Monday, 1 June 2009

You Aint Squat Till You SQUAT!

Simply put, squats are the most difficult, intimidating and painful exercise you could possibly have in your arsenal. They require massive amounts of discipline and willpower to perform correctly.

After you have performed a set of squats to failure, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. They are also a challenging exercise to master from a technical standpoint.

All this aside, squats are one of, if not THE most effective, growth-producing exercises you could possibly include in your workout routine. They will pack more size and strength onto your lower body than any other exercise out there, and due to their high level of difficulty, they also force your body to release higher amounts of important anabolic hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone. This increased secretion of hormones will pack muscle size onto your entire upper body as well.

In addition, squats cause what is known as a "spillover effect": a strength gain in almost all of your other exercises. When I started squatting to failure, my bench press virtually increased by 20 pounds overnight. If you're looking for serious muscle gains and you don't already squat, you'd better get started.

Quite simply, they really, really work.

Unfortunately, many people have yet to experience the benefits of heavy squatting. It seems that people will come up with just about any excuse they possibly can in order to steer clear form the squat rack.

How many times have you heard the all too common "They're too hard on my knees", or "I heard they stunt your growth." What do I say to that? Nonsense!

If you're in the gym with the goal of maximizing your total body muscle gains, squats are an absolute must.

Proper Squatting Technique

For safety reasons you should always perform your squats in a power rack or cage. This way you can adjust the height at which you clear the bar, and you can drop the bar on the safety pins if you need to bail. The safety pins should be set at just below the depth you are squatting and the J Hooks should be set at about the level of your nipples.

At all times during the squat your head should be pulled back, your chest raised and you should have a slight arch in your lower back. You should always be looking straight ahead, and at no time should you be leaning too far forward, or be looking up or down.

Step up to the bar, placing your hands at about the same width as a bench press. Before clearing the bar, make sure it is placed evenly along your traps. The bar should rest on the lower portion of your traps and across your rear delts. It should almost feel as if the bar is going to roll off your back.

Now that you have cleared the bar, take only as many steps back as necessary. Most squat injuries occur when backing up, so make sure that you only back up as far as you need to. Your feet should be placed about shoulder width apart or slightly wider, and they should point out at a 45-degree angle.

Take a big, deep breath, and make your descent. You should not lower yourself straight down, but rather as if you were sitting in a chair behind you. At all times your knee must remain in line with your feet, and they should never bow in. Lower yourself until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground.

As soon as you have reached the bottom position, rise up immediately. Do not relax in the bottom position! Drive up with your heels and straighten your back as quickly as possible.

Once you are in the upright position again, take another deep breath, and continue the lift until you have completed the desired number of reps.

Final Thoughts

You have all the reason in the world to get into the squat rack, so go ahead and do it. Treat this lift with respect and you'll be shocked at the resulting muscle gains. I would recommend performing your squats once per week, for 2 sets of 5 to 7 reps. Focus on pushing yourself hard on this exercise and continually strive for more weight and more reps.

To learn about more highly effective, growth-producing exercises that you can include in your routine, visit my website by clicking the link below. Most trainees have no idea how to pick and choose the proper exercises and they dramatically limit their gains as a result...

Unconventional Leg Training Tactics

It's sort of a joke in natural bodybuilding circles that drug-free bodybuilders "have no legs." I hate to admit it's true, but I've been to dozens of drug tested shows where nearly all of the competitors had thick chests, huge arms, wide lats and cannonball deltoids, but almost none of them had any lower body to speak of.

In natural bodybuilding competitions, outstanding quad development can be the difference between winning and losing. Unfortunately, unless you are among the genetically gifted or you use growth-enhancing drugs, developing great quads does not come easy.

If your quads aren't growing and your training consists of nothing but conventional straight sets - you know, the usual 3 - 4 sets of 8 - 12 reps, with a minute or two between sets - then you'd better try something completely unorthodox; something "unconventional." Unconventional training means doing things differently than usual and sometimes even doing the exact opposite of what is considered "normal" training. I'd like to share with you some of my favorite unconventional training techniques that that can help you develop huge, cut, freaky quads, without performance-enhancing drugs.


Heavy - Light training

Although most fitness experts agree that the ideal repetition range for developing muscle mass is between 6 and 10, the muscles of the lower body seem to respond very well to a combination of both high and low reps. Why not just train heavy all the time? Because the heavy - light system works every type of muscle fiber to the fullest. The result is not just strong, bulky legs like a powerlifter, but the polished, chiseled legs of a bodybuilder.

Former professional bodybuilder Tom Platz, who is known for having the best leg development of all time and who is unconventional to say the least, used this approach to develop his monstrous thighs and win the Mr. Universe title. Platz has performed squats with 405 for 25 reps, 315 for 50 reps and 225 for 10 minutes nonstop! The king of quads was equally capable of pushing heavy iron as well with a max single of nearly 800 pounds.

There are a variety of ways you can incorporate the heavy-light principle into your training program. One way is to designate a separate high rep and low rep day and alternate every other workout. Another method is to use high rep and low rep training in the same workout. If you choose the latter, you can perform exclusively high reps or low reps on one exercise or you can do both high reps and low reps on the same exercise.

