So let’s discuss anthropometric measurements! It was 2010 when I read an Iron Man Magazine article written (I think) by Ron Harris, in which he breaks down which compound movements were ideal for long limbed lifters in terms of specialization. He’d said that the Deadlift was ideal for that group, and, as someone with long arms and femurs, I understand why. I’ve spoken in the past about range of motion in regards to these lifts. Work=force X distance.
The longer your arms, the bigger a pain in the ass it is to Bench Press. The longer the legs, the bigger a pain in the ass it is to Squat. It’s not impossible, just harder. But with the deadlift, those long arms are actually your savior! Watch any short armed lifter pull in the conventional Deadlift style and the distance between the floor and the point where the bar stops traveling is longer, hence why guys like Dan Green have relied on the Sumo Deadlift to break several records including a few of his own. As a long armed lifter, that distance the bar travels will be significantly shorter. Look at Powerlifting legends like Lamar Gant, whose arms were longer than his 5’2″ frame yet he still pulled five times his own bodyweight. Or even a strongman competitor like Thor Bjornsson, who’s pulled 1,104lbs with long limbs and being 6″9′.
In fact, I imagine that the reason a lot of strongman competitors are so tall or lanky is because a lot of what they do requires them to pull or at least lift of the ground. Think the farmer’s carry or even lifting atlas stones. So if you’re a lanky lifter and you feel like there’s no hope for you, think again. I’d know, as I’m lanky and my best numbers come not from benching or squatting, but from pulling. It’s also those primitive lift anyone can do in the gym! And if you’re looking to learn this amazing feat of pure, raw strength, DM now or come see me at Strong And Shapely Gym in East Rutherford, NJ on Saturday, November 21st, where we can meet in person and discuss your strength and nutrition goals!
If you’ve been reading my articles for a while (and thank you if you have been!) then you already know that I’m a big proponent of using resistance band exercises such as Pull Aparts and Dislocations not “just” because using bands is a convenient way to keep the shoulders loose during your training days, but it’s also a great way to help you develop better posture. That’s especially crucial if you sit at a desk all day, the worse thing you can do to your body.
However, once I started to train clients over a year ago I began to notice something happening with them that I didn’t notice when performing Banded Dislocations on myself. When their arms reached the halfway point, which would be up in the air, their lower backs would arch. The arch itself was not that extreme, but it did raise a red flag for me, as the spine should always be in a neutral position as much as possible.
The Lying Banded Dislocation
In order to still be able to use this exercise effectively, without causing any unneeded spinal problems, the following variation will help you to prevent a unnecessary back pain as well as still loosen up your shoulders. All you’ll need is a mini resistance band, and either a towel or a pillow.
Take your mini resistance band (you can also use a dowel rod or broom stick if you wish) and make sure to hold it at shoulder width or even slightly over shoulder width.
Lie prone on the floor, your arms out in front of you and elbows locked, your face down on your pillow or towel.
Using either a slow or moderate pace, begin to raise your arms up and over your head until the band or rod touches your lower back, just like a standard shoulder location. Then bring your arms back in front of you. This is one rep.
Always make sure to retract your scapula when performing this variation.
You notice that the range of motion is clearly limited. Don’t let that deter you; even with your arms starting out in front of you this is equally as effective. The difference is that since you’re now lying on the floor, your stomach now has something to press against, preventing that unwanted lower back arch.
I think I know you. You were that skinny kid who couldn’t fill out like the other kids around you. Your siblings, while having not even the slightest clue about how the body works, shame you for not looking like everyone else. Your arms are long, you’re pencil necked, you’re chest is nothing more than a shell caging an anxious heart. But worst of all? You’re weak.
So you hit the gym for no other reason except you no longer are willing to be a pushover. But it isn’t as easy as it looks, is it? Everyone around you is making progress, while you’re toiling away on every machine, every station, relying on every 8 to 12 week cookie cutter program you can find and even wasting your money of supplements that do nothing for you. At some point, you’ve probably heard the term Hardgainer and wondered if that’s what you are, and perhaps what you’re destined to always be. There have been articles written on the topic; and with the release of one book, one man even made a career based on helping hardgainers.
