Category Archives: Training Advice

Build a Chest Like a Fortress

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If you want a chest that looks like that of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Franco Columbu you need to abide by the same training philosophies they did. Their chest workouts consisted of multiple sets of presses following by a stretching exercise for the chest such as dumbbell flyes. Although this may sound basic it happens to be the most widely used style of chest training in the sport of Bodybuilding and Powerlifting.

Franco Columbu contributed 95% of his chest developments to chest presses done at varying angels in the incline, flat, and decline barbell and dumbbell presses. He claimed all the other auxiliary exercises contributed to the other 5%.

A chest workout consisting of 95% presses is ideal for Powerlifters. The only difference is that a Powerlifter would specialize, obviously, in the flat barbell bench presses and consider other conjugate exercise such as the floor press or pin press an addition to less frequently performed incline and decline presses.

The priority of all chest workouts is that presses are to be performed first unless using some other advanced training principle such as muscle confusion where exercises often are performed in reverse order within a workout.

Presses are always done first as they are the meat and potatoes of your program. You need to have full energy and be able to exert maximal impact squeezing out every last inch potentially with the help of a spotter.

After you have finished traumatizing the chest with presses and the muscles are tight, it is time to stretch them out. The other remaining 5% of your chest workout should not be overlooked. 5% can be the difference between champions and those who tried their best.

It is important to remember that these exercises are not intended to build size and strength. If you were going to try doing the splits would you use a 180lbs dumbbell? The same principle applies to other stretching exercise for the chest such as the dumbbell flye, cable crossover, and lying dumbbell pullover across a bench. These exercises are used to stretch the chest and lengthen the muscles. Longer muscles beds equal bigger muscles.

The ideal chest workout is a process of trial and error and is a bit different for everyone depending on your goals, strengths and weaknesses. However, keeping in mind that 95% of chest development can be acquired through pressing exercises, this should be reflected in your workout.

Remember to start with heavy barbell presses (incline, flat, decline) before moving to dumbbell presses and once the muscles are completely fatigued worrying about other auxiliary exercises for the chest. Don’t be one of the morons who tears their pecs trying to do heavy dumbbells flyes. Instead, use that energy to do several extra sets of presses.

Get a Grip on Your Back Training

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I have been training back with straps for awhile and decided it is time to do some grip training. With straps I was able to build a bigger back and increased the amount I can lift in every back movement. For example, if you can handle 275 lbs in the barbell cheat row for several reps you should be able to handle around 425 lbs for the same amount of reps with straps.

This gap in strength isn’t a result of weak forearms or lack of grip strength but is rather the product of a strength increase made from pulling heavier weights that normally couldn’t be lifted without the aid of straps. This fortunately caused all my pulling muscles (back, lats, traps, and biceps) to grow extensively while my forearms didn’t get trained.

Many powerlifters use this approach to develop their grip strength by working with straps until they reach a target weight; then they focus on building the grip to match what they can lift with straps. Building grip strength can be accomplished in a relatively short time frame whereas the target weight they are trying to lift can take years to accomplish; for example, the target weight in the deadlift.

Many powerlifters only deadlift heavy once a week in order to prevent burning out the central nervous system. Forearms are a small muscle group and can be trained frequently for an extended period of time without consequence. A powerlifter can bring up his grip strength in a matter of 6 months whereas building a substantially heavy deadlift can take years of dedicated training.

There are many ways to build grip strength; however, if your focus is a heavy deadlift or a big back then it makes more sense to take advantage of movements you already perform such as deadlifts, rack pulls, shrugs, and barbell rows.

For deadlifts and rack pulls, isometric lockouts can be done using a double overhand grip. When doing this activity remember the principles of specificity. If you are building your grip to match your 1 rep max deadlift with straps then there is no point performing isometric lockouts for extended durations. A heavier weight held for 12 seconds is more effective in developing the grip for his specific goal than using less weight and holding for 30 to 60 seconds.

Another method to build the grip is to use a double overhand grip without straps for barbell rows and shrugs if you have already trained with straps for an extended period of time. Try starting with about half the weight you normally can use with straps in these exercises gradually increasing the weight over an extended period of time.

Training the grip using these methods is more effective than using other auxiliary exercises that have little or nothing to do with your specific goal.

Get strong with straps first as grip is usually the weak link. Once your target goal in the deadlift, shrug, or barbell row has been met then lose the straps and use the strength you have acquired in these lifts to get a grip on your back training.

