The ART of Healing – An interview with Dr Wan

If I told you there was a type of therapy that could in some cases heal you in one session, relieve your muscle pain, eliminate muscle tightness and restore your body back to its proper balance, would you believe me? Probably not. But that’s because you haven’t heard of a soft tissue treatment called ART. Nor have you had it performed on your body. If you have, then you’ll know just how great this treatment is and what it can do for your body.

ART is a patented, state of the art soft tissue system / movement based massage technique that treats problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and nerves. Headaches, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, shin splints, shoulder pain, sciatica, plantar fasciitis, knee problems, and tennis elbow are just a few of the many conditions that can be resolved quickly and permanently with ART. These conditions all have one important thing in common: they are often a result of overused muscles.”

In this interview Dr Wan sheds some light on a treatment that can help you reduce the pain or aches you might be receiving from your workouts inside and outside of the gym.

Wannabebig: Dr Wan thanks for your time. To start off with can you fill us in on what your educational background is?

Dr Wan: I went to the University of British Columbia for undergraduate work and then went on to Western States Chiropractic College in Portland Oregon to obtain my doctorate in Chiropractic. I’ve attended numerous seminars, including Active Release and have also obtained my CSCS from the NSCA for educational reasons.

Wannabebig: So why did you choose to get certified as an ART practitioner? Why not a certified massage therapist?

Dr Wan: After sustaining repetitive injuries to my left rotator cuff I had substantial weakness with any sort of pressing motion in my left arm. I went to physiotherapist who used electrotherapy and couldn’t help me and a chiropractor who did the same thing to no avail. I went to a chiropractor on the advice that ART would help – and it did. About 8 treatments later the chiropractor that did ART was able to find out where I had weakness and adhesion’s and worked it out. A few months later, I was able to regain full strength in my presses and decided that was what I wanted to do for a living and how I wanted to practice it. With massage therapy it’s a bit different as there are many types. Generally massage promotes relaxation and circulation. Neuromuscular Massage gets more specific but it does not fix the soft tissue and make it work properly. ART is protocol specific for the correction of adhesion’s & scar tissues.

Wannabebig: Interesting. So then, what exactly is ART?

Dr Wan: ART (Active Release Technique) is state of the art treatment that is effective for treatment of problems within muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and nerves. There are over 500 treatment protocols that are unique depending on which structure is being treated. Most people think of scar tissue as something that develops only after a cut, strain, tear, or a crushing injury and occurs only at the site of injury but there are many more ways that scar tissues can develop. Stress, poor posture, and repetitive motions like typing or driving, are all examples of things that can cause muscles to tighten up, leading to adhesion’s. When muscles tighten up for an extended time, this causes increased friction, pressure, and tension to build between the muscle layers.

As a result the oxygen supply to the muscle is significantly decreased. When the muscle tissue does not get enough oxygen the resulting condition is called hypoxia. Hypoxia leads to scar tissue development because some of our muscle cells and connective tissue cells die and stimulate fibrosis; the process that creates scar tissue and adhesion’s. ART is an effective, non-invasive soft tissue treatment process that both locates and breaks down the scar tissue and adhesion’s which cause pain, stiffness, weakness, numbness, and physical dysfunction’s associated with repetitive strain injuries.

Wannabebig: From personal experience I know that I had a lot of work that needed to be done on my body. However, for the readers who have never experienced ART and lift weights how would they benefit from ART?

Dr Wan:
A person who lifts weight whether for show, for sports, or just to get healthy have one thing in common – weight lifting will cause micro tears into muscle fibers and the body will consequently repair itself in order to be able to lift the heavy load that it was previously subjected to. That is how hypertrophy of muscles work. If the body cannot maintain the load the only way to do so is to breakdown, grow, and get stronger. With compound movements such as military press, bench press, squats, etc, many muscles are being utilized in order to do the appropriate movement. For instance the bench press will incorporate the pec major, minor, deltoids, triceps, and stabilizer muscles of the spine, neck, and rotator cuff in order to do the movement. If something slightly goes wrong in that movement people will feel a twinge and often times just work through the pain. Over time scar tissue will form and hypoxia will occur and one of those possible stabilizer muscles such as the subclavius will get weaker and weaker impacting your ability to achieve maximum performance.

Those adhesion’s that form in the muscle often lead to someone asking themselves, “Why won’t this get better?” You may end up doing lighter weights, but the problem won’t go away. You may try to rest it, but the problem won’t go away. You may take a smaller rep count, but that still won’t help.

I’ve been there and done that for sure.

Dr Wan:
ART practitioners should be bio-mechanically aware of what movement you are doing and every single muscle that is involved with that movement. With scar tissue buildup, there is a certain “feel” to it and the practitioner should be able to pinpoint where the problem is, fix it and get you to performing to 100% of your capabilities.

Wannabebig: How many treatments does it usually take to fix someone?

Dr Wan: It depends on the severity of the problem, but there should be marked improvement in symptoms within 6-8 treatments. If there are no changes the practitioner should refer the person to somewhere else or try a different approach.

How long do the treatments last in each session?

Dr Wan:
Initial sessions for ART should usually last 30 minutes, whilst subsequent visits normally take around 15-20 minutes. Of course it varies depending on the problems, and the number of muscles involved in the problem.

Wannabebig: Do you have to do anything after your sessions are over (specific stretching, etc.)?

Dr Wan: Stretching is very important to maintaining proper muscle length and to prevent recurrence of injury. The benefits of stretching also include improved flexibility, agility, and posture.
Icing is also important and should be done for 10 minutes. Common misconceptions of icing often involve people leaving the ice on for hours on end. Ice is supposed to help vasoconstrictor blood vessels, but after 10 minutes the body will do the reverse of what it was meant to do and vasodilate the vessels because it senses a shortage of blood going to the area being ice. Often times ART may feel aggressive and slightly painful, but the icing will help decrease any inflammation and facilitate the healing process even more.

Wannabebig: With people who lift weights on a regular basis, what muscles usually need to be worked on when it comes to being treated? (e.g., internal rotators from bench-pressing etc)

Dr Wan: Besides the obvious muscles such as the Pectoralis Major, Deltoids, Triceps and Quads, there are the smaller support muscles. For instance, one patient came in and had severe problems with bench pressing. He was strong as an ox, able to bench 405 pounds but has been unable to do so for a while and couldn’t pinpoint why. After working on his pectoralis major, minor, deltoids, and triceps he was still unable to do his bench pressing. I noticed that his right clavicle had abnormal motion when compared to the left, so worked out his subclavius muscle and the AC ligament. 6 treatments later, he was back to benching 405 pounds.

That being said, muscles such as the external rotators of the shoulder and hip (teres minor, infraspinatus, gluteus medius, Piriformis) as well as ligaments such as the Medial collateral in the knee and AC ligament in the shoulders need to be worked on as well.

Strength trainers can lift more weight then any other people but when doing so on a regular basis, normal wear and tear are bound to occur and when that happens, ART is a great fixture in helping someone get achieve their optimal status.

Dr Wan thanks for sharing this info. I’m sure it will turn some people on to this rather unknown art of soft tissue release.

Dr Wan:
No problem. If people want to contact me for further questions my email is:

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 ART of Healing – An interview with Dr Wan discussion thread.

About Dr Wan

Dr. Jonathan Wan was born and raised in Vancouver, BC and attended the University of British Columbia for his undergraduate work. He then continued on to Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Oregon, to complete his doctorate in chiropractic. Returning back to his roots, he has come back to Vancouver to practice at Precision Health. Because of his strong interest in sports and athletes, he has found an appropriate fit with the clinic.

He is an avid hockey player and enjoys a multitude of sports including golf and bodybuilding. This has fine-tuned his appreciation for the human body and the biomechanics involved. Dr. Wan is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) licensed through the NSCA.

Static Stretching for Dynamic People

Want to know how to prevent injury, fix nagging imbalances, gain some extra strength, and be able to perform nearly all of the Kama Sutra positions (even Splitting of the Bamboo!) with ease?

Well, I’ve got the elixir – the miracle pill – the cure you’ve all been looking for to help you achieve all this and more. And it’s something we haven’t touched on in a while.


*cue dramatic music*

Static stretching

All right, so it may not seem as sexy as, say, throwing’ some more plates on the bar or cutting a few tenths of a second off your 40 – hell, it doesn’t even seem that cool when compared to it’s dynamic counterpart with all those fancy names like ‘scorpion,’ ‘fire-hydrants,’ and ‘toy solider.’

But static stretching is a much-needed tool in the arsenal of the weightlifter, weekend warrior, or athlete.

So why aren’t more people doing it?

Well, static stretching has gotten a bad rap since the 1980s when the many benefits of dynamic stretching were introduced. Since it’s been documented that static stretching may slightly reduce force output in subsequent strength training, many people have stopped static stretching altogether. This is not necessarily the right idea.

You see, every preparation method (foam rolling, static stretching, dynamic stretching, etc.) has a different purpose and can all be utilized in a harmonious fashion to promote the absolute best results.

After taking a few tips from renowned strength coach Mike Boyle, I started implementing a new series of warm-ups with all my clients. The results have been nothing short of extraordinary.

But I’ll get into that in a minute. Back to why nobody stretches.

I also think guys tend to just group stretching into the yoga and Pilates category where only flexible, nubile women and men afraid to lift weights gather to tone their tummies or whatever else they do in those classes.

Well, buddy, I’m here to tell ya that static stretching doesn’t have to be wimpy. And you don’t necessarily have to wear colorful yoga plants with flowers on ‘em—unless you’re into that sort of thing, I mean.

So, why static stretch at all?

Well, if you’re into lifting big numbers you may be shooting yourself in the foot if you’re not stretching.

You see – a shortened muscle that hasn’t reached its full potential is bound to cause some postural problems (think slumping shoulders and other ape-like posture). Even worse, the antagonist muscle fibers aren’t going to be properly recruited due to reciprocal inhibition.

When an agonist contracts, in order to cause the desired motion, it usually forces the antagonists to relax therefore inhibiting the antagonists to contract.

Simply put, if you’re muscles are shortened due to sloppy and compromising repetitive motion (such as sitting too much or leaning forward too far on the computer), and you’re not doing anything to correct this imbalance, you can bet that your muscle isn’t firing properly and is actually hindering your strength gains.

Static stretching can also lead to decreased injury rates and can clear up certain little nagging ‘problems’ that most people just seem to live with.

Ever notice how most people have a ‘bad back?’ They may go to their chiropractor, the acupuncturist, or may just lay facedown on the carpet and have their girlfriend walk across their spine (not recommended!).

However, their ‘bad back’ may have nothing to do with their back at all! More often than not, a flexibility discrepancy between their left and right hip musculature may be causing the problem.

As such, everything from sitting to squatting will cause their body to compensate by grooving to the right side and placing added stress on the right hip. With a healthy dose of stretching, though, this could be avoided altogether.

This alleviation of side-to-side flexibility discrepancies is more important than you might think, as a number of possible injuries can be avoided further down the line. While an absolute perfectly balanced body isn’t logically attainable, one should strive to be as close as possible.

All right, I’m convinced. When should I static stretch?

Static stretching can be a great addition to your training program if you know where to implement it.

We’re all too familiar with the guys in the gym who take the first five minutes to ‘warm-up’ which usually includes a minute or two on the stationary bike followed by a few half-assed static stretches for the hamstrings and chest. While they mean well, they’re going about it the wrong way and may actually be hindering their performance.

While this article deals with just static stretching, I wanted to quickly outline my general warm-ups.

Nate’s Warm-Up Order:

1. Foam roll – Soft tissue quality is paramount. If you’re all knotted up, you won’t be performing at your best. Get the foam roller, tennis ball, or whatever you prefer.

2. Static stretch the tight areas – Now it’s time to ‘iron out’ the areas we just rolled. I’m not talking about performing 8 sets of 1-minute holds, though. Two sets of 30 seconds or so would be sufficient depending on the area and how tight it is comparable to the other side and your flexibility goals.

3. Do your dynamic warm-up – Toy soldiers, walking cradle walks, and a few other choice movements will, in my experience with, counteract any ‘negative’ effects from the static stretching and prime your body for movement and heavy lifting.

I’ve also found that my clients have great success with enhancing flexibility before bed when they can fully relax and not jeopardize their accomplishments by performing more contradictory movements.

Think about it: if you’re about to drift off into dreamland, there’s virtually no way you can put yourself in negative, compromising positions (unless you have extremely awkward sleeping positions) that will further facilitate bad movement patterns.

As a final point, I’d definitely warn against static stretching in between sets during the actual workout. This will inhibit strength and doesn’t really lead to more flexibility that couldn’t be obtained before a workout or before bed.

A Few Guidelines

Get Warm

Before stretching, I recommend trying to get as ‘warm’ as possible, since a warm muscle will have a better ROM (range of motion) and will be more compliant. There’s some debate on this point, however, and some soft tissue experts believe starting from a ‘cold’ position may be better due to the potential elongation effects the muscle undergoes.

I, however, have found that most people when left to their own vices just end up hurting themselves when employing this method. If you decide to go at it ‘cold’, make sure to take it a little slower and be aware of how hard you’re pushing yourself.

If you stretch before bed, take this tip I picked up from my friend Mike Robertson: perform your stretching after your evening shower or after a trip to the hot tub or sauna. This will definitely warm you up and put you in a better mood.

Relax, will ya?

Relaxation is also a big key, and you should try to fight the urge to push your body to the max. Shoot for a mild stretch and don’t get too overzealous by hurting yourself even further! When you stretch, you’re basically tearing down tissue just like strength training, although to a much lesser degree. So, the stretch should be uncomfortable but not unbearable.

Focus on the areas that need it the most

From elite athletes and soccer moms to the average weightlifter, the tightest areas tend to be the hips, glutes, pectorals, lats, and calves. Your stretching program should reflect that.

If time is a factor, there’s no need to have four different biceps stretches or a wide variation of esoteric contortionist-like moves—just get to the goods and get out.

Also, keep in mind that the tighter the side, the more attention you should place on it. For example, if your left quadriceps is tighter than your right, you’ll need to increase the time stretched, frequency, and intensity until it catches up to the right side.

An addendum: How often and for how long you stretch is completely up to your current levels and goals, and many factors including training frequency, volume, and current flexibility levels play a role. That said, I typically stretch at least three times per week and hold each stretch for at least 20-30 seconds, though usually longer for excessively tighter areas.

On to the stretches!

Standing Glute/Hip External Rotator Stretch

People tend to have extremely poor ROM and function in their gluteals, and having excessively tight hips doesn’t necessarily make strength training any safer. Deadlifting and squatting with these conditions can definitely lead to some lower back pain.

This stretch focuses on both the hip flexors with emphasis on the glutes.

Stand next to a table or something of comparable height. Bend your knee and externally rotate your hip and allow your entire lower leg to rest upon the surface. Ease into the stretch by gently leaning forward. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.

Allow your hip to straighten toward the table for additional hip flexor stretch.

Lying Side Quadriceps Stretch

Tight quads lead to messed-up knees, especially when coupled with tight hip flexors! The body is great at compensating and when certain muscles aren’t optimally stretched, this can lead to placing too much emphasis on other joints to help take the load.

Lie on one side and grasp your top ankle from behind. Now pull your ankle to your butt and straighten your hip by moving your knee backward. Hold. Try not to let your knee flare upward away from the floor, as this will lessen the effect of the stretch. Make sure to repeat on the other side.


Another small yet important muscle is the piriformis. It’s a thick band of tissue that if irritated can cause excruciating pain and impingement of the sciatic nerve.

Flex your left knee/hip and keep your foot on the ground. Now, flex the right knee/hip and then externally rotate the leg, and let your ankle rest below your knee.

Now, reach through the hole and place your hands on the back of your left leg. Pull your left leg into your body until you feel a mild stretch in the right hip

Gastrocnemius and Soleus

People tend to spend a ton of time on their feet, which can lead to some rather tight calves. If you’re leaning forward while standing for extended periods of time, sitting in a lot of recliners or stools, or just walking and running a ton, you can definitely see some relief from these two stretches.

Face a wall with both knees slightly bent. Position one foot on wall with heel on floor.
Straighten your knees and lean your body toward the wall. Hold stretch and repeat with opposite leg.

To target the soleus, simply bend the knee on the leg you’re stretching.

Basic Hip Flexor

The hip flexors tend to be the most overactive group of muscles and stretching them has many benefits including improved glute firing and reduced lower back pain.

