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PostPosted: Wed May 02, 2012 2:06 am 
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Hi. I am fairly new to lifting weights. I have been lifting for maybe half a year now without much variety. I am a college student and lift when I can, lately three times a week. My basic workout routine is roughly the following:
Day 1- chest press and tricep extension
Day 2- bicep curl and shoulder press
Day 3- back exercises
*Throughout these workouts I do leg curls, calf raises, and leg extensions on different days to work my legs. I also do cardiovascular after lifting most days.

I will complete 3 sets of these exercises with roughly 8-12 repetitions. I have stuck to this routine for 6 months and have reached a plateau.

- What I am looking for is advice on how to lift for lean muscle. The sports I play don't require to bulk up, nor do I want to or obtain that look. I am looking for lean muscle. I have heard that repetitions are a factor, which is why I do 8-12, however as I said, I have reached a plateau and would like to spice up my workout as well. I would like to break the plateau without bulking up. If anyone could offer advice on how I can achieve this lean muscle through my routine I would be grateful.

Any general advice that could help me improve my workout would be great as well.

Thank you for your time.


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PostPosted: Wed May 02, 2012 3:27 am 
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Welcome, Nate! And congratulations for sticking with training for 6 months. Consistency is one of the big factors in success.

Lift for muscle. Eat for lean. There is no way to lift that will give you "lean muscle". The leanness is a product of a low body fat percentage.

8-12 reps is a range that some people advocate for muscle hypertrophy, but since big isn't one of your goals, it might be better to use somewhat lower reps, which would allow you to lift heavier weights and get stronger. Don't worry, "bulking up" takes a lot of dedicated, focused work. You don't bulk up accidentally! If you are eating for lean, and lifting for strong, you will achieve your goals.

The legs are very important, and deserve as much emphasis, more really, than bicep curls and shoulder presses! Also, try to use mostly compound exercises, those that use more than one joint at a time. It's just more "bang for the buck", more "value for the dollar"!

I like the simplicity of your routine. Keeping the number of exercises down allows you to get more out of each one.

Here are the exercises I'd suggest you include for now:

A squat, or squat variant
Deadlift, or a deadlift variant
A horizontal pressing movement (pushup or bench press)
A vertical pressing movement (shoulder press)
A horizontal pulling movement (some sort of row or pull)
A vertical pulling movement (some form of pullup or pulldown)

Along with that, you can do a few "isolation" or accessory exercises for variety or to emphasize something that you want to emphasize, and a couple of core exersizes. Some possibilities are:
Curls (any of the many types that exist)
Triceps exercises (again, there are many)
Grip exercises
Calf raises (actually these are a compound exercise, but they group better with the isolation lifts)
Pull-through
Planks
Pallof "press"
Carry, like a waiter's walk or a farmer's carry

There are thousands of other exercises, but these are pretty basic.

To organize your workouts, I'd suggest a full-body approach. Do one of the big leg exercises first on 2 or the days, and one of the upper body lifts that you'd like to emphasize on the third, each time followed by one of the other upper lifts. Then do 1 or 2 accessory/isolation lifts. It could look like this:

1. Squat, shoulder press, pull-through, curl
2. Deadlift, pull-ups, triceps, planks
3. Bench press, row, calf raise, farmer's carry

Obviously, you can use that basic idea and do many variations.

You don't have to be rigid about the number of sets and reps. You can try different ways to do it. You might start with something like 3 sets of 5 reps. Start light, and add weight from workout to workout until it starts to get heavy. When you feel that you can't add weight and still do all the sets, then just add weight to one of the sets. Next time you can add it to another, and later to the third. Or you can just add a rep or two to one or two sets. When you start to feel like you can handle more volume, you can even add another set. If you feel good on a particular day, push yourself a little harder. If you are having a bad day (i.e. short of sleep) just make a little progress over the last time you did that workout. Try to make some kind of progress each time, but if you are really feeling bad (i.e. sick) and can only do what you did last time, so be it. No harm done. If you keep adding sets and reps, you will eventually find that you are doing many more reps and more sets than when you started. When that happens, just go back to the original number of reps and sets, but this time with a slightly higher weight, and then go on from there.

For the isolation/accessory lifts, just pick a combination of reps and sets, maybe a bit higher reps than your "big" lifts, like maybe 3 sets of 10. Use enough weight to make it seem like a bit of work, but don't bust your guts on those. Just increase them slowly over time. They are not your "money" lifts.

