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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CW

The Benefits of Sandbag Training

Adding sandbag exercises to your current training program is one of the best things you can do. Since a sandbag doesn’t have a fixed, rigid shape like a barbell or dumbbell does, the neural activation and muscle recruitment with sandbag exercises are superior for building athleticism and motor control.

If you compare the difference between pressing two 50-pound dumbbells overhead to pressing two 50-pound sandbags overhead, you’ll know what I mean.

In the 1990’s, Swiss ball and Bosu ball exercises became the rage. And like any trend that gains traction, trainers sought to one-up each other by coming up some inane exercises such as squats while balancing on a Swiss ball.

Another “gem” from that era was a biceps curl while standing on a Bosu ball. Sure, the Bosu ball made the exercise exponentially more difficult, but it certainly didn’t make the biceps work any harder. In fact, the biceps were performing less work because the load of the movement had to significantly decrease to meet the balance demands. In other words, this exercise made the ankles and hips work harder at the expense of the biceps.

I embrace the concept of instability training. However, the instability should come from the load you’re lifting – not the surface you’re standing on. Sandbags are the perfect unstable loading mechanism because the muscles you’re targeting have to work harder. Sandbags also create a greater challenge to your core muscles, and that’s something we can all benefit from.

Compared to rigid objects, sandbags recruit more motor units, build more athleticism, and increase the metabolic demand of any movement.

When it comes to sandbag training, Josh Henkin is top dog. He’s been a harbinger in teaching athletes and non-athletes how to implement sandbag training into their programs.

I like all the exercise he teaches, but one in particular is the shoveling exercise. This is a terrific exercise that challenges a movement pattern that typically isn’t produced in the gym with traditional exercises.

With regard to the video above, I’ll often modify the shoveling move and add a clean/overhead press into the mix each time my client rotates back to the center.

Another one of my favorite sandbag exercises is the get-up – an exercise that’s more challenging than it looks if the sandbag is heavy enough. I’ll typically have my athletes do the sandbag get-up at the end of the workout to create a large metabolic demand while building athleticism.

Sandbags can certainly be used as a stand-alone workout. However, I recommend you start by spending 10-15 minutes at the end of your current workouts performing a few sandbag exercises that interest you. That way, you can easily add sandbag training to any of my other programs without changing a thing.

I have all of Josh’s sandbags, and they’re made with the strongest, most resilient materials you’ll find. They come in a few different sizes with the “burly” version being the largest. I’ll tell you that his burly sandbag is a monster. It can hold up to 160 pounds of sand and it’ll be the heaviest 160 pounds you’ve ever felt. Just trying to bearhug and squat with the burly bag is a challenge to my biggest, strongest athletes.

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My advice is to incorporate a few sandbag exercises into your current program. Spend 10-15 minutes at the end of your workout and minimize your rest periods to create a large metabolic demand. If you do, you’ll get leaner, stronger, and more athletic.

Here’s a sample 10-minute sandbag workout that you can add to the end of three of your workouts each week.

1A Shoveling for 5 reps to each side (10 reps total)
Rest 10-15 seconds
1B Get-up for 6 alternating reps with each leg forward (3 reps per leg)
Rest 10-15 seconds, repeat 1A-1B for 10 minutes


Get The Best Core Workout with The Ultimate Sandbag!

Stay Focused,
CW

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Fasting Made Simple

blog fastingFasting is more popular than ever, and for good reason. You can experience a myriad of health and body composition benefits by avoiding food for 16 hours or more. In fact, I consider a one-day fast each week to be the most beneficial nutritional strategy for my clients.

I’ve found that a one-day fast reduces inflammation better than anything else. And with less inflammation you get better fat loss, recovery, and energy. Furthermore, I believe that lowering inflammation and taking stress off the gastrointestinal (GI) tract helps your body better assimilate amino acids when you return to eating. This means your body is more apt to build muscle after a fast.

Since we all want to have a leaner midsection and more energy, those are two of the benefits mentioned most often. However, there’s another benefit of fasting that’s discussed less frequently: mental toughness.

The first time you make your body spend a day without food, it sucks. But over time, that one-day fast will get easier and you’ll actually look forward to it – especially after an indulgence. I’m fasting as I write this because I had too many wings, nachos, and Miller High Life beers while watching the bowl games yesterday.

