Some Thoughts on Building a Big Pull

If I’m known for anything beyond my company (AtLarge Nutrition – and training advice it would have to be my above average deadlift. No, I won’t be pulling 1,015 lbs from the floor anytime soon like Benedikt Magnusson, but I have pulled 775 lbs. My style is somewhat unique in that I leverage my upper back via a unique hunchback technique I learned from Bob Peoples, one of the greatest deadlifters ever (he pulled a crazy 725-727 lbs – I’ve seen varying numbers all in that range – at 186 lbs body weight back in the late 40s). In fact, I highly recommend Bob’s book Developing Physical Strength. Later in this article I will discuss this pulling technique and why I feel it is superior.

Bob Peoples demonstrating the hunchback pulling style I advocate

My 775 lbs pull at the legendary Westside Barbell in Columbus, OH

A Brief Intro

First and foremost, if you want a big pull you HAVE to pull heavy with regularity. You can strengthen all of the involved musculature with special exercises, but unless you pull heavy with some frequency you simply will not optimize your deadlift.

If you are a powerlifter then peaking your pull before a meet is a no-brainer. A lot of lifters seem to focus on their bench and squat and let their pull be whatever it will be. This is especially true among equipped lifters as the equipment they use makes a much larger impact on the bench and squat than the dead. What they seem to fail to realize is that adding 50 lbs or 100 lbs to their pull would obviously have a large impact on their total.

My Personal Iron Game History for Context

I think a brief history of my iron game experience is in order as it will help to provide context to my current thinking regarding training.

My first real taste of resistance training began the summer before my senior year in high school. I wanted to add some size and strength for football and knew that weight training was the only way to do it. As I recall, those first sessions were some kind of a mix of whatever the other kids were doing (which I think was passed down by the coaches) in our high school weight room. Deadlifts were not in the repertoire. We did, however, squat.

I believe this was my senior year so it was very early in my training. It is also proof I knew something about computers many moons ago.

I quickly found that I really liked the results I was experiencing. I absolutely loved getting a pump and how big it made me feel as well as seeing my body grow and my clothes getting tighter (for the right reasons). Long story short, I decided I liked strength training a lot more than I liked football and shortly after making the team I told the coaches I was quitting (I didn’t care for most of the coaches – wasn’t great with people I didn’t consider to be all that bright telling me what to do – I know, I know…).

After quitting football I needed to find a place to train. There was a local gym I had heard of called Hoppe’s. I couldn’t have found a better gym than Hoppe’s. It was owned by a former Mr. America (among other titles) Glenn Knerr. Glenn was just amazing in a physical sense. I had never seen anything like him. He stayed extremely lean year round and was absolutely massive especially in his lower body. I can distinctly remember how he literally waddled because his quads were so big. In addition to Glenn, an IFBB professional bodybuilder by the name of Mike Ashley was a regular at Hoppe’s. Mike was another freak of nature with vascularity even in the off season that you just don’t see even today. He too stayed extremely lean all year round. He ate very strictly and I can remember him bringing his food with him to the gym in little plastic containers. You always knew when he was eating as whatever it was would literally stink up the entire gym.

Glenn Knerr, the owner of Hoppe’s

IFBB Pro Michael Ashley

As you may have guessed, I quickly became very seriously interested in bodybuilding. When I get into something I am compelled to learn everything I possibly can. I get obsessed. I am nearly 42 years old, so when I was in my late teens the internet was not part of the everyday equation as it is now. The source for information relating to the iron game was books and magazines. I read voraciously getting books from the library, buying books, and buying all of the bodybuilding magazines I could get my hands on.

I loved bodybuilding and at one point even aspired to be a professional. I was cured of that desire when I realized the drug use that would be required to achieve that dream (and no, it was not me guessing). Even in the throes of my greatest passion for bodybuilding I was NEVER a guy who just wanted to look good or big. I wanted to be as strong as I humanly could be and I respected all individuals of great strength. In fact, great physical power has always been something I admired and aspired to. Even as a child my favorite heroes were the strength freaks like The Hulk and The Thing.

Marvel Comic’s The Hulk (left) and The Thing (on the right in the right hand pic)

Very early in my training I read Arnold’s The Education of a Bodybuilder. The training routines he had outlined in the book were the templates for my first structured training routines. I quickly realized that the programs did not work for me. It was then that I came across the writings of Ellington Darden, PhD. I think the book Super High-Intensity Bodybuilding was the first of his books I read.

Yes, that is Jim Hellwig on the cover; aka former pro wrestler The Ultimate Warrior

It was through Dr. Darden I learned of Arthur Jones, the Menzter brothers, Casey Viator, and the whole HIT universe. I tried the classic HIT one set of 12 reps to failure using twelve different exercises (to cover the whole body) practiced three times per week and found it did not work well for me. The basic concepts behind the program DID make sense to me and I ended up making my own routine that involved training to failure with low volume. I would perform 4-6 working sets (post-warm-up sets) for larger body parts and 2-4 for smaller ones hitting each body part twice per week (a 4 day split).

One of my all-time favorite pictures; Casey Viator just EXUDING raw power!

Through my aforementioned obsessive research I knew that low reps were a requisite for building great absolute strength and that the compound movements were the most efficient exercises to do so. I also knew that higher repetitions from 5-20 (depending upon the body part and exercise) were more effective for hypertrophy. I therefore structured my routine so that each major body part (chest, shoulders, back, and lower body) started with a compound movement with which I would work up to a 1-3 rep maximum set and then follow that with 1-2 more sets of 6-10 reps. I would then have a second and sometimes third exercise where I would normally employ sets of 8-15 reps in order to maximize the pump. This formula succeeded in making me both very strong and good sized.

What is interesting is I never really did deadlifts. I had tried them a few times early in my training and had not been good at them. Perhaps even more interestingly, and as an empirical backing of the conjugate system (which will be discussed in more detail later in this article), I worked my back very hard with heavy rows at virtually every session and I nearly always squatted heavily. Consequently, as my overall strength grew I unwittingly became reasonably good at deadlifting. I can distinctly remember trying sumo style pulls one day just to see what I could do and working up to 545 lbs x 3 reps wearing just a belt (I was around 20 at the time and weighed in the 220-230 lbs range).

Westside’s own Jake Anderson demonstrating the sumo style pull

I believe part of my current deadlifting prowess and overall lower and mid back strength is related to a bad injury I sustained when I was 19 or 20. I ruptured two discs in my lumbar region (can’t remember which ones) and was in considerable pain for some time. I eventually rehabbed the injury myself, but it wasn’t until many years later that I actually began deadlifting regularly. I feel that my recovery lead to my spinal erectors essentially making up for the structural weakness by overcompensating in size and strength. I liken it to studies done with animals where one or more muscles are severed and other muscles supercompensate to make up for it.

I don’t remember the exact time or reason, but sometime in my early to mid-30s I began to regularly deadlift. At the time I was training alone in my basement. I started pulling sumo style and was able to build up to a 600 lbs or so pull (using a modified sumo style). I was still training with my low volume, high intensity of effort approach while simultaneously working 50-60 hour weeks.

During this period in my life I started AtLarge Nutrition (which made those 50-60 hour weeks become 80+ hours). I’ll be honest and tell you I cannot remember exactly how, but through AtLarge I came to know Louie Simmons, the strength sports legend and owner of Westside Barbell. Getting to know Louie was a real epiphany for me. I learned everything I could about his methods and was fortunate enough to have him allow me to visit Westside and train there. As time passed I got to know him and his wife better and better and I now consider them my friends. I can honestly say Louie has been a HUGE influence on my life and certainly my way of thinking about strength training.

Back to Building a BIG Pull

So, my late life introduction to the Westside methods brings us full circle. It was with Westside that I built up to my best pull to date, the 775 lbs video you saw at the beginning of this article.
I am not going to delve completely into Westside as I leave that to Louie and his coaches Shane and Laura Sweatt. I will, however, explain some Westside basics and provide my own thoughts on the physiology of how it all works. Finally, I will tell you exactly what I do to peak my deadlift.

My Unique Pulling Style

I want to get back to something I mentioned at the beginning of this article, my rounded upper back pulling method. The reason this method is effective is that it improves your leverage during the pull. It, in effect, lengthens your arms allowing a slight decrease in the ROM for the lower back and hips.

One of the world’s greatest deadlifters, Konstantin Konstantinovs. Note he uses a style very similar to that which I advocate

As I mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, I learned of the method from all-time great puller Bob Peoples. I believe it was in an article by Terry Todd in an old Muscular Development magazine I had purchased off of eBay. The article discussed Bob, his accomplishments, his innovations (for example, he was one of the first to create a power rack), and his unique ideas on training and deadlifting in particular.

One of Bob’s most unique approaches was to round his upper back and keep his head down prior to commencing and during the pull. He would then forcefully expel air from his lungs so he could achieve this position to an even greater degree. This, of course, flew in the face of conventional deadlift wisdom which says you must fill your lungs with air before the pull and have an upright head and back position.

I was sold on at least giving Bob’s style a try based on his incredible success and my own relative weakness with conventional style pulling. The exhaling thing did not work well for me, but I did find that not taking in a huge breath was beneficial in terms of getting into position for the initial pull. The rounded upper back worked wonderfully. The key to learning how to do it is to keep your head down as you pull and only bring it back up as you approach and enter lockout. This creates an unfurling effect with your upper spine which allows the lifter to really maximize his leverage right until lockout. I want to emphasize that the lower back, the lumbar region, should NEVER be rounded. It should remain locked in a neutral position.

Konstantin Konstantinovs showing how it’s done!

  • This style is something you have to work into. You have to build the musculature of the mid and upper back to support it. Jumping right into it with maximal loads is a recipe for injury.

The rounded back style will not only aid your deadlift, it will greatly strengthen your mid and upper back such that you will be able to power your way out of compromised situations. It can be the difference between a missed squat and a PR! I also think it has excellent applicability to strongman training.

My Training Template

As already discussed I train primarily Westside. The following few sections will outline and give you a basic understanding of Westside. For those of you interested in this method of training I strongly encourage you to get the detailed information from the man himself, Louie Simmons. Go to his site and get the books he has written and videos he has made as well as some of the special equipment required to properly practice Westside (at the very least bands and a couple of different bars).

The Westside template includes four full training days. Two of the days focus on development of the bench press and the other two are focused on the development of the squat and deadlift. For each area of focus (bench or squat and deadlift) one training day is called Maximum Effort (ME) and the other is Dynamic Effort (DE).

Westsiders AJ Roberts, Louie Simmons (The Man), and Josh Conley

ME Day

ME day is the most important component of the Westside method. It does the most for development of absolute strength. The focus of ME day is either a bench press or squat variation compound exercise which is selected as the main movement for the day (also known as upper and lower days). This exercise is then taken to a one rep maximum (1RM) attempt. 1RM lifts build absolute strength like no other form of exercise set and repetition scheme. They force the body to optimize motor unit recruitment, the excitation and inhibition of the correct musculature for a given lift, and the firing rate/synchronization of the recruited motor units all toward the end of allowing the trainee to lift ever heavier absolute loads.

  • One point which is missed by so many who aspire to train with the Westside principles is that the 1RM on ME day is a training max, not a contest max. The difference has to do with degree of emotional excitement. If a lifter gets maximally stimulated for every ME day burnout will quickly occur and stagnation, regression, or injury is the likely result. Getting really fired up for a lift should be reserved for meets or occasional all-time PR attempts.

Laura Phelps-Sweatt – one incredibly strong woman! Yep, she’s Westside!

Bench press variations are exercises which are similar to a standard bench press, but vary in some fashion. Examples are floor presses, bench pressing with boards, using different bars when benching (football bar, cambered bar etc.), and benching with elastic bands and or chains added as a form of accommodating resistance. Squat variations as defined in the system are a bit different in that they include variations of the back squat, deadlift, and good morning. Most Westside practitioners choose four exercises each for upper and lower body which they then rotate weekly in four week cycles. So, for example, an ME lower body four week rotation might be the following exercises:

  • Cambered bar box squat (week 1)
  • Deadlift variation (week 2)
  • Good morning*(week 3)
  • Box squat against bands (week 4)

Good mornings, due to the precarious (from a safety perspective) nature of the exercise are an exception in that a 3 repetition maximum top set is used instead of a 1RM attempt.

Bruce Randall, a Mr. Universe winner, bulked up to over 400 lbs (back in the late 50s) in an attempt to see how strong he could get. One of his favorite exercises was the good morning. This is NOT a demonstration of proper technique (DO NOT ATTEMPT TO COPY IT), but it IS impressive.

The first week the lifter would warm-up to a 1RM attempt cambered bar box squat. The warm-up schedule may look like the following:

150 x 8
240 x 3
330 x 3
420 x 1
510 x 1
600 x 1
690 x 1
740 x 1
780 x 1RM

The second week the same basic format would be followed for the deadlift and so on.

Westside’s AJ Roberts handling business with 1,200 lbs!

Following the main ME exercise the lifter then moves on to what are known as special exercises (also often referred to as accessory work). The purpose of these exercises is to address specific weaknesses and to provide additional volume for the targeted muscles. This training incorporates the repetition method, or multiple reps taken to, or close to concentric failure (when you cannot complete the repetition).

Selection of special exercises to address individual weaknesses is one of those areas of concern that I often see expressed online. People fret about how one chooses the exercises and worry that Westside will not work properly if they don’t get them right. This seeming conundrum is in truth no problem at all. Part of the beauty of Westside is that it automatically addresses weaknesses. It does so by virtue of its conjugate variety (see below). That said, the lifter can and should experiment with special exercises to see which ones most benefit him or her. Improper choices can be quickly discarded and good ones kept for continued use.

Conjugate Variety

As mentioned above, ME days normally involve the rotation of four bench press and squat variations weekly. This rotation is also referred to as conjugate variety. Its primary purpose is to allow the lifter to maintain 100% intensity virtually every week. One of the prime ways it does so is by altering the stress high intensity training places on the nervous system. Training is extremely specific to the plane of motion of a particular exercise. This is due to the neural component of physical movement which is studied via a science known as motor learning. A very interesting fact which illustrates the specificity of training in a neural sense is that the fastest sprinter in a straight line is not necessarily the fastest when running in a circle (same muscles, different pattern of movement).

Varying a movement, even slightly, thus places a unique stress on the nervous system and it is theorized that this phenomenon is what helps to preclude neural overtraining even when extremely high intensity work is performed frequently. Conjugate variety’s switching of exercises also subtly changes the stress placed on the joints and connective tissues thus affording protection from overuse injuries and the like. Finally, conjugate variety, as already mentioned, helps to address outright and relative weaknesses. Bottom line, it is an important component of Westside’s superiority as a training system.

Pure Power! Dave “Neutron” Hoff, Louie Simmons, and AJ Roberts

Back to Special Exercises

Above it was briefly mentioned that the lifter can and should experiment with special exercises to see which work best for them. A total of two to three special exercises by body part should be performed each session. In order to diagnose which ones work best one special exercise by body part should be treated as a variable while the others remain constant. The variable exercise should be rotated every three to four weeks with results being observed during its use. Those that best enhance performance in the major compound movements are added to the roster of effective special exercises and the rest are temporarily discarded. They should not be permanently discarded because that which is effective at this point in your training can become ineffective later and vice versa. The testing process should thus be an ongoing one.

Once four to five special exercises by body part have been pinpointed as effective the lifter should rotate through them every three to four weeks or until they are no longer benefitting their training.
Below is a sample special exercise selection for both ME and DE bench days.

  • JM presses
  • Dumbbell rollbacks
  • Bent over row to the sternum
  • Bent over laterals

Each exercise would be performed for two to three working (post warm-up) sets of 8-12 repetitions.
A norm regarding special exercises for bench days is to focus on triceps first and then upper back/shoulders (although I know some of the Westsiders are doing upper back on their squat ME and DE days as of late).

For the lower body, special exercises should focus on the mid and lower back, hips, glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings with special emphasis on the hips, glutes, and hamstrings.

Eric Lilliebridge has pulled over 800 lbs raw!

