One of the questions I am asked most frequently is: How should I add weight? Which at times is kind of scary because in many cases I know it's being asked because they are so used to not being able to add weight that they really donÕt know how. Again to reiterate, if your routine is structured properly, and diet is in order you should see weight or rep (or both) increases almost EVERY time you hit the gym until you are VERY advanced. "start working" one day?
OK, we're clear on the need to add weight, now how is this best done, and what does it mean when its done? Perhaps the best and easiest way to actually understand what an increase means, and to be able to look at increases on a comparative basis is a simple:
Weight x reps = work completed
And yes, I fully understand for this formula to be complete and give ACTUAL results we would have to include the time factor (speed of movement), AND distance moved in the equation, but IÕm trying to keep it simple, and we will go on the understanding that the rep cadence is to be kept constant for this to be reliable.
Using this formula, most people will be extremely surprised to find what a HUGE increase that lowly single rep is relative to adding a small chunk of iron. Lets do a little math!
On week one Joe trainee benches 275 x 8, this looks like:
275 x 8 = 2200 lbs
Now, next week he does one of two things. A) Adds 5 more lbs. B) Adds one more rep. Which is a bigger increase?
280 x 8 = 2240 lbs
275 x 9 = 2475 lbs
The one rep increase is 235 lbs additional workload over the 5 lb increase workload.
Now lets look at a different scenario. Joe trainee is doing lateral raises with 20 lbs in each hand:
20 x 10 = 400 lbs
45 x 10 = 450 lbs
40 x 11= 440 lbs
Now the tables are turned and the 5 lbs is the bigger increase. THIS ONLY OCCURS WHEN THE WEIGHTS ARE VERY, VERY TINY. Otherwise rep increases will be the larger percentile increase.
Now that we have a quick and easy to use formula we can use to easily see what the increases mean as far as increased workload, how and when do we go about adding weight to the bar? Before we go further, a few generalities are first in order.
1. Unless you are VERY advanced increases should be occurring on about every lift, every time you train. Even if these are tiny increases.
2. Big increases are NOT sustainable for the long term. If you hit each bodypart once a week, and figure on missing about 4-6 weeks of training throughout the year due to injury, sickness, or outside obligations, You are still left with 46 workouts. If your plan is to add 10 lbs a week each week, that is 460 lbs more at the end of the year. Do that for just two years and you OWN the squat and deadlift record (assuming you already squat at least 200), not to mention OBLITERATING the bench record. Sorry.....back to earth, it doesn't work that way.
3. Smaller lifts GENERALLY respond better to rep increases (mostly because in commercial gyms there are no fractional plates, if fractional plates are available, this is by far and above better than trying to use rep increases for little lifts) and bigger lifts do well with weight increases.
4. Slow twitch muscles TEND to do better with rep increases.
5. Fast twitch muscles TEND to do better with weight increases.
6. Some lifts like pull-ups almost demand small weight increases because most folks just will never add a rep each workout.
7. Fractional plates are one of the best investments you will ever make.
8. If you donÕt keep a training journal YOU ARE GUESSING!
OK, now lets talk about weight increases, how to make them, and when using reps, or using more weight is in order.
A big problem with working out in a commercial gym is the fact that unless you are using fixed weight, like a selectorized stack, or fixed dumbbells, YOU ARE PROBABLY LIFTING A DIFFERENT AMOUNT OF WEIGHT EVERY WEEK!!!!! What to I mean by that? If you bench 275 x 8 this week and go back to the gym and slap on four 45Õs and two 25Õs you are again benching 275 right? Well the answer is ÒMAYBEÓ. I have weighed every plate I own, and MANY plates for other people on a certified scale, AND plates from a few commercial gyms, and 45Õs are often 2 lbs light, or 2 lbs heavy, and sometimes they are almost right....and....sometimes. All the plates I use in my home gym are marked with the ACTUAL weight, because putting four 46 pound plates on one side and four 44 lbs SUCKS! Perhaps the bigger problem is that one week you may be 4-5 lbs light, and the next heavy of the weight you THINK you are lifting. Well now that I gave you something to think about I am going to leave it at that, if you work out in a commercial gym there isn't a damn thing you can do about it,live it!
