In order to be a healthy male, it is important to have optimal testosterone levels. Testosterone is important for the mental health, physical health and overall well-being of men. This hormone plays vital roles in the human body. Testosterone is responsible for regulating fat distribution, sex drive, muscle mass, bone mass, the production of red blood cells and sperm. As men age past 30 years, testosterone decreases by about 1% per year. Keeping testosterone levels at optimal levels all throughout life, especially in older men is important as testosterone is responsible for bone mineralization and keeping bone resorption minimal. This means that slips and falls will have a significantly smaller impact if testosterone levels stay at an optimal level. Also, keeping testosterone levels optimal reduces the risk of prostate cancer. Before I dive into ways to increase testosterone levels naturally, I’m going to list the effects of low testosterone levels.
Low Testosterone Levels Can Negatively Impact Sexual Functioning:
- Reduced sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction
Low Testosterone Levels Can Negatively Impact Emotional well being and Physicality:
- Emotional problems(i.e.,Depression)
- Decrease in strength and muscle mass
- Significant amount of fat gain
Some conditions that can lead to low levels of testosterone are:
- Diabetes(Type 2)
- Chronic medical conditions such as: kidney and liver disease
Now that we know the importance of testosterone, the roles testosterone plays, what low testosterone levels lead to and what conditions lead to low levels of testosterone, we can get into ways to increase testosterone levels naturally:
- Heavy compound lifts
- Managing stress
- Proper sleep
A balanced, healthy diet is vital in order to increase testosterone levels naturally. Eating a diet that contains adequate amounts of protein and healthy fats are essential to maintaining optimal hormonal balance and function:
- Sources of protein: Our bodies can produce 11 of the 20 amino acids needed to synthesize protein. The other 9 amino acids must come from dietary protein. The protein consumed through diet are broken down into these 9 individual amino acids and used to make protein necessary to support life. Some of these proteins become enzymes, some are used to repair tissue cells and others become hormones. Sources of protein include, but are not limited to: beef, chicken and fish. We can get plant based protein from peanuts, walnuts, etc but meat has a better quality amino acid profile.
- Healthy fats: Healthy fats are essential for proper hormone production and balance. Some sources of healthy fats are, but not limited to: Avocados, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, olive oil, dark chocolate, tuna, salmon and last but not least(I saved the best for last…)
- …Eggs are one of the most important sources of healthy fats because of the simple fact that it’s yolk contains dietary cholesterol which is the precursor of testosterone. For a long time it was considered unhealthy to consume the yolk of the egg which contains cholesterol because it was believed to cause heart disease by raising low-density lipoprotein(LDL) or “bad cholesterol.” It has now been shown that NOT consuming sources of dietary cholesterol such as beef and eggs is associated with increased LDL.
Going to the gym and engaging the compound lifts such as the: squat, bench press, deadlift, barbell row and standing overhead press is essential for increasing testosterone levels naturally, especially squatting. Squatting has been shown to increase the body’s testosterone levels the most because of it’s tendency to engage the largest muscles in the body, the leg muscles. When we engage in compound lifts, using the most amount of muscles at one time, we are activating the body’s natural response to stimulus which is releasing significant amounts of testosterone in order to signal muscle repair. The bigger the muscles the bigger the temporary increase in testosterone we receive. It is advisable to go as heavy as safely possible in order to get the full testosterone increasing effects. Lifting sissy weight will not produce enough of a metabolic response for our body to respond favorably.
Lowering Stress Levels
Keeping stress levels low is another essential factor in increasing testosterone levels naturally because when we are stressed, we release a hormone called “cortisol.” This hormone is responsible for catabolizing muscle tissue which slows down the metabolism and increases fat storage. This increase of fat storage eventually leads to being overweight and obese which then decreases testosterone levels in the long run. In order to combat stress, engaging in activities like meditation, exercising, reading, writing, anything that gets the mind off of stressors is advantageous. It is also advisable to cut any unnecessary negativity out of your life such as negative friends, family, co-workers, social media, TV programs, etc. The aforesaid sources of stress will impact you significantly over time. These psychic vampires wreak havoc on our lives in such an insidious way that we tend to take for granted the immense impact it has on our physiology. In order to reduce and manage stress we must be vigilant in the minor details that act as leeches to our emotional energy.
In order to increase testosterone levels naturally we need to sleep properly. One study shows that a good portion of the American adult population, atleast 15%, get under 5 hours of sleep. This same study shows that males who were sleep deprived experienced up to a 15% drop in testosterone levels. This level of sleep deprivation is akin to aging 10 to 15 years(1% drop in testosterone per year). Getting about 7-8 hours of sleep is essential to maintaining healthy levels of testosterone. Sleep is responsible for proper hormone regulation in general. While we sleep, our cortisol levels are regulated while other hormones that are responsible for repairing the body from daily rigors spring into action to get the body ready for another day. When we deprive ourselves of sleep, we are inadvertently robbing ourselves of our well-being. Another study reported that young men who were sleep deprived experienced feelings of decreased well-being which can be linked to a sharp drop in testosterone.
