Training FAQsby John Meadows on December 1, 2021
Training FAQs by John Meadows
- Training Philosophy
- Bringing Up Weak Body Parts
- Drop Sets
- Ideal Training Conditions (Bodyfat, etc.)
- Training Recovery
- Measuring Progress (training logs etc.)
- Accommodating Resistance (bands, chains)
- Training Equipment/Safety (belts, straps, wraps)
** Pinned to Top – Published 2014 **
What is your training philosophy?
Here are a few thoughts of mine.
- To get the most out of training, you need the best peri-workout nutrition protocol
- To get the most of your peri-workout nutrition, you need to choose a training method that works well with or it’s a waste of money.
They go hand in hand and should not be treated separately.
My routines evolve over time as the person gets more “trained” and we perfect their recovery via nutrition. With this we can add volume and do more.
Volume adds need to be done carefully so you don’t over traumatize joints. I plan for this with my style.
I believe in activating the muscle first, through movements that do not really impact joints much.
Second you hit it with HTMU work done explosively – lower reps, and very explosive.
We then switch to more of a supramax pump type training.
Lastly we load a stretched muscle with a good range of motion.
You see, good training can be found in many different styles, but the best is a layered approach that utilizes every available pathway to muscle growth, not just one.
How many sets should I take to failure or beyond failure?
It is very dependent on your nutrition, specifically your peri-workout protocol, as that will enhance (or not enhance) recovery to a high degree. Generally speaking, one set of each exercise will get the insane treatment.
How do you know what to program in the workouts, the exercises keep changing, the reps and sets change, the intensity factor changes. How am I making continuous progress despite all the changes?
Here is the main thing I have learned over the years, as long as you are training with good form, really hard, using intelligent exercise sequencing, and doing basics somewhere in the routine, you will make progress. I think the biggest problem people have is that they only gauge their progress by their strength. The truth is, that you can’t just keeping stronger week after week or we would all eventually bench 1000lbs or get injured in the process. Even still, notice that I frequently ask you to beat what you did last week. If you don’t, it’s not the end of the world though; I am looking for effort and intensity. Of course your nutrition is playing a huge role in your progress as well.
When you write “do 4 hard sets of ten,” how would you do them? All sets to failure and decrease weights? Or four sets with the same weight not to failure? Or pyramid up?
Generally speaking pyramid up. Take as many warm up sets as you need, then for example, do 85 x10, 90 x 10, 95 x 10 – and maybe this is really hard, so you just stick with it instead of going up more. You will leave a couple of reps in the tank but not on the last one. I do not want you to take all sets to absolute failure.
I am a powerlifter, can this training actually help me get stronger?
This system is a good option for growing and getting stronger. It is a layered approach that hits muscle from different aspects. One of the biggest shortcoming to many programs is that they only focus on one thing, such as “pump”. Some only focus on progressive resistance in a particular rep range.etc. The best approach is one that trains your muscle, your nervous system, provides pump at the right time, I could go on and on. This is the premise behind my training. Yes it will put muscle on you, and you will get stronger in certain movements.
Is this how you train year round, or do you spend chunks of time in the lower rep ranges?
Typically I will go balls out (no real ramp volume) for anywhere from 3 to 5 months personally, then ramp down for a month, then take a full month to get ramped back up to going crazy again.
What type of training philosophy took you from being an intermediate level bodybuilder (say a strength level around a 300 bench, 400 squat, 500 deadlift) to an advanced level of strength and development?
I never really forced extra weight for the sake of hitting numbers. When I felt strong, I did more weight. If I did not, I did less weight and as long as my intensity was high, I went home with my head held high. Now while I was powerlifting over at Westside, we did do a lot of number pushing on things like pin presses. Some of the assistance exercises we did, we were always shooting for PR’s. It worked well, but my joints were taking a beating from this. I really think with strength you should follow how you feel. If it’s there great, if not don’t force it, or you waste a workout by training your joints and connective tissue instead of your muscle, or at worse get hurt.
I know you are an advocate of training frequently, even as much as 7 days per week. However, do you also do this during bulking phases?
