Writer Greg McGlone rounded up five of the biggest, baddest, strongest, and best-informed hombres in the iron game, and invited them to share their "secrets" with those of us who also want to get bigger, badder, stronger, and better-informed.
In part 1, the coaches discussed the viability of building size and muscle at the same time, along with a comparison between compound and isolation movements.
Today, they'll tackle the topic of whether you have to look strong to be strong, along with a fascinating discussion of training splits.
T Nation: So far it seems to be the consensus that the majority of time should be spent on compounds, while how much time you spend on isolation movements will vary in importance depending upon the trainee's goals and priorities. This leads me to ask, does one have to be strong to look strong?
One example would be Dave, who trained as a powerlifter for over 25 years, then made an amazing bodybuilder-esque transformation last year. On your interview with John Berardi on Fitcast, you spoke about how you (at least up until that time of the interview) did not do much barbell bench pressing, squatting, or deadlifting, because you didn't want to be reminded that you were not as strong on those lifts as you once were.
Obviously, poundage progression is of the utmost importance, especially for a powerlifter, but how would this all play in for someone who wants primarily size and to be able to lift more than a wet paper bag?
DT: "Does one have to be strong to look strong?" Did you seriously just ask this?
Sorry, but I have to bust your balls on this one. I can't help it. Does one have to be rich to look rich? Does one have to be a good person to look like one? Does one have to look packed to have a huge cock or is it just a sock in his pants?
What does strong look like? To me, strong is what you lift, not what you look like. I can, however, tell someone's potential for powerlifting by looking at their wrists, elbows, and knees. The bigger the better. I can also tell "strength" by torso and upper back thickness. The rest really does not matter. I can introduce you to many guys who would not fit the definition of what many say strong looks like, but they are some of the best lifters in the world.
I'm not sure I understand the second part of the question. My decision to not do those movements has zero bearing on anyone reading this. For over 20 years those movements were the biggest part of my training program, and my base was developed using those lifts, and lifts to help increase those lifts. I knew my training was going to change from heavy sets under 5 reps (between 5-15 seconds) to sets over 10 reps (between 30-45 seconds). This would right away require lower weights than I've been using.
I also knew that I wanted to slow the rep speed down and focus more on the muscle rather than the movement. This also brought the training weight down. This was done to give my joints a break from being pounded all the time and to maintain whatever muscle I had acquired while dieting. If I used the power lifts, my mindset would always revert back to how I used to train, I'd automatically begin to focus on the movement and my aggression would take off, as I want to blast into the heavy stuff.
For the guy who wants to lift more than a wet paper bag, I have a very simple suggestion: get stronger!
Look, this stuff is notthat complicated for most people. It gets harder when you run into sticking points, injuries, and competition but this is less than 10% of the people who will ever read this. And if they are in that 10%, they are reading this for entertainment value because they already know what to do and who to ask if they need help. For the rest it comes down to something most people just don't get. Get ready for the shocker of your life: strength and size take time to acquire.
Even with all the drugs in the world it still takes time. For most people this time is measured in years. Not just years, but consistent years. Everyone is looking for the way to go from a 300 squat to a 800 squat the fastest way they can. While this is great, don't forget you still need to squat 350 first, and then 400.
I hate to be the prick here, but this is a sad reality everyone wants to ignore. Unless you have outstanding genetics it will take a long time, and even if you're the spawn of Odin you still need to train to see any results.
I'm not sure I answered this at all, but hey, do I have to look like an writer in order to write?
You don't have to look like a writer to be a writer.
ZE: For the most part, you can tell if someone is strong by the way they look. But, there have certainly been times where we've all seen a dude who looks skinny, doesn't look like much, and then he's deadlifting and benching more than you, and you look way bigger than he does. In a nutshell, some people simply don't eat enough or perform enough volume to get jacked up, yet they still get strong.
There are plenty of people who look big and jacked but they can't move impressive amounts of weight either. I've seen a large number of people get pretty big doing a lot of "pumping up", nothing too heavy or extreme.
