October 2003 archives

October 6, 2003

Westside videos arrive

Filed under: General

The Westside videos I ordered on 21 September from Elite Fitness Systems arrived today. My ever-helpful girlfriend Sanna volunteered to go get the package from the customs as I would have trouble getting there during opening hours due to my work schedule. The customs slapped an additional 22% tax plus handling fees on top of the 124 euro (145 US dollars) I paid for the Bench Press Workout, Squatting Secrets and Deadlift Secrets videos with shipping. The total came down to 156 euro (182 US dollars). As for shipping speed, the order was stamped as shipped on 26 September.

I hope to get my hands on a VCR on Wednesday or so, after which I will likely post reviews of all tapes. Apart from a review of the Westside Seminar Videos at T-mag I haven’t really seen any good in-depth reviews of Westside tapes available online. I don’t promise mine will be good, but at least they will be in-depth.

I will be back in action on Wednesday, when my long week of rest ends. I believe I will have some interesting experiences to relay in the weeks ahead as the videos are likely to make a big difference in my understanding of how to train Westside-style.

Speaking of videos, there are some good clips of Westside training online. Good places to start are:

Joe Skopec’s Powerlifting Heads Up! Videos: Video clips of many Westside assistance exercises such as box squats, good mornings, JM presses and rack lockouts.

Ano Turtiainen’s training clips: Ano occasionally posts clips of some lifts in his training log at gometal.com (look for the hyperlinks in the workout notes).

If you want to see a fairly interesting trailer of famed German powerlifter Harald Selsam’s new workout (”Dirty Harry’s Workout”, in German) it is available in two sizes here.

October 8, 2003

Raiders of the Lost Arch

Filed under: Workouts

First workout after my rest week. Felt it was time to improve my bench PR, with my eyes set on 90 kg/199 lbs, i.e. a 5 kg/11 lbs improvement over my pre-China max and 10 kg/22 lbs more than last time I went for a max in mid-August.

When push came to shove, I did indeed get a new record despite having built up a fairly sizable sleep deficit during the last few days (which won’t be helped by the fact that I’m about to watch 5 hours of Westside videos tonight). I totally lost the arch and it felt like I had zero leg drive, but up it went (92.5 kg/204 lbs didn’t). My immediate bench goal now is to break the 100 kg/221 lbs barrier, which is likely to happen fairly soon as I expect the Westside bench workout video to teach me a thing or two about proper bench form.

Incline benching after the bench max didn’t feel very good, with my elbows flaring out sideways like sails trying to catch a maximum amount of wind. Unfortunately, the wind factor was negligible on this particular occasion (this is no Cape Horn). Left them to one set.

Now an announcement in the novelty department: did some shrugs. I am seriously thinking about incorporating a few sets once a week as grip work (as usual no straps) to further overload my grip. Today, 90 kg/199 lbs was already taking its toll on my grip after having done seated rows for four sets of 15 reps. Will probably quite progressively keep piling on the weight on the shrugs as I get used to the movement (it’s been many years since I shrugged, then I worked up to sets of about 180 kg/398 lbs with straps).

Before I press play, I would like to take this rare opportunity to announce that I have new training pants. So what? Who cares? Well, the only reason I’m mentioning this is that I have been using the same Platinum Everywhere pants for at least the last seven years. After having gone through countless sweat-wash cycles the logo is still pretty sharp and non-faded, while the fabric has retained its feel and the waist band is still very responsive. If it wouldn’t be for the fact that the Platinum pants are now pretty tight at the waist, I would have very little reason beyond the call for some variety to buy new ones. I guess I only wanted to say that these pants have gone beyond expectations as far as quality goes. I have no experience with the newer line of Mike Christian’s clothes, but if they are still as good as back in the early 1990s they are definitively worth every cent. Let’s see if my new Better Bodies pants last as long. Now, play.

ME Bench, 8 October 2003

5 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
5 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
3 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
1 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
1 @ 90 kg/199 lbs
0 @ 92.5 kg/204 lbs

Incline bench: 3 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
Seated cable row, close-grip: 4x15 @ 90 kg/199 lbs

15 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
6 @ 90 kg/199 lbs

Rope pressdown: 12,7 @ 50 kg/111 lbs

Captains of Crush:
6 @ I
12 @ Trainer

Total training time: 53 min

October 10, 2003

Too lazy to stand: seated good mornings

Filed under: Workouts

Tried seated good mornings for the first time today after the normal speed boxes. Despite the rest week my lower back has been slightly stiff, so I did not feel the urge to see how much iron I can move in this compromising position. Sets of 15 at 40 kg/88 lbs were a suitably light introduction to the movement. I did mine sitting on a bench as shown in the Westside Deadlift video, although they can also be done sitting on the floor. In the Louie Simmons FAQ, it is noted that this exercise should be treated with some caution as it puts a lot of strain on the disks. Don’t think I will ever max out on this one, but it is nice as a lighter variation of the standing good morning.

Not much else to report. Read the source.

