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Old School Wisdom – Go Back in Time to Go Forward in Your Training!
Many advances have been made in energy, health, technology and other areas of life. In strength training, not so much! Stop trying to be original. Take advantage of the wisdom of our mighty ancestors and start getting results! Why blaze a new trail when there’s already a good one to follow? Here are two routines inspired by the past to start your journey.
The stage routine
Front row and center for rapid size and strength gains!
This training system was popular with the legendary Canadian strongman, Doug Hepburn, who was considered the strongest man in the world in his prime. It will help advanced students overcome strength plateaus in a short period of time.
The routine only includes 2 exercises per workout and 2 stages per exercise to build size and strength. Stage 1 will increase relative strength and stage 2 will induce functional hypertrophy (ie muscle mass that produces high levels of strength).
Check out the show but don’t blink because it will go by pretty fast!
Day 1 – chest and biceps
A1) Flat bar bench press
A2) Standing EZ-Bar Curls
Day 2 – Legs
A1) Front squat
A2) Stretch leg curl
Day 3 – Back and triceps
A1) Wide grip sternum pull-ups
A2) Standing V-Bar Pressdowns
Stage 1: 8 x 1 @ 50X0, 100″
Stage 2: 5 x 5 @ 40X0, 90″
Note: Start with a 3RM load for Stage 1 and a 7RM load for Stage 2.
I suggest you use the first workout to find your actual 3RM (repetition maximum) and 7RM loads, then start the stage method the next workout. Increase the weight only when all repetitions of this stage have been successfully completed. The key is to be successful, so leave a little reserve in the beginning.
Be sure to warm up thoroughly using several sets of low repetitions (5 or less) with progressively heavier loads until you reach your working weight.
This program will last for one month. Each workout is performed once in a 5 day period (ie day 1 – day 2 – off – day 3 – off) for 6 workouts and then switch to a new routine. As mentioned above, the first workout is used to find the correct training weight. The next 4 workouts will incorporate the stage method: you should max out on the fifth workout with a new one-rep max on all lifts.
Reduce the final workout by performing only 3-5 sets of as many reps as possible at a 20X0 tempo with 90 seconds rest between sets at the original 7RM load. You should notice an increase in the number of repetitions performed with this weight. Most people will drop 1-2 reps per set. Complete the exercise if you complete 5 sets or drop 3 reps from one set to the next. This will be a short workout. Enter; do your thing; and get out You may be tempted to do more. Do not do it!
If you’ve been plagued by injuries and are afraid to max singles, stick to the 2-3RM range for Stage 1 and the 5-7RM range for Stage 2. The program will work just as well.
Also, you will notice that all the “A1” exercises are multi-joint movements and all the “A2” exercises are single joint movements. Many people are concerned about maximum singles in isolation moves. Listen, you either lift the weight or you don’t, but if it’s still a problem, substitute a compound movement:
Standing EZ-Bar Curls -> Close Grip Chin-Ups
Lying Leg Curl -> Bent Knee Deadlift or Snatch Podium Deadlift
Standing V-Bar Presses -> Parallel Bar Dips or Closed Grip Bench Press
Don’t be fooled by the low number of exercises and the low number of repetitions. Many times, less is more and this routine is no exception! High intensities used for a large number of sets produce great results. Rest assured that your entire body is trained – and trained hard – with this program.
The secret strength and muscle building system of the past and present!
This routine uses partial movements and static contractions to break through training plateaus. Partial movements are great for impacting the system when stagnation occurs – they help disinhibit the nervous system – and isometrics are great for gaining strength at specific joint angles.
In the 1960s, isometrics (a mix of isotonic and isometric contractions) were promoted as a new secret system of strength and muscle building. A couple of decades later in his book, The development of physical strength, Anthony Ditillo declared that “isometrics can make you superman!” Ditillo believed that combining intense, heavy, isometric muscular efforts in a power rack was “the most powerful tool available for increasing physical strength.”
The system is as effective today as it was then.
I picked up many of the details of this method in the mid-90s from strength and conditioning coach Charles Poliquin, who is a firm believer in using the power rack to promote rapid strength and mass gains. According to Poliquin, the average bodybuilder can expect to break their personal records in the curl by 10-25 pounds, and the closed grip bench press by 30-45 pounds in just 3-4 weeks with this system!
Let’s take a look at the routine.
Day 1 – chest, back and shoulders
A1) 45 degree incline barbell bench press
A2) Pull-Ups with medium grip
B1) Reinforced One Arm Dumbbell Press (Neutral Grip)
B2) One Arm Kneeling Pulldown (Neutral Grip)
Day 2 – Legs and abs
A1) Back squat
A2) Lying leg curls (dorsiflexion)
B1) Snatch-Grip Romanian Deadlift
B2) High pulley crunch
Day 3 – Weapons
A1) Close grip bench press
A2) Standing Medium Grip Cable Curls
B1) One-arm dumbbell French press
B2) 45 degree incline dumbbell curls
Isometrics involve lifting through a partial range of motion usually in a power rack (but not always) and finishing each rep with an isometric contraction. Take a third of the range of motion and do 3 sets at 3 different angles of an exercise for a total of 9 sets.
The order in which you perform the 3 ranks is important. Choose the heaviest (ie strongest) weight angle first:
a) Up -> Middle -> Down for the incline bench press with close grip and squat
These exercises are performed on a power rack for 5 repetitions per set using a controlled tempo (ie, 2 seconds to lower the bar, gently and silently touching the bottom pins, and two seconds to raise the bar). Then on the fifth rep, try to break the top rack pin for 6-8 seconds. Research from Germany shows that the 8-second isometric is enough. If you can make contact with the top pin, the weight was too light. If you only have one set of pins on the power rack, lower the bar just enough to rest on the pins and hold the 8-second isometric there. Be sure not to hold your breath during the isometric action. If you’ve selected the right load, you shouldn’t be able to do another concentric rep.
b) Lower -> Middle -> Upper for pull-ups, leg curls and cable curls
For these exercises, do 5 reps again at a controlled tempo (ie 2 seconds up and 2 seconds down), but this time on the 5th rep, rest for 8 seconds in the middle of the range.
The next workout for this body part will occur 5 days later and will involve conventional training with hypertrophy parameters. Continue to alternate between isometric and conventional training for six workouts as described below.
Training no. 1, 3, 5 – Isometric Training – A) 9 x 5 @ 2020, 120″ B) 3 x 8-10 @ 3010, 60″
Training no. 2, 4 – Conventional Training – A) 5 x 5-7 @ 4020, 90″ B) 3 x 8-10 @ 3010, 60″
Training no. 6 – Taper – A) 3 x 8-10 in 2010, 120″ B) 2 x 12-15 in 2010, 90″
This form of training will induce deep and severe pain. It’s a quick way to gain size because isometrics create high tension for fast-twitch fibers that lead to hypertrophy. This system is also great for building strength and overcoming sticking points, but don’t use isometrics often during a year of training as they are quite stressful on the nervous system.
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