Just about every Muscle & Fitness reader knows that tobuild cannonball delts, you need to start with heavy presses followed by an isolation exercise for each of the three deltoid heads. Astute readers even cycle the order in which they train each deltoid head from one workout to the next, knowing that the move that comes first will be trained harder as energy levels and focus are higher earlier in the workout.This workout takes that training philosophy one step further for hardcore gains. After a pair ofcompound moves, you’’ll do two shoulder exercises back-to-back for the targeted deltoid head (Shoulder Workout No. 1focuses on the front head,Workout No. 2the middle andWorkout No.
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Blocking out the time to really delve into a stretching session can seem hard to justify if your busy schedule already makes squeezing workouts in difficult.But if you’ve found yourself hitting a wall when it comes to results, or you’re constantly plagued by niggling injuries, it might just be what the doctor ordered. US-based Lastics has taken inspo from the long, lean and limber bodies of dancers to come up with classes and online videos to help regular gym-goers get the most out of their workouts. ‘Dancers epitomise the balance between strength and flexibility to the extreme,’ says Lastics founder Donna Flagg. ‘Their bodies are graceful, sculpted and powerful.’Rather than overhauling your entire workout routine to emulate that of a ballerina, Lastics instead allows you to simply take a leaf out of their book, providing stretching-focused classes to help you develop an improved range of motion.
“Once you’ve been training long enough, your body grows wiser and you realize that you can’t simply force it to do anything anymore.”
Bodybuilders and strength athletes stop making progress for one reason: They stop coercing their body to adapt. Note how I intentionally use the word coerce, not a connotatively weaker action verb like force. The reason is that once you’ve been in the training game long enough, your body grows wiser and you realize that you can’t simply force it to do anything anymore.
When you continue to push and grunt with no concrete strategy other than “hard work,” you get injured or beat-up. Few things devour reasonable progress faster than what we’ll call “middle ground” training. That is, always training with the same set or rep scheme and with the same intensity. If you default to training in the 8, 10, or 12 rep range, I hate to break it to you, but your growth is simply wallowing in no-gain’s land.
Fortunately, there are tools in the training toolbox that will sharpen up your training. Let’s start with a brief overview and then move on to how these can be applied to your own programming to maximize growth and development.
The Neural-Metabolic Continuum
The first order of business is to focus on a key element of training: The neural-metabolic continuum. It’s a fancy term that allows you to understand whether you actually work your muscles or central nervous system (CNS), based on key variables. For the sake of brevity, here’s a visual breakdown of what it looks like.
Before your eyes glaze over, let me explain. If you’re chasing more metabolic (i.e. hypertrophic) gains, your, say, squatting program might look something like this:
4 sets of 10 repetitions
Tempo: 3 seconds down, no pause in the bottom, 1 second up
60-90 seconds rest between sets
On the other end of the spectrum, where you might be chasing more neural (i.e. strength) gains, your program might more resemble this:
5 sets of 3 repetitions
Tempo: As fast as possible
3-5 minutes rest between sets
Are we clear on the layout of the neural-metabolic continuum? Good, now let’s look at why you need to spend time in both ends (and not the straight middle) to maximize your growth and development.
The Case for High Reps
By now, it’s probably ingrained in you that you need to perform high reps per set (I’m looking at you, bodybuilders). Let me clarify that I define high reps to dawdle in the 8-12 rep range but could be as low as 6 reps per set.
There shouldn’t be anything really earth-shattering here. If you train with high reps, your goal is to build a bigger muscle.
Some folks call this “structural hypertrophy” since the higher rep sets allow you to focus primarily on the muscles themselves. They also lend themselves to fewer total sets per exercise. By virtue of slowing down the movement, coupled with the sheer amount of reps you do per set, you’re going to increase time under tension, which is a necessary stimulus for hypertrophy. No doubt, gains in strength will come along for the ride, but increases in muscular growth will outpace the increases in strength.
