Want to Get Bigger? Value Strength Over Aesthetics.

Image result for heavy ass weights

I hear it all the time…”I WANT TO GET BIGGER.”

I want bigger arms…I want a bigger chest…I want my shoulders to pop out of my shirt…the list goes on.

What do most people do?

They start bodybuilding.

Newbies start by doing as many curls as they can, and make the bench press their passion. It’s arm and chest day everyday of the week, and getting enough protein becomes an obsession. Results quickly come about because of “newbie” gains.

This is encouraging and soon after their interest elevates and they start to explore methods to maximize their gains. They start to understand the importance of squeezing the muscle through the “Mind Muscle Connection” in order to  focus on the contraction of their muscles. This helps them learn movement patterns more effectively and optimize the range of motion to get more gains.

Once they start putting heavier weight on the bar they’re hooked, and the obsession to “GET BIG” ensues.

Typically this is a common theme of progression for most in lifting, especially for those starting out, whether young or old.

Bodybuilding, or hypertrophy training, is how this process of lifting to get BIG starts.

The only thing is that it starts and ends at bodybuilding. They only progress within bodybuilding for far too long, and most do not pursue other training styles or modalities that will maximize their potential.

The gym to them is squarely for bodybuilding.

Is there anything wrong with that?

NO.

And does it work to get BIG?

Absolutely.

BUUUTTT, there is a better way and long-term vision for you to ensure you get BIG, stay BIG, and also perform BIG.

What is it?

You have to value strength, over aesthetics.

Why Strength is Superior for Mass than Bodybuilding Alone

Look at anybody you see who you consider strong and aspire to in the realm of physique. Disregarding genetics, for the moment, what do they have in common?

To start, they have a hard work ethic, drive, discipline, and passion to be the best. All ingredients for success in any endeavor, especially your fitness and physique. HOWEVER, in terms of training, there is also a common ingredient. It’s their pursuit of strength that sets them apart from others in building lean, dense muscle on their bodies.

Look at someone in the NFL, like former All-Pro safety for the Philadelphia Eagles Brian Dawkins. You see him in uniform and you know he’s jacked.

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What about the NBA, NHL, an Olympic wrestler, or even a PGA golfer like Rory McIlroy?

Image result for jacked golfers

Rory does not need to squat heavy. He can John Daly it up and have a beer belly. But, to perform like he wants he squats heavy. Result: strong swing and not a bad looking body.

 

Why are athletes like these so much bigger now more than ever?

Because they value STRENGTH as their top priority.

Strength requires emphasis on PERFORMANCE. This may be lifting a certain amount of weight, or being able to have a certain level of strength endurance over the course of a game.

If you are not strong you cannot perform like you want. Training for STRENGTH allows your body to become shaped in a way that leads to massive amounts of muscle being added to your frame to deal with the stress of training and the game to be played leading to good aesthetics and/or massive size.

Don’t get me wrong. I know I am taking the extreme of athletes at the highest level. BUT, if you want to look like someone in the NFL, or an athlete in general, why wouldn’t you practice the same sort of training they do?

It makes no sense.

Why do endless bicep curls, skull crushers, and cable flyes to get big when you can try bench pressing 350lbs and do weighted push-ups with a plate on your back for 50 reps? Which pursuit would you think would give you a massive chest and upper body like you want not to mention performance boosts?

I’d say the latter.

Bodybuilding is great and it’s something a lot of people enjoy, including myself. It often introduces us to lifting and pumping iron. But you don’t get a big chest from doing endless cable flyes alone. You get BIG because you start pressing heavy and do training that prioritizes strength performance first, and aesthetics come secondary.

Even Arnold himself benched above 3 plates and squatted 4+ plates during his day for reps along with Franco Columbo. They were bodybuilders but they were also STRONG.

They knew that to get BIG you had to put some emphasis on strength and performance.

Ronnie Coleman did bent over rows with 600-700lbs on the bar. Bodybuilder, but strong as FUARK.

He said it best…

Image result for ronnie coleman heavy weights

Bodybuilders (besides Ronnie) will disagree with me, and that’s okay. I’m not here to bash bodybuilding and not say you can’t build a massive body with lighter weights.

Yes, you can do that.

What I am here to say is that prioritizing strength first will lead to more gains in lean muscle mass than hypertrophy training alone.

It’s great to be someone like Phil Health, but if you asked him to do what he did in his collegiate basketball playing days he couldn’t now because he does not train for strength. His muscles don’t know how to perform like they used to, in a sense.

Again, nothing wrong with that.

I’d just rather be able to move while being “BIG” at the same time.

That’s what focusing on strength does — it allows you to perform better.

Strength Unlocks Your Potential

Focusing on strength over aesthetics keeps your performance high in things other than the gym. And, what is muscle good for if you can’t do something with it?

Why heavy squat or deadlift?

Because it helps you run faster and jump higher.

Don’t believe me?

Then ask Ryan Flatherty. He is the Senior Performance Directory at Nike and trainer/coach for top pro and Olympic athletes.

His whole mission is to get them to run faster. He recommends many things, but at the focus is getting strong. His central piece of that is the trap, or hex, bar deadlift. This helps people sprint faster. Period.

Listen to him speak on Tim Ferriss’ podcast and you will understand.

Sprinting is needed for sport and STRENGTH is at the center piece of that.

Side-effect: massive muscle GAINS.

But, don’t squats ruin your knees and don’t deadlifts wreck your back?

They can that’s for sure, but typically only when you haven’t dedicated time to really learn the movement and understand proper technique. From there your ego gets in the way and you have a recipe for bad knees and snap city.

Trust me. I’ve been there.

If you check out my article on “Why I stopped powerlifting” you will come to understand that I injured myself. As a result, I blamed powerlifting and didn’t take an personal accountability.

To be honest, that is probably the worst article I’ve written on this website, at least in my opinion. It’s garbage because it’s not true.

For one, I wasn’t really training for powerlifting I only thought I was. I did that type of training style, but was too naive in my pursuit believing that I didn’t need any coaching or guidance.

