Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Other Kind of Hardgainer

The Other Kind of Hardgainer[1]

     I think a majority of lifters—even ones who have been training a long time and should know better—mistakenly believe that there are two kinds of training in the lifting world today.  First off, you have your “high volume” training.  It’s not necessarily that there’s anything wrong with this kind of training, or so the train of thought goes, but this kind of training—multiple sets per bodypart, multiple days per week of training, fairly high reps, and going for “the pump”—is for those lifters and bodybuilders who respond well to this kind of thing, usually thought to be “genetically elite” men.  The majority of lifters, or so the line of thought continues, would do well with more infrequent training, but an infrequent training that is combined with minimalist training performed all-out!  In the bodybuilding world, the second line of thought was most espoused by Mike Mentzer and the rest of his ill-begotten ilk.[2]  For instance, when I first got into training in my teenage years, this brief-but-intense theory of hardgainer training was preached over and over in the pages of Iron Man magazine by such writers as Mentzer, Steve Holman, and Stuart McRobert.  And, since I was very skinny at the time (I weighed about 135 pounds when I graduated high school), it made sense that this kind of training would be more appropriate for me—after all, many of the writers I enjoyed reading at the time, ensured me that this was the case.  (As an interesting side note, let me add this: When I started training almost 25 years ago, it wasn’t just the pages of Iron Man that told me I was a hardgainer, but it was other people that I trained with or people that I met in the gym.  I was, after all, not blessed with “good genetics” since I was just so damn skinny.  Fast forward to today.  I will be 40 in a couple of months, and currently weigh about 210—though my weight fluctuates between 195 and 215 on average, depending on the kind of diet I’m following—and when I tell people that they should train frequently with quite a bit of sets and fairly heavy weight, I sometimes get accused of being an “easy gainer”.  It is assumed that, because I am muscular and fairly strong at almost 40, a lot of my gains must be a product of “good genetics”.  To other people, I just “look” as if I’m a product of these so-called “good genetics”—what a load of crap!  I went from “bad” to “good” genetics with years and years of heavy power training—combined with quite a few months of bodyweight-only training utilized here and there; but that’s for another article—performed frequently.)
     But it’s not to bodybuilders that this article is really addressed—it’s for lifters out there who want to be as big and strong as possible on all of the core lifts: squats, power cleans, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses in all of their varieties, etc.  It could be that you feel as if you are a “hardgainer” because you’ve tried both forms of lifting, lots of sets performed frequently and minimalist training performed hard-as-hell, and you’re still not getting the gains that you think should be coming your way.
     If Mike Mentzer, and Arthur Jones before him, were responsible for the “high intensity” attitude among bodybuilders, then I suppose you could blame the same hardgainer-mentality-for-lifters on Brooks Kubrik and Ken Leistner before him.  (Let me add right now that I have the utmost respect for both of these guys, but I don’t think that some of their training—as in all of Leistner’s stuff and Kubrik’s early stuff; he seems to have retreated from some of his H.I.T.-style training as he ages—is all that effective for a lot of lifters.)  Kubrik’s “Dinosaur Training” book was a huge influence on me around 1996 or 1997—I can’t really remember the exact year—but mainly for its emphasis on heavy singles training, multiple sets of low reps workouts, and odd lifts.  I got the best results from this kind of training, however, when I got away from the 2-days-per-week training and the high-rep “death sets” (both of which Kubrik recommended), and instead started lifting 4 and 5 days per week using many of the same principles but not “all-out”.
     Which finally brings us around the subject of this article: training for the “other kind of hardgainer”.  I propose that there is a 3rd way of training that should be more commonly discussed when debating how the “average lifter” should train.  (And if you’ve read only smattering of my articles, I have a feeling that you know where I’m going with this…)
     I’ve been pushing HFT (high-frequency training) for several years now, and it’s become rather popular among a lot of lifters and trainers—at least the ones that are “in the know”; it’s still not very well-known or used by the average gym rat.  But this kind of training is nothing new.  Part of what made Kubrik’s “Dinosaur Training” so fascinating was his interest in and discussion of the “old-time” lifters—men such as John Grimek, Arthur Saxon, and Herman Goerner (he of the famous 727 lb one-arm deadlift), to name a few.  But the more you read about the training of the old-timers, the more you realize that they were emphatically not followers of H.I.T. principles.  They trained very frequently, as in every day, only taking a day off when they felt as if they really needed it.  Their training, if anything, would be more “grease-the-groove” than H.I.T.
     If you are going to train frequently, then it’s best to not train to failure—or even close—the majority of your workouts.  Goerner once said that it’s best to be progressive in adding weight to your sets, but to “never, ever” train to your absolute limit.  And Grimek said that he never strained himself while training, even though he could still squat over 600 lbs in his 70s, and had 19-inch arms in his prime!
     As for what this kind of training actually looks like when it’s put into practice, I don’t think you can go wrong with my “30 Rep Program.” It’s at least a good place to start until you can be more “instinctive” in your training.

