Writer Greg McGlone rounded up five of the biggest, baddest, strongest, and best-informed hombres in the iron game, and invited them to share their "secrets" with those of us who also want to get bigger, badder, stronger, and better-informed.
In part 1, the coaches discussed the viability of building size and muscle at the same time, along with a comparison between compound and isolation movements.
In part 2, they tackled the topic of whether you have to look strong to be strong, along with a fascinating discussion of training splits.
Today, the topics include nutrition, supplementation, recovery, and some final thoughts.
T Nation: Along the same lines of question 4, what would you suggest to someone along the nutrition and supplementation fronts?
CH: That's a million dollar question, Greg! The real answer to that could not only fill a book but volumes of books. One of the key variables here is whether or not the person wanted to try to get leaner while achieving some gains in size and strength, though these gains would be compromised a bit. Would they be happy keeping their body fat the same? Or are they hell bent on simply gaining maximum size and strength, and don't care if they gain a little fat? Without having a specific person for me to design a plan for, I'll simply give some rule-of-thumb guidelines.
As for nutrition, I find that most people do best with carb-cycling. I say carb-cycling, but I actually cycle the fat along with the carbs. To lose weight faster, we implement more low-carb days or make the carbs on that day even lower. On the other hand, more high carb days and higher amounts on those days will create more anabolism. I find that cycling in this nature allows hypertrophy to happen about as fast as it can happen, but keeps body fat in check. I could fill volumes with more nutrition stuff, but I'll save that for a later day.
I'm not really big on supplements per se. Too many people try to use them to make up for crappy nutrition and/or training. With that being said, I recommend that just about everyone take a fatty acid supplement and a good multivitamin. For those of us who are a bit more hardcore I'd recommend periodically using creatine and beta-alanine. Though I don't consider it supplementation (I consider it food), a whey/carb combo para-workout is of utmost importance. And yes, Biotest makes great products in each of these categories except the multi.
Oh, one more thing that most will benefit from: additional magnesium. Most people have a magnesium deficiency, and that ain't good from a health or performance standpoint! Choose a form that ends in -ate like citrate or malate, and avoid magnesium oxide as it has poor bioavailability.
DT: I'm not qualified to answer this one. I would suggest the likes of people such as Dr Eric Serrano, Dr. John Berardi, and Justin Harris. I've used all three for several different reasons and feel, as do many others, that they are about the best in the business.
EC: As far as nutrition is concerned, I outlined some of the approaches I've taken in my "Periodize Your Diet article a while back. That said, I'm a relative strength athlete; muscle mass gains are secondary to strength increases, so I'm not always looking for a caloric surplus. I'm generally spending a lot more time at maintenance, and thinking more in terms of what I need to do to fuel my training.
Most guys who need to pack on strength and size need to be more aggressive with their caloric intake. Calories need to remain high during de-load weeks to take advantage of the rebound that'll take place when a ton of fatigue is removed, and you have an endocrine "bounceback" from the higher volume training periods. The secret is to stick to more veggies, protein, and healthy fats during those time periods.
You need to be aggressive with your caloric intake.
Then again, on the whole, nutrition is an individual thing. Endomorphs are going to need to be a lot stricter than ectomorphs. Training experience also plays into it. If some guy is 250 pounds at 35% body fat and has never lifted, we don't need to jack up calories to put on size while building strength; he'll gain muscle by just eating the right stuff, and with a caloric deficit.
DJ: I have three basic "rules" that I tell every athlete:
1. Protein at every meal
2. Fiber at every meal
3. Fish oil 2-3 times a day
I also insist on the following:
1. Eat Breakfast every day
2. 3 meals a day (or more!)
3. Water as your major beverage
Yep, they are all basic. But, I have yet to find an athlete who wants "more strength" or "more size" who follows all six. I have kids who take massive amounts of creatine but don't eat breakfast.
