Category Archives: Physique

Article Request Series: How has Instagram Changed Strength Training, Body Image Expectations, and Motivation?

Welcome to your front row seat to the world’s most impressive strength feats, abs shredded beyond belief, narrow waists, augmented breasts, and the world’s fittest and most attractive people at your finger tips, all you have to do is pull out your phone and scroll.

Instagram has become the unofficial home of fitness on the internet, it seems that every amateur powerlifter (guilty), aspiring bodybuilder or bikini competitor has a page and is publicly documenting their progress. On top of all these amateur and aspiring athletes, we have instant access to the world’s top lifters posting their training and competitions, and the world’s most attractive nearly-naked fitness models posting motivational photos with quasi-inspirational quotes. I would argue that no single platform has changed the landscape of fitness more than Instagram. Some of these changes have been positive, some have been negative, and for the most part, Instagram’s role in the fitness industry is still being written.

Instagram’s Positive Influence

People are starting

So has all this exposure actually inspired anyone to take up fitness and get after their goals? I’d say a resounding yes. I still remember when one of the lifters I was training told me the meet he wanted to enter sold out in 6 minutes… wait what? I missed a couple years in the powerlifting world due to a bad injury, and just 3-4 years earlier meets didn’t sell out, you signed up a couple weeks before the meet because you kept on forgetting to go online and actually fill out the form. Now there’s an explosion of new lifters looking to get their chance on the platform to test themselves, and there are even a few people in the general public who know what powerlifting is.

How about the bodybuilding shows? Right now the sport at the grassroots level is being financially kept afloat by the explosion of Insta-inspired bikini competitors and men’s physique category, outnumbering the bodybuilding, figure, and physique classes by at least 2:1 combined! The explosion of popularity in the strength and physique sports has been nothing short of phenomenal. Never before has it been more possible or in-vogue to start your fitness journey, document the entire thing, and attempt to inspire others to do the same.

Bigger goals and dreams

I know personally that Instagram has shown me that my initial goals were actually too low, and opened my eyes to what kind of strength feats are possible even at my current weight class. I can see what the top in my sport are doing, and expect better of myself. Seeing what world class lifters are doing has inspired me to chase higher goals myself, and even if I don’t hit them, I’ll have ended up further ahead trying to achieve them had I not changed my perspective in the first place

A chance to interact with the elite

I’ve actually had conversations with world’s top lifters and most successful strength coaches. Alice Matos pointed people towards an article I had written and offered some advice for my female clients, Paige Hathaway (pictured with the boxing gloves in the main picture) responded to my questions about her supplement line. I’ve learned from top physical therapists like John Rusin who has taken the time to point me towards further learning resources and answered questions about a shoulder injury, and I could list countless others, and all of this happened via Instagram. The best information and the best people in the world have never been so accessible, and you’d be surprised how many of them will take time out of their day to help you.

The Dark Side of Instagram

It’s not real

Most people know that the photos of Anllela Sagra (pictured left) and Devin Physique (pictured right) are heavily photoshopped, use professional lighting and photographers, airbrushing, hell they even shrink the skin with ice and apply other crazy industry tricks all to get the best photo possible. Even with all those tips and tricks, they’re still going throw away 80-90% of the photos they took, using only the best angles that portray a completely unrealistic image of what the model actually looks like. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “stop trying to look like the girl on the magazine, the girl on the magazine doesn’t even look like the girl on the magazine” it couldn’t be more true; however, that doesn’t seem to stop us from comparing ourselves to these caricatures of our favourite fitness models.

It can obscure your view of your own progress

I should be celebrating, so should Cam, and so should Marina, but we’re not, we’re all struggling with confidence issues directly related to our relationship with social media, specifically stuff we’ve seen on Instagram; Let me explain. Marina signed up for her first powerlifting meet in January, she’s been training hard and she’s made incredible progress, putting on 30+ pounds on her squat bench and deadlift in a matter of a couple short months, and despite her relatively short training cycle, she’s going to be competitive in her weight class at her upcoming meet in January. By all measures she’s making incredible progress, but like many others, she follows some of the best lifters on Instagram, and every time they post a video of their new PR, she just feels further behind. Cam recently added 100lbs to his bench press in record time, hitting the 4 plate mark for the first time in his life, which is something that not many people ever do, regardless of bodyweight; however, with the world at your fingertips, it’s one thumb stroke away to see someone doing 4 plates or more with ease, and it can seem like this is the norm and allow it to cheapen your own accomplishment. We tend to lose perspective of our own significant achievements with this skewed perspective that 4 plate benchers just grow on trees. I had a similar experience after missing a 635lb deadlift, and there was Jesse Norris, a weight class underneath me, pulling it for an easy 8 reps. The reality is not everyone who starts their fitness journey can end up in the world’s elite, the best are the best for a reason, but that shouldn’t stop you from celebrating your accomplishments along the way.

