Q & A with one of the world’s premier strength coaches.
Q:How should I lift weights when dieting? Higher rep, lactic acid style training? Low-reps with heavier weights? There are smart coaches who push both methods, but which is best?
Both work. The secret here is to know your fiber type. If you’re gifted more to be a 100 meter sprinter (predominantly fast twitch type IIb), stick to sets of five, lots of rest, etc. when you’re in a fat loss phase.
If you’re a natural 800 meter runner (predominantly fast twitch type IIa), stick to the lactate style of training.
In calorie restricted states, if you’re predominantly fast twitch and you use the higher rep, higher lactate style of training, you’ll actually lose muscle mass. Likewise, a type IIa guy will lose muscle mass if he’s training with low reps.
So both approaches are right; it just depends on the kind of animal you are.
Q: Of all the low body movements out there, you see the step-up used least in most gyms. Is the step-up a good exercise?
Well, the problem is that most people don’t do it correctly. They cheat on it, mostly by leaning forward too much and pushing off on the bottom leg. When you push off the floor leg, the leg on top of the block or bench isn’t doing much work.
Here’s a trick to keep from cheating on the step-up: simply curl up the toes of the foot that’s on the floor and keep them curled up during the movement. This keeps you from being able to push off from the bottom leg so easily, because in order to push off you have to keep the toes down.
Now, the step-up is a great exercise, but I prefer the squat. With the step-up there’s almost no eccentric overload. You basically can’t do a slow tempo lowering as you step down. If you can, then you should join the circus!
As for bench or step height, you can go very high. The highest you can go is when the bench is so tall you’re up on your toes. It’s called the triple-jumper’s step-up and it involves the VMO and hamstrings more. It’s basically just a super high step-up. The key is that your knee shouldn’t buckle in as you step up.
You can alternate legs or keep one foot statically on the bench until you do the desired number of reps. Usually though, the alternating style is best for athletes who are close to a competition. Now, if you want more time under tension, use the static method where the foot up on the bench is kept in place.
You can do step-ups using a barbell either on the back or clavicles, or dumbbells. They’re all good variations. Still, when pressed for time, the squat is a much better alternative.
Q: What do you think of the Bradford press for shoulders, where you basically just bring the bar from one side of the neck to the other without pressing it all the way overhead?
Frankly I’ve never used it in my practice. Nothing special about it. I just find there are other exercises that work better. Most individuals have such poor rotator cuff flexibility levels that this exercise isn’t practical for them anyway.
Q: Is there any value in direct neck training? How do you train it anyway? I want this guy’s neck (see pic!)
Is there a benefit to it? Yes. If you’re involved in any contact sports – football, martial arts, rugby, ice hockey – then neck training is basically an insurance policy. If you drive a motorcycle, go right ahead and train your neck!
In my experience, the more neck training you do, the stronger your upper body becomes. There are some good pieces of equipment out there these days for neck training. My favorite is made my Atlantis.
Hammer does a good job on their neck machine too.
You may ask, “What about the old school head harness?” The problem with that is it’s hard to match the strength curve.
Now, the neck grows very fast due to the large blood supply which leads to fast recovery from workouts. The neck is mostly slow-twitch muscle although there are some exceptions to the rule.
Interestingly, one thing I’ve found over the years is that if you have neck extensors that are fast-twitch, then they are a reflection of the whole body. I tested a world record holder in the hammer and his neck strength was the highest I’ve ever recorded. People born to be strong have fast-twitch neck muscles.
A week later I tested a world champion and Olympic medalist speed skater and at 85% of max he performed over 200 reps. The only reason we stopped at 200 is that my blood sugar was so low from waiting for him to finish I said, “Fuck it, let’s go to a restaurant!” His neck was obviously slow twitch, and he could have gotten 250 reps.
Q: When you coaches say to avoid machines, do cable machines count?
Cables are basically re-directed dumbbells. In my opinion, cables are the same thing as free weights, plus they allow you to re-direct resistance where dumbbells are limited.
For some exercises, cable pulleys are superior. For example, for rotator cuff training you’re very limited in the angles you can train it when using a dumbbell. The options are endless though, when using a pulley.
A multi-functional cable unit is the same thing as a dumbbell. I don’t consider it a “machine.”
Q: In past articles, you’ve talked about some undiagnosed conditions that could be holding people back in the gym (low stomach acid etc.) Any other conditions or problems that you often see?
Heavy metal toxicity would be one example. Also, plastics toxicity. If a guy is asking his girl if his pants make him look fat, then he has an estrogen problem that could be caused by plastics. When we test people for toxicity, we find they have a lot of plastics in their bodies. That interferes with the thyroid, plus the plastics are estrogen mimickers.
Next, a mineral deficiency can stop virtually all progress. Some people train hard but never seem to be able to fill up their muscles no matter how well they eat. This is often caused by a molybdenum deficiency. I see that in about 10% of people who come in for a Comprehensive Metabolic Profile. You put them on molybdenum and they gain weight again.
To get tested for heavy metal toxicity, plastics toxicity, or a mineral deficiency, you’d need to see a functional medicine doctor. The best place to find one is www.acam.org, which is the site for the American College for the Advancement of Medicine.
And by the way, if you don’t have the money, don’t bother these doctors. If you don’t have a thousand to four thousands dollars to invest, don’t even bother. Cost depends on the tests run. If you’ve grown up in New York City, you may pay up to four grand because you’re probably very toxic. If you grew up on Fiji, then you’re not going to have a problem.
