Resistance Training – Think Movements, Not Body Parts

This article is for you if you resistance train in splits with different body parts being worked during different workout.

Ask yourself, do you have a shoulder day when you will work each of the three heads of the deltoid muscle group? If so, why do you do this?

I used to and I didn’t like it very much. As a consequence my shoulders suffered. It wasn’t that they lagged very far behind the rest of my body, it was that I didn’t train with enough intensity to get to know how to work them correctly – I never felt the muscles working the way I could feel my biceps when I train arms.

What I did find was that my rear deltoid muscles would be fatigued and pumped on back day, particularly when I finished off with a narrow rowing movement (reverse grip barbell row, seated row, cable row).

I found that my front deltoid muscles were slightly fatigued on chest day, particularly when I would focus on the upper chest (incline barbell press, incline dumbbell press).

I found that the medial deltoid muscles would be well rested on back and chest day because they were hardly used at all.

What did this all mean? I started to think about it and after a while I saw the movements in my head in a new way. It turned out that the rear deltoids have more movement in common with the muscles of the back than they do with the muscles of the chest, which have more movement in common with the front deltoid muscles. The medial head of the deltoid muscle has little movement in common with either the chest or the back, but lots in common with the trap muscles.

This was good news for me because I didn’t like doing the shoulder workout I was doing. This new understanding about the supporting role the front and rear deltoids played in chest and back movements meant that I could gut the the shoulder workout of exercises that isolated either of these two heads and instead focus all of my energies on the medial head. It meant that my shoulder workout got a lot shorter, which was perfect for me because it wasn’t fun to do.

It was easy to put this to work for me. I started off adding rear machine laterals to the later part of my back workout when I knew the joint and deltoid muscles had been well warmed up. I would do three or four back exercises and I would just slide laterals in after the 3rd or 4th back movement. My only consideration was to make sure that they would have enough energy left in them to play a supporting role in any remaining back exercises that I would do. For example, bent over reverse grip rows recruit a lot of rear deltoid muscle fibers, so they must be done before rear laterals. Front lat pull-downs do not rely so heavily on the rear deltoid muscles so I can do them after rear lateral movements. The shoulder pump I get from doing rear laterals on back day is awesome, arguable the best pump I’m able to get out of any muscle.

Concerning the front deltoids, I now do front dumbbell laterals towards the end of my chest day when the join and muscles are well warmed-up. But I’ve changed the way that I do them. I used to just raise the weights up to the front trying to use only my shoulder muscles. Now I also focus on squeezing the pectorals on the way up because engaging the upper pectoral region during this movement will shift some of the work on to them to help to more fully fatigue them. And the movement of the weight is slightly changed too, the line they follow is more of a “)(” shape. My goal with this is to improve the appearance of the pectoral deltoid tie in area.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have a shoulder day, but I call it medial deltoid day and that is exactly what it is. I’ll do an overhead pressing motion (dumbbell shoulder press, machine shoulder press) and lots of medial laterals. Occasionally I may do a single arm dumbbell press before medial laterals to ensure symmetrical strength and development. As you can imagine, the these workouts do not take very long to complete, maybe 25 minutes to work through a max of about 12-14 sets. I’m now able to add a couple of trapezius exercises to the end of the work out, or train abs, or do some plyometrics training during the same workout. By eliminating direct training of the front and rear deltoid muscles on shoulder day I’m able to engage in movements that compliment the medial deltoids or are completely unrelated and therefore on fresh muscles.

This small change of training movements vs. body parts has really made a big difference in the overall appearance of my shoulder and neck. It has also allowed me to better manage the demands of a complex split training regime along with making resistance training a lot more fun. It has also allowed me to experience some mind blowing pumps that leave me laughing at what I see in the mirror after my workout – sometimes I can’t believe that my shoulder muscles could look so bloated.

I am presently experimenting with training gluts and hamstrings as the same body part and training them separately from the front of the leg. While the anatomy and planes of movement are a lot more complicated than that of the shoulders, I have found that stiff legged dead lifts have more in common with glut raises than they do with leg press. I’ll just leave it at that until I have a more complete understanding of what is actually going on and how to best put it to work for you.

