Of Muscles and Might: The Lead-In Program
I don’t train to just “get fit.” I want to get strong, tough, and thicken-up my body. We are all in an ongoing to fight to get strong and stay that way for as long as we can. Many studies point to age thirty as when the average person reaches their peak bone density and muscle mass. For those who remain inactive or engage in only normal everyday activities, it all goes downhill from there.
If you aren't working to get stronger, everything about you is getting weaker. Even your bones.
I’ve trained plenty of endurance guys who didn’t fare too well as they aged. Many men in their fifties and sixties who were surprisingly frail and weak when I taught them how to use kettlebells. Something many fail to realize is that osteoporosis, or loss of bone mass and density, is often precipitated or at least exacerbated by sarcopenia, which is a weakening and loss of lean muscle tissue. Part of this occurs because of a failure to apply Wolff’s Law, the theory that mechanical usage stresses bone and cause an adaptive response or remodeling of the bone to become thicker and stronger.
So, how do you elicit a response in bone remodeling? You have to train hard. Hypervigorous mechanical usage (HvMU) means that you have to stress your bone structure more vigorously than the normal to build and toughen bone mass. As a bonus, strengthening your body with HvMU also affects the same remodeling response in you muscle tissue. You’ve got to love two-for-one deals!
To get thicker, stronger, and tougher, you have to put in some good old-fashioned work.
Inspiration From the Legends of Strength
Some of my idols are the old-time strong men like Eugen Sandow, Arthur Saxon, and George Jowett. These guys were not only looked strong; they were strong. The same goes for men in the golden age of body-building: John Grimek, Reg Park, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dave Draper, Serge Nubret, and Franco Columbu. And don’t forget men training in Olympic Weightlifting like Serge Reding, Pyrros Dimas, David Rigert, Bill March, and Tommy Kono.
Of course we can’t forget the women. Lidia Valentin of Spain is an Olympic weightlifter in the 75kg class and has clean and jerked 147kg. She’s also squatted 385lb for a double. Marte Elverum is a female powerlifting champion from Norway and Lauren Fisher is a CrossFit Games phenomenon; both are strong and conditioned women.
Training to get strong and thicken up your body isn't just for show. It can combat the effects of aging, like decreased bone density.
Now is the time to take inspiration from these athletes to pack some meat on your bones and strengthen your entire body with HvMU. Hypervigorous training doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself, but it does mean you have to push yourself enough to create an adaptive response in the muscle, bones, and other tissues.
Unfortunately, this becomes harder as you get older because the body recovers more slowly from injuries as you age. That being the case, it makes sense to train in shorter, more intense bouts to allow for more recovery time.
The Muscles and Might Lead-In Program
In my next article, I will lay out a strength and conditioning program based around the movements I have shown you in the past few weeks. But you will need to prepare your body for what you're about to undertake, as well as know the movements and build or acquire the implements.
The example programs below will get your body ready by helping you build some great strength and muscle mass. Feel free to modify my example plans, or create your own. Choose three major compound movements to build strength and couple them with two to three assistance exercises designed for hypertrophy.
Be sure to warm up before training. I like to use the major lift for the day as my warm up by incorporating several sets at lighter weights for 5-10 reps. Others may like a bit more in their warm-up routine, but don’t let the warm up tire you out. Five or ten minutes should be plenty of time unless you crawled out of a meat-locker.
Follow your lead-in program for two weeks before jumping into the conditioning routine that will be in my next article.
Example Program 1
Day One (Monday):
- Deadlift: 7 x 2. Work up in weight each set.
- Hypertrophy work:
- Yates rows: 4 x 8-10 reps
- One-arm rows: 3 x 8 reps
- (Optional) Standing barbell curl: 3 x 8 (heavy). Stay tight and move that weight!
Day Two (Wednesday):
- Bench press: 7 x 2-3. Work up in weight each set.
- Hypertrophy work:
- See-saw press: 4 x 8-10
- Dips: 3 x 8
- (Optional) Diamond push ups: 3 x 8
Day Three (Friday):
- Squats: 7 x 2. Work up in weight each set.
- Bulgarian split squats (aka: rear foot elevated split squats): 4 x 10
- Tactical lunge (reverse lunge): 3 x 8
Low reps on the deadlifts and squats help you maintain good form, since the back does not get as fatigued as it would with higher-rep sets.
If you have any energy left at the end the day, knock out a bit of ab work. However, you should feel your entire torso working if you are training the main lifts hard with enough weight and proper body tension.
Example Program 2
Day One (Monday):
- Power cleans: 7 x 3
- Pendlay rows: 4 x 8-10
- Power shrugs: 3 x 8
- Face-pulls: 3 x 10-15 reps
Day Two (Wednesday):
- Push-press: 7 x 2-3
- Pull ups 4 x 10
- One arm press: 3 x 8
This will be enough volume for most people, but if you want to do more, add 3 circuits of 8 reps each of front, lateral, and rear lateral dumbbell or plate raises. Or sub in something else you would like to work on, but don’t use this time as an excuse to do a ton of other things.
Day Three (Friday):
- Front squats: 7 x 2-3
- Tactical lunge (reverse lunge): 4 x 10
- Overhead squat: 3 x 8
Program Tips and Strategy
In the beginning, you may find that you can only handle 4 or 5 of the 7 prescribed sets. That’s okay. Take your time and gradually work up to the 7 sets. Your aim is to add weight to each set, not to do all 7 with the same weight. Take 2-3 minutes' rest between these main work sets. For the main lifts each day, focus on building strength using rock-solid form and technique.
For the hypertrophy work, the weights will be lighter than your main lifts. Add weight when you can, but realize that going heavy is not the focus. The rep schemes of these movements are designed to create muscular growth; therefore, take only enough rest to be able to jump into and complete the next set. For most people, performing the first two hypertrophy exercises after the main lift will be plenty. But if you feel you want to do the third hypertrophy movement, be my guest.
If the sets and reps of the bodyweight movements are too hard, sub in something that is easier for you to complete with good form. If the bodyweight prescription isn’t challenging enough, add weight with some sort of harness.
Recover and Get Ready for the Next Phase
These routines might leave you feeling quite sore. To reduce soreness, incorporate a few sets of bodyweight squats and light goblet squats each day to keep your legs and hips feeling fresh. Walking, cycling, or swimming for 30-60 minutes each day will also help with recovery, but don’t use this as an excuse to pump up your heart rate. This is a good time to play in the pool with your family or take your dog for a walk.
Stay with this program for at least two weeks before launching into the next phase I'll show you. Laying this foundation will add some meat to your bones, and allow you to take on my conditioning program with gusto.
More Ways to Add Meat to Your Bones:
- Size, Strength, or Power? A Training Method Primer
- The 4 Phases of a Solid Strength Program
- It's Not the Years, It's the Miles: Training After 50
- New on Breaking Muscle Today
Photo 1 courtesy of The Training Hall by Odd E Haugen.
Photo 2 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.