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Cardio using resistance machines – Overhead press extinction? – Plyometrics yea or nay – Press-behind-the-neck: some can, some can’t – Growing calves into cows

By Iron Vic Steele

Greetings from Alaska!

I am a gym owner in a remote locale. The joke goes up here that we have two seasons August and winter. I have a question. I talked to a fellow who had attended a Parrillo Training Camp weekend a few years ago. He said that John made really intelligent use of resistance machines for CARDIO. That got my attention. I was told that John had attendees perform a series of high rep sets using machines to create a ‘cardio effect’ – could you elaborate? In the deep winter, I spend a lot of time in the gym and I would love some other effective form of cardio besides the standard stationary bike, treadmill, rower or Nordic Track. I am sick to death of using these same devices over and over and over. I am bored out of my mind with my current cardio groove and looking to try new approaches.

Jimmy G., Parts Unknown

John is nothing if not an innovator. There is a definite philosophy behind Parrillo-style cardio. The core tenant of aerobics should be done intensely for a lot of good reasons. First and foremost, intense cardio jacks the metabolism up sky high and the iron-vic-weightsmetabolism stays elevated for hours after the session is over. Additionally, intense cardio reconfigures muscle tissue, causing the construction of additional mitochondria. More mitochondria means better oxidation of food, better utilization of nutrients and greater energy; all of which enables greater muscle growth. Intense cardio burns off calories at a far faster rate than mild cardio. Be aware that mitochondria will only be constructed by intense cardio and only in the working muscles; if your only aerobic exercise is stationary bike, any new mitochondria will be limited to the legs. John thought long and hard about how to use progressive resistance exercise machines in cardio mode to create mitochondria in all the limbs. His solution was to use resistance machines for high reps (including forced reps or drop sets) to generate the elevated heart rate characteristic of aerobic activity. His idea was to string together a series of machine exercises that could be used to build mitochondria in the chest, arms, back and shoulders.

How does this work? Use a training partner or the drop-set strategy and perform all exercises in non-stop fashion. Select a machine exercise and select a poundage that allows you to reach positive failure at around 15 reps. Go to failure and have the training partner step in and administers 5 forced reps. Alternately, if you don’t have a training partner, hit positive failure at 15-reps, drop the poundage by 20% and keep the set going. Immediately head to the next exercise. For example, you could create a cardio giant set by starting off with the seated machine bench press followed immediately by the seated row, again, done on a machine. Repeat the positive failure/forced rep protocol without rest then move onto overhead press followed with pull-downs. Then move to machine curls followed by tricep push-downs. You could end the cardio giant set with a rep-out set of seated machines crunches. This non-stop sequence can be repeated and will gas the fittest of athletes. The same procedure could be used for legs: leg press to failure followed by leg curls, leg extensions and calf raises. This type of “extended set” cardio training is incredibly demanding and effective. Say goodbye to cardio boredom up there in Moose Trot, you guys are in for the cardio gains of your life without having to set foot outdoors!


Vic Steele,

Old school forever! No one presses anything overhead anymore unless it’s using a machine. I am old enough to remember a time when the clean and press was the benchmark for a man’s strength. Nowadays if you see anyone doing overhead pressing, iron-vic-overhead-press-dumbbellsit is sitting down using some sort of press machine. What happened to the barbell overhead press? How could the strength benchmark be relegated to complete obscurity? Mind-blowing! Is there a better shoulder developer than a heavy barbell press? Perhaps I am behind the curve.

Arn, Twin Cities

Oh how the mighty have fallen! There was a time not too long ago when, as you point out, the overhead press was the benchmark. It was replaced by the flat bench as the benchmark: no one asks, “how much can you overhead press?” Nowadays they ask, “How much can you bench?” The old school standard was a bodyweight press. If a man weighed 200, a 200-pound clean and press was the benchmark. The big boys pressed 1.5 times bodyweight, a 300-pound overhead barbell press for a 200-pound man. Back in the day, there were a hell of a lot of 300-pound clean and presses in the 198-pound class. And yes, the free-weight overhead press is the greatest single deltoid exercise ever invented. I would recommend getting off the press machines and doing some barbell or dumbbell overhead pressing. Standing or seated dumbbell pressing forces each limb to carry its fair share. Free-weight overhead pressing, be it barbell or dumbbells, garners optimal results. Don’t be seduced by the propaganda that machines and free-weights are equal: they are not. Free-weights trump machines because they cause muscle stabilizers to activate to a degree unobtainable using machines. I would place shoulders on a different day than flat benching. When overhead pressing is placed behind flat benching in the same session, overhead pressing always suffers – give free-weight overhead presses their own day!


