You are what you eat – Part 2

Protein

Among the people with whom I have worked, protein is the most neglected macronutrient. Women in particular tend to have diets that are very deficient in protein. Why? Who knows? One reason may be that many of them seem to think that a container of yogurt is a good source of protein. Sure, it may contain about five grams of quality protein, but to deem yogurt a significant source of protein is altogether untrue. Another reason might be because many view animal protein as fattening. This is true to an extent, but if one takes precautions and buys LEAN meats, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Protein provides us with amino acids, the building blocks of muscle. If one is deficient in protein, this will lead to negative nitrogen balance, which in layman’s terms means that that individual will be hard-pressed to add any significant amount of lean muscle mass (or preserve it, for that matter). This is particularly crucial when one is dieting to get leaner. For most people, a caloric deficit is needed in order to lose fat; this state can leave the body in a muscle-wasting mode if one isn’t careful. Very generally speaking, making sure that you are ingesting ample amounts of protein (amino acids) will “protect” muscle tissue and prevent your body from breaking it down in order to use it for fuel. I say “very generally speaking” because other factors such as training stimuli, cardiovascular exercise, and total caloric intake also play vital roles in terms of preserving lean muscle mass while dieting (here’s a hint: you should be strength training during this time and not toying around with high reps and low weights to feel the “burn,” you big sissy).

Another great benefit of protein is the fact that it is has a very high Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) factor. TEF refers to the calorie-burn associated with the digestion and assimilation of food. If there is one macronutrient of which you should not be afraid of overeating, it is protein. Dr. Lonnie Lowery, one of the world’s top sports nutritionist has paid considerable attention to this point in many of his writings. Essentially, he explains that diets higher in protein require the body to burn more calories in digestion compared to diets that are lower in protein. Thus, excess protein calories aren’t as likely to be stored in the body as fat. Just to give you a frame of reference example, the TEF of protein is approximately 30%, compared to just 4%-6% for carbohydrates and fat, respectively (1). To put this into perspective; for a 100-calorie meal, protein will require a complete 30 calories just to process it, compared to a measly 4 or 6 calories expended to process carbs or fat. It seems pretty obvious to me which macronutrient you shouldn’t be neglecting.

Top-notch Protein Sources

Eggs – In terms of its biological value (a measure of protein quality, assessed by determining how well a given food or food mixture supports nitrogen retention), eggs are the best source for which you could ask. On a scale of 100%, egg whites have a BV value of 100%. Yay for the egg! And no, you don’t need to be like Rocky and down a raw egg shake in the morning (although it would be totally sweet if you could help bring an end to the Cold War by beating up a giant Soviet heavyweight). Actually, doing so will interfere with biotin absorption from the egg yolk due to the high traces of avidin found in raw egg whites. Besides, cooking your eggs denatures the protein, which increases its bioavailability.

Chicken Breast/Turkey Breast/Ground Turkey – All are great sources of lean protein and should be staples in your diet. They make great healthier alternatives in recipes calling for beef or other more fattening meats; I use these meats in chili, tacos, fajitas, and burgers. In order to keep costs down, I like to buy them in bulk and then just grill or cook them ahead of time and store them in Tupperware to last me the week. Doing so will save you a lot of time in terms of food preparation and you will always have a healthy snack available for those times when you have a case of the munchies.

Lean Ground Beef – While it is a bit more expensive to buy, lean beef is definitely well worth the extra dollar you will spend. The leanest cuts range from 93%-95%, so be sure to check the labels. Again, food prep enters the equation, so what I like to do is cook my beef in a big frying pan sprayed with Olive Oil-based Pam, drain the fat, and then add a jar of salsa and a bag of mixed veggies to it to spice it up a bit and make it a bit healthier. Presto! You have yourself a hardy 3-5 P+F meals to last you a few days.

Cottage Cheese – Of all the foods that I recommend to people, cottage cheese is the one that elicits the most groans and looks of sheer terror. The comments that I hear most often are, “Oh my god, I can’t eat that,” or “The texture! The texture! Please no, I can’t stand the texture!” You would think that I was suggesting that they eat a concoction from Fear Factor or something. Okay, I admit that cottage cheese isn’t the most palatable food in the world, but the host of benefits that it offers far outweighs the drawbacks, so suck it up, buttercup. I often recommend cottage cheese as a nighttime snack due to the fact that the main protein source in it is casein. Casein is a slowly absorbed protein with anti-catabolic qualities, making it a perfect food to eat right before an 8-10 hour “power nap.” Adding a scoop of chocolate protein powder and a tbsp of natty peanut butter makes for a welcome treat right before bedtime. Doing so will ensure that your body has a healthy dose of amino acids (as well as some healthy fat) to last through the night and serve as “protection” for precious lean body mass.

Tuna/Fresh-Water Fish – Regardless of its unpleasant scent, tuna is an easy and convenient source of quality protein. One can (or package, for that matter) generally packs 25-30 grams of protein that can be eaten straight up (only if you are truly hardcore), or used in salads, casseroles, and obviously as part of a sandwich. Stick to the variety that is packed in water and not vegetable oil.

Beef Jerky – As far as convenience is concerned, not many foods top this one. I get a lot of clients who work in an office setting, which makes it much harder for them to get enough meals in throughout the day because they can’t get away from their desk. One easy solution is to bring foods to work that are easy to store. Enter dried up cow meat in a sealed package! Beef jerky packs a ton of lean protein that can easily be eaten while sitting in front of your computer browsing the internet when you’re supposed to be doing your work. How cool is that? Just make sure that you go with a brand has less than 5g carbs per serving; otherwise, you’re eating something that the manufacturer has coated in sugar.

Protein Powders – I hear the same questions day in and day out: “What supplements should I be taking? Should I get some protein powder?” I usually retort with, “Before the word supplement even leaves your mouth, you should be more concerned with getting your overall diet squared away with WHOLE foods first. No supplement or protein powder is going to compensate for an atrocious diet.” However, I will admit that I don’t necessarily consider protein powder a supplement. I do feel that it plays a vital role in helping people reach their protein requirements each day. Sometimes, it is hard to eat 300-400 grams of protein per day through whole foods alone, so protein powders are a very quick and convenient way to ensure that individuals are able to meet their needs. Protein powders are also very versatile in that they can be added to things such as oatmeal, cottage cheese, and cereal – and obviously used to make shakes.

