The Relationship of Muscular Mass to Strength

by Arthur Jones

Increasing the size of a muscle will increase its strength… and the increase in strength will be in proportion to the increase in size. But it does not follow that a particular individual with larger muscles can always demonstrate more strength than another individual with smaller individual.

The ability to demonstrate strength, to produce movement against a give level of resistance, is determined by a number of factors… the size of a muscle, and thus the strength of a muscle itself (since size and strength are related) is only one factor. In later chapters we will cover the other factors involved in usable strength… but in this chapter, we are concerned only with muscular size.

Increasing the strength of a muscle by increasing its size is probably the most common goal in exercise… primarily, I think, because it is a goal that can be seen, measured, experienced. And, secondarily, because it is a goal that can be reached quickly. Millions of people have devoted large parts of their lives to this goal, and thousands of books have been written on the subject… yet the subject has remained clouded by confusion.

The facts are simple enough, and are available… but separating the facts from the myths is not always simple. One such myth concerns the subject of this chapter… the relationship of muscular mass to strength.

Most of the confusion that forms the basis of the myths related to exercise results from the multiplicity of factors involved in producing, transmitting, and using muscular strength… a muscle produces strength, but it cannot transmit or use strength without the aid of other parts of the body.

In an automobile, the engine produces power… and an engine is certainly required for the production of power, but it is not of any practical use by itself. The power produced by the engine must be transmitted by the transmission and differential, and must be used by the wheels. A larger engine will produce more power, and if the other components of the power train are capable of withstanding the forces involved by an increase in power, then the increase in the size of the engine will produce an increase in the usable power of the automobile.

In the body, the muscles perform the functions of a number of small engines, producing pulling forces in almost every direction… when the size of the muscles is increased, it becomes possible to produce more force, and if that force is properly transmitted the result will be an increase in usable strength.

So increasing the size of an engine or a muscle will increase available power… but an increase in size is not the only way to increase power. The power of an engine can also be increased by running it faster… and a somewhat similar result can be produced in a muscle. A muscle might be thought of as an engine with thousands of cylinders… but with only a rather small percentage of the cylinders attached to the electrical system at any one time. So only a few of the cylinders are available for the production of power at any given moment.

The production of power inside the cylinder of an engine is stimulated by an electrical spark… and the contraction of a muscular fiber that produces power in the form of pulling force is stimulated by an electrical impulse from the brain.

The speed, and thus the power, of an engine is limited by its ability to intake a proper fuel/air mixture… and a muscle is limited in much the same way. If an electrical impulse from the brain reaches a particular muscle fiber that has exhausted its momentary supply of fuel and oxygen, then that fiber cannot contract. And since it is impossible for a muscle to instantly replace a depleted supply of fuel and oxygen, the resulting involvement of muscular fibers is on an alternating basis… some fibers are working while other fibers are resting, replacing their stores of fuel and oxygen.

All of the fibers of a muscle are never working at any given instant… not even when the entire muscle is fresh.

If the pace of work is slow enough to permit the resulting fibers to replenish their stores of fuel and oxygen before the working fibers become exhausted, then such work can be continued for hours… such work is called aerobic work, and it will do very little or nothing in the way of increasing the size or strength of the working muscles.

But if the pace of work is increased to the point that the working fibers become exhausted before the resting fibers have fully recuperated, then a point of muscular failure will eventually result… the faster the pace of work, the faster a point of failure will be reached. This type (or pace) of work is called anaerobic work… and this is the type of work required for increasing the size and strength of muscles.

A widespread misunderstanding of the implications of the above point has resulted in very poor training practices; increasing the pace of work does not require moving the resistance faster… on the contrary, exercises involving fast movement of the resistance will do very little in the way of increasing strength.

There is a very definite limit to the possible speed of muscular contraction… and if the speed of movement of the resistance is too fast, it literally outstrips the ability of the muscle to keep up; the result being that a large part of the muscle is not involved in the work at all. If a muscle is suddenly contracted while being exposed to a low level of resistance, very rapid movement of the resistance will occur… but only a small part of the muscle will be involved in the work; movement will occur so fast that most of the muscle will never quite catch up, the movement will be completed before the muscle has time to contract.

So instead of trying to increase the pace of work by increasing the speed of movement, the resistance should be increased… and if the resistance is heavy enough, sudden movement becomes literally impossible.

Sudden movement can also be produced in another manner, by throwing weight… and this can be done in some cases where it would be impossible to move the resistance by contraction of the muscles that are trying to exercise. Again… such exercise will do little or nothing in the way of increasing strength, the actual ability of a muscle to produce a pulling force.

But, by involving a large number of other muscles in the movement, you probably will develop a style of performance that will enable you to ‘lift more weight’ in a particular fashion… and you may thus convince yourself that your strength has increased accordingly; when, in fact, your strength has probably remained unchanged.

For the purpose of increasing muscular size and strength, movement should never be faster than the maximum possible speed of muscular contraction… FULL LENGTH muscular contraction; and in practice, this means that the actual speed of movement should be quite slow. If you are capable of moving faster, then use more resistance… but do not increase the resistance to the point that it becomes necessary to throw the weight by involving other muscles.

A natural desire to show progress by increasing the resistance leads many trainees into very poor training habits… and then true progress comes to a halt, or is produced very slowly. The resistance should be increased, and it should be increased rapidly as possible… but it should not be increased by a sacrifice in the style of performance. A very strict style of performance is probably the single most important factor in exercise… and it certainly is an absolute prerequisite for the production of good results from exercise. Yet, in practice, the style of performance of most trainees varies from poor to pitiful.

The resistance must be applied to the muscles that you are trying to work, and it must be applied to the entire length of the muscles you are training… but this is impossible if the movement is too fast, and also impossible if all or most of the work is actually performed by other muscles.

Most people have seen examples of men who can lift a very heavy weight while showing little in the way of unusual muscular size… and other examples of men who can not lift as much weight as you would expect from their muscular size. Such examples have caused numerous people to assume that muscular size has very little to do with strength… but that impression is the exact opposite of the truth.

A short man may lift more weight than you would expect because he does not have to move it so far… and the distance of movement is just as important as the actual amount of weight involved.

A very lean (muscular) man may lift more weight than a much larger man, but if all of the other factors are the same in both cases then this is merely an indication that the smaller man actually has more muscular mass… and that the larger man’s size is composed of a higher percentage of fatty tissue, which cannot contract, cannot produce force. Or a particular individual may have developed a style of performance that permits him to move a heavy weight by throwing it… and thus he may appear to be stronger than another larger man who is actually stronger.

In practice, it is almost impossible to fairly compare the strength of one man to that of another man… you can compare performances, but performance is not always a test of strength. Primarily because strength is only one of several factors involved in any type of performance.

In some ways the strength of a muscle can be compared to that of a rope… even though a rope cannot produce force by contraction. A rope can withstand a pulling force in proportion to its cross- sectional area… and a muscle can produce a pulling force in proportion to its cross-sectional area.

And since the length of a muscle is not changed by an increase in the volume of a muscle, it obviously follows that the cross-sectional area of a muscle is in direct proportion to the mass of a muscle… in proportion to the weight of a muscle, the ‘size’ of a muscle. Thus the size of a muscle is a direct indication of the strength of the same muscle.

When you increase a particular man’s muscular size you will increase his strength… he will be stronger as a direct result of the increase in muscular size, and he will be stronger in proportion to the increase in muscular size. But he still may not be as strong as some other man with much smaller muscles… because the smaller muscles of the other man may be working with advantages not available to the larger man; better bodily leverage… or greater neurological efficiency… or some other factor that gives his muscles an edge that more than compensates for their smaller size and actually lower level of strength.

In effect, any man will be stronger than he was if you increase the size of his muscles… but no one factor will ever make him equal to all other men.

Many of the other factors that contribute to demonstrations of strength cannot be changed… but you can increase the muscular size of almost anybody; and doing so will make any individual stronger than he was. So the mass of a man’s muscles is important for two reasons… because it is directly related to his strength… and because it is the factor most subject to change, the easiest factor to improve.

Having increased a particular individual’s muscular size as much as possible, he may still not be able to demonstrate as much strength as another man with less muscular mass… but he certainly will be able to demonstrate far more strength than he, as an individual, was capable of doing before he increased his muscular size.

A large part of the confusion on the subject of the relationship between muscular size and strength undoubtedly results from current standards for physique competition… and at least part of this confusion also results from the fact that competitive weightlifters seldom if ever have a bodybuilder type of physique.

A few bodybuilders are very strong… but few bodybuilders can demonstrate a level of strength in proportion to their muscular size… and some bodybuilders are actually quite weak when due consideration is given to their muscular mass. But this weakness has absolutely nothing to do with the ‘quality’ of their muscular mass… their muscles, like those of anybody else, are strong in proportion to their size; but poor bodily leverage or some other factor makes it impossible for them to transmit a very high proportion of their muscular strength to their limbs… in effect, they have a powerful engine but a poor transmission. They can produce the power, but they can’t use much of it.

Wide shoulders, narrow waist and hips, long legs, short torso… given those bodily proportions and a greater than average muscular mass, and a man may become Mr. America. He may look strong, but in fact his strength literally cannot be in proportion to his appearance of strength. With those bodily proportions a man’s muscles are forced to work at a given disadvantage.

In contrast, a competitive weightlifter may not appear to have much more than an average amount of muscular mass… yet be able to demonstrate great strength. But he almost certainly will have rather narrow shoulders, a thick waist and wide hips, short legs and a long torso… those are the bodily proportions require for building greater strength; but a man with those proportions will seldom have a pleasing physique by present standards.

Over a period of the last thirty years, bodybuilders and weightlifters have gradually drifted apart, although they continue to use the same tool (the barbell) and usually perform much the same exercises. Such a separation into two distinct groups is merely a result of natural selection… men with potential to build a Mr. America physique by present standards simply do not have the potential to demonstrate great strength… and men with the potential to build great strength cannot produce the type of physique required for a Mr. America contest.

Usually within a fairly short period after starting to train, an individual will almost be forced in one direction or the other. If his strength increases rapidly with little increase in his muscular mass, then he will be encouraged to turn his interests in the direction of competitive weightlifting… but if his muscular mass increases out of proportion to his strength, then he will probably become a bodybuilder.

Draft horses are built for power, race horses are built for speed… and men fall into very similar categories. You can increase the muscular mass of a draft horse, and doing so will make him both stronger and faster, but it will never make him as fast as a good race horse. And you can increase the muscular mass of a race horse, and again it will make him both stronger and faster, but he will never be as strong as a good draft horse.

But the important point to be understood is the simple fact that both types of horses will be BOTH STRONGER AND FASTER if you increase their muscular mass. And the same thing applies to a man. You cannot change a man’s physical type… but you can do a lot for him regardless of his type.

