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(For FAQ's on "Maverick Fitness" click here)

Fitness

  1. When it comes to overhead presses, which is better standing or seated? Behind-the-neck or press in front of the neck? What is the optimal grip width?
  2. I have lost four inches from my belly, but I want to lose even more. Should I increase my cardio or cut back the size of my meals?
  3. I know that the back consists of a bunch of different muscles so does it matter which ones I work first?
  4. What is the best repetition range for building muscle?
  5. Is it possible to gain muscle strength or muscle endurance without gaining muscle size?
  6. My deltoids don't seem to be developing evenly. What should I do?
  7. Aren't triceps pushdowns good for developing the triceps?
  8. I train my shoulders after chest, but they seem pretty beat after bench pressing and incline pressing and doing flyes and pec dec. Any ideas?
  9. If there are three separate triceps heads then shouldn't I do three triceps exercises, each designed to blast one of the three?
  10. What is the best way to build pectorals? Mine are non-existent despite weight training for three solid years.
  11. I am confused about stretching. Some articles say stretching is a must for bodybuilders while others say it is a waste of time or worse. Some say stretch between your sets, others don't. Which is correct?
  12. I do lat pulls behind the neck because I can use more weight. What's wrong with that?
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  14. I like to train my chest three times a week, yet I see you recommend training a muscle only twice a week? I'm getting good results, so why should I cut back?
  15. What can I do to prevent muscle cramping?
  16. I see a lot of different styles of lateral raises done here in our gym. They seem to break down into two general types: some people use heavy dumbbells and a lot of body motion. Others use pee-wee poundage and make the bells travel in a huge semicircle. Which is best?
  17. When it comes to overhead presses, which is better, standing or seated? Behind-the-neck or press in front of the neck? What is the optimal grip width?
  18. How often do you train triceps? They seem to get a lot of indirect work from bench presses and overhead presses.
  19. I want a ripped six pack: How do you suggest working abdominal work into a free-weight routine? Since I want to have a shredded waistline shouldn't I work abs every day?
  20. I've always done sit-ups. Why aren't they recommended?
  21. How important are dips and how far down do you advise going when doing them? I've seen guys at the gym go all the way down deep and I've seen other really well-built guys dip down to about where the upper arms are parallel to the floor, plus they've got plates hung onto their waist with a special dip belt and hook. Which is correct for an intermediate guy like me?
  22. How can I inject some variety into my free weight calf training?
  23. I am a runner and prefer not to do lower body training. Is that a problem?
  24. Shouldn't I do my lat pulls with a palms-up grip to get a different angle on the muscle?
  25. I was told that upright rows were really bad for your shoulders. Why do you recommend them?
  26. If I do four to five sets each of squats, leg presses, hack squats, calf raises, lunges, lying leg curls and leg extensions it takes almost two hours to finish. How long should it take to train legs?
  27. On certain training days such as when I do back and biceps together, sometimes it is difficult to hold onto the bar because of forearm fatigue. Is there anything I can do to correct this?
  28. I've heard the terms "concentric and eccentric contractions." What do these mean?
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  30. I hear guys in the gym talking about upper and lower abdominals. Should they be treated separate and distinct, or is this just overly complicating abdominal training?
  31. How do I know if I'm squatting correctly?
  32. Is it best to work back and legs on different days since they hit a lot of the same muscles?
  33. I can't do behind-the-neck presses without causing discomfort. Any ideas?
  34. I have had a cold the past couple of days and was wondering if it is a good idea to still exercise?
  35. Aren't open-chain exercises like leg extensions dangerous to your knees?
  36. I've read in several muscle mags that leg extensions could cause knee problems, yet they seem to be a popular exercise. Any advice?
  37. Anytime I work lats I get more of a biceps pump than a lat pump. I understand I'm not alone, but my lats suck, they are virtually non-existent. I've got great biceps though. What are your thoughts?
  38. What is better: different types of flyes or the various bench presses for building pecs?
  39. What is meant by the term Basal Metabolic Rate?
  40. Which is more beneficial: machines or free-weight exercises?

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Nutrition

  1. Are there any "fast foods" that can fit into my healthy eating plan?
  2. What is CLA, and how does it function?
  3. I've heard a lot about EFA's, and how they are important for several different bodily functions. What functions, and why are they "essential?"
  4. Does limiting carbohydrates interfere with exercise?
  5. Instead of taking the Myoplex Lite, may I take the regular Myoplex and just split it in half?
  6. If you take creatine and glutamine together, will they compete for absorption?

 

Q: When it comes to overhead presses, which is better standing or seated? Behind-the-neck or press in front of the neck? What is the optimal grip width?

