Shouldering Through The Pain

Death, taxes and shoulder pain; everyone has to deal with these issues at some point in their life. After low back pain, shoulder pain is the second most common complaint in the work force (1). And that’s in a sedentary environment. The risk increases when you place someone in a gym and add hundreds of pounds of force on the shoulder joints. That’s because the shoulder area is the most complex region of the body. It’s also due in part to poorly designed training programs, strength imbalances in and around the shoulder, and improper loading of the shoulder girdle. As a result the price that is paid usually ends up being an injury.

Whether you’re a competitive athlete, an avid strength trainer, or someone involved in a power sport, you can be sure the shoulders will take a beating. The key to ensuring that the risk of injury to the shoulder complex decreases is to have a firm grasp of what precautions should be taken to strengthen the shoulders, and to fit them into your current program.

Under the Surface: Shoulder Anatomy

A basic understanding of what the muscles in and around the shoulder do can be helpful in diagnosing and treating weaknesses and in preventing injury. The shoulder is comprised of several joints that combine muscles and tendons that allow for a wide range of motions to occur. If you’ve heard of the rotator cuff, then you might know what they do. They are four muscles that act to stabilize the glenohumeral joint (which is one of the four joints of the shoulder region that work together to create a controlled movement in the shoulder complex).

The four muscles of the rotator cuff (and their function) are as follows:

  1. Supraspinatus – inward rotation, arm extension, arm hyperextension, and arm adduction
  2. Infraspinatus – outward rotation, horizontal abduction, arm adduction, arm abduction
  3. Teres minor – outward rotation, arm extension, arm hyperextension, arm adduction, arm horizontal abduction
  4. Subscapularis – arm abduction

The other muscles of the shoulder are the posterior delt, the anterior delt, the side deltoid, the caracobrachialis, the pectoralis major, the latissimus dorsi, and the teres major. Other muscles of the shoulder girdle are the trapezius, the rhomboids, the levator scapulae, and the serratus anterior. Synergist arm muscles include the triceps brachii, and the biceps brachii.

Moving the Shoulder

Perhaps more important than understanding what the muscles of the shoulder do is to know what the movements of the shoulder joint and girdle are. Once this is achieved, an effective program can be designed that addresses specific areas of concern that pertain to the lifter’s situation.

Below are the basic movements that can be performed at the shoulder complex.

Arm abduction – raising the arm up and away from the body, as in a lateral raise.

Arm adduction – pulling the arm down to the body, as in the eccentric phase of a lateral raise.

Arm horizontal abduction – pulling the arms out away from the body, as in a bent-over lateral raise.

Arm horizontal adduction – pulling the arms in front of the body, as in dumbell flyes.

Arm flexion – raising the arms in front of the body, as in a front raise.

Arm extension – pulling the arms down to the sides of the body, as in a straight-arm pull down.

Arm hyperextension – pulling the arms back behind the body, as in the final portion of a swimming stroke before the overwater recovery.

Arm inward rotation – rotation of the arm in towards the body, as in an internal rotation exercise.

Arm outward rotation – rotation of the arm away from the body, as in external rotation exercise.

Scapula adduction – scapula pulling together towards the center of the body, as in a prone shrug.



Scapula abduction – scapula pulling apart, as in a lat spread.

Scapula outward rotation – scapula rotating out and upwards, as in an overhead shrug.

Scapula inward rotation – scapula rotating down and inward, as when doing a pulldown.

Scapula elevation – scapula rising upward, as in a traditional shrug.

Scapula depression – scapula lowering, as in a reverse shrug (hard to see in pic).

Mobility Training

Mobility is defined as “the ability and willingness to move or change” which, in the case of the shoulder complex, can be dependant on motor skill. Things such as posture can impair motor skill, which in turn can reduce the movement throughout the shoulder complex. If mobility of the shoulder complex is compromised then mobility training should be incorporated. This allows the joints to be taken through a variety of movements in a controlled yet dynamic motion. Mobility training also increases blood flow to the joints and lubricates them. Below are some mobility exercises that can be performed.

Arm Circles – A simple and great calisthenics movement, this will warm up the shoulder girdle. Start slow with small circles – forward circles and backward circles. Gradually, over time, increase the size and speed of the circles. As with all of these movements, it should be a movement that you will progressively improve upon.

Shoulder Dislocates – This is a great movement for building flexibility and warming up the shoulder girdle. They can be done with a broomstick/dowel, a rope, an elastic band or tubing. It can be performed as a static stretch as well, by holding the movement at a particular point, but most people will do it as a dynamic stretch. Make sure to start with your arms wide and gradually decrease the distance between your hands as you become more flexible.

Broom Shoulder Twist – This movement can be done with or without a broomstick. When done without the broomstick, the swinging of the arm backward will elicit the stretch. With a broomstick however, it is easier to add pressure, as well as do the stretch statically.

Shoulder Stretching

The stretches below should be done post-workout when the joints are well- lubricated and blood flow is increased.

Rhomboid Stretch – This is a difficult movement to see but, if done correctly, will hit the middle of your back like nobody’s business. Leaning over, reach over and grasp the opposite leg at the shin and pull yourself toward the leg while rotating your torso away. Be careful not to be overzealous with this stretch as most people will be pretty inflexible in the movement at first.

Trapezius Stretch – This is a great stretch for the trapezius and the subclavical. Begin by placing your right hand behind your back. Then, with the left hand, gently pull the right hand to the left. At the same time, tilt the head slowly to the left. You will feel a stretch throughout the right side of your trapezius. By tilting the head backwards slightly, you will feel a stretch throughout your subclavicular region. Repeat on the opposite side of the body.

Lat & Middle Back Stretch – This can be done on a chair (as pictured), or on a barbell or mantle. It can be done at different heights as well.

Internal-External Rotation Stretch – This exercise can be done with added resistance as in the doorway stretch, but simply contracting the opposing muscle groups will probably provide enough of a stretch.

Lat and Triceps Stretch

Doorway Stretch

Cross-Chest Stretch

Back Scratch

Skin the Cat – As we all know, there is more than one way to skin a cat… Seriously, this movement can be done by sitting on the floor and inching the hands backwards, or on a mantle. Gymnasts can do this on the rings apparatus — not recommended unless you have already taken the time and effort necessary to build up the prerequisite strength and flexibility.

Elbows Forward Stretch

Strengthening The Shoulder

The shoulder and arm move efficiently when the coordinated movement of the scapula and humerus, (scapulohumeral rhythm) act together. Scapular and humeral coordination also involves the stabilising muscles of the scapula working in concert with the rotator-cuff stabilising muscles of the gleno-humeral joint. By using various strengthening movements the scapula can hold its position correctly. This is turn allows the rotator cuff to do its job more effectively. Below, are a variety of strengthening movements that will help strengthen and increase the function of the shoulder complex


This is an exercise that seems to have fallen out of favor in gyms in recent years. It is an exercise that can be deceptively easy to pile the weight onto, but if you maintain a full range of motion be careful about doing too much. Pullovers hit a wide range of muscles throughout the shoulder girdle.

Bent-Over Front Raise

The bent-over front raise is another exercise that you rarely see performed in gyms, but it is a wonderful exercise for muscles involved in outward rotation and arm flexion. The targeted range of motion differs from a traditional front raise and would be more comparable to a less ballistic snatch-type of movement.


Flyes are traditionally thought of as a pec builder, however they are a tremendous developer of functional flexibility.


Arm hyperextension is a range of motion that most trainees never develop. The teres minor and subscapularis (two of the four rotator cuff muscles) are involved in this movement, as well as the posterior delts, lats, and synergists that control the movement of the scapulae.

Bent-Over Laterals

Bent-Over Laterals are one of the best exercises to target the muscles that assist horizontal arm adduction, arm outward rotation, and scapula inward rotation.

External Rotator Exercises

External rotator exercises can be done a variety of ways. Below, are two ways, though there are many more. Other more common methods of performing the exercise include lying on the floor or standing, using stretch cords/bands for resistance.

Internal Rotator

As with external rotator exercises, internal rotator exercises can be easily performed lying on the ground or standing, using straight weight or stretch cords/bands.


