ATTENTION FOLLOWERS: PLEASE READ

“MUSCLES, MUNCHIES, AND MISCHIEF” is MOVING.

I will say it again. This blog is moving.

It has simply ceased to be. I will still have access to posts for reference, but I will not be posting here anymore as of today.

My blog and I have shared some good moments together, but it is time to move on. To bigger and better things, no doubt.

If you would like to still follow my training/diet/recipe updates, as well as some Q&A/random thoughts here and there, please hit the FOLLOW button for my new blog:

I Lift So I Can Eat

See you all on the other side! :)

My Thoughts on Carb Back-loading

scoops_of_ice_cream-2229

“Man. Ice cream is awesome. Too bad I’m dieting.”

Poor soul. What if I told you there was a way to diet AND eat what you want? Sound too good to be true?

Sadly, people get way too stressed out about carbohydrates. They’re looked upon as “evil” or the “enemy” when it comes to fat loss. Some people would rather eat twice as many calories than include carbs in their diet because they believe the carbs are what is making them fat, far from the truth as it is. But getting used to carbs takes time and won’t happen overnight. At the same time, hardly anyone can say no to a plan that allows you to reap the benefits of eating carbs without the fat gain, all the while eating all the things you like.

Everyone, meet my friend carb back-loading.

When I first heard the idea of carb back-loading it didn’t really seem to make a lot of sense. I had experimented with my fair share of different eating methods and didn’t really seem to see any noticeable differences in terms of one doing something different than the other or being notably better. However, I liked the idea. Eat low/no carb during the day, and feast on junky carbs post-training.

Carb back-loading took the standard recommendations for dieting, ripped them into a million pieces, and set them on fire.

Carb backloading allowed me to say, “Fuck you, oatmeal!” and grab a donut with my coffee.

Ah. C’est la vie.

Now, there are some basic principles that must be kept in mind and followed if you want to ensure the success of a carb back-loading plan.

First and foremost, carb back-loading is NOT a diet.

It’s not something you go on for a couple of weeks and then begin eating “normally” again. It is quite simply a different way of eating. And to be quite frank, I haven’t really seen anyone who went back to regular eating after giving CBL a run, so I guess you could call it a “lifestyle”.

The method is founded off a couple of simple guidelines:

  1. Eat low/no carb during the day
  2. Consume shitty carbs post-workout (more on that soon)
  3. Continue to eat whatever kind of carbs you want until your daily totals cuts you off

The catch here is that on non-training days (“cardio days” included), zero carbs will be had. Some much more active and muscular folks can get away with keeping it around 75-100g on a day off, but for most everyone, keep it <30. Think keto. That’s what your off days should look like.

“A bowl of oatmeal is discarded; a plate of bacon is eaten. Fair trade.” – John Hartigan

SinCity_Hartigan5

(Or I think that’s what he said.)

What’s wonderful about this way of eating, is that it can coincide with whatever way of eating you are already doing, minus ketogenic diets. (Note: The author of the Carb Back-Loading manual wrote up another diet that is more of a ketogenic diet called “Carb Nite”, but we’ll save that for another time.)

The most common questions are from those who are on an intermittent fasting plan, or something like the Warrior Diet. Fortunately, CBL not only works well with these types of “diets”, but is preferably done with them. At least in my opinion anyway. Though if someone was trying to gain muscle, optimally some more eating would be done during the day before training.

For those who don’t know, these are the main differences between the WD and IF:

Warrior Diet:

“Eat like a warrior”. In other words, think of scavengers and hunters. Very light “meals” during the day. Things like small amounts of nuts, seeds, and fresh or frozen berries are the best. Low calorie vegetables are also great. You could also have small amounts of fish oil, low-carb/fat protein powder, cream in your coffee, etc. The main thing is to keep the calories low, but still have some small and very light snacks during the day to keep your energy and spirits up. It’s also much better for those who have a problem with their blood sugar crashing from regular fasts.

At the end of the day, you would eat the rest of your calories. So even if you are on a low calorie diet, you should expect to eat a minimum of 800-1000 calories for your final “feast”. This is preferably post-training. If you are not used to eating so many calories in one meal, it can be separated into two meals, though just having one is largely more satisfying for some people.

If it is a training day, have some berries and/or veggies with a scoop of protein pre-workout. You will still be getting energy from your feasting the night before, and get to look forward to a large meal right after.

Intermittent Fasting:

IF is based on the idea of fasting for a minimum of 14 hours, to a maximum of 20 hours daily.

During the fasting period, calories are meant to be kept <50. So you may have sugar-free beverages such as tea, coffee, diet soda, etc. as well as some small amounts of sweeteners. It is recommended to drink plenty of water and to keep yourself busy during this time. The fast is broken after whatever time slot you have set out for yourself, which is usually pre-workout. Food is then consumed within roughly an 8 hour window, sometimes shorter for others depending on the length of the fast and the time of training.

If you are like me however, 20 hours is far too long and I would hardly recommend it for the average person, especially if you have an intense training regimen. On the flip side, 14 hours is pretty short and hardly enough to get the benefits out of IF in my experience.

(I say “like me”, because my blood sugar has a tendency to go completely bonkers if I go that long without eating anything. So in this case, I follow more of a Warrior Diet style to help keep my blood sugar somewhat more stable and avoid any unwanted crashes.)

I hope that clears things up for some of you who aren’t too familiar with the different terms. Regardless of what you choose, both ways of eating coincide extremely well with CBL, and I’d recommend giving both a try to see if either one suits your needs.

Now, one of the main concerns with not only CBL, but also the Warrior Diet, is:

“Will I get fat skipping meals and eating tons at night?”

Non-lengthy answer: No.

The problem with getting people to appreciate the beauty that is CBL and the WD(or even IF for that matter) is convincing them that eating this way will not make them overweight and unhealthy.

“Well, when I was a freshman in college that was basically my diet anyway and I gained 30 lbs.”

It is a common concern. But what people fail to understand is that your training and the types of food you are eating and when you are eating them plays a big role. Also, people tend to underestimate how many calories they are eating when they are sedentary.

A baconator combo from Wendy’s doesn’t seem to be all that intimidating. But it packs quite a calorie punch. Roughly 1600-1700 calories with a small size. So if you are coming home after eating nothing and then consuming that, combined with a poor training plan (if any at all), poor sleep schedule, and possibly some other midnight snacks and/or sugary drinks you failed to remember mindlessly eating while studying for your finals, that’s a pretty good way to gain weight. And not the good kind.

If you take a relatively sedentary person and give him a 2000 calorie meal to eat at the end of the day, and do the same for someone who just finished an intense weight training session with some heart-pounding cardio at the end of it, who do you think will make better use of the calories?

The difference with CBL is remembering that “bad” carbs are only there to reward a great training session. And especially after being in a relatively fasted state (or completely fasted depending on how you normally eat), your body is more than ready to soak up all the carbs to aid with your growth and recovery.

This is why we avoid junky carbs on days off from training.

Or any carbs that aren’t vegetables, really.

This is why I can afford to eat like an obese American some nights and not actually gain weight from it. It’s simple body science. Or nutritional science. Whatever you’d like to call it.

424018_479744728728210_744105524_n

My dinner on Thursday nights, post-benching.

All I know is it works.

Something to keep in mind if you are thinking about starting CBL is you MUST get in your essential nutrients and hit your macros as well, unless you are having a “cheat” meal (hate that term). For some people who know there body very well, eye-balling portions is an option. However, most people need to follow macro guidelines especially in the beginning, as it is easy to go overboard.

And getting your essential nutrients means you can’t swap out your fish oil for bacon. Yes, bacon tastes better. No, it doesn’t have the same effect on your body. Can you still eat bacon? Yes. But take your fish oil first.

Vitamins and minerals are still important. Veggies are still important. Protein is still important. So just because you can eat junk post-training, doesn’t mean you should only eat junk.

By now you’re probably wondering, “Why junk post-training?”

