There is nothing worse than being stuck at a strength plateau! No matter what you do you just can’t seem to get any stronger. We have all been there at one time or another. There are many training methods that you could use to blast through a plateau.
In my experience one of the best methods is called the Chuck Sipes heavy supports routine. Chuck Sipes is a legendary bodybuilder. He placed second place behind “The Myth” Sergio Olivia in the 1967 Mr. Olympia contest and won many other professional bodybuilding competitions.
In his prime Chuck was pound-for-pound one of the strongest men in the world. He bench pressed 570 pounds without supportive gear while only weighing 220 pounds! And this was all the way back in the 1960s!
Chuck believed one of the fastest ways to build strength was to perform “heavy supports” in the power rack for exercises like bench presses and squats. In other words he pressed or squatted an ultra-heavy weight 1-2 inches and held the weight in the lockout position for up to 10 seconds.
Here is the world-class bench presser James Strickland giving a perfect demonstration of heavy supports on the bench press:
Heavy supports make you stronger through three different mechanisms:
- Improved tendon and ligament strength
- Inhibition of the golgi tendon organ
- Improved confidence with heavy weights
Let’s take a closer look at each of these mechanisms.
Mechanism #1: Improved Tendon And Ligament Strength
Chuck Sipes believed that the main benefit of heavy supports is they strengthened your tendons and ligaments. Chuck was right: heavy partial reps are one of the best ways to boost your tendon strength!
Your tendons are the connective tissues that connect your muscles to your bones. The tendons receive very little blood flow during the day or even during your workouts which makes them very difficult to strengthen.
It turns out that heavy supports are one of the 3 best training methods you can use to build tendon strength. The other 2 training methods are eccentric training and lifting with resistance bands.
The heavy supports stress your tendons and increase blood flow to these avascular tissues which allows them to become bigger and stronger.
It does not matter if you are a bodybuilder training for maximum muscle mass or a strength athlete trying to get as strong as possible: if you want to reach your goals then you must pay attention to your tendons!
Mechanism #2: Inhibition Of The Golgi Tendon Organ
Now this is where things get really exciting! Note: if you aren’t a strength training nerd like me then just grit your teeth and bear with me. I really geek out on this stuff!
The biggest limiting factor in your ability to get stronger is the golgi tendon organ. The golgi tendon is located in every muscle group in your body. It’s job is to figure out how much force your muscles can safely exert.
If the golgi tendon thinks you are trying to do something that might injure your body then it will automatically shut off your muscles so you don’t get hurt. This is definitely a good thing.
Unfortunately the golgi tendon tends to be over-active and stops your muscles from firing before it is really necessary. The golgi tendon is like a bad “helicopter parent” – it micromanages your muscles so much that you can never display your true strength potential!
If you could teach your golgi tendon to “chill out” then your strength would shoot through the roof. It turns out that heavy supports are one of the best ways to down-regulate the golgi tendon organ.
When you lift a super heavy weight that is greater than your 1-rep max your golgi tendon starts to register this as your new normal. In case you are more of a visual learner here is Christian Thibadeau talking about the importance of using training methods to down-regulate the golgi tendon organ.
Mechanism #3: Improved Confidence With Heavy Weights
You cannot underestimate psychological factors when you are trying to get stronger. Heavy supports are easily one of the best ways to improve your confidence with heavy weights. They make the barbell “feel” lighter in your hands or on your back which makes executing the exercise that much easier.
If you are an experienced lifter then I am sure you have performed a set of back squats where the weight just feels unbelievably heavy on your back. Even if your legs are strong enough to squat the weight it is very difficult to give a 100% effort if you feel like you are being crushed.
On the other hand I am sure you have walked out a squat where the weight just felt lighter than usual on your back. When this happens it is just that much easier to contract your legs as hard as possible to squat the wight up.
Heavy supports are easily one of the best tools for making heavier weights feel lighter which is very important. We’ve covered the science of Chuck Sipes heavy supports. Now let’s look at some sample training routines.
Chuck Sipes got his best results by alternating 3 sets of heavy supports with 3 sets of full range of motion work on the same exercise. For example:
Chuck Sipes Heavy Supports Template
- Set 1: Heavy Supports
- Set 2: Full Range Of Motion
- Set 3: Heavy Supports
- Set 4: Full Range Of Motion
- Set 5: Heavy Supports
- Set 6: Full Range Of Motion
Alternating heavy support sets and full range of motion sets is an unbelievably effective way to train. The heavy supports overload your nervous system and down-regulate your golgi tendon organ. Then when you perform your full range of motion sets your nervous system will be primed and you will be able to lift more weight than normal.
If you perform this sequence correctly then you will actually be strongest on your 5th and 6th sets!
The other benefit of this loading scheme is it teaches your body how to transfer the strength gains from the partial range of motion work into a full range of motion lift. This is important because there is nothing worse than seeing your partial range of motion strength go up while your full range of motion strength goes down!
Here is a squat workout using this loading scheme that you may want to try. Check it out:
Chuck Sipes Heavy Supports Squat Workout
- A1: Back squat heavy supports (medium stance / heels flat)**, 3 x 1, 1/0/1/8, 240 seconds rest
- A2: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 5, 3/0/X/1, 240 seconds rest
- B1: 45 degree leg press against bands, 2 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Unilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet neutral), 2 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 2 x 10-12, 2/0/1/2, 120 seconds rest
**Performed through a 2-inch range of motion
This is an extremely simple routine that is designed to blow up your squat. I recommend you perform all of the assistance work sets just shy of muscular failure.
Of course Chuck Sipes heavy supports can also be used to improve your bench press. In fact this was Chuck Sipes’ secret weapon for building a 570 pound bench press.
Here is a heavy supports bench press routine featuring antagonistic supersets that you may want to try. Check it out:
Chuck Sipes Heavy Supports Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press heavy supports (shoulder-width grip)**, 3 x 1, 1/0/1/8, 100 seconds rest
- A2: Lean-away chin up on rings, 3 x 4, 4/0/1/0, 100 seconds rest
- A3: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3 x 6, 3/0/X/1, 100 seconds rest
- A4: Lean-away chin up on rings, 3 x 4, 4/0/1/0, 100 seconds rest
- B1: V-bar dips with chains (forward leaning torso), 3 x 6-8, 2/1/1/1, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Seal row (medium grip), 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/2, 60 seconds rest
**Performed through a 2-inch range of motion
Antagonistic supersets are difficult to perform if you train in a busy commercial gym. However, if you are able to perform them then they are one of the best ways to train. They give you a strength boost, increase your endurance and let you perform more work in less time.
The bottom line is heavy supports are one of the best training methods you can use to get stronger. They work extremely well for intermediate and advanced trainees who want to blast through a strength plateau.
You do have to be careful when you are using them. You do not want to do something stupid and hurt yourself for no reason. However, if you have the maturity to use this training method correctly then you will be rewarded with some screaming fast strength gains!
“If you want something you’ve never had before, you have to be willing to do something you’ve never done before.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
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