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Dumbbells Only Pump for Upper-Body Muscle

Your Setup Some people have elaborate training accommodations in their homes (a power rack, full sets of dumbbells, bars and plates, one of those decked-out home gyms, etc.). You’re not one of those people. You have the bare minimum: a bench and one pair of dumbbells sitting in the basement. The guy with the decked-out gym can do pretty much any of the complete programs we publish every month.

Iron Is A Girl’s Best Friend

When I first picked up weights a few years ago, maximal lifting wasn’t even on my radar. I ran around in circles with my 10-pound dumbbells, completely unaware that I was missing out on an entire world of fitness.

In the world of 1RM strength, you set specific goals and work for weeks or months to inch closer to them. You push your body to its limits to achieve a triumph that only lasts a couple of seconds. But you also get rewarded with a rush unlike anything else. It’s a great world to be a part of, and it’s changed the entire way I view health and fitness.

I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on heavy lifting—yet. But I’ve still learned some important lessons along the way, and I’m confident you’ll find them just as helpful as I did. If you’re looking to find your numbers or move them up into uncharted territory, here are five rules you need to take to heart.

1 Train Systematically

If you’re currently training in the 10-20 rep range and have limited experience with anything less—think 3-8 difficult reps—then you aren’t ready for a 1RM test. Attempting a max test when you’re mentally and physically unprepared is a bad idea. You’re just setting yourself up for failure.

I highly suggest using a program that trains specifically for the kind of intensity you’ll find in a 1RM test. I used Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 system successfully for several months before getting a more personalized powerlifting training program from the Strength Guys. Trust me, proper programming makes all the difference both in terms of performance and safety. Squatting 3 reps at 85 percent 1RM is an entirely different ballgame than doing 15 reps on the leg press. Programs like 5/3/1, the Westside System, or Stronglifts 5×5 will prepare you for the intensity that lies ahead.

If you’re unsure of your max or haven’t yet had the chance to test it, I suggest using a 1RM calculator initially. Just enter your best lift, and it does the work for you. The heavier the weight and the lower the number of reps, the more accurate the calculator is. For example, 200 pounds for 5 reps is more accurate than 150 pounds for 9 reps. Nothing is as accurate as actually getting under the bar and testing your 1RM—preferably with some supervision from somebody who’s done it many times—but, these calculators can give you a sufficient idea of what your max should be. You’ll need that number in order for the percentage-based training of strength programs to be effective.

2 Learn How To Get in the Right Headspace

Testing your 1RM requires a serious amount of intensity and concentration. You won’t be frolicking in the land of unicorns, bunnies, and rainbows here. To be honest, testing your 1RM sucks. It usually hurts physically, and it always challenges your body’s idea of what is “possible.” Putting that kind of stress on your body is more than just a physical trial, though. It’s a mental one, too. Before you step up to a barbell to try for your max lift, you need to be a master of these three skills:

Focus

If you find your mind in 35 different places and none of them are at the gym with the bar, it’s not the day to test your max. There may be no such thing as the perfect day, but there are optimal conditions that give you a shot at hitting your best numbers. You want to be present and composed with mental clarity. Your focus should be on one thing and one thing only: moving that heavy weight.

Bench Press
Visualization

Visualize yourself easily pulling your deadlift max. Then see yourself adding some more weight and pulling again with ease. Picture your bench max going up without a hitch. Visualizing not only gives your confidence a much needed boost before you tackle your lift, but it can also actually improve motor performance, making your 1RM attempt a major success.

Jamming Out

Not everybody needs music in order to get into a PR headspace, but for many of us, it’s crucial. Listening to music during a training session has been proven to improve performance; it can also be a great boost of motivation when you’re aiming to venture into uncharted waters. Some people like screamo heavy metal to get their blood pumping, and others prefer electronic music, jazz, or film soundtracks to help calm their mind and set the scene for an epic triumph. Whatever works for you, do it!

3 Embrace The Routine

Everyone has their own way of getting ready for a max. Some people do a specific number of warm-up sets, and some people listen to a particular playlist or eat a particular meal. Find a routine that works for you and stick with it. For people who haven’t yet had the chance to take a 1RM, this is what I suggest the first time around:

Warm up

An extensive warm-up process is essential to get an accurate 1RM and prevent injury. I start with some basic mobility work, taking my joints through a full range of motion, and then I move to my warm-up sets.

Get heavy slowly

Opinions vary about which rep scheme to use as you work up to a heavy weight. Your program or coach might have a specific way of doing this; if so, follow it. Here’s the routine that I like to follow when testing my max or going for a PR.

