Tuesday, September 18, 2012

More on Poundstone curls, the origin of my high rep work, and shit you will never do

I've obviously been touting high rep curls for a while now.  I've seen all sorts of comments from "what's the purpose of this?" to "this is silly and ineffective".

My thinking about these kinds of comments is that they probably come from people who think singles, doubles, and triples are where time under the bar begins, and ends and everything else is "cardio".  Their mind doesn't venture too far outside of that range, or into any sort of paradigm where high reps and ultra high reps provide benefits.  

Wait, wait.....let's back up over a year, however.  

More than a year ago I started playing with higher rep sets because it just kind of dawned on me, that beating yourself up with support or assistance work with really heavy weight seemed, well, fucking stupid.  That the whole purpose of support work was just that.

To create more support for the big lifts.  

Some people might say "duh" to that, but those same people also worry like crazy over assistance work and believe assistance work has magical powers from a powerlifting wizard or leprechaun.  If they could only get the magical list of assistance work, they too would be an elite powerlifter!


The one thing I know from over two decades of this shit is this.  Lifting is specific.  If you want to be spectacular at a lift, you better marry yourself to that lift.  At least for a while.  Especially if you are not good at it.  Konstantinov's deadlifts twice a week, and usually does 3 or 4 types of deadlift over those workouts.  Guys that are really great squatters, generally just squat a lot.  If you want to get good at pressing, you need to do that press a lot.  

Unless you are born with special leverages or are some natural phenom, at some point you are going to have to commit yourself to learning and perfecting a lift to really be boss at it.  Once the technical aspects are down, it's really a matter of judging your recovery ability in regards to the stress you apply both muscularly, and systematically.  In other words, progressive overload that finds balance between creating adaption (getting stronger) and not causing you to feel like a gang of prison guards beat you with hammers.  

For example, if you go in and do a shit ton of volume on squats or pulls, and really blast yourself into oblivion, then you can't expect to train like again two or three days later.  You will have to pay the piper from a recovery standpoint first.  I don't care what any of the high volume/high frequency guys tell you.  You will eventually have to regulate your intensity if you want to train more high volume and frequency.  

So if you want to spend a lot of time with the big stuff, you will need to dial back the small stuff.  It's the ebb and flow of training.

This is where my adventures into the higher rep stuff came from.  

A few years ago, I came to the same conclusion my friend Jim Wendler came to about good mornings.  Terrible movement if done heavy.  Completely worthless.  I had previously worked up to 455 for reps, in hopes that it would magically make my deadlift go up.


I did find however, when I backed way off on the weight and concentrated on getting the most out of the movement, that 225 offered far more benefits than 450+.  I could feel what muscles were supposed to be working, and that is what your support and assistance work is really supposed to be doing.  I've never seen a single powerlifting event where the good morning was part of the big 3.  Yes, I know some people squat in a good morning style, but the fact is, it's still support work.  It's supposed to be used to make the musculature involved in the main lift stronger.  You shouldn't be training to get good at good mornings, you should be using good mornings to make the muscles involved in the deadlift and squat, bigger and stronger.  Before someone throws out another obvious "duh", some people still do not get this.

Your support or assistance work, is BODYBUILDING.  What do bodybuilders do?  They make the muscles work.  At least, that's what smart ones do.  No one cares how much you squat or shrug or curl on a bodybuilding stage, yet bodybuilders carry far more mass than powerlifters.  It's because the training methods for strength and size are not the same.  From an anecdotal standpoint, we know this.  You're not going to gain mass on a diet of singles and triples like you will on sets of 8-20+.  I don't care what some buck-70 guy with some letters after his name tells you.  Before you say "drugs"....please.  I know powerlifters that are taking every bit as much shit as pro bodybuilders.    

A few years ago, after my second bicep tear, I started rehabbing and basically could do some manual side laterals, curls, and tricep work for my upperbody.  Since everything was super light, I just did a shit ton of reps.  As many as I could tolerate.  What happened?  My arms blew up.  Quite significantly.  

Unfortunately, I am boneheaded sometimes and completely ignored this phenomenon.  I mean, how effective could 10 pound db curls and 30 pound overhead tricep extensions really be?  I went right back into what I used to do.  Heavy, heavy.....and oh yeah, heavy.

My arms shrunk.  

I now await on the internet mental masturbation crew to show and talk about different forms of hypertrophy. If you guys spent as much time training your nuts off as you do arguing about these details and nuances, you would have already blown past all of those pesky plateaus you bitch about.

It doesn't matter WHAT kind of anything it is.  Here is what it is......productive.  Stop looking a gift training idea in the mouth and just get on with it.

Now back to that year ago......

I started doing maintenance level work with my big lifts, and started doing a shit ton of reps for the stuff after.  This is what eventually evolved into the LRB split......here and here.