The muscles are the engines of the body… producing both power and speed. A larger engine will never make a race car out of a truck, but it will make the truck more powerful and faster.

AND REMEMBER… the size, and thus the strength, of the muscles is one important factor that you can do something about.

Another widespread myth concerns the relationship of muscular strength to muscular endurance… WHEN, IN FACT, THE TWO FACTORS ARE ONE AND THE SAME THING. Having accurately measured a man’s strength, you have also measured his muscular endurance, and vice versa.

In general, a man can perform one repetition with an amount of weight that is 20% heavier than he can handle for ten repetitions. If he can perform ten repetitions of the bench-press with 250 pounds, then he can handle 300 pounds for one repetition.

Some variation in this percentage will occur on an individual basis, but every many will have a certain, fixed relationship between his strength and muscular endurance. One man might be able to handle only 17% as much more weight for one repetition as he can for ten repetitions… and another man might handle 22% more… but the relationship will remain constant in all cases.

When exercises involving a very high number of repetitions are performed, then the relationship of strength to muscular endurance may not appear to hold true… but this is an illusion produced by the fact that the other factors are then involved; a point of failure may result from an unwillingness on the part of the subject to continue, perhaps because of the pain involved in high repetition exercises… or a point of failure may result from cardiovascular inability, which really has nothing to do with the strength or endurance of the muscle itself. Or a trainee may fail with a heavier weight simply because he has never lifted that much weight before and is actually afraid to try.

In practice, strength increases (and increased endurance) are usually produced most rapidly by exercises involving a fairly constant number of repetitions… for reasons that are not fully understood, best results are almost always produced when at least 6 repetitions are involved; but not more than 15 repetitions should be performed in most cases.

Personally, I prefer an even narrower range of possible repetitions… 8 to 10, although I do perform as many as 15 repetitions in a few exercises.

But in any case, the selected number of repetitions should be merely a ‘guide figure’… in fact, you should perform as many repetitions as momentarily possible without sacrificing good form. Do not stop at 10 repetitions merely because that is the upper limit of your guide figures, continue for as many repetitions as possible… 12, 15, or whatever number you can perform in good form.

BUT… if you can reach or exceed your guide figure, then that is a signal to increase the resistance; the fact that you can perform more repetitions than you anticipated is proof that your muscles have grown, so you are stronger, and need more resistance.

If, on the other hand, you are unable to perform as many repetitions as are called for by the lower guide number, then you have overestimated your strength and the resistance should be reduced.

Muscular size and strength are increased by exercises that involve the overload principle of training… the body will attempt to accommodate itself to meet a higher than usual demand. A certain level of muscular size and strength is natural… building an unusual degree of strength demands the imposition of loads that the existing level of strength cannot easily handle.

When a muscle is forced to work very close to its existing level of ability, then it will respond by increasing its size and strength… but no amount of work at a low level of intensity will produce a similar result. You cannot build great muscular size and strength by performing a large amount of work… instead, you must train very briefly but very hard.

Another common myth in the field of exercise equates the ‘amount of work’ with the ‘intensity of work’… which is, I suppose, an expectable result of the widespread habit of equating MORE with BETTER.

But in fact, you can have one or the other… NOT BOTH. High-intensity exercise is required to build size and strength… but a large amount of high-intensity work will produce losses in muscular size and strength instead of gains.

Literally millions of trainees do perform enormous amounts of work as a routine part of their regular training… and a few of them do produce apparently worthwhile gains in muscular size and strength, EVENTUALLY. But little if any of this exercise is actually high-intensity work… instead, their exercises are almost always terminated several repetitions short of an actual point of momentary muscular failure.

Such a low-intensity style of training can be tolerated by the system, almost regardless of the amount of training, and it certainly will help to maintain an existing level of size and strength… BUT IT WILL DO LITTLE OR NOTHING TO BUILD ADDITIONAL SIZE AND STRENGTH.

High-intensity training is required to build muscular size and strength… but there is a very definite limit to the amount of high-intensity training that the body can tolerate.

And in any case, since only an actually small amount of high-intensity training is required to stimulate maximum possible rates of muscular growth, why train for hours when better results can be produced by a very few minutes of proper training… and why spend years reaching a goal that can be, and should be, reached in months, or even weeks?

If a trainee insists upon performing a large amount of exercise, then he will be forced to lower the intensity of his training… and eventually, most trainees fall into a rut where their output of work exactly equals their recovery ability. Even if growth is being stimulated, and it seldom is by such

training, the body does not respond, literally cannot respond… because the recovery ability of the body is constantly being drained by the amount of training, and nothing is left over for growth.

Eating more is not the answer… because the body can process only so much food. Sleeping more is not the answer, either… because the body can tolerate only so much sleep. While training with true high-intensity you may have to eat and sleep a bit more than normal… but an excess amount of either will have a counterproductive result.

The simple answer is… train LESS, but train HARDER.

Stimulate growth by working your muscles very briefly but as hard as momentarily possible… then leave them alone for two or three days and give them a chance to recover and grow. A reasonable amount of low-intensity work added to a proper high-intensity workout probably won’t do much harm, but it will do little or nothing in the way of speeding your progress… and if carried to extremes, which it frequently is, it can easily prevent growth, or even produce losses in muscular size and strength.

A maximum possible rate of growth for one man may well be a very slow rate of growth for another man… but growth should be constant in all cases. If a constant rate of growth is not being produced then there are really only three possibilities that might account for the lack of progress… (1) the individual is not training hard enough to stimulate growth… (2) an excess amount of training is being performed and growth is being prevented… or (3) the individual has reached the limit of his muscular potential.

A very high level of strength is perfectly normal and natural for a man… if his muscles are regularly exposed to a high-intensity of work… and if the amount of work is not so high that it amounts to overwork.

And a fairly rapid rate of growth is also perfectly normal and natural for a man… if the conditions are right; if the conditions are such that growth is being both stimulated and permitted.

Farmers soon learn not to plant more crops than they can harvest… because, at best, their efforts will be wasted; and anybody who has ever tried to work 18 hours a day at a physically hard job soon learned that his ability to work rapidly declined… so that, rather quickly, he found himself doing less work in 18 hours than he would normally have performed in 8 hours.

Yet, in practice, we see thousands of trainees who are regularly devoting 20 or more weekly hours to their workouts, usually training five or six days a week, for three or four hours during each workout.

NOW, IN FACT… very little of this three or four hours is actually devoted to training; most of the time is spent sitting or standing around resting between sets, or between exercises. So most of the training time is wasted… which under the circumstances, is really the best thing that can happen. BECAUSE… if a man actually tried to train nonstop for three or four hours it would probably kill him, and it certainly wouldn’t make him grow.

But you can train for fifteen or twenty minutes, or a bit longer, in an almost nonstop fashion… by performing only one set of each exercise, and by arranging your exercises in such an order than one muscular group is resting while another group is working. Having been worked to a point of momentary failure, the biceps of your arms must be rested… but there is nothing to stop you from working your triceps hard while the biceps are resting. AND, IN FACT… the biceps will actually recover more quickly if the antagonistic muscles (the triceps) are worked while the biceps are resting.

Building strength is one thing… demonstrating strength is another matter entirely. But in the gym you are trying to stimulate growth, and the actual amount of weight is of very little importance if it is at least heavy enough to work the muscles to a point of momentary failure within a reasonable number of repetitions.

You probably could use more resistance, or perform more repetitions, or both… if you rested several minutes between exercises, or between sets of the same exercise. But remember, you are trying to exhaust the muscles… and if a lighter weight will produce the same result during a shorter workout, then the growth stimulation will be the same in either case.

The muscles don’t know or care how much weight is involved… all they can sense is how it feels at that precise moment, and a fairly light weight will feel heavy to a momentarily tired muscle. Five minutes later the same weight might feel very light to the same, but now rested, muscle; and thus the same number of repetitions performed five minutes later with the same weight might do absolutely nothing in the say of stimulating growth.

If it feels heavy to the muscles, then the resistance is heavy enough… regardless of the actual weight.

Do not make the common error of performing your workouts in such a manner that you can handle as much weight as possible… instead, make the work as hard as possible for the muscles you are trying to stimulate. Don’t look for ways to make your exercises easier, so that you can handle more weight… instead, look for ways to make every exercise as hard as you can. Performed in one way, you may be able to use 200 pounds in a particular exercise… performed in another way, the same exercise may produce far better results with only 50 pounds resistance.

Chinning (or ‘pull-ups’) can be performed in at least three different styles… (1) by swinging the body and using the resulting momentum to help raise the body… (2) by moving steadily, but fairly rapidly, up and down with little or no swinging… or (3) by raising and lowering the body slowly with a pause at the top and bottom.

The first, or ‘swinging’ fashion will produce the highest possible number of repetitions, and will do little or nothing to increase the strength of the involved muscles… the second, slower, fashion will not permit as many repetitions, but will do quite a bit to stimulate muscular growth… but the final, very slow style, is by far the best, even though you will not be able to perform many repetitions.

So if you make it a practice to try to lift as much weight as possible, or to perform as many repetitions as possible with a given resistance… it frequently happens that the style of performance suffers to the extent that the entire purpose of the workout is perverted. You should use as much resistance as possible… and you should perform as many repetitions as momentarily possible… but not if increasing the resistance or the number of repetitions results in a relaxation of style.

Good form (or ‘style of performance’) may not be everything… but without it, you have little or nothing of value. So it certainly is a requisite for good results from exercise… and yet it remains the most neglected factor in exercise.

The most persistent myth on the subject of muscular mass concerns the relationship between muscular size and flexibility… in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary, and with literally nothing to support such a belief, most people still firmly believe that an individual with large muscles is somehow restricted by his muscles, suffers from a limited range of movement, and is probably very slow and clumsy.

WHILE, IN FACT… careful tests of large numbers of men with unusual muscular size have clearly demonstrated that such men are almost always more flexible, and faster, than average men. Building large and strong muscular structures requires exercises with very heavy resistance, and the use of such heavy resistance is also required for increasing flexibility… the limbs must be stretched into positions far beyond a normal range of movement, and it takes heavy resistance to produce such a degree of stretching.

And while it certainly is possible to produce some increase in the size of your muscles without stretching, by the performance of limited, mid-range movements… it is also true that the development of a maximum degree of muscular size and strength is simply impossible without the use of full-range, stretching movements against heavy resistance.

Flexibility is a product of several factors… (1) the individual geometry of the joints… (2) individual bodily proportions… (3) individual percentage of fatty tissue, and the distribution of such fatty tissues… (4) condition of the connective tissue… and (5) strength of the muscles, and the relative strength of antagonistic muscular structures.