Shrugs of all kinds are indispensable in an exercise arsenal dedicated to strengthening the shoulder girdle. For everything you’ve ever wanted to know about shrugs, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy of Paul Kelso’s book on the subject, aptly titled “Kelso’s Shrug Book”.

Chest Supported Shrug (aka “Kelso Shrugs”)

Push-Up Shrug

A “bench press shrug” is a great substitute for this exercise and resistance is more easily added)

Dip Shrug

Pulldown Shrug


Overhead Shrug


Wrapping It Up

Training the shoulders can be a science, however a little bit of knowledge can go a long way. This article has only skimmed the surface of a vast and complex topic. Using the information presented, try to apply some of it to your current workout, or revamp your routine so your shoulders are saved from any further beatings they may be taking at the gym.

Written by Boris Bachmann

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 – Shouldering Through the Pain discussion thread.

An Interview with Deadlift Specialist – Brent Howard

Brent Howard (a.k.a. “Sgt. Rock”) is a celebrity of sorts in the powerlifting world. Due to his high online profile and his crowd-thrilling antics when competing or guest lifting Brent has carved a niche for himself in powerlifting.

Brent is known as a deadlift specialist. This interview will give us a little insight into Brent himself and then we will go in-depth into how he trains for deadlift mastery.

Wannabebig: Let’s start with you telling us a bit about yourself.

Brent Howard:
I’m 35, but probably still act like a teen from time to time. I was born in Farmington, Maine and lived there until I joined the USMC in 1995. Joining the Marine Corps was one of the best moves I ever made.

I was originally chosen to go to a ceremonial unit located in Washington, DC called the 8th and I. After that assignment I was chosen to work at the Pentagon to finish out my time. I have a lot of good and interesting memories from those early years in the military.

People often wonder where the nickname “Sgt. Rock” came from. It all started in boot camp. Swim qualification was the hardest part for me. As a quick aside, I will never forget one of the poolside drill instructors at Parris Island. He was JACKED, and he had a near life-size tattoo of a fifth of Jack Daniels on his arm. Anyway, after 20 plus jumps into the pool in full uniform and off of a 30 foot platform it was “discovered” that I couldn’t float.

Of course, they didn’t just decide this, I spent countless hours of one-on-one practice with drill instructors and I still wouldn’t float so they hauled me out of the pool and informed me I was a “freak of nature” and the only recruit ever that couldn’t float. They then went on to say, “You are a ROCK, you are built like one, or at least you think you are, so you will now be known as ROCK. When you’re PFC you will be PFC Rock. In fact, we will call ALL your future duty stations to inform them that you are a ROCK.” As things go the name stuck and it just followed me wherever I went: PFC Rock, LCpl Rock, Cpl Rock, and then Sgt Rock.

When it comes to powerlifting I am all about showmanship. You can get the crowd involved without showing-up other lifters and that is what I try to do. I love to get the crowd rocking. I thrive on it.

I have been blessed to have most of the greatest lifters in the world on speed dial or email. Men like: Eddy Coan, Andy Bolton, Sam Byrd, Steve Goggins, Brent Mikesell, John Inzer, Marc Bartley and the list goes on and on. In the same spirit as these men who have been so generous with their time and knowledge with me I too strive to share my knowledge with others and will always answer my emails from lifters and any questions posed to me by other lifters.

As a man, I am a Christian and believe all good things come from God himself.

Wannabebig: What got you started in power lifting?

Brent Howard: When I was in high school we had a strength coach named Gary Viles. I begged him to let me be in the Powerlifting Club. Fortunately, he let me in due to my heart and desire. I owe a lot to Gary.

Wannabebig: You are a deadlift specialist, how did this come about?

Brent Howard: I was never a great bencher. My best was a shirted (Inzer double-ply) 425 lbs x 2.

A couple of years ago I was in heavy training for a 500 bench (not a big bench by powerlifting standards). I had easily doubled 835 in the squat so I knew I could hit a big total. On April 6, 2004 I tore my right pec in half and a part of my biceps while benching raw. I had surgery on April 14 followed by 4 weeks in a sling. I then turned around and pulled 705@228 at Riverfest June 6 2004! This was a great accomplishment for me because it is incredibly hard to regain your DL stroke after a pec injury.

Having learned a lesson I decided to forgo heavy benching. Unfortunately, bad luck again reared its ugly head in November of 2005. I had just finished visiting the gravesite of a dear friend by the name of Jason Meader. He had died that very day (November 29th) one year earlier. I went directly from the gravesite to Damian Osgoods’ “dungeon” gym and proceeded to tear my left pec while warming-up on the bench press. It was horrific, just totally violent! The pain was incredibly intense (as it was with my first tear). My doctors advised me not to surgically repair this tear as the tendon had remained partially attached. Needless to say, I can take a hint and stay away from benching now. How many people do you know that have torn BOTH pecs and are still competing in any way?

God has blessed me with the ability to deadlift and to bring a smile to a crowd. I am a deadlift specialist and I will continue to be until God tells me it’s time to hang up my belt.

Wannabebig: What do you think is the number one mistake trainees make when attempting to increase their deadlift?

Brent Howard:
Over training! I have done it, and did it for years. When you’re young you can pull every week, year round, but you must train smarter as you age.

Wannabebig: OK, tell us a bit more about that. How do you train smarter, what does that mean?

Brent Howard:
I used to do heavy DL, then heavy stiffs, heavy racks, then 15 sets of upper back almost every week. I kept this up until one day when I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Kaz on the subject. He related how he used to beat the heck out of himself with high bar squats of 615 x 25 reps followed by heavy DL’s and rack pulls. The bottom line was that was too much even for a superman like him.

After our conversation I decided to focus on one major pulling movement per workout and to usually limit myself to only one top set. I will now take a week off when stale from pulling without feeling guilty. I do much more core and ab work now as well. I push harder than ever, I just do it with less overall volume.

Wannabebig: Give us an outline of your current training regimen.

Brent Howard: A big thanks to Marc Bartley for his help! I also want to thank The Scorpion for an occasional kick in the rear.

I have 22 weeks ‘til WABDL Worlds and that is my only focus. I do the following rotation:

  • One week of SLDL’s off a block for 5 reps
  • One week of heavy rack pulls
  • One week of regular DL’s
  • One week of no pulling, or some cleans.

I am the Personal Training Director for the Bally’s in Portland, Maine which provides me the luxury to work at a gym. I train 5 days a week. My heavy day is done at Austin’s Gym in Rumford, Maine.

Wannabebig: Can you give us a bit more detail on what you do on those 5 days?

Brent Howard: OK, here is the routine I normally use:

Note: The sets listed below are “working sets”. These are defined as sets performed after a warm-up. I normally perform 1 set of 15 reps as a warm-up per movement. On the heavy power lifting movements I will pyramid the weight throughout my working sets until I reach my top set.

With the other movements which might be characterized as “bodybuilding” movements I will use a constant load on my working sets.

Monday is chest day. It consists of mostly machines with close grip bench at the end.

  • Hammer Strength chest press 3 x 12-25 reps (I use 2 different machines so that is 6 sets total)
  • Close-grip bench press 3 x 12 reps

Tuesday is leg day. I will vary the movements doing either box or high-bar squats combined with various leg machines. I also do core and ab work. If I perform high-bar squats I do 3 sets of 5 reps. For box squats I train for speed and do 10 sets of 2 reps.

My core and ab work consists of the following:

  • Sit-ups on the slant board using resistance for 4 sets x 12 reps
  • Stability ball work to include hip-ups and leg extensions with the ball between my legs.
  • Standing ab crunches using the cable pull-down machine.

I perform a giant set (each exercise back to back with no rest) with the stability ball and standing crunch exercises using 20 reps each for the hip-ups and extensions and then 12 reps for the crunches. I do this for 3 cycles.

Wednesday is upper back day. I will use a variety of machines for a total of 15 sets. A sample day might look like the following;

  • Cable rows 3-4 sets x 10 reps
  • Chins 3-4 sets x 10 reps
  • Hammer strength machine 3-4 sets x 10 reps
  • Dumbbell rows 3-4 sets x 10 reps

Thursday is delt and arm day. Nothing fancy here, just your basic arm and shoulder movements.

