This month Skip wraps up his 10 strategies for turning you into an animal in the gym.
8) Get a Good Training Partner
The way I train, a training partner is an absolute must. The number-one reason I have a training partner is to acquire the confidence to continually attack the heavy weights.
Heavy weight is essential, so safety is always a concern. I instruct my training partner to have his hand on the bar at all times during bench presses and on my elbows during shoulder presses’whether or not I need a spot during the set. Just having someone ready at any time in the event that I fail unexpectedly gives me a sense of security that I’ll not get injured. I can concentrate on the exercise and earn more muscle.
Probably the toughest part of doing a heavy set of bench presses or shoulder presses is simply getting the bar out of the rack and into starting position. Having to lift 455 pounds up and over the holding bar, with your arms being stretched out at almost a 45 degree angle, wastes a lot of energy, and you use that precious energy before you even begin the set. You encounter the same challenge when doing dumbbell presses with 155-pounders. Just getting them up from the dead-hang position wastes all your strength.
I instruct my training partners to take as much of that burden off me as possible’then I begin my set, full tilt and ready to earn some muscle. There are times when a training partner may get a little anxious and wrongly anticipate that you won’t get a rep that you could have gotten. It happens all the time.
Spotting correctly takes acuity and some talent. But if my training partner is going to err, I’d rather have him err by helping me too much than by letting me get hurt. I can always do a few more reps to compensate for his concern.
Some guys tell their partners not to get close to the bar unless they need to. They want to make sure that they’re lifting the weight all by themselves’and they want everyone in the gym to know it too. I’m not in the gym for my ego. I’m in the gym to build muscle. I know how strong I am, and that’s all that matters. I don’t care if it looks like I’m being assisted. Having my training partner so close to the bar or with his hands on my elbows gives me that extra mental edge to go up the rack year after year.
I’ve been very fortunate over the years to have had some awesome training partners. Travis Souza in 1994, John Lopez for the NPC Team Universe in ’98 and Tony Ruggerio, along with John, in ’99. This year I have a great training partner in Gabe Williams. These gentlemen were there for me day in and day out, adjusting their schedules to fit mine. I feel I’ve been truly blessed.
You say you can’t find a good training partner? Start building a relationship with somebody in the gym now. At the very least try to get someone to help you with exercises like bench presses, squats and shoulder presses. Carefully outline your needs and expectations. Make sure you instruct the person willing to help you in a nonoffensive, concise manner. Believe me, your efforts will be well worth it in the long run. Don’t be shy’just ask someone. If you make that person feel comfortable, chances are he or she will be glad to help you.
I believe that a training partner can be one of the most valuable assets a person can have’or one of the biggest distractions. How a training partner affects your performance will solely depend on one person: you!
Nobody cares as much about your success in the gym as you. You can never rely on anyone else to carry you mentally. You can never expect someone else to pick you up when you’re down or congratulate you when you’re doing well. It all comes down to you.
9) Control Your Lower Back
It doesn’t matter which exercises you’re doing during a particular workout, controlling your lower back generates power and strength. With any exercise, whether it’s bench presses, squats, dumbbell presses or seated calf raises, strength is generated with good, tight lower-back posture. You may already instinctively control your lower back when you’re performing at your best in the gym. It’s very important, however, that you call upon that source of power before every set. You must be able to control your lower back on demand’not merely by chance.
Try getting yourself into the position of power. Sit up in your chair. Hold your head high with your chin up. Raise your shoulders and pin them back. Next, arch your lower back. Then tighten your lower-back muscles and crunch down on them. That’s the feeling you should have in your lower back while performing every repetition of every exercise.
You’ll be amazed at how quickly your strength increases. More strength leads to more high-quality muscle’and in a shorter period of time. You may need to remind yourself of that from time to time. It’s easy to forget when you start concentrating on other areas of your gym performance. Be persistent, and your body will become conditioned to doing it even when you aren’t thinking about it.
10) Less Training Will Bolster Your Power, Strength and Performance
In today’s society more of anything is always assumed to be better. The more time you spend doing something, the better you’ll eventually become at it, right?
Wrong. More is not always better. Is the person who spends the most time at work always the best at his or her job? Is the person who works the hardest always the person who earns the most money? Obviously, that isn’t always true. Although the desire to put in more time and determination to put forth more effort can be admirable, those qualities will not necessarily lead to better results. If you add efficiency’the ability to produce maximum results in a minimal amount of time’to that time and effort, you’ll be more likely to achieve the outcome you desire.
If you’re striving to bolster your power, strength and performance in the gym, you may wish to embrace the less-is-more training ideology. If you’ve followed my progress over the years, you’ve probably noticed I’ve cut back considerably on the volume of my training. Nonetheless, I must be reminded of that training reality even to this very day.
Exactly why isn’t more better when it comes to training? I believe it all revolves around the varying levels of intensity at which we train. As I’ve stated on several occasions, intensity is the key to efficient training. And, as I’ve also stated many times, intensity is very difficult to accurately define. Most of us firmly believe we’re training with the utmost intensity’or very close to it’most of the time. But is that really true?
After my first couple of years of training, if you dared to question my level of training intensity, I would have told you I was training with a high level of intensity. In 1994, a few years, pounds of muscle and contest wins later, I thought to myself, ‘Man, my training intensity exploded over the years! I thought I used to train with intensity, but I’ve raised the level even higher, and my physique and contest victory prove it!’
But you know what? After I was handed the Overall trophy at the ’98 Team Universe, I said to myself, ‘Whew! Taking my training intensity to an entirely new level paid off big time!’
