Monday, July 21, 2014

How the Sling Shot Saved My Bench Press

In this post I am going to try and convince even the most natty, so RAW you capitalize it, so raw you’ve got salmonella poisoning, lifters that they should spend the $50 or whatever it costs for one of Mark Bell’s Sling Shot's.

Calling themselves raw like it's a fashion statement.

Before we get to all that, no, Mark isn’t paying me to write this. No I haven’t been sent any free shit from HowMuchYaBench.Net. Hell, the closest interaction I’ve had to the man himself is following him on twitter.

I’m also not one to shill products. Especially those I don’t believe in.

Now on to the testimonial.

Like many lifters I experienced a plateau on my bench. And it stayed there. For a long, long time. My plateau was at 275 pounds. And for three years or so it would hover around the 275 to 290 pound range. Some months it would be 290, the next month 275. “What the hell am I doing wrong?” I thought to myself.

After growing frustrated I tried many things. Benching from pins (bottom up press), bands, reverse bands, close grip only cycles, more overhead and incline work… damn near everything. And none of it really broke me through that plateau. Again and again my bench would get stuck in that shit-tier range.


295 on the bench will barely turn heads in a YMCA. I can’t be having that.

Biker bro can definitely rep 315. 

Then I bought myself a Sling Shot. I played with it a bit. But never took it seriously. I bought it cause I had the extra money and I figured, why not give it a shot? Well, after a few training sessions I put it away in my bag and reverted back to my retarded super natty, raw RAW, zealot status.

That was one of the stupidest mistakes I’ve ever made in my lifting career. For little did I know the one thing that would save my bench was collecting chalk dust in my gym bag.

Stupid.

Then in the fall of 2013 I was sick of my plateau. Granted, my bench had now at least reached the consistent level of 285 or so, but 300 was only happening on a day when all the planets were aligned, I had eaten my Wheaties, and found $20 on the gym floor. So out of frustration I started using my Sling Shot. I pulled it out of early retirement, because I was sick and tired of having my bench press be on vacation in Florida. 

My bench had moved so far south it was getting
weak & tan on Daytona Beach.

I trained it weekly. Mandatory one day per week Sling Shot work. At first it was just some overload sets after my raw bench work. That then turned into its own day- A day dedicated to training overload work with the Sling Shot.

And my bench began to move.


Then about a month later I got 295x2, paused

And the progress just kept coming. Along with using my Sling Shot every week I also moved to flat footed benching which greatly improved my ability to recruit leg drive. My Sling Shot mirrored exactly my raw bench programming, only differing in one way- the intensities were about 20-30 pounds greater.

Soon after incorporating it on a once per week basis my raw bench climbed to 300 with a clean pause. Then 305. Then that coveted 315 goal was achieved. Mission accomplished. Go home people. Show’s over.

Then I came out to Afghanistan. Training got harder. More focused. The Sling Shot was getting used like a Greek slave circa 480 BC. I’d train with it on Tuesdays and then raw bench on Saturdays.

Greek BDSM.
Much like powerlifting.

And my bench began to move so fast it was like I had morphed into Goro from Mortal Kombat. Throwing that bar with my four arms like I was a damn Italian pizza man.

305, 315, 325 for reps… raw, without the Sling Shot.

Meanwhile my Sling Shot bench was climbing just as fast. Hitting into the mid 300’s for reps. Nothing felt better, or built more confidence under the barbell, as holding 365 in my hands and repping it with my Sling Shot.

An actual photo of me after using the Sling Shot
consistently for a few months.

After months and months of avoiding testing my true bench max and just building it through repetition, both raw and with my Sling Shot, I decided it was time to test my max.

And just like that, I had benched 365 pounds. Just three or so pounds away from a two times bodyweight bench press. 

Plateau destroyed.