  • Dumbbell shoulder press 3 x 10 reps
  • Cable upright rows 3 x 10 reps
  • Lateral raises 3 x 10 reps
  • Front raises 3 x 10 reps
  • Alternate dumbbell curls 3 x 10 reps
  • Scott curls 3 x 10 reps
  • Skull crushers 3 x 10 reps
  • Pulley pushdowns 3 x 10 reps

Friday is an off day.

Saturday is off to Dick Austin’s gym for some heavy pulling. Here is a typical day of heavy deadlifts at Austin’s:

Dead lift:

  • 245 x 5 reps
  • 335 x 3 reps
  • 425 x 1 rep
  • Add a belt
  • 515 x 1 rep
  • 625 x 5 reps (top set)

If I were choosing heavy rack pulls that day it would follow the same warm-up scheme as above followed by:

  • 605 x 1 rep
  • 695 x 1 rep
  • 785 x 3 reps
  • 825 x 1 rep

Wannabebig: What, if any, new training ideas are you going to give a whirl in the near future?

Brent Howard:
Thanks to guys like Marc Bartely I am trying new things. For instance, the heavy rack pulls I mentioned above were recently added to my rotation after a long time of not doing them. Focusing on NOT overtraining is also something new for me. It may sound goofy to have a world class lifter say that but I had never really paid attention to it previously.

Wannabebig: Do you follow a specific dietary regimen?

Brent Howard:
I have pretty low body fat to begin with thus diet is not an overriding concern for me. I have always had good abs and use that as the guide for my diet. If I start getting “fat” I lay off the deserts. I generally eat clean: steak, chicken, eggs, whole wheat bread, skim milk, potatoes, and grits.

I am going to try and drop a few pounds of body fat between mid June and the end of August then bulk-up to around 250. I will then come down to 242 for Vegas and be in my best-ever shape for that show!

Wannabebig: What sort of supplements (if any) do you use?

Brent Howard: I have used Animal Pak for years as my multi vitamin staple. I recently have added AtLarge Nutrition products to my regimen. I love the Nitrean and use Vanilla Opticen every day for breakfast. I love the stuff! I use ETS (Extreme Training Support) and have noticed a big difference in recovery. The placebo effect doesn’t work on me so I know it really works! I’m not the only one, my friend Phil Harrington uses and loves it. Other than that I use Universal and Diesel Test products. If I endorse it that means I use it and believe in it. My reputation and trust is everything to me.

You must have a ton of interesting lifting stories. Why don’t you relate one of your favorites to us?

Brent Howard:
OK, I actually have one which occurred very recently while I was in training for the NERB (New England Record Breakers). I was talking to Eddy Coan one evening and he informed me I would be the only dead lift-only lifter. He thought with that being the case I should do something special. He came up with the idea/challenge of me dead lifting 600 for ten reps. As usual, without thinking, I immediately said I would do it!

I began training in earnest for this tremendous feat (for me) and during my first session I got 600 for 5 tough reps. The following week I was feeling really strong! I did 3 reps with 605 like it was nothing! I was sure I was good for 8-9 reps. That was when it happened! On the 4th rep my right foot slipped out (wide sumo) and when I set the weight down it went right on top of my foot! I broke 2 bones one of which was a compound fracture. Yes, it hurt like heck! After cussing for a few minutes I took my wrestling shoe off and found my sock soaked in blood. I took the sock off and blood just gushed all over the Austin’s Gym rug (that portion was later pulled up and new rug was installed).

I begrudgingly called the ER and told them to expect me. I put my shoe and sock back on, packed up my bag and started to leave. It was then that I caught a glimpse of the 605 and a maniacal thought entered my mind! I would prefer to call myself dedicated but others might characterize me as ultra-intense or just plain batty! I proceeded to put my belt back on and did 2 more sets with the 605! The blood was literally coming out of my shoe at this point so I thought it best to go ahead and go to the ER…

After my foot healed I only had the time for 1 more pull before the NERB. I was able to muster a hard 605 x 5 as I was just so stale from not training. I was still confident that I would rise to the occasion so I formulated my plan to make the lift exciting for the crowd. My plan was to find 10 hot women at the show (there was a hot body contest so it would not be hard) and have them each hold up a number card with the count of the rep I had just completed.

The day of the show came and I was ready! I put on my Manny Ramirez jersey and Fatheads sunglasses. I had the MC crank up the Kid Rock and stepped onto the platform. The crowd responded and I was rolling! Between the crowd, Terry and Jan Todd, Eddy Coan (judging), my boy and fellow US Marine Sam Byrd yelling at me, and the Kaz on the mike I was going out of my mind! I was fired up! The first 6 reps were easy! I was out of breath, but hey, it was only 600, right? I took a slight pause and pumped out 3 more and was TOTALLY spent. At that point I was mentally done! The 9 reps were more than I had realistically expected. Brian Schoonfeld interceded and called me over. He leaned over and yelled in my ear that I had one more in me and that I should go out and do it! Kaz echoed those same words and that was all I needed. I went out and pulled one more for 10! I had achieved my goal and done it in front of some of the greatest powerlifting luminaries in the world! It was definitely one of my greatest powerlifting moments ever!

Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share with our readers?

Brent Howard: God has blessed me by allowing me to carve my own little niche in power lifting. This, in turn, has given me the opportunity to be able to help others. It has also given me the chance to embellish my “showman” side. None of what I do is scripted. I just let my emotions go when I am out there! It is one of the best feelings in the world when I combine a monster pull with the ability to fire up a crowd and get them smiling. You just can’t beat that!

I also want to give a big thanks to PL USA and AtLarge Nutrition, both Mike and Chris do a whole lot for powerlifting and we should all be thankful. I want to further thank Brand 33 Sports, Inzer, my longtime loyal gear sponsor, Animal and Diesel, Headblade (they rock!), and of course my friends and family and the good Lord himself.

Written by Chris Mason

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 – An interview with deadlift specialist – Brent Howard discussion thread.

Getting To Know Gentilcore – An interview with Tony Gentilcore

Anybody who is somebody in the fitness industry started at the bottom of the pile. They all began with a desire and passion to work hard so they could become great at what they do. And what they wanted to do was to change people, inside and out.

One such trainer who is moving up the ladder and has a great future ahead of him is Tony Gentilcore. He is a true example of what a trainer should aspire to be. He is passionate about learning and will never stop, because to stop is to kill results. Here’s what Eric Cressey, a Performance Enhancement Specialist, has to say about him:

“Tony Gentilcore is one of the true up-and-comers in our industry. I consider myself fortunate to call Tony a colleague, training partner, and close friend. In an industry full of self-proclaimed ‘experts,’ Tony stands out as someone who lets his knowledge, passion, demeanor, and his clients’ results speak for themselves. He is a sponge for information and, more importantly, information in a variety of realms; he is one of the more well-rounded fitness professionals I’ve encountered. I have no doubt that he’ll be successful in this field for many years to come.” – Eric Cressey – Performance Enhancement Specialist

Wannabebig: So Tony, what is it that you do for a living?

Tony G:
I’m a NSCA certified personal trainer located in South-western Connecticut. I’ve written for,, and My expertise lies in body recomposition, nutrition, strength training/performance enhancement, as well as injury prevention.

What’s your story when it came to getting your start in weight lifting?

Tony G: This is going to sound completely cheesy, but in all honesty I was very scrawny in junior high school and was picked on quite a bit. For Christmas one year, I asked for a weight set (along with a Nintendo–obviously, I was a champ at Duck Hunt) and I ended up getting one of those cheap adjustable benches with a leg curl/extension attached along with plastic covered weights.

I set it up in my parent’s basement and taped the exercise poster that came with the set onto the wall and did all of them religiously every other day. I had visions of getting massive and reciprocating the beat-downs I was accustomed to, as well as finally winning over my crush, Nicole Kot. I didn’t have cable TV while growing up, nor did I have access to “Flex” or “Muscle and Fitness,” so I pretty much relied on that poster. As I progressed up through high school, I started training after school with a few friends in the “dungeon,” mainly to prepare for baseball. I obviously have never looked back and continue to train 3-4 times per week, albeit with a bit more common sense. And no, I never did win over Nicole.