Try gutting your shoulder workout and move front deltoid training to chest day and rear deltoid training to back day. Shoulder day should be about the medial head of the deltoid because that is what is going to give you the massive width. Give it a try and see how well it works for you.

Study Findings About Long-Term Exercise Compliance

Gary Homann talks about his findings into long-term exercise compliance in this T-nation thread called Long Haul Training.

He covers all kinds of stuff such as goal setting periodization and what the evidence indicates about exercise intensity is well worth the read if you’re prone to quit training:

Back to the intensity issue. Unfortunately, this is another example of experts prescribing what they think people will do rather than what’s best or optimal. Reviewing the research makes it clear that higher intensity exercise leads to a longer life and less cardiovascular disease. (5) Studies have also demonstrated that people who do higher intensity exercise are leaner than people who only do low or moderate intensity exercise even when they eat more calories and burn fewer calories during exercise. (6) In short, you get more bang for the buck with higher intensity exercise.

Secondary Attack – Reworking A Trained Muscle Later That Day

It should come as no surprise to learn that I love to workout with weights. There is something special about the feeling you get when your muscles have been fatigued from a lot of heavy lifting. This feeling is wonderful to me because I feel pain in places I don’t normally feel anything. It’s a strange masochistic awareness that lets me know that there is a lot more of me than what I’m used to knowing.

One of the best ways I’ve found to increase this awareness, to create delayed onset muscle soreness through working out, is to partially retrain a morning body part later on in the day. For example, I train chest, shoulders and back in the mornings and will work legs, arms and abs in the evenings. On a day when I’ve trained back in the morning I’ll sometimes follow DB curls with a few sets of narrow grip pull-ups with the goal of more complete fatigue of the biceps and to retrain the back muscles from the morning workout, I’ll finish off triceps training with dips if I’ve trained my chest earlier in the day. The goal is to complete fatigue both sets of muscles and force a second influx of recovery nutrients into muscles I trained in the morning.

I’ll always try to train biceps in the evening on the days that I train back and triceps on the days I train chest because the morning workout does impact the arm muscles to a fairly large degree. I say this because most people can’t get a good biceps workout when they train them with back. While this is a common split, it is not idea from a biceps growth perspective. The same applies to the triceps and chest split.

With a body part like the traps, after I’ve trained them in the morning, I’ll just pick a trapezius isolation exercise and do it in the evening.

Some people don’t like this approach. They say that it is too high volume and that it will lead to over training. I don’t disagree with them, but it you do it right, it represents a fantastic way to maximize training intensity without having to dramatically increase load. You do need to decrease the volume of exercise in the morning workout, eat more and increase the amount of recovery time before you train the body part again to help avoid overtraining. But this is also true for all high intensity shocks that you employ during your training and it is especially true to training to true failure.

I’d encourage you to give this secondary attack approach a try. It’s going to help you completely drain and fatigue your muscles and it will force a second growth-creating release of repair hormones.

Body Weight Exercises Are Key

Consider doing some body weight exercises to help build that stronger body because:

  • The body will adapt quickly to them because it is a reasonable load. I don’t know if this is true but I’ve always found that I gain strength very quickly with body weight exercises.
  • They are very functional – the strength generally lends itself to real activities.
  • They do not cause undo stress to the body because the movements are natural.
  • They are difficult to do at the beginning. Yeah, but anything that you have not done before is difficult to do at the beginning.
  • Most people don’t and can’t do them, probably because they are hard and people tend to shy away from difficult tasks.
  • They add variety to your strength training workouts.
  • They can improve symmetry and will balance strength. Consider one-legged squats, they guarantee that you work each leg equally.

Pull-ups are, in my opinion, the best body weight exercise that you can do because they engage many of the muscles of the back, as well as working the biceps and the rear deltoids. They require a lot of strength to do and there are a number of different variations that allow you to shift the focus onto different parts of the back and body. For example, narrow grip will work the middle back, the biceps and the rear deltoids more, wide grip focus the load on the lats to help build back width and off level pull-ups, while a more sport specific move, will focus more effort one side of the body.

