Acceptance is the first step. The next step is to define what a good workout is.
Hitting a PR? Lifting more than last time? Never-ending energy?
If these were the only criteria for a good workout, I’d only have two or three awesome workouts a month. That wouldn’t have been enough to keep me working out hard for more than ten years.
An awesome workout and a bad workout, like everything else, are based on perception and perspective.
These days, I have only awesome workouts. I don’t hit a PR every day, and that includes when I was recovering from back surgery hoisting those hefty 25’s.
I chose to look at my workouts like sex. Even a bad workout is better than no workout.
PR or Bust?
Using PRs is the obvious go-to for progress checking. It’s pretty badass when you push yourself further than you have ever gone before.
It’s also one of the hardest to achieve. It’s like trying to score an 80-yard touchdown every carry. You need to lay down some two-to-three-yard gains to set up that 80-yarder.
When you start working out you, racking up PR’s is easy. I mean, it’s easy since your previous PR was what? Zero? Don’t get me wrong. Focusing on PRs is a good way to stay motivated in the beginning, but it shouldn’t be the basis of an awesome workout once you have been lifting for awhile.
If you can hit a PR once or twice a month, then you’re trending in the right direction.
And that doesn’t have to be a 1-rep PR. That could be a 5-rep PR or a 10-rep PR. Any progress is good progress.
Getting frustrated with your progress at the gym doesn’t do anyone any good.
Reframe how you judge the awesomeness of your workout.
Perception is everything. If you have a crappy outlook, then everything will be crappy.
If you look at your workouts in a different light… …then workouts and sex belong in the same category of awesomeness.
If setting PR’s and lifting more than last time is your only criteria for a good workout, I wish you the best. You’re going to be one unhappy mofo.
It all comes down to measuring progress. Did you get better than last time? But there’s more to progress than PRs.
I introduce to you the Ladder of Workout Awesomeness™ (Cue the trumpets.)
The Ladder of Workout Awesomeness™ is:
Personal Record (PR): You’ve accomplished something you’ve never done, like a 405-pound deadlift. Here’s a simple formula to ramp up to a new max.
Weight: You increased the amount of weight lifted.
Volume: You increased the number of reps.
Frequency: You worked out more often, such as moving from three workouts to four in a week.
Form: You stopped rounding your back on deadlifts. Score!
Did You Show Up? Consistency is the most important factor for transforming your physique.
The Ladder Of Workout Awesomeness Explained
This ladder works like every other ladder on the planet. You start at the bottom.
Did you show up? If you did, you had a good workout. This means you didn’t die last night. This is huge. Most people can’t muster enough motivation to get to the gym. But you did. Someone is looking for a gold star for the day.
Now I know you might be thinking that’s like giving everyone a ribbon for participating but keep in mind that most people don’t participate. They’re too busy thinking of excuses and rationalizing not going to the gym. You didn’t. That’s a huge win.
Form. You can never go wrong when focusing on form. It’s the most important thing keeping you out of the ER. Good form takes practice; lots and lots of practice. Even if you could do a power clean in your sleep, a little practice now and then will help you when you need it most. If you can progress your form, you’ll be doing your future self a huge service.
Frequency. After having good form, did you make it to the gym more this week than last week? Did you do two back workouts in one week? That’s progress. I bet you weren’t crushing two back workouts in a week a few months ago.
Volume. Are you doing 4 sets of 10 now? But isn’t that the weight you were doing 3 set of 10 last week? Adding an extra set or hammering out a few more reps than you did last week is all progress. Revel in it.
Weight. A numerical representation of progress that we showcase on social media. Adding more weight to the bar is tough to do. It doesn’t matter if it is 2 pounds or 50 pounds, progress is progress. Congrats bruh, you are in the upper echelon of awesome gym sessions.
PR. Let the euphoria of the PR wash over you as you post this on social media. Remember it’s not bragging if it’s true. You have reached the pinnacle of gym achievements. If you can lift more than you ever have in any lift, celebrate that shit.
Excitement mounts as you go up the ladder. Personal records may get all the Instagram likes, but don’t forget about the factors that lead to your success. First, you need to show up. Then, you may need to train more often, use more volume and add weight to the bar before going for personal records.
Once you ingrain these habits you’ll be well on your way to never having bad workouts again.
They say confession is good for the soul. So here goes: For years, I didn’t do much cardio/conditioning. (Call it what you like. I just knew I didn’t like it.)
Sure, I hoisted heavy deadlifts. But I figured the wrong cardio would make me scrawny and weak. Plus, I had the not-so-repressed memories of “extra conditioning” workouts doled out as punishment for slacking at football practice.
And most of all? I claimed: “I don’t have time.”
But here’s the dagger: I was “fake” in shape. While lifting itself is great, you can’t claim to be in-shape or athletic if you’re sucking wind walking from the car to the gym. Just as endurance athletes need well-planned strength training, the iron- inclined lifter needs a healthy dose of conditioning.
The best bet? Rather than slogging away on the treadmill, well-timed metabolic finishers.
Metabolic finishers are a fancy name for short-duration, high-intensity conditioning exercises done at the end of your workout. The perfect middle ground to getting your conditioning done without hating your life or living in the gym.
Explains why incorporating metabolic finishers is the best use of your time to get back into shape, lose stubborn fat, and build a lean, athletic body.
Gives you 9 of my favorite metabolic finishers to accelerate fat loss in as few as 10 minutes, two times per week, I pinkie swear.
The Real Reason Most of Us Skip Conditioning Workouts
You need conditioning and we all know it. Still, If I had to hedge my bets, “cardio” is the last factor you plan in your workouts.
And when you get busy at work or tired in the gym?
Cardio is the first thing you “skip.”
I’ve been there too. But here’s what you need to remember:
Your strength won’t tragically evaporate, leaving you weak and wimpy.
Conditioning won’t turn your precious muscle into pixie dust or transform you into a skinny-fat, sunken chest hard gainer.
If you do skip conditioning you’ll find …
(1) Your ability to recover from hard training stinks worse than a flaming pile of dog poop. Your work capacity is down, so it’s harder to recover from intense sets. As a result, your overall gym performance hits a plateau and you stop making progress.
(2) You’re out of shape and unhealthy. If you’re strong but find yourself gasping and out of breathe while or chasing your kids, it’s time to re-evaluate your workouts.
(3) Your athleticism is withering away. It’s great to be strong, fast, powerful, and muscular. But if you want to be the total package then you’ll need conditioning to build and sustain your skills.
(4) The last bit of belly fat hanging around your belly button? It’s still there and growing. Two to three metabolic finishers will accelerate your fat loss.
Now, I don’t mean to paint a lack of conditioning as the reason for feelings of impending doom. Rather it’s to highlight that it’s best to embrace conditioning as a tool to improve your performance in the gym. You’ll lose fat, improve your health, and have more energy.
Now, let’s get to it.
What are Metabolic Finishers?
Metabolic finishers are a fancy name for short-duration, high-intensity conditioning exercises done at the end of your workout.
Think of finishers like an all out, short duration sprint rather than yogging (more fun to say than jogging) for 20 minutes at the gym before calling it a day.
Metabolic finishers are total-body in nature, meaning you’ll be working large muscles during each exercise to maximize each finisher. The more muscle mass you work, the greater the cardiovascular demands and number of calories burned during the exercise. In other words, focus on big movements like squats and sprints to help you hit the conditioning hard.
Metabolic Finishers Shred Fat
Metabolic finishers are my favorite method to supercharge fat loss for two reasons:
1. They’re time efficient, helping you lose more fat in less time.
Due to the effects of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and exercise post oxygen consumption (EPOC), your body keeps your heart rate and metabolism elevated far after near-maximal bouts of exercise. This means although a finisher takes 5-10 minutes, it may keep your body humming and eviscerating stubborn fat for 24 hours after exercise. If you’re overextended, busy, or hate “cardio,” then metabolic finishers will help you burn more fat in less time.
2. They’ll create hormonal adaptations to help you lose fat.
Hmm, sounds like science, eek. Let’s break it down.
Hormonal adaptations is a fancy way of saying these conditioning exercises will trigger the release of powerful fat burning hormones. Since finishers force you to do more work in less time – a concept called training density – you’ll get the oh-so-wonderful burning, “my legs feel like lead” feeling from built-up muscular fatigue and metabolic stress.
Studies have shown incomplete rest, metabolic stress, and muscular fatigue stimulates the release of growth hormone (GH), IGF-1, testosterone, and improve insulin sensitivity. These are the most important hormones for losing fat, having more energy, and building a strong, aesthetic-looking body.
Metabolic Finishers Build Endurance
I think we’d both agree we feel best when we have plenty of energy and endurance. Amiright?
High-density training like the metabolic finishers improve your work capacity. This might not sound sexy at the onset, but consider the following:
Better recovery between sets. You’ll more efficiently clear metabolites after weight lifting sets, allowing you to lift more weight for fewer reps, and continue doing so, longer. In other words…a greater work capacity improves your ability to train harder for gaining size and strength. Thus, even if your only motivation for training is getting as big as a house and as strong as an ox….you need metabolic finishers.
Sports specific endurance. Most sports require quick bursts of all-out intense action, like jumping for a basketball and sprinting down court. Periods of low (or no) intense movement follow. By using conditioning workouts you train your body to use the energy systems needed to improve at your sport whether you’re a weekend warrior or high-level athlete.
You’ll sleep better. Well, according to this article titled Exercise Effects on Sleep Physiology,high-intensity exercise reveals robust and consistent data. The meta-analyses summarizing chronic exercise effects reveal significantly shorter sleep onset latency, time awake after sleep onset, and significantly longer total sleep time.
Here’s where most people run into issues– their ability and drive to train exceed their recoverability. Because they lack the work capacity to recover, their training tolerance doesn’t allow them to handle heavier weights and more volume.
This is like a new lifter training for speed and power without having a base of strength.
It. Won’t. Work.
You need a general level of endurance to recover fast and handle greater workloads, even if your primary focus is building muscle or getting stronger.
Metabolic Finisher Exercises
Okay, let’s get down to the exercises. I’ve added a number of tools so no matter your gym situation, you’ll have options to lose fat, boost energy, and take your conditioning to the next level.
Let’s keep it simple. Sprinting gets you jacked and is a key skill in nearly any sport. But not every gym has turf and not every neighborhood has an open field. Which leads us to hill sprints and treadmill sprints.
Since most folks stop sprinting after they’ve stopped playing a sport, your chance of tweaking a hammy are pretty high. Hill sprints reduce your chance of injury while eviscerating fat and building incredible hamstrings and glutes. Since you’re running up a hill, you’ll have a shorter footfall, which reduces joint stress. Plus, the incline prevents you from over-striding and tweaking a hamstring.
Perform a 5-10 minute dynamic warm-up before jumping into hill sprints with some light running, lunges, squats, and high knees.
Set a timer for 10-20 minutes. Run up the hill, flex like Rocky at the top, and walk back down. Rinse and repeat until the timer is done. Don’t make it too complicated.
Treadmill sprints allow you to train in nearly every gym environment. I recommend putting your treadmill at a slight incline before doing one of the following programs:
Run two days per week on a treadmill or hill. After a warm-up and some speed drills, perform this drill for ten minutes.
Week 1: Sprint 10 seconds, rest 50
Week 2: Sprint 11 seconds, rest 49
Week 3: Sprint 12 seconds, rest 48
Week 4: Sprint 13 seconds, rest 47
Week 5: Sprint 14 seconds, rest 46
Week 6: Sprint 15 seconds, rest 45
Week 1: Sprint 20 seconds, rest 40
Week 2: Sprint 22 seconds, rest 38
Week 3: Sprint 24 seconds, rest 36
Week 4: Sprint 26 seconds, rest 34
Week 5: Sprint 28 seconds, rest 32
Week 6: Sprint 30 seconds, rest 30
Remember, all these must end at the 10-minute mark. Increase your speed before jacking up the incline to preserve technique.
Jump Rope Conditioning
The jump rope allows you to get creative as a conditioning tool. Because it’s low impact with low stress on the joints it’s a fantastic addition to Power Primer workouts as a metabolic finisher. The neural demands are light enough that it won’t overly fatigue the nervous system and hinder training results with big-bang exercises like deadlifts.
As a stand-alone conditioning implement Double-Unders and the Runnin’ Man are my two go-to conditioning drills with each being performed twice per week, with at least 48 hours between workouts.
Death by Double Under
Like it sounds—whip the jump rope two times in a row with one singular jump. Work up to sets of 10 and use an interchangeable rope like Crossrope. Rest 30-60 seconds and continue on for 10-15 minutes or until your lungs and calves explode, your choice. As your skills increase, increase the weight of the rope to continue making progress.
The Runnin’ Man
Run in place while skipping the rope. Not only will this improve your coordination, it’s a deceptively tough conditioning workout. Go for time and work up to 10-15 minutes of continuous “running.” The impact is far less than your traditional steady state cardio or plodding along on the treadmill.
500 Meter Row Test
The row is the great equalizer. Unlike running or biking, few people use a rower regularly. So baseline of efficiency is low, making this a great standard for testing total body endurance and mental toughness.
Despite its simplicity, these tests will make your legs quiver, forearms burn, and lungs scream for mercy.
What to do: Hop on the rower and turn the resistance all the way up. Warm-up with one sprint to 100 meters, resting about two minutes. Perform one all-out set to 500 meters as fast as possible.
Elite: 1:35 or under
Pro: 1:48 or under
Get to work, dude: 2:00 or over
Take too much pre-workout? Rest three minutes and do two or three sets.
P.S. I’m sorry.
Row As You Go
What to do: Hop on the rower and put the resistance on max. Row for 60 seconds at a moderate pace, then rest for a minute. Once the rest minute is up, alternate 30-second sprints with 30 second rest.
Resistance: 10 (or all the way up)
Work: 30-second sprint
Rest: 30 seconds complete rest
Duration: 12 Minutes. (13 with the warm-up.)
Sled Push-Pull Suicide
Load up a sled to the top with 25 lb plates and get to work. Set up five cones five yards apart, for 25 total yards.
You’ll push the sled forward five yards, drop your hips, and pull the sled back while staying low in a back-pedal.
Strip off a plate and jump right into the next set, going ten. You’ll repeat the process of stripping a plate every time you finish a leg.
What you get: The sled is an incredible tool for conditioning and adding training volume without destroying your recoverability. There is no eccentric stress on the sled, so you’re not limited by debilitating soreness despite a high workload.
This mental challenge of a test scorches your legs, lunges, and core. It’s a challenge any lifter.
The goal? Finish in 60-90 seconds. Rest five minutes and repeat… if you dare!
Bonus: 300 Meter Shuttle Repeats
“Gassers” are much beloved by hardass high school football coaches everywhere. The 300-meter shuttle is a classic football conditioning drill. This isn’t a speed test. These shuttles separate the men from the boys. The mentally weak and out of shape fail. The grinders succeed.