In addition, one has to take into consideration the timing of certain protein powders, as well as what types are convenient for them to fit their lifestyle. It is often recommended that whey protein be ingested immediately before, during, and after training due to the fact that it is absorbed more quickly and promotes protein synthesis; both of these qualities are ideal in the post-training “anabolic window.” At other times in the day, it’s best to ingest more slowly absorbed protein powders such as casein and milk-protein isolate, both of which have superb anti-catabolic qualities. For those who are vegetarians or have food allergies towards whey, casein, or MPI powders, other options include rice, pea and soy proteins (although these options are less impressive in terms of biological value). Needless to say, there are a plethora of options out there to fit everyone’s needs.

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Fat

I’m going to let you in on a shocking secret: dietary fat does not make you fat.

“Heresy,” you claim.

“Ludicrous,” you say.

“Absurd,” you assert.

Since the early to mid 1980s, people have feared fat as if it was an evil step-mother. Why? Well, it certainly didn’t help that the ADA and hundreds of “experts” started advocating diets that were low in fat and high in carbohydrates, claiming that fat was our primary nemesis. The rationale was that if people didn’t eat fat, they wouldn’t get fat: scientific reasoning at its best. The result? Rates of obesity and type 2 have reached all-time highs, leading to an epidemic where obesity is on the verge of overtaking heart disease as the nation’s #1 preventable cause of death.

That fact is that much of the fat content in foods was replaced with copious amounts of refined sugar. So, while people merrily ate entire boxes of fat-free cookies (assuming it was a guilt free pleasure), their waist sizes were growing faster than Kristy Alley’s during her post “Cheer’s” career. Okay, maybe not that fast, but you get the point.

In all actuality, as Rob Faigin stated in his phenomenal book, Natural Hormonal Enhancement, “Whether or not dietary fat is fattening depends on your hormonal state. If you are a sugar burner, your metabolism is geared toward carbohydrate utilization and incoming dietary fat is channeled to adipose tissue to be added to your fat stockpile. By contrast, as a fat-burner, the sugar-burning (glycolytic) pathway is suppressed and the fat-burning (lipolytic) pathway is activated. Consequently, incoming dietary fat is burned at a high rate along with its biochemical twin-sibling-body fat (2).”

If you are a “carb-junky,” insulin levels are constantly raised and incoming dietary fat is MUCH more likely to be stored as body fat. Individuals who control their insulin levels throughout the day don’t have so much trouble, though.

It’s important to also take into consideration the concept of calories in vs. calories out. Sure, one gram of fat contains more calories per serving than one gram of carbohydrate and one gram of protein COMBINED, but if one is eating at a deficit, then this doesn’t really matter much (taking into account a proper training stimulus and meal timing). That’s not to say, however, that you could eat 2000 calories worth of fat and get the same result as if you ingested 2000 calories worth of protein (assuming both are at a deficit). How your body metabolizes and partitions certain macronutrients varies to a great degree and hence will yield different results in terms of one’s body composition. Generally speaking, though, when someone is trying to “lean-up,” one of the key factors is calories in vs. calories out, not how little fat they eat.

All myths aside, dietary fat plays several other crucial roles beyond energy provision. First of all, there is this thing called vital or “essential” body fat. Essential means that your body will have a hard time functioning properly if it does not have a certain amount of body fat. For men, that number is approximately 3%, and for women, it is about 12%. So, for those people who eat very little fat in their diet in hopes of achieving lower body fat levels, they are doing themselves a huge disservice; your body NEEDS it! Dietary fat also helps with increasing serum testosterone levels, aids with the digestion of “fat soluble vitamins” (A, D, E, K; your body can’t digest these vitamins without dietary fat), and helps with satiety. Because fat takes a little longer to digest, it provides a more satisfied and full feeling after meals.

Just as I noted that not all calories are created equal, all fats are not created equal; there are “good” fats and “bad” fats. In terms of “bad” fats, I am just going to make your life simple and tell you to stay away from trans-fats whenever you can. Trans-fats (trans-fatty acids) are man-made fats that are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil in order to increase its shelf life. This process alters the chemical structure of fat from its natural cis- configuration to the unnatural trans- configuration, which raises LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), lowers HDL cholesterol (the good kind), and increases your risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, trans-fats are in many of the typical Western diet’s mainstays: fast food, donuts, cake, cookies, potato chips, and pastries (just to name a few). All are tasty foods that are made in mass quantities, are readily available, and perhaps most importantly, are convenient. When it comes to “healthy” fats, on the other hand, the choices aren’t as enticing and more often than not, take a bit more effort to work them into the diet. The benefits are, however, WELL worth it:

Monounsaturated Fats

Olive/Canola Oil – Whenever a recipe calls for vegetable oil, use EXTRA VIRGIN olive oil or canola oil instead. Several research studies, as well as real world evidence have shown that diets high in monounsaturated fats lead to increased insulin sensitivity and fat oxidation. What this means is that you tend to use more energy metabolizing this form of fat than the other forms. Pretty neat that eating a fat actually leads to a higher metabolic rate and, in turn, greater fat loss, huh?

Mixed Nuts/Seeds – The one caveat for this section is that peanut allergies are pretty common, so use caution. That said, mixed nuts make for a superb mid-afternoon snack. I prefer whole, raw almonds (which I buy in bulk), but most mixed nut blends would suffice. Pecans, walnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, and cashews are all viable options. Also, for the baseball player in you, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds make awesome snacks. Just be careful with quantities; it doesn’t take a lot of nuts or seeds before the calories add up (they tend to be very calorie dense). Try to limit yourself to a handful if you choose to include these in a meal. And please be sure to buy raw or dry roasted varieties. Many of the “snack” nuts and seeds tend to be highly processed and cooked in peanut/sunflower oil, which adds nasty trans-fat to the mix.