Lunge forward with your knee on a padded mat and position your lead foot beyond the forward knee. You can place your hands on your knee if you like.

Straighten your hip of the rear leg by pushing your hips forward. Hold stretch and repeat with opposite side.


The pecs are usually extremely shortened and tight due to too much sitting and slumping forward. Check your posture right now! The bench press epidemic and lack of rowing is also to blame for our shortened pectorals and slouched posture.

Find a doorway or power rack and bend your arm to 90 degrees. Place the lower arm and hand along the length of the doorway. From the starting position, twist the hips in the opposite direction until you get a mild stretch in the chest. Repeat on the other side.

Like the pecs, the lats are internal rotators and are usually placed under a ton of stress through chin-up variations and the like.

Stand up straight with the chest held high and grasp a stationary bar with one hand at approximately waist height.

Bend over allowing hips to fall back and slightly lean your torso toward stretched arm. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds or so and switch sides.

The Cool Down

Stretching need not be a chore that you absolutely dread. With just these few choice movements successfully added into your program, you could expect to see a ton of gains. But the results aren’t necessarily instantaneous. You’ve got to be consistent.

Your ideal body won’t be built in a day so don’t expect your overall flexibility to improve significantly overnight. That said, however, many people will feel almost immediate relief or just feel ‘better’ after a few stretches.

To recap, a few of the many benefits of static stretching are: decrease your susceptibility to injury, improve side to side discrepancies, improve the length-tension relationship and therefore recruit more motor units, and fix all those little nagging injuries that seem to build up over years of hitting the iron.

Stretching is cost effective, doesn’t take much time, and will make you a badass if you ever fall into an impromptu game of limbo, which is all the reasoning I need.

Now stop slouching, get out of your chair and start stretching!

Written by Nate Green

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 – Static Stretching for Dynamic People discussion thread.

The Man With A Mission – An interview with Alan Aragon

I first encountered the writings of Alan Aragon during a bodybuilding- nutrition roundtable. While reading through the roundtable discussion, Alan’s answers really stood out for me. They were logical, and they spoke rationally against some of the misconceptions being circulated in many Internet forums. Alan struck me immediately as someone who knew what he was talking about and actually took the time to dig deeper and move beyond the preaching of other “experts.”

Here’s what Los Angeles area personal trainer and fitness writer Andrew Heffernan had to say about Alan: 

Aragon’s one smart cookie, and lucky for anyone he works with, he’s also something that we don’t see a lot of in the fitness world: a skeptic. Basically, he’s an advocate of applying this “science” thing in pursuit of optimal dieting and exercise techniques. 

Thank god for guys like Alan Aragon: he’s out there poring over studies, sifting through them for faults, and revising recommendations as necessary. Aragon reads the fine print, and it usually says, in so many words, “The guys who did this study also stand to profit handsomely from its results.” Guys like Alan Aragon make a living sifting through the detritus for useful nuggets of dietary advice, and have a wealth of expertise and experience and to help them do it.”

Alan has a lot to share, and this interview only begins to touch upon what he has to offer in the way of educating us in the areas of training, nutrition and sports supplements.

Wannabebig: Hi Alan. For the readers out there who don’t know what you’re all about, could you fill them in a bit? 

Alan: Well, the big picture: I’m an obsessive-compulsive learner and teacher trying to make a positive impact on people’s lives. I’m very fortunate to be doing what I love for a living, and receiving recognition for it is icing on the cake. 

The small picture: I’m a sports nutritionist and perpetual fan of bodybuilding and athletic performance.

Wannabebig: You mention in your bio that as an educator you must provide accurate information and to show your clients how to successfully apply it. How has this shaped your approach to processing and reviewing information in the field of training and nutrition? 

Alan: Man, you ask some damn good questions… What I do is find the biggest, most shredded guy, and subscribe to every word he says. Just kidding. I have the privilege of having worked with hundreds of clients on a full-time basis. I still spend most of my workday counseling clients. My private practice survives solely on the results of my clients, so in a very real sense, my practice is my lab. Whatever I read – be it science or random editorials – definitely takes a backseat to what I KNOW works consistently in the field. When I review information, I first measure it up against what I’ve seen in reality on a regular basis. From there, I take a look at the quality and relevance of the source of information. If it’s scientific research, again, it’s all about quality and relevance. Many studies are poorly controlled or simply inapplicable to the bodybuilding and fitness population. I get a lot of great ideas from scientific research, and I regularly employ what I learn, as long as there’s a high probability that it’ll show some benefit. I also listen to the anecdotes of fellow professionals in the business that HAVE to get their clients results in order to pay the bills and put food on the table. There are plenty of “paper gurus” who have plenty of reading under their belts but a dearth of hands-on experience helping real people succeed. 

Wannabebig: How have your experiences in training and educating people impacted on you as someone who designs programs and teaches people about nutrition, supplementation and intense physical activity? 

Alan: It has very much humbled and inspired me. Many of my clients have the type of dedication and discipline that I can only dream of having. Many of my students and peers have such a burning desire to learn, that it makes me realize when I’m being complacent or too comfortable with my current level of knowledge. Overall it’s made me appreciate how important it is to constantly self-improve. 

Wannabebig: When someone wants to learn more about nutrition and how to use it to their advantage to change their body, how do you suggest they start out?

Alan: Starting out or not, it’s important to question everything, and not let the details get in the way of the big picture. Gain the proper perspective of the authors whose work you’re reading. What qualifies them to spout off the info? Most fitness newbies will get the bulk of their education from magazines. I know I sure did when I first got interested in this stuff.

Good thing I happened to read articles by guys like Will Brink, Chris Aceto, and Dan Duchaine in the midst of the typical sea of promo crap. If you’re interested enough, take college classes, read some books, wrap your brain around stuff that doesn’t have a vested interest in selling anything but the information. The key is viewing everything you read with a critical eye, and taking the learning process one step at a time. 

Nutrition is a complex subject, and the tendency is to apply it in a complex fashion, when in reality the simpler you can make it, the better. I think it’s important to get a foundational ‘textbook’ understanding of nutrition before you go about layering your knowledge with what I call the frills and fringes. It’s also important to realize that whatever you read is inevitably the author’s limited perspective on the subject. 

Wannabebig: How does one become better at investigating the truth?

Alan: Simple.   TEAR it up: Trial-Error-Adjust-Repeat.

Wannabebig: I like that!

If you had to pick three books for people looking to expand their understanding of sport supplements and nutrition, what would they be?

Alan: It’s really tough to boil it down to 3 books, so I’m gonna have to run a little over here. My favorite college text is Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism (with InfoTrac ) by Groff, Gropper, and Smith. Another great monster of a book is Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease by Shils, Olson, Shike, and Ross. I really liked Sports Supplements by Jose Antonio and Jeffery Stout. It’s a bit out of date, but still definitely worth getting. I might as well continue and tell everyone who’s interested in getting deep into the details of protein and carbohydrate, Jamie Hale has written a separate book on each of those macros. Michael Colgan’s Optimum Sports Nutrition: Your Competitive Edge is definitely a worthwhile read for athletes. At the risk of destroying the rules of etiquette, I gotta be honest and am gonna include my book Girth Control: The Science of Fat Loss & Muscle Gain in that list. 

Wannabebig: Are there any nuggets of wisdom in the area of supplements, training, nutrition, business or life-related issues that have really shaped the way you train or function as a person? 

Alan: Just some tidbits off the top of my head…March to your own beat – everyone has advice to give, and it’s important to listen, but ultimately, you have to adapt and mold all advice to your own sensibilities. Although it’s not always easy, I try not to be inflexibly dogmatic about what I teach. The truth is, what’s known pales in comparison to the sprawling expanse of the unknown. Over time, you’ll get to know your body better than anyone else, and what some might sell as natural laws should really only be ideas or options to consider. On these lines, training and nutritional programs pulled from the ‘experts’ shouldn’t always be followed to the letter, especially for advanced trainees. Beginners without a clue may need to follow a script with zero deviation, since the alternative might be tripping over their own feet. But with more advanced trainees who have a more highly developed sense of individual response, there should always be a margin for personal intervention and adjustment. The best programs out there are at best good guidelines from which to morph better stuff for the individual situation.

Maintenance of a given level of progress is indeed a legitimate goal. In fact, people should consciously build plateau phases into their programs. Everyone hates to hear this, but the plateau phases should get progressively longer. When you step back and think about it, isn’t the ultimate goal a plateau? It makes good sense to give your body regular practice at maintaining. Everyone is so hell-bent on perpetually pressing forward with their goals, that it actually holds them back. 

Don’t be overly cheap with your time off from training. Athletes’ careers are notorious for being slow-motion train wrecks. There’s three main ways your body lets you know that you need a break: Fatigue, illness, and injury. Fatigue is a bit more insidious, manifesting itself as persistent stalls or decreases in strength or endurance.

Most trainees out there wallow in fatigue most of the time, which is a damn shame. Illness and injury are the classic agents of forced layoffs. The best strategy is to stay not just one, but a few steps ahead by taking a full week off from training – I’m talking don’t even drive near the gym – about every 8th to 12th week. No one’s physique ever fell apart as a result of a periodic week of rest. On the other hand, there are plenty of guys whose great physiques won’t last very long, due to bad shoulders, elbows, and knees.

Fad diets and fad diet practices should be avoided (and laughed at). Carbs will send you to hell. Sugar is worse for you than cocaine. Fat is no longer the bad guy, so now it’s time to drink a pint of fish oil after every meal. Protein is your savior, eat as much of it as you can. If it’s isolated from food and put in a pill, it’s GOTTA be better for bodybuilding. C’mon now. A mix of patience + realistic progress expectations is typically the best cure for the compulsion to adopt fad practices or try fad diets. When it comes to progress, slower is better. Gaining more than 1-2 a pounds a month and losing more than 2-3 pounds a week typically isn’t gonna give most intermediate and advanced trainees permanent results.

Anyone can crash weight off or slam a bunch of weight on (I call it fat-bulking, or “fulking”), but in the end, temporary progress is a monumental waste of time and energy. This gets a little bit into the mechanics of programming, but in my experience, it’s best for people build their programs around 6-12 month targets. If someone can only see 2-3 months into the future, fine, build your numbers around that, but realize that meaningful (read: permanent) progress happens nice and slow, hence the 6-12 month outlook. The common method is base calories, etc, on current bodyweight. This forces the need to institute arbitrary caloric decreases or surpluses. Build your numbers around your target body composition, not the current one, and realize that changes happen more slowly than people hope. For fat loss, newbies can get roughly 3% a month (4.5-8 lbs) without muscle loss if they’re lucky, and intermediates should be happy with roughly a 2 percent decrease per month (about 3-4 lbs). Realize that’s a significant accomplishment if you can either keep or even gain muscle at the same time. If you can do better than that – and some will – then congrats, just don’t stiffly set your expectations up for it. For muscle gain, rank newbies can sometimes see 2 percent a month (3-4 lbs), intermediates should be thrilled with 1.5-2 lbs a month, and advanced guys who have been at it consistently for several years should be thrilled with half of that. 

On the subject of slow, steady, permanent progress, here’s a prime example of what I like to call the “culking” effect. Over the past 3 years, one of my clients steadily put on 10 lbs per year. That doesn’t sound like too big of a deal until you ask yourself how many people you know personally who have put on 30 lbs in the past 3 years, and cut their body fat in half in the process. At a height of 5’7”, Jonathan (he’s on my website on the “champions” page) used to be a pretty normal 155 lbs at 15%. He now maintains roughly 7% at 185. Basically, we took things one year at a time in terms of goal setting and programming. Now, in what seems to be a blink of an eye later, the guy’s built like a brick shithouse, and maintains it much less effort than people assume. Staying focused on your current goal is great, but don’t kill yourself over it. Realize that over time your goals will change, and you’ll look back on your strewn body parts and realize you didn’t need to beat yourself up as badly as you did.

Stop splitting hairs over the “rules”. Actually, the way people nitpick at their nutrition is becoming an attempt at splitting subatomic particles. The beauty of food is that, unlike drugs, its physiological effects have neither the acuteness nor the magnitude to warrant extreme micro-management, especially when it comes to nutrient timing relative to training. When your meal frequency is high, and you’re not starving yourself, a half an hour difference here or there really isn’t gonna make or break your physique. Bodybuilding is a breeding ground for obsessive-compulsive behavior. The irony is that many things people worry about simply have no impact on results either way, and therefore isn’t worth an ounce of concern.

Wannabebig: Thanks for those impressive nuggets! 

Alan, please fill in these blanks:


  • Gaining muscle is …………………. a very slow process. Once people accept this, the confusion and frustration will end.
  • Carbohydrates in the evening can be ………………. beneficial if they don’t contribute to a surplus of unused calories. The ‘no carbs at night’ tactic boils down to a ‘calorie reduction for dummies’ tactic. It’s nothing more, nothing less.
  • Taking thermogenics for extended periods of time …………………. isn’t completely devoid of risk. And I’m not talking about nebulous things such as adrenal fatigue. I’m talking about specific psychiatric effects associated with ephedrine use in particular. It has the capability of exacerbating pre-existing tendencies toward psychosis. When I dug into the literature and found this effect turning up repeatedly, it made me look back on some of the cases I’ve dealt with and realize that I wasn’t completely responsible for some people’s lapses in sanity! I’ve never been a fan of ephedrine use since I haven’t personally witnessed or measured any decrease in the levels of leanness achievable without it. Many people can tolerate it just fine, but a good portion of the population just isn’t cut out for it even at conservative doses. On the flip side of stimulants, I haven’t seen any problems with long-term moderate use of caffeine, especially in the context of coffee, tea, and yes, dark chocolate (oh yeah). Some addictions have less of a downside than others, and in my observations, ephedrine has never been the staple of people I’ve considered shining portraits of psychological solidity. 

Wannabebig: You’ve just released a book. What can readers look forward to learning from it, and what sets it apart from all the other fitness-related books out there?

Alan: In “Girth Control” I dig into a wide range of subjects from the macronutrients to fat loss supplements, to size/strength supplements. I even discuss the art and science of knowledge, as well as how to interpret research. My goal for the book was to create a cornerstone of information for readers interested in nutrition for fitness and bodybuilding. The book is heavily referenced and science-focused. What sets it apart from other fitness-related books? My aim was to give the reader not just a set of facts, but also a set of skills. I’m very proud of the book, and I’m not shy about letting folks know that it’s something that I wish I could have read years ago. The table of contents as well as readers’ comments can be seen on my site.

Wannabebig: Where can people learn more about you and your services? 

Alan: Right here: –

Wannabebig: Many thanks for agreeing to this interview.

Alan: You’re very welcome, thanks for the interview! 

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 Man With A Mission – An interview with Alan Aragon discussion thread.

Everything you wanted to know to increase your Vertical Jump

What are the most essential qualities of a high vertical jumper?

Horsepower and movement efficiency. Strength per pound of bodyweight is the horsepower…movement efficiency is how well you can carry out a movement. You put those 2 things together and they determine the height that you jump. 

You need to be able to put out a lot of force relative to your bodyweight. In other words, you need strong legs! Your body structure influences how efficiently force gets transferred into the ground. 

Movement efficiency has to do with coordination and your ability to carry out a movement optimally. In the case of the vertical jump it’s mainly impacted by by body-fat and coordination with your feet. Imagine trying to jump with a 50 pound tub of lard strapped to your back and you can see how extra fat would negatively affect your vertical jump. On the “feet” end, many people lack coordination on their feet and wear shoes that are too big and cumbersome for them to ever get light on their feet. 

What is Natural Strength?

Some people have a build characterized by long achilles tendons, long thigh bones, and high muscle attachment points that allow them to transfer force very efficiently. So, for each unit of force they develop they will be able to transfer a lot of that into the ground. That’s how guys like Allen Iverson can jump well even though they’ve never seen a squat rack in their life. If you don’t have that great natural body structure (and most people don’t) you’re gonna have to make up for it by increasing your strength. Simple enough. 

There are some skinny guys who can jump very well without being strong in the traditional sense, yet you won’t find ANYONE with a 35 inch plus vertical jump who doesn’t have a lot of “natural” strength. By natural strength what I mean is if you find someone with a naturally high vertical they always have a natural ability to create force. Even if they don’t strength train you can take them in the gym and teach them how to squat and within a week they will be squatting over 1.5 times bodyweight. I have yet to see any exceptions to that rule. If you don’t have that strength naturally you’re gonna have to train to get it. 

But my friends Billy Joe and Jack squat 350 pounds yet I jump 12 inches higher then them. What’s going on here?

