by Charles Poliquin Iron Magazine
Getting in shape fast is not impossible if you know how to do it. It’s all in the details. This article will give you superior training techniques to use whether you’re in a hurry to get in shape for football, put on muscle for summer, or just want to be able to move heavy rocks around with ease!
#1. Get strong fast by pushing volume and intensity at the same time.
First, you need to accept that strength is the most influential quality in physical performance. Better physique and athletic outcomes will occur if you’re strong to begin with. Check it out:
• Strength is a major bonus when you need to lift heavy objects or if you find yourself in a tricky physical situation.
• The stronger you are, the more you can develop athletic performance with speed training.
• The stronger you are, the more muscle you can build because you’ll be able to hit the largest fast-twitch muscles with heavier weights.
Still, we don’t always have 3 months, let alone a year, to devote to getting crazy strong. Therefore, to gain serious strength in the range of a 30 kg increase in your legs as measured by the squat, you need to focus on both volume and intensity. A 2011 study by Marshall illustrates this.
The study had trained college–age men do either 1, 4, or 8 sets of squats using a weight of 80 percent of the 1RM to failure. They trained for 10 weeks and also did a variety of upper body exercises so as to simulate a real-life program since no sane person who is serious about getting strong or putting on muscle would do only one exercise.
The 8-set group had superior results:
They increased their maximal squat by a huge 17.5 kg after only 3 weeks, which was 8 percent more than the 1-set group that improved by 6.7 kg.
After 6 weeks, the 8-set group had gained 32 kg in squat strength and they finished the 10-week study with an average improvement of 37 kg in their squat max—12.3 percent higher than the 1-set group that gained only 17.4 kg in their squat max.
The 4-set group also produced rapid gains, increasing 1RM by an impressive 16.8 kg after only 3 weeks, though their final outcome of 22 kg was not as noteworthy as the 8-set group.
The 8-set group also gained more muscle than the other two groups, which was striking because they started the study with significantly more muscle mass and a lower body fat percentage (12.8 percent compared to the 1-set group at 13.6 percent and the 4-set group at 14.6 percent).
This study also identified low, medium, and high responders (those individuals who gained the most versus the least strength), and found that trainees had a much greater chance of gaining a significant amount of strength if they were in the 4- or 8-set group than the 1-set group.
To get strong fast, do more sets. You can expect serious results after only 3 weeks by training at least 4 sets per exercise twice a week (that’s just 6 workouts!). Eight sets are best if you’ve got the training time, and it’s well worth the effort if long-term gains are relevant to your goals.
If you tend to be a low responder, not getting the results you desire or expect, do more sets and be sure to train at a relatively high intensity with heavy weights. Are you actually lifting loads that are at least 80 percent of your 1RM?
Be sure to train to failure and use a full-range of motion on all exercises because these are critical training factors that lead to the most favorable training outcomes.
#2. Improve vertical jump dramatically with a rapid increase in intensity.
Once you’ve got basic strength, how do you turn it into explosive power as fast as possible?
Research shows that using large weekly increases in explosive intensity will produce dramatic increases in power that translates to a more impressive vertical.
A 2011 study from Kamandulis compared the improvements in strength, power, and jump height of two plyometric training programs in collegiate athletes who were active in club sports such as basketball and volleyball.
A 3-week (3 training sessions a week) plyometric program that used large increases in loading intensity and volume resulted in the greatest improvements in vertical jump.
Here is an example of the program they used:
For the first week of training, participants performed 40 drop jumps from 20 cm; the second week, they performed 70 drop jumps from 60 cm; and the third week they performed 70 drop jumps from the same height with 2 kg of weight added. After all drop jumps they performed rebound jumps.
Trainees increased their vertical by an average of 8 percent immediately after the 3-week program ended—that’s a lot of air after just 9 workouts. Of interest, when tested 2-weeks after training finished, their vertical was even higher, with a 12.8 percent increase in jump height.
Why did the true magnitude of improvement manifest 2 weeks after training ended?