  • Bar x 10
  • 50% x 5
  • 60% x 3
  • 70% x 2
  • 80% x 1
  • 90% x 1
  • 95% x 1
  • 1RM attempt

High reps don’t have a place on max day. I want to know that I can push or pull heavy weight, which is why I perform several sets of a single rep as I get closer to my max. Each of these reps boosts my confidence and prepares me mentally and physically for the pinnacle lift.

No matter how you choose to arrange your warm-up sets, they should fully prepare your muscles, joints, and central nervous system for the lift ahead. I always leave at least 2-3 minutes of rest between my warm-sets, and then I give myself an extra minute or two as I get closer to my max attempt.

“High reps don’t have a place on max day. I want to know that I can push or pull heavy weight.”

4 Find a spotter

I like to train alone. If you see me in the gym, my headphones are usually in, my hat is down low, and I have a leave-me-alone-until-I’m-done look on my face. On max day, it’s a different story. It’s crucial that you have someone spotting your bench max, unless getting pinned under a barbell sounds like your idea of a good time.

Utilizing a spotter on squat max testing isn’t always necessary, particularly if you squat in a rack with safety bars. If I’m testing my squat, I generally use the safety bars for warm-up sets and then grab the most experienced lifter I can find to spot me for my max attempt. Pulling a random spotter off the gym floor isn’t something that I mind doing, but if this is something you’re uncomfortable doing, bring a friend you trust to put your nerves at ease. And maybe have them read up on the rules of spotting first.

There’s no way to spot a deadlift physically, since you either pull the bar off the ground or you don’t. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invite a mental or emotional spotter along for the ride. If you feel like having someone yell “light weight!” in a Ronnie Coleman voice would help you move a heavy weight, then by all means make sure they’re there!

5 Make Your PR A Lift Like Any Other

The time has come. You’ve been training for this moment for months. You’ve done your warm-up sets, you’re focused and ready, and now it’s go time. All of your prior training has led you to this moment. Scary, right?

“I’m nervous, I’m pumped, I’m motivated, and I want to do something I’ve never done before.”

I’m always a mixed bag of emotions right before my lift, but I think that’s what carries me through and gives me the best possible lift. I’m nervous, I’m pumped, I’m motivated, and I want to do something I’ve never done before. Somewhere in that mess of emotions, I usually just say “Enough! I’m ready to do this,” and then I go for it.

Aside from this inevitable dialog, though, the mechanics of a max attempt should be the same as all the other lifts you practiced up until this point. This isn’t the time to do a quarter-rep or forget to engage your lats when you deadlift. As you visualize your lift, you should be taking note of form and remembering all your normal cues. A max lift where you injure yourself in the process doesn’t count in my book.

After your initial attempt is complete, step back and assess. How do you feel? How did the lift go? Are you ready for more, or did it take everything out of you? I like to keep going until I either miss a lift or know there’s no logical way I can get that weight back up. But many people will stop after one, and that’s fine.

If you feel like you’re ready to conquer another max attempt, I suggest giving yourself 7-10 minutes of rest before you step up to the bar again. Add no more than 5-10 pounds to the bar; don’t get greedy. Even if you leave that second or third max attempt unrealized, you should feel damn good about what you accomplish!

6 Don’t Overthink It

I’m often guilty of beating myself up after the fact. Did I eat too much? Too little? Could I have done another rep? Should I have done more weight? We all do it. When you’re completely invested in something—like so many of us in the world of health and fitness are—you want to be perfect.

But when you’re waging war against big numbers and percentages, there’s nothing to be gained by harboring regrets. Nagging doubts and questions can take over your brain and prevent you from improving, but just as importantly, they can keep you from enjoying an important victory.

The best possible advice I can give you is to let go. At no time is that more crucial than during and after your 1RM attempt. If you walk up to the bar wondering if you’re going to miss, or questioning your preparation, or revisiting the failed lifts of the past, you’ve already lost. You just have to go for it.

You’re ready. It’s time to believe in yourself. Pick up that weight and show the bar who’s boss.


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Eating For Ultimate Abs: Six Tips For A Six-Pack

Just about everyone I know who’s ever trained seriously, in almost any discipline, has focused in on their abs at one point or another. I know I have. There’s no denying that abs are a core (pun intended) component of perceived physical perfection, so it’s pointless to resist. Almost every magazine cover, advertisement, and billboard shows images of chiseled abs. “Ideal” waistlines have gone in and out over the years, but as a culture, we continue to celebrate abs more than ever.

Beyond that, abdominal training is simply important to all types of athletes. You use your abs every time you lift, twist, or even stand up. A powerful set of abs, along with a strong, balanced physique are big parts of the formula for overall physical health. And to everyone who says “visible abs aren’t necessarily strong abs,” I answer: That may be true, but I can still recognize a strong set when I see one.

