Why You Should Be Skipping Breakfast: The Secrets of Intermittent Fasting

From fat to sickeningly anorexic and all points between, Martin Berkhan has occupied all parts of the physique spectrum. Today, he lives and breathes the life of a natural albeit non-competitive bodybuilder, a feat made all the more laudable provided his unrepentant fondness for cheesecake.

He trains only two to three times in a given calendar week, eats all the ‘wrong’ foods, fasts for 16 hours a day, and takes in all of his carbohydrates at night, all at a bodyweight of 195 pounds and 5.5% body fat. Not bad, huh?

Martin’s desire to rid himself of the neuroses that accompanied his pursuit of bodybuilding sparked a revolution in the online fitness community. The public response to his intermittent fasting (also known as IF) experiment proved overwhelming, and it soon became apparent that he wasn’t alone in his struggle against bodybuilding’s nutritional dogma. His experimentation led to the development of the Leangains protocol, and that, folks, made him an internet fitness celebrity.

“Leangains was partly inspired by the Halberg et. al. study that came out just as I started researching intermittent fasting,” he told me, “but the protocol came first.” Like so many of us, prior to IF Martin had adhered to a diet strategy best described as ‘orthorexia-lite,’ euphemized in fitness circles as ‘clean eating.’

So what makes IF so successful, and why has it left such a lasting impact? IF is truly remarkable, a diet method in which the aspiring physique athlete can have his or her cheesecake and eat it too.

The Meal Frequency Fallacy

IF challenges the ubiquitous fitness rule that in order to stay lean, muscular, and healthy, one must eat small, protein-containing meals every two to three hours. I bring this up because to understand why IF works, we need to understand why the ‘eat every two to three hours’ maxim does not work.

Food costs the body energy to process with different foods costing the body different amounts of energy. This cost, known as the thermic effect of food, or TEF, negates roughly 10% of the calories of a mixed diet. That means in order for the body to process and utilize 2,000 calories across a given day, it will burn about 200 calories.

Researchers exploring the topic of meal frequency discovered that the consumption of a given meal raises the body’s metabolic rate for a short period of time. Part of the research community then wondered if human subjects could raise their total daily caloric burn by eating more frequently.

In the tight confines of theory, this sounds swell, but alas, the body’s physiological processes are working along a much lengthier timeline than such theorizing accounts for. What’s missing here is the fact that a given meal’s thermic effect is directly proportional to the size of said meal. In layspeak, a bigger meal merits a bigger thermic effect.

For example, if someone on a 1500 calorie-a-day diet eats three meals, that person will burn 50 calories at each meal for a total of 150 calories burned per day. Now, presume the same person eats six smaller meals for a total of 1500 calories. Each of these meals will burn 25 calories. 25 calories over six meals? 150 calories. Exactly the same as the three meals a day group.

At the end of the day, no measurable difference in fat loss can be had through manipulation of meal frequency.

Such evidence has done nothing to change the minds of the fitness gurus who cling desperately to decades-old, unsubstantiated hypothesizing. It makes sense: when you’re trying to make a buck as a fitness guru, you can’t exactly contradict yourself and your $99 e-product and still remain credible.

It recent years, this bogus reasoning seems to have taken on a life of its own. One of the more creative interpretations of the high meal frequency rule is premised on some armchair theorizing into the negative consequences of a low meal frequency. The argument goes like this: in absence of frequent feedings, the body turns to amino acids for fuel and burns off lean body mass, causing a supposed down-regulation of the metabolism, dubbed ‘starvation mode.’

This starvation mode has been blamed for the downfall of Lehman Brothers in 2008, giving you an idea as to my thoughts regarding its credibility.

Let’s be clear: this reasoning carries with it zero scientific support. Presuming adequate protein, long-term research shows no loss in lean body mass even under strict fasting conditions, so long as calories are kept at a maintenance level. In fact, studies investigating fasting or intermittent fasting show a slight increase in metabolic rate. This probably stems from the additional catecholamine release that accompanies an upregulation of norepinephrine in the brain.

Only now in 2010 is the media (and note it’s the general and not fitness-specific media) beginning to challenge the high meal-frequency dogma. In a piece run by the New York Times, author Anahad O’Connor writes that “as long as total caloric and nutrient intake stays the same, then metabolism, at the end of the day, should stay the same as well.” The article goes on to cite a 2009 study performed by Cameron, et. al., titled “Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet” that appeared in The British Journal of Nutrition.

Body composition changes are predicated entirely on what they always have been: total daily caloric intake and exercise modality. Eating more begets an increase in weight and eating less yields a decrease, regardless of meal frequency.

So why go so extreme? If meal frequency doesn’t matter, why pursue something as radical as intermittent fasting?

There’s no doubt about it – Martin Berkhan walk’s the walk

From Caloric Restriction to Intermittent Fasting

The use of caloric restriction (or CR) as a means toward life extension continues to grow in popularity. CR provides a host of benefits, including improvements in cognition, respiratory health, and inflammation biomarkers. Researchers have also observed increases in insulin sensitivity in CR subjects, meaning that participants showed improved tolerance and usage of dietary carbohydrates. For an athlete, this is ideal because the better an athlete can tolerate dietary carbohydrates, the more likely he or she is to maintain a leaner, more muscular physique.

The contribution of IF lies in its ability to replicate the bonuses offered with caloric restriction sans the starvation and compromise of athletic prowess. IF studies typically utilize a fasting period of anywhere from 20 to 48 hours and have been shown to provide greater improvement in exototic stress reduction, basal serum glucose levels, and lifespan when compared with CR interventions.

IF has also has promise when it comes to improving biomarkers in obese individuals.  Decreases in oxidative stress and inflammation were observed in intermittent fasting studies that tested asthmatic patients, and IF appears to also enhance the neuroplasticity of the brain, allowing new neuronal connections to form more readily than might otherwise.

The most prescient piece of literature for the bodybuilding enthusiast would have to be the IF study performed by Stote, et. al. titled “A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal-weight, middle-aged adults.” This was the first study to look at IF from a body composition perspective.

I co-authored a review that looked at this piece of research back in 2007. The study was a breakthrough in the sense that (1) it focused primarily on body composition, and (2) it was the first to control calories between groups. In the article, one study group ate one meal a day while another study group ate three regularly spaced meals a day. Without exercise, the first group lost more bodyweight and body fat and gained more lean muscle tissue than the three-meals–a-day group despite identical caloric intakes.

Crazy, right? Just by dropping meal frequency, one group magically lost body fat and gained muscle. No special pills, no exercise, no diet even…just fewer meals. The study is not without its limitations, but we can’t ignore this research simply because we don’t like it. It effectively adds to a growing body of fasting literature that indicates something is going on biochemically, we’re just not sure what.

IF captured the hearts of a many online bodybuilding community members. Research means nothing if it can’t be applied, and so we turn to a discussion of Martin’s Leangains system and how such research burnished its reputation.

Intermittent Fasting and Bodybuilding

Martin’s Leangains protocol made famous the 16-hour fast/8-hour feed strategy. Its most obvious antecedent would be Lyle McDonald’s Ultimate Diet 2.0 and the five-hour refeed protocol found in his book A Guide to Flexible Dieting.

Unlike most other intermittent fasting protocols, Leangains gives the user the ability to eat a full daily allotment of calories. Because a portion of the 16 hours are spent sleeping, many practitioners find the opportunity to skip breakfast a welcome one, leading to greater productivity in the morning hours.

Research indicates there may be some physiological benefit to consuming the majority of one’s daily calories before, during, and immediately after training. In sync with this research, the Leangains protocol has two phases: the fasting phase and the overfeeding phase. According to Martin, Leangains attempts to capitalize on the dramatic fat burning capacity of the 16-hour fasting phase while optimizing the nutrient partitioning effects of the short-term eight-hour overfeeding phase. The first meal comes 16 hours after the last meal on the night prior, so all eating occurs within an approximately eight-hour time frame.

Some explanation of the aforementioned is in order. Nutrient partitioning describes what happens to calories after they find their way into the body. High-intensity activity, especially high-intensity resistance training, puts the body into an optimal nutrient partitioning state. By demanding a lot of the body’s physiological systems, resistance training elevates key hormones and metabolic processes that encourage the body to build lean muscle and lose fat. Partitioning refers to how many of those ingested calories get stored as body fat and how many of those calories go toward replenishing muscle glycogen or building lean muscle tissue.

In the specific context of Leangains, the first meal of the day on a workout day comes right before training, is moderate in size, and provides adequate carbohydrate and protein. The post-workout meal resembles what is known in the bodybuilding as a refeed. Carbohydrates are high, protein is moderate to high, and fat stays relatively low. Including the pre-workout meal, the feeding window lasts for approximately eight hours.

The real beauty of what Martin has done comes not from his expertise, which while substantial, has yet to disseminate universally into the bodybuilding world. Rather, it is his exuberance that by inspiring others to experiment with the protocol on their own has created a community surrounding intermittent fasting that continues to probe the margins of contemporary research.

Dave Gerczak – An Intermittent Fasting transformation (230lbs+ to 162lbs) (see more)

The Community Response

In 2007, Lyle McDonald’s now private message board served as the epicenter for IF experimentation. It was there that Martin outlined an early iteration of the Leangains protocol. JC Deen, a fitness professional and college student (and Wannabebig writer) from Nashville, Tennessee, was one of the first to play with the protocol. He spoke to me recently about his experience with intermittent fasting.

“I’m quite fond of [Martin’s approach] because of the liberty it provides to the rigid and sometimes obsessive physique-conscious folk,” Deen told me.  “While I don’t feel it yields any superior physiological advantages to a regular diet, I do believe it has psychological advantages.”

Skyler Tanner, a fitness professional who approached IF from the perspective of the once perennially underweight kid, first exhibited trepidation when it came to fasting for 16 hours. When you have clawed for every inch of muscle girth in the gym and quaffed a protein shake every two hours to stave off catabolism since time immemorial, the idea of going without food for 16 hours sounds like anabolic suicide.

But after witnessing Martin’s success, Skyler pinched his nose and took the plunge. “Intermittent fasting, as a protocol for athletes, is largely underappreciated,” he says. “No taking Tupperware with you everywhere you go, none of this ‘waking in the middle of the night to feed’ nonsense, being able to eat a large volume of food rather than bird-like portions, especially when increased positive nutrient partitioning is elevated post workout. It can help reduce the OCD tendencies of athletes, where some athletes are kept from getting lean because they have to eat every three hours.”

Matt Perryman, the New Zealand-based owner and operator of Impulse Fitness, has been a stalwart in the fight to disassemble the misguided bodybuilding establishment. IF meshed perfectly with his preferences and attitude. “For someone like me, it’s a huge benefit to not have to carry around meals and worry about eating every two hours, or force myself to eat when I’m just not hungry,” said Perryman. “For lifestyle reasons alone, it’s going to be a good fit for quite a few people. IF is a good way of free-form eating that controls calorie intake even if you don’t plan it out in advance. Limiting myself to an eight-hour window, it’s much harder to overeat, even with junk food.”

Alan Aragon, who co-authored the research review with me on IF in 2007, said the following: “I think [IF is] a great option for those who don’t particularly enjoy grazing or snacking. Those with a tendency to skip meals, or those with a tendency to not get ‘entertained’ by eating every two to three hours do very well on IF. There are individuals whose daily routine does not involve many eating occasions, and for these folks, IF is great.”

Aragon cautions would be adopters to first think critically about the research. “People with glucose control issues – especially those who experience hypoglycemic symptoms – might not fare optimally on the extremes of meal frequency reduction,” says Aragon. “Also, those who need to consume plenty of calories in order to gain weight might find it difficult to achieve this in less than three meals per day. Despite its limitations, one of the major things that IF has done is to validate the importance of going with personal preference when it comes to meal frequency and invalidate the longstanding more-is-better meal frequency dogma.”