But what happens if you spend all your time here? Quite simply, your body will adapt to your training in this rep range if you continue it for extended periods of time. Furthermore, training in that zone will ultimately limit the amount of intensity you can use as well.
Do high-rep sets (15, 20, or more reps per set) have a place in programming? Sure, but they’re probably the exception rather than the rule.
The solution here is clear: Focus on getting stronger! This brings me to my next point…
The solution here is clear: Focus on getting stronger!
The Case for Low Reps
High reps deliver big gains, right? Well, low reps have a place, too!
The low-rep zone can be defined as anything between 1 rep with near-maximal effort and 5 reps in a set. They’re often viewed as being geared more for powerlifting or Olympic lifting, but if you really want to make high-threshold motor units work, you will need to push some serious weight!
This focuses on making your nervous system more efficient. If you switch from sets of 10 to sets of 3, you coerce your body to unfamiliar, shocking stressors, especially since low rep ranges encourage the use of much heavier weights. Every movement requires more “tightness” and a more intense focus. Further, more motor units and muscle fibers are recruited, and your body gets better at turning off antagonists (or opposing muscle groups) as well.
The result is that you’ll get jacked, but in a slightly different way. Since the goal is more on strength, your body composition will greatly differ from someone who performs exclusively high-rep sets. Powerlifters are strong as hell and can move jaw-dropping weight, but probably lack a bit of the size and definition of a well-trained bodybuilder.
The Perfect Combination
So if high reps promote hypertrophy and low reps facilitate strength increases, then in theory, the marriage of both rep schemes will bring forth muscular and strength development worthy of the Greek gods.
You need to spend dedicated periods of time in both the high-rep and low-rep ranges to maximize your development. High reps build muscle and connective tissue strength, and give your body respite from the grind of low-rep sets, too. Similarly, low-rep sets build neuromuscular and CNS efficiency. When you become more efficient and then go back to your big lifts, you can use even more weight than before, because you’re just that much more efficient and effective.
As an example of what I often do with physique-focused clients, I break down their set-rep schemes into one of two categories:
- High rep – 8-12 repetitions per set
- Low rep – 4-8 repetitions per set
These aren’t hard-and-fast rules. There may be times when even higher reps (15-20) could be used. On the flipside, there are other times when you may want to push the weight and work in the 1-5 rep range.
The biggest benefit from switching between these two ranges is that you’ll constantly coerce (there’s that word again) your body to adapt, to grow, and to improve.
Can’t I Just Train Everything at Once?
I know some people really like undulating periodization, in which you hit different set-rep schemes on different days of the week.
“You have to dial up the focus and be the orchestrator to your symphony of muscles.”
If this is you, perhaps your training looks something like this:
- Monday – 3 sets of 10 reps
- Wednesday – 5 sets of 5 reps
- Friday – 10 sets of 3 reps
With this weekly program, you hit everything in one training week, thinking it’s smart, efficient training. This is true if you’re newer to lifting or have never tried a protocol like this before. However, as you get more and more advanced, this type of scenario won’t work nearly as well since you’re sending multiple mixed messages to your body.
Monday’s workout would tell your body it’s time to get big, but then Wednesday’s workout will kick your body into a bit of strength mode. Finally, Friday’s workout will run counter to Monday’s and place the emphasis on raw strength. What is a confused body to do?! As you become more proficient, you have to dial up the focus and be the orchestrator to your symphony of muscles (and thus, training).
It’s kind of why an elite level sprinter can’t simply wake up one day, decide to run a marathon, and hope to be awesome at both distances.
While I’m saying that you need to spend time on both ends of the neural-metabolic continuum, you need to have some patience and zero-in your efforts on one at a time. The general rule is to spend at least 4-6 weeks focusing on one end before you even think about heading to the other.
