Stop making lame excuses about "muscle loss" and do your cardio, fatty.
Stop obsessing about overtraining, ya wimp.
Lose the ego and do more unilateral training.
That's just some of the advice you didn't want to hear from Part I. Now, seven more muscle-building experts lay down the tough love.
You Already Know Where You're Weak, So Fix It!
The biggest problem with most trainers is that they know exactly what their biggest problem is!
That's right, it never comes as a shock when I tell a 300 pound woman the results of her full physical assessment: "You are too fat."
Don't laugh. You probably have some glaring issues too... and you know it!
Like I told Mark Twight (the guy who trained the actors for the 300 movie), why do we even assess males? They all have the following issues:
- They need to add 100 pounds to their front squat and get the flexibility to go deep.
- They have tight hip flexors from typing and driving and watching TV. They need to address that before they ask one more "six-pack abs" question.
- They have to build their rhomboid strength because their shoulders are rolled so far forward it looks like their chest is a spinnaker.
- They need to double the number of pull-ups they can do. Real pull-ups, by the way.
Yet two weeks after I spend several hours with someone reviewing all these issues, their workouts revert back to bench press, lat pulldown, and thirty-two variations of the curl. And sadly, when this guy puts on his clothes he looks like he has never spent five minutes working out in his life.
If you have glaring issue, do the Arnold trick and work that weakness first. If you honestly don't know what to do about your weakness, ask. Then, follow the advice!
Weight Training is NOT a Program!
Yeah, you heard me. Weight training is not a fitness program. It's part of a program.
A T Nation reader, in my opinion, is an athlete. An athlete in today's world can't get it done just by adding resistance to a movement. You need more than that. You may be training for looks, but based on your lifestyle you need more than just resistance training to get the body to look right and fly right.
Even if you're training two hours per day, seven days per week, that's probably all the activity there is. Fourteen hours out of 168. About 8%. And let's face it, it's more like five hours a week really – closer to 3%.
The rest of the time? Well, you're probably sitting on your ass – in the car, at a desk, in a chair watching TV. We spend hours inactive, with slouched posture and shortened muscles. We need to fix that, and just adding weight and loading the structure isn't the key. We need a complete program.
You need to address seven areas:
- Movement Preparation: More than just mobility, this is a process of undoing the damage that you do the other 23 hours of the day – freeing the hips, activating the glutes, developing range of motion, and working each joint as it was designed.
- 2. Prehabilitation: Quick, hands up if you've ever known anyone that has had a shoulder injury. That means that there are areas of "concern" or weakness in the body that we need to address up front. Throw in some YTWLs and some external rotator work as a resiliency tool.
- 3. Core Stability: Despite what some coaches are saying, the evidence is clear: You need to train the core for stability, and direct training activates the core more than indirect work. Spend a couple of minutes per workout on core stability.
- 4. Power: Every T Nation reader should be power training. It's the quality we lose the fastest as we age, yet it's easy to keep. Make sure you have some explosive movements in your program – not necessarily with bars and dumbbells – maybe just some bodyweight stuff.
- 5. Resistance Training: 'Nuff said.
- 6. Energy System Development: Do your cardio, but remember to mix it up. Cardio doesn't mean "aerobics on the treadmill." Use kettlebells, sprints, and complexes as well as longer-duration cardio.
- 7. Regeneration and Recovery: You need to stretch and foam roll at the very least. If you can recover better and faster, then each training session can be harder... and your results better.
Suck It Up and Static Stretch!
Every few years, it becomes common practice to vilify a certain idea in the fitness industry:
- Saturated fat is evil!" As a result, we're now in the middle of an obesity epidemic. Huh, that's weird.
- "Steady-state cardio will turn you into an emaciated, pencil-neck dweeb." Now we have trainees who are 50 pounds overweight doing sprints. Brilliant!
The latest trend is the common – albeit wrong – premise that static stretching is a waste of time. A couple of studies showed how static stretching of the hamstrings prior to testing the vertical jump reduced power output by upwards of 10%.
Predictably, coaches and trainers everywhere took this new bit of info and deemed static stretching evil – replacing it with more dynamic warm-ups. Not necessarily a bad thing, just a bit overzealous.
People, we're talking ten percentage points here. Big deal! Mike Boyle has a great analogy for this using Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics. If you could have a healthy Garnett with a 27 inch vertical on the basketball court, as opposed to an injured Garnett with a 30 inch vertical sitting on the bench, isn't it worth losing three inches if static stretching will keep him healthy and playing?
Listen, we sit on our asses all day for upwards of 40 to 60 hours per week. It stands to reason that our muscles (particularly in our hips) are going to adaptively shorten in the process, resulting in a multitude of postural deficiencies and kinetic dysfunctions. Dynamic flexibility drills and foam rolling are an important component to fixing these issues, but we also need to static stretch to re-establish those length-tension relationships between our joints and muscles.
In the end, suck it up and do your static stretching. For the vast majority of us, the advantages – better movement efficiency, improved mobility, less chronic pain – far outweigh the disadvantages.
Your Upper Back Strength Sucks
If most people trained their upper back as hard as they should, we'd have a lot fewer geek physiques and jacked-up shoulders roaming around the local fitness facility.
