In the leg training world back squats are king.  They are the bread and butter, and generally the first lift for any serous lifter on leg day.  So what should you do after your first set of back squats?  Many people default to the 45-degree leg press, but if you read my post last week, I’m not too fond of that machine.  Instead, I prefer the hack squat.

If you are not a gym fanatic chances are you’ve never heard of the hack squat.  Some gyms have a separate piece of equipment dedicated to this exercise, but I prefer using a barbell.  The hack squat has many advantages by prioritizing your quadriceps as opposed to the traditional back squat which demands the entire body to complete the exercise.

Now keep in mind, I’m not trying to discredit the importance of the back squat.  But like a 20 year old marriage, you may need a little spark to change things up a bit.  I have said it many times and will many times over, change is critical to avoiding plateaus.    So if you have never added the hack squat into your routine, I hope this post convinces you to do so.

Although, the hack squat and back squat work the same muscles, hack squats place much more emphasis on the lower/

inside area of your quadriceps than back squats do.  Since you are using free weights, you will also be targeting your upper body to complete the lift in particular your forearms.

How To Perform This Exercise:

  1. Place the barbell on the floor just behind your legs with your feet shoulder width apart, and toes pointed forward
  2. While keeping your feet firmly planted on the floor, grab the bar with an overhand grip.
  3. Lift the bar by extending your knees and hips, pressing upwards and maintaining equal distribution on the ball and heel of your feet.
  4. At the top of the lift pause for a moment, and slowly lower yourself by squatting back down until your thighs are parallel to the floor
  5. Repeat exercise for the prescribed number of sets

Tips

Being a visual person, I have attached a video below showcasing proper hack squat form.  Here are a few pointers, that will also help you out.

  • Keep your head facing forward, back straight, and feet flat throughout the exercise.
  • Maintain equal distribution of weight on your forefoot and heel during the lift.
  • Practice without any weight before your sets to get comfortable with proper form.

Remember, the key to progress is muscle confusion.  The only way to achieve muscle confusion is to constantly switch up your lifts.  Next time you find yourself reaching your leg plateau, add in this lift to crush that obstacle.

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“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” – Bob Marley

 

 

If you asked me what the most useless exercise machine in the gym is, I wouldn’t have to think twice.  Hands down, 100%, no questions asked it is the leg press machine.  I mean why would you take a perfectly good lift, squats, and completely change it into a disgrace of the lift we now call the leg press?  So without further hesitation here are three reasons why you should never touch this machine again…EVER!

You Can Injure Yourself

So you can throw 700 LBS and rep out three sets of ten huh?  That’s terrific for you and your ego, but realistically you are putting your lower back in serous jeopardy.

Why would anyone want to go out of their way to promote bad form that will likely lead to lower disk herniation’s?  Taking a quote out of Dr. Stuard McGill’s book, Low Back Disorders, he states:

“The leg press sometimes causes the pelvis to rotate away from the back rest when the weight is lowered. The resultant lumbar flexion produces herniating conditions for the disc!”

By sitting at a 45-degree angle, and forcing your legs towards your chest you begin to pinch your vertebrae.  Many guys in the gym pile on the plates in the gym with no thought to the consequences.

You Aren’t Improving any Functional Movement

How many times in your everyday life have you ever needed to sit down and push a bunch of weight at a 45-degree angle?

Probably never.

This is why we squat ladies and gentleman.  Not to look cool, but to improve our functional movements and help ourselves reach our goals.

Many Of Us Replace Squats With Leg Press

Why?

It is so confusing to me when I see big guys working on the leg press machine week in week out.  There is usually a direct correlation between these gentleman and what we like to call chicken legs.  Just because you can stack on ridiculous amounts of weight doesn’t mean it’s better for you.  I don’t care how much you hate leg day, make it part of your workout program, master the technique, and perform an exercise that is useful.

