Category: Training

Lesson on Bodybuilding vs. Powerlifting

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Introduction


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I can still remember the first time I saw the quads of Tom Platz. It was awe-inspiring, breathtaking, and phenomenally unreal. Tom Platz developed legs that had never been seen in the world of bodybuilding and we will never see again. Often referred to as “The Golden Eagle” and “The Quadfather,” Tom Platz has inspired more than a generation of athletes to redefine the meaning of leg day and the squat.

As many of you know a key to amazing quads is the almighty squat. This is where I will introduce a second character into this story, an idol of mine, a man who was one of the first true geniuses to bridge the gap between the science of training and application. In fact, the book he wrote on the Science of Bodybuilding was probably the first book I read on the topic that truly inspired my career. I am referring to Fred Hatfield. Dr. Fred Hatfield earned a PhD in psychology, sociology, and motor learning. He is also known for breaking the world record on squat with 1014 pounds at the age of 45 and the first person to squat over 1000 pounds! Combine the two accomplishments and Fred’s fans affectionately referred to him as the one and only Dr. Squat.

The Dream Squat Match: Fred Hatfield vs. Tom Platz


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In sports, we dream of wars between athletes. Battles like Ali vs Frazier and Herns vs. Haggler are examples of such wars. In the bodybuilding and powerlifting realm, one such match was Dr. Squat and Tom Platz. The rules of the match? Who could squat 500 pounds for more reps? At the time Fred could squat 855 pounds, while Platz could squat a little over 600 pounds. If we went off of max squat we would hands down predict Fred would win. In fact, Dr. Squat was able to beat Platz with a one rep squat max of 840 pounds vs. Platz’s 600-pound squat.

However, when it came to squatting 500 pounds for reps, Platz beat Fred. Fred Hatfield was able to squat 500 pounds for 11 reps while Platz blew through 23 reps! These numbers are actually debated today. As you can see in the video below, Platz squat for 23 reps. However, depending on the video or source, some say the number of reps may have exceeded 23 and the weight may be as high as 525 pounds.

The question remains, why was Dr. Squat able to squat significantly more weight than Platz, but when the weight was reduced Platz was able to squat more reps? The answer to this question lies in the fact that bodybuilding and powerlifting are two separate and distinct sports. While strength helps us gain muscle, strength endurance does as well. Tom Platz had both, which is necessary for a maximizing the size of your quads. To further elaborate, let’s assess both of these Titans’ training regimens.

The Leg Day Programs


As a powerlifter, Hatfield won 2 IPF World Powerlifting Championships titles in 1983 and 1986. At the age of 45, he set a squat world record by lifting 1014 pounds in the 100 kg weight class. This program from Hatfield’s program contains two workouts per week: Workout A is a ‘light’ day and Workout B is a ‘heavy’ day. The routine is designed to add 10% to your 1 rep maximum in 9 weeks.

Dr. Squats Training Program

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This program made several championship powerlifters and earned Fred Hatfield a world record. However, as you can see, it’s aimed at maximal strength and would yield low gains in strength endurance. How does this differ from Tom Platz’s program? Let’s have a look.

Do’s & Don’ts of Cardio & Fat Loss

Introduction


When I first got into bodybuilding I had this incredible preoccupation with being shredded beyond belief. I can remember my brother Gabriel Wilson and I headed to the gym to do up to 4 hours of cardio on some days! Was this efficacious? Is this unheard of? Was it crazy?! Not for people with extreme personalities like mine. If I want to excel in science I study 12 to 14 hours a day. If I wanted to be shredded I’d train 3 times a day. It’s just how I am. While being hardcore and dedicated certainly has merit there certainly is something to be said for working smarter and harder. With that said Id like to take a step in the right direction with this article and tell you what science says about cardio and fat loss. What we are specifically referring to is traditional cardio here. By that, I mean low to moderate intensity cardio that lasts at least 20 minutes or more in duration. Similar to many of my articles, I am going to do this in a questions and answer format.

Do I need Cardio to Lose Fat?


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Surprisingly, you do not need cardio to lose fat. Although, as I will discuss, it may not only be more efficient, but more effective to add cardio to your program if your goal is getting shredded. A study by Dr. Ross and colleagues found that diet alone could increase fat loss. However, diet plus cardio led to more fat loss than diet alone (Ross et al., 2004). Additional research shows that fat loss in the stomach is actually far greater when you do cardio plus diet over diet by itself (You et al., 2006). It seems that the sympathetic nervous system which releases fat burning hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline has a large presence in the abdominal region compared to the lower body region. If you want more information on fat loss targets, check this article on fat burners, which can mimic the effects of fat loss through supplements.

What are the Long Term Benefits of Cardio?


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As you adapt to doing cardio over several weeks and months your ability to use fat improves both during and after exercise (Thompson et al., 2012). In addition, your relative intensity is much lower at a given speed (Thompson et al., 2012). This means that cycling at 12 miles an hour may be very hard when you are out of shape, but very easy when you are in shape. As such you can withstand greater speeds and burn more calories when trained than untrained. These are a few of the adaptations that you make when you perform low-intensity cardio. You will also improve insulin sensitivity, resting metabolic rate, and improve your cardiovascular health.

Can Cardio Cause Muscle Loss?


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Cardio can cause muscle loss when done alone. In fact, if you look at marathon runners you will notice that they tend to be on the thinner side. Our research has shown combining cardio with weights causes more fat loss but also lowers your ability to gain muscle mass (Wilson et al., 2012). So, what are ways we can avoid losing muscle mass while doing traditional cardio? There are several ways listed below:

1. Cardio impacts only the muscles that are used. This means that if you do cardio for the legs it won’t hurt your upper body gains. So, doing cardio on an upper body day won’t hurt your gains in the upper body. However, training the lower body on the same day as cardio will hurt your gains. Therefore, separate cardio from legs by at least 24 to 48 hours.

