Friday, September 28, 2012

Reps. Strength training pixie dust magical unicorns


I've gotten a couple of e-mails this week, along with talking to a couple of guys I know that are really fucking strong, I wanted to drive this point home a bit.

Singles - 

Singles are popular.  Hell they are in all of my templates too.  However, the difference being is that I've been very adamant about what BUILDS strength and mass in my templates.

The reps.  The back off sets.

Need mass?  Sets of 8-20

Need strength?  3's and 5's.  Some dubs thrown in from time to time are good too, but reppage is where that pot of gold in strength and mass lay.

Singles are popular because well, they are fun, and well, they are fucking easy.  Yes, they are easy.  For those of you who do heavy ass singles all the time, congrats.  They are still easier than a ball busting set of 15.

The problem with singles is that people often forget what they are really the most useful for.  Demonstrating strength.  Showing people how "strong you are".  The fact is, they are inferior to building the 1 rep max in relation to reps.  Reps being anything over 1 rep.

The strongest powerlifter that ever walked the planet is and always will be, Ed Coan.  Ed generally used a 10-12 week peaking cycle leading up to a meet.  The first few weeks were 8's, then many weeks of 5's, then some weeks of triples and a few weeks of doubles before he hit a single.

So let's back up.

Over the course of 10-12 weeks Ed had ONE WEEK, where he did a single.  One.  Uno.

Did reps....

Ed's buddy, Kirk Karwoski was the greatest squatter ever in my opinion.  He too ran a similar cycle.  From Purposeful Primitive Training, here was his cycle....

Weeks 1-2 work up to 1x8
Weeks 3-8 work up to 1x5
Weeks 9-10 work up to 1x3
Weeks 11-12 work up to 1x2


 Not a single week of a single.  'Mazin.  If singles were that god damn important, don't you think that Coan and Capt. Kirk would have been doing more of them?

If that doesn't suit your fancy, look at Sheiko.  There are more sets of 5 in that program than rock star dicks that have been in Pam Anderson.

I could paste routines all day and night, but I don't need to beat a dead horse.

Maxing out with singles does not build strength.  If it did, all you'd have to do is pick a meet and do one every week.  Guys don't do that because they know that shit doesn't work.

Back off sets and reps - 

I've told guys this over and over again, the singles in both the strong-15, and big-15 are PRIMERS.  The stuff that BUILDS the lift are the back off sets.  It's still imperative to pick your weights properly for the singles.  However the building blocks of the program, are the reps, and back off sets.  This is where the STRENGTH for the singles are built.

It's actually more important to worry about what you are doing with your back off sets, than what you are doing with the singles, however.

One guy e-mailed me this week to let me know that he ran the strong-15 and hit a PR on the squat and overhead, but the PR's were small.  He admitted he knew why.  He programmed way too high.  Every guy that has programmed smart, and conservatively in my programs, has had big meet days.  What I have found for the guys who don't hit big new numbers, is that they are generally non-competitors who don't know how to leave their ego at the gym door, and train smart.  They want to "impress" people at the gym.  This drives me insane.

Does reps and back off sets


You are in the gym to get stronger.  Not demonstrate to everyone how strong you are.  Train the lift, and build your demonstrable strength with reps.  When you follow the strong-15 or big-15 routines, it's ok to even add volume on the back off sets if you feel that it's needed.  The sets and reps I have for it are conservative because it's the minimum requires, and most guys add on a shit ton of assistance afterwards rather than being smart and picking 1 or 2 quality movements to follow up with.

However, if you're feeling awesome, and you do the 2 or 3 back off sets listed, it's better to continue on with the back off sets for another 2 or 3 sets, and knock off the assistance for the day.  You're there to build the lift right?  Take advantage of a +10% day by doing more volume in the back off work.  Not setting PR's in your assistance bullshit.

Program as low as possible -

One of the things that you should be asking yourself when you do your programming is this.