A: The finest single shoulder exercise is the overhead press. By purposefully and subtly altering overhead press technique (tinkering with number of reps, grip, rep speed and poundage), you create a virtual unlimited number of outstanding deltoid exercises. Try both standing and seated press varieties and don’t forget to try "dumbbell-only" overhead pressing. Dumbbell presses force each limb to carry its fair share and a cycle or two of dumbbell-only training will iron out any muscle or strength imbalances. If you are able to do the press-behind-the-neck (PBN) without discomfort (and safely!), then hit 10-rep sets using a medium to wide grip. After pushing the first PBN rep to completion, lower each subsequent rep only down to ear lobe level. Allowing the barbell to settle on the shoulders between reps can wreak havoc on rotator cuffs. Experiment with different grip widths in the standing and seated overhead front press. Seated dumbbell presses are highly effective.

Q: I have lost four inches from my belly, but I want to lose even more. Should I increase my cardio or cut back the size of my meals?

A: Congratulations on your impressive progress! What I would recommend is you stick with what has worked for you so far. It is so disappointing to see people who have made remarkable improvements change their approach for no logical reason. I do not believe that more aerobic exercise is the answer! How do we know that more rest and recovery is not what is called for? You wouldn’t believe the number of people I’ve gotten into disagreements with because I knew what they needed was more rest and recovery, yet they were convinced that more work is what they required. Please, do not rely on trial and error—do not take what I’m saying here lightly. If you’ve reached the point where you feel like you need to do more exercise, remember that we stimulate the muscle-building and fat-burning process with brief, intense exercise. The "magic" occurs during rest.

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Q: I know that the back consists of a bunch of different muscles so does it matter which ones I work first?

A: The rule of thumb is to start with the heaviest exercise and end with the lightest. This way your energy is at its highest when you need it the most. The heaviest weight is easiest handled by groups of muscles working together in muscular consort. When an exercise requires groups of muscles to pull together to complete the task, it is called a compound multi-joint exercise. Start the workout with the compound multi-joint exercise and finish off with one or two (or three) thoughtfully selected isolation exercises. The back consists of spinal erectors, upper and lower lats (separate and distinct), trapezius, rhomboids and teres. It takes a nice blend of compound multi-joint exercises and isolation exercises to hit all of them in a single workout.

Q: What is the best repetition range for building muscle?

A: The conventional view that fewer reps in each set equates to more muscle gain is a bit too simplistic. In reality, when one performs sets with very high weight and low reps, the main physiological change is a strengthening of neuromuscular pathways. In other words, high weight/low reps strengthen the brain’s ability to activate muscle. However, if we bump up the reps slightly while decreasing the weight as necessary, the muscle tissue will perform more total work, and thus more muscle growth will occur. However, if the reps are increased too high, the main effect will be an increase in muscle endurance. Through research, it has been determined that the best range for hypertrophy (muscle gain) is roughly between 8-12 reps. As the reps are decreased from this range, the program will elicit greater strength gains. In contrast, more than 12 reps mainly allows for increases in muscular endurance. Since the majority of the BFL resistance-training program prescribes sets in the 8-12 repetition range, the main effect of the BFL program is an increase in lean body mass.

Q: Is it possible to gain muscle strength or muscle endurance without gaining muscle size?

A: Training for strength over size is largely attained through potentiating the neuromuscular system (brain-muscle connection); that is, strengthening the nervous system as a muscle "activator". As a protective mechanism for the body, the central nervous system has safeguards in place that shut down muscle activity when the muscle attempts to work at too high an intensity. Specifically, one of these systems works through an organelle found in tendons of muscle (Golgi tendon organs), which shuts down muscle activity when it senses that there is too much strain on a muscle. Also, for the untrained individual (or somebody who rarely lifts very heavy weights), the connection between muscle and brain may be relatively weak. To train the neuromuscular connection, it is advisable to perform low repetitions per set, using explosive movements (short concentric contractions) while lowering the weights under control. Be sure to be adequately warmed up before starting into the working sets. Although muscle fiber density may increase from this type of training, hypertrophy is minimized since high resistance/low rep training does not elicit changes in extra-fibril structures (blood vessels, organelles like mitochondria). At the same time, strength gains will be evident through neuromuscular potentiation. Training for muscle endurance is generally achieved through high repetitions and lighter weights. With this type of training, the major change to the muscle is the ability to manage metabolic waste, and fuel utilization. For example, the muscle is better able to utilize lactate as a fuel rather than allow it to minimize muscle performance. Also, more efficient fuel sources such as fats make up a larger portion of the muscle’s fuel (rather than carbohydrates which tend to promote metabolic waste accumulation). Note, however, that some of these changes include increased capillary (and blood vessel) density and mitochondria – changes that reduce muscle density.

Q: My deltoids don't seem to be developing evenly. What should I do?

A: As different sections of the deltoid perform different functions, we must choose our exercises wisely, depending upon the section of the muscle we wish to develop. Generally speaking, we should place a premium on those exercises that target the lateral and posterior fibers. The anterior fibers get plenty of direct training when training the pectorals, but they come into play to a significant degree as well when exercises for the lateral head are performed.  

