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Training by tonnage

Have you ever wondered how long it would take you to lift an amount of weight equivalent to the Effeil Tower? OK, it’s unlikely that you have. It’s not exactly the sort of thing likely to be particularly weighty on the mind, but it’s pretty weighty in almost every other sense.

Anybody who’s lifted weights in a gym might appreciate what sort of an effort might be required to lift 7,300 tons of steel, which is roughly what the famous landmark is thought to weigh. Just think how long would that take you?

If you are an avid weight training enthusiast you might be quite surprised exactly how much weight you do actually lift each week. If you follow a relatively basic free-weights programme and train at least three times per week, you are very likely already shifting somewhere in the order of 20 to 30 tons a week.

Keep that up every week and you could in theory lift the Eiffel tower in just under five years. Might not sound terribly impressive, or motivating, but a strength athlete or competitive bodybuilder could probably do it in closer to one. Can you visualise the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janiero, Brazil? Well that’s just over 600 tons, which means our avid lifter could probably lift it in close to a month. How fast could you shift it?

But what manner of strange quantifications are these any-way? And more to the point, how could measuring the weights we lift in such a way be of any possible use to us? Well, it’s called the “total tonnage” system and can actually be very useful indeed. It might provide you with a fresh and highly motivating perspective on your lifting, and help you achieve you muscle-building and strength-gaining goals faster than perhaps any other measurement system.

It was the system of choice for Soviet exercise scientists back in the cold war era. Total tonnage allowed them to measure the training volumes of Olympic weightlifters and power sports athletes and construct elaborate periodised programmes across entire four-year Olympic cycles. It is basically a result of the amount of weight lifted, multiplied by the amounts of time it is lifted. You’re basically adding every single repetition performed in kilograms in order to arrive at a global total.

It only works with free weights, which is just fine because barbells and dumbbells just happen to be highly effective weapons of mass construction in the typical gym equipment aresenal. More specifically, the system was originally developed exclusively for barbell lifting and you’ll quickly find that barbells will allow you to build big tonnage far more efficiently. So here’s how it works.

The most tonnage will result from exercises that involve handling the heaviest loads

If you performed say an 80kg bench press for 10 repetitions, you’ve basically amassed a total of 800 kgs. Repeat that across three sets and you’ve lifted a total of 2,400 kgs or just under two and a half metric tons. So in short, it’s weight lifted, multiplied by repetitions, multiplied by sets performed.

If you’re not already keeping a training diary in the form of a computerised spreadsheet, this coud very well be the push you needed to start tracking your training like a pro. If you’re pushing and pulling 50 tons a week, welcome to the iron game. Shift in excess of 100 tons and you can well and truly consider yourself hardcore gym elite.

The real value of the system, however, comes to light when you compare you and against you. Aim to steadily increase your weekly tonnage above all else and muscle growth is pretty much an unavoidable side-effect. There are some rules though. Include only weights over 70 per cent of IRM. In simple terms, don’t count your warm-up sets. Do easy sets to prepare for what are better termed the actual “working” sets, which are the ones you track.

It stands to reason that lifting a maximal weight once won’t crank up as much tonnage as much as lifting a sub-maximal weight several times. There’s a point of diminishing returns however, and an excessively light weight simply won’t deliver an effective training stimulus. Indeed, 70 per cent and above is where all the magic happens.

The Soviets worked out that maximum tonnage is obtainable by handling weights in the region of up to 80 per cent of IRM. This just happens to be the perfect range for building muscle, and facilitates the performance of anywhere between six to 10 repetitions per set.

By striving to build your tonnage as a primary goal, you will find yourself constantly aiming for slightly more weight on the bar each time you lift. Multiplied across every repetition performed, total tonnage clearly shows you how that little bit of extra weight makes a very big difference indeed. This can be highly motivating in helping you keep your routine progressive where you might have otherwise easily stagnated.

Striving for tonnage will also encourage you to make the right decisions in terms of exercise selection. The most tonnage will result from exercises that involve handling the heaviest loads.

Automatically, you will find yourself favouring the big moves like squats, deadlifts, presses and rows, which just happen to be the most powerful mass-builders around. You just can’t build much tonnage at all with wrist curls and dumbbell lateral raises, and guess what, these won’t build you much muscle either.

So try this simple system out and see how it can super charge your steel-raising resolve. How many five-ton monster trucks can you lift per week? What about 10-ton superyachts?

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