Most lifters are under-conditioned. Adding in old-fashioned shuttle runs is one of the best ways to eviscerate fat and build endurance.
The set-up: Set up markers approximately 50 yards apart. You’ll sprint back and forth for six total lengths (or three down and backs) for a total of 300 yards.
The Goal: Two 300-yard shuttle runs, with two minutes rest. Finish the first set in under 50 seconds and the second in under 55 seconds. If you don’t make the allotted time, do 100 punishment burpees. I’m kidding. Step up your conditioning.
Here’s a five-week plan:
Add two 300-meter shuttles twice per week. Start with four minutes rest between them, decreasing the rest by thirty seconds each week. By the fifth week, you’ll be leaner, faster, and in better shape.
Week One: 2×300 meter shuttle, rest 4:00
Week Two: 2×300 meter shuttle, rest 3:30
Week Three: 2×300 meter shuttle, rest 3:00
Week Four: 2×300 meter shuttle, rest 2:30
Re-Test: Week Five: 2×300 meter shuttle, rest 2:00
Remember, the primary goal with weight training is building muscle and strength. One key tenant of why the Bach Performance clients are so successful is keeping the goal the goal. Train hard for strength and performance. Dial-up conditioning AFTER weight training, on a separate day, or 4-6 hours after training.
How Often Should You Do Finishers?
How often you do a finisher is dependent on your recoverability and current goals. For most, I’d recommend a finisher twice per week after your weight training workouts.
For the week, 3-4 weight lifting workouts and 2 hard metabolic conditioning workouts is a great place to start. Beware…you’ll have a temporary decrease in performance in the gym. One step back for 7-10 days while your body acclimates will lead to huge leaps forward in terms of how much fat you lose and how well your performance increases in the gym.
You still need conditioning; especially if you want to lose fat, and even if you want to build muscle and strength.
And if you’re short on time, heavy on excuses, but need to get it done anyway?
Metabolic finishers are your best bet.
They’re the most time efficient and effective way to rapidly transform your body, improve work capacity, and take back your health. Before you head out, grab your Fat Blasting Finishers below. There are nearly a dozen options I didn’t mention in this article that only take 15 minutes or less.
Guest Post by Dr. Sharon Ricardo, Professor at Monash University, Australia
The latest scientific evidence suggests you can regulate your genes to promote muscle growth.
The gains are permanent and are even passed onto your children.
Here’s how it happens and why it matters to people who want to get big.
We begin with…
How Exercise Can Alter DNA
Your genes are determined at birth and define a number of your physical characteristics. These include your ability to gain muscle mass, the proportion of slow and fast twitch muscle fibers you have, your stamina, and your ability to gain fat.
However, what’s passed down from your parents is only half the biological story. That’s because new evidence suggests that environmental influences control genes.
These environmental factors, which can include how you exercise, have the power to make genes switch on and off. The operation of the gene is altered, but the DNA blueprint remains unchanged.
This means that your DNA can be influenced in a positive way through resistance exercise, or weight training. Alteration of your DNA as a result of exercise can switch on genes permanently and lead to more lean muscle gain, improved power, and performance.
The Role of Epigenetics
This process by which biological signals affect the expression of our genes is called epigenetics. If your genes are the hardware, epigenetics (epigenomes) are the software. It has the ability to update and remodel based on how it’s programmed. It does this by altering the types of proteins produced.
And if you think that’s crazy, what’s more astonishing is that the traits acquired during a lifetime and changes in genes can be passed down to future generations too!
Even as you’re reading this and prepping for your next gym session, you’re influencing the software of your future kids.
It’s well known that you’ll respond differently to strength and conditioning training compared to others.
You’re an individual with your own genes and your own epigenetic software.
What The Latest Research Shows
A new study has shown that although your underlying genetic code remains unchanged, exercise can induce immediate changes in muscle DNA. And these gene expressions result in beneficial responses elsewhere in the body (1).
This study showed that even a short period of exercise is enough to induce changes in the gene expression of skeletal muscle \and that in itself is responsible for the adaptive responses to exercise. Even more exciting is that we are just beginning to understand the epigenetic mechanisms involved in this process.
How Is This Useful?
This cutting-edge research shows that even muscle contraction from brief exercise can alter DNA both structurally and functionally. It essentially reprograms muscle to become stronger and increases the production of fat-reducing proteins.
Does this add to what we know about “muscle memory”?
A wide variety of biochemical changes occur during exercise. These include the production of proteins that help stabilize your blood sugar, reduction in fat uptake, and assistance with improving your physical performance.
What’s more, the anabolic response of muscle contraction results in an additive growth response. This has previously been termed ‘muscle memory’ and it may actually be due to the alteration of epigenetics that results in muscle adaptation over the long term (2).
This means that modified DNA resulting from exercise is retained throughout life.
Let’s call this epigenetic muscle memory
How Endurance vs Resistance Exercise Affects your Genes
These new findings raise some fascinating issues:
(1) How does endurance training affect gene expression?
(2) Would it be different for strength training?
(3) What are the short-term and long-term benefits from both strength training and endurance training?
Clearly, all forms of exercise can induce positive changes that affect how we use our genes and provide more functional muscles to improve our overall state of health.
However, the magnitude of the response is determined mainly by intensity, volume, and frequency.
Increased evidence shows that predominantly focusing on mediocre endurance-type exercises, such as jogging, may under-maximize many of the most profound benefits of exercise.
In regards to the epigenetic effects of endurance training on muscle genes, a Swedish study was able to isolate the epigenetic effects of exercise from those of diet and recreational behaviors (3.)
Researchers recruited 23 young and healthy men and women and then asked them to exercise half of their lower bodies for 3 months. This entailed cycling using only one leg for a period of 45 minutes three times a week. The other leg was unexercised. The researchers took muscle biopsies after three months.
As expected, the exercised leg showed physical improvement. However genetic mapping showed that the muscle cells had more than 5,000 extra sites on the DNA compared to the unexercised leg. A majority of the gene changes that occurred in the exercised leg played positive roles in energy metabolism, insulin signaling, blood glucose control, and muscle inflammation.
What About More Intense Training?
High-intensity interval training and strength training are more effective than endurance training in producing positive results in alteration of genes.
The rapid and deep level of muscle fatigue induced stimulates the muscle and DNA itself. Muscle and stem cells are also activated. (More about this later.)
Endurance training doesn’t provide this sort of stimulus.
Apart from muscle strength, regular resistance training has whole body benefits including effective regulation of blood glucose and circulating blood cells.
A recent study (4) showed that eight weeks of resistance exercise training (8-12 repetitions with a load equivalent to 80% of 1RM) had positive effects on blood cell DNA including growth hormone genes.
So Is Strength Training Better For Altering Genes?
In a word, yes.
Here’s a science-y explanation:
Maximizing the resistance exercise-induced anabolic response produces the greatest potential for muscle growth. It does this through muscle growth (hypertrophy) as a result of muscle fiber recruitment and anabolic signaling (5.)
Therefore, changes to exercise intensity, volume, and periodization result in specific muscular adaptations that can maximize the extent of muscle growth.
The stimulus for muscle contraction that occurs in response to resistance exercise is a major regulator for promoting muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth. This is a result of the cumulative effects of transient changes in gene expression.
How To Make Muscle Grow: Introducing Stem Cells
So how do you use all this information to alter your genetic ability to maximize potential and gain lean mass?
As we know now, genetic factors play a defining role in determining how much muscle mass a person has, as well as steady-state levels of endogenous anabolic hormones like testosterone.
What’s more, your genes control your anabolic hormone levels, and the natural rate of muscle gain and progress over time. This process is also dependent on the ability of muscle stem cells to replace and repair muscle fibers.
Although discovered in 1941, there has been limited mention of muscle stem cells in the bodybuilding arena. Otherwise known as satellite cells, these immature cells are retained after embryonic development. They then physically sit in a ‘stem cell niche’ at the periphery of muscle fibers.
Remarkably, muscle stem cells divide to replace muscle fibers and replace themselves indefinitely. They are almost immortal. They wait dormant, ready for cues from muscle contraction, where they then respond and activate to induce muscle hypertrophy from resistance training.
Muscle hypertrophy is due to the activation of stem cells and addition of cell nuclei to existing fibers. Not only that. Muscle stem cells also replace lost fibers and repair local muscle tissue in response to injury.
Muscle gain and repair is therefore directly the result of the stimulation of muscle stem cells.
Strength training also offsets the natural decline in stem cells and muscle mass.
Normally, the number of muscle stem cells you have reduces with age, resulting in a decrease in muscle mass, strength/power, and exercise capacity. However, the good news is that this process is preventable and reversible with long-term frequent resistance exercise.
In a recent study (6), isolated muscle stem cells from aged mice were transplanted into the leg muscle of young mice. At the time of transplantation, the aged muscle stem cells were deemed two thirds less able to function to replace muscle fibers and self-renew, compared to the younger counterparts.
However, following transplantation, the regenerative potential of the aged muscle stem cells was restored to their full potential and had renewed the ability to replace muscle fibers and promote muscle mass long term.
The take-home message is that instead of asking what genes were passed down that pre-determine your athletic ability, you should ask how you can epigenetically regulate your genes to maximize muscle strength, conditioning, and fitness.
Muscle stimulation through exercise (as well as reducing your environmental exposure to toxins, such as excessive alcohol, high sugar diet, etc.) is crucial to maintaining the full regenerative potential of muscle stem cells.
What’s more, skeletal muscle stimulation in an anabolic environment provides a heightened capacity to respond to these later life stimuli.
Anabolic steroids positively alter gene expression by switching on new muscle fibers formed from muscle stem cells, resulting in long-term effects to enhance muscle mass. It does this over and above what has been genetically pre-determined.
Muscle response and epigenetic muscle memory to exercise is controlled, in part, by anabolic endocrine hormones including growth hormone (GH), insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I, and testosterone (T). These hormones are involved in muscle adaptation to exercise as they promote muscle protein synthesis.
T and locally expressed IGF-I specifically have even been reported to activate muscle stem cells in more recent studies (7). Together, naturally produced GH and IGF-1 play important roles in mediating T’s anabolic effect on skeletal muscle.
To date, most research has focused on T and GH replacement. However, there is a lack of data on the activation of muscle stem cells and epigenetics following the administration of T levels in the cycling range. GH and T are anabolic agents that promote muscle protein synthesis and hypertrophy although working through separate mechanisms.
It’s a matter of debate, but some studies suggest that the combined administration of GH and T, result in greater efficacy than either hormone alone. However, there is no doubt that amount of muscle gains and fat loss produced in response to T is unmatched.
For the natural gainer, when it comes to T levels everyone is different at baseline, as well as how T elevates in response to muscle load and frequency of training. The simple answer is this is genetically determined and influenced by epigenetics over time.
A recent study (8) used data modeling to confirm that 8 weeks of exercise-induced T production leads to muscle hypertrophy above levels of circulating cortisol, GH, IGH-1, and insulin responses to resistance exercise. Of course, muscle gain also requires adequate quality nutrients and protein to support growth.
However, injecting T above baseline levels heightens muscle hypertrophy due to protein accumulation as well as the formation of new larger muscle fibers. This, of course, depends on dose and cycle. There is now evidence that higher levels of T can stimulate muscle stem cell proliferation, and enhance the formation of new muscle cells. It does this from producing new fibers as well as fusion with existing fibers over the long-term in both young and older men (9).
More specifically, T stimulates muscle stem cell proliferation and fusion of stem cells into the pre-existing muscle fibers due to an increased need for protein synthesis. This process is a result of interactions between T and myostatin, (10) which is a protein that acts on muscle to control growth and maturation. It is also likely that T alters other cell types residing in the muscles that positively affect blood supply and regenerative potential of the supporting muscle matrix framework.
The Good News
Remarkably, this adaptability of the genetic influence towards lean muscle growth in response to T is considered permanent and is continued even after cessation of exercise.
Skeletal muscle is programmable and undergoes epigenetic changes to DNA in response to T allowing it to adapt to with additive muscle growth and maintaining improved muscle performance and metabolic function.
Something to think about the next time you hit the gym hard!
About The Author
Dr Sharon Ricardo is a Professor at Monash University, Australia, and is an internationally recognized expert on stem cells and organ regeneration. She is a previous bodybuilding competitor and exercise enthusiast with 20 years’ experience in the field.Follow Sharon on Instagram.
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Serra C, Tangherlini F, Rudy S, Lee D, Toraldo G, Sandor NL, et al. Testosterone improves the regeneration of old and young mouse skeletal muscle. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2013;68(1):17-26.
Dalbo VJ, Roberts MD, Mobley CB, Ballmann C, Kephart WC, Fox CD, et al. Testosterone and trenbolone enanthate increase mature myostatin protein expression despite increasing skeletal muscle hypertrophy and satellite cell number in rodent muscle. Andrologia. 2017;49(3).
If you want to succeed at Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) events like Tough Mudder and Spartan Races, you need to begin with a solid plan that includes getting strong first. Then, you need excellent execution.
Don’t just throw mud at the wall (literally!) to see what sticks.
Among the more or less random ideas people often try:
Picking up the heaviest thing they can find on a run
Wearing a weight vest for every activity
Going rock climbing and playground training
Doing CrossFit and weight training
Getting out to run on trails and hills
Races, Races, Races
But there are better paths to take if you want to discover…
Take my friend Brad. He’s caught the OCR bug big time and has become a bit of a junkie. Our conversations usually go something like this.
“What do you have going on? What’s new?”
“I have a Spartan Beast next week, a Terrain Race in two weeks, and near the end of the month, I am doing a Toughest Mudder. Then next month I have two in the first few weeks.”
“Wow, man. That seem’s like a lot. How are you holding up?”
“Well, My ankles are pretty much swollen all week, and I have some lower back pain when I start to run. So, I keep it low key until the weekend. But I freakin’ love it!”
“So, what are you doing to train for these races?”
“You know, I run a bit, I’ll throw on a weight vest and hike, and I try to get to CrossFit once or twice a week.”
“Got ya! So, what’s the deal with the races? What do you want to get out of them?”
“I think I can be competitive! I want to qualify for Worlds.”
While Brad is pretty advanced, and his dedication is commendable, he’s still making the same mistakes as newbies:
No base work
Racing too often
Brad just wants to race and doesn’t quite understand how to help himself improve as an OCR athlete. His training is intense but lacks direction.
Don’t be like Brad. Train smarter to get better results. This post will explain how. For an even more detailed plan download myFREE step-by-step guide.
Stop Trying To Do Everything at Once
Many OCR athletes try to do everything at the same time and end up accomplishing very little. They want to get better at carries while getting better at running, while also getting better at their obstacle skills.
But they only have an hour at a time to train a few times a week. So they try to throw everything into the mix every training day. The logic seems to be “if I can simulate the race during training, I’ll improve for race day.”
It’s a seductive line of thought. But it’s mistaken.