Both bench and squat ME and DE days should also include work for your abdominal region. In addition, if you have access to a Reverse Hyper® (a patented device created by Louie Simmons) it can be used three to four times per week with varying loads (light to heavy) as a means of prehabilitation and strengthening for the posterior chain.

As noted above, rep counts for most special exercises should be in the 8-12 range with higher reps of 15 -20 also being incorporated from time to time. A unique exception is the use of restorative exercises as a form of active recovery and or connective tissue specific (tendon and ligament) support. Tendons and ligaments are avascular (poor or no blood supply) and seem to not match the skeletal muscles in their capacity for pace of adaptation. This can lead to connective tissue problems in intermediate to advanced athletes. Specific exercises using a very light resistance and rep counts of 50-100 or more can be employed to help address these concerns. It is theorized that the increased blood flow to the joints and tissues being exercised as well as the motion itself (with the light loads that do not compromise tissue integrity) act to promote recovery and possibly even supercompensation.

Leg curls with ankle weights for reps help to strengthen the knees

One example (see above) is lying leg curls done with light ankle weights for sets (typically two) of 100 repetitions at least three days per week. It is used to promote knee health. A personal favorite is one which more or less mimics a sumo style stiff-legged deadlift with the difference being the resistance is a monster-mini band which is secured under the feet and over the neck. It provides a tremendous pump in the lower and mid back muscles (I do sets of 100+ reps) and I have successfully used this exercise to rehab mild to moderate strains in various muscles and tissues of the back.

DE Day

DE day is similar to ME day in that one main exercise is used and then followed up with special exercises. The special exercise work done on DE days will sometimes match that done on ME day and other times match exercises but use lighter loads and higher repetitions. It might also vary completely from that done on ME day. When considering what is to be done the athlete must consider their individual strengths and weaknesses as well as unique recovery ability.

DE day is geared to building explosive power. It is meant to teach the lifter’s body to generate force quickly and to maintain speed throughout the range of motion (ROM). This is accomplished with the use of speed work. Speed work involves moving the barbell through the ROM as quickly and explosively as possible. The goal is to move at roughly .7 to 1 meter per second. This speed therefore dictates lighter loads be used, typically ranging from 40-60% of the lifter’s 1RM. Lighter loads, in turn, require greater volume to optimize their effectiveness.

DE bench day is most often a barbell bench press with some form of accommodating resistance (bands and or chains) in classic Westside. The norm being mini or monster mini bands which are doubled-up (for those with a 1RM bench press of 300 lbs or less the minis should be used). The weight on the barbell, and this is a recent revision, is about 40% of the lifter’s 1RM standard bench press. The bands or chains are then added in addition to the 40% “straight weight” load. After warm-up, eight sets of 3 reps are performed with the emphasis being on controlled speed. I say controlled speed because it is my experience that those new to the program often use very sloppy form when trying to move the barbell quickly. There should be no bouncing on the chest and complete reps should be done (each rep taken to lockout). When teaching speed bench I first have the trainee lower the barbell under strict control and then try explode the weight back up as quickly as possible. After they become comfortable with the technique only then do I ask them to begin lowering the bar with greater speed. I strongly urge you to do the same.

Jake Anderson squatting BIG! Your author in the back with the blue shoes

DE lower body work follows what is called a pendulum wave. This wave lasts for three weeks and uses the box squat as the sole main exercise. Variance between waves can come in the form of the type of bar used (although straight bar is the most common), accommodating resistance used, the height of the box, or some combination thereof. During a wave the only variable (normally) is the bar weight resistance. Strictly speaking, the wave should start with a bar weight (remember, bar weight does NOT count accommodating resistance) of 50% of the lifter’s 1RM for the box variation being used with no accommodating resistance. For example, if the trainee is using the regular squat bar and a 14” box then the tested 1RM should be with the same circumstances and pure bar weight – no bands or chains added. In practice, not every wave is started with a 1RM test; rather a small graduation in load from the previous wave with the same setup (bar, accommodating resistance etc.) is often used.

For the first week the aforementioned 50% bar load along with roughly 25% accommodating resistance is used and after a few warm-up sets twelve sets of two reps are performed. The second week bumps the bar load to 55% and again twelve post warm-up sets of two reps are performed. The last week uses a bar load of 60% and the volume is reduced to ten sets of two reps.

Louie Simmons’ Reverse Hyper® – another key to a BIG Pull (yes, that’s my big ass in the photo)

My Training Template
Mon – ME lower
Wed – ME upper
Fri – DE lower
Sun – DE upper

You do not need to train the same days of the week, but be sure to have at least 72 hours between DE and ME days for bench and squat.

Peaking the Pull

As noted above I ME pull once every 4 weeks. In the normal course of my training I will rotate the style of deadlift virtually each time I pull (rack deads, deficit deads, deads against bands and so on). I will also do speed deadlifts on occasion as well as using stiff-legged deadlifts as a special exercise when I feel it appropriate. The key for me is to not overload my lower back with excessive pulling (as a rule, peaking being the exception) as I am what is referred to as a “back” squatter (I use my back a lot when I squat) and that leaves me vulnerable to overworking the area if care is not taken.

When I am looking to peak my deadlift I will stop rotating the style of deadlift and stick with heavy pulls from the floor on my ME deadlift day. I will also add some heavy sets of 5-8 reps of the stiff-legged deadlift as a special exercise on my DE days. In addition, I will ME deadlift two weeks in a row the last two weeks prior to the week I attempt an all-time best pull. My peaking “cycle” will typically last for a five week period (starting with a deadlift ME day) allowing me three ME pulls from the floor and four to five days of relatively heavy stiff-legged pulls on DE days. To be clear, this is NOT Westside. This is my own twist on the program which I have found to be an effective way to peak my pull without compromising my squat or bench. At Westside the team members will perform what is called a Circa-Max cycle (please check out Louie’s Book of Methods for more on everything Westside) to peak for a meet.


In summary, my keys to a big pull are the following:

  • Train following a Westside template
  • Perfect the rounded upper back style of pulling
  • Make the described tweaks to the typical Westside template the last 5 weeks of training before the all-time pull attempt

If you do the above I can literally guarantee that you will set some huge PRs!

AtLarge Nutrition sponsored athlete Eric Lilliebridge pulling BIG!

Dysmorphia Training

In today’s era of hyperspecialization, most iron-game enthusiasts consider powerlifting and bodybuilding to be two very disparate training modalities. I constantly hear the cry of bodybuilders that they don’t care what they lift (‘Lifting heavy is dangerous!’, and ‘Why risk it?’) because all that matters is how they look. Alternatively, I hear powerlifters disparage the idea of hypertrophy-specific work as ‘pumper fluff’ or the like. Both camps have it dead wrong.

From the point of view of an individual, it is an immutable fact that a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. Why? Because some percentage of any hypertrophy is going to come from growth of the contractile myofibrils or that which makes the muscle contract and produce force. The myth or confusion regarding size and strength lies in the nearly all-pervasive tactic of making comparisons between individuals. In other words, the age-old idea of the big guy who is not nearly as strong as the smaller guy is used as proof positive that bigger muscles are not necessarily stronger muscles, a fallacious line of reasoning if there ever was one.

This article is aimed at bodybuilders but will not include the normal bodybuilding dogma. No, this article is going to teach those who are willing to listen how to optimize their muscular size via training for both maximal strength and size. The truth– no matter how people want to spin it — is that optimization of either size or strength requires optimization of both. In other words, you cannot be your strongest or biggest without maximizing both physical qualities. For the dullards reading this article, this does not mean you can’t get really big without being strong or really strong without being big; it simply means that you as an individual cannot be YOUR biggest or strongest without maxing out both qualities.

Joe DeAngelis knows how to build big shoulders!

This article will present a unique combination of training techniques borrowed from the best of the best in both strength training and bodybuilding. The end result will be a program which I am dubbing Dysmorphia Training (DT) in homage to the disorder known as body dysmorphia sometimes ascribed to those of us who want to be as big and strong as possible (which in that case is called ‘bigorexia’).

The best of the best in strength training is Louie Simmons’ Westside method ( Louie is the mad scientist of strength training, who borrowed ideas from the Russian and Bulgarian weightlifting teams that dominated their sport (as well as from numerous other influences) and then tinkered with them to create a program that is truly unrivaled in terms of its ability to make a person brutally strong and/or more athletic. I have trained at the famous Westside Barbell location many times and have been lucky enough to work with Louie at his powerlifting certification for CrossFit affiliates. I have thus personally experienced Westside’s benefits and have seen what it can do for athletes of all types. Needless to say, I firmly believe Westside is the finest strength-building program in existence.

My first weight training love was bodybuilding, and I still have an affinity for it although my personal training has shifted to powerlifting. I have always been the type of person that utterly immerses himself in his hobbies (in fact, you might say that they become all-consuming). Getting bigger and stronger has been my only interest (outside of family and friends) since I was 17 years old. Over the years, I have read about and/or tried virtually every bodybuilding method ever devised. For my money, the best of the best in bodybuilding training methods is Dante Trudel’s Dogcrapp Training (DC). Yes, the name is a bit of a goof, but rest assured that the training is not. I have always felt that Dante was heavily influenced by Arthur Jones’ (of Nautilus fame) High Intensity Training (HIT) system and by the musings of a man by the name of John Parrillo. John first came to prominence in the bodybuilding world in the 80s with his promotion of fascial stretching and extremely high caloric intake (not to mention MCT oils). You can see elements of Jones’ and Parillo’s teachings in DC, but just as Louie did, Dante took good ideas from others and refined them to create a unique system that is superior to its influences.

Westside and DT

As mentioned above, DT training borrows from the best of the best. In order to understand the Westside component that has been incorporated into my system, you first need to have a cursory understanding of the Westside training template.

The Westside template utilizes four major training days per week. Each of these four days is either a maximum effort (ME) or dynamic effort (DE) training session with one day of each reserved for upper body (bench) and lower body (squat).

Westside ME training involves the use of a compound exercise that trains the primary movers of the bench press or squat taken to a one repetition maximum (1RM) attempt.

Example: A low box squat is the ME movement for squat day. The lifter warms-up to a 1RM attempt. The set and rep scheme might look something like this:

135 x 5
225 x 3
315 x 3
405 x 2
495 x 1
545 x 1RM

Mike Francois did his time in the trenches at Westside Barbell and was one of the biggest and strongest bodybuilders ever for his efforts.

As the name implies, this attempt should encompass the absolute maximum weight that the trainee can handle using good form on that day. As per the conjugate system of training, these exercises are rotated weekly to avoid neural stagnation and to create a form of chaotic (as I characterize it) periodization. The neural component results from the fact that repetition of the same exercise at an extremely high intensity (defined in strength sports as a percentage of one’s 1RM) can quickly overwhelm the nervous system and lead to stagnation or regression in progress. The periodization of volume is a result of the different exercises dictating varying loads and thus varying total training volume. In other words, a box squat and good morning are going to use different loads and thus result in different total training volumes even if the set and rep counts are identical.

In my opinion, ME training and incorporation of conjugate variation are the major factors in Westside’s success. No other strength training system allows for 100% intensity training with such frequency, and as Louie says, ‘he who trains the heaviest most often is the strongest.’

DE training is also known as speed training. It may surprise some who already know about Westside that the reason DE days were originally incorporated was because the vast majority of trainees could not tolerate two ME workouts (for both bench and squat) per week. Thus, the DE day essentially became a form of active recovery with the added benefit of increasing one’s explosive power. It is my personal opinion that speed work with light loads (typically 50-60% intensity plus accommodating resistance) translates modestly to explosive power for ME lifts and contributes almost nothing to hypertrophy. I therefore feel that, for a bodybuilding program like DT training, the DE day is not an optimal use of one’s limited ability to tolerate and benefit from resistance training.

Ok, brief Westside description done! In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the Westside component I am borrowing for DT is the ME training completed with an adjusted version of conjugate variety. The conjugate variety adjustment will be accomplished via frequency. Louie has his athletes switch ME exercises weekly, but for bodybuilding purposes, I don’t feel that is optimal. When one has not performed a given exercise in a few weeks, the nervous system experiences a form of detraining. Performance of the exercise elicits re-adaptation. For the next few sessions, the nervous system will continue to acclimate to the movement and become more effective at recruiting motor units, etc. This can allow the bodybuilder to tap into more muscle cells and thus more effectively stimulate growth. Therefore, variety is important, but exercise rotation should occur less frequently for the bodybuilder than in the Westside template.

1RM Training for Hypertrophy?

What’s that I hear? 1RM training does not stimulate growth? I know that is the common wisdom–and there is some truth to that argument because it is certainly not optimal for hypertrophy if practiced as the sole form of training–but when incorporated as a component of an overall regimen, it allows for optimization of the hypertrophy response.

HUGE multi Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman knows that training for both absolute strength and size is necessary for optimal results.

Assuming one is not in a caloric deficit (and especially if one is eating for size), 1RM training will contribute to hypertrophy both directly and indirectly. The direct effect is the body’s adaptation of hypertrophy of the contractile myofibrils in order to address the need for greater strength reserves in order to handle the tremendous loads incurred with such training. The indirect effect is a result of an increase in absolute strength that allows the trainee to handle greater loads for multiple repetitions and thus to incur a greater hypertrophy stimulus.

DC Training

Let’s switch gears now and discuss DC training. DC training involves a high intensity of effort, significant time under tension with a relatively heavy load, and the limited volume that training to failure requires. In other words, it has all of the elements of a program that is very effective in stimulating skeletal muscular hypertrophy.

An important component of DC is its version of rest-pause (RP). DC RP is a bit different than that of other techniques that go by the same name. To my knowledge, the term was first used by Arthur Jones and was definitely popularized by bodybuilding legend Mike Mentzer when he incorporated it into his interpretation of HIT training. Mike’s version was very interesting in that it was essentially a small series of singles. After a warm-up, he would choose a weight that would make for a near 1RM. He would do ONE repetition (rep), then rack the weight and wait 10 seconds. He would then do another rep with the same weight and again rack and wait. This would continue for 3-5 reps with the last one or two often requiring aid from a competent spotter. The DC version involves a more standard bodybuilding set of 7-10 reps to concentric failure (getting stuck on the positive part of the lift, e.g., the press up when benching) followed by a break of about 10-15 breaths (about 20 seconds). The trainee then performs another mini-set to failure with the same load; this typically results in about four more reps. This is followed by another 10-to-15-breath break and then a final mini-set to failure. Most trainees will be able to squeeze out two reps or so on this final set for a grand total of 13-16 reps.

Rest-pause will be the training method I borrow from DC. As with conjugate variety from Westside, the rest-pause in DT will be a variant of that used in DC.

Training to Failure, Growth Stimulus, and DT Overreach

Very little definitive science exists on the topic of hypertrophy, but years and years of empirical evidence, including the experience of the best bodybuilders in the world, has taught us a few truisms about optimized hypertrophy training. First, training to concentric failure is an absolute requirement. Please note: we are talking about optimized hypertrophy. You can certainly get bigger without training to failure, but in my experience and in the experience of those who have created the greatest physiques ever, training to failure (assuming one does it properly…more about that as we go on) provides for an optimal growth stimulus.

For an understanding of why training to failure is optimal, we must first gain a general understanding of why hypertrophy occurs. Skeletal muscular hypertrophy is an attempt by the body to adapt itself to the profound stress imposed upon it by intense resistance training. In other words, the body wants to make resistance training ‘easier’ for future sessions. This adaptation via increased muscle mass is a metabolically ‘expensive’ and unnatural state not easily induced and one the body will quickly move away from as soon as the stress is no longer regularly present (hence the rapid atrophy that occurs when individuals stop training). Due to the body’s reluctance to incur or maintain hypertrophy (especially the extreme type favored by bodybuilders), the nature of the training stimulus must be powerful in order to induce it. Training well within one’s means (e.g., performing 5 repetitions with a load easily handled for 10) is not a powerful stimulus for adaptation. As momentary fatigue or training-to-failure nears and then is reached, the stimulus for adaptation increases accordingly. Assuming that proper training, nutritional, and supplemental regimens are in place (to facilitate recovery and potential supercompensation), training to failure or beyond is the optimal way to train for hypertrophy.