Don't get the mistaken idea that light day means easy day. High rep squats can be the most brutal workout you could ever subject yourself to. After a few high rep squat workouts, you'll probably even find your heavy days feel easier. After you've conquered sets of 30-40 reps in the squat with 225 lbs., then 405 lbs. for sets of 5-6 reps will seem like a piece of cake!

Ascending Sets

Ascending sets are a little known technique I learned from my trainer, former Mr. Eastern America, Richie Smyth of New Jersey. This is an incredibly effective means of quickly taking a muscle to total failure without having to use near-maximal weights. An ascending set is the opposite of a descending set (drop set). Here's how it works: Select a weight that you can perform 12 reps with on a particular exercise. Do just six reps, then add 10%-15% to the weight. Now continue with the heavier weight for six more reps. Increase the weight an additional 10%-15% and repeat for a final six reps (That's eighteen reps total.) Take as little rest as possible between the weight changes. If you've selected the amount of resistance properly, the second six will start to get difficult and the final six will take a supreme effort - you may need a spotter to assist with the last two or three. If you have a training partner, you can increase the intensity by reducing or eliminating the rest periods between weight changes completely; simply have your partner add the weight on the bar without you even racking it.

Continuous tension & partial reps

Conventional wisdom says that you must always perform your exercises through the full range of motion. If you were to cut out a third or a half of the movement that would only develop a half or two thirds of the muscle, right? Wrong! Of all the exercises in the bodybuilder's repertoire, slow, constant tension, non-locking squatting movements have got to be the most difficult - and the most result producing exercises of all

The way to best utilize continuous tension in your quad training is to emphasize the lower range of motion and avoid locking out at the top. Squatting very deeply and coming only one-half or three-quarters of the way up not only increases the amount of time the quads are kept under tension, but also generates greater recruitment of the teardrop-shaped Medialis. There are several variations of the continuous tension - partial reps technique, including bottom half reps, one and a half's, one and a quarters and the popular twenty-one method. Bottom half reps are exactly what the name implies; only do the lower half of the range of motion. One and a half's and one and a quarter's are techniques where a single repetition consists of lowering yourself to the bottom position, coming up only one-half or one-quarter, lowering yourself back down to the bottom position and then coming up all the way (but never locking out completely). Shoot for sets of 8 -10 repetitions in this fashion. Twenty-one's are another popular variation on partial reps. One set consists of seven reps in the top range of motion, seven in the bottom range of motion and then seven in the full range of motion. To increase the intensity even further, do your continuous tension reps slowly with five seconds on the eccentric movement and five seconds on the concentric movement.

High reps

We've already touched on high reps in the heavy-light system, but high rep leg training is so result-producing that it bears mention on its own. First of all, let me clarify what I mean when I say high reps. I'm not talking about only 12 or 15 reps; I'm talking a minimum of 20-30 and occasionally upwards of 40, 50 and beyond.

There are a lot of "old-school" lifters who adamantly insist that you must stay in the 4-8 rep range and that in order to develop mass and get stronger, you must always strive to increase the weight. If you are a powerlifter, football player or strength athlete then that's good advice. You'll get strong as an ox training with low reps, but if you want to look like a bodybuilder and not a lineman, then you must use different training systems that work every muscle fiber and engage every energy system: Enter high rep training. I'm not suggesting that you eliminate heavy leg training. What I'm suggesting is that you always include heavy low rep training and lighter high rep training.

There's a trick to doing high rep quad workouts: The secret to hitting reps in the 30-50 range is your breathing. Unless you pause and breathe between reps, you'll find yourself quitting due to a searing lactic acid burn in the muscle at around the 12th - 15th rep. Breathing squats are a form of rest-pause training. Do the first ten reps in a continuous fashion as you normally would. On the second ten, take a breath between each rep. On the third ten, you'll probably need two or three deep breaths at the top to recover between each rep. On the fourth and fifth ten (if you get this far) you'll be gasping for air, taking several deep breaths between every rep. Breathing in this rest-pause fashion will allow you to complete a high number of reps with poundages that you never thought attainable.

If you're used to training exclusively with low reps, you'll need to build up your endurance gradually. Start with 20 reps and work you way up to as many as 40 or even 50. When you hit 40 or 50, increase the weight, drop back to 20 reps and then start working your way up again.

Keep an accurate training journal and try to beat your previous best at every workout. If you train with a partner, make a contest out of it and challenge each other to break your rep records. This type of training is incredibly effective, but brutal. If you're done it right, expect to be lying on your back for several minutes gasping for air after each set. Towards the end of the set, it becomes more a matter of mental toughness than anything.

Regressive weight pattern

A regressive weight pattern is the exact opposite of the conventional pyramid system. Pyramiding entails increasing the weight and decreasing the reps with each set. It is a good system for developing size and strength, especially if you are starting with basic exercises like squats or deadlifts and you are working up to very heavy weights.

An unconventional system that may be even more effective is the regressive weight pattern. On your first set, begin with your heaviest weight when you are fresh and the strongest, then decrease the weight and increase the reps with each set. To use this system safely you'll need to warm up thoroughly beforehand.

