Climb Your Way to New Muscle

rope climb l If I had to choose one upper body exercise for the rest of my training days it would definitely be the rope climb. Of course, we don’t live in a world where we’re relegated to only one exercise, but if I had to choose one that would be it. No other upper body exercise works as many muscles as intensely, from your abs to your forearms, and everything in between. However, the rope climb is an advanced exercise that might not be appropriate for many of you, at this point.

The people who run into a problem with the rope climb, whether it’s pain in the shoulder, elbow or anywhere else are usually not ready for such a challenging move. No matter how great the rope is, you must pass through the ranks before adding it into your program. Continue reading

Gourmet Food for Abs

wp high kick I first met Wolfgang Puck in 2002. My brother and I visited Los Angeles that year and Spago, Wolfgang’s flagship restaurant, was at the top of our dinner list. Whenever I visit a new city, my first order of business is to figure out where I’m going to eat. I’m not a guy who eats to live, I live to eat. Being the food lover that I am, a dinner at Spago was sure to be memorable.

But the most memorable part of that night didn’t have anything to do with Spago’s salmon pizza that Wolfgang made famous, even though it was one of the best things I’d ever eaten. When my brother and I left, Wolfgang happened to be standing at the front door where he shook our hands and thanked us for stopping by for dinner. I thought it was pretty cool that Wolfgang was there considering how much business success he’s had. I mean, it’s not like he needed to be at the front door of his restaurant shaking hands.

The following night, my bro and I went to another one of his restaurants, Chinois on Main, in Santa Monica. (Like I said, I live to eat.) Much to my surprise, Wolfgang showed up to the restaurant that night as well, and it made me wonder if he had made copies of himself like Michael Keaton’s character in Multiplicity. It seemed the guy was everywhere: shaking hands, talking with guests, and checking on his chefs and managers.

Four years later I moved to Santa Monica and became a regular patron at Chinois. During those first few years I frequently saw Wolfgang in the restaurant and we’d make small-talk as he moved from table-to-table, conversing with his guests and staff. By this time he knew I was a trainer of some sort. I’m sure that didn’t impress him much because, as I found out later, he’d worked with dozens of trainers during his 30 years in Los Angeles. Most of them made him feel worse than when he started.

Eventually he’d heard from enough people that I was pretty good at what I did. So one night he sat at my table at Chinois and told me that he’d recently had hip replacement and feared he would have to stop skiing, his favorite sport since childhood. I was confident I could help him, and we set up an appointment so I could give him an assessment.

After I assessed him, I took him through a circuit of exercises that focused on restoring his strength, endurance and mobility. He liked how the workout made him feel, and committed to working with me over the next few months since he wanted to try to ski that winter.

Over the course of those next few months people began to notice that Wolfgang looked different. He was leaner, he moved better, and he was more energetic. Wolfgang didn’t want huge biceps, or six-pack abs, or any of the other aesthetic qualities that most of us are after. He just wanted to be able to ski again. That winter he called me from Colorado and said that he couldn’t remember the last time he felt so good skiing down the slopes.

Now, back to my passion for food.

Think back to the last time you decided to get leaner. If you’re like most people you probably bought a book that consisted of a 12-week training and nutrition plan. As you flipped through the book the workouts might have looked doable enough. But I’ll bet that the nutrition plan left you unsatisfied, even before you cooked the first meal. You can only eat flavorless food for a few weeks before the wheels start falling off the nutrition bus.

There are two types of cookbooks. One is filled with recipes from famous chefs that contain meals frighteningly high in fat, sugar and calories. The other type of book – a diet cookbook – is full of recipes that are void of any of the flavor and satisfaction you need from food that you actually want to eat again.

If there’s one thing I know for sure: Wolfgang knows how to make food taste great. So a few years ago I approached him about the idea of making a book of recipes that contain less fat, sugar and calories than most famous chefs usually put on the bookshelves. My timing was good.

