10 Rapid Fire Ideas to Boost Your Gains

Rough Strength Rapid Fire IdeasThere is a whole gamut of ideas fighting in my head every day. So, I decided to pick the best ones I came up with lately and to write an article about them. Everybody loves ideas and lists, right? Let’s go.

1. Confidence Sets

If you are not wasting your training time on useless crap and have worked up to some heavy ass weights in your compound exercises, then you should have been scared to lift that amount of weight at least once. Self-doubt is normal at this point. This is our brain’s self-defense function. Anyway, this is when confidence sets come really handy.

Let’s use the deadlift as an example. At the moment of writing this article, my working weight in the deadlift is 180 kg. Usually, I warm up with 70-75 kg for 6-8, then 120-125 kg for 5, then 140 kg for 3. By this time, I feel pretty warmed up, however, instead of going right to the working weight, I perform confidence sets with 160 kg and 170 kg for 1-2 reps.

What’s the trick? Confidence sets are intermediate warm-up sets that should be performed just for 1-2 reps. Their goal is to give you confidence in your strength (hence the name) while not tiring you physically. I implement this technique with every exercise I have doubts in, and it works every time.

Additionally, this trick can be used with advanced calisthenics. However, I never applied it this way because somehow calisthenics always seem safer psychologically.

2. Frustration in Advanced Lifting

If you are a novice lifter and you train correctly, then you are probably stoked for strength training. I bet you are counting seconds to your training sessions, and you think that you would train all the time if you could. Additionally, you may believe that the stronger you get, the more awesome workouts you have. Well, the reality is contrary to this. The more advanced you get, the less cool sessions you experience.

How to retain interest in strength training despite the frustration? If you are a seasoned lifter, then the best way to do this (except smarter programming) is to keep your expectations low. You should not get frustrated if you miss a lift or if you feel weak at a certain session. If you eat enough protein and calories on a regular basis and your programming is decent, then the reasons for a missed lift (or overall fatigue) are out of your control. Besides, one session means nothing in the long term.

Additionally, I suggest you to listen to your body, to embrace such sessions, and to use them for some sort of an auto-regulated de-load. If you feel no energy at your workout, then do not sweat it. Do less volume and call it a day. On the other hand, if you feel energized, then give yourself a high-five and lift as much and as long as you can.

3. Simplicity in Nutrition

I seem to talk about simplicity in every article. Nevertheless, I’m ready to repeat this over and over: “Simpler = better”.

When it comes to nutrition, there are lots of approaches. And there are all kinds of hype about it. It seems that smart marketers want you to concentrate on any minor aspect of dieting except the stuff that actually works. I won’t call names here, but you know who and what I mean. Interestingly, people hop on the false diet guru’s train without even applying common sense to what he/she says. Well, nobody wants a simple answer, everybody wants a secret.

To cut a long story short, there are only 4 numbers that control how you look:

– Calories;

– Protein;

– Carbs;

– Fat.

That’s it. If you fine-tune these numbers, you WILL reach your aesthetic goals. Everything else doesn’t matter much. If your numbers are right, you can eat whatever you want and whenever you want. But ONLY if your numbers are right.

How to find out your numbers? This will require experimentation and patience. The blueprint is simple:

– Find out the amount of calories you need to maintain your bodyweight. If you are not familiar with calorie counting, then just multiply your bodyweight in pounds (BW in kg X 2.2) by 12 to 16 (if you have a sedentary lifestyle, then use 12; if you spend the whole day on your feet, then use 16; if you are in between, try 14). Eat this amount of calories every day at least for 2 weeks. If your bodyweight stays the same after these 2 weeks, then your number is correct (give yourself a round of applause for being a lucky mofo). If you lose weight, then you are eating too little. In this case, you need to add 100-200 calories to your daily amount and to stay with this number for another 2 weeks. If you gain weight, then you need to subtract 100-200 calories and stay there for another 2 weeks.

– Your calories should be comprised of proper macronutrient amounts. Your protein should be at least 2.2 g per 1 kg of your bodyweight and somewhere between 30-40% of your daily calories.

– I wouldn’t recommend eating too much fats. Anything between 20-30% of your daily calories should do.

– The rest of your daily calories should be carbs.

– You can experiment with carb to fat ratio, but it is more a matter of preference. Appearance-wise and performance-wise it shouldn’t make too much of a difference if you stay in given ranges.

– After establishing your maintenance, decide what you need: to build muscle or to lose fat. The rule of thumb is if you are comfortable with your current bodyfat level, then you need to bulk. If not, then you need to cut.

– To cut, you need to be in a caloric deficit. To do this, you need to subtract 10-20% of your daily calories. Optimally, do this at expense of carbs and fats. The safe rate of weight loss is usually around 2 kg per month. If you are losing weight too fast, then add back 100 calories. If you are losing weight too slow, then subtract 100 calories.

– To bulk, you need to eat over your maintenance. Add 10-20% to your number. The safe rate of mass gain is usually around 1-2 kg per 2 months. If you are gaining too much fat, cut back 100 calories. If you are not gaining weight, then add 100 calories.

