Sunday, June 28, 2015

Principles to get your growing again

Everyone is aware of how great the basics are.  If you're not, you must be really, really new to lifting and eating to grow.

But since you're probably not, you've most likely been beat about the head with the basics probably more than you like.

And while it's true that you have to have your basics in order for training and eating to be productive and efficient, there will come a point after enough time has passed that it will take a little more than being a basic lifting bitch to continue growing, and improving.

Incorporate Ultra High Rep Sets -

Years ago I started doing 100 rep sets for barbell curls.  Since then I've used 100 rep sets for other movements and the same thing happened every time I did this.

Those bodyparts grew.  And grew fast.

In that time I've experimented with all sorts of ultra high rep ranges, and even higher volume with them as well.

If you don't think that sets of 50 won't make you grow, then I challenge you to pick a movement, virtually any movement, and do 5 sets of 50 with it twice a week and check back with me in a month.

Does that sound fun?  Not really.  It's fucking painful.  And when you get really fatigued from it, I can tell you that all sorts of muscles start firing that you wouldn't expect to fire, just in order to get you through those sets.

Ultra high rep sets sometimes get frowned upon because everyone thinks that progressive overload, or adding more weight to the bar, is the single biggest key in growing.  But there are multiple types of progression, and a myriad of ways to increase progression in a workout.  Like adding volume.

Remember that a big reason the body slows to a crawl on muscle growth is because it adapts very quickly to stress.  If you aren't asking it to do something it hasn't done before, then the growth response can be very limited.  This means that at times you are going to have to get very far outside of your comfort zone in order to get growing again.  And let me tell you, ultra high reps are not comfortable.  But they do work.

You can experiment with these on pretty much any movement you like, but give them an honest chance for 6 weeks and I think you'll be stoked at the results you get in the way of new growth.

Accentuate the negative - 

Most guys count reps when they complete the concentric portion of the movement.  But what if you changed your thought process around here just a bit, and thought of getting the rep back to the start of the movement, just so you could lower it slowly again?

Some studies have been a mixed bag on how effective accentuating the eccentric portion of the rep is in regards to muscle growth.  However most of them had flaws and for this piece, I'm going to go with empirical evidence only.

Anytime I have made sure to be very controlled in my eccentrics, I grew more.  In fact, ever since my days of DC training. I've always paid pretty close attention to the eccentric portion of the movement.  I do lose focus on that at times, however when you don't accentuate the eccentric portion of the movement in your exercises, you are missing out on the most important part of the rep in regards to growth potential.

If you don't think this works, try shooting for 3-5 second negatives on all your lifts.  At first, you'll be using less weight than before, however believe it or not you'll adapt and be back to your regular poundages in no time.  You'll also be creating a far bigger degree of tension in the working muscles, and more tension = more muscle growth. Especially when that tension is being derived from the eccentric portion of the movement.

Why not the concentric?

It should be pretty clear when you think about it.

If you perform slow concentrics the loading ability on a movement is severely decreased.  That means, you'll be handling a lot less weight than usual.  But you can actually lower more weight than you can raise.  So once again, you'll actually get back to lifting big weights very quickly, but with a hell of a lot more tension during each set done this way.

That means big time growth if you have not been doing your sets this way.

Start doing the movements you hate -

Another big reason why so many people get stuck in a rut is because they essentially get caught doing the same shit day in, and day out, and avoid doing the things they suck at because well, they suck at them.

If you've been at this long enough, you can probably go through the list of movements in your mind that you exclude from your training because they are hard, and you hate them, and they are hard, and they suck, and you just don't want to do them.

One of the biggest reasons they are hard, is because the muscles that are working as the primary mover in those movements, are weak.

People always love to talk about bringing up weak points, but often times when you look at their training routines over the course of months or even years, they gravitate back to the same things time after time.

This is a great way to keep your strong points strong, and your weak points weak.

Iron out 10 movements you hate doing, and make those a priority for 12 weeks.  Yes, 12 weeks.  So long as they don't cause you physical pain because of a previous injury, you should be doing them.  And you should set performance goals in regards to them as well.

If your front squat sucks, make it a priority.  I can also bet that if your front squat sucks, your hack squat sucks too.

If you never do bent rows because they are hard, and uncomfortable, then it's likely that your posterior chain is weak.

Get on that.

It can also be things as simple as moving hand or foot position on a movement you actually do like.  If you use a certain machine and always get mechanically situated the same way each time, change your hand or foot positions around until you find the way it feels hardest for you.  This is a very easy way to test where you are lacking in terms of muscular development and strength.

To add to this, get rid of your pet movements during this 12 weeks as well.  And don't cry about it.  You can come back to them after three months and in a few weeks you'll be right back where you were before, and most likely better, because something that was weak has now been improved.

Extend your working sets with intensity building techniques -

Lots of guys do a set, rack the weight, then rest.  Straight sets are one of the mainstays of good training.  However finding different ways to extend that set is a great way to get out of a growth slump, and get your gains moving forward again.

