Monday, August 9, 2010

Ultimate Beastdom - Training to get "what constitutes strong"...strong Part 1

A while back my buddy Jim Wendler linked up a quick piece I wrote up called "What Constitutes Strong" on his log at elitefts.  I knew there would be some backlash to this article.  I knew fat guys would complain about chins and dips and the high reps.  I knew weak small guys would complain about the weight being asked to be moved in the squat and deadlift (500 pounds) for reps (20 for each).  The excuses poured in from both sides.  

"Oh chins and dips are for small guys." 

Uh huh.

"Why are the reps so high?"  

Because we were talking about elite level repping strength?

"Why isn't it a certain weight for guys that only weigh X amount?  Like 315 for guys under 180, or 405 for guys 200?"  Because a million guys have squatted and deadlifted 315 and 405 for 20.  We wanted to establish a number that looked ridiculous, but possibly attainable.  And for those that think 500x20 is not attainable then this article is not for you.  I know of a guy that squatted 500x20 in bare feet.  It's doable.  For everyone?  Certainly not, but that's why we said it was ELITE level repping strength.  Not everyone , even Jim and I, will attain all of these lifts.  That is really the point actually.  Most lifters will never attain all of these at once.  That is the point thank you very much.

People asked why we picked 315 for a single on the strict standing press.  Because it looks good.  That's it.  Being able to stand and strictly press 315 overhead is rare for the majority of serious strength trainers.  For those who can point to a bunch of 400 pound strongmen that can do it I say fine, have em strap on the 100 pounds we ask for chin-ups and meet that challenge as well.  You see, there is always an equalizer in the exercises and sets and reps we picked.  Either way, anyone that can overhead press 315 is strong.  Once you can consistently put 300 pounds over your head from a standing position, and do it strict, you are a strong presser.  Period.  For the little guy who can sumo (abomination) deadlift 500x20, have him bench 315x20 and squat 500x20 and overhead the 315.  There is always an equalizer in this.  

The thing Jim and I both liked about setting these standards is we both had a picture of what the guy that could accomplish all of this might look like, and perform like, and how he would have to train to reach these standards.

- He would look the part.  

Taking the time to work up to these lifts over time would build an incredible amount of muscle mass.  When you factor in the next item, you have to believe he would also carry an athletic level of bodyfat.  I don't give a damn what anyone says, looking like you could run through brick walls and having the goods to go with it IS in fact the goal here.  In any sport or competition, your appearance initially will carry an intimidation factor with it.  You want to look strong AND be strong.  You want to be in shape AND look in shape.  The function creates the form.

- He would be in outstanding condition.  

You're not going to rep out sets of 20+ in the squat and dead without being in very good condition.  Being able to sprint, fight, screw, practice cannibalism, and compete at a high level at whatever is a great feeling and you can't do those things without good conditioning.

- He would limit the amount of crap he was doing that didn't matter.  

One phrase Jim and I both clung to when talking about all of this was from Doc Ken about getting brutally strong on squats, deadlifts, chins, dips, etc.  That phrase always made sense to both of us and really hit home in coming up with these standards.  Get brutally strong on the exercises that give the biggest bang for their buck, in a higher rep range and you'd be as developed as you were ever going to be. 

Approaching these goals -

So how would one go about approaching these goals, if we were far away from such lofty lifting?  

The first thing he would have to understand is time.  This isn't going to be a 12 week program, this is going to be your training life.  What I mean by that is, it will probably be a goal you would work towards forever.  And it's very possible you would never make it.  This isn't meant to be depressing.  If you fall short and end up squatting 450x20, and deadlifting 475x20, benching 275x20, etc you're still going to be big and strong as hell.  So even if you didn't reach the ultimate numbers, your journey will have rewarded you anyway.  And that's what training is all about.  The journey.

Block Training -

I'm not talking about block periodization here.  I'm about focusing on specific goals during specific blocks of time.  6 weeks is generally the length I settle on.  There are reasons for this.  

1.  It's a long enough period of time to get some real work and results in.  

2.  Bulking/conditioning/strength maximization done in blocks has an easier carryover than doing say, 6 months of hard conditioning then trying to recoup lost strength in that time.  You spend the next 6 months trying to gain that strength back, then lose a great deal of conditioning.  Round and round you go.

3.  Mentally, it's easier to push the envelope for 6 weeks, then focus on what to do next.  Planning out 6 months of training to me is awfully hard and unrealistic.  You get sick, injured, and life in general can get in the way of even the best laid plans.  If you have a bad week on a 6 week plan, just run a 7th week to make up for it.  And even if you have to start all over it's still just 6 weeks.  

So with that out there, let's talk about the different blocks of training you would need to rotate in at various times to reach Ultimate Beastdom.  There are three blocks I will talk about.  Hypertrophy and strength block.  The Conditioning Block.  The strength endurance block.  Each block runs 6 weeks.  

Today we'll go over the hypertrophy and strength block.