Natural Nut Butters – Again, if you happen to be someone who has an allergy to peanuts, then I wouldn’t recommend indulging in peanut butter too often. That aside, “Natty PB” is an awesome source of MUFA’s. Just make sure that when you go shopping for it, that the only ingredients that you see on the label are peanuts and salt. Steer clear of all the Jif’s, Skippy’s and Peter Pan’s; all of those brands are loaded with trans-fatty acids. You will be better served buying a generic brand natural peanut butter. Also, suck it up and buy the regular kind. There is no need to buy the “reduced-fat” variety, as the manufacturers simply replace the fat with sugar and over process the stuff like you wouldn’t believe. Also, for a true sense of what heaven on Earth must feel like, try to get your hands on some cashew or almond butter. While a bit harder to find (you may have to seek out your local Natural/Organic Food Store), these butters are well worth the effort.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Fish Oil – Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve likely heard about the numerous health benefits of implementing fish oil (more specifically the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexanoic acid, or DHA) into one’s diet. I won’t go into details as to why you should be using fish oil, as there is a plethora of information out there on the numerous benefits of it. Needless to say, if your quest to burn off that pesky fat has come to a standstill, adding some fish oil to the mix may be just the thing you need to stoke the fat burning furnace.

Flax Oil – This is a great source of alpha-linolenic acid, a polyunsaturated fat that the body converts to DHA/EPA in the body, albeit not all that efficiently. Some good products that use flax oil are Udo’s Choice Oil and a few varieties made by Health from the Sun. You can also buy ground flax seeds, which are pretty tasty to add to things such as salads and protein shakes; doing so gives them a bit of a “nutty” flavor.

To reiterate, in the grand scheme of things, as Schutz (2004) wrote, whether or not your body will store excess body fat “is ultimately a problem of chronic positive energy balance mediated by a poor control of energy intake and/or a blunted total energy expenditure (not exercising),” (5). Also, you need to be cognizant of the TYPES of fat you are ingesting, not just the amount. Obviously, if your dietary fat comes from nothing but processed foods (trans-fats), you will suffer the consequences and be well on your way to a world of frustration. On the other hand, if your fat comes from “healthy” sources such as fish oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil, and mixed nuts, you will definitely be well on your way to a healthier and leaner “you”.

A Brief Word on Condiments

I’m not going to lie; condiments can be your best friend when you are dieting. They are useful tools for helping to break the monotony and blandness of your typical diet foods. However, one does need to carefully select which ones to use. Things such as mayonnaise, ketchup, and honey mustard should be avoided due to their high saturated fat (mayo) and sugar (ketchup, honey mustard) content. Miracle Whip, salsa, and regular mustard are much better options. In terms of dressings, I tend to lean towards vinaigrettes and light varieties (less fat and carbs); you can never go wrong with olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Also, there are many spices that one can use to add a little zest to their foods without fear of them backstabbing their fat loss efforts. Creole, oregano, seasoning salt, chili powder, crushed red pepper, salt, pepper, minced garlic/garlic powder, and Mrs. Dash are all spices that I recommend to clients. Don’t be scared to experiment with various condiments, as they can be a crucial element to your success. Just be cautious of some of the “hidden” calories I outlined.

Conclusion

WHEW! Who knew I could be so long-winded? Hopefully, I was able to keep your attention and shed some light on what types of foods should comprise the bulk of your diet. In no way am I suggesting that these are the only foods you should be eating; I’m just reflecting on my own personal experience and experience with clients of mine. In my opinion, these are the foods that will yield the best results in terms of health and physique improvements. Sure, they aren’t the most fun or tasty foods to eat, but if you want to be able to fit into those pair of pants that you haven’t been able to wear since Patrick Swayze was considered cool, or if you want to be able to walk down the beach without fear of twenty year old girls cringing in disgust, then I highly suggest that you take some of these suggestions to heart – and stomach!

Written by Tony Gentilcore

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – You are what you eat – Part II discussion thread.

How to Coax 30lbs Out of Your Bench Press

Are you having trouble putting poundage on your bench press? Let me assure you that you’re not alone.

Besides people asking me how they can improve their vertical jump, or get big, or get lean, or get fast, the most common question I get is people asking me what to do about their bench press.

Let me ask you this: How many consistent squatters do you hear complain about not being able to make gains on their squat? How many consistent deadlifter’s do you hear complain about not being able to make gains on their deadlift?

If you hear the same things I do your answer is probably going to be, “Not very many!” I simply don’t see or hear from many people who squat and deadlift consistently who are unable to make gains on those lifts.

Now here’s another question for you. How many consistent benchers do you hear complain about not being able to make consistent gains on their bench?

Now that question yields a different response doesn’t it? More then any other lift the “bench” is the big one that everybody desires. It’s also the one that the average trainee has the most problems with. Now think about this. Why is it that average trainees (I’m not referring to powerlifters here), have so many problems making any sort of consistent progress on their bench, yet their squats and deadlifts go up easily? Think about that for a second. Ok. Now a couple of more questions:

Illustration of the Problem

How many people would be capable of training their legs the way the average trainee trains their chest? By this I mean, how many people do you see performing forced reps on each and every set of squats? How many people do you see performing a leg workout consisting of 5 sets of 8 squats, often with forced reps on 2 of those sets, followed by 4 sets of 8 hack squats, followed by 4 sets of 15 leg presses, followed by 3 sets of 20 leg extensions? How many people do you see perform a workout like the one I just described who come in the gym the next day and perform a similar workout using the deadlift and other exercises for the backside of the body? You won’t see that very often, if at all, yet you will see people who come in the gym every Monday and perform exactly what I just described for their upper body. They’ll do 4 sets of 8 benches with forced reps on at least 2 of those sets. They’ll follow this up with 4 sets of 8 incline dumbbell presses, followed by decline presses or dips, followed by a fly movement.

