Category: Training

Maximizing Deltoid Training


I grew up competing in Martial Arts and, of course, when you are a kid and teenager you play video games that go along with your interests. This means a lot of Street Fighter and Mortal Combat! I can remember always selecting Ryu and Ken in street fighter or Lui Kang in Mortal combat. What I remembered most was that they had great shoulders. That was the first time I really became fascinated with them. However, in bodybuilding and even bikini competition deltoids become very important. If you go back to the Greeks, a beautiful pair of shoulders would help emphasize or create the illusion of having a smaller waist. How do you build a beautiful pair of shoulders (Deltoids)? What are the secrets to unlocking this muscle groups majesty? This article will give you the keys to do this. This article will be presented in FAQ fashion.

What is the Anatomy and Function of the Deltoids?


The deltoids can be divided into the front, side, and rear deltoids; this means they have 3 heads. The bones they originate on are the shoulder blade (scapula) and collarbone (clavicle). The deltoids insert onto the upper arm (humerus). The rear deltoid defines the shoulders from the back and fittingly attaches to the back of the shoulder blades and inserts on the upper arm. The side deltoid provides width to your shoulders and attaches to the upper part of the scapula and inserts on the upper arm. Finally, the front deltoid originates on the collarbone and inserts on the upper arm as well. Functionally the rear, side, & front deltoids move your arms back, out to the side, & forward respectively.

How Heavy Should I lift When Training The Deltoids?


This is a difficult question. However, we can pull information from studies which look at muscle fiber makeup of the muscle group. Specifically, the deltoids average 50% fast and 50% slow twitch muscle fiber make up (Mavidis et al. 2007). This means that on average you should split your training up between heavier days (60-85 % 1RM for 6-12 reps) and lighter days (50-60 % of your 1RM for 12-30 reps).

Does Grip Width Impact Deltoid Growth?


Remember that the various heads of the deltoids have different functions. Specifically, the side deltoids main function is shoulder adduction. Again this means that it moves the arms out and to the side. Also, recall that the front deltoids flex the arms forward and upwards. As we all know the military press is a major mass builder when it comes to building the deltoids. How we perform this exercise impacts what head of the deltoid is emphasized. One study found that bringing the hands closer (shoulder width apart) caused more shoulder flexion and greater front delt activation during the military press (Ackland et al. 2008). This same study also found that a wide grip military press caused more shoulder abduction which increased activation of the side deltoids! Take home message is to use a close and wide grip when targeting front and side delts respectively.

What is Better? Standing or Seated Military Press?


The deltoids also function to stabilize the shoulder joint. That being said an increase in stability demands of an exercise may increase delt activation. In fact, this study found that Increasing stability demands (going from seated to standing) on the shoulders increased muscle activation of the deltoids by 8-24 % on dumbbell presses (Saeterbakken et al. 2013)! Thus, standing presses can be a valuable tool in your training game!

What is a Better Exercise? Upright Rows or Military Press?

The answer is that both are great. Research shows that upright rows are better at targeting the side deltoids than military presses (McAllister et al. 2013). In contrast, military presses are better at targeting the front deltoids

Does Bench Angle Impact the Front Delts Activation?


Yes! Research shows that on pressing movements that front delt activation increases as you move from decline bench to incline bench. However, after a steep incline (60 degrees) delt activation plateaus (Barnett et al. 2005). Realize, however, that when doing incline presses that chest activation increases. Thus, a great way to take advantage of this is to go to failure with military presses and then take the same weight and do incline presses after.

What Grip Should I take on Upright Rows for the Delts?

Research shows that a wide grip upright row causes greater abduction and thus greater side delt activation than close grip upright rows. Therefore for delt width select wide grip rows. It is interesting to note that the same study found close grip increased biceps activity. Thus, you could fail with wide grip upright rows and keep the set going with close grip upright rows (McAllister et al. 2013).

How Can you Optimize Tension in the Middle and Front Delts?


The front / anterior and middle deltoids are mechanically wired to function optimally around 60 to 120 degrees (arms above the eyes) on both front and side raise exercises. Given that the force of a weight is mechanically peaked at 90 degrees it would follow that focusing effort in the middle range of motion, with particular emphasis when the arm is parallel with the ground would optimize muscle activation (Ackland et al. 2008).

How Can You Optimize Tension in the Rear Delts?

The rear deltoids are mechanically wired to function optimally in the middle range of a horizontal lateral movement (Ackland et al. 2008). Dumbbells, however, peak in their line of force at the top range of motion, where the rear deltoids do not function well. For this reason, using cables or machines and stressing the middle range of motion can optimize rear deltoid growth.


The delts are an amazing muscle group. We learned a great deal in this article about how to optimize their training. Below is a bullet point breakdown of each of the lessons we covered.

