The ideak M&F editors sent me, at first, seemed ludicrous—a 100,000-pound workout.
That’s right. One workout. A hundred thousand pounds of iron lifted. After rolling this idea around my brain, I realized there was no reasonable way I could embrace it—or recommend it.
For one thing, unless your name is Eddie Hall or Lasha Talakhadze (the gold medal–winning weightlifter at the Rio 2016 Olympics), you could end up in the hospital or even a body bag due to rhabdomyolysis, a condition that sometimes occurs after an extremely strenuous training session, which results in kidney failure and worse. In fact, if one of the coaches at my gym, Total Performance Sports in Malden, MA, ever programmed a 100,000-pound workout for a client, I would fire that coach. However, it is feasible for an experienced lifter with a good base of strength to lift 100,000 pounds over an entire week. What’s more, such a feat would not be just a silly stunt.
There are many benefits to lifting this much iron in seven days:
It will break up the monotony of your normal routine.
It will force a huge growth hormone release, which will lead to more size. (Here’s how: Your body has two large releases of growth hormone every day. The first is during REM sleep cycles. The second is after strength training. Literally lifting tons of volume can significantly increase your growth hormone production, therefore making you more jacked.)
You’ll amp up your strength due to the humongous amount of volume you’ll be heaving skyward. This is the sort of “break up the pattern” move you need every now and then to shock you out of a strength plateau.
It’s just an ambitious challenge to keep you excited about trying to hit a new goal. Remember that gigantic steak, the Old ’96er, that John Candy tried to finish in The Great Outdoors? This is kind of like that. But in iron form. In fact, if you’re able to complete this challenge, treat yourself to a giant steak.
During this week, you’ll probably notice that you’re starving. This is because your body is expending a ton of calories during these workouts. So take my advice: Eat! I suggest adding at least 25% more calories to your diet during this week. That’s a 25% increase, minimum. You may find you need even more calories. From carbs, especially.
Also, I should probably say a few words about volume here, just to make sure we’re all on the same page. The average recreational lifter does not typically calculate total volume lifted in his training session. However, the best competitive lifters do. And it’s rather simple to calculate. Your volume is the total amount of weight moved in each set, exercise, and training session. For example, if you squat four sets of five reps at 500 pounds per rep, then your volume per set would be 2,500 pounds (500×5), and your total volume for squats would be 10,000 pounds (2,500×4). To calculate your total volume for a workout, you simply add up the volume from each exercise in your training session. Easy, right?
But as you can see by the example, hitting 100,000 pounds of volume in one session would be extreme for even the strongest lifters. And as previously mentioned, even if you do manage to lift all that weight, you could face serious health repercussions afterward.
With that in mind, I have created two possible paths to 100,000 pounds for you. The first, for more advanced and/or stronger lifters, is a three-day plan. The second, for less advanced and/or weaker lifters, is a four-day plan. (Having said that, please don’t be offended by the term “weaker lifters.” Hitting this much volume in a week is quite an achievement, no matter how many days it takes you.) Both paths to 100,000 pounds will be difficult routes, fraught with pitfalls. Neither will be easy. But both are possible. Here’s how.
THE 3-DAY PLAN
If you can squat and deadlift at least 400 pounds fairly comfortably, then you should aim for the three-day plan. (If you can’t squat and deadlift 400 pounds, don’t worry. You can ignore the rest of this section— for now, anyway, until you get stronger— and proceed to the four-day plan.)
For this plan, we will split up the volume for the week as follows:
Day 1: Squats and accessory work: about 50,000 pounds
Day 2: Bench press and accessory work: about 25,000 pounds
Day 3: Deadlift and accessory work: about 25,000 pounds
ALSO: You will probably want to rest a day between workouts. In other words, if you do the Day 1 workout on a Monday, do Day 2 on Wednesday, and Day 3 on Friday.
NOTES: First, don’t worry that there are few isolation exercises in here. You will not shrink by skipping them for a week. You also will not need them. You are hitting the entire body with basic, compound exercises that you can do in almost any gym.
Now, what if you can’t quite handle the weights listed above? Simple. Drop the weights on the main exercise for each day (squat, bench press, and deadlift) and increase the weights and sets on accessory work to meet the volume. However, if you can’t comfortably squat 315 pounds, then you aren’t ready yet. But fear not! Instead of the three-day plan, you should opt for the four-day plan.
