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TIPS FROM A PRO - TRAINING INTENSITY
TRAINING INTENSITY - IS LIFTING HEAVY ENOUGH?

I, like many of the pro bodybuilders today, was inspired by the bodybuilders of yesterday. I can name specific classic training videos that inspired me.  I would watch them before each body part that I trained.  The first was Dorian Yates “Blood & Guts” video.  The video was black and white. The gym was a dungeon.  The clothes that Dorian wore looked like rags and he simply lifted heavy iron.

The one exercise that stood out to me was seeing Dorian do barbell rows with 315lbs.  Before this video, that was the weight that I squatted and deadlifted and was aiming for on the bench as an impressionable 19-year-old. So, in order to be Mr. Olympia with a back like Dorian, I figured....I needed to barbell row 315 as well.

My very next workout I was rowing 315, well, kind of. Ok I was moving 315 and did so for two years, yet, after my first show the judges said that I needed to train back!  I’m using the same weight and reps as Mr. Olympia Blood & Guts Dorian Yates.  How dare you tell me that I need to train back?

It took me 3 years and 4 shows with more than 10 judges telling to me to improve my back for it finally click......I could not lift the weight that Dorian was lifting.  Sounds like a very simple solution but it took discipline to stick to it.  When I did lower the weight almost by half and doubled the number of reps, my back grew exponentially.

Now I’m not saying that there is an exact number of reps or that one shouldn’t lift heavy.  However, I will explain the most effective volume and intensity of training for on-season and off-season.

The main difference between the two is actually what goes on outside of the gym.  The main difference is your diet.  Greater calorie consumption in the offseason will support muscle growth when training.  You want to lift heavy, but with moderate intensity to preserve the greater calorie consumption. Overtraining will defeat the purpose of consuming higher calories because it will burn them off.  Not only that, overtraining can lead to atrophy of the muscle.

OFF-SEASON TRAINING INTENSITY

To ensure that I am training with the right volume and intensity in the offseason, I never allow my workout to last longer than an hour for bigger bodyparts: legs, back, chest; and 45 minutes for smaller muscle groups: arms and delts.  I never go lower than 6 reps with perfect form to assure that I am stimulating the muscle and not simply moving the weight from point A to point B like a powerlifter with a one rep max.

I also incorporate more compound lifts like deadlifts and free weight squats because the higher calories and body fat give me more flexibility and strength in my joints and tendons to do heavier free weight lifts. I still do these lifts with no less than 6 reps to maximize muscle stimulation and growth.  I never do 1 rep max because once again, my goal is not to see how strong I am.  My goal is to get big!

I usually train 3 days on one day off in the offseason.  This is not the only method but for me it’s been extremely effective because my weight increases after every off day.  Remember, calorie consumption and preservation is extremely important in the offseason.  This off-day is usually when I’ll have my cheat meal for extra calories that will not be burned off by training that day.  The off day also gives me the right amount of rest to recover and mentally has me anxious about getting back into the gym.  I like to plan my off-days before my two biggest bodyparts, leg day and back day.

ON-SEASON TRAINING INTENSITY

Now lifting while prepping is slightly different and a little more complexed.  There is the myth that you lift lighter with more reps to get cut.  False.  In order to maintain muscle density, you still want to lift relatively heavy, however the higher reps do help with conditioning.  How does one accomplish both?

What has worked for me is to still lift for a 6 rep range, then drop weight and continue digging into the muscle recruiting deeper muscle fibers and also increasing the heart rate at the same time which will improve conditioning.  This is also when I incorporate more machines which make it easier to drop weight and also to keep strict form.  Due to lower bodyfat and supplementation, joints are more vulnerable to damage so you want to watch doing many compound lifts.  Remember, the key word for contest prep training is preservation.  You will rarely gain muscle due to lower calorie consumption, but you don’t want to burn muscle or get an injury.

During contest prep I also incorporate more supersets, training biceps and triceps set for set, or throwing in calves after each set on chest day and abs after each set on back day.  I also like to warm up with my own bodyweight with a superset of pull-ups and dips and the beginning of every workout.  This gets the blood circulating and really get my heart rate up.  I do this at the beginning of every workout when prepping and I really see a difference in my total upper body conditioning as a result.  Three or four sets is all you need and since it is your own bodyweight for a short period, there is no fear of overtraining.  This is simply stimulation.