"How low can I program in my training, and still hit my goal?"

The older I get, and the more shit I read from the "old timers" the more I realize they were giving me so much gold in terms of training economy, that I never really understood.

Coan talked about hitting his deadlift opener for a double in his training in the last week of his training cycle.  He trained for his opener.  Think about that.

Most guys program way too damn high.  Again, it's about ego and setting unrealistic goals.  For every guy that I've had write in to me that went 9 for 9 with 5 new PR's, I've had 5 write in to tell me that he didn't get through phase 2 because he missed some lifts.  They are always gym lifters, and they always have unrealistic expectations.

Phase 1 is nothing more than an acclimation phase.  Light and easy stuff on the big movements, high volume work on the support/assistance movements.  This should get pared down in phase 2, and even more in phase 3 (which I will outline more in LRB/365).

Remember, there is an ebb and flow to main work vs support work.  The lighter the workload in the main work is, the more support work you can do.  Once the intensity starts to creep up in the main lifts, the support work needs to take a backseat.

Lots of guys write out a routine and do something like this...

Squats - strong-15
Pause Squats - strong-15
Good Mornings - 5x10
Leg Curls - 5x20
Lunges - 5x20

In phase 1, they feel great.  Phase 2 comes around and near the end, they start feeling more crispy.  Why?  Because they are pushing more weight now on the big movements, and still trying to add weight on all of the assistance stuff, with the same amount of volume.

Phase 3 comes around and they miss a lift or are just ground into dust.  It's because they didn't scale down the support work accordingly.  If you're doing 15 sets of support work in week 1, you should not be doing 15 sets of support work in week 9, unless you decided to stay with pretty much the same loads for those lifts.  If you are pushing the weight on the support work, phase 2 should look more like this....


Squats - strong-15
Pause Squats - strong-15
Good Mornings - 3x10
Leg Curls - 3x20
Lunges - 3x20


Phase three might look something like this.........


Squats - strong-15
Pause Squats - strong-15
Good Mornings - 1x8
Leg Curls - 3x10
Lunges - 2x25

Notice the play in volume?  1 set of 8 on the GM's rather than 3x10.  3x10 on leg curls rather than 3x20, and 2x25 on the lunges, rather than 3x20.

You should be accommodating the increase in intensity on the main movements, by decreasing the work load on the shit afterwards.  If you're programming as low as possible to still hit your goal, managing the support work should feel easier.

So how low should you program?  That's something you will have to figure out with the way you respond.  However, I've seen this over and over again.  If you can CRUSH 90% of your goal, the goal is there.  88% more than likely too.  If you just have to have complete assurance the goal is there, crushing 93% of it, is money in the bank.  The only issue with that is, most guys program for an unrealistic goal, so that 93% is usually more like 98% of what they are capable of, and then they start missing lifts and getting beat up.

When in doubt, program lower, and do more back off sets.  This will always serve you better than doing heavier and heavier singles.

Do some reps and get big and strong.  You're welcome for that unbelievable knowledge bomb.

Thanks Pegg


56 comments:

  1. And there is all you need know about hypertrophy, strength and exercise in general. Sweet spot.

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  2. one of the best articles i ever read, can t believe this was free. thank you paul, i wish i knew this 3 years ago

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  3. It really comes down to how you use the singles. Too many people want to use singles because they see those really strong dudes from ohio do it and then they get a boner bc they too think they can do it and get huge numbers. This is where they shit the bed; to use singles as "max effort work" you need to be coached by watchful eyes that can assess when you hit that 90% mark and then after that you do 1-3 more singles that make you grind the weight but you dont miss the weight. This is something virtually nobody has the capacity to do on their own; they always 100% of the time go for a true max after they are already gassed as opposed to a number above 90% thats a grinder. When you are COACHED WEEKLY in your training as a powerlifter you can use methods like max effort and also speed work because you need other people to assess you (that know what the fuck they are looking at), if you train alone or with your bro's you gotta look in another direction for something that works great by just simply following directions(strong 15, 531, 5x5 etc).