So for goodness sake, please stop the shenanigans!  There is no excuse to use this machine, except to show off to everyone in the gym who don’t give a flying f%&k how much you throw on that bar.

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 “Never give up on the things that make you smile.”

If you’re like most people you have hit a training plateau at one point in your life.  I have discussed a few great ways to conquer these in the past, but today I would like to discuss my absolute favorite method.  Eccentric training, also known as negative training, allows you to push your muscles beyond exhaustion.  By allowing your muscles to lift between 30-40 percent more weight than your one max rep, you push your muscles past a point they normally couldn’t handle.

Eccentric training is defined as active contraction of a muscle occurring simultaneously with lengthening of the muscle.  It is much more demanding on the muscles, and therefore it works them much harder than you could with a traditional concentric lift.  This is especially true for compound exercises such as the bench press, military press, and barbell curls.

As you may have guessed you are much stronger on the eccentric phase of the rep as opposed to the concentric portion.  This means that less muscle fiber is needed to perform this portion of your exercises.  However, these muscle fibers are receiving a much higher percentage of damage, which allows for those fibers to get much bigger than during traditional sets.

It is absolutely critical to boost the intensity of your workouts if you want to boost your gains.  There are a few methods to incorporating these into your routine, but only one will allow you to fulfill your muscle building potential.

Whenever I incorporate eccentric training into my regimen I perform what are called forced reps.  These are reps you perform after you have reached muscle failure on a set.  A proper and knowledgeable spotter is absolutely necessary to perform these last few reps.

To perform a negative rep on bench press, make sure you have two training partners as it can be difficult for one partner to lift the entire weight of the bar up.  The general rule is to load the bar with around 35% higher weight than you normally would, and let your spotters lift the bar off for you.  Then you must SLOWLY lower the bar to your chest, this should be slow and controlled (about 5 seconds on the way down).  Once you hit your chest, have your spotters do the concentric portion of the lift for you by lifting the weight back to the starting point.

Lowering the bar with 35% more weight than you normally would, allows you to over train your muscle fibers which will help you get over any plateau that stands in your way.  By using negatives at the end of your workout you will absolutely annihilate your muscle fibers, which will lead to fantastic results.

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“If you only ever give 90% in training then you will only ever give 90% when it matters.” -Michael Owen

Many of us are constrained to a budget when we go to the grocery store.  This makes prioritizing which macro nutrients to purchase during your weekly grocery shopping very important.  You should always set priorities within your macro nutrient nutrition depending on the goals you set for yourself, and what you are trying to get out of your training regimen.  Regardless of your nutritional ratios, you should always try to maintain an abundance of fruits and vegetables in your refrigerator.  Unfortunately, these “healthy” foods can turn out to be quite the opposite.  With today’s modern farming practices, many fruits and vegetables are riddled with chemicals, pesticide residue and toxins.  It is important to educate yourself on which vegetables are safe to buy conventional, and which are not.

Below is a  list that will help you prioritize which produce you should be purchasing organically.  Known as the dirty dozen list these fruits and vegetables have tested positive for as many as 67 different chemicals.  Therefore, it would be wise to always buy these organic, or not to buy them at all.

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Nectarines
  • Cucumbers
  • Potatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Hot peppers

Studies have shown that by purchasing these 12 products organically you can cut down on your pesticide exposure by 80%.  Obviously it would be ideal if you could buy all of your produce organically, but for most of us that just isn’t realistic.  That is why there is another list which tells us which produce products we don’t necessarily need to purchase organic.

  • Onions

  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet peas
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Kiwi
  • Cantaloupe (domestic)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Grapefruit
  • Papayas
  • Mushrooms

With new studies being released every month, we are beginning to see just how dangerous exposure to pesticides really is.  Buying organic produce can be very expensive, but the last time I checked, having cancer is much more expensive.  Be aware of what you are putting in your body, and the repercussions that can arise as a result.

