The Best Bits & Review of the Metroflex Bodybuilding Seminar

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have no doubt heard of Metroflex Gym.

Shortly before Ronnie Coleman won his first Olympia, I visited the Arlington, Texas gym to spend four days alongside the Big Nasty as he prepped to become the greatest bodybuilder of the current age. While there, I interviewed Metroflex Gym owner Brian Dobson because the gym struck me as suck a throwback to everything I love about gyms and everything that is lost in the current age of corporate fitness centers.

Twelve years later, Metroflex is known as a hardcore haven, listed alongside Westside Barbell, Body Builders Gym in Akron, Dorian Yates’ Temple Gym, Quads Gym in Chicago and Rick Hussey’s Big Iron Gym as one of the few truly hardcore gyms around.

Fortunately, there seems to be a resurgence in hardcore gyms these days, with a number of Metroflex Gyms taking the position of the Gold’s and World Gyms before they self-castrated and went mainstream.

Now with locations in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and new locations opening in Colorado Springs, Metroflex is on the rise. Best of all, these gyms are owned by top bodybuilders or fans of serious lifting. Greg McCoy, the owner of the Metroflex-Plano location is no exception.

To show his appreciation for serious bodybuilding, he runs twice a year promotional/customer appreciation events which consist of seminars, lift-offs and lots of freebies handed out to the crowd. He also held a seminar with National Level Bodybuilder and Top Level Trainer Jeff Dwelle, National Level Bodybuilder and Record Holding Power Lifter Justin Harris, and National Level Competitor and Metroflex Plano Member Steve Kuclo.

In the seminar Jeff, Steve and Justin answer questions regarding training, diet, and the lifestyle required to be successful as a bodybuilder or power lifter.

I am going to share some of the interesting info quotes below and also review the DVD:

Metroflex Bodybuilding Seminar Insights

Justin Harris: “That’s really the difference between being a guy that works out and being a bodybuilder. Being the guy that works out means going to the gym an hour or an hour-and-a-half, a couple days a week. Being a bodybuilder is not one hour a day. It’s literally ALL day long.”

“Every two hours when you eat you have a chance to make yourself a better bodybuilder or make yourself a worse bodybuilder.”

Steve Kuclo: “Bodybuilding is a twenty-four hour, 365 type of lifestyle. The guy that slacks over his off-season is the guy that not necessarily going to win. Consistency and dedication are the two key words applied to bodybuilding.”

Jeff Dwelle: “Bodybuilding shows are not won on the day of the show. They are won in the months or the years leading up to that show in the time in the training in the gym and the getting your food with the consistency.”

Justin Harris: “There is a point of overtraining but the fact that people walk around worrying that they are going to work TOO HARD to get big is a bit absurd if you think about it. I think about other sports, ‘I could have been a great basketball player but I worked too hard…’ Over training is probably, on the list of things to worry about, towards the bottom.”

Jeff Dwelle: “The only instances where I’ve seen it [overtraining] become an issue is in a diet situation, where you have some stress (low calories, lot of cardio). Outside stressors can definitely inhibit your ability to recover and get the benefit from training.”

Justin Harris: “If you decide to compete, you have to decide to compete. It is all-or-nothing. There is no worse feeling the being on stage and looking like shit… being on stage and being embarrassed to be up there.”

Justin Harris: “There’s a million different diets that work: the keto diet, carb cycling… they all work. The one thing that will never work is trying a million different things during the course of your diet.”

Jeff Dwelle: “For me as a trainer, what I ask my clients or prospective clients is, ‘Do you have the money…?’ because [contest prep] is a very expensive undertaking, no matter what. ‘Do you have the time’ and ‘Are you committed to winning?.’ Those are the three questions I would ask because it is a commitment you have to make on all fronts.”

Steve Kuclo: “I like cooking in bulk; not one meal at a time, if I cook, I cook for like three days so I have a container full of chicken at home and a container full of rice. I have it portioned out for the day and throw it in a baggy to go and eat. Cooking in bulk is huge in order to keep up with your eating schedule.”

Justin Harris: “We were meant to walk for four to six hours hunting before we got a piece of meat. The way we were designed… think thousands of years ago… the women would gather fruits and nuts and the men would go hunt all day for one single meal of meat. Obviously it is different being a top bodybuilding from being a skinny guy in a hunter/gatherer society but people get a little too worried that walking on a treadmill at a couple miles an hour is going to make muscle fall off.”

“Look at Ronnie Coleman. In one of his videos, he’s in the off-season and we see him squatting 800-pounds then two hours later he is doing an hour on the Stepmill. If Ronnie Coleman, at three-hundred pounds, can do 45-minutes on the Stepmill, which is high-intensity cardio, and he was not exactly lacking in leg muscle.”