The rationale behind regressive sets is that all the "build-up" sets in a pyramid are wasted and nothing more than warm-ups. By the time you get to your heaviest set in a pyramid, all the warm-up sets have fatigued you so much you can't lift as much on your heavy sets. With the regressive weight pattern you don't tire yourself out before getting to your productive heavy sets, therefore all your sets are productive. Coincidentally, the regressive system was one of Tom Platz's favorite techniques.


Post exhaust is an extension of the heavy-light principle. You select two exercises; a heavy compound movement supersetted with a lighter isolation movement. Post-exhaust allows you to take the basic compound exercise and work it heavy followed by an isolation movement to flush the muscle and produce a maximum pump. You get the benefits of training every type of muscle fiber and every energy system in the same workout. An example would be doing heavy leg presses for a 6-8 rep max followed by leg extensions for 20-30 reps.


Pre-exhaust is also a variation of the heavy-light system. The difference from post exhaust is in the order of the exercises. Once again you select a heavy compound movement and a lighter isolation movement. This time you do the isolation movement first followed by the compound movement. Pre-exhaust is a great system if you'd like to perform heavy basic movements like squats, but have difficulty doing so due to lower back or knee problems. You can work the quads to total failure on the leg extensions, then at a point where most people quit, continue to blast the quads even further using the synergism of the powerful hip, lower back and hamstring muscles. Since you have pre-fatigued your quads you can use much lighter poundage in the squat and still receive the benefits of the exercise without subjecting yourself to injury. If you can squat 275-315 lbs. easily for reps, then 185-225 lbs. can seem just as heavy when your quads are pre-exhausted.

Changing foot positions and stance width

Here's an unconventional way to thoroughly work every section of the Quadriceps group: Change your foot position with each successive set on a particular exercise. On squatting movements you can vary your stance width from wide to medium to narrow. You can also vary the angle of the toes. For example, pointing the toes out 45 degrees and utilizing a wide stance will recruit the adductor muscles more. Using a narrow stance with toes forward will recruit the quads more while working the hips, glutes and adductors to a lesser degree. On leg presses you simply change your foot position on the platform. On leg extensions, you can point your toes in to work the lateral portion of the quad, out for the inner quad and straight ahead for overall quad.


Front squat

Left to their own devices, few people will volunteer to do front squats on their own. The reason is simple: Front squats are probably the only exercise that is harder than regular squats. Front squats are difficult to execute because they require extra balance and coordination to hold the bar on the front of the shoulders.

The rewards of front squatting are well worth the added effort. Front squats develop the quadriceps better than almost any other exercise. The reason is because placing the bar on the front of the shoulders allows you to maintain a more upright posture. This puts more emphasis on the frontal quads while at the same time reducing stress on the lower back, hips and glutes.

Back squat

Squats are unquestionably the most effective quad builder of all. For maximum quad development, do "bodybuilding" squats with the bar high on your traps and use a medium to narrow stance. Elevate your heels under a one-inch board or mat to help you maintain your balance if you lack flexibility. Most importantly, squat deep! Strength Coach Charles Poliquin is fond of saying, "squat down and don't come back up until you leave a mark on the floor."

Do not fear deep squats. According to most strength training experts, the majority of injuries from squatting come from poor form. In his book "Weight Training, a Scientific Approach" Dr. Michael Stone, one of the nation's leading experts on weight training writes, "Squatting in which the top of the thighs goes below parallel, has been erroneously associated with damage to the meniscus and ligaments. Although bouncing and other improper techniques can cause knee damage, there is little evidence that squatting is harmful to a healthy knee." To avoid injury, use impeccable form and keep your torso rigid at all times. Lower yourself slowly and always maintain control. Keep the torso erect and push through with your legs, avoiding the tendency to lean forward and use the lower back.

Hack machine squat

Full range of motion is crucial on Hack Squats. Deep hack squats without locking out will give you the greatest quad development possible. You should squat deep enough so the backs of your calves touch your hamstrings. A common mistake is using too much weight and only working the top half of the movement. Lower yourself slowly and under control and do not bounce out of the bottom position. Drive through with your heels (not off the balls of your feet). As with regular back squats, you should have no fear of injury from doing your hack squats to below parallel provided that you are fully warmed up, you use good form and you have no pre-existing knee injuries.

Leg Extensions

While not the best mass builder, leg extensions are the most effective exercise for isolating the quadriceps. Leg extensions are a great way to help define and separate the quads and they are also an excellent finishing movement. Leg extensions can be particularly effective when used together with a compound exercise. Hold every rep for two seconds at the top of the movement and squeeze for a maximum contraction. Lower the weight slowly and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.


Lunges are a good quad builder and a great way to develop the glute-hamstring tie-in and the separation between the quads and the hamstrings. Lunges are most effective as a quad builder when combined with a quad isolation movement such as the leg extension. There are many different ways to perform lunges. For the ultimate in quad development, lunge deep holding dumbbells, and step onto a block or step, emphasizing the bottom range of motion.

Sissy Squats

Why are they called sissy squats? Legendary trainer Vince Gironda once answered, "Because they make a sissy out of the strongest squatter!" When performed as described below, they are a super way to work the quad from the lower Medialis and Lateralis all the way to where the Rectus Femoris inserts into the hip area. To keep maximum isolation on the quadriceps without involving the glutes and hips, lean backward and maintain a straight line from the shoulders to the knees as you squat down (do not flex at the hips). Hold onto an upright support to maintain your balance. Sissy squats should preferably be done last in your routine when your knees are fully warmed up. Like the leg extensions, sissy squats are very effective when combined in a post-exhaust or pre-exhaust superset.


