If character development is more your thing than non-stop explosions then you probably prefer television to what’s currently offered in theaters. And since the late 90s there has been some EXCELLENT stuff on TV.

Picking an all-time favorite TV series is never easy, but gun against my head, my personal top 3 would have to be Breaking Bad, The Wire, and The Sopranos — hardly an original list I agree, but I’ve never claimed to be much of an intellectual trailblazer. I just know what I like, and according to Buzzfeed I’m not alone.

I’ll always have a soft spot for the Sopranos. Not only did it completely deconstruct the mob gangster archetype, it did it while repeatedly sending hilarious dog whistles to aspiring writers (or just film junkies) like me. All without breaking character or becoming too cute.

*Mobster sociopath and wanna-be director Christopher Moltisanti sees the legendary Martin Scorsese setting up a scene on a New York street*   

“Hey! Marty! Kundun? I liked it.”  

Another favorite scene is when Tony id recovering from a gunshot wound and sees his captains all but fall over themselves trying to take care of him.

On the surface it seems altruistic enough, the underlings desperately looking out for the Don, but Tony sees it differently — a pack of wolves watching intently, waiting for the chance to strike and kill so a new wolf can take command.

That wasn’t gonna happen.

So despite being near death, Tony stands up and picks a fight with the youngest, toughest “wolf” in his pack, beating him near death before almost passing out in the bathroom. The rest of the captains could only stare in shock but the message was clear.

The Don was still the Don.

That’s also how I see strength and bodybuilding.

While there are young, smart, and hungry wolves doing great work, they’re all just sniffing the droppings of the true pack leaders that broke the trail for them to follow. And the work of those pioneers continues to stand the test of time; something the SuperSlow training systems and Bowflexes could only dream of.

Does that mean every training method performed pre 1970 was certified gold and everything since is either a copycat or outright crap? Hardly.

But I’m confident to say that if ALL you did was follow training principles from back in the day and attacked them with gusto, you would build a noteworthy physique.

Now add in the much more sound nutrition practices of today and you’d be even further head.

And from there you could write a dozen books, 100 blog posts, and thousands of semi-coherent Facebook posts about old school training — and wouldn’t ya know it many have.

So lets sort through the muck and share just a few tricks and tips from yesteryear that I use everyday in 2018.

None of these are shiny and new and ZERO were designed but my own hand, but that’s cool by me. I just care about what works. 

1 – Mechanical Advantage sets

Mechanical Advantage sets (also known as Mechanical Drop sets) are a favorite of coach Christian Thibaudeau and many other cranky French Canadians. Mechanical Advantage sets are extremely effective at stimulating muscle growth on even the hardest hard-gainer, which is why I use shit out of them.

Mechanical Advantage sets are a form of extended sets, but instead of adjusting the weight to extend the time under tension, you alter the mechanics of the exercise to continue the set, thereby inducing more muscle fiber fatigue.

I have about a million of these bad boys in my training tickle trunk (everybody has a tool box, real men rock a tickle trunk) but the principles are the key: (Stolen from Thibs).

  • Choose 3 subtle variations of an exercise, usually different hand positions, grip width, seated vs standing, double arm vs alternating
  • Put the exercises in order from the weakest to the strongest
  • Use the same weight for all three variations
  • Rest as little as possible between the variations, though even an extra 2-3 seconds can greatly enhance performance or the amount of load that can be used.

It may seem simple enough on the surface, but give them a try. You won’t regret it.

Here’s a fun one for biceps.

A1. Narrow Width Reverse Grip EZ bar curl x 4-6

rest 10 seconds

A2. Medium Width Reverse Grip EZ bar curl x 4-6

rest 10 seconds

A3. Medium Palms Up EZ bar curl x 4-6

Rest 2 minutes and repeat.

2 – 8 sets of 8

8 sets of 8 (aka the honest workout) was a favorite of 60’s trainer Vince Gironda, the original bodybuilding guru. Vince believed in moderate weights and a lot of volume for maximum muscle growth. 8 sets of 8 adds up to 64 reps per exercise which by all accounts is a metric shit ton of work. So pay close attention.

