August 10th, 2015
Chris Lehman Mike, do you ever adjust the low-volume approach in the off-season if the athlete is looking to add muscle, or just adjust their nutrition?
Mike Westerling Chris Lehman: Hypertrophy occurs as an adaptation to increased stress. As the athlete gets stronger and they are handling more weight in their workouts they are subjected to more stress. As long as their nutrition supports it they will make gains in muscle size. Ryan Bakke and Marshall White were both surprised that they got bigger and stronger than ever with such a reduced volume approach. After training with me for about a year Ryan’s arms where the biggest they had ever been by far and in that time we never did a single classic arm exercise. The constantly increasing weights used on events and compound exercises coupled with actually letting his body use it’s resources to adapt and grow rather than just survive huge volumes of work allowed his arms to grow bigger than ever. That being said, the volume does slowly increase over time, just not to the extent some believe it needs to. In the off season the major events are still trained but a lot of the minor ones are dropped so the athlete can spend more time on developing skills needed on events that may be lagging. To train a skill there must be more practice so the volume is increased slightly on a particular event while overall volume remains the same. If an athlete finds a particular muscle to be lagging behind we will add a bit of extra work for it but never more than a set or 2 (after warm ups of course).
Jeb Stuart Johnston Mike– do you adjust your programming volume in proxy to a clients history & strength levels? I know that at 175 my relative strength numbers are similar to a 200 or 231 athlete yet my absolute strength is much lower. Therefore I’m handling much less poundage and in theory should see faster recovery. Would I be inhibiting progress by adding either volume or frequency? 4 or 5 days vs. 3?
Mike Westerling Jeb Stuart Johnson-Yes I do adjust my programming depending on a variety of factors. Remember that all training is stress. If you have built up to 6 days a week training 2 hours a day and are making gains then I wouldn’t drop you to 3 days a week. However, most athletes that have built up to that type of volume aren’t making gains and haven’t in quite a while. Most clients come to me because they’ve been stagnant for a while or have even been steadily declining for quite some time and riddled with joint pain. So my first order of business to get them sorted out is to get the pain under control and get them gaining again. To do this takes a drastic reduction in volume and a very careful exercise selection. I realize that really isn’t what you asked me but I wanted to clarify my answer a bit. Now, to answer your question: Since I am not familiar with you personally I will have to make some generalizations. For the most part, all things being equal, lighter guys handling less poundage are putting less stress on their bodies and can recover quicker. However, all things are never equal. For example, lets say we have 2 athletes training yoke at 80% of their respective maxes. One is a 200lb guy working with 600 and one is a 300lb guy working with 900. Both guys are using triple bodyweight and both guys are training at the same percentage. Since the 300lbs guy is carrying 300 more lbs we assume the extra weight itself is going to take a bigger toll. Much in the same way a max truck burns more fuel to go one mile than a VW Bug. However, the 300lbs guy may have been born with X-man genetics and the bone structure of a brontosaurus. He may have spent the last 10 years working with 900lbs trying to get faster and faster as he glides along at breakneck pace and just hasn’t really pushed his top numbers. Meanwhile, the 200lbs guy may have only been doing strongman for a year. Maybe he just got his max yoke a few weeks ago and 600lbs has his nervous system going berserk in an effort to control it as he tries not collapse under it as he shuffles down the street. Who do you think 80% is taking a bigger toll on in this case? However, the reverse could be true as well. My point is that the only case that matters is yours. Are you a fast gainer? I’m assuming you are an average gainer because if you were a genetic phenom your absolute strength would probably be the same as the heavier weight class guys. Or, are you are relatively new and are already as strong as other guys your weight that have been lifting for much longer than you? If you are an average gainer you must be especially careful to pay attention to how training effects your body and adjust things in such a way that you can track progress and learn your body and how it responds. If you are a genetic freak you will be able to get away with quite a bit more and mistakes won’t be as catastrophic to your gains. However, in either case, the best way is to start simple. Gains are going to come at the pace they are going to come based on your own individual body. The trick is to keep them coming. Starting off simple it’s easy to add stuff as you go and track progress. If numbers are going up, you’re on the right track. If your numbers are stagnant or declining something is wrong. If you start with a handful of exercises on a straight forward program and add or subtract one variable at a time it is relatively easy to keep things going along smoothly for quite some time. If you try and get too fancy and mix and match programs it is far harder to figure out what is working