Workout Critique

“Keep thy hook always baited, for a fish lurks even in the most unlikely swim.”


Al was kind enough to offer up one of his recent workouts for me to critique.  Remember though, as you read through this, what my preconceived biases are: that power, speed and body control trump conventional endurance (i.e., “long and slow”) and raw strength.  If you’re an endurance athlete or a power lifter/strong man competitor, you’ll see things through a completely different prism.  Not wrong, mind you – just different.

So without further ado, here’s Al; my comments will be in italics – 

So following your advice, I went to the gym yesterday, and did this (mainly upper body oriented) workout:

Warm up: “The Cred”: 33 lbs x 5, 44 lbs x 5, 55 lbs x 3

It was the first time for me to do the Cred, and I noticed that I was using my arms on a few reps rather than hips only. Any tips about making sure the hips do all the work?

This is something that takes a bit of practice.  The tendency for most people who are not used to the movement is to utilize the arms too much – it’s a normal response.  While performing this exercise (or any O-lift or O-lift derivative), employ this visualization: picture a 10lb. weight dangling at one end of a rope, the other end of which is held in your hand.  So the weight is just hanging there, motionless, the rope is taught.  Now, give the rope a jerk with a short, quick, and explosive “pop”.  As the weight is projected upward, the rope goes slack (analogous to the initial pull) and, at a certain point (and for a fraction of a second), the weight remains motionless at the apex or rise/fall transition point (analogous to the “drop under”/catch portion of the lift).  That initial “pop” is delivered by your posterior chain.  Again, it takes practice to perfect this movement, and your cns has to be trained to fire/relax at a high frequency – a little more on that in an upcoming post.

Then I moved on the the bench press (I know, bad, but I want to reach a token 220 lbs max before quitting!) with hierarchical sets ala DeVany:
154 lbs x 7, 160 x 5, 165 x 3, 170 x 1

Nothing at all wrong with hierarchical training – and at certain points along one’s lifting career (and dependent upon goals), it is totally justified – just realize that this type training affects hypertrophy to a greater degree than strength or power.  Power and/or RFD work is probably more so called for here.  I doubt your cns is optimized (otherwise “arming-up” the Cred wouldn’t be an issue – the movement would’ve been more “automatic” for you), so I’d suggest some plyo work in the form of ballistic push-ups variations, etc., and some power-oriented pressing movements.

This was the first time I cranked a 1xbw (170 lbs) on the bench press so patted myself on the back for that :D . Will try to keep progressing as I did for the past weeks (+5/6 lbs every week) until I reach 220 lbs, then drop the bench press for ballistic push-ups and other niceties.

This depends on whether you think that you’re being held back by the size of your engine (hypertrophy), or that engine’s tuning (cns activation/power production ability).  If I had to guess from what I’m seeing here, I’d say the latter.

Then I went for standing shoulder press negatives (jerk on the concentric part, then slow negative). Did 2 sets with 110 lbs, first with 6 reps, second with 4 reps (fried by then).

I like this combo for shoulder work as well.

Then I did 2 cycles of weighted chin-ups (26 lbs)/dips (40 lbs), only doing the negative part and pulling myself up with the legs. Managed to do 3 chin-ups and 6 dips on the first cycle, then 3 and 4 on the second one before I was fried.

I’d suggest supersetting the jerks/presses with pull-ups in this scenario.  High pulls or barbell muscle-ups are a good pairing for dips.  Just my preference, though. 

I finished by trying the GHR machine for the first time. However, since it was lacking the plate on which the feet are supposed to rest, my shins would slide, making me unable to pull myself up properly (I feel that I could do at least 2-3 reps if held properly). So I could only pull a little bit (maybe 20 or 30 degrees) after being parallel to the floor (going down from a vertical position was impossible with this setting). I did a few attempts at it and called it a day.

It sounds like you’re on a “Roman Chair” versus a true GHR deck.  You need to find some kind of set-up that will allow the locking down of your feet. 

I was pretty happy with the workout, if it wasn’t for the GHR experience. Just a bit disappointed that I get fried so quickly doing negatives.

My questions for you:

– Do you have tips on making sure that the arms are not used during oly lifts (the Cred, clean etc)?

– Since I really want to do GHRs (seems like a fantastic exercise), I was thinking of finding a way to bind my feet to the machine we have to simulate a resting plate. Any tips on how that could be done? (Bands? Glue?? :D )

I’ve never really found a viable option for the real deal.  I have known guys who’ve used extra heavy-duty kneepads (kinda like what carpet layers wear) along with the buddy system or an extra-heavy sandbag to keep their feet in place.  The problem then becomes loosing that wonderful bottom stretch that the GHR affords.