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    1. Grinding in the gym is really not a good idea. Not for any extended period. Reps take care of strength and hypertrophy without "needing a watchful eye" or coaching. If your program is so complicated that you need the eyes of professionals in order for it to be effective, it's too god damn complicated.

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  4. Awesome post! I used to be like every other meat head when I was in college. I couldn't resist the temptation surrounded by hot ass cardio bunnies to show off instead get the job done. I now have a family and demanding job with little time to train. I train in my garage with a bench, a rack, one barbell, and shit ton of weights (actually a LOT like yours Paul). I keep the garage door closed and work out at 5AM when my family and the rest of the neighborhood sleeps every weekday, even if I only have 10 measly minutes. Anyways, one main movement and usually only one assistance movement and I'm done. Five years of that and I am so far beyond my younger, dumber self it's laughable.

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  5. Great article! I added in a heavy 20 rep squat set every ten-12 days or so over the last few months and it's no surprise I blew by my old 1RM. Big PR and big mental victory! Keep the articles coming! Thanks

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  6. Good stuff, PC. I know I have fallen in love with singles. Ego lifting to hit them all the time. But looking back it's easy to see hitting low reps, but REPS, with bigger weights is what leads to wins, to bigger maxes.
    Tracking and beating rep PRs is good stuff, too.

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  7. Pretty amped for the 365 book. Like waiting for Christmas morning as a kid.

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  8. I agree that singles are not everything....but I still think they can have a place in a training regimen. For my squats right now, I do max for 5 singles on Monday, light Wednesday(deadlift day), max to 3 reps Friday and max to 5 reps Saturday. It's working for my strength goals hitting maxes on all 3 rep ranges regularly.

    Sure singles are fun....I don't think they are easy, but yeah, easier then grinding out a 15 rep set. But don't forget that you shouldn't always hate the gym....if doing a day of singles keeps you motivated and seems to be working, there is no reason to stop.

    Even if those guys didn't always train singles, there are powerlifters who did focus on singles. It goes back to what your general speech method is, of finding what works and doing that. I find this article actually focuses too much doing what the book says instead of being your own lifter. But I'm sure this was just to help out those lifters who can't seem to figure anything out themselves?

    Sure I am young(25) and am trying to lift to max right now...but I don't see why I shouldn't go balls to the wall right now. I want to hit some high powerlifting numbers and win a meet, for me singles based training seems best with mixing in other rep ranges.

    Now I haven't done your strong-15 and agree that you shouldn't bitch at something you haven't tried....so I won't. I'm sure it's great, hell I'm tempted to try it just give feedback on it. But I feel like lately your just pushing your own program more then you used to just push your training method. Just trying to provide some constructive criticism....as I'm by all means nowhere the lifting knowledge you have and still learning. If I'm out to lunch of all these thoughts feel free to let me know...

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    1. Actually I'm just trying to answer questions that I get on here from guys using my program. And my programs ARE my training methods.

      The majority of great powerlifters built their foundation of strength on reps. Same for the Russians. If you want to do singles because you like them, go for it. If you want to max out in the gym like every other tard, that's your prerogative as well. I did the same dumb shit. Which is why I write this stuff. So other people don't have to. No different than all the guys that came before me wrote it for me.....and I didn't always listen either.

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    2. Got it. Yeah makes sense that the article talks about your training methods template if that is the point of it....apparently I kind of missed that? lol :(.

      Yeah I know your just trying to help...and I do listen, really. But like you said....sometimes young people do dumb shit. I'll learn eventually....I'll let you know how your strong-15 goes since I think I will actually start it in a week or 2.

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    3. How about you learn now and really make some improvements instead of figuring this out 5 years down the road....

