A few weeks back I went to see ‘The Avengers : Age Of Ultron’. The latest offering in the marvel cinematic universe to satiate the hunger of comic nerds worldwide. While the movie was a let down, made a only a bit more bearable by the character of Ultron, who, by the way, totally stole the show with some of the most badass dialogue you’ll hear, I couldn’t help but see the link between this superhero team and physique based programme design.
Yeah, I hear you – ‘it’s just a film. What can it teach me about building a badass physique?’
Just like this disparate collection of superheroes, with their own set of unique powers and abilities come together during earth’s dire times of need to form ‘earth’s mightiest superhero team’, you’ll find a similar principle at the heart of every good muscle gaining programme.
While you’ll hear people arguing over the perfect rep range, or perfect exercise, or that one style of training is better than the other, the truth is that, just like the avengers, everything has it’s own benefits, but combining them intelligently into a programme, and making use of them in the right amount and time will lead to an even more balanced, good looking physique.
And on that note, enter The Avengers...
Captain America –Periodization
In ‘The Avengers’, Captain America leads the team, calling the shots and making sure everyone is doing their part for the success of the overall mission. Utilising the right Avenger for the right job. This is exactly how you should be approaching setting up the ‘big picture’ of your programming, a la Periodization .
Periodization is simply breaking your program down into weekly or monthly ‘blocks’ where you focus on different aspects of training such as a few weeks focussing on higher rep muscle gaining (hypertrophy) style work, some periods where you focus more on lower rep, heavier weight, strength work.
You can periodize either in weekly or monthly ‘blocks’. You may have some parts of the week that are focussed on strength work and other parts focussed on higher rep work or you may choose to have a month or two focussing on strength with a lower emphasis on hypertrophy and then other periods where you do the reverse.
Take the Captain America approach to your programming, be smart, and strategic and employ different aspects when needed to elicit the most growth.
Hulk – Strength
The green brute and strongest member of the team shows us the benefits of strength work in a good program.
It’s not good enough to just have a good looking physique, you need to be strong too.
Having some aspect of strength work in your programming where you work with lower reps and heavy weight will lend itself to you being able to move more weight, in turn giving you the capacity to add more size.
Have periods where you work with 80-90% of your one rep max aiming for a rep range of 1-5 reps.
Thor – Hypertrophy
Thor is my favorite Marvel superhero. Not just because he wields a lightning charged hammer, nor because his beard is pretty badass, but Thor has the ‘aesthetic’ physique that the majority of guys are aiming for. Not only does he have a good amount of muscle mass, but also a good amount of definition. The asgardian Demigod perfectly showcases the benefits that hypertrophy training bring – the perfect blend of symmetry and size. For a balanced physique you need to be doing some form of higher rep based resistance work to complement your strength work.
Aim to work anywhere from 6-20 reps when doing hypertrophy work. Don’t be afraid to utilize higher reps, they will contribute to growth just as much as lower reps, heavier weights will.
Iron Man – Exercise Selection
The billionaire playboy and genius with all the gadgets. While many will see Tony Starks ‘strength’ being the Iron Man armor, his real strength lies in his mental capabilities.
Using his brilliant mind he is able to create weapons, technology and of course, the Iron Man suit to become one of the strongest members of the team. The Iron man armor comes packed with a plethora of gadgets and weapons but Stark knows that it’s about the strategic use of the weapons at the right time and thus shows us the importance of exercise selection. Picking the right exercises to help us best achieve our goals.
Make sure that you are choosing the right exercises that best serve your goals. There is no need to go crazy and do every single exercise under the sun in the name of ‘moar gainz’. Making use of the bigger, multi-joint exercises – like the squat and deadlift – as the foundation of your program, complemented with a few accessory movements to hit the body parts that the bigger muscles may miss, or not provide enough stimulus to will give provide you with ample volume for growth and to be able to gauge progress.
Black Widow – Mobility
While the rest of The Avengers come with godly strength, lightning charged hammers and an array of gadgets, black widow shows us the importance of being mobile with her badass acrobatic skills.
Mobility should be a key component of any good program to prevent injuries and to allow for more progression.
While mobility is important, there’s no need to overdo it. Focus on the areas that feel tight and work on them. Also don’t neglect the importance of warm up sets. The warmup sets ‘prime’ your CNS for the heavier sets to follow. It also gets the blood flowing into the muscles you’re about to work.
Hawkeye – Autoregulation
Hawkeye may not be the strongest, but his eye for detail have saved the teams asses on a many occasion. This presents the final point – Autoregulation.
Autoregulation is simply adjusting the workout depending on how you feel on the day. While it may not seem like a big deal (kinda like Hawkeye – sorry, bro), knowing when to push hard and when to pull back will make or break you (both physically and figuratively).
Don’t be afraid to deviate from what you had planned. Auto-regulating your training will have you hitting PR’s and keep you safe from injury. While having a plan is important, life happens so don’t be afraid to adjust your workouts if you’re going through a stressful time like exams or working on a big project at work.
The biggest lesson The Avengers teach us is how important teamwork is.
While each member comes with their own unique powers and abilities, as a team they enhance each others strengths.
A good program is no different – it’s a sum of its parts. There is no ‘perfect’ rep range or ‘perfect’ exercise or ‘perfect’ program. Everything has it’s benefits, you just need to choose the dose depending on your goal at the time.
Just as The Avengers put aside their differences and work together to become stronger, you should do the same and utilize the different components of training to construct a program that is tailored to your needs.
Now go forth and construct your own superhero physique.