Now I swear my latest back workout was the most intense training session I’ve ever had. I told you I always trained with intensity, but this time I’m not kidding. I really train with the utmost intensity.
Isn’t my story your story as well? What if we had trained back then with the level of intensity we do now? Just think where our development would be!
So, do you train with intensity? It’s the key, you know. You’ll probably answer that question with an emphatic, ‘Hell, yes! I train harder than anyone I know.’ (That, by the way, happens to be the response I get from nine out of every 10 people I ask when I travel around the world doing bodybuilding seminars.)
Intensity is a mental thing. The more honestly you can assess your training intensity, the more likely you’ll be able to bolster your power, strength and performance in the gym.
Why is training less actually more when it comes to improving your bodybuilding efforts in the gym? Adopting a more effective and empowering mind-set will elevate your crucial training intensity.
Think about it. Imagine that I told you to run a race and all of sudden yelled, ‘Go!’ How fast would you run? Would you pace yourself and jog at the beginning in order to conserve some energy for later? Would you sprint all out from the very start’in other words, with the utmost intensity? You might be saying to yourself, ‘Well, that all depends on the length of the race.’ The longer the race is, or is perceived to be, the more reluctant you will be to train with the utmost intensity.
Some training strategies are more effective than others simply because they help your mind guide your body into improved performance. Adopting an empowering mind-set in the gym is an important step you must take to elevate your training intensity. Here are some specific less-is-more training methods and approaches:
Use fewer sets during your workouts. I used to perform four sets of every single exercise when I first started training years ago. Why did I choose four sets? To tell you the truth, I don’t really remember. More than likely I settled on that amount because the first person I trained with passed along that philosophy.
Doing four sets of every exercise is not an efficient way to train. Have you ever noticed that when you get yourself in the training-warrior mind-set, you always pump out significantly more reps during the last set than you do during the first one?
Let’s say you plan on doing four sets of eight repetitions. On the first set you get eight reps’just as you planned. While performing the second set, you usually get all eight reps again. During the third set you squeak out all eight reps as well. But when you know you only have one set remaining, you magically produce three, four or even five more reps for an amazing total of 13. All of a sudden, you become a true training warrior. You transform into a determined, machinelike madman who would make Dorian Yates envious.
If you think about it, shouldn’t the results be just the opposite? If you were really giving your all during the first several sets, you wouldn’t have the energy left to meet’or exceed’that goal repetition range on the last set.
If you were truly training with the utmost intensity (as we all think we do, myself included), you probably should have gotten about 12 repetitions on the first set, about 10 reps on the second one, eight or nine on the third and only have been able to knock out about six on the fourth.
You need a sense of urgency to train with the highest level of intensity. Planning to do only one or two sets creates that sense of urgency. Often during my workouts I implement what I call one-hit wonders. Giving yourself only one chance with a particular exercise creates a sense of urgency that ignites the intensity of your training.
If you really train like Dorian Yates’who, by the way, is my role model for training intensity’you can build muscle doing fewer sets. If you train like less than an animal, you’ll undoubtedly need more sets to become just as productive.
Be honest with yourself when evaluating your intensity in the gym. You have a lot to gain in terms of power, strength and performance by doing so. On the other hand, you have a lot to lose by not being honest. If you demand more from yourself, you will eventually get more.
Strive for fewer repetitions during every set. How many repetitions per set is the right amount? Is it 12 reps? Ten? Eight? Four? Two? Different bodybuilders have different philosophies on that matter. Some people say you should do 12 to 15 reps per set, while others insist eight to 10 is the proper amount.
The less time you focus and concentrate, the better your focus and concentration will be. That’s why I aim for four to six repetitions per set. It’s easier for me to train at a higher level of intensity. If I only have to perform four reps, as opposed to 12 to 15, I will surely be able to lift a heavier weight.
If I can do more than six reps during a particular set, I’ve picked a weight that’s too light. Conversely, if I can’t properly perform four repetitions, the weight I chose was too heavy. Either way, I’ll make the proper adjustments, not only for the next set but for every single set of every single workout in the future as well.
Focus on less by training one bodypart during each workout. When I started training each bodypart on its own day, I increased my focus, attention and energy level and stopped pacing myself.
Train each bodypart less frequently. Train each bodypart only once a week. Training each bodypart less frequently creates a sense of urgency that makes the magnitude of every bodypart training session increase dramatically. If I’m really committed to bolstering my power, strength and performance and I only give myself one opportunity all week long to do it for each bodypart, I’m forced to make that workout count. I have less margin for error, and I must exert every ounce of mental and physical energy imaginable.
Spend less time in the gym. Shorten your workouts and take more days off from training. Using fewer sets, aiming for fewer reps during those sets, training only one bodypart per training session and training each bodypart less frequently will make you spend less time in the gym. It will be much easier to keep your focus, concentration and intensity levels high when you’re required to do so for shorter periods of time. When you adopt these less-is-more strategies, your workouts should take no longer than 45 minutes.
Training that way workout after workout, week after week and month after month is going to lead to more power, more strength and better performance.
Everyone’s level of motivation will wane from time to time. Everyone’s body will tire occasionally as well. Keep your mental batteries fresh and your body energized by taking more time off from training.
Try to spend at least two out of every seven days out of the gym and resting. You should also schedule an entire week off from training every seven weeks or so. That will keep your mind and body working efficiently. Your power, strength and performance will always be at or near their highest levels when you give yourself that much-needed time off.
You don’t have to use every one of my training techniques to train better in the gym. One single strategy could be the key to bolstering your power, strength and performance. Try one or try them all. Give them your best effort, and I’m certain your physical and mental results will astound you.
Editor’s note: 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, or send your name and address via e-mail to [email protected]. IM