– Any opinions about this workout as for upper-body mass building (i.e. am I going in the right direction)?

We need to define whether the goal here is mass (i.e., a bigger engine) or strength (i.e., a 220lb bench max) because, unless you are a relative beginner, these two goals will not (necessarily) coincide.  At the very least, they’re not directly correlated. 

Thanks in advance!


Got any advice for Al?  Let him hear your thoughts. 

In health,


22 responses to “Workout Critique

  1. Just wondering why Al’s picked 220lbs as the goal for bench press. Seems arbitrary.

    Did he mean 225lbs (two plates per side)?

  2. Great description of how it should feel to do the Cred correctly — best I’ve seen

    Question: what is this GHR business? been meaning to ask…

    I find standing press better than bench press for overall power (especially if you clean the weight yourself), but I know the pressure of wanting to hit certain BPress goals…

  3. Keith,

    Thanks a lot for taking the time to go over it, that’s definitely very helpful!

    Since you asked me to define my goals, I’ll expand a bit on that. First some background: I’m 26 y.o., 6’2″ and 170 lbs. I discovered the paleo lifestyle last year (July) through Arthur DeVany’s website, and switched to it overnight (weighted 198 lbs back then). I started working out seriously back then (mainly squats, deadlifts and bench press, then introduced shoulder press, one-armed bent-over rows, chin ups and dips as I my knowledge was expanding). Until now my workouts have mainly been high weight/low rep, for one or two sets at most unless it’s an ascending set.

    Although I got stronger in the past year, I consider myself to still be a relative beginner.

    Since I’ve been playing basket-ball for years, I have big and quite powerful legs, in contrast to my upper body which is smaller and weaker in comparison (they are quite unbalanced). Progress is also easier and faster for my lower body. Therefore my goals are hypertrophy first for the upper-body in order to have it balanced with the lower body, and then focus on strenght/power after that. As for the lower body, I’m after a base of strenght (2x bw deadlift, 2.5x bw squat) before focusing exclusively on power for basket-ball (sprint and vertical leap). I DON’T want hypertrophy for the lower body as I already have a hard time finding pants that fit my combination of big legs/thin waist.

    About the lower body, I have recently come to the conclusion that I was held back by my posterior chain. Indeed, I have strong quads, easily max the leg press machine (440 lbs), can explode very easily on the upper 2/3 of a 350 lbs squat (can’t put more than that on the bar since at this point my shoulders are crushed under the weight and my back struggles to keep everything together). However, if I do deep squats, I can only go as high as 300 lbs before the deep part of the squat becomes impossible. Same for deadlifts, where I seem to plateau at around the same weight (unless I take a sumo stance, which is easy since it mainly engages the quads). This is why I asked you on a previous post about how to develop the posterior chain, and as per your advice will focus on GHR’s (if I manage to bind myself to the roman chair), romanian deadlifts and snatches/clean & jerks while dropping the squat and leg press for a while.

    As for Jimbo’s question, 220 lbs is 100 kg (I’m not in the US and count in kgs, I just convert the weights to post here), which I consider symbolically as a minimum requirement for the bench press (a bit like earning your credentials at the gym), as a 2x bw squat and the like would be. Mainly ego based, admittedly. 😀

    To sum it up, I’m mainly after creating a base of strength (220 lbs bench, 2.5x bw squat, 2x deadlift) involving upper body (only) hypertrophy for balance and aesthetics, and then moving on to power-oriented workouts like yours for basket-ball (vertical leap/sprints) and general athleticism.

    With these goals in mind, how would your advice differ?

    As per your comments:

    – Thanks for the Cred advice. I’ll keep that trick in mind and will use it next time I go to the gym.

    – Engine size for the bench press: I do think that I have a small engine when it comes to the upper body. Although I have a good frame, my upper body muscles are just not very developped, especially compared to my lower body. Will try to take a picture and send it to your by mail to make my point.

    – Supersetting the jerk and pull up: That’s a good idea, I’ll give it a shot. I don’t think I’m ready for muscle ups yet though (if you mean the move that starts with a pull up and finishes with a dip-like move).

    Thanks a lot for taking the time to comment on this, I really appreciate it!


    • Hey Keith,

      How would you work up to a muscle up? I doubt I could do one as you have in your video. I’m thinking maybe using lowered rings to begin, or a bench (or similar) to gain some height and leverage to start out.


      • Two things you can do: (1) add a jump or otherwise push-off with your feet in some fashion, and (2) start with the power pull-up (very fast and high as possible pull up) and, over time, work your way up to a full m/u. The only bad thing about the first option is that a jump/push-off will throw off your kip timing for later on down the road, so that will add another obstacle to overcome.

