This is a compilation of most of Dr. Mike Israetel's informative Facebook posts. This compilation began in August of 2017.
What do you do if you get very fatigued midway through a mesocycle?
There are at least two problems when this occurs:
1.) The high fatigue levels will impede recovery and thus not allow for you to make training harder with each successive week. This of course violates the overload principle and significantly hampers gains.
2.) When fatigue is high, the activity of catabolic molecular machinery in muscle cells tends to outpace the activity of anabolic machinery. The result may be a net of zero muscle growth or even one of muscle loss.
So if fatigue is up pretty high and you’ve still got some time left in the mesocycle during which you planned on continuing to train hard, here are some options of how to attend to the situation. Note that these options are listed in order of how much fatigue they are capable of dealing with. Option A is designed for lower fatigue situations while option D is designed for ultra-high fatigue situations, and options B and C for intermediate fatigue levels.
A.) Grind it Out
You can potentially make the decision to just note the high fatigue and keep training super hard to finish your mesocycle. Since very high fatigue won’t allow productive training to last very long, this option is reserved for two situations. The first is if you’re midway through your mesocycle and you have just a bit more fatigue than planned for that time in your progression. You can keep grinding through and likely finish on a high note, especially if you make an effort to sleep, eat, and relax more through the rest of the cycle, thus preventing fatigue from getting out of hand as the cycle progresses. The second situation is if you’re already about to begin your last week of accumulation training (before your deload week) anyway. This late in the game and if fatigue is high but not CRAZY, you can just summon the gods of power and do what it takes to hit your last week’s numbers.
B.) Take a Half-Week Volume Deload
If fatigue is too high to keep going through the meso but not crazy high, you can take a half week and deload only volume. Because volume is the biggest contributor to fatigue and because intense (heavy) training preserves adaptation and still trains the nervous system, this kind of deload misses very little productivity and drops quite a bit of fatigue to prepare you for several more weeks of normal training after. How do you do a volume deload? Easy, just cut either your sets or your reps in half, but still do the planned weights you were going to. For example, if you had 4x10 deadlifts planned, do either 2x10 deads or 4x5 deads.
C.) Take a Half-Week Volume/Intensity Deload
Sometimes you’re too beat up for a volume-only deload to save you. This might be especially true if you’re training quite heavy in the current mesocycle and it’s the heaviness of the weights more than the volume that’s beating you up (for example, your joints are starting to flare up). In this case, drop both volume and intensity by cutting reps or sets just like you did in option B above, but also cut all weights by 50%. It’s gonna be SUPER easy to train like this, but that’s the whole idea for fatigue to drop a lot! Same days, same exercises, same everything, just half the sets or reps and half the weight you had programmed. As soon as that half week is over, resume your normal progression and finish the meso strong.
D.) Take a Full Deload and Restart The Next Mesocycle
Sometimes you’re just too fucked up to keep going. Maybe you got sick, maybe your joints are dilapidated, maybe your appetite and sleep are messed up and maybe your desire to train is super low. Maybe it’s all of these! If you’re just totally wrecked and don’t anticipate only half a week to be enough to heal you, just take the full deload week (first half of the week as option B and second half as option C). Once you come back to training, either move onto the next mesocycle or re-do the one you’d were doing (with some adjustments to make it survivable this time).
Be honest with how fatigued you are, give all of these corrections a try in your training and you’ll find out how much fatigue you can get away with and how much fatigue, for you, each correction from A to D is needed can help ameliorate.
Tips on eating on a budget.
One of my training partners at Balance MMA, Jackson Duncan, is doing a lot of coaching for inner city youth football players, trying to prepare them best for collegiate and possible pro careers. A big part of what’s going to make them better is of course nutrition, but many of these guys don’t have a ton of money to spend on eating right. Here are some tips on eating for performance without breaking the bank:
1.) Cook most meals
No matter how cheap the food on the dollar menu is, it doesn’t even come close to being as cheap as food you can cook yourself. All it takes is some time, a pot of boiling water, and maybe a frying pan and you’re well on your way to saving loads of money. And because a lot of fast food isn’t the healthiest thing ever, you’ll be getting health benefits by cooking most of your food.
2.) Buy in bulk
When you shop for food, the more food you buy at a time, the cheaper it is. Items like rice, olive oil, and meat, for example can be bought in bulk and save you loads of money vs. buying them once at a time. And when you buy in bulk, you can also batch-cook, making basic meals and putting them into Tupperware in the fridge. This not only saves you money, but saves you a ton of time during the week as well. In fact, once you hit your batch-cooking stride, you’ll be able to spend less time per week cooking than you used to spend going out to get fast food!
3.) Stick to the basics
When you’re buying food at the store, nothing beats the basics. Specifically, rice, beans, pasta, canned veggies and olive oil. These foods are sold in bulk and are incredibly cheap and nutritious. Add a bit of protein to them and you’re got yourself the basis of your diet!
4.) Cheap protein sources
When choosing protein, don’t worry about the super low-fat options. They tend to be more expensive and because you’re an active athlete, you don’t have to worry too much about extra fat. In fact, you need fat to keep you at your best and it does give you a lot of calorie bang for the buck! Protein sources like discounted ground beef, milk, and eggs are great options. If you can buy the milk and eggs as powdered options, you’ll save even more money.
5.) Consider protein powder
Surprisingly, whey protein powder, also when bought in bulk, can be much cheaper than other protein sources like meat. Because protein is usually the most expensive between the macros (carbs and fats), the more you can save on it, the better. Choosing a cheaper protein brand, like a 6lb or 10lb bag of whey from Optimum Nutrition, you can supplement your daily protein intake and save lots of money.
6.) Stay on the low end of protein intake
Bodybuilders might benefit most from a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day (so if you weigh 200lbs, you’d need to eat 200g of protein per day). But you can make excellent gains in muscle and strength while supporting your recovery with much less protein than that. Aim for 0.7g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day and your body should be getting all it needs. This way, you can buy less protein per week and save lots of money, since protein tends to be a bit more expensive than the other types of food.
7.) Consider a multivitamin
By eating plenty of grains, veggies, and meats, you should have a very good start on getting in enough vitamins and minerals. But just to make sure, taking a multivitamin everyday might help round things out. If you get the store-brand multis at a place like Walmart, you can get about a year’s supply for under $20… pretty much the cheapest supplement you’ll ever take.
8.) Snacks on the go
A great snack to pack with you is a peanut butter sandwich (jelly optional) and a whey protein shake. Buying protein bars when you’re out and about gets expensive, so this is a much better choice.
9.) Workout shakes
Don’t buy the bottled Gatorade or Powerade if you need a workout shake. Head over to the local beer brewery and get a couple of bags of dextrose powder. They are super cheap, and if you add that sugar to your protein shake after training, you get the edge on recovery without spending much at all.
10.) Extra food money
If you find yourself with some extra money to spend on food, you might be best served by buying fresh fruits and veggies. They are packed with tons of vitamins, minerals, and other very nutritious ingredients that will help you get better at your sport. Don’t buy the organic ones though, and stick to the non-organic (conventional) produce. Organic food isn’t any better for you but it costs a heck of a lot more.
Be consistent, plan ahead, and you can eat very well for very little money! It’s not going to be glamorous food, that’s true, but if you’re really about the grind, you’ll do what it takes to be your best.
How can you tell if you’re ever likely to reach the top of your sport?
Or even if you’re likely to reach a certain objective goal in your sport (such as squatting 600lbs, for example)? OOther than for motivational purposes, such an estimate can help you determine how much of an effort you might want to put into training for the sport in question. And this is no trivial matter. Life is full of all sorts of other potential uses of your time and efforts, such as being with loved ones, your career, and even possibly other sports. It’s also no trivial matter because to be at the top of many sports, quite a few health tradeoffs (especially due to potential PED use) might need to be made. If you’re likely to reach the top (or really, any level of success you choose as your goal), then perhaps many of those tradeoffs are worth it. But if you find that your chances of reaching the top are slimmer than slim, you might think differently about the level of investment, and risk, you’d be willing to put forward toward your sport of choice.
If you’d like to be able to get a very rough idea of whether or not you’ll be likely (or even remotely so) to reach your sport goals, here’s a 3-part checklist:
1.) Figure out how much ground you’d have to cover to be at your goal.
This can be applied to beginners, but works best for intermediates (in many sports this is about 3 years after starting, but the variance is very high depending on sport). If you’ve been training for a while but you’re light-years away from reaching your goal, your chances of eventually hitting it are much lower than if the gap isn’t that imposing. For example, after only minimal training, Andy Bolton pulled 660lbs in the deadlift. He’d eventually be the first person to pull 1000, but as you can tell, mere years after he started training, the gap wasn’t THAT big. On the other hand, if your goal is to squat 800 but after 3 years of training you’re just breaking the 300lb barrier, it’s much less likely you’ll reach your goal.
