Where Strength and Size are the only goals

Posts tagged “mass building

Reasons You’re Not Building Muscle #7

You don’t keep a training log.

Training LogKeeping a detailed log of your progress is one of the most important things you can do to make sure you are constantly progressing and acheiving optimal results from your training. Without this, your training is just guesswork. If you keep a log you can look back and set yourself a goal/PR to beat every session, or look back and make adjustments/changes when you hit a plateau. On top of this, how will you know you’ve improved over time? Wouldn’t you like to be able to look back and say ‘I’ve added 20kg to my Bench Press in the last 6 months!’ or ‘My 1 mile run time has dropped by over 30 seconds in the last 8 weeks’?

To build muscle you should always be striving to beat PR’s (personal records) in your training. Without your training log you will be hard pressed to remember all of your PR’s so you won’t know if your progressing or just spinning wheels, and without it, everything you do is just like driving without a map and your progress will be much slower than it could be.

This basic rule should form the basis of your entire workout plan, especially if strength is your goal. To structure your training approach, this is the most important factor. Nowadays everyone is so obsessed with all of the specific principles in the gym (such as rep ranges, grip variations, speed of reps, how many sets to perform, whioch days to train, exercise selection .. the list goes on ..) they fail to see the big picture.

Whatever your goal is, the underlying principle will always be progression.

Our bodies build muscle as an adaptive response to the environment they are exposed to. When you go to the gym, you break down your muscle fibers by lifting weights. Your body senses this as a potential threat to its survival and will react by rebuilding the damaged fibers larger and stronger in order to better enable them to cope with the threat next time. So in order to make continual gains in muscle size and strength, you must focus on progressing workout to workout in order to consistently increase that stress level and so growth.

Progression is in one of two forms – An increase in weight or an increase in reps. As long as you increase one of these every session you will give your body the incentive to grow stronger. If you ignore this and train without a logbook or a planned out session you will be ignoring the principle of growth and your gains will come to a grinding halt.

Your aim is to improve on a session by session basis, how can you do this without documenting it somehow? You need to record the lift, weight used and reps acheived so that the next time you enter the gym you can sit down, review the previous session/lifts performed and aim to smash the weight or reps you’ve recorded previously. Buy yourself a cheap diary and start writing it down!


Farmers Walks – Build your forearms & traps and strengthen your core – all whilst doing your ‘cardio’

Anyone who has performed a Farmer’s Walk with a significant weight will agree, they are killers! Although they look straightforward, they work your whole body, leave you gassed, and have been referred to as the ‘moving plank’ by spine specialists – Definitely a recommended ‘core’ exercise as far as I’m concerned. As a ‘Hench’ conditioning exercise, what can beat walking around carrying big-ass weights?

The normal Farmer’s Walk can be performed with just about anything you can pick up, from dumbbells and kettlebells to sandbags and olympic plates (loose plates – savage on the grip!). Simply assume a deadlift position over your objects, pick them up and walk a pre-determined distance for a few sets. As a guide, try to use bodyweight in total, or to be truly Hench, work up to bodyweight in each hand! Aim to walk 30-35 metres around 4-6 times.

The single handed Farmer’s Walk is the king of core strengthening! It will absolutely trash your grip, obliques, traps, lats and just about everything else! Set-up is the same, but with just one weight, swap it after each length (30-35 metres). Again work towards being able to hold bodyweight in one hand for Henchness!

Most importantly – Focus on posture throughout the entire exercise. Keep your shoulders back and down, head up not forward, arms by your sides and abs braced throughout – If you’re walking like a Neanderthal you’re not doing yourself any good! Throw these on the end of your workouts as a finisher, done correctly you won’t be able to hold a weight afterwards!

Start with the two handed variety and move on to the one handed for a real challenge! For a true strongman type Farmers Walk, either use purpose made handles or olympic barbells, the added instability will only increase the benefits of the exercise!