Mind you, I compete raw. I typically had trained raw. And like many raw lifters I saw using gear outside of the usual knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and belt, as abhorrent. I once was a raw dogmatist. Then I pulled my head out of my ass and realized that with the proper use and implementation, something like the Sling Shot can be a raw powerlifter’s secret weapon. It is my opinion that for the money, there’s no better piece of equipment a raw lifter can purchase.

I don't know who this guy is, but he's got a Sling Shot.
So he can probably bench more than you.


Thank you Sling Shot. You’re my best friend.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The GZCL Method, Simplified.

When I began competing in powerlifting I decided to train like a powerlifter, an obvious choice to make at the time. However, none of the preexisting programs felt right. They would leave me crushed under too much volume at too great intensities, or walking out of the gym feeling like I hardly accomplished anything, sometimes worse- bored! As it turns out, many others have had the same experience with popular powerlifting centric programs.

I needed to find a sweet spot to train, somewhere between the heavy weights of a powerlifter and the higher volumes of a bodybuilder. In so doing I developed, almost unknowingly, my own training methodology.

After putting nearly 100 pounds on my total over the course of 10 months I looked back through my training logs and found patterns, which then developed into the GZCL Method. Two years after its conception my total has again gone up by nearly 100 pounds more.

This article describes the perimeters and guidelines for my method. It is not a program, but more of a set of recommendations for lifters to follow in their pursuit of greater strength, and with the right diet, size!

Building Your Pyramid

The first step in building your own program based on the GZCL Method is to envision yourself as if you were a pyramid. The weight you can lift is its height and your work capacity its base. Are you currently more like a tower, lacking capacity, in other words volume? Or are you flat and broad like a mesa, lacking maximal strength?

The goal is to refine your training into a balanced approach and build your abilities like a pyramid- because after all, a pyramid can only be as tall as its base. In this approach you can become stronger and build muscle in similar relations.

Beginning with a Goal Weight

Some call this a “Training Max.” But I find common ways of defining a training max are lacking. With the GZCL Method your training max is a weight somewhere in the 2-3 rep max range. This is a weight you can already do! The purpose of your Goal Weight is to move that weight faster, with higher quality, and greater repetitions.

You progress by increasing your goal weight after each training cycle by an amount you feel is reasonable after analyzing your performance at the end of that cycle. I personally like to work in four-week blocks. In this way your progress is multifaceted. Rather than chase a new one rep max you are instead improving your speed, rep quality, and capacity. The results of this approach are new one rep maxes as a welcome consequence.

If it sounds confusing, don’t worry; it will make perfect sense after the read through and checking out my sample program at the end.

Starting at the Top (T1)

The peak of your pyramid represents your Goal Weight. The heavier the weight the fewer amount of reps you can perform with it. And like with all things there is an ideal range of performance within what I call the First Tier, or T1. The identifying characteristics of your T1 are:

1.     Your Main Movement for the day: Squat, bench, deadlift, overhead press, or any other compound barbell or dumbbell movement. This us usually a competition or high-skill movement. You will perform this movement first before the movements in your other tiers.
2.     The Intensity Range for Your Main Movement: 85 to 100% of your Goal Weight.
3.     The Volume Range for Your Main Movement: 10-15 total repetitions, broken into your desired set/rep structure. Typically these are one to three reps per set. Very rarely should it be programmed above that.


Example 1
Example 2
Example 3
Example 4
Squat:
5 sets, 3 reps
Bench Press:
4 sets, 3 reps
Deadlift:
5 sets, 2 reps
Overhead Press:
3 sets, 3+ reps   *
                   *(+) Signifies as many reps as possible (AMRAP) on last set


Work in the T1 should be completed with little to no grind. Should you find yourself grinding the weight, decrease it, and complete your total volume for the day. 

The First Tier is about refining your technique and building confidence with significant intensities and manageable volumes. All too often lifters infrequently handle intimidating loads and by doing so they lose psychologically to the iron before they’ve even lifted it! By working within the T1 frequently and practicing its movement you are developing your abilities to handle greater weights, both physically and psychologically.