When training to failure (and beyond failure with methods like forced reps, RP, etc.), training volume must be limited. This is an immutable law that is universally recognized. You can train hard or you can train long, but you cannot do both. If you try, overstressing and overtraining will occur eventually, leading to a reduction of exercise specific coordination, suppression of the immune system, and potentially even worse outcomes. Training to failure for optimal results is thus a very difficult juggling act.

DT takes a unique approach to this conundrum by embracing the ‘dark side’, if you will. DT may be the only bodybuilding program in the world that willfully incorporates overreaching (otherwise known as purposeful overtraining). The point at which each practitioner will begin to experience this phenomenon will vary individually and with circumstance, but the basic purpose is to push training up to and beyond the body’s limits to allow for what is called delayed transformation. Delayed transformation is exactly what the name implies–a delayed beneficial adaptation by the body to an imposed stress. The key is that the stress causes overreach and once said stress is removed (in most cases completely), the body has a chance to realize a powerful beneficial adaptation.

During periods of overreaching, the body may undergo a positive adaptation (in the short term – not long term), but the degree of that adaptation will be relatively insignificant compared to that experienced during delayed transformation…if timing is correct and sufficient rest is allowed.

Sergio Oliva, one of the only men to ever defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger, was a true mass monster of his time!

The Nuts and Bolts of DT

Ok, now that I have provided a rather exhaustive lead-up to my new training system, let’s get into its nuts and bolts.

This approach includes four main training days per week that hit each major body part twice per week. The first session will be DT’s version of an ME day with the second akin to a ‘light’ day, much like the heavy/light systems that have been around for so long. The primary difference from those heavy/light systems is that the loads will still be very taxing thanks to training to failure, thus making the second day more hypertrophy-focused with a bias towards non-contractile or sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

For the purposes of this article, we will assume a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday training split. The important part is that at least 36 hours of rest by body part are allowed between the first and second days.

Unless otherwise stated, all sets other than 1RM attempts are to be taken to concentric failure. Forced reps are allowed but should NOT be the norm. Form is a consideration. The term ‘good form’ is normally a bit nebulous. For DT purposes, ‘good form’ includes using a full range of motion (ROM), controlling the load at all times (no bouncing), and moving at a speed that allows the lifter to still feel the muscles working throughout the ROM. This program is for bodybuilding and exercise execution must accommodate that goal.

The first training day by body part applies the ME system (warming up to a 1RM) followed by a RP set with the same exercise. The RP format will consist of 15 reps to failure for upper body exercises and 8 reps to failure for lower body exercises, followed by a 20-second rest and then a second attempt with the same load to failure. After another 20-second break, a third and final attempt to failure will be performed. For most trainees (using the upper body rep scheme), the second set will net 4-6 reps and the third, 2-4 reps. This style of training REQUIRES the use of a competent spotter and should not be attempted without one (unless you are using a selectorized exercise machine).

The second training day (Thursday and Friday, in our example) skips the ME and RP training and consists of straight sets and supersets taken to concentric failure for 12-20 repetitions. Different primary compound exercises will normally be used, but the same assistance movements may be repeated.

As already alluded to, all training for each major body part will begin with a compound exercise. After completion, various assistance/accessory exercises can be employed. They will be used to complement the primary compound movement, address weaknesses, and stimulate hypertrophy via time under tension (TUT).

Here, I present a 9-week training template to provide an example of how the system works. I implore you to then use the basic template and customize the program to suit your needs.

Weeks 1-3:

ME movement – incline barbell press
Rest-pause with incline barbell press
Flat dumbbell press – 2 x 15
ME movement – t-bar row
Rest-pause with t-bar row
Curl-grip pulldown – 2 x 15
Dumbbell pullover – 1 x 15
Seated alternate dumbbell curl – 2 x 15
Dumbbell triceps rollback superset with
pressdown – 2 x 20
Ab exercise – 2 x 20
Calf movement – 2 x 20

ME movement – box squat with bands
Rest-pause with box squat with bands
Leg extension – do these very light with highly controlled form and a slow cadence. Do them until failure and then stay on the machine and rest a few seconds (long enough for the burn to subside). Continue the set until failure again, and repeat the waiting process. Continue the set for one last bout of strict, slow, controlled reps to failure.
Leg curl – 2 x 12
Leg extension – the same as above
Ab exercise – 2 x 20

Barbell bench press – 1 x 15
Flat dumbbell pres – 2 x 15
Wide grip chin – 2 x failure
Seated row – 2 x 15
Barbell curl – 2 x 10
Standing low pulley cable curl – 1 x 15
JM press – 2 x 12
Overhead extension (single dumbbell – two hands) – 1 x 20
Ab work – 2 x 20

Leg press – 1 x 15 (continuous reps – no rest to get additional reps)
Glute-ham raise – 2 x failure
Walking lunge – 1 x 20 reps per leg
Shoulder press machine – 2 x 20
Seated side lateral – 1 x 15
Ab work – 2 x 12
Calf movement – 2 x 15

Weeks 4-6:

ME movement – board press (2 boards)
Rest-pause with board press
Machine bench press – 2 x 20
ME movement – bent over row – Dorian Yates style
Rest-pause with Yates rows
One arm cable rows – 2 x 15
Skull crusher superset with pulley pushdown – 2 x 10 for the skulls and 15 for the pressdowns
Preacher curl with e-z curl bar – 2 x 12
Lying cable curls to forehead – 1 x 15
Ab work – 2 x 20
Calf work – 2 x 20

ME movement – Olympic style high bar squat
Rest-pause with Olympic style high bar squat
One-legged leg press – 2 x 15
Hyperextension superset with leg curl – 2 x failure for hypers and 15 reps for leg curl
Ab work – 2 x 15

Low incline dumbbell press – 2 x 15
Dumbbell flye – 1 x 20
Seated cable row – 2 x 20
Overhead cable row while seated on the ground – 2 x 12
Standing alternate dumbbell curl – 2 x 12
Hammer curl – 1 x 10 then down the rack to failure
Tate press – 2 x 15
Overhead one arm dumbbell extension – 2 x 15
Ab work – 2 x 15

Sissy squat – 2 x failure
Stiff-legged deadlift – 2 x 15
Glute bridge – 2 x 20
Upright row – 2 x 20
Dumbbell lateral raise – 1 x 20
Bent over dumbbell lateral raise – 2 x 15
Ab work – 2 x 15
Calf work – 2 x 20

Weeks 7-9:

ME movement – barbell bench press
Rest-pause with barbell bench press
Weighted dip (with a slight forward lean to emphasize pecs) – 2 x 15
ME movement – plate loading rowing machine
Rest-pause with plate loading rowing machine
One arm dumbbell row = 2 x 15
Barbell curl – 2 x 12
Cable curl – 1 x 20
JM press superset with push-up – 2 x 15 JM press and failure for push-ups
Calf work – 2 x 15
Ab work – 2 x 20

ME movement – hack squat machine
Rest-pause with hack squat machine
Stiff-legged deadlift – 2 x 20
Dumbbell leg curl – 1 x 15
Ab work – 2 x 20

Flat dumbbell press – 2 x 15
Cable crossover – 1 x 15
Dumbbell pullover – 2 x 15
Pulldown with a v-bar grip – 2 x 15
Curl machine – 2 x 12
Lying dumbbell curl – 2 x 15
Dumbbell rollback – 2 x 10
Pressdown – 2 x 20
Ab work – 2 x 15

Giant set – squat, leg extension, leg press – 10 reps each to failure
Hamstring curl – 2 x 15
Dumbbell shoulder press – 2 x 10
Standing one arm dumbbell side lateral – 2 x 12
Calf work – 2 x 20
Ab work – 2 x 15

Template notes:

  • To reiterate, a training partner/spotter is a necessity for anyone wanting to give this program a run.
  • All sets listed above are ‘working sets’. This term is defined as post-warm-up sets that are taken to concentric failure unless otherwise noted. Anywhere from 1-4 warm-up sets per exercise should be performed at the trainee’s discretion.
  • ME work for upper back exercises is a bit trickier than for the rest of the body. Working up to a 1RM can be more difficult due to the nature of the movements. Maintain strict form even when attempting the 1RM. There is no need for tremendous lower back ‘heave’ in order to lift more weight.
  • Questions concerning the performance of any exercises or sets listed above should be directed to the author here.
  • For all exercises, the loads should be progressively increased to the degree possible from week to week during the 3-week mini-cycles. If an increase in load is not viable then the trainee should, at the very least, attempt to increase the number of repetitions performed by 1 or more.
  • Abdominal and calf work exercise selection is left to the discretion of the trainee. There are a myriad of them available and care should be taken to frequently alternate the exercises used.
  • Jump stretch bands are a tremendous tool for the bodybuilder. You can purchase them at I recommend the mini through average sets. For an idea of how to use bands see the following videos:
  • On the leg press, be sure you use as full a range of motion (ROM) as possible. Lower your legs until right at the point at which your pelvis begins to lift off the seat. Going further can place the spine in a compromised position and is not advisable.
  • Learn how to make your own bench press boards here:
  • See a video of board pressing here (boards are added towards the end of the video):
  • With the supersets and giant set, no rest should be taken between exercises. You should move between them as quickly as possible with the exercises set up ahead of time.
  • The sissy squats done on weeks 4-6 on Friday should be a bodyweight exercise. This exercise is best performed with someone to help. Place a 2×4 or something similar beneath the heels of your feet in order to elevate them. Hold a towel or rope with your hands and have your partner hold the other end. Lean backwards with all rotation around the knee joint. Your upper body and upper legs should all stay in line with each other. Lean as far back as possible while keeping the rotation solely at the knees. Return to the starting position and repeat. This movement will target your quads like no other.

Diet and Supplementation

Because DT training is geared to stimulate optimized hypertrophy, a necessary quantity and quality of nutrients must be present for your body to realize its growth potential. I will devote future articles to a more in-depth look at diet for DT, but for the purposes of this article, suffice it to say that you need to be in a caloric surplus state (for most men this will require at least 20 calories per lb of body weight), consume 1.5g of protein per pound of body weight, and keep your carbohydrate intake relatively high.

In terms of supplementation, if you want the most from DT you need the following:

RESULTS – is a proprietary and very potent combination of Creapure® creatine monohydrate, ß-Alanine, HMB, and dextrose. Nothing on the market is better for size and strength.
BCAA+ – is a branched chain amino acid product with added glutamine to prime your body for optimized protein synthesis, blunt catabolism, and keep your immune system strong even in the throes of overtraining.
ETS – is a product with a very appropriate name (Extreme Training Support). ETS reduces muscular soreness, enhances recovery, and can help with the minor joint pain associated with intense weight training.

All supplements available at

Use the supplements above along with the dietary recommendations, and the sky is truly the limit on what you can gain with this program.

Final Notes and a Wrap

DT is extremely taxing to the body in a systemic manner. A 1-week complete rest break should be taken prior to commencing DT AND at the conclusion of nine weeks,. This is not a week of active rest; it is a week of total rest and recuperation to the degree possible based upon the normal demands of everyday life (work, family etc.). For the break after the program, the week of total rest should be followed by a week of active recovery activities such as walking, swimming, bicycle riding, and other forms of pleasurable yet easy-on-the-body exercise. This will get the blood flowing and help to speed the supercompensation associated with the delayed transformation process. As such, none of these exercises should be stressful or difficult. A new DT cycle can be started at the beginning of the third week.

My training partner Justin Tooley with a big ME box squat (I’m spotting). That’s 620 lbs of bar weight and about 400 lbs of band tension.

I cannot stress strongly enough the REQUIREMENT for the rest sessions before and after the program. When I was younger, I was so obsessed with being big and strong that I would not rest for fear of losing size and strength. Do not let obsession get in the way of results. Take the rests, follow the program to a ‘T’ (including dietary and supplement requirements), and while it may sound a bit like embellishment, it is very likely your family and friends (not to mention strangers) will accuse you of being on steroids. Yep, DT is no game; it is a stone-cold badass program that will have you reveling in your newfound size and strength!

Bands for Bodybuilding

Disclaimer – If you can’t afford new clothes, you should probably stop reading now. Applying the principles in this article could leave you needing to purchase a whole new wardrobe. But, hey, that’s a good thing!

What are Jump Stretch Bands?

Chances are you’ve heard of people using bands in the gym, but may not know what the benefits are or how to use them (and no, we’re not talking about music).

Popularized by Westside Barbell legend Louie Simmons, bands have been helping powerlifters get bigger and stronger for years, but until recently, very few bodybuilders have experienced what bands can do for them. This article will show you how to use them to your advantage.

But first, what the heck is a jump stretch band, anyway?

Quite simply, they’re giant rubber bands.

They’re most commonly used in strength training by securing one end to a stationary object and the other end to the collar of a standard barbell. The beauty is in their simplicity. Just like the smaller rubber bands you use in daily life, the more the jump stretch bands are stretched, the more resistance they provide. This increasing resistance, when used in combination with strength training, is known as accommodating resistance. What the bands do is transform a barbell into something akin to cam-based resistance training machines (think Nautilus® machines).

A Quick History Lesson

Arthur Jones, the creator of the Nautilus® training machines, was essentially the first man to incorporate the concept of variable resistance into strength training.  He did this by running a chain over a cam which was shaped like a nautilus shell (hence the company’s name).

Legend Mike Mentzer on the Nautilus Pullover machine

The chain was secured to a variable weight stack on one end and a movement arm on the other.  When the trainee lifted the weight by pressing or pulling the movement arm, the chain traveled over the rotating cam.

The changing diameter of the cam altered the movement, thus altering the torque and resistance provided by a given load. The primary function of the cam as Jones designed it was to increase the load when the working muscles were in their strongest position and decrease it in the weakest, thus eliminating the inherent flaw of barbells known as the “sticking point” (the point in the movement where the perceived load is the greatest based upon the pull of gravity and/or musculoskeletal leverage). This allowed for maximal stress to the muscle.

Like Jones, Dr. Fred Hatfield (a record-setting powerlifter) looked for a way around the limitations of barbell training and championed a concept known as “compensatory acceleration”.

His idea was to have the lifter literally push harder on the barbell as the exercise got easier in an attempt to overcome the leverage-induced decrease in resistance. Theoretically, this made the exercise more effective in achieving muscular overload, which is crucial to gaining muscle.

Dr. Fred Hatfield hitting a big 1,003lbs Squat

The idea was good, but was limited in practice by the fact that the lifter pushing harder throughout the range of motion still did not eliminate the sticking point. He had the right idea, but not the tools to execute it.

Enter the Band

Bands work similarly to a cam in that they both vary the resistance and increase it when the lifter is in the strongest position. Think of a barbell squat: after getting out of the bottom position (the “hole”), the lifter encounters a brief sticking point. When he moves past the sticking point—thanks to leverage—the perceived load gets lighter (anyone who’s ever done a squat before knows that you can partial-squat a whole lot more than you can full squat, since the sticking point is eliminated).

However, when bands are added to the squat, they increase the resistance as they are stretched.  This forces the lifter to push hard against an ever-increasing load through the entire range of motion (ROM), thus dramatically increasing the overload effect.

While bands do not eliminate the sticking point, they do very little to increase the load until after the lifter has pushed through it.

A Short Story of What’s Possible

By now, the benefit of bands relative to bodybuilding should be obvious.  Bands allow the lifter to fully work the involved muscles in nearly all barbell movements. The increase in size and strength when using bands can be dramatic.

My personal experience with their use plainly illustrates this fact.

I recently began to incorporate bands into my leg training.  I did so primarily by using them with box squats to varying heights (normally parallel or below).  The bands my training partners and I most commonly used provided 200+ pounds of resistance at the top of the squat. Because of the way they were secured, they provided little resistance at the bottom of the movement when we were on or near the box.  Starting a few inches above parallel, the bands began to “kick-in,” providing progressively greater resistance as we neared lockout.

Here is a video of the morning crew at Westside Barbell, Box Squatting with Resistance Bands:

The difference the bands made in our training was staggering. For instance, when un-racking the barbell and walking out with the weight, the pull of the bands forced us to use tremendous effort just to control our movement, much more so than with just a barbell on our backs. In addition, when we worked up to a fair amount of barbell weight (450 pounds +), the load on our backs in a standing position was nearing or exceeding 700 pounds.  Getting used to this load made our return to squats without bands incredibly easy in that 400-500 pounds of pure barbell weight now felt like nothing on our backs.

