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To the Muscle and Might and Getting it Right
June 24, 2003

Top Squat

Sometimes it’s best to just sit back and listen to the inquiries and mumblings of everyone else, the faded and unoriginal dilemmas that keep us scratching our heads and saying, “Wha.”

This is a bunch of Q&As I’ve recently fielded with the speed of a bullet and the accuracy that goes with shooting from the hip. You won’t learn much, but it’s good for the heart to hang out with us common folk who simply will not stop trying. It’s not in the question. It’s not in the answer. It’s in the effort, intense, focused and consistent.

There’s a volume of these pointed pleas covering a broad range of uncomplicated subjects and you might skim them till something rings a bell. The first letter is a cool insight from a soldier doing his best in Iraq. Thought you might get a kick out of it.

"This year I am in Baghdad which is just like the wild west again. Last year you sent me a couple of books. I think you will be happy to know I have gained about 15 pounds of muscle on my 6.1 frame -- was 190 now. I am 210 at 8% body fat, thanks for your help.

This place is even worse than Afghanistan. Our gym equipment consists of truck axles from republican guard vehicles, one 40-pound dumbbell, a pull-up bar, a metal bar with sandbags attached and heavy objects taken from blown up tanks and aircraft. It's amazing what we can do when the desire to lift burns inside us. Temp at our gym is 104 degrees. Ground is littered with explosives, usually somebody dies every day; food sucks and I supplement my diet by killing gazelles and eating the meat. We make no excuses, nor ask for sympathy, we attack the weights like crazed dogs on a kill. All the air-conditioned gym rats have bowed out. No supplements or steroids here, no protein drinks or showers. You are an inspiration to us; I write this in hope that we can inspire those gym members who have all the tools before them but no motivation. I hope to be home soon, Dave, and someday I would like to meet you. Your friend…"

To Sarge, is that you?

I admire and often envy you guys who find yourselves in the midst of life demonstrating its maximum chaos and unknown, hardship and sacrifice, reward and fulfillment. You're in a danger zone, it seems, where you meet yourself for the first time every day. It's good for the soul to be stripped raw to the bone while creating a new and better thing. But who would choose the course? You guys and gals are the rare and few who know what you know and dare to undertake the study.

Easy for me to talk. Wish we could trade places for a week or an hour. The frustration must be difficult to deal with -- the mixed reception, the ongoing war at every turn and doorway, the slowness to putting the confusion to rest and restoring a smart government, fixing what's broke in hearts and minds and power and communications and water; separating the good from the evil, longings for that other world with overflowing refrigerators and clean sheets. I have a picture from the offerings of TV and newsprint and the internet and my own imagination and conversations with friends of the conservative camp and observations of the more liberal thinkers, God bless them.

We have our hands full, and yours and your comrades are the hands at work today. And to think you wrap them around the iron and lift them over your head as the sun hidden from my sky this morning beats down on you, bright, scorching and exhausting... 105 and humid in that tent. One more rep, another MRI packed with protein, one more land mine, one more sniper, one more victory.

You rock, Sergeant. Sandbags, axles and God's speed...

Say hi to the gang from the Bomber...
So what, they don't know me...
I represent America, the land of the courageous and free.

Q: I have been stuck on my maximum lift on the bench for ages, a couple of years in fact. I can press 250lbs and l want to be able to press 300lbs just once before I go to the big gym in the sky. I’m 45 years old now so time is running out. Dave, do I have a chance of achieving my goal or am I too old?

A: Forty-five… gee, you’re just about ready for the old pine box. However, if you’re healthy today and train smart, eat right and rest appropriately you have 10 to 15 years of good n’ tough, progressive weight training in you. That is, you will be able to absorb the typical pains that accompany aging and the minor injuries you can expect to sustain in pursuit of your healthy, aggressive workouts. And you can expect to make reasonable gains in mass, muscularity and might. That’s good news.

