Alessi Personal Fitness

Staff Articles

Suddenly Singles

2007-02-19 20:23:35


Bodybuilders today are weak.  I don’t mean all bodybuilders, and I don’t mean “weak” as in wasting away on life support.  But, the majority of them are far weaker than they should be, pound for pound and inch for inch.  According to accepted formulas for correlating strength and muscles size, a typical 200-pound bodybuilder should be able to bench more than 500 pounds.  And yet, I know several prominent bodybuilders who’re much bigger than that and can’t even bench 300.Compare that to the feats of strongman Hermann Goerner.  Back in 1920,  Goerner deadlifted 727.5 pounds…with one hand.  (A few weeks later, he recorded a 793.75 pound deadlift with both hands.)  Granted, Goerner was a big man for his time – 6’ tall and between 220 and 240 pounds in his prime.  But he also did this without steroids, belts, knee wraps, or any of the special equipment strongmen and powerlifters use today.I bring up these two seemingly disconnected bits of muscle trivia for a reason:   If you want to build big muscles without steroids, you must focus on strength.  And by that I mean maximal strength-the most weight you can lift for a single repetition with good form. 

Singularly misunderstood.  Single reps have gotten a bad rap over the years.  Bodybuilders abandoned them in favor of higher-rep, pump-oriented workouts decades ago.  Never mind the most of the best bodybuilders from the presteroid era were fantastically strong.  One, John Grimek, who is said to be the only bodybuilder to retire undefeated, was so strong that he competed for the U.S Olympic weightlifting team in 1936. Doctors also chimed in on the single reps, claiming they were dangerous because the blood-pressure response is so high in a maximal lift.  But today, cardiac-rehab patients are trained with low-repetition sets and relatively heavy weights, because longer sets actually raise blood pressure far more than shorter ones.And several studies, going back at least to 1995, show that single repetitions are safe for strength testing, even in the oldest participants.In fact, the idea that max-effort training is dangerous defies logic as well as science.  If you have children, you’ve undoubtedly seen them struggle to complete their first pushup or pullup.  You’ve seen them test themselves by jumping as far as they can, or off the tallest possible embankment.  These are all “singles,” in that they’re all-out efforts.  And they rarely lead to a trip to the emergency room (except, unfortunately, when they choose the wrong embankment).Of course, adults aren’t just larger children.  Among our many physiological differences, we have much stiffer muscles and connective tissues, which means that an ill-timed strain could pull asunder what tendons or ligaments once held together.  But our bodies are smarter than most of us know:  We have built-in braking devises that prevent our muscles from performing an all out effort that might lead to injury. Here’s how that works:  Say you’re new to lifting, and you try to lift 200-pound weight off the floor.  Your body realizes this is too much and prevents your muscles form lifting it, even though they’re probably strong enough to do it.  But the longer you train your muscles for heavy lifts, the less these strength inhibitors come into play.How do we know this?  Back in the early 1960s researches used hypnosis on trained and untrained lifters.  The untrained lifters could lift much more under hypnosis than they could fully conscious.  But with the trained lifters there was hardly and difference, showing that their training had convinced their bodies to ease up the brakes.Now, let’s move from theory to practice, and look at how you can use singles to build the strength you need for the muscle size you want. 

Safe, not sorry.  Before I show you the singles routine, I want to emphasize for safety issues: *Don’t do this workout until you’ve been training consistently for at least 6 months.  You need to learn how to do the exercises with perfect form before you’ll get all the benefits of singles.  *If you’re over 40, severely overweight, or have any reason to suspect a potential heart condition, check with a doctor first.  This sounds like I’m contradicting what I just said about the safety of singles, but I’m really just warning that any type of heavy training can be dangerous if the wrong person attempts it.  *Always use a spotter on exercise like bench press and squats, where you don’t have the option of simply dropping a weight that’s too heavy.  And make no mistake:  To get the most out of this workout, you have to risk using weights that are too heavy.  It’s a calculated risk, because you shouldn’t try any weight you don’t think you can lift with good form.  But the spotter ensures you push the envelope without pushing up daises. *Warm up thoroughly.  Here’s how:  On your first warm up set, do five reps with about 50 % of the weight you’ll use on your single.  Do four reps with 60% of the first-set weight. Finally, do three reps with 70%. Rest 3 minutes, then do your first set.