The use of bands for just a couple of months forced my upper legs to grow over 2 inches.  I literally grew out of my work slacks and added nearly 20 pounds of body weight during the same period. The growth was explosive, as was my increase in strength. During my stint with band training, I also experienced the most amazing pumping of my quads that I have ever felt!  This pump was the result of a superset of leg extensions and regular (not box) squats with bands.  The combination was lethal, with the bands increasing the intensity exponentially. In truth, the pump was so ridiculous–and painful–that we could only get through the superset once.

Bands and Bodybuilding: How to Use Them!

One of the basic tenets of muscular hypertrophy is time under tension (TUT).  Meaningful TUT involves both time and stress. In other words, in order to optimally stimulate hypertrophy, the musculature must be stressed with a relatively heavy load over a period of time. Bands increase the TUT with all barbell exercises by maximizing the stress to the involved musculature over a greater portion of the ROM on each and every rep.  Therefore, a given number of reps with bands equates to more work done by the muscles.  Bands increase both efficiency and intensity, which are two of the most important factors in increasing muscular size.

If you’ve never used bands, the idea of adding them can be a bit intimidating. The first question most lifters have is how to secure the bands. I think the best way to become comfortable with using bands is to begin with simple exercises, like squats and bench presses.

Below is a video demonstrating how to properly set up a pair of bands with a typical squat rack:

Below is a video of my training partner Justin Tooley and I speed squatting last week – 10 sets of doubles for me with 420 lbs on the safety squat bar and green bands:

A Sample Routine

Training with bands places a tremendous amount of stress on both the musculature and connective tissues. As mentioned above, you should incorporate the bands within the parameters of conjugate variety.

Conjugate variety involves alternating exercises by body part weekly, bi-weekly, or every three weeks.  The idea is that even a small variation in a movement has a very different effect on the nervous system, and CNS burnout is a prime driver of overtraining.  Altering exercises regularly allows you to train at a higher intensity level consistently. This will help to optimize your results and prevent overuse injuries.

The following routine can be followed for a three-week period. After three weeks, you should switch the primary exercises. The primary exercise (by body part) is indicated by a star after the name (e.g., Bench press*).  The use of bands will be noted by the word “bands” after the exercise name (ex. Bench press – bands).

The exercise name is followed by the number of sets and reps as follows: Bench press – bands: 10/10/10*/10*

Each number is the number of reps to be done for that set.  Sets are separated by a slash.  Sets with an asterisk after the rep count should be taken to concentric failure.  So, in the above example, 4 sets of 10 reps of bench presses (using bands) are to be performed with the first two sets as warm-ups and the last two taken to concentric (or positive) failure.


  • Squat* – bands: 10/8/8*/8*
  • Leg Press: 20* (perform these in a slow and controlled manner with a full ROM)
  • Hamstring Curl: 10/15*/15*
  • Stiff-Legged Deadlift (off a 2-4” platform for a greater ROM): 10/20*
  • Ab Crunches: 20*/20*
  • Standing Calf Raises: 15*/15*


  • Bench Press* – bands: 10/8/6*/6*
  • Incline Dumbbell Press: 20*/20*
  • Superset Triceps Pressdown & JM Presses (see video for JM Presses): 15 reps not to failure on the pressdowns (choose a weight with which you could get 20 reps) followed immediately by 8 reps to failure on the JM Press.  Do this for 3 cycles with about 2 minutes rest between cycles.


  • Curl Grip Chins: 2 sets to failure with body weight
  • One Arm Dumbbell Rows*: 8/8/15*/15*
  • Seated Cable Rows: 12*/12*
  • Dumbbell Shrugs: 15*/15*
  • Standing Ab Crunches Using an Overhead Cable: 20*/20*
  • Seated Calf Raises: 10/15*/15*


  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press*: 10/8/10*/10*
  • Superset Dumbbell Lateral Raises with Bent Over Raises: Perform 15 reps to failure of each exercise with no rest between.  Do the side laterals first.  Perform two cycles of this superset.
  • Standing Barbell Curl: 10/10/10*/10*
  • Dumbbell Hammer Curl: 15*
  • Two Arm Overhead Dumbbell Extensions: 10/15*/15*


By now, you’ve seen the power of bands, what they can do for your strength, and how they can help you build muscle quickly. Like many workout-related things, bands are simply a training tool (albeit a very effective one) and should be used as a change of pace to provide variety to your workouts and to help you hit your muscles in ways that simply aren’t possible with barbells, dumbbells, or cables.

Finally, although they can be a bit intimidating, the sheer size and strength gains you can achieve by using a few rubber bands is worth the learning curve. So swallow your pride and do yourself a favor by picking up your bands here (Westside Barbell) and get to training!

And, as always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the discussion thread below!

Written by Chris Mason

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Building Muscle & Size with Resistance Bands discussion thread.

About Chris Mason

Chris Mason is an author, trainer, and nutritionist. He has published articles in Iron Man, Athlete, Planet Muscle, and Powerlifting USA magazines as well as several online websites including

In addition, he has worked with top flight professional strength athletes on both their nutritional and training regimens. Chris is also the co-founder of AtLarge Nutrition. He is actively involved in all aspects of the business to include product formulation.

An Interview with Bench Press Specialist – Vincent Dizenzo

Vincent Dizenzo has been crushing big iron for over fifteen years.  Early in his strength career, he was a three-lift powerlifter, but two ruptured discs in his back caused him to reconsider his training focus, and he became a bench press specialist (which was ironically his weakest of the big three lifts originally). 

Vincent has held multiple bench press records, including a recent 605-lb raw bench press as a Masters competitor.  Suffice it to say that he is a brutally strong presser, but that is only a small part of the focus of this interview. 

Vincent’s 605 lbs was done at a body weight of 322 lbs.  For a man standing well under 6’ tall, that is a LOT of human being packed into a relatively small area of space!  This brings us to the real focus of this article: Vincent’s recent transformation…no, let’s make that transfiguration…into a lean and mean strength machine. 

Vincent recently made the decision to lose body weight and compete in the 242-lb weight class.  You read that right–from a superheavyweight to a 242-lb lifter.

Ok, enough of the introduction. Let’s hear it straight from the horse’s, or rather, the thoroughbred’s mouth.

Chris: Vincent, it’s a well-known and accepted mantra in strength training circles that “bigger is better”.  More size, regardless of body composition, equals more strength in the minds of most lifters.  What was it that made you break from this way of thinking and decide to get lean?

Vincent: It wasn’t really a conscious decision on my part, it just kind of happened.  It started with the passing of my brother back in December.  The loss simply took away my appetite.  Maintaining a body weight in excess of 300 lbs is tough for me even in the best of times, so with a reduced appetite, I simply didn’t consume enough calories and began dropping weight.

Emotional trauma is often the catalyst for life changes, and that is exactly what happened in my case.  As my body weight began to drop, I decided it was time for something new in my lifting career.  I had spent over a decade trying to get as big and as strong as possible, but now it was time for something different, a new challenge.  I decided to see what I could do.  At first, my goal of competing in the 242 class wasn’t fully formed, I just wanted to get leaner and stay strong.  As I dropped body fat and the 242 became a possibility, it then became my focus.  Having achieved that goal, my new focus now is on maintaining a lower body fat percentage and becoming as strong as possible.

Chris: Vincent, I totally understand the emotional trauma aspect of what you did.  In fact, I had something very similar happen to me when my wife of fifteen years told me she wanted a divorce and subsequently left me.  I too lost my appetite and then decided I might as well take advantage of my reduced appetite and get as lean as possible.

You accomplished the very elusive goal of losing a tremendous amount of body fat while simultaneously maintaining all, or nearly all, of your lean muscle mass.  Can you give us an overview of how you lost the weight and changed your body composition so dramatically?  

Vincent: Well, as I stated above, in the beginning, it really wasn’t a conscious thing.  My appetite was diminished and I simply ate significantly less.  During that time, I definitely lost some lean muscle tissue.  Once I got a hold of myself and made the decision to achieve my new goal of being strong and lean, I got a bit more organized.  I started by ‘cleaning up’ my diet and reducing overall caloric intake.  While being more calculated than just eating less, my approach was still a bit haphazard. 

I had heard good things about Shelby Starnes (bodybuilder, powerlifter, trainer, and nutritionist) with respect to his ability to help people from all walks of life optimize their body composition.  I decided to reach out to him and enlist his help.  Needless to say, Shelby radically changed my thoughts on diet.  He made me realize that it is definitely a science.

Once I started following Shelby’s advice, the changes were literally amazing.  He taught me what to eat, how to carb cycle, and that cardio is a necessary evil.  I mean, I’m a powerlifter; I didn’t know the meaning of the word cardio!  Shelby had me eliminate dairy, all forms of sugars (including fruit), and wheat products from my diet.  It was a new world, but an incredibly effective one!

Shelby was amazing, but I also want to take a moment and give myself some credit.  Shelby gave me the map, but I had to follow it, and I did so unwaveringly!  I never ever cheated on my diet unless it was planned.  I’m not kidding–I was 100% compliant.  I never even so much as snuck a piece of candy, a cracker, or even an extra scoop of rice.  I embraced the fact that sometimes you will be hungry on a diet. The hunger lets you know it’s working.  I hated getting on that treadmill at 5:15 in the morning, but I DID IT!  Once I set my mind to something, I give it 100%. 

Vincent Dizenzo – 245lbs at 16% bodyfat (it was touch and go here!)

Chris: I don’t think I ever mentioned it to you, but my business partner Daniel Clough has been working with Shelby for some time and raves about him.  I have heard nothing but great things about the man. 

It doesn’t surprise me that you were a machine during the process.  I know what kind of dedication is required to build the superhuman strength you have achieved, and a person with that kind of dedication can accomplish just about anything he sets his mind to.

You touched on several aspects of your diet.  I’m curious…if you had to pick just one thing that you feel contributed the most to your success, what would it be? 

Vincent: The single most important aspect of my dietary regimen had to be limiting carbohydrates. When I was a young athlete, which was a long time ago, there was a great emphasis on carb intake. As a powerlifter, I thought I needed to consume lots of carbs. Now I have learned the proper timing of carbs is very important and that carbs are not necessary with every meal. The other important aspect I learned was to eat protein and carbs or protein and fat together, but to try avoid eating protein, fat, and carbs all at the same time.

Chris: Definitely!  As you know, in my mind, insulin management (and thus carb control) is HUGE when it comes to health and body composition.

How about your training?  Did you do anything differently?

Vincent: Yes, my training changed dramatically. I was always a max effort guy. I just wanted to load weight, bands, and or chains on a bar and smash it. My motto was, “Anything worth lifting is only worth lifting once.”  Well, it wasn’t long into my diet that I found I could not keep up with the personal records I had set at a higher body weight.  My ego was not quite ready to take a back seat, so I knew I had to do something.

Before panic set in, I turned to Brian Holloway, a training partner and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.  Brian had just finished up a block periodization training cycle that I had witnessed firsthand.  We discussed it, and I felt that it was the way for me to go.  I knew the first block started off with lower percentages, which would give my strength a chance to adapt to a lighter bodyweight. I also knew block periodization calls for a lot of volume and that would assist in my transformation.

In the end, it all worked out. I hit 16% body fat, which was beyond my goal.  I know many readers may not be all that impressed with 16%, but that is a real 16%, and let’s not forget I started at 326 lbs and God-only-knows-what body fat. That’s one of the problems with the internet; everyone claims to be 10% body fat or less when the reality is quite different.  Brian is very exacting with his method of using calipers to measure body composition, and I guarantee you that most of those 10% people would be 15%+ if Brian checked them.

I also made the 242-lb weight class.  That is a BIG change from superheavyweight!  Last, but not least, I hit a 730-lb bench, which ranks me in the top ten for that class.  Not too shabby for such a short amount of time.

Vincent’s 730lbs Bench Press @ 242lbs

Chris: Vincent, not too shabby at all! 

We’ve touched on nutrition and training, but how about supplementation?  Of course, as one of our sponsored athletes, I know you use our products, but why don’t you outline what AtLarge Nutrition products you used during your transformation and why you used them.

Vincent: I follow the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method when it comes to supplementation.  I stick with supplements that are proven to work. I guess that is why I am such a big supporter of AtLarge Nutrition.  Your entire line is made up of no-nonsense supplements that are proven to work.

What I use at any given time is goal dependent.  During my fat loss program I took the following AtLarge products: 1) Multi-Plus tablets for overall health and any deficiencies in my nutritional plan, 2) Fish Oil caps for a healthy heart and to reduce inflammation. 3) Creatine for strength and increased muscle mass, 4) Nitor for its thermogenic effect, and 5) Nitrean for a low calorie source of quality protein to support my training and because I believe it’s the best protein on the market, bar none!

Chris: I know that rapid weight loss always takes a toll on strength, but once one’s weight is stabilized, that lost strength can be regained and often new records can be set.  Actually, I can think of a great example very similar to yours.  Are you familiar with John Kuc?  He competed against big Jim Williams as a superheavyweight in the very early days of powerlifting.  He was amazingly strong, but his health suffered at that body weight, so he cut back down to the 242-lb class!  He went on to compete VERY successfully in the 242s for many years (and pulled in the high 800s at that weight). 

What are your thoughts moving forward?  Do you want to stay in the 242s, or do you have other plans?  Personally, I would love to see you in the 242s or 275s setting some crazy records.

Vincent: I don’t believe I will ever compete above the 275s again.  I plan to do most of my competing in the 242s.  I know it is going to take some time to learn my leverages and begin to optimize my strength at this new body weight, but I am committed.

In my immediate future, I am going to train for a raw bench meet sometime in the fall. However, I plan to train as if I were going to compete in a full meet.  There is definitely a method to my madness.  First, my bench is always at its best when my entire body is strong.  Second, I want to add some lean mass to my frame and compete as a bigger 242 than I did at my last meet.  A solid raw training cycle with plenty of volume for the big three should spur some hypertrophy.  Finally, I just may compete in a full raw meet if my training goes well!

Returning to three-lift competition is a bit of a pipedream for me, but it is something I want to shoot for.  That said, I’ll enter my training cycle with my eyes wide open and will not compromise my health for the sake of competing in a full meet.  I’m going to take my time, and the goal will be to compete (in a full meet) within a year’s time. If my body holds up, that’s great, but if not, I will still focus on benching in the 242s because I feel I have some unfinished business in that department.

Training for a full meet will be a pretty big change for me.  I’ve been squatting and deadlifting the last couple of years, but I’ve been been playing it very safe.  I kept the loads fairly light and used a safety squat bar for squatting and hex bar for deadlifts. 

As mentioned above, I have ruptured two discs in my back, but I’ve also completely ruptured one bicep and partially ruptured the other!  The safety squat and hex bars have helped me to train around these injuries.  The problem, of course, is that neither can be used in a powerlifting meet.  I am going to have to squat and deadlift with a regular bar.  The deadlift in particular will be difficult as I am going to have to learn to use the hook grip in order to protect my biceps.  For a guy with small hands and weak grip, that will definitely be a challenge.

Chris: Vincent, I think it’s awesome that you are going to try for a full meet!  You have tremendous overall strength (I remember a video of you pulling 800 lbs or so), and I would love to see what you can do in a raw full meet. 

I also think you are making a great decision to stay at this lower body weight.  I believe it will prolong your career and potentially even your life.  The new insulin management practices you are employing can do nothing but benefit your health. 

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

Vincent: You’re welcome, and I want to take this opportunity to thank you, Daniel, and AtLarge Nutrition. It is with your help and support that I have been able to accomplish so much in strength athletics.

Chris: Vincent, it has been our pleasure.  You really are a model athlete for our company because you are both a top competitor and someone who frequents our forums on (WBB), contributing to the betterment of the community. 

Sometimes I think back to when I was a young trainee.  I think that if I could have had access to an athlete like you, I would have avoided so many mistakes.  I used to read interviews just like this one, but I didn’t have the opportunity to then pick the brain of the interviewee like our WBB members have with you.  Whoops…Get ready for some questions! 