Justin Harris: “This is the first time he [Steve Kuclo’s Nationals prep] has ever gotten that lean.  Those last fat cells, those stubborn fat cells that are bound to an estrogen receptor that have never been gone before have been shrunk down…. Now that he has got there, his body will remember that.”

National Level Bodybuilder and Record Holding Power Lifter Justin Harris

Jeff Dwelle: “You can thin out your skin on a keto diet, there is no doubt, and you can lose bodyfat. I do think it comes as a trade at some level, depending on how long you can maintain glycogen and how long you can handle the dieting. It was difficult for me to train, to be honest. I was doing two hours of cardio a day and not really eating anything and subsisting on shakes and some protein. I really didn’t get much done… I think you need to find the right system for you and that can be different for everyone.”

Steve Kuclo: “This year was my first year experiencing keto and a lot of it boils down to your genetics. Keto isn’t for everybody. Is it something to try out? It is. A running keto is what I did. For two weeks I would hit keto and then I’d bring some carbs back into my diet. Did it get me really lean? Yeah, I got lean really fast but then I sacrificed some muscle and energy levels are just really in the dirt. When you are about seven days into it, you just really are pretty much running on fumes. Some people can handle it and some people can’t. For me, personally, a keto diet would be a last resort type of deal.”

Jeff Dwelle: “In my own personal circumstance, I make it really easy. I bookend my meals with eggs or egg whites. I’m at home for my first meal and I’m at home for my last meal so that knocks out two. I’ve got meat for two meals and some sort of carbs, so that gets me to four. I have some sort of protein shake and nuts, almonds or peanut butter for two and that gets me to six [meals]. That’s basic.”

Jeff Dwelle: “I was a steakaholic for a long time too. I’ve done a couple of diets just on pure steak. Different people will have different opinions on that. I happen to mix my protein sources so I don’t have steak at every meal, but I might have steak, when I’m contest dieting, twice a day. It does seem to satiate me a bit more than the white meats do. If I’m dieting and making progress well, I am going to stay on steak. If I’m not, I may go to white fish for a little while or mix them back and forth. I do think steak, for whatever reason, seems to be more substantial for me when I’m dieting.”

Steve Kuclo: “Personally, I have only pretty much dieted on chicken… just because of ease and cost. It’s pretty affordable. It’s going to boil down to calorie and fat content between the two [chicken and steak]. Obviously, if you are on track and eating steak, and you’re making progress, then there is no reason to change it. If you need to cut some calories out from fat go [from steak] to chicken or white fish, that way you are going to cut maybe fifty calories out a meal by just reducing the amount of fat.”

Justin Harris: “Steak generally has generally higher calories. It has saturated fat which gets converted to cholesterol, which gets converted to androstenediol, which gets converted to testosterone. For some competitors, natural competitors, that’s very important. But the other thing with steak… steak has a slightly lower bioavailability than chicken but the protein ratio is better for raising iron levels. If you can increase the iron level , it increases your hematocrit (the amount of red blood cells in your blood, which) you can increase your blood volume, which can give you a fuller look. You look at your bicep and only about 30% of your bicep is actual contractile tissue, actual actin and myosin. If you dehydrated it out… look at beef jerky. That’s the actual amount of actual tissue in the area. The rest of it is water, glycogen. If you can double the amount of blood vessels and double the amount of blood going through those blood vessels in your bicep, that’s going to add size to your bicep, and that’s something [a benefit] of the iron from steak.”

Steve Kuclo: “I’m a big fan of feeding a muscle as fast as you can after a workout. If you can [eat post-workout] the sooner the better, if it’s a meal or a shake. If you can afford a specialized shake, your branched-chain and glutamine ratio is going to be higher in a lot of those shakes because of the specialized amino acid profiles.”

Jeff Dwelle: “I will have a shake, usually whey protein, some carbs; probably because I just like the way it tastes and its simple and it digests quickly. I have that immediately after training. And then I will eat a whole [food] meal sixty-to ninety minutes after that.”

These are just a fraction of the wisdom shared. I recommend that you purchase the DVD of the entire seminar, which I have conveniently reviewed below 🙂

Metroflex Bodybuilding Seminar DVD – Volume One Review

As a voracious reader and gluttonous consumer of info products, I like to share my finds with like-minded lifters. There are some impressive products out there but, with every nutrition expert, guru, strength coach or national contender waving a product in the air, our Paypal accounts can only be spread so thin and we have to discriminate where we are going to send our hard-earned dollars.

This is therefore a REAL REVIEW. What you commonly read in the magazines are not actually product reviews, they are press releases reprinted as part of an advertising package.

