Building Your Pull-up Strength
Q: "First, I am an ectomorph - 5'6" 120lbs. I have gained 10 lbs. since I started working out consistently for the past month. I have been doing pyramid split routines of 15-12-10-8 reps.
"I have noticed I tire out after the first few exercises. I have a question regarding your pyramid 10-8-6-15 training. I know it's best to have a rest day in between, but can it be 3 out of 4 days?
"My free days are Monday to Thursday. Could I do Monday, Tuesday, Thursday with Wednesday doing abs? Or either of those combinations between Monday to Thursday? Since it's a full body workout on each workout day, do I need to rest a full day in between?
"Another thing how much weight should I take off between set of 6 reps and set of 15 rep?
Example: Bench press
"Please help me. I really like this idea of training 1 exercise per body part."
My Answer: If you can only train Monday to Thursday, then I suggest you split the body parts in half and do 2 upper body workout and 2 lower body workouts:
Monday and Wednesday (chest, back, deltoids, biceps, triceps)
Tuesday and Thursday (quads, hamstrings, calves, abs)
Stick with one exercise per body part. As far as weight progression for your last set, drop the weight to slightly less than that which you used on your first set:
Q: "It's good to talk to you again. I took a break from lifting, and now I'm getting back into the mesocycle. My primary goal is to get lean, and so I've tried to do more cardio like treadmill running and limiting myself to a 2000-2500 calorie diet. I'm 6' and weigh 198 pounds.
"I was wondering if doing an 8x8 type of workout during my off days like the weekends can serve as a form of cardio? I love doing the Neo-Classical System even though its not primarily for weight loss, and I'd rather stick with that during the week. And is the purpose of the 8x8 exercises to achieve 64 reps on as few sets as possible on 8 exercises or to constantly maintain 8 reps for 8 sets for 8 exercises?"
My Answer: 8x8 requires that you perform 8 sets of 8 reps. It is an ideal program for both fat loss and overall conditioning. I have found it to be far better than cardio for fat loss.
HOWEVER, I would not perform 8x8 in combination with the Neo-Classical System, because you will surely overtrain. You're essentially running 2 different programs at the same time. I suggest you do one or the other, but not both concurrently.
Another option would be for you to use the 8x8 program as a 2 week density phase, then follow it up with a 2 decompression phase. In other words, do 8x8 for 2 weeks, then perform the decompression phase found in Strength and Physique Volume 2.
Q: "I'm a 19 year old engineering student, and I am an ectomorph. I was chubby as a kid, ran and slimmed down when I was 15, and I've been skinny ever since.
"My problem is I have little muscle, BUT I hover around 18% body fat. I've improved my diet (more veggies less pizza) but remain unsure as to my immediate dietary goals. I'm lifting on your pyramid program (getting much stronger) and eating often, but I'm afraid to eat too many calories, because I want less fat. What is your suggestion? Thanks!"
My Answer: I think you're still suffering from a poor body image. You still see yourself as the chubby kid, and I have a feeling your diet is poor. Keep eating lots of veggies, lower the starchy carbs and sugar intake and make sure you eat a lot of protein.
If you're suffering from body dysmorphia, then you might be restricting some needed calories. If you restrict the calories, then there's a tendency to restrict needed nutrients, such as protein. You need more protein to build more muscle, to build a bigger engine to burn the fat weight.
What I suggest you do is go to Fitday.com and sign up for a free account. Use the Fitday journal and record your meals. Fitday will break down your calorie and macronutrient intake. You will see it clearly in a pie chart what macronutrient profile you are eating from day to day.
Ideally, for simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain, you want all 3 macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs) to be equal. To get ripped and maintain muscle, then you should have moderate to high protein and fat, extremely low carb.
Q: "I read your article on building a wider back. I am pretty much new to bodybuilding. One of my roommates got me into it a couple months ago, and I kind of enjoy it. One of the exercises I really can't do are pull-ups, probably meaning my back is very weak. I can't do a single wide-grip pull up. I'll probably get 3/4 the way but will never get my chin above the bar. But I can do a couple of chin ups and narrow grip pull ups.
"So, I've been doing pull ups with some weight assistance machines in the school gym. Is there a workout plan you can set up for me? Because the 'shock techniques' you listed require pullups to failure, and my failure mark is right at around 3 or 4. I know, it's sad. I really hope I can see some improvement in my muscle hypertrophy."
My Answer: Don't do the machine assisted pull-ups. Do a pull-up as far as you can go, then have your workout partner assist you the rest of the way. Once you're up there with your chin above the bar, your partner will let go and YOU WILL HOLD THAT POSITION FOR AS LONG AS YOU CAN. Once you can't hold that position at the top, then lower yourself as slowly as possible. This will expose your back muscles to significant overload in the top range position, which is something your back muscles weren't getting because you could only do 3/4 pull-ups. Do this one set of one negative rep at the beginning of every workout.
And Jun: no I won't set up a program for you. I don't work for free. As a trainer, I can point you in the right direction, but it's up to you to do your homework in and out of the gym.