So what have we learned about testosterone? When we maintain a healthy diet, go to the gym and engage in heavy compound lifts, manage our stress and wrap it all up with proper sleep, we are likely to increase our testosterone levels naturally without ever needing a needle. I guarantee that some of us can stand to fine tune some or all of the above mentioned aspects of our lives, plus, these are just 4 ways to increase testosterone levels naturally. There are different kinds of eating patterns such as intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet that have produced decent results in increasing testosterone levels naturally. At a later date, I will get into the details of how these eating patterns have helped me increase my overall well-being inside and outside of the gym.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, July 10). Male hypogonadism: Tests and diagnosis.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, July 10). Testosterone therapy: Key to male vitality?
- University of Chicago Medical Center. “Sleep loss dramatically lowers testosterone in healthy young men.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 June 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110531162142.htm>.
- Vingren, J.L., Kraemer, W.J., Ratamess, N.A. et al. Sports Med (2010) 40: 1037. doi:10.2165/11536910-000000000-00000
While there are core principles that any training program should be wrapped around, training the compound lifts, training in various set-rep schemes, mobility, cardio, etc, how we configure those principles is totally up to us and what works for us. Everyone’s body type, endurance levels and even natural talents and abilities are different and therefore, these programs reflect these aforementioned talents and abilities while addressing weak points. We are all different. Do not hesitate to design and believe in the programs that work for YOU. When we share our routines, people are so caught up in dogma that they critique the routine strictly through the lens of dogmatic “expertise” without being helpful in any way. On the other hand, if we aren’t mindful, we let this negativity in and it can derail our efforts. We might even become an “expert” ourselves! Don’t get me wrong, we should encourage criticism for the purpose of helping one another in a productive, constructive way. Don’t let someone come at you and your preciously, orchestrated, astonishing routine that you stayed up three hours past your bedtime to design only to be destroyed based on their own preconceptions of how one should design their training splits, set-rep schemes and rest and recovery phases, cycles, meal times etc. In order to design our own custom program, these are the questions and underlying concepts we must consider:
- Does my program adhere to sufficient rest and recovery?
- Am I training the four major compound lifts?
- Cardio, Mobility, Stretching, Neural Efficiency?
- Am I eating sufficient calories to support my program?
- Do I enjoy my program?
Does my program adhere to sufficient rest and recovery?
It always cracks me up when I go on a forum, website, or just social media in general and see “experts” take one look at a split that someone took the time out to share and say “overtraining.” At this point in my career, I’m not sure if I subscribe to the notion of overtraining as much as I do under-eating and under-resting. Personally, I enjoy training with high volume with little rest days between. Due to my experience, genetics, lifestyle, and other factors, I am able to rest and recover and therefore reach my goals with the splits I design for myself. I know of people who train with higher volume than I, which I think is insane and their physiques and performance reflects the hard work they put in. There is no way someone can take one look at another person’s routine and know for certain that said person’s split promotes overtraining; that is unless they know every aspect of that person’s life. Proper rest and recovery is the part of the equation that needs to be accounted for in order for the whole equation to be balanced. So, when designing our routines, let’s think of the details of our day-to-day life through in order to get the most out of what we work on in the gym. Let’s think through what our day to day schedule looks like or even feels like. Let’s think about when we will be eating, resting, working, etc. All of these factors play a role in our overall growth in regards to how we design our split.
Underlying concept – Stimulus, recovery, adaptation: This concept is predicated on the fact that the strength and duration of an external stimulus produces a degree of fatigue which the body recovers from then super compensates for. Being aware of this concept allows for the athlete/coaches to design programs in such a way that they take full advantage of the body’s ability to be dealt a stimulus(training), recovering(sleep and nutrition), and super compensate(building muscle along with neural efficiency.)
The Five Major Compound lifts
Let’s face it, a program chock full of endless sets and reps of isolation movements is not the best use of one’s time. Not saying it isn’t possible to actually do this but why would we? Every program should be designed around or include at least four compound lifts: deadlifts, squats, bench press, overhead press and barbell row. There is no getting around this component of designing our splits. I am not saying that if these are absent from our routine that we will not reach our goals but we would do well to throw in a few of these compound lifts to allow for efficiency and better use of time.