So essentially the training is still hard and heavy in both the off-season and contest prep.  The only difference is off-season you want to preserve calories by training with moderate intensity, heavy weights for 6-10 reps, and allowing the body adequate time for rest and recovery.  Contest prep you want to burn calories/fat but still lift heavy by incorporating drop sets and supersets.  This will get your heart rate up while training without relying on cardio overkill which can kill all your hard work from the offseason. Stay disciplined with the weight and do not sacrifice form to lift what Mr. Olympia lift if you want a Mr. Olympia physique!

 

 

NEVER GIVE UP! HOW TO BOUNCE BACK FROM A MAJOR INJURY
NEVER GIVE UP! How to bounce back from a major injury

This year, for the first time in my twenty odd year bodybuilding career I suffered a major injury.  Not the kind of injury you can nurse and get around by changing the training, but the kind that puts you on the sidelines for a period of months, not weeks.  This injury, where my triceps completely detached from the bone, taking some bone with it, I might add, occurred only 6 weeks out from my return to the Pro Bodybuilding stage after an extended lay-off…. 6 weeks out and in the shape of my life…

There is never a good time to suffer a major injury like a muscle or tendon tear that requires surgery.  Some athletes may never have to deal with this type of potentially devastating event, but if they do, how do they recover and get back to where you were?  I’m not talking about the physical repair aspect, that’s for the surgeon’s to worry about.  I’m talking about the mental game involved in over-coming and even improving from a major set-back.  How did I deal with the frustration and disappointment and get back on with the process?

Part of the key to getting over something like this is keeping a positive attitude.  While the timing sucked, it could have been worse.  I could have been a week out from the show, in the USA, away from my local support crew, not sure where to go for medical attention and navigating a medical system I don’t understand!  Always remember; while there is never a good time, there could always be a worse one!

Looking forwards and not backwards kept me moving in the right direction.  I couldn’t afford to dwell on what happened.  It happened.  I couldn’t reverse time and wish I’d done something differently… read my body better, used a different training method, listened to what people were telling me.  Yes, you can, and should, learn from past mistakes, but beating yourself up over it now isn’t going to help your healing process.  I found I needed to let go of where I was and focus on the road ahead.  Depending on your injury there are going to be a number of steps between where you are now and where you need to be, which is back in the gym or doing the activity/sport you love.

Taking it right back to the moment the injury happened, I must admit I had a short phase of denial when I tried to convince myself (despite what my gut told me when it happened) that I’d be able to train through with some cortisone and make it to the show.  I even stayed on my contest diet 3 more days until the Ultrasound report confirmed that there was no longer a triceps tendon attached where it should be!

But from that moment on, I had two immediate goals.  1.  To get this fixed and 2. To get as much information about what this meant in terms of getting back to training.  Information about what I’d done, how it will be fixed, what I could expect along the way and how long will the rehab take.  All of this allowed me to mentally prepare and make a plan.  A plan that gave me a series of mini-goals to keep me focussed and on track.  Without a plan and a series of goals it would have been very easy to get discouraged, frustrated and basically lost.

I want to stress the importance of building the plan around what the surgeon or specialist advises and NOT what I might want to determine after hearing what they had to say.  It sort of froze my heart to hear, “No weights for 4 months after the surgery.”  Oh, so you mean I’ll be back to normal training in 4 months?  “No, that’s when you start to train again and take another 4 months to get back to where you were.”  What??  While that sounds like a long time, trust me, it went fast.  Well, maybe not month 3-4, but the rest does.  The reason it did is because of those little goals and focussing my mind on what I COULD do, not what I COULDN’T do.

First thing out of surgery and they hit me with some more news… “You can’t actually bend your arm more than about 40o without stressing the repair… well, actually, you can’t bend your arm more than 40o period… even if you wanted to, it just won’t!!”  Ok, having never had surgery for an injury before I wasn’t aware this would happen.  I figured they’d stitch and bolt the tendon back on and away we’d go…  In hindsight, this is actually a blessing and it gave me those little mini goals to achieve.

