• Category Archives Strength training
  • Does more muscle mass equal more strength?

    On the left, Triyatno (Indonesia), an olympic weightlifter who is not overly muscular, but able to lift 2.7 times his bodyweight from the floor to overhead in the clean  and jerk. On the right, Jeff Seid (USA), a bodybuilder who is usually very lean and muscular but able to lift 'merely' 2.5 times his bodyweight from the floor to the hip  (not overhead!) in a deadlift. How is that possible?
    On the left, Triyatno (Indonesia), an olympic weightlifter who is not overly muscular, but able to lift 2.7 times his bodyweight from the floor to overhead in the clean and jerk. On the right, Jeff Seid (USA), a bodybuilder who is usually very lean and muscular but able to lift ‘merely’ 2.5 times his bodyweight from the floor to ‘merely’ standing up straight in a deadlift. How is that possible?

     

    There are many variables that will make someone physically strong (or not), but for the sake of brevity I will stick to the three most important factors that determine someone’s strength. This will at least explain why some bodybuilders are remarkably strong but others are not. It will explain why some powerlifters are incredibly muscular while others less so, and it explains why olympic weightlifters can lift huge amounts of weight overhead even if they’re very small.

    1 – Exerting force happens by contracting muscles. More muscle mass means more mass that can contract. That is the biggest reason that a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. This explains why bodybuilders can be pretty strong even if they don’t train for strength at all.

    2 – You have to be able to activate your muscle fibres. Your nerves activate muscle fibres to contract, and this neurological thing explains why people can be strong even if they have relatively little muscle mass.

    3 – Your body needs to be efficient in movements. Neurological efficiency means that your body gets better and more efficient in a certain movement. Doing a movement often and consistently will teach your body to engrain the movement pattern. This is often referred to as specificity: you get better at what you do a lot. Perhaps you are extremely good at doing leg extensions, gymnastic exercises, leg curls and hip thrusts, but this does not automatically make you good at squats – Your body doesn’t know how to use all those muscles in tandem in a specific exercise. It is not efficient in that movement. This is how olympic weightlifters move so efficiently to lift enormous weights overhead, they spend years honing their technique and becoming more efficient in a very select few exercises.

    There are many more factors that are at play here. For example,

    • How are you going to measure strength and compare who is stronger? Are we talking maximum strength here, like in a deadlift? Well then, what if you have long arms, which gives you an edge in the deadlift? That sorta skews the comparison a bit. Or are we talking about a power clean, where you need explosive power and more technical proficiency as well?
    • Are we going to test a weight that you can lift only once or a weight that you can lift 10 times? Then what about the energy systems in your body, that might be adapted to squat 100 kilos for 15 reps, but not 130 kilos for 1 rep?
    • What about the psychological aspects that are important when pushing your limits as you try to see how strong you are in a heavy squat or snatch?

    You could write a whole book on the subject, but I hope this at least gives you an idea of why ‘more muscular’ does not always mean ‘stronger’, but it can definitely attribute to it.

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    “Having big muscles and no strength is the training equivalent of wearing a strap-on.” – Jim Wendler

     



  • Getting stronger, part 4: PR’s when injured

    Well, why not, right?

    Short summary for those that don’t want to read the whole thing: Got fatter, got stronger, all but solved my back injury.

    I’m also not going to transfer cm and kg to inches and lbs all the time, you can do that here if you’re metrically impaired.

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    Over the last 4½ months or so, I’ve set a few PR’s in a lot of assistance exercises and a few bigger exercises… But more importantly, my back injury is as good as gone, save for a stiff lower back after a back squat session once in a while.

    As for PR’s… Paused bench press: From 122 to 127.5 after not benching for a year. Front squat: From 144 tot 151. Set PR’s on back exercises like barbell rows and chin ups.

    I had a powerlifting competition and a bench pressing competition for fun during this period.

    Powerlifting competition in early september (where my back was still bothering me a lot) :
    Squat: 140/150/160
    Bench press: 120/122.5/-127.5
    Deadlift: 140/150/- (skipped third attempt because my lower back didn’t feel okay)

    Bench press competition at the end of november: 120/127.5/-132.5

     

    A picture of me and my friend at the regional competition. She’s going for a regional record next year! (Actually, I’m just posting this picture because my arms and shoulders look huge here… Not sure why they do.)

     

    In around 4½ month:

    • Bodyweight went from 84 to 97kg.
    • Bodyfat went from +-15% to somewhere over 20%. (Unreliable estimates.)
    • Waist went from 83 to 93cm.
    • Arms went from 37/38 to 40cm. (left/right)
    • Legs went from 59/58 to 61/62cm. (left/right)
    • Chest went from 109 to 116cm.

    Let’s see what remains of those numbers as I lose some fat in the next two-three months. For now I’ll just eat a little less, and if I’m having trouble, I’ll roughly stick to the guidelines outlined in my Wolverine Diet.