This is it. Fuck anything else and stop overthinking. Do just this and you will reach your aesthetic goals. Once you understand that simple stuff works, then you can start experimenting with flashy techniques. But are they really necessary?

NOTE: Of course, I assume that you are not a beginner. For novice lifters, everything may be a bit easier and faster.

There are several additional points I need to discuss in this section.

A) Yes, you can eat anything you want as long as you know this food’s calories and macros. Flexible dieting works. However, if you are in a caloric deficit, then I would suggest to pick rice over cookies, because it keeps you way fuller. In my case, less hunger guarantees that nobody gets hurt around me.

B) Why no calorie cycling? Because it is not necessary. The effect it gives you is not that significant. The same goes for carb cycling.

C) If you implement the concept of weekly calories over daily calories, then calorie cycling can work good (and can be somewhat fun). All you need is to give yourself a weekly calorie goal instead of daily. This way you will be able to vary your daily calories as much as you wish and still get the results because your weekly calories will be in check. For example, instead of eating 2500 calories per day, aim to eat 17500 calories per week. This can look like this:

Mon – 2100

Tue – 2600

Wed – 2500

Thu – 2200

Fri – 2300

Sat – 2800

Sun – 3000

Total: 17500

D) No intermittent fasting? While it is a really effective way to eat a lot in one sitting and still lose fat, it is not essential.

E) “But there are tons of guys who get results without counting calories” you may say. If you are one of them, then you are a lucky bastard. If not, then man up and do what needs to be done. If you are not able to control 4 simple numbers in your life, then you probably have no balls either.

F) Finally, the most important thing I learned about nutrition is that you can’t build muscle and lose fat at the same time (unless you are a beginner, a steroid user, or the incredible Hulk).

4. Wrist Health

If you are serious about calisthenics and handbalancing, then you need to think about keeping your wrists healthy. It can be really tempting to skip the proper warm-up and wrist-strengthening exercises, but the price will be high. If you fuck your wrists up, then you won’t be able to perform the majority of bodyweight exercises and, importantly, you will get weaker at them. Additionally, recovery will take some serious time. So, don’t be a dumbass and implement the exercises on the video into your weekly training routine.

5. Heavy Isolation Work

The video below got me thinking. What if we can build up our smaller bodyparts faster with heavy isolation work?

Well, my idea is simple. What if heavy isolation work can lead to more strength and muscle growth in smaller bodyparts? If I remember correctly, something similar wrote Brooks Kubik in his Dinosaur Training. Also, Reg Park comes to my mind with his 5 x 5 in calf raises.

So, I invite you to try this out with me. The rules are simple:

– Exercise selection should be smart. The health of your joints should be a priority. Heavy skull crushers is a retarded idea. Heavy close-grip bench presses or one-arm bodyweight triceps extensions are good ideas.

– The body part is up to you.

– Perform 2-3 exercises specifically for a chosen bodypart once a week. The first exercise should be done with heavy weight and for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps. The second and third ones should be performed for 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps.

Let me know how this worked for you.

6. Deadlifting Heavy Once per Two Weeks

This may sound counter-intuitive, but once you are past twice-bodyweight deadlift, training the exercise in a heavy mode (3 x 3; 4 x 2; working up to 1-, 2-, or 3-rep max, etc.) once per two weeks can work better than once a week. This may happen due to a fact that the deadlift is quite stressful to your nervous system, and two weeks allow more rest for CNS.

Anyway, if you decide to implement this technique, should you rest for the whole two weeks between sessions? No. This can work, but it is not optimal. My preferred method is to alternate between heavy and assistance sessions. This way you rest, but not lose the skill. Say, your weak point is the lockout. Your sessions can look like this:

Week 1: Heavy Deadlifts – 3 x 3

Week 2: Rack Pulls – 3 x 6

Week 3: Heavy Deadlifts – 4 x 2 (+5 kg)

Week 4: Rack Pulls – 3 x 5 (+5 kg)

Week 5: (progress further)

This technique seems to work really well for me. Try it and let me know how it worked for you.

7. Amounts of Cardio

Most lifters have a love/hate relationship with cardio. I was one of them until I discovered that cardio can be fun. After that, I faced a new “problem”. I love skateboarding so much that I ride and do tricks 3-5 times per week and usually for more than an hour. This exceeds the usual prescription of “15-30 minutes a couple times per week” quite a bit. What “gurus” say about too much cardio? “You will inevitably lose muscle”. Have I experienced muscle loss? No. Why? Because I followed the guidelines I laid out in the point #3 of this article. I ate the proper amounts of weekly calories for my regimen (no matter how unpredictable it was). Also, I want to point out that all this “cardio eats your muscle” fear is quite overrated. Cardiovascular activity is good for your heart (obviously) and general health. It will help you to lose fat easier and to keep fat gain at minimum while bulking. All you need to do is to monitor the rate of your weight loss/weight gain. If you are losing/gaining weight at a rate I mentioned at the point #3 of this article, then you should be fine. The point to look out for, though, is overtraining. If you are working too hard at your cardio session, you may need to squeeze in a day of rest before your next strength workout.

