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Show muscles and light weights!

“I don’t want to look good”, said no one ever!






I’ve been thinking a lot about the research article I shared with you the other day and how to better apply it in our program.  Research is often times playing catch up to what happens in the real world, yet once it’s finally done, it can help crystallize your parameters or guidelines.






The things that stand out to me from the article are:
  • lifting to failure (can’t lift the weight anymore)
  • 3 sets
  • single joint exercise
  • lifted 2x/wk for 8 weeks
  • readjusted (retested) 1RM after 4 weeks (8 workouts)
  • assessed subjects rate of perceived exertion (RPE) after every workout
  • comparable to lifting heavy weights to failure
  • subjects ate their regular diet
  • 1-leg did reps to failure
  • the other leg did reps not to failure, but completed same total volume in greater than 3 sets.






In the article the subjects did a leg extension for +/- 34 reps per set with a load that was 30% of their 1 rep maximum.  If the weight is that light you’d have to assume the pace was pretty quick, either 2sec / rep (1 sec up, 1 sec down) or 3sec / rep (1sec up, 1sec pause, 1sec down or 1sec up, 2sec down).  The article did not say.






Let’s assume it was 2sec / rep x 34 reps = 68sec per set.  They rested 2 minutes and repeated.






I’m not sure how to get everything we do in a given workout while providing 70sec of work time for 1 exercise, especially a single joint exercise.  It is a much better use of everyone’s time if we hit large, multi-joint, compound movements if you only had 70 sec for a set.  Even then, 70sec is a lot of time to allocate to 1 exercise in a group setting, and then still have to do 2 more sets.  That’s 3.5 min for 3 sets.  If you did 4 different exercises (squat, hinge, push and pull) or let’s call it 5 if you had a right / left exercise (like lunges, 1-leg squats, 1-leg SLDL’s or 1-arm rows).  That’s 14min or 17.5min to be budgeted for work time only, not including rest, rotate & set up time for the next exercise, which would be the most efficient thing to do if nobody wanted to stand around watching, while they rested for 2-minutes.






If you stripped away the med balls, hurdles and dumbbell power exercises, you could make up that time, but then you’d be trading some really fun and athletic power development for more beach muscles, which might be o.k. for some, but not all and you never appreciate what you have until its gone.  You need both show muscles and go muscles.  The cool thing is that go muscles help to give you show muscles, but show muscles don’t necessarily give you go muscles.






I don’t know yet what to do.






How can we implement the principles and still get a similar effect?






Maybe we’re already addressing it, but we can fine tune it a bit.






Well, we know that HIIT training works and this study showed that it decreased body fat.  Decreasing body fat is what most everyone wants and if you decrease body fat, then it’s much easier to see your muscles and shape, which compliments the goal of working on show muscles.






Here are 2 ideas I have so far.






1.  Show Muscle Finisher (completed on own time)
2.  Head to Head Show Muscle Finisher (completed on own time).






1.  Show Muscle Finisher (completed on own time)
The first 2 weeks of every phase are teaching weeks (also guest weeks) in which members stand around and learn the new exercises and progressions we’ll be doing this phase while I do the demonstrations.  We tested in the 4th quarter of 2019, a show muscle finisher that members could do while they watched or while we rotated and set up for the next circuit or at the end of the workout to help them peak for holiday hotness.  Not everyone did it, but those that did really enjoyed it. Here are the exercises with guidelines.




  • DB Farmers Carry (full court down & back)
  • Push Ups x20
  • Biceps Curls x8
  • Triceps Kickback x12e
  • DB Lateral Raise x12
  • Band Pull Aparts x12
  • 1-Leg Calf Raise x20e





  • First things first.  More than 1 set per exercise is not realistic.  Even adding this finisher isn’t realistic all the time, but it does fit.  Ask anyone who’s done it and you can find the time to do it while you’re at the gym.






    Since we’re only going to do 1 set, then we could do max reps to failure.  If the study showed it took 34 reps to reach failure on a leg extension and that equated to 68 seconds, then we’re looking at 9 exercises x 70 seconds = 630sec or 10.5 minutes.  It’s doubtful anyone could find 10.5 minutes of standing around time in the workout, but I’m guessing anyone who tries this and starts to feel and see a change in the mirror, will quickly start finding time before, during and after the workout to get it in.






    2.  Head to Head Show Muscle Finisher (completed on own time).

    One thing when lifting to failure is knowing when you really can’t do anymore.  The first thing to look for is if your form breaks down, but with light weights, you could stop, rest a second, collect yourself and mentally try harder to hold strict form.  The second is to have a workout partner or coach who knows you and can tell if you have anymore left or if you’re mentally choosing to stop (the body does what the mind tells it too).





    This could be fun.  You find a friend and you stand face to face or side to side and you do the same exercise at the same time or in a you go, I go manner, until you can’t do anymore.  This would naturally help you push a little further and bring out your best.  If we’re talking show muscles, training with workout partners was a key to Arnold’s long run as Mr. Olympia.






    Those are my 2 ideas so far for how to implement this new research in our programming.  I feel very good about how our current system (HIIT, paired & circuit training, highs w/ lows, pushes w/ pulls, mix of body weight and loads, 2 hips to 1 knee, strength & conditioning, cardio minutes, nutrition plan, daily habits, linear & lateral days, multiple levels) addresses the body composition goals of weight loss, body fat loss, muscle building and +/- inches.  How can we make it even better?  I’m not sure yet, but I look forward to figuring it out.  In the meantime, try the Show Muscle Finisher yourself and either use the prescribed reps or lift to failure.






    Loving the show muscle swagger,






    Coach Mike






    About the Author
    is the owner and founder of Athletes by Alves a performance training company and co-owner of Change Your Body Boot Camps a full service lifestyle transformation program. He is a Licensed and Certified Athletic Trainer with the Prestigious National Athletic Trainers Association and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the World Renowned National Strength and Conditioning Association. As a coach and trainer he has helped thousands of people return to health, improve their shape and achieve personal bests through performance training.

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