I asked Roger Lawson, a Massachusetts-based personal trainer and all around hilarious guy, what he thought of Leangains intermittent fasting. “For starters, I get to eat larger meals that keep my hunger at bay, to the point where I rarely experience the ravenous hunger that causes many dieters to abandon ship and readjust their body composition goals,” said Lawson. “Secondly, it allows me to accomplish more during the day because I’m not stopping to eat all the time.”

No single method will work for all cases, so it’s best to move into something like IF with patience. Without question, IF’s emphasis on fewer, larger meals will provide some much needed mental and physical satiety for those accustomed to grazing on a high meal frequency regime. Many of the individuals quoted above struggled at one time with food-related neuroses and found IF to be a welcome respite from their obsessions.

Conclusions

While current research into IF leaves much to be desired, anecdotal evidence suggests the presence of both positive physiological and psychological adaptations. However effective the protocol may be, it would be wise to train a critical eye toward one’s goals. IF is no panacea. Calories count, and taking something like IF to illogical ends – thinking, for example, that since a 16-hour fast is good, a 36-hour fast must be even better – can do more harm than good. IF changes nothing when it comes to caloric requirements, so don’t start operating under the specious logic that since you’re fasting you can eat to the point of illness and still remain lean.

More research exploring the efficacy of the protocol would be welcome. Current interventions testing more extreme iterations of fasting than what Berkhan articulates rarely incorporate proper training methodology. For example, in a study testing fasting’s contribution to fat loss alongside a standard cardiovascular workout, the researchers made an egregious error by measuring acute biomarkers of fat loss instead of measuring a full 24-hour turnover of fat cells.

The fact that the academic and lay fitness communities are so divided boggles the mind. In this case, the researchers who cared about how much fat was burned during the fasted workout felt that the other 23 hours of the day weren’t worth looking at. These mistakes are inexcusable at this level, and so the community as a whole must approach performance-focused research with greater intellectual vigor and clarity.

I debated including an application segment on intermittent fasting. I’m of the opinion that typical bodybuilding articles do more harm than good in their presentation of diet and exercise modalities. All too often, authors put on airs, asserting that that their system is the one true way toward a great body.

I encourage readers to first monitor their own progress. Keep a food log and aim to consume at least one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each day. There are no good or bad foods, and trainees still adhering to misguided notions of clean eating would be best served to jettison them. Certainly some choices will provide greater nutrient density, but in terms of effect on body composition, all choices remain equal.

IF can be adapted to any diet. Martin’s Leangains closely follows the recommendations outlined by Alan Aragon and Lyle McDonald in their respective works. Those interested should look into these authors’ writings for more information on setting up a proper diet. Martin’s website, Leangains.com, contains a tremendous amount of information on intermittent fasting, and a simple Google search will pull up a huge number of links.

IF can add to your growing body of knowledge on diet and exercise. Remember that consistency and not novelty paves the road to physique success. It can serve as a particularly effective approach for those who have struggled in the past with more traditional approaches to bodybuilding nutrition. Additionally, former male models have used it to turn themselves into totally jacked bodybuilders.

Written by Ryan Zielonka

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 Secrets of Intermittent Fasting discussion thread.

About Ryan Zielonka

Ryan Zielonka is a writer, a researcher, and a public speaker.

Ryan struggled with obesity in his adolescent and teen years and decided in his freshman year of college to exercise with regularity. As a result he lost 16 inches from his waistline and discarded his size 44 jeans for a size 28. Ever since, the world of exercise science and nutritional biochemistry has never ceased to capture his imagination.

Ryan is a regular contributing editor and columnist for Wannabebig and his work has been published in T-Muscle and the Alan Aragon Research Review, and you can find him blogging on anything that strikes his fancy at www.ryanzielonka.com.

Getting Big Without the Big Three

A commonly held belief, especially among those on the internet, is that you must squat, deadlift, and bench press if you want to get as big and jacked as possible. It stands to reason. Take a look at successful bodybuilders’ training routines and you’ll find these movements over and over again.  It’s not surprising – they’re very effective.

If you take a gander at Tom Platz’s stems, you know he’s spent hundreds of hours in the squat rack.  Watch Ronnie Coleman deadlift 800lbs for reps and it becomes obvious what is responsible for a back that resembles the broad side of a house.

But what if these guys had injuries that kept them from performing the standard movements?  What if Franco Columbu’s shoulder anatomy wasn’t equipped to handle the straight bar?  What if Ronnie had some minor ankle injuries earlier on in life that hindered his flexibility?   What if Tom had a spinal condition that kept him from spinal-loading movements?

Would this mean that they wouldn’t be able to accomplish such great feats?  I think not.

Let’s look at the esteemed Dorian Yates…you know, the behemoth who approached 270 pounds in contest condition?  For years, he was a religious squatter due to Tom Platz’s success with that movement, but he never experienced any major improvements until he started doing alternative exercises like Smith machine squats, leg presses, and hack squats.  He also sustained a hip injury in 1986 that required him to abandon squats altogether and focus on alternatives because the free weight squat caused him nagging pain when he performed it.

Then we have Dante Trudel, whose name is forever eternal due to his training methods, known as DC (doggcrapp) training.  Over the years, he developed a brutally intense protocol that has produced some very large competitors, such as Jason Wojciechowski and David Henry. Dante prescribes flat dumbbell bench presses, incline presses, machine presses, and decline presses (among other flat bench alternatives) for many trainees who must avoid the flat barbell bench press altogether due to experiences with injury as a result of this exercise.

The monstrous six time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates favoured leg presses

When The Big Three Matter

In the sport of powerlifting, the number one goal of every person at the meet is to bench, squat, and deadlift more than everyone else in a particular weight class.  The person who does this wins the prize.  In sports like football, the straight-bar bench press is  used as a benchmark for on-field performance.  During the NFL combine, players are tested on their ability to crank out as many reps possible with 225 pounds on the flat bench press.  In Olympic weightlifting, while the squat is not a competitive lift, it’s essential to building strength for the lifts done on competition day.

But let’s get real here: if you’re not a competitive powerlifter or Olympic athlete, the big three have no real bearing on your exercise selection.

When The Big Three Don’t Matter

Contrary what some online fitness gurus might say, you’re not a lightweight if you choose not to squat, deadlift, or bench with a straight bar.  It’s easy for folks who’ve never done anything other than the Big Three to look down on those who choose not to or cannot do certain exercises.  If you’re not competing in powerlifting or a technical sport that requires specific movements, there’s nothing stating that you must perform a certain exercise regardless of your circumstances.  Bodybuilding and vanity training are all about aesthetics and hypertrophy.  Hypertrophy is a result of continuous progression (in some form or fashion) with the right stimulus plus adequate rest and nutrient intake.

Your pectorals won’t be able to tell the difference from a straight bar bench press and dumbbell floor presses.  Your glutes don’t know that they’re firing as a result of heavy squats or heavy leg presses.  The only part of you that notices the difference is your ego – the part of you that wants to tell all your friends how much you weight you threw around the day before.

Now, let’s take a look at each movement individually and dissect what’s going on, when the movement might not be a good idea, and alternatives for those who need them.

The Bench Press

Primary muscles worked: pectorals, front deltoids, and triceps.

Problems

Contrary to popular belief, the bench press is not, in fact, the ideal chest building movement, particularly in light of the substandard form used by most trainees.  Many people learn how to bench press by watching others do it poorly.  Most don’t have the luxury of a coach to teach them proper form, and thus the exercise contributes to a number of shoulder girdle injuries.

The bench press is an ego lift – most guys want to push the most weight possible.  Folks will do anything to add a few pounds to the bar.  It’s not uncommon to notice someone across the gym literally bouncing weight off their sternum.

Few trainees take the time to realistically assess their progress, let alone question the utility of a given movement like the bench press in their programs. Some trainees simply have anatomy that is not particularly suited for a straight bar.  After my own personal research, various shoulder issues, and a few emails with Eric Cressey, I’ve come to realize the straight barbell bench press is an exercise of questionable efficacy for a vanity lifter.

The acromion process, a part of the scapula, varies in size and shape across individuals.  The shape (straight, slightly curved, or very curved) of this structure will determine how likely someone is to incur a subacromial impingement.   Some can manage to do the bench press with a wide grip and flared elbows over their entire lives without issue.  For others, due to the shape of this particular piece of anatomy, the standard bench press can cause problems over time. If you watch trainees who are genetically predisposed to bench, their triceps will be about parallel with their back/top of the bench at the bottom of the lift, and not much lower.  These folks usually have short(er) arms attached to a thick chest and back that naturally prevent any excessive range of motion and therefore, there is no excess stress on the shoulder joints.

For those with long(er) arms and less-than-beefy frames, the arms will to travel a bit further than that of the ideal bencher described above, which can aggravate the shoulder joint like nobody’s business.  I just cringe at the thought of how I used to bench. For these folks, straight bar benching as a long-term movement is more of a detriment rather than a benefit.

Solutions and Alternatives

In the sport of bodybuilding and for those who simply lift for vanity, the vaunted purpose of the straight bar bench press is to build a large, square chest that screams “alpha male.”  But for those trainees who suffer from less-than-ideal anatomy, or don’t have the means to develop proper form, well, they’re going to have to get cerebral with exercise selection. 

A general rule of thumb (and something my mother always told me as I constantly burned my fingers with house candles as a kid) is “if it hurts, DON’T do it.”  This applies to any chest-dominant movements.  If the straight bar bench press hurts your shoulder girdle, don’t freakin’ do it.  If it’s causing more harm than good, ditch the movement and switch to something that’s a better fit for you.

Alternative movements: neutral grip decline and flat bench dumbbell presses, neutral grip floor presses, weighted push-ups (chains work well for loading), and weighted dips (limit range of motion to 90 degrees at the elbow). Hammer Strength Iso-Lateral cable machines, and plate loaded machines are absolutely wonderful.  On some of the machines, you can make adjustments to fit you more comfortably as well as to vary your grip.

If weighted dips were good enough for Arnold, they’re good enough for you

The Squat

Primary muscles worked: quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and core.

Problems

Without proper form, the squat is another lift that can lead to more nagging injuries and muscle imbalances.  Learning the squat is not difficult, but the learning curve can be shortened if you have a coach as a guide.  However, outside of athletics, it’s often hard to find a competent coach or trainer. If you’re looking to learn properly, one solution the internet has provided is the ability to record and upload videos of your squat performance in order to receive critique and feedback.

Again, as with the bench press, anatomy plays a role in the effectiveness of the squat for a given trainee.  Some folks who have long femurs and short torsos may experience unnecessary strain on the lower back when performing the movement.  I’ve also known guys who’ve sustained multiple ankle or knee injuries. Their workouts that included the squat were ineffective; each time they performed the squat, their minds were focused on their weak knee or ankle, making improvement on the lift difficult for fear of injury.

Solutions and Alternatives

If you’re not built for the squat and have no one competent to teach it to you, or if you have previous injuries that make the movement difficult or painful, there’s no reason to waste your time squatting.  Your muscles don’t know whether you’re doing a free weight squat or using a machine. 

The goal of the squat is to work your quads, hamstrings, and glutes while you also get some abdominal and lower back work as a result of balancing the weight on your shoulders.

Alternative movements: Angled leg press, hack squat, belt squats, belt squats with bands, DB split squat.  The advantage of a leg press or a hack squat is that they both replicate the squatting movement.

The leg press takes the stress and pressure off the back and allows the lifter to focus on steady progress and strength work as opposed to worrying incessantly about form or stability, especially if a previous injury or lack of flexibility is a limiting factor. The hack squat also takes pressure off the back because it’s usually positioned at an angle and allows the lifter to focus on depth and range of motion with a bit more stability than with a free weight squat.

Dumbbell split squats allow the trainee to work on each leg individually. A common problem with regular squats is the rounding of the lumbar spine that can occur at the bottom of the movement.  This can become especially dangerous as weights get heavier. When doing split squats, one leg is back which helps keep the lumbar spine rigid and prevents it from rounding, leaving you with a safer exercise overall. The split squat will also improve range of motion and hip flexibility.

Belt squats are also a great alternative as they pose no loading issues for the spine.  Finding a place and/or the equipment to do them can sometimes be a task, however.

