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Tip of the week Tip: Learn to feel your muscles working

Tipps der Woche Tipp: Lerne den Muskeln arbeiten zu spüren

If you can't feel the muscle, you're wasting your time. Here is a way to develop this skill for gains in strength and muscle

If you can't feel a muscle during an exercise, then you're not stimulating that muscle enough to achieve growth at maximum rate.

Even if you're training for strength - and using heavy weights and low reps - you should feel the right muscles doing the work. You won't feel a strong pump in those muscles from strength training, but the target muscles should feel harder after a set.

If you lack the motor skills to activate a specific muscle during an exercise, use isolation training for that muscle to learn how to recruit and maximally contract it.

If you are good at recruiting a muscle, then it will become more involved in multi-joint exercises. Performing isolation training on a muscle that you can't otherwise feel working properly is an investment for future gains.

Isolate to integrate

This is the progression I prescribe for someone who doesn't feel a specific muscle working during a basic exercise. I refer to this as the "isolate to integrate" approach. Each step should last for 2 to 4 workouts.

  • Step 1: Learn to isolate the stubborn muscle using isolation exercises, constant tension and a focus on the quality of the contraction. If you can't feel your pecs on the bench press, then you can use something like flying movements with dumbbells or on the machine. Try to exhaust the muscle with the least amount of weight possible for this exercise. This will force you to contract the chest as hard as possible and "find" your pecs.
  • Step 2: Pre-fatigue the stubborn muscle with an isolation exercise and then perform the heavy multi-joint exercise. The pump that has been built in the muscle will allow you to feel that muscle more strongly during the multi-joint exercise. This will improve the mind-muscle connection, which will help you learn to integrate the muscle during the multi-joint exercise.
  • Step 3: Perform the multi-joint exercise first, focusing on feeling the stubborn muscle. This requires using a lighter weight while focusing on the correct muscle contraction - not just moving the weight.
  • Step 4: Move to heavier weights on the multi-joint exercise.

Using this approach has allowed me to start using my pecs more on the bench press. Prior to this, I was one of those who bench pressed primarily with my shoulder muscles. Even though I was bench pressing in the 200+ kilo range, I had zero chest development. The isolate to integrate method helped me to engage my pecs more on the heavier exercises and improve their development.

Tip: 2 things every exerciser needs to improve

Some exercisers simply never make it out of the beginner phase. Others get stuck at a more advanced level. Both groups make the same mistakes. Are you one of them?

By Jim Wendler


1 - Put together a larger collection of tools

As I developed and tried to become a multi-sport athlete, I was exposed to a number of different ideas and training styles. This helped me to prepare for every possible competitive situation. I had a wealth of experience that allowed me to make the necessary transitions and progressions.

When I started working at Elite Fitness, I had access to a lot of different coaches with different principles. I didn't always agree with them, but I learned. And when you learn different things, you can save them for later when you need them. That's how you fill your toolbox.

It's easy to get stuck in one way of thinking or one modality. But the bigger your toolbox, the more you'll have at your disposal when you need it.

Let's say you've injured your shoulder and can't do squats with a barbell on your back. What are your options?

What if it's snowing outside and you can't train with the weight sled? How will you adapt? What if you're traveling and don't have access to a gym? What if you get older and are no longer able to bench press? What's your next choice?

Having a large collection of tools at your disposal will allow you to move on seamlessly without getting stuck on old ideas. Remember that you don't have to use everything right now, but the more you learn, the better you will get.

2 - Be willing to adapt and change your approach

What has worked in the past doesn't have to work again. It's always hard to watch a middle-aged man trying to do what he did at 16.

While the thought process may be admirable, the reality is that we are not the same person we used to be and neither is our body.

The easiest way to illustrate this is to look at something we've all seen a hundred times. An exerciser goes from 80 to 95 kilos with the help of a certain diet and training program. Then he is stuck at 95 kilos and doesn't know why he can't get to 100 kilos. The answer is that at 95 kilos he is simply a different man with a different body and that what worked before will not work again.

Just as you change, your training, your diet and your mind have to change too. You won't get anywhere if you don't evolve.

Tip: Manipulate intensity, volume and frequency

Smart training allows you to recover. Strategically change key variables to recover quickly and make faster gains.

By Paul Carter


  1. Frequency: How many times a day or week do you plan to train?
  2. Intensity: This can represent two things - the actual weight on the bar or how heavy a set was (often defined as something like perceived rate of exhaustion).
  3. Volume: Your total workload per training session. Basically, this is the amount of exercises, sets and reps you performed during that training session.

There are basically these three variables in training. Choose two to manipulate to meet your body's recovery requirements.

Emphasize two, reduce one

Your body has a limited amount of reserves to draw on. When these are depleted, your progress will come to a halt. This varies from person to person, which is also why some exercisers can grow through three sessions a week of low volume and heavy weights, while others need a completely different style of training.

You need to decide if you...

