“… Tao is often referred to as ‘the nameless’, because neither it nor its principles can ever be adequately expressed in words.”

Aw, what the hell, we’ll give it a shot.

No questions, no time limit, and no stone unturned. Training? Nutrition? A little piss and vinegar? It’s all here.

The following is what happens when you get on the phone with a top-level strength and conditioning coach and hit “record.”

Dr. Clay Speaks

Nate, you were five years old when I started bodybuilding.

Once I take on a client, I prefer to coach them for a long time. It really becomes a team effort. Paris Pippillion was the first competitor I coached and I’ve been working with him for over ten years now. He’s my star pupil. He has his pro card in two different natural bodybuilding organizations and we’re now shooting for IFBB pro status.

Do you need to use heavy weights to gain muscle? That’s a tough question, and honestly, my opinion could vary from day to day. The simple truth is, the muscle doesn’t know how much weight you’re lifting. All you’re doing with a weight is trying to stimulate the muscle in such a manner that it adapts how you want it to.

That can be accomplished with heavy weight and also with surprisingly light weight. Some research points to the fact that optimal time under tension for hypertrophy may be around 40 to 45 seconds.

But research is just a tool. Too often we hang our hat on a study and tend to not realize that it’s just a snapshot of a small, specific population at one point in time. Every study is a clue, and nothing more.

What’s the best way to build muscle? I’ve racked my brain on that for the last two decades. If you figure it out, let me know.

Really, I think it’s a combination of training methodologies. The best training program is the one you’re currently not doing, you know? I love that.

So let’s say I’m doing 10 sets of 10 on squats, which is the best way I’ve found to build my legs. But I can’t do it all the time or I’d be crippled. But if I follow that up with something that’s lower volume and higher intensity, I’ll keep right on growing.

There are so many factors to consider. The neural component, the neuromuscular component, the connective tissue, the muscle spindles, the golgi tendon organ…all of this stuff. And no single training methodology is going to create a response in all of those. That’s why you need variety.

The bench press? It’s a mediocre chest exercise at best. Weightlifters are so biased toward the bench press that we don’t want to hear it sucks.

We look for clues to support whatever we’re biased towards. At the same time, we ignore evidence that contradicts what we believe in.

But back to the bench press. Have you ever known someone who’s torn a pec who wasn’t doing a barbell bench press at the time? If you’re going to bench, you need to tuck your elbows, like a powerlifter.

The last time I used it in my routine I super-set it with dumbbell flys on the same bench. To do it, grab a pair of dumbbells and do flys to failure. Then drop the dumbbells, immediately grab the bar and rep out on the bench. All the stress will be shifted to your chest and you won’t have to use much weight at all. I think I used 135 pounds. Yeah, you look weak, but you’re getting a whole hell of a lot of stimulation to the pecs.

I usually prefer dumbbells, though. I have one exercise I call a dumbbell fly-press. Grab some dumbbells and start halfway between the fly and press position. Your elbows shouldn’t be too close to your body. Now press the weight up and pronate your hands to finish in the “press” position. That takes care of horizontal adduction and internal rotation of the humerus at the same time, which is exactly what your chest was designed to do. So you’re going to get one hell of a contraction at the top.

You must assess your own physique and goals and then write your own program.

Partial reps, iso-holds, and negatives are all like dynamite. They can wreck and blow shit up, or they can be used precisely and carefully to build wonderful things. But too many guys overdo them.

The perfect way? Let’s say you’re doing standing calf raises and you rep out till you can’t do any more with a full range-of-motion. So you try to do five partials. And when you can’t do those, you go as high as you can on your toes and hold it for at least ten seconds. It hurts like hell, but it works.

Only do that on the last set, though.

I’ve got another cool exercise, kind of a moving isometric. To do it, lie on a bench with two dumbbells that are between what you’d use for a fly and a press. Push the dumbbells together with your palms facing and have them start on your chest. Push them straight up and lock out, and make sure the dumbbells are still touching. Do it for ten reps or so. It seems like it’d be a triceps exercise but it absolutely kills your chest. I’m certainly not convinced you can hypertrophy the inner chest, but if you could, this exercise would do it.

Isometrics can be used to create neuromuscular efficiency and improve motor recruitment, but it’s something we don’t think about. If you have weak calves, try walking on your toes while you’re cooking.

When I was a kid I’d flex my right biceps all the time. Now guess what my strongest body part is?

Neuromuscular efficiency is analogous to a path in the woods that barely gets walked on. It has shrubs and tall grass covering it. But if you have a hundred kids a day walk to school on that same path, it’s going to get beaten down. Pretty soon you’d be able to run on the path. It’d be smooth and everything would just flow through it.

