Where to start? Well, not long after last post I contracted a kidney stone & infection, needless to say, very painful and it knocked my training for 6. I pretty much couldn’t do anything for a month and had to pull out of the BPO British Championships in April as I wouldn’t be ready in time. These were qualifiers for the upcoming Europeans so needless to say I was a little gutted!
Thankfully, the president of the BPO has invited me to the Euro’s anyway as I have a ‘justifiable reason’ for not competing at the British, so wasn’t disappointed for too long J
Since then it has been a bit of a slog trying to get back up to previous strength levels. I’ve deliberately gained a little weight alongside training to help my lifts but unfortunately this mean I’m closer to 90kg than the 82.5kg I need to be at the meet and needing to cut 7+kg over the next 5 weeks.
Not an impossible task, but I will need to tighten up my diet and possibly water load again despite being advised against it by my GP. I know the risks and will put more into making sure I’m fully rehydrated for the comp – after this meet I won’t be competing till next year so will spend the rest of the year focusing on health and joint rehab/mobilisation, and possibly even move up a weight class next year to stop having to cut weight each time.
Training through April was just trying to get back to weights I’ve lifted this year and happily I’ve managed to do so, Deadlift back up to 190kg x3, Bench 150kg x2 and Squat 210kg x2. Equipment is a little tighter due to weight gain so pretty sure that’s helping, but still happy to hit my old numbers 😉
May has gone well, I’ve hit 160kg on Bench, 205kg Deadlift and 227.5kg for squat on max week. My goal is still to hit a 250kg Squat, double bodyweight Bench 165kg and another 5-10kg on Deadlift to take me up to my failed attempt at the worlds last year of 215kg. Got to have goals right?
So now it’s June, 1 week to go to the Euro’s, weighed in over the weekend at 87.6kg so I need to drop 5 kg, I’m eating as clean as possible and have easily dropped 3-4 kilos previously by water loading so feeling confident I’ll make weight … Watch this space J
Here’s what you need to know…
• Using a thumbless grip on overhead pressing allows for a better path of the bar by bringing it in closer to the centerline of the body. It’s also easier on the shoulders and wrists.
• Start with a shoulder-width grip. As a visual cue, rotate your hands back towards your delts. If your thumb grazes the outside of them, you’ve got it right.
• Contract your glutes, abs, and quads when you press. The more tension you have throughout the body, the stronger you’ll be.
• Activate the biceps on the eccentric portion of the press. When you lower the bar, think about doing a sort of hammer curl towards your face/ears.
• Press with a purpose. That means press with violence and hate. Try to think about throwing it through the ceiling.
Lots of guys these days shit on any form of seated press, but I’m not sure why. The entire purpose of pressing overhead is simply to build bigger and stronger shoulders. Whether you’re seated or standing doesn’t really matter unless you’re a competitive strongman and … (read more here)
I’ve been toying with the idea of competing for a while but after getting ill in February it put a stop to any pipe dreams and up till now I’ve just been working back up to previous strength levels. However …
Had a great training session Saturday with the current World Champion and holder of several records Paul Murphy and the tank Aaron Hosking (who hit a massive 370kg squat – see vid). I squat up to 180kg with belt only, and then hit 190kg x2 and 200kg x1 with knee wraps – Paul was very encouraging and is convinced I have ‘a lot more in the tank’ and has offered to help coach me and to compete in September! What a result! I have decided to take him up on this and am now planning on entering that meet coming in just a few months.
A bit sore over Sunday and Monday so just enjoyed some time with the family over the bank holiday. This week I’ll be starting the shift in training over specifically to powerlifting, however my interests are still in strength and size so will continue to post as regularly as I can and get some more articles out there – click here to read previous articles.
An old article by Mark Rippetoe, but one of my favourites! It’s no secret I’m a bit of a Rippetoe fan, despite his very strong opinions I enjoy reading his articles due to his style of writing and humour.
“There is a lot of advice, information, and well understood knowledge regarding the field in which I practice—strength training and fitness—that is just silly bullshit. Plain old “SB” (to keep from baiting the censors too temptingly). And it comes from numerous sources: chief among them are medical professionals who think that they are also exercise professionals, muscle magazines published specifically for the purpose of perpetuating it, home exercise and weight loss advertisers, Internet fitness sites, the academic exercise people, and the mainstream media, who are the mindless pawns of the others.” Continue reading –>Silly BS – Mark Rippetoe
Some serious strength gains after a year of 5/3/1 – My friend Pete demonstrating how effective the system is by simply following it for 12 months. Great work mate!
A Year Of 531 <——- Click Here!
The following is an excerpt from ‘Starting Strength’ by Mark Rippetoe and Len Kilgore. It breaks down in detail, why the squat should always be performed to full depth (where injuries do not prevent it) and describes the stresses on or around the knee and hips.
The full squat is the preferred lower body exercise for safety as well as athletic strength. The squat, when performed correctly, is not only the safest leg exercise for the knees, it produces a more stable knee than any other leg exercise. The important part of the last statement is the “when performed correctly” qualifier. Correctly is deep, with hips dropping below level with the top of the patella. Correctly is full range of motion.
Any squat that is not deep is a partial squat, and partial squats stress the knee and the quadriceps without stressing the glutes, the adductors, and the hamstrings. The hamstrings, groin muscles, and glutes perform their function in the squat when the hips are stretched to the point of full flexion, where they get tight — the deep squat position.
The hamstring muscles, attached to the tibia and to the ischial tuberosity of the pelvis, and the adductors, attached between the medial femur and various points on the medial pelvis, reach a full stretch at the very bottom of the squat, where the pelvis tilts forward with the torso, stretching the ends of the muscles apart. At this stretched position they provide a slight rebound out of the bottom, which will look like a “bounce,” and which you will learn more about later. The tension of the stretch pulls the tibia backwards, the posterior direction, balancing the forward-pulling force produced by the quadriceps, which pull from the front. The hamstrings finish their work, with help from the adductors and glutes, by straightening out, or “extending,” the hip.