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Q: Aren't triceps pushdowns good for developing the triceps?

A: The triceps pushdown is a great movement for developing the lateral and short head of the triceps. Athletes looking to fully develop the triceps should include movements that place the arm in an overhead position to engage the long head of the triceps.

Q: I train my shoulders after chest, but they seem pretty beat after bench pressing and incline pressing and doing flyes and pec dec. Any ideas?

A: You could move them to leg training day or you could give shoulders the first position on a separate training day. Most serious weight trainers agree that doing serious shoulder work after serious chest work is not optimal. The various types of bench presses use a lot of the same muscles as used in the shoulder presses. This is bad news for whatever exercise is relegated to the second position. One idea is to give shoulders their own training day. Working the deltoids when they are fresh will result in you using significantly more poundage or in being able to squeeze out extra reps. Either way, you are further ahead than just leaving them in eternal second position behind benching. Another clever alternative is to hit the deltoids after legs. No muscle conflicts arise other than the general fatigue associated with hard and heavy leg training. Even this can be circumnavigated by doing all overhead presses and lateral raises seated, thereby taking the fatigued legs out of the action altogether.  

Q: If there are three separate triceps heads then shouldn't I do three triceps exercises, each designed to blast one of the three?

A: Actually, it would be just short of amazing if you able to isolate the three triceps heads one from another. The three muscles of the triceps work in such close coordination with one another that it is nearly impossible to isolate them. The best way to attack the triceps is to divide the triceps workout among the different types of triceps exercises. Dips are a distinct form. Seated and lying triceps extensions using either barbell or dumbbells is another unique and distinct form of triceps exercise. Cables and pulleys offer another distinctive method to target triceps. The differences between these three types of triceps exercises offer enough variety to provide a lifetime of exercise exploration. I would suggest two, or at most three, triceps exercises after finishing chest. Rotate in fresh exercises every three or four workouts. Pick each triceps exercise for their distinct difference. Whether I do two or three triceps exercises, I seek variety.  

Q: What is the best way to build pectorals? Mine are non-existent despite weight training for three solid years.

A: Actually, your predicament is quite common and I’m not surprised in the slightest that you have good deltoid and triceps development in relationship to your pathetic pecs. The human body has a muscle "subconscious" and yours has discovered how to have the delts and tris do the work the pecs are supposed to do. As a result, every time you bench or hit the pec dec, you are inflicting more fiber stimulation on your shoulders and arms than your chest. You have to learn how to isolate the target muscle. Widen your bench press grip to between 28 to 32 inches, forefinger to forefinger. Lower the barbell slowly to a point closer to the nipples than the neck, pause for an instant (no bouncing) before firing the bar back to lockout. The wider the grip, the more the pecs are activated and the less the front delts and triceps are called upon. Concentrate on groove and position, use a slow lowering and pause to isolate and target the pecs prior to the all-important push. The poundage will suffer, but so what? Go for "feel’ instead of weight.

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Q: I am confused about stretching. Some articles say stretching is a must for bodybuilders while others say it is a waste of time or worse. Some say stretch between your sets, others don't. Which is correct?

A: The two stretching methods usually recommended to bodybuilders, relaxed and loaded-passive, have decidedly different effects and applications. Hence the confusion. I’ll fix it. Relaxed stretching (RS) is what Americans usually think of when they hear the word "stretching." You relax the muscle and then try to elongate it. This type of stretching makes the muscle temporarily weaker, which is why some coaches recommend stretching the antagonists between sets of bodybuilding exercises. Because the opposing muscles create less drag, you become temporarily stronger by taking your brakes off. As I explained in a previous installment of this column, this technique is generally limited to single-joint exercises such as leg curls. Russian import loaded-passive stretching (LPS) is the stuff that builds strength. It is also practiced between sets but is applied to the agonists rather than the antagonists; the engines rather than the brakes. Using the curl as an example, you would stretch the triceps with RS and the biceps with LPS. Don’t try to either relax or contract the target muscles. Stretch them carefully but powerfully with some external force. The stretch, which should be set up to be felt in the belly of the muscle rather than in the tendons or the joints, must be intense—even painful—and held steadily for 10 seconds. Unlike relaxed stretching, this brutal technique strengthens the stretched muscles. In studies, LPS was shown to lead to instant strength gains of up to 9.4 percent and long-term strength gains as well.  

Q: I do lat pulls behind the neck because I can use more weight. What's wrong with that?

A: Behind the neck Lat Pull Downs may be damaging to the shoulder joint. When executing the movement in that manner, you must lean forward with the trunk and put stress on the shoulder joint with external rotation and horizontal abduction. This is a weak position for the shoulder. The increased weight is likely due to the involvement of the trunk and hip flexors

Q: I like to train my chest three times a week, yet I see you recommend training a muscle only twice a week? I'm getting good results, so why should I cut back?

