August 3, 2010 posted by

Don’t Wanna’ Look Small

I can’t wait to get back to playing outside but I’ve got to admit I’m enjoying my journey back into old school weight lifting. To me, it’s very hard to beat a day out in the mountains but being kept away from the things I love is adding to my psyche. However, working out to Pumping Iron everyday (not many weight lifting videos in my quiver) could be brainwashing me. My wife says she’s a little worried when she hears me screams from the gym like “I’m not satisfied… I’m gonna beat him!” and other iconic lines from that film like, “don’t wanna look small.”

I know, full well, that the Workout From Hell is not the most efficient way to train for climbing. Chris Sharma’s probably never lifted a weight in his life. But it’s the hand I was dealt, given my injury, and my plan is the make the most out of it. But just because it’s not the most effective plan does not mean it isn’t a good one. I’m quite certain that I am improving many weak points. Concurrently I’m losing some strong ones but that’s how training always works. The strong areas come back quick. The hope in all these shenanigans is that when those areas are brought back to speed I’ll be better than ever.

My plan with this WFH is to address as many weak points as I can fit into the schedule. So I’ve decided to prolong my 5 rep phase to include an extra 2 plus weeks of super-slow workouts. I’m still doing 5 reps (per the original plan) but each rep is 5 seconds in one direction and 5 seconds in the other. For a 5 rep set that’s 50 seconds, which is hypertrophy—even glycolytic—and not anything like power.

These super slow reps stimulate the body’s production of IGF-1 (insulin growth factor 1). Because you’re contracting the muscle for the entire set its stressful training so the number of exercise sets I’m doing is much reduced. I’m doing six sets for the large muscle groups and 3 for the small. The weight I’m using is about the same as what I was using to do 15 reps. My warm-up is longer and more thorough (because set intensity is higher) and the time between sets is longer, now around 2 minutes and more focused on when I’m ready for a hard set than a set amount of time. The goal is to treat each individual set as if it’s your entire workout, then worry about the next one.

I’m doing this for two reasons. First is that I’m cool with a little hypertrophy. After two phases I’d lost a total of two pounds. And since I’m gaining a little muscle mass it’s probably from a leg atrophy as much as from fat loss. This will be good for climbing but I know that once I start riding and running again the legs will come back, so I’m fine with having a bit more upper body mass to help haul those legs around. This will hurt racing up hill but at 170 + pounds that’s never going to be my forte anyway. Also, since climbing movements are often slow—especially as you’re about to fall off—I think it’s important to train slow as well as fast. You need to be able to perform in both areas to climb your best: from nailing dynos to eeking out precarious balance movements. Also, adding this phase works with my work/travel schedule better because these workouts are easier to do in random gyms—no small matter.

pics: even if Jerry Moffatt did the hardest routes during the 80s most guys would rather have Wolfgang Gullich and Kurt Albert’s arms, and they weren’t too far behind.


  • I have naturally big quads that grow even if you do 100 reps per set and only 8 sets for legs a week. It's crazy, I like the 5 rep thing, I definitely don't mind hypertrophy. Tony is pretty bulky, but can still do crazy stuff. btw, From where did you find out that Sharma meditated 48 hours before climbing Jumbo love? Progression didn't have that.

  • Great pics, really :-)I thank you for posting the slower workouts, and the timing you are going to use.

  • Jerry looks rad. Starvation diet, man. That's the ticket.-Josh

  • Steve,You have one of the most interesting fitness-blogs I have ever come across. Thank you for sharing such insightful fitness information. I have many questions about Hypertrophy, Strength Training, and other fitness questions. Where could I contact you directly? Because I've been dying to know the hard-science behind proper muscle training, when to do which kind of workouts, and which kind of training regimine I should presently follow.Thank you in advance Steve,Patrick

  • I get far too many questions to answer individually, which is why I post here, write articles for Beachbody, and answer questions on the Message Boards sometimes. Keep reading. If you can't find your answers in the archives suggest a topic and I'll get to it eventually. I've answered thousands of fitness and nutrition questions over the years and my articles and posts try and reflect the popular ones.

  • Hi Steve, I'm starting a new round saturday with hopes of gaining mass. I'm following the schedule you posted in a newsletter not long ago. Based on what you learned here would you suggest I incorporate the slow 5 rep lifting to the routines? Even for legs?Thanks! Great Articles

  • Assuming your starting a hypertrophy round and you have a good fitness base I would try it if you have enough weight to make each set very difficult. If not, I would increase the reps to 8, 10, or 12 but still adhere to the 5 seconds down and 5 seconds up til failure or close thereabouts.Not sure I'd do a full 90 day cycle like this. I think it'd been too much time targeting one energy system. I wouldn't, but I don't care a lot about hypertrophy. Just be wary of how your feeling and when you feel this protocol may be plateauing for you and transition into something different.

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