Getting back to what I COULD do… “The good news is, to help get movement back, do 10 sets of 3 reps of bending your arm in the 40o range of motion.”  Immediately I had something I could do.  Whether it is a triceps, bicep, quad or any other kind of muscle injury, there will always be something you need to do to get the range of motion back in the joint.  Doing exactly the exercises and movements I was told optimised my chance of a 100% recovery.  Never doubt that you will have a 100% recovery, and by doing everything you should, it will ensure you do.

There were many things to consider when working out what to do to rehab.  I could’ve opted to do nothing except the movements my therapist told me to rehab the injury.  However, I had to consider the impact of this on the rest of my body?  It was still working, but I couldn’t afford to create an imbalance by training the heck out of the other half of my body.  But on the other hand, I didn’t want to lose all my fitness and I still wanted to burn some extra energy.

So again, what COULD I do?  Firstly I evaluated my movement situation.  What movements could be done with my injured side?  In my case; anything that didn’t involve bending my arm!  I could do lateral raise and front raise movement for my delts and a cross up and pec-fly machine for my chest.  So that’s what I did.  I created a little routine where with one arm I used no weight and the other I used a low weight (trust me, you don’t realise how much you need the counter weight of both side to be able to do your normal weight on the good side!!).  Obviously, 10 reps on low weight isn’t  going to keep much fitness, so I chose to go to failure… which in this case meant up to 100 reps! 4 sets of 50-100 reps, no weight on the injured side, 3kg – 6kg on the non-injured side for shoulders definitely pumps some blood into the working muscle!  I’m not saying I didn’t drop a pile of size like this, but the muscles maintained a degree of fitness and made the transition back to full training a lot quicker and easier.

On the body-parts where it was impossible to use the injured side, I used the same high-rep, low weight program and selected exercises that could be performed on one side at a time.  Most equipment can be used with one arm, from the back machines like iso-rows or cable rows to pushdowns for triceps and seated triceps machines.  Again, the weight you can use on one side is very limited compared to both sides of your body so there is little risk of creating a major imbalance.

Putting it all together I came up with a little program that consisted of training the same body parts I normally would, and selected 2-3 exercises that were feasible and repped the hell out of them.  By the time I’d done a few hundred reps per exercise, I discovered I’d been in the gym about the same amount of time as when I was doing more exercises and less reps, so mentally I felt a lot more satisfied than if I hadn’t gone to the gym at all.

I started this program about a week after the surgery, as soon as I felt recovered from the anaesthetic and stress of the operation.  Each workout I pushed for more reps, not more weight.  After a month when I was allowed to take the protective cast off and start to use the arm for basic things like lifting a coffee cup (even if I still couldn’t get it, or a spoon to my mouth!! Lol).  I was amazed at how the bicep muscle, which had totally wasted through lack of movement) started to come back from these basic tasks.  The focus at this time was also to regain the full range of motion… to be able to eat, brush my hair or even clean my teeth using my right arm.  Each day seeing a small improvement made time go so quickly.

By the 3 month mark, everything felt normal and range of movement was 100%, so I was able to perform some un-weighted movements alongside the good arm during my weights routine.  As I said, this month 3-4 is the hardest, simply because I felt ready to be able to lift again, but knew that in order to have the best chance of a permanent recovery, I had to listen to the surgeon and wait until the correct amount of time had passed.  I kept thinking, “Is returning the weights a couple of weeks too soon worth potentially ending my bodybuilding career permanently?”  And of course the answer was NO!

Even though I was in the gym, which allowed me to satisfy that need, I was still extremely aware that I wasn’t able to burn anywhere near the amount of energy I had when I was training up for the competition.  So here I had to make another very important and conscious decision, and that was to reduce my food intake.  I had to take it lower than what I’d been dieting on for the show, which really sucks, I might add, but I decided it was going to be hard enough getting my full fitness back once I could start training, without having to also shed a pile of extra weight.

The goal here wasn’t to stay in the shape I was, just not to let too many extra kg’s creep up, further stressing my already compromised fitness! I think mentally, while tough, it was a lot easier than having to deal with body image issues and reduced confidence that can be associated with excess weight gain at a time when I was mentally vulnerable.

 

 

 

TIPS FROM A PRO
BOULDERS, I MEAN SHOULDERS:  The key to building massive delts!