Once you realize that you’re not a slave to food, and once you experience the calm, focused energy you get after 24 hours without food, it’ll improve your psyche. And that extra mental toughness will carry over into all other aspects of your life because you’ll have heightened willpower.

Nothing builds mettle like fasting does.

Last June I spoke at the Perform Better summit in Providence, RI. My buddy Dr. John Berardi spoke there, too. After our presentations we hung out and discussed training and nutrition. He mentioned that one of the most beneficial changes he made to his athlete’s nutrition programs was a one-day fast.

I was already sold on the benefits of fasting since I’ve been experimenting with Ori’s Warrior Diet for the past few years. But I never did a full day of fasting, and neither did my clients. But Berardi’s advice ranks high in my book so I started incorporating a one-day fast into all my client’s programs, and my nutrition plan as well.

It was the best nutritional change I ever made. The morning after a full day of fasting you’ll have a tighter, leaner midsection and your mind will be calm and focused. Your first meal that day will taste and sit in your gut better than ever.

One-Day Fast Details

1. If you’re on medication, or have health issues, or are unsure if a full-day fast is for you, be sure to check with your doctor first.

2. As soon as you wake up squeeze one-half of a fresh lemon into 16 ounces of water and drink. The lemon juice helps the liver deal with the detoxification process. Add a few pinches of cayenne pepper to the drink to help control hunger and aid the detoxifying effect, if you can handle the taste.

3. Drink 0.5 ounce of water per pound of body weight throughout the day. So a 180-pound person needs 90 ounces of water from morning until bedtime. You can add lemon and cayenne pepper to the water throughout the day.

4. Drink unsweetened black, green or white tea or black coffee if you need an energy boost. The tip I give my clients is to hold off on any caffeinated beverages as far into the day as possible. If you reach a point where your energy is very low, use the tea or coffee to pull you out of it. This doesn’t contribute to the water total in step 3.

5. If you’re worried about muscle loss, take 3-5 grams of branched chain amino acid (BCAA) pills 2-3 times spread throughout the day. However, I don’t think it’s necessary. I have 250-pound athletes do the one-day fast without BCAAs and there’s no problem with muscle loss, especially once their glycogen is restored the next day.

6. Before bed take magnesium and vitamin C. The magnesium will calm your nervous system and the vitamin C will lower cortisol. This combination makes it easier to fall asleep. I use four droppers of liquid magnesium from Mineralife mixed with one packet of Lypo-Spheric Vitamin C in a few ounces of water. Chug the concoction down like a shot because it tastes terrible if you let it sit in your mouth.

7. Finally, do not perform any type of strenuous exercise on this day of fasting. A brisk walk is a good idea, but weight training is out of the question. Let your muscles, nerves, and organs recover without any added stress of training.

With this one-day fast you’ll spend around 36 hours without food when you consider the sleeping hours the night before, and after, the fast. In other words, this isn’t a 24-hour fast: it’s a one-day fast that leads to around 36 hours without food.

This strategy works with any style of eating, whether or not an intermittent fast is already part of your plan. You could be on a Warrior-style plan where you have an intermittent fast (IF) for 16-20 hours every other day of the week. When this is the case I recommend you have two scoops of whey the morning after your full day of fasting to break the fast and stimulate protein synthesis.

Make 2013 be the year that you made a one-day fast part of your weekly routine. You’ll be leaner, healthier, and mentally stronger because of it.

Stay Focused,
CW

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One of My Favorite Glute Builders

The fastest, strongest, and most powerful athletes in the world have one thing in common: strong glutes. It doesn’t matter how much you can bench press, or if you can knock off pull-ups with a 70-pound kettlebell hanging from your waist. The highest levels of athletic prowess necessitate super strong glutes.

That’s why the deadlift, kettlebell swing, and lunge variations should be programmed into any training plan. However, sometimes those exercises aren’t enough. There are plenty of guys out there who have a big squat but relatively weak glutes. Their nervous system created a motor pattern that would emphasis the low back and hamstrings to make up for the weakness. This glute weakness sets them up for a low back or hamstring injury while limiting their ultimate strength and development.

Glute aficionado, Bret Contreras, has probably contributed to glute training more than anyone else. He’s spent plenty of time in the lab measuring muscle activity in every glute exercise you can imagine. Contreras found that the hip thrust produces some the highest level of muscle activation of all the movements he tested.

