Note: This week we’re launching my Question & Answer With Charles Staley column. If you have a question for me, post it in the comments and I’ll add it to my list.

 

Question #1: Loosening Tight Ankles

READER: Can tight ankles be successfully loosened up? I'm struggling to hit depth without plates under my feet. I know I can buy powerlifting shoes that will help with this, but I figure loosening up the ankle will have benefits in the long run as well.

 

In addition, if I do take the plunge and purchase lifting shoes, should I cheap out on the Adidas Powerlift 2.0 or just go ahead and get the Adipowers? Experience with both would be helpful!”

 

CHARLES SAYS: Yep, ankle mobility can definitely be improved, but you’ve got to be patient. Personally, I like doing mobility work about as much as I like standing in line at the DMV. I’m not sure how that relates to your question, but I like bitching about it at every possible opportunity.

 

In any event, the drill I’d like you to focus on is this one:

 

 

I’d do these between sets of other stuff and vary your foot position such that you focus some sets on the inner side of the foot, some on the outer side, and others right in the middle. This is done simply by shifting your bodyweight on the working foot as you do the drill.

 

Measure your progress by measuring and documenting how far the tip of your toe is from the wall - over time, try to gradually increase this distance.

 

RELATED VIDEO: Ankle Mobility Secrets

 

Finally, I’d opt for shorter, more frequent bouts of mobility work as opposed to longer but less frequent forays.

 

Shoes are a different subject, and while they help many lifters assume a better squat position, they certainly won’t improve your ankle mobility. In my experience, for most lifters, the brand, model, and price are fairly insignificant - even cheapie shoes are usually fine.

 

Question #2: How to Properly Gauge Strength

READER: "I always figured that as I gained strength, things would feel lighter. But now that I'm getting past single plate (135lbs) loads in my bench and squat, I notice that every time I up the load it still feels heavier and heavier, except now I magically have the ability to lift it 5X5 without failing. Is this how things go? It feels good to be able to lift such heavy loads, but if 150lbs feels so heavy on my shoulder and arms, I can only imagine how heavy two- or three-plate loads must feel.”

 

CHARLES SAYS: I took this question because it strikes me as annoyingly vague and probably impossible to answer. But I’ll take a stab at it and we’ll see how it goes.

 

So for me, it sounds like you’re getting a bit ahead of yourself. I’ll give you the spoiler anyway: two- and three-, and yes, four- and five-plate loads are frickin’ heavy.

 

For starters, I think I’d focus more on the numbers and less on how those numbers feel. I’d also make absolutely sure your lifting technique doesn’t change at all with increased loading.

 

RELATED: The Truth Behind 'No Pain, No Gain" In Weightlifting

 

I’d also suggest you should be intimately familiar with how difficult certain “landmark” weights (135, 185, 225, etc.) are, and over time, these weights should eventually start feeling lighter. But even if that doesn’t happen, guess what? If the weights you use for any given set/rep bracket (such as 5x5, which you mentioned in your question) are increasing, you’re getting stronger - even if it doesn’t feel like it.

 

Question #3: The Nature of Muscle Stimulus

READER: “My biceps get bigger, but the weight I'm using doesn't. Why could this be?”

 

CHARLES SAYS: Whenever you’re doing an exercise that only permits relatively light weights (curls, lateral raises, etc.) the rate of increase is going to be modest compared to bigger movements like squats and bench presses. So the first thing to realize is that you shouldn’t expect to be putting five pounds on your barbell curl every week (after all, that would be a 260-pound improvement in a year, which I think we can all agree is unrealistic.)

 

The other thing I always wonder about when I get a question like this is, “How does he know his biceps are really bigger?” Don’t take that the wrong way. I just want to emphasize the importance (and difficulty) of getting accurate, reliable measurements.

 

"[A]lthough some type of progression must be in place in order to grow, it doesn’t necessarily need to be more weight on the bar." 

With that aside, I’ll assume your biceps are actually bigger for the sake of answering the question. There are a few different stimuli for muscle growth, and mechanical tension is only one of them. Total training volume and the way in which you handle the weights are two other factors that come to mind here.

 

Let’s say you’ve been curling eighty pounds for an extended period of time. Even though you haven’t increased the weight on the bar, it may be that you’re gradually doing more total reps with that weight from week to week. This would be a sufficient stimulus for increased growth.

 

Also, it could also be that you’ve gradually modified your technique over time so eighty pounds has become more and more difficult to lift. For example, you might be stabilizing your shoulders better, lowering the weight more slowly, and/or emphasizing supination at the top of the curl. Technical improvements like this can also spur new growth, even if the weight doesn’t change.

 

RELATED: All You Need to Know About Supersets and Hypertrophy

 

A third possibility is that your improved bicep size might be attributable to other exercises, such as chins.

 

And finally (I’m literally just going through every possible thing I can thing of), if your bodyweight has increased during this time, your arms might be bigger because you got bigger - and that might mean your body fat is higher, too.

 

The thing I’d like to emphasize though, is that although some type of progression must be in place in order to grow, it doesn’t necessarily need to be more weight on the bar. There are plenty of prison inmates who get huge without weights by coming up with creative ways to do bodyweight drills like push ups and pull ups in their cells. Muscles don’t know how much weight is on the bar. They only know how hard they’re working. So while weight is the most obvious and (often) convenient form of overload, it isn’t the only one.

