How to program for strength and muscle gain – an expansion

Ok… so ever since I wrote my Idiots Guide to Programming piece, I’ve had people come and ask about sets and reps, and exercise selection. Which is kind of annoying because I left it out of the original post on purpose because I genuinely feel it’s too broad an area to get specific in a blog post about, and because someone is DEFINITELY going to take something I say here, apply it poorly and then blame me because they’ve been an idiot.

But I’m a complete whore and people have been asking, so I’ll deliver – but with the express qualifier of – don’t blame me for your stupidity.

Now that that’s out of the way, allow me to remain ambiguous. What follows are some general guidelines on reps/sets and exercise choice, but first, some general points about general things, generally speaking.
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The importance of hand position in the squat

“My wrists hurt” is probably one of the most common complaints I hear off people squatting, and the good news is it’s really bloody easy to fix. Think of it this way…

“Straight wrist = strong wrist” and “Bent wrist = bad wrist”

The pictures below do a better job of explaining the position than any text can. Essentially rather than the bar sitting in your hand, it sits across it. I think it’s a safer, less painful position, and I personally find it a lot more secure to for keeping the bar on my back, and the external shoulder rotation tends to force thoracic extension as well which will increase your squat and protect your lower back. It’s simple fix with lots of positive benefits. So….

GOOD                                                   BAD
   

GOOD                                                   BAD
    

One thing to be conscious of is that as you try to drive the elbows forward out of the bottom of the squat (like you should be doing), you’re trying to create thoracic extension and keep your chest up. Having “soft” wrists so that you go from the “good” position to the “bad” position while you’re doing that does not create thoracic extension and just loads the absolute hell out of your wrists.

It might take a while to work into that position because it does require a good level of flexibility and could be uncomfortable while you’re trying to adapt to it, but I believe it’s worth it in the long run. So give it a try and let me know what you think.

….and yes, I know. My forearms are jacked.

Quick Tips – Volume 3

Push something, pull something, do something for your legs… and do it 2-4 days per week.

If you just based your workout around those three simple things, you’d probably be more healthy, have increased injury resistance, be more in balance and achieve your goals faster.

It’s simple, it’s VERY quick, and it’s “functional” in the strictest sense of the word.
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Quick Tips – Volume 2

So Christmas is upon us and it’s the time of year when people tend to add a little extra winter padding. It happens, try not to stress out about it. Here’s a few quick tips that might help you to minimise any damage over the season of indulgence…

1) Don’t be all or nothing – if you have a slice of cake, it doesn’t mean your day is over. Keep the rest of the day on track and eat well to make up for it.

2) Glycogen depletion and calorie partioning –  train with higher volume and intensities in the days before a big event and run your carb intake down a bit so that when you do go out and party, most of the calories go towards replenshing the depleted energy stores in your body from hard training rather than onto your hips/bum/tum in the form of fat. This is the exact reason I’ve designed my 2011 Christmas FitCamp.

3)  Consider a mini diet – similarly to point 2, if you know there’s a big feast coming up on Saturday, run your kcals and carb intake down for the week before so that your average weekly kcal intake comes in right were it should be (also start your meals with lots of meat and leafy green veg and eat ’til you’re full – it’ll stop you eating too much dessert).

….and if none of that works, chill the hell out, it’s Christmas. ENJOY YOURSELF!!!

One For The Ladies – Why Lifting Weights Won’t Make You Big and Bulky

Almost every girl who steps into the gym for the first time has the same concern when their trainer suggests a weights program – they’re going to ‘bulk up’ and become some muscular monster with chunky veins everywhere (sound familiar??). Nothing could be further from the truth. Weight, and particularly strength, training in conjunction with mobility and conditioning work will give you that toned body which you’re after. So let’s plough on and see why you shouldn’t fear weight training…

What weights WILL do:                             What weights WON’T do:
   
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Technical Failure

It’s not going to be very often that you hear me refer to something Charles Poliquin says as a positive, but there’s at least one concept of his I really love – technical failure.

Reps stop counting once your form breaks down beyond a defined technical standard. For example, that’ll be bouncing or bum lifts on the bench, not breaking parallel with your squats, or not getting your chin over the bar for chin ups and pull ups.

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Training Bodyweight Exercises

This post was inspired by a question on the boards.ie fitness forum recently. A poster was having trouble increasing the number of pull ups and dips that they could do – they were stuck at 4 of each and going nowhere.

The biggest challenge for a beginner looking to increase their bodyweight strength numbers is that you can’t ‘work up’ to bodyweight in the same way as you would build up numbers with a barbell and dumbbells (unless you want to cut a limb or two off?!). If you were a 75kg guy looking for 5 reps with bodyweight on the bench press then you might start at 60kg and 12-15 reps and add weight and drop reps each week on the way to your target. Obviously if you’re a 75kg guy only able to do 4-5 pull ups, you can’t use that method because you can’t go below bodyweight.

So what to do…? Well you can partially deload your bodyweight with bands and work with higher reps that way – adjusting band tension to allow for more/less assistance, this is a favourite of Will Heffernans and from seeing the results its gotten both guys and girls, it’s a pretty damn good way of doing things.

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