Nuance Training

This is about embracing nuance. The subtle “it depends” responses when it comes to training. When we first start out, things are pretty simple. You go to the gym, do your 3 sets of 10 repetitions for each exercise 3 days a week and come back stronger each time. Progress is easy.

As you get stronger and fitter, by definition you need more volume to stimulate your muscles further. Unfortunately, you can’t just keep adding volume indefinitely. And your muscle and strength don’t keep increasing in a linear way. You’re also more experienced than when you started. In order to keep developing, you’ll need to become more nuanced both in your understanding and in your training.

Embrace it. It’s a sign of more complex thinking. Kids exist in a binary, right or wrong world because they have no experience. You can’t have judgment before you have experience. Teaching them to separate things into two groups simplifies life for them as they start to learn. Yes and no, good and bad, always and never absolutism helps build a framework. But eventually we learn other groups like “maybe”, “sometimes”, and “it depends”.

The same is true for fitness. As you become more experienced you find the rules are more of a framework than absolute truth. When you start out, it’s all about big compound lifts (or at least it should be). Your workouts center around squats, deadlifts, and bench. Probably you’ve been told you have to lift x reps and y sets with z time to rest.

In time, you might figure out that your body responds better to different parameters. Your workouts become more customized to you, which is exactly how they should be. At first it’s good to learn the “rules” and stick to programs as they’re drawn up. That’s a great way to make progress and build a solid foundation of strength and fitness. It’s important to learn the fundamentals well. And you don’t ever want to stray too far from them. But as your training progresses, your knowledge and experience expand also.

So understand that as your understanding and experience grow, so does the grey area between black and white. There’s no singular path to fitness. Once you’ve got the fundamentals, it’s good to be a bit flexible with the tactics you use.

In time your goals may evolve (I certainly hope so). Your life will change. Your body changes as you get older. The truth is, you’re always chasing a moving target. I think it’s a good thing. It keeps things interesting.

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What to Do If You’re a Little Dinged Up?

The most important thing I can tell you is: if an exercise hurts you, stop.

If you train with weights long enough, at some point you will experience an injury. Hopefully it’s not a bad one that keeps you away from the gym for a prolonged time. If that’s you right now, please heed your doctor’s advice and get all the way healed before you come back. The gym’s not going anywhere and it doesn’t make sense to risk injuring yourself further.

You may never suffer an injury like that though. More than likely you’ll have something that nags at you or maybe sidelines you for a week or two.

The most important thing I can tell you is: if an exercise hurts you, stop.

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I don’t mean it’s difficult or you’re feeling soreness. If you feel pain, then stop. Training shouldn’t hurt. The saying “no pain no gain” is (for lack of a better term) dumb.

I used to believe it years ago. As a result, now I have to basically avoid some lifts. The good news is there is no single exercise that is absolutely necessary for you to do. “Nuh uh,” you say. “What about squats?” Or deadlifts? Or bench press?

There are workarounds. The truth is, not every exercise will suit you. Some of them you’ll like. Others you’ll love. There will be those you don’t really love but like what they do for you. You’ll probably hate one or two. And then there are going to be some that just don’t feel right.

For me, that was barbell rows. I’d read they were necessary for a strong back. I tried them for a few months and I did get stronger. I also messed up my left biceps/elbow. Not to the point where I needed a medical intervention. But definitely enough that I stopped doing them.

In a few weeks I felt better. Back to 100%. And you know what I did? Yup, I went back to doing the rows. Guess what happened? My arm started hurting again. This time it was worse. Still not badly enough for me to need a doctor. But now it affected me when I did pull-ups.

To paraphrase a famous quote mangler: fool me twice… we won’t get fooled again.

I don’t do rows any more. It’s been a couple years now. [Stares wistfully into the distance]

I learned a few things. Don’t be so hard-headed. Not every exercise is for everyone. If something doesn’t work for you, find another way.

To be clear, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do barbell rows. Not by any stretch. This is just an example from my experience. It’s common for some people to have shoulder discomfort doing dips. Does this mean no one should do dips? Of course not. But if you’re one of the people whose shoulders get ticked off by them, find another exercise to work your triceps. Make sense?

