Five things you should be doing – some in the gym, some at the dinner table – to help you reach your body comp goals.
I wanted to introduce this article with something that would grab your attention. You know, something like the masterpiece choreography in the fight scene during The Bourne Ultimatum. Or maybe that car wash scene in Cool Hand Luke.
I tried my damnedest. I even bought one of those meditation videos that promised lucid enlightenment. When that didn’t work, I re-read TC’s book, The Testosterone Principles, chock full of innuendos, anecdotes, and sublime humor. But nothing worked. I simply couldn’t figure out a clever way to introduce this article.
So I’m going to skip the typical filler stuff, and get right to the point.
The following are five things that you’re probably missing in your quest to reach your body composition goals. I hope they inspire you.
Loading is the key progression when seeking monstrous guns. I say this because in the last 12 years of working with people, the load progression is the only method that’s proven effective time and again.
So you should just keep increasing the weight of your curls and triceps extensions, right? Nope. That’s not an effective strategy either, because you’re not targeting the real limitations.
The best solution is a multi-pronged approach. Here’s how it all breaks down.
- Strengthen the posterior chain: heavy deadlifts, squats, and good mornings are the best exercises to do it. By making your posterior chain stronger, you’ll have a more solid foundation of support.
- Strengthen the shoulder girdle and upper back: your shoulder girdle and upper back must be strong enough to support heavy arm movements. You can’t go wrong with the snatch grip deadlift and snatch to strength your upper back and traps. Throw in some rope pulls to the face and dumbbell trap raises and you’re covered.
- Strengthen the forearms: the stronger your grip, the more weight you’ll be able to handle. Therefore, it’s imperative to strengthen your gripping muscles with a combination of wrist curls, reverse wrist curls, towel pull-ups, and fat bar rows. If you don’t have access to a fat bar just wrap a towel around the bar the next time you’re doing rows. Even better, buy a pair of EZ grips from Ivanko. They’re an invaluable accessory.
Spend at least one month strengthening your posterior chain, shoulder girdle/upper back, and forearms. When you return to any elbow-flexion or elbow-extension movements, you can handle much more load. Watch your arms grow the following month.
Bottom line: Build a foundation that supports heavy upper body training.
Scads of newsstand bodybuilding magazines extol the virtues of the back squat to build big quads. The problem is that the back squat usually isn’t an effective quadriceps builder, unless you have a specific skeletal structure (short femurs, long torso) and sufficient mobility to go along with it.
Here’s a simple, basic test to determine whether or not the back squat is right for taking you to Tom Platzville.
Stand next to a mirror. Start with your arms crossed at your chest with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Drop into a full squat while keeping your torso as vertical as possible.
If, in the bottom position, your knees are fully flexed, your heels are on the ground, and (this is imperative) your torso is more than 75 degrees relative to the ground, you’re built for the back squat.
Your bottom position should look like this:
Tall people with long femurs, or those who lack mobility, end up shifting too far forward to overload the quadriceps. Importantly, this doesn’t mean the back squat won’t be beneficial, but it must be understood that when you can’t achieve the depicted position, a back squat won’t build big, strong quads as quickly as other lifts.
Assuming that you’re shorter than 6’2", and you don’t have femurs like Yao Ming, you might just need to work on your technique and mobility. One effective exercise is the wall squat. Here’s how you do it.
Stand facing a wall with your nose and toes against it. Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width with your feet angled out very slightly. Squat down as far as possible with your arms hanging between your legs. With each rep, you should be able to drop a little farther. Perform 3 sets of 15 reps every day until you can drop your hips below your knees. It should look like this:
For those of you who can’t drop your hips below your knees after performing the wall squat every day for two weeks, I recommend focusing on the front squat and single leg squat for quadriceps development.
The wall squat, however, is great for anyone. It’ll really hone your squat and deadlift technique, regardless of your skeletal structure or stature.
Bottom line: Do it until you can mimic the picture. Depending on your skeletal structure, you might never be able to replicate the ideal range of motion.
Adding more protein isn’t always the answer. If you’re eating less than one gram per pound of body weight, it can help. But if you’re at that level, adding more probably isn’t going to be beneficial.
I know it’s en vogue to always tell people to eat more protein, but I haven’t found that to be an effective strategy (importantly, I’m talking about men here. I’ve never worked with a female who ate too much protein).
I’ve worked with many athletes who consume 1.5 or more grams per pound of body weight, and many of these athletes hire me to lean them up. If you’re consuming that much protein and can’t lose fat, it’s likely that your body’s using protein for energy. This is a problem because it keeps your body from getting its energy from its fat reserves.
These athletes are often shocked when I lower their protein intake. Sometimes I lower it to one gram per pound, other times I’ll lower it even further. This almost always helps them lose fat, while increasing their energy.
Back in the day, I remember reading an article by Dan Duchaine that said that overeating any macronutrient can make you fat. My 19 year-old mind was certain he was wrong. After all, more protein can’t keep you from getting lean, right? Wrong.
Bottom line: Increasing your protein intake to one gram per pound of body weight can be beneficial. But unless you’re expending a huge amount of energy every day (think NBA basketball player), more protein probably won’t help, and it could have the reverse effect by keeping you from getting lean.
This is one of the most underrated exercises. You see, people who focus too much on mobility often lose strength. And people who spend too much time trying to build a bigger bench, squat, and deadlift often lose mobility.
The overhead squat bridges the gap better than almost any other exercise. You’ll build total body strength, and you’ll increase mobility, particularly in the areas that need it most such as the shoulders, thoracic spine, hips, and ankles. You can’t beat that combination.
You should begin your training sessions with the overhead squat. To prepare your joints, do the following prep routine:
- 10 foot circles in each direction
- 10 hip circles in each direction
- 10 shoulder circles in each direction
- 10 wall squats
There’s a myriad of ways you can use the overhead squat to reach your goals, but here are three of the most popular, and the parameters that will do it.
- Hypertrophy: choose a load that allows you 6 reps while fresh. Perform as many sets as it takes to reach 25 reps. Rest 60-90 seconds between each set. Do this twice each week at the beginning of your training sessions.
- Strength: choose a load that allows you 4 reps while fresh. Perform as many sets as it takes to reach 15 reps. Rest 90-120 seconds between sets. Do this twice each week at the beginning of your training sessions.
- Fat loss: choose a load that allows you 20 reps while fresh. Perform as many sets as it takes to reach 50 reps. Rest 60-90 seconds between each set. Do this three times per week after your weight training sessions. In other words, this is a form of intense energy systems training. Fatigue accumulates quickly since the reps are high, and the rest periods don’t allow for full recovery. Expect to perform at least 5 sets to reach 50 reps.
For any of the above three plans, use the same load for all sets. For example, if your 6RM for the overhead squat is 135 pounds, use that load for every set until you reach 25 reps.
You’ll derive more benefits from the overhead squat if you do it barefoot or in wrestling shoes.
If breakfast isn’t your biggest meal of the day, then your metabolism isn’t as high as it should be. Before you worry about macronutrient ratios, calories, energy systems training, or any other component of body transformation, make breakfast the most calorically-dense meal of your day. Eat leftover pizza if you have to. Yes, it’s that important.
Since I didn’t have a clever beginning to this article, I’m not going to have a clever ending, either. So there.