Be aware that pushing the heavy weight on the bench is notorious for causing shoulder injuries that make the grand sport of musclebuilding a misery and a disappointment to many a good man. Be wise and diversify your chest and shoulder exercises, using dumbbells and cables regularly, for growth, shape and strength. I love to blast it, but that bench press and those single-rep personal records are a risk.

For the above reason, how to strive for the 300-pound bench is no longer part of my repertoire of counsel. There are power lifters older than you on the IronOnline discussion group who could direct you toward greater power on the bench.

Carry on and take good care of yourself.

Q: I just want to know, how do you operate your gym? Do you have other personal trainers who work for you and when it comes to the membership, does it include personal training for those who may not know how to really work out well? Is your club sales oriented with the sales staff to the degree that the only question asked is "Did you sell them?”

I just got a job at [enter popular chain gym name here] and am appalled at how their only concern is the sale. I thought that a parttime job at a major gym would be good, but it has been tough because I am honest and can't manipulate people. I don't mind sales done properly, but I am just wondering if this is widespread and perhaps in this arena, I am just a bit naive. Thank you.

A: Our gym is small (7,000 sq. ft.), clean as a whistle, not oversold and thus never crowded. It serves the members as a serious training gym and a refuge. No clubby atmosphere, no social boy-meets-girl scene and not a tough-hardcore obnoxious freak house. It's not perfect but it's close. One staff person on the clock at a time, no sales pressure whatsoever, personal trainers for hire (our capable friends) and training advice as asked or needed by me or Laree or the attending staff person. The mingling on the floor usually takes the form of sharing gym knowledge and co-training.

Your major chains dig deep for the bucks and I view them as creepy exploiters of good. Man in his search for fitness can be misled and soaked by these factories. This style of gym has been around since the chains formed 50 years ago (Vic Tanny's, American Health Studios). World Gyms and Gold’s need to sell and make a dollar to keep the doors open, but they are nothing like Bally or 24-Hour Fitness... grrrrrr.

Carry on... Dave

Q: I’m 5'11," 194lbs, about 10% body fat and have been training for almost 3 years now. I have one lagging body part, though, which is starting to get me down: my biceps! I also have the 2" gap between my biceps and the bend at the elbow -- this seems to be where my weakest point is, especially the outer part.

I currently train my arms in full once a week and have started to do biceps on Fridays, which is my priority training day concentrating on the lower biceps and outer which are the poorest parts. I would be very grateful for any helpful hints.

A: Keep training with all your might and don't despair. Structure and tendons and muscle attachments (inherited factors) often define the shape of the biceps and their fullness. If standing heavy barbell curls (full range of motion, resisting the eccentric motion) done regularly and with monster effort and a degree of acceptable body thrust does not bring the biceps into their potential fullness, no trick curl will. Of course, for some of us this takes years of confident and honest commitment.

Mixing in seated dumbbell alternates with power and completeness of movement has great big-arm-building advantages. Low-incline dumbbell curls with full extension, full contraction and intense focus in performance for three-, four- and five-week runs might add to resolving your challenge.

I train the bis and tris together twice a week, adding forearms to mix to set the pace. Do this: Work the forearms by tri-setting with focused wrist curls (4x12-15 reps) with hard working thumbs-up dumbbell curls or bent-bar reverse curls (4x 6-8 reps) and -- for a little triceps action -- dips or pulley pushdowns (4x12-15 reps). This will add to your arm impressiveness, help fill in gaps and add to the weekly arm load for bigger and better arms.

Q: I am currently in the US Navy on board the USS Kitty Hawk. I am into working out a lot but am having trouble getting broader shoulders. Is there anything you suggest or any tips you have as to getting wider shoulders?

A: Keep training and don't despair. Wide shoulders have a lot to do with bone structure and thick shoulders might just be your specialty instead.

Overhead front presses with the bar or dumbbells are the best for power and shoulder muscle size, standing or performed on a steep incline. Press-behind-necks with a bar and the back supported is a good alternative to the front presses. Hefty side-arm lateral raises will add to the side delts or anterior deltoids. Add bent-over laterals as well to develop and secure the oft-neglected rear shoulder, upper back areas. When width is tough to achieve, completeness in development will forgive the shortcoming (4sets of 6-8 reps is a good working range on all exercises).