    Olympic lifts ‘feel’ better now. I will focus on technique and building up weights over the next months. Strength work will be limited now. I will stick to the following template over the week, to some extent limited by the facilities where I train:

    Monday: Snatch variation or assistance, squat, upper body push, upper body pull
    Tuesday: Clean & jerk, a little bit of light technique work
    Wednesday: Snatch, Clean & jerk, front squat
    Thursday: Clean & jerk, a little bit of light technique work
    Friday: Snatch variation or assistance, squat, upper body push, upper body pull

     

    “Pizza makes me think that anything is possible.” – Henry Rollins

     



  • Common mistakes on important exercises

    If you read up a bit about proper strength training, you will quickly find that exercises like “the big 3” (the squat, deadlift and bench press, to which I will add the overhead press in this article) serve a wide variety of goals. I prescribe these exercises to most of the people I train since they can help in adding muscle, preserving muscle when trying to lose fat, getting stronger or keeping joints healthy.

    Now if you look around in the average, commercial gym, you will find a few very common mistakes when people do these exercises. I want to go over a few of these in this post. Keep in mind that certain variations of the basic exercises might have technical differences, to which these errors do not apply. Also keep in mind that there are many other errors you can make in these exercises, I just want to point out a few big ones that are not always obvious.

    Squat

    • You don’t go deep enough. The minimum depth is for the crease of the hip to go past the top of the kneecap. Just by half an inch or something, that’s it. Any deeper than that is fine if flexibility allows it, but for most people not necessary.
    • You don’t squat. A smith machine squat cannot fully substitute for a squat. A leg press cannot fully substitute for a squat. Combining the leg extension, leg curl, adductor and abductor machine… You get the point. I remember during my first months in the gym, I read something about squats on the internet and enthusiastically asked the instructor about about them. He told me that they didn’t have a squat rack but that the leg press was the same thing, completely ignoring the fact that… You know. A squat is a movement pattern performed standing on two feet, balancing a heavy weight on your back and tensing every fiber in your body as you squat up and down. It is an exercise that makes your body stronger as a whole. A leg press is… A nice additional tool to build bigger legs after you’ve done your squats I guess, but it’s still not a squat.

    Deadlift

    • You’re trying to squat. Repeat after me: The squat is a squatting movement, the deadlift is a hip hinge movement. I see way too many people trying to sit down behind the barbell. This does not work because the barbell is held by your hands, your hands are attached to your arms and your arms are attached to your shoulder blades. This means that if you try to deadlift while sitting behind the bar, you will be pulling the bar right through your shins. All sorts of weird stuff tends to happen this way, from having the hips shoot up instead of your whole torso, to moving the barbell around your knee (How the fuck does that even-) or even rounding your upper back. You will not properly manage this if the weight is even remotely heavy, and it should be, if you want to get stronger. The solution is simple: In your starting position, keep the barbell over your midfoot and the shoulderblades over the barbell. That’s it, and hanging over the barbell (like you should in a deadlift) looks very different from squatting down behind the barbell.
    • You don’t extend your back. You should ‘flatten’ your spine as hard as you can during a deadlift. If your upper back rounds a bit… Well, I don’t teach that to beginners. A rounding MOVEMENT in the back during a deadlift can be harmful to the spine, especially if it concerns the lower back. If you can keep the spine RIGID however, with the upper back in a slightly rounded position, you can get away with it. Actually, you might even lift more like that, world records have been pulled that way. I recommend you save this for advanced athletes who know what they’re doing though.

     

    Sitting behind the bar in a deadlift. Doesn’t work with heavy weights.

     

    Bench press

    • You’re not stable. A lot of guys sorta flop onto the bench and start pushing the barbell away. Their feet move into every direction, their ass goes into the air and they’re shaking on that bench. Remember what I said about arms being attached to shoulder blades? That means that your shoulder blades need to be TIGHT and pushed into the bench to properly push a heavy weight away from you. If your shoulderblades are sorta hanging on the edges of the bench, you don’t have a good base of support to push from. A good thing to keep in mind is to squeeze your shoulder blades together as you lie on the bench, this solves a big part of the problem really quickly.
    • Your elbows are everywhere. The barbell, your wrist and your elbow should all be perpendicular to the floor during the whole movement. If that means the barbell has to hit your chest a little higher or lower – Fine. This principle + your grip width will decide where the barbell hits the chest.
    • You’re doing half reps. Touch the chest on every rep but don’t bounce.
    • Your buddy is doing upright rows. Unless your training plan asks for forced reps or negatives or something (which is fine), your spotter is there to help rack the weight when you’re unable to, nothing else. If the training plan tells you to do 5 reps of a certain weight: Do 5 reps with that weight. It doesn’t count if your buddy grabs the barbell. A SPOTTER SHOULD NOT TOUCH THE BARBELL AT ALL UNLESS HE IS INSTRUCTED TO DO SO. I remember once telling a spotter I wanted to do 5 reps. I was ready to rack the weight and the spotter stops me with his hands.
      “Come on, you can do two more!”
      FOR FUCK’S SAKE WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE NUMBER 5 THAT YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND?!