I work up to 7 days a week pre-contest. Once the contest is over I go back to 4 days a week for about a month. After that I take 3 to 4 weeks completely off. That means I don’t even set foot in a gym. Then I start back at 4 days per week. After a couple of months I go to 5 days. Once I have done this for a while (usually another couple of months) and I feel really good I add a 6th day. I stay there until I am 12-16 weeks out from a show and then I bump back to 7 days.
You talk about using training vs. cardio during a pre contest phase/fat loss phase. How I could incorporate this theory of yours. Do I just train with weights more often?
Yes, go for it, as long as your recovery is good. That is the key, specifically the intraworkout nutrition. The additional sessions should be lighter or more pumping in nature.
My question is, what type of training frequency should I be looking for in the last few weeks leading up to the show?
It stays high all the way until the end. The last week we bring intensity and volume down a bit though.
I’m really interested in setting up a routine based on Mountain Dog Training but have no idea how to start.
I am going to add a link here to an article I wrote on Intermediate Training so you can get some more ideas behind my philosophy.
Specific Body Part Workouts for Phase 1, 2 and 3
As you have become familiar with my training methods, you understand that I break my training programs up into three phases.
Weeks 1 – 3 – Phase 1
Weeks 4 – 11 – Phase 2
Week 12 – Phase 3
Here are links to articles outlining my plan for phases 1 and 2:
I noticed that you prescribe a lot of rowing movements in your back workouts. We always hear that a trainee should do rows for back thickness and pull down / pullover type movements for back width. What are your thoughts on this?
I try to do a 2 to 1 ratio. 2 rowing movements, and 1 pull down type movement per workout. Of course then add in spinal erectors and traps. Sometimes I add a 3rd row for rhomboids. If you get your back thick enough, it will get wide on its own. There are a few movements that I absolutely think help with width, partial heavy pulldowns, and stretchers! Here’s a link to an article I wrote on ROWING VARIATIONS.
I’ve been using your sample workouts from the T-nation website and I have never made so much progress as I have with that. I have 2 weeks left of phase 2 and was wondering how a sample phase 3 would go if you could give me a sample that would be amazing.
Here is a sample Phase 3 week of workouts. You can see the number of sets is lower, but intensity is still high in the first 2 exercises. The phase would last about 2 weeks.
Legs – 10 sets:
Seated leg curls – 3 sets of 12 to warm up, then 3 sets of 10. The first 2 are just “normal” hard sets. It should be hard to get the last few reps. Rest pause every rep. So straighten legs out, pause, then flex and squeeze. With this form, you will get a ton of blood in there. On the 3rd set, after you do 10 reps, drop weight some and do 10 more, then keep weight the same and do 25 partials out of the bottom. 3 total work sets.
Leg press – Warm ups – do 10 reps a set, adding weight each time, until you get to a weight you struggle with for 10. Once you get there, I want you to do 8 reps per set, but only take 90 seconds between each set. You are going to do 4 sets like this. This is a fun one. 4 total work sets.
Stretch each quad for 30 seconds. Do 2 stretches on each leg.
Squats – Take your time now. You can slow down on these. I want you to work up to a weight that you can do for probably 12-15. It should only take maybe 2-3 sets. When you get there you are going to do 3 sets of 8, with plenty of time in between. These reps should be pretty explosive. At the end of your sets, you shouldn’t be struggling to complete the set. This is just a way to get a lot of reps with a higher weight and safely. In this case you are getting 24 reps with what you might do for 1 set of 12. The surprising thing is how sore these will make you. To give you an example…I can do 460ish for 12 reps. On these I do 370 for my sets of 8. 3 total work sets.
Stretch each quad for 30 seconds.
Also stretch your hams, hips, and everything else out – need to stay healthy!
Chest – 10 sets & Shoulders – 10 sets:
Machine press with neutral grip – 2 warm up sets of 15 reps with a flex. This is done on a machine where your palms face each other. Your elbows travel right along your sides on the way back…it can be done for triceps with some form tweaking. If you don’t have a machine where you can use a neutral grip, go ahead and use something like a hammer strength machine with a regular grip. Pyramid up on these. If you have a machine where you can set the seat up, so that you get a better stretch, do that. Reps are 12,10,8,6. Each rep is done with a 1 second flex at the top. 4 total work sets.
