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  • Method Encyclopedia III. Base Methods

    By Puma

    In this part of our cycle we will make a significant turn. We will go straight to the beginning. To the very roots of every other training methods – to the canonical big quadro from which everything else evolved. Meet maximal effort, repeated effort, submaximal repeated effort and dynamic effort. Read and learn the very basics which must become the daily bread and butter of every novice bodybuilder. Neglecting any of these will result in the big lag. Don’t want to be big but slow? Big but weak? Strong but small? Want to be strong, muscled, dynamic, endure and on the optimal road called “no staleness”? Just figured out that something is slowing your progress? Read and analyze the subject from the view point of top modern scientists.

    As every part of our encyclopedia, this time too, we will support our practice on recognized authorities and books. We will base our article around “Science and Practice of Strength Training” written by Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky and William J. Kraemer. This book got a cult status – like “Bible” for the athletes. Both authors are aces in their fields of science and both represents theoretically two previously competing teams – so called “East” and “West”. Such a mixture must result in something big. And it is big – every page is worth the price. We strongly encourage you to by this book. Looking at your training from real science point of view is very helpful and refreshing. There is other thing. It’s new “tradition”. Coaches fight each other using “SPST’ed” strategy. Often for the show, not so rarely over interpreting what is written there. Some time ago it started little madness on few sites. So it is best to read it by yourself, take your notes and know it by your own –what is there, what is not, what is an assumption and what is 100% fact.

    Base methods

    Every method worked at every gym, from New York to Tokyo, from Madrid to Moscow, from Paris to Warsaw ,from Berlin to Beijing, Sydney, Istanbul and every other city in the world come from four base training methods. These methods are so called basics that should be mastered in beginner level in order to even thinking about going up with progress and experience. You must realize – most bodybuilders, athletes, weightlifters, power lifters – fail at these point. That’s why there is a limited group of experienced trainees compered to beginners. Especially it’s visible in bodybuilding – which is not treated as a sport in many countries. That’s where for most of bodybuilders the “journey” ends, or worse – starts the roid’s road. There is no solution other than master them and understand how to properly implement their usage in exercises per every phase /mesocycle/ yearly cycle.
    Let me be clear with you – novice should stick solely with them for the first year of training. Don’t even touch anything more complicated. Analyzing the success story of every better than average built intermediate bodybuilder you will find that sticking and exploiting basics to the very end of optimize progress is the key to progress as the natural bodybuilder. Every method of those four if optimally used, goes with emphasis of one key aspect and treating less intense the others [that is simplification, but will stick with it for the good of novices].

    Submaximal Effort Method

    It can be described as standalone method, supplementary method or abbreviation of repeated effort. The execution is simple. You are performing number of sets in intermediate number of reps using nonmaximal load. What does it mean? Here is an example:
    John can squat 100 kg as his best 10 RM.
    If he performed squat with 80 kg for 10 reps, that mean he did intermediate number of reps. Why ? Because he still got many reps left to accomplish before failure point. The whole idea of submaximal effort method is to avoid training to failure. That mean more work done with less nervous system draining. Other name for most know type of solution for SEM is “same weight set”. Most known promoter was Vince Gironda. He advocated that it is the best way to work with muscles if aesthetic body is our goal. There are many rep/sets system that use SEM, probably the sky and mathematics are the only limit. 3 x 15, 3 x 10, 6 x 6, 8 x 8, 10 x 10. Every time the same weight. Weight progress from training to training only – and only if we managed to accomplish previous training shy of failure.
    This method used as standalone is designed as muscle hypertrophy one. There is a big list of pros, and of course big list of cons – it all depends on the goal.

    Ideal for learning new exercise – submaximal weight grant you the ability to safely perform exercise, learn the pattern, try it many times.
    Ideal for building work capacity – increasing work capacity is good thing in order to build muscle. Endurance comes too in package.
    Ideal for mind muscle connection – having reserves of energy gives you opportunity to perform exercises using squeezing of the desired muscle, changing the bar trajectory to further emphasis specific motion or muscle group.
    Ideal for Time Under Tension manipulation – as above. Reserves gives you flexibility to easily manipulate the time of positive and negative phase of lifting. That is especially wanted in proper cycle planning.
    It’s a very good supplementary method for every other base method.

    Overusing [especially mono using] in prolonged time can lead to decrease of acceleration in exercises which will result in more visible sticking point in heavy movements and slowly but progressively lowering your 1 RM.
    It’s a hypertrophy method with ability to progress in load in week-to-week basis, but it is believed by modern scientist that is not fatiguing the motor units with highest endurance times in trained rep range. That is a drawback in mass/strength relation.
    It is a little bit worse muscle builder then repeated effort method – but remember that in SEM you can perform more work with less CNS drain.

    Properly implemented in your programs, based on periodization, mixing with other types – is one of pillars of mass gaining. Most commonly used was in times of Gironda, later gain a little bit bad fame, but still in wise man hands can do wonders as a standalone method. As a supplementary method– probably you use it every time even not knowing it.