[1] Let me say right off the bat that, first, I don’t believe in “hargainers”.  I think it’s a load of crap (for the most part), and, second, the title of this article is an homage to Bill Starr, who wrote an article by the same name many years ago in Iron Man magazine.
[2] In case you haven’t noticed—not just in this post, but in many others—I have little regard for Mike Mentzer.  His early training was actually pretty good, and nothing like the foolish crap he started recommending in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.  But my disdain for him has much more to do with his indoctrination of “objectivism”—and his subsequent “pushing” of this philosophy that he espoused in his articles.  Objectivism is the philosophy of the god-awful “philosopher” Ayn Rand.  Unfortunately, this “philosophy” has enjoyed something of a comeback in recent years, mainly due to the love Rand gets from the Tea Party, and other such neo-libertarians.  If you are a follower of any philosophy that espouses such beliefs as love, compassion for your fellow man, humility, and kindness, then you should stay the hell away from Ayn Rand at all costs.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Basic Bodyweight Program

     In past articles/posts, I have discussed the benefits of bodyweight-only – and bodyweight-primary – strength training.  Since I first started blogging about bodyweight training few years ago, I have received many emails from readers who are interested in this stuff.  The readers usually want one of two things.  One, they just want to tell me how much they have been enjoying bodyweight strength training, and they want to offer their two cents on how effective/ enjoyable this kind of training has been for them.  (I love reading these kind of e-mails because, first, it inspires me, and, second, it means I don’t have to reply to some of the odd-ball questions I occasionally get asked.)  Two, they want to know exactly what kind of program they should be following.  It is to this second set of questioners that this post is addressed – well, sort of.  You see, I think it’s important for people to learn to think for themselves.  When you learn to think for yourself in regards to training, guess what?  You learn to think for yourself in other areas of your life.

     Bodyweight strength training can be confusing for some.  This is especially so if you have been performing a lot of traditional bodybuilding programs that involve lots of “high-intensity” training with heavy weights and plenty of recovery between sessions – which, by the way, I really don’t care much for; that kind of training just isn’t effective for a good number of people.  So, never-the-less, when you are asked to perform very frequent training that involves lots of sets, reps, and very little in the way of external resistance, you will often end up confused as to just how to regulate volume, intensity, and then incorporate this into a weekly schedule.

     Okay, before we get to the nuts and bolts of an actual program, I would like for you to read the following points I made about this kind of training many blog posts ago in some other articles.  (If you just read these points, and ignore the minimalist program at the end of the article, then that’s fine with me.  Creating a workout program – be it bodyweight training or any other form of resistance workouts – is just that: an act of creation.  If you can create a good workout program for yourself, then by all means, do so.)

·         This kind of training should be done frequently. There's no reason that—if bodyweight training is going to be your only form of resistance training—you shouldn't train six-days-per-week for 1 (beginners) to 2 hours (intermediate to advanced) per session.
·         You recover fast from this sort of training. This is good—and bad, I suppose. Not only should you train more frequently, you really need to train more frequently.
·         This stuff is great for conditioning—and getting you in shape fast. As Paul Chek has said, the key to being in great shape is to perform anaerobic exercise until it becomes aerobic. Bodyweight training can easily fit the bill here.
·         Bodyweight-only training is excellent for the athlete who wants to be ageless. You want to live to a ripe old age, and be able to look half your age, have sex like you were half your age, and out train guys half your age? Then these kinds of workouts should be the staple of your training.
·         This kind of training is great for mixed martial artists. If you are into MMA, I would advise that you lift weights 2 days per week (HEAVY) and the other 4 days a week should be comprised of bodyweight-only strength training.
·         When performing bodyweight squats, don't count reps during a set, count the time of your sets. You should work up to 5 to 10 minute sets of squats. Then you will be in very good shape.
·         This kind of training teaches you to eat well. You can't do these workouts and eat like a super-heavyweight powerlifting competitor—you'd be winded within 5 minutes of starting your workout. You need lots of lean protein, and plenty of complex and fibrous carbohydrates.
·         Everyone should do this kind of training at least once per week. (Yes, that even goes for your super-heavy powerlifters I was talking about.)
·         These workouts are great as "extra workouts" in your powerlifting arsenal, especially if your workouts in the gym are mainly comprised of "maximal effort" training and "dynamic effort" training.
·         You will not lose your muscle mass if you switch over from typical bodybuilding training to bodyweight-only training. Don't believe me? Try doing 100 push-ups, 50 chins, and 500 bodyweight squats six days per week for the next month. You'll be absolutely- friggin' sold on bodyweight training at that point (more on this below).

Just the Basics, Performed Frequently
     This is one of the easiest – and, yet, most effective – workouts that you can ever perform.  (Hell, I just mentioned it in the last bullet point.)  Simply perform 100 push-ups, 50 chins, and 500 bodyweight squats 6 days a week.