     

    In the first image, look closely at the line you can draw from barbell to wrist to elbow, straight to the floor. That’s how the arm should be positioned.

     

    Overhead press

    • Your elbows are everywhere. People have the tendency to let their backs and shoulderblades relax during an overhead press. Your elbows should be under the barbell (or even slightly in front of it) to effectively push the weight overhead. If, like many people, you let your elbows drop at the bottom of the movement, there’s a bigger chance that you’ll push the weight forward too much. The weight needs to go up, not forward.
    • You don’t lock out properly. A proper lock out means that you finish the movement by pressing the shoulder blades upwards. You sorta shrug up with extended arms overhead. That engages the upper back and all other relevant muscles properly.

     

    So there you have it. Most advanced athletes will know these things, but they can be hard to grasp as a novice, or even as an intermediate. Try the things I mentioned for a while and let me know how it goes. Remember, proper strength training requires skill practice and every rep you perform is part of that practice.

     

    “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” – Bruce Lee

     



  • How to build muscle

    Some people will see this title and expect that this post is about ‘a 6-week regimen to build 20lbs of lean muscle mass’ or something. It’s not. Others will expect me to impress you by throwing around complicated words like ‘mTOR pathway’, ‘Z-discs’ or ‘neuromuscular adaptation’ or whatever. I won’t.

    Have you ever wondered why 3 completely different training plans may all give roughly the same results when trying to build muscle? There are a few principles that every good training method adheres to in one way or another. A rank novice in strength training should progress pretty easily and can usually get stronger (and in the process, build muscle) every single workout, even if it’s for a short while. If this does not happen, which happens quite often, you can be sure that one of the following points is off.

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    Progressive overload
    When your body experiences a stimulus that disrupts its balance, it wants to adapt to it. Your skin gets darker from exposure to the sun, your body creates antibodies in response to a vaccine and your body becomes stronger by exposure to heavy weights. Exposing your body to the same stimulus all the time, like doing the exact same workout and lifting the exact same weight, will at some point not challenge your body to adapt anymore. What does this mean in practice? If you do not expose your body to more weight, more reps, more exercises or more variety, at some point your body will see no reason to get stronger, bigger or faster. There is a caveat, however, which is proper recovery.

     

    Ivan Stoitsov, Bulgarian olympic weightlifter, trains for athletic performance, but by constantly applying certain principles like progressive overload he still built a nice amount of muscle.

     

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    Proper recovery
    It would be great if you could just add weight or reps on an exercise all the time. To some extent this happens, especially when properly planned for it in beginning trainees. Their body isn’t used to much so they can relatively (!) easily build muscle and get stronger with relatively (!) light training. That also means that the body isn’t really strained that much in terms of recovery. Recovery? Yes, a stimulus more or less damages or drains your body. Just like a vaccine (which is “a little bit of a disease”) makes you resistant to the disease, the full blown disease could be disastrous to your body. Exposure to the sun can give you a tan, yet excessive exposure to the sun without recovery can increase the instance of cancer. In much the same way, strength training can make you stronger but a lack of recovery can actually make you weaker. So get enough sleep, eat enough (not just protein), find a way to relieve daily stress and don’t fall into the trap of always trying to do more. Progressive overload is essential, but too much of a good thing is still too much. Balance stimulus and recovery. AND DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF NUTRITION IN BUILDING MUSCLE. You don’t need advanced bodybuilder nutrition plans where you eat tilapia and asparagus every 2 hours until you hate your life (far from it actually), but don’t expect your body to BUILD anything if you don’t supply it with enough material to build muscle with.

    Proper volume/loading
    You need a certain amount of sets, reps and exercises for specific goals and situations. When it comes to building muscle, you generally need more reps, sets and exercises than when purely training for strength. Popular strength training programs like Stronglifts 5×5 WILL aid in building muscle because it’s smart about the ‘progressive overload’ and ‘proper recovery’, but the volume (total amount of sets, reps and exercises) isn’t very high. Doing 3 exercises a day with 1-5 sets of 5 reps like the program calls for can get you strong and yes, getting strong has a very strong correlation with building muscle. For that reason, people looking to build muscle could benefit greatly from temporarily following programs like that, but in the long run their muscle growth will likely not be as optimal as when a program with higher volume would have been followed.

    For those that tend to think in extremes: No, this does not mean that weight is not important. If you keep lifting the same weight, even if you add reps, there will be a point where it will do little (if anything) for adding muscle mass.