AND AGAIN… some of these factors are subject to change, can be improved; but some are not subject to change.

Little or nothing can be done to alter the geometry of the joints or bodily proportions… and nothing can be done to improve the distribution of fatty tissue, although it is possible to reduce the overall amount of fatty tissue… and, if the connective tissue has been damaged, you may or may not be able to repair the damage.

But you can do something about the muscles… quite a lot, as it happens. And doing as much as possible will almost certainly have the effect of greatly increasing your flexibility… while going a long way in the direction of reducing the chance of injury.

If a limb is forced into a position that is well outside its normal range of movement, then injury is almost certain… something must tear loose in order to permit such an unusual range of movement, and it will. But if the range of movement has been greatly increased by stretching exercises involving heavy resistance, then the same position could be reached with no chance of injury. Which is not meant to imply that any possible degree of flexibility will make injury impossible… but a high degree of flexibility certainly will reduce the chances of injury.

When we first built a Pullover machine, we incorporated a range of movement of 160 degrees of rotation around the axis of the shoulder joints, and that was enough for most subjects… but after using the machine for a while, we found that our flexibility was increasing, so we were forced to redesign the machine and increase the range of movement.

Then, over a period of less than a year, we were forced to increase the range of movement of the machine several more times… until, finally, one subject was able to demonstrate an almost unbelievable degree of flexibility in this movement, more than 270 degrees of rotation around the axis of the shoulder joints.

And in the meantime, all of our subjects had greatly increased their starting degrees of flexibility… and most subjects could demonstrate a range of movement of approximately 240 degrees in this exercise after using the machine for a few months, a 50% increase in that area of movement.

Because of individual variations in bodily geometry, some subjects would never be able to produce such a degree of flexibility… but any subject can greatly increase his existing range of possible movement by using these full-range movements against heavy resistance.

Almost all of the many books on exercise strongly urge the reader to practice full-range movements… but as it happens, such advice is largely wasted; BECAUSE… a full-range movement against resistance is literally impossible in most exercises.

A barbell curl is not a full-range exercise… because there is no resistance at the start of the movement, and no resistance during the last part of the movement. Stretching is not provided at the start of the movement, and there is no resistance in the finishing position.

A bench-press is not a full-range exercise for much the same reasons… because there is little or no stretching in the bottom position, and because the arms are ‘locked-out’ under the weight in the top position, and thus the resistance is supported by the bones, and no work is provided for the muscles in that position.

Almost all conventional exercises suffer from the same shortcomings, the same limitations… and for the same reason; because, quite literally, you are trying to perform the impossible when you attempt to provide your muscles with full-range exercise while exposing them to a straight-line source of resistance.

Muscular contraction produces a rotary form o movement of the related body-part… the muscle contracts in an approximately straight line, produces straight-line force as a source of power, but this straight-line force is converted to a rotary form of movement by the articulation of the joint. So the muscles move in straight lines, but the movement of body-parts is rotary.

For the most of the last seventy years, people have been trying to force their muscles to work within a framework of limitations imposed by an imperfect tool, the barbell, or exercise machines designed to duplicate the functions of a barbell. And you certainly can provide ‘exercise’ with a barbell… but you as certainly can NOT provide full-range exercise with a barbell.

Full-range exercise has certain basic requirements… and if any one of those requirements is missing, then full-range exercise is simply impossible. There are ten basic requirements for full- range exercise; most barbell exercises provide only three of these requirements… and a few barbell exercises provide four of the requirements.

Yet all of the requirements are equally important… because, without any one of them, the goal of full-range exercise is simply impossible to reach.

And why is full-range exercise so important?

BECAUSE… without full-range exercise, you are working only part of a muscle, and usually the weakest part of the muscle at that. And you cannot build a maximum level of strength throughout a muscular structure by exercising only part of the muscle… while utterly ignoring a large part of the same muscle.

A compromise of sorts can be reached by performing one exercise that provides stretching for a particular muscle… and another exercise that provides work in a position of full muscular contraction… and yet another exercise that produces work in the mid-range of possible movement. But best results are produced when exercises provides resistance in every position, from a fully stretched starting position to a finishing position of full muscular contraction… a truly full-range exercise. But, with a barbell, that is an impossible dream.

Nearly thirty years ago, the author set out to design and build a truly full-range exercise machine… but first it was necessary to determine the actual requirements for full-range exercise. Until and unless these requirements were fully understood, it was impossible to design the required tool.

AFTER THE FACT… having finally determined the actual requirements for full-range exercise, all of the factors appear obvious; yet, even now, after the requirements have been identified and are understood… such understanding is not widespread. For that reason, in the next few pages, I will attempt a very simple explanation of all the actual requirements for full-range exercise. But it should be clearly understood by the reader that most forms of exercise do not provide all of the requirements for full-range exercise… and, lacking these requirements, the promoters of such forms of exercise have gone to great lengths in their attempts to confuse the issue.

And the situation is confused, to the point that millions of people simply don’t know what to believe. Yet the facts are clear… and a careful reading of the next few pages should make them obvious to almost anybody.

1-POSITIVE WORK… or ‘concentric contraction.’

When you lift a weight you are performing ‘positive’ work. Your muscles are producing movement by concentric contraction, by reducing their length.

Almost all forms of exercise involve positive work… even if movement of the resistance is not produced. But some forms of exercise have only positive work.

Within the last two or three years, a great deal has been claimed for a form of exercise variously called ‘Isokinetics’ or “Isonetics’ or by one or more of a number of other names. But, by any name, such a form of exercise is limited to positive work… and all such exercises are based on friction of one kind or another.

A positive-only style of training could be produced with a barbell in either one of two ways… (1) if you lifted a barbell, and then immediately dropped it upon reaching the top position of movement, and then lifted it again, and then dropped it gain, and so on, then you would be exercising in a positive-only fashion… or (2) if, with the help of assistants, you lifted the barbell, and if the helpers took it from you as soon as it reached the top position and lowered it back down for you, then you would be performing only the positive part of the work while the assistants performed the negative (or lowering) part of the work.

Such a style of training with a barbell would be very dangerous in the first instance (dropping the barbell from the top position)… and would be impractical in the second instance, because of the need for helpers… and would not be very productive in either case. Because a positive-only form of exercise is unavoidably lacking several of the important requirements for productive exercise.

Positive work is certainly of value in exercise… but ‘positive only’ exercise suffers from a number of limitations.

2-NEVATIVE WORK… or ‘Eccentric contraction.’

When you lower a weight you are performing ‘negative’ work. Your muscles are LIMITING MOVEMENT by eccentric contraction, while increasing their length.

If a barbell, for example, is simply dropped from the top position, then negative work is not performed… instead, the normal downwards movement of the resistance that is produced by gravity must be limited; normal acceleration must be prevented, movement must be slowed.

A negative-style of training can be provided in several ways… (1) by the use of assistants who lift the weight for you, so that you can limit your efforts to slowly lowering the weight… (2) by climbing upon on a chair into the top position of a chinning exercise, you can limit the exercise to a negative-only style by lowering yourself down from the top position… or (3) by using a mechanical arrangement that lifts the weight so that you can lower it.

The first style is impractical due to the requirement of helpers… the second is limited to only a few exercises, chinning, dipping and a few others… and the third style requires special equipment. Thus, at this point, a negative-only style of training remains impractical for most people.

HOWEVER… it should be clearly understood that the negative part of exercise is one of the most important parts of exercise, and is probably the most important part of exercise performed for the purpose of increasing strength. So, the degree that is possible under the prevailing circumstances, the negative part of exercise should be given as much emphasis as possible.

Many people make the mistake of paying close attention to the positive part of their exercises, but then ignore the negative part… they lift the weight smoothly and in good form, but then lower it back down in a haphazard manner; thus denying themselves a large part of the potential benefit of their exercises. Instead, the weight should be lifted in a smooth, steady motion, without pause and without jerking or sudden movement… then it should be lowered in exactly the same fashion, smoothly, fairly slowly, and steadily.

AND… it must also be understood that several of the other important requirements for productive exercise are simply impossible without negative work. Stretching, for flexibility… pre-stretching, for the neurological stimulation required for a high intensity of muscular contraction… and resistance in the position of full muscular contraction at its end of an exercise movement are literally impossible without negative work.

Negative work is possible only when there is a source of back pressure… a force puling in a direction opposite to the direction of movement produced by muscular contraction. During barbell exercises, your muscles are pulling ‘up’… and the force of gravity is pulling ‘down.’ So a barbell provides both positive and negative work.

But the friction-based types of exercise… Isokinetics, Isonetics, or whatever… do not provide negative work. Because there is no back pressure of force trying to pull your muscles back into the starting position. In such exercises, resistance is provided only while you are moving in a positive direction… and if you stop moving, the resistance instantly ceases.

Lacking the required back pressure for negative work, such exercises also fail to provide several other requirements for productive exercise… requirements that are related to and dependant upon negative work. Prior to the start of movement, there is no back pressure of force to pull the joints into a stretched position, and no force to ‘pre-stretch’ the muscles before the start of contraction… thus such a form of exercise does absolutely nothing for flexibility (which requires stretching), and also does not provide a high intensity of muscular contraction (which requires pre-stretching).


Muscular contraction occurs in an approximately straight line… ‘straight line’ force is produced. But the related body-part that is moved by muscular contraction does not move in a straight line… instead, the body-part rotates, as it must, since it is working around the axis of a joint.

So the articulation of the joint converts the straight-line force of muscular contraction into the rotary-form force required for movement. Much the same thing occurs in an engine when the crankshaft converts the straight-line power produced by the cylinders into the rotary-form power required by the wheels.

Most forms of exercise provide resistance in only one direction… ‘down’ as a result of the force of gravity during barbell exercises… or ‘up’ or ‘across’ during Universal machine exercises where the resistance is redirected by the use of pulleys or levers… or in any possible direction, BUT IN ONLY ONE DIRECTION, during Isokinetic type exercises… but in all three cases, one factor remains constant: resistance is provided in ONLY ONE DIRECTION, a straight-line direction.

Obviously, then, a full-range exercise becomes literally impossible… since the involved body-part is constantly changing its direction of movement, is rotating around the axis of its joint. In such cases, resistance can be provided at the start of an exercise movement… OR during the mid-range of movement… OR at the end of a movement, but it CAN NOT be provided throughout a movement.

Resistance is provided only when the direction of movement is opposed to the direction of pull of the resistance… and that is impossible when you are trying to apply a straight-line source of resistance against a full range of rotary-form movement. During a barbell curl, for example, there is no resistance at all at the start of the movement; because the resistance is pulling ‘down’ while the movement is ‘forward’… the result being that the resistance is 90 degrees ‘out of phase’ with the direction of movement.

