By: Josh Bryant
Brandon Cass, Josh’s long-time client, has thrived with singles.
Singles, a.k.a., “one-rep training”, is a tried and true, no-frills, results-producing, strength-building method that has worked for legends from Bob Peoples to “The Scranton Strongman” Jailhouse Legend, Jim Williams to the greatest bench presser of all time, Jeremy Hoornstra.
Limit Strength Base
Your limit strength is your base!
Limit strength is tested by lifting maximal weights. A max-effort movement is generally classified as 1–3 repetitions with greater than 90 percent of your one-repetition max.
The most effective measurement of limit strength is powerlifting. In all other sports, limit strength is a component and, as an athlete advances and becomes stronger, decreasing amounts of time are devoted to building his limit-strength base.
Powerlifting is limit strength and relative strength; you lift as much weight as possible for a one-repetition max, there is no time limit to lift the weight, and you are compared to competitors within your weight class.
The best way to test limit strength is with a one-repetition max in a core movement. Many people question the safety of this practice; I question the validity of their bogus max formulas that routinely have a 10 percent+ error rate. This might be acceptable for “general fitness” but is a trip to purgatory for the serious strength aficionado.
Think about it: Form can break down with heavy weight but also with fatigue. Doing a one-repetition max, you risk some form breakdown. Doing a repetition max with 85–90 percent of your one-repetition max, you are still lifting heavy weight, but fatigue will also play a role; setting the path for technical breakdown.
Many times injuries happen on a balls-out last rep of a squat or deadlift rather than on a heavy one-rep set. The mindset for a heavy single is just that, to perform a heavy single. For max reps, there is no true mindset besides one more and push through the pain. Technique, from a psychological standpoint, is the focus when maxing; it seems to be put on the back burner for rep maxes.
“Sport-specific” training centers in upper-middle class neighborhoods are about as common as fake boobs in Orange County, California.
“Sport-specific” often resembles a Coney Island Side Show. Any legitimate pretense of building strength or explosive power has been castrated with bosu ball squats and superset with ladder drills, followed by the latest metabolic “death circuit” using kettlebells.
Powerlifting is limit strength; you lift as much weight as you can for one repetition. Performing sets that consist of one repetition is sport specific.
Stigmas are attached to singles and many believe they are unsafe. This is not based off of any empirical evidence, just hogwash spewed by knuckle-dragging traditionalists with an axe to grind.
Some believe singles demonstrate strength but don’t actually build strength because of a lack of work.
I say, “Pea hockey!” (Appalachian term for nonsense)
Try deadlifting 15 sets of singles at 80 percent of your one-repetition max in a CAT style with a 30-second rest interval between singles; you are working and building strength.
If you want to add weight to your one-rep max—give training with one rep a shot.
Different Singles Workouts
Dinosaur Training Method, popularized by Brooks Kubik, is doing five singles in one workout; start light and progressively add weight each set where the final set should be a max effort. Initially, you can work up to a two-rep max (for a single) on your last set and then weekly make small jumps.
Cluster Training catalyzes strength gains—Start by using 90 percent of your one-repetition max, perform a single, and then rest 20 seconds between singles. Do 4-6 singles, then rest 5 to 7 minutes and repeat the process. This training is extremely demanding and cannot be used on a week in/week out basis. Cluster training intensity can be increased or decreased not only by adjusting bar weight but by adjusting the number of singles, the number of cluster sets, and, of course, the rest intervals.
Daily Max Training simply means you work up to a daily max. The max is your max for the day, but the key to not overtraining is the max means the most you can lift without “psyching up” or any technical breakdown. Poor form, failure, and emotional arousal cannot be part of the modus operandi for daily max training.
Density Training is a method of performing total work in a prescribed amount of time, approximately 10-15 minutes. Select a specific weight and do as many singles as possible within the time frame. Keep increasing the singles within the given time frame or keep the number of singles the same and reduce the time to completion—intensity through density!
Rest Pause Training is a favorite of old-time strength aficionados; the method Jim Williams used in Rockview Penitentiary to build a world record bench press. Put 85-95 percent of your max on the bar and do a single. Rest 15-30 seconds and repeat; your goal is to complete as many singles as possible.
Singles Guidelines and Benefits
• Perform singles in a Compensatory Acceleration Training style (putting maximum force into the bar each rep).
• Concentrate on technique; singles build technique. Singles also force neural adaptations for competitive lifts. In other words, you lift one rep in a contest so you get more coordinated at lifting one rep.
• Vary the weights; working up to a one-rep max is great, lifting 15 singles is great, 5 singles at 90-95 percent is great as well. Doing the same thing all the time is wrong! However, each aforementioned method of singles has benefits.
• Piling more pig iron on the bar is the most obvious way to progress but also manipulate rest intervals and the number of sets performed.
• Singles help gain strength without adding muscle mass which is great for athletes looking to stay in the same weight class.
• Try cluster sets. For instance, bench press 90 percent of your one-repetition max for a single, and then rest 15 seconds; do this for 4 sets. Rest 3 minutes. Repeat. Rest 3 minutes. Repeat. You have done 12 reps at 90 percent!
• Heavy singles are for advanced and intermediate trainees only.
“We will either find a way, or make one!”- Hannibal
If your strength gains have been at a stalemate—give singles a shot to make your way.
Jailhouse Strong has one week each block devoted to singles; grab it to kick off the new year.
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