Strength, Made Stupid Simple
written by sean hyson
Percentage-based strength programs are very popular these days. I’m following one now—which I discussed HERE—and I’m enjoying great results. Block periodization, the Westside template, and Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 are all solid approaches to gaining muscle and strength that are popular. But if you’re confused about the science of training, you’re lazy, or just… what the hell, I’ll say it… a little slow-witted, you don’t need to bother with any of them.
You can get big and strong quickly without breaking out calculators, protractors, charts, or anything else that makes things complicated. As my friend and colleague Ben Bruno likes to say, “Lifting is supposed to be simple. That’s why we’re meatheads.” (Incidentally, Ben is one of the smartest guys I know, so if he likes to keep things simple when he’s capable of so much more, you and I should heed the advice.)
Summer is fast approaching, so if you’re feeling weak, soft, and small, we need to take drastic action. Below, I’ll show you a great system for building big lifts (and the muscle that comes with them) that I just came across in the new book Powerlifting, by Dan Austin and Bryan Mann. It’s available from Human Kinetics and I highly recommend it. In a short period, this approach works as well as anything, and better than most things. I’ve seen it and used it in the past, but props to Austin and Mann for so laying it out so succinctly.
Here we go:
1. Estimate your six-rep max (6RM) for all your major barbell lifts. The bench press, squat, and deadlift and their variations are what we’re dealing with here. Forget about curls.
2. In your first set, a warm up, perform 10 reps using about half of your 6RM. For instance, if you can bench 250 for 6, you’ll use about 125 pounds.
3. Increase the weight again so it’s about 75% of your 6RM. I know I said “no calculators” but this is the only time you’ll need one, I promise. But then again, an estimate is ok, so don’t stress. This is another warm up done for 6 reps. (In our 250-pound 6RM example, this second warm-up set would be done with 185 lbs.)
4. Now you’re ready to load up your 6RM. Go for as many reps as you can (till your form is about to break down and you’re good and tired). Since you only ESTIMATED your 6RM and you’ve done two warm-up sets, this number may or may not REALLY be 6 reps, so don’t think you have to stop there if you’ve got more in you.
5. You’ll do one more set based on how well you performed that last one. If you did your third set (the 6RM one) and got 2 or fewer reps, you went WAY too heavy (what did I say about “slow-witted”?) and need to back off. Reduce the weight on the bar by 5–10 pounds. Or maybe just go home—this is not your day.
If you got 3 or 4 reps, you can keep the same weight or lighten it by up to five pounds.
If you completed 5–7 reps, you were right on the money and should stick with that weight.
If you banged out 8–12 reps, you need to go heavier. Up the load by 5–10 pounds.
If you got 13 or more (did you even load the bar??), increase the weight 10–15 pounds.
Let’s say you did 8 reps with your 6RM load (250 pounds). You’ll go up to 255 or 260 for Set 4.
That’s it. Do some weak-point training or “beach work” and then go home. You only need 4 sets on your main lift—2 warm ups, the 6RM set, and the adjusted set. Next week, you’ll refer to this list again when you set your 6RM. If in Week 1 you did 260 pounds for another 8 reps in the fourth set, you know the weight is still a bit too light for you. Getting 8 reps means you need to increase the load another 5–10 pounds, so now you’ll work off a 265–270 6RM. Base your warm ups and 6RM set off that, and then that performance will determine what you load for Set 4 in Week 2.
And so it goes. This is an awesome way to customize your training. Some days you’ll feel great. The third set will reveal that you have plenty in the tank and you’ll increase the weight and make the most of your energy. Other days you’ll feel tired and down, and doing just the minimum will be enough. You’ll train however is optimal for that day and time.
Powerlifting shows you a few more options for how to use this method, called “autoregulating progressive resistance exercise” (APRE), but I can’t give everything away. Check out the book if you like, apply this program, and let me know how it goes.
It’s just over a month till summer…