Still, as this site and many others are happy to point out for you, you can’t train your way out of a poor diet. While there is an extraordinary amount of conflicting “expert” testimony when it comes to proper nutrition, there are tried-and-true techniques that millions of abs—sixes of millions of them, in fact—can agree on. They might blow your mind or they might be old news, but listen up either way. If you’re not following them, then it probably shows.

1 Fire It Up

First things first: You need to be aware of what you eat. The best way to do this is to prepare as many of your own meals as possible. When you cook for yourself, you can stay on top of exactly what every single ingredient is, and how much you use in preparation. The more knowledge and power you have the better.

When consuming foods made by others, you don’t know much for certain, and particularly when you dine out. Many times, even when prepared by “healthy” restaurants, meals are often served in oversized proportions and laden with gratuitous amounts of empty calories and chemicals. I’ve seen salads and sides that boast more than 1,000 calories per serving. No one will get abs eating like that on a regular basis.

2 Go Green

A lot of folks think I eat nothing but pull-up bars and tattoo ink. They’d be surprised to see how many leafy greens I consume on a daily basis. Everyone knows that green vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins, nutrients, calcium, and dietary fiber, but many don’t realize what a large role eating foods like spinach, kale and broccoli can have in sculpting amazing abs.

“People who have problems with self-control and portion size can’t go wrong when it comes to greens, which can be consumed virtually whenever you want.”

Greens, along with most vegetables, are extremely low in caloric intake. People who have problems with self-control and portion size can’t go wrong when it comes to greens, which can be consumed virtually whenever you want. Load two thirds of your dinner plate with veggies, and you’ll fill up with quality nutrition and decrease the temptation to make sketchier choices.

3 Avoid Processed Sugar

If you consume extra sugar and don’t metabolize it quickly, it will be stored as fat. Many of us, men in particular, tend to store this fat on our bellies. Clearly, a diet high in sugar will hinder you on your quest to a six-pack.

Processed sugar is among your abs’ greatest foes. By this, I am not just referring to white table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, but to just about any product where everything has been removed but the sugar. This includes “raw” and “natural” sugars, not to mention many other misleadingly labeled sweeteners on the market, including such as “nectars,” “syrups,” and “cane juice.”

The natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables do not fall into this category; they have never been processed and are un-stripped of their natural fiber. They therefore metabolize slowly over time. An apple is not only sweet, it’s filling and free of processed sugar, making it a great snack for ultimate abs.

4 Drink More Water

One of the worst things about sugar is that it’s added to virtually everything. While it’s obvious that beverages like cocktails and soda will stand in the way of the quest for abs, many well-intentioned individuals still drink their sugar unknowingly in the form of flavored waters, sweetened iced teas, fruit juices, coffee drinks, and other treats. These products should be consumed minimally, if at all.

“Water improves metabolic rate and digestion, which helps you get leaner.”

Make it a habit to look at ingredients and nutritional information and take nothing for granted. Drinks are not always what they seem! A glass of orange juice has more than 100 calories and 20 grams of sugar. Water has none. The importance of taking in adequate H2O cannot be overstated.

Water also improves metabolic rate and digestion, which helps you get leaner. It hydrates and moisturizes, increasing your skin’s suppleness and enhancing your abs’ appearance. Furthermore, water removes toxins and reduces aches and pains, helping you train harder and recover faster.

5 Eat Less

There are many paths one can take in the quest toward ultimate abs. Lots of diets and eating styles have the potential to help you get lean, and I’m not here to tell you why one is better than another. But here’s a thought: Although there is no single weight-loss method universally proven to work perfectly for everyone in all situations, simply eating less comes close!

Having a ripped six pack requires having low body fat: 10 percent or less for men as a general standard, and 20 percent or less for women. A number like that simply is not attained without good old-fashioned restraint. Assuming you’re like most of us, if you want to show off that hard-earned definition, you will simply have to eat less. There is no way around it.

6 Live Life

Practicing restraint is one thing. Subjecting yourself to deprivation is another. The line between them is one you have to find for yourself, but a system that leaves you constantly wanting more will inevitably leave you dissatisfied. Long-term deprivation can lead to a backlash of bad habits, and usually counter-productive. I think it’s best to have a healthful, holistic approach to training and life. Look at the big picture. Food is meant to be enjoyed, and with the right mindset, you can do so and have your abs, too.

“Each one of us is a product of our own day-to-day habits. If you eat well 80-90 percent of the time, there is no reason you can’t indulge occasionally.”