For those of you not familiar with me, I have a reputation for journalistic integrity unmatched in our industry (which means I’ve taken the moral high ground and paid for it) and that’s not something I intend to ever cash in.

So consider this a completely unbiased review:

This hour-long seminar DVD was put together by Greg McCoy, the owner of Metroflex Gym in Plano, Texas. The seminar features Justin Harris, Steve Kuclo and Jeff Dwelle. Justin Harris is known as one of the smartest power bodybuilders and nutritional theorists in the industry. He understands both the science of bodybuilding nutrition and the reality of a 600-pound deadlift. Steve Kuclo (at 24-years old) is a bit less seasoned but is the rising star of the group, expected to break through at the national level in the next few years. I was not familiar with the third speaker, Jeff Dwelle, who is a Texas-based competitor and contest prep coach. He was a great addition to the roundtable with some insightful views and a gift for boiling topics down to useable strategies.

The seminar was a Q&A roundtable, which is one of my personal pet peeves. No offense to the three speakers here or the seminar promoter, that’s just the way bodybuilding seminars are done these days , which I think is why they have dwindled in attendance from the crowd they would pull two decades ago.

I would have preferred thirty-minute focused and prepared segments of, for example: 1) Justin Harris on setting up a carb rotation diet, 2) Steve Kuclo explaining training strategies, and Jeff Dwelle discussing pre-contest dieting, and  4) a wrap-up Q & A segment. Of course, the fact that I wanted the seminar to be longer in length says that the content was exceptionally good.

If a couple experts at the level of these three showed up with a polished, entertaining presentation (overhead projector presentation, handouts, etc.), they would help elevate the seminar concept and make it a viable money-making avenue once again. So the responsibility for good content is shifted to the attendees to ask decent questions, which almost never really happens.

Fortunately, these three speakers have a lot of insights (as you will see above) so quality came out regardless.  And this is just a smattering of the info that these three experts share.

While the production value is nothing special (but certainly not bad), Greg is offering the DVD at an incredibly affordable price (just $10.00 plus shipping), which to be honest, is pretty much giving it away. I assume he just wants to get the word out about his new Metroflex, which I hear is a great place to train.

With most similar DVDs selling for three to four times this cost, you owe it to yourself to add this to your library. Even if you just pick up a couple ideas (or have a good idea reinforced) it is well worth the price and thats why I have given it an official rating of four out of five plates.

To order, check out the MetroFlex Store and I’ll leave you with a trailer video of the seminar:

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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 – The Best Bits & Review of the Metroflex Bodybuilding Seminar 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.

One Quick Fix for a Stronger Back and Shoulders

Think about all the pullups, bench presses, dips and rows you’ve done in the gym. Now what if I told you that you have been doing them wrong?

This oversight is limiting your progress in all of these movements, leaving you with less strength and less muscle, and it’s eventually going to leave you with a shoulder injury that will either restrict you to the pink dumbbell and bouncy ball section of the gym or force you to skip upper body lifting altogether while you recover.

About two years ago I was sitting with Nate Green in a restaurant in Long Beach. What started out with one flirty waitress grew into a group of girls from a nearby table, and Nate went into the line of questioning that he had worked out as part of his research for Built for Show.

“Picture what you consider to be your physically ideal man. He’s wearing boxer shorts and you have a 360 degree view from the neck down. What three areas are you going to look at first?”

One of the top three answers to this question (meaning the place a woman looks at first when she’s trying to decide if you’re worth taking to bed) is almost always “upper back.”

This same mistake that impairs your performance on pulls, presses, and dips also significantly shortchanges the muscular development of the upper back, making you look less appealing to the fairer sex. The good news, though, is that it’s fairly simple to fix.

The mistake: Focusing movement on the arms without initiating from the scapula.

It seems like a simple distinction, but it’s such a fundamental aspect of upper body strength training that it’s the equivalent of initiating a squat with the lower back instead of the glutes.

Why it happens

The North American lifestyle, coupled with common training practices, works to predispose most people to a number of postural imbalances. As far as the upper body is concerned, the main factors at play relate to what you’re doing right now. In order to read this, you’re probably sitting in front of a computer with your arms directed in front of you, your scapulae protracted forward, at least a small kyphotic hunch in your upper back, and your head is most likely too far forward.

Almost all of us do this to some degree for much of the day, whether on a computer, reading, writing, or even driving. Over time, this leads to postural adaptations. The muscles that fire in order to maintain this posture, mainly in your chest, are chronically tightened while the muscles in your upper back and traps are relaxed and weakened in turn.