The idea behind that, is that slower-digesting carbohydrates post-training have a dampening effect on the back-loading process. A direct quote from the author of the Carb Back-Loading Manual:

“We all know—or should know—that eating carbs before bed disrupts nighttime release of growth hormone. I’m not going to spend time talking about the benefits of growth hormone other than to reiterate its role as a fat burner and a lean tissue builder: something no one wants to screw up with poor food choice.The poor choice here is low-glycemic carbs. The body will not release growth hormone during sleep until roughly two hours after blood sugar and insulin levels return to normal4. Low-glycemic carbs keep insulin and blood sugar levels elevated for hours, while high-glycemic create a spike that ends within an hour or so of eating. Eating junk gives the benefit of replenishing glycogen stores without interfering with the nocturnal hGH cycle.

Eat like a fat kid and get jacked. End of story.” – John Kiefer

More on the studies/research behind why junk food is better post-training than regular carbohydrates is explained very thoroughly in the book by the man himself. If you are very curious about the effects, I highly suggest visiting his website and purchasing the book. It is worth the money and will clear up questions you may have regarding how to eat post-training and why one way is more beneficial than the other.

If it helps, in my experience and from viewing others, junk  most definitely works the best. No complaints!

Getting back…

Another pit-fall with CBL and any kind of fasting or semi-fasting meal plan is that some people find it very difficult to get in that many calories at once. This can be helped by eating higher calorie foods, and of course, conditioning your body for it.

If you are used to eating 8 tiny meals a day, it’s going to seem weird and even difficult to eat 600 calories at a time, much less 1000 or more. So you have to start out slow. If you are fasting, try splitting it up into 3-4 meals post-training. Then cut it down to 3, then 2, etc.

The problem is when people decide that, “Oh hey, I have to eat my veggies!” and opt for a huge salad and then have no room for anything else.

Which is why I recommend WD over an intermittent fasting plan, since it still allows you to eat small amounts during the day, and leave the juicy calories for the end of the day. Personal preference of course though.

Bottom line: hit your nutritional needs. That’s more important than anything else.

Anyway, before you slam your laptop screen shut and make a list of all the goodies you’re going to eat post-training tomorrow, there is something else that must be done prior to beginning backloading.

Induction phase.

Ew.

The phase typically lasts for 10 days. Some exceptions are made for those who literally cannot function on ketogenic diets. If you are someone who falls face-first into a cheesecake after 3 days of low-carbing or convulses just at the mention of the word “keto”, the induction phase can be shortened. Or if you are someone who has had a lot of experience with a ketogenic diet, the phase can also be shorted to 5 days or so just to kind of give your metabolism a kick without turning you into the walking dead.

But for most people, just stick to the induction phase.

During the induction phase, it is treated like a regular ketogenic diet. Under 30g of net carbs per day. After your first carb-up, your cycle begins as normal with carbs on training days, and no carbs on off-days.

Another great thing about backloading is the ability to eat MORE carbs on your training days than you were able to before. So for example if you’re someone who is used to eating 150g of carbs a day, you can start getting used to eating upwards of 200g. Of course this also depends on individual needs, but as a general rule, it is easier to eat more carbs on this plan.

I know this may seem scary to some of you who are not used to eating carbs, but I can tell you right now that carbs are a wonderful thing, and life is a very sorry place without them. Most people think they are more carb resistant than they actually are. But once you get into the world of higher carb eating and see the awesome stuff is does for your physique, you will never turn back.

Plus carbs are yummy. Don’t know if I mentioned that already.

So who can do this diet?

Honestly, anyone. I have seen very lean people use it for bulking or maintenance, and I have seen overweight people use it for cutting.

So if you are somebody who:

  • Loves carbs
  • Loves eating large amounts of food
  • Loves eating a variety of different foods
  • Loves sweet stuff but feels “guilty” about it
  • Loves having energy
  • Loves losing fat with ease
  • Loves retaining muscle while stripping fat

Well then…CBL might just be for you.

And even if it’s not. Why not give it a try and see anyway? You’ll never know what to expect unless you do.

FINAL NOTE FOR NON-EVENING TRAINING INDIVIDUALS: For those of you who train in the morning or really any time before the evening, things must be adjusted. Supplementing with BCAA’s is a smart idea. Of course, training in the morning is not the most optimal thing for CBL, but again, you have to play around and see what works well for you. Ideally you would be training in the afternoon/evening for this to work perfectly.

Feast on, comrades.

Minolta DSC

Mobility Work For The Immobile

“Hi,

I had a request/idea for an article for you to consider. You seem pretty flexible, and I was wondering if you have tips/ideas for stretching/mobility work for dudes. I’m trying to get my big ass to be more bendy, to help cut down on normal muscle pulls/tightness. I’ve been stretching basically every other night, can’t really tell if it’s helping yet or not. Anyways, I thought it might make for an interesting article.

John”

Dear John:

This post is for you, and for any other guy out there (women too!) that could use some help with increasing their mobility to prevent injuries, but aren’t quite at a level where they can bend over backwards and grab their ankles.

Generally speaking, women are a little bit more naturally flexible, especially in the lower body. They also tend to develop extreme levels of flexibility and mobility at a faster rate than men do. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s just from what I have seen.

Regardless, developing higher levels of mobility and flexibility is crucial with training, to help prevent muscle pulls, tears, and strains, as well as to increase you range of motion (ROM) with your exercises.

If you’ve ever tried to squat without warming up, you’ll know how much of a pain in the ass (literally) it can be. Your hips and hamstrings cramp, your lower back feels like it’s going to cave in, your knees are cracking on the way up…it’s just brutal.

This can all be heavily minimized by introducing proper warm-ups and also practicing better warm-ups and recovery methods. It’s going to take some work in the beginning though, but don’t give up.

funny-motivational-photos-win

So to start off, if you are someone who has a lot of trouble with their mobility, you will need to dedicate 5 minutes EVERY morning to mobility work.  And make it 10 minutes on the days you aren’t training.

Yes, every morning.

This does not include the mobility drills that you should be doing before your upper and lower body training sessions. This is simply extra mobility work that is going to help you loosen up.

Now pay attention:

Every morning, you are going to wake up, warm up your muscles a little (since they will be stiff; running in place and/or high knees are pretty good), do your mobility drills, and then shower/go on with your day. IF you need to wake up 20 minutes earlier, so be it. But it will be worth it in the long run so that you can become more mobile and increase your athleticism.

A simple routine to do every morning is:

(1)   Hip stretch into hip drop

(2)   Pigeon

(3)   Frog

(4)   Duck walks

Remember, this isn’t a yoga class. The objective is to hold only for a couple of seconds and then release and repeat.

Here is a video demonstrating the entire drill. I cannot stress enough how much these movements have helped me:

For some more mobility exercise movements, refer to this video (also excellent, and a lot of these should be done before lower body training):

Now, these exercises can be done regardless of your level of mobility and flexibility. My number one suggestion is simply not to push it. Don’t stretch further than you can, and don’t get down lower than what is physically possible for you.

I promise that by introducing mobility work on a daily basis, you will start seeing noticeable results with your training and the way your joints and ligaments feel. It’s also a great way to wake you up in the morning.

NEXT BEST THING: STRETCHING

I find that guys have this weird thing where, in order to support their masculine image, shy away from stretch training and insist that it’s a practice only fit for “females and transsexual gymnasts”.

What they don’t realize is not only are they limiting the amount of muscle they will put on, they are also increasing their risk for injury.

Take for example, the hamstrings. The fascia is extremely tight in this area, and in order to optimize muscle growth, this area needs to be stretched. A LOT. It will also help increase your ROM, and limit the possibility for tears and strains in the muscle, which often seems to happen due to an over-tight fascia. Hamstrings, shoulders, pectorals, and quads are some of the most commonly torn muscles, and it’s my belief that a lot of this could be prevented by practicing better warm-ups and stretching more.

So forgo your “squats and deadlifts only, brah” mentality, and start learning to love and appreciate stretching. Yes it’ll hurt, and it’ll be uncomfortable, but if you hate it you still have to do it.

Now, as far as stretches for the hamstrings here are some good ones to start with:

You can also refer back to my glute post for some other ideas on glute and hamstring stretching.

Remember, with each movement you should only go as far as necessary  to achieve a good stretch. Your flexibility will improve with time.