Underlying concept: The major compound lifts, Squat, bench press, overhead press, barbell row and deadlift are the most efficient way to train. They work multiple joints, multiple muscle groups and allow for quality development of neural efficiency. These movements also burn the most calories at one time while improving structural integrity.
Cardio, Mobility, Stretching, Neural Efficiency
These four components are a must have in any and every program no matter what the programs goals are.
- Cardio – Cardio is important because it helps keep the heart healthy. Cardio is also a tool that aids in keeping body fat under control. Contrary to what many believe and say, cardio will NOT hurt our gains. It is a great way to actively recover on rest days. That sounds counterproductive but as I mentioned before, cardio aids in keeping the heart healthy and strong. A well-trained heart aids in cardiac efficiency as well as pumping vital nutrients to recovering muscles. We typically want to do cardio after lifting and/or on rest days but in moderation.
- Mobility – By far one of the most important components of any program when we are talking about the compounds lifts. Mobility in all of the compound lifts insures proper movements of the joints and muscles. Proper mobility insures that one or more joints and muscles are not overcompensating for their antagonists. This prevents injuries and undue stress on muscles and joints. For example, people who unintentionally “quarter squat,” may have tight hips, ankles, quads, etc. It is up to them, or the trainer, to coach them into a proper movement pattern this is done by-
- Stretching the muscles for maximum mobility. We want to incorporate proper stretching. Each muscle incorporated in each compound lift should be stretched to a point of tension for about sixty seconds each.
- Neural efficiency is the central nervous system (CNS) learning and memorizing a movement pattern for maximum results. We want to be able to execute a movement correctly 100% of the time. We want to be able to execute a squat, deadlift, barbell row, with the least amount of effort in regards to form in order for the muscles that are supposed to be engaged, get engaged with minimal risk of injury.
Underlying concept: The above four components all tie into one another in order for the program to be as effective as possible. When training for any goal we should take a well-rounded approach to ensure maximum efficiency, effectiveness and reduce injury as much as possible. We have to do what is right to insure the integrity of our programs as well as our bodies.
Do I enjoy my program?
We should also have fun with this. It isn’t all about the numbers. We shouldn’t be getting so caught up in numbers to the extent where we aren’t enjoying what we do. If we are serious about this lifestyle, we should at the very least enjoy what we are doing. No, I am not saying that we will always love it. It will be hard, it will be a grind and some days we will just flat out not want to train, but that is more reason for us to ensure enjoyment through programming that maximizes the potential for us to not only walk out of the gym feeling good, but feeling good while training. There are times where I would drag myself to the gym and put myself through a grueling training session only to enjoy every minute of it when initially I didn’t even want to get out of bed. Programming for not only growth but enjoyment is key to staying disciplined and motivated; unless we are doing this for competitive purpose, by all means, balls to the wall. But even then it should still be fun, win or lose.
Underlying concept – Outcome dependence: Studies show that when we start to think of what we love, such as our passions and hobbies, as work we tend to want to do it less. When training, we should think of it as play first. We should be training for the sake of training freeing ourselves of outcome dependence. Ironically, this is when we do our best.
Am I consuming enough calories to support my program?
This goes hand in hand with rest and recovery but nutrition is pivotal so I always feel the need to address this important aspect individually. When we train, we have to take into account what our goals are. In order to reach these goals we have to fuel and repair properly. None of the aforementioned is possible without the proper caloric intake. We want to calculate our total daily energy expenditure(TDEE), which is the total amount of energy in calories that we need to sustain ourselves throughout the day. After we have figured this number out, we want to either eat in a 200-500 calorie surplus or deficit; eating 200-500 calories above or below this number, or eat at maintenance which is going to be this exact number. I cannot emphasize enough how important nutrition, specifically calorie and macro calculation is to reach goals. Many people who are just starting out neglect nutrition in regards to reaching their fitness goals because it’s such an easy aspect to ignore or miss. What we consume directly has an impact on how our body performs and develops.
Underlying concept: Eat for your sport: Whether we are prepping for a show or a powerlifting competition we have to eat in such a way that supports our goals. If we are looking to put on mass, we eat in a surplus. If we are training for a meet, we eat to support our energy levels. If we are prepping for a bodybuilding show we eat in a deficit. The point is to eat in such a way that supports our goals.
Periodization is the strategic planning of training in order to reach the best possible peak performance in the most important competition of a season. This entails planning a program in macro and micro cycles, specificity, etc, to train for specific sports competitions. This component is more for athletes and competitive lifters but the average joe may incorporate it into their program as well. After all, it is a program. I will not say much about this aspect, as if we are athletes, we are more than likely going to have a real expert such as a coach design a full on program with more comprehensive measures to help us win!