This tight-chest/weak-back imbalance is exacerbated by the position of the spine. With the upper spine flexed into kyphosis and the head carried along with it, the thoracic spine gradually adapts and becomes limited in its ability to extend. Because the scapulae have a difficult time retracting when the thoracic spine is flexed, you’ve got a one-two punch for faulty scapular function. What all this means is that most North American lifters are prone to some degree of scapular dysfunction, and this will carry over into any upper body lift they perform.

Because the scapulae are unstable and tend to be somewhat winged and protracted (pulled forward), any movement will occur with the humerus pitched anteriorly in the capsule. This anterior translation weakens the force that you can eventually produce in an upper body movement. Any good bencher will tell you that a tight back and strong lats play a huge role in the lift, especially in the early portion of the movement.

Poor scapular function also makes the shoulder prone to impingement and injury. All that grinding you feel in your shoulder when you bench press probably has some roots in the position of your scapulae when you’re training. Fix the scaps and you fix the shoulder.

The last point here is that when all the muscles that should be involved in retracting and depressing the scapulae are left unused or are only partially activated, they aren’t going to grow. This means that your upper back, which is one of the main areas in need of serious hypertrophy in order to exude a look of strength and power (and is also one of the first places a woman looks for when she’s checking you out) won’t be up to par.

How to make it better

The first step is fairly simple: Understand that pulling movements should be initiated and finished with the scapulae. This may feel a bit foreign when you first start focusing on it. You’ll be working with muscles and movement patterns that aren’t as strong or habituated as your old ones. As you pull, think of keeping your head upright and pulling your shoulder blades into your back pockets.

Fixing this faulty pattern by addressing the weak link at your scapulae will eventually enable you to reach new levels of strength in these movements and provide benefit to the entire kinetic chain. Chinning, rowing, and pressing with strongly functioning scaps will ultimately carry over into generating more force throughout the chain, lifting with greater loads, and eventually, to building bigger, stronger arms.

Every repetition you perform in the gym creates an auto-associative memory within your cerebral cortex. This is why it’s crucial that quality should be emphasized on every rep. You’re building a pattern–essentially a habit–and the more heavily ingrained that pattern or habit is, the more likely it will be recalled in the future, particularly if your body is under stress and fatigue.

With enough quality reps over time, this pattern of high quality scapular function will become ingrained strongly enough that it will become the default movement you produce in any upper body movement, even under fatigue.

Common Culprits

Pullups

When you do a pullup, the movement is complete when your scaps are locked in, down and back, as hard as possible.

You’ll probably notice how much more difficult it is to lock your scaps in well instead of just popping your chin over the bar. The bar should be pressing into the lower part of the sternum, not just below your chin or at your clavicles. Your elbows should finish behind your rib cage.

You’ll also notice how much more solid you feel when you do it this way, and pretty quickly you’ll begin to feel a new level of strength and muscle mass developing in your upper back.

Correct Pullup form is demonstrated below – crappy to the left, good to the right:

Bench Press

Always start the bench press by taking a big belly full of air, slightly arching the thoracic spine, and locking your shoulder blades down and back as hard as you can. You should feel a lot of tension in your lats.

In order to keep this tension, you’re going to need a good liftoff from a spotter. Reaching back over your head to pop the bar off the pins is a good way to lose the tightness in your back and pull your scaps out of place. As you lift, maintain that tension in your upper back. Even as the bar locks out and descends, don’t let your scaps drift out. Crazy bell presses are a great tool for teaching this tight bar path.

Rows

Due to postural flaws or motor pattern inefficiencies, many people don’t finish a horizontal row with their shoulder blades. Instead, their scapulae remain only partially retracted and they finish the movement by drawing their elbows as far back as possible, which wrenches the humeri forward in the shoulder capsule. Instead, start and finish the pull with your shoulder blades and ensure that your humeri stay seated solidly back in the capsule. The elbows only need to come back as far as necessary to get your scaps locked in.

Keep the head back and the cervical spine neutral during all pulling movements, including chins and pullups as well as rows. Don’t allow yourself to cheat your way through the movement by popping your chin forward to create momentum.

Dips

If you care about the health of your shoulders, don’t descend further into a dip than you can go with your shoulder blades fully retracted. As soon as your humeri start to pitch forward, you’re endangering your shoulders and reinforcing a faulty motor pattern.

Specific Drills

A good way to speed your progress is to add in some drills to activate the necessary muscles around your scapulae and improve the ability of your thoracic spine to extend. I stole just about all of these from Mike Robertson, creator of Assess and Correct, so if you want to get really in-depth on this stuff, his material is a great resource. These can all be done in a few minutes and would be a good add to your warm-ups. Doing them between sets of upper body lifts as an active rest interval can be helpful as well, and is a good way to get the most out of your time in the gym.

Band Scapular Depressions

Here, you’re going to let the band pull your shoulder blade upward and then use your lower trap to depress it by pulling down towards your hips.

