Is Your Body Smart?

Q: You've mentioned something about "body intelligence" in your articles. What is that exactly?

A: It's the ability to be able to listen to what your body tells you to do. Those with good body intelligence can do a designed workout and be able to tell within that one workout whether it's a good plan for them or a waste of their time. Basically, it's being really in tune with your body.

For example, a lot of people figured out the glycemic index without knowing it existed. They knew what to eat before a workout so they didn't feel like shit.

The older concept of "instinctive training" is also part of having good body intelligence. Here's the thing though: there's a fine line between laziness and listening to your body. Some people will always find a good excuse not to do squats.

Mike McDonald, who set world records in the bench press in four weight classes, was known for going to the gym, benching a broom stick for a few reps, and saying, "Nah, I'll come back tomorrow." He was the epitome of body intelligence.

Mark Spitz, the great swimmer, was known to skip a lot of workouts, too.

I met his coach once and he said that Mark would've been a lot better if he'd done all his workouts. Well, Mark won seven Olympic gold medals. If he'd done all the workouts prescribed he may have overtrained. He was "body smart" enough to skip a few though.

Body intelligence can be viewed as one type of intelligence. Psychologists believe there are nine types of intelligence. Many people are great athletes but not exactly rocket scientists. Some of the greatest soccer stars, for example, have great body intelligence but can't count to eleven without dropping their pants.

The Care and Training of Women

Q: What are the main differences in training women vs. training men?

A: Contrary to men, women don't really like the "pump" feeling. Studies on behavior and weight training have backed up this observation.

Also, not to sound sexist, but guys who do well training females in the personal training industry tend to do more entertaining than training. In other words, if they're not going to make the training fun, they're not going to succeed.

Put a male client doing one-legged biceps curls on a foam pad and if he's any sort of alpha male he'll slam a dumbbell across the trainer's skull. But women love to do that shit. (And if you're a guy and you like to do that stuff, then you probably own the entire Barry Manilow record collection.)

Now, in the sporting world, in my experience women are actually more dedicated to training than men are. They're more likely to overtrain. In 1993 I trained six females who were world champions in their respective sports. One thing I found is that they tended to push themselves more in the gym than the men did.

For example, their concept of training to failure is different than men. They put more of themselves into it... if they're the type of women who are going to be world champions. They're more "male" than a lot of the males I know.

As far as attitude goes, the best athlete I've ever coached was Karen Percy. She won four medals at the World Championships in downhill skiing and two bronze medals in Calgary.

She was fucking tough. During her sets you could tell from her eyes she was on another planet. She could out-lift the women on the national weightlifting team!

I find that women who are world champion material have much more drive than male world champions. Way more.

The Best Ab Exercises

Q: Is there a best overall abdominal exercise? Is there ever a need for an athlete to specialize in ab training?

A: The best ab exercise? Squatting. Next is deadlifting.

Abdominal specialization for athletes? It could happen, but the abs actually have very little potential for strength increases when compared to other muscles like calves. Along with the grip, the abdominals are the least likely to improve with training. Some of these guys can claim all these poundages used in ab training, but it's actually the psoas doing the work.

If you truly isolate the abs, after six to eight weeks an athlete will plateau the rest of his life. Research has shown that the most coordinated athletes master the most difficult abdominal exercises in six to eight weeks. The only things that increase abdominal improvement are squatting and deadlifting.

Have those guys into core training ever trained anyone strong? Bring me someone then. I find that it's just a con job and a disgrace to the strength coaching community.

ART for Muscle Growth?

Q: I've heard that Active Release Techniques might help with muscle growth by stretching the fascia or something. Is that true?

A: That is true. I Active Released pro-bodybuilder Luke Wood's arm. We measured pre and post-treatment, and immediately after his 40 minute session his left arm measured three-fourths of an inch bigger and his right a full inch bigger. He described his treatment as "agony" but he loved the results.

Forearms and calves tend to respond best to this method. But I need to qualify this. First, you need a good, strong ART practitioner. Look for one with a good set of mitts. If he's a sandal-wearing vegetarian, don't go to him.

Second, you have to have enough hypertrophy and enough scar tissue to get this effect. A guy with a seventeen inch arm who's been training for a lot of years will surely have a lot of scar tissue built up. A newbie with an "eleven-teen" inch arm isn't going to get an effect.

It's not uncommon for an experienced lifter to gain half an inch after one treatment. Or he may gain a quarter of an inch during the treatment and when he starts to train again he'll gain another quarter of an inch because there's now room for the muscle to grow.

I also worked with an Austrian shot put champion when I was in Germany a few weeks ago. Same thing, all his lifts went up after getting his adductors released.

So yes, I believe ART can definitely help many athletes with muscle growth and strength improvements.

The Barbell Bench Press Sucks. Or Does It?

Q: I've heard many coaches say that the traditional flat barbell bench press is overrated for chest hypertrophy. Do you agree with that?

A: It depends on your body type. Some guys grow with the bench and some don't. But go to the world championships in powerlifting and you'll see plenty of guys with big pecs, and all they do for their chest is bench.

But I'd say that if you're pressed for time, any type of dumbbell press will be more efficient (all factors being equal.)

Now, some coaches recommend a very wide grip for barbell bench presses to bring more focus onto the pecs, but this just leads to achy joints. The widest your grip should be is 90 degrees between the upper arm and forearm when in the bottom position of the lift.

Training Age and Program Change

Q: Is it true that the more gym experience you've had and the longer you've been lifting that the more often you need to change your program? Would long-time vets want to never perform the same workout twice?

A: Yes, it's true. It's as true as the law of gravity.

