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June 2007

Straight Sets VS Staggered Sets


Imagine that you just performed a hard squat session, using 242 pounds for 5 sets of 5 reps.

Was that the best way to organize your sets & reps?

What you had used a staggered approach, such as:

Set 1: 242x5
Set 2: 264x1
Set 3: 242x5
Set 4: 275x1
Set 5: 242x5
Set 6: 286x1
Set 7: 242x5

In this scenario, your total reps = 23 (as opposed to 25 for the former example). Where the two approaches do differ however, is contrast and intensity: the 3 excurions into high-intensity territory serve not only to stimulate Type IIB (or Type IIx) fibers far better than sets of 5, they also prime the nervous system for better performances on the 5 rep sets.

I also believe the staggered method, despite being more "difficult" in the absolute sense, are less daunting: with multiple sets of 5 (or 8, 12, etc.) you carry the psychic toll from the previous set into the subsequent set. With the staggered approach, the subsequent set is a complete departure from the previous set: even though the next set might be a heavy single, it seems like a vacation compared to a grinding set of 5. When it comes time to do the next set of 5, you know it'll be tough, but compared to the previous single, you won't have any anxiety about it- plus your nervous system is ramped up which will make the set easier.

There are a number of ways to implement staggered sets, so don't get too locked in to the 5/1 example provided here. In fact, every set can be a unique entity, such as:

Set 1: 242x5
Set 2: 264x1
Set 3: 242x4
Set 4: 275x1
Set 5: 242x3
Set 6: 286x1
Set 7: 220x8
Set 8: 242x1
Set 9: 220x10

Note that in this example, every set is unique. So use your creativity, make good decisions besed on how you're performing "in the moment," and explore better ways to train more effectivly, with less pain and angst!

Smith Machine + 464 Pounds + Dumb Kid = Proof Of Natural Selection

Warning: Do not view while eating or drinking

Extreme Measures For New PR'S?

The easiest way to log a new PR is to do something you've never done before (how about a Steinborn lift if you're looking for just such an opportunity?) The very first time you do it, you've got a new PR.

However, is this cheating? My thoughts:

1) It's not cheating if you've made every reasonable effort to make a new PR on well-practiced & significant lifts/events/drills.

2) It's not cheating if you need more variety in your training.

3) It's not cheating if the endorphins you just accrued from the new PR fuel you to obtain new PR's (or at least productive training sessions) in established lifts, and/or better productvity in the office or at home.

4) It's not cheating if it helps to ingrain the PR-mentality

New Personal Records have a tendency to "leak over" into closely-related drills, exercises, and motor qualities. I seek them each and every training session, even if I need to employ "extreme measures."

Flexible Training Templates

Here's a little case-study that you might find interesting...

I'm working with an athlete (a sprinter) who's trying to hone his Olympic-lifting technique after many years of performing the power version of these lifts (power snatches and power cleans). This particular athlete is also quite "volume-sensitive," and he prefers to do about 2-3 brief weight-training sessions per week. More than that, and his sprinting seems to suffer. So the challenge is to create a flexible training template that's short, to the point, and effective, and also one that allows the athlete to improve his technique on the O-lifts.

In creating a solution, I've integrated two distinct approaches that I've already written about previously. The first approach is the A-B Split and the second is called "Building-On."

I'll first show you the split I've arrived at, and then we'll discuss the rationale behind it, and how to implement this plan to best effect. Here's the split:

The A Session

(15 Minutes) Squat Clean (technical) (15 Minutes) Front Squat (15 Minutes) Chin/Bench Press

The B Session

(15 Minutes) Snatch (technical) (15 Minutes) Clean pull (15 Minutes) Deadlift


The "A" Session starts off with cleans, and the first thing you might notice is the time-designations for each exercise. I like time limits for a variety reasons, but primarily because they keep a fire under you, especially when time is tight. So in this template, wherever you see a time designation, that time-frame includes all warm-up and work sets for that exercise.

You'll also notice is that there are no pre-determined sets or reps here. Since we're trying to improve the athlete's ability to "jump under" the bar (catching it in a low squat), weights must remain light enough to break old habits. This means that the cleans won't really serve as conditioning exercise per se- the weight isn't heavy enough to provoke gains in maximal strength or speed-strength. Instead, the cleans serve both as warm-up for the exercise to follow, as well as a dynamic mobility drill. Over time however, as proficiency improves, the cleans can gradually transition into their ultimate role as a speed-strength development tool. For now however, the only objective is to perform technically-competent squat-cleans, NOT to use heavy weights.

