What Have You Got to Gain?

What Have You Got To GainThere is an interesting paradox in strength training. You never know how high “up” really is. You don’t know the maximum you can bench press today, you don’t know the maximum you can expect to deadlift in three months, and you don’t know how much muscle you can gain before you hit an absolute limit.

So how many plates do you put on the bar today? How often can you train in the next three months? And is the muscle you’ve gained so far the best you could hope for or is it pathetic compared to what you could have gained? What makes all of this worse is the way most people train – utterly devoid of any measurement or precision. They not only do not know how high ‘up’ is, they don’t really know where they are today compared to where they were three workouts ago.

This is why it’s so damaging to listen to advice about how you can “feel” what your body is capable of, or that you can train by “instinct.” You can feel exhausted by a set of exercise and, because of underlying stress or recovery issues, the exercise was sub-maximal and did nothing to stimulate new muscle growth. There is no reason to go by “feel” and “instinct” when simple, meaningful measurements are very easy to make. (BTW, it’s obvious that if you “feel” like crap you should not do a workout, but it’s ridiculous to expect to “feel” the difference in the effect of 2 sets of 20 with 185 lbs versus 3 sets of 14 with 195 lbs.)

What To Do

You can’t begin to wrap your arms around all this mystery until you takes some real measurements.

1. At a minimum, write down the weight you used and the reps you performed on each exercise.

2. If you absolutely hate making any calculations, at least total up the weight you lifted on each exercise. (Eg. If you benched 150 lbs for 10 reps, call it 1,500 lbs of total weight.)

3. Knowing the above, look for improvement on every exercise every time you do it. The whole point of strength building exercises is to make your muscles bigger and stronger so when you return to the gym you should always be able to lift more than the last time. Always. Without exception. If you can’t do that it means something is not working and you need to search for causes.

Want to Do More Than The Minimum?

4. Measure the intensity of your exercises by knowing the elapsed time the lifting takes. That is a foolproof way to know whether or not your “high intensity” exercise was really high intensity – particularly compared to what you did on your previous workout.

5. Stop lifting in your weakest range of motion. Most people never learn how strong they really are and really could be because they limit weights to what they can lift in their weakest range. Use a power rack or Smith machine to limit exercises to only your strongest range – you’ll be blown away at how much you can hoist and what it does to your intensity numbers.

6. Wake up to the FACT that you cannot train productively on a fixed schedule from beginner to advanced level. Once you make measurements you’ll see in black and white that you can not follow a maximum lift on Monday with a better lift on Wednesday and an even better lift on Friday and a still better lift the next Monday. Instead, make every workout count and stop doing regressive training.

7. Use a defined training method. Don’t use happenstance that depends on what equipment is not being used at the moment you want to work your biceps. (Of course I want you to try Static Contraction or Power Factor, (See which is better for you) but whatever you use, follow the above points. But good luck finding a training method that uses exact measurement, most trainers don’t want you knowing in black and white how much of your time they are wasting.)

You have a lot to gain. If you’re like most people you’ll be shocked at what you have to gain. All you have to do is train with your brain.

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43 Responses to What Have You Got to Gain?

  1. When you mostly only show huge muscled men as examples. You only show the smallest example of strong people. Only 1 in 10,000 or 20,000 can look like the ones you show. As a strong bicycle racer (hill climber) I would like to be represented in your examples. Alberto Contador would be a good example.

  2. I agree, Don. But the images I use are mostly near the halfway point between the average Joe and pro bodybuilders. Most people promoting a muscle-building program show the pro bodybuilders. (As if anybody can get there without $5,000/mo in drugs.)

    In general I don’t like running any photos but the realities of online marketing dictate that to get read a post has to include a photo. If I always run photos of minimum muscles many people conclude, “Huh, is that all you can do with his training? Other training delivers pro-bodybuilding-size muscle.”
    So it’s a tough challenge for me. In the world of fitness marketing, “A picture is worth a thousand lies.” Haha.

    See: http://www.precisiontraining.com/tag/before-after/

  3. Rene Kittelsen at #

    Nice Pete!

    Did my workout A yesterday and I’m still gaining! Almost have to pinch myself, is it possible?
    And if that wasn’t enough I also have been sick in about 10 days with a virus infection, so I waited 4 extra days after my schedule. Still gained 2-5 procent in strength!

    It’s just a shame that anyone is still doing traditional workout routines, and people are really getting courious in the way I lift weights.
    Slowly getting more acceptence over here in my little town called Svelvik in Norway 🙂

  4. Clyde Goldbach at #

    Can one continue to do multiple light weight full motion workouts for all major muscle groups, including doing aerobic workouts, in between the SC workouts without causing harm (i.e., jeopardizing progress)?

