Category Archives: Bodybuilding

It’s Not How Much You Lift; It’s How You Lift It

“It’s not how much you lift; it’s how much you look like you can lift.” — IFBB Pro Bob Cicherillo

I’m decently strong. I deadlifted 405 at age 22. I can do 20 full range chin-ups in my 30’s. With that said, I don’t really care. If someone were to ask me, “How much do you bench?”, I don’t really know. When I go through my workouts, I blindly select a weight, whatever feels right.

You see, for most people’s primary fitness goal (vanity, let’s just get that out of the way right now), lifting the weight should be a secondary goal. What you’re really doing is applying resistance to motor patterns. Muscles control skeletons, therefore, movement is created by muscles. The key is to feel the contraction of the muscles with just enough load applied, not arbitrarily lifting the weight by any means necessary.

When I workout in commercial gyms, most of the people on the machine before me use way too much weight. They are thinking about lifting heavy loads rather than contracting the muscles and it shows in their [lack of] development. So here’s my tip: focus on control and applying loads to intentional movements rather than lifting weight. The “how to” is a subject of hands-on training; but if you apply this to every set, every rep, you’ll be way ahead of the game. Your joints will be healthy. And the best part is, it doesn’t matter how strong you are; you’ll look strong.

No Such Thing as Natural Bodybuilding

I will preface this post by saying that regular weight training is one of the best things you can do for your health and physique. With that said, I’ve been to enough bodybuilding events including Olympia to know that there is no muscle industry without steroids. This applies to both men and women.

Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AAS) refers to a class of hormonal drugs that promote anabolic (tissue building) and androgenic (secondary male sexual characteristics) effects. Different drugs predominate in one area or the other, but all AAS promote both of these effects to some degree. Keep in mind that bodybuilders also take drugs such as Human Growth Hormone (HGH), Insulin, and Diuretics (the final water loss before a show to create that shrink-wrapped look).

There are “natural” organizations, but natural really means “clean”. Clean means you can pass a drug test. The physique industry is synonymous with steroids like Irish pubs are synonymous with booze. You can’t have one without the other. The smallest (size-wise) Mr. Olympia ever was Frank Zane. He won the Mr. Olympia at less than 200 lbs. but he was not natural. He might not be a steroid monster like the pros of today, but he was certainly juicing, at least with mild anabolics.

Frank Zane, 3-time Mr. Olympia, also known as 'The Chemist'.

Frank Zane, 3-time Mr. Olympia, also known as ‘The Chemist’.

Fat Free Mass Index (FFMI) — Maximum theoretical muscle mass

The Fat Free Mass Index is supposedly the most amount of lean body mass that a drug-free bodybuilder can attain. In my opinion, however, not all athletes with a high FFMI of 24 or 25 (fitness models, for instance), got there without chemical assistance.

Prohormones — Steroids without side effects?

Utter nonsense. If the medication is not working on the androgen receptor (increasing acne/oily skin, aggression, and accelerated genetic predisposition expression of male pattern baldness), it’s not promoting anabolic effects, either (muscle-building, bone density, decreased fat mass).

Creatine — Most effective muscle-building supplement

Creatine is not a hormone, but a fuel source for working muscles. Energy is created for short-burst muscle activity in the breakdown of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate = 3) to ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate = 2). Creatine donates a phosphate group (+1) making more fuel available for muscle cells. I’ve personally gained 9 – 10 lbs. of lean mass by loading creatine. It’s cheap–a six-month supply of high-quality creatine monohydrate (Creapure) is only 30 bucks. However, you should check with your doctor to see if creatine monohydrate supplementation is safe for you.

5 Exercises for Greater Glutes

I’m old school. I like brutal exercises to work the butt. If you go to cultures where sitting in chairs is not common, you’ll see perfectly sculpted asses. Here are five of my favorites for bringing up the rear:

1. Squat

The grandaddy. Make sure to work your technique properly. My favorite is the selectorized FreeMotion squat. It has swiveling shoulder pads that adjust to your build, so that you’re not balancing a bar across your back. I also like to use my palms to push up against the handles to distribute the load even further. It angles backward as you descend into a squat, just like your body does, activating the glutes and taking pressure off the knees. Most importantly, the selectorized version gets harder at the top to match your strength.