     Sounds simple – which it is – but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy.  The first day that you do it, it actually may be easy.  The next day you might be surprised how sore you are, especially if you haven’t performed this kind of workout any time in the recent past.  But, no problem, you should still be able to do it on the second day without being in too much pain.

     By the 3rd day, however, things are going to get tougher.  You may have to take more time to get through the workout.  Just make sure you do it, no matter what.

     The 4th and 5th days probably won’t be much easier, but once again just make sure that you complete the workout.

     Usually, by the 6th day, most trainees have adapted to the program enough that it’s relatively easy to perform.  In fact, by the time you’ve finished two weeks on the program, you may feel the “itch” to do more – resist that particular itch.  Stick with the program “as is” for at least one month.  The program works from the accumulative effect of daily training (high frequency, high volume, low intensity), not from adding more and more work to it.

     Of course, you can only do this program for so long before complete boredom sets in and/or you need to do more work.

     Also, feel free to combine this with more traditional methods of lifting.  For instance, you can do this 2 days each week, combined with 3 to 4 days of regular barbell and dumbbell workouts.  Alternatively, you could also do this program 3 to 4 days each week, combined with 1 or 2 days of the traditional training.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The 30-Rep Program

The 30-Rep Program
     A word of note before you read this article: This workout has nothing in common with my “30-Rep Workout” post from several months ago.  That was more about a suggestive way to occasionally train.  This is about an in-depth “program” meant to be used for the long haul.