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“I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come.” -Michael Jordan

Conjugated Linoleic Acid

Last week we talked about one of my favorite fat burning supplements, caffeine.  This week I would like to discuss another great fat shredder.  Conjugate linoleic acid (CLA) is a healthy fat that many in the fitness community know as an effective fat loss supplement.  Unlike caffeine and many other weight loss supplements conjugated linoleic acid is a non-stimulant that supports lean muscle, while helping your body use stored body fat as fuel.  CLA occurs naturally in meat and most dairy sources.  Supplementing conjugated linoleic acid is a great way to skip those extra calories, and get right to the source.  If you are looking for that perfect toned beach body, CLA might be something you should add to your stack.

How Does It Work?

Picture Mike Tyson during his prime stepping into the ring.  CLA gives your body the ability to fight fat at its source by inhibiting the fat storing enzyme, lipoprotein lipase.  Basically, LPL promotes fat cells to pick up fats in the bloodstream in order to store them as body fat.  By preventing this process CLA not only prevents additional body fat storage, but also helps the body burn fat as fuel.  CLA is one of the few supplements that allows the body to shed fat and build muscle simultaneously.

When you put your body through a rigorous workout, you will begin using muscle protein as fuel.  This breaks down muscle tissue, that you inevitably build back when you eat.  By using body fat as a fuel source, you protect your muscle tissue from breakdown, and this helps the body build bigger muscles.

How Much Should I Take?

I have noticed that it can be very easy to overuse this product.  It is important to be careful not to exceed the recommended dosage.  I take two grams around 30 minutes before each meal.

Conclusion

Conjugated linoleic acid is a great fat burning supplement, but doesn’t work miracles.  This supplement should be used by people who stay active and maintain a consistent training regimen.  The positive effects will not come to fruition if you intend on sitting on your couch the entire day.  For those of you who are looking for that extra boost during your cutting season, I would highly suggest adding CLA to your diet.

 

When you wake up every morning your body immediately begins breaking down muscle protein for energy.  It is vital to get protein into your system to avoid this breakdown of muscle tissue.  Today I would like to share with you my favorite protein shake recipe to start your day off right.  Keep in mind this recipe may not be for everyone, but for bodybuilders or any serous lifter this is a great way to get some energy to start your day off.

Ingredients:

1 banana (2 fruit servings)

Adams All Natural Creamy Peanut Butter, 2 tbsp

2% reduced fat milk, 8 oz

Chobani Vanilla Non-fat Greek Yogurt, 6 oz

Optimum Nutrition, Gold Standard 100% Whey (Chocolate), 1 scoop

Directions:

Add milk, banana, peanut butter into a blender.  Blend until all ingredients liquefy.  Pour ingredients into blender bottle, and add the remaining ingredients.  Shake well until the protein powder is mixed well into the shake with no clumps.  Enjoy.NutritionLabel

 

As you can see this protein shake packs a significant punch.  There is much debate on the appropriate amount of protein a person needs on a daily basis, but I would argue that the more the better.  Many sources suggest 1.5 to 2 grams per pound of weight a person has.  For me that translates into nearly 350 grams per day.  It is essential to keep protein in your system not only for muscle growth, but also as an energy source.  Since protein contains less calories than that of fats and carbohydrates, protein should be the number one choice by athletes for fuel.  Don’t take my advice though, there are many sources out there that suggest consuming much more protein than the FDA’s daily values suggestion.

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“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”-Colin Powell

 

You may have noticed that caffeine is in virtually every single weight loss supplement and pre-workout.  There are many benefits to adding caffeine into your stack, and even though it sometimes gets a bad rap, caffeine can help you gain muscle as well as burn fat.  Caffeine is cheap and effective for both endurance athletes, and resistance lifters alike.  You may think that coffee is the best way to get your caffeine fix, but in reality it is very inefficient and expensive.  It can also be very hard to track your caffeine intake when drinking coffee, which is why pill form is often the most recommended way to supplement your body with caffeine.