Since the time Wolfgang hired me to get his body back on the slopes he had been experimenting with many of the dishes he made famous: adding more vegetables, taking out some of the sugar, and including more healthy fats. He wasn’t interested in creating a bunch of “diet” recipes, he just enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to make healthier dishes taste great.

And man did he succeed.

I’m excited to announce the latest cookbook to his collection, Wolfgang Puck Makes it Healthy. It contains over 100 new recipes, along with tons of tips and tricks to get the most flavor out of your healthy food. This is not a 12-week diet plan, it’s a book full of recipes that you’ll want to eat for a lifetime. Here’s a recipe you can try at home the next time you want an omelet.

French-Style Egg White Omelet with Vegetables

What you’ll need:
Butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray
4 large egg whites
1 large egg
1/4 cup thinly sliced asparagus
1/4 cup thinly sliced snowpeas
1 teaspoon minced shallot
Kosher salt
Freshly ground white pepper

How to make it:
1. Whisk together the egg whites, egg, and a little salt and pepper to taste until well blended and slightly frothy. Set aside.

2. Heat a 10-inch nonstick omelet pan over medium-high heat. Spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Add the asparagus, snow peas, and shallot and sauté, stirring continuously, until the vegetables are bright green and tender-crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover and keep warm.

3. Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel. Return it to medium heat and spray again with cooking spray. Add egg mixture, grasp pan by its handle, and start shaking the pan back and forth while stirring the eggs slowly with the back of a fork, gently lifting and moving the cooked egg so the liquid egg slips beneath it. After about 30 seconds the egg will have formed a uniformly cooked but still fairly moist pancake shape.

4. To fold the omelet, immediately tilt the pan to about a 45-degree angle by raising the handle, so that the cooked egg nearest the handle begin to fall and fold; you may use a fork or a spatula to help this happen. Hold the far edge of the pan over a heated serving plate and continue tipping the handle up, so the omelet folds over on itself and rolls out onto the plate.

5. To fill the omelet, use a small, sharp knife to cut a shallow slit lengthwise through the top of the omelet though the upper layer of egg. Spoon the reserved sautéed vegetables into and spilling out of the slit. Serve immediately.

One of the really cool elements of this cookbook is that it contains all the nutritional info you’ll ever need from a recipe. For example, the omelet above contains these nutritional facts:

Calories: 157
Calories from Fat: 39
Total Fat: 4.4g
Saturated Fat: 1.6g
Monounsaturated Fat: 1.8g
Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.0g
Cholesterol: 186mg
Sodium: 290mg
Total Carbohydrate: 5.1g
Dietary Fiber: 1.4g
Sugars: 2.7g
Protein: 22.2g

The book also contains exercise information that I wrote with Lou Schuler. The workout plan contains of circuit-training routines that build strength, endurance and mobility for people over 40. The training plan is also excellent for those with little training experience and minimal home equipment.

If you’re a health-conscious food lover that enjoys cooking, this will be the best $27 you’ll ever spend. You can find it at all major bookstores, or on Amazon at the link below.

wp book cover

Stay Focused,
CW

3 Finishers for Fat Loss

blog finisherWith summer on the horizon, it’s pretty safe to assume that your desire to burn excess fat is at its peak. Even though your nutrition plan is the primarily stimulus for getting leaner, there are simple workout modifications to augment fat loss. Indeed, when you need to figure out how to get ripped in the shortest time possible, finishers will do the trick.

A finisher is an exercise that stimulates as many major muscle groups as possible for minutes at a time. And just like the name implies, a finisher should be performed after your regular workout is done. There are two reasons why a finisher really should be at the end of a workout.

First, after a sufficient strength training workout your available energy stores are lower than normal. This is a perfect time to ramp up your need for energy as your metabolism stimulates hormone-sensitive lipase in adipocytes. Hormone-sensitive lipase is an enzyme that converts triglycerides into free fatty acids that enter the blood and bind to albumin for delivery to exercising muscle (Nadel, Medical Physiology, 2003).