Building Strength in the Middle (T2)

This middle section of your pyramid is what supports your maximal strength and holds it together with your base, the foundation of it all. You will find in this Second Tier, or T2, that it closely resembles the structure of common strength building routines. And like the T1 your T2 can and should be built around your abilities.  The identifying characteristics are:

1.     Your Primary Accessory for Your Main Movement: This is a lift that builds the Main Movement of your T1. You do this after you have completed your T1 sets and reps.
2.     The Intensity Range for Your Primary Accessory: 65-85% of your Goal Weight.
3.     The Volume Range for Your Primary Accessory: 20-30 total repetitions, broken into your desired set/rep structure. These typically fall into the 5-8 reps per set range. These should rarely be programmed above 10 reps at a time.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
T1: Squat:
5 sets, 2 reps
T1: Bench Press:
5 sets, 2 reps
T1: Deadlift:
5 sets, 2 reps
T1: Overhead Press:
5 sets, 2 reps
T2: Front Squat:
4 sets, 5 reps
T2: Decline Bench:
4 sets, 5 reps
T2: Good Morning:
4 sets, 5 reps
T2: Incline Bench:
4 sets, 5 reps

You should always be able to complete Second Tier work. If you cannot you either programmed too heavy (if you fail reps) or too much volume (overwhelming fatigue.) It should be rare that the T2 movement is not performed each day. This is where your general all around strength is built. An example of this would be that the front squat is a great accessory for both the squat and deadlift; therefore it has a general application to a powerlifter. Likewise for incline bench to bench press and overhead press. 

Another great thing about the T2 is that if you need or want extra practice with your T1 movement you can certainly program more of the same in those blocks. Say you have modified your squat stance, or possibly switched from conventional to sumo deadlifts, and you need more practice. This is where you can build the movement pattern through repetition and build the strength of that movement through progressive overload. In this way it can be very similar to Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 “Boring But Big” template.

The Second Tier is where capacities at middle to upper range intensities are built.

The Foundation of it All (T3)

This is where the fun is. And it just so happens that fun also builds muscle, which then helps generate greater amounts of strength! Here in your Third Tier, or T3, you become a bodybuilder. The T3 contains movements that train body parts which you have identified as lagging. These movements should train the muscle groups which have been the primary or secondary movers responsible for completing the work in your T1 and T2.

What I mean by this is that lets say you feel your shoulders are lagging in development. To combat this, at the end of your overhead press day you can perform various other deltoid focused movements. Perhaps lateral raises or lighter dumbbell shoulder press variations. If on your bench day you feel your chest is lacking then perform cable flys. Traps looking scarce on deadlift day? Do your shrugs.

The purpose of the Third Tier is to build your body so that when it comes time to move heavier weights you have the muscle mass required to do so. In this tier choose one to two movements, sometimes three if time and energy permits, and complete the work as arranged. The identifying characteristics of your T3 are:

1.     Your Secondary Accessories for your Main Movement: These are movements that build the muscles involved with completing your T1 movements. These are done at the very end of your workout. Choose 1-3 movements in this tier for each workout.
2.     The Intensity Range for Your Secondary Accessory: 65% or less of your Goal Weight (if using a major movement in this range), or a weight that can be completed for 8-12, sometimes more, reps at a time.
3.     The Volume Range for Your Secondary Accessory: 30 or more total repetitions for each movement performed in your Third Tier. Set up in whatever set/rep structure you prefer.
4.     Common choices are: 3x10, 2x15, 4x8, and 3x12. These should be rarely programmed below eight above 15 reps at a time.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
T1: Squat:
5 sets, 2 reps
T1: Bench Press:
5 sets, 2 reps
T1: Deadlift:
5 sets, 2 reps
T1: Overhead Press:
5 sets, 2 reps
T2: Front Squat:
4 sets, 5 reps
T2: Decline Bench:
4 sets, 5 reps
T2: Good Morning:
4 sets, 5 reps
T2: Incline Bench:
4 sets, 5 reps
T3: Leg Curl:
3 sets, 12 reps
Leg Extension:
3 sets, 12 reps
T3: Dips:
3 sets, 12 reps
Triceps Extension:
3 sets, 12 reps
T3: Shrugs:
3 sets, 12 reps
Upright Row:
3 sets, 12 reps
T3: Arnold Press:
3 sets, 12 reps
Lateral Raise:
3 sets, 12 reps