2.) Determine your current rate of progression.
The big caveat with this one is that you also have to be an intermediate for it to work. Only after your beginner days are over can you reliably use your rate of progression to extrapolate. Why? Because nearly everyone gets awesome beginner gains and for nearly everyone those gains grind down considerably after the noob days are over. But for those with high proclivities for adaptation, intermediate gains come along quite well, whereas for those without such adaptive proclivities, the intermediate years can be quite slow and portend frustration. The extrapolation is highly imperfect, but it can be telling.
For example, if your goal is to squat 600 eventually and you’ve put 35lbs on your squat basically every meet from year 5 to year 7 of your training, you might only be at 500lbs currently (at year 7’s end), but it’s not likely that all of your momentum will just grind to a halt and in fact quite likely you’ll squat 600 eventually. But if your goal is to squat 600 and you hit 490 at a meet in year 5 but you’ve only hit 500 at most since then in year 7, it’s not nearly as clear that you’ll ever squat 600 as your rate of adaptation seems to have slowed down quite a bit. Outside of special circumstances, progression rates don’t just magically speed up. And when they do, it’s usually do to the factors in #3 ahead.
3.) Sum up the likely effects of unexploited factors.
#’s 1 and 2 give you a good feeling for how likely you are to reach your goals, but the kicker is that you might have some tricks left up your sleeve. This is especially true for special sports supplements (PEDs), but can be true for other factors like training priorities. For example, if you pulled 500lbs while mostly training for basketball and only doing a bit of lifting, a HUGE unexploited factor is if you’d dedicate some time to mostly or wholly weight training. This would in almost every case boost your numbers by a large margin and get you much closer to any deadlift goal you might have thought unlikely just based on your basketball era numbers. The obvious example here of course is PEDs, where if you weigh 200lbs lean before you touch a drop and your goal is to be a lean 240 while using PEDs, it’s quite likely (unless you have a very poor response to PEDs) you’ll succeed in some time. But this relationship goes both ways. If you’re 130lbs after years of natural lifting, there are few if no drugs or dosages in the world that can reliably take you to 240 lean… certainly not without risking your health to an extent that would make pro bodybuilders blush.
How can this information be helpful to you? In simple terms, if you’re a beginner, have fun and just enjoy your sport! But if you’re an intermediate (and the more advanced from there, the most this applies) and you’re thinking about taking your commitment to the next level (one of serious tradeoffs like spending much less time with loved ones or taking dangerous substances to improve), give this decision process some thought and be as realistic as you can. You can ALWAYS ignore what you come up with and shoot for the sky. That’s totally fine and in fact, quite badass. But knowing the landscape almost never hurts.
'It's just another tool in the toolbox.'
Some tools are in the toolbox alright, but they don't belong there because they suck for helping you get better.
They are either ineffective all around or they are best for other uses.
A dull saw won't help you much and you don't put a fucking rake in your silverware drawer expecting it to help you eat.
Saying 'it's just another tool,' doesn't justify its use. It might be a very shitty tool or in the wrong toolbox.
TLDR; bosu ball squats and wobbly bars suck.
Training Myths That Won’t Die #5: “Infinite Mobility and The Importance of Activation”
Ever since the late 2000s, mobility has been the IT concept. For many people, seemingly the only problem that caused any lifting plateaus or injuries was a lack of mobility, which was some magical property of the body that could never be excessive, and there were people lined up around the block that could help you. Most of those people lacked any degree or credential related to biomechanics and physiology, but boy did they spout off the fancy terms to make up for it. One of the fanciest of those terms was and is “activation.” Now it might be mobility that was limiting you, but it could also be that you were unable to activate various parts of your body that you didn’t even know were problematic, like the glutes, which apparently nearly everyone had problems activating. The tip of the spear in this line of reasoning was that… drumroll… your inability to activate was CAUSING YOUR MOBILITY PROBLEMS. Now that’s the one-two punch that, the newfound experts proclaimed, could only be solved with some mystical combination of foam rolling, extreme stretching, face-rubbing (not a joke), and 1-hour-long mobilizing and activation drills before every workout. Millions bought in, and while many have since been soured by the majority of the movement and egressed considerably from most of its practices, countless others are still in the thick of things.
Alright, so let’s shed some light on the major problems with mobility/activation claims and sort through to the valid approaches.
1.) Half the time solutions are proposed, the folks proposing them don’t even have their terms straight. Much of that time, they are using the term “mobility” when they should be using the term “flexibility.” Ugh but flexibility is a term from like the 80s and brings up memories of the sit-and-reach test in middle school… that’s not modern and cool!
To get things straight, flexibility is the ability to produce a certain range of motion about a joint or series of joints. It can be active (you put yourself in that position using the muscles around those joints) or passive (you or someone else puts you in that position using gravity or other muscles not around that joint). Mobility is very related, and just adds one detail. Mobility adds “strength through the range of motion” to flexibility. So that mobility isn’t just “how flexible are you?” It’s “can you move your own body through those positions, including the extreme ones?” An illustration of this difference can compare a typical 8-year-old girl vs. an adult gymnast. Many young girls have CRAZY flexibility… they can pretzel themselves into super extreme positions. But most of them struggle to generate much force in those positions. Gymnasts, on the other hand, can produce meaningfully high forces through their whole flexible ROM, and thus can move in very cool ways. The mobility of gymnasts makes way for abilities in many other sports, while the passive flexibility of children stops short at something like a parlor trick.
This distinction between flexibility and mobility is important, because many “coaches” use the terms mistakenly. For example, when powerlifters can’t hit depth with heavy weights without their backs rounding, it’s rarely a mobility issue… your back isn’t weak when it can lift hundreds of pounds. It’s almost always a flexibility issue, and addressing that is a different problem than one of addressing mobility. On the other hand, working with untrained but flexible people IS a mobility problem, because they already have the flexibility and just need the strength. And for them, end-range or full-range strength training is the most effective remedy, not fancy drills or foam rolling techniques. TLDR: know what’s actually going on before addressing it.
2.) On the topic of knowing what’s going on before addressing it, “more mobility work” has for some people become a panacea in strength training. If you go to nearly any social media forum or post where someone is asking about why they are stalling in the squat or their technique breaks down in the deadlift, something like half of all comments will be “you need to work on your mobility.” Again, because mobility is combination of strength and flexibility, that advice alone isn’t even instructive… does the person need more flexibility, more strength, or both?
Another common piece of advice is “it seems like you aren’t activating your _____ muscles. You should do _____ fancy drills to help.”
Here’s the breakdown of the problems with such advice:
a.) Lift execution is limited in most cases by some combination of:
- Strength deficit (you just need to get fucking stronger)
- Flexibility problems (you’re tight as fuck and need to get more flexible to hit the positions)
- Technique problems (nothing’s “misfiring,” you just aren’t moving correctly because you don’t know how… you need a coach’s eye and lots of reps to actually improve your technique)
b.) In some MUCH RARER cases, you have some kind of medical condition where some muscles are not being activated properly. First of all, this is very rare and should never be a first guess. Second of all, if you don’t see a doctor and he doesn’t measure muscle activation directly in that area, you can’t tell for sure that’s the problem. And that diagnosis sure as hell can’t be done via online video by someone you’ve never met.
c.) Some drills can make you more aware of and more in control of some muscles and movements. But those drills are rarely very long and they are usually just a part of a 15 minute or shorter warmup you do before you actually lift. To quote Dr. Quinn Henoch and Dr. James Hoffmann, if your general warmup takes longer than 30 minutes, either most of it is time wasted or something much more serious than drills can solve is amiss with your body.
d.) Which drills you do are doing should be SPECIFIC TO YOUR NEEDS. Ideally, they should be prescribed to you by a competent physical therapist or other medical sports expert. Just doing a bunch of “must do” mobility work is a great way to waste your time.
3.) Mobility is ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE SPORT-SPECIFIC.
When someone asks you if your mobility is good, a great response is “good for what?” Unless you work in the Chinese Circus, infinite mobility is a goal that will distract your efforts (and compete with them on a time, recovery, and adaptive direction front) from your ACTUAL SPORT. If you’re a powerlifter and you have 10 hours a week to train, any amount of that time spent becoming MORE MOBILE THAN THE SPORT DEMANDS is time you could have spent actually training for powerlifting and getting bigger, stronger, and/or more competent with limit weights. How much mobility is enough for powerlifting? If you can squat with your preferred stance and hit all the positions to depth without rounding your back or caving your knees or lifting your heels, that’s as much lower body mobility as you need. Any more is cool for its own sake, but won’t transfer to the lifts. Same idea goes for the bench and deadlift. If you’re trying to get mobile enough to be able to overhead squat, and you’re a powerlifter, you’re likely wasting your time. If you’re a weightlifter, overhead squatting is important and mobility work for it should be prioritized, as should being able to hit all the other more extreme positions, and the same applies to every other sport; train for the mobility you NEED, not just “as much as I can get.”