A: The average trainee should train a muscle twice a week—all the muscles—not just the ones you like. Really strong athletes often will train a muscle only once a week; it takes them a full seven days to recover from the pounding they endured handling the big weight. Assuming you are a beginner or intermediate trainee, chest training should be done no more (or less) than twice a week and for no more than 30 to 40 minutes.

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Q: What can I do to prevent muscle cramping?

A: Muscle cramping occurs when a muscle continues to contract, and cannot seem to "let go". The painful sensation one feels is caused by muscle fatigue, and waste products like lactic acid that build up in the muscle. Although the cause of muscle cramps is not entirely understood, a number of factors seem to be involved, including hydration level, electrolyte balance, training history, and chronically tight muscles.

  1. Training history seems to be the most important factor. Exercise beyond an accustomed limit (longer duration, or intensity) will often bring on muscle cramps. However, through regular training, one tends to experience muscle cramps less frequently.

  2. Make sure that you are drinking enough water – 10 glasses of water daily (at least 10 oz. each), or if you care to be more precise, 0.6oz/water/lb. of bodyweight. Increase this amount if you consume caffeine. For each cup of coffee, tea, or soda you take in, please be sure to add an additional 10 oz glass of water for each.

  3. Through sweating (especially in a hot environment), one tends to lose electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Normally these are replaced in the diet. However, prolonged exercise (longer than 1 hour) in hot environments may create a need for mineral replenishment. Try adding a bit of salt to your foods, and take a multivitamin/mineral supplement and see if this makes a difference.

  4. Lastly, tight muscles are best addressed by stretching before and after every workout. Stretching allows more nutrients, blood, etc. into the muscle, and allows you to dispose of waste materials more easily due to increased blood flow.

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Q: I see a lot of different styles of lateral raises done here in our gym. They seem to break down into two general types: some people use heavy dumbbells and a lot of body motion. Others use pee-wee poundage and make the bells travel in a huge semicircle. Which is best?

A: Stick to pee-wee poundage and a big range of motion when it comes to lateral raises. It is extremely difficult to make the all-important mind/muscle connection with deltoids since the trapezius, rear deltoids and even pectoral minor and biceps want to come to the aid of the deltoid. If you use big weights, sloppy technique and heave the bells upward, you’re likely stimulating traps more than shoulders, not what we want. If you cannot lift lateral raises to shoulder level—a point where the arms are parallel to the floor—then you are using too much poundage. Try to actually hold your arms at head height a beat before lowering. Beware of the inclination to "toss" the bells upward instead of lifting the bells using shoulder power alone. Beginner and intermediate level trainees should avoid low-rep lateral raises using heavy poundage as this reinforces bad habits.

Q: When it comes to overhead presses, which is better, standing or seated? Behind-the-neck or press in front of the neck? What is the optimal grip width?

A: The finest single shoulder exercise is the overhead press. By purposefully and subtly altering overhead press technique (tinkering with number of reps, grip, rep speed and poundage), you create a virtual unlimited number of outstanding deltoid exercises. Try both standing and seated press varieties and don’t forget to try "dumbbell-only" overhead pressing. Dumbbell presses force each limb to carry its fair share and a cycle or two of dumbbell-only training will iron out any muscle or strength imbalances. If you are able to do the press-behind-the-neck (PBN) without discomfort (and safely!), then hit 10-rep sets using a medium to wide grip. After pushing the first PBN rep to completion, lower each subsequent rep only down to ear lobe level. Allowing the barbell to settle on the shoulders between reps can wreak havoc on rotator cuffs. Experiment with different grip widths in the standing and seated overhead front press. Seated dumbbell presses are highly effective.  

Q: How often do you train triceps? They seem to get a lot of indirect work from bench presses and overhead presses.

A: You are spot-on regarding the dilemma of triceps over-training. Even an elite weight trainer should be careful or they can inadvertently schedule three brutal triceps days in a row and wonder why upper body progress has screeched to a halt. If an advanced trainee were to schedule bench presses and incline presses on Monday, overhead presses on Tuesday and trained triceps on Wednesday, the triceps would never recover from the pounding. Most of the Iron Elite schedule chest followed immediately by triceps and then take off a few days off before hitting shoulders, fresh and rested. Take a few days off following the brutal shoulder workout and start the sequence again the following week. Each week seek to squeeze out a few more reps or slightly up the poundage. Triceps size and power can be increased quickly but the trick is doing enough—but not too much. Over-training triceps is a distinct possibility if close attention is not paid to exercise selection and placement.

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Q: I want a ripped six pack: How do you suggest working abdominal work into a free-weight routine? Since I want to have a shredded waistline shouldn't I work abs every day?

A: How about eliminating all ab work from the workout altogether and perform your ab routine at night while watching TV? You can do crunches, leg raises, seated twists, sit-ups and leg scissor moves while in the comfort of your living room lying on the carpeted floor watching a 30-minute TV program. This will "buy back" a considerable chunk of training time in the gym and make watching the boob-tube a productive undertaking.