So, I just got back in from the gym after a pretty solid leg day. Sad part about it was that I discovered that my olympic lifting shoes were causing me to damage my knees. I originally got these shoes to help activate my quads during squats which served me well until I started getting persistent pain in my right patellar tendon and to some extent my left patellar tendon.
At first, I ignored it because I thought it was nothing but it only got worse over the months. I know, I should have addressed this issue long time ago. I chalk this up to the fact that when I use olympic lifting shoes, it causes me to lean forward too much putting undue stress on the patellar tendon.
This was not an ideal position for me, personally. Some people can get way with it, apparently I cannot so I switched back to squatting in my Chuck Taylor’s and my knees are fine once again. This is only my theory in regards to my body type and my form. Maybe some of you are having the same issues and are wondering what the deal is.
The good news is that I’ve gained some good quad development over the months through use of using these olympic lifting shoes which carried over to my squats without the shoes. I’m guessing that I can maybe use the shoes in some sort of quasi-periodization to bring focus to my quads over the course of a set interval. If you cannot sit back on the heels, keeping the knees behind or at least in direct line with the toes without pain while using olympic lifting shoes, do not wear them.
We’ve been training for quite some time, making all kinds of gains. We’ve been making strength gains, muscle gains, life gains as well as pain gains. We are beaten up, sore everyday and begin to think to ourselves “what’s the purpose of doing all of this training if we are sore and achy day in and day out?” In comes the foam roller to save the day…and our gains.
The Foam Roller
A foam roller is a cylindrical piece of equipment. It’s usually sitting in the corner of your gym’s dance studio collecting dust or behind the front desk waiting for some lucky bastard to pick it up reap the benefits of all of it’s cylindrical goodness. This lucky bastard is you! This piece of equipment can mean the difference between a grindy, achy, leg session or a leg session fortified with personal records and immaculate mobility throughout.
Benefits of using the foam roller
Devoting atleast 15 minutes each day to foam rolling is beneficial on many levels. We are able to train harder, train longer and feel better all throughout the session. After foam rolling, blood circulation improves throughout the muscles, flexibility improves and therefore we have a much more productive session to look forward to.
How to use the foam roller
Grab the foam roller and start on your trouble spots. It’s best to use circular motions, rolling motions or a rocking movement to kneed out scar tissue and tightness. I am not going to lie to you, this does hurt and can be very painful at times but it is well worth it. Avoid tightening and tensing the muscles as you work. This is soft tissue work so stay away from the bones and joints. Relax and roll away the aches and pains. Again, we want to do this for atleast 15 minutes and throw in some stretching as well after.
When I first started training, I thought this foam rolling stuff was for softies. Now after training for three years and feeling the stiffness, tightness, aches and pains, I can stand to soften up a little bit. It is well worth it in the long run due to the benefits it has on not only the muscles, but the connective tissues. The better condition our muscles and connective tissues are in, the smoother we progress during our journey to becoming stronger.
The purpose of this article is to help quell the most common mistakes beginners make in the gym.
So, we’ve gotten all of the excuses out of the way. We decided that staying the same is more painful than making a change. We have successfully moved out of the pre-contemplation stage of change, to commitment to take action and maintain that habit for the long run. There are just a few things to consider:
- Should I join a gym?
- Tracking macros
- Compound lifts
- Hammering form and technique
- Tracking progress
- Should I get a Training partner?
- Training Gear
- Rest and Recovery
Should I join a gym?
Many people know the answer to this question already. I would say that we should join some sort of gym or health club. It does not matter what type of gym it is or what level of experience people who attend that gym is on, beginner, intermediate, expert. It doesn’t matter just so long as we are adopting healthy lifestyle habits. Joining a gym is literally an investment in your health and finances. As obesity rates continue to rise worldwide, we will be wise to join a gym and cultivate the habit of training regularly, participating in any kind of program we can get into. Whether it is an aerobics class, strength training, yoga, etc. All types of training is going to aid in keeping obesity at bay. Obesity is associated with more doctor visits due to risk of diabetes, cancer, hypertension, stroke and other health concerns and in turn higher medical costs in the long run. It should be obvious to us that investing as little as $10 a month for a gym membership is the way to go.
Whether we want to gain weight as an ectomorph or lose weight, tracking macros is one the most important aspects of strength training and overall fitness in general. If we do not take the responsibility of building the habit of engaging our diet in a strategic way, we will just be running on a hamster wheel, essentially getting nowhere. My theory is that this is what discourages most of us. We do not take the time to learn about diet via macros and “calories in vs calories out.” When we do not see the results we expected, we assume that “this isn’t working for me.”
