Methods To Greater Strength

In powerlifting and Olympic lifting circles, there seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to increasing strength in any of the various lifts. You can either dramatically increase the volume for a lift (such as Chad Waterbury's Volumes Of Strength program) or you can discover your weak points and work on improving those.

Personally, I think both methods work and I don't see why you can't do both of them. In the sample workouts I'm going to present here, you will do both.

Strength Solutions

Whether you're using traditional lifts during the course of a week or rotating from different exercises (in order to work on weak points), you need to adhere to several different methods in order for frequent training to be effective. The "Frequent and Furious" program will incorporate all of these methods. They are:

Let's break down each of these.

Frequent Performance Of Lifts

When you perform a lift frequently (at least twice a week, though three to four can often work better), you take advantage of several different things. One of them is something called synaptic facilitation. Russian strength coaches refer to this as "greasing the groove" and say it's the reason a lot of Russian powerlifters bench up to eight times a week! Performing a lift frequently causes the synaptic connections within your muscles to "learn" the lift quicker.

I first realized this type of training was effective several years ago when I used Bill Starr's classic "heavy/light/medium" system. Bill's method involves frequent training on all the basic lifts. When I first started this system I was only using it as a "break" from my split training. Much to my surprise and delight, however, I was soon gaining muscle like I hadn't gained in years.

My only problem with the program was my strength wasn't increasing enough to match my size gains. I was gaining too much muscle and I was starting to get slower (no "dynamic" lifts or rotating of exercises), but I learned a valuable lesson:

You don't have to let your muscles rest a week before training them again!

Dynamic Lifting

I really believe one of the best innovations in recent years has been that of dynamic workouts (credit Louie Simmons and Dave Tate for much of this). In dynamic training, your goal is to move the bar (or your body in some exercises) as fast as possible for a limited number of reps (two to five) and a multiple number of sets (six to twelve) using moderate weight (in the 45-70% range). Too many reps and you start to slow down. Too few sets and you don't get the CNS benefits or the "learning" benefit.

Heavy Training

If you want to be strong, really strong, then you can hang it up if you're not performing a heavy session every week. And when I say heavy, I mean heavy rarely more than three repetitions. The loads need to be in the 90-100% range.

The problem with constantly training heavy on the same exercise is that your body adjusts to the lift and, after a few weeks, you'll begin to regress. This problem can be remedied by rotating to either 1) different exercises every two to three weeks, or 2) different repetition patterns every two to three weeks. The more advanced you are, the more frequently you'll need to rotate exercises and/or reps.

Frequent and Furious Workouts

The Beginner's Plan

The first sample workout I'm going to present is for beginners. By "beginners," I mean anyone who hasn't done this type of frequent training before. That goes for all you pump-artists out there who only train each muscle group once a week, even if you've been doing it for several years.

Noticed I said this is a "sample" program. Things should change every week. I'll explain more later, just don't rush to the gym and plan on performing the following week of workouts for the next two months.

Day One: Heavy (Monday)

1) Bench Press

1 x 5 at 50% (of maximum)

2 x 5 at 70%

7 x 2 at 50%

For your bench work, I want you to use what I call your "power grip." In other words, whatever grip allows you to use the most weight. For most beginners, this means a medium-wide grip, though some lifters prefer a really wide grip (index finger on rings) and others do best with a fairly close grip. Lower with control, pause on your chest for a count of one second, and explode back to lockout.

2) Squat

1 x 5 at 60%

4 x 5 at 80%

As with the bench press, utilize a stance that allows the use of the most weight. For the predominant number of trainees this means a wide stance. Also, do not squat in a shoe with a heel. When you squat with your heel elevated, this causes the stress to be placed more on your quadriceps and your lower back, a no-no for power.

3) Deadlift

1 x 5 at 60%

2 x 5 at 80%

As per the previous exercises, stick with the stance that allows you to use the most weight. For many, this is the conventional style with your feet close together and toes pointed straight ahead. Others will find a sumo-stance more effective. For these, take a wide stance with your toes pointed slightly out, arms down between your legs. If you don't know which style is best for you, spend a few workouts alternating between the two. It shouldn't take long to decide.

4) Bent-arm Pullover (dumbbell)

George Turner once called this exercise "the upper-body squat" and for good reason. This exercise works your chest, your lats, your shoulders, and your triceps. Don't worry about percentages with this one. Just work up over four progressively heavier sets of eight in a traditional pyramid style.

5) Abs

For abs, there are several good exercises to choose from, so I'm not going to go into detail. Just check past issues of Testosterone for a good article on ab training. There are plenty to choose from, but if you want a specific suggestion try Christian Thibaudeau's program.

Day Two: Light (Wednesday)

1) Incline Bench Press

2 x 3 at 60%

For the 60 and 70% sets, concentrate on moving the bar as fast as possible on the concentric (lifting) portion of the rep. Also, push the bar in a straight line, not back over your head.

2) Squat

8 x 2 at 60%

On the 60% sets, use three different stances to help work on weak points: three sets wide, three sets medium and two sets close.

3) Seated Good Morning

This is an excellent exercise to use for your back on light days as it allows you to get a good lower back workout without having to use a lot of weight. Sit down on a bench with your feet in a wide stance. Arch your lower back and bend over until your chest touches the bench.