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  9. hey paul,

    great post, thanks for all the info. i just bought sll last week and i started the lrb program, heading into week two. i was just wondering if you had a recommendation for after the six weeks is finished. i was thinking i'd adjust my load and change up the assistance exercises, but would moving into phases two and three of strong-15 be a better option? sorry if this is detailed in the book, i haven't seen it yet, i'm still working through slow to digest everything. great resource, it's changed my training in and out of the gym.

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    1. Just run the LRB template and roll with it as long as it's working.

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  10. Great read, thanks Paul. Definitely a couple 'ah-ha' things in there for me and something I can apply to my training. I'm on it already as I just finished the 1st week of the short cycle of strong-15!

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  11. I'm still in the phase where everything works, I modified Doug Hepburn's old routine A (which amounts to relatively singles followed by rep work with incremental increasing of intensity each session) over the summer and retested with an easy 35 lb deadlift PR. That being said much of the regulation and adjusting you've mentioned came into play. I dropped volume and intensity on assistance work as needed, and kept getting better with it. I did indeed program low. The best part of it was an increased proficiency with singles, however I do agree with you on what is intelligent in training.

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  12. But in LRB you don't advise backoff sets, so all the needed reps are done on the light days?
    Also when running a conditioning block, should the backoff sets be eliminated?

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    1. Because all of your rep work is done in the assistance.

      It's like you guys only read half the articles.....

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  13. Paul what about roger estep...he is pretty jacked also.
    There is not a lot of info about he trained.

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    1. Well Roger was a bodybuilder too, so I'm pretty sure he spent plenty of time doing reps.

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    2. One more question..about the bench press.
      Dos it build the whole chest..?

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  14. Great advice Paul. Despite the fact it's common knowledge to guys like you and others who are successful, the penny hasn't dropped for many people. I've been training dumb for years but have finally snapped out of it and started seeking long-term gains. 5/3/1 works for the same reason as your programs work: Solid sets based on sensible percentages.

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  15. Great article Paul. I think it's worth noting that most of the guys that have success with singles based training are geared lifters. They need to learn there equipment. Then when they get out of their gear, what do they do? REPS. The reps allow them to build their strength and the singles work is just practicing how to display it

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  16. Wow Paul as the first poster said, this post is fucking GOLD. I've seen entire books on training that don't address the topic of reps as directly as you do in this post.

    And I admire your patience with all the posts which go: "Yeah man, right on, I see so many people do all this dumb shit all around me. What I do is [insert dumb shit]."

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  17. Paul,

    Good article, but I cannot thoroughly agree.

    I do agree that reps can build strength and mass for the total package, and in general--reps should be your forte' when training.

    However, I used singles primarily to bring up my deadlift from 420 to 640lbs in 1-2 years, several years back. (Now working my way up to shouldering a full sand-filled keg around 290lbs) Singles are all about demonstrating the strength the person has, as you said. But, it does in fact build higher 1-max lifts when training singles progressively. And you think its easy? Dude, when you're lifting 90% of ur max for multiple singles and the weight only keeps getting heavier, its far from easy. You gotta gut your way through those heavy ass singles. I bet you thinkk its easy because you're accustomed to doing high volume/high reps. So of course----busting out a single here and there is going to feel easy. After all, you're not panting like a madman,latic acid is not slowly filling your muscles, higher reps lead recruits more of a conditioning aspect and clearly......da pump. That's like you doing 200 Carter curls with a 45lb bar to doing just ONE curl with 225. Huge difference, of course. Busting out a single here and there is not going to leave you feeling pumped. If singles was the BASE of your training, you would eventually come to a point where you walk in the gym and just dread the idea of lifting 10 heavy gut-busting singles.

    Doing reps on the deadlift did jack shit for me but tear me down. However, doing reps on the bench-press helped my singles tremendously. Reps are essential to building overall strength, no arguement there. And of course a smart person wouldnt be doing singles n doubles on support work. That's where adding those reps really come in play to build the muscle in order to support the big lifts (as you said many times before).