Training for explosive power targets adaptations in the stretch shortening cycle, which is the elastic component of the muscle that makes you springy. Researchers believe that by training the stretch shortening cycle with rapid load and volume increases, muscle damage occurs that suppress muscle function. Basically, you get sore and aren’t as strong or powerful.
With adequate recovery time, tissue heals, adaptations occur and muscle performance is enhanced.
When training for power, recovery is critical. Multiple systems in the body must have time to recuperate: the central nervous system, muscle tissue, and the muscle-tendon unit of the stretch shortening cycle (SSC).
Use caution when training plyos 3 times a week—it’s indicated for athletes with high baseline levels of strength (a double body weight squat), but for newbies 2 times a week is suggested. Go easier on intensity with novices as well.
Include unilateral plyometrics for faster results. A comparison of single- and double-leg plyo training showed that unilateral workouts produced an 11 percent increase in peak power after 6 weeks compared to a 6 percent increase in a bilateral training group. Unilateral training was superior for jumping off one leg at all time points.
Use complex training in which you do a near maximal strength exercise followed by a power exercise like the vertical jump or power clean. The near maximal load will activate the SSC to allow you to generate rapid force during a subsequent explosive lift.
#3. Do sprints to get in shape in almost no time at all.
Getting in shape is not a pleasant process. When you’re out of condition, your muscles feel sluggish and your lungs burn like they’re going to explode. A few quick sprint repeats and your brain tells you that it will die if you do not stop immediately.
These painful alarm signals are normal. The best way to make them go away is to use a program that gets you in shape as fast as possible by inducing the following adaptations:
• You need to improve the volume of oxygen that the blood is delivering to the muscles.
• Your body must buffer waste more efficiently to prevent the loss of muscle power that comes as hydrogen ions accumulate.
• Your lungs need to become more elastic so that they can process oxygen better.
• The body needs to easily be able to mobilize and burn fat and carbs for energy.
Sprint training accomplishes all these goals and it requires short workouts of less than 25 minutes of training time, producing adaptations in less than 4 weeks.
A 2011 study by Bayati provides a model:
A group of active, college-age men did one of two workouts 3 times a week for 4 weeks:
• All-out 30-second cycle sprints, 3-5 reps, 4 min. rest between sprints, or
• Moderate-intensity 30-second cycle repeats at half the intensity of the all-out sprints. 6-10 reps, 2 min. rest between repeats.
Both workouts were effective for getting trainees in shape, but the all-out sprint group experienced the largest adaptations. The sprint group had greater increases in all of the following markers:
• Peak power
• Time to exhaustion
• Maximal aerobic capacity
• Muscle buffering capacity (the muscle’s ability to use and remove waste)
Further good news was that two weeks into the study, both groups’ conditioning was radically improved, indicating that 6 sessions of hard training is all it takes to elicit adaptations that make exercise feel less painful.
Moderate-intensity conditioning workouts are best for novice athletes because they allow for a less mentally challenging workout. Be sure to perform adequate volume when you reduce the intensity.
For competitive athletes and individuals who hate conditioning, sprints are the way to go. They are more effective and require less “work” time—five reps for 2 minutes and 30 seconds of sprint time total and you’re done.
What about Tabata or super short 4 to 7 minute workouts?
Fast-acting protocols appear to be just as effective if intensity is maximized: A 4-week protocol that significantly improved conditioning in national team athletes was 6 reps of 35-meter sprints with 10 seconds rest between reps.
The whole workout took less than 4 minutes and improved the athletes’ use of oxygen by an average of 5.4 percent. Work capacity increased by 32 percent.
Consider that the conditioning workouts made up a small portion of the athletes training (they spent hours in sport-specific workouts), so 4 to 7 minutes isn’t really going to cut it if you spend your whole day in a desk chair, but at least it’s a start.
#4. Use workout nutrition to put on muscle ASAP.
The regretful news if you want to put on muscle fast is that visible muscle development takes at least 6 weeks to occur. The happy news is that there are two weapons in our transformation toolbox that can accelerate results:
• Optimizing diet and training to induce fat loss, and
• Workout supplementation of protein, creatine, and other fast-acting performance aids like caffeine, carnitine, and beta alanine.