DE Squat/Deadlift, 10 October 2003

Speed box squat, 13″: 8x2 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
Seated good morning: 3x15 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
Knee-ups in leg raise machine: 3x12
Spread eagle sit-up: 3x12
Seated calf raise: 4x9 @ 70 kg/155 lbs

Total training time: 42 min

October 12, 2003

Review of Westside Barbell Squatting Secrets video

Filed under: Reviews

Squatting secrets coverProduction year: 1993
Running length: Slightly over 1 hour
Order from: Elite Fitness Systems for $29.95

As this review is written, it over a decade since the first official Westside training video, Squatting Secrets, was released in 1993. Westside being the innovative and living system it is, it is no small wonder that a lot of things have happened since then, such as relying less on kneeling squats and starting to calculate box squat percentages from the actual competition record instead of from the box max. Still, the foundation remains and this video is an excellent gateway to the Westside system.


The video begins with Louie Simmons setting the Westside Barbell methods into context by introducing his Elite and World Champion Squatters through pictures on shelves at the club. This gives the viewer a good idea what had been achieved by the club by 1993.

Proper and improper squatting technique

Next, Chuck Vogelpohl enters the stage to show proper and improper squatting form with Louie explaining the do’s and don’t’s in the background. Louie emphasizes that a correct squat is essentially about pushing back against the bar preventing it from forcing the upper body down, i.e. arching the weight up instead of pushing it up with the legs. Proper technique boils down to pushing the stomach hard against the belt and driving the knees apart on descent, then coming up by pushing the chest out and driving the head into the bar. The shins are kept vertically straight throughout the movement. As a result the bar pretty much moves straight up and down without the all too common forward dip. Louie explains that keeping the feet pointed straight forward will allow more power to be generated from the hips, although it makes breaking parallel somewhat more difficult.

Chuck then demonstrates three common mistakes: carrying the bar too low, pushing the knees forward and pushing with the legs first instead of arching the back.

This 5½ minute section alone should be worth much more than the modest price of the tape for people who haven’t gotten their form down. For myself this turned into a big revelation, and I did finally understand concretely how the box squat will teach you proper squat form by sitting back. In essence, the form for the box squat is the same as that for the normal squat.

Box squats

Now turning to box squats, Louie begins by briefly touching on the history of this foundational Westside movement. A very interesting detail is that the box squat was originally known as the “rocky box squat” in the 1960s due to the fact that the lifting shoes with elevated heels then in vogue forced the lifter to rock back and forth to generate enough momentum to actually get off the box. The completely flat soled shoes used today allows the lifter to come straight up, while moving the stress off the quadriceps to the actual squat muscles (hip, lower back etc.).

Louie and Chuck then show a useful technique for teaching beginners how to box squat. Many novice lifters have difficulty continuously sitting back on lower boxes without at some point dropping straight down. To cure this the trainee begins by squatting off a high box. When he has good form an inch is pulled off the box forcing him to sit back further. Once his form is good at this level another inch is taken off, and so on until a very low box height is reached. When squatting with proper technique, form will actually improve the lower the box. This is because lower boxes force the lifter to sit back more and will put more stress on the hips and buttocks. Thus, Westsiders prefer to squat off fairly low boxes.

Continuing to cater for the budding box squatter (although Matt Dimel used this method to break the 800 pound squat barrier), the four box levels are introduced. Chuck first does reps off his 17 inch/43 cm high box, where Louie says one should be able to handle about 10% more than one’s maximal squat. He then proceeds to a parallel box (15 inches/38 cm), then to just slightly below parallel (apparently 13 inches/33 cm) and, finally, to a very low box. A beginner would use this cycle to first build up to a max on the high box, then drop some 50 lbs/23 kg for each lower box (naturally, with low weights smaller jumps should be used; I think Louie is just giving an example of what weights commonly need to be deducted).

Capping off the discussion about box squats, hassock squats, or soft cushion squats, are introduced. An original Simmons invention from the early 1970s, this box makes the lifter sink in without a solid base making it tougher to get off and hitting the muscles differently. The hassock would usually be trained for three or four weeks and then either a new max would be attempted or the box switched to a hard box of the same height for another three or four weeks. Since the hassock squat more closely resembles a competition squat than the box squat, it is especially used a few weeks prior to a meet.

Usually 65-80% of the box max would be used in speed box squatting, with Chuck doing 8 to 12 doubles with loads in the 70% range and 6 to 8 doubles if using weights in the 80% range.

Power good morning/arched back good morning

Now 22 minutes into the video, the focus is switched to the arched back good morning. Simulating the beginning and end of the squat, this movement is done in pretty much the same way: push the knees and buttocks out and arching the back while bending over close to parallel with the floor and then coming back up. The feet width should be the same as for squats. Sometimes the lower position would be held for 4 seconds to train the static contraction needed when squatting heavy. Adding to his previous gems, Louie notes that Mike Bridges’ squat basically was an arched-back good morning which broke parallel. Finally, he talks about the importance of strong hips and obliques (heavy side-bends are the ticket).

Hassock squat workout

Next an actual filmed dynamic hassock squat workout is shown featuring Mark Borda and Chuck Vogelpohl doing 465 lbs/210 kg and 505 lbs/229 kg respectively with a cambered bar. To increase muscle tension short rest periods (45 seconds to 1 minute) are used, which makes it possible for two people to finish a squat workout in less than 20 minutes.