Each one of us is a product of our own day-to-day habits. If you eat well 80-90 percent of the time, there is no reason you can’t indulge occasionally. This principle is true for desserts, “cheat” meals if you’re inclined to call them that, and even Thanksgiving dinners. They’re all fine because they’re occasional. Just make sure to be honest and hold yourself accountable; it’s not a “cheat” if you do it every day.

If you have good eating habits, there’s almost nothing you’ll have to avoid 100 percent of the time. This will leave you and your six-pack abs free to live happily ever after together. Keep the dream alive!


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6 Tricks For A Stronger Squat!

In many serious lifters’ playbook, the squat is the go-to lift for developing serious lower body strength and size. It no doubt gets the job done, but as with all exercises, there will come a point where you feel like you’ve hit a ceiling. You know you should be able to move more weight around, but your muscles just don’t seem to cooperate. At times like these, a temporary vacation from the same-old squat routine is in order.

Don’t worry, after you try one or several of these tried-and-true techniques, you can always come back to the squat variations you know and love best. In most cases, you’ll be stronger and more balanced when you do.

1 Try Single Leg Variations

It’s amazing how simply shifting the work from two legs to one leg can exponentially crank up the difficulty. You might think, “Ok, I’ll just squat half of the heavy load I’ve been moving in a back squat,” but in most cases, you’ll find that weight laughing at you the first time you try it.

The increased balance demands of single-leg squat variations make them highly difficult to the unaccustomed, but they are worth it! Stick with them until you find your footing. Unilateral exercises also confer additional benefits in correcting side-to-side muscular imbalances, which many people find to be a key to building even greater bilateral (two-leg) strength.

Pistol Squats

While there are many one-legged squat moves to choose from, my somewhat unorthodox recommendation for you, if you struggle to improve a barbell back squat, is to try the pistol squat. Tread lightly! Even bodyweight pistol squats can be extremely difficult for most lifters, at least in the beginning. The initial instability produces more muscle engagement, and the high level of muscle control this exercise demands may initially force you to hold onto something for balance. There’s no shame in that, I promise!

In the beginning, perform this exercise with bodyweight only until you can safely and confidently hit six consecutive reps. After you’ve done this for a while with good form, you can start adding weights, either by holding a dumbbell plate, a kettlebell, or a couple of light dumbbells held straight out in front of you. Once you can perform 6 good-form reps with a weight between 25 and 45 pounds in your arms, you should see a notable improvement in every other lower-body lift.

2 Spread Out

In a standard back squat, most experts would direct you to point your feet straight forward, or perhaps ever-so-slightly outward. A small adjustment in your foot position, they know, can cause a significant shift in the muscles that are worked.

Following that logic, try this on for size: Spread your feet slightly past shoulder-width and point your toes outward at a 45-degree angle. This adjusted position is called the sumo squat , and it will develop strength and mobility of the hips, adductors, and glutes to a greater extent than a narrow-stance squat.

Sumo Squat

Some people may find this position to be more comfortable for their individual body, and it becomes their go-to squat. That’s great for them, but make sure you do it right before you fall in love. Ensure that your knees don’t spill too far over your toes when you drop it low. And, perhaps even more importantly, don’t flare your knees inward as you bottom out. Get them out wide over your toes!

3 Pause At the Bottom

Are ya ready to feel your quads and buns burn? Try pausing at the bottom of any squatting movement. This applies to front squats, back squats, pistols, and all other variations you see in the gym. This pause eliminates the stretch reflex in the muscles, and thereby forces the muscle to generate more “true” force to be able to complete the squat.

What do I mean by “true?” At the bottom of a deep squat, the stretch in your hamstrings and adductors helps you bounce out of the hole to some degree, even if it doesn’t look like a “bounce” per se. Envision pulling back a rubber band to a stretched position; it is now primed to spring back to its normal elasticity with even greater power. Adding a brief isometric contraction of about 2-4 seconds makes this “bounce” impossible, and has the potential to improve strength and power production from the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and other lower-body prime movers.

Some lifters find this to be such an effective technique that they perform at least some sets starting from the bottom. This is known as an “Anderson Squat.”

4 Add Half-Reps From the Bottom

Trying new squatting variations is only one way to attack a squat that doesn’t seem to be progressing. Another is to take your current form of squatting and simply make it more difficult. A great way to accomplish this is to perform half-reps from the bottom.

These are just what they sound like. Sink down into a full squat, and then rise up just halfway. Pause, and then lower back into the hole before pushing up into the full standing position. Sound easy? In execution, it’s anything but. This technique places more stress on your muscles during your weakest point of the squat movement pattern, which allows you to build strength where you need it most. Just don’t call me when you can’t sit down comfortably for the next few days.