2. The type of cardio you do also affects your gains. Our research shows that running causes more muscle damage and hurts gains in muscle more than cycling. Therefore, you should minimize running and try and use non-impact activities such as cycling or the elliptical.

3. Cardio done for more than 20-30 minutes impairs muscle gains more, which means I would recommend keeping your cardio short and intense.

Conclusion


In conclusion, if you want a shredded physique, cardio is a must. As I said before, you can get leaner by just dieting and training properly, but if you want single digit body fat, you are going to have to incorporate cardio. This is because cardio is an excellent tool to lose body fat in the mid-section. As with any training, you should periodize your cardio. Therefore, do not do too much steady state cardio for too long because it can be detrimental to your gains. I would never go over 30 minutes of low-intensity cardio more than four days per week. Start low and progress upward. Also, do not forget to use HIIT or advanced variables such as giant sets because these can also sky-rocket your metabolism and help with fat loss.

Top 5 Reasons You Plateau

Introduction


Have you reached a training plateau? There is a great saying that states, “when you feel like quitting, remember why you started.” Stop and think about when you first began your lifting experience. You achieved beginner gains and then progress began to slow. Research shows that the number one reason people quit is that they stop making measurable progress. Let’s face it, it sucks to stop making progress and if it continues, you lose your motivation to train and diet. Your mind starts telling you, “what’s the point?” There are very specific reasons for why we plateau. This article may be the most important one you have ever read because we will discuss the primary reasons why you plateau and how to overcome these challenges. We will discuss recovery, sleep, stress, nutrition, and variation in your training.

Reason You Plateau 1: Lack of Recovery


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Often times when we plateau, we use the concept of progressive overload. This simply means that you increase either the weight, the sets, or the number of times you train a week. At first, this works great! However, soon it stops working because your body can only adapt so much to the same training stimulus. The solution here can take many forms. One of my favorite ways to assess my fatigue is to monitor your recovery on a scale of 1-10. If you are an 8-10, you can certainly do an overload workout. However, if you wake up a 5-6 you need to back off and train light that day. By doing this, you will continue to make phenomenal gains and not be held back by recovery. Another approach is to step load. Step loading is three steps up, two steps back approach. In essence, you increase intensity or volume for two to three weeks and then you lower it drastically for one week to recover, then repeat.

Reason You Plateau 2: Lack of Sleep


Most people do not realize the importance of sleep. However, research shows that a lack of sleep decreases insulin sensitivity and actually makes us fatter and less muscular! The program is that athletes who plateau tend to train longer and sleep less. So how can you overcome this? Here are a few tips I have to optimize your sleep:

1. Have a consistent sleep schedule
2. Wear orange blue light blocking glasses at night
3. Use blackout curtains in your room
4. Avoid checking your cell phone in the middle of the night
5. If you still have problems then shift your night workouts to earlier in the day

Reason You Plateau 3: Life Stress


I will tell you a story but I do not want you to spread it around, okay? When I played junior hockey in Canada I was a kid. It was then that I got my first girlfriend. I can remember, I was head over heels for this girl! Literally, head over heels. She was the one! One day she called me and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” I said, “what do you mean?” She responded: “the only thing you care about is training and hockey.” She decided to break up with me. I could remember being crushed. My training suffered, I got very sick, and became extremely overtrained. The thing is, my exercise did not increase. It was life stress that did it to me. The next time I had a girlfriend it was as if you hit repeat on what happened before. I just spent too much time working out and focusing on hockey. This time I said, “it’s ok, it’s not the end of the world.” Guess what happened? This time I did not get sick and my training improved. Why? It was a totally different mental approach. Of course, I was sad, but I learned to more effectively deal with my stress. The take-home message is that life stress can negatively impact you like training too much can. Here’s my advice. Learn to think differently about stress. Not everything is the end of the world. Try comparing your stressors to the “glass is half full” approach and you will bust through your plateaus like there is no tomorrow!

You Plateau 4: Poor Nutrition


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This is likely the most obvious one of them all. Research clearly shows that nutrition drives gains in training. Many people train hard and wonder why they are gaining little muscle. Often times it is because they are eating low nutrient dense food or their protein is too low. Stop and reevaluate your diet. Ensure that you are not only consuming optimal protein, but also carbohydrates and fats if on a traditional bodybuilding diet or a ketogenic diet. It is a misconception that fat makes you fat. Diets higher in fat (at least 25%) may optimize not only hormones, but training. The The CEO of Quest Nutrition once told me, “food is an amazing thing. It can make you really awesome or it can make you really shitty.”

The Psychology of the Mind-Muscle Connection

Introduction


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We’ve all heard the saying “mind-over-matter,” but what about mind over muscle? It’s crucial to understand that there is a physiological link between your mind and your muscles; this is not just hype. In our brains, we have neurons that extend outward towards the spinal cord. Those neurons extend into our muscles. All of these neurons combined make up our central and peripheral nervous system. One of my early mentors, Dr. Sawyer, used to say, “all voluntary movement is ultimately controlled with Intent.” The focus of this particular article is to discuss how your intent to activate a given body part or muscle group during a lift can have a drastic impact on potential mechanisms, which increase muscle size.

Intent – What is it and How can You Use it to Build Muscle?


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Ben Pakulsi is, in my mind, the most advanced bodybuilder in the world when it comes to the science of training. His knowledge and skill relative to proper movement patterns to optimize muscle growth is unparalleled. Prior to Ben, we used the notion of the mind-muscle connection. The mind muscle connection simply means how well you can target a muscle group with your mind and focus on it. I like to think of Intent as the Mind Muscle Connection 2.0. When using this technique, the goal is twofold:

1. Focus directly on the muscle itself
2. Initiate the movement only with the primary muscle of interest

An example of intent would involve contracting the pecs first before moving the arms in a flying motion or retracting the scapula first during a bent over row prior to any movement of the arms. A few years ago, we conducted a series of studies with Ben. I can remember it clearly, we had electrodes all over Ben and used science to try and see if intent worked the way we thought it would. During this study, we had 3 conditions.