and what isn’t. Now, lets say you have good genetics, your light and you recover fast. Good! Every workout will be fresh and strong and another chance to add a couple LB’s to your lifts. In your case I would suggest still keeping the volume and number of days per week to 3 or maybe 4 max. However, to use your fast recovery to your advantage I would say train your weaker movements more frequently with more sets so you have more chances to practice your technique. For example, once a trainee is past the beginner stage I rarely have them practice log on a weekly basis. It takes a huge toll on the cns and the knees and elbows start to pay for it when the training weights regularly get over 300lbs. In your case (if log was a weakness) you could hit it once a week or even twice a week if you structured the rest of your program to allow for increased recovery. No matter that you do, you don’t want to max out your recovery ability. Just because you can handle a ton more work doesn’t mean you will benefit that much more from it. There’s been many times I’ve trained 2 guys (or 2 girls) at the same time as training partners. One always has better recovery ability than the other. In that case I set up the workouts to match the guy (or girl) with the slower recoveries needs. You know what happens? The one with the better recovery always comes back a little stronger and a little fresher than the other one and therefor makes much better gains. Now in some cases these people stop training together for what ever reason and they want to know why the other one made better progress. I explain genetics and recovery to them. So we try doing even less with the ones with slower recovery and most times they don’t gain much faster since it was them the workout was based on. The ones with faster recovery want to do more now that they aren’t being “held back” by their old partners so we add in a little more work. Their gains will increase in some areas from the extra skill work but they seem to lose their edge a bit. So we drop the volume back down and they start feeling like superheroes again. So increase the volume slightly but use your recovery ability to grow and adapt at a faster rate instead of just trying to see how much work you can take.
Chris Lehman This one is minutiae, but since you’re here…in the sample program you include only the two exercises in the rotation for each day with no chins or rows. Earlier in the book you discuss adding a vertical and horizontal pull to press day. Should the reader do the program exactly as written and let the events take care of the back work or add it in? If so, one for each (vertical/horizontal) or just one?
Mike Westerling Chris Lehman-I’m sorry it wasn’t clearer in the book. Usually, in the off season we will hit a vertical pull one week and a horizontal pull the next. Usually trying to match planes of movement with pressing. So if week one is overhead press we will do a pullup or pulldown movement. If week 2 is a bench press we will pair it with a row. Also, if we are deadlifting on the second day of the week I will make sure the first day is a pulldown since it will have less an effect on your deadlift than a row will. During the season with all the bicep heavy event work I try and keep the rowing and pullup/down volume to a minimum to allow for complete bicep tendon recovery so I will choose the exercise that has the best carry over to the events and drop the other one. Nine times out of 10 I will choose one arm rowing over pullups because one arm rows can be trained without straps as a great grip exercise and then strapped in for a heavy upper back blast while keeping the lower back out of it since the athletes low back will usually be pretty spent from event day. They are also awesome for training your core to stay strong against rotation and teaching the athlete to put their entire body power behind one limb. Also,very rarely if ever will you see a pullup/pulldown movement in strongman so they are best left in the off season.
Dalton Peters If I am 17 and have been lifting for 3 years pretty steadily have a 545 DL and I want to be truly strong would you recommend going the weight class route and trying to set records etc. or just saying screw it and getting as big and as strong as humanly possible? (ps I am also 6’4 so I am really considering just going for WSM type of size strength whatnot)
Mike Westerling Dalton Peters-At 17 and already that height and strength you just may have what it takes to be WSM some day. It depends on your short term and long term goals and which is most important to you. I personally am a big believer in training correctly and making sure you have the nutrition you need to be strong. At your age and with your genetics I would not recommend trying to stay in a weight class. I wouldn’t recommend just eating massive amounts of calories to just blindly put on weight either. I would recommend learning your body and it’s caloric and nutrient needs for optimal performance and let your body become what ever weight it performs best at. Reach out to Trevor Kashey for a nutrition program if you want to really fast track your diet and do it right. If you gain weight slow and can set some records along the way awesome. If you hit a huge growth spurt and end up in a weight class you aren’t yet competitive in; even better! Let your body grow as fast as it wants to. The sooner you get to full size, the sooner you can mature there and reach full strength. Stay lean and healthy while you do it and the end result will be amazing!