I won't go into calories a day because it's a waste of everyone's time. I won't explain the number of grams to lean body mass: waste of time. Let me just say this: the Velocity Diet proved to me that what I was lacking most was protein, so if my experience argues anything it's that most athletes are, drumroll please, overfed and undernourished.
They eat and drink a lot, but don't get enough protein, fiber, and omega-3. They consume massive amounts of calories, yet deprive their muscles of enough protein. So, you end up coaching fat asses who need to build size. Been there, done that.
When I give workshops, I always mention that "everybody knows" that we need to floss twice a day. Few people do. The challenge of the floss issue is this: you know you should floss but you don't take the minute a day to do it. So, why do many coaches and trainers map out thousands of pages of "measure one ounce of chicken breast and mix it with one ounce of extra virgin olive oil with one gram of creatine." The athletes I work with can't be bothered to floss twice a day, but we expect them to hold to measuring each and every morsel of food for thirty-one weeks?
It does not happen! Which is the point of the floss: if you don't have the will and discipline to do something as simple as flossing, how can I intervene and train you to eat or drink six controlled meals a day.
Really, this is why I strongly recommend now that an athlete start a year long or multi year training program by doing the Velocity Diet for 28 days. The problem here is self-discipline. Once the athlete has either completed or failed the V-Diet, then we can address other issues.
The hard thing is this: most people striving for increased strength or increased lean mass will fail because of the discipline issues. There's enough information out there to help you with either goal, the methods may vary, but the bottom line is higher up. It's between your ears.
ZE: Consistency has been the biggest factor with regards to making improvements; this is for nutrition andtraining. You can't eat great and enough quality nutrition for a few days, and then fall off the wagon for a few days. It won't work.
When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I was able to eat a meal and then after almost every meal I had a bowl of cereal or a turkey and cheese sandwich. I was always lean. But I hit a plateau, so I knew that if it was broke, it had to be fixed.
I eliminated milk, bread, and dairy, and in one week my body looked completely different, and my strength increased slightly as well.
What has always worked for me is the following:
• Afternoon meal
• Dinner/post workout meal
• Late evening meal
I encourage my student athletes to do this as well. Most people skip breakfast, or eat a crappy one, have a shitty lunch, eat nothing until dinner, and then maybe some more shit at night.
Definitely not the breakfast of champions.
The best nutrition results always came from minimal variety with myself, regularly eating the same foods over and over again. My forte is definitely not nutrition, but, if someone simply applies himself to eating clean, wholesome foods on a regular basis throughout the day, he'll make great gains.
Plenty of protein and wholesome carbs, fruits, and veggies, tons of water, and meal replacements when necessary. One day I'll be able to eat whole foods on a regular basis, but, the meal replacements with some fruit are way better than fast food or processed crap that you find out and about.
T Nation: What are some recommendations in terms of cardiovascular conditioning/GPP for someone who's primary goal is size and strength? I know alot of people obviously hate cardio or any kind of conditioning work, especially during "bulking season."
ZE: Being big & strong is not an excuse for anyone to become fat and out of shape, I don't care how strong you are, you have to be able to move your body! I love the simple tools: the prowler, the sled, sledge hammer training, hill sprints, and stair running. I also like to see workouts moving at a fast pace.
I'm not a big advocate of the, "do a set, rest a minute, do a set, rest again" routine. We often combine a push-pull movement together, and our leg workouts are performed at a fast pace.
EC: I summarized a lot of my ideas in my Cardio Confusion article a few years ago, and many of my ideas on this front remain the same simply because it worked so well. I'm incorporating more interval work nowadays, as I've experimented with consolidation of CNS-intensive work, and still seen solid strength gains provided the timing is right.
If size and strength are the main goals, it's best to do the interval work within 24 hours after a lower body training session; that way, things tend to be "lumped" into one period, almost as if you were doing double sessions.
All in all, though, it really depends on whether you're dealing with an endo-, ecto-, or mesomorph. The more prone to fat gain a guy is, the more conditioning work you need to do.