Few people are able approach their normal squatting volume with half-reps being added in, so take it slowly. Add 1-2 half reps per set to start, and build up until you can perform a full set with a half-rep in between each full rep.

5 Shift the Load

When someone mentions the squat in casual conversation—what, your friends don’t do that?—-most people imagine the back squat during which the bar is placed behind the neck. But that is only one type of loaded squat, and to be honest, it isn’t right for everyone. Some people simply never feel comfortable with the spinal compression that results from having a barbell sit on top of their back. Others find that for reasons of balance, knee strength, or something else, they are able to achieve far superior form with other variations. Open your mind and your squat will feel the benefit!

Take, for example, the front squat. In comparison to the back squat, the front squat hammers the quads more and calls for additional muscle activity from the hips and lower back. Due to the biomechanical nature of the movement, the front squat places less spinal compression and torque on the knees as well. Simply put, it offers much of the same stimulus as the back squat, but less risk to your most vulnerable areas.

“In comparison to the back squat, the front squat hammers the quads more and calls for additional muscle activity from the hips and lower back.”

Most athletes find that maximal weight they can front squat will be approximately 80 percent of a back squat’s maximal lift, so bragging rights aren’t quite the same. But in recent years, having a strong front-squat max has become cooler than ever, and is often taken as a sign of being an overall well-rounded athlete. And you’d better believe boosting your front squat will help your back squat grow, too!

6 Make It Explosive

Common sense says that the only way to develop a heavy squat is to squat heavy. Sure, that’s part of it, but there is another proven method: squat fast. Bar speed is often overlooked because it often makes the exercise feel “easy” or less productive, but cranking up the velocity of your squat can help your squat immensely by allowing you to practice technique while still training for peak power.

So what exactly makes it a “speed squat?” Perform the squat at a smaller percentage of your max. Depending on your repetition range and volume of work you want to get done, this can range between 35 and 70 percent of your one-rep max. For heavier loads, lower the rep scheme; the lighter the scheme is, the higher reps should be. You can perform a set portion of a leg day for speed, or if you’re really dedicated to squatting, you could split your week into light and heavy days.

Another way to add power to the squat is by performing bodyweight squat jumps. Drop down into a deep bodyweight squat and launch yourself off the ground as high as you can go. Land quietly, meet the balls of your feet to the floor, and bend your knees slightly to absorb the impact. Drop back into the squat position and continue your reps in this fashion. As you would in any exercise, maintain proper form throughout, being mindful of spine and knee positions. Don’t lean too far forward or let your knees pass too far over your toes.

Give one or all of these tips a try on your next lower-body training day, and share your experience in the comments below!


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Fitness Success Secrets: Secret Techniques From Elite Athletes

Everybody, including celebrity athletes, has secrets. No, I’m not referring to scandalous dirt or shocking rumors about people in the fitness industry! (Let’s leave that to reality TV, shall we?) I’m talking about a hidden cache of secrets which athletes keep hush-hush about how they look the way they do, where their strength comes from, or the secret sauce to their training.

Ever wonder about the close-kept training or eating methods of your favorite athletes and fitness models? Top athletes may hold these tips—which take years of crafting and honing—near and dear to their hearts, but Cellucor’s ripped warriors peel back the curtain a little to let you peek into their methods for top physical and mental performance. (Just promise that you won’t share a single word or a piano may mysteriously fall out of the sky.)

Heed the words of elite athletes Karina Baymiller, Colton Leonard, Jen Jewell, and Craig Capurso. Their secrets can make you stronger.

Karina Baymiller
Her Secret

I secretly enjoy conditioning! If you know anything about me, you know that I love lifting heavy more than anything, but what you don’t know is that I love conditioning work just as much.

I talk a lot of crap about cardio, and it’s true, you wouldn’t catch me dead on an elliptical or doing low-intensity, steady-state. But when it comes to cardio work that gets my heart pumping like crazy, I’m obsessed. Maybe it’s the adrenaline junkie in me, but I can’t get enough of sprints, barbell complexes, jump rope, plyometrics, kettlebell work, and even some short distance (2-3 mile) running.

I do conditioning work 2-3 times per week and give it major credit for helping me stay in shape all year long … Just don’t tell anyone! Winky face.

I secretly enjoy conditioning! I talk a lot of crap about cardio, but when it comes to cardio work that gets my heart pumping like crazy, I’m obsessed.

Colton Leonard
His Secret

My secret? Use heavy weight and high reps to challenge your mental and physical strength, and take your training to the next level. One thing I have always incorporated as part of my strength program is repetition workouts. In strongman, not only do you need to possess the power to perform a lift at maximum intensity, but you often find that you need to do so repeatedly.

