Thursday, May 11, 2006


In a comment to this post, Bud asked what was the logic of pyramiding my sets. The short (and unwittingly snarky) answer would have been, because it is working for me. But since the set I described is part of a program, and makes sense in the context of a program, I think it would make more sense if I described the whole rather than its parts.

When I joined the gym, man-in-charge asked me what I wanted to accomplish. I told him that I wanted to get stronger, and that I only had a year and a quarter before I had to return to North America. I also told him that I'm didn't join to lose weight or fit into a specific size, and that I wanted a program that focused on lifting. The first clue that I was in the right place was when he asked me what kind of lifting I wanted: Olympic lifting, powerlifting or just lifting for general strength. I asked for a powerlifting focus.

Based on my answers he designed my first program (first in that gym, not first ever). That was over a year ago, and he has designed several programs for me since then. My programs used to last 12-16 weeks, now I get a new one every 10-12 weeks. After each program ends, man-in-charge has you mark all the exercises with +, - or 0. + means you liked the exercise, - means you didn't, and 0 means that you are neutral about it. Programs are also adjusted whenever necessary. When hack squats caused crunching sounds in my right knee, we experimented with tempo, foot position, and eventually dropped the exercise in favour of a different one. Similarly, when the right shoulder started hurting, we dropped flat bp and flat close grip bp, switched to decline work, and added rotator cuff work. (It's fine now, thanks for asking. :-) )

My goals haven't changed since that first program. I still want to get stronger, and at some point bench 1.25x bodyweight, squat 2x bodyweight and deadlift 2x bodyweight. I'm confident that I will get all of these eventually, but I'm not in a race with anyone, and I want to get there injury-free and with good form. After the last program I also said that I want to do a pull-up before I leave Israel; consequently, the current program has a lot of back, arms and upper body work, even on those days that are technically "leg days".

The current program is a four day split. All the exercises are supersetted with either a set of ab work or a minute of high intensity cardio.
Day I: Chest: decline bench press, single arm pec deck, seated incline db press, incline skull crushers with a tricep bar.
Day II: Back: partial pull ups, wide grip lat pulldowns to chin, narrow grip latpull downs to chest, cable wrist curls.
Day III: Quad Dominant has upright rows, lying cable rows, squats and lunges
Day IV: Ham Dominant has bicep curls, lying cable curls, deadlifts and hamstring curls

I do 4-5 sessions per week. I prefer five, but as long as I get four I know I'm on track. In addition to the four (or five) lifting sessions, there's also a boxing class once a week. This is for variety and to increase hand-eye coordination.

I usually train at night, after 8pm, but I have trained earlier and later. If absolutely necessary, I will come in at 6:00am to ensure I get the minimum four lifting sessions per week, but this is not ideal. I start with a short warm-up that is mostly dynamic stretches. At that point I'll find man-in-charge and he'll mark down what my max weight should be for each exercise. Depending on how things went last time, the max weight will increase by anywhere from 1.25% to 7.5%. If I had to show the program in a short notation, it would be (6 x 50%) + (6 x 80%) + (3 x 10/8/7/6/ x 100%) + (12 x 50%).

There are six sets for each exercise:
1. Warm up set: 6 x 50% of the max weight
2. Warm up set: 6 x 80% of the max weight
3. Work set #1: Depending on the microcycle, the work sets will have 10, 8, 7 or 6 reps. After I load the bar (or grab the dbs) I call man-in-charge or guy-in-charge over so they can watch me do the set. Based on how cleanly I do it, they will tell me what my weight should be for the next work set. They will also comment on my technique, raising any points they'd like me to concentrate on in the second set. or a bench press, for example, they'll say something like "Drop 1.25Kg per side", or "Keep the chest high". Once in awhile they'll tell me to stay at the same weight for the second set. Doesn't happen too often; makes me happy when it does. :-)
4. Work set #2: Same as work set #1.
5. Work set #3: I'll always ask man-in-charge or guy-in-charge to watch all three sets for bp, squats and deads, but for other exercises I'll just ask them to watch the first two work sets.
6. Cool down / technique set: This set, also at 50%, is done at a 5-0-1-0 tempo. So on a squat I would take 5 seconds for the descent and 1 second for the ascent. I always think of it as a brain workout. It proves to me that I still have a lot left in me.

I log all sets, including the warmups and cooldown. If something went very right or very wrong I'll make a note in the log to that effect. I log the ab work and cardio minutes also. For most things I'm logging the weight, but for things like the partial pullups I'll log distance from the bar. For example, my chin is 38cm away from clearing the bar. I've recently started logging the amount of time each exercise takes, with an eye to becoming a more efficient exerciser and finishing everything in under 1.2 hours.

Comments and questions are welcome, but please note that, if you leave me a comment like "you should do Joe Blow's program instead", I will ignore you. :-) I trust my coach, I like my slow and methodical progress, and I enjoy seeing my 6 rep max weight become my 10 rep max weight without deterioration in form.


At 10:31 AM , Blogger BethK said...

I stand (okay, sit) in awe...

At 1:03 PM , Blogger Scott said...

Very comprehensive. It'd be worth linking this from the front page, for any new visitors.

At 5:49 PM , Anonymous Bud Gibson said...

Hey, thanks for not being snarky :). Scott's right. This merits a front page link. Nice explanation of how the program works.

It sounds like these various in-charge people are giving you the equivalent of personal training. Do they do that for everyone? That's incredible service. Here in the US, I've hooked up with Arnold who is a personal trainer, but that's a personal relationship, not a professional one.

At 10:52 AM , Blogger Mich said...

bethk - sometimes I shake my head at how fortunate I was to find an amazing gym with an experienced coach so close to home...

scott - very good point. Link done.

bud - There are only two in-charge people and they do indeed do this for everyone. This service level is unique to this gym. I'm not aware of any other place that does this. Maybe in the former USSR it's more common? Man-in-charge is amazing at this; he can watch several people at the same time, and pick out form breaks from the other side of the gym. One Anglo guy who trained here called it laser vision. :-) Guy-in-charge doesn't do quite as much multtasking, but I think it comes with years of experience.

At 4:06 PM , Blogger M@rla said...

I am so in love with Man-in-Charge. I am tempted to kidnap him. What a resource!

As always, your routine is awe-inspiring.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home