I’m a powerlifter in my first year of training. An Olympic style weightlifter in my gym, who can squat a heck of a lot more than I can, suggested I train without knee wraps except for maximum attempts and save them for the contest arsenal. Do you agree with this wisdom?
A: A car salesman may have some great selling tips; however, it’s doubtful he would have the best closing tips for a computer salesman. Be especially wary of the “gym lawyer” (the big guy in the gym who tells everyone to train like him for good results). In your case, the athlete isn’t even from the same sport as you. In any event, frequent use of knee wraps (and I’m referring to the heavy, elasticized-cotton wraps that powerlifters use) would be a big mistake for an Olympic lifter; however, you are a powerlifter and that’s a different story.
Without question, knee wraps will help you hoist bigger weights, particularly on your squat‹ ten to twenty percent, as a matter of fact. In powerlifting, the total is all that matters, so obviously you want to do everything you can (within the confines of the rules, of course), to get every last pound you can.
Although greater weights can be handled using wraps, your quadriceps are actually relieved from some of the stress they’d ordinarily receive when you lift with wraps.
Another problem is that, even properly worn, knee wraps jam the patella against the femoral groove throughout the squatting movement, and over time, this may potentiate chondromalacia patellae (wearing away at the inside of the knee cap).
Given these risks, should you use the wraps in the gym with any regularity? Yes, but with prudence. Since the wraps take a little getting used to, they would be of little use to you in competition if you never use them in training. You can get the best of both worlds by only using the wraps when you exceed a selected intensity, which, in my opinion, is 85% of 1RM and up. To minimize the hazards on your knee joints, take the advice of renowned sports medicine lecturer, and co-founder of the ISSA, Dr. Sal Arria. Arria recommends wrapping your knees tightly in a cylindrical fashion around the upper shin (where the patellar ligament attaches), then more loosely over the kneecap itself, then tightly again over the lower third of the thigh. Arria also suggests that wrapping the knees prior to heavy squatting reduces the pulling forces on the patellar ligament at it’s attachment to the shin. This may translate to significantly reduced chances of avulsing (detaching) your patellar ligament during heavy leg movements.
Dear Mr. Staley,
I recently had a really interesting discussion with one of the “old-timers” in my gym about the concept of “mind-muscle link,” or basically, the ability to really focus or “connect” to the muscle you’re targeting with a particular exercise. He showed me some really neat tricks that will definitely make my future workouts more effective. I was just wondering if you had any thoughts on this topic.
I have two neat little exercises for you, both stem from my experiences as a martial arts instructor. The first is very easy to grasp and very practical, the second is a bit more esoteric, although just as effective if you take the time to understand it:
€ SLOW DOWN! Try the following exercise: throw a punch, as fast as you can. Now, throw the same punch, but in “dream-like slow motion.” Did you notice that on the fast punch, you were only aware of the beginning and the end of the movement, while with the slow punch, you were much more aware of every point along the movement path? Learning any movement works the same way. I’ve said on many, many occasions that the most prevalent biomechanical error made in gyms is excessive movement speed.
€ Karate master Hidy Ochai suggests that, in order to increase your awareness of breathing, to inhale as though you were trying to detect a scent in the air. Try it. Now, the idea is to transfer this idea to lifting, as nebulous as that might sound. The idea is to lift a weight – I take that back – the idea is to perform the movement pattern with no attention to the weight itself, but rather on the effort that the muscle must exert as it overcomes the resistance. Next workout, try this – take a light bench press, maybe forty to fifty percent of your 1RM. Allow the bar to lower to your chest and then reverse the motion slowly. Block all distractions from your mind and focus only on your effort.
A final thought for you to consider is that the prime mover in any given exercise changes as you progress through the range of motion. So, although most people will tell you that the prime mover in the squat is the quads, at the very bottom the glutes are more active and have to be considered the prime movers. Only when you have ascended half-way up are the quads really the prime movers. With a bit of creativity and inquiry, you’ll easily be able to apply this concept to all your favorite exercises.
As a Marine Infantry officer, I commonly spend Monday through Thursday or Friday in the field returning only for the weekend before heading back out. Is there any way I can make appreciable gains in bodybuilding only training on the weekends?
