Wednesday, October 18, 2017

More on P.H.A. - John McCallum (1968)

Originally Published in This Issue (May 1968)

Last month we discussed a break-in program for PHA training. This month we'll examine PHA in some detail, and then give you a slightly more advanced program to work on.

PHA, if you don't already know, stands for Peripheral Heart Action. It's a new system of weight training. To the best of my knowledge it was developed by former Mr. America Bob Gajda. Gajda and other top physique stars such as Sergio Oliva have used PHA in their training with apparently good results.

PHA is presently sweeping the country. Like all new wrinkles it has its proponents and opponents. A lot of claims are being made for it, some sound, some obviously exaggerated. The truth, as with most ideas, seems to lie somewhere in the middle, somewhere between the two extremes.

PHA is too new a concept for any accurate statements to be made regarding its value. More time and experimentation will be needed before all the facts can be formulated. Some aspects of PHA are, however, coming into sharper focus. Some of the questions concerning it can be answered with at least a fair degree of accuracy.

Let's take a look at three questions most commonly asked: 

(1) Will PHA training build muscle? 

Any kind of weight training will build some muscle. The worst program in the world is better than nothing at all. The fact is, though, that some systems of training build muscle far faster than others. Heavy squat programs and high set pumping programs with forced protein intake are specifically designed to build muscle as fast as possible.

In its present state of development, PHA doesn't appear to build muscle rapidly. It's doubtful if PHA by itself will build a really massive physique and there's no sense telling you it will. If you're still in the bulking up stage, you'd be better off to stick to the short, heavy, bulk and power routines for the time being.

 (2) Will PHA training build good health? 

Yes. The production of buoyant health is PHA's most outstanding contribution to the field of physical culture. Conventional training has one major flaw from the standpoint of good health - it doesn't provide quite enough stimulation for your heart and lungs. Sound, sturdy lungs and a bombproof heart are an indispensable part of good health. PHA training provides cardio-vascular stimulation far in excess of conventional training routines. If good health is your principal goal, and it's a worthy one, then PHA will solve your problems.

(3) Will PHA training build definition? 

Yes. PHA is un

Definition used to be gained by long, grueling workouts and a semi-starvation diet. PHA gets it better results in one-tenth the time and with none of the muscle loss and exhaustion produced by the old style workouts.

At this stage of the series, we'll be using PHA strictly for definition. We won't be concerned with its muscle building properties. We'll use it strictly for definition. You can take any other benefits you reap as an added bonus.

Let's take a quick look now at the technique of PHA training, and then we'll get into the actual program. You don't need to be an authority on the subject, so we won't dig too deep. You're probably more interested in results than theory, anyway.

The principle difference between PHA and conventional training is the practice of pumping. You don't pump in PHA. You don't do multiple sets in the standard fashion. You do sets, but in a different way.

In conventional training, your exercises are grouped into sets.

You take one exercise at a time an do as many sets of that exercise as you plan to do before moving on to the next exercise. Once you move on to another exercise you never go back to the first one until the next workout.

Take curls, for example. You do a set of curls. Then you rest a minute or so. Then another set of curls. Then another rest. Another set of curls, and so on for anything up to 15 sets.

When you finish your final set your biceps will be pumped. They'll be swollen and congested with blood an finished for the workout. Then you go and do the same thing with another exercise.

Not so with PHA. In PHA training you do your exercises in groups of five or six. You do one set of exercise one, one set of exercise two, one set of exercise three, and so on right through the group. Then you go back and repeat the procedure. A second set of exercise one, a second set of exercise two, a second set of exercise three, and so on. Then you go back and do a third set of each exercise in the group. You keep running through the group for as many sets as you plan to do. When you're finished with the first group of exercises you move on to the second group and treat it the same way.

The exercises in each group are spread out for different sections of your body. You may do a biceps exercise, for example, and follow it with a calf exercise and then a stomach exercise. The idea is to not congest the blood in any section of your body. You pump the blood through all the sections, not just into one of them.

Another difference is the rest factor. You stop for frequent rests in conventional training. It's not uncommon to rest five minutes between sets if you're training real heavy. You don't rest at all in PHA training. You keep moving from the time you start the workout till you finish it. You go right from one exercise to another with no rest period in between. If you're puffing so hard you simply can't do the next exercise, then you walk back and forth till your breathing slows down a little but you never sit down and stop completely during the entire workout.

This continuous motion principle has a tremendous effect on your endurance and definition. Your endurance climbs rapidly while your excess fat disappears like a magician's rabbit. Two or three months of this kind of training will convert you from a shapely fat man to a rock hard, superbly conditioned athlete.

The continuous motion principle eliminates all wasted time from your workouts. A little imagination will show you the possibilities. You can do the same amount of work you have been doing in about one-quarter of the time, or you can work out for the same length of time and do about four times as much work.

The final factor you must consider is the warmup. Most men do very little warming up in conventional training. Some do none at all. For PHA it's essential that you warm up thoroughly. There's a number of very complex physiological reasons for this. We won't go into them at the moment; just remember that a muscle works best when it's warm and receiving a sufficient supply of blood and oxygen.

Spend at least 10 minutes warming up. Skip rope, run on the spot, pushups, situps, anything you want. Run through some of the exercises in the workout with a very light weight. Be sure you're fully warmed up and puffing a bit before you start the workout.

Now for the workout itself. Do as follows:

Group One
1) Front Squat, 12 reps
2) Cuddle Situp, 25 reps
3) Curls, 10 reps
4) Seated Twist, 25 reps
5) Wrestler's Bridge, 10 reps.

Do one set of each exercise, from #1 to #5. Then a second set of each, then a third set, and so on for five sets of each. Use about 50% of your best exercising poundage for the first set, about 75% for the second set, and all the weight you can handle for each of the last three sets.

Don't sit down and rest between exercises. You don't have to make a race out of it, but go as fast and steady as you comfortably can. If you absolutely can't do the next exercise, then pace back and forth until you can. Don't dawdle and never stop completely.

Group Two
1) Incline Dumbbell Press x 10 reps
2) Situps x 25
3) Rowing x 12
4) Bent Forward Twist x 25
5) Calf Raise x 15

Treat this the same as Group One. Work right through the group five consecutive times. 50% of your exercising poundage for the first set, 75% for the second, and all you can lift for each of the last three. Don't get frantic about it, but don't loiter either. Keep on the move.

Let the dumbbells go way out to the sides at the bottom of exercise 1. Keep your elbows way back and don't let the weights fall inward. Use a close grip for exercise 3 and pull the weight to your lower abdomen. Arch your back at the top of the movement and round it at the bottom. Don't let the weight touch the floor. Make it a dead hang pull.

Group Three
1) Hyperextensions x 12
2) Leg Raise x 25
3) One-Arm Military Press x 10
4) Side Bend x 25
5) Close Grip Bench Press x 10

Do Group 3 the same as Groups 1 and 2. Five times through, 50% poundage for the first set, 75% for the second, and maximum for each of the last three.