4.) Foam rolling and other tissue compression techniques might mask pain or work through other neural mechanisms, but they almost certainly don’t literally break down the tissue and make it more flexible directly. If you feel way better foam rolling certain areas before you begin to train, go to town. But if you’re foam rolling your entire body and you have no idea why short of “that one guy on YouTube said so,” you might want to back off and put your training time towards things like getting stronger or faster or having better technique for your sport.
5.) How do you find professionals (online and in-person) that aren’t likely to fuck you over and take your money in exchange for BS mobility panaceas? Here’s a good start for a checklist:
a.) The individual should be credentialed by some formal institution of medicine or sport… not mandatory but helpful.
b.) The individual should NOT think that every problem has a mobility or activation solution. If they do… run.
c.) The individual should be VERY wary of making fast diagnoses and offering fast solutions on minimal evidence. Most of the best folks in this industry will need to chat with you at length and likely do at least a video consult where you move around for them and describe your issues in depth. If you’re getting diagnosed via a 30s clip you posted to IG, be very wary. Even the very best can’t do that with confidence.
d.) If someone is offering you shotgun diagnoses without you asking them (they just comment on your videos or posts), they are less likely to know what they’re doing. Qualified professionals do their work for money in a personal setting, not for free in public.
e.) If someone seems to diagnose damn near everyone with the same problem, be skeptical. Real professionals go through a long checklist of ruling out various causes and eventually zoom in on what’s likely going on in your case. Often, it will not be what you expect (that’s why they are the expert and you and I aren’t), and it won’t be something you’ve heard 1000 times online like “inactive glutes.”
f.) Their solutions will most often be very specialized and directed drills designed for YOU, with objective prescriptions and goals to hit. Most often, such work will not take you longer than 15 minutes at a time, 3-6 times per week. If your professional has you doing 1 hour of drills 6 times a week, he’s either full of shit, you’re really fucked up, or you’re actually trying to join the Chinese Circus.
Give that some thought and share if you like it. Don’t fall for the hype and navigate this landscape skeptically! There’s great stuff and great people in the mobility sphere, but there’s a lot of nonsense too to steer clear of.
How do I get better at doing pullups if I can barely do pullups?
This is a pretty common problem, and it’s a problem because we usually take for granted that specificity will be fully on our side when we train for something we want. In other words, we can usually count on being able to actually put in some decent training volume in the modality we’re trying to improve. For example, if you’re trying to get better at running, you can usually assume that you’ll be able to run for your training. If you want to get better at doing bicep curls, you can do them with very light dumbbells, and get some very specific, high quality work in ACTUALLY CURLING. But the big downside with training pullups in the formative levels is that if you can only do, say, 3 pullups fresh, how are you supposed to get better at pullups? I mean, you don’t get better at squats by only ever doing sets of 1 or 2 reps, but that’s what you’d have to do with pullups if you couldn’t do that many of them at first.
Well, the good news is that there ARE strategies, dependable ones, to use that can improve your pullup abilities even if you can’t do that many pullups just yet. And of course once you can do plenty of pullups for sets, the training to get even better becomes much more straightforward. Alright, here are some tips on getting better at pullups if you aren’t yet very good at pullups!
1.) Don’t Forget Periodization!!!
Sometimes when people get very frustrated with a goal, they stop approaching that goal logically and start beating their heads against the wall doing the same thing but expecting different results. Many people who can only do 3 pullups or so, for example, will just try doing as many pullups as possible when they hit the gym, no warmup, trying to add a rep when they “can,” use shit technique, and do this every time they go to the gym no matter what other bodyparts they are also training that day. Folks, who the FUCK trains ANYTHING ELSE like that? I mean, replace pullups with squats and imagine someone at the gym telling you they train squats like that. “Yeah, I have no plan, really, I just go in and squat whenever and put my 3RM on and try to do another rep each time with no warmup.” HUH?!?! Let’s not lose sight of the principles of training when trying to improve our pullups, with particular attention to a couple of features:
a.) We’re always going to use good technique. No swinging, full ROM.
b.) Warming up is a good idea! A set of 10 reps very light on pulldowns followed by a set of 5 moderate, then a single rep on the actual pullup bar will warm up and potentiate you for best actual pullup sets if that’s what you’re going for.
c.) Focus on taking a few months to BUILD muscle, then a few months to making that new muscle stronger, and then repeat. It’s just basic strength periodization. This means that for those first few muscle-building months, we want to stay mostly in the muscle-building rep ranges, between sets of 6 and 15 reps. And yes, that means for many people NO PULLUPS during that time because you can’t do that many yet!
Once you build the muscle, then you transition into a strength phase for some months, where much of your training will be in the 2-8 rep range. NOW you can do pullups and their variations plenty, even if you can’t do a ton of them. So yeah, proper periodization means you won’t even be doing pullups all the time. See tip #2 for what you'll actually be doing when you're not directly working on pullups themselves.
d.) Frequency of pull training should be between 2 and 4 days per week. Very few people will benefit from just one pulling day per week and doing pulling of some kind EVERY day might not be enough recovery for most people.
2.) Pulldowns, Rows and Curls
Especially during the muscle-growth phases, pulldown and row variations can be used to build the back muscles that will eventually be re-tooled and taught to help you do more pullups. Ideally, a 3:1 ratio of vertical to horizontal work should be done in order to both let your back get the needed volume to grow best AND have enough of that work be specific to vertical pulling for later when you try pullups again. Oh and don’t forget to do plenty of curls and hammer curls, as the forearm flexors play a big role in pulling strength. Lots of sets of 6-15 reps in these exercises, increasing weight slowly, will build the muscle you need to power more pullups later.
3.) Assisted Pullups
If you don’t have an assisted pullup machine at your gym, it’s not a deal- breaker. But if you do, it’s a very good tool that both replicates the movement of pullups and allows you some help to get more reps and thus quality work in. Assisted pullups can be used both on the muscle growth phases and rep ranges and in the strength phases. A great way to use them in strength phases is to get in your sets of pullups first when fresh, say, 3 sets of 2 pullups if your max is 4, and then do another 2-4 sets of assisted pullups with enough help to get you sets of 5. Just more quality strength work to benefit you.
4.) Pullups with Bands
You can do these if you have an assisted pullup machine, but they are a great option especially if you don’t have one. Using them much like assisted pullups is preferred; after actual pullup work. Now, if you can only do like 1 pullup or zero pullups, you can do these as your main work instead. And remember to choose the band tension that gets you the reps you need for the phase you’re doing. If it’s a strength phase, whatever band tension gets you 2-8 rep sets can work, but if it’s a growth phase, a tougher band that can help you do sets of 6-15 is best.
5.) Accentuated/Modified Pullups
In strength phases, you can modify pullups in many ways to give yourself more work with them. You can have a partner help you on the way up so that you can do a slow eccentric phase for sets of 3-6 reps, or you can choose a grip that you’re stronger in (maybe underhand) and get in more reps that you might not be able to get in the style you want (overhand for example). In any case, make sure your exercises fit the phase… don’t do sets of 3 eccentric pullups in a growth phase and don’t do sets of 10 partner-assisted pullups in a strength phase.
6.) Giant Sets
When you’re able to do perhaps 3-5 pullups on your own, you might want to build volume on them with giant sets. Instead of going for goal reps per each set, you set up a total rep number and do as many sets as it takes (each set 1 rep from failure) to get the total. So you can start with, say, 10 total pullups per workout and over several weeks get up to 20 total pullups. This will let you get the quality specific work you need to improve your per-set pullup abilities.
7.) Small Increment Weights
When you can do sets of 5 pullups at a time, start using added weight!! Sounds crazy to be adding weight when you can only do 5 reps of pullups at a time, but how do you get stronger on any other exercise… by adding small amounts of weight! Try adding 2.5lbs to your pullup belt every other workout, so that by 6 workouts in, you might be doing sets of 4 or more pullups with 7.5lbs on your belt… once that weight comes off and you’re doing free pullups, you’ll be amazed at how easy they feel and how many you can do.
8.) Losing Weight
It’s no secret that if you lose fat, your pullups get MUCH easier. I’d say it feels even easier to do pullups at lighter weight than you’d expect if you’ve never tried this approach. In other words, you think you might get a couple more pullup reps by losing 10lbs over 2 months, but in reality, you might get 5 or more pullups added to each set. It really can make a huge difference. An approach to try here may be to keep your weight stable as you go through your first muscle gain phase and strength phase, and then for your second muscle gain (higher rep) phase, lose 5-10lbs. When you start your next strength phase, you’re likely to be very pleasantly surprised by how many more pullups you can do.
