Intro to New Rules of Lifting Supercharged
By Lou Schuler
In the beginning, Alwyn Cosgrove and I wrote a book called The New Rules of Lifting. And it was good. Readers liked it, and they got outstanding results from Alwyn’s training programs. You wouldn’t be reading the fifth book in the series if the first one hadn’t helped lifters like you reach your goals.
But here’s the thing: Most lifters like you haven’t heard of Alwyn, or me, or the NROL series. Millions of men and women lift weights, either at home or in commercial gyms, but it’s hard to see much evidence to suggest they’re getting what they want from it, or what they could get from it.
Instead, I see all the same behaviors and practices that inspired us to launch the series in the first place.
I see paunchy middle-aged men block the dumbbell rack as they grind through set after set of every biceps exercise they remember from Flex magazine circa 1995, while avoiding the exercises that use the body’s biggest muscles in coordinated action, the movements that would do the most to build muscle, burn fat, and turn back the clock to the days when they looked more like a page from Men’s Health than Cigar Aficionado.
I see apparently healthy women doing the beneficial exercises the men avoid—the squats, deadlifts, and rows—but with weights that wouldn’t challenge someone twice their age, with half their strength.
I see young lifters doing exercises that will turn them into old lifters, the moves most likely to cause injury and least likely to offer much benefit. I see older lifters doing half-baked versions of programs designed for young athletes or bodybuilders, only without any apparent sense of the mechanisms that would make such a program work.
It’s like they’ve all gotten the first half of the memo about the importance of strength training for health, fitness, and appearance. But somehow the rest of the memo—the part that explains what you need to do to get the results you want—got deleted. So, in a way, the NROL series is the second half of that memo.
Take the first New Rule of Lifting: “The best muscle-building exercises are the ones that use your muscles the way they’re designed to work.”
Or the third: “To build size, you must build strength.”
Or the twenty-third: “Results come from hard work.”
Or the forty-third: “You can’t protect your spine by doing exercises that damage it.”
Or the sixty-third: “You’re not a kid anymore. Don’t train like one.”
See what I mean?
The readers who found and implemented the original New Rules of Lifting (along with the ones who read NROL for Women, for Abs, and for Life) know what it means to train. They know how to lift in a way that allows them to get progressively stronger, to add more muscle, to reduce fat, to work with their bodies rather than against them. They’re the ones who walk past the machines in their health club and pick up free weights. They’re the ones who get stronger over time, at any age, despite roadblocks or limitations. They’re the ones who look like they know what they’re doing. They move with purpose. They sweat, they grimace, and every now and then they actually grunt.
Does that describe you?
If so, great. You’re either a satisfied NROL reader, coming back for the newest information and most up-to-date programs, or you’re a target reader, someone who’s ready to do what it takes to get leaner, stronger, and more athletic.
Not you? Pull up a chair, and let’s talk.
The Power of Process
Since this is the Introduction, I should introduce myself. I’m a journalist who’s been writing about exercise, nutrition, and weight loss since 1992, when I was hired as an editor at Men’s Fitness (a magazine I hadn’t heard of until I interviewed for a job there).
I met Alwyn seven years later, when I was fitness editor at Men’s Health magazine and he was a personal trainer at a gym in New York City. He had been training clients since 1989, and working at it full-time since 1995, following a successful career as a competitive martial artist in his native Scotland. Alwyn and his wife, Rachel, opened Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California, in 2000. They’ve logged every workout for every client since then, as well as the outcomes. Their database, which today includes tens of thousands of workouts, shows them what works to make their clients bigger, leaner, stronger, and in many cases healthier over time.
By the time Alwyn and I started writing The New Rules of Lifting in 2004, we had both been around long enough to know what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to write yet another workout book filled with before-and-after photos of people who’d gotten extraordinary results from Alwyn’s programs. He had plenty to show, but we both understood the perils of promising outcomes to readers who didn’t fully understand the process that leads to success in the weight room. We decided instead to focus on that process.
Our first goal was to show readers how a trainer like Alwyn puts programs together. Whereas a typical man or woman will view their muscles as parts of a machine that can be reshaped into more aesthetically pleasing parts—make this more dramatically contoured, make that less embarrassingly pockmarked—Alwyn looks at a client’s body as an integrated system. Can he do basic movements pain-free? Can she stabilize her lower back and engage the right muscles in the correct sequence when lifting something heavy off the floor?
