Thursday, February 7, 2013

Base building part 4 - Stop milling about

I get asked quite a bit how long it takes me to get in all the volume I do in a workout.

Almost never more than an hour.

I think the strange thing about that question is, I have so many people that say I'm low volume, then other people are surprised at how much work I get done in an hour.

First off, I am not "low volume".  I think some people think this, because I might only do 1 or 2 sets at a certain weight sometimes, however they also miss all of the work done up to that point, and then after it.

I also think that it's hilarious that I do between 200-300 reps in a total workout, and I get called low volume because a guy is doing "10 sets of 3".  30 reps.  Thanks for doing 10% of what I do, Mr. "High Volume".

But just for kicks and grins, let's say that anything in the 60% range and above counts as work.  Because I believe that it does.  My deadlift workout two nights ago had me doing 405x3,3 then 500x3,3.  After that, I did 550x5,5,3.  I broke the bar down and then did 2 sets of 8 on elevated stiff legs with 455x8.

That's 10 sets of WORK, on pulling for 41 reps.

After that I did a total of 65 reps for shrugs (I was pretty tired at that point).

This is NOT low volume training.  On my "light" pull days I do anywhere from 5 to 7 sets of doubles or triples at around 365-385.   So I guess it all comes back to what you define as "work".  If it's whatever you use for your heaviest set, then I might be considered low volume to the guy that does a bunch of singles with his top set.  But if I did 13 singles with 550 would you consider that "high volume"?  Most would.  Yet I did the same amount of reps, just in less time.

Which brings me to my point.

One of the things I consider paramount in making base building work for you, is the time you take between sets.  The "hard ass" crew will tell you some such non sense such as "you're in the gym to lift, not to do cardio".  Which I agree with.  You're also not there to be a lazy fuck either.  Unless you've just done a 20 rep set with maximum weight, you don't really have any excuses for milling about the gym for 5-7 minutes between singles, doubles, threes, fives, whatever.  I don't need a stop watch to lift weights, however I constantly try to push myself to get more work done, in less time.  If you want to make lower intensities work for you, this can be a very key ingredient in making it happen.

If you read the Sam Byrd write up, one of the components of his base training was that he pushed to do his 5 sets of 5 with 425, in 15 minutes or less, with every rep being as explosive as the first one he did.

A few weeks ago I did Ironradio and Phil talked about the fact that when he just missed his 804 pull, the heaviest pull he used in that whole training cycle was 625.  One of the concepts discussed was that if you could go from pulling 545 for a hard 5 sets of 3 in 25 minutes, to pulling 545 for 5 sets of 3 in 15 minutes, with every rep fast and explosive, did you get stronger?

Well, hell yes you did.  You did so through progression.  Yes, progression.  Doing the same amount of work in less time, is still progression.  Progression isn't just weight on the bar, or rep PR's.  It can also be doing that 545 for 5x3 in 15 minutes with ease, rather than 25 minutes of Rikers Island shower style brutality.

Since I have an awesome training partner, this is how fast I go between sets.

Warm ups, are back and forth pretty much non stop, very limited rest between sets.  So if I am warming up with pulls at 245, then she's usually warming up with 135.  I will pull doubles or triples until 245 feels like an empty bar.  That's generally my gauge of when to move up.  I then repeat this with 305-315.  Doubles or triples until that feels like the bar wants to fly through the ceiling.  Again, it's back and forth, only resting maybe 10-15 seconds before I grab the bar again.  So I pull the triple, set it down.  She takes 10 seconds to set up, pulls a triple.  I then take 10 seconds or so to set up, pull a triple.

So a time break down of this is like so.....(rough estimates)

5x3 @ 225 = 50 seconds of rest between all sets.  3 seconds for the triple.  65 seconds.
3x3 @ 315 = 30 seconds of rest between all sets.  3 seconds for the triple.  39 seconds.

If you include throwing another plate on, add in maybe 3-4 minutes to do that, and take a few deep breaths.

That's roughly 6-7 minutes or so to get in 8 warm up sets.

After I go to 405, 500, and 550, my rest periods between sets are a little longer, but no more than 2-3 minutes at the very maximum.  Generally loading and unloading the bar accounts for the longest periods of not lifting.

A while back I had a guy e-mail me to tell me that doing squats and deadlifts in the same workout seemed impossible because it was taking him damn near 2 hours to complete it.  I told him I could do squats and pulls in about an hour if that's all I was doing (less warm ups for deads AFTER squatting).  He didn't understand how, until I told him that I basically only rested long enough to put a plate on, or wait on my partner to do her set.

I can't figure out for the life of me, why guys want to rest for so long between sets.  I'm in the gym to work.  Not check my phone or talk or sit around until I "feel recovered" for my next set.  Yes, I need to catch my breath, however I don't need a "full recovery" of all of my facilities in order to get back under the bar and knock out a set of 5.  I mean seriously, we're not talking about sets of 15, 20, 30 reps.  We're talking some doubles or fives or 8's.  This should not put you down for such an extended period unless you're just a sad sack of shit, conditioning wise.  If so, you know what you need to correct.