You first need the baseline fitness required for each task. Only then can you work on improvements. For example, to become a faster runner, you need to practice running fast. Running with a weight vest or with a log will literally weigh you down. You will not be able to run as fast as you need to in order to create a response for your body to adapt.
The same goes for your carries. If you want to get better at a bucket or log carry, you need to create an overload to become stronger. The bucket or log itself is not heavy enough for your body to need to build muscle.
Still puzzled? Think of another sport. Let’s take basketball. If you wanted to get better at shooting free throws, you wouldn’t only practice shooting three-pointers. Doing so may help you become a better shooter, but it won’t help you get to your ultimate goal of being a better shooter from the line.
The same principle applies for OCR training. Carrying a sandbag up a hill may help you in the short term, but there are bigger gains you can make to your fitness with a smart running and strength plan.
Which leads us to what I call….
The OCR Training Pyramid
To fully maximize your ability to become a better athlete you must improve following areas. Begin at the bottom of the pyramid and work your way up.
Why Fitness Capacity Matters
Your fitness capacity is how fit you are, relative to your past self and the competition. The best athletes in OCR are the best runners and those who have the highest work rate.
Contrary to what many people think, being the strongest or fastest person at the starting line are not the most important factors for success. What you need, is to be able to work at a high rate for a long duration.
After all, even a short OCR course will take 45-60 minutes to complete.
The best and easiest way to improve your work capacity is to become a better runner. You spend most of the time in between the obstacles. This time is what separates the competitive field from the rest.
How to Improve Your Running
It’s all about planning and progression.
To become a better runner, you need to have a plan to improve. Many athletes run with a group or running friends. They just put on their shoes and head out the door without any real idea of how the workout at hand will help them in the short and long-term.
Create a plan for your improvement and have set benchmarks to check-in on your fitness. These check-ins will then act as a catalyst to change your training stimulus. Work in 3-4 week phases before you check in.
This is where a good coach can be helpful. See more information on my website.
Training Phase Example
Weeks 1-4: Base – easy miles, progression runs, building volume, learning pace.
Weeks: 9-12 – Race Planning – race-specific workouts, running on race terrain, simulating race factors, creating a race plan.
The progression of each of these phases is what creates the long-term fitness growth you’re trying to achieve.
I know it is more fun to swing on monkey bars, and your social media post look better when you are carrying a log, but to improve your running fitness you have to run. Sorry for the tough love, but not really. You need to know the truth and start putting in the work.
Base Strength and Power Production
For every obstacle that your encounter during a race there is a requisite amount of strength, mobility, and coordination that is needed to complete the obstacle.
But many OCR athletes try to run before they can crawl. They spend a lot of time trying to improve their ability to complete the obstacle. Instead, they should be building the pieces that make it easier for them to improve.
For example, if you consistently fail the rig or monkey bars, it’s likely that you don’t have the upper body or grip strength to make it happen. Instead of spending your time attempting and failing the rig, you should devise a plan to improve the required grip and upper body strength. This is another place where coaching can be helpful.
You need to build a foundation before you start to build the house. In this case, the house is completing the obstacles, and your foundation needs to be your strength.
The answer is not in a new technique or a pair of gloves that you bought on spartan.com.
It is getting your butt to the gym and getting the work done.
Building Your OCR Obstacle Foundation
Success comes down to four things:
How many times have you been literally left hanging at an obstacle because your grip is toast? Poor grip strength can leave you vulnerable during the race and will cost you a TON of time. Add these exercises to your workout routine independently from obstacle specific training.
Key Exercises: Dead Hang, Hand Switch, Towel Hang, Dumbbell Curls, Plate Pinch, Farmers Carry, Bouldering/Rock Climbing
Progress the exercises by adding time and reps each week. This will help your body build and adapt and will show you the progress that you’re achieving.
Grip Workout Example:
4 x Max Dead Hang – 30 sec rest
6 x 10 sec plate pinch
2 x 40 second Farmers Carry (heavy)
Pulling and Back
In every race, there is a time where you are asked to either pull yourself up and over something, or to pull an object from one point to another. Building strength in your back and lats will help you clear a wall, dominate a hoist, and complete a rig.
Key exercises: Pull-Ups, Ring Rows, Pull Up/Ring Row Hold, Rear Delt Flys, Face Pull, Band Pull Apart
Take three to four of these exercises and place them in your routine two times a week.
Pull Workout Example:
Band Pull Apart
3x Max Pull up/Ring Row Hold
Hip hinge exercises are typically your movements like the deadlift and squat. These movements will help you build the most strength and muscle of all exercises. These drills will help you with carries, heavy lifts, and power hiking/hill running
Key Exercises: Deadlift, Squats, Bent Rows, Sandbag Carry, Tire Flip
You get a great bang for your buck during these exercises, but they need to be done HEAVY!
Do one or two of these exercises twice a week. Some examples follow:
Bent Row 5×5
Back Squat 6×3
Sand Bag Carry 2 x 40 sec – HEAVY
Your mobility is more important than you may realize during an OCR event. The best athletes can attack the obstacles without restraint. If you have tight hips or knees, and struggle to bend down and stand up, you will lose time. Working on your mobility only takes about 10 minutes a day and can be the missing piece to your training.
Pigeon Pose / 90/90 Stretch
You will be floored after you work on your mobility, as you’ll feel better in your day-to-day and eager to attack mud and crawling obstacles pain-free.
Now that you have spent time building your strength base you are ready to take on the obstacles.
How To Create A Strategy
One of the most fun pieces of OCR is that there is no single correct way to do the obstacles. You are good to go as long as you get through them. You need to figure out what strategy will get you through the obstacles penalty free.
Play to your strengths. If your single arm hanging strength needs improvement, don’t use a Tarzan swing on the monkey bars. Grab each rung with both hands before moving to the next.
Simulate the race conditions. It is easy and fun to go through an obstacle when you are fresh and breathing easy. However, the point of training is to make race day easier.
You need to be able to simulate what the obstacle will feel like on race day. Chances are when you come up to obstacles that you will not be breathing easy with dry hands. So, create this scenario in training.
3 rounds of:
Monkey Bars or Hand Switches
30 seconds rest
The options are limitless when it comes simulating the conditions or race. Be creative and use what you have. You can run and go directly to an obstacle, or do your obstacles back-to-back.
Now that you have a strategy to beat the obstacles you can then work on your speed to get through them as quickly as possible. There is nothing more frustrating than when you run someone down, and you lose a ton of time on them after an obstacle. You improve your speed in obstacles is how you improve your running speed. Do them fast!
Short Burst of Exercises
Do workouts that are brief but aggressive. Go through a rig or a carry as quickly as possible for a short duration. Sprint up a hill with a log, bear crawl 100 meters all out. Build on your progress by adding time or speed. Take sufficient time to rest between each set so that you feel fresh and ready to hit another set with speed.
Make an obstacle benchmark so that you can test your fitness and push yourself against a standard that you have set. Check-in with your obstacles fitness and speed.
Benchmark Workout Example 3 Rounds for time of: * 400-meter run * Monkey Bars *200m Carry
Now that you have practiced all the pieces that will make you an effective OCR athlete you can dial in your race-day tactics. These are the things that will ensure you have a good race, but will not make up for lack of preparation. Your race tactics include things like the best route to take or hacks that will help your carries and climbs.
A good example of a tactic would be when you grab the bucket carry, and you use a wristband to lock your hands around the bucket. This strategy will help you engage in the appropriate muscles to make the carry easier, but you must first have the requisite muscle strength to get there.
Race nutrition can also fall under tactics. All too often I hear people complain about cramping and trying to find a solution. The solution is in training, not the amount of electrolytes that you drink during or before the race.
Tactics are meant to help you squeeze every bit of performance out of your machine built OCR, ass-kicking body, not to skip steps along the way.
Winning Your Obstacle Course Race (OCR)
The hardest part about training is sticking to a training plan. The best way to put your performance together is by making a program and working hard. Many OCR athlete have a terrible case of training ADD.
Rich Ryan is a running and Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) coach based in Pennsylvania. He believes in hard work and helping people PR their next race by getting strong first. Do you want to win your next race? Pick up your FREE OCR Domination Guide here.
The headline trickled across my newsfeed: High-Protein Diet Raises Cancer Risk As Much As Smoking.
Bang! That’s my jaw hitting the floor. Are you shitting me? Are you actually serious with this clickbait headline?
Now, I get it. Nutrition is complicated. It’s no secret there are a million diets out there. But demonizing one macronutrient as a carcinogen on par with smoking is insane.
So now I’m riled up, heavily caffeinated, and ready to settle the score on protein once and for all.
Is protein an essential piece of a muscle-building, fat-burning diet?
Or, is it a demonic nutrient guaranteed to destroy your kidneys faster than a Conor McGregor punch?
Among the issues:
– How much protein you need to build muscle
– Whether you’ll lose fat faster by eating more protein
– Do you need to guzzle a shake right after training, or is that broscience?
If you’re confused about protein, you’re not alone. Which brings us to…
Ted’s Protein Story And Why It Matters
Ted is a busy guy who just wants to retake control of his health and look good naked. Three weeks into the training and nutrition plan I put together for him, everything was runnin’ smooth.
Ted dropped a few pounds of fat and texted: “I’m getting rid of this Dad-bod.”
Hell, yeah. He was stoked.
Two days later I opened my inbox to a handful of frantic messages.
“Eric, I’m concerned about my diet. After a friend noticed the results I was getting, he started talking about my diet. I told him we increased my protein intake and he said protein gives you cancer. Is this true?”
Scary headlines and everyone suddenly becoming an infographic-generating nutrition expert on Instagram contribute to the confusion. Eating healthily and transforming your body is more complicated than ever.
But you can’t live life in a double-blind study with scientists nit-picking your diet. I’m going to draw on the latest science and my experience as a coach to hundreds of clients to offer the best possible advice.
What Is Protein?
Stick with me, this is some dry #sciencestuff. Still, it’s essential if you’d like to free yourself from the bullshit-spewing clowns who make nutrition so damn confusing.
Proteins are long chains of amino acids. These structures are the building blocks of nearly every structure in your body, from your nails and hair to your cells, veins, and of course, your biceps.
There are complete proteins, those which have all 20 amino acids, like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, quinoa, and soy.
There are incomplete proteins which are missing a handful of amino acids. This is problematic as there are nine essential amino acids that are not processed by your body. If you don’t get them, you’ll have problems with tissue repair and (gulp) muscle loss. Still, you can create complete proteins by combining incomplete protein with certain plant foods combinations like beans and rice.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients (fat and carbs are the others) which make up the calorie-containing foods we eat.
And what happens when your diet is devoid of protein, as in cases of malnutrition?
Your body will break down muscle tissue into amino acids to support basic bodily functions to keep you alive.
To paraphrase my friends at Precision Nutrition:
All your enzymes and cell transporters… all your blood transporters…. all your cells’ scaffolding and structures…. 100 percent of your hair and fingernails… much of your muscle, bone, and internal organs… and many hormones…
… are made of mostly protein. Protein enables most bodily functions.
Put simply, you are basically a pile of protein.
How Much Protein You Need to Survive
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein intake is 46 grams daily for women and 56 grams for men.
But here’s the catch.
RDA’s are created to prevent malnutrition so your body doesn’t break itself down…not improve your performance, help you build muscle, and be a strong, jacked, badasses. I’d wager you’re hoping to thrive, not merely survive, right? Read on.
How Much Protein You Need to Build Muscle
If your primary concern is building muscle, losing fat, and looking great then “preventing malnutrition” is far from ideal. It’s clear you need more protein than the commonly prescribed RDA’s if you want to optimize body composition.
But it’s less clear how much protein you actually need.
The most common recommendation is to aim for 1g of protein for 1 lb of bodyweight every day. Thus, a 180 lb male should have roughly 180g of protein to maximize body composition.
And for most, this is a fine recommendation because it’s simple, straight-forward, and easy to calculate without a calculus degree.
But is this more than you need?
More and more the answer appears to be yes.
This study by Hoffman et al. (2006) found no differences in body composition, strength or resting hormonal concentrations in strength athletes consuming either 0.77g/lb or >0.91g/lb over a 3 month period.
It appears .82/g/lb of bodyweight is the upper limit of protein needed to derive maximum protein synthesis, according to this 2011 study by Phillips and Van Loon.
So, why the recommendation of 1g/lb/ of bodyweight?
First, it’s easier to remember. And if you’re going to overeat one macro it’s better to overeat protein than carbs or fat.
Second, research can be a finicky little bitch. Protein peddlers who benefit greatly from the sales of protein pixie dust (kudos to Bryan Krahn for the term) fund private research companies who unsurprisingly conclude “more is better” when it comes to protein consumption. Protein candy bars pack with fat and sugar? Sure! It’s good for you. Because protein.
So, what’s the difference between 1g and .82g?
Using a 180lb jacked bro as an example, 180x.82= 147 g of protein per day. Most protein scoops are 25-30 g per serving. And 147+30? 177g, or damn near 1g of protein per 1/b of bodyweight. Not to play conspiracy theorist, but the slight difference makes you wonder.
Consuming .82 g of protein per 1 lb of bodyweight is probably enough.
But if 1g of protein per 1 lb of bodyweight is working for you, it’s fine to stick with it.
If fat loss is your primary goal, getting more protein than the average person has three huge benefits:
It prevents muscle wasting. Muscle is the most metabolically active tissue. If you’re in a calorie deficit while combining low protein your metabolism can plummet, stopping weight loss in its tracks. Combining a high-protein diet with resistance training is the perfect recipe to stave off muscle loss during a diet. Plus, when you retain muscle while carving away fat you’ll finally show off muscle definition, your #shredz, or (gulp) “tone.”
Protein keeps you full. When calories are low and you want to prevent yourself from giving in and crushing three containers of Ben and Jerry’s, protein is your best friend.
Protein burns more calories during the digestion process, as much as 30% more than carbs or fats. If you’ve ever had the meat sweats, this is why: the thermic effect of food. This means if you have 100 calories of fat (25g of protein, like 1 scoop), then your body will burn 30 calories of this amount by breaking protein into usable amino acids.
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In other words, protein retains the muscle you have, keeping your metabolism from dropping and helping you look better once you’re leaner.
Protein keeps you full, helping you stay with your diet. To sweeten the pot, the meat sweats from crushing a lot of protein results in a net consumption of roughly 70% of calories due to the thermic effect of protein breakdown.
So, what does the science say about losing weight and protein?
Longland et al ran a study in 2016 comparing diets of 2.4 g protein/kg of body weight (1g/lb) to a diet containing 1.2 g protein/kg of body weight (.54g/lb).
Those smart dudes in lab coats concluded high protein diets, when combined with resistance training, lead to an increase in lean muscle mass and a decrease in fat mass. In other words, lifting and eating more protein helps you lose fat and build muscle.
Again, calories are king.
