Throwing Away My Foam Roller: Smart Strength With Charles Staley

Strength training veteran Charles Staley is here to answer our readers’ questions about life and lifting.

Note: Charles is here on a weekly basis to help you cut through the B.S. and get to the bottom of the biggest questions in health and training. 

Question #1: Do I Really Need Foam Rolling?

READER: Can yoga help me get stronger? I’m using Wendler’s 5/3/1 and don’t feel like I’m getting enough volume or mobility work, but I hate foam rollers with a passion. Horrible, bacteria-laden cylinders!

CHARLES SAYS: It wouldn’t be the most likely way to get strong, but sure, yoga might possibly help you get stronger, particularly if your flexibility is poor. There are two mechanisms where this might happen:

  1. If you’re so tight that you can’t achieve safe positions in key lifts (such as the inability to maintain a neutral lumbar spine in a deep squat), then becoming more flexible could help you perform these key lifts more safely, which of course, over time, will be a significant contributor to getting stronger. In another example from powerlifting, if becoming more flexible allows you to achieve a better arch on your bench press, you’ll be able to bench more weight.
  2. This example relates more to the physiology of the muscle fibers themselves. At rest, every muscle fiber has what physiologists call a “length/tension relationship,” which means the degree of overlap between the fiber’s actin and myosin filaments within the sarcomere. If your actin and myosin filaments are excessively overlapped at rest, it means the fiber cannot shorten any further when asked to. In other words, your muscle fiber is already contracted all the time. On the other hand, if you’ve got a less-than-optimal degree of overlap at rest, any type of stretching activity will probably make you weaker.

Mobility is key when it comes to building strength.

With that being said, in the final analysis, if strength is your sole or primary goal, and you have enough mobility to perform your key lifts safely, then getting more flexible probably won’t help you get stronger in any direct or discernible way. 

Question #2: Body Part Splits

READER: What are the benefits of working out certain muscles on certain days – like back one day, then chest the next – when compared to doing small amounts of each muscle every day?

CHARLES SAYS: Ideally, each muscle should be trained as soon as it has finished recovering from the last time you trained it. If you’re training for hypertrophy purposes, the complete cessation of DOMS is probably the best indicator that the muscle is fully recovered. If you wait any longer than this before you train the muscle again, you’ll be hampering your progress.

Think of it this way: if it (hypothetically) takes 150 bicep workouts to gain three-quarters of an inch on your arms, and your biceps recover in 36 hours after each workout, you’ll gain that three-quarters of an inch much faster if you train the muscle every 36 hours as opposed to every 72 hours.

There are a few practical problems in applying this idea, though:

  1. Your muscles all recover at different rates, mostly based on how big they are, and also how hard you train them on any given workout. Bigger, stronger muscles require longer recovery periods than smaller, weaker muscles. And, for any given muscle, hard training sessions need longer recoveries than less difficult sessions.
  2. As you get bigger and stronger, all of your muscles’ recovery rates will increase commensurately.
  3. The most effective exercises tend to be those that stress several muscles at once, such as squats, presses, and so on. If you’re performing flat dumbbell bench presses, you’ll be stressing your pecs, front deltoids, and triceps, to name the three most active participants. Now, depending on your unique anthropometry, that workout might stress your pecs a lot, your delts to a moderate degree, and your triceps only minimally. So now all of the sudden, you’ve set three separate recovery curves into motion, all with different durations.

press, pressing

Upper/lower body splits can depend on your size and goals.

So, how do we contend with all of that complexity and uncertainty? I’d suggest looking at the anecdotal evidence from history. In other words, look at what the most successful lifters tend to do on average. And the bulk of that evidence reveals a few key principles and practices:

  1. Smaller, weaker lifters do better when they do whole-body workouts every second or third day, since they recovery quickly even on their hardest workouts.
  2. Bigger, stronger lifters often do better on an upper/lower split, where they do two lower body and two upper body sessions each week.
  3. Extremely strong lifters may need even longer recoveries than what an upper/lower split can provide. For example, a 900-pound deadlifter might only pull once every two weeks, because the act of lifting that much weight creates an enormous amount of damage and homeostatic disruption.

I know this is a complex subject, but I hope that helps to give you some clarity.

Question #3: Back Pain During Ab Work

READER: Why does my back always hurt the day after I work abs? How can I fix this issue? I have no history of back injury.

CHARLES SAYS: Dunno. But I’d stop doing the ab work until you figure it out. Last week, I mentioned to someone that for most people, direct ab work is “physique neutral,” so the potential downside to your lumbar spine probably isn’t worth the trade off. If you feel compelled to train your abs, I suggest movements where your trunk remains stable, such as rollouts and planks.

This Week’s Training

Significant Lifts

Squat: 400×1

Bench Press: 255×1

This Week’s Volume: 24,291 Pounds (Last Week: 78,804 Pounds)

This was a light deload week – only three sessions and super-low volume. Despite that, I did manage a nice 400lb squat on Monday, which honestly was one of the best squats of my life.

Next week starts dedicated hypertrophy training to kick off a 23-week training cycle for a USAPL powerlifting meet on November 21 here in Arizona. I’ll be competing in the 93kg (205lb) class in the 56-60 age group.

My goal for this competition is pretty simple – to hit a lifetime PR total, which is anything over 1159lbs.

My anticipated training split for the next six to seven weeks looks like this:

I’ll be performing high reps with all of these lifts, with the goal of increasing volume week by week. Incidentally, it’s not likely that I can really grow much, if any, additional muscle at this stage, so the purpose of this phase is atrophy prevention, as well as work capacity development. A third potential benefit is provided by the contrast to my normal repetition brackets, which I believe may potentiate the following phase that will be for general strength development.

Thanks everyone, enjoy the video and keep those questions coming!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Bodyweight: 202.4 Pounds

Volume: 12,395 Pounds

Hang Snatch

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 65 lbs × 3
  • Set 4: 65 lbs × 3
  • Set 5: 95 lbs × 2
  • Set 6: 95 lbs × 2
  • Set 7: 115 lbs × 2
  • Set 8: 115 lbs × 2
  • Set 9: 135 lbs × 2
  • Set 10: 145 lbs × 1
  • Set 11: 155 lbs × 1

Overhead Squat

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 45 lbs × 5


  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 3
  • Set 5: 225 lbs × 2
  • Set 6: 275 lbs × 1
  • Set 7: 315 lbs × 1
  • Set 8: 350 lbs × 1
  • Set 9: 375 lbs × 1
  • Set 10: 400 lbs × 1 (Video Below)

High Bar Squat

  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 185 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 235 lbs × 5

45° Back Extension

  • Set 1: 130 lbs × 10
  • Set 2: 130 lbs × 10

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Bodyweight: 203 Pounds

Volume: 6586 Pounds

Bench Press

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 4
  • Set 5: 225 lbs × 2
  • Set 6: 245 lbs × 1
  • Set 7: 255 lbs × 1

Seated Row

  • Set 1: 150 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 150 lbs × 8

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 60 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 80 lbs × 8

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bodyweight: 201.2 Pounds

Volume: 5310 Pounds


  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 225 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 315 lbs × 1
  • Set 5: 315 lbs × 1

Trap Bar Deadlift

  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 225 lbs × 5

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Photos courtesy of Breaking Muscle.

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