Walk the Plank
Q: Many coaches put plank exercises for "core work" into almost every program they write. Is this a good exercise?
A: It's a good exercise if you're an eleven-year-old stamp collector and you don't have a good work station. People in the know recommend this position if you're having sex, and only then if you can exceed the one-repetition mark. It's actually one of the core exercises on www.bitethepillow.com.
Seriously, the plank is something that you do in first grade phys ed. Maybe the side plank is okay for someone who's clinically obese and can't even get out of bed, but I never put it in my programs. It certainly doesn't have value for the elite training population.
The plank is just too basic. It's like power snatching with a broomstick. How long would you have to do that before it made you strong?
For "core work" I recommend what I always recommend: squats, deadlifts, and the Olympic lifts.
High Reps for Big Legs?
Q: Back in the day, in the bodybuilding world at least, it was said that you need higher reps for lower body training and lower reps for upper body training. After a period of "go heavy or go home" it seems that high reps (15 to 25) for leg exercises is back in vogue with some bodybuilding gurus. Is this the best way to train the lower body?
A: Well, when it comes to quadriceps, they respond to a much greater variation in reps.
The biggest quads I've ever seen on any member of the human species belonged to a female speed skater on the US team. She made Tom Platz's legs look like coach Mike Boyle's. (Well, not that skinny.)
To build big quads you have to use protocols that produce a lot of lactate, and you have to use heavy-load protocols. So this girl trained using anywhere from singles to sets of 50 reps.
So, this statement about higher reps is true for quads, but certainly not for hamstrings. It's also true for the erector spinae. If you want big quads, vary your reps a lot. I think that sets consisting of two minutes of continuous tension are actually very good for quad growth. If you want big hamstrings however, you'll do best with less than eight reps.
That being said, you can't make the blanket statement that "everyone trains legs too heavy." Much depends on your fiber makeup. Elite weightlifters only do 2.2 reps on average per year and they have huge quads.
But if your legs aren't growing on sets of eight and you came to me as a client, for sure I'd tell you to try sets of 50. It all comes back to this: The training protocol is only as good as the time it takes you to adapt to it. If you haven't grown in a while, vary the method.
If you're a bodybuilder who hasn't grown since Paris Hilton read a book (or, uh, colored one) then train like a powerlifter. And if a powerlifter hasn't grown, he can do timed sets like a speedskater.
What you have to do is look at evidence based on non-drugged athletes, then look at the guys with the biggest quads. In sport, these are skiers and speed skaters. What do they have in common? They train with a huge variety of reps and training velocities.
Lastly, let's keep one thing in mind when it comes to these "bodybuilding gurus." Thirteen guys out of the top twenty bodybuilders at the Olympia don't have the myostatin gene that limits muscle growth. They could whack off and grow!
The Safe 1RM
Q: Is there a safe and accurate way of estimating your one-rep max without actually doing one?
A: There have been quite a few studies done on this. The most simple way to do it is to find your 3RM (three-rep max) and add 10%. This works for 70% of the people out there – those with normal fiber type distribution.
There are people out there of course with abnormal fiber type distribution. Let's say Johnny Fast-Twitch can bench 300 for three reps. But he's so neurologically efficient that he only does three reps at 80% of max. So his real one-rep max is 375, not 330.
Now let's say his cousin can do 300 for three reps too, but he has normal fiber type distribution. His one-rep max is 330 (300 pounds plus 10%.)
There are people whose 3RM is 97% of their max and people whose 3RM is 80% of their max. But for most people, the 3RM plus 10% formula is a good rule of thumb for estimating 1RM.
And let me add this: If you're not a competitive powerlifter, who gives a rat's ass? Just find your best 3RM so you'll have a gauge of your strength at that point in time. A set of three won't expose the average guy to as high of an injury risk, although I do think the injury risk is overrated when it comes to max lifts. It's all just a matter of warming up properly. I typically like 6-8 sets in my warm-ups.
A progression for the testing of primary lifts for the first attempt would look like this.
4 at estimated 40%, rest 10 seconds
4 at estimated 40%, rest 10 seconds
3 at estimated 60%, rest 30 seconds
2 at estimated 75%, rest 60 seconds
1 at estimated 80%, rest 120 seconds
1 at estimated 85%, rest 120 seconds
1 at estimated 90%, rest 180 seconds
1 at estimated 95%, rest 240 seconds
1 at estimated 100%, rest 240 seconds
Rep Counting and Self-Talk
Q: I read somewhere that you have your athletes count reps backward instead of upward. Is that true?
A: That's correct. This allows you to stay focused on the goal while also being focused on the process.
Let's say I want you to get your best ever 5 reps on a lift. A lot of guys will do one rep and think, "Expletive-of-choice-that-rhymes-with-fire-truck, will I ever make it to five?" By three reps they're thinking how heavy it is and they start doing all this negative self-talk. But if they start at 5 and count down, then the set is going to be over – five, four, three, two, one – and they stay focused.
By the way, you'll find that champions have very positive self-talk. Ronnie Coleman talks to himself the whole time he trains, and it's very positive. I've heard one of my clients even talk to imaginary audiences. He says, "You guys think I can't do it, then watch this" and he goes and does a raw double with 550 in the bench. Same guy easily curls weights that would impress people in presses. He says he imagines strippers waving at him and cheering him on. Hey, whatever works for you.
The most important things said to us are said to us by ourselves. So, only about 10% of the population responds positively to being called names by their training partners. They have the "I'll prove you wrong" mentality. This has actually been studied.