I’ve found the greater the caloric deficit (the tougher the diet), the greater the need for more protein.
Eating a high protein diet is generally more satiating, meaning you’ll feel full and satisfied during a fat loss diet. If eating a higher protein diet means you’ll eat fewer refined sugars or calorie-dense fats. You’ll stay in a caloric deficit, then it’s a great idea to eat more protein.
Now, About Those Scary “Protein is Bad For You” Headlines
Here’s where things get interesting. We’ve all seen the scary headlines lie, “bacon is worse for you than smoking” or steak gives you cancer.
Terrifying headlines. That’s why they gained traction.
But are they full of shit?
I’ll let you decide, but I’ll lead with this 2016 study by Phillips et al which concluded:
“Substantial evidence supports the increased consumption of high-quality protein to achieve optimal health outcomes.
A growing body of research indicates that protein intakes well above the current Recommended Dietary Allowance help to promote healthy aging, appetite regulation, weight management, and goals aligned with athletic performance. Higher protein intakes may help prevent age-related sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass, and strength that predisposes older adults to frailty, disability, and loss of autonomy.
Despite persistent beliefs to the contrary, we can find no evidence-based link between higher protein diets and renal disease or adverse bone health. “
If you want to optimize health and look better naked, eat more protein than the meager RDA’s given.
But really, does protein give you cancer?
This idea arose from the work of Dr. T Colin Campbell, author of the China study and research including work by Cell Metabolismindicating a high protein diet in midlife (50 to 65) is linked to premature death.
So, in the best interest of sensationalism and gathering pageviews, bacon=cancer.
They noted higher protein amounts midlife increased cancer risk 4x, yet was completely erased by consuming plant protein instead. But is this the case?
Again, there are multiple variables at play. You can check out the study for yourself, dig into this excerpt from Examine.com’s analysis of the study (read it here):
The study found:
….“A positive correlation between moderate and high protein intakes and diabetes-related mortality, relative to the lowest intake. This persisted, albeit to a lesser degree, when looking at people over the age of 65.
No relation between higher protein intake with all-cause mortality, cancer-related mortality, or cardiovascular mortality overall. A small increase in risk was seen when looking only at people between the ages of 50-65. This risk was reversed for people above the age of 65, where dietary protein had a protective effect against all forms of mortality (excluding diabetes-related).”
What’s the link researchers are attempting to make?
Stick with me on this one. I’ll make sense of all the jargon.
Protein increases the growth hormone 1GF-1, which increases the growth of all cells…from the ones in your biceps to the cancerous ones roaming all of our bodies. So the belief is more IGF-1 equals more cancer.
But here’s the catch: lower levels of IGF-1, which occur with aging, are one of the reasons people lose muscle and become frail.
It’s been well noted that a loss of muscle mass and frailty lead to a loss of independence, an increase in falls and, as you guessed, earlier death.
While completely eliminating protein may reduce cancer risk and extend life, but it sure doesn’t appear to improve the quality of life.
My Take By reducing your intake of animal protein you may limit your chance of certain cancers. But it’s likely you’ll also lose functional capacity, via muscle loss, which in and of itself limits the quality and duration of life. There seems to be a tradeoff of cancer prevention and quality of life.
At the end of the day, over consuming anything leads to imbalances in the body. And in this case, eliminating animal protein for the love of IGF-1 can lead to other dietary imbalances equally likely to cause ill health and yes…death.
What About Organ Damage?
There’s a belief too much protein is bad for your kidneys. This stems from research in 1983 when researchers found protein intake increased glomerular filtration rate (GFR), or the amount of blood your kidneys have filtered per minute. Thus, greater GFR means more stress on your kidneys and voila, harm.
Still, an increase in GFR doesn’t necessarily mean your kidneys are being harmed, especially if you’re healthy. Per this study and the previously mentioned study Phillips et al study in 2016, it was found that a high protein diet doesn’t impact kidney function in individuals with healthy kidneys. In fact, the Institute of Medicine concluded, “the protein content of the diet is not responsible for the progressive decline in kidney function with age” (Phillips et al., 2016).
So, what’s the word, big bird?
If you have any organ damage, kidney or otherwise, then talk with your doctor and a nutritionist about the best course of action. I consulted with my obesity doctor main man Spencer Nadolsky for you. He was kind enough to provide this graphic:
A post shared by Spencer Nadolsky (@drnadolsky) on
Claims of organ damage from protein appear overblown. If you have concerns or a pre-existing condition, you should consult with a doctor and a nutritionist. I am neither, but don’t see an issue for healthy people. If you’re healthy, stick to the recommended .82g/lb or 1/g/lb of protein per your body weight and you’ll be fine.
What About Protein Supplements?
Pre- versus post-exercise protein intake has similar effects on how much muscle and strength you’ll gain.
In this study by Brad Schoenfeld et al analyzed pre- versus post-exercise protein intake and concluded:
“These findings refute the contention of a narrow post-exercise anabolic window to maximize the muscular response and instead lends support to the theory that the interval for protein intake may be as wide as several hours or perhaps more after a training bout depending on when the pre-workout meal was consumed.”
In other words, protein timing doesn’t matter nearly as much as the total amount consumed. There’s no need to sprint shaker-in-hand to fill up your shaker bottle. Protein timing doesn’t make a huge difference.
And do you actually need fancy protein supplements?
This study looked at whether protein supplementation leads to more gains in size and strength.
In short, yes….but not if you have more than 1.6g/kg of protein. This is in line with the .82g/lb recommendation mentioned earlier.
Basically, if you’re not getting enough protein, then a shake will help you make faster gains in the gym.
But if you’re already getting .82g/lb/protein, then extra protein won’t lead to more gains in size and strength.
So NO. You don’t need a shake. Go eat a steak instead.
The Grand Finale on Protein
The fitness industry and mainstream media needlessly complicate two simple questions:
(1) Is protein healthy?
(2) if so, how much do you need?
The protein research is not clear-cut. There’s a study to support or cast doubt on most contentions. Anyone who writes about the topic (including me) risks accusations of selective citation.
But here’s the bottom line from where I stand as a coach who simply wants to help you live well and look good naked:
Fitness comes down to science — plus its real-world application within the lives of everyday people like you.
My take? Don’t consider protein in isolation. It’s one factor among many. You also need to consider diet, fitness, and lifestyle options to arrive at a rational decision that works for you.
Make sure you’re eating more veggies, sleeping well, and eating mostly whole foods to begin with. Mix in plant proteins like hemp protein occasionally with your steak and chicken.
And if you want to look good naked?
Then get your protein.
To build muscle aim for .82g/lb/body weight. More is fine if it helps you get the calories needed, but protein itself doesn’t mean more gains.
To lose fat, .82g/lb of bodyweight or 1g/lb is fine. Doing so will preserve lean muscle, help you control hunger, and burn a few more calories.
10 Simple Steps To Building A Lean, Muscular Physique.
How to gain strength and get lean in less than four hours per week
The real reason constant dieting doesn’t work…and how to reboot your metabolism
The best exercises to stimulate massive fat loss without losing strength and muscle
How to enjoy your favorite foods and still make progress in the gym
How exercise so it improves your life rather than consumes it
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Get Your Rocks Off With These Studies and Sources
Will a High-Protein Diet Harm Your Health? The real story on the risks/rewards of eating more protein. (2016, August 30). Retrieved August 24, 2017, from https://www.precisionnutrition.com/will-a-high-protein-diet-harm-your-health
Patel, E. K. (2014, March 06). High-Protein Diets Linked to Cancer: Should You Be Concerned? Retrieved August 24, 2017, from https://examine.com/nutrition/high-protein-diets-linked-to-cancer-should-you-be-concerned/
Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A., Wilborn, C., Urbina, S. L., Hayward, S. E., & Krieger, J. (2017). Pre- versus post-exercise protein intake has similar effects on muscular adaptations. PeerJ,5. doi:10.7717/peerj.2825
Schoenfeld, B., Aragon, A., & Krieger, J. W. (2013). The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition,10(1), 53. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-53
Tang JE, Moore DR, Kujbida GW, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. J App Physiol (Bethesda, Md: 1985). 2009;107:987–92.
Lemon PW. Beyond the zone: protein needs of active individuals. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000;19(5 Suppl):513S–21S.
Hartman JW, Tang JE, Wilkinson SB, Tarnopolsky MA, Lawrence RL, Fullerton AV, et al. Consumption of fat-free fluid milk after resistance exercise promotes greater lean mass accretion than does consumption of soy or carbohydrate in young, novice, male weightlifters. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86(2):373–81.
Campbell WW, Barton ML Jr, Cyr-Campbell D, Davey SL, Beard JL, Parise G, et al. Effects of an omnivorous diet compared with a lactoovovegetarian diet on resistance-training-induced changes in body composition and skeletal muscle in older men. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70:1032–9.
Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Kang J, Falvo MJ, Faigenbaum AD. Effect of protein intake on strength, body composition and endocrine changes in strength/power athletes. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2006;3:12–18. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-3-2-12. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
Phillips, S. M., Chevalier, S., & Leidy, H. J. (2016). Protein “requirements” beyond the RDA: Implications for optimizing health 1. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 41(999), 1-8.
Sports Sci. 2011;29 Suppl 1:S29-38 (2011). Retrieved August 9, 2017,Dietary protein for athletes: From requirements to optimum adaptation.
Int. J Sport Nutr Metab.,10(1), 28-38. (2000). Retrieved August 9, 2017, from Do regular high protein diets have potential health risks on kidney function in athletes?
Kim HH1, Kim YJ1, Lee SY2, Jeong DW3, Lee JG1, Yi YH1, Cho YH4, Choi EJ4, Kim HJ5, “Interactive effects of an isocaloric high-protein diet and resistance exercise on body composition, ghrelin, and metabolic and hormonal parameters in untrained young men: A randomized clinical trial.” J Diabetes Investig. 2014 Mar 23;5(2):242-7.
Poortmans, J., & Dellalieux, O. (2000). Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. Do regular high protein diets have potential health risks on kidney function in athletes,10(1), 28-38. Retrieved August 19, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10722779.
Rantanen, T., Masaki, K., He, W., Ross, G. W., Wilcox, B., & White, L. (2012). Midlife Muscle and Human Longevity up to age 100 years: a 44-year prospective study among a decedent cohort. American Aging Association,June(3), 563-570. doi:10.1007/s11357-011-9256-y
If you’re over 40, can you live up to the saying: “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better!”
Can you stay in shape despite going toe to toe with an insane schedule and the aging process?
Can you avoid the pain of achy joints and the disappointment of losing muscle strength?
Consider the story I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago about Craig, project manager at an oil company who trains at my gym. Craig gets to the gym at 6:00 am damn near daily, but there’s a problem.
He does the same exercises and uses the same weight every time. There is no rhyme and no reason. And he looks the same…day after day, week after week, even year after year.
He’s annoyed by his lack of progress. He’s using the same workout routine he used when he was 25. But now his joints constantly ache. He hasn’t gotten any stronger. He doesn’t have more energy. His arms haven’t grown bigger. And most of all, he’s pissed he can’t lose his gut, pointing to that annoying lower belly fat.
If you don’t push your body beyond what it’s currently doing, it won’t change.
Further, what worked early on in your fitness journey won’t always help you stay in shape and may actually set you back.
When I posted the story on Facebook, controversy erupted, along with some misinterpretation. (Oh, the joys of social media.) But amidst the trolling, a great question was asked.
How does “progress” change when you get older?
Whether you have decades of experience or are walking into the gym for the first time, here are specific ways you can train smart and make progress well past the age of 40.
P.S. Before You Head Here, I’ve Put together a Free Cheat-Sheet on How to Build Pain-Free Size and Strength.
Determine Your Goal
What is progress to you? Different goals require different plans of action and levels of determination. Consider the following.
You Want to Gain Muscle or Minimize the Loss of Lean Muscle
Maintaining lean muscle mass and strength is progress in and of itself. This study suggests untrained people will start losing strength and muscle at age 30. Yikes.
If you’re in your 30’s and not exercising, now is the time to start. You can delay the bad stuff. Those who already train, like my client Tim, can take their fitness step further stay jacked.
Here’s a picture of Tim and me training nearly six years ago. Today? Well, he still has bigger biceps than I do. Damn it.
The benefits of gaining lean muscle:
The more lean muscle you have, the more muscle glycogen your muscles will store. Besides keeping your muscles looking full, increasing glycogen storage in your muscles creates a “dietary buffer” that allows for more flexible food choices. Hello, steak and potatoes.
Lean muscle mass improves insulin sensitivity. This means you’ll break down the food you eat more efficiently to fuel muscle growth and provide energy and store less fat. You’ll also decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
It helps you look pretty fucking awesome. You don’t want to develop the dreaded grandpa butt, right? Muscle will keep you strong, athletic, and capable of handling yourself in the gym and out in the world.
Muscle is metabolically “expensive,” meaning it takes more energy to maintain lean muscle mass than fat mass. This supports a healthy metabolism and makes it easier to stay lean.
When you lose body fat, muscle provides the “tone” shape, and/or definition you crave. Dieting only takes you so far. You need a base of lean muscle to get the look you’re after.
What About Getting Stronger?
Getting strong is a great way to stave off muscle loss and improve everyday function and energy. Regardless of your age, the rules of progressive overload always apply. To build muscle and strength in the gym you’ll need to do more than your body is accustomed too.
But don’t limit your options to heavier weights or more reps. Maintaining your strength but improving range of motion, technique, or using a slower tempo is overload, after all.
Here’s why maintaining or even improving your strength is so important:
Strength makes everything else easier, meaning you’ll have more functional capacity to do everyday activities.
Strength increases muscle fiber recruitment. Building (or even maintaining) strength helps you maintain muscle fiber function, particularly type 2 muscle fibers. This helps you maintain athleticism. On the other side, type 2 muscle fibers, the fast twitch ones, can help prevent falls as you reach the twilight years.
Strength training can reduce bone loss (osteoporosis) and muscle loss, atrophy. In both cases, you’ll gain the strength and structure to perform regular activities with ease.
It’s clear lean muscle and strength play an important role in helping you maintain a high quality of life as you age. But here’s the deal: A 55-year-old lifter probably can’t do the same stuff as the 25-year-old hot shot at the gym.
How Does Making Progress Change?
If you’re new to training. You’ll be able to build lean muscle and strength by weight training 2-3x per week. You’ll make gains right away by improving your central nervous system (CNS) function as your body learns to activate more muscle fibers and improve coordination between muscles and movements. We call this neural adaptation. Further along down the road, eating a diet to support building lean muscle will help. Don’t expect to build tons of muscle if you’re older. But remember: even a slight increase or maintenance over time is extremely beneficial.
If you’re an experienced lifter. Yes, you can still make gains. But chances are your body won’t take kindly to chasing strength records as your only means of making progress. Look for other methods to create progressive overload.
Slow down your tempo. This creates more time under tension, which helps you build lean muscle and do more work with less total weight.