- Calories in vs calories out – this is the simple concept that gaining and losing weight is built around. Of course, there are other factors that may cause complication but this is our focal point when setting goals. To gain weight, we know we must consume more calories than we burn. To lose weight, we know we must burn more calories than we consume. Simple, right? There’s a twin component to this concept.
- Macros(Protein, fats, and carbs) – We focus on macros when we want to recompose our bodies. Focusing in on macros means the difference between having a muscular 6ft/1.83m tall, 180lb/82kg body and a flabby 6ft/1.83m, 180lb/82kg body and this comes down to body fat percentage or body composition.
It is easy to track our macros these days. I personally use the “MyFitnessPal” app and it has helped me to stay on track with my daily macros and caloric intake. Again, I stress the importance of tracking macros because it directly influences how well you can train each session. While we can look at reaching our fitness goals being based off 20% diet, 80% training, the 20% has a huge impact on the results we get from the 80%. Let me give you an example, if we eat crap that has little to no functional value our training will suffer. If we do not take in the necessary amount of calories arranged in the correct permutation of proteins, fats and carbs, we stand to suffer and maybe even injured during our training sessions. The body needs the correct nutrients with functional value in order for us to get the most out of our training.
When first starting out, I recommend focusing on the four main compound lifts. The most common mistakes beginners make in the gym is that they avoid the four main compound lifts and do a whole bunch of isolation movements. These compound lifts are: deadlifts, squats, bench press and standing overhead press. These four lifts give us the most bang for our buck. This is because these compound lifts work the most amount of muscle at one time. Let’s save the isolation movements such as: bicep curls, triceps push down, leg presses and all others for the accessory component of our splits.
For example, let’s say we are training chest on a particular day. We should start off with a bench press, then if we so choose, we can go into dumbbell presses, then a chest fly movement, and work our triceps with a push down and an overhead extension to finish off. Anything after the main lift(bench press) are considered accessory movements and they aid to build that main lift.
Hammering form and technique
Many people talk about “noob” gains when first starting out in regards to strength and muscle gain. If I were to take a different approach when I was a beginner I would have focussed on being much more meticulous when it came to my form and technique and avoid the common mistake of focusing exclusively on strength. Not that I wasn’t meticulous about form and technique from the start, but I would have placed more emphasis behind it rather than trying to get as strong as possible. Luckily, when I realized just how important it was to have good form, I stripped weight off the bar, started from scratch and learned how to excute these lifts properly.
It is very important that we learn how to do the aforementioned compound lifts correctly because of the risk of potentially injuring ourselves. Our best bet is that for our first year we focus on proper form and technique in order to build structural integrity. We want to focus on getting our muscles to work in a well orchestrated manner, in tandem with one in another so that we build a well-rounded, functional physique. Yes, we can load the bar up with weight but that would not be the best option if we want to maintain healthy joints, tendons, ligaments and properly develop musculature overtime. Remember, we want to do this for a long time. We want to build and maintain a healthy physique, not destroy it. The fun part is that we can throw in our own signature ritual when it comes to technique to help us develop a pattern of proper execution.
There will be the rare occasions when we injure ourselves here and there but those occasions will be far and few between because we are practicing safety via proper form and technique. The best part about focusing on form and technique is that the amount of weight we lift over time will increase to the degree that we have maintained a proper diet, proper form and proper technique. It is rewarding to focus on the fundamentals consistently to reap the most benefit. Let’s take our time, this is a marathon not a race.
When starting out we want to track our progress. This is another important aspect of strength training, like tracking our macros, we will be running on a hamster wheel getting no where if we do not know how we are progressing in terms of weight, sets and reps. There are many ways to track our progress. I’m a little old school and like to use a notebook to keep my progress on hand. We can use our phones to track our progress but in this day and age, our phones are distracting. Keeping a notebook allows us the freedom to leave our phones in our locker or turn it off while training. Nothing keeps us in the zone more than knowing where we are in our training session, how far we’ve come and how fmusch further we have to reach a particular goal than tracking our progress. We can always look back to last year to see that we were benching a mere 135lbs/61kg for 5 reps and this week we are benching 225lbs/102kg for reps of 8. Another benefit of tracking progress is managing volume and discovering different strategies of getting stronger. There may be a week or two where we can go up in load but we notice that if we increase our reps a bit, we can set a volume personal record.
Should I get a training partner?
It is a great feeling going to the gym with a buddy and getting stronger, maybe even competing a little bit with them. With a gym partner we can push our limits a bit more through encouragement, friendly competition and it is even a bit safer when we have someone to spot us just incase we want to go to failure on our last set. The downside is that we may become too dependent on a training partner and forfeit our independence. Start out training alone for some time, develop independence. Knowing that you have your own goals that you want to reach. Having a gym partner should only compliment your goals, not hinder those goals. Having a gym partner for some means that once that partner gets a new job, starts a family or gains other kinds of life altering responsibilities, it’s a roadblock for them. It means that they themselves lose motivation to continue on the path to reach their goals. Develop self-discipline by making it a habit to get to the gym no matter what. Having discipline even beats having motivation because motivation is based on emotion and emotions change all time. Discipline is an ingrained habit similar to muscle memory.