        • You couldn’t be more right about the kip timing. This was a big obstacle for me, especially since I find the kip of a crossfit style kipping pullup to be different from the kip in a ring muscle up, which is in turn slightly different from my kip in a bar muscle up.

          The kip I prefer for the bar tends to look a little less like Keith’s (which is very similar to the crossfit kipping pullup) and more like the slight kip that this guy does in the last few reps of his 27 rep set! Or the way this guy does them.

          Don’t know if one way is the best way, but I definitely find it easier to do them on the bar in this manner.

          • I consider a “proper” kip one that helps propel your ass up and over the bar/ring 🙂 Seriously, though, I don’t know that I’ve even seen a “wrongly” executed muscle-up – ugly, maybe – but not wrong. And this is the beauty of a bodyweight exercise. Everyone has a unique body construction with which to work – prompting that unique body construction to effectively engage with real-world obstacles is what it’s all about. The definition of proper execution here is, by necessity, very plastic.

            • Definitely right. I imagine the kip variant that I’ve been using for my Bar muscle ups, with which I’ve only recently become competent, plays on my strengths and accommodates for my weaknesses. It seems to derive most of it’s power from whole body flexion vice whole body extension. Perhaps a video is in order to illustrate the difference.


      • A bar muscle-up was a long held goal of mine and I never seemed close to reaching it. My main issue was accelerating quickly enough to get up over the bar.

        I spent a long period of time concentrating on heavy weighted pullups, with a fast concentric motion and a slow eccentric motion. My goal was NOT to attain the muscle-up but to improve my pullup strength. After a while I decided to give muscle-ups a try and miraculously I hit my first muscle-up ever, followed quickly by my second and third. 🙂

        Based on personal experience, I might advise others to begin their muscle-up training with heavy weighted pullups in the 3-5 rep range. No doubt a day dedicated to unloaded speed pullups would also help, but as I didn’t KNOW I was working towards the muscle-up I didn’t do this.

    • Al,

      The 5 x 5 rep/set scheme seems to be a very good option for BOTH strength and hypertrophy, although Keith is right in that if you really wanted to focus on 1RM a more directed approach might be superior.

      • Max 1RM is just a milestone, the main goal being strength and hypertrophy for the upper-body. However, I didn’t think they were mutually exlusive since I always thought that a higher 1RM = stronger = more muscle, since reading that past the point of neural adaptation, strength gains and muscle cross-section are directly correlated. Therefore wouldn’t the Starting Strength 5×5 approach be just a step back?

          • Hey Keith, thanks for the comment.

            I just read your other post about neural efficiency. I do agree about its importance, and want to increase the neural efficiency of my lower body for sure. As for the upper body, I would like to get decent size/hypertrophy before focusing exclusively on neural efficiency.

            Indeed, people like you or DeVany already have a strong foundation of muscle. Therefore, focusing on neural efficiency and speed/power is in order. However, for beginners like me who still don’t have such a foundation of muscle (and want both a bigger and more aesthetically pleasing “engine”), the priorities would be different at first wouldn’t they?

            I would be interested in hearing about how you trained to get that foundation when you got started (unless you always had it), which would probably be more adequate for what I’m trying to achieve at this stage.


            • Looking back on it, I believe I was naturally neurologically efficient – always the strongest and fastest within my peer group, and naturally lean. When I did begin lifting weights, it was under more of a bodybuilding-type regimen, and I muscled-up easily. By the time I hit high school, though, I was beginning to tinker with more sport-oriented weight protocols. My high school level coaching was fairly advanced (for that time) – south/west Texas, football oriented. When I hit college, though, my training became completely sport oriented, and fell under the guidance of coaches who were skilled in the art of true strength and conditioning protocols. My athletic performance sky-rocketed during this period. Was this a result of the heavy bias to power-producing training protocols? Increased competition? natural physical maturity? Probably all three. I do believe that the training protocol, though, had a disproportionate positive effect.

              That said, though, you really can’t go wrong with a basic 5 x 5 (or similar) program to build a solid strength & hypertrophy platform from which to progress further. The “progressing further” part though is where the true gains are made.

  4. Hey guys,

    Al, I have the same problem. My upper body is not near to the level as my lower body. I love squats and deads (strange for a long-legged guy with a badk) but have the upper body strength of a 12 year old. Even when lifting heavy I have never been able to gain much size or strength. My lower body responds just by looking at it.

  5. Great videos Bryce! 27 muscle ups….amazing. Like many of the more “technical” exercises, I find that once my body can do one….the rest follow fairly easily. It took forever for me to get a single pistol. But, once I “got it,” it became easy. Now, I can’t understand why it took so long!

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