Banded No Money Drill

This one works to activate the scapular retractors, primarily the rhomboids and middle and lower traps. In this one, make sure that the scaps stay locked down. Don’t allow your upper traps to dominate and pull your shoulders up to your ears.

Banded Scapular Protraction

The serratus anterior is an extremely important muscle for quality scapular function. It is often the first muscle to shut down in any sort of scapular dysfunction, so it’s crucial to keep it working well. It functions to keep the scapula locked down to the rib cage and is critical in movements involving scapular upward rotation.

Side Lying Rotation

This one improves thoracic mobility. Keep the top leg bent at ninety-degrees with the bottom leg straight. Brace the abs to prevent motion at the lumbar spine and rotate over as far as you can, following your hand with your head.

Pec Minor Broomstick Stretch

The pec minors have a tendency to become chronically tight. When you see someone whose shoulders always seem to be pitched forward, the pec minor is a likely culprit. Lengthening it will allow the shoulder capsule to fall back into a more natural, safe position.

Summing Up

One simple distinction when you train upper body can make the difference between continual training and injury, between getting stronger and being stuck on a plateau, between developing a massive, well balanced upper back and being that guy who only looks like he works out until he turns around. Pay attention to what you’re doing with your shoulder blades, and you’ll be ahead of the game.

Written by Craig Weller

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 – One Quick Fix for a Stronger Back and Shoulders discussion thread.

About Craig Weller

Craig spent six years as a member of a Naval Special Operations Force known as SWCC, the Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen.

The methods which result from this training philosophy are designed to deliver maximal results with improvised or non-existent equipment in as little time as possible for men whose lives depend on their physical abilities.

This passion for showing others the path to a stronger, healthier body stayed with Craig and led to the founding of Barefoot Fitness with facilities in South Dakota and Denver.

You can keep up with his training methods on Facebook.

WEAK: Five Lifting Problems Solved!

All too often, I get a new sob story from fellow gym rats complaining about the pain that they’re in. They claim they’re doing everything right: pressing before flies, static stretching between sets, jogging for five minutes on the treadmill before they hit the weights, drinking a liter of water during their workout…all the good stuff, right?

So what the hell is the problem?

The problem is that all that stuff is (virtually) worthless. It’s not the 90s any more, folks. We’ve learned some new methods and it’s time to accept and implement them.

The term “prehab” has been around for a while now, and yet, all I see from weightlifters is rehab. Waiting until a joint or muscle is so torn down that you have to take three months off to heal isn’t smart. I don’t know about you, but I like lifting weights. In fact, I like it so much that by the time I’m 50, I’d still like to be doing it and not be bitching about how bad everything hurts.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the things you may be screwing up that may be screwing you!

Common Mistakes That May Cause Big Problems

Most weight lifters have a few things they could do differently in their training that would allow for better strength increases, more hypertrophy, increased range of motion, and increased stability.

A few of the most common mistakes I see are discussed below. I’ll identify the problem, give a few reasons why it’s a problem, and then offer a solution.

Mistake: Poor Range of Motion

Poor range of motion at either the bottom end of the eccentric phase, the top end of the concentric phase, or both.

Consistently reducing the range of motion of a specific movement pattern over and over again for a course of several weeks, months, or years can have a devastating effect on the length of the muscle(s), and the way that the muscle functions and repairs itself.

Over time, these muscles may become shortened while opposing muscles become overly elongated or atrophied. Obviously, this results in poor stability across the board and makes an individual much more prone to injury.

Solution!

  • Properly warm up your muscles and stimulate your CNS (Central Nervous System) prior to starting any loaded movement. Warm up with movements similar to the lift you intend to perform, but not with the actual movement. For example, if you intend to do heavy squats, warm up with spiderman lunges, single-leg bodyweight RDLs, goblet squats, bodyweight good mornings, and box jumps.
  • Always lift with a complete range of motion relative to your body’s ability. If you’re squatting and your hips don’t allow you to move “ass to grass” without rounding your lower back, then you’re well beyond your proper range of motion. Start the squat higher and gradually increase the distance you travel. When pressing and pulling, always maximize the range of motion. You’ll recruit more overall muscles, even though you may have to significantly reduce your weight.
  • The less range of motion and stabilization strength, the lower your ceiling for overall strength and growth.

Mistake: Poor Technique

This is easily as common as the previous issue. Very few lifters take the time to learn proper lifting technique and are in way too much of a hurry to start stacking plates on the bar. Once again, without learning proper technique, you’re overstimulating some muscles, understimulating others, and probably not even hitting certain little muscles.

Over time, you’ll develop too much strength in one area, too little in another, and may even develop a problem with muscular balance and symmetry.