Do exercise 1 off the end of a high bench. Drop down to right angles at the bottom and arch your back as much as you can at the top. Do the exercise in flawless fashion. Style is more important than the amount of weight you use.

Use a grip no wider than six inches apart for exercise 5. It's designed to work the triceps and anterior deltoids as much as the pecs. You might find it a little rough on your wrists at first. Stick with it and they'll soon toughen up.

The final step in the workout is the cooling down process. We want to keep the blood circulating at a good clip for a while after. You do this by running on the spot.

Run on the spot for 10 minutes after you finish the last group. If you can't run for 10 minutes, then run as long as you can. Walk back and forth for a while, and then run again. Work at it until you can do 10 minutes.

Do your running on the spot at a moderate speed. Lift your knees way up each step. This flattens your gut and burns up calories like a blast furnace.

Remember - this program is designed to harden you up. It's not intended for bulk. Work the program three days per week and stay on the definition diet. Do the running routine outlined in an earlier article on three of your alternate days.


We're going to bring your definition training to a peak next month, and then we're going to specialize on your showy muscles for a while. Summer will soon be here and you want to look your best for it.
Work hard on the program and you can be sure of one thing - when you step on the beach this summer, you're going to look an awful lot better than you ever did before  




Monday, October 16, 2017

New Wrinkles in Neck Work - Hugh Cassidy (1973)

This Article Courtesy of Liam Tweed

Why Do Neck Work? 

Many football coaches are aware that, like the arms and legs, the neck is simply another appendage jutting out from the body which must be exercised. It must be strengthened to withstand the violent head and neck blows coming from elbows, shoulders, knees, feet, heads and the pile-ups characteristic of the game. Besides providing protection, a powerful neck is often used as an offensive weapon in "spearing" onrushing linemen. It works with the shoulder as a lever to push the opposition in the desired direction. The report of the National Commission on Product Safety states that football players in the U.S. annually suffer from 250,000 to 500,000 brain concussions during play. If one receives a brain concussion, you can imagine the strain the neck had to bear. In 1970, 29 players were killed in football games. Most of the 29 fatalities resulted from head, neck, and spinal cord injuries. While many of the accidents are directly attributable to the inadequacy of the football helmet, one might guess that the statistics would be somewhat lower had the player performed sufficient neck training.

Boxers have long known the "secret" of preventing a "glass jaw" - by building a strong neck - a neck capable of withstanding blows which would easily knock out an untrained man. The neck's girth and muscularity act as a shock absorber and cushion much of the knockout blow and consequent head snap and whiplash which causes the brain to "bounce" inside the skull. Bobo Olson, former World middleweight boxing champion, often did teeth-lifting in his backyard and was known as a man who could take a punch.

In wrestling, of course, the neck is indispensable as a "3rd arm" in maneuvering the body and evading he pinning situation. Some other sports such as tumbling, trampoline work, and acrobatics require neck strength to a greater or lesser degree. A strong neck will certainly fare better in an auto whiplash accident and the possible collapse and injury liable from the squat bar rolling up your back!

Many bodybuilders are reluctant to work the neck, thinking that it takes away from the appearance of shoulder width in the judge's eye. Actually the neck crowns the shoulders and sets them off. A small neck and wide shoulders, on the other hand, will be sure to call attention to itself. No other body part, in my opinion, can quite substitute for the rugged look a massive neck will provide. Close-cropped hair will cause the neck to appear much larger than actual as it is head size compared to neck size that largely determines that rugged look. As the spinal erectors and trapezius both terminate at the base of the skull, full development of these muscles cannot be complete without neck training.

Here's a little more on neck training: 

And this way cool neck training approach by longtime Iron Brother and great guy Terry Strand:

Buy a 16" INNER TUBE from any bicycle store for about ten bucks. It will outlast you. Or take one hanging from a nail in your garage, like I did. You can use up to a 20" tube.
  • SET the pulley height at your forehead height on a CABLE CROSSOVER MACHINE.
  • HOOK one end the TUBE to a CABLE CROSSOVER machine by unclipping the handle and clipping on the TUBE.
  • SLIP the other end of the TUBE over your head like a headband just above your the photo above.
  • The cable will now be about HORIZONTAL, NOT coming up from the floor.
  • NOW you can stand and work your neck from front and back and sides depending on which way you FACE the pulley....face north, south, east, then west.
  • I 'invented' this exercise for myself about ten years ago and it works magic since it is so DIRECT on your neck muscles...yet nobody ever does these in all the gyms I have used.
  • The rubber of the tube really grabs your head so it doesn't slip off unless you are oily or sweaty, then you have to towel off if this happens. ALSO the rubber tube 'gives' slightly and cushions your neck against the exercise starts and stops.
You must go light to start with 2 warmup sets. I use no more than 4 plates on my Cable Crossover stack. Do reps, not max weights which will really screw you up.

How Strong is the Neck?  

There are many fantastic and unbelievable feats which have been performed with the neck and jaws. David Willoughby, in his great book "The Super Athletes," tells of Farmer Burns, the wrestling champion who demonstrated his neck muscles by having himself hanged in an exhibition, taking the drop as in a genuine hanging!

Also mentioned is the old-time Italian strongman and equilibrist (an acrobat who performs balancing feats, especially a tightrope walker), "Milo." One of his feats involved balancing a platform holding a man and a 400 lb. field gun and carriage totaling more than 600 lbs. And all of this was balanced on a pole on his chin! 

Willoughby also lists Joignery, a strongman at the Hippodrome in Paris in 1879, who supported for "several minutes" the weight of a horse and rider suspended from his teeth. 

Both Sigmund Brietbart and Alexander Zass (Samson) had amazing neck strength. These contemporary strongmen of the twenties could both drive well loaded wagons where the only connection between horse and wagon was the harness held in the teeth of the driver by means of a bit! 

My friend, Ottley Coulter, one of the last of the remarkable circus strongmen, could, at a bodyweight of 130 lbs., lift a 182 lb. dumbbell with his teeth while doing a handstand. 

Ottley's friend, the late Ed Quigley, with a 19.5" neck at 5'6" would, by way of a head strap while in the supine position on a bench, regularly exercise with 200 lbs. for reps! Joe 

Vitole owns the highest poundage in the teeth-lift (with hands on knees) at 550.5 lbs. as a middleweight! 

Warren Lincoln Travis has the world's record for the teeth-lift (with hands behind back - much more difficult) at 460 lbs! 

More recent are the feats of Bill Cook, North Carolina superheavy, who has balanced 400 lbs. on his head and pulled a "train" of several cars across a parking lot with his teeth. 

Mention should be made here that teeth-lifting, contrary to popular thought, is much more a test of neck strength than that of teeth or jaw. 