Dalton Peters Also this may be in bad taste but log press tips? I know it has been extremely worn out
Mike Westerling Dalton Peters-Log press tips: The most important thing you can do is get a good rack position. If that damn log rolls out away from your body even a hair as you start to drive with your legs you are already screwed! The second tip goes with the first. Don’t try to get too big of a dip. The more you dip the more you are likely to lean forward and let the log roll out OR to stay in the upright racked positon your knees will have to come forward more and put a ton of pressure on your patella tendon. Teach yourself to do a quick shallow dip. The best exercise for this is ¼ front squats with the log in the power rack. This allows you to build up all the muscles responsible for holding that big bastard on your chest correctly and get a feel for much more weight than you can press. Additionally on your top set of these hold your final rep up in the perfect racked postion for time. This will build a tremendous rack postion. Whether you push press or jerk it you need to start from a good solid rack so you can transfer 100% of your leg drive into that damn thing!
Dalton Peters thought of another one sumo DL vs conventional pros cons
Mike Westerling In strongman sumo deadlift isnt allowed. In powerlifting it is. If you are planning on competing in powerlifting you should train both and go with which ever one allows for more weight. This can change overtime and they are both great assistance for the other so I recommend keeping both in the rotation. Sumos are also great for strongman and should definitely be considered as an assistance exercise, if not a main lift. It all depends on the particular athletes needs. For a strongman there is a lot of work done in that position with stones and sandbag loads so it doesn’t really need to be put in during periods of training these events heavily. However having it in the rotation during times those events aren’t being trained is highly advisable.
Casey Day Thoughts on adding a deadlift suit in?
Mike Westerling Casey Day-Deadlift suits are allowed in some shows so there is a definite advantage to learning how to get the best out of it. Of course if you only train in a suit you will feel weak without it. If you have a show coming up with the suit in it I would definitely recommend using one in your training leading up to it. If you don’t there is no reason not to do a 12 week cycle working up to a suited max. Then if a show comes around later that allows one you will already be ahead of the game. It can also help you to break through mental barriers. If your scared you’ll get weak by using one don’t worry, just do all your other work without it and your core will get strong. For example: Week 1 Deadlift 5 sets of 2 with the suit on for practice. Week 2 Work up to a max double 16” deadlift no suiit. Week 3 wotk up to a 3 rep max on trap bar no suit. Repeat that 3 week rotation trying for a new 2rm on 16” deadlift and a new 3rm on trap bar each time those lifts come around and when regular deadlift comes around go for a new 1rm in the suit. On the days you use the suit (after that first 5 sets of 2 day) do all singles taking fairly small jumsp so you get plenty of practice by the time you hit your top set. As the weeks go by and you feel more comfortable take bigger jumps so you’ll be less fatigued when you hit your top single. After 4 rotations of that you should have a very nice new suited max.
John Rauch Are there events (or variations) you would recommend training year round vs. only when they show up in a competition? If so, what goes into that decision?
Mike Westerling John Rauch-The sport of strongman is getting ridiculously heavy. The weights at the top level are almost impossible to be able to handle at the speeds needed to be effective in competition. The only way to get strong enough to handle those types of weights is to build on them year round. However, there is a lot of carry over in movement patterns so every single event doesn’t need to be trained year round. For the most part Log, Circus bell, yoke, farmers and at least one heavy loading movement that involves triple extension under load should be trained. The weights on yoke are just outright ridiculous at the top level right now so yoke must be progressively built up over years. The grip on farmers always gives at least half of the field trouble so that supporting grip has to be worked hard. Sand bag and /or stone loads will both build the correct muscles needed for any type of paoding event. Sandbags have the added bonus of not having to clean up tacky. Log and circus bell are both always tricky and should be practiced year round if one is to stay sharp on them. All the other events are basically similar movement patterns and usually done with lighter weights in medleys. So they don’t really HAVE to be trained. That way you can really spend your time and adaptive energies where they can build the most strength. Depending on strengths and weaknesses this could be adjusted but using a minimalist approach a 4 week rotation that goes like this usually works out quite well: Week 1 yoke, week 2 stone loading, week 3 farmers, week 4 sandbag loading. For your pressing days I recommend week 1 bench or incline followed by circus bell, week 2 pushpress with log or axle followed by whichever chest press you didn’t do I week 1.
John Cintron Mike you didn’t say much on your take on nutrition in your book do you feel lighter Strongman competitors should eat differently than the guys over 200?
Mike Westerling Josh Cintron-i think each athlete should eat the appropriate amount of nutrients and calories for optimal performance. If you struggle to stay in a weight class it gets a little more complicated. It takes trial and error but a good start for most is 1g of protien per lb of bodyweight. Match that with calories from fat and a bit more than that from carbs. Make healthy food choices and adjust weekly based on performance. It takes a bit of effort but well worth it!