Old School Bodybuilding Techniques That Still Work: Strip Sets

old school body building techniquesBy Vincent Corvino

The longer I live, the more I respect the saying, “tried and true.”  When it comes to fitness, one might consider that saying when planning one’s routines.

Gyms and infomercials constantly introduce new machines and new fitness routines.  How can the fitness industry keep making money if it doesn’t keep selling us new ways of getting fit?  Certainly, many of its offerings are beneficial.

Changing up one’s workouts helps one avoid boredom and challenges the body; and though I’d always been a free-weights guy, I do admit to having fallen in love with Hammer Strength equipment when I first encountered it in the early 90s.  It allowed me to hit my muscles from new angles and always kept my form honest.  Also, I could really pile on weight without worrying too much about injuries.

In the obscured distance behind fitness trends and ubiquitous cutting-edge gym-floor contraptions, there are some very effective “old school’  bodybuilding exercises that have been abandoned, even though they helped classic bodybuilders achieve incredible physiques at a time when illegal supplementation was a lot less variegated and accepted than it is today.  This article is the first in an intended series on “tried and true” old school bodybuilding movements and strategies.  Our present focus will be strip sets.

In the interest of kicking it old school, let’s start our examination of this training method with a quote by legendary bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzeneggar.  He said, “There are no shortcuts — everything is reps, reps, reps.”

Among bodybuilders, it’s common knowledge that one achieves gains by overloading a muscle.   The most obvious way to fully tax one’s muscles is to lift as much weight as possible while maintaining good form.  What if we were to discover that we’ve got more reps in us even after we’ve repeatedly hoisted that herculean hunk of steel?  Wouldn’t this really overload the muscle and lead to surprising gains?

When I was a gym newbie, I once annoyed an older and poster-ready bodybuilder by asking him to spot me.  At first, I didn’t understand his attitude. I was practicing gym etiquette. All gym rats offered spots while resting between sets.  He’d apparently finished his set of curls before I requested his help.  This guy coldly said, “Gimme a minute, alright?”  He then quickly grabbed a new and lighter set of dumbbells, repped out with those to full failure, then grabbed yet another set of even lighter dumbbells and worked those until the veins in his biceps looked like garter snakes that might slither away.  When he was finished, he did offer me a spot and an opportunity to ask him about his method.  “Strip sets,” he said.  “They’re good finishers.”  By this, I knew he meant that strip sets were something one did during the final sets of a workout.

old school bodybuildingHow does one perform strip sets?  According to Bodybuilding.com one performs a strip set by completing a set to full failure using heavy weight, then immediately stripping off some weight and completing another set of the identical exercise to full failure.  One continues this process until the muscle is completely shot.  This is more than likely why my 1990s ornery gym-mate saved strip sets for the end of a workout. Bodybuilding.com wisely warns us to use a spotter when performing strip sets, and I would further advise that one not compromise form when using this method.  If it’s no longer possible to execute a rep using perfect form, it’s time to stop the exercise.  I also suggest that one begin any exercise program under the supervision of a trained and licensed professional.  Like other exercises, strip sets are not for beginners.

What are the benefits of including them in one’s routine? Classic bodybuilder Serge Nubret was known for grueling workouts that often included more than thirty sets per body part and only thirty seconds of rest between those sets.  His training philosophy emphasized the importance of keeping blood in the muscle.  This happens` when one does strip sets.

Like Nubret’s routine, they require more sets and reps and little or no rest.  I have always experienced a superior pump when doing strip sets.  Like any other training strategy, I use strip sets for a while, then abandon them for a while.  I tend to reintroduce them whenever my gains seem to have plateaued, or whenever I’m getting bored with my gym routine.  In a technologically-advancing world where boxers still jump rope and use medicine balls, I say why not ditch that fancy chest machine for a little while, pick up some free weight, and try a strip set?  Your muscles will thank you.



About the Author:

Vincent Corvino’s writing has appeared in several literary journals, among them The Quarterly, New Letters, The Crescent Review and The Blue Moon Review. He is currently the lead singer of the New York City hard rock band, Urbansnake.  He is a former student of Zen Buddhist Roshi, Rich Hart, and has trained as a boxer under former WBO Middleweight Champion, Doug Dewitt.  He possesses an MA in Education from Columbia University and a Post-Graduate Certificate in School Leadership. He has been an English teacher since 1996.