Q: I read one of your articles where you said that, in your opinion, Zottman curls are the best exercise for beefing up one's upper arm. I have two questions:

  1. On the eccentric part of the movement, does one have his wrist/hand in a neutral position (as in a hammer curl), or in a semi-pronated position (palms turned down)?
  2. Does doing the Zottman curl on an incline bench take anything away from the effectiveness of the movement?

A: For those of you who don't know what Zottman curls are, they combine a standard dumbbell curl with a reverse curl. Sit on the edge of a bench with a working pair of dumbbells. Curl the weights up and as you near the top of the concentric motion, pronate the wrists so that the palms are now facing the floor. Do the eccentric portion of the movement with the palms in the pronated position. Supinate, or turn the palms up, before doing the next rep. (In order to make the movement more "comfortable" for the wrists, grab the dumbbells as close as possible to the collar that's nearest your body this will allow you to pronate the dumbbells more easily).

In answer to your first question, the hand should be pronated (palm facing the floor). Doing Zottmans on an incline will not take anything away from the movement, but it will increase the recruitment of the long-head of the biceps brachii at the expense of the short-head, which, depending on your goals, might be a good thing.

Q: I recently saw on a news post about a "smart drug" called Hydergine and how top athletes were using it. Do you know anything about this drug, or can you suggest any alternatives?

A: Hydergine is one of the few "smart pills" available in the US. It was originally produced in the forties by Sandoz of Basel, Switzerland to combat high blood pressure. It failed at that task but was later found to improve cognitive function.

Hydergine supposedly has a host of beneficial effects on the brain. It is supposed to increase blood supply to the brain, increase the amount of oxygen delivered to the brain, enhance metabolism in brain cells, protect the brain from damage during periods of decreased and/or insufficient oxygen supply, slow the deposit of age pigment in the brain, prevent free radical damage to brain cells and increase intelligence, memory, learning and recall. Hydergine was initially introduced as a treatment for senility related to circulatory problems. However, the dosage permitted by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), 3 mg/day, was shown to be insufficient for many patients with cerebrovascular disease.

In contrast with FDA politics, European countries approved a dosage of 9 mg/day. Research shows that the higher the dosage levels are, the more effective Hydergine is in cases of senility due to cerebrovascular disease. In this context, the FDA position on Hydergine dosage is particularly surprising considering the fact that hydregine therapy has not been found to produce any serious side effects. There have been occasional reports of sublingual irritation, slight nausea, gastric disturbance and headache, but these are uncommon. Nevertheless, recent research has shown that Hydergine has the ability to increase blood supply and consequently oxygen to brain tissues. By the influence of Hydergine on the level and the balance of several neurotransmitters in the brain, it is possible to improve brain metabolism. Finally, it is now evident that Hydregine stimulates the growth of dendrite nerve fibers, permitting stimulation of the central nervous system and allowing for an improvement of memory and learning capacity.

Hydergine has had some popularity in European bodybuilding circles as it potentiates other stimulants (giving an even greater "buzz "), increases concentration for workouts, and enhances endogenous production of growth hormone. It also supposedly lowers blood fats and acts as an anti-oxidant. Athletes who require complex motor skills, such as gymnasts, often experiment with Hydergine.

Regarding alternatives to Hydergine, you may want to look into taking ginkgo biloba, one of the ingredients of Power Drive. Regarding the treating of cerebral insufficiency, ginkgo biloba extract compares to the effect of Hydergine ( British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 34:352-8,1992). Furthermore, when you combine ginkgo with phosphatidylcholine as Biotest has done in Power Drive you allegedly get increased absorption, and this combined form has been shown to be 40-60% superior in improving symptoms than the unbound forms of ginkgo biloba.

If you're more interested in cognitive effects than increases in strength, you might want to try the Ginkgo/Phytosome product from a company called Enzymatic Therapy (800-783-2286 in the US, or 800-665-3414 in Canada). If you want increased cognitive ability and increased energy and strength, try Power Drive.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to answer my e-mail. My question is regarding the upper pecs. I have your book and have tried your dumbbell routine (varying the angle of the bench), but have a tuff time building my upper pecs. Your routine has helped, but only to a small degree. Are there any other exercises or routines that you can think of for the upper pecs?

A: The problem probably comes from your elbow position when you did the routine. Did you remember to keep them back? You may think you keep them back, but it's fairly common for many strength trainees to subconsciously let the elbows move forward. And, if you let your elbows drop forward, you're shifting a great deal of the overload away from the clavicular pectoralis and onto the inferior fibers of the serratus anterior and the anterior deltoids.

Change your technique and your upper pecs will grow faster than Monica can get on her knees and sing a song on the Presidential cordless mike. No static with the teeth, please!!!

