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Beach Training for Performance-oriented Lifters

“Bodybuilding training? No way! Not for me! I’m training only for strength and function,” said the huge sum bitch after deadlifting a load that was roughly equivalent to a Sherman tank.

“I agree, all I want is to get stronger, faster, and more powerful for my sport,” replied the warrior wearing an Arkansas Razorback’s football team T-shirt.

“You guys are dead on, what I really want is to be functional so I can kick anybody’s ass in the ring,” added the mixed martial artist lurking in the dark corner of the gym.

As a coach, I hear these things very often. Yet, as we get into summer, the same guys will undoubtedly walk up to me and ask how they can look better for the beach. Obviously, they’ll do so very discreetly, making sure that no one but me is within hearing distance.

After all, for months and months they prided themselves on being all about performance…even going as far as making fun of gym patrons training simply to improve their appearance.

I always tell them not to feel embarrassed by their request. It’s human nature to want to look good. And whether you want to admit it or not, having big arms can actually improve your performance. Big biceps can improve your self-esteem and confidence, which will positively impact your game.

Then there’s the intimidation factor. Men are men, and when we see a pair of humongous biceps in front of us, we can’t help ourselves from being impressed. An opponent who’s impressed by your physique is an opponent who’s at a disadvantage.

Still, an athlete/powerlifter can’t ignore his performance-oriented training to concentrate on bodybuilding just for the sake of vanity.

So, what’s the answer?

My athletes use what I call the “beach window.” After the completion of each strength training session, I propose an extra workout lasting 10-15 minutes aimed at developing “show” muscles (mostly biceps, triceps and shoulders).

The objective is similar to Coach’s Staley EDT in that we want to perform a lot of work in a short period of time (high density of training). But we still want to train heavy enough to elicit functional hypertrophy rather than simple “muscle swelling.” The rules to follow for this “beach window” are:

  1. Don’t exceed 10-15 minutes (yes, use a stopwatch if necessary).
  2. Use a training load allowing the stimulation of functional hypertrophy (working in the 6-8 reps range, or even the 4-6 reps range).
  3. Do NOT perform the “beach window workout” if you established a significant personal record during your regular session. (It’s important for the body to have a break.)
  4. Work two opposing muscle groups in alternating or even superset fashion. Good “beach pairings” include:
  5. Biceps and triceps
  6. Deltoid and rear deltoid/traps
  7. Don’t work for major muscle groups during beach sessions (pectorals, upper back, quads, hamstrings). These already get plenty of work from your regular performance-oriented workout.
  8. Keep rest intervals to a minimum.
  9. Try to change the beach workout every week (or have 2-3 such workouts that you rotate).

Here are some proper “beach window” workouts:

Biceps and Triceps BWW

Workout 1

A1. Barbell curl

Sets: 5

Reps: 8/6/4/6/8

Intensity technique: none

Rest before performing A2: 30-45 seconds

A2. Lying barbell triceps extension

Sets: 5

Reps: 8/6/4/6/8

Intensity technique: none

Rest before performing A1: 30-45 seconds

Total workout time: 9 to 12 minutes

Workout 2

A1. Cable triceps extension with a “V” bar

Sets: 4

Reps: 8/8/6/6

Intensity technique: double contraction (1 1/2 rep: perform a full rep, go back halfway up, perform the half-rep, and go back to the starting position. That counts as 1 repetition)

Rest before performing A2: 45-60 seconds

A2. Preacher curl

Sets: 4

Reps: 8/8/6/6

Intensity technique: double contraction (1 1/2 rep; perform 1/2 a rep, go back down and perform a full repetition. This counts as 1 repetition)

Rest before performing A1: 45-60 seconds

Total workout time: 9 to 12 minutes

Workout 3

A1. Low pulley cable rope curl (hammer grip)

Sets: 4

Reps: 8/6/6/4

Intensity technique: peak contraction (hold a 3-second maximum peak contraction)

Rest before performing A2: 45-60 seconds

A2. High pulley overhead cable rope triceps extension

Sets: 4

Reps: 8/6/6/4

Intensity technique: peak contraction (hold a 3-second maximum peak contraction)

Rest before performing A2: 45-60 seconds

Total workout time: 9 to 12 minutes

Workout 4

A1. JM press

Sets: 6

Reps: 4

Intensity technique: none

Rest before performing A2: 45-60 seconds

A2. EZ-bar standing curl

Sets: 6

Reps: 4

Intensity technique: none

Rest before performing A1: 45-60 seconds

Total workout time: 12 to 15 minutes

Shoulders and Traps BWW

Workout 1

A1. Low pulley rope front raise

Sets: 5

Reps: 8/6/4/6/8

Intensity technique: none

Rest before performing A2: 30-45 seconds

A2. Seated row to neck

Sets: 5

Reps: 8/6/4/6/8

Intensity technique: none

Rest before performing A1: 30-45 seconds

Total workout time: 9 to 12 minutes

Workout 2

A1. Rear deltoid machine

Sets: 4

Reps: 8/8/6/6

Intensity technique: double contraction (1 1/2 rep: perform a full rep, go back halfway down, perform the half-rep, and go back to the starting position. That counts as 1 repetition)

Rest before performing A2: 45-60 seconds

A2. Upright rowing, shoulder-width grip

Sets: 4

Reps: 8/8/6/6

Intensity technique: double contraction (1 1/2 rep: perform a full rep, go back halfway down, perform the half-rep, and then go back to the starting position. That counts as 1 repetition)

Rest before performing A1: 45-60 seconds

Workout 3

A1. Shrugs on a standing calf machine

Sets: 4

Reps: 8/6/6/4

Intensity technique: peak contraction (hold a 3-second maximum peak contraction)

Rest before performing A2: 45-60 seconds

A2. Low pulley 1-arm lateral raise

Sets: 4

Reps: 8/6/6/4

Intensity technique: peak contraction (hold a 3-second maximum peak contraction)

Rest before performing A2: 45-60 seconds

Total workout time: 9 to 12 minutes

Workout 4

A1. Barbell shrugs

Sets: 6

Reps: 4

Intensity technique: none

Rest before performing A2: 45-60 seconds

A2. Kelso shrugs (shrugs from a bent over position)

Sets: 6

Reps: 4

Intensity technique: none

Rest before performing A1: 45-60 seconds

Total workout time: 12 to 15 minutes

Organization of training

These “beach window” workouts are performed at the end of your regular sessions. Normally you want to have between 2 and 4 such BWW per week. I recommend starting at two and working up gradually.

Obviously, during periods of super intense strength training or sports practice, you’ll want to forget about doing these BWW altogether. You should also rotate the workouts. Once you’ve completed all four, you can get back to the first one, but use 5% more weight.

This method will allow you to improve your arms and shoulders without having a negative impact on your regular strength training performance. It will also provide a nice break from all the gut-wrenching work you just performed and will actually have a positive impact on your performance, either via psychological factors (confidence, intimidation), or physical ones (improving triceps strength will lead to bench press improvements, for example).

For those who are performance-oriented and have run away from direct arm or isolation work, I suggest that you give this approach a try.

-CT

Christian Thibaudeau

Written by Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 16 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Performance (of…