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The Power Parable

Build Strength With a Size Side Effect

I was living in Mississippi. It was Saturday morning, and my workout partner, Bubba Dustry, and I decided to get in an early squat and deadlift session at the Steel Pit, the local power den we frequented when we weren’t in the mood to train in my garage. The morning air was crisp and clean. I felt a great workout was about to occur.

‘Gawdamn, I’m ready to squat,’ Bubba said as we pulled into the gym’s parking lot. ‘Feel like I could lift a friggin’ half ton today!’ ‘You might be strong, Bubba,’ I replied, ‘but you ain’t reached the level of Ed Coan quite yet.’

‘Yeah, but I’m closin’ in on it. Just another 300 pounds to go.’

Bubba was right. He was strong. At a bodyweight of 275 he’d squatted just a little more than 700 pounds at the last Mississippi State Games. Of course, I was always quick to point out that, pound for pound, he still had a little bit to go to reach me. At the same meet I’d squatted 500, raw, at a bodyweight of 165.

‘C’mon, C.S.,’ he said, getting out of the truck and spitting out the wad of tobacco he’d been chewing. ‘I sure am fired up about squattin’.’

We walked into the gym and were pleased to find it relatively empty. The only other occupants were four high school boys who were pounding away at the machine press and cable crossover station and the owner, Rich Deper, a former powerlifting standout in the 198-pound class who had let himself go and now weighed damn near as much as Bubba. The only problem was, all of Rich’s weight was in his ponderous gut, thanks to a steady morning diet of doughnuts and chocolate milk (and no telling what the hell he ate for lunch and dinner). On this occasion Rich was already working on a half dozen vanilla glazed when he spotted us with our gym bags hanging off our shoulders.

‘What ya’ hitting’ today, boys? A little bench press work?’ he asked, wiping the white frosting that had accumulated above his upper lip.

‘Naw, Rich,’ I replied. ‘It’s time for a real workout today. We’re squattin’ and deadin’.’

‘I used to like all that squattin’ too,’ Rich said, ‘except my back just can’t handle it now. Hurts too much afterward.’

Well, if you’d lose that 80 pounds of gut you’ve got, then maybe your back wouldn’t hurt so bad, I thought to myself, though I said nothing. Besides, I’d had enough small talk. The power rack awaited.

Bubba and I made our assault on the squats.

‘What are ya goin’ to work up to today?’ he asked. Bubba usually followed my cue when it came to sets and reps.

‘Well, we did sets of five followed by triples on our heavy day last week,’ I said. ‘So let’s hit some heavy singles this week. Then we’ll do some back-off sets in the eight-to-10 range.’

I knew Bubba wanted to train heavy and would like the idea of some singles to start off the workout. He reached into his bag and got out his workout log.

‘Just gotta see what my workload was last week,’ he said, thumbing through it. ‘With them singles we gotta make sure we do enough to compensate for the lack of reps so our workload will still be higher.’

I’d taught Bubba how to calculate his workout and weekly workloads to ensure constant progress, and he’d kept strict records ever since.

‘How about hitting a couple of sets of lunges after the back-off sets,’ I suggested. ‘That oughta do it.’

We went through our squats like lifters possessed. Bubba worked up to three singles with 650, and I managed five singles with 495. After that we dropped 100 pounds from our singles and hit two sets of eight apiece.

‘I’m goin’ to be downright spent by the time we get around to deadlifts,’ Bubba said. I knew he wasn’t looking forward to the lunges.

After we did the lunges, he sat down on the floor and tried to recover some. ‘I think I’ll get some more water,’ I said, walking off. ‘Let’s rest about eight minutes before we start deadin’.’

‘Sounds good to me,’ he said.

I walked over to the water fountain to refill my bottle for the second time. When I returned to Bubba, I was only slightly surprised to find that the four high school boys had given up on their pec work and were talking with him.

‘These here fellas are lookin’ for a little instruction,’ Bubba said. ‘Think we got enough time for ’em?’

‘I don’t see why not,’ I replied. ‘We can give it 10 minutes or so before we bombard our backs.’

‘Backs?’ one of the kids queried. ‘What are ya doing for backs? Some pulldowns or Nautilus rows?’

Bubba looked up at the blond pimple-faced boy and scowled. ‘Hell, naw. There ain’t but one exercise to do for your back on heavy day, and that’s the deadlift.’