The workout opens with the Guns N’Roses track Welcome to the Jungle echoing through Westside Barbell Club. Matt Dimel and Louie are changing weights and shouting encouragements for the two lifters who take turns in the rack. The training pace is indeed very fast; Louie and Matt hurry to change weights, then immediately the lifter is changed and the bar gets moving for an explosive double. By the time Welcome to the Jungle is finished Mark has done 4 sets and Chuck 3 sets, in less than four minutes!

AC/DC’s Highway to Hell starts to come out of the speakers. If there are any signs of fatigue it is not from the lifters but from the tape viewer watching set after set fly by. If you like to be stressed out, try viewing the workout with fast forward!

After just under 12½ minutes both lifters have done a total of 10 sets, the last set with heavier weights (Mark 505 lbs/229 kg, Chuck 600 lbs/272 kg).

Special exercises

A variety of special exercises used to build up the squat are then presented. First up is the belt squat, which is done to hit the quadriceps pretty much neglected by the box squat. Done on deadlift day, this movement is done with a weight hanging from a special hip belt that puts the weights in front of the body (a dip belt will not suffice!). Standing on a platform to allow the weights to hang straight down, the trainer performs a normal squat. According to Simmons, a normal working weight for a 700 pound/317 kg squatter is 500 lbs/226 kg for five reps! Handle squats, a variation of the belt squat where the weights are held from handles, are then shown.

Next squats in an isokinetic machine are demonstrated by Mark Borda at two different force meter positions. This is followed by Louie demonstrating pull-throughs done for the glutes (bent legs) and the lower back (straighter legs, heavy forward lean). Louie says to use sets of 10 to 15 reps with heavy weights.

Moving on to abdominal training, Louie first shows heavy side-bends (or side deadlifts) which he recommends for strengthening the obliques (weights up to bodyweight are used at Westside). The controversial sit-up is then discussed. As Louie puts it, crunches are safe, but “most exercises that are perfectly safe don’t have much use for strength”. Crunches leave out the hip flexors, which are precisely what need to be developed for lifting heavy iron. If the back hurts while doing sit-ups it is simply because the back is too weak. Straight-legged sit-ups on a flat bench with a lower pulley are shown, both in a dynamic and static form (where the movement is held for 6 seconds at the top for 5 reps).

Louie then turns to a discussion of different forms of leg raises, including hanging, lying and bent and straight-leg leg raises (the last two shown in a leg raise rack). To alleviate a stiff back caused by squatting, Louie recommends doing hanging leg raises with the toes touching the bar on every rep. Since the lower abdominals are harder to develop, leg raises should always be done first in an ab workout.

Taking a sudden unexpected move, Louie proceeds to hit himself over the stomach with an iron pole to help the abdominals contract individually and build up the abs for pushing out during the squat. Not only looks impressive, it sounds impressive too!

In between exercises how to use knee-wraps are discussed and how to wrap them for a lighter man (figure eight crossing) and heavier men (straight around). At Westside, knee wraps are only used in meets, never in training. Louie also very briefly talks about erector shirts.

Partner assisted neck bends while lying on a flat bench are then introduced. A strong thick neck is essential for heavy squatting since, as mentioned, the neck must be driven into the traps on the ascent.

Next Chuck reappears, now in the power rack. He demonstrate high bar squats with a moderate stance (to increase the pull in the deadlift), short-range good mornings (to strengthen the beginning and end of the squat), straight-legged good mornings (for hamstrings, buttocks and lower back) and bent-legged good mornings (which simulate a conventional deadlift and is great for building great erector strength). Chuck then demonstrates the Zercher squat, which is basically a squat with the bar held in the crook of the elbows. Louie explains that this exercise is great for teaching people proper squat form. Kneeling squats (for the hip flexors) are then shown, which Louie claims will in combination with the Zercher squat (for the abs, hamstrings and glutes) easily put 50 pounds on anyone’s squat and deadlift. Then safety bar squats are shown, which Louie says are potentially detrimental for the shoulder and knees but a great tool to build a very strong back.

Now stepping out the rack, Chuck does a few reps of the variety of partial deadlifts similar to Olympic power pulls. This exercise is credited for having helped Matt Dimel squat 1010 lbs/457 kg for a world record. This movement build the glutes and hamstrings while taking out much of the stress on the lower back.

Next exercises on the calf/ham/glute machine are shown. The first one is back raises, which in America are commonly known as “hyperextensions” (the European name is used since the back should never be hyperextended). The second exercise is the calf/ham/glute raises, which involves raising the upper body up from the bench by essentially performing a leg curl. At Westside about 100 lbs/45 kg is used on this exercise attesting to how difficult it is to perform even one rep. Lastly straight-legged sit-ups are performed (aka hyper sit-ups [note: the pictures behind this link of the zercher and sit-ups are taken from the video])

Matt Dimel’s box squat workout

After a short summary of some important points and a warning about psyching up in workouts (should be saved for the meets), the last minutes of the video is dedicated to the dynamic box squat workout of Matt Dimel. At a bodyweight of 390 lbs/176 kg at 6 feet/183 cm, Matt prefers to take two minutes between sets. A 13 inch/33 cm hard box is used for four sets at 630 lbs/285 kg, one set with 670 lbs/303 kg and finally a set with 705 lbs/319 kg. As Louie says, the speed is essentially the same on all reps in spite of the weight raise. AC/DC seems to be the big guy’s workout music of choice. Despite his size, Matt’s form seems flawless.