Mistreatment and misinformation

“you can’t even see the difference in those photos, you’re still fat! haha” – ready for these kind of interactions? That was a real comment taken from a transformation picture that trainer had posted online of one of her clients. People can be ruthless when they’re sitting behind the safety of their phone screen, and if you make your profile public, be prepared for some abuse. I personally can’t stand to read the comments on popular Instagram posts anymore, perhaps I’d like to ignorantly keep some faith in humanity. Making a change to your lifestyle or chasing a grandiose performance goal is already incredibly intimidating, the last thing anyone needs is some asshole keyboard warrior talking shit to make themselves feel better about whatever short coming of their own they’re overcompensating for.

Although Instagram is going to give you the chance to interact with some of the world’s best, for every knowledgeable person, there’s at least 20 others aggressively marketing the most ridiculous of quick fixes and lacklustre fitness products and supplements, so beware and have a strong bullshit filter on at all times.

So has Instagram had a net positive or negative effect on fitness as a whole? I’m not sure, but as an individual you can use it as motivational tool, and a chance to interact with like minded people. If you feel the negative side effects starting to creep in, feel free to check out, unfollow, go private, and take a moment to reflect on just how far you’ve come.

 

 

Are you defeating yourself before you’ve even tried? 

There’s a common saying that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you deal with it; I couldn’t agree more. If there’s one thing that ties all successful people together, whether it be in business, athletics, physical or mental transformations, beating addictions etc.  it’s the fact that they all took responsibility for their actions, and all of them believed they had the power to change. 

It’s time to stop killing your own dreams with shitty self talk and a victim attitude. No one has achieved anything by feeling sorry for themselves or blaming outside circumstances. You. You have the power to change your health and physique. You CAN look and feel the way you’ve always wanted. You might have challenges that others don’t, so what? It’s not about them, it’s about you. Everyone knows someone who puts in half ass effort in the gym, eats absolute garbage, yet walks around with single digit body fat and looks like a Greek sculpture: chances are that isn’t you. So do you quit, feel sorry for yourself, blame the universe and your parents for shitty genetics and lying to you about Santa Claus? No. Fuck that. You only have one job and that’s to beat the person you were yesterday.

Can you look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you’ve truly done everything in your power today to work towards your goals and your dreams? You probably never will, and you know what? That’s a beautiful thing. That means that there’s always a way to get better. Could you have pushed a little harder, gotten one more rep? Could you have made it a priority to get to the grocery store on Sunday? Could you have drank 500ml more water, or watched one less Netflix show and gone for a walk instead? There are hundreds of little daily habits that you can do that will add up. Focus on one and get after it. Got it? Cool. Onto the next habit. 

Don’t be afraid to fail. Fail a hundred times, fail a thousand times. Just keep trying one more damn time than you fail.

The second you say you can’t, you’re lying. I can’t means I won’t. Don’t give up on yourself, don’t believe that things are happening to you, make things happen. The best time to start was yesterday. The second best time to start is today. Do it now. 

 

One of the Most Painful and Effective Ways to Build Muscle. Can You Handle the Blood Flow Restricted Method?

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If you want to find out what you’re made of, then grab a pair of resistance bands or some medical tubing and read on to find out what that blood flow restricted method (BFR) can do that almost no other method of training can do…

BFR Training: What is it, and why does it work? Like everything in fitness, we’re manipulating a survival mechanism

We tend to think a little too simplistically when we’re thinking of our muscles, we usually think of them as entire muscles like the biceps or the triceps, deltoids, hamstrings etc. and we tend to think that if we flex that muscle or use it, that we’re using the whole thing, unfortunately it doesn’t really work that way. Our muscles are actually made up of hundreds to thousands of independent contractile groups within the muscle belly, these groups are called motor units, and you almost never contract all these individual subunits of the muscle at the same time, in fact if you did contract them all your muscles can create enough force to serious damage themselves and sometimes rip the muscle right off the bone. As we approach our 1 rep max, we approach the highest amount of motor unit recruitment we can reach voluntarily – which may be around 65-70% of the available muscle fibre in the untrained and around 90% in the highly trained.