• The deltoids consist of three parts: the anterior (front), medial (side), and posterior (rear) deltoids
• These muscles originate around the clavicles and scapula
• The front deltoids raise the arm upwards (shoulder flexion)
• The side deltoids raise the arm to the side (side laterals and upright rows)
• The rear deltoids extend the arm backward, particularly in a horizontal plane as in bent over laterals
• The deltoids are 50% fast and 50% slow. Thus, roughly half your training should be focused on each
• Wide grip and close grip presses hit the side and front deltoids respectively
• Standing movements activate the stability components of the deltoids and thus up muscle activation of the delts
• Upright rows and presses are ideal for side and front deltoids, respectively
• The bench angle, which optimizes front deltoid activation, is between incline and upright
• Upright rows are optimized with a wide rather than close grip
• On side and front raises the deltoids work ideally in the middle range of motion, with peak tension occurring when the dumbbell is parallel to the ground
• For bent over laterals tension of the dumbbell peaks at the top of the motion, but the muscle works best in the middle of the exercise. For this reason, cables optimize tension on rear deltoids

Breaking Down Genetic Barriers for Growth



Genetics. We hear the term all the time. People say “She is a genetic freak.” Or “I just don’t have the genetics for bodybuilding.” The concept is that we are limited by our genetic boundaries, one of which is the number of muscle fibers we are born with. Many textbooks say that the only way we can grow is by increasing the size of a predetermined number of muscle fibers that we have. This process is known as hypertrophy, but is there a way to increase the number of muscle fibers we have? This process is known as hyperplasia. To understand what hyperplasia is let’s take a quick trip back to my high school days.

A Journey in Time


When I was in high school (yes high school) I can remember devouring scientific research papers. One time, I ran across a study which induced more muscle fiber growth then I had ever seen in my life. The study was pretty unique. Specifically, Dr. Jose Antonio (a major influence in my life) took quails and tied weights to their wings. He hung 10-35 % of their weight on their wings for the time span of a month! What happened? The quails got JACKED (Antonio et al. 1993)!

How did The Quails Get Jacked?


There are two ways. First, their muscle fibers grew to levels never seen before in studies; then something peculiar happened. The quail’s muscle fibers hit a plateau or ceiling where they could no longer grow. Following, they actually split into two fibers. The end result was the formation of new muscle fibers (hyperplasia). The interesting thing here is that fat cells work similarly. When we are kids our fat cell number can increase. However, in adulthood, they normally just get bigger or smaller. What’s important to understand though is that very obese individuals can hit a ceiling in fat cell size and like muscle fibers, they also split. Once split you have more fat cells you will have to shrink to lose fat.

What can we learn from This Research


Muscles can grow in the presence of constant overload. Dr. Antonios study overloaded these animals wings every single day without rest. From chatting with him on this, he said, “the animals had a lot of muscle damage and yet their muscles kept growing every day.” This may answer the question “can I train when I am sore.” In addition fairly new research in elite powerlifters showed benching and squatting every day was better than doing it every other day (Raastad et al. 2012).


Extreme stretching in and of itself can be anabolic. In fact, in my old lab when we isolated muscle fibers and stretched them, it triggered growth factors.


Training protocols that cause a lot of muscle damage may be a catalyst for hyperplasia.

How can we apply this research to grow?

The first thing to understand is that muscle damage and eccentric/stretch overload is extremely taxing on the body. We suggest using the priority principle. This means don’t try and induce hyperplasia in your whole body, but rather select one body part at a time to work with. If you choose a small body part you can train everything else normal. If you choose legs, on the other hand, lower the volume in your other body parts.


Second, we have had success with two techniques. One is eccentric overload. In this case, you lift a weight normally on the way up, but on the way down have your partner push the weight downwards while you resist.

Third weighted intermittent stretching can increase muscle growth, even in muscle groups as stubborn as the calves! In fact this is exactly what we have found in our lab. Thus, we suggest implementing this into your routine twice a week on whatever lagging body parts you might have. To incorporate this you must use an exercise where you can safely stretch the muscle, and where the weight doesn’t put you in a position to get injured. For example, you wouldn’t select dips to stretch your pecs. Instead you might use lying dumbbell fly’s in which you hold the weight in the stretched or bottom portion of the lift.

Training for Hyperplasia

Below the article is a list of suggested weighted stretches you might use per body part. Once you select out the body part of interest you will begin with a weight you can lift until failure for 12-15 repetitions. Following failure you will either let the weight stretch your muscles or find an appropriate stretch to use immediately between the set for 30-60 seconds. Immediately following, you will strip the weight down by 15 percent and go to failure again. Repeat this process 2-3 more times and you are done. I guarantee you that this will be one of the most challenging techniques you have ever implemented and that the pump you will get will be like nothing you have ever experienced! For a one month program I suggest performing this twice a week and increasing the weight by 3-5 percent each week. You can also overload by increasing the time you stretch by about 5 seconds each week. Below is a sample program in which an individual can perform leg press calf raises with 300 pounds for 15 reps and seated calf raises with 100 lbs.