Additional advantage of cardio/supplemental activity is this G-Flux thing. You can read about it here. In several words, it states that eating more while training more leads to a better body composition than eating less while training less. For example, the same person will experience more gainz training more and eating a maintenance of 3000 calories, than training less and eating a maintenance of 2500 calories. Is it true? It may be. Anyway, it should be an additional stimulus not to drop the activity/sport you like just because some bozo who knows nothing about nutrition told you that too much cardio “eats your muscle”.

8. Breathing

“- When you feel life out of focus… always return to basic of life.

– What, praying?

– Breathing. No breathe, no life.”

Recently, I found out that deep breathing is a cure for lots of mental and even physical problems. As busy adults, we rarely concentrate on breathing in our daily activities. That’s certainly a big mistake. If you think that, deep breathing is too easy of an answer to basic mental health and confidence, let me challenge you. Try to concentrate on breathing deep all the time for next 5 days. It should not take much effort (well, except some focus and commitment). Breathe into your belly, not chest. Make all your breaths as deep as possible. After 5 days, let me know how you feel. I bet you will be calmer, more relaxed and confident. When I tried this for the first time, I experienced spontaneous smiling and laughter, and a general sense of well-being and happiness. I bet you should feel this too.

9. Assess/Reassess

If you still are looking for the best training program or diet approach, let me stop you. Let me share another secret with you. There is no best training program, as well as there is no best diet approach. They all work and they all fail at the same time. The variable that determines whether they work or not is you.

How to create the best training program and diet approach for you? It is quite simple. You need to take a time-tested approach like the Starting Strength program or flexible dieting. You need to give it a fair amount of time (3 months minimum) and to follow everything precisely. The results should be written down, of course. Then you need to sit down and analyze what worked and what didn’t. Obviously, keep doing what works until it stops. What didn’t work should be adjusted. Be creative and brave. If you try every possible solution and the thing still doesn’t work (usually because it is complicated, not simple), then drop it or replace it with something similar.

That’s how you create the best training program and the best diet approach for you.

10. Drinking

Finally, let’s talk about good old booze. Ain’t you have a feeling that your day is wasted unless you have a glass of heart-warming bourbon? With all seriousness, I see no big deal in drinking in moderation. I don’t think that booze by itself will have a serious impact on your body composition either, especially if you drink only on cheat days, or take it into account (yes, beer, wine and their spirit friends have calories too). The only thing to look out for is alcoholism, but for it to develop, you need a mix of low willpower and high daily alcohol consumption (which is highly unlikely for a person who reads the Rough Strength blog regularly).

Also, let me say a couple of words to health nazis here. If you decide to live clean, hooray for you; this kind of commitment is certainly respectable. However, if you think that everybody must live clean, fuck you. Everybody has their own choice.

Closing Thoughts

At first, I thought to split this article into several parts, but then I decided to leave it as is. I hope you have found something useful in these 2900+ rapid fire words. Thanks for reading.

Play rough!


P.S. In case you missed the podcast we did with Scott Iardella, check it out here.

Every time you don’t like and share this article, you upset a kitten somewhere.

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8 thoughts on “10 Rapid Fire Ideas to Boost Your Gains

  1. TS

    One thing on cardio: Constant intensity cardio over a long period of time, like running slowly for two hours, use a lot of protein. Ultrarunners has a considerably higher proteinsynthesis than lifters or bodybuilders. Hence, it is probably a good idea to increase your protein intake quite considerably if you engage in this kind of cardio.

    If you keep your sessions to about an hour, however, the effect on protein synthesis is small, and it seems like carbohydrates or fats serve just as well to preserve bodymass.

  2. Luc Pedneault

    Breathing. Finally I see it in a top 10. Breathing is awesome. Breathe deeply and expand your rib cage and don’t hyperventilate. Won’t hurt you but when you pass out you can chip a tooth. Strong lifters breathe. Deeply and strongly. And only hold their breath at a crucial spot in a lift and always resume breathing deeply and strongly after the lift. If you ever work with a coach they will beat you over the head with breathing cycles and techniques. This is a really crucial topic to anyone who wants to lift. And not just weights but logs, weighted bags, boxes and so on. That oxygen is worth more than protein. Thumbs up for putting it on the list. Luc

  3. Lane Batot

    But, uh, hair is ALREADY growing on my palms!…….Howdy, Alex! JUST finished reading yer book “Rough Strength”–gawd, I LOVE it! I have PLENTY I’d like to share/comment on about it. Perhaps over time–I don’t have a computer(or cell phone or flat screen TV–rather a primitive sort I am….) so limited as to computer access, and I also don’t type–just “hunt-and-peck” with my right index finger! But I have a damn buff right index finger, if I do say so myself! Anyway, I’ll try and check in and throw some comments/ideas yer way when I can. Already enjoying this website too!…..L.B.

      1. Lane Batot

        As I’ve continued reading on this site, I see that I’m not the only one with hairy palms…..And incidentally, if you cook them right, kittens can be very tasty and nutritious! But back to the subject of exercise….L.B.

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