     Dan John’s “40 Day Program” has long enamored me.  I have used it once “to the T”, and I have used slight variations of it at other times over the last two or three years.  The reason that I haven’t used it more often—and the reason that I think most lifters don’t use it, even if they know about it—is because I (and they) find it, well, a bit boring on the one hand, and I think if done incorrectly it can lead to overtraining one’s movement pattern.  In the first, it can be boring because you are doing the exact same exercises for the same number of total reps each and every time that you train.  In the second, it can potentially overtrain your movement pattern if you choose exercises such as the deadlift, the flat barbell bench press, or the barbell curl—and these are some of the exercises that John recommends in his original article on the subject.  (There are other exercises, however, such as squats, overhead presses, cleans, and snatches that can be performed very frequently for much longer than 40 days, but we’ll get around to that shortly.)
     But is there possibly a “better” way to train while sticking to much of the same workout qualities that make the original program so damn good?  A way of training that will allow you to perform the program for however long you wish to follow it, even if it’s for years?  (Not that I think anyone would actually want to follow this program for that length of time, but you certainly could.)  The answer, I think, is a resounding “yes” on both accounts.
     Before we get around to the program I have in mind, you need to have at least a working understanding of John’s 40-Day Program.  You can, of course, read the entire article—which I recommend—by following the link above.  But I realize that many of you probably won’t do that, so here’s the “gist” of the entire workout from the original article:
     A few years ago, Pavel Tsatsouline, noted kettlebell master and perhaps the keenest mind in strength I've ever met, gave me a simple program. Be wary, this program is so simple that you'll ignore its value.
     1. For the next 40 workouts, do the exact same training program every day. (For the record, I find that most of my goals are reached by day 20 or 22, so you can also opt for a shorter period.)
     2. Pick five exercises. I suggest you do a squatting movement like the goblet squat or overhead squat as part of the warm-up, as you don't want to ignore the movement, but it might be fun to focus on other aspects of your body.
     3. Focus on these five movements:
     • A large posterior chain movement (the deadlift is the right answer)
     • Upper body push (bench press, incline bench press, military press)
     • Upper body pull (pull-ups, rows, or, if you've ignored them like me, heavy bicep curls)
     • A simple full-body explosive move (kettlebell swings or snatches)
     • And something for what I call an "anterior chain" move (an abdominal exercise). I think the ab wheel is king here, but you can also do some movements best suited for lower reps.
     4. Only do two sets of five reps per workout for the deadlift and push/pull exercises, and one set of 20 to 50 for the explosive move. Do a solid single set of five reps for the abs.
     5. Never plan or worry about the weight or the load. Always stay within yourself and go heavy "naturally."
     6. Don't eat chalk, scream, or pound on walls. Simply do each lift without any emotion or excitement and strive for perfect technique.
     So, the workout might consist of these five movements:
     Thick bar deadlift
Bench press
     Heavy biceps curls
Kettlebell swings
Ab wheel
     For the record, this is exactly what I recently used in my workouts. I often did this five days a week, and found that my lifts naturally waved up and down throughout the week and the full 40 days. Sometimes, something like a 250-pound bench press would feel so light for both sets of five that I had to hold back on the excitement to do more sets and reps.
     The secret to the program is that you get your volume from doing up to ten sets of a lift in a week and the load increases as you naturally feel like the weights are "easy." It is that simple.
     The first time I tried this program under Pavel's direction, I added 15 pounds to my lifetime incline bench press during the twenty-first workout, approximately a month after starting the program. I did this max with no spotter and I got the lift for a double. It was a 15-pound improvement over my lifetime best with an extra rep as a parting gift without doing a single hard workout. Just two sets of five anytime I entered the gym.
     You can certainly come up with your own variations, but try to stick with the basic five movements and don't stray far from two sets of five. You'll be amazed at how quickly your strength will improve after just a few weeks. Also, notice the element of randomness in this workout.
     With a home gym, I can train this program daily, but I naturally find that I take days off here and there simply because of the nature of life. You could do all 40 (or 20) days in a row, but things will come up.
     After finishing either all 40 days or when you feel your strength has come up to a level that more advanced training methods are appropriate, feel free to move along. The short time you invest in focusing on strength building will do wonders for your muscle mass as you begin to attack super sets or whatever you deem important.[1]
The 30-Rep Program
     The program that follows keeps the inherent qualities of John’s program that I love: the moderate volume, the high frequency of training, performing a few core, basic lifts.  But it adds in two elements that allow you to perform the program as long as you feel like doing it: exercise variety and breaks.
     With all of that being said, here is the “gist” of this program:
     1. Pick 8 to 10 exercises that you want to get strong on—they should all be “bang for your buck” exercises.  These are the only lifts you will do throughout the course of the program.  My suggested list of exercises are the following:
  • Squats
  • Bench presses
  • Standing overhead presses
  • Deadlifts
  • Power cleans
  • Snatches
  • Barbell curls
  • Deficit deadlifts
  • Front squats
  • Dumbbell rows
     2. At every single workout, pick three of these exercises to train.  For each exercise, you will only do a total of 10 reps.  You can do 2 sets of 5, 5 sets of 2, 3 sets of 3 (yes, I realize it’s not 10 reps, but close enough), or 3 sets of 2, 3, and 5 reps.  This will work out to a total of 30 reps per workout for your core lifts.
     3. As a goal, train at least 5 days per week.  And always train at least 2 days in a row before taking a day off.  After a few weeks on the program, if you need 2 or 3 days off consecutively, then by all means, take the break.
     4. Slowly increase the amount of weight you do at each workout.  This should not be a “forced” thing.  As Dan John says in his 40-Day Program, you should go heavy “naturally.”
     5. Perform more squats, overhead work, snatches, and power cleans throughout the program than flat bench presses, deadlfits, barbell curls, or rows.  The former movements are all “built” for frequent training.
     6. When you are finished with the 3 exercises for the day, then add one “odd lift” movement as a finisher.  Sandbag carries, sled drags, farmer’s walks are three excellent choices, for instance.  None of these exercises should be done “all out.”  Slowly build up on the amount of work you do on your odd lifts as you do on the barbell movements.
     And, finally, as recommended in the 40-Day Program, do not get “psyched up” for any of the lifts. “Simply do each lift without any emotion or excitement and strive for perfect technique.”
     Since I can already predict the number of emails I’ll be receiving, asking me to “lay out” the program in more simplistic terms, here’s a sample week of training to help you understand:
Day One:
  • Squats: 2 sets of 5 reps
  • Bench presses: 2 sets of 5 reps
  • Deadlifts: 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Sandbag carries
Day Two:
  • Front squats: 2 sets of 5 reps
  • Overhead presses: 3 sets of 5, 3, and 2 reps
  • Barbell curls: 2 sets of 5 reps
  • Farmer’s walks
Day Three: off
Day Four:
  • Squats: 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Power cleans: 5 sets of 2 reps
  • Overhead presses: 2 sets of 5 reps
  • Sled drags
Day Five:
  • Front squats: 3 sets of 5, 3, and 2 reps
  • Snatches: 5 sets of 2 reps
  • Dumbbell rows: 2 sets of 5 reps
  • Sandbag carries
Day Six:
  • Squats: 2 sets of 5 reps
  • Bench Presses: 2 sets of 5 reps
  • Power cleans: 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Farmer’s walks
Day Seven: Off
     That’s pretty much it.  I could write more about why I think this kind of program is effective—especially for older lifters—but I’ll save that for another post.