The Hack Squat allows the lifter to focus on depth and range of motion with a bit more stability

The Deadlift

Primary muscles worked: posterior chain, glutes, hamstrings, lower back, mid back, traps, and core.

Problems

Just as with the squat and the bench press, some people just aren’t built for the deadlift.  It’s particularly an issue for those with long femurs and a short torso (just like the squat example).  Getting into a conventional position can pose a leverage problem.  The hips should be lower than the scapulae, which may not possible for someone with the anatomy described above

When performing the deadlift, a rigid, tight back is imperative to proper execution of the lift.  Folks who can’t perform the deadlift correctly are inviting future complications Heavy weight plus a rounded back plus time will most definitely lead to a spinal injury.

This warning also applies to individuals with ankle and hamstring flexibility issues.  If your hamstrings are tight when setting up, it’s likely that your butt will tuck under, causing the lower back to round.  If this is the case, even folks who are well-suited for the movement should do something else until they’ve increased flexibility to a point where they can perform the movement properly.

Solutions and Alternatives

Luckily, there’s a whole slew of movements that can take the place of the deadlift and still deliver all the benefits. 

Alternative Movements: One alternative to the conventional deadlift is to perform the movement from blocks or from a rack.  Setting the bar 6-8 inches above the ground will provide additional deadlift safety for those lacking proper flexibility.  Other alternatives include the RDL and glute-ham raises, which are both fine movements for working the glutes and hamstrings.  For a pure hamstring movement, lying leg curls are always an option.

To make up for any lost gluteal stimulation, try out the barbell glute bridge exercise.  It’s absolutely fantastic for working the hamstrings as well, so ladies, get started…

Depending on your training program and scheduling, make sure you throw in some lower back extensions and dumbbell shrugs to take care of some of the deadlift’s more ancillary benefits for your musculature, to address the lower back and traps in particular.

Deadlifts from the rack can be safer for individuals lacking proper flexibility

Final Thoughts

The Big Three are some of the best mass and strength builders around.  Despite how great they may be, they’re not always the best fit for every bodybuilder.  Just because you decide to forego the squat or deadlift, that doesn’t make you a wuss.  The next time someone says that to you in the gym or on the internet, you have my permission to tell them where to get off.

Your ass doesn’t know the difference between a deadlift and a glute bridge.  Your chest doesn’t know the difference between a machine press and the barbell bench press.  What determines gains in strength and hypertrophy is a combination of time, progressive overload, and an adequate diet rich in protein and calories.

So, if you’ve been hard-headed about sticking to a certain movement due to preconceived notions and paying a painful price for it, I encourage you to take a look at some of these alternative movements and give them a try.  I think you’ll be more than happy you did.

Written by JC Deen

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Getting Big Without the Big Three discussion thread.

About JC Deen

JC Deen is the consumer advocate for all things fitness-related.  His no-B.S. approach to fitness and physique improvement stems from the competitive spirit he garnered as a young athlete.

He has worked as a fitness consultant, and has written for numerous online fitness, bodybuilding, nutrition, and personal development blogs.

He is the author of A No-B.S. Approach to Looking Great Naked and is available for online exercise and nutrition consultation. For more information, click your away over to JCD Fitness.

Deadlift 5 Plates Like a Champion

There aren’t many things you can do in the gym that are “manlier” than deadlifting a heavy barbell loaded with five plates per side. It’s the ultimate cool factor, the one movement everyone stops to watch (plus it means you’re strong as hell).

I remember reading a passage from Brawn, a book by Stuart McRobert, that said with a few years of smart training, any average Joe should be able to bench 300 pounds, squat 400 pounds, and deadlift 500 pounds. (1) That’s a good goal for sure, but not one that many guys are hitting.

In my experience as a lifter, strength coach, and personal trainer, I’ve found it’s pretty easy for a typical male to reach a 400-pound deadlift with proper training. But a 495-pound deadlift is much more rare, something that’s attainable only with hard work, proper technique, and focus on assistance exercises for the supporting muscles. At commercial gyms, I’ve only seen a small handful of guys pull over 495 pounds (and I’ve only seen one guy pull 600).

There have been many amazing articles written about the proper way to perform a deadlift, but very few of them focus on the assistance exercises that truly make the 500-pound deadlift achievable. You can have the best form in the world, but without a strong body and supporting muscles, the bar is going to stay on the floor.

Getting strong on the assistance exercises will go a long way in helping you to achieve the coveted 500-pound deadlift, but before we address the exercises, let’s talk about your weak points (don’t worry…everyone has them!).

Find the Weak Link and Fix it!

Your deadlift will always be limited by a particular weak link, but if you’re able to hone in on what that is, you can strengthen it and make it a “strong link.” A weak link could be related to a weak muscle, immobility, or improper motor patterns. If squatting and deadlifting were the end-all-be-all, there wouldn’t be any weak links—the body would simply get stronger and more mobile in proper proportions. This is rarely the case, which is why we need assistance exercises to shore up our weak links.

But how do you determine what your weak link is? I’ve got a cool list for you below. Go through it and be honest with yourself – it’s the only way to address the problem and get you stronger.

You have weak glutes if you:

  • Round your low back during deadlifts to make the back conduct the lift rather than the hips and legs.
  • Round your upper back during deadlifts. This can be acceptable, though…many strong powerlifters do this because they can’t push their conventional deadlift max up further if they kept their upper back arched.)
  • Let your hips rise first in the squat thereby turning the lift into a “squat morning”.
  • Suck at locking out your deadlifts.
  • Stop short or hyperextend the low back during the deadlift lockout.
  • Don’t have much power out of the hole when squatting.
  • Let your knees cave inward during squats or sumo deads.
  • Suck at hip thrusts, glute bridges, and pull-throughs and feel them all in the low back and hamstrings.
  • Have minimal glute hypertrophy.
  • Never feel your glutes turn on or don’t feel soreness in them from squats or lunges.

You have weak hamstrings if you:

  • Have trouble sitting back in a squat.
  • Don’t have good starting strength in the deadlift, where the most difficult part is getting it off the floor.
  • Suck at arched back good mornings, RDLs, back extensions, 45-degree hypers, and reverse hypers.
  • Sink like a ship during Russian leg curls and find yourself cheating like crazy during glute ham raises.
  • Try to “squat” the weight up when doing rack pulls rather than “stiff leg deadlifting” the weight up.
  • Are much better at trap bar deadlifts than conventional deadlifts.
  • Can raw squat more than you can conventional deadlift.
  • Can sumo deadlift way more than you can conventional deadlift.

You have weak quads if you:

  • Turn every squat into a “squat morning,” especially as the weight gets heavy (this could also be due to weak glutes and/or weak thoracic extensors).
  • Suck at front squats, Olympic high bar full squats, barbell Bulgarian squats, barbell step-ups, and barbell lunges
  • Can stiff leg deadlift pretty much the same weight as you can conventional deadlift.
  • Can conventional deadlift way more than you can squat.

You have weak thoracic extensors if you:

  • Have trouble keeping the chest up during squats and good mornings.
  • Suck at thoracic extensions.
  • Kick ass at movements that isolate the hips and legs, such as belt squats or hip thrusts, but suck ass when the bar is on your back or in your hands.

You have weak abdominals if you:

  • Round your low back during deadlifts (this could also be weak glutes and poor hamstring flexibility).
  • Experience your abs literally caving in when you deadlift heavy (which can be seen when you deadlift with your shirt off).
  • Suck at ab-wheel rollouts, weighted planks, side planks, straight leg sit-ups, side bends, landmines, and hanging leg raises.
  • Can squat way more when you wear a belt than when you don’t wear one.

You have weak forearms if you:

  • Perform a heavy deadlift with sub-maximal acceleration because you know it will slip out of your hands if you rise too fast.
  • Chalk up for every upper and lower body pulling exercise.
  • Can deadlift much more when you wear wrist straps than when you don’t wear them.
  • Suck at masturbating (ok, I made that one up).

Andy Bolton – the first to demonstrate a deadlift of over a thousand pounds (1,009lbs)

I should mention that nearly every lifter’s form breaks down when going super heavy. This is how you determine your weak link. Anyone can use perfect form when going light (assuming they have appropriate levels of hip, ankle, and thoracic mobility and sufficient levels of core stability), so rest assured that even the strongest lifters have “weak links.”

Maximizing your deadlift has very much to do with achieving optimal strength balances among all of the deadlifting muscles. That said, due to variations in body segment lengths, sometimes a lifter will need exceptional strength in a particular muscle. For example, a tall individual with a long torso and long legs needs freakishly strong glutes in order to use proper deadlifting form because his hips will be considerably further away from the bar than a shorter lifter.

Find the Lifts that Train Your Weak Link

For long-term strength development, it’s critical that you begin to learn the lifts that improve your weak link. These lifts tend to be highly correlated with your deadlift or squat. Below is a brief rundown of some of the lifts that powerlifters have used to build big lifts. Note that these lifts can be very different from one person to the next due to differences in body structure and weak individual muscles.

Every expert has his own likes and dislikes when it comes to building the big lifts. Mike Robertson raves about glute-ham raises. (2) Jim Wendler likes the power squat machine, 45-degree back raise, and rack pull. (3) Dave Tate prefers the good morning. (4) Michael Brugger performed Olympic squats, Eddie Coppin preferred the front squat (which helped him keep his chest up during deadlifts), while George Clark utilized the hack lift. (5) Vince Anello swore by the negative accentuated deadlift. (6) Andy Bolton likes leg presses. (7) So did Steve Goggins. (8) Brent Mikesell likes Smith machine squats. (9) Ed Coan performed mostly pause squats and close-stance high bar squats and sometimes threw in Smith machine squats and hack squats. (10) Fred Hatfield liked to perform thoracic extensions off a glute-ham bench. (11) Leonid Taranenko preferred the barbell step up over the squat to strengthen his Olympic lifts.  (12) Louie Simmons is a big believer in the box squat and good morning. (13) (14)

What gives? Well, in each of these cases, the lifters found assistance lifts that strengthened a weak link. Weak links may change over time, requiring constant evolution in training. Conversely, due to differences in body segments, a lifter may train a certain muscle or lift indefinitely and never strengthen the weak link to the point where it becomes a strong link. That’s just the way it goes sometimes…

Mind-Muscle Connection

Bodybuilders constantly use the term “mind-muscle connection.” It’s imperative that you feel the right muscles working during the deadlift. You should feel the hamstrings activating down low, the glutes pushing the hips forward up top, the lats and back muscles pulled taught, and the core braced (albeit with a belly of air). If you’re not feeling the right muscles working, then you need to learn how to activate them by flexing them as hard as possible a few times throughout the day (loadless training) and by going lighter and really feeling the muscles doing the work (low-load training).

Sometimes taking a step back allows a lifter to then take two steps forward. If you want to be a rockstar deadlifter, you should be able to squeeze your glutes so damn hard they feel like they’re about to rip off the bone! In our industry, we often hear the phrase, “train movements, not muscles.” In order to perform perfect movements, we need perfect strength balances in the muscles, so a better statement is “train movements and muscles!”

Deadlifting multiple plates just looks goddamn impressive

Deadlifting Muscles

Although all of the muscles involved in deadlifting are generally active throughout the full range of motion, certain muscles are more active during different parts of the exercise. It’s important to strengthen all of the deadlifting muscles and in proper proportions with one another. The following is not a ranking, just a list.

Erector spinae – The low back musculature needs massive amounts of isometric strength in order to maintain an arch throughout the deadlift. Failure to possess this strength will inevitably lead to low back injury. Depending on your form, the thoracic extensors need considerable amounts of isometric or concentric strength as well (upper back rounders use concentric strength while upper back archers use isometric strength). In order to prevent injuries in the training process, the low back also needs tremendous levels of stamina. My EMG experiments have shown that the entire musculature of the back, including the erectors, lats, rhomboids, and traps, are highly activated throughout the deadlift.