Most people however aren't motivated by this at all. If you really want to motivate your training partner, stick to "You can do it. Let's go!" not horrific negative putdowns such as "You lift like a Greenpeace card-carrying vegetarian!" or "I've seen bigger arms on a chair, you Ellington Darden fan!"
Bad-Ass Beta Alanine
Q: There's a lot of hoopla out there concerning the new supplement Beta Alanine. Is this stuff worth it?
A: I think Beta Alanine is great. It allows you to do more reps. I think it's most beneficial when you work in the 4-5RM range. If you're the type of guy who does ten sets of three (10 x 3), then it'll allow you to get that up to tens sets of four or five (10 x 4-5).
I've used it a lot in the last six months and my athletes are making much faster progress, especially at high doses. Up the dose until you get tingly, then back down a little. I think people should take 10 grams of it a day. Taking 3 grams a day is just far too small of a dose. That dose is like trying to fart against a hurricane.
60 Minute Workouts: Still Ideal?
Q: With all the new info and supplements we have now for peri-workout nutrition, does the old rule about "never train over 60 minutes" still apply?
A: Yes, it does. I was using peri-workout nutrition before most post-workout drink experts got their first G.I. Joe. Peri-workout nutrition allows you to make faster progress, but mentally, if you can train longer than an hour then you're really not putting any effort into it.
You have to be able to bust your ass, and most people don't. They have their iPods on, they're reading the paper between sets, or they're chatting up the girl with the biggest saline-enhanced front porch.
When I worked with the national bobsleigh team, there were some team members who didn't think they could get a good workout in under an hour. So I took them downstairs to train at the Olympic Training Center. Fifty-two minutes later they couldn't walk up the stairs. They wanted elevators installed! I'd changed their minds completely.
I'll challenge anyone to train with me for an hour. I'll put them in a wheelchair. And I'm not just talking about lactate training; I'll do it with maximal weights, too.
Look at guys who are really, really strong using full range. That means no six-inch bench presses where the bar bounces off a trans-fat laden gut. The strongest of the bunch, the good Olympic lifters, still train under an hour. Now, they may train several times per day, but they'll never exceed an hour.
Remember, T-cells drop after 50 minutes. The immune system is taking a beating. Use peri-workout nutrition, but still keep the workout at an hour or under. Get in, get it done, get out.
"I Wanna Look All Swole"
Q: I look pretty muscular in the gym, but once the pump is gone I shrink like crazy. Why is that? What's my problem?
A: The problem is you're a skinny dweeb. Go home and hide behind your mom's skirt.
Look, if you have a 19 inch arm when it's cold and flexed, your relaxed arm is 17.5 inches. It looks way better than the guy with the eleven-teen inch arm that goes up to 12.5 when he's pumped.
But don't worry, I made the same observation when I was a kid. I believed (falsely) that I looked good when I lifted, but ten minutes later I looked like Woody Allen. Why? Because I was built like Woody Allen! During those days, I abstained from drinking V8 because I'd often be mistaken for a thermometer. When I got up to a body weight of 214, that wasn't a problem.
Big Arms, Big Physique
Q: Is it true you have to gain a bunch of muscular body weight overall in order to get big arms?
A: Typically, you have to gain 15 pounds of overall body weight to add an inch to your upper arm measurements. Now, if you want to go from 21 to 22-inch arms, which is enormous, it'll be more like a 25 pound gain.
Weider writers claimed that Arnold used to have a 22 inch arm COLD. Arthur Jones said they were full of shit. Arthur Jones was right: The Weider camp was full of shit. For Arnold to have a legitimate 22 inch arm, he would've had to weigh 308.
If you're going from a 14 inch arm to 16, then 30 pounds will do it. But going from 18 to 20 inches will require more like a 50 pound gain.
Editor's Note: For more on this topic, see Charles's article, The Truth About Bodybuilding Arm Measurements.
Now, let's say that starting tomorrow all you did was arms. There's something – and I think it has to do with acupuncture meridians – that would cause your arms to stop growing until you restore balance. So in other words, if you don't put four to five inches on your thighs, then your arms will stop growing.
Bodybuilder Troy Alves has huge arms. We were talking about this one day and he said he couldn't get his arms to grow anymore until he started training his legs.
And remember, you have far more anabolic output from training legs than training arms. So, all these people who don't like split routines are retarded. If I train arms on Monday then Tuesday I train legs, my leg workout will actually make my arms grow. The next session I do my chest and back, which will help my legs and my arms grow. The point is that the anabolic response you get is systemic.
If your arms haven't grown since Hilary Clinton smiled, then don't train them for four months. Concentrate instead on chest and back work. You may lose half an inch on your arms, but once you go back to arm training your arms will grow right away and surpassyour previous arm size.
In my years of putting size on, I found that the best way to grow arms was to NOT train arms directly for four months out of the year. I still did chins and dips of course, but no direct arm exercises.
Poliquin's Power Foods
Q: TC wrote a great article about what he considers Power Foods. What are yours?
A: I like buffalo. It's rich in omega-3. All wild meats are good actually.
Go to www.eatwild.com and put in your zip code to find local sources. I recommend a diet high in meats, but you must be strict about the quality.
I really like macadamia nuts, as they help build up acetylcholine levels. Blueberries are one of the best foods for the brain and they're rich in anti-oxidants. I recommend all thin-skinned berries actually. Pomegranate juice also ranks high on the list because of its heart-healthy benefits.
I like greens-type drinks because they alkalize the body. Figs are a great post-workout food; they're full of minerals, especially if you're Italian. Sweet potatoes are great, too.
Finally, I'll recommend a book I really like on the topic: The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth by Jonny Bowden. Check it out.