  5. I want to ask you why you would do multiple light weight exercises when they have zero chance of building new muscle for you and will delay your recovery. What is your motivation to do that? If I know your motivation I can give you a better answer.

  6. Bob at #

    Pete,
    What you were describing in the beginning comments sounds like most trainers,
    physical therapists,and P.E. teachers.You are so right when you listen to most of the training “advice”. I stopped being a personal trainer because you have to train the way the owner,manager,or head trainer wants you to.I guess what I am trying to say is,nobody seems like they don’t want to train with their BRAINS.Keep on telling it like it is Pete.

  7. Thanks, Bob. I appreciate it. People are trained in ways that maximize money – not results.

  8. My last runup to SCT greatness was cut short by the dead lift, when at 525 lb I lost form slightly, heard a loud pop, the sound of a compression fracture of my T-12 Vertebra. The X-ray shows about a 15 degree slope to the top face of that bone. So here is my request for guidance: Given my age of 72, would you consider this a limitation that I should accept as a likely point of future, perhaps potentially more catastrophic, failure? And what margin would you consider reasonable for avoiding another fracture? I think the geometry change will put an amplified stress on the muscles and ligaments, and they will always weaken first at that point from now on. After 3 months healing I’ve done 315 with ease, and I’m thinking I should stay below 425 for life. Man, do I hate limitations!

  9. Dan at #

    Pete, Does it help to take protein shots and muscle milk after a SC workout? The shots are the liguid shots you can buy in any health food section of a grocery store.

  10. tony at #

    Pete It would be interesting to know the maximum reported sc weight lifted for each excersise by so called normal people, just to have targets to aim for and to understand what can be achieved.

  11. Those supplement are a waste of money. Very few people are so nutrient deficient that they are preventing muscle growth. Unless you live in the Horn of Africa I can’t imagine you being starved for protein. Real food has the good nutrients you need.

  12. Bobby at #

    Pete, how long can you workout a muscle part before it doesn’t stimulate muscle growth?,
    i.e when progressive overload is no longer possible?

  13. I’m not sure anyone knows, and whatever it is, it will not be the same for every person and muscle group. Are you concerned that you cannot get any stronger?

  14. I agree with your assessment. and it’s not just due to your age. In my early forties I did a 1,000 lb shrug and it was the most painful exercise I ever did. Nothing broke, cracked or crushed, but the grinding pain of supporting that weight hurt my whole body. I asked myself why I needed to have such ridiculously strong trapezius muscles? For what end? I made my living as a writer, why did I need to shrug a half-ton? The same week I did and 900-lb pulldown with similar conclusions. I advocate building your strength to get the health benefits that come with it, once you are in danger of crossing the line into worse health, just maintain where you are and enjoy everything else life has to offer.

  15. Bobby at #

    I was not clear, sorry about that.
    Clyde talks about using light weights 4 posts up.
    Is a weight too light if you still make progress?
    I use ‘relatively’ lighter weights than if I were to do a 5 seconds static hold.

  16. I focus on maximum weight because it is an order of magnitude more efficient. You can get strong with lighter weights but it takes many more reps, sets and time to do it. All of that means more wear and tear on the body too. Once you know for a fact that 5 seconds is all it takes to stimulate more muscle growth, what is the incentive to do more? That’s my focus.

  17. Rene Kittelsen at #

    Pete

    With all the statistics you probably got, couldn’t you make a “normal” growth/strength overview?

    I know we’re all different when it comes to recovery time, muscle growth etc. but to have a overview would been nice, so you could see how one is coming along.

  18. Stuart at #

    Pete,

    Got this from a powerlifting website in regards to the top deadlifter on the planet.

    Benedikt Magnusson´s Deadlift Routine
    Submitted by admin on December 6, 2005 – 12:28pm.

    A member over at Power and Bulk has taken the time to translate Benni Magnusson’s deadlifting routine from a German forum. Benni performs deadlifts every week.

    An interesting part of his training are what are referred to as Jeff Jet Method deadlifts. This movement starts as a high rack pull, then the pins are removed from the cage and the weight is put down and picked back up. This allows the lifter to lift more weight than he might be able to if initially pulling from the ground.

    Basically the top deadlifter in the world uses a limited range of motion to truly tax his muscles. The more I look into the more I find out that the top guys in the strength world use partials and statics and extended recovery periods! So for all of those individuals who have used your methods and have experienced no real world strength improvements…I must question their adherence to the protocol.

