Posts Tagged ‘Ben Pakulski’

Last time was all about preparing mentally and physically for training so now we will talk about getting the most out of the session in the moment.


There are a few times in your life where you make landmark improvements in your life and I’m going to share many of those with you here. Briefly, the best information I learned about healthy fat loss while strengthening muscle came from Tom Venuto’s Burn the fat, Feed the Muscle; Ben Pakulski was the one who taught me the most about exercise form and muscle growth with his MI40 program. As far as mental focus and drive, I credit Anders Ericsson’s book Peak alongside Carol Dweck’s Mindset.


The term focus is one that I love because it is all about being in the present. It puts your mind squarely on the task at hand. But I find that focus is something that needs cultivation. It means secluding yourself from outside distractions. It is something that gets better with persistent practice.

Focus is having laser vision on your current activity while pushing towards your desired future. It is connecting your mind to your body. It is he single moment when you what to quit a set but you tell yourself that this rep is the one that will determine whether you progress.

I’ve said before that progress is not easy, and this is one area that is definitely not easy. Nor is it intuitive. Our bodies and minds are designed for survival, meaning that when things get difficult our brain tells us that we are entering a danger zone and that’s when we quit.

That instinct is clearly important, but being aware of it, and knowing when you can push past it is where we begin to grow. In this way that inclination to quit can actually serve you extremely well, as it will guide you ever closer to the edge of your comfort zone.

The more you practice reaching this point and pushing past it, the better you get at doing it naturally – which can impact your life both inside and outside of the gym.

The pursuit of getting to this point where we not only face challenges head on, but in fact enjoy such opportunities to progress can be understood using what Carol Dweck calls the “growth mindset”. When we learn to crave growth we also learn to love the challenge.


With the right mindset and the right teaching, people are capable of a lot more than we think.” – Carol Dweck

Ingredients for progress:

  • Specific performance goal
  • Focus
  • Meaningful positive feedback

As I suggested in part 1, short-term performance goals take into account your current limitations and give you a target to aim for that is slightly beyond your current ability. This should be slightly ambitious but not unrealistically so.

The term “progressive overload” is probably familiar to most who have entrenched themselves to some degree in physical activity – even more common is the concept of the “comfort zone”.

But a term that may not familiar to you is the “zone of proximal development”, an intriguing concept initially developed by psychologist Lev Vygotsky.

While the intentions of this concept seem to be geared towards childhood development, I’ve found it to be applicable to training psychology as well. The zone of proximal development represents the happy medium between pushing upwards enough to progress while not so hard as to inflict injury or discouragement. This is where I always strive to be – on a constant but gradual incline.

This idea can also be conceptualized by thinking of your comfort zone as something that is continuing to grow as you progress.

It may help to remind yourself that any upward climb is – by definition – difficult, while also maintaining the humility to understand our limitations.

In order to ensure progress you should keep a training log. This will help you know week to week the amount of weight to use and also help track your progress.

Additionally, while I suggested having an open mind and being creative with your program creation, there is also value to keeping a program somewhat consistent over a number of weeks. This helps you know that you are advancing in either weight or reps.

As an aside, I find humility itself to be a key component of improvement of ANY kind. In fact I have heard it said that humility is the prerequisite to wisdom.

Feedback can come in many forms, it could be from progress photos or a coach, or just a friend commenting on your progress. Whatever the source, it seems to be a key component to maintaining long term progress. Instagram has become a breeding ground for “attention seekers” but while its commonplace to shun such people, the reality is that getting positive responses is actually something we need.

The Ingredients of Muscle Growth

If we think of muscle building as hypertrophy, there is little better resource than the work of Brad Shoenfeld, who determined that the primary factors leading to muscle growth are: muscle damage, muscle tension and metabolic stress (aka cell swelling).

Brad suggests periodizing these factors. Personally I’ve found that simply being aware of them can help understand the true goal of the training session.

In the protocol I suggest below all of these factors come into play, and by being mindful of them you will access their true power.


The “contrast principle” or “perception effect” suggests that our mind perceives things in comparison to one another. So how can this be used to improve physical training?

Instead of training with a constant weight for a constant number of sets, try reverse pyramid training. This method suggests starting with the heaviest weight and dropping the weights while increasing reps for successive sets.

I’ve seen time after time that implementing this techniques has resulted in rapid strength and muscle gains.

Now for a word of caution…. if you are too ambitious on your first/heaviest set you risk injury (yes this is coming from experience). A set or two of lightweight warm ups to mentally practice the form will help prevent against this, and make sure that the incremental increase from your last session is moderate. In actuality it’s the second set where true growth often occurs as this is where you are typically lifting above your previous ability.


In order for progress to be true there has to be a controlled variable. This is one reason why training to “failure” is preferred when doing resistance training.

This means that you are physically unable to perform any more repetitions while maintaining proper form. That point cannot be overstated, because doing a low number of reps with a relatively light weight won’t accomplish much (outside of rehabilitation purposes).