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Add pauses during your reps. This builds strength in common weak points and increases time under tension. Together, this can drive gains in strength and muscle.
Increase your range of motion. More range of motion will hit a greater number of muscle fibers. Make sure your form is tip-top.
Decrease rest periods to increase the cardiovascular and metabolic demand of your training. Always good to lose the spare tire, right?
Give timed sets a whirl. Your body doesn’t know reps or weight, it knows tension and time. Battle the clock, like performing a set of goblet squats for 45 seconds, instead of chasing rep or resistance based- records.
Putting It All Together
Lift weights two or three times per week to get stronger. Keep your focus on the bread and butter lifts of all good programs: Squats, hinges, rows, presses, lunges, and carries. Don’t be obsessed with setting a PR or stick to barbells as your only training tool. Use whatever tools allow for pain-free training, bump the reps up a little bit, and get after it. Done right, you’ll improve muscle fiber recruitment and stave off sarcopenia, the dreaded “
Done right, you’ll improve muscle fiber recruitment and stave off sarcopenia, the dreaded “age-related muscle loss” that drains your performance, physique, and strength.
Add movements like skipping, light rope-jumping, cariocas, and other athletic-based movements to improve your balance, coordination, and athleticism. Learning (or relearning) new skills is great for both mind and body.
Challenging your body keeps neural pathways fresh for better physical and cognitive function. As a bonus, many of my clients have said this is a fun change of pace.
Five Tips for Training Smarter
1. There are NO absolutes.
No, you don’t need to do a barbell back squat. Or a deadlift. Or (for the love of god) Bosu ball jump squats. In the gym, there are no absolutes. Don’t fall prey to the dogmatic folks who say, “you need to do this” or nothing works.
Here are a few common sense rules to keep you in the right direction.
(1) If something hurts, don’t do it.
(2) Move your body in multiple ways. Push, pull, squat, hinge, and carry stuff.
(3) Don’t fall in love with one tool. Use your bodyweight, dumbbells, kettlebells, or whatever you have around you. See what forces you to work hard without breaking you down.
2. Warm Up Every Day
Most people spend their days hunched over computers and phones. Over time, that takes its toll. The bad posture gets hardwired into your system and becomes the new “natural.”
Take time each day to move in new ways. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but stay active.
This is the exact warm-up my clients follow day in and day out.
3. Reduce Axial Loading
Axial loading, known as loading from the top-down in the lifting world, is done via exercises like back squats, cleans, and military presses. In small doses, axial loaded exercises are great. They’re the big compound movements. They improve bone density, total body strength, muscle mass, and are important for building a strong, athletic body.
But you must do them sparingly. The older you become, the less tolerant you’ll be too heavy and explosive exercises. Your spine won’t tolerate heavy compressive load from heavy weights or shear stress.
These exercises aren’t bad. They’re only problematic when they’re poorly planned, don’t allow enough recovery, and irritate chronic injuries like a twinge knee or achy back.
If you’re going to do squats, presses, and deadlifts, cool. They’re great exercises. But pay close attention to how your body recovers.
4. Make Heavy Days Lighter and Less Frequent
The biggest difference between now and ten years from now will be how often you’re able to lift heavy.
While heavy one-five rep sets are great for building strength, more experienced lifters will have a much harder time recovering from heavier weights. Instead of always blitzing the 1-5 rep range, bump strength work to 4-8 reps, control the eccentric (way down) and accelerate every rep on the way up.
If my clients want to push strength numbers in these lifts, We keep “heavy” sets in the 4-8 rep range rather than 1-5 rep sets. Further, we ramp up to heavy 5-8 rep maxes every 4-6 weeks, not weekly.
Feel free to lift heavy regardless of your age, but pay close attention to how your body tolerates the stress. Consider a deloading from axial loaded exercises like squats and deadlifts every 8-10 weeks to give your body a break.
Once you have a significant base of strength, you’ll preserve most of your strength and might even build more muscle in this rep range, all while preserving your joints for the long haul.
5. Find the Routine You Will Do, No Matter The Circumstances
Training four or five times per week with strength work, mobility, and conditioning is great. But sometimes it’s impossible to do everything when you have work obligations, kids, school, and dozens of commitments.
Instead of skipping the gym when life gets crazy, understand what you’re capable of doing consistently and schedule training like a non-negotiable meeting. If you skip make the gym, perform this short routine every morning when you get up.
Physique training for athletes? WTF? Is that a joke?
Training for physique and improving athletic performance are often seen as opposite goals. Which brings us to a common cliché: “opposites attract.” And like most clichés, this one contains a large measure of truth. But does it apply to training for physique (lookin’ better naked) and improving performance?
More importantly, can you harness the power of opposites to your benefit and have it all? That would include an athletic body and that looks like it’s a few weeks of dieting away from being on a magazine cover.
Want to Look better naked and perform like an athlete? I’ll show you how in our FREE course Seven Days to Superhuman. Click here to Join the FREE Course.
The Physique-Performance Dilemma
At one end of the spectrum lies physique. That would be physique-driven training aimed at maximizing lean muscle gains while staying more shredded than a julienne salad. (Yes, that was a Tropic Thunder reference.)
At the other end of the spectrum lies performance. That’s training focused on optimizing movement efficiency, strength, and speed to improve sports performance.
Can You Improve Performance AND Look Better Naked?
In a word, yes.
But it requires specific planning.
To be the best in anything, you need to eventually specialize in it.
This is why:
Tom Brady doesn’t strut onto the Olympia stage in a pair of nut-huggin’ briefs.
Rich Froning isn’t huckin’ touchdown passes all over the field.
Phil Health doesn’t crush cleans and kipping pull-ups at The Crossfit games.
World class performance requires a narrow focus and specialization.
But for you, me…and 99.9% of the people meandering around the gym? We’re pretty damn good, but we’re not world class. If you’re willing to make reasonable compromises in both physique and performance you can lose fat, build muscle, and improve your athleticism at once.
Sound too good to be true?
It’s not. You can drive performance gains while simultaneously building muscle and losing fat.
But it takes time. You’ll need an expert plan, patience, and consistency. Which brings us to…
What Happened At the Coffee Shop
The other day I grabbed a coffee (well, a red-eye with an extra shot of espresso) with a prospective client, Ryan, at a basic coffee shop near the gym. Ryan is a 29-year-old former college athlete sick of watching his gut grow bigger and clothes grow tighter (in a bad way.) His athleticism is vanishing and he isn’t happy with how he looks.
As we chatted, he made it crystal clear what he wanted: everything.
He didn’t want to train like an athlete anymore. His shoulder aches and his back twinges. Still, he wants to stay athletic, but he’s really more concerned how he looks and regaining the “I can accomplish anything confidence” he had in his early 20’s.
Translation: He wants to be confident and get laid more without looking like a scrub when he’s playing pick-up basketball. No harm in that!
Here’s my step-by-step process to creating the ultimate plan for Ryan. If you’re looking to boost athleticism and look a bit better naked, this sample template can serve as a guideline for your next training plan.
The Warm-Up (8-12 minutes total)
The typical gym-goer spends their day crunched up in a desk, car, or keeled over their phone. They’re left with chronically agitated body positions like locked-up hips, internally rotated shoulders, stiff backs, and dormant glutes that leave them with pain and quasi-modo-esque posture. Sexy. The best remedy is a specialized warm-up to attack stubborn tight spots, activate weak and dormant muscle groups, and wake your body up for intense training.
This is a three to five-minute spurt of general activity followed by five to seven minutes of dynamic activation drills. I’m not too specific here–get up, move, and warm your body up with a rower, jump-rope, or bike. Alternatively, bodyweight circuits work well.
Sample Bodyweight Circuit Push-Up Bodyweight Squat Inverted Row Reverse lunge 2×8 for all movements and minimal rest.
Activation and Mobilization Emphasize improving movement through the hips, trunk, and shoulders. Moving from simple to complex drills. Hold each position for one or two seconds at the end range of motion.
Do these drills daily, as mentioned in my Warm Up Every Day article. You’ll find thorough explanations of each exercise there.
I tend to keep all prehab/rehab based movements during the warm-up. If we need to dig into the nitty-gritty of improving T-spine or hip mobility, we’ll do it here then move on.
Workout Specific Warm-Up+ Power Development: 3-10 Minutes
Moving past the general warm-up, we look directly at the training goal for the day. Is it strength or power? Hypertrophy or fat loss?
I used to jump directly into a heavy lift after the warm-up, but I’ve found people have fewer injuries and better performance with a little more work.
Spending additional time grooving movement patterns is a great way to add pain-free volume for muscle growth. It also fires up your nervous system for better strength, power, and athleticism.
Lower Body Focus, Squat Example 1a. 45 degree back extension 3×10 Rest 0-30 seconds 1b. Pick one of the following: squat jump, box jump, medicine ball back toss. 3×5, rest 60-90 seconds
Why: This fires up your glutes, lower back, and prepares your posterior chain for all the gains. Explosive exercise to improve muscle fiber recruitment and athleticism.
Lower Body Hinge Pattern 1a. ½ kneeling Pallof press 3×8 rest 30 seconds 1b. Broad jump, box jump, or medicine ball back toss 3×3, rest 60-90 seconds
Why: Provide additional activation for deep stabilizers before heavy or explosive loading. Then, groove explosive movement pattern similar to the lift.
Upper Body 1a. Band dislocations 3×8 rest 0 seconds 1b. Band pull-apart 3×8 rest 0 seconds 1c. Clap push-up or medicine ball overhead slam 3×8 rest 60-90 seconds
Why: Here, we improve shoulder mobility activate the muscles responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint, then add an explosive exercise to improve muscle fiber recruitment.
In all cases, we’re focused on movement quality and the mind-muscle connection first. Then if it fits your goals an explosive movement to boost athleticism, prime the CNS, and increase muscle fiber recruitment.
Strength (15-30+ Minutes Depending on the Day)
At this point, you’ve attacked faulty movement patterns, addressed weak-points, and fired up your CNS to move some weight. It’s time for world domination (aka lifting heavy ass weight!)
Focus on one or two strength movement per session and use primarily total body, upper-lower, or push-pull-legs style training splits.
Here are my favorite strength movements:
Lower Body: Conventional deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, back squats, front squats (here’s a wicked progression), or cleans
Upper Body: Chin-up (rings or rotating handles), dips (rings or rotating handles), floor press, close grip bench press, low incline press, single arm press, single arm clean and press, seated military press.
Reps and Maxes: Confession time. I rarely have clients shoot for a true one rep max. The risk isn’t worth the reward most times and we’re better off building strength with near maximal strength work between three and six reps. Older, seasoned, and more beat up lifters stay in the five to eight rep range.
The trade-off for a new 1-2 rep max P.R. is rarely worth the injury risk and systemic fatigue. Translation: it’s not worth feeling like dog shit for 2-3 days after all your lifts unless you’re training purely for performance.
Micro Progressions and Variations: Within each lift, we hit a ton of variety and cycle lifts frequently. Besides keeping lifts *fun* for clients, the slight tweaks prevent overuse and redundant movement patterns that can cause injuries. Make slight changes to: Tempo (add a pause or longer eccentrics, like this neutral grip pull up)
Every change, no matter how small, results in a different exercise with different muscle recruitment and adaptation for your body. If a movement pattern feels stale, even a slight change can bust you out of a rut without completely changing a program.
Your body doesn’t know an exact lift. It purely understands time, tension, coordination, and calling muscle fibers to generate force. Don’t fall in love with a particular lift. Once you’re strong, add in slight changes to avoid clawing your eyes out from boredom and continue riding the gains train to a better body.
Hypertrophy Portion (15-30 minutes)
Think back to when you looked your best. You weren’t just leaner; you were also younger, more active, and probably had more muscle mass.
With that is mind, training to build muscle mass is the most important factor in radically changing body composition…ergo looking better naked. Hell, more literature comes out daily that maximizing muscle retention is vital to your long-term health.
Why Muscle Mass Matters
Having more muscle mass can… 1. Improve insulin sensitivity, helping you lose weight and control blood sugar more easily. Basically, you’ll use food for what you want (exercise recovery, muscle growth), rather than adding fat. 2. Increase metabolism: Burn more fat at rest. Game blouses. 3. Lead to more activity: Given your strength also improves, everything in life gets easier from climbing stairs to chasing your nephew. More muscle begets you to be more active. 4. Make you look hotter. In clothes. Or naked. 5. Build a “dietary” buffer. Ever scowl at those jacked Fit Pro’s posting pictures of doughnuts? Me, too. But having greater muscle mass allows more flexibility in your diet. Your “cheat days” will be less harmful.
In the hypertrophy portion of your workout, we’ll bump the reps up to 8-15+ reps per set, keeping rest periods from 15 seconds to 90 seconds. You’ll need to push the tempo, sweat, and bust your ass. But hey, nobody said it would be easy, right?
We’ll be attacking three main factors to help you build more muscle:
Mechanical Stress Mechanical tension is achieved by using a substantial load and performing exercises through a full range of motion for a certain amount of time. The time you spend under load creates mechanical tension in the muscles to drive the anabolic process.
Metabolic Stress Gettin’ a wicked pump isn’t just for stretching shirt-sleeves and feeling awesome, it plays an important role in hypertrophy. When you work out hard to achieve a pump, you build up lactate, hydrogen ions, creatinine, and other metabolites, but you also prevent blood from escaping. This metabolic stress plays a key role in signaling muscular growth.
Muscular Damage Soreness is part of the training game. The inflammatory process from muscular damage actually aids in muscle growth. But too much muscle damage can keep you out of the gym, restricting your #gains. Pick two or three exercises based on your training for the day. Aim for anywhere between 25 and 50 reps with a slower tempo and 8-15 reps per set. Then add one or two more exercises focused on ultra-high reps, 15-25 reps for one or two sets. Keep the rest short, stress high, and make gains.
Finishers/Conditioning The occasional 5-10 minute finisher or high-intensity conditioning bout can make you one tough cookie. You’ll build muscle, supercharge fat loss, and get the mental edge to dominate in and out of the gym. You can read more about finishers here.
Don’t crush yourself every time you hit the gym. Random challenges for the sake of being a training sadist and muscle “confusion” is a sure fire way to stay injured. But use periodic throwdowns and epic finishers as challenges to t0 see how tough you really are. They can help you conquer plateaus.
What you can do Going Forward
Ask what is missing from your current workout. Focus on giving your body the training it needs so you can look and perform the way you want.
This means hypertrophy routine would focus a little less on strength, power, and performance and more on volume and bodybuilding methods.
A performance focus would have a greater focus on strength and power, with less volume and fewer bodybuilding methods.
You can blend multiple levels of performance at any given time, but the attention you pay to each component should be specific to your goals at the point in time.
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McGill S. Low Back Disorders – Evidence-Based Prevention and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Human Kinetics; 2002
Yes, your long-term training principles should remain constant, but you need new methods.