We’ve already tackled arms, which is probably the body part that gets the most attention by the general public. Not far behind arms are is the three headed monster, deltoids.  I rank this muscle so high because it is not just men that desire well capped shoulders.  Many women, especially figure competitors, have developed phenomenal shoulders knowing that it adds to the illusion of making the waist look smaller with a more dramatic shoulder to waist ratio.

The down side, the rotator cuff is such an intricate joint that one of the most common chronic pains is shoulder pain. When the shoulder is injured, it can throw off so many lifts for other body parts, chest, arms, and even on squats where some people are not able to hold the bar on their shoulders because of a nagging rotator cuff injury. The goal of this article is to get you those round capped delts while correcting form and minimising injury.

The Warm Up: There are multiple ways of warming up the rotator cuff.  The most common is to hold the arm at a 90 degree angle and with or without a very light weight, while slowly rolling your forearm forward and backward.  I actually prefer normal stretching and warming up with light weight for higher reps.

I .Side Laterals - 20 (warm-up), 15, 12, 10 reps super-setted with Wide grip upright rows- 10-12 reps (Medial Head) The first section of the three muscles in the shoulder that I attack is the medial head.  This is the middle muscle that gives the shoulders it’s outer roundness.  Development of the medial head is key to having a wider appearance, especially to overcompensate for individuals with genetically narrow clavicles.

The BIGGEST mistake is using momentum during laterals.  The easiest way to avoid this is the leave the ego out of the gym and not lift too heavy.  The deltoids are full of fast twitch muscle fibers and get pumped quick so choose a weight where there is no pause at the bottom.  Reps should be constant without pause.  Doing this will ignite a flame in your delts that will burn so bad and get them pumped extremely fast. Your hands do not need to go above shoulder height and it is very important to keep your elbows higher than your hands at the top of the movement.  You should mimic pouring a drink as you are lifting your arms during side laterals.

II.  Shoulder Presses - 4 sets 15, 12, 10, 8 reps (mostly Front Deltoid) One term describes shoulder presses...OUCH!  People, you should not be shoulder pressing anything close to what you bench.  Let’s kill that assumption right now.  I see guys in the gym trying to shoulder press dumbbells that they can’t even kick up.  Not to mention the ego lifter who is doing shoulder presses on an incline bench at a 60 degree angle mostly using their pecs.  This is not a shoulder press my friend.  I cringe when I see the guy getting a spot on military presses with a weight so heavy that the spotter is doing upright rows and getting more of a pump than the lifter.  This is a sure way to injure your rotator cuff!

The key to shoulder pressing is simple.  Use a weight that will keep the resistance on the deltoids.  Using a weight that’s too heavy will force you to overcompensate and sacrifice form.  Loose form and the vulnerable rotator cuff is a recipe for disaster.  Warming up is key which is why I do presses second or sometimes even last during my shoulder workout.

III. Reverse Pec Deck - 4 sets 15, 12, 10, 8 reps To get the 3D look that all bodybuilders desire, especially during quarter turns and side poses, development of the rear deltoids are so important.  Because this muscle is so small and surrounded by bigger muscles like the traps and lats, I prefer the isolation of reverse pec deck. The key during this movement is to keep your elbows up and in line with your hands to target the rear deltoids.

I can finish a shoulder routine in 45 minutes or less.  It is best to train shoulders with high intensity because they respond so well and get pumped so fast. You really only need one movement for each head of deltoids, so 3 exercises total.

 

 

 

TIPS FROM A PRO
THE DREADED LEG DAY: The Ultimate Leg Training Guide

As bodybuilders we either love it or hate it.  It is the workout that requires the most mental preparation because it is usually the most taxing.  Legs are also the body part that is one of the most lacking because of either genetics or the high level of intensity and mental toughness required to make quads, hams, and calves grow. This article will not only leave you vital information to force your legs to grow but also tips on having awesome workouts and limit injuries.

The first part to a great leg day is having proper rest and enough calories to support the intensity of a leg day.  I usually take the day off before leg day.  This does two things.  Physically, my body is rested and all muscles and joints have had a full day of recovery to handle a compound lift like squats.  Mentally, having a day away from the gym builds up my anticipation to simply get back in the gym.  Most bodybuilders have to force themselves to take a day off.  You go through withdrawal and usually have a great workout that first day back in the gym.  I apply this theory to leg day and always have killer workouts!

