Note From Katie: Please welcome Marcus of Lift, Drink, Eat for this guest post. This is the method of training I’ve been doing in my Training for Strength program, and I’ve seen great results from it (deadlifting well over 200 lbs!). He also explains Carb Cycling, which can be a great way to make sure your hormones don’t suffer from going low-carb and it gives your muscles the maximum benefit of any carbs you eat (and you can still do it grain free). Welome Marcus!
Reverse Pyramid Training
Reverse Pyramid Training, or RPT, is considered by many, including myself, to be one of the most effective training methods for putting on muscle and/or strength with the least amount of time invested. When training for strength, you need to limit volume due to the high intensity of the sets. Since you are typically working with 70-90% of your 1RM (1 Rep Max, the maximum amount of weight you could lift a single time), each set is very taxing on your central nervous system. For this reason, low rep RPT is usually limited to one or two main exercises per workout, with the other exercises performed in a less intense fashion. Furthermore, a de-load week, a week where you reduce the weight to approximately 80% of normal so that the body has some extra time to recover, is usually done every 4th week (i.e. push the weights for three weeks, then spend a week taking it easy). To help illustrate a RPT strength workout, below is a sample back workout.
The workout is started with everyone’s favorite exercise, deadlifts, done in a RPT fashion. You’ll do 2 sets, with 4-6 reps per set. For the first set, go all out, BUT do not go to failure. You should rarely, if ever, go to failure due to the risk of burning yourself out as well as regressing in strength. Once you finish your first set, drop the weight enough to be able to do an extra rep (i.e. if you did 4 reps, decrease the weight enough that you can do 5 reps, usually about 10%). Rest approximately three to five minutes, and then do another set stopping before failure. You should be out of breath after each set, especially with deadlifts. Rest five minutes, then move onto weighted chins. Again the rep range will be 4-6; however, this time you’re doing three sets. Just like deadlifts, the first set will be max effort, stopping just before failure. Weight will be dropped by about 10% between each set, and the rest interval is three minutes with a five minute break after completing the exercise and moving onto bent-over barbell rows. For this exercise, the Starting Strength method will be employed, in which you take your 7RM weight (the amount of weight you could lift 7 times before failure) and attempt to do three sets of five (always stop before failure). Once you are able to achieve five reps for all three sets, you increase the weight by 2.5%.
Progression of exercises done in RPT fashion should be done as follows: once you reach the upper end of a rep range, increase the weight by 5% and work back up. The individual sets should be progressed independently. For example, if you can easily get six reps on your second set of deadlift, then increase the weight for the second set on the next workout by 2.5-5%.
The split I have found to work the best is pull, push, legs done on either Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday (you need a day of rest between each workout and at least two days between the pull and leg workouts due to deadlift). The only exercises done in RPT fashion (with max effort on the first set) are the big compound lifts: deadlift, weighted chins, bench press, and squats. The exercises that are not designated RPT or SS should be completed with about 2 reps short of failure. The following routine proved to be very effective during my last cut, enabling me to retain if not improve strength while on a caloric deficit.
Deadlift – 2 x 4-6 (RPT)
Weighted Chins – 3 x 4-6 (RPT)
Bent Over Barbell Rows – 3 x 5 (SS)
Preacher Curls – 2 x 8-10 (Optional)
Wednesday – Push
Bench Press – 3 x 4-6 (RPT)
Standing Press – 3 x 5 (SS)
Incline Dumbbell Press – 2 x 6-8
Weighted Dips or Scull Crushers – 2 x 8-10 (Optional, but highly encouraged)
Friday – Legs
Squat – 3x 6-8 (RPT)
Leg Curl – 3 x 5 (SS)
Lunge – 2 x 8 (per leg)
Standing Calf Raise – 3 x 8
If you have serious issues with one of the exercises listed above, there are suitable substitutions (i.e. leg press if squats hurt your lower back or incline barbell bench press for incline dumbbell bench press, etc.). DO NOT, however, start adding exercises. If you are doing RPT correctly, then this is more than enough volume. By the time you finish the workout you should be tired and ready to feast on your post workout (PWO) meal, rich in protein, fat, AND Carbs.