Shaky bench

Filed under: Workouts

Unlike last workout my bench felt strong and on track. Inspired by Westside training videos, I was now taking a little shorter rests between sets and it felt like I could even use a little heavier weight (we’ll see). Got the inspiration to try stability ball dumbell bench presses. The gym was pretty empty, so this seemed like the ideal moment to make a fool out of oneself. Turned out they were more stable than I thought, so no emergence exit with dumbells through the mirror. I could definitively feel the difference both in stability and chest pump compared to a flat bench (the chest is really arched up on this one). This exercise rocks!

After the usual, I tried doing Tate presses lying down flat on the bench. Many moons ago, I did them on a slight incline. Doing them flat made it a lot easier to maintain proper form (dumbells touching throughout the movement) and felt better. Whatta lower tricep burn! Need to get back to doing these. Would be nice to get back to JM Presses as well, but I want to see this done on a video before I take out this lower tricep torturer.

Ooops! Forgot to train my biceps. Bet they will shrink like crazy… not.

DE Bench, 12 October 2003

Speed bench; wide, medium, close: 9x3 @ 55 kg/122 lbs
Stability ball dumbell bench: 12,10 @ 24 kg/53 lbs
Pulldowns, wide-grip:
3x10 @ 95 kg/210 lbs
8 @ 95 kg/210 lbs (lost my grip)

Kneeling one-handed rear delt cable flye: 12 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
Seated cable L-flye: 2x14 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
Lying Tate press: 2x12 @ 12 kg/27 lbs

Total training time: 46 min

October 13, 2003

Shopping for boards

Filed under: Handiwork

Wednesday will be the day when I finally introduce the board press into my workout. Alas, no board presses without boards. Time for board shopping!

Located a lumber yard close to work by browsing the yellow pages (the web is not everything yet, being computer-oriented I tried there first until an older colleague reminded me of the existence of the old fashioned phone book). Since Dave Tate recommends using 2x6 inch boards that are 14 inches in length, this is what I asked the lumber guys: “hi, do you have any 2x6 inch boards?” Although inches are often used when talking about nails and such, Finland basically follows the metric system. What I got was 4.8 cm x 14 cm (1.9x5.5 inches). Good enough.

What wasn’t good enough was the fact that they refused to sell me anything less than an uncut board. The boards being 6 meters/9.7 feet in length I had some concern about how I would get them home, not having a car glued to my behind. Bought the whole thing for 17 euro (almost $20) and had it sawed into three pieces. Threw them on my shoulder and walked close to a kilometer to the nearest bus stop (for some not so inexplicable reason, lumber yards insist on being located in the middle of the woods around here). Once the bus arrived I hoped the driver would let me in. He did, although he must have thought it over since these pieces were long enough to put a dent in the roof. Getting off the bus, I took another long walk home with my new board friends. There is something slightly out of place with walking around in an urban milieu carrying a load of boards over the shoulder. Seemed like it wasn’t only me and the bus passengers who thought so.

Since I had a load of boards, I decided to make separate one boards, two boards, three boards and four boards by nailing individual boards together (as opposed to just getting four pieces that could then be stacked on each other as needed). Therefore I needed a total of 10 boards. Since anything thicker than a two board is pretty thick to hold on to, I made one of the boards in both the three and four boards 18 inches/45.7 cm long so they could function as handles if need be. Found some heavy duty nails perfect for nailing the boards together with. After some work it was time for vacuum cleaning the balcony, now thoroughly covered in saw dust. Behold, my new boards! With ever increasing frequency I am wishing I had a digital camera. Hope you have a vivid imagination.

Found a big bag to pack all of them in. Well, big enough. Although they were sticking out they were at least mostly in the bag. Left the unused pieces of board behind me and headed for the gym with my bag. Once I arrived it was already too late for my ME Squat/Dead workout (possibly just as good, as my lower back was still somewhat sore), but at least I got my boards in position next to the power rack. Wednesday on my mind. See you then.

October 15, 2003

Of Benches and Boards

Filed under: Workouts

After six sets of board presses, I must say that I like them. Felt different than I had expected though. Although superficially similar to pin benching in the rack, board presses actually have a completely different feel. Even though the boards are fairly hard you are still benching on top of your normal arch, which gets to support the whole load. Furthermore, the boards are not rigidly welded to the chest, but actually tend to dip forward towards the head a little as the whole weight of the barbell transfers to the board. This makes it feel like the bar is actually sinking into the boards despite their inherent hardness. And of course, you have a spotter breathing down on you (thanks!).