Q: I've always done sit-ups. Why aren't they recommended?

A: A full sit-up primarily engages the hip flexors, not the abdominals. During a sit-up, the hip flexors are doing most of the work and the abs act as stabilizers. Other movements, like the crunch, may focus more on the abdominals as a primary mover and therefore give better results for abdominal strength and definition.

Q: How important are dips and how far down do you advise going when doing them? I've seen guys at the gym go all the way down deep and I've seen other really well-built guys dip down to about where the upper arms are parallel to the floor, plus they've got plates hung onto their waist with a special dip belt and hook. Which is correct for an intermediate guy like me?

A: You’ve just described in nice detail the two distinctive dip styles. One way is to use your bodyweight and lower yourself as far as physically possible before pushing back to arms’ length. If you drop down as far as possible while leaning slightly forward (slumping), the initial stress out of the hole will be on your pecs but as the rep stroke continues your triceps take over near lockout. On the other hand, the use of a purposefully shorter rep stroke combined with additional poundage stresses the triceps in a unique and effective way. Try both methods but exercise care when you start hanging plates on your body.  

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Q: How can I inject some variety into my free weight calf training?

A: Learn to do all manner of calf raises off a stair-step or off a deep, steep block. Calves need to be stretched in order to get them to grow. Single-leg calf raises are incredibly difficult if done correctly: using one leg at a time, start from an ultra-deep stretch and finish the exercise way up on the tiptoe. Hold the top position for a beat before lowering. Vary the toe position to hit different sections of the calf muscle. To further increase the difficulty, hold a dumbbell in one hand and use the other hand for balance. If you are a home trainer with a power rack you can use a barbell to do standing calf raises or wrap a bar in a towel and do seated calf raises using strategically placed rack pins.

Q: I am a runner and prefer not to do lower body training. Is that a problem?

A: The quads are generally stronger than the hamstrings. Many sports, like running, emphasize the quads but do not stress the hamstrings enough. As a result, further imbalance is created and the hamstrings are put at risk for injury. This may result in a reduced ability to push off or sprint effectively.

Q: Shouldn't I do my lat pulls with a palms-up grip to get a different angle on the muscle?

A: Elbow flexion is a part of the movement of a lat pull. The biceps, a primary mover for elbow flexion, have a mechanical advantage when the palms are up as opposed to down. So, when doing lat pulls in this manner, an athlete can use more weight without recruiting more latissimus dorsi fibers.

Q: I was told that upright rows were really bad for your shoulders. Why do you recommend them?

A: Upright rows are a great exercise for developing the shoulders when done with proper form. It’s important to avoid bringing your arms past shoulder level during the movement. Done incorrectly, upright rows can result in damage to the connective tissue in the shoulder region. When the forearms are rotated downward and the elbows are raised above the shoulders, the upper arm bone and the shoulder blade may pinch the supraspinatus (shoulder) tendon and long head of the biceps.

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Q: If I do four to five sets each of squats, leg presses, hack squats, calf raises, lunges, lying leg curls and leg extensions it takes almost two hours to finish. How long should it take to train legs?

A: You are doing too much. A beginner or intermediate weight trainer will have about one hour to train before the law of diminishing returns sets in. Energy is at the highest at the beginning of the workout and begins an immediate downward spiral; each successive exercise has less available energy as the workout progresses. Experience has taught us that after 40 to 60 minutes, poundage plummets so drastically as to make further training counterproductive. The idea is to attack the three main muscles of the legs before energy fades and poundage nosedives. Quadriceps, hamstring and calves all need to be hit and hit hard. If you are lucky you will be able to squeeze in two or three leg exercises for each of the three leg muscles for three to four sets each within the allotted hour. Leg training is physically demanding if done correctly. Attempting to go hard for two hours is unrealistic. 

Q: On certain training days such as when I do back and biceps together, sometimes it is difficult to hold onto the bar because of forearm fatigue. Is there anything I can do to correct this?

A: Forearm strength is often a limiting factor, especially when handling heavy weights vertically such as pullups or deadlift. Chalk, sticky pads, or weightlifting straps can help with handling the load when necessary, however, as a rule of thumb, it is best to work through this discomfort since these very activities are some of the best exercises for developing the forearms and building grip strength. On the contrary, straps and chalk should always be used when 1.) your ability to hold the weight compromises the safety of the movement, or 2.) lack of grip strength limits your ability to strengthen/develop the target muscle effectively.

Q: I've heard the terms "concentric and eccentric contractions." What do these mean?

A: A concentric contraction occurs during the lifting phase of an exercise, when the muscle shortens or contracts. For example, when you lift the weight in a bench press, pressing it from your chest to the lock-out position, that is the concentric, or "positive," phase of the exercise. An eccentric contraction occurs during the lowering phase of an exercise, when the muscle lengthens. For example, lowering the weight to your chest during the bench press is the eccentric or "negative," portion of the exercise.  

