Fine Tuning With Phil Learney!

Every year I am presented with athletes and their coaches telling me I want my player rehabilitated, leaner, faster, stronger and bigger. All well and good but when the playing seasons  year after year get longer and longer and I’m given a period that if I’m lucky is more than a few weeks I’m left with some BIG decisions to make.

I’m going to let you in on a few things.

You can achieve more than one thing at a time. You’ve just got to decide which you want the most. Everything you do in life has a by-product. Training is the same. You strengthen joints, limbs get stronger. You get leaner, you get faster. You strength train, you get bigger. All you’ve got to remember is that the first is the priority and what you’ll get the most of. The second is merely a by-product, the good news is you STILL get it.

Effective training is simple and hard. The next 30 days at times will be monotonous and maybe even boring but will leave you with a physique that works and more than anything looks like it works.

Now I’m assuming most of you have a little extra weight onboard and you have little definition. I’m also going to assume that you’ll all be looking at a cover model physique for summer.

Over the next 30 days and beyond you’re going to be treated like an athlete and get you results as fast as possible (you’re the same template remember).

The first phase of the program is critical. Over the next 30 days and beyond your body is going to take a self inflicted hammering so the first job is to bullet proof your joints and make sure your mechanics are working in order. We’re men and the issue we have with that is testosterone appears to give us all a predisposition to using too much weight and sloppy form. Sure, looks impressive but eventually makes us look like idiots (trust me it’ll happen) and physiques riddled with injuries requiring a healthy dose of postural rehabilitation.

Due to the mental toughness needed your motivation and focus right now must be at its highest. Work hard and you will be rewarded.

For decades athletes have utilized a pre-season phase that prepares them for the heavy and intense work that follows (soviet literature and high rep references). The purpose of the first few days is to increase the blood supply and circulation to the tendons and supportive structures. Tendons have very little blood supply and this improvement will serve you well to prevent against joint soreness in the latter stages. To boot those of you less genetically gifted for muscle size will give your high ratio of slow twitch fibres a huge does of positive stimulus. This type of stimulus over time will streamline your body and create phenomenal muscular endurance and tone.

As we progress into the final weeks of this program the emphasis will be  about taking the muscles and activating as much of their underutilized capabilities as possible. Typically when dealing with athletes I dont need to overload them hugely to make them stronger. I simply need to make them more efficient. To utilize what is untapped but already there.

Human history is littered with acts of incredible superhuman strength witnessed under high stress situations. We’re going to simulate this survival instinct by gradually stressing the whole neuromuscular system.

Our intention here is to fire as many motor units within the muscle tissue as possible,

This increase in load leads to what is known as Myofibrilar hypertrophy and over time creates a very hard look to muscles even in a relaxed state.

We’ve all at some stage ventured onto youtube and watched a successful bodybuilder shifting massive weights explosively… you’d be pushed to find them doing anything else. Mark my words here that most of the growth and size you see is achieved through using sub maximal weight and slow concentrated repetitions. After all no one cares about watching someone using a mediocre weight and moving it slowly…..because it’s boring. This is STRENGTH training and only as a by-product do we achieve size adaptations. Most men in most gyms are strength training without knowing it but really desire size and definition.

The phase that will probably be of most interest to you and the icing on the cake is from days 10-20. The purpose here is to take all the engrained movements and switch it up from simply moving the weight to know contracting the muscle.

This is known Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and the bit which the male animal often misses out on. SIZE training is ultimately all about engorging the muscle with as much fluid and blood as possible. Contracting at all times with complete lockouts and with slow intentional movement. The trade off here is a massive accumulation of lactic acid. The muscles will burn and scream at you to stop but remember this is a few days of your life. Contract the muscle hard and keep the repetitions slow and controlled. If your weight selection is perfect (If you dont drop the ego here gentleman and ignore the urge to impress the blonde on the stepper you will NOT get out of this what is required) you will see a steady incline in your repetitions over the sets and the muscle progressively pump up. Arnold once described this sensation as comparable to coming during sex. You make your own mind up.

Ok down to it.

Days 1-10 (10 Days, 10 workouts,  32 Minutes per day.)

Primary – Joint Integrity and Strength

Secondaries – Motor Skill Acquisition

Improved stamina and endurance in the muscle.

Improvement in Blood supply to tendons

Mental Toughness and improvement in the Central Nervous System.