Hugh Cassidy on Teeth Lifting here: 
You might try some of the aforementioned stunts yourself on a smaller scale, then you can better appreciate the mindboggling power of a well trained neck. Maybe you will discover a new way to demonstrate your neck strength. I know of a barfly who used to amaze patrons with his ability to shell pecans with a forehead slam. This, however, is hardly a test of neck strength even if the fellow were to graduate to black walnuts and brazils!

Building a Strong and Massive Neck

There are many ways of building the neck and some are quite unusual. Gary Young, accomplished boxer, wrestler and former deadlift record holder in the 242's, has several interesting methods to build his massive neck. He does a headstand up against a wall and lets himself rock down and up on his head alternately stretching and flexing the neck muscles. He has done 200 reps in this manner. Guy Borelli also uses this method among others, but unlike Gary, finds it tears his hair out and often results in bleeding from the scalp. Gary will also lay prone and supine on a bench with the head extended over the end as a partner applies pressure to the head and jaw. Gary resists the pressure throughout the movement.

Another quite unique exercise of his is the "push-up" performed on the floor in the supine position. You place hands behind the head and attempt to push up and support your body by chin and toes alone. You can put a soft towel under your chin, and you'll need it. It's a real tough one!

Many fellows use the neck strap, but much weight must be used for this to be effective, as the changing leverages throughout the movement cause an uneven and incomplete stroke. The head strap's very construction is at fault here, as the straps holding the weight are made of cloth. This allows the weight to swing toward you as the head moves in its upward arc. To be most effective, the neck should be contracting throughout the lift. The weight therefore should move in the same direction as the head and I'll provide a solution to this later.

Some trainees use the wrestler's bridge with great effectiveness. This is an excellent method to build size and stamina. For some however, this position can be quite awkward, particularly for those like myself who lack this flexibility and for others who possess quite tender heads. It too can tear the hair out. This exercise often becomes less direct by the unconscious utilization of the feet as an aid in rolling onto the head.

Teeth-lifting is quite good but it has advantages and drawbacks. With teeth-lifting as with other types of lifting a certain amount of pain is to be endured. In teeth-lifting the strength of the neck can be directly measured in poundage, as opposed to other neck exercises where one counts reps and no great single effort can be made. Teeth-lifting does a good job in building the back of the neck but some other method will have to be found to build the front and sides where the sternocleidomastoid is found. The sweeping curve of these muscles are certainly the hallmark of a well developed neck. To get the front you can roll your forehead from side to side on a padded bench while on your knees. Bear down fairly hard while still continuing the rolling motion. 3 sets of 20-30 reps will do, the last reps producing a cramping feeling. In all neck exercises high reps seem more favorable toward development. In my experience, at least, anything under 15 reps fails to produce that worked feeling.

The Weighted Helmet

Of all the exercises, this is the one I prefer and is the basis for this article. I won't say I invented this, but the idea did occur to me in 1958 and I've heard of others using it since. Of course, there is every likelihood that this idea was put to use long before I was born.

I fixed a one inch pipe about 6" long to a screw into a fitting I had bolted to my helmet. Four short quarter inch bolts with lock washers are needed to hold the fittings (2 flanges) together. They are the only holes that need to be made in the center of your helmet. Use a standard barbell keeper (collar) to hold the weights on, procure a dell or type of strong chin strap and you're in business.

While the above contraption is relatively simple, I believe it to be a revolutionary advance in neck work. The movement with the helmet is far superior to the headstrap, as when the head moves the weight moves in the same direction and the finish position is just as difficult at the beginning.   

Before getting down to brass tacks, let me say that no neck looks really good unless well developed trapezius and deltoids lie on either side. Whether your aim is for looks and size or strength or both, it is a good idea to get the blood into the trap and delt area prior to your neck exercise. Upright rows do an excellent job of this besides building huge cut up delts and traps. I do mine with a Press grip (18") and raise the bar only to my sternum. Unlike the traditional upright row this method of performance allows one to use more weight and brings in greater deltoid involvement along with the trapezius. I do 4 sets fairly strict with 190x20, 215x15, 225x10, and 180x20.

Brass Tacks

The extremely soft tissues of the neck require more warming up than other body parts so load your helmet up with a poundage you can handle for 25 reps. 5 or 10 pounds may be enough if you have never done neck work before. One well developed bodybuilding friend of mine found the helmet alone sufficient for his first workout.

Get on your knees facing the side of your bench. Lean over with it with the fists supporting the chest and begin your movement at the bottom, thrusting as high as possible upward. DO NOT allow your chest to rise off your fists - this is a neck movement, not an exercise for the upper back!

Now for the front side of your neck. Get up immediately and lie across the bench on your back. Hold the weight with one  by the plate lip as you maneuver yourself into position. Stretch your legs out and flex lightly so you don't aid the movement by rocking. Again proceed for 25 reps. You've just done one superset. After a rest, repeat this superset, adding the proper weight so that you still get 25 reps. For your third set, add weight again only this time do 20 reps for each movement. The 4th and last set is the pump set. Reduce the weight and try for 40-50 reps on each movement.

After you get the knack, these four supersets should pump your neck very close to one inch and sometimes more. After three weeks (working three times a week), your neck girth will surprise you. That will be incentive enough to continue.

Add weight when you feel capable. You will quickly find that the neck is one of the fastest growing muscles in the body. I suppose that is because so little demand is made of it in everyday life. Your neck will also get powerful very quickly. I am able to teeth-lift a 250-lb. man anytime solely by training on the helmet. I can now handle 75 lbs. for 20 reps in both movements with the helmet.

Although I gained 25 lbs., my neck grew from 18" to 20.75" in a very short time with intermittent training. At 290 lbs. plus this isn't very big, but I'm still working on it. Guy Borelli, who has a rugged neck of 18.75" at 5'7" and 185 lbs. also uses the helmet but in a somewhat stricter manner. Lying lengthwise on the bench with the head hung over. Guy does strict full movements supine and prone.

If you want those "gorilla ripples" you'd better get started. Within a short time you'll be bursting out of your shirts, and friends will start calling you No Neck, and Bullet. There could be only one possible drawback to all this neck growth. You just might have to wash behind your ears more frequently! 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Teeth Lifting - Hugh Cassidy

Note: This article was first posted here in January of 2009. I'm reposting it with some great information provided by Mr. Morgan Norval. Thanks Morgan!!!

Info added by Morgan Norval (October 2017): 

"Hugh Cassidy trained at a friend's gym in Marlowe Heights, Maryland (same gym as the Mentzer brothers trained in). I rode up with Hugh the year after he won the powerlifting crown to the World meet in Harrisburg, PA, when John Kuc won it.

Hugh was a knowledgeable lifter who recruited and trained Mark Dimiduck, a Washington, DC, policeman who went far in powerlifting.