Hamstrings/Adductors – The hamstrings are the most important muscle group down low. Strong hamstrings equal great starting strength and excellent acceleration off the floor. Down low, the adductors serve as hip extensors and contribute considerably to starting strength. The hamstring part of the adductor magnus is a powerful hip extensor through a larger range of motion.

Glutes – The glutes are the most important muscle group up high. Strong glutes equal great finishing strength and lockouts and are also the secret to great form.

Abs/Obliques – Strong abs and obliques brace the core to protect the low back and help prevent the low back from caving in during the lift, which is highly dangerous.

Forearms – Many great deadlifters have been limited by grip strength. Put simply, you can only pull as much as you can grip. Having incredible grip strength aids in acceleration as a weak grip will force a slow deadlift.

Quads – The quads are important for proper form because they help to ensure that the knees move in synchronicity with the hips and shoulders.

Best Deadlift Assistance Exercises

Without further ado, let’s list the best deadlift assistance exercises!

The Glutes

Best Exercises that Work the Glutes in a Stretched Position:

1.    Full Squats
2.    Front Squats
3.    Zercher Squats

Best Exercises that Work the Glutes at End-Range Contraction:

1.    Barbell Glute Bridges (see video)
2.    Barbell Hip Thrusts (see video)
3.    Pull-Throughs

Other Great Glute Exercises:

1.    Pendulum Donkey Kicks (see video)
2.    Seated Abduction (see video)
3.    Band Hip Rotation (see video)
4.    Weighted Bird Dogs (see video)
5.    Elevated Lunges
6.    Bottom Up Single Leg Hip Thrusts (see video)

The Hamstrings

Best Exercises that Work the Hamstrings in a Stretched Position:

1.    Deficit Deadlifts
2.    Good Mornings
3.    Snatch Grip Deadlifts

Best Exercises that Work the Hamstrings at End-Range Contraction:

1.    Weighted Back Extensions
2.    Reverse Hypers (see video)
3.    45-Degree Back Raises (see video)

Other Great Hamstring Exercises:

1.    Dimel Deadlifts (see video)
2.    Glute-Ham Raises (see video)
3.    Russian Leg Curls
4.    Gliding Leg Curls (see video)
5.    Standing Single Leg Pendulum Leg Curls (see video)
6.    Rack Pulls

The Erector Spinae and Upper Back

1.    Thoracic Extensions (see video)
2.    Front Squats (possibly the best and most overlooked upper back strengthener?)
3.    Safety Bar Upper Back Good Mornings
4.    Seated Good Mornings
5.    Bent Over Rows
6.    T-Bar Rows
7.    Shrugs
8.    One Arm Lever Rows (see video)

The Abs/Obliques

1.    Ab Wheel Rollouts (see video)
2.    Straight Leg Sit Ups
3.    Hanging Leg Raises
4.    Side Bends
5.    Weighted Front Planks (see video)
6.    Suitcase Holds (see video)
7.    Band Anti-Rotary Hold (see video)
8.    The Grappler (see video)

The Quads

1.    Leg Press (yes, the leg press is great for deadlifting & quad strength off the floor)
2.    Full Squat, Parallel Squat, Half Squat
3.    Hack Lift
4.    Bulgarian Split Squat
5.    Forward Front Lunge
6.    Low Barbell Step Up
7.    Front Squat Harness Squat (see video)
8.    Pendulum Donkey Kick

The Forearms

1.    Deficit Deadlift (longer TUT)
2.    Rack Pull (heavier load)
3.    Deadlifts against Bands (accommodating resistance)
4.    Barbell Shrugs
5.    One Arm Lever Rows
6.    Mixed Grip Static Holds

Wrap-up

Don’t worry about what program you’re doing or how your sets and reps are set up. Identify your weak links, fix them with the exercises I listed above, and then come back to the deadlift. I think you’ll be very surprised with how much stronger you are!

Written by Bret Contreras

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 – Deadlift 5 Plates Like a Champion discussion thread.

About Bret Contreras

Bret Contreras received his master’s degree from Arizona State University and his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Bret has been published on many online fitness websites and his work has spread to Men’s Health Magazine and Oxygen Magazine.

Bret invites you to follow him by checking out his blog.

You can also download his ebook here – www.thegluteguy.com

References

1. McRobert, Stuart. Brawn. 2nd. CS Publishing, 1999. Print.

2. Robertson, Mike. “Understanding Supplemental Exercises: The Deadlift.” EliteFts.Com. 13 May 2009 http://www.elitefts.com/documents/supplemental_exercises.htm

3. Wendler, Jim. “My Indicators.” EliteFts.Com. 13 May 2009 http://www.elitefts.com/documents/my_indicators.htm

4. Tate, Dave. “Tate’s Tool Box.” T-Nation.Com. 13 May 2009 http://www.t-nation.com/article/supplements/tates_tool_box_1

5. Simmons, Louie. “Overcoming Plateaus Part 2: The Deadlift.” DeepSquatter.Com. 13 May 2009 http://www.deepsquatter.com/strength/archives/ls22.htm

6. Tatar, Ben. “Vince Anello Deadlift Legend With Interview.” CriticalBench.Com. 14 May 2009 http://www.criticalbench.com/Vince-Anello.htm

7. Bolton, Andy. “Andy Bolton Training Routine.” rpforum.eu. 13 May 2009 http://rpforum.eu/Download/Training/AndyBOLTON_training_routine.doc

8. McClone, Greg. “An Interview with Jim Wendler.” Mindand Muscle.Net. 14 May 2009 http://www.mindandmuscle.net/node/510?page=all

9. Mikesell, Brent. “Brent Mikesell’s Hardcore Powerlifting Video.” CriticalBench.Com. 14 May 2009 http://www.criticalbench.com/brentmikesell.htm

10. Koenig, John. “Altas Speaks.” T-Nation.Com. 14 May 2009 http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance_interviews/atlas_speaks

11. Hatfield, Fred. “Symmetry and Exercise Funk.” Dr. Squat. Web. 9 Mar 2010. http://drsquat.com/content/knowledge-base/symmetry-and-exercise-funk

12. Spassov, Angel. “Bulgarian Leg Training Secrets.” OverSpeedTraining.Com. 14 May 2009 http://www.overspeedtraining.com/legsart.htm

13. Simmons, Louie. “The Squat Workout.” Westside-Barbell.Com. June 2002. 14 May 2009 http://westside-barbell.com/westside-articles/PDF.Files/02PDF/The%20Squat%20Workout.pdf

14. Louie, Simmons. “Back and AB Training.” Westside-Barbell.Com. April, 2002. 14 May 2009 http://westside-barbell.com/westside-articles/PDF.Files/02PDF/Back%20and%20AB%20Training.pdf

Rag on the Mags #6 – MuscleMag International: July 2010

‘Rag on the Mags’ is a feature in which we will to review the current crop of Muscle and Powerlifting publications as they come out each month (normally before they hit the newsstands).

The basic idea here is that we will present you with the CliffsNotes® of the pertinent info, allowing you to determine if it’s worthwhile for you to run a comb through your hair, head into civilization, and plunk down roughly six-bucks for the issue.

You can be assured that I have no agenda to give the thumbs up or down for a particular issue, I’ll just tell it how it is.

MuscleMag International: July 2010

Fresh on the stands, the July 2010 issue of MMI has the hardcore Fouad Abiad in a great most muscular shot by Jason Breeze. MuscleMag has been doing a distinct style of grainy high contrast black-and-white photography lately that suits guys like Abiad with grainy conditioning.

MMI was granted a quality resurgence a couple years back when they picked up Bill Geiger, Jimmy Peña and Peter McGough (all cut loose from Flex/ Muscle & Fitness during the AMI purchase of the Weider Publishing entities). It has classed-up the mag visually and added some meat and intellectual-quality to the content.

In their “First Set” section (a collection of short training info features), Peña gives us performance cues for the Reverse-grip Smith Bench Press (pg 61). He does a great job on all of these, making this perfect info for novices to training while providing enough in-depth info that veterans also find it useful. He follows up with “Back for Seconds” (pg 64) an article about the benefits of training the same bodypart twice in one day to shock the muscle into growth. The longer-lasting pump (due to the doubled sessions) triggers increased growth, according to uncited research. He advocated high (fifteen) rep sets with minute-long rest periods, which match that logic. In the “Strongman” column (pg 68), Peña explores training specificity for strength. He recommends low reps (4-6) with three to five minute rest periods for strength gains and cautions against an eclectic rep range if this is your goal.

In “Face Off” (pg 72), he pits standing lateral raises against those down leaning outward while holding a machine or rack upright. Peña give the edge to the leaners as he feels the range-of-motion targets the side delt better with less unwanted assistance muscles. Guillermo Escalante steps in to take some of the workload off of Peña with “Sports Med” (pg 74) in a feature on dealing with triceps pain. Some of his pointers… limit overhead triceps extension to just one or two movements, organize your split so that the triceps get at least 48 hours between pec and triceps sessions, and he goes over some ice and ibuprofen protocols.

In MuscleMag’s “Bodybuilders Kitchen” section, research-wiz Jordana Brown gives us some of the not so widely known benefits of one of my diet staples, grapefruit (pg 82). The bitter citrus has fat loss benefits, extends the biological activity of some drugs (I like it for its caffeine-kicker abilities), and increases the uptake of CoQ10, an effective antioxidant and heart heath nutrient that is as expensive as hell. 

We get a turkey portabella, spinach recipe from IFBB pro/chef Carlo Filippone (pg 84), a shake recipe with whey protein, tomato sauce and Tabasco that I’m too scared to try by Will Drury (pg 90), and a feature on HICA (Alpha-Hydroxy-isocaproic acid), a metabolite of Leucine by Dwayne Jackson, PhD (pg 92).

Dr. J tells us that HICA has demonstrated some anti-catabolic properties and affects on decreasing delay-onset muscle soreness. More research is needed before we can determine if these effects are significant enough to warrant use (or if they are greater than just Leucine or any Leucine-rich whole protein source).

In “Lone Star Arms” (pg 96), Lara McGlashan introduces us to Texas trainer Stephan Frazier, a guy with an aesthetic build and a solid set of choppers, that we see in detail in each grimaced, grunting photo. Perhaps I have not been following the rising amateurs in the sport since I was not familiar with Frazier but he has a bright future (once he gets the bloated GH-gut required in most pros).

Texas trainer Stephan Frazier sporting an aesthetic build

Jimmy Peña is back in “Back Blunders” (pg 110) exposing some of the common biomechanical errors made on lat day. You can stand in any busy gym and point out lifters making each of these mistakes and Peña clearly explains solutions.

As the most commonly used drug in the world, caffeine is prominent, garnering a feature in this month’s Muscle & Fitness and a Dwayne Jackson review in MMI (pg 124). Jackson goes slightly more in-depth and gives me just the justification I need to continue my addiction. Thanks for the co-dependent boost!

Caffeine – sleep is for the weak

Group Editorial Director Bill Geiger writes “Tri Hard with a Vengeance” (pg 132) giving us a pick-and-choose training program and performance points on the major triceps exercises. Ex-Hardgainer publisher Stuart McRobert writes “5 Keys to Being a Successful Bodybuilder” on page 146. These focus on providing basic mental strategies (commitment, goals, perspective, etc.) but it’s a good “gut-check” article.

Another ex-Weider guy Steven Stiefel writes “No More Achy Joints” (pg 180) in which he recommends implementing basic self-rehab moves, including some preventative exercise variances and the inclusion of a preventative glucosamine, chondroitin, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory supplement stack.

MMI kicks off its Hardcore Section with “Four-Alarm Quads” (pg 250) by Eric Velazquez. Kuclo is a fast-rising National-level competitor and paramedic (he works for the fire department as a paramedic, so the title is a stretch). Although the photos are not the best and Kuclo’s about four-weeks out of contest shape, this is a detailed feature for fans of Kuclo. He does vertical (overhead) leg presses in his program, which we don’t see too often due to the blood pressure effects.

