Optimal Program Design For Muscle, Strength & Power

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Uncategorized

In part 6 of my interview with Craig we discuss how I set up programs in order to maximize muscle building, strength & power development, conditioning and overall tissue and joint health.

Craig Ballantyne: Can you walk us through a typical Renegade style training session. Is it always goingto be total body training with conditioning at the end?

Jason Ferruggia: More or less. We don’t really isolate muscles and every workout involves the total body. There may be an upper or lower focus on certain days but we are still using exercises and drills that involve the entire body for the most part.

Everyone gets in ten minutes early and foam rolls and stretches first before the dynamic warm up begins. I know some people are vehemently opposed to static stretching and believe that it’s unnatural and does nothing. They’re probably right. BUT… if you have a guy who can’t get into the bottom position of a squat without his lower back rounding, often times five to ten minutes of stretching the hip flexors and other tight muscle groups may be a quick fix. It’s not a long term solution and there are other things you should be doing to correct this, but if a little foam rolling and static stretching allows someone to squat correctly without going in to lumbar flexion I don’t see the problem with it. And when you only have 12-16 weeks to work with an athlete who is getting tested on squats you have to use quick fixes quite often and can’t always take the long term approach.

But, back to the question…

Like I said, we would use the foam roller for the IT band, quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, back, etc. Guys will do static stretching after that, if need be. Then we’ll get into a full body dynamic warm up, which will be some basic calisthenics stuff, some jumping jacks, seal jumps, flings, overhead squats, shoulder dislocations, some isometric poses and bridging type stuff. Just stuff to fire up the CNS and some muscle activation drills.

Then we’ll often start the majority of workouts with some type of movement efficiency drills or an explosive power exercise like a jump or a throw. I really like box jumps a lot, so maybe we’ll work up to a one rep box jump or do multiple sets of 3-5 reps. Other great jump variations are hurdles, broad jumps, vertical jumps and depth jumps for more advanced guys.

After that we will usually hit one big barbell exercise for maximal strength work, usually in the range of 1-5 reps. Over the course of many sets we will work up to a top end set for the day. This is not a true, death rep, grinding max, but a real solid, heavy set. The best you can do that day with picture perfect form and no breakdown in technique.

This is always hard to control because young guys always want to push themselves way too hard, way too fast. When you continually push too close to failure and go too heavy, allowing your form to break down while grinding out reps, you always end up getting weaker and/or injured.

This is hard to learn and something most people don’t want to learn. It usually takes someone making the mistake time after time and getting weaker and injured often for this to finally sink in.

Sometimes the maximal strength exercise will be done on it’s own or it will be part of a two or three exercise super set or circuit. For example, while working up to a top end set on a military press we might alternate that with sets of pull ups and maybe even glute hams as well. If we do the maximal strength movement alone we’ll hit the pull ups and glute hams and maybe some abs as a circuit with minimal rest afterwards.

And we almost always do a finisher. So after the strength training is done we might push the Prowler, drag sleds, do some burpees, do some battling ropes, or maybe high rep swings or snatches. Something like that for about 5-10 minutes, tops. This is a great way to get some conditioning in without having any negative impact on your size, strength or power gains.

If we have a typical skinny hardgainer whose primary goal is to get bigger and stronger we will skip the power exercise at the beginning and the finisher at the end. Their workout would usually just consist of a push, a pull and a lower body exercise. They’d hit a few good sets of each of those then go home. Although, in the age of ADD, sometimes you even have to add something else in just to keep these guys interested. It’s not in their best interest but they expect and want to be doing something a little crazy. Sometimes you have to walk the fine line of getting optimal results and keeping people entertained.

Like my friend, NCAA strength coach, Joe Kenn said, “In this day and age you gotta keep these fools engaged.”

Craig Ballantyne: Very nice. We haven’t really covered too much beginner stuff so I’m glad you touched on that. What are some tips you could give to beginners our there?

Jason Ferruggia: Again, like I said, they should stick with a very basic program consisting of three exercises- push, pull, lower body. Three exercises per workout is all they need. First and foremost, learn to control your own bodyweight. Get really good at bodyweight exercises. You should start with inverted rows, pushups, bodyweight squats, things like that. After a few months of that get proficient with the big exercises and master your form on presses, squats and deads.

I think everyone should learn the big, basic exsercises, and the best way to learn those is to do them three days a week for three to five sets of about five or six reps. You want to keep the reps low just because you learn technique better that way. When you do higher reps your form tends to break down.  Your stabilizer muscles tend to give out before the prime movers. You learn bad form that way.

And in the future, when you progress beyond the novice level, just make sure you always remember to pick stuff up off the ground, lift stuff over your head, carry heavy stuff and do bodyweight exercises wherever and whenever possible.

Also, always try to make PROGRESS at every workout. Try to do more reps, do more weights, or if it’s a bodyweight exercise move on to the next level. This doesn’t have to be every exercise at every training session, but over time you need to make consistent improvements. Just make sure you’re making progress from week to week or month to month.  A year from now, if you’re still doing the same weights, obviously you’re not going to get anywhere no matter what your goal is.

Craig Ballantyne: I like the advice of always trying to set the personal best in the training sessions and stuff like that. What about top three tips you would give for an ADVANCED person that’s maybe stuck at a fat loss plateau or something? Someone that’s not doing a real generic cardio workout, but kind of has a good idea of what they’re doing, but needs to really step it up.

Jason Ferruggia: If someone hits a fat loss plateau it’s usually diet related. If the diet is in check and every thing looks perfect that’s when I start doing some kind of carb cycling or calorie cycling. If you jack up their calories for a few days, that will kind of get their metabolism cranking again and get them out of that plateau.

If someone is stuck at a plateau, we might say “For the next three days we’re going to increase your calories by one and half times,” maybe even double.  You’ll find that they will actually lose weight.  Some rare people may gain weight for a couple days, but then during the following days after that, they will always lose weight.

So, something like that definitely helps. Going forward they may have to do that every 3-5 days, meaning that they will have to have a high carb, high calorie day.

As far as training goes, probably the biggest mistake an advanced guy makes, and I make myself, is never backing off.  You need to be smarter the more advanced you get. You have to listen to your body. You need to take more time off, take a planned week off here and there, cycle your poundages, warm up more, maybe use slightly higher reps.

These are things that sound counter intuitive for fat loss or not specifically geared towards fat loss, I guess. This advice is usually geared toward guys looking to build muscle and get stronger. But if you’re beat up in the gym and not making progress, you’re not getting stronger. In my opinion that’s going to hold your fat loss back because you’re not making any progress or performance gains. Remember, everything is based on improving your performance. If you do that everything improves. So you need to make sure that you’re not over training, you’re not over doing it, and you’re not being overzealous.

More is NOT always better. A lot of times, less is more. So, doing an extra ten sets in the gym is not necessarily going to get you leaner. You’re going to get leaner through your diet, through getting stronger, and through proper conditioning methods, which will involve sprinting or interval training.

You just need to be safe and be smart in the gym, otherwise that will hold you back. When you’re beat up you can’t train or if you can’t train optimally you can’t build muscle or lose fat optimally.

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