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Q: I hear guys in the gym talking about upper and lower abdominals. Should they be treated separate and distinct, or is this just overly complicating abdominal training?

A: Technically there is only one abdominal muscle, the rectus abdominus. But it is an easy thing to include one ab exercise that stresses the upper row of the abdominal to a greater degree than the lower. Certain exercises are more strongly felt in the solar plexus region. Any type of exercise that causes you to repeatedly roll downward with resistance will stress the upper ab region. Include a second ab exercise that cause greater contraction in the lower abdominal region. Try semi-straight leg raises off a sturdy exercise bench or a stairway landing. Allow the legs to lower beneath the level of the bench. After lowering legs as far down as possible, raise them keeping them pressed together. Raise the feet until they are over you face before lowering. If you can get 10 reps you are doing great. Try super-setting decline sit-ups with leg raises off a bench for two to three sets, taking each to failure. This will blast the entire abdominal region from pelvis to solar plexus and lay waste to everything in between.

Q: How do I know if I'm squatting correctly?

A: Good question. First, stay flat on your feet and do not lean forward on your toes as you rise up. The back should stay tight, the head erect and the spine flexed throughout. Inhale as if you wanted to suck all the air out of the room as you descend. Dip down deep and hold the bottom position a beat before explosively standing erect. Think position and precision as you squat and try to keep the shins vertical; when the knees hover over ankles leverage and balance improve dramatically. The width of your stance is the key to learning balance. Learn to squat correctly without weight before using a barbell.  

Q: Is it best to work back and legs on different days since they hit a lot of the same muscles?

A: Yes, and here’s why: A properly performed set of squats or deadlifts will both blast the glutes, erectors and hamstrings to a significant degree. In addition it takes a lot of thigh to rip a limit deadlift off the floor. For this reason it is best to hit legs and back at the opposite end of the workout week. Do you really want to be doing heavy squats on muscles not recovered from back training the previous day? That is a recipe for poor performance and is potentially dangerous.

Q: I can't do behind-the-neck presses without causing discomfort. Any ideas?

A: Stop doing behind-the-neck presses! Never push through pain on any exercise. There are so many other equally valid shoulder exercises that there is never a reason to stay with a movement (any movement) that causes pain. How about substituting seated dumbbell presses or barbell overhead presses with a narrower grip and with the barbell held on the clavicles? There are dozens of overhead press variations and we haven’t even discussed all the different types of side and front lateral raises that hit the same muscles.  

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Q: I have had a cold the past couple of days and was wondering if it is a good idea to still exercise?

A: You may think it is a good idea not to engage in vigorous exercise when you have the sniffles. However, a new study suggests that if you are well enough to get out of bed, you are probably well enough to get a workout. Researchers at Ball State University in Indiana found that exercising does not delay recovery or worsen symptoms of the common cold. In the study, 34 moderately fit folks, ages 18-29, were assigned to an exercising group, while 16 additional people of similar age and fitness level were assigned to a non-exercising group. Then both groups were inoculated with a virus to produce upper respiratory illness. The exercising group worked out at 70% of maximum heart rate for 40 minutes per day*, every other day. Researchers collected used facial tissues and administered symptom questionnaires every 12 hours to gauge the progress of the illness and its symptoms. After ten days, analyses of symptoms were similar between the exercising and non-exercising groups. So while you may feel like scaling down your routine if you are feeling under the weather, there seems to be no reason to skip it altogether. *Note – This study focused on cardiovascular training – weight training involves much higher levels of oxidative stress, and as such would likely compromise immune function. As such, stick with cardiovascular training in these instances.

Q: Aren't open-chain exercises like leg extensions dangerous to your knees?

A: When lifters with healthy knees perform leg extensions with proper form, they do not pose a significant risk. While closed-chain exercises (e.g., squats) may have more functional applications than open-chain exercises, open chain exercises may help experienced lifters to isolate the quadriceps for increased mass.  

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Q: I've read in several muscle mags that leg extensions could cause knee problems, yet they seem to be a popular exercise. Any advice?

A: There seems to be a split consensus among fitness experts on leg extensions. A certain portion of top athletes have stopped doing leg extensions altogether. Knee pain is the usual reason cited; many complain of pain in and around the anterior cruciate ligament as well as the lateral and medial meniscus. Other equally talented athletes have done leg extensions for decades with no problems whatsoever. Many sport medicine and medical reconstructive surgeons point to the first one-third of the rep stroke as the danger zone. Certain savvy athletes are reaping the benefits and avoiding knee problems by doing the first rep normally but on subsequent reps lowering the poundage only two-thirds of the way before commencing the next rep. If you do leg extensions and knee pain suddenly and inexplicably appears, try using the modified technique and if the pain persists, drop leg extensions altogether.  

