It’s quite apparent that very
little thought has been given to training for strength – and
therefore size – by the millions of people who read about it on the
internet, or by the people who write about it on the internet.
Muscles get stronger by getting bigger, and if you want bigger
muscles you have to lift heavier weights. Specifically, a muscle
increases its contractile force capacity by increasing its
cross-sectional area, and that’s the only
mechanism by which this occurs (neuromuscular efficiency being an
immediate, short-term, and genetically-limited adaptation).
an increase in size requires an increase in strength, which requires
an increase in the weight lifted, and this is a relatively
uncomplicated process for the first couple of years of training: use
an exercise that involves a lot of muscle mass in a normal human
movement pattern, put more weight on the bar than last time, and lift
it for the same number of reps with excellent technique. Experience
has shown that 5 reps for sets across works best.
in normal human movement patterns, and it must therefore be developed
in normal human movement patterns, because the most efficient version
of the movement pattern is an inherent part of the strength being
displayed. Training the movement pattern itself is the only way to
ensure that all the components of the kinetic chain of the movement
are responding to the stress of the load in the way they actually
function within the movement. The basic barbell exercises are merely
loaded versions of normal human movement patterns.
Experience has shown that this
approach works for everybody who uses it, regardless of age, sex, or
infirmity. The Blue Book has sold a million copies, and in what is
the largest Exercise Science study to date over an almost 20-year
timescale (as opposed to one semester), hundreds of thousands of
people have demonstrated the efficacy of this simple approach to
loading the very few basic normal human movement patterns for
improvements in strength.
has also shown that during this period of time, isolation bodypart
“assistance exercises” are a waste of time. The term “bodypart”
refers to the individual muscle groups that are visible under the
exquisitely thin, tanned, and oiled skin of your favorite contest
bodybuilders. Things like quads, hammies, bis, tris, lats, calves,
pecs, and delts are bodyparts.
And apparently squats, deadlifts, presses, benches, cleans, barbell
rows, and weighted chins do not adequately train these bodyparts.
vast majority of strength training experts are really bodybuilders.
They cannot move past the idea that “muscle groups” need to be
identified, isolated, and trained so that they can contribute to the
larger movement pattern being trained. The idea that Leg Extensions
are an “assistance exercise” for the squat – because the squat
itself doesn’t adequately train the quads – is a perfect example of
the squat doesn’t adequately train
the quads, then it doesn’t adequately use
the quads, so what purpose is served by leg extensions and stronger
quads? The obvious fact is that the squat trains the quadriceps group
to the precise degree that it applies in the squat, and that heavier
squats require and therefore develop stronger quads.
This fallacy has wasted several hundred million weight room hours
this year alone, and it obviously applies to all other bodypart-based
assistance training. Leg curls, tricep extensions, dumbbell curls,
dumbbell flyes, and calf raises may be important to advanced physique
competitors, but for lifters and athletes whose primary objective is
strength, they represent not merely a waste of time but a fundamental
misconception about the task at hand.
are a few normal human movement patterns that can be loaded
bilaterally and symmetrically, and which are therefore useful for
building strength for a long enough period of time to be a
significant contribution to improved human performance. The
“Assistance Exercises” referred to in the Blue Book are mostly
partial range of motion versions of these basic barbell exercises,
and can be very effectively used to extend the time over which
strength can be gained.
argument here is with the bodypart exercises for which machines and
bench apparatus have been designed. You can strengthen an isolation
movement like leg extensions or loaded back extensions for about 6
weeks, but you can increase your deadlift for years with proper
programming, as any elite powerlifter has demonstrated (even if he
didn’t understand why). Dumbbell rows did not increase his deadlift –
the deadlift increased his deadlift. And as
his deadlift went up, so did his dumbbell row.
this is the source of his confusion: he was programming heavier
weights over his training cycles in the deadlift, but respected
coaches told him that dumbbell rows would help, so he did them, and
his deadlift went from 699 to 750 (while the dumbbell rows went from
195×10 to 215×10, maybe), so the dumbbell rows must have helped the
deadlift. The obvious fact is that the deadlift helped the dumbbell
rows, and not the other way around, because 20 pounds gained on a
unilateral dumbbell row cannot contribute to 51 pounds gained on a
deadlift that uses about 10 times as much muscle mass and 4 times as
many joints as a dumbbell row.
is true that dumbbell rows work more than just the lats, but not
much. The arms are the main benefactors, and while the entire trunk
musculature is involved, it’s not to the extent to which it could
possibly contribute to the deadlift. It omits the hips and legs, and
the spinal extensors, it is unilateral, and far less muscle mass is
moving a far lighter load with one arm supported by a bench. The
lighter load cannot produce the stress necessary to drive an increase
in a lift that may be 4 times heavier.
And more importantly, unless you are a physical idiot you
cannot fall down doing a dumbbell row.
Balance is a very important
consideration in this analysis. Bodyparts are trained in isolation
using machines or apparatus that allow movements to take place while
not standing on two feet using the whole kinetic chain. You cannot
work one lat, or your quads, or your calves, or your triceps without
a way to balance yourself while you work that isolated piece of the
kinetic chain. Normal bilateral human movement patterns (the ones
where heavy weights can be lifted, thus making you stronger) are
executed while standing on two feet while not falling down. In
barbell training, your body is the machine you are operating, not the
device you’re sitting in while moving your legs around. Yes, this
makes barbell curls a potentially useful exercise, but not the Scott
balance component of the basic barbell exercises is the factor that
causes the high levels of muscle mass and neuromuscular involvement
that all bodypart exercises lack. As you squat down and then drive
your hips back up into lockout, dozens of opportunities to fall over
have been detected and corrected by the marvelous system of
positional feedback provided by your eye-gaze reaction to the floor
in front of you, and the skill you have developed along with your
strength. Your feet, calves, chest, arms, and head position all
adjust to the proprioceptive feedback from the floor as the load
moves down and back up to keep the combined center of mass of you and
the bar balanced over your mid-foot.
cannot isolate your quads while standing on two feet, and your quads
do not function in
any normal human movement patterns. Knee extension is functionally
coupled with hip extension, spinal extension, and
dorsiflexion/plantar flexion at the ankles. Leg extensions make no
sense in the context of training normal human movement patterns for
strength, and just because your health spa has a leg extension
machine doesn’t mean you have to use it. Training your muscles for
what you perceive to be aesthetic purposes is not strength training,
and you really should grasp the difference.
if you are a contest bodybuilder in the intermediate/advanced levels
of training, you probably need to isolate your quads, for separation,
muscularity, and other bodybuilding-type reasons. But if you are
actually big enough to place in your height class (or whatever
classes they have now), you didn’t get that way doing leg extensions.
The fastest and most important bodyweight gains you will make will
happen in your first 2 years of training with your squats, deadlifts,
presses, bench presses, barbell rows, and weighted chins, if you do
it correctly. Bilateral loaded human movement patterns with
incrementally progressive loads increased as often as possible and
recovered from as thoroughly as possible are the key to strength, and
strength is the key to size and aesthetics.
training is a huge distraction from this process. It never results in
either profound strength or contest-level physiques. But it is
easier, and it’s more fun. And that may well be all you’re interested
in. If so, just use the machines and get a nice pump. Bodybuilding is
just fine with me if that’s all you want to do. But be clear with
yourself about what you’re doing: if your basic barbell exercises are
not going up in weight, you’re not getting either stronger or bigger.
And if that’s what you’re really trying to do, your approach is not
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