Fun fact: There’s really only two ways to get 100% motor unit recruitment, A) you must perceive that you or someone else is truly in a life or death situation (this explains those stories where 65 year old ladies pull cars off victims in motor vehicle accidents) or B) Using external electricity like an electrostim machine or getting electrocuted – I probably wouldn’t recommend either scenario

So in the name of the preservation of energy and not ripping our muscles off the bone, our brain is hardwired to always use the smallest amount of muscle, and the smallest motor units to do the job – this sucks if we want to maximally develop the muscle because we want to develop all the fibres! Sure we can keep adding weight to the bar and we’ll recruit more and more of the muscle, but, it comes with a cost, how many times can you actually do your 1 rep max? Well if it’s a true 1 rep max, just once. 1 rep, no matter how heavy, isn’t going to develop much muscle if you can only do it once, but what if there was another way to hit those big motor units that are normally saved for extremely heavy events? There is, and it’s called the blood flow restricted (BFR) method, or “occlusion training”

One of the things about the smaller motor units is that they are highly resistant to fatigue, this is why your arm doesn’t gas out after curling food to your mouth with a fork at every meal, but in order to resist this fatigue, they need oxygen, and that oxygen gets delivered by the blood. So when we cut the blood flow off, the small muscle fibres that normally would handle the lighter weights literally cease to function, leaving the big, normally untouched fibres to take over the load, and now we can hit them with a ton of reps. How many reps? The research right now is varied, but somewhere in the 100-125 total rep range seems to be the sweet spot.

So we’re hitting some new muscles fibres with a ton of reps that wouldn’t normally get them, but BFR training offers another muscle building advantage – it creates a ton of metabolic stress, which is one of the three main methods of muscle growth. The blood normally carries in oxygen and nutrients, but it also shuttles away the metabolites (aka the unwanted by-products of muscle contraction) away from the muscle. Normally theses metabolites are shuttled away from the blood fairly quickly, but when we exercise these by-products tend to build up a little faster and therefore exist in higher concentrations before the blood can take them away and shuttle them to liver to be turned into cool things or are filtered out by the kidneys. In standard conditions, the higher the concentration of these by-products, the more work we did, and the more likely it is that we created some serious muscular damage that needs to be repaired. This build up of by-products is one of the things that signals to the brain that we just did something that posed a threat to our survival, and it better do something about it before it happens again. When we block off the blood from leaving the muscle, these by-products build up in concentrations that really can’t happen under normal conditions, BUT, we really haven’t done anywhere near the damage that these concentrations would indicate. Regardless, the brain responds as if that amount of damage had been done – and viola, you get a huge muscle building response!

OK, sounds cool, but how do you do it?

First, let’s get through the disclaimers:

  1. I warned you this is one of the most painful ways to build muscle, and I wasn’t kidding, those last few sets are going to be absolute agony, and there’s going to be a burn you’ve never felt before.
  2. This method is for aesthetic purposes and/or athletes recovering from injury, it builds more mass than strength, and if used constantly could skew the strength to weight ratio in the wrong direction

Here’s the muscle groups work the best for this type of training:

  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Forearm Muscles
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves

You’re going to take a resistance band or some medical tubing, (or really anything you can make a good tourniquet with that won’t come loose as you flex the muscle) and you’re going to tie it around the joint above the working muscle at about a 7/10 tightness – we want the arteries to force blood in and increase intracellular pressure, but we want to block the venous return to the heart. Here’s the pictures from above again:

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If you look closely, there are two resistance bands tied around Riley’s legs right in the “crotch line” essentially right below the glute line and around the front of the thigh, this is the band placement for the quads and hamstrings

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Here it’s pretty easy to see the bands tied right beneath the shoulders, this is the band placement for the biceps and triceps

My favourite BFR method is to work antagonistic pairs of muscles, meaning that you train the muscle on either side of the joint at the same time so good options would be:

  • Quads and Hamstrings:
    • A) 5×25 Quad Extensions, no rest
    • B) 5×25 Lying Hamstring Curls, no rest
  • Biceps and Triceps: 8mins straight, no rest between exercises, don’t count sets
    • A) DB Bicep Curl: 10 reps
    • B) DB Tricep Extension: 10 reps
  • Wrist Extensors and Wrist Flexors:
    • A) 8×15 Forearm Concentration Curl
    • B) 8×15 Wrist Roller
  • Calves and Tibialis Anterior
    • A) 10×12 Seated or Standing Calf Raise
    • B) 10×12 Toe Raises