The Real Secret to Bigger Arms

It’s no big surprise that we all want bigger arms. you ask a hundred guys who train and I can pretty much guarantee 90% of them want bigger guns. However, most people go about it completely the wrong way with endless sets of curls or worse still a whole session in the gym dedicated to arm training. The old saying add 20lbs of muscle to the whole body to add 1 inch on the arms is very true! The best way to increase your arms (drug free) is to get strong on the big compound lifts – Squat/Bench/Deadlift/Press/Rows/Chins etc.

Compound lifts like the squat create an environment inside of your body that encourages muscle growth, they release massive amounts of testosterone and HGH which in turn help to build muscle. Working a small muscle group like the arms on their own just will not produce the same effect. Think about it .. If you are capable of benching over bodyweight for reps your triceps are not going to be small, If you can perform weighted chins for reps your biceps are not going to be small, you see where I’m going with this? Forget the routines advocated by guys pumped full of goodness-knows-what, unless some form of drugs are involved, it is impossible to build big arms with skinny legs! You need to work the body as a whole.

Not only do the big movements use your arms anyway, a weak upper/lower body can’t support the weight when you do want to work on your arms. You will end up rocking around and leaning into the movement negating any effect it may have. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do any curls, but first you want to address your strength on the main lifts – What works your biceps more? a concentration curl with 12kg or a bent-over-row with 100kg? Or full range chin-ups? How about triceps – an overhead extension with 25kg or a bench press of 100kg?

The arms assist just about every movement of the body so dedicating a whole session to them is madness, they get worked every time you go to the gym, as almost all lifts require you to hold the weight. Adding extra lifts to the arms alone is a potential route to overtraining them which again is not going to help with size! And, as previously stated, not enough muscle is being utilised in these sessions to promote the release of the necessary hormones for growth.

Now some of you may be thinking, “but the longhead of the tricep doesn’t get worked with a bench press”, and “the peak of the bicep only gets hit with cable curls” .. Well I’ll go back to what I said previously, I’m not saying you can’t do any isolation work, just remember it is the icing on the cake. Alongside a balanced program of heavy compound upper and lower body work, a couple of sets of isolation here and there can help add size to your arms, but keep your focus on the main lifts, these are where the real growth is going to come from. Again, I refer back to a previous post on chins/dips – Look at a gymnasts arms, usually big and powerful but they don’t do curls! They have a steady diet of compound upper body work – Chin-ups and dips.


Supplements, are they worth it? .. The rest day ranting continues!

‘What supplements should I take?’ is a common question in gyms worldwide, our dependence on them is shocking! How many people do you know taking supplements? what percentage of gym goers would you say is hitting them regularly? I don’t know either, but I know it’s a lot. Why is this..? Clever marketing!

The definition of a supplement is: Something that completes or enhances something else when added to it.

Supplements are just that, they are supposed to go with good training and nutrition, not replace them. Too many people (young guys especially) put supplements first and training second. They are never going to succeed with that attitude. No supplement takes the place of hard work in the gym and good nutrition, not one. 

If there really was a good supplement that worked really well on the market, don’t you think we’d all know about it? And don’t you think the top-level bodybuilder’s would be using it instead of pumping full of dangerous and illegal steroids?

Again, to supplement means ‘in addition to’, but that’s just the point, most people think they can stack a load of horrendously overpriced supplements and they’ll pack on muscle. Unfortunately they forget that food is the number one most anabolic substance out there, and hard work in the gym second. Get those two absolutely spot on first, then ask yourself – Are you getting enough rest and hydration? – Then and only then could you start to think about supplements, and if you are, do some proper research! don’t follow what some forum guy advises or because some top-level pro advertises it. They didn’t get that way from the supplement, I can guarantee it!