Muscular actions on the knee. The anterior force provided by the quadriceps is balanced by the posterior force provided by the hamstrings in the deep squat position. The depth is the key: partial (high) squats are predominately quadriceps/anterior and lack balance.
In a partial squat, which fails to provide a full stretch for the hamstrings, most of the force against the tibia is upward and forward, from the quadriceps and their attachment to the front of the tibia below the knee. This produces an anterior shear, a forward-directed sliding force, on the knee, with the tibia being pulled forward from the patellar tendon and without a balancing pull from the opposing hamstrings. This shearing force — and the resulting unbalanced strain on the prepatellar area — may be the biggest problem with partial squats. Many spectacular doses of tendonitis have been produced this way, with “squats” getting the blame.
The variation in squat depth often seen in the gym. A Quarter-squat, B Half-squat, C A position often confused with parallel, where the undersurface of the thigh is parallel to the ground. D A parallel squat according to the criteria established.
The hamstrings benefit from their involvement in the full squat by getting strong in direct proportion to their anatomically proper share of the work in the movement, as determined by the mechanics of the movement itself. This fact is often overlooked when considering anterior cruciate tears and their relationship to the conditioning program. The ACL stabilizes the knee: it prevents the tibia from sliding forward relative to the femur. As we have already seen, so does the hamstring group of muscles. Underdeveloped, weak hamstrings thus play a role in ACL injuries, and full squats work the hamstrings while partial squats do not. In the same way the hamstrings protect the knee during a full squat, hamstrings that are stronger due to full squats can protect the ACL during the activities that we are squatting to condition for. In fact, athletes who are missing an ACL can safely squat heavy weights, because the ACL is under no stress in a correctly performed full squat (fig below).
Another problem with partial squats is the fact that very heavy loads may be moved, due to the short range of motion and the greater mechanical efficiency of the quarter squat position. This predisposes the trainee to back injuries as a result of the extreme spinal loading that results from putting a weight on his back that is possibly in excess of three times the weight that can be safely handled in a correct deep squat. A lot of football coaches are fond of partial squats, since it allows them to claim that their 17 year-old linemen are all squatting 600 lbs. Your interest is in getting strong (at least it should be), not in playing meaningless games with numbers. If it’s too heavy to squat below parallel, it’s too heavy to have on your back.
Olympic weightlifters provide a perfect illustration of the safety and benefits of the full squat. As of the 2004 Olympics 167 of the 192 countries in the world compete in Olympic Weightlifting. More than 10,000 individuals compete annually in IWF (International Weightlifting Federation) events alone, and the number of participants in total from the 167 countries would be staggering, likely on the order of 2 to 5 million (China alone boasts over 1 million lifters). All over the world, weightlifters squat way below parallel safely, most often using some form of the exercise, either back squats or front squats, every day. That is correct: they squat way below parallel every training day, and most programs call for six days per week.
Isn’t it fascinating that they are both strong and not under the care of an orthopedic surgeon? There is simply no other exercise, and certainly no machine, that produces the level of central nervous system activity, improved balance and coordination, skeletal loading and bone density enhancement, muscular stimulation and growth, connective tissue stress and strength, psychological demand and toughness, and overall systemic conditioning than the correctly performed full squat. In the absence of an injury that prevents their being performed at all, everyone that lifts weights should learn to squat, correctly.
Forces on the knee in the squat. The hamstrings and adductors exert a posterior tension on the tibia, and the net effect of the anterior quadriceps tendon insertion is an anterior force against the tibial plateau. With sufficient depth, anterior and posterior forces on the knee are balanced. The anterior and posterior forces on the knee are balanced. The anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments stabilise anterior and posterior movement of the distal femur relative to the tibial plateau. In the correct squat, these ligaments have very little to do.
Article is an excerpt from the chapter ‘The Squat’ – Starting Strength 2nd Edition – Mark Rippetoe & Len Kilgore
Creatine monohydrate is a natural substance formed within the body from the amino acids methionine, glycine, and arginine. It’s stored as creatine phosphate (CP) or phosphocreatine. Creatine phosphate helps make a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP in turn provides the energy for muscle contractions.
The average person’s body contains around 120 grams of creatine. Aside from supplementation, foods such as beef and some types of fish, are fairly high in creatine, but a person would have consume huge amounts on a daily basis to equal what can be found in just one teaspoon of powdered creatine as a supplement.
What is it for?
During short maximal exertion bouts of exercise such as weight training or sprinting,
stored adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the dominant energy source. It is also the immediate source of energy for muscle contractions. Muscle fibers only contain enough ATP to power a few twitches, then additional ATP must be taken in from the bodys stores. Creatine monohydrate is converted into creatine phosphate in the body to keep the ATP pool filled.
What does this mean in the real world? An increased pool of CP means faster and greater recharging of ATP and, therefore, more work can be performed for a short duration.
The Research – (Excerpt from Will Brinks Bodybuilding Revealed)
To date, research has shown ingesting creatine can increase the total body pool of CP which leads to greater generation of force with anaerobic forms of exercise,
such as weight training, sprinting, etc. Early research with creatine showed it can increase lean body mass and improve performance in sports that require high intensity intermittent exercise such as sprinting, weight lifting, football, etc. Creatine has had spotty results in research that examined its effects on endurance oriented sports such as swimming, rowing and long distance running, with some studies showing no positive effects on performance with endurance athletes.
Whether or not the failure of creatine to improve performance with endurance athletes was due to the nature of the sport or the design of the studies is still being debated. But one thing is for sure; the research is stronger in high intensity sports of short duration.
