Can't Feel My Hammies!

Q: What's the best way to make the hamstrings kick in if I'm not feeling them enough during workouts?

A: The hamstrings have a dual function: They work to both flex the lower leg and extend the hips and trunk, but let's first look at lower leg flexion.

If you're not feeling the hammies when you do lying leg curls, it might be because you're getting too much help from the gastrocnemius, which assists the hamstrings during leg flexion.

Try this: When you curl your lower leg towards your butt, dorsiflex (point your toes towards your body). This allows the gastrocemius to kick in and help you lift heavier resistance than you might be able to do just using your hamstrings.

When you lower the weight, plantar flex your foot (point the toes away from the body). This "deactivates" the gastrocnemius so the hamstrings have to do all the work on their own.

Take one second to raise the weight, and 3 to 5 seconds to lower it. You'll feel it.

As far as feeling the hamstrings when you're using them to extend the hip/trunk, it's usually a case of using too much weight. For stiff-leg deadlifts, good mornings, reverse hypers, and glute/ham raises, try rep ranges of 12-15. Again, take one second to raise the weight and 3 to 5 seconds to lower it. That should work. – TC Luoma

Abracadabra: The Appearance Of Abs!

Q: Are visible abs a sign of strength or starvation?

A: Strength isn't a great indicator that someone will have visible abs, and while diet (or what you call starvation) can play a role, there are people who have ab definition even when they're not dieting.

The truth is, abs can be a sign of multiple things. Here are six variables that affect their visibility:

1 – Genetics

The science of abs is pretty cool. Christian Thibaudeau has explained how some people – even when they get lean – won't be able to see their abs because their abdominal muscle bellies aren't naturally thick.

He's also explained tendinous attachments (they're what create the lines between abs) and how they can play a role in the amount of separation you see between abdominal muscles. In short, they determine whether you'll have a 4-pack, 6-pack, or 8-pack, no matter how lean and muscular you are. It's genetic.

2 – Training

Those who don't genetically have thicker ab muscles will need to do more work to hypertrophy theirs. Diet alone won't cut it. The abs are a muscle group, so this shouldn't come as a surprise. Train them directly with resistance. The big lifts alone won't cut it.

3 – Body Fat

There's a point when, even if you DO have developed abs, they won't be visible if you're carrying too much body fat. No amount of ab training will make them visible if they're underneath several inches of adipose tissue.

4 – Digestion

Some people say chronic digestive distress can lead to increased body fat around the midsection. I'm not sure I buy that. But I will say that stomach distension and pressure in the gut (from gas, constipation, undigested food sitting in the stomach, etc.) can make your belly protrude. And extreme protrusion alone will make ab separation less visible, unless you flex hard.

So even if you're someone who's lean enough to have abs, slow motility and poor digestion can simply make it harder to display them.

5 – Water Retention

Ask any fit woman when she wants to get professional photos taken and there's a good chance she'll schedule it around her period. Why? Because there are a handful of days every month when we retain more water than usual, and it can affect the appearance of our midsection.

But even men experience water retention for various reasons. Sometimes both males and females will use diuretics before big events in order to manipulate water and increase definition all over, including the abs.

6 – Skin Tone

Ab definition is slightly more visible when you have a tan. It just makes what you have easier to see. This is especially true if you're lean enough to have ab definition, but you haven't been able to build much muscle thickness there. So if you're pale skinned and you have a shadow of an ab or two, try slapping some fake tanner on and see if that makes them a bit more visible.

To recap, having visible abs mainly depends on what your mom and dad gave you, how much muscle you've built in the midsection, and how lean you are. Contributing factors may include digestion, water retention, and skin tone. – Dani Shugart


The No-Bench, No-Rack Workout

Q: I'm trying to ditch the gym membership and build a home gym. Right now I only have a barbell, no bench or squat rack. What can I do for variety?

A: I'll assume you have a pile of plates and you're already covering the basics: rows, overhead presses, deadlifts, curls, etc. If a rack is beyond of your budget right now or just takes up too much room in your garage, then spend about 75 bucks on a portable landmine setup. I like the Post Landmine from Rogue.

Of all the gadgets that come and go in the fitness world, I think the landmine-type contraption is going to stick around and soon become a staple in most gyms. Not only does angled barbell training stimulate the muscles in a fresh way, it also makes squatting, pulling, and pushing exercises comfortable if you're feeling banged up. Bad back? Cranky shoulders? Get a landmine. Plus, most of these exercises are hard to screw up.

Tony Gentilcore stopped by T Nation HQ recently and gave us some landmine tips. Check these out:

Landmine Press

Landmine Squat, Deadlift, and Lunge

And yes, you can even "bench" with it, as Ben Bruno demonstrates here:

Metabolic conditioning? There's even some landmine moves for that, like the dreaded thruster:

The post-style landmine can even be tossed into a gym bag if you do decide join a commercial gym again. – Chris Shugart

Oh, Honey, No!

Q: What's best for intra-workout energy? I'm currently using honey mixed with aminos, but I want to see if there's something better.

A: Good Lord! You asking that here is like walking into the men's section at some fancy, high-end department store and shouting out, "Hey, I want to smell sexy for women. Got any Axe Body Spray?" They'd usher you out and cart you over to CVS before you caused yourself any further embarrassment, you poor bastard.

Look, I'm not going to go on some long, exhaustive sales pitch, but you gotta' ditch that primitive stuff and use something that was specifically formulated to give support before, during, and after training (or competition). Check out Plazma™.

It's a blend of fast-acting di- and a tripeptides and a novel "functional carbohydrate." The di- and tripeptides are absorbed intact into the digestive system and the functional carbohydrate delivers them and other key nutrients into muscle cells to create a super pump.

You're able to lift longer and harder and recover faster. Plus, bees won't bother you. – TC Luoma