Second, in order to maximize the uptake of free fatty acids and growth hormone release, the finisher should be exhausting. In fact, a finisher should be – dare I say – nauseating. Even though exercise should never make you ill, a fleeting feeling of nausea means you’ve accumulated protons and acidified skeletal muscle to create a strong stimulus for growth hormone release. Put another way: if you do a finisher correctly you won’t want to do anything afterward.

Here are three of my favorite finishers that will fit well into any training plan:

Squat/Curl/Push Press Combo

How to do it: while standing, hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging at sides, with your feet shoulder width apart. Push your hips back and squat down until the dumbbells are at mid-shin level on the outside of your legs. Stand as you simultaneously curl the dumbbells. At the top position of the curl, press the dumbbells overhead using leg drive. Lower the dumbbells to the starting position and repeat.

Duration: perform as many fast reps as possible for two minutes straight. Then rest for one minute and repeat another two-minute set with lighter weights.

Progression: make a note of how many reps you achieve in each two-minute set with a specific weight. Aim to increase the number of total reps in each set for your next workout.

Kettlebell Swing/Clap Push-up Combo

How to do it: start with 20 explosive KB swings, then immediately drop to the ground and do 10 clap push-ups. Next do 18 swings and 9 clap push-ups, followed by 16 swings and 8 clap push-ups. Continue with this sequence until you reach two swings and one clap push-up. Rest for 60 seconds, then do another sequence where you start at 10 swings and 5 clap push-ups and continue until you reach two swings and one clap push-up.

Progression: reduce the 60 seconds rest period by five seconds every other workout. Work your way down to 10 seconds of rest.

Goblet Squat/Pull-up Combo

How to do it: start with 20 goblet squats, then immediately do 10 pull-ups. Next do 18 goblet squats and 9 pull-ups, followed by 16 squats and 8 pull-ups. Continue with this sequence until you reach two squats and one pull-up. Rest for 60 seconds, then do another sequence where you start at 10 squats and 5 pull-ups and continue until you reach two squats and one pull-up.

Progression: reduce the 60 seconds rest period by five seconds every other workout. Work your way down to 10 seconds of rest.

There are no stringent rules for creating a finisher workout. For example, if you don’t have the strength to do that many pull-ups you can reduce the reps to match your strength levels. The key is to keep moving quickly between exercises for a few minutes straight to induce a full-body training effect.

In terms of frequency, these finishers can be performed 3-4 times per week or however best fits your training schedule.

It’s imperative that you move through the finisher workouts as fast as possible in order to maximize the metabolic cost of the session. These finishers are also excellent as stand-alone, extra workouts to increase your weekly training frequency.

Stay Focused,
CW

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Is Faster Always Better?

nsca cw speaking Last month I gave a presentation in Las Vegas for the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). My topic focused on ways to increase motor unit recruitment.

It’s a subject I’ve written extensively about over the years, and in those articles and books I’ve placed a large emphasis on increasing acceleration during the concentric (muscle shortening) phase to enhance the number of motor units you recruit.

However, there’s much more to motor unit recruitment than just lifting faster. I’ll use the Turkish Get-up (TGU) as an example – an exercise that beautifully challenges full-body strength.

Assuming you’ve tried the TGU, you know it’s difficult to perform explosively. Indeed, to maintain perfect form you need to move with a slow, deliberate pace and concentrate on joint stability as you transition between each phase of the movement. This is especially true as you work to, and beyond, a 32 kilogram kettlebell.

Could you increase motor unit recruitment if you tried to perform the TGU more explosively? Possibly, but it’s not worth the effort. Certain strength exercises that require full-body strength in complex movement patterns are better performed slowly, even if you could move faster. Pavel refers to the TGU as the ultimate slow grind strength exercise. I completely agree, and that’s why it’s part of all my athletes training programs.

Now, you might not consider a TGU to be a massive muscle builder. But a heavy deadlift certainly is, and it’s a perfect example of a slow grind move that quickly builds plenty of muscle.