Some of my favorite intensity techniques are rest/pause sets, drop sets, running the rack, and giant sets.

Rest/Pause sets are awesome for growth because you end up working with the same weight each set, but just taking a very short break between "sets".  The way I always did these was to count breaths between sets.  This was a big part of DC training and it works wonderfully.  I would take my set to failure, then take 30 deep breaths, and go again.  I would repeat this one more time for a total of three "sets".  It was the first main set, then two rest/pause sets.

I never liked these for things like squats, and especially deadlifts, or really any movement where the low back was taking a beating.  But for things like pressing, pulling, curls, etc it works brutally well.

Drop sets or strip sets are simply where you do a working set, then immediately drop the weight or choose a lighter dumbbell, and continue on doing work.  You can do this 1 time, or 15 times.  It all depends on how long and far you want to extend out the set.  I generally like 1 main set that is fairly heavy, then a small drop the first time, then a larger drop the second time.  This way I essentially get two fairly heavy sets at first, then 1 moderate set where I can get far more reps in.

Running the rack is going to the dumbbell rack and starting light for a set, then putting the dumbbells down and with no rest, picking up the next heavier set.  You continue doing this until you get to the heaviest set of dumbbells you can hit for the rep range you've set aside, then work back down.

So this can be 6 reps, or 10 reps, or whatever.  The higher the rep range, the harder it is to get into the heavier dumbbells due to fatigue.  So I like to keep the reps here on the low end.  Something like 5-6 reps per set works well.

I also have a similar method I call the "lock and load" method where you do this with plates.  This works really well if you apply it to the second movement for a muscle group so that it's already warm.  This is a favorite of mine for t-bar rows because you add a plate, do 5 reps, add a plate and do 5 reps, etc.  Until you get to a top set of 5 reps.  Then with no rest, take a plate off and work your way back down.

Giant sets are where you do a list of movements with no rest in between them.  For example...

Triceps Pushdowns - Seated French Press - Close Grip Bench - Dips

You would do all four movements with no rest, and that would be one round of a giant set.  Generally giant sets target one muscle group but you can target two as well.  My advice here is to make agonist/antagonist muscle groups like chest and back, biceps and triceps, quads and hams.

For example -

Chest and back giant set:  dumbbell bench press - chins - incline flyes - low cable rows

Biceps and triceps giant set:  pushdowns - incline db curls - dips - hammer curls

Quads and hams - Leg extensions - leg curls - hack squats - good mornings

Some of these techniques work really well with certain movements, but not as well with others.  Let me also add that I personally advise saving these types of techniques after you do your first movement with straight sets.  This way the area is completely warmed up and more primed to do this kind of work.

Get your bodyfat in check -

Everyone loves bulking.  It's fun to eat pizza and ice cream everyday.  But the fact is, eating shit food during a bulking cycle is just as bad as doing it during a fat shedding cycle.

When you do that for too long, and get too fat, you run the risk of losing insulin sensitivity.  When that happens, the cells stop responding to the normal actions of insulin.  And since insulin is the most powerful hormone in the body, especially for building muscle mass, this doesn't seem like a very good muscle building situation to be in.

This is why when people get over a certain level of bodyfat, they generally accumulate more fat at a faster rate.  It's that guy you've seen in the gym that looked "pretty ok" for a while, starts bulking, then suddenly "got huge".  But what he really got was fatter more than likely.

If you aren't going to be jacked I guess you can work on that tan

When you are leaner, and you adhere to eating quality foods 90% of the time, your body does a much better job of nutrient partitioning.  What that means is, the food you eat is more likely to go towards building lean tissue or building stored as glycogen, and less likely to be stored as fat.  This is because your insulin responds to carbs the way it's supposed to.

When you get fat, and have bee shoving shit foods down your mouth for too long, you run the risk of getting insulin insensitive.  And your body does a great job at that point, of storing more fat, and a shit poor job of building muscle.

This is why getting your bodyfat to a low degree actually helps sets the stage for future growth.  I'm here to tell you that if you're a fat slob, you're carrying around far less lean muscle than you think you are.  Not only that, but because you're probably out of whack hormonally, when you do start dieting, you're no doubt going to lose a good deal of muscle mass along with that fat.

I've written this a million times, but I can promise you that no matter what you think, if you're packing a lot of fat, you don't have as much muscle as you think you do.  Diet down until you can see lower ab veins and have very little back fat, and hop on that scale, big boy.  It's not going to be 3-hundo anything.  It's probably not going to be 2-hundo anything.  For most of you, it's going to be 1-hundo something.

The process will suck because you'll shrink, and feel weak and small, but once you get to a low enough level of bodyfat (10% minimum), and hold that for a while, you will be in a great position to actually grow again.  And by that I mean, not your waistline.