By definition, a Hardgainer is someone who simply finds it hard to put on any kind of muscle. But is that all there is to it? What really determines whether or not a person is a Hardgainer? And can this be worked around? The short answer is: of course it can be worked around! First off let’s tackle the decades old, somatotype that’s oft used to characterize the hardgainer, the Ectomorph.
Here are a few physcial traits of an ectomorph
Narrow hips, face, shoulders and shallow chest
Long arms and legs
Long muscle bellies
And that alone, thanks to stereotyping, goes hand in hand with the alleged emotional aspects of an Ectomorph:
All of these seem to make sense, even as I look at myself and my own personality. But therein lies one major red flag. The creator of somatotypes, William Sheldon, PhD, wasn’t a doctor who specialized in orthopedics, as most doctors who work with athletes are. He was a psychologist and you better believe that’s a problem. Psychologists of Sheldon’s era were the same people who used propaganda under the guise of Public Relations to feed us the belief that smoking cigarettes would make women thin, and that our wardrobe choices are what define our outer most personalities (ex: the music we listen to). Feel like a sheep yet?
All of this is just a psychological ploy. The skinny kid walks the halls in his school, gets laughed at and shamed by the other, far more developed looking kids, and becomes self conscious. See the pattern yet? And how do I know this? Because I, too, fell for this. And to think, all it took for me was to learn how to work around my not so great genetics, and to realize I had asthma; and before I knew it I was pulling off physical feats I once thought to be impossible thanks to a lifetime of psychological and emotional conditioning! So there are without question two components of utmost importance that must be understood in order for you to not just defy genetics, but meaningless, yet potentially harmful, psychological stereotypes:
Maybe you’ve heard this before, I know I stress this point alot; but here are a few pointers that’ll help you realize your own physcial potential:
You must utilize full body workouts two to three days a week (less if your schedule doesn’t allow for optimal recovery time).
Each training day must include the basic compound movements and/or their variations.
Understand that Range Of Motion will not always be your friend depending on your goals and you will possibly have to make tweaks in your own training.
You should be in a caloric surplus while sticking to healthy options as much as possible. All. The. Time.
Increased macronutrient intake. The daily recommended protein intake for a sedentary person, for example, is 0.8g per kilogram (2.2lbs) of bodyweight. Yours should be anywhere from a gram to 1.5g per pound of bodyweight. Likewise, your carbohydrate intake should be anywhere between 2 to 4g per pound of bodyweight, which is crucial for glycogen storage both before and especially after your training is complete.
Sodium. Of its many benefits for training, the most important, as it relates to this article, is that it boosts intracellular water retention, just like Creatine, but minus the extra benefits I don’t have the time mention here.
I myself have stuck with these over the years, going from being told before a show I played with my band that my drumsticks where essentially an extension of my arms, to using those arms to deadlift more than double my bodyweight as well as pack on size like I only imagined in my wildest dreams!
There’s a 45lb weight difference between the two pictures presented here. All I did was pay close attention to how and how often I ate, as well as training consistency and intelligence. If I can add muscle to my thin frame and offer a handshake that makes most people weary of ever extending their hands to me ever again, you can as well. So is being a Hardgainer a death sentence? I’d call it a societal state of mind, and one that can be and must be reversed.
Disclaimer: The following are my views alone. I am not sponsored by Legion Athletics, nor am I being paid by Legion Athletics for this review.
To say that Mike Matthews has come a long way in the Health And Fitness industry would be a gross understatement. In the eight years since the release of his best selling men’s fitness book, Bigger, Leaner, Stronger, he’s parlayed it’s success into his own Fitness empire including his inaugural book’s women’s spinoff, Thinner,Leaner, Stronger, a blog featuring informative, science based articles, an online coaching service utilizing personal trainers hand picked by Mike Matthews himself, and of course his quality supplement line, all under the umbrella of Legion Athletics.
Much like Mike Matthews himself, his products are the real deal. Each product’s ingredients and dosages are determined based on scientific, peer written reviews and journals. You will never find a Legion Athletics supplement containing any filler, artificial sweeteners or secondary bi products to help drive down costs. So don’t be too surprised if Pulse alone might be a tad pricey, but it’s worth it.