You’ll notice that the lower body lifts all use machines, I’d advise using machines as opposed to say doing BFR squats and deadlifts – the stability demands are just too high, and many of those so called stabilizer muscles are made up of a really high degree of oxygen dependent fibres (you do have to stand with them all day after all) so there’s a much higher risk of injury. Plus, when we’re going for metabolic stress, this is where isolation really shines, so stick with machine variants for the lower body, but feel free to use free weight versions of the upper body movements if you’d like. Something that is definitely important to note is that you don’t need to use very much weight with this method! 40-50% of your 1 rep max is plenty and sometimes even less is all that’s needed to make progress with this method. I always smile when one of my clients decides to go hero mode after this warning and grab a set of 30lb dumbbells for the bicep/tricep method outlined above; they usually make it to about 2-3mins before realizing exactly how terrible that life decision was and inevitably have to lower the weight to make it out to the full time. 20lbs for most trained men and 10lbs for most women is going to be plenty to get the job done, and I promise you will see both results and agony at those seemingly minuscule weights. The low weight required to make this method effective is one of the reasons it works for athletes recovering from injuries – you can start with your own bodyweight but still have the brain react as if it had done a full intensity session. Last but not least, rep quality matters! No using momentum or cheating, and make sure to squeeze the muscle as hard as possible with each contraction! You want to wring out the muscle and force all those by-products into the blood stream so they hit the brain’s receptors all at once.

When integrating BFR training into your routine I would stick to a max of 2 sessions per week and always implement it as the very last thing in your training session, with only some moderate cardio after if you have it planned for the day. if you’ve really given this method your all, chances are you won’t want to be doing much after anyways. As always if you have any questions about the BFR method or anything else fitness/sport-training related feel free to comment below or on the Blacksmith Fitness Facebook Page http://www.facebook.com/blacksmithfit

The Truth About Toning Part 2: Can You Create the Long, Lean Dancer Look Via Training?

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Ok now that we’ve covered the “I want to tone up for summer” guy/girl, let’s tackle situation #2 the person who says, “I want that long, lean, dancer look”. Long lean muscles flow into each other with a slight definition, taking away the sharp look of the joints, the muscle belly is relatively straight, and no glaring peaks or valleys giving the “soft toned” look (think of the model on any yoga product vs the bodybuilder in the supplement commercial).

The question now is, are these qualities trainable?
Unfortunately the answer is sort of, but mostly no. Let’s examine why, and talk about the limited role of muscle shaping.

We’re going to make a quick comparison to the sprinter from part 1.

(Troll disclaimer: I’m fully aware of the genetic component involved in a top level sprinter, from fiber spread, type of glycolytic enzymes, single reaction time, rate coding ceiling, to the series/parallel component of elastic fibers in connective tissue etc. etc. if you want to debate this let’s wait until the speed articles, deal?)

While there is a huge genetic component to the success of a sprinter in competition, the sprinter’s physique is predominantly a product of their training. By selectively targeting high threshold fast twitch muscle fibers via specific training, they can elicit both an anabolic (muscle building) response, and direct effect on fat loss, (and you can too!). The dancer, however, is specifically selected for his or her aesthetic appeal, and their physique is both a product of their activity and mostly their genetics.

The “long and lean” look is a predominantly a byproduct of three qualities:

1) Long muscle bellies and a short transition into the tendon attachment giving the look of the muscle spanning the whole length of the bone, flowing into the next muscle with no sharp valleys. Where the muscle attaches to the tendon and bone is 100% genetically predetermined, and short of some sort of debilitating surgery there is no way to change this.
2) Where that tendon attaches to the bone, the closer to the joint, the better, also 100% genetically determined
3) Muscles that do not “peak” from bone they follow. This is somewhat trainable, but you are going to have to start from your genetic starting point and don’t expect to see metamorphic changes.

Recent studies have finally confirmed the bro myth that you can selectively hypertrophy (grow) specific areas of the muscle belly, but only up to your genetic limit. Once you hit your genetic limit you are once again determined by your individual genetics, but chances are you are far from that level, even if you consider yourself an advanced trainee. So say you have a short biceps muscle belly and a long tendon that leaves a gap between your elbow and bicep peak, you could choose something like an incline stretch curl focusing on the bottom portion of the lift and ease off the peak contraction to selectively target the lower fibers of the muscle to smooth out some of the peak. The idea is to pick exercises that put the most stress on either side of your natural peak to smooth out the muscle line. Combine this with some extended stretching and you may be able to slightly alter the aesthetic look of your muscles; however, unless you are a competitive figure athlete or a fitness model etc., stick to the basics: gain muscle, lose fat, improve your physique, and be happy with the genetic shape you were given.

The Truth About Toning Part 1: Can You Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time?

Anllela Sagra, (main picture) an Instagram fitness model, is considered “toned” and sports an impressive physique, but what is “toning” and how can you produce this look?