Add wide-grip chins or pulldowns to your routine and wide-grip bent-over rows for back width (lats). They tend to widen what is widenable. Two favorite supersets are the press-behind-neck followed by wide-grip chins and the wide-grip bench press followed by wide-grip bent-over rows (4-5 sets x 10, 8, 6 reps).

Q: Any suggestions on how to deal with tendonitis? In my case it's where the biceps joins the elbow.

A: Nothing for your problem you haven't heard before. Ice, Ibuprophen and laying off are the usual treatments, the latter being an unacceptable choice. Deep massaging the region surrounding the afflicted area bears results for some types of injury and pain. I wrap the elbow with each set and warm up slowly... I avoid the real bully movements that are the abusive culprits (you know the ones) and endure an unfair amount of pain of the non-destructive variety. You hear of anything worth relating, tell the gang on the discussion group, IronOnline. They'll be pleased to hear from you.

Q: I'm a fifty-year-old home trainer and injuries from weights and martial arts have me returning to weight training exclusively and with a high-rep program (25-rep range). My question is this: to build muscle size and shape, what is the best system of high reps to use? I've read where some people do sets of 100 reps, doing 40 reps the first set, resting 90 seconds, then trying for 30 reps, resting, then 20 and then 10 reps. Others do more of a muscle-spinning routine where they do, say, 15 sets of 20 reps with short rest periods. What do you recommend to get the most out of high-rep training? I'm not trying to be Mr. Olympia, but I do want to look good on the beach. Can you help?

A: Consistently high reps throughout the routine can drive a good man nuts and lead to training ennui and a puny mind and body. My answer to gaining hardness and re-training muscle size comes from right-eating (protein high, carb low), supersetting and mixed reps (15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4), and keeping up some single- and double-rep quasi-power training once every three weeks. Attitude and consistency are majors. I’d give this a try with a slight rep alteration (suggestion: 20, 15, 12, 10, 8 reps). I do 4-5 sets per exercise for sufficient muscle saturation and overload. Find a program and stick to it for 4 to 6 weeks with only minor, intuitive changes. Random training is not effective and those high reps you speak of are good once in a hundred years when you get the burning urge for a change.

Q: I have been getting muscle twitches in my arm and latisimus on my left side. There is no pain, and it only occurs when I relax. It has started only recently, and it usually occurs once I finish lifting in that area. For instance, the back side of my deltoid was twitching following a really good shoulder workout. Are you familiar with such things, and have you ever experienced this?

A: I get those twitches, but only occasionally. They're annoying but not frightening... some sort of neural response or temporary unevenness in electrolytes reacting to the increased muscle load, I suspect. I ignore them and they're gone before I know it. As long as you have a decent intake of vitamins and minerals and oxygen and there are no other adverse reactions (coma, bleeding from ears, convulsions), live on.

Q: My oldest son has joined the iron game (actually, this is probably his first serious year of lifting). His freshman year of football has passed and now he's training regularly at a local club. He wanted me to ask what to concentrate on during the off season, sets, reps, good exercises to increase his bench & squats.

This kid wants to be in the 700 Club (bench/squat/incline).

A: His smartest and most beneficial training approach for overall strength and performance and long-term training interest is to choose a good bodybuilding routine with moderate weight, hitting each body part two times a week with 2 or 3 exercises for 4 sets (sometimes 3) and the reps ranging the pyramid of 12, 10, 8, 6. Stay with the basics and go for some power sets/reps every three weeks. Don't be brutal on the bench press or the shoulders will surely pay. Stick with the squats and throw in deadlifts once a week for body power and muscle thickness. In other words, the basics for total musclebuilding will assure a ready and healthy skeletal/muscular structure for all seasons and reasons. Brother Iron, Sister Steel says it all, I believe.