One of Hugh's favorite strength demonstrations was teeth lifting. He had a leather mouthpiece that he used, hooked to straps, to lift weights and other smaller lifters with his mouth clamped shut on the leather mouthpiece. Very impressive!

I forwarded this Hugh Cassidy article to my friend who owned the gym in Marlowe Heights and he emailed me that the other person in the upper photo (the person being lifted) was Gary Beltoya, a former Washington, DC policeman.

I fondly recall the old days at the Marlowe Heights gym - a great training atmosphere made up of serious trainers and some pretty strong individuals. Off the top of my head I can recall at least six Mr. DC winners that trained there. It was also the first gym in the DC area to get Nautilus machines.

To my knowledge, Hugh is still alive but retired from teaching in the public school system in Bowie, Maryland where he has lived for most of his life."

Teeth Lifting
by Hugh Cassidy

The first time I tried teeth lifting I knew I was in for a real challenge. There was a tremendous pressure on the teeth and jaw, and the facial bones around the nose and eye-socket area really ached. When I released the weight I felt the bones ease back into place and the pain was even greater, and later in the day the back of my neck was somewhat sore.

I had sent away for a mouthpiece after first making a cardboard impression of my teeth. Teeth lifting sounds fascinating and very unusual, and as I was interested in neck strength I thought this might help and add variety to my training. After that first experience I was ready to chuck the whole business. Being part Scotch, however, I was determined to at least get my money’s worth out of the mouthpiece. One of the first problems I had to overcome was gagging. The mouth and throat seem unwilling to accept anything inedible at first. It was only after whittling the strap shorter allowing more space for the tongue that I overcame the gag reflex.

Getting the Proper Fit

It is important that all of the teeth, especially the rear ones, fit onto the mouthpiece, yet the strap be no wider or deeper than necessary so as to allow tongue and mouth freedom and to prevent gagging. The mouthpiece has as extra layer of leather on each side to prevent it from slipping out should your jaw pressure relax or give out. These two layers rest against the front teeth and it is a good idea to put the weight down when you feel great pressure here of you’ll never lisp again! The pressure should be felt in the neck and molar area. Too much pressure on the front teeth is your warning of trouble and indicates the molar pressure is lessening. A well-known English bodybuilder lost a few ivories a while back by evidently ignoring the pressure on the front teeth. I had 360 lbs. about six inches off the floor trying to pull it higher. The audience was shouting encouragement and I was pulling for all I was worth despite the great pressure on the front teeth. I didn’t want to set it down and look like a quitter and yet my teeth were really beginning to move instead of the weight. So I eventually wised up and put the weight down. Sometimes an audience will make you overexert yourself and get to, or actually, injured. 

A good lifting mouthpiece sustained with a strong even jaw pressure will eliminate any strain on the front teeth. Without a good mouthpiece you’ll eventually have teeth so spread apart you’ll be able to gnaw an ear of corn through a picket fence. A well-fitting mouthpiece such as the one I recently had made and was a steal at $30. One can readily fashion his own cheaply with a little help from the local shoemaker, or send away for one. My teeth lifting partner Gary Beltoya put many hours in, whittling my mouthpiece to an exact fit. He worked from a plaster model of my teeth which my dentist (who thinks I’m nuts) made. Gary got a perfect fit, covering every tooth and getting the proper thickness of the outside layers even with the gumline. My strap is so constructed so that if one tooth goes, they’ve all got to go. Unless you’re eccentric or trying for a world record, or both, the regular mouthpiece will do nicely.

If your mouthpiece fits properly you will quickly find that teeth lifting is more a test of neck strength than that of teeth or jaw. I’d suggest a good warmup of the neck prior to a teeth lifting attempt, or else start very light. You’ll be surprised to find that you’re able to work up to over 100 lbs. quite soon. Even Bill Trueax, one of my training partners, was able to lift 145 lbs. on his first workout and he has no front teeth. Teeth development can serve two goals, that of neck development and that of strength. With practice and some heavy lifting, you can start lifting people with straps as well as weights. Lifting a human body never fails to elicit surprise and wonder in a gym or in front of an audience. Unfortunately, I stole the show from Santa Claus at a Christmas party last year. The kids completely flipped when I lifted Santa a few times. I was fatter than him but nobody seemed to notice. There are often comments of “Who’s your dentist?” and “He’s gonna break his teeth out!” Keep ‘em guessing if you will, but the secret of teeth lifting is in the neck. Long after your face and jaw and teeth become accustomed to the weight, the neck will still be the limiting factor as to how much you lift.

Feats of Teeth Lifting

Warren Lincoln Travis holds the World’s record in the teeth lift with hands behind back at 460 lbs. Joe Vitole, a middleweight, holds the record of 550 lbs. in the teeth lift with hands on knees. Others have approached these records. Both Alexander Zass (Samson), a traveling Russian strongman, and Eric Soeder, a Scandinavian circus strongman, were quite proficient in this lift. Pullum, the famous English chronicler, credits Zass with an unofficial training lift of about 580 lbs. consisting of a girder “weighing about 300 lbs. with a 10-stone man seated on each end.” Soeder claims a 550 lb. teeth pull, also unofficial. Both Zass and Sigmund Breitbart were able to drive loaded wagons where the only connection between horses and wagon was a “bit” held in the teeth of the driver. More common some years ago were the circus “iron jaw” acts where the performer hung from a trapeze by his teeth or slid down an inclined tightwire. Somewhat less bizarre, and easier too, are the feats of pulling cars and trains etc. with the teeth. In his fantastic book The Super Athletes, David Willoughby mentions the feat of Joe Tonti, who in 1945 pulled a five ton truck with his teeth while walking backwards on his hands! Needles to say, the feat of pulling an ordinary car is considerable easier – provided you are on level ground. The hard part is in starting the car rolling and overcoming inertia. Once it gets rolling the feat becomes one of endurance. One parking lot length ought to give you a good workout. As for freight cars, I haven’t tried one, but I’m told that the tracks and wheel bearings do 80% of the work.


If one desires to really elevate some poundage in the teeth lift, it would be advisable to incorporate into your program a few assistance exercises. Teeth lifting requires a strong lower back and good hamstrings. You will quickly realize this when you attempt reps and pull them as high as you can. Stiff-legged deadlifts will take care of both of these areas, and high reps are preferable. Also of value is some trapezius work. Both the spinal erectors muscles terminate at the base of the skull and are therefore much involved in teeth lifting. With the shirt off, it can be seen that the upper back and trap muscles flex quite a bit when teeth lifting. Shrugs, upright rows and high pulls will serve to condition this area. and if done just prior to your teeth lifting will help to get some needed blood and warmth to the affected area facilitating your first teeth lifting set. Direct neck work, of course, gets the area better and should be done next. Or, if you prefer, go right to your teeth lifting, starting with a low poundage for reps to avoid neck injury. I like Frankenstein’s sidekick Igor for five days once after failing to do a few warmup sets. In Igor’s case it was, unfortunately, somewhat worse as his neck was broken from a hanging and never healed properly. 