The key is picking a relatively light load (the first few sets of 8 should be relatively easy) while keeping the rest interval short (one minute between sets of legs or back, less than 30 seconds between sets of biceps and shoulders.)

What about overtraining? Don’t worry about it. Remember the loads are relatively light to help prevent you from digging too deep of a hole. Beside it’s not a routine you settle down with for 6 months and raise rugrats with. It’s a short term shocker.  

Here’s a sample Back & Triceps 8×8 Workout

  • 8×8 Neutral Grip Pulldowns
  • 8×8 Seated rows
  • 8×8 DB or Machine Pullovers
  • 8×8 Medium grip dips
  • 8×8 Kneeling Overhead Rope Triceps extensions

3 – Rest-Pause

Rest pause was probably the first intensity technique ever performed, right after posing in front of your long-suffering partner in a muskrat do-rag. The basic idea is, upon reaching positive failure, is to rest 10-15 seconds (up to 30 can be indicated) which allows your muscles enough time to recover so you can bang out another rep or two.

Three “R/P’s” (meaning you rest 3 times, banging out a couple reps after each rest) is the standard, though simply doing extra sets until you can no longer perform just one additional rep is a kick ass strategy.

This method works great with machine exercises but should be avoided with low-back intensive stuff like squats, good mornings, and deadlifts. One triple rest-pause set per exercise, usually on your final working set, will do the trick.

Here’s an example of how that could look.

Machine Chest Press x 8-12

rest 15 seconds

Machine Chest Press x 2-3

rest 15 seconds

Machine Chest Press x 1-2

rest 15 seconds

Machine Chest Press x ~ 1

4 – Triple Drop Sets

Drop sets (or strip sets, “running the rack”, descending sets, burnouts, etc) have been around since the invention of the dumbbell rack. For many teenage boys a lung-crushing set of biceps curl burnouts is a rite of passage, and a great way to annoy the shit out of anyone who just wants to grab a set of dumbbells and get back to work.

The key is to reduce the weight quickly so you can continue your sets without too much rest. Though depending on the load, exercise, and requisite fiber recruitment, an extra 5-10 seconds can greatly enhance repetition performance.

To perform a triple drop set, take your first set to failure, then drop the weight about 20% (roughly speaking) and perform another set with the lighter weight until failure. Then drop the weight by 20% one last time and perform reps until kidney-shitting status is achieved. One set per exercise (once again, usually your last) is plenty.

Here’s an example of how that could look.

DB Biceps Curl x8-12 (40lbs)

Rest 0-10 seconds

DB Biceps Curl xFAIL (30lbs)

Rest 0-10 seconds

DB Biceps Curl xFAIL (25lbs)

5 – Back off Sets

Back off sets (a set of 20-30 reps) are a great way to knock off the lower threshold motor units after you’ve thoroughly trashed their higher threshold counterparts with multiple sets of low rep work.

So why does it help build muscle?

I personally believe heavy loads “excite” the nervous system so much that you’re able to perform more reps with the back-off set than if you were to just perform the high rep set on its own, even if “pre-fatigued” by all those sets of heavy work. But I’m just fumbling for a explanation to legitimize an observation. Silly meathead.  

To give these a shot, perform a single set of 25+ reps of an exercise immediately after 4 or 5 sets of 2-5 reps of the same exercise. Charles Poliqiun loves this method though apparently Bill Starr or Fred Hatfield were the inventors, yet its just as likely a Siberian lumberjack came up with it while mixing his post workout vodka smoothie.

Although maybe that smoothie was the actual secret trick.

Here’s a fun example of a back off set in action:

A1) Incline BB Press 4 x 4-5

Rest 120 seconds

A2) Medium Grip Chin Up 4 x 4-5

Rest 120 seconds

B1) Incline BB Press 1 x 20-25

Rest 90 seconds

B2) Medium Grip Chin Up (or Neutral Grip Lat Pulldown) 1 x 20-25