475kg world record squat

Carl Yngvar Christensen broke the International Powerlifting Federation world record in the back squat two weeks ago with a brain-frazzling weight of 475kg!

This is a gigantic weight, and even more impressively Christensen goes down past parallel. DESTROY THE WEIGHTS!

Posted in Miscellaneous

How many reps? The ultimate guide to fast muscle growth

Update: Since publishing this article I’ve written a more complete guide to muscle hypertrophy here, I recommend you go and check that out first and foremost.

One of the most common topics I see debated about on the internet is the repetition parameter. There are many very useful tables and charts out there for determining the right repetition range for your specific goal. This article assumes that your primary goal is muscle hypertrophy.

To put it simply, as a rule of thumb, to support your goal of muscle hypertrophy, you need to go above and beyond what your muscles feel comfortable doing in any given workout, and you need to get a combination of enhanced blood flow through the muscle, and the accumulation of lactic acid. I’ll explain the science of why this is the case in a couple of paragraphs. Read more ›

Posted in Guides, Workouts and fitness

An informal study on gains when working night-shifts

As of Sunday I will be working night-shifts for 4 weeks. I don’t mind this for some extra cash before Christmas, but I am worried about the effect it might have on my gains.

Through the day your body releases hormones which are most associated with catabolism and in the evening it releases hormones most associated with anabolism. Changing your sleeping pattern will have an effect on this natural process in the body and may throw it off completely. Read more ›

Posted in Miscellaneous

Interview: Gavin Saiz

Today we got to interview Gavin Saiz, a bodybuilder from Phoenix, Arizona, who competes while serving with the US Air Force stationed in Kaiserslauten, Germany. We were impressed by Gavin’s recent success in  the recent INBF USAG Natural Stuttgart European Championships, so it was really cool to ask him some questions about his story. Read more ›

Posted in Miscellaneous

Top 10 clean and jerk accidents

If done wrong, the clean and jerk can be quite dangerous, and the following 10 lifters demonstrate this in pretty spectacular style. The lesson from this article is to remember to always stay safe when training, especially with the Olympic lifts. Read more ›

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Oskari Lehtinen 300kg deadlift

Meanwhile in Finland…

Powerlifter Oskari Lehtinen prepares for the IPF World Championships with an easy 300kg effort.

Fun fact: Lehtinen made a 1,000kg total at the Finnish nationals in May.

Posted in Miscellaneous

How to use the single leg press to improve your deadlift

A very common problem that people encounter with the deadlift is that they use their back too much. They concentrate on pulling the bar rather than pressing and extending the hips. Using the hips, legs, and back in equal measure is the key to progressing in this lift and making great gains.

Single leg pressUsing the full back squat can be an effective way of remedying this, but once again a limiting factor in the squat is back and core strength. In no way am I saying don’t squat, instead I’m going to suggest that you isolate the legs and hips in order to fix this specific problem in the deadlift, by using the single leg press.

The single leg press is really easy and can be done using a machine or a sled, whichever you choose doesn’t really matter. Simply climb into a leg press machine, and leg press with one leg rather than two. The main reason I like this lift is that it builds unilateral strength in each of your legs, while using your hips to a greater extent than the ordinary leg press. The key is using the single leg press to closely simulate the leg and hip positioning during the deadlift.

The first time you do the single leg press, and thrust out of a 90-degree thigh-to-knee angle, you’ll feel the burn in your glutes and hamstrings, rather than just in your quads in an ordinary leg press. Doing that movement for 2-3 sets of five reps a couple of times a week for at least three months will pay dividends to your deadlift.

To be fair, the ordinary leg press could also be used just as well to isolate the legs in a movement simulating the deadlift. The only potential problem with it is that it trains the quadriceps too much over the muscles controlling hip extension. With nearly all athletic performance, hip extension is more important than knee extension. Having massive quads will weigh you down without adding much to your sporting performance.

Posted in Workouts and fitness

Olympic lifting for hypertrophy and power

Update: After experimentation and a lot of reflection I’ve come to the conclusion that Olympic lifting does NOT lend itself to hypertrophy, nor does it develop power outside of the gym. There’s very little time under tension, and although there’s a lot of volume you can get the same hypertrophy gains by doing high volume front squats. But, if you enjoy doing the Olympic lifts, then you just continue doing them.

If there’s one I’ve noticed in my YouTube travels around the many channels devoted to Olympic lifting, it’s that Olympic lifters look awesome, with thick, dense muscles. It’s a classic comparison between weightlifting and bodybuilding, that the former stimulates myofibrilar hypertrophy, and the latter focuses on sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. The snatch and the clean and jerk work the musculature of the back and legs enormously, and Olympic lifters basically do deadlift-like movements all day every day for months at a time. It’s no wonder that they develop fantastic-looking bodies.

I’m looking for a training program to help average men and women get great-looking bodies, with big, thick muscles alongside considerable power gains for transferability into sport and everyday life. In my eBook The Strong Everyman Workout I detail the power clean as one of the best fat-burning exercises around. But I want to make a routine that revolves around the full clean and possibly the jerk – an Olympic hypertrophy program.

The differences between the full clean and the power clean are subtle. The full clean can be used to lift a lot more weight, and through a longer range of motion than the relatively short power clean, where you catch the weight with a wide stance, with the hips above parallel. The fuller range of motion into a deep front squat is good for flexibility in the hips.