9.) Sample Progression
How can you combine all of these tips into a plan? Very many ways are effective, but just to give you a real-world example, here’s one of those ways:
Phase 1: 5 weeks
- 4 weeks of accumulation, 1 week deload
- 7-15 sets per week of pulldowns, 3-5 sets of rows
- 10-15 reps per set
- 3 workouts per week of pulling… 80% of your weekly volume in two of those workouts, 20% in the 3rd for recovery
Phase 2: 5 weeks
- 4 weeks of accumulation, 1 week deload
- 7-15 sets per week of assisted pullups or band pullups, 3-5 sets of rows
- 6-10 reps per set
- 3 workouts per week of pulling… 80% of your weekly volume in two of those workouts, 20% in the 3rd for recovery
Phase 3: 4 weeks
- 3 weeks of accumulation, 1 week deload
- 5-10 sets per week between pullups and assisted pullups, modified pullups or band pullups, 2-4 sets of rows
- 4-8 reps per set
- 2 workouts per week of pulling… 60% of your weekly volume in two the first workout, 40% in the 2nd for recovery
Phase 4: 4 weeks
- 3 weeks of accumulation, 1 week deload
- 5-10 sets per week between pullups and assisted pullups, modified pullups or band pullups, 1-3 sets of rows
- 2-6 reps per set (weighted if needed)
- 2 workouts per week of pulling… 60% of your weekly volume in two the first workout, 40% in the 2nd for recovery
Give this topic some thought and let me know what you think!
Getting offended is not a skill.
It's not a laudable ability, and it's not a virtue.
In most cases, taking offense is a sign of vulnerability, of weakness, and of unsure convictions.
Don't pride yourself on how offended you can get. By seeking to understand the world, the perspectives of others, and mostly yourself, work instead to become less offendable.
How much do plyos help grow muscle?
On Instagram, just about every other bikini competitor uses some form of plyometric exercise in her lower-body muscle growth program. But how much do plyos help grow muscle?
Here's the article they wrote about their findings!
2.) Difficulty in Detection of Effects
Now, how do we know if coaches actually did have a notable influence on making their athletes better? Boy, that’s hard to tell. Let’s look at some difficulties in figuring this out:
- The coaches would have to be formally compared against other top coaches working with similarly talented athletes. You could be the worst top coach and no one would be the wiser cause you’re still a “top coach.” And maybe you got lucky before or used to be good, but just cause you’re still in the conversation, doesn’t mean you’re good. And formal comparison means lots of data collection and analysis… who really does that before taking a top coach’s advice at his word?
- They’d have to be compared in independent effects and not just changes. What the hell does that mean? Well, if I work with a group of 8th graders in basketball and after 4 years show you how well my height-enhancement program is working, you’d rightly laugh at me and tell me that they would have gotten tall anyway because they were simply on track to do so. So how do we know that some top coaches are not simply finding themselves in good recruiting positions when an athlete is in their career ascendancy and breaking ties with them when they start to go downhill, thus giving the illusion of an effect where no actual influence of the coach is in evidence? Again, it would be super hard to figure that out.
- What about momentum effects? A previous coach can put into motion some features of athletic development that push the athlete toward greatness, and by the time they are actually matured into exhibiting that greatness, they have a different coach that will now take credit? How many high school swimming coaches have laid nearly all the ground work for their best swimmers, only to have the athletes' eventual college coach taking the credit for having such amazing swimmers on his team?
- Lastly (but only for this quick summary and certainly not the last on the list of these kinds of misperception effects), coaches can actively or passively (just by not denying it) take credit for a part of an athlete’s game they have nothing to do with whatsoever. Did Rhonda Rousey’s striking coach have a lot to do with her dominant victories in the prime of her career or was it her lifetime of Judo coaching? Do you think her striking coach was at a loss for clients when she was at her prime? Probably not. People probably flocked to him. But if those people were maximally skeptical, they might have given it second thought, as some of her later fights (in which her striking coach’s relative shortcomings seemed to be laid bare) indicated.
In summary, it’s actually quite tough in many cases to be certain a particular coach is worth their weight.
(From a blog post I just wrote for RP+ titled "The Best Coaches Can Be Wrong.")
Maintaining lost weight
7) Research suggests that within three years of finishing a diet, 95 percent of people regain all or more of the weight they've lost. Do you have advice for people looking to be in the 5% that maintain their weight-loss?
For sure. A big part is not doing a fad or crash diet. A diet should teach you basic and sustainable healthy eating practices as you do it. If you just come off a diet and go back to “normal,” you’ll just look like you did when you ate “normally” all those years (not great). Another thing is to have a commitment to fitness. Keeping weight off means you will ALWAYS have to keep up with SOME exercise and SOME organized dieting. There’s nowhere in weight loss where you “cure” being overfat… it’s a treatment that is easy to maintain after the weight is lost, but it’s gotta be maintained for good to keep bodyfat at bay.
(Answering some questions for an article (will share when published), and wanted to pull this interesting one out to share with you all tonight.)
Was recently asked about career advice.
To be honest, I'm clueless about this sort of thing, but I had three tips to give:
1.) Find what you love.
2.) Try to become the best at it.
3.) Work until your hands bleed.
Probably not the best advice, especially if you're a hand model, but I think it's tough to do very poorly at anything with those three tips.
Is it better to do straight sets or RIR sets?
For example, is it better to do 5 sets of 10 at a certain weight, or do 5 sets, but each one at, say, 2 RIR, such that the sets come out 12,10,10,9,9 or something like that? Some thoughts on this:
1.) It ALMOST DOESN'T MATTER. So unless your program is airtight in nearly every other respect, it's probably a very moot point.
2.) To the extent that it does matter, we know a couple of things about RIR. The first is that getting too close to failure too soon or too often in a mesocycle is probably not a great idea, since training close to failure is more likely to elevate fatigue in a disproportionately high manner.
3.) Additionally, we know that very high RIRs (4 or more) might not cause the same amount of stimulus as lower RIRs.
4.) Combining points 2 and 3, we can see that straight sets (5x10) just slightly risk too high an RIR in the first couple of sets and just slightly risk too low an RIR (too close to failure) in the last couple of sets. This, by a very small margin, might actually get us a combination of both less stimulus (in the first couple sets) and more fatigue (in the last couple) than optimal.
5.) Thus, by doing an RIR rep determination in EACH set, we might be able to target that middle ground of RIR that gets us a good ratio of stimulus and fatigue for each set, thus making our whole workout just a bit better.
6.) On the other hand, this makes training more complicated (especially for relative beginners who might have trouble with RIR) and estimation of RIR on each set has some error, which might make the whole practice roughly equivalent in reality to straight set training. Lastly, just a bit of a deviation from mid-range (2-3) RIR will lead to just about the same results, as near-failure sets are more stimulative, but high RIR sets are less fatiguing, balancing out both fatigue and stimulus. So the deviations from mid-range RIR have to be quite high for an inefficiency to develop, which again leads to rough equivalence between straight sets and RIR sets.
NOT a huge variable at all, but something to consider.
Straightforward and easy
There is a very big difference between "straightforward" and "easy."
The best paths to fitness are often very straightforward, but rarely easy.
Straightforward usually means "guided by a set of dependable principles and laid out in a logical sequence." If you stall in fat loss, lower your calories. If you get used to a certain weight, put more on the bar, etc.
But that process, especially when it has to contend with the fact that the body adapts to stimuli over time and needs ever more coaxing to keep progressing, almost ensures that there won't be much "easy" about it.
So if you're looking for "easy," look again. What you want is straightforward. Sure, "eat 250 fewer calories per day and do 100 more calories per cardio session" isn't as easy as "buy this body wrap and watch the magic happen," but it works. It really does work, exactly like body wraps and the thousands of other "easy" gimmicks don't.
Relationships between inputs and outputs.
What’s one of the most powerful changes you can make to your fitness?
Developing an adult understanding of realistic relationships between inputs and outputs.
What exactly does that mean? It means internalizing the realizations that:
1.) Difficult goals will take difficult work.
If you want bring up your muscularity by a lot, you’re going to have to work very hard in the gym… 3 one hour sessions per week won’t cut it for most. Lots of people are always looking for magic solutions to big problems; solutions that take very little work and yield big results. Unfortunately, such solutions almost never exit, and you’re very unlikely to run into them on an Instagram ad if they do. Now, there are EFFICIENT solutions, but those still require the minimum amount of work needed to be effective… and the minimum work for big goals is almost always a lot of work.
2.) Big goals take a long time to meet.
