It seems to be the hip thing to do a year-end review in late December, so I decided to be a lemming and join the fold. Last year was a rather successful year for me, from a business, as well as a competitive stand point.
5 Things I Learned About Training
#1 - Dumbbell Flyes are Underrated
Flyes are the most underrated exercises for chest. I have made my feelings regarding the flat bench clear in past articles, and while I believe that every chest workout should have one pressing exercises such as the incline bench or flat bench with dumbbells, flyes are crucial for chest development.
First off all consider this: the function of the pectorals is to move the arm laterally across the body. This shows automatically that presses are always more of a shoulder/triceps exercises whereas flyes, if done properly, are a pure chest exercise.
My favorite variation would be floor flyes on the cable. During this exercise the pecs are under constant tension. Make sure the elbows don't touch the floor, only the upper arms.
A close second would be the push flyes with dumbbells, something I saw on Jay Cutler's video. Basically you start out with the palms facing each other, lowering the elbows below parallel so you feel a deep stretch in the pecs. Then bring them back up in a crossover of flye and push motion. This will allow you to use a heavier weight than on regular flyes while creating a greater stretch in the target muscle.
Lastly it would be underhanded flyes at the cable with a twist. Often people speak about developing there upper pecs, and while that's not actually possible, what they are really after is to bring up their pec minor. This will in turn enhance fullness of the upper chest. To do so perform underhanded cable flyes with an outward twist of the wrist on top. Enjoy and grow.
#2 - Cable Pullovers are Awesome
Cable pullovers are an awesome workout tool, not just to get the lats engaged before a workout (no, they are not a chest exercise) but also to establish a proper breathing pattern. This will set the the tone for a much more productive back session.
A lot of people have problems feeling their back so the pullover is a the perfect way to get proper lat activation. This will make the workout much more productive and will prevent the often witnessed heave-ho at the bent over row.
That being said, it's worth a try to start every workout with a stretch exercise for the target muscle. For example, you could use sissy squats for quads, stiff legged deadlifts for hamstrings, pull overs for the lats, deep flyes for the chest, incline curls for biceps and triceps extensions for the back of your arms.
I know this goes against the conventional belief that you "must" start the workout with bench or squats, but it will most likely increase the effectiveness of your workouts.
#3 - Target Hamstrings with Single Leg Presses
Single leg presses are the best tool I have found to really target the hamstring-glute tie in. This exercise allow you to achieve a deep stretch and achieve glute activation without having to worry about balance. I recommend placing the foot high on the leg press and make sure that the hips stay centered at all times.
As for flexibility, it will improve over time. Do not be a hero and try to force something. This isn't hot yoga.
Please note, this does not mean that you can skip the bread and butter exercises such as squats, hacks or leg presses. You need to build your legs first before you can worry about details.
#4 - Slow Your Negatives
Slow down your negatives. Every once in a while it is worth it to step outside and take an aerial view on your training and diet. One thing I realized was that I was almost completely wasting the negatives. This not only robbed me of results but also increased my risk of injury dramatically.
I have found that following a 4 second negative/one second positive protocol made a huge difference in my gains. I had to reduce the amount of weight lifted by 30% (not cool), but overall I look better and my joints are happier.
Also, I make a point out of starting every rep with the antagonist flexed. This will ensure that my target muscle is fully stretched and I can work with the greatest ROM possible.
#5 - Time Your Rest Between Sets
By the same token, it is advisable to time your breaks between sets. You'll be shocked to learn how much time you waste by sipping your Hydramino and checking out hot girls.
Every once in a while try a workout where you keep the breaks around 60 seconds between sets. Try to cram as many possible quality sets as you can into a 45 minute window. Pump and soreness will be amazing!