In conclusion, you may be able to induce hyperplasia, but it has to be done under extremely brutal conditions such as intraset stretching, extreme stretching, high volume, and muscle-damaging protocols. Hyperplasia occurs when the muscle cell reaches its growth potential and split to form new muscle fibers that will continue to grow. There is an abundant amount of information across mammalian species showing hyperplasia can occur given the right conditions.

Muscle Damage for Muscle Growth



Muscle growth is an intriguing topic. I’ve spent the better part of my career helping others maximize the process. One of the areas we must understand is how muscle growth occurs. There are at least three primary ways muscle may be triggered to grow. Mechanical tension (the strain and load on the muscle is one of them. Tension, whether high or moderate and sustained over time can cause growth. The outcome of tension we are unaccustomed to is an elevation in muscle damage. While we are uncertain if muscle damage causes growth we do know it results from novel training and that novel training results in growth. In my years of study, I have come to the conclusion that training that results in small to moderate amounts of muscle damage may stimulate growth while extreme amounts may do the opposite. Thus in this article, I will answer your questions from what muscle damage is, how you can trigger it and what steps you can take to NOT OVERDO it.

What is Muscle Damage and How Does It Happen?


Muscle damage occurs when you lift heavy or do eccentric training. In a muscle fiber, you have a chain of sarcomeres, which are the contractile units of a muscle fiber. Some of these are weaker than others. When a muscle fiber is stressed with heavy weight or repeated loads these weaker sarcomeres essentially are injured beyond repair. This leads to soreness, swelling, and a decrease in strength.

Muscle damage occurs during lengthening or eccentric contractions. The natural repair process involves inflammation, swelling, and pain. However, if nutrition is ideal afterward, you will gain muscle mass and potentially strength.

Does the Type of Contraction You Do Impact Muscle Damage?


Lifting involves upwards (concentric), downwards (eccentric) and squeezing (isometric) phases. Muscle damage is highest when you lower the weight. For this reason, doing heavy or forced eccentric exercise can cause a lot of soreness the next day. Therefore, if you are trying to shock the muscle to grow this may be a good technique. In contrast to a recovery workout, try using lighter weights and focusing on a pump on the concentric portion of the lift.

Can you Cause Too Much Muscle Damage?


We like to always assume that if some of a good thing gets us gains that a lot must be even better. Thus athletes like to think that as muscle damage goes up that growth goes up at the same time. However, it seems that this is only true up to a moderate amount of damage. If it is too high such that it lasts over a week you may damage and actually lose size. In the end, you will actually cause a small loss of muscle (Foley et al. 1999). This usually occurs when you have taken time off for a long time, are a beginner or just push past the point of no return. Shawn Ray one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time always said to “stimulate, don’t annihilate.”

When should you be most concerned about causing too much damage? The answer is when you are not well trained or if you have taken time off. For example, one study found that after high volume training that deconditioned individuals lost muscle and it remained smaller for months (Foley et al. 1999)! For this reason, we will discuss what causes muscle damage and then how we can first make the muscle protected against extreme damage.

Intensity and Muscle Damage

Intensity is defined by how heavy of a weight you are lifting. Research shows that heavier weights cause more muscle damage (Nosaka et al. 2002). Thus, your heavier days (5-8 reps with 3-5 minutes rest) will cause muscle growth through mechanical trauma. However, if you are doing a recovery workout you might increase your reps (12-15) and lower your rest to cause growth through more metabolic stress.

How Does Rep Speed Effect Muscle Damage?


Many people think that going slower on the way down of a lift will make you grow faster. In reality, it’s the opposite. Faster reps cause more muscle damage. Thus if the goal is to trigger mechanical trauma to induce growth to use faster reps with control. Why is this the case? You will get more training volume and be able to lift heavier loads (Chapman et al. 2008). It’s important to understand that purposely slowing the speed of a rep will by nature lower the amount of weight you can lift with that weight (Sakamoto et al. 2006).

In addition to this what you must realize is that the amount of weight you lift and the amount of fatigue you have will naturally slow the weight down anyway (Duffey et al. 2000). This means that the first half of a set may be fast but as you fatigue, each rep will naturally become slow. Similarly, if you lift 100 lbs it will be faster than if you lifted 200. Thus use a speed that allows you to have good form and let the weight and fatigue dictate the rest.

How Does Training Volume Effect Muscle Damage?