The second goal was to give readers a realistic way to achieve the outcomes everyone wants from strength training. For that Alwyn created ten programs, based on the ones he used successfully at Results Fitness. We showed readers multiple ways to sequence the programs to create a customized, yearlong training system. And, like I said, it was good.
Almost from the beginning, we found ourselves answering the same questions from readers.
First, there was the gender issue. While there’s nothing in the original book that requires a Y chromosome, it never occurred to me that women would want to do Alwyn’s programs. At the time the book came out—early 2006—you just didn’t see women deadlifting, squatting, or attempting to do chin-ups. I didn’t realize that a lot of them wanted to, and there wasn’t anything in print that gave them an NROL-type plan to learn the lifts and use them productively.
The solution to that problem was obvious enough: We wrote NROL for Women, which came out in early 2008. We couldn’t have asked for a more enthusiastic response from readers, which continues to this day. If that had been the only problem we had with our first book, we could’ve stopped right there.
But it wasn’t.
The second problem, you could say, was evolutionary. Alwyn created the original NROL workouts in 2004, and the NROL for Women workouts in 2006. His methods have changed in both large and small ways since then, but the first two books still reflect exercises and techniques that he no longer uses with his clients.
We wrote NROL for Abs to address mobility and core strength, two keys to successful training that we’d underplayed in our early books. We followed that with NROL for Life, which addressed perhaps the biggest source of questions from readers: “If I can’t do this exercise, is it okay to do another exercise instead? If so, which one?”
Eventually, all the new books brought us back to where we started. If we were writing The New Rules of Lifting today, with the same ambitions to emphasize the process of training and show readers how to custom-build a workout system, how would we do it?
Truth in Labeling
Supercharged, like the original NROL, includes ten workouts. The first four, which we call Basic Training, do everything you’d want a solid workout system to do: They give you time to develop or improve your exercise technique. They help you build, rebuild, or improve your overall base of muscular fitness, including strength, endurance, and joint mobility. Inexperienced lifters will develop at least a little muscle everywhere, and some male lifters will build a lot. Even experienced lifters will see improvements, especially in areas they’ve neglected. And everyone will burn lots of calories. So if you have fat to lose (and honestly, who doesn’t?), you’ll lose some of it with these programs.
You may wonder why an experienced lifter would do the same program as a novice, and it’s a fair question. The truth is, it’s not the same program in practice. The seasoned lifter is using more advanced exercises (which I’ll explain in detail in Part 3), and he or she employs a level of force production that isn’t available to the newbie. Well-trained muscles, put into action with well-honed technique, can lift more weight, lift that weight more times, and tap deeper into the body’s energy reserves. The workout design may be simpler than a longtime lifter is used to, but that’s a benefit. The more swipes we put on our gym-membership cards, and the more complex our workouts get, the farther we move away from basic exercises and techniques. We lose what we don’t use, as the poet said, and thousands of NROL readers can attest to the benefits of returning to basics, even for a short time. (Full-circle training is an important theme in Supercharged, and one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from my many years of working with Alwyn.)
Basic Training I, II, III, and IV are followed by Hypertrophy I, II, and III. The workouts are similar to those in NROL, employing a system called undulating periodization to make muscles bigger and stronger. You’ll vary load (working with heavy, medium, and light weights on different days) and volume (more total sets and reps when you’re using lighter weights, less when you go heavier).
The final three programs are called Strength & Power I, II, and III. Pure strength is often the one component of muscular fitness that lifters neglect, even experienced ones. That’s why a lot of readers of NROL and NROL for Women found that the programs requiring them to lift the most challenging weights produced the most surprising results.
The Important Stuff
Here’s what else you get in Supercharged.
In Part 1, I’ll describe the basic movement patterns you need to master to be a successful lifter, and to successfully change the way your body looks and performs:
Squat (bending at the knees and hips, as you would before a jump)
Hinge (bending at the hips to lift something from the floor)
Push (pushing yourself off the floor, or pushing a weight away from your body)
Pull (pulling yourself up to something, or pulling something toward you)
Lunge (lifting with your legs in a split stance and both feet on the floor)
Single-leg stance (variations on the squat, hinge, and lunge movements in which only one foot is on the floor)
Then we’ll look at the qualities you need to perform those movement patterns safely, effectively, and productively:
Stability through your shoulders, spine, and pelvis
Mobility in your hips, upper back, and shoulders
Balance that allows you to work in a variety of positions and postures
Strength, which is the ability to generate force
Power, which is the ability to generate force at maximum speed
Endurance, or conditioning, which is the ability to repeat all these movements, separately or in combination, often and vigorously enough to give your body the stimulus it needs to build strength, add muscle, and strip fat.