Thanks again, and the best of luck with your new goals in powerlifting.

Written by Chris Mason

Note: Vincent is a regular contributor and moderator on the Wannabebig Forums and also maintains a regularly updated Training Journal. If you have any questions for Vincent, feel free to post them in the discussion thread for this article (see link below) or as a new thread in the Powerlifting Forums.

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – An Interview with Bench Press Specialist – Vincent Dizenzo discussion thread.

About Chris Mason


Chris Mason is an author, trainer, and nutritionist. He has published articles in Iron Man, Athlete, Planet Muscle, and Powerlifting USA magazines as well as several online websites including

In addition, he has worked with top flight professional strength athletes on both their nutritional and training regimens. Chris is also the co-founder of AtLarge Nutrition. He is actively involved in all aspects of the business to include product formulation.

One of CrossFit’s Finest – An Interview with Chris Spealler

CrossFit is fast becoming a household name. defines the modality as strength and conditioning program whose specialty is not specializing in any one form of fitness. 

CrossFit creates an athlete who is proficient across the spectrum of physical expression with the idea being that real life situations demand this form of generalized conditioning.  As such, CrossFit is the training style of choice for many police departments, military personnel, and martial artists not to mention just about anyone who simply wants to be in the best shape of their lives. 

Chris Spealler is one of CrossFit’s finest.  He owns CrossFit Park City in Park City, Utah.  He is also a top competitor in the annual CrossFit Games with three top 10 finishes to his credit (to include 3rd at the 2010 Games!). 

The balance of this article will be an interview with Chris which will provide more details about him personally and delve deeper into the phenomenon that is CrossFit.   

Chris Mason: Chris, for many of our readers this article will be their first encounter with CrossFit.  So far they know you are a prime example of a CrossFit athlete.  Can you provide us a brief bio on yourself? Perhaps some personal information and how you found CrossFit? 

Chris Spealler: Ok, to start, I’m 31 years old and married with a four and a half month old baby boy.  Our other baby is our black lab.  We live in a small town just outside of Park City, Utah.  I am a CrossFit affiliate (gym) owner and I also work for CrossFit Headquarters as a head trainer.  As already stated, I am an active CrossFit Games competitor.   

Outside of my CrossFit life I love skiing and mountain biking.  When I am not traveling on the weekends my family and I attend Capital Church.   

My athletic background is pretty expansive and diverse.  I have been active in sports for as long as I can recall.  My parents were active in sports throughout their youth and they instilled a love for athletics in my sister and me from a very early age.  I think they had a healthy way of going about encouraging us to be athletic.  They provided us a great deal of freedom in choosing the sports we wanted to participate in, but they had a rule that we had to stick with a sport for at least one season once chosen.  This taught us how to stick with something and thus was a valuable lesson in personal stability.

I stumbled into wresting in the 1st grade and stuck with it as my main sport until graduating college.  Up until junior high I tried many a sport to include track, lacrosse, and even golf.  Once I was in junior high I decided to wrestle year round and it become my sole sporting activity.  I excelled in wrestling and was recruited by Lock Haven University, a Division 1 wrestling school.  

Upon graduation from Lock Haven I had some opportunities to pursue wrestling further, but decided not to.  I soon began to yearn for a new competitive outlet and along came CrossFit.  A buddy of mine who was in the Marines at the time introduced me to it.  Like the proverbial duck to water I instantly took to it.  It has been a wonderful gift to me.  It embodies all of the attributes that I cherish in fitness.  It also allows me to express my athletic blessings in a way that both promote personal growth and allows me to help others.  

Chris Mason: Chris, you mentioned how your parents guided you and your sister in athletics.  Do you and your wife plan to do something similar with your son?   

Chris Spealler: Yes, I firmly believe that athletics can provide so much beyond just the physicality aspect.  With children, athletics are especially important because they not only provide them the exercise they need (especially in today’s videogame age), they can also foster such life skills as teamwork, learning to be coachable, and being responsible for and accountable to others.   

Chris Mason:  As mentioned above, this article will be the first time many readers are exposed to CrossFit.  Can you give them an overview of it?  Perhaps describe some of the workouts of the day (WODs)?    

Chris Spealler: Absolutely, and I think a great way to get started is to clear up some common misconceptions about CrossFit.  The most frequent concerns I hear are that you need to get in great shape prior to trying CrossFit, that CrossFit is dangerous, and that CrossFitters don’t care about technique.  None of these are even remotely accurate!  The idea that one needs to be in great condition to CrossFit is one that particularly gets my goad.  In fact, it is one of the basic tenets of CrossFit that training is scaled to the needs of the individual and that said needs do no vary in kind, but only in degree.  In other words, your grandparents may have the same training needs as a top level Olympic athlete. 

We all need a huge base of general physical preparedness (GPP).  GPP provides all around physical ability (strength, endurance, flexibility etc.) which translates to virtually any physical activity.  Grandparents need it to stay out of a nursing home and Olympic athletes need it to gleam the most from their sport specific training. 

CrossFit is GPP on a grand scale.  This results in workouts that are constantly varied and focused toward ‘functional’ movements.  Workouts range from as short as two minutes to as long as an hour.  The movements practiced, loading schemes, and repetition (rep) ranges are always changing.  This brings me to another knock I hear about CrossFit which is that we are good at many things, but great at nothing.  We don’t see that as a negative, rather it is what we are all about.  We feel that real life punishes the specialist and rewards those with generalized physical abilities.  Real life situations demand a combination of strength, endurance, coordination, and mental toughness.  CrossFit develops all of these attributes to a degree rarely seen elsewhere in the fitness world. 

To be clear, we don’t knock specialists, in fact we respect them to such a degree that we try to bring the best of the best in each specific area of fitness into the CrossFit world to help make us better at their chosen specialty.  We have recruited the best running, Olympic lifting, and powerlifting coaches to educate our trainers and to learn the ‘secrets’ of each discipline.  As I said, it’s all about being really good at a wide spectrum of physical activities.   

I used the term ‘functional’ above.  It is a term which is pervasive in today’s fitness world yet defined differently at nearly every turn.  In CrossFit the term refers to being able to better execute natural physical movements such as running, jumping, punching, kicking, throwing, and so on.  We all have to squat down to sit or deadlift an object from the ground as part of our daily life so we incorporate those movements (the squat and deadlift) into our training.  Conversely, we never have to use weight machines in real life so we don’t use them in training. 

Unlike bodybuilders, we don’t use single joint movements knowing that the functional movements (like squats, deadlifts, and chins) provide a systemic response which equates to a more efficient and functional manner of training.  We train functionally to be super-functional (if you will) outside of the gym. 

Most CrossFit workouts are couplets (2 exercises) or triplets (3 exercises) of exercises blended together in various combinations.  Below are just a few of our workouts of the day (WODs) as examples:   

1) Fran 

21-15-9 (21 reps followed by 15 reps followed by 9 reps of each movement) 

  • Thrusters (barbell starts on chest and you go into a full squat and then come back up and press the barbell overhead – as one fluid motion with the rising of the body) 
  • Pull-ups (kipping is allowed because it provides us with a higher power output = greater intensity) 

2) IsaGrace 

  • Snatches (barbell is pulled from the floor to a fully locked-out overhead position in one motion) 30 reps
  • Clean and Jerks (barbell is pulled from the floor to the shoulders, then essentially thrown with body momentum to an overhead position) 30 reps 

* Men’s prescribed weight is 135 lbs 


3 rounds: 

  • Run 400 meters
  • 21 Kettlebell Swings (swing a kettlebell from between one’s legs to the overhead position)
  • 12 Pull-ups 


  • 10,9,8,7… down to 1 rep 
  • 1.5 x bodyweight deadlift
  • 1 x bodyweight bench press
  • 3/4 bodyweight squat clean (barbell is pulled from the floor to the shoulders via dropping underneath of it as you pull it upwards and then catching it at the shoulders – ending in the bottom of a front squat position)  

Each of the above workouts is done for time with the goal being to finish the prescribed exercises and reps in as short a timeframe as possible.  Training in this fashion accomplishes our goal of building an individual with all around physical prowess.  It provides for increased work capacity over broad time and modal domains (our CrossFit ‘mission statement’). 

Chris Spealler competing in the 2010 Crossfit Games

Chris Mason:  You mentioned WODs above.  Can you give us some of the other most frequently used CrossFit specific verbiage? 

Chris Spealler: In the same vein as WODs, CrossFitters will often use the terms ‘prescribed’ or ‘rx’d’.  As the words imply, the terms are used to indicate a workout is to be completed as written.   

‘Scaling’ is a term we use to describe altering the loads (and sometimes other parameters) for people of varying levels of fitness so that they can all reap the maximum benefit from their CrossFit training.  So, for example, a beginner might perform the IsaGrace described above with 60 lbs instead of the prescribed 135 lbs.   

‘Kipping’ is another term used quite often.  It refers to a specific style of pull-up.  It is derived from gymnastics and involves a significant amount of body English to help propel one to the top of a chin.  It is more of a whole body movement than a traditional strict chin (which we do as well).  It allows the trainee to get more done in a given period of time thus increasing power output, intensity, and results.   

‘Met-con’ is yet another common term in CrossFit.  It stands for metabolic conditioning which is a form of training whose purpose is to improve the body’s efficiency at storing and delivering of energy for activity.  These workouts have the dual benefit of improving both strength and aerobic capacity.  In fact, while the workouts are absolutely nothing like standard aerobic training they can confer aerobic benefits that rival those of the best traditional programs.  The majority of CrossFit training would qualify as met-con.   

Chris Mason: Chris, you have placed well at the CrossFit Games more than once, but have yet to win.  Watching you this year you really dominated many of the events with absolute strength seeming to be your only limiting factor.  What, if anything, do you plan to do to address that (or do you even agree with the observation)? 

Chris Spealler: Absolute strength has always been a relative weakness for me especially in comparison to the larger athletes.  I am going to incorporate a heavily Westside Barbell influenced program for a 6 week block.  I will follow that with a 5-3-1 program for my back squat with additional accessory work for my posterior chain.  Heavier met-cons will be included along with Olympic lifts of varying rep ranges.  Each of these changes should all work towards improving my 1 rep max (1RM) strength.   

I will, of course, continue with my more standard CrossFit training and use the above to attack my weaknesses and make me a more well rounded athlete for next year’s games. 

Chris Mason: That sounds like a solid plan!  Have you considered adding a bit of body weight?  I think 6-10 lbs of lean muscle would make all the difference and turn you into even more of a machine than you already are. 

Chris Spealler: I feel the idea that increased body weight equals increased strength is a trap that too many people fall prey to.  This is especially true for CrossFitters as we need to keep our strength to weight ratio high so that the body weight and running components of our program are not compromised by excess bulk. 

My goal is to just get silly strong!

Chris Mason: I totally agree and should have clarified my point.  Demonstrable strength is a component of several factors, but the two that are controllable are myofibrillar hypertrophy and neural efficiency.  What you mention above would be focusing on the neural aspect which is definitely a solid plan, but not optimal.  

My thoughts when asking the question were that 6-10 lbs (and perhaps that was a bit high, maybe it should have been 3-6 lbs) of lean muscle in the form of myofibrillar hypertrophy (the myofibrils are the contractile – force producing – elements of the muscle cells) combined with low repetition training to force neural adaptation would be the optimal approach.

Everyone is different, but especially in a seasoned trainee like yourself there gets to be a point where you essentially tap-out your strength progress at a given body weight. 

If the weight gained were kept to 5 lbs or less and in doing so you got significantly stronger I don’t think your body weight abilities would suffer.  The end game being the absolute gains you can make in maximal strength would be greater with the addition of some lean muscle tissue, and if said muscular gain is kept to a minimum you should be able to enjoy the best of both worlds (jacked up 1RM strength and no decline in your body weight abilities).

Chris Spealler: What you have described is absolutely my goal, but in my experience one more easily stated than done.  I feel like I have run the gamut in terms of trying different training styles and techniques to build my absolute strength.  I’ve done everything from 5×5 linear progression training, to maxing out, to 5-3-1, and now to Westside conjugate training.

I have actually added 3-4 lbs since the games, but that is a function of a decrease in my total training volume (no 2-a-days right now).  It is always easier for me to keep weight on when my overall volume is down.

I will never be one to keep pace with the biggest guys on 1RM lifts.  Even if I were to add 10% to my maxes (which is a lot for an experienced athlete) I would still be considerably off what the strongest guys can do.  I instead focus on moving heavier loads with my met-con training thus allowing me to have the strength endurance to keep up with the bigger guys in CrossFit competition.

In the end, I don’t know if there is a magic formula for that big 1RM and an extreme level of strength and aerobic endurance, but I am always open to suggestions.

Chris Mason: Chris, maybe we can speak about this privately?  I have some thoughts on what you could do to add that 10% or more, but need to know more information.   Perhaps fodder for a future article ?

Continuing with the topic of body weight, can you speak a bit about diet for CrossFit generally, and your specific dietary regimen? 

Chris Spealler: CrossFit basically has two approaches to nutrition.  The first is the simplest.  It establishes some basic dietary guidelines which are geared towards mitigating insulin release (i.e. a form of carbohydrate control).  In a nutshell, eat meats, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no refined sugars. 

This approach helps people to get away from the high carbohydrate (carb), low fat diets which are responsible for many of the health issues we see today (obesity, age onset diabetes etc.). 

If people then want to take things to the next level we recommend the Zone Diet combined with consuming the right foods (as listed above).  This helps to establish control over portions being consumed and thus to tailor consumption to goals.

My personal experience with the zone was underwhelming in the sense I saw no real performance improvement.  The experience did, however, teach my some things of interest.  I learned that I need to eat more often throughout the day and felt better when consuming a good mix of macronutrients at each meal. I also learned that I have a sensitivity to most cereal grains (breads, pasta, rice etc.) and felt much better when avoiding them.

Beyond diet, I have begun supplementing with fish oil (morning and evening) and have been using Progenex’s Recovery as a post-workout shake.  I have seen a huge difference in recovery with the addition of these two supplements. 

Chris Mason: Chris, it seems like the Paleo Diet is also quite big in the CrossFit community.  What are your thoughts?

Chris Spealler: That’s a good question.  Interestingly, many people assume that what we recommend for beginners (meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch etc.) is the Paleo Diet.  While it shares some similarities with the Paleo Diet, it is most certainly not Paleo.  The Paleo Diet is much more exacting, things like no salt, no dairy, no gluten, and so on.  These specifications make a strict Paleo Diet quite difficult for most people to adhere to. 

I believe the individual should find what works best for them.  There is so much individuality in how we respond to dietary intake that it is imperative people experiment for themselves.  Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe there are some basic dietary guidelines which are nearly universal in applicability (such as those we teach beginners), but it is within those general guidelines where I believe the individual tinkering should occur.

Chris Mason: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.  Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers?

Chris Spealler: Thanks for the opportunity to allow me to share a bit about myself and CrossFit.  I just want to encourage people to give CrossFit a shot.  It’s an amazing program with an even more impressive community.  The vast majority of people involved are passionate, humble, and accepting.  Don’t assume you aren’t fit enough for it, or that it’s too hard.  The program is completely scaleable and that is one of its major strengths.

The CrossFit definition of fitness may be a compromise, but I personally believe it is the best compromise one can make.  Being a specialist is not a bad thing, but specialists never get to experience the feeling of knowing you are a well rounded athlete ready to tackle virtually any physical challenge that may come your way in life.  It is a good feeling, trust me!

Written by Chris Mason

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – One of CrossFit’s finest – An Interview with Chris Spealler discussion thread.

About Chris Mason


Chris Mason is an author, trainer, and nutritionist. He has published articles in Iron Man, Athlete, Planet Muscle, and Powerlifting USA magazines as well as several online websites including

In addition, he has worked with top flight professional strength athletes on both their nutritional and training regimens. Chris is also the co-founder of AtLarge Nutrition. He is actively involved in all aspects of the business to include product formulation.

Hypertrophy Cluster Training (HCT-12) – Supplementation Program

Now that you’re clear on the Hypertrophy Cluster Training Nutritional Program, we would like to take you through the recommended supplementation program.