An ex-DoggCrapp trainee, Kuclo has gone high-volume and pout on some size (although it may just be from the change since DC Training seemed to pack on lots of size on him during his time on the protocol. At 6-foot, 280, Steve is a big twenty-five year old with an IFBB fitness pro wife (Amy Peters).

Ex-DoggCrapp trainee, Steve Kuclo looking Jacked

Jimmy Peña writes “Pump Up the Volume” (pg 264) an extensive training program designed to gradually increase training volume, which is an aspect of training many overtraining-paranoid lifters neglect. This is a nice way to shock muscles into new growth for a short period. 

The rest of the mag is made up of pro athlete column (MuscleMag wisely passes by the usual choices and pick writers with unique personalities and something to say, Like Kamali, Stubbs, Dugdale and Johnnie Jackson) and I was glad to see Peter McGough with a “Muscle Buzz” gossip column (pg 330). This rounded out a very good issue!

Written by Steve Colescott

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 – Rag on the Mags #6 – MuscleMag International: July 2010 discussion thread.

About Steve Colescott

Known as the Guerrilla Journalist, Steve Colescott has written over a hundred published articles for many major bodybuilding publications, including Peak Training Journal, the innovative and well-respected magazine in which he served as Publishing Editor.

He is currently a staff writer for WannaBeBig.com and has been a consultant to a number of top sports nutrition companies.

With his company, Colescott Metabolic Solutions, he has transformed the physiques of scores of average businesspeople, weekend athletes and housewives beyond their wildest expectations. Steve lives in Akron, Ohio and trains at the ultra-hardcore Body Builders Gym, an Ohio musclehead landmark.

Rag on the Mags #5 – Power: June/July 2010

‘Rag on the Mags’ is a feature in which we will to review the current crop of Muscle and Powerlifting publications as they come out each month (normally before they hit the newsstands).

The basic idea here is that we will present you with the CliffsNotes® of the pertinent info, allowing you to determine if it’s worthwhile for you to run a comb through your hair, head into civilization, and plunk down roughly six-bucks for the issue.

You can be assured that I have no agenda to give the thumbs up or down for a particular issue, I’ll just tell it how it is.

Power: June/July 2010

I was pretty excited to read the fifth issue of Andee and Mark Bell’s Power Magazine, the first one I have seen. While the issue seemed a bit light at 52-pages, I’m okay with that since the content is strong. Better to have fifty-two quality pages than 300 pages of fluff and filler.

The magazine definitely has a polished layout, with great photography and the type of writing sought out by modern powerlifters. With this being their first issue with broad newsstand distribution, I suspect this is entirely the reason that Powerlifter USA has finally stepped into the twenty-first century. Lambert had better continue his recent improvements, because sentimental loyalty will only carry him so far. Power is making a powerful statement (pardon the pun) and he may have to hope powerlifters will patronize TWO mags.

Russian beast Konstantins Konstantinovs graces the cover and we get a feature (pg 28) by Michele Cooger. The photos by Latvian photographer Alexander Trinitatov are professionally done while capturing of the essence of hardcore training. This was a great story but could use some editing. Some of the words seem poorly translated. Phrases like, “Genetically, I am tended to it” and, “strain my abdominal muscles” when tense may have been the better translation. Regardless, the story is great and I have no doubt that Konstantinovs now has hundreds of US fans, me among them.


The Russian Beast – Konstantins Konstantinovs

My favorite part of the article was Konstantinovs’ attitude about raw lifting:

Before a set of 426 kg (939 lb.), I made up my mind for this weight, and my belt was lying in front of me. A weak man inside me whispered, “Put it on, it will help you,” but another part of me said, “Lift it without a belt or lose and go home.” And I went out and lifted without a belt. Only those who can overcome their fear and their uncertainty can be a success.”

Needless to say, Konstantinovs is a lifter’s lifter; the kind of guy you want to go out and share a bottle of vodka with. His training is also unconventional. He trains deads twice in thirteen to sixteen days, varying the routine constantly. He does two to four types of deads each workout, at various heights, grips and forms (Romanian, off boxes, etc.); the volume is based on his energy levels. His second DL session is speed work incorporating bands. Assistance work includes hypers, reverse hypers, rows and chins. His squats workouts are five to eight sets of five in Olympic-style. The second session incorporates bands. He trains bench every other day (for about fifteen workouts a month). He uses a narrow grip for sets of five to ten and considers bench a “rest day” compared to the squat and DL sessions.

AtLarge Nutrition Sponsored Athlete, Donnie Thompson boasts a 2,905lb total

Zach Even-Esh tells us about “Strength through Adversity” (pg 16) an entertaining tale about a guy named curls that illustrates to us, in typical Underground Strength Coach style, the mental ingredient to functional strength. Behemoth Donnie Thompson shows us some sleight-of-band in “Trickery: Get out of Pain, and Train,” a great rehab article on using bands to repair minor training tweaks and dings. Thompson knows because you don’t get a 2905 total without racking up some damage. The concept is further examined by Hoss Cartwright and Jesse Burdick in “Don’t be Soft” (pg 22), a Q&A format discussion of how these two lifters handle injuries. All three of these men pass on some great info.

Matt Wenning talks about the basics of his training in “Three Methods to His Madness”

For a switch in focus, hot blonde powerlifter Abi Grove is featured in “This Chick Can Kick Your Ass, and You May like It” (pg 34). Nice way to realign the stereotype here. Dan Harrison writes “Strongman: Is It for You?” (pg 35). Harrison feels that extreme sport involving snow, waves, bikes or skateboard are for pussies. Try lifting a 400-pound granite ball to head height or sprinting with three-hundred pounds in each hand. He does a nice job giving an overview of what strongman competition and training is all about. Bench freak Rob Luyando tells us his techniques to increase lockout strength in the bench (pg 40). You may want to try some of his protocol.

Sure as hell has done wonders for him. Ex-Westside, current Lexen Xtreme member Matt Wenning talks about the basics of his training in “Three Methods to His Madness” (pg 43). Wenning is quickly becoming one of the most respected strength coaches out there as well as a top-ranked lifter.

Lastly, the issue wraps up with “Get to Know… Strongman Karl Gillingham” (pg 50). Karl is a likable and character-driven champion. From the impression I get from the Gillinghams, if everyone in Wisconsin is like them, then they probably don’t even need a prison system there.

Matt Wenning talks about the basics of his training in “Three Methods to His Madness”

To say, I was impressed with this issue of Power would be an understatement. I’m normally full of critique but my only request here if to keep doing more of the same. Hopefully, Power will grow from a 52-page bimonthly to a 116-plus page monthly mag but I hope they do not attempt that until they are certain there will be NO loss of content or quality.

I plan to order the four back issues immediately. Check this mag out. You’ll be glad you did!

Written by Steve Colescott

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 – Rag on the Mags #5 – Power: June/July 2010 discussion thread.

About Steve Colescott

Known as the Guerrilla Journalist, Steve Colescott has written over a hundred published articles for many major bodybuilding publications, including Peak Training Journal, the innovative and well-respected magazine in which he served as Publishing Editor.

He is currently a staff writer for WannaBeBig.com and has been a consultant to a number of top sports nutrition companies.

With his company, Colescott Metabolic Solutions, he has transformed the physiques of scores of average businesspeople, weekend athletes and housewives beyond their wildest expectations. Steve lives in Akron, Ohio and trains at the ultra-hardcore Body Builders Gym, an Ohio musclehead landmark.

Rag on the Mags #4 – Muscle & Fitness: July 2010

‘Rag on the Mags’ is a feature in which we will to review the current crop of Muscle and Powerlifting publications as they come out each month (normally before they hit the newsstands).

The basic idea here is that we will present you with the CliffsNotes® of the pertinent info, allowing you to determine if it’s worthwhile for you to run a comb through your hair, head into civilization, and plunk down roughly six-bucks for the issue.

You can be assured that I have no agenda to give the thumbs up or down for a particular issue, I’ll just tell it how it is.

Muscle & Fitness: July 2010

The July issue of Muscle & Fitness rides the popular rise of mixed martial arts by having UFC badass Todd Duffee on the cover, doing his best Ivan Drago pose. Mike Carlson follows up (pg 126) on a profile of Duffee, who is known for scoring the fastest knockout in UFC history. Most of this feature is about the state of UFC and his place in it but a sidebar discusses his training, which includes a lot of agility and explosiveness training balanced by strength work such as snatches, heavy deadlifts, chins, lunges, rows, curls and pushing the prowler (often super-setting movements to increase work density). We get an overview of his nutrition plan with Jim Stoppani (da man!) pointing out the scientific rationale that Duffee may not have even been aware.

UFC badass Todd Duffee

Rob Fitzgerald explores the strength training program of high school champion football team Bergen Catholic (pg 64). I have an interest in athletic prep but I doubt this well-written article has much relevance to the average M&F reader.

“Real Men Do Circuits” by staff writer Joe Wuebben and Hollywood trainer Gunnar Peterson (pg 74) gives some interesting ideas for circuit training, something I am a big fan of for general conditioning and fat loss. The Cable Squat/Reach/Raise looks like a great exercise, bringing into play a lot of different muscles and possibly increasing hip mobility but I intend to tweak it a bit from what I see in the photos, since it looks like quite the testicle-splitter the way Gunnar sets things up with his unlucky demonstrator. It is similar in movement to a kettlebell swing. Their overall program involves using ten pretty-functionally-based exercises for about a dozen reps in no-rest circuit fashion. Three to four circuits and you’re cooked.

Wuebben follows up with “Abs by Force,” (pg 87) with the program design by Rob Fitzgerald. Wuebben bases his article on the sentiment (that I can strongly get behind) that abs need to be trained with resistance. Key features in this program are: build basic muscle with heavy compound movements to boost the metabolism, use and eclectic rep range and short rest periods. The full body cardio in the morning, weights in the evening routine is well-designed but the six-days a week training may have many on the verge of over training, even with the low daily volume, especially since the cardio is of the weight circuit variety.

Abs like these are built by training with resistance

“Countdown to Abs” (pg 104) is written by Sara Polston, RD and is a nice, short nutrition article. She give some of the typical recommendations (drink more water, cut calories, consume lots of protein, include healthy fats, cycle carbs — it would hardly be a useful diet without these old standards) but is not afraid to give specific strategies and numbers for intake.

Supplement guy David Barr gives us his pick of the best ab-whittling supplements in “Gut Punch” (pg 112). He focuses this article on products that have been shown by research to specifically target abdominal fat (including green tea, vitamin C, licorice extract, calcium, omega-3 fats and CLA). I have to commend M&F for supplement articles that do not bias readers towards any specific product line.

“Cover Model Abs” compiled by Mark Thorpe (pg 144) shares a variety of ab training secrets from popular M&F cover models, including Jim Romagna, Remy Feniello, David Kimmerle, TJ Humphreys, Brian Wiefering and Jeff Dwelle. Romagna believes in building abs through the stabilization of the torso in heavy core movements like heavy squats and deads. He believes that doing exercises standing, when possible, also contributes. In contrast, Feniello goes light for higher reps and emphasizes “feel” of a movement. Kimmerle goes simple with five basic exercises rotated and done one each day. Humphreys goes high volume with abs with short rest periods, training five days a week. Wiefering (who I’ve hung with a bit in the gym down in the Cincinnati area) finds the jumping in recreational basketball is great for abs but also does crazy high (2,500 rep crunch sessions from time to time).

Lastly, Dwelle (whom we plan to interview in the future does a simple leg raise/crunch over stability ball superset, advising readers to avoid oblique work as it only hurts waist taper.

In “Backup Plan” (pg 156) Rob Fitzgerald talks about developing the posterior chain, one of the most neglected areas for the average gym attendee. He includes quotes from a variety of trainers and they include a 4-day a week training program (with man-sized exercises like rack pulls, good mornings, box squats and glute-ham raises) that makes me think Fitzgerald comes from a football or PL background. I approve!