THE 4-DAY PLAN
For this alternative path to 100,000 pounds in a week, we will split up the volume as follows:
Day 1: Squats and accessory work: about 33,000 pounds
Day 2: Bench press and accessory work: 20,000 pounds
Day 3: Deadlift and accessory work: 25,000 pounds
Day 4: Overhead press and accessory work: 22,000 pounds
ALSO: You’ll want to rest a day between sessions. In other words, train Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.
NOTES: If you can’t quite handle the weights listed for the four-day plan, no problem. First, simply drop the weight on the primary exercise for each day and increase the weights and sets on the accessory work to meet the volume. (Also, figure out your weight amounts before going to the gym and write it down on a piece of paper or into your phone.) Second, gradually increase your strength by using the tips below.
What I don’t recommend is tacking on a bunch of other exercises to reach 100,000 pounds in a week. It’s important to keep this to just a few exercises. Adding in extra isolation work will force you to sit in the gym with a calculator instead of training. It may also be counterproductive, as the smaller muscle groups will be doing a lot of work and this extra output may lead to injury. This is a basic volume template with heavy compound exercises each day.
So there you have it. These workouts may look easy on paper. They’re not. My final advice is this: Eat and get extra sleep. You’re gonna need it.
HOW TO GET STRONGER
Getting stronger is simple, but it’s not easy.
To get there, you need to alternate between periods of volume and intensity, and to utilize deloads (lighter training) to prevent plateaus and injury while improving strength.
The advantage to a volume phase—which has the lifter work in the four- to eight-rep range with 75–85% of their 1RM—is that it better targets the muscles, as opposed to the central nervous system (CNS), the epicenter of your body’s functions. Performing more reps with lighter weight, especially with compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, will build strength by overloading the muscles without hindering your ability to recover. And that’s what the 100,000-Pound Challenge is: an extreme one-week volume period or wave.
Plain and simple: Volume makes you strong.
But you also need to add in waves of intensity—by lifting weight closer to your 85–95% of your 1RM for one to four reps—to target your nervous system to a much higher degree. Doing so actually trains your body how to recruit more muscle fibers, one the more fibers that are firing during the lift, the more weight you can toss around in the long run.
Recruiting these fibers is important because muscular contractions follow the All-or-None Principle, which states that a muscle’s motor unit contracts fully or not at all. So, teaching your body to recruit more motor units directly impacts your ability to lift more weight. In short, volume waves build strength and intensity waves display your strength.
Finally, deload periods allow your muscles and your CNS time to recover. They should last about a week. If you constantly train with high intensity and high volume, you will quickly plateau and most likely get injured along the way. Strategically planned deloads help to prevent this.
Deloads can be done in two ways. Straight deloads have the lifter use 65% of their 1RM for three sets of five reps, while volume deloads stay in the 75-85% range for two to three sets of fewer than five reps.
Both methods of deloads work well. I personally prefer volume deloads for my lifters at Total Performance Sports, as they allow my athletes to handle some weight without killing their nervous systems. This carries over better for the strength athlete and athletes from traditional sports (football, hockey, baseball, etc.). It also works well for more of your average Joe types. (A bodybuilder or recreational lifter may fare better with a straight deload, since the weights are lighter.)
Using waves of volume, intensity, and deload is effective for increasing strength because your body adapts and recovers differently to different stimuli. If you never change the stimulus, your progress will be stifled. By waving different periods (stimulus), you get a superior response, including an increase in strength and lean body mass, improved recovery, and a lower injury rate.
Alternating between phases of volume and intensity in two- to four-week waves, starting with volume and progressing to intensity, followed by a deload week, will consistently bring up your lifts.
Here’s an example of a Squat Wave:
Week 1: 5 sets of 8 at 75%
Week 2: 5 sets of 6 at 80%
Week 3: 5 sets of 5 at 85%
Week 4: 3 sets of 4 reps at 85%
Week 5: 3 sets of 3 reps at 90%
Week 6: 2 sets of 1 rep at 95%
Option A: Straight Deload
Week 7: 3 sets of 5 reps at 65%
Option B: Volume Deload
Week 7: 3 sets of 3 reps at 80%
After these seven weeks, retest your 1RM. If you’ve done the waves correctly, you can expect an increase in your maxes. Write them down, adjust your weights and numbers, and then repeat for another seven weeks.