Sunday, April 8, 2012

More on 50% sets and finding balance......

I've written a ton about 50% sets in the past, but there still seems to be confusion about this technique (kinda like licking the alphabet, I suppose).

It's pretty simple.

After you run the over-warm up, go to failure, or close to it on your down set/working set and then rest 60 seconds, and go again.  On the second set, try to get half the number of reps you got on the first set, i.e. 50% of your first set.

For example, I would notate it like so........

285x15-6 50%

So I got 285x15 on my first set, rested 60, and got 6 on the second set.

I first read about this technique many years ago from Dr. Ken Leistner.  He used it in a bench specialization routine with great success for himself and a lot of the guys he trained.  I worked it in to my routines also with great success.

Years when I ran DoggCrapp training, I realized these two techniques were variations of the same animal, with slightly different spots.

In DC training, the point is to beat the logbooks total reps from the previous week.  With 50% sets you can do that as well, however you also have a goal for the day, that gets set after the first set ends.

Both techniques do a pretty unique thing in your training.

  • They up the ante a bit.  Dante used to write that if you failed to make progress on a movement after two consecutive workouts, you had to drop it.  So if you had a favorite movement, you risked having to drop it for something else if you weren't progressing.  With the 50% sets, you have a goal to beat as soon as the first set is over.  
  • Both put "pressure" on you during the set and workout.  This is a great performance tool.  Anytime you up the pressure, good things should happen in regards to lifting.  Most trainees don't put enough pressure on themselves to progress or improve without a stimulus to do so.  A competition, a training partner, something, anything.  Most of us need something tangible we can sink our teeth into, to take training up another level.  Simply adding in a goal for THAT workout can do that.  
Eventually DC training wore me out.  Mentally I just dreaded having to "get up" for set after set of rest/pause three times for almost every single movement.  With the 50% sets on the new big-15, I scaled it back to two big movements with the 50% technique on upperbody days, then 1 big movement without the 50% technique.  On lower body days it's just the 1 big movement, which is usually a squat or type of squat, and leg press is possible too, if you want to see Jesus without dying.  

So the big movements will get the 50% PIT (perceived intensity technique) for the most part, and the small movements will get lots of volume of sets and reps with short rest periods.  If you can't grow on this template, go take up underwater basket weaving.  

Finding Balance - 

A theme I am starting to see creep across the lifting landscape now, is something I have been harping on for a while.  

Finding balance across everything related to your training paradigm.  

Diet, training, conditioning.  

Everyone knows I wrote a somewhat tongue in cheek article about Paleo, but I don't have a problem with Paleo.  I have a problem with dogmatism and extremes.  I mean, you're not going to convince me that it's bad to eat a god damn potato that comes from the ground.  You're not.  If a caveman could grow it and eat it without dying, he'd do so.  I don't even want to get off on that tangent again!  

Anyway, something that has been going through my head more and more however, is just asking myself some basic questions when it comes to eating.  

"Will this help my performance?"

How about something even simpler......

"Is this healthy?"  

I know some people can say "that's a tricky question."  But let's cut through the bullshit.  It's not.  

Eating sirloin and sweet potatoes with a big salad?  Looks good.  Seems like that would help build muscle, and fuel performance and help recovery.

Eating half a gallon of ice cream?  Seems like it would taste really fucking awesome, but I can't in good conscience say it's healthy or would improve my performance.  

Seems to me, you can't go wrong with the following.......
  • Chicken, steak, turkey, fish, and buffalo.  
  • All veggies
  • All fruits
  • Potatoes 
  • Nuts
  • Nut butters
  • Quality protein powder
If your diet consisted of all of those things, and you never deviated from it, and you trained your fucking ass off, thinking about getting as strong as possible in medium to high rep ranges, you'd be about as big and jacked as you could get.  If you balanced in conditioning with it, you'd limit or lose bodyfat and feel fucking fantastic. 

None of this is scientific.  Again, it's common sense.  

Lift hard enough to stimulate growth 
Eat enough quality foods to aid in that process
Condition so that your ability to work hard isn't limited by being an out of shape fat ass

Be strong, be in shape.  



  1. Paul,

    What are your thoughts on trying to gain weight while eating such a diet? I actually just recently discovered I can't eat dairy products anymore and in just a few weeks I got much leaner without even trying, but am concerned about losing too much weight. I'm down to about 218 at 6'3. I'm pretty much eating exactly what you listed with oats and whole grain rice added in. It feels nice to be eating so healthy but is it still possible to eat this way unless you are already really big?

    1. Yes it is. Load up on the carbs as much as possible, and make your own weight gain shakes.

      Almond Milk
      Protein Powder
      Peanut Butter

      Drink 3 a day.

  2. Awesome post, Paul.
    I totally agree with you. I am all for flexible dieting, but I think you should always eat and train to be awesome. Sure, enjoy your treats every now and then, but learn how to practice moderation. I think the whole IIFYM thing is just an excuse for people to eat crap...

    I also beleive people overcomplicate things way too much. Like you and Jim always say - train hard, eat smart and let the chips fall where they may.


  3. Paul,
    I have a question about adding squats in the lower body day. would i combine them with the rack dead, or alternate them. I'm going to givw them 2 big and 2 small a try. thanks

    1. Neither. A squat variation will always be the staple on a lower body day. Never a deadlift.

  4. great stuff, that 50% method looks realllyy nice :) thanks for sharing it with us !

  5. Hey Paul,

    How much volume is considered high volume for arms/delts/traps? Also, I'm guessing you don't really hit front delts much on those days (no front pressing?)but mainly lateral and rear heads?


  6. hey paul doesnt dr. ken have people do a full body workout with one set of compound lifts at 10-15 reps 3 days a week?


    1. Doc has lots of templates from 3 days a week full body, to 2 days a week powerlifting, to 2 days a week football, etc all sorts of stuff.

  7. hey paul i looked up some video on dr ken leistner and saw a video of him squattin 405 for 23 reps close to 50 years of age and weight less than 165. how did he accomplish that? do you know any of his templates because doesnt he only train in HIT as in one set of high rep per exercises?

    - johny b

    1. Doc Ken's staples were high rep squats, usually followed by stiff legged deadlifts. He also loved overhead pressing of various types.

      Generally Doc favored 2-3 day a week routines. Usually whole body type stuff, and usually 1-2 sets taken to true failure. Really brutal stuff.

      My opinion is that training under Dr. Ken would be a little different than just trying to employ his methodologies. It's hard to push yourself that hard when there isn't anyone there to ride your ass about it.

    2. yea good point paul i see where your coming from man, i always here high rep squats are the worst, i never really done a 20 rep set squat i hear so much about hehe lol.