2. Uphill walking

Walking in general, and especially uphill walking, involves significant hip extension, which is a primary function of the gluteus maximus.

3. Stairs

Along the same lines, stairs are a really great progression from uphill walking. Take your time, because they are tough! Don’t feel like you always need to be indoors, either. Some hiking trails have man-made “steps” built into them. If your legs are long enough, skip every other step. You’ll get a greater range of motion, and hence, greater glute activation.

4. Hip extension machines

These allow you to load the hip muscles, sometimes without involving the knees (which tend to get overworked in leg workouts). My preference is the LifeFitness “Hip & Glute”. It allows the greatest range of motion and the counterweight is guarded so you don’t get hit by it (which has happened to me). You also benefit from standing on the non-working leg.

Another good one, if you can find it, is the Hammer Strength “Hip and Back” machine. You lie on your back and extend both hips at the same time, with a pad behind each knee. The only caveat is that with heavy loads, you’ll need to buckle the seat belt and really grip the handles to keep your butt from lifting off the bench.

5. Lateral movement

Now we’re getting into the gluteus medius and minimus. If you want your glutes to be well-rounded, lateral movements are necessary. Skip the seated abducion/adducion machines once in a while and go functional. Standing sideways movements integrate abduction/adduction, extension, and rotation. Have fun with this. You can do: sideways walking with resistance bands attached to your ankles, slideboards, cariocas, sports that involve lateral motion/change of direction, and even sideways uphill walking/stairclimbing.

Most important for a Brazilian-like butt, get lean! You need to be lean to bring out the muscle shape and give the illusion of a round butt with a tight waist. You don’t need to be anatomy chart lean, but you’ll never see an anatomy chart or a cadaver with a flat butt.

Long Live Nautilus

Hoist. Life Fitness. Cybex. Freemotion. Makers of quality fitness equipment, but all leave something to be desired compared to the original (and, in my opinion, best) brand of commercial strength equipment: Nautilus.

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The first Nautilus machines were built in 1970 by Arthur Jones. Revolutionary at the time, Nautilus machines offered several distinct advantage over free weights. Whereas barbells, dumbbells, and pulleys have a single direction of resistance (i.e. resistance moving in a straight line), Nautilus uses lever systems, or commonly bars rotating around axes (similar to how bones rotate around joints). With this rotary form of resistance, you get constant tension on the intended muscle group(s). Jones took this a step further with the spiral-like “cam” design (shaped like a nautilus shell), varying the resistance throughout the movement. In effect, you get a resistance profile that approximates the natural human strength curve. In real world terms, this means a smooth feel throughout the movement, a better pump, and accelerated results.

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An early Nautilus cam

Several generations later, Nautilus still offers some of the best commercial strength machines, in terms of biomechanics, comfort, durability, intuitive design, and even upholstery. Here is a highlight of a few of their equipment lines:

Nautilus ONE

The future of single station strength! Rather than using a pin to select from a stack of weights, Nautilus ONE machines use a dial. This is the most intuitive design I’ve ever seen and it requires virtually no maintenance. It’s adjustable even in 1 pound increments and  you’re able to “dial” the weight from the exercise position. The Nautilus ONE line consists of 16 different machines.

Nautilus ONE Abdominal Crunch -- "The Clamshell"

Nautilus ONE Abdominal Crunch — “The Clamshell”

Nautilus EVO

Previously called Nautilus Nitro, the EVO line is currently their flagship line, consisting of 25 different machines. The engineering and research that went into these machines demonstrate a commitment to biomechanical excellence above and beyond any selectorized equipment out there. If you have them at your gym, get on them and feel the difference.

EVO pec fly

EVO pec fly

Nautilus XPLOAD

Similar to the more well-known Hammer Strength (interestingly created by Arthur Jones’s son), the Nautilus XPLOAD is their plate-loaded line of strength equipment. The movements are very similar, but the plate-loaded machines offer a few advantages:

  • Zero friction, conducive to more explosive movements
  • Independent movement arms for a more balanced workload
  • Ability to use more weight

In my opinion, XPLOAD is superior to Hammer Strength, because the resistance gets harder as you contract, rather than “swinging” throughout the movement.