Champion Genetics

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Gregor Mendel’s genetic theories are completely misunderstood by today’s scholars and muscle builders. Some bodybuilder’s actually beleive in the theory of evolution to the extent that they are blinded.

Mendel proposed a theory called pangenesis in which certain genetic traits  such as height, hair color, number of muscle cells, freckels, and etc were enherited as a product of environmental factors.

The theory of pangenesis holds that hereditary “particles” in our bodies are affected by the things we do during our lifetime.  These modified particles subsequently inherited by the next generation.

Pangenesis was also hypothesised by ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates who is referred to as the “Father of Modern Medicine” and is credited with coining the original Hippocratic Oath.

Hippocrates believed that disease was the product of environmental factors such as diet and exercise and often used lifestyle modifications to treat diseases.

So in other words, if you eat right and exercise you will be healthy. There is no way around it. These external factors contribute more to your phenotype then having the genetics.

If someone is living a healthy lifestyle and their environment is conducive to building muscle certain genes are triggered that cause the physiological changes that are necessary to adapt. 

Many experts attest that through hard work and training you can change from an ectomorph or endomorph to a mesomorph.

However, some inaccurately teach that if you are an ectomorph or endomorph you will always be an ectomorph or mesomorph. It is locked into your DNA and often site steroids using bodybuilders as the perfect mesomorph.

As results many beginners fall for these false theories that place limitations on an individual’s willpower.

I am tired of hearing steroid using bodybuilders claim they have champion genetics. This is far from the truth. Steroids override any genetic factor. If you give steroids to a mouse it will get big and muscular.

“Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food” – Hippocrates

Deadlift Training – Frequency and Intensity

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Deadlifts can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. They are a gut wrenching exercise and the ultimate test of strength.

The deadlift is popular because it is one of the most effective exercises – perhaps even better than the squat – and, of course, is one of the big three in Powerlifting.

However, deadlifts can leave you feeling like you are dead if done too frequently or intensely. The deadlift places much greater stress on the central nervous system compared to other back exercises such as the barbell row and power clean.

I didn’t really consider this phenomenon until I started recording some of my workouts to assess my technique. I noticed that the average deadlift can take more than several seconds to perform, while other movements take only perhaps a second to perform and most had a shorter range of motion. The Olympic lifts, the exception, are both a longer range of motion and also performed exceedingly fast.

There is definitely a power output difference that can be calculated for each exercise but it is already evident that deadlifts performed too intensely and frequently will fry out the nervous system compared to other exercises.

The only exception to this rule would be new lifters who still haven’t fully adapted neurologically to the movement. Beginners are potentially the only group that can get away from deadlifting as frequent as 2 or 3 times a week. Even squatting everyday wouldn’t fry your nervous system as bad as deadlifting 3 times a week.

The only other exception would be a specialty program designed to increase the deadlift which would require doing less volume for virtually every other body part.

Now using this theory we can assume high frequency training using short range and fast movements would be as effective as a conjugate to increase deadlift strength. The only variable that would have to be further isolated would be the power output of the said exercise.

Some obvious exercises would be shrugs, barbell cheat rows, power cleans, dumbbell rows, seated cable rows, and lat pull downs.

Some evidence supporting this would be the fact that many bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger could deadlift over 710 lbs raw and Ronnie Coleman could do doubles with over 800 lbs using a squat suit. These well-known bodybuilders didn’t specialize in deadlift training and in fact were more concerned with the lats.

In bodybuilding if you don’t have lats then just shut up about your lower back and deadlift. Wide lats are the big show piece muscle when it comes to back in bodybuilding. So these bodybuilders for sure didn’t become Mr. Olympia by specializing in the deadlift or they for sure would have some of the greatest deadlift records in the sport of Powerlifting.

So if you are having nightmares about your next back workout consider what your goal is. If you want a big back and are more interested in bodybuilding then you should train like a bodybuilder and use the deadlift an assessment tool rather than an exercise.

On the other hand, if you are more worried about your max deadlift then there is no way around the principle of specificity. You have to deadlift and learn to love it. There is no way around it.

Why Keep Training?

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I entered a powerlifting tournament not too long ago and came in last place in my weight class. One of the lifters had his pro card and another pulled a 600 lbs deadlift in my weight class.

This is absolutely retarded. They lift almost as much as Arnold Schwarzenegger back in his prime and he admitted to steroid use because it was legal then. Arnold was 250 lbs in competition and this young Powerlifter was only 180 lbs.

