Advice from the Muscle Goat
One of my (many) character flaws is that I can get kinda cantankerous, especially if I haven’t eaten in a while (sorry, fasters) or have too much running around to do.
Whenever I get particularly cranky, my wife will usually refer to me (affectionately) as a grumpy old goat. She even bought me a shirt with the word GOAT on it, just in case the subtlety of the insult was somehow lost on me.
However, while it’s not meant to be a compliment, I like the title.
For one, goats are kind of cool – they don’t listen to anyone, pee wherever they want, and can even eat things like mail boxes and tin cans and live to brag about it. You gotta admit, that’s pretty badass.
Second, hip hop fans will recall that LL Cool J released an album titled “GOAT”, which in that case stood for Greatest Of All Time.
LL Cool J is pretty dope. And for an old dude from Queens, the artist formerly known as James Todd Smith is jacked as hell. He even shit-kicked some dumb burglar who made the mistake of breaking in while LL happened to be in the basement banging out barbell curls and making babies. Poor bastard never what the hell hit him.
So, sure, call me the GOAT. No problem.
In other news, I appreciate when my readers take the time to send me training or diet questions. It’s one of the cool things about having this “platform,” not to mention toiling in the fitness industry as long as I have.
I also love helping my bros, “goat” designation notwithstanding, as it makes me feel like a borderline useful contributing member of society.
So your questions are directly linked to my self-esteem. But no pressure.
To that end, if you knuckleheads send in a particularly good question (and one that I can answer and hasn’t been covered a million times before) the Muscle Goat here will feature it on the blog; so all may benefit and learn and prosper.
Sort of like a Circle of Life thing from the Lion King, except with weights. And goats.
The first question comes from a guy named Jeff. Jeff’s a former member of SEAL Team Six who … okay, I have no idea what Jeff does. He did have a good question though.
Q. As an old guy that been lifting 25 years, when does lifting for strength stop and it becomes okay to just do pump and hypertrophy work? When do I give up the big lifts?
I feel that if I do cycles of workouts consisting of compound movement and low reps I get trashed — and since I lift before work, its hard to sit in a board room with your system all jacked up and needing a nap at the same time.
I have some friends my age and older that just do pump work, look amazing, and never even have to deload. They follow bodybuilding style workouts; meanwhile I’m doing full body strength training routines and getting sore and beat up.
One of the many awesome things about strength training is that it delivers measurable results relatively quickly and quite predictably. Contrast that with hypertrophy training, which can take months to deliver noticeable muscle gains (if at all) and you can see why basic strength programs like 5/3/1 or Cube Method have become so popular.
But pump work still works, and it’s fun. It also doesn’t beat you up as much — it’s a lot easier to tear a pec or blow a disc doing heavy singles and doubles than it is doing mirror sets to 15 or 20 — and is less taxing on the nervous system, which is huge for older guys with high stress lifestyles.
So it’s no wonder that the vast majority of lifters over 40 start spending less time fighting heavy deadlifts and more time following bodybuilding-type workouts.
However, just being a pump artist isn’t the answer.
For best results you still need some degree of progressive loading to “tell” your body to grow or you risk simply spinning your wheels, especially if you’re natural. Guys on anabolic steroids can build significant size by way of sheer volume; not so easy if you’re natural.
So the answer is, basically, to do both. And to do so you have options:
1) Include low-rep, progressive overload schemes as the first exercise of a workout.
For example, an arm day might start with close-grip bench presses and chin-ups for 4-6 sets of 2-4 reps, and then proceed to higher-rep pump work for the bis and tris.
2) Alternate dedicated phases of low rep and higher rep work.
One of the many spins on the Accumulation and Intensification models of periodization, except adapted to bodybuilding. So 3 weeks of one or two exercises for more sets and low reps, followed by 3 weeks of more exercises for less sets and higher reps.
3) Combine both forms in the same training week, a’la conjugate periodization.
For example, the following style of split got popular amongst bodybuilders a few years ago:
Monday: Upper Body strength (1-2 exercises, more sets, low reps)
Tuesday: Lower Body strength (1-2 exercises, more sets, low reps)
Thursday: Chest Shoulders Triceps pump (more exercises, less sets, higher reps)
Friday: Back and Biceps pump (more exercises, less sets, higher reps)
Saturday: Legs pump (more exercises, less sets, higher reps)
What works the best?
That depends on the needs of the lifter (whether an athlete or a “look good naked” type of bodybuilder), training age, and how much time available to dedicate to the gym in a given week.
I’ve used #1 for much of my career and since evolved into something more like option #3; though 5 days a week of training can be overwhelming for many normal dudes.
Another Option for Guys Like Jeff?
If you’re following a basic squat, bench, and deadlift strength template like 5/3/1 and love it but want to make it less taxing on your body, here’s a simple modification that both respects the program while cranking up the hypertrophy side of the ledger.
1. Save your reps.
Do not take any work sets to failure, even the PR set. Just get your required reps, then end the set. Don’t be a hero.
2. Add one additional set of 25 reps using 50% of your 1RM.
Now take this set to your absolute limit. Yell, scream, grunt — do all that cool shit that gets you barred from Planet Fitness — even use holds and partials to further extend the muscle building time under tension, if you’re so inclined. Just maintain perfect technique. Now is not the time for spastic reps or excessive body English.
Finally, be sure to skip this set during deload weeks. (You are deloading right? Every 4-6 weeks is ideal.)
This modification should help reduce wear and tear (especially to the lower back) while at the same time ratcheting up the hypertrophy effects, without going overboard.
That’s it from the Goat. I gotta finish moving. Send me your questions!