The Final Step
Hopefully, you’re now alternating between periods of high-rep and low-rep training—awesome! The next step is to alternate the level of intensity over the course of the training cycle. Think of the following quote: “A peak is surrounded by two valleys.” You can’t expect to go at 110 percent intensity every time you train. You’ll only burn yourself out. Layer-in days of high intensity combined with days of low intensity.
The astute reader (you!) might inquire about whether simply wavering between high and low rep ranges might already serve this purpose. It does in a rather unrefined way. Here’s an example of how I’ll set my intensity within a training month:
- Week 1 – 4 sets of 5 reps @70%
- Week 2 – 5 sets of 5 reps @80%
- Week 3 – 4 sets of 3 reps @75%
- Week 4 – 3 sets of 5 reps @85%
As you can see, I’m not trying to move the same weights or loads on a week-to-week basis.
In week 1, I build a base and get a good weight to build my base from. In week 2, I push the limits of my volume. In week 3, I deload. Basically, that means I lower the intensity and volume to make it an “easier” work week, allowing my body to recover and supercompensate. Finally, in week 4, I go for broke with regard to my intensity. Try using this for your squat sometime—it works great!
“You can’t expect to go at 110 percent intensity every time you train. You’ll only burn yourself out.”
You could also do something far simpler, which yields amazing results when you just get started:
- Week 1 – 3 sets of 10 reps @70%
- Week 2 – 3 sets of 8-10 reps @75%
- Week 3 – 3 sets of 8 reps @80%
- Week 4 – 2 sets of 8 reps @70-75%
In this example, I use a stair-step approach to prepare you for week 3. After that, you deload and get ready to run the cycle again on week 5.
With these examples, the point I’m driving home is that you can’t go hard every single week. Instead, “wave” your intensity and build up to a series of big workouts, then back off to allow your body time to recover.
It’s All About Smarter Training
If you want to get the most out of your training, you not only need to work hard, but you need to work smart. By training on both ends of the neural-metabolic continuum and incorporating undulating waves of intensity into your training cycle, you’ll not only see better results but you’ll incur fewer bumps and bruises along the way.
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When leg day rolls around, is it better to train more like a bodybuilder or an athlete? If you’re asking yourself this question (meaning you’re undecided), perhaps the answer is both. Bodybuilders train their quads for maximal hypertrophy, while football and basketball players are more interested in developing explosive power to enhance speed and jumping ability.
Big exercises build big arms. You can isolate your biceps and triceps as often as you’d like with low-weight exercises like kickbacks and concentration curls, but it’s compound moves, using heavy loads, that will make your arms grow. Take a look at the workout below. The first exercises you’ll see on each training day are relatively big arm movements like weighted bench dips, skull crushers, and barbell curls. The lighter stuff comes last, when your arms are too spent to do much more
In a perfect fitness world, you’d warm-up, you’d cool-down, you’d cross-train, you’d do intervals, and, oh, yeah, a laundry fairy would come wash your gear so you never had to wear a sweaty sports bra two workouts in a row. ;
But alas, if you’re like most women, you live in a fitness world where managing to cram in a few minutes at the gym is about as good as it gets. And when you do manage to make it to the gym—and log your usual 20 minutes on the treadmill—you wonder if you’re sacrificing results or risking injury by always doing the same old thing.
We took a look at seven common fitness habits to see which ones are forgivable—and which ones you should definitely change.
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Habit: You never warm-up.
Unless you’re about to compete in an intense activity, skipping a warm-up—a preliminary, easy workout—won’t likely hurt you. And in some cases, a too long warm-up can actually decrease workout performance, finds research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. According to the study, cyclists who warmed up extensively ended up sacrificing their performance. The athletes faired better with a shorter, more leisurely warm-up.