1. Ben doing leg extensions with moderate weight and intent
2. Ben doing leg extensions with heavy weight and intent
3. Ben lifting heavy without focusing on the muscle.

The results were clear. Lifting moderately heavy with intent was far superior to lifting heavy without it!

Does Intent Take Time to Learn?


The next question our lab had was does intent take time to learn? I can tell you from personal experience that when you start working with clients or subjects that they always have to drastically lower the weights when first using intent; but do you get better at it? And are elite amateurs different then IFBB pros? To examine, we took Ben and had him lift progressively heavier bent over rows compared to an elite amateur bodybuilder.

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What we found is that as the weight got heavier that the amateur bodybuilder began using more and more of his accessory muscles and less and less of his target back muscles! As Ben got heavier he began activating more and more of his target muscles. This tells us clearly that it’s not just the weight that dictates a growth stimulus, it is technique and the use of INTENT!

What if my goal is Strength, Not Size?


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I see so many people fall into the trap that the heavier you lift the bigger you will get. What I will say is that progressive overload is certainly important. However, lifting heavier is a tool in the tool box. I have done studies where we have put bodybuilders through a powerlifting routine for 12 weeks. Their strength went up on the three big lifts (squat, bench, deadlift), but their overall muscle went down. This is because bodybuilding and powerlifting, while related, are two separate sports. This is supported in a study by Marchant and colleagues (2009). These researchers had subjects perform a lift with an external verses an internal focus. The external focus meant they focused on lifting the weight while the internal focus had the subjects focus on the biceps (elbow flexors). They found that force was greatest when using an external focus. However, muscle activation was greatest with an internal focus. This is because an internal focus distributes the tension primarily on the biceps and away from accessory muscles like the shoulders and helps to eliminate a great deal of momentum.

Can Pre-Fatigue Enhance the Mind-Muscle Connection?


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The world’s leading authority on glute activation and a good friend of mine, Bret Contreras, is a huge believer in the mind-muscle connection. One technique he uses is to sometimes pre-fatigue the glutes before targeting with a compound movement. The thought is to get your mind focused on that muscle before other muscles get involved.

A very common example would be that you may do a fly before a bench press. Does this work? The answer is YES! Fischer et al (2016) found that isolating the glutes before squats, activated the glutes more than just squatting alone! This technique can be used with any exercise including doing biceps curls before pull-ups, push-ups before cable fly’s or hamstring curls before deadlifts.

Conclusions


The mind-muscle connection, or intent, is a phenomenal tool to enhance muscle activation. Below are some take-home tips you can use right away!

1. Intent involves focusing directly on the target muscle itself and Initiating the movement only with the primary muscle of interest.

2. An example of intent would involve contracting the pecs first before moving the arms in a flying motion, or retracting the scapula first during a bent over row prior to any movement of the arms.

3. It will take time to learn intent, so be aware that your weights will lower at first but then raise as you improve.

4. If your goal is to focus on strength and external focus is better.

5. Using pre-fatigue via isolating the target muscle prior to using a compound movement is great when it comes to optimizing intent.

Why Training Frequency Will Make You Grow

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Training Frequency Introduction


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Are you currently stuck in your training program? You have made sure that you’re constantly increasing training volume, progressively overloading, using a greater variety of exercises, and consuming enough calories and protein, but you’re not making the gains that you want? The normal bodybuilding split has you training one muscle group or body part once per week. During these training sessions, you are probably doing 15-20 sets of brutal drop sets, strip sets, and supersets to attempt to break your plateau. What if I told you that there may be an easier way? Have you ever attempted to train more frequently? Instead of hitting one muscle group every 7 days, maybe you hit that same muscle group every 2-3 days. I know that you’re probably thinking, “that sounds dumb, that’s how you over-train. How am I going to destroy a muscle with 30-50 sets per week and still recover?”

Well, I am not saying that you should keep the training volume high. I am actually saying that you should take your current training volume and divide it among 2-3 days. Therefore, your volume is staying the same, but the frequency of training a body part increases dramatically. We will discuss why this can be a great approach to breaking a plateau and how to do it.

“The Law of Practice – the more you perform a given activity, the greater your performance at that activity will be.

The Basics


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Before we begin, I ask you to understand two very important concepts. This includes training volume and training frequency. Training volume is the amount of total weight lifted by a single body part per training session. This number is determined by multiplying the number of reps performed by sets performed by weight. Therefore, if you do bench press for 2 sets of 15 reps at 250 pounds and then 1 set of 12 at 250 pounds, your total training volume for that bench press session would be 10,500 pounds. An easier way to look at training volume is how many sets you perform for a single body part each week. Most will train with 10-20 sets per week per muscle. Training frequency is slightly different, it’s not the amount of training volume, but how often you train a muscle. These are two very important concepts that we must remember as we move forward.

Training Age


In research, you will often hear researchers talk about training age. Unfortunately, most of the research that we have is in untrained people, which means that the scientists found some random college kids that workout every 2-3 days with no real training experience. However, in athletes, training age matters. College and professional athletes have a very high training age. Some of them have probably undergone intense training for 15-20 years to be the best they can at their sport. These are the athletes that will benefit the most from increasing their training frequency.

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Although, do not let this discourage you. If you have been going to the gym and crushing the weights for the last 2-3 years, but you’ve finally plateaued, increasing your training frequency can still be an awesome tool for you to use. We know that as you become more trained, the response that you get to any training stimulus is decreased; therefore, noobie gains are non-existent. A study by Tang et al (2008) found that in trained people, protein synthesis after training spikes very quickly, but falls back to normal within 16 hours. However, in untrained people (noobies) protein synthesis does not spike as quickly but it is sustained much longer! This could be a reason why people who are trained do not make as many gains as people who are untrained. Another study by Doering et al (2016) had a similar outcome when they compared young athletes to old athletes. The young athletes had a much greater protein synthesis response to training than the old athletes. This means that your training age has a huge impact on how well you respond to training and why you need to increase training frequency.