The body works in simple movements, we need to remember that. Complex movements are typically sports based and this is to get your body in shape so you can then filter off in whatever direction you choose to go in. The following selection of movements are based on typical weaknesses and classically inhibited muscle I suggest you place them in your structure whenever possible. These are complex and underutilized movements and over the next 10 days you will perform hundreds of these movements with absolute perfection engraining them in to your system.

Days 1-10

Perform 2 Sets of each exercise. Working time is 2 minutes continuous with a simple 60 second rest in between sets.

Rep Speed is just at a steady pace adjusting the weight as you need to. This is an accumulation phase adding weight every session. If you cant complete with the weight you started on, drop the weight down progressively until you finish 2 minutes of full work. DO NOT fail to work for 2 minutes.

By the end of the 10 days you should have gauged what weight you can use and complete the FULL 2 minutes.

This is a 20 minute work period in total! That is ALL. With 60 seconds rest or set up time in between exercises you have a grand total of 32 minutes. If your workout last longer than this you’re slacking.

This is clock watching gentleman so get yourself a timer. The large display kitchen timers are good as you can watch your rep tempo easily.

Days 11-20 (10 Days, 5 workouts, 5 Recovery days. 50 Minutes on workout days, 20 minutes recovery days., 224 Minutes per week.)

Primary – Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy

Secondaries -

After day 10 you are going to take the weight you used for the 2 minutes and use the same weight.

Now the repetitions become slow and at all times you MUST contract  and squeeze the muscle.

Repetition tempo at this point is SLOW. You will run at a tempo of 2-3-2-1. For the eccentric portion of the exercise you will count to 2 at the bottom stretched position you will count to 3. You will then slowly begin the concentric counting again to 2 pausing and squeezing the muscle HARD for a 1 second count. This put simply using the box squat as an example is to go down 1-2 pause 3-4-5 come back up 6-7 pause and contract at the top 8 and repeat.

You are aiming at between 8-15 reps (Obviously ALWAYS 15!) Each set you have 30 seconds THIS IS 30 seconds. No more no less and you repeat adding 2.5kg to the bar each set and for 3 sets before moving on to each exercise. Each rep is 8 seconds, each set is 2 minutes. Each exercise is 10 minutes plus rest and changeover time.

Each workout start at the previous second set weight. By the end of the 5 workouts you will have a weight you may be struggling to hit the 8 minimum reps with.

Workout total time is 50 minutes. Again NO slacking.

These workouts are now every other day. You have a recovery day and a restoration workout. n.b.: This is NOT cardio. this is recovery and simply entails getting on a treadmill, ramping the incline as high as possible without holding on and walking. If you cant get on a treadmill get outside and power walk.

Days 21-30 (10 Days, 10 workouts,  32 Minutes per day, 224 Minutes per week.)

Primary – Myofibrilar Hypertrophy.

Secondaries -

Now you have a decent load that you have worked hard to get too.

Take the final load you discovered at the end of day 20, this again may need adapting depending upon machine fulcrums etc.

Once again you are on the clock. Tempo is now altered again as without speed those untapped fibres will NOT play.

Tempo now is 3-1-X-0

This is a 3 second eccentric, a 1 second pause at the bottom and the X signifies an acceleration through the concentric as fast as possible. You MUST NOT lock the joint here. No pause and repeat.

The more weight and the more acceleration the more the body will kick in and recruit those ‘survival’ fibres.


Before you even pipe up and tell me you cant squat. In 15 years of training all manner of people including more recently a double knee construction. I have NOT met anyone who has not ended up squatting with me. The aforementioned gentleman does triples with twice his body weight 6 months after he started with me.

One of the most common issues I find with squats is due to our postural issues, the way we tend to do everything and our fear of falling over doing them is that the glutes and hamstring do very little work and our stress points hence become the knees and lower back (probably your first thought when you heard me mention them). Also the elevation we get in our heels from wearing ‘running’ shoes to do weight training in causes us a stability issue in the whole ankle, knee and hip chain. Trust me load a barbell up and put it on your back whilst resting your heels on pockets of air.

Get some flat soled trainers with NO shock absorption apart from the rubber that covers the sole. (We wont be putting ANY impact through this entire workout)… running (remember that the physique is a by-product of what we do to it, 1500m runners run for less than 5 minutes and their physiques reflects someone who needs to run for 5 minutes, sprinters on the other hand lift weights and work on technique).

The typical learning progression towards full back squats is to begin with box squats

Box Squats.