“It depends on what you’re doing,” Dr. Robert G. Marx, an orthopedic surgeon with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, said. “You want to warm-up if you’re playing a sport that involves sprinting, such as soccer.” ;
In that case, start with a few minutes of low-intensity dynamic (movement-based) exercise, such as 10 yards of skipping, backwards running, or lunges, said Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist and author of “The 12-Week Triathlete.” ;
For walking or weight training, it’s OK to skip the warm-up but start out easy.
Habit: You skip workouts if your muscles ache.
Muscle aches occurring a day or two after a strength workout is a sign of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which can also happen if you’ve tried a new exercise move or worked out more intensely. And it’s totally normal, as in no need to ride the couch for days of recovery. ;
“DOMS is believed to be caused by microscopic tears within the affected muscle fibers,” Dr. C. David Geier, Jr., an orthopedic surgeon and director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, said.
And there’s no need to skip your workout entirely, Geier said. ;
“Simply choose lighter cardio workouts that increase blood flow or practice gentle stretching of the sore muscles.” ;
Just avoid aggravating the sore muscles with the same exercises, Geier said, as it could cause muscles to remain sore for a longer period of time. The caveat: if you’re in pain, not just sore, don’t power through. ;
Habit: You work through pain.
The muscle aches and soreness of DOMS is one thing, but a sharp or persistent pain that worsens over time may be a sign of something more serious. If you continue to push through pain it can worsen over time and be harder to heal, Marx said. ;
“Generally, you don’t want to work out when something just ‘doesn’t feel right,’ which most people can tell.” ;
Listen to your body. The amount of time off that you lose recovering from an injury is far longer than heeding your body’s warning and going easy in the first place, Marx said. For example, an ACL tear can take three to four months to heal after surgery, Marx said. See a doctor if the pain lasts longer than reasonably expected (this varies depending on the injury) or worsens over time. (What to do about calf pain)
Habit: You don’t cool down.
The verdict: Forgivable
When you barely have time to work out, cooling down for another 10 minutes seems like time better spent elsewhere. And in most cases it is. Failure to cool down won’t negatively impact you, Geier said. ;
“However, cooling down for a few minutes allows the heart rate and blood pressure to gradually return to normal and may also keep lactic acid from building up in the fatigued muscles.” ;
A cool-down help flush out the metabolic byproducts that cause that uncomfortable burning sensation in your muscles after a hard workout. And while cooling down isn’t crucial, if flexibility is a goal, you may want to take five minutes at the end of your workout to lightly stretch after a gradual cool down period. ;
“Muscles stretch easier when they’re warm,” Geier said. ;
Habit: You don’t stretch before a workout.
The verdict: Forgivable
Skipping stretching before exercise is not only forgivable but may even be recommended, according to a recent study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The study shows that stretching prior to weight lifting may make you feel weaker and more off-balance during your workout—two things you could do without when you’ve got dumbbells teetering over your face. ;
Another analysis of data published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine Science and Sport finds that stretching before exercise is generally unnecessary. ;
“Studies also show that stretching does not prevent injury,” Marx said. “If strength is your goal, you’re better off using the time for strengthening and core exercises.”
That said, it’s important to maintain flexibility overall—you just don’t have to do it before exercise. Stretch in the morning or before bed (it feels great!) or take a weekly yoga class to limber up. ;
Habit: You machine hop without a plan.
The verdict: Forgivable
Hopping from machine to machine without a real plan has its pros and cons, Holland said. ;
“On the upside you have built-in ‘muscle confusion,’ which means your muscles won’t adapt easily to your routine,” Holland said. “On the downside, unless you’re an advanced exerciser, you need to develop a sound strength base before you can build on it. Jumping around doesn’t allow for that.” ;
Holland says you need a certain amount of consistency before you make changes if you want to develop lean muscle tone. He recommends sticking with one routine for four to six weeks to develop that benchmark of strength and to learn proper lifting techniques.
Habit: You stay within your comfort zone.
