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A question of strength

Eine Frage der Kraft

Q: You and Ian King convinced me that I should add power cleans and deadlifts to my program. Which day should I do these exercises? Should I do these exercises on leg day or back day? I always have muscle soreness in my legs, back and trapezius after deadlifts and I have the same problem with power cleans. Any suggestions?

A: Power cleans and deadlifts should be done on leg day as they overload the hip and knee extensors. If you choose to do power cleans, make sure you do them first during your training session - they require a lot of coordination. Doing them last can cause chaos and havoc in the gym, for yourself and other people around you.

If you're doing a program that aims to increase your weights on power cleans or deadlifts, be sure to adjust your squat training accordingly based on your recovery ability. The number of mutants out there who can push their squat and deadlift performance up at the same time was very small, at least last time I checked.

You should also pay attention to the amount of indirect training like bent-over rowing that you do for your lower back. I remember having dinner with exercise rehabilitation specialist Paul Chek a few years ago and of course we got onto the subject of training. Paul was complaining that he couldn't improve on any of his exercises. I asked him a few questions about how he was training and the reason for his plateau quickly became apparent: he wanted to increase his weights on squats, deadlifts and bent-over rowing at the same time.

My advice to him was pretty simple: pick ONE of those three exercises and work hard on it for three to four weeks and then pick another exercise to prioritize.

Q: I keep hearing how great lunges are for the legs, but when I do them, the only muscle I get sore in is my butt. That doesn't bother me so much, but shouldn't I also feel something in my quadriceps? I start my program with lunges as they require more balance and then move on to leg curls and calves.

A: One of my colleagues, who is well known in the fitness industry for his knowledge of abdominal training, complained about the same thing years ago when he was in Canada with me. At the time, he had a butt that stuck out half a meter, while his legs were so poorly developed they would have made any stork proud. This exerciser was performing lunges at 100 kilos using his interpretation of proper technique. After dropping his ego at the checkroom and agreeing that his technique was indeed abysmal, he reduced the weight to 50 kilos. After this adjustment, the sore muscles promptly moved to the desired location.

When performed correctly, lunges should cause soreness not only in the glutes, but also in the hamstrings, quadriceps and adductors. If you only get sore muscles in your glutes, this means that your technique is not correct - most likely your stride width is too small and you are probably bending too far forward.

In the extended position, the lower 15 centimeters of your leg flexors should completely cover your gastrocnemius muscle. In other words, in the stretched position there should be no space between your hamstrings and calf. Your torso should be as upright as possible - it should be perpendicular to the floor.

Give the correct technique a try and see if you can still run up a flight of stairs the next day without cursing me. I can guarantee you that your leg hypertrophy will skyrocket if you do lunges the way I've described.

Q: I've scoured tons of bodybuilding magazines looking for a different chest exercise - something other than the typical barbell or dumbbell press variations. Do you have any ideas?

A: Well, I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for, but I have an excellent exercise you could try. It is Dan Kennedy's modified "Pec Fryer". This combination of exercises is a variation of a superset that former Rutgers strength coach Kennedy showed me during a seminar at the New York Athletic Club.

Here you perform dumbbell flat bench presses in superset with butterflys with manual resistance. Perform one set of dumbbell flat bench presses for six to eight repetitions, making sure your palms are facing each other throughout the exercise to achieve a greater stretch (this position allows you to lower the dumbbells further). The tempo is up to you, but I would recommend trying a 3210 tempo: three seconds for the eccentric part of the movement, a two second pause in the stretched position, one second for lifting the dumbbells and no pause in the contracted position.

After you put the dumbbells down, stay on the bench. Place your hands behind your head as if you have just been arrested and have a training partner standing over you apply manual pressure to the tips of the inside of your elbows - applying pressure directly to the skin of the biceps or triceps will cause the trainee pain reminiscent of an active fascial stretch. Make sure you start the set when the elbows are in their lowest (stretched) position to give your training partner the best leverage when applying pressure. If you start with your elbows raised, your training partner will find it almost impossible to push your arms apart.