Instead of doing barbell rows, I do dumbbell rows. It turns out I really like them and they don’t bother my elbows at all. Pull-ups still don’t feel great, so I don’t do those either. That kind of sucks because I did enjoy them. I replace them with weighted chin-ups and I’m still making progress without pain.

If you’re feeling acute pain when you’re doing a particular exercise, my advice is simple. Stop doing it. Likely reasons are you may have an undiagnosed injury already, your technique is slightly off. It’s not a terrible idea to go get yourself checked out by a medical professional. It also may make sense to have a good trainer look at your form. Or maybe that particular lift isn’t a good fit for you.

No big deal. Just find a different way to target that muscle group.

Hope this helps! Thanks for reading.

The Carrot or The Stick

What spurs you? Not motivates you. I don’t mean your purpose, mission in life, or your goals. Are you goaded into taking action by the carrot or the stick?

I’ve always been fascinated by this idea. The carrot is a promised reward, held always just out of reach. You take a step towards it, and it moves a step farther from you.

The stick is a threatened punishment. You keep moving forward because you don’t want to feel its sting.

In school I had many teachers and coaches. Some believed the best way to inspire greatness (or compliance) was through yelling or berating. Others did it more nicely.

We all need to be challenged. The most effective coaches and teachers seemed to intuitively know who needed a boot in the ass and who needed to be coaxed more gently.

I think it’s important to have a clear understanding of yourself (so did some guy named Socrates). Your internal mowq7b1wotivation is what’s going to drive you to go after your goals over the long term. But every once in a while, we all need a little nitro to give us a temporary turbo boost.

If that’s someone challenging your intestinal fortitude by calling you out of name, that’s cool. I’ve seen it work. If someone clapping for you and encouraging you, just one more rep or mile, that’s cool too. I’ve also seen that work.

I tend to fall mostly in the latter category. When I saw a coach screaming in a teammate’s face, spittle flying far too close, I thought it was funny. (I never claimed to be the most mature human.)

On the rare occasion when I was the object being yelled at, I never felt inspired. If the idea was to make me so enraged that I’d take it out on the opposing team, it didn’t work on me. It did, however, make me wish all kinds of horrible things would happen to that coach.

Circling back, it’s helpful to know which spur is going to work best for you. As a fitness coach, it’s imperative to have an understanding that everyone is different. You have to adjust to help inspire your clients to achieve their goals. Not that you have to be fake about it. People will see right through that. You want to see the situation (the desired outcome, the necessary steps, and the path) through the eyes of the client.

Hope this helps. Thanks for reading. Any comments or questions, leave ‘em below.

4th Quarter

It’s the beginning of October. That means it’s the start of the 4th quarter of 2017. Are you still on track for the goals you set for yourself this year?

If you are, you’re awesome. If you’ve already achieved what you set out to for the year… it’s time to pick bigger goals.

If you’ve fallen off, it’s easy to start thinking about ‘18. I mean, there are only a few weeks until the holidays and you may as well just slack off and enjoy, right?

Nope.

First, there’s still plenty of time left to put in lots of solid work towards your goals. For the sports fans, is there any greater thrill than a late-game comeback win? Who doesn’t love a movie where the hero overcomes the biggest challenge at the end? You are the hero of your story. If you truly want something, go after it. Take actions every day (every day) that put you closer to it. You won’t make giant strides daily. Small steps are still progress.

Second, you know “I’ll wait ‘til next year and then I’ll start” is bs. It’s just procrastination with no benefit. Why would you wait to improve your life? If it’s a good idea to start in January, it’s a good idea to start in October. As in now. Today.

Are you going to look back a year from now and say, I’m so glad I waited until January to get started? Or are you more likely to think you should’ve started earlier?

It doesn’t matter if your goal is to be more fit, drop that fat, build muscle, make a million dollars, write that novel, etc. Waiting is wasting. Go. Do.

You got this! Hope this helps. Thanks for reading. Leave a comment or question below.