[1] From “The 40-Day Program” by Dan John, in the online magazine T-Nation, published 5-19-2009

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Vegan Muscle Building

Vegan Muscle Building

     I spend about half of every year as a vegan.  In other words, for about half of the year I never eat meat or any form of dairy—milk, eggs, cheese, butter, etc.  I don’t do this because I necessarily feel it’s the healthiest way to eat—although I must admit that my blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides do improve while eating this way—or because I think it’s a good way to build muscle.  I do it for religious reasons.  A few years ago, I converted to Orthodox Christianity.  Part of being Orthodox is living an ascetical life, and that ascetical life includes “fasting”, i.e. abstaining from meat and dairy.  Orthodox do this on every Wednesday and Friday throughout the entire year as well as 40 days before Christmas (the Nativity fast, sometimes called Advent), 40 days before Easter (Lent), and there are a few other fasts of a few weeks duration scattered here and there throughout the liturgical calendar—Dormition fast, Apostles’ fast, to name a couple.
     I am not going to get into the “religious” reasons for fasting from an Orthodox perspective, but if you find it interesting, here’s a link to a wonderful (and short) article written by Father Stephen Freeman entitled “The Nativity Fast.”  No, the purpose of this article is to explain some of the benefits and some of the problems I have found with eating vegan from a power training/muscle building perspective; and to explain how I believe you can best build muscle and strength while on a vegan diet.
     First off, let me dispel a common myth: that you can’t get bigger and stronger on a vegan diet.  I can say, without a doubt, that’s a load of crap.  The truth is simply that it’s often harder to get big and strong on a vegan diet because you have to make better choices; primarily you have to ensure that you are getting an adequate amount of protein from your diet, as well as enough fat.
     The most common problem with eating vegan—even for those who aren’t hard-training athletes—is the lack of protein, and enough protein that has a full array of amino acids.  When you are eating meat and dairy, it’s incredibly easy to get adequate protein with a good amino acid profile, but when eating vegan you have to make the right choices.
     One of the common pitfalls—probably the pitfall—with vegan bodybuilding is to simply get all of your protein from protein shakes—there are numerous vegan protein powders and meal replacements on the market.  You will always build more muscle and strength (not to mention be healthier) when eating whole foods than when using supplements.  This is the same whether you choose to go vegan or not.
     The following foods are some of my favorite whole food protein sources when eating vegan:
  • Beans: I prefer black, pinto, and kidney beans.  One cup of any of these beans packs approximately 15 grams of protein.
  • Hemp seeds
  • Nut butter: This doesn’t have to just be peanut butter.  Almond butter and cashew butter are also particularly good—almond butter’s my favorite.
  • Veggies: Yes, you read that correctly—a lot of vegetables have more protein than you realize.  Spinach, kale, and peas are some of my usual choices.  (Maybe Popeye wasn’t that wrong after all!)
  • Tofu: Tofu is popular among most vegans because not only does it have a good deal of protein but it’s also quite cheap.  It does help, however, if you know how to cook with it.  Luckily for me, my wife makes some tasty tofu dishes, which means this will always be high on my list.
  • Lentils:  You can do a lot with lentils, including make some kick-ass veggie burgers (another thing my wife does well).  And the great thing about lentils is that they are higher in protein the rest of the stuff on this list.  One cup packs about 18 grams of protein!
     If you still need additional protein after eating several whole-food meals each day—I think the ol’ standby of 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each day is still a good rule to start with—then, by all means, supplement your diet with a protein shake.  I prefer a rice protein powder to other forms of vegan protein, but that’s simply a personal taste, it doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of the protein necessarily.  And my favorite powder is Sun Warrior vanilla-flavored rice protein.  And as far as meal replacements go, I like the Raw Meal brand meal replacement.
     The one thing I would not recommend supplementing your diet with is soy protein of any sort.  Although the jury may still be out—soy protein definitely has its defenders as well as its detractors—I think there’s enough evidence that soy raises estrogen levels and inhibits proper thyroid function that I would stay the heck away from it.
     The second thing that you need to make sure you get enough of is fat.  A lot of people mistakenly believe that they get a lot of their energy from carbohydrates, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true.  While I don’t have the “science” to back it up, I find that my energy levels are much better when on a higher fat diet.  I personally like to get around 30-40% of my daily caloric intake from fat.  I’m not the only vegan lifter, by the way, to say such a thing.  Here’s what Mike Mahler—a kick-ass writer, strength trainer, and vegan has to say about getting enough fat in your diet:
     “Fat is a great source of energy and lasts much longer than carbohydrates. When I do not have enough fat in my diet, my energy and mood go down the drain. Fat fuel is what works best for me. You will have to experiment to see what works best for you.
     “Without enough fat in your diet, your skin will dry up, your energy will plummet, and you will look like death. Getting 20-40% or more of your calories from fat is a good way to go. Load up on healthy fats such as: Hempseed olive oil, almonds, walnuts, marine algae DHA, pecans, almond butter, and avocadoes.”[1]
     As far as macronutrient percentages throughout the day goes, I don’t think you can go wrong with 40% fat, 30% protein, and 30% carbohydrates.  Make sure that your carbs are from good sources.  I like to get my carbs from a combination of an array of fruits, veggies, and whole grains—whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, and brown rice primarily.
     When attempting to build muscle on a vegan diet, be sure that you are consuming enough calories on a daily basis.  If you are trying to build muscle and burn fat (or at least burn fat and retain muscle), consume approximately 10 times your bodyweight in calories each day.  If you want to gain muscle while still keeping your bodyfat relatively low, then 12 times your bodyweight in calories daily should be adequate.  And if you’re trying to gain as much muscle as possible (while still not gaining much fat), then consume about 15 times your bodyweight each day.
Personal Experiences with Eating Vegan
     Before I get too much further into this discussion, let me say this right from the start: When I eat vegan for extended periods of time, I feel great, however I often lose weight—muscle, fat, and water.  Before Christmas and before Easter, for instance, I spend these 40 days of “fasting” by training less and by eating very little some days.  However, as soon as I get off the fast, I gain a lot of muscle—and fast!  It’s nothing for me to gain 10 to 15 pounds the two weeks after Christmas or Easter.  The combination of doubling—maybe even tripling—my caloric intake and training on an almost daily basis does wonders for my mass gains.
     Which brings up the point that perhaps this kind of eating is beneficial even for those of you who have no interest in “fasting” for religious reasons, but would like to do it in order to see “quick” gains afterward.  Perhaps even “micro-cycles” of such vegan fasting would be highly productive for building muscle during the course of a week—3 days of vegan fasting followed by 4 days of high-caloric intake.  Of course, you wouldn’t have to resort to eating meat or dairy during the 4 high calorie days, either.  You could simply increase the amount of protein and total calories consumed during the 4-day intervals.
     The other times when I eat vegan apart from Advent and Lent, I never lose muscle or am adversely affected by the lack of animal proteins.  During these days—Wednesday and Friday of each week, and the other, shorter, fasts throughout the year—I always maintain my muscle mass and my strength by applying the principle discussed above.


