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It’s time for the old question-and-answer routine. The crew asks the question and I dig deep down into my rumpled, frayed flight bag of experience and feel around for a guess that will pass for an answer. I take the guess and boldly express it as an unequivocal truth and hope you don’t discover me to be just another quack. This is the slippery thin ice upon which I frequently slide, but I am a courageous risk-taker, as well as an authority in muscle and might and mud wrestling.

Q) A bright fellow in his early 20s who’s been lifting for a couple of years describes his training as 110%, but he submits to pizza and a soft drink once a week and an occasional fast-food burger. Further, he admits missing a workout every three or four weeks.

Finally he says, “Maybe I just don't have the determination or drive to stick to serious training. How can I make myself stay true to my desires?”

A) Know this: You will train always for a hundred terrific reasons; quit and it will be for no good reason at all.

Be devoted and wise and don’t chase away a growing relationship with the iron by unreasonable austerity. Relax. You’re aware of your imperfections and you’re confronting them; this indicates they will not gain control and overcome you. You’re stronger than they are.

If a thing becomes too serious in our mind, it can appear bigger than us. Appearances are deceiving. You’ll work out this minor dilemma in time as you persist in your musclebuilding pursuits.

Here’s the big bonus. As you develop muscle and power in your body that which you perceive as weakness in mind and character will become your strengths -- perseverance, patience, courage, self-control and understanding.

Train hard, eat right and don’t worry.

Q) Another smart, lean young man who’s been training since 2000 wants to gain mass. He fears gaining weight will cause the loss of his hard-earned muscularity and he’ll be unable to lose the fat added during a bulking process. What else is new? Our friend is talking about downright striation-obsession and needs muscle-mass resuscitation. Hurry.

A) This is a common dilemma of the here-and-now personality of today’s culture. Compromising, experimenting and risk-taking are reserved for the extremists and rebels of society -- dotcom entrepreneurs, off-cliffs snowboarders, motorcyclists in multiple somersaults, NFL linemen and other such maniacs -- and little is evident in the everyday character. The most we see is a flurry of tattoos, a nose, ear and tongue ring and some bushy blue hair.

Staying lean and gaining muscle weight slowly over time is a workable procedure and the common choice of current-day bodybuilding devotees. It's risk-free and safe. It’s dull and predictable.

I ascribe to the bulking principle to gain muscle mass while one's a young man. The increase in food consumption provides a positive anabolic environment; that is, plenty of nourishment in the cells of intensely trained muscles to restore and build tissue in compensation for progressive muscle overload, and to fuel training energy and endurance. The added pounds of hard-yet-uncut bodyweight afford greater strength with which to train heavier and harder, thereby increasing hypertrophy. Resistance to illness and injury is enhanced and the less one is deprived of food the happier one generally is. Less stress, less catabolism. Further, there’s no time misplaced searching for the tiniest striation and ultimate abdominals, a major hang-up (more stress) for the thin-skinned musclehead. Occasional inspection is important, but scrutinizing is agonizing and frustrating.

Bulking, building mass and power, is proactive, constructive, and provides inspiration, education and valuable function. The lifter grows with experience as hard muscle develops and matures. At the right time -- usually as the spring takes hold and summer is not far ahead -- an attitude, a menu and a training program is initiated to eliminate the fat and retain the muscle. Lo and behold, there stands the new person, bigger and better, wiser and more equipped. Wow.

Do this: Eat increased amounts of red meat, tuna, eggs and cottage cheese daily and add Bomber Blend protein drinks before and after your training for four to six weeks. Be courageous, be cool and don't gorge yourself. Your anabolic environment will soar and you'll get stronger; and you’ll probably smooth out a tad. Don't freak. Train harder with the iron (install supersets), but don't increase your aerobic exercise. Be confident, don't doubt. The challenge I pose will introduce you to a few new sensations and considerations, training excesses and training boundaries. It’s good to know them personally.

Q) A precise trainee with a stopwatch writes, “I have recently gone down from 60 seconds to 30 seconds between sets. This has obviously lowered my finishing weight on the last set. What is your opinion on time between sets?”

A) Find the set-and-rep rhythm that suits your personality and purpose. Skip the clock and counting seconds -- too much mind and too little reliance on instinct, feelings, physical readiness and inner urge. Go with the sensations of the muscles (burn and fatigue), oxygen and wind, strength reserve, mood and purpose (heavy weight or swift pace, power or trim athletics -- best is in between somewhere). Don't go so slow that you don't pump and burn or that you cool off, and don't go so fast that you can't increase weight in exercises, get powerful reps, be thoughtful and focused and precise in set-and-rep execution.

You must allow yourself to experiment throughout your training experience. Many of your workout questions can be answered -- resolved -- most successfully by you with trial and error. We get anxious, nervous. Risking a workout to understand a fundamental method or discover a new technique is never wasted time or lost training.

