Cross-Train for Bigger Gains

Get fitter, faster and stronger with this six-week program designed to help you get the most out of your physique.
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Confucius is credited with coining the deeply philosophical and poignant phrase, “The man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” This quote has bearing on the world of physique building, as the body responds best to specific training protocols for specific goals. But for those who have multiple goals — i.e., those who want to get bigger, faster and stronger — periodized specificity can feel too segmented. Certain training phases may not hold your attention as well, leaving you generally unmotivated to chase your end goal too hard.

The good news is, in the absence of purely singular goals, your body will still respond. In other words, if you’re training hard every day but your workouts don’t follow any set pattern, you’ll still reap the benefits of the stimulus applied. Will your body adapt as quickly? Probably not, but if you’re not training for a particular show or event, who cares? If your training is intense and you’re nutrition is on point, you’re still going to look (and feel) like a beast.

Bottom line: You can get stronger, faster and develop better overall levels of fitness with a simple, bare-bones program. Not only will you end up looking better, but you’ll also look forward to your workout sessions a whole lot more.

The program that follows consists of three separate types of training: pure strength, speed and metabolic conditioning. Strength is foundational — without it, all other activities are moot. Getting stronger helps you do everything better while simultaneously fortifying your body against injury. And stronger muscles tend to be bigger muscles. As for speed, you may not think speed is necessary at all — until you see an elite sprinter, that is. Sprinters are what we should all aspire to be: fast, lean and wholly athletic. Metabolic conditioning speaks to the universal desire to have functional, striated muscle and a body that is loathe to retain water or subcutaneous body fat.

The best part: All three of these training modes create the kind of metabolic conflagration that creates tons of wiggle room in the nutrition department. That doesn’t mean you should sit down to a New York pizza every night, but if you follow this plan to the letter, you’ll notice that you may be able to get away with more dietary missteps because your body requires more energy (read: calories) to rebuild and repair from your workouts.

TRIPLE THREAT

Because this program places a huge drain on your central nervous system, you’ll only train three days a week, with an optional fourth workout for more seasoned athletes. But remember, high-intensity work always merits greater recovery time, if you expect to see improvements in strength, speed and stamina.

Strength.

Powerlifters have it right. While elite lifters include plenty of accessory work, their focus always remains on the big three — bench, squat and deadlift. If you’re a master of these three lifts, you can expect to be strong at everything else and to carry heaps of muscle. Simplicity has its value.

For the strength component of this program, you’ll specialize in these three lifts with a higher-intensity scheme that calls for more sets, not more reps. This won’t provide the same kind of “pump” that you’ve come to know and love, but it will condition your brain to handle heavier weight. The more times you settle in for a heavy set of three, the more times your brain will become accustomed to summoning muscle fibers en masse for max-effort activities. For most powerlifters, sets of five or more reps are almost unheard of, and it’s tough to argue with their bar-bending results.

But even if you never intend to step up on the platform for a powerlifting meet, similar programming can help you develop the mind-muscle connection for setting personal records in these three major lifts on a regular basis. What you do with that newfound strength at the end of the program is up to you.

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Speed.

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, should already be a part of your programming, regardless of your goals. HIIT has been shown over and over again to burn body fat, accelerate metabolism and improve speed, all while helping you retain or even build muscle. Sprinting, depending on distance, is primarily a fast-twitch muscle activity. And fast-twitch muscles are the ones most responsible for growth, making sprints a perfect complement to your strength training. Expect to develop wider-swept quads, chiseled hammies and heart-shaped calves in no time if you sprint on the regular. Steady-state cardio is fine, but have you ever heard the truism, “Train slow, be slow?” Well, we want you to train fast to be fast, and this simplified interval sprint program is a strong step in that direction.

Prior to each workout, perform five to 10 minutes of dynamic activity to prep your muscles for the work ahead. For novices, a light jog, followed by a few minutes of continuous jumping jacks, power skips, bodyweight squats, knee hugs and leg swings should do the trick. The idea is to get your heart rate up and convince your muscles and connective tissues it’s time to work. Visit muscleandperformance.com for more ideas on dynamic stretching.

Each week, you’ll alternate between shorter sprints and longer sprints, which helps to vary your training while also calling on multiple energy systems for fuel. Since your explosive energy system (read: phosphagen) replenishes fairly quickly, sprints are best trained in a 1:4-1:5 work-to-rest ratio. The key is intensity. Run every sprint as if you’re trying to pace Olympic gold-medalist and world record-holder Usain Bolt while being chased by a pack of rabid timber wolves high on angel dust. Feel like you’re decelerating? Dig deeper and find another gear, and remember, your sprint is almost over. The longest workout listed should take a whopping 15 minutes, not including warm-up time.

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Metabolic conditioning.

The term “metabolic conditioning” can mean many things to many people. We’re not here to proctor peer-researched debates on the issue. For our purposes, metabolic conditioning can be broadly described as structured, functional-based activity that can both build strength and burn body fat while elevating EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and we like it that way because it affords you the opportunity to freestyle a bit with exercises and activities that you may prefer, with little to no regard for what the guys in the exercise labs think. Choose one of these two workouts, or improvise your own following similar protocols. Share your routines on social and tag us so other readers can see what you’re up to!

Metabolic Workout

Workout 1

Kettlebell swing x Tabata
Speedskater x Tabata 

5 Rounds
Tire flip x 5
Sledge swing x 30 seconds
Box jump (onto the tire) x 10
Rest 30 seconds.

Workout 2

Battling ropes x Tabata
Jump rope x Tabata
Med-ball slam x Tabata

5 Rounds
Farmer’s walk x 100 feet
Suitcase carry x 100 feet (each hand)
Waiter carry x 100 feet

• Rest 30 to 60 seconds between carries.

• Use approximately half your bodyweight for farmer’s walks and work up to 1.0 times your bodyweight. For unilateral carries, you may need to start with less — approximately 0.25 times your bodyweight — and work your way up. Keep a tight core and take quick, controlled steps.

The Best Post-Workout Supplements to Help You Refuel

Encourage muscle growth, promote muscle repair and replenish energy stores with post-workout recover supplements. Take these after a hard day at the gym to promote muscle growth and aid in recovery.

GAT-JetMass

GAT Sport Jet Mass: Designed to increase uptake of creatine to add lean muscle and in-crease recovery time.

BPI-Best-BCAA

BPI Sports Best BCAA: This fast-digesting BCAA blend and CLA matrix supports recovery and prevents muscle breakdown.

Dymatize-Creatine-Micronized

Dymatize Nutrition Creatine Micronized: Creatine monohydrate has been shown to maximize levels of muscle creation phosphate, a critical energy resource during high-intensity actions like sprinting.