Build Strength FAST: Two Incredibly Effective Tricks

(Photo: wolleydog)

So as I may have mentioned in the recent post on how to do pull-ups and push-ups, at one time I was able to eke out 3 unassisted pull-ups.

I was so damn proud I ran around telling everyone! But then surgery and a broken arm benched me for 7 months, and I had to start all over. I couldn't hoist myself an inch without 90 lbs of assistance on one of those gravitron contraptions.

And sure, over the past couple months, I made some progress, but despite prodigious amounts of cursing, pouting, and whining, my goal still felt miles away.

But then, about 10 days ago, I tried a new approach, and guess what? I can now complete ONE, count 'em ONE, unassisted pull-up!

For me, this was a huge jump in performance in a very short time.

So, wanna find out what the two secrets to FAST strength building were?

Strength Building Tip Number One: More Frequency, LESS Intensity

Does that make any sense at all? Of course not! And wait until you read the details, because it totally contradicts everything we've been told about how strength training is supposed to happen. I always thought the only way to make progress was to grapple with as huge and nasty a load as you could manage 'til exhaustion, then eat 27 cupcakes to restore your strength take a day or two off to let the muscles build back up even stronger.

But with this method, the idea is to do the exercise as often as possible, while staying as fresh as possible. I got this tip from Jen Sinkler in a post about pull ups over at Experience Life, and almost didn't try it because it sounded completely silly and doomed to failure counter-intuitive.  But it worked!

Apparently this technique came from a book by a dude with a difficult to pronounce name ("Tsatsouline"), and the Experience Life blog post above has more on that if you want to track down the source.  As is probably obvious, I haven't read the book myself and so my advice probably bears no resemblance whatever to how it's actually supposed to be done.

For those of you who like me, are nutty enough to want to try this, here are some step by step instructions:

1. Quit your day job.  (Note: if you are a personal trainer at a well-equipped gym, or you work at home within range of workout equipment, you may be able to skip this step). However, if quitting your day job isn't practical, you may want to use step #7 instead of step #5.

2. Translate your strength goal: What this works best for is dramatically increasing the number of reps of an exercise fairly quickly.  If you want to go from, say, a maximum of 4 push-ups to 10, then you don't need to do any translating.  In my case, however, the goal was doing unassisted chin ups and pull-ups, and I couldn't do any.  But what I could do was about 6 negatives (where you lower yourself slowly from the bar, rather than hoist yourself up).  So I figured if I could use this trick to double my negatives to 12, I'd have a pretty good shot of doing one "real" chin up or pull up.

My advice, then, is to try to find an exercise variation and an intensity that lets you do at least a few reps, but not too many--or this plan will drive you totally apesh#t crazy. (See below).

3.  Find your maximum number of reps.  Just do the target exercise as many times as you can with wrenching something apart or puking.

4.  Divide that number in half.  If it's odd, round DOWN. This is the number of repetitions you'll do in each set.

5.  Here comes the "quit your job" part:  Shoot for one of these half-max sets per hour, most of your waking day until you fatigue, 5 days a week.

6.  Pick your jaw back up off the floor.  Because (a) you can fall well short of this goal and it still works and (b) if you do happen to be at home, it's not nearly as awful as it sounds.  I did about 8 sets a day two days in a row, then took a day off, then repeated the cycle a couple more times.  The thing that's actually surprising?  Because you're not doing that many reps at a time, and you're "fresh" each time, the exercising itself is not even unpleasant.  Plus your muscles have that nice pumped feeling most of the day.

7.  Here's Jen's more practical variation, which you can do just 3 or 4 days a week: Start your workout with the half max set; rest until your heart rate returns to normal, then do another exercise that doesn’t use the same muscles. Rest again, then do another half-max set of your target exercise. Keep repeating. The goal? "Try to bag five to 10 sets with at least five minutes of rest between them."

And the second important Tip for Building Strength Fast?

This one is psychological, rather than physical, so I apologize in advance for requiring you to click an additional link. But just think you how strong your index finger will get as you power your way over to read the rest of the post over at the Cranky Fitness Department of  Life and Wellness Coaching!

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