Building High-Performance Muscle™

Crack Open My Cranium


I've compiled a list of random topics based on a number of conversations I've had with my colleagues over the last few weeks, along with a few topics pulled out of the fiery depths of pitchfork swinging hell. Yes, I'm talking about the Internet forums.

Anyway, here are some of my thoughts.


Leanness

Take any physique that sports double-digit body fat and drop it to 8%. What do you get? A much more impressive display of physical prowess. The Internet flame throwers who think Brad Pitt's physique in Fight Club was too skinny, weak, or whatever else, are completely missing the point. The point is that his body looked a helluva lot more muscular at 6% body fat compared to 14%.

fight club

"You are not your body fat!"

Head-turning muscularity requires leanness. There's nothing impressive about 16% body fat on a guy, regardless of his size.

What does it take to get lean? If I listed all the steps you'd probably say, "I already know that."

Here's what I mean: If I told you to consume one gram of protein per pound of body weight, fibrous vegetables, water, green tea, 12 grams of fish oil, and spread those out over the course of six meals each day you'd be anything but impressed. But if I held you in captivity and forced you to do that every day for a month, you'd be blown away by the results. The nutritional methods to lose fat have already been found. The challenge we coaches face is figuring out how we're going to get you to adhere to the guidelines.

Ask any natural guy how he got to single-digit body fat and there won't be one thing he says that surprises you. There's nothing complicated about fat loss.

However, some methods are better than others. The key difference is how much muscle you have to sacrifice to reach single digits. Huge guys can afford to lose some muscle, and they often do. Skinny-fat guys must take all measures to add muscle while they're leaning. Specifically, their hormonal profile must be corrected because their shitty hormones gave them a skinny-fat physique in the first place.

skinny fat

Skinny-fat guys need to get their hormones into shape.

Hormonally-speaking, you must control insulin, minimize cortisol, and boost testosterone, growth hormone, and IGF-1. This goes for everyone, not just skinny-fat types.

In order to preserve muscle you should focus on training methods that stimulate a large portion of your motor unit pool and challenge anaerobic glycolysis (the energy system that makes you feel nauseous). If a workout aimed at fat-burning isn't making you feel nauseous, you're not training hard enough, or you're challenging the wrong energy system.

The simplest way to challenge anaerobic glycolysis is to shorten your rest periods and add more reps. And you must choose exercises that stimulate as much total muscle mass as possible. A snatch is better than a squat, which is better than a one-arm row. Single joint exercises have no place in the part of a training program that's intended to burn fat.

The most important factor in determining whether or not you can gain muscle while losing fat is time. The less time you have, the more likely it is that you'll lose muscle.

And if you have to ask whether you should cut or bulk first, you should cut.

big gut

He should cut.


Muscle Building

Optimal muscularity requires, well, muscle. The more muscle you have, the better you'll look once you reach single-digit body fat.

Those four parts comprise the base of the system. What you add, and where you add it, is specific to the person. Curls, side raises, calf raises, etc. only come into play if time and energy allow for it.

If you can train at least four times per week, if you have a limited capacity to recover, and if you typically need a lot of volume to grow, an upper/lower split is an excellent option.

Take two guys, for example. Both are 5'10", 165 pounds, 14% body fat, and both have the same genetic make-up. One guy wants to build a body that looks and moves like Georges St. Pierre, the other wants his body to look and move like Dorian Yates.

GSPDorian Yates

The rules of muscle-building don't change, regardless of your goals.

Should these two guys use different muscle-gaining methods? No. The rules of building muscle don't change whether you're trying to add five or 50 pounds of muscle. You must focus on getting stronger and increasing your training volume. For those who have the luxury, the most effective way to increase volume is through a higher frequency.

Should these guys use different exercises to gain muscle? Yes, and this is the biggest difference between training a bodybuilder and an athlete. A guy who wants to move like an athlete must train with movements that challenge stability across the entire body and that force the joints to work through a full range of motion. A bodybuilder doesn't need to do pistols, but a combat athlete does. And a barbell bench press from chest to lockout is not a full range of motion exercise when you consider the function of the shoulder blades.

Should one follow a total body workout and the other follow an upper/lower split? Probably. Most bodybuilders need to train with more volume per body part than an athlete. Therefore, upper/lower splits are good for them. But keep in mind that an upper/lower split is where the conversation ends if you need to gain more than 10 pounds of muscle.

skinny kid

This kid should stay away from body part splits for a while.