Position a box, step or bench that is slightly below the level of the back of your knees. If you cannot get back up from this position go higher and if you experience any knee pain at this depth heighten it until you dont (just stack weight plates on top).

The purpose of the box is that at the bottom position you experience a myostatic reflex and the hip flexors can relax. This in turn allows the glutes and hamstring to become involved in your overall squat movement. In developing a good, balanced and strong back squat this is critical.

At the top of the movement position the bar on the fleshy part of the trapezius (typically lower than you think). Pull down hard on the bar, this will lock the upper back in and increase the load through the spine and supporting muscles. More spinal load means more.  Keep tall and begin the descent. Dependent upon your height and limb length this will begin with either a hip break or knee break first. Think you’re just sitting down instead of doing a squat but stay tighter with the torso. You will typically find the right position.

Sit down onto the box rolling the torso back to a completely upright position (disengaging the hip flexors). Keeping the feet still push the floor down and accelerate the hips forward returning to the upright position.

The progression every 10 days is to slowly progress to a full stable squat. The box however remains so you’re confident to sit back.

Movement 1.

Day 1-10

Full Box Squat sitting down to an upright position

Days 11-20

Box Squats remaining in slight forward flexion

Days 21-30

Box Squats utilizing the box as a depth marker. Light touch.

Movement 2.

Ideally set this up in a rack so you can load and unload the weight safely.

Holding the bar with a shoulder width grip position it firstly resting across the top of the Clavicle. The first movement is seated and is simply an extension overhead with the bar.

The first progression is to move from the stable seated position to a standing position. Due to the slow nature of the repetitions in weeks 11-20 the abs and lower back will have to act to stabilize the body in this position.

The second progression calls for a quarter squat and drive through the legs, accelerating the bar vertically. This should feel almost like you intend throwing the bar above you.

Vertical Push

Day 1-10

Seated Military Press

Days 11-20

Standing Military Press

Days 21-30

Standing Push Press

Movement 3.

In direct contrast you are still working a vertical plane but this time pulling. The reason behind the change in movements is that the wider you go with the hands the less mechanical advantage you get hence will use lighter weights. In such a condensed period of time the weight adaptations wont be huge but will allow us to progress through each grip style. You may find that the weights you discover may need adjusting slightly due to machine mechanics.

Vertical Pull

Day 1-10

Lat Pulldown

Days 11-20

Reverse Grip Pulldown

Days 21-30

Narrow Grip Pulldown

Movement 4.

Movement 4 moves the body into a horizontal plane. Naturally progressing from using a stable machine press to a barbell the body will find more of a survival response from a bar descending on top of it than the safety of a machine.

The key area of concern when working in a horizontal plane is that due to the anatomical requirements of day to day life we all tend to be a little internally rotated with our shoulders. This causes a shortening of the Pecs and over-recruitment of the Delts. When setting up any Horizontal push its very important that we pull the shoulders back and push the chest through and high. Remembering also that the spine is naturally curved. Sure you can push more weight with your back flat (feet in air when benching) but guess what, thats your shoulders working NOT you chest.

Get those shoulders back, chest high and squeeze the lats against the bench.

Slowly control the bar to the midline of the chest then pause for your allocated time before pushing away.

I would strongly suggest using a spotter when Bench Pressing. If not stay on the machine press for days 21-30.

Horizontal Push

Day 1-10

Machine Chest Press

Days 11-20

Machine Chest Press

Days 21-30

Bench Press

Movement 5.

The final movement in your workout is taking the lower limbs and working them by pulling vertically off the floor as opposed to the pushing that came from the squat.

When setting up in Days 1-10 ensure that the feet are running along a set of tracks that would run in the line of YOUR hips.

Feet are spaced so at the bottom position your front knee runs in line with the end of your toe. There should be a nice line running through the back knee, your hips and shoulder when in the bottom position.

The first progression is to take those weights and move into a dumbbell squat. Same principles as the box squat. Same depth but as the dumbbells are at the side the survival response is less. Be confident to sit back through the hips.

The final progression is the barbell deadlift.

This calls for impeccable technique. With an overhand grip the bar needs to be pulled into the shins on the floor. Sit back through the hips and almost lean back against the bar. As the hips drop accelerate the hips forward and the shoulder back whilst pulling the bar up.

Keep the abs and lower back tight and strong throughout.

Day 1-10

Split Lunges

Days 11-20

Dumbbell Squats

Days 21-30

Barbell Deadlifts

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