As long as you’re adding weight to the bar, moving like an athlete, eating well, and sleeping enough then a new training split is what you need to build transform your body and get a strong, jacked, and athletic body.
That said, let’s review the best splits to help you build a stronger, shredded, and athletic body. I’ll explain the good and the bad of each, giving you the knowledge to pick your next training split so you can build the lean, athleticlook you’re after.
Either way, a new program is exciting—renewed motivation will have you attacking each workout and getting in the best shape of your life.
P.S. Want to get strong, jacked, and athletic? I’ll show you how in our FREE course Seven Days to Superhuman.
Upper-lower training splits are an excellent training split to help you build strength and muscle with four workouts per week.
Pros: Upper-Lower training splits are a great progression from total body training and work well if you want to gain muscle and strength.
Upper-Lower splits allow greater training frequency for quicker learning and mastering your lifts while still lifting heavy to build strength. Together, this helps you get better at your big lifts, train with enough volume to build muscle, and lift heavy enough to get strong.
Cons: Upper body workouts can take much longer than lower body workouts. Sure, this is great for your biceps, but if you crave consistency and have troubles working out when life get’s crazy, the inconsistency between workout times might drive you crazy.
Plus, if you’ve been following bodybuilding style body part splits (chest on Monday, back on Tuesday etc), then you might notice you’re not recovering as quickly. Of course, you can fix this by spending time with recovery methods like foam rolling, getting 7-8 hours per sleep, and when all else fails, eating more steak.
Here’s a sample outline:
Monday: Upper Body (Push Strength Emphasis)
Tuesday: Lower Body (Squat Pattern Strength Emphasis)
Wednesday: Off/active recovery
Thursday: Upper Body (Pull Strength Emphasis)
Friday: Lower Body (Hinge pattern strength Focus)
Total Body Training Split When you train your upper and lower body in the same workout, you’re doing a total body workout. Another way to think of it is rather than training each muscle individually, you’re training your body as an integrated machine.
Pros: If you only have three days to workout per week or have issues skipping workouts, then look no further. Since you’re training your entire body you’ll minimize the fluff. There’s no need for 13 variations of lateral raises when your training pressing, pulling, squatting, lunging, and deadlifting movements multiple times per week.
Since you’re training muscles as much as 2-3 times per week, you’ll trigger more frequent protein synthesis in your muscles being trained, potentially helping you build muscle faster.
And if you’re looking to drop a few pounds?
Total body workouts can cause a massive disruption to your body as it tries to catch up with multiple muscle groups working in a short period of time to help you lose fat.
Cons: One of the downsides of total body workouts is you may get bored, especially if you crave variety and the novelty of a well-timed biceps pump. Plus, if you’re looking to maximize muscular size, then the low volume of workouts will limit some of your gains. A key component of muscle growth is metabolic stress, so unless you add a high-rep finisher like biceps curls to failure, you won’t get as big as a house with total body training.
Moreover, stronger and more experienced lifters struggle recovering from three hard leg training workouts per week. You’ll need to vary how often you go heavy, possibly adopting an undulated periodization model.
Still, among all training splits total body workouts are your best bet if you tend to program hop, skip workouts, and get “too busy” to train….especially if you’re skipping leg day.
1.Power Clean 5×3
2.Bench Press 3×6
4a.Farmer Walks 3×30 seconds
4b. Dips 3x 30 seconds timed set
1.Push Press 5×3
3.Chin Up 3×8-12
4a.Plank 3×30 seconds
4b. Biceps Curl 3x 30 seconds timed set
P.S. Want a FREE Six Week Strength Building Workout?
If you’re like most people, you have a tendency to train what you see in the mirror while conveniently forgetting about the back side of your body.
As much as we all like to push it like Salt-N-Pepa, building a strong, athletic, and shredded body requires more balance.
Enter the push/pull training split, arguably the most balanced training split for total body strength, size, and athleticism.
On “pull” days, you’ll hammer the backside of your body, hitting muscles like your lats, traps, glutes, and hamstrings.
On push-days, you’ll hit the movements to train your chest, shoulders, triceps, quads, and abs.
You can work the entire front side of your body or the back side of your body all in one workout. Alternatively, you can break these days down further by breaking these workouts into upper body and lower body days each.
-Upper Body Push (chest, triceps, shoulders) -Upper Body Pull (Lats, biceps, rear delts, traps) -Lower Body Push (squats, leg extensions, lunges) -Lower Body Pull (deadlifts, good mornings, hip thrusts)
Pros: Push-Pull routines are a great option for experienced lifters as they’re both efficient and flexible. You’ll be able to train with enough volume to trigger muscle growth without living in the gym.
Cons: There are very few issues with these workouts. The biggest hiccup will come if you miss workouts and start skipping “pull” or “lower body” workouts. Push-pull workouts are okay, but not great for beginners in the gym.
Day One: Pull (legs/hamstrings, back, biceps, lower back)
Day Two: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps, legs/quads, abs)
Day Three: OFF
Day Four: Pull (legs/hamstrings, back, biceps, lower back)
Day Five: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps, legs/quads, abs)
Day Six: OFF
Day Seven: OFF
Intensive/Extensive Training Split
These are my favorite.
The intensive/extensive split bases training splits on the neural demands of a workout.
For example, a heavy/explosive day is often followed by a metabolic/higher volume bodybuilding style day.
This also corresponds with conditioning.
For example, a workout with squat jumps followed by heavy squats, and sprints workout is intensive, as it is very demanding on your nervous system and joints. If you pair too many neurally intensive workouts in a row, you’ll end up beat up, beaten down, and over training.
Hard pass, right?
Instead, it’s best to follow an intensive training split with an extensive workout. An example here would be doing an upper body workout focused on higher reps sets of 10-15 reps, shorter rest, and lighter weight. You lift as heavy, but you’ll create tons of metabolic stress to build muscle, lose fat, and improve your endurance.
Pros: Intensive/Extensive training splits are lifting strategy ideal for people looking to get stronger, more muscular, and more athletic at the same time. If you want to train like an athlete, it’s easy to add high technical sprint work on the intensive days. If you want to build muscle, you’ll train heavy enough to trigger increases in anabolic hormones and the tension needed to build muscle. Still, extensive days allow you to train light enough to get an incredible pump.
And for fat loss? They work here too. The variety of training stimulus isn’t too much to recover from, yet it’s enough to help you lose fat.
Cons: They’re difficult to program. If your primary goal is to look hot naked (hey, I can’t blame you), you’ll want to eliminate some of the intensive work and focus on some more higher rep work. If your goals are performance based, the opposite is true. If you train too many factors too close together, you risk the chance of becoming the “jack of all trades and the master of none,” wallowing in mediocrity and not really getting good at any one thing. Plus, intensive workouts are longer as you’ll need to pay more attention to your rest if you want to maximize performance.
This is focused on keeping you athletic, but a bit more on body composition so you look hot.
Monday: Olympic lift+ compound push exercises, Heavy and explosive. Light conditioning.
Tuesday: Pull Emphasis, high rep (8-15+) and hypertrophy focused. Hard conditioning.
Thursday: Olympic lift+ compound pull exercises. Heavy and explosive, light conditioning.
Friday: Pull Emphasis, high rep (8-15+) and hypertrophy focused.
Saturday/Sunday: Hard conditioning 1x, active recovery
So, which workout is best for you?
Your training must be specific to your goal.
If your goal is to look great naked above all else, then by all means trade in your power cleans for biceps curls.
On the flip side, if you need to build muscle from head to toe and get stronger, don’t start your workouts by curling in the squat rack.
How much time will you dedicate to training?
Regardless of how “busy” you are you still have 24 hours like the rest of us. I don’t say this to be a dick, but it’s true. You have the time to prioritize training if you want your dream body. Regardless, weigh how committed you are and pick a training split you know you’ll do consistently.
How experienced are you in the gym?
For most guys, they’re best off crushing total body or upper lower training splits to get strong, explosive and athletic. Still, make sure you’re varying training as you gain strength and experience to prevent plateaus and minimize joint stress.
Do you focus on recovery…or only training?
The body is an integrated system. Rather than looking at recovery based on how your muscles feel you must take into account everyday stress, the nervous system, sleep quality, and nutrition.
For example, for a few years I crushed training in a high-end performance facility. That meant tons of sprints, jumps, throws, coffee, and explosive demonstrations. All these short, high-intensity bouts added up quickly as my energy fluctuated. I had to dial back heavy lifting, sprints, and jumps. Now that I train fewer clients, write more, and demo less, I’m more recovered and can train harder more often.
Stress is systemic, everything counts and should be factored into your training.
Your Training Split to Build an Athletic Body
If your current training isn’t helping your build an athletic body, then you need to make a change.
Don’t fall into the trap of endlessly pursuing one goal at the expense of all others
That’s fine for elite athletes.
But for the rest of us, we’re after the total package.
You probably want to be…
Strong in the gym, yet athletic enough to kick ass on the weekends.
Strong, lean, and athletic.
Happy and confident with your shirt off.
There’s no better tool to bridge the gap between the body you want and the athleticism you deserve than my latest program The Power Primer, 2.0.
I’ve created a Full Eight Months worth of programming to get you Strong, Shredded, and Athletic.
This isn’t a program for athletes.
It’s for those of us that refuse to accept pathetic athleticism a the cost of building your best-looking body.
It’s time to bridge the gap between looking your best and performing like an athlete.
It’s time for the Power Primer. And it can be yours for less than $.17 (yes, 17 cents) per workout.
You want to be healthy, nimble, and strong so you have the ability to be thrown into any situation, whether it’s lifting, playing a sport, running up the stairs, or should the moment arise, self-defense and come out on-top.
Even more, you want to lose fat, build muscle, and look great naked.
Unfortunately, most programs fail miserably at helping you build a body that performs as well as it looks. Living under a barbell and only chasing maximum strength isn’t the answer. This will leave you unbalanced, beat-up, and sore.
Neither is trodding along the treadmill for hours each week.
So, what’s your solution?
Train like an athlete.
You’ll build the physical ability to handle whatever life throws at you and build a great looking body to boot.
1) Value Relative Strength As much as Absolute Strength
There are many factors to consider, but heavy strength training is a tool for improvement, not the end-all be-all in performance.
Does spending all of your time training towards building more strength outweigh the benefits of higher relative strength (being strong for your size), and corresponding improvements in agility, speed, power, and coordination?
Sorry to burst your bubble, but no. Not if you’re joints are getting beat up and your training is one dimensional.
This is not to belittle training heavy. It’s needed as a foundational piece for every person, but chasing personal strength records as your sole goal in the gym is a great way to beat the snot out of your joints and end up as a one trick pony.
Yes, build a base of maximum strength, everything else will improve. Then, strive for a more balanced approach and get strong for your size. Move beyond the barbell, incorporate body weight training, sprint, jump, and move like an athlete.
If you want a more athletic, and dare I say functional, type of strength prepare to get comfortable with unilateral work. Unilateral exercises, those done with one limb rather than two, are ideal for preventing injury causing imbalances and developing athletic unilateral power.
Let’s look at two great movements to make this happen:
The first is the skater squat or airborne lunge. This is a challenging movement that is fantastic for building single leg strength. Don’t be put off by this bodyweight exercise – most people have to progress from a Bulgarian split squat to develop single-leg strength and stability to prepare for the unsupported, skater squat.
The skater squat is like a pistol squat, but instead of the non-working leg being outstretched in front of you, the hip is flexed and you tap the knee of the non-working leg on the ground near your planted foot. Here’s one of Ben Bruno’s guys doing it:
In most cases, you’ll want a little weight to act as a counterbalance to aid in balance. To progress the skater squat slightly reduce the range of motion by tapping the knee to a yoga block rather than on the ground.
This increases the difficulty of the exercise by requiring additional eccentric control, an essential skill for preventing injuries. Gradually increase the range of motion until you’re going all the way to the ground.
This increases the difficulty of the exercise by requiring additional eccentric control, an essential skill for preventing injuries. Gradually increase the range of motion until you’re going all the way to the ground.
The second unilateral power exercise is the split stance one-armed push press, one of the most underrated exercises for athletic power development. Working with one arm negates the bilateral deficit and allows you to move a ton of weight for massive gains in strength and power. The push press requires other transfer of force from the power body until a full-body, coordinated movement.
When done from a split stance, the push press forces stability through the hip and trunk to get you strong and stable from head to toe.
Integrate these two staples into your strength and conditioning program and you’re going to be a force to be reckoned with on the field.
Hitting the weights hard and eating well is important, but improving athleticism requires coordination, not just brute strength. After all, you don’t want to be the guy tripping over his own feet dancing at his wedding, right?
Take heed of athletic greats like Muhammad Ali, Walter Payton, and Floyd Mayweather and make the jump rope a staple in your training. You’ll build great conditioning, shed fat and improve your athleticism while bringing up those anemic calves of yours.
Start slow and build your skill by using the jump rope for 100 skips in your warm-up. Soon, you’ll be skippin’ rope like Rocky Balboa.
4) Improve Functional Mobility and Reinforce with Strength and Stability
“If you have goals of becoming an elite athlete, functional mobility is a pivotal aspect of high performance.”
If your first thought in achieving Gumby-like mobility is with the addition of more stretching and foam rolling to your training program, think again.
Whether stretching and rolling works is still under academic debate but one thing holds true; neither of these modalities are going to streamline translatable mobility like the pristine execution of accentuated loaded eccentrics to your training schedule. In other words, get off the foam roller, and focus on using big barbell lifts with a slow tempo.
You have most likely already had a taste of the basics of accentuated loaded eccentrics in foundational barbell movements like the Romanian deadlift. With the operative word being “accentuated,” this type of training method is largely dependent on the execution of prescribed tempos and extended ranges of motion.
Increasing the time under tension during the eccentric phases of big compound movements while moving into the last 10% of available range of motion will strategically micro-tear facial layers and muscle tissue, while also retraining neural receptors to adapt to extended ranges of motion under load.
In other words, you’ll build strength, stability, and flexibility all in one.
Give it a shot, and remember this method can be used for nearly any movement pattern or muscle group. The key is in the execution– own your movement, challenge your body and reap the benefits of Olympian level mobility.
5) Incorporate Basic Movement Patterns Like Skipping
Want a humbling experience? Try skipping like you used to do as a kid.
It’s funny: I’ll say to someone, “we’re going to warm-up with some skipping drills,” and many will roll their eyes and chuckle as if to say “dude, really? Skipping?” Then I watch them skip and I’m the one who ends up laughing. Unfortunately, most folks have spent YEARS in front of a computer. Now, their idea of athleticism is taking the stairs over the elevator. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance you don’t move a lot or well anymore and as a result, have poor coordination and athleticism.
By integrating skipping into your warm-ups you’ll begin rebuilding sprinting mechanics and coordination without the risk of injury. Here’s a quick progression of an a-march into an a-skip.
Give it a shot.