You can’t make comparisons like that with any accuracy. Muscle and tendon length, bone length, muscle attachments, endocrine, and neural characteristics all influence the ability to leverage force. That important thing is that YOU improve your qualities and let everything else fall where it will and don’t try to compare yourself to other people. 

What is the minimum amount of strength that I need?

Before I tell you how much strength you need do this so I can make a point: Go in the gym and grab 2 fifteen pound dumbells and lie on a bench and bench press them 100 times. Now stand up and do 100 half squats with your bodyweight. Which is harder? Probably the squats right? So that means it takes more strength to do a half squat with your bodyweight than it does to lie on your back and press 15 pounds. 

Now realize a shotput also weighs about 15 pounds. What is a shotput? Basically a press where you throw the weight. What is a vertical jump? Basically a 1/2 squat where you “throw” your body into the air. The 15 pounds sounds really light until you think about throwing the weight. Now let’s figure out how much strength it takes to be a good shotputter: Well, the routines of top shotputters contain a fair mix of both explosive and strength oriented training but on the strength end you won’t find any that don’t bench press over 400 pounds. The large majority of them will bench press over 500 pounds. 

So, through real world observation it has been established that there is no such thing as a top shotputter who bench presses less than 400 pounds. We’ve also established that squatting and “throwing” your bodyweight into the air requires more strength relatively than does throwing a 15 pound shotput. So, if a shotputter benches a minimum of 400 pounds what does that tell you about how strong our legs should be for jumping? It tells me they need to be quite strong. 

Just as you will never see a good shotputter who can’t bench press 400 pounds you will never see a good vertical jumper who isn’t strong in the legs as well.

In fact I have a $500 bounty for the first person who can show me someone with a legit 35 inch vertical jump who can’t squat 1.5 BW within a week of learning the movement. I could probably crank that up to 2 x BW and I doubt I would ever lose. 

Now, does that mean that just because someone can bench press 700 pounds that they will be able to throw the shotput a mile? Or does that mean that just becuase so and so has a 500 pound squat they’ll be able to jump out of the gym? No. There is technique and movement efficiency involved in both shotputting and jumping. What it does tell me though is if you’re weaker than a kitten you’re completely wasting your time spending all your time with plyometric work until you’ve built a base of strength. Once you have your base of strength you’ll get the best results in Vertical jump practicing jumping related tasks and training explosively.

I heard that it was not good to squat because there is deceleration that occurs at the top of the squat that doesn’t occur with the vertical jump?

Keep in mind when using exercises like the squat we’re not trying to duplicate the exact execution of the vertical jump, we’re just trying to strengthen the muscles involved. That’s also why a deeper squat is better than a quarter or half squat. It strengthens more muscles. Besides that, by that line of logic we shouldn’t walk either since there is deceleration that occurs with each stride. The body and brain are smart enough to differentiate various movements. 

What about deadlifts – Are they good exercises?

Yes, the deadlift is an excellent exercise. My only hesitation in ranking it equal to the squat is the fact that it is possible to deadlift a significant amount of weight without using the lower body at all. A proper deadlift is an excellent exercise.

How important are the calves for jumping? 

Not very important. Try this: Stand on a stair step and let your ankles hang down. Without bending your knees try to hop up onto the next step. Did you make it? Probably not. That’s because the calves don’t contribute much to the jump. Your butt and thighs are what give you the power. The calves simply help transferring that power into the ground. 

Having said that, many people do have a problem with what appears to be weak calves because when they move they struggle to stay in optimal power position – They move back on their heels and have a hard time staying up on the balls of their feet. Their problem isn’t really weak calves it’s lack of coordination on the feet. Exercises designed to improve movement efficiency will improve this. 

How do I determine whether I have a good enough base of strength?

Well first in order to meet my minimum requirements you must be able to do one of the following:

  • Squat 1.5 x your bodyweight to legal powerlifting depth hip breaking parallel.
  • Perform 5 body-weight pistol squats (see below for video example)

Pistol Squat Video

Once you’ve met either of those tasks your training can be more focused in either the strength area or speed area. Initially, you can bring both your strength and speed/plyometric ability up at the same time, but eventually you reach a point where you’ll need a bit more focus in a given area. Just like some shotputters need a bigger bench press to increase their shotput while others need to get faster applying their strength to the shotput (ie get more explosive), some vertical jumpers need more work on their strength base while others need more work on the speed that they apply that strength to their jump. Here are a couple of tests that will help determine that: 

  • Measure your regular down and up vertical jump. Next, get a box about 18 inches high and perform a rebound jump where you step off the box, hit the ground, and jump straight up. If the jump from the box is higher you’re most likely fast enough and could benefit more from increasing your strength base. If the jump with the box is lower you could probably stand to work more on explosive oriented (plyometric) training. 
  • Stand in one place and perform 5 consecutive vertical jumps jumping as high as possible with each jump. Those with highly developed speed (plyometric) qualities will usually find the height of the last 4 jumps is at least the same or higher than the height of the first jump. Thus, they would want to focus more on strength while the group that struggled jumping on the “bounce” would want to focus more on speed oriented training. 

But I heard I need to squat faster with light weights to improve power production for vertical jumping and that lifting heavy weights will make me slow?

Until you have a really good base of strength in place you will get faster with light weights by increasing the poundage on your max lifts. Let me explain: Let’s say we take someone with a 150 pound bench press who wants to be a great shotputter. Someone tells him that he can be an olympic caliber thrower if he just practices being very explosive with light weights. So he trains by putting 100 pounds on the bar and does sets of 5 as fast as he can. What’s gonna happen when he goes out and throws against 400 pound bench pressers who can throw 300 pounds around as fast as he can throw 100? He’s gonna get his ass kicked that’s what’s gonna happen. 

Just for the sake of argument let’s say that the guy who can throw around 100 pounds the fastest will have a superior vertical jump. Who’s gonna throw around 100 pounds faster – The guy with a max squat of 135 pounds, or the guy with a max squat of 300 pounds. Definitely the guy with the 300 pound squat. But if we were to compare a 600 pound squatter to an 800 pound squatter in the same task the answer may not be so clear cut. 

The main point is, unless you’re already stronger than an ox, the fastest way to improve your ability to lift light weights is to increase your maxes, and the best way to do that is to lift fairly heavy with reps between 1 and 10 with weights between 70 and 100% of your 1 rep max. Lifting light loads will not improve max strength. When lifting heav weights the load may not move that fast but it doesn’t need to move that fast. 

As for heavy weights making you slow, this is only true of people who carry strength training to the extreme. Even then, it’s not the strength or heavy weight that creates slowness, it is the excessive muscular bodyweight that can develop. To verify this all you have to do is look at olympic weightlifters. Their entire sport is based on lifting heavy weights, yet they have the best vertical jumps of all athletes and are as fast as sprinters out to 30 meters. 

Some people are sometimes under the misguided assumption that strength training with heavy weights makes one slow because it can create a temporary state of fatigue and soreness in the muscles. That fatigue will sometime temporarily “mask” explosiveness. The solution to that is very simple: Take some occassional downtime and let that fatigue dissipate. 

Is plyometric training a waste of time for someone that doesn’t have a base of strength?

Plyometric training works by boosting 2 things:

  1. The ability to move efficiently 
  2. The ability to display strength more rapidly.

In someone without a base of strength and with lack of cordination, it may help slightly to improve the ability to move efficiently, but won’t do anything to help rapidly express strength that you don’t have. 

How long does it take to see real results once I begin training

Beginners can see results in less than a week. A highly advanced athlete might require 6-8 weeks

Have you checked out any of the other jumping programs? What is different about your philosophy?

There is lots of hype and gimmicks out there and lots of people just making stuff up. The problem is as far as athletes go on average basketball players have inferior jumps compared to other athletes like track and field athletes, volleyball players, olympic weightlifters, football players and even shotputters. The average NBA player might have a 30 inch vertical jump….the average 250 pound NFL linebacker (who really has no desire to jump), has a 38 inch vertical. The world record standing broad jump is held by a shotputter weighing close to 300 pounds! Everybody wants to follow programs written for basketball players but as a whole they don’t work. If you want to know how to jump high look at the commonalities in the athletes that actually have success boosting their VJ. 

There are many different ways to get to the same end result but the principles never change. Anybody that ever increases their VJ did so because they boosted either:

  • The force behind the movement (consisting of strength plus the ability to rapidly display that  strength.
  • The efficiency of the movement

That’s regardless of whether you trained with platform shoes, rubber bands, weighted vest, pool work, weights, or whatever. 

Instead of haphazardly engaging in various training methods and maybe getting lucky and impacting one of those qualities, why don’t we start with the end result and work backwards and find the quickest way to our end goals? So, what if we ask ourselves, “ok, what is the quickest direct way to improve the coordination in the vertical jump? What is the quickest way to improve the maximum force production in the vertical jump? What is the quickest way to improve the ability to rapidly display that force? 

The answer to any of those questions is not difficult. For example, let’s take the case of improving maximum force potential. Some would have you believe that they’ve invented some new age gimmick or training technique that is the end all and be all to develop that quality. But if we look at a sport where the ENTIRE SPORT is based on who can develop the most force. What sport is that? Powerlifting! If such and such gimmick was so effective for force production why aren’t ANY top powerlifters using it? 

Now how about taking the shortline approach towards improving the rapid display of force. If something is really a miracle for increasing this quality why isn’t it being used by olympic athletes like high jumpers, triple jumpers, sprinters, and long jumpers? There is no shortage of information on this. Through 50 + years of research and observation it is quite clear that the most potent training methods to improve the rapid display of force are variations of the following:

  1. Practice the specific movement (jump if you’re a jumper – sprint if you’re a sprinter) (most important)
  2. Lift light weights with great acceleration (use jumps squats and other various explosive lifts) 
  3. Engage in plyometric “shock” training (a.k.a. – depth jumps)

Two and three are frequently not even necessary.

Are there any secrets here? No! 

So basically we can just put those things together and take the shortest path towards reaching our goals. 

So and so (insert coach’s name here) says that they have come up with a new cutting edge system called (insert system name here) that promises to give me a 50 inch vertical jump in 100 days.

What’s more likely:

  • Some 20 year old dude has a professional client list of 100’s and has miraculously discovered a bunch of top secrets for vertical jumping?     or
  • Some internet marketer thought he could make a buck so decided to pass himself off as an expert and make up a bunch of BS? 

Ever notice how these “gurus” alway claim to be the secret coach to hundreds of elite level athletes yet they never can tell you who these athletes are? I have yet to hear of a professional athlete who has any problem telling anyone who their coach is. If a coach does an athlete good athletes by and large WANT to help their coach out by spreading the word. In fact, name me one top level professional athlete and in a day or less I can probably tell you who their coach is.

What are some tips to help improve my vertical leap RIGHT AWAY?

The day you’ll be satisfied with your vertical jump is the day you have the strength to squat 2 times your bodyweight at under 10% bodyfat while having the movement efficiency to be able to jump back and forth over a knee high cone or string 20 times in 10 seconds.

Lateral Barrier Jump

If you wear regular basketball shoes stop wearing them and get a pair of Nike Frees to train in. If you’re over 10% bodyfat clean up your diet and drop some fat. If you have a tape measure you can measure your waist and get a pretty accurate estimation as to how fat you are with this formula: Body Fat Calculator

What type of training split should I follow?

Either get ahold of my Vertical Jump Manual and follow any of the multitude of routines from there or follow these generic recommendations:

If you’re a beginner with no strength training background, check out this article Applying Gymnasts Progressions To The Lower Body

Or you can follow this: Alternate back and forth between the 2 workouts for a total of 2 to 4 training days per week 

Session A:

Prior to your workout choose 1 performance oriented exercise and one movement efficiency exercise. With the “performance” exercise you’ll be performing movements that you can easily monitor for progress. These include things like measured vertical jumps, timed sprints, jumps onto a high box, broad jumps etc. On these, choose a movement and keep doing sets until your performance starts to decline. Take your time between each effort. That generally means you’d do anywhere from 3-8 sets. Then move on and choose a movement efficiency exercise and do the same thing. 

Performance Movements

  • running jumps for height
  • standing jump for height
  • on-box jumps (jumps onto or over a high box)
  • broad jumps
  • hurdle jumps (jumps over a high hurdle, string, or box)
  • sprints (choose distances from 10-40 yards)
  • shuttle drills
  • single leg triple jump
  • resisted sprints

Movement Efficiency/potentiation movements

  • single leg box jumps (do sets of 3-5 reps)
  • single leg lateral hops (do sets of 5-10 seconds)
  • low squat hops (do sets of 5-10 seconds)
  • Drop jumps (do sets of 3-5)
  • Lateral barrier jumps (do sets of 5-10 seconds)
  • Strength Training
  • Squat 3×5
  • Pull-Up 3×10 
  • Military Press 3×10
  • Leg curl or Glute Ham 3×8

Session B:

Pick again from the above list of movement and performance exercises and perform one of each prior to your workout. 

Strength Training

  • Bench Press 3×5
  • Deadlift 3 x 5
  • Seated Row 3×10
  • Lunge or split squat 2 x 8 

If you are an inseason athlete:

Day One:

  • Dips or Bench Press 4 x 6-8
  • Incline Press 2 x 10-12
  • Military Press, Or Hammer Shoulder Press 2 x 6-8
  • Tricep (skull crushers) Extensions or Tricep Pushdowns 2 x 10-12

Day Two:

  • Squats 3-4 x 6-8
  • Deadlifts, or Stiff-Legged Deadlift 1 x 6-8
  • Pull-Troughs, Glute/Ham Raises, or Reverse Hypers 2 x 10

Day Three:

  • Pull-Up 3 sets to failure
  • Barbell Row 2 x 8
  • EZ-Bar Or Dumbell Curl 1 x 10
  • Heavy Abs 3 x 10

For everyone else use The Ultimate split and gear it to either strength development if you need more focus in that area, or explosive development if you need more focus in that area. 

What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when training for increased vertical leap?

By far the biggest mistake is lack of recovery and too much plyometric volume. The reason for this is really 3-fold:

  • Most of the sports involving lots of jumping inherently involve excessive amounts of activity to begin with. A perfect example is basketball. The avg basketball player runs over 5 miles during the course of a game and jumps 100’s of times. Would you take a sprinter and train him by having him run marathons? Consider that most basketball players play year around multiple times weekly and this volumous training has a negative influence on the capacity to display bouts of extreme fast twitch characteristics like jumping or sprinting short distances. 
  • Most of the individuals that leans towards jumping oriented sports tend to have less than optimal ability to recover to begin with. Think about it: What type of athlete plays football? The natural mesomorph (muscular individual). What type of individual leans towards basketball or volleyball? The natural ectomorph (skinny and frail individual). Through years of practical observation it is known that most ectomorphs inherently struggle to make gains in speed, strength, power, and muscle size and have a reduced capacity to tolerate volumous activity. 
  • Most of the information on the market promotes large volumes of plyometric work. Most of these individuals are already getting a lot of plyometric work through their sport. This ultimately means they end up focusing 90% of their training in an area where they should be only be focusing 10%. 

Along the same lines, there is a substantial number of people who have the exact opposite problem. Instead of training with too much volume, too much conditioning, and too much plyo work, they do the exact opposite – They focus all their time and energy on strength work yet have no conditioning, no movement efficiency, and their body-fat is too high. This is the type of cat you usually hear say something like, “Well I put 100 pounds on my squat yet can’t jump any higher now than I did.” What they fail to mention is they piled on 20 pounds of body-fat and never spent a single second playing any sports or carrying out any movement drills. 

Do any of those other gimmicks like jumpsoles and rubber bands work?

They might work but only for this reason: Let’s say I take a group of fat people and give them a fake magic pill and tell them the pill will make them lost 25 pounds in 3 months. I then take them out and run them 5 miles each and every day. Three months later all of them have lost 25 pounds. Was the pill responsible for the weight loss? No. they lost weight because they got up off their butt and exercised. All training gimmicks work the same way. All of them have workouts you have to do along with the gimmick and doing anything is better than nothing. 

How important are things like hyperplasia and fast twitch muscles?

Hyperplasia (the creation of new fibers) is of no relevance because the protein content (or size) of a muscle cell (not muscle) determines how much force that cell produces. Add up the total amount of protein in all cells and that determines maximal potential force production.

Let’s say you take 2 people and they each have 10 muscle fibers of the same size. Person A doubles the amount of fibers he has so that he has 20.

Person B doubles the size of the 10 that he has. What will the difference in force production be? None whatsoever. 

