Come with me as we enter into an average gym, in an average city. Usually, in one corner of the gym there will be placed a sturdy power rack and loads of Olympic plates, along with the bar. Today there is a very big man standing inside the power rack and he is performing repetition squats with very heavy weights. He begins by warming up with a weight which he can perform ten repetitions with. He then rests for a few minutes and continues with a weight increase of fifty pounds and one set of five repetitions. This goes on for about four or five sets, each one performed for five repetitions per set and each one increased by fifty pounds.
On the other side of town we have entered into another gym. Here we see a man with huge chest and shoulders performing bench presses. He begins with one set of ten reps for a warmup. Then he jumps the bar about fifty pounds and performs one set of about five reps. Now he jumps the weight to his ultimate limit for a single repetition and he begins to perform many, many sets of single repetitions. All the gym members, especially the smaller men, comment on his power and his great size. Everyone stands there quietly and reverently as he mechanically performs his many sets of single repetitions. Everyone is impressed. The moment of his last single repetition verges on “holy.”
Finally we are in MY hometown at the Elizabeth YMCA. My training partner, Artie Petridis is about to go into his deadlifts. He was recently in one of the local meets and placed third in his weight class. At a bodyweight of 165 he has deadlifted 505 in training, 495 in competition. Not only is Artie powerful, but he is well developed also. His thighs have a clean sweep from the knees right into the hip attachments and his entire torso is well developed and shapely.
He begins with 275. He performs as many repetitions as humanly possible with this weight. As he is going through this initial set you can see blood coursing throughout his body as the areas where the most strain is felt are becoming swollen and red. When he is finally finished he drops into a nearby chair for a few minutes rest until he is fully recuperated for the next set. To make a long story short, Artie will perform close to eight sets with continuously increasing loads for AS MANY REPETITIONS AS POSSIBLE FOR EACH SET. His eighth set usually finds him close to his limit of 500. Even though he has performed seven previous sets he still manages to get in the last set with maximum work and vigor. He claims that the many, many sets of forced repetitions enables him to fully warm up for his last two or three really heavy sets. Contrary to many opinions, he does not perform heavy singles nor does he perform five sets of five repetitions using a given weight increase for each set with the repetitions staying the same in number. The results of this one type of training are varied and many. Physically speaking, he has the cut up muscular physique of a bodybuilder. With six months training in bodybuilding, I feel confident he could win the local contest without unduly extending himself. Strengthwise, he has squatted to below parallel with 450, benched 320 with a three second pause and as I said before, he has deadlifted 505.
Now what I have been trying to show you by the three short little tales is the most common mistake fledging trainees fall into. Most beginners will try to copy some advanced man’s routine in hopes that they too will someday resemble the same fellow they are presently admiring. Little do they realize that for every fellow who can become extremely powerful and muscular there are literally hundreds of thousands of us normal human beings who could never by any stretch of the imagination compare to these ‘natural gainers’ who are causing all the trouble in the present game, however innocently they are involved. This is because of the present trend in our various physical training magazines of only publishing information and routines of the already accepted stars. When you pick up the average muscle magazine you will see the same faces month after month after month. They will tell you how this particular man developed his calves this month and next month they will speak of his favorite arm routine. This may go on for almost a year in succession. And what do you think happens to the average trainee when he tries to incorporate the same training principles and exercise techniques into his own training programs? Do you think he can possibly gain the same way? Do you think he well gain for any length of time at all before he finally comes to a dead halt? Do you think Mr. Average will benefit from the various set progressions which these natural gainers and super advanced men employ? Will five sets of five reps performed with the same weight for weeks on end even come close to completely working this type of fellow as compared to, let us say, Bill Pearl? And what about our power enthusiasts? Do you believe that working continuously with heavy weights with single repetitions will grant them gains for any length of time? Well, my dear friends, the answer to all these questions is ‘NO!’
What I am trying to get you guys to do in this article is to think about what it is you are trying to do when you lift weights. Your main aims will be muscular size and muscular strength. No matter whether you are primarily a bodybuilder, powerlifter or weightlifter, both of these attributes – size and strength – will almost certainly be uppermost in your mind. And how do you think you will ever develop either of these attributes if not by placing continuously heavier and greater demands upon your muscular system? In short, how will you develop into anything at all if you fail to realize the most important aspect of any successful training routine? How will you gain properly without HARD WORK?
Now let us return to the first routine once again. What sense does it make to continuously use the same number of repetitions per set as you increase the weight each set. Let us suppose you can squat with four hundred pounds for one rep. Using this training principle you would be doing 200, 250, 300, 350 for sets of five repetitions each. Now if you are able to do five repetitions with 350 after all those previous sets, then without all that much previous work you could probably do seven or eight reps with this weight. Such a set for this number of reps would really work you hard and in time you would progress on and on. But how would you ever get into such a condition of finally using 350 for eight reps if you limit the repetitions to five for each and every set you perform? The answer is you can’t gain this way unless you are an easy gainer and it is these impressive easy gainers who are using this type of routine in the various gyms throughout the country and in the muscle building books. And it is these same impressive men who are the idols of so many and who are responsible for many, many new recruits and also many, many failures. And who is to blame for these many disillusioned trainees, who sooner or later find out, much to their dismay, that Mr. Universe’s arm routine will not give them 19 inch arms in six weeks?
And what about the powerlifters and Olympic lifters? Do they really think that Pat Casey’s squatting routine is going to have them squatting with the same 800 pounds in a few years time? Do they feel that just because Doug Hepburn performed for a certain time sets of single repetitions and just because he claimed that this type of routine greatly aided him in his quest for power, do they feel that if they went on this same routine they would gain for any given time, no matter what, just because it worked for him?