Matthew Sloan writes “Caffeine: A Love Story” and, as a java addict that often spends six-hour stints chugging murky liquid adrenaline at coffee shops while writing, I was glad to read about some of the positive benefits. He liberally uses quotes from respected researcher Jose Antonio (also a noted caffeine junkie). The results? Caffeine increases strength, endurance, fat burning, and alertness, alleviates symptoms of asthma (airway restriction) and boosts post-workout glucose replenishment. On the downside, they also tell us that caffeine will not, in fact, help us sober up.

Caffeine has many positive benefits

Jim Stoppani presents us with “Epic Fail” (pg 182), a scientific view of the benefits and guidelines on how to best apply various set-extension techniques such as drop-sets, extended sets, forced sets, negative reps, partial reps and rest-pause. The affect each of these techniques have on the hormones pertinent to weight trainers (GH, testosterone, IGF-1) were particularly interesting. Stoppani is not afraid to give specific recommendation on use of these techniques, making this a must-read.

Well, there you go. After being a bit critical of most of the previous magazines covered, I can’t say anything bad about this issue of Muscle & Fitness. M&F does a perfect job of straddling the mass market fitness and competitive bodybuilding worlds. While it may not be “hardcore” enough for some musclehead zealots, the solid info would serve them well. The inclusion of some moderately-muscled and marketable bodybuilders may also act as a “gateway influence” to introduce newer lifters to serious bodybuilding and powerlifting. This issue is worth picking up.

Written by Steve Colescott

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 – Rag on the Mags #4 – Muscle & Fitness: July 2010 discussion thread.

About Steve Colescott

Known as the Guerrilla Journalist, Steve Colescott has written over a hundred published articles for many major bodybuilding publications, including Peak Training Journal, the innovative and well-respected magazine in which he served as Publishing Editor.

He is currently a staff writer for WannaBeBig.com and has been a consultant to a number of top sports nutrition companies.

With his company, Colescott Metabolic Solutions, he has transformed the physiques of scores of average businesspeople, weekend athletes and housewives beyond their wildest expectations. Steve lives in Akron, Ohio and trains at the ultra-hardcore Body Builders Gym, an Ohio musclehead landmark.

Rag on the Mags #3 – Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness: August 2010

‘Rag on the Mags’ is a feature in which we will to review the current crop of Muscle and Powerlifting publications as they come out each month (normally before they hit the newsstands).

The basic idea here is that we will present you with the CliffsNotes® of the pertinent info, allowing you to determine if it’s worthwhile for you to run a comb through your hair, head into civilization, and plunk down roughly six-bucks for the issue.

You can be assured that I have no agenda to give the thumbs up or down for a particular issue, I’ll just tell it how it is.

Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness: August 2010

It has been awhile since I have picked up an issue of Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness, so I thought this new ongoing column might be a good opportunity to revisit the mag. Magazines covering drug-tested bodybuilding have a real tough battle, but these guys have hung in there as a quarterly mag.

Trying to sell natural bodybuilding to the teenage audience is a tough sell, with Kai Greene and Branch Warren posing in their full pharmaceutically-engorged, angrily-grunting, brains about to hemorrhage glory on covers on either side of the shapely middleweights adorning this mag. Okay, to be honest, there are not side-by-side, NB&F is jammed a row or two behind them in the dark recesses were low-distribution mags go to die.

It’s unfortunate, because the magazine provides role models that the average gym-goer could identify with, possessing genetics that are more in line with the norm (and, of course, expectations that are more likely to be met without the use of “enhancements”).

In order to make the move forward to bigger circulation, the first thing they need to do is drastically improve the magazine’s photo support. Many of the photos look a bit “off,” almost as if the person choosing them is selecting the worst photos from each photo shoot — weird facial expressions, bad angles, poor lighting, you name it. Many of the other photos are… well, just sorta gay looking — guys training in posing trunks or short shorts, smiling wistfully at the guy spotting them… I suspect the athletes are a bit embarrassed once their issue arrives on the stands. They have at least cut down on the excessive oil use from five to ten years ago. The photo of Clarence McGill on the cover with pink trunks on is a good example. It’s not screaming hardcore (at least not the hardcore we want to see in a muscle mag).

A little background on the machinations of NB&F. Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness is run by the Exercise Media Group. They also produce such watered-down duds as Exercise for Men Only, Men’s Exercise, and Best Body. The magazines are published by the elusive Cheh Low. I have never seen him make a personal presence in the magazine so I just picture him as Keyser Sözeh (as played by Kevin Spacey).

Following strategies from the Joe Weider playbook, they also started their own bodybuilding federation, the INBF (amateur) and WNBF (sort of professional with low price money).  This in itself is not a bad thing and should seem a step in the right direction. Natural bodybuilding is (much like powerlifting) fractured into dozens of federations, with every president wanting to be chief and various officials bickering over interpretations of the rules and drug testing procedures. Rather than covering all natural competitions (which would serve the athletes), they restrict coverage to their own competitions. Even worse, when their best athlete, three-time WNBF Universe winner Dave “Texas Shredder” Goodin appeared  in IronMan, which would have done nothing but served the cause of natural bodybuilding, Goodin was reportedly given a three-year suspension from their federation. Talk about a PR debacle!

Well, on to this issue. We start out with an editorial by Rich Fitter. I’m not sure when this guy took over from Steve Downs (as mentioned in my review of the May issue of Powerlifting USA, he is now the ad-man for MHP), but Fitter looks like a slightly younger incarnation of Downs. His bland writing and company-line spiel is identical. This editorial “Putting out the Fire with Gasoline” (pg 12) shows a lack of perspective on Fitter’s part.

He starts out talking about how diverse opinions are good, bemoans a negative forum post thread by an athlete critiquing the company-owned INBF/WNBF, and then states, “The editorial freedom I allow may create some waves among the bodybuilding community…” but that seems to be relegated to just the diet, supplementation and training aspects, certainly not any discussion on the operating procedures, rules or future growth with which the in-house federation is run. You have athletes dieting for twelve to eighteen weeks and training an entire year in prep for one of your contests. I think they have earned a say in their sport.

Dr. Joe Klemczewski has been a long-time contributor here and I was glad to see he was rewarded with an “Ask Dr. Joe” column (pg 16).

He is a WNBF pro known for his conditioning and his ability to get other drug-free athletes in top shape. In response to a carb intake question, JK gives a nice explanation of how carb restriction affects bodyweight via water loss and gain and how that can be misleading. He advocates controlled restriction of carbs, but warns that too excessive a restriction can be counter-productive. In another question, he is asked if there is really any difference between simple and complex carbs during when the carb gram content is identical. As an experienced dieter, JK explains the importance of volume as certain sources (rice, oats) are more filling. The mental aspects of dieting are therefore, every bit as important as the math.

“Supplements” (pg 18) by Rich Fitter is a raving endorsement for a MuscleTech product. Is it a coincidence that they bought 28 2/3 pages of ads (in a 152-page magazine) and he happens to like them? Is that what he was talking about with his “editorial freedom making waves in the industry”? Apparently so. 

WNBF pro Kurt Weidner discusses “Longevity” (pg 26) and how one must adapt their training to the advances of age (and repetitive stresses of the gym). He recommends the inclusion of therapy and preventative maintenance (unfortunately I have yet to meet a lifter that takes this seriously until their body sends them some sort of sign that its necessary). He recommends becoming a master of adjusting form, varying stance, line of pull or grip to work around minor strains and injuries, limiting poundages on exercises when necessary and compensating through higher reps are slower more controlled execution. His appeal for smarter training does not reveal any revolutionary ideas but it did reinforce some important concepts for old codgers like me.

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WNBF Pro – Kurt Weidner

In the rhetorically-titled “Want Bigger Biceps?” (pg 32) Sean McCauley rehashes some oft-told concepts beginning with the role of genetics as a limiter of biceps size and shape. He explains the need for using increasing heavier weight, sufficient rest and some lower intensity work to avoid over-use injuries but give no real practical applications, not even any guidelines.

WNBF World Champion Jim Cordova has a great build but in the photo used in his training column (pg 50), he bears a remarkable resemblance to American Pie’s Jason Biggs. Anywho… Cordova gives us a number of strategies for using push-up variants to build pecs (Just like Jason Biggs gave us a very strong reason to avoid eating pies). It was a well-written article.

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WNBF World Champion Jim Cordova vs. American Pie Star Jason Biggs

“Handling Losses” by WNBF World Champion Brian Whitacre (pg 56) gives a great perspective on how the champion does not rest on their laurels but use losses as impetus towards renewed improvement. In “Living the Dream” (pg 66), author Albert Khoury profiles Rob Moran, in a well-written story.  Shaun Clarida describes the training and nutrition adjustments he made in “Ventures of a World Champ” (pg 68). Laura Anne Rega gives us a profile on coverman Clarence McGill that is well-written. Albert Khoury profiles Best Body champ Amber Walker (pg 80) but the photos again hurt this feature and do no justice to the athlete (she suffers from the shiny forehead syndrome common here). Tracie Euker, in a feature by Pete Dombrosky (pg 104) escaped that same reflective fate.  These features are all light mixes of info and inspiration and may serve those wanting to follow in these athletes footsteps.

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Rob Moran

Dr. Joe Klemczewski returns in a research compendium “Science or Fiction?” (pg 74) and a revisiting of his previous article ten years earlier (I recall reading it) on “Non-linear Periodization” (pg 76). Dr. Joe really saves this mag and I particularly like the NLP article. He is a deep thinker with both the blend of academic study and gym-time observations that I appreciate.

Mary Gillis dispels “The Myth of the Fat-Burning Zone” (pg 108), although I’m thinking that has been dispelled numerous times long before this redundant article. The latter section of the magazine is basically fluff not worth pouring over in detail, unless you want to know how to make Creamy Chicken Enchiladas (Spoiler Alert! Greek Yogurt is the key).

Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness has the $6.99 cover price of the major magazines, but at roughly 150 pages it does not contain the polished presentation or meaty info to justify the expenditure. If Joe Klemczewski took a three-month sabbatical I don’t know that he would have a magazine to come back to.

Written by Steve Colescott

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 – Rag on the Mags #3 – Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness: August 2010 discussion thread.

About Steve Colescott

Known as the Guerrilla Journalist, Steve Colescott has written over a hundred published articles for many major bodybuilding publications, including Peak Training Journal, the innovative and well-respected magazine in which he served as Publishing Editor.

He is currently a staff writer for WannaBeBig.com and has been a consultant to a number of top sports nutrition companies.

With his company, Colescott Metabolic Solutions, he has transformed the physiques of scores of average businesspeople, weekend athletes and housewives beyond their wildest expectations. Steve lives in Akron, Ohio and trains at the ultra-hardcore Body Builders Gym, an Ohio musclehead landmark.

Rag on the Mags #2 – Flex: July 2010

‘Rag on the Mags’ is a feature in which we will to review the current crop of Muscle and Powerlifting publications as they come out each month (normally before they hit the newsstands).

The basic idea here is that we will present you with the CliffsNotes® of the pertinent info, allowing you to determine if it’s worthwhile for you to run a comb through your hair, head into civilization, and plunk down roughly six-bucks for the issue.

You can be assured that I have no agenda to give the thumbs up or down for a particular issue, I’ll just tell it how it is.

Flex: July 2010

The July issue of Flex has big Zack Khan on the cover showing a huge bicep and a deltoid roughly the same size as his head as he concentration curls a 60-pound dumbbell.

The editorial, “Birth of a Rivalry” by Allan Donnelly (pg 24) has to do with Phil Heath vs. Kai Greene as these two (Weider/AMI exclusive athletes) battle for well… the number two spot, since Jay Cutler has moved on over to Muscular Development, which sort of takes away from the significance of the rivalry.

The PH vs. KG rivalry is mentioned further in the “Hard Times” gossip column (pg 53). I wonder if Phil or Kai has even considered it?  This is the typical flavor of Weider hype (and no one does this sort of thing better) which does a great job of getting teenage lifters excited about the upcoming pro season. Veterans of the game look at it and yawn.