The techniques I've described can be arranged in a countless number of different combinations. Note how a different technique can be used with each successive set of the same exercise. These two samples of unconventional leg-training workouts should give you some ideas of how to incorporate unconventional training tactics into your own routine. These are high-intensity training routines designed for advanced bodybuilders. The weights listed are just used as examples.

If you're frustrated with your current level of quad development, don't resort to drugs; try these routines. You can develop amazing quads drug-free, you just have to be a little unconventional!

Unconventional quad routine #1

1. Front squats
Warm up: 2 sets X 135 X 12
Set 1: 185 lbs. X 6, 205 lbs. X 6, 225 lbs. X 6 (Ascending set: no rest between weight changes)
Set 2: 225 lbs. X 6-8 reps, 185 lbs. X 6-8reps, 135 lbs. X 6-8 reps (Descending set: no rest between weight changes)
Set 3: 185 lbs. X 12-15 reps (Slow, non locking continuous tension set, go only 3/4 of the way up; 5 second positive, 5 second negative)

2. Leg press ( regressive weight pattern)
Set 1: 720 lbs X 8-10 reps
Set 2: 630 lbs X 12-15 reps,
Set 3: 540 lbs X 20+ reps
Set 4: 540 lbs X 8-10 reps feet middle of platform
450 lbs X 8-10 reps feet bottom of platform close together
360 lbs X 8-10 reps feet middle of platform wide with toes 45 degrees
270 X as many reps as possible feet at top of platform six inches wide.
(Descending set, change foot positions after each weight reduction, no rest between weight reductions)

3. Leg extension (ascending sets)
Set1: 90 lbs X 6 reps, 110 lbs X 6 reps, 130 lbs X 6 reps (toes in)
Set 2: 90 lbs X 6 reps, 110 lbs X 6 reps, 130 lbs X 6 reps (toes out)
Set 3: 90 lbs X 6 reps, 110 lbs X 6 reps, 130 lbs X 6 reps (toes straight ahead)

Superset to:
4. Lunges with dumbbells off step
3 sets X 35 lb. dumbbells X as many reps as possible (only bottom half of range of motion)

Unconventional quad routine #2

1. Back Squats Alternate heavy - light every other week

Week 1:

Sets 1 & 2: 225 lbs. X 20-50 reps
Set 3: 185 X 10-15 reps (one and a quarter reps)

Week 2:

2 warm up sets, followed by 4 heavy sets (pyramid)
set 1: 225 X 10
set 2: 275 X 8
set 3: 315 X 6
set 4: 365 X 4-6
set 5: 185 lbs X 10-15 (one and a quarter reps)

2. Hack Machine Squats (Regressive weight pattern bottom 3/4 of the movement only; no locking out.)
Set 1: 315 lbs. X 6-8 reps
Set 2: 275lbs. X 12-15 reps
Set 3: 225lbs. X 20-25 reps

3. Smith machine Lunge (with rear foot elevated on bench bottom half of range of motion.)
2-3 sets X 115 X 12-15 reps
superset to
4. Sissy squat. 2-3 sets X bodyweight X as many reps as possible

Cardio and Muscle Mass Gains

Among the numerous never-ending debates in the field is the question of whether or not cardio/aerobic type activity should be performed when the explicit goal is maximum gains in muscle mass. And as is usually the case, there are a variety of extreme standpoints in this debate.

At one extreme is the idea that trainees should perform an hour of low intensity cardio daily during their mass gaining phase. This is usually suggested as a way of staying lean during the period of overfeeding needed to maximize muscle gain. At the other extreme is the idea that any activity outside of lifting weights, and especially cardio, will do nothing but harm gains in muscle mass (and strength).

As usual, I think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle and I’d like to look at some of the various pros and cons of keeping some form of cardio in the overall program when the explicit goal is muscle mass gains. As usual, whether cardio is good, bad or neutral depends on the situation along with how it’s performed.

For context, the main type of cardio activity I’ll be focusing on in this article is low to moderate intensity steady state cardio which is usually where the big arguments erupt. For the most part, unless dealing with an athlete who must be performing interval training for their sport, I don’t recommend interval training when the goals are maximal muscle mass gains.

Yes, you can always find someone who makes it work (and there have been various theories thrown around how sprinting might enhance muscle gain which never seem to have really panned out) but for the most part I don’t think high intensity cardio training of any sort (interval or otherwise) is optimal when the goal is maximal muscle gain. So I’ll be focusing on low- to moderate-intensity steady state type cardio here.

Benefits of Cardio During Mass Gaining Phases

Among the pros of maintaining some amount of cardio during a mass gaining phase, I’d probably include the following:

1. Improved recovery
2. Appetite
3. Maintaining some conditioning and work capacity
4. Improved Calorie Partitioning
5. Keeps the fat burning pathways active

Let’s look at each.

Improved Recovery

Done at low to moderate intensities (I’ll come back to specifics at the end of the article) cardio can act as a form of active recovery. By pumping blood through worked muscles, recovery is often hastened (and for many, active recovery actually helps more than simple passive recovery: doing nothing).