Then, shortly after the curling movement is started, the direction of movement changes to the point that the resistance is more than 90 degrees out of phase with the direction of movement… at which point, some resistance is provided. But not much, because you are still pushing the weight more than you are lifting it.

You are actually lifting the weight only during one small area of movement… at the point where your hands are going straight up, while the resistance is pulling straight down. The so-called ‘sticking point’ of the curl… where the weight feels far heavier than it does during any other part of a curl. Of course the barbell is no heavier at that point than it is at any other point throughout the movement, but its direction of pull is exactly 180 degrees out-of-phase with your direction of movement so it feels heavier… and, to your muscles, it is heavier.

But if you get past that point, then the pull of the resistance rapidly drops off… and near the end of the movement, it drops off to literally zero.

Thus the weight seems to change during a curl, from zero to very heavy and then back down to zero again… all of which apparent changes are a result of the fact that you are providing a rotary movement with a straight-line source of resistance. The biceps muscles, the muscles that you are trying to work during a curl, are provided with heavy exercise only during a very limited part of the movement… and during the rest of the movement the resistance is far too light.

For full-range exercise the body-part that is being moved by muscular contraction must be rotating on a common axis with the source of resistance… in effect, the joint (the elbow joint in the case of a curl) must be in line with the axis of a rotary form of resistance. When this arrangement of axis points is correct, then the resistance is always exactly 180 degrees out-of-phase with your momentary direction of movement. You are always ‘lifting’ the weight regardless of your actual direction of movement.

Without such rotary-form resistance, full-range exercise is simply and utterly impossible.


A relaxed arm does not hang in a fully straightened position… it tends to remain slightly bent. Bent to the degree that is required to equalize the pull of the antagonistic muscles of the upper arm, the biceps that bend the arm and the triceps that straighten the arm… which muscles are never totally relaxed, are always pulling slightly in opposite directions.

You can straighten the arm by contracting the triceps while attempting to relax the biceps as much as possible… but you cannot stretch the biceps without an external source of force. Force external to the arm itself.

And if such stretching is not a regular part of your exercises, you will gradually reduce your degree of flexibility… you will lose the ability to move into positions that were previously possible. And your chances of injury will be greatly increased… because, if you are forced into a position that is far beyond your momentary possible range-of-movement, something will be torn loose in order to permit the movement. The muscle itself may be torn loose from its attachments, or your tendons may be damaged.

Young children are normally very flexible, and then as they grow older they lose a great deal of that flexibility. Part of which loss is apparently unavoidable… because some of a child’s flexibility results from the fact that his bones are very flexible, and some of it results from the fact that his limbs are usually fairly thin. Both of which factors will unavoidably change with age.

But a certain part of the loss in flexibility that usually occurs between childhood and maturity is simply a result of inactivity… a lack of stretching. And at least some of the many thousands of athletic injuries that occur every year are results of an ‘unnatural’ loss of normal flexibility.

A low level of strength can be maintained with absolutely nothing in the way of systematic exercise… and an apparently normal range-of-movement can also be maintained without exercise. But in fact, losses in both strength and flexibility will steadily occur without exercise… until, one day, you may suddenly find yourself far weaker and far less flexible than you even suspected. At which point, if you need strength and flexibility, it is a bit too late.

Some barbell exercises do quite a bit for flexibility, and some do not… depending upon the degree of stretching that is involved. Exercises performed on a Universal machine generally provide less stretching than similar barbell exercises, primarily because the resistance is supported in the starting position. Isokinetic type exercises do absolutely nothing for flexibility, because there is no stretching at all.


Stretching is primarily related to the joints and the connective tissue… but ‘pre-stretching’ is related to the muscle itself.

When a muscle is contracted from a relaxed starting position, the resulting contraction is not as strong as it could be. Pre-stretching is required for a high-intensity of muscular contraction.

All of the fibers in a muscle do not contract at the same time, regardless of the amount of resistance… a muscle will fail under a load that it could move if all of the fibers were involved at the same time, and it will fail with most of the fibers still relaxed.

But if a muscle is pre-stretched prior to contraction, then it will involve a higher percentage of its fibers in the following contraction. The act of pre-stretching a muscle sends a signal to the brain that results in a higher than normal intensity of contraction… a center in the brain is warned in advance that the load is heavy and that as many as possible of the available fibers will be needed.

Barbell and Universal machine exercises provide this essential pre-stretching in proportion to the amount of stretching involved… so some barbell and some Universal machine exercises provide pre-stretching, and some do not. Isokinetic exercises, of course, do not provide pre-stretching… which is impossible without the back pressure of negative-work potential.


Muscles are not equally strong in all positions… and movement produces large-scale chances in the mechanical efficiency of the involved joints; as a result of these two factors, you are much stronger in some positions than you are in other positions.

Thus, if the resistance remains constant in all positions, it will be correct in only one position… and too light in all other positions throughout a full range of possible movement.

You will be unavoidably limited by the amount of resistance that you can handle in your weakest position… because, if you try to use more resistance, then it will be impossible to move it through the weakest area of movement.

In practice, some variation in available resistance occurs in almost all exercises, even though the actual weight of the resistance remains constant… for example, in a barbell curl there is no available resistance in either the starting or finishing position of the exercise, and there is a constant change in the level of available resistance throughout the movement as a result of the changing ‘lever arm’ (or moment arm) of the resistance. But such variations in resistance are random in nature and have no relationship to the ability of the muscles to handle resistance in any particular position.

If a rotary-form curling machine is built with a round pulley directly in line with the elbow joints, then the resistance will be exactly the same in all positions throughout a full range of possible movement… but it won’t ‘feel’ the same during the movement. Instead, it will feel very heavy at the start of the movement… then, as movement occurs, it will appear that the weight is getting lighter, but only because you are moving into a stronger position… and, later in the movement, it will seem that the weight is almost ridiculously light, because you are then in your strongest position… and, finally, at the end of the movement, the weight will seem to get heavier again, because your level of available strength is reduced in that position.

The resistance in a barbell curl starts out literally zero… then increases rapidly to a peak after 90 degrees of movement… and then drops off to zero again near the end of the curl; so a barbell curl has a pattern of available resistance that might appear correct at first glance… ‘up to a peak and then back down again.’ But in fact the resistance in a barbell curl starts out far too low, increases far too rapidly, and then drops off again too rapidly.

But changing from a barbell curl to a rotary-form curling machine does not entirely solve the problem… because the level of resistance in the various positions throughout the movement is still not in accord with the available strength in the same positions.

In a barbell curl, the available resistance changes, but it changes too fast and too much… in a rotary-form curling machine, the resistance does not change at all, and it should.

This problem was solved by the invention of the Nautilus ‘cam’… instead of building our machine with a round pulley, we used an eccentric pulley, so that the available resistance changes instantly and automatically as movement occurs.

At the start of a curl in a Nautilus curling machine, the radius of the pulley is fairly small… in that position, you are not able to produce as much force as you will be able to later in the movement, so the machine gives you a mechanical advantage in that position… then, as you move into a stronger position, the radius of the pulley gets larger, thus providing more resistance. Throughout the full range of possible movement the radius of the pulley changes, becomes larger or smaller as it must to accommodate the level of strength available in any and all positions.


Having provided automatically-variable resistance, the resistance must then be varied in accord with your available strength in all positions… in effect, it must be ‘balanced’ in relation to your strength in various positions.

Variation in resistance is not enough by itself… as mentioned earlier, even barbells provide variation in resistance, but it is random variation with no relationship to the variations that occur in your available strength during an exercise.

So the exact shape of the cam (or eccentric pulley) is very important… it must provide as much resistance in every position as you can handle in that position, but no more. While a couple of small companies are not hesitantly, and illegally, trying to copy the Nautilus cams… they are doing so with no real understanding of just what shape is actually required. Having a cam is not enough… it must be the right cam for the particular application. Ford automobiles have cams, and Chevrolets have cams… but put a cam from a Ford in a Chevrolet and see what happens. If it works at all it will work incorrectly… and it will probably ruin the engine in short order.

So a cam, a correctly designed cam, is required to balance the resistance in relation to your available strength.


Muscular contraction produces ‘direct’ movement of the body-part to which the muscle is attached.. for example, during a curl, the contraction of the biceps results in movement of the forearm, and the biceps is attached to the forearm.

The hand, since it is attached to the forearm, is also moved… but it is not directly moved; instead, the hand is ‘indirectly’ moved.

For direct application of resistance, the resistance must be applied to the actual body-part that is attached to and directly moved by contraction of the muscle you are trying to work… in a curl, for example, this means the resistance would have to be applied against the forearm instead of the hand.

In a curl, as it happens, such direct application of resistance is of little or no importance… because the relative strength of the curling muscles is not out of proportion to the strength of the forearm muscles that are involved in keeping the hand straight in line with the forearm muscles that are involved in keeping the hand straight in line with the forearm during a curl. So, in this case, other muscles do not limit your curling ability… even though the resistance is not directly applied.

But in most exercises, the resistance must be applied directly in order to overcome the limitations of other, weaker muscles. Exercises designed for the large muscles of the torso suffer badly from indirect application of the resistance… since the muscles of the arms are also involved in these exercises, a point of failure is reached when the arm muscles become exhausted, and this occurs long before the larger, stronger muscles of the torso have been worked heavily enough for the production of good results.

Chinning-type exercises are performed primarily for the purpose of working the large muscles of the upper torso… but these exercises also involve the bending muscles of the arms. As a consequence, the relative low strength of the arm muscles results in a poor exercise for the torso muscles… because the arms become exhausted and force you to stop the exercise long before the torso muscles have properly worked.

Thus, in order to work the torso muscles correctly, the resistance must be directly applied against the ‘prime body-part’… the body-part that is actually attached to and moved by the muscles of the torso. In practice, the resistance must be directly applied against the upper arms… against the elbows.

What happens to the forearms and hands during the exercise is of no slightest importance… so long, at least, as the forearms and hands do not get in the way of the movement.

In a Nautilus Pullover Torso machine, the resistance is applied directly against the elbows… as it must be. So the large muscles of the torso can be worked directly… without suffering from limitations imposed by the involvement of other, smaller and weaker, muscles.

Most barbell exercises and most barbell-like exercises performed on a Universal machine do not provide such direct resistance… and Isokinetic exercises in general suffer from the same limitation. There are a few exceptions… for all practical purposes, a curl is a direct exercise regardless of how it is performed… and a wrist curl is a direct exercise… and so are leg extensions and leg curls. But in general, direct exercise is provides only by Nautilus equipment.


Full muscular contraction unavoidably occurs only in a position where additional movement is impossible… so it should thus be obvious that an Ioskinetic form of exercise provides no work at all in the finishing position of an exercise. Because Isokinetic exercises provide resistance from friction, and friction is produced by movement… thus, when movement stops, friction stops, and without friction there is no resistance, and without resistance there is no exercise.

There is no ‘back pressure’ of negative-work potential pulling against your muscles… and thus no exercise in the finishing position of full muscular contraction.

Most barbell exercises and most Universal machine exercises also provide no work in the finishing position… but for another reason; because the body-parts are ‘locked out’ under the resistance and the weight is supported entirely by the bones.

But lock-outs occur during all major barbell exercises and all major Universal machine exercises… during curls, all forms of pressing, squats, leg presses and many other exercises. Because, in these exercises, there is no effective resistance at the end of the movement… the lever arm (or moment arm) of the resistance is reduced to zero, and no resistance is being applied to the muscles.

Again, there are exceptions… a few minor barbell exercises and Universal machine exercises do provide resistance in the finishing position; a few such exceptions are wrist curls, calf raises, sit- ups, leg raises, and shoulder shrugs.


Isokinetic exercises are based on friction… which results in ‘limited the speed of movement.’ This can be done in a number of ways, by the use of an inertia-reel or by the use of a hydraulic cylinder, or in several other ways… but the result is much the same regardless of how it is accomplished.

The speed-of-movement in barbell exercises and in Universal machine exercises is not limited… so these exercises do not suffer from this limitation. And, of course, the speed-of-movement is not limited in Nautilus exercises.

The actual speed-of-movement during a properly performed exercise should vary during the exercise… during the first few repetitions the speed should be fairly slow and constant, without jerking… then, during later repetitions, as the muscles become tired, the speed should be even slower, and jerking should still be avoided… and, finally, as the muscles reach a point of momentary exhaustion, the speed of movement should be very near zero.

So the speed-of-movement should not be limited… but since this is the basis of Isokinetic forms of exercise, the principal upon which they rely in order to function at all, these exercises are unavoidably limited in this fashion, and they suffer badly as a result.

At the start of a movement using an Isokinetic form of exercise, there is no resistance at all until your speed-of-movement reaches the pre-set speed-of-movement of the machine… so there obviously is no resistance (and thus no exercise) at the start of an Isokinetic movement.

Then, at the end of an Isokinetic exercise, where any speed of movement is impossible… there is again no resistance, and thus no exercise.

So there you have them, the unavoidable requirements for full-range form of exercise… 1-POSITIVE WORK










Utterly ridiculous claims are being widely advertised for a number of forms of exercise… and almost all such exercises are supposedly full-range exercises; but the facts of the matter are simple enough for almost anybody to understand… and when the facts are understood, then the claims can be seen in a proper perspective. If an exercise is lacking any one of the above ten requirements, then it is not a full-range exercise… regardless of the claims of its promoters.

When… AND ONLY WHEN… all of these requirements for full-range exercise are clearly understood, and applied in a practical fashion, it becomes possible to provide a form of exercise that involves all of a muscular structure, and all of the related body parts, the joints and the connective tissue, and the bones.

Such ‘total’ exercise is capable of producing a rate of growth and a level of strength that cannot be duplicated in any other fashion… because it is the only form of exercise that is tailored to the requirements and limitations of the body itself.

Muscular mass and strength can be developed to the limits of individual potential… and having reached his own limit of ability, a particular subject may still not be as strong, or as fast, or as flexible as another individual; but he will be as strong as he can get, and as fast, and as flexible… which will be a lot stronger, considerably faster, and far more flexible than he would have been without such proper training.

A Clear Statement On Training, Part Two

by Dr. Ken Leistner

In Volume 2, Number 8 of The Steel Tip, I discussed the misconceptions regarding “one set to muscular failure or fatigue” that have been propagated by some publications. Related to this is the equally false misconceptions about proper speed of movement during the performance of any particular exercise. As noted in a recent article in Sports Fitness magazine, “In sports, the most important element is speed. Explosiveness allows you to move your body or body segments quickly, and strength must be developed before maximum explosiveness can be achieved. …explosiveness is the ability to achieve maximum muscular contraction instantaneously. Muscle cells are recruited by willfully allowing the amount of nervous input (electrochemical charge) to exceed their excitation threshold.”

I agree that if the strength of a particular muscle or group of muscles is increased, the more forcefully that muscle or group of muscles will contract under most circumstances. The implication in the above quote however, is that one must or should train with quick, or explosive movements and nothing could be further from the truth.

One may, as the article notes, “willfully allow the amount of nervous input to exceed their excitation threshold”, but that’s not quite the way the body operates. The contraction of certain muscular structures, aided by the development of specific neuromuscular patterns, may occur upon willful command, but the ability to actually recruit those muscle fibers is a function of one’s neurological efficiency. One’s neuromuscular system either has the “hookups” or it doesn’t to perceive sensory information from the enviomment, transport that information through the spinal chord, deliver that sensory input to the brain, initiate an appropriate motor, or muscle command, deliver that information to the involved muscular fibers, and then have the muscles respond in a particular and appropriate way.

As noted in Vol.l, No.5 of The Steel Tip, “the body’s ability to recruit muscle fibers rapidly and fire them is a function of the nervous system and is not subject to alteration from training.” It was further noted that one’s response to visual or auditory cues could be altered by training, and most importantly, that “moving quickly with a weight does not mean that you will move quickly without a weight.”

What has also been lost within the Sports Fitness article is a true understanding of proper training. To be effective, training must be safe, in that it can be done consistently without the risk of injury. Common sense tells us that any amount of progressive resistance training poses some danger, but the actual incidence of injury can be minimized if logical thought is applied to an already existing body of knowledge.

In any set of, for example, eight repetitions, one should move the weight with a degree of control for the first two to four repetitions. If there is one hundred pounds on the bar, exerting one hundred and fifty pounds of force might cause injury to the soft tissues of the involved area due to the forces involved. If one lifts in a controlled manner, in both the concentric and eccentric phase of the repetition, the risks of injury are minimized. After two to four repetitions have been completed, one will have to exert as much force as possible, will have to try to move the weight as quickly as possible in good form, in order to complete the last few repetitions successfully. If one is working as hard as one should, at the proper degree of intensity, those last number of repetitions in any set of any exercise will be done as “explosively” as possible, but because one is no longer quite as strong as at the beginning of the set, the resistance itself will not move very quickly, despite every effort to do so. The resistance should not, and will not move quickly enough to cause injury. This is not only effective training, it is safe training.

Sports Fitness correctly notes that “You have to be extremely careful when exercising this way (referring to explosive training, where an attempt is made to move the weight as quickly as possible on each repetition, including the first ones). If the weight is too light, very fast movements are possible, and the resulting ballistic effect of the rapidly moving iron can tear your muscles and connective tissue to shreds.” Gee, I couldn’t have stated it more effectively myself! It seems that there is a contradiction here: “move the weights as quickly as possible in order to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible, but be very careful when lifting as quickly as possible because you may cause severe damage to your body.” The advice given is “to use a heavier weight and move it as fast as you can. It won’t be so fast that ballistic movement becomes dangerous, because the weight is too heavy to move that fast. But it will be fast enough to effect maximum and instantaneous recruitment.”

Well, I believe that it is foolhardy to move any weight, especially a relatively heavy weight, as quickly as possible, if that means that momentum becomes a factor in the elevation of the resistance as the muscle travels to a contracted position. A requisite for inducing muscular growth is the development of tension within the involved muscle fibers, and this won’t be accomplished if the weight is “thrown” to a position of completion. It is, as the author in Sports Fitness noted, a dangerous practice.

If it is true that the recruitment of muscle fibers is by and large determined by one’s neurological efficiency, and I believe that it is, then one need not be concerned about recruiting them “more efficiently” by mimicing a particular training methodology. If it is agreed that the rapid to train in such a manner. If one is striving to train “fast enough to induce maximal fiber recruitment, but not so fast as to produce a ballistic effect”, then training degenerates to the ridiculous.

Once one becomes more concerned with meeting criteria that are dubious, ill defined, and difficult if not impossible to apply practically, than training in a manner that will allow concentration on basic tenents that will bring about the best results possible for the overwhelming majority of trainees, results are almost guaranteed to be limited.

Remember that neurological efficiency is a physiological characteristic that one is born with, subject to minimal modification via training. Remember that the ability to move a limb quickly, or change body position is a function of this neurological efficiency, subject to minimal modification via training. Remember that the risks of moving any weight rapidly are serious and damaging, and that quick movements which impart momentum to the resistance or create a so-called ballistic effect reduces the ability to produce tension in the involved muscles during that exercise. Then remember that proper training involves a controlled and steady movement of the resistance, attempting to move that resistance as rapidly as possible in the last few reps in any set. If training is indeed proper, it will no longer be possible to move that resistance quickly, certainly not quickly enough to expose the involved structures to dangerous levels of force.

If these few common sense points are remembered, “explosive training” will be left to those foolhardy enough to play Eastern European roulette with their bodies, and one can train consistently and effectively, without interruption due to injury, inducing maximal amounts of muscular hypertrophy.

Stress Management

by Dave Sears, Editor of Muscles in Minutes

We’ve been hearing for years about stress management. And how keeping our stress in check can prevent all kinds of unwanted things, including: acts of “road rage,” heart attacks, strokes, and strain on relationships. It has even been found that many (if not most) illnesses are related to unrelieved stress.

However, have you ever considered stress management when it comes to thinking about your training? Rest assured, every training session is a stress – it has to be in order to be productive. But stress is not always a bad thing – it can and does add excitement to life. In fact, we all thrive on a certain amount of stress (even “negative” stresses such as deadlines, competitions, frustration or sorrow add depth and enrichment to our lives). Our goal, therefore, should not be to eliminate stress, but to learn how to manage it and how to use it to help us achieve our desired result.

Insufficient or lackluster stress can actually act as a depressant and may leave us feeling bored or unfulfilled. I clearly remember reading one of Mike’s articles in the late 1970’s about staying motivated. He was completely on the mark when he said that a high-intensity workout (all out effort) immediately eliminated depression. Excessive stress, on the other hand, can cause a host of other problems: physical, mental, and emotional. What we need to do is find the optimal level of stress to motivate and stimulate – but not overwhelm.

What is Optimal Stress?