Wannabebig: That’s actually pretty similar to how I got my start in weightlifting, minus the girl. So how did you get started in the training industry?

Tony G: All my life, I have been involved in fitness/training to some capacity. I was a VERY active kid growing up: I played baseball literally ALL summer, rode my bike everywhere, and participated in various sports whenever I could. And, as I alluded to above, I have been training since junior high school. I was also a collegiate athlete (baseball) and had a few professional tryouts after my senior year. Unfortunately things didn’t go quite as planned, so I decided to finish my degree and earned my BS in Health Education with a concentration in Health/Wellness Promotion. My first job was at a corporate fitness centre in the Syracuse area working with employees; helping them set up training programs and what not. I then got certified through the NSCA and moved to Connecticut to “spread my wings” so-to-speak and am now doing more writing and seeing where things take me.

Wannabebig: Cool. As a trainer who is working his way up, what is your number one piece of advice for personal trainers who are getting started in the industry?

Tony G: CONTINUING EDUCATION!!! It really amazes me how uneducated the majority of trainers are out there. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have seen trainers get the bulk of their information from magazines geared towards bodybuilders who are juiced to the gills and then take that same information and proceed to train average Joe Smith who is just looking to get a little healthier. It’s just dumb. Not only that, but you would be surprised at how few certified trainers have any basic knowledge of functional anatomy or proper program design. Most will just plop every new client on the Cybex circuit and put them through some cookie-cutter program that won’t get them stronger nor fix any of the imbalances or weaknesses that need to be addressed. I think it is so crucial that new trainers make it a point to attend a few “good” seminars per year – none of those foo-foo BOSU Ball Workshops or anything similar. Personally, I have already attended seminars this year that featured Stuart McGill, Mike Boyle, and Jay Schroeder. In a few weeks I will be going to one that includes Dave Tate, Joe DeFranco, Jim Wendler, Eric Cressey, and Mike Hope, to name a few. In the end, making it a point to read/study at least one hour per day in your field should be a goal for every trainer. Doing this will undoubtedly put you in the top 5% in your field within 2-5 years. What trainer wouldn’t want that?

I think the problem is that many trainers are looking for the big bucks and lose sight of what their job is. What is the number one mistake you see people making in the gym?

Tony G: Generally speaking, people lack intensity or any sort of direction in their workouts. I see it ALL the time. People will be reading a magazine in between sets, or worse yet, reading a magazine WHILE they’re exercising. Cardio I can sort of understand (to an extent). But when I see someone turning the pages of a People Magazine while doing leg extensions, I just have to roll my eyes, for two reasons. One, for doing leg extensions and two, for looking like a moron reading a magazine while doing leg extensions. It just boggles my mind the lack of intensity when I watch people train. And I’m sorry, walking on the treadmill REALLY fast for 45 minutes or doing everything for 20 reps is still NOT intense. These are the same people who will be whining and complaining two months down the road saying how “nothing is happening,” and then use the lame excuse that it’s their genetics that are holding them back. When in fact it’s their lack of intensity, and, more importantly, their diet.

What’s your training philosophy?

Tony G:
I like to tell people that if they train to get stronger, everything else will fall into place. Sure, most people don’t want to train like an athlete, but they sure as heck want to look like one! So when I work with people, I always make it a point to get them stronger. Doing so will increase their lean body mass, decrease their fat mass, make them more efficient in terms of movement, not to mention their confidence just goes through the roof when they notice that all their lifts are constantly going up.

In other words, K.I.S.S. Follow the basic prerequisites to getting stronger and, along the way, things start to happen. Do you have any mentors or people you hold a great deal of respect for in the industry?

Tony G: Oh man, it is so hard to narrow it down to a select few. I can honestly say that I take something from everyone I read, whether it is a book or an article that I read online. As far as training advice is concerned I can’t say enough about Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson’s stuff. Those two alone have really made an impact on me as far how I approach training most of my clients. Alwyn Cosgrove, Dave Tate, Chad Waterbury, Mike Boyle and a host of other people also have a huge influence on me. From a nutrition/diet stand point, I LOVE Lyle McDonald’s stuff. The guy just doesn’t sugar coat anything and states it like it is. I am also a huge fan of Dr. John Berardi. Out of everyone, he is the one whom I initially followed quite a bit. You can bet that any client I work with will hear his name or read some of his articles at some point.

Wannabebig: What’s the number one mistake trainers/coaches make when training their clients/athletes?

Tony G:
Being too “cookie-cutter.” This kind of ties in with what I mentioned above, but it bears repeating. I see so many trainers/coaches use some program that they get out of a magazine and use it with EVERYONE, regardless of what their goals are or without taking into account any imbalances or weaknesses they may have. The last thing I am going to do with someone who has a lumbar spine issue is put them in a routine where they will be doing loaded back extensions, leg presses, and other movements that do NOTHING to teach them proper neural recruitment, glute activation, stabilization, and core strength, to name a few. Yet, I see it ALL the time and it gets frustrating. I also see many trainers/coaches let their clients get away with horrible form. It’s rather amusing when I train at other gyms and see some trainers just stand there while watching a client squat with a rounded back or not getting proper depth. When I am working with a client’s squat, I am all over the place, walking from one side to the other yelling out cues the entire time. I don’t want someone to walk in and see a client of mine squatting, or doing whatever, and think, “what the hell is that guy/girl doing?”

Wannabebig: Tony, can you complete the following sentences for us?

I am really good at: Tony G: Baseball, softball, miniature golf, movie trivia, and making omelettes.

The bench press is: Tony G: Overdone. Yes, it’s an important movement and a great indicator of upper body strength/power. But there is more to life than benching three times per week.

People should work on: Tony G: Posterior chain strength. POSTURE!

Wannabebig: Thanks for your time, Tony.

Written by Maki Riddington

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 – Getting To Know Gentilcore – An interview with Tony Gentilcore discussion thread.

I Wannabe Like Mike – An interview with Mike Robertson

Do you want to know what it takes to become an overnight success in the fitness industry as a trainer or coach? I’ll let you in on a secret. Start by reading every book you can get your hands on and watching endless hours of training DVDs and tapes. Attend seminars and workshops and look for people who have a lot of under-the-bar experience, so you can pick their brains. Then go to the gym, get under the bar and lift some damn weight. Once you start to see some changes, try applying this to others. Now work up to doing this for 12-16 hours a day, 5-7 days a week, for the next 5-10 years straight.

Forget vacations, and weekend binges at the bar or pub. If you’re serious about being a good trainer/coach, this is what it takes. Along the way you’ll even find out you can make a living training people. Just don’t be fooled that the money will come first. Work hard, get results for your clients and athletes, and the rest will fall into place.

There’s a new breed of trainer and coach emerging upon the weight lifting scene. People who have actually put in the time learning the technical and practical aspects of lifting (and no, that doesn’t mean they took a weekend crash-course on how to become a six-figure trainer). Sometimes they fail and other times they’re successful. The key point is that as time passes their successes outweigh their failures, and this means that not only are they learning but they understand how to apply everything they learn along the way. This tells you a lot about a trainer/coach; that they’re serious about what they do and only want to reap the best results for their clients. This means endless hours in the weight room, training others . . . and themselves.

One of these up and coming trainers who’ve stormed onto the lifting scene is Mike Robertson. He’s the real deal when it comes to being a trainer/coach. He not only talks the talk, he can actually walk it, and he actually lifts weights – heavy ones.

Wannabebig: Hi Mike. So who exactly is Mike Robertson?

Mike R: I’m a performance coach, author and power lifter from Indianapolis, Indiana. I’m the President of Robertson Training Systems and Director of Custom Athletics.

Wannabebig: So what attracted you to lifting heavy weights? Were you picked-on as a kid or did you have aspirations of showing up your ex-girlfriend on the Maury Povich show (“Look at me now! I’m not a fat cow”)?

Mike R: Lol. The fact that when I started I was a total wuss was a big motivator for me to get my butt in gear! Coming out of college I knew I wanted to be an elite-level strength and performance coach, but I definitely didn’t have the strength or physique to command that kind of respect. As well, I always knew that the better I was as a lifter, the better I’d be able to coach others in performing those same lifts. So I always saw the inherent similarities between being a good lifter and being a good coach.