Losing a lot of weight is an example. To quote Broderick L. Chavez, “you took 10 years to gain the weight, you won’t lose it in 10 weeks.” When Nick Shawand I were personal trainers in NYC some years ago, every single early fall (like, this exact time of year) some clients would come in and say “I’d like to lose 30lbs by the holidays.” And we’re talking about 150lb women here, to whom 30lbs is a MASSIVE change. In most cases, Nick and I succeeded in talking them down to a smaller short term goal, but some people wouldn’t have it. Like kids who refuse to accept that their favorite amusement park ride was closed for repairs, many people would rebel against the idea that big goals took big time investments. If only it were so.
3.) You will be operating largely OUTSIDE of your comfort zone when working towards your goals.
Too many people see any hunger, any soreness, any breathlessness as an indicator that something is wrong and that they have to figure out a way around it. Hey, mitigating the downsides is great so long as you don’t alter the effectiveness of the plan. Eating more veggies and other filling foods within your macros to reduce hunger is awesome. Switching to an “intuitive eating” plan to avoid hunger is not. Just accept that during the process of change, you will be somewhat uncomfortable regularly. You can be comfortable again when you’ve accomplished your fitness goal.
4.) It’s on YOU to make the change.
Children are quick to blame others and bad circumstances for their failures (or even their predicted failures before they’ve gone through with a task). Adults are expected to take personal responsibility for their goals. I mean… it’s YOUR goal… nobody really gives a shit if you get leaner or healthier, and if YOU don’t give a shit? Well, that’s everyone! Any time you are challenged with your goal or get off track, practicing being the FIRST to take charge and correct the situation is a great idea.
A summary of some of the best fitness advice I can give:
Training Myths That Won’t Die: 3# “Works the Stabilizers”
Free weight movements and intentionally unstable movements do in fact require more recruitment from synergistic, antagonistic, and core muscles to keep the movement on track. This is GREAT for populations that want to:
- Develop strength that translates into sport performance (wrestling, football)
- Develop strength that translates into enhanced independent living (special populations, the elderly)
- Burns more calories for adult fitness when used in circuits/complexes
- Develops better functional athletic base for children
HOWEVER, when applied to pure hypertrophy training, problems may result:
1.) “The stabilizers” are not a distinct muscle group, and are different for each exercise. Hard to program in “always hit the stabilizers” logically.
2.) Most stabilizer activation is below the volume, intensity, and relative intensity thresholds that promote hypertrophy in advanced lifters. What you’re really getting is extra fatigue in those stabilizer muscles.
3) Stabilizers for something are prime movers for something else. You want them fresh for their own training, not taxed from other body part training. Side delts are stabilizers in bosu ball pushups, but you need them fresh for laterals and upright rows!
4.) Some instability might be desirable, but not if it trades off too much force production. This means:
a.) Heavy (10 reps or less) dumbbell work is largely wasteful because you’re not stable enough to produce the max forces you’re shooting for… choose barbells instead for such heavy loads.
b.) Don’t do anything on a bosu ball or other unstable surfaces… forces barely high enough to cause any growth within a reasonable rep/set scheme or in long term.
5.) Some of the same people that advocate wearing belts to prevent excess ab growth also push stabilizer moves… ???
Focus on using barbells and machines for most moves, with dumbbells great for the lighter moves, and don’t get carried away with the promise of “stabilizer” work somehow having magical effects. Make sure your prime movers are hit and hit HARD, and growth will result.
Top lifter approaches
The diet and training approaches of top lifters (in all strength sports) are composed of two main fractions:
- Highly effective and insightful practices discovered and distilled through generations of trial and error.
- Moronic shit mostly used to justify egotistical or difficulty-avoiding practices.
The logical lifter attempts to sort one from the other and never completely accepts top training trends as gospel or rejects wholesale the wisdom of the best in the world.
Biceps and triceps superset
Other than to save time, it's by no means clear what advantage supersetting biceps and triceps has. This superset maximizes systemic fatigue and reduces local fatigue, both of which likely interfere with gains to some extent.
It reduces local fatigue by shifting blood (including the metabolites of muscle contraction) away from the muscle just used. For both metabolite and possibly motor unit recruitment reasons this might not be great for hypertrophy. And because instead of resting, you're training the other muscle group, systemic fatigue goes up and prevents you from doing as good a job in any of the exercises as you would if rested.
It also limits the ROM (for triceps) by putting a pumped muscle (the biceps) in the way of normal ROM.
I suspect the primary reason people like to superset arms is that it looks cool. :-/
Recovery tips and priorities
Are you having trouble recovering from your current training program and not sure why or what to do about it? Give the following sequence of tips a thought:
1.) Reduce Program Volume FIRST
You could just keep the program as-is and try to work on getting better recovery (eating better, sleeping better, etc.). But that both assumes that the problem is within the realm of being fixed by recovery adjustments and keeps the volume high while an attempted solution is applied. That’s kind of like trying to fix a jam in your gun during a shootout (in the wild west, of course) while in plain sight. Duck behind something first! Sure, you can’t hit anyone from behind a rock, but you’re at least safe from getting hit yourself. In much the same way, you might not make your best progress by reducing volume while trying to solve your recovery issues, but at least you’re safe from overreaching. And going overboard is MUCH worse for your long-term success (due to reversal time and injury risk) than training at bit less than optimally for a short time.
The best way to reduce volume is to reduce the number of working sets in your program. This way you conserve the loading, frequency, exercise selection, and other variables that make the program unique but still reduce fatigue massively. If you are really stalling and need to drop volume, a drop of 1/3 or up to ½ of your current set numbers might be a good idea. If you’re REALLY beat up when you’re not planning on it, even doing to a full-on deload might be best.
2.) Check and Apply the Recovery Modalities
Once you’re in the “safe zone” of lower volume training that won’t push your recovery beyond its limits anymore, you can see if your recovery can improve. First you examine each major variable of recovery and then you a.) Real-talk yourself to see if you can improve it and b.) improve it if needed. A couple of major categories should always be examined, including:
By far the most important of the recovery modalities, an average of 7-9 hours a night is a good idea for most and consistency is just as important as the average. If you can do with less, cool. But if you’re having recovery problems, try to shoot for the upper end of that range.
- Stress Management
Stress adds fatigue like nothing short of sleep loss, and chronically high stress can prevent fatigue reduction no matter what else you’re getting right. A big tip to reducing stress is to work your way down from anger at things you can’t control. Listening to your favorite podcast in traffic sure beats yelling at other drivers, and just accepting that your coworkers are zany people beats letting them annoy you into blind rage daily.
Taking the time for yourself to relax in a structured way, preferably daily, is a great tool to reduce fatigue. I like watching Netflix cartoons while my fiance falls asleep on my shoulder for about an hour each evening, but that’s just me. Whatever you choose, make sure it actually relaxes you… even fun things (like debating antivaxers on social media) aren’t any good for this if they get you riled up.
Calories, Carbs, Proteins, Fats, Micronutrients, Timing. In that order. If any of those is off, your recovery will suffer.
- Ancillary Modalities
Massage, heat, ice, and other such strategies are ok to use as-needed, but don’t form the core of your recovery intervention and should almost always bet attended to AFTER the main ones above are in order.
- Special Sport Supplements (for those using)
If you’re using special supplements, making sure the dosing, interaction, and legitimacy of the sources is aligned to your training volume is a good idea. To put it this way; don’t try to run the highest volumes ever on baby doses and be surprised about recovery problems, but don’t run a gram of tren to try to fix the issue and be confused why you can’t sleep (or think, or eat, or ignore Saturn’s gravitational field’s nuisance any longer).
3.) Consider Re-Upping Program Volume
Once you have your recovery in check and are doing better with some or all of the modalities, only THEN can you slowly start to ramp up your training volume by adding a set per week to each bodypart/movement pattern and seeing how you respond (and of course periodically taking deloads, etc.). By working up slowly, you can find your new MRV and use that as the upper bound for your training volume going forward.
If mechanical tension is one of the fundamental drivers of hypertrophy (probably the most important), doesn't that mean that going AS HEAVY as possible is a good goal to have? Like, sets of 10 are good but sets of 6 are better and sets of 2 even better?
Not exactly, and here are some reasons why:
Mechanical tensions seems a requirement for hypertrophy, but it works in an permissive way much more than in an additive way. That's overly-educated nerdspeak for "if you go heavy enough, anything heavier than that minimum probably doesn't get you better results." So once you're going heavy enough, what should the focus be? Probably hitting enough volume (between MEV and MRV) and making sure some kind of progression (in weight, reps, sets, and/or failure proximity... probably all of those at some point) is performed.
1.) What's "heavy enough?" If you take sets to failure or very close, for short term use (4 months or less) even as little as 30%1RM seems to supply very good growth stimulus.