Groin-pulling seems to be fairly common when flexibility is an issue. Along with bodyweight squats, this is an excellent stretch to help loosen up that area:

SeatedGroin

I suggest beginning by stretching your tightest areas on a daily basis, for about 15 minutes. This should be done post-workout when the muscles are loosened and you are warmed up, as static stretching when your muscles are cold is a recipe for disaster.

Each stretch should be held for at least 45 seconds. None of this half-assed stuff. If you are serious about improving your athletic abilities and mobility, you need to commit to stretching way more often than you do.

I’m not asking you to become a contortionist or anything. Simply to dedicate more time to the forgotten areas of training, so you can ultimately become better at whatever it is you want to do.

Finally: Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)

rolling

SMR is used to loosen tight muscles, break down and prevent scar tissue, improve your ROM, increase blood flow and circulation, and relieve pain. This isn’t only done with a foam roller. On the contrary, you’ll need another little torture device called the tennis ball.

The tennis ball is used to roll out the smaller muscle groups that are harder to reach directly with a normal foam roller, and can also be used more efficiently to pin-point certain trigger points. Some of the most common spots for tennis ball therapy are:

  • Piriformis
  • Teres minor/major
  • Soleus
  • Pectorals
  • Deltoids
  • IT band

Though you can pretty much roll out any muscle with a tennis ball, I find it more efficient to use a mixture of both.

You could also invest in a rumble roller, which is basically a foam roller with hard “thumbs” that is also great for finding trigger points. It does look and feel like a medieval torture device, but it works like a charm.

2989-a

I’d suggest if you don’t already do some sort of SMR, start doing it at least 3x a week. Aside from the areas I already stated, some particular areas to pay attention to:

  • Sartorius
  • Hip flexors
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings

BREATHING:

Also a very important factor. You need to make sure to breathe properly during all your stretching. A large inhale should be taken at the starting position, exhaling slowly as you move into your full stretch. From there, take deep breaths through the belly. Closing your eyes can help especially when the stretch feels uncomfortable.

If you take a deep breath and your shoulders rise, you know that you are breathing wrong.

—————————-

Bottom line: move more.

I wish I had something more interesting to add here, but it really is that simple. It just takes a daily commitment to doing your stretches and doing the extra mobility work to get your body moving the way you want to.

Whether you are an athlete or just someone who likes to maintain an active lifestyle, you want your body to be performing efficiently, and in order to achieve that you must go beyond simply doing your weights and cardio. How healthy you remain in all physical aspects happens outside the gym.

Stay safe, train hard!

Glute Activation and Training: Revised

Property of zee boyfriend.

Property of zee boyfriend.

2013: The year dedicated to bigger, stronger, better glutes.

Admittedly, in the past I hadn’t given enough thought to my glute training.

Shameful.

Within the past year or so however, I’ve become rather glute-obsessed. I’ve been dedicating lots of research into ways of activating and firing the glutes properly so that not only can I lift heavy weights more efficiently and improve my athleticism, but I can aid in the development of my glutes as well.

Throughout the years, my glutes have gone through various phases. I went from no bum at all, to kind of having a bum, to not so much bum again (after my figure competition), to HUGE (like, in every which direction), and finally down to medium-sized, though more lifted, rounded, and better proportioned. Though I have no issues with very large badonkadonks, I like to make sure that in whatever size bum my body is carrying, it is shapely in all the right ways, and functional.

Example of progress: The following picture on the left was taken in April 2009, just 6 months before I joined my first gym. The picture on the right was taken today, after 3 consistent years in the gym.Picture 006

Left picture: 116 lbs. Non-functional, weak, not-so-existent glutes

Right picture: 129 lbs. Functional, strong, better-developed glutes.

The thing that made the biggest difference for me was properly warming up the glutes by performing glute activation exercises before my lower body training sessions. By doing this, I made sure that in all my lower body movements, my glutes were being incorporated as much as possible. I thank Bret Contreras. He’s kind of like a glute god, that I pray to daily. Kidding. Kinda.

Before I paid proper attention to this stuff, I couldn’t really feel my glutes working as much in my movements. I forgot what it was like for my ass to be sore. I saw this as a problem, because I wanted to feel them working in movements. They are the largest muscle group after all, and if you’re a powerlifter or just someone who wants to get stronger, having your glutes fire properly in things like the squat and deadlift (even the bench) will make a huge difference. Not to mention, it’ll whip them into shape. Win/win!

Now, I feel my glutes working with everything I do. So I’d like to share some of the knowledge I’ve gained over the past year or so, to help you achieve similar results with your training.

In fact, I felt like demonstrating some movements myself to save on some surfing time, since it can be annoying trying to find some of the movements in pictures and I’m not sure how much everybody likes having their picture posted on random websites. (Then again, this is the interwebs)

Bear with me though, I only had my phone on me so the pictures are not going to be professional quality or anything. Just appreciate my willingness to take photos in a very awkward fashion.

Also, my dog dragged her toys/blanket out of her crate. She seems to like doing that as soon as I start trying to take pictures. She needs to learn some manners.

ACTIVATION EXERCISE #1: Glute Bridges

You will start in this position:

IMG_0860

And from there, by squeezing your glutes, not your lower back, raise your hips up from the floor, contracting your glutes and hamstrings hard:

Oh look, a blanket magically appeared...

Oh look, a blanket magically appeared…

REVISED GLUTE BRIDGE:

Alternatively, you could do single-leg glute bridges to isolate each side more.

IMG_0867

IMG_0868

ACTIVATION EXERCISE #2:  Single-Leg Glute Lifts

I don’t even know if that’s the right name for these things, but it’s what I like to call them.

In fact, I don’t even know if these fall under the classification of glute activation. However, I’ve been including them in with my little routines with pretty good results, so I’d say they work. Though, you do need to make sure that you are really only lifting with the glutes and not the low back, or swinging, or rounding, etc.

This would be the starting position. Take note that at my leg is fully extended, and my toe is slightly behind my bent leg, but my hips remain squared:

IMG_0882

Weeeeeeee

Weeeeeeee

Alternatively, you can get on your elbows rather than your palms. I find it’s easier to tell when you are using too much back from a position on your elbows.

ACTIVATION EXERCISE #3: Bent-Leg Glute Raises

While these are similar to the last exercise, they’re not the same.

Hips remain squared, and it is a straight up and down movement. The movement comes from contracting your glutes to raise your leg, with no swinging or fast motions, and no rounding or hyperextending of the back.

Keep your stomach tight, and really squeeze the glutes at the top, and also while lowering. These can be done resting on your palms, or on your elbows.

IMG_0870

ACTIVATION EXERCISE #4: “Hanging” Glute Bridges

Once again…no idea if these are called that but I’ll leave it that way for now.

You’re basically performing a glute bridge, but with your shoulders and upper back up on a bench, as well as your feet resting on another bench in front of you (or couch and coffee table, if you’re fancy like me).

You’ll raise your hips up once again, by squeezing your glutes and making sure the abs stay tight and the back is not hyperextending or doing the movement for you. You will bring your hips to a full lock-out position at the top.

IMG_0895

ACTIVATION EXERCISE #5: Lying Hip Abduction

I thought I would forget about these when I put aside my pilates days. But it appears I have reverted back to them for warm-ups.

Though I am up on my elbow for these for the sake of taking a picture, it’s preferable that you are lying on your arm or propping only your head on your palm. (Hence, “lying” hip abduction)

IMG_0899

Doopdeedoo

Doopdeedoo

That’s basically it. Nothing fancy.

Of course, there are so many different things that you could do to activate your glutes. Some of my other favorites involved banded work. But anyway I think that these are some pretty good basic movements that you can do along with your hip mobility drills to really help you fire your glutes properly with your training.

Some other movements worth mentioning:

  • X-band walks
  • Side clams
  • Fire Hydrants

As for stretching the glutes, I’ve also demonstrated some of my favorite movements. I can’t tell you enough how difficult it is to perform exercises while taking pictures at the same time without a regular camera. But these are basic start-up positions.

#1: Leg Crossover

IMG_0908

In this movement, you could either keep the non-stretched leg straight or bent. I prefer it bent, but this will depend on your own flexibility and comfort. The main thing is that the leg that is crossed over is getting a very good stretch. You will want to bring in your knee as close as you can to your body, while rotating your upper body in the opposite direction.