I’d note that most forms of cardio tend to be lower body dominant so most of this effect will be for the lower body. Trainees who want to achieve a similar effect for the upper body would need to perform rowing or use the EFX or a machine that also involves the upper body to some degree.

Finally, it’s worth noting that, by sipping on a dilute carb/protein drink (perhaps 30 grams carbs and half as much protein per hour), the increased blood flow to the working muscles will enhance nutrient delivery; this should also help with overall muscular recovery.


The impact of exercise on appetite can be exceedingly variable. For some people, activity, and this is especially true of high-intensity activity, can blunt appetite; for others it can stimulate it. In the context of mass gaining, trainees who have trouble consuming sufficient calories often find that including moderate amounts of cardio can be beneficial in terms of improving appetite.

Maintaining Conditioning/Work Capacity

Depending on the specifics of the training, it’s not uncommon for lifters and trainees to lose a lot of their metabolic conditioning when they move into pure mass gain phases (where all they are doing is weight training). Lower repetition/long rest interval types of training tends to have the greatest impact and individuals lose vast amounts of conditioning and work capacity during this type of training.

For athletes this is clearly detrimental since it means they have to start building things back up from scratch. Even for non-athlete lifters (e.g. bodybuilders), losing work capacity can hurt overall recovery both during a workout and in-between workouts.

The good thing is that it takes far less training to maintain some conditioning than it does to develop it and keeping at least some amount of cardio in the total training program goes a long way towards this goal.

Improved Calorie Partitioning

As an additional potential benefit, aerobic activity could potentially improve results during a mass gaining phase in another way and that has to do with overall calorie partitioning. As I discuss in Calorie Partitioning Part 1 and Calorie Partitioning Part 2, partitioning has to do with where calories ‘go’ or ‘come from’ when you over- or under-eat respectively.

Probably the most potent partitioning tool we have is training. Regular activity increases nutrient uptake into skeletal muscle; practically that means less excess calories to get stored elsewhere (e.g. fat cells). While it’s debatable how much of an effect low- to moderate intensity cardio will have in this impact, it certainly won’t hurt done in reasonable amounts. And it may help in the long-term.

Staying Lean/Keeping Fat Burning Pathways Active

Finally, there is the issue of keeping fat burning pathways active and/or staying lean while mass gaining. Frankly, I’m not hugely convinced that doing cardio does a ton to keep folks lean; especially given that it’s relatively easy to eat more calories and overpower any slight caloric burn from the type of cardio that is usually advocated. Frankly, I suspect that it would be easier to just keep the caloric surplus under greater control (or time that surplus around training better).

However, there is another related reason to keep it in and that has to do with the fact that eventually folks who are gaining muscle mass will want to lean out. As I discussed in General Philosophies of Muscle Mass Gains, most will get the fastest rate of muscle growth while allowing some fat gain to occur; this necessitates eventually dieting off the extra fat.

Now, tangentially (and this is a topic I can’t discuss fully here), I think that one of the reasons that cardio has gotten a bad rap in terms of muscle loss on a diet is that people jump from doing basically zero cardio to fairly large amounts often overnight; this is often accompanied by a massive drop in calories and I suspect that it is this combination that tends to cause muscle loss.

This is a problem as during the overfeeding that is needed to generate maximum gains in muscle mass, the body often loses some of its ability to use fat as a fuel and this can take a couple of weeks to get fully ramped back up when calories are restricted (I suspect this explains some of the odd delay that seems to occur in true fat loss when people start dieting again).

And this seems to be even more pronounced if folks have been doing zero cardio while they are gaining muscle mass. By keeping in some amount of cardio during the mass gaining phase, at least some ability to use fat effectively for fuel is maintained. When the dieting phase eventually starts, the body will be a in better place to use fat for fuel.

Drawbacks of Cardio During Mass Gaining Phases

Having looked at the pros of keeping at least some cardio in during mass gaining phases, I now want to look at the two major cons, or at least the two that are usually brought up:

1. Burns up calories that could go towards muscle growth
2. Might cut into recovery/Over-training

Burning up Calories that could go to Muscle Growth

This tends to be one of the major concerns of the ‘no cardio while gaining mass’ group, that valuable calories that might go towards muscle growth will be burned off by cardio. And certainly, taken to the extreme where excessive cardio is being done, there is much truth to this.

As I mentioned above, the calorie burn of reasonable amounts of low to moderate intensity aerobic activity isn’t generally very high unless someone is exceedingly well trained (and can burn tremendous numbers of calories even at low intensities). The few hundred calories burned during activity is pretty easy to replace on a day to day basis and I’m not sure this is a huge concern in terms of preventing calories and protein from getting to the muscle to support growth.

One exception to this are the perpetually skinny (e.g. the classic ‘hardgainer’ or ectomorphic type). These are the folks who have a hard enough time putting on weight in the first place, for a wide variety of reasons (that I’ve discussed elsewhere on the site). Since they rarely have to worry about getting lean in the first place, they probably should avoid much if any cardio so that all of their energies and food intake go towards training and gaining muscle mass.