Did not quite know what to expect weightwise, but had a feeling I might end up at about the same weights as my current max bench. Indeed, 95 kg/210 lbs didn’t go although it wasn’t that far off (went up halfway and got stuck). Currently I have the same flat max as two-board max, 90 kg/199 lbs. Next week I plan to go for a three-board max, which I expect to push a little heavier weights on (hoping for at least 100 kg/221 lbs) if I can get someone to hold the boards for me. I’m not quite ready for this setup yet.

Like on Sunday, I went for stability ball dumbell benches and the lying Tate press. I don’t know how smart it was to do the same movements just a few days apart, but I just felt like this was what I wanted to do. Added some reps and weight on both.

ME Bench, 15 October 2003

Wide-grip board press, two-board:
3 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
3 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
3 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
1 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
1 @ 90 kg/199 lbs
0 @ 95 kg/210 lbs

Stability ball dumbell bench: 12,11 @ 26 kg/57 lbs
One-handed dumbell row: 4x8 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
Lying Tate press: 3x10 @ 14 kg/31 lbs
Standing one-handed side delt cable flye: 2x20 @ 10 kg/22 lbs

Total training time: 61 min

October 17, 2003

Reverse hypers with my only dress belt

Filed under: Workouts, Rehab

My back soreness refuses to leave me alone. It was probably a mistake to do seated good mornings last Friday with a stiff back adding fuel to the fire and preventing it from recovering. I’m pretty sure I don’t have a back injury, unless it has disguised itself as a persistent slight training ache. I have no problems bending over and no problems standing straight in the morning, but enough of a sore back not to do balls-to-the-walls deadlifting.

The standard thing to do with a sore or injured back is, of course, reverse hypers. With no hyper machine at the gym, I was lucky to find Kevin Veit’s description of a home made setup, which involves running a belt around each leg and through the holes in the plates to secure the weights between the legs. Having dragged enough custom equipment into the gym of late, I don’t think I will start building my own reverse hyper machine just yet…

After doing my standard speed box squats concentrating on arching the weight up, I ignored Veit’s warning about not taking “my only dress belt” and headed upstairs for the hyperextension machine. Had to put 20 kg/44 lbs plates under the thing to get enough space off the ground for my legs. Then tied a 10 kg/22 lbs plate sandwiched between two 5 kg/11 lbs plates to my ankles with the belt and mounted the bench holding on to the feet rests. Worked great, although I discovered that you indeed need to strap the weights tightly unless you like them jumping up at the top when doing explosive reps (trying to hold on to them by pressing your legs together is not very enjoyable). Did 5 sets of 12 and then ditched the plates for a burning 50 reps. If my lower back is still sore on Monday, I will ditch the ME exercise in favor of several sets of reverse hypers and ab work. Repeat until ready for a new max deadlift.

Briefly rewinding back to the speed box squats: forgot to mention last week that I have now started to periodize my box squats according to a sheet taken from Sakari Selkäinaho’s Westside manual in Finnish.

Week 1: 8x2 @ 65% of box max
Week 2: 7x2 @ 70% of box max
Week 3: 6x2 @ 75% of box max
Week 4: 5x2 @ 80% of box max
Week 5: 3x2 @ 80-90% of box max

This workout was week 2. Hopefully I will have gotten rid of all my lower back problems after week 5 so I can go for a new max.

DE Squat/Deadlift, 17 October 2003

Speed box, 13″: 7x2 @ 75 kg/166 lbs
Reverse hyper, belt:
5x12 @ 20 kg/44 lbs

Seated Calf Raise: 3x7 @ 80 kg/177 lbs

Total training time: 37 min

October 19, 2003

Power cleans and tricep extensions à la Westside Barbell

Filed under: Workouts

Followed through on last week’s thought and bumped the weight up 5 kg/11 lbs on the speed bench. Will not be going any higher before I get a 100 kg/221 lbs bench. Basta.

Watched the Westside Bench Workout tapes with a liberal amount of fast forwarding to get to dumbell triceps extensions and dumbell power cleans. In fact, these exercises occur in several of the workouts presented on the tapes so finding them is not very hard. Unless drunk. Which I wasn’t.

I’m going to break with personal tradition and stop calling triceps extensions for french presses. The latter name is not precisely descriptive… Furthermore, the Westside style of doing dumbell triceps extensions differs somewhat from standard bodybuilding fashion where the elbow is supposed to be kept static (preferably with the upper arm slightly towards the head to keep the tension on the muscle throughout the movement). The Westside school of extensions dictates that the upper arm be pretty much vertical at the beginning of the movement until the dumbell is lowered so it hits the shoulder. At this point the elbows are moved back so the weight dips further and the tension is increased on the triceps. Then the dumbell is powerfully pressed up to lockout ending up with the upper arm vertical again. It is not surprising that people accustomed to bodybuilding style isolation-rules type extensions wonder about the amount of elbow movement Louie sports on the tape. Here’s how Louie has described the movement in one of this articles for Powerlifting USA:

Hold the dumbbells with the palms facing each other. With the arms straight over the chest, lower the bells by bending at the elbows. Lower one end of the bells until they touch the delts. Then rotate the elbows upward and back over the head. This will place tremendous tension on the part of the triceps that connects on the inside of the elbows. Without dropping the elbows too much, extend the bells. The rep range is 6 to 12. About 60 total reps seem to work well. It’s up to you whether you do multiple sets with the same weight or work up on each set. You can do these lying flat, on a decline or incline, or even standing up.