It should be noted that at different parts of the range of motion you have greater strength. If you have ever seen someone squatting or bench pressing with chains this is the reasoning behind this. In the case of bench press, as you push the bar farther from your chest you are stronger and therefore the chains give you more resistance to work against.

However in many gyms using chains isn’t practical, so one way I’ve found to be more practical for getting to muscle failure is using “top partials” – which is doing a few reps at the top – or more accurately – strongest few inches – of the range of motion at the end of each set.


Density refers to the amount of “work” done within a set amount of time. From my experience it is an amazing way – if not the most effective – to progress physically as well as aesthetically.

In my Superhero training program I suggested working on three things: power, size and speed.

Using density as a measurement can help improve all of these.

The beauty is that you can progress in a number of ways almost indefinitely because the amount of density is essentially:

(sets) x (reps) x (load) / time

So you can progress by:

  1. lifting heavier weights
  2. doing more reps
  3. doing it in less time – usually done by decreasing rest time.
  4. A strategic combination of the above three.

One of the best ways to do this type of training is using reciprocal inhibition (RI), which means pairing up antagonizing my muscle groups. This is my favourite RI split:

  • Day 1: chest + back (rowing)
  • Day 2: quads + hams
  • Day 3: shoulders + back (lats)
  • Day 4: biceps + triceps

And then I will work low back and abs into the routing intermittently.

Try doing that split while using a rep scheme something like this:

20 reps, 15 reps, 6 reps, 8 reps, 10 reps, 6 reps, 8 reps, 15 reps.

Then each week decrease the rest time between supersets from about 60 sec to 15 seconds. When the rest becomes that low you can go back to 60 seconds but with heavier weights 😊

Related: Man’s Search for Muscle: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

I’ve updated my original review of Hypertrophy Max with a video review:

All feedback is appreciated, either here, on the video or on the original article.


There are a few programs out there to add size to your arms in a shirt span of time. Charles Poliquin wrote one which is a ten hour arm routine if I remember correctly. Rob Regish wrote a similar one and Ben Pakulski has written a three-week arm specialization program, all of which I have tried.

To date the most effective and long term arm programs I’ve done have included an intelligently designed training split that stimulates the arms a couple times per week by hitting them directly and indirectly (such as those included in the Amazing Arms chapter of Superhero Physique).

That said, I have experimented with a method that has created an unparalleled arm swelling in a fraction of the time of the other routines.

First let’s look at what creates muscle growth (from a training perspective):

  • Muscle fiber damage
  • Optimal time under continual tension
  • Cell swelling
  • Hormonal cascade
  • All of these can be accomplished within one workout. Let’s say that we are training biceps and chest together. After doing the primary movements we will finish the day with this little killer movement that will do all of those things at once. It is a combination of elements I’ve picked up from the people spoken of before as well as a couple others.

    I should probably give this a special name because it is bound to be re-used by others. Since 16 appears in it a lot I’ll call them 16s.

    This is how you perform it for biceps:

    Do an occluded incline dumbbell curl With about half the weight you would normally do 8 reps with and instead do 16 reps and really focus on a controlled negative. At the end of the set keep the arms flexed but stretch them out for a good 16 seconds. Immediately drop the weight by about 25%, do 8 reps followed by another 16 second flexed stretch. Do one more 25% drop for 8 reps and the 16 second flexed stretch then immediately bang out one last rep with the same weight. Once this is done take off the occlusion bands.

    Here is a video example:

    This will give a GH blast as well as pump up your arms massively. By controlling the negative and maintaining tension you are also creating muscle damage that results in longer term growth.

    Give this puppy a try!

    The Best Arm workout going
    How I added an inch to my arms… in a caloric deficit! (with 8 tips for arm growth)
    Bi-sets for Biceps
    The Perfect Rep
    Occlusion Training: My newest muscle growth weapon

    SuperHero Physique
    superhero_physique by Shawn Buffington


    MI40-x logs: week 1; week 2

    Week 3 is a new split using reciprocal inhibition, and geared more towards “power”. That said, reps don’t go below 6 and there are a lot of extremely slow negatives.

    (Each week in this program is structured slightly differently, so it will be interesting to see if this is effective or if it changes too frequently to progress.)

    Day 1 was brutal. I don’t think I’ve ever left a chest/back day before about to puke.

    The first Arms & shoulders day of the week was fairly moderate in terms of intensity.

    And even the leg days weren’t bad as I normally come away with cramping but did not for these workouts.

    Overall this week felt a little less challenging than the first two weeks but that could be by design.

    Week 4 log

    Mi40x Honest Program Review

    SuperHero Physique
    superhero_physique by Shawn Buffington


    MI40-x week 1 log

    Week 2 was very similar in structure to week 1 in terms of the split and the volume. One of the key differences was that NOSx was utilized a little more frequently and even at the beginning of some workouts which made the rest of the training very challenging.

    A lot of the challenge of this week was battling mental fatigue more than muscular failure, which in my opinion is character building if nothing else.

    I also got through more of the educational videos this week, which were fairly informative as far as the theory behind the program.