  19. Les at #

    Gee, I hope I don’t injure myself since I’m lifting heavier all the time. My lifts are 12 days apart which is serving me well. I still want to increase my shoulder circumference by 2″ but its not budging-is this the last place to move? I am 68 and my bench has jumped up to 270lbs. I will maintain when my shoulders hit 51″ above the nipples.

  20. Les at #

    I really like the lifts shown in the book “Super Rep Arms”. However I probably injured the tendons in both hands when doing Reverse+behind the back reverse curls which took me a month to recover from. Be cautious by working the weight up to max overload rather than tackling the really heavy weights right away.

  21. Exactly. There is no way that lifting the absolute heaviest weight you can under ideal circumstances will fail to build new muscle. If that happened – you did something wrong.

  22. Don’t forget to eat enough.

  23. Clyde Goldbach at #

    Sorry went off the grid. Let me start with saying that I love SC. I will be 60 next year. I started earlier this year and have achieved well over a 100% increase in strength (I did miss a couple of months though). Today I put up 900lbs on the leg press sled. I tell everyone about SC that will listen.

    I want to do aerobic work to just get fit and help with weight loss. As for the full motion comment, I was thinking that it would help with staying limber and offsetting the soreness that comes with doing things that one is not accustomed to doing regularly (e.g., moving, building a deck, etc.).

    I don’t want to do anything that will interfere with my SC progress though, however, I do need to get some aerobic work going.

  24. Staying limber is an excellent goal. Yoga or general stretching is what you want for that. There is no need to stretch with a heavy weight.

  25. Rama at #

    Pete, although so far I have got very good results from three PFT Arm Workouts, something has been bothering me for a while. For a given muscle group, suppose you wish to specialize and desire more strength AND size. Is it better to do one exercise at four minutes or two exercises at two minutes each?

  26. Strength and size are directly correlated. You can never build one without the other. What you are really asking is, “Will my muscle respond better to a shorter, more intense exercise or a longer, less intense exercise?” I can’t tell you what your muscle will respond to. I can tell you that, in my observation, about 90% of people do not need long-duration exercises. You might be in the 90% or in the 10%. If you experiment you will discover what type you are.

  27. Rama at #

    I understand what you are saying. However after reading the PFT Arm book I began to think, as we were given more than one exercise for bicep and forearm. For example the book’s routine included BOTH standing curl and seated curl as bicep exercises, instead of just giving one exercise for the reader to do.

    I hope you can understand what I am trying to point out, what I am trying to say is instead of doing Seated Curls and Standing Curls for say, two minutes each, would someone get equal or better results by eliminating the Standing Curls and instead doing just the Seated Curl for four minutes? If one can increase the time of the set and hypotethically get bigger, why is there a need to do a second exercise?

  28. The “need” arises from the premise that many people claim they only make gains with more volume. If you need more volume then you must to do more exercise rather than less. I put those two exercises in that program because there is not a clear winner between seated and standing curls in terms of intensity. About 50% of people score higher on one, the other 50% score higher on the other. If you see a clear difference then just do the exercise that gives you a higher number two times. Finally, you are better to do “2 min. – rest – 2 min.” than you are to do 4 min continuous without rest. We are trying to keep the intensity as high as we can for the duration of the exercise.

  29. Rama at #

    Thank you very much Pete for the reply.

    But then taking intensity (and of course the time factor) into account, wouldn’t the amount of rest actually decrease intensity? Although the PFW Abs book tells the readers to do certain exercises twice, I instead do them continuously without break. Would you believe that resting for few minutes and then doing the exercise again would generate higher intensity and better muscle growth rather than doing it continuously without break? I sincerely believe in the results of your products, I am just wondering how ” 2 min. – rest – 2 min.” can generate more intensity than doing an exercise 4 minutes continuously without break.

  30. Your muscles are at rest 99.97% of the time. What makes them grow are the very brief intervals of ultra-high intensity. With that in mind, two ultra-high sets would be better than one medium-high set. This is why Static Contraction is so great – it has proven that one 5-second maximum contraction will stimulate new muscle. When people say they “need more volume” to get their muscles to grow it becomes an argument over how long their contractions need to be. 30 seconds? 60 seconds? 5 minutes? I don’t want to be in the position of telling people how long they “need”. In Power Factor I’ve used 2 minutes of reps and 3 minutes. The cardinal rule is to create PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD using whatever volume you decide you need. As long as you do that, errors in your estimation of volume become mostly irrelevant because you will get to the point where you stimulate new muscle growth. It just won’t be as efficient as SCT.

  31. Rama at #

    Thank you very much for the reply Pete.

    So I guess a small rest after a set in order to create another high intensity timed set would be better than continuously doing a set in which the intensity gradually decreases.

  32. That’s what I think. Added volume always reduces intensity. So the idea is to do the minimum volume that will build muscles for you. For most people that’s 5 seconds. But some people insist they need more.

  33. randy at #

    Hi Pete et al,
    Quick (possibly, silly) question: I have recently started SCT and I have volumes I’d like to write, but at the moment I need a little quick advice. The gym I’m using is loaded with all the right equipment and loads of it, except for one thing, a leg press with lockout positions. The leg press they have is a seated, upright, independent foot plates (ie, left and right) with multiple pegs to load plenty of weight. The problem is the starting position is from a flexed hip, flexed knee stance. Pushing the seat back all the way only gets to 1/3 of midrange. In other words, it’s impossible to set it up with the start position in the strongest, near-end range position. This buggers up both the leg press and toe press for me. I tried loading one side, pushing with both feet, then letting go with one, but I still can’t get enough load that way, even with all the pegs full of weight. So my simple question is what is my alternative? Should I do a traditional squat SCT style? Are you worried I will load my lumbar spine too much? Thanks for your help. So far, so good, only three weeks into it.

  34. Equipment limitations are always difficult to solve because they represent physical barriers to progress. If you can’t do a one-legged press they you might have to substitute volume for intensity. (Try a 30 second static hold) or switch to a different machine like hack squats. Or do barbell squats inside a power rack if your neck and back will tolerate the high loads.

  35. Brian T at #

    I have a question Pete:

    Let’s say someone is using full range strength training.

    If they were only come back when they are able to lift more are they still going to gain more muscle everytime?

    The reason I ask this is because they are working so far below their maximum thresholds on each lift by not lifting in the strongest range only.

    Many people think because this isn’t pushing the muscle to the maximum it isn’t tearing it, so the lifts are really only training the nervous system to be able to lift more.

    Is this true? Half true? Or false?

    What I’m basically asking is: even if training way under your limits, if you are still improving, are you still building muscle?

  36. I think it’s true in early training. When people go from zero lifting to any lifting they see gains. But they stall out pretty quickly and when they only continue with weak-range lifting they are limiting themselves. Strong-range training is safer and generates more overload, so what’s not to like? (Weak-range training is more prone to injury and creates less overload. It’s amazing that people still search for rationalizations for doing it.)

  37. Bill at #

    Hi Pete,

    I am excited to start trying your method. I am a bit skeptical and honestly, 10 weeks is a long time to try something to see if it works (I’m 51 and impatient to build muscle, lol). Can I incorporate it with my normal routine of compound exercises or would that be counter-productive?

    Bill

  38. There is no value in combining low intensity with high intensity. You won’t have to wait 10 weeks to know it’s working. You will see improvement on every exercise during every workout – that’s how the program is designed.

  39. Like Pete says below, SCT is the fastest, most efficient way to build muscle. Strength (beyond the initial neuro-muscular activation period) is muscle, so with full recruitment at a max load, strength is proportional to muscle cross-section. The faster your loads go up, the faster muscular growth occurs. Take it from a guy 21 years older than you, and still able to ramp up my loads at will with SCT, you have plenty of time to get as big as you want. This is an amazing tool to grow old with: and if you watch the quality and quantity of what you eat and keep a reasonable level of heart-lung fitness (best approach is interval training), you can be around for a long time to enjoy the fitness.

  40. Brian T at #

    But if you are spacing the workouts out more and more and going up in weight all the time, then surely you are still building muscle, no?

    I mean some guys still build muscle with full range training, even when they train too much. I understand the concept that many people burn out after 4 weeks of 3 days training every week, but what if you only come back when you can lift more and you are lifting more every time?

    I ask this question because resistance bands are becoming popular, and have the equivalent weight written on them. The beauty of them is in the band only gets stronger in resistance as you approach your strongest range, thereby saving people from injury in the weakest range.

    I’m actually going to use try them in the strongest range only, but other people I train might not want to do that. By the way bodylastics resistance bands system of combining bands can go way up in resistance (to 388 lbs) and if you double/triple them up it would cover just about all exercises as far as I can see.

    Something to consider.

  41. Rama at #

    Well I guess you can do that in full range, but the problem is that full range always requires light weight and is more susceptible to injury compared to doing strong range with heavy weights. And I know based on experience with PFT that weights trump over distance.

  42. Brian T at #

    I’m not disagreeing Rama, I just want to understand more.

  43. Rama at #

    Haha I see, well let us know with the results and your findings 🙂