Olympic weightlifters also use a large amount of volume – lifters commonly use set-rep ranges like 6×3 with near-maximum weights in the full clean and jerk, so if we were to develop an Olympic hypertrophy program we would need to emulate this. Higher volume also means more calorie burn, and the inherent high intensity of the full clean, meaning our program would also be great for a healthy heart and strong cardiovascular system, not to mention a lean body.

We should also include other lifts into the routine for diversity and roundness. I would include the back squat, the weighted overhand pull-up, and the bench press, to help build the whole musculature and develop all-round strength, not to mention maintenance of joint integrity.

To help build more muscle mass, a high caloric intake would be vital for our Olympic hypertrophy program. For men, I think at least 6,000 calories is necessary on workout days, and at least 3,000 for women. Training frequency should be relatively high too, three days a week is a good guide. For those who want to really advance with regards to strength and mass gains, periodisation and manipulation of training variables is necessary. This means altering training frequency week by week to put excess stress on the body for a short period of time. For example, you could train three times a week for a couple of months, and then workout six times a week for two weeks straight. After the two weeks of pain finish, take three days off, and train only once or twice the next week. After that, return to training three times a week. You’ll have enhanced muscle hypertrophy and strength gains.

To sum up our theoretical Olympic hypertrophy program:

  • Do the full clean and possibly the jerk for high volume three times a week
  • Also do lifts such as the back squat, pull-up, and bench press
  • Consume at least 6,000 calories each training day, 3,000 for women
  • Periodise training to break strength plateaus and enhance muscle hypertrophy

I look forward to working more on this, and coming up with a concrete program. :)

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Macro-cycling for lean gains

Taking carbohydrates from the diet and opting for a keto or paleo diet is a very quick way to decrease bodyfat levels, and to feel awesome by getting most of one’s energy from dietary fat. However, this can potentially limit muscle hypertrophy, due to the necessity of all three macronutrients in big muscle growth, including carbohydrates.

Plus, many people, myself included, find it really difficult to go on a strict keto diet. I just love foods that happen to contain carbohydrates. This includes cereal, chocolate, crisps, roast potatoes, and the rest. They’re delicious, and I love eating them. But here’s the key: I only eat these kinds of foods in the post-workout window.

I still practice intermittent fasting, and go keto on my rest days, but after my workouts, I go carb crazy. Not only does this macro-cycling keep me sane, but it helps to maintain the cross-sectional size of my muscles, while keeping my bodyfat levels down. In fact, the insulin sensitivity brought on by keto on my rest days and my fasted, high-intensity workouts mean that my body is incredibly insulin-sensitive, and my body is swimming in anabolic hormones, so any muscle growth is accentuated. I’m making strength and power gains while keeping my bodyfat levels low.

If you need a quick key, just remember these two points:

  • On workout days, maximise carbohydrates
  • On rest days, maximise protein

Strictly speaking though, and in spite of all of the above, you might probably choose to aim for one of the two main goals at a time: weight gain or fat loss. Body recomposition is entirely possible, but it takes a long time and is mainly a strategy for the most patient among you. It’s your choice. I know that if I were to take on clients for personal training, I might very well start off by having them choose muscle hypertrophy or fat loss. But, if they’re patient enough, I could put them on a scheme like the one I described above. It just depends on the person’s needs and desires.

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Posted in Nutrition and diet

Additional strength training for swimmers

In my previous articles I talked about how I thought the weighted overhand pull-up could be a very useful and specific lift for swimmers to develop shoulder strength in the relevant movement patterns. I proposed that a swimmer’s strength in this lift could be an indicator for their speed performance in the pool for certain strokes, like the butterfly or breaststroke.

T-bar rowsThere are also other ways for swimmers to develop strength in the right places. I would invite swimmers to try the T-bar row, exhibited by Arnold on the right.

This lift is one of my personal favourites. Personally I prefer the variation where the palms are facing each other rather than downward, as it resembles the seated horizontal row, but this is up to you. I just find it a really fun lift, and I love the upper back and rear deltoid strength that it develops. As a sprinter, these areas are important for me due to the requirements of the powerful piston movement of the shoulders in the acceleration phase. For swimmers specifically, these strength gains will pay dividends to your sports performance as well, as the deltoids are the prime movers in the pool, and the upper back will help to stabilise your body at high speeds.

Side note: if done with hypertrophy in mind, this lift is incredibly effective for develop a big shield of upper back muscles, due to the constant tension and hormonal effect that this elicits.

I recommend that swimmers do three sets of 10 reps with this lift after a few warm up sets. As a swimmer, the weight training should always be secondary to time in the pool, and you should save your energy for those workouts instead of the weight room. In addition, the low volume means you won’t stimulate too much hypertrophy. That might be seem like odd advice for a blog about muscle growth, but in swimming, power-to-weight ratios are vital, and having too much excess body mass is detrimental when you’re expending twice as much energy than on land to travel the same distance.

Finally, as I’ve said before in my previous swimming articles with the WOPU, it’s important to balance these movements with upper body push lifts to maintain shoulder health. The stresses of daily swimming will tax your shoulders greatly, make sure you stretch and foam roll every day before training.

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