Friday, September 30, 2011

The 10 Best Ways To Dramatically Increase Your Squat

There’s very little in this world that thrills me more than tinkering with an athlete’s squatting technique and watching him dominate weights that felt incredibly heavy just seconds earlier. Here are ten great tips for building a big squat in record time – regardless of whether you’re free squatting or box squatting, Olympic-style or Powerlifting style:
Tip #1: Sit Back, Not Down.
Your athletes should always initiate a squat by pushing the hips back. A great cue to use with them is “Imagine someone behind you has a rope tied around your waist and is pulling you back.” They should immediately realize that this amounts to pushing the butt back while maintaining a neutral spine with the chest up – not rounding over at the lower back.
Sitting back not only keeps the bar between the two axes of motion – the hips and knees – but also keeps the resistance back in a position that puts the true prime movers at a mechanical advantage. You’ll never squat huge weights with quadriceps alone; the hip extensors – glutes, hamstrings, and adductor magnus – are the muscles responsible for building big squats.
Tip #2: Brace Hard and Get a Belly Full of Air

We know that the muscles in the lower body are generating all our force, and we know that the bar is positioned on our upper back. That force has to get from the lower body to the bar somehow, doesn’t it? If you’re weak in your core, you’ll never unleash a big squat.
Sucking in the tummy is just asking for trouble. Ask anyone who has squatted big weights, and they’ll tell you that the secret is to brace your midsection by activating the surrounding
musculature and drawing the air into your belly. If an athlete breathes in and his shoulders rise, he’s not breathing for a big squat. A good trick to teach proper breathing technique for squatting is to put a loose belt on your athlete, and then tell him to breath in until they feel their abdomen pushing out against the belt.
Another great way to enhance core stability for squatting is to “rake the obliques.” Once the athlete is up under the bar and about to unrack the weight, dig your fingers into their obliques; you’ll notice that the entire midsection tightens right up. This activation is based on the concept of tactile facilitation; touch a muscle, and you can enhance recruitment of it. Just be careful with overstepping your bounds with regarding to touching like this; what is okay with a 250-pound high school offensive lineman is not necessarily going to be okay with a 120-pound field hockey player.

Tip #3: Pull the Bar into your Upper Back
Your athletes will also never transfer force correctly to the bar if it’s not solidly positioned on the upper back. Activating the lats and pulling the bar down into the upper back immediately tightens the entire upper body. Also, given the lats’ attachment on the thoracolumbar fascia, it increases core stability as well. That bar shouldn’t move from the upper back at all.

Tip #4: Pull the Elbows Forward.

This is a great tip for athletes who have a problem with excessive forward lean. Pulling the elbows forward with the hands already fixed on the bar will automatically pop the chest up. With the chest up, the bar will remain between the knees and hips, and the athlete will be far less likely to look down during the lift.

Tip #5: Bring your Hands in.
Bringing the hands in closer to the body will also help with keeping the chest up. The closer our hands are to our body, the more external rotation of the humeri (upper arms) we have. When an athlete externally rotates his upper arms, he “opens the chest up” because scapular retraction (shoulders back) is a synergistic pattern to external rotation.
A lack of external rotation range of motion is one reason why you see so many big guys squatting with an extra wide grip. If your athletes are having a hard time bringing their hands in, chances are that they need to spend more time addressing flexibility of the shoulder girdle. They should at least be able to get settled into a “moderate” grip width.

Tip #6: Grip the Floor!
This quote might be a bit hackneyed by now, but “You can’t shoot a cannon from a canoe.”
Your base is incredibly important to generating optimal force; if you don’t have solid footing, you’ll never reach your squatting potential. The best squatters don’t just stand on the floor; they push down into it and grip it in the process. Sprinters and ballerinas want to be light on their feet; squatters want to be rock solid. Grip the floor!
This leads us to Tip #7…
Tip #7: Check Your Footwear.

I cannot overstate the importance of appropriate footwear. The best squatting shoes will have you as close to the floor as possible; most successful powerlifters actually squat in Chuck Taylors (Converse All-Stars) or wrestling shoes, as these sneakers keep their feet as close to the floor as possible. Sneakers with exaggerated heel-lifts should be discouraged, as they shift an athlete too far forward and really just offer an “out” for individuals with poor ankle flexibility (lack of dorsiflexion range of motion). Plus, if there is too much cushioning, the force we’re looking to exert into the ground is “muffled.” Most athletes will do fine with a “middle-of-the-road” sneaker.

Tip #8: Don’t be Lazy!
Untrained athletes will typically only generate as much force as they need to produce to make the bar move, so each rep moves at the same speed – regardless of weight. One of the best ways to teach your athletes to move huge weights is to constantly be reminding them to always accelerate the bar throughout the rep. Don’t let them get lazy in the strongest part of the range of motion (this is one reason why accommodating resistances such as bands, chains, and weightreleasers can be valuable) .In the context of the squat, when working with submaximal weights, the bar should want to “jump off” the athletes’ backs as they fire through the sticking point and into the lockout (easiest) portion. Of course, it won’t be jumping, because they’ll be pulling the bar down (Tip #3).
Tip #9: Chalk your Back and Bands.

An athlete should never miss a squat due to having sweaty hands or a sweak-soaked shirt, so it never hurts to put some chalk on these areas. As long as you’re careful, you can be very neat with chalk in facilities that don’t look fondly upon its use. Invisible “liquid” chalk is also available.
Tip #10: Create a Shelf for the Bar

Young athletes will often complain that the bar feels uncomfortable on their back. The first step to fix this is to make sure that the bar is, in fact, on the upper back and NOT the neck. Cue them to pinch the shoulder blades together; when the trapezius complex and rhomboids “bunch up,” there isn’t any place for the muscle mass to go but “out.” This automatically creates a nice shelf upon which to place the bar. The more muscle mass the athletes add in the area, the better the shelf.