The thing is, we can't yet be sure if that light of training works best in the long term, and the almost total lack of anyone big that actually trains like that is bad news. However, if you're hurt or want a change of pace, this is definitely good news right very now.
2.) If you're interested in maximizing hypertrophy much more certainly, training as heavy as your 8RM in some muscle groups and movements at strategic times might help. This is likely because such loading is sure to tax the fastest twitch muscle fibers and get them to grow to their fullest potential.
3.) Going any heavier than your 8RM has almost no basis at all in the literature or in theory (or for that matter, in practice) as there seems to be no additional growth signalling done at all past about 8RM weights in any studied condition.
4.) The best way to grow is likely using multiple rep ranges (whether they should be used in the same workout, week, or month of training is still very uncertain). Some of your training should occur in the 20+ rep range, most in the 10-20 rep range, and some in the 6-10 rep range. If you shoot to make weight PRs for multiple sets in all of those ranges and work on doing more volume, you're doing a very good job of stimulating growth.
Diet start and bodyweight
Want to save yourself quite a bit of confusion?
When you start a fat loss diet, don't start tracking your bodyweight until you're 1 week into following the plan.
This will mostly obviate the crazy water weight changes early on and will make your progress tracking and diet updates run smoothly and more predictably.
Mike Podcast about training volume
You woke up today and were probably like "man, I wish Mike had another podcast appearance on which he discussed training volume."
Well, it's your lucky day! Here's the episode:
Weight over Range of Motion?
It's pretty conclusive that training with anything much heavier than an 8RM doesn't offer any special benefits to muscle growth over lighter weight.
It's also pretty conclusive that the loaded stretch is an independent driver of hypertrophy.
Given these two likelihoods, there is ALMOST CERTAINLY NO BENEFIT in cutting your ROM just to use more weight. Especially if the ROM cut let you use a weight heavier than 8RM.
All about Minicuts!
Since I've been posting about my recent experiences with minicuts, quite a few people have been asking me to elaborate on their various features and uses. Your wish is my command!
Obviously a "cut" is more technically known as a hypocaloric dieting phase in which the primary goal is to lose body fat and body weight. A "minicut" is thus a shortened version of a regular cut. How short does a cut have to be to be considered "mini?" While there is no definitive classification, my usual understanding is that any cut of 6 weeks duration or shorter (as few as 2 weeks) can be called 'mini." Anything longer is usually just called a "cut."
Why the 6 week definition? Because the amount of weight and fat you usually lose in 6 weeks or less isn't huge, and individuals for whom large body fat or weight reductions are the highest priority will usually benefit from longer cuts. Kind of like the difference between a weekend and a vacation... those in need of serious stress relief simply won't find it in the weekend time frame and might need a real vacation of a week or longer. So if a minicut doesn't produce very profound weight and fat loss results, what is it even good for?
A common purpose of minicuts, and the one I myself use them for most often is to enhance the muscle gain (massing) process. Gaining weight highly enhances the muscle gain process, but gaining weight also self-limits the muscle gain process. As weight is gained, both muscle and fat gains result. Increasing levels of body fat and the high amount of nutrients chronically eaten to support weight gain both decrease skeletal muscle's sensitivity to nutrients (while fat isn't very affected and can still absorb eaten nutrients just fine). As muscle nutrient sensitivity decreases, the percent of muscle tissue gained with any further gains in body mass goes down, and the percent of additional fat gains goes up. Obviously if this trend continues, the result will be both MUCH more fat mass and not much more muscle mass.
Enter the minicut. By reducing calories for 2-6 weeks, several things are accomplished. First of all, just the sheer reduced presence of nutrients in the blood begins to increase muscle tissue's sensitivity to them, thus priming more gains when a hypercaloric diet is reintroduced after the minicut. In addition, the decreased levels of body fat both enhance the body's proclivity for muscle gain and make room for further gains by reducing the body fat percent down to levels that won't seriously impinge on muscle/fat gain ratios for a while longer, in essence, "buying the athlete more massing time." It's been suggested that best rates of muscle gains (on average, for male athletes, add 10% for female numbers) typically occur between 10% and 15% bodyfat, so if a minicut reduces bodyfat from 13% to 10% in 5 weeks, that individual is more or less back to the starting line for another successful massing phase.
So essentially by reducing bodyfat levels and increasing nutrient sensitivity periodically, minicuts re-sensitize the body to further muscle gains. Kind of like stopping at a gas station and rest area on a road trip. While not moving your car literally forward during the time, it can increase the total distance traveled on the road that day because everyone feels more refreshed.
Why do minicuts and not just the real thing? Like, why not just mass for 24 weeks straight and diet for 16 weeks after that, and repeat? Well, that's a fine way to do things, but the advantage of minicuts is that first of all, they prevent massing from really ever becoming TOO stale. In other words, how productive are weeks 16-24 of a straight mass really going to be in terms of muscle tissue to fat tissue gain ratios? Probably not as productive as they would be if a 6 week minicut was inserted after the first 12 weeks of massing. In addition to this downside of long masses, long cuts themselves have downsides. When weight is lost in lower amounts and over shorter timescales like minicuts, muscle loss is a very small concern and there is almost no diet fatigue developed. You can usually just bounce right into a massing phase after and be primed to continue gaining. But after a longer (12 weeks or more) diet, altered hormone, NEAT, and hunger levels can make re-massing more complicated at best, because you now have to deal with all of the side effects of the long cut while you try to re-start the mass train. To use the road trip analogy, this is like stopping at a hotel for the night (longer cuts) vs. just another rest stop (minicuts). No matter how ambitious you are, some people in your road trip group are slow to wake, take 30 minute long shits and even longer showers, and eat breakfast in what seems to be a comically slow fashion just to piss you off. Your drive never really re-starts as fast as you'd like after longer break. In essence, cutting has its own momentum and re-massing is tougher after longer cuts than shorter ones.
Tips and Guidelines
Here are some general tips to keep in mind for most minicut situations:
1.) Ratios between mass durations and minicut durations depend highly on individual factors like body fat gain rates. For example, if you're still lean after even a long mass... keep massing! But if you've gotten quite a bit fatter after even a short mass, a minicut may be in order. A typical ratio might be between 2:1 and 3:1 in massing vs. minicut duration. So if you mass for 6 weeks, you might cut for 3 weeks or 2 weeks depending on your current body fat levels, shooting to make room for the next mass such at it ends below 15% fat in most cases.
2.) Because the total weight loss and fat loss is neither high nor gets you extremely lean, it's unlikely that you have to worry about maintenance phases between masses and minicuts to "solidify" the gained muscle like you do between masses and long cuts. You should still take a low-volume maintenance phase every 4-6 months (for a month or so), but you don't need to take a mini-maintenance phase before every minicut.
3.) During a mini-cut, you can aim to lose between 0.5% and 1.0% of your body mass per week, with the first week being more due to water loss, of course. In order to maximize results of resensitization, I'd actually recommend closer to 1.0% per week for most people. Your mass, on the other hand, should be no faster than 0.5% per week in gain rates to keep needless fat gains in check.
4.) How long to mass and minicut? I think massing unabated for longer than 16 weeks on end makes me skeptical and minicutting for much less than 2 weeks at a time seems to break massing momentum for very little benefit. UNLESS you're enhanced, and then even 2 weeks or less of "tightening up" might be of benefit.
5.) Cardio is just fine to do and is recommended during mini cuts, but the training volume should be pretty low, right around MEV and usually not much higher. Why? Because this will keep all the muscle we built (not hard on a minicut) but save our volume sensitivity for massing, cause that's when we'll really want to push things to gain the most muscle.
6.) Definitely cut fats as most of your nutrient cuts, but don't be afraid to cut some carbs as well. You won't need as many when training at MEV and the lower carb environment will help make you just a bit more carb sensitive when you re-mass which will make you grow more. Notice: total body fat reductions are MUCH more powerful in creating a carb sensitivity during the minicut... much more so than what ratios of macros you use to lose the fat.
What to Avoid
Just some common flaws in minicut execution:
7.) Minicutting too frequently can disrupt massing. Muscle gains seem to have some bit of momentum to them, especially in the presentation of progressive overloads in training. Taking minicuts too often can disrupt this momentum and slow gains. It's kind of like taking days off of work too often... you never really get any good momentum going at work to take big chunks out of projects. Like, for example, how much work gets done during the winter holidays because of this?
How frequent is too frequent? Try to mass for at least 6 weeks on end, preferably as many as 8 for most lifters. And if your body fat levels are under 12%, that should be a big factor in arguing against a minicut just quite yet. Over 12% means that you might run into 15% on the next mass and should consider minicutting more seriously.