Here’s Pulse’s bare bones nutritional profile based on their recently revised formula:
L-Citrulline Malate 2:1 (8g)
CarnoSyn Beta Alanine (3.6g)
Betaine Anhydrous (2.5g)
Caffeine Anhydrous (350mg)
AlphaSize Alpha Glyceryl Phosphoryl Choline(Alpha GPC for short) (300mg)
Just six ingridients make up this profile. But I’d like to turn my attention to Alpha GPC, the latest addition to Pulse’s profile. Replacing L-Ornothine completely and even reducing the amount of Beta-Alanine in Pulse in order to provide balance to this new formula, Alpha GPC, as explained even on Legion’s own website, increases the activity of a chemical in the brain known as acetylcholine, which is used by nerves to communicate with each other, and provides the brain with glycerophosphate, which can improve its health and function. This therefore carries over into:
Increase in Growth Hormone Levels
Increased Power Output
Decrease in age related cognitive decline
If you’re reading this then you certainly don’t need me or even Mike Matthews to inform you that Caffeine can increase alertness as well as increase the amount of energy your body burns throughout the day. But did you know that the 350mgs found in one scoop of Pulse is actually 20mgs over what’s found in a Starbucks grande? That part I learned from Legion’s website!
That’s personally the most caffeine I’ve ever ingested in any preworkout I’ve ever tried. So is it really necessary? I’d personally say it depends on individual preferences and needs such as your performance goals, the time of day you’re training and whether or not you suffer from anxiety. While some preworkout labels recommend you don’t take anything past a scoop, Pulse recommends that you take two scoops if you know your training is to last more than an hour. That’s 700mgs of Caffeine.
However, the generous dosage of L-Theanine evens out the playing field smoothly, reducing the mental stress that would result from the fight or flight response caffeine usually agitates. Having said that here are a few of the noticeable aspects of Pulse I’ve personally experienced since I began using it in the fall of 2018:
Increased Mood – after a long, stressful day of working with kids, followed by a long commute home, avoiding people and hitting the bed are all that matter. But within minutes of taking Pulse, and especially thanks to the 350mg of L-Theanine, I’ve felt nothing short of ready to do just about anything anywhere. I might or might not have become quite the chatterbox.
Increased Strength and Endurance – With feeling tired comes that feeling of weakness. It’s hard to progress in the weight room if you’re not feeling strong, or awake for that matter, especially if you train at night as I’d normally do. In fact I dare say I’d never be able to hit my first 400lb deadlift in spite of snowy weather last year without Pulse!
No Crash – In fact, I still feel nothing short of energetic even hours after I leave the gym. Although this could be a problem if you take more than a scoop and are training at least four hours before your bedtime.
Pulse is without question a preworkout I’d recommend to anyone. It’s the real deal, as I mentioned earlier. Its bare bones profile is the very thing that makes it so effective. It’s equal parts energy without the jitters and focus without the stress. If I had to make a recommendation or two, however, I’d suggest trying their stimulant free alternative if you happen to suffer from anxiety or if you cannot avoid training at night and struggle to sleep afterwards.
Are you experiencing lower back pain from sitting for most of your day? Does your lower back tighten up when you perform certain compound movements, especially in the case of the Bench Press? Based on your situation, are certain exercises or stations such as the Back Extension simply not available or you just want to save time? Then the Banded Good Morning is the exercise you don’t even realize you’ve been looking for!
The Banded Good Morning is essentially the resistance band alternative to the barbell exercise. But here are a few of it’s benefits:
It trains and strengthens your entire posterior chain the same way the Barbell Good Morning does.
It can develop motor patterns as it pertains to the barbell version of the exercise, which will go along way in guaranteeing your safety if you choose to try the barbell exercise.
You can use this as a quick way to warm up your posterior chain before beginning your routine to strengthen your lower back and prevent an injury, or even as an accessory exercise after your main work is finished
You can perform these anywhere
Much like Pull Aparts for your shoulders, the Banded Good Morning can be performed in the gym or even in your own home. All you need is a mini resistance band or light resistance band:
Place a single layer of a mini or a light resistance band directly underneath the middle of your feet.
With your knees slightly bent, bend over in order to bring the remaining layer around and behind your neck.
There should be two layers, one on each side of you. Make sure to retract your scapula and hold on to the band in as low a position on the band as possible, or wherever you feel comfortable.
