Dream A Little Dream

Posted in Strength on July 27, 2012 by Eric S.

I’ve often toyed with the notion of one day being strong enough to enter a power lifting competition. I usually get so far as to be a little excited by the idea, then abruptly come crashing back to the real world where, while I’m getting stronger, I’m just not that strong. There will always be someone stronger; I don’t have the appetite to get so big (they get BIG); I will definitely never do anything with 1000 pounds. This may sound depressing, but it’s just reality, and I’m just trying to stay anchored in it. But, I’m still enticed.

6×1, 5×2

I started training seriously again last week, and honestly, I feel good. It’s been months since I moved any real weight around, and as expected, my previous warm up weight was a little heavier than it used to be. This concerned me a little, but like I said, I saw it coming, and so I pressed on (pulled, actually). For my working sets I’m trying a new little something I’ve put together. I’ve only ever worked up to singles before, increasing the weight by percentages as the reps per set decreased, eventually hitting one, then tearing myself up with a sort of hybrid bodybuilding routine. (I’ll post an example soon…it did work). Now, I’m warming up with 1-2 sets of 10, then doing 6 sets of 1 on my main lift, a deadlift in this case, taking a nickle-and-dime approach to increasing the weights.

Say my goal is to pull 325 pounds. I will start as high as 255, then lift an additional 10 each set until my last, which increases by 20. My previous max DL was 350lbs. That was about 3 months ago, and I haven’t put in much work since then. In the photo of me performing the DL a couple posts back, I was really working to pull 205 off the ground. Using this rep scheme for 2 deadlift days got me back up to a 325 pound single, and I feel I could’ve gone for one more. Effective.

After a few minutes rest (spent mostly clearing the heavy plates, not so much “rest”) I feel ready to move some more mountains. I do a similar routine with the bench press, doing 5 sets of doubles instead. I’m not a huge bench fan, but I want my workouts to be complete, and I don’t like the idea of skipping something simply because I don’t like it. I find that benching after the deadlift gives me better bench form, as my whole posterior chain is now alert and more than ready to contract. The Bench Press is one of my weakest compound lifts, a fact that becomes apparent when I share this : I was very pleasantly surprised to end up completing both max attempts of 170lbs. Eh.

IBP

So I’ve decided the best way to live my little lifting dream is to go to some events. At least watch, meet some power lifters, even buy some merch. I look into it, and there’s a few meets coming up this year just about an hour and a half away. This is doable! Upon searching for some clue as to how much I should expect to pay to get in, I keep seeing the sign up forms and the links to the rules…oh, there’s the records page. Let’s see what these guys are lifting. A novice (which I can only assume I’d be if I entered) in the 181 weight class (which I could potentially get down to…) in South Carolina (I think you can see where this is going…) held the SC deadlift record for the IBP (the federation) at 315! I had just done 325 that day, and my previous max was 350…

I could do this…

I WILL do this!

All this said, I’m going to enter for the deadlift only, as my previously mentioned sad bench press is, well, sad. I’ll still be working to strengthen my whole body, using a variety of major lifts, but for the first time I’ll be extra focused on one in particular.  I’ll be keeping a log once I get the new routine put together, and we’ll see how it goes!
Wish me luck, and be well!

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The Truth About Hypertrophy

Posted in Strength on July 21, 2012 by Eric S.

I was in a supplement store recently, and was blessed to overhear one of my favorite recyclable conversations. Woman “My trainer says I need something for recovery!” Owner “Are you taking whey?” Woman “No, I don’t want to bulk up!” They now have my undivided attention. Owner “You won’t bulk up…it’ll just keep you from staying sore after the weights.” Woman “I don’t touch weights…I don’t want to bulk up…” She glares at the store owner, who has obviously forgotten that lifting a weight will, without fail or notice, make you gain an easy 60 pounds. This OBVIOUSLY does not represent the entirety of the world’s female population, but it does bring to mind all of the times I’ve either heard or had this conversation, or some close variable of it.

Muscle growth : not that easy, and all approaches do NOT reap the same kind of rewards.

Strength Training VS Bodybuilding

First, we should address the difference.