Incline barbell – Lower weight to 2-3 inches above chest and do not lock out…constant tension.
Find a weight that you can do 3 sets of 10 with. 3 total work sets.
Decline smith machine press – Slight angle – very slight – 2 sets of 25 reps. Touch your chest at bottom and push up to 3/4 lockout. Constant tension. After the 2 higher rep sets, do a heavier set of 8. 3 total work sets.
Dumbell side laterals – 2 sets of 25 reps to get them cooking. 2 total work sets.
Cage press – 5 sets of 5 done explosively. There is a video of this on my YouTube for illustration of proper form. 5 total work set.
Machine rear delts – reverse peck deck – 3 sets of 35. Rep the crap out of them. 3 total work sets.
Back – 12 sets:
Wide grip pulldowns to front – 2 warm up sets of 15 – Do these as wide as you possibly can. It is not a big range of motion. Only pull the weight down to eye level. Use a heavy weight and relax your scapulae like last week to get that nice stretch at the top of the movement. Do 3 sets of 15. 3 total work sets.
Regular T-Bar rows – use neutral grip – palms facing each other. Pyramid up. Do 4 sets. 12,10,8, 6 reps. I want you to go heavy, but make sure you can get the weight all the way in to your stomach – no half reps. 4 total work sets.
Dumbell Rows – Go heavy on these too, but I want you to fully stretch your lat at bottom of range of motion. Let the weight hang down, and relax your scapulae so that you feel them stretching, before pulling weight back up. 2 sets of 15 reps. High reps with heavy weight here. This should be very tough. 2 total work sets.
Dumbell Pullovers – 3 sets of 12. 3 total work sets.
Arms – Biceps – 10 sets & Triceps 10 sets:
EZ bar curl – 2 warm up sets of 15 reps. You are going to do 1.5’s. So do a full rep, and then come up half way and go back down. That is one rep. The point of this is to use your lower biceps more throughout the set. Do 3 sets of 8. 3 total work sets.
Dumbell hammer curls on preacher bench – This really isolates brachialis and brachioradialis – squeeze really hard at the top. When you come down, get a good stretch on that lower bicep too. 3 sets of 12 reps. Do one arm at a time! 3 total work sets.
EZ bar preacher curls superset with reverse curls – This is one I like a lot. Do a hard 8 reps on preacher curls, then stand up and grab the same weight and pump out 12 reps of reverse curls. Do 2 round of this!! 4 total work sets via 2 supersets.
Ez bar close grip bench press – 2-3 sets of 10 to warm up. I want you to do 3 sets of 8, and in between each set do:
Rope pushdowns to pump tons of blood in there. When you do the rope pushdowns, you are only doing sets of 6, and you are holding each rep for 3 seconds at the bottom. Again, 3 of these supersets. 6 total work sets via 3 supersets.
Seated dip machine – Keep elbows in tight. Come up slowly with weight and get a nice stretch on your lower tri near the elbow. Flex each rep for 2 seconds also. 2 sets of 8. 2 total work sets.
Dumbell lying extensions/skullcrushers w dumbells – On these, let the dumbells come out to the side of your head and really work on stretching the tri. When you come up, just kick them to right above your forehead. I like to actually hang my head off the bench so that I can really let my triceps stretch at the bottom. Give that technique a try. 2 sets of 10. 2 total work sets.
Bringing Up Weak Body Parts
How would you work with someone that needed to bring up specific bodyparts?
Generally speaking I try to hit it with more frequency. It depends on what I think is causing the weakness though. Many times the person just doesn’t know how to feel a particular muscle working. If this is the case I first try to use exercises that are good for learning feel. If I think someone is past that point, again, that’s different.
Another option for people who can’t handle higher frequency is to take out volume from a strong bodypart and apply extra to the problem part.
Here’s an Article I wrote regarding bringing up weak body parts. Enjoy!
How much importance do you put on soreness?
I do not believe it is the end all be all because with proper periworkout nutrition you can virtually eliminate it. I would expect you to be sore starting a new program, or perhaps when we ramp up volume. Years ago I would have given you a completely different answer.