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XPLOAD Leg Press

I wish Nautilus machines were available in more gyms, so if you have them, take advantage of them. Or, if you’re a club owner, consider this objective review. They’re the most effective tools for many goals–among them, building muscle and preventing injury!

Here is their website: http://www.nautiluscommercial.com/

Why Your Calves Suck (and what to do about them)

Calves are one of the most genetically determined muscle groups but that’s no excuse to have sticks for legs. Well-shaped calves look dynamite in a pair of shorts and keep you from looking ridiculous with a giant upper body and ski poles down below.

In my experience, it’s not the lack of genetics; but improper training that keeps people from reaching their genetic potential.

Mistake #1 Going Too Fast

I see it all the time in the gym: people using the calf machines and bouncing up and down. Not only does this take the targeted muscle group out of the equation; it can be extremely dangerous. Go slow–you’re working with a relatively small range of motion, so take your time.

Mistake #2 Not Using Full Range of Motion (R.O.M.)

Along with ballistic motions, people often use short motions, not taking full advantage of the machine’s build. Go all the way up and down for a complete lengthening and contraction of your lower leg muscles. Only the ball of your foot should be on the machine’s footplate. It should cramp a little, and that’s good.

Mistake #3 Not Aligning Your Feet Properly

Biomechanically, feet pointed in our out don’t affect muscle recruitment. In fact, they take away from it. The ideal position is legs hip distance apart, and feet pointed straight.

Mistake #4 Not Training the Tibs

This one bugs me the most. Most fitness centers don’t equip their gyms with tibialis machines. The Tibialis Anterior are the muscles in front of your shin primarily responsible dorsiflexing your foot (think toes to shins). Uphill walking is a good natural exercise, but my favorite are one of these types of machines:

You insert the front of your foot under the pad with your heel resting on the foot plate. Then, you flex the foot upwards. Your shin muscles get a pump like they do from a good hike.

Alternatively, you can do a Reverse Calf Press on a leg press machine.

Use these tips to get your calves to grow, and get lean so you can see all your hard work.

2012 IFBB FLEX Pro Rundown

Lionel Beyeke (FLEX Pro winner) and Janaina Barral (FLEX Bikni Model winner)

This past weekend I attended the 2012 IFBB Flex Pro in beautiful Santa Monica, CA. This is the first pro show of the year, and there’s no better city to hold a professional bodybuilding competition than in the home of Muscle Beach.

The placings:

1. Lionel Beyeke from France won the men’s open division and qualifies for the Mr. Olympia in Las Vegas. He was the hype coming into the show, but many felt he shouldn’t have won given his [lack of] conditioning. This was especially apparent in his back poses, where he seemed to be holding a film of water. Nevertheless, his genetic structure (and small waist) was enough to earn him a victory.

2. Ben Pakulski was my favorite to win. Although not structurally superior to Beyeke, Ben “Pak-Man” Pakulski brought jaw-dropping mass, better conditioning (with hard glutes) and the most wow factor to the stage. Pak-Man is mostly known for his tremendous legs–when he would stand to the front or back, his quad sweep would seemingly spill outward. It’s an insane thing to see, not to mention his enormous calves. I also was very entertained by Ben’s poise on stage, and when I talked to him about it at the show, he said he’s “a very passionate person”.

3. Fouad “Hoss” Abiad took 3rd. He had balance, shape, symmetry, size, and conditioning, and ironically this hurt his placing because nothing really stood out about Fouad (to the judges, at least).

4. Sean “Flexatron” Rhoden was a crowd favorite. Although structurally superior, like Beyeke, he couldn’t quite hang with the big boys in terms of size. He was a little soft as well (by bodybuilding standards, “soft” can still be ripped), and had he been in better condition, he may have moved up a spot.

5. Eduardo Correa took 5th, probably the most disappointing decision of the evening, as many felt he should have won the show. He was the smallest of the top five competitors, but where he really shined above everyone else was his hard-as-nails conditioning. In bodybuilding terms, there’s ripped, and there’s shredded. Correa was inside out shredded. He brought freaky conditioning with the striated glutes, triceps, deeply set abs, and peeled apart quads. He was so shredded it looked like it hurt.

In the women’s divisions, Adela Garcia won Pro Fitness, and Janaina Barral won the Bikini Model Search. The fitness routines were especially very fun to watch. There was also plenty of eye candy on stage