Training for bodybuilding involves many factors, including Time Under Tension (how long you are actually in control of the weight, usually 40 to 60 seconds is needed), training to failure (lifting as much weight as possible, given that you must lift it for the the a fore mentioned time), and muscle isolation (obviously…isolating each major muscle group; chest day, arm day, so on.) While training in this manner can lead to increases in strength, it’s main focus is to achieve sarcoplasmic hypertrophy , which is when you gain muscle size without an equal increase in strength. These are eye pleasing muscles first and foremost (and there’s NOTHING WRONG with training for this.) The workouts do run longer, and they tend to place greater long term stress on the joints.

Just Plain Strong

Training for strength is a different type of routine, from the ground up, just about. Just to go ahead and get the wordy stuff out of the way, most pure strength training routines are centered on reaching myofibrillar hypertrophy, or the rise in muscular density. A workout geared toward maximizing one’s strength would consists of more sets with the rep range in the 1-3 per set area. Rest periods are longer…3 – 5 minutes between sets. The point is to lift the heaviest load possible AND to have that load INCREASE the next time.

As no workout can be completely one or the other, bodybuilders will get stronger, and strength athletes will grow a little. A side note on “hypertrophy”… (rant/) trainers and bodybuilders LOVE to toss this word around, using it like a carrot on a stick for clients to chase. Just about everyone that picks up a weight (just about, not all) is training for hypertrophy (/rant).

Back on subject…

If It Were THAT Easy, Every Guy Would Be The Hulk!

To “bulk up”, as fairer types so often put it, takes a LOT of work. You have to balance going heavy and going the distance. There is NOTHING you can add to your diet that will cause P90X or Insanity to “bulk you up”, as they are not programs built to induce sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (the big muscles). That’s not to say you won’t get fit if you’re not already, so by all means, buy the videos. Just know what you’re in for when you sign up.

-fin-

…and Be Well!

Refs.

What is Muscular Hypertrophy?

I HATED the Deadlift

Posted in Strength on July 21, 2012 by Eric S.

A Relationship Built On Sand

I couldn’t perform the deadlift. I could finally bench 155 for 5×5; I had learned to love the back squat, but it’s like the weight on the bar multiplied if you put it on the floor. My form was meticulous if the magazines were to be believed.  My shins were scraped, my knees were bruised, my lower back was killing me…wait, what? I’m doing something wrong again, aren’t I? In an attempt to avoid becoming crippled I avoided the deadlift. Time passed. More and more I noticed my shoulders collapsing forward, my posture slowly rolling my head down…I’M DEVELOPING BENCHIDIS!!

I immediately run to Youtube to consult with the flattened image of Elliot Hulse. I had trusted him at the time, but have come to know this man as a strength genius. Through a series of 4 videos on his channel he taught me how, and why, to deadlift. He showed me form (the magazines were, in fact, leading me astray), he explained how to get started doing it if you’re somewhat taller, and even showed me how to breathe.

Hate and Love Are Both Four Letter Words (kind of like DEAD and LIFT…)

The deadlift is now one of my favorite things to physically do, and whether you want to get huge, get strong, or be athletic and powerful, you really should deadlift.

THAT SAID, there’s no sense doing it wrong, eh? Read on…

  1. Step up until your shins are very nearly touching the bar. Stand with your feet about hip width and pointed straight ahead.
  2. Take a few deep breaths into your stomach. “Belly breathing” is something you need either be good at or get good at if you want to move heavy weight.
  3. Take in a good, deep breath, all the way down into your belly and keep it there. You want to create and maintain intra abdominal pressure (firmness from pressure in your belly.) This will keep your core tight, and your lower back safe during the lift.
  4. Bend at the hips and grasp the bar with a shoulder width (or slightly outside so) grip, bend slightly at the knees, bringing the butt down some, while keeping your back naturally aligned. This sounds complicated, but it’s not hard in practice.
  5. In one motion, begin standing up with your butt, digging in with your heels, then straightening your knees. The bar should travel straight up your shins, over your knees, finally coming to rest on your thighs.
  6. Almost done! At the top of the lift, with your legs, butt, and back fully extended, pull your shoulders back (not UP). This is what “locking it out” refers to in this particular lift.