Like any gym rat would, I have to ask, how much do you bench press?

Mike R
: My worst lift is definitely the bench press, although it has come quite a long ways since I started, as well. I feel like at my last meet I had the strength to press in the 360-370 range (I locked out 365 in training), but was having a ton of issues dialing in the bench shirt. But, thus is the sport of power lifting.

OK, so seriously the two big lifts that really matter to anyone who actually knows a thing or two about picking up or pulling heavy objects in the gym, are the Squat and Dead lift. What are they like?

Mike R:
Well my dead lift has always been my strongest lift. However, as I progressed in power lifting, I’m definitely most proud of my squat – I worked extremely hard to bring this up to an acceptable level, as at one meet I actually dead lifted well over 100 pounds what I squatted. That wasn’t cool!

What are your biggest achievements in power lifting?

Mike R:
I don’t know if you’d really call them achievements, but at a body weight of 198 pounds I squatted 530, benched 335, and dead lifted 535 for a 1400-pound total. All this was done with a strict 2-hour weigh-in and I competed in single-ply gear. It’s weird that you have to preface that nowadays with all the different feds and regulations, but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. It’s definitely a long way from the 950-pound total I put up in my first meet!

I still have a long-term goal of competing at the USA Power lifting Men’s Nationals, although that’s been temporarily put on hold as I rehab my knee and get it back to 100%.

Wannabebig: As someone who spends a lot of time in the trenches training a variety of people, what is the number one mistake you see them making?

Mike R: The number one mistake I see people making is not working hard enough. I’ve seen people make gains on every training program imaginable: A 1×20 Super Squats program, 5×5, 3×3, a Westside-style split, everything. What is the unifying factor in all those programs? Someone busted their ass to make gains. I firmly believe you can take a decent program and have great success if you work hard. However, you could have the most perfect program imaginable and if you don’t train hard, you won’t see nearly the same amount of progress. People make it out to be a lot more difficult than it needs to be, sometimes.

Wannabebig: Nowadays everybody who is anybody espouses that his or her approach to training is the best way. What is your training philosophy?

Mike R: I don’t know if I have one specific philosophy, per Se, as I’ll take the good info from virtually anyone and integrate it into my own belief system. I’ve taken info from PT’s, chiropractors, massage therapists, personal trainers and strength coaches, and then of rolled it into my own form of training.

I guess if I had to summarize, I would have to say my goal is always to promote what I call “Movement Efficiency.” By properly aligning the body via all the tools out there (strength training, movement, mobility, flexibility, soft-tissue work, etc.), you give yourself the greatest potential for long-term success, whether that’s lifting massive weights, playing sports, or just being healthy. And by success, I not only mean with regards to sports performance, but with regards to keeping yourself healthy for the long-term as well.

Wannabebig: Do you have any mentors, people you hold a great deal of respect for in the industry?

Mike R:
I’m not really sure I had any mentors up until the last year or so. My major advisor, Dr. Robert Newton, is a brilliant fellow who really got my brain going with regards to improving sport performance. I only wish I had more time to work with him before he returned to Australia.

As of right now, I really consider both Alwyn Cosgrove and Bill Hartman as mentors to my development. These guys have both seemingly been around forever, and their philosophies are very similar to mine as well. The fact that they are so bright, yet so humble and down-to-earth makes them great to learn from.

As for general people in the industry, there is a ton as well, and these include but are not limited to: Eric Cressey, Mike Boyle, Dave Tate, John Berardi, the late Mel Siff, Kelly Baggett, Jim Wendler, Ian King and Charlie Francis. I’ve learned a lot from all these gentlemen over the years.

After dropping some well-known names of people who are positively impacting the fitness industry, there is a flip side. That is, trainers who think they’re doing something for the good of their client but aren’t. What’s the number one mistake you see trainers/coaches make when training their clients/athletes?

Mike R: Trying to be too esoteric or gimmicky with their training. It’s funny but everyone wants to have a “selling point” with his or her training, programs, etc. Whether it’s unstable surfaces, “speed camps,” or kettlebell training, they feel like if they don’t have something unique or catchy that they can’t be successful, and that’s pretty sad. If you ask me, RESULTS is the best thing you can give an athlete, and the factors that produce results haven’t changed all that much in the last 10, 20 or even 30 years.

Mike can you finish these sentences

  • Eric Cressey is … Mike R: Quite possibly the brightest, hardest-working individual I’ve ever met. I’ve met a lot of smart people in my day, and I’ve met a lot of hard-working people in my day, but it’s rare the two meld into one. It’s only a matter of time until he’s at the top of the heap.
  • People in the gym need to … Mike R: Shut the **** up and train hard – if you’re not, you’ll never realize what you can become.
  • Don’t forget to …Mike R: Check out Eric and my “Magnificent Mobility” DVD; it will revolutionize the way you look at warming-up and mobility training in general.

Wannabebig: Thanks for your time.

Written by Maki Riddington

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 – I Wannabe Like Mike – An interview with Mike Robertson discussion thread.

An Interview with Power Lifter John Stafford

John Stafford is a top-tier competitive powerlifter with one of the highest totals ever in his respective class (275 lb class). John is a member of the Westside Barbell Club presided over by strength guru Louie Simmons.

This interview will provide you rare insight into the life and training of a strength titan. You will get to know a bit about him personally and he will provide valuable insight into the Westside method of training and how John overcomes some of the same training hurdles we all encounter.

Wannabebig: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview John.

John Stafford: No problem, glad to do it.

Wannabebig: Let’s start with you telling us a bit about yourself on a personal level. Are you married? Do you have any children? Where were you born and where did you spend your formative years?

John Stafford: I am an insurance agent in Columbus, OH. I have been married to my wife Mandy for about 2 years. She is very supportive of my power lifting. No children yet. I was born in Los Angeles, but spent most of my life in Edina, MN.

Wannabebig: Do you have an athletic background? What got you started in powerlifting?

John Stafford: I started lifting weights to improve in hockey, but eventually ended up quitting hockey when I realized it was only getting in the way of my lifting. I have been competing in power lifting for 8 years now.

Wannabebig: I completely understand the “sports getting in the way of training” thing. I started training with weights to get bigger and stronger for football (like so many others) and quit football when I realized my affinity for the iron and how much I truly loved it.

Westside Barbell and its patriarch Louie Simmons are two of the best known names in powerlifting and the iron game in general. You are strongly affiliated with Westside. Can you tell us how you came to be involved with Westside?

John Stafford: I would read Louie’s articles in Power lifting USA every month and started calling him to ask questions…all the time. I told him I was coming to watch his Westside meet, and he said I could train at his gym when I was in town. I ended up training with Chuck V and Joe McCoy.

I told Chuck I would love to move here and train and he said Louie would let me. I transferred to OSU the next quarter and have been here for 8 years since.

Wannabebig: That must have been very cool to have someone you read about in the magazines take a personal interest in you (not to mention someone so well respected in the power lifting community). For anyone unfamiliar with Westside can you give us a brief overview of its most important points?

John Stafford:
As far as training goes, we devote equal time to the 3 methods of strength training: maximal effort, repeated effort, and dynamic effort. The squat and deadlift are trained on the same day because they use the same muscle groups…one day for speed training (dynamic) and one for max effort (1-3 max reps). Bench training also has a speed day and max effort day. Repetition work is usually performed on both days through assistance work, or in place of max effort for higher reps. We always rotate exercises, rarely doing any dynamic exercise more than 3 weeks in a row and max effort work is rotated every week. The actual power lifts are rarely done, if ever, in full gear.

Wannabebig: John, can you define the 3 methods of strength training for our readers?

John Stafford: Maximal effort is simply lifting a maximal load. This is done to improve neuromuscular coordination and to reduce CNS (Central Nervous System) inhibition [Editor’s note: The body has inhibitory safeguards in order to protect against injury. Decreasing these inhibitions theoretically allows one to lift heavier loads.]. After a warm-up to about 90% of our PR (personal best 1 repetition lift), we do a max set of usually one, but sometimes 2 or 3 reps.

We may do another set if it is too easy and we think we can make another jump in weight, or if we just miss-groove the set and mess it up and want to try it again.

