I'm just going to be upfront and honest.
The process of getting strong enough to lift Thor's Mjolnir hammer but also shredded enough to turn heads like Brad Pitt in Fight Club won't be a walk in the park. Or a walk in any sense of the term. It's more or less going to be an all-out sprint that will test your will, spirit and ability to be physically prepared at all times.
As a matter of fact, if your training isn't already "legit," then I wouldn't recommend embarking on such a journey.
From here on out, I'm going to assume you are a seasoned lifter who's sick and tired of the ups and downs that come along with your traditional "bulking" and "cutting" cycles. That's exactly where I was a few years ago, and it's the reason why I developed the Strong and Shredded program.
At the time, I was competing in Olympic Weightlifting and going through a "bulking" cycle to increase my size & strength before an upcoming meet. After 12 weeks of heavy training and even heavier eating, I'd gotten myself up to 193 pounds, 23 pounds heavier than my usual weight.
It was the heaviest I'd ever been and the strongest I'd ever been, but I still wasn't "that strong" compared to the size that I gained, and I was more uncomfortable than anything when I was lifting. I felt slow, sluggish, out of breath and less athletic than ever before.
Like most level-headed, non-crazy, Type-A, entrepreneur lifters do, I decided to cut back down and get myself back to where I felt lean, powerful and athletic. All while subsequently losing the majority of my strength gains.
Yes, I know I could have managed my cut better to preserve my strength and slowly lean out over the course of 3-plus months, but that's just not me. When you have a Type-A, entrepreneur mindset, it's very difficult to do things half-ass or "slow." You usually go all-in until you reach the goal you set out to achieve.
I needed a new approach because the traditional "bulk" and "cut" cycling that is so common in the lifting world just didn't work for me, and it never did. That's how I discovered the Strong and Shredded approach.
I wish I could say this idea came to me in my dreams and I woke to work feverishly until it was done, but the truth is that it didn't. I simply sat down and outlined the various approaches I've used over the years to achieve different goals.
I went back throughout my own training history to break down the different training approaches that helped me achieve specific goals. I've always wanted to be someone who could do EVERYTHING. I want to squat 500 pounds, run a 4.4 40, clean twice my body weight and run a 5k at ease all while pulling off gymnastic moves and being ready for the stage at any moment. I know what you're thinking—Impossible. Well, I tend to have a knack for trying to prove that the impossible is actually "somewhat" possible, so I extracted the most effective bits and pieces from my previous approaches and molded them into what I call the Strong and Shredded approach.
Below is a breakdown of each portion of the Strong & Shredded approach in the order that you would find them in a workout. Brief examples are given for you to get a solid understanding how each section is set up and executed.
For years, I just lifted weights and never gave two thoughts to what I should do to "warm up" before hand. Well, after continuously experiencing the same aches and pains, I realized I should probably start paying attention to this whole warm up idea.
It's often described as getting your body "warm" before working it out, but I look at it more as a way to "prepare" your body for the action to come. The warm-up is used to groove movement patterns and activate the muscles you're going to need for the rest of the days work. It's an opportunity to work on achey joints and get some soft tissue work in on the tight areas.
A great example would of a warm-up for a lower body day would be 5-10 minutes of soft tissue work followed by 3 rounds of:
- KB Deadstop Swings x 10
- Mini Band Lateral Walks x 10 yds each
- Spiderman Walks with Reach x 10 yds
It's meant to be simple yet effective in getting your body ready for what's to come.
The Strength Approach
During the period of my training career where Olympic weightlifting was my sole focus, everything was about the numbers and percentages. Each training session was meticulously planned and forecasted for the long-term goals of increasing strength and performance. That point of my training career was the strongest I'd ever been, but I didn't necessarily look good, or at least I didn't look or feel the way I wanted to.
Simply put, hitting the correct numbers week in and week out will progressively move your strength forward. The hiccup I ran into was that running a business is stressful and creates an inconsistent schedule just about every day of your life, so I found that some days I would crush my numbers, and other days they would crush me.
There needed to be a way to accommodate the varying levels of stress, energy and fuel consumption in my life with my training.
Enter The Max Reps protocol.
The idea utilizing max reps at varying percentages through a workout was presented to me at the SealFit Performance Academy by an instructor who coaches elite athletes in Texas. Sure, I'd used Max Rep protocols as an intensity technique in my training and coaching before, but never as the staple protocol in a strength program.
The idea is that on any given day you're going to be able to exert slightly different outputs as well as experience different stressors and physiological states. So from a programming perspective, say your program prescribes you to complete 5 sets of 5 reps of Squats at 80% of your max on a given day. Some days, that will feel too heavy and you can't complete all the reps. But other days, it will feel easy and you felt you could've done more reps.