Hypertrophy and Strength block - 6 weeks

Who this block is for - 

Skinny guys needing to gain a lot of mass.  
Advanced guys that maintain a good or great level of conditioning but have been stagnant in strength and size gains.  

Who this block is NOT for -

Fat guys 
Guys that have been bulking for a while

This block is all about big eating, big lifting, pushing weight onto the bar and on the scale.  But within reason.  Because there are going to be strength endurance blocks, and conditioning blocks too.  If you turn into a major league fat ass over the course of a month and a half (I've done this, so it can be done) then a follow up conditioning block or strength endurance block is going to be harder than trying to take a shit on pain killers.  

Conditioning is going to be in the background during this block.  I constantly have to reference the fact that you cannot serve two masters.  You cannot get as big and as strong as possible while increasing your conditioning.  Not unless you're a complete novice.  One will take a backseat to the other eventually.  

So during this block, only 1 day of hard conditioning is done per week, and lifting is four days per week.  The hard conditioning will be done on the day you squat.  Steady state cardio should be done for 10 minutes after lifting or for 30 minutes on off days twice a week.   

For the big 4 (squat, deadlift, bench, and the overhead press of your desire) you will do a simple 5x5 rep scheme, to a "top" set of 5.  I say "top" set because the first two weeks there should be a lot of room to spare.  In fact the first week should be easy, the second week, moderate, then start adding some real weight on the 3rd week.  But ALWAYS leave one or two reps in the tank.  

After the core lift you will do two exercises that "help" that core lift.  These will be done for what's called a 50% set.  You pick a weight that you should hit failure around the 10-12th rep.  You will rest 1 minute and try to get half the number of reps you did on the first set.  So if you got 12, you will rest for 60 seconds and try to get 6.  You may never ever get 6, but that's the goal.  Still add weight each time you make 12 reps on the first set.  So if you get 14 reps, you will shoot for 7 and the next week you will add enough weight so that it brings you down to 10 again.  Keep pushing that first set until you're banging out 13-14 reps before you increase the weight again.  

If you go 3 sessions without progress on that first set, drop that movement in favor of something similar.  Since you're only running each block for 6 weeks this shouldn't happen very often.  But as soon as you do stall on a movement, swap it out.  Even if it's for the final week of the block only.  

The Training Week - 5x5 50%

Day 1 - Squats + calves, quads, and hams
Calf Raises - 3 sets of 15 to a top set
Squats - 5x5 to "top" set of squats.  If you need more than 5 sets, fine, but work up to a solid set of 5.  Reread the above part about what that set of 5 should feel like.

Leg Press - 50% set 
SLDL - 50% set
Hard Conditioning - 10 minutes worth of some type of interval training.  Just make sure you bust ass.  

Day 2 - Bench + neck, chest, and triceps
Neck - 3 sets of 20
Bench Press - 5x5
Incline Db Press - 50% set
Dips - 50% set

Day 3 - Off

Day 4 - Deadlifts + calves, traps, and lats
Calves - 3x15
Deadlifts - 5x5
Power Shrugs - 50% set
Chins/Pulldowns - 50% set

Day 5 - Off

Day 6 - Overhead Work + neck and shoulders
Neck - 3x20
PBN or Standing Press - 5x5
Upright Rows - 50% set
Side Laterals - 50% set

Day 7 - Off


Notes about how to work this training block -

For the 5x5 what I have found to work best is to figure out what you would like to REALISTICALLY hit for a set of 5 to end the block.  Then work back from there.  However, there is a catch.  What I generally find is that week 1 to week 2, there isn't much of a strength gain.  But week 2 to week 3 I always find a decent jump, and another big jump from week 3 to week 4.  I have noted this in my training logs over and over again through the years.  So if I wanted to hit 405x5 in the sixth week, this is how I would stagger the weeks...

Week 1 - 335x5 
Week 2 - 345x5 10 pound jump from week 1
Week 3 - 365x5 20 pounds jump from week 2
Week 4 - 385x5 20 pound jump from week 3
Week 5 - 395x5 10 pound jump from week 4
Week 6 - 405x5 10 pound jump from week 5

When you finish the block, take good notes and take notice of what weeks you felt the strongest.  This will help you to setup your own customized training cycle the next time you run this block.  And when you figure those things out that's when progress really begins to take off.  

On the exercises that follow the core movement, bust ass hard from week 1.  Make sure you pick something you hit 12+ reps with the first week.  So start light, but work hard.  Go to failure and don't fudge on that 1 minute rest between sets.    

There are no curls.  Chins work biceps just fine.  Your triceps get plenty of work with heavy pressing twice a week.  

This routine is slightly bodybuilderesque.  That's for a reason.  Bodybuilders are masters at training for size.  To increase your strength ceiling you will need to increase your size.  Bodybuilding works best for this.  You don't need to shave your body and pour salad dressing all over yourself and pose in order to embrace this style of training.    