For my teeth lifting, I use a stout chain about two feet long with an S hook on either end. I loop this through an 85 lb. block weight for my warmup of 20 reps. The hooks, of course, hook right on to the ring on the end of the teethstrap. You’ll have less jiggling and be able to set the weight down more firmly if you get a block weight or facsimile, or use a stopper of some sort on one end of your chain and load from the other. Some fellows wrap a chain several times around an Olympic bar and lift using the hands lightly on the weights for balance. In any case, don’t get a kink in your chain, as if invariably comes out during your lift and can give you quite a head snap. Sets of 10 and 20 are great for developing the back of the neck as well as serving as warmups for the maximum triples, doubles or whatever. My present routine for teeth lifting consists of the following:

Deadlifts – 335x8, 435x8, 505x8.
Upright Row (press grip) – 115x15, 135x10x3sets, 115x15.
Neckwork – 40x25x2, 55x25x2, 70x15, 70x20, 50x30x4.
Teeth Lifting – 85x20, 150x15, 200x10, 250x5.

The neckwork is done by means of a helmet with weights loaded on a pipe on top. Second and third numbers above in each group represent supersets working the front and back of the neck laying on a bench with head hung over. All of the above is done twice a week except for the rows which are done three times a week. I’ve only had one trial with my new mouthpiece, but it looks like I’ll be able to improve on the 360 which really isn’t very good as teeth lifts go.


Your light teeth lifting sets can be raised much higher than the heavier sets and you should try to lift it is high as possible. If not too heavy, you’ll be able to stand fully erect. Heavier poundages only come about 6” off the floor as the back, leg and neck strain is so terrific. The legs are used a lot in this lift and the neck tends to stay in a rigid isometric condition as the weight gets heavier. For more neck involvement, throw the head up at the highest point of the lift. This again can only be done with the lighter sets. When lifting a maximum weight you may have to pull a few seconds longer, but once you get it started you’re sometimes good for a triple. At times it will feel as though your teeth, gums, eyeballs and even the whole face is going to tear right out, but keep pulling a mite longer and the weight will slowly rise. Often with maximum attempts, as in other lifts, a psych condition is the only thing that’ll get it going.

Staggered Deviation - Greg Merritt and Paul Carter (2017)


50 Years Ago:  

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More by by Greg Merritt

greg merritt

Unless you're training like a powerlifter, hoisting heavy weight, over and over, you don't need to rest very long between sets. Cutting rest periods can help you burn more fat and keep your workout intense.

You can, however give the muscle you're working a rest by shifting your attention to another area that may need more work - like maybe your calves or biceps.

Enter staggered sets!

The execution is simple: Insert a set or two  of work on a smaller muscle, unrelated to the primary muscle you're working, between sets of your main exercises. For example, if you're training legs, you'd do all four sets of the leg press and then two sets of curls. Or, one set of leg presses followed immediately by curls. And since you're not hitting any of the same muscles, staggered sets shouldn't affect your primary muscle target - though they may tire you out. The result is more volume for that particular area and more calories torched overall, as you're not just sitting on your arse "resting up."

You'll thank us later.

Staggered Set Basics

 - Train a smaller bodypart during rest periods between a bigger bodypart's sets. Make certain the smaller bodypart isn't stressed during compound exercises for the larger bodypart.

 - Abs, calves, forearms, and cardio are the best candidates for staggered sets.

 - The classic method of staggering sets is to alternate one set for the smaller bodypart between every two or more sets for the larger art.

 - Try to plan combinations that you can do in the same workout area. For example, dumbbell flyes and crunches can be done on the same bench.

 - Don't stagger sets if you need the rest period to recover from an exhausting set. 

There are three ways to do staggered sets:

Unrelated Supersets

Alternate a set for a bigger bodypart with one for a smaller, unrelated bodypart. You probably won't want to do as many sets for the smaller bodypart, so skip supersetting one or two sets. For example, if you do 16 sets of 4 exercises for the back, do 12 sets of 3 exercises for the calves.

Asymmetrical Combos

Do one set for the smaller bodypart for every two or more sets for the larger bodypart. For example, complete one set for abs between every two sets of arms, and after 12 sets for biceps and 12 for triceps, you'll have also cranked out 12 sets for abs. This is the classic method of staggering.

Between Exercises

Perform one set for a smaller bodypart between exercises for larger bodyparts. For example, throw in a wrist curl set after completing every leg exercise, and over the course of a workout consisting of four exercises for quads and three for hams, you'll squeeze in seven sets for forearms, almost without noticing.

Problem Areas

Choose from these examples designed by hypertrophy specialist Paul Carter to enhance these commonly lacking bodyparts.

Weak Point: Rear Delts

Staggered with Arms Sets

1A. Barbell Curl, 3 x 10-12
1B. Bent Lateral Raise, 3 x 10-12

2A. Incline Dumbbell Curl, 3 x 8-10
2B. Standing Cable Rear Lateral Raise, 3 x 10-12

3A. Triceps Pushdown, 4 x 15
3B. Band Pull-Apart, 4 x 20

4A. Seated Dumbbell Bench Press, 3 x 10-12
4B. Cable Face-Pull, 3 x 12-15

Weak Point: Calves

Staggered with Back Sets

1A. Lat Pulldown, 4 x 10-12
1B. Standing Calf Raise, 1-2 x 15-20

2A. Barbell Row, 4 x 6-8
2B. Seated Calf Raise, 1-2 x 15-20

3A. Low Cable Row, 3 x 10-12
3B. Leg Press Calf Raise, 1-2 x 20-25

Weak Point: Forearms

Staggered with Quadriceps Sets

1A. Leg Extension, 3 x 20
1B. Behind the Back Wrist Curl, 3 x 20

2A. Leg Press, 3 x 20
2B. One-Arm Reverse Cable Curl, 3 x 12

3A. Back Squat, 2 x 12-15
3B. Hammer Curl, 2 x 10-12

Weak Point: Upper Chest

Staggered with Hamstring Sets

1A. Leg Curl, 6 x 8-10
1B. Incline Flye, 6 x 10-12

2A. Stiff-Leg Deadlift, 3 x 6-8
2B. Incline Dumbbell Press, 3 x 10-12

3A. Good Morning, 3 x 15
3B.Wide-Grip Smith Machine Incline Press, 3 x 8-10.

A Squat Program That Works - Bill Starr (1989)

"Train like hell, you'll get there." 
Check out the Blog Archives at that link above

Originally Published in IRONSPORT (Oct '89)

Article Courtesy of Liam Tweed

A Squat Program that Works

There was a ten-minute break before the heavyweight class began their Clean and Jerks, so I flopped down into a chair. I was beat from talking to so many of my old associates at the Women's Olympic Nationals in Houston. Some of the people there I hadn't seen in twenty years. Tommy Suggs and I had driven up from the Gulf Coast to watch the women perform.