Recent findings with creatine monohydrate have confirmed previous research showing it’s a safe and effective supplement. More recent research has focused on exactly how it works, and has looked deeper into its potential medical uses.
Several studies have shown it can reduce cholesterol by up to 15%, and
may be useful for treating wasting syndromes such as HIV. Creatine is also being looked at as a supplement that may help with diseases affecting the neuromuscular system, such as muscular dystrophy (MS) and others. A plethora of recent studies suggest creatine may have therapeutic applications in aging populations, muscle atrophy, fatigue, gyrate atrophy, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and other mitochondrial cytopathies, neuropathic disorders, dystrophies, myopathies and brain pathologies.
The importance of creatine is underscored by creatine deficiency disorders: inborn errors of metabolism that prevent creatine from being manufactured. People born without the enzyme(s) responsible for making creatine suffer from a variety of neurological and developmental symptoms which are mitigated with creatine supplementation.
As for safety, some have suggested that creatine might increase the need for extra fluid intake to avoid potential dehydration and muscle pulls. Still, creatine has not been shown to increase either dehydration or muscle pulls in the research.
In some people, creatine may increase a by-product of creatine metabolism called creatinine, which is a crude indicator but not a cause of kidney problems. Some doctors have mistakenly thought that high creatinine levels (in athletes using creatine) are a sign of kidney problems, but that is not the case.
Creatinine is not toxic to the kidneys and most doctors are not aware that creatine may raise creatinine levels with no toxicity to the kidneys. People with pre-existing kidney problems might want to avoid creatine due to the effects it can have on this test, though creatine supplementation has never been shown to be toxic to the kidneys and the vast number, of studies to date have found creatine to be exceedingly safe.
It’s interesting to note that there has been a concerted effort by many groups and ignorant medical professionals to portray creatine as being somehow poorly researched (flatly untrue) and unsafe for long term use. They systematically ignore the dozens of studies that exist showing it’s both safe and effective. Even more bizarre, they ignore the recent studies that are finding creatine may help literally thousands of people with the aforementioned diseases. This is unscientific, unethical, and just plain immoral, in my view.
One question that often comes up regarding creatine is whether or not the loading phase is required. Originally, the advice for getting optimal results was to load up on creatine followed by a maintenance dose thereafter. This advice was based on the fact that the human body already contains approximately 120 grams of creatine (as creatine and creatine phosphate) stored in tissues and to increase total creatine stores, one had to load for several days in order to increase those stores above those levels.
The idea also seemed to work well, in practice, with people noticing considerable increases in strength and weight during the loading phase. All was not perfect however as many people found the loading phase to be a problem, with gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea and other problems. At the very least, loading was inconvenient and potentially expensive.
The need for a loading phase was a long held belief, but is it really needed to derive the benefits of creatine? The answer appears to be no, as both research and real world experience have found the loading phase may not be needed after all. A 1996 study compared a loading phase vs. no loading phase among 31 male subjects.
The subjects loaded for 6 days using 20 g/day and a maintenance dose 2g/day for a further 30 days. As expected, tissue creatine levels went up approximately 20 percent and the participants got stronger and gained lean mass. Nothing new there! And, not surprisingly, without a maintenance dose creatine levels went back to normal after 30 days. Then the group was given 3g of creatine without a loading dose. The study found a similar but more gradual increase in muscle creatine concentrations over a period of 28 days. The researchers concluded:
“…a rapid way to creatine load human skeletal muscle is to ingest 20 g of creatine
for 6 days. This elevated tissue concentration can then be maintained by
ingestion of 2 g/day thereafter. The ingestion of 3 g creatine/day is, in the long
term, likely to be as effective at raising tissue levels as this higher dose.”
A more recent study done in 1999 found that 5 g of creatine per day without
a loading phase in 16 athletes significantly increased measures of
strength, power, and increased body mass without a change in body fat
levels (whereas the placebo group showed no significant changes).
The researcher of this 1999 study concluded:
“…these data also indicate that lower doses of creatine monohydrate may be
ingested (5 g/d), without a short-term, large-dose loading phase (20 g/d), for
an extended period to achieve signifi cant performance enhancement.”
So, if you have suffered through the loading phase in the past thinking it
was the only way to maximize the eff ects of your creatine supplement, it
appears you can rest assured you don’t have to go through all that hassle.
A 3 – 5 gram per day dose over an extended period of time will probably do
the same thing.
Brewer GJ and Wallimann TW. Protective effect of the energy precursor creatine against toxicity of glutamate and beta-amyloid in rat hippocampal neurons. J Neurochem. 2000 May;74(5):1968-78.
Earnest CP, Almada AL, and Mitchell TL. High-performance capillary electrophoresis-pure Creatine monohydrate reduces blood lipids in men and women. Clin Sci (Lond). 1996 Jul;91(1):113-8.
Ferrante RJ, Andreassen OA, Jenkins BG, et al. Neuroprotective effects of creatine in a transgenic mouse model of Huntington’s disease. J Neurosci. 2000 Jun 15;20(12):4389-97.
Hultman E, Soderlund K, Timmons JA, et al. Muscle creatine loading in men. J Appl Physiol. 1996 Jul;81(1):232-7.
Klivenyi P, Ferrante RJ, Matthews RT, et al. Neuroprotective effects of creatine in a transgenic animal model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Nat Med. 1999 Mar;5(3):347-50.
Kreider RB, Ferreira M, Wilson M, et al. Effects of creatine supplementation on body composition, strength, and sprint performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998 Jan;30(1):73-82.
Malcon C, Kaddurah-Daouk R, Beal MF. Neuroprotective effects of creatine administration against NMDA and malonate toxicity. Brain Res. 2000 Mar 31;860(1-2):195-8.
