Bolstering your power, strength and performance in the gym brings many other benefits in addition to the physical ones. There’s an undeniable excitement when you step up to the challenge of lifting heavy weights. Striving to improve your performance makes your bodybuilding efforts much more than an aesthetic endeavor. It becomes your own personal contest’even if you never plan to compete in bodybuilding.
Here’s the second installment of my best mental and physical strategies for bolstering your power, strength and performance in the gym. One of them could be the technique that will send your mass into the stratosphere.
4) After You’re Sufficiently Warmed Up, Don’t Waste Your Strength on Lighter Weights
When I first started bodybuilding years ago, I followed the lead of those around me, training with weights that simply weren’t heavy enough to stimulate muscle growth. If I was training my chest, I’d do four or five different chest exercises, four sets of each, and pyramid, or gradually increase, the weight on each successive set. During each of those sets’sometimes as many as 20 to 24’I’d shoot for about eight to 10 reps, regardless of the weight I used.
Can you imagine how much time and energy I squandered training that way? If you’d asked me why I did so many reps during the first couple of sets with the lighter weights, I would have said I needed to get warmed up sufficiently. Now, that reasoning may have been somewhat acceptable during the first exercise, but what about the second, third, fourth and, if I had one, fifth exercises? If you’d asked me why I continued with that same pattern for the remaining chest exercises, I probably would have said I had to warm up the same way with each one because the slightly different movements required their own type of warmup.
What was I thinking? I wasted at least 75 percent of my time and energy using weights that weren’t going to cause hypertrophy. My body was already accustomed to handling those weights, and so I wasn’t creating any need for my muscles to adapt by growing larger and stronger. By the time I got to the heavy overload sets, most of my energy was already spent. The funny thing is that I see a lot of people in the gym today’beginners, intermediate and even advanced lifters’still using some of those inefficient and archaic training principles.
Let me assure you that I do believe it’s very important both mentally and physically to warm up before you hit the heavy weights. Mentally, you want to feel confident that you’re in some kind of groove before you really test yourself. Physically, you want to warm up the muscles sufficiently before you really tax them with maximum weights in order to prevent serious injury.
Lighter, warmup weights serve a very important purpose: to prepare your muscles to safely attack the much heavier weights needed to stimulate growth. Warmup weights, however, don’t build muscle. Don’t waste your precious energy on those lighter weights when it’s not necessary.
The key is to get your body prepared to train for strength, power and performance. If you’re concerned about injuries occurring because you’re training with heavy weights before your body is sufficiently warmed up, let me share with you the things that I do to get my mind and body ready for the big numbers.
The first thing I do when I get to the gym is ride the stationary bike for about five minutes at a moderate pace. That gets my blood flowing, my body temperature up and my muscles loose. Before I begin training with any significant weight, I stretch my upper body thoroughly (my lower body on leg days, of course). I usually lean up against a pole or machine and stretch my arms in different directions. I also make sure to stretch far enough to loosen my arm, pectoral and back muscles. I continue to stretch before every one of my four or five warmup sets.
Use as little weight as possible warming up. Save your energy for the heavy sets. Do as few reps as possible during your warmup sets. Again, save your energy.
For example, when I train chest, I use the first four or five sets of the very first exercise as a warmup. During those sets’and only those sets’I train with less than the maximum weight I can handle. I start my chest routine with flat-bench presses. On the first set I do 12 repetitions with lighter weight. On the second set I use 40 to 50 percent of my maximum weight for about six reps. On the third set I use about 60 percent of my maximum for about three reps. On the fourth set I lift about 75 percent for only two repetitions, and on the fifth and final warmup set I lift about 80 to 85 percent of my maximum for a single rep.
Now I’m ready to lift a weight so heavy, I can’t perform more than six reps. It won’t, however, be so heavy that I can’t do at least four. When I get to the second, third or fourth exercise of that day’s chest workout, I don’t waste time or energy with less than overload weight. There’s no need’I’m sufficiently warmed up by then.
On the rest of your exercises for the target bodypart, don’t use anything less than the maximum amount of weight you can possibly lift.
5) Before Every Set Redefine the Meaning of Absolute Failure
As I discussed in Part 1 of this series, working the target muscle group until you hit complete, unqualified, absolute failure should be your goal on every set. When you finish a set, you should have nothing left, not even a quarter rep. Training the muscle until absolute failure must be your number-one priority on every set of every exercise and every exercise of every workout.
You’ve heard those stories of amazing strength, haven’t you? If an older woman can lift a car and save a baby who’s trapped under it, how can you say you can’t get just one more rep with your maximum weight?
If I offered you $1 million, could you get just one rep more than you’ve ever pumped out with the most weight you’ve ever lifted? If you truly believed I’d come through on my promise, I’m sure you’d push beyond all previous records and get that extra rep’or die trying. Am I right?