    A couple of glitches have been worked out in terms of the diet calculators, but one issue was the coaching call. The audio was cutting out so badly on it that it had to be taken down. That was back on June 16 and so far it has not been re-recorded or even rescheduled as far as I know.

    The support team is really good about getting back to any questions I’ve asked so far, but they haven’t been emails to let us know when there are updates to the site etc.

    Week 3 is where it starts getting really intense…

    Mi40x Honest Program Review

    SuperHero Physique
    superhero_physique by Shawn Buffington


    Week 1 of the MI40-x training protocol is done. I’m doing the “graduate” program, which is what I think most people will start with.

    Starting point. Okay, I started this program out a little bit fatter than I want to be due to having been doing gaining programs throughout the “off-season”. It is now summer so I’m actually going to be using a slight caloric deficit for this program. If it is as good as advertised I should be able to put on mass as well as trimming some fat.

    First impressions: ouch!

    To be honest I was very skeptical at first. I have previously done John Meadows’ Mountain Dog training which includes some weighted stretching but this takes it to a whole new level creating a massive pump. Does that translate to lasting muscle mass? Obviously it is too early to tell.

    Day 1 commentary:

    Training my chest, biceps and front delts made for a pretty long workout. It didn’t include any of the “new” techniques, probably to ease you into the program, but it was still a touch workout to get through. I stuck in a set of the NOSx chest press at the end just to try it out and it was pretty painful.

    I did the optional 10-minute calf routine as well.

    Day 2 commentary:
    Today was back, rear delts and triceps. Again no “extreme” movements but still a lot of volume.

    Day 3 Commentary:
    Legs… oh boy. Ben is the king of wheels these days and he knows how to make your legs hurt. Today’s workout is tough from the very first movement. I took lots of BCAAs and electrolytes during the workout and thank goodness for that.

    Actually my calves are still throbbing from when I did the calf routine on day 1, which made this an extra tough routine to get through.

    Day 4 commentary:
    Yesterday was an off day, so today was the second chest & biceps day of this week. It was challenging but in a different way from the fisrt chest/biceps workout of the week in that it started off with NOSx early in the routine and had some extremely slow eccentrics. But I did look massively pumped after.

    Day 5 & 6 commentary: These will have to be carried over into week 2 since I was only able to do 4 workouts this week.

    MI40-x week 2 log
    MI40-x week 3 log
    MI40-x week 4 log
    MI40-x week 5 log
    MI40-x week 6 log

    Mi40x Honest Program Review

    SuperHero Physique
    superhero_physique by Shawn Buffington


    Here’s what’s on my bookshelf (alphabetically):

    Body-For-Life by Bill Phillips: this was the first fitness book I ever owned. I bought it after reading an article in a magazine (I believe it was Phillip’s own magazine) discussing the body-for-life transformation contest. Even looking back now much of what the book says is still valid and it’s well written for the beginner, however much of what it leaves out is the very things that gave me true results.

    Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle by Tom Venuto: this book is the first fitness book I read in my modern fitness reemergence. It still stands up as possibly the best book out there for obtaining a bodybuilder’s physique (specifically while dieting).

    Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding by Arnold Schwarzenegger: I wouldn’t take this one as gospel, but there is some really interesting ideas in here from the master himself. I found the program in it to be ridiculously high volume at the time.

    High-Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way by Mike Mentzer: You either love or hate Mike Mentzer. I used to love him and now I see him as a bit of a sideshow. But the book has some interesting ideas and certainly his character comes through.

    Natural Hormonal Enhancement by Rob Faigin: If you want to learn about utilizing food and exercise specifically to get a maximal hormonal effect than this is an excellent resource.

    Periodization by Tudor Bompa: As far as building a periodized program this is a pretty good resource. It is a little bit of a touch read and some of the information is a little dated.

    The Poliquin Principles by Charles Poliquin: Poliquin is great at bringing practical application to muscle development. This one is a bit older but certainly some good fundamental info in here.

    Super Squats by Strossen: This is an oldie but a goodie. It has stood the test of time as many people started off with this program in their early days of physique building.

    Superhero Physique by Shawn Buffington: this book is designed to help you attain the “next level” of fitness, depending on what your ideal body looks like, with 12 different training programs to help you accomplish it as well as a chapter on how to create your own program.

    My “e-book shelf”:

    The Blueprint 2.0 and 3.0 by Rob Regish: This is a really innovative muscle-building program that will get you really thinking about training and nutrition.

    The Ketogenic Diet by Lyle McDonald: The original intent of this document was to teach about extreme dieting to get ripped. But it contains a lot of information about hormones and body mechanisms that can actually be very useful when striving to add mass as well.

    MI40 & MI40x by Ben Pakulski: MI40 is a great resource to learn about doing proper movements and proper nutrient timing for hypertrophy. MI40-x takes these principals another step by adding in several other intensifiers.


    SuperHero Physique
    superhero_physique by Shawn Buffington

    MI40x honest review

    Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle – non-biased book review