Other body weight exercises you can try:

  • Dips – these really work the triceps and chest muscles.
  • Body row – great for working the middle back and the rear deltoids
  • Push-ups – an often-overlooked classic that works the chest muscles very effectively. Try placing the hands closer together to increase the load on the triceps and middle chest.
  • Various single legged squat movements – if you are concerned about being able to do these, consider the movement of getting into and out of a car as proof that you can.
  • Front and side planking moves – great of building core strength
  • Leg raises (hanging, lying, Roman chair) – fantastic for building lower ab strength
  • Various balancing moves – I’ve found the starfish position were you are standing on one leg and have your arms and other leg full extended to really tax my legs and lower back.

Supersets: You can also benefit from adding body weight exercise to weighted movements to create challenging supersets:

  • Narrow grip push-ups finish off a set of machine flies to complete chest failure.
  • Hanging leg raises complement weighted crunches nicely.
  • Dips and pull-ups can be done together for a great push pull set that will work the entire upper body.

Next time you’re looking for a new challenge, improved results or a change to your workout routine try giving some of these body weight exercises a try.

Keeping a six pack while drinking a six pack?

We’ll maybe.

People have six pack abs because their muscles can be seen. Most of the time it’s because the person is lean – usually less than 10 percent body fat – to maintaining this level of leanness requires fairly strict adherence to a clean diet. However, this summer I saw something that changed the way I view ab training. I rode past a guy who had really big ab muscles. It wasn’t that they were well defined it was that they looked like Mr. Olympia abs on an average sized guy. It wasn’t until I got back to the gym that I realized the significance of what I saw.

I had been on vacation, camping in the east coast of Canada, and I hadn’t done any ab work. I had brought my bike and I got at least 2 hours of riding in everyday, but I had also brought along my bad camping habits, eating a box of cookies and drinking 3 or 4 beers a night. I gained a few pounds and lost some muscle mass from my upper body. Sadly, my 6 pack was gone, buried under a layer or two of too much enjoyment.

When I got back to the gym and training, I noticed that my ab muscles were still really hard. In fact, they didn’t feel like they had gotten any smaller and when I went though my routine it was clear that I had lost very little strength. The only difference was a layer of fat. Then it struck me, if I want to have my abs visible but don’t want to have to constantly worry about what I eat, just make the ab muscles big enough to be seen through the layer of fat. That’s what I had seen on the guy in the summer, huge ab muscles that were visible regardless of what was in front of them.

That was the day I change the way I train my abs. I made the decision to make them as big as I could so that they could be seen, even when I wasn’t paying particularly close attention to what I was eating. It meant treating them like a large muscle group (having their own specific training day and prioritizing their training). This was new to me, and from what I read it is not done by most people.

I used to treat my abs as an after thought, throw in a couple of sets whenever I felt like it and I’d always try to get a good burn from contracting the muscles very hard instead of working to make sure they were fatigued as a result of the weight they were lifting. I would also tear through the sets as quickly as I could to get them over with. Once I slowed down and focused on tiring the muscles completely, I began to see results. The hanging leg raises, weighted cable and DB crunches, and weighted machine crunches replaced my body weight only exercise that I had been doing to create defined hard muscles. The outcome has been fantastic. My body fat ranges between 8% and 12% and I have a six-pack regardless of where it stands. My body looks better when I’m carrying less fat, but my abs are always there.

If you listen to one thing, listen to this…

If someone was to ask me to give one piece of advice it would be this: eat only enough so that you are hungry in 3 hours and then repeat. I think it makes the biggest impact to overall health.

I say this because:

  • Digestion is very taxing on the body. Eating smaller meals avoids this.
  • Digestion can break down nutrients contained in food, lessening digestion time can increase the nutrient yield from a meal.
  • Quickened food absorption into the blood will help to stabilize sugar levels, allow for more consistent energy levels and the quick availability of nutrients improves exercise recovery potential.
  • Complete digestion improves bowel movement frequency and consistency.
  • Most junk or fast food meals cannot be digested quickly enough to be consumed automatically increasing the quality of the food that you eat.