DJ: I think we had almost a generation miss GPP. I called it "playing," but we can call it GPP, if you please. I think one of the reasons I could handle the volume of the Dick Notmeyer workouts (three days a week of O lifts, two days a week of front squats, and heavy jerks) was the base I had achieved through years of organized and disorganized sports and fun.
So, the 140-pound guy out there who wants to carry 240 will probably balk at the idea of sled pulling, basic games, farmer's walks, and the other GPP basics. But, like a fireplace, you have to add some kindling and fuel, and actually light it to get some heat. Too many people think they can just walk over to the fireplace and say, "Give me heat." You have to lay the foundation.
Sure, there are going to be times, I call them "the last three decades" where you don't do cardio. But, be sure, in the beginning, to do something that prepares you "globally" to support the heavy training.
DT: I hate cardio as well but feel it can aid in recovery during this time. I also feel it needs to be somewhat specific to what you are training for. For example Prowler Pushes, various sled pulls, and wheelbarrow work will be a better choices for someone whose aim is pure strength, while at the same time may not be the best selection for someone whose main goal is size. As stated before, I feel one of these needs to take priority over the other so the simple answer is yes I do feel it can be helpful but can also be disastrous if it begins to impede with the work you are trying to do in the weight room.
For pure strength, go with the sled, prowler, or wheel barrel work. Start with a few trips of 50 feet done after your normal session. Once you develop a base cycle the GPP, work on a three days on, one day off split and drop the intensity or volume to 60% of previous day. Here's an example for when the prowler is used:
Day 1: 200 pounds for 2 trips of 50 steps
Day 2: 120 pounds for 2 trips of 50 steps
Day 3: 70 pounds for 2 trips of 50 steps
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Repeat
For pure size, just stick with 20 minutes of light cardio 3-4 times per week done after training or on off days.
Sure there are many other things you can do, and yes, the pure size guy can do the prowler work but it has been my experience most who are training for pure size should really be training for pure strength, so there you have it.
CH: My off-the-cuff answer is 20-30 minutes of cardio done on three, nonconsecutive days per week. But as always, it really depends. Those who are more endomorphic and those who are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease should typically do more. On the other hand, a very ectomorphic individual should do no cardio at all; at least not as far as gaining muscle is concerned. It's hard enough for ectomorphs to eat enough calories, so why burn some off with cardio?
I would like to add that the catabolic effects of cardio are way overstated and exaggerated. Many of my clients do quite a bit of cardio and steadily gain muscle, and so can I. So I wouldn't hesitate to have someone do two high-intensity-interval-training sessions and a couple of steady state sessions per week while attempting to gain lean mass. In fact, I think doing some sprints will help develop mass, especially in the lower body.
Keeping body fat at a reasonable level is veryimportant when "bulking," especially for a competitor. All that fat you gain in the name of "bulking" will later have to be dieted right back off when you want to lean up. I've done it both ways, and I can say that starting a diet with a body fat in the single digits is far easier than coming down from 15 or 20%! So don't hesitate to do some cardio to keep body fat down. I actually have all my year-round male clients keep their body fat in the single digits, and females under about 14%.
Keeping body fat at reasonable levels is very important when bulking.
However, if someone has to do a lot of cardio in the off-season in order to stay fairly lean, then their diet is messed up! There's no need at all to have to do three hours or more of cardio per week to stay lean. That should be a huge red flag that the 'ole diet needs some serious work.
T Nation: What do you suggest in terms of enhancing recovery from training on a daily basis?
CH: Obviously nutrition is the key factor in maximizing recuperation. But I'm going to assume we don't need to talk a whole lot more about pre and post-workout nutrition and BCAA intake.
As far as other modalities to enhance recuperation, without a doubt the absolute best thing that one can do daily is to stretch. The longer I practice, the more I realize how important flexibility is. Even if we disregard the improvement in biomechanics that comes from stretching and mobility work, it's still of utmost importance in terms of growth.
