Meathead Power: Using Olympic Lifts & Power Exercises to Boost Muscle Growth
By Evan Clark, NSCA-CPT
BULK SEASON BABY!
Like all of the winters in my short life, the winter of 2011-2012 was a bulk season. I ate more, lifted heavier, watched Arnold and Ronnie Coleman videos on repeat, and of course gained weight. A meathead at heart, I carried out this bulk season right through spring following a traditional bodybuilding/hypertrophy split: legs on Monday, chest on Tuesday, back on Thursday and shoulders on Friday. I did not perform many isolated arm movements besides a few triceps exercises at the end of chest day and bicep and forearms exercises at the end of back day. I made some decent gains in both strength and mass for the first few months as I continued to crush ze iron.By the end of spring, my progress had stalled. I would not say that I hit a complete plateau as I was still making small gains and switching up exercises to keep some sort of variation in my workouts. However, my motivation was low and I needed a change. And let me tell you…change felt good.
More Plates = More Dates: A New Approach
I jumped on board with some buddies that were starting a new program focused more on a combination of Olympic style lifting and explosive strength movements rather than traditional bodybuilding movements (though we still hit plenty of the basics). The primary goal was to gain strength and add some variety to the lifts and rep ranges I had been performing. The workouts would start with high weight and low repetitions while the latter half of the workouts would usually be lighter weight and higher repetitions, thus combining strength and power movements in each workout.
I’m ashamed to admit I had not incorporated more power movements or experimented with lower rep ranges in my workouts in about a year, but after one week my technique was back and I started feeling the benefits almost immediately. Getting back into cleans, snatches, and low repetition squats was like riding a bicycle. However, this bicycle was powered by explosive movements, protein, muscle, hard work and dedication, more protein, hard rap and metal playlists, screaming “Yea buddy!!!” in the squat rack, and the strength and will of the great American buffalo. Needless to say, gains were made and my motivation to hit the gym was at an all time high.
For six weeks, I gave up the common bodybuilding split routine and followed a workout focused on Olympic lifts and power movements. The program changed for weeks 4-6 but maintained the same principles. After those six glorious weeks, I had put on three to four pounds of muscle and boosted my lifts substantially (about 5-10% depending on the lift). To verify the gains in muscle mass, I had two fellow diesels measure my body fat percentage with calipers before and after the program. I grew from 178 lbs fasted to 184 lbs fasted while maintaining 7.8% body fat (allowing room for error as calipers are not the most accurate of tests).
After I finished this six-week program, I went back to a bodybuilding/hypertrophy style program to see how the change had affected my numbers. The benefits were immediately obvious. I put up more weight, was more explosive, had great stamina and was still screaming, “Yea buddy!” in the squat rack. My muscles felt firmer, my quads felt thunderous, and my high fives would leave a weaker man’s hand in agony.
The following is the program I followed for the first three weeks of the “power program”:
*Note: 6×3 means 6 sets of 3 repetitions; exercises listed together are performed as supersets.
Box Squat 6×3 @ 225-275 lbs
Weighted Pronated Grip Pull-ups 6×5 + 24kg kettlebell
Barbell Hang Clean into front loaded lunge 6×4 @135-165 lbs
Suspended Pushups 6×10
Barbell Front Squat 3×12 @115-135 lbs
Toes to bar leg raises 3×20
Goblet Squat 1×25 @ 32kg
Floor Barbell Chest Press 6×3 @ 205-245 lbs
Seated Cable Row 6×8 @150-180 lbs
Dumbbell Chest Press 4×8 @ 80-95 lbs
Neutral Grip Pull Ups 4×6 @ body weight
Kettlebell Swings 5×10 @ 44 kg
Barbell Bench Press 5 x 8 @185 lbs
Kettlebell Bent Over Row 5 x 8 @ 32 kg
Wednesday (Active Rest) – Foam rolling, hip mobility, and protein tub curls.
Barbell Deadlift 6×3 @ 225-275 lbs
Sled Pulls/Drives 6xlots of weight that hurt a lot
Kettlebell Farmers Walks 4xlap around floor @ 32 kg/hand
Rack Pulls 4 x 3 @ 295-315 lbs
Hanging Leg Raises 3×10
Kettlebell One Arm Swings 3×15 (each arm) @ 24 kg
Bent Over Barbell Rows 6×3 @ 135 lbs
Planks 3x 1:20
Friday (Overhead Press)
Standing Barbell Overhead Press 6×3 @ 135
Weighted chin-ups 6×6 + 24 kg kettlebell
Kettlebell Snatch 4×10 (each arm) @ 24 kg
Muscle Ups 4×5
Kettlebell Clean 5×8 @ 24 kg
Cable Rope Face Pulls 5×10 @ 40lbs
Barbell Hang Cleans 10×3 @ 135-175 lbs
Barbell Snatch 6×3 @ 75-135 lbs
Sunday – NFL Red Zone Couch Potato + maybe some active rest
All in all, I have decided to alternate between 6 week programs like the one listed above and classic hypertrophy programs. I love the explosive movements and am really getting into Olympic lifting. I still love some of the classic “bodybuilding” exercises and I’ve found that alternating 6 week blocks in each program allows me to capture the best of both worlds. It’s no secret that one of the keys to achieving continued gains is switching up your routine as the shock to the muscles and nervous system encourages growth in mass and strength. Give the above program or something similar a shot for 6-8 weeks and watch your muscles, enthusiasm for the gym, and number of dates grow. Embrace change, even if it’s just switching the flavor of protein powder.