Q: Do you ever employ undulating loading patterns with your athletes? Tudor Bompa presented this concept in his book, "Serious Strength Training," as if it were one of the Ten Commandments of strength training. I've never heard of it and am curious if this is something that I should incorporate into my own training.

A: Yes, in fact, my own model on undulating loading patterns has been compared in the scientific literature to other modules of training. You should definitely incorporate it in your own training.

As a rule of thumb, I would say that the musculature grows best when both high volume phases (known as accumulation phases) are alternated with high intensity phases (known as intensification phases). The respective length of each phase will be affected by a variety of factors such as nutrient intake, serotonin and dopamine ratios, hormonal make-up, and fiber-type make-up.

Accumulation phases are normally characterized by the following:

  • High number of exercises (2-4 per body part)
  • Higher reps (7 reps or more)
  • Lower sets (2-4 sets per exercise)
  • Higher volumes (number of total sets times total reps)
  • Lower intensities (below 80%)
  • Shorter rest intervals (30 to 90 seconds)

So, for instance, a typical accumulation phase may consist of 3 exercises of 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting an average of 75 seconds between sets.

Intensification phases are characterized by:

  • Low number of exercises (1-2 per body part)
  • Lower reps (1-6)
  • Higher sets (10-12 total sets per body part)
  • Lower volumes (total number of sets times total number of reps, e.g. 6 sets of 3 reps=18 reps of volume)
  • Higher intensities (80% and above)
  • Longer rest intervals (3-5 minutes)

So, for instance, a typical intensification phase may consist of 2 exercises of 5 sets of 4-6 reps, resting an average of 3-5 minutes seconds between sets.

Keep in mind there are plenty of ways to undulate the training loads, but the way given above is the one I prefer to prescribe to my clients. To put this into practice, you might try alternating intensification and accumulation phases about every 3 weeks, or every six workouts. In other words, do an accumulation phase for 6 workouts, and then switch to a intensification program for 6 workouts.

Q: I know this question doesn't relate specifically to the magazine's focus, but I wonder if you could tell me if this device will help develop the vertical jump anymore efficiently than doing power cleans, plyometrics, and using the reverse hyper. I don't know if you have ever heard of this machine or not. It's called the VERTIMAX and they have a website at www.vertimax.com. Also, I know you work with a lot of hockey players and they can afford you, but what is your cost to design a program for a 12-week period if you know the specific goals of the client?

A: First, ALL questions concerning athletic endeavors relate to this magazine's focus. Regarding the VERTIMAX, it's one of the multiple toys on the market that can be used to train the vertical jump, but can it do a better job than power cleans and squats? I doubt it.

Look at any Olympic lifter. They almost always have better vertical jumps than their athletic peers from all other sports do. There is simply a direct correlation between maximal strength levels of the hip and knee extensors and vertical jump height. A classic example of this occurred a few years ago at the National Strength and Conditioning Association convention. Vertec was there and they were giving away a vertical-jump-measuring device to the strength coach who had the highest vertical leap. For the first few days, I was in the lead. After all, my vertical leap had hit 36". I lost. The late Dave Passanella, World Powerlifting Champion who had power squatted over a 1,000 pounds, beat me.

Regarding the second question: normally, I do not coach anybody who I haven't evaluated personally. I generally ask for a three-year commitment and a minimum of 16 contacts a year. I change the client's training programs every 3 weeks and the program I design is designed specifically for YOU. What's your investment for making rapid progress? I charge $350.00 an hour. Yes, it's steep when you compare it to what ordinary personal trainers charge, but I won't waste your time and I assure you that you'll progress faster than you ever have before. I travel all over the US, so I am sure we can arrange a meeting point in the near future if this is something you want to do.

If your budget is limited and you just want to do a Q and A session, phone our office (1-888-847-2727) and we can arrange a phone consultation.

Q: I just finished reading your book, "The Poliquin Principles," and loved it (worth every cent of the $73 Australian I paid for it).

I am just finding out the truth behind your statements; that my years at the University aren't going to teach me much about being a strength and conditioning coach (I'm currently studying for degrees in exercise science and nutrition). What are you favorite sources of information and what publications should a novice coach begin acquiring?

P.S. Where can I get more info on "Active Release Techniques" by Dr. Mike Leahy?

A: I get this question every week and the answer remains the same: there is NO SINGLE BEST SOURCE of information. I read material ranging from the European Journal of Applied Physiology to a book like Roger Enoka's Neuromechanical Basis of Kinesiology to a book like Dinosaur Training by Brooks Kukic. Every author has something to say, and you can learn from everybody. Even Mike Mentzer, at times will repeat something intelligent that Arthur Jones first said. The basic rule is that you have to read 10 hours a week on a particular topic for 5 years to develop an appreciable level of expertise on that precise topic. If you are not willing to commit that much time, you might consider a different line of work.

