I’ve been a strength coach for more than two decades, and I’ve come across a lot of dumb workouts. The following workout protocol is not only one of the dumbest I’ve ever seen, but it’s virtually impossible to perform. It’s especially disturbing because the coach who came up with it is well known in the field of strength and conditioning, gives seminars on athletic fitness and publishes many books on this topic.
The author of this exercise prescription is apparently a fan of Scooby Doo, because he has nicknamed himself “Shaggy.” It can even be said that this man doesn’t know his own strength. Case in point: During a workout with a respected powerlifting coach, after bench pressing 135 pounds Shaggy jumped to 185 and got pinned (as Scooby would say, “Ruh Row!”). OK, on with this training gem.
Shaggy recommended this exercise prescription on the Internet as part of a strength-endurance protocol:
C-1 Pull-up, 6 x 8-12, no rest
C-2 Standing Barbell Curl, 6 x 8-12, rest 60 seconds
The Science of Post-Exhaustion Training
Because Shaggy’s multi-joint exercise is immediately followed by an isolation exercise, it is classified as a post-exhaustion protocol. This is in contrast to the more popular superset called pre-exhaustion, which involves performing an isolation exercise followed immediately by a multi-joint exercise. The Bulgarians popularized post-exhaustion protocols, often starting their Olympic lifting workouts with squats. Nautilus founder Arthur Jones popularized pre-exhaustion protocols, even designing machines that combines two exercises that worked the same muscle group into one, such as a leg extension and a leg press (which he called the compound leg machine).
The value of post-exhaustion training is that the first exercise recruits a lot of motor units. If you’re training the legs, a squat would be a good exercise to start with in a post-exhaustion superset. For the triceps, the bench press is a solid choice. And for the biceps, the chin-up. Although I would prefer to superset chin-ups with low incline dumbbell curls or Scott curls, standing barbell curls are fine.
What would an effective post-exhaustion arm workout look like? Here are smart workouts for the triceps, biceps and the brachialis:
A-1. Parallel Bar Dips: 4 x 4-6, 3210, rest 10 seconds
A-2. Overhead Rope Extension: 4 x 8-10, 3110, rest 3 minutes
A-1. Close-Grip Chin-up: 4 x 4-6, 4010, rest 10 seconds
A-2. Low Incline Dumbbell Curl: 4 x 6-8, 5010, rest 3 minutes
A-1. Close-Grip Semi-Supinated Pull-up: 4 x 4-6, 4010, rest 10 seconds
A-2. Seated Zottmann Dumbbell Curl: 4 x 4-6, 3210, rest 3 minutes
Note that I’m allowing three minutes of rest to allow for nearly full recovery between supersets, and I’m prescribing only four sets. This is in contrast to Shaggy’s workout, in which only 60 seconds of rest are permitted, meaning that going into the next set of chin-ups, the individual will be considerably weaker than in the previous set. Further, Shaggy recommends – for no apparent reason – performing such exhaustive training for six sets.
A Dumb Idea Made Even Dumber
I said earlier that this workout is virtually impossible to perform, because there are exceptions. So, who could perform it? Perhaps, say, the top dozen male gymnasts in the last Olympic Games, a world champion in biathlon, a world champion kayaker and possibly the Olympic medalists in the 500 meters K-1 race, and…no, that’s about it. I say this because each superset contains a range of between 88 and 132 seconds of time under tension (again, with only 60 seconds of rest. Just to complete the pull-up/biceps curl superset portion of the routine, you’d need to be able to perform 60 consecutive pull-ups – cold.
Even in the most fit individuals, with only a 60-second rest between supersets you’d expect at least a 10 to 15 percent drop in maximal strength in each superset or, in terms of reps, a five-rep drop every superset. That is, for the first three sets; after that, the drop would be much greater: 20 to 30 percent.
Let’s say you have an athlete who could perform 12 pull-ups with an additional 60 pounds attached to their waist. The process of cumulative fatigue would probably produce the following results:
12 pull-ups with bodyweight plus 60 pounds
12 reps in the standing barbell at 100 pounds
12 pull-ups with bodyweight plus 35 pounds
12 reps in the standing barbell at 90 pounds
12 pull-ups with bodyweight plus 15 pounds
12 reps in the standing barbell at 80 pounds
6 pull-ups with bodyweight
12 reps in the standing barbell at 50 pounds
And there are two more sets left! The resulting fatigue would be so severe due to the inadequate prescription of loading parameters that the quality of the workout would be severely hampered. This workout violates a training principle I call the “critical drop-off point.”
The critical drop-off point presents the idea that if there is an excessive decrease between one set to the next in terms of reps or the amount of weight used, you should terminate that exercise. For example, if you could perform 10 reps in the biceps curl with a specific weight, and on the next set only five, you should stop. Not only do you target a different motor unit pool, but you also tap into the recovery ability of the athlete. With the above protocol, the critical drop-off point occurs after the first set! Hence, the prescription of six sets is completely unrealistic.
Another fatigue factor to consider is that the pull-up/curl prescription is the last superset in a workout that contains three supersets. The first two pairs have a total volume of 24 sets. The first superset includes a wide-based squat of six sets of 12! Who can do that many pull-ups after performing six sets of 12RM squats?
Because Coach Shaggy possesses a physique more like that of the Shaggy cartoon character than that of Popeye, he has obviously never done this routine. I suspect he doesn’t even know anyone who has ever done it or is capable of doing it – few individuals on this planet have the genetic potential to ever complete such a routine. This workout is a dumb idea and, considering the exposure it received on the Internet, irresponsible as well.
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