If you enjoyed this article, then here's an additional resource that you may want to check out:

It's from Integral Strength's new friends at "Mass Gain Source".  If you want to check out their main page, you can also click their link on our sidebar!

[1]Making the Vegan Diet Work” by Mike Mahler, from his online magazine, Aggressive Strength.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Texas Volume Training Part Two: Adding Muscle Mass

     This is a second part in a series on (what I call) Texas Volume Training.  It would serve you well to read the first article before starting this one.  The program presented here is strictly for powerlifters (or lifters who want to spend some time building their powerlifts) who are interested in building muscle – whether it’s purely for ascetical reasons or whether it’s because they are interested in moving up a weight class.
     The program presented here is not for lifters who need to stay in the same weight class or who are trying to drop bodyweight.  (To be honest, the original article on Texas Volume Training isn’t for this class of people, either.  The volume is just too high, making it well-nigh impossible to not gain some amount of muscle.)
     What follows is much of the original article (including the “template” from the first article) with a lot of additional commentary for changing up the program so that you are adding muscle.
     First, let’s look at the “template” for this program.  Once the template is properly understood, we can discuss the nuances that add the most muscle mass.
Day One – High Volume Squatting, High Volume Upper Body
Day Two – High Intensity Deadlifting
Day Three – Recovery Squatting
Day Four – Off
Day Five – Maximal Squatting, Maximal Bench Pressing
Day Six – Off
Day Seven – Off
     Day One should be the toughest training day of the week.  You should be training with percentages and volumes that don’t make you look forward to the training day.  For starting out, I recommend a minimum of 8 “working” sets on squats and whatever bench pressing exercise you choose.  I think 10 to 15 sets should be even better.  Do a few warm up sets, then commence with 10 to 15 sets of either 5 reps, 3 reps, or 2 reps on the squats.  Use a weight where you know you can get all of your sets and reps, but a weight that’s still tough – between 75 and 85% of your one rep maximum is probably ideal, depending on the reps.  When you are finished with the squats, you probably won’t feel like performing an upper body pressing exercise, but do it anyway, and use the same set/rep scheme that you used for squats.  If you’re weaker on your upper body exercise that you’re used to, that’s okay.  You’ll adapt.  It may take a couple of weeks, but you’ll soon be utilizing weight that’s comparative to what you were previously using when not squatting before benching.[1]
     Since your goal on this program is to gain as much muscle as possible, you need to make sure that your set numbers are on the high end – 10 sets minimum for squatting and bench pressing, instead of my original recommendation of at least 8 sets.  Let me say right here, however, and this is something that needs to be made perfectly clear: there’s no way you can do this much work unless you have built up the work capacity to do so.  If you are new to training, this methodology is obviously not for you.  Also, even if you have been performing fairly frequent training (something such as one of my H-L-M programs or something similar), make sure you spend at least 8 weeks doing a basic TVT program that doesn’t have any extra work associated with it – in other words, no assistance work on any of the training days.  Simply squat and bench press on the volume and intensity days (nothing more), and do nothing other than deadlifts on your deadlifting day – whether it’s an “intensity” day or a “volume” day.  Also, on the recovery day, perform squats and nothing more.
     With that being said, once you have built up the work capacity to do this program, it’s time to crank up the volume even more.  Here’s what Nick Horton has to say about his “Squat Nemesis” program and I think his line of thought is perfectly applicable here (and this is for those of you who are reading this and thinking there’s no way in hell that you can possibly perform the kind of volume I’m going to recommend):
     “Americans have a strange and obsessive fear of over-training syndrome. And yet, in all of my years of coaching, and as hard as I have tried to over-train my athletes – on purpose – I have failed to do so, miserably.
     Every year, I have upped the amount of work I expect from my lifters. And every year the results come faster.
     If you think hard about this for a second, it makes sense why this has happened.
·         Do you think Navy Seals take light days?
·         Do you think the Samurai did?
·         Do you think wolves in the wild avoid sprinting after their prey because they did HIIT yesterday?
     Of course not. Our species, like most, is built to do work – a lot of it.
     All throughout history, we have been forced by necessity to work our tails off every single day. But now, because our new modern default is to sit around for 17 hours a day and sleep 7, we can’t imagine working out hard in the gym more than 3 times a week.”
     With that little bit of wisdom out of the way, here’s what I want you to do once you are finished with the squats and bench presses: do more work!