Spoiler alert: there is no such thing as toning! There is only lean tissue gain or loss, or fat gain or loss. There is some evidence of muscle shaping, but more on that in part 2. Since muscle “toning” has no scientific definition we are going to take a quick look at two common operational definitions to avoid confusion:

Toning situation #1: “I want to tone up for summer”
Toning situation #2: “I want that long, lean, dancer look”

Situation #1

When someone comes up and says, “I want to tone up for summer” they usually have accumulated an extra ring around the middle and have gone soft due to inactivity and sneaking a few extra Christmas cookies. In addition to the extra fat doing all sorts of pesky things like messing with insulin sensitivity, nutrient partitioning (where the energy goes), increasing estrogenic activity in both males and females creating a sort of positive feedback loop that makes getting fatter even easier, you also have to deal with the loss of energy burning lean tissue, lowering your daily energy expenditure and reducing anabolic hormone signaling.

On top of all that, one of the less commonly known effects of sedentary lifestyle is that inactivity shifts you into an anaerobic state more often, with less ability to burn fat as a fuel while at rest/very low levels of activity; fat can only be metabolized aerobically, but don’t think that’s a license to start running long miles to achieve the summer body of your dreams. Aerobic training (or cardio as it’s more commonly referred) will affect the fat loss side of the equation but it comes at a cost: approximately 3% of the energy demands of steady state cardiovascular training will be supplied by your body’s proteins. To make matters worse this protein degradation comes without an anabolic signalling to rebuild what is lost (think of anabolic signalling as your angry mother that is telling you to fix everything you just broke)! So while initially losing some fat, you are playing a dangerous game with your metabolic rate and are losing your muscle tissue in the process. Studies show that unless you are constantly increasing your distances, runners actually get fatter over time! The result is that most cardio-only trainees end up as shrunken down “skinny fat” versions of their former selves.

When someone comes in and says they want to look like Michelle Lewin, Anlella Sagra, Paige Hathaway, Kayla Itsines (just to name a few) or Lazar Angelov, Ryan Reynolds, etc. Most likely they need to not only gain muscle, but also lose fat. So the question remains…

Can you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time? YES! But it has its limits.

Studies repeatedly show that especially in untrained (underactive previously) or detrained (underactive currently, but previously active) individuals, the answer is unequivocally yes, for about 8-16 weeks, even on a carbohydrate reduced diet. However, fat loss will occur at a much greater rate than lean tissue gain and both goals will be compromised (meaning they won’t have happened as fast as if they were focused on solely). With untrained or detrained individuals, almost any type of training works, so long as it provides adequate anabolic signaling. This means that whatever you’re doing better have a PLANNED hypertrophy (muscle gain) component in addition to whatever metabolic conditioning methods you’ve included (battling ropes, stair climbs, skipping, sprints etc.) and ideally should happen on a different day than your conditioning. Bootcamp or Crossfit “workout of the day” style programming where different modalities (strength, anaerobic, aerobic etc.) are often mixed together in circuit fashion will confound some of the anabolic signaling effect of the hypertrophy (muscle gain) and further compromise the lean tissue gain effects. The completely untrained will succumb to this effect to a greater extent than the detrained. More likely is that lean tissue will be spared and fat will be lost, but this has a short lifespan so:

Is there a better way? YES, but wait until progress stalls with a mixed program.

What about trained individuals, can they gain muscle and lose fat? YES But it’s even harder.

The secret is to move fast.

Take a look at the physique of a top sprinter or an Olympic weightlifter (aside from the heavyweights) and try not to be impressed. Most of these athletes are single digit body fat percentage, sport great muscularity, and definitely do not do bulking and cutting phases like bodybuilders. The link between these two types of athletes is that they both move incredible weight at a high speed. The weightlifter obviously does this, but consider that a sprinter is landing with impacts of 6+ times their own body weight on a single limb! A 2008 Japanese study linked load and velocity of movement to metabolic parameters and came up with some interesting results that should be of great interest to you if you are trying to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, high velocity training targeting type II muscle fibers produced:

“A reduction in accumulated white adipose tissue and improvements in metabolic parameters independent of physical activity or changes in the level of food intake”

Translation: reduced fat through a different mechanism than diet or energy debt due to the amount burned during exercise also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC)

The mechanism of this change is beyond the scope of this article, but I recommend you do some further research if you are interested. Take note that fat loss was not affected by level of food intake.

Read that again, fat loss was not affected by level of food intake!

Now, within reason, don’t think that you’re going to be able to crush a box of Krispy Kreme’s daily and get away with it, however, when you train high force at high velocity the extra calories are more likely going to be shuttled to their anabolic duties building lean muscle tissue while fat levels reduce and stabilize in the single digit range! The key is not to compromise quality of output, so focus on fewer reps and larger volume of sets stopping at the first signs of fatigue. Sprints, squats with bands, kettlebell movements, weighted jumps, explosive weighted throws all lend themselves to this style of training!