Of course, the exception to this exception relates to the appetite issue I mentioned above. The classic ectomorphic/hardgainer type often has trouble eating sufficient calories (one of the reasons they tend to stay so lean/skinny is that their appetite tends to shut off pretty readily when they overfeed). In that situation, if performing some cardio on off days helps them to eat more, then it might still be worth including.

Cutting into Recovery/Over-training

The final two issues I want to look at are extremely related so I’ll look at them together. The basic concern is that trying to combine both heavy weight training and cardio/endurance type training will impair results in the weight room. And there is certainly some truth to that idea.

A great amount of early research (and practical experience) suggested that the combination of cardiovascular and strength training tended to cause an interference in terms of results. Interestingly (and this is beyond the scope of this article), while cardiovascular training tended to impair strength performance, the opposite often wasn’t seen; heavy strength training didn’t seem to impair the adaptations to endurance training.

Now one factor to keep in mind is that most of the studies looking at this topic were using some fairly high intensity types of cardio; they were often examining the types of training that might be seen with American football or sports of that nature. Meaning that they don’t automatically have a ton of relevance to what’s being discussed in this article. The intensity is a key factor, for reasons that are beyond the scope of this article. When intensity is kept down and the volume and frequency is more moderate, the potential negative impact of cardiovascular training on adaptations in the weight room is massively reduced.

In that vein, I would still note that excessive amounts of cardio can still cut into recovery, both systemically (whole-body) and locally (specific muscle groups). The legs are what typically what can take a beating since most cardio modes are lower body dominant. Excessive amounts of even low intensity cardio can cut into the overall recovery of the legs and rotating machines to alter the stress on the musculature may be a worthwhile consideration.

So Cardio while Focusing on Mass Gains...Yes or No?

In my opinion, with the potential exception of the extremely skinny/hardgainer type (who may still benefit from appetite stimulation), there is more benefit to be had from reasonable amounts of cardio than there are negatives.

I simply feel that most of the problems with cardio training start to come into play when either the intensity or volume get excessive. As long as the amounts are kept moderate and the intensity is kept under control I think most of the concerns are mostly a non-issue.

So what defines moderate, reasonable, etc.?

At a bare minimum, 20-30 minutes of cardio performed three times per week will maintain some basic cardiovascular fitness, burn off a few calories, act as active recovery, and help to keep the fat burning pathways active so that the shift to dieting is a little bit easier; all of the good things that I mentioned. And it should do that without having any really major impact on progress in the weight room.

A higher frequency can be used but I wouldn’t see much point to more than five per week unless the intensity is kept very low (e.g. you can do brisk walking daily if desired). Going longer than the bare minimum of 20-30 minutes will burn a few more calories but there are limits to time availability (and people start to get bored) and I might set a reasonable limit of 40 minutes of moderate intensity cardio at the maximum; if the intensity is kept way down (again, think brisk walking), an hour is acceptable.

In terms of intensity, I think keeping things in the low to moderate range is going to be best. More specifically, a maximum intensity of 70% of maximum heart rate (140 beats per minute for someone with a maximum of 200 beats) or even lower should achieve some benefits without cutting into recovery or growth.

As I referred to in the first part of this article, it’s damn near a bodybuilding tradition to walk on the treadmill for an hour every morning and, while I think that amount is overkill for most, the intensity is definitely going to be low with that type of activity. That bodybuilders have done this successfully for so many years would seem to be an important lesson, especially for those folks who think that the only type of metabolic work worth a damn is high intensity stuff.

A final issue to examine is that of timing and when to perform the cardio. In an ideal universe, any cardio would probably be done completely separately from weight training. Cardio in the morning (fasted or not) and weights evening would probably be ideal but can’t always be realistically scheduled when people work full-time.

A very common approach is to perform some type of cardio on off-days from the weight room and this is certainly workable if scheduling will allow it. Of course, not everyone can make it to the gym daily and the weather or what have you may preclude doing it outdoors or at home. As well, for a short 20-30 minute session, making the trip to the gym (driving time may take longer than that) may not be realistic.

In practical terms, that means performing cardio in conjunction with the weight workout; this raises the question of whether or not it should be done before or after the workout.

As long as the intensity is kept low, doing a short cardio workout before weights shouldn’t hurt intensity in the gym (just think of it as a prolonged general warm up). Doing it afterwards has less potential to impact on the weight room session itself but, for those compulsive about post-workout nutrition, does delay eating. A reasonable compromise would be to drink your post-workout drink while doing your cardio after the workout.

I would note that, after heavy leg training, most probably won’t want to do much in the way of cardio. Keeping the session to the bare minimums (e.g. 20 minutes of pretty low intensity work) is probably best. Cardio done after upper body workouts can be a bit longer and/or more intensive if desired (within the guidelines I gave above).

Summing Up

So summing up, under most circumstances, I think keeping a reasonable amount of moderate intensity cardio in the training program, even when the goal is explicitly mass gaining can be beneficial for most trainees (the major exception being the extreme hardgainer types).

Potential pros include improved recovery, improved work capacity, better calorie partitioning, improved appetite (sometimes), perhaps staying leaner and an easier time shifting back into dieting when the mass gaining phase is over. The cons, including hampered recovery and systematic overtraining only really become an issue when too much volume or too high of an intensity is performed.