Regarding your second question, there will be two Active Release Techniques seminars conducted in Australia next spring where I will assist the good doctor. Registration will be limited. Send us your snail-mail address and we'll forward you the information.

Q: It's obvious that you like all great strength coaches are a big free weight advocate. Have any new developments been introduced in free weights other than the elliptical shaped handles I've seen?

A: Yes, as a matter of fact, there is a very interesting development called the Tribar Gripping System. It was introduced to me by Boyer Coe of bodybuilding fame during our first meeting in Phoenix this year.

It is a somewhat triangular-shaped handle (if you look at a transverse cut of the handle), which makes it a more natural extension of your hand. (To see what the Tribar looks like, check out www.tribar.com) It's far more ergonomic, and it makes many upper body exercises more comfortable for the hands, wrists and fingers. It actually makes all circular handles rather obsolete. For example, doing reverse curls with the Tribar version of the Olympic EZ-bar is way easier on the thumbs and wrists than any brand on the market.

I personally have four different types of Tribars and use them regularly. After using them once, my business partner Tim Patterson ordered a set of different bars for himself. He is even convinced that training with these new devices will bring his arms over the "eleventeen-inch" plateau.

All kidding aside, the Tribar concept has turned dumbbells, barbells, and pulley attachments into more enjoyable and more effective training tools. To purchase Tribars, you can reach them by calling 510-895-5991. Or, if you want to find out who the closest distributor is, call 1-888-874-2271.

Q: I am about 1/4 way through a Deca and Sustanon 250 cycle, and with the help of your book "The Poliquin Principles" I've made some awesome gains. The problem now is that I want to get rid of all this fat. I am currently 96kg at 15% body fat and would like to be between 6-7%. If my calculations are right, it means I have to lose about 8-9 kg. I was thinking about dropping my calories to about 2400kcal a day. Is it possible to lose this in about 8-10 weeks without losing muscle? I don't really want to do cardio after what you said about it in your book.

A: Yes, your goal of not losing any muscle should be easily attainable without direct aerobic work if you limit your fat loss to about 1 kg per week. I have plenty of clients who have done just that over the course of two months.

Make sure you restrict your carb intake throughout the day and limit most of your carb ingestion to your post workout meal. Since your body fat is relatively high, I would eat only about 60 grams of carbs along with 40 grams of protein in your post workout shake.

Q: I am 22 years old and have been working out for the past two years. I've hit a plateau, and actually lost some weight. My current procedure is eating at about 5:00, lifting at 7:30, followed by EAS Glutamine pills and a Myoplex Shake. I eat properly (not a lot of protein, though, and lift hard, but I still can't make any more gains. And my biggest problem is all the advertisements out there for mass building supplements. They all seem so tempting that I'm actually thinking about giving in (Xenadrine, or Met-rx's new form of creatine). After going through this web page and reading your thoughts, I really need the advice of someone of your caliber.

A: Two years without gains? Have you considered hiring Dr. Kevorkian?

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what's going on when I take a look at the way you eat. How can you say that you are eating properly when you admit that you're not taking in a lot of protein? With apologies to Dr. Marcus Jones, if you want to gain muscle, you need to eat at least 1.8 g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.

I've mentioned my prescription for a post-workout shake umpteen times, but here it is again: the post-workout shake must contain 1-2 g/kg of bodyweight of carbs preferably in the form of malto-dextrin. (Read my previous columns on where to buy cheap malto-dextrin.) It should also contain about 40 grams of protein.

Also, waiting 2.5 hours to workout after eating is too long. One to 1.5 hours should be plenty.

Q: I was reviewing a number of your older articles (i.e. Loading Parameters of Strength Development, etc.) that applied to the training of athletes. I was curious as to whether you recommend that athletes train once every 5 days, on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday upper body / lower body split, or on an individual recovery basis. The reason I ask is because I've noticed that the volume you recommend is lower with your athletic programs in comparison to your current bodybuilding protocol. Do you have any tips in determining optimal frequency and whether an athlete is undertraining or overtraining?

A: The volume for strength is always lower for athletes than for bodybuilders because athletes have technical/tactical training to do in addition to their strength training. Regarding your second question: the answer is quite lengthy and goes beyond the scope of this column. To give you an idea of just how lengthy a topic it is, I take between 1.5 and 2 hours to go over that topic in my Strength and Mass seminar, since it is one of the main keys to continued progress. Distinguishing the fine line to travel between undertraining and overtraining is what makes easy gainers out of hard gainers. That is why people are willing to pay $320 to attend one of my seminars.

It sounds like a lot, but consider that people go for weeks and weeks without making progress and they simply endure it. Let me present it to you this way to put it in perspective: Let's say you were paid $10.00 a workout, and trained four times a week for eight weeks. That means that it would take you less than eight weeks of "work" to pay for one of my seminars that would jolt you into making instant progress.