In the end, the guys who eat and lift big, these are the guys who have a very distinct look and you know that they're strong. These guys usually have a rugged, solid physique. There's that toughness and hardness they've developed, where as the pump up type lifters don't have this physical appearance.
Getting big and strong needs to stay simple. Let me bore you to death with my answers, but they are the truth. Take away the fancy programs, periodization, de-loading, superset, wave loading, etc. and let the lifter train hard, heavy, frequently and take time off when necessary and you'll get great results. Coupled with clean, wholesome eating and we have a recipe for success.
Look at many of the guys from the Golden Era. It was common for guys to bench 365 to 405 while weighing between 205 and 210 pounds. Their food choices were whole eggs, steaks, fruits, plenty of water, potatoes, rice, and more of the same. They lifted barbells and dumbbells, heavy.
Let's search for the strongest guys in the world and the biggest guys in the world. Look at their training facility: Westside Barbell, Metroflex Gym, and then you have the hole in the wall gyms outside of the USA: shitty upright stands for squatting, heavy barbells and dumbbells and not much else.
EC: I guess it really depends on your perception of what strong is. I think the guys on this panel have a bit of a different mindset in this regard than many of the people reading this roundtable. We've all seen (and trained alongside) guys who have squatted a grand, pulled 900 plus, and benched over 800.
Throw in some crazy Olympic lifting strength spectacles, big tire flips, and the occasional beat-down given to some drunk guy who manages to get out on the field at Fenway Park, and I guess you could say that we thrive on this stuff, so the bar keeps getting pushed higher (pun intended).
As for poundage progression, I can't overstate how important it is for the average trainee. In a broad sense, you can get stronger through two means: neural efficiency and increased cross-sectional area. The former will ultimately help the latter develop because you'll be able to handle bigger weights long-term. Do what it takes to develop both strength and size in the short-term, and you'll be fine long-term.
I think Dave would be the first to tell you that training to get strong helped him get bigger, and ultimately helped him get leaner. Ronnie Coleman and Arnold would probably tell you the same. Brad Pitt won't tell you anything, though, so quit watching "Fight Club" and put down the pink dumbbells.
Tyler can't teach you much about getting big and strong.
DJ: I think this comes to the crux of a whole set of other problems: do you really just want to "look strong" and actually lift weights that a freshman boy would skip on the way to going heavier? I just can't fathom that, but I understand that there are people who think this way.
My wife has a cousin who once showed up to help grandpa move with this huge damn truck with all the crap on it. He wouldn't, however, allow anything to go into the bed of his truck because, and I quote, "It might scratch it." Now, that opened the door for me to
make fun of him and all of my wife's family for quite a while.
He didn't want anything to scratch the bed of his pickup truck.
So, in my madness, I think that anyone who just wants to look strong, but not be strong is like my wife's cousin. I'm a performance guy, I get that, so maybe I need to shut up right now.
CH: While there's certainly a statistical correlation to being big and being strong, it's not as intimately connected as many people make it out to be. For example: the average size of someone who can bench 400 is bigger than the average size of one who can bench 200, but there are millions of contradictory examples in between.
I feel that strength primarily involves the nervous system. To some extent, new actin and myosin filaments will form and existing ones will get larger if one is training for sheer strength. The majority of improvements in strength, however, come from improvements in various aspects of the nervous system that I'll collectively call neural efficiency.
Training for size, however, is far less about the nervous system and more about causing the body to build "stuff" that takes up more space. This "stuff" not only involves the size and number of the contractile proteins, but a number of others things like sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, capillary density, glycogen storage, and so on. On a side note, I feel that the fascia is one of the key limiting factors in muscle size, but I digress.