How heavy do you go up before doing a drop set, and what does the drop set look like?
I go up to a weight I can do usually from 6-10 times depending on the exercise. Usually a drop or two of 6 to 8 reps, then another drop set to complete failure. For good measure I may throw some partials in on top too.
What are your favorite movements to use drop sets for?
Leg press, leg curl, hack squat, machine curls, dips between benches with weight, dipping machine, smith machine decline, dumbell side laterals, rear laterals. I do not like drop sets on back as much.
Ideal Training Conditions (Bodyfat, etc.)
What are your thoughts on the impact of building muscle based on body fat %? How fat is too fat, how lean is too lean?
Based on my experience, once you get to a certain level of “fatness” it is often accompanied by sluggish metabolism, increased insulin resistance, out of whack hormones, etc. These are not good for maximal muscle building. I like to keep people where I can see the basic outline of their abs. You don’t have to have ripped and veiny abs, but don’t get so fat you just have a bloated belly sticking out. Try to stay under 12% if you can, but I would not try to be any leaner than 8% if your goal is maximal muscle gain. Remember you joints are largely saturated fat, so getting too lean will compromise this.
Do you feel a lifter should lean out before attempting to gain muscular weight or is it better to bulk and build a foundation and cut once this has been achieved?
My opinion is that you can actually impede muscular gain if you get too fat. I don’t know what the magic number is in terms of body fat %, but it seems like over the years, I have noticed with others and myself, you can gain muscle at the best rate hanging around 8-12%. I have zero science to back that up, just something that I have noticed doing this for 25 plus years. If you are less than 8%, your joints may not have enough cushion for you to handle some moderately heavy weight, which could slow down your gains too, so I wouldn’t try to stay extremely lean year round either if your aim is to gain lean tissue.
Do you believe in foam rolling for recovery?
I like to do myofascial release on a thing called the rumble roller. Look it up on the elitefts.net site. It is great for loosening things up, breaking up adhesions, and getting blood and nutrients in legs. I “roll” for about 10 minutes Friday night and early sat morning, and I train leg sat morning.
How do you feel about taking cruises (4-5 days) from working out.
I know this sounds cliché, but you need to listen to your body. I build in rest time into my program, BUT some people need a break before the “scheduled” break. Some people get to the rest point, and don’t want to as they are so pumped and feeling so good….so I think you did the right thing. I have an article on T-Nation about ADRENAL FATIGUE that I know you will appreciate.
I just wanted to get your thoughts on HIIT training for cardio.
I actually like to rotate cardio. Based on what I have seen over the years, your body will get used to a particular type after a while, some people quicker than others. Rotate HIIT (high intensity interval training) and LISS (lower intensity steady state) cardio every 4 to 5 weeks.
What is a good starting point for cardio? I hear you do not like it, but feel I need some.
I am not totally anti cardio, I just think people have this conception that it burns a ton of fat, even better than weight training, which is certainly not true. It also had the potential to make you highly catabolic if you overdo it. Anyway, a good starting point is to do HIIT cardio. I like to have people use a form of cardio that allows them to go all out, I mean ALL OUT, for 10 seconds, and then I have them cruise for 50 seconds. People tell me all the time they are doing HIT and doing things like 2 minutes hard, and 2 minutes easy. No way are you going balls out for 2 minutes straight. Going balls out for short periods works very well. Start at 3 sessions weekly for 20 minutes like this.
I keep hearing about how great it is to workout on an empty stomach, what do you think?
In theory it sounds great. You should be able to burn more fat while training, and you should be a bit more insulin sensitive post training, meaning insulin will attach to the insulin receptor better (letting good stuff into your muscle cells more via proper nutrition).
My answer will be in the context of a hard weight training session, wanted to make that clear before I answer. I just don’t see how you can make it through real intense workouts for an extended period of time with no food (being totally fasted), at least not to the best of your ability. ANYTHING that keeps you from training hard consistently and at your best is not good in my book.
So fasted cardio, yes, good. Totally fasted training, no I do not like. Semi-fasted training, maybe, if you have BCAA’s as your fuel, well that could work to a degree and I am not 100% against it.