Eating around leg day is tricky.  You don’t want to eat too close your workout because that will make you nauseas.  However, I’ve seen many people burn out because they haven’t eaten enough to support the intensity of leg day. My advice derives from the great Tom Platz who was known to actually prep for leg day the day before.  He increased his carbohydrate intake the day before.  I usually increase my carbohydrates by 50-100g during that off day right before and up until 2 hours before leg day, my last meal before training.  On normal training days I can eat up to an hour before but to assure full digestion, leg day is always 2 hours after my meal.  Now on to our workout. QUADS: Genetics play a huge role in the shape of one’s quads.  An insertion that starts higher up near the hip flexors usually lead to more quad sweep.  People with lower insertions of the upper outer quad usually do not have as dramatic of a sweep. The length of one’s legs also will determine which exercises will be most efficient.  People with relatively long legs and a shorter torso will have more problems doing free weight squats because they will tend to lean forward mimicking a good morning and use a lot of lower back.  Shorter legs usually can squat much more effectively because they are able to keep their back relatively straight while squatting using less back and fully engaging the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.  So avoiding squats do not make or break your leg development if your body isn’t structured for it.

I. Leg Extensions- In order to activate the quads all the way to the top at the hip pointer insertion, adjust the back rest far back. Lean all the way back with just your shoulder blades on the back rest and your hips forward.  This will force a contraction all the way to the top of the quads and it will allow you to contract the quads before the knee takes some of the weight load. This will avoid knee injury.

II. Leg Press- Yes I do this before squats. There are a few reasons why, the main being that I can put more of the weight directly on my legs without involving my back.  Yes I love doing squats, but let’s be honest; the main reason why most people get right into squats in the beginning of their workout is strictly to satisfy the ego with the amount that they are squatting.  This is bodybuilding, not powerlifting!  One of the biggest mistakes made on leg day is the overemphasis on free weight squats. Starting with the leg press will allow you more freedom with feet positioning to target specific areas of the quads without risking an injury to your back.

Positioning your feet shoulder width apart with toes straight will target the outer quads.  Positioning your feet wider than shoulder width and toes pointed slightly out will target the inner quads.  Doing the leg press a little lighter with your heels hanging off the plate will shift the weight load from midfoot to your toes and this will target the lower quads. I usually do 6 sets on the leg press in the 10-20 rep range. The last 2 sets are with my heels hanging off at the bottom to target the lower quads.

III. Squats- Now as stated previously, we are bodybuilders and not power lifters.  If you have relatively long legs in comparison to your upper torso, I highly suggest doing squats on the smith machine.  This doesn’t make you a sissy and free weight squats don’t automatically make you a champion UFC tough guy. You have to do what will maximize results for your body. The key is to lead with your hips and not your shoulders, meaning, being able to sit your ass down before your shoulders start leaning forward.  Doing so will save your lower back!

IV. Lunges- Are so important for that hamstring/glute tie in that stands out in side poses.  The amount of weight used for lunges isn’t as important as the full stretch in the step.  Also, too much weight can possibly injure your back as the load of the weight shifts from side to side with each step.  Another key to lunges is to look straight ahead.  Looking down like most people do can throw off one’s balance.

HAMSTRINGS: I actually train hammies on a separate day from quads to prioritize them.  Doing them after quads is not a good idea because quads are such a big muscle and take so much out of you.  Hamstrings should be treated with the same importance.

I. Seated leg curls- I prefer this movement because the lower back is totally eliminated causing isolation of the hamstrings.  Now for hamstrings since I’m using machines, I love to do drop sets usually doing 6-8 reps and then dropping the weight for 6-8 more reps to continuously dig into the hamstrings. I lean slightly forward when executing this movement instead of leaning my back on the back rest.  This will isolate the hamstrings even more.

II. Lying leg curls- With this movement instead of laying down flat on the pad I prop myself on my forearms, so my chest isn’t on the pad, just my fore arms.  This will totally take the lower back out of the movement.  It’s very easy to tell when the lower back is involved because your hips will lift off of the pad with each rep.  The other key is to prevent your toes from turning out.  Keep them in line with your shins so that you can maximize contraction in the entire hamstring.

