Posts Tagged ‘muscle’

A few weeks ago I had this crazy idea of how to train chest as seen in this video (2.33 min in):

So like I mentioned in the video, simply by playing around I speculated upon the best way to activate the pectorals… then a friend pointed me to this study: Electromyographical Activity of the Pectoralis Muscle During Incline and Decline Bench Presses from The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

The bottom line of this study being that the decline bench press (especially the negative part of the movement) recruits far more muscle than the incline press.

The two takeaways for me here are firstly to continue using the decline movement and others that utilize this range of motion, and secondly the benefits of consciously considering the desired range of motion and angle when determining movements for ALL body parts!


Sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected sources…

This week I spent a lot of time playing guitar and was struggling to play certain songs. I did some research to learn the songs and I stumbled onto some videos that taught me that even after having played guitar for twenty years I was doing very basic things in a way that was not optimal ie. holding the guitar pick poorly.

Re-learning things that were breaking poor habits was not easy. In fact I had to play even slower than I had before. Yet when I re-learned the basics properly I was then able to fall back on my experience to achieve my best results ever.

I believe in fitness the same principles apply.

Dedicating ourselves to mastering the basic principles is a step that is easily overlooked, especially in the flashy, heavily marked world that is today’s fitness industry.

I highly recommend anyone research and learn to master these basics, here’s a brief overview on some of those things to get you started…

Exercise execution:

Exercise is all about stimulating the body’s muscle-building mechanisms. It stands to reason that some methods are more effective than others at doing this. It all begins with FORM!

The amount of weight and number of reps don’t matter if your movement pattern is not optimized. There are too many specifics to get into within this post to get into but here are some good tips:

  • Begin each movement by contracting the working muscle
  • Strive to maintain the contraction through the entire movement
  • Work in as great a range of motion as possible (and safe)
  • “lock down” your body, so you begin with optimal position and posture and do not stray from that ie. do not use momentum to move weights
  • Attempt to utilize every possible function and range of the muscles
  • Do not end a set early. Learn the difference between mental and physical fatigue.
  • Also, here are a few articles you can start with:
    Isolating compound movements
    Arms II
    Back II
    Legs (overall)

    Nutritional basics:

    This can also be pretty expansive, Nd includes such things as determining your caloric needs, keeping hydrated, frequency of meals, macronutrient functions and requirements etc.

    The thing with diet is that it is a little bit harder to nail down than exercise because it is very individual. Everyone’s caloric needs will vary as well as such things as food intolerance.

    I’ve found I don’t handle carbs very well so I have to find creative ways of getting enough calories to build muscle while keeping carbs on the low side and timing them strategically.

    Here are a couple of diet related articles you can look at:
    Eating like a bodybuilder
    The perfect pre-workout shake
    Muscle juice
    Between-meals shake
    Eating disorders in bodybuilding

    The challenge of mastering the basics is often that we are our own worst enemy. We skip over things with the assumption that we already know what we need to do and this miss out on small intricacies that will make long-term results far superior.


    SuperHero Physique
    superhero_physique by Shawn Buffington

    Drop sets are one of my favorite intensifiers, and there are multiple ways to use them. In fact there are pretty much as many ways to customize them as you can think of. Here are a few ways I use them:

    1. Standard drops

    At the end of your last work set, do 3-4 drops; each drop decrease weight by 15-20%. Do 50-60% of the reps used for your working sets. Example:
    Last working set = 8 reps x 100lbs
    Drop 1 = 5 reps x 85 lbs
    Drop 2 = 5 reps x 70 lbs
    Drop 3 = 5 reps x 55 lbs
    Drop 4 = 5 reps x 40 lbs

    2. Super drops

    These are typically done as a work set of their own. 25% x 2 with more reps each time
    First set = 6 reps x 100 lbs
    Drop 1 = 8 reps x 75 lbs
    Drop 2 = 10 reps x 50 lbs