There are a ton of training gear out there. I started out with none at all because I couldn’t afford any but as time went on I purchased training gear one at a time. Instead of listing off all of the training gear that ever existed, I’ll mention the training gear that I use from time to time:
- Wrist Wraps – If you are an ectomorph like myself, you probably have small joints. I go as heavy as I can without using wrist wraps in order to develop joint strength and connective tissue as much as possible without aid. Wrist wraps support the wrist joint and reduces the risk of injury. I use these for pressing movements. Personally, they do not seem to help me much with pulling movements such as deadlifts, rows or lat pull downs.
- Wrist Straps – This is a decent piece of equipment. These are similar to wrist wraps except that we have a piece of material, a strap coming from our wrist. We wrap the straps around the bar or handle of a piece of equipment that we are pulling with in order to get all of our reps in when our grip starts giving out. I did not purchase these until a little later on in my training career, that is, when my back muscles got much stronger than my grip strength. Over time, pulling movements develop back strength to the point where they give out much later than grip does. Let’s say we want to do sets of 8 reps of a moderately heavy weight. Our grip starts to give out at around 5 to 6 reps. What the straps does is allows us to hold onto the bar a little longer to finish out the set so that we can reap the full benefits of it.
- Oly Shoes – These are hit or miss with some people. For me, it is a huge hit. As I am more glute and hamstring dominant in my squats, these shoes help to take the emphasis off of my posterior chain and focus more on my quads. For some, based off of their body dimensions, it may do the exact opposite. These are relatively expensive, running at about $160 dollars a pair. By no means are these shoes necessary. We can very well get along without using these shoes at all.
- Powerlifting Belt – I still have not touched my belt. This belt allows for core stability. I prefer to let my core do most of the work in order for it to develop naturally. But as soon as I start to feel some snap action, I am throwing this bad boy on. Also, this belt of course allows for us to lift more weight because of the added support we get from the belt in addition to having some sort of decent core strength.
- Gloves – No.
- Knee Sleeves – I wear these for aesthetic purposes, they just look so cool over some joggers.As for functional purposes, they keep the knees nice and warm and therefore, helps with mobility.
- Thin Bands – I use these bands to warm up the shoulders and arms before a chest, back or shoulders session. Invest in these! They have helped me to maintain healthy elbow, wrist, and shoulder joints.
- Thick Bands – I use these bands to help warm up the hips, knees and back on leg day. I go through a series of stretching, hip adduction and hip abduction movements to set me up for my squat sessions, very important for mobility.
Again, this list isn’t exhaustive.There are many other pieces of equipment that people use to train. Having training gear is not that serious. I recommend getting all of this gear one at a time and add them or subtract them from your routine. These pieces of equipment are not the end all be all. They should only HELP you. There should not be any particular amount of emphasis placed on getting these pieces of equipment. Only use them as you see fit.
Rest and Recovery
And finally, all of the above means nothing at all if we do not get adequate rest and therefore recover properly. If we do not sleep properly, manage our stress levels and just create a habit of getting out of our body’s way so that it can recover then we are wasting our time. We have to get at least 8 hours of sleep in order for our body to recharge for the next session, for the next day in general. The body repairs itself while it is sleeping. When we train, we are strategically breaking down muscle tissue in order for it to be built back up and then some. This is how we gain muscle and strength. We also must manage our stress levels to the degree that we keep cortisol levels in check. Cortisol is necessary but too much and it’s bad for the body.Meditation helps with rest and relaxation.
The plan is to approach strength training and fitness with a balanced, responsible, effective approach.A strong, healthy, body has many benefits. We want to make this a lifestyle. This is not a trend or something that we pick up and put back down. This is our health we are talking about!
One of the single most important aspects of my training has been journaling my progress. Ever see people at the gym with a little notepad and a pen after every lift? That is someone who is serious about making strength gains, or maybe they have OCD and therefore extremely meticulous about every single detail of their session. Either way, it is important for us to track our progress, how else are we going to get stronger? Guessing our numbers week in and week out? I think not.
When I first started lifting, I got a little marble notebook, wrote down all of my routines day by day and tracked the numbers. Even if my numbers fluctuated in the slightest sense, I kept track of it for the simple fact that I want to create a habit. My first year wasn’t as strength focussed as it is now. I focussed more on getting my form and technique down in order to, again, develop proper habits.