Matthews RT, Yang L, Jenkins BG, et al. Neuroprotective effects of creatine and cyclocreatine in animal models of Huntington’s disease. J Neurosci. 1998 Jan 1;18(1):156-63.
Matthews RT, Ferrante RJ, Klivenyi P, et al. Creatine and cyclocreatine attenuate MPTP neurotoxicity. Exp Neurol. 1999 May;157(1):142-9.
Odland LM, MacDougall JD, Tarnopolsky MA, et al. Effect of oral creatine supplementation on muscle [PCr] and short-term maximum power output. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997 Feb;29(2):216-9.
Pearson DR, Hamby DG, et al. Long-term eff ects of Creatine monohydrate on strength and power. J Strength Cond Res. 1999 13(3):187-92.
Peeters BM, Lantz CD and Mayhew JL. Eff ect of oral creatine monohydrate and creatine phosphate supplementation on maximal strength indices, body composition, and blood pressure. J Strength Cond Res. 1999 13(1):3-9
Poortmans JR, Auquier H, Renaut V, et al. Eff ect of short-term creatine supplementation on renal responses in men. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1997;76(6):566-7.
Poortmans JR, Francaux M. Long-term oral creatine supplementation does not impair renal function in healthy athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Aug;31(8):1108-10.
Tarnopolsky M, Martin J. Creatine monohydrate increases strength in patients with neuromuscular disease. Neurology. 1999 Mar 10;52(4):854-7ealed
Volek JS, Duncan ND, Mazzetti SA, et al. No Eff ect of Heavy Resistance Training and Creatine Supplementation on Blood Lipids. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2000 Jun;10(2):144-56.
Walter MC, Lochmuller H, Reilich P, et al. Creatine monohydrate in muscular dystrophies: A double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study. Neurology. 2000 May 9;54(9):1848-50.
Which Creatine is best?
Aside from the obvious price differences, there are also several different types of Creatine in the form of creatine monohydrate, creatine citrate, creatine phosphate, tri-creatine malate, creatine-magnesium chelate and even liquid “ creatine serum”. The newest at the moment being Creatine Ethyl-Ester which is apparently the next best thing. The Problem here is that the overwhelming majority of research to date on the effects of creatine and muscle mass/performance used the monohydrate form and most creatine found in supplements and food is in the monohydrate form.
That fact alone should do it, or the fact monohydrate is the cheapest and easiest to obtain supplement should persuade you away from the lesser tested variations.
Many of these companies try to claim monohydrate is poorly absorbed or that it makes you bloat or hold water – However there is yet to be studies performed side-by-side to compare the differences and the research just simply hasn’t been performed to make these bogus claims. We basically have one of the most researched supplements known to man, shown to be safe, effective and cheap and yet for some reason people are still being drawn toward the new fancy unproven products. I’m not for a moment saying they are not effective, just that they are untested over time. Stick with what we know works!
A great article (http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/rippetoe_throws_down&cr=) at T-nation by Rippetoe recently. I’ve always liked his straight talking opinion – here’s some others (http://www.t-nation.com/ALSAuthor.do?p=Mark%20Rippetoe&pageNo=1) if you’re interested.
I’ve written a few posts now on Hyper Lordosis or Anterior Pelvic Tilt and it’s effects on lifting. The fact is, almost everyone has a degree of hyper-lordosis due to the fact we all use chairs far too often! From working to travelling to relaxing, it is all usually done in a seated position, this then in turn re-inforces the poor posture already lurking, causes tight lower back/hip flexors and weak or elongated abdominals/gluteals.
Most of us then try to address it with some stretching of tight muscles and strengthening the weaker ones. The problem with strengthening the abs is that the overwhelming majority simply don’t know how to. They will do something like sit-ups or crunches and hold a plank for minutes on end. The problem with these is:
- Situps work your hip flexors more than your abs, especially with the classic jerking off the floor type, crunches are a little better, but still involve the hip flexors and tend to lead to…
- Upper back rounding – When crunches are performed the movement reinforces poor posture by causing you to round your upper back each rep so leading into Kyphosis or a Neanderthal type posture – Instead of keeping your shoulders back and down with good posture, you’re constantly rounding your upper back and pushing your chin forward.
- Too much flexion and extension of the spine. Alot of people do situps by arching the lower back, pulling their body up with the hip flexors, then rounding forward towards the top of each rep. Think about it – what happens when you keep bending something back and forward over time? SNAP!
- Most people hold a plank ‘passively’ – hips sagging and upper back rounded (see post on RKC Plank for a better option)
- Due to the law of reciprocal inhibition (when a muscle on one side of a joint contracts, the other opposing muscle relaxes), your already inactive or weak glutes get weaker every rep because your hip flexors are strengthened with every rep! In other words – Sit-ups exagerate the problem you’re trying to address!!
Real Abdominal or Core Strength is simply the ability to stabilise the spine especially when under load. This is the primary job of the abs after all! How often are we even required to perform a sit-up/crunch type movement? I can’t even think of an example after getting out of bed! But, I can certainly think of many an occassion where I am supporting a load – Carrying shopping, picking up the kids/pets, moving things around, picking things up, etc etc.
If you’re already doing heavy deadlifts/squats/press’s then your core will already be getting plenty of stabilisation, if not, or you want to focus on it a little more you can’t go wrong with looking at the olympic weightlifters (especially the lightweight category). They are required to stabilise huge loads overhead and generally have the physique to match! Makes sense really, if you’re going to lift something heavy over your head then your abs are going to have to work overtime to keep your torso upright and stabilized.
To work on stabilisation, you can’t beat a bridge/plank type movement (performed correctly!)the light-weight Olympic lifters do things like supporting weight on their stomachs while they’re laying over two chairs, making their abs a “bridge” for the weight and forcing their whole core to stabilize and work to keep their back straight. A bit of an extreme version for most, but it is the general ‘bridging’ principle we’re looking at – Try the RKC plank to start.