The Third Tier work is where you chase the pump! Remember, the goal is to build the muscle so in the Third Tier you should not be reaching a failed rep earlier than about eight to ten. This is all about fatiguing the muscle through adequate repetition. Failed reps here should be less an issue because ideally these are isolation movements, or at most, compound movements at lighter weights.

These are done at the end of your workout. So by the time you get here expect to be fatigued. Do not be surprised when you find yourself handling less weight than what you use normally. This is not about moving the weight, but working the muscle. That means you need to complete sufficient repetitions rather than overload the intensities.

But where is the Back Work? (And Biceps Too!)

This is a common question when people ask about my GZCL Method. And the answer is simple: Super-sets. I prefer to train the muscles of the back multiple times per week. This is done by super-setting T2 pressing movements with similar sets/reps with a pulling movement, usually in the same planes of movement. A T2 horizontal push, close grip bench press, would be super-set with a row and a T2 vertical push, maybe an overhead press, would be super-set with pull ups or lat pull downs. A pulling movement’s one rep max is rarely known, or performed, so it is best to load these according to the sets/reps required. Biceps isolation exercises are also treated in this same fashion.

I do not recommend that lifters attempt to super-set their T1 movements. Save your energy in that moment for your primary movement. Perform your super-sets in your T2 and T3 range. Super-sets are also a great way to increase work capacity via increasing workout density- the amount of work done in a specific time limit.

An example Bench Press workout:

(T1) Bench Press
@85%
3 reps
5 sets
(T2) Decline Bench
Super-Set with:
Barbell Rows
@65%

135 lb.
5 reps

5 reps
6 sets

6 sets
(T3) Dips
Super-set with:
Upright Rows
Triceps Extension
Super-set with:
Biceps Curl
Body
Weight
100 lb.
45 lb.

45 lb.
12 reps

12 reps
12 reps

12 reps
3 sets

3 sets
3 sets

3 sets

Putting it All Together!

You now have an overview of your pyramid, how it’s structured, and the important details that make up each major component of that structure- the First, Second, and Third Tiers. Here’s the gist of it:

1.     T1: Main Movement, 85-100% of Goal Weight, 10-15 total reps, this is a single exercise.
2.     T2: Primary Assistance, 65-85% of Goal Weight, 20-30 total reps. One to two different exercises.
3.     T3: Secondary Assistance, 65% or less of Goal Weight, 30+ total reps. One to three different exercises.

I’m sure you have already noticed a volume relationship inherent in my method. This is the 1:2:3 Rule for Volume: For every one rep you do in the First Tier do two with your Second Tier Primary Accessory, and then three reps with each of your Third Tier Accessories. This is how you maintain the relationship of volume to intensity that builds a more balanced pyramid. Remember, there are no “hard” rules in the GZCL Method, more so guidelines or gradients; but “rule” just sounds better. When writing your own program using this method, do not stress if you are a few reps above or below that 1:2:3 ratio. The goal is to give balance to your structure; it doesn’t have to be mathematically perfect.

One great thing about this methodology is that it is very flexible. I have had people train with great success full-body three times per week mixing a T1 and T3 lower with a T2 upper, and vice versa.

At the end of this article is an example month of training for the squat and bench press using my method. However you lay it out is entirely up to you. Once more, it is a method not a program! Though if you want to retest your Goal Weight I do recommend the last week of your training cycle (no less than three weeks!) that you work up to a single set of max reps of 100% of your Goal Weight. This is also known as an AMRAP, or, As Many Reps As Possible. This is denoted as a simple “+” sign.