Repeated effort or repetition method is lifting a non-maximal load to failure (until you cannot complete another rep). This is used for hypertrophy and strength. Reps usually fall between 6 and 20. However, the sub-maximal effort version of this method is done more frequently for assistance exercises at Westside. This is lifting a non-maximal load a set amount of times not quite to failure for multiple sets. It is more practical than going to failure with the repetition method because it isn’t as demanding on the CNS and thus recovery, but will still produce hypertrophy and some strength.

Dynamic effort is lifting a non-maximal load with the highest possible speed. This is done to improve explosive strength. We do this with different percentages, but always explosive. When training with the dynamic effort method we almost always include additional accommodating resistance with chains or bands added to the bar weight. Squats are done off a box with doubles for 5-12 sets, benches are done with triples for 8-12 sets, and deadlifts are done for singles with 5-8 sets.

Wannabebig: Let’s delve a little bit into your own lifting abilities. What is your strongest lift and how do you train it?

John Stafford: The deadlift is probably my best lift, my pr is 832. Normally, I only pull heavy once a month. For max effort work I either pull raw standing on a 2″ box or off the floor against bands. I also do speed pulls twice a month, 5 explosive singles are done with bands usually added. Many other exercises also contribute such as reverse hypers, 45 degree hypers, glute-ham raises, heavy rows, heavy abs and obliques. I sometimes rotate in weighted box jumps as well.

Wannabebig: What do you do when you hit a sticking point on one of the “big 3”?

John Stafford: I switch up my program, try and find a new way to get strong. It could be a small change like altering my stance or a radical change like switching up my entire program. Louie always has a lot of tricks that he has learned through the years. I talk to a lot of other lifters and find out what works for them. Sakari Selkäinaho of Finland and Steve Goggins have been a great help as well.

Wannabebig: You compete in the 275 lb weight class which means you probably run close to 3 bills between contests. What advice can you give to the readers who are looking to gain weight?

John Stafford:
You have to be consistent with your diet, get on a plan and stick to it. Try to get in 6 meals a day, every day. Protein shakes make this a lot easier. For example eat 3 whole food meals a day and 3 shakes each day and it becomes easy to stick with. Keep protein and carbs high of course, but avoid high glycemic carbs altogether unless post workout. Get in plenty of healthy fats like nuts and oils (flax seed oil, extra virgin olive oil, fish oil, etc.). Anthony Ricciuto has been a great help with my diet, he has taught me many things that have made a huge difference.

Wannabebig: You are sponsored by AtLarge Nutrition, which of their products do you use?

John Stafford: I use Nitrean, ETS, and Multi-plus. I use Nitrean for the majority of my daily protein intake; usually 3-4 shakes each day. If you check the ingredients you’ll see it is a blend of several quality proteins. It has made it a lot easier to maintain my weight. I also gained about 3 pounds the first month I started taking ETS. Everything they sell is top quality.

If there was one thing you could change about power lifting what would it be?

John Stafford:
I would like to see tighter judging at meets. Nobody seems to care what people are squatting anymore because of what they see being passed at meets. With all the gear we wear we should at least be expected to do legit lifts. The 2006 Arnold was pretty good though, I just hope it continues.

You have recorded a 2500+ lb total to date. What are your short and long-term plans in the sport of powerlifting or the iron game in general?

John Stafford:
My short term goal is to hit 2600 at the WPO semis in November. I think I have finally learned how to squat in gear so this is definitely possible. My long term goal is to just stay healthy and injury free for as long as I can, and of course to continually improve through the years.

Wannabebig: Thank you John for this informative and insightful interview. We wish you the best of luck in all of your future endeavors.

For more information on John’s accomplishments, check out the John Stafford sponsor profile page

Written by: Chris Mason

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 – An interview with powerlifter John Stafford discussion thread.

Learn From Bob

Few people understand how to train effectively for their goals when it comes to increasing size and strength. The sad truth is that most people who think they’re informed are really misinformed.

Whether you’re old or new to the iron game the one thing that is often lacking is knowledge regarding the basic prerequisites to changing body. Some follow routines outlined in bodybuilding magazines (which are primarily geared towards trainees who’re using anabolic steroids), while others hire a trainer who end up putting them through a cookie cutter routine. Or even worse yet, some listen to their friends or the “big” guys at their gym who have no real business telling them anything.

As time passes one main problem starts to arise. There is an unsatisfactory change in size and strength levels. Going to the gym, sleeping well, pushing the body’s limits and eating a lot of food just don’t seem to be enough. So where are the mistakes being made? This question can be best answered by listening to Bob’s story and learning from the error’s he’s made.

Bob Small

Meet Bob Small, he’s a happily married middle-aged man with two daughters. He lives in the suburbs and drives a Honda. Bob’s an average guy, who wants to put on some muscle (but not too much) and increase his strength. He figures it would make him feel better about himself and maybe even impress his wife Mary. So Bob proceeds to start lifting weights. He doesn’t have much of an idea as to how he should start training, but he remembers reading somewhere that a sore muscle is a sure fire sign that his muscles are growing. He also remembers being told by his buddy Biff that he should be training to failure all the time, that’s what all the big guys do at the gym. So Bob Small purchases a fitness membership at the local gym, visits a number of online bodybuilding sites and picks out a routine he likes then goes about his first workout.

The initial workout is tough but Bob manages to finish a decent workout comprised of 12 sets for his back using 4 exercises and 12 repetitions per set to failure. He works his biceps as well performing a total of 9 sets, 3 different movements and 12 repetitions to failure. Bob leaves the gym pumped and feeling pleased that his workout went well.

The next day Bob awakens to a feeling of stiffness and soreness. He is happy, feels great and tells himself that he’ll wait until the soreness disappears before he works his biceps again. In the meantime Bob works another two muscle groups the next day. This time he works on his chest and triceps. Once more he wakes up feeling incredibly sore. Bob feels like he’s on the right path.

After several weeks in the gym Bob notices that he isn’t getting sore, so he decides to increase the number of sets for each muscle group. As a result, the soreness returns, and Bob is happy once again. However, Bob notices that he is performing a large amount of working sets for each muscle group and is finding that his time in the gym is growing longer with each session. To add to this, the soreness he used to receive after his workouts has vanished.

Bob is worried. What should he do?

Should Bob:

A. Increase his sets even further.
B. Keep his sets the same and lower the reps.
C. Change his workout routine.
D. Self educate on the basics pertaining to strength training.

The Thirst for Knowledge

Knowledge is power which will allow one to alter the path they are following. Learn to apply this to strength training and you’ll own the ultimate recipe to success inside and outside of the weight room.

However, it is up to the individual to take it upon themselves to learn more about the topic in which they will be immersing themselves in. Most of the time, a book is read or a magazine is purchased on the subject. There is no real pursuit of knowledge just a weak attempt to grasp the basics and take everything they read at face value.

Jumping into a strength training program right away is like playing a sport without any knowledge of how to play the game or understanding the rules by which the game is played by. Instead, some reading on the subject followed by searching out some experienced people who will answer your questions should be done first. Then read some more and ask some more questions. Once you understand the rules of the game and how it is played, you can start.

If Bob had taken the time to educate himself he would have known that there are a number of contributing factors to muscle growth. However a beginner only needs to understand that the number one prerequisite to muscle growth is to overload it beyond what it is currently capable of handling. If you do not overload the muscles they will not grow. It doesn’t matter if you apply a special number of sets per muscle group, a cutting edge exercise or a fancy method in attempt to stimulate muscle growth. If you don’t place more tension on a muscle it won’t be stimulated to grow, it’s that simple.

Overloading a muscle can be achieved through several methods.

Repeated Effort

Some techniques that often used are, pre exhausting a muscle, drop sets and training to failure.

Pre exhausting a muscle occurs when two movements are used for the same muscle group. One movement is an “isolation” type and is performed first to target the primary muscle, and then a compound movement is used to further fatigue the supporting and primary muscle. Usually there is no rest between the two movements.

Drop sets are used to bring a muscle to total exhaustion (concentric failure) Starting with a working weight the load is further reduced by 10% when failure is reached in each set. There is no limit as to how many drop sets can be performed.