    Consistently sticking to a program
    A lot of people hit the gym for while and see no results, they want to build muscle but somehow can’t seem to do so. When they ask me what I think the reason could be, I like to dig in their training history a little. Sometimes I find out that one of the aforementioned principles have not really been optimal, but in many cases there’s a different problem. People do not consistently do what they’re supposed to do. They skip workouts for all sorts of reasons, make changes in the training program when they’re not supposed to or jump from program to program every 3 weeks. One time a guy asked me for advice in getting stronger. I told him I’d help him out if he did the Stronglifts 5×5 program for 3 months and got back to me after that. I talked to him several months later, he quit after a few weeks because he didn’t like the program. As far as I know, he’s still not particularly strong. Another guy asked me for advice after he hadn’t been to the gym for a while and I told him pretty much the same. I saw him at the gym a week later, doing different exercises (“I can do more weight with this!), switching the order of the exercises (“Yeah it just feels better.”) and using way more weight than the program calls for (“Otherwise I feel like I’m not doing anything useful!). Last I heard he hasn’t been in the gym for a while.

    For the love of Krista Bunni and all that is holy, STICK TO A PROGRAM. Put in the work and trust the process. Be patient.

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    I hope this gives a little insight in essential factors in good training programs when you want to build muscle.

    I don’t have a funny, relevant quote to end this post with so you’ll have to make do with a picture of Krista Bunni.

    This picture will raise your testosterone levels. Testosterone is an essential hormone when you want to build muscle. Don’t ask questions.

     



  • Getting stronger, part 3: Crash diet

    3 weeks and 3 days since the last write up of my progress. A little quicker than the previous period, because my short-term goals and plans have shifted a little. First: The numbers.

    24 july -> 17 august

    • Weight: 87,1 -> 88,3 (Slow and steady, good.)
    • Waist: 85cm -> 85cm (Very happy to see this.)
    • Left arm/Right arm: 38/39 -> 38.5/39.5 (Could be a measuring error… But a minor increase like this is not unlikely.)
    • Chest: 111 -> 111cm (I expected a little growth here.)
    • Left leg/right leg: 59/59 -> 59/61 (This suggests that I still use my right leg more than my left leg. I measured it several times, and I have to conclude that my left-right imbalance is still problematically present.)
    • Resting heart rate: No idea. I keep forgetting to measure it.

    I decided not to pig out all the time like I did the period before, which went fine. My average caloric intake was around 3800 (whereas it was 4000 during the previous period, where I weighed less), with my highest intake being 5000 and the lowest being 3100. My protein intake averaged out on a daily 210 grams, with 265 on the highest day and 155 on the lowest. (Again, these are all estimates.)

    My back injury kept coming and going initially, until I found someone who suggested that one of my lower vertebrae is probably unstable. This makes total sense since my whole body is as crooked as can be. Solution? Squat and deadlift every single day – with a twist. After warming up and before starting my actual workout, I do 2 sets of 5 of wide stance squats with a 3-5 second pause at the bottom, followed by 1 set of 5 sumo deadlifts. I started really light and made sure to focus on keeping my lower back tight and my hips centered between my legs. Lo and behold, my back pain is all but gone after a little more than a week. I’m keeping this up until the minor powerlifting meet that I have on the 7th of september. I want a bench press PR and I’ll see what happens with my squat and deadlift, depending on how my back feels. I’m secretly aiming for:

    • Double bodyweight squat. If I get to 85kg (178lbs) bodyweight, that would be a 170kg squat, I’ve done 3×164 before so that’s feasible.
    • 1.5x bodyweight bench press. That would be 127.5kg (280lbs), whereas my old PR is 122kg from a year ago and I recently did an easy 115kg. This is a good challenge.
    • Double bodyweight deadlift. If my back is not being problematic, this should be fine. Despite being horrible at deadlifts, I’ve done an, conventional 177kg (390lbs) before and a 200kg (440lbs) trap bar deadlift, the latter of which was ridiculously easy. My lower back is my weak link so working on that combined with going sumo style should allow me to reach my goals without problems.

    I managed a few volume PR’s on upper body work, so I’m progressing nicely, but nothing worth mentioning since it’s just support work.

    As for what happens now: Lose some fat. I probably want to lose a bit of fat and maybe cut a bit of water weight so I can reasonably make a double bodyweight squat and deadlift at the powerlifting meet. (I also have a nerd convention coming up in 2 weeks where I want to walk around dressed up as Wolverine. Don’t judge me.)

     

    Lose fat? No cardio for me. It’s not that I’m against it, it’s just that I find it mind-numbingly boring and I feel I can spend that time doing more fun things, like eating and sleeping.

     

    Of the things I mentioned in my previous update, the only thing I failed to do was work on my clean & jerk more. I will get in some more work over the next few weeks, but it won’t get much emphasis until after my powerlifting meet.