Fast twitch content is important in that fast twitch fibers reach max tension quicker. Thus, the more fast twitch muscle you have, the more force you will be able to generate in a rapid movement, but it’s only really important from a starting point. Let me explain: 

Let’s say your thighs measure 20 inches around and the muscle fiber distribution of them is 50% fast twitch and 50% slow twitch. That means of the total 20 inches of muscle in your thigh half is slow twitch and half is fast twitch. 

Let’s say your best friend Jack has thighs that measure 20 inches around and he’s 75% fast twitch and 25% slow twitch.

Even though you guys have the same size thighs, Jack is likely to have an advantage in power, speed and strength over you. You’re more likely to be geared towards marathon running and the like. So, how can you increase your fast twitch content to that of Jack’s? Well, what muscle fiber type gets targeted with resistance training? The fast twitch fibers. This means that when you increase your muscle size through weight training it is the fast twitch muscles that increase in size. 

So, let’s say you resistance train your way to 30 inch thighs. In going from 20 inches to 30 inches the size of your existing fast twitch fibers doubled or even tripled. So, even though the total “number” of fibers in your thighs may not change, by doubling or tripling the size of your existing fast twitch fibers, now the total distribution in your thigh is 75% fast twitch and 25% slow twitch. Now you will be geared more towards functioning like an explosive athlete. 

How important is flexibility training? Khadour Zhiani says that all he does is flexibility training.

A minimum level of flexibilty is necessary, but too much is just as bad as too little. As for Khadour Zhiani, see the above description of the guy with 20 inch legs and a 75% Fast twitch ratio. Couple that with 5% body-fat and a perfect bone and tendon structure and you could get results sitting on your ass playing video games. 

Here is a good pre-workout Dynamic flexibility routine:

Here is a good post-workout static flexibility routine:

How important is nutrition for gains in vertical?

What kind’ve nutrition plan do you think guys like Vince Carter, Michael Jordan, Spud Webb or (insert whomever you want here) are on? Most good athletes eat copious amounts of food. Usually a significant portion of that food is made up of items that aren’t necessarily concluded super clean. Afterall, McDonalds was the fare of choice at the last olympic games.

From a performance perspective it is important that you get enough of the basic macronutrients – protein (check out Nitrean Protein for a high quality protein supplement) and carbohydrates. As the above example should illustrate, where you get those macronutrients is not really important – at least not in the short-term. KFC vs Chicken breasts?? Thirty years down the road there might be a negative impact but in the short term the body can run off anything. 

However, when it comes to making changes in your body composition (losing fat or gaining muscle), what you eat is more important for the following reasons:

  1. Losing fat is mostly about reducing calorie intake. The problem with most standard diets is it’s very easy to consume an excessive amount of calories and thus easier to put on and/or lose fat. What is harder to overeat on – apples or poptarts? Additionally, it’s difficult to drop calories and stay somewhat full when your diet is made up of pop tarts, cokes, kiddie cereal, and big-macs. 
  2. Gaining lean muscle mass without piling on an excessive amount of fat requires a good protein to calorie ratio. The average diet is terrible in this regard. I like a protein intake of 1 to 1.5 grams per pound of Bodyweight. Let’s say we have a 150 pound athlete trying to consume a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. The standard American diet is about 15% protein. That means if he took in 3000 calories he’d be getting 110 grams protein. That protein to calorie ratio is too low. At 3000 calories he oughta easily be able to get in 200 grams of protein. 

I usually tell people to try and make a gradual change to a better diet. Try to eat more of things you can shoot or grow and try to consume less of the things that are in a box or processed. 

Here’s why I suggest a gradual change: What often happens is a young person starts reading about nutrition and suddenly thinks that they have to have a perfect diet. So, someone who’s used to eating kiddie cereal, pop-tarts, fast food, McDonalds, KFC, etc. gets on an ultra strict plan and now all he’s eating are egg whites, oatmeal, chicken breast, salads, potatoes, and broccoli. What’s gonna happen? Nine times out of 10 he won’t get enough to eat and will feel like crap inside of a week. Strength and performance loss soon follows. The inevitable binge is the result. So, instead of making wholesale overnight changes in your diet I suggest you make gradual changes to more of a natural diet. 

Most young people that need to lose weight can drop all the fat they need just by cutting back on what I call the “C’s”. Cokes, candies, cakes, crackers, cereal, ice (c)ream. 

What about post-workout recovery drinks? Is there really a window where the body can absorb more nutrients and can they really impact recovery that much?

There is a period post-workout when the body can make use of more nutrients but it has really been overblown by supplement companies. As long as you take in protein and carbs within a couple of hours after your workout it really doesn’t matter if you get them through a drink or food. 30-50 grams of protien and 50-100 grams of carbs is about right. Drinks can be convenient particularly if you’re not hungry afterwards but I recommend you take in the bulk of your nutrition through real food. 

As for postworkout nutrition and the belief that taking in certain nutrients, drinks, etc will allow your muscles to recover faster so you can train more often, this is also overblown. Whenever you train you deplete muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. Having full glycogen stores means your muslces have the energy required to fuel intense contractions. Depleted glycogen stores make you weak. A 200 pound man probably has about 500 grams of glycogen stored throughout his entire body. Even if all those stores were depleted, they can be repleted with one day of high carbohydrate eating. The question is: 

  • How much glycogen is depleted through “normal” workouts?
  • How long does it take to replete glycogen stores from normal workouts?
  • Are glycogen depletion and repletion the limiting factors from a recovery standpoint? 

A typical workout might deplete 50-100 or so grams of glycogen. A marathon might deplete 500 grams. Most likely your workouts are more “typical” then that of a marathon runner. If a marathon runner can refill 500 grams of depleted glycogen stores in 24 hours how long do you think it’ll take you to replete 50-100 grams? An hour? 2 hours? 4 hours? The point is, the ability to replete depleted glycogen stores between workouts is not much of a limiting factor. 

So why is it difficult to train and perform 100% day after day after day? 

The fact is, things like microtrauma (muscle damage) and nervous system fatigue induced from your workouts are more limiting from a recovery standpoint than repletion of glycogen stores (which is what supplement companies focus on). The damage inflicted to your muscles during your workouts is the reason why it’s hard to repeat balls to the wall workouts one day after the other. Your muscles need time to repair themselves. The best thing you can do to ensure proper muscular repair and neural recovery are:

  1. Get enough sleep
  2. Eat adequate calories
  3. Make sure you rest long enough in between workouts

There are a few other things you can do like using saunas, contrast showers, and ice baths that can help improve recovery to a minimal extent, but rest is far and away the most important thing. Typical recommendations are 7-8 hours of sleep per night and enough recovery time between workouts so that you note progress in some fashion most of the time you repeat a particular workout. If you’re not strong in a workout that usually means you’re not recovered. 

What about olympic lifts? Olympic lifters always jump very high and I heard the lifts are excellent for VJ development.

Olympic lifters jump high because they’re strong and explosive. The O-lifts don’t do anything special themselves but, just like plyometrics, jump squats, and other explosive oriented movements, they can help an athlete express the strength they have quicker. In my setup the O-lifts can be used as an exercise choice if an explosive oriented movement is needed. There is nothing inherently special about them but they are an effective tool in the tool-box. 

Lastly, If you are looking for a complete guide to improving your vertical jump, check out my Vertical Jump Manual

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 – Everything you wanted to know to increase your Vertical Jump discussion thread.

An interview with Bodybuilding Icon, Dr Ellington Darden

I have been a fan of Ellington Darden, Ph.D., since very early in my iron-game experience. In fact, I have to credit a lot of my love for the iron game to Dr. Darden. It is no overstatement to say that his written words saved me from the over-training juggernaut that I had subjected myself to after reading Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Education of a Bodybuilder. While Arnold’s book was a great read and very inspirational, the suggested training routines placed me in a state of being chronically over-trained.

Upon first reading the writings of Dr. Darden I was struck by the logic which was present in his training philosophy. I quickly decided to cut my routine in half and soon thereafter became a High Intensity Training (H.I.T.) devotee. I can vividly remember going to the bookstores in the malls as often as possible to purchase, find, and or peruse a new book by Dr. Darden. I spent many an afternoon and evening devouring his myriad of books. 

This interview will focus on Dr. Darden’s most recent book, The New Bodybuilding for Old-School Results. It will provide you some valuable insight into Dr. Darden’s training philosophies, his amazing stories and experiences, and whatever else I can extract from his fertile mind . . . 

Chris Mason: Dr. Darden, I want to take a moment to thank you for agreeing to this interview, and also for supplying the photos and captions used to bring some of its words to life. With that said, let’s get this interview started. Can you please introduce yourself to any of our readers who may not know much about you?

Ellington Darden: I was born in 1943 in Conroe, Texas, which is 40 miles north of Houston. As a youngster, I was active in the traditional sports: football, baseball, and basketball. When I was in the 8th grade, in 1958, I lifted my first barbell. I was on the skinny side, at 5’10” tall and a body weight of 130 pounds – so naturally I wanted to be bigger and stronger. I also remember, a couple of years earlier, reading the comic book ads for Charles Atlas’s dynamic-tension muscle-building courses.

None of the coaches at the schools in Conroe knew much about weight training, so I had to do it on my own. I saved my money and eventually bought a 110-pound barbell set from the local sporting-goods store. It was made by Healthway and I still have the orange-colored booklet and printed courses that were packaged with the set.

That was the summer of 1959 and I began training seriously with the Healthway courses as my guide. The courses taught me the basic exercises: squat, pullover, dead-lift, overhead press, curl, bench press, shoulder shrug, neck bridge, side bend, and sit-up. I did most of those exercises three times a week for one set of 8 to 12 repetitions.


I was 15-years old and was pleased that I had already built five pounds of muscle on my body. My sister took this photo in 1959. I weighed 140 pounds. 

At the end of that summer, I had added 15 pounds of muscle – and all the coaches in high school began to take notice. Interestingly, that was sort of the pattern that I followed throughout high school. Each summer I added about 15 pounds of muscle. In other words, in the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, my body weight progressively grew from 150 to 165 to 180 to 195 pounds. 

By my senior year in high school, I was the biggest, strongest athlete on our football team. Wait a minute… We had a huge, fat guy who was our center – and I played quarterback. I suppose I should qualify that statement by saying I was the most muscular and strongest player. 

The above noted results, and the results many of my teammates experienced, started a trend in Conroe – that trend being the use of weight training for football players. Over the next 12-15 years, Conroe had the third or fourth best winning record in high-school football throughout Texas – which is outstanding when you consider that more than a thousand high schools in Texas field football teams each year.

Chris Mason: I know that football is HUGE in Texas and to have one of the best teams in Texas is tantamount to having one of the best teams in the country. Training with weights was so frowned upon back then, how did you get your coach to embrace the idea?

Ellington Darden: In Conroe, during the 1960s and 1970s we had a great head football coach, Chuck York. He didn’t know a lot about weight training, but most importantly, he did NOT discourage it. Most coaches in the 1960s still believed that weight training slowed you down and led to inflexible muscles – so they did not recommend it, at least not like they do today. Coach York understood the basics of getting stronger and the basics of playing sound, hard-nosed football. He pushed me to play middle linebacker on defense my senior year. He told me that my future was on defense, and he was right. 

Chris Mason: Sounds like you played some college ball?

Ellington Darden: I went to Baylor University and played on their football team for two years – not as a quarterback, but as a defensive lineman. At a height of 5’11” I got up to 210 pounds, which was below average for Baylor lineman at that time (although the 300+ pound monsters of today were not yet even close to being the norm). Baylor had 10 to 12 guys who weighed from 225 to 240 pounds, and all of them were well over 6-feet tall. I knew I couldn’t weigh much more than 210 pounds without adding a lot of fat to my body. Thus, I eased out of football and got more and more interested in competing in bodybuilding and power-lifting.


This shot was taken during a vacation at Miami Beach in the summer of 1963. I was playing football at Baylor University and weighed 210 pounds.

Chris Mason: Who influenced you at that time in bodybuilding and power-lifting? 

Ellington Darden: I saw my first physique and lifting contest in 1960 at the Downtown YMCA in Houston. I was really impressed by John Gourgott, who won the 198-pound class in weightlifting and then won the Mr. Southern USA contest. Gourgott was big, strong, and muscular. A buddy and I slipped back stage and asked him a couple of training questions. He was nice to us and, up close, even bigger than I thought. Boy, did I want muscles like he had! Meeting and talking to Gourgott motivated me to train a lot harder – and the next year I entered a teenage bodybuilding and lifting contest in Houston. I placed 2nd in the lifting and 3rd in the physique – but more importantly, I met Ronnie Ray. Ronnie was from Dallas and he had the thickest chest I’d ever seen, even as a teenager. Three years later, when I was at Baylor University, Ronnie had a lot of influence on my training. While at Baylor, I was helped by two bodybuilders who lived in Waco. The first was Ed Cook, the owner of the local gym. He had entered and won five or six bodybuilding shows throughout Texas. I traveled with Ed to many contests and learned from his experience. The second was Dan Ilse, who had won Mr. Texas in 1961. Dan was a great motivator, who always had encouraging words for me. From 1964-1967, I entered some 35 to 40 competitions throughout Texas and Oklahoma. The Dallas, Houston, and Tulsa YMCAs were hotbeds for contests, and that was mostly before power-lifting became an AAU recognized sport. Strength and bodybuilding contests were run concurrently in those days. The strength contests did not necessarily incorporate the big 3 like power-lifting meets of today. There were all sorts of lifts, such as the standing curl, upright row, as well as the bench press, squat, and dead-lift. To encourage participation, there was usually a junior and senior division. Junior was for guys who had never won first place. Once you won a contest, you had to thereafter enter the senior division. 

One of my fondest memories was when Cook and I drove to Tulsa in 1964. He won Senior Mr. Oklahoma and I won Junior Mr. Oklahoma, which was difficult to do because we were from out of state. But we did it – and that was my first win in a physique contest. The head judge in Tulsa was named John Johnson and he talked to me afterward and told me I had good potential for bodybuilding. 

Chris Mason: So winning your first contest added some fuel to your fire, right? 

Ellington Darden: Yes, I wanted to compete, I wanted to win, and I liked having trophies. The first time I visited Ed Cook’s home, I noticed that Ed had about 25 trophies displayed in his family room. I had a few small trophies from high school sports, but I didn’t have any thing close to the size and number that Ed had. My workouts usually included breathing squats and breathing pullovers, which helped me develop an expandable rib cage and chest. The below picture is a poor-quality, Polaroid picture taken by Dan Ilse in 1967. Dan had visited California in the late 1950s and watched Milliard Williamson do some amazing feats of rib-cage expansion. Dan coached me in this pose.


Ellington Darden, rib-cage expansion pose 

I made up my mind right then that I was going to win 25 trophies over the next several years. By 1967, when I graduated from Baylor, I had achieved that goal. Then, while in Dallas, visiting with Ronnie Ray, I saw his trophy collection. Ronnie must have had 100 trophies, some of which were more than three-feet tall. Now, I wanted 100 trophies. Five years later, I had 100 trophies.


At the 1969 Mr. Dixie competition in Atlanta, Georgia: Ellington Darden, Charles Estes (1st), and Alex McNeil. I won a number of contests in Georgia, but not this one. Here, I weighed 198 pounds.

When my dad died in 1994, I gave away all of my trophies (which I had lugged across the country multiple times and finally stashed back in Conroe) to a local elementary school to reward the students during a sports-fitness day. Presently, my wife and I are building a new home in Orlando, Florida – which will have a neat training area, next to a custom-designed home office for me. Ironically, my wife has noted several times that it would be nice if I’d have saved some of my old trophies for display purposes. I agree. I wish I still had all of them! 

Chris Mason: Very interesting, those trophies of yours. I’m curious, what was the last trophy you won? 

Ellington Darden: My last contest was while I was finishing my Ph.D. in exercise science at Florida State University. That was the Collegiate Mr. America, which I won in 1972. Shortly after that, I began working with Arthur Jones at Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries. I met Jones in 1970 at the Mr. USA contest in New Orleans. Jones was starting to really raise eyebrows in the bodybuilding world with his unique training methods and machines. Very early in our relationship, he asked me why I was doing multiple sets. Then, he challenged me to focus on not stopping at a specific repetition number; but instead, to keep doing reps until failure, and then to try another, and another until no upward movement was possible. After I felt secure in going to failure, Jones taught me the value of keeping my workouts brief and infrequent — so my body would have plenty of time to overcompensate and recover. It took me approximately six months to integrate Jones’s concepts into my traditional volume training. Once I did, I felt the difference quickly. Jones’s concepts got me into the best shape of my life in 1972. 