The boy shut up.

‘In all fairness,’ I began, ‘there are a few other good back exercises, but they sure as hell ain’t pulldowns or machine rows. But, hey, we’re gettin’ ahead of ourselves here. Y’all want to pack on the mass and strength, right?’

They all nodded in agreement.

‘Then let me lay down a few routines that will get you goin’ on the right path.’

‘Bubba,’ I said, ‘hand me two blank sheets of paper from your workout log. Two hard-as-a-sonsabitch workouts ought to get these boys growin’.’ I spent a few minutes scribbling down the following Bill Starr-style beginning workout for them. When I was through, I handed it to them. They looked at it with a bit of dismay. Must have been all the squatting.

Bill Starr’style Power Program

Day 1: Heavy
Squats 5 x 5
Bench presses 5 x 5
Deadlifts 5 x 5
Weighted dips 3 x 8
Hyperextensions 2 x 20
Weighted crunches 2 x 8

Day 2: Light
Squats 4 x 5
Incline-bench presses 4 x 5
High pulls 5 x 5
Barbell curls 3 x 8
Weighted crunches 2 x 8

Day 3: Medium
Squats 3 x 5, 2 x 3
Bench presses 3 x 5, 2 x 3
Power cleans 3 x 5
Lying barbell extensions 3 x 8
Hyperextensions 2 x 20
Weighted crunches 2 x 8

The blond-haired boy spoke up again. I decided he must be their appointed leader. ‘I’m a little confused,’ he said. ‘Why all the squattin’?’ I knew it. ‘Squats are the cornerstone of any good routine,’ I told him, ‘especially one geared to someone just starting out.’

‘We ain’t startin’ out,’ another boy protested. ‘We been liftin’ together for almost six months.’

‘But ya’ll sure as hell ain’t been workin’ out right,’ Bubba chimed in a little harshly. ‘If ya had been, then ya wouldn’t still look like ya never touched a weight in your life!’

‘Okay,’ the blond-haired one said, ‘we understand that we need to squat more. We ain’t been doin’ any leg work. But what about this heavy, light, medium stuff? They all look like heavy workouts to me.’

‘On paper that is a little confusing,’ I said. ‘So let me clarify a few things for you.

‘Let’s use the squats as an example. For the five sets of five on the heavy day you do five progressively heavier sets of five reps. The last set should be an all-out effort to complete the five reps. On the light day that follows, you perform four sets of progressively heavier fives, but on the fourth and final set you use a weight that’s no more than 85 percent of the weight you used on your final heavy-day set. Got it?’ I looked around at the young faces to make sure there was understanding in their eyes. They all nodded.

‘The first three sets of five on the medium day are no different from what you do on your heavy day, but the last two sets are triples done with a weight that’s slightly heavier than what you used for your last set on your heavy day. I know, I know. That makes the medium day sound heavier than the heavy day, but it damn well ain’t. Your workload on the triples will be lower than the fives on the heavy day.

‘The bench press follows basically the same pattern,’ I continued. ‘The only difference is that you incorporate incline benches on the light day. Once again, though, make sure that the weight you use is no more than 85 percent.

‘As far as back work goes, the exercises themselves will take care of the heavy, light and medium principle.

‘Now, I don’t give a hell-fire shit about how basic this program looks,’ I told them, ‘but if you use it the way I’ve outlined for at least four months, I can guarantee that you’ll make some fantastic gains.’

‘What if it’s still workin’ after four months and we don’t want to change routines?’ the blond-haired boy asked.

‘Then stick with the basic tenets of the program and only make minor adjustments,’ I countered. ‘For instance, change to a leg exercise other than squats on the light day. Front squats, lunges or Olympic squats would be good. The same goes for the chest and back work. You might start getting bored doing nothing but flat benches and inclines for chest work and deadlifts, high pulls and power cleans for back work. Another thing you might want to do is add some back-off sets of eight to 10 reps after the fives on the heavy and medium days.’

‘What if we do want a different routine after that long?’ another kid asked, obviously cringing at the idea of performing the same ole thing for so many months in a row.

‘I thought you might ask that,’ I said, pulling out another sheet of paper. I wrote down another basic, albeit different, program, then handed it to them.