BIG MISTAKE.

Two, if you learn the right form for the squat and deadlift for your body type, there is no shearing or undue stresses on your knees or back that will cause significant problems.

Lastly, like anything, powerlifting can be taken to extremes, just like bodybuilding or any other sport and cause problems.

With bodybuilding it’s body dysmorphia. With powerlifting or strongman, it’s your joints. In the NFL, it’s your joints, concussions and CTE. With MMA, it’s everything.

I can go on and on, but I think you get my point. With anything you do to an extreme you’ll get negative side-effects.

BUT, in regards to the average gym-goer who wants to get BIG and STRONG learning how to squat and deadlift will take them far.

You look at any high school football strength and conditioning program, for instance, and they are learning how to squat, deadlift, and press heavy. On my bad high school football team, there were kids who squatted 500+ pounds when they were 18…heck 16 years old! Across the country that’s the norm. Those kids are not only STRONG but JACKED too! It’s because they lift heavy ass weight.

That’s why I don’t understand why it is such a mystery?

STRENGTH UNLOCKS YOUR FULL POTENTIAL FOR MUSCLE GAINS.

That’s why focus FIRST on STRENGTH and the AESTHETICS will come.

Final Thoughts

Bodybuilding is great and it has it’s place just like powerlfiting or strength training does.

Should you do any to an extreme? Not necessarily, but, prioritizing your training for performance and having that performance be STRENGTH will get you far.

In this regard, lifting heavy weights is one form of strength.

In contrast, watch any gymnast and tell me they are not strong as hell. They may not lift heavy weights, but because their strength is relative and not absolute, unlike powerlifting, they get freaking strong because they need to be strong.

The common ground between the two is STRENGTH. This is true in any other sports, especially stop-and-go, like basketball, baseball, and football.

The best is perk, is that you’ll get BIG and make the most gains you can.

Unlock your potential and make STRENGTH a focus of your training and see where it goes.

If you need some help I’ve got a beginner LEAN MUSCLE BUILDING PROGRAM for you.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD

As always, thanks for stopping by and reading.

Until next time, be strong and be you.

(Cover Photo Credit)

(Brian Dawkins Photo)

(Rory McIlroy Photo)

(Ronnie Coleman Quote)

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Ketogenic Diet Part II: 30 Days In, Feeling Good, but Losing Gains?

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I’ve done it!

30 days of a continuous ketogenic diet.

How has it been?

It’s been great! In fact, really easy, at least for me.

The results?

Mostly good, and some areas for concern.

During PART I, you will know I gave my first few days experience on the diet. I relayed the astounding positive energy difference I felt, but the drop in gym performance, particularly feeling flat and not as strong as I normally do when I was on a carb-based diet.

This was my biggest concern continuing the diet, and curious of how exactly my strength would hold up, especially since I lost weight transitioning to the diet (about 8 pounds: 188 to ~180).

Well, I’m here to inform you that I’ve lost some gains. Yes, unfortunately, some of my strength has diminished and it’s been frustrating, since I’ve been progressing steadily as the year has progressed (mostly).

(Check out my STRENGTH GAINS series in PART I and PART II).

My number ONE PRIORITY during this past month was to MAINTAIN MY STRENGTH. This was my primary goal and I attempted to follow my programming (I was on 5/3/1 during the past month). I continued everything like normal, even though my diet had changed radically.

What happened?

Struggle! That’s what happened.

Struggle to maintain my strength, and struggle to maintain my endurance training (HIIT and circuit workouts, of course). I struggled to “turn it on” when the time came to lift the weight, and felt I had to exert so much more energy than usual to complete the lift and given set(s).

BUT, you know what?

I did complete the sets and reps I needed to at my required weights and intensities. Only thing, however, it didn’t always look pretty. My form often broke down more than usual because I felt fatigued at some points, but, as I mentioned, just couldn’t “TURN IT ON” like I used to. I’m referring to that slight controlled adrenaline rush you get when you lift that provides you that extra edge to complete the set (those who lift know what I’m talking about). This was at least what occurred for the first 2 and half weeks or so.

During the 3rd and 4th weeks I started to feel more of a “PUMP” and strong again. However, this return to optimal performance occurred in spurts, from one training session to another. One session I would feel great and have little time where I felt “weak.” Others times, though, I felt mediocre in my abilities.

What was the difference?

My best guess is time of day.

I felt better during my morning training sessions rather than my afternoon training sessions, despite fasting. From a previous article you will know I follow intermittent fasting as a pattern of eating, and have had great success over the past 4 years practicing it. You might think that I would feel worse, but NO. I felt and often feel better.

WHY???

I’m not completely sure, but maybe it’s my routine and my body is better prepared for the work (my guess, at least).

I did all the same things for my afternoon workouts as my morning workouts. I took my electrolyte supplements (I use this one), my pre-workout, and my enthusiasm (or lack there of, lol).

I’m not sure what it was, but it was a noticeable difference.

(NOTE: afternoon workouts have always been my least favorite. I prefer mornings and evenings if possible).

The good news is that it has gotten better as I continue on the KETO diet.

All the positive effects…

  • Significant increase in consistent energy throughout the day (no afternoon crash)
  • Better mood day-to-day (much more positive)
  • Enhanced mental performance and function (more creative and productive)
  • Clearer skin (brighter complexion)
  • Better body composition (less fat)
  • I can handle stress better (may be due to better mood, mental performance, etc.)

is just too much for me to call it “QUITS” for the KETO DIET right now. I want to keep going and will figure out the strength part of the equation as I continue.

Where there’s a will there’s a way and I’ll get to my strength goals.

HENCE, I WILL CONTINUE KETO.

As always, thanks for reading and stopping by. Comment down below with your questions, and be sure to stay tuned as I continue my KETO series and update my strength programming.

Until next time, be strong and be you.

(Photo Credit)

Build a Big, Strong Back for a Big Chest and Everything Else.

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I just finished listening to Mark Bell’s PowerCast, with guest Matt Wenning, and he was talking about the importance of back training.

Matt (in Part I and Part II) goes on to say that training the back is by far the most important thing (I’m paraphrasing here) to do if you want to protect your shoulders, be strong as hell, and, of course, bench big and support all your other lifts.

Matt himself, is a 600 plus pound bencher and a freaking BEAST!

The reason is because he works on his back A LOT and that’s one of the primary reasons he is strong as FUARK and has good shoulder health, even benching at such a high weight. He says he does about double or more of the work on his back than he does on the front. He will fatigue himself first with rows and pulls first to warm-up the back and then tackle the bench after. If he ever feels his chest hurt, you better believe he is going to destroy his back to offset that tension in his chest.

It’s because Matt clearly understands that keeping a strong body is key for long-term success, in lifting, athletics, and general health. A key factor in that is a strong back. Without it you’re asking for trouble with your shoulders, and injuries are knocking at your door. Believe me, I’ve had my fair share of shoulder problems, and I’m dealing with one now right now!

That’s why hitting the back is essential, especially if you want a big chest.

The back is your FOUNDATION for any pressing like the bench press, and if you don’t have a solid foundation everything else suffers.

Continuing to do the bench press, cable flyes, and pec deck without ample back work is a recipe for disaster. It will ruin the shoulders and cripple posture, and, ultimately, wreak the pursuit of that BIG CHEST (especially with incorrect technique that fails to incorporate the back).

Remember, to have the body we want we need LONGEVITY in the sport of lifting and strength training, and using improper training (over-doing it with excessive pressing) will cause that.

Just think about all the chest exercises and what it causes.

It puts the body into a position that tends to be the norm nowadays: shoulders internally rotated, upper back rounded, with a forward head. Almost all take this position when we sit, eat, and work at one point, and most are doing nothing to correct or off-balance this. When a lot of horizontal pressing (bench press) and shoulder adduction (cable flyes) is practiced it exacerbates the problem and MAKES THE BACK WEAK!

WHEN YOU HAVE A WEAK BACK YOU’RE WEAK IN EVERYTHING ELSE.

This is what excessive pressing and anterior work causes, resulting in your back muscles being under-worked and overly stretched, making them weak and not capable of working like they should. Essentially, they “turn off” so to speak. This causes a host of shoulder and upper back problems, which has ripple effects to other parts of the body (think links in a chain) because compensations will be made in other movements to perform them (e.g., not being able to do a squat or deadlift with good posture with a neutral spine).

That’s why we got to hit the back…A LOT!

Back Training

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We’ve established that training the back is important, but how should we go about it?

There are many ways, but you have to got to get really good at rowing and pulling and being able to feel your back “turn-on” and work.

That’s what Dorian Yates (pictured above) did to help him win 6 consecutive Mr. Olympia contests. He worked on his back and made the reverse barbell row famous. He learned how to feel his back work and do it masterfully.

I’m sure if you ask Yates and others like him, they will often say that when someone may work on the back they have poor posture and lack overall strength to get into a position where their shoulders are retracted down and their chest elevates and feel their back working. You have got to be able to master this position and understand that feeling.

When you actively engage the back you retract the shoulders down, which allows the back to “turn on” so to speak. That’s why if you do a bench press THE RIGHT WAY you retract the shoulders down into the bench to anchor your upper body, while actively thinking about bending the bar as you go down to utilize the back as an active mover when you press with your lats.

Simple.

That’s why you must master the UNIVERSAL POSITION — shoulders retracted down, pinched together, causing your chest to get “BIG” or elevate.

Watch any powerlifter get into position for a bench press and you’ll see this in action. They have an arch in their lower back (sometimes extreme) to get the best leverage they can by retracting the shoulders down. This is essential to actively engage the back and protect the shoulders.

This is also essential for all the main lifts. We bench on our back; we squat with the bar on our back; and the back must be strong to deadlift. It’s practically the center of everything performed, so it must be strong.

BUT, if you do too much pressing this is extremely hard to do and everything else suffers. You will not be as strong as you can be if you have a weak(er) back compared to your front (chest, front deltoids, etc.).

Guys want a good chest, like Arnold or Yates, but without the foundation — THE BACK — it is not going to happen. If it does you’ll be handicapped before you know it, meaning you won’t have full range of motion and function of your body.

Get good at rows, pulls, pull-ups/chin-ups, farmer walks/carries, and lock in your technique with the deadlift and squat and you’ll be on your path to a STRONG ASS BACK.

Even Arnold made sure to hit the back when he hit the chest. Just look at his workout below.

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Now that you know go do it!

As always, thanks for reading and stopping by. If not a subscriber please subscribe.

Until next time, be strong and be you.

 

Photo Credit:

(Arnolds Chest/Back Workout)

CONDITIONING for Strength and Muscle Gains

 

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We’re all going to get tired when we train, but mitigating that sense of tiredness or fatigue goes a long way.

It could mean doing that extra set or rep in order to hit your numbers for the day ,without full exhaustion. This leads to more quality reps and work done, which leads to gains; not to mention reducing the chance for injury.

This is where CONDITIONING comes into play.

The better condition we are in, the more quality work we can do, and the more stress and work our bodies can handle.

Simple!

Think about it like this…

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Imagine a bottle of water as your energy storage. Whenever you do work some of that water is poured out of the bottle. The less water you have in the bottle the less energy you have to do the work you need to do.

Now, imagine that the wider the water opening the faster flow of energy that takes place. In other words, the bigger the opening (lid of the bottle) the faster our energy is drained.  Based on that, what if there was  a way to manage the flow of your energy better, by changing the size of the lid where the water flows out?

Enter conditioning!

Conditioning will help us use our energy more efficiently and effectively because our energy won’t be drained as soon as things get tough. Essentially, instead of a Gatorade-like bottle (with a big opening) we will have a smaller lid (think squirt bottle) that will manage the flow of our energy better. This will cause less energy drainage, while sharpening our energy flow into something more concentrated making us have the potential to do more meaningful work.

So, what, how, when do you do conditioning?

Let’s break it down.

What is Conditioning

In my own words…

CONDITIONING is anything that gets your heart rate and blood pumping. Essentially, putting your cardio and body to work, typically with demanding bodily movements or activities.

This goes beyond just running or jogging. It’s more of getting a task or activity done.

EXAMPLES INCLUDE:

  • Circuits/Interval training (HIIT)
  • Giant sets
  • Super sets
  • Functional movements: tire flips, farmer walks, sprints, shuttles, sled/prowlers, circuits, etc.

Basically, anything that will challenge your endurance — your ability to perform at a sustained level of strength over-time. It will also work on your aerobic and anaerobic capacity to do work, leading to greater general fitness levels.

The great thing is that conditioning, and the tools/implements you use to accomplish this, will add excitement to your training routine, beyond just going on the treadmill or elliptical for 20 to 30 minutes at “x speed” and “x % of incline”.

There’s benefit beyond just lifting that will carry over into the real-world and sport.

What Are the Benefits?

The benefits are many and you could go on and on.

What first comes to my mind is that it will aid your effort to lift more weight, handle more work load and volume, while helping you recover faster between your sets and workouts over-time.

Once you start conditioning, it may INITIALLY impact your “STRENGTH” or “STRENGTH GAINS” negatively (because it will shock your body to a degree), but LONG-TERM it will pay dividends and your strength will come back soon after.

For example, CONDITIONING WILL IMPROVE:

  • General cardio-respiratory health.
  • Support a healthy body composition (muscle to fat ratio) and weight.
  • Help you recover better.
  • Helps boost your metabolism throughout the day.
  • Increase strength potential because you can handle more work capacity (increased sets/reps (volume), weight, or decrease resting time, etc.).
  • Make your workouts more efficient by doing your work in less time.
  • Add excitement beyond the typical training style you may be following for strength and muscle building.

For these reasons and more make conditioning a key part of your training program.

How to Incorporate and Structure Your Conditioning

Conditioning does not have to be complicated.

It could be as simple as resting a shorter time between sets, doing super or giant-sets,  performing circuits (HIIT: high intensity interval training), and the use of conditioning tools (battle ropes, sleds/prowlers, stairs, sprints, etc.), into your workout/training routine allowing your body to increase its work capacity (more sets, reps, and weight).

All these things allow for PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD leading to more gains (more lean muscle mass, increased strength, increased endurance, increased athleticism, increased general health).

In addition, I think how you incorporate conditioning is more important than what you use to condition with — at least most times. For instance, you could  use your body and run hill sprints until you drop. That said, however, when and how you incorporate that into your training routine matters more. It matters because if performed too much or at too high intensity for too long, it can negatively impact your main training goal (building strength, increasing lean muscle mass, etc.). If done correctly however, there should be no problem.

This will mater based on the stage of your training, as in hypertrophy, general strength, power, etc. If you’re in a hypertrophy stage, for instance, it might be best to do moderate conditioning every-time you workout. Yes, you’ll be doing a lot of volume, but since the intensity of the exercises is at a lower intensity, you should be able to handle some sled pushes, stairs, sprints, battle ropes, tire flips, and the like.

Furthermore, it is important to do some form of conditioning that incorporates what you trained for that day. For example, if you did legs, then some sled pushes or sprints will suffice. For upper body, battle ropes are great or some form of body weight exercises in circuits, like push-ups, to pull-ups, to dips tabata style. Takeaway, be smart but work hard.

Guidelines for Conditioning

Since we’ve went through why conditioning is important, it is time to make sure you follow some good practices to make the most of it.

FOLLOW THESE GUIDELINES FOR YOUR CONDITIONING REGIMEN:

  1. Determine the intensity (how hard you exert yourself) for your conditioning based on what stage of your training cycle you’re in (hypertrophy, strength, power, active recovery/de-load, etc.). Generally speaking…
    • Hypertrophy = moderate to high intensity
    • General Strength = low to moderate intensity
    • Power = moderate to high intensity
  2. Pair conditioning exercises and activities that relate closely to what you worked on for that day (upper, lower, core, full body, etc.) with an appropriate tool(s) or implement.
    • If you did upper body a good tool might be battle ropes or a body-weight circuit.
    • If you did lower body a good tool might be sled pushes or running stairs.
    • Pick something that makes sense!
  3. Spend an adequate time, but don’t go overboard and kill yourself to exhaustion.
    • There’s a fine balance, and you have to find it
    • A good rule of thumb is when you feel like you can’t do anymore do another set or round and take it from there.
  4. A good place to incorporate conditioning is toward the end (sometimes start) of your workouts for about 10 to 15 minutes
    • The less frequent you condition (1 to 2 times of your total workouts/week), the greater the intensity and/or duration.
    • Vice versa, for the opposite. Higher frequency (3 to 4 times of your total workouts/week) results in lesser intensity and duration.
    • Total conditioning days should be at least 2-3 times per week for a significant benefit over-time.
  5. Have 1 Circuit/Conditioning day be itself.
    • Allows you to put what you train into use.
    • This workout is typically shorter than your normal training days, lasting about ~30 total minutes.
    • Be creative with your circuit/conditioning day with unique tools/implements like: tires, battle ropes, prowlers, farmer walks, yoke carry, sprints, shuttles, challenge workouts, etc.
    • Can be used as an active recovery day or a sport specific activity day.

Follow these 5 guidelines and it will help you lock up your conditioning for your training, regardless if you’re training for strength, powerlifting, or bodybuilding.

Example Circuit/Conditioning Day

To give you guys an example of what a circuit/conditioning might look like I’ll give you an example of my own.

I have a full day for circuit training, and I highly encourage it because it’s a way to put everything you’ve been working on for the week in action.

From workout challenges, to creative circuits you make up on the fly with what you have available to you, it’s a great way to challenge yourself.

It will force you to adapt to unfamiliar stimulus with “functional based movements” (i.e. flipping a tire, or a prowler push), as well as stimulate fat burning and boost your metabolism.

For me, Sundays are typically my circuit days, and here is a workout that I recently made up that I really liked (I like it after it was done, not particularly during, haha).

Below is my HIIT workout:

TOTAL WORKOUT TIME: ~30 MINUTES

ROUNDS: 8

HIIT Circuit

Exercise

Rounds Weight/Resistance Reps/Dist/Time

Rest

1.       KB Swings

All rounds

52.9lbs (24 kg)

15

60-90 seconds

2.       KB Clean & Jerk

Rounds 1-2

52.9lbs (24 kg)

5/5

3.       Sled push

Rounds 3-8

90lbs (weight on sled)

20yds

4.       Body Squats

Rounds 6-8

Body-weight

20

5.       Push-ups

All Rounds

Body-weight

20-25

6.       Battle Ropes

All rounds

Normal

20 seconds

There you have it!

Nothing too complicated; just a workout that demands your focus and commitment to get it done.

And, if you notice, the whole workout is only 30 minutes.

If you’re doing a circuit-conditioning day correctly, you will be done in 20 to 30 minutes on average. Nothing more and nothing less. The reason is that you are constantly working for the whole time, and not taking minutes of rest between sets or rounds, like normal workouts call for.

(Click HERE for another circuit that will kick your ass in 20 minutes).

Regardless, make it a point to have one circuit day per week, if not every other week.

Conclusion

Conditioning is an integral part of your training, and is vital to perform in some way, as you progress in your strength or muscle building training. The benefits are numerous, and there is no replacement. From fat loss to significantly increasing your anaerobic and aerobic potential to help with gains, you HAVE TO DO IT in some way.

NO EXCUSES.

Let me know what you do in the comments, and we can bounce more ideas around.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and subscribe if not a subscriber.

Until next time, be strong and be you.

 

(Photo Credit)

Warming-up for Better Gains: Why, How to do it, and What to Avoid

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Being a trainer you see a lot of different people and how they approach exercise and working out in general.

One thing I see MOST people NOT doing is properly warming-up their bodies to perform the work they need to do.

This is especially true when performing resistance training, particularly for big compound lifts, such as the squat, bench press, or deadlift.

In fact, I saw 4 people jump right into it within 30 minutes today while I was doing my workout. No sweat when they got there, and no practice of movement patterns for the exercise they’re about to do. Whether it’s a squat or a bench press, no warm-up at all.

Essentially, they’re working out without any thought, method, or purpose.

What these individuals fail to understand is that they’re leaving gains on the table. Sure, it’s great in theory that you should be able to just “turn-on” your body when you need to and perform on a dime, but since many people sit for long periods during the day it’s not like you’re just ready to perform. To think you have mastery over your body where you require no warm-up is foolish.

Anybody who lifts any respectable weight for their size, age, weight, sex, etc. knows this. Most of these people are ignorant, and making an excuse that you’re different doesn’t stand-up to reality.

If you want to make more gains, and not get screwed up at the same time WARM-UP.

It’s not an option.

Why Warm-up?

Warming-up is a MUST because it generates increased blood flow to our muscles, joints, and connective tissues that prepare our bodies to do physical work significantly better.

Increased blood flow equals increased oxygen to our muscles for energy, and primes our central nervous system (CNS) to better control bodily movements. This allows the body to become more flexible, mobile, and respond to the task at hand with greater readiness.

In addition, warming-up also reduces the chance for injury.

For instance, if your plan is to bench 315 for the day it’s not the best idea to put 315 on the bar from the get-go. Odds are you’ll probably fail miserably, and maybe even tear a pec (not good!).

Instead, take your time and start getting blood-flow in your muscles, specifically the ones you will use: chest, shoulders, back, and arms. Start with the bar, and add appropriate increments of weight that prepare your body for the weight you will use.

There is a little more to it than that (I’ll go over that in a moment), but keeping things simple, that way is a much better method than diving in haphazardly and hoping for the best.

Warm-up routines are an essential part to any workout or training that you’ll do, and if you want to optimize the work you’re doing make it a part of your routine every-time.

ATTENTION!

Let’s get one thing straight…

WARMING-UP IS NOT STRETCHING!!! Nor, is it FOAM ROLLING.

Stretching (and sometimes foam rolling) is a “PART” of your warm-up routine, but it DOES NOT WARM-UP THE BODY.

What “WARMS-UP THE BODY” is physical activity, like certain drills and exercises that elevate your body temperature and respiratory rate. Basically, anything causing you to break a sweat, and prepare you for the strenuous work ahead.

SPEND MORE TIME ON ACTIVITY AND LESS TIME ON STRETCHING (ESPECIALLY FOAM ROLLING).

What stretching, like static stretching (SS), is essential for is increasing muscle elasticity.

In other words, SS allows your muscles to reach complete, or better, range of motion (ROM) for any movement that you’ll have to do: any pressing, pulling, rowing, extensions, flexions, etc. This allows for better mobility — flexibility in action — so you can perform better during any exercise you’ll have to do.

Simple.

Yes, keep stretching, but do not think that after your stretch you are good to go. It is only part of the process.

The Warm-up Process

What does the warm-up process look like?

Simple.

There are 3 basic steps to any warm-up routine, especially if you want to lift your best.

THEY ARE THE FOLLOWING:

  1. Get the Body Moving!

The first step is what is says — move the body!

Pick something SIMPLE that will cause you to start and break a sweat. For example, you could go on the treadmill for 1o minutes, or you can do something more interactive and run some stairs or do some battle ropes.

In addition, this stage can also involve basic movements or exercises, like calisthenics (any body-weight exercise, like body squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, ab work, etc.) or kettlebells. It’s great to do a warm-up circuit at a lower intensity that further increase blood flow to muscles. What’s great is that exercise actively stretches the body at the same time, which is referred to as DYNAMIC STRETCHING (DS).

DS is stretching in motion, and a simple example is a lunge. A lunge will often stretch your hip flexors while you do the exercise, while increasing blood flow to your quads and glutes. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.

The takeaway: get the heart rate up, elevate your body temperature, and increase your respiratory rate with something useful. 

2. Stretching

The second component in a warm-up routine is stretching. I like doing my stretching after a general warm-up so my muscles can be more elastic and pliable. It’s also safer to do so, since stretching may cause excess stretch to a muscle that is “COLD” (shortened).

Stretch the main parts of your body, especially the muscles groups you plan on using for the day. Stretch the hips, legs, back, shoulders, chest, and arms. Spend as much or as little time as you need on stretching. I’m not a big fan of saying you should spend “x amount of time stretching”. I think that does not make sense. Stretch until you feel loose and ready for action then move on.

3. Specific Exercise/Movement warm-up

The last part of the warm-up is to do an active warm-up specific for the exercises or training you have outlined ahead.

For instance, if you’re deadlifting for the day, doing some sort of hip hinge and pull is a great way to stimulate the muscles involved in the movement pattern for that exercise. An example would be a kettle bell swing, and a pull down or a barbell row.

In conjunction, it is VITAL that you do an active warm-up within the main exercise itself to practice movement patterns and PRIME the body for the actual demand of the exercise at-hand. This will fire your CNS to perform like it should for better performance.

BONUS TIP: 

As you practice and warm-up within the exercise (i.e deadlift), you want to lift the warm-up weights (lighter weights) like they are heavy. Essentially, imagine that whatever you have on the bar is the weight(s) you’ll be working at. This will activate your CNS to perform at is optimal condition.

Once you do this you’ve done your job, and it’s time to crush your workout.

Example Warm-up Routine

Below is a general routine I use for the Squat:

Squat Warm-up Routine

Pre-hab Activity

Activity/Exercise

Reps/Time Sets Intensity

Rest

1.        Cat/camel (cat/cow)

20

2 Low

10-30 seconds

2.        McKenzie Press (optional)

10-20

1 to 2 Low

10-30 seconds

General Warm-up  

Activity/Exercise

Reps/Time Sets Intensity

Rest

1.        Stairs

10 stairs

(16 steps)

10 Low Moderate

None

Exercise Specific Warm-up (Circuit)

Activity/Exercise

Reps/Time Sets Intensity

Rest

1.        Kettlebell       swings

12 to 15

3 Rounds

Moderate

Little to no rest

2.        Split Lunges

10/10

3.        Back Extensions

15, 12, 10

Intra Squat Warm-up

Activity/Exercise

Reps/Time Sets Intensity

Rest

1.        Squat

3 to 8 Multiple

(~5 to 6)

Low to Moderate

(start with the bar)

~60-90 seconds

This is the warm-up routine that I will use for the squat.

FROM START TO FINISH, IT WILL TAKE ME ~20 to 25 MINUTES TO BE WORKING AT MY DESIRED WORKING WEIGHT IN THE SQUAT.

If you ask me that is not too long, any anything less throws me off.

As you notice, it begins with some rehab/mobility work to stimulate blood flow to my lower back (a big priority for me) with the cat/cow and McKenzie press. After I’m done, I’ll go right into stairs and begin my physical warm-up.

It works good for me because it incorporates the muscles I need (glutes, hamstrings, quads, and hips). By the end of warm-up circuit, I’m typically sweating quite heavily with my heart beating fast and my breaths nice and deep.

One thing that I did not include in the table above is stretching.

I do stretch, BUT I DO NOT FOAM ROLL

I do not foam roll because it is a useless activity to get the body fired up to lift (even before your warm-up activities).

That is why I do it at the end of the workout if I need to (rarely). When I do stretch it’ll be after the warm-up circuit (my given resting period) or sometimes after the general warm-up (stairs).

I’ll stretch my hip and shoulder complex, back, and legs. I’ll do a combination of SS and DS, like the couch stretch, the frog stretch, use a PVC pipe for my shoulder complex, and some other ones I do (but do not know the particular names to because I just made them up or can’t remember them, haha).

You may say this defeats the purpose, but I find it works well for me. I do not notice a drop in performance if I don’t stretch compared to if I do (at least for me). In fact, if I don’t stretch I find it takes me longer to get into a rhythm and do my best work, and my hips are super tight and even hurt.

What’s important after the SS and DS, however, is that I fire on my nervous system by “warming (or PRIMING my body) back up again” within the squat itself.

First, I do a couple sets with only the bar with varied tempos for each (6 to 10 reps from slow to fast or explosive) to prime my body for the squat. Next, I’ll throw a 45 plate on each side and go from there (each time lifting with intensity like it’s the goal weight for the day). Eventually, I’ll work my way up within about 5 or 6 total warm-up sets to reach my first set at my working weight (typically takes about 6 to 10 minutes).

From there I get my work done.

Conclusion

Warming-up may be thought of as an afterthought by some, but in order to perform at your best, maximize the work you do, and reduce the likelihood of injury, it is a MUST.

NO EXCUSES.

Warming-up will allow you to get started more efficiently for the work you have planned for the day, especially lifting in the big lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press).

No matter your goal — increasing strength, endurance, lean muscle mass, etc. — warming-up is a pre-requisite for any work performed.

Follow the 3 basic steps above, and you’ll better turn on your  body for its best work.

(Click HERE for my free to download LEAN MUSCLE BUILDING program). 

Let me know how you warm-up in the comments, and what you do to warm-up.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and if not a subscriber please subscribe.

Until next time, be strong and be you.

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Strength Programming Update: 2017 Quarter 2 (and thoughts on your programming)

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I finished my second strength programming cycle of the year, Quarter 2 of 4 (Mar thru May), and I’ve progressed, but have a lot to work on.

First, the good!

I got a new PR in the sumo deadlift at 475 pounds, with no belt, at ~187.5 pounds body-weight. I did try for 500 after (what the hell right?), but it was a no-go. What’s also good is that my back and knees feel good and that’s really important to me, so feeling gracious for that!

Now, the things I need to work on.

I did not get any new PR in the squat, bench press, or overhead press. Sad face 😦

This “no progress” was due to various factors. The first factor is that I strained my right shoulder, specifically my anterior deltoid. I have full range of motion (ROM), but any pressing in the transverse plane (a.k.a. the bench press) is a no-go for me. This occurred in mid April and I’m still rehabing the injury today (beginning of June). That said, however, it’s a lot better, even though I re-aggravated it coming back too soon a couple weeks ago.

The second thing is that I was training at at a higher intensity for too long than I should have, causing my body to fatigue beyond what was manageable. At the time of my program construction I failed to realize that would be the case. Beats me of how it slipped by me.

(Review my Q1 and programming for Q2 by clicking HERE)

All-in-all, progress is still progress, so I’m moving in the right direction, even though I had to put some things on hold. What’s important is that I realized my programming mistakes, and understand that moving forward.

Below is a chart below that summarizes my current stage of progress for Quarter 2 of training:

Second Quarter Programming Recap (Mar-May 2017)
Lift Starting Q1 Max (lbs.) Ending Q2 Max (lbs.) Total Increase (decrease) (lbs.)
1.      Squat 385 385 0
2.      Bench Press 295 ?
3.      Deadlift 465 475 10
4.      Overhead Press 185 ?
Totals 1340 ? 10
BODY WEIGHT 188 187.5 (~.5)

What’s next?

It’s time for me to start my new program, and I’m already into it.

What is frustrating is that I’m not sure how to progress through an injury that still needs time to heal while keeping pace with what I’m trying to do (get stronger at the same body weight). That said. I’m in a hypertrophy and conditioning stage, so I’m upping the volume and my conditioning to improve cardio endurance and also lose fat, and hopefully replace it with muscle. It’s not a lean bulk, per se, but more of a re-composition. Hard? Yes, but I know I can do it and I’m starting to feel the difference in my body already, by feeling my body be a little tighter and defined.

Regardless, I’m excited to move forward because I know my mistakes and know how to fix them. As a result, I’m going to use 5-3-1 as the base of my program while adding some additions (conditioning) to specific things that I value.

Below is what my training regimen for Quarter 3 (Jun-Aug) will look like:

Quarter 3 Training Cycle (Jun-Aug 2017)
Week Focus Adaptation
1 Volume Hypertrophy
2 Volume Hypertrophy
3 Volume Hypertrophy
4 5s Strength
5 3s Strength
6 1s Strength
7 Deload Active Recover
8 5s Strength
9 3s Strength
10 1s Strength
11 Deload Active Recover
12 Test Max
Maintain Body-weight within 187-189 lbs

As you may notice, the program is basic and simple and that’s my goal for this cycle — keep it simple. That’s why Jim Wendler created 5/3/1 in the first place. A simple program that gives you the opportunity to improve without having to think about what to do each time you go in the gym. Instead, you just work and get what you need to get done…done.

That said, I will follow the template from my own program — Lean Muscle Building — by doing a 4-day split for the big four lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press) with an extra circuit and conditioning day to make 5 total days.

Below is what my weekly workout schedule will look like (based upon my current work and life schedule):

Weekly Schedule

Sunday

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday

Saturday

Circuit/

conditioning

Squat Bench Press Off Deadlift Overhead Press

Off

That’s my current weekly schedule, and as I experienced before, I’ll adjust if need be.

Final Thoughts

Lastly, for your own programming it is important to keep things simple, and that was one of my biggest mistakes for my last training cycle in Q2. I think I was so excited from Q1’s training cycle that I assumed I had to make things “more complex” to keep progressing. Yes, you have to do things that challenge you in new and varied ways to continue progressing, but that does not mean you make matters more complicated than what they should be. That was my first pitfall.

My second mistake is that I was a little (maybe a lot) over confident in what I could do. It is good to have faith in yourself — absolutely — but at the same time you have to be careful you do not get carried away. Again, our ULTIMATE goal is progress, and more specifically, slow and steady progress leading to BIG CHANGES over time. That’s our goal (at least mine). I jumped the gun, and that is what lead to my setbacks.

The last area I need to improve on is recovery. Specifically, getting better and more consistent sleep. This means going to bed before 11 and having a set wake-up time everyday, even weekends. Throw in short naps where appropriate and I’ll have a better chance to recover like I should. Ultimately, you can only grow and progress from hard training based on how good your recovery is.

Recover poor and you don’t have progress (or as much).

Be consistent and you will get there. I’ll remind myself of that as I continue on.


As always, thanks for reading.

If not a subscriber, please subscribe.

Click HERE to download my free Lean Muscle Building program for strength and muscle gains.

Until next time, be strong and be you.

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Thoughts on Gains: Working Around Injury

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Injury.

It will happen in some severity and form, regardless of how careful and measured we are in on our training.

If you read my article on sub-maximal training you will understand that things will happen despite our best efforts at preventing  it from ever happening.

This is given proper training methodologies, and doing your best to recover.  Some injuries will just occur because sometimes shit just happens.

With that said, however, when it does, it should not leave us paralyzed and incapable of doing work and our effort to keep progressing, or at least maintaining most, if not all, of our strength.

Before we move any further, let me make clear that I am referencing minor to moderate injury and not severe injury. If you have a severe injury to any part of your body, whether a severe strain, sprain, broken bone(s), or the like, get immediate medical attention, and proper treatment with proper subsequent rehabilitation.

For all the other stuff, the minor to moderate injuries, most commonly strains or sprains to different parts of the body, it is possible to work around it, and still keep your gains and even make more.

How do you do it?

Let’s explore 3 basic steps to do so.

Step 1: Understand Your Injury

The first step in working around your injury is to understand your injury.

If you do not know what is injured, or have an idea of what it is, then it is just about impossible to do any good work without making the situation worse.