Basic prescriptions for this type of training

Pair a moderate load explosive movement with a low load high velocity movement in quick succession. A prerequisite is the ability to handle explosive training, so technique must be addressed and adequate strength levels must have been acquired in the introductory phases. Examples are posted below:

  1. Lower Body Variations
    1. A) Squat Variation 3-5 reps with 60-80% controlled lowering, explode up
    2. B) Continuous Broad Jump 5 reps, max distance OR 10 yard sprint OR hurdle hops 3-5 reps
      1. Option 2:
        1. A) Deadlift, Hinge, or Olympic Variation 3-5 reps 60-80% explosive
        2. B) Kettlebell swing 5-10 reps OR Overspeed kettlebell swing 5 reps OR kettlebell snatch, clean etc. 5 reps use low resistance and move fast
  2. Upper Body Variations
    1. A) Bench Press 3-5 reps with 60-80% controlled lowering, explode up
    2. B) Medicine Ball Chest Pass 5 reps OR Standing banded horizontal press max reps in 7 seconds OR Plyometric pushups 3-5 reps
      1. Option 2:
        1. A) Weighted Chin-up 3-5 reps, control descent, lift explosively, no kipping!
        2. B) Medicine Ball Overhead Slam 5 reps OR Shock Chin-ups (explosively lift yourself past the bar and let the hands go, catch the bar on the way down)

The options are limitless, and once you have mastered the dual exercise complexes, you can move on to a more advanced version that pairs a moderate load explosive compound lift with high velocity low movement, with a timed very high velocity extremely low load movement

Do You Do This at the Gym? Use Reverse Pyramiding To Fix This Common Gain Killing Mistake

How many times have you seen this in your gym:

  • Guy walks up to bench
  • Adds 45lbs per side
  • Does 10-15 reps
  • Adds 25lbs per side
  • Does 8-12 reps, and only has 2-3 in the tank at this weight
  • Removes 25lb plate and adds 45lb plate, now at 225lbs
  • Does a glorified seizure on the bench and then racks the bar in frustration
  • Complains that he can never break the 225lb barrier

His real problem? The way he warmed up; it’s called traditional pyramiding, and in my opinion, it sucks. Enter reverse pyramiding to the rescue. The biggest problem was that our reference person induced way too much fatigue in the warm ups to 225 and told his nervous system to be conservative with its output, because it needed to perform multiple low intensity contractions. Keep in mind your nervous system is kind of like Usain Bolt, it has a HUGE amount of potential to kick ass, but it’s lazy, and doesn’t want to work unless you force it to. If you have the strength to do 185×12 then you have the strength to bench 225, but not if you fatigue yourself first and fail to prime the nervous system for what you want it to do. Below I’m going to explain how to warm up to actually getting a real rep or more at 225 if you already have the strength to do so. Please keep in mind this can be scaled to any number you want 315, 405, 495 etc. and applies to all other lifts as well.

  • Bar 2 sets of 5 reps, 30s rest, first set is slow and controlled grooving the perfect rep 5 times. The second set takes that pattern and adds velocity, telling your brain that it will need the fast twitch fibers activated in the coming sets
  • 95 x 5 reps, regular rep speed, re-groove the pattern
  • 135 x 5 reps, fast rep speed, stimulate the central nervous system
  • 185 x 3 reps,  regular rep speed, prime the nervous system for heavier weight
  • 205×1 whether it moves quickly or slowly, you must intend to move it quickly – the intention is just as important as the actual bar speed for recruiting fast twitch muscle fibers
  • 225x however many reps you can/want to do, if you want to use other methods afterwards, leave a rep or two in the tank
  • Do a sweet victory dance.

Now that you’ve hit the weight that you’ve always dreamed of, you have options. You can take advantage of the post activation potentiation effect – or PAP in most journal entries, which is like a fancy way of saying you’ve revved your internal engine and now it’s ready to kick more ass than if you started it cold. So now you can go back down the pyramid in a bunch of creative ways. Here are just a couple options:

Muscle Building:

  • 185 for 1-3 sets of max reps, rest 60-90s per set, use the same grip or change it each set (wide, narrow, close)
  • 135 for 1 set of max reps, use your weakest grip

Option 2

  • 205 with the rest pause method (3 sets to failure with 30s rest between sets) rest 2mins
  • 185 with the rest pause method (3 sets to failure with 30s rest between sets)

Option 3

  • Cluster 5×5 at 200-210 finished in as little time as possible

Strength:

  • Calculate your new 1 rep max

Each bullet is an option, all with full rest

  •  4-6 singles between 93-97%
  • 3×3 at 88-91%
  • 5×2 at 90-95%
  • Wait until next week and do 3,2,1 waves starting at 85% for 3 reps and add 5lbs do 2 reps, add 5lbs and do 1 rep, then add add 5lbs to your 3 rep set and restart the wave. Do 3-4 waves depending on feel. Note: if you’re above 300lbs in any lift, use 10lb jumps.