It’s a nice way to “extend” your warm-up and introduce SOME form of athletic movement…especially if your workouts have been walking to the water cooler between sets of curls and bench presses.
I’ve made you a FREE Checklist including actionable tips on how to put these into your workouts.
When setting up any training program or workout, you need to place more neurologically demanding exercises early in each session.
How well you perform your exercises is exponentially more important than “how many reps” or how much weight you move. Thus, optimizing technique is essential to improve your performance and reduce your chance of injury.
Let me explain.
Exercises that are neurologically demanding like explosive lifts, sprints, jumps and heavy compound exercises place the most demand on your nervous system. If you don’t do them when you’re fresh, your technique will fail and you’ll be more likely to get injured.
This is why despite the many good qualities of a certain type of exercise ending in “fit” so many people end up injured. Blasting exercises like power cleans and snatches after red-lining your heart rate doesn’t allow your nervous system to recover and thus, your technique goes to shit.
To get strong, jacked, and athletic, follow this basic order of exercises. 1.Explosive, high-speed exercises. Jumps, sprints, Olympic lifts.
2. Heavy strength training moves. Exercises like squats or deadlifts where you’re focused on 1-5 reps fit here.
3. Moderate rep (5-12 rep) hypertrophy exercises.
4. Isolation and high rep muscle building exercises.
Follow this order and you’ll organize your workouts for optimal performance, build a bad-ass physique, and stay healthy to boot.
7) Build your Base of Strength to Improve Athleticism
For most gym-goers, a basic strength- training program will go a long way in improving athleticism. Keep the specialized exercise programs for more advanced athletes and hammer full-range-of-motion strength training.
Training with good form and in a progressive manner (adding weight to the bar consistently) will give you a bigger bang for your training buck than a lot of the fancier “sport specific” drills, especially until you have a foundation of strength.
Emphasize major lifts like deadlifts, squats, bench presses, and rows with sound technique. Get strong and develop your base of strength. This way, you’ll build the foundation to make gains and successfully use those fancy exercises down the road.
If you’re like most lifters, you stopped rapid, explosive movement years, if not decades ago.
Rather than solely lifting heavy, incorporate explosive movement and do something fast every day.Being jacked and strong is nice, but expressing strength fast and generating tons of power separates the contenders from the pretenders.
That means you should sprint, throw, punch, or jump regularly.
Moreover, rather than spending countless hours refining technique on Olympic lifts, it’s best to use exercises with an accelerated learning curve to train the same qualities: explosive power, nervous system activation, and activation of high threshold muscle fibers.
This bridges the gap between strength and speed, prompting your nervous system to function at full speed, improve your coordination, and improve the firing rates of your muscles on big lifts.
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A good starting place is three sets of five reps directly after your warm-up. In short time, you’ll improve neural activation, better recruit muscle fibers, and prepare your body to be stronger and more athletic in sport and in life.
As an amputee, I might be a little biased, but single-leg training with the aforementioned exercises will improve athleticism and minimize injury causing imbalances, especially if you’ve been spending all your time on conventional barbell exercises.
Train unilaterally: multi-planar split squats and lunges, single-leg stiff-legged deadlifts, single leg hurdle jumps, even single-leg hang cleans.
Most lifts take place solely in the sagittal plane, yet sports are chaotic and take place with frontal, sagittal, and transverse plane movements. In other words, most training doesn’t match what you do on the playing field or in life.
Life takes place in by moving 360 degrees, not in a squat rack. You need to get out and move in multiple directions with different movements to maximize the real-world carry over of your training.
While you must master basic exercise first, incorporating movements that require greater stabilization throughout the entire body will undoubtedly improve a variety of qualities that contribute to athleticism. There are the obvious ones like strength and power and then some less obvious ones, too, like mobility, stability, balance, and proprioception.
To improve athleticism get stronger, both in an absolute and relative sense. 90% of people will never have the issue of being too strong to excel in sports. As a result, improving strength and training with a variety of rep ranges sets your infrastructure for speed, stability, power, and of course, building an aesthetically pleasing physique.
It’s imperative to note that you don’t need to train at 90, 95% of your one-rep-max, save that for the powerlifters.
Instead, hammer the 3-5 rep range with 80% 1-RM in the “big lifts” like squats, deadlifts, presses, cleans, rows and pull-ups. This is a weight you can handle for 6-10 reps. This way, you’ll still build strength without getting beat up, sore, and exhausted.
Power is vector specific, meaning if you want to build rotational power for sports like tennis, baseball, beer-league softball, or golf, then you need to train rotation directly. The two exercises below are thoroughly explained in the videos regarding execution to help you build rotational strength and power.
Don’t let your ego come in the way – start light; master the movements and progress the weights and tempo as you go. Soon, you’ll be swinging and punching harder with specific rotational power.
Modern sedentary society has left many of us keeled out our smartphones and computers. The result? Worse posture than quasi-modo and chronic shoulder pain that robs you of gains in the gym and athleticism in everyday life.
Improving your thoracic mobility specifically through improving your breathing patterns and glute engagement.
Stay with me, as I know it sounds crazy, but the implications are pretty powerful. For breathing work, inhalation involves the expansion of the rib cage and extension of the thoracic spine, helping you pull in larger volumes of air during inhalation. As a result, this increases movement in thoracic mobility and stability for overhead movements like shoulder presses.
For the glutes, their glute contraction has a massive impact within a very short period of time to help increase thoracic drive. In a situation where the glutes aren’t being used, the pelvis can be held with a bit more anterior tilt, which causes a compensatory movement of the lumbar spine into more lordosis, extension, or most commonly, arching.
To balance this out, the thoracic spine winds up getting more kyphotic or flexed so as to keep your head vertical over your feet and keep you from falling over.
To fix this, squeeze your butt during overhead exercises. This pulls your pelvis into posterior tilt, which reduces the drive on the low back into extension and thus reduces the drive into the thoracic spine into flexion. It’s a simple tip to improve performance, improve shoulder mobility, and decrease back pain.
The combined aspect of breathing in more air, opening the lungs, and flexing the glutes, increases thoracic extension range of motion rapidly, which can help put you in a better position to overhead press while stabilizing the pelvis for less discomfort and pain in overhead movements.
With all the training sessions and high demands on game day, athletes have an extremely high-energy output. And if you train like one?
Well, you’re burning a lot of energy as well. But don’t use an increased energy output as a “get out of jail free card” to eat whatever you want.
If you’re a recreational athlete and scarf skittles like Marshawn Lynch, you’ll turn into a slob rather than a high-performance machine.
Even though most of us aren’t looking to be a stage ready bodybuilder anytime soon, improving body composition will also improve your athletic performance.
Seriously, body fat doesn’t produce force the way muscle does and will decrease relative strength by increasing bodyweight.
The better your body composition is and the higher the ratio of muscle you have to fat, the more force you’re cable of producing. This force, under the right training conditions, will enhance your athletic potential.
By periodizing your nutrition, being aware of your food intake and using specific supplements will help improve your body composition.
Instead of eating everything in sight thinking you’ll burn it all off during training or competition, focus on your body composition with proper nutrition.
Besides, who doesn’t want to be a badass on the pitch while looking jacked on the beach?
14) Incorporate the Medicine Ball Back Toss for Explosive Power
One of the best ways you can improve your athleticism, explosively jumping ability, is the backward medicine ball toss for height. I like the throw for height opposed to distance because it decreases the likelihood of over extending the low back in an attempt to get more power, which is a common fault for beginners and those new to the movement.
Most people who haven’t jumped in years let their arms flop around like wet noodles or tuck them tight to the side like pencil diving in a pool.
Don’t be that dude.
Not only is this disadvantageous for jumping but it’s an awkward thing to see. This movement gives the client a basic understanding of using an effective arm swing, gets the CNS jacked up for stronger lifts and more explosive power. Plus, it’s fun to throw stuff.
15) Start Sprinting to Improve Athleticism
Option One: Sprinting before lifting is ideal for improving performance because it fires up your nervous system to improve heavy and explosive training.
This comes with a risk versus reward trade-off as sprinting done before training must be enough to spark the nervous system, yet low enough in volume and intensity to not fatigue the body and hinder lifting ability. When fatigue is managed your strength performance, conditioning and athleticism will skyrocket.
After your dynamic warm-up (try this one), do some sub-maximal speed drills like skips and low-intensity sprints for 5-10 minutes.
Perform sprints two days per week. Start with 5 sprints of 10-20 yards with 30-60 seconds of recovery and add one sprint per week, maxing out at 10 sprints.
How to Improve your Athleticism: Wrap Up
Your body is an integrated system and should be trained as such. When in doubt, training to improve your athleticism gives you the ability to dominate life outside the gym while building your best looking body.
Your homework: Take a few minutes to review your training and ask, “Where can I improve my training?” With these expert tips, the ball is now in your court.
Take even one of these 15 tips, implement it, and start building your strongest, leanest, and most athletic body today.
Before diving into the front squat thank you for being here. This is one of our the most popular articles of all time. It’s a thick read, but we’ve taken the liberty to provide a full front squat progression cheat-sheet and a free front squat specialization workout. Grab them both here. Thanks and enjoy the article.
When you hear about the ultimate lift for an explosive lower body and huge squat numbers most are referring to back squats. It’s the most popular squat variation around and part of the big three in powerlifting. Word on the street is a big back squat is what helps James Bond stay at it after all these years. The Bond rumor may or may not be true but the fact is this: The back squat is arguably the best lift you can do to get stronger, more athletic, and look better naked.
But I like to argue. The front squat is the best lift you’re not doing and a better choice than the back squat.
The Front Squat is the Real King
For starters, front squats require hard work, which most gym goers avoided like the bubonic plague, opting to post every gym P.R. and dozens half-naked selfies on Facebook. This startling trend combined with lifters staying content with their classic leg presses and smith machine squats has led to anemic leg development, un-balanced physiques, and movement patterns ripe with dysfunction.
Few exercises match the high-performance benefits of the front squat, even the back squat. It’s time to leave your ego at the door, walk on the wild side, and attack your weak points. Give the back squat, leg press, and leg extension a rest; it’s time to front squat.
Why You Should Front Squat
Increase depth achieved and glute activation: Anterior placement of the barbell allows greater depth during front squats. Muscle activation of the gluteus maximus also increases with increased hip flexion (squat depth), and the subsequent concentric action of hip extension. [Caterisano et al]. This means potentially better booty gains.
Improve core strength: Anterior bar placement keeps the torso vertical, preventing the hips from going into an excessive anterior pelvic tilt, and requiring greater oblique and rectus abdominus involvement to prevent flexion. A stronger anterior core can prevent flexion based injuries to keep you training longer and harder.
Huge Quad Development: Deeper knee flexion from greater depth during the eccentric a more upright posture, and narrower stance all lead to greater knee extension during the concentric and thus huge quad development.
Decreased lumbar and knee stress: Anterior bar placement forces lifters to attain an upright posture, decreasing shear stress on the spine. Gullet et al found significantly lower compressive forces at the knee compared to back squats without compromising muscle activity in the quads or hamstrings. If you have a history of meniscal injuries and your knees sound like firecrackers front squats are a great option due to lighter loads being lifted compared to back squat. This means potentially more gains with less pain. This guide will help with knee pain as well ;).
Front Squats Increase your Power Clean: Whether you’re a competitive athlete, weekend warrior, or want to look better naked Olympic lifts are a valuable tool. Stronger hip extension, stronger anterior core, and a direct transfer to the “catch” phase of cleans illustrates why front squats aid in developing the power clean. There’s a reason front squats have been an Olympic lifting mainstay for decades—they work.
Increased Thoracic Extension and a Stronger Upper Back: Let’s be real here—Most dudes have the posture of Smeagol from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. In the interest of getting laid, appearing confident, or improving performance Smeagol posture is bad news. Front squats require scapula and clavicle elevation and upward rotation to keep the elbows up and the bar in proper position. This requires the traps, serratus anterior, levator scapulae, rhomboids, and lats to work in conjunction to hold position and prevent you from dumping the bar forward.
I’ve had dozens of clients improve posture, mobility, and strength of the thoracic extenders with front squats. Being able to maintain thoracic extension will aid your deadlift too, and I know you love you some deadlifts.
Total Body Mobility and Stability: Front squats require significant mobility and stability in the hips, knees, ankles, and shoulder—something everyone in today’s “sit-in the office, go home and play XBOX” society needs. Increased mobility requirements and maintaining position under load will pour concrete over the greater movement foundation.
Total Body Strength Gains: Regardless of your goal improved strength will increase your success. Building strong quads, a strong, resilient anterior core, glutes, and explosive hip extension will improve all other training qualities in the gym.
Increased Muscle Mass: Squats are widely considered the “king of hypertrophy”. They’re a vital piece in mass building due to hormonal adaptations from progressive overload and total body training stimulus. Anecdotal evidence from Olympic weightlifters, bodybuilders, and personal experience makes one thing perfectly clear—Front squats build massive quads and a thick upper back.
With all of these kick-ass benefits, it’s a no-brainer that front squats deserve your attention. (P.S. Don’t forget your free progression cheatsheet and front squat specialization workout. Get them here.)
How To Front Squat: Biomechanics
Front squats and back squats are quite similar: They require total body strength, stability, and power through hip and knee extension and flexion, dorsiflexion of the ankles, and a rigid core to resist flexion and folding like a napkin under the bar. Despite these similarities, there are significant differences; most notably, anterior bar position during the front squat.
This change in bar position alters the center of mass and places a greater emphasis on the quadriceps, upper back, and supporting muscles of the trunk. The spine stays more vertical, lengthens the lats, reduces shear stress on the spine and requires additional core involvement to keep you vertical.
This keeps the lower back tight by default—lumbar flexion and learning forward “dump” the bar before excessive flexion takes place. This built in safety mechanism teaches proper abdominal bracing, posture, and overcoming a significant load when first learning how to front squat.
“Are front Squats worse for my knees?”
Well, not necessarily.
Research in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning by Gullet et al compared the biomechanics of the front squat and the back squat.The front squat and back squat elicited very similar muscle activation despite the front squat weight being 70% of the back squat load.
The back squat had more compression on the spine and knees (due to larger loads in my estimation), with greater torque in the knees. So, overall muscle activation was the same with a lower load, less compressive joint stress to the knees and back, and less shear stress then front squats.
This backs up my experiences as an athlete and coach—you’re less likely to be injured during a front squat than a back squat. All things considered, achieving a comparable training effect with less external loading and joint stress is a good thing.
From an anatomical standpoint arguably every muscle plays a role in the front squat. But, due to the brevity of our attenion span, we’ll leave it at these: the quadriceps, gluteus maximus, adductor magnus, soleus, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, erector spinane, anterior/lateral deltoids, supraspinatus, rhomboids, upper/middle/lower traps, levator scapulae, serratus anterior, rectus abdominus, and obliques are all needed to stabilize the load and complete the lift.