Remember: Train hard, eat right and be confident.

Q: I wanted to know your thoughts on creatine. The creatine that I have tried only seems to bloat me with water and nothing else. Do you use creatine and if so which brand and how do you use it? If you use it, do you use it with protein? Is it truly all that it supposedly is cracked up to be?

I have always tried to get the maximum amount of size, strength and muscularity with the least amount of supplements as I try to get my nourishment from whole foods. Honestly, one could spend thousands of dollars a month on supplements, but I really don't believe that is necessary. I am 53 years old, stand 6'0" tall, weigh 215 pounds at this writing and have been training regularly since 1969. I don't bench press anymore, but I am able to hack squat over 400 pounds, deadlift over 500 pounds and stiff-legged deadlift over 400 pounds. Would creatine truly improve what I have already? I'm always trying to improve my size and strength.

A: I don't press well anymore -- elbows and wrists -- but the pulling ain't bad. I continue to squat and dead a fair amount and generally feel very good if I don't get carried away.

I make things work on the Super Spectrim vitamins and minerals, the Bomber Blend protein powder, and the glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM mix. The creatine by Anabol Naturals is a regular, 2-3 teaspoons, and I respond well to it (pump, intensified muscle contraction). It’s fair and legal and moral. I respect the company and their product and pay the price. They acquire the purest form of the highest quality creatine available, which comes from Germany. Quality doesn't come cheap and when the money-hungry merchants put out a product, something's got to give, like the acquisition of the least expensive and least pure ingredient from China. Quality in sups in numero uno.

I take it AM and PM and before a workout. The idea is to keep your system loaded, like topping your gas tank. When you top it is not really critical, though taking creatine with a protein with a short-chain molecule (whey protein concentrate) is said to aid in the transportation of the nutraceutical into the cells (better absorption, faster acting). A warm liquid with sugar is also claimed to improve efficiency of the creatine uptake.

I don't load and I don't cycle. Been taking it for five years, I guess. It's an edge for the mind and body, you know how that works.

I don't bloat but might gain a pound or two of intracellular water, which is the preferred anabolic environment and which we all want. A second rate, cheaper product higher in impurities, some of which might be toxic, may be the cause of the gastric discomfort or bloat. Muscle density vs. body fat may also play a factor in positive or negative response. Don’t bother supplementing your diet with the white powder unless you intend to train good n’ hard. It’ll just pass on by the local travelers like an express.

Q: At 53, do you think hitting the legs two days straight with heavy deadlifts is developmental, or at least twice to three times a week?

A: The above training strategy is something you might apply periodically or for several weeks at a time, rationalizing the method of operation (MO) as a blitz routine to shock the muscles. After that I expect you'll want to revise your approach as the body becomes fatigued or unresponsive or you get tired of it. I'm good for one super-hard leg workout a week (squats, leg press, extensions and curls) with a hard session of bent-over barbell rows or deads later in the same week. This is my regular and preferred method of operation at my increasing age and accrued development. Works great.

~The leg workout:

5 sets of extensions (12 -15 reps) supersetted with standing calf-raises (15 – 20 reps)

5 sets of leg curls (8 – 10) supersetted with seated calf raises (15 – 20)

4s of leg press (20 – 25 reps – incrementing weight) supersetted with stiff-arm pullovers (10 – 12)

4 – 5 sets full squats (15, 12, 10, 8, 6 reps – incrementing weights)

~Back: lots of pumping thigh work and ham string and glute work in these beastie movements.

4 – 5 sets deads x 8-10 reps done during mid-section program – same moderate weight

Later in workout—
5 sets bentover rows x 12, 10, 8, 6, 6 reps – incrementing weights

Like I said, nothing profound. Just a pile of odd shaped stones which, when pieced together, make a strong foundation. While the house is under construction, the questions and answers arise.

Don’t let a question absent an answer slow you down. Persist and the path will be made straight.

So much for the hard hat area, bombers, let’s put some air beneath the wings.

Let’s Fly... Heavenward.


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