III. Standing leg curls- I love this movement because I can treat it like a concentration curl.  After all, hamstrings are the biceps of the legs.  I actually turn my toes slightly in and don’t go heavy so that I can really hold the contraction for two seconds.  Going a little lighter will also prevent you from using momentum to get the weight up.  You want to keep the load in your hamstrings in both eccentric and concentric movements.  The previous two exercises I stick to 10-15 reps.  With the standing leg curl I’ll go as high as 30 reps or even one final set of 50 reps!

Notice that I left out calves...well. Calves will get their own article as that is the achilles heel (no pun intended) for so many bodybuilders due to genetic limitations.  I will show you how to overcome that in the calf training article.

 

 

 

 

TIPS FROM A PRO
TURNING CALVES INTO COWS:  You can beat bad genetics!

What is the one body part that is the most controlled by genetics?  Calves.  Calves are stubborn for most simply because of mom and dad.  You have other muscles that have insertions that can be a genetic ‘flaw’ by bodybuilding standards but they can still be manipulated.  For example, high lat insertions are considered a flaw in bodybuilding but we’ve seen top pros like Dennis Wolf build incredibly wide backs despite higher lat insertions.  Mr. Olympia Phil Heath overcame genetically narrow clavicles by adding slabs of muscle to his delts and that is how he can beat a more genetically wide Jay Cutler and Kai Greene...but calves......there is no masking their flaws...or is there?

Usually, bodybuilders with weaker calves have relatively higher calf insertions.  Genetically you will see sprinters with relatively high calves and more fast-twitch muscle fibers.  That’s great if one of the mandatories were sprints, but they’re not.  The other problem for people with genetically high calves is that this lack of response of the lower leg has nothing to do with the response of the quads and hams so now the symmetry is thrown off.  This same person with the stubborn calves can have quads and hams that grow just by looking at the squat rack, making their calves appear even smaller.  Fortunately for them, calves are probably the least judged bodypart.  It seems like judges are partial to the limitations of genetics.

Sure there are limitations.  A person with high calves will not have calves that look like Eric Fankhouser and Christine Envall, however there is a way to develop them and remain competitive on stage in every bodypart including calves.

“High calves” is a general term but to be more specific, it refers to a higher gastrocnemius insertion.  This is determined by how high the gastrocnemius attaches above the ankle.  A shorter gastrocnemius will also mean that the individual has a longer soleus.  The soleus is not as dense as the gastrocnemius, however, an emphasis on developing the soleus will add width to the lower calf region and when posed right (posing can create a different illusion of the physique), will give the illusion that the calves are not as “high”.

Calf workout:
I. Seated calf raise 5 sets 30, 25, 20, 15, 10
The soleus is the primary calf muscle that’s working when the legs are bent at 90 degrees or in a seated position.  The soleus responds to high reps but with the high reps, you must stretch really well between sets.  The calves are used to working because they are stretched and contracted every step we take.  They are used to a load because they carry our body weight.  You almost have to over-train your calves since they are used to being worked.

To really get a good burn and maximize the recruitment of every fiber of the soleus, I like to lean myself forward on the eccentric or lowering of my heels to get a deeper stretch.  On the concentric I start leaning back, coming up half way then pausing for a second, then up all the way up and squeezing the calf as hard as you can.  This half rep-pause-full rep will allow you to get deep into the dense calves.


II. Donkey calf raise: 3 sets 10-12 reps
This is second only to seated calf raises when it comes to hitting the soleus.  The gastroc gets a good pump as well but in order to fully activate the soleus, do not cheat the range of motion.  You have to contract at the highest point possible.  A partial rep with weight that’s too heavy will only activate the gastrocnemius.

III. Standing calf raise 4 sets 10-12 reps

*I recommend training calves every other day because they recover extremely fast since they are used to being worked every step that you take.  I also recommend training calves at the beginning of a workout to prioritize them.  In order for them to grow they cannot just be a few sets after you destroy a bigger body part.  You will not have the same focus and energy.

Calf Workout
I. Seated calf raise 5 sets 30, 25, 20, 15, 10
II. Donkey calf raise: 3 sets 10-12 reps
III. Standing calf raise 4 sets 10-12 reps

 

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