Even if you didn’t get the entire extra rep, I bet you’d get a half or quarter rep more. Isn’t just an extra half rep better than your previous best? What if you were able to train that way on every set of every exercise? On every exercise of every workout? Just imagine what kind of muscle growth you’d be able to stimulate over time! In a period of only a few months the difference in your strength, power and performance could be massive.
As you might imagine, training to absolute failure is just as much’if not more’a mental challenge as it is a physical one. True warriors in the gym can motivate themselves to train every set to absolute failure and then redefine what that means by exceeding their preconceived notions during the next workout, month or year. Heck, they may even be able to do it on their very next set.
True warriors understand that there’s always a higher level to achieve, and they’re always striving for that seemingly just out-of-reach higher level. One way or another, they’re convinced they’ll eventually shatter their personal bests.
And you know what? True warriors in the gym don’t need anyone to be trapped under a car or to offer them a million dollars to perform at such an amazing level. They generate that incredible drive and determination with their own mental power.
The key to continually improving your strength, power and performance in the gym is to keep elevating the standards of what you expect from yourself. Sure, there will be limits to what you can accomplish. I believe, however, that those limits will more than likely be beyond what you currently expect from yourself.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many lifters I’ve spoken with who’ve been performing the same old number of reps with the same old amount of weight’for years! What’s really surprising is that those same frustrated bodybuilders just can’t seem to figure out why their progress has plateaued. Don’t settle for what you’ve always done. Fight the temptation to become complacent.
The mind is an incredible training tool. The only way our brains will produce more is if we ask them to demand that our bodies produce more. Consciously do that before every set.
Knowing that I will get what I focus on in my training efforts, I implement a couple of mental strategies before every set to reaffirm the importance of redefining what absolute failure means to me.
One of the training goals I read to myself when I’m warming up on the stationary bike is the following:
I will constantly redefine what absolute failure means to me by pushing myself to give more effort than ever during every set. I will remind myself to do this before every set.
For the past several years I’ve used a series of verbal and physical tricks to get myself into a powerful state of mind before every set. I call them my power rituals. This year I’ve added one more ritual to my repertoire.
I’ve made it a habit to say to myself before each and every set, ‘I will redefine what absolute failure means to me on this set!’ That gets my mind extremely clear on what I want to accomplish before I even pick up the weight.
Stringing together a series of sets in which you achieve absolute failure leads to an unbelievably intense training session. After you complete such a workout, you know in your soul that you’re in the high-performance training zone.
Training suggestion. You don’t need to make a big production out of it, but before every set simply remind yourself to put forth your best effort. 6) Get Yourself Mentally Ready to Lift Heavy Weight Before Every Set
Your ability to train at your highest level of performance’and do it on a consistent basis’depends on how well you manage your emotional state and mental focus. I’m certain there have been many times when you’ve felt totally unstoppable in the gym’in control and powerful’and you produced awesome workouts. I’m also sure you’ve suffered times in the gym when, no matter how badly you wanted to hammer out great sessions, you just couldn’t seem to get your act together.
Why is it that you perform so brilliantly one day and so poorly the next? For that matter, why is it that you can feel so strong and powerful during one set of a particular exercise and extremely weak and uncoordinated on the very next one? Your training performance is often determined by your mental state at that particular time.
True champions are the people who can perform at peak level more consistently than others. They can perform so well because they have learned the importance of controlling their mental state and have mastered doing it.
Some of those effective bodybuilders may not even be aware that they have a set of rituals they perform when they’re at their very best, but they do. More than likely you have a pattern of behavior that you always exhibit when you’re strong and powerful. Do you think certain thoughts to get yourself fired up? Do you say certain things to yourself when you feel especially strong? Maybe you use your hands a certain way when you’re at your best.
If you make yourself aware of your exact patterns of behavior when your training performance is at its highest level, you can make sure you do them before every set of every workout. You can turn on your power, strength and performance in the gym almost like a light switch. If you don’t have any identifiable empowering behaviors, you may want to consider creating some.
Do you think I feel like training hard and heavy every single day? No way! I’m just like you. There are days when I’m distracted by life’s everyday challenges. There are days when I’m afraid to train heavy, and there are days when I’m just not as determined or motivated as I am on other days. Knowing how important it is for me to have as many great workouts as is humanly possible, however, I’ve learned what I can do to turn myself on instantly. These are my power rituals.
I walk around the bench, machine or weights in a half circle from the left side to the right. I peer at the weights from the left corner of my eyes. I say to myself, very softly at first, ‘I will redefine what absolute failure means to me on this set! I see it, hear it, feel it and know it!’ I then slap my left pectoral with my right palm. I go through this pattern three times. Each time I’m building the intensity and sharpness of my words and the force with which I slap my chest. Mentally, I might picture myself pounding out that heavy weight with perfect form. Then I attack the set.