Chris Mason: For the uninitiated reader, can you please briefly outline the most important components of Arthur Jones’ high-intensity training (HIT)?

Ellington Darden: Initially, Jones defined high intensity and proper form. He said that high intensity meant to keep doing an exercise until the lifting part of a repetition could not be completed, despite a person’s best effort to continue the movement in proper form. This is otherwise known as training to failure. Proper form entailed doing little things to make each exercise harder – such as pausing in the contracted position of single-joint movements, keeping the turnarounds in the stretched position smooth, and striving for a greater range of motion with a multiple-joint movement. But Jones knew those definitions wouldn’t be enough unless a trainee understood progression, duration, and frequency. 8 to 12 was his repetition goal and when the upper number was reached, a progression of 5 percent was added to the resistance. The duration amounted to one set of 8 to 12 repetitions of 8 to 12 different exercises – which could be performed in 30 minutes or less. The frequency was three nonconsecutive days, or less, per week. 


Arthur Jones in 1972 with his Bell helicopter. This was the way I remember Arthur looking when I met him in 1970 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Chris Mason: In the first chapter of your new book you discuss Arthur Jones’ role in helping to create the personalized training industry. As you have stated many times Mr. Jones was a tremendous influence in your life (on many levels). His training ideas were the genesis of your own coining of the term H.I.T. It has been said that Jones’s training principles were created as a sort of “master plan” to fuel his Nautilus empire. The story goes that the low volume, short time-frame routines he advocated were created with the direct purpose of shuttling clients more quickly through his franchised Nautilus training centers thereby allowing them to process more and more individuals and thus make larger profits. How do you respond to this accusation?

Ellington Darden: First, Jones and Nautilus did not have, or sell, Nautilus franchises. If a person bought 12 or more Nautilus machines, then generally that person had the right to use “Nautilus” in naming a club or fitness center. But Jones quickly found that there was no good way to enforce such a requirement. In 1982, there were some 1,500 fitness centers that used Nautilus in their names – but again, Nautilus had very little control over what they did or how they handled their business. I don’t think Jones ever had any specific type of master plan. His best planning usually amounted to doing something “right now” to correct a problem. His long-range planning was always filled with multiple changes. “Why plan,” he frequently said. “Nothing ever goes the way you plan it.” His low-volume, short timeframe routines were designed so he (Arthur Jones) could build a bigger, stronger body. It just evolved that they worked well for many others too. Jones, undoubtedly, was interested in making a profit . . . and who isn’t? I certainly am and so are you.But after working closely with the man for more than 30 years, I’m convinced that his primary goal was to provide serious, sound, safe exercise – and exercise machines – for the masses.


Most Nautilus fitness centers in the 1970s contained 12 or more Nautilus machines. Many old-timers will recognize the two large Compound Leg machines on the left, the Multi-Exercise and 4-Way Neck in themiddle, and the Combination Biceps/Triceps on the right.

Chris Mason: Tell us a bit more about the Arthur Jones you know and the man he is thought to be. 

Ellington Darden: Jones has been thought of as a genius, inventor, scientist, adventurer, pioneer, bodybuilder, lecturer, teacher, mentor, joke teller, tough son-of-a-bitch, killer, writer, movie-maker, lover of young women, world traveler, and aviator. I can assure you he was all those and more. To me, however, he was mostly a teacher. He was a very smart, master teacher, who had the ability to transition, remarkably well, knowledge from one area to another. Doing so turned his teaching into a rare, rich, invaluable experience.

Over three decades, I’ve heard Jones describe more than 100 hair-raising, life-or-death adventures that he personally lived through. Now Chris, if either one of us had experienced ANY one of his 100 adventurers that single experience would instantly become #1 on our list of the most exciting things we’ve ever done. 

Sure, there are some people in the world who have done one or two similar things in their lives – and lived to tell about them, but how many men have experienced 100 true, Indiana-Jones type adventures? Well, that’s the background Arthur Jones came from. That’s what Jones brought to bodybuilding and strength training in 1970.

You better believe I grilled him on all his concepts and principles – repeatedly, for the first five years that I worked with him. Many of his answers were surprising and stunning, since they were from perspectives in areas other than bodybuilding. At times he was raw and to the point, but usually unwearied with his answers.

Thank goodness, Jones wrote about most of these experiences in his autobiography, which he initially called “Man Plans . . . and God Laughs.” This 480,000-word book is available free at

Chris Mason: You know, I have been meaning to get that book since its first online publication, but never got around to doing so. From his writings that I have read, and your books, I can tell he was an absolutely fascinating individual on all fronts (as a business-man, adventurer, and a thinker). This interview, and your new book, has re-inspired me to read it. Thanks for the heads-up on where to get it. 

I have to confess that one of my favorite parts of each book you have written are your iron-game tales of days past. Your regaling of the early days with Arthur Jones and his various protégés (men like Casey Viator, Sergio Oliva and others), and other iron-game history always gives me a thrill! It was you who first gave me an appreciation for the men of strength from yesteryear. With this new book you take this wonderful approach to a whole new level with the various interviews you published. What prompted you to take that approach this time, and how did you select those you interviewed?

Ellington Darden: All of the guys who I interviewed know the authentic Arthur Jones. They were Jim Flanagan, Casey Viator, Ben Sorenson, Kim Wood, Larry Gilmore, Roger Schwab, Joe Mullen, Boyer Coe, Dan Riley, Werner Kieser, Wes Brown, Drew Baye, and Joe Cirulli. My objective was to present Jones in a way that reignites CONFIDENCE in high-intensity training – the confidence that was so prevalent during the workouts he supervised and the bull sessions he held during the 1970s.

Professional bodybuilder Franco Columbu visited and trained with Arthur Jones in the early 1970s. Here’s how he looked, compared to Casey Viator. Jones measured Viator’s arm at 19 inches and his forearm at 15 inches. Columbu’s measurements were significantly smaller.

Plus, during an interview you can skip around and cover a lot of ground, without resorting to transition – so you can present more facts in fewer pages.

Chris Mason: Good point, on that note let’s jump to a new topic. Chapter 3 covers your “unvarnished arm routine.” This program utilizes pre-exhaustion as an integral component. Pre-exhaustion being the performance of a single joint exercise for a given “target” body part followed immediately (3 seconds or less rest) by a compound movement which focuses on the same body part (ex: pec flyes followed by bench presses). The theory being the isolation movement fatigues the targeted muscle, and then the compound movement uses other muscles (such as the triceps and delts with the bench press in the above example) to further blitz the targeted body part.

I have read that magnetic resonance imaging studies have shown pre-exhaustion to actually provide less work for the target muscles than standard straight-set exercising. Have you ever heard this and how do you address it?

Ellington Darden: Chris, I’ve not seen the study you are referring to. But I’ll tell us this: It only takes one, properly performed pre-exhaustion session for a trainee to “feel” more blood flow and a deeper inroad being made in the targeted muscle. 

Chris Mason: I agree. I have always found pre-exhaustion training to be excellent for both a fantastic pump and deep feeling of fatigue in the targeted muscles. One conundrum I have always experienced when incorporating it in my own training was judging progress from session to session. In other words, when taking both of the exercises in the pre-exhaustion sets to failure I would normally judge my progress by any improvement experienced in the single joint, initial pre-exhaustion exercise. I found that progress in the compound movement was very slow in coming. The targeted muscles would be so fatigued by the isolation movement that using progressively heavier loads from session to session in the compound (2nd) exercise often proved to be impossible. I could only progress with regularity in the isolation movement, and this became a bit of a source of frustration for me. Do you have any thoughts on this problem?

Ellington Darden: I believe the key, in this situation, is to focus on progressing only one of the exercises. For example, let’s say during workout 1 you did 8 reps on the single-joint movement and 8 reps on the multiple-joint exercise. During workout 2, keep the reps on the single-joint movement at 8 and concentrate on getting 9 or 10 reps on the multiple-joint exercise. Or, you could focus on the single-joint movement and get 9 or 10 reps on it, and stick with 8 reps on the multiple-joint exercise.

Chris Mason: Sound advice, I will give it a go. In chapter 4 you touch on some of the scientific support for both yours and Arthur’s training methods. You note that recent studies support Mr. Jones’ protocol of 1 set to failure for optimal size and strength results. This is a topic where I would definitely like to pick your brain. Through my involvement with the power-lifting community I am fortunate enough to be able to speak with Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell with some frequency. As you probably know, Louie is one of the most respected strength coaches in the world. The training methods he espouses for building maximum demonstrable strength differ rather dramatically from those of Arthur Jones and yourself. He certainly does not consider 1 set to failure to be the optimal method of building strength. If one were training specifically for maximal strength, as a power-lifter for example, do you still feel that 1 set to failure is the optimal way to train and what sort of a routine would you recommend for a competitive power-lifter? 

Ellington Darden: Power-lifting, as you know, is a sport that requires both general and specific strength training. In my opinion, you should train all the involved muscles generally, in the best-possible way to make them stronger – stronger according to the biomechanics of the human body. I would prefer to do that with machines, but you could use barbells or barbells and machines. Then, you must develop your skill at power-lifting specifically – using barbells and low repetitions – with the coaching of someone who understands strategic teaching and learning.

The duration and frequency would be up to the lifter and coach, but I’d always lean toward less duration and less frequency. One set to failure would apply to general strength training, but it would not apply well to skill training. 

Chris Mason: Ok, so if I understand, you recommend H.I.T. to increase one’s general strength, and then a multiple-set approach for the power-lifter to enhance his or her skill in performing the big 3 power-lifts (squat, bench press, and dead-lift). In other words, repetition of the movement to enhance one’s neural acclimation to the specific exercises (building coordination for the movement in a sense). Could you provide a bit more detailed of a sample routine to outline this approach?

Ellington Darden: Yes, Chris, you’re pretty much on-target with my overall approach. It’s been quite some time since I worked with a power-lifter, but I’d head in the following direction. 

First, I’d organize two general strength-training routines. I’d select 8 exercises for Routine A and another 8 exercises for Routine B. Here are examples:

Routine A

  • Leg curl machine
  • Leg press machine or hip-adduction machine
  • Calf raise with machine or barbell
  • Overhead press with a barbell
  • Bent-over row with a barbell
  • Back raise on machine
  • Biceps curl with barbell
  • Side bend with one dumbbell

Routine B

  • Leg extension machine
  • Stiff-legged dead-lift
  • Bent-arm pullover with a barbell
  • Negative-only chin or negative-only dip
  • Triceps extension with a barbell
  • Wrist curl with barbell
  • Neck flexion and extension on machine
  • Bent-knee sit-up

On Routines A and B, the lifter would perform one set of 8 to 12 repetitions, in good form, to momentary muscular failure. 

Second, I’d put together two specific power-lifting routines, which I’d call Routine C and Routine D. Routine C would focus on the squat and the bench press. Routine D would feature the dead-lift. 

In Routine C, I’d zero-in on the skill of the bench press and the squat, with both medium and heavy repetitions. The focus would be on performing 2 or 3 reps, much more frequently than 1-rep maximums. And depending on the strength and experience level of the lifter, I’d regularly add not-to-failure sets to avoid stagnation.

In Routine D, with the dead-lift I’d do some things similar to the bench press and squat, but I’d also include some cage work. In a power cage, I’d divide the dead-lift in equal halves and spend time focusing on both halves. Plus, I’d do heavy shoulder shrugs in the cage.

Over a two-week time period, I’d schedule two workouts a week, in the following sequence: 

  • Monday, Routine A 
  • Thursday, Routine C
  • Monday, Routine B
  • Thursday, Routine

I’m sure, as the trainee progressed, I’d have to modify some of the routines. But you should be able to get the hang of where I’m coming from and where I’m headed from the above examples.

Chris, I know you’ve had some experience with bands and chains being applied to augment the power-lifts. In the 1960s, Arthur Jones applied chains to certain barbell exercises, as well as pulldown movements. They were an early form of variable resistance, which he later incorporated more effectively with his Nautilus cam. In fact, Jones’s duo-squat machine had an increasing strength curve and so did several of his bench-press machines. With my motor learning background, I’d have to place any type of band and chain attachments in the general strength-training area – so that would go into Routines A and B.

As for as specific sets and reps on my Routines C and D, I’d have to get in the trenches with you and some of your lifting buddies – for three months of trial-and-error training – and hammer out some numbers. 

Chris Mason: Dr. Darden, I would love to put something like that together with some top-notch power-lifters. Power-lifting and strength sports are a HUGE market and one upon which you could very possibly make your mark. Perhaps it could be the basis of a future book? Heck, who knows, your involvement might change the power-lifting world, and the power-lifting world might change your thoughts a bit as well. I know speaking with Louie Simmons and incorporating some of his training methods has certainly been a boon for my strength training. You mentioned your expertise in motor learning above. Motor learning and its implications for strength training are discussed in chapter 10. I find your thoughts on the matter highly intriguing and spot-on. Can you briefly discuss the common misperceptions about explosive training with weights and its transference to the athletic playing field? 

Ellington Darden: Moving explosively with a barbell or machine can certainly build strength. But it does so at the cost of potential damage to the involved joints and muscles. Why risk injury? The idea is to build strength, so you can perform better in the chosen skill or activity. I have noted how effective negative training (working solely, or emphasizing the lowering or eccentric portion of an exercise) can be in many of my books. One reason has to do with the required slowness of the lowering. Slow, smooth movements are more thorough on the involved muscles – and they are much, much safer. Yet, coaches and athletes almost universally believe that you must “lift fast to be fast.” Just the opposite, “lift slow to be fast,” is much closer to the truth.

What should be done FAST is the skill training – at least, in the vast majority of sports.Coaches and athletes need to divide strength training and skill training. Do not try to combine the two, which is what’s happening all over the country. I conclude in my motor-learning chapter that it’s to your advantage to . . . make strength training differ from skill training as much as possible in content, form, method of execution, environment, and meaning. 

Chris Mason: That chapter is truly worth its weight in gold! On the note of training for maximal strength I would like to clear up a long-standing doubt of mine. I have read online, and elsewhere, that Ray Mentzer was capable of a raw (no special power-lifting equipment) barbell back squat of 925 lbs for 2 reps. I know some of the absolute strongest men in the world, and I know this would be an absolutely incredible feat for a bodybuilder, especially one under 300 lbs. In fact, Don Reinhoudt, one of the strongest raw squatters of all-time, may not even have been capable of such a feat (1 rep yes, 2, perhaps). Did you ever see Ray squat with anything close to 900 lbs and if not, do you feel he was capable of such a feat?

Ellington Darden: Ray Mentzer worked at the Nautilus headquarters in Florida for about eight months in 1983. And yes, I trained him many times – but I never used barbells. At that time he weighed between 250 and 260 pounds. On the Nautilus leg machines, he was the strongest athlete I’ve ever worked with. Casey Viator was a close second. Casey could out-perform Ray on most of the upper-body machines.

In 1983, Jones had just introduced the Nautilus Duo-Squat machine. This huge machine had a weight stack of 500 pounds. I saw Ray get into the machine, and loaded with the entire stack, he did 10 repetitions with each leg. They were not easy reps, in fact he was really huffing and puffing, but he did them. After that, I never saw or heard of anyone handling the entire stack for even 1 rep.

About that same time, Ken Leistner visited the Nautilus headquarters and brought a world-champion powerlifter with him. I can’t remember the guy’s name, but he was about 5’7” tall, weighed 180 pounds, and his best lift was the squat. He couldn’t get a rep with 450 pounds, much less 500 pounds (on the Duo-Squat machine). 

But back to your original question, did I ever see Ray squat with anything close to 900 pounds? No, I never saw him do a barbell squat. Do I believe he could have performed such a feat?

Well, I saw Casey Viator do 13 reps with slightly more than 500 pounds on the barbell squat (totally raw) – and this was after pre-exhausting his thighs for two minutes. Viator could, no doubt, have done 600 pounds for a single – and maybe as much as 650.  Ray, in my opinion, was stronger in his hips and thighs than was Casey. My guess would be that Ray could have done a 750-pound squat in an official power-lifting contest. Of course, in a gym setting and under less strict conditions, he could have probably done more. But not 900 pounds! 

Chris Mason: Thanks for clearing that up. I knew Ray was a strong man, but I always thought that claim (made by others) was an exaggeration. 