For a college student you may be able to plan certain days to lift, but you may have to be flexible. Just do the three workouts in order. If you have to miss a day, just do the next workout in the rotation on the next day you can lift. There is nothing magical about certain days of the week, or a fixed number of days per week. Most of the time, you should have at least one day off between each lifting day, but if once in a while you want to lift on subsequent days, it won't really hurt anything. If you have limited time on some days, just do the 2 big lifts that day, and forget the accessories. I'm a big fan of flexible.

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PostPosted: Wed May 02, 2012 8:14 am 
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Jungledoc wrote:
Welcome, Nate! And congratulations for sticking with training for 6 months. Consistency is one of the big factors in success.

Lift for muscle. Eat for lean. There is no way to lift that will give you "lean muscle". The leanness is a product of a low body fat percentage.

8-12 reps is a range that some people advocate for muscle hypertrophy, but since big isn't one of your goals, it might be better to use somewhat lower reps, which would allow you to lift heavier weights and get stronger. Don't worry, "bulking up" takes a lot of dedicated, focused work. You don't bulk up accidentally! If you are eating for lean, and lifting for strong, you will achieve your goals.

The legs are very important, and deserve as much emphasis, more really, than bicep curls and shoulder presses! Also, try to use mostly compound exercises, those that use more than one joint at a time. It's just more "bang for the buck", more "value for the dollar"!

I like the simplicity of your routine. Keeping the number of exercises down allows you to get more out of each one.

Here are the exercises I'd suggest you include for now:

A squat, or squat variant
Deadlift, or a deadlift variant
A horizontal pressing movement (pushup or bench press)
A vertical pressing movement (shoulder press)
A horizontal pulling movement (some sort of row or pull)
A vertical pulling movement (some form of pullup or pulldown)

Along with that, you can do a few "isolation" or accessory exercises for variety or to emphasize something that you want to emphasize, and a couple of core exersizes. Some possibilities are:
Curls (any of the many types that exist)
Triceps exercises (again, there are many)
Grip exercises
Calf raises (actually these are a compound exercise, but they group better with the isolation lifts)
Pull-through
Planks
Pallof "press"
Carry, like a waiter's walk or a farmer's carry

There are thousands of other exercises, but these are pretty basic.

To organize your workouts, I'd suggest a full-body approach. Do one of the big leg exercises first on 2 or the days, and one of the upper body lifts that you'd like to emphasize on the third, each time followed by one of the other upper lifts. Then do 1 or 2 accessory/isolation lifts. It could look like this:

1. Squat, shoulder press, pull-through, curl
2. Deadlift, pull-ups, triceps, planks
3. Bench press, row, calf raise, farmer's carry

Obviously, you can use that basic idea and do many variations.

You don't have to be rigid about the number of sets and reps. You can try different ways to do it. You might start with something like 3 sets of 5 reps. Start light, and add weight from workout to workout until it starts to get heavy. When you feel that you can't add weight and still do all the sets, then just add weight to one of the sets. Next time you can add it to another, and later to the third. Or you can just add a rep or two to one or two sets. When you start to feel like you can handle more volume, you can even add another set. If you feel good on a particular day, push yourself a little harder. If you are having a bad day (i.e. short of sleep) just make a little progress over the last time you did that workout. Try to make some kind of progress each time, but if you are really feeling bad (i.e. sick) and can only do what you did last time, so be it. No harm done. If you keep adding sets and reps, you will eventually find that you are doing many more reps and more sets than when you started. When that happens, just go back to the original number of reps and sets, but this time with a slightly higher weight, and then go on from there.

For the isolation/accessory lifts, just pick a combination of reps and sets, maybe a bit higher reps than your "big" lifts, like maybe 3 sets of 10. Use enough weight to make it seem like a bit of work, but don't bust your guts on those. Just increase them slowly over time. They are not your "money" lifts.

For a college student you may be able to plan certain days to lift, but you may have to be flexible. Just do the three workouts in order. If you have to miss a day, just do the next workout in the rotation on the next day you can lift. There is nothing magical about certain days of the week, or a fixed number of days per week. Most of the time, you should have at least one day off between each lifting day, but if once in a while you want to lift on subsequent days, it won't really hurt anything. If you have limited time on some days, just do the 2 big lifts that day, and forget the accessories. I'm a big fan of flexible.


So lean muscle isn't related to your repetitions? I have always been under the impression that lower repetitions achieved bulkier muscles. I understand that you must have a low percentage of body fat, however, I thought the lower repetitions would still make your muscles larger in actuality. If that is the case, how would you eat for lean?