Athleticism and Rate of Force Development:

  • Calculate your new 1 rep max

Each Bullet is an option

  • 6×3 at 55-65%
  • 5×2 at 75% contrasted with an explosive lift under 40% or medicine ball throw
  • 3-5 sets of Bench press throws in the smith machine with 30-35% (don’t count the bar in the smith machine)
  • 4-6 sets of plyometric pushup variations 1-3 reps per set

This is just the tip of the iceberg, there are honestly 30-50 more options for each category that I could have listed, but the point is you can use the PAP effect to improve output in any of those categories, just be sure not to burn yourself out and work up to a 1 rep max every week. As a very general rule, don’t train at or over 90% of a 1 rep max for more than 3 weeks in a row, more advanced athletes should stick to 2 weeks (by advanced I mean you bench press at least 1.7x your own bodyweight) and the extremely advanced athletes can break the rules in very specific scenarios, but if you’re there you already know that.

 

 

 

 

The 9 Best Tips To Improve Your Fitness

  
This article started as a question: “knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?”. So thinking back, these are the things I wish I knew, or reminded myself of when I was starting to change from just working out for the hell of it, to goal oriented training. It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete after a record, competing in your first bodybuilding show, or looking to shed a couple pounds for summer, you can find something that applies to you and your training.  These tips are the 9 most effective training tips that I’ve compiled over 10 years of training myself and hundreds of others. Some of my more avid readers will notice some crossover between this article and the “6 things I’ve learned about life and training from 1.5 years and counting of rehabilitation” but I think the fact that some of those have cracked my top 9 shows just how important some of those lessons have been. Here they are in no particular order

1. Know Your Personality

I know I said no particular order but this may be the most important tip on this list. Are you one of those personality types that needs a kick in the ass to get out the door? Do you skip a training session just because your training partner cancelled? Or do you train through sickness and injury, staying a slave to your program because it’s written for 5 days a week; you have a broken arm, but it’s bench press day? Do you think you cannot skip a day because you’ll instantaneously shrink and your whole program will be ruined? Take a hard look in the mirror and figure out what side of the fence you sit on, and act accordingly.

One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard that puts this into perspective was “I spent the first 3 years of my training career learning to be consistent and never miss a workout, I spent the next 30 years learning to listen to my body and back off when needed” – wish I knew the author, but I’m pretty sure it came from the Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline Book, Easy Strength.

2. Keep a Training Journal 

I’ve written entire articles on the importance of keeping a training journal, so I won’t go overboard here, but I will hammer this one point: How do you know if you’re objectively improving and not just fluctuating up and down? Did you do 300lbs for 10 reps or 12 reps last week? Was your spotter yelling “it’s all you!” with a death grip on the barbell? Maybe that was the week before? You have to write it down to be sure.

3. Don’t Overreact to the Natural Highs and Lows

You will have good weeks, you will have bad weeks; you will add 20lbs to a lift in a week, and you will go backwards in another. You’ll wake up cut and dry one morning and the next day you’ll feel bloated and fat. Your 40y time will go up and down. Natural up and downs are part of the process, and for some reason the body tends to adapt in wave like cycles. Two bad workouts in a row doesn’t mean your program is shit, you’re shit, and everything needs to change, and two excellent workouts in a row doesn’t mean you’ve found the holy grail of training and now every single workout going forward will be a cornucopia of rainbows and angelic harp music leading to 1million Instagram followers and multiple world records. If you chart your progress, it should look something like a well performing stock; take a birds eye view of your training and make sure you’re trending in the right direction and don’t pay too much attention to the small fluctuations up and down.

4. Know why you’re really doing this

A lot of people will say they train just to lead a healthy active lifestyle, and for many of them that’s true, but for the lion’s share of people reading this I’d argue that the reason runs a little deeper. I’ve been training people for a really long time and have heard some intensely dark reasons for why someone wants to train to get stronger or to improve their physical fitness/body image; they range from abuse, to childhood comments, to wanting to know what it feels like to walk into a room without staring a floor in shame, beating drug addictions etc. By all means keep telling people you just want to be healthy and feel better, after all it’s none of their damn business, but know your own reason, internalize it, and make it a source of strength that you can feed from. Study after study shows that intrinsic (or internal) motivation, beats external goals or measurements of progress when it comes to making lasting changes.