     If you were looking for something more profound – or, more likely, more specific – sorry, I hate to disappoint.  But the volume day is the volume day, after all, and that means that the more advanced you get, the more work you need to do.  What you do is up to you, but I will offer a few specific suggestions to help out.
     The first option is what I call the “Sheiko” option – since it mirrors how a lot of Sheiko programs work.  Once you are finished with your bench presses, return to the squats and pick a “volume” set/rep combo to utilize.  I like the classic 5x5 workout, but anything will work – 10 sets of 10 reps, 5 sets of 5/4/3/2/1, 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps, or even one all-out “death set” as a finisher.  If you want, you can also commence with some extra bench press work once the squatting is complete.
     A second option is to include some “bodybuilding” work for either legs or chest (depending on which bodypart/lift needs the most work).  Select 2 or 3 additional exercises and perform each exercise for 3 to 5 sets each.  You can utilize any rep range you want to – 3 to 5 reps, 6 to 8 reps, 12 to 15 reps.  Just do the work!
     An option that I like the best is to perform a “double-split” workout on your volume days.  (Obviously, this is only effective if you have the time to make it to the gym twice in one day.)  At the first workout, perform a typical volume session using just the squat and bench press.  At the second workout, perform the same amount of sets for a higher number of repetitions.  It could be with the same exercise or it could be done in the “bodybuilding” fashion.  If you use the double-split format, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be doing more overall work.  It will allow you to “recover” better, especially if you take advantage of peri-workout nutrition.
     Day Two is your sole deadlifting day of the week.  And, yes, you are going to be sore on this training day, and there is a good chance before you start the session that you will not want to deadlift.  Do it.  Your body will adapt to the training.  (As the Bulgarians say, “Your body becomes its function.”)  Also, you may be surprised at just how strong you are on this day, despite your soreness.  Despite using the same muscles (or at least some of the same muscles) for deadlifting that are used for squatting, the muscles are “challenged” in a different manner, and the bar path is entirely, wholeheartedly different, which is one reason that lifters are often able to deadlift a lot the day after squatting a lot.  (If anyone has performed one of the Sheiko programs, then you know what I’m talking about.)  Also, and this is perhaps entirely unscientific, but it could be that the squatting on the previous day actually neutrally enhances your deadlifting capabilities on this day.  I have personally broken some of my deadlift records the day after I had a big squat session.  When this first happened, I was a little surprised (especially considering how blasted sore my ass often was the day after squatting), but I eventually accepted the fact that that’s just “how it is.”
     For this day, you have a couple of options depending on how you prefer to train your deadlift with maximal loads.  You can simply work up to a max triple, double, or single, or you can do multiple singles with 90-95% of your one rep maximum.  I prefer the second option – at least for the majority of the sessions.  When you are finished deadlifting, then add in an assistance exercise or two.  Deficit deadlifts, high pulls, power cleans, power snatches, are all great complimentary exercises for your deadlift.
     (When attempting to add muscle while on this program, I don’t think you need to do anything extra than the above work on your deadlift day.)
     Day Three is your “light” squatting day.  Work up to about 80% of whatever weight you used on Day One, and perform a few sets of 3 to 5 reps in the squat.  You should feel good when you are finished with this session, better than when you started.  (And, once again, yes, there’s a good chance you will be really sore before this workout.)  This workout really does aid in your ability to recover – not just from Day One’s squatting session, but from the deadlifts too.  Remember this: it’s always better to recover by doing something, than by just sitting around and “resting”.
     Day Four is your first off day.  You should be happy – especially for your first week or two of training.  Enjoy the day off from lifting.  (An “off day” should always be taken because you need it, not because you want to take one.)  Make sure that you are consuming plenty of calories on this day, and on all of your other off days, as well.  One of the primary mistakes lifters make – when trying to gain muscle – is not consuming enough high-quality calories on their off days.  Often, it’s what you eat the day before you train that has the most effects on building muscle.  I discovered this a few years ago while following a H-L-M program.  When I would consume the majority of my calories on the weekend when I wasn’t training (I trained Monday, Wednesday, Friday), I would gain muscle a lot faster than when I didn’t eat as much on those days.  In fact, those days would often be my “cheat days”.  If you want a more scientific explanation as to why this is, this is what Scott Abel has to say about it:
