Think back to the first time you heard the word weightlifting. The term probably brought to mind images of curling dumbbells, bench pressing, and pumping iron until your veins popped out. But take a little time to flip through our workouts and you’ll realize that there are all kinds of ways to lift weights, for any number of end goals.
The term weightlifting is very specific, and if you want to sound intelligent in a room full of athletes or strength and conditioning coaches, you should know that it technically refers to the kind of lifting done by those guys you see wearing singlets in the Olympics. Olympic-style weightlifting involves every muscle in your body to move the bar at high speeds-usually lifting it from the floor to above your head-and it’s one of the best training methods there is for building sport-specific strength and power.
A more popular weight-training style is powerlifting, in which a trainee works to lift as much weight as he possibly can on the squat, bench press, and deadlift exercises. (Note: Eking out sets on the bench with poor form and weights that are too heavy for you does not constitute powerlifting.) Finally, there’s bodybuilding, in which guys train for maximum muscle size and leanness and then step on a stage in little more than a G-string in order to be judged on their progress. Bodybuilding training involves blasting each of the body’s muscle groups with ever-changing workouts to develop a muscular, aesthetic look.
While most guys lifting iron utilize just one of these methods, we don’t see any reason you can’t have your cake and eat it, too, combining all three for an athletic, strong, and awe-inspiring body. The following program is designed to deliver just that-the best results the whole of weight training can produce.
Except for the G-string part, it’s what most of us start doing intuitively from the moment we first pick up a weight. Well, sort of. Mindlessly repping out curls with a dumbbell can yield some decent size gains for a beginner, but to develop well-proportioned muscles, a true bodybuilder must train his whole body with a variety of exercises and intensity levels. Bodybuilding requires short to moderate rest periods between sets (no more than 90 seconds), and moderate to high rep ranges, such as eight to 12. You also need a good number of sets and a slow lifting tempo to exhaust the muscles and see that they repair themselves to become larger. It should be noted that in our program, you won’t be isolating any muscles (as many bodybuilders try to do). One reason is that, despite what our forebears on Muscle Beach may have thought, you can’t isolate a muscle-even raising one eyebrow requires a coordinated effort from several muscles. So why waste time trying? Another reason is that research has shown that the more muscle you work with a single exercise-and in one training session overall-the greater hormonal response you generate within the body that tells muscles to grow. That means greater gains and shorter workouts.
The point is to develop maximum strength, so you’ll need to use very heavy weights and longer rest periods (up to five minutes). As a result of the intensity of each set, you won’t be able to do many of them (you’ll thank us), so three sets will suffice. You’ll get plenty of work in on the squat, bench press, and deadlift, but since we know you’re not likely to start competing as a powerlifter, we’re not going to train you to peak in these lifts alone-we’ve tailored this part of the program to developing overall strength. However, notice Exercise 6 in Workout B (powerlifting day), as it will be the only exercise on that day that you won’t want to load up the bar on. This move is designed to develop great strength and stability in the hips and quads, which will improve your performance in all three styles of lifting. It will be particularly effective in preparing your body for the posture and core strength you’ll need to be a good Olympic-style weightlifter in Workout C. Start with an empty bar, and make sure you complete all your reps without losing your position.
If you played high school football or basketball, you’re probably already familiar with the barbell clean or one of its variations. It’s among the best exercises for total-body power, and it has been used for decades to make athletes more explosive in a number of sports. It’s also one of the flrst steps lifters take in preparing for the clean and jerk and the snatch-the two lifts contested in weightlifting competitions. The goal for the clean, as well as every other exercise in Workout C, is not to lift heavy but to lift with maximum speed, ripping the weight off the floor and/or thrusting it overhead. We’re serious about lightening the weight here, as too heavy a load will reduce the power you can generate. Ideally, you would use bumper plates (rubber weight plates that bounce when you drop the bar, allowing you to abandon a missed lift and land the bar safely on the floor) for this kind of training. Nevertheless, we’ve modified certain weightlifting exercises so that you can still reap the benefits of all-out explosive training without risking injury to yourself, those around you, or the gym floor. (You’ll make good use of a medicine ball, which you can fire into the floor without incident.) Because you’re moving so fast with these exercises, you won’t be able to do many reps; you should end your set when you can no longer maintain your rep speed.
Dave DiFabio is a strength and conditioning coach at Rutgers University and the owner of teamspeedfitness.com