A chest/back, legs/abs, and shoulders/arms split each week will take you a helluva lot longer to gain 10 pounds of muscle compared to the protocol I prescribed above. Don't let anyone tell you different.

Here's my dream challenge, if I had a million bucks to spare. I'd like to take the coaches who are the biggest proponents of body part splits and challenge them to add 10 pounds of muscle to a natural guy as quickly as possible. The coaches can train the guy for an hour, three times per week. The first coach to add 10 pounds of pure muscle to his client gets a million bucks.

I guarantee you this: you wouldn't see a single body part split.

Intensity is not the most important component of building muscle. If it were true, Arthur Jones would've found the holy grail of training and we'd all be using his system. The most important element is frequency with adequate intensity.


Strength

In terms of exercise selection, training an athlete for strength isn't a whole lot different than training him for hypertrophy. An athlete needs to build strength that carries over to the sport so his exercises must challenge total body stability and improve joint health, just like his muscle-building workouts should. The main differences are loading and volume.

Take an athlete and test his 3RM for the squat. Then, put him on the 10x10 method with the squat for three weeks. Retest his 3RM. If he lost any less than 10% of his maximal strength, consider yourself lucky. When training for maximal strength, lifting any load that's less than 80% of your 1RM is a waste of time.

But you must keep in mind what the intended purpose of a method really is. For example, saying that complexes don't build maximal strength is inane. Complexes aren't designed to build maximal strength, just like swimming isn't intended to boost your squat.

Crazy as it might sound to many Internet coaches, in-season athletes have a very limited capacity to recover from maximal strength sessions. That's because their sport requires significant time and energy to perfect the skill. Therefore, the volume of maximal strength work must be lower than it is for a weekend warrior. I'm talking specifically about power/endurance athletes like fighters, hockey players, etc.

A bodybuilder needs more strength too, but it doesn't really matter how he develops it. Once you throw the need for performance and joint integrity out the window, virtually any machine can build strength.

The system I favor for adding strength as quickly as possible starts with the following:

What I add to the list depends on what the athlete needs. Most often, exercises that improve joint health and correct strength imbalances are the focus. Examples are face pulls, the ab wheel, and X-band walks. For corrective exercises, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps per set is a good standard.


Endurance

An athlete's endurance training should come from practicing his sport. That's, of course, assuming his sport challenges endurance. A boxer should box. A wrestler should wrestle. A soccer player should play soccer. A cyclist should cycle. This ensures his endurance development is specific to his needs.

I think strength training information is about 20 years behind where it should be at this point. And I think endurance training information is another 30 years behind strength training. And it's getting worse.

We need to stop focusing on heart rate zones, treadmill jogs, interval training, and the like. Instead, we should get back to what we did as a kid.

Play a damn sport!

Raise some hell in the park!

Sprint, leap, zig zag, fall down, jump up, throw an empty beer can at your buddy, hop a fence, run up a hill, climb a tree, steal a bicycle and pedal like hell.

tree lady

Forget the treadmill. Go climb a tree.

For three days each week do challenging, complex activities that force your body to work at different intensities, and move in different directions. Do this for around 30 minutes and forget about the rest.


Fatigue

Managing fatigue is the most essential component when training athletes. The key to making it through a total body workout is to avoid doing four rounds of triple drop sets with the preacher curl.

There's way too much emphasis put on periodization schemes. Yes, you must have a plan of attack, but no one can predict how an athlete will respond. What happens when an athlete gets injured, sick, or just feels like crap?

Elite athletes are a lot like luxury Italian sports cars. When they run well, nothing beats them, but they require a lot of fine-tuning. You can't predict when this will happen so you better be able to adapt on the fly. A periodization plan should revolve around what the athlete tells you, and what his performance shows on that day. Since no Russian or Eastern European program can predict the capricious nature of athletes, I avoid those plans.


Tempo

In terms of lifting a weight, the difference between "as fast as possible" and any tempo slower than that is at the expense of motor unit recruitment. I don't understand why any coach would tell a healthy athlete to lift slower; fast as possible is a must (keep in mind, I'm talking specifically about the phase when your muscles shorten against resistance).

olympics

A healthy athlete should lift as fast as possible.

There are times when you should pause between reps, hold the peak contraction for a full second, or slow down the eccentric phase, slightly. But slow tempos, in general, make no sense.

Remember when I said that strength training information has taken a major setback? It's mainly due to the incorporation of tempo prescriptions.


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olympics

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