by Bret Contreras May 06, 2010
I’m a huge fan of Louie Simmons. Louie has positively impacted Powerlifting more than any single individual. Years ago Louie started teaching his pupils how to incorporate special workouts into their training regimens. Here are Louie’s words:
If you are to become better, you must do more work. But how? We know that a workout should last 45 minutes, 60 minutes at the most. Your energy and testosterone levels will fall off greatly after that. So common sense tells us that longer workouts are not the answer. But we must spend more time in the gym. This can be done by adding more workouts.
The purposes of special workouts are threefold; they are done for:
2. Raising work capacity, and
3. Targeting weak links
Special workouts are limited to 20-30 minutes.
As Louie has stated over and over ad nauseum, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Although I’ve always known that my grip is the weak link in my deadlift, I never really like training my grip during my regular strength training session. My training partner has such a strong grip he could probably hold onto a hundred pounds more than he can deadlift. A couple of weeks ago I was thinking to myself, “It must be nice to have such a strong grip.”
Then I realized that I have the power to change this weak link. I’m not just a victim of the nasty, cruel grip-gods, I can strengthen my grip. Following a regular lower body or upper body workout, my grip is weakened from all the pulling. Plus, my body is drained and my workout is already surpassing the one-hour mark, so training my grip at the end of a workout isn’t an option for me. However, I have a garage gym, which makes it very convenient to perform special workouts.
Two weeks ago I decided to start going into the garage twice per week around two hours after my normal workout to train my grip.
For your information, (sort of a tangent but I used to be a teacher and we call this a “teachable moment”) there are five main categories of grip exercises:
1. Crushing Grip – Think deadlifts, shrugs, rows, cleans, chins, etc. Also hand grippers and gripping machines.
2. Pinch Grip – Brings the thumbs into play, think of putting two plates together and picking them up, holding them for time
3. Open Hand Grip – Hand is open, fingers aren’t clenched, sometimes only fingertips are bent, think thick bar holds, fat gripz, etc.
4. Extensor – The fingers can extend too, which is the opposite of gripping. This is often ignored and might be neglected for overall strength balance. Think of rubber bands and webbed tools that allow you to extend the fingers.
5. Wrist Strength – The wrist joint is a stabilizer for the finger joints, might be wise in some cases to strengthen in all directions, think wrist curls, wrist extensions, wrist roller, lateral lever maneuvers, etc.
My Special Workouts
Since I’m trying to bring up my deadlift via increased grip strength, I decided to focus on crushing grip exercises that would also work my upper back (to get more bang for my buck). On one day I do four sets of barbell shrugs and four sets of prone trap raises (prone trap raises aren’t a grip exercise – they’re performed to balance out the trap work; shrugs work the upper traps while prone trap raises work the lower traps). On the other day, I do four sets of one arm lever rows and four sets of static barbell fat gripz holds for time. The one arm lever rows work the grip really hard in addition to the lats, rhomboids, and mid traps. I don’t believe anyone can do too many rows (okay, obviously someone could but there are so many good rowing movements that most individuals don’t scratch the surface in terms of horizontal pulling inroads in a given week).
In two weeks my deadlift has gone up 20 lbs as I can pull with much more acceleration without feeling like I’m going to drop the weight. I feel like an idiot for not doing this long ago.
Other Types of Special Workouts
Your special workouts will be tailored to your weaknesses. Maybe your special workouts should consist of foam rolling, stretching, mobility, and activation drills. Maybe they should consist of core stabilization exercises. Maybe you need to hit your upper back and grip like me. Maybe you need to perform a few sets of glute ham raises and reverse hypers to strengthen your posterior chain. Perhaps your goals are purely physique related and you decide to alternate calf and ab exercises. What matters is that you perform these workouts in order to raise work capacity, bring weak links up to speed, and get the blood flowing to increase restoration. Remember, limit special workouts to around 20 minutes long.
Parting Words from Louie
Start with two additional workouts a week, and slowly increase to three or four. The more advanced you become, the more special work is required. Powerlifting is like any other sport; to become better, you must do more work.
The main purpose [of special workouts] is restoration and raising the weakest muscle groups up to or surpassing the stronger ones. We must learn to train scientifically. The man whose mind won’t change will also have a total that won’t change.
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