Training Frequency & Muscle Gains


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I know this is the information that you have been waiting for. How will increasing my training frequency make me bigger? If you watched Facebook Live from last Thursday, September 21, 2017 I discussed a few studies that compared different training frequencies on muscle and strength gains. If you missed it, check it out below! However, in general, we find that periodizing your training is most optimal for gaining muscle. For example, I would not recommend going to the gym and training with 4 exercises for 4 sets of 10-15 reps for 30 weeks thinking that it is going to help you gain muscle. As I discussed in the last section, we know that you adapt to just about every stimulus. This means that you need to change up your style of training at least every 14-16 weeks to continue to make gains.

Interestingly, a study performed by Hakkinen et al (1994) looked at a splitting the volume of one day of training between two sessions in that same day. Therefore, instead of training once a day, athletes trained twice a day but volume was the same. The researchers found that when splitting the volume between two sessions, athletes doubled their strength! In 2012 researchers took this concept one step further. Instead of training three days per week, they divided the volume among six days. This means that if you were to squat for six Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you would now squat for three sets Monday-Saturday. The researchers found that not only did the athletes increase strength, but that also increased muscle size! Little do people know, Olympic athletes commonly train 3-4 times a day because know that it will not only increase strength but size. This is also a great way to increase volume! As discussed earlier in this article in other articles volume is a huge predictor of muscle gains.

How to Increase Frequency & Volume


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You may be wondering how you increase your training volume. It is actually very simple. For example, if you train legs on Monday with four sets each of squats, leg press, leg extensions, and hamstring curls for a total of 16 sets, you would divide this volume among three days. Monday, you would do four sets of squats, Wednesday you would do four sets of leg press, and Friday you would do four sets each of leg extensions and hamstring curls. Another way that you could increase training frequency would be to do full-body workouts.

For example, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday you can train each major body part. Therefore, Monday would be two sets of each squat, RDL, bent over row, wide grip pull-up, dumbbell press, and Arnold press. Wednesday would be two sets each of hack squat, deadlift, single arm dumbbell row, cable face pull, barbell bench press, and lateral dumbbell fly. Friday would then be two sets each of Leg press, lying hamstring curl, wide grip lat pulldown, rear dumbbell fly, barbell incline press, and upright rows. This would be a high-frequency training split that would target the primary muscle groups.

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As you can see, the total volume is low because you are only doing two sets per muscle group per day for a total of six sets per week. This is probably much lower than what you are accustomed to doing. However, there is a method to my madness. The goal is to start low and increase volume as needed to continuously make gains. Once you have adapted to a high-frequency training split, you can add one or two sets per day per body part. Therefore, instead of doing two sets per day, you would be doing three to four sets per day. At the end of the week, you would now be doing a total of nine to twelve sets per week. From here, you can increase from training three days per week to training four days per week. You have now taken your total training volume to twelve-sixteen sets per muscle group per week. Research proves that this will not only make you significantly stronger, but huge!

Conclusions


In conclusion, increasing your training frequency per body part is a great option for making new gains. This is whether your goal is to gain size, strength, or both. It may go against your current training style, but it is easy to adapt your current training to a high-frequency split. Using the methods mentioned in this article are tried and true methods for optimizing your goals. If you have any more questions, head over to the #askthedoc FAQ where I have over a thousand of the most asked questions answered!

The Guide to Rapid Chest Gains

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Introduction


Let’s face it, guys tend to train chest and arms more than any other body part. Although similarly to any body part, the frequency is not the only key to development. It comes down to truly understanding how a muscle operates so that you can target it effectively with your training. In this FAQ I am going to break down chest development into the most commonly asked questions.

Chest Anatomy


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The chest muscles are made up of the pectoralis major and minor. The major is the largest muscle, but the minor still makes up a part of the overall mass. The pectoralis major as the picture below shows can be divided into upper and lower regions. The upper chest attaches to the clavicle (collar bone), thus is known as the clavicular head. The lower attaches to your sternum, so it is called the sternal head (note that sometimes the lower head is divided into the sternal and abdominal heads). The mass of the sternal head is about 70-80 percent of the pecs, while the other 20 to 30 is made up of the upper or clavicular head. Therefore, developing a huge chest will likely be dependent on the lower head, but for a complete balanced look, you should focus on both!

Upper Chest (Clavicular Head) Movements & Training


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While the upper chest has several functions, its two primary movements are horizontal adduction and flexion. Horizontal adduction occurs when you give someone a BIG HUG! Shoulder flexion occurs when your arms are at your side and you raise them straight upwards. The upper pecs have a much better mechanical advantage then the lower pecs do at flexion, keep this in mind when we design training for the upper chest! Movements that can target this muscle will occur in the transverse (horizontal) and frontal planes. Therefore, using exercises such as an incline cable or dumbbell flys, incline dumbbell or barbell press, or even guillotine press are optimal to target this head of the chest. In addition, when training the shoulders with front (anterior) movements such as a dumbbell, barbell, or plate front raises will not only target the anterior head of the deltoids but incorporate the clavicular head of the chest, especially if you incorporate a slight angle backward in your body position.

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The upper chest is controlled by a different nerve than the lower chest (lateral pectoral nerve). There are two primary avenues that research has looked at when it comes to increasing the activation of this region. The first is hand placement on the bar and the second is the angle of the bench when training. When selecting hand placement you can use shoulder width, normal width (about 25% wider than shoulder width), and wide ( >50 % shoulder width). In one study Dr. Barnet et al. (1995) found that a grip of shoulder width caused the greatest upper chest activation. The reason is that pressing a barbell or dumbbell at this angle causes you to have much greater shoulder flexion than a wider grip. Remember the upper chest has a better mechanical advantage than the lower chest for flexion. As such this grip is ideal. Other ways to increase flexion will be low cable cross overs. For bench angle, research shows that a moderate incline bench press maximises upper chest activation. This occurs anywhere between 30 degrees (low incline) and 50 degrees (moderate incline) (Barnett et al. 1995, Lauver et al. 2015, Trebs et al. 2010, Luczak et al. 2013). Anything above this will place the load away from the upper chest and primarily onto the shoulder muscles.