Instead of doing hundreds of reps of easy situps and causing so many muscle imbalances, un-even weaknesses and strengths… if you’re going to do abdominal exercises to train your abs to contract your body in half… you should try harder ab exercises.
Try and focus more on lower ab work. Most people have weaker lower abs compared to their upper abs. This is usually due to crunches and upper ab work like that.
On top of that, posterioral problems and muscle imbalances are common from doing so many situps and from crunching your ribcage down towards your pelvis. You need to work your abs in a different plane of motion.
If you are lifting heavily on a regular basis, there is a great move for strengthening the abs, but also to stretch (decompress) your spine from those heavy loads. The Hanging Leg Raise and its variations
- They strengthen your abs
- They decompress your spine
- They stretch your back
- They help Correct Lordosis by training you to tilt your pelvis posteriorly and up.
Train your abs the way they were meant to be – As spinal stabilizers and with harder contraction exercises.
A frequently asked question when it comes to chest training is ‘Are Dumbells better or worse than a Barbell?’ – There is no yes or no answer to this one, it is entirely dependant on your goals.
As you can load a barbell gradually with minor increases in weight, they are the ideal tool for building strength. To get stronger you need to progressively lift more weight over a period of time. If you can’t, something is not right – You can perform all the drop-sets/supersets/giant sets/forced reps etc etc, but if the weight is not increasing, you will not get stronger – You will plateau much quicker with Dumbbells due to the large increase in weight percentage between them. Even a well stocked gym will have the weight increases around the 2.5kg mark. This is as increase of 5kg on your lift which is going to be a challenge for most and makes progressive loading nigh impossible. If your goal is pure strength you can load significantly more onto a barbell due to its balance and stability and so is the perfect tool in this situation.
Muscular imbalance is another thing to address. Although you can try and be more aware of pushing equally or focusing on leading with the weaker side, with a Barbell imbalances can be masked. When using Dumbbells you will be much more aware of imbalances as one side will be unstable or will fatigue first, and will prevent your dominant side from growing faster than the other. Balanced body strength leads to greater performance and lowers the chance of injury.
The Barbell bench press is also harder on your joints than dumbbells. When pressing with dumbbells, your hands won’t remain completely pronated (palms forward), but will rotate slightly inwards reducing the stress on your wrists elbows and shoulders (particularly rotator cuff) and therefore reducing your chance of injury.
With regard to muscle recruitment, researchers noted that electrical activity or muscle stimulation in the arms was greatest in the triceps with a barbell, but when dumbbells are used the biceps also come into play as stabilisers. The Barbell activates more upper chest fibres and anterior deltoid due to the wide grip in the top position, however as your hands are free to move across your body with dumbbell presses there is greater lower pectoral activation. Although yes, you will use more stabilising muscles with the dumbbells, you will be limited by the weight increases as previously mentioned meaning you will plateau sooner.
In my opinion the barbell is the better option as you can handle a lot more weight doing the same exercises. More weight moved = bigger muscles. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use dumbbells, you should try and use both – Just keep the main focus on increasing the weight on the bar and use dumbbell sets to ensure you work the entire chest area, prevent imbalances and keep your joints healthy.
In a nutshell:
Should you use lifting straps? It’s yet another massive debate with people on both sides passionately arguing the case for and against them.
Having had a crossfit background, I have been guilty of judging people on using them myself. However, since strength training I’ve been bringing them in for my heavier topsets on deadlifts and I’m getting a couple more reps, so definitely see the benefits. A lot of the for arguments are that there’s better Lat isolation or they say ‘I feel it in my back more’ or even just being able to perform more reps with a weight that they can’t without them.
When performing deadlifts, rows or pulldowns, the majority of the time your grip will give out before your back will. If you use straps a lot you will need to add in some grip work on top of everything else. Grip training itself is extremely taxing to your CNS and is difficult to recover from as everything you do involves your grip to some extent. My advice? Don’t use them every set, just when grip is starting to become an issue with the weight you’re using. That way you’re not having to do additional grip training and you can reap the benefits of being able to go heavier on your lifts.
Click HERE to read a great nutrition article on EliteFTS by a good friend of mine Pete, my go-to-guy when it comes to anything to do with nutrition. Also click here if you missed his earlier article The Whole Foods Diet.
Pete Stables is a REPS accredited strength and conditioning coach from the United Kingdom, specializing in constructing nutrition plans for clients who want to lose weight, gain muscle, or excel in any given sport. For consultation inquiries, contact Pete at www.maximumuscle.com
Article from TheDeadlift.com
The Physical Benefits of Deadlifting
Why Deadlift? To us asking that is akin to asking Why Breathe? The Deadlift is one of the most ancient, fundamental and just flat out alpha lifts out there. In no other lift do you raise hundreds of pounds of weight off the ground with your bare hands. There’s really something magical about the Deadlift. You just don’t feel the same amount of confidence and joy doing Squats or Bench Pressing as you do while Deadlifting. There’s a reason so many people look forward to Deadlift day.
What Muscles Does The Deadlift Work?
The primary of deadlifting are increased strength and muscle mass. Since the deadlift is a compound movement it utilizes nearly every major muscle of your body:
• Spinal Erectors
• Lower Back
• Middle and Upper Trapezius
• Abdominals and Obliques
So doing one deadlift is almost like doing In a leg presses, aback extension, lying leg curls, an abdominal crunch, a gripping exercise, a straight-arm pull down and a shrug all at the same time. Yep, its one hell of a compound lift.
Another great reason for deadlifting is testosterone and growth hormone release. Studies have shown that compound lifts like the deadlift use the most muscle groups and thus release the most of these 2 crucial chemical compounds.