I appreciate the example routine. I'll make sure to give it a try. Do you have a different exercise that may work the same muscles as the farmer's pull. The gym at my school isn't the largest, and I don't think it would be a great idea to walk around carrying weights.

Thank you for all your help so far.


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PostPosted: Wed May 02, 2012 9:43 am 
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Nate92 wrote:
So lean muscle isn't related to your repetitions? I have always been under the impression that lower repetitions achieved bulkier muscles. I understand that you must have a low percentage of body fat, however, I thought the lower repetitions would still make your muscles larger in actuality. If that is the case, how would you eat for lean?

I appreciate the example routine. I'll make sure to give it a try. Do you have a different exercise that may work the same muscles as the farmer's pull. The gym at my school isn't the largest, and I don't think it would be a great idea to walk around carrying weights.

Thank you for all your help so far.


muscle is muscle, whether you've built it from low reps or high reps, you can't tell by looking. Don't worry about that.

If you can't do farmer's walks it's not the end of the world, deadlifts train pretty much the same muscles anyway


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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2012 8:40 am 
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By "lean" do you mean "small"? Big muscles can be very lean.

You "eat for lean" by eating to lose fat. The word "lean" means "not fat".

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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2012 5:38 pm 
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Jungledoc wrote:
By "lean" do you mean "small"? Big muscles can be very lean.

You "eat for lean" by eating to lose fat. The word "lean" means "not fat".


I'm sorry I should of clarified. I do mean physically slimmer muscles. Not "not fat". Keeping your muscles smaller, while not "bulking up" but keep increasing in strength without reaching a plateau.


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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2012 9:22 pm 
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Then what you really want is relative strength. That comes from lifting heavy weights for low reps. You will plateau eventually and you will gain some size but it's multiple sets in the 8-12 range that build size. That's the most popular rep range for that reason. You need to start working your legs and probably start working in the 5 rep range.

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Strength is the adaptation that leads to all other adaptations that you really care about - Charles Staley
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PostPosted: Fri May 04, 2012 2:36 am 
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What Stu said, but also, you should realize that a muscle cannot get smaller and stronger at the same time. When you start training a muscle (I don't ever train "a muscle", but for the sake of explanation) it initially doesn't change much in size. It gets stronger by recruiting more motor units at a time. After a time, you have trained your body to recruit as many motor units as it can recruit. After that it gets stronger through muscle growth, and from that point on bigger and stronger go together, at least to some extent.

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PostPosted: Fri May 04, 2012 7:36 am 
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I should also point out than many athletes have similar goals to you. They want to get stronger in order to do better at their sport without adding extra weight which would decrease their performance or put them into higher weight classes. Do you have a sport you're training for, or is this just for recreation and appearance sake?

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Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food.~Hippocrates
Strength is the adaptation that leads to all other adaptations that you really care about - Charles Staley
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PostPosted: Wed May 09, 2012 8:46 pm 
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stuward wrote:
I should also point out than many athletes have similar goals to you. They want to get stronger in order to do better at their sport without adding extra weight which would decrease their performance or put them into higher weight classes. Do you have a sport you're training for, or is this just for recreation and appearance sake?


Sorry it took a while to respond. Okay, I understand. Thank you for the advice. I do, I am a very serious tennis player; its apparent then that I need lean muscle but performance could better if I was to get stronger. I have a couple more questions. Sorry if these are obvious.

The smaller muscles should I work with higher repetitions? I've heard that but wasn't certain.

Also, when I am in a certain repetition range sometimes obviously I decrease the weight between sets. I might bench 160 pounds for 10 repetitions, then the next I would only lift it 6 times. This is obvious since I am tired. If I am trying to stay in the 8-12 repetition should I decrease weight that second set to reach within the range? Or does it serve the same purpose as the first set even though my repetitions drop? Sorry that might sound confusing.

With this website I am constructing a routine for the summer using more muscles. Is it okay if I work many muscle groups? Like I noticed shoulders have multiple muscle groups that can be worked with different exercises. Maybe 4 or 5 groups. Is it okay to hit all these areas in one day?


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PostPosted: Wed May 09, 2012 11:22 pm 
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Jungledoc wrote:
What Stu said, but also, you should realize that a muscle cannot get smaller and stronger at the same time. When you start training a muscle (I don't ever train "a muscle", but for the sake of explanation) it initially doesn't change much in size. It gets stronger by recruiting more motor units at a time. After a time, you have trained your body to recruit as many motor units as it can recruit. After that it gets stronger through muscle growth, and from that point on bigger and stronger go together, at least to some extent.