As a tricep extension newbie I was content with a total of 24 reps before moving on to four sets of pulldowns before doing another first-timer: Seated dumbell power cleans. The cleans are basically about sitting down on a suitable object (I like my box) with a dumbell in each hand, then shrugging the weight up and back, and lifting the bells up to a ninety degree bend in the elbows with the upper arms parallel with the floor, rather like upright L-flyes. Like L-flyes, these too are heavy: 8 kg/18 lbs was ample weight for two sets of 10.

After rembering to train biceps I headed home, where I got a nice shoulder and lower back massage by my honey Sanna. Life is good.

DE Bench, 19 October 2003

Speed bench; wide, medium, close: 9x3 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
Lying dumbell triceps extension: 2x12 @ 14 kg/31 lbs
Pulldowns, wide-grip: 4x10 @ 100 kg/221 lbs
Seated dumbell power clean: 2x10 @ 8 kg/18 lbs
One-handed dumbell rear delt flye: 2x12 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
Lying cable curl: 3x8 @ 70 kg/155 lbs

Total training time: 49 min

October 20, 2003

Punishing the back in the name of rehab

Filed under: Workouts, Rehab

My lower back was feeling better today, but still somewhat sore deep down. With wisdom hardened by limited experience and a master plan in my brain pocket, I was not one to fall for the lure of the “easy ME exercise that will not tax my back to the max”. Hence I pulled out my belt again and did reverse hypers in place of my ME exercise. Followed up with some ball crunches (this is no time to prove the “no back pain following sit-ups” theory correct) to stretch the spine and finished with some direct hamstring work to avoid strain on the lower back while giving the hams something to think about. After the reverse hypers my lower back was pretty fried. In a couple of days I will know if it this is to be regarded as a positive statement or as a plunge into darker pains.

Speaking of rehab: my shoulder is still not a 100%, but massage and the avoidance of harmful movements have led it to become a non-issue. I still take it somewhat careful though until I stop feeling it altogether.

Now for my healing sleep.

ME Squat/Deadlift, 20 October 2003

Reverse hyper, belt:
5x15 @ 20 kg/44 lbs

Ball crunch: 4x30 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
Flex hamtractor seated leg curl: 4x6 @ 122 kg/270 lbs

Total training time: 44 min

October 22, 2003

Piling on the boards

Filed under: Workouts

Added another board under the bar, today going for a three-board max bench. After ending up with the same weight as my bench max dangling on the two-boards last week, this was the time I would break the 100 kg/221 lbs barrier. Piled on the plates in standard fashion. All sets felt really light and 90 kg/199 lbs went up smoothly. I had no doubt 100 kg would too. Imagine my surprise when it too decided to stick to the boards instead of soaring up like a seagull. Same max regardless of whether regular bench, two-board or three-board… Either I’m not used to stopping the motion at various points in the middle or then my sticking point is at three-board height. Either way, it feels stupid to bench as much off the chest as from 6 inches/15 cm above the chest. Granted, I could make the standard excuses about sleep deficits and being pretty non-explosive today, but that won’t help much. Read my lips, this will be rectified!

Between sets I was approached by a fellow who asked me why I bench off boards. Not in the are-you-stupid-or-something way, but with genuine interest. After I gave him a short explanation he asked if the boards were specifically made for the purpose. “Yes”, I told him, “there’s actually a set from one to four boards in the corner”. Nice to have someone take my board gymnastics seriously. Ironically, there is a big stack of free copies of the latest issue of the Finnish bodybuilding/powerlifting magazine Bodaus available at the gym which carries an article on board pressing by Sakari Selkäinaho. I bet half the gym thinks that’s where I got the idea. The other half is just silently wondering.

After the less than glamorous board presses, I went for close-grip benches. The first set was pretty non-explosive and a little out of groove as it felt strange to suddenly go all the way down. The second and third sets were much better. Even better than my triple with the same weight some three weeks ago. Yay! … or something of the same magnitude.

Freshly elected governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dave Tate got to close the curtains: Arnold presses and Lying Tate presses took my delts and triceps home.

A quick lower back update: the massage and reverse-hypers had cleared up most of the soreness by yesterday morning. There seems to be some hope that the remaining slight soreness will have dissipated come next max effort squat/deadlift workout on Monday. Dumbells up for that!

ME Bench, 22 October 2003

Wide-grip board press, three-board:
5 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
5 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
3 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
1 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
1 @ 90 kg/199 lbs
0 @ 100 kg/221 lbs

Close-grip bench: 4,5,4 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
T-bar rows, chest supported:
4 @ 65 kg/144 lbs
3x6 @ 55 kg/122 lbs

Standing Arnold press: 2x8 @ 20 kg/44 lbs
Lying Tate press: 3x10 @ 14 kg/31 lbs

Total training time: 55 min

October 24, 2003

The sky is not the limit on reverse hypers!

Filed under: Workouts

Continued the squat cycle by raising the weight and lowering the sets. Next week will be 5x2 @ 85 kg/188 lbs and then the cycle will be finished with 3x2 @ 90/199 lbs or 95 kg/210 lbs.