Dave is a great example of how strength and muscular size aren't directly proportional. While he may have lost a good bit of strength in his quest to look sexy, he didn't lose a proportional amount of lean muscle mass. I'm also an example. My strength varies tremendously depending upon how I'm training, but I generally have about the same amount of lean mass. Heck, I was stronger on most lifts when I was 19 years old, but I now have far more muscle mass than I did then. As soon as I learned that chicks don't care how much I can lift but do care about how my body looks, I started focusing on the latter.
Most chicks care more about how you look than how much you can lift.
With all that being said, looking good for the ladies and being strong enough to impress the guys isn't that difficult. Simply use a powerlifting approach on the exercises where strength improvement is your goal – maybe bench, squats, and deadlifts. Perform your "strength exercise" first in your routine and use a rep scheme like 5 x 5, 8 x 3, or 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.
Don't go to failure on these sets, and make sure to improve a little each time you come back around to the lift. Next in your routine do something that's more hypertrophy oriented like flyes for three sets of 12. Take a shorter rest and train close to failure on these sets, with the last set (or two) being done to failure. Essentially, if you're seeking two goals you'll have to blend two types of training.
T Nation: If someone were to come to each one of you looking for equal and maximal gains in both strength and size, what type of a split would you set them up on?
CH: As any trainer knows, unfortunately we often have to take things into account that really don't have anything to do with the "ideal" program. For instance, if the client only wants to train 3 days per week, then a four day per week program is worthless. But for the sake of this question, I'll try not to be difficult and assume the person will do whatever I ask of them.
I've actually designed a program that addresses maximizing size and strength simultaneously. It's called Blending Size and Strength Version 2.0. In addition to the success of myself and my clients who have used it, I've gotten tons of feedback from people getting great results with this program. So I'm confident that the program is quite sound.
Here's the split for this program. You'll do a heavy upper body workout on Monday, a light lower body and ab workout on Tuesday, take off on Wednesday, a light upper body workout on Thursday, followed by a heavy leg and ab workout on Friday and some R & R for the weekend. The exercises, sets, and reps are selected in a manner to address both goals. Essentially the light days are a bit more hypertrophy oriented while the heavy days are more strength oriented.
Oddly, another split that I've seen to work time and time again is training four or five days per week and only hitting each body part once per week. I know that's damn near sacrilegious around T-Nation, and it scientifically seems less than optimal to me too. But I've seen it work time and time again.
I believe it was John Berardi who used to have this email tagline: "No matter how elegant the science, you must occasionally look at the results." I love that! So although science may point us otherwise, an appropriately designed program that hits each body part once per week tends to yield real-life results.
For those of us who have a hard time breaking ourselves away without doing at least three exercises for one body part, this once-weekly type of split is great as it allows ample recuperation. You may be asking, "How in the world can this and high-frequency training both work?" Simple: the common denominator is to train, recuperate, then train again.
I've found that training each body part once per week is a sure fire way to allow for ample recuperation. Sure, it may even have you under-train a bit, but de-conditioning does not happen that quickly. If you've recuperated five days later; you'll still be stronger seven days later. Remember this, if you under-train a bit you'll still make progress, but if you over-train, you won't.
Let me take a step back for a moment to mention an old saying, "The best program is the one you're currently not doing." Hypertrophy can absolutely be a result of heavy, low-rep strength training as Dave mentioned (and has proven). I've especially seen this to be the case if one has been training a bit lighter and more like a bodybuilder for a while.
For example, I had been tinkering around the gym for the past 8 weeks just doing some fairly light, bodybuilder-type training. I recently decided to put the bench, squat, and deadlift back into my routine. These are done in a heavy, low-rep manner. Since I hadn't done them or even lifted very heavy in a while, my strength on these would make Dave fall out of his chair laughing. But, after just a couple weeks of focusing on my strength on these lifts, they've gone way up, and I look denser to boot.
On the other hand, on a number of occasions I've ended a strength cycle to pick up a standard bodybuilding split that's much higher in volume and generally lighter in weights. I'll notice almost immediately a new fullness and roundness to my muscles that I haven't seen in quite some time. My point is that there are benefits to virtually all of these types of training. You just have to know when and for how long to use them, and how to combine them.