#2: Bent-Leg Hamstring Stretch Part 1IMG_0911

So of course, with this stretch you’ll want to reach down, grab your toes and bring your upper body down as close as your can to your hamstring to feel a good stretch.

#3: Bent-Leg Hamstring Stretch Part 2

IMG_0916

Keeping your toe pointed, and hips squared, grab hold of your calf or ankle, and bring your upper body down as close as you can to your leg. If that isn’t possible, you could place both hands on the upper leg and simple push down lightly on the straight leg.

#4: Seated Glute Stretch

Starting position:

IMG_0918

From here, keeping your back straight and your abs tight, lean forward towards your bent leg. Stop when you feel a good stretch in the glutes.

TRAINING THE GLUTES

I made a post awhile back about glute training, but since then have made some serious changes as to what I include in my training to target the glutes more efficiently.

Exercise #1: Hip Thrusts

The KING of glute exercises. Bar none.

Example:

Exercise #2: High Step-Ups

Exercise #3: Box Squats

Glutes respond very well to high AND low repetition workouts. A direct note from Bret Contreras to me when discussing this topic:

“There are no rules set in stone, except that whatever rep range you do you need to feel the glutes working maximally. Some days 3 x 5, some days pyramids, some days 2 x 20, etc.”

So make sure you add in that variety with your sets and rep ranges when training your glutes, and remember that glute training is about not only lifting heavy, but also lightening the load from time to time and adding a couple more reps in. And of course, whether you are doing 3 reps or 20, you need to feel your glutes contracting hard in every rep. If you are not concentrating and creating that mind-muscle connection when training your glutes, you will be limiting how much you can really develop them.

Anyway, kind of short and sweet. Hopefully you can add in some of this stuff with your regular training, and if all of this is nothing new to you, perhaps it could be a refresher or a reminder to start doing them again.

Here’s to creating better glutes!

Squatting: Your Questions Answered

Doug_Hepburn_Squat

Hello world. I apologize this took so long to put together. It’s been a crazy week.

Originally I had written this and was in the process of getting ready to post it, but hadn’t saved my document. So I suffered the consequences and had to re-write it all, which admittedly I procrastinated on just a little…kind of like when you work for awhile on a project and have finally gotten it finished, you don’t really want to start all over again from scratch, if you catch my drift.

But anyway, I really wanted to do a follow-up post for my last Squatting 101 article. As I was thinking of different things to write about, I thought it might be a better idea to ask the readers what THEY would like to know about squats, and have their specific questions answered. I thought it might be a little more thorough, and I’m sure I’ll be back to follow up this post with anything else I missed in the future as well.

Enjoy, and hopefully you can benefit from the answers as well.

Q: Low bar or high bar?

A: This is ultimately a personal choice. Do I have a preference? Certainly. I will almost always choose a low bar position over a high bar. However, there is always a mid-bar position which is right in between both high and low bar, and I find it works well for most people. There is no shoulder/wrist pain complaints like a regular low bar placement might give, and you can still get the power that you would out of a low bar position, just that it will help you to stay a little more upright and you will have less of a forward lean.

All I can say is experiment with both. Low bar is uncomfortable at first, but once you get used to it you will be able to squat much higher weights, which is why it is a favorite amongst powerlifters. Eventually you will find your groove, just keep on trying different things and seeing what feels the most stable.

Q: What do you think about squatting with Smith Machine? Is it better to do it with dumbbells when you don’t have barbell available?

A: Forget Smith Machine squats. They have no place in a program, regardless of what you train for. The only thing I might use the Smith machine for is the occasional incline work for chest, but even then I haven’t used it in almost a year.

If there is no barbell available, then perform heavy single-leg work. Bulgarian split squats are excellent. Walking lunges are also great.

Q: Can you tell me about mobility/stretching specific to reaching proper depth on the squat? And some ideas for recovery as well.

A: Prior to squatting, ALWAYS begin with mobility work. I’m going to post a good video below for some hip mobility drills.

Other ones you can do are hip swings. You hold onto the bar or squat rack, and swing your leg high from front to back, for about 15 reps then switch sides. You want to keep the leg nice an loose and really open up and warm up the hip joints.

A good dynamic stretch prior to squatting would be to get into your squat stance, and then squat down as low as you can. From the position, use your elbows to force your knees out and get a good stretch in the groin area. Hold for a few seconds, raise the hips, and then come back down.

As for recovery, I love foam rolling lightly before training for a few minutes, and then again a couple of times per week. Pay special attention to your IT band, piriformis, hip flexors, and sartorius. These get the most wear and tear.

Sitting in the sauna for a few minutes is nice and relaxing too. You can also take contrast showers. They’re a bitch, but they feel great after. And of course, don’t neglect stretching after your lower body sessions.

Q: What are some stretches to help drop your ass straight down? I’m having hip issues maybe where the crease of the hips doesn’t like to go below the knees!

A: I haven’t personally seen you attempt to squat, so it’s hard to say what the issue is here. Most likely just tightness in the hip flexors, glutes, and hamstrings. Tight calves and ankles are also common issues. Make sure that you are doing mobility work before every lower body session, and stretching often.

Here are some good stretches for you to do a couple of times a week to increases flexibility and mobility:

 

Q: What are some deep squatting techniques?

A: Again, if you are having trouble reaching depth there could be a ton of issues at hand here. Perhaps you’re leaning too far forward, or coming onto the quads/knees rather than sitting back properly. The best way to tell is to take a video of yourself and see what’s going on. Are you sitting back properly, or dropping straight down? Do certain muscles feel tight when you are attempting to squat low, or does your lower back round?

Refer to the stretches and mobility work posted above, and keep in mind that the closer your stance is when squatting, the easier it is to reach depth. I’d suggest starting with a closer stance while building up, and then eventually determining a stance that is most comfortable with your leverages once you have gained some more flexibility. Remember to keep the toes pointed out, and to sit your ass back rather than straight down.

Q: What are some proper warm-up techniques?

A: Refer back to my videos posted about mobility work. Walking lunges and high knees in place are also excellent.

Q: I want to know how to progress- auxiliary exercises, and when to add more weight, and how much. For example, I’ve done a top set of 115×5 twice in two weeks, I feel like I should progress to more weight, but I’m scared. 115 is so hard, and I’m honestly never sure I’ll make the last 2 reps. And any tips for managing the fear?

A: I hate to be a parrot or to sound cliché. But “just do it”, is all I can say when it comes to overcoming fear. You have to find YOUR zone. That means blocking out everything going on around you, not thinking about the weight on the bar or how hard it is. Just connecting with your mind, telling yourself that you are going to do it, and just doing it. There is nothing to be afraid of. It’s when you’re afraid that you’re encouraging accidents!!

Of course, always make sure your form is on point, because there could be many reasons why you haven’t been progressing with the weight. But I have a feeling that you are holding yourself back from adding weight because you’re scared it’s going to be hard. And so what if it is? Just push it.

What I can suggest is moving it up to 120 and going for a set of 5. Even when it feels hard, you have to keep going. Unless something begins to hurt or starts feeling REALLY out of whack, then there is no reason to stop. Video your set to make sure you are reaching proper depth and that your form is okay. Depending on how the video turns out, you can then make an educated decision on whether to stay with that weight for awhile, or move it up.

Sometimes, all that is going on is our mind telling ourselves that we’re tired and that it’s hard, etc. The body is never tired if the mind is not tired!!

Q: When you don’t want or can’t squat very heavy-what about higher rep squatting for definition?

A: This makes not a lot of sense. Definition comes with more muscle and a lower body fat percentage. You have to overload the muscle if you want it to grow. And that means lifting heavy weights, and really pushing yourself. Especially with larger movements, keep the reps somewhat lower. I’d say if muscle gain was your only concern, still keep it to around 8 reps max. I do like doing some “widowmaker” sets from time to time, which is your 10RM done for 20 reps, but beyond that I believe that the optimal rep range for squats would be between 5 and 8. And those sets should still be hard to complete.

 

Q: I had a torn meniscus and I wonder if I should not be squatting because of it. But I love squats so that would be a drag.

A: This is a tricky question. I’m not a physician, so keep that in mind. How long ago did the injury occur? If it has been awhile and if you have been squatting without pain or discomfort so far, I should say you’re safe.