I really enjoyed reading the thoughts of Andrew Adams with respect to the H.I.T. vs. H.V.T. (High Volume Training) debate. What gave you the idea to include the input of one of your website members ( in this book? 

Ellington Darden: I’m always on the look out for “outside the box” ideas related to HIT. Adams opened my eyes to some new concepts, so I asked him if I could reprint some of them in my new book. Bill De Simone and Ryan Hall also made some salient contributions to this section and I appreciate their input. 

Chris Mason: Chapter 9 goes into detail about negative training of all forms. To what do you ascribe the incredible results you have seen from negative-only training? How often should one incorporate it in their training?

Ellington Darden: I believe negative training – because of the abnormal overload and the effects of full-range slowness of movement – provides more potential for slight tearing of the involved myosin and actin muscle tissues. This slight tearing is a necessary part of the muscular-growth process.  Of course, you’ve got to walk a thin line: Too much tearing and you’ll suffer an injury; too little and nothing happens. It has to be the just-right amount of tearing. That, of course, can vary from trainee to trainee.

Generally, I apply negative-only training on a few exercises once a week. With my stronger trainees, I reduce that to once every two weeks. 

Chris Mason: Chapter 20 provides “the plain truth”. Tell our readers that truth and how you feel they should apply it in their own training.

Ellington Darden: Yeah, the plain truth. That involves Wilbur Miller – a tall muscular, 69-year-old farmer from Kansas – who I was sitting next to at Ronnie Ray’s strength-training reunion in 2004. Wilbur was also holder of the world’s dead-lift record, when he lifted 715 pounds in 1964.

Anyway, we’d just finished watching a video collection of champion bodybuilders and lifters from the 1940s and 1950s. There was footage of bodybuilders such as John Grimek, Steve Reeves, Steve Stanko, George Eiferman, and Clancy Ross, as well as lifers such as Ike Berger, John Davis, Marvin Eder, Ronnie Ray, and Wilbur Miller. I pointed out how big and muscular all these guys were – even when we compared them to the steroid giants of today. 

Wilbur, who is about as humble and sincere as anyone can be, noted that during the majority of his competition training, he never worked out in a commercial gym and never had a training partner. Furthermore, he never used an Olympic barbell, except in contests. He trained alone, in his barn, after he finished his day job: wheat farming. 

“I can’t understand,” Miller said, “why anyone interested in lifting and bodybuilding would want to get involved with drugs. All it takes to get bigger and stronger is an understanding of weight-training basics and hard work.” 

And I might add PATIENCE . . . the patience of a Kansas wheat farmer. 

I learned something very important that day from Wilbur Miller. Wilbur is the embodiment of “the plain truth” that I want to get across in my new book. 

The plain truth is that thousands and thousands of men throughout the middle of the last century strengthened and built their bodies – without drugs – in the old-fashioned way: with plenty of hard work and patience. 

There’s not a better ambassador for drug-free power-lifting than Wilbur Miller. At a body weight of 245 pounds, Miller dead-lifted 715 pounds, which was a world record in 1964.

Chris Mason: You provide a myriad of routines throughout the book. Can you tell us your personal favorites?

Ellington Darden: I’m a big fan of the pre-exhaustion technique, so my favorite would be something along these lines:

  1. Leg curl machine
  2. Leg extension machine, immediately followed by
  3. Squat with a barbell or leg press machine
  4. Calf raise on machine or with a barbell
  5. Lateral raise with dumbbells, immediately followed by
  6. Overhead press with a barbell
  7. Bent-over row with a barbell
  8. Bent-arm fly with dumbbells, immediately followed by 
  9. Bench press with a barbell
  10. Biceps curl with a barbell
  11. Wrist curl with a barbell

Pre-exhaustion would be applied on exercises 2 and 3, 5 and 6, and 8 and 9. In other words, you’d organize your equipment where you could move quickly between these paired exercises. Other than that, all the exercises would be performed for one set of 8 to 12 repetitions, in proper form, to momentary muscular failure. 

Exercises 10 and 11 are changeable. Sometimes I might drop them and add a couple of neck, abdominal, or lower-back movements. 

My other personal favorite would be to start off working the biceps and triceps in that “unvarnished arm cycle” that I describe in chapter 3. That cycle would entail the slow:

  • 1-repetition chin-up, immediately followed by
  • the biceps curl
  • and the slow, 1-repetition dip, immediately followed by
  • the triceps extension with one dumbbell held in both hands. 

After that, I’d do four or five other exercises to round out the routine. 

Chris Mason: You spend a couple of chapters describing and promoting metabolic conditioning for football. I particularly like your thoughts on the topic and would like you to briefly describe it here.

Ellington Darden: Metabolic conditioning is what happens when you combine muscular strength and cardiorespiratory endurance into a single workout. It’s like pre-exhaustion, not for 2 minutes, but for 12 minutes. The key is being able to move from one exercise to the next with little rest in between. Here’s a starter routine that we used to get football players’ attention. It involves sprinting for the lower body, alternated with chins and dips for the upper body. 

First, you need a place to sprint at least 50 yards. Second, you need a horizontal bar for chins and parallel bars for dips. We had a Nautilus Multi-Exercise machine with which you could do chins and dips, and we moved it into a large parking lot. Fifty yards away, we placed a cone on the ground.The goal was to sprint down and back (100 yards) 12 times. Each sprint took 20 seconds or less. After the first sprint, the athlete went immediately into chinups: as many as he could do, in good form, for 40 seconds. Then, he sprinted again, down and back, in 20 seconds or less. He immediately did dips, as many as possible in 40 seconds. 

Note: If an athlete couldn’t do normal chinups and dips for the required 40 seconds, he continued doing them in a negative-only manner. In other words, he used a bench or chair to climb into the top position where he then lowered himself slowly by using only his arms. So that was the cycle: 20 seconds of sprinting followed by 40 seconds of chinning; then 20 seconds of sprinting followed by 40 seconds of dipping. Two minutes of activity that would quickly raise your heat rate to 180-200 beats per minute! And the goal was to repeat that two-minute cycle six times, for a total of 12 minutes…….. Simple, right – WRONG! 

Even our best-conditioned athletes could not finish . . . the first time they tried it. Most of them would make it through five or six minutes. A few could achieve nine or ten. But after three or four sessions, most of them could continue for the entire 12 minutes. I’ll tell you, the athletes that accomplished this goal, all progressed into their football training in the best-possible condition. It was amazing. The above metabolic-conditioning cycle, with a little creativity, is something that could be adapted to an entire football team. When that happens, look out.

Chris Mason: You have written over 14 books relating to H.I.T. What is the one thing relative to H.I.T. about which you have changed your mind the most? 

Ellington Darden: Good question, Chris. I suppose it would be the concept of whole-body versus split routines. I’ve gotten very good results applying whole-body routines, even with my advanced athletes. But more and more fitness-minded people seem to be demanding split routines. I’ve trained people with various splits, and the results are often better that I’ve predicted. So, in my next book, I’m going to explore split routines a bit more. 


This photo of me was taken in 2006, outside of my home in Orlando, Florida.

Chris Mason: Dr. Darden, it has been a pleasure and I think I speak for all of our readers when I say that I hope you continue to remain active in the iron game and to educate the masses with your wonderful writing. In closing, can you tell us where we can purchase The New Bodybuilding for Old-School Results? 

Ellington Darden: Thanks, Chris, for your interest and your interview questions. This discussion brought back a lot of memories. 

The New Bodybuilding for Old-School Results is not available in bookstores. It can be examined and purchased on my Web site. Here’s the link:

The New Bodybuilding contains 312 pages, 34 chapters, and 248 photographs. It’s the longest and most detailed of my training books.

Written by Chris Mason

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How to build a monstrous bench press

If you are a bodybuilder, competitive lifter, athlete, or just someone who likes to train, you will have answered the question “what do you bench?” on more than one occasion. Let’s face it – no one really cares what you can Clean or Squat so if you don’t have a big bench press then maybe it’s time to put down the latest issue of Flex or Muscle and Fitness and pay attention.

Unfortunately, with the advancements of the bench press shirts most articles you find discuss advanced methods that are written by the pros and although they are filled with a lot of useful information, the beginner lifter is forgotten about.

In my efforts to help educate those that might not yet be ready to handle such an advanced bench press program let’s take a look back at when I was struggling to build my bench.

When I was a freshman in college my goal was to bench three plates by the end of the year, but I reached a plateau and I had been stuck at 265lbs for six months. But during my first WABDL competition in 2003 I was fortunate enough to bump into Ryan Kennelly at the airport and talk with him about my bench press training. Within a month of following his guidelines I had added 50lbs to my bench press and had achieved my goal of benching 315lbs. So what did I learn?

Your setup is crucial to bench monstrous poundage’s

Most people pay little attention to their setup when they bench press. They simply flop down on the bench and don’t think about where to place their feet or the position of their lower and upper back. Just by correcting your setup you can instantly add 25 –50lb!

The first thing you need to do is setup with your feet in a wide position with the foot tucked behind the knee. This allows you to drive harder against the floor as well as creating a solid base to help with those heavier weights.

Next, you want to arch your lower back as much as possible. At first this may be uncomfortable and many of you will struggle, so you will need to work on this. My suggestion is to place PVC pipe under your lower back. As your arch increases, add a towel to the PVC pipe to increase the height. The bigger your arch, the shorter the distance the bar has to travel, and the more weight you are going to lift!

The last area that you need to focus on is getting your upper back in the right position. If you want to bench big then you need to make sure that you are setup right. Place your upper trapezius on the bench and squeeze your shoulder blades together as much as you can.

Once you put all of this together expect to see some huge improvements in your bench press numbers instantly.

Bench twice per week

If you are serious about increasing your bench press then it’s time to your frequency to twice per week. The key is to vary the intensity on each day – do not try to max on both days. One day needs to be focused on maximum strength and the other day should be focus on dynamic strength much like the Westside methods.

Now if you know my current training style or have read So You Wannabe a Powerlifter then you may have noticed that I now follow a hybrid of the Metal Militia template and the Westside template. But remember – this article is for the beginner whose primary focus is on increasing their raw bench press.

Train for speed

Force equals mass multiplied by acceleration. So the faster you move can the bar the more you will be able to lift. Not too long ago I heard a story about a coach that trained his son in the Olympic lifts from a very young age. However, this coach never allowed his son to train with anything other than a dowel rod. On his sixteenth birthday he allowed his son to max out on and if memory serves me correct this young man managed to clean 140kgs! The point of this story is that you do not always have to train with heavy weights in order to increase your power output. Simply exerting maximum effort on the bar regardless of weight is going to increase your strength.

Keep it simple

A lot of lifters get caught up with chains and bands and think these training tools are essential to build up their bench press. For the first three years of training I did not have access to either of these. I did manage to scrounge up enough money to by myself a set of boards, which allowed me to overload my bench press at various stages of the lift.

What you will want to do is train with the 1, 2, and 3 board on you maximum effort day and use the 4,5, and 6 board on your speed day alternating between boards each week.

For example, your training days would look like the following:

Week 1, Day 1

Dynamic/Mobility Warm-Up
1-Board Press – work up to a max weight
Supplementary Exercise – High volume triceps work
Accessory Movements – triceps, deltoids, lats
Pre-habilitation Work – upper back, rotator cuff, and extra pushdowns

Week 1, Day 2

Dynamic/Mobility Warm-Up
Speed bench – -50% of your max for 9 sets of 3
4-board press – work up to a max weight
Accessory Movements – triceps, deltoids, lats
Pre-habilitation Work – upper back, rotator cuff, and extra pushdowns

Week 2, Day 1

Dynamic/Mobility Warm-Up
2-Board Press – work up to a max weight
Supplementary Exercise – High volume triceps work
Accessory Movements – triceps, deltoids, lats
Pre-habilitation Work – upper back, rotator cuff, and extra pushdowns

Week 2, Day 2

Dynamic/Mobility Warm-Up
Speed bench – -50% of your max for 9 sets of 3
4-board press – work up to a max weight
Accessory Movements – triceps, deltoids, lats
Pre-habilitation Work – upper back, rotator cuff, and extra pushdowns

Week 3, Day 1

Dynamic/Mobility Warm-Up
3-Board Press – work up to a max weight
Supplementary Exercise – High volume triceps work
Accessory Movements – triceps, deltoids, lats
Pre-habilitation Work – upper back, rotator cuff, and extra pushdowns

Week 3, Day 2

Dynamic/Mobility Warm-Up
Speed bench – -55% of your max for 9 sets of 3
6-board press – work up to a max weight
Accessory Movements – triceps, deltoids, lats
Pre-habilitation Work – upper back, rotator cuff, and extra pushdowns

Week 4, Day 1 – Deload

Dynamic/Mobility Warm-Up
Supplementary Exercise – High volume triceps work
Accessory Movements – triceps, deltoids, lats
Pre-habilitation Work – upper back, rotator cuff, and extra pushdowns

Week 4, Day 2

Dynamic/Mobility Warm-Up
Bench Press – work up to a new 1 rep max
Accessory Movements – triceps, deltoids, lats
Pre-habilitation Work – upper back, rotator cuff, and extra pushdowns

Note: Using your new max lifts repeat this cycle.

Training your legs and back are just as important

If you really want to increase your bench then you have to train your whole body – not just the bench press. Look at any of the top bench pressers and you will see they all incorporate training for their back and they all squat. For example Gene Rychlak Jr. has squatted 1005lbs in competition, Shawn Lattimer has done a raw 725 squat, and Jani Murtomaki regularly trains with over 700lbs on his back in the gym.

I like to incorporate a lot of heavy row movements for my back along with pull-ups, face pulls, and band pull aparts. If you look at the template I laid out above you will see that I include back work into the bench workouts. I also do a lot of back work on the days that I train the squat. I prefer doing it this way instead of having a day solely devoted to training the muscles of the back.


The number one thing to remember is that it takes time to build a monstrous bench press. Hopefully, this article has shed some light on how to build a solid foundation and will put you on the right track to becoming a bench press freak.

Written by AJ Roberts

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Advanced Cutting Strategies For Physique Perfection

So Much Confusion

This article couldn’t have come out at a better time. While no one has begun dieting yet, everyone is starting to think more and more about warm weather. Where there is warm weather there is less clothing and less chance to hide all that “muscle” you added during your previous bulk, which lasted from September to March. It seems the majority of the population gets fat loss crazy at the same time every year. Everyone wants to drop fat to show off their mid-section – people want abs. Unfortunately this article doesn’t apply to those people.

While the majority of people would be happy with some abdominal definition, this article is written for the male at 10% and the female at 12-15% who want to get even lower. The problem exists that the large percentage of nutrition and weight loss articles and books out there are written for the majority of the population. This isn’t; this is the article that will take you from looking “lean” to “ripped”, that will take your glutes from looking “okay” to “sick.”

This article is for those that want to go from lean to ripped

Covering The Basics

The Law of Thermodynamics states that energy in versus energy out dictates our body composition. More or less, if we want to lose weight, we have to make sure we take in fewer calories than we burn off. If we want to get bigger, we need to have more calories in when compared to the energy that we burn. This argument is flawed in so many ways, yet that is how people looking to get super lean still view body fat reduction.

To put it bluntly, decreasing calories sucks. Okay, I know everyone knows that; if it were easy, we’d all be lean and there would be no failed diets. Why are decreasing calories a no-win situation? When calories are restricted, our bodies’ internal thermostat adjusts to the amount of carbohydrates and protein that we ingested (1). By not giving our engine any fuel, less calories and fewer fat are burned.

Think about the metabolic slowdown for a second, it actually makes a lot of sense. Our body realizes a decrease in energy coming in and energy going out. So now our body has to get more mileage out of our stored energy (fat) and ensure that we can keep functioning normally (2,3,4). It is at this point between functioning and not functioning that people begin to fail on their diets and consume whatever foods they feel like eating. Recent research has shown that lipoprotein lipase, a fat storing enzyme, increases greatly when calories are restricted (5,6). While this is happening production of the thyroid hormone (T3) rapidly decreases, which will maintain muscle mass, but also body fat (7,8,9,10,11,12).

The thyroid is the main regulator of overall metabolism. It sets our body temperature rate and adjusts other metabolic processes such as protein synthesis. The main culprit in failed weight loss is the metabolic slowdown caused by a decrease in active thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormones adjust to the level of muscle mass that the body possesses. When you lose muscle, the thyroid gland secretes less; hence why doing increased amount of aerobic activity isn’t the smartest thing.

I swear I didn't lose any muscle!