Is it ok if I move my LISS cardio to post workout so I only have to think about exercising once a day?
Well, if you are saying you refuse to do it fasted in the morning, when it will provide its best benefit, then go for it. I do not like to structure cardio that way though. You need to worry about protein synthesis and glycogen replenishment immediately after training. All that said, it is probably my third choice in terms of timing. I would rank as follows:
- Fasted in the morning
- After last meal and before bed
- After training
I see that you don’t like to do cardio offseason. I know the target is not losing fat but some cardio is not good for health?
You can do cardio for health no problem at all! I would mix it up. Do fun stuff. Getting out of breath for30-45 minutes 3-4 times a week would be good. I do have some do pre-contest cardio in an effort to just burn more calories, but overall I think cardio is highly overrated for fat loss. I would much rather build muscle and my metabolism with extra weight training sessions. For health purposes though, yes, cardio work definitely helps with cardiorespiratory fitness! Personally I swim!
I was wondering what should and how often should I train abs?
Try to get an ab workout in 2 times a week. On each workout start with a lower ab exercise (where you are pulling your legs toward your torso, like in a hanging leg raise), and then do an upper ab exercise second (such as an incline sit up). Ab workouts don’t need to be fancy as many would suggest. Just do 3-4 sets of each exercise twice a week, and you’ll be fine. The diet is what matters most on ab visibility!
My calves suck, any advice on training them?
Hit calves with high frequency, every time you set foot in the gym! Also superset all your toe raises with tibia raises for maximum pump in your lower leg.
Measuring Progress (training logs etc.)
Do you think it’s possible/good idea to gear the workouts towards a specific set of goals. For example, measurements for specific body parts?
This may sound weird, but I actually think the way a person’s clothes fit them as they go tells a pretty compelling story. If your pants around your waist are getting looser, your waist is getting smaller. If your shoulders and arms are getting tighter in shirts, you are gaining upper body muscle…etc. Measurements are good too. They are more black and white. Just realize that with measurements it’s more of a long term thing. In other words you know that your arms aren’t going to grow ¼ inch every week, so you have to do less frequent measures like every 6 weeks or you’ll get disappointed, waist you could do every other week. So yes, I think measurements are a useful tool, as are pictures, a scale, and how clothes fit! Of course also hitting PR’s on certain exercises to strive for performance is another good idea!
Do you change the weight by feel, or do you force some small increases in weight every now and then?
Progressive resistance is a good thing! Basically my rule is to keep going up a little at a time as long as I know I can keep good form, and not turn the exercise into a tendon and ligament only exercise. Bottom line is just to ensure you are pushing the max weight for the given number of reps when I call for it (with good form). Also if your weight lifted does not go up, don’t assume that your session was a failure. There are many paths to hypertrophy.
Do you keep a training log of your own training and what is your opinion on keeping one in general.
I do not like logs for advanced trainees. There is so much to what constitutes a good session besides going up in weight (assuming that you are keeping a log to track increases in the amount of resistance you are using), so many different factors. The order of your exercises, your previous night’s rest, and so forth all are in play here. The number one rule is intensity. Train hard, smart, and consistent and you won’t need a log
Accommodating Resistance (bands, chains)
How often you recommend implement band training into your program.
Bands are a double edged sword. On one hand the eccentric overload that you feel when the band is pulling against you is doing some cool things, damaging muscles, setting the stage for good adaptations, but if overdone, overtraining can set in. Now if you know me, you know I don’t toss around that word a lot, because I just don’t believe most people train hard enough to ever fear the overtraining boogeyman. I try to limit them to no more than 4 to 6 weeks in a row, with at least another 4 to 6 weeks off minimum. This applies to banded bench presses, leg presses, squats,deads, etc. Basic exercises. Things like band pull-aparts, and reverse banding exercises, are ok to do more of and have a different effect.
I ordered the band set of www.elitefts.com, I was just wondering what are some good exercises to incorporate them with?
Off the top of my head, here are my favorite band exercises.