BE HONEST with yourself about WHY you're considering a minicut... is it because of a logical decision that such a phase will enhance long-term muscle gain or is it because you're fat-phobic?
8.) Don't let minicuts get too long. Cuts have momentum... and if you're getting leaner, you might be tempted to just keep cutting! But how's that going to help you with massing? It won't! It just disrupts momentum even more. When you commit to a minicut as a logical goal... keep it mini!
9.) Don't minicut for a couple days, notice you're flatter, freak out that you're losing muscle, and reverse course back to massing. You WILL lose fullness and even a few reps in performance, but that's all due to short-term glycogen levels. As soon as you fill out again in the first couple of days of massing, you'll be as big and strong as ever!
Avoid using bad data to guide your training and diet goals.
Data is great. All of us muscle nerds love collecting as much of it as we can and using it to monitor and enhance our fitness goals. Body fat measurements, body weights, strength measures, circumferences, and the list goes on.
But while having as much usable data as you can does enhance your results, the big emphasis is on "usable." With that in mind, we've gotta make sure to avoid integrating bad data along with the good just because we're impulsive in our desire for ever more data.
What's bad data? In essence, it's any information you're collecting about your progress that's either too inaccurate or imprecise to be of use, and instead more than likely throws you off the best path if you actually integrate it.
The quintessential example of bad data in fitness is the BIA body fat test. Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis is a way to proxy body fat levels easily by simply allowing a handheld device to pass harmless current through you and read out an estimated body fat level. Sounds great! But most BIA devices are so wildly inaccurate, imprecise, or both, that using them in your plan just tends to throw you off. For example, the test can vary body fat percent levels by 3% or more depending on how hydrated you are for the test, and for some people, the actual value of body fat percent is off by 5% or more from their real value at any given time. If you're using BIA to make weekly changes to diet or even to asses 3 months of strategy results at a time, chances are that you're making decisions based almost exclusively on error and not on real trends. For example, if you gained 5lbs of muscle in 4 months (crazy huge gains), the BIA might very well tell you that you gained no muscle at all or even lost some. You'd have to conclude that whatever you did in that 4 months (as amazing as it actually was), didn't work, and are likely to abandon a highly effective strategy on a wild goose chase of something still better.
Unfortunately, similar bad data sources can include many types of watch- and armband-based activity or calorie trackers, bar power measuring devices, and sleep phase apps on cell phones. I'm sure some folks in this thread will have some funny watch activity tracker error stories!
There are two things you can do FOR SURE to mitigate the risks of bad data infecting your monitoring program. First, research the accuracy and reliability of your devices and second, stick mostly to tried and true simple metrics like the scale, the weight on the bar, and the fit of your clothes.
PS, If you're curious about the intricacies of which body fat measurement devices are good for what sorts of levels of accuracy and precision, https://www.facebook.com/james.krieger1 (he's got too many friends for me to add him lol) has some great resources on the subject.
NSAIDs and hypertrophy
Brad Schoenfeld said it well already but I'd like to stress the point a bit more. The now COMPREHENSIVE evidence linking NSAID use to impaired size gains is a very troubling fact for folks on the 'damage is irrelevant to growth' side of the spectrum to deal with.
NSAIDS may very well be hurting the hypertrophy process by reducing the inflammation that is a part of it too much. Given all of the evidence taken together, my best guess is that an intermediate level of muscle damage is best at stimulating gains. Not too little (not enough stimulus), not too much (recovery prioritized over adaptation).
Psychological stressors add to fatigue just like physical ones do. And one of the most stressful stimuli is the psych-up for all-out training. Not only does all-out training mean that you’re likely using heavy weights and close failure proximities, but it also means that you’re using more mental energy and thus will add more to fatigue. In fact, higher rep concentric speeds lead to higher fatigue, and rep speed tends to elevate during psyched-up training. It’s not just the reps themselves that are more fatiguing. The seconds, minutes, hours and (with heavy leg sessions) days before the exertion can be more fatiguing if psyching up is involved. And because you don’t just fall right off of the workout buzz ASAP after the sets are done, the high remnant levels of fight or flight hormones in the blood for up to an hour after training can contribute to the delayed reduction of fatigue.
A BIG takehome from this factor is that psych-ups should be VERY sparingly used in sport training in general. Use them ONLY as you need them. If you need to psych up to get the sets and reps you have programmed, do it. But if you can get through the work with a calm focus on technique instead, that’s much better as it will let you do more work with less fatigue and get more benefit. In fact, outside of your pre-deload week (close to failure) workouts and your heaviest weights lifted on truly big multi-joint moves (squats, deads, rows, etc…), psyching up should not be the focus of the dedicated athlete, and should be used strategically for sport competition. A calm focus on technique is usually a MUCH better option for sustainable results. Sure, it doesn’t impress regular gym goers or fellow athletes as much when you’re not yelling and screaming, but it’s the way to go most times if you want your physique and/or sport performance to do the impressing instead of your theatrics."
- From the "Volume Landmarks" book James Hoffmann and I are writing (it's in editing)! Gonna be done within the next 1-2 months, with all due luck.
It's ok to not be ok.
More specifically, if you're feeling very down about having any kind of social, psychological, or psychiatric disorder or even just an unusual way of thinking and interacting, you don't have to feel down.
One of the reasons you don't have to feel bad about this is that there is no actual purpose in feeling bad about it. So, you have ADHD or anxiety disorder or depression. Is feeling bad about this reality going to improve it? No way. Just accepting it and doing your best to mitigate or work around your problems is the only rational thing to do!
The second reason that comes to mind about why feeling bad for being psychologically "not perfect" is misplaced? Nearly everyone else is RIGHT THERE WITH YOU. Most people have SOME sort of psychological faults that manifest as diagnosable problems. It's just that most people either don't know they have them or don't talk about those faults in public (and many don't in private), so the rest of us often just assume they're OK and we're the only ones struggling. The reality is that tons of people are or have been struggling with mental difficulties and that's just how life is... no sense in being upset about something that is par for the course. In other words, being at least slightly abnormal IS normal.
And the seemingly perfect folks that tell you different, the ones that shame you for having psychological issues and tell you to "get over it" or "it's all in your head" (no shit), some of them REALLY DO have it all together!
But many of them are killing and collecting neighborhood stray animals and have shrines to Satan in their basements, so don't go assuming! ;)
Three quick tips for using the close grip bench for physique
1.) To hit your triceps more, try descending slowly and touching your chest just above your nipple line (lol nipple). This stretches your triceps more than touching low. Keep your elbows flush to your sides as you descend!
2.) Don't grip any closer than torso width. You should be able to go all the way down and touch the bar to your chest. Gripping closer limits ROM and can really do a disservice to your wrists over time.
3.) Lock out with purpose. Locking out is a meaningful part of this exercise and lets you get the most out of it.
Training myths that don't die: #1 Locking out is a bad idea
1.) Why? No, seriously. The next time someone tells you locking out is bad, ask them why they think that. Prepare to be bombarded with a spectrum of retorts ranging from "it's obvious" to "(insert misunderstandings of biomechanics here)."
2.) Of the joints that lock out, every single one was designed by evolution to do so. "You're not supposed to lock out your knees at the top." No, that's actually EXACTLY what they are designed to do.
3.) From the pure biomechanics side, it is by no means clear that joint forces are higher during lockout than during any other loaded joint position. Joint forces highly depend on a variety of factors, of which "locked out or not" is just one. And, to refer back to point #2, it's not even clear that high forces are to be avoided in the first place.
4.) Certain portions of your muscles (motor units) activate more when you lock out than when you don't, which leads to a more complete stimulus and growth. Skipping the lockout could be interfering with maximal development.
5.) Many of the bodybuilders you see avoiding lockouts on video:
- Have been training for decades and are too beat up to lock out on certain moves... many would do it if they still could.
- Are days or weeks away from their shows, and are excessively dry, which makes locking out more difficult than under normal circumstances.
- Are on drugs that further dry out their bodies and their joints, and make locking out that much more problematic.
If you don't fall into any of those categories... you should not be religiously avoiding lockouts.
6.) In strength sports like weightlifting and powerlifting, locking out is part of a complete lift and simply must be trained. If not trained, that part of the lift will not improve as much and will begin to hold you back.
7.) It is by no means clear what "constant tension on the muscles" accomplishes. Does it accumulate more metabolites? No, taking a short break at lockout and squeezing out more reps does that. Does it let you do more work per set? Again, it actually keeps you from doing more work. Does it increase the number of "effective reps" (see Børge André Fagerli's discussions of MyoReps for details on that concept)? Nope, again, quite the opposite.
8.) There may very well be good arguments, times, places, and situations for avoiding lockouts. But they are not universals that apply at face value. It's not right to religiously LOCK OUT EVERYTHING NO MATTER WHAT, but avoiding lockouts religiously is bad just the same.