 

EFX Kre-Alkalyn -Recomendation

Posted in Supplements on July 19, 2012 by Eric S.

One thing in particular about the supplement AND nutrition industries that I find both fun and frustrating, is that for every legitimate clinical study finding that something is either good or bad, useful or worthless, etc, there is another, just as legitimate clinical study proving the opposite. While some supplements are indeed worthless, it’s assuredly true that everyone’s body is a little different, and a deficiency in something might make it more useful for them to supplement with it, or the other way around. The point is you can’t base your judgement on one trial or opinion. No supplement is the topic of more published studies than creatine, and no supplement has proven itself so often. Still, there are many forms of creatine, so there is still room for rigorous debate as to which is best.

Not Another Creatine Debate!

All that said, I’ll only be mentioning 2 forms here : KreAlkalyn (what I use and recommend) and creatine monohydrate.

If you’re going to use a monohydrate, go with something like this, from a brand you trust.

I’m not here to decry the monohydrate form (cm from now on) as useless or bad for you, as I used it for years, and it worked. I loaded as recommended, kept up with my usage, downed LOADS of carbs with each serving, and while the increase in size and strength was gradual, I knew it worked the day after I first cycled off. I just hated the “loading phase”, where you consume 4 TIMES the recommended dosage for a full week, and the bloating! I didn’t notice it at first, but once I’d cycled off for a few weeks I could really tell I felt a little better. Still, I stayed with it, because I didn’t experience the associative pain a lot of other people sometimes felt with it, and like I said, it does work.

Kre-Alkalyn

I had read about many people’s positive experiences with this product for a LONG time, but hadn’t really done much of my own research, and at roughly $20 for 60 1.5 gram doses, I wasn’t willing to take the risk. After all, it takes 6 grams of creatine for it to really be beneficial, right? Well, actually, no. Creatine becomes unstable and begins to break down into creatinine (a useless byproduct, which also adds to the bloating) once it’s activated with a liquid or hits stomach acids. So you really take 6g of cm and hope you get between 1.5 and 3 grams to make it to your muscles. Call me cheap, but this sounds like half of my monohydrate purchase landing in my toilet instead of my muscles. Kre-Alkalyn, however, has a super secret, patented process that keeps the PH level of plain old CM (because it works!) up to 7 and above. Suddenly a 3 gram dose of creatine is worth…3 GRAMS.

I’m about 3/4 through my first bottle, usually taking the recommended 1.5 gram dose either after my workout, or with a little bit of food early in the day, and I feel all of the same positive effects as when I was taking CM. There’s no loading, no cycling, no ridiculous amounts of carbs, though I do recommend taking it with food or a recovery shake, and especially no bloating! There are honestly only a few supplements I can really feel working instead of waiting to see if my results are better after a month of use. I can say honestly that creatine monohydrate is one of them, and Kre-Alkalyn is hands down my preferred form of it.
I’ll be doing this for all the supplements I put on my monthly Supplement Use list, so look out for it, and please, let me know what you think (good, bad, or otherwise!)

Be well!

Refs.

EFX Kre-Alkalyn Official Site

A Lot Of General Info on Creatine

Some News on Recent Studies

A Study on the Effects of Creatine in Cystic Fibrosis Patients

The “Drastic Times” Diet Part 2 – Strength Training

Posted in Strength on July 18, 2012 by Eric S.

Last post I talked about eating on a next-to-nothing budget. I gave some advice on what foods to eat, what supplements (or their whole food counterparts) to take if possible, and when to eat it all. I also alluded to working out, or more specifically lifting weights on such a diet. While your goal for lifting weights in general might be (likely is) to gain muscle and get big, that kind of mentality is not going to serve you here. You can certainly execute a rigorous bodybuilding routine on the Warrior Diet, but the huge calorie deficit referred to in the last post prohibits it for now.  I did one decent arm workout, with a couple of super sets, and could not lift my 8 week old puppy to chest height for days.