A minimum of three sessions per week (up to perhaps a maximum of 5) of reasonable duration (20-30 minutes minimum up to perhaps 40 minutes maximum) at a low to moderate intensity (70% of maximum heart rate or less) should achieve the benefits I talked about above without causing any of the problems that I also discussed.

No Pain No Gain: Fitness Myth or Ultimate Fitness Truth?

No Pain, No Gain. Is this aphorism just a fitness myth and downright bad advice? A lot of people seem to think so. As a bodybuilder with 25 years of training experience and more than two dozen trophies on my shelf, I have another perspective to offer you..

The Ultimate Truth?

Success with your body and in every area of your life is all about stepping outside of your comfort zone and that means embracing pain.

To reach high levels of physical and personal success you must approach your training, and your entire life, as an endeavor in constant growth. The ultimate truth is, you are either moving forward or moving backward; growing or dying. There's no such thing as comfortably maintaining. To grow, you must step above past achievements; beyond your perceived boundaries and limits. That means stepping out of the known, into the unknown; out of the familiar and into the unfamiliar; out of the comfortable into the uncomfortable. You must get out of your comfort zone.

The Late Cavett Robert, who was founder of the National Speakers Association, said something I'll never forget:

"Most people are running around their whole lives with their umbilical cords in their hands and they're looking for some place to plug it back in."

Most people are scared of the new, unknown and unfamiliar. They prefer to stay in that womb of comfort. When the going gets tough; when the effort gets painful, when the work gets hard, they always pull back into safety. But the extraordinary people do the opposite. They know they have to get out of the comfort zone, and into new territory or they'll stagnate and die.

Walt Disney once said that he never wanted to repeat a past success. He was always creating something new. They called it "Imagineering." Disney's mission was to continuously dream up and create things they had never done before, and look at what Disney has become today.

Here's a little quote that you should post on your bulletin board, your computer desktop or somewhere you will always see it:

"Do what you always did, get what you always got."

You can't grow or change by doing what you've already done. You've got to train just to prevent yourself from going backwards. Maintenance doesn't occur when you do nothing, maintenance is working to fight entropy (the tendency for things to naturally deteriorate).

Still, most people won't leave their comfort zones. They won't do it in business, they won't do it in their personal lives. They won't do it in their sport. They won't do it for personal health and fitness. Why? The answer is simple… It hurts.

By definition, what's it like outside the comfort zone? It's UN-COMFORTABLE, right? Change is uncomfortable. Sometimes it's physically painful, but it's always mentally and emotionally painful, in the form of discipline, sacrifice, uncertainty and fear.

The maxim, "no pain no gain" gets knocked all the time as if it were bad advice. The fact of life is that you don't grow unless you are constantly stepping outside the comfort zone, and outside the comfort zone is discomfort and pain.

How Champions and Winners Think

I find that it's mostly the non-achievers who make out "no pain, no gain" to be a bad thing. But the winners get it. The champions understand stepping outside the comfort zone in a healthy context, so they embrace it.

When you're talking about the Olympics, or pro bodybuilding or the Super Bowl or a world championship, you'd better believe it's physical pain, it's discipline, it's sacrifice, it's blood, sweat, and tears - literally. But for most people who simply want to go from unfit to fit, from overweight to ideal weight, it's not so much about physical "pain"; it's more like stretching yourself.

How do you develop flexibility? What does your trainer tell you? You stretch to the point of discomfort, but not to the point of pain, right? You get into a position of slight discomfort and you hold it just long enough, then what happens? The discomfort goes away, because the muscle becomes more pliable, and the range of motion is increased.

Each time, you stretch a little further, just barely into the range you've never been in before, and eventually, you're doing the splits. And why do you approach it like that? Because you don't want to injure yourself. Stretch too far, too fast and your muscle tears.

The elite athletes and high achievers really have to push themselves; they're going to push their boundaries and test their limits. But if you're not an elite athlete or seasoned bodybuilder, and you take the advice, "no pain, no gain" too literally, you're going to end up getting injured.

I always say to my training partner when I watch him cringing during a set and he finishes up with that pained look on his face, "Are you injured, or just hurt?" He knows what I'm talking about. If he says he's hurt, I say, "OK, good. As long as you're not injured. Let's get on with it. Next set."

Good Pain vs Bad Pain

It's not about injury. That is bad pain. Pushing yourself through that is stupidity. But do stretch yourself. You can't improve unless you stretch yourself. If someone just wants too "stay fit" – OK fine. It actually doesn't take that much to stay fit, once you've already achieved it.

But what if you want to improve? What if you want a new body? What if you want to change? If that's what you want, you've got to push yourself a little. You've got to break comfort zones. And if your body is not changing, then I don't care how hard you think you're working, whatever you're doing right now is inside your comfort zone.

The statement "no pain, no gain" has been misinterpreted, criticized and labeled a fallacy by many. However, the people doing the criticizing are almost always comfort zoners who haven't achieved much. Don't listen to them. Instead, follow the small percentage of people who step out and achieve great things. If you don't like the sound of it, then say, "No effort, no gain." We're still talking about the same thing.

Embrace the "good pain" of growth like the champions do. Soon it subsides, you enjoy the benefits of the change and the pain is forgotten. You've reached a new, higher plateau of achievement. Enjoy the view for a short while. But be on guard because it's not long before that higher level becomes your new comfort zone and then its time to press on again.