This idea was really solidified when I talked to 900+ deadlifter and pro strongman, Vince Urbank about it.  Vince told me he throws a plate on each side of the bar (135) and does 4-5 sets of 20+ for his barbell rows, sets of 30+ on leg curls, etc.  All of his support work was done with the purpose of creating more muscle and forcing as much blood through the musculature as possible, and to stay heavy only on the big stuff.  All of this resonated with the direction my training had been going anyway.  But it's always nice to get affirmation from someone else who is advanced.

Everyone that has run the LRB split, has been amazed at how their lifts have jumped, and how much stronger and better conditioned they felt.  Less joint pain, stronger at lower bodyweights, everything.  It's a demanding split, but it works, and works well.  It will be a part of the LRB/365 manual, and will be what I use after the meet in November.

Let me state here and now, there is nothing miraculous that is going to happen because you do one set of high reps or ultra high reps.  I don't expect anyone to do a single set of curls and wake up with Jay Cutler arms, or even arms like mine.  This is not how lifting works.  If you beat me on curls, doesn't really mean a god damn thing.  It's like saying that you tried so-n-so's bench routine and your bench didn't jump up 100 pounds after 2 workouts, so it must suck.  Or that you did a set of 20 rep squats and didn't wake up with legs like Tom Platz.

No shit Sherlock, where'd you park the car, Dick Tracy?

This shit makes me laugh, and exposes people who live in the "now generation", and have no clue about the big picture of putting in time with something to properly gauge the real effectiveness of it.

Put in 6 months doing sets of 100.  If you look and lift exactly the same after 6 months of it, I'll eat my hat and kiss my own ass.  Because you know what?  It won't happen.  If you put in that kind of effort over a significant period of time, you will get better.  I don't need a scientific textbook or some message board assclown to tell me otherwise.  I know it because I've lived and breathed it.  No different than if you put in 6 months of training heavy singles, you will get stronger.  It won't happen in a workout, or probably even a month.

Effort + Consistency = Getting better

That's the ticket.

So why do the ultra high rep shit?

High rep sets that hurt like a bitch and make you question your ability to continue on, build mental toughness that will carryover into other parts of your training.  Why do you think that Derek Poundstone started doing them?  He called it "pain tolerance" training.  

Let me also add in that the ultra high rep stuff pushes a ton of blood through that area, and my elbows feel better than they have in years.  Blood heals.  When you push a metric fuck ton of blood through an area over and over again, it's hard for inflammation to find a place to hang out at.

Bigger muscles and less achy joints means more productive heavy training as well.

Plus, why not do ultra high rep sets on your small shit?  It's more challenging, has a ton of benefits, and you can be done with all of your support work in 3-5 minutes.  That's a lot of really nice benefits.  Ignore them if you will, I won't.  I've gotten too much out of them.  They are a worthwhile addition to any training program. At least in phases.

So throw in em.  Or don't.  I'm sure you'll have many days of writing on the interwebs about why they are useless and don't work.  I am constantly amused at the effort people go through to "prove" that something is ineffective, without ever having put in the effort to speak about it intelligently.

With all of that written, Derek Poundstone doing some ineffective axle curls for 350 some odd reps.

Carry on, gentlemen.



  1. Paul, great reminder article. That's what I dig about your blog, I always read it and say, "durh, right I forgot about that". Not trying to cause a debate on what's better, but look at Bruce Lee. High rep work = strong tendons. Heavy weights are hard on tendons. How much more simple can you get? Apparently those asking "what's the point of this" just don't read enough.

  2. I also wanted to add a comment about "marrying the lift". That is so true. I'm no competitor and started out with a weak as sauce squat, couldn't get to depth with 225 for a single. After 1 year of West Side template training (one heavy squat day, one light squat day for speed a week) I took my squat up to 400 at depth. My bench was negligible but my squat ruled.

  3. Paul, Vince Urbank is one of my favorite strength athletes today. Any chance you could get an interview with him or share some pieces of your conversation?

    1. Shouldn't be a problem. Vince and I talk quite a bit.

  4. Paul, you might be interested to see that the science supports you here. This is a fascinating study including tissue biopsies and blood work to see the effects various intensity weight training had on protein synthesis.

    Conclusion: low-load/high volume work has a potent stimulatory effect on anabolic signaling molecules, MyoD and myogenin mRNA expression and muscle protein synthesis.

    The tests involved doing 90% of 1RM to failure, 30% of 1RM, stopping short of failure, and 30% of 1RM to failure.


  5. Hey Paul,

    I don't want to divorce the bench, but she beats the shit out of my shoulders. I love the idea of high rep work to force blood in there for healing, and I was really inspired to hear that it worked for you and rehabbing your bicep...What movements would you recommend I hit up to give my shoulders some TLC?

    1. Bring your grip in.

      do cuff work.

      strengthen your entire shoulder girdle with behind the neck stuff (start light)

      Lots of rear delt work.