Mr. Steele,

The football coach has our son doing a lot of plyometrics. Ronnie is a big 18-year old and was an all-county center and defensive end last year. He is 6-3 and weighs 215. He plays center (on offense) and defensive end. His main problem is gaining iron-vic-alexandra-amtonio-box-jump-plyometricsmuscle. Anyway, the coach is a big believer in “explosiveness” and has Jack leaping up on various height boxes – not quite sure how this makes him a better football player. Also – my son is eating us out of house and home and he can’t seem to add muscle. He keeps getting taller. Any ideas?

Buzz, Birmingham

Plyometrics have been around for decades. The idea is that by systematizing leaping, jumping and bounding will translate into making the athlete quicker, faster, more explosive and more agile. Does it work? If done right, plyometrics are worthy of inclusion into the athlete’s program. Care needs to be taken not to overdo because plyo injury is always something to be concerned with. I am a big fan of box jumps and feel that leaping up onto an elevated box for sets and reps is not only beneficial it is a terrific indicator of athletic ability. A good athlete will be able to leap up onto a table the height of their belly-button; a great athlete leaps up onto a box at nipple height. Sounds impossible yet there are young athletes everywhere capable of these incredible expressions of leg explosiveness. So yes, by all means have him leap and bound to his heart’s content. As long as he doesn’t hurt himself, plyometric improvement will result in improved athletic performance on the ball field. As far as his adding bodyweight, he is the typical superior teen athlete: he has a metabolism like Mark Phelps, the swimmer that could eat 12,000 a day and stay ripped. I pity you when it comes time to pay up at the supermarket checkout. The bad news is that he needs to take in even more calories. The two most potent weight-gain supplements I know of are CapTri® C8 MCT and Pro-Carb™. CapTri® C8 MCT delivers 120-calories per tablespoon and provides calories (because of the molecular structure of MCTs) that are impossible to end up as body fat. I would have him drizzle CapTri® C8 MCT over food meals. Pro-Carb™ is an incredible supplement and for adding lean muscle mass, this maltodextrin powder is unbeatable for size building and is the perfect supplement for a hard-gainer.



You are always knocking the press-behind-the-neck. I love that movement. I can PBN 220 weighing 190 and feel good about it. I use the special PBN bench and have a partner lift off and spot me. I lower the bar all the way down to my earlobes. I know a lot of guys barely lower the bar. I think the reason my shoulders are awesome is a result of me being awesome at the PBN. Don’t be hatin’ the PBN!

Rog, Brooklyn

This must be overhead press month. Rog you are dense and need to read more closely. What I said was, some people can’t do the press-behind-the-neck due to a type of shoulder construction that roughly 25% of the population have: some folks, me included, cannot comfortably lower a loaded barbell behind our heads, our shoulders won’t allow it. I wish I could do the PBN. Guys that handle big weight (in strict fashion) in the PBN invariably have outstanding shoulder development. I am thrilled at your awesomeness, but you should be aware that 190-pound men are routinely pushing 250 for reps in this exercise. 5-6 rep sets are favored for creating maximum delt size. Follow the PBN with some seated or standing dumbbell presses and finish with some sort of lateral raise. Try giving the shoulders there own training day. Too many bodybuilders always work shoulders after chest and the shoulder exercises suffer: train chest and tricep one day and shoulder and biceps two days later.


Good morning,

Is there a proper way to do a calf raise? Is it true that calves are the hardest muscle to make grow? My calves are subpar and always have been despite training them religiously, once or twice a week for years. Is there some secret to making them grow? Does running help build calves? At age 30, is there any chance that I can grow my calves? I need a lot of calf help.

Aziz, Phoenix

Calves and forearms are generally considered the most difficult muscles to build on account of the density of their muscle tissue. Dense muscle fiber comes about as a result of using them all the time, we use calves and forearms when walking, running or anytime we use our hands. We use calves and forearms all the time all day long. Classically elite bodybuilders used an identical training strategy to build both calves and forearms: high reps, high sets, done often. A certain select few are genetically blessed with good calves, usually those genetically gifted with good calves also have naturally big forearms. Mike Mentzer, Bill Pearl and Dorian Yates were all gifted with great calves and great forearms. The classical calf-specialization program would call for the bodybuilder to train calves three times a week. Every rep needs to commence with the deepest possible stretch. Relax the calves and let the poundage stretch you down as far as possible. Rise all the way up onto the inside ball of the foot. Flex to point of cramping. Perform 5 sets of 12-20 reps in the standing calf raise then head to the seated calf raise machine for five more sets. Ten sets thrice weekly is the minimum for someone intend on improving instead of maintaining. Be aware that you can administer your own forced reps on the seated calf raise device by pulling upward on the handle at the top of each tough final reps of the set. Go to seated calf failure before self-administering 3-5 forced reps. Calves grow maximally when the calf specialization program is combined with a Parrillo mass building phase.

2018-10-17T19:50:20-04:00 October 17th, 2018|Iron Vic Speaks, The Press|

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