By Coach Rob Regish
Author of “The Blueprint”
Formulator, Mass Pro Synthagen
Many trainees with decades in the iron game have been sold on the merits of heavy benching, squats and deadlifts. There is no argument from me on this point – these movements work and work well to stimulate a LOT of muscle growth. Trainees have used them to great effect and they’ve delivered time and time again. If the pillars of your psyche (let’s be honest – ego) are tied to these lifts, I fully support using them for raising Alpha/Absolute Strength. Before you go down that road again though, I’d like you to consider two movements from our past. These are long forgotten gems that deserve your attention, particularly if you’ve plateaued on the big 3 or feeling burnt out. For many, they’ll be JUST what the Dr. ordered to get your upper and lower body growing again….
If you take a step back and look at the bigger picture (a persons training lifetime, using the “big 3”), you’ll notice a curious pattern – injuries. This is starting to show up in younger and younger trainees, as the “pattern overload” of constantly performing these lifts leads to shoulder injuries, too much vertical loading of the spine, tendon/joint issues and eventual CNS burnout. Let’s be honest about this point: Injuries rob you of time. Time is something that unlike money, you can never get back.
I’ve experienced enough lost time due to injuries than I care to admit, and thus went to work looking for better solutions. Unless you’re a powerlifter looking to compete, these solutions will be ideal insofar as presenting a better risk/reward ratio, greatly improved cardiovascular conditioning and coordination, while stimulating an equal (or greater) amount of growth vs. the classic barbell lifts.They both represent the same demand of your ATP-PC energy system/CNS but go a step beyond in some cases by correcting unilateral weaknesses and/or antagonistic muscle groups that may be lagging. It was once again looking at the iron game’s past that brought forth better solutions. Two such solutions then, are presented below….
RUSSIAN STEP UPS http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5opSOBhM70I
I favor performing one leg at a time for the given number or reps specified, meaning if 10 reps are called for doing all 10 stepping up onto the bench/box with the right leg first, then focusing on the left leg. This isn’t entirely necessary, and I leave it up to you and your personal preference. Also, you want to select a bench or box.platform height that sees your thigh parallel to the ground. A higher box works the hamstrings/glutes more, a lower box hits the quadriceps harder. Although this will vary for most athletes, its more important to get it started than get it “perfect” – use a parallel bench or box.Some highlights now, as to why this lift is THAT GOOD….
Pre-1900 literature found in the Physical Culture Library/University of Texas found that the step-up was commonly practiced before the turn of the century. Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent, who was the director of physical training at Harvard University, used a form of the step-up when devising a method of cardio-respiratory testing. Sargent’s method was used over 80 years ago, and was deemed the Harvard Step Test. It’s still used to build a trainees cardiovascular function and work capacity – something the squat doesn’t always give you. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that the lift itself seems to have died out in the United States, likely given the exploits of Joseph “Curtis” Hise. He not only gained a prodigious level of size and strength with high-rep squats but more importantly – had the ability to motivate other lifters and get them to discover the merits of high rep squatting. Meanwhile, behind the iron curtain something else was going on….
Approximately a decade ago, the full squat was still the foundation exercise programming used by virtually all elite athletes in the former Soviet Bloc nations, whether they were weightlifters or otherwise.It was a respected graduate of the Central Institute for Physical Education and Sport in Moscow, Anatoly Bondarchuk – who would break from convention. He concluded that a particular form of what was known as the” high step-up” had two big advantages over the barbell squat:
1.) Greater gains in thigh and hip power and…
2.) Fewer injuries
Leonid Taranenko was at one time the world record holder in the clean and jerk (superheavyweight class) – 586lbs. Ready for the punch line? For more than 4 years prior to setting that world record, he didn’t perform a single back squat! Instead, the ONLY form of heavy leg training he performed was the barbell step up.
Here’s some inspiration for you: Leonid Tarenenko 266kg clean and jerk – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpkCA25j3z0&feature=related
He accomplished this folks, by building his barbell step ups to an astounding three reps with each leg, using 396 pounds. Success leaves clues, and it’s up to us now to pursue this gem….
BENT ARM PULLOVERS http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F8DIKfo_I0
In July of 1970, a groundbreaking article appeared in the then excellent magazine IRONMAN – penned by the late Arthur Jones. It’s title, “The Upper Body Squat” espoused the merits of pullovers to max out a full body growth stimulus. Jones shrewdly pointed out that the largest muscular mass in the upper body is found in the lats (latissimus muscles). The potential growth of the lats is enormous, yet virtually nobody comes close to tapping into it given the current favorites of various rowing variations. More importantly, if you could tap into that kind of growth stimulation, it would have an incredible “knock on” effect in terms of stimulating growth ALL OVER the body.
You’ll see several variations on a theme here, as there are many ways to skin the cat on this exercise. Personally, I favor using an EZ curl bar on a SLIGHT incline bench. Here’s why… By inclining a flat bench slightly, you accentuate the stretch on the muscles while under load. I’m a BIG fan, of loaded stretch position movements. Secondly (and this is little known), by moving the hands just slightly farther out vs. say, when using a dumbell – it imparts a “widening” effect on the pecs, delts and entire upper body. Perhaps most importantly, DB’s in gyms these days seldom go past 100lbs. If you choose to build your upper body with this exercise, you’re going to quickly exceed that. Not every gym is going to have 150lb plus dumbbells. Virtually any gym you set foot in though, will have an EZ curl bar and plenty of plates.
Problem solved… ::)
I hope you’ll consider this movement vs. the bench press, at least for a stretch. The growth stimulation potential far exceeds any other upper body movement, and the all important lats (which usually lag in people who bench for years on end), can finally be brought into balance.
In one movement, you’ll stimulate growth in the pecs, dets, lats and the ENTIRE body.
While the squat and bench press have dominated lower/upper body training respectively in this country, such hasn’t always been the case. In fact, I think we’ve been doing ourselves a dis-service by dismissing these excellent alternatives. There was a period during which old time strongmen developed gargantuan, drug free physiques using the step up and pullover, and I think the time has come to bring them back. Besides, you can always return to the bench/squat if you so choose…
The combined growth stimulation of the barbell step up and the extreme loaded stretch that is the incline, bent arm pullover is simply magnificent. I’m confident you’ll find these lifts both challenging and rewarding insofar as growing LOTS of new muscle QUICKLY, and you will be too – after putting them into practice!