Carbohydrate cycling, where you eat more carbohydrates on workout days and less on rest days, is an important factor in gaining strength without excessive fat. But, before I go any further, I need to explain that carbohydrates are not the enemy. Studies have shown that as long as dietary protein and fat are sufficient, a diet that is higher in carbs results in approximately the same amount of fat loss as one very low in carbs (any difference in weight loss was due to extra water weight loss on the low carb diet)3. The key is to ensure that you obtain healthy fats (such as saturated fat) and protein (be careful not to overdue protein as it does have a toxicity range), filling the rest of the calories with non-toxic carbohydrate sources (I prefer sweet potatoes, bananas, and white rice). Furthermore, intermittent carbohydrate consumption actually produces benefits toward hormone regulation.
Eating a consistent low carb diet (under 100 g or 400 calories per day) makes gaining muscle and strength either very difficult or impossible (trust me, I have tried and failed with that one). The caveat to this is if you are new to lifting or coming back from an extended break, in which case you will likely gain strength/muscle no matter what you do. Studies have shown that eating low carb for extended periods of time, especially at a caloric deficit, will cause multiple hormone levels relating to metabolism to decline. For example, active T3, a thyroid hormone that plays a major role in energy production, fat-burning and muscle gain, will decline when not enough cellular energy is available over time (i.e. low calorie or low carb diets)2. Another example is leptin, a hormone that has an effect on the production of epinephrine, T3/T4, neuropeptide-Y, and many others (all hormones that affect the metabolism)1.
And if those aren’t reasons enough for you, the cycling of carbohydrates can make the cycling of calories effortless. By keeping fat and protein approximately the same on a daily basis, adding a large carbohydrate rich meal right after working out will not only bring your calories up on workout days (crucial for strength gains), but it will also help you negate the above hormonal issues while still losing weight in the long run. If your goal is to gain weight, it will help keep the fat gains to a minimum while putting on lean mass.
The reason the optimum time to ingest excess carbohydrates after working out is due to their insulinogenic effect and their contribution towards replenishing glycogen stores. Contrary to the belief that ketones can be used to fuel the muscles during high intensity workouts, the truth is that the body requires glycogen for this type of activity2. When on a ketogenic diet, the liver and kidneys are able to make a limited amount of glucose, however, much of it gets used by the brain and other bodily functions. Therefore, after performing an intensive workout, especially if done fasted, you have the lowest glycogen reserves, meaning you can then eat a sufficient amount of carbohydrates before the body starts storing it for future use (a.k.a. fat). Furthermore, the insulin spike that is caused by ingesting a large amount of carbs (insulin spikes are necessary for maintaining healthy hormone levels) will aid in shuttling nutrients to the muscles, which is desirable for both muscle gain and recovery2.
A good PWO meal has a somewhat equal amount of protein and carbs (if not slightly higher in carbs) and a good dose of fat. Don’t be afraid of eating a sizable amount of calories; in fact, I think this should be the largest meal of the day. I personally am a huge advocate of raw milk, and my post workout meal is usually ½ gallon of raw milk and 3 bananas (about 280 g). The meal has over 100 g of carbs, over 72 g of protein (optimum casein-whey blend from the milk), and over 72 g of fat (of which 50 g is saturated fat). Do whatever works for you (i.e. if you can’t or don’t drink milk, don’t go down a pint of raw milk because I do it). My wife is currently unable to drink milk, therefore her current PWO meal is 350 g of potatoes, 100g of onion, and 2 cloves of garlic cooked in 2 Tbsp coconut oil, 2 pastured eggs cooked in 1 Tbsp butter, and 2-4 oz. grass fed ground beef with seasoning and cooked in 1 Tbsp coconut oil. Both my wife and I also taper carbohydrate consumption throughout the rest of the day, with the last meal of the day only consisting of about 10% carbohydrates (by calories).
With the RPT program outlined above, enough calories to sustain muscle growth, and the cycling of carbohydrates, you have the tools needed for sizable strength gains. If you have any questions feel free to ask, and as always, let me know how it works for you.
(1) Havel, P.J.. “Control of energy homeostasis and insulin action by adipocyte hormones: leptin, acylation stimulating protein, and adiponectin.”Current opinion in lipidology 13 (2002): n. pag.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11790963#. Web. 14 Feb. 2012.
(2) Hofmekler, Ori. Maximum muscle and minimum fat: the secret science behind physical transformation. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 2008. Print.
(3) Johnston, Carol S, Sherrie L Tjonn, Pamela D Swan, Andrea White, Heather Hutchins , and Barry Sears. “Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets.”American Journal of Clinical Nutrition83.5 (2006): 1055-1061. Print.
Check out Marcus’ Blog to learn more about strength training (and for a yummy cilantro pesto recipe!). Ever trained for strength? Do you cycle carbs? Let me know below!