Lower Chest (Sternal Head) Movements & Training


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The primary function of the sternal head of the chest is horizontal adduction (again hugging motion). They also extend the arm in front of you. This means that if you were to raise your arms to eye level, the lower pecs could bring them back down to your side. While both the upper and lower chest horizontally adduct the chest (hugging motion), the lower appears to be activated to a greater degree the more this motion is emphasized. Lehman et al. 2005 conducted research that showed a wider grip (150 degrees or greater of shoulder width) activates the lower chest more. The reason likely is that this position enhances the amount of horizontal flexion that occurs compared to a closer grip bench. Finally, the lower pecs have been shown to have high activation on the flat bench, and greatest when you perform decline bench (Lauver et al. 2015). The lower pecs also extend the arm, as such pullovers of any motion will assist in the complete development of these muscles.

For Full Chest Development is Incline, Flat, and Decline Enough?


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Ben Pakulski is one of the most brilliant minds when it comes to skeletal muscle hypertrophy and angles. He recently was put on record as stating that to optimize pec development you need to train it at every angle possible. As with much of what Ben has stated recent research supports this. In fact, Dr. Fung and colleagues (2009) performed a study where they took cadavers and created a 3d image of the chest muscles. They found that it could be divided into 8 functional segments. Specifically, the upper chest was treated as one, and the lower as seven! Thus, while I suggested that in general incline bench is ideal for upper pecs and flat and/or decline for lower chest, in reality, you should still every training session hit at least one unique angle in between!

What’s better for Growth? Barbell, Dumbbell, or Machine Press?


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Compound movements occur when you press a barbell, dumbbell, or machine which ranges from a decline to incline movement. The bench press (barbell or dumbbell) and variations thereof generally form the basis of any chest building program. Intriguingly research shows that on a bench press training program that the pectoralis increases to a greater extent with increasing strength as compared to the triceps and shoulders (Ogasawara et al. 2012). This seems to confirm that the chest muscles are the major muscles responsible for moving the bar during these pressing movements. However, it is important to realize that as long as you are performing a pressing movement that all variations of bench press, be it a machine, dumbbell, or barbell seem to activate the pecs equally, given the relative weight lifted is similar (Calatayud et al. 2015). The take home message is that you should use each of these variations to avoid any plateau in your chest development!

Are Isolation Movements Effective for the Chest?


According to electromyography studies, which measure muscle activation, the answer is YES! As surprising as it sounds movements such as dumbbell and machine flys have been shown to activate the pecs to the same degree as pressing movements (Welsch et al. 2012). The advantage to using isolation movements is that they are less fatiguing centrally (fatigue in your brain and spinal cord). Thus, we recommend using isolation movements on your hypertrophy and recovery days as a way to increase chest size but maximize recovery.

How Heavy Should I lift and What is the Best Tempo?


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The pectoralis major is made up of a higher proportion of type II muscle fibers (57-65 % fast twitch in the literature (Srinivasan et al. 2007; Johnson et al. 1973). Fast twitch muscle fibers are worked ideally at faster speeds and with heavier loads. Research using EMG has assessed muscle activation using loads from 60% of 1RM to maximal. In doing so it was found that pec activation was near maximal at 80% 1RM. As such relatively heavier loads (>60%) and lifting at a speed you can control the weight, but that is relatively faster may be ideal. I say this with one caveat, remember that once pec growth slows you may need to start adopting some very high repetition sets if you are to maximize pec growth. Slow twitch muscle fibers grow ideally under very high rep loading schemes (50% 1RM until failure) (Schoenfeld et al. 2013).

I’ve heard athletes like Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker got a huge chest by doing pushups every day, is this enough? These are of course some of the greatest athletes of all time. However, being in the top one-percent it is difficult to compare most people to them. Based on the research, bodyweight pushups, unless you are not well trained will not provide a great enough load to maximize chest development. In fact in a trained population you may only get 30% maximal activation of your pecs (Lehman et al. 2006). Thus, while push-ups may serve a solid role for hypertrophy in the slow twitch muscle fibers you will likely need a loading mechanism to use them for maximal growth. Fortunately, studies show that when you do heavier banded pushups that you can activate the pecs similar to movements like the bench press (Calatayud et al. 2015)!

Practical Applications


This article sought to assist you in building the best chest possible. We covered several questions and I believe can summarize them with the following practical applications

1. Training the upper chest requires using a shoulder width grip and a moderate incline of 30 to 50 degrees on pressing movements. If performing flys select the same incline. You can also train the upper pecs via using low cable flys.

2. Training the lower pecs requires selecting a wider grip on the bench or arcing wider when using dumbbells. Flat and particularly decline angles target the lower pecs to a greater degree.

3. Machine and isolation movements can build the chest just as much as compound and isolation. We recommend using these on hypertrophy and recovery days to maximize recovery.

4. The chest can be divided into at least 8 segments. Thus, while incline, flat and decline angles are great for development, using all the angles in between will likely result in complete pectoral development.

5. The muscle fiber makeup of the chest is primarily fast twitch (about 60%). Thus the majority of your lifting (at least 60%) should be performed at greater than 60% of your 1RM. However, don’t ignore the slow twitch fibers. Performing super high rep sets (12-30 reps, giant sets, or super sets) can and still be beneficial.

6. Pushups are a convenient movement, particularly when you are traveling or have little access to major pieces of equipment. However, if you are well trained they will likely do very little for muscle growth if not loaded. Fortunately doing banded push-ups can make up for this. Therefore pack these if you are traveling and don’t have access to a gym!