If you're looking for an analogy, upper back is like the leg workout for your upper body. If you're serious and pushing yourself, it's a damn hard workout.
Think about it like this: Are you always willing to do that extra chin-up? Or to add another five pounds to your chest-supported row? If you're like most guys and gals out there, the answer is probably "no."
The cool thing is, when you get serious about your upper back strength, everything seems to get bigger and stronger. Without even trying, you're adding mass to your arms. Your squat and your deadlift are suddenly much more stable.
And your bench press? Well, I'd bet that your bench would really shoot through the roof if you trained your back – the stabilizers of your bench press – as hard as you trained the bench press itself.
If you want to take your back strength and development to the next level, try prioritizing it in your training for several months. Increase the volume. Place a big exercise like chins or chest-supported rows first in your workout. Better yet, place them at the beginning of your workout and at the beginning of your training week.
Get serious about your upper back. You'll be amazed at the results.
You Need To Train Lower Body First and Do "PRE"
My friend Alwyn Cosgrove says that Monday is International Bench Press Day. All over the world men flock to the gym to perform the most sacred of rituals – the heavy bench day. As Sunday is to church, Monday is to benching.
As a strength and conditioning coach I realized long ago that my primary job was to battle human nature. In fact, I realized I could actually leave the bench press out of workouts and athletes would simply stay longer in order to perform it. My conclusion was simple: The first day in the gym has to be a lower body day.
That means Monday is squat day, not bench day. What heresy! Miss Monday? Then Tuesday is squat day. Sick both Monday and Tuesday? Wednesday is squat day. You get my point. The first day in the gym should be a lower body day. No excuses.
Here's my simple advice for lower body day. Do front squats or trap bar deadlifts for 3 sets of 8 reps. Two sets are warm-ups. Set three is your best set of eight done to technical failure. (This means with perfect form.)
From this point forward use a form of advanced periodization called Progressive Resistance Exercise or PRE. This novel concept was discovered by Delorme and Watkins in the fifties and calls for the use of something called a 2.5 pound plate.
In the Progressive Resistance Exercise you simply slip 2.5 pounds on each side of the bar every week. Here's the frightening part: If you simply did this every week starting with 135 x 8 you would do 395 x 8 in the front squat at the end of one year.
People are just in too big a hurry. Don't get fancy, just use the small plates and PRE.
You Can't Estimate Calories!
You can't accurately estimate calories. This is a hard truth that many people who struggle with their weight fail to realize. The bottom line is that if you want to get really, really lean, then you're going to need to get a hold of your calorie intake more than just "yeah, that looks like a tablespoon of peanut butter."
Studies have shown that people do a very poor job at estimating calories, and it gets worse the more unhealthy the food is (so look out next time you justify eating an entire pizza on your next cheat meal). For example, in one study participants underestimated the caloric value of chicken fajitas by 136%. Even the caloric value of basic foods like chicken breasts were underestimated by 34%.
Another study had people that were dieting keep a food log and found that 53% of the time they estimate the caloric value of the food they were eating incorrectly and 64% of the time they recorded the amount of food they were eating incorrectly. The researchers estimated that this level of calorie inaccuracy could result in a person thinking they were eating 2000 calories per day but in reality they are eating 3000+ calories per day.
Are you still wondering why you can't lose those last 10 pounds?
It's time to switch to a more accurate plan. Volumetric measurements (cups, TBSP, etc.) are easier and faster for many foods compared to using grams and weighing everything. Keep in mind that with speed comes a little added error. So if volumetric measures start to fail then move to weighing all your food.
If you don't mind the hassle and just want to get the body fat off, go straight to weighing all your food – chicken, peanut butter, protein powder, etc. That will allow you to get the most accurate measurement of how many calories you're eating so you can get lean quick.
You Know Too Much for Your Own Good
Imagine Joe Average needs an organ transplant, so he tirelessly scours the Internet to learn everything there is to know about the procedure. Finally, the day of his operation comes. He shows up at the hospital and tells his doctor that he's "really well read" and wants to do the surgery himself. Crazy, huh?
At least once a month, I meet a T Nation reader who has covered all the material on this site to the point that it's practically been memorized. He has dressed up like Chad Waterbury for Halloween. He read one of TC's Atomic Dog columns as the best man's toast as his buddy's wedding. And he has slept on the sidewalk outside of Christian Thibaudeau's house in hopes of catching a glimpse of Christian as he walks outside in his tighty-whities to grab the morning paper.
The only problem is that he's fat, weak, inflexible, uncoordinated, and deconditioned. He's the guy showing up at the hospital to do his own organ transplant. He doesn't understand that there's a lot more to this. None of this knowledge translated to physique or performance gains.
Why does this happen to some folks? Well, some people just spend way too much time in Internet fantasy land to actually go out and train. They see what they read as everything they need to be successful, but in reality, it's just one piece of the puzzle.
Information can help you tremendously, but only if you're willing to work your ass off, too. So, take the experts' advice to heart, but also go beyond the Internet to find the environment that'll motivate you to bust your hump.
Find a good training program instead of spending countless hours trying to plan your own. Get a good training partner. Find a new gym. Get a little angry.