We all have a unique tolerance to stress. While some can recuperate from a 6-set workout with only 2 days of rest, many find that quite impossible, requiring less volume or more rest. For this reason, we have to be keenly aware of what our bodies are telling us. While we know the founding tenets of Heavy Duty are quite sound, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to take personal responsibility for our stress management. Mike left that open-ended for a reason. While he could prescribe the best training method, he couldn’t look into your eyes and see your ongoing, changing requirements for rest. That becomes highly personal and requires trial and error.
He became acutely aware of this while discovering just how brief training really could be (as outlined in Heavy Duty II – if you haven’t read the entire explanation about his discovery process, I’d strongly suggest you buy the book). In short, Mike learned that a trainee’s physiological response (specifically recuperation) to exercise varied over a spectrum – much like the spectrum of individuals having light to dark skin.
Stress adaptation – and the amount that we can tolerate – changes as we age. Lower levels of testosterone and human growth hormone are in steady decline after thirty, and prevent our body from recuperating as it did in our late teens. In effect, stress management is always a moving target; as we age, as we grow stronger and larger, as other circumstances in life change, so does our ability to recuperate from stress. Optimal stress is therefore stress that stimulates change without causing any more negative effects than necessary (for the moment, we’ll call any recuperation negative). This is exactly the same as Mike saying: “Do only what is precisely required to stimulate muscle growth and then get the hell out of the gym!”

How is Stress Managed?

Recognizing that you are not recovering from training stress (and being aware of its effect on your body) is the first step. Your lack of progress (because of less than full recovery) may be the cumulative result of several workouts, or it may be only from your very last training session.

What’s the best way to figure this out?

  1. Be aware of what your body is telling you.
    Pay critical attention to your progress – or lack thereof. Don’t ignore it and hope it goes away the next workout or the one after that. Remember, 0+0+0+0 does not equal 1. The sum of several workouts showing no progress still equals no progress. Determine how your body is recovering (or not) from certain workouts, certain exercises, or certain protocols. Again, be critical! Do not chock up a lack of progress to having an “off day” (unless it really is an off day). Your body should show progress each and every workout (or you need to reevaluate your stress management).
  2. Analyze what you can change.
    Can you improve your performance by cutting down on volume? How about increasing rest days? Or making sure you have enough food to compensate for the increased stress? Should you spread out your sets over days instead of minutes (as I did in “How Brief is Brief Enough?”)? Should you shorten your exposure to stress (shorter tuls, lower-rep sets)? Do you need to get more sleep? Be clear on what factors may be influencing your lack of progress – and have a clear plan on how to check their validity.
  3. Make a plan – and stick to it.
    The worst thing you can do is test 15 variables at the same time. A better plan is to take just 1 (or 2 if you insist) variable – say caloric intake – and test that for a period of 2 to 6 weeks. If nothing has changed (improved) in that period of time, you should go back to where you were before and pick another variable. I did this systematically for a period of almost 2 years. The result was a greater education and understanding of what my body is capable of – and what my potential may be. Some of what I learned wasn’t inspiring (the potential part), but other lessons were eye opening. This has encouraged me to make this a life-long quest – a never-ending journey for truth, justice, and the American way (wait, wasn’t that what the actor George Reeves proclaimed in his Superman TV show from the 1960’s?). Well, anyway, you get the point.
  4. Be critical about what you observe.
    Keep records, take notes, take measurements. Don’t be afraid of what the tape measure, scale, mirror, or your strength records tell you. You cannot truly progress if you bury your head in the sand. Truth is enlightening, ignorance is inexcusable!

Ultimately, any and all types of training cause / are stress. It’s the stress management – using the tools Mike gave us – that allows the growth and positive adaptation.

If you decide to do 20-rep, SuperSlow sets, along with supersets, followed by forced reps, static contractions, and negatives, you will HAVE TO accommodate that insanity by allowing for more rest.

If you choose to do (1) total 30-second set of Super-Consolidation training every 5 days, you will probably recover easily even if you get a few nights lousy sleep, miss a meal or two, or were a bit more casual about your recuperation.

Once you alter the overall “program” – by either changing rep speed, rep count, rep distance, time under load, overall intensity, set extension (forced reps, negatives), you MUST alter your rest / recuperation regime. It’s stress management at its best!

A Clear Statement On Training

by Dr. Ken Leistner

In 1970, Arthur Jones proposed a “training theory” that at once startled and bemused the strength training world. He stated that one should train very hard, as hard as humanly possible. This he termed “high intensity training.” He stated or implied that one could get as close to their genetic potential as was possible if they trained at this high level of intensity, that their strength and lean muscle tissue mass would increase, and that the risks of injury suffered during training would be diminished. Arthur was also the first to admit that this “training theory” was not new, that it had been a method of training that was followed for many years by a large number of the strongest men of their day.

If it was not clearly stated, it was certainly implied that the type of training recommended would have to be limited. One simply could not train hard, “truly hard and to the level of momentary muscular failure” or fatigue, and be expected to do “a lot” of work.

Common sense, as much as physiology, dictated that the overall number of sets in any workout and the overall number of sets of any one particular movement, would have to be limited if one were to be able to recover and benefit from this brutally difficult approach to strength training.

I realized early, perhaps because I had, for a number of years, trained in a manner similar to that recommended by Jones, that I would not be able to do more than one, or perhaps two sets of any particular exercise. I certainly attempted to do three and four sets at times, but the effort was unproductive and somewhat futile. I also realized that this type of training program would never be embraced by the vast majority of weight trainees, even those who claimed that they were so dedicated that they would “do anything” to achieve their stated goals.

It is very difficult, both physically and psychologically, to sell yourself out completely on every set of every workout, week after week, month after month. It is much easier to do two, three, five, or any number of multiple sets of any exercise, than to do one truly all out set.

The discomfort one has to endure while training “hard” is something that most individuals don’t want to deal with. My brother said it best when he stated that he “didn’t need another job, I work hard enough as it is”, when he admitted that he just did not enjoy putting forth the effort required to train at a true, “high level of intensity”. He enjoyed the results certainly, but the romance quickly fades for all but the most dedicated and serious trainees.

The outright difficulty, which I should note, one gets used to in a short period of time, although training never becomes a pleasant respite from the other tasks of the day, and the inability to market the actual training method via the various muscle building publications, made this mode of training “easy pickings” for the numerous self-proclaimed experts. “That’ll never work, you need more than one set to make gains”. “No one good trains that way, forget it”.

What the self-appointed geniuses failed to note, was that many, many athletes trained “this way” and with excellent results. That the vast majority were out of the mainstream of the body- building/powerlifting “lifestyle” glamorized by the popular muscle building publications, allowed these authors and editors to smugly sit back and say, “See, I told you so”. The fact that very limited and intense training could tum one’s body around in the most efficient manner possible was more or less lost in the insulated world of the “lifting scene” where peer approval and a “herd mentality” has always ruled supreme.

A recent issue of Sports Fitness magazine took issue with what is supposed to be the latest in scientific research, research which supposedly indicated that brief and highly intense training was not an efficient or result producing method of training. Let’s set the facts straight here and now because the basis of this latest uproar, stems from the involvement of Arthur Jones himself, the implication being that if Arthur doesn’t believe what he once said, neither should you.

The latest piece of information was published in the April 1986 issue of Athletic Journal and authored by Mr. Jones. Careful reading of that article indicates the following information: after years of speculation, and observation, both of which indicated that brief, high intensity training was the most efficient way to train for increases in strength and lean muscle tissue mass, we now have a “scientific” means of validating that brief, high intensity training is the most efficient way to train for increases in strength and lean muscle tissue mass.

I in no way purport to speak for Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries, Mr. Arthur Jones, or anyone other than myself. I had access to this article prior to publication, read it a number of times, discussed it at length with quite a few people whom I consider to be knowledgable in the fields of exercise and/or physiology, read it again after publication, and then came to the previous stated conclusion.

The only “startling” piece of information was the indication that there are now tools available which can more or less validate the actual effects of exercise, and that more rational decisions regarding the construction of a training program can be made based upon the material gleaned from these new tools. The Sports Fitness piece in a sense, totally missed the important point of the article.

Instead, in an attempt to further hype their own dedication and blind devotion to the Soviet Union-Eastern European training methodologies, they pushed long and hard that Arthur Jones himself, no longer believes that “one set to failure” is a viable method of training.

Implicit in highly intense and all out training to momentary muscular failure or fatigue, is the understanding that one will not and can not benefit nor productively perform more than a limited number of sets. Jones clearly stated in many published articles that for the vast majority of trainees, best results would be produced by doing one set of any particular exercise. He further stated, or implied that if one was working at the level of intensity necessary to induce maximal possible gains, doing more than one set would be very difficult, if not impossible to do in a productive manner.

He did not say that everyone who ever trained should do one set of every exercise at all times. He did not say that doing one all out set was the only way to train, or the only way to train for every person who does train, and if he did, it is my misinterpretation.

In this latest article by Jones, he states or implies that the overwhelming majority of trainees would still be best off doing one all out set of any one exercise in any particular workout, and that his new tools indicate this. He further states, or implies that there are those individuals, individuals who are gifted “neurologically”, that are capable of stimulating muscle tissue to the extent that one all out set will make such inroads that they should perhaps limit their training to a fewer number of exercises than that recommended for the “average trainee” and/or train fewer times per week than the “average trainee”. To do otherwise is to invite overtraining, fatigue, injury, or a lack of progress.

On the other hand, Arthur states or implies that there are those individuals who, as Los Angeles Raider linebacker Matt Millen told me one week ago, “are not hooked up as well as others, or not as neurologically “efficient” as the “average trainee”. Doing one set to failure in any particular exercise may not be enough to stimulate maximal gains, no matter how “hard” they work, because no amount of effort will overcome a nervous system that will not translate that effort into the stimulation of strength and tissue gains.

This isn’t big news. For years, many of Arthur’s recommended routines would call for more than one set of a particular exercise. Since the inception of The Steel Tip in January of 1985,1 have noted that brief and intense training is the most efficient way to stimulate gains, and that the effort required, would, by necessity and common sense, limit the number of sets of any exercise, done in any workout, to one or two.

When individuals are used to fawning over dictums of training ideology, when dogmatic principle becomes their icon, it is understandable that they would fail to understand the “big picture” and hang up on individual words and catch phrases.

Originally, it was never stated that “everyone” would most benefit from “one set to failure”. Arthur’s new information states essentially the same thing; “the overwhelming majority of individuals will best benefit from one set of any particular exercise, but those who are very neurologically efficient, and there will not be very many in this catagory, may need very limited training, while those who are very inefficient, and again, they will be an extreme minority, may benefit most from two or more sets, and perhaps more than three days per week of training”.

This in no way invalidates a body of information that has, from observation and experience proven to be perhaps the most difficult, but most efficient way to increase one’s strength and muscular body mass. If anything, it further reinforces it.

The Steel Tip’s many published routines, and those used by at least one NFL strength coach, are designed for each and every individual, using as many sets as necessary to induce maximal gains for that individual. The bottom line is this: for those of us with no axe to grind, with no real financial gain at stake, with no need to be recognized as an “expert of any kind”, the programs recommended will be those that have proven to work. The changes made will came through experimentation which is sensible, rational, and with the least possibility of producing injury. We have no need to “sell anything”, feed an ego, slavishly yield to so-called training theories that could not possibly make sense within the lifestyle of the vast majority of those interested in increasing their functional strength or those athletes that need to prepare for a sporting season in a realistic manner.