Do I supplement? Yes, I do. However, I like to think I have the above points covered, and I also know that  they are just a tool to aid my progress and may get me there a little quicker. The training I do is and always should be the number one priority. I only take a few time proven supplements that have been used for many years by all levels – currently protein and creatine. That’s it! – All the other ones are unnecessary if you stick to a balanced healthy diet, which also means you’re not taking unknown quantities of whatever might be included, even if the dosage is high enough to warrant taking it. (do you really know what half of the ingredients even are, never mind what the long-term effects might be?) Half of the supplements out there have such a low amount of the active ingredient you may as well not bother. The rest of the hype is marketing and advertising. Don’t fall for it!

Do you think supplements got this guy in this shape? I very much doubt it!!

In summary, get your training right, eat properly, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep and rest adequately between workouts. If you’re doing all this, then you could consider taking supplements, but don’t expect miracles!


Why aren’t you doing these? Another rest day rant!

In a world gone mad for the latest greatest machine or new fangled exercise that every newly qualified Personal Trainer ‘thinks’ they’ve invented, we are sadly overlooking what has always worked. For great upper body strength and development look no further than the chin up and the dip and they’re weighted progressions. If you’re not sure look at a professional gymnast – I think you’ll agree that they’re pretty Hench! And do you think they do curls/pushdowns or use machines? Nope, the overwhelming majority of their training is dominated by chins and dips in some variation.

We all know by now that the squat is the king of the lower body exercises, and if you don’t you badly need to read up! I’m not going to rant about that right now, there is more than enough that’s been said on that front. Well, the chin-up and dip are most definitely in the running for the upper body crown. The most frustrating thing is that most commercial gyms don’t even have a chin-up bar and less still have a dipping station, preferring instead the grossly overpriced suspension bands or some variant, where all manner of interesting movements can be done and so make them more ‘functional’ … man, am I getting sick of hearing that word! Guess what? Gymnastic rings were first used in the mid 1800’s, and have been used in gymnastics since the early 1900’s. They are still used today in virtually the same form (rings at the end of a rope). So what exactly is so revolutionary about suspension bands? Oh wait, they have a different attachment point so they can be used at different angles and are unstable so require more ‘core’ stability when performing standard exercises like rows and bicep curls on them .. oh dear! Check out that person doing the exercises and tell me their core is stable – they’re usually not strong enough for it anyway and are wriggling around and swinging their hips with dreadful posture whilst doing the exercises, thus negating any ‘stability’ in the first place!

Anyway, back to chin ups and dips, how many have seen the guy doing gut wrenching, back swinging lat pulldowns with the whole stack? He probably can’t even do strict chins for the same amount of reps. The same goes for the guy who can smash out 10 reps at 100kg on the bench press, can he do 10 strict dips? Probably not. Not to mention the stability involved in the shoulder joint, and the subsequent strengthening of the rotator cuff.

Some of the best physiques in bodybuilding were built back in the day with a staple diet of chins and dips, I’ve already mentioned gymnasts but again, check out the upper body development of Kristian Thomas as an example.

Basically, the reason most avoid these is that they’re too damn hard! especially the weighted versions. But since when has the easiest version of something given the greatest gains? It’s about time you went back to basics put these two great exercises back into your routine. If you need further clarification see what Charles Poliquin has to say about them here: weighted chins, weighted dips. That’s it, rant over 😉


Wrist position when pressing

I’ve been looking into this a lot lately and it seems, as usual, there are many different opinions! Some advocate a ‘rack’ type position, where the bar is sat back in the hands towards the fingers and touches the collarbone/upper chest at the bottom of the movement. Others a more extreme ‘knuckles in line with forearm’ wrist position and some, as I do, feel it has to be somewhere in the middle.

When pressing (either overhead or bench) it is imperative that you can utilize as much of your strength as possible. If the wrists are rolled back, i.e bar back toward base of fingers, the wrists will flex and absorb some of the force. They will also create instability – akin to squatting in trainers (rubber soles). Aside from the pain you’ll feel when your using heavier weights, this instability should be enough to put you off, you don’t want to drop the bar on yourself! If you hold the bar with knuckles in line with forearm, then you are supporting the weight with your thumbs only – good luck with this with heavier weights!