- Long red Pro Mini bands – Leg presses, Hammer presses, dumbbell presses, bench presses, tricep pressdowns, band crunches
- Long red Pro Monster mini bands – Leg press, hyperextensions
- Long thick orange bands – Reverse band benching, squatting, deadlifting, standing good mornings
- Short red pro mini – Spidercrawls
- Short orange micro mini – Face pulls (rear delts)
You can see most of these as well as how to hook up bands on my YouTube channel under the banded playlist!
I was thinking of ordering the chains complete set from www.elitefts.com. Would that be enough to use for the press, squats, and deadlifts?
You want to get a complete set, and then one to two extra sets. You can use them on bench, curls, squats, deads, and lots of other stuff. The truth is, I LOVE training with chains, more than anything really. As you get stronger, you could get more for your squats, but you won’t need more for anything else. You can also use them for bodyweight stuff like push ups, dips,etc. Read this article on www.tnation.com with information about bands and chains for bodybuilding.
Training Equipment/Safety (belts, straps, wraps)
What’s your opinion on using a weight belt and straps when lifting?
I would use straps on all rowing and deadlifts (using a double overhand grip). I would also wear a belt on squats, anything bent over like rows or deadlifts as well. Always be aware of lower back safety, trust me I have seen many lower backs become completely shot over the years because someone was too proud to wear a belt.
Knee wraps yes or no?
I don’t like knee wraps in general because your teardrop/vastus medialis doesn’t work as hard and gets weaker putting MORE pressure on your knees.
What are your thoughts on using wraps and sleeves on the knees and elbows?
I am not a fan of wraps at all. I feel like they don’t allow all the correct musculature to work. I do really like sleeves though. I wear elbow sleeves (actually knee sleeves around my elbows) when I do any pressing at all. I rub some Biofreeze on my elbows then put the sleeves on top. I don’t wear sleeves on my knees, but I see nothing wrong with that either. It’s just helping keep the joint warm, and not doing the work for the muscle.
When it comes to women, does your training style change completely like full body over splits, circuits, less days, less overall volume etc.
Hell no. They hit weights hard like my guys do, if their goal is to tone or build muscle.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated day in and day out in the gym?
The truth is that I am sometimes not real motivated during the week, when I get off work (note – I answered this question back when I had a demanding corporate job). I don’t miss though, and usually once I am there, I get dialed in and I’m good to go. The weekends on the other hand are totally different. I am fired up every weekend for my leg workout Saturday morning, and Chest/Shoulder workout Sunday. I think the more things you have on your mind, and the more exhausted you get as the day goes, the harder it is to stay motivated. I do little things too, like watch YouTube videos that I find inspiring. If you really dread going on, that may also be your body saying it just needs a break. Don’t be afraid to back off a few days when that happens. Your muscle won’t magically fall off.
As a guy who has a family, but who also is very passionate about bodybuilding and health I would like your thoughts. I find that while certain people are supportive, there are plenty of people who dislike the habit or sport, and feel that it both affects free time, or social occasions, and has other negative associations. Did you just luck out and have an understanding family, or did it take some time to get people to understand where you’re coming from?
Yes, the balance thing I have had to work at that my whole life. I still do daily! I made sure every relationship I got into, I was up front and said that no matter what, I will never stop training, so don’t even go there. In terms of family, I never really had one, just a loving grandma that raised me and she was very supportive. I have been on my own much of my life, and am very independent, and let me tell you, it took some adjusting with the new family….funny you ask this.
My wife said to me 2 weeks ago, you really are a different person, you are much less selfish with your time, so thanks. I was pretty happy to hear that. Because if it were just me, I’d go to work, train, go see a movie, eat, write an article and go to bed. One thing that I did that helped with my family, is I made them a part of it (wife) without making them become it. She likes to train a little here and there, but I never force anything on her. I let her know that she doesn’t need to be a figure queen with me. At the same time, I offer her a lot of support in things that she likes. THIS IS THE KEY! She volunteers a lot, and has a lot of church activities, by being selfless and supporting the things your girlfriend likes, if she is a good person, she will return the favor…if not, well you don’t want to know what I think. The lesson is to be selfless IF they deserve it, and support them in the things they like, or it’s not fair for you to ask them to support you.