Conclusions


The chest is a complex muscle group. As with any muscle group they will require an equally complex strategy to optimize growth. While your program should center around the basics, you will likely optimize growth by using multiple angles, and a combination of free weights, machines, isolation movements and rep ranges! Remember, as discussed in previous articles you will need to intelligently periodize these strategies!

Time Under Tension for Muscle Growth

Introduction


Time under tension (TUT) is a technique generally utilized by bodybuilders and strength coaches to increase strength and muscle growth. It refers to how long the working muscle is under stress or “tension” during a set. People typically try and increase TUT by slowing down the reps and placing more focus on the different phases of a lift i.e. concentric, static, and eccentric. For example, a typical rep scheme of 8-12 would last about 12-20 seconds, whereas a set using prolonged TUT would last about 64-96 seconds, depending upon the tempo used. Increasing TUT is speculated to keep the muscle under stress for a longer period which may result in more gains.

Volume


Most likely, if you are in the bodybuilding and fitness world you have heard of the phrase “training volume” or have an idea of what training volume is. For those who are hearing it for the first time, training volume is the amount of sets x reps x weight lifted. For example, if you hit the gym and perform 4 sets of 15 reps on bench press with 225 lbs, your volume for that day would be 13,500 lbs. If you do that 3 times per week, your weekly volume is 40,500 lbs. With training volume being a key factor to influencing the effectiveness of your workout routine and muscle gains, it may be wise to closely monitor how you incorporate time under tension due to its reduction in volume. This is because slower reps tend to make us lower the weight lifted.

sets-reps-weight-volume

Time Under Tension


fast-vs-slow-contractions

Let’s see if the claims are supported by the research showing that time under tension is superior to lifting heavy ass weight. A study conducted by Munn and colleagues compared the effects on strength in the early phases of resistance training with one set or three sets, and fast contractions versus slow contractions. In this study, 115 healthy untrained subjects were randomized to a control group or one out of four training groups, each of which performed one of the following; one set fast, three sets fast, one set slow, or three sets slow. The fast group used a tempo of 1-0-1-0 while the slow groups used a tempo of 3-0-3-0. Subjects trained three times a week for six weeks. After six weeks, the one set (slow) group increased strength by 25%. The three set groups all increased in strength more than the one set groups. All the fast training groups increased in strength more than the slow training groups. However, there were no differences in muscle growth.

These findings go against the recommendations of personal trainers and average strength coaches; how could it be that a faster rep scheme had not just an equal, but greater effect than a slow and steady contraction? Could it be because the populations studied were untrained? How would those results compare to trained individuals? To answer this question, Hatfield DL and Kraemer WJ (2006) took nine resistance trained men performing a squat and shoulder press exercise at 60 or 80% of 1 repetition maximum (concentric)(1RM). The subjects could then choose either a speed of their choosing or very slow (10-second eccentric and 10-second concentric) for as many repetitions as possible. Volume was also measured. The group performing very slow contractions had fewer repetitions compared to the voluntary group, indicating that a very slow speed decreases volume, which may have a negative impact on muscle strength. In fact another similar study by Dr. Shepstone and colleagues (2005) found that long term faster contractions resulted in more muscle growth than slow contractions.

How Should You Dictate Speed of a Repetition?


volume-graph

An excellent way to control the speed of the repetition is to let your form, weight, and fatigue dictate the weight that is lifted. We know that focusing on a repetition increases tension in the muscle as indicated by muscle recruitment (Marchant et al. 2006). This would likely slow the weight. We also know that heavier loads and fatigue decrease the speed of a rep. For example, studies show that the second half of a set is performed slower than the first half due to intramuscular and central fatigue (Duffey et al. 2007). For this reason, we suggest using faster speeds with respect to form, the weight lifted, and the speed of the rep. Adversely, increasing time under tension will require a lighter weight, a reduction in sets and reps resulting in a decrease of total volume, and a decrease in muscle damage.

Conclusions


The current research does not support purposefully slowing down a repetition to increase muscle growth. That doesn’t mean that there are not great benefits to utilizing longer time under tension. A slower eccentric contraction can be used to learn a skill and increase the mind muscle connection. However, as technique is improved slower speeds may no longer be needed. Additionally, if an athlete is not used to slow speeds it may serve as a new stimulus for growth given a lack of adaptation to this technique. All things considered, let form, the weight lifted, and fatigue dictate the speed of a rep.

Are Women Stronger Than Men?

women-stronger-men

Introduction


There is a great misconception when it comes to the strength of women. There is no doubt that men are superior to women when it comes to absolute strength and absolute power. Unfortunately for men, that is where the difference ends. Research shows that there may not be many strength differences between men and women when comparing body weight and lean muscle mass. In fact, some of the results are showing that in certain aspects women are superior to men.

Growth Rate


women-stronger-than-men-relative-muscle-gains

One study by Cureton et al. (1988) looked at how fast men and women grow. Researchers found that there were no differences in how fast both sexes grew. The only difference was the baseline. On average, men have more lean muscle and less fat than women, so at the end, it appears that men grow more than women. For example, when a 175-pound male (141 pounds of lean muscle) and a 140-pound female (99 pounds of lean muscle) underwent a sixteen-week resistance training program; they both increased lean mass by 10%. At the end, the male would have jumped up to 151-pounds of lean muscle and the female would be just shy of 110-pounds of lean muscle. The male would look jacked in comparison to the female. Does that mean the man grew more? No, not at all. They both increased mass by 10% but due to their starting point, visually, it appears as if the male gained muscle faster than the female. These results are similar to the other research comparing men and women. Hansen and Kjaer (2014) showed that there was no measurable difference in the relative muscle growth in response to training between sexes. Furthermore, they found there were no differences in protein synthesis when consuming whey protein between men and women; even though men had an elevated testosterone response after they trained.