However, when the bar is directly over the bones of the forearm (as in the right hand image), you can apply 100% of your effort directly to the bar. This can take some getting used to, especially if you’ve been letting the wrists roll back slightly (left image), however it is definitely worth doing. You will feel the difference immediately, especially on the bench, where you will get more pectoral activation and less deltoid. You may find you will need to lower your weights until you grow accustomed to the new grip, but your strength will come back and with improved technique comes greater muscle recruitment and thus more growth.

On a side note: don’t get confused by the term straight wrists, the weight of the bar should be on the heel of your palm so that you can squeeze it as hard as you can during the press. Give it a try next workout and let me know what you think?


Are your calves Hench enough?

According to bodybuilding standards, the calves should be the same width as the arms. Are yours? Do you give them the same amount of training? probably not! As they tend to remain hidden most of the time it is easy to forget them, but who remembers when Arnold steps out of the car in the movie ‘Twins’? .. Before you’d seen any more you knew this guy was going to be Hench! Having powerful looking calves makes a statement, whereas nothing looks less Hench than skinny little ankles and calves poking out of shorts!

The calves are notoriously hard to develop, most people hit them with a ton of volume to little or no avail. Yet again, it seems little to no results don’t seem to count for anything and people keep on plugging away .. Well, I can certainly advocate the Doggcrapp method, I’ve used it myself and it works. If you want to bring your calves up to standard try these out once to twice a week at the end of a session.

Single set of calf raises 12-15 reps (on a leg press, standing smith machine calf raise or any variation that gives a full stretch at the bottom. Aim for a 10-20 second negative (lowering) and a 10-20 second hold in the full stretched bottom position, then explode as quickly as possible back to the top. Be prepared to have your pain threshold tested!!


Why I love Doggcrapp .. !

Well at least that’s his internet nickname! It is also known as DC Training to most –  Dante Trudel has trained many bodybuilders and has a distinct knack for getting people into the 300lb category. His methods are extreme and sometimes controversial, but they work! Now I’m not saying I want to be 300lb, or a bodybuilder, but his basic principles can be applied to anyone – genetic potential and steroids aside, if you want to be the biggest you can naturally be, his methodology still stands. Here are just two of his excerpts:

“Training is all about adaptation. In simple terms you lift a weight and your muscle has one of 2 choices, either tear completely under the load (which is incredibly rare and what we don’t want) or the muscle lifts the weight and protects itself by remodeling and getting bigger to protect itself against the load (next time). If the weight gets heavier, the muscle has to again remodel and get bigger again to handle it. You can superset, superslow, giant set, pre exhaust all day long but the infinite adaption is load—meaning heavier and heavier weights is the only infinite thing you can do in your training. Intensity is finite. Volume is finite (or infinite if you want to do 9000 sets per bodypart)…everything else is finite. The Load is infinite and heavier and heavier weights used (I DON’T GIVE A CRAP WHAT SOME BUCK 58 POUND WRITER FROM FLEX MAGAZINE SAYS) will make the biggest bodybuilder (add high protein, glutamine and drugs to the mix and you have one large person).”

“No matter what the method someone uses to gain super strength gains-it’s imperative they do so. Again if you put someone out on a deserted island with 135LBS of weights he can superset, giant set, high rep, superslow etc etc squats, deadlifts and benches to his hearts delight…the sad story is his gains will quickly come to a halt because his limiting factor is the amount of strength he will gain. He has 135LBS to work with. You take that same guy on a deserted island and give him squats deadlifts, and benches and an unlimited weight supply that he constantly pushes, in 5 years I’ll show you a big Gilligan” – Dante Trudel

Notice I haven’t mentioned his actual programming, (I’ve tried it myself and it’s savage) I just wanted to illustrate the idea that it doesn’t matter what the programming is, it’s the progression that counts. If you want to be stronger, you need to need to add weight/reps every workout and give your body a reason to be! Whether you want to be a powerlifter, a bodybuilder or just a beast, the general principle remains. Get stronger to get bigger!