And we were quite impressed. Not only did the contestants display excellent technique, quickness and athleticism, they were also extremely attractive, which added to our appreciation. 

Tom Hirtz sat down beside me and we spent some time assessing our associates. "It's nice to see someone not caught up in the fitness craze," I said, pointing to one of our portly old pals.

"Well," Tom countered, "at least he hasn't put on any weight lately. Check out 'Jake and the Fat Man' over there." 

"It does seem as though everyone's been eating regularly." 

"There's more official in the snack bar than out here watching the lifting." We laughed because it was true. 

"Freddie Lowe looks terrific. Glad he's been put in the Hall of Fame. I conducted the first meet he was ever in in Marion, Indiana. Louie DeMarco and Jim Schmitz look good too." 

"So do Tommy Kono and Walter Imahara."    

We were interrupted from our amusement when one of the girls who had lifted earlier in the day sat down next to me and asked, "Can I talk to you for a minute." 

"Sure," I said agreeably. Tom got up and disappeared into the snack bar. "How can I help you?" 

She introduced herself as Michele. She trained alone and picked up training tips at contests. Immediately, I felt a fondness for this young athlete, for this is exactly how I gained information during my first year of competition. I studied her as she expounded on her lifting background. She was built perfectly for the sport; wide, sturdy hips, strong legs, and a fit upper body. When she paused, I asked, "What can I do for you?" 

"Don Amini says you might give me a few ideas on squatting. I got pinned on my last Clean today." 

"How often do you squat?" 

"Three times a week, two back and one front." 

"Sets and reps?" 

"Always the same. I warm up with 10 reps, then go to 8, 6, 4, and end up with a double." 

"Same routine on fronts?" 

She nodded and studied me with a serious expression. It made me realize hos intent these young ladies were on Olympic lifting. "And no progress for a time?" 

"A long time," she mumbled sourly. 

"Where do you put your squats in your program?" 

"I do my pulls first every workout. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I squat behind my pulls and on Fridays, I squat last."

I paused to watch Smitty engage in a mock wrestling match with Jim Moser, then I turned to Michele and said, "You need a change. That much is clear. And you need to give your legs priority for a time. Say, eight weeks." 

"I'm willing to do whatever you suggest," she said agreeably.

"Here's a program that will jar your legs and move your weekly workload up." 

"Weekly workload?" she asked in a tone much as if I'd spoken in a foreign language.

"Your weekly workload is the total amount of weight you lift in a week. Simply multiply the weight times the number of reps and add them together. You should check out your current program before you go on this new one. That will give you some feedback for later."

"I can do that," she returned cheerfully. "I keep good records." 

"You'll still squat three times a week. On Mondays, you'll do 5 sets of 10."

"Is that counting my warmups?"

I nodded in the affirmative. "And the last set should be max. Absolutely. Wednesday, do 5 sets of 5, again going to a limit on the final set. Friday, 3 sets of 5, followed by 3 sets of 3 and a back-off set of 8."

"Go to the limit on Friday too?" 

"Yep, every workout. The heavy triples will help the tens, in turn the tens will push up the fives and the fives drive up the triples.. These three different workouts work nicely in tandem. The tens are terrific conditioners, the fives are primarily strength builders, and the threes tap into the tendons and ligaments." 

"I see," she murmured and I could see that she was trying to digest this new information quickly and thoroughly.

I continued, "For the next month, do all back squats. And move the squat to the beginning of your program. In other words, give it priority." 

"You don't think I need to front squat?"

"When is your next contest?" 

She thought on my question for a moment, then replied, "John Coffee's having one in about three months." 

"Then you don't need to front squat during the next month. You'll still be cleaning so you won't lose your flexibility and positioning. After four weeks, put the fronts back in program on Wednesdays. Do 8 sets of 3, including warmups and keep Mondays and Fridays the same." 

"And I should keep the squats first in my program?"

"Until you're satisfied with the gains or until the meet is a month or six weeks away. Then, drop the squats in behind your pulls once again and concentrate more on your lifting form and technique." 

"You said my workload should go up. How much?"

"What you're interested in as far as workload is how much it improves in the next two months. For example, if you find that you have been handling 20,000 pounds a week in your squats, you will want to increase that to 30 or 35,000 pounds during the next two months. When you do so, you'll know positively that you have a much stronger strength base and your top-end lifts will reflect the extra work."

She sighed and leaned back in her chair. "I'm ready for a change, that's for sure." She turned to me and said grimly, "It was very embarrassing to be down there with a weight on my chest and not be able to get up." 

"I know the feeling," I mumbled knowingly, recalling the helpless sensation. "But one good thing about the squats," I quickly added in an encouraging tone, "if your willing to work them hard, the legs will respond. One other thing for you to remember further down the road - if the tens peak out, which they might after six weeks or so, you can alter your Monday workout. Instead of tens, work up and do a max set of five, then do two more sets with that same weight." 

"You better run through that part again." 

Do four sets of warmups, all fives, then do a max set of five, followed by two more sets of five with that same top-end weight." 

"That sounds rather brutal." 

"It is hard, doing a max set and then coming back to do two more, but it's a terrific conditioner. The first couple of times you do the program, you may only get four or perhaps three reps on your second and third sets. That's fine, merely add a rep a week until you reach the 3 sets of 5, then move the weight up the following Monday."

"But what about Wednesdays?"

"When you start doing three heavy sets of fives on Monday, make Wednesday your light day. Remember I said you should bring the front squats back into your program at about this time, so the fronts will in fact serve as a light day. If you should want to do backs on Wednesday for some variety, use some 50 pounds less than you did on Monday and work through sets of five in a rapid pace." 

I looked over to see if she was grasping all this. She was smiling slightly, a contented smile, so I figured she had soaked it all in. She snapped out of her daydream, which I felt certain contained a scene of her blasting up with a record Clean and asked mildly, "Anything else?"

"Does all this hard leg work affect flexibility?" 

"With all the additional leg work, it's quite easy for your legs to tighten up and they'll stay tight unless you spend some time stretching them out. Especially the hamstrings. The stretching will also alleviate soreness and keep you from injuring them." 

"I always do lots of stretching before I start my workouts," she announced proudly.

"That's good, but you'll need to start stretching in between sets and also after you finish your squat program. And I also suggest that you include more stretching at night, while you're watching TV."

"I do some of that now," she provided with a spirited grin. She stood, held out her hand and said, "Thanks for the help, is there someplace I can write you and tell you how it worked out?" 

I accepted her proffered hand and said, "Amini always knows where to find me. Good luck." I watched her work her way out of the maze of chairs, admiring her athletic physique and carriage. Strange, I thought, how the girl Olympic lifters have assumed many of their male counterparts mannerisms, most noticeably the walk.