A 2007 study by Cribb highlights the profound effect strategic supplementation can have if you want to put on mass and reduce body fat.
The study found that male body builders who took a combination of creatine, protein, and carbs 3 times a day with training gained about 3 kg more muscle than two other supplementation groups—one took just protein and the other took protein and carbs. They also had radically higher maximal lifts in the squat and bench press.
Details of the results for each group were as follows:
The creatine-protein-carb supplement group gained 7 kg of lean mass, lost 2.2 percent body fat, increased squat max by 34.7 kg to 156.9 kg, and increased bench press by 22.4 kg to 130.7 kg.
The protein-carb supplement group gained 4 kg of lean mass, gained 0.7 percent body fat, increased squat max by 23 kg to 149.8 kg, and increased bench press by 9 kg to 121 kg.
The protein-only supplement group gained 5 kg of lean mass, lost 3.6 percent body fat, increased squat max by 24.8 kg to 14.8 kg, and increased bench press by 11.3 kg to 121.6 kg.
Most relevant to getting shredded quickly was the finding that there was evidence of serious muscle growth in the group that took creatine at three different levels of physiology:
• They had much greater gains in lean muscle mass than the other two groups.
• They grew the powerful, larger type IIa and IIx fibers more than the others.
• They had an increase in contractile protein, which will allow them to be able to handle significantly heavier training loads in the future.
The one catch is that this was a 12 week study, and three months is generally not what people are talking about when they need fast results.
However, because muscle and strength gains are progressive, these results illustrate that by providing the body with the nutrients used in training and tissue growth, you can enhance short-term gains.
Caffeine is another supplement that can help you get ripped in a hurry. It increases training motivation, accelerates fat loss by enhancing fat burning, and speeds recovery from training. It also blunts pain and will reduce DOMS muscle soreness. Take 1 to 4 mg/kg pre-workout.
Losing body fat is an often overlooked first step in getting cut fast. But by removing all the fat that covers the muscle underneath, you’ll look much better built and feel more confident.
Speedy fat loss is all about diet. This article tells you exactly how to get rid of body fat fast with as little hunger as possible.
Marshall, P., McEwen, M., et al. Strength and Neuromuscular Adaptation Following One, Four, and Eight Sets of High-Intensity Resistance Exercise in Trained Males. European Journal of Applied Physiology. November 2011. 111, 3007-3016.
Cribb, P., Williams, A., Hayes, A. A Creatine-Protein-Carbohydrate Supplement Enhances Responses to Resistance Training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2007. 39, 1960-1968.
Farzad, B., Gharakhanlou, R., Agha-Alinejad, H., Curby, D., et al. Physiological and Performance Changes from the Addition of a Sprint Interval Program to Wrestling Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011. 25(9). 2392-2400.
Trapp, E.G., Chisholm, D.J., Freund, J., Boutcher, S.H. The Effects of High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise Training on Fat Loss and Fasting Insulin Levels of Young Women. International Journal of Obesity. 2008. 32(4), 684-691.
Kamandulis, S., Snieckus, A., et al. Rapid Increase in Training Load Affects Markers of Skeletal Muscle Damage and Mechanical Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. 26(11), 2953-2961.
Nibali, M., et al. Influence of Individual Response to Recovery Time in Complex Training on Lower-Body Power Output. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011. 25(Suppl 1), S5-S.
Makaruk, H., Winchester, J., et al. Effects of Unilateral and Bilateral Plyometric Training on Power and Jumping Ability in Women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011. 25(12), 3311-3318.
Bayati, M., Farzad, B., et al. A Practical Model of Low-Volume, High-Intensity Interval Training Induces Performance and Metabolic Adaptations that Resemble “All-Out” Sprint Interval Training. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 2011. 10, 571-576.
Aguiar, R., Turnes, T., et al. Fast-Start Strategy Increases the Time Spent Above 95 Percent VO2 max During Severe-Intensity Intermittent Running Exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.