The hip thrust with a barbell is a fantastic exercise that will strengthen and develop the glutes. If you have the right equipment, and if you do the exercise correctly, it’s one of the best glute builders out there.

However, some people don’t have access to a barbell and plenty of 45-pound plates. Other people find that the exercise is too uncomfortable as the huge load presses into their pelvic bone – even when using thick padding. When that’s the case, one of my favorite alternatives is the glute bridge performed against a strong resistance band.

Compared to the barbell hip thrust, there are a few advantages of the glute bridge with a resistance band. First, it’s more comfortable to perform since there’s less compression force against the pelvic bone. Second, the required equipment is more economical. A pair of heavy dumbbells and a few strong resistance bands is cheaper than buying a full Olympic barbell set, and it takes up less space. If you’re a personal trainer who goes to a client’s home, you can easily throw everything you need into the back of your car.

The barbell hip thrust and glute bridge with a resistance band are both terrific exercises. It’s just a matter of which exercise suits your available equipment and comfort level.

I sent the following video to Bret Contreras awhile back to get his feedback and he gave the exercise “two thumbs up.” My clients thrive on this exercise, so give it a try.

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CW

How the Frequency Progression Works

Here’s one truism we can all agree on: your body doesn’t want to build muscle unless it’s absolutely necessary. A muscle must be challenged to work harder so your physiology has no choice but to manufacture new muscle tissue to adapt to the demand.

Exercise variety is important and necessary to offset overuse injuries, but merely switching from a standing barbell curl to a dumbbell hammer curl won’t do anything to spark new growth in your biceps. This is true for training any muscle group.

You might get sore when you switch to a new exercise, but that’s mainly because the muscle is being challenged in a different way: it doesn’t mean the muscle has to grow to meet the demand. A better strategy is to find a free weight or body weight exercise that you like, and increase the frequency of training that movement over the course of 4-6 weeks.

Frequency Progression

What it’s best for: muscle growth.

Explanation: we all know that increasing the load of a movement is great for building strength, and some muscle growth will follow. However, I’ve found that the fastest growth occurs when you significantly increase the weekly training volume for that muscle group.

Let’s take two guys (Jim and Tim) that perform the pull-up, as an example. Jim weighs 180 pounds and does the pull-up twice per week for 6×4 with an extra 30 pounds of weight attached to a chin/dip belt. You can calculate his weekly training volume with this equation: load x total reps = volume. Since his load is 210 pounds and his total reps are 48, his weekly volume is 10,080.

He’s been feeling pretty strong so the following week he adds 10 more pounds to the chin/dip belt. Now his weekly training volume for the pull-up is 10,560 (220 pounds x 48 reps).

In other words, Jim’s weekly training volume increased 5%.

Tim weighs 210 pounds and has been doing a body weight pull-up for 6×4 twice per week. Therefore, his weekly volume was the same as Jim’s first week: 10,080. Tim has been feeling strong too, but instead of adding an extra 10 pounds to a chin/dip belt he decides to add an extra pull-up workout, thus increasing his training frequency to three times per week. So if we plug in the numbers for Tim’s second week we get a volume of 15,120 (210 pounds x 72 reps).

In other words, by simply adding one extra body weight pull-up workout Tim increased his training volume by 50%!

So which method do you think would send a stronger signal for new muscle growth: a 5% increase in weekly volume or a 50% increase? Yep, you know the answer.

The irony is that it’s easier to add an extra pull-up workout than it is to strain like hell with more load to achieve the same 6×4 workout.

Now, I must state that for maximal strength gains you must focus on adding load to your workouts. But when fast muscle growth is the goal it makes perfect sense to increase the frequency for that movement because it results in a significantly higher weekly volume.

Exceptions to the frequency progression are a barbell squat, bench press and deadlift. However, use the frequency progression for any upper body lift or single-leg exercise and you will build new muscle more quickly.

How to use it: add one extra workout per week for the lagging body part. Perform around 25 total reps with a load that allows 6-8 reps per set. Keep adding one extra workout for that movement for 4-6 weeks straight.

For a complete system that incorporates the muscle-building power of high frequency training (HFT), click the banner below:

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CW