While your training partner is applying pressure, try to squeeze your elbows together as if you were performing butterflies on a machine. The force exerted by your training partner should match your strength curve. This can be achieved by keeping the speed of the movement constant, making the resistance higher in the areas where the muscle can develop more strength and lower in the areas where the pecs are in their weakest position (in this case, the stretched position).

Keep the number of repetitions low, but do them very slowly. I have found that sets of four to six repetitions work best using a very slow tempo with four to ten seconds for the concentric part of the movement and four to six seconds for the eccentric part of the movement. This superset can also be performed on an incline bench if you want to put more stress on the pecs in the collarbone area.

Q: Most exercisers perform flying movements with dumbbells with palms facing each other. However, whenever I see pictures of your athletes, their thumbs are pointing towards each other. What is the reason for this?

A: When exercisers perform flying movements with their palms facing each other, their upper arms are turned outwards. The problem here is that the pectoral muscles are internal rotators of the humerus. Therefore, flying movements should be performed with the thumbs pointing towards each other, as this achieves internal rotation of the humerus.

In addition, when you lower the dumbbells, the elbows should be in line with the ears in the lowest stretched position. Try it out. You won't believe how much stronger the stretch in your chest muscles will be. And to get a really good stretch, you should perform flying movements on a Swiss ball

A word of caution about flying movements - these generally require more warm-up than any other exercise.

Q: I use the multi press extensively in my training, but I've heard that it's not the best piece of training equipment ever developed. What is your opinion on this?

A: To be honest, I don't think much of the multi press. When I set up a weight room for a client, I never buy a multi press. And if some idiot interrupts me during my training and asks me something about chest training, my form of revenge is to recommend 20 sets on the multi press.

One reason the multi press gets so much publicity in magazines is that it makes a great image, but in terms of functional carryover, its value is zero. It was probably developed by a physiotherapist who wanted to improve his business.

What you may see as advantages of this machine are in fact serious disadvantages. The perceived benefits are short-lived as the multi press stabilizes the weight for you. However, the shoulder works on three levels and when you perform exercises on a multi press, none of the shoulder stabilizers need to be recruited to their maximum.

The rotator cuff muscles, for example, don't have to do as much work because the path of the bar is fixed. This creates problems when the exerciser switches back to training with free weights. When this happens, the exerciser is once again exposed to a three-dimensional environment, also known as "real life". As the multi press has only allowed them to develop strength in one dimension, this increases the risk of injury in the underdeveloped planes of movement.

San Diego-based training expert Paul Chek has identified what he calls Schema Overload Syndrome. At his seminars and in his videos, he repeatedly emphasizes that bench pressing on the multi press is one of the most common causes of shoulder injuries.

"When using the multi-press, a movement pattern overload occurs. The more fixed the object is, the greater the risk of developing this type of overload syndrome. This is due to the fact that training on a fixed pathway repeatedly stresses the same muscles, tendons and ligaments in the same way and promotes microtrauma that will ultimately lead to injury. If an exerciser always uses the multi-press for their bench press, they end up training the same muscle fibers of the primary muscles involved in the bench press all the time: the triceps brachii, pectoralis major, long head of the biceps, anterior shoulder muscles and serratus anterior. But he can't change the path - the bar will always be in the same position."

Due to the mechanics of the human shoulder joint, the body will change the natural path of the bar during the bench press with free weights to allow for efficient movement around the shoulder. A fixed pathway does not allow for changes in this pathway for efficient movement of the joint and predisposes the shoulder to harmful overload due to a lack of adaptation.

All in all, the multi press is an exercise machine for idiots. If you're interested in training injury-free over a long period of time, you're much better off sticking with standard barbell and dumbbell exercises.

Q: What supplement recommendations would you give?

A: Let's start with my post-workout recipe. I've long been a big advocate of a liquid post-workout meal and based on my observations and a lot of scientific research, I've developed the following post-workout formula for one-hour workouts:

Protein content:

The post-workout meal should contain at least 0.6 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass. For a 90 kilogram athlete with a body fat percentage of 10%, this would be at least 50 grams of protein.