7 Strongman Lifts For The Non-strongman

You don’t need to be a strongman competitor to use the lifts! These strongman moves and their variations can help you achieve your goals!

For instance, we don’t just load an Atlas stone; we have to load them either for maximum reps under time, or, at minimum, a five-stone series. You often find deadlift events in strongman, which also require you to perform a maximum number of reps under time. These events led me to start incorporating this type of lifting into my training.

Several times each month, I pick a lift or movement commonly found in competition. After warming up, I complete one all-out set with as many reps as possible. This type of training not only contributes to overall strength, size, and conditioning, but will test your mental fortitude as you approach failure and your body starts to scream for you to stop.

Here’s the real trick: 2-3 times each month, pick a major movement, set the weight at approximately 70-75 percent of your max and, after properly warming up, perform one set of as many repetitions as you safely can in 60-90 seconds. Choose from these exercises to test your guts: deadlift, squat, clean and press, or T-bar row.

Write down your max reps and test yourself again down the road to track your progress. If this set does not leave you crawling away in pain and agony, you weren’t trying hard enough!

Jen Jewell
Her Secret

Of all the fitness tips, diet tricks, and booty-sculpting workouts out there, my ultimate fitness secret is simple: Stop comparing yourself to others! Instead, constantly work on becoming your fittest and healthiest self. I always say that I’m a work in progress, en route to becoming my best self. Having adopted that mindset has been incredibly beneficial to my health, outlook, and self-confidence over the past couple of years.

Sure, at first glance, it’s easier said than done. With the onslaught of bikini-clad or underwear “selfies” that have seemingly taken over fitness social media, the physiques of others are right in your face when you log on to Facebook, Instagram, and so on. (It’s a bikini booty free-for-all on my Facebook newsfeed!) While some of these posts from fit individuals can be inspiring and motivating, these types of updates are not always that simple.

Seeing others’ progress, cellulite-free legs and buns, and solid six-pack abs can begin to take a toll on your own self-esteem. Inevitably, they compel you to constantly compare yourself to others and how your progress or fitness stacks up against theirs.

The moment I stopped comparing myself to others and focused on my own journey was pretty darn liberating. Charting your own progress from day one—whatever level of fitness your day one may be—and using that as your measuring stick can be extremely motivating. We are all in the gym working hard to set new personal records. Why not maintain that mindset when it comes to progress in your physique, as well?

Admire the physiques and hard work of your favorite “fitspos,” but always keep in mind that the reflection in the mirror is your real competition. Be in competition with yourself, striving to become better each and every day. That is the true secret!

Craig Capurso
His Secret

When I’m trying to manipulate water for shoots, I take full advantage of infrared saunas. An infrared sauna is an effective tool for detoxifying the body and an aid for shedding excess subcutaneous water, yet few people utilize it. While traditional saunas help with water loss, the added benefit of infrared light penetrates the body tissue to help excrete toxins and bring out your musculature.

This has been a trick that I’ve used to come dialed into photo shoots and contests for years. It really makes a difference!

Infrared light penetrates the body tissue to help excrete toxins and bring out
your musculature.

The Secret Is Out

Embrace the valuable information that contributes to these athletes’ success and see how it could fit into your own life and goals. Have you got a secret method few people know about? Tell us in the comments below … unless you’d rather keep it secret.


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The Road To Two Plates: You Can Squat And Deadlift 225 Pounds!

The barbell is calling your name. You’ve been going to the gym for a quite a while now, and you’re comfortable doing the usual lower body machine exercises. Now you feel like you’re ready for a new challenge, and you’re sure it should involve barbells. But how, and to what end?

You could go a couple of different ways here. You could tinker around on those thin-handled barbells over by the dumbbell racks, doing your best to perform squats, lunges, and Romanian deadlifts in a crowd of people doing curls and presses.

Or you could step into the squat rack or onto the platform, make the commitment to learn how to handle an Olympic bar and plates, and work toward the goal of a nice, round number.

Don’t sell yourself short. Get serious, learn proper form, and make yourself proud in the weight room this year!

Who is Barbell Training For?

Lower-body free-weight training is an entirely different beast compared to lower body machine-based exercise. The leg press, knee extension, and leg curl machines have their place, but if you want to develop lower body strength and power, you’re going to have to squat and deadlift.

These closed-chain kinetic exercises—meaning your feet are in contact with the floor—challenge your legs, core, and hip stabilizer muscles in a totally unique fashion. If physique transformation is your goal, they provide a more powerful full-body stimulus than any machine, in half the time. These exercises also have better transference to athletic qualities such as sprinting and jumping.