Also, certain movements were designed to be executed in a specific manner.  You’re not smarter than the folks who created these, so don’t try to manipulate them because “it feels better”.

Finally, many compound movements are difficult to “feel” when you’re lifting properly (or improperly, for that matter). This can cause poor movement patterns even with good intentions of lifting correctly.

Solution!

  • Take the time to learn the movements you want to perform, but don’t just do the lifts you like all the time.  Study, watch experts, and practice the movements with zero weight. Tape yourself so you can see what you’re doing wrong, and have someone critique you
  • Stop focusing on how much you’re lifting, and focus more on how well you’re lifting.

Mistake:  Stupid Training Programs

Improper warmup is still among the top issues with most current training programs I see.

Poor frequency of muscular stimulation for a given week of training is another one. Your typical chest and triceps routine requires recovery for only 2-4 days maximum, leaving you in a state of zero growth for the remainder of the week until Monday strikes again.

Poor exercise selection, inadequate recovery times, improper workloads, and lack of intensity round out the biggest culprits of crappy programming. Too many routines revolve around isolation exercises, don’t specify recovery periods, include improper volume, and don’t have adequate loading parameters.

Solution!

  • Don’t get your training programs from “I’m Jacked Magazine”. Get them from Wannabebig! (Check out HCT-12)
  • Start learning proper warm-up methods, and allow yourself 15-20 minutes to perform a good warm-up each time you’re in the gym. Your warm-up should be a powerful gateway to your routine. You’ll have stronger lifts, improved mobility, and better recovery between sets. Nick Tumminello happens to have written a couple of good articles on warm up routines for Wannabebig (Upper Body Warm-Up and Lower Body Warm-Up).
  • Get help!  Seek out a strength coach, or get advice from some of the pros (professional strength coaches) you know of online or offline. Sometimes it’s just a matter of sifting through all the BS till you find a great program, but once you start and stick with it, you’ll be happy that you searched.

Download the HCT-12 Bodybuilding Program (3.29MB)

Common Gym Rat Weaknesses and Solutions

We’ve all made mistakes in the gym.  More than likely, we didn’t do much about it until there was a problem. Let’s get into how to correct some current weaknesses you may have developed from past mistakes, or how you’re going to prevent them from happening if you’re not dealing with them now!

Shoulder and Thoracic Mobility

Probably the most common issue I see among lifters is severe tightness in the anterior shoulder, and weakness in the sub-scapular muscles, lower trap, and the thoracic extensor muscles. The culprit of such problems is typically too much pressing, poor pulling, and poor stretching.

Forget the assessment; your shoulders and posture could probably use some love.

Getting the tension out of the pecs, rhomboids, and traps will help to alleviate the stiff rounding of the upper back, which will help keep the shoulders open, the pecs/traps/sub-scap muscles working efficiently, and the shoulder blades moving properly:

Hip Mobility

Poor hip mobility is next in line in the “I have no idea how to warm up” department.  Obviously, over time, this lack of attention can create some serious problems with mobility of the hips, as well as the strength and stability of the knees and lower back. This lack of mobility can destroy your squat and deadlift and leave you sore for much longer than you should be.

Get these puppies opened up and moving correctly, and you’ll see big gains in your lower body pushing and pulling, along with a large reduction in back stress and knee pain:

Posterior Chain Strength and Hip Activation

You don’t see a lot of deadlifters anymore, and you certainly don’t see a lot of good deadlifters. Neither do you frequently see the clean, snatch, proper RDL, or SHELC. What you do see is a little lunging, a lot of poor squatting, and a good deal of Smith machine activity. Oh, and lets not forget the leg press, leg extension, and seated hamstring curl!

A weak posterior chain will do a great deal of damage to your movement patterns and your joint health. Along with mobility of the hips, you also need strength!  Isolation exercises have their place, but when it comes to really creating a strong posterior chain and pulling strength, you need to activate small muscles in the hips and perform larger compound movements to stimulate the synergy of the posterior chain.

Here are a few movements to help you wake up your backside and put it back in the game:

Anterior Chain Strength

If you’re not familiar with the term “anterior chain”, let me explain. The anterior chain includes the muscles (and their relationships to each other) of the pecs, abdomen, obliques, hip flexors, quads, and tibialis anterior.

I still see a lot of guys doing floor sit-ups, decline sit-ups, leg raises, and cable crunches.  Let me ask you this: do you frequently target the lower back, or do you increase its strength with movements that target the rest of the chain (in this case, the hamstrings, glutes, and mid and upper back)?  I’m going to assume that it’s the latter. Why wouldn’t you do the same for the anterior chain?