The Real Secret To Achieving Your Bodybuilding & Fitness Goals

Everyday my inbox gets filled with countless e-mail from bodybuilding and fitness enthusiasts from all over the world. Most of the e-mail questions ask things such as what are the best workouts to follow, what are the best foods to eat, and what are the best supplements to take. While there is nothing wrong with these questions, they are not necessarily going to move you closer to reaching your ultimate bodybuilding and physique goals. The real key to fitness success involves zooming out and looking at things from a higher level.

If you could do a survey of the people who have the best built bodies across the globe you would find that they all have different theories and approaches with regards to their actual workouts, diets, and supplements. Some prefer higher volume workouts, some prefer higher intensity workouts, some prefer low carb diets, some prefer high carb diets, some are supplement "junkies", while others don't take any supplements at all.

The actual techniques and strategies will vary from person to person. As the old saying goes there is more then one way to skin a cat. (Note: why anyone would want to skin a cat is beyond me.)

But there is one thing that all successful people have in common and that is they set up the conditions of their life in such a way to ensure their success is inevitable over the long term. Inevitability thinking is a way of putting things in place so that what you want to achieve happens automatically.

Before we can move forward and make progress in any area, we have to first accept the fact that everything in our life is at some level the way it is today because of conditions that were set up in our past. Whether these conditions where set up consciously, or unconsciously, by us directly, or by our environment.

For example, if John is now working as an auto-mechanic then things happened in his life that made this career choice inevitable. Most likely there were people and situations in his past that peaked his interest in cars. Which then made John want to go to school and study auto-mechanics, and then this eventually lead him to working in that field. Bottom line, he didn't just some how magically become a mechanic. The conditions were set in his life, either consciously or unconsciously, that made it inevitable.

The same thing applies to someone who is lean, athletic, and muscular. They just didn't get that way by accident. The conditions of their life were set in such a way as to make the outcome of a strong muscular body inevitable. In virtually all cases people who are in great shape have individuals in their life who they looked up to that are also in great shape. They are members of a gym that provides them with the tools they need to build their body. They spend time studying books, courses, and videos so they can learn how to maximize their results. They most likely participate in some form of sports or activities that give them extra drive and motivation to get in top physical shape, such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, fitness modeling, team sports or something that provides an outside competitive drive to succeed.

We all live in set conditions that are affecting our daily lives whether we realize it or not. So if you are not happy with the results you have achieved thus far, then you need to change your conditions in order to change the results you are getting.

Ask yourself what conditions do you need to put in place so the outcomes you want happen automatically? How do you make getting your desired goals a sure thing that is eventually going to happen no matter what?

One of the most important conditions that you can set that will determine your level of success in any area of your life is choosing the people you associate with. If you look at the 5 people you associate with the most you will find that you are the average of those 5 people.

For example, if you took the average income of the 5 people you associate with the most, chances are it would be very close to your income. If you took the average level of health and fitness of those 5 people, chances are it would be very close to your own level of health and fitness. Now of course there will be some rare exceptions to this rule. But for the most part any measurable area of your life can be related back to the average of the 5 people you associate with the most.

So knowing that we are the average of the 5 people we hang around with the most. The quickest way to set the conditions of your life to help you move towards your desired outcomes is to get around people who are living life at a higher level. We imitate people around us whether we know it or not. So if you want to have a strong, lean, and athletic body, then you must associate with other people who are strong, lean, and athletic so their positive energy will help pull you up to that level.

In my case some of the conditions from my past that helped set me on the path to bodybuilding success was the fact that my dad worked out himself and had an old weight set in our basement and I played around with it as a kid. I also remember watching the "Conan The Barbarian movies" and seeing Arnold in his prime with a big muscular physique. And at this time there was a show that came on TV called "Body Shaping" where they taught weight training workouts, and I used to watch every episode. All these things helped plant the seeds of bodybuilding success in my mind.

Then when I was 17 years old I competed in my first bodybuilding competition and started hanging around and associating with other local bodybuilders. This created a huge burning desire for me to improve my physique just so I could "fit in" with these guys. Then with each bodybuilding competition I entered I was on a mission to show everyone how much improved since my previous show.

During this time I also had a very supportive environment at home. My dad and I built our own home gym in our basement where we worked out together. My mom and dad would attend all of my bodybuilding competitions and cheer me on. They would proudly display all of my trophies and medals in our home. This made for great conversation starters when company visited and they were always there as constant visual reminders.

All these things helped set the conditions for bodybuilding success in my life. Not only did I have internal drive and dream of building a muscular physique in my mind. But I also had the external driving factors of regularly competing in bodybuilding competitions and being judged on stage in front of hundreds of spectators. There was the "peer pressure" to keep up with the other local bodybuilders. And I had the support of my family and a good home environment that was conducive to bodybuilding success.

Inevitability thinking is a habit used by successful people in all fields. Be it in business, academics, or bodybuilding. Consciously setting your life conditions will take the process of goal setting to a higher level. When you keep stacking the odds in your favor then success is inevitable. It is just a matter of time.

So with that being said:

What are the conditions that you need to put in place in your life so that the goals you want to achieve become inevitable and will happen automatically?