    I do want to continue gaining strength so the next few weeks, this will happen:

    • Cut average calories from 3800 to 2000 or so (hence the crash diet reference).
    • Possibly lower my carbohydrate intake significantly, since I can manage my workouts just fine if I keep volume low, but going low-carb or cyclical-low-carb tends to help with cravings. (It also helps me avoid domino foods – I’ll explain that in a post later this week.)
    • Lower my training volume but increase intensity up.
    • Continue the wide stance squat and sumo deadlift thing and add weight every time.
    • Work on technical weightlifting exercises that I can do pain free. Going heavy only once or twice a week.
    • Start taking supplements again and hope I don’t forget taking them like I usually do. Fish oil, creatine, glucosamine/chondroitine/msm and truckloads of caffeine are on the menu. Caffeine tends to work as a great appetite suppressant for me, but the effects fade fairly quickly so I have to keep increasing the dose over the weeks.

    In my next update, I’ll give some more details on how I lose fat – Including details on my ‘crash diet’.


    “It’s support work. It’s like jacking off. Even if it’s awesome there’s still nothing to brag about.” – Paul Carter

     



  • Getting stronger, part 2

    It’s been 4 weeks and 6 days since I did a write up of my training and eating plans for this period. Strangely enough, I injured myself during squatting. My hip flexors locked up and wouldn’t let go for almost two weeks, hurting like hell whenever I wanted to bend over to pick something up, even if it was just a shoe. Trigger point massage and stretching did little more than temporarily relieve me of the pain, although the pain is all but gone since yesterday.

    Still, I managed to get some results that I’m happy with over 5 weeks… Except I ate more than I planned. Story of my life.  Let’s start off with some numbers:

    20-june -> 24-july
    83,9 (185lbs) -> 87,1kg (192lbs)
    Waist: 83cm -> 85cm (to be expected, seeing how much I ate)
    Arms (left-right) : 37-38cm -> 38-39cm
    Chest: 109cm -> 111cm
    Legs (left-right) : 58-59cm -> 59-59cm
    Resting heart rate 55-57 -> 51-52 (I think the 55-57 was a little off)

     

    And I still don’t look like this. ‘Tis a sad world.

     

    My caloric intake was planned around 3000 but I decided to move it up to 3500 since my workout frequency would go up. I ended up with an average caloric intake of 4000 with 7200 (!) being the highest day and 2700 being the lowest. My protein intake was intended at 180+ grams which was not a problem. There was one day with 155 grams but the average intake was around 220. (Note that these are all estimates, I don’t obsess over every single gram of whatever.)

    I’ve been feeling a lot stronger over the course of the weeks, with a small PR here and there. Just to give an idea, I listed a few old PR’s and new numbers. Note that I haven’t done a bench press workout in a year (save for one time for fun), which is cool.

    • Back squat: 1×170kg/375lbs (with double ply knee sleeves) -> 3×164kg/362lbs (without sleeves)
    • Snatch: 1×105kg/231lbs -> 1×107,5kg/237lbs
    • Paused bench press: 1×122kg/268lbs (about a year ago) -> Back up to 3×105kg/231lbs
    • Chin up: 1×(95kg/209lbs bodyweight + 20kg/44lbs) -> 1x(89kg/196lbs bodyweight + 32kg/71lbs)

    And I increased either volume or weight on a lot of assistance exercises. Added a few kg to my muscle snatch, did triples on power snatches from knee height where I would normally struggle with just one rep, my romanian deadlifts and pulls from the floor have gotten heavier, etc. I’m particularly happy about how strong my back feels after all the pull variations off the floor, as well as the rowing movements and chin up movements. I feel my snatch technique has improved but my clean & jerk technique has not.

     

    I now lift about as much as Deng Wei, a chick who is 5 years younger and weighs 30kg less. Nice.

     

    So I feel I could’ve gotten more out of these 5 weeks, but I’m glad I was able to progress despite my injury. My workouts were all over the place because I travel back and forth a lot, train at different facilities, etc. I spent around 6-12 hours a week in training. Some workouts were only half an hour, others got close to 2 hours. My original plan for training got messed up but I tried to do the following:

    -Technical weightlifting exercise, 4-5 times a week
    -Snatch or clean & jerk variation, 4-5 times a week
    -Squat variation, 2-3 times a week
    -Pull variation, 3-4 times a week
    -Low volume upper body pulling exercise followed by moderate volume variation, 2 times a week
    -Low volume pressing exercise followed by moderate volume variation, 2 times a week

    Two examples:
    Front squat
    Deficit clean pull
    Romanian deadlift + shrug
    Barbell row

    Muscle snatch from hip
    Power snatch
    Back squat
    *short break because I had to work*
    Overhead press
    Kettlebell swings

    But there have been a few occasions where I was pressed for time and just got in, worked up to a heavy set of squats and called it a day.

    As for my injuries? My knees have been feeling better over the last weeks, the trigger points around my right upper arm/shoulder blade seem to have gotten negligible and (aside from my injury) my back feels amazing after doing a lot of romanian deadlifts and incline bat wings. My right gluteus medius/piriformis is fine as well and… Well… There’s my wrist which still hurts, but at least that was just from me falling down.