We can, however, get stronger on some choice lifts. I chose 2 lifts per day, one main strength move and one explosive Olympic style move. For example, this morning I did deadlifts followed by push presses, doing 2 warm up sets of the deadlift,  followed by 3 sets of 3 reps, then  2 sets of 2 upping the weight by 30 pounds. I rested about 3 minutes between sets. I loaded the appropriate weight, and did 4 sets of 2 – 3 on the push press (I failed once or twice, to be honest). I had originally planned on doing power cleans after, but I could tell I wouldn’t be sitting comfortably for a week or so if I did, so I opted for something involving a bit more upper body.

So the first move is a compound lift :
Deadlift, Bench Press (Flat, inclined, dumbbells, whatever you are weakest at), Squats (Back, front…you get it), Overhead Press, and even the Bent Over Row, if your lower back is strong enough for a low-rep weight.

The next one is a form of Olympic lift :

Power Cleans, Hang Cleans, Push Press, Clean and Front Squat, etc.

You can certainly take the second lift past 4 sets, but I would keep the weight at least high enough to keep the reps somewhat low.

My personal reason for this setup is that with little to no damage to the muscles (damage you WANT when trying to GROW), you need less time for recovery; you could really do this routine 5-6 times per week. Once you can add a solid recovery shake back into your diet, and your calories bump back up a little, you should be coming back into a full training schedule as a stronger athlete. You’ll see that while your arms have been getting time off from dedicated training days, your central nervous system has been hard at work, learning to push and pull heavier and heavier loads with greater efficiency. This means you’ll be able move greater weight when you start working in the 8 – 12 rep range again, which in turn means more growth. Basically, we’re taking a potential layoff and creating an intentional, controlled period of preparation for hypertrophy (muscle growth).

Call Me Crazy

I like to workout early and on an empty stomach. This might sound nuts when you’re doing all your eating at night. Normally I make a “meal exception” here and have an appropriately portioned recovery shake. I still do so, the contents are just a bit…different.

  • 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt
  • 1/2 to 1 whole banana
  • Glutamine and BCAAs if you have them. Otherwise, toss in some raw spinach!
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 cup Goat’s Milk
  • 1 tbsp of nut butter

Depending on brands and fruit size, this should get you about 20 – 25 grams of protein and fat, and around 30 grams of sugar. This may seem like a lot of sugar, but it’s pretty much your allotment for the day. If it still bothers you, you can always drop the post workout honey.

I will, if I’m feeling up to it, do another short workout in the later afternoon, sometime before “dinner”. It’s often a circuit that I formulate just before starting. The basic configuration is :

  • Push up (I vary arm width and foot elevations)
  • Back extension (I either raise my upper body, if possible, or I hold on to something and raise my feet)
  • Pull up (I vary grip width if possible)
  • Squat or Lunge
  • Abs (Plank, reverse crunch, leg raise, etc)

I usually repeat the circuit until I cannot stay in my selected rep range, which I adjust down to 6-10 per set at times like this.

Cardio

So, what about cardio? I’m not doing much. Some jump rope and light movements to warm up for lifting and that’s about it. From a weight loss stand point, there’s just no reason. Your calories coming in are limited, you’re lifting weights, plus you’re definitely getting some cardio in if you’re also following the above mentioned bodyweight circuit.

There are other reasons to want to do cardio, not the least important of which is plain old cardiovascular health. If this is something you refuse to bend on, then I would suggest moderate pacing, not much longer than 30 minutes a day, and do NOT make it a third workout of any day.

Well, that’s it! My first post on my new blog, and I came out of the gate with a two-parter! Keep looking in as I plan to update frequently with what I hope to be fun, easy to keep up with, practical information on weight lifting and nutrition for strength, power, and growth.

Be well!

Budget – The “Drastic Times Diet”

Posted in Diet and Nutrion on July 15, 2012 by Eric S.

Look, it happens. You get laid off. You get slammed with some unforeseen expense. For me, my girlfriend and I recently moved to South Carolina, and my reemployment has taken longer than expected. My focus on food has shifted from “I want to grow” to “I just want to eat”.

A Warrior’s Schedule

First, I had already been experimenting with the Warrior Diet. Basically, you eat very little all day, almost fasting, then feast for three to four hours at night. This schedule is PERFECT to weather the harsh conditions created by a sudden drop in caloric intake. So, following that outline, I wake up to either a large cup of coffee with honey or a preworkout (on workout days…yep, we’re going to workout.) A note about the preworkout : I’m lucky enough to have a little surplus of my favorite supplements right now, and I’m going to include them in this post, but you don’t have to have them. I’m going to give you a few examples of whole food options for each supplement, so if you choose, you can keep them in your limited diet. But hey, if you’ve got it, use it.