Mid/Upper Back Strength

Along with mobility issues of the thoracic spine and shoulders, you’ll see some weaknesses in the mid/upper back. The problem isn’t that most weight lifters aren’t pulling, it’s that they’re pulling incorrectly, using mostly biceps and minor lat recruitment while not focusing on thoracic extension (upward tilt of the chest cavity) and scapular retraction/depression at the start and end of each repetition.

Here are a few possible problems with your current movements and how to fix them:

Putting It All Together

In the end, we’re all lifting for a specific goal, right?  Whether it’s to look better, feel better, or be stronger than your ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend so you can kick his ass, we all have a goal we’re trying to achieve. When it comes to your training, the smarter you train, the faster you’ll reach your desired results.

So the next time you go the gym or outline your workout for the week, ask yourself these necessary questions:

  • What are my strength and mobility weaknesses?
  • Why am I weak in those areas?
  • Does my program have movements to help me with my weaknesses?
  • Does it include an efficient warm-up?
  • Does it include any post-workout stretching to accommodate for the stress I’ll have put my muscles through during the workout?

If you can’t answer the first two questions, consider getting some help or taking some time to figure out your strengths and weaknesses.  If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to the rest of the questions, get a new program or dramatically modify the one you’re doing!

Written by Mike Scialabba

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 – WEAK: Five Lifting Problems Solved! discussion thread.

About Mike Scialabba

Mike is the Director and Owner of the Missoula Underground Strength Training Center located in Missoula, Montana.

He’s an Expert Strength Coach and has been in the business for nearly a decade working with hundreds of individuals utilizing conventional and unconventional training methods.

Michael has sent over a dozen kids to collegiate football and basketball and has spent endless hours in the trenches getting dirty with real training and real results.

Be sure to check out his blog!

Programs that won’t address topics such as these are a surefire way to get yourself into an early rut and guarantee an appointment at your local physical therapist’s office.

Unilateral Hypertrophy – Killing it One Leg at a Time: Part 2

In my previous article, I talked about the importance of single leg training and how it can reduce spinal compression, increase stabilizer activity, hit the glutes, tax the adductors, and hammer the core.

Having absorbed all that, you should already be convinced that single leg training should be an integral part of your programming.  Nonetheless, I feel the need to break single leg movements down a little further so you can maximize their effectiveness in your workouts.

Unilateral movements can be further divided into two categories called knee-dominant and hip-dominant lifts.  Knee-dominant lifts typically involve the quads to a greater degree and transfer well to the stability needs for squatting.  All of the exercises in my previous article are examples of these.

On the other hand, hip-dominant movements tend to focus primarily on the glutes and hamstrings, and the strength and stability gains from these exercises transfer directly to the deadlift.  As I’m sure you know, deadlifting is a must for anyone who is really serious about putting on size, and single leg variations are a step in the right direction if you want to blow your deadlift numbers through the roof. Moreover, unilateral hip-dominant work can assist with sprinting speed as this activity requires repetitive single leg hip extension.

Although less sexy, these movements can also iron out side-to-side strength imbalances that can lead to back pain and sideline your training for months.  If you’re training exclusively on two legs, the dominant side will always compensate for the weak side, and the problem may only get worse.

Hip-Dominant Single Leg Progressions

Single-leg Hip Thrust

This movement, borrowed from my good friend Bret Contreras, is great for activating the glutes, which are major players when it comes to deadlifts and any other posterior chain movement.  To perform this movement, set up two benches such that your upper back rests on one and your foot on the other.  Allow your hips to lower between the two benches and then forcefully contract the glutes to drive your hips upwards.   Only go up as far as the glutes will take you, and make sure not to hyperextend the lower back at the top of the movement to compensate for tight hip flexors.

Because two of the hamstring muscles (the semitendinosis and semimembranosis, for you anatomy geeks) cross the knee joint, the bent leg position puts the hamstrings in a slack position and forces the glutes to take the brunt of the load.  To really emphasize the glutes, focus on pushing out through the heel to engage the quads in the movement, which will force the hamstrings to relax further.

Since most people’s hamstrings overpower their glutes, minimizing their contribution to the movement will help to bring the glutes up to speed.  The elevated position on the benches allows for more range of motion and magnifies the effectiveness.

You should note that you may get some stares when performing this exercise at the gym because it does look a bit strange…either that or you should consider not going commando when you’re wearing shorts to the gym!  Not everyone wants to see your junk. 😉

Single-leg Overhead Band Deadlift

This is an exercise I’ve modified slightly from a movement I picked up from Dr. Stuart McGill.  To execute it, stand on a resistance band with one foot and press it overhead as though you’re performing a shoulder press.  From this position, bend forward at the hip allowing the foot on the band to come straight out behind you while maintaining the position of the arms overhead.  The knee on the planted leg should be only slightly bent to ensure some glute involvement in the exercise.