Muscle failure is when a muscle can no longer produce a proper concentric contraction in the working muscle.

Maximal Effort

Maximal strength training is achieved through lifting loads that are between 90-100% of an exercise. Since the load is so high lower reps (1-3 reps) can only be used. This type of lifting will not have as significant an impact on muscle growth than the repeated effort method. It is however very effective at creating increases in strength through neural (nervous system) processes.

Dynamic Effort

This method revolves around accelerating light and heavy sub maximal loads.

There are a number of techniques that can be employed. Olympic lifting, ballistic movements that utilize medicine balls, bands, cables and other implements and regular lifts such as the bench press, squat and dead lift can also be utilized. All techniques can use either a heavy (90%) or a light load (45-55%) based on an individual’s one rep max. The key to successfully applying this technique is in the ability to lift sub maximal loads and apply enough force to accelerate the object or bar with the end result being an increase in maximal motor recruitment.

So what the heck does soreness have to do with muscle growth and why did Bob think it was the key to bigger and stronger muscles?

Stiffness and soreness of a muscle is often related to the feeling that growth has occurred and must be present for muscle growth to happen. This is incorrect. Soreness of a muscle is simply a side effect or a response to the cellular damage that has been created in a muscle during a bout of resistance training. Some muscles are more sensitive and will become sore after an intense workout while other muscles almost never become stiff and sore no matter how much stress they take on. This however does not mean that the muscle has not been overloaded; rather it means that the muscle is merely more susceptible to structural damage that resistance training causes.

Poor Bob, he fell prey to one of the many misconceptions that litter the bodybuilding community. So, now that Bob is armed with this information he now has a better understanding of why he doesn’t have to always feel sore after a workout and what he should do to increase the size and strength of his muscles. Too bad Bob didn’t do this before he started. So instead of taking a step forward he’s now taken one back.

So, Bob should have learned how to exercise first then he should:

A. Purchase some protein powder.
B. Go out and buy some Under Armor clothing to wear during his workouts.
C. Work on building a solid base in which further advanced activity can take place on.

Building a Fortress

Building a solid foundation is an investment that is guaranteed to pay back dividends, plus it acts as safety net which decreases the chances of injury and/or nagging aches and pains.

When someone decides to build a house they don’t just go out and pick any piece of land that suits them. They look for land that is stable and will not compromise the structure of the building. The same can be said about weight lifting. One must learn how to exercise correctly and perform a variety of basic movements. Once this has been achieved the whole process of fortifying and strengthening the structure (body) is easier. Ignoring how to learn proper form, technique and basic strength movements is like building a house on sand. It is sure to crumble in only a matter of time because the foundation is weak.

Taking this one step further, an individual starting out should not just learn the form, technique and various movements, there should be a period of time in which they must put into practice what they have learned. After all safe practice creates safe habits, granted what you do is correct.

So, Bob’s first mistake was jumping head first into the program he chose. Instead he should have set aside several weeks to focus on preparing a solid foundation to support his upcoming training. In other words, he should have learned how to squat, dead lift, perform a chin up, pull up, overhead presses, bench press and worked on mastering his body-weight in a variety of movements.

Eating Your Way Towards More Muscle

Now that Bob has been armed with some basic training knowledge he can now turn his attention to learning how to fuel his body to gain muscle. He knows he must eat protein because that is the primary macro-nutrient for the building-up of muscle tissue.

Unfortunately that’s all Bob knows. So he decides to go to see a nutritionist to learn how to gain muscle mass. The nutritionist gives Bob a food guide and explains that he should be eating more calories than he expends in order to gain weight, and that he should be aiming for roughly 3500 extra calories a week. This equates to one pound a week. The nutritionist also points out that he should be eating 60% of his calories from carbohydrates. The remaining calories should be divided between protein and healthy fats.

So armed with this new information Bob goes to the gym to workout. There he gets to talking with someone who informs him that the key to gaining mass is to eat more protein, keep fat intake low and that carbohydrates are not good for him. He also tells Bob that he should be ingesting a variety of supplements to boost his muscle growth potential.

Ouch! Bob’s head hurts. Bob’s really confused. What should Bob do? Should he:

A. Buy a whole array of supplements.
B. Eat more protein and lower his carbohydrates.
C. Listen to the nutritionist.

If you picked any of these answers, you’re wrong again. Here’s what Bob should do.

Bob should learn what carbohydrates, fats and protein are. In addition, Bob should also learn how many calories are in grams of fat, protein and carbohydrate. He should also know a) what types of food he should be eating, b) when he should be eating them, and c) how much he should eat. Once Bob has ‘digested’ this info he should put together a nutritional program and follow some basic guidelines:

  • Eat every 2-3 hours.
  • Do not let hunger dictate when you eat.
  • Track your calorie intake and note how much you are taking in, and how much you are gaining each week.
  • Take a post workout shake that is comprised of maltodextrin and a blended protein mix.
  • Eat before bedtime so as to minimize the frequency between feedings.
  • Drink a carbohydrate beverage during exercise to minimize cortisol levels.
  • Be consistent. Learn to maintain a certain level of effort, otherwise the results won’t happen.
  • Don’t be picky. Variety is key to staying on track. Tuna, eggs and rice all the time are no fun.Weight-gain should include lots of different kinds of foods.

So what’s the next step for Bob?

Just Track It

Writing things down is one routine that is often overlooked. In Bob’s case, if he works on recording everything he does he can minimize the number of relapses that might occur along the way. So what does this mean?

Track your progression. Although the mind is a wonderfully mysterious and complex system it often fails us at times. Even the best of intentions cannot keep us on the road to success. That is why we have to use certain tools to our advantage. One simple effort (when it comes to gym-time) is to spend a dollar on a small notepad/journal- potentially be one of the best investments you’ll ever make.

When it’s time to change a routine or you hit a wall, just looking over a journal can make pin pointing a problem much easier.

Think about it this way. If you don’t document what you’ve lifted how will you remember for sure what you accomplished during your last session? Or what you ate the previous day? Or how many calories you took in? Or how frequently your feedings were and what your macro-nutrient breakdown was? Not only does tracking your workouts, sleep patterns and eating habits serve as a reminder, but it can work as a motivational tool and be used to break through plateaus. You can look back at where you were a year ago and compare it to where you are now. You can see what your weight was and how much heavier or leaner you are.

It would be in Bob’s best interest and advantage to go out and buy a small book in which to track his workouts, nutrition and sleep patterns.

Supplement Savvy

Now that Bob has worked on his nutrition and begun to keep track of what he does, he begins to wonder about the supplements he should be taking. Judging from the muscle magazines and their advertisements it looks like they could be a very worthwhile purchase. Bob decides he wants some protein powder, and a few other “goodies.”

Should Bob:

A. Blow half his pay cheque on a supplement-shopping spree.
B. Stick to eating food.
C. Buy one supplement and see what effect it has on his body.

Bob needs to understand that supplements are just that – an additive. Supplements are not a miracle potion and they will not work if he doesn’t understand how to use his nutrition and training to his advantage. Bob needs to work on himself first, before he starts on
breaking the bank.

This means he should first work on eating and training properly. If he can successfully use nutrition to lose body fat and gain muscle, then he can look to add supplements to his program. The only exception would be if Bob had a hectic schedule that wouldn’t allow him enough time to sit down and eat a quick meal. The other time would be post workout. Having a protein shake or meal-replacement shake is quick and easy because it doesn’t take a lot of time to prepare or consume. These should be the only times supplements might be used in Bob’s program—until he gets a good grip on his training and nutrition routines.

The Moral of The Story Is….

If you’re like Bob, work on following these basic guidelines. Separate yourself from the crowd and begin your journey on the right track.

Written by Maki Riddington

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 – Learn from Bob discussion thread.

The Grapplers Guide to Sports Nutrition

Wannabebig: Why was this book written?

Mike F & Dr John B: That’s a great question and the answer is simple. Grapplers have a long history of stupid nutritional practices. They’re sometimes better with their training (sometimes not, however). But when it comes to nutrition, grapplers are often worse than anorexic women.