You’ll see these same people come in the next day and do basically the same thing for “back” or “shoulders”. Now, you might not be doing that much volume, but chances are what I’m describing isn’t all that far off. I’ve even seen plenty of high school and even collegiate coaches recommend a routine very similar to what I just described. You could even cut the volume in half and it would still be about twice as much as the average lifter uses on lower body. Hell, no wonder everybody’s bench is stuck.

The Problem – Defined

The problem is simple and let me sum it up. The reason many people get stuck on their bench is because they kill their upper body pressing muscles with too much volume and fatigue in pursuit of hypertrophy. Now there’s nothing wrong with getting huge. The problem is, everybody wants a huge upper body but there is a difference in training for a “huge” upper body and a “strong” upper body. Strength training is not size training. Yes, strength correlates with size and size correlates with strength but they do not share a completely linear correlation. In other words, the training necessary to stimulate optimum hypertrophy is generally too much volume to stimulate strength gains optimally. Your nerves fire your muscles and the junction that joins your nervous system to the muscle (the neuromuscular junction), can easily become overworked. Muscles themselves can withstand much more high intensity stress then the nervous system that controls those muscles.

In order to “tear down” a lot of muscle (necessary for hypertrophy), your nerves and your neuromuscular junctions have to fire first. Since the threshold for their fatigue is generally less then the muscle itself, they get chronically drained. Thus, making consistent strength gains often becomes a difficult process for those who train on a typical American format. Therefore, to maximize strength you need to train for it. Training for it means more of a focus on the load being lifted and minimal muscle fatigue instead of a focus on generating the most muscle fatigue possible.

Upper Body is Easy – Leg Training Hurts

This isn’t much of a problem with leg training because it’s so painful and the volume necessary to generate lots of nervous system fatigue requires more pain and gut busting work then most people are apt to perform. However, upper body training is relatively easy and even the scrawniest outfit will perform an upper body workout with enough volume to leave aspects of his nervous system as beat as a bowl of mashed rice. Think about it. When was the last time you saw a 450 + lb bencher doing forced reps on each and every set with their partner yelling “It’s all you man!” When was the last time you saw the 135 lb benchers doing that? When was the last time you saw a really strong bencher run through the typical bodybuilding “chest” workout every Monday of bench presses, incline DB presses, decline presses, and flyes? You’ll rarely, if ever, see that. When the strong guys train they complete their repetitions and, compared to a bodybuilder, they use a low volume of specific work generally training the entire upper body in on session. They’ll use a couple compound movements and a few isolation exercises.

Do you think maybe the reason people make consistent gains in squat and deadlift is because they’re not pounding the working muscles into total submission? They do enough work to “stimulate”, but not to “annihilate”. Now what if we took that same approach and applied it to our bench press?

Stimulation vs Annihilation

If you want a strong bench you have to “coax” your muscles, not punish them into submission. The acquisition of strength is a skill that requires “practice” lifting heavy loads, which requires a fairly fresh nervous system.

What I have here is just the workout for all those “stuck benches” out there. It’s a 6-week routine that should add a minimum of 20 lbs to your bench. It’s a simple scheme that “coaxes” your muscles and allows you to zero in on your target. I did a routine nearly identical to this one 11 years ago and it worked beautifully. At the time I didn’t know why it worked I just knew it did. Over the years I’ve had many other people use a version of it and it’s never failed to generate impressive bench press increases without a lot of complexity or guesswork.

Before I get into the specifics let me give you a few options for setting up your training split. The split can be quite flexible and chances are you don’t have to get far away from the split you’re currently using. The best thing for all you pump lovers is you can still continue to generate some productive hypertrophy.

Option 1

Train your entire upper body in one workout and have another day for legs. This option would look something like this:

Day 1- Upper Body Day

  • Bench routine – described below
  • Horizontal rowing movement- (t-bar row, seated row, single arm dumbbell row) – 4-5 x 6-8
  • Shoulder lateral movement- (side laterals, front laterals) – 2-3 x 12-15
  • Assistance bench or chest movement (flat or incline dumbbell press, dumbbell fly) – 4 x 6-8
  • Triceps movement- (pushdown, decline extension) 3-4 x 8-10

Day 3- Lower Body – Your choice – Feel free to perform vertical jump, speed, or whatever training you need to for your lower body on this day in addition to or in place of weights. Add a biceps movement if you feel the need to.

Train every other day alternating between the 2 workouts so that you hit upper body every 4th day and lower body every 4th day.

Option 2

Train pushing muscles one day and pulling muscles with legs on another day. This option might look something like this:

Workout 1- Push

  • Bench routine- described below
  • Dumbbell press- 4 x 6-8
  • Semi-supinated dumbbell overhead press – 4 x 6-8
  • Triceps push down- 4 x 8-10

Workout 2- Pull/Legs

  • Optional plyometric, vertical jump, or speed training
  • Wide Grip chin- 4 x 6-8
  • Single arm dumbbell row- 3 x 8-10
  • Bicep movement – 3-4 x 8-10
  • Squat – 4 x 5
  • Romanian Dead lift + shrug – 4 x 8

Perform each workout twice per week at your convenience. What follows is an example:

  • Mon- workout 1
  • Tues- workout 2
  • Wed- off
  • Thurs- workout 1
  • Fri- off
  • Sat- workout 2
  • Sun- off
  • Mon- Start over

The Cure

OK. Now here’s the actual bench workout itself. It will consist of 12 workouts. Each time you train the upper body pushing muscles, you will do one of these workouts on the bench press itself. On these days, the only other exercises that are mandatory are one bench assistance or chest movement for 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps (flat dumbbell presses, flyes etc.) and one triceps movement for 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps. (pushdowns, extensions, etc.) Alternate your assistance or chest exercises. Use an isolation chest exercise such as flyes one workout and then use a compound pressing movement such as dumbbell presses the following workout. Stay a rep or 2 shy of failure on all assistance movements. Let yourself fully rest in between sets.