In “The Blueprint: Part 1” (pg 132), Hany Rambod gives us his offseason gameplan. It’s hard to get too excited about any of the current trainer/nutritionists when they act as though their programs are innovative since we can see where they have picked and chosen aspects from previous gurus. His program (which supposedly begins right after a physique contest diet) involves a six-week rebound period, with higher calories. He advocates one week off from training, and two cheat meals A DAY, with low-level 30-minute/ 3-4 times a week cardio to keep you from getting too sloppy.

We see a picture of Brandon Curry doing front squats and, while I could be wrong, I don’t think they are a regular part of his training, as his “knuckles touching under his chin” form looks as awkward as I have ever witnessed.

The workout is a five-way split:

  • Day 1: AM: quads; PM: hams and calves
  • Day 2: chest and triceps
  • Day 3: off
  • Day 4: back and biceps
  • Day 5: shoulders, traps and rear delts
  • Day 6: rest
  • Day 7: biceps and triceps again).

He incorporates forced reps, partial reps, drop sets and has you wrap up a few of your weaker bodyparts with his “sevens” — seven pump sets of 8-12 reps with short rest periods followed by fascial stretching. Week Five is similar with some minor tweaking of the order of exercises and “pre-loaded/reloaded sevens” so that he has you doing the seven set pump protocol at both the beginning and end of each bodypart. I’m not sure the logic of this other than to dazzle people with innovation and to bury anyone that did not bail due to overtraining in the first four weeks (with the take-home message that perhaps you are just not cut from sturdy enough stock).

His nutrition program covers all the bases with 4,560 calories a day (467 grams of protein, 407 grams of carbs and 113 grams of fat), using the typical foods and a food prep schedule virtually impossible for  anyone with a full-time job.

His supplement recommendations agree with my own with BCAAs, added vitamin C, probiotics and digestive enzymes added to the other typical staples. He also gives useful advice about things such as “remaining camera-ready for photo-shoots” after our contest, which makes me wonder who in the hell he thinks is reading this?

Now Greg Merritt deserves a firm slap on the wrist for lack of creativity on his “Rated Hardcore” article (pg 158), and this is one I can’t help but take a little personally. Greg’s article ranks the ten most hardcore bodybuilders from the past couple decades. The article includes a paragraph or two explaining why they were chosen, a defining quote from that lifter and there is also a sidebar of “honorable mentions.” Pretty good idea, right? Certainly not the type of creativity Flex has been known for. The problem is… one creative author (by the name of Stevoreno Colescott published an online article on November 28, 2009 called “The Hardcore Twelve” that, guess what? …listed the twelve most hardcore and inspirational lifters of the past couple decades, in a remarkably similar format, including listing a defining quote for each athlete and a sidebar of “honorable mentions.”

My article (The Hardcore Twelve) had some different athletes, as I included some powerlifters and strongman competitors, but the concept was an obvious steal. Their ten includes four of the same athletes as me, with three of my honorable mentions being promoted up to their list in place of the strength athletes they omitted. I guess I should feel complimented. I’m glad to see you are a fan of my work, Greg. I can’t say the same about yours!

Shawn Perine writes an article called “Hardcore Sweat Shops” (pg 182) that features ten blue-collar gyms. We have seen this sort of things dozens of times but I enjoy these stories since this is the core of grassroots lifting. We have some of the old standard gyms here (Bev Francis’ Powerhouse, Diamond Gym in Jersey, Gold’s Venice, Quad’s Gym in Chi-town, Metroflex- Arlington, Bonham’s Strong & Shapely) but they also threw in USA Gym (Bridgeview, IL), Doug’s Gym (Dallas), Super Training Gym (Sacramento) and Loprinzi’s Gym (Portland, OR) so there was some freshness, although there are quite a few gyms I would have ranked higher. Their radar seems to be based on knowing a Flex-guy that trains in a particular place. There are gyms teaming with hungry amateur bodybuilders and powerlifters that they will be forever oblivious to.

In “Hardcore Nutrition,” Jordana Brown writes (pg 192) about a day’s perfect eating. I generally tend to like her work and flip through looking for articles authored by either her or Jim Stoppani. Both authors present a great distillation of research to realistic application in bodybuilding. This is a pretty high-carb itinerary which would serve the teenage readership of Flex well, provided they can talk their parents into the daily steak and salmon. She does a nice job explaining her choices and readers will pick up a lot from this even if they choose not to go with such a high-carb approach.

“Recover Returns” (pg 200) by Sommer Robertson is the supplement recommendations section of this issue’s Hardcore theme. Their seven picks are whey, casein, BCAAs, creatine, carb powder, glutamine and alpha-lipoic acid. While buying a stand-alone carb powder is something only hyper-metabolic skinny teens might need (perhaps a majority of the Flex readership), most young guys might be better served with an inexpensive canister of oatmeal so they can invest more in additional servings of protein and weight gainer.

Zack Khan is the subject of the “Bloody Hell Part 1” photos feature (pg 218) by Greg Merritt. Kevin Horton (famous for the” Dorian Yates in his socks” amazing transformation pics) is the photographer. The photos here are so/so, which is unfortunate because Khan is a monstrous freak that has potential to pick up the mass-monster mantle from Markus Rühl. It almost looks like the gym was so small that they could only get photos from the side, which is great for story-telling purposes, but not so much for a photo-shoot. The article claims that Khan was to make his pro debut at the Tampa Pro, but the word is that he suffered a hammie injury. Hopefully we will see him on stage (and in shape) in 2010.

The Monstrous Freak: Zack Khan

Kevin Horton redeemed himself photographically in his Greg Merritt penned article on power-bodybuilder Stan Efferding. “Pec Power Play” (pg 232) which details the White Rhino’s program that earned him entrance into both the IFBB pro ranks and the 600-pound bench press (raw) club. Efferding explains why a pump would hurt max strength so he keeps reps between 3 and 5 in his bench warm-up sets (135 to 405 in ninety-pound jumps) and gives himself three minutes between sets.

The 42-year old powerhouse also gives useful advice on setting your bench stance and grip. After four heavy sets of bench, he does incline dumbbell presses (typically with 200-pounders), parallel-bar dips with a hundred-pound dumbbell added for resistance. After warm-ups, he does just six sets but obviously it works for him.

 

Stan Efferding – Incline pressing 210-pounders for reps

Shawn Perine writes “ContrOversy” (pg 248) and this is exactly the type of historical retrospective in which he excels (although it also serves as an ad for 2010 Olympia tickets). This recounts the five most controversial Olympias. First up, is the 2007 contest in which Victor Martinez (in perhaps the best shape we will ever see him) lost by one point to a “not at his best” Jay Cutler. In #4 is the 1990 Battle of Lees with a flawless Labrada not upsetting an off-form Haney, despite the two-point lead after the pre-judging. Number 3 is 2001, where Cutler showed he was a serious contender and many felt he out-posed Coleman.

The two remaining controversial events were 1981 (in which the limbless torso of Columbo stole a Sandow) and 1980, where Arnold tarnished his competitor rep and undid some of his efforts to build the sport, by stealing the Olympia with a physique maybe 80% of his previous best. While people are still outraged over that one, it’s the Columbo farce that burns me.

In “Delts that Deliver” (pg262) Zack Zeigler (with photos by Pavel “I’d like to buy a vowel” Ythjall) gives us Dexter Jackson’s shoulder training routine. The program is pretty generic. The exception? He does his lateral raises seated sideways on a 45° incline bench. Why? His trainer told him to. I’m guessing it’s really just because he’s lazy. There is not much to learn here but Dex is in great shape and the photos were taken at Metro Fitness, which used to be the main World Gym in North Columbus owned by Jim Lorimer. I trained there for a couple of year and Mike Francois runs his training biz at this gym.

The same team (Zeigler/Ythjall) does a photo profile on figure competitor Terri Turner, who looks a bit like Rachel McLish (without the snooty ‘tude). I didn’t really read this but she was fun to look at. To stay with the T&A theme, we get a five-page bikini spread by Ian Spanier and Mike Mader. They drop the pretext of telling us about these women and give us photos with minimal text.

 ‘Figure Competitor Terri Turner was fun to look at’

So that’s it. A fairly meaty issue of Flex with a few informative articles. Younger guys may want to pick this up for the Hardcore Nutrition article or the Efferding training feature. And Gregg Merritt needs to make it a point not to blatantly poach my ideas in the future!

Written by Steve Colescott

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 – Rag on the Mags #2 – Flex: July 2010 discussion thread.

About Steve Colescott

Known as the Guerrilla Journalist, Steve Colescott has written over a hundred published articles for many major bodybuilding publications, including Peak Training Journal, the innovative and well-respected magazine in which he served as Publishing Editor.

He is currently a staff writer for WannaBeBig.com and has been a consultant to a number of top sports nutrition companies.

With his company, Colescott Metabolic Solutions, he has transformed the physiques of scores of average businesspeople, weekend athletes and housewives beyond their wildest expectations. Steve lives in Akron, Ohio and trains at the ultra-hardcore Body Builders Gym, an Ohio musclehead landmark.

Rag on the Mags #1 – Powerlifting USA: May 2010

Before the advent of widespread internet use and things like blogging, there were things called fanzines. Fanzines were mini-magazines made usually on the cheap with low production quality, often on inexpensive pulpy paper, sometimes crudely Xeroxed.

In bodybuilding, the late Steve Neece put out a gossip newsletter called Venice Beach Newsletter and Dante Trudel published Hardcore Muscle. My good friend Mike Schak published Hardcore Muscle-zine, perhaps the crudest in both content and production of the bunch. Most of it was hand-written, with uneven columns and truly horrible cartoon sketches.

He was probably lucky to get over a hundred copies of the magazine out but despite their amateurish-production, they had so much heart and passion contained in them that you quickly found yourself deeply engrossed in an issue. A single twelve to sixteen-page copy of a good fanzine provided more inspiration than a year’s subscription to any of the current newsstand mags.

One of the bigger segments of Mike Schak’s fanzine was a segment called “Rag on the Mags” in which he reviewed the current crop of Muscle and Powerlifting publications. I am going to co-opt that idea from Mike (he doesn’t mind), and present it for you for the electronic age.

The basic idea here is that I will present you with the CliffsNotes® of the pertinent info, allowing you to determine if it’s worthwhile for you to run a comb through your hair, head into civilization, and plunk down roughly six-bucks for the issue. You can be assured that I have no agenda to give the thumbs up or down for a particular issue, I’ll just tell it how it is.

I’m sending out for subscriptions to the major mags. Once those go into effect, these should be coming a bit faster (before they hit the newsstands), but pardon the first few being less than “breaking news.”  Let me know here if this is the type of article you find interesting and useful!

Powerlifting USA: May 2010, Vol. 33, No. 7

We all have had that friend that is all excited about the new girl he’s dating and, as he relates the story, we immediately can see that she has everything wrong with her that the last girl, and the girl before that, did. We like the guy so we hope for the best for him, but deep inside we want to scream and shake him and lay out the cold, hard truth but we realize it’s probably not going to really sink in until he wakes up, reads her “You’re dumped” note on the pillow, noticed a few twenties peeled from his wallet, and learns she is now living with his boss she met at the office picnic.

Powerlifting USA is a bit like that friend. We want the best for him, but he just doesn’t seem to see what he needs to do. Apparently, someone had that cold, hard talk with Mike Lambert. Although PLUSA has had almost no appreciable growth in content or design in the more than three decades that he has been publishing it, they seem to have made a huge quantum pole vault forward with this issue.

Please forgive me, Mike, but the first thing I did was glance at the masthead to see if you had sold the magazine. It’s not that I didn’t think you had it in you; it is just that I quite frankly thought that you just didn’t care enough. The new look is incredible. The cover (a dynamic photo of NFL player Chris Snee flipping over a big tire) is on thicker stock, low-gloss paper and really POPS like a modern magazine needs to. The issue is bound rather than saddle stitched (stapled) so that it will stand upright on a newsstand shelf as well as last longer in a lifter’s collection (previous issues of PLUSA would lose their covers after two or three visits to my favorite “toilet reading oasis”).