This time the kids looked the thing over with interest. It was obvious that they were intrigued by some of the odd lifts I’d included.

Dinosaur-style Training Program

Day 1
Bottom-position squats 6 x 2*
Partial squats 5 x 6
Incline-bench presses 5 x 3
Thick-bar curls 6 x 2
Sandbag carry 1 x distance
Hanging leg raises 3 x 20

Day 2
Partial deadlifts 6 x 1*, 5 x 5
Floor presses 5 x 5
Lying pullover and presses 4 x 8
Hammer curls 4 x 8
Weighted situps 4 x 15

Day 3
Squats 4 x 10
bench presses 6 x 3
Wide-grip chins 5 x max
Reverse thick-bar curls 6 x 2
Farmer’s walk 1 x distance
Hanging leg raises 3 x 20

Day 4
Sumo deadlifts 6 x 1*, 5 x 5
Midrange rack presses 6 x 3
Dumbbell pullovers 4 x 8
Alternate dumbbell curls 4 x 8
Weighted situps 4 x 15

*Increase the weight on each successive set.

‘I got to admit,’ the blond-haired kid said, ‘I ain’t never seen a program like this before.’

‘Probably all the heavy weights I’ve got you usin’, huh?’ I asked.

‘That and all them weird exercises,’ the kid said. ‘Thick-bar curls? Sandbag carry? Farmer’s walk?’

‘Think of this workout as the next evolution in your training after completing the first routine,’ I said. ‘This one’s a little harder in that it requires more conditioning with the sandbag carry and the farmer’s walk.’

‘So what are those things?’

‘For the sandbag carry just fill a duffel bag or somethin’ else with sand, clean the thing to your chest and walk with it as far as possible. For the farmer’s walk grab a dumbbell in each hand, somethin’ pretty heavy, and do the same thing. Those two exercises build a tremendous amount of strength in the legs, hips, lower and upper back and grip.

‘Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, though, let me outline the basic guidelines that come with this regimen. For one thing, as you can tell, it involves four separate workouts. That’s to give you even more variety than the first program. Days 1 and 3 involve squatting movements, full-range benchin’ exercises and the sandbag and farmer’s walk we just talked about. Days 2 and 4 involve deadlift movements, partial-range benches and weighted ab work. I’ve included arm work with every session.

‘Although there are four workouts, I still want you to lift only three nonconsecutive days every week’at least for the first couple of months. So, if you decide to lift on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, then the first week would have you doin’ the first three workouts. Then on the followin’ Monday you begin the week with the fourth workout, followed by workouts 1 and 2 on Wednesday and Friday. The next week would see you starting with workout 3 and so on. Got it?

They all nodded in agreement again.

‘Once you build up some tolerance for the program,’ I said, ‘you can lift every other day until you finish all four workouts and then take a couple of days off.’

‘Where’s the light days?’ the leader asked. ‘Seems like it would get tough workin’ out heavy all the time.’

‘That’s a good point,’ I replied. ‘The fact that you’re alternatin’ squat workouts with deadlift workouts and partial-range upper-body movements with full-range exercises will help quite a bit to avoid drainin’ your recovery system. That won’t always be enough, however, so here’s what I like to do. About every three to four weeks decrease your workload for an entire week by usin’ only about 85 percent of the weights you usually use on your exercises while keeping your reps the same. After three or four months take a week off and then switch back to another heavy-light-medium program of your own invention. By then you’ll understand enough about lifting weights that you can come up with a thing or two on your own.’ I stood up, grabbing my gym bag, and Bubba and I made our way over to the deadlift station.

‘So that’s it?’ one of the kids asked. He must have been unhappy about the lack of high-set pumping routines. ‘What about somethin’ like the pros use?’

‘I tell you what, kid,’ I said. ‘Try those workouts first and then you decide if you still want to use some pro bodybuilder’s workout.’ ‘Think they’ll stick with it for as long as you prescribed?’ Bubba asked as we began our deadlifts.

‘Naw,’ I replied. ‘Not all of them. But if just one of ’em does, then he’ll be hittin’ the iron for the rest of his life. Those workouts’and the results they bring’guarantee it.’

Editor’s note: For more information on power and strength training, see Dinosaur Training, available for $14.95 plus shipping and handling from Home Gym Warehouse, 1-800-447-0008, or visit IM

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