    3. Power drops – 5-10% drops same number of reps. 6 or more drops (only works for heavy weights)

    Set 1 = 2 reps x 100 lbs
    Set 2 = 2 reps x 90 lbs
    Set 3 = 2 reps x 80 lbs
    Set 4 = 2 reps x 75 lbs
    Set 5 = 2 reps x 70 lbs
    Set 6 = 2 reps x 65 lbs

    4. Eccentric drops (negative drops)
    50% drops, about 50% reps. 2 drops

    Work set: 8 reps x 100 lbs
    Drop 1 = 4 reps x 50 lbs
    Drop 2 = 4 reps x 25 lbs

    Experiment with these to shake up your training!

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    Related Articles:

    Building muscle volume is about hypertrophy training, but when it comes to adding lasting mass some strength training will be required. This is ideally done in the “off season” (while not cutting).

    Yet I have found that certain hypertrophy principles make strength training far more effective.

    First of all we have to establish that “strength training” is about lifting heavy weights and training the CNS more so than the actual muscles. A common tendency when lifting heavy is to throw proper exercise form out the window which will actually have the opposite of the desired effect.

    The same goes for range of motion. I’ve seen a few programs out there that advocate using a small range of motion to accommodate lifting heavier weights… With a little bit of logic we can see why this is not an effective tool; first of all you are training your muscle in an unnatural way, and it is also within the range you are already strongest, so of anything you will build an unbalanced muscle and body.

    Instead I find it is best to start with a few sets of 8 or more reps in the full range of motion focusing on really feeling the muscle work. After that increase the weight and lower the reps incrementally. Personally I find that 4-5 reps works best because any heavier and you can’t usually feel the working muscle.

    When striving for progress I suggest trying to keep the weights the same but add more reps as the ideal goal would be heavy weights for a lot of reps.

    One factor that also has to be considered when lifting heavy weights is frequency; your CNS tends to take longer to recover, so doing a split that involves less frequency (more rest between sessions) tends to actually make you progress quicker. 1 on/1-2 off is a good way to get everything trained and still get enough time off to recover.

    To be honest I prefer training 5-6 times per week so this is a challenge for me, but you can’t argue with results. Training every second day added substantial strength and mass to my frame, then I increase the frequency and switch to primarily hypertrophy training when I’m dieting.

    So as a little bonus for you, here’s my split I use for mass training (notice that the smaller groups get extra training):
    Day 1: chest, shoulders, biceps
    Day 2: quads, hams, calves
    Day 3: back, rear delts, triceps

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    Related: How Heavy Should You Lift?

    In some circles, isolation is considered a bad thing. This is usually because isolation exercises are considered less effective than compound movements. And with good reason; by their very definition compound movements involve more secondary muscles and tend to have a greater hormonal effect.

    But let me throw this out there: in order to build a muscle you have to work that muscle hard.

    So it stands to reason that when performing a movement (even a compound one) you should strive to isolate the muscle you want to work a much as possible by minimizing the involvement of the secondary muscles. This means you will have to decrease the weight because you will not have as many muscles pushing or pulling the weight. but leads to the desired growth.

    I’ll use Bench Press as an example. There are several muscles that can assist on this: back, shoulders, triceps and even hips. It is not likely to remove all of these completely (nor possible), but here are a couple of ideas that can help you to use your chest more than the others:

  • DON’T arch your back. That is a technique power lifters use which will incorporate more of your back into the movement. Instead keep your lower back tight to the bench (flex your abs)
  • keep your shoulders back. Rolling them forward will cause you to use more triceps.
  • really focussing your mind on keeping your chest flexed for the whole movement will force your body to use more chest
  • when using a bar, squeeze inward on the negative portion. One of my trainers had me pull outward on the negative, but I found that made my back work more than my chest.
  • There you have it. If building muscle is your goal I highly suggest isolating compound movements.