Muscles are an integrated system that must work together to produce efficient movement, few exercises work as many of them together as front squats.Let’s find out how to front squat some damn weight!
How To Front Squat
Watching Youtube videos isn’t enough to learn how to Front Squat –you actually need to master the component pieces and get under the bar.
Grip: There are multiple ways to grip the front squat, but the “clean” grip is the best option. The clean grip involves wrapping your fingers around the bar and keeping the elbows up and in. This trains the catch position of the clean and provides maximum control barbell.
As few as two fingers wrapped around the bar is acceptable when the elbows are elevated. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for many lifters to get in proper position when learning how to front squat. In this case, regress the grip and work on flexibility.
Clean Grip with straps: This grip is similar to the clean grip but uses straps to hold onto the bar when there are mobility restrictions with the regular clean grip. This is a great grip to use while improving mobility and working towards the clean grip. Christian Thibaudeau shows you how below.
Bodybuilding Grip: The bodybuilding grip involves resting the bar on the top of the shoulders with hands over the bar and elbows kept high. This is great for beefcakes with the mobility of a fork, but it sucks for controlling the barbell and for athletes. Use this grip as a last resort when severe mobility or wrist limitations are present.
Set the Bar against the neck: There’s no denying it—getting the bar in proper position sucks. Racking a loaded barbell against your throat and performing squats gets you out of your comfort zone and builds toughness. (I heard front squats give you big cajones, or something). Once you select your grip, the barbell must stay against the base of the neck with the chin tilted up to keep the joints stacked and bar close to the torso. Failing to do so allows your elbows to drop, the bar to crash, and you peeling your tattered carcass off the floor.
Elbows Up and In: It’s Simple—Force the“elbows up” during the entire front squat and you’ll be in good shape. Failing to drive the elbows will result in a loss of spinal position, kyphotic posture, and dumping the bar forward during the squat.
Abs Braced and Breath: Front squats create a “lengthening” of the core when the elbows are elevated. Use the anterior core to create stability by bracing and staying neutral in the trunk rather than arching. Proper breathing and pulling air into your gut becomes increasingly important during front squats as the Valsalva maneuver increases intra-abdominal pressure to provide an internal belt of support to prevent injury and improve strength.
Breathe into your stomach and brace like you’re taking a punch from Mike Tyson after stealing his tiger. If that doesn’t work, here’s a great video on the abdominal braceby Chris Duffin. Gather as much air as possible before descending into the squat—you’ll need it.
Walkout: Grip the bar, drive the elbows high, brace the abs, and squat the bar out.
Left foot out.
Right foot out.
Re-settle, breath, and go. The front squat is a different animal than your typical squat; keep the feet closer to shoulder width with very slight toe flair.
Execution: After the walkout gather your air, sit back slightly, and break at the knees and hips simultaneously while driving the elbows high. Keep a vertical spine and descend to the deepest depth possible without compromising spinal integrity—more on butt wink later.
Hold your air as long as possible, drive the elbows up, and stand up until the hips are fully extended. Exhale and walk the bar all the way into the rack, push against the safety hooks and squat the weight down—no sloppy split-stance bar dumping allowed.
Front Squat Depth
The anterior load of the front squat and increase in anterior core activation allows for a deeper squat without compromising spinal position and risking injury. Unfortunately, butt wink still occurs. Sub-parallel squats aren’t for everyone, bony hip anatomy, anterior core weakness, and posterior chain weakness are frequent culprits that preventing an ass-too-grass squat.
Blasting heavy-ass squats with a curved lumbar spine is a recipe for acute injury and long-term dysfunction, regardless of what anyone says.
This should be avoided with mobility and stability being trained until further depth is achieved without compromising spinal position. Mobility and stability will improve with increased front squatting and time—stop slamming square pegs into round holes because bro-science says “ass-to-grass squats or you’re a sissy. ”
P.S. Bret Contreras does a great job of explaining Butt-wink here, I highly recommend you check it out.
How to Front Squat: Common Issues and Cues
1.) Elbows Drop: Failure to keep the elbows high is the result of mobility restrictions, being lazy as poo on a hot summer day, or weakness in your upper back.
It becomes exponentially more difficult to keep the elbows up after 5-6 heavy reps on front squats; keep reps lower and increase submaximal training for practice. Avoid excessively arching the low back into lumber hyperextension for elbow position; instead, build a stronger core and improved thoracic mobility with this drill from Eric Cressey.
2.) Chest Caves: This happens because the elbows dropped (see below) or improper set-up. Ensure the barbell is against the base of the neck and the elbows are kept high during the entire set to maintain posture and bar position.
3.) Falling Forward: The anterior load is pulling you forward, you need to get the hips back slightly at the initial descent (pop that booty) and keep the elbows high. Drive the heels into the ground during the concentric portion of the exercise.
4.) Falling Backward: You’re sitting back too far. Every exercise is a tool—use it the way it’s meant to be trained. In this case use a smaller hip hinge at the start of the squat and allow the quads and anterior core to do their job.
5.) Spread the floor to prevent Valgus collapse: Unless you’re a fan of grotesque knee injuries and months of rehab it’s best to avoid valgus collapse. Despite a few (slim few) elite power lifters having great success with the knees diving on a back squat this technique is best avoided. Slightly push the knees out during the descent of front squats to maintain stacked joints.
6.) Grip: If the bar is misaligned imbalances will be referred down the kinetic chain. The clean grip gives the most control over the bar, use it. Peel a few fingers away from the bar, (as few as two fingers suffice with the clean grip) to gain control and take stress off of the wrists. Work on tissue quality and length in the forearms, wrists, and lats to improve comfort with the clean grip.
7.) Weak Anterior Core: If you’re weak in the anterior core you’re going to have a host of problems; specifically, maintaining vertical spine under load. Practice front squats multiple times during the week and add in a heavy dose of abdominal rollouts, planks, pallof presses, and farmer walks.
Front Squats Build Muscle
Anecdotal evidence from bodybuilders and Olympic weightlifters shows us front squats are great for total body muscular development; specifically, massive quads and a thick upper back. Here are some additional muscle-building considerations:
Greater Hip flexion and depth require greater hip extension and gluteus maximus recruitment on the concentric portion of the exercise– both important for greater gluteus maximus activation. As a side note it would be interesting to see where the trade-off ends in muscle activation between increased squat depth (with a front squat), and increasing stance width and activation of the adductors and gluteus maximus in a wide, powerlifting squat. (Paoli et. Al)
Front Squats build big quads due to anterior bar placement and high amounts of knee flexion.
Keeping the elbows high forces the thoracic extenders to hold position, adding training volume to build your upper back.
The front squat was shown to be as effective as the back squat in terms of overall muscle recruitment, with significantly less compressive forces on the knee. [Gullet et al] This becomes increasingly important with increased training age.
Front squats should be done with a full range of motion, as they result in more thigh muscle growth with full reps than partial [McMahon et al].
Training the quadriceps at long muscle lengths (greater knee flexion) results in higher muscle activation than training at shorter muscle lengths, finish your reps.
Front Squats Build Massive Strength
Say what you want, but anyone who front squats big weights will be damn strong, both in terms of relative strength and absolute strength.
Here are some additional strength building considerations:
Front squats require less relative load for similar muscle activation of the quads, glutes, and hamstrings while decreasing stress on the spine and knees compared to back squats. This screams less risk, more reward.
Additional stress to the thoracic extenders is beneficial to all pulling movements: deadlifts, squats, rows, and pull-ups are all potentially improved.
Huge anterior core training stimulus will improve carryover to other compound lifts.
It’s a damn squat. If you squat heavy with good form and a well-designed plan you’ll get as strong as an ox.
Front Squats are Better for Athletes
Everything in the weight room is a tool; risk: reward analysis must be taken into account. I prefer front squats as my primary squatting method with athletes for the following reasons:
Front squats are beneficial for those competing in weight lifting events because they’re an essential component in the execution of the clean. [Fry et al]. Many of my clients clean so this improves multiple factors a once.
Anterior bar position means less shear stress on the spine and provides a more back-friendly alternative to back squats for older athletes, taller athletes, and lifters intolerant to shear stress.
Squats mimic the biomechanical demands of athletic movements like the powerful hip extension needed for sprinting, jumping, tackling, and skating. Moreover, maintaining the abs braced, neutral spine position under load is vital for athletes to be maximally efficient and avoid “dumping” during movement.
Front squats are a tool for potentiation and long-term improvements in acceleration and maximal sprint running. Performance is improved from performing squats (30%, 50%, and 70% 1 RM) as part of the athletes’ warm-up 4 minutes before sprint trials, leading to long-term benefits after sprint training by allowing the athlete’s neuromuscular system to perform at a higher level during each training session [Yetter et. Al]. Hell, even if you’re not an athlete it’s cool to be fast.
Greater anterior core activation due to anterior bar placement. Having too much core strength is as likely as a snowball not melting in hell.
Similar muscle activation is achieved with front squats as back squats with a lighter load, leading to less compressive and shear stress on the knees and spine. The spine handles compression well—lumbar vertebrae are huge. Unfortunately, shear stress with compression is a recipe for injury and cranky backs.
How to Front Squat: The Ultimate Progression
It’s not a good idea to load an exercise without establishing stability through an acceptable range of motion and ironing home good technique. To learn how to front squat you need a progression– here it is.
BW Squat: From standing position push the hips back and break at the knees, descending with the hips until parallel is reached with the arms extended at shoulder height with the chest up. Extend the hip and knee to stand back up. Rinse and Repeat.
Goblet Squat: Grip a kettlebell or dumbbell underneath one end and hold at chest height. Keeping the chest tall and abs braced descend by breaking at the hip and knee until the proper depth is achieved. Extend the hip and knee, returning to a full stand.
Goblet Squat W/Pause: Grip a kettlebell or dumbbell underneath one end and hold at chest height. While keeping the chest tall and abs braced descend by breaking at the hip and knee until proper depth is achieved, pause while staying tight, and extend the hip and knee, returning to a full stand.
2 KB Front Squat: Hold two kettlebells at chest height and stand tall with the abs braced. Keep the kettlebells “up” while breaking at the hips and knees simultaneously until proper depth is achieved. Extend the hip and knee, return to a full standing position
2 KB Front Squat w/Pause: Holding one kettlebell in each hand at chest height stand tall and brace the core. Keep the kettlebells “up” while breaking at the hips and knees simultaneously until the proper depth is achieved and pausing without losing tension. Extend the hip and knee, returning to a full stand.
Bar w/Pause: Using a clean grip (2 fingers only if necessary) break at the hips and knees simultaneously, keeping the abs braced and elbows up as you descend to depth. Pause while maintaining a “rigid” core, then stand up by fully extending the hip and knee. Yipee!
There are many ways to “skin the cat” when it comes to squat progressions, but this technique has worked best for me when teaching novices how to front squat.
You combine anterior loading, torso rigidity, a lower-body training stimulus, and the ability to hold positions under load before moving onto the barbell. Perform each rep with intent and gradually load as technique improves. Don’t worry– tell your ego you’ll be piling plates in no-time.
P.S. Who came up with the term ” There are many ways to skin the cat”? Freaks.
Ask yourself—If your body can’t get into proper position under load should you be going there?
Unless you’re okay with piling strength on top of dysfunction and getting hurt, NO. The performance increase may be worth it for lifters trying to boost a total, but for athletes and general population using the front squat as a tool for performance rather than mode of competition it’s not worth it.
Should you Wear a Weight Belt for Front Squats?
When it comes to using a belt a few situations must be taken into account. Compared to deadlifts and back squats there is less shear stress due to a more vertical spine position. I coach my clients to brace the abs, negating the need for a belt in most cases.
If you’re a powerlifter circumstances are different—they need to learn how to push their abs out and apply more force when lifting. Still, keep belts for the rare top-end set, not for your ugly-biceps curls and sub-maximal work. Dr. Stu McGill summarizes it perfectly here “Many people adopt belts in training for one of three reasons:
• they have observed others wearing them and have assumed that it will be a good idea for them to do so.
• Their backs are becoming sore and they believe that a back belt will help.
• They want to lift a few more pounds.
None of these reasons are consistent with the objective of good health. If you must lift a few more pounds, wear a belt. If you want to groove motor patterns to train for other athletic tasks that demand a stable torso, it is probably better not to wear one. Instead, do the work to perfect lifting technique.”
Front Squats and Lifting Shoes
For competitive lifters I recommend an elevated heel for front squats. For Athletes and other lifters the choice is optional—if you need to improve ankle mobility to squat deep then lifting shoes are an option “hack” your depth, but is going to a position you’re body doesn’t achieve naturally worth the extra five pounds?
I’d recommend sticking within your limits and increasing your ankle mobility rather than using equipment as a crutch.
Simple Routine: High-Frequency Training and Front Squats
Let’s be real here, you didn’t read all this to NOT get a sweet workout program. If you have trained properly for at least one year, are well-versed in weightlifting, and have made significant strides in your training then you are in the perfect place. This program is NOT for beginners, but intermediate lifters.
This program will help you build significant strength, muscle, and improve your athleticism unlike many routines you read in bodybuilder magazines and websites. Bodies that look like Tarzan and play like Jane are no good—you deserve more, you deserve better.
If you’re up to the challenge then you need to bring it to every workout. Each workout you’ll be training with a focus on either maximum strength, volume for hypertrophy, or speed for athleticism and additional gains in strength and muscle mass.
Front Squat Finisher
I’ve professed my love for the occasional finisher here, and here. During one particularly creative (read: tormented) workout session I designed a finisher solely for front squats. This is a very advanced test of physical and mental grit. If you’re a good squatter, tough as nails, and without injury, give this a shot. Killer Front Squat Finisher.
Like any exercise a risk: reward analysis is necessary to determine what’s the best tool for the job. That said, the front squat is everything you need and then some to become a diesel beast in the gym and on the playing field. Everyone from bodybuilders, athletes, and weekend warriors benefit from decreasing joint stress, increasing total body training stimulus, and attacking common weak points like thoracic extension and the anterior core.
Leave your ego at the door and focus on your front squat— they’re likely the missing link to fixing your chicken legs, caveman posture, and finally become a diesel beast in the gym.
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Breathing and Abdominal Bracing for Strength. Dir. Chris Duffin. youtube.com, 2013. Film.
Bench T-Spine Mobilizations. Dir. Eric Cressey. youtube.com, 2013. Film.
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McGill, Stuart. “On The Use Weight Belts.” . the National Strength and Conditioning Association, 1 Mar. 2005. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://www.backfitpro.com/pdf/weight_belts.pdf>.
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Paoli A, Marcolin G, Petrone N. The effect of stance width on the electromyographical activity of eight superficial thigh muscles during back squat with different bar loads. J Strength Cond Res 23: 246–250, 2009.
Yetter M, Moir GL (2008) The acute effects of heavy back and front squats on speed during forty-meter sprint trials. J Strength Cond Res 22:159–167