Roger Estep Training Philosophy

The following information is based on Roger Esteps Seminar which he held in the early 80s. Keep lifting and eating! – Mr. Berg

Roger’s Training Program

The benchpress is Roger’s favorite lift. The bar must descend at a slow, controlled pace, so that the lifter gets the bar into the exact position he wants for the start. But he also believes that the ascent should ne slow and controlled too, because if the lifter exploded off the chest, expecting momentum to carry him through the sticking point, the top portion of the lift is not worked maximally. And he stated that lifters who bench this way, invariably have trouble with a high sticking point. He said that computer analyses of the bench pressers, have shown that superior bench pressers have a slow ascent. As an example of what he was talking about, he cited Mike Bridges, a phenomenal bench presser who has a slow, controlled ascent.

In fact, this is one facet of his bench pressing, where he feels he can still make improvement, because he thinks he still accelerates too fast coming off his chest. And to demonstrate this, he knocked out some very fast benches with about 200 pounds and the momentum generated actually brought his back off the bench.

Roger stated that the more arch a lifter can develop, the better, because the leverages are improved. To make his point, he stated that everyone handles more weight on decline benches than on inclines. As for grip, he said that is an individual matter, although the wider one goes, the more the pectorals are relied on, and the narrower, triceps.

He uses a medium grip, having found that a wider grip puts too much stress on his shoulders. He said that one should study their own anatomy in order to make a determination of what will work best for them. And also, if one is contemplating a change in grip, he advised them to change it a little bit at a time. Larger changes in grip are potentially too much of a strain on the muscles not used to it and could invite an injury.

In talking about his schedule, Roger emphasized that one should listen to his body and train according to feel. He always benched on Monday and Friday and only on Wednesday is he is feeling particularly energetic, and is not too close to a meet.

He always works singles, but only goes for maximum efforts when he feels he can make them. He begins with 135 pounds and warms up each portion of the bench press separately with short, pumping movements. He feels this is essential to avoid injuries.

The he jumps up in increments of 60 pounds until he hits 400, and then he goes 430, 465 and 490 to 500, all singles. He is a firm believer in the value of singles because he thinks one gets more work from a heavy single as all nerve endings are firing at once.

He does not like heavy triples because not all nerve endings are firing at once; as one set of nerve endings there is a tendency to get sloppy in the positioning of the bar when doing repetitions. With singles one is also programming the mind to handle heavy weights. From repeatedly doing singles, he believes that neuro-muscular pathways are burned into the mind so that one begins to react instinctively to the feel of heavy weights. Or, in other words, practice makes perfect.

He always had a spotter, so that when he misses a heavy single, the spotter can give him just enough assistance to finish the lift. After he takes his heavy single, he then drops the weight 100 to 150 pounds for one set of 6 to 10 repetitions. He takes this set fairly easy, as he thinks it is quite easy to fall into the trap of over-training. Now if he misses a single on Monday, he will try it again on Friday, and if he misses it again, he assumes that he is overtraining.

So when he goes into the gym the following Monday, he will just kind of play with the weights, not hit it that hard, and almost always, he finds that his bench will come around again that Friday. This all fits in with his idea of ‘listening’ to your body and responding to what it is telling you. And finally he mentioned that if he has a meet on Sunday, his last workout will be on Tuesday and he will work up pretty close to his opening single. He feels that almost all top lifters do this.

For assistance work for the bench press, he likes to work his lats, triceps and biceps. If all these muscle groups are developed, it is like having on a bunch of wraps for the bench press.

When someone asked what specific exercises he likes for areas, he responded as Dave Draper might, who popularized the idea pf the free-form workout: Roger does what he feels like; there is no set program, no specific exercises. Again the concept of play came up:

“I just play with the weights, have fun with it.”

Lateral Raises are pretty much of a constant in his routine for those cannonball deltoids of his, but that is about the only one. Too much assistance work can also lead to over training, so sometimes when his bench is suffering, he will eliminate all assistance work for awhile. He also drops all assistance work a couple weeks before a meet. And, finally someone asked him if he uses a cambered bar, and he said not, as it hurts his shoulders.