So You’re Having a $#!tty Workout

You’re feeling great… until the barbell’s in your hands…

You’re in the gym. Your mind’s right. Your warm-up was good. You’re feeling great. It’s bench day and you’re ready to set some PRs. You sail through your acclimation sets and then… (sad game show sound effect) nothing.

The barbell feels way heavier than expected. You try to push through but it’s just not happening today.

You rack the weight, then rack your brain trying to figure out what happened and why.

Maybe the answer is simple. You didn’t get enough sleep or you’ve got a little cold.

But sometimes, it’s just one of those days. You got no juice. It happens. Most workouts are just pretty good, in the same way that most days at work are just okay. Some training sessions are awesome. And others are just a slog.

What should you do?

Be honest with yourself: maybe you’re just feeling lazy. If you are, c’mon, just fight through that.

When it’s not that, you should do what you can. Accept that you’re not going to set any records today. And that’s okay. Just make up your mind to get through the session. Once it’s over, don’t dwell on it. I know it’s frustrating. One bad workout isn’t going to derail your gains.

Perhaps there are other factors at play. It’s important to have the self-awareness to know they can impact your workout. While the gym can sometimes be a sanctuary from the every day life stress, it’s not an impermeable bubble. We all go through times of intense stress and it’s reasonable to expect it may seep into your time at the gym.

The most important thing is to do the best you can each workout. Sometimes that means hitting PRs. On other occasions it may just mean showing up just to stretch and break a little sweat. It doesn’t mean you messed up or failed. It means there isn’t always an immediate payoff for your efforts. Just keep trying and you’ll reap the benefits.

Thanks for reading. Any questions or comments, leave ’em below.

Build Bigger Stronger Arms

The end of summer may mean it’s time to cover up the “guns” in your sleeves but it also means it’s about time to start building them back up.

Do you want bigger, stronger, more defined arms? Here’s how.

When you think of big arms, you probably think of biceps. As you can see in the illustration below, the triceps are also going to make a good part of the the arm mass. In fact, you want to train them in about the same volume.

Simply put, your biceps’ job is to contract to bend your elbow to move your forearm towards the upper arm. Your triceps flex to extend the elbow to move your forearm away from the upper arm.

Anatomy

The bi- prefix indicates there are two heads to the muscle: a long head and a short head. Picture your arm hanging straight down at your side. Your biceps will be facing forward. The short head of your biceps will be closer to your torso. The long head will be farther from your torso.

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You can probably guess what the tri- prefix means for the back of your arm. That’s it, there are three heads: the lateral, long, and medial. It’s easier to see in an image. [photo] Together they form a shape resembling a horseshoe. Look at the body from the back with the arms hanging straight down. The long head starts around the back of the shoulder/armpit area. The lateral head (sometimes called the short head) is on the outside, farther from the torso. The medial head is on the inside, but closer to the elbow than the others.

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Biceps Training

The most common way you’ll see people training biceps is through curls. Does it work? Yes. But the best way to get your muscles to grow is to get stronger by lifting more weight over time. Biceps curls are an isolation exercise, which means they focus solely on one muscle group. That’s the good part. You’ll see people doing all kinds of variations of curls: standing, sitting, concentration, alternating, hammer, spider, incline, decline, reverse-grip. Of course there are all kinds of weight machines as well. All that’s cool.

However, the downside of isolation exercises is that you really can’t use that much weight when compared to compound exercise. Pull-ups and chin-ups are compound movements that train the back and biceps. Rows are great also. You could build an impressive set of biceps just by focusing on these alone. This is because you’ll be lifting your body, which obviously is a lot heavier than the dumbbells you’d use for curls. Once you get to the point where you can tack on extra iron for your chin-ups, you’ll be moving some impressive weights. And that is the key to getting strong and building muscle.

The main emphasis should be on getting stronger at the compound movements. Try doing 3-5 sets of 5-10 repetitions, with 1-3 minutes of rest once or twice a week. I know that’s a big range of reps. You’ll find some people will respond better to sets with closer to 5 reps while others will need closer to 10. The main key will be focusing on getting stronger.

A great way to make this happen is to gradually increase the number of reps or sets. If you build your way from 3 sets of 5 reps to 3 sets of 7 reps, you’ve gotten stronger. Add on 5-10 lbs. and go back to 3 sets of 5 reps. Build your way up and repeat the process.