    So yeah. Plans for the upcoming weeks:

    • Lower volume, up the intensity. Still not going to max out but I’m going to cut down on the moderate volume stuff.
    • Give more attention to the clean & jerk.
    • Workout structure remains the same, but exercise selection and volume will change.
    • Still work on back strength.
    • Eat less, since I don’t have much volume to keep up with, might as well lose some fat.
    • I have a minor powerlifting meet coming up in 6½ week for fun, so I want to set some personal records there. Still not doing any deadlifts, I’ll just do more heavy pulls off the floor.
    • Still going to monitor resting heart rate. I got over 60 twice, the rest was nicely under 60. No problem there.
    • More tiger balm. And ponder what I will do about my ankle injury.

     

    “It would have been easy to mope around and say, “I’ll never be as good as they are.” But I looked at it a different way: It was awe-inspiring to see someone performing at a level I didn’t even think was possible.” – Ramit Sethi

     



  • Forging glorious ass muscles

    Despite many men being obsessed with tight sixpacks and bulging biceps, they generally wouldn’t mind (or at the very least would benefit from) having buttcheeks so powerful they could crack walnuts with them. As for women? Well, it’s not uncommon for women to have their behind as the very reason they want to start training. Most women would kill for an ass so glorious that it could inspire Sir Mix-A-Lot to write a sequel to his classic ‘Baby Got Back’.

    The thought that squats build a perfect booty is pretty popular on the internet these days, and it sparked sort of a counter-movement (in part instigated by Bret ‘The Glute Guy’ Contreras) where the formerly mentioned train of thought is criticized – apparently squats are great, but don’t build a round, firm set of glutes like the superior ‘hip thrust’ and ‘glute bridge’ will do. Research is cited where the amount of activity in the ass muscles is listed for several exercises, ranging from squat and deadlift variations to hip thrusts and many more.

    In this sense, it is true that certain hip extension exercises (extending the hip is the main function of the biggest ass muscles that helps shape it all) like the hip thrust are superior compared to squats, yet I still don’t always have people do hip thrusts. The main reason and the reasoning behind it are simple, but not just related to exercise choice.

     

    Su Farrell
    I will never stop reminding people that training for performance is enough for many people to work wonders for their looks, as Su Farrell (powerlifter/fitness model) and her glorious ass muscles prove.

     

    A few things to keep in mind first:

    • The way I train athletes varies from one person to the next, based on their goals and experience, but what I describe here is basically geared towards novices.
    • ‘Toning’ your ass can consist of two things: building muscle and losing fat. Please stop using the word ‘toning’ to promulgate your strange 30-reps-without-weights protocol to build a ‘toned butt’.

    An important principle is that a beginner only needs a very small stimulus to force the body into an adaptation, which basically means progress in the broad sense of the word. A total couch potato could -theoretically- build more mass in their ass muscles from riding their bike hard enough, even though the progress would be small and would stall pretty quickly. A beginner would benefit from doing squats and deadlifts in more ways than just having a better butt (overall strength and health, for example), and it takes time to master those exercises  technically so I prefer letting beginners focus on exercises like that. Improving technique and building strength there will help build your ass muscles just fine. (Have you noticed I like saying ass muscles? Say it out loud. Ass muscles.)

    At some point, depending on a few factors (like your goals) it would be appropriate to change things up. In the case of creating a better looking butt, you will need several things, but I will only go through three of them, since these are relevant to this post as well as easily misunderstood and under-appreciated:

    • Progressive overload. You need to add weight (or otherwise increase the intensity through changing leverage in an exercise or something).
    • Proper volume. Hypertrophy, or building muscle, ideally  requires a moderate-to-high amount of sets or reps, otherwise you’re focusing more on building strength (with low volume training) or on muscular endurance (very high volume).
    • Proper exercise selection. I would always let someone do a squat variation and a heavy hinge (deadlift) variation, yet there will be a point where just squatting and deadlifting won’t cut it anymore if your goal is to shape your butt reasonably fast. Ass muscles are pretty strong and just one of many muscle groups used in the squat and deadlift. This is where exercises like glute bridges can come in to target the ass muscles more specifically.

    So I’m not part of the ‘SQUATS ARE ALL YOU NEED FOR A GLORIOUS ASS-Instagram-motivational-fitness’ crowd, but neither would I let every  beginner who cares about the shape of their ass go crazy on hip thrusts. It’s not that it’s wrong, I just don’t think it’s necessary to do more as a beginner when doing less will get you your results just fine while leaving more time and energy to do other stuff.

    Ass muscles.

    My girlfriend: “Your ass is not exactly… Very small.”
    Me: “Well, I’ve always had wide hips and a big ass. And then came years of squatting.”

