Q: Every time I go to the gym, I see some mutton head doing "twists" with a broom stick. Are they really working their external obliques and slimming their waists, or are they just doing a passable imitation of a propeller prop?

A: There are two issues here: working the obliques, and waist size reduction. Working the external obliques will not ensure a slim waist. Quite the contrary, highly developed obliques will take away from your V-taper and detract from the classical bodybuilding look. However, if you're a judoka (practitioner of judo) or a wrestler and care more about function than looking purty for the girls, you'll want to have stronger obliques to aid you in your throws and takedowns.

As far as doing twists with a broom stick, they'll do as much for your obliques as Monica does for Bill's popularity in the Bible Belt. Why? A broom stick puts a minimal load on the obliques. Since you're not fighting against gravity, you're not subjecting the muscles to any kind of overload. Effective oblique recruitment requires a load greater than that imposed by a broomstick and correct body positioning in relation to gravity. If you want to learn more on how to train the obliques effectively, you may want to consult the excellent performance video tapes by Paul Chek. To find out more about them or to purchase them, call 1-800-552-8789.

As far as having a slim waist, it has more to do with body fat reduction than choice of exercises for spot reduction. Since spot reduction has never been demonstrated either empirically or in a scientific setting, I doubt very much that doing a gazillion reps of various kinds of oblique work would have any kind of direct slimming effect on the fat stores on the iliac crest (otherwise known as love handles). Effective fat reduction is a function of dietary manipulations and optimal training volumes and intensities.

Q: How would you recommend incorporating Power Cleans (my favorite exercise) into a Mass/Strength routine? Oh yeah. "The Poliquin Principles" has proven to be a source of first class reference. I've had a copy for nearly a month and still haven't absorbed all the information.

A: Power Cleans should be used on leg day for the first exercise of the routine because it uses high velocities. Accordingly, it should be done when the nervous system is fresh. Be sure never to do more than six reps per set, and take plenty of rest between sets (3-5 minutes).

What sort of phases should a bodybuilder who wants maximal strength development include in his periodization plan and what do they include?

That is a very interesting topic, but I need about 30 hours to answer it. And I need plenty of information on the physiological make up of the athlete, i.e. fiber make-up, strength ratios etc. The complete answer goes beyond the scope of this column.

Q: What are your views on the theory of static-contraction training, and where would one utilize static or partial-reps of extremely heavy weights?

A: From the earliest start of my career as a strength & conditioning coach, I have been a strong believer of using the power rack to promote rapid strength and mass gains after applying my readings of authors Don Ross, Rasch, Bill Starr and Anthony Ditillo. This program is most effective. The average intermediate bodybuilder can expect to beat his personal records in the curl by 10 to 25 pounds, and in the close-grip bench press by 30 to 45 pounds. This is rather impressive since those gains are made in the time frame of only 3-4 weeks.

This routine's physiological basis is what sport scientists Fleck & Kraemer and O'Shea call "functional isometric contractions" (FIC). Over thirty years ago, players of the Iron Game were introduced to this training method under the term "isometronics" which was a contraction of the term isometrics and isotonics. The German strength experts like Letzelter & Letzelter and Hartmann and Tünnemann prefer to use the term auxotonics to describe this training method. The concept behind this protocol is to use the best of what the isometric method can offer and combine it to the regular type of lifting still known as isotonics.

With FIC you make use of the specific joint-angle strength gains of isometrics after pre-fatiguing the muscles involved by using heavy short-range repetitions in the power rack.

These systems like any other systems have advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

  • Allows one to learn to disinhibit the nervous system: may help you overcome psychological barriers regarding certain weights.
  • Provides variety in the training process because of the new challenges.
  • Increases in maximal strength at the specifically worked ranges. For example, it can be good for a power lifter who has a problem locking out deadlifts or benches.

Disadvantages

  • Takes a lot of time for setup.
  • Produces the strength gain in plus or minus 15 degrees of the angle worked. In other words, if you do heavy isometrics holds at 130 degrees of elbow flexion, your strength will only go up between 115 and 145 degrees of elbow flexion. Therefore, the first 115 degrees of elbow flexion will remain untrained.
  • Becomes circus acts for certain exercises. This can be quite entertaining. For example, one of these books recommends heavy isometrics holds at the top of preacher curls. I saw a kid try to do this with a weight that was superior to his body weight. Unfortunately, his limited knowledge of physics got the better of him. He made the mistake of trying to hold the weight too far down the range of motion, with the end result of flipping forward over the standing preacher bench.

Q: I currently rotate all of your shoulder routines published in muscle media with great results (I love lean away laterals), and I'm curious as to what you think is more effective to building deltoid size. Out of lateral raises for both the posterior and medial heads combined with front raises: pressing movements like behind the neck and dumbbell shoulder presses: pulling exercises like upright rows what do you see as most effective? Why do gymnasts have such fantastic shoulder development? Do you plan on writing a book on just shoulders, and can I forward you the cash for it? In the meantime may I beg you for another shoulder workout.

P.S. Have you gotten up to your pre-heart-surgery, shoulder-pressing strength?

A: There is no better approach for shoulder routines. They are all as good as the time it take you to adapt to them.

Gymnasts have fantastic shoulder development because they train at a variety of angles and points of overload.

Yes, I have recovered my shoulder strength and more. Thank you.

Q: I've read your web article about the Max Weights routine for arms and am excited about trying it. What kind of split and training frequency do you suggest for the routine? Once a week or twice a week for arms?

A: Once every five days is best.