The importance of structural balance in program design

By Strength Sensei CP

Publication Date: 1997

 

Concentrating on only compound lifts, such as the “powerlifting big three” (bench press, squat, deadlift), is a good idea in terms of training efficiency. However, you should also strive to handle progressively heavier poundages on all lifts. Here are three reasons why:

  1. More muscle growth.When you train with progressively heavier weights (the overload principle), you’ll recruit (and consequently, fatigue) more motor units. Recruiting more motor units will ultimately result in greater muscle growth.
  2. More functional strength.Structural balance is a training approach involving developing strength systematically and uniformly throughout the entire body. Besides athletic performance, this approach can help us deal with the challenges of daily life, such as pushing your car out of the snow. I always get a good laugh when I see a heavily-muscled bodybuilder who can’t hoist a heavy object such as a drywall sheet overhead because his shoulder stabilizers are underdeveloped.
  3. Fewer injuries.A muscularly-balanced body is more likely to stay injury-free. How many powerlifters have bad shoulders because of weak external rotators? How many bodybuilders have knee tendonitis from pathetically weak and underdeveloped vastus medialis muscles (the teardrop-shaped muscle of the quadriceps)? When I travel around North America, I’m generally appalled by the number of people who use various Road Warrior braces to allow them to train through pain. For instance, I see tennis-elbow braces worn around the upper forearm muscles – I could show them a few forearm exercises that would make these braces unnecessary after only a few workouts.

A practical way to make sure all your body parts keep getting stronger in a structurally-balance manner is to begin your workouts with a different exercise. Why? Plenty of empirical evidence shows that the training effect diminishes with each subsequent exercise. In other words, the first exercise in the workout has the greatest training effect. Let’s look at an example.

Instead of always starting your biceps workout with a standard barbell curl, start with concentration curls. This change of exercise order will allow you to use more weight than you normally would for concentration curls. The next time you work biceps, reverse the order. This approach enabled 3x Mr. Olympia Frank Zane to overcome his relatively weak biceps development. Here’s what an example using a rotating style of biceps exercises might look like:

Workout 1, Day 1

  1. Concentration Dumbbell Curl, 4 x 6-8 reps, 3010, rest 90 seconds
  2. Standing Barbell Curl, 3 x 8-10 reps, 3010, rest 90 seconds
  3. Incline Dumbbell Curl, 3 x 12-15 reps, 3010, rest 90 seconds

Workout 2, Day 2

  1. Standing Barbell Curl, 4 x 6-8 reps, 3010, rest 90 seconds
  2. Incline Dumbbell Curl, 3 x 8-10 reps, 3010, rest 90 seconds
  3. Concentration Dumbbell Curl, 3 x 12-15 reps, 3010, rest 90 seconds

Workout 3, Day 3

  1. Incline Dumbbell Curl, 4 x 6-8 reps, 3010, rest 90 seconds
  2. Concentration Dumbbell Curl, 3 x 8-10 reps, 3010, rest 90 seconds
  3. Standing Barbell Curl, 3 x 12-15 reps, 3010, rest 90 seconds

After you’ve completed these three workouts, repeat the sequence, starting with Workout 1.

For optimal results and to ensure a long and healthy athletic career, use a structurally-balanced training approach that will make you strong, from head to toe!

Lead photo by Miloš Šarčev