Workout Sets and Reps Percentage
1 8, 6, 5 65,70,75
2 5,3,1 70,80,90
3 8,6,5 65,70,85
4 5,3,1 75,85,90
5 6, 5, max reps* 75, 85, 85
6 3, 2, Iso hold at midpoint** 85, 95, 105
7 5, 5, max reps 75, 90, 90
8 3, 2, Iso hold at midpoint 85, 100, 110
9 5, 5, max reps 80, 90, 90
10 3, 1, Iso hold at midpoint 95, 105, 115
11 5, 5, max reps 85, 95, 95
12 3, 2, 1 95, 105, 110

* Use the same weight you use in set #2 and perform as many reps as possible. If you do 8 or more, then in your next workout base your percentages off a load 5 lbs heavier then your original. If you do 3 or less base your percentages off a load 5 lbs lighter then your original.

** Here you’ll perform an isometric hold at the midpoint. Make sure you use a spotter. Unrack the weight, lower to the midpoint of the movement where your arms are roughly parallel to the floor, and attempt to hold the weight at the midpoint for 5 seconds. Try to resist the load as you fatigue. Have a spotter help you re-rack the weight.

Before you start the workout you will need to determine your 1RM in the bench press. To determine your training weights just take your max and multiply it by the percentages listed in column 3. For example, let’s say your max bench was 200 lbs. That means your first workout would look like this:

Workout 1

  • 130 x 8 (65%)
  • 140 x 6 (70%)
  • 150 x 5 (75%)

In Workout 5 you’ll notice an asterisk that says “max reps”. This means you will use the same load as you did in set 2 and try to perform as many reps as possible. If you achieve 8 or more reps assume a 5 lb increase in your max bench and use that weight to figure your percents.

Let’s say our 200 lb. Bench presser achieve 8 reps on set 3 in workout 5. In workout 6 he would assume a 205 lb max bench instead of 200. So his training weights in workout 6 would be:

Workout 6

  • 174.25 x 3 (round-up to 175)
  • 184.50 x 2 (round-up to 185)
  • 215.24 x isometric hold (round down to 215)

You should always round to the closest multiple of 5. If he had achieved 3 reps or less on set 3 of workout 5 he would assume a max of 195.

Make sure you can complete all your sets and keep the bar speed as high as possible on all the sets except for the “max reps” and the “iso-holds”. This means if you can’t complete the required reps for the first 2 sets of any given workout you need to decrease the weight by at least 5 lbs.

At the conclusion of this 6-week specialization scheme you’ll want to spend a couple of weeks solidifying your gains. I recommend you keep the weights below 85% for a couple of weeks, for sets of up to 5 reps, and eliminate any highly intense methods like the iso holds and max reps. After a couple of weeks of maintenance training, a hypertrophy phase would be just the ticket.

Written by Kelly Baggett

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – How to Coax 30lbs Out of Your Bench Press
discussion thread
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You are what you eat – Part I

As a personal trainer, I am constantly seeing and hearing things in the gym that boggle the mind. Some of the more comical examples include:

1. Guys who use the same exact weight day-in and day-out for 3 sets of 10 and look the same now as they did three years ago.

2. An Epidemic of Inflated-Lat Syndrome (ILS).

3. “Universal Bench Day” (Monday, of course).

4. Women who wear make-up to the gym. Why?

5. “Dude, did you check out the latest issue of Muscle & Fitness? I am so gonna buy that Mass Formula Protein Synthesizer 3000 that this huge dude is pimpin’. My man got jacked using that stuff.”

Needless to say, the list could go on and on. While all these examples are quite comical, there are many issues that are just downright frustrating and make me want to pull my hair out. Most notably, it drives me crazy when I overhear someone’s tale about how they spend hours upon hours in the gym, and yet they just can’t get rid of that stubborn excess body fat. These are the same people that proclaim, “I eat so healthy; I just don’t understand why I am 20 pound overweight!” These are also the same people I see purchasing pizza and fried chicken fingers along with diet soda (cause it cancels out the pizza) in the cafeteria each day for lunch. With these misguided souls in mind, I decided to write this article. I like to think of it as the “Cliff’s Notes of Grocery Shopping for Newbies” – or those simply interested in a lean AND healthy body.

Let’s get to it!

There are many things in life that we covet. Some desire noble things such as world peace and a cure for cancer. Some desire tangible, pricey items such as a 60-inch plasma screen television, or a stereo system in their car that would rival that of any rap star or professional athlete you see on MTV “Cribs.” And others even desire outlandish things such as Jennifer Garner feeding grapes while on vacation in Hawaii, or a law that mandates that anyone caught curling in the squat rack shall be executed immediately. Personally, I am quite fond of the final two options. Then again, why have one Jennifer when you can have two? Come on down, Mrs. Lopez! Your husband is a skinny, no-talent tool, anyway.

Suffice it to say that many people want different things. If you’re reading Wannabebig, it’s probably a safe bet to assume that to some degree or another, you want a healthy, strong, and lean body. Many of you are quick to take up the latest training routine about which you’ve read, and you walk into the gym with a sense of dedication that would make any 30 year-old virgin proud. You spend endless hours counting your total number of sets and reps and calculate TUT with meticulous fervor

You make certain that you are constantly pushing yourself by lifting more weight with each training session and gauge your progress with complex mathematical formulas. All this devotion is fine and dandy – not to mention quite admirable – if you are willing to put that much effort into changing your body. However, while some may come across as Einstein in the weight room, many come across as Bozo the Clown when it comes to matters outside of the gym.

If you haven’t guessed already, I am referring to the fact that what people stuff down their pie holes has a HUGE impact on their progress (or lack thereof). It never ceases to amaze me how dense people can be when it comes to their diet. Many will automatically assume that since they just spent 90 minutes “working out,” they can eat whatever they want. I use the phrase “working out” hesitantly, because some individuals’ definition of “working out” consists of walking on the treadmill at a pace an 85 year-old grandmother could handle while watching Oprah. Or, these folks simply do chest and biceps three times per week because, well, deadlifts and squats “aren’t as fun and are too hard!” Sure, one of the many benefits of participating in a consistent training program is that you can get away with eating more food. However, I have seen people bust their tail in the gym only to follow that up with a meal consisting of pizza and french fries! Then they’re left perplexed when they try to figure out why they’re not getting any leaner despite spending inordinate amounts of time in the gym.