If you answer ‘yes’ to either of these questions then you are indeed wrong, for although single repetitions are fantastic for building power, they cannot and will not work for everybody, everywhere, all the time. And even if they do work for you for quite a while, if you continually used this type of workout, in time you would most assuredly go stale. Your body needs periodic rests and changes in its performances for proper mental and physical growth, weight training being no exception to the rule.
I, myself, have always preferred single repetitions with limit poundages in my training and nobody but nobody could tell me otherwise. For almost one year I used this same type of routine: One set of ten repetitions for a warmup, five single repetitions with 90 percent of my one rep limit and finishing off with one or two sets of five to seven repetitions using a lighter weight. In the beginning I gained quite regularly and quite fast. But in time I found that this type of routine was beginning to get very boring and internally I did not feel satisfied after such a workout. What I mean to say is that there is a feeling of accomplishment after you complete one ‘burn out’ set with a heavy weight for all the repetitions possible that no single lift can compare with. This is what I felt was lacking in a continuous program of primarily single repetitions even though these singles would have to be performed quite slowly and hard due to the heaviness of the weight used. I slowly but surely came to a halt in my increasing of the weights and I also became quite indifferent to my training. It was about this time that I joined the Elizabeth YMCA. There I met quite a few power trainees and none of them would perform their workouts the way I did. Either they would jump the weight each set and perform as many repetitions as possible with each set, or they would perform sets of ‘assistance’ reps, doing as many reps per set by themselves as they could, and then forcing out a few more reps with the aid of a training partner who would slightly nudge the bar to help the fellow finish the rep. It wasn’t long before I also tried this method, and to say I was astounded with the results and the feeling of ‘intestinal’ strength such a training routine can give you is putting it mildly. Forced repetition training, used at the right point in your training, will help you to gain like nothing else, to my knowledge, if what you’re after is strength, size and endurance. The manner in which you train, by trying to get out as many reps as possible for each set, will teach you how to work and work hard! And it is just this that you need the most! You must train hard or you will not gain! Forget about the fellow squatting for five sets of five reps each of the fellow bench pressing for many sets of single reps with a heavy weight. This type of training may help you if you are a natural gainer of high qualities or if you are very, very, VERY advanced, and even then, such programs can help you but for a limited time only. And do you know why? Because they do not WORK you hard enough, that’s why. When you have brought a set to its climax you should KNOW you are finished. There should be no question in your mind that you could have done more that last time. THIS is the type of training which will help you to grow and improve. THIS type of training is not EGO-TRAINING.
Ego-training is any kind of training which enables you to use your heaviest poundages although you do not really work yourself at all throughout the workout. It is the quickest and easiest way to impress uninitiated onlookers and it is also the easiest type of training to perform and I have already explained two types of this kind of training, “the heavy weight, single rep” system and the “same rep but heavier weight” system. Neither of these types of routines will continue you gaining for any length of time and neither will help you get very, very large or very, very strong. They WILL make you look very impressive to your training buddies and I guess this is why they are used so much by our everyday average trainees, as well as out lifting and physique champions. However, I am sure that neither a physique champion nor a champion lifter would even consider working out in this manner for any given length of time, particularly if there was an upcoming event just around the corner.
I truly believe that the major reason why so many fellows do not gain the way they say they would like to is because they just don’t know what it is to work and work HARD! I also feel that it would indeed be absurd if I went through all this verbal rigmarole without giving you fellows workable examples of just what kind of routines to use in order to be sure that you are indeed working and working hard. And hard you’re gonna work, Joe Buck. Well, the following three routines will fully enable you to utilize our prementioned ‘hard work’ principle and I can assure you, none of these routines could ever be considered ‘Ego Training.’
Our first routine consists of using one exercise movement per body part. We begin with one light warmup set for about eight or ten repetitions. From here we make consecutive jumps with the weight and we perform one set each with these weight increased sets. We perform as many reps as possible for each of these sets and we should wind up with a weight which we cannot possibly perform for more than three times in succession. Do not be concerned with how much weight is on the bar. Just keep forcing out all the reps possible and keep the weight increasing set for set. I am sure you will not need more than three or four sets for each exercise movement. If you make the weight increases correctly spaced poundage-wise, by the end of any exercise movement you should be up to heavy weights.
The second method of hard work consists of warming up for one or two sets with light weights and then jumping up to a weight which is about twenty pounds below your one rep limit. Do one set with this weight, forcing out as many reps as humanly possible. Now drop the bar by twenty or thirty pounds and do another set of as many reps as possible. Keep decreasing the weight on the bar and keep striving to do more and more repetitions. By the time you are down to a light poundage, none of them will feel really light! You have more than adequately worked for power and muscle size and shape using this particular method of training.
Our third example of really hard training is the ‘forced’ or ‘cheated’ reps type of routine. In this type of routine he weight on the bar stays the same, but, in time, you try to perform more and more work with this same weight. For instance, you press overhead 200 for five reps, then you continue on cheating or push-pressing as you go along in reps, but continuously trying to do more and more reps no matter how you get them up. Another way is to have a training partner help you finish off each set by aiding you slightly in forcing out as many reps in addition to the ones you can perform yourself in the correct manner.
All three of the routines I have outlined for you require very hard work for proper performance. They will aid you in developing both muscular power and muscular strength. In short, these types of approaches require both HARD WORK for their performance and HARD WORK is what you need of you are ever going to become the man you have always wanted to be.