The verdict: Regrettable
Staying within your comfort zone means you’re not challenging yourself enough to create results, says Holland. ;
“We tend to do what we like. But if you only do the exercises you like (which are usually the ones you do well) you’re not going to burn as many calories and you’ll just reach a plateau.”
;Comfortable exercises such as gentle walking or using light resistance may offer low-level heart benefits but little else. ;
“The truth is, exercise isn’t always fun,” Holland said. “If you want results, a sense of accomplishment is fun.” ;
Holland recommends exercising at about a seven intensity on a scale of one to 10 (for cardio as well as resistance training). “You should be uncomfortable, but it’s not unbearable. For cardio this means you can talk, but it’s difficult,” he says.
In the world of iron, there are no achievements that comes without great sacrifice and exertion. It takes the deepest kind of commitment, self-knowledge, and hard work to wholeheartedly pursue peak fitness, supreme athletic performance, and to transform the human physique into an arresting sculpture hewn in adamantine muscle. Pursuing your iron goals can be the most gratifying experience you have, but it can also be a lonely business.
“You’re born alone, you often train alone, you go onstage to compete alone, and you die alone,” says Twinlab Fuel Team Militia member Ronnie Milo, an accomplished bodybuilding competitor.
But Milo and his thousands of peers in the Militia around the globe also believe to their rock-hard cores that “alone time” is no excuse to become isolated. They know they can achieve more together, as long as they are united by the right ideals. Strong principles, they know, transcend any specific goals or geography and can make anyone, anywhere better and more capable to move any weight.
These are the five principles making up the Fuel Team Militia Manifesto. They’re not for the flighty or smug. They’re for strong men and women who want to be as strong as they look, and live as strong as they lift.
Meet the Militia
Sales rep, Twinlab
“I want to be proportionate, work on my weak spots, and make sure I give 100 percent in the gym.”
Powerlifter, coming back from pec injury
“My goal is to compete in powerlifting again.”
1 Together, Stronger
The Militia is dedicated to bringing together competitive athletes, powerlifters, meatheads, newbies, and physique junkies of all ages from all backgrounds and walks of life. No matter where or how you train, they believe that you can benefit from being in a supportive, inclusive community dedicated to training at the highest level.
“The Fuel Team Militia is for everyone who is dedicated to getting stronger, being better at what they do, or is interested in the fit lifestyle,” says powerlifter and Militia Field General Jason Wheat. “We get together as a group to do gym invasions; we inspire each other, cheer for each other, and motivate each other toward our goals.”
“We get together as a group to do gym invasions; we inspire each other, cheer for each other, and motivate each other toward our goals.”
When Militia members hold a gym invasion, it’s about strong lifters joining together to push each other to their limits. That could mean helping a teenager new to training hit his or her first 135-pound squat, or cheering on beasts like Milo and Wheat as they squat so many plates that you need a calculator to do the math.
The only thing that matters: Each guy gives his everything to push himself and his brothers, every rep, every set, every time they step into the gym.
2 No Ego
Every lifter was once a beginner. To get better, faster in your training it helps to draw on the wisdom, knowledge, and experience of guys who have been banging iron for years. But when you don’t even know what you don’t know about training, it can be intimidating as hell to work up the nerve to ask someone bigger and stronger than you to take time out of their training routine to help you out. The Militia firmly believes in breaking down these walls.
“There’s a stereotype that guys who like to train are just big, dumb, and egotistical,” says Militia member Chris Thompson. “We want to change the way the world looks at guys like us and create a paradigm shift so that the biggest, baddest guys in the gym will also be the coolest, most helpful, and encouraging guys in the gym.”
To get better and faster in your training it helps to draw on the wisdom, knowledge, and experience of guys who have been banging iron for years.
To do that, Militia members like Thompson, Milo, and Wheat go out of the way to be a resource for other people in the gym, whatever experience level, size, or shape they might be.