Sorry it took a while to respond. Okay, I understand. Thank you for the advice. I do, I am a very serious tennis player; its apparent then that I need lean muscle but performance could better if I was to get stronger. I have a couple more questions. Sorry if these are obvious.

The smaller muscles should I work with higher repetitions? I've heard that but wasn't certain.

Also, when I am in a certain repetition range sometimes obviously I decrease the weight between sets. I might bench 160 pounds for 10 repetitions, then the next I would only lift it 6 times. This is obvious since I am tired. If I am trying to stay in the 8-12 repetition should I decrease weight that second set to reach within the range? Or does it serve the same purpose as the first set even though my repetitions drop? Sorry that might sound confusing.

With this website I am constructing a routine for the summer using more muscles. Is it okay if I work many muscle groups? Like I noticed shoulders have multiple muscle groups that can be worked with different exercises. Maybe 4 or 5 groups. Is it okay to hit all these areas in one day?


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PostPosted: Thu May 10, 2012 8:16 am 
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There's no need for duplicate posts. Stu and I each can read both of them.

Nate92 wrote:
The smaller muscles should I work with higher repetitions? I've heard that but wasn't certain.
I've heard that too, but I don't know the logic of it. I don't see why you can't work any given muscle in any rep range you want. Having said that, there is rarely any reason for a person who is not a body builder to work an individual muscle, be it large or small. I'll discuss this more below, but if you train movements, you'll train many muscles at once, and you'll train them to work together, which is what I think you really want.

Nate92 wrote:
Also, when I am in a certain repetition range sometimes obviously I decrease the weight between sets. I might bench 160 pounds for 10 repetitions, then the next I would only lift it 6 times. This is obvious since I am tired. If I am trying to stay in the 8-12 repetition should I decrease weight that second set to reach within the range? Or does it serve the same purpose as the first set even though my repetitions drop? Sorry that might sound confusing.
It sounds like you are taking each set to failure. For most lifts and most purposes that's not a good idea. If your first set is so heavy that you can't complete your second set, then it's too heavy. If you goal in a given workout is to lift for 3 sets of 10 reps, then the weight should be such that you can achieve this while just leaving "one in the tank" on the last set.

People don't usually decrease weight between working sets, although there are some situations when you might. Sometimes they are "ramping up" (adding weight from set to set) or "ramping down", taking weight off for each set). But usually people settle on a working weight for the day, and lift a number of reps and sets at that weight. If you are having a good day, and feel like you can do more than you had planned, there's nothing wrong with adding a little to the last set, or even adding some reps to the last set.

Nate92 wrote:
With this website I am constructing a routine for the summer using more muscles. Is it okay if I work many muscle groups? Like I noticed shoulders have multiple muscle groups that can be worked with different exercises. Maybe 4 or 5 groups. Is it okay to hit all these areas in one day?
The best way to work many muscle groups is to use compound lifts that require the participation of many muscles. Do you really care how strong your brachioradialis is, if you can't make it work smoothly with the other muscles of your arm? Do you want a strong muscle, or do you want a strong stroke for you tennis game?

So instead of thinking of individual muscles, think of movements. I don't mean to try to duplicate the movements of a sport, but work by movements that make groups of muscles work together. Vertical push, vertical pull, horizontal press, horizontal pull, him-dominant legs, knee-dominant legs. You can fill in with some isolation and accessory lifts, but those movements should be the bread and butter of your training.

I still don't agree that there is anything special about 8-12 reps. Most people quote that as the ideal range for muscle hypertrophy, which is obviously not what you are looking for.

Again, lean is not a characteristic of muscles but of the body. You want strong muscles without over-emphasizing hypertrophy. You can get muscles stronger without muscle growth up to a point, but the time comes when the only way to get stronger is to get bigger.

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PostPosted: Thu May 10, 2012 8:42 am 
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Strength is best trained for in the off season. As I understand it, the tennis season starts in the fall and goes until spring so now is the time to start getting into the strength training cycle. In-season, it's about mmaintaining strength and conditioning while working to increase your skill and recover from matches. Here's an article on planning training for tennis: http://www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/te ... ining.html

Notice that for playing tennis, the primary attribute to be gained from resistance training is power.

You need to build a foundation of strength, then work on power while maintaining muscular endurance.

I agree with everything Jungledoc said, I just think that it needs to be put into perspective of your training year.