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    Related: Mass Method Training

    Super Hero Physique
    superhero_physique by Shawn Buffington

    (Frank Zane famously used intensifiers)

    By now you’ve probably read my article on Intensifiers. Now it’s time to INTENSIFY intensifiers by combining them!

    My favourite method of doing this involves combining negatives and partials. For safety purposes this will probably only be done for isolation exercises.

    Here’s an example…

    Doing a leg curl you hit “failure” but know there is a little bit left if not a full rep, so you do a bottom partial rep, but use very slow and controlled negative portion of that. My guess is you will only be able to do 2 or 3 (where you could probably do 5 regular partials).

    I find that doing this helps get closer to adding that extra rep to a set over a few workouts a lot quicker than doing one intensifier on its own.

    Here are a couple other combinations you can play with:

  • Drop-sets + Rest-pause (you will be able to make the drops more weight or more reps this way)
  • Negatives + drop sets (this gives a massive burn)
  • For more cool training tips and tricks, please join me on facebook.


    In Part 1, we talked about some of the reasons that GH is such a great little thing when we can get it flowing in our body at increased levels, now onto how to accomplish that. I’ll be breaking this down into 3 categories:

    1. Food
    2. training
    3. supplements


    Nutritionally (meaning the three macronureints) there is not a lot known that can increase GH however Carbohydrates have been shown to blunt the GH response. For this reason, when trying to get increased GH, you will want to be wise with your use of carbs. In general this means keeping them low or non-existent in the early part of the day until after having done some intense exercise. Being in a fasted state has been shown to increase GH, but personally I’m not big on that idea. By limiting carbs you will be eating larger amount of fat and protein which will also be beneficial for reducing inflammation and supporting testosterone.


    The more intense the training, the higher the GH! But I think to be useful we should define “intense”. there are actually two types of intensity: Effort and Relative.

    “Effort Intensity” is what people are talking about when they define intensity as being relative to their 1-rep-max. As an illustration, E-intensity would be greater lifting 100lbs for 1 rep than lifting 80lbs for 5 reps.

    “Relative Intensity” is what people talk about when they use the term “progressive overload”. It is describing how stressful the activity is relative to your level of fitness.

    So as far as intensity is concerned, it will often mean training heavy, and training with increasing workload, whether that means incrementally decreasing resting periods, doing super-sets, etc.

    This is one reason why HIIT cardio is so popular. The full-out, highly intense cycles drastically raise GH.

    High levels of lactic acid have also been shown to increase the GH response. This is created when you are incur an “oxygen debt” which creates a burning sensation in the muscles. To create this burn you often use a moderate weight for a high amount of reps (usually 12-15). This one can be tricky to manage because if the weight is too small you will not utilize enough energy to great the burn.

    One clever way that has surface recently is the idea of occlusion training, which uses a small blood-flow restriction in order to induce the oxygen debt with even lighter weights and supposedly even more effectively. I’ll be doing an entire article on Occlusion Training in the near future.

    So with all this knowledge, I will supply my two cents… I have had the best results when training heavy compound moves in the first part of the workout (usually 3-6 rep range), progressing to mid-range work in the 8-10 rep range, then finishing with either higher reps, or even using super drops.


    If I’m honest, most supplements that claim to boost growth hormone are not worth the cost. That being said, this would be a perfect time to mention that GH levels have been shown to rise during deep sleep. So any supplements such as Magnesium (or better still, ZMA) or melatonin, which help with a good sleep could be beneficial here. L-Dopa is also supposedly help with the GH release which is why there are a few night-time products around that contain L-dopa, ZMA and Melatonin. I’ve made use of these, and whether or not they’ve helped GH is debatable, but they definitely helped me get a good sleep.

    Now that we’ve covered the primary ways to maximize GH, the next article will address what I find to be the most intriguing facit of it: Combining GH with other hormones

    Related: GH Part 1, GH Part 3, Periodization