Eat carbs - 

This may seem to run counter to my previous point, but let me explain first.  This is more about little guys who are ripped year round, but can't seem to gain any mass.

In days past, and I mean a few decades ago, this would have been part of the "basics".  You ate a moderate amount of protein, lower fat, and loaded up on carbs.  Good carb sources mind you, not junk food with added sugars that have virtually no nutritional value.

Food is really your most powerful "anabolic".  I can tell you this, you can take all the drugs you want, but if you're not eating enough the benefits you will see from them in regards to growing will be pretty insignificant.

Food drives the machine.  Your primary source for energy - muscular contraction - is ATP/creatine phosphate.  Once that is depleted, it's glycogen (muscle then liver).  Once that is depleted, it's fat.

When your glycogen stores are depleted, your body will indeed burn free fatty acids for fuel, however it will also burn lean muscle tissue at the same time.

You absolutely need to reload on carbs after training so that you replenish depleted stores, boost recovery, and have enough fuel for the next big training day.

This is big reason why low carb or no carb diets are absolutely are terrible for increasing muscle mass, and giving you the power you need to lift big weights, and do lots of volume in the gym.  Two pretty big training components in regards to stimulating growth.

How many carbs do you need a day?  On the big end of growing, a lean 200 pound bro will need between 500 and 600 grams of carbs a day.  These should be clean sources of carbs like sweet potatoes, jasmine rice, oatmeal, and pasta.  To give you an idea of how much that is, 400 grams of carbs from white/jasmine rice alone is about nine cups cooked.  Cook up 9 cups of jasmine rice a day, and realize that you also still have 200 more grams of carbs a day to go, and ask yourself if you've been eating enough to grow.

Lots of guys come to me and say they have been stuck in regards to growing, and that they train their ass off, but when I look at their diet they often are flat out not eating enough, or eating too much of the wrong things in order to facilitate the growth process.

When it's time to get bodyfat in check, you have to cut down on the fats and carbs in order to cut down on calories.  However if you've been stuck in regards to bodyweight, and you're a wee little guy, then the biggest culprit is usually a lack of eating.   And more often than not, a lack of eating a lot of high quality carbs.

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  1. been reading your thoughtful and erudite blog for a couple of years now, first time i've commented. past couple of months had seen me locked onto a shallow vision of a strutting beach god for the forthcoming hols, but my carb-stripped diet had sort of left me spinning my wheels with regards to getting the most out of my training and giving my physique a bit of a polish. last weekend had a major family event with some quality cooking on offer of which i made the most and this morn my muscles were all full & firm and i was able to add significant more volume to my early bird workout - and i looked all solid afterwards instead of borderline haggard, nice one. was a bit puzzled as to why, so this article's timing was spot-on and made perfect sense. looking forward to dialling back in some quality rice and potatoes with my meals from here on and being able to get more out my workouts. cheerso, great timing!

  2. Any tips on coming back from moderate shoulder injuries? Not being able to lift suuuucks.

  3. Ive been in PT. Both my shoulders shit the bed at slightly separate times. One is finally doing much better but one is still acting up. My next move is MRI but they are expensive; I've been training "around" it but you know how it is. The worst part is I dont know what it is from specifically. I've consulted PTs and an AT and they dont think anything is torn but man does it hurt to press and curl. I have the injury depression man.

  4. Do you have any suggestions on quick easy ways to shovel back carb besides using a carb supplement. It might sound funny but working in a kitchen I have very little time to eat some days which makes gaining weight very difficult.

    1. Drinks are def the easiest. But really you're just gonna have to force yourself to eat more at the meals you do have.

  5. I know this question has been asked 12858372 times, but I can't seem to find a clear answer or any sort of consensus. Also, every online calculator gives me a different answer. For example, I typed in a 6 foot 200lb dude into the IIFYM calculator on their website, it said he only needs 2600 calories a day to live and 2930 to gain. Daily weight gain calories is broken up into 415g carbs, 160g protein, and 70g fat. I know this can't be right because your article said :

    "a lean 200 pound bro will need between 500 and 600 grams of carbs a day"

    So my question is, is that supposed to be every day on a bulking diet, or every lifting day? If it's just every lifting day, then do you simply eat at maintenance on your off days? There's so much contradictory diet advice out there that I just don't know what the fuck to think any more.
    Here's the math:
    Maintenance = BW x 15 (got that off lyle mcdonald's website)
    Bulking = BW x 16-20 (from lift-run-bang 365)
    protein = 1g/lb
    fat = .35 g/lb (got this off the IIFYM website, says you can go as high as .5 g/lb bodyweight)
    carbs = everything else

    Everything stays the same except carbs ( 200 g protein, 70g fat, altogether it's 1430 cals), so daily maintenance @ 3k cals is 392g carbs and bulking is (bw x 20 = 4k cals) is 642.


    1. This is not 1 question, this is like 20 questions all packed into "1 question".