Hirtz moved behind me and said jokingly, "The answer man helping a damsel in distress." 

"You ever know me not to have an answer?" I laughed.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Keeping a Training Log - Tommy Kono (1972)

Article Courtesy of Liam Tweed

Note: This is one of the many articles in Tommy Kono's ABC's of Weightlifting Series.
Series made possible with the additional help of Regis Becker and the late Reuben Weaver.

Keeping a Training Log
by Tommy Kono (1972)

Chest - 29", Expanded - 30"
Waist - 26"
Arms - 8", Flexed - 9"
Height - 4'8"
Weight - 74.5 pounds

and so on went the list I had written down in my notebook for March 27, 1942 when I was 11 years old. I had sent a postcard to one of the popular "train by mail" schools for more information about their bodybuilding course and I was sent a measurement form. I had my older brother carefully measure me and although I filled out the form I never mailed it nor the $36.00 that was necessary to enroll in the course. I was intensely interested in developing my skinny body, however, so I made copies of this form and measured myself quite regularly even though I had not taken up any form of systematic training. 

Years later I had learned about weight training and entered by first weightlifting competition in early 1948. Then I started to keep some notes on my weight training in addition to the body measurements. At first I used to write only the new training records I would make.

In reviewing my training program I found that the notes I kept were too incomplete so I started to write down every repetition and the number of sets and weights I would handle. The loose leaf notebook I had been using wasn't satisfactory so I switched to the spinal ring type notebook used by stenographers. During my second year of competitive lifting I started to keep notes not only of my training but also any new ideas I would have in regards to technique, training methods, goals and training plans.

In essence my training log book became a diary of everything concerned with weightlifting. I referred to it often in checking the progress I was making and to correct any weak points of my lifts by reviewing the technical notes.

The more I became involved in weightlifting the more training notes I started keeping. It was at this point that I noticed that the amount of improvement made in my lifts was in direct proportion to the amount of notes I kept.

The photo above shows nine of my 10 training log books which cover every training session over a period of 15 years - from January, 1949 until September, 1963. The books list every set, rep, and weight lifted in training and in competition during that time and many of the ideas have appeared in my ABC articles.

During the last few decades the Russians, Poles, Bulgarians, East Germans, and Hungarians have all come out with their own training log books. It is no small wonder that these Eastern European nations have bettered their performances. The coaches and lifters make good use of the information within the log books.

At the 1958 Olympics the defending super-heavyweight Olympic champion Zhabotinsky proudly informed me that he had filled six log books with his training data. Many times world champion, Victor Kurentsov, is always seen at the training hall with his log book. Batishev, the second best superheavy of Russia, has his book in his training bag all the time and constantly refers to it during his actual training and writes in his lifts. The outstanding Polish lifter, Baszanowski, keeps a very detailed account of his training. If men of this caliber keep a written record of their training, why not the less talented lifters?

When I started my work in Mexico in 1966 as their national coach I required every lifter who trained under me to keep a well written record of what he did during each training period. When I moved to Germany to coach I asked that a weightlifting log book be made available to the better lifters. In early 1970, Dave Webster the Scottish national coach and I collaborated and produced what I believe to be the first English language edition of a training log book. More recently Wes Woo of Vancouver, B.C. came out with the loose leaf type.

Note: Wes Woo, one time Canadian National Weightlifting team coach, also produced a series of humorous cartoons for Strength and Health magazine, featuring the characters Cus the Coach and his hapless lifter Fearless Fred. 

Writing your training on a scrap of paper as I have seen some do is not a good method, for many times the paper becomes lost or the lifter either forgets or becomes too lazy and doesn't transfer this note into a permanent book. The book you use doesn't have to be an expensive nor an elaborate one, but rather a sturdy one that can withstand heavy usage. 

To save yourself lots of writing you could use abbreviations and code numbers or letters or use a certain corner only to keep certain notes. The important information that you should include would be the following: day, date, time - beginning and ending of the workout - and if you train at various places write he name of the place, and naturally the exercises - sets, reps, weights used, bodyweight before or after the workout or both. Also include a little remark about the workout or of a special exercise.

You can become more detailed in your note taking by including other factors such as the amount of sleep you had the previous night and any rest period you may have taken during the day prior to your workout, your general feeling - which is subjective but may help you evaluate your training later on - before your training session.

A long time ago I read that one of the most interesting books for any person to read is his own savings account book. You can usually tell when you received a raise or purchased a new car or got a bonus, etc. It shows a systematic saving or undisciplined approach to saving. For a weightlifter the most interesting book to read would be his own training log book. It would show his progress or his lack of progress. You can use the information to analyze your past lifting and from this develop a better future plan.

It is very rare in the U.S. to come across a lifter with any sort of a coach helping him plan his training routine and correcting his faults in lifting technique. Nearly all the past and present crop of good lifters are self-trained, getting ideas from lifting journals and speaking with other lifters and getting some helpful hints from former lifters. Those who show continued progress are the lifters who are constantly seeking information, reflecting back to their training program and trying to improve on their training plan by analyzing their past training.

I have often borrowed and used the expression, "The palest of ink is better than the best of memory," and it holds true more in weightlifting than in any other sport. In our sport a person can deal so closely with statistics and data. The Russians have come out with such terms as tonnage, intensity, and monthly volume load, which came about only from research and analysis of the written training logs of hundreds of their top lifters and thousands of their lesser known lifters.

Written records have great influence in the development of mankind. Statistics help us evaluate the past and present and predict the future more accurately. Writing things down also helps us think more clearly and precisely.

One of the greatest advantages in keeping a training log book is the fact that it helps you organize your training, exercises, and sequence of exercises. It also helps you concentrate on what you are trying to accomplish with your training. Another worthy point is that it helps you form a better plan for the future by being able to evaluate your previous plan.

It is neither too late nor too early to start keeping a training log book. The champions do, so why not you? 


Friday, October 13, 2017

Bob Gajda's Routines - John Mese (1966)

Originally Published in This Issue

Bill Seno and Bob Gajda

Thanks Terry!

Gajda's Routines
by John Mese

In our last issue, we discussed everything about Bob Gajda, except his training. This time, we'll take a look at the routines he used in preparation for the Jr. Mr. America and the Sr. Mr. America this year. 

As most of you know, Gajda has been following the Sequence System for more than two years. He feels he gets his best progress from this type of routine. The basic idea is that the muscles will grow due to the amount of work performed, not because of the large amount of blood pumped to the area. In addition, because you rest less, far more work can be performed in the same period of time that might be used in the regular multiple set systems.

When used by Gajda, five exercises are selected as a group. Each exercise is performed one set each, in rapid succession. Completing all of them once is considered a full group set. Then, this one group set is repeated in the same way, as many times as desired. 