Alright, I'm off to watch people at the gym do their sets only to shake my head in disapproval as they lock out their reps and tell them that their joints are headed for certain destruction. More myths to come later and please feel free to comment with questions, disagreements, and personal insults!
Training myths that don't die: #2 "Finishers"
What's a finisher? It's the exercise you do at the very end of a bodybuilding training session. And of course since it's a real thing, it can't actually be a myth. But the myth here is that the last movement is somehow very special or powerful in its effects on hypertrophy, and thus more important than other exercises done during a typical session. Let's give this idea some thought:
1.) To be sure, there IS some research and theory to suggest that what you do last in a training session may be of importance as it sends the last signals to your adaptive systems... signals that, since you just rest afterwards, have no chance of being overridden by further signals and thus have a higher chance of affecting the outcomes of training.
That being said, it's by no means clear that this implies the last exercise is THE MOST IMPORTANT or even close... it probably just means it's not almost wholly unimportant like we'd assume. Why would we assume that?
2.) Because you have the least energy at the end of the workout, whatever you do then will likely have the least effect on disrupting systems and pushing them toward adaptation. How often do you hear people say "yeah, I really wanna prioritize biceps this training cycle, so I put them dead last every time I train them." Huh? That's nonsense, but for some reason the very same ideas with finishers are accepted at face value. If you really want a super-important part of your workout to focus on; the first couple of movements when you're fresh and able to lift the hardest are top candidates.
3.) Not only do you have the least energy for finishers, but the majority of anabolic signaling has already been done by... drum roll... THE WHOLE WORKOUT UP TO THAT POINT. It's highly unlikely that the many heavy sets you do for the majority of your workout are just primers and the last couple sets are what really stimulate the gains.
4.) Why do people focus on finishers SO MUCH out of their likely proportion of effects? I think it's a couple of reasons:
a.) You're the most pumped by then, and you're much more apt to post videos of you doing a finisher cause that's when you're most likely to want to show off your physique in action. Yep, I really think this is a big explanatory factor, kind of like why people buy NO and other "pump" products... if they make you look your most jacked, there's no shortage of make-belief reasons why they work great to make you bigger.
b.) There is something cathartic about the last movement in a session. You don't have to save you energy for any more moves, so you can give it your all (which also looks cool for the camera), and you get the relief of being done right after. So if the rest of your workout is "meh" but you convince yourself the finisher is EXTRA important, you can give it your all and feel damn good about how great of a job you did. It's like the "short and sweet" practices in wrestling... the guys that liked those the most were the guys that hated long practices but liked to feel accomplished.
In summary, finishers are cool and please by all means keep doing them. Just don't focus on them at the expense of ignoring the details of the rest of your workout, especially the stuff that likely matters most: progressing slowly but surely in volumes and intensities on the big main lifts that occur early in each of your sessions (or damn well should if you program correctly).
Acute to chronic fallacy
In exercise science, a common fallacy is what I'd like to refer to as the "acute to chronic fallacy."
It's when something has been demonstrated to work (or not work) on a one-time basis, and some will erroneously extrapolate that relationship into a long-term basis or vice versa.
One of the most famous examples of this is the relationship between anabolic hormones (like GH and testosterone) and hypertrophy. It's fairly certain now that acute elevations of these hormones in the workout window have almost no predictive validity on long term muscle growth. That is, workouts that jack up your GH or test are no more likely to make you grow than ones that don't.
However, it would be WILDLY erroneous to conclude that chronic elevations in these hormones don't correlate with or cause more hypertrophy, because they sure as hell do.
When something is shown to cause (or not cause) changes in short-term responses, it's not right to conclude the same thing about the long term effects of that variable. It may or may not. The only thing that really tells us about the long term is direct research on longer term effects.
(Russell Taylor and I were speculating that something similar is at play with insulin (conflicting workout-window correlations with muscle growth but potentially very powerful long-term causation of muscle growth esp in supplemental conditions) and I thought this "acute vs. chronic" concept could benefit from more exposure. )
Back training is not just lat training!
Some people get into too much of a habit in using those terms reflexively to mean the same thing, but that's not exactly the case! Some points on the matter:
1.) Yes, lats are a big part of your back and super important to its total size and look. This post is not intended to convey that lats are unimportant to back training and back size. In fact, lats are probably the MOST important to back size. But "most" in this case means more like 60/100, and not 90/100. Other muscles matter A LOT to back size.
2.) Some of those muscles include the rhomboids, the teres muscles, and even the rear delts (which can magnify apparent back size from many angles). But by far the most important muscles to try to grow secondarily to lats are the spinal erectors and traps.
3.) The traps are NOT just the tops of your shoulders leading into your neck. The middle and lower traps form a huge part of your upper back. And the spinal erectors literally run the entire length of your back, and if you get them big enough, can make you look downright absurd. How absurd? Johnnie Jackson never really had standout lats (compared to the rest of his physique). But his traps and erectors were so big, he's in the conversation for "best back of all time." And his back is, due to those traps and erectors, a special kind of freaky even wider backs just aren't (that's his back in the attached pic).
4.) What grows lats best? Probably some combination of free weight and machine vertical pulling, with pullups and pulldowns as the standard-bearers. Bent rows grow the lats plenty, but as folks like Menno Henselmans have pointed out long ago, rows are outshined by vertical pulling moves like pullups when it comes to lat size in most cases.
5.) What grows the traps most? A couple of classes of exercise:
- Heavy deadlifts and rack deads, especially for reps.
- Heavy bent-rows
- Shrugs, usually done with a full ROM and not "the funky chicken dance" where you race your chin down more than you shrug the bar up
- Indirect work from most lateral raise, upright row, and shoulder pressing exercises, especially those done with a full ROM
- Very indirect work from just having your shoulders loaded down with heavy shit over the years. Everything from farmers walks and yokes in strongman to just squats and GMs done with a proper brace and shoulder retraction
6.) What grows spinal erectors the most? Morally praiseworthy but unpopular decisions! Just kidding, it's:
- Deadlifts, including rack pulls, deficits, and regular deads. Deads are really in a class of their own for erector development in my view
- Bent-over rows, especially those done with a very high degree of hip bend (close to parallel with the floor). The trick is also to keep your back nice and arched (or straight) and resist gravity from un-arching it for you during the movement, which is a feat almost entirely accomplished by your spinal erectors
- Good-mornings and SLDLs, because you have to use your erectors to keep the spine from rounding under heavy loads
- Cable and machine rows where (usually with a chest pad) you can get the spinal erectors to flex and extend under their own power... bonus points to hyper-extending and holding contractions at the top for 1-2 seconds
If you want your biggest back, YES, train your lats, but don't forget about the other muscles, especially the traps and erectors. Does this mean you should deadlift and row heavy for your back to be its best? Yeah... it probably does!
How anabolic is insulin?
Opinions from very well informed experts range from 'not very' to 'out of this world.' What's the truth, and are some of these experts just wildly wrong?
It turns out most of them are right, just in different contexts. Here's a potentially helpful breakdown of the anabolic power of insulin in a spectrum of scenarios.
1.) Acute effects of having one high carb meal with plenty of protein and fat: very low.
Fat actually reduces the glycemic index, which keeps the insulin peak down and not much insulin-mediated anabolism happens.
2.) Chronic effect of having a high glycemic carb shake with whey protein during/post every workout: low.
Due to the sensitive nature of muscle tissue to insulin's effects post workout and the low fat consumption of fast digesting carbs and whey protein (both of which are highly insulin-secreting), this actually does grow muscle, but how much muscle can you grow or even signal growing with insulin elevated for like 1.5 hours only on training days? Not much.
3.) Chronic effect of gaining weight with a very high carb, low fat diet (while training super hard, of course): moderate.
The high insulin AUC (area under the curve, similar to glycemic load) results in MUCH more muscle gained than with just workout-window elevations. Nothing too crazy in the grand scheme, but notable.
4.) Chronic effect of #3 while using supraphysiological doses of exogenous insulin, anabolic steroids, and growth hormone (vs. just the latter two without high carbs and injectable insulin): revolutionary.
Anabolics are synergistic with GH. But GH seems to be even more synergistic with insulin, both in the actual anabolic stimulus and in keeping the individual lean as they gain weight. The combo of anabolics + GH + insulin is basically what gave birth to the mid 90s mass monsters like Marcus Ruhl and... Ronnie Coleman himself.
How can you use this information? One idea is to make sure your expectations align with likelihoods. If you're adding a 15g carb powder scoop to your workout shake 4x a week, don't expect the rivers of ultimate mass to overflow. But if you're wondering how pro bodybuilders go from 215lbs to 235lbs onstage in 2 years, now you know!