If anyone is curious, the mega storm they dubbed 'Nemo' dumped a full 30 inches on my town last night and well into this morning. I've spent most of today getting rid of the snow in my driveway and on our vehicles. Thank goodness for my wife Janet, or I would still be out there and probably nowhere near done!
After the last Daily Pump, called 'Stimulate, Don't Annihilate,' a reader named Larry Gautreau made me realize that I left a lot of people hanging. After cautioning you all not to train overly heavy, I mentioned that it was too late for me. Here was Larry's email:
"Hello again Ron,
After reading your latest blog, you indicated that Lee worked smart instead of heavy and that you were still working heavier weights than he ever did but it was too late for you to gain more size because of your injuries? Why not drop the weight and follow his workout?
It would have been interesting for you to say what his workouts consisted of, other than just the lighter weight. More reps? More sets? Rest periods? I myself am almost 60. Last spring I stopped trying to kill myself by always upping the weight and settled into kind of a "4x" routine with moderate weights and strict form, and that's when I started noticing the size increasing more quickly, albeit more slowly than the younger whippersnappers.
I don't have the injuries that you do but I've had lower back problems since I was 12 from a weightlifting mishap with my Sears plastic coated 110 lb barbell set, plus hip soreness (arthritis?), a bad rotator cuff that I am always having to do twice as many deltoid exercises for my left shoulder to try to keep up with the size of my right, periodic plantars fasciitis (which makes your feet really sore if you've never experienced it) and on and on.
So anyway, it seems like the lighter methods may work even when you're my age so I'm guessing that it's actually not "too late" for you.
Thanks for that Larry. First off, Lee Haney didn't do anything very different in terms of his reps and sets than what most of us do. He did not keep his rest periods very short, either. His main contribution toward smarter training to me was the fact that he worked within his means when it came to the weights, and never overloaded his joints with weights that were heavier than what his muscles truly needed.
I should have made it clear that when I said 'it's too late for me,' I was referring to my injuries. The damage I inflicted on my joints and connective tissues over many years can not be undone. But I have not given up on making gains, far from it! If I thought I couldn't gain anything more, I would not be in the gym training hard every day (two days on, one day off, but you get the point). I have adapted my training in such a way that I don't have to go crazy heavy anymore to get the same results. Here are some things I have started doing over the last couple years to work my muscles without further wrecking my joints:
- Shorter rest periods. One very effective way to do this is to follow Steve Holman's 4X training system (full info at www.x-rep.com). By doing 4 sets with just 30 seconds rest between with the same weight, the cumulative effect has the weight feeling much heavier on the final set than it did on the first. Hany Rambod's 'Sevens' from his FST-7 Training are very similar, just using more sets. I don't necessarily follow either one all the time, but at most workouts I do some variation of those - multiple sets with very little rest between.
- More emphasis on contractions and negatives. For example, let's take lat pulldowns. I don't just pull these down and let the weight back up. I contract my lats as I pull the bar slowly down, and come to a full stop at the bottom of the rep where I squeeze my lats as powerfully as possible before slowly stretching my lats as I let the bar return to the start position. I can make 150 pounds feel like 300 this way.
- Higher reps. I stumbled on this one by accident. Prior to my triceps tear in the summer of 2011, I had been experiencing terrible pain in my elbow tendons for years. In the year or two leading up to the tear, my elbows could not handle heavy weights in any kind of extension movement, not even cable pushdowns. So even though it's heresy to do any more than 12 reps for an upper body muscle group in the eyes of many, I really didn't have a choice. Nothing less than 15 reps was possible, and often I would do sets with as many as 30 reps. My elbows were fine, the pumps were insane, and lo and behold; the next day I would feel something I rarely did - soreness in my triceps!
- Doing compound movements later in the workout. If you want to handle as much weight as possible in basic movements like squats, bench presses, and shoulder presses, do them first in the workout. Just know that you are also putting maximum stress on your joints and connective tissues. If instead on leg day you trained your hamstrings first, then did leg extensions and leg presses before you squatted, there is no doubt you wouldn't be able to go as heavy. You might find that instead of your usual 405 or more, 315 is more than adequate.
When you are totally caught up with 'how much you lift,' all of these methods would go against what you believe and identify with. But at my age and with my history of injuries, I really don't care how much weight I lift on anything anymore. As I say often, I'm not a weightlifter. I'm a bodybuilder. All that matters to me is working the muscle and causing it to grow. Heavy weights are one way, and they worked well for a time. Now those days are gone and it's time to use other methods to get the job done.
So for all you in the same boat as my - many years of training and various issues that make using the same weights you used to either impossible or a very bad idea - there is hope!