Following the training and dietary tenets set forth in the HCT-12 program will result in progress that will surprise most, and utterly amaze some. The physical changes that will be realized truly have to be seen or experienced to be believed. Big gains in size and strength, huge decreases in body fat, or both, would normally be enough to satisfy any sane individual. Well, perhaps we are a bit insane!

Our credo at AtLarge Nutrition has always been optimize your body. Optimize: to make as perfect or effective as possible. We don’t want good results, we don’t want great results, we want optimal results and that can only be achieved with the inclusion of proper supplementation.

Download the HCT-12 Bodybuilding Program (3.29MB)

So, if you too are a bit insane and want to optimize your body, read on…


1. Protein Powder

Protein — the name says it all. Literally translated, protein means “of prime importance.” For the resistance trained individual protein takes on an even greater importance than for the sedentary individual. Intense training places a tremendous stress on the body. Muscle fibers are literally torn requiring both repair and potential remodeling in the form of growth so that the body can better withstand the stress of training in the future. Protein plays a key role in this recovery and supercompensation model.

HCT-12 recommends at least 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight be consumed on a daily basis. Due to time limitations, food choices, and or other mitigating factors some trainees may find it difficult to consume the necessary quantity of high quality protein. Protein supplements are a convenient way to bridge the gap and get the high quality protein needed.

Protein supplements come in various forms: stand-alone protein, meal replacements, and lean mass gainers. Each serves a specific purpose and their inclusion in one’s regimen is a function of the particular trainer’s goal(s).

For HCT-12 we recommend four supplements by AtLarge Nutrition: Nitrean, Opticen, MAXIMUS, and NOVUS bars. These award-winning products (the powders) contain blends of whey, casein, and egg proteins that provide for a superior amino acid profile and net retention. They outperform any whey-only powder under any condition.

Note: We cover which protein supplements are appropiate for your specific goals further below

2. Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine is the single most studied and proven ergogenic supplement ever produced. The vast majority of its users experience gains in both size and strength. Creatine is not only effective; it is proven safe and may even promote health via its antioxidant properties.

If you want the most from your HCT-12 experience, whether you are looking to gain muscle or lose body fat, a quality creatine monohydrate is a must. We recommend three products from AtLarge Nutrition: Creatine 500, Creatine Caps, and RESULTS (a unique combination of creatine, ß-Alanine, HMB, and dextrose).

Note: We cover which creatine supplements are appropiate for your specific goals further below.

3. ETS – Extreme Training Support

Unlike the supplement types mentioned above, ETS is a formula unique to AtLarge Nutrition. Its combination of ingredients works synergistically to produce effects that cannot be collectively found in any other supplement. ETS can dramatically reduce D.O.M.S. (Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness), improve generalized recovery, and reduce joint pain. These effects make it a true must have supplement no matter what your goal.

4. Multi-Vitamin

Sound nutrition is one of the cornerstones of HCT-12, but even with the best dietary practices the hard training individual can find themselves lacking in optimal levels of specific vitamins and minerals due to modern food processing methods and intense training’s propensity to deplete nutrients in the body. AtLarge Nutrition’s Multi-Plus is specifically formulated to address this concern.

5. Fish Oil

Optimal results from training require optimum health, and fish oil and its constituent omega-3 fatty acids have proven health benefits. In addition, fish oil may aid with inflammation thus supporting the heavy workload inherent to HCT-12. AtLarge Nutrition’s Fish Oil supplement is tested for purity, potency, and overall quality.

Nitrean Protein Powder – Voted Mens Health Best Protein Powder, 2008 & 2009


For optimized loss of body fat we recommend the following supplements:

Nitor or Thermocin are our thermogenic supplements. Both products will aid you in your quest for a lean, ripped physique via both direct and indirect effects. They both enhance thermogenesis and/ or fat oxidation, and help to blunt appetite. In addition, both products will provide you with extra energy to help offset the reduction often experienced when on a hypo-caloric (below maintenance level) diet.

Nitor is the more potent of the two in all respects, but may not be the best choice for individuals sensitive to the use of stimulants (Thermocin also contains stimulants, but to a lesser degree).

Nitrean provides a high quality, low calorie source of protein. The use of a protein-only supplement like Nitrean can help the trainee consume the necessary amount of protein without exceeding their daily total caloric intake.

NOVUS bars contain only 3 grams of net impact carbohydrates. They also pack a whopping 36 grams of protein as well as various vitamins and minerals. This nutrient profile and their amazing taste make them a supplement of choice for anyone on a fat loss diet.

Opticen is a highly versatile supplement which has multiple uses for those following a low calorie diet. Its macronutrient breakdown of roughly 43% protein, 37% carbohydrates, and 20% fats combined with its inclusion of 26 vitamins and minerals make it a nearly ideal meal replacement for those seeking to optimize their body composition. In addition, Opticen is specifically formulated to be used as a post-workout supplement.

Creatine 500 and/ or Creatine Caps are both Creapure® micronized creatine monohydrate. Creapure® is a German creatine which is one of the purest forms of creatine monohydrate in the world (hence the name). This purity helps to prevent the water retention and poor mixability sometimes experienced by users of lower grade creatine products.

Creatine can serve the vital function of keeping the muscles in an anabolic state during a hypo-caloric diet. This allows the trainee to retain, or even build muscle while dieting which makes the entire process easier and more effective. Do NOT cheat yourself out of the benefits of creatine while dieting.

RESULTS is our aforementioned blend of Creapure® creatine, ß-Alanine, HMB, and dextrose. It takes the benefits of creatine described above and turbo-charges them! RESULTS is the single most effective lean muscle producing and sparing supplement we offer and should be part of any serious trainee’s arsenal (if you are following HCT-12 you are SERIOUS). The only caveat to its use when dieting is that its 200 calories from carbohydrates need to be accounted for.


If you want to get big, REALLY BIG and strong, HCT-12 is the ticket. Add the supplements listed below and people won’t know what to think of the mass monster you have created!

MAXIMUS is our lean mass gainer. What makes it unique is its protein blend of ultra-filtrated whey protein concentrate, isolated casein peptides, total milk protein isolates, whey protein isolates, glutamine peptides, and instantized egg albumin combined with Microlactin® and inulin.

Microlactin® is a special protein that helps to improve recovery, reduce soreness, and reduce minor joint pain. Inulin is a fructan that aids absorption of certain nutrients and promotes a positive nitrogen balance.

MAXIMUS provides growth-promoting calories and nutrients that will help you to progress to new heights in both size and strength.

Opticen, as described above in the fat loss recommendations, can serve as both a meal replacement and an ideal post-workout supplement. For mass gaining purposes we recommend it be used primarily as a post-workout shake.

RESULTS is our premier size and strength supplement. If you want to be as big and strong as possible, you need this product. It is as simple as that.


HCT-12 is a no hype; no BS program and its supplement recommendations are no different. If you include the recommended products you will optimize your results. Don’t short-change yourself, use AtLarge Nutrition Supplements and optimize your body!

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question about this article or would like to discuss or ask anything about Hypertrophy Cluster Training (HCT-12), head on over to the Hypertrophy Cluster Training (HCT-12) Forum.

You may also want to read Hypertrophy Cluster Training (HCT-12) – FAQ.

HMB and Creatine: Giving RESULTS Every Time!

Strength, power, muscle, and speed are our specialties at AtLarge Nutrition, LLC.

Every single day we work with and speak with the best athletes in the world. We listen to their needs, hear about the rigors of their sports, and sympathize when they tell us they need just a little something extra to help them reach their full potential. That’s when we head to our lab, lock ourselves inside, and design the highest quality supplements that will help the best of the best get the results that they want.

Recently, we strove to formulate a product that would dramatically enhance performance while simultaneously remaining safe and legal in as many athletic federations as possible. Exhaustive research and in-the-trenches conversations led to the creation of RESULTS™.

Two ingredients in RESULTS™, HMB (b-hydroxy-b-methylbutyrate) and creatine monohydrate, are potent enough to be stand-alone supplements. However, we found something that shocked us: when you combine these two amazing compounds, the effects were far more exciting and powerful.

Simply put, the results were increased lean muscle mass and strength and reduced body fat.

HMB for Muscle Growth and Increased Endurance Performance

HMB is a naturally occurring compound produced in the body during metabolism of the amino acid leucine. Leucine is a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) of great interest.  Taken in comparatively low doses (4-6g), it has been demonstrated to stimulate protein synthesis to the same degree as much larger servings of complete proteins. This effectively means that you can get the same surge of protein synthesis without taking in tons of protein.

Dr. Steven Nissen was the first man to explore the potential health and ergogenic benefits of HMB. He theorized that leucine’s powerful protein synthesis-stimulating effects were correlated to its metabolism of HMB in the body.  Following Dr. Nissen’s pioneering work, HMB has become one of the most studied supplements in the sports nutrition industry. Recent research has elucidated the ways in which HMB both stimulates protein synthesis (2) and blunts catabolism (3), thus assisting in creation of a net anabolic environment.

HMB not only has positive effects on the net protein state of the body (and thus potentially on skeletal muscular hypertrophy), but it has also been recently shown to aid endurance. It does so via two distinct pathways:

Pathway 1 – Enhancement of maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max)

Pathway 2 – Improvement of the respiratory compensation point (RCP) (4)

These improvements allow endurance athletes to exercise at a higher level of intensity for a longer period of time, thus potentially improving performance.

In yet another study, HMB reduced peak creatine kinase (CK) levels after a prolonged run (5).  CK is generally considered to be a marker of muscle damage, and thus a reduction in peak levels indicates reduced muscle damage, more rapid recovery, or both. CK levels are also highly correlated with muscular soreness.  A reduction in peak CK levels may result in reduced muscular soreness from intense training. This means you can train more frequently and feel better!

So far we have discussed proven effects of HMB that should result in improved performance in the gym. But what about real-life results?

Two Studies – Nothing Short of Phenomenal

In one study, HMB users experienced double the strength increase and three times the lean gain in muscle mass as compared to that of those using a placebo. This study’s amazing results prompted a second seven-week study that resulted in HMB users increasing their bench press strength three times that of placebo users! (6)

Safe and Effective!

Supplements or drugs with the proven ergogenic benefits of HMB are often considered unsafe, but HMB is one of the very few exceptions. In fact, it may even be beneficial to overall health via a positive effect on LDL cholesterol and blood pressure.

Bottom line: If HMB isn’t part of your daily supplement regimen, then it very well should be!

Creatine: The Classic Stand-By That Packs a Punch

Creatine, or α-methylguanido-acetic acid, is a naturally-occurring nitrogen compound that contains an acidic component found both in select foods (primarily meats) and in the body. The majority of creatine in the body is found in the skeletal muscle system and plays a very important role in energy metabolism.

Supplementation with creatine allows for increased intramuscular stores and thus enhanced anaerobic training endurance (more reps with the same weight). This enhanced endurance allows for greater training volume and thus greater potential stimulation of muscular hypertrophy.

Creatine supplementation also increases intramuscular stores of fluid, which results in volumization of the muscle cells, and volumization of muscle cells has a stimulating effect on protein synthesis. Therefore, creatine allows the trainee to lift more weight and potentially to respond to the increased training stimulus with greater muscular hypertrophy.

Creatine’s theoretical benefits, as listed above, have been proven in research. Volek et al. studied the effects of a one-week creatine loading phase. The result was that creatine significantly increased the work performed (on the bench press and with jump squats) as compared to placebo (8).  In a separate study, creatine was shown to improve 100-meter sprint times (9).  Finally, another study by Volek et al. involving 12 weeks of creatine supplementation resulted in both increased muscle mass and training volume (10).

As with HMB, there is a literal mountain of studies on creatine proving both its efficacy as an ergogen and its safety. Again, like HMB, creatine may even provide certain health benefits such as acting as a potent antioxidant.

Chuck Vogelpohl Squatting 1,140 pounds (All-Time Record Squat ) – Chuck is a regular user of Results

The Super Supplement: RESULTS™

As addressed above, both creatine and HMB have been proven to increase skeletal muscle mass and strength.  Individually, they are both impressive ergogenic supplements, but when combined, they make for a kind of super supplement.

A 2001 study by Jowko et al. clearly demonstrated that each compound produced its ergogenic benefits via unique pathways, and thus combining them could produced additive effects (greater results than using either supplement individually) (1).

Most companies would stop right there and settle for a product that combined them, but here at AtLarge, we wanted more! We wanted to create a straightforward, no-BS product that would bend the minds of its users with gains such as never before! (We even took the no-BS approach when we named this super supplement. What you see is what you get!)

We combed the research journals and eventually came upon the ultimate ingredient to combine with creatine and HMB for a triangle of power!

That third ingredient is β-alanine.

Research had shown that β-alanine combined with creatine (much like creatine plus HMB) has additive effects on size and strength.

We theorized that throwing creatine, HMB, and β-alanine together (along with some dextrose for an insulin spike) into one product would revolutionize nonhormone-based supplementation.

And guess what? We nailed it!

The biggest and strongest athletes in the world use RESULTS™ for a reason: it flat-out works! (Chuck Vogelpohl, Donnie Thompson, Ryan Celli, Scott Yard, Tom Mutaffis, Travis Bell & Vincent Dizenzo and the Westside Barbell Powerlifting Team to name a few!)

So don’t force yourself through even one more day of lackluster performance. Get RESULTS™ and get results.

Scott Yard – 505 lb RAW Bench – Another regular user of Results

Written by Chris Mason

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – HMB and Creatine: Giving RESULTS Every Time! discussion thread.


1. Jówko, E., Ostaszewski, P., Jank, M., Sacharuk, J., Zieniewicz, A., Wilczak, J. & Nissen, S. (2001) Creatine and beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) additively increase lean body mass and muscle strength during a weight training program. Nutr. 17(7-8): 558-566.

2. Eley, H. L., Russell, S. T. & Tisdale, M. J. (2008) Attenuation of depression of muscle protein synthesis induced by lipopolysaccharide, tumor necrosis factor and angiotensin II by beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate. Am. J. Physiol Endocrinol. Metab. 295(6):1409-1416.

3. Smith, H. J., Wyke, S. M. & Tisdale, M. J. (2004) Mechanism of the attenuation of proteolysis-inducing factor stimulated protein degradation in muscle by beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate. Cancer Res. 64: 8731-8735.

4. Lamboley, C. R., Royer, D. & Dionne, I. J. (2007) Effect of beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate on aerobic-performance components and body composition in college students. Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exer. Metab. 17(1):56-69.

5. Knitter, A. E., Panton, L., Rathmacher, J. A., Petersen, A. & Sharp, R. (2000) Effects of beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate on muscle damage following a prolonged run. J. Appl. Physiol. 89(4):1340-1344.

6. Nissen, S., Sharp, R., Ray, M., Rathmacher, J. A., Rice, D., Fuller, J. C., Jr., Connelly, A. S. & Abumrad, N. N. (1996) Effect of the leucine metabolite beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate on muscle metabolism during resistance-exercise training. J. Appl. Physiol. 81(5): 2095-2104.

7. Nissen, S., Panton, L., Sharp, R. L., Vukovich, M., Trappe, S. W. & Fuller, J. C., Jr. (2000) Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) supplementation in humans is safe and may decrease cardiovascular risk factors. J. Nutr. 130(8): 1937-1945.

8. Volek, J.S., Kraemer, W.J., Bush, J.A., Boetes, M., Incledon, T., Clark, K.L., & Lynch, J.M. (1997) Creatine supplementation enhances muscular performance during high-intensity resistance exercise. J Am Diet Assoc, 97: 765-770.

9. Skare, O.C., Skadberg, & Wisnes, A.R. (2001) Creatine supplementation improves sprint performance in male sprinters. Scand. J. Med. Sci. Sports, 11: 96-102.

10. Volek, J.S., Duncan, N.D., Mazzetti, S.A., Staron, R.S., Putukian, M., Gomez, A.L., Pearson, D.R., Fink, W.J. &  Kraemer, W.J. (1999) Performance and muscle fiber adaptations to creatine supplementation and heavy resistance training. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., 31: 1147-1156.

Physique Transformation Strategies with Scott Abel

When people mention Scott Abel, the first word that comes to mind is success.