     



  • Music & training

    Listening to music during training is a very individual thing. It’s not just about a different taste in music – different people may use it in different ways and not every one of those is productive. Someone might use it to psyche up in the gym for a heavy set, someone else might use it to help them not get distracted and another might use it simply to keep their workouts more fun. Any of this could be fine, as long as the music itself does not become a distraction nor a necessity. Any distraction when you need to be focused will detract from your performance and if the music becomes a necessity… Well, what will you do in a competition then? Ruin your competition performance? What if your iPod dies on you during your workout? Are you going to let the rest of your workout be ruined?

    Be mindful of this and you could use music to your advantage. My coach always taught me there is no substitute for a proper training environment (physical, as in proper material, as well as psychological, with the right people around you) and I have no doubt that this is true, but music can go a long way in working with what you’ve got when your training environment is suboptimal.

     

    There are times, however, when the Benny Hill theme is really the only appropriate music.

     

    As for me? It’s exactly what I just described. If I lift with my team, I don’t need the music although it’s a nice addition. Around and during training when I’m by myself, I tend to listen to music for three reasons.

    Transitioning:
    Right before the actual training, either when I’m on my way to the gym or when I’m doing some stretching, trying to relieve trigger points, trying to get the joints working and preparing for the first movement, I tend to listen to something relaxing. Maybe a movie soundtrack, something from Bat for Lashes or some sentimental pop music. It helps me clear my mind from daily life so I can properly transition into my ‘training mode’ and focus on the task at hand. I also listen to the same types of music after training so I can unwind and relax a bit.

    Psyching up:
    If I lift with the right people, they can be the correct stimulus to get hyper focused before my most technical, most important movements. When they are not there but I have to do a heavy triple on the back squat or a heavy single on the snatch, I have to be able to get focused by myself and I tend to use music for that. This might be some loud metal, fast paced rock with inspiring lyrics or a videogame soundtrack that sorta links my mind to ‘that epic moment from a specific videogame’.

    Overall focus:
    This usually refers to longer sets of an exercise (in my case that is up to 8 reps or something) or any part of training that requires me not to get distracted, but is not ‘mentally intensive’ like doing a really heavy set of 3 on a ‘big’ exercise. Think of a heavy set of a pressing exercise or something. Most of the music I like (except for the really mellow and relaxing stuff) works for me here, but if I can be arsed to pick a specific song here, I tend to gravitate towards techno/dance music with a heavy beat or some sort type of metal for this.

    I’ve found that this helps me focus on my training and it makes my training a lot more enjoyable. Try and see what works for you, but as Dan John always says: “The hardest thing is to keep the goal the goal.” If you’re training for a goal, music should never detract from your goal. If it does, you’re doing it wrong.

    For fun, once in a while on Endure and Survive, I’ll list a few examples of my favourite training songs that you might like. Since not everyone can stand more extreme (?) types of music, I’ll list the genre and whether there’s screaming or not.

    Transitioning:
    Sara Bareilles – I Choose You (Genre: Pop. No screaming.)
    Bat for Lashes – Bat’s Mouth (Genre: Pop/shoegaze? No screaming.)

    Psyching up:
    Jamie Christopherson – The Stains of Time (Genre: Videogame OST/Rock/Metal. No screaming.)
    Kajiura Yuki – Mezame (Genre: Anime OST/Rock/Opera/Orchestral? No screaming.)
    Satyricon – Filthgrinder (Genre: Black metal. Lots of screaming.)

    Overall focus:
    DJ S3rl ft. Yurino – Be my gameboy (Genre: Dance/techno. No screaming.)
    Children of Bodom – Everytime I die (Genre: Gothenburg/melodic death metal. Lots of screaming.)

     



  • Functional training

    Over the last decade, the term ‘functional training’ has been thrown around way too much, along with odd hypes and weird, almost nonsensical types of training. The term ‘functional’ is a bit ambiguous since a barbell curl may be ‘functional’ for a bodybuilder and a ‘snatch high pull’ might be ‘functional’ for an olympic weight lifter, but for brevity’s sake: let’s use an easy definition where the training in question focuses on results that can be transferred to daily life and overall health.

    • You want a strong, rigid back? Get your squat and deadlift up.
    • You want more stability? Get your squat up or pick up some gymnastic movements.
    • You want stronger knees? Get your squat up.
    • You want strong, stable shoulders? Get your overhead press up.
    • You want more explosive strength? Get your power clean up.
    • You want more endurance? Do more kettlebell swings.

    Really, if you can squat and press a decent amount of weight for reps without aches all over, I think you’re pretty fucking functional. How much more functional do you want it to be?

     

    This is what I would expect from my friends when they’re drunk, not from people who take their health or athletic achievements seriously.

     

    Provided that your body is otherwise healthy, maintaining proper posture and movement patterns while getting stronger is enough for the vast majority of people to be ‘functional’ in daily life. Even if you’re training for another sport or the upcoming zombie apocalypse, the same principles initially apply. Add some extra skill-based zombie survival activities to finish it all off and you’ll see there’s really not that much reason to do one legged overhead squats on a BOSU ball or a “squat to 1-armed dumbbell press” with 10% of the weight you can actually squat.