Still not fully convinced by the glory of the Deadlift? Listen to Johnnie Jackson, IFBB Pro and one of the strongest bodybuilders in the world.
Other Deadlifting Benefits
• Deadlifting helps to increase stability control. While using machines to train muscles will isolate and target only a specific few muscle groups, the deadlift also involves supplementary and minor muscles called stabilizer muscles that are usually ignored by the mainstream. The lack of training of these stabilizer muscles will lead to imbalances and can lead a person to be more susceptible to injury and unsymmetrical physique.
• Another huge benefit from deadlifting is increased grip strength. Since the deadlift is one of the few exercises where you must manually hold hundreds of pounds of weight, it is one of the best exercises for increasing grip strength and strengthening the forearms. Increased grip strength will then aid to improve other lifts like the bench press.
• Deadlifting is also one the few exercises out there with real world application. Pickup weights off the ground is something we’ve been doing for millennia and is exactly what the deadlift trains the body to do.
• If performed correctly the deadlift also strengthens the spine and can lead to better posture. People with lordosis or excessive curving of the spine can benefit from the deadlift as it will help fix their posture by strengthening their lower back muscles, as well as the core, and by ironing out any lower back imbalances.
• Cardio. The only two exercises to really make someone light headed are Deadlifts and Squats. Deadlifting really taxes your cardiovascular system, as you already know, or will soon find out. (Pro tip: Make sure you have somewhere to sit down after deadlifting).
Some uneducated people and crappy gyms (AKA Planet Fitness) will try and tell you the Deadlift is not a good exercise, and that it’s dangerous, and that you shouldn’t do it. That’s not true at all. Driving a car is dangerous, yet we still do it. Why? Because we learn how to do it first. So read up on Deadlifting Form before you go out there and do a clean set of 5.
Article from TheDeadlift.com
So you’ve been doing a plank variation for some time now and can hold it for a couple of minutes so think your ‘core’ is strong?
There is a far more difficult and massively more effective version called the RKC Plank (Russian Kettlebell Challenge).
Most of us hold a plank ‘passively’ with little activation of the internal abdominal muscles that the plank is supposed to strengthen. A few tweaks to it and you’ll understand what a plank really is and be stronger under the bar for it!
Anyone who has read any of Pavel Tsatsouline’s books will know he advocates ‘whole body tension’ in all movements, but especially when looking at strength training. The RKC plank is a great way to learn how to do this and can then be applied to your lifts.
——————– An extract from Deadlift Dynamite by Andy Bolton and Pavel Tsatsouline ———————
Senior RKC Thomas Phillips has called the plank “the most popular exercise performed incorrectly”. Most folks either let their backs sag or their butts shoot up and use a minimal amount of effort in order to last the longest. Using poor form amounts to what Gray Cook, RKC, calls “adding fitness to dysfunction” and all sorts of problems down the road. And going for a minute or longer develops endurance rather than strength.
The difference is fundamental.
To express max strength one must learn to maximally contract all the muscles at once and hold nothing back. To develop muscular endurance one must learn to use as few muscles as possible and the least effort.
The conflict is obvious.
The bottom line: a strength athlete ought to practice the plank as an all out effort, and has no business leaving the 5-20sec window.
Giving it all in a short period of time is what the RKC plank is all about. Sports scientist Bret Contreras comments:
The RKC plank is a reverse-engineered core exercise that has evolved into a brutal full body isohold. I learned about the RKC plank (also called the Hardstyle plank) from Pavel Tsatsouline, creator of the RKC, and when done right, it wipes you out completely after only ten seconds. Sure you can do a [regular] plank for 3 straight minutes, but now show me that you can do a [RKC] plank and exhaust your body through maximum muscle exertion. The RKC plank has you manipulating whole body muscle tension to generate maximum internal work. Though you won’t be moving as it’s a static exercise, you’ll be engaging in a 10-second isometric war…
Contreras took EMG measurements to compare the peak activation of various midsection muscles in the traditional front plank and the RKC version and here are the results:
|Exercise||Lower Rectus Abdomnis (RA)||Internal Oblique (IO)||External Oblique (EO)|
|Standard Front Plank||33.5||42.6||26.7|
In the RKC plank, the six-pack is contracting more than three times more intensely, the internal obliques more than twice, the external obliques almost four times as intensely as in the typical plank seen in gyms everywhere.
It is the many technique subtleties that make the RKC plank work so well, so pay attention, and add various technique elements to your practice gradually. If you try to do it all the first time out, you are bound to forget something.
- Place your elbows directly underneath your shoulders or slightly in front of them. Either keep your forearms parallel to each other or make your fists touch. Keep your fists in the “hammer” position.
- Keep your whole body in one straight line, from head to toes. In the beginning it helps to have a training partner place a stick on your backside to teach you what a straight line is. Your back may not sag, your butt may not pike up. Your hips must extend as they do in the deadlift.
- The stick will also help you correctly align your neck. The following subtle alignment practiced in martial arts and physical therapy makes a difference. Stretch your neck long—and then, in Dr. Michael Hartle’s words, “rotate the chin in the direction of your chest around the axis going through your ears.” This will flatten your neck against the stick. You may have to practice it lying on your back at first.
- Look straight down on the ground, between your wrists.
- Make tight fists.
- Breathe shallow, as you would when holding a bar on your back between squat reps. Periodically employ Hardstyle breathing—short, powerful hisses. Do your best to keep the tension out of your head and neck.
- Lock your knees and pull up your kneecaps. You will have an easier time doing this if you stretch your hip flexors first.
- Cramp the glutes and try to tuck your tail under (posterior pelvic tilt)—without bending the knees! We do it for many reasons. Contreras has one more and it is right down our alley: “The posterior pelvic tilt develops glute endurance and helps engrain proper deadlift lockout form.”