With your knees slightly bent, slowly bring your hips back.
Maintain a neutral spine while bringing your spine as close to perpendicular to the floor as possible until you begin to feel tension in your hamstrings.
Squeeze your glutes and bring yourself back to the starting position.
Make sure to keep your head up, your eyes looking in front of you as you descend towards the floor. This will ensure your spine stays neutral during this portion of the movement.
If you’re lanky like I am or are simply tall, be sure to point your toes out either 30 degrees or enough that you feel your glutes tightening. Us long legged lifters have to much slack in the form of our hamstrings; and that one small tweak makes all the difference in making sure your glutes and hamstrings are activated and can feel the movement. I therefore also recommend positioning your feet outward when you deadlift for the same reason. Don’t forget that exercise is equal parts technique and feel.
As mentioned in my last article, gyms may or may not be opening again depending on where you live. In fact, I might’ve even offered a very basic routine for those of you who are preparing to head back to the weight room with the goal of rebuilding your very strength foundation. But there’s always more than one way to skin a cat, and just maybe that previous routine might not be the most exciting way to help you grow. Maybe you don’t need or want to do deadlifts based on your goals. So this old school routine is for the bodybuilders out there!
The 20 Rep Squat Routine
I first heard about the 20 Rep Squat Routine in Stuart McRobert’s classic Hardgainer bible, Brawn. The Squat alone is stressed to the max in McRobert’s book. Here are a few reasons why this routine is so revered:
It’s basic: Most variations of this routine are full body routines. And for the most part, they consist of solely compound exercises. And as I’ve said numerous times, there’s no better way to get more bang for your buck than full body routines consisting of compound movements.
Real Cardio: it’s no secret that the Squat is the exercise that burns the most calories. But it also increases your heart rate more than any other exercise, which inevitably leads to an increase in your metabolism. Imagine performing a top set of 20 breathing squats – and you’re absolutely taking your time between every single rep. If you don’t feel your heart pounding near the middle of that set you’re doing it wrong.
Massive Growth: high reps for legs are far more effective for your quads thanks to the extra growth stimulus it provides. If you stand and walk all day then your legs need extra stimulation to grow. This will without question provide systemic growth for the entire body.
The routine was first addressed in the classic book Super Squats: How To Gain 30 Pounds Of Muscle In Six Weeks, by Randall J. Strossen Ph.D, and was innovated by John McCallum; but according to Stuart McRobert, Iron Man Magazine founder Peary Rader used the 20 Rep Squat Routine in the 1930’s to gain 80 pounds within a year and eventually become a weightlifting champion. Some golden era bodybuilders such as Tom Platz turned his own legs into practical weapons of destruction because he used this approach…or sometimes double!
Before I start I must stress that, from my own experience using this routine, this is far more of a mental game than it is a routine. If you’re not focused, you won’t be able to last past the fifteenth rep, especially if you’re new to this.
I’m intentionally providing you an abbreviated version of this routine which can be found in Brawn because I want you to focus on maximum growth stimulus, especially if you’re just starting over or if you identify as a Hardgainer. You will only perform one top set of squats after a few warm up sets. Make sure that your top set is not too hard, but is still challenging, it’s the only way this will work.
There are a few ways to perform this routine. You can perform the following three days a week:
Squat – 1×20 (top set only) immediatley followed by breathing dumbbell pullovers
Bent Over Rows
I’m letting you decide the rep schemes for everything to following the squat. I could easily prescribe 3 set of up to twelve reps; but I feel like this part of the routine should be determined by instinct, especially after a brutal squat set of 20. Also, if you feel like the squat is draining your ability to progress on the bench press, you may precede the squat with the bench press if you need. Also if three days a week proves to be too much, simply perform this twice a week instead
Here’s another version based on a variation I developed in 2011 based on my schedule and recovery time.
Squat – 1×20 (top set only) followed by breathing pullovers
This is essentially an upper body/lower body split. But since I’m trying to stress abbreviation for the sake of growth stimulus and recovery, if you can’t get in three days a week due to commitments of any kind, this might be an optimal option.
The first routine in particular should just be performed for six weeks. Any attempt to continue past that could potentially lead to physical and mental burnout.