To me, that’s how your nerves are. The more you use those specific nerve pathways the more they get “cleaned off” and the more efficient they become. By routinely flexing a muscle, it’ll improve the neuromuscular efficiency and will translate to more gains.

I still see people rolling their shoulders back when they’re doing shrugs. It’s stupid. Yeah, it’s neat that you saw it in high school gym class but you should probably stop it now.

You can do the perfect shrug by tilting your body forward about 15 degrees before doing your set. You’ll hit the upper trap and also shift the focus to the rear where the meat of the trap is.

Training your back makes about as much sense as training your front. If you look at the back as a whole it includes your upper, middle, and lower traps, rhomboids, infraspinatus, teres minor, teres major, rear delts, lats, and erector spinae. And you’re telling me you may just do some freaking pull-ups?

We divide chest and shoulders into two different days, but the reality is the clavicular pectoralis and the anterior deltoid have practically the exact same function. The anterior delt picks up where the clavicular pectoralis takes off. So if we separate those into different training days, why don’t we divide the back?

To me, you have the upper back, the lats, and the lower back. The upper back gets worked with things like overhand barbell or cable rows, or anything with scapular retraction. Lat movements are things like pull-ups or dumbbell rows with your arm close to your side. And things like back extensions target your lower back. To fully “work your back” you better be addressing every one of those in your training week.

figure competitors

The Body Shop series is awesome. Sometimes I’m reviewing guys who look big and mean so I’m glad I’m ripping apart their bodies from a distance. But it enables me to wear my different hats all at the same time. I throw in some postural stuff and chiropractic talk, then put on my judging hat and give them tips to make their physique look better.

If you would’ve asked me ten years ago, I would have told you that mobility and stretching was pansy granola crap. Luckily, I’m getting smarter with age.

The guys who take care of themselves are ones who’ve seen the light. They’ve had a problem, done the rehab and stretching, and became pain free. They see the benefit of it. It’s the guy who doesn’t have any problems yet who couldn’t care less. But just because you don’t have lung cancer yet doesn’t mean you should keep smoking, you know?

I wish there was a way around it because I honestly hate stretching. I’d rather study German or French or go to the dentist. It’s boring as hell to me. But the sad fact is we have to do it. It’s like brushing your teeth. You can’t get lazy and take a month off.

I’m pretty confident in saying a higher protein, moderate carb, moderate fat diet is going to be superior across the board. Ectomorphs do well on a lower fat, higher carbohydrate diet since they have better insulin sensitivity. Endomorphs would be wise to stick with higher fat and lower carbs. But it’s all up to the individual.

I don’t like percentages, like saying “take in 30 percent of your calories from fat.” It’s like mini-math to figure out how many grams you should eat at each meal. That’s all you need to know. How many per meal? Good. Done.

For physique enhancement, I’d say a general rule is one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. That sounds like it’s straight out of Flex magazine, doesn’t it?

People like specific answers but the more specific you try to get, the less accurate you become.

All my clients are realistic because we go over their mindset and goals when we first start. I don’t blow smoke up their skirt and tell them they have the potential to be a pro if they clearly don’t.

I was watching an interview with the Dalai Lama yesterday and he said one of the keys to happiness is discipline. For the guys who don’t have structure or tangible goals, competing is one of the best things they can do. It requires discipline.

Once you’ve mastered your body and stood on stage in great shape, everything else becomes easy.

I’m not someone who bashes the sport simply because I love it. I work with some pros and know quite a few. Most of them are nice. You’ll find more arrogance at a local show. The pros have been humbled along the way and appreciate being there.

I don’t know why, man, but I love the big freaky look. I had a press pass and was in the front row when Ronnie Coleman walked out at 287 pounds during his redemption comeback show. He was striated from head to toe. It was the most insane thing I’ve seen in person.

For me, though, it’s more about finesse and having a perfect physique. Being big is only a component. I have nothing but respect for Markus Ruhl, but I just don’t like his physique.

My favorite physiques right now are Darrem Charles and Richard Jones.

Richard Jones

Bodybuilding is art. It’s sculpting something you can be proud of. [In an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice] “If you need a little more shoulder than you just slap on some clay.”

Bodybuilding is weird to the general public because our hobby happens to be our physique. If we walk into the aerobics room at our gym to practice our posing, we’re not showing off. And even when we’re doing a photo shoot or standing on stage, we’re just proud of our bodies. It’s like a hot-rod enthusiast that parks at his local Dairy Queen and pops the hood before going in to get an ice cream sundae. He’s just proud of his work.