By working up to that 100% Goal Weight AMRAP set you can gauge your progress and get a good idea of what the next Goal Weight will be for the following training cycle.

Simple guidelines for Goal Weight progression:

            - Two reps on 1+AMRAP @100% add five pounds
            - Three reps on 1+AMRAP @100% add ten pounds
            - Four or more reps on 1+AMRAP @100% add 15 pounds.

It is a simple method to follow once you have a firm understanding of the parameters that set the recommendations of volume and intensity. Using those guidelines and an understanding of your own abilities you can choose what weights to use, for how many reps, across your choice of sets, with the exercises you want, and exactly how you will progressively overload and thus make strength and hypertrophy progress!

The best programs are ones customized to the individual athlete. By using the GZCL Method you can intelligently draft your own program, custom fit to your goals.

Example Programs

Squat

Week One
Week Two
Week 3
Week 4 (retesting)
Monday
T1: Squat
85% 5 Reps x 3 Sets



T2: Front Squat
65% 8 Reps x 4 Sets

T3: Superset
Leg Curl/Extension
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Calf Raises
15 Reps x 3 Sets
Monday
T1: Squat
90% 3 Reps x 4 Sets



T2: Front Squat
70% 6 Reps x 5 Sets

T3: Superset
Leg Curl/Extension
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Calf Raises
15 Reps x 3 Sets
Monday
T1: Squat
87.5% 3 Reps x 1 Set
92.5% 2 Reps x 2 Sets
97.5% 1 Rep x 3 Sets

T2: Front Squat
75% 5 Reps x 5 Sets

T3: Superset
Leg Curl/Extension
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Calf Raises
15 Reps x 3 Sets
Monday
T1: Squat
90% 3 Reps x 1 Set
95% 2 Reps x 1 Set
100% 1+ x 1 set

T2: Front Squat
80% 4 Reps x 5 Sets

T3: Superset
Leg Curl/Extension
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Calf Raises
15 Reps x 3 Sets


Bench Press

Week One
Week Two
Week 3
Week 4 (retesting)
Tuesday
T1: Bench Press
85% 3 Reps x 5 Sets



T2: Super Set #1
Decline Bench Press
65% 6 Reps x 5 Sets
Barbell Rows
135 x 6 Reps x 5 Sets

T3: Superset #2
Bodyweight Dips
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Cable Rows
100 x 15 Reps x 3 Sets
Superset #3
Triceps Extension
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets
Biceps Curl
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets
Tuesday
T1: Bench Press
90% 2 Reps x 5 Sets



T2: Super Set #1
Decline Bench Press
75% 5 Reps x 4 Sets
Barbell Rows
145 x 5 Reps x 5 Sets

T3: Superset #2
Bodyweight Dips
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Cable Rows
100 x 15 Reps x 3 Sets

Superset #3
Triceps Extension
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets
Biceps Curl
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets
Tuesday
T1: Bench Press
87.5% 3 Reps x 5 Sets



T2: Super Set #1
Decline Bench Press
70% 6 Reps x 5 Sets
Barbell Rows
140 x 6 Reps x 5 Sets

T3: Superset #2
Bodyweight Dips
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Cable Rows
100 x 15 Reps x 3 Sets

Superset #3
Triceps Extension
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets
Biceps Curl
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets
Tuesday
T1: Bench Press
90% 3 Reps x 1 Set
95% 2 Reps x 1 Set
100% 1+ x 1 set

T2: Super Set #1
Decline Bench Press
80% 5 Reps x 4 Sets
Barbell Rows
150 x 5 Reps x 5 Sets

T3: Superset #2
Bodyweight Dips
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Cable Rows
100 x 15 Reps x 3 Sets

Superset #3
Triceps Extension
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets
Biceps Curl
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets