Category Archives: Training Advice

Diet or Training – Which is more important?

If you are working your butt off in the gym it is important to eat well in order to get maximum results. There are many bodybuilders that suggest if you force yourself to eat more you will build muscle faster. This idea is not entirely accurate. If you force yourself to eat you could end up looking like a sumo wrestler.

Eating more is a great idea but if you train hard your appetite will increase naturally. So I am not exactly sure why many bodybuilders give this advice. I am not sure why anyone would believe that you should also try to force feed yourself excess calories.

I believe this misconception occurred decades back when supplement companies needed to convince people to buy their protein shakes. Eat a high calorie protein shake twice a day and you will get big. Unfortunately people still believe this nonsense and end up having to lose the extra weight they gain by bulking up.

As a natural bodybuilder, gaining two pounds of muscle in one month is a big deal. However, gaining two pounds of muscle only requires 3,200 calories. This means that you would only need to consume around 100 excess calories per day during that month. That is the equivalent of eating an extra banana or glass of milk each day.

So instead of worrying about eating big, worry about eating quality food. Diet is very important but training is more important. If you don’t train hard on a regular basis it won’t matter how many grams of protein you eat.

Muscle Soreness

no-pain-no-gain

Everyone has heard the saying “no pain, no gain”, however, this statement is only partially true. If you don’t train hard you won’t get any results. On the other hand, if you are getting too sore from your workouts it can dramatically slow down your progress. If you experience too much muscle soreness you are either training too intensely or infrequently.

Training too intensely could involve using advanced training principles during the beginning or intermediate stages of training. This usually happens as novice gym goers try to tackle the workouts they see their heroes doing in muscle magazines. They forget these athletes have been training for years and many of them are on steroids.

It also means that you might be doing too much thinking more is better. Many are guilty of this mistake. I remember myself when i first started out eagerly trying out every exercise in the Arnold Schwarzenegger bodybuilding encyclopedia; every workout and barely being able to straighten out my arms the next day.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your physique. Variety is great but in practice you will need to stick with certain central exercises such as the bench press, barbell curl, and squat your entire training career.

Training infrequently is another major cause of muscle soreness. If you just started a new program expect to be sore for the first while. Your body begins to adapt to the new program and the degree of muscle soreness experienced declines. This doesn’t mean your body is no longer benefiting from the workout, it just means in order to maximize results you need to push a little harder.

I also made the mistake of following bodybuilding routine in which each body part is trained only once a week. Each time I did the each workout I was sore for days. This type of training is absolutely absurd for a natty bodybuilder.

Getting in shape means you no longer walk around like an old man despite how hard you train. If your muscles have a small amount of soreness don’t be afraid to train them. In fact, this is how they grow. Your muscles didn’t have a chance to wait around all week and recover.

As a natty you should train each muscle group at least 2 to 3 times a week if you want to make progress. If you experience muscle soreness just remember each muscle group only needs 24 hours of rest before it can be worked again. If you wait too long you will completely bypass the training effect that follows each workout.

Your body responds and adapts to each workout and there is a small window of improved performance that must be opened. The balance between frequency and intensity is vital to maximize results. If you train too hard too often you won’t make any gains. If you train infrequently but push yourself really hard you still won’t make any progress.

However, in order to maximize results these two variables need to be in perfect balance. Remember, the old saying is true, “no pain, no gain”. However, it is much easier to have a plan to train smart instead of having to work hard.

Same Goal Different Exercise

Conjugate exercises are analogs of the same exercise in which the strength gained in the one exercise successfully transfers through to the other exercise. An example of this would be completing a bench press program and discovering that your floor press, incline press, and shoulder press increased as well.

If your bench press increased 50 lbs, you might notice an increase of around the same for your floor press, maybe 35 lbs in your incline press, and at least 20 lbs in your shoulders press. Of the three exercises the shoulder press would be the least likely conjugate choice, but nevertheless the type of exercise (pushing) and the muscles involved are nearly identical.

Conjugate exercises have many benefits. The biggest benefit is that the same goal can be achieved by a different means. For example, if my goal is to bench press 350 lbs I don’t need to specialize in the bench press to do it. In fact, I could use the bench press infrequently reserving it to assess strength and practice technique using submaximal weight.

The bulk of the heavy work can be done using conjugate exercises that are more effective and safer. The floor press restricts the range of motion a lifter can lift, but prevents the shoulder from being over stretched. Small lifters can benefits from this as the bar has to reach a greater depth as they lack the big barrel chest a 300 lbs powerlifter has. The increased longevity of this lifters’ career from reducing stress on the shoulder will allow more time for this athlete realize their goal.

Bench Press lockouts can also be used to gauge an increase in progress. If you can pin press 400 lbs for several reps and your 1 rep max PR in the bench press is 250 lbs and you gain 100 lbs on your in press, you most certainly would expect to break your previous 1 rep max PR. Certainly not all 100 lbs of strength in the pin press would transfer, but an expectation that the athlete would gain 25 lbs to their bench press max is reasonable.

Training with unorthodox exercises like the pin press isn’t common, but the huge weight you can handle allows consistent increments in resistance to be added. Anyone can almost expect to add 5 lbs to their pin press each workout similar to how any given person could more than likely add 5 lbs to their barbell shrug every workout for prolonged periods of time.

So instead of making 10 failed attempts trying to increase your max PR, switch to a conjugate that will allow you make increments. Regardless if the increase is neurological or actual muscle being gained, it is much easier to succeed at a conjugate than psychologically battle with continued failures.

Conjugates can also help an athlete prepare for a tournament physically and mentally. If they did a 400 lbs squat at their last powerlifting tournament and recall being able to handle 255 lbs in the box squat for 3 reps the previous week, chances are in the future they will be able to start gauging their abilities based on this conjugate.

At the next tournament if they are able to box squat 255 lbs for 7 reps, they know for certain they are going to set a new personal record and might even be able to use a 1 rep max calculator using this conjugate as an estimate.

Regardless of the reason for using conjugate exercises, the important thing to remember is that they provide an alternative pathway to accomplish the same goal. The strength gained in one exercise successfully transfer over to another.

Overtraining is a Myth – Hard Work is a Reality

There is a certain school of though that teaches people to be afraid and run away from hard work. This occurs in the fitness world as well. We are taught that if you train too frequently or with too much intensity you would not only limit the amount of muscle you can gain but even lose muscle from exercising too much.

After all, we grow while we sleep right. Or better yet, we fall for the myth that is we “eat big” we will “get big”. All we need to do is go to the gym and do a couple sets and then head on over to the supplement store and buy yourself a protein powder that taste like chalk instead of actually buying any gym chalk.

The stimulus is training. Our bodies undergo certain physiological changes to adapt to the stress placed on it. If you don’t train, nothing happens. This is reality for most people – not making it to the gym at all.

Take a look at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pre-contest bodybuilding routine. The volume of his workouts are insane. Arnold used to train like this for up to three hours each day while still continuing to perform his regular military training duties. Most people can’t complete Arnold’s workouts let alone repeat them. However, the body always finds a way to adapt and your physique changes as a consequence.

People tend to forget how much the human body is physically capable of enduring.

There is a group of indigenous people in Central America that hunt deer by chasing them for days. When the deer sees the predator is panics and runs away flat out. The hunter slowly jogs behind the deer knowing to pace themselves and chases after the deer for days.

I remember a case study about a man who fasted for 3 weeks while continuing to work his regular job as a physical laborer. At the end of three weeks he reported only losing several pounds of bodyweight and claimed his energy levels to perform his job balanced on their own naturally within a few days of starting the fast.

Our bodies are designed to endure extreme physical endeavors and fast for extended periods of time while enduring physical challenges without breaking.

Don’t fall for the myth of overtraining. Instead, believe in the reality of hard work and working hard.

What Causes Muscle Soreness?

Muscle soreness is the result of small microtears that occurs in muscle fibers during intense physical exertion. This phenomenon is also referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Many fitness experts use this phrase and don’t understand it at all. They lack the background in science necessary to fully understand understand what is going on inside the muscles when they get sore.

Our bodies are elastic, pliable structures that can only withstand a certain amount of shearing force. A sprained ankle is an example of this. The joint is temporarily forced into an unnatural position stretching the ligaments holding the joint in place, as well as straining the muscles and tendons.

The end result is an onset of soreness resulting from swelling. Typical first aid measures can be applied, such as elevating this part of the body allowing blood and lymphatic fluid to drain and the application of ice to induce vasoconstriction.

This is no different than sprained ankle. When your body is pushed to the limit with resistance training, small microtears occur in the fibers of the muscles. When muscle fibers are torn, their content spills out into the surrounding extracellular matrix. This is turn creates an immunological response resulting in local swelling. The swelling or inflammation puts pressure on nerves resulting in pain associated with muscle soreness.

As such, many of the home remedies that work for sport injuries such as a sprained ankle will also work for excessive muscle soreness. An extreme case of this would be someone taking antihistamines prior to an intense workout to combat muscle excessive soreness. This is a rarity but I actually had a client that claimed he was allergic to exercise in that if he trained too intensely his immune system responded aggressively to muscle damage.

Another example is to use ibuprofen instead of acetaminophen because the former is an anti-inflammatory whereas the later only masks pain.

Now this that said, if you are experiencing this type of muscle soreness there is probably something wrong. Either you have been sedentary for far too long or are using some type of crazy Heavy Duty training and doing forced reps by having a large bodybuilder jump onto the barbell. However, there are 6 billion people on the planet for exceptions to exist.

I was once challenged by a gym manager to do 100 reps in the biceps curl with an empty Olympic barbell. I wanted to show off to this guy so I ended up doing 150 reps. I sure showed him – the next day I couldn’t straighten my arms and they remained this way for 5 days.

Okay, so the joke was on me. I took plenty of ibuprofen and sat on the couch while watching TV and alternated which biceps I placed the ice pack on.

In short, muscle soreness is swelling that occurs as a result of tearing inside the muscle fibers. Muscle soreness is analogous to other sport injuries and typical immunological responses and can be treated similarly.

What is Lactic Acid?

I remember a personal trainer at a gym arguing with me one time about a misconception they had about lactic acid.  They believed that lactic acid causes muscles soreness and that stretching the next day helps rid the muscles of lactic acid. This personal trainer was so confident in what they knew, they proceeded to argue this myth as truth.

Misconceptions like this are what lead to incorrect and even observed program design. Even though his trainer would not heed my advice I still believe it is fundamentally important to know what lactic acid is, especially if you are into muscle building.

Lactic acid is the product of anaerobic respiration or glycolysis which in Latin literally means to cleave sugar. The sugars we consume are six carbon molecules. In order to extract energy from these sugar molecules they are split into two three carbon molecules of lactic acid.

As the muscles continue to expend energy, lactic acid is continuously produced until the PH in the muscles lowers to the extent that the actin and myosin protein filaments of the muscle fibers denature and can no longer function until the PH is normalized.

The only way to rid the muscles of high concentrations of lactic acid is by allowing the circulatory system to carry it away. Obviously the better circulation you have the quicker this process is. As a result, certain types of training that pumps or flushes the muscles with large amounts of blood can cause an increase in muscle size simply due to muscle tissue vasculation.

This becomes apparent in training programs of powerlifters compared to bodybuilders. Powerlifers are concerned with strength and therefore have no need to high repetition training, supersets, giant sets, etc. Whereas bodybuilders want to maximize the amount of muscle size they have and take advantage of both types of training. Lower reps will build bigger muscles cells while higher reps will vasculate the tissue.

It is also important to know that lactic acid is not entirely a waste product. Lactic acid is is carried away from the muscles into the blood stream and when it reaches the liver it is converted back into sugar through a biological process known as the Cori Cycle.

Lactic acid doesn’t cause muscle soreness. Regardless of how much lactic acid is produced the body will always shut down before it can damage itself. The burning sensation in your muscles is a natural mechanism that stops you from continuing to produce more lactic acid. As a result the denaturing that occurs in the proteins of the muscle in completely reversible.

But rather, muscle soreness is caused from microtears in the muscles fibers themselves causing extracellular leakage that generates an immunological reaction that results in swelling. Muscle soreness is literally muscle damage.

So stretching has nothing to do with lactic acid removal. This trainer lacked a basic knowledge of human physiology and as a result it lead to observed program design advising clients to stretch when they are sore.

Gaining Your First 20 lbs of Muscle

There is one full proof strategy for a beginners to gain 20 lbs of muscle in their first year. That strategy is to train hard, eat well, and get plenty of sleep.