This is also a good place to mention that I am completely against the idea of using bar pads with any of my athletes. They shift the resistance too far forward, and invariably wind up turning squats into good mornings with untrained lifters. Besides, they’re really just a quick fix; the athlete won’t ever learn how to squat correctly without the pad if he is always squatting with the pad. Sometimes, you just need to throw someone into the fire.

Incorporate some of these pointers to your coaching, and you’ll have some happy athletes in the weight room next time you squat. If you’re anything like me, you’ll love it as much as they do!

Article excerpts taken from, article written by Eric Cressey

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Strength Training and The Hormonal Response

Is there ever a time when a picture of Columbo doesn't work?
The term "hormonal response" gets thrown around a lot, especially in relation to weightlifting. It is one of my favorite things to say: "You have to squat or you won't be getting that hormonal response, which will in turn impede your overall strength and/or size gains". But what does it actually mean?  This article will attempt to break down some of the science behind the hormonal and endocrine responses we all strive to achieve.

The Hormones In Question

Human Growth Hormone (HGH or GH) and testosterone are the two primary anabolic hormones. This means that when the levels of these hormones increase, muscular size and strength will also increase. Because they are also lipolytic, they mobilize body fat for use as fuel, leading to a reduction in overall body-fat. Another hormone, trilodothyronine T3 ( thyroid hormone) also has anabolic and lypolitic properties.

These are the hormones whose secretion we attempt to manipulate by various methods, but besides an intake of synthetic testosterone and HGH, how is this possible?
Like with so many other things, the answer is simple: SQUATS!

But not just squats, all the various compound exercises unlock the powers of the hormonal response.

How To Manipulate the Hormonal Response

During heavy resistance exercises, there is a cascade of events that leads to an increase in several hormones that very specifically help deliver needed glucose for energy to the working muscle cells (Kraemer and Ratamess, 2005). There is also an immediate increase in epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones increase blood glucose and are also vital for increasing force production, muscle contraction rate, and energy production. An example of this would be the synthesis of ATP: the energy source of cells.

Interestingly enough, these hormones actually begin to rise prior to the strength training session. It has been described as an anticipatory response of the body, its way of preparing itself for the challenges it is about to face.

I am getting a hormonal response just from typing this.

Elevated blood glucose levels do not typically lead to an increase in insulin unless a protein/carbohydrate supplementation has preceded the workout. The increased uptake of blood glucose by the skeletal muscle occurs due to the functional increase of the cells glucose transporters. In laymans terms, this means strength training increases the body's insulin sensitivity, causing it to intake and utilize glucose more effectively.
Hormonal response in action
During conventional resistance exercise, there is a sequential concentric and eccentric muscle action. In training adaptations and hormonal responses, concentric muscle actions produced a greater amount of growth hormone when compared to an eccentric muscle action (Durand et al., 2003). Durand and colleagues compared both the concentric and eccentric muscle actions with the same absolute load. However, when compared using a relative load, both concentric and eccentric muscle actions produced similar growth hormone and testosterone responses (Kraemer et al., 2006).

Before you think that simply going to the gym and smashing on a set of dumbbell curls will give you the same response, think again. Research shows strength training programs that stress large muscle mass (ex: squats, deadlift, press, oly lifts) that are medium to high in volume, and medium to high in intensity tend to produce the greatest hormonal elevations for optimal muscular growth benefits.

In closing, strength training has been shown to dramatically affect acute hormonal responses in the body after training. These responses play a huge role not only in immediate tissue remodeling and growth, but as well as to long term strength, power, muscle gain, and fat loss. This is achieved by using multi-joint, heavy movements. In laymans terms: LIFT BIG & EAT BIG!.


-Ahtiainen, J.P., Pakarinen, A., Alen, M., Kraemer, W.J., and Hakkinen, K. (2005).
Short vs. long rest period between the sets in hypertrophic resistance training: influence on muscle strength, size, and hormonal adaptations in trained men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19 (3), 572-82.

-Ahtiainen, J.P., Pakarinen, A., Kraemer, W.J., and Hakkinen, K. (2004) Acute hormonal responses to heavy resistance exercise in strength athletes versus nonathletes.
Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology. 29 (5), 527-43.

-Durand, R.J., Castracane, V.D., Hollander, D.B., Tryniecki, J.L., Bamman, M.M., O'Neal, S., Hebert, E.P., and Kraemer, R.R. (2003). Hormonal responses from concentric and eccentric muscle contractions. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 35 (6), 937-943.

-Izquierdo, M., Ibanez, J., Gonzalez-Badillo, J.J., Hakkinen, K., Ratamess, N.A., Kraemer, W.J., French, D.N., Eslava, J., Altadill, A., Asiain, X., and Gorostiaga, E.M. (2006). Differential effects of strength training leading to failure versus not to failure on hormonal responses, strength, and muscle power gains. Journal of Applied Physiology, 100 (5), 1647-1656.

-Kraemer, R.R., Hollander, D.B., Reeves, G.V., Francois, M., Ramadan, Z.G., Meeker, B., Tryniecki, J.L., Hebert, E.P., and Castracane, V.D. (2006) Similar hormonal responses to concentric and eccentric muscle actions using relative loading. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 96 (5), 551-557.