Part 2 gets into the physiology of muscles. What makes them bigger and stronger? The answer to the first question can be perfectly simple: lift progressively heavier things on a regular schedule, give your muscles enough food to grow, and give your body time to recover. The longer you lift, however, the more complex it gets.
Part 3 lists the exercises, followed by the workouts in Part 4. The ten training programs are the heart of the book. But you can’t use them to your best advantage until you understand how to choose the best exercises for you in each part of the program.
Part 5 wraps things up with the questions many of you will want to ask. How do I know what you’ll ask? Well, it is the fifth book in the series.
Who Is This Book For?
Alwyn and I write every book with the readers of our previous work in mind. We want to share with you the newest findings from the world of strength and conditioning research, as well as the closest approximation possible of the workout programs Alwyn and his trainers use at Results Fitness. Since Alwyn’s team constantly updates their methodology, there’s always something new to share.
If you’re among the millions of experienced lifters who never heard of Alwyn, me, or the NROL series until you picked up Supercharged, I first want to thank you for giving us a shot. I also want to warn you that your first exposure to Alwyn’s workouts can be mildly confusing. You’ll be underwhelmed when you look at them on paper, and wonder how it could possibly be enough work to achieve your goals. Please trust me on this: It’s plenty of work. You’ll know from the first workout that these programs are uniquely challenging, and by the last workout you’ll know they deliver as well as advertised (if not better). Please read carefully to ensure you get the best possible results from the system.
If you’re an inexperienced lifter, or someone who’s contemplating that first foray into the free-weight area of your health club after months or years of wasting your time on the machines, we’re asking you to give our system a fair shot. I think Alwyn’s workouts are an ideal system to get what you want from strength training. Are they the best? I have no way to know, because I haven’t tried everything, and research can never quantify the infinite ways to mix and match exercises and techniques. This is as close as I can get to a definitive statement: Any plan is better than no plan, and going from machine to machine just because that’s the way your gym chose to arrange its equipment is not a plan.
Conversely, there are some readers who will probably be disappointed.
If you’re a competitive athlete in a strength and power sport, Supercharged can put you on the right track. But to reach your full potential, you really should seek out a specialized program specific to your needs. Alwyn has trained athletes in just about every sport, and he competed in tae kwon do at the international level. If he were writing a program for his younger self, or for a college or professional athlete, he would start with a template similar to the ones in Supercharged. But the application would be unique to that athlete and his or her sport. In addition, there’d be more of just about everything. We start every NROL book with the idea that our readers are willing to train about an hour a day, three days a week, which is a fraction of the time great athletes devote to strength and conditioning.
Which brings me to another type of lifter who might not like Supercharged: If you want to work out five or six times a week, or enjoy training for a couple hours a day, this probably isn’t the right program for you. It’s certainly not a traditional bodybuilding program. We don’t believe in grinding through set after set of exercises designed to target the body’s smallest muscles. Nor do we believe in using machines in which you move a bar or handle along a fixed path. The exercises in Supercharged will hit your biggest, strongest muscles using a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, bands or cables, or your own body weight. They take some balance and coordination. Your smaller muscles still get lots of work, but it’ll come in support of the prime movers, which continues a theme we’ve emphasized throughout the NROL series.
The final category of lifter who won’t like Supercharged is the one who is, to put it delicately, intractable. This is the guy who’s been doing things his own damned way since high school, or the woman who remains so mortally afraid of “bulking up” that she avoids weights a preteen girl wouldn’t hesitate to lift. (You’ll see what I mean in Chapter 10.) They might understand the need to do something different, even if it involves a learning curve or a perceptual shift. But they’ll use every excuse in the world to avoid a novel system that might make them feel momentarily awkward or uncomfortable.
Our goal isn’t to make you feel threatened, since fear is a condition that prevents new ideas from taking root. We understand that this might not be the right program for you at this moment. If you change your mind, we’ll always be here. Wait long enough and there’ll probably be another NROL program for you to try. We never stop learning new ways to reach our goals, and we can only hope that you’ll come to appreciate the many ways we’ve found to help you reach yours.
PS – pick up your copy of New Rules of Lifting Supercharged here.