The benefit of journaling progress is that it keeps the ego in check and ultimately provides direction. For me, this is the spiritual part of lifting. This is the religious part of lifting. There are some days we may feel stronger, where we feel we can lift ten pounds heavier than planned. By all means, it is alright if we indulge in a little ego lifting once in awhile, but what about long term goals. Are we willing to sacrifice instant gratification of a minor ten pound personal record, frying our CNS short term and setting ourselves back, for long term goals?
This was just a quick tip. I will be sharing a longer, in depth article where journaling or tracking our progress plays a larger role in strength training if we are planning to make this a life long pursuit.
As my routines are anchored by the big four and it’s leg day, I started out with Front Squats as my upfront movement. I warmed up to my working sets, sets of 3 and ascended in weight as I progressed through the squat portion of my session:
Below I kicked it off with 185lbs x 3 reps which felt heavy as hell for some strange reason but it felt smooth and controlled throughout the movement while hitting depth
Next, I increase the weight by ten pounds, hitting 195lbs x 3 which actually felt better than the 185lbs. This indicated to me that I probably didn’t warm-up properly, oops. Seems as if my body still had some warming up to do. Next time ill probably warm-up for 15 minutes on a cold day like today.
The following set I go up by five pounds and hit 200lbs x 3 which felt smooth and controlled.
Now is where things get real challenging, I go up another five pounds and focused less on depth and more on pushing this weight up.
My end goal was to get to 225lbs for 3 but I ended up hitting 215×1, which barely came back up!
After this portion of my leg session, I followed up with some accessory work: leg presses, 4×8, leg extension and leg curl superset, 4×15 and some calf work with 4×25 seated calf raises.
In the fitness world, we always hear about “shocking the muscle” and how it is needed for muscle growth. When people say this, they are referring to the fact that we must consistently change the routine we engage in order to stimulate muscle growth. This statement acknowledges that the muscle is smart, it has “memory” and will adapt to any and everything we throw at it. As a result, people change their routines sporadically essentially gaining no traction and even if they do gain some sort of traction, they have no direction. The rhetoric surrounding this phrase of “shocking the muscle” is so misleading to some people that I thought I might clear some things up by touching on the basics of the principle of progressive overload and hopefully contribute to the death of the term “shocking the muscle.”
- Neuromuscular adaptation
- The Principle of Progressive Overload: You’re Not “Shocking The Muscle.”
- Four Ways to Overload
When we begin any type of training, we are clumsy, slow, weak and easily fatigued during the first session of training. The following session we get a little more coordinated, faster, stronger and our stamina increases. The following session we are spot on with our coordination, speed, strength and stamina, our times to complete a certain circuit or movement has improved significantly throughout the weeks and we feel like an expert. What causes us to adapt to the training so fast? Our nervous system is amazing. It has the ability to adapt to stresses placed on the body over time and if we train it hard enough, we have the ability to push it to heights as high as we can imagine. The thing is that it quickly adapts to anything we throw at it so we must outsmart it and consistently place new challenges in front of it.
There are two main components that make up neuromuscular adaptation: Motor neurons, neuromuscular facilitation or “muscle memory.”
Motor neurons: Motor neurons are nerve cells that start from the spinal cord/central nervous system and stop at the muscle fibers in a spaced called the neuromuscular junction. At this junction, a neurotransmitter called “acetylcholine” is secreted and causes the muscle to contract due to signals sent from the brain. This signal, motor neurons and neuromuscular junction makes up what we call the “efferent pathway.” The efferent pathway is responsible for involuntary(breathing), and voluntary(strength training) muscle contractions. Every time we work on a new movement in strength training, the brain has to tell the muscle fibers via the efferent pathway how to contract in order to perform the movement.
Neuromuscular facilitation: This is a means by which the neuromuscular system learns motor skills, hence why we never have to re-learn to walk everyday. This is also called a motor engram. When the brain consistently sends signals to the muscle, eventually the pathway is ingrained into the system and therefore, little to no effort is needed in order to maintain the ability to execute the movement.
With these two great components built into our beautiful, complex bodies, we have the ability to become increasingly skilled at whatever we attempt. Overtime, the nervous system comes up with increasingly efficient ways to fire motor neurons in order to recruit the appropriate muscle fibers to perform a lift. Frequency of the lift performed dictates how efficiently the muscle fibers will be recruited and fired.
The Principle of Progressive Overload: You’re Not “Shocking The Muscle.”
This is the term that is preferred over “shocking the muscle.” Using the term “progressive overload” implies a better understanding of what is happening to the body on a neuromuscular level when it undergoes rigorous strength training. The body only understands one thing when it comes to getting stronger, volume. There are many ways to get bigger and stronger, I’ll talk about four that I personally use in regards to volume. They are simple and basic concepts that can be applied to any routine without running the risk of developing a short attention span due to the sporadic switching of movements.