  6. Paul,

    I follow both LRB and CnP religiously, and I'm a huge supporter of Wendler as well.

    I was just curious to whether or not you and Jamie have discussed your individual views and methods when it comes to training, as they (although rooted in the same thing - strength) differ in many qualities. Your fan of high rep assistance and support work, planned peaking, and moderate volume, and his view of essentially nothing but heavy singles, double, and triples and a very high training frequency. (note: I know i might see to be pigeon-holing here but I've read pretty much every post on both blogs, so I'd like to think I have a grasp on both of your methods)

    I have NOT listened to the podcasts, so if my question would be answered there, feel free to tell me to "just listen to the fucking podcast".

    There really is no other reason behind me asking other than that I just enjoy the different opinions of two successful methods that are different in nature.

    You are both worthy of your reputations as lifters, and I'm curious to how you view each other's philosophy.

    1. Jamie and I have discussed this at length on the podcasts. But we plan on delving into it more this coming weekend actually.

    2. I was about to suggest the same idea! Good call, dexterwolf.

  7. I dunno dude, while I have no doubt whatsoever that these make your arms bigger, for me personally at least it seems like this would just lead to overuse injuries and tendonitis. I did zero bicep work for the longest time, and I started to get pain in my elbow and brachioradialis during benching. I determined it was because I had pathetically weak biceps. So I added in light to moderate curls regularly and got stronger at them, and the pain disappeared. After awhile though, I started getting a completely different pain during the curls themselves. I think I was getting the beginnings of tendonitis. I throttled back to only doing 2-3 sets of hammer curls per week and never do fully supinated curls any more, and finally I have no pain during benching or curling. I'm beginning to wonder if I even need to do any curls at all anymore, if my body has adjusted to fixing the deficiency and is now capable of fully utilizing all the necessary musculature during benching.

    I know I've been training for a much shorter time than you, I lift less and I've never torn a bicep...but I'm just kind of dubious of the efficacy of this method strength and health-wise (not bodybuilding-wise, as I said) based on my own personal physiological experiences.

    1. I think my article still covers what it is you're asking.

  8. After watching Derek Poundstone do curls in the squat rack, I feel MUCH less foolish doing it.

    1. Only Poundstone can curl in the squat rack and it be ok.

    2. That sound was the sound of heads exploding everywhere. Curls... In the rack... No added weight... For reps... Hahahahaha

  9. I've been doing poundstone curls off and on since you first mentioned them a couple months ago. Can't say I've noticed any size difference, but I'm pretty sure my arms are more vascular. Vascularity is cool.

  10. amen to that great article. i couldnt believe that hi reps would do good for my biceps and biceps tendonitis. still i tried it i do poundstone curls weekly now for about 6-8 weeks. i must say i love em, before i did all kinda things to make my biceps grow... nothing happened did like 4-6 exc rep ranges 3-15 etc nothing. now my biceps are growing (not only during the curls where they pump up!) and as a great add-on my biceps tendonitis is gone.... i now do hi reps for all my asistance shoulder and rehab exc. i also do hi reps for my triceps, and it feels great. i am going to keep doing these for a long long time.

    thnx paul for the eye opener.

    1. Awesome! I found the same thing. Elbows have never felt better.

    2. Between your endorsement of high rep curls and a suggestion from one of the Elite FTS guys, my elbows have done a complete 180. I used to have terrible elbow pain that prevented me from benching but that has now completely subsided.
      Also, I started doing high rep work for good mornings and have actually noticed my work load and conditioning has increased.

  11. Blah blah blah my friend Jim Wendler blah blah blah people under 200 pounds don't know shit blah blah blah dedication blah blah blah blah Wendler.

    1. Awwwww, I love it when the little guys get peanutbutt hurt and jelly.

  12. Paul,

    What have you found to be most effective in rehabbing the quad ? I'm facing a similar issue. Thanks

    1. Pulled it during a log press. Took it easy for 2wks and worked light rehab work. I felt good, went to press and did it again. Now I'm back to the beginning. I have a strongman meet 3 wks out. I remember you worked around a quad injury. Any advice is appreciated.

    2. 3 weeks out should be enough time to at least get it in comp shape. Depending on what area of the quad it's in and how severe.

      What part of the quad? vastus medalis? lateralus? retus femoris?

    3. Vastus medalis - inner part of my quad about 3-6" above my knee. Its not very severe but its does hurt. No real brusing, minimal swelling. I can walk around fine but when I put pressure - walking up stairs, ect I feel it right away. I've torn my quad before and I know its not torn.

      Lately I have been trying high rep leg presses, with no weight, to flush it with blood. Makes it feel better temporarily. Suggestions ? Thanks

    4. Sled pulls walking backwards. Everyday. Don't overload the weight, just get a fuck ton of time in.

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