What I can suggest is to invest in a pair of knee sleeves, and start out very light (if you haven’t been squatting). If you’re going to squat make sure that you are definitely going below parallel, since anything parallel or above will put a lot of unneeded stress on your joints. The main thing you’ll want to watch is your form, and that you are keeping your knees out at ALL times during the squat, and not letting them cave or shoot forward.

I know a lot of people who have squatted when they had previously torn something in the knee. I wouldn’t suggest doing any kind of running though.

Q: How do you “feel” depth without using visual cues? And how do you breathe for a set of five?

A: Good questions!! “Feeling” depth took me a little while too. What I found helped was to do bodyweight squats to the right depth, and memorize the way you felt in that position. NEVER look at yourself in the mirror while squatting to check for depth. You have to take consistent videos and have people watch from the side to see where your hip crease is. Eventually with enough practice, you will get to that perfect depth. When in doubt, go lower.

As for breathing, you’ll want to think of it like this: when your car runs out of gas and you have to push it, what is your natural instinct before heaving? You take a big breath, hold it, and give it all you got. You have to do the same for each rep of squats. At the top, take a big breath and hold it. You may let out a little bit of air on the way up if you wish (this helps relieve some pressure so you don’t faint or anything, especially when wearing a belt), but never exhale all the way before you get to the top. After you lock-out, pause for a second, take another breath, and repeat.

Q: Could you touch a little bit on Front squats with clean grip techniques?

A: Certainly.

Front squats done properly with a clean grip require a good amount of shoulder and wrist flexibility. To prepare for front squats, do some shoulder mobility work and very light, short stretches for your shoulders and your chest. Shoulder rotations/dislocations are excellent prior to front squats.

You’ll want to keep stretching your wrists as well, either with your hand or the barbell. It will take some time before your muscles and especially tendons are used to being in this position, and it may hurt at first but you will get used to it.

With front squats, you want to make sure that the bar is resting on your DELTOIDS at all time. Not your wrists. You should work on your flexibility enough that you can get your elbows high enough to support the bar on your front deltoids rather than your wrists. You want to have the bar up high enough that it is nearly (but not actually) choking you.

Your fingers are there only to keep the bar in place. You are not doing any kind of supporting with your wrists, only stability.

This is an example of proper front squat form:

 

This is what NOT to do, and is an example of poor flexibility and technique:

 

Once you’ve un-racked the bar and allowed it to settle, take two steps back into a much closer than regular squat stance. Turn your toes out more (this is to help you get deeper, keep your knees out, and also get your hips through at the top).

Keep in mind that a front squat is NOT a back squat. NEVER sit back into a front squat. You want to sit straight down, and keep your knees out on the way up and down. Really force them out hard to make sure you are opening up the hips. When you rise, rise with your chest and elbows first. Your elbows must stay up at all times, otherwise the bar will roll and you will tip forward.

 

Q: I want to low bar squat but feel like I can’t get my arms into the right position. Maybe it’s a flexibility issue? Curious about different way(s) to properly position the bar.

A: As I mentioned earlier, the three different ways you can position the bar on your back is high bar, mid-bar, and low bar. You will have to experiment. Without knowing how you squat, it’s hard to say what the problem is. But with pretty much any squat, you will want to get your elbows under the bar as much as possible, and “bend the bar” over your back, so to speak. Elbows should not be flared up in the back (especially on the way up), and you should not try to purposely flare them.

Keep your grip relatively close, and work on shoulder flexibility. Especially if you are squatting low bar, this is important.

Q: I’m wondering about half squats for glute targeting. Also, I only have access to dumbbells. Any variations on ways to use them for squatting?

A: What I think of when I think “half squat”, is squatting down only to about parallel or slightly above. If this is the case, forget about it. If you want to do a half squat from a dead start those can be useful (i.e. barbell resting on bars and you training only the lockout position) though I can’t say they work wonders for the glutes.

If you want to do something good for your glutes, try some straight-leg deadlifts and hip thrusts. However, doing half squats will only put stress on your knee joints.

You can do a lot of great single-leg work with dumbbells. Think Bulgarian split squats, lunges, and step-ups.

Q: How do I explain to the guy at the gym that having your elbows pointing directly down at the floor so you get ‘push’ from your arms is wrong…? Or is it just a different method?

A:  Actually, this is one case where the guy at your gym was absolutely correct. Elbows should be pointed towards the floor, as I mentioned a few times in questions above. Flaring the elbows is unstable and will only cause the bar to roll and your chest to fall. Keeping the elbows underneath helps raise your chest and makes sure it stays raised.

Q: Should I squat with belt? Without? When if ok?

A: You can if you’d like. I always suggest going up as high as you can without a belt, and then using the belt only for heavier sets. Just keep in mind that you need to be stabilizing by pushing your abdominals out onto the belt to protect your lower back.

Q: I just want a simple routine to follow for focusing on building MASS that covers basics like how many reps/sets/and days a week are ideal. I know some of that depends on frequency and intensity, but you are a female who has achieved good results so I’d like to hear which method got you there.

A: The tricky thing about leg training is that every single person is going to get results with different methods. I know some women who built their legs just by running track and lifting only moderately heavy weights occasionally. And then I have known women who could only build their legs with higher repetitions and so forth.

What worked for me was an increase in frequency as well as intensity. When I talk about intensity, I am referring to weight percentages, not just how hard I’m working. The most reps for my larger lifts (aside from when I ran Smolov) was about 5. I also added in assistance work which never really went over 10 reps. Mostly 6-8. So I was training legs 2x per week with high volume and high intensity. However, I’ve found that certain muscles (such as the glutes) respond to a variety of different intensities as well as reps. So some days I will train it from 4-6, and other days I will do 10+ reps, and so on.

Seeing as I don’t have the means to assess your own individual needs, what I can give you is a basic idea of how to switch things up and put on some muscle (providing your diet is also set to achieve the same goal)

1)            Train legs 2x per week. Glutes can be trained 2-3x per week.

2)            Have a quad dominant and a hamstring dominant day.

3)            Keep your volume and intensity up (but slowly build the volume over a period of time)

4)            Train HEAVY.

5)            Keep most larger compound exercises between 5-6 reps, and everything else from 6-10 reps, drop sets, and widow-maker sets (10RM done for 20 reps) occasionally.

6)            Keep working sets between 3 and 5.

7)            Train 4x per week (upper/lower splits work well for most)

Remember: experimentation is KEY. You must try different things to see what really works for you. But this is a good base to build pretty much anyone off of.

Q: How do you get past your fear or putting more weight on the bar… I find that the heavier I squat the more I psyche myself out by thinking about how much weight that is. I try not to but I still do!!

A: There is no one way to get over it. But what I can say is that your mindset is crucial to the outcome! You have got to just block out whatever is on your mind. Don’t even look at the weight on the bar. The moment you start over-thinking it is when you get anxious, over-psyched, and you end up missing the lift.

Eventually, you have to look at every increment as easy stuff. You cannot be scared of the weight. You can either control the weight how you want, or let the weight control you. At the end of the day, it all comes down to how bad you want it. You want something really bad, you’ll do whatever it takes to get it. You have to get under the bar and not just lift the weight, but OWN it. That’s how we get stronger.

 

Q: Do you have some tips on the ‘drive up’? My form on the way down is apparently pretty good, but I’m told I don’t ‘drive up with my hams’ enough. The problem is when I start focusing that I do the whole thing too fast and then the squat is generally just messy.

A: Perfect sense, actually. Unfortunately, there is no easy way around this. You have to start focusing on it, otherwise the squat will continue to get messier and progress will stall. You don’t want to raise your hips too fast, otherwise your chest will drop. But at the same time you want to make sure that you are really squeezing the glutes and hamstrings to help power up the weight out of the hole. Glute activation prior to squatting is a must.

Mark Rippetoe was a fan of the eyes down, hips driving up first way of squatting, but I have never been a fan and have always found that to be inefficient. One thing that really helped me to activate my glutes and hamstrings in the squat and also learn how to power through to the top with the hips is to do wide-stance box squats, sitting back to the point where your knees are parallel to your shins, so that it debilitates your quads and puts them at a big disadvantage.