 You, unchained.  The Suddenly Singles routine includes four workouts, each of which you’ll do once a week for 4 weeks.  Each workout has five exercises, two of which you’ll do singles.  In other words, you’ll do singles with eight different exercises in this program.The singles are arranged in “cluster sets”.  That is you’ll do a single repetition, rest for 30 to 40 seconds, do another, rest and continue until you’ve done six.  Then you rest 3 minutes and do the next set. You’ll choose a weight that’s a designated percentage of the most you can lift once.  (If you don’t know your one rep max on any given lift, just guess, then subtract a few pounds.  You want to be able to increase the weight every week, and if you start too ambitiously, you’ll defeat the purpose.)For the first week, use 75% of your one-rep max on all singles, then increase the weight by 5% each week, until you hit a weight with which you can’t complete all six reps.  It isn’t the end of the world if you fail early in the set, on the third or fourth rep.  Just use the same weight the next week, and try to get more repetitions.When you get all six reps with a weight on every set, increase it by a few pounds the next week.  You have to be aggressive here; if you can complete all six reps of every set of every exercise every week, you haven’t challenged yourself enough to get all the benefits of the program.  You will also need to understand a few terms:   A1, A2, B1, B2, C:  These letters tell you whether you should alternate between two exercises, or do straight sets.  When two exercises have the same letter (A1 & A2, for example), then do a set of the second exercise before you return to the first.  (Not all A exercises will involve multiple sets.)  Rest between reps:  On the singles, you’ll rest 30-40 seconds between reps.  On the other exercises, you’ll do your sets straight through with no rest between reps.  Rest between sets:  This will vary.  Tempo:  This is the speed of each part of the repetition.  The first number is the lowering part of the movement, the second number is the pause, and the third number is the lifting speed.  So if you see a “402” tempo, that means lower the weight for 4 seconds, don’t pause, and then lift it in 2 seconds.  (In other words, do the entire repetition at a slightly  more deliberate pace than you’d ordinarily use.)  If you see and X instead of a number, do that part of the lift as fast and explosively as possible.  So “30X” means lower the weight for 3 seconds, don’t pause, then push or pull the weight as hard as you can.  Cluster:  As explained above, this indicates a set in which  you pause between reps.  That should be perfectly obvious, but I’ve put it in the chart anyway. The Suddenly Singles routine includes four workouts, each of which you’ll do once a week for four weeks. 

Workout 1

A1 Barbell flat bench press

1 6-Cluster    30X   30-40 Sec.   3 min.

A2 Parallel-grip pullup

1 6-Cluster    32X   30-40 Sec.   3 min.

B1 Barbell Sumo deadlift

3 5-7            402   None        2 min.

B2 Barbell military press

3 5-7            302   None           2 min.

C EZ-bar lying triceps extension

3 5-7            302   None           2 min.


Workout 2  

A1 Dumbbell one-arm preacher curls

4 6-Cluster  50X  30-40 Sec.   3 min.

A2 Seated eccentric single-leg curl

4 6-Cluster  50X    30 Sec.     3 min.

B Barbell hack squat

3 5-7       402  None          2 min.

C1 Hanging knee raise

3 12-15     302   None       2 min.

C2 Heel raise on leg press machine

3 12-15   302     None        2 min.

 Workout 3

A1 Dumbbell incline bench press

1 6-Cluster  32X    30-40 Sec.    3 min.

A2 Wide-grip lat pulldown to sternum

1 6-Cluster  22X    30-40 Sec.   3 min.

B1 Dumbbell parrall-grip shoulder press

3   5-7        302     None        2 min.

B2 Barbell wide-grip deadlift from blocks and shrug

3  5-7      402       None       2 min.

C Barbell close grip decline bench press

3 5-7          30X     None        2 min.

 Workout 4

A1 Dumbell incline hammer curl

1 6-Cluster  30X   30-40 Sec.       3 min.

A2 Dumbell semi-stiff leffed deadlift

1 6-Cluster 402    30-40 Sec.       3 min.

B1 Wide-stance leg press          

3 5-7        322    None               1 min.

B2 Leg extension

3 5-7      303     None                1 min.

C High-cable rope crunch on knees 

3 5-7      303     None                2 min.