    “I'm not sure where this one (eating less on off days) comes from, but it reflects a bias toward seeing our body as being on the same man made 24-hour clock that guides us from one day to the next. Quite simply our bodies do not work this way, on this time schedule.
     This assumption draws two conclusions that are faulty at best. One is that you can somehow get fat in a day. Not true. Once we've re-programmed the body to be a fat burning machine, then you won't get fat in a day.
     The other assumption is a negation of the hypertrophy process. This process is complex and metabolically expensive. Satellite cells will only fuse with the myocyte to create a bigger cell when very specific conditions are met. These involve a supercompensation effect. Cells must have full storage of nutrients and energy.
     Only at this point will the body build up actin/myosin components triggered from a training effect. This takes time and an understanding of creating supercompensation to energy stores within the cell. Once this happens and cells are properly hydrated, only then will there by a signal for higher concentrations of IGF 1 and 2, which will then, combined with other growth factors, create a bigger cell.
     What all this means is that concentrating on always 'burning off' nutrients, neglects proper storage essential to real growth. Most dieting bodybuilders will tell you they're always hungriest on off days of training. This is essential biofeedback.
     Hunger means two things — fat is being burned (hence the hunger signal), and the body is in "need" of something. This is a very simplistic extrapolation, but true none the less. On the Cycle Diet, my clients and athletes are instructed to take their cheat days, or spike meals on off days from training, and the reason is simple. It's so they can eat MORE, and store MORE.
     Remember, once a fat burning metabolism has been established, then energy goes to where it's needed most. With proper training stimulus, this means nutrient supercompensation within the cells, which is exactly what the aim should be. Eating less on off days misses this entirely because once again the focus is too micro analytical.”[2]
     Of course, you need to eat plenty of your training days too, but there’s no reason to go overboard.  Your body needs enough protein, carbohydrates, and fat in order to grow muscle, but too many “lifters” use heavy power training as an excuse to eat whatever the hell they want to – pizza, beer, buffalo wings, you name it.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of all those foods myself, but everything should be done with sensibility and moderation.
     Back to the training:
     Day Five is your “maximal lift” day for squatting and bench pressing – this is probably the best day to actually perform the flat bench press, instead of some derivative.  Work up over 5 to 7 progressively heavier sets of 5, 3, or 2 reps until you hit your max weight.  Occasionally do some singles – about once every 6 weeks should suffice.  If you have performed a Bill Starr H-L-M program (or one of my H-L-M programs on this blog), then you know exactly what this day should look like, since it should almost mirror the “heavy” day on those programs.
     How you feel on this day should determine whether or not you add any extra work to this training day.  If you feel really strong after performing either the squats or the bench presses, don’t be afraid to utilize some “back-off” sets.  Two or 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps on squats and/or bench presses should do the trick, but don’t go overboard on this day.  Save all of that overboard stuff for the next high volume day.
     The last two training days of the week are “off days”.  On these days, make sure you eat plenty of food – good carbs, good protein, good fat – to prepare yourself for the next high volume squatting and upper body days.  Since you should now understand the importance of getting enough calories on your off days, make sure you are doing so.  For those of you who can’t seem to eat enough – on off or “on” days – here’s my “old school” diet that appeared in my article “Bulk” many years ago (when I was writing for Iron Man magazine).  This should give you a good idea of what kind of diet a “98-pound weakling” should follow:
Beginning Old School Diet:
Meal 1.) – 2 eggs/2 slices toast/bowl of oatmeal/glass of milk.
2.) Slice of cheese/glass of milk.
3.) ¼ lb. hamburger/baked potato/glass of milk.
4.) 2 eggs/glass of milk.
5.) 12 oz. steak or chicken/baked potato/slice of bread/2 glasses of milk.
6.) banana/2 glasses of milk.
     Once your system can tolerate this amount of food, begin adding progressively to each meal. For example, add an egg, bacon or a slice of toast here, and a glass of milk or another baked potato there. Think progressive, no different than adding weight to your work sets.


[1] I’m not going to get into all of the details here, but I believe this is one reason the Sheiko programs are so effective: you are doing more than one exercise each day, and you are forcing your body to utilize a lot of force, despite the fact that you are more “winded” than you think you should be on a powerlifting program.  There’s also just something about this kind of training that adds mass fast.  In fact, that may be one of its drawbacks for lifters trying to stay in a weight class.
[2] “5 Things That Drive Me Nuts” by Scott Abel, from the online magazine T-Nation.