So I have compiled a list of the types of foods that I tend to give all my new clients when they want to “lean out,” or do a “clean bulk.” With respect to both of these goals, diet tends to be the X-factor and I often stress to my clients that no training regimen is going to compensate for poor food choices. Who woulda thunk it? After all, you are what you eat!

Carbohydrates

In recent years, carbohydrates have gained a notoriety that would rival only that of a BackStreet Boys reunion tour. In other words, people fear them. Today, we are bombarded with foods that use the term “net carbs” on their labels and many of the popular fad diets advocate few to no carbs, including fruits of all things! Sure, we all know that fruit is responsible for the modern obesity epidemic! Listen, carbohydrates are not your enemy. Going into depth about carbohydrate metabolism and storage is beyond the scope of this article and quite frankly is not necessary. Yes, carbohydrates do play a role in why obesity and type-2 diabetes have become serious problems in this country, but to say that carbohydrates in a broad sense are the sole culprit would be completely incorrect. More often than not, it’s the TYPES of carbohydrates that people ingest or poor meal timing and lack of regular physical activity that cause the problems. Needless to say, most people just need to learn that there are times in the day where you want to ingest certain types of carbs and times in the day when these carb sources are best left in the cupboard. Then, there are a host of carb sources that don’t belong in your cupboard in the first place!

And those times would be?

Significant carbohydrate consumption should be limited to the 4-6 hours post-workout only. The lone exception would be if you train late in the afternoon or in the early evening. In this scenario, it would be feasible to ingest some quality carbs as part of your breakfast in order to take advantage of normal circadian rhythms (preparing the body for the activity ahead in the day) and the fact that one has been fasting for 8-10 hours (therefore, liver glycogen is relatively low). Your body is most insulin sensitive first thing in the morning (after an overnight fast) and post-workout when muscle glycogen is depleted and glucose transport is working at optimum efficiency. Generally speaking, these are the times when your body is going to make good use of those carbs, not wear them.

Post Workout Carbohydrates (High GI) Maltodextrin and Dextrose

Results from numerous of scientific studies have demonstrated that supplementing with some fast acting (simple) carbohydrates, in conjunction with some protein, during and immediately following a training session will drastically improve performance as well as help with gaining lean muscle mass and losing body fat (3-5). This research is the basis for writing on the topic from many prominent fitness and nutrition experts such as Dr. John Berardi and Dr. Lonnie Lowery to name a few. Incorporating such nutrition during and after training sessions will replenish depleted glycogen stores, blunt cortisol secretion, and promote protein synthesis. If you don’t understand a thing I’m saying, just trust me, all are good things.

Of course, a noteworthy debate actually rages on concerning post-workout nutrition and the use of fast acting carbohydrates in weight-training individuals. A resistance training session typically does not deplete muscle glycogen (stored sugar) stores nearly as much as an endurance training session, and the need (or lack thereof) to supplement with liquid carbohydrates or not is a matter of both exercise volume and intensity. In essence, one might not NEED to supplement with liquid carbohydrates in the post-workout period and could instead use whole food options. Truthfully, when I work with an ordinary person (with general fitness goals) who is trying to diet down, I often recommend that they just stick with the whole foods listed below. In my experience, when one is dieting, it is more fulfilling for them to eat their calories rather than drink them, but this can be highly individual. With that being said, a general rule to follow would be liquid carbs while “bulking” and whole food carb sources while dieting.

Other Times in the Day (Low GI)

At other times in the day, you should focus more on low GI carbohydrates in order to keep insulin levels in check. I advocate that you follow up your post-training drink with 1-2 meals consisting of protein and some of the following carbohydrates:

Rolled Oats – These are a superb choice for both breakfast and during the “anabolic window” following a training session. You get 32 grams of quality carbs (all of which are sugar free) – including 5g of fiber – from ½ cup of oats. I like to add a scoop or two of chocolate whey protein with some blueberries or a banana to the mix. Just be certain that you use 100% rolled oats and NOT the flavored, kiddy version oatmeal packets.

Sweet Potatoes/Yams – Okay, first off, for the love of all that is holy, a sweet potato is NOT a yam. While they are generally viewed as the same thing, they are actually quite different. Sweet potatoes originate from the root of a vine in the morning glory family and are native to the “New World tropics.” They often have pale/orange and smooth skin. Yams, on the other hand, originate from the tuber of a tropical vine and have a brown/ black and rough skin; they may grow to be up to seven feet long! That’s a whole lotta’ yam. Yes, I am officially a dork because I know this information. Yams are actually quite hard to find here in the US, but the Department of Agriculture requires that the label “yam” always be accompanied with “sweet potato” – hence the confusion. In any case, I like to cut them up, bake them in the oven, and then mash them up with Splenda and cinnamon to use as part of a post-training meal.

Whole Grains (Pasta, Bread, Cereal) – Any time you can substitute whole grain variations of food over their alternatives, you are better off. These variations tend to be less processed and therefore retain much of their original fiber, vitamins, and minerals after packaging. In terms of pasta, I like a brand made by Hodgeson Mills. This brand has whole wheat and spinach versions with added flax; they pack a whopping nine grams of fiber. However, almost any whole wheat or spinach pasta is a great choice. As far as breads are concerned, you have to make certain that you read labels. Many brands are sneaky and claim to be whole wheat when in fact they are just white bread with added brown dye. Seriously, be adamant about reading labels. I prefer flax and multigrain breads.

Cereals deserve their own section because they hold a special place in my heart. God created women, and he created the people who invented cereal, and I love them all. Depending on an individual’s goal, I recommend different types of cereal. If an individual is looking to lean up a bit, I recommend more whole grain cereals such as Fiber One and Bran Flakes. They may not be all that tasty, but they do have MUCH less sugar and are therefore more conducive to fat loss. Again, one way you can tweak them to taste better is to add some flavored whey protein or Splenda to them.