As we’ve both worked with some of the top grapplers in the world (think UFC, Pride, and more), and have helped these athletes take their training and their nutrition games to the next level, we figured it was time to share this info with the grappling community.

Wannabebig: What is the main underlying message you want to get across to readers?

Mike F & Dr John B: There’s a right way and a wrong way to eat for peak grappling performance – both during training and during competition. Since there are so many athletes doing it the wrong way, they start to believe that what they’re doing “works for them.”

However, with the application of the principles of this book, some athletes are tearing their competitors apart. You’d be blown away by the list of top guys using the advice in the Grappler’s Guide. So, in the end, there are guys who have started to do things the right way – and they’re becoming unstoppable because their competitors have been too slow in adopting the right practices.

Like we said, the Grappler’s Guide lays out the foundation of the right practices.

Wannabebig: What are the main nutritional deficiencies in athletes today that
compromise performance?

Mike F & Dr John B: In addition to a host of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, usually energy is deficient in most grapplers.

When we say energy, we mean calories. What happens when grapplers underfeed is that their metabolisms slow down, causing a reduction in their ability to recover from training and in their ability to accomplish the goal of hard training – a remodeling of the body.

Other deficiencies lead to smaller muscles, an excess storage of body fat, a reduced capacity for consuming oxygen, and a reduced energy production through glycolysis and the Krebs cycle. These are all fancy-sounding terms, we know. But the result, poor performance and poor health, isn’t fancy at all.

Wannabebig: What 3 areas should a good nutrition program focus on for a grappler?

Mike F & Dr John B:
Grapplers should focus on improving their body composition (body fat, lean mass, fat mass, etc). If they’re carrying around too much fat, they’ll be slower and weaker relative to their opponents.
They should also focus on performance. As mentioned above, nutritional deficiencies can manifest in a number of ways that’ll reduce the ability to train, recover, and remodel.

Finally, they should focus on health – it’s actually possible to be healthy and a grappler. It’s possible to have a lower incidence of injury. It’s possible to recover quicker from injury. It’s possible to get sick far less frequently. And it’s possible to feel awesome year-round. All these things do, however, take the right nutritional intervention.

Wannabebig: Just how dangerous can poor nutrition result in grapplers or wrestlers?

Mike F & Dr John B: Well, in the intro to our book we talk about 3 wrestlers who died as a result of their eating, dehydration, and weight cutting efforts. That’s about as dangerous as it gets, no?
At the very least, grapplers should buy this book to learn what not to do, using these 3 kids as the example.

Wannabebig: You mention super foods in the book, what are they exactly and can you
give some examples of some?

Mike F & Dr John B:
Superfoods are the foods that should make up between 80 and 90% of your daily food intake. These foods are rich in micronutrients, phytochemicals, and, in general, good stuff. Making sure that 80-90% of your diet is made up of them is one of the top things you can do to improve body comp and performance. In the book we include 20 Superfoods and they include things like: mixed berries, quinoa, green tea, flax seeds, and more. Check out the book for the rest of them.

Wannabebig: How important is hydration during a competition?

Mike F & Dr John B:
A 3 percent loss of body water causes a 10 percent loss of strength and an 8 percent loss of speed. However, even a 1 percent reduction in body water causes a reduction in performance!
But, before this gets too numbers-based, let’s put this into perspective. Take a 155lb grappler. For that individual, a 2 percent loss of body water or body mass is about 3 pounds. So, if any of you are sitting out there thinking “how much weight do I need to lose before I see my performance start to suffer?” – it’s 3 lbs for a 155lb guy. For a 200lb grappler it’s 4lbs.

Drop that small amount of water too quickly, not getting it back before your event, and you’re already seeing drops in performance. Most grapplers try to lose much more then this, don’t they?

Wannabebig: Are there any supplements grapplers should be taking to maximize their
performance on and off the mat?

Mike F & Dr John B:
We have 5 supplement staples listed in the book that all grapplers should be taking – protein supplements, greens supplements, muscle recovery drinks, creatine monohydrate (micronized), and omega 3 fish oil capsules. In the book we explain why these, and a few others (like CNS recovery supplements and BCAAs) are useful during certain training blocks.

Wannabebig: Is there a safe and healthy approach to cutting weight leading up to a

Mike F & Dr John B: A recent survey demonstrated that:

  • 73% of grapplers used running/jogging to lose weight
  • 59% used other devices such as exercise bikes, ropes for jumping, and climbing ropes
  • 34% used rubber suits or nylon tops as a method of weight loss
  • 14 % used the sauna
  • 8% used throwing up as a means to lose weight
  • 5% used spitting, trying to get rid of excess saliva
  • 2% used diuretics

The reason I want to bring this up is that nearly every one of these methods is a problem! The exercise used, slow cardio, actually impairs muscle strength and power development. And the other methods dehydrate the body – and without adequate rehydration strategies, huge problems could result.

Currently we have athletes dropping 5-10lbs in the final week before a match without doing additional exercise, spending time in the sauna, or doing this other stupid junk above. Seriously, it’s possible to actually taper your training while dropping weight through your nutritional intake alone – without all the stupid things above. In the book we teach you how to do just that.

Can you share any nutritional tips grapplers or wrestlers can use to put
them ahead of their competition on the day of their matches?

Mike F & Dr John B: Here’s one – did you know that the body can replenish about 1L of water per hour (that’s 2.2 lbs of total body weight) if you rehydrate properly using BOTH food and drink? This means that even if you weigh in 2 hours before a match and had to drop a few pounds for weigh-in, you can still gain about 4 and ½ lbs back in 2 hours and hit the mat completely hydrated, completely strong.

You just have to know how to do it right – and in the book we teach you how to drop weight fast and to get it back on the right way.

Wannabebig: Can you leave the readers with some words of wisdom regarding everything
you cover in the book?

Mike F & Dr John B:
This book covers everything – from workout nutrition, to post workout nutrition, to creatine supplementation, to BCAA, to making weight fast and furiously, to being at your best – physically and mentally – while your opponents are suffering. Seriously, if you’re a grappler and you don’t have a copy of this book, you’re giving up what could be your competitive advantage. To pick up a copy, click here.

Guys, thanks for taking your time out to answer our questions.

Written by Maki Riddington

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 – The Grapplers Guide to Sports Nutrition discussion thread.

About the authors


Dr. Berardi earned his PhD in Kinesiology, with a specialization in Exercise Biology and Nutritional Biochemistry from the University of Western Ontario. He has also studied and lectured on the topics of exercise physiology, pharmacology, endocrinology, psychology and health science.

But Dr. Berardi has the practical experience necessary to put all that book learning to use. In addition to his academic expertise, John has spent the last 12 years in the field, coaching clients from all walks of life. His clients have won Olympic gold medals, ran marathons, and dropped their 40-yard times. Others walk runways in Milan or compete in fitness and figure competitions. Some are treating cardiovascular disease, diabetes or digestive disorders. And many just want to look good naked.

And last but not least, John is no stranger to high-level athletics himself. He has had success as a regional level power lifter, a track and field athlete, a rugby player, and a national level bodybuilder – winning the prestigious 1995 Mr. Jr. USA contest.


Mike is the owner of Grapplers Gym and a company that is dedicated to teaching today’s wrestlers and MMA fighters the training and conditioning techniques to help them reach their peak fitness levels.

As a wrestler growing up in Michigan, Mike had the opportunity to train under hall of fame coach Tom Krepps at Grandville high school. During this time Mike topped the 100 win club and took 4th in the nation in freestyle and is one of the top 25 all time in wins at G.H.S. Mike still wrestlers and is currently the 2003-2004 Connecticut Nutmeg Games wrestling champion.

Mike started grappler’s gym and because so many wrestlers were asking the question “How I train to get better at the sport of wrestling”. With Grapplers Gym Mike has answered that question. Strength and conditioning for wrestlers should not be a mystery and at Grapplers Gym Mike and his staff of trained certified strength and conditioning coaches have broken training down so everyone can do it and understand it.

Reason for this book is Mike has witness young athletes as young as 8 trying to cut weight using very unhealthy techniques and felt it was time to come out with a guide to help teach coaches and parents how to ensure that there athletes are receiving proper nutrition and to also teach safe and proven ways to cut weight while maintaining a healthy diet.