Strength Increases


women-stronger-than-men-strength-increases

The same can be said for strength increases. Ribeiro et al. (2014) looked at the impact of an eight-week training program on the strength of men and women. There were 23 men and 15 women. The groups performed 3 sessions a week, 10 exercises for 8-12 reps. After the eight weeks, both groups increased strength, however, absolute strength was higher in males when compared to females. Although, women made more gains throughout the duration of the study relative to their body weight showing a greater increase in relative strength for females. There are several explanations that can be used to show the differences in strength increases. For one, this particular study did not properly control for training experience. It is quite possible that the females were initially less experienced and the strength increase can be explained by noobie gains. Another explanation could be the fact that the neural adaptations are more intense amongst women than they are in men, an explanation that can be supported by findings from (Ivy et al., 1998).

This next one could very well be the greatest advantage, the most potent weapon in the female lifters arsenal; the ability to recover faster. Have you ever noticed that girl in the gym that seems to come in every day, workout out for hours, and somehow maintain the same level of intensity from the time she walked into the time she leaves? How is that possible? Many studies have reported a difference in recovery rate and muscle fatigue between genders, with the differences favoring females (Hicks et al., 2001; Dannecker et al., 2012). There have been several proposed ideas as to why females recover faster than males; less muscle damage induced during training, reduced dependency on carbs during training, a lower ability to generate force, and the differences in sex hormones.

Reduced Muscle Damage & Metabolic Stress


women-stronger-than-men-women-burn-more-fat

On average females tend to have lower lean body mass than males, therefore a lower force is generated while performing the same movement. Therefore, they may produce less muscle damage than men when training. This contributes to their ability to recover faster. We also know that muscle damage is one of the drivers of muscle growth. Also, since women have an overall lower muscle mass than men, they actually have less blood flow restriction when training. Check this article if you want to learn more about blood flow restriction training. We also know that restricting veins and allowing a buildup of lactic acid during training contributes to muscle growth. This can further circle back to why women have more endurance than men, then can clear lactic acid better. Another variable that can be contributing to more endurance in females is fuel utilization. Tarnopolsky (2004) observed that females tend to have a lower reliance on carbohydrate carbs during exercise, even when they were on a high carb diet. To sum it all up, women are built to have more endurance than men.

Hormones


The sex hormone estrogen has been linked as a key contributor to the differences seen in women. Many studies are showing estrogen to act similar to nitric oxide (NO). As mentioned above, an increase in NO during training can be beneficial to increase endurance. One study found that when men with low testosterone were given estrogen, they actually increased NO production showing that it was a very strong vasodilator! We also know that estrogen has very strong fat burning effects, which is another reason why women tend to rely more on fat as energy than carbs!

women-stronger-than-men-women-and-bfr

Conclusions


In conclusion, women seem to be designed to have much more endurance and burn more fat than men. If we look at absolute strength, obviously men are stronger because they have more muscle mass and they have a better ability to generate force. We know these are both key factors when lifting heavy weight. However, when we look at women, they have a lower muscle mass, which seems to give them an advantage. They have more strength endurance, recover more quickly, burn more fat, can go for hours in the gym, and seem to have the same strength as men when you put lean muscle in the equation. Guys, if you want to get your ass kicked in the gym, work out with that girl that you have been afraid to ask for their number.

How to Break a Plateau

exercise-variation-hypertrophy

Introduction


We have all gone through periods during your training journey where you felt that you couldn’t make gains. You may feel that you’re not getting any bigger or stronger. This can take a toll on your individual mentally. This plateau will often lead to an individual training heavier or longer. In fact, that’s the first thing we do. If our bench press is stalled we do more sets. If your squat isn’t going up, we increase the load. But is this the best strategy?

types-of-muscle-contractions

A common theme found when someone is stuck in a rut is that they are not providing enough variety in their workouts, rather they are just completing the same exercise routine repeatedly. The only changes that you may make are adding more sets and more reps. I am here to tell you that changing up the exercises or the way that you perform an exercise may be a better alternative than increasing exercise intensity or volume!

There are many ways that you can switch up your training routine to maximize hypertrophy. This includes changing up exercise selection, type of contraction, the speed of the contraction, or your range of motion. You can also implement training variables such as Blood Flow Restriction Training (BFR) to maximize gains.

Changes in Exercise Variation


changes-in-hypertrophy

In 2014, we completed a study that was conducted on 49 healthy young males looking at the effects of varying exercise intensity and exercise selection on hypertrophy (muscle growth). Subjects were divided into groups which varied exercises or varied the intensity. The part of the study I am addressing is the comparison between people who increased the volume and load with one exercise versus another group that increased volume with new exercises. Below is an overview of the study!

Results showed that all groups that trained saw increases in the size of their quadriceps; however, there is more to the results than meets the eye! Only the groups that changed their exercises saw an increase in the size of ALL the quadriceps muscles, while the other groups failed to grow in all areas of the quadriceps! Additionally, it is interesting to note that the group that saw the greatest increase in strength was the group that only changed their exercise selection!

Contraction Type


There are three primary types of muscle contractions including concentric, eccentric, or isometric. Concentric contractions are when the muscle is shortening and eccentric contractions are when the muscle is lengthening (Mayhew et al., 1995). However, isometric contractions are slightly different because the muscle is not moving, but the muscle is contracted. What is interesting about isometric contractions is that they cause a restriction in venous blood flow, therefore blood can enter the muscle, but no blood can leave. This causes a buildup of metabolic by-products in the muscle, which we know that can lead to hypertrophy!

Fast vs Slow Contractions


slow-muscle-contractions

What about slowing down your contraction? Many advocate to slow down the concentric or eccentric portion of the lift because it is claimed to cause muscle growth. However, that is not the case. Research shows that slowing down a contraction leads to less muscle growth than performing the repetition fast (Shepstone et al., 2005). This is because when you slow down the contraction you lose tension in the muscle. This loss of tension causes less hypertrophy than performing the rep fast. Therefore, on the eccentric portion of a lift, do not slow a rep down because you want to maximize gains. Use a fast, but controlled, speed.