-Kraemer, W.J., and Ratamess, N.A. (2005) Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training. Sports Medicine, 35, (4), 339-61



Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Correct Bar Position On The Back Squat

No Dave Tate To Coach Your Squat? No Problem!

If you’re a fan of squatting … or you’re trying to become better at it … then you’ll probably want to check out these couple of tips on how to get the best bar position on your back and getting your hands right while squatting.
In this article, we’ll be examining the low-bar back squat — or common powerlifting squat. This is just to fine-tune your hand and bar placement because I knowsome of my clients still struggle with it. I’m definitely not an expert yet, but I’m learning more and more about the position of the bar and my hands and how it effects the squat every single time I do it.



Why is Bar Position So Important?

Because the placement of the bar on your back determines your back angle and how much of your hips/hamstrings/posterior chain get involved in the lift.
The picture below is the classic example from Starting Strength of where the bar should go in the low-bar back squat.

As you can see, the bar is positioned lower on the delts and traps … and not sitting on top of them. More on this in a bit …

Why Are Your Hand’s Position So Important?

Your hand position is also very important, because if it’s not right, then the bar won’t stay where you want it to!
For a good squat you want your chest to be “puffed” out, so there’s a slight arch in your lower back, and it’s impossible to keep the bar “low” on your back, if you don’t get your hands in the right spot.

Your Size Has a Lot To Do With It.

One thing I’ve found, after reading a lot and trying a lot of tips that other — bigger — powerlifters told me about where to stick the bar and my hands … is your size and flexibility in your shoulders will have a lot to do with it.
Starting Strength says to use a thumbless grip on the bar … when you can use your thumbs if your shoulders are flexible enough and you can get some extra upper back tightness you wouldn’t have before.
This is important for smaller guys who don’t have as much muscle on their upper backs for the bar to sit on. That’s just one example.
Not Much Upper Back Mass? Keep the bar a bit higher, and move your hands in for support (try using your thumbs to grip too!)

Then if you’re a more medium sized guy, you’ll have to move the bar further down your back and spread your hands a little more to accomodate your tighter shoulders and more upper back muscle (which also allows you to sit the bar lower on your back–you have something to rest it on!)
And if you’re a much bigger lifter, then you have plenty of upper back muscle to rest the bar on, and because of this (and usually a lack of flexibility plays a role too) — you can sit the bar a lot lower, and your hands’ll have to go out further too:

The bar position on your back determines your muscle involvement ...


You’re Going To Have To Experiment!

Everything you read here and on the internet, and in books, and hear in the gym should be taken with a grain of salt. Realize, that you’ll have to do a lot of experimenting to figure out what works for body type, gets you stronger, and ensures you have more proper technique.
Remember, the goal is to get stronger without hurting yourself. So sometimes it’ll be necessary to over-emphasize some technique stuff … until you go to far with it … then back it up … and eventually you’ll find the “sweet spot” where you’re starting to get it right.

How To Tell If You Got It Right.

Basically, you want:
  • Chest Up – you want your chest up, so you don’t have to exit the rack “hunched” over with your upper back — if you have to do this, then you need to work with your hands and bar placement position to fix it … you want your chest up, back slightly arched and a lot of air in your stomach …
  • Low Bar Position – compromising with the chest up, you want the bar to “sit” as low as possible on your back … so it’s more directly over the center of your foot as you perform the squat … so you can sit back into the squat and activate your powerful posterior chain more …
  • Upper Back Tightness — is what you’re after, to create a good place for the bar to sit, to keep the bar stable, and “solid” as you do your squat (you don’t want to be thinking about the bar sliding off your back as you squat–it sucks!)
  • Not to destroy your shoulders — along with this, you need to figure out how to compromise between getting your hands in closer towards your head, without destroying your shoulders or wrists. Your flexibility will determine this …
Once again, this will all take a little experimenting on your part … but the effort is worth it … because when you do the squat correctly, with the bar position in the right place, upper back tightness and lungs full of air it feels SO MUCH EASIER … and that will make you stronger (and less likely to get injured!) in the long run.

Article excerpts taken from , article written by Caleb Lee

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Increased Bone Density: Strength Training For Life

Get off my lawn
Weight training has long been associated with numerous health benefits, including increased muscle mass, decreased bodyfat levels, healthier organs, improved moods and outlook on life, etc.

A lesser-known, but very significant benefit of weight training is its effects on bone density. This is beneficial for people as they begin to age into the middle of their lives, when bone density begins to decrease. It is also especially useful information for young women, whose bone density starts to decrease at a younger age than men.

This article will look at the various studies that show the link between weight training and increased bone density, the specific types of exercises that do the increasing, and surprisingly, which exercises may actually decrease bone density.

In 2009, researchers from the Bone & Joint Injury Prevention & Rehabilitation Center at the University of Michigan reviewed research as far back as 1961 to determine the impact exercise has on bone density and bone health. They discovered three of the main characteristics of exercise that have the largest impact on increased bone density:

1. Strain frequency of the exercise
This typically has a higher occurrence in running, where the impact to the bones occurs frequently during the workout.

2. Strain rate of the exercise
This is typically higher in exercises that include jumping or plyometrics, where the rate at which the impact is felt is high.

3. Strain magnitude of the exercise
This is highest on weightlifting or gymnastics, where the force/impact of the exercise is greatest.

Evidence has also shown that weightlifting two or three times a week seems to stimulate bone formation and calcium retention. The forces of muscle pulling against bone stimulates the bone building process.
This Boehner would also increase with weightlifting
Interestingly enough, swimming and bicycling are not on the list of exercises, and there is some evidence that elite level cyclists actually lose bone density during high intensity training. Researchers are not entire sure of the causes of this finding, but some of the theories include:
  • The non weight-bearing nature of cycling put little strain magnitude (see above) on the bones.
  • Minerals, including calcium, are lost at an enormous rate during hours of sweating.
  • The possible energy imbalance (more calories are used than consumed) during hours of intense exercise.
The fountain of youth has yet to be discovered, but I think strength training is about as close as we can get. Researchers at Tufts University found that normally women are only able to slow their bone loss, but thanks to strength training they can, along with people of any age, can actually increase its density, not just slow its loss. Because 9 out of 10 hip fractures result from falls, it seems like common sense to engage in strength training to help decrease the risk.

Men can also have brittle bones, but women--especially thin women--who are past menopause are at an even greater risk. If you're thin, you have less weight bearing down on your bones, which translates to losing bone density even faster.

Copyright Crossfit Inc.
She most likely has stronger bones than the average teenage girl.

Strength training may be perceived as something that is best left to the silverbacks, but in reality it something that should be implemented by people from all walks of life, regardless of age. Not only will it make you stronger, more conditioned and an all around better person, it will also increase your longevity and keep your bone density high for the remainder of your days.

-R.S. Rector, R. Rogers, M. Ruebel and P.S. Hinton, Participation in road cycling versus running is associated with lower bone mineral density in men. Metabolism, 2007.





Monday, September 26, 2011

Inside The Microbiome: Balancing Bacteria For Fat Loss

Why is obesity so much more common today than it was even a few decades ago?

Researchers are starting to find bacterial clues that may point to an answer. There has been a profound shift in our populations of gut bacteria-the little creatures that live in our digestive tracts and studies show the changes as correlated with increased fatness.

There are actually 10 times more bacterial cells in your body than human cells: 100 trillion of them to 10 trillion of you. For the most part, these bugs help us, improving our immune system, providing vitamins, and preventing other harmful bacteria from infecting us. These bacteria also regulate how well we harvest energy from our food.

So far, two primary strains of bacteria have been found to influence fat absorption, almost regardless of diet: Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. Lean people have more Bacteroidetes  and fewer Firmicutes, obese people have more Firmicutes and fewer Bacteroidetes. As obese people lose weight, the ratio of bacteria in their gut swings over confidently to more Bacteroidetes.


This find had such significant implications that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the multi-year Human Microbiome Project in late 2007. It is like a Human Genome Project for bacteria and intended to explore how some of the 40,000+ species of micro-friends (and fiends) are affecting our health and how we might modify them to help us more.

This could take some time, but you don't need to wait to act. There are a few things can do now to cultivate healthy and bodyfat-reducing gut flora:

1. Get off the Splenda

A 2008 study at Duke University found that giving Splenda to rats significantly decreased the amount of helpful bacteria in the gut. Once again, the fake sugars turn out just as bad as, if not worse than, the real deal.

2. Go Fermented

Dr. Weston Price is famous for his studies of 12 traditional diets of near-disease-free indigenous communities spread around the globe. He found that one common element was fermented foods, which were consumed daily. Cultural mainstays varied but included cheese, Japanese natto, kefir, kimchi (also spelled "kimchee"), sauerkraut, and fermented fish. Unsweetened plain yogurt and fermented kombucha tea are two additional choices. Fermented foods contain high levels of healthy bacteria and should be viewed as a mandatory piece of your dietary puzzle. I consume five forkfuls of sauerkraut each morning before breakfast.

(Remember that pasteurized products contain no helpful bacteria, look for un-pasteurized fermented products)

Just be a real man(or woman) and make your own sauerkraut.
3. Consider probiotics and prebiotics

Probiotics are bacteria. I have used Sedona Labs iFlora probiotics both during training (to help accomodate overfeeding) and after antibiotics. Prebiotics are fermentable substrates that help bacteria grow and thrive. In this category, I've experimented with organic inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides, commonly referred to as FOS. For a host of reasons, I prefer Inulin, which I get through Athletic Greens. Inulin is about 10% the sweetness of sugar, but unlike fructose, its not insulinemic. In the whole-food realm, garlic, leeks and chicory are all high in inulin or FOS content.

Though the research is preliminary, introducing pre- and probiotics together in the diet could have beneficial effects on allergies, aging, and a range of diseases. I found one potential benefit particularly fascinating, both inulin and FOS improve calcium absorption, and calcium absorption promotes the contraction-dependent GLUT-4 translocation! 

If the anti-obesity effects weren't enough, consider bacterial balance as a crucial step in supporting your "second brain".

Most of us have heard of serotonin, a wide-acting neurotransmitter that, when deficient, is intimately linked to depression. Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) act to increase the effects of serotonin. Despite the label "neurotransmitter" which leads most people to visualize the brain, only 5% of serotonin is found in your head. The remaining 95% is produced in the gut, sometimes referred to as "the second brain" for this reason. 

In a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study of 39 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota was found to significantly decrease anxiety symptoms. Probiotics have also been shown as an effective alternative treatment for depression because of their power to inhibit inflammatory molecules called cytokines, decrease oxidative stress, and correct the overgrowth of unwanted bacteria that prevents optimal nutrient absorption in the intestines. 

Give your good bacteria an upgrade and get your microbiome in shape. Faster fat-loss and better mental health are just two of the benefits.

Article excerpts taken from "The Four Hour Body" by Tim Ferris.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Top Worst Weight Gain Mistakes

 I am borrowing this information from another weight gaining site. First day of school, so I don't have time to write my own today. This makes a nice companion piece to yesterday's article.

Do you find yourself wanting to gain weight but frustrated with how to do it?  If you’ve ever been a hardgainer, a skinny guy or gal and wanted to pack on the muscle, there’s things you can do that will get you to your goal.  But there’s plenty of awful advice being given.  It seems like a common sense thing but to those who are desperate to pack on the pounds, at the time it seems like okay advice.  Then you step back, get some perspective and some education and it’s like a Homer Simpson “doh!”  The light comes on and you realize how bad the advice was and that it just set you back even further.
Before I start off the Top 9 list, I want to make it clear that it’s not my intention to only point out the mistakes and then offer up no solutions.  Too many times when I’m in the gym, I hear somebody telling their buddy “Shame on you,” or “That’s why you aren’t able to gain weight,” or “Don’t do it like that!,” and then they offer up nothing as a solution.  I’m going to spend 1% on the mistake but I want to spend 99% of my time on the solution to this bad advice so you can learn as quickly as possible what to do without wasting any more time.  I’ll offer up the weight gain tip mistake and follow it up with a better solution to the problem.
When you are trying to gain weight it usually starts off with a question like this…
Anyone have any “home remedies” or suggestions that can help me put on a few pounds?
And then the bad advice flows like the water thru a huge crack in a dam.
I laughed so hard I nearly peed my pants when I read a Best Answer on Yahoo Answers to a common weight gain question.

“If you want to gain a lot of weight, you should eat a lot of junky foods. (Chips, cakes, candy, cookies, etc.) But if you don’t wanna get super duper fat then you should very rarely swim and jump rope when you are finished eating.”

Read that again folks, this is a common style of answer that gets the BEST VOTE on major network sites with millions of eyes.   Remember that hardgainers, don’t swim much and jump rope after you eat.   I bet that’s how Ronnie Coleman got so huge!  Damn him for not telling us sooner.
Here’s a short list of the Top 9 Stupidest Weight Gain Tips I’ve ever seen.

Weight Gain Tip Mistake #1: Eat Fast Food

By far the most popular piece of advice given to nearly all individuals struggling with weight gain.  The first piece of advice they get is to rush out and start slamming down cheap, low quality foods, including eating butter and drinking vegetable oil!  If a person is “underweight”, they should deny NOTHING and eat EVERYTHING.; McDonalds and KFC included. Does it work?  You bet it does but it’s not the kind of quality weight you want to gain (although some people don’t seem to care what the weight is as long as they gain it which is puzzling) If you are looking to pack on muscle, you can eat a lot but going the fast food route is typical of the lazy bodybuilder.   It’s a low class move that certainly has it’s place in some circles but if you are wondering how to gain weight, learn the right way.  If you eat enough high quality calories, frequently enough, you will put on quality muscle mass in conjunction with weight training.  Eating unhealthy foods will not build muscle quicker.  Take a few minutes to learn the very basics of how to gain weight and avoid the shortcut of eating junk foods and fast foods thinking it somehow is the fast way to build muscle.  It’s not.

Weight Gain Tip Mistake #2: Candy, Candy Candy

In high school I asked the biggest guy in the gym who just stacked the Nautilus bench press how to gain weight.  He looked at me seriously and said, “Eat a Snickers bar.  Eat candy.  Lots of calories.  You’ll gain weight.” Now if he was joking, it didn’t look like it but being desperate and frustrated, I did what he told me.  Every day after gym, I’d eat candy.  Being skinny, I didn’t put on any serious weight but I did get a cavity and I didn’t learn a thing about eating healthy.   The solution for extra calories via snacking would have been healthy fat options like almonds or peanuts.  They can add some serious calories if you need them without the ill effects of just eating junk foods that have empty calories and barely any nutritional value.
Weight Gain Tip Mistake #3: Fruit Juices

Tons of liquid calories and completely processed to it’s lowest form.  Now 100% fruit juice can be healthy without a doubt but drinking liquid calories is going to do literally nothing for serious long term weight gain.  The truth is, it’s a lot of sugar with little value in packing on weight through proteins and starchy carbohydrates.  Drink juice if you want but it’s not a weight gain solution. What you can do as a solution is to make a fruit juice smoothie for extra calories and add in other weight gaining substances like peanut butter, protein powders that will add calories to your overall nutritional plan.  Use this with caution as it’s easy to overeat and anything not utilized, can be stored as fat.  In essence, you can make your own homemade weight gainer at a fraction of the cost. 

Weight Gain Tip Mistake #4: Accept It, It’s In Your Genes

If you are skinny, count your lucky starts but it’s not in the cards for you to be muscular.  I’ve seen it and heard it as weight gain advice being given.  Beyond genetics, your potential to gain weight can be changed! If you are a skinny guy, it will take some work but you can pack on serious muscle mass.  Starting off in high school, I didn’t weight over 135 lbs on any day.  Now I’m easily at 191 lbs without having to put forth the effort you’d think to maintain the mass.  It was hard work but through proper nutrition, tracking what I ate, knowing how many calories a day to eat, I did pack on lean body mass over a period of 6 month.  It was amazing and all I needed was to avoid the short term solutions in this list and start EATING, eating good foods and eating frequently.  You don’t have to accept it and it is not genetics to be skinny all your life. 99% of skinny, hardgainers truly haven’t tried putting forth the effort.  They quickly buy into the genetics statement and give up.  Start learning how many calories you need and then start eating, taking a cooler to work or whatever to pack in the food.  Forget weight gainers and shakes (they have a purpose) and start eating.

For example, you might be shocked to see that you need 3600 calories to gain weight and in reality, you are only eating a mere 1800 and playing 5 hours of basketball.  That’s why you are skinny.  Not genetics.  A little tracking to bring reality into the situation can go a long way to providing you critical insight as to why you aren’t gaining weight.

Weight Gain Tip Mistake #5: Weight Gainer 4000… BEEFCAKE!

Frankly it’s a quick, expensive way to be lazy for those who haven’t invested any time in attempting to consume enough calories.  Weight gainers (Slim Fast Shakes, Ensure) have value, there’s little doubt in my mind but more often than not, the people who use them are under eating to begin with and quickly latch on to what they have been told is a “healthy” way to quickly add the calories they need.  If you are eating enough calories, it’s useful in circumstances to add in thousands of calories that you cannot otherwise get through foods without seriously spending 8 hours a day eating.  For most, they barely eat 3 meals and add in 3 weight gainers and see some results.  But as quickly as the results come, they stop taking it and lose the weight.  Relying on a weight gainer when you are trying to gain weight is a serious mistake.  Once you are eating enough whole foods or if you seriously cannot get the calories you need per day but come close, that’s where a weight gainer makes sense.  But not as an excuse to pack on pounds because packing a lunch and a few snacks is to time consuming.

Weight Gain Tip Mistake #6: Inadequate Water Consumption

Your body is around 70% water.  All too often, the skinny guy or gal isn’t drinking water.  Not nearly enough and any liquids being consumed are in the form of energy drinks, coffee, shakes or soda.  None of which are actually going to be a replacement for good old, plain water.  In order for your body’s functions to process the protein, foods and to hydrate the cells, you must consume enough water.  Simply by increasing your water intake, you can start to put on weight and not just water weight.  How much water should you drink can be complex or as quick as taking your current body weight, divide that in half and drink that much in ounces per day.

Weight Gain Tip Mistake #7: Spouting High Calorie Requirements

Oh you are skinny?  You need to eat 3600 calories per day.  Huh?  You know nothing about this person, their age, their current weight, their body composition and yet you toss down a number as if 3600 is the magic number of skinny people to gain weight?  If you go from 1800 calories a day to some number that’s too high, you’ll find it nearly impossible to eat that much food if you are not used to it and anything in excessive can be stored as fat.  The solution is simple.  Figure out roughly how many calories a day you need to eat now, to gain weight and when you start gaining weight, adjust that on a weekly or monthly basis given your new body composition.  Just eating a ton of food, randomly without any reference point will either lead to excessive fat gains and/or a total abandonment of the process when you start to hate eating that much food in one sitting without having the body mass or the activity levels to support it.
Just because Michael Phelps can eat an entire menu for breakfast doesn’t mean you can or should given that you don’t swim 5-6 hours a day and aren’t an Olympic level athlete.  Eat based on your needs and your goals, not some fake numbers or how somebody who clearly isn’t you, eats.  Make eating personal.

Weight Gain Tip Mistake #8: Train Like An Bull, Eat Like a Flea

The smallest guy at my gym that easily does 23 pull-ups and trains like an animal, couldn’t tell me what he ate for breakfast but when directly asked, he gave the typical skinny guy response.  “I eat a lot.” Like what I asked.  He looked puzzled.  I told him to take the Dare in Tip #4 above.  When I saw him again, 1 day later and asked, he said he’d get to it later that week.  That’s why he’s skinny and can’t gain weight.  He trains hard and trains consistently but the other 23 hours of the day, who knows.  He doesn’t even know.  His nutrition doesn’t support his weight training endeavors to pack on mass.  Vince Gironda once said that bodybuilding is 80% nutrition.  That means, you can have a pretty lousy weight training routine and if you eat properly and eat enough, you’ll look very good.  But in most cases, people train hard and then fail to support the training they just did through proper nutrition and with enough calories.  Are you one of those people?  You train hard but totally fail when it comes to nutrition?  You grow when you are out of the gym.  You spend 1 hour training and the other 23 hours recovering and supporting that growth thru nutrition.  It’s important!  If you train like an animal and eat like a flea, correct that ASAP and you’ll see some immediately gains in weight and muscle mass.

Weight Gain Tip Mistake #9: Not Eating Enough
By far the most common weight gain mistake and the best weight gain tips of them all.  Eat but don’t just eat anything and everything in site.  No drinking vegetable oil. Taking the time to calculate your calories, eat frequently during the day and engaging in a proper weight training routine is all it takes to start seeing results.  Most skinny individuals truly believe they have tried everything to gain weight when in fact they have skipped the most important steps to weight gain.
#1: Calculating your daily calorie requirements
#2: Tracking what you eat
Just eating or guessing is a surefire way to stay skinny. It takes effort and some simple calculations but soon enough you will be putting on weight.  Short of a medical issue or some other rare, unforeseen problem, there’s no reason why you are any different from the rest of us skinny guys who learned how to gain weight by using some common sense weight gain tips.  Don’t follow the advice that preaches shortcuts.  I’ve tried them all (except the vegetable oil) and none of them worked for me in the long term.

Article excerpts taken from

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The 10 Most Common Weight Loss Mistakes

This topic came to my mind while I was in Hawaii this past weekend. After being hounded down by a timeshare salesman, he then proceeded to tell me his life story from ages 22 1/2 to 58. I also believe that it was all lies. He told me that he has shed 45 pounds to try and get down to his goal of 189, but he hit a plateau. I then puffed up my chest and told him he needed to start lifting weights. He responded with the answer that makes me want to set myself on fire: "I have been working out a ton, and following a vegan, low-fat diet". After that I pretty much shut off my brain and blacked out.

At least the man served as an inspiration for my write up that deals with the 10 most common mistakes individuals make when trying to lose weight. Let's get started on #1.

1) Severely restricting caloric intake

A starvation diet (i.e., reducing your caloric intake to less than 50% of what your body requires) presents a number of problems to people who are trying to lose weight. First and foremost, it doesn't work. Any weight that may have been lost is subsequently regained because most individuals cannot maintain such a restrictive eating plan over the long haul. Neglecting their protein and fat intake is also one of the biggest flaws in many weight-loss diets.

2) Having an unduly narrow perspective of the problem at hand

Too many people view losing weight as simply a matter of cutting back on what they eat. In reality, it's an issue of basic physics-balancing energy in with energy out. As such, if you really want to lose weight (and keep it off), you need to increase your level of physical activity and eat in moderation.

3) Ignoring the need to maintain their level of lean body mass

A common tendency among individuals who exercise is to focus their activity efforts solely on aerobic exercise. In the process, they lose muscle mass, which is replaced by fat when they inevitably regain whatever weight they lost. In turn, their metabolic rate as well as the number of calories that they need to maintain their current weight, is diminished. This adjustment creates a cycle that is counterproductive to sustained weight loss.

4) Misinterpreting what some food labels are actually saying

It is extremely important for individuals who want to control their weight to be aware of the fact that labels that state that a particular foodstuff is either "no fat" or "no sugar" does not mean "no calories."

5) Trying to lose too much weight too rapidly

Research shows that a weight-reduction program that involves a slow and steady loss  has the best chance for success, particularly when it is combined with an effort to change any inappropriate lifestyle habits.

6) Believing that spot reduction is possible

The concept of spot reducing is a complete myth. No exercise will eliminate fat from a specific area of the body, just as no change in your level of caloric intake will guarantee that the fat will melt away in the area of the body you most want to address. As a rule, the pattern in which you lose body fat is genetically predetermined.

7) Mistaking water lost through sweating for actual fat and weight loss

Your body has millions of sweat glands that cover your skin, excreting water and electrolytes. When you exercise, the amount of water (sweat) that is perspired increases in an effort by your body to help keep you cool and regulate your body temperature. The water you lose from perspiring can mislead you into believing that you've lost more fat and body weight than you may have actually lost. Such water weight is replaced when you subsequently consume fluids.

8) Buying into the "magic beans" theory

Selling supplements and related pills, powders, and potions that purportedly will somehow facilitate a person's efforts to lose weight is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. Other than being a waste of money and a purveyor of false hope for individuals who are looking for an easy and quick-fix approach to losing weight, such items also can have negative health consequences.

9) Following unproven and spurious dieting advice

The number of unsound diets that target unsuspecting individuals with undocumented claims and unhealthy practices seems to grow exponentially every year. Truth be known, these diets share at least two traits-they don't work, and they may actually be harmful(physically and financially) to a person who tries them.

10) Considering a surgical solution to their "weight" problem

Some individuals consider a surgical option for losing weight. In this regard, two procedures tend to receive the most attention: liposuction and gastric bypass surgery. Liposuction involves the removal of fat from specific regions of the body. Gastric bypass surgery, on the other hand, is a procedure that makes the stomach smaller and allows food to bypass part of the small intestine, resulting in fewer calories being absorbed. Although guidelines vary, gastric bypass surgery is generally reserved for severely obese individuals.


-ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal

Issue: Volume 12(6), November/December 2008, p 52

Copyright: © 2008 American College of Sports Medicine

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Damaging Effects of Forward Head Posture

After talking to my chiropractor, Dr. Silber from Belltown Spine and Wellness, about FHP (forward head posture) I thought that the material would make for a great blog post. As I am sure most of you suffer from sort of this self-inflicted abnormality, reading this may lead you to implement some corrective exercises into your life. As weightlifters, correct spine and neck posture is vital to performance and form. If you are lifting with poor form, you are only strengthening your weaknesses.

The effect of posture on health is becoming more evident. “Spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure, pulse and lung capacity are among the functions most easily influenced by posture. The corollary of those observations is that many symptoms, including pain, may be moderated or eliminated by improved posture”.(1) One of the most common postural problems is the forward head posture (FHP). Since we live in a forward facing world, the repetitive use of computers, TV, video games, trauma and even backpacks have forced the body to adapt to a forward head posture. Repetitive movements in a certain direction will strengthen nerve and muscle pathways to move that way more readily.(2),(3)

An example would be the adaptation of the body to do gymnastics easily after repetitive practice. It is the repetition of forward head movements combined with poor ergonomic postures and/or trauma that causes the body to adapt to forward head posture.

Ideally, the head should sit directly on the neck and shoulders, like a golf ball sits on a tee. The weight of the head is more like a bowling ball than a golf ball, so holding it forward, out of alignment, puts a strain on your neck and upper back muscles. The result can be muscle fatigue and all to often an aching neck.(4) Because the neck and shoulders have to carry this weight all day is an isometric contraction, this causes neck muscles to loose blood , get damaged, fatigue, strain, cause pain, burning and fibromyalgia. When spinal tissues are subject to a significant load for a sustained period of time, they deform and undergo remodeling changes that could become permanent. This is why it takes time to correct FHP. In addition, FHP has been shown to flatten the normal neck curve, resulting in disc compression, damage and early arthritis.(5) This abnormal position is also responsible for many tension headaches, often termed carcinogenic headaches.

FHP also causes tension in the TMJ (temperomandibular joint) or jaw joint, leading to pain, headaches and bite problems. Some evidence exists that postural positions can affect the nerve tissue by altering blood flow to the spinal cord.(6) People with uncorrected FHP can potentially suffer chronic or unpleasant conditions such as, pinched nerves and blood vessels, like thoracic outlet syndrome, muscle and tissue pain, syndromes like fibromyalgia, chronic strains and early degeneration and arthritis.(7-14)


FHP is relatively easy to detect. Have the person you are checking look up at the ceiling, down at the floor and then straight ahead. Find the center of the shoulder and draw an imaginary line up. It should land through the middle of the ear’s hole (external auditory meatus). 
Any forward head posture should be immediately checked by a chiropractor. Medical doctors do not fix these types of problems. “Despite considerable evidence that posture affects physiology and function, the significant influence of posture on health is not addressed by most physicians”.(1) 

Remember, long standing postural problems like FHP will cause spine and nerve damage and symptoms are rarely present early on.


Backpacks- Children are now using backpacks to carry school books weighing up to an alarming 30-40 lbs! This forces the head forward to counter balance the weight resulting in abnormal stress to the discs, joints and nerves of the neck, shoulders and lower back.

Computer Ergonomics- Positioning computer screens too low, coupled with the repetitive motion of moving the head forward to read the screen is a primary factor in FHP.

Video games/TV- Most kids use poor posture when playing video games and watching TV. Repetitively sitting in one position for long periods of time causes the body to adapt to this bad posture.

Trauma- Falls and trauma can cause whiplash resulting in muscle imbalance. This pulls the spine out of alignment forcing the head forward. According to Renee Calliet, M.D., if the head weighs 10lbs and the center of the ear sits directly over the center of the shoulder, the load on the spine and its tissue is only 10lbs. However, if the head is translated forward, it’s weight will increase by 10lbs for every inch forward it is. In effect, if the center of the ear is three inches forward from the center of the center of the shoulders, the weight of the head on the spine
and its discs, joints and nerves is 30lbs.!(10)

Normal Solutions

1. The first step in correction is to be examined and x-rayed by a chiropractor to identify the exact measurements of the FHP. Once that is established, a specific corrective care program for FHP is given, including adjustments and specific exercises. The chiropractor will point out poor ergonomics and situations that pre-dispose you to FHP and give you practical solutions.

2. For office use and video game play, position your computer monitor height so the top third of the screen is even with your eyes and the screen is 18” - 24” from your face. Support the lower back. If children sit on the floor looking upward, have them use a floor pillow armchair and sit up straight.

3. Every 20-30 minutes, sit up straight and pull the neck and head back over the shoulders. Hold for a count of 3 and do 15-20 reps. Alternatively, stand against a wall with a small pillow at your midback, move your head back to touch the wall, hold for a count of 3 and do 20-25 reps.

4. Always use a back support pillow when sitting or driving. By supporting the low back, the head and neck will move back over the shoulders.

5. At home, lay face down on the floor and extend your head and shoulders up, while pinching your shoulder blades together. Hold for a count of 3 and do 15-20 reps.

6. Backpacks - maximum backpack weight should be 15% of the child’s weight. Never wear backpacks over one shoulder. Always use a waist belt, and if available, a chest belt to neutralize the load. Without these belts, the head will move forward to compensate for the load. A new type of backpack with an air bladder has been shown to significantly reduce weight without a strap.

Monitoring good posture is essential for optimum health. With a little effort and a chiropractor on your health team, you can be assured a future doing things you love to do rather than suffering from damage and degeneration that poor posture can bring.

Thank you to Belltown Spine and Wellness for the information.

(1) John Lennon, BM, MM, C. Norman Shealy MD, Roger K. Cady MD, William Matta PhD,
Richard Cox PhD and William F. Simpson PhD
Postural and Respiratory Modulation of Autonomic Function, Pain & Health.
AJPM Vol 4. No 1 January 1994
(2) Restak R.M. 1979 The Brain: The Last Frontier NY Warner Books
(3) The Laws of Fasciculation Porland’s Medical Dictionary. Dorkonos
(4) Mayo Clinic Health Letter. March 2000, Vol 18 #3
(5) Gore DR, Sepic SB, Gardner GM. Roentgenographic findings of the cervical spine in asymptomatic
People. Spine 1986;6:591-694
(6) Adams CBT, Logue V. Studies in cervical spondylotic myelopathy part I: movements of the cervical
Roots, dura, and cord and their relation to the course of the extrathecal roots. Brain 1971;94:557-568
(7) -(14) Donatelli R, Wooden M. Orthopedic Physical Therapy New York: Churchill Livingstone Inc. ,
(8) Cailliet R. Low Back Pain Syndrome. Philadelphia: FA Davis Co.,1981
(9) Cailliet R. Neck and Arm Pain. Philadelphia: FA Davis Co., 1981
(10) Cailliet R. Soft Tissue Pain and Disability. Philadelphia: FA Davis Co.,1977
(11) Reilly B. Practical Strategies in Outpatient Medicine. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Co.,1984
(12) Lee D. Principals and practices of muscle energy and functional techniques. In: Grieve GP(ed.)
Modern Manual Therapy of the Vertebral Column. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1986.
(13) Bourdillon JF, Day EA, Bookhout MR. Spinal Manipulation. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1991
(14) Lewit K. Manipulative Therapy in Rehabilitation of the Locomotor System. Oxford: Butterworth
Heinemann, 1991.