Roger emphasized the importance of box squats in his routine. He feels that they are primarily responsible for the tremendous size in his quadriceps. To perform them one must have a heavy duty stool or box that will allow the squats to be done at least one inch above parallel, but no higher than a 3/4 squat. One must also have a capable spotter.

To perform them the lifter should keep his feet close together (to isolate the quadriceps and take the gluts out of play) and literally sit down on the box, not just touching it, and then rock forward and up.

The spotter should keep his hands on the bar to keep it from whipping because tremendous amounts of weight can be handled in this exercise. It is good, too, psychologically to have that spotter behind you when handling this kind of weight.

Roger finds that he can usually do around 10 repetitions this way with a weight that he can normally only do once. He does his box squats on Monday, using increments of 90 pounds until he hits his top set for 10 repetitions. That set is so taxing on the cardio-vascular system, that it is futile to attempt any more beyond that.

On Wednesday Roger squats to practice his technique and on Friday he does 3 to 4 singles. As for technique, he emphasized the need to conserve energy. This means not running around going wild, and not doing  a lot of needless walking around on the platform once you have the bar on your shoulders.

Roger asked, “Why waste all that energy?” So he has it down to a science; he takes the bar from the rack and waits until it settles, and stops whipping; then he takes only 3 steps backward, hitting exactly where he wants his foot spacing; and then he again waits for the bar to stop whipping before he begins his descent. He keeps his hands open for balance, because it is easier to roll the bar if he starts to go forward. As for positioning of the feet, he believes that they should be spaced so that the knees will be straight up and down; this being the position where one’s leverage are optimal.

He does not believe in putting knee wraps on so tightly as to cut circulation and because this can also damage the patella. He demonstrated how he puts them on: 3 wraps above the knee, 3 wraps below the knee, and 2 wraps across the knee. They are just snug enough that he can put them on and leave them on. And he remarked, “Sometimes you see a lifter stomping his foot up and down before squatting : he isn’t trying to get psyched up; he’s trying to get his circulation going so his foot doesn’t fall asleep. ”

He also does not believe in putting on his belt super tight because the muscles can become cyanotic. For additional supplemental leg work, Roger likes to do hamstring curls and calf raises.

Deadlifts are worked similar to squats in that Wednesday, technique is practiced and Friday Roger works up to singles, followed by a finishing off set.

He does not do anything for his erectors, as they take a beating both from squatting and deadlifting.

He also does some snatch pulls occasionally for his deadlift and demonstrated pretty good form with his elbows rotating and the bar in close to his body (perhaps he could master the Olympic lifts, too).

He also recommended shaving the legs for the deadlift so that the bar would slide up the thighs easier.

As for training in general, Roger had the following comments:

– He does not have much use for negatives or isometrics because he does not know how much force he is exerting. He has used rack training, but felt that one has to be careful with this type of training so as to not put too much stress on the joints.

– He does not see stretching as being that important, and that the idea of being musclebound is greatly exaggerated. As an example, he cited Sergio Oliva who has as much muscle mass as anyone, but still only lost 2 to 3 percent of his movement in any given joint.

– He cautioned against doing leg raises, since ther has been instances of people hyperextending their erector muscles from this exercise.

– He sees no point in doing fast movements, for example, in the squats because “heavy” weights move slowly.

Roger explained the difference between slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, stating that fast twitch are so called because they are used in explosive movements, contract in shorter periods of time, and thus fatigue faster. He related an experiment he helped set up with with mice in which two groups were given the same diet, but periodically they were made to swim and one group had weights attached.

Motivation was no problem  obviously enough. After awhile, muscle biopsies were performed, and the group with the weights had significantly more fast twitch fibers. And this, of course, stands to reason since that group naturally tired faster.

To recuperate from injuries, Roger recommended starting back slowly; one has to get well first, so the initial training after an injury should be therapeutic. Warming up thoroughly at this stage is extremly important. He said that after a recent knee operation, he started back on the squats with 135×10. He did not rush it, but 4 1/2 months later, he was back up to 740 for one.

As for diet, Roger confessed to being a real milk freak, consuming up to 3 quarts per day along with at least one 8 ounce serving of meat. He also said that drinking more milk is the best way to take one’s weight up. He also takes a vitamin-mineral supplement and extra B12. He generally does not take a protein supplement unless he is travelling and eating improperly.

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