Q: I suffer from the common problem of raising my heels when I squat. This is really hampering my progress in all squatting movements — back and front, power cleans, even deadlifts. I don't think that tight calves are the problem, as I have good natural calf flexibility and I stretch regularly. If I really concentrate when squatting, I can keep my heels down. But when I do, my upper body leans forward too much and I can't squat efficiently. What could be the cause? What should I do to correct the problem? I would really appreciate any suggestions.
A: You probably have tight psoas and rectus femoris muscles, which can be helped by doing the following stretch, nicknamed the "three-step hip flexor stretch" by Colorado Avalanche sniper Joe Sakic.
Place your foot on a padded surface behind you and then perform the following steps:
Step 1) Bring glute to foot.
Step 2) Now bring the knee backwards so it's under the padded surface (you'll have to bend slightly with the other knee).
Step 3) Lean back with your hands on your hips.
Hold the stretch for 15 seconds. Pause briefly and repeat. Do the stretch a total of three times every day until the problem goes away.
Q: This may sound a little obsessive, but in your Achieving Structural Balance article, you mentioned doing a 14" close-grip bench press. Is that 14" between the inside of the hand (second metacarpals), or the outside (fifth metacarpals)? Thank you very much for taking the time to deal with my question.
A: It's a legitimate question. The 14 inches is between the inside fingers, so it can be the thumbs if you use a false grip or the index fingers if you use a normal grip.
Q: I'd like to know more about this reverse hyperextension exercise for developing strength and rehabilitation of lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. What's the difference between this exercise and good mornings, for example?
A: The vast majority of our readers are interested in gaining large amounts of muscle mass and functional strength. This is best accomplished by concentrating the bulk of the work on leg and back training. One machine that can target those muscles very effectively is the reverse hyper machine. I first got to try one out a few years ago while coaching the Canadian Bobsleigh Team in Innsbrück, Austria. After coaching my athletes, I stayed at the gym to do my workout. Since the gym was so busy, I had to share the equipment with two of the local powerlifters who held a few national titles.
There, in the corner, was a reverse hyper machine. The Austrian powerlifters swore that it helped improve their deadlift and squat performances. Both athletes claimed that it made a difference between 35 kg (77 pounds) and 50 kg (110 pounds) on their respective squats and deadlifts. Even though I had seen the machine advertised in back issues of Powerlifting USA, I had never paid any attention to it until I tried the machine. I jumped on it and pumped away. The movement felt quite right since the glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae were being trashed by the machine. After my workout, I went to inquire about it.
This device is the brainchild of Westside Barbell Club owner and powerlifting coach extraordinaire Louie Simmons. The machine has helped make many world records in the deadlift and squat possible, and it's a staple of Louie's deadlift training. To gain more insight on the possibilities of this type of training, I made the trip to Columbus, Ohio to meet with Louie.
Louie is better known in the iron game community for his powerlifting successes, both as a coach and an athlete. Now he's achieved world-renowned status as a strength coach, too. Louie Simmons first used the reverse hyper to rehabilitate back injuries incurred over a lifetime of heavy lifting. Interestingly, the injury that prompted the development of the reverse hyper machine was caused by a loss of concentration during a five-rep set of good mornings using 435 pounds! While physicians recommended surgery on several occasions, Simmons turned his back on the knife and used the reverse hyper to repair the damage and alleviate the pain. To quote Louie:
"So far, over two dozen people with bulging or herniated disks have used my machine without pain. The machine decompresses the disks when the weights travel to a position under the face."
He now uses it to create new world standards in the deadlift.
I had professional bodybuilder Milos Sarcev try the machine during a hamstrings-only workout. After doing five sets each on two different Atlantis leg curl machines, we hopped on the reverse hyper machine for three sets of 20 reps. Milos told me that he could feel it in the lower back and glutes, but not as directly in the hamstrings as the leg curl machines made him feel. By the next day, while he was limping to do a back workout, he had definitely changed his mind. He walked (limped) like he'd been beaten up with Kendo sticks on the hamstrings by a horde of Samurais.
The reverse hyper machine is also excellent for improving posture and correcting abnormal pelvic tilt, which can immediately give the illusion of a flattened abdomen wall. One of the consequences of having weak erector spinae muscles is the development of a posture in which the upper back is rounded, causing the shoulders to droop forward and the chest to appear sunken. In order to maintain the center of gravity for this type of incorrect posture, the pelvis begins to thrust forward, ultimately causing a distended lower abdomen. This condition is often referred to as a kyphosis-lordosis posture.
Together, the glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae form what kinesiologists call the posterior chain. The posterior chain is responsible for allowing you to run at high speed, or to jump either forward or vertically. For example, in the vertical jump, the posterior chain contributes to 80% of the power output. So don't waste your time on quads and calves development if you want rapid increases in your vertical jump.
The reverse hyper machine will allow one to work the posterior chain in a synchronized manner. Back extensions would target the same muscle group, but not in the same recruitment pattern. Another disadvantage of movements like back extensions is the dizziness associated with their performance.
Bobsleigh Olympic gold medalist and Overall World Cup Winner Pierre Lueders purchased a reverse hyper for himself, and it allowed him to increase his squat by a full 50 pounds over the summer of 1996.
If you're interested in getting more information about the reverse hyper, email firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions.
Q: Must... have... bigger... arms. Can't... make... biceps... grow. Need... Poliquin... arm... training... book. Finish the damn book already!
A: Yes, yes, yes, the "Winning the Arms Race" books are being edited right now by a PhD candidate in Boston. There's so much text and so many routines that I've decided to publish three different volumes:
Volume 1) The Best Exercises for Arm Growth: This volume explains the best arm training exercises and their possible variations.
Volume 2) Training for Arm Size and Strength — A Six-Month Plan: This volume explains in detail what I think is one of the best arm training plans to obtain the most extensive gains in hypertrophy and maximal strength.
Volume 3) Plateau Busting for Arm Growth: This book contains plenty of training methods to help you bust through plateaus in your development. It also explains what, in my opinion, are the best supplement strategies to accelerate strength and mass gains.
Since TC has encouraged all of you to bust my chops with daily emails, I've decided to hire an editor and a personal assistant to edit and publish all of the material that I've been working on over the last 18 months. That should speed things up considerably. I've scheduled a photo shoot for the exercises in early July. The beginning of September is the target date for the release of the three different volumes.
Q: A cry for help! Which is it, Arnold or Mentzer? Six days a week, two hours a day volume training, or three times a week using one hour of high-intensity training? All I care about is gaining some freaking mass! I'm 5'11", 185 pounds, low fat. People tell me I'm already big, but I laugh in their faces, as these "compliments" are coming from ordinary people. I'm an intermediate bodybuilder looking for ways to shock myself into new growth. But I'm confused between Arnold's and Mentzer's contradictory theories. I've done Arnold's routines, and when taken to failure, I end up overtraining every month! What works? I'm tired of all these commercial, money-grabbing magazines, fake-ass chocolate, fat-in-a-can supplements, and fake information!
A: The truth of the matter is that the research comparing multiple sets to single-set protocols prove over and over again that, where long-term gains are concerned, multiple sets induce larger and more rapid strength gains. The larger increases in strength seen with multiple sets protocol may, in part, be associated to the fact that higher volumes of total work produce significantly greater increases in circulating anabolic hormones during recovery (Gotshalk et al. 1996). Recent research has pointed to elevated levels of growth hormone in multiple sets training versus single set training, which may promote a more anabolic environment (Mulligan et al. 1996).
The important distinction is that there's very little need to take sets to failure outside of your standard concentric fatigue (when you can't raise the weight on your own). Forced reps should be used sparingly, if at all. Just look at Olympic lifters. None of them use forced reps, yet they still achieve impressive levels of maximal strength and hypertrophy.
Q: What should I do if I rest too long between a set? Say, for instance, that I plan to rest for two minutes between sets, but someone talks to me for about ten minutes. What can be done to rectify this, and does this affect total workout time, under one hour?
A: How can you talk to someone for ten minutes and still expect to keep up your workout quality?
An hour is an hour, but don't expect to do the optimal amount of sets in the given hour if you work on your social life between sets.
To rectify this situation, you could wear a T-shirt that says, "Please fuck off, I'm training right now." Or if someone talks to you, say that you suffer from multiple personality disorder and that they can call you Bob for now, but don't be surprised if you only answer to Mary tomorrow. As a last resort, you could walk around with those barf bags that they issue on flights. Make sure that it's filled with oatmeal and one of those floor-cleaning products (to provide a nice swishing sound and an appropriate smell). No one will dare talk to you.
Q: I think that your structural balance plan is a great idea and should work. When you said that you added rotator exercises on a five-day cycle, did you mean to do two rotator exercises every single day? What would your training split be? Should I still work the chest? What about the back? I really want to do this program, so could you please give a detailed outline? I only have twelve weeks left until football season starts. Thanks, you're the best.
A: I suggest doing two exercises for the external rotators, either on chest day or back day. Since the pectorals and the lats are both internal rotators of the humerus, it doesn't matter which body part you pair with your external rotator work.
I suggest using an A1/A2 system. That is, for every set of, let's say, chest work, do one set of external rotator work. For example, for rotator cuff work done on a chest day, you might try the following:
A1) Dumbbell bench presses
• 5x6-8 reps
• 5010 tempo
• Rest for two minutes
A2) 30-degree low pulley external rotations (shown below)
• 5x10-12 reps
• 2020 tempo
• Rest for 90 seconds
B1) Incline barbell presses
• 3x10-12 reps
• 4020 tempo
• Rest for 90 seconds
B2) Elbow-in-front dumbbell external rotations (shown below)
• 3x10-12 reps
• 2020 tempo
• Rest for 75 seconds
Q: In one of your MM audio tapes, you mentioned something about using a balance board to build up knee stability. I guess that it's a board with half a ball stuck to the underside? I have been searching for one on the Internet, but it dawned on me that you would know the best brand to use. What do you recommend?
A: You can phone Fitter at 1-800-FITTER1 to get a wobble board. This is the brand I use at my gym.