Did some lightish pull-throughs, for the first time with bent legs to make them less harsh for my recovering lower back. Hit my glutes hard. My abs are still quite tender after the weighted ball crunches on Monday. Taking “make tender what is not” as my motto I whirled back and forth in the twisting ab machine, again going fairly light.

Continued my reverse hyper rehab program. Made a sandwich out of two 10 kg/22 lbs plates with a 5 kg/11 lbs plate in between. This time I got the belt set up perfectly for total ankle comfort. I was about to again finish with 50 reps without extra weight, but then suddenly realized that this might indeed hyperextend my back (which should never happen on either this or the back raises). Without any weight to stop the upward motion it is very easy to swing the legs too high; indeed, this is precisely how it looks on the tape from my ME Squat/Dead session in June. You simply don’t get the same acceleration when you tie 25 kg/55 lbs around your ankles.

Come to think of it, it is ironic that Louie favors the name back raises for the exercise commonly known as hyperextensions since the latter implies that the back should be hyperextended, but at the same time he patented his machine as the reverse hyper machine (not reverse back raise machine, which actually yielded a hit on google groups). Perhaps this has historic reasons (such as machine name established as the reverse hyper before he started disliking the name hyperextension). Interestingly, the Squatting Secrets video, where I saw Louie’s statement on the hyperextension, was released the same year as the reverse hyper machine was patented (1993). Am I missing something here or just being a terminology fanatic?

DE Squat/Deadlift, 24 October 2003

Speed box squat, 13″: 6x2 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
Pull-through, bent legged: 3x10 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
Twisting ab machine: 2x15 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
Reverse-hyper, belt: 5x10 @ 25 kg/55 lbs
Donkey calf machine: 3x10 @ 165 kg/365 lbs

Total training time: 51 min

October 26, 2003

Lower arch on the bench

Filed under: Workouts

Appropriate for a bench day, I started reflecting on my arch today and whether it might have something to do with my lower back problem. Could it be that my high bench arch is contributing to the stiffness by being too severe? I do arch as high as I can comfortably go while keeping the upper back and butt on the bench, which does hyperextend the back quite severely. Add some leg drive and a barbell and presto, lower back pain follows?

After watching my newest Westside video purchase, Bench Press Secrets, I could not help but like Louie’s comment not to worry about the arch too much (I am an arch hater remember?). He goes on to say that too severe an arch will basically just lead to lower back problems and that what is important is getting the weight down on the upper back. Indeed it is a defining feature of Westside lifters that they don’t use an extreme arch, as noted by Keith Hobman in a misc.fitness.weights newsgroup post:

Note that the Westside lifters don’t use an exaggerated arch with the feet
underneath them. Instead they drive their traps into the bench and push
back into the padding with their feet. This also takes the pressure off
the scapulae and shortens their stroke.

Lower back torturer or not, it seems to follow that I should consider lowering my arch all the same. I did just that today on my speed bench. I won’t know how it really feels until I load heavier weights on the barbell, but my preliminary reaction was that I felt more stable on the bench. And less like someone showing off his stomach. I will try sticking to my somewhat lower arch for a while to see how it goes.

As for the workout: it was okay. The speed bench felt good, despite the fact that I lowered the bar a little too fast once resulting in a fairly nasty bounce. After seeing the JM Press performed on the Westside Bench video I did those again (basically, the bar is lowered in normal fashion but to a spot between the nipples and the chin and stopped a few inches off the chest - see this video clip courtesy of Joe Scopec).

Did my pulldowns with a close-grip (v-bar) for a change. I am usually stronger on these than wide-grips, but today it wasn’t that simple and my optimistic weight selection required a couple of downgrades. Tried rope pulls to the head for the rear delts in the Seated cable row pulley. The low starting position made the finishing position look like the dumbell power cleans I did last week. L-flyes and alternate dumbell curls followed.

The equation for tomorrow seems to be Sore Lower Back + ME Squat/Deadlift day = reverse-hypers with belt. Sigh.

DE Bench, 26 October 2003

Speed bench; wide, medium, close: 9x3 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
JM press: 3x6 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
Pulldown, close-grip:
4 @ 110 kg/243 lbs
6 @ 105 kg/232 lbs
2x8 @ 100 kg/221 lbs

Seated rope pull: 2x8 @ 30 kg/66 lbs
Lying L-flye: 2x7 @ 8 kg/18 lbs
Standing alternate dumbell curl: 6,6,5 @ 22 kg/49 lbs

Total training time: 54 min

October 27, 2003

Pizza fuels low box PR

Filed under: Workouts

A pizza and movie evening was scheduled at work tonight. Knowing that I would be hitting the iron later on, I downed a liberal amount of pizza at 4pm. Standing under the bar 5 hours later I was perfectly satisfied.