If someone is looking to “bulk,” I encourage them to go ahead and eat some “fun” cereal, as these cereals tend to be a little more calorie dense and lower in fiber. These two characteristics make it easier to meet caloric needs when someone is looking to eat at a surplus. Some good ones that immediately pop into my head are Smart Start, Fruity Pebbles, Golden Grahams, or anything that is in a really bright box and has a leprechaun, a silly rabbit, or a certain tiger with the same name as me on its cover.

Fruits/Veggies – This goes without saying, but your mother was right when she told you that you need to eat your fruits and vegetables. Doing this guarantees that you get a healthy dose of essential vitamins and minerals – the more variety the better. I strongly encourage clients to ingest some sort of fruit and/or vegetable with each meal. Let’s be honest – eating a bowl of veggies is about as enticing as a 20-rep set of squats. So a little trick that I like to do is to add vegetables to certain meals. In the morning I will add some mixed vegetables or fresh leafy spinach to my omelet; at night, I’ll put some broccoli in my pasta. As far as fruit is concerned, just be a little leery of eating it immediately post-training. The goal during this time is to spike insulin levels quickly so that it can do its job and shuttle nutrients into muscle cells. Fructose, while still a sugar capable of spiking insulin, must first be metabolized by the liver and converted to glucose, which takes time. Hence, it isn’t ideal to ingest fructose at this crucial time. A good way to ensure a wide variety of fruits in the diet is to buy certain fruits as they are in season; doing so will also be cheaper.

Enjoyed that? Check out You Are What You Eat – Part Two!

Written by Tony Gentilcore

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Wannabebig Tool Box

As a lifter matures so should their arsenal of exercises they draw from. Just as a mechanic reaches into their toolbox and chooses the appropriate tool to fix the problem they’re working on, so should a lifter when it comes to fixing their weak links. And since plateaus are inevitable, it’s very important that a lifter is well equipped with the proper exercises that will carry them over and beyond their plateau.

But remember that these exercise are just that, exercises. How you apply these exercises is very important and can be a deciding factor whether you get stronger or continue spinning your wheels. Understanding what an exercise does can make the job a bit easier to fit into a program.

Below I have listed some exercises that will boost your weak areas and build a stronger foundation in which you can lay down more muscle and increase your strength.

Static Barbell Walkout
:

What it does: Loading the forearms by way of static movements are a great way to build gripping strength. However taking this one step further, adding a dynamic component to static holds can do wonders for increasing grip strength. Instead of just holding onto the bar as long as you can, the focus of this movement is to release your grip and then grip the bar working your hands all the way out to the end of the barbell and back to your starting position.

How to do it:
Load the bar up with the weight you would use to do shrugs. Now, holding onto the bar take whichever hand you want to start with work your way out to the end of the barbell and back to your starting position. Repeat with the other hand. Don’t use a mixed grip, if you can’t hold on to the bar, lower the weight. Use an overhand grip and move each hand out at least 4 times and 4 times back. As mom always said, “keep your back straight!” If you thought static holds were tough, try this exercise on for size!



Mistakes: Don’t let go of the bar!

Seated Unsupported Dumbbell Shoulder Press

What it does: This exercise can do wonders for a pair of lagging shoulders. If you normally use a back support you’ll be quickly humbled when you perform this movement.

Since there is no support for the upper or lower back and the feet are straight out in front of you the shoulders take the brunt of the load. If you suffer from flexibility issues in the hip flexors or the hamstrings this exercise may not be for you.
You may also find a tendency to want to lean back. This is the main reason why this exercise is too difficult. If you have a partner ask him/her to press against the upper back while you are pressing to ensure that you are maintaining an upright position.

How to do it: Sitting on a bench with your feet straight out in front of you with the back in an upright position, assume the starting position of a dumbbell shoulder press. Now press!

Mistakes: Leaning back. This problem can be remedied by either stretching the hamstrings and/or hip flexors. Another common problem is not being able to press straight up so the dumbbells touch each other overhead. Stretching the pecs before and during the movement may alleviate the problem. Forget what you’ve read about static stretching before exercise being detrimental towards exercise performance. It’s all in the application.

The One Arm Barbell Press

What it does: One arm lifts are making a come back. Not only will you look cool, but you’ll also be improving your grip, coordination and core strength. The one-armed barbell press is just one of many variations that can be implemented into a program.

How to do it:
Standing in an upright position with the barbell in either hand press it towards the ceiling while trying to maintain a straight back. To make the exercise a bit more challenging a twist can be added so the oblique muscles are dynamically working as opposed to statically.

Mistakes: You can’t get it up because the bar is too heavy and it moves. To remedy this, start with a dumbbell and then move to a mid size Olympic bar and then on to the barbell. Another big mistake is leaning to the side when lifting. Try to maintain an upright position, as this is primarily a shoulder movement. As mentioned before, if you want to bring the oblique muscles into the exercise bending to the side or twisting can be added to the movement.

Cambered Bar Extensions

What it does: Two exercises have been blended into one which makes this exercise very effective at building up the posterior chain. If your squat or dead lift is lagging or you’re an athlete who wants to build a stronger backside to increase their explosive power this exercise should be a part of your routine.

How to do it: Grab a cambered bar and set up on the hyper-extension machine and perform some extensions. This movement is very basic.

Mistakes: Not bending from the hips and rounding the mid back is a sure recipe for an injury. Another is to let the chin tuck in which can cause the back to round. Keep the head in line with the rest of the body and bend at the hips. Basically the way a stiff legged dead lift is performed.

Applied properly these movements can be a valuable addition to any strength program.

Written by Maki Riddington

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Born Again Lifter

Praised be….I’m born again!

Five weeks after poor lifting technique and resulting back trouble knocked me out of the gym, I returned to the squat rack with an inspired mission. To help others in a similar post rehab situation regain their lost form and physique – safely, sanely, and effectively.

For any dedicated trainer who has been forced to take a lifting holiday, gaining back all that hard earned muscle mass is priority number one. I was amazed at how my previously strong quads developed the consistency of marshmallow fluff in only a couple of weeks.