- You may not let your knees bend or your butt shoot up when you are strongly tucking in your tail!
- A useful cue for the posterior pelvic tilt comes from karate: point your belly button slightly towards your head. Insist on keeping your knees locked and your kneecaps pulled up.
- Use your lats to maximally “unshrug” your shoulders away from your ears.
When you have figured out how to do all of the above, add the following powerful subtleties added to the RKC plank by Dr. Michael Hartle, Senior RKC.
“Make sure the toes are fully extended and the ankle is maximally dorsiflexed.” In other words, point your feet and toes towards your nose. “This aids in the anterior chain contraction one is achieving during this plank.”
Simultaneously drive your elbows and your toes hard towards each other (isometrically). This will make your body pike or jacknife. Prevent your pelvis from rising by tensing your glutes even harder and driving the hips forward, as in the DL lockout. Now you will understand what Bret Contreras meant by the “isometric war”!
Practice the RKC plank in sets of approximately 10sec long, always stopping before the intensity of the contraction drops off. We are in the strength business—not endurance business.
You don’t keep a training log.
Keeping 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!
The use of weightlifting belts used to be limited to Olympic lifters and Powerlifting, however in recent years they have become much more widespread and now even people completely new to lifting are using them. Are they really necessary? And if so, what are the correct uses and are there any dangers?
Belts serve two main purposes. They reduce stress on the lower back when lifting in an upright position and help to prevent hyperextension when pressing overhead. A lot of people assume that the belt supports their back, however the actual point of the belt is to increase intra-abdominal pressure which help stabilise the abdomen. For this purpose the best one is a powerlifting type belt which is the same width all the way round. If you are using a belt with a thinner front section, my advice would be to wear it backwards so you can use it as intended.
How to wear it – The correct placing of the belt varies from person to person depending on their own body structure, but as a guide it should be worn around the small of your back and lower abdomen. You want it fairly low, but not so it pushes into your hips/pelvis at the bottom of a squat or deadlift. You want it fairly tight, but as your aiming to push your abs into it, my recommendation is to go for one notch looser than full tightness. This will also make it easier to remove after your set!
How to use it – In order to increase the intra-abdominal pressure, it is important to use the Valsava maneuver. Take a big breath into your belly (not diaphragm/chest), and push your stomach as hard as possible into the belt. Imagine your trying to blow out as hard as possible but with a closed mouth/throat. This pressure against the belt will then provide support around the whole midsection and feel nice and stable. If your belt is done up too tight (see previous point), you will struggle to get a big enough gulp of air into your belly as it’s already being restricted.
When to use it – I personally don’t advise using a belt for every exercise or even for every set of the big lifts. In order to increase your own core stability, you need your lower back and abs to function normally. Try and save the use of the belt for max effort sets only. Correctly performed squats, deadlifts, etc .. work your abdomen and lower back harder than any specific core-type training, especially under heavy load so do yourself a favour, skip the sit-ups and practice your main lifts. I’m not saying you shouldn’t train your abs, but remember the main purpose of your core is to stabilise the spine. When under load this is an absolute necessity, if you use a belt every set, you won’t increase your own strength & stability around the middle and may be more at risk of injury due to muscular imbalances. On top of that, when you do decide to lift without one, you will feel very weak and unstable.
Pro’s of belt use:
- Increased intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) to support spine
- Prevent hyper-extension of the lumbar spine
- Increased stability during main lifts
- Allows heavier weights to be used
- Reduced spinal shrinkage (lower back compression) due to increased IAP
Con’s of belt use:
- Inhibited motor recruitment patterns
- Increased blood pressure
- Injuries can be more severe – due in part to heavier loads being used
- Will not make up for bad technique
- Weaker core (if used excessively)
These are just some pro’s and con’s, if you are interested in a more in-depth study have a read of Stuart McGill’s review here.
In summary, belts are not necessary for most types of weight training in which the spinal erectors don’t work against heavy resistance – i.e. machine work or isolation exercises like bicep curls or lat raises. They can be used for heavy compound lifts, but I recommend only on max effort sets. Anyone with blood pressure problems or heart conditions should use them sparingly, if at all.
Most importantly – Do some research! don’t just throw on a belt because your mate/training partner tells you to, or you’ve read it in some forum somewhere. Read up on what they’re for and why to use them!
A great article by Mark Rippetoe. Worth a read by all, but especially beginner/intermediate lifters.
You’re not drinking enough water
Sounds daft I know, but it is probably the biggest reason most people are failing to gain weight. Water makes up around 60% of our bodies and lean muscle itself is around 70%. We can survive for weeks without food, but only days without water – It is second only to oxygen as being essential for life.
Research has shown that even a small decrease in hydration can lead to a significant drop in strength. If your hydration drops by 3-4% it can lead to a decrease in strength of 10-20%!! Not only that but it also plays a significant part in injury prevention – Lifting weights or resistance training at high intensity for long periods of time puts enormous strain on the joints and connective tissues. Being well hydrated helps to lubricate these joints and provides a protective layer or cushion around them, reducing the chance of injury. Dehydration can also lead to muscle catabolism (wastage), which is definitely worth avoiding!
Drinking a lot of water will also make you healthier and help to flush waste products from your body. When you are healthy you recover and grow faster, not to mention reducing sickness which will only impede your training.
Finally, drinking plenty of water helps to speed digestion and move nutrients around the body more efficiently. It helps you to store carbohydrates as muscle glycogen giving you more energy in your workouts. Building muscle also requires a high protein diet, however protein cannot straightaway be absorbed by the bodies cells, it needs to be broken down into its component amino acids, to do this you need guess what? Water.