The easiest way to define volume is simply how much total weight you lift in a workout. The more sets you perform generally speaking the higher your volume. Studies show greater training volumes result in more muscle damage and often growth (Brown et al. 1992). Thus, for days you are trying to grow, select out higher volumes, but not so high as to annihilate. This will inevitably vary with your conditioning. For example, if you are untrained 4 sets may be high volume, while someone with high levels of experience may be able to handle 20 to 30. In general, if you lift high volume every week and every workout your body won’t be able to recover. Thus if your low volume is 8 sets do that week one, and week 2 to 12 and week 3 16 to 20 per set. Then back down to 8 per body part the following week.

Other Thoughts on Muscle Damage

Range of Motion

The range of motion you use when training can dramatically increase muscle damage. Partial reps do not trigger as much muscle damage or growth when you compare them to full range of motion. Therefore, we recommend using full range-of-motion-on when lifting any weight. Unless you are going to failure on your sets and using failure training, then you can use partial reps.



A question I commonly get asked is, “does active recovery help with muscle damage?” The answer to this is that warming up doesn’t necessarily speed recovery from muscle damage or help you recover strength. However, it does have a pain-relieving effect. This to relieve pain from training. So add an extra 5 to 10 minutes to your workouts for warming up.

Repeated Bout Effect


Another question I am asked is, “why do I stop getting sore from lifting weights?” The answer to this is that muscle damage does decrease over time. If you do the same workout over and over again your body adapts by adding new muscle fibers & cells. This may be why we stop growing. While too much muscle damage may be a bad thing, I believe a little is good for growth. To combat this “bulletproof vest” make sure you continually change the exercises you select and rep or set ranges. In fact, for bodybuilding, every month I would change all the exercises you are doing entirely!


Muscle damage is an extremely complex topic. Too much damage and you can impair gains, while a small amount may increase muscle size and strength. Overall the key is to keep damage to low to moderate levels in your training by introducing new training regimes, new exercises, and by properly progressing from one phase to another.


How to Maximize Your Pump


Have you ever wondered what causes the pump? Let’s perform a quick experiment; grab yourself a balloon and helium tank and proceed by simply inflating the balloon. There are no tricks or gimmicks here, however as the balloon continues to inflate, what is happening? The overall volume of the balloon continues to increase which results in a final product that is much larger than before. A similar phenomenon can be replicated within your muscles by lifting weights.

Much like the tools needed to inflate a balloon, the human body has the ability to experience a similar sensation by relating the balloon to your muscle cell, the air as your water concentration, the helium tank as your transport channels, and the string as your cell membrane. Much like a balloon before inflation, muscle cells are small and flat without outside stimuli. Achieving this is plausible through both specific training regimens or by consuming compounds which have the ability to increase fluid concentration within the cell causing “the pump”.

Cell Swelling


Cell swelling occurs due to your cells initial indication of a threat towards its integrity and in turn, promotes a process to further protect its structure. Through intense training, oxygen becomes less available by restricting your arteries ability to deliver enough blood to the muscle. This enhances the need for hydration within the cell which causes the muscle fiber to swell (Schoenfeld., 2013). Although short-lived, this occurrence has been shown to increase the body’s ability to utilize protein for repair and building, ultimately increasing muscle mass!

You’re in the gym performing a workout and suddenly you push yourself to a new level, a level that brings with it an enticing experience which you have never felt. You feel as though your muscles are about to burst. Your first question becomes whether this is supposed to occur or if you are experiencing a health issue. Have no worry, this occurrence is far from negative and may promote muscle growth.

The Pump


A common question is how you can optimize the rate at which you experience “the pump”? This can occur naturally by incorporating specific workouts that manipulate different variables or by consuming different supplements which have the ability to promote your body’s ability to reach this stage quicker and for a longer duration. These are widely used for their ability to maximize your cells potential to draw more water into the cell and create an environment which promotes the cell swelling effect. The pump maximizes what we call sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. There are two parts to a muscle which can grow. We call these parts the contractile units and the sarcoplasm. The contractile units are what contract within a muscle and these grow through lifting heavy weight. The sarcoplasm grows through high volume, pump type training. You can also do what is known as blood flow restriction training (BFR), which I will discuss in further detail below.

“The greatest feeling you can get in a gym, or the most satisfying feeling you can get in the gym is… The Pump. Your muscles get a really tight feeling, like your skin is going to explode any minute, and it’s really tight – it’s like somebody blowing air into it, into your muscle. It just blows up, and it feels really different. It feels fantastic.”
– Arnold Schwarzenegger

Lesson on Bodybuilding vs. Powerlifting




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


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


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


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?


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?


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?


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.


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


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


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


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


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?


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.


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?


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?


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.


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


Training Frequency Introduction


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


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.


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


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

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.


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!


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



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


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


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.


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

chest-training-sternal head

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?


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?


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?


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!


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!