This is a fantastic routine for beginners all the way to advanced lifters. A recommendation I’ll make right now is to try to squat your bodyweight for a top set of 20. I pulled that one off a year ago and saw great results in not just the size and shape of my quads, but the carryover it provided as an accessory move to my heavy sets during my main squat day as well as my deadlift strength.
Make no mistake, it’s an absolutely brutal routine, but put in the work and you’ll love it!
Good news for some of us: gyms have already reopened (albeit with a capacity limit) or will be opening soon (my neck of the woods doesn’t have a set date yet)! Let’s face it, though: sure, you may have been doing your best to keep in shape from home, and I’ve even provided a few home training ideas of my own. None of that matters though, once you’ve returned to the iron. The ability to perform multiple bodyweight squats or pushups may help you keep your pump, and may even help you get a little stronger. But unless you were fortunate enough to afford some kind of home gym, your body is deconditioned.
When your body is deconditioned you may have developed anything from muscular imbalances to lack of joint flexibility and especially since we’ve all been working from home, a lack of core stability. So don’t think for one second that you’re going to be able to walk through those doors in dramatic, movie-like fashion and start right where you left off. This is even more important if you’re naturally thin, lanky or tall. Some of you might even have to start over again. There’s a reason why I chose to use that old picture of me from a few years ago as this article’s main picture – I’m one of those people!
Sick of me talking about this yet? Well this bears more importance now than ever. Because regardless of your interests, and strength levels, full body training with strictly compound movements and a laser sharp focus on large muscle groups will be the way to go for a while. Full body training three times a week will:
Increase Testosterone Production
Boost Fat Loss
Increase Training Frequency
Offer Shorter Training Periods
That last one is the more important than even fat loss. I don’t want you fraternizing with your friends who’re bound to act like they haven’t been in a gym in years. If you were smart enough to keep yourself active during this time away and they only waited for their precious gym to reopen you’re already ahead of them – keep it that way! With that in mind here’s a sample two phase, nine week routine I came up with to help you rebuild your strength base.
Phase 1 (Weeks 1 – 3)
Back Extensions – 3×10 (add weight and/or mini resistance bands when comfortable)
Squat – *5×5
Bench Press – 5×5
Deadlift – 1×5
Phase 2 (Weeks 4 – 9)
Back Extensions – 3×10
Squat – 5×5
Bench Press – 5×5
*The first two sets will be warm ups sets at 60 and 90% of your desired weight.
Chinups/Deadlifts – 5×3/1×5
I believe in taking inspiration from things I’ve tried and believe work, and making them into my own. Therefore, this routine borrows from elements of Reg Park’s legendary 5×5 routine and the Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength Routine. For example, a prior wrist injury makes it diffucult for me to perform Powers Cleans, as Starting Strength prescribes in Phase 2 of their routine. On the other hand, I do not believe in performing three fixed Deadlift sets via Reg Park’s routine, because my back was getting very tired near the end and I was very close to hurting myself. So one main set it is!
Once you get to Phase Two of this routine, you’ll alternated between Chinups and Deadlifts. So if you perform Chinups on Monday, Deadlifts on Wednesday and Chinups again on Friday, you’ll begin the next week with Deadlifts and so on. This provides your lower back a chance to recover as this is a linear program. How you increase the weight per session/per week is up to you. So if you think you can make 20lb jumps on the Deadlift for a while, then by all means go ahead! But just be mindful that muscle memory will not help you so much after such a long layaway, no need to rush just to get back to where you were before March. You can do so without getting hurt!
Use rest days to foam roll, stretching or even do some sort of conditioning, whether it be hill sprints, burpees, or whatever may work for you. Have you been taking walks everyday since the lockdown began? Keep walking. Keep your heartrate up!
Think back to your days taking that lame old gym class in school. Remember that gym teacher with the polo shirt, track pants and a clipboard who looked either way too skinny to even appear to be remotely in shape, or like he was never in shape at all? You might or might not recall that all you wanted to do was play dodge ball; yet he might’ve made you work a bit first. He’d have you jog in place for a good minute give or take, followed by jumping jacks. He’d probably follow that up with having you run around for a minute. Then, he make you perform static stretches, such as reaching down to your toes. Well, turns out they were actually on to something.