By utilizing Max Reps for your sets in your main lift, it guarantees that you're going to be performing at your highest output for that day and giving your body the stimulus it needs to elicit a change. Plus, there is also the mental toughness factor when knowing that you're about to Squat for an unknown amount of reps and will have to push yourself to the max.
Now just to be clear, max reps does not mean go to complete failure. The goal is to complete the maximum number of reps before "technical form" breaks down. When you start to lose your form, cut the set.
Trust me, for recovery purposes, you do not want to be going to failure on every set each workout. If you feel your form may break down on the next rep, you're better off just racking the weight instead of risking it.
Here is an example of a Squat Day using Max Rep protocol.
- Set 1 - 60% x Max Reps
- Set 2 - 65% x Max Reps
- Set 3 - 70% x Max Reps
- Set 4 - 75% x Max Reps
The Bodybuilding Approach
When I first got introduced to the world of strength training, I immediately became obsessed with everything Arnold Schwarzenegger. Naturally, my early days of training were consumed studying his training and the different approaches bodybuilders used to achieve a certain look. Over time, I learned how to sculpt my physique with a variety of bodybuilding training principles. I wasn't always that strong when I used these training methods, but I sure looked good, so I knew I had to include some sort of bodybuilding style training into this program.
Throughout the program, I call this portion of the training day "Refine," because that's exactly what bodybuilding is. It's about refining movements and the aesthetic appearance of your physique. This section is focused on higher volume work emphasizing functional patterns and targeted muscle stimulation.
A simple example of a "Refine" workout would be this superset:
- A1 DB Bench Press 5 x 10
- A2 DB Front Squat 5 x 10
The Shredded Approach
The final piece to this "new" training approach was to bring in a conditioning factor that would get me cut but also be functional in developing an aerobic base and increasing the lactate threshold. The "Endure" portion of the Strong & Shredded training method brings together the high intensity of metabolic conditioning and the aerobic endurance of longer duration workouts throughout the weekly training cycle.
The first style of conditioning is focused on higher intensity short-burst intervals to jack your heart rate up and take advantage of the physiological effect of post-exercise oxygen consumption. Which is basically science's way of saying you can continue to burn fat after the exercise session is completed. The high-high-intensity metabolic work is generally 15 minutes or less and is meant to push you to your limits.
The longer "Grinder" sessions are inspired by the work of Mark Devine and the team at SealFit with their development of stamina workouts in their "Op-Wods." These sessions are meant to be a continuous stream of movement with a heart elevated to about 70% of your MaxHR. What I love about this style of conditioning is that you not only develop aerobic/anaerobic endurance but you are also developing muscular endurance through a variety of functional movements.
The combination of these two conditioning styles over a train cycle create a beautiful synchrony of aerobic conditioning and fat burning results.
The Recovery Approach
When I first started training clients I quickly realized that the majority of people move like dog poop and have all sorts of aches and pains they are fighting with every day. This led me down the path of studying and researching mobility, soft tissue, release and corrective exercise. I spent my first few years of training experimenting on my clients with every trick Grey Cook, Kelly Starret, Eric Cressey or Mike Boyle could come up with to help them move better.
This quickly became my bread and butter when it came to showing a client how I could get them immediate results by making them feel better. It also became a staple in my training and as one who never used to warm up and thought stretching was "stupid," that was a big shift!
I realized that in order to continue to train at high levels, you also have to recover at high levels. If you don't take time to stretch, work on mobility and rest your body, it will force you to stop and give it the attention it deserves. Trust me, you don't want to go that route, because that usually comes in the form of a significant injury to nurse.
The end of each session is to be closed out with a short recovery circuit made up of mobility work, dynamic stretching and static holds to bring the body back to baseline before re-fueling.
Putting It All Together
Remember I said I've always had a problem with wanting to be able to do everything? Well, I guess you could say this is as close as it gets to training every modality possible. I've attempted to put together everything I love about training and what I feel is the most effective at getting results in each area.
The clients, coaches and athletes I've taken through this style of programming have had tremendous success with it but only when it is followed as prescribed and coupled with proper nutrition and hydration. Just like the training and recovery, if you don't give your body the nutrition that it needs then it will force you to stop and fuel it.
An example of a typical day would look something like this:
Photo Credit: Julianna Nazarevska/iStock
READ MORE FROM RYAN OBERNESSER:
- 23 Exercises Proven to Build a Muscular Chest and Enormous Arms
- 3 Exercises That Build Strong Back and Shoulder Muscles
- 3 Simple Tips For Pain-Free Squatting