Known as ‘The Maker of Champions’, for the last quarter century or so he has been involved at the highest levels of the Fitness, Diet, Training and Bodybuilding Industry.

Not only has he personally participated at the highest levels in bodybuilding (in order to prove he could put into practice all his theories as the best out there) he has trained over 300 bodybuilding and figure champions and coached professional hockey players, football players and wrestlers.

He has also had enormous success with individuals wanting to lose weight, get into shape and get healthy – from teens to seniors, and anywhere in between.

Scott’s methods are both innovative and unique and he will be sharing them with us in 2010 as he becomes a regular contributor to Wannabebig. If you have a training or nutrition question for Scott, please email them to Scott will be selecting questions to answer in his future articles.

Chris Mason: Scott, let’s start with you introducing yourself to our readers.

Scott Albel: As far back as I can remember, I was always interested in athletics.  When I discovered bodybuilding, the individual aspect of the sport appealed to me tremendously.  From the get-go, my fascination with the human body differentiated me from most bodybuilders.  For me, it wasn’t just about the training, it was about researching human physiology to discover ways to go beyond the norm.

This coming January marks the beginning of my 4th decade in the iron game.  During the past three decades, I have pretty much done it all when it comes to physique transformation.  I’ve trained everyone from professional athletes to stay-at-home moms.  I have taken bodybuilders from rote beginners to National Champions and beyond.

My research and personal experience has led to the creation of my highly unique training system.  Different, as they say, is good!  My results, and the results of those I have worked with, far exceed the industry norm.

My training system is unique in that it focuses on the nervous system and its adaptation to resistance training.  I see skeletal muscular adaptation as dependent on the nervous system as opposed to the other way around.  This puts me at odds with most of the “experts”, especially those focused on strength training.

Training for physique transformation must be very different than training merely for power.  My program targets angles of contraction, the anatomical leverages unique to every individual, and work capacity.  I focus on intensity of effort as opposed to brute strength.  My own physique exploded when I finally came to the realization that how I was lifting a weight was infinitely more important than how much I was lifting.  This line of thinking led me to coin the term innervation training to describe my methods.

If you follow my articles on this site, I’ll explain these concepts in more detail over time.

CM: Who are the top five bodybuilders/athletes you have worked with?

SA: Over the years, I have worked with virtually every top name in bodybuilding (you can see a non-comprehensive list on my site in the Success Leaves Clues section).  I have also consulted with professional sports teams.  I worked directly with several NHL teams, and also did pre-season assessment training for the league.  I’ve had numerous opportunities to do one-on-one training with big Hollywood stars, or top level sports athletes, but I have most often refused to do so simply because I have no interest in being a glorified babysitter.

Really, I hate the whole idea of name-dropping as I feel it is most often used as a means of masking one’s deficiencies or lack of talent.  Suffice it to say that I have worked with the best of the best and have helped them to get even better.

I would, however, like to mention one name that really means a lot to me. Bill Pearl, multiple Mr. Universe winner, and considered by many to be one of the greatest bodybuilders ever, made a lasting impression on me early in my career by publicly recognizing me.  At Joe Weider’s Musclecamp, Bill announced to the hundreds of people attending that I was someone that would change the bodybuilding industry.  He went on to explain that he had not spoken about someone in such glowing terms since he predicted Chris Dickerson would be the first black Mr. America.  I can’t tell you how amazing this made me feel and what an incredible impact it had on my career.

CM: You mention work capacity being a cornerstone of your system.  I take this to mean you advocate a high volume of training?

SA: Yes I do, and research backs my thoughts on the matter.  Research clearly shows that it is the duration of time during which the muscles are loaded, and not the absolute amount of the load, that stimulates the adaptive response of hypertrophy.

To illustrate my point, one needs to look no further than gymnasts.  The strength and development of these athletes simply cannot be accounted for with standard training theories.  The volume or duration of time under tension that their muscles experience is what accounts for their impressive development, not training with high percentages of their one repetition maximum as the “load theorists” (as I call them) advocate.

I have never seen high volume training not work with respect to long term adaptive response.  Keep in mind that high volume can come in many forms of application and design…it’s not limited to simply longer workouts.

Scott Abel prefers empirical data gained from real life application vs. research – it’s clear to see why!

CM: Can you tell us a bit more about how you define intensity?

SA: My book, The Abel Approach, goes into this in great detail, but in short, intensity (as I define it) is a measure of effort.  Those following my system train as close to their maximum work capacity as possible as frequently as possible.  We design programs which coax the body to adapt to increasing workloads.

Muscular tissue stress is defined as intensity, and the common paradigm states that increased loads, due to their increased mechanical stress on the musculature, are therefore of higher intensity.  This is only partially true, and totally misleading relative to application.  It leads to a focus on quantitative (numeric) cues.  Trainees are taught to focus on increasing their strength as a signal of muscular progress.   This is simply not valid.  It is a known fact that the higher one’s relative level of development, the less actual weight is required to induce overload.

Training focus should be on qualitative cues such as energy expenditure, oxygen debt, and fatigue.  Using qualitative measures, a 10 rep set can be significantly more intense than a 5 rep set.  Training hard is more productive from a hypertrophy perspective than training heavy, but they need not be mutually exclusive.  In addition, how heavy one can train does not necessarily dictate how heavy one should train.

Another key to optimized training intensity involves muscular inhibition.  The body has many inhibitory mechanisms which are neural in nature.  Retarding or blunting them is an adaptive response, much like the process of a baby learning to walk, and one that must be realized in order to maximize training intensity.

CM: You certainly have a unique approach to resistance training. Does the same hold true for your recommended dietary practices?

SA: Yes, I believe it does.  I have been researching the nervous system relative to training for 20 years, but I must admit that I prefer empirical data gained from real life application vs. research.  To that end, I use the research that I do to come up with new things to try and then validate or invalidate them in the real world with myself and my clients.

As I am sure your readers are aware, the current rage is low or no carb dieting.  This is a mistake much like its predecessor, the low to no fat diet.  The problem with all of these fads is that they claim to be backed by hard science when, in reality, the science is “soft” at best.

Much as with politics, the majority of research put out today is highly subject to interpretation.  Two groups with opposing agendas can come to vastly different conclusions from the same data.

In a nutshell, we have way too many wannabe experts running around with the latest “science”.  These same diet experts have never talked the talk, or walked the walk.  In essence, they are magicians brandishing their wands of science to trick their audiences into believing their point of view.

I’m different, because I have been there and done ALL of that.  I was a hardgainer when I first started, and got nowhere following the common wisdom.  It was not until I realized the rules were subject to question that I was able to make any significant progress.  This brings to mind a quote from Warren Buffet, “Those who follow the herd spend a lot of time scraping their shoes.”  I don’t follow the herd; I observe it and come to my own conclusions.

I create what I call “individually appropriate” diets.  Everyone is unique, and has unique needs when it comes to diet.  Even individually, these needs are constantly in flux.  My system recognizes these facts and is thus customized to the individual.  My clients eat carbs more often than not, and don’t adhere to silly timing schedules and so on.  I will get into more specifics over time with my Q&A column here on  In the interim, your readers can go to my site ( and check out my books and CDs if they want more immediate details.

Funnily enough, even though it was past swimming hours, no one asked Scott to get out of the pool.

CM: What is the one thing you feel every reader of this article can benefit from in terms of training for hypertrophy?

SA: With the advent of the internet, the overabundance of information available has led to the dissemination of misinformation, disinformation, and marketing as information.  Don’t be fooled and follow the beaten path.

There are the rare few genetic freaks for which muscular development comes easy.  For the rest of us, training for a big max is not the key.  You must learn to think differently in the gym, to focus on internal training cues, not the external ones.  You must know that the angles of contraction and planes and ranges of motion are more important than how much you can lift.  Training for development is not training for strength.  Train for development and strength will come, not the other way around.

Natural Bodybuilder Allen Cress – One of Scott’s many trainees

CM: Thanks so much for your thoughts, Scott.  Do you have any parting words for our readers?

SA: I want them to know that coaching is essential to optimal results.  Information does not equal expertise.  There is an incredible amount of information about training and diet available online these days, yet there are more trainers and coaches than ever.

If optimizing physical results was as easy as reading about it online, coaches and trainers would be out of jobs.  Coaching is oversight; it is knowing what an individual needs when they need it.  Like I always say in my seminars, I can have the most fuel efficient and best maintained car on the road, but if my destination is Florida and I head North then it doesn’t matter what the vehicle’s potential is, I will never reach my destination (goal).

Too many trainees think they are heading in the right direction, but aren’t.  If they only understood the value of applied expertise, they could save themselves a lot of time and money with respect to reaching their physical goals.

CM: Great finishing points Scott. I am sure the Wannabebig readers will be looking forward to your next article! Remember, if you have a training or nutrition question for Scott, please email them to Scott will be selecting questions to answer in his future articles.

Written by Chris Mason

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Physique Transformation Strategies discussion thread

About Scott Abel

Scott Abel is founder of Abel Bodies Fitness and for the last quarter century, Scott Abel has been involved at the highest levels of the Fitness, Diet, Training and Bodybuilding Industry.

Not only has he personally participated at the highest levels in bodybuilding (in order to prove he could put into practice all his theories as the best out there) he has trained over 300 bodybuilding and figure champions.

He has also had enormous success with individuals wanting to lose weight, get into shape and get healthy – from teens to seniors, and anywhere in between.

He’s the author of The Abel Approach and his DVDs include Whole Body Hypertrophy and Five Day Ultimate Figure Program. His latest product is The Truth Audio Series.

Building a Monster Upper Back

A huge and thick upper back is the hallmark of the alpha strength athlete.  Fluff trainees need not apply…only those with the fortitude and will to train with the requisite intensity will achieve the kind of upper back that literally intimidates and inspires awe in all who see it.  If you have ever had the unique opportunity to see a top level professional bodybuilder in person, you know what I mean.  The power that their backs exude is literally palpable. 

If you are a bodybuilder, a big upper back is the coup de grace of a great physique.  Huge lats and traps win contests. 

If you consider the most successful bodybuilders ever, the multi-Olympia winners, men like Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, and Ronnie Coleman, they are all known for incredible back width and thickness. 

The best of the best strength athletes also sport tremendous upper backs.  Think of the incredible thickness of Bill Kazmaier’s traps, or the huge lats of Mariusz Pudzianowski. Hyper-development of the huge muscles of the upper back is necessary for the superhuman strength feats these men must perform on a regular basis.

Building a huge upper back requires focus on two major muscle groups, the trapezius (traps) and the lattisimus dorsi (lats).  As with all forms of intense hypertrophy-focused training, efficiency is the key to optimal results.  Focusing on the traps and lats, the largest muscles of the upper back, allows the trainee to efficiently stimulate growth in the entire upper back. 

Hypertrophy-focused training must be relatively brief and intense.  A rough quote from Arthur Jones goes something like, “You can train hard, or you can train long, but you can’t do both.”  Training to failure, or beyond (forced reps, etc.) spurs maximal growth via optimization of both contractile (the contractile elements of the muscle cell, actin and myosin) and non-contractile or sarcoplasmic (interstitial fluid, etc.) hypertrophy. 

Do NOT confuse training for hypertrophy with training with light weights.  Being fairly active in the powerlifting community, I often encounter what I feel is a generalized misconception about optimized strength training.  Most powerlifters think of bodybuilders as “pumpers” who are all show and no go.  A closer look at the facts reveals that this is simply not the case.  Sure, there are some bodybuilders who have built enormous muscles using relatively light loads, but these are the exceptions.  As a rule, the biggest bodybuilders, those who are 270 lbs+ in the off-season, are very powerful individuals, especially with respect to the exercises that they regularly practice.  I think this fact is part of the misconception.  Elite level bodybuilders often rely heavily on selectorized machines, or use a plate-loading apparatus as opposed to simple barbells.  Strength athletes, especially powerlifters, misconstrue this to mean that the bodybuilders avoid heavy loads with barbells out of weakness.  The truth is that elite bodybuilders often use tremendous loads with this type of apparatus.  They use the machines because they feel they are less likely to injure themselves (which is itself a misconception), and they allow for a better focus on the target musculature.

Six time Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates showing incredible back width and thickness

Strength and size are intimately associated.  Individually speaking, a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle, but increased strength does not always result in increased size.  This is due to the fact that demonstrable strength is basically a function of two components, hypertrophy of the aforementioned contractile myofibrils actin and myosin, and the nervous system.  An increase in the size of the contractile myofibrils will result in an increased force production capability of the muscle.  Expression of this increased force production capacity (or any force production capacity) is dependent upon the nervous system.  Think of the nervous system as a car’s transmission.  You have to mate a motor with an optimized transmission to get the best performance.  The same is true with your body; you cannot be as strong as possible without optimizing your nervous system.

Optimization of the nervous system is required to maximize demonstrable strength, and maximized demonstrable strength is required to elicit peak hypertrophy (i.e., lifting heavier loads for the same number of sets and reps stimulates greater hypertrophy). 

The above components of physiology are often lost on both bodybuilders and powerlifters.  Powerlifting training tends to focus on the neural aspect at the expense of maximizing hypertrophy and thus peak strength potential.  Bodybuilders often focus on high repetition pumping movements that do not optimize the nervous system and stimulate less contractile hypertrophy.  If it isn’t yet obvious, the ideal system for size and strength is one which both optimizes neural acclimation and contractile and non-contractile hypertrophy.


Powerlifter and Strongman Bill Kazmaier showing incredible trap thickness

Training for a HUGE Back!

If you truly want the biggest and strongest back possible, it is necessary to combine the best of both the powerlifting and bodybuilding worlds.  For my money, the best of the powerlifting/strength world is encapsulated in Louie Simmons’ Westside Barbell training principles.  Louie flat out “gets it” better than any strength training authority in the world.  He is smart enough to stand on the shoulders of giants, in this case the wisdom of the super successful Russian and Bulgarian weightlifting teams, using this information plus his own vast experience to create a truly optimized absolute strength training program. 

The core of Louie’s system is the Maximum Effort (ME) training day.  ME training is done once per week for the bench, squat, and deadlift.  For our purposes, the main point of the ME day is that the lifter attempts a maximum lift (with the goal being a new personal record in the specific exercise) at each session, while practicing conjugate variety to keep the central nervous and muscular systems fresh.  Conjugate variety at Westside primarily involves the variation of major exercises for each ME session.  So, for example, ME bench training might use floor presses the first week, board presses the next, and then full range of motion (ROM) presses the third week. 

Even very subtle changes in a movement produce a significantly varied effect on the central nervous system (CNS).  The CNS is thus stressed differently with each unique exercise or variation thereof.  This variation in stress allows a lifter to train heavy each and every week while avoiding the normal pratfall of CNS overtraining.  In my opinion, conjugate variety is the major differentiator of Louie’s system vs. conventional western periodization programs and is the main reason why Westside is so much more effective. 

Another component of Westside training is the Dynamic Effort (DE) day.  DE training was first brought about for lifters who could not tolerate two ME sessions per week (which is the vast majority of trainees).  Its focus is on the building of speed, but as stated, it also serves as a less debilitating form of resistance training that permits and aids the athlete in recovery from the ME session.  The DE day is where the training in this article will be most heavily differentiated from Westside.  This will be where the best of both worlds will come into play.  Our replacement for DE day will be a hypertrophy-focused day using higher rep counts and high intensity of effort (a “bodybuilding” workout). 

This program will thus consist of training the upper back twice per week.  The first day will be very much like a Westside ME day with one main exercise each for the lats (main exercises for the lats should be multi-joint compound exercises such as rows) and traps taken to a 6 repetition (rep) max (to concentric, or positive failure, i.e., until you get stuck on a rep) for two sets. 

A two set, 6 rep max obviously varies from the Westside ME template, but I feel that single rep maxes are best reserved for programs where strength is the sole focus.  A 6 rep max will still stimulate absolute strength increases while simultaneously promoting hypertrophy.  As maximal hypertrophy is the stated goal of this program, it is important that both training days stimulate growth. 

Arnold was never afraid to hit some T-bar rows – old skool style!

