PROGRESSIVE PERFORMANCE STRATEGY
Basic/compound exercise selections
- Squat for legs
- Lying leg curl for hamstrings (no basic/compound exercise for hamstrings)
- Standing calf raise for calves (no basic exercise for calves)
- Barbell row for back
- Bench press for chest
- Dumbbell press for shoulders
- Narrow-grip bench press for triceps
- Standing biceps curl for biceps
Start your first 20 rep warm-up set with a light weight so as not to be overwhelmed. Taking note of how you feel at the beginning will allow you to perfectly transition through successive phases of intensity to create the perfect workout. Be sure to spend time warming up in a progressive manner and improving your form of execution; this will allow the muscle to adapt better to the stress of exercise. For beginners it’s best to start with an isolation exercise because the muscle sensation and pump will be greater, and will help to better direct your subsequent training effort.
The initial long 20 rep set must be performed in good form with a relatively light resistance and the set should last at least two-and-half to three minutes, especially if you take the time to find the perfect angle of execution and use strict form. As it is a long set, the stress and associated pain in the muscle will be quite significant. However the sooner in the workout you start to endure and to struggle the better because this will give you a better chance to quickly achieve good focus and transition from phase to phase, ultimately producing a great workout. When performing 20 reps, difficulty will probably initially arise around the 10 to 12 rep mark, especially if the resistance chosen corresponds precisely to reaching muscle failure at 20 reps. Achieving muscle failure at, or close to, 20 reps is necessary in order to better select the appropriate resistance for the next warm-up set where the goal is failure at around 15 reps. The real challenge is to keep performing in good form despite the muscle pain and the burning sensation right up to the end of the set. If achieving 20 reps is not a tough challenge then something is wrong: either the resistance is not appropriate (too light) or your form is getting looser throughout the set (reduced range of motion, sudden bursts of speed using momentum, too fast a pace).
"In order to remove the lactic acid and residual pain after each set, stretch the exercised muscle for about seven seconds and then contract it for about five seconds between sets. This is an important component of my Active Recovery Training (ART), as is drinking plenty of cold water between sets."
Please remember these important factors for all your working sets. In order to remove the lactic acid and residual pain after each set, stretch the exercised muscle for about seven seconds and then contract it for about five seconds between sets. This is an important component of my Active Recovery Training (ART), as is drinking plenty of cold water between sets. Both of these strategies help tremendously in reducing the time of recovery between sets and furthermore help to improve mental focus and steadily build the mind-muscle connection. As mentioned, the second warm-up set entails increasing the resistance in order to achieve complete muscle failure, using perfect form, at around 15 reps. Perfect form allows you to accurately select the appropriate resistance on each successive set. The third and final warm-up set of 10 reps follows the same protocol, and achieving failure at or around 10 reps prepares you for the transition to the next phase.
Once you are well prepared and ready to perform at your highest possible level, the first physical quality to start work on is strength. Choosing strength first is intentional and a strategic choice. Strength requires an appropriate resistance to achieve 6 to 8 reps at a relatively slow pace, using correct form, until complete muscle failure. The first set doesn’t have to be the perfect one, two other sets will follow, the first to improve all training elements and the second and last to further improve some elements and also to verify if 2 sets is enough, or whether 3 sets may in fact be the right volume of work. In the strength phase, be sure to stretch and contract the muscle exercised between every set, as well as drinking plenty of cold water. Recovery time between sets is up to the individual, but ideally should be kept between one and one-and-a-half minutes maximum.
This relatively fast pace will prevent your muscles from cooling down too much and thus being unable to perform at a peak. It also helps keep the intensity high, which is best for inducing maximum muscle stimulation. Throughout the workout you will notice your energy potential increasing as you get more in tune with your body and the mindmuscle connection is strengthened. Drinking cold water after each set and during your active recovery process also contributes to an increased feeling of energy. Bear in mind that a muscle that is dehydrated by as little as 2% can lose up to 10% of contractile strength.