As long as this is the way it is, people who are intelligent enough to back off and take a rational view of strength training, will train terribly hard, briefly, and give themselves time to recover from their workouts. They will eat sensibly and eschew anabolic steroids and high priced exotic food supplements. They will, with consistent effort, get stronger and muscularly larger, and be rewarded for their efforts, knowing that they are doing so with a minimal risk of injury.

How Brief is Brief Enough?

by Dave Sears, Editor and Publisher of Muscles in Minutes

An important factor in determining proper exercise “dosage” is the time off in between your workouts. Mike Mentzer spoke about this issue on countless occasions and was often quite specific; start with 4-5 days between workouts and add 1 or 2 days as your progress stalls. Eventually, you could end up working out once every 10 – 12 days (or less).

However, Mike also recognized – and often referred to – the necessity of the stimulus being brief. How brief is brief enough? The answer is simple; as brief as necessary to stimulate growth, but not impede the growth process. I acknowledge this doesn’t sound simple to figure out, but with a little testing of days off and volume, it will be.

As editor and publisher of Mike’s latest book, Muscles in Minutes, we often discussed his most recent and greatest thoughts and ideas. We both knew that while it would be possible to further “tweak” his tremendously successful training program, this was pretty much “it”. It would be nearly impossible to improve upon his methodology in any grand-scale way.

The purpose of this article is to share a personal discovery with you. It should help some of you jumpstart your gains – and make Mike smile in the process. Over the past few years, I constantly experimented with my training – always reporting my conclusions to Mike. He was never surprised by my findings, just validated.

After all, he didn’t need convincing that his training worked. Here are a few thoughts about what I have learned.

Days off…

While living in a vacuum as much as possible (same diet, same rest, same activity), I experimented with only one variable: days off in between my workouts. I performed an abbreviated total-body routine (3 exercises) and never varied the exercises. To be exact in measurement of strength, I used both rep count and the T.U.L. (time under load) method and was careful to record accurate times and keep rep modality as consistent as possible.

Overall, I tested (in 2 – 4 day increments) from 2 days off to 26 days off. After careful review, I determined that if I took any less than 6 days off – or more than 12 days off – I actually became weaker. I had (disappointingly) determined that the key (for me) was not as simple as adding days off in between workouts. Even staying in the 6 – 12 day off range, I was making barely perceptible progress.


However, I knew that the complete equation involves both rest and volume. I had not initially planned on testing this [volume], because I was already doing an abbreviated routine and felt that any less exercise would be no exercise at all!

Yet, after applying logic to the situation, I decided to experiment anyway. I started with the facts I knew, and systematically eliminated the variables that were not in question. After all, as Mike said, if a training method is valid, it is valid all the time – it should work consistently. If it does not, the method (or a component of it) is not valid.

I checked my premises and concluded that:
a. One set was certainly enough stimulus to cause growth (if performed properly), so I could eliminate the testing of adding of additional sets
b. While I was training only once every 6 – 10 days – seeing marginal gains, I knew that I could eliminate the testing of days off in between workouts (I had tested that!)
c. Creating different workouts (with different exercises) was not the answer as I had tested that before and knew there was a more basic issue at hand
d. After rationally reviewing all available variables, I concluded the only one that needed to be tested was volume – so where did I start? At the beginning…

I consequently further reduced my workout to the following:
Workout 1: (1) set of pulldowns
Workout 2: (1) set of incline presses
Workout 3: (1) set of squats Each workout was followed by 4 days off (later increased to 5, then 6 days off). After not having made any significant strength gains in the previous 8 months, I increased strength in EVERY workout for 2-1/2 months! I was especially amazed since one of the exercises (pulldowns) I had not increased in strength in 2 years!

I had previously been thinking that my days of strength increases were over forever – something I did not even want to consider. However, by thinking “outside the box”, and testing objectively (as Mike encouraged), I was able to break through to the next level.

By the way, the only reason I didn’t continue my strength increases past 2-1/2 months was due to two significant health issues back-to-back. However, I am now back in top shape, have just started back on that Super Consolidated Routine, and will report my progress as it occurs.
Mike, you were right – once again!

Ellington Darden on high protein diets – Part 2

Q: Some of the sports scientists at the University of Florida recommend extra protein intake for their strength and power athletes. Do you disagree with them, too?

A: I’m not against a little extra protein in your diet. Just don’t go completely overboard and bump it up to three or four times the RDA. Consuming 250 to 300 grams of protein a day—whether it’s from food or supplements—is expensive, wasteful, and not the safest thing you could do for your liver and kidneys. There has been research—including one study from the University of Florida—showing that perhaps there are advantages for power athletes and bodybuilders to consume from 50 to 100 percent more protein than the RDA of 0.36 gram of protein per pound of body weight. I don’t buy into it—not completely, anyway. Here’s what I do believe about protein and muscle. Only intense exercise generates cellular messages (hormones) that stimulate the chemicals to begin the process of expanding muscle fibers. An excess of dietary protein or any other nutrients won’t generate these messages. Nutrition enters the picture only after the muscles are stimulated to grow. And even then, rest is at least as important as nutrition.

Q: Dr. Darden, what influenced you to consume so much protein earlier in your career?

A: The same thing that influences bodybuilders today was what influenced me back in the 1960s.It was muscle magazines—10 years of reading almost every one published. These magazines all contained cleverly designed collections of editorials, articles, and advertisements that promoted protein supplements and high-protein eating. The facts show that you simply do not require much protein to build muscle. Human muscle is at least 70 percent water. Only 20 percent of muscle is protein. Because muscle is mostly water, 1 pound of muscle contains only 600 calories. Calories and water are more important to the muscle-building process than is protein. But if you are the publisher of a leading bodybuilding magazine—from a promotional, money-making point of view—how much revenue could you produce from pushing calories and water? Calories and water are everywhere, at least in the United States. But as a sales pitch, “tasty calories and pure water” doesn’t have the magic of the following phrases: “premium micro”; “ultrafiltration, whey protein”; “advanced protein synthesis complex”; “100% enzymatically digested bioactive protein isolate.” It doesn’t matter what you call protein or how you promote the end result, the truth is that it’s only minimally important to building muscle.

The most impressive bodybuilder that I’ve ever seen in my life, a man named Sergio Oliva, who had arms bigger than his head and who was the last bodybuilder to defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Mr. Olympia contest, trained with Arthur Jones in Florida during the summer of 1971. Oliva trained extremely hard and sweated gallons as Jones pushed him in an unventilated Quonset hut with no air-conditioning. Each of their workouts resembled an episode from the TV drama The Walking Dead, and I’m not kidding! What was Oliva’s favorite after-workout dinner? A large pepperoni pizza, washed down with 32 ounces of Coca-Cola—not exactly a high-protein meal but more than adequate in calories and water.

Q: I’m interested in bodybuilding. I’m sure you realize that just about everybody connected to bodybuilding says the opposite of what you say: They say that a high-protein diet is necessary for building large muscles. Are they all wrong in their beliefs?

A: Perhaps it’s better to say that they all have been misled, badly misled. I’ve told this story about my experiences with protein in some of my bodybuilding books, and it’s worth telling again. From 1970 to 1973, I studied nutrition at Florida State University with Harold Schendel, PhD, who had spent a number of years in Africa working with starving children. I remember him telling me about how his team of doctors rushed into a famine country, assembled the starving children, and tried to force-feed them high-protein diets. Rather than improve, their conditions got worse. They quickly realized that what these children needed were simple calories. What worked best was a mush mixture of water, sugar, and butter, with small amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Later in his career, Schendel had a hand in establishing the Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein. In 1970, he convinced me to do a 2-month study on my body to determine if massive protein intake was beneficial. Back then, because I was really into bodybuilding, I consumed more than 300 grams of protein a day. I kept accurate records of my food intake and activity for 60 days, and I even collected my urine during the same period. Afterward, I used the Kjeldahl method for determining nitrogen in my urine, which is a measure of protein utilization. To my surprise, anytime I consumed more than the RDA of protein, the excess was excreted in my urine. Schendel concluded that my kidneys were working overtime to metabolize the excess protein. He also explained that human kidneys and livers show overuse symptoms in the presence of massive amounts of protein. We know from long-term animal studies that high-protein diets will shorten life spans. So I stopped my massive protein diet and immediately felt a surge of energy from unburdening my kidneys and liver. Over the next 2 years, on a carbohydrate-rich diet, I won several of the bodybuilding contests that I’d been trying so hard to win. Adding carbohydrates and subtracting proteins had made a significant difference in my appearance. As a result, I haven’t consumed a high-protein diet since early 1970.

A Quote From Dr. Ellington Darden On The Subject Of Protein

” In 1970, I had a story to tell. After being a competitive athlete and bodybuilder for 20 years, and after consuming tons of expensive nutrient pills, I clearly saw that most of the money I spent on food supplements was wasted. I realized this as a result of being challenged in my nutritional practices by Dr. Harold Schendel Professor in the Food and Nutrition Department at Florida State University. Here′s what happened.

For two months, I kept precise records of my dietary intake, of my energy expenditure, and of my general well-being. All my urine was collected and analyzed by a graduate research team in nutrition science.

Believe me, it was a real inconvenience to have to pee in a large brown bottle, which I carried around with me all day long in a paper sack. It was even more tedious to test my urine scientifically for various vitamins, minerals, and protein content.

But I figured it would be worth it. Once and for all I′d be able to prove to the doubting scientists of nutrition that most athletes require massive amounts of essential nutrients.

Boy, was I wrong!

The results of the study showed that my body was sloughing off, or excreting, large amounts of water soluble vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients. Worse than that, it was also determined that since I had been consuming massive doses for many years, I had forced my liver and kidneys to grow excessively large to handle the influx of all these nutrients. You may desire your muscles to grow excessively large, but you don′t want this to happen to your liver and kidneys. Physicians say that doing so can lead to several medical complications and eventually shorten your life span.

Anyway, after studying and understanding the implications of what I was doing to the insides of my body, I made a complete turnaround. I wanted to tell my story to other athletes like me. I wanted to get the word out especially to bodybuilders and weightlifters-who read the muscle magazines and flashy advertisements-and purchased the recommended food supplements and gobbled them down.

Protein Requirements

The biggest misconception 20 years ago, and still the biggest misconception today, is the belief that heavy weight training requires massive dietary protein intake.

When my urine was analyzed at Flordia State University in 1970, I was consuming 380 grams of protein per day. Approximately half of the protein came from a 90 percent protein powder.