Don’t ever stop asking questions and give yourself credit for determining the answers. Always blast it and enjoy it.

Q) Injury has a mind of its own and speaks loud and clear. Thus agrees a novice with this interesting observation: “I sometimes feel my left shoulder literally clicking and nipping as I come down from an overhead press. This also happens on a couple of other shoulder exercises. Does one proceed with a pressing routine under these conditions?”

A) The shoulders take a beating in all sports and the clicking is a signal you must continue to observe. Could be nothing. As nipping -- pain, I presume -- accompanies the unusual clicking, implement the focused, lightweight train-around-the-pain modus operandi, AKA trip-around-the-nip practice. Employ extended light-weight warm-up procedures and watch out for the heavy bench pressing.

Now is a good time to investigate the benefits of dumbbell training on various degrees of incline for shoulder and chest construction. Be attentive to form and let the click and nip guide you in determining a functional groove.

How is your eating plan? Nutrition plays an important role in muscle repair and resistance to injury. Getting your minerals, are you? Consider including Chondroitin, Glucosamine and MSM in your supplement list -- an anti-inflammatory and cartilage support that works well for many sufferers.

Q) Husbands and wives who train together have a lot of class and brass. One such incredible combination has a general question regarding working out with free weights and machines. The fairer half of the two-for-one family bargain inquires, “My husband and I disagree with each other. He moves slowly when bringing his bar down while bench pressing and goes up with a sudden burst, and I go at a consistent up-and-down pace. Does it matter? Please tell me which way is the correct way. I hope you understand my question.”

A) I think I get it. I suspect your husband trains with proportionately heavier weight than you and is focused on building power as well as muscle size. Hence, his deliberate style of exercise execution. His purposeful lowering of the bar followed by an explosive return is a correct technique for the joy of building muscle and power.

Your training perspective (I'm guessing) is wrapped around good health, flexibility, muscle tone, fat elimination and robust cardio-respiratory function. Thus, your training manner is appropriate. The wonderful fact is you are both training and you will continue to improve the quality of your life as a result. Never stop. Should the moon depart from the sky, do not stop.

Now, you might eventually consider adding a few pounds to your bar or dumbbells or weight machine and intensifying your training output. This might sound counter-productive, but it will engage your muscles more fully and add more character and challenge to your workout -- more interest and fun. Your muscles will become denser, more toned and stronger (not necessarily large), and fatty tissue will have less chance of surviving. Peak condition is achieved by regularly increasing muscle overload.

Should you apply this technique to your exercises routine, I think you will notice an alteration in your repetition performance and pace. You will by necessity assume a more determined, individual-rep approach in achieving your sets. I know you’ll like the training upgrade -- like going from imitation, assembly-line exercise to personalized, custom training.

I could have said “to each his own” and been half right.

Q) Here we have a tough female novice who has been told by a local instructor that machines do not build muscle, they only condition. She goes on to say, “I’m limited in free weight and wind up doing sets of 20+ reps in dumbbell presses and curls. What do you think? I want to build real muscle and strength. I herd cattle, break horses and work like a man. My gym is limited and in the barn.”

A) I prefer free weights for overall muscle building as they require total control exercised by the user only. Machines are useful, do build muscle and strength when you squeeze the life out of them and are particularly valuable when injury or other limitations prevent free-weight application (the press machine for a shoulder with lateral limitations, for example). The comment, “machines don’t build muscle,” is false and is probably based on the fact that the muscle action is isolated and guided, thus demanding less lateral control of the user -- limited muscle engagement. Think about it.

Continue to train with the free weights and invest in some heavier dumbbells for advanced performance. I suggest you train in a lower rep range (8 - 10 - 12 reps, 15 maximum on warm-ups) for stronger and better toned muscles and training interest.

In your weekly workouts be sure to include seated dumbbell alternate curls (twice a week, 3 sets of 10 to12 reps), dips from the back of a bench with feet extended to the floor or on a bench before you, incline dumbbell presses with bench lifted 12 to 15 inches on one end, one-arm dumbbell rows, full squats with dumbbells in hand hanging by your sides, calf raises off a block in similar weighted arrangement and, just to be sociable, 3-4 sets of 50-yard farmer walks with heavy dumbbells. Train your midsection hard with leg raises and crunches. Eat right.

Head ‘em up, move ‘em out...

The end of Q ‘n A, kids.

I hear the distant roar of aircraft readying their engines for flight. When properly tuned, fueled and warmed up, and when the general direction of the target is known, a good bomber can take off, locate his destination, accomplish his mission and return home without losing his landing gear or falling out of his cockpit. I’ve gotta’ go now and join the sky-bound formation.

I’m going to the gym.

God’s speed, men and women, boys and girls... be nice to your mom, eat your Wheaties, wash behind your ears, go to bed early, say your prayers... DD

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