My rituals fire me up and get me into a strong and powerful state of mind. Because I’ve done them over and over again throughout the years, I don’t even need to consciously think about it anymore.
I’ll admit I get a few strange looks from time to time, but I don’t really care how silly I look to others. I’ve proven to myself over and over again the tremendous value of getting myself into a powerful and strong mind-set before every set.
Creating your own set of empowering patterns may be just the strategy that can help you take your power, strength and performance in the gym to another level. I recommend that you develop your own power rituals and practice them over and over again. With enough time and effort you, too, can call upon your brain to help you produce awesome workouts every time.
7) Don’t Get Overly Concerned About Using Extremely Strict Form
Strive to perform your repetitions at a good value. What exactly do I mean by that? While you should not use terribly sloppy form, you shouldn’t become overly concerned about being extremely strict either. You should aim for something that falls between the two extremes.
If you were going to buy a car, would you choose the most expensive one you looked at, say, a Mercedes? If you did, you could be assured that you’d have the highest quality car, but you’d also pay a hefty price for that quality. Would you instead pick the cheapest car, maybe a Hyundai? If you did, you’d get by without having to invest a whole lot of money, but you’d make a serious sacrifice in terms of quality.
Another option would be to find an automobile that provides a good value between the two models. The car you select may not be as high quality as the Mercedes, but it sure would save you a lot of money. The purchase may not be as inexpensive as the Hyundai, but the quality would be much better.
Many bodybuilders believe that the quality of their form is the most important aspect of training. Improving your power and strength means you have to lift heavy weight. Some bodybuilders don’t focus on that. They use the rationale that lifting heavy weight causes you to train less effectively.
Just because you strive for effective form doesn’t mean you have to train like, well, I’ll politely refer to it as less than warriorlike. Some bodybuilders want to lift the heaviest amount of weight humanly possible, regardless of what it takes to do it. I’m not saying you should train with extremely sloppy form. I’m not suggesting that you risk hurting yourself in order to lift heavy weights. Using form that’s too sloppy won’t work the intended muscles sufficiently. Hurting yourself while trying to lift too much weight will set you back. The time you’ll waste being out of the gym and the momentum you’ll lose should be incentive enough to be sure you don’t hurt yourself using form that’s too sloppy.
There’s a happy medium, however. You can perform each set at a good value’lifting heavy enough weight to build significant muscle mass while still using form that’s good enough to hit the intended muscle group.
Some people refer to that training strategy as controlled cheating. Paul Delia, president of AST Sports Science and the creator of the MAX-OT training program, calls it biomechanically optimized form. He believes that using form that’s too strict can actually hurt you. ‘Using strict, rigid form defies your body’s natural biomechanical movements,’ Delia says. ‘That creates very high and abnormal stress to joints, connective tissue and muscle attachments. These abnormal forces can increase your chance of injury while training.
‘Strict form also severely limits the amount of weight you can train with due to its isolation effect and the defiance of optimum biomechanics,’ he continues. ‘Because you use less weight, have a greater chance of injury and produce less of an overload’resulting in less muscle growth’strict form does not make sense when compared to biomechanically optimized form.
‘Biomechanically optimized form allows you to train heavier with less joint stress and greater muscle overload. That type of exercise execution creates a rhythm with the natural movement of your body’s biomechanical structure, pivot points, muscle attachments and range of motion. It maximizes your ability to overload the muscle safely.’
Paul stresses the difference between what he teaches and using sloppy form. ‘Don’t mistake biomechanically optimized form with sloppy form,’ he warns. ‘They’re two completely different approaches. Sloppy form attempts to make the weight easier to lift at all cost. Biomechanically optimized form allows you to maximize the overload to the muscle and minimize injury-producing stress. You build muscle and strength faster and more efficiently.’
In life we usually become wiser and use better judgment after making a lot of mistakes. Lifting heavy weight with the type of form that will bolster your power, strength and performance in the gym takes practice. You’ll never have good form while using heavy weight until you work at it. Just be patient with yourself.
Your form probably won’t be the best in the world when you first try, but if you keep trying and strive for better form with each and every workout, there will come a time when you have the best of both worlds!
Editor’s note: Skip La Cour is offering a free report, ‘How to Look Like You Are on Steroids’Without Drugs, Excessive Hours in the Gym or Complicated Diets!’ To receive your copy, call 1-800-799-5443. Skip La Cour’s book Thinking Big is a step-by-step workbook designed to help you use your mind to achieve your physique goals more effectively. To order, send a $25 check or money order to Thinking Big, P. O. Box 1136, Pleasanton, CA 94566. For credit card orders call 1-800-447-0008, ext. 1. For more information about natural bodybuilding visit La Cour’s Mass Machine Web site at www.skiplacour.com. To add your name to his Empowering Information mailing list, call 1-800-655-0986, ext. 6000, or send your name and address via e-mail to [email protected]. IM