I Swear I Didn’t Lose Any Muscle

So while performing aerobic work to expend more calories seems natural, it just contributes to the muscle mass lose due to caloric restriction. Muscle loss resulting from restrictive dieting results from 20-40% of total weight lost (13,14,15,16). If we want the best body around, we can’t afford to lose any muscle, it is the most metabolically challenging thing that we have. When the dieter resumes normal eating, lipoprotein lipase activity remains elevated while our metabolic rate stays depressed causing us to regain the fat back and maybe even add more (17).

Eating More To Lose More

With the recent work of Dr. John Berardi, more attention has been paid to the concept of eating more to lose more body fat. G-Flux, as Berardi calls it, is a concept of increasing caloric intake to support high levels of activity. This helps to support muscle mass, as well as enhance the quality of workouts, since we are able to maintain a stable insulin base. As previously discussed, restricting calories will slow down our metabolism, consuming more calories will encourage our metabolic rate to operate quicker to use the extra calories (18.19). In addition thyroid activity (20,21), thermogenesis (22,23) and leptin (24) levels will each increase with overfeeding, which is going to create an anabolic environment.

How can eating more benefit you and your attempts to become super lean? Let’s look at a simple progression. Energy comes into the body from what we eat and leaves from what we do, okay that has been established. If we have more calories coming in than we burn, our metabolism has to work harder to use all of those calories, the more calories burned. The more efficiently we train the more muscle tissue needs calories to rebuild. Muscle requires more energy to burn and maintain and doesn’t provide enough energy when it breaks down.

My clients typically report uncontrolled hunger on my programs and that is intentional. If I am trying to get them lean, I want them to eat. Some of the fitness/figure competitors that I have worked with in the past go into contests eating more. Madness? If every other competitor is going into the contest in a state of caloric restriction, how much muscle is he or she building? Being anabolic means that you are building muscle AND losing fat. I want my clients to go into contests growing. The more you eat the more weight you gain right? Research has shown that a direct linear relationship between eating more and weight gain simply doesn’t exist (25,26).

Creating The Anabolic Environment

“Insulin sensitivity and adding muscle mass while leaning out are all extremely correlated.” – Jimmy Smith

So we’ve talked about it before. We need to decrease calories to burn fat and increase calories to stimulate new tissue. The problem is without a high metabolism we cannot build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Everything is different when we are attempting to maximize both lean muscle and body fat reduction. Our main goal should be to control our insulin, not eliminate insulin resistance, as most people have claimed. Every time we eat we essentially give ourselves a shot of insulin, the degree of the shot depends on what we eat. The majority of the U.S. population is insulin resistant at the skeletal muscle level (keep in mind you can be insulin resistant elsewhere as well), which attributes to numerous factors such as:

  • High trans/saturated fat diet
  • Low fat diet
  • Decreased essential fatty acid intake (fish oil)
  • Increased carbohydrate diet
  • Decreased intake of vegetables
  • Increased stress
  • Decreased sleep
  • Increased sugar intake

Someone who has a high degree of insulin sensitivity means that a minimal amount of insulin will generate a large response, while being insulin resistant means that more insulin is needed to have the same effects. The issue with insulin is that it controls every other major hormone in our body. You can put it anyway you’d like, but when we have fast insulin fluctuations we raise our cortisol, which in turn lowers are androgens (testosterone, DHEA and growth hormone). Abdominal obesity is correlated with low growth hormone (27) and we know that GH and insulin are antagonists (28). If you further look at the hormonal downfall, we’ll see that rapid changes in insulin levels not only make us age faster, but also raise our cortisol even more. We’ll add more body fat, which will increase the estrogen in both males and females as well.

Looking deeper into the difference between chunky/lean and super lean individuals we also must mention cortisol. This highly catabolic hormone is released in response to stress. When people decide to really get lean, they perform high amounts of aerobic work, decrease calories rapidly and train more. The effect on the body is increased stress production. Increased stress combined with falling blood sugar levels causes the body to react to what it deems as a dramatic event and release cortisol (29,30). Cortisol will effect the T4-T3 conversion, as well as destroy muscle, promote insulin resistance and suppress the immune system.

Have you had a diet fail because you got sick a week or two into it? That is likely due to the suppressed immune system that is caused by the declining blood sugar level and increased cortisol level. Now again, insulin resistance and increased stress decreases our androgens. What was all the research around the supplement glutamine when it first became popular? It was that glutamine helps immune system function. Now I can’t find any studies on my next statement so if you need a study to validate everything then close your eyes, but I strongly believe that immune system function highly effects the anabolic environment of the body.

Now imagine we continually stay on a caloric restricted meal. Even if we are eating multiple meals throughout the day, we not only have a depressed thyroid, but our growth hormone and testosterone output is also decreased. What do you think this does to the semi-successful dieter? It throws them into the negative downfall even more. By periodically shifting our eating habits to a higher energy intake we can change all of this in a hurry. We have now shifted back into an anabolic environment.

The following table summarizes why it is important to eat more and have a higher metabolism to build muscle and lose fat:

I swear I didn't lose any muscle!

What’s the Plan?

Having knowledge is one thing and putting knowledge to use to get results is a completely separate action. We’ve covered the hormonal aspects of dieting and made it pretty clear why we need to ingest more food to lose fat and add muscle. I know the question in your head is, “How can I consistently eat more and lose body fat?” The answer is you can’t, you are going to have a caloric deficit at some point and you are going to have a caloric surplus as well. This is going to be accomplished with a cycling approach that aims to maximize the hormonal advantages of overeating and minimizes the damage of under-eating.

Cycling diets have become extremely popular in recent years and with good reason. They are the closest things we are going to get to diet perfection – we can eat some of the foods we love and we avoid all of negative characteristics associated with dieting. This type of eating allows us to use a mix of low carb and carb dominant days depending on what our training looks like for that particular day.

It is important to note that not all workouts are followed with a protein-carbohydrate meal. I understand the science and theory behind nutrient timing, which states that at certain points during the day our body can handle carbohydrates better than other times. Those “good” times being when we first rise in the morning and immediately after and within 60 minutes post exercise. Our body is more insulin sensitive at those times regardless of how we fare the rest of the day so we are primed for muscle growth, since carbohydrate plus protein will create a better insulin response, which at this time is a good thing, hence faster protein synthesis and glucose restoration.

Hypertrophy and strength aren’t going to be affected when carbohydrate intake is limited; it is affected when energy intake is too low. I’m not saying that a protein only post workout meal is better or that a protein and carbohydrate meal isn’t good. I’m simply stating that in a cycling approach we can have some days where we have a carb less protein meal. I’ve found this to be extremely effective with individuals who are already relatively lean. I prefer to use a post workout shake that contains the following:

  • 20 to 40 grams of whey/casein protein
  • 10 to 20 grams of glycine
  • 5 to 10 grams of branch chained amino acids
  • 5 grams of leucine

Is this out of fear of wrecking our fat loss efforts? No – the majority of our sessions aren’t glycogen-depleting workouts unless that is the point of the session. We are also cycling our carbohydrate approach so that we’ll likely have enough glycogen to get us through a few workouts without ingesting any carbohydrates. Another issue that I have with ingesting large amounts of carbs post workout is that not every workout can be demanding enough to warrant consistent high carbohydrate post workout meals. If we could have these demanding workouts every session, we’d likely be causing more stress than our body can handle.

While the theory of nutrient timing is great, when we are attempting to get leaner than we have been, we must do something different. We can fix our insulin sensitivity, but still manage to have a high amount of insulin secretion from the carbs we ingest. If we consume a moderate to large carb meal post workout and find that we have a stable energy level, then we have normal or low levels of insulin secretion from the carbs we have consumed. But if we quickly get hungry or tired, then we over secrete insulin, which will also cause our blood pressure to crash. Remember we are trying to limit those peaks and valleys.

Now the nutrient timing approach can be very beneficial as well. If we are performing body part splits, then we will ingest carbs post workout on the days that we train the muscle we want to improve. If we are performing full body workouts, then we will pick the workout in which we ingest the post workout carbs. In any case, here is what the post workout meal will look like.

  • 20 to 30 grams of whey protein
  • 60 to 90 grams of carbs
  • 10 grams of glycine
  • 5 to 10 grams of branched chain amino acids
  • 5 grams of leucine

Making the Fire Burn

A big component of this cycling approach is that our training must be smarter and harder. Does it make sense to train as much when we are consuming less and more? No – so we must train according to the energy that we have coming in. On our low carb days we will focus on weight training. On our higher carb days, we’re going to consume additional aerobic work following our training session. Just as we cycle our nutrients, we also need to cycle our energy expenditure. It makes little to no sense to consistently perform more and more work. After all, that is what the majority of people do to lose weight and we can tell it really doesn’t work. By performing more work as we ingest more, we ensure that those extra nutrients will be shuttled to the muscle.

I want to briefly touch on supplementation for fat loss. It is my firm belief that any supplement that helps us improve our insulin sensitivity will also help us to grow. While I use a wide range of supplements and dosages, here are some of the main ones.

Fish Oil – Without going into too much detail, omega-3 fish oils do everything – get used to it and take them. While I have seen some people recommend up to 20 grams and others recommend 3-5 grams, I have found very good success with taking 9 grams per day. Be sure to check the label, as each brand tends to dose their oil differently.

R-ALA – This has become a very controversial supplement and I am not going to get into that here. What I will say is that there is still some very good research on it and even if you do not believe that research, what we cannot argue with is that dieting tends to cause our body to release more toxins as we lose body fat. These toxins have a very high pro-inflammatory response and R-ALA is very anti-inflammatory.

Sesame Oil – This has become extremely popular recently and with good reason. Sesame Oil has been shown to increase fatty oxidation, as well as decrease inflammation, which again is a big plus during dieting.

Where do the cheat meals go? I have played with both a full day reefed and 3-4 individual cheat meals during the week. I find that the multiple cheat meal option works better for two reasons. First, it is very hard to psychologically recover from a full day of eating anything you want. I also feel we will do more damage to our insulin sensitivity by not paying attention to our diet for one day than we will if we have four cheat meals. Secondly, by having a few cheat meals during the week, we are able to recover better, since that cheat meal is between two “good” meals. The trick here is to consistently follow your eating times. Don’t eat a whole pizza and then not eat for 4 hours.

Nutrition Template

If you are confused by any of the information above, it is going to get very clear. I want to make a quick note before I get into the template. This template is for a full body-training schedule. If you should be performing a body part split program, then make sure to not have your high carb days back to back, space them out.

  • Sunday: Moderate carb diet with carbs being eliminated at 4 o’clock (cheat meal included).
  • Monday: Low-no carb diet
  • Tuesday: Low-no carb diet
  • Wednesday: Moderate carb diet
  • Thursday: Low carb diet
  • Friday: High carb diet (cheat meal included)
  • Saturday: Low carb in the morning, moderate carb from noon on (cheat meal included)

Workout Template

  • Sunday: No workout
  • Monday: Regular workout
  • Tuesday: Depletion workouts w/cardio
  • Wednesday: No workout
  • Thursday: Regular workout
  • Friday: Depletion workout w/cardio
  • Saturday: Regular workout

We are going to focus on two different types of training methods while we are attempting to get lean while adding muscle. The first is termed a “Regular Workout”, which consists of both a neural and a mechanical stimulus. We can definitely get stronger as we get leaner, but at the same time we also need mechanical tension for muscle growth. Why do I combine both low reps and high reps in a workout? The lower rep-high set work is going to use very little glucose; the primary energy system is going to be ATP and creatine phosphate. Since our energy stores aren’t going to deplete, the majority of the rebuilding is going to be for new contractile proteins.

We will also be performing our regular workouts after our higher carb days so that we can take advantage of glycogen super compensation, which will increase strength through mechanical efforts. The higher rep work will place both optimal growth stimulus and stress on the muscle, but will also serve to deplete glycogen as well.

So a “Regular Workout” would look like the following:

I swear I didn't lose any muscle!

Depletion workouts will set us up for glycogen super compensation which will increase insulin sensitivity, glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis. Glycogen depletion also increases fat utilization by the muscle and causes a high increase in lactate, which will increase growth hormone secretion. The problem with traditional pump training is that it is used with body part splits. Glycogen super compensation is only going to occur in the muscles trained so we must utilize full body workouts.

Here’s an example:

I swear I didn't lose any muscle!

I’d like to touch briefly on cardio as well. While for the majority of the population I am a fan of high intensity work, I do feel that slow steady state work can be very beneficial for those who are trying to go from lean to super lean. We cannot ignore the fat oxidation that occurs from lower intensity work, as well as the effect of this type of work on stubborn body fat. In addition on a diet like this it may be extremely hard to perform high intensity aerobic work while also performing strength work.

The Final Word

You have just been given all the tools to achieve the best body that you have ever had. It is just a matter of following the plan and putting in the work. If you do, I promise you’ll turn heads on the beach this summer.

Written by Jimmy Smith

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 – Advanced Cutting Strategies discussion thread.


1) Duchaine, D Bodyopus pp.146

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3) Penicaud L, Le Magnen J. Recovery of Body Weight Following Starvation or Food Restriction in Rats Neoruosci Biobehav Rev 1980; (Suppl)1:47S.

4) Elliot DL, et al. Sustained Depression of the Resting Metabolic Rate after Massive Weight Loss. Am J Clin Nutr 1989; 49-93.

5) Schwartz RS, Brunzell JD. Increase of Adipose Tissue Lipoprotein Lipase Activity with Weight Loss J Clin Invest 1981;67:1425

6) Kern PA, et al. The Effect of Weight Loss on the Activity and Expression of Adipose Tissue Lipoprotein Lipase in Very Obese Humans. N Engl J Med 1990;322:1053.

7) Chomard P, et al. Serum Concentrations of Total and free Thyroid Hormones in Moderatly Obese Women during a Six-Week Slimming Cure. Eur J Clin Nutr 1988;42:285

8 ) Robinson HM, Betton H, Jackson AA. Free and
Total Triiodothyronine and Thyroxine in Malnourished Jamaican Infants. The Effect of Diet on Plasma Levels of Thyroid Hormones, Insulin and Glucose during Recovery . Hum Nutr Clin Nutr 1985;39:245

9) Visser TJ, et al. Serum Thyroid Hormone Concentrations during Prolonged Reduction of Dietary Intake. Metabolism 1978:27:405

10) Cavallo E, et al. Resting metabolic Rate, Body Composition and Thyroid Hormones. Short Term Effects of Very Low Calorie Diet. Horm Metab Res 1990;22:632

11) Yang MU, van Itallie TB. Variability in Body Protein Loss during Protracted, Severe Caloric Restriction: Role of Triiodothyronine and other Possible Determinants. J Clin Nutr 1984;40:611

12) Kaptein EM, et al. Relationship between the Changes in Serum Thyroid Hormone Levels and Protein Status during Prolonged Protein Supplemented Caloric Deprivation. Clin Endrocrinol (Oxf) 1985:22:1

13) Dengel DR, et al. Effects of Weight Loss by Diet Alone or Combined with Aerobic Exercise on Body Composition in Older Obese Men. Metabolism 1994; 43:867

14) Ballor DL, Poehlman ET. Exercise-Training Enhances Fat-Free Mass Preservation during Diet-Induced Weight Loss: A Meta-Analytical Finding. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1994;18:35

15) Garrow JS, Summerbell CD. Meta-Analysis:Effect of Exercise, With or Without Dieting, on the Body Compositon of Overweight Subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr 1995;49:1

16) Kraemer WJ, et al. Influence of Exercise Training on Physiological and Performance Changes with Weight Loss in Men. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1999:31:1320

17) Penicaud L, Le Magnen J. Recovery of Body Weight Following Starvation or Food Restriction in Rats. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 1980;(Suppl)1:47S

18) Bandini LG, et al. Energy Expenditure during Carbohydrate Overfeeding in Obese and Nonobese Adolescents. Am J Physiol 1989;256:E357.

19) Curcio C, et al. Development of Compensatory Thermogenesis in Reponse to Overfeeding in Hypothyroid Rats. Endocrinology 1999;140:3438

20) Welle S, et al. Decreased Free Fraction of Serum Thyroid Hormones during Carbohydrate Overfeeding. Metabolism 1984;33:837.

21) Oppert JM, et al. Thyroid Hormones and Thyrotropin Variations during Long Term Overfeeding in Identical Twins. J Clin Endrocrinol Metab 1994;79547.