Barbell Deadlift

You’ll hear people brag about big numbers, but ignore them for now. No matter what comes afterward, 225 in the squat or deadlift is a respectable milestone for any non-powerlifter, amateur athlete, or weekend warrior.

A 200-plus deadlift is also a tough but realistic goal for most fit women. I’ve known many who’ve already achieved it, and many more who can. The back squat is a more difficult lift for many women to go heavy, but squatting heavier than bodyweight is still a worthy goal to start, and this program can get you there.

Endurance athletes like distance runners, cyclists, and rowers can also benefit from adding heavy squats and deadlifts to their injury-prevention routine. Lifting greater than bodyweight improves neuromuscular efficiency to the fast-twitch type-II muscle fibers; and it has been shown in studies to lead to better performance in endurance sports. Despite the “thin and weak” stereotype, endurance athletes can benefit immensely from more strength—and don’t worry, 225 isn’t a number that you’ll need to get “bulky” to achieve.

So what’s the best approach to reach two plates on each side of the barbell? Well, first and foremost, you need to be able to execute each lift with optimal biomechanics. Once you get the form down, just take that light weight you move around, and make it heavier.

The Essentials of the Squat

A number—be it, 225, 425, or 75—means nothing if it’s done with bad form: knees caved, torso doubled over, and a back that looks like it’s about to break. I’m only interested in helping you own the number, and that means squatting with your hip crease dipping below your knee crease at the bottom of the squat, which is referred to as an “ass-to-grass” squat.

If you can’t squat that deep, well, you’re in the company of many, many gym-goers. But you’re not off the hook! Just place a 10-pound plate under each heel. This will create a slight anterior weight shift and make up for tight ankles. Still, drive your knees out and keep most of your weight from your mid-foot to your heel.

There should be a slight lean in your torso, and your lower and upper back should have good alignment without excessively rounding or arching.

Last, your knees should be held outward, with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart and your heels flat on the floor. Ideally, you would have a barbell on your back in the “high bar” position, resting mainly on your trapezius muscles and the upper ridge of your shoulder blades.

Back Squat

A great tip from the world of powerlifting is to push your knees out as if you were spreading the floor with your feet. This results in greater stability as your hip muscles tighten up to hold your knees outward.

Pull the bar into your traps as if you are trying to break it across your back. This cue will activate your lats, create more torso stability, and prevent you from falling forward.

The Essentials of the Deadlift

The hip hinge is the major movement pattern involved in a conventional deadlift. Essentially, the hips act like a hinge and flex, while your torso leans forward and your shins stay relatively vertical—that’s the difference between a hinge and a squat. No ass-to-grass here; the hip motion is primarily back-and-forth rather than up-and-down.

As with the squat, however, the spine stays aligned and doesn’t round or extend during a deadlift. But you should feel more tension in your hamstrings than a squat, particularly at the bottom of the movement, where the bar is on the ground.

Also, make sure you perform this movement with soft or slightly bent knees. We’re not doing stiff-legged deadlifts here.

To perform a conventional deadlift, step up to the bar with a hip-width stance. Bend your knees and hips, and grab the bar with a double overhand grip to the outside of your shins.

Push your hips back and puff out your chest. Your spine should be straight with your shoulders just in front of the barbell and slightly higher than your hips.

The squat (left) is a quad-dominant exercise. The hip-hinge (right) is the major movement patter of a deadlift, in which the hips act like a hinge and flex, while your torso leans forward and your shins remain vertical.

Brace your abs and engage your lats. As with the squat, you should feel most of your balance and body weight from mid-foot to heel. With your chin slightly tucked in, stand up with the bar, keeping it close to your body.

Finish with a deliberate hip extension and glute squeeze. Don’t lean back excessively; this places unwanted stress to your lumbar spine. Now slide the bar down your thighs as you push your hips backward. Once the bar passes your knees, sit the bar back to the floor. Reset your position and prepare for the next rep.

The Road to 225

The best way to get stronger and better at a lift is to perform it more frequently throughout the week. This plan will focus on getting your high-bar back squat and conventional deadlift to 225 in a straightforward, systematic way, using three full-body workouts per week. Here, I’ll just illustrate the squat and deadlift routine; feel free to add any upper-body lifts as you see appropriate, as long as they don’t detract from the work you do here.

For the first workout, use a weight you can confidently lift for 5 sets of 5 reps, but which still feels somewhat heavy. If you’re successful at completing all reps in each set, add weight in 5-pound increments and attempt to perform all 5 sets of 5 reps the following week.

Keep moving up in this manner until you hit what feels like a limit. Don’t attempt a rep if you suspect you might not make it; just end the set. If you fail and your reps go like this: 5, 5, 4, 3, 3, use the same weight the next week, and attempt all 5 sets of 5 reps again.