Carbohydrate intake:

While I used to recommend a blanket 2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight, after further research into the scientific literature and discussions with colleagues, I have come to the conclusion that the total carbohydrate content of the post-workout meal should reflect the training volume of the training session - i.e. the higher the number of repetitions per training session, the higher the carbohydrate intake should be.

The problem is that not all repetitions are necessarily the same. One repetition of squats or deadlifts is much more demanding than one repetition of curls or tricep presses. However, in order not to make the whole thing too complicated, I still assume that all repetitions are the same. Based on this premise, my recommendation for carbohydrate intake after training is as follows:

  • 12-72 repetitions per training session: 0.6 g/kg lean body mass
  • 73-200 repetitions per training session: 0.8 g/kg lean body mass
  • 200-360 repetitions per training session: 1.0 g/kg lean body mass
  • 360-450 repetitions per training session: 1.2 g/kg lean body mass

Glutamine intake

After much discussion with low-carb advocates DiPasquale and Serrano, I experimented with higher amounts of glutamine. Recent scientific research has shown that post-workout glutamine consumption can accelerate glycogen resynthesis and, of course, increase glutamine levels - both of which are important in preventing overtraining and generating an anabolic environment. For a 100 kilo athlete, glutamine intake can easily be in the region of 35 grams.

I am also a big fan of antioxidants. All my athletes use an antioxidant blend because they have a higher fatty acid intake than their peers. Fatty acids are extremely sensitive to damage and oxidation and this is true whether they are inside or outside the body. Increased consumption of fish oil, for example, has been linked to higher levels of lipid peroxidation in the body, which results in a greater need for vitamin E.

In addition to vitamin E, I would also recommend an antioxidant formula that includes a wide range of antioxidants such as vitamin C and beta-carotene. I also like to use additional antioxidants of a plant nature such as grape seed extract, green tea extract, quercitin, hesperidin, turmeric, gingko biloba and ginger.

This is just a brief overview of two areas of supplementation, as a full treatment of the subject would go far beyond the scope of this column.

Q: You hear different opinions from experienced strength trainers about the effectiveness of training on a Swiss Ball. Should I integrate it into my training or not?

A: The Swiss Ball comes from the land of watches and cheese fondue, where physiotherapists use it extensively as part of the rehabilitation process for their patients. A Swiss Ball is a valuable tool, but relying on it too much may be counterproductive in the long run.

For example, many of my exercisers perform part of their chest training on a Swiss Ball. Generally, this will help them to control their movements better and correct sloppy form of exercise execution. Why will this eliminate sloppy exercise form? Because if you're not careful, you'll end up rolling a few meters around the weight room with the dumbbell manufacturer's logo imprinted on your forehead.

If you use a Swiss ball when performing dumbbell presses, the instability of the ball will force you to recruit your stabilizers to a much greater extent than normal, allowing you to build a more injury-resistant shoulder structure to recruit more muscle.

For this reason, my colleague André Benoit uses the Swiss Ball for chest training with his beginner clients. In addition to this, the round surface of the ball allows the dumbbells to be lowered deeper, thereby enabling better stretching of the chest muscles.

An example exercise that you can perform on the Swiss Ball is the eccentric dumbbell incline bench press. I came up with the idea of using this exercise during a seminar for personal trainers when one of the participants asked me how to eccentrically train the pectoral muscles in the collarbone area when training alone.

For this exercise, you lie down on a Swiss ball and press the dumbbells upwards as if you were performing a conventional dumbbell bench press. Once your arms are almost straight, keep your torso stable while lowering your hips as far as possible.

Since you are weaker in the incline bench press than in the flat bench press, you will use the larger lever arm of the flat bench press to move the weight up in preparation for the eccentric part of the incline bench press. In effect, you are performing a combination of concentric flat bench presses and eccentric incline bench presses.

However, you shouldn't rely too much on the Swiss ball, as you could eventually reach the point where your stabilizers prevent the primary muscles from getting stronger. As the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and in this case that is the stabilizers.


From Charles Poliquin

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