A: There are many factors I’ve been made aware of that present challenges to successful bodybuilding in the military that out-weigh your dilemma, i.e. weight control programs, and an insanely high aerobic emphasis in training. The fact that many military men have only the weekends to get their hands on the iron may be a blessing in disguise, since most gyms everywhere are fraught with “overtrainers.”
Realistically, we’re only going to be able to train a muscle group once a week, given your schedule. Some people would benefit from more sessions; however, most athletes need at least five to seven days to recover from intense strength training. Having the good fortune of the whole weekend, I’d rather see both days utilized; however, both of the sample workouts I will describe could be performed in one day if the time constraints were even more extreme.
With such limited time, we have to make every set count! When browsing the exercise menu, make your selections from the tried and true basics:
Chest: bench press & variations, incline bench presses, dips. Shoulders: military presses, dumbbell lateral raises, Arnold presses Triceps: pushdowns, skull crushers, overhead tricep extensions. Biceps: barbell curls, e-z curls, preacher curls, hammer curls, concentration curls. Back: pull-ups, pull-downs, bent rows, seated rows, back extensions, deadlifts. Legs: Squats and their variations, lunges, leg presses, leg-curls, step ups, stiff-leg deadlifts Abdominals: Swiss ball crunches, reverse trunk twists, reverse crunches.
(Supersets are preferred for time efficiency and structural balance)
Saturday: Sets x Reps
A-1: Dumbbell Bench Press 5×6
A-2: Bent Row 5×6
B-1: Dumbbell Preacher Curls 3×8
B-2: Skull Crushers 3×8
Sunday: Sets x Reps
A-1: Squat 5×6
A-2: Swiss ball Crunch 5×6
B-1: Deadlift 3×10
B-2: Back Extension 3×10
Training two days a week isn’t exactly ideal, but the results will far transcend the result of not training. As a matter of fact, I think you will be surprised how much progress you can make, training this infrequently. I suspect that people who go through frequent periods where they are slightly undertrained get better results than people who go through frequent periods of overtraining. I’d love to delve deeper into this topic. If you plan a competition or have to endure more than a week in the field contact me and we¹ll prepare you for these challenges.
I’m a 17 year old varsity wrestler. I want to strength train, but cannot outgrow my weight-class. Can I get stronger without gaining any weight?
A: If you’re trying to get stronger without a weight gain I would recommend relatively heavy explosive weight training with very little emphasis on the eccentric portion of the lifts.
You obviously should not train the same way a bodybuilder does (unless you want to increase your bodyweight). However, if you do realize a weight gain from low-rep strength training, you probably are headed in that direction anyway. What I mean by this is that if you gain weight as an adaptation to low rep, high intensity work, it tells me that you are already neurally efficient as you are going to be at that weight and can only see physical (as opposed to technical) improvement with a bit more muscle on your frame. This commonly happens in boxing where a fighter gradually finds it harder and harder to make it down to their weight class, and then must make the move up to the next class. At your age, this scenario is inevitable, it just a question of long it’s going to take before you have no choice but to move up.
Dear Mr. Staley,
My bodyfat reads around 8% and sometimes lower. For the life of me I cannot get a “six pack.” The lower abs just don’t show through. Do I need to focus on ab development or get even leaner?
A: At 8% bodyfat I doubt you need to drop any fat mass to see more ripples in the mid-section. There are two possibilities here: First, your abdominals may in fact be poorly developed. The second possibility is that you may have less tenuous intersections in your rectus abdominus than the people who’s abs you covet.
I tend to lean away from the possibility that your abs are under-developed. I say this based on the fact that you say “The lower abs just don’t show through.” Safely assuming that the “upper abs” do show through suggests that the muscle is developed.
As cliche and academic as it may sound, I have to point out, there are not upper abs and lower abs, just upper and lower regions of the same muscle. The abs appear to be separate muscles; however, it is one muscle with tenuous intersections that give the illusion of separate muscles.