This is definitely not a routine for a beginner and even for the advanced man it should be approached carefully. This DOES work for Bob Gajda and gave him one of the finest physiques in America. You'll notice his development is not of the puffy, over-inflated type - he possesses size, shape, definition and separation (a rarity) too. 

Following are Gajda's advanced routines. I doubt that you'll be able to follow them in full at the beginning, but modify them for your own use. Sequence training as popularized by our Mr. America definitely has much to offer every bodybuilder.


Sequence One - 10 sets of 10 reps
3-Way Lateral Raise
Seated Calf Raise
1-Arm DB Triceps Extension
Leg Extension (one leg at a time).

Sequence Two - 10 sets of 10 reps
Incline DB Flyes
Front Pulls
Neck Strap Work
Roman Chair Squats
Front Chins.

Sequence Three - 6 sets of 10 reps
DB Press
Pulley Rowing
Peak Concentration Curl
Krusher Work (pecs).

Sequence Four - 6 sets of 10 reps 
Upright Rowing
Triceps Pressdown
Leg Press Calf Raise
Knee Ups (abs)
Krusher Work (pecs).

Sequence Five - 6 sets of 10 reps
Reverse Curl
Triceps Extension
Sissy Squat
Double Pulley Crossover

Sequence Six - 9 sets of 10 reps
Cable Crossover
Wrist Curl
Incline Laterals.

Plus one-half hour of specialization on any particular bodypart that is lagging behind.


Sequence One - 10 sets of 10 reps
Krusher Work (pecs)
Front Pull
Hack Squat (20 reps on this)
Power Calf Raise (20 reps)

Sequence Two - 10 sets of 10 reps
Roman Chair
Seated Calf Raise
Leg Curl
Good Morning

Sequence Three - 6 sets of 10 reps
Leg Raise
Leg Extensions
Krusher Work (pecs)

Sequence Four - 10 sets of 10 reps

Sequence Five - 5 sets of 20 reps
Leg Press
Calf Raises

He then runs for one-half mile and does some additional work on the abs.

On each of his training days Gajda does some morning neck and calf work - usually five sets of 20 reps for each part.  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Hybrid 5 x 5 - Eddie Avakoff (2017)

50 Years Earlier:

80 Years Earlier:

Metroflex Gym Long Beach California:

Eddie Avakoff, Owner

by Eddie Avakoff (2017)

What attracts me to the 5x5 (not the cheeseburger, but the 5 sets x 5 reps training scheme) is that it's the perfect balance of power and strength. Power refers to the speed of the lift: Force times distance, divided over time. Strength refers to the total amount of weight one can lift. In this 5x5 scheme, both attributes are products of the volume: 25 total reps, all near maximal effort, build strength. And, playing with such a low rep count during each set helps develop power.

I know, to some, 5 reps is cardio, but in the grand scheme of things that's a pretty low rep count. I feel this blend of strength and power training best serves performance athletes, as many sports (football, MMA, hockey, basketball, baseball) don't just require sheer strength, but all the ability to produce speed (power) at the drop of a hat. Note: the 5x5 applies to all primary foundational lifts (squat, bench, deadlift, and overhead press).

Different Approaches

There are many ways to approach a 5x5. For instance, each primary movement can be assigned a specific day: Monday Squat, Tuesday Overhead Press, Thursday Deadlift, etc. Not a bad approach, but unless I'm pursuing a strength goal (i.e. a powerlifting meet or strongman competition), I tend to avoid (body part/movement pattern) isolation and like to stick to whole body training from session to session. Therefore, each day (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday) I'll perform squat, press, (bench or overhead) and deadlift, 5x5 on each. That's legs, push, and pull.

But, there's more to this program than just 5x5 squat, 5x5 press, and 5x5 deadlift. After each movement is completed, a secondary accessory exercise is performed for 3 sets of 20 reps. For example, after doing 5x5 squat, one would complete 3x20 leg press. After doing 5x5 bench press, try 3x20 on dips. And after 5x5 deadlift, you could do 3x20 on cable rows. So in its entirety, one would have done six movements in a training day: Three foundational lifts (5x5) and three accessory lifts (3x20).   

I like this program because each lifting session is full body (and certainly no neglect to leg training, which is generally most important for athletes). This program is also very simple to follow, something one can easily complete in any gym - barbell movements are as basic (and effective) as it can get. It's a great strength program for two or three days a week in the gym.

Incorporating It Into Your Training

Maybe you can't get to the gym every day, or perhaps you're juggling weight training with another sport (which is why I say it's great for performance athletes). I use this strength program in conjunction with mixed martial arts and it serves as a great asset to my power and muscular endurance while in the ring.

Here's an example of a typical training week using this program:

Squat 5x5 / Leg Press 3x20
Bench Press 5x5 / Dip 3x20
Deadlift 5x5 / Pull-Up 3x20

Squat 5x5 / Walking Lunge 3x20
Overhead Press 5x5 / Handstand Pushup 3x20
Deadlift 5x5 / Cable Row 3x20

Squat 5x5 / Hamstring Curl 3x20
Bench Press 5x5 / Incline Dumbbell Press 3x20
Deadlift 5x5 / Lat Pulldown 3x20

Honestly, even if you couldn't get to the accessory movement (let's pretend you just don't have time one day), just the 5x5 on squat, bench, and dead is plenty of weight training for the day. Having just become a new dad, I often find myself short on time and the simple 5x5 S-B-D is perfect for 60 minutes in the weight room.

However, when I have the time and, more importantly, the energy (as I write this on three hours of sleep with the little one right beside me), the full 5x5 plus accessories is a butt-kicking program that bridges strength and power. It has served my strength throughout my MMA training, and is also my go-to program for periods of my life when I'm busy (also known as life happens).

Crafting a Plan

I'd like to add one final piece to the puzzle: A long term plan. Typically, I try to abide by this 5x5 protocol for a good 10 to 12 weeks, slowly but surely increasing the weight week by week. Then, after about three months, I'll drop the weight slightly (usually to about the same weight that I started week one or two's 5x5 with), and complete that given weight for 3x10. This not only serves as a much needed deload, but also reassures the significant strength gains received from the 5RM has now become the 10. I find it best to spend a solid two to three weeks playing with this deload.

Here's an example of a week-by-week progression: 

Week 1: Top working 5x5 set: 225 lbs.
Week 2: 235 lbs.
Week 3: 240
Week 4: 245
Week 5: 245
Week 6: 250
Week 7: 255
Week 8: 260
Week 9: 265
Week 10: 265
Week 11: 270
Week 12: 275
Week 1: Deload 3x10: 225
Week 2: 230
Week 3: 235.

You can either spend another week sticking to the deload, or jump  onto the 5x5 protocol, starting at, or around, the weight you left off at. I'd start at around 260 or 265 lbs. 

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