Now, these should not replace your regular squats, only add as a supplement.

The tendency is to rock forward off the box, which is how you know you are using more of your quads than your hamstrings and glutes. You want to power off with your glutes and hamstrings to bring you back to a standing position. This can even be done at home with just your bodyweight.

Here’s some good examples:

————————

I hope that clears things up for those who asked the questions as well as some of you wondering similar things. :) If you have any other questions feel free to drop me a comment.

Baby Steps Toward Greatness

“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.” – Vince Lombardi

Every journey requires a first step. Sometimes it’s small, simply a toe-dip into cold water. Other times, we make leaps, throwing caution to the wind and taking several chances. Either way, that first step is by far the greatest one.

The problem most people have with picking a goal and sticking to it is taking that first step. What people tend to overlook is that you can’t get anywhere without it. Not to your car, the kitchen, the gym, your bedroom, whatever. The initial step is everything. But people don’t seem to really want to reach their goals these days. They like the idea of possibly achieving something in life, but they don’t really ache for it. They aren’t completely committed to taking that step, and that’s why they don’t move forward in the direction they were aiming for.

Picture yourself alone in your apartment, sitting on the couch, watching your favorite game. Suddenly, you realize you’ve forgotten to grab a beer, and are now faced with a dilemma. Seeing as you have nobody in the house to do your work for you, you can either watch your game while sipping a delicious mocha porter that you just got off your ass to get, or you could continue to sit there wishing you had the energy to get back up from your comfortable position to get yourself one.

Something tells me, if you really are serious about drinking your beer with your game (as you should be), you’ll find it within yourself to get up off the couch to pop open a bottle of icy, hoppy goodness.

Oh baby!

Oh baby!

So if you can find it in yourself to get up off the couch to grab a beer, what’s holding you back from getting out of your comfort zone and making a move towards greatness? When it comes down to it, both moves need some desire on your part, so in order to be as successful as you want to be, you have to want it badly enough to get up and go after it.

The second biggest problem people have with reaching their goals is continuing past the first step. Sometimes we dip our toe into the water and immediately retract it, screaming and flailing our arms, saying it’s too cold and there was no way in hell we were getting in. But usually the initial shock of the cold only lasts a minute or so before we adjust to the temperature, and before you know if you’re swimming in a warm, refreshing pool, and soaking up all the sunshine. But you’d never know unless you grit your teeth and got in all the way.

The first step is also the most challenging, however. It can be a big commitment. But if something is worth having, it’s not going to be that easy to get. You have to work for it, and I think most people have just gotten lazy. We were born and raised in a lazy society. People hardly work off of their own sweat and tears anymore. Half of us practically had life handed to us on a silver platter. We have every single opportunity in the world to make something of ourselves, but all we can do is complain and ask to be spoon-fed. While there are hundreds of thousands of people wishing they had access to even half the resources we do, we still continue to hold weekly meetings with the pity party and talk about how we’ll never get to where we want to be.

Get off the fucking breast milk and be independent. Realize that yes, life is hard, and yes, life sucks a lot of the time. But you can’t learn to fly if you keep clipping your own wings and refusing to face life. You’re too old to be in the safe nest you grew up in. You’ve got to build your own. No one is going to create your ideal life for you. Only you can. But you’ve got to take that first step, and you’ve got to follow it up with another one. And another one after that. It may take you a lifetime, but eventually you will reach the finish line. It all depends on how much you are giving into the fatigue.

To a professional athlete, pain and fatigue are just side effects of being the best. And as long as they continue to fight these things, they will continue to come out on top. It’s how they got there in the first place, and how they stay there. Nobody wins the gold by sitting on their ass eating potato chips. We spend too much of our time saying, “I wish I could” instead of, “I’m going to give it a try”. You want to be a pro gymnast? Train for it. You want to start your own business? Invest. You want to own a house? Work for it. Not all of us are lucky enough to have our life handed to us, and even then it seems the people that are aren’t really happy. They’re missing something. And I feel that what they’re missing is the pride and satisfaction that comes from knowing that you worked to your fullest extent and paid off every debt in life with real blood, sweat, and tears. Nothing can take that kind of satisfaction away.

You don’t always have to cannonball into the deep end, but you’ve got to get your feet wet before you learn how to swim.

So, You Want To Get Strong? – Part II

In my last post, we covered attitude adjustment, understanding of max effort, and programs. Moving on, we have the next steps I feel that everyone needs to take when first beginning weight training. A lot of this can also be used as reminders for those of us intermediate or advanced lifters that need an extra nudge in some areas.

STRETCHING, WARM-UPS, FOAM ROLLING, AND MOBILITY WORK:

Never, NEVER neglect any of these. Why?

Because if not, you will end up developing over-tight muscles which can lead to tears and other injuries, and you will also develop scar tissue, which can inhibit pain-free movement and overall mobility.

Mobility work is one of the most important things you can do for musculoskeletal health. It’ll help loosen and warm up your muscles, joints, and ligaments before training, or if done at any other time of the day can help support recovery and free movement, as well as flexibility. Trying to train without properly warming up is detrimental and is one of the easiest ways to injure yourself. It’s very easy to neglect warm-ups or to forget them, so you must make a conscious effort from the beginning to make mobility work, flexibility work, and foam rolling a habit in your training regimen. It’s just as important for getting stronger as eating and sleeping.

The areas that need the most flexibility/mobility work would be the hip flexors and the shoulders. I think that regardless of whether you’re training upper body or lower body, both hip and shoulder mobility drills should be done as part of a warm-up. Shoulder discomfort can be developed by squatting without properly warming up the upper body as well. And tight hips are extremely uncomfortable to bench with.

Some of the best hip mobility drills you can do are demonstrated in the video below:

A great shoulder mobility movement that I do before any training session are shoulder “dislocations”, or rotations:

For the shoulder movement, you can use a towel, band, or plastic bar. Begin with arms very wide apart, and keep the elbows locked. Attempt to bring it all the way around (like in the video). When you reach your limit, which would be when you can’t go any further without serious discomfort or moving your elbows, hold the position for a few seconds and return to the starting position. Do several of these rotations, and you’ll notice you can go a little further back every time. The point is to not do a static stretch, but to do short dynamic stretches to warm up the shoulders. The goal here being to eventually be able to rotate completely from back to front without discomfort. Once you can do it from a wide hand position, move your hands in a little more each time. By the time you can do complete rotations with hands only shoulder-width apart, you basically have perfect shoulder flexibility.

Hip mobility work is essential for improving your squat and deadlift. It’ll allow you to get lower in squats and prevent hip pain and injury. Do hip mobility drills every time you are about to begin a lower body training session. No static stretching though.

As for flexibility work, I am a strong believer that flexibility is conductive to a well-rounded athlete. Neglect stretching, and not only do your muscles get too tight, you will not be able to develop your muscles and mobility as well as you could if you stretched regularly. Making it a habit and sticking to your stretch sessions is only a few minutes sacrificed for a lifetime of save and effective lifting. Your hamstrings especially are very tight, and by not stretching the fascia you are limiting growth in your hamstrings. Also a lot of strains, tears, and aches can be prevented if proper stretching was made a priority.

I would say that full stretching sessions should be a part of any training program, and done from 2-3x per week. And that doesn’t mean two or three stretches held for 20 seconds each. I mean all-out stretch sessions, where the stretch is held for a minute or more. Lower body stretching is the priority, especially if you plan on doing a lot of squats and deadlifts. Calves, hamstrings, quads, hips, glutes, ankles, and the groin area all need to be stretched on a regular basis.

Foam rolling will help roll out kinks you may have in your muscles, and will help prevent scar tissue from developing, as well as breaking down existing scar tissue. It’ll loosen up the muscles, since as stated, tight muscles can promote injury. It’s basically a soft tissue massage that you can do yourself. You’ll notice less aches and pains and better recovery once you start making foam rolling a priority as well.

A pain-free body is a happy, strong, and healthy body.

CARDIO/CONDITIONING:

Conditioning is another important part of any training program. Other than helping with recovery, circulation, and cardiovascular health, conditioning will help you perform better and improve your workload capacity. If you are trying to gain weight, keep the conditioning sessions a little less frequent, but still included once a week or so. Those who aren’t trying to gain weight can afford and extra session in their schedule.

Some of the best conditioning workouts are done with a prowler, sled, tire, or sledge hammer. If you don’t have access to any of these, you could also do bodyweight drills, skipping, light barbell complexes, sprints, or kettlebell work. Keep the sessions short but intense.

CHOOSING ACCESSORY WORK:

When it comes to choosing exercises to help assist your main lifts (squat/bench/deadlift), you want to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. You don’t want to overdo the accessory movements, but you also don’t want to skimp out either because they’re going to have a large influence on getting you stronger.

Depending on the program you’re on, it’ll call for more or less accessory movements. For a fresh beginner on a 5×5 program, keep it simple and aim for movements such as hyperextensions, front squats, straight-leg deadlifts, close-grip bench press, incline press, seated rows, DB shoulder press, glute-ham raises, one-arm DB rows, and curls.

Yes, curls.

I have a love/hate relationship with these. Even though I feel tool-ish standing around curling, you should never exclude them from any strength program. They’re important in developing and maintaining strength in your biceps and from preventing tears. I’ve seen WAY too many people neglect proper bicep training because they feel as though they don’t need it since they’re “not a bodybuilder”. The moment you neglect training a body part, you either get weaker or you get injured…or both.

The exercises stated are good movements regardless of what program you’re on. If you’re doing something more along the lines of WSB4SB, you have more freedom to add in different exercises such as leg curls, lunges, box squats, flat presses, pulldowns, etc.

And what I mean by getting the biggest bang for you buck, is choosing movements that are tried and true to get you stronger and assist your main lifts in a big way. The smaller accessory exercises can be saved for when you are on a more advanced program when you need to think about specialization. For now, focus on less is more, and just put in your whole effort when performing these movements. You don’t need much more for now.
You never want to waste your time with exercises that aren’t conductive to your goals. You might really like leg extensions, but they’re not really going to get you strong.

TRAINING DIFFERENT BODY PARTS (REPS, SETS, etc.):

Understand that this section is a personal opinion, and keep in mind that different things will work differently for different people. Based on my own observations of myself and others, this is what I have found to be most effective, so take it as you will. Note that these are not meant to be recommendations for size gain, but solely for strength purposes. However, that doesn’t mean one cannot gain size/muscle using these recommendations if their nutrition is on point.

Remember never to train to failure on accessory movements. You want the weight to be heavy, but you also want there to be a rep or two left in the tank by the time you put down the weights. Higher reps have their time and place, but I think for most movements, the best strength gains are going to happen when training in the 5-8 rep range. Keep in mind this is regarding accessory movements only, so that excludes your main movements. Even 3-4 reps for certain movements can also be beneficial for strength gain, and can be used for some heavier sets, just not over-done. You don’t want to burn yourself out by trying to max-out on accessory work, but you don’t want to go too light either. Keeping the reps mostly between 5 and 8 will allow you to use a heavy enough weight that you can get stronger off of, but not so heavy that you’re working until failure, breaking down form, and sacrificing performance from your main movements. For those of you who do want to have hypertrophy in addition to strength gain, these rep ranges still work well providing your nutrition is on point as well.

Working sets can range from 2-4. I don’t suggest going too much beyond that, unless you are on a particularly high volume program. You can see plenty of results off of this kind of set range.

Also, here’s a great article by Jason Ferruggia regarding rep ranges:

“Are You Sabotaging Your Gains with the Wrong Rep Range?”

Tip: Kai Greene once mentioned in a video that while he is performing a movement and he wants to focus on a particular body part, he consciously thinks about lifting with THAT particular muscle. It’s called a “mind-to-muscle connection”. And believe it or not, this really works. You’ll notice a hell of a difference when you start to really think about moving the weight with the muscle you are concentrating on, rather than just thinking about the movement itself and nothing else. You’ll be able tou activate and incorporate that muscle/group a lot more if you concentrate enough on it.

 

FORM:

We could all learn a thing or two from a baby's squat form!

We could all learn a thing or two from a baby’s squat form!

It’s best to establish good habits from the very beginning. When I first started my programs, I wasn’t focusing on my form or technique. That actually set me back pretty far when I got to working with a coach that had higher standards for my technique than I had initially set for myself. So I could have actually been a lot farther along than I am now, had I known what I know now back then.

At the same time, I was extremely stubborn back then, so even when I was being corrected, I didn’t take the advice to heart as much as I should have. It’s crucial that in the beginning you take constructive criticism from others when warranted. Many times other more experienced people see things that you may not see, and it’s not that they’re trying to be hard on you, it’s that they’re trying to help you improve.

My best piece of advice is to acquire a camera, and video yourself as much as you need to in the beginning. Then, get it critiqued by someone who knows what to look for and who can spot out weaknesses and how to fix them. The lift will always feel different than it looks, so it’s important to know how the lift feels AND how it looks. How else can you fix your form if you don’t know what you need to fix?

I had written two posts on deadlift form and squat form which can be beneficial to read. One thing that really helped me was to go over certain steps quickly in my head before performing the lift so that I could remember. You don’t want the movement to be robotic, but you also don’t want to just let everything out and have the movement go to shit because you stopped focusing on keeping your form tight. It really is crucial for developing overall strength and preventing injuries. If you don’t get injured right away from poor lifting form, that doesn’t mean what you’re doing doesn’t need to be changed, it means that you are lucky enough to have not gotten injured…yet. But just because you’re new to training, doesn’t make you invincible. Take precautions and do things right from the start, and you will have much less to correct down the road.

DIET:

You can’t build a house without bricks. You also can’t build a body without calories. this doesn’t mean that because you are on a strength program is it a free-for-all (unless you are deathly thin and really want to put on some weight). It means that you eat for performance. If you have physique-specific goals as well, just keep it simple. If you need to gain some weight, eat a little more. If you need to lose some, eat a little less. If you’re a good weight, eat at maintenance but perhaps switch up your macros slightly so that it is performance-driven nutrition. You might even experience a recomp this way. The important thing to keep in mind is that you’re not going to build strength and muscle off of a big calorie deficit.

I say that if you are not very overweight, save the fat loss for a little later, OR keep a very small deficit. Another option would be to lose the fat first, and begin the program after you have taken a few weeks off from dieting and are back to maintenance calories. Prioritize a goal before moving on to the next one, as it is very difficult to achieve two things at once and get the most out of both.

Protein is a big staple, of course, but there is no reason to eat over 1.5g per lb. of bodyweight in my opinion. Higher carbs on training days can be beneficial, with lower carbs on conditioning/off days. You’ll want to play around with your carb levels to see what works best for you, but most people like cycling carbs. Keep fats in your diet always, as they’re very important for maintaining healthy hormone levels.

SUPPLEMENTATION:

While I don’t believe sports and health supplements are necessarily ESSENTIAL, I feel as though 95% of people don’t get all the nutrients they need from their diet already, so supplementation can be very beneficial.

What I would consider staple supplements would be:

  • Fish oil (important for reducing inflammation, lubricating the joints, promoting insulin sensitivity, and improving cognitive function)
  • Multi Vitamin (provides all the daily nutrients that you need for proper overall health and performance; will improve energy levels)
  • Creatine (great for improving recovery, muscle endurance, and strength)

Optional supplements:

  • Pre-workout drinks
  • BCAA
  • L-Carnitine

PATIENCE:

Results don’t always happen over night. Everything takes work, and you’ll have days where things feel heavy and off. Just don’t give up! Stick to the program and keep your goal in mind, always. It’s a journey, not a race, and if you try to rush bodily changes your body is going to fight against you. It’s just like trying to lose weight. You have to expect that it’s not all black and white, and you will need a lot of experimenting, trial and error, and time to find exactly what works for you.

Above all, keep a good outlook with your training. A positive attitude is a winning attitude, and in the end, the most successful person is the one who believes in himself enough to keep pushing despite difficulties he faces. And believe me, you will face them. Just be stronger than whatever life throws at you and you will come out on the other side triumphant rather than defeated.

Happy training!!

So, You Wanna Get Strong? – Part 1

Daniel Remulla. Badass.