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Stu Ward
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Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food.~Hippocrates
Strength is the adaptation that leads to all other adaptations that you really care about - Charles Staley
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PostPosted: Sun May 13, 2012 11:38 pm 
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Jungledoc wrote:
There's no need for duplicate posts. Stu and I each can read both of them.

Nate92 wrote:
The smaller muscles should I work with higher repetitions? I've heard that but wasn't certain.
I've heard that too, but I don't know the logic of it. I don't see why you can't work any given muscle in any rep range you want. Having said that, there is rarely any reason for a person who is not a body builder to work an individual muscle, be it large or small. I'll discuss this more below, but if you train movements, you'll train many muscles at once, and you'll train them to work together, which is what I think you really want.

Nate92 wrote:
Also, when I am in a certain repetition range sometimes obviously I decrease the weight between sets. I might bench 160 pounds for 10 repetitions, then the next I would only lift it 6 times. This is obvious since I am tired. If I am trying to stay in the 8-12 repetition should I decrease weight that second set to reach within the range? Or does it serve the same purpose as the first set even though my repetitions drop? Sorry that might sound confusing.
It sounds like you are taking each set to failure. For most lifts and most purposes that's not a good idea. If your first set is so heavy that you can't complete your second set, then it's too heavy. If you goal in a given workout is to lift for 3 sets of 10 reps, then the weight should be such that you can achieve this while just leaving "one in the tank" on the last set.

People don't usually decrease weight between working sets, although there are some situations when you might. Sometimes they are "ramping up" (adding weight from set to set) or "ramping down", taking weight off for each set). But usually people settle on a working weight for the day, and lift a number of reps and sets at that weight. If you are having a good day, and feel like you can do more than you had planned, there's nothing wrong with adding a little to the last set, or even adding some reps to the last set.

Nate92 wrote:
With this website I am constructing a routine for the summer using more muscles. Is it okay if I work many muscle groups? Like I noticed shoulders have multiple muscle groups that can be worked with different exercises. Maybe 4 or 5 groups. Is it okay to hit all these areas in one day?
The best way to work many muscle groups is to use compound lifts that require the participation of many muscles. Do you really care how strong your brachioradialis is, if you can't make it work smoothly with the other muscles of your arm? Do you want a strong muscle, or do you want a strong stroke for you tennis game?

So instead of thinking of individual muscles, think of movements. I don't mean to try to duplicate the movements of a sport, but work by movements that make groups of muscles work together. Vertical push, vertical pull, horizontal press, horizontal pull, him-dominant legs, knee-dominant legs. You can fill in with some isolation and accessory lifts, but those movements should be the bread and butter of your training.

I still don't agree that there is anything special about 8-12 reps. Most people quote that as the ideal range for muscle hypertrophy, which is obviously not what you are looking for.

Again, lean is not a characteristic of muscles but of the body. You want strong muscles without over-emphasizing hypertrophy. You can get muscles stronger without muscle growth up to a point, but the time comes when the only way to get stronger is to get bigger.


Thank you for all your advice!

I knew you could read them both, just not certain if it gave both notifications.

I guess it just seems as if "lean" is a muscle characteristic. I understand what are you saying, however, I have seen enough strong people with lean, defined muscles it seems as if it is.

Yes I have taken each set to failure. With no guidance that's what I thought what was to be done. Why is this a bad thing? And then it seems unclear to me what is the best way to progress. Since obviously you can't tell how much your muscle has grown since a workout. What is the best way to determine and modify your sets or repetitions to that?

Okay, I will incorporate these large compounded movements into my workout. It just seems as if I won't have as successful lifts after for the smaller muscles. Wouldn't you say so? If I was to do bench press followed by tricep curls obviously I wouldn't be as efficient on the curls.


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PostPosted: Sun May 13, 2012 11:54 pm 
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The difference between the lean look you want, and the bulky look you do not want is duration. Let's say you go all out with the total 100% bulk like crazy bodybuilding workout. All you do is stop sooner. You of course have to keep your body fat low, as that is a major part of that look. Given your sport, the body fat probably is not an issue.

This off-season I'd recommend doing a little bulking up, and also a solid strength foundation. As you are not looking to get big at all, the bulking isn't going to take long. In fact you might get it just doing your strength work. You could probably do a beginning strength program, eat big, and get the muscle size and hardness you want while getting stronger at the same time.

Then next year's off season, only do a little strength training, and focus more on power. You want to be able to take a lighter weight, and really get some acceleration when you lift. Working movement's similar to your sport would be something to put some emphasis on too.


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