After the 6 rep max sets, 1-2 working sets (post-warmup sets) of 2-3 additional exercises are performed.  Rep counts for these exercises should be in the 12-30 range.  The purpose of these sets is to thoroughly congest the muscles with blood and to increase the time under tension (TUT).  These sets will primarily aid with non-contractile hypertrophy.  They will also help to support the lower repetition strength training by aiding recovery. 

Day 2 training will include 3-4 exercises (four of 2 of them are supersetted) for the lats and one for the traps with reps in the 12-20 range.  There will be 1-2 working sets per exercise with each working set being taken to at least concentric failure.  This day is almost purely focused on non-contractile hypertrophy with high TUT and a heavy focus on the pump (the engorged feeling you get if training results in a temporary pooling of blood in the muscle). 

You must strive to increase the loads, number of reps performed, or both for your working sets each and every workout.  Progressive resistance is THE key to size and strength training results. 
Below is a sample list of exercises to choose from as well as a sample workout for both days. Note, all exercises should be rotated each workout such that no two subsequent workouts are the same. 


  • Bent-over rows
  • T-bar rows
  • Hammer Strength style machine rows
  • One arm dumbbell rows
  • Selectorized machine rows
  • Chins with various grips (weighted if needed)
  • Pulldowns with various grips
  • Cable, dumbbell, or machine pullovers
  • Seated rows


  • Barbell or dumbbell shrugs
  • Behind the back shrugs
  • Smith machine behind the back power shrugs
  • Hammer Strength style machine shrugs

Sample Workout

Note: Always allow at least two days between upper back sessions.

The format listed for sets and reps is as follows (for example):

  • 2 (sets) x 4/3 (reps)

The above denotes two working sets are to be performed with the rep counts at 4 for the first working set, and 3 for the second.  Be sure to perform at least two warmup sets per body part being exercised prior to your working sets.  After the first exercise, you can use your discretion as to whether or not you feel the need to warm-up for subsequent movements.  

Day 1:

  • T-bar row – 2 x 6/6
  • Dumbbell pullover – 2 x 15/15
  • Selectorized machine row – 2 x 15/15
  • Barbell shrugs – 2 x 6/6

Day 2:

  • Chins – 2 x failure (body weight only)
  • Hammer Strength style rowing machine – 2 x 12/12
  • Superset: Cable pullover & seated row – 2 supersets x 20 reps for each exercise
  • Behind the back Smith machine power shrugs – 2 x 15/15

Below are some training videos featuring author, Christopher Mason:

Behind The Back Power Shrugs

Hammer Strength Row with Bands

Very Heavy T-Bar Rows (not strict form)

Diet and Supplementation

If you want a huge back, you need to eat to support that goal.  Hypertrophy is most easily achieved in a caloric surplus.  In much the same way that training for optimized size and strength is not for the weak willed, neither is eating for optimized size and strength.  I see and hear far too many people complaining that they cannot gain weight and that they already eat a “ton” of food.  They lament that they could not possibly eat more… 

If you want a huge back you need to be willing to pay the price.  That price is pain and discomfort when you train and at the table.  The VAST majority of individuals who claim to not be able to gain weight simply under-eat.  They have not trained their stomachs by expanding them to the point that they will support the increased caloric intake required to add mass.  Training the stomach to accept greater amounts of food consists of eating large meals which literally force it to stretch.  This is the discomfort part and what sets apart the big boys from the rest.  In short, you have to eat until you are full and then eat some more.  You have to eat and drink until you are on the verge of vomiting.  For obvious reasons, vomiting is not desired and one must tread a fine line such that the stomach is forced to expand without eliciting sickness.  Your body will adjust in relatively short order, and consuming sufficient calories will no longer be nearly as difficult.

For specific caloric intake recommendations and nutrient timing please see my article Eating Optimally for Massive Size and Strength

As the co-owner of AtLarge Nutrition, I obviously recommend our products.  I helped to formulate many of them, and I will only sell products I personally do or would use.  Bottom line, I KNOW our products are good and will do as promised.  There are certainly other brands with effective products, but you cannot go wrong with AtLarge. 

If you want a HUGE and strong upper back I recommend the following:

Nitrean: is our protein-only product with a unique blend of three fractions of whey, casein, and egg proteins.  In concert with the other supplements recommended, Nitrean should be used as a bedtime shake. 

Opticen: is our post-workout (PWO) supplement.  As with all of our protein products, Opticen contains a blend of multiple proteins to include whey, casein, and egg.  It is specifically formulated to optimize PWO protein synthesis. 

MAXIMUS: is our weight gainer.  It utilizes the same protein blend as Opticen and adds to it the ergogen Microlactin® (to enhance recovery) as well as inulin (for superior nutrient absorption) and other strength and health promoting ingredients.  MAXIMUS should be used once or twice daily as a high quality and effective growth promoting meal. 

RESULTS: is the most effective non-hormonal size and strength supplement on the market, bar none! RESULTS will literally make you significantly bigger and stronger within two weeks of use.  Use once per day, with timing being less important than daily use. 

ETS: promotes enhanced recovery and dramatically reduced muscle soreness.  This program is very intense and ETS will help you to maximally benefit from it.  ETS should be taken once in the morning and once in the evening (4 capsules each time).


If you follow this program as outlined, you and those you know will be amazed with the results.  There is nothing else to be said…  DO IT!!!

Chris Mason – Off Season Lat Spread

Written by Christopher Mason

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Building a Monster Upper Back discussion thread.

Eating Optimally for Massive Size and Strength

If one were to poll strength trainees nearly all of them would tell you that testosterone is the most important hormone for size and strength.  Testosterone’s importance cannot be argued, but insulin rivals it in terms of results in the gym and plays an even more crucial role in overall health. 

Insulin’s association with blood sugar is generally well known, but what is less known is its ability to mediate protein synthesis and thus skeletal muscle recovery and potential growth. 

Insulin sensitivity, or the body’s receptiveness to its effects, is key to optimal health and results in the gym.  While insulin can be taken exogenously (from outside of the body), its management via dietary manipulation is the method of choice for optimal long term results (in healthy individuals).  Insulin management to maximize protein synthesis and thus potential and actual muscular growth will be the focus of this article.

Eating Specifically for Hypertrophy

Whether you are trying to gain body mass for athletic or aesthetic purposes, the end goal of eating for size is to add as much lean muscle mass as possible while mitigating increases in body fat.  Make no mistake; optimization of lean muscle accruement necessitates the addition of some body fat. 

In order to foster optimum growth, the body must have the nutrients necessary to do the job when needed.  This translates to essentially a continuous need.  Why?  Muscle growth does not follow any exact timeframe.  It is nigh impossible to assure the correct nutrients are in abundant supply at all times without consuming an excess of calories.  Interestingly enough, even without training, a percentage of excess caloric intake will be stored as lean muscle tissue.  The addition of resistance training can greatly increase this percentage, and the combination of an excess caloric intake and resistance training is the only way to truly optimize the addition of lean muscle mass. 

Eating a lot is important, but there is a limit to the benefit derived from excess caloric intake.  Too many calories for too long of a period of time results in an unacceptably high increase in body fat and the potential health problems associated with it (depressed testosterone, insulin resistance etc.).  How does one consume a surplus of calories in order to foster optimal muscular hypertrophy, but avoid excess deposition of body fat?  The key is nutrient control and timing.

Carbohydrate Control and Nutrient Timing

Insulin has a tremendous effect on hypertrophy, but is also a potent promoter of fat storage.  It is released in response to any foods consumed, but sugars and starches (complex carbohydrates) generally elicit a greater insulin response than other foodstuffs.  Timing, quantity, and form of carbohydrate ingestion are very important when one is trying to optimize the addition of lean body mass. 

Carbohydrate consumption should be limited to roughly 25-30% of total caloric intake.  Fibrous carbs in the form of vegetables (corn, lettuce, broccoli, carrots etc.) and legumes (dried peas, baked beans, lentils, lima beans etc.) should constitute roughly 20-30% of total carb intake. 

Studies have demonstrated that insulin has both an active and permissive effect on protein synthesis, but this effect is only optimized in the presence of amino acids (1).  Nutrient intake should thus both spike insulin release and provide ample amino acids.   This means that simple or complex carbs should be consumed with quality sources of protein. 

Spiking insulin allows for enhanced muscle protein synthesis (MPS), but chronically high levels of insulin and excess caloric intake can lead to insulin insensitivity and this should be avoided at all costs.  Insulin spikes should therefore be deliberately induced a controlled number of times daily.  This is where it gets really interesting, and is the basis of my current theory relative to proper eating for athletes.  Studies have shown that postprandial (after a meal) MPS remains elevated for roughly 2-3 hours (longer with a high fat meal) (2).  Ingestion of more amino acids, or another protein containing meal within 4-6 hours will not renew or further enhance MPS (this blows the traditional bodybuilding idea of eating protein every 2 hours out of the water) (2).  Of extreme interest to me (perhaps kind of a unifying theory of nutrition) is that the 2-3 hour period of postprandial MPS elevation closely mimics the timeline for postprandial insulin elevation (2)!  Ahhhh, now we are getting somewhere!  We know that optimized protein synthesis is only possible in the presence of insulin and ample amino acids.  We also know that spiking insulin too often is counterproductive and potentially harmful to one’s health. 

Finally, we know that MPS can only effectively be stimulated once every 4-6 hours…  Soooo, what to do?  The answer is deceptively simple.  Consume meals with simple or complex carbs and quality protein every 4-6 waking hours, or 3-4 times per day.  This allows for maximized protein synthesis throughout the day with a controlled limit on insulin release.  

Pre and Post-Workout Nutrition 

As with everything relative to human physiology, nutrient timing is not quite as simple as stated above for those looking to optimize performance.  The primary exceptions are pre and post-workout nutrition. 

Recent studies have demonstrated that pre-workout (PW) nutrition may have an even greater effect on post-workout (PWO) MPS than PWO nutrition (3).  The theory behind the potential increased benefit of PW nutrition is that the muscular contractions during exercise may drive a greater amount of amino acids into the muscle cells thus providing for a greater availability of said amino acids for MPS (amino acid availability is considered a rate limiting factor in MPS) (3). 

PW and PWO nutrition are unique in that they do not follow the rules of standard nutrition.  Nutrients consumed at these times, within reasonable limits, are used almost exclusively for anabolic or performance related purposes.  The insulin spike elicited by PW & PWO nutrition is essentially only anabolic in nature as the likelihood of fat deposition is slim to nil. 

With the above said, on training days when one is incorporating both PW and PWO nutrition, care should be taken to limit spiking of insulin to 2-3 other times during the day. 

Calculating Your Caloric Needs and a Sample Diet

Many authors and gurus provide exacting formulas which they purport everyone can use to calculate their caloric needs.  This is pure bunk.  The unique physiology and life circumstance of each individual preclude such formulas.  With that said, it is possible for me to provide you a framework with which you can calculate an initial caloric intake geared to maximizing size and strength. 

Assuming your body weight is currently relatively constant, the best way to come up with a starting intake for your new diet is to keep a food and beverage log for a period of one week.  Be sure to record ALL calorie containing foods and beverages and do your best to record accurate serving sizes.  I recommend to then calculate the total number of calories you consumed in the 7 day period.  Once the total is obtained, divide it by 7 to come up with your average daily intake.  Take this number and add 500 calories per day.  This will be your initial daily intake. 

Adjustments to this figure should be made in 300 caloric blocks (either 300 more, or less, calories daily) every 2 weeks depending on progress in the gym, body weight, and body fat deposition.  In other words, if you find you are gaining too much body fat too quickly, reduce your daily intake by 300 calories for a period of 2 weeks and then revaluate your needs.  Conversely, if you feel that you are not adding excessive body fat and your total body weight is not climbing, adjust your daily intake upwards by 300 calories.  Continue this process until you have reached your goal, and or decide to pursue other physical goals.

I just stated it is folly to provide specific cookie-cutter caloric intake recommendations, but I also realize there will be many readers who do not wish to go through the complete process outlined above.  For those people, I am going to provide specific calorie counts for them to calculate an initial daily intake.  Due to the less exacting nature of this method, the first couple of bi-weekly adjustments take on an even greater importance.

Initial Daily Intake Formulation

  • Teen + (17-22 years old): 25+ calories per pound of body weight (ex: 170 lbs trainee = 170 x 25 = 4,250 + calories)
  • Adult (23-35 years old): 23 calories per pound of body weight
  • Mature Adult (36-49 years old): 21 calories per pound of body weight
  • Older Adult (50+ years of age): For this group I recommend that caloric intake is maintained at a more moderate level.  Follow the other tenets laid forth in this article, but keep caloric intake in the 16-18 calories per pound of body weight range.

Below is a sample approximately 3,700 calorie per day diet.  It includes both solid foods and nutritional supplements and incorporates the tenets laid out in this article.  The right nutritional supplements, while not necessary to gaining size and strength, are necessary to maximizing said gains.

Sample diet – approx 3,700 calories

Meal 1 (controlled high insulin spike):

5 fried eggs (whole)
453 calories – 34g fat, 3g carb, 31g prot

RESULTS (1 serving in water)
320 calories – 80g carb

ETS (4 capsules)
<10 calories – 2g prot

Total: 783 calories – 34g fat, 83g carb, 33g prot

Note: The 80g of dextrose in RESULTS stimulates a powerful insulin response.  Combined with the high quality egg protein, it is a perfect first meal of the day to jumpstart MPS.

Meal 2 (controlled high insulin spike):

Turkey breast sandwich (10 Oscar Myer cold cut slices, 2 x 1 oz. slices American cheese, 2 slices rye bread, 1 teaspoon mustard)
463 calories – 17g fat, 40g carb, 35g prot

Broccoli (cooked – 2cups)
181 calories – 10g fat, 19g carb, 11g prot

Total: 644 calories – 27g fat, 59g carb, 46g prot

Note: The carbs from the bread stimulate a potent insulin response, and the turkey breast and cheese provide the amino acids necessary to spike MPS.

Meal 3 (controlled high insulin spike):

Opticen (with 2 servings in water)
Total: 744 calories – 16g fat, 70g carb, 80g prot

Note: Simple carbs and high quality protein with a liquid delivery, another recipe for peak MPS.

Meal 4 (controlled, but more moderate insulin spike):

Chicken breasts (2 large – roasted)
867 calories – 34g fat, 131g prot

Green beans (string – cooked – 2 cups)
166 calories – 9g fat, 21g carbs, 5g prot

Black beans (cooked – 1 cup)
293 calories – 12g fat, 34g carbs, 13g prot

Total: 1326 calories – 55g fat, 55g carb, 149g prot

Note: Superior quality protein combined with complex carbs for a sufficient insulin response to promote enhanced MPS.

Meal 5 – Pre-bed Snack (carb free, relatively low insulin response):

Nitrean (2 servings in water)
220 calories- 2g fat, <4g carbs, 48g prot

ETS (4 capsules)
<10 calories – 2g prot

Total: 230calories – 4g fat, <4g carb, 50g prot

Note: High quality protein with virtually no carbs in order to minimize the insulin response.  This snack will provide a more muted MPS stimulus.


  • Calories – ~3717
  • Fat grams – 135 – 33% of calories
  • Carb grams – 271 – 29% of calories
  • Protein – 358 – 38% of calories

On training days, meal 3 should be split in two and used for PW and PWO shakes.


You need insulin to optimize protein synthesis and thus potential growth.  Too much insulin too often results in insulin insensitivity and a host of potential health problems.  Controlled daily insulin releases are the solution.  On non-training days a mix of simple and complex carbs should be consumed with a high quality protein for a total of 3-4 meals per day consumed every 4-6 hours.  Training days should include 2-3 simple and complex carb containing meals along with a pre and post workout shake which contains both protein and carbs. 

Written by Chris Mason

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Eating Optimally for Massive Size and Strength discussion thread.


1. Roy, B.D., J.R. Fowles, R. Hill, and M.A. Tarnopolsky. Macronutrient intake and whole body protein metabolism following resistance exercise.  Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 32, No.8, pp. 1412-1418, 2000.

2. Norton, L. Optimal protein intake and meal frequency to support maximal protein synthesis and muscle mass.  Available online.

3. Volek, J. Supplement Staples for 2009 – Protein is