However, very few people have the patience and discipline to do this. They will read some dumb article or fake advertisement and place their faith in false promises of unrealistic gains instead of placing their faith in hard work.

People fail to understand how much of a difference 20 lbs of muscle really makes. For example, if you were to gain 20 lbs of muscle you would first of all notice you would measure about 2 inches bigger on your upper arms and perhaps add about 4 inches to your quads depending on your height. You could also exect to add about 100 lbs to your raw bench press and 200 lbs to your squat and deadlift.

Gaining 20 lbs of muscle makes a huge difference yet is a very realistic goal that can be accomplished within the first year of training as a natty.

So don’t fall for gimmicks that promise unrealistic results. Train hard, eat well, get plenty of sleep, and remember that gaining your first 20 lbs of muscle is a realistic goal in your first year of training as a natty and it will make a big difference in your physique and the amount you can lift.

Too Many Warm-up Sets Make You Weak

It is very important to warm-up at the beginning of a workout for various reasons. It allows a chance for you to mentally prepare yourself for the upcoming endeavor, stimulates synovial fluid secretion in the joints, and makes muscles, ligaments, and tendons more pliable.

On the opposite end of the spectrum if you warm-up too much you can fatigue your muscles unawares and not have the energy you should of had when you attempt your top heavy set or tried setting a new PR.

My recommendation is to do one really light weight to help warm-up the joints. And then a second warm-up that is no more than 50% of your top weight and don’t use high reps.

I am finding in time that the Bulgarian or Heavy Duty training done by Mike Mentzer is more fitting. The objective with this type of training is to do as few warm-up sets as possible to ensure you are properly warmed up while conserving all energy for maximal exertion on the top set.

A warm-up is not just a warm-up. It can make the difference between having a successful workout or not. It has to have a strategy or a purpose. A perfect example of this is The Burgener Warm-up done with an empty Olympic bar that teaches Weightlifting technique progression.

So the next time you warm-up think about making it a productive part of the workout. And keep in mind that the objective is to warm-up -not fatigue the muscles prematurely.

Is it Possible to Expand Your Ribcage?

A debate still exists whether it is possible to expand your rib cage as an adult. I am not sure why this debate even exists today as the principles governing our physiology have become common knowledge.

Before I start to explain how it is possible I first need to express why there is an interest in such a thing. Most people want big arms and a big chest not a large rib cage. Having a large rib cage is important in bodybuilding for various poses such as the side chest pose. There needs to be a solid foundation for inches of serrated pectoral muscle to rest on, as well as fully developed serratus anterior.

The second reason is the bench press. The bigger rib cage you have the less distance the bar has to travel to reach your chest. If you have experience with the floor press you will know that some people come close to touching their chest in this exercise. Also, If you have ever bulked up 30 or 40 lbs you would have also noticed the distance between the barbell and the chest in the floor press.

These two reasons are enough to understand why there is a whole world of expertise on this subject. A one inch difference in the bench press could add 50 lbs to someone’s max bench press.

As you build the muscles of the chest everything grows in tandem with it including the pectoralis major and minor, intercostal muscles, and serratus anterior. And with it so does the rib cage.

If you re one of those people that don’t think ribs can get larger here is a thought for you to meditate on. If I were to train my legs and increase my upper legs from 23″ to 33″ do you not think the femur would have increased in diameter especially considering your squat must have increased from 300 to 900 lbs. Of course your femur would have increased in diameter, as well as the ligaments, tendons, and all connective tissue around each joint.

As the muscles of the chest and back become larger the rib cage expands. This happens regardless of the exercises chosen just as long as the end result is muscular hypertrophy. However, it is no secret that some exercises are more specific for the purpose of rib cage expansion, such as the pullover.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has been quoted as saying, “You will not believe the ache in the sternum that this movement will produce!” He attributed the pullover as responsible for his large rib cage. At the end of his chest/back super-set routine he would always finish with multiple sets of pullovers in which he would lie cross-ways over a bench allowing his hips to drop as he took a deep breath and lower the weight stretching the intercostal muscles as much as possible.

If the greatest champion bodybuilder of all time claims to have used this method to expand his rib cage why does a debate over the possibility of rib cage expansion exist? Take the advice of someone who has developed a 58″ chest and ignore the naysayers.