(It’s a given that you’re using good form, right?  Right? )

This is going to improve your gains far more efficiently than doing 8 different versions of curls. I’m not against curls, or isolation movements in general. You get the most efficient gains from compound movements. Compounds are like your main dishes. Isolations are the side orders. When you do your isolation lifts, you want to ensure you’re using the muscles and not momentum to move the weight. I recommend 2-3 sets of 5-12 repetitions.

If you want to deep dive into your isolation lifts, the short head of the biceps is emphasized when the arm is in front of the body in exercises like preacher curls and concentration curls. To focus more on the long head, have your upper arm slightly behind your body and try incline dumbbell curls and hammer curls.

Triceps Training

When working on arms, we tend to overemphasize training the biceps, often to the neglect of the triceps. The truth is the triceps are just as important, if not more, when it comes to growing impressive guns.

Similar to the biceps, you’ll often see people in the gym doing a bunch of isolation movements. There are extensions, cable extensions, overhead extensions, (the ominous-sounding) skull crushers, weight machines and on and on. Again, they do work but they’re not going to be the most efficient method for you.

Compound lifts are your friends! Pressing exercises like bench press (particularly close-grip bench), overhead press, dips, even pushups are great ways to develop your triceps. You don’t have to do every exercise in order to make gains. Pick a couple compound exercises and work on building your strength at those. Use a similar sets and reps scheme as for the upper body pulls.

Toss in some isolation work as a complement afterwards. Again, 2-3 sets of 5-12 once or twice is plenty. You can put emphasis on the lateral head with triceps exercises where your arms are by your sides and you’re using an overhand (palms down) grip (e.g. dips). To focus on growing the medial head, your arms will be at your sides but you’ll use an underhand grip (e.g. reverse-grip press downs). Build the lateral head by choosing exercises where your arms are overhead (e.g. skull crushers or overhead extensions).

Rest and Recovery

In order to get the most out of your time in the gym, you want to do the right things outside of the gym. That means getting plenty of rest. You work the muscles in the gym but they recover and grow only if you allow sufficient time between workouts. Eat enough food, particularly protein, to support your gains, but not so much that you get fluffy.

Now you’re all set to make some great arm gains! The only thing left to do is put in the work.

Hope this helps. Any questions or comments, let me know.

10 Ways to Get Everyone at the Gym to Love You

Become your gym’s favorite person!

Here’s a quick list of things you can do to make sure you’re the real MVP of your gym:

  1. Never wash your gym clothes. If you’re worried they might not smell great, take a cologne shower before you hit the gym.
  2. When you’re done using the equipment, don’t wipe it off. Leave a little sweat for the next person.
  3. As soon as you finish an exercise, leave the weights right there. Don’t strip the plates of the bar. Never, ever, ever put the dumbbells back in the rack.
  4. Everyone should know how hard your workout is. Let them know through a series of grunts, hisses, and loud swearing. Your effort is contagious. They’ll see it and up their training to match yours.
  5. Give each person a helpful tip about the exercise they’re doing. They’re probably not totally wrong, but you can definitely provide 5 or 10 pointers. Share your expertise with them. Sure, they might be wearing earbuds pretending to concentrate on their own workout, but trust me, they’ll be grateful for your knowledge.
  6. Train efficiently by using supersets on at least 3-4 pieces of equipment at a time. You must remain fiercely vigilant about guarding them all. Never let anyone work in with you, that shows weakness. You don’t go to the gym to be weak, do you?
  7. Ogle. Ogle. Ogle. No one comes to the gym to not be seen. By ogling, you give them the gratification that they’re obviously after.
  8. Along similar lines, make sure you dress appropriately to be seen. Stringer tops and nut-hugger shorts give everyone an opportunity to admire your entire physique.
  9. In the locker room, take your sweet time getting dressed. It’s a social place. Strike up a conversation with a stranger as you use the blow dryer on your nether regions.
  10. Remember, all the mirrors in the building are there for you to show off your front double biceps pose.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve got a tip to add to the list, leave it in the comments below!