Posts Tagged ‘crossfit’

If I had to say what the biggest difference in the way I trained a year ago and the way i train now is, the difference would be bullheadedness.

To clarify, a year or two ago, I trained under the assumption that, because I’d read a couple of books, I knew all I needed to know. Not just the knowledge to get strong, but I was so smart I was going to reach my natural genetic potential. I’d see people doing exercises in the gym (exercises that I either didn’t like or wasn’t familiar with) and say, “Well, those might work for them, but I’m way different; I don’t need to [insert exercise here].” It was an ego boost to feel like I was doing the master-supremo-maximus workout and know that I had all the secrets to lifting heavy. Right up until someone would come in and hoist Pumping Iron-heavy weight and I’d be like, “Oh I’ll get there eventually.”

I think you really have to have someone come in and shock you with how much better they are than you for you to really give an honest assessment of where your mind and body are at.

You really have to get rid of the, “That works for them, but it won’t work for me, I’ll keep doing this,” mindset. I’d really been cheating myself every time I’d see someone come in and throw a couple hundo up and think to myself, “I’ll keep doing what I’m doing to get there,” as opposed to, “What the hell is this guy doing.”

Three people I’ve seen in my gym really come to mind (really because I’ve been able to watch what they do). These are really strong guys.

Two are essentially the grand masters of front and back squats, respectively. I’d come in and see them put 405 on the bar and push some reps and immediately think, “I hate squats, I am not good at squats.” Eventually, you reach a point where you have an internal dialogue that goes something like this:

>I want to squat big

>Okay, then do squats

>B-but I don’t like squats and they hurt

>Then stop lifting, nobody likes a guy that skips leg day

I think it’s a humbling moment to have made legitimate progress, but realize that what’s been holding you back is your lack of cojones.

For the longest time, my chest lagged behind everything else I did. It still does, but lets tell ourselves I’ve made progress. I got away with telling myself and others that I’d dislocated my shoulder (sophmore year of highschool) and couldn’t [read: didn’t want to] bench. Then I started to bench and eventually was just doing 3×6 bench every time I worked upper body, expecting to see results.

Enter the third guy.

Picture in your mind the physical manifestation of the words “human tank.” Chances are you have pictured him correctly: the widest set of shoulders I’ve ever seen and a gigantic chest. I’d come in and whenever I’d see him, the heaviest weights on the dumbbell racks would all be missing. About ten feet from the racks were 100, 110, and 120 lb dumbbells strewn about. Nicest guy you’ll ever meet, but an absolute beast. By then I’d had my epiphany: I was going to steal this guy’s chest routine.

I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing someone else’s routine. In fact, you shouldn’t feel bad about it. It’s an homage. Seeing someone with a great chest or great legs and not saying, “I need to do what he’s doing,” is what wasted so much of my time.

Been a while since my last post.

This one deals with exactly what the title says. How do you get ripped quick?

Well, that depends on your definition of “ripped.” Maybe your “ripped” is my “shredded,” or my “ripped” is your “cut.” We’ll deal with that later.

Something a lot of people overlook is diet. In fact, I’d say that diet is about half of the equation to having a good body, getting ripped, being healthy, et cetera. What many people will tout as a “good diet” is not something well suited to a lot of muscle mass. Lots of people will tell you, “oh yeah I’ve been eating a lot of Clif bars lately, dude,” or “man, you should get, like, more complex carbs and stuff.” These people have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.

“What do I do then?”

Well, the best solution that I’ve found is Paleo. What is Paleo? It’s eating only what your ancestors would have eaten. It is, in many respects, similar to a gluten-free diet in the sense that you do not eat grains. Crazy, in this world of HFCS that we live in, but if you have the money or the perseverance to go through with the diet, you will see immediate and lasting changes in both your physical condition and your energy levels (even mood, to some degree).

The guidelines for Paleo are these:
– Don’t eat things that your hunter-gatherer ancestors wouldn’t have eaten (chocolate, ice cream, sorbet, Snickers, HFCS, etc.)

Pretty simple. But what is implied in this singular principle is what is important. The science behind the eat-like-your-hunter-gatherer-ancestors idea is solid. Science has arrived at something called the Glycemic Index. The GI of a food is simply how quickly it makes your blood sugar rise after you eat it. Why is this important? Well, that deserves its own paragraph

When sugar enters your system, your pancreas secretes insulin, which has the effect of lowering blood sugar, increasing anabolic functions of the body, and causing fat deposition. Insulin is released based on the demands of the body at that moment, as a safeguard against potentially neurotoxic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). When you eat things that have a high glycemic index and eat a lot of it, your body has to secrete insulin to maintain a homeostatic balance in your blood and prevent you from damaging your body. All the sugar that would have made your nerves die off (as they do in diabetes) is now going straight into storage – fat. Insulin is the key factor in all of this, and it’s not the villain. Sugar is. Equally important is the fact that people tell you, “don’t eat fat, it makes you fat. ESPECIALLY SATURATED FAT.” Not true. Fat, unless it’s coupled with an insulinotropic food (causes insulin release), won’t be deposited into your adipose tissue to the same degree that sugar is. Your body, especially if you’re a male, NEEDS saturated fat. Low sat. fat causes low testosterone. I’m guessing you wouldn’t enjoy that.

Now, when I’m doing Paleo, I simply don’t have the time to do all the meal prep. So I get as close as possible. Cheese is okay, chicken tenders aren’t bad, and beef jerky is God. I’ll post a link to an awesome Paleo recipe website at the end.

Another diet tip: meal timing. A popular trend lately is people telling you to snack all through the day. “Five meals a day, to keep your metabolism boosted up,” they will say. Resist the urge to listen to them. They are unenlightened.

What to do? Intermittent Fasting. IF, like its brother Paleo (which, when coupled together are the best cutting method i’ve found) is loosely based upon what we assume our hunter gatherer ancestors did. While on the prowl, you don’t eat until you capture and kill something or you find it. IF 16/8 is the method I use, and I’m happy with it. Fast for 16 hours of the day and feast for 8. During a feast, you eat all of the calories that you were going to eat over the course of the day in that set amount of time. The science behind this again deals with insulin. When you eat five times over the course of the day, you’re experiencing five separate insulin spikes over the course of the day, keeping you anabolic (fat-depositing) almost the full day. During IF, you sleep then wake, and for however long you’re awake until your feast, you’re catabolic (fat-consuming). Ideally, you have your day’s workout just before your feast’s start so that you finish your lift (or whatever) and immediately start the anabolism that will help you rebuild (on paleo, you’re getting some awesome red meats and fats to help rebuild, too).

Now that we’re done with diet, on to training.

During my cut, I switched to a split (upper-lowerbody, alternating, ABxABxA), and have seen some crazy results. Because of restricted diet, you’re going to want to focus more on certain parts in the gym. I was finding that my modified big three program (Bench, Squat, and DL plus accessories every day) was getting really hard to do in the gym. Just motivation and energy running dry. The split is the perfect solution. Just as well, it allows you to focus more on each muscle group with separate exercises.

Focusing on stupid exercises will not get you anywhere, especially at this point in your training. Focus on the classic movements. Suffice it to say, nine different types of curls will not get you anywhere and I’ve never seen anyone get huge pecs by doing nothing but crazy-looking chest flyes every day. In the interest of your time, I’ll post my routine here for you, and you can take from it what you will.

All exercises to be done with the max weight for that amount of reps.

Chest/upper back day:

Overhead Press 3×6
Barbell Rows 3×8
Bench Press 2 sets warmup, 2×6, 1×8
Underhand bench press, 10, 8, 6
Wide grip pullups weighted, 8, 7, 6
Dips, 2×7
Kroc Rows 3×10
Hammer curls (cheating slightly) 8,7,6
Lateral raises 3×8
Heavy cheating shrugs 3×8
Hanging leg raises 10,8,6

Leg/lower back day

Deadlift 2 sets warmup, 3×5
Lowbar Back Squat 2 sets warmup 3×6
Calf raises (increased ROM) 3×8
Weighted Lunges 3×12 each side
Weighted Overhead Lunges 2×12 each side
Hanging Leg raises 10,8,6

Keep in mind, this is an advanced/intermediate program, and will probably leave you crippled with DOMS if you are new to lifting. My leg day still leaves me with crippling DOMS.

With the diet/training principles explained above, following them strictly you should see results in about a week, with noticeable gains in shreddedness about three weeks.

Feel free to post any questions you may have!

Paleo eating link: http://www.paleofood.com/

In training, we have something called a “master cue.” The master cue is something that you give when your client is doing an exercise that will (hopefully) correct any form defects they are developing in the heat of the set (or just keep them going with good form). For the squat, a good master cue is “ass first, hip drive.” For the deadlift, an excellent one is “chest up, drive your heels through the floor.” The skill of cueing is important in training because the cue is the smallest effective bit of information you can possibly give the client and, ironically, can be the most useful. Why not explain it before the set? Well, you should. When the client is in the middle of a set, though, they can’t possibly pay attention to a technical description of the lift or look at you doing a demonstration. They don’t have the concentration capacity to apply 100%, look at you, understand, and consciously correct their form in the middle of a squat. The master cue gives them something they can process immediately and apply. Instead of spending 30 seconds explaining which muscles they should be feeling when, you give them something easy and digestible, something that gives them the “a-ha” that they can put in effect immediately. Think about it. When I say, “chest up, push the heels through the floor,” you can do that immediately. It’s simple. You don’t even need to think about it. Chances are, while you were sitting there your back straightened a little and your chest rose just as you read that. Compare that to me saying, “Your lumbar spine should be extended but not too much, don’t engage the back till it’s past your knees, keep your ass low to the ground at the start,” and you realize the importance of the master cue.

Not to say that all you need are cues. The technical description of a lift is very important too – it breeds understanding of the true biomechanics of the lift and helps you to coach yourself. The difference is that one deals with understanding and requires thought and a mental process to ingrain it as, “that lift,” whereas the other, the master cue, doesn’t require thought, it just requires action. It is saying, “do this,” as opposed to “when you set up like this, that should be as such.” And that is the skill of the master cue.

Now, the second half.

Something I realized at the gym today while doing my bench press was the common misunderstanding (even by trainers) of the phrase, “Slow descent, fast push.” To explain the true nature of what this phrase really means (and not the misconception), I have to start with the har

d stuff.

Something I learned in physics class a long time ago is that muscles have a spring constant (backed up here: http://ajpregu.physiology.org/content/278/6/R1661.full). What is a spring constant? In physics, a spring constant is the amount of force required to extend or compress a spring “x” distance. Since muscle is elastic in nature  (to a point), it stores energy as it is extended and releases that energy (to a small but effective degree) to contract again.

Shamelessly edited from google images.

Now, it’s only logical to remember that muscles are not perfect springs. They do, however fit the definition as materials that store elastic energy as they deform due to force.

But how does this relate to physiology and exercise? Cue the misused “slow down, fast up” cue. The good nature is there, but the meaning has been lost behind the cue.

When force is applied to muscle at rest, the stretch muscle engages unconsciously as a result of a motor nerve feedback loop. As the muscle stretches, it contracts to oppose the force being applied to it (to prevent damage to the skeletal system, nerves, and especially the muscle body itself). An excellent example of this is the jaw clasp test: holding the mouth slightly open and relaxed, ask a friend to (or do it yourself) tap with one finger, applying the force downwards, the top part of the chin, just below the lip (the mandibular protuberance). Chances are, unless there is something gravely wrong with you, your relaxed jaw will not bounce downwards, and the masseter muscles in your jaw will resist with just enough force to hold your jaw in almost the exact same position.

If you think about this, it’s an incredibly evolutionary advantageous adaptation. If muscles were strictly under somatic (voluntary) control, chances are, our ancestors would have had far more dislocation, sublaxation, and ligament tear injuries. The system favors muscle injuries over synovial and ligamentatious injuries. The advantage of a system that experiences solely muscle belly injuries (a pulled muscle) over damage to the connective tissues of the body is that muscle tissue is vascularized. Vascularized tissue (as opposed to avascular) is tissue that has blood vessels running through it, meaning it is fed by an active blood supply. Muscle is vascularized. Connective, ligamentatious, and cartilagineous tissue is avascular. What this means is that, being that the latter three types are only fed by proxy, by synovial fluid or other means, they are much less quick to heal than muscle tissue, and more likely to heal in a less-than-useful fashion. Muscle tissue, since it has excellent blood supply, heals very quickly, flushes waste very quickly, and, when healed actively (used in the fashion it is designed while healing), will heal with a minimum of scar tissue.

So now we know why and how the stretch reflex works, but where does it tie into the cue and the spring constant?

Contracted muscle tissue has a much higher spring constant than relaxed tissue, which means that contracted muscle stores a much higher percentage of the energy that gravity exerts on the weights in your hands as it descends than relaxed muscle. When you get to the bottom of the exercise, the energy stored in the muscles is at its maximum. This higher fraction of elastic energy already stored means that less energy will be required in ATP form to drive the weight up. As a side note: this does NOT make the exercise any easier on the muscle, nor will it affect gains in muscle mass – the amount of mechanical stress, that is, actual physical damage to the muscle tissue, remains the same for the exercise, and as such the muscle will be rebuilt and experience hypertrophy and hyperplasia to the same degree as with higher ATP energy required.

When a trainer tells you, “slow down, fast up,” know the true meaning of this cue. When you are going, “slow down,” (on what is called the eccentric phase of the rep) you should be focusing on storing the elastic energy in the muscle groups you are using. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but you’ll feel when you do it right, especially on the bench press. It manifests as a unique tightness in your muscles; it’s a really powerful feeling. You’ll feel in control, even with heavy weight, as opposed to the shaky feeling everyone’s experienced. The best friend of the powerful spring feeling is GOOD FORM. 

Now, when you get to the bottom, DO NOT “let go.” What I mean by this is relaxing at the bottom of a rep. Again, you can feel this on the bench press the best. It’s when people get trapped under the bar. Save your rest for the top of the rep. If you “wait and relax” at the bottom of the rep, you release all the elastic energy stored in the descent, and force your muscles to do much more work going back up. It’s akin to learning the rowing stroke; you never “wait” at the catch, you drive as soon as you hit the “legs vertical” point. Think of the bottom of the rep as the “trigger.” You pull on that trigger and all that force builds up to the bang as you shoot the weight up. Yanking the trigger (by just letting the weight fall back down each rep) will throw the shot off and just ruin maybe even the set.

There you have it, the “true” meaning of “slow down, fast up.” What an anticlimactic ending.

As a side note, the reason the deadlift is so damn hard is because you come all the way to the floor, put the weight down, release all the elastic energy in your posterior chain, and pick it up again. What a mean, mean exercise.

Drug abuse:

Well, not really drug abuse, but they’re drugs and a lot of “athletes” abuse them to some degree. I’m talking about preworkout supplements.

Admittedly, I used them a while ago, and I thought they were helpful. I’ll go on the record and say they weren’t (knowing what I know now). For about 6 months of my lifting career, I used “Jack3d” (“used” being language evocative of imagery like heroin users passed out in alleys, really Jack3d is just a drink mix), a PWO (preworkout) containing, amongst a host of other agents, DMAA (Dimethylamylamine) and caffeine. We all know what caffeine does, so let’s skip that for the time being. The other compound, however, is less well known (Skip to the next paragraph if you’re not that interested, the rest of this one gets pretty dry). DMAA or 1,3 methylhexanamine is a compound containing 6 carbons and an amine group. Alright. But beyond that, it should definitely be noted that the structures of DMAA and amphetamine (yes, that one) are very similar (with amphetamine substituting a benzene ring at the end opposite to the amine for DMAA’s 3 carbons).

If you skipped that part, I don’t blame you. Now on to the fun stuff. First off, I’m not going to call DMAA meth. It’s not. But related as they are, DMAA shares some of its stimulant, expectorant, and psychoactive properties with Methamphetamine. It’s very worth noting that, although no true studies have been done (the supplement industry is unregulated), many users claim that the comedown effects from substantial DMAA supplementation were not unlike amphetamine comedowns.

My personal experience: I liked it. For a while. The first couple doses make you feel like the king of the world. You’re aggressive, on point, and full of energy. To drive that point home, one thing I attribute entirely to the Jack3d was my daily testosterone-pumped rock-out session on my way to the gym in the summer, windows down, screaming the lyrics to my favorite metal songs and probably terrifying the hell out of other drivers on the road. Get to the gym; squat Jupiter, curl Venus, and bench press the Sun. But after a week, Jack3d becomes much more sinister. You aren’t looking forward to taking your PWO, you’re just doing it to get through the gym. You feel sluggish, unmotivated, and just all-around crappy if you don’t get your fix. Yes, it really is like this. As I write it, I realize how much I sound like Nikki Sixx. Jonesin’ for that next dose, maaaaan. That’s why I quit. And it wasn’t really hard: you feel awful for about three days and you’re over it and thanking God it seems like that’s all it did to your body.

I’m not saying don’t take any of these supplements (Jack3d removed DMAA from their mixture some time ago). I’m saying know what you’re in for and know that if you take a supplement, you might not ever really know what you were in for. Remember, in Schwarzennegar’s days, it was acceptable to take anabolics; remember that it takes about 20 years for damage to really appear in your body.

Caffeine: the wonder drug. Really, I’ve seen studies done that say it slows brain aging, reduces fatigue, fights diabetes, causes weight loss, etc. True or not, it’s been pretty well time-tested. My parents drank coffee and their parents before them. Today, before my workout I had a big cup of Dunkin’ Donuts original blend, ground up 30 seconds before being put in the french press. Needless to say, it was a cathartic experience. About 15 minutes later (keep in mind, I’ve been off PWO’s for about a year), I was jacked up and ready to go lift some heavy things. So, I went to the gym and had a great workout. The point of that story? Coffee can turn a crappy day into a great one at the gym. In good conscience, I can’t knock caffeine. It’s the most widely used psychoactive drug and has probably saved the lives of a few hundred tired shift workers on the way home. I love it. Who doesn’t love it? In good conscience, I can, however, tell you to use it in moderation: the body adapts to any substance you put in it, regardless of whether or not you want to. In one way, it means you don’t have to pee every five minutes when you have a cup of joe. In another, it means that taking caffeine before your workout for two months straight means you probably have just killed the benefit. Use it in moderation and cycle it in a fashion that you and your body are comfortable with.

Bullshit:

Sorry. There was no other way I wanted to phrase that. There are some things that should not be done. Having your client stand on a bosu (balance) ball and lift one leg after another or do crunches on it is just stupid. Not only are crunches stupid, but balance balls are stupid. Sure, they have maybe one or two legitimate applications, but in my ignorant years I used one, made no improvement balance-wise, then years later did my squats with good form and almost hover across the ground. There’s a reason you never saw Schwarzeneggar, Columbu, or Zane on balance balls.

Crunches: doing them with good form is acceptable. And I mean acceptable in a very abstract, pseudo-sarcastic way in that I’d never use them. Done badly, they are a great way to ruin your back and give you false hope of washboard abs. Much better exercises are the hanging leg raise and the plank, isometric exercises that train the core in the manner in which it was “designed” to function. Which segways into my next point….

“Functional movement:” There’s functional movement and then there’s “Advanced Training Functional Exercises for Building Strength Applicable in All Situations.” Beware of this special brand of Bullshit. The “ATFEBSAAS” is the typical thing that you see from big box gyms and trainers trying to make a name for themselves. The kind of assholes that think that the more complicated the exercise is, the more strength it must build. These guys will have their clients stand on a Bosu Ball (with one leg) and do front raises with a 10lb dumbbell, all while telling them to “feel it in their abs” and timing them to make sure they got a solid fifty reps in. This sort of idiocy is what gets people hurt. To this I respond, “Functional movement? So you’re telling me in the wild, our ancestors had to lift one leg on an unstable surface, raise something with a straight arm, and squat all at once?” Obviously they didn’t. The squat is a functional movement (How do you get onto the toilet?). The OHP (overhead press) is functional. I cannot think of a more functional movement than picking something very heavy off the floor (oh how I love the deadlift).

Spot reduction:” The notion that you can do an exercise and have the fat “melt off” is asinine. It’s harsh, I know, but true. Trainers telling clients to “do some crunches, we’ll get that belly off!” did not spend enough time studying metabolism. Energy does not simply come from fat. Everything has to go through the blood. There is physically no other pathway for materials to get to the muscle. Humorous as it would be, fat cannot just “go” into the veins or “melt into muscle,” either. To spot reduce, the body would have to “know” which part of the body you were trying to “tone” (God, I hate that word). The body can’t know this. Fat cells are not connected to somatic nerves, meaning there is no voluntary aspect to ANYTHING fat cells do. Your body has a demand for energy, uses signaling hormones to tell the fat “hey, tank’s low, buddy,” and the fat cells (all over the body) happily oblige. If you want abs, you need to cut your body fat percentage. Pro tip: cut carbs out of your diet. Intake of simple carbohydrates creates an insulin spike; insulin is the hormone almost entirely responsible for fat deposition.

Running: I’m going to take heat for this. I’ve come to terms with that. But running is an end, not a means. I’m really not being as big of a jerk as you might think. I promise. I love running. But good lord does it really take it out of me. There’s a reason all good marathon runners (with the exception of Dean Karnazes, look him up) look like they crawled out of a crypt in Egypt. Long distance running is something incredibly demanding on the body in all ways. If you’re looking to put on mass or even look aesthetic, I would back off on the running. All it does is burn calories, destroy your muscles and joints, and wear out your legs. It does not build muscle. What I meant by “an end and not a means” is that if running is all of what you want to do, do it! Do squats, bicycle, and deadlift to get your 100m, 5k, or whatever up. But if you are not a runner, are not interested, or even hate running, for the love of God do not feel obligated to do it. Especially if you are a bodybuilder or a powerlifter, running will do more harm than good. Save yourself the year of progress that I lost.

As a caveat: barefoot running will DESTROY your calves. In a good way. Do it at maximum once every couple of weeks. Look up online how to run without hurting yourself. A good way to ensure that you don’t is to remember that your calves are supposed to function naturally as shock absorbers, to capture the energy that your body comes down with, store it, and let it loose as you drive with your legs. A lot of sprinter’s PR’s were set barefoot.

Machines: First off, why would you spend $2,000 on something that does three exercises when you can buy a good barbell and 400lb’s worth of plates for close to $1k and do almost every exercise imaginable. Doesn’t make sense to me. But beside the economics of barbell vs. machine, a technical question arises. Why would anyone think that it’s safe to take your body, adjust the backrest to something and strap in, load up 140lbs for a chest press, and press that weight in an unnatural and limited range of motion. It is not. I destroyed my rotator cuff in high school and that changed everything about lifting for me. Never had surgery, but I know when I’m doing something wrong because my shoulder complains whenever the anthropometry or physics for an exercise is wrong. It’s how I learned how to bench correctly and it may even be a blessing in disguise. Where I’m going with this is that I can tell in my shoulder when I’m on these “chest fly”, “dynamic bench”, or “third stupid name” machines that something just ain’t right. If you are going to use a machine instead of a barbell, good form (which is not needed on the puzzle-piece precise machines) must absolutely be substituted for knowing how to correctly set up the machine correctly for your anthropometry. Be a fraction of a setting off and you could impinge one of your rotator cuff muscles between your humerus and clavicle. Or wear the hell out of your wrist. Trust me. Just learn how to lift with barbells and dumbells. You’ll look so much cooler with your original knees and shoulders when you’re 75. 

The elliptical: I have a special place in the pit of my heart for this dumb machine. Obviously whoever designed it wanted people to work out without ever doing any work. Even with resistance on, the motion is at least 50% momentum. You’re essentially driving a huge flywheel when you pedal. Next time you’re on one, go ahead and do whatever you do, but in the middle, lift one leg and stop pedaling. Money says, the machine’ll keep going for another three or four “steps.” This is not good. If working out was easy, everyone would be fit and you and I wouldn’t be quite as awesome, would we? Do yourself a favor; do your squats and power cleans and feel good that you have a constitution strong enough to voluntarily do the hard stuff. Oh, and by the way, for the ladies: the key to a great butt is not the elliptical or the stair climber. 1) Do sets of six heavy squats. 2) Repeat for about two weeks. 3) Enjoy your jeans fitting a lot better.

Inneffective stuff:

Bicep curls: They really suck. Better variations are things like the concentration curl, overhand curls, and most importantly, the weighted chin. I can’t explain why, I really don’t know, but my arms have been their biggest when I do my chins, concentration curls, and leave it at that. Do ’em heavy.

Behind the neck press: Don’t do this. It doesn’t exercise anything that the OHP doesn’t, but it gives you the added bonus of a shoulder injury.

Kipping anything: I’m sure it has it’s place, but I never kip my pullups. For one, I really don’t want to knock any equipment down, and secondly, my rotator cuff is fragile as is, I don’t need “Dynamic Motion” ruining it any more than it already is. Strict form builds muscle. Flailing to use momentum on the drive upwards does not. Who is going to be stronger? The guy who uses his quads, glutes, and calves to jerk the weight up in an OHP, or the guy who does it with strict form? If the answer isn’t clear, go train both and see which is harder.

Another late post, apologies for any typos, Organic Chemistry is getting the best of my time lately.

Let’s be optimistic and assume you did some of the lifts mentioned in the last post. Or that you’ve been lifting for a while and decided to amp up your training. Or that your training periodization calls for a change-up this week.

Point is, recovery should be on every single athlete’s mind. Considering when you work out, especially with high-volume or high-load routine (lets say today was your 1RM day), you are putting massive loads on not just your muscles, but your entire “human system.” When you exercise, you place both physical and energetic demands on your muscles that result in molecular level trauma and oxidative stress on the muscular cells, respectively. What does this all mean? You’re really beating the hell out of your body.

But don’t worry! This is what you are supposed to do! You have to place these demands on your muscles to get healthier (and stronger). To reap the benefits of muscle anabolism (metabolic growth), you need to place the cells under stress – specifically stress that causes signals to be sent around the body “requesting” the release of testosterone and IGF-I (insulin-like growth factor 1), two chemicals that influence muscle growth. Heavy loads, high volume (reps X sets) with small rest periods, and exercises that work multiple muscle groups (squat and deadlift, people) have all been proven to increase post- and intra-workout testosterone and  IGF-I levels, leading to high muscle anabolism. This would be great if only exercise and hormones were involved, it’d be simple. But it’s not.

Now, once you have it in your mind, you don’t really need to think about it, but it’s important for any athlete or really anyone who’s interested in fitness to understand the subtle nuances of muscle recovery:

When you exercise, as mentioned before, muscle damage occurs. After said damage happens, an immune response is stimulated, opening blood flow to the muscles and promoting a flow of oxygen and nutrients. This blood flow has the double effect of both providing the muscle what it needs to recover and allowing the expedited removal of reactive oxygen species (jargon for “free radicals,” the product of oxidative stress from glycolysis in the muscle). This immune response is important, so let me go on record now and say if you have DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, also known as “Ow, I really hit my legs hard yesterday), do not take NSAID’s like Advil or Tylenol. They decrease the inflammatory immune response (as well as inhibiting a few enzymes that aid muscle anabolism) and therefore “starve” your muscles of the beneficial flush of blood they get from the workout.

While on the subject of muscle soreness post-workout, also known as DOMS, I’d like to go over some of the subtleties of the condition. First off, as with anything, know your body. This isn’t as simple as it seems: you need to know your threshold for pain and know how to differentiate between different types of soreness and pain. Why? Because they will influence what you do “next.” For bone pain or joint pain, very specific types of pain, LAY OFF IT. There is nothing you can do – bone needs rest to recover and cartilage, which makes up your joints, is avascular (it has no blood flow, and as follows logically takes much more time to heal and does not benefit from a blood flush like muscle). For muscle soreness, I’ve found the best approach to this is to slowly work out the muscle in the safest manner possible. Individualized, as the level of soreness dictates, I call this type of training, “Recovery training,” as it is distinctly different from “Rest.” For example, let’s say your traps are very sore from some Power Shrugs (an advanced technique I’ll get into in another post, just imagine the motion of shrugging and the muscle it uses on your body) yesterday – so much to the point that you really don’t even want to deadlift today. That’s okay, but you cannot just let the muscle sit and expect it to heal. This is where the immune flush response becomes valuable. What you want to do today is to do light shrugs, maybe 20-50% of your normal load, higher reps than normal with comfortable rest to encourage blood flow to the muscle. Working the muscle is ALWAYS better than letting it sit and fester.

Even with a muscle tear, the best trainers (Mark Rippetoe, for one: http://vimeo.com/20303779) advocates training the muscle in the most effective manner the muscle functions (curls for bicep, etc.) to encourage muscle anabolism rather than the formation of scar tissue that makes the rebuilt patch completely useless.

Now that we’ve gone over soreness, let’s talk about food. Specifically the fuel with which you are going to build your muscles. Ideally, post-workout, to take advantage of both the immune flush and the release of testosterone and IGF-I, you should be eating a meal of relatively high protein and unsaturated fat content and medium carbohydrate content approximately 30 mins and 2 hours after your workout. Defining “high” and “medium?” It depends on your body composition and workout intensity, but I’ve always gone by the “30-30 in 30” rule: 30 grams of complete protein (see bottom) and 30 grams of a carbohydrate that is NOT high fructose corn syrup within 30 minutes of your workout. Personally, I drink an protein shake with 42-50 grams protein (along with calcium, vitamin C, other supplements) and about 50 grams of carbohydrate immediately following my workout. When I get home, about 1:30 after my workout, I’ll pan fry myself a steak or two chicken breasts and have some Greek yogurt and Colby pepper cheese to go with it. The methodology behind it is this: All are high in protein, the steak gives me a complete protein source, the yogurt gives me an acceptable amount of carbohydrate along with protein, and the cheese makes it all more palatable and provides a source of saturated fats (which are important in testosterone production). Some will recognize this as a “paleo” diet, and they’d be right. I’ve seen my squat and other lifts go up as a result of cutting out HFCS and adding more protein to my diet. But I’m getting off track.

Sleep, next to fuel, is the most important factor in recovery. 6-7 hours is acceptable, but 8-9 is ideal. While you are far away in dreamland, your body is hard at work fixing all the damage you did today squatting and deadlifting. It makes sense – your body is completely at rest, brain isolated from the motor neurons, muscles at rest. When does the DOT do roadwork? At night, when there’s no traffic. Do yourself a favor and don’t skimp on sleep, or not only will you feel like crap the next day, but all of your lifts will suffer and you risk putting your entire program in jeopardy of not meeting your goals.

Since we’ve covered immediately after and in the near future of your workout, the only thing left is for me to scare you into following my advice!

Overtraining: a condition characterized by a decrease in strength and endurance marked by tiredness, muscular fatigue, and weight gain.

How do you get this? Not resting/recovering enough. Overtraining is linked with a whole bunch of other responses your body has to stress, the main one being what psychologists call “General Adaptation Disorder.” GAD comes when the body is put under constant and unrelenting stress (among the reasons for periodizing your training) and is not allowed to recover. Characterized by immune depression, increased insulin activity resulting in high fat storage, and catabolism (breaking down) of muscle tissue post-workout, GAD is anyone’s worst nightmare. GAD and Overtraining go hand in hand because when one occurs, the other is never far behind. The only way to save yourself and avoid these conditions is to allow adequate recovery time after every workout, and, if you are going to train heavy for several sequential days, allow decompression time for your body to recover.

I’ll leave you with this: You get nowhere just solely breaking down your body. It’s important to know both how to train and how to rebuild after training. Approach your rest days with the same scrutiny and vigor with which you tackle your “on” days.

As always, shoot me any questions you might have, and thanks for reading!

-Matt

 

 

Complete Protein: a source of protein that contains the amino acids Tryptophan, Threonine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Valine, and Histidine in a manner useable to the human body.

So you want to build muscle? Get fit? Look good?

Good. You’ve taken the first step.

But what will you do? How will you go about meeting your goals? Where in the world is the start line and how do you get there?

Don’t worry, I gotcha. The starting line is what we in the business call “functional strength.” You need to build up a base before you go building huge biceps and flashing your pecs off to girls. How to acquire this base? The “big three:” Bench Press, Squat, and Deadlift. They’ll get you mad strong. Like, wicked strong. Gnarly strong. They’re the lifts that all serious lifters use as the base of their muscle-blasting arsenal. Another reason? Compound lifts like these will drive your during and post-workout testosterone levels through the roof. This means that your muscles will experience hypertrophy (as well as hyperplasia to a small degree) to a far greater extent than if you performed isolation with all of the same muscles. High-volume, heavy weight compound lifts influence testosterone and IGF-I (Insulin-like growth factor I, which causes muscular protein synthesis) to such a degree that in a study done in Denmark, I believe, two groups of lifters, one that did compounds in their workout and one that didn’t (everything else about the work set the same), showed something like 27% difference in gains in favor to the compound lift group. Impressive? Yes. Very much so.

To the ladies: don’t be intimidated by these lifts – in fact, embrace them. The squat and the deadlift are the two unequivocal best exercises for shaping the glutes and thighs. Strong thighs are sexy, yes? Need another reason? Well-developed leg muscles are hungry muscles. They need food, all day every day. Around 80% of the calories you will burn in a day are spent maintaining your Basal Metabolic Rate (which means feeding your muscles and the rest of your body), and when strong leg muscles are added into the mix, they drive up the amount of calories you burn, even if you’re just sitting down. Worried about looking like a muscle freak? Girls don’t have testosterone in anywhere near the amounts that males do, even during the aforementioned workout Test and IGF-I boost. While they do build muscle, they don’t hypertrophy nearly to the extent that males can. Women can become wicked strong, I’ve seen a girl at the gym that can squat more than most guys could ever hope to, but to become as big as a male bodybuilder? That takes steroids.

Now, the reason these lifts work? They develop all of the most important muscle groups in your body: the front delts and pecs (bench press); the trapezius and spinal arrectors as well as the hamstrings and glutes (Deadlift – some of the most important muscles for a healthy back); and the quadriceps, glutes, and core (Squat – healthy legs and a testosterone boost after you complete them). Developing all of the aforementioned muscle groups is absolutely integral to a good training program, as having strong, conditioned muscles in these groups will be your greatest ally in defense of future injury.

They also mimic natural motions, and, as your muscles develop and become stronger, the tension they exert on your skeletal system will help to pull your body into alignment. The Squat and the DL are excellent exercises to help fix posture deficiencies.

How to do the lifts:

Bench Press:

  1. Begin on a standard bench press with a standard olympic barbell (28-32 mm will work), loaded with whatever weight is comfortable. For beginners, this should be just the bar or slightly above.
  2. Pull yourself under the bar to where the barbell is racked directly above your neck, plant your feet firmly on the ground, at a comfortable distance from your body. The ideal foot placement will feel “powerful.”
  3. Grasp the barbell, thumbs opposed to the other 4 fingers of your hands, standard power grip.
  4. let go, from this position, pull your forearms back towards the floor, keeping your hands in the same plane, lateral to your solar plexus (just below your nipples). This is to determine the ideal hand spacing. At the “bottom” of the press, your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor, pointing straight up and your hands exactly lateral to the aforementioned solar plexus.
  5. Grab the bar with the width you determined earlier, and, with a spotter, unrack the weight and hold it, arms extended, over your chest just below the nipple line.
  6. Inhale
  7. Bring the bar down to your chest (the line the barbell follows should be in all ways perpendicular to the ground).
  8. DO NOT rest the bar on your chest. Not only will you risk breaking your sternum or ribs, but you also release any stored elastic tension your muscles collected upon descent of the barbell which is essential for a good drive back up on your standard BP.
  9. Drive through your feet, to the hips, using the chest to push the barbell up to the starting position. Exhale as you do this.

Common Mistakes:

  • Pushing the bar from shoulder level: DO NOT DO THIS. Though some trainers will argue that this is a legitimate exercise, like the rear shoulder press, I have found that more often than not this is the way that people either: A) Absolutely destroy their shoulder joint and end up with a SLAP tear (torn glenoid labrum), B) cause their anterior deltoid to become incredibly tight, causing any other chest exercise that day to be almost unbearably painful, or C) develop bicep tendonitis at its origin near the deltoid muscle.
  • “Suicide grip:” Just don’t. I’m only going to tell you what it is so you never do it. Promise me. It refers to a grip where the thumb does not oppose the other fingers, but lies under the bar. There is no palmar opposition to bar roll and thus you risk getting a “guillotine,” where the bar rolls off your hands, pushes your arms up, and lands directly on your neck. The only time this grip is even remotely acceptable from a risk-reward standpoint is if you have two hyper-vigilant spotters ready to catch the bar before you  kill yourself.

The Squat:

  1. Begin with the bar racked in the squat rack, bar catches at three to four inches below shoulder height, bar safeties (the cross-bars) about 4 inches below the bottom of your squat (Read onward and perform an imaginary squat with no weight, doesn’t need to be exact)
  2. Get yourself under the bar (the middle, smart guy)
  3. The middle of the bar should rest across your shoulders, either where the muscle of your trapezius meets the neck (on top of the bony process that can be felt just inferior to the dorsal neck, known as a “high bar” squat) or in the “cleft” that is formed between the trapezius muscle and the rear deltoid (big middle neck muscle and back of the shoulder muscle, also known as a “low bar” squat).
  4. The hands rest a comfortable distance from the shoulders on the bar. In this case, “rest” means “holding on to firmly.” Bear in mind that the farther your hands “rest” from the centerline of the bar, the less you will be able to counteract bar roll.
  5. Party time. Lift the bar from the bar catches in the squat rack, step away staying balanced. Now is the time to determine if the bar is balanced correctly on your back.
  6. Stand up straight, look straight ahead or at the floor an imaginary 5-6 feet from you. Feet should be approximately shoulder width or slightly wider, feet angled about 25-40 degrees from straight ahead (will vary with foot distance)
  7. Inhale
  8. Begin the squat by “breaking the hips.” Hips go back. Back stays straight or slightly hyperextended (This means the low back arches slightly toward your gut)
  9. The feeling you should get from the descent from hips going back is the feeling of sitting on a toilet without using your hands. You don’t crash your ass on the toilet, you go down slowly.
  10. As the hips descend, the knees “track” over the toes, following exactly the “line” that the toes point. Mark Rippetoe, an excellent strength coach, describes the proper squat feeling as having the squatter “Drop his D**k between his knees.”
  11. Your knees need to be out of the way during the squat. As long as you track them over your toes, there will be little longitudinal tension on them, and it is actually safer to have them wider as opposed to narrow, as getting the knees apart allows you to drop into a deeper squat and remove strain from the knees.
  12. The bottom of the squat is accepted as having your femur parallel to the floor or lower. Beginning to squat, memorize the feeling by squatting and having someone form check you until you are able to go to parallel or below.
  13. Your back should still be straight or hyperextended, femur parallel, knees the same distance apart when you reach the bottom. The lower back should never curve away from your gut.
  14. Drive through the hips, heels hard on the ground, pushing your hips forward while the weight is driven upwards. The back should remain as upright as possible, but should not move as the hips are driven forward. The knees to not come together. The knees must only act as a hinge through which the power from the quadriceps is transferred to the ground.
  15. At the top of the squat, the body is the same as when the squat began.

Notes:

  • If you are falling forward on your squat, chances are you aren’t going down far enough and the squat is operating more from your hips and knees than your quads. Try opening your stance a little bit, making sure the power transfer occurs in the heels and middle of your feet, not the toes.
  • If you’re falling backwards, work on your balance. Not necessarily a bad thing, but make sure you are coming forward enough during the squat to offset the “sitting down” feeling.
  • Watch for unevenness in leg power. You can really hurt yourself if you drive with one leg and use the other to take up the slack at the end of the squat.

The DL, the deadlift:

  1. Begin with the barbell resting on the ground, supported about 6 inches from the ground by plates on either side. Use a comfortable weight to start off.
  2. legs slightly wider than your hips, bend at the waist and knees, to grab the bar an inch wider than your feet (the aim is to not drag your hands up your legs on the drive).
  3. your stance should aim to have the bar above the exact middle of your feet, your scapulae (shoulderblades) directly over the bar, arms hanging straight down onto the bar.
  4. knees should be bent, over the bar, the bar will be resting on your shins. Back should be at approximately 15-45 degree angle to the ground (the angle will differ based on genetics, femur length, torso length, etc.)
  5. Grip should be hard on the bar, either under-overhand (alternating grip to reduce bar roll) or hook grip (with the thumb hooking under the bar, opposing the fingers, with the index finger and sometimes the middle finger grasping over the thumb.
  6. Inhale
  7. tighten the legs, drive through the hips
  8. The back does not move yet, but stays fully straight and extended, ass-end out.
  9. pulling the “weight up the shins,” using the hips to drive, as you pass the knees (which will usually be when the knees are fully extended or close to), activate the back, pulling the weight up using the HIPS as the hinge you use.
  10. back straight, use the same path and muscle groups in reverse to descend the bar.
  11. You just deadlifted!

Notes:

  • DO NOT EVER ROUND THE LOWER BACK. You will snap yourself up. This puts incredible stress on the lumbar cartilaginous disks, and risks herniating one and causing permanent damage.
  • Be careful using alternating grip. There have been cases where people have destroyed their biceps brachii insertion tendon on the arm that lifts the bar underhand. Just a word of caution.
  • This is a stressful lift. You will be uncomfortable. But know the difference between strain and pain. If something specific hurts, stop the lift immediately, especially if the pain is in your back or tailbone. Remember, when in doubt, FORM CHECK.

There you go, kids. The most important lifts you can do. From this starting position, you can start to develop your routine from a base of confident power and strength. These lifts will work your core as well, so for the vain ones out there, I can tell you I’ve seen guys that never do abdominal isolation, but just from deadlifts and squats, these guys have abs that could block a shotgun slug.

A word on recovery: these lifts are intense. As you start to go up in weight, you’ll feel the DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) after you sleep. For ideal programming for beginners, try the lifts every other day and take the weekend off. If you do them right with weight enough to push yourself, you’ll understand the need for these rest days. You’ll “feel it in your bones.” Ha Ha. Also of note, try and get 30g of protein after your workout and some carbs and fat (not too much). I’ve found this along with some calcium and vitamin C proves to be a good post-workout recovery mix. A steak would be great. Chicken – awesome. Greek yogurt? Sweet. You choose, but if you’re looking to build real muscle, force yourself to get that extra protein and stay hydrated.


I strongly suggest reading Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s “Encyclopedia Of Modern Bodybuilding,” Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength” as well as the NSCA’s “Strength Training” and Frederic Delavier’s “Strength Training Anatomy.” All are excellent sources of info.

Till next time,

Matt