How much water should you drink? I personally aim for a gallon a day! I don’t often get there but even if I don’t, I at least end up with the same or more than the ‘recommended guide’ as follows:
Take your body weight in pounds and multiply by the following – If you’re training 3 times a week use 0.6, 4 times a week 0.7, 5 times or more 0.8 – this will tell you how many fluid ounces to consume a day. For example 190lb multiplied by 0.6 = 114 fluid ounces or around 3.5 litres.
Avoid drinking large amounts in one go, this is the only time that excessive water drinking can be bad for you – See water intoxication – Instead aim to drink 1-2 glasses with every meal, sip throughout the day and especially when training or when you’re perspiring.
You’re not increasing weight or repetitions
Otherwise known as the progressive overload principle, which is basically; Strength and all other components of fitness increase if the training becomes more demanding.
It is commonly explained by the ancient Greek story of Milo (You’ve probably heard this before!), who lifted a calf every day and so, as it grew, he was eventually lifting a fully grown bull. This however, is actually referring to linear periodisation, which is followed by most serious athletes, and the majority of lifters will benefit greatly from it initially – (simply increasing the weight on the bar, by small increments, every workout) – but, to continue making progress past these initial gains, some further variation is necessary. For progressive overload to continue past hitting plateaus in linear periodisation we can look at increasing repetitions.
This does not imply doing sets of 30 reps on a given exercise, but, instead when a weight increase is no longer possible due to current strength limits, reduce the weight used and perform more repetitions than previously lifted with that lowered weight. For example you’ve benched 100kg for 6 reps previously and been adding 1kg to the bar each workout. At 110kg you stall and can’t get more than 1 rep. Drop back to 100kg and aim to beat the 6 reps you lifted at the time. If you then hit 8 reps, you have clearly increased your strength, with this increase you should then have built some muscle alongside it (as long as you’ve been eating enough! – see reason 1). You would then continue with normal 1kg increases as before, only this time you have a set rep record to beat every time you workout. On top of this you can monitor your progress and improve every session!
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 😉
You wouldn’t believe how much mis-information there is on this! Just a simple search on google will give you thousands of differing opinions on whether it is a good or bad movement, some will claim it’s no good at all! I would say take a look at Dorian Yates and ask yourself, does this man look like he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to a big back? I really like this lift, it feels like it’s really hitting the lats hard performed properly, and unlike standard barbell rows or Pendlay rows, there is far less stress on the lower back. The biggest problem most have is executing the lift properly. Dorian used to use an underhand grip, but as the weights used were getting huge, he ended up doing the inevitable and injuring his bicep tendon and now uses a narrow overhand grip instead. The main two mistakes most people make are flaring out the elbows, and pausing at the top of the movement. This is a power movement and should be treated so. Use the heaviest weight you can and keep the body still! For a more in depth definition here’s the man himself.
Some of you may have heard of Kroc rows, some may even have used them in a back program. I personally have a real love/hate relationship with them as when performed correctly they are brutal! – Here’s the ‘Kroc’ himself on how to perform them correctly.
As for crunches, never has a particular exercise been more villainised than these! When addressing lordosis or anterior pelvic tilt (or even just plain abdominal training), a full sit-up is far more damaging as it engages the hip flexors which take over the movement once the lower back leaves the floor/bench. The very muscle needing to be stretched/loosened in all but the majority of people, not strengthened or tightened! Crunches can help to shorten the rectus abdomnis and ‘pull the pelvis forward but far better are reverse crunches – Not only can they help alleviate Lordosis as the pelvis tilts posteriorly to initiate the movement, but also do not aggravate Kyphosis like crunches do as the upper back stays on the ground, shoulders can be kept retracted and the head/neck relaxed. Of course this would be in conjunction with lengthening aforementioned hip flexors and quads and strengthening glutes and hamstrings. As these are a relatively easy exercise for anyone with a strong core from lifting, i.e. if you can perform 10 or more easily, try using a decline bench (head at highest level), hanging knee raises to chest (avoid straight leg raises as these will make you arch your lower back) or hanging knees-to-elbows (without swinging or using momentum).
When it comes to performing exercise, there is so much contradiction it’s hard to muddle through. From forced reps to partial reps to ‘cheat’ reps – everyone has an opinion and everyone loves to tell you who’s wrong! Here‘s an article from Elite FTS and here, one from T-nation discussing this issue. Neither of which I hasten to add, advocate for a moment ‘cheating’ as a beginner or even an intermediate lifter in some cases, but only when you reach advanced level’s of strength and/or size and are looking to break through into new territory. I personally cannot stress enough the importance of form and believe it should be something you strive to improve all the time and focus on every single session, but let’s not forget there are benefits that can be had from ‘cheating’. After all what is a negative rep if it’s not cheating at the start and benefiting from the overload on the negative phase to come back stronger next session?
Recently I posted a video of my overhead press and commented that there was too much layback. However, this enabled me to lockout at least the last two reps of my set. If I was being really harsh probably the last three! Where these last few reps beneficial? Potential injury aside, I think so. Although I stand by the fact I need to tighten up my form (to reduce that injury potential), those last reps would have provided a stimulus for my muscles/CNS and I will be stronger for it when I re-visit the bar. To reduce injury potential I would have been better turning the last rep into a push press and perhaps I’ll try that next time!
Of course, if you are a competing athlete or weightlifter, then cheating or not locking out a lift whilst competing is an absolute ‘no-go’, and I am in no way condoning the use of ‘cheat’ reps for these types of goals. However my goal is not one of competition, but of size and strength. In the journey to getting ‘Hench’ I feel that the occasional ‘cheat’ or partial rep may well be beneficial in certain exercises, as a finisher for otherwise fatigued muscles or to force some extra growth. But this is just my opinion, I would suggest you make your own decision! If for anything else you could increase DOMS and could then potentially reduce your performance in the next session!