Holding the band overhead helps to prevent a rounded thoracic spine (which is a common postural problem for those who slouch at a computer all day) and pushing the leg into the band behind the body teaches the proper leg position for later progressions.  As an additional point, make sure that the toes on the trailing leg are pointing downward and that the hips are square.

Be warned that this movement looks a lot easier than it really is, and you’ll battle at first to avoid being pulled into flexion or extension by the band.  Keeping the core tight to prevent movement at the spine and only allowing movement at the hip is the key to success with this exercise.

If you don’t have a band, you can mimic the movement by holding a stick or broom handle overhead. Although it isn’t exactly the same thing, it serves the same purpose.

Single-leg Good Morning

Generally speaking, almost every good morning I’ve seen performed at the gym has been a total train wreck.  Most people round their back so much that it looks like they’re bending over to tie their shoe instead of performing an exercise.  Don’t be one of those people.

To properly execute the single-leg good morning, start with a conservative weight (probably just a bar) and place it across your shoulders as though you were setting up for a squat.  I typically recommend a low bar position for this because you don’t want the bar creeping up onto your cervical vertebrae while you perform the exercise.  Pull the bar downward into your traps to prevent rolling, and bend at the hips as though you were performing the previous exercise with one leg rising straight out behind you.  Again, make sure that the hips are square and that the toes on the trailing leg are pointing straight downward.  Contract the glutes on the planted leg to come back up to the starting position.

I like this exercise because it reinforces the movement pattern learned above, and because the bar is relatively far from the fulcrum at the hip, only a moderate amount of weight is needed to get the benefit.  This is great for learning the movement and also for de-loading the body after a period of heavy lifting but maintaining some muscle mass.  Additionally, having the bar on the shoulders causes the thoracic spine to remain tall and straight in order to prevent it from rolling onto your neck.  You’ll either maintain good posture or dump the bar over your head and look like an idiot.

Moreover, if you do bend your spine, you’ll rob the glutes and hamstrings of the training effect.  As an extra bonus, you’ll also load the low back under flexion (which, as you might guess, isn’t a bright idea).  It is also a good idea to start with your weaker leg and match the number of repetitions on the stronger side to iron out strength imbalances.

Single-leg Romanian Deadlift from a Box

This is possibly my favorite hip-dominant single leg exercise.  While the earlier versions tend to limit the weight used, this exercise allows you to really load up the weight and hammer the posterior chain.  Truthfully, I like the idea behind the normal single-legged deadlift, but pulling from the box allows the lifter to regain balance between reps and use more weight.  It also takes away the bounce at the bottom of the conventional version and forces the lifter to contract the glutes harder in order to stand back up.  I have to credit Gray Cook with this exercise, which has now been a mainstay in my training arsenal for the last three years.

To perform this movement, you’ll need to place two dumbbells on a low box (about 8″) or aerobic step. From here, you’ll bend forward at the hip bringing one leg straight out behind you in line with your body. (It helps to think of a broomstick running from the foot to the back or your head all the way to the ankle.)

From this position, grasp the dumbbells and position your body as though you’re going to perform a conventional deadlift while balanced on one leg. Stand up by strongly contracting the glutes.  To return the start position, drive the hips back as you lower the dumbbells to avoid falling forward. Make sure the dumbbells come to a complete stop on the box between reps.

The trailing leg and the body should move as one unit. Personally, I like to think of those drinking bird toys that you can attach to the side of a glass. Balance will be difficult at first, but over the course of a few weeks this movement should become much easier and your weights should increase dramatically.

At this point, you’ll be able to offset the load so that you can hold a dumbbell only in the hand opposite to the planted leg in order to hit the core and control the rotational forces at the same time.

Wrap-Up

By performing hip-dominant single leg training, you’ll not only eliminate the staleness of an old routine, but you’ll challenge the core to an incredible extent, correct muscle imbalances, and attack muscles in a different way than bilateral training offers.

The next time you’re in the gym on a leg day, try getting on one leg for a change.  The pleasure (read: pain) you’ll experience the next morning will be incredible and the results will be just as good.

Written by Mark Young

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 – Unilateral Hypertrophy – Killing it One Leg at a Time: Part 2 discussion thread

About Mark Young

Mark Young is an exercise and nutrition consultant from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

In 2000 Mark completed a degree in Kinesiology and a minor in Psychology from McMaster University. He later followed that with graduate research in both biomechanics and exercise physiology under the guidance of Dr. Stuart Phillips.

Rather than blathering on any further about his credentials and clientele, he would prefer you check out his website at www.markyoungtrainingsystems.com and check out the content for yourself.