Hypertonic muscles typically develop bands of fibers or areas of a muscle that are, in essence, fused together with scar tissue. These fibers compromise force output which will ultimately reduce hypertrophy. And looking at it more simply, those fused fibers won't grow themselves. Fascia can also bind to the muscle and decrease performance and hypertrophy. You also have to look at the fact that a tight (hypertonic) muscle will decrease the neural firing (and strength) of its antagonist. It should be obvious, now, that maintaining optimal muscle integrity is of utmost importance.
Assuming your muscles are reasonably healthy, stretching and mobility work should be enough to maintain optimal length and function. However, if you already have chronic shortening and adhesions then Active Release, Neuromuscular Reeducation, or a similar technique should be utilized to restore optimal function.
I'll get off my soft-tissue soapbox now, and point out that cardio can also enhance recuperation. I'm torn whether or not HIIT can enhance recuperation. But I feel strongly that light cardio, like fast walking on a slightly inclined treadmill, does wonders for recuperation. It seems to increase circulation throughout the body enough to aid in the transport of nutrients and the removal of waste byproducts, enhancing the healing of training-induced microtrauma. At least, that's my theory.
DT: This is a trick question, because if you have good programing this would not be an issue. So the first thing is to make sure your program is solid. If this is the case then the best means of recovery is rest. For most of the readers, just taking a few extra days off will take care of their needs.
For competitive lifters and many other athletes, this may not always be an option, as they have practice and sessions that have to be done no matter what. Even with the best programming the stresses of training and life can still add up and begin to screw up your recovery.
There are many things you can do, and each is an article (or book) in itself. There's tons of information out there, if you need it. The key to remember is that recovery aids should not be used all the time, but only when needed, or during a very heavy training phase. If you use them all the time they will lose their effect and actually hurt your own natural recovery timeline.
It's also important to note, from my experience not everyone gets the same effect, while some means aid in one's recovery they can very well ruin another. So you need to find out what works best for you.
Here are some things I've found to be effective:
• Epson salt baths
• Steam contrast
• Sauna contrast
• Shower contrast
• ART therapy
There are many other things, but these top my list. The one I've used the most, epsom salt baths, was first introduced to me by Chuck Vogelpohl, and I laughed my ass off when he told me but it did help, and has actually become part of my squat training (the night and morning before), and still is today. I figured if it was good enough for an 1100 pound squatter who has been through the mill then it was good enough for me.
EC: We know that retired lifters have reduced disc heights under diagnostic imaging; if you lift weights at any significant degree of intensity, it's something you're going to encounter.
That said, "heavy" is a relative term. Heavy for me on a deadlift would be 650 to 700: something that would feel like speed weight for a guy like Andy Bolton or Ed Coan, or unrealistically heavy for a guy who struggles to pull 315. You really have to take into account the role that supportive musculature plays in all of this.
"Heavy" means different things to different people.
I think the lessons we can take home on this are:
1. De-Loading is important regardless of your training age. With respect to this discussion, we're talking single-leg movements, pull-throughs, belt squats, etc.
2. To paraphrase a quote from an old conference review I did here at T-Nation, "If you live your life the right way, you'll probably wind up in an orthopedist's office at some point. If you live it the wrong way, you'll wind up in a cardiologist's office."
3. Do everything in your power to teach your body to move efficiently so that when you do load on the big movements, you can do so safely.
ZE: The simplest tool of all, yet highly underused, is listening to your body and training accordingly. You may have planned a 3 week phase of very hard training, but what if you feel like shit mid way through week 2? Do you train as planned or train according to what your body is telling you it needs?
I train how my body tells me to train. I encourage and communicate heavily with my athletes, something Jason Ferruggia encourages me to do all the time, every workout. I gauge my athletes during the warm up: verbal and non-verbal communication. We may have a planned intense week but if they express the need and I see the need, we might de-load that day or that entire week!
Every time I've been injured through training, it was because I trained differently than what my body was ready for. It was a lack of mental discipline where I would not listen to my body, instead, I allowed my crazy mind to drive me into the ground. NOT good!