4) Bench Dip

Simply use two benches or a bench and a box to perform this one.

Day Three: Medium (Friday)

1) Bench Press

1 x 5 at 60%

2 x 2 at 80%

5 x 2 at 50%

2) Squat

1 x 5 at 60%

3 x 2 at 80%

3) Power Clean

2 x 3 at 60%

2 x 2 at 80%

The power clean, often used by Olympic lifters as an assistance exercise, is a favorite among strength coaches. It's also fairly easy to learn, which is why I don't worry about recommeding it to beginners. It also fits in nicely with this "medium" workout.

Start out using the same form you essentially would use when beginning a set of conventional deadlifts. Explode from the floor and attempt to pull the bar up toward your neck as if you were performing a shrug. "Flip" the weight when the bar reaches above chest level, resting the bar across your shoulders.

4) Hyperextension

You'll need a dedicated machine for this one.

5) Abs

Next week your workout will change, at least slightly. Remember, without changing either exercises and/or sets you'll soon start to regress. The next few weeks you might want to change from sets of five on your heavy days (Monday) to sets of eight (second week), sets of two (third week), sets of three (fourth week), then multiple singles (fifth week), and finally repeating sets of five (sixth week).

Your light day (Wednesday) could stay the same since this day is reserved more for dynamic work. On your medium day (Friday), you could change to either sets of five (with less weight than Monday) or triples.

When starting out, I prefer for lifters to rotate repetitions instead of exercises. This allows you to get more of the learning benefits through repetition.

Intermediate/Advanced Workouts

What follows is a sample week for someone who's been performing the above style of workout for about six months. At this point, you're ready to rotate exercises on your heavy day.

Day One (Monday)

1) Floor Press

2 x 5 at 60%

1 x 3 at 80%

1 x 1 at 95%

Floor presses are simply bench presses performed on the floor. Use the same grip as you use on heavy bench presses.

2) Box Squat

2 x 5 at 60%

2 x 3 at 80%

1 x 1 at 95%

On box squats, it's best to use a box below parallel (though you can change heights to work on sticking points). Make sure to sit back, not down.

3) Weighted Dip

This is a regular dip using dipping bars (not a bench dip).

4) Farmer's Walk

Pick up a heavy dumbbell in each hand and take a walk. Try to walk a longer distance each time.

5) Abs

Day Two (Tuesday)

1) Incline Bench Press

4 x 3 at 60%

2) Rack Pull

2 x 3 at 60%

1 x 3 at 80%

1 x 1 at 95%

Rack pulls are simply deadlifts performed in the rack with the pins set at knee level.

3) Hyperextension

Day Three (Wednesday)

1) Ballistic Bench Press

2 x 3 at 60%

You're going to use the Smith machine for these. Lower the bar to your chest, pause for one second, then throw the bar into the air, catching it on the descent.

2) Squat

2 x 3 at 60%

3) Rounded Back Good Morning

I reserve these strictly for lifters who've put in some sessions on the seated good morning. Take a stance similar to what you use on your heavy squats and use the same bar placement. Bend you knees slightly and bend over, keeping your back rounded during the lift.

4) Abs

Day Four (Friday)

1) Negative Overload Bench Press

2 x 3 at 60%

3 x 1 at 80%

Have your workout partner press on the bar during the eccentric (negative) portion of the movement, letting go once it's paused on your chest. Make sure your partner applies the same amount of pressure throughout all sets.

2) Bottom Position Squat

2 x 4 at 60%

Set the pins in the power rack at a position below parallel for your squat. Starting from the bottom position with the bar resting on the pins, squat up to lockout, then lower slowly and rest the bar on the pins before performing another rep.

3) Stiff Legged Deadlift

Use the same stance as your deadlifts. The four sets should be progressively heavier.

4) Abs

Next week's workouts might look completely different (especially the first two days). Instead of maxing out on floor presses, box squats, and rack pulls, you might choose board presses, bottom position squats, and deadlifts off blocks. The week after that it might be bottom position bench presses, Zercher squats, and stiff legged deadlifts.

On your "light" and "medium" days you might want to try adding bands or chains. Bands, by the way, are helpful tools for increasing strength, but you have to temper their use with wisdom as they take a toll on your recovery. You could also try substituting ballistic benches for iso-ballistic push-ups, or regular squats with either box squats or jump squats.

Some lifters seem to thrive on the extra workout added on Tuesday, while for others it's a bit much. You can do the extra bench and deadlift workout at the end of your Monday workout, but for most lifters this makes the workout too long. Others might do better by just omitting it. For these lifters, I've found it's best to add the fourth workout every two to three weeks and then take a break from it.

One more tip before I wrap this thing up. The more advanced you are, the less direct deadlift work you'll need. This is probably the reason why many lifters do better by not adding the fourth workout every week. But until you've been training for a couple of years, this shouldn't be a problem.


For those that have been reading too many muscle magazines and the workouts of the "pros," this program may seem very foreign to you. Most guys in my gym who adopt this workout do so with more than a little skepticism, but after they've added 50 or even a 100 pounds to their bench presses, they become believers. Try it and you just might become a believer too!