Posts Tagged ‘muscle’

Anyone familiar with Layne Norton may have read some of his contest prep articles, as I have – and in fact I used some of his advice when preparing for more than one photo shoot.

Recently he unleashed an ebook which is extremely long and in depth, all about the process of preparing to go on stage in a physique competition, and even though I have no interest in stepping on stage it intrigued me.

First of all, I must say I highly appreciate the fact that when you go to his page (which I refuse to link) it is not one of those 10-zillion page long advertisement pages, it is simply a picture of the ebook and you can choose either the men’s or women’s version — although I’m almost certain they are the exact same book… because throughout the thing it gives advice for both men and women.

So while it was a far better buying experiences than most of the online sales experiences I have to admit that my first read through of the books ok left me annoyed.

Why? Because it is being pitched as a comprehensive 260 page book, which suggests there is a ton of information packed in there. However it could have easily been shaved down by a hundred pages or so.

The first 80-some pages were filled with very basic information about calorie balance… in other words stuff that anyone who is about to enter a show already knows.

The last section is all about poses, which is probably helpful to some people but let’s do a quick reality check… anyone who is serious about getting on stage will almost certainly need a coach, not a $40 ebook to learn this stuff. Having a coach for doing a show is also vital because you tend to be so depleted that it’s almost impossible to do everything with meal planning and creating an effective training program on your own.

Buuut – the book does an excellent job of laying out much of the detailed information a coach would normally be handling so it can be good educationally if you choose to work with a coach and if you choose not to, you’ll have a better idea of why you probably should be.

I actually see the book as more of a narrative in the life of a professional bodybuilder than an actual how-to guide.

There are millions of books that will help you get from bad to good in terms of physique improvement and I believe the goal of this book was to help people go from good to great. Does it succeed in that? Yes in a sense. Layne discusses much of the same topics that can be found in his pre-contest articles but in more depth in the latter parts of the book. He also talks about what to do after a show, which may be excellent for anyone on a restricted diet of any kind.

That being said, I would simply suggest that if you get the book you set your expectations appropriately; it is not likely to be 260 pages of NEW information, but a large dose of old information, some “nice to know” information and a little bit of advice that will very likely be valuable at some point in your life if you want to get ridiculously lean.


I’ve been working on this for quite a while, so hopefully there is some value here for you…

I can’t put my finger on exactly what sparked this line of thinking, but I recall having an “aha” moment when comparing muscle function to our conception of superheroes.

Muscles have many evolutionary functions, we can think of tribal cavemen who had to survive harsh elements including competing with their own kind in order to mate.

Specifically these functions are: power, speed and size

These three functions also happen to be what we attribute to modern-day heroes both in real life and to exaggerated extents in fiction.

Size may stand out a little bit because it doesn’t actually seem on the surface to be a true function, but the more we consider it the more we may value it’s purpose. Consider the muscularly huge people we see – they immediately earn respect. Their size also tells others they are not to be messed with. Furthermore their size seems to correlate to their own confidence which compounds their capability.

A case could be made that balance contributes to this as well… but to be perfectly honest I could not think of a way to attribute balance to superheroes. Still combining balance and strength training seems to have a harmonious effect – making such movements as split squats one of my personal favourites of late.

So if your goal is to create a training program that helps achieve that superhero persona, we ought to consider designing the program to develop these three functions.

Let’s look at what seems to develop them individually:


Here we look to the world of power and strength trainers. These people are known to lift tremendous amount of weight, but in small bursts. This is where progressing with heavier weights using small repetitions seems to be most beneficial.


When I think of speed in mere mortals I usually visualize martial artists. Not only do those committed to martial arts tend to be fast, they also tend to have efficient physiques – meaning lean and toned.

But between working full-time, being a full-time single dad and everything else in my busy life, I simply haven’t had the time to commit to martial arts training, never mind the costs that seem to be skyrocketing in proportion to the rising popularity of MMA.

So it has had me looking for other ways to develop speed. Here is what I’ve found…

Explosive concentric (positive) movements appear to help this area, which can fortunately be trained to a certain extent while performing strength training.

Incorporating such things as box jumps and HIIT sprints/upright bike into your routine also seem to be effective. Just look at the massive quads on Olympic sprinters if you want more evidence.


This is an interesting one, because it isn’t strictly about being huge, it’s about LOOKING huge. That is what I’ve heard described as the illusion of size. Basically it amounts to being both muscular and lean enough for the muscularity to look even larger. Basically what we’re looking at training like here is bodybuilding style volume, but we also want to add in a level of metabolic training to use stored fat as fuel. For that I find antagonistic supersets to be best.

So in an attempt to train all these areas within one program, this is what I came up with…

Note: whenever possible use explosive concentrics and controlled negatives

Day 1: Chest and back (rows)

Bench press superset with 1-arm dumbbell rows; 8 sets; reps = 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 6, 15

Cable crossover superset with seated cable row: 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Incline dumbbell press superset with barbell rows: 4 sets of 6-10 reps

Day 2: Legs

Leg extension superset with lying leg curls; 8 sets; reps = 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 6, 15

Squats superset with box jumps; 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Bulgarian split squats superset with 1-leg stiff-legged dumbbell deadlifts: 4 sets of 6-10 reps

Day 3: back (lats) and shoulders

Dumbbell shoulder press superset with wide-grip pulldowns; 8 sets; reps = 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 6, 15

Dumbbell laterals superset with reverse-grip close-grip pulldowns: 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Dumbbell upright rows superset with bent-over dumbbell laterals: 4 sets of 6-10 reps

Day 4: arms

Seated dumbbell curls superset with overhead dumbbell extensions; 8 sets; reps = 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 6, 15

Dumbbell hammer curls superset with cable press downs: 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Ez curls superset with skull crushers: 4 sets of 6-10 reps

To make this even more effective at least metabolically, try incorporating density something like this:

Week 1: 60 seconds rest between supersets

Week 2: 45 seconds rest between supersets

Week 3: 30 seconds rest between supersets

Week 4: 45 seconds rest between supersets

Week 5: 30 seconds rest between supersets

Week 6: 15seconds rest between supersets

Week 7: 45 seconds rest between supersets


Obviously what you eat will make a huge difference and what I’ve found to be most effective, practical and sustainable in terms of maximizing body composition is the idea of carb backloading.

In short you eat protein, fat and veggies in the early part of the day and save your carbs for the last meal or two.

If this sounds like a weird concept, you are probably used to the notion of eating your carbs early in the day and tapering then off. The mentality behind this was that you would give yourself energy in the early parts of the day and reduce them while your metabolism is slowing down.

While that does seem to make sense on the surface, if we try to think about it from another angle the picture will look a little different.

Reason number one to avoid early carbs: at the start of the day we don’t “need” extra energy. In fact if your body determines it needs extra energy, in the absence of carbs it will take the energy from stored fat – which is what we want!!

Reason number two: our brains send different kind of messages depending on the present food sources. Protein and fats send messages (neurotransmitters) that are energizing and motivating, while carbs tend to be more relaxing and feel-good. This makes it clear that we want the protein and fats early and carbs later on.

Give this puppy a 6-week run and let me know how it works for you!!!

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