I am of course a natty for life and didn’t feel that I really fit in. I lift completely raw and won’t use a belt or knee wraps either.

Belts and knee wraps add weight to your lift. You often see on YouTube and in fitness magazines powerliters squatting monolithic weights of over 1,000 lbs. Take away their belts, wraps, and suits and this equipped squat translates into a raw 750 lbs Paul Anderson style of squat.

Why keep training?

In time a natty will surpass a bunch of pathetic weaklings who need to take steroids and need equipment to lift.

If you believe you are destined for greatness then choose the path less travelled. Take a look at my workout routine. It has made me the strongest natty I know and it can do the same for you.

Vision – Arnold Schwarzenegger

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“I saw myself very clearly, and I was so convinced that if I started training up to five hours a day like a fanatic, believing, that one day I will get there. When people saw me working out five hours a day, smiling, having a great time they all thought this guy must be crazy but I couldn’t wait to lift another 500 pounds, I couldn’t wait to do another 100 chin ups, I couldn’t wait to do another 1,000 sit ups because every day, every step of the way, every weight I lifted was taking me one step closer to turning this vision into a reality.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Benefits of Cheating Exercises

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Apparently in our modern society it is ok to cheat with anabolic steroids but not ok to cheat on your exercise technique. I have been reprimanded in the gym numerous times by “exercise technique specialists” saying that I cheat too much.

Why do they give me grief about cheating?

It usually is because they are lazy and are afraid to work hard themselves. They go to the gym to look good and as a result they lift light weights that wouldn’t challenge my grandma.

Now that I am done my little rant let’s talk exercise science. Everyone knows that a compound movement is far superior to an isolation exercise if you want to gain size and strength.

Changing an isolation exercise into a cheating exercise can’t always be done by cheating with body momentum but it is a highly effective technique when employed properly.

For example let’s compare the strict biceps curl and the barbell cheat curl. A strict biceps curl is perhaps the ultimate measure of upper arm strength. There are powerlifters that have set countless records in the strict curl and have devoted several years of their lives training for this particular event.

The strict curl, although it is an excellent measure of strength, is seldom used to build the strength. If you want to get big you need to lift big. Turning the strict curl into a cheating exercise allows the use of supramaximal weights that overload the muscles instantaneously.

You can still definitely develop your biceps with the strict curl but don’t ever expect to lift monolithic weights without cheating. And without lifting huge bone crushing weights don’t expect to get big.

Take my advice as a natty and don’t be afraid to lift heavy weights by cheating. If you consistently force yourself to lift heavy you will get big.

Redefining Natural

What is a Natty?

There are a lot of athletes out there that claim to be natural and drug free. And they very well might be. However, there is a clear distinction between a real natty and athlete that is natural or drug free.

A natty is a natty for life. This means they have never used performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Muscles have memory. If you have stretched the boundaries of human performance your muscles can regain that strength back at an incredibly fast rate years after those results have been lost.

Natural bodybuilders are not natural. It only means the federation they belong to is subjected to random drug testing and most performance enhancing drugs can be out of your system with a quick 3 month detox.

Almost all natural bodybuilders use PEDs to build mass during the off season and remain natural only while they compete. As a result the word natty was coined by fitness fanatics to redefine what natural really means.

If you have used PEDs in the past please don’t call yourself a natty. You might currently be natural and drug free but you can never be a natty.

There is only one way to be a natty. Natty for life!

How Much Muscle Can You Build Naturally?

Unfortunately, this is not an easy question to answer. There are too many variables involved and achieving optimal gains consistently is almost impossible. However, models developed by top coaches such as Alan Aragon and Lyle McDonald provide general guidelines that can be used to answer this question.

Alan Aragon’s Answer

CATEGORY RATE OF MUSCLE GROWTH
Beginner (year 1) 1-1.5% of total body weight per month
Intermediate (year 2) .5-1% of total body weight per month
Advanced (year 3+) .25-.5% of total body weight per month

Lyle McDonald’s Answer

YEARS OF PROPER TRAINING

POTENTIAL MUSCLE GAINS

year 1

20-25 pounds

year 2

10-12 pounds

year 3

5-6 pounds

year 4+

2-3 pounds

(As a note, these numbers apply to men – women should expect about half the results.)

References:

www.muscleforlife.com/how-much-muscle-can-you-build-naturally