And sometimes, no movement at all is best for building muscle. I’m referring here to isometric holds. It’s clear that gymnasts who perform the rings event have incredible upper body muscle development – better than any other natural athlete on earth, if you ask me. Yet, they virtually never move explosively. In fact, a rings routine consists of isometric holds paired with slow, deliberate transition moves in between.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time hanging from rings over the last few years. So I can state with utmost certainty that it takes more muscle and strength to perform a perfect muscle-up slowly. An explosive muscle-up relies heavily on momentum. As momentum goes up, muscle tension and motor unit recruitment go down.

Now, if we take momentum out of the equation and focus on traditional strength exercises with free weights and cables, it’s usually better to perform the concentric phase as explosively as possible. This philosophy forms the foundation of the programs in my book, Huge in a Hurry.

However, as you incorporate less traditional moves into your programs – exercises such as the TGU with a kettlebell or an iron cross hold on the rings – it’s important to understand that faster isn’t always better. In those cases, developing the highest levels of muscle tension possible is the goal. And that usually requires you to slow your pace.

So for complete muscle and strength development in athletes, I incorporate three categories of movements into their programs: explosive, slow grind, and high-tension isometrics. Here are a few of my favorite examples from each category:

Explosive: kettlebell swing, one-arm row, push press, and hang power snatch.

Slow grind: TGU, heavy deadlift, Nordic hamstring, and one-arm push-up.

High-tension isometrics: iron cross, maltese, handstand from rings, and one-arm hang from a pull-up bar or rings.

Stay Focused,
CW

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How to Improve Your Sleep

Today I want to address one of the most important aspects of recovery: quality sleep. Here’s a question I recently received from a reader.

Question: Hi Chad, I purchased your HFT program and I’m wondering if I should modify the workouts to take into account high stress and poor periods of sleep? I have a stressful job and two young toddlers so sleep is often less than perfect on a weekly basis. Thanks, Matt

Answer: Matt, I feel your pain. I’m not someone who functions well on less than eight hours of sleep, and I rarely reach that coveted goal these days. Oftentimes my athletes can’t get a full eight hours due to travel and schedule demands, so I had to find a way to make the most of their sleep time.

The key is to maximize however much sleep you can get. Six hours of high-quality, restful sleep is more beneficial than eight hours spent tossing and turning.

So before I answer your original question about manipulating the HFT workouts to meet your sleep insufficiency, I want to outline my three top tips for improving the quality of your sleep.

1. Take Vitamin C and magnesium before bed: Magnesium is a powerful mineral that helps relax the central nervous system, and Vitamin C lowers cortisol. The combined effect helps you quickly feel drowsy, and then it helps you remain asleep.

The best concoction I’ve found for improving sleep quality is with a combination of Vitamin C and magnesium. But just any old Vitamin C/magnesium combo won’t work since neither nutrient is easy for the body to assimilate in regular supplement form. You need a high-quality version of each nutrient to get the job done.

My clients and I use Lypospheric Vitamin C and Mineralife Magnesium 15 minutes before bed. Mix the two nutrients in a few ounces of water and shoot it down like a shot of tequila. It tastes terrible so don’t let it sit in your mouth.

2. Sleep in a cool room: Research demonstrates that the optimal room temperature for sleep is between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature range lowers your core body temperature which helps you feel sleepier. It’s important to lower your temperature because an elevated core temperature is one physiological mechanism associated with the wake cycle. People with insomnia typically have a higher pre-bedtime core temperature.

3. Sleep in a pitch black room: The tiniest bit of light can have a negative effect on your sleep quality by reducing melatonin. There’s a small region of your brain within the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) that controls all aspects related to the sleep/wake cycle, including melatonin production.

When your body senses light, the SCN turns on physiological processes related to the wake cycle: it stops melatonin production, and increases cortisol and core body temperature. Since those three factors are related to the wake cycle, you obviously want to minimize them by keeping your bedroom pitch black.

Now, back to the original question: Should you manipulate the HFT parameters when you can’t get adequate sleep?