Moving to this type of eating can be difficult however, as it requires a fairly substantial change in your eating habits. The three square meals a day approach that most of us were raised on was based on the need to maintain an 9-12 hour work day, allowing for big enough sized meals that would help someone avoid hunger until the next meal. This approach is effective at doing this, but it isn’t ideal for most people any more, given that we have improved freedom to eat whenever we need to vs. whenever we are allowed to.

The consequence to not eating whenever we need to, or to eating to avoid hunger for longer than 3 hours is fat gain unless you are particularly active. I say this because the body adapts to getting food every 5-6 hours and will come to rely on transient body fat to fuel energy requirements not met through eating – those periods of time when a meal is being digested and has no impact on blood levels. If we introduce food every 3 hours, we decrease the reliance on body fat to power our energy needs.

It will take you about a month of eating smaller meals every 3 hours before it becomes part of your daily life, but you can enjoy the improved health benefits after only a week or so. If your schedule and work allow for it, give it a try. It’s helped me add lean muscle mass and lower my body fat.

10 Things to Do, lets talk about one of them

10 Things to Do …in the Gym, in the Kitchen, and in Your Head
by Chris Shugart

Okay, so I like the lists of things that other people come up with. They get me thinking about different things and something usually gets stuck in my head.

In this case it was Chris’ explanation for why people choose one calf exercise machine over another:

Guess which one is always being used and which one is gathering dust? Yep, the seated machine is neglected like a broke guy at Scores while a line forms behind the standing machine. Why?

Two reasons. First, the seated machine is plate loaded, and most men need at least four or five 45-pounders. Sad fact is, most people are too lazy to load it up, especially when a selectorized machine is sitting next to it.

Second, not only is the seated machine plate loaded, it’s twenty feet away from the weight tree. You not only have to load it yourself, you have to walk a long way carrying plates to do it.

So, exercise selection for calves, for many people, has nothing to do with soleus vs. gastrocnemius development; it has to do with one machine being easier and more convenient to use.

This goes a long way to explain so much of what is going on in today’s world. Many of us will do only as much as it takes to get something done and not a thing more. I think it’s because many have become very lazy. While it may seem trivial to make an example out of using one machine over another, the fact that someone who choose to ignore proportionate development of the lower leg while working to build muscle mass does seem to be the sign of the times. People don’t want the best results, they want the easiest way to make it seem like they are trying to get the best results.

I often joke at the gym about trap development of people. I can identify the people who use the plated leg press or hack squat machines not by looking at their legs but by looking at their traps. Like Chris said, people with strong legs need a lot of weight to get anything out of these exercises so they have to load 4 or 5 plates on each side. That means loading an unloading between 450 and 540 pounds. Given the position that 45 lb plates have on the weight trees, you’ll be doing a lot of shrugging to load if you want to get a good leg workout. The people who rely on pinned machine don’t have to do anything to set the weight, they just pull and place the pin. My tendency to believe that this machine is less effective than the plate loaded machine is based on the fact that the people who use it tend to be smaller, but maybe they are smaller because they don’t do two sets of shrugs loading and unloading the plates. It may seem like a small thing, but that’s a 1000 pounds of extra work EACH leg day. A 1000 pounds is a lot of work for the traps.

Training legs is only one place I see people cutting corners when it comes to getting the most out of their time in the gym. Pretty much every free weight exercise has a pin machine alternative. The preacher curl bench is almost always empty because people are using the bicep machine. The focus seems to be on getting through a workout and not getting a workout.

And it isn’t just on resistance training that people are cutting corners. They’re doing it with cardio too. For some reason it seems that most people are afraid to break a sweat when they’re burning extra calories. They’ll spend 40 minutes on an elliptical and when they hop off they’re as dry as when they started. They’ll think nothing of drinking a sports drink while burning 300 calories, never doing the math to realize that they would have been better off if they hadn’t even come to the gym.

It seems that people do not like intensity. They come in to do a workout that is X minutes long or burns X amount of calories but never stop to think about what they are really working towards. In most cases, the people want weight loss. There is no rule that says working out for X minutes will make that happen, or that by burning X calories every other day they’ll achieve their ideal weight. No, these goals serve to help you gauge improvement and that is all. If you’re working out with intensity, you should be able to do a workout that keeps getting longer gets longer or burns more and more calories. If you keep doing the same workout the same way, you’re rate of progress is going to be very slow as your body adapts to it. If you really want the weight loss results, you need to increase the intensity and break a sweat.