To conclude and finally answer the question, if I had to design just one program to help accomplish both goals for the highest percentage of readers, it would be a half-body split done four days per week with various sets and rep schemes."
EC: No doubt about it: in the overwhelming majority of cases, it would be four days per week with two upper and two lower days. In some cases, we'd throw in some single-leg work on one of the upper body days as well. A lot of people move like crap and just need to stand on one foot more often.
ZE: Through experience, I'm definitely leaning towards the upper/lower split if we're looking to add strength and size.
We've gained strength through full body workouts and we use these more so with combat athletes throughout most of the year, except for post-season when we want to pack on extra mass.
I use both full body and upper/lower splits and when it comes to adding size AND strength the upper/lower split works great. You can't argue with the results and I've seen this over and over through my own clients and seeing DeFranco's athletes as well.
If I found that the upper/lower split was NOT working, I would not be adverse to testing out six to eight weeks of training on a three-day split. Some people simply don't respond to the upper/lower split, but I've found it to be the rarity, not the norm.
I've used full body workouts and upper/lower splits with combat athletes and many football players. There was a time and place for them all. When size combined with strength was the goal, splits always worked.
I've used split workouts for myself for bodybuilding purposes and every time I was training for bodybuilding purposes, the critical goal was to get stronger. This always helped me get bigger. Getting stronger and eating big always helped me add a lot of size.
It's easy to stop discovering what works for you now that the Internet is out. I remember making phenomenal gains training on a four-day split every other day! I was getting stronger and bigger without fail. I had to learn this myself through experimentation. That's what people need to start doing today. Experimenting with what works and seeing how it applies to them, not what an internet article insists on doing.
Programs work for only so long, eventually your body needs something different. Change is certainly a good thing and man, I've tried a boatload of splits and I still change things up to this day.
DJ: For most people, "Westside for Skinny Bastards," would be a pretty good split. It certainly seems to be written about a lot on the net and, from what I can tell, most people seem to be getting good results.
I still like whole body workouts at least once a week, even if you are splitting. I like Terry Todd's idea of a whole body "80%" day where you do all the lifts on your split days, but keep the weights and the reps at 80%. My best gains have always been with total body workouts with a daily emphasis on one part or another, so even though I see people doing better on a split, my heart still thinks that whole body is better.
Terry Todd, getting a lift from his wife Jan.
I did something like this for a few years:
• Day One: upper body focus
Some easy squats and pulls
• Day Two: lower body focus
Some easy pushes and arm fun
• Day Three: 80% whole body workout
You can keep doing that workout for a long time and it doesn't seem to burn you out. I believe in burn out and overtraining because I've been there. I know some people who have never trained hard who don't believe in overtraining.
DT: I must be one of those guys who sees the glass as half empty because all I see here is moderation on both sides. Anyone who knows me very well already knows that I don't do moderation. It's either Blast or Dust. You go for it all or nothing.
"I don't do moderation."
As stated before, I see no point what so ever in shooting for 50% size and 50% strength, even if there was such a thing. Why not 30/70 or 40/60? And what does that constitute in the first place? Is one inch on you arms equal to 30 pounds on the bench press? Better yet, how do you know if you're unequal? I actually tossed this question out to a couple people to see what there reaction would be. I wanted to see if my first reaction was legit or if I was just being, well, me. Then I got this back:
"I'm looking for 33% strength, 33% size and 33% fat loss. The last 1% is missing because I don't want to train too hard."
Not only did this reaffirm my reaction, it made my day, and was one of those comments that keeps coming back to you through out the day getting funnier each time. Like the last question, I'm glad this was asked because it brings up some things were I feel most people make mistakes. Just because you train for strength, it doesn't mean you'll get smaller, and if you train for size it doesn't mean you'll get weaker.
"I don't want to train too hard."
