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An Excerpt from Beyond Bodybuilding

January 24, 2005 02:51 PM

There are two kinds of vodka: good and very good. A simple Russian lad named Misha was too preoccupied with his thoughts to notice which kind he had been consuming. He scratched his head: why do automatic weapons have to be so complex and unreliable? Unburdened by formal education and too stupid to know that a more straightforward design was impossible, Mikhail Kalashnikov put together a weapon that would become the choice of many armies and most terrorists for years to come: the AK-47.

About the same time a poor boy, Paul from Georgia, came up with the Kalashnikov assault rifle equivalent in the iron game: Progressive Movement Training. Paul Anderson would do partial repetitions in the squat, with a weight he could not full squat. Over a period of time he gradually lengthened the movement until he worked his way down to parallel with a new record.

The science behind Progressive Movement Training and the results this method delivered were decades ahead of their time. It took generations of Ph.D. bearing geeks to clue in how PMT produced Paul Anderson's 1,200-pound squat sans powerlifting gear, a mark that will remain untouched way into this millennium. That might give you a hint why the hard to impress Russians called Paul 'the Wonder of Nature'.

Paul Anderson recommended to start squatting from a pin about four inches below the lockout, with a weight about one hundred pounds over your one rep max full squat. "I realize that this is a very light weight in comparison to what you can quarter squat with," admits Big Paul, "but this is part of the plan." Burning out on max singles is not.

Two sets of twenty to twenty five reps are performed. "I would say the secret lies in taking a lighter weight that you can do many repetitions with and just working it down that way." It is amusing that in his recommendation to do high reps in the Progressive Movement Training routine Paul again beat the science geeks to the punch. Much later Meyers (1967) discovered that the greater is the number of contractions, the higher is the transfer of strength to the untrained part of the exercise ROM.

Ironically, in Paul's day scientists did not believe that such carryover was possible at all. Strength gains were thought to be highly joint angle specific, that is limited to the exercise range at which you train (Williams & Stutzman, 1959; Gardner, 1963, etc.). Only a few years before Paul's death the lab rats caught up with his instinctive knowledge. The new generation of scientists realized that while most gains indeed occur at the specific training angles, there is a transfer to the untrained angles as well. In fact, most carryover of strength takes place in the range of plus-minus twenty degrees from the exercised angle (Knapik, Mawdsley & Ramos, 1983). By the way, the scientific term for Paul Anderson's method is neurological carryover training. It was coined by 900-pound squatter and Powerlifting World Record Holder Dr. Fred Clary.

Every three workouts ? once in three days for Paul, and once in three weeks for mere mortals ? lower the power rack pins three inches and knock off three reps. You may want to experiment with smaller drops, one or two inches. Anderson recommended one-inch sheets of plywood for precise movement graduation. It is not the only way. Paul's mentor and 'world's best deadlifter' Bob Peoples would pull his deads standing in a hole he had dug in the ground and fill it up with dirt as his strength grew! Peoples' deadlift was another remarkable success of neurological carryover training: 725 at 178 pounds of bodyweight in the days before steroids, speed, industrial strength powerlifting belts, and canvas underwear!

The heir to Paul Anderson, Bud Jeffries put the Progressive Movement Training back on the strength map.
Photo courtesy

Keep lengthening the movement and knocking off reps until you are down to two repetitions. Then take a few days off ? Paul himself rested for two or three days ? and try for a new personal best in the full squat. "I believe that you will find that you have gained quite a bit of strength during this drawn out Progressive Movement routine," promised the 'Wonder of Nature'.

When you are down to two reps, most likely you are not going to be all the way in the hole. Don't fret. Neither was Paul. Your max will still go up because you will have worked down to your sticking point.

According to Dr. Fred Clary, the reason you are not likely to get all the way down, is a sharp transition from one muscle group to another, at some point of the lift. "I have found that whether I be pressing, bench pressing, squatting, etc., I seem to have to change gear as the bar travels," admits Big Paul himself. "On the other hand, I have seen fellows who rammed a press to arms length or stood straight up with a dead lift in an almost sudden gesture, without any evidence of this "changing gears".

From my coaching experience I can tell you that the latter lifters are more likely to work a heavy partial into a full movement. Generally they squat with a wide stance. You will do yourself a favor if you get Bud Jeffries' How I Squatted 900 Pounds video from Watch Bud squat and deadlift: a smooth display of one-gear power.

I have observed that squatters with weak hip flexors have a hell of a time with graduated squats. This muscle group's job is to ensure tightness when descending the last two inches into the hole. When a bodybuilder with weak hip flexors reaches this depth with a bar bending weight, he just collapses. If that is you, learn to 'pull' yourself down into the hole with your 'situp muscles', before embarking on the Paul Anderson program. Rock bottom front squats would also come in handy.

Anderson and Peoples' unique program will work even better on the deadlift. It is easier to perform a shorter movement without 'changing gears'. To make neurological carryover training work on the bench, you must change your groove ? so the bar travels in a straight line from your sternum slightly towards your feet, rather than arcs toward your face. That will ensure that the pecs do not suddenly surrender the weight to the shoulders and triceps, but dominate the whole movement with constant assistance from the latter. You should also sort of push the bar from your elbows rather than your hands. It is a subtle point, but it will make a huge difference in the quality of your pec workout and the amount of weight you are going to put up.

These days there is an exercise far superior to the power rack bench press ? the board press. Lifters used to press from the pins set in a cage at the sticking point level. The problem was, unlike the deadlift, the BP does not start from a dead spot. So, even if one got stronger in the power rack, he did not always get a carryover to his regular bench groove.

A few years ago a so-called 'board press' has emerged from the powerlifting Westside Barbell Club in Columbus. Set a couple of boards, two, four, or six inches thick depending on your sticking point, on your chest. Lower the bar to the boards, pause while staying tight, and press back. The exercise has a feel very similar to the regular bench and thus has a great transfer of strength.

Champion bencher J.M. Blakley warns not to bounce the bar off the boards. He mentions another innovative cheating technique to avoid: letting the bar and the boards sink into the chest, then heaving the works up with a chest push. Treat the board press they way you should the conventional BP ? and you will do fine.

A direct grove will also benefit your one rep max because changing the direction of the movement with a maximal weight tends to stall it and lead to a failed attempt (Rodionov, 1967). As Nietsche put it a century earlier, "formula for success, a straight line."

By no means should you limit the application of neurological carryover training to 'big' compound exercises like the powerlifts. Because the same muscles start and finish the movement, in isolation drills like the barbell curl, you would do yourself a favor by applying the Progressive Movement principles to one joint moves as well. Start the graduated standing barbell curl in a power rack with a one-inch movement and work your way down. Make a point of keeping your abs tight and don't lean back. It helps to think of pulling yourself towards the barbell rather than the other way around.

Just like I said before, don't accept 'the full range of motion' as dogma. Try Paul Anderson's quantum alternative and you might leapfrog from a 500 squat to 550 without even bothering with anything in between!

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