“It’s a ‘pay it forward’ kind of deal,” says Milo. “I had older, more experienced guys help me out when I was younger, and in the Militia we feel it’s really important that we be there for other guys, too. I make a point of saying hello to everybody at the gym and making people feel comfortable asking questions.”
3 Sacrifice Is Mandatory
“If it was easy to be huge or have six-pack abs, then everyone would be huge with six-pack abs.”
While the Militia welcomes people training toward any goal from anywhere on the spectrum of strength and fitness, sacrifice is mandatory. Without it, Militia members know, nothing great can be achieved at any level of training.
“If it was easy to be huge or have six-pack abs, then everyone would be huge with six-pack abs,” says Wheat. “I don’t always want to get up at 6 in the morning to do fasted cardio, but sometimes that’s what you have to do to get the results that you want.”
Wheat works on a search and rescue squad based out of a firehouse, and like everyone else, temptations abound at work for him in the form of sweets and treats. “When you have Girl Scout cookies in front of you, you have to think about not letting your Militia brothers down and eat chicken and broccoli instead,” he says.
All those cliches you’ve heard about how results taste better than any treat are popular for a reason: They’re true. Refuse to sacrifice and you sacrifice your chance to be great.
4 Commit to Consistency
Sacrifice goes hand-in-hand with another Militia guiding principle: consistency. “The key to success is consistency,” says Thompson. “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes consistent. Perfect practice makes perfect. Being a Militia member means you strive to get closer to perfect practice through consistency, and you help your Militia brothers to be consistent, too. You see a kid squatting with poor form and help him do it right and help him get on the right path.”
Being in the Militia means being a teacher and a leader for your fellow members, but just as importantly, for anyone else you encounter in the weight room or in your life. Put another way, it means living how you lift, embodying consistency and dedication to greatness in how you carry yourself, how you interact with others at the gym, the training you do, and in your diet, too, no matter how tough it might be.
Being in the Militia means being a teacher and a leader for your fellow members, but just as importantly, for anyone else you encounter in the weight room or in your life.
Thompson’s job as a Twinlab executive means he frequently travels for meeting and business. But even on the road, he sticks to the same macros at every meal—45 grams of clean protein, 40 grams of carbs from fruits or vegetables, and 17 grams of healthy fats. When he’s hungry or has to do fasted cardio, he’ll reach for a packet of Pro Series MVP Fuel to stay sharp.
It’s a routine Milo knows well, too. “People think I just train and sleep all day,” he says, “but I have a job in sales, and I’m in planes, cars, or face-to-face with accounts. We do what we need to do.” For him, that often includes packing a day’s worth of meals in his car and eating in parking lots between appointments. It means booking hotels near grocery stores on the road so he has access to healthy, clean food.
“There have been times when I’ve made cream of rice using a hotel room coffee maker,” he admits. It’s a total commitment to consistency, but once you make it and accept it, it stops being a challenge and becomes a simple expression of your lifestyle.
5 Compete and Encourage
Milo and Wheat recently made a two-hour road trip from their home base in Orlando to Jacksonville for a gym invasion with other Militia members. “We had 18 guys there training together,” says Wheat. “We were mixing it up, pushing each other. One of the guys there was 140 pounds when he started training with the Militia—now he’s 160 pounds.”
At the end of the workout, Milo and Wheat and other members took turns deadlifting, and when 405 was loaded on the bar, their 160-pound friend stepped up and said he wanted a shot at it. “He’d never pulled 405 before,” says Milo. “But we told him to visualize lifting it, to picture himself doing it.”
He stepped to the bar, pulled—and locked it out. “We were giving him so much encouragement, the whole gym came over and started cheering for him,” says Wheat. “And then he picked it up again and pulled one more rep.”
Competition doesn’t have to happen on a stage, and it doesn’t need a medal to legitimize it. This slender lifter was competing with the iron, with the athletes around him, and most importantly, with every former version of himself who had ever set foot in that weight room. The competition never stops, because there are always bigger mountains of iron to move.
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