 

This Week’s Training

Probably the most noteworthy thing about this week is that I put in over 70,000 pounds of volume, which I think is a record for me. Much of this is thanks to my training partners (Ryan Eiger and Chris Nei especially), who are both stronger than me, and also tend to work at a faster pace than I’d intuitively prefer. We work in a rotation, where (for example) Ryan does a set, then Chris, then me, etc. This type of setup tends to promote more overall work, and a faster pace as well.

 

"Personally, I like doing mobility work about as much as I like standing in line at the DMV."

I also posted some fairly good landmarks to get 2015 off on the right foot. I’ve also got a few videos this week, and just as a quick note, I do realize the audio quality on my commentary videos has been irritating, so just want to let you know I’ve got that fixed now and future vids will have very good sound quality.

 

Thanks everyone, please post any comments or questions you might have below!

 

Weekly Training Volume: 70,398 Pounds

 

Significant Lifts:

 

  • Low Bar Squat: 350x1
  • Trap Bar Deadlift: 315x10
  • Hang Snatch: 165x1
  • 4” Block Pull: 495x1
  • Close-Grip Bench Press: 240x1
  • Dumbbell Bench Press: 200x8

 

Monday, January 19, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 201.6 lbs

Volume: 19,916 Pounds

Average Weight Per Rep: 179.42

 

Squat

  • 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: 315 lbs × 1
  • Set 7: 350 lbs × 1

IQ: 138.40

 

High Bar Squat

  • Set 1: 132 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 220 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 220 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 220 lbs × 5 (Video Below)

IQ: 198

 

 

I did these after working up to a 350 single on low bar squats.

 

Wasn't pushing this real hard today, just working on depth and good knee alignment. You'll notice here that my torso inclination is similar to what most lifters look like on a low bar squat. This is due mostly to scar tissue from previous surgeries that limited my knee flexion, so the rest needs to come from the hips.

 

RELATED: How to Unlock Your Athletic Potential Through Good Posture

 

Another thing you might notice (particularly on the third rep) is something I jokingly call "The Staley Maneuver.” At the bottom of my squat, my knees start to actually move backward. Don't try that at home, I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who can do it. ;-)

 

Clean and Jerk

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 3
  • Set 2: 88 lbs × 3
  • Set 3: 132 lbs × 1
  • Set 4: 154 lbs × 1
  • Set 5: 176 lbs × 1

IQ: 95.66

 

Trap Bar Deadlift

  • Set 1: 225 lbs × 10
  • Set 2: 275 lbs × 10
  • Set 3: 315 lbs × 10

IQ: 271.66

 

45° Back Extension

  • Set 1: 130 lbs × 10
  • Set 2: 130 lbs × 10
  • Set 3: 130 lbs × 10

IQ: 130

 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 200.6 lbs

Volume: 13,367 Pounds

Average Weight Per Rep: 119.34

 

Bench Press

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 2
  • Set 5: 205 lbs × 2
  • Set 6: 225 lbs × 2
  • Set 7: 230 lbs × 2
  • Set 8: 235 lbs × 2
  • Set 9: 225 lbs × 4

Notes: IQ: 152.93

 

Chin Up

  • Set 1: 6 reps
  • Set 2: +30 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: +30 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: +30 lbs × 5

Notes: IQ: 222

 

EZ Bar Curl

  • Set 1: 65 lbs × 10
  • Set 2: 65 lbs × 10
  • Set 3: 65 lbs × 10

Notes: IQ: 65

 

Tricep Pushdowns

  • Set 1: 70 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 70 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 70 lbs × 8

Notes: IQ: 70

 

Hammer Curl

  • Set 1: 80 lbs × 8

Notes: IQ: 80

 

Thursday January 22, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 200.2 lbs

Volume: 19,815 Pounds

Average Weight Per Rep: 194.55

 

Hang Snatch

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 65 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 65 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 95 lbs × 3
  • Set 6: 115 lbs × 3
  • Set 7: 125 lbs × 2
  • Set 8: 135 lbs × 1
  • Set 9: 145 lbs × 1
  • Set 10: 155 lbs × 1
  • Set 11: 165 lbs × 1

Notes: IQ: 80.62

 

4" Block Pull

  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 225 lbs × 3
  • Set 4: 315 lbs × 3
  • Set 5: 405 lbs × 1
  • Set 6: 435 lbs × 1
  • Set 7: 465 lbs × 1
  • Set 8: 495 lbs × 1

Notes: IQ: 238.5

 

Safety Squat

  • Set 1: 65 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 115 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 155 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 245 lbs × 3
  • Set 5: 245 lbs × 3
  • Set 6: 245 lbs × 3

Notes: IQ: 161.66

 

Back Extension

  • Set 1: +130 lbs × 16
  • Set 2: +130 lbs × 10

Notes: IQ: 135

 

Video of this workout with commentary below.

 

 

Friday, January 23, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 200.6 lbs

Volume: 17,300 Pounds

Average Weight Per Rep: 128.14

 

Close Grip Bench Press (Pinkies On Rings)

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 3
  • Set 5: 205 lbs × 2
  • Set 6: 205 lbs × 2
  • Set 7: 205 lbs × 2
  • Set 8: 205 lbs × 2
  • Set 9: 225 lbs × 2
  • Set 10: 240 lbs × 1

Notes: IQ: 146.89

 

Bench Press (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 120 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 160 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 200 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 160 lbs × 10

Notes: IQ: 160

 

Seated Row

  • Set 1: 150 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 150 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 150 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 150 lbs × 8

Notes: IQ: 150

 

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 70 lbs × 10
  • Set 2: 70 lbs × 10
  • Set 3: 70 lbs × 10
  • Set 4: 70 lbs × 10

Notes: IQ: 70

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