The jailhouse weight pile has limited equipment, yet inmates produce phenomenal gains. Because of a lack of equipment and crowded quarters, the con has two options: A.) get creative and grow or B.) enter a muscle- and strength-building stalemate and risk getting punked in the shower.
My junior year in high school I trained chest with two huge ex-cons who chose option A. One day these two huge characters walked into the gym ready to throw around some pig iron and I was in awe of their big, round chests.
Their session started off with a few compound barbell pressing exercises with tremendously heavy weight, and then it was time for dumbbell incline presses. The bigger of the two muscled-up specimens barked at me to help him as he grabbed the 140s and sat back on a steep incline and proceeded to lift the dumbbells to failure, approximately eight reps. He then sat up and said drop the seat a couple holes and proceeded to hit about five more reps. As he reached failure, I dropped the seat and he continued. As momentary muscular failure resulted, leverage (mechanical advantage) was improved by lessening the incline; this was unlike a traditional drop set or strip set where weight was reduced.
I had just been given a valuable real-life lesson in mechanical advantage drop sets. In prison, dumbbells were very limited and traditional dumbbell drop sets were not an option, both parties explained. To produce an adequate stimulus on incline, drop sets were performed in the matter described by increasing mechanical advantage. At the time, I didn’t know how or why it worked. But as a 16-year old kid, I knew that when two guys who looked like that came into the gym and preach about building size, it was time to shut up and take notes.
Are Drop Sets Cheating?
Typically, a drop set consists of a total of two to three subsets and sets are typically reduced 10-30% per drop. Let’s take a look at the lateral raise. Once failure is reached using strict form, a slight swing of the weight, or body English, to overcome a sticking point can allow the set to continue. Like a drop set, you continue by “cheating.” Reducing the weight doesn’t allow the set to continue. The set continues by lifting the weight in a stronger position. Like “cheating,” mechanical drop sets are simply lifting the weight in a stronger position upon failure, but unlike cheating, you can maintain strict form.
Rest-pause is when you do as many reps as possible with a weight, resting 15–20 seconds and then continuing with the same weight. (For more on rest-pause training, check out Stop & Go). As with rest-pause, you don’t reduce the weight with a mechanical advantage drop. In some instances, the weight doesn’t even have to be racked between drops, you might just change your stance or hand placement. Using the bench press as an example, you’d go from a narrow grip, to a wide grip, to your strongest grip.
Although you probably aren’t dealing with limited equipment in the rec yard, you probably do encounter limited weights during rush hour at your local gym. But with a little creativity and a few techniques, you can create an amazing physique. This no-frills chest program will pack on the muscle and build real strength.
Dumbbell Incline Press
Set the adjustable incline bench to 45 degrees. pick a weight you can complete for 10 repetitions. Complete two sets of eight reps. On the final set take the weight to failure. Upon failure, immediately lower the incline bench to 25 degrees and press the dumbbells to failure at this position, at failure lower the bench to a flat position and press the dumbbells to failure. Take a three-minute rest interval between sets.
Narrow-Grip Barbell Bench Press
On a flat bench perform two sets of eight reps with a grip six inches closer than your strongest grip. pick a weight you can complete 10 repetitions with. On the third and final set press the weight to failure. Upon failure, rack the barbell, take a grip three inches wider and press the weight to failure. Upon failure, rack the barbell and take your strongest grip and press the weight to failure. Take a three-minute rest interval between sets.
Incline Dumbbell Flye
Set the incline to 30 degrees and perform 12 dumbbell flyes for two sets with a weight you are capable of performing 15 repetitions with. On the final set perform the flyes to failure. Upon failure, lower the adjustable bench to a flat position and perform flyes to failure, upon failure in the flat position, without dropping the weight, press the dumbbells with a neutral grip to failure. Take a 90-second rest interval between sets.
Perform push-ups to failure with feet elevated on a bench. Upon failure immediately perform push-ups on the floor to failure. immediately after failure on the floor get on your knees in a “girl push-up” position and perform push-ups on the knees to failure.
To finish off the workout, grasp your palms together and squeeze as hard as possible flexing your chest for 10 seconds; do this eight times. Take a 10-second rest between maximal isometric contractions.
Mechanical drop sets are equally as effective for the guy doing a 12-year stint behind bars to the guy doing a daily 12-hour stint in an office cubicle. More weight on the bar and more time under tension with better form equals superior results.
Time to hit the pig iron!
Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS, trains some of the strongest and most muscular athletes in the world at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and via the Internet. He is the co-author of Amazon #1 selling book, Jailhouse Strong and the companion book Jailhouse Strong: The Successful Mindset Manual. To learn more about Josh Bryant or to sign up for his free training tips newsletter, visit www.JoshStrength.com