2 Things I Learned About Supplements
#1 - Liver Tabs Rule Supreme
Liver tabs still rule supreme in the supplement world. 2012 was a very hectic year and I wasn't always able to stick to a meal plan as much as I would have liked to, which normally spells death to my fullness and overall happiness. In my dire need, I discovered that taking 6-10 liver tabs every 60-90 minutes was an excellent and very convenient way to keep my muscles from withering away and stay somewhat full.
Vince Gironda was known for having his trainees take up to 100 tabs per day for a short period of time, mostly during times of very intense training i.e. overreaching. I am not sure if 100 tabs are needed, but the fact is that liver tabs pack a great nutritional punch.
BCAAs are probably the best diet supplement you can take when it comes to keeping muscle mass and maintaining energy levels during a diet. Since l-leucine plays an important role in up regulating m-tor (and by doing so, manipulating nitrogen retention), BCAAs are best taken during and post workout.
One could also making a case for consuming them immediately upon waking up to stop catabolism. As for dosing, I recommend 5-7 grams per serving, if you can not afford BCAAs simply use a high quality whey protein powder.
3 Things I Learned About Motivation
The last 3 points deal with motivation, which is an often overlooked part of bodybuilding/weight training.
Training and dieting can be a lonely and, at times, frustrating endeavor. After all there is no team pulling you through, or a loving coach screaming at you when you are falling of the wagon. Sure, when one starts training everything is great: progress comes almost on a daily basis and there are so many new and shiny machines in the gym.
But as the years go by and you have to fight for every pound of muscle gained or fat lost, and some nagging injuries start to creep up, things can appear a bit dull. You find yourself reaching for a bag of cookies instead of chicken breast.
What to do?
There are several ways to tackle the motivational blues and keep you on track toward your dream physique.
#1 - Make A Short And Long Term Goal
You need to have a goal or, even better, two goals. One long term goal as well as one for the short term.
This doesn't sound all that ground breaking, yet it is an often overlooked tool for lasting success. The short term goal should be achievable within two weeks or less and could be something like: "I want to add 10 lbs to my incline bench" or "bring my upper abs to light". Once you achieve it, set a new one.
The longer term goal could be a photo shoot or a contest. I urge anyone who is serious about his training to at least contemplate the idea of competing or having your pictures taken. Give yourself six months prep time, send in your application, pay the fee and tell your friends about it. This will make it hard to back out and in return, you'll get in the best shape of your life.
Before attempting a heavy lift, Arnold would often announce to the whole gym what he was about to do in order to build up more energy. I am sure your Facebook friends want to know all about your record squat attempt or upcoming show, so don't hold back!
#2 - Keep A Log
You simply must have a log for your diet and for your training. This serves several purposes: it will hold you accountable as to whether you are really progressing, and it will allow you to go back in time and see which program/diet worked best for you.
Most successful athletes of any sport have very detailed logs, dating back several years. Be as detailed as can be. Instead of simply jotting down weights, sets and calories, I always found it helpful to make notes regarding the amount of sleep I got, quality of sleep as well as overall energy and motivation. This will help to spot overtraining early.
#3 - You Are Only Competing With Yourself
Be aware that you are only competing with yourself. The goal in this sport is to create the best you there ever was. There are no world records in bodybuilding, so it is complete meaningless what other people do or what the look like.
You should have some physiques that inspire you, but don't try to emulate. You are you and not Arnold Schwarzenegger (sad, I know). Instead of trying to be someone or something you can't, take a good look in the mirror (or have an honest friend snap some pictures of you) and evaluate your physique.
Once you do that, come up with a plan which body parts are lacking or what other improvements are needed and take action. This could mean to tighten up the diet or work lagging body parts more often. Check out my 100 rep training article if you are in need of a shock program.
Remember there is no finite end to the quest for a better physique, but the road is actually the end. This means that you should enjoy the journey and all the things you are about to encounter.
Overcoming obstacles and injuries, meeting new people, learning and constantly improving all belong here. After all, you are doing this for yourself! Bodybuilding is pretty awesome, you just have to do it.