Details, Details

Mixed grip or overhand? Sumo or conventional? Straps, belts, or nothing at all? Focus on learning the squat and deadlift movements first. You may find later that a mixed grip or a sumo stance is more comfortable at heavier weights.

For Wednesday’s workout, use a submaximal weight (roughly 60 percent of the weight used on Monday) and perform speed deadlifts. The execution of the deadlift is the same; however, the bar is to be lifted as fast as possible with correct form. For the jump squat, execute the squat as written above, but explode from the bottom position and jump off the ground. Land lightly and prepare for the next rep.

Last, for Friday’s workout, start with a light weight and perform 5 reps. Add a little bit of weight, and after your rest, perform another 5 reps. Keep adding weight over the next 5-6 sets to reach the maximum weight you can perform 5 reps with, which is called your 5-rep max (5RM). In week two, work up to a max set of 3 reps. In week three, work up to a max set of 1 rep.

This program can be performed month after month until you reach 225 or a different goal number in each lift. You’ll notice a deload week in the fourth week to allow your body to recover before the next phase.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

  • Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift
    3 sets of 5 reps (70% of week prior’s weight), 2 min. rest
  • Barbell Squat Barbell Squat Barbell Squat
    3 sets of 5 reps (70% of week prior’s weight), 2 min. rest
  • Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift
    3 sets of 3 reps (70% of week prior’s weight), 2 min. rest
  • Barbell Squat Barbell Squat Barbell Squat
    3 sets of 3 reps (70% of week prior’s weight), 2 min. rest

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Fitness 360: Samantha Ann Leete, Training Program

Samantha trains to overcome her weaknesses. She doesn’t cherry-pick workouts for her strengths or make excuses for lagging muscle groups. Her most productive days in the gym are when she’s learning a new lift, working on muscle groups that need extra attention, and moving heavy weight. Her desire to build a better body and become a better athlete fuels her through every workout.

Samantha Ann Leete Fitness 360
Watch The Video – 13:58

Mixing It Up

Samantha likes to use multiple training strategies so she never gets bored. “I love incorporating supersets, giant sets, circuits, HIIT cardio, low-intensity cardio, dropsets, and negatives,” she says. “I also like to switch up my rep ranges, tempo, and exercises.” These constant changes help keep Samantha excited about her workouts and motivated for her future goals.

Although she uses different modalities to train various muscle groups, Samantha likes to keep her split fairly consistent. “I usually lift three or four days per week and do sprints or plyometrics once per week. For my upper body, I usually stick to a 10-12 rep range. For my lower body, I do 10-20 reps per exercise.”

Romanian Deadlift

Like most of us, Samantha has a tough relationship with cardio. “Sometimes it can be fun and I look forward to it, especially when I’ve had a stressful day and could use a cathartic sweat session.” She’ll squeeze in a cardio session during lunch at work, but if she’s in the gym, she prefers the arc trainer, the stepmill, or plyos.

Unlike some elite competitors, Samantha believes in rest days. “I just try to listen to my body,” she says. Sometimes a rest day means hitting a hard cardio session, sometimes it means going for a long, fun hike, and sometimes, rest just means rest. “Rest days can literally mean just chilling out and watching a movie,” she explains.

Samantha’s Training Split

Cardio

These are examples of cardio workouts that I might do during the week

Cardio workout #1
45 minute Arc Trainer

Cardio workout #2
Treadmill lunge intervals
3-minute incline lunge
3-minute incline run
3-minute incline walk
Repeat for 30 minutes

Cardio workout #3
Treadmill HIIT sprints
30 second incline sprint
30 second incline walk
Repeat for 20 minutes

Cardio workout #4
HIIT circuit
2-minute row
1-minute rope jump
100 mountain climbers
Rest 30-60 seconds
Repeat for 20 minutes


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Cassie Smith is a writer/editor for Bodybuilding.com and former professor & college athlete. Find out more about her right here.

The Truth About Weight Loss

The start of every health kick can be a glorious time, with your motivation at its highest and the fitness gains at their easiest to come by. Your muscles might be aching, and your diet could be missing a few unhealthy favourites, but the weight will be dropping off like nobody’s business.At some point, however, you might find that whatever efforts you make in the gym or the kitchen do not result in any further losses when you step on the scales. Your weight plateaus, or perhaps even nudges slightly upwards. Obviously, this can be the ultimate motivation killer if your main goal is weight loss, but a simple scales reading can be misleading when it comes to your general health.More important than how much you weigh is your body composition – namely how much of your body is made up of fat, muscle, bones, water, assorted organs, and so on.

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