There are two added benefits to taking caffeine pills over drinking coffee.  First, caffeine pills are dirt cheap.  For the price of one cup of Starbucks coffee, you can buy 100 servings of caffeine pills.  The second benefit is that you can easily regulate your daily intake of the substance.  The human body builds up a tolerance for caffeine very quickly, so monitoring your daily dosage can be very important.

Hopefully you paid attention in economics class, because caffeine is the perfect example of diminishing returns. If you are planning on using caffeine as a supplement, you should very seriously consider cutting off your caffeine intake as a beverage.

Tolerance becomes a big issue here, as your body quickly builds a tolerance to the supplement therefore diminishing it’s benefits.  There is no statistical evidence linking increased performance with an increase of caffeine consumption, so more is definitely not better.

So how exactly can caffeine help you cut those extra few pounds you’ve been lugging around?  There are actually two ways caffeine helps with weight loss.

  1. Ingesting caffeine an hour before your workout can help your body jumpstart your metabolism.  Not to get into the boring details, but ingesting caffeine speeds up the process of lipolysis (Click here for details).  This process signals your body to begin breaking down fat, and converts it into energy.
  2.  As we all know caffeine can give you a massive energy boost.  Caffeine is a stimulant, as it increases alertness and temporarily dulls the effects of drowsiness.  This allows your body to perform for a longer period of time.  This is especially true with weightlifting, as it helps you avoid those half ass workouts.

 So How Much Do You Need?

The suggested dose is 1.3 mg’s per LB of body weight.  In other words a 200 LB person should be taking 266 mg’s of caffeine on workout days.  If you feel like you are not getting the same energy boost from your suggested dose, you will be tempted to add another pill to your pre-workout.  I would caution against this strategy as you can easily become dependent on the substance.  It is best to cycle off for seven days, and then begin taking your recommended dosage again.

Conclusion

Caffeine is a great supplement for losing weight, gaining muscle, as well as getting the most out of your workouts.  Just be sure you don’t get hooked on the stuff, because taking too much can be harmful to your health.

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“The price of excellence is discipline. The cost of mediocrity is disappointment.” -William Arthur Ward

 

When it comes to working our biceps, most of us do the same routine regularly.  Typically 8-12 reps week after week.  This can inhibit muscle growth because we will inevitably reach a plateau, which will limit any amount of progress you hope to make while training.  One of the best ways to mix things up and reinvigorate your bicep days is to try a technique called “21’s”.

21 refers to the amount of reps you will complete each set, and can be broken down into three different range of motions.  These will challenge your strength and stamina, and help push your muscles to the next level.  You are going to want to drop the weight down from your traditional 12 rep day, but you will challenge your biceps like never before.

1. Low Range Of Motion.  7 reps

    • On the first seven reps you are extending your elbows all the way down, and curling the bar until your forearm is perpendicular to your body.  Ensure that you are keeping your back straight, and not using momentum to lift the bar.

2. Upper Range Of Motion.  7 reps

    • Now you are going to do the opposite of number one.  Lift  the bar all the way to your shoulders, but only go down to a 90º angle.

3. Full Range of Motion.  7 reps

    • Let’s finish off the set by doing seven perfect reps.  Perfect means keeping your back straight, bringing your arms all the way down by straightening your elbows, and curling the bar all the way to your shoulders.

Now that we know how to complete the reps properly, lets talk about the benefits adding “21’s” into your routine will give you.

Muscle Confusion

This is the single most important aspect of changing up your workout routine.  By attacking your biceps from different angles you will keep your muscles guessing, which will help turn your muscle fibers into Type 2 muscle fibers.  Type 2 muscle fibers are fast twitch muscle fibers, and are also larger.  If you are looking to gain mass, these are the muscle fibers you’re after.

Time Saver

Due to the massive pump you get from this exercise, you are able to cut a few sets out without sacrificing your workload.