The very experienced athlete or bodybuilder may never do the same workout twice in a row. For example, when Adam Nelson won the world championship in shot put, he did an eight workout cycle where he'd perform eight workouts before he'd train the same body parts the same way.

The average lifter should focus on the 2% rule: you should be able to add 2% more weight or an extra rep from workout to workout. If you can't, then you need to do something different.

The #1 Strength Imbalance

Q: You've written a lot about strength imbalances and how to fix them. What's the most common strength imbalance you see that's holding people back?

A: For athletes I've had the most success correcting weak VMOs (vastus medialis).These are the teardrop-shaped quadriceps muscles that cross the knee and are essential for helping the kneecap to track properly.

This weakness is caused from not squatting low enough. I believe that you should leave a stain on the floor when you squat. If you don't squat that low you'll never get to the VMO. If you want to run fast or jump high, you need good VMOs, and that means you need to squat deeply.

With the publication of their controversial 1969 book, The Knee in Sports, authors Karl Klein and Dr. Fred Allman, Jr., started a nationwide paranoia about deep squats. Although the controversy over squats has finally subsided, many coaches are still reluctant to have their athletes do anything deeper than a parallel squat.

Just from an empirical standpoint, if deep squats were so bad, then Olympic lifters would have higher rates of knee injury. But this simply isn't true. Weightlifters have among the lowest injury rates of any athletes. And they not only squat deep but often bounce out of the bottom position.

The second most common imbalance I see is the external rotators.

I've seen a lot of guys coming into our performance centers, and when we put them on a rotator cuff program, their bench press, their incline press, and their chins all go up just because the external rotators don't inhibit the internal rotators anymore.

One of the primary reasons that athletes, especially bodybuilders, often avoid exercises for the external rotators is that they have to start with embarrassingly light weights. Jim McKenzie is a professional hockey player who went from a 280-pound close-grip bench press to 380 pounds in less than four months.

For the first three months we did no bench pressing. Because his external rotators were so weak, he had to start with five-pound dumbbells when performing many of these exercises! He swallowed his pride, and the results speak for themselves.

Mood and Overtraining

Q: What's the best predictor of overtraining?

A: Your mood is by far the best predictor of overtraining. It's actually better than any hormonal parameter known to man. This is because the nervous system overtrains long before there are signs of muscular overtraining.

As far as what kind of moods, depression is usually the best indicator. The athlete just doesn't want to go train.

What we've also found with national teams is that morning body weights are closely associated with depression caused by overtraining. In other words, you come to my gym and train twice per day, like in my Super-Accumulation Program, your body weight may drop six to eight pounds overnight.

When I worked with the national swimming team, one of the things we did was buy everyone a digital scale. The athletes had to weigh themselves every day. If we saw a drop of four pounds or more, we'd cut training that day for that athlete.

Training for Coordination

Q: Can I do anything training-wise to improve my coordination?

A: By the age of about 12 (plus or minus two years for you hair-splitters) you've acquired 90% of your coordination.

That's why in gymnastics, if you're born in the wrong year as a female, you'll never go to the Olympics. If you're born where you're going to be 10 at the next Olympics then you're going to be too young. If you're 14, then great. If you're 18, then you're not going to make it – you have tits and you're too tall and you want to have a social life.

As a rule of thumb, it takes seven years to make the national team. For example, in Canada if you're not on the national ski team by the age of 18, then you're never going to make the Olympic team. If you don't know how to ski by age 11, you're never going to make it.

Coordination is specific. There's no such thing as an all-around athlete. Michael Jordan couldn't play baseball. About the only athletes who can transfer to other sports are pole vaulters.

But to become a world class pole vaulter, you need a pair of balls the size of Swiss balls. It's a high risk activity.

One of the top female pole vaulters was a girl who was simply too tall for gymnastics. She was born at the wrong time. She had the basic coordination of running and planting from her gymnastic vaulting background and she could transfer that to pole vaulting.

Pole vaulters are a combination of sprinters, gymnasts, and weightlifters. They are about the only athletes who can switch sports and be successful. For example, swimmers can't walk and chew gum at the same time. Ask any good strength coach. Swimmers lose all proprioception on the ground.

Try to show a national team swimmer how to do a lunge. Send the video to America's Funniest Home Videosand you will win. Penguins having an epileptic fit do better than that. Again, coordination is specific.

I've worked with athletes from 23 different national teams. In the summers we sometimes do cross-training activities, and hell, it's funny! I remember with the national speed skating team we were doing leap frogs outside as a warm-up. They couldn't even do it! They could skate a world record, but couldn't play leap frog.

So if you're a professional ice hockey player and you retire and decide to take up karate, you might be good. But you could never be as good as someone who started karate before they were 12, even though you're a world class athlete.

In 27 years I've only coached one athlete who had the coordination to excel to high levels at two different sports. He was the Michael Jordan of volleyball. At 6' 4" he could do a back flip on a high beam. The day he made national team in volleyball he was also called to be on the national basketball team. He could basically choose which elite sport he wanted to play. He was that coordinated.

Bo Jackson too, was a freak of nature, but again he was probably a kid who was exposed to both football and baseball at a young age.

It's important to expose your kids to as many sports as possible before the age of 12. At age 12 or so, they'll be old enough to decide what's best for them. But until age 12, you should never specialize kids. My own daughter does kempo karate, but she's done figure skating, gymnastics, ballet, and swimming, too.

The Hungarians have done the most research on this. The most important skills for kids to learn are running, jumping, throwing, and swimming (but don't train like a swimmer) along with having some gymnastics. If you give that to your children by age 12, then they can choose whatever they want.