Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lifting Heavy and the 5x5 Workout

I don't know about you but I dread my heavy lifting days. No, not in some "I'm scared" kind of way but rather in a way that I know that I'll have to swallow my "Man Up" pills and put in some work! Work that will separate the men from the boys, steppin' up to the big leagues from the minor leagues....you get the picture.

In the last few weeks, more and more people have been asking me why I like going heavy and the benefits involved for training in such a way. But before I answer, let me ask you this.

How many people do you know who 'lift weights', perform the same number of reps, with the same load (which tends to be very light), yet they haven't changed a thing about the way they look? Whether it's fat loss, lean muscle development, they still look the same! Combine this with poor nutritional habits and a lifestyle that retracts from obtaining a lean, muscular physique, it's inevitable that optimal results will ever be achieved. The only thing that will remain are the indispositions & complaints about "why can't I lose weight, build strength, improve power output, etc?!"

If there's one thing that may have to change (aside from eating clean and getting your lifestyle in check) is the intensity of your workouts. By intensity, I'm referring to the load which will directly impact strength. Strength is a relative term because it will vary from person to person - what may seem "heavy" to one may be "light" for someone else.  Regardless, regular training sessions with heavier weight will increase the strength as long as you  implement the "Progressive Overload Principle" and force a muscle to lift loads beyond what they're accustomed to.

The main reason I like lifting heavy is because it results in various benefits - lots of them. Things such as - improving lean muscle development, improve fat loss, increases joint stability, improve movement, boosts metabolism and increased bone density to name a few. Check out this article to read more.

A while back I remember looking for a different system/protocol to use for my heavy lifting days. I was doing great with my heavy training which consisted of the big lifts - bench, deadlifts, squats, dips. I was averaging about 3-4 sets for each exercise any anywhere between 5-8 reps per exercise. However, my workouts were a bit longer than I liked and I felt as I was using too much time between sets. Of course, given the fact that when lifting heavy, you tend to use more recovery for the next set to be successful. It was then that I came across the StrongLifts website with a training system called the "StrongLifts 5x5 Program". Mehdi, owner & founder of StrongLifts, sited that the "StrongLifts 5x5 is a foolproof training program guaranteed to pack on solid muscle and raw strength....while burning body fat....regardless of your age, genetics and body type....in only 3 workouts a week of 45 minutes each."

The basis of the program is that you alternate between the same 2 workouts (workout A & B) while targeting 3 full body movements for 5 reps. For each week of your program, you increase resistance 5 lbs more for each exercise than the last workout - again, we're talking about "progressive overload". If you start lifting heavier loads each week, imagine what will happen as time progresses.

What I decided to do was to implement the 5x5 protocol and apply it to my compound exercises - just for the sake of having variety in my training while also challenging myself to constantly improve each workout. My exercises consisted of:

  • Deadlifts 
  • Bench Press 
  • Dips
  • Rows 
  • OH Presses 
  • Squats
  • Pullups
I used many implements to satisfy the 5x5 protocol - things such as: 

  • Barbells 
  • Dumbbells 
  • Kettlebells 
  • Cables 
  • Weight vests
  • TRX
  • Sandbags 
  • Slosh Pipes
  • Anything that provided some some of added resistance - get creative!

The cool thing about using these tools is variety. You start getting creative to meet the Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID). This simply means that when the  body is placed under some form of stress, it starts to make adaptations that will allow the body to get better at withstanding that specific form of stress in the future.

Again, for this program to be successful, I needed to make sure that I ate clean, good quality food to fuel my body for the purpose of performance and needed to make sure that my lifestyle was in alignment with my goals - fat loss, speed development, increased strength & power, improved balance & agility, lean muscle development. 

Not only that but I also wanted to make sure that I cranked my workouts within 40-45 minutes max! With the 5x5 program, all of this was possible and I saved myself tons of energy, time and money - energy doing significant moves that related to the exercises at hand, my workouts were all under an hour, and I didn't have to spend lots of money on useless pieces of equipment!

So let's get to the good stuff!

AR's 5x5 Workout Program:

Movement Prep - Dynamic Warm-Ups
  • Squat to Stand
  • Static Lunges (R&L sides)
  • Wide Lunge Position Hamsting-Hip Flexor Static Stretch (R&L sides)
  • Seal Jacks
  • Wideout Drops/Gate Swings
  • High Knee Sprint-In-Place

Mobility - Muscle Activation
  • 1-Leg Glute Bridge Marching x10
  • Pushup Holds x25 sec.
  • Body Wt. Squats x10
  • Band Pullaparts x10
  • Pogo Hops

*Instructions: Perform each strength exercise for 5 sets x 5 reps. Keep rest at a minimum, no longer than 60 sec. between sets.
  • 1A) Single-Arm Chest Press 
  • 2A) Front Squats -or - Goblet Squats
  • 1B) Rows 
  • 2B) Deadlifts

* 30 seconds each exercise, 2 rounds
  • Burpees
  • Sprinter Situps
  • Med Ball Slams
  • Squat Jumps
This is just a sample of one of my many workouts that I perform. I know it may look long but it actually isn't! Being persistent with keeping yourself moving at all times is essential. It's also a time saver.

Note that I've included the components of movement prep/dynamic warm-ups as well as muscle activation drills to prep the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments for exercise. My suggestion is that you get creative with your lifts while incorporating the StrongLifts 5x5 Program. I know that you'll not only see great results, but you'll appreciate the benefits I mentioned earlier!

Train hard, eat like a champion and improve every day!


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