Back to the Basics: Big Movements for Better Results!
By George Stavrou

Not getting the results you are looking for? Are you bored with your current routine? Have you spent countless hours exercising and you still look the same? It may be due to the fact that you are not on the correct program for your particular goals.

I have been training individuals for over 15 years and I am still surprised to see that there are a number of people performing mainly isolation movements instead of the larger and more beneficial compound movements. These are the same people that complain that they are not getting any results from their workouts. If you are interested in a program that will help you gain functional strength that you can use in your athletic endeavours I suggest you read further. I have used this basic program with a number of people over the years and have experienced great success with it.

Before we see the program in action it's important to know the difference between compound movements and isolation movements.

Compound movements are multi-joint movements consisting of two or more joints moving and therefore many muscles are involved. One example is the Dumbbell Bench Press. In this exercise you are moving at the shoulders, elbows, and wrists. You are utilising the muscles of the chest, shoulders, triceps and a number of other muscles (i.e. synergists, stabilisers, antagonists, neutralisers, fixators) to complete the movement.

Isolation movements involve only one joint and usually less muscles are recruited to perform the movement. An example of this is the Dumbbell Fly. There is movement in the shoulder area alone and the main muscle being used (or the prime mover) is the chest muscle.

If you want to live in the gym and waste your time then I suggest performing isolation movements for every angle that you can possible think of. If you want your body to function as a powerful integrated unit (as it was originally designed to do) then I suggest that you concentrate on compound movements such as squats, presses, chins, rows, etc.

Not all compound movements are created equally!
Now that I've got you sold on the benefits of compound movements I should let you know that not all compound movements are created equally. For example, many trainees load up the leg press with all the plates that they can find in the gym and perform countless repetitions with this exercise. A much better choice of exercises is the Squat. Many experts believe, and I concur, that the squat is one of the best exercises that one can do for the lower body. In fact some call it "The King of Lower Body Exercises". This great exercise trains the quads, hamstrings, hips, calves, lower back and the abdominals. While the leg press appears to exercise the same muscles as the squat it leaves out the core region, which is very important to train.

Free Weights vs. Machines
When deciding on which exercises to choose from ask yourself this question: "Is this an exercise that has benefits that carry over into every day life?" If the answer is "YES" then it's a functional exercise. Looking back at our previous example of the Leg Press vs. Squats we can plainly see that since the stabilizer muscles are taken out of the equation in the Leg Press; therefore, it is a less useful exercise than the squat. Also, ask yourself this question: "How often in everyday life do you place your back against a fixed object and push against a weight using just your legs. On the other hand, the Squat movement (pushing yourself away from the ground with your legs) transfers into every day life: going to the bathroom, standing up from a seated position, getting in and out of your car (you are doing a variation of a one-leg squat to get in the car and sit down), etc. It also carries over into various sports: basketball, volleyball and football to name a few. The final word on the above is use Free Weights as much as possible in your quest in developing a functional body.

Enough theory - it's time to move on to the program.

The program that I have outlined below will give you some great results in a relatively short period of time. I have split it into 4 Days where you train each body part one time per week.

Body Part
Quad Dominant Lunges and Squats
Upper Back (Pull Day) 1 Arm DB Row
(Scapular Retracted) and Chins
Hamstring Dominant Single Leg Semi-Stiff Deadlift and Deadlift
Chest (Push Day) Incline DB Bench Press and Dips
Repeat Program

I have also given you guidelines on the exercise scheme and the reasoning behind it. See the table below.