Conclusions


Research shows that varying exercise selection may be more important for muscle growth than changing exercise intensity. Put this information to good work by switching things up to push past your plateaus and continue to grow! So how can you do this if all you like to do is squat and bench? Well, realize that there are multiple variations of each. For example, you can squat using a high bar, low bar, wide and close stance. You can also squat with free weights, machines, or by adding bands or chains to the bar. You can also switch up the type of contractions that you are performing and optimize the eccentric portion of a lift by performing it fast, but controlled.

How Does HIIT Get You Jacked & Shredded?

What is Insulin Sensitivity?

Insulin has been notoriously recognized as the mother of all anabolic hormones and plays an important role in making big bodybuilders, bigger. I want to focus on what you can do as a natural athlete to fully embrace the benefits of being insulin sensitive. If you refer back to our “The Basics of Insulin Sensitivity” article, it outlines all of the benefits of being insulin sensitive and what you can do to be more insulin sensitive. In this article, I am going to outline the benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) on insulin sensitivity and why it is important for gaining muscle and losing body fat.

What is HIIT?

HIIT is an intense form of exercise has shown to enhance fat oxidation and mitochondrial enzyme activity; both are indicators of improved ability to lose body fat. As you know, the more effectively your body uses carbohydrates the more effectively you are able to stay lean and gain muscle. HIIT is a strategy where you do 1-10, 6-30 second “all-out” bursts of work. This includes sprinting, biking, climbing stairs or jump roping paired with a moderate amount of rest time or active recovery with little movement. HIIT is a great form of cardiovascular training because it skyrockets your metabolism (you burn more calories) and increases your oxygen demand after training (you burn more calories for a longer period of time). In addition to that, you are able to fit a large amount of work into a very small window of time.

HIIT on Insulin Sensitivity

In this study, researchers looked at the effects of 4-6, 30 second sprints, for a total of 15 minutes over two weeks; basically, the subjects only did 15 minutes of actual work during the two weeks. What they found was that from before to after the intervention, the subjects greatly improved their insulin sensitivity. What I mean by this is that their blood glucose and insulin stayed significantly lower after the consumption of 75g of pure glucose. Why is this important? As I said before, if you can utilize carbohydrates better by not having to secrete as much insulin when you ingest the carbohydrates they will be sent to muscle tissue to be used as energy and not to fat tissue where they are stored.

In addition, if you are insulin sensitive, when it comes time to “cut down” you are going to have a much easier time losing body fat because your body is using the carbohydrates for muscle energy instead of storing them as fat. With that being said, carbohydrates can be your friend or your enemy depending on what metabolic state you are in. I would say that if your body fat tends to be on the higher side (>18% for men and >23% for woman) then you may be slightly insulin resistant and should opt for a lower carbohydrate diet until your body fat lowers.

HITT on Fat Loss and Muscle Gain

If you’re anything like me, you aren’t thrilled about having to do cardio. Running, biking, stairs or using an elliptical machine for 60 minutes isn’t fun, nor do I think it is an efficient use of time. It is also quite easy to hit a plateau and halt progress while performing steady state cardio. So, the question becomes, how can we perform an exercise that is efficient and sheds off body fat at the same time?

Research has shown that you can achieve great results in 20 minutes or less HIIT! In fact, one study by Trapp et al. (2008) took 18-30 year old women and had them perform high-intensity intervals (8 sec sprint, 12 sec rest for 5-20 min) What they found was that they lost an average of 2.5 kg (6 lb!) of body fat.

Great! We know that HITT has a more favorable effect on insulin sensitivity and fat loss in comparison to other forms of cardio, but what about HITT’s impact on muscle gains. Can HITT be anabolic? When we look at sprinters vs marathon runners, it would make sense that sprinting may be anabolic. Sprinters have large legs and look lean and muscular. Marathon runners are also lean; however, they are very skinny and do not hold a lot of muscle mass.
 
No one has put sprinting to the test to see if it really is anabolic, not until recently that is! Our lab sought to find the answer to the age-old question; does interval sprinting (HITT) build mass and increase performance? In a unique study design, we took well-trained college hockey players around 18 to 20 years of age. We placed them in a high intensity sprinting group or low intensity steady state group. The sprinting group did 4 to 10, 10 to 30 second sprints. The low intensity group performed 45-60 minutes’ cardio at 65% of their heart rate max two times per week. As expected, we found that sprinting actually increased muscle size. This suggests that sprinting can actually be anabolic and get you shredded at the same time! Sprinting was also able to increase peak power production and average power! The hockey players performed better and were more muscular.

LISS on Fat Loss and Muscle Gain

“But what about the ‘fat-burning zone?'” you shout from the treadmill! By this, you refer to a study conducted in the early 1990s by Dr. Romijn, who concluded that we use the most fat during exercise when performing moderate intensity (65 percent heart rate max), long-duration (45-60 minutes) cardio.  
 
This study’s conclusions are reflected in the “fat-burning” programs on nearly every cardio machine at the gym. However, a major problem with the study is that what happens during exercise does not always reflect what will occur long term. I want to drive this point home. Look at pretty much everybody’s program and you’ll see how they approach these two goals: resistance training to build lean slabs of muscle mass, followed by some cardio to shred off the excess fat put on during a bulk. Simple enough, right? It is actually a much more complex process. One study by Trapp et al. (2008) took 18-30 year old women and had them perform low-intensity cardio (40 min at 60% HR max) 3 days/wk for 15 weeks. What they found was that the low intensity cardio group actually lost no body fat with no difference in their diets and lifting routines in comparison to their counterpart that lost an average of 6lbs.

Long-duration cardio has been shown to decrease muscle mass and interfere with the gains you make when resistance training. In addition, in one of the previous studies we examined, individuals actually gained fat mass while performing steady state cardio.

Key Points

1. HIIT is a training technique that uses intervals of very high intensities for a short amount of time.
2. Insulin sensitivity is crucial for losing body fat and gaining muscle.
3. HIIT can help you gain lean muscle mass and lose body fat.
4. HIIT is superior to low intensity, steady-state cardio.