The test for plastics is actually cheap, about 155 bucks. You just piss on a piece of paper and they can tell what plastics you have inside you. Many people have this problem because they heat food in plastic containers in the microwave, eat a lot of packaged foods, and drink water out of recycled plastic bottles. The average American consumes 150 micrograms of plastic per day.
Your genes aren’t made to detoxify plastic; they don’t know what to do with them. That’s why in Florida the alligators are hung like a light switch (infantile penis) – there’s so much plastic in the water that competes with the androgens. Recycling may be good for the environment, but not your internal environment.
Q: Is it true that hamstrings need fewer reps for hypertrophy than other muscle groups?
That’s true if you’re working them as knee flexors. If you’re working them as hip extensors you should do higher reps.
So, do low reps in a leg curl machine and higher reps in stiff leg deadlifts, Romanian dead, reverse hyper, and back extension. The reason why is because when you’re working your hip extensors you’re also working your glutes and erector spinae and those tend to be higher rep muscles.
In other words, if you’re using the leg curl machine you should be using eight reps or less. Someone with a higher training age may only need three reps, but use a higher amount of sets, like 10 sets of 3.
The only problem with the leg curl machine is that it doesn’t provide enough weight for some athletes. I had to get Atlantis to custom make me a special machine because my athletes were too strong for the amount of weight provided on a regular leg curl machine. Before that I had some athletes who could lift the whole stack using a single leg!
I like Strive machines too, but I remember I once had Marty Lapointe from the Chicago Blackhawks at the Biotest weightroom. The machine had the maximal amount of plates it could handle but he was so powerful that on every rep the machine would move forward. Tim Patterson was about to have a heart attack!
Q: Can you really “shock” muscles into growing? The old school bodybuilders used to use that term a lot, but is it true?
Yes, I think it’s still true. In fact, if something doesn’t grow, you can train it three days in a row.
I had a national caliber bodybuilder who couldn’t put legs on. At his height he should’ve weighed 240, not 210. I made him do legs nine times a week and four months later he weighed 242.
One of my old mentors used to say to me, “If you’re not making progress, overtrain until you’re depressed, then take five days off. Then you’ll grow.”
So let’s say you’re a guy who has no lats – you’re as wide as a fucking pencil. Train your lats three days in a row. The reps might look like this:
- Day #1: 6-8 reps
- Day #2: 10-12 reps
- Day #3: 20-25 reps
Then take a day off and train the rest of your body parts for the week. As for exercises, you’ll change the lat exercise each of the three days.
Remember, hypertrophy is a biological adaptation to a biological stress. If something doesn’t kill you, then the more you put stress on it the more it will adapt. If the .22 caliber doesn’t work, use a .50 caliber.
It’s backed up in the scientific literature that you can train a muscle up to nine times a week, as long as you give it some time after to rest. In other words, if you don’t train to the point of depression, it doesn’t really work.
Keep the rule of 20% in mind. Let’s say you can bench press 300 pounds for sets of five. Train until you can only do 240 for sets of five. Controlled overtraining in other words. Take five days off and when you come back you’ll bench 330.
Another way that works well for strength is to train with singles (10-12) five days in a row for the same lift. Take two days off, you get a personal best.
The problem is that most people don’t have the balls to do this. They won’t overtrain to that point and will panic when they drop just five pounds on their bench. They need a slave driver coach to make them do it. You have to reach that 20% drop. When you show up at the gym and start crying for no reason, you’re there.
I used to do this to the alpine ski teams. These are some of the strongest athletes around because they use their legs every day when skiing, then I’d get them into the gym and say, “Okay, pillow biters, you have to squat this morning and deadlift this afternoon!” They’d get no time off. Then we’d take them to the beach for five days and they’d come back able to squat a house. It works.
Q: Salt: Good or bad for we weightlifting fools?
I get questions about salt all the time. There’s a lot of confusion out there. Some say that salt is a plague to be avoided, and some say we need more of it in our diets.
As always, I believe in careful consideration of anything that we put into our bodies. Here are some points to consider when using salt in your diet:
- Modern salt is like sugar and most oils consumed: a very refined product very far from its original form, hence its toxicity.
- Salt intake has to be individualized. While restricting salt could effectively combat acne, it would be disastrous for someone trying to recover from adrenal fatigue. In certain genotypes, salt can aggravate osteoporosis.
- The higher protein intake you have, the more salt you need. On every single Comprehensive Metabolic Profile I do, I always find that sodium is low in high protein users.
- The more cooked food you eat, the more salt you need to activate certain intestinal enzymes. That is why traditional Chinese food tends to be salty, since the Chinese eat very little raw food. This is the opposite of the Inuit, who still eat their traditional diet heavy with raw food.
If you must use salt, you should consider the following factors when choosing the best brand:
- Salt should have a color. Avoid that bland white stuff. Salt should be pink, red, beige, or grey. What that means is that it contains trace minerals and hasn’t been highly processed.
- It should also be affordable. It doesn’t need to come from Tibet, harvested by a blood type AB Buddhist monk who engages his pelvic floor before bending over, tenth out of fourteen children born during a full moon, etc. Good salt is readily available at any health food store.
- A great brand that I’ve used for years is Celtic Sea Salt. This type of salt is constituted with 82% sodium chloride and 14% other minerals, magnesium being the largest portion of it. If you live in Hawaii, Hawaiian Red Sea Salt is a great option. The iodine contained in colored salts in retained in tissue for a long time, as opposed to the refined one from supermarkets.
All of us like to add a bit of flavor to our food on a regular basis. If you use salt, I urge you to be discriminating and consider the above factors.