When you get right down to it, you SHOULD use the plate machine that is far away from the weight tree. You should learn to love carrying those 10 plates over to the machine and back again because that will make you stronger and that is why you are lifting. You should try to run a little faster or burn more calories per hour on the step mill because this will help you lose fat faster. When you’re at the gym, stop looking for shortcuts because these are the very things that are going to cost you time in the long run.

No load training = big gains down the road

Most people underestimate the importance of isometric muscle contraction in helping to build muscle. It is very beneficial to learn how to consciously contract a muscle because it will improve the underlying neural function needed to generate the near 100% muscle activation. This improves gains because the more muscle fibers that fired during a lift, the greater the strength and size gain potential.

One thing you should keep in mind when thinking about the body is that all muscle is basically the same. There are speed differences and different ratios of fast and slow twitch fibers, but by in large, if a fiber receives the signal to fire it will fire. If it doesn’t, it won’t. This process is an all or nothing thing so individual fibers will never contract at a force of 50%. Such a binary approach is successful because there are millions of muscle fibers that we can learn to control more or less individually. If you need to lift something with your biceps that requires 25% of its strength, your nervous system will recruit about 25% of your biceps muscle fibers to fire and contract to get the job done. This is a fantastic system because it allows for very precise effort control while eliminating a lot of wasted energy that 100% muscle firing would require.

Control of the motor units requires some adaptive changes from the nervous system. For the purpose of building muscle, the level of change is not extremely high because you are trying to fire as many motor units as possible in an attempt to work the entire muscle. This being said, neural tissues grow very slowly so it takes time to develop the appropriate pathways to allow for increasing numbers of motor units to be triggered. Whether or not we do develop this nervous system control dependents on our need to do so. This is where practice comes into play as it demonstrates this need and it forces the body to grow the enhanced neural pathways to allow for the improved control. Over time and with practice you will develop the ability to fire a larger and larger percentage of the muscle motor units.

Think back to a time when you were learning a new exercise or when you first started working out. If you are like most people, you probably noticed a dramatic increase in strength in the first few weeks of performing the new movements. Many people report up to 100% strength increases in their first 6 weeks of working out. This strength however, is not accompanied by a 100% increase in size, which is what you would expect to see. In fact, you gain a lot of strength before you notice any change in muscle size. These initial strength increases are the result of more motor units firing when the muscle contracts and not because each motor unit is contracting any harder. The practice helped your body learn how to improve muscle fiber recruitment.

The lesson is that you can learn to recruit more motor units for a muscle contraction if you practice. The more you practice, the faster the skill will develop. People who understand this are the ones how make flexing or posing part of their workout routine. They are the ones learning how to recruit as many muscle fibers as they can when they flex because they know that conscious control of the process is only possible if they have the ability to engage all of the motor units. The skill you are working to acquire is to be able to contract all of the muscle fibers when you are lifting a load since that is what is going to make the fibers grow in size and strength. It is only when you are able to engage all of the muscle fibers when you are lifting that you will be working the entire muscle and forcing maximum growth. Isometric muscle contraction during flexing or posing is a great way to learn how to get this control.

They can’t prove it

The Testosterone Nation regulars lay down 8 training ideas that they think are true, but they can’t prove.

Two in particular got my attention.

In part one, Christian Thibaudeau really got me thinking about the role that childhood activity plays on determining our best body parts for muscle growth later on. When we are young, our play helps us to learn how to contract our muscles more completely. As a consequence, if we don’t use particular muscles when we are younger, we never gain the body awareness that leads to more complete neural firing.

In part two, Chad Waterbury goes out on a limb and endorses high frequency training (working a body part more than 4 times a week) as a fantastic way to increase muscle growth, provided you keep the volume of each workout low.

I think that the increased frequency would dramatically improve the neural coordination for activating the muscles; maybe this could make up for that lethargic childhood?