Yes, and this applies to any training program you’re on. When you feel rundown, you should decrease the intensity of all the sets. This could mean either lowering the training loads by 20-30% or stopping each body weight exercise an extra rep or two sooner than normal.

In extreme cases, it never hurts to take an extra day off. But in most instances, just going through the motions will actually help you sleep better that night since there’s a strong, positive correlation between exercise and sleep quality. This is true even when your workouts aren’t up to par.

And speaking of HFT, I recently did a 45-minute interview with Dr. Lonnie Lowery’s Iron Radio podcast where I discuss the mechanisms, observations, and science behind my HFT protocols.

You can listen to my interview at Iron Radio.

Stay Focused,
CW

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How to Train More Frequently

I recently received a question from a reader about training frequency. He had such great success building muscle on my High Frequency Training (HFT) program that it changed his views regarding the dogma between training frequency and recovery. While most traditional training programs have you train a muscle group or movement 2-3 times per week, HFT doubles or triples that amount.

How’s it possible to train so frequently without overwhelming your capacity to recover? Because the intensity of each workout changes over the weeks and months. Not every exercise of every workout is taken to maximum intensity and exhaustion. Since I released HFT last fall I’ve received a handful of emails from people who wondered why I didn’t go into greater detail about progression plans for the 12-week full-body program.

The reason? Because the periodization and progressions are built into the program. Some workouts are intentionally more demanding than others. And some exercises for, say, the upper back might be difficult on Monday but less intense on Tuesday. That’s how it should be. It’s this frequent shift in intensity and volume that allows your physiology to adapt to the high-frequency recovery demands over the course of 12 weeks.

To derive the best muscle-building results from my HFT program, all you have to do is follow the set/rep guidelines of each workout. The progression and periodization aspects automatically fall into place because they’re built into the program.

Now, back to my reader’s question regarding training frequency. He wanted to know how many times per week he could perform the rings dip. Before I answer that question, I should state here that my HFT program shouldn’t be changed. Don’t add extra work because the program already pushes the limits of frequency and recovery.

With that in mind, there’s not much limit to how frequently you can perform a movement if the loading and intensity are minimal. However, the frequency limitations become paramount when you train with heavy loads.

Powerlifters usually train with near-maximal loads for the squat, bench press and deadlift, and this requires days of recovery between workouts. That’s why maximal load training and HFT don’t mix. The combination would degrade your joints and overwhelm the CNS. Olympic lifters in the eastern bloc European countries have been known to work up to 10 heavy sessions per week, but it’s safe to postulate that their joints eventually suffer because of it.

Here are my guidelines for increasing the frequency of an exercise:

1. Don’t increase everything at once: it’s easy for a skinny guy to think that tripling the frequency of all his exercises will make him grow fast. Actually, it’ll just leading to overtraining and joint dysfunction. Focus on the body part or movement that needs the most help. You can’t squat heavy every day, but you can do the goblet squat with submaximal loads each day.

2. Limit the volume/intensity of the extra workouts: if you want to build upper back and arm mass with more frequent pull-up workouts, start with a volume/intensity that’s easy to manage. Initially, do less than you think you need for the extra workouts.

3. Choose exercises that allow unrestricted movement patterns: gymnastics rings allow for fully unrestricted movement, and that’s why they’re ideal for HFT upper body exercises. Just because convicts perform daily pull-ups from a fixed bar doesn’t mean it’s the ideal approach. They work with what they’re given and they probably have the joint dysfunctions to prove it. The best rings I’ve found for the money can be found from CFF at this link.

Here’s a simple exercise pairing to add more full-body mass:

Frequency: every other day for the first week.
Progression: add an extra day each week until you reach 7 days.
Loading/intensity: use a moderate load and stop 2 reps short of failure with each set.

1A Goblet squat for 5 reps
Rest 15-30 seconds
1B Pull-up from rings or hammer grip for 5 reps
Rest 15-30 seconds, repeat 1A-1B for six rounds (30 total reps of each)

For more detailed guidelines on how to use HFT to build muscle and movements, click the banner below…

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Stay Focused,
CW