5. Educate Yourself

I heard L-Arginine is good for nitric oxide production, no wait that’s only in alpha-ketoglutarate formation, no, now arginine doesn’t help with nitric oxide production it’s other nitrates that raise blood levels. Why is nitric oxide important again? It’s for pumps right? But I read somewhere that the pump doesn’t actually build any muscle, so do I even need this? Some other article says it doesn’t build muscle on its own but it helps you recover from strenuous exercise….

Man, it can get really confusing, and even more confusing when someone’s trying to sell you something. Your bullshit filter is your biggest ally in your quest to improve your fitness, and it can be tough to know where to start. My personal recommendation is to stick with one source of information at the start. I’ve made some recommendations in the #1 Reason People Don’t Make Progress Article, and once you have a foundation, then you can start branching out and expanding your knowledge base, which leads me to my next point

6. Keep an Open Mind and Positive Mind

I used to hate CrossFit; there, I said it, and with many of the gyms I still do. The inventors of CrossFit pretty much piss on 60 years of strength and conditioning research, know it, and market it with a smile. They take the highlight reel from every effective training modality and makes a watered down fast food version that they sell as the cure to cancer and sadness for everyone. BUT what I should have been thinking is: hey, looks like a lot people don’t want to specialize, like varied and fun training methods, and are interested in community-based fitness, and there has to be a way we can give it to them without the glaring errors in programming and injury risk. Also due to the popularity of CrossFit, some of the industry’s most brilliant minds turned their collective heads towards fixing some of the more significant shortcomings, new studies are being conducted, and with all the people experimenting with variants of concurrent training, we just might learn something that we can apply elsewhere. If you keep an open and positive mind you will learn so much more than if you shut yourself into a training cult.

7. Ask for Help

This one is straight from the 6 Lessons article, so again I won’t beat it to death, but never let your pride get in the way of getting better. I may be guiltier than most on this, but I’m working on it, and every time I beat the instinct to just do everything myself, I always come out better for it. Even just bouncing ideas off someone else and hearing yourself think out loud can do wonders. Suck it up and ask for help when you need it; you will be happy you did

8. Thinking you need X piece of equipment to achieve your goals

I am admittedly an equipment whore and am extremely picky about type of equipment I buy and put in the gym, but that being said I pulled my first ever 500lb deadlift with nothing more than a barbell and a set of dumbbells, a squat rack and an adjustable bench. If you have those basic items you have everything you need to train an elite athlete, compete in a bodybuilding show, lose 20lbs of fat, gain 20lbs of muscle, get faster, improve general or specific endurance, etc. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your progress would be 10x better if you just had X piece of equipment, it may help, or make something easier, but it’s never an excuse for lack of progress.

9. Even if you want to excel at many things, focus on one or two things at a time

“Check out my Sheiko style routine that I modified using the rest-pause method and intraset stretching, I’ve added tabata intervals to keep the fat at bay and fat burner for extra support. I’m also going to take creatine this cycle to maximize my mass gains and add in aerobic work for recovery, and sprints because I’ve heard they can alter the fast to slow twitch muscle fiber ratio. I’m also thinking about integrating peripheral heart action or bioenergetic sequencing to really optimize this training cycle, and on top of that I’ve got this new diet all set up” – Great. I don’t know what would be worse, if it worked or if it failed miserably. If you try everything at once, chances are it won’t work the way you intended, and even if you have some mild success, how are you going to repeat it? Was it the volume? The intensity? The specialized methods? The supplements? Would you have gotten better results by using the same routine with one specialized method? What caused the greatest interference effect? Can you sustain this workload forever, (you can’t), how will you change it to progress?. If your plan doesn’t work and you start running yourself into the wall, chances are you scrap everything and try the next super combo that you read about on X website and likely run into equally disastrous results. I talked about this in the “Can CrossFit be Cured?” article on the Blacksmith Fitness Facebook Page. Focus on one or two things at a time, evaluate the effectiveness of the methods, and sequence them in a logical order. I’d check that article out even if you’re not even remotely into CrossFit

There you have it, the best 9 tips for improving your fitness. As I look back on the list now that all 9 relate to the mental/congitive/emotional side of the training equation, and the more and more people I train, the more confident I am that the mind is the single most important factor in determining their success. Win the battle of the mind and you will crush your fitness goals, and you just might find that the iron teaches you something about yourself in the process.