Why did I consume so much protein? Because I had read repeatedly in muscle magazines that that′s what all the champions ate: from 300-400 grams of protein a day.

Yet, Dr. Schendel kept tellin me that the RDA for protein is .36 grams per pound of bodyweight. Thus, at that time at a body weight of 215lbs., my protein requirement was 77 grams per day.

The results of the study proved that Dr. Schendel was right, and that RDA was accurate. Most of the protein I was eating was being broken down and excreted through my kidneys.

Even though a few recent studies have shown that a slight increase in the RDA for protein may benefit some athletes, the extra calories that most athletes normally consume more than compensate for those additions.”

Coach Phillip Bergeron’s Never Fail Lifting Program

by Tom Bourg


When I was around 18 years old and in college, I took weightlifting as one of my required physical education classes. Since I had been training for four years and could standing press 70 pounds above bodyweight, I figured it would be pretty much a waste of time, but a sure iA.i

Well, that was when I first met Dr. Phillip Bergeron of Nicholls State University (called Harvard on the Bayou by locals) in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Dr. Bergeron had completed his PhD. studies in weight training and was one of the first to do an actual iscientifici study of the effects of isometric contraction. (His conclusions were, I believe, that although isometrics could build strength, it had many disadvantages when compared to free weights and few, if any, advantages.)

Well the first day of class came and we had a strength test of sorts. I knew I couldnit hide the fact that I trained, so I did something like a 200# standing press and 220# bench (I was Oilifting then and believe it or not, I had never done flat benches, so I was kinda proud of that 220 bench), maybe 12 or so pull-ups . 50 pushups and maybe 50 situps in one minute. Anyway, I did enough so it didnit appear like I was idogging iti but I knew that I could easily show iimprovementi when we were tested at the end of the 3-month session.

Dr. Bergeron put us on a routine that he had used with thousands of students over the years. It was a three- day per week, whole body program that was so simple that if I had been asked about it prior to the class, I would have said it was useless, or at least, not very productive for someone as advanced as I was.

I followed the routine exactly as Coach Bergeron designed it, and very surprisingly to me, I made really great gains. And, everyone got bigger and stronger on the program. I mean everyone.

Well, testing time came around and for the standing press I power cleaned and pressed a new personal record of 240# at about 160# bodyweight. On the bench press I improved to about 250#, still pitiful but more than I had ever done before.

The real surprise was that even though I had been doing no Oilifting I asked the coach if I could try a squat clean, since my clean for the press had been so easy. He said, isure.i Well, I loaded 290 on the bar which would be a new personal for me by 10 pounds. I easily cleaned it and would have gotten the jerk if I had not been lifting on a cushioned pad that compressed and caused me to lose my balance.

Also, in the three months I had added at least Ohm to my arm and I really looked much better than when the class started. I believe the positive effects on my physique outweighed my strength gains.

The newbies to lifting improved even more than I did percentage-wise. It was incredible. Many of the students looked like they trainedoin three months that is quite an accomplishment. Dr. Bergeron told me that in all the years that he had used the program had never had a student who failed to progress.!!!

Over the years, Dr. Bergeron and I became good friends. He told me that the program would work for at least 6 months and the reason I got so strong on it, was that everyone needed to work the whole body and get into good condition every so often. He said that the mistake a lot of lifters make is that they become too specialized and train too few movements. He went on to tell me that specialized training creates a condition where some parts of the bodily systems are being developed at the expense of others which eventually leads to slowed or limited progress. (For instance, consider the athlete who may have a good single but no muscular endurance.) Although the terms were not yet in usage, Dr. Bergeron had just described the rationale behind the ihypertrophy phasei of training. Remember, this was about 1968.

Without going into great detail, training with high frequency and with sub maximal loads does a lot of good things to your body. Iim not going to try to explain all of them but increased muscular endurance is one of the most important. Anaerobic fitness can be increased dramatically. Injuries can heal quicker (canit prove that, but Iive seen it happen lots of times). It can train you to train harder. It also seems to keep you from getting injured in the heavier stages of lifting.

It is also great for bodybuilding. As a matter of fact, many bodybuilders never really get out of this way of training. They may split their training up, do more sets, etc., but they are basically staying at this level for most of their career.

Note: Obviously, I am speaking of training and not iovertrainingi in the preceding paragraph. One problem often seen with training with many sets and/or movements is that the person overtrainsothey do too much volumeoor they train too often, or too heavy.

So what is this great, secret routine? Here it is, as best I remember it. This was 30 years ago so apologies go out to coach Bergeron if it is not the exact routine he had us on.

Monday: Standing presso2X8; curl 2X8; bench press 2X8; triceps extension 2X8; bent forward row 2X8; Squat 2X8; Stiff-legged deadlift 2X8 (Iim not quite sure we did the sldl); pushupsotry to add one or two per workout; Pull-ups 1Xmax ; situp–maximum for two minutes ntry to increase by 3 per workout; squat thrustsomax for one minute; freehand alternate squat jumps, max for one minute.

Wednesday: same workout and weights but do 10 reps on weight movements. Try to add to all non-weight (freehand) movements.

Friday do only one set of each barbell exercise but do 12 reps. Try to add to all non-weight (freehand) movements.

Note: keep the weight the same for both sets on days that you do two sets. ONLY ADD WEIGHT WHEN YOU HAVE GOTTEN ALL YOUR REPSoTHIS MEANS 2×10 AND 1X12.So you will most likely be adding to most movements on Monday. Rest one or two minutes between sets.

Since we lifted in istationsi so everyone could get finished within the class period, the order of the movements was not the same for all students. This did not seem to make any difference to the studentsi progress.

In later years, Coach Bergeron added freehand dips to the routineo1 set of maximum reps.

Now here is the real secret. Start light. Donit get up to heavy weights until you are at least four weeks into the program. Toward the end of the program, you may have to stay on a given weight for two weeks or more, donit worry about thatoyou are still getting istrongeri even though you are not adding weight.


At the end of four months you will probably be in the best physical shape of your life and you will be ready to do whatever specialized routine you desire as long as it is within your recovery ability.

If I were training a teenager, I would start them out on a program very similar to this one. After the progressed stopped, I would go to the heavy/light system.

An out of shape adult should probably follow Dr. Bergeronis program before going into any heavy lifting, specialized bodybuilding, etc.

I suspect that ,whether a teenager or adult, (especially a middle-aged person) one could cycle this program and make great gains for many years. This would be a great program (with possible minor modifications) for anyone interested in using weight training as an adjunct to another sport.

Good luck and good training.

Systema Up Against the Wall!

Scott Meredith

Walls are a simple bit of universal architecture -functional, unassuming, and humble in their supportive role. For strength, health, mind, and body training, walls can add a dimension of fun, honesty and supportive reality. We’ll survey just a few of the
ways you can work walls into your training.

But first, a little background. In Systema, all training functions on multiple levels. There is no concept of a pure strength exercise, or obsessive muscle isolation. All work promotes simultaneous growth on the physical (strength, flexibility), psychological (perception, understanding), emotional (confidence), and intuitive levels. Wall training
serves these deeper purposes as well, and it can be incorporated into many of the foundational drills of Systema, fostering both practical preparation for combat as well as a psychological and energetic transformation of the student. All these exercises, in
the words of the Chief Systema Teacher Mikhail Ryabko, ‘must be perfected to make you not only a superior fighter, but a better, healthier and calmer person.’

1. Finger wall walk

First, let’s consider exercises that particularly develop your fingers and hands. We want fingers and hands that are not only strong, but also ‘smart’, meaning they are aware, sensitive, and flexible under all kinds of unusual pressures and positions.

Face the wall, standing about one or two feet out from it, feet spaced a bit beyond shoulder-width apart. Now lean onto the wall, contacting it with your fingers only, as though doing fingertip push-ups, with one third or so of your bodyweight supported with hands. You can rise to the balls of your feet. Now, begin to ‘walk’ with your hands all over the wall, continuously shifting your hand positions along the surface, up and down, back and forth, even crossing your arms under one another. This exercise tends to free up your mind and body, leaving you feeling extremely comfortable.

When you are ready, twist your whole body as you reach behind with one arm, reversing your direction and facing outward from the wall, but still supported as before, by just your fingers on the surface. Now, leaning backwards, ‘walk’ with hands all over the surface, up and down, back and forth, just as when facing the wall. Reverse again, to your original position.

2. Wall-and-floor fingertip push-up

The hands, arms, and shoulders can also be ‘worked’ using your wall! For example, you
may know of ordinary fingertip push-ups, but consider this interesting variation.

Assume a push-up position and turn you body parallel to the wall, (as if you are laying on your side) with one arm on the wall and the other on the floor, supporting yourself with the fingers of both hands. Your feet are near each other, slightly out from the wall. Now, lower yourself into the push-up. When you feel you cannot lower anymore without collapsing, hold your position a bit longer, and shuffle your feet backward, keeping up with your fingers working backwards along the wall and floor as well.

3. Shoulder wall-walk

Wall training can also be used to highlight certain possibilities of movement with unexpected areas of the body. All such unconventional movement develops your body and brain.

Face out from the wall; let your upper back contact the wall. Use your shoulder blades and upper body to ‘walk’ across the wall surface, back and forth, up and down, and shift your feet as needed to keep it interesting. You may wish to stand on the balls of your feet, rather than flat-footed, for greater mobility. This work emphasizes the shoulders and back, two areas whose extension and movement potential is often overlooked.

4. Raising your body with your palms

Hey, as long as we are talking about relaxing, why don’t we just lie down? Near the wall, of course!

This is a very difficult exercise indeed. Lie on your back at a 90-degree angle to the wall, your head up against it. Now, place your palms on the wall behind you, and simply attempt to walk yourself up, using your hands or fingertips. This one is a little tricky, because if you don’t relax your abdomen, it will turn into an ordinary sit-up. So, you
need to make sure your whole abdomen is relaxed, and that the hands and fingers are doing all the work. The same exercise can also be performed while lying in the
same orientation to the wall, but on your chest.

5. Foot wall-walk

And as always in Systema, every variation implies its own reversal, so we also can try the following.

Lie on your back at 90-degree angle to the wall, with your feet up against it. Now, using only your foot and leg power, begin to climb up the wall. You can scoot yourself forward using your back muscles as needed to accommodate your rise. This can also be done on a tree, using your legs to grip around the trunk as you ‘climb’ yourself straight up.

You will find that all the exercises above tend to make you, or your body, ‘think’ as you work them, as they offer unfamiliar angles and challenges. Furthermore, when we work against the wall in the kinds of exercises described above, the development of the tendons is emphasized. The development of the tendons, as the crucial link between bones and muscles, in turn yields energy, strength, and health benefits to the entire physical system. Try the work above, smile as you sweat, and enjoy yourself!