    Also, you did a fine job of pointing out two well-knowm lifters who didn't rely on Singles. I doubt you will find very many people who soley practiced singles. But off the top of my head, clearly--Jamie (singles n doubles n triples), Arther Saxon (primarily singles), and even Steve Justa on certain exercises.

    Food for thought.

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    1. Singles are singles.

      doubles and triples are not singles.

      Just pointing that out.

      Pretty much every incredibly strong guy I know built his base with reps and not singles. They have their place but 95% of your time in the gym should NOT be spent doing singles. Ever.

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  18. That's because who would stick with doing singles indefintely? As you already pointed out, its mainly used as an demonstration of pure strength.

    And that's why I noted in my earlier post, reps are essential to building overall strength. I completely agree with the 95% concept, but for me--my accomplishment with the deadlift in the past and now working on shouldering the full sand-filled keg, relies in that 5%. Five percent may seem insignifcent, but as you said---it has its place. Even though, once that keg is full---those singles are going to turn into reps. Its inevitable.

    Reps is the name of the game....
    The single is your result.

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  19. I was doing a lot of singles for about 6 months or so after reading Jamie's first ebook and some of his 5x5 hate, just to see what was what. I definitely lost strength. I just don't understand how it can work for him. What the fuck.

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  20. I have purchased every one of your e-books as well as the hard copy of SLL. Needless to say, I'm a fan and have learned a lot from you- especially in regards to the 100 rep stuff.

    At a bodyweight of 215 and a lifetime natural, I have squatted 555, benched 380, and deadlifted 620 in competition. Not as accomplished as you, but I will say that I am probably brushing against my natural potential. I have found that the only way I still make gains is by training in the style of Jamie Lewis. No, not only singles but a lot of them and at submaximal weights. For example, 12 singles between 80 and 90% or 15 doubles between 75 and 85%. My point is, I at one point used 5/3/1 for close to 18 months and by sticking to the program I built up to a rep max of 9 with 500 on the dl. During that time, my 1rm was no more than 585.

    It may have worked for Coan, and for many other greats but rep strength simply doesn't carry over to 1rm strength for me, especially with dl's and pressing movements.

    Just giving a friendly, slightly dissenting view.

    I will add this though- For the high volume singles, doubles, and triples to work for me I have to virtually eliminate assistance work with the exception of some ultra high rep small stuff ie. 100 rep challenges otherwise I get too beat up.

    In the end, I think what may seem like polar opposite views,like yours and Jamie's actually meet somewhere in the middle.

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    1. First off, your lifts are solid.

      Second, singles def have a place in a training paradigm. The issue becomes when guys fail to get out of a "singles only" and "anything over 5 reps is cardio" mindset. There's a lot of strength and growth potential that is tapped into with reps.

      Also, the deadlift is a whore of a lift. I've not found a great parallel between reps transferring over to the dead as much. However singles only don't seem to be where it's at either. It seems like you need to get a mix in of both in order for them to help each other. Maybe that's where just running reps hurt you in that regard.

      But as Jamie and I talked about on the podcast this past week, you need to find a method you like to train with that also makes you work hard, because that ultimately will deliver the best results.

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  21. If you're looking to add volume to your back-off sets on the strong15 program, would you recommend using 50% sets, sets across working to failure (leaving 1-2 in the tank), or doing sets across at a particular number of reps?

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    1. No. For the strong-15 I'd just do more triples or 5's, whichever is called for, with the same weight, or even drop back down the 5,4,3,2,1 ladder.

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    2. what about for rep out sets like you recommend for the press?

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    3. My recommendation there is to go to back off sets of 5 for a few sets, THEN do the rep out set.

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  22. Great Article Paul,

    Just found this from one of my Dr Ken articles I have filed. Funny, guess what. It sounds like what you keep saying!