    Repeated Effort Method

    It is the most known, famous, commonly used method around the world. Where ever you go to the gym – most of people will be performing reps to failure. We must grant it. It is the best method for maximal hypertrophy but got few painful limitations, that we cannot put it as “the winner” allowing us to forget about other methods.
    In REM you perform reps to failure. And here start the biggest mistake of nearly every novice [frankly because of ego – we should write “everybody”, not only novice]. For example to perform 10 reps in REM style you do:
    First, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh [little harder], eight [little harder], nine [harder], ten [hardest] and stop – after this point you reach the failure. 10’th rep is not the failure point, failure occur after 10’th rep. Most people do 9 good reps plus one totally full body. That’s wrong. That is other method – cheat rep – which is very CNS demanding. Knowing that REM is CNS demanding by itself –you don’t have to by scientist to know that this smell like “plateau” and “injury” if performed regularly.
    As stated before – REM corrects SEM flaw – this time you work with full wide corridor of motor units. Training in 10 reps zone equals fatiguing MU in 10 zone.
    Repeated effort grants you the possibility to work with high volume. Used in intelligent way can be used regularly on training basis, combined with SEM via periodization and good planning can be nonstop progress machine for isolation and accessory movements.
    But please – use your brain when designing sets. Typical going up pyramid 15/12/10/8/6 where every set is finished in failure is the best mass builder ever BUT used only in one phase of mesocycle, not in every exercise at the time. And that can often be too much too. Use it in such combination as the big bang method at the end of important aggressive mass mesocycle, not every time you finish something. We can often see in bodybuilding press workouts with 20-30 failure points a day. Do you think your body can handle this regularly ? Overused will always lead to staleness and overtraining.
    There is nothing wrong in fighting to the bitter end on every workout if your body at the moment is in “proper” state– but not in every set of every exercise in every possible rep zone! In fact – to progress after initial level you must go out of comfort zone, sweat a little bit more but the difference between intermediate lifter with well muscular level and intermediate lifter with week muscular level [frankly – still novice cause he didn’t learn his lesson] is knowing how and when to limit yourself.
    Repeated effort method closed the list of basal direct noticeable hypertrophy methods. Yes, that’s true. Other methods [in strict style] don’t lead to comparable level of hypertrophy in direct mode. We can say stronger - hypertrophy in them is only small, least important byproduct. But the indirect way makes them absolute must if you want to progress in muscle mass and strength at optimal, safe and fast way.

    Maximal Effort Method

    That is the thing most people talk about most of the time. What is your 1 RM in bench press, in squat etc. etc. We must state – it is for beginners. But not for absolute freshmen who just started bodybuilding. Proper technic and muscle, joint, skeletal condition is required in order to avoid injury.
    Contrary to popular believe MEM is not only 1-3. 1-3 RM is maximal effort in movement, 4-8 in muscle target. You can easily translate it as “warning, isolation movements are not designed to be worked in 1-3 reps zone”. Most often it’s true [why not always – you will read at other articles].
    The main gain of Maximal effort is superior strength gain and adaptation to motion [via intra and intermuscular coordination]. Remember it is not direct hypertrophy method. It is possible to train all year round using these method in 1-3 range, gain 100 pounds on every major heavy movement AND NOT GAIN any major body weight increase. So, why use MEM ? Because strength from major lifts is transferable to secondary lifts. Increasing 1 RM in bench press will transfer to increase in incline press. You just need to implement good routine which will use your strength gain and move it to other exercises in other rep ranges.
    Using this method with methods described before in good periodization manner is ultimate goal to achieve if you want to be big and natural.
    But there are few things that must be remembered. You can’t always beat real personal best records in every exercise week to week. It is possible at the very beginning of the approach, but when you reach your real top PB – it will ruin your progress – CNS will fry. Keep a safe percentage distance from real PB or use “go as much as your body feels that day” rule. There are different ways to perform it in good fashion.

    So, we got hypertrophy, strength, is it all ? Nope, one very important factor is left.

    Dynamic Effort Method

    It is based around developing explosive strength and rate of force. Directly if used as standalone, in pure form, with no other assistance it will not build any visible muscle poundage. It will build some in very long term, but every other method is faster than DEM. So, why even bother ? There are few reasons.
    - Overusing of pure hypertrophy methods [TUT, mind muscle, squeezing and other factors] will decrease your explosiveness if bodybuilding is your only major sport activity.
    - Every heavy lift, for every body frame got sticky point. U can overcome it with faster weight acceleration [ force equals mass time acceleration ]. Of course you can do it other way around, but at the end you will always reach point when bar acceleration is limiting factor.
    - Use of fantastic overall body builder exercises – Olympic lifts.
    In proper periodization and routines planning, bigger strength = bigger muscles. Add to those : better explosiveness = bigger strength and you got the full equation.
    In case of pure, average natural bodybuilder there is no real need of constant fight for explosiveness except 2-4 phases of dynamic target. But if you want to gain muscle faster and more efficient, use gym not only for look, but for power too – use 1-2 explosive movements in every routine.


    And that is all. End of canonical methods. Every other method is abbreviated from these four. Nothing more, nothing less. If you want to be natural bodybuilder and still progress – you must wisely use all four, not only hypertrophy ones. There is a place for everything in your cycles. Do not limit yourself. Drug free trainee must use more diversity then his steroid “cousin” from the gym.
    Think of natural bodybuilding as of four track highway. You know your direction is hypertrophy, but often you will see obstacles – slower cars in front of you [plateaus], you must bypass them and choose another track [strength], but sometimes that track got obstacle too [sticking point], so you bypass it too by another track [explosiveness]. Just remember what is your main focus as a bodybuilder and everything will be alright – don’t be scare to use other track too!

    Image: Stefano Valle / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. os_girl's Avatar
      upps mistake....
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