“Where do I start?” is a commonly shared question for a lot of beginning strength trainees. I asked it myself at one point. It can get a little overwhelming, especially if you’re the kind of person who becomes intimidated by the idea of lifting heavy weights right off the bat. Hard to know where to begin.

That is why I decided I’d put something together for those who would like to get more involved with strength training/powerlifting, and need to get their basics covered. This will be the first part of a 2-3 part series dedicated specifically to beginners. It’ll be broken down according to priority.

The first section being…

STEP ONE: ADJUST YOUR MENTALITY

Before understanding anything else about strength training, you must first understand the mental aspect.

I myself started out by watching people squat and deadlift large amounts of weight and thinking “Psh, I can do that!” I remember boasting to my friend that I could squat 225 no problem. I had barely begun weight training at this point but was pretty convinced it was no difficult feat. Needless to say, I was put in my place very fast and I learned that nothing is going to come that easily to me. However, regardless of my initial pride, it was that attitude that got me as far as I am today. It ignited some sort of spark, and since then I’ve always wanted to keep getting stronger. And here I am, 2.5 years later, nearly at a 300 lb. squat; and yet, first hitting that 225 was the biggest mental milestone for me ever. Because it was what made me realize that although I may not be capable of doing something at the time I said I would do it, with enough training anything is possible for me. It was at that point that I really realized that hard work can pay off. Now I can look at a 350 lb. squat and think to myself, “Psh…I can do that!” and hey…someday I will!

I think that if you can adopt that sort of mindset that anything is possible, it will get you much further in your strength goals (and anywhere in life, for that matter). You have to be determined to lift the weight, and you have to know that you are capable of doing it with enough training. Doesn’t matter how old you are, what you weigh, if you’re male or female, if you had an injury at one point or not, etc. All of that is irrelevant. You can and will get stronger if you are determined to. And more than 80% of lifting is mental anyway. That being said, if you’re not in the right place mentally, chances are you won’t be training to your fullest capacity, nor will you be reaching your full potential.

(If she can do it, you can too ^^)

So above all else, make sure that you approach strength training with the right attitude. Don’t approach the idea in fear or uneasiness. Go all the way! Even if you’re starting out very light, don’t worry about other people around you and what they’re doing. Do the best that you can do. It’s  a lot more than 90% of people in the gym are doing right now.

 

STEP TWO: PROGRAM PICKING

Generally speaking, cookie cutter is something you should stay away from especially when it comes to diet and if you are a more advanced athlete. But cookie cutter programs, believe it or not, can work well for those who are just starting out. Seeing as you are a beginner, you want to stay away from programs that focus solely on percentages. This means you can scratch the idea of 5/3/1, as in my opinion it’s not that great of a program and there are much better options to choose from. I am much more partial to programs such as Madcows, Starting Strength, WS4SB (Westside For Skinny Bastards), and Stronglifts.

 

MADCOWS INFO:

http://www.wackyhq.com/madcow5x5/geocities/5x5_Program/Linear_5x5.htm

http://www.vicjg.com/aspx/madcowint.aspx

http://startingstrength.wikia.com/wiki/Bill_Starr_5x5

STARTING STRENGTH:

http://startingstrength.wikia.com/wiki/The_Starting_Strength_Novice/Beginner_Programs

WESTSIDE FOR SKINNY BASTARDS:

http://startingstrength.wikia.com/wiki/Westside_for_Skinny_Bastards

STRONGLIFTS:

http://stronglifts.com/stronglifts-5×5-beginner-strength-training-program/

And remember, these are cookie cutter programs (namely the 5×5 templates), but they really do work. Try to follow the program exactly for the best results. It’s when you tamper too much with these kinds of programs that things get messy. Follow it because it was designed for progress, period.

The biggest piece of advice I have to give before starting any program is to START LIGHT. Don’t assume your max is something when it isn’t. Even if you start out the first 2 weeks lifting very light, almost all of these are linear progression programs, which means that every week you are going to be progressing and adding more weight to the bar. So it’s better to start out light and slow then to start out too heavy and risk stalling too early and having to reset. That’s no fun at all!

I have never seen anyone who did not progress with one of the following programs, so give everything a read and see which one would better suit you and your goals.

The second best piece of advice is to STICK TO THE FUCKING PROGRAM. So many people are “program hoppers” and they jump around  from one to the other on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. You will need to stick with these for awhile before deciding that you can move onto something different. In the beginning you get things which we like to call “noob gains”. It’s that point in your training where you can keep excelling every workout, and get stronger on a linear basis without anything plateauing too drastically.

After awhile once you are past that point, you will need to get on a template (or make your own) that is adjustable, which you can constantly tweak depending on your weaknesses and what areas you need to bring up. As a beginner though, you don’t need to be concerned with specialization or anything like that. You just need to get a solid strength base going and you can think about the other stuff later.

It’s kind of like with fat loss. In the beginning things may be linear, but as you get down to those last stubborn pounds, it takes a lot more manipulation and tricks to get your body to lose that fat. Same with strength gain, and when you get to that point, you’re fighting for those extra 10 lbs. on your squat/deadlift. Whereas awhile ago when you first started, you probably would have put it on in the first week or two!

 

STEP THREE: UNDERSTANDING MAX EFFORT

The biggest difference between an advanced strength trainee and a novice trainee, is their ability to exert maximal output on a given exercise.

An advanced athlete has learned to fire his muscles properly in a movement, and has learned how to incorporate strength from every area to work together and heave the weight. Everything works together as a unit because it has been trained to do so. A novice trainee however, has not yet learned how to use all of his muscles correctly and have them fire at the same time to generate proper force for the movement. What happens then is that the body compensates and tends to shift the load onto areas of the body that are strongest to try and muscle the weight up, rather than everything working together with equal effort. So while the advanced athlete can go for a max effort squat attempt and give at least 95% of his true max, chances are a novice trainee is only using 70-75% of his or her maximal effort. This is partially mental, and partially physical. It is not always that the trainee is not strong enough to move the weight. A lot of it is that he or she has not yet learned proper form and/or mental strength, and hasn’t yet learned to make the body work together as a unit.

So as an example, if your max bench press is 135 BEFORE you learned proper technique and before you learned how to work your muscles correctly, it’s probable that your true max is quite a lot higher, you just needed to learn how to correctly perform the exercise.

On the other hand, things could swing the other direction and you could be cheating so heavily on the movement that you are lifting a lot more (body swing bicep curls anyone?), and when you learn better technique you are a lot weaker than you thought. That is when you take some humility lessons, lighten up, and do it right.

Another note regarding max effort: most novice trainees don’t know what it actually feels like to give maximal effort. One reason being their CNS is not yet properly conditioned to take on that sort of load. Another thing that could prevent a novice from using maximal effort on an attempt is their mental approach.

Believe it or not, one of the hardest things to develop is mental strength. A weak mind equates a weak body. A strong mind delivers a strong body. If you don’t believe it now, you better start believing it soon, because it’s what is going to get you the furthest, and it’s what is going to help you reach your highest potential with training.

 

MORE ON MENTAL TRAINING…

I very highly recommend the book “Striking Thoughts” by Bruce Lee. This book has been the single best thing to ever come into my life regarding mental focus and thought power. Who better to learn from than the king himself? Bruce Lee still is, and always will be one of the most amazing athletes to ever grace the earth, in my opinion. And I have to say that his musings have helped me through pretty much everything.

I’ll close that thought off with an excerpt from his book regarding athletes and thought power:

The attitude “that you can win if you want it badly enough” means that the will to win is constant and no amount of punishment, no amount of effort, or no condition is too “tough” to take in order to win. Such an attitude can be developed only if winning is closely tied to the practitioner’s ideals and dreams. Experience shows that an athlete who forces himself to the limit can keep going as long as necessary. It means that ordinary effort will not top or release the tremendous store or reserve power latent in the human body. Extraordinary effort, highly emotionalized conditions, or a true determination to win at all costs will release this extra energy. Therefore an athlete is actually as tired as he feels, and if he is determined to win he can keep on almost indefinitely in order to achieve his objective.

 

Get the book. Do it. Seriously.

And remember guys, the world is your oyster. Anything is possible. You just have to believe it.

Will have the follow-up for this post on here shortly – Stay tuned and train hard! :D