Next we move on to front squats. The previously-preformed cleans served as a perfect warm-up for the front squats, so while we might need an additional 1-2 warm-up sets before we reach our working weights, the cleans do really help to abbreviate the warm-up process for the front squats. So what about sets and reps? Well, believe it or not, the athlete will make that decision "on the fly," according to how he feels. The only requirement is that the loads for work sets must meet or exceed 80% of 1RM. This ensures adequate intensity for the development of hypertrophy, maximal strength, and/or speed strength.

The third and final drill for the A Session is labeled "Chin/Bench Press." What's NOT stated is that this isn't a "compulsory" exercise. We try to complete these exercises, but if time and/or energy is short, we'll skip them. The athlete won't be specfically warmed up for these exercises, but his body is warm. Again, no loading parameters. But for those looking for an example of what the third component might look like, here it is:

Set 1: Bench Press: 95x5
Set 2: Chin Bodyweight x5
Set 3: Bench Press 115x4
Set 4: Chin Bodyweight x5
Set 5: Bench Press 135x3
Set 6: Chin Bodyweight + 10 pounds x3
Set 7: Bench Press 155x3
Set 8: Chin Bodyweight + 22 pounds x3
Set 9: Bench Press 175x3
Set 10: Chin Bodyweight + 22 pounds x3
Set 11: Bench Press 175x3
Set 12: Chin Bodyweight + 22 pounds x3
Set 13: Bench Press 175x3
Set 14: Chin Bodyweight + 22 pounds x3
Set 15: Bench Press 175x3
Set 16: Chin Bodyweight + 22 pounds x3

Now the "B" Session.

The snatch technical session runs much the same way as the squat clean session in the A Session. Technical proficiency trumps load, but if/when opportunities to increase weight present themselves, that's fine. Additionally, this 15-minute time-frame might not feature squat snatches exclusively. Instead, we might focus on snatch-development drills, such as hang snatches, overhead squats, snatch balances, etc. The goal is to improve the squat-snatch, using whatever tools seem most prudent in the given moment.

After 15 minutes of snatch work, we move on to clean pulls (video). We're already warmed up and "grooved" from the snatches, so again, the need for warm-up sets is greatly abbreviated. Loading parameters are not set in stone, but we're looking for get maybe 4-5 heavy work sets in, resting maybe 90 seconds between sets. A pyramid structure is fine, as are "straight sets." Your choice.

Last but not least, we move on to deadlifts. The athlete is thoroughly warmed-up by this point, so we can get right down to business. I like a narrow pyramid approach here, starting with a bit more weight than what we finished the clean-pulls with. By way of example, if the heaviest weight used for 3 reps on the clean pull was 198 pounds, the first deadlift might be a 220 triple. Then 242 for 2, 265 for 2, 296 for 1, and finally, 330x1. (Just for reference, the athlete weights approximately 165 pounds). The main idea is that you work up to the heaviest weight that doesn't seem particularly intimidating for that day. Next time out, we may or may not exceed that weight- it just depends on how everything's feeling, and what'll be happening on the track the next day.

Progression Strategies

While progression is certainly the cornerstone of effective training systems, it must be remembered that we're not working with a competitive lifter here. Track work takes precedence over gym work. So while we look for opportunities to "strike while the iron is hot," we don't demand weight increases every time out, no matter what. This is an important point that doesn't get nearly enough discussion in my view.

Wrapping Up…

While many rely on a completely "instinctive" approach to training, others find themselves attracted to long-term, micro-managed training plans. Having said that, the smartest coaches and self-coached athletes utilize flexible, "on the fly" decision-making within a structured framework. This represents the best of both extremes- enough structure to provide continuity, but also enough flexibility to make acute adjustments when the situation warrants. In this way, we're the master of the program, and not vice versa. And that's how it should be.

Charles Staley's Bed & Barbell

Here's a few photos of our new facility in picturesque Queen Creek, Arizona. Now, in addition to World-class training, we also have the ability to offer room & board as well. If you need a quiet getaway for a week or two, look no further. Imagine, a fun-filled day of tire flipping, power cleans, and heavy front squats, followed by a quiet evening of tea and crumpets on the back patio (what exactly is a crumpet anyway?).





Turbulence Training with Craig Ballantyne

I recently sat down with Craig Ballantyne, creator of Turbulence Training. We talked about fat loss, two-a-days, and the relative importance of training VS nutrition for fat-loss objectives. Listen and learn...