The other problem is the inability to add small increments of iron. Lets talk a minute about the "tiny" increases and what they mean. I task those that train at home to go to PDA http://www.fractionalplates.com/fractional.html or http://www.theplatemate.com/
and pick up some 1/2 lb and 1 lb plates. The typical response is Òwhat good is it adding one lb? Well letÕs use a small lift like barbell curls as an example. Again, assuming 46 workouts per year, if you add "only" 1 lb per workout, and like most beginning, and intermediate trainees are curling 65-85 lbs. Using the low number, in one year you are now curling 111. Much better. If you can do it another year you're at 157. And how many guys do you actually see curling 155 in your gym? If you think 2 years is too long to spend to spend pursuing a great body, you are in the wrong sport. While big changes can be made in short periods of time, ESPECIALLY when a trainee first starts training right, it is nonetheless a given that you are in this for the long run. And 2 years is NOTHING
Dumbbell's in commercial gyms go up in either 5 or 10 lb increments with 10 lbs being the most common, this means it is extremely hard to jump to the next level doing the smaller lifts. There are two good ways to go about this. As an example, if the trainee is doing 2 sets of 8 dumbbell curls and wants to go up in weight, attempting the 90 lb bells the following week just isnÕt going to cut it. He should instead just try to get a rep or two more the following week, and keep at adding reps until he is doing 12-14 reps, at which point he can hit the 10 lb increment and drop back down to 8 reps. Alternatively you can buy some Platemate http://www.theplatemate.com/ fractional magnetic plates that will allow 1/2 to 2 lb increases and add a small chunk of iron every week. DONÕT scoff at these small increases, they add up to big iron in your hands over time!
One of my favorite methods of being progressive is to use reps as the increase and start with 6-8 and add reps until you hit 12-14 and then add a good sized chunk of iron and go back down. You get the benefit of both medium and high rep ranges and the this method tends to keep one from stalling out on a lift as fast as if the rep range remains constant.
When using weight for increases instead of reps, the big thing to keep in mind is that the increments are commensurate to the lifts being done. Small movements with little poundage's require little bumps in weight, or gradually increasing the reps until a higher number is reached, than adding weight, while the big lifts work just fine adding a reasonable size chunk of iron at every opportunity. 1/2-2 lbs for the small lifts and 5 lbs for the big stuff (10 lbs for many when first exposed to common-sense training, or doing a first or big cycle) will get you there over time.
Now that we have covered the importance of little increases, and making the increases over the long term, I'll spend a few moments covering what everyone wants to hear about the sick-fast weight progression that is possible at TIMES.
Beginners may add 100-300 lbs on their big lifts and 20-50 lbs of muscle their first year if they do EVERYTHING right which is pretty rare.
Trainees that have been training and haven't been exposed to lower volume training, or at least training that is within their ability to recuperate often find that they absolutely EXPLODE with strength and size gains when first doing a "real-world" routine. MANY people that have tried DC's, or my training philosophies for the first time after doing many things wrong, and BAM!! These guys are adding big chunks of iron EVERY WEEK to the bar, and gaining size on a regular basis. Many of my training clients put on 20-30 lbs of lean mass in 3-6 months of training under my guidance and I know Dogg does the same if not more for his people.
Going from a bodybuilding to a PURE STRENGHT program is another time when you can see some phenomenal weight progression each session. Doing low reps without much extra volume or higher rep work can equate to some BIG strength increases. Just be aware a LARGE percentage of these types of gains TEND to be from neural recruitment gains as opposed to actual hypertrophy gains. Westside Barbell training has enough volume and pure strength focus that most guys build a good degree of size and strength while doing them. Refer to the article on "Making Westside work for you" for more info.
And of course, we have the crazy-sick type gains a lot of guys get when doing their first couple of cycles, doing their first BIG DOSE cycle (especially with gear that has a lot of nerve excitability properties), or gear that makes one become the Òwater boyÓ like Anadrol. While I sure wonÕt tell anyone that decides to take this course to not take advantage of these big gains, I will be the first to tell you to BE CAREFUL and keep your ego in check. ESPECIALLY if doing lower reps. Adding 50-75 lbs, to your bench and 100-125 to your squat/dead, in an extremely short period of time occurs for SOME guys when going on their first, or first BIG cycle, and one thing that doesnÕt keep pace with these big weight increases in connective tissue/tendon strength. The muscle growth far outstrips the connective tissue strength increase and if form isn't perfect..well, lets just say LOTS of guys end up injured that way.
I will also go out on a limb here and state that IF you are training and EATING properly, progress on squats, deads, and leg-presses should be fast and ALMOST linear for beginning and low-intermediate trainees. This means if you haven't been training your lower body with focus, or at all, you should have a FAST-TRACK trip to squatting and deadlifting 300-400 for rep work. Upper body (for many reasons) does not usually progress as fast, nor in as much a linear fashion, but should still be regular and consistent. If it's not with what you are doing now, its time you make some changes. As I have stated a thousand times, if it's not working now, how the hell is supposed to magically "start working" one day?