That said, in lieu of a proper preworkout the coffee with honey will do just fine. One to two times before my dinner (main meal) I like to have about 1/2 cup of at least 2% fat greek yogurt. With daily calories so low you’re going want that little bit of extra fat for energy, so we’ll be opting out of fat free versions of pretty much anything. With these snacks, or at least twice during the day on their own, I have some BCAAs (you can find a lot of them in dairy protein; extra yogurt, milk, cheese), some Glutamine (spinach! Eat it raw for maximum health benefits), and fish oil (you can get away with a can of tuna during your eating period at night to help with this).

I prefer to save almost all of my eating for the hours before bed.

This will not make you fat. Eating food that will make you fat before bed will make you fat. As money is tight right now, we should not be buying into other people’s BS. If we’re talking seriously broke, then we need cheap, nutrient dense foods. I’m a fan of a one pot meal involving brown rice, lentils (or a bean of a comparable nutrition / price ratio), chia seeds (invest in some. They will save you.), canned fish, butter (real butter. I’ll get into this later.), and whatever seasoning, sauce, and oil / vinegar you have about (if you’re eating smart normally, then these will all be smart options). Try to keep a couple important things around : cottage cheese, a nut butter (peanut being my LAST choice, but hey, times are tough!), and some ready to go fruits and veggies. Eat more a bit after dinner if possible. After eating like a toddler all day, you’ve earned it.

Supplements and Fitness Goals

Let’s talk about supplements for a minute. The BCAAs are three amino acids that work synergisticly to build muscle…or protect muscle. If I need to explain why you want that, then you may be reading the wrong blog. Glutamine is doubly beneficial, first as a tool for recovery, which is likely why you have it in the first place. Second is that it’s considered a huge immunity booster. While living on foods that come solely from bags and cans, your immune system needs all the help it can get. Glutamine is one of the most common amino acids, and is largely present in almost all high protein foods, as well as leafy greens like spinach and kale. With fish oil I’m simply being picky. You need healthy fats, specifically omega 3s, and fish is just a great source for that. You can also score a fair amount from chia seeds (I told you!), almonds / walnuts, and sardines. O3s are important for you specifically right now due to their ability to reduce inflammation throughout your body, and if you plan to be working out during this time you will definitely have a little extra inflammation. I also take MCTs (Medium Chain Triglycerides) right now. This may not seem necessary at first, so let me elaborate just a little…(there will be some slightly sciency talk ahead. There won’t be a test, I promise)

Regardless of your personal fitness goals, eating drastically fewer calories than your body needs for growth, or even “maintenance”, means weight loss. The only thing you can really do is try to urge your body to burn it’s fat stores for energy before muscle. If you know the ins and outs of a smart diet, you know healthy fats are good for you, and can even help with weight loss. MCTs are even better. MCTs are a certain kind of fat that are (by wizardry, I swear) less calorie dense than any other fat. Basically 1 gram of fat = 9 calories, while 1 gram of MCTs = 8.3 calories. They also go through a different process of digestion, requiring less enzymes for break down, and they skip the lymphatic system altogether, heading straight to the liver. All this boils down to MCTs being used by the body for energy first. This is a good thing.

If you can’t get a bottle of MCT oil, then other good sources are coconut oil (health marvel anyway), goat’s milk (the perfect liquid after water), and real butter (who knew?).

Extreme? Tell me about it.

This is just how I personally would handle this sort of situation. Budgets vary. Even our personal definitions of “being on a budget” can vary. But this approach has given me solid results, as I personally have a ton of energy these days. After over a month of trying it, I believe in the schedule the Warrior Diet sets, and I think it perfectly utilizes the calories restriction imposed by a “drastic times” sort of budget. In Part 2 of this post I’ll cover my approach to lifting on a diet like this. Be well!

Ref.

Glutamine rich foods.

How MCTs can help people with Cystic Fibrosis (What I have)

Benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids