Monday, October 10, 2011

I PLAY CLEAN...Making a Difference

Butkus and I Play Clean!
Hi!  My name is Jennifer London and I am a certified athletic trainer at a high school in Tennessee.  The last high school that I worked at (in Michigan) had received some educational materials (posters and informational sheets) about the I Play Clean campaign.  I found these materials extremely effective with the student athletes and many of them stopped using the supplements that they were taking.  I only had one using steroids but he eventually stopped also.  I was wondering if I could get another set of those materials for the school that I am currently working at.  I think these student athletes are extremely easily influenced due to their age but also the socioeconomic status of the area that they live in.  I think it would be beneficial and maybe I could get the whole football or basketball team to take the pledge.  That is the goal.  Anyways, any help you could offer would be great.  Thanks. 

Jennifer L. MS, ATC
Knoxville Orthopaedic Clinic
Karns High School Athletic Trainer

I PLAY CLEAN encourages teens to "Eat Right, Train Hard, and Play With Attitude" instead of resorting to illegal steroids.  Please go to for more information.


Thursday, October 6, 2011


Dick Butkus wants you to live a fit, healthy and enjoyable life.
How?  By using the same fundamentals he relied upon to become the best defensive player in the history of football – Train Hard, Eat Well, and Play With Attitude.  If it’s good enough for Butkus, it’s good enough for you!  Fit Like 51 is a blog designed to encourage and motivate you along your journey.  We’ll include tips, suggestions and ideas to keep you on track, whether you’re getting ready for a high school career, considering playing at the next level, or are striving to live as a fit and healthy adult.
We welcome your feedback.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Genetics and the Super-Human Athlete

Draft Day, Superior genetics!
Do you ever wonder how there are some athletes that are a step above all the rest, physically they're men among boys.  A few come to mind: Dick Butkus, Adrian Peterson, Bo Jackson.  Genetics play a huge role in the athletic ability of an athlete.  That's not to say someone with poor genetics won't be a good at athletics because we can't measure an athlete's attitude and passion for their sport. 

I want to shed some light on how genetics contribute to athletic ability because it relates to how you should workout.  To define genetics we look at how the body was built structurally.  This is determined from birth and probably well before then by your family tree.  For determining athletic ability genetics relates to:
  1. Length of muscles relative to your bones
  2. The angle of insertion points of the muscles
  3. Length of connective tissues
  4. Your brain/central nervous systems (CNS) ability to activate a large percentage of your muscles.
Everyone is truly built unique and different from another.  Here's an example to show the 4 factors above in a real world perspective as it relates to genetics of an athlete:

There are 3 football players that are  6'3" 265lbs.  Each one of them has different lengths of muscles relative to bones, insertion points of muscles, and length of connective tissue.   From a power production point of view these factors are huge because this heavily contributes to leverage.  To complicate things further, genetics are different in each muscle group of the body.  There may be an athlete that has great genetics in the legs but not in the arms etc.  There's nothing you can do about these factors, they are all genetic in nature.

In addition to the first 3 factors there's the 4th factor that each person has a different ability to activate muscles.  One person may be able to activate 40% of his muscles, another may be at 25%, and one at 30%.  There is literally infinite combinations of these 4 factors and they are all determined by your genes, it's the luck of the draw.  How it relates to weight training is that most of today's so called explosive training, truck tire training, circus ball training etc. is focused on improving something that's determined by genetics and there's nothing you can do about it in the first place.  No matter what type of tire flipping-explosive power cleaning program a 25%'er does, they will never ever become a 40%'er.  Don't waste your time!  Give me a 25%'er and I'll train him my way and put him up against the tire flipping 40%'er any day of the week.  Now if you were to get the 40%'er to train the way I describe and you'll have a beast on your hands!  

What can be done is to weight train in a high intensity fashion to improve your strength/size as quickly as possible.  This is done by weight lifting very hard, for a brief amount of time, and not that often.  Choose 8-10 of the hardest exercises: squats, leg presses, standing overhead presses, pull ups, rows, dips, bench press, stiff legged dead lifts.  Do 2 sets each as hard as you can with good form, until you can't do anymore, then rest a day, and next time you workout try and beat every exercise in weight/reps.  If you have access to good exercise machines such as Nautilus, Medx, or Free Motion use those instead of free weights because you'll get more results in a faster amount of time.

Combine a person with great genetics, proper weight training as described, skill training for their position/sport, and who plays with attitude and you will have a super-human athlete.  A virtual man-beast who couldn't be stopped!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quick ways to end your athletic career

Weight training can and should help athletes of all levels have a long and productive career.  When done properly, an athlete can expect increased strength, speed, quickness, and agility.  To extend your playing career not only means more dominance over a longer period of time but it also means more $ for professionals.

One of the fastest ways you can end or shorten your career is by doing explosive or a fast style of weight lifting.  These would be the power cleans, squat jumps with weight, and any exercise that the actual speed of the weight is fast.  These examples are the least productive type of training.  The rationale being if you move the weight fast it will improve explosive power and speed.  This is completely false.  An individuals body proportions(length of muscles, bones, connective tissue) and ability to activate a high percentage muscles quickly is genetic and programmed by the central nervous system.  You can't change your genetics! There is nothing you or I can do about it.  Any effort in trying to do exercises to change this is a waste of time at best.  At worst you can suffer a catastrophic career ending injury.

This holds especially true for younger athletes that are still developing.  I recently was contacted by the parents of a top high school water polo player.  They found out that there son's coach was having them do power cleans as a part of his training program.  Power cleans...for water polo?!  Following their intuition, they didn't feel right that their son was doing power cleans and had him come meet with me.  After learning how his coach had him and the rest of the team weight train, I was troubled but not surprised.  Doing explosive training puts your body's connective tissues, muscles, and joints under tremendous force.  Force causes injury.

Recent so called training "advances" such as flipping tires, circus balls, parachutes, rubber bands, heavy ropes, and explosive training have "advanced" athletic training to the horse and buggy era.  Why do athletes do them?  I have no idea but it's a sure way to put more wear and tear on your body than ever before.  It's a great way to end your career early!

To get the most out of your athletic ability, build your strength/size as needed for your particular sport/position by weight training very hard, briefly, and infrequent as outlined on this blog.  Then do sport/position specific skill training that your sport requires.  Skill training that involves the exact actions necessary for what you're doing on the field.        

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Recovery is Everything!

Rest and Recovery is a must!
Up until now, we have discussed the how to build the most muscle from your workouts.  The other side of the coin is allowing your body to recover from the workout.  An often neglected but vital component of achieving the results you want is recovery.  With the type of high intensity training that is required for worthwhile results, you also need the proper amount of rest.  It has been proven that the overall system (Brain, Muscles, Joints) needs a minimum of 48hrs rest between workouts. 

Now you may be thinking, “What if we split up the body parts and only did a workout for the Chest/Shoulder/Triceps on one day, and Back/Biceps/Legs on another?”  In this case the overall system still will be taxed and recovery still will not take place.  No muscle growth will be happen.  The body works as one integrated unit, when you sleep the whole system sleeps.  When you eat, the whole system eats.  You're body doesn't go, I think I'll take this meal I just ate and only give it to my Chest/Shoulders/Triceps.  Makes no sense!

How can you tell if you’re getting enough recovery?  You have to examine the progressions you are making with your strength gains workout to workout.  Each set/rep/weight of every exercise of the workouts needs to be logged.  If the style of performance is equal (tempo, form, rest periods) then a comparison can be made.  If in each workout you are gaining in weights and/or reps then you are probably getting enough rest between workouts.  If you are not progressing every single workout, then you need to take more rest between workouts.  Two or three workouts per week on non consecutive days are all that is needed for the best possible results.  In fact if you worked out more, you'd actually get less results!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Workout like a MADMAN!

Butkus doing 410lb Shrugs
Do you want the fastest muscle growth in the shortest amount of time?  Don't you want to actually see a change in your body?  Do you want to see more results in a month than you did in past year?  Maximum muscle growth requires the maximum intensity.  You should welcome and strive for extreme pain and burning muscles during the workout.  Your face should turn multiple shades of red and purple, you should look downright frightening to the people around you because that's what it takes to make muscle growth happen.  If it was easy then everyone would be in shape!

How to tell if you're not working out hard enough:
  1. You can talk during and between sets.
  2. You're watching TV while working out.
  3. You can see or hear.
  4. The pain isn't making you very angry.
  5. You like an exercise.
This is not only my belief but it's fact.  Workout extremely hard, for a short amount of time, and not that often.  The pain will be worth it because you'll see the results faster than ever before.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Best Leg Workout Routine Ever

When done, it should feel like you've tried to climb a building with a car tied to your back!  Not only is this leg workout the best ever for building muscle size and strength, it also delivers more pain in a shorter amount of time than any other program you'll ever do. 

Here's the exercises:
  • Leg Press Machine 1 set of 20 reps immediately followed by
  • Leg Extension Machine 1 set of 20 reps immediately followed by
  • Barbell Squats 1 set of 20 reps then rest

Basically you do the leg presses until failure, stumble/crawl to the leg extension machine, then drag yourself to the squats.  One cycle of this circuit is all that is needed and should take less than 5 minutes for the whole leg portion of your workout.  Also, you should need at least 5 minutes to recover.  If you can walk sooner, you haven't done it hard enough.

There are a few key points to this leg circuit:
  1. Less than 3 seconds rest between exercises.  More than 3 seconds rest and you'll greatly diminish your results.  
  2. Always use the reps as a guide but never stop until you've reached muscle failure.
  3. Do each rep smoothly and controlled with no bouncing and focus on slow transitions between the positive/negative portion of the rep.

After trying this leg workout cycle you'll appreciate the workout done by Casey Viator in 1971:
  • Leg Press Machine, 750lbs for 20 reps immediately followed by
  • Leg Extension Machine, 225lbs for 20 reps immediately followed by
  • Full Barbell Squats, 502lbs for 13 reps.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

All or Nothing - How muscles work

The fact that there has been $400 million dollars made this year based on the delusion of muscle confusion is beyond me. In reality, MUSCLES CANNOT BE CONFUSED! Muscles work in an "all or nothing" fashion. This means that if a muscle fiber is working, it's working at full throttle at that particular time. The body only uses the required amount of fibers to do the job at hand.  If you're lifting a pencil, only the required amount of fibers (in this case not very many) for that particular need will be used and those fibers will be working all out.

During your workouts, in order to use as many muscle fibers as possible each set has to be taken to 100% muscle failure with good form.  This means that you cannot do another repetition even though you are giving all out effort.  This way you insure that at least some of the muscle fibers will be exhausted and the others will be worked very hard.  This is how the fastest results in building muscle will be stimulated.  Doing 2 sets with a maximum of 3 sets of an exercise is all that is needed when working out this way.  Believe me that you literally won't want to do more and actually doing more sets will stand in the way of your progress.  Working out hard is something you can't do that often or for very long.

What happens if you don't take a set to failure?  First, you don't use all of the available muscle fibers therefore you won't get the maximum stimulation for building muscle.  Second, you make an inroad into your recovery ability without getting the benefit of the muscle being stimulated fully if at all.  Basically a set not taken to failure is a waste of time at best.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Compound Exercises versus Isolation Exercises

Compound exercises are far better in building overall muscle than isolation exercises.  Muscles work in systems or groups no matter what exercise you're doing.  With compound exercises there are many muscles being worked at the same time.  They're much harder than isolation exercises therefore when done with proper performance, you get superior results in building muscle.  Examples of the best compound exercises are squats, leg presses, Dips, overhead shoulder presses, Pull Ups, bent over rows, upright rows, and stiff legged dead lifts.  A few properly done sets of each of these exercises 3 times per week is all that most people need for maximum results.

Isolation exercises involve only one joint and very few muscles.  A common myth is that you can not only isolate a muscle but emphasize and build a certain part of it.  An example of this would be concentration curls for the biceps, either done on a cable or DB that supposedly focuses on the "bicep peak".   I am sure people learned this somewhere in a muscle magazine or Arnold's Encyclopedia of bodybuilding.  This is physiologically impossible, you can't isolate let alone isolate a particular part of a muscle.  A muscle's shape and especially "bicep peak" is dictated by your genetics not an exercise.

Another example would be preacher curls.  Many people see a "big guy" in the gym doing them and figure, he has big arms...I want big arms...therefore I'll do preacher curls.  The myth here is that preacher curls emphasize the "lower bicep" and builds muscle closer to the elbow.  This is so far off base it's rediculous.  If you ever have a someone that recommends preacher curls you should run!  There's almost no bigger waste of time doing these.  You can't emphasize a part of a muscle.  Lower bicep development is a product of genetics.  If you have long muscles and short connective tissue, you'll not only have the potential for huge arms but your lower bicep will be developed fully.  Nothing short of surgery can change this!

There is a place for isolation exercises which are best used in a pre-fatigue fashion before a compound movement and that's another chapter.  For most us, getting as strong as we can at the major compound lifts will build you the best physiques you've ever had.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Is the sequence of exercises important?

YES! Exercise sequence is probably one of the most important aspects of exercise next to intensity and form.  If you ask 10 strength coaches or personal trainers about what body parts and exercises to do first and why you'll most likely get 10 different answers.  I'd venture to say that most of them won't have a clue on the reason why it's very important to have the right sequence of exercises!

Regardless if your goal is to lose fat or build muscle, all workouts should start with legs/hips/back work.  It's interesting because these are the areas that most gym goers avoid like the plague!  If your effort is put into these areas first when you're fresh, it not only allows you to lift heavier but it serves as a complete warm up for the rest of your workout.  Hard leg/hips/back work gets your heart rate through the roof and just flat out stinks!  All the more reason to do them first and get them out of the way.

Here's an ideal way to organize your workouts:
  1. Legs 
  2. Back
  3. Chest 
  4. Shoulders
  5. Biceps 
  6. Triceps
  7. Forearms 
  8. Calves
  9. Abs
Use the hardest exercises.  Do them as hard as you can with good form. Allow for recovery and then next time you workout, hit it harder than you did the previous workout.  It's quite simple maybe too simple but it's in fact the fastest way to change your body.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Which is better - Machines or Free Weights?

Which gives you the fastest results with building muscle, Machines or Free Weights?  Answer: It depends on the manufacturer who made the machine.  Companies like Nautilus, Free Motion, and Medx build their machines to follow the proper functional strength curve of a muscle. This means that the resistance varies over the course of the rep, getting harder as the muscle contracts.  For example when you're doing a bicep curl, the resistance is as such that at the start of the movement the weight feels lighter and as you curl the weight it feels heavier and heaviest at peak contraction.  Test it out yourself next time you're at the gym, do a set on a Non-Nautilus/Medx/Free Motion machine and then do a set on one.  You'll feel a world of difference!

The flaw with free weights is that there are very few exercises that puts the resistance at peak contraction of the muscle. If you take that same bicep curl for example, the only point the weight is the heaviest is when your lower arm is parallel to the ground.  In that position, gravity is at its greatest force.  This is basically in the middle of the movement not at the peak contraction where it needs to be.  At the start and at the end of a free weight bicep curl the weight is actually moving mostly horizontally which is completely ineffective.

Don't be misled and think that I don't recommend free weights.  They are a far superior tool than most of the machines out there except Nautilus, Medx, and Free Motion.  An incredible amount of muscle can be built with a few very basic free weight exercises done 3x's per week. With the right type of machines, you can get the same results in a matter of months.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Eating right before and after a workout

What you eat before and after your workouts is critical to achieving your goals faster.  Let's face it, we need all the help we can!  The body needs certain nutrients at the right time and in the right form to perform at its best during intense exercise.  You want to make sure you fill up your gas tank properly before your workout and replenish your body with the right stuff post workout.  The best way to accomplish this is to have a meal replacement bar or shake with a 2:1-4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio and very little fat.  That means a shake or bar should be between 150-300 calories, 30-60 grams of carbs, 15-30 grams of protein, and 0-5 grams of fat.  It takes out all the guesswork when you have a pre-mixed bar or shake. Having a high carbohydrate meal replacement is not only important to give you the energy stores for your workout but its critical in your recovery post workout.

Approx. 10-40 minutes before a workout or your sporting event, you'll want to supply the body with the necessary nutrients to support energy.  Again, this is best accomplished by a processed bar or shake so that its in your system fast.  If you eat a "real" food meal instead, there's a chance you may be still digesting it while you're working out. 

Immediately following a workout, your body is most ready to absorb nutrients.  This is called the "metabolic window" which lasts about 2 hours.  To take advantage of this you want to have a processed food such as bar or shake because it absorbs fast.  If you were to have "real" food it might miss this 2hr window by the time it gets broken down and into the bloodstream.

Without getting too technical, the most anabolic hormone in your body is insulin.  When you take in a high carb meal replacement your insulin spikes which increases your natural testosterone and growth hormone production.  When you're training naturally, this is a way to increase your body's natural hormone production post workout that helps build muscle and lose fat.  If you just had some protein powder post workout without the high carbs, none of this would happen and you're really doing yourself a disservice.

I can't think of one workout that I've done in the last 10 years that I haven't had a pre/post meal replacement.  I recover better, build muscle, and lose fat faster as a result.  There are only a few companies out there that follow the science of pre/post workout nutrition.  Please contact me for any questions you may have regarding what products are best.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eat Less Move More

The military gets all kinds of people from every corner of the country, they all go to boot camp and they all lose weight.  Why?  Because you eat 3x's per day as fast as you can which doesn't amount to a heck of a lot of calories.  Then you're running around playing cowboys and indians the rest of the day burning up a ton of calories.  Gaining or losing weight is determined by your total calorie intake for a 24hr period.  If you still don't believe this I'd suggest you go down to your local Armed Forces recruiting office and join up! 

If you're looking for the best weight loss diet, start by eating a certain amount of calories per day.  A good rule of thumb for women is 1200-1500 calories and for men 1800-2200 calories per day.  For the first week I suggest weighing and measuring every single thing that you consume and keep a food log.  If you add creamer to your coffee, measure it.  If you make a PB&J sandwich, measure each ingredient.  If you have a chicken breast, weigh it.  It's the only way to get the precise amount of food that you're eating.  You'd be shocked on how much all the little things add up.

Remember, people lose weight in an overall manner and not in any particular area.  Where you lose weight is determined by genetics.   No matter how many sit ups you do, you'll never reduce the fat in your stomach unless you eat less and move more.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rest and Build Muscle

It's very easy to tell how hard someone is working out, I'll ask "How many times per week do you workout?" they respond, "Oh everyday for 2 hrs".  People confuse working out hard with working out long.  Big difference!  To build muscle fast you have to workout as hard as possible.  In doing this you can't workout often. 

Now that you've stimulated building muscle with your hard workout, you need rest and recovery.  It takes a minimum of 48hrs rest to not only recover but to build muscle from the previous workout.  Take 1 day off between weight training workouts and never workout with weights more than 3 days per week.

Hard Workouts + R and R + Good Nutrition = Building Muscle Fast 


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Reason To Change

The body is only triggered to build muscles when it's given a reason to.  Doing an exercise and taking it to the point where you're muscles are burning isn't a good enough reason for your body to take note and stimulate muscle building.  Most people never take it to this point and stop the set but to build muscle you have to take it further.

Try this next time you're working out.  Take the set to where you're muscles are burning and aching really bad and do 2-3 more reps!  This way the body takes note of the increase and says to itself, I NEED TO CHANGE.  You can't do more than 2 or 3 sets when you take an exercise to this point so make sure not to do more sets.    

Friday, August 19, 2011

Explosive Power Training for Athletes

There's a problem with athletic explosive training now days, all too often it's too much sizzle and not enough steak when it comes to measurable results.  There's the truck tires (sports trainers and speed coaches love those truck tires), kettlebells, heavy ropes, and plyometrics all promoted to help with explosiveness in sports.  I'm not here to say that those items are bad because they do burn calories but as it relates to building explosiveness, athletic ability, strength, or muscle size they just don't live up to the hype.

There are 6 main things that govern our physical ability:  skill, flexibility, body proportions, muscle strength, cardiovascular condition, and neurological ability.  All these items are important but two of them you can't do anything about.  These would be body proportions and neurological ability.  Body proportions which is how your body was put together in terms of length of muscles and tendons, insertion points, leverage factors etc.  Neurological ability in the most simple explanation is the brain telling your body what percentage of muscles are activated and how fast they work or reaction time.  This is an important point because of much of today's explosive training techniques and sports athletic training from high school to the pros is centered around trying to improve the athletes neurological ability.  This is something that you're born with, some people have a high ability and some people don't.  No type of training such as flipping truck tires, heavy ropes or kettlebells that's going to make an athlete into a Dick Butkus or Michael Jordan.  They have the ability to activate a large percentage of their muscles in a very quick and explosive way coupled with perfect body proportions for their respective sports.  There's no training for this.

What CAN be done to improve an athletes explosiveness is to increase their power to weight ratio.  Your time is best spent getting as strong as needed for your particular sport.  Football requires and all around strength as opposed to track which there's not much of a need for a bulky upper body.  That doesn't mean that you wouldn't workout the upper body for track, you'd just put more emphasis on the muscles of the lower body.  How to build the most power to weight ratio is by doing a brief, intense, and infrequent strength training program as described in numerous posts on blog.   This should be #1 priority in any athletes regime as it's the most effective and safest way to build explosiveness. Then go to the practice field and perform sports specific and position specific drills to perfect your skill level at your activity.  I'd put this recipe up against any program in the world that claims to improve explosiveness through parachutes, kettlebells, plyometrics or any other means.

Muscles are the engine of the body, the bigger the engine the more potential for power therefore the more muscle you build the more explosive power you'll have.  If someone is born with a high ability to activate a large % of their muscles and an ability to activate them quickly AND you add a large amount of muscle to them, you'll create a super human.  Improving your explosive power by 1% or 2% could mean the difference between making the team, getting the scholarship, or being a champion.  The key is to do the right way and not too early in your training program to maximize your results safely. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Best Exercise Series: Stiff Legged Dead Lifts

Here's an exercise size that some would argue is more productive in building muscle than the all mighty squats.  You rarely if ever see this exercise being done in any gym you go to.  Its one of, if not the best lower back, hips, and hamstring exercises that can be done.  Not only does it build serious amounts of muscle fast but it also helps you burn a ton of calories because it uses so many muscles.   

Here's how to do them:
  1.  Stand with feet straight and shoulder-width apart, knees bent slightly.
  2. Hold barbell in front of thighs with grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Slowly bent at waist, lowering barbell toward ground; keep back flat. 
  4. Squeeze butt muscles and lift barbell until standing fully upright.
The key is to slowly perform the transitions so that you're not using momentum.  Do 2 sets of 15 reps.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Best Exercise Series: Parallel Dips and Barbell Bicep Curls

Jack Lallane performed 1000 parallel dips in 17 minutes.  Marvin Eder, in 1953 at a body weight of 200lbs was credited with a 435lbs Dip.  That's a total of 635lbs! Parallel Dips are called the upper body squat mainly because they are so productive in building muscle.  They are far superior to bench press for overall chest and upper body development. 

Straight barbell bicep curls are the foundation of building muscle in your biceps fast.  Never use the cambered bar when doing curls because they're biomechanically incorrect.  An easy way to tell if a trainer or trainee doesn't know what they're doing is if they're using a cambered bar.   It should really be illegal to use this bar but our law makers probably have more important things on their plates.  

Straight bar bicep curls should be paired with parallel dips in a super set fashion.  Do one set of dips immediately followed by a set of barbell curls with no rest between them.  2 sets of each are all that are needed.  Use 10 reps as a guideline but  never stop just because you reached 10 reps, continue until muscular failure.

Here's how to do them:

Barbell Bicep Curls

Straight bar bicep curls need to be done in very strict form.  Otherwise you can easily turn this into a lower back and shoulder exercise.  The key is to lock your elbows into your sides and not move them not even 1/4 inch.  If you are able to have a mirror in front and to the side you're able to see if there's any movement.  Grab the bar with a comfortable grip just slightly wider than shoulder width.  Stand with feet shoulder width, back straight with good posture and tighten your abs.  Slowly curl the bar up until your biceps are fully contracted but don't move your elbows at all.  Pause in the top position for a second, then slowly lower taking about 3 secs.  Make sure and go all the way down until your arms are straight then immediately start the second rep.  Never stop and hold the weight between reps in the bottom position, this just lets your muscles rest.  The set to be one continuous motion only pausing briefly in the top position only.  Continue the set until momentary muscular failure.

Parallel Dips

Starting in the top position with your arms straight, slowly lower yourself until you feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders. Stop and slowly press yourself returning to the top position just short of locking out your elbows.  Locking out your elbows in any pressing movement only gives your muscles rest and puts stress on your joints.  Repeat as many times as you can. 

If you can already do 10 or more dips, hang a 25lb plate from your waist to increase the intensity.  Build up to 50lbs for 10reps or more.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Strength train slow, Skill train fast.

Injuries can can have a profound impact on your success whether you're goal is working out for football, building muscle, or losing weight.  You can go a long way to prevent injuries by eliminating fast or explosive weight training before an athletes body is fully developed.  Even today I saw a group of high school football players doing explosive power cleans.  More young athletes get hurt in the gym than on the field due to exercises like these.  When an athlete performs a fast lift such a power clean, tremendous stress and force is placed upon the muscles, joints, and connective tissue.  It is force that causes most injuries and explosive lifts like power cleans greatly increase the force.  During these types of exercises the athlete is literally throwing the weight.  There is almost no involvement from the muscles that you are actually trying to develop during an explosive lift.

Moving the weights fast does not make an athlete fast and doing the exercises slow does not make an athlete slow.  If you insist on performing explosive lifts, make sure that all muscle imbalances and postural deviations are corrected prior to training this way.  This will lessen the stress placed on the joints.  A good rule for coaches:  Strength train slow, skill train fast.

If you develop one area more than another area, this will lead to an imbalanced situation that will result in injury therefore a balanced physique is essential.  You want to eliminate all muscle imbalances as a part of your workout program.  This can be accomplished through flexibility, corrective exercise to improve posture, and strength training.

How much "explosive" power an athlete has is determined mostly by genetics and bodily proportions.  Some people are born with the ability to recruit more muscles faster than other people and have perfect bodily proportions for their sport, like Dick Butkus was for Football. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Best Exercises Series: Pull Ups and Overhead Press

Marvin Eder at a body weight of 198lbs was one of the strongest men in the world in the 1940s-1960's.  He did 8 pull ups with 200lbs strapped around his waist!  Pull ups are another exercises that gym goers avoid almost entirely.  A big reason is that pull ups are one of the hardest exercises because they work almost every muscle in your upper body including giving your abs one heck of a workout.  

Standing overhead presses is probably one of the first exercises cavemen did.  They were sitting around the cave and one looked at the other and said, "I bet I could lift that rock over my head more times than you."  Doing a standing overhead press works all of the opposing muscles of a pull up.  Both exercises are best done when you alternate between them. Perform one set of pull ups to failure then immediately do a set of standing overhead presses to failure.  Then repeat. 2 sets each are all that is needed.

Here's how to do them:

Pull Ups  

Go to the pull up bar, grab it with an underhand grip no wider than shoulder width.  Start in the "dead hang" position, pull up until your chin is above the bar, preferably pull the bar to your upper chest.  Pause slightly in the top position, the slowly lower under control back to the dead hang position.  Make sure you go all the way down, NO halfway down pull ups.  Its better to do 5 the right way than 10 only going halfway down. Repeat as many times as you can. Avoid swinging or kicking your legs out.

Lets say you can't do any pull ups,  in that case just do the lowering or negative portion of the exercise.  Use a step so that you can start in the "UP" position, then just lower yourself slowly taking approximately 4 seconds.  Do as many as you can under control, when you start to lower and your arms are yanked straight then stop.  You will build up your strength very quickly and you'll be doing full pull ups in no time.

Some of you might be able to do 10 full pull ups in good form already, add a 25lb weight to your waist from a weight belt to increase the intensity.  Work up to doing 10 reps with a 50lb weight strapped to your waist.

Note: If you aren't good at pull ups, many people think that substituting  them with the seated pulldown machine will give the same results.  Pull ups and the pulldown machine have no relation to each other, two completely different exercises.  It reminds of when I was training for OCS and I asked my OSO, "How do I get better at pull ups" and he replied "Do pull ups"!   

Standing Overhead Press:

Space your hands so that when your upper arm is parallel to the ground, your lower arm is at a 90 degree angle and that's where you grab the barbell.  This way puts the ideal amount of stimulation on the shoulders and triceps.  Holding the bar on your front shoulders, unrack the bar, tighten abs and stand with good posture.  Without leaning back slowly press the weight overhead taking approximately 2 secs until your arms straight but not locked out.  Begin to lower immediately taking 4 secs to the starting position, pause then repeat.   As you get tired watch your form so that you don't lean back and put unnecessary stress on your lower back.

Build your strength so that you're doing 10 reps at 120lbs of standing overhead presses.  There's no need to add any isolation exercises for your shoulders until you've built up your strength to this level.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Best Exercise Series: Squats

If I could only do one exercise to get in the best shape of my life, I'd do squats.  Squats are so productive that they force the entire body respond by building muscle, improve conditioning, and increasing your cardiovascular ability.  They have what's called secondary growth factors in that you're not just going to get bigger muscles in your legs.  If you want bigger arms it's not going to happen without doing squats.  Same goes for chest and shoulders.  Squats aren't just for men either.  If women want to get the best buns and legs ever, they need to do Squats! 

Why?  Because your legs are the largest muscle group, when you work them hard it sends a signal that the rest of the body needs to respond.  Not only that, research as proved that the body produces more testosterone and growth hormone naturally after doing squats.  This helps with building more muscle, losing fat, and vitality.

The problem with squats is that they are very hard!  It's rare that you find the squat racks full when you go to the gym.  People try and substitute easier exercises like leg presses in hopes to get the same results.  It'll never happen because the squats have all of the other benefits that I discussed.
Here's how to do them properly:

The best results for building muscle from squats is when their done to parallel with with a rep range of 15-20.  Pick a weight you normally would do for 8-10 reps, then mentally push yourself to doing 15-20.  Just as with any exercise, squats are to be done slowly and smoothly with the fullest range of motion possible.

First, before you even put the bar on your back you should take a few minutes to contemplate the meaning of life, family, kids, why you're here, the universe etc.  I'm being serious because after the first few reps, you'll want to stop.  You want to make sure you're properly motivated.  Visualize your goal and a successful set of 20 reps.  Place the bar on your upper back, not your neck, and un-rack the bar, your feet shoulder width or just slightly wider, toes pointing straight ahead.  Ideally you want your shoulders, knees, and feet to form a perfect vertical line.  Taking a extra wide stance puts stress on the joints.

Ready now...Take a deep breath, tighten your abs, then slowly lower yourself to where your upper thigh is parallel to the ground.  Stop yourself at the bottom position for a half second and slowly press through your heels squeezing your glutes to the top position exhaling as you go up.  It should take you about 2-3 seconds to go down and 2-3 seconds up to do one rep.  As you press up, the shoulder line and the hips should raise at the same time.  Sometimes you'll find that your hips move first then your shoulders which puts more stress on your lower back.  Squats to parallel take tremendous flexibility so you might have to practice them in a shorter range of motion until you gain the flexibility.  As you lower, you'll notice  your toes will start to turn out if you're not flexible enough.  Don't go deeper than that and return to the standing position.

When you get past reps 8-10, you should be breathing like a freight train! You'll be needing at least 5 breaths before you go down for the next rep.  During reps 14-18, your "higher power" should be talking to you.  You may even be "seeing the light".  By that point there's no turning back, you made it this far, you can't possibly stop until you get to 20 reps.  One or two sets is all that is needed.

For those who may have an injury and that limit the ability to do parallel squats you can modify the exercise.  Start off by leaning against a wall with and exercise ball on your lower back.  This gives you support and keeps your back vertical to the ground.  Do an even slower tempo by taking 4 secs to lower, pause at the bottom for 2 secs, and raise for 2 secs.  When you can do 20 reps, hold a pair of light dumbells to increase the resistance.

Putting your effort into squats will reap rewards far greater than any other exercise.  Dedicate yourself to 1-2 sets of 20 rep squats in your 3 weekly workouts and you'll quickly see why they're considered the best muscle building exercise.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The best exercises for Building Muscle

There's just no way around it, in order to build or maintain muscle you have to do exercises that demand the most out of your body.  We're taking about the hard stuff here: Barbell Squats, Standing Overhead Barbell Presses, Pull Ups, Parallel Dips, Barbell Bicep Curls, Stiff Legged Dead Lifts.  Next time you go to the gym, look around and see just how many people are doing these exercises, probably not too many!

These exercises are so productive in building muscle, that if you did these and only these, your body would be unrecognizable to your friends and relatives in a very short amount of time.

I will detail each exercise in the upcoming blogs starting with the most productive exercise ever, The Barbell Squat.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Train With Attitude

Train With Attitude has one simple focus, workout with 100% intensity and effort.  It's the attitude of good old American hard work, discipline, and a burning desire to be the best you possibly can.  If it were easy to build muscle, everyone would be walking around with the perfect physique. 

What does 100% effort and intensity mean?  It means that when you’re doing an exercise, you keep going it until you can no longer move the weight despite giving your all out effort.  After the set you should need time to gain your bearing, you're not watching TV between sets talking with your friends about picnics and butterflies.  There's an old saying, "if you like an exercise, chances are you're doing it wrong."

When working out this way, you shouldn’t WANT to workout more than 3x's in a week or do more than 2 sets of an exercise.  If you feel like you should or could do more exercise, you were not giving all-out effort. The low number of sets is a necessity and requirement for results.  When done properly, you simply cannot STAND any more exercise.  

 Putting all-out effort towards your goal is an absolute requirement for success not only in the gym but in the real world as well.  In the next series of blogs I'm going to outline what the best exercises are for building muscle and how to do them properly.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Have an Exercise Plan!

How does the saying go..."Failure to plan is planning to fail"?  Going to the gym without knowing exactly what needs to be done is a recipe for dissappointing results.  One of the best ways to get results is to have a workout plan.  This way your workouts don't turn into a namby-pamby-wander around the gym-do whatever machine looks pretty-routine.

This is one of the best workout plans around, done in this order:
  • Squats
  • 1 legged calf raises
  • Standing Overhead Barbell Presses
  • Pullups
  • Standing Overhead Barbell Presses
  • Pullups
  • Bench Press
  • Rows
  • Bench Press
  • Rows
  • Parallel Dips
  • Barbell Curls
  • Parallel Dips
  • Barbell Curls
  • Stiff Legged Dead Lifts
  • Ab Crunches
Keep track of every workout writing down the number of reps/weight used on each exercise.  Do each exercise slowly and smoothly.  Use 10 reps for upper body exercises and 20 reps for lower body exercises as a guidline but never stop just because you've reached them.  Keep going until you can't move the weight with good form with all out effort.  Write the number of reps/weight used.  Then the next time you workout, try and beat what your previous workout was in reps and/or weights.  If you follow this type of plan each time you workout, you'll see more results in a month than most see in a year!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The best workout schedule

What is the best workout schedule?

When people ask me to advise them on their workouts, the first question I ask is "How many days per week do you workout?"  Usually the answer is 5 or 6 days a week.  My next question to them is always, "When do allow your body to recuperate and recover?"  This when the aha moment happens because most people never think about recuperation and growth.  If you workout properly your system needs time to recover and grow.  The best workout schedule is 3 days a week and never 2 days in a row.  Each workout is done in a total body fashion, working out every major muscle group.  Research has shown that the system needs a minimum of 48hrs to recover and grow.  Let's say you workout on Monday, the next workout would be on Wednesday and then Friday.  This is the best workout schedule.

How do you know if you are getting enough recovery? 

You will know by your strength gains.  Every workout there should be a progression in weight and/or reps in each exercise.  For example if you do 10 pull ups on Monday, 12 on Wednesday, and 13 on Friday you have allowed for not only recovery but growth as well.

What if I workout one body part per day? One body part is recuperating while I work a different part the next day.

First, your body doesn't not work separately like that.  Do you eat just for your chest one day and your back the next?  When you sleep do you do so just for your legs or arms?  Secondly, we are not only talking about muscle recuperation but also the overall system,  Body and Mind.  Have you ever had that burnt out feeling?  That's because the overall system is overloaded and needs recuperation.  This is called over-training.  If you feel over trained it's advisable that you take anywhere between 10-14 days off completely from working out.  In fact, I highly recommend taking at least 10 days off from working out every 6 months or so.  Do not plan it, just take the time off when you feel like you've hit a rut.  It will work wonders for your workouts, you'll come back feeling refreshed and ready to go.

Why is a 3x's per week Total Body program the best workout?

When you workout on this schedule, you're able to push yourself very hard.  There is no holding back.  You cannot possibly workout everyday and push it as hard as needed to get good results.  It's just not possible.  Also when you workout total body each time you burn a lot of calories.  If you're looking to lose bodyfat and gain muscle there is no better workout schedule.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What's the best workouts for weight loss?

Most people think that the fastest way to a slimmer you is to do tons of cardio (treadmill, spinning, aerobics).  Now I'm not saying that cardio can't help but the best way to workout for weight loss is to build muscle by resistance training.  If done the right way you can burn up to 2x's the amount of calories you would if you were to do cardio.  Muscle is the driver of your metabolism and helps you burn calories all day long even when you're watching TV.

The best workout schedule for getting the fastest results are 3 "Total Body Workouts" per week, for example Mon-Weds-Fri.  In each of the workouts you want to work all of the major body parts i.e. Total Body.  This will ensure not only to most muscles being built but the most calories burned.

Here's a sample workout:
  1. Planks
  2. Crunches
  3. Squat to Curl to Press
  4. Chest Press
  5. Back Rows
  6. Shoulder Press
  7. Leg Presses
Along with a low calorie diet, you would follow this type of program for 4 weeks before changing the exercises to eliminate boredom.  A four week plan of sets and reps for each exercise is:
  1. 1-2 sets of 20 repetitions
  2. 1-2 sets of 15 repetitions
  3. 2 sets of 15 repetitions
  4. 3 sets of 12 repetitions

Friday, July 15, 2011

How often should you change your workout routine?

We hear it all the time especially on those weekend infomercials..."This program works because it changes every time you workout" or this is one of my favorites "It works because of muscle confusion".  Well let's be nice and say they have it partly right.  You do need to change your workout routine each time BUT within very narrow guidelines.  The same basic 8-10 exercises can serve you for a lifetime of working out without having any type of plateau.  Quite frankly there just aren't too many productive exercises out there.  Always keep in mind that the effort and intensity are the most important factors in achieving results. 

Here's example of the slight changes that can be made continually see results.  We'll take the exercise of bicep curls:

Day                      Set #1                       Set #2
Monday               60lbs x 9reps          60lbs x 8reps
Wednesday         60lbs x 11reps        55lbs x 10reps
Friday                  65lbs x 10reps        70lbs x 8reps

If you remember from previous posts, when 10 reps of a certain weight are done an increase in the weight used is needed.  Look at the differences from each set of the workouts.  Monday's workout you may keep the weight the same for both sets, Weds you may lighten the weight for the second set, and Friday you raise the weight for the second set.  The body only needs this small change to continually see results.  You could change your workout program each time by raising or lowering the weight on the first or second set depending on how many repetitions are done.  Each time you perform more than 10 reps in a set, increase the weight on your next workout.  Remember, the number of reps is a guideline.  Do as many reps as possible with good form until muscle failure.

In order to fight boredom in your workout program, change the exercises but not until you've reached your strength potential for a particular exercise.  This takes some time.  When it's reached, you could change from doing standing overhead presses with a barbell to using dumbells.  Still keep doing the same basic exercises 8-10 exercises.  This will build the most muscle in the shortest amount of time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why do we lose athletic ability as we get older?

The Butkus Hurdle
"They've lost a step"..."can't jump as high as he used to"..."doesn't hit the ball as far as he did"...All things we've heard before but why does it happen?  After the age of 35, probably earlier, we start losing muscle at about 1/4-1/2lb a year.  The reason why we lose athletic ability as we get old is because we simply lose muscle.

Your muscles are the engine of the body and provide the power, speed, agility, and protection against injuries.  Those muscles that were once used to play your sport have been literally going away each year.  The best defense against muscle loss is to build muscle the right way. People often assume when I say this that they'll get huge and muscular like a bodybuilder.  There may be some that have the genetics but the odds of that are 1 in a billion.  As the old saying goes, some have it and some don't.

The best way to build and prevent muscle loss is by doing high intensity weight training.  Intensity is what tells the body that a change needs to happen.  The higher the intensity, the better the message is sent.  If it's too low, you could workout for 5 or 10 years without building any muscle.

The workout to get the fastest results in building muscle is a 3-day per week total body workout that works all of the major muscle groups.  One that is designed to not only build muscle but also allow for proper recovery.  At any age recovery is extremely important!  Without recovery, muscle growth will never happen.  I could see athletes late in their careers be stronger than they were when they started with this type of training.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Question: How do I "Tone Up"?

Someone flagged me down while I was working out and asked, "I'm just looking to tone up, what is the best way"?  A common myth is, this exercise is for toning and that exercise is for bulking.  I'll be polite...that's pure bologna!  Here's an example of what I'm talking about for your shoulders:

"Side raises with weights is a toning exercise as opposed to overhead presses which is better for building muscle".

If people never did side raises and only did overhead presses, there would be a heck of a lot of people with shapely/toned shoulders.  Why? Overhead presses are harder, they build more muscles and strength faster than side raises.  The harder the exercise the faster your results.

To create the most "tone" focus on building muscle by doing a total body workout 3x's per week.  Limit your exercises to squats, leg presses, pullups, rows, overhead press, parallel dips, curls, dead lifts, one legged calf raises.  Perform 2 sets each, 10 reps for upper body and 20 reps for lower body exercise.  Never stop just because you made it to the guide number of repetitions.  Try to increase your weight and/or reps each time. Done this way over the course of a year you could build the best physique you've ever had.   Along with training right, dial in your nutrition by eating a low calorie diet so that you actually see the efforts of your weight training.

Can you lift weights for Speed, Agility, and Quickness?

Speed, Agility, and Quickness (SAQ) training has been a buzzword lately in sports performance training.  There are some that say you can train for SAQ by doing certain weight training exercises in the gym that will translate to performance on the field.

A proper strength-training program will improve SAQ!

If you double the strength of the athlete you will greatly improve their Speed, Agility, and Quickness.  Now to improve SAQ, that doesn't mean that strength training exercises are to be done fast.  In the typical program, this is where "explosive training" (i.e. power cleans, snatches, etc.) would normally be used with the thought being "if you lift fast, you'll be fast".  This is the LEAST productive type of training and the MOST stressful to the joints.  Just yesterday in gym I saw 2 collegiate girls basketball players doing "power cleans".  What power cleans have to do with girls basketball, I have no idea.  What I do know is that it's a good way to have a severe injury especially for younger athletes that are still growing. 

The quickest way to improve Speed, Agility, and Quickness is to develop strength throughout the whole body by doing a proper strength training program as outlined at  Then go to your position coach and perform specific SAQ drills for your position.  For example, a lineman looking to gain more explosiveness at the snap of the ball needs to practice the form and technique required for that action.  If a wide receiver needs to improve quickness and reaction time, they need perform specific drills, mechanics of running, and timing on the practice field.  No amount of "explosive training” or “power cleans” will improve their sports performance.