How I Build High-Performance Mass
I have to admit that when I'm out in public I think of myself as looking powerful, like a bodybuilder – but on the other hand, I don't feel like a bodybuilder. At my core, I have always thought of myself (and I always will) as being 100 percent athlete.
"But Thibs," you might be thinking, "since bodybuilders train like bodybuilders and athletes train like athletes – and they're both use very different styles with completely different goals – you must be one extremely mixed up and frustrated coach."
To which I'd respond: "Increasing a muscle's size and increasing its strength and explosive power... it's all the same to me." In fact, I'll even go further and say that training for size and performance, together – as a single strategy – produces the absolute best gains, period!
So, I don't train specifically for strength, or for performance, or for size, or even for fat loss, I train for it all. With nutrition and supplement plans dialed in, the more strength you gain, the more muscle you'll put on, and the better you'll perform. There's no doubt about it.
Unlike other forms of training, the type of training that's most effective at building size and performance also increases insulin sensitivity in muscle, which is huge!
In other words, in addition to stimulating maximum growth, you're also causing muscles to soak up nutrients like giant dry sponges. And with the right workout nutrition, these muscle-sponges will fill up with huge doses of growth fertilizer every time you train.
Oh, there is one side effect... over time, body fat begins to simply disappear.
So to me, all training should be aimed at building high-performance muscle mass, and the results will be an automatic change in body composition, the magnitude of which is controlled by your diet.
In practice, my methods might seem a bit odd, illogical, or go against common lifting dogma. And, if people actually saw the way that I personally train, they might even think I'm crazy.
The fact that I'm generally lifting some pretty hefty weights might lend some credence to my methodologies, but then again, I train so outside the norm that many lifters simply couldn't cope with what they see. As a writer, that makes me more than just a little reluctant to, as they say, "tell all."
So before I go any further, I need to clear the air and let you know that I've been holding back. The fact is, the information I've presented over the years has been a modified version of what I know works the very best, and not the exact kind of training I do.
Don't get me wrong. What I've given you is still very effective. But it's not my authentic program. The reason I've been holding back is that I really didn't think most people were ready for the information. That's how different my training is from what everybody else does. That's no longer the case, and my experience in the Training Lab has changed my perception.
LiVESPILLing with people about my methods, and seeing their excitement over their results, has been a real inspiration. My methods are amazingly effective and powerful, and my goal is to teach these powerful tools to as many people as possible. And for the first time ever, the Training Lab makes that goal possible.
And now I'm ready to give you the purist form of how I build high-performance mass – the authentic way Itrain.
It's All About Pressing
Pressing is performance... it's the body's primary movement pattern, and the basis of all of my training. Building muscle mass and increasing performance, it's all about pressing.
I split the body into two pressing parts, and I base every workout on these two performance areas:
The Training Split
- Upper-Body Pressing
- Lower-Body Pressing
Typically I will work both areas every day I train, but between the two, upper-body pressing (or pushing) gets by far the most work and attention. Other areas of the body, primarily lats, abs, and biceps, are added in as assistance work, as needed, and mainly for balance.
If you think about it, that's how most powerlifters and all Olympic lifters train. Powerlifters, for example, focus on the bench press, squat, and deadlift. They generally plan the training for these lifts carefully, normally including two bench-press days per week and two squat/deadlift days per week.
By the way, a deadlift is not a pull; it's the same movement as a leg press except you're using your hands to hold the weight. So the deadlift is a press.
Going back to the powerlifters, their assistance work is often added whenever the lifter feels it's needed. For the most part, the actual assistance work is not even planned in advance, but rather determined during the workout itself, which is exactly the way I include assistance work.
Like I said, I train upper-body pressing more than anything else, which means I do some form of this movement pattern five or six days a week. It's not always a lot of volume, but it's always included.
Most often, I include three heavy upper-body pressing days per week, and two or three additional days (5 or 6 total) where I "practice" upper-body pressing by training one movement at the end of my workouts. I know by most standards, that's a lot of pressing! But in my book, it's what's required – that is, it's what's required if you're totally committed andserious about making huge differences in your muscle mass size and performance.
I believe that the upper-body pushing muscles thrive on high-performance training methods. These methods are centered on high frequency, low reps, and many sets of few exercises.
When I was an Olympic lifter, I trained the competition lifts every single day, and sometimes even twice a day. It's simplywhat worked best – the more I trained, the better I gained.
I start every upper-body pressing workout with an overhead movement. Ever since I started doing this, my shoulders have been pain free, despite bench-pressing very heavy three to four times per week. At first my bench press numbers went down, but after two weeks my numbers were back to normal, and two weeks after that I was beating personal records, except with the added benefit of healthy shoulders (that stayed that way).
Regarding sets, on the heavy-pressing days, I perform a total of anywhere between 20 and 40 sets. I have gone as high as 70 sets, but the average is about 24.
Considering how heavily involved the chest, delts, and triceps are in most pressing movements, I've not found it beneficial to include much isolation work for them. I'm not saying that you can't do isolation work for chest, delts, and triceps, because I frequently have bodybuilders perform these isolation exercises. But if your goal is to build a lot of mass, power, and strength, not only are they not needed, but they can actually diminish your overall mass gains.
It's all about finances of training. How much of your training reserves do you want to spend on isolation exercises knowing that it's cutting into the big exercises that build the most mass?
Whenever I talk about "lower-body pressing," I'm literally referring to every single movement where your feet push against something. It could be the floor or a leg-press platform, it doesn't matter, it's all pressing. As I mentioned, this includes the deadlift, which is the same basic movement as a leg press, except you're using your hands and arms to hold the bar.
And regardless of whether or not your feet are pressing against an object that's movable or immovable, I want you to think as if you're pushing "it" away from you. So again, if you're doing squats, even though the floor doesn't move, pretend you're pushing it (the floor) away from you.
Thinking in terms of always pushing away from the body, where the body remains stationary, focuses the mind more on the legs. And by doing that, it helps keep the upper body rock hard and locked tight into position, and therefore provides a much a more stable base for leg pressing.
In general, the legs make the best progress on much less variety than the upper body. Said another way, a lot of variety can really hinder leg development. Basically, regarding exercise selection for legs, whatever you find works best tends to be what always works best.
In fact, for the most part, I only use three strength lifts for legs:
- Back squat
- Front squat
- Trap-bar deadlift
In most of my lower-body workouts, however, I'll simply stick with back squats as my only strength lift, and perform a minimum of 12 work sets. Like I said, this is for the main "strength" portion of the workout and should not be confused with what I do to add the volume required for massive leg development.