Four Ways to Overload
- Increasing the number of reps
- Increasing the number of sets
- Increasing the amount of weight
- Increasing frequency of training
These are just four ways to overload the neuromuscular system and stimulate growth via volume. Notice I didn’t include changing the movements. Maybe changing the movements will have some sort of overloading effect, I don’t know, I’m not a scientist, but I do know for sure the aforementioned ways work, especially when built around The Big Four.
Before we go into these four ways, what is volume? When it comes to strength training, volume is calculated by multiplying the number of sets done, by the number of reps done in the set(s) by the weight. Volume is the accrued amount of pressure the body feels from the stimulus of strength training.
for a particular movement, 4 sets of 8 reps @ 225lbs/102kg = 7,200lbs/3266kg, 7200lbs/ 3266kg is the total volume done for a particular movement that day. If we wanted to get meticulous, we can do total volume for the session which would be the sum of the volume for all of the movements completed that session. Changing each of the components that constitute how to calculate volume influences the volume.
Increasing the number of reps
Lets use one of the greatest mass builders in history as an example to demonstrate the power and logic behind progressive overload, the squat. Say we have a beginner, his name is Joe and he is able to squat 135lbs/61kg for 3 sets of 6 reps on his first leg session. He pushes through, grinding his way through this intense squat session barely hitting these numbers. The next squat session he bangs out 3 sets of 7 reps. Did he progressively overload? Lets do some math.
On his first session Joe hit 3 set of 6 reps @ 135lbs/61kg = 2,430lbs/1102kg
On his second session he hit 3 sets of 7 reps @135lbs/61kg = 2,835lbs/1286kg
Controlling for amount of sets, weight and maybe even the color of his pants on both of those sessions, the only thing he changed was the amount reps he did. He most certainly progressively overloaded and therefore has gotten stronger from one session to the next just by increasing the amount of reps he did on each set.
Increasing the number of sets
Now, our friend Joe could have went about it another way by increasing the number of sets he performed. From session to session he could have went from:
3 sets of 6 reps @135lbs/61kg = 2,430lbs/1102kg
4 sets of 6 reps @135lbs/61kg = 3240lbs/1450kg
In this case, he moved more volume from session to session therefore he progressively overloaded and stimulated growth.
Increasing the amount of weight
This probably the most popular way to progressive overload because of the amount of ego involved. People love to brag about how much weight they can move. If our friend Joe is like any of these people, he would want to increase the amount of weight he does each session. (It also depends on what Joe is training for, if he is training for a powerlifting meet or a sport involving moving the most amount of weight at one time then this is the appropriate method to use combined with the other methods for accessories but that’s for another topic. In this article we are going to stick with dealing with progressive overload in regards to showing how we can stimulate growth.) From session to session it would look something like this:
3 sets of 6 reps @135lbs/1102kg = 2,430lbs/1102kg
3 sets of 6 reps @140lbs/64kg = 2,520/1143kg
In this case, he moved more volume via adding more weight from session to session. In these above examples so far, there were some apparent degrees in how the numbers changed from one method to the next. The most stressful on the body would be to increase the amount of sets done each week but then again these are theoretical examples and the numbers reflect that.
Increase frequency of training
I do not know many people who train this way but I can imagine this would be a method that is tailored to the long game when it comes to strength training, someone who has been training for five years or more. Increasing the frequency of training or even just one lift is a way to progressively overload. We can imagine that someone who squats once a week, every week for a year at specific numbers can then start to squat two times a week every week for the next six months to a year or so and then increase from there to squatting 3 times a week for 6 months to a year. Again, I do not know anyone who really trains like this unless they are doing some sort of full body routine.
What we’ve learned
Today we learned that neuromuscular adaptation is the body’s way of adapting to external stimulus placed upon it. The two components of this beautiful mechanism consists of the use of motor neurons and neuromuscular facilitation in order to learn and execute a lift in the most efficient way possible. Knowing this information we use the principle of progressive overload to keep the body from plateauing in strength. Progressive overload allows for us to get stronger overtime, increasing our strength over time and developing muscle maturing overtime. We learned four ways to take advantage of progressive overload: increasing the amount of reps we perform, increasing the amount of sets we perform, increasing the amount weight we use and increasing the frequency of sessions throughout the week. Most importantly, we learned that using the term “principle of progressive overload” is a better, more appropriate term to use. Rather than saying “shocking the muscle” which makes us sound uncouth and barbaric, we say “the principle of progressive overload” because it makes us sound all cool and sciencey!