    Getting better at the basics already puts you ahead of the vast majority of people, which immediately explains why so many people in the gym achieve so little. They don’t (want to?) realize that 15 minutes of squatting has more benefits than 60 minutes of leg extensions, adductor machines and leg curls when it comes to ‘being functional’.

    Always stick to the 80-20 rule. Invest in the 20% effort that gives you 80% of the results.

    If you want to know why these exercises and principles have more to do with ‘functional training’ than many other things touted as ‘functional’, read this brilliant article by Mark Rippetoe.  He explains why getting stronger is functional despite people generally not having to lift more than 50lbs in daily life, and why progress on the basic (symmetric) exercises transfers so well to daily life despite most of our daily movements being assymetrical. It’s fine to do your unilateral work, prehab exercises and whatever you think might help you, but the basics are the basics for a reason: they follow the 80-20 rule.

    Please share this post with everyone that believes that doing reverse overhead lunges is more functional than getting stronger in the squat or deadlift.

    “Isn’t my tired old advice to stick with basic barbell exercises done with absolutely perfect technique and working up to brutally heavy weight getting just a little boring by now?” – Mark Rippetoe



  • Getting stronger, part 1

    The off-season has begun for me. No more competitions for a while and my coach allowed me to do my own thing for the time being. Yesterday morning, I weighed in at 83.9kg (185lbs). I haven’t weighed this little since I was 10 years old or something. Since we’re in the off-season, I’m going to focus on building strength (and possibly some muscle mass) in hopes of not injuring myself all the fucking time when contest season comes up and, of course, improving my main lifts.

    A few points to focus on:

    • I’m horribly weak off the floor in deadlifts/pulls and my pull up strength sucks as well. I will focus on improving back strength. My legs/hips are strong enough so I’ll just leverage that strength by squatting often. I expect my squat to go up without investing too much energy in it.
    • I have a lot of left-right imbalances. I believe this is part of the cause why I injure myself so much.
    • I don’t care much about my weight, I just want to keep my waist circumference at or below 85cm. I don’t need the extra bodyfat.
    • I will tiger balm the fuck out of anything that hurts more than it should.
    • At the end of the week, I’ll try to average out my daily caloric intake around maintenance (~3000) or slightly above. I’m keeping protein intake higher than necessary to prevent binge eating, which I’m prone to. I’ll be keeping protein intake at 180+ grams a day, whereas normally (with my low volume training) I’d usually not even get to 150.
    • I’ll monitor my resting heart rate as a general indicator of how my recovery is going. I seem to have no problem recovering from working the same muscle group 3245324523 times a week, but I don’t do well on (near-) maxing out with a low frequency.
    • I need to get rid of some nagging injuries. I want my knees feeling strong again, my wrist hurts (from being an idiot, it was nothing weightlifting related) and my right piriformis/gluteus medius are bothering me a lot at the moment. My ankle has been hurting for a very long time now as well.

    My training template (which is really flexible because I train in various gyms with varying equipment at various times and often with limited training time) is basically this:

    • Technical weightlifting exercise, focusing on my weak points.
    • Snatch or clean & jerk variation, possibly technical exercise.
    • Moderate volume squat or pull.
    • Moderate-high volume pressing or upper body pulling.
    • Extra stuff. This is the stuff I skip if I’m short on time or feeling fatigued. This can be anything from ab work to handstand practice to extra strength work if I can handle it. It could even be conditioning or barbell curls (okay, that goes a little too far).

    I go by feel on the extra stuff, but try to program/structure the other exercises as much as possible.

    An example could be:

    • Muscle snatch
    • Power snatch
    • Back squat
    • Barbell row
    • L-sit

    ————————————————————————————————–

    Some stats:

    June 20, 2014

    • Height: 178cm (5’10)
    • Bodyweight: 83,9kg (185lbs)
    • Bodyfat %: No idea. Veiny forearms yet fat stomach. A vein on my quads yet saddlebags. 15-16% probably.
    • Waist: 83cm
    • Arms: 37-38cm
    • Legs: 59-58cm <- This is interesting. My left leg has always been 2cm thinner since I injured it in muay thai.
    • Chest: 109
    • Resting heart rate: 55-57 <- Higher than I expected. A while back it was around 52 at rest. Either my resting heart rate has increased or I haven’t recovered from my competition and workouts recently. Both are plausible.

    Recent PR’s:

    • Back squat – 170kg
    • Clean & Jerk – 125kg
    • Snatch – 105kg with straps, 100kg without

    Not recent PR’s:

    • Paused bench press – 122kg
    • Front squat – 144kg
    • Chin up (supinated grip) – 95kg bodyweight + 20kg extra weight
    • Overhead press – 80kg

     

    If I’m missing anything you guys are curious about, let me know.