Workout Scheme Reasoning
# of exercises per session: 2 Fewer exercises - more focus per movement
# of sets/exercise: 5 More sets - greater skill development/exercise
Total Sets: 10 Optimal # of sets vs. Maximal (Coach Ian King recommends from 5-15 total sets per workout when training for Maximal Strength & Power)
Reps/set: 5 Lower Reps to near failure - higher intensity/set
Rest period: 3-4 minutes Near complete recovery ~ 98% of ATP replenished
*Tempo: 50X0 Focus on Maximal Strength, Explosive Power & Quickness
^TUT (Time Under Tension): >25 s Lower TUT- focus on Maximal Strength w/some Hypertrophy

*For those of you unfamiliar with tempo the numbers represent the time in seconds for each part of the movement.
5 - lowering (eccentric portion of movement)
0 - no rest at bottom of movement
X - lifting the weights (concentric portion of movement) as quickly as you can (explosive movement)
0 - no rest at top of movement

^For those of you that are unfamiliar with TUT - it can be loosely defined as the total time of a set from start to finish. In this case our TUT is > 25 seconds. This is determined by adding up each component from the Tempo and multiplying by the number of reps in the set - (5+0+X+0)*5 = >25 seconds. Some of you may have expected an exact number but since we are dealing with an unknown with "X" we can say what the minimum TUT is, not the maximum.

You may have noticed that each day begins with the limbs working individually (unilaterally) followed by an exercise that uses both limbs (bilaterally) together. I chose this method for several reasons. 1) Often times there is a strength discrepancy between the limbs. It is rare to find an individual that is equally strong on both sides. Training the limbs individually gives the weaker side a chance to catch up to the stronger side. 2) By following with an exercise that emphasizes both limbs working together you are training the limbs to work as a team.

Train your weakest body part first in the week!
The split that I suggested above is just an example of how one can train their body. You may have noticed that I put Quads on Day 1. In my case, my quads are my weakest body part. Therefore, I put them first in my training week. This is something that I learned from Australian Strength Coach Ian King. Many individuals make the mistake of training their stronger body part first in the week when they are at their strongest. Don't worry if you are one of these people - I used to do this in my training as well. If you always place your strongest body part at the beginning of the week your weak body part will always remain weak. The idea about training is to ensure that your body is balanced. Below is a favourite quote of mine from Ian Kings' "Get Buffed" pg. 77.

"There is really one simple rule here. The exercises you do first in the workout and first in the training week are the exercises that get the best effort, and therefore the best result. It is human nature to put one's favourite exercises first in the week and first in the workout - year in and year out - and then wonder why muscle imbalances occur!"

Look at the above program and determine which of your body parts is the weakest. Change the order of the training days to reflect this. Keep in mind that the leg workouts should be separated by an upper body workout to ensure greater recovery between sessions.

Before you go gung ho on the workout there are a few more guidelines that I would like to share with you.

1) Warm-up: do a warm-up of light cardio and dynamic stretching prior to your workout. Dynamic stretching will prepare the nervous system (NS) for the workout ahead.

2) Warm-up sets: Depending on the load that you are using I suggest the following warm-up sets - 1 (set) X 5 (reps) X 50% (of 1RM), 1 X 5 X 60%, 1 X 5 X 70%.

3) 10 minute cool-down (static stretching). Static stretching will help your NS to return to pre-workout status. You can also use this time to reflect on your workout and decide what changes need to be made for your next session.

4) For the 1 Arm DB Row I suggested that you keep your scapular retracted. I have come across many people that have over-developed the pecs and anterior delts to the point where their posture resembles that of a caveman. By keeping the scapular retracted in the 1 ARM DB Row you will help to re-align your body to a more neutral posture.

5) In this program you are using the popular 5 X 5 method: 5 sets of 5 reps. I do not want you to take all the sets to failure - I want to be certain that you are able to complete all 5 sets of 5 reps. If you are unsure about how much weight to use I recommend that you use approximately 80% of your 1RM. When in doubt - guess lighter as opposed to heavier. The strength will come down the road.

6) Progression - when you are able to do 5 sets of 5 reps successfully it is time to add more resistance. Add 5 lbs. or 5% to the load (whichever is lower) to your next workout and repeat the cycle. For exercises using body weight e.g. dips & chins, I suggest investing in a dipping belt. This is a weight belt that goes around your waist and you can add weight to it via a chain.

7) Keep track of all the exercise variables in a training log. A sample log is shown below.

Exercise Weight Sets Reps Tempo Rest
Squats 300 lbs 5 5 50X0 3 min

Now that you have the plan in front of you it's essential to work it. Don't be a reader - take action, NOW! The results will be worth the effort.

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