22) Almeida NG, Levitsky DA, Strupp B. Enhanced Thermogensis during Recovery from Diet-Induced Weight Gain in the Rat. Am J Physiol 1996;271:R1380

23) Levine JA, Eberhardt NL, Jensen MD. Role of Nonexercise Activity Thermogenesis in Resistance to Fat Gain in Humans. Science 1999;283:212

24) Levine JA, Eberhardt NL, Jensen MD. Leptin Responses to Overfeeding: Relationships with Body Fat and Nonexercise Activity Thermogenesis. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1999;84:2751.

25) Norgan NG, Durnin JV. The Effect of 6 weeks of overfeeding on the Body Weight, Body Composition and Energy Metabolism of Young Men. Am J Clin Nutr 1980;33-978.

26) Webb P. Annis JF. Adaptation to Overeating in Lean and Overweight Men and Women. Hum Nutr Clin Nutr 1983;37:117

27) Vahl N, et al. Abdominal Adiposity Rather than Age and Sex Predicts Mass and Regularity of GH Secretion in Healthy Adults. Am J Physiol 1997;272:E1108

28) Campbell RM, Scanes CG, Inhibition of Growth Hormone-Stimulated Lipolysis by Somatostatin,Insulin and Insulin-Like Growth Factor In Vitro. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 1988;189:362.

29) M, et al. Effects of Insulin-Induced Hypoglycemia and Dexamathasone. Neuroendocinology 1992;55:97

30) Lins PE, et al. The Role of Glucagon, Catecholamines and Cortisol in Counterregulation of Insulin-Induced Hypoglycemia in Hormal Men. Acta Med Scand 1986;220:39

Sports Supplement Review

The past decade has seen a boom in the supplement industry, with new products cropping up on a regular basis. The majority of these products eventually fade, making way for “the next big thing.” In this article we will cover what just might be that next thing and one of the most exciting supplements to come along in quite a while. We will also explore a few of the more popular supplements currently on the market and weigh the potential benefits against the potential risks of these products. Additionally, I’ll provide an Anabolic Index rating for each supplement, which quantifies exactly how much each product will help you achieve your goals.

Covered in this Article:

  • The newest rock solid performance enhancing supplement
  • Potentially harmful supplement ingredients
  • Arginine (aka Nitric Oxide stimulators)

Beta Alanine:

Beta alanine (BA) is a naturally occurring amino acid in our bodies, and is fairly unexciting. The interesting part happens when BA combines with another amino acid called histidine forming a dipeptide known as Carnosine. Carnosine normally exists in our muscles, acting primarily as a buffer to resist changes in pH. Over the past few years, research has shown additional benefits of Carnosine, which makes it so intriguing for us. Much like creatine, we can “load” our muscles with Carnosine by supplementing with BA, thus reaping even greater benefits (12, 13). 

The buffering of lactic acid by Carnosine doesn’t seem like a big deal at first glance. In fact, some may dismiss the true benefits by assuming that this simply means less of a burning sensation will occur when training. But, increasing buffering capacity cannot only improve performance; it has the potential to increase muscle growth and strength gains. 

As far as training, the ability to push harder means a greater stimulus for adaptation for strength and muscle growth. This is especially true for the high threshold fast fibers, because these are the fibers that have the greatest capacity for Carnosine storage. Intra-muscular Carnosine levels are largely fiber type dependent, in that; the faster the muscle, the more Carnosine it has (24). Taking this one step further, Carnosine itself contributes some of the contractile properties responsible for fiber typing. In other words, fast muscles may have specific contractile properties because they have a lot of Carnosine; and it is Carnosine that helps make them fast. This is supported by several studies showing that Carnosine enhances maximum contraction speed of fibers, meaning that our muscles can contract more quickly (2, 26). From this, it stands to reason that fast athletes like sprinters are known to have more muscle Carnosine than endurance athletes (20). 

BA and Fast Twitch Fibres:

The proper application of this concept is of critical importance, so let’s look at it in another way. It is often cited that humans have three main fiber types, which are (slowest to fastest): “Type I”, “Type IIA”, and “Type IIB” (21). Unfortunately, this is a bit of a misrepresentation, because humans do not actually have the lightning fast and powerful IIB fibers. Instead, our fastest type is a slower version called “IIX” (21).

Due to its ability to enhance contraction speed, increasing muscle Carnosine levels could conceivably move us closer to that IIB ideal! You can imagine the implications of this in everything from football to Olympic Weightlifting. 

Neural Recovery:

If Carnosine levels are elevated, they may protect against damage to our nerves, allowing them to fire at a faster rate than if damaged. Practically speaking, instead of performing at 90% the day after exercise, Carnosine may help you perform closer to optimum level. This is particularly useful for athletes who are repeatedly using the same muscles, without the ability to simply rest and recover for a few days. 

By protecting nerve cells against oxidative damage, Carnosine may lead to synchronous muscle and nervous system recovery, and ultimately facilitate training while each tissue is optimized. This could not only provide a more powerful training stimulus (12, 23), but the advantages of being able to train more frequently are clear. 

In terms of direct practical application, strength athletes and powerlifters are most concerned with neural recovery. This makes BA supplementation perfect for these athletes who want to keep the nervous system running quickly and efficiently. One of the greatest benefits of BA is that its use as a supplement is widely applicable, by both athletes and those interested in changing their physique. The people who benefit most from BA supplementation are the same as those who benefit from creatine. These athletes play sports including: football, hockey, wrestling/MMA, track etc. The ability of BA supplementation to enhance contraction speed even makes it useful for sports like table tennis, where quickness and agility are paramount. 

Of course, BA is perfect for people looking to gain muscle and strength – just like creatine. Finally, due to the potential of enhancing neural recovery, beta alanine supplementation works well for strength athletes and powerlifters. 

In summary, the following effects are noted due to Beta Alanine supplementation: 

  • Faster muscle contraction 
  • Resistance to anaerobic fatigue 
  • Increased stimulus for strength/muscle growth 
  • Enhanced neural protection and recovery

There are few supplements around these days that we can actually trust, so it’s pretty exciting when something like Beta Alanine comes around. With the numerous benefits to the human body, coupled with the observed increase in athletic performance, Beta Alanine is sure to be around for years to come!

Although BA is not directly anabolic, its ability to enhance gym performance yields the following score.

  • Anabolic Index rating: 1


A number of supplements currently on the market contain a completely unnecessary and potentially dangerous substance called Glycocyamine. 

Glycocyamine is a substance known to increase our blood levels of homocysteine, which is believed to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. This means that we’re potentially more likely to have heart disease/atherosclerosis when our homocysteine levels are high. Lest we forget, cardiovascular disease is still the #1 killer in the Western world.

Some have attempted to justify their consumption of glycocyamine based upon recent research suggesting that the correlation between cardiovascular disease and homocysteine levels isn’t as strong as once thought. In other words, a weaker correlation means that you have a slightly lesser chance of dying as once thought, should you consume this substance. Awesome! 

Glycocyamine = Nervous System Damage?

As potentially dangerous as the correlation to cardiovascular disease is, it gets worse. Glycocyamine has also been described as “neurotoxic action” (17).

Glycocyamine has an inhibitory effect on a brain enzyme called the sodium pump (27, 28). This isn’t just any enzyme; the sodium pump is responsible for all nerve signals that happen in our body. So important is this enzyme, it exists not only in nerve cells, but also in every single cell in the body. This means that although only the brain has been studied (so far), glycocyamine has the potential to disrupt the proper functioning of every cell.

This is BAD.

For those concerned with performance (and if you’re reading this, you very likely are), our muscles have a high concentration of the sodium pump. After studying it in the lab for 7 years, I can tell you that this enzyme is critical for proper muscle contraction and optimal performance. Based on this, it’s no surprise to learn that high glycocyamine levels have been implicated in reducing muscle strength (15). 

Generally, I would be the first to call for studies that are more specific to strength athletes, but in this case we’re talking about health. When it comes to a supplement having potentially harmful effects, even in vitro and animal studies should give us cause for concern.

What’s the Point?

Realistically speaking, the idea of consuming glycocyamine is simply absurd, but there has to be a reason why it’s in there. The primary theory behind its use is that it is converted to creatine by our bodies, so taking in more glycocyamine results in higher creatine and homocysteine levels.

Glycocyamine is intended as a creatine substitute, however, the absurdity lies in the fact that it does not elevate creatine levels to any greater extent than simply supplementing with creatine. And until glycocyamine is converted, the “neurotoxic action” is still a problem. Perhaps when creatine was close to a dollar per serving, glycocyamine’s use as a creatine booster might have had relevance. However, creatine monohydrate is now one of the least expensive (and most effective) supplements available rendering substitutes completely unnecessary, especially a substitute far more expensive with the potential for harmful side effects.

Due to its potential ability to impair the nervous system, and subsequently muscle contraction (irrespective of health issues), glycocyamine earns the following.

  • Anabolic Index Rating: -1 (with a potential for harming health)

Guadininopropionic Acid:

A certain creatine like supplement on the market (as well as several copycat products), contain a potentially dangerous compound that is ergolytic; i.e. something that decreases athletic performance.

This chemical is Guanidinopropionic Acid (GPA). GPA binds the creatine transporter thus preventing creatine transport into various tissues. The problem lies in the fact that most of our tissues can’t generate creatine so it has to be transported in. And obstructed transporters means cellular creatine levels are reduced.

It bears repeating that creatine isn’t just a supplement, but a naturally occurring substance in our bodies that we need to survive! You are familiar with the positive impact of a 20% creatine increase – imagine an 80% reduction! Just seven days of GPA induced creatine depletion can not only reduce muscle strength (11), but has also been shown to convert fast-twitch muscle to slow-twitch! So this substance could make you weaker and slower!

Your Brain on GPA:

These effects alone should be plenty to make you avoid supplements containing GPA, but wait! There’s more! There’s also a potentially dangerous side to consider as both our hearts and brains have creatine transporters!!! Messing around with your two most vital organs is never a great idea. While the brain seems to compensate for decreases in energy supply caused by GPA (19), your body must still adapt to reduced energy levels and who wants that! Additionally, three separate studies have shown that creatine levels in the heart dropped by 80-87% with GPA consumption in rats (6, 18,14). Now you can see why it’s nearly impossible to perform human studies using this substance. One has to wonder what manufacturers were thinking when they approved production of GPA containing supplements. 

One particular supplement (“NO-Xplode”) combines GPA with our old friend Glycocyamine. Sadly, glycocyamine (also known as guanidinoacetate) has been picked up by a number of different supplement companies. Unfortunately, these substances aren’t just isolated to a single product — they’re popping up in all kinds of different supplements (including some protein powders)! 

It’s my opinion that products containing either of these substances should be pulled off the market and the formulas changed, but the FDA is powerless until harm has already been done. So, before you supplement with something, do your research and KNOW WHAT YOU’RE CONSUMING!

Because of the powerful effect of blocking creatine uptake into all cells (irrespective of potential health problems), including muscle, GPA has the resulting score.

  • Anabolic Index rating: -3 (with a potential for harming health)

Arginine AKG (Nitric Oxide Stimulators):

Arginine supplements (aka NO stimulators, aka Nitric Oxide supplements) have arguably become the most the most hyped up products of the past couple of years. The theory behind the supplement is that taking high amounts of the amino acid arginine will result in its conversion to the molecule called nitric oxide (NO). Because NO is largely responsible for increasing the size of blood vessels, the idea is that greater levels of NO will stimulate blood flow. Finally, if we can stimulate more blood flow to working muscles we can have:

  1. Greater removal of metabolic by products that can shut down muscle contraction. This could result in greater muscular endurance and overall performance. 
  2. Increased nutrient delivery. If our muscles require energy to work or amino acids to grow, an elevated blood flow could increase the supply. This could result increased performance and muscle growth.

Show Me the Money:

Now that we know the theory behind the supplements, let’s take a look at the supporting evidence. Fortunately for us, there is quite a bit of data on the subject.

  • Study 1(25) -Dose: 21 grams. Measured Result: No effect on glycogen storage following exercise
  • Study 2 (5) -Dose: 6g either IV or orally. Measured Result: No effect on blood flow
  • Study 3 (1) -Dose: 7g for 3 days. Measured Result: No effect on blood flow
  • Study 4 (9) -Dose: 20g a day for 20 days Measured Result: No effect on blood flow
  • Study 5 (10) -Dose: 20g a day for 20 days Measured Result: No effect on blood flow
  • Study 6 (22) -Dose: 10g +70g carbohydrates Measured Result: No effect on blood flow or nutrient uptake

Collectively it appears as though the theory behind arginine and NO is bunk, but there may be an explanation. NO is a very powerful molecule that can not only induce oxidaftive damage and regulate blood flow, but also acts as a signal between communicating nerve cells. As a result, NO levels are tightly regulated. In fact, our body’s natural arginine levels are already far higher than should be required to stimulate NO production.

Taking this one step further, even an arginine-free diet for nearly a week had no effect on NO synthesis (8). Once again, this shows how important control of NO is to our normal body functioning, and how little the impact of arginine consumption can be.

Arginine Alphaketoglutarate:

Some people will scoff at the above findings because they used regular arginine, while the current arginine supplements have an AKG molecule attached to them. Will the AKG suddenly override the body’s desperate need to regulate NO levels? Even the question itself seems a little at this point.

Fortunately, one group decided to specifically look at arginine AKG (AAKG) taken at 12g a day for 8 weeks (Campbell). This study is of particular interest not only due to the specificity of the supplement used, but also because the subjects were people who regularly resistance trained. Unfortunately, blood flow was no examined.

At the end of the 8 week supplementation and training routine, there was no effect of AAKG on muscle mass or fat loss (7). Considering the lack of impact of other arginine supplements, this should not be surprising. What is surprising however is the incredible amount of strength the AAKG group added to their bench press 19lbs compared to a 6lb increase in the placebo group!

With unbelievable results like this, why haven’t you already ordered your arginine supplements? Well, for some it may be because the results are a little too good to be true. Looking at it critically, adding nearly 20lbs to a max bench in 8 weeks borders on “steroidlike” effects. What makes this even more interesting is that no changes in muscle were seen, which means that this strength gain was strictly a result of improvements in the nervous system. This is strange, particularly because these neural adaptations come far more slowly to trained subjects (which these were).

Although I find the data hard to believe as they stand, there is one more place to look for evidence: the web. Although I’m reluctant to point to this subjective and largely unreliable source, it can be very helpful in situations like this.

It seems as though some people perceive an effect from these supplements, but the strange thing is that no one can agree on exactly how the results manifest themselves. Most importantly, no one is claiming to feel steroid like effects from these supplements. Now you’d have to think that a group that really wants to believe the advertising would have the perception of the greatest results. So when even this group doesn’t agree, you have to wonder what’s going on.

As a final point on the study in question, it is important to note that an increase in cycling power was achieved through AAKG supplementation. This is often represented simply as “power” in advertisements, which although clinically correct, is meant to conjure up images of POWERful men, POWERlifting, and explosive POWER (as in Olympic weightlifting). Of course the reality is that this measure relates to none of these things. Sadly, it is theorized that the only reason for this increase in cycling power is due to an increase in muscle creatine content any benefit from which would pale in comparison to direct creatine supplementation.

Saving Grace:

So far it looks as though arginine and AAKG supplements don’t do a whole lot for blood flow, nutrient uptake, or muscle growth, but there may be a bright spot to all this. It is well know that arginine is a powerful stimulator of insulin secretion and in turn (4), insulin stimulates blood flow (3)! So although arginine can’t directly increase NO levels, it at least has the possibility to do so through insulin. Now looking at the collective data, it appears as though any such effect in negligible, and the resulting changes in muscle growth are nil, but it’s nice to know that the theory has at least some connection to reality – no matter how small.

Arginine Conclusions:

In direct contrast the theory, all data to date indicate that arginine ingestion cannot stimulate either NO production or blood flow. Muscle mass is not affected by AAKG supplementation, although the question of effects on muscle strength remain open. Whatever the case, we need to stop calling them “nitric oxide supplements”. Perhaps “insulin supplements” would be more appropriate. For its complete lack of ability to affect muscle mass, arginine AKG receives the following…

  • Anabolic Index Rating: 0

Overall Conclusions

Clearly the popularity of supplements has more to do with marketing hype than actual efficacy. By understanding what we’re putting in our body, we’ll not only be able to optimize our results, but do it safely as well. The Anabolic Index was designed to show people exactly what the effects of supplementation are, such that the best overall combinations can be used.

Written by David Barr

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 – Sports Supplement Review discussion thread.


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