Endurance

By increasing your reps you will force your muscles to react differently than they normally do.  This will lead to a longer muscle endurance to endure heavy grueling sets.

Check out the video below to see what the proper technique for “21’s”

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“Your mind will quit a thousand times before you body will. Feel the fear and do it anyway.” – Unknown

 

 

Drop sets are a great way to maximize your muscle building potential.  The reason drop sets are so useful is that they utilize all of your muscle fibers throughout the workout.  During a traditional eight rep set, you are really only using your Type II muscle fibers.  By dropping the weight down and immediately getting in more reps, you begin to activate your Type I muscle fibers.  Drop setting is the most efficient way to work both types of muscle fibers, and thus the best way to build muscle.

So what exactly is a drop set?

Drop sets are essentially a technique where you perform an exercise, and then drop the weight down and continue as many reps as you can until failure.

If done correctly drop sets are a great way to take your muscles way past muscle failure by turning one set into two or three.  This doubles (or triples) the amount of work you do, as well as the intensity of your workouts.  These are both important for pushing forward muscle growth.  However, there seems to be confusion on how much weight to drop for your drop set.  There are many different techniques out there for drop setting, so I will discuss the two best techniques (In my opinion) to instigate muscle growth.

Running The Rack

This technique should be done when working with dumbbells.  Your first set should be the heaviest, and perform as many reps as possible.  Once you reach muscle exhaustion you move down the rack, and select a lower weight.  There shouldn’t be any rest in between sets.  Perform this for around four to five different weights.

The 30% Method

This is my favorite drop set method.  After muscle failure you should  drop between 20-30% while attempting to complete a similar amount of reps as the set.  Again, dumbbells make great weights for drop sets, because you don’t have to waste time changing out weights.  Ideally you wont take any break at all, so dumbbells are much more efficient

For more variations of the drop set click here.

 

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“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Let me first start by saying if you work out on a regular basis, and incorporate cardio into your routine you are off to a great start.  But if your idea of cardio is hitting the stair master, or treadmill for 30 minutes every day, I am here to tell you that you are doing it wrong.  Let me ask you a question, what benefits are you really getting from half-assing a ‘jog’ while watching re-runs of friends on your treadmill T.V?  Not nearly as much as you could.

If you really want to see results in the gym, from building muscle to losing weight, you need to leave the days of stationary bikes and elliptical machines in the dust.  That’s where HIIT comes to the rescue. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), is a form of cardio that incorporates short intervals of high intensity exercises such as sprints, with intervals of low intensity exercises such as walking or even rest.  HIIT was developed a few decades back by track coaches who wanted to better prepare their runners, and since has crossed over to the fitness industry due to its better results when compared to traditional cardio.

Most people perform cardio at a steady rate anywhere from 30-60 minutes, but HIIT allows you to

accomplish more in nearly half that time.  Performing short spurts of high intensity exercise enhances the metabolic rate in an athlete’s muscles, which promotes fat burning while simultaneously speeding up metabolism.  This increase in resting metabolism causes the body to burn calories for up to 24 hours after the workout.

 

 

 

So What About Bodybuilders?

Many serious lifters and bodybuilders argue that performing cardio slower and for longer stretches of time leads to fat loss, and prevents muscle loss.  Studies have proven that the opposite is actually true.

Training at a slow and steady pace causes an athlete’s muscle fibers to become aerobic and have greater endurance.  This leads to smaller and weaker muscle fibers, and the smaller the muscle fiber the longer it takes nutrients to reach the muscle itself. Therefore, cardio performed at a higher intensity for a shorter period of time will not only help you maintain muscle, but help to build muscle.

HIIT is not only completed in less time, but much more efficient.  Whatever you fitness goals are, High Intensity Interval Training can help you become the athlete you have always wanted to be.

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“The key is not the will to win. Everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.” – Bobby Knight