As an example, take a glance at this right-handed minor league pitcher during his initial evaluation with me – just two weeks after his season ended. The top arm reflects external rotation ROM, while the bottom arm reflects internal rotation ROM.

This asymmetry is more common than you might think in ordinary gym goers – and doing a ton of external rotations can actually make things worse (although pitchers still need a super-strong posterior rotator cuff). So how do we fix it?

First off, you need to assess it more specifically than the photos above allow. I like to assess internal rotation ROM in the side-lying position. It's EXTREMELY important to lock the shoulder blade underneath the body so that you can't anteriorly tilt the scapula to cheat to get ROM. You should pull your shoulder blade down and back to ensure that the only range of motion occurring is the "swivel" of the humeral head in the shoulder socket.

Poor Internal Rotation ROM

Poor Internal Rotation ROM

Good Internal Rotation ROM

Good Internal Rotation ROM

Once we've established that this is a deficit, we use a three-step approach to fixing it.

First, we look to improve soft tissue quality in the posterior shoulder girdle. While massage and ART work great, some poor man's soft tissue work with a tennis/lacrosse/baseball on the backside of the shoulder girdle works great. I like to have people go through active internal and external rotation while putting some pressure down on the ball.

Second, we look to improve the actual length of the tissue with a sleeper stretch – which is exactly the stretch you use to test for internal rotation range of motion above. When stretching, don't jack the humeral head out of the socket; easy is the name of the game. I tell my athletes to shoot for a 3 or 4 out of 10 in terms of how much pressure to apply.

Finally, we look to strengthen/activate the subscapularis itself with some prone internal rotations. Imagine swiveling your humeral head in the socket – and don't expect a ton of range of motion:

There are five important cues on this movement:

  1. Don't simply flex the wrist to get range of motion.
  2. Don't extend the elbow (triceps substitution pattern).
  3. Don't shrug the shoulder (scapular anterior tilt substitution).
  4. Keep your chin tucked and don't turn the head to the side.
  5. Don't force range of motion that isn't there; you won't get a ton.

I usually dig my finger into an athlete's armpit when he first performs it; if you're getting subscapularis with the movement, you'll feel the machinery working in the pit.

Of course, all shoulder health programs should pay adequate attention to a host of other factors, including scapular stability, thoracic and cervical spine mobility, mobility of the opposite hip and ankle, and a host of other factors. It never hurts to screen for internal rotation, though.

Wrap-up

It's nothing sexy – and I might just be raining on your parade, but these are just the cold, hard facts. Sometimes, it helps to be the devil's advocate.