About two percent of people (most happen to be of Asian decent for some reason) are born with only two tenuous intersections which serve to separate the rectus abdominus into horizontal sections. If you happen to fall into this category, the coveted “six pack” configuration may not be a realistic goal for you. Like your race and your shoe size, it is unique to your physiology. Incidentally, bodybuilding great Boyer Coe’s abs were relatively unimpressive among his professional bodybuilding peers. He certainly compensated with bicep peaks, high as any I’ve ever seen (also genetic). The point is, at the leanest he’s ever been seen, he just didn’t have a rippled washboard, presumably because he lacked these tenuous intersections.
Don’t take this as a suggestion to discontinue ab training, however. Ignoring specialized emphasis on a muscle that supports the lumbar spine and is responsible for spinal flexion antagonistic to the erector spinae would be a costly mistake. Don’t ignore your ab training just because it isn’t developing exactly the way you had envisioned it Not only would you be more susceptible to injury, but would also be limiting the potential of several other muscles, dependent on the abdominals for stability and deceleration.
Incidentally, there is a fantastic article by Skip LaCour in the October issue of Ironman magazine discussing the relationship between genetics and attitude, and their contributions to success. Check it out!
I just watched an expose on TV that was critical of baseball player Mark McGwire for taking androstenedione and creatine monohydrate. Do you think it’s fair to compare his accomplishments with great athletes like Roger Maris, who obviously couldn’t take such aids?
A: I always find it funny that in cases like this, people only want to know what anabolic substances these athletes are taking, and not what kind of training they’re doing!
In any event, the word “fair” really does not apply to the world of sport, does it? Is it fair that Michael Jordan has more type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers than 99% of all basketball players? Is it fair that Lennox Lewis has longer arms than Mike Tyson? Is it fair that vegetarians have to compete with carnivores?
You may be thinking, “Charles…you’ve really lost it this time! What the heck does muscle fiber, arm length, and dietary preference have to do with Mark McGwire’s supplement schedule?” What I’m saying is that there are numerous factors that contribute to performance – some are under our control, some are not.
Androstenedione is a precursor to testosterone. Some studies have shown short term elevation of testosterone for up to three hours after taking androstenedione. Is it cheating to elevate testosterone? If so, you may want to consider banning sleeping, eating, and exercise: all are shown to elevate testosterone levels.
As for creatine monohydrate, this substance contributes to the adenosine triphosphate pool, lengthening the time an athlete can exert maximum force before suffering fatigue. Is it cheating to lengthen the natural duration of a pathway of muscular energetics? If so, you may want to consider banning carbohydrate loading, and high altitude aerobic training, both shown and used to extend the duration an athlete can naturally endure.
The lay-media has an amazing way of glorifying nutritional supplements when they’re used for health purposes (remember the recent buzz over DHEA?) and demonizing them when athletes are using them for enhanced sports performance. Often, both stances are taken without credible evidence. I read an article recently in the L.A. Times entitled “Power Powder.” In the article it referred to creatine monohydrate as a “muscle building” supplement. Then on the next page, in enlarged text, a high school student (and presumably a creatine expert, right?!) is quoted saying “Creatine pulls water out of your muscles.” Then the article rambles on suggesting that creatine use can lead to steroid abuse (I guess that¹s tantamount to marijuana leading to more serious drug use). Maybe the L.A. Times could really nip this phenomenon in the bud by exposing the potentially toxic muscle builder, protein! In another creatine crackdown, a student interviewed on campus at his high school was asked if creatine use was “RAMPANT” in his high school. I wonder if STUDYING was rampant in that high school?
Now, andro is in the news, being characterized as a “highly toxic” chemical. Before being sucked into media conjecture, see what the scientific world is saying. For information on current research I suggest the International Sports Sciences Association’s, or the advanced page on the internet.
A final observation: If professional sports were designed around fairness, every competitor would receive a medal, like we see in the Special Olympics or PeeWee league baseball. We (the fans) don’t want that. To paraphrase Wide World of Sports, there would be no thrill in victory without the agony of defeat. Enamored by competition, it is only natural for society to live vicariously through the awe-inspiring performances of our record setting athletes. There is a very simple place to draw the line between fair and unfair – the law. Anabolic steroids enhance performance. The fundamental difference between the ethics of taking anabolic steroids and anabolic aids approved by the FDA is that you can be prosecuted by the law, and punished by certain sanctioning bodies of sport for usage of anabolic steroids.