Diet - 

I've written about big eating a million times.  If you are a really skinny guy (and I mean really skinny) then eat big.  Three big solid meals a day with my patent pending PBnJ's between meals.  Set your watch and eat every three hours without fail.  Remember this is just a 6 week block so go balls out on the eating as well.

Meal 1 - 
6-8 whole eggs any style
1 cup uncooked oatmeal with raisins 
Two pieces of toast with jelly
1 cup of milk

Meal 2 -
PBnJ with milk

Meal 3 -
Two tuna sandwiches (1 can per sandwich) with regular mayo
2 apples, 1 banana

Meal 4 - pre-training 
half cup (uncooked) oatmeal
1 bagel with peanut butter

Training - use gatorade mixed with BCAA powder

Meal 5 - Post Training
8 ounces of lean beef, chicken, pork
10 ounces if it's fish
2 large baked potatoes with butter
1 cup of grapes

Meal 6 - 
same as meal 2

On non-training days swap out the pre-training meal with the PBnJ meal.  

For guys who are in pretty good shape, and have a decent amount of size, simply eat less on non-training days.  Swap out the PBnJ meal with a cup and a half of low-fat cottage cheese with pineapple along with a handful of almonds.  Cut the baked potato down to only 1 at meal 5 as well.  

What to aim for -

3-5 pounds for an advanced guy, around 7-9 pounds for a skinny novice trainer.  This is lean mass I'm talking about here.  

"OMG Paul I'm going to bust hump for 3-7 pounds?"

Hell yes.  Because I care more about quality than quantity.  I can gain 30 pounds over the winter without thinking too much about it, but it's not quality weight.  I can bust ass for 3-5 real pounds of lean mass and still be around the same bodyfat level.  Or I can gain 30 pounds of fat on top of 5 pounds of lean mass, then lose 2 or 3 pounds of that lean mass on a long sucky ass diet plan.  Dave Tate talked about this recently on T-Mag.  Every time he would bulk up he would diet back down and be right about the same weight as what he started.  I have written about this terrible phenomenon many times, and every time I went through it I felt like stabbing myself in the taint with the claw side of a hammer for doing a shitty bulk again.  If you care about being the total package in terms of form and function, then think about quality rather than quantity.  If you run this block 3 times a year and gain 3-5 pounds each time, you're now 9-15 pounds heavier and LEAN.  And 10 pounds of quality lean mass will literally transform what you look like. 

Obviously there will be SOME fat gain, but the point of this block is to minimize that.  A 1-1 muscle to fat gain ratio is ideal.  So if you gain 3 solid pounds of lean mass, you've only got 3 pounds of fat to take off.  This can be done in a short time without a crazy diet and you get to keep your hard earned muscle.  So monitor the scale and your waistline, and even get your bodyfat checked every few weeks to see what's going on.  It's only 6 weeks so it shouldn't get out of hand no matter what.  If it does, scale the calories back to a deficit for 4 days, then slowly add them back in until weight gain resumes at a SLOW pace.

Part 2 will discuss the Conditioning Block.........


  1. Very, very, very good article Paul!

    I can't wait for the second and third part!

    Good stuff!


    Mark from Holland

  2. Awesome. I'm really looking forward to future parts


  3. One of the best articles you have written. Great,and thanks!

  4. wow, this is gold. thanks a lot!

    for the conditioning part I had only one wish:

    there are many people who dont have prowlers/sleds/farmers walks available - please give some advice to them too(BB complexes? treadmill pushes?)

  5. Run hills, do intervals on a treadmill, doesn't really matter so long as it's hard for 10-15 minutes.

  6. i am in that rut. my strength has always been too linked to my body weight, and i find myself running (wheezing) in the circle you described. always playing catch up. i am the fat guy. nice to meet you. please fix me.....

  7. Adam,
    I am working on the conditioning block of the program. Should be up in a week or so. Hang in there.

  8. Hi, Paul, sorry if i put a dumb question. At the big 4, the 5 sets of 5 reps are straight sets ? As you stated in your example, in week 1, should it be done 5 sets of 5 reps with 335 pounds ? Thx

  9. Up to a "top" set of 5.



  10. Sorry if I bother you, but if I want to put more recovery in this training block, can I work 3 days at week? For example,
    Week 1
    Day 1- squat day
    Day 2 - off
    Day 3 - bench day
    Day 4 - off
    Day 5 - deadlift
    Day 6 and 7 – off
    Week 2
    Day 1 – overhead work
    Day 2 – off
    In this case, this block will take 8 weeks. Thank you!

  11. More recovery never hurt anyone. What I would do there is don't do the 50% sets for the first four workouts, then start from there. That way you aren't training balls out for the full 8 weeks. Hope that makes sense.

  12. Hi Paul,

    I only have a rack and a barbell. Is it possible to substitute the leg presses with something else?


  13. I have been doing the bare bones at home. I love the simplicity,but I was wondering if there is a way to also use dumbells for variety since I have them? Thanks!James