Despite having predicted another reverse-hyper session yesterday and despite a somewhat stiff lower back, I simply had to see some action. I thought I would be sensible and go for a five rep max on the low box squat. As the sets progressed I felt pretty strong and not too much troubled by the lower back. Decided to go up in weight a little. Since my previous max from September 1st, 90 kg/199 lbs, was no trouble I added more weight. And then some more. And then some more. The final 105 kg/232 lbs was tough, but I made it. Equaling my previous 13″ box max, it is a pretty good indicator that I have a good new 13″ max in me. A new max on that height is scheduled after two or three weeks when I shall have finished my current speed box cycle, provided my back doesn’t complain too loudly over this workout of course…

To settle unfinished business with the power rack, kneeling squats were next. Went for a 10 rep max by pyramiding the weight up. This was only the second time I have ever done these. 110 kg/243 lbs was what I had in me today.

Thank you Mr. Tuna Pizza for a nice workout! Post-workout first aid fuel consisted of an ABB Mass Recovery shake. Yummy!

ME Squat/Deadlift, 27 October 2003

Low box squat, 10″:
5 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
5 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
5 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
5 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
3 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
1 @ 90 kg/199 lbs
1 @ 100 kg/221 lbs
1 @ 105 kg/232 lbs

Kneeling squat:
10 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
10 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
10 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
10 @ 90 kg/199 lbs
10 @ 100 kg/221 lbs
10 @ 110 kg/243 lbs

Kneeling cable crunch:
20, 14 @ 90 kg/199 lbs

Total training time: 62 min

October 29, 2003

Leave my butt out of this PR

Filed under: Workouts

Wanted to do close-grip rack lockouts, but to my dismay the rack was taken by a squatter. Perhaps he indeed needed it more than me, as he was going heavy and knocking on failure’s door. A good time to go for floor presses in the powersmith.

My best powersmith floor press dates back to early June just before going to China for a month: a double at 90 kg/199 lbs and a single with the ass off the floor at 92.5 kg/204 lbs. Last time I did them I could only muster a 90 kg/199 lbs single with butt lift-off. Today I did a solid 95 kg/210 lbs in good style for a new PR.

Once a carpet always a carpet. Did my triceps extensions lying on the floor. The dumbells are lowered in normal fashion until they rest on the floor allowing the arms to relax, then the weights are exploded to lockout as explosively as possible. Unlike the “normal” tricep extension off a bench, this trains the triceps to contract explosively as the muscle tension is released in between reps (comparable to relaxing on the box squat). Got this one off the Bench Press Secrets video. Between sets, the same guy who asked me about board presses wondered whether it is better to do extensions on the floor than on the bench. Nope, just different.

For the first time direct front delt work was part of my workout in the guise of dumbell front raises (a name I now like better than front delt flyes - for consistency’s sake I will have to go back through my blog and change all side delt flyes into side raises as well). In my previous lifting years I have never done any direct front delt work, simple because my shoulders are proportionally large in comparison with neighboring muscle groups. Following the motto “everything is weak” I am going to pump some power into those little buggers.

And oh yes, my back is doing quite ok, thanks for asking. Indeed, it felt much better after my heavy squat workout than before. Perhaps the high bench arch really is the culprit (I hope).

Whoa! That was a lot of links in today’s post. Better make up for all the internal links by providing some external substance: go check out the Metal Militia crowd’s site. It has some nice video footage of huge benches and articles explaining their approach to benching. Now, I’m not a shirt bencher, but I find their basic template of a raw bench day and a shirt bench day interesting. Plus, there’s a good article on bench technique by Sebastian Burns (incidentally praising the virtues of a high arch).

ME Bench, 29 October 2003

Powersmith floor press:
5 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
3 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
3 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
1 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
1 @ 90 kg/199 lbs
1 @ 95 kg/210 lbs

Floor dumbell triceps extension: 6x5 @ 16 kg/35 lbs
Seated cable row, parallel grip: 5x8 @ 100 kg/221 lbs
Dumbell front raise, alternate: 2x12 @ 14 kg/31 lbs
Dumbell side raise: 2x10 @ 14 kg/31 lbs
2 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
10 @ 40 kg/88 lbs

Total training time: 56 min

October 31, 2003

Déjà vu

Filed under: Workouts

Did the same workout as last Friday, except adding either reps or weight on all exercises. Pretty much a cut ‘n’ paste operation.

Had tired ‘n’ sloppy legs after the low box 105 kg/232 lbs max on Monday, causing my first two sets to look close to max sets. Got into the explosive groove on the third and got the bar moving faster. Next week will be the last installment of this cycle, after which I think I will go back to doing a few weeks of box squatting at the lower end of the 65-85% of box max continuum. Hopefully my box max (13″/33 cm) will then be at least 110 kg/243 lbs.

My triceps are fried from Wednesday’s ME Bench workout, probably thanks to the hefty six sets of floor tricep extensions. They still got a few hours to think it over before Sunday’s DE Bench. Think! Think!

DE Squat/Deadlift, 31 October 2003

Speed box, 13″: 5x2 @ 85 kg/188 lbs
Pull-through, bent legged: 3x12 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
Twisting ab machine: 2x15 @ 45 kg/99 lbs
Reverse-hyper, belt: 3x12 @ 25 kg/55 lbs
Donkey calf machine: 12,10,10 @ 165 kg/365 lbs

Total training time: 47 min