Yet the amount of muscle atrophy I saw (and felt), only served to make me work twice as hard – once I got clearance to return to the weights. The challenge was not only to train hard, but more importantly, intelligently. I was determined to use my injury as a learning opportunity to lift right and lift better. Everything, I told myself, happens for a reason. Simply put, my injury was a reason to smarten up.

Based on my experiences, I offer five suggestions for those who are eager to fast forward their lifting gains after a prolonged workout hiatus.

1) Measuring myself against others

My first departure from old habits was to stop measuring myself against what others were doing in the weight room. This was no easy task, given the competitive nature of the gym. I am very conscious, as I think we all are, of the pushing and pulling, heaving, and hoisting in the gym. But only after my injury, did I realize what a disservice my comparisons were doing. As a smaller, shorter guy with a quest to catch up to men bigger, wider, and thicker than me, I would routinely sacrifice good form for more iron. For that effort, I was rewarded with an all expenses paid vacation to Disabled List resort and spa.

But starting after rehab means starting over from scratch, with weights that feel more appropriate for Fisher Price Toys than for Hammer Strength machines. Working with such low poundage, it seemed ridiculous to continue comparing myself to Floyd the Flexer on my left or Gunther the Grunter on my right. If it took having to use Barbie weights to wean my focus away from other lifters’ performances, I’d have to say it was worth that dent to my ego.

I’m certainly not blind to what goes on five, ten, or fifteen feet away from me. Watching men press twice my max weights can sometimes leave me feeling as big as Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny – our buddies from South Park.

Nonetheless, I’ve learned to swallow my pride and press what I can handle with a steady, slow, and deliberate movement. My ego may be shattered, but better that then my clavicle, my hip, or my spine.

With this focus, I was able to adopt strategy number two…

2) Using the wristwatch secondhand.

While all of us are meticulous about planning out reps, sets, and poundage goals – how many of us pay attention to the time we rest between sets? If we, the recently rehabbed, don’t incorporate dedicated and timed rest intervals into our training, we are missing out on an excellent strategy to boost our gains. Why?

Watching the stop-clock is another great way to enhance the mind-muscle connection. When you pay attention to your time off between sets, you become more mentally engaged and invested in your workout. The rest period is no longer a momentary lull of distraction from your lifting. Your pre-set rest now becomes an active part of your training. The time you’ve determined to recover between sets becomes as much a goal as your reps, sets, and weight load. Instead of taking as much time as you feel like between sets, you know you are restricted to 60, 90, or 120 seconds, etc. That mind-muscle connection will make you work harder and accomplish more.

Compare this strategy to the one some or many of us employ. We finish a hard set, we drop the weights, and then proceed to a) check our cell phone for messages which we promise will not take more than 30 seconds, but winds up lasting more than five minutes, b) start a conversation with someone which we promise will not take more than 30 seconds, but winds up lasting more than five minutes, or c) steal a peak of that night’s major league baseball game on the cardio theatre television screens which we promise will not take more than 30 seconds, but winds up lasting more than five minutes. So, which strategy makes us work harder? It’s easy to see how any rest time distraction takes the focus off of what we should be doing, and on to something completely unrelated to our purpose in the gym. That breaks the mind-muscle connection, and any benefit to our goal that comes with the connection.

But paying attention to the second hand does not have to mean staring passively into a watch dial, waiting for the allotted time to expire. Consider using the interlude to review your set. How did you do? How was your tempo, your form, your breathing? Can you improve anything on your next set? Here is another way how the planned rest can intensify the mind-muscle connection and ultimately your performance.

**One exception to the above rule. The only time attention to the stop watch should be suspended, is when you are asked by another lifter to share your bench. Nobody likes the guy or woman who refuses to let someone else work in. So what if you may have to wait a couple more minutes before you start your next set. Big deal. Better to be a gym gentleman or gentlewoman, than a gym jerk. There are enough of those.

But if you want to minimize the possibility of having to constantly share your bench, strategy number three helps you do that, while simultaneously adding another opportunity to maximize your gains after a long absence.

3) Workout at off-peak hours.

If you have the flexibility in your daily routine, hitting the gym when fewer people are there can significantly help you get back to top form more quickly. Your workouts will take less time when less people are vying for your bench. That means they will be more intense, more focused, and more productive.

4) Speak up!

Gym culture is also and often a ruggedly independent culture. Like guys who think that asking for driving directions is a blemish to their manhood, so too are there men who feel that asking for a spot will brand them a lifting loser for life. Not only is that attitude dumb, it’s dangerous. If you’re returning to the gym after an injury or prolonged hiatus, having a spotter support you on your challenging lifts will ensure you stay safe while trying to get back to your PR levels. Even when you’re fully healthy, a spotter is always the best way to help you bang out that last rep.

5) Know your limits

Getting injured just plain sucks. And once you finally get back in the gym, you’re dealing with the frustration, embarrassment, and even depression because you’re starting from scratch. You’re accustomed to shooting for a “personal best,” and now you’re lifting your “personal worst.”

But pushing yourself beyond what your body can handle only sets you up for the real possibility of re-injury. You don’t want that. Take it easy on the gym floor. This point is so obvious it shouldn’t even have to be mentioned. But invariably there are always those guys who declare themselves fit and ready to tear up the weights again. Not so fast! Just because the afflicted body part feels fine during regular day to day activity, does not mean that it is fine while under a weighted load. I should know. I’ve made this mistake one too many times myself. And I have paid the price by having to rest my injury longer than if I had just left it alone in the first place.

Compared to the decades of weight lifting fun you’ve got ahead of you, waiting an extra week or two should be not be a big deal.

In conclusion, I feel that when it comes to making progress in the gym after an extended time away, lifters have a marked advantage over the general population. And it’s not just because they recover more quickly due to their higher state of physical conditioning. Lifters, by nature, are a disciplined species. The discipline that contributes to achieving superior levels of strength and size, can equally contribute to demonstrating prudence and caution when lifting after injury. To not apply that sense of discipline, intelligence, and patience that are the true markers of a dedicated strength trainer, is to subvert the very qualities that make us unique.

Written by Lorne Opler

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