Dynamic Stretching is crucial for a few reasons:
It increases your heart rate, pumping blood throughout your body faster. This will bring your body temperature up, and in turn stretch your muscles more efficiently.
It also improves your mobility, which doesn’t just improve your training progress, but it will also prevent injuries better than static stretching. Static stretching with cold muscles will cause an injury.
Are you currently working at home like most of the workforce in the country? Would you normally be sitting down if you were at your job right now as I’d be? Do you ever feel hip flexor pain when you’re squatting or even when your setting up to do any kind of Bench Press variation? Does your lower back tighten up when you perform either of the two moves I just mentioned? If you answered yes to just one of these questions, then you have a tight lower back or hips.
Your Lumbo-Pelvic Hip Complex, made up of your glutes, hips and lower back are crucial to everything regarding your posture, spinal stability and therefore optimal exercise performance. If your hips aren’t loosened up before you begin any kind of training you will get hurt.
Enter the DeFranco Agile 8. The brainchild of World Renowned, New Jersey based strength coach Joe DeFranco, the Agile 8 is a fantastic way to increase your heart rate, warm your body up for your training and of course, loosen your entire Lumbo-Pelvic Hip Complex in order to help you come out of your training injury free. I first read about this in Jim Wendler’s book 5/3/1 For Powerlifting and ever since I started performing it just this past October, it’s done wonders for my hip mobility. It’s a fantastic, well organized combination of Self Myfascial Release, Dynamic Stretching, and Static Stretching. All it takes is eight moves, a foam roller, a lacrosse ball and at most ten minutes of your time.
The DeFranco Agile 8
Foam Roll IT Bands – 10 – 15 rolls each side
Foam Roll Adductors – 10 – 15 rolls each side
Glute Piriformis Myofascial Release with Lacrosse Ball – 30 seconds each glute
Rollovers Into V Sits – 10 reps
Fire Hydrant Circles – Forward and backward circles 10 times each legs
Mountain Climbers – 20 reps
Groiners – 10 reps followed by ten second hold
Static Hip Flexor Stretch – 3 sets of ten seconds each leg
As mentioned earlier, this is a combination of Self Myofascial Release, Dynamic and Static Stretching. Since it also increases your heart rate I highly recommend you perform this combination before any and all training sessions. And since a good portion of us are stuck at home and are mostly likely sitting, I’d perform this everyday at least once or twice a day, before you even begin your work day and somewhere in the middle of the day to break to monotony of sitting all day, and to reinforce loose and pain free hips and lower back. Also, that elementary school gym teacher of yours would be proud!
Welcome to another quarantine edition of the blog here! I hope you’re all staying safe and inside. Remember, the sooner the curve flattens, the sooner those gyms open back up. In the meantime, here’s a brand new workout designed by yours truly, consisting entirely of resistance bands. But before I show you this routine, here’s a brief synopsis on why resistance bands are such a great tool when it comes to any style of training:
Constant Tension – Not only do resistance bands create external tension in the same manner that barbells, dumbbells and cables do, but the tension remains throughout any exercise you perform. That alone makes resistance bands equally as beneficial in building muscle and strength!
Convenience – even the thickest, heaviest band on the market is still small enough to put in your travel bag and perform a brief on-the-go workout if you’re away from home or your gym. And of course, you can easily take them with you to your gym and use to perform some prehab exercises before your workout officially begins.
Cost Effective – compared to dumbbells, resistance bands are very affordable, especially if you’re either on a budget or simply don’t have the space in your home for a gym of your own.
And now for the workout itself. This’ll be a full body routine, of which I’m a huge fan. And much like my beginner bodyweight/resistance hybrid program, this will be comprised of mostly compound movements in order to stimulate all major muscle groups. This is a circuit in which you’ll perform each exercise one after another, without any breaks. You’ll hit as many reps as you can within a minute before jumping straight to the next exercise. This is a great way to build up your endurance and your work capacity, both of which are crucial to your ability to recover from more brutal workouts.
* Bands not required for Planks.
This circuit can be performed any time throughout the day, especially if you want to break the monotony of sitting at your laptop all day. If you want a challenge, however, try to repeat this circuit two times after a few minutes rest. I recommend mini bands strictly for the sake of keeping the flow of the circuit consistent throughout, although you’re more than welcome to use a light band for greater tension if you wish.