    Training which is comprised of multiple sets of five or fewer reps will develop the skill necessary to handle a very heavy weight in the major lifting movements, but is not of high enough intensity to stimulate maximum strength gains, certainly not as well as one or two all out, high intensity sets of 10-20 reps.

    Powerlifters should spend the majority of their training time doing one or two high intensity sets of moderately high reps in the squat, bench press, and deadlift, supplementing this with one set, taken to a point of momentary muscular failure/fatigue, of carefully chosen assistance exercises. The assistance work should be chosen to retain balance between agonists and antagonists, or to obviate a weakness in the competitive lifts.

    This is way I love your site because its like reading a modern day Dr Ken. You have basically hit the nail on the head with that article.

    Do you never squat heavy for 20 reps Paul?, Or did you maybe in past??

    Cheers, Lee

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    1. I avoid failure now. I mean TRUE failure. I always leave a rep in the tank. I think for strength, 3's and 5's are really key. With this article I just think I'm trying to hit home that singles shouldn't be making up the bulk of your training.

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  23. My bench sits at a lousy 135 (miles behind my dead and squat) I currently am running a strong15 cycle on it with incline dumbbell afterwards for reps. I am seeing some progress as I could barely do 12.5 last month. Any tips?

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    1. If you're seeing progress just keep at it.

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  24. Been doing the old big-15 for about 6 months now and I'm still making consistent progress. To add to what has already been stated, it's all about programming your max in correctly, and when in doubt, go too light. I bump my training max up by 5lbs on incline every time I finish a cycle, and my training max is currently a weight I can hit an easy double with. The result has been non-stop strength and mass gains on a lift I've always had trouble with. I started out inclining 210 for a sloppy few reps and now I can hit 240+ for a few reps with my form dead on and controlled.

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  25. best strength blog on the internet. this is great insight and i really wish i had this info a long time ago!

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  26. Are the Strong-15 and Big-15s in your ebooks, or where are these that they (you) keep talking about?

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    1. Nevermind. Buying the book tonight. Der.

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  27. And holy shit, who's the dude in the pic above? That's the EXACT build I'm working towards.

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    1. Uhhhhhh that's Derek Poundstone. He's 330. Probably not going to reach that level. He's the 1% of the 1%.

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    2. Yeah... Probably not... That's crazy right physique. My brain short-circuited for a moment when I saw him. I was just like "I WANT TO LOOK LIKE *THAT*."

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  28. I've never really gone over 10 reps for anything, so after reading some of your posts lately on the high rep (20+) stuff I decided to try it last night... holy shit am I sore today from 5x20 on DB rows and 100 reps with the bar on curls (took a few sets to get them all). Just sitting at my desk hurts, but in a satisfying way.

    And I had to laugh at the "max out on bench everyday, but really it's their spotter doing an upright row with most of the weight" guys staring at me like "why's he doing so many reps?".

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  29. For me it takes practicing singles to get good at singles aka a 1RM. I may be building strength with reps but not strength demonstrable via a single. I have to keep singles in my program so that my body remembers how to transfer higher rep work to lower rep work

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    1. If you take a 5RM to a 10RM your 1RM went up. You don't need your body to "remember" how to do that. It's just stronger.

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  30. On the topic of singles. I was thinking of running this routine for bench, it's from Anthony Ditillo. What do you think of using singles in this manner in the context of this routine? Monday, is the heavy day in which you start off with 5 singles @ 90% of 1RM, then doing 3 sets of doubles or triples at 80%, and then 3 sets of 5-7 reps at 70%.

    If you could take a look at the routine, and share your thoughts I would appreciate it. Also does the Strength, Life, Legacy Paperback have your strong-15 programming in it?

    Thanks,
    Ben

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    1. I think you're trying to do a 6 week "bump your bench elevnty billion pounds" type of thing and I'm totally against those.

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  31. This is the link to the routine I was talking about http://www.bodybuildingworld.com/vol15_3/bench_press_advanced.html

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