Craig, when fat loss is your goal, many coaches will say that nutrition is most of the battle. Do you agree?

CB: Absolutely.

Even though I earn my keep providing workout advice, I truly believe that nutrition is the most important part of a fat loss program (and for overall health as well).

As the old saying goes, "you can't out-train a bad diet". On the other hand, even if someone uses a poorly-designed program, they can often build a great body just by eating right. That's why I go to the experts like Drs. Berardi and Mohr, and soon-to-be-Dr. Mike Roussell, for the nutrition information that I give my readers.

You can ruin the benefits of a good workout in less than 30 seconds with some of the high-calorie concoctions out there masquerading as "energy drinks", or in minutes by scarfing down fast food or oversized, processed snacks.

Bottom Line: No matter how hard you workout, if you don't have your nutrition in place, you won't get the results you want.

What strategies can be employed to minimize loss of lean tissue when on a fat loss cycle?

CB: You have to do strength training.

It doesn't have to be high volume, but it needs to be intense. I like to use a variety of repetition ranges in my fat loss strength programs to make sure that we train as many muscle fibers as possible - that way, we stimulate the adaptation response of muscle growth. So even though we might not be giving the muscle extra calories to grow, we are at least providing the stimulus to grow.

Now you have to be careful, and not overdo it one way (too much training volume) or another (too few calories). But otherwise, its really is hard for men and women to lose muscle when losing body fat.

I think you can even do this with bodyweight training in most cases.

Do you ever utilize two-a-day's for clients with fat-loss objectives?

CB: I do, but not in the way that most other trainers might do so.

What I might have someone do is add an extra bodyweight circuit workout to their day, spaced apart from their main workout by at least 6, and preferably 12 hours. For example, if someone lifts and does intervals in the morning, I'll have them do 15-20 minutes of bodyweight circuits at night. If they do that workout at night, then I'd have them do the bodyweight workout in the AM.

This gives a small, but helpful, metabolic boost and can even apply enough of a stimulus to the muscle to help prevent muscle loss.

Is Turbulence Training primarily a fat-loss program?

CB: Turbulence Training is a system, like EDT, not just a fat loss workout only.

Now while most of my Turbulence Training workouts are designed for fat loss, I've also used the principles in some mass-building programs, and even in an athlete development program and a 6-month bodyweight program.

All the workouts revolve around supersets, efficient exercise selection, a variety of rep ranges, and dumbell and bodyweight exercises that can be done at home - since so many of my readers train at home.

Craig, we'll have to co-author a hybrid program featuring TT and EDT! Would anyone survive it?!?

CB: I know one thing, people would love it. And they would really love the results.

EDT is remarkable for the time-saving, maximum results in minimum time approach. Which is similar to what Turbulence Training is all about. I've had a lot of fun with EDT workouts when I did them back in the day, around 2002. Good stuff!

I think it would be interesting to use some of the dumbell-bodyweight supersets I use in my "fusion fat loss workouts" and apply the EDT set, rep, timing scheme to them. Sounds like a future project for sure!

Check out Craig's Turbulence Training Bonus package HERE...but hurry, the special bonuses are only availabe until midnight tonight.

X-Treme Elastic Resistance With Dave Schmitz

When I recently travelled to Little Rock to present at the annual JP Fitness Summitt, I, like many others who were in attendance, was amazed by the energy and passion of Dave Schmitz, who gave an utterly dynamic presentation on the creative use of elastic resistance.

After his talk, I (like many others) came to the unavoidable conclusion that I had been overlooking one of the most potent training technologies available- heavy elastic resistance bands.


Elastic Resistance is multi-planar, and non- gravity dependant.

Later that day, I asked Dave if I could interview him for our weekly Coaching Group call, and I'm happy to tell you that we'll be chatting with Dave tomorrow at 4:00pm pacific time.

Call Julianne at the office right now to get on this tele- seminar!

If you'd like to find out why I'm so excited about the possibilities of elastic resistance, or if you need some new tools for yourself or your clients, just call Julianne at the office at 800-519-2492. If you get her voicemail, just leave a message and she'll get right back to you.

Thanks, and please say "Hi" when you call in tomorrow!

PS: Trust me, Dave has forgotten more about the use of heavy elastic resistance than most people will ever know in a lifetime. If you think you've seen it all, Dave will prove you wrong tomorrow. Get on the call- the knowledge you gain wil benefit you for years to come.