For instance, if you injured your shoulder it could be host of different things. It could be a strain to your deltoid muscle, or you could have done something more severe and torn the intricate muscles and connective tissue involved in your rotator cuff. It is important to understand differences by being able to pinpoint where and how the injury happened, is it acute or chronic, and whether or not it is something severe enough that requires medical attention.

Assuming that it is not serious and requires immediate medical attention (meaning: you have no use of that part of your body and have severe sharp pain with any movement associated with that part), it is a good idea to listen to your body by understanding what movements cause pain and discomfort.

To go back to the shoulder injury, I will use myself as an example. A few weeks back, I tweaked my right shoulder during the bench press. My set up was off and while un-racking the bar my right should was in an awkward position behind me (I was reaching too far back, essentially) causing me to feel something “OFF” in my right shoulder. It wasn’t a clear crack, tear, or anything of that sort, but an awkward feeling where I knew that something was wrong in my front deltoid area. I experienced very minor pain afterwards, but nothing serious enough to effect my performance. Fast forward a couple weeks I re-aggravate it in the bench press again — same movement pattern —  and could tell that something was off. A week later, my ego got in the way and I felt it strain (it got really tight and was starting to reach a clear breaking point).

Luckily, nothing tore completely. No pops, crunches, or anything of that sort, and good news is that I have worked through other injuries before, more serious than this (knock on wood, at least), so I know I can come back. That said, I need to understand my own injury.

Based on my knowledge, experience, research, and opinions of other professionals, I know that it involves my deltoid in some way because I have pain in pressing movements, and when I bring my arm in front and above me (where the deltoid is in play). I know it’s not a more serious injury because I have experienced a torn labrum in the same shoulder, and know the feeling and impingement it brings. Furthermore, I have full range of motion, but only pain in certain movements of the arm (elevating my arm in front of me, and horizontal/upward pressing motions). I can also do any rowing and pulling with almost no problem.

Based on these facts, and given I have swelling in the front part of my shoulder it all points toward my superficial muscle (muscle closest to the surface) — a.k.a. the deltoid. Thus, I can do corrective action to aid in the healing process of the muscle by doing things, like P-R-I-C-E (Protect, Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate), deep tissue massage (shout out to an amazing trainer at my gym named Jamie for helping me), and avoiding movements that primarily incorporate the deltoid muscle (primarily any pressing and elevating motions).

If you need help understanding your injury a simple google search on the area you hurt will help. I’m not advocating you self-diagnose yourself, and become a doctor. No. But, I am advocating you understand your body better, so some research on the area affected won’t hurt.

After you gather your research on your injury, and any evaluation from a professional, or a person with valuable perspective and knowledge of the injury, it’s time to get a game-plan going to stay in shape.

Step 2: Adjusting Your Training

Now that you understand your injury good enough to move forward and not make it worse, it is time for adjustments.

You want to adjust 2 main things:

First, is to avoid movement patterns, or exercises, that aggravate the injury in any significant way.

For example, using my shoulder injury, any pressing and shoulder elevation movements for me is a “no-go”. This will take out the bench press, overhead press, and any shoulder focused exercises, such as front raises. Do not test an injury when you know you shouldn’t be testing it. In other words, give it time to heal and come back slow and steady, which is what I failed to do. I “jumped the gun”, so avoid my mistake, and discipline yourself to let it heal (whether it’s days, weeks, or months). This is the hardest thing, at least for me, because not training a part of your body sucks. But, it needs time, so give it time.

Second, you want to continue your planned training to the best of your ability.

With my right shoulder injury, for example, I can still work legs, and pulling is not really a problem, which makes the squat and deadlift a full-go. In fact, yesterday I hit a heavy single in the deadlift at 455 pounds with no belt, which is almost my max (this week’s plan was heavy singles because I am peaking after my de-load next week). It went up the best it’s ever been, and I had no issue what soever with my shoulder.

Just because you may be compromised by an injury, in some way, it does not make you incapable at keeping pace with your expected training program, or regimen. Of course, know your limits, and gradually progress to certain thing that may cause issue for any type of injury. That said, don’t be afraid to push yourself and progress like you intend to. Keep pace with your programming plan as close to it as you can.

Step 3: Proper recovery

The last step is to do your best to perform proper recovery methods for your injury.

This includes, but not limited to:

  • Proper stretching
  • Low-impact exercises and movement to stimulate blood flow
  • Deep-tissue massage to break up scar tissue
  • Adequate rest and good nutrition to heal the injury site
  • A positive attitude.

Again, not pushing your injury beyond what is capable of is important, but completely immobilizing the injury site is a big “no-no”

Remember, blood flow = recovery.

Movement helps stimulate blood flow to tissue, especially ligaments, tendons, and other connective tissue, which provides nutrients to the injured areas for healing. No blood flow equals no recovery, so don’t forget to move.

Period.

Do movement and low impact stretching, and massage, if possible, to break up any scar tissue and knots you have in the muscle and tissue around the injury. This will help increase blood flow, and allow a more efficient and complete recovery.

Lastly, you have to have a positive attitude through this whole process. It is SO easy to get discourage and not train with the intensity you normally do, so do anything and everything to stay positive. Keep your disciplines and habits of what your training consists of, like maintaining your training schedule, prepping your meals, stretching, etc., to keep you on track.

Regardless, be smart and active in your recovery approach.

Conclusion

No one likes getting injured and it tends to happen when we’ve been pushing to hard, or we just have unfortunate luck. However, we can continue training in other ways, and come back stronger than before if we imploy the adjustments and practices outlined above.

It’s up to us to recover and protect our injury site the best we can to give it the time it needs to heal. Ironically, it is our obligation to not “BABY” it, as well. Keep as much movement as possible to prevent atrophy and impaired mobility, and you’ll be more efficient with the recovery process.

Keep your training at the expected level and pace you have been going for what you are able to do. This will depend on the injury, of course, but don’t be afraid to train with intensity. This is also a good time to increase work in other areas that may be of concern for you, since a chunk of your workload is taken out with injury. Continue to move forward and you’ll be on your way to more gains.

Thanks for reading.

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Catch you next time.

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