The more work you can get done in the gym, in an appropriate time, the stronger you will get.  This is not an area most guys ever venture into because they believe more weight on the bar, is the ONLY way.  Eventually yes, the bar has to get loaded, however as I've documented from lots of strong guys, you want to hold off on these times as much as possible, and venture into that area as little as possible.

The LRB motto is to "be strong, be in shape".  Using the lower intensities should allow you to get the work in, with less rest. In fact, it's a very instrumental part of base building if you want it work correctly.  Over time, increase the load, but don't move up in load or intensity until you can manage that amount of volume quickly, and explosively.  This is a sure fire way to continue to get stronger, without sacrificing recovery or needing to take a no-deload deload.  Open your training mind enough to know that training maximally means training maximally intelligent.  So use your brain, and not just your balls.


  1. LOL.. "rather than 25 minutes of Rikers Island shower style brutality.." Where do you come up with this shit? Haha..

    1. Haha I know...that had me laughing pretty good. It's tough to be original, but these articles always are.

      Wait - wait...prison rape is NOT funny Paul...

      I'm sure he meant the fact they have to use cold water, 'Irish Spring' and non-plush towels.


    2. I love irish spring. That's a great soap!

  2. I see what you're saying about getting the work in and not being lazy however if you're truly doing a hard set of 5 (or with any near RM really) you're probably going to need 3-5 minutes of rest between sets if you want to do another hard set with the same or greater weight. The reason is because the immediate energy systems take that long to recover, althgough I'm sure you're already aware of that. If I didn't rest long between my heavy sets there's no way I could sustain the workload for multiple heavy sets in a row.

    1. But we're talking about NOT doing a true 5RM here. That's a completely different animal.

    2. Hahaha...was reading your blog one night a while back and watching a vid of you lifting. Wifey was watching over my shoulder and says: "Who's the big dude? Looks like a prison yard extra from 'Prison Break'...". Now - I took this as a compliment, because apparently I ALSO look like an extra from that same shite show (but I am a 'white supremacist" extra because I have a beard and bald head...I'll take what I can get).

      But to me this confirms definitely did time in the slammer...your love of 'Irish Spring' sinks it. Slam dunk. plus you prefer to train in your dungeon gym with those comforting concrete walls...coincidence? I think not.

      That's cool though...respect! I'll still read your blog even though you may be of questionable character. Jailbirds have lots of time to think of really interesting blog posts.


    3. LOL nope. Never been in jail a day in my life.

  3. Awesome read man... my pulls aren't that high yet. But this is my routine. Maybe 10-15 second rest.
    225 @ 7 3 sets
    275 @ 5 3 sets
    315 @ 5 1 set
    335 @ 5 1 set
    365 @ 3 1 set
    385 @ 2 1 set
    225 @ 5 2 set

  4. This sounds like a way to work through short term plateaus. I'm a newbie and I up the weight 5 pounds each workout per exercise. Eventually, I'm going to get stuck and the gym has no way to increase less than 5 lbs. I have three options, as I see it:

    1) Do less then max reps at the stuck weight. But, this would cause to go to failure each time.
    2) Shorten the rest period (I go two minutes per the watch) and the previously completed weight for a workout or two and then move up.
    3) Increase reps above my max reps of 5 (say to 8 or 10) at the last completed weight for a workout or two and then move up.

    Any better then the other?

  5. Finally, something I've been doing right. Wendler says pretty much the same thing when it comes to time between sets. That's something I adopted when I switched over to 5/3/1 a year and a half ago.

    I love getting in and back out in about an hour. 3 exercises, however many sets/reps, bang it out and leave. My only problem was not staying with sensible programming and trying to take shortcuts.

  6. Thanks for this.
    How many parts are this kind of series/articles.

    1. Not sure yet. I'm trying to put all the pieces together on "paper" that I've been applying in training.

  7. Hi Paul,

    I had an old UK magazine called Strength Athlete (too stupid to keep it) in which Kaz had an article on developing mass and strength, a memorable quote was "muscle lifts weight and work builds muscle".

    His prescription was moderate to high reps on assistance work, keep rest periods brief, stay clear of high percentage work on a regular basis, match your frequency and volume to your circumstances and'll never catch on you know.

    This link shows a seminar from a UK tour from about the same time as the article was out:

  8. Great article, Paul.

    The key is to progress on tension. If the load increased, you made tension progress. You got stronger. If you do the same amount of work in less time, you progressed tension and got stronger. If some weight that was previously a grinder is now a fast rep, you progressed in tension and got stronger. If you do more reps than you did previously, you progressed tension and got stronger. The list goes on, but you get my point.

  9. I've found myself doing a bit too much "milling around" between sets lately, so this article was timely. So, today I kept my rests brief during my 5/3/1 week 2 OHP workout. I liked the pace and set a rep PR.

  10. I downloaded one of your books and follow your blog. Good stuff!
    I nominated you for Inspirational Blog Award.