The new design really makes this issue surprisingly readable. Past issues seemed to dislike “white space” and jamming every inch with text made reading it as much fun as a phonebook reading marathon.

At 116-pages, the magazine has not grown in size (I don’t think it needs to) but this issue seems to have a lot more “meat” in it. While many of the articles have a commercial bias (written by someone representing a company that advertises) there is still some useful content. Donnie Thompson gives us some pointers on “Trunk Strength” (pg 12). “A strong man or woman should have a physique fashioned like a gorilla” Thompson believes, and I cannot disagree. He shares some wisdom from the late Mel Siff and how he has applied it. Guess what? He doesn’t believe crunches are the way to go and heavy progressive resistance is king. 

I’m not a huge fan of the Power Research column. It is once again written by some anonymous labcoat-wearing marketing guy from Team MuscleTech and, not so surprisingly, is lauding the value of one of their products, which is in an ad on the opposite page. Still, the printing bills have to be paid so we overlook such things. We also get a three-page color feature on coverman NFL Giants player Chris Snee(pg 49) written by Steve Downs. Downs is a Marketing Director for MHP and Snee is adorned in MHP jerseys and t-shirts in the feature (with the mandatory two-paragraph spiel on his use of the products) so this is an information piece with and advertising angle. Louie Simmons talks about specialty bars in training, which he also sells, but Louie is light on the hype and you get plenty of applicable info here. Louie is not the guy that would sell someone something they didn’t need. He has definitely given a thousand times more to the sport than he has taken.

“The Story of Don Blue” by Ron Fernando (pg 58) is a very well-written and moving story about the lifting career and troubled life of the great lifter from the seventies. I think this kind of article creates an appreciation for the history of the sport. The “Where Are They Now?” article on bench pioneer Mike McDonald (pg 14), “The Golden Rules of Bench Pressing Raw” by Rick Weil (pg 18) and the “Power History: Belly Toss Bench Press” article (pg 22) also help flesh this historical perspective.

The “Rehab and Prehab Active recovery Program” article by Deric Stockton (pg 82) was a nice counterbalance. Although, we need the historical retrospectives (some really great ideas have been developed and lost by past greats), Powerlifting USA has a bit of a reputation for being a bit behind the times, with people looking to online sources for modern, cutting-edge power training ideas. I hope this article signals a concerted effort to change that.

My final know-it-all recommendation to Mike Lambert (a guy who was publishing his first issue while I was trying to figure out how to lighten the collars on the plastic concrete-filled set in my basement) would be to say farewell to the longtime core of your magazine… the “Results” and “Coming Events” sections.

Although they look much more readable here than they have in the past, you should completely jettison the “Coming Events” section, make it available on your website where it can be updated weekly and people can easily search by geographical region, sanctioning organization or level. “Results” should be one or two major events an issue with dynamic photo coverage and the local events coverage should be relegated to the website. The freed-up pages could then be used to cover more cutting-edge power tactics. I’d like to read about other power coaches, particularly what type of techniques, equipment, exercises and programming that European teams and other foreign strength coaches do in the gym.

I look forward to seeing what the next issue of PLUSA brings. If you have not read the magazine in a few years, I think it’s time you gave Powerlifting USA another shot. I suspect the new polished look will also win them a significant increase in advertising revenue. Nice work Mike Lambert and kudos to Art Director Kelly Anglin. Since another issue is due out soon, I will be following up once I have seen it.

Written by Steve Colescott

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 – Rag on the Mags – Powerlifting USA: May 2010, Vol. 33, No. 7 discussion thread.

About Steve Colescott

Known as the Guerrilla Journalist, Steve Colescott has written over a hundred published articles for many major bodybuilding publications, including Peak Training Journal, the innovative and well-respected magazine in which he served as Publishing Editor.

He is currently a staff writer for WannaBeBig.com and has been a consultant to a number of top sports nutrition companies.

With his company, Colescott Metabolic Solutions, he has transformed the physiques of scores of average businesspeople, weekend athletes and housewives beyond their wildest expectations. Steve lives in Akron, Ohio and trains at the ultra-hardcore Body Builders Gym, an Ohio musclehead landmark.

Pecking Order

His name was Mario, but due to the stupid looking tattoo on his shoulder, I insisted on referring to him as Canario. “It’s a parrot!” he’d yell.

“I’m no ornithologist, but it looks like a canary to me. Or maybe a swallow? What are you trying to say by having a swallow tattooed on your arm?”

He would shake his head and swagger away, “When you are buying your shirts in the men’s department, you can talk.”

He had a point. I had made some gains, but I had a long way to go. There was a pecking order here, like at any hardcore gym, based on respect. Even though I had become the gym’s manager, I was only about 2/3 of the way up that ladder, which was okay by me. I had started at rock bottom and didn’t think I was ever going to escape those depths. But my story starts a bit further back.

On one of my first visits to the gym, I paid the daily guest fee and was training in the middle of the day. A likeable guy named Gelle was the only other customer in the place and the owner of the gym was taking advantage of the slow business day to get in some chest work.

The gym owner, an imposing, brooding 6’4” mix of Steve Michalik and Vince Lombardi named John, resided firmly in the top position of the pecking order. He was now a competitively retired bodybuilder, focusing more on the business of running a World Gym. Having once been over 270-pounds (and this was in the early eighties) he was one of the biggest guys in the area with the best-equipped gym in that part of the state, which naturally drew in some top competitors. In addition to size and strength, John had a rep for not taking any crap.

Halfway into my workout I heard some arguing. Some guy that looked as if he combed his hair with a greasy pork chop had stopped in and was giving Gelle a hard time about what sounded like the repayment of a loan.

Upon completion of his set, John walked over and brusquely asked the interloper if he was a member. John did not even wait for Greasy to finish shaking his head in the negative, before interjecting, “Then leave… NOW!”

A few minutes later, I heard arguing coming from the leg area. Greasy had foolishly come back inside and was poking Gelle in the chest, to emphasize his collection demand. At the same time, I heard a crash. It was the 120-pound dumbbells, tossed to the ground midway into a set of incline presses. Now John was meticulous about the upkeep of his gym and followed Joe Gold’s tenet about “Drop the weights and you get kicked out.” This was a bad development.

Greasy let out a forced cough as John’s oversized mitts descending upon him, grabbing his shirt (and probably the saggy flesh underneath) so quickly it forced the air from his lungs.

Without even slowing down, John took three to four long-gated steps toward the red emergency exit with his bug-eyed bundle. At this point, he tossed him the final twelve feet (with perfect medicine ball push form) to eject him from the premises.

Now here’s the unfortunate part. The problem with those emergency doors is that you have to firmly press the bar that spans the center in order to disengage the latch. Since he did not impact the door quite right, Greasy crumpled into a heap. In effect, he had been tossed into a metal wall.

John walked over, crouched to get the man we will now refer to as Grease-stain, picked him up as if he was a bundle of newspapers, and while backing into the exit to push the crossbar with his backside, lay his unconscious victim down outside the building as gently as a mother would lay her babe in the cradle. Although trying to mind my own business, there was a brief moment that was both comical and scary in which John’s glance met mine in the mirror. I’ll always remember the “should I have done that?” look on his face.

Looking back, that being part of my introduction, it took some serious balls to have gone back there — even more to approach him with a business deal. The three hundred dollar membership was far out of my reach at that age (I didn’t realize until later that nobody REALLY paid full price) but I wasn‘t about to let finances or the forty-minute drive stand in my way.

Consistent hard work coupled with gradual strength increases earns universal respect in gyms

My friend Vance and I had noticed that the exterior sign was peeling. Stealing a page from the team of Schwarzenegger and Columbu (they got their start in the States claiming to be experts at European Masonry), we told John that we would paint new signs for the two roadside corners of the building in exchange for a one-year membership each. We showed him examples of our “work” which consisted of a few decent looking signs we noticed on our drive home. Had he called any of them to check we would have been screwed, but I was confident I could learn how to paint a sign that would be of comparable quality to the snapshots we had shown him. I didn’t think of it as lying so much as “telling the truth in advance.”

About a week into the project, my buddy lost interest, leaving me to finish both signs on my own. John would check on my progress and be punished for it by being hit with a barrage of training and nutrition questions. I had been training at home for about two years, with very little to show for it. At 126-pounds I was a sad sight. My tolerance for exercise was so low that my hands would shake and I’d feel nauseous after just a few sets of wobbly-kneed squats with dumbbells that most guys would use for curls.

John said that he admired my work ethic, finishing the painting solo after my friend bailed on me. He was a smart guy, and in me saw something useful… a kid so hungry to improve his Don Knott’s physique that he would be the perfect candidate to assume the hard-to-keep-filled opening shift. This involved me being at the gym six days a week at 5:30, getting paid minimum wage and doing all the crap-work like dusting equipment and mopping the gym mats. I felt like I won the Lotto! (I found out later that the previous morning guy had gone to prison for first-degree murder).

Now here’s where that “bottom of the pecking order” thing came into play. This World Gym had at least a dozen competitive bodybuilders as regulars, about a dozen more were past-competitors (that might throw their hats back in the ring at any point), another dozen powerlifters, and dozens of hardcore meatheads in the ranks. In addition, on the weekends, top lifters from within a ninety-minute drive radius would come out to use the leg equipment there.

Every day was a test of humility. The regulars gave it to you daily and I could either develop a thick skin or find a profession in fast food. One day, one of the bigger guys said, “I think there may be something to this Mentzer Heavy Duty stuff. He says the longer you spend in the gym, the more likely it is that you are overtrained and you will lose muscle. Look at Steve. He’s in the gym thirty hours a week and he looks like he’s withering away” (and that was one of the nicer comments).

Being tossed in that environment was sink-or-swim. John gave me guidance and a discount on supplements. Half of my check was going towards protein and I was eating good solid food constantly. I also was following a four-day a week program that consisted of basics and an adaptation of the classic 20-rep squat protocol (see my last article, “Pros and Cons of Various Training Systems” for more on this).

A good thing happens when you get completely immersed in a goal. I started to gradually get less flack from the regulars. This was due, in part, to the big leaps forward in bodyweight (about fifteen pounds in the first three months) that gave me a physique approaching normal. Mostly though, was the fact that for a couple of months, on each and every leg day, I would at some point stagger towards that same red emergency exit that Grease-stain had been tossed into, poke my head out the door in a turtle-like stance, and forcibly evacuate the contents of my stomach. (Yes, I estimated and adjusted intake for the lost protein). I didn’t make a show of it. It would just happen, I would rinse my mouth out with a swig of water, and get immediately back to work.

The top dogs noticed. You can fake effort with grunts and clanging weights but quiet, consistent hard work coupled with gradual strength increases earns universal respect in gyms. Those that have been there understand what it takes. I still had to take some crap (that’s just part of the culture), but it was more closely equivalent to the ball busting I had handed out.

When John decided to expand his business ventures, he offered me the Manager’s slot and a little more money. I became a student of the game and continued to make progress (up to a fairly lean 205) until eventually strangers would notice that I worked out, which may not seem like much to the average hardcore lifter, but was ultimate wish fulfillment to me.

One day, a pimply-faced kid named Paul with the build of a malnourished basketball player walked in. We gave some guidance (not much). They had to earn anything beyond the basic intro workout.

“I’ve been training at home and I want to get huge he proclaimed!”

“When you are buying your shirts in the men’s department, you can talk,” I replied. “Now, let me show you the beauty of high-rep squatting…”

Written by Steve Colescott

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 – Pecking Order discussion thread.

About Steve Colescott

Known as the Guerrilla Journalist, Steve Colescott has written over a hundred published articles for many major bodybuilding publications, including Peak Training Journal, the innovative and well-respected magazine in which he served as Publishing Editor.

He is currently a staff writer for WannaBeBig.com and has been a consultant to a number of top sports nutrition companies.

With his company, Colescott Metabolic Solutions, he has transformed the physiques of scores of average businesspeople, weekend athletes and housewives beyond their wildest expectations. Steve lives in Akron, Ohio and trains at the ultra-hardcore Body Builders Gym, an Ohio musclehead landmark.