  1. Train more frequently - train most days of the week.
  2. Train with high intensity - train with heavy weights or perform heavy sets to near muscle failure (or both).
  3. want to train with high volume - use a high volume of sets, repetitions and exercises.

Choose the two options you enjoy the most and adjust the third down. If you enjoy being in the gym every day and like to give it your all when training, then you should keep the volume lower.

If daily training doesn't appeal to you, then find a middle ground and train 3 to 4 days a week.

From here you need to decide if you want to train with a lot of volume, if you want to train really hard or if you want to train with a high level of perceived fatigue.

If your frequency is somewhere in the middle, then either increase the volume at a lower level of intensity or increase the intensity at a lower volume.

You can't grow without recovery from the training stimulus. There is no way around this.

Avoid the point of diminishing returns

All of these variables have a point of diminishing returns. People often have the idea that if 8 sets are good, 12 sets must be great. Then progress comes to a halt and then - believe it or not - these people think they need to do more! The same goes for the weight on the bar or the number of training sessions per week.

Once you've got all these variables properly balanced and you're seeing progress, don't keep playing around thinking there's a more optimal way. Progress at 5% is better than no progress or regression. And sometimes 5% progression is pretty darn good.

Tip: How much protein do you really need?

How much protein does an exerciser need? Well, a lot more than most nutrition experts will tell you based on the recommended daily value. Here are the facts.

By Jamie Hale


"How much protein do I need?"

The official recommended intake is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. A person weighing 86 kilograms would therefore need 69 grams of protein per day. This may be fine for sedentary people, but is it enough for athletes, bodybuilders and weightlifters? No. In fact, it doesn't even come close to the actual requirement.

Exercisers and athletes who care about their performance or body development need significantly more protein than is recommended for the average person. It is a myth that these recommendations are also adequate for physically active people.

The reason lies in the nitrogen balance

The official recommendations regarding protein intake are too low for certain groups. These recommendations were never intended for people who are trying to increase their performance or build or maintain muscle mass.

(In fact, higher protein intake may have beneficial effects for certain conditions and health problems including obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and muscle wasting).

The official guidelines reflect the minimum daily protein requirement necessary to maintain a short-term nitrogen balance in healthy, moderately active people.

Nitrogen balance compares the amount of nitrogen supplied to the body in the form of dietary protein with the amount of nitrogen excreted from the body. It is often used as a measure of protein balance because protein is 16% nitrogen.

If you consume the same amount of nitrogen that you lose, then you have a good nitrogen balance. If you consume more than you lose, then you have a positive nitrogen balance. If you lose more than you consume, then you have a negative nitrogen balance and are losing protein - which is not good.

Nitrogen balance tests often include an examination of nitrogen levels in urine. About 90% of the nitrogen in urine is made up of urea and ammonium salts - the end products of protein metabolism. The remaining nitrogen comes from other nitrogen-containing compounds.

The nitrogen balance method is useful, but it also has its problems. A urine collection tends to underestimate nitrogen loss, dietary nitrogen intake tends to be overestimated, varying hair and skin losses are a source of error and the response to increased protein intake varies enormously.

The science

  1. In a study review published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition, the scientists concluded: "Those who engage in strength training may need up to 1.6 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (about twice the current official recommendation), while those who engage in endurance training may need about 1.2 to 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight (about 1.5 times the official recommendation).
  2. Another article, published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism, argued that dietary guidelines should be revised to reflect new evidence on protein requirements. According to scientist Donald Layman, a growing body of research shows that protein intake above official recommendations is helpful in maintaining muscle function and mobility. Diets with increased protein intake have been shown to improve health when it comes to preventing obesity, type 2 diabetes and other diseases.
  3. A review published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism aimed to evaluate the effects of dietary protein on body composition in resistance-trained athletes in a state of caloric restriction and to recommend protein intake for these athletes. The scientists concluded that the range of 2.3 to 3.1 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass represents the most consistent protective protein intake to prevent lean body tissue loss. This means that for every kilogram of your body that is not fat, you should consume 2 to 3 grams of protein per day to maintain your lean body tissue. So if you have 70 kilograms of lean body mass, up to 210 grams of protein per day would be optimal for you.

Tip: Take on the 100 repetition deadlift challenge

Can you do this test in 10 minutes? Check out the details and give it a go.

By Martin Rooney


The 100 reps deadlift challenge

If you're looking for a deadlift challenge, here's one that's sure to challenge your body, your heart and your mind.

The execution

  1. Choose a weight with which you can do 10 to 16 repetitions.
  2. Perform 20 sets of 5 repetitions with this weight.
  3. You have 10 minutes to perform 100 repetitions. If you are not able to complete all 100 repetitions, stop after 10 minutes and write down the number of repetitions and try to beat this number next time.

Note: If you haven't done a lot of deadlifts before, aim for 50 reps instead of 100 to acclimatize. If you are training deadlifts, but not with high reps and high volume, give yourself 20 minutes. Accelerate slowly over several weeks before trying to break the 10 minute barrier.


By Christian Thibaudeau

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