Q: Anytime I work lats I get more of a biceps pump than a lat pump. I understand I'm not alone, but my lats suck, they are virtually non-existent. I've got great biceps though. What are your thoughts?

A: In order to make the mind/muscle connection, you need to get the biceps out of the lat equation. Here are some practical hints for isolating the lats: Start all back exercises from a dead hang as most back work involves pulling resistance into the body. By allowing the poundage to hang and stretch at the commencement of each rep we make the exercise purposefully harder. At the dead hang pause, consciously think to commence the pull with the lats, not the arms! Poundage has to be radically reduced. Using this style and go for feel and contraction, forget about poundage and power for awhile in favor of precise muscle targeting. Lats, you’ll be pleased to know, grow fast once they’re successfully isolated.  

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Q: What is better: different types of flyes or the various bench presses for building pecs?

A: Optimally you need to include some variation of each exercise in every chest workout. The pectoral muscles have two physiological functions: They are the prime movers when we push something away from the body frontally and they are also activated when we hug something. Bench presses develop awesome pectorals on account of the sheer poundage they allow us to use. On the other hand, flyes, pec decs and cable crossovers isolate the pecs to a degree unobtainable any other way. The best approach is to include a push and a hug exercise in every chest workout. Always start with the push exercises and finish up with hug-style; starting first with a hug isolation exercise destroys subsequent push ability in the pecs.

Q: What is meant by the term Basal Metabolic Rate?

A: Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) or basal metabolism represents the minimal energy expended to keep a resting, awake body alive. This requires about 60-70% of the total energy use by the body. The processes involved include maintaining a heartbeat, respiration, temperature and other functions. It does not include energy used for physical activity or digesting foods. Basal metabolism accounts for roughly 1 kcalorie/kilogram (2.2 lbs.)/hour. We use the term ’roughly," due to the fact that the amount of energy used for basal metabolism depends primarily upon lean body mass.

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Q: Which is more beneficial: machines or free-weight exercises?

A: The majority of your workouts should be composed of free-weight exercises. Here’s why: –

Compared to machines, free-weight movements often require more skill. For example, it is more difficult to balance the weights, and to coordinate muscles when performing free-weight exercises. Although this may sound like a disadvantage, it is actually a benefit. Since free-weight exercises necessitate lifting weights in free space, exercising with free-weights typically leads to muscle strength that is more applicable to everyday activities. For example, with regular training using free-weights, one may notice that taking out the trash is easier, mowing the lawn takes less effort, or it may take less time to shovel snow off the driveway.

Greater muscle-strength balance achieved with free-weights helps in preventing injuries. Free-weight training results in increased muscle strength not only in the large "target" muscle, it also strengthens the small muscles used for balance, or "stabilization". This means that muscle strength tends to be more "balanced" between muscle groups. In contrast, typically machines work only large muscle groups, while neglecting the "stabilizer muscles" since the machine itself stabilizes the weight for you. People who exclusively train with machines often are able to lift a lot of weight, but are not able to effectively stabilize the load due to weak stabilizer muscles. This muscle imbalance does not occur when one uses free-weights with good form. Just like a chain that is only as strong as its weakest link, the body is only as injury-resistant as its weakest stabilizer muscle. Again, stronger "weakest links" = fewer injuries.

In general, the resistance elicited by free-weights tends to mirror strengths and weakness of the body throughout the exercise, leading to greater gains in muscle mass and strength. Muscle strength is "dynamic". That is, muscles tend to be stronger at different points throughout the movement.

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NUTRITION

Q: Are there any "fast foods" that can fit into my healthy eating plan?

A: Well, there’s really not very much out there to choose from! However, recently some popular fast food restaurants have added new lines of healthy salads to their menus. For example, McDonald’s now has three choices—Bacon Ranch, California Cobb and Caesar—all great salads with mixed greens, grape tomatoes, shaved carrots and a little cheese. Each can be ordered with grilled chicken, crispy (fried) chicken or no chicken. McDonald’s has teamed up with Newman’s Own salad dressing. These hearty salads are a welcome addition to the usual high-fat, high-calorie burger-and-fries combinations.

You must, however, be very careful about how you order these salads. For example, their crispy chicken has 100 more calories and 2 more grams of saturated fat than their grilled chicken. And, the salad dressings can make or break your nutrition plan for the day since they alone can contain nearly 300 calories and 4 ½ grams of saturated fat—a packet of Newman’s Own Ranch Dressing contains 290 calories and 4.5 grams of saturated fat; the Cobb Dressing has only 120 calories and 1.5 grams of saturated fat; and the Creamy Caesar Dressing has 190 calories and 3.5 grams of saturated fat.