After strength comes power. Power is intentionally the second phase of the workout in order to fully benefit from the specific work done with strength. The strategy now is to increase the resistance and to use a little more speed in order to move this new weight. Please note that speed of movement must only be employed during the concentric phase of the rep. Power is a combination of a heavy resistance plus speed. Of course proper form must be part of the equation. Ideally the weight should be moved through about a third of the range of motion and then when the muscle is slightly contracted and engaged, speed can be implemented by forcefully and explosively contracting the muscle against the resistance to full contraction. Thereafter the weight is lowered slowly down to the starting position, repeating until muscle failure occurs.
Please note – it’s easy to fail when using sloppy form with power, so the idea is to take it one rep at a time and fully prepare each rep with the slow, initial one-third contraction. Then and only then can the speed element come into play, still ensuring complete muscular control. In practice, even when using speed you will find that it turns out to be relatively slow (especially if the weight is heavy!), but the force exerted is with an intended full speed of execution.
In order to effectively test endurance of strength, the drop set technique should be used. The drop-set technique in this case ideally requires 2 to 3 consecutive sets of 5 to 6 reps each. An appropriate resistance must be selected in order to perform only 5 to 6 reps for each set. Keep the same weight that you used for power for the first 5 reps, still using the power technique if needed, then drop the weight just enough to be able to perform 5 to 6 more reps, and then finally drop the poundage once more for a last 5 to 6 reps.
The rest time between each drop in weight must be sufficient to allow you to perform another 5 to 6 reps. If you rest too much or too little, you may not fail at the desired 5 to 6 reps while using good form. Remember that over time, practice and experience will help you to select the precise resistance required to fail at 5 to 6 reps in each of the 2 to 3 consecutive drop-sets
Muscle fibres and physical qualities
During PP training the main goal is to employ and test all four different physical qualities, and in doing so stimulate all types of muscle fibres. Some muscle fibres work better aerobically while others work better anaerobically. The white or fast twitch muscle fibres don’t need oxygen to produce energy; they are referred to as anaerobic. The red or slow twitch muscle fibres need oxygen to produce energy; they are thus referred to as aerobic.
Knowing that muscles function under both anaerobic and aerobic conditions, it is important to use and test all four different physical qualities in order to recruit all possible muscle fibres for maximum stimulation of muscle growth. When working out and testing each different physical quality, specific types of muscle fibres are stressed more depending on which physical quality is being tested. For instance when you are testing your strength, your muscles produce strong contractions, which recruit more of the fast twitch muscle fibres. Likewise when you are using your power. There are differences between the two, however, which are significant and worth noting.
Using power the muscles are capable of quicker and more powerful contractions because power relies on speed of motion, which allows maximum load. In contrast, using strength the load can’t be as heavy as for power because the speed of muscle contraction is relatively slow.
In endurance of strength and strength of endurance, you are more likely to recruit the slow twitch muscle fibres that rely more on higher reps. Both of these physical qualities combine strength which involves a given resistance and endurance which is related to a certain number of reps. The correlation between them is the training techniques utilised that makes it possible to use a combination of both a relatively heavy resistance and high number of reps.
Of course even though the recruitment of fast and slow twitch muscle fibres is load dependent with the appropriate number of reps for both types of muscle fibres, it is vital to understand the importance of using strict and correct form. A full range of motion from a full extension to a full contraction is a must and having an appropriate angle of work will favour the best possible muscle contractions. Going to muscle failure is imperative in order to fully stimulate the muscles exercised. Muscle failure in strict form gives you the precise resistance to reps ratio to test and stimulate all four physical qualities: strength, power, endurance of strength and strength of endurance.
There are many complementary training tools that should be used in order to be certain that you are applying the best possible training protocol for hypertrophy. That’s why it is so crucial to be patient but prepared to transition from phase to phase using my PP strategy, thus readying and preparing your mind and body to access and deliver your absolute peak performance at the end of each and every workout!
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PROGRESSIVE PERFORMANCE STRATEGY: FLEX FEATURE
BY FRANCIS BENFATTO
PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY PHILLIPS