For the stuff everyone can do: foam rolling and rolling on medicine balls. We do this every workout at the end, and if they need, my athletes do this in the beginning, too.
If possible, seek ART treatment. Not all practitioners are equally effective, please keep that in mind.
• Massage every 10 to 14 days
• Daily naps, optimally 60 to 90 minutes, but get them when you can!
• Eating clean foods
• Taking one full week off every three or four months
DJ: For the newer lifter, recovery techniques are as simple as drink water, eat protein, take fish oil, and sleep. This list might never change, but I'm amazed at how light the protein intake for many athletes is during their "bulking" phase. Lots of carb crap, but little
Overall, I think the mind is more involved in strength gaining than one would first imagine. It's a skill, as Pavel says all the time. Hypertrophy is a bit more complex, but I would always rather be stronger than simply bigger.
T Nation: Any final thoughts you might have on anything.
ZE: Training is simpler than we make it with regards to strength and size development. The physiques of the early 1900's through the late 60's are often times way better than those of today, and those guys were fucking strong. Sure, there were plenty of skinny and fat bastards back in those days as well, but the training methods and equipment back in the day were nothing compared to what we have today.
The biggest problem is hard work and lack of consistency. Those of us who have been at this game for years know that even after 15 years of training, the basics, hard work, consistency, and tons of good food will always do the trick.
CH: My thoughts on anything? Yeah, thanks for asking. I've got thoughts on a lot of things that I've actually wanted to get off my chest. For starters, why do girls like guys that take them for granted? And why do we guys end up wanting the same girl we took for granted, but only after she tells us to go to hell?
Oh, you probably meant anything related to size and strength. Sorry.
Well, I think we often make both training and nutrition far too complicated. While I'm the first to engage in discussions about, and rack my brain on, the minutia of getting bigger and stronger, it isn't rocket science. It's this simple: stimulate the muscle enough to elicit adaptation, allow it and the nervous system enough time to adapt (but not much more), and then repeat.
The tricky part is that there are a million different ways to do just that. However, I don't think most people fail because they're doing the wrong program. I think most fail because they're inconsistent with either their training, nutrition, or both. No program will make up for inconsistency or lack of effort.
I'll close by disregarding specifics and giving a handful of guidelines that will work for the vast majority of people.
1) Train hard but train for less than one hour, four times per week.
2) Only go to failure on the last set of an exercise.
3) Make the basic exercises the core of your routine.
4) Keep a log book and improve regularly.
5) Take four weeks off per year.
6) Eat 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight per day, divided across six meals.
7) Eat about the same amount of carbs divided across six meals.
8) Eat at least 50g of "healthy" fat per day.
That's it! Those guidelines summarize my nine years of college and 20 years of weight-training. Now that I've given away my secrets, I'll have to look for another line of work. Thanks a lot, Greg!
EC: I love the fact that you've gone out of your way to bring some bright guys from different backgrounds together to throw around ideas on how there are different means to the same ends, yet some principles are universal.
Still, with all that said, I can't state enough that all of this doesn't mean anything if you're stuck in a bad training environment. A crappy program performed with an awesome environment will yield better strength and mass gains than a fantastic program performed in a poor environment. The most successful guys are the ones who are not students of the game, but who realize that when push comes to shove, it's their surroundings that make them better the fastest.
I'd like to think that my biggest success with Cressey Performance has been putting solid programming together with just the right attitude and environment. People need to use T-Nation for the programming aspect of things, but bust their butts in the "real world" to ensure that they're in surroundings conducive to success.
DT: Yes, I can add some final thoughts. People need to stop looking for the catch-all (strength and size). Pick one and train for it, and when you get bored or stop making progress, pick the other. This way you are already moving forward. Simple concept, but for those who have been striving for both, let me just ask you this: "How's that been working for you?"
T Nation: Thanks gentlemen. I hope the readers enjoy this as much as I did.