If you were to order a Bacon Ranch Salad with Crispy Chicken and Newman’s Own Ranch Dressing you would be eating 660 calories and a whopping 11½ grams of saturated fat! On the other hand, if you order a California Cobb Salad or Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken instead of Crispy Chicken and use only a half a packet of Newman’s Own Cobb Dressing or Newman’s Own Creamy Caesar Dressing you will be consuming only 340 calories and 7 grams of saturated fat. By making the right choices, this can be a very acceptable addition to your daily nutritional program.  

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Q: What is CLA, and how does it function?

A: CLA stands for `Conjugated Linoleic Acid.’ This is a modified form of the essential omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is another of the fatty acid compounds known as essential due to the fact that your body cannot synthesize them; they must be obtained through your diet and/or supplementation. CLA has been shown to have a host of beneficial effects when at least 3,000 mg/day are taken in.

CLA has been shown in studies to be an anti-carcinogen, to reduce catabolism (muscle breakdown), to enhance growth, and to improve blood lipid profiles. More recent clinical research has also shown CLA as a positive factor in supporting metabolism and body composition. Essentially, when taken in at the levels recorded above, CLA may aid an individual in increasing lean muscle mass, blocking fat storage, releasing and burning more fat from stores in the body, and enhancing overall strength. As such, if you are serious about adding lean mass and/or losing bodyfat, CLA would be an excellent addition to your daily regimen.

Q: I've heard a lot about EFA's, and how they are important for several different bodily functions. What functions, and why are they "essential?"

A: "Essential Fatty Acids" consist of two primary fatty acids that your body cannot produce on its own - linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. These are also referred to as "omega-6" and "omega-3" fatty acids, respectively. These two acids are found in varying concentrations primarily in vegetable oils, and different oils contain varying amounts of the EFA’s. For example, flaxseed oil is particularly high in omega-3’s, whereas safflower oil is very high in omega-6’s. Most unsaturated fats will contain a little of both, and we have a very strong mix in our Structured EFA’s supplement. The functions of EFA’s are myriad, however there are a few specific functions that may impact bodybuilders and athletes in particular if they are deficient in these nutrients. EFA’s are needed for the formation of vital hormone-like substances called "prostaglandins." Prostaglandins serve in many capacities, and are integrally involved in the production of various muscle-building growth hormones. They may also speed the rate at which your body burns fat and glucose (blood sugar) by increasing your metabolic rate. Essentially, if your daily diet is deficient in EFA’s, it may slow your gains in lean mass, slow your metabolism, impair your body’s ability to recover after a workout, and impact your efficiency in burning fat.

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Q: Does limiting carbohydrates interfere with exercise?

A: Yes! Carbohydrates, especially during the immediate post-exercise period, are essential for anyone who wants to build muscle tissue, increase their strength, and achieve maximum athletic performance. Carbs are responsible for an insulin-mediated increase in the transport of amino acids from our blood stream into our muscle tissue which stimulates protein synthesis, prevents protein breakdown, and creates a positive nitrogen balance.

Without adequate carbohydrate intake, we simply cannot increase our muscle mass and strength and prevent the muscle tissue breakdown associated with high-intensity resistance and aerobic training. A nutritional program that promotes the intake of low-glycemic carbohydrates and encourages eating monounsaturated fats (olive oil, canola oil and nuts), along with the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, not only promotes good health and disease prevention, but also improves athletic performance, thereby allowing us to achieve maximum leanness and muscularity.

Don’t cut carbs if you want to avoid losing lean muscle mass as a consequence of your weight-loss program!

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Q: Instead of taking the Myoplex Lite, may I take the regular Myoplex and just split it in half?

A: You could do so, but it’s not going to give you what you’re looking for in a meal. Nor would it necessarily be your best option for achieving particular goals. Each variety of our Myoplex is formulated for specific goals, and they’re put together with the idea that 1 package = 1 meal. That’s how the vitamin and nutritional components are set up, and that’s when the supplement will be the most effective. So if you’re seeking loss of body fat and muscle tone (most women), try the Myoplex Lite. Your nutritional plans will be much more complete, and your chances of reaching your goals will be significantly increased.

Q: If you take creatine and glutamine together, will they compete for absorption?

A: Muscle cells do have what is referred to as a "sodium-potassium pump," a "valve" that allows certain nutrients to both enter and exit. Both creatine and glutamine enter the muscle cell through this pump, however, the actual mineral, sodium has nothing to do with that process. It is incredibly difficult (and by practical means nearly impossible) to overload this pump to the point at which glutamine and creatine would be competing for entry. Neither creatine nor glutamine needs to bind to a sodium molecule for absorption into muscle cells. Creatine binds to a phosphate molecule, which then becomes phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine is stored in muscle cells to be used as an energy source. Glutamine is a free form, "conditionally essential" amino acid that is prevalent throughout the body. Glutamine is necessary for a variety of functions in the body such as tissue repair and cell volumization. Glutamine does not bind to a sodium molecule for absorption, and is readily utilized throughout the body.

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