I have to agree and disagree with the statement about me getting weaker while dieting. This is a matter of definition. Weaker at what? Yes, my max squat, bench, and pull went down. Mostly because I was not training them or training to improve them. I also was not doing any reps under eight. So in the regard to max strength on these lifts, yes I got weaker. On all the other movements I was doing I got stronger. Once again, many I had not done in years but there were many I used to do as accessory movements to my main lifts that got better. So before we begin to speak about strength gain and strength loss, strength must be defined.
The issue I have is with this split focus. I know what people mean by it, but I don't get it when it comes to training or program design. Am I supposed to develop a program that'll only make you half-strong?
This may also come back to who is being asked this question in the first place. I've never claimed to be anything more than someone who can help people get strong in the main lifts. This is what I've spent my life doing and where my experience is. I'm not real big on research and theory. I like to pretty much stick to what I've seen work. I know how to break down and build the three main lifts very well and can spot flaws and know how to fix them rather fast.
This is because I've seen all the same things more times than I can count. So this is what I know. I know the extreme end of strength. You can take what I say and moderate it how you need for your own training, but I'm not one to do the moderation because I've never done so. I can make some crap up if you like but if this is the case then you can do exactly the same thing, and I'm sure I can find something other to do with my time then making up some program I would just pull out of my ass.
If you need to know about how to set up a 50/50 program than I suggest you find those who do this day in and day out. Most of the muscle I've built has been a side effect of what I was training for. Case in point: after I tore my pecs I knew I needed stronger triceps to take over where my pecs could no longer do the job. In turn my arms got bigger from the specialization I had to do for them. The intention was never to get bigger arms, but to find a way to bench more. Now, I have big arms, and when people ask me what I did to get them, I tell them, "Tear both pecs." See where I may not be the muscle mass go-to guy?
There are many ways to split training programs. Some like bodypart splits, others like movement patterns, and then there are those like myself, who like to keep them movement-based (squat/deadlift and bench press).
With movement based splits the movements can be what you like. Powerlifters will use the main lifts as will Olympic lifters and some strongman. Many coaches I know will pick 3-5 they want to build and use them as the target focus.
To keep things simple, I'll use what most readers know and have read before in the Eight Keys articles.
For the squat, bench, and deadlift, it would look like this.
Day 1: Squat and Deadlift: Max effort work and accessories
Day 2: Bench Press: Max effort work and accessories
Day 3: Squat and Deadlift: Dynamic effort work and accessories
Day 4: Bench Press: Dynamic effort work and accessories
One other thing I want to state about training splits is how and when the days fall. For lifters, this is determined by what day the meet is. Everyone else I've spoken to seems to base their splits on what they've read or what they've been told. The most important aspect of any training split is what will work with your schedule. This is very simple stuff and I want to punch myself in the face for writing it but I see this all the time.
People miss training sessions because they put them on days they already know they wont be able to do most of the time. If your work week is hell, then why are you taking Saturday and Sunday off training when you don't work on those days? Why not take off Monday and Tuesday when you know you'll be working late? My schedule is more demanding now than it has ever been, but I know enough to not train on Monday because there's always too much going on.
I'm not blowing this question off at all. I'm just restating what I said at the beginning of this roundtable. I feel it's more important to set clear and concise objectives for each training phase, and I feel you should either train for strength and let size happen, or train for muscle mass and let strength happen. My experience is on the strength end of the spectrum so this is where I like to stay. I'm not comfortable writing or speaking about the other end of this spectrum because I don't have much in the trenches experience there. In short, there are much better people to ask about that.
This brings up another bit of advice. I've always surrounded myself with people who know more about specific training aspects than I do. I try to find the best I can for this, and use them as my own network to help fill the gaps with my own training. You have seen this with my writing and training log. Take a look and those who are on team EliteFTS. They are there for business reasons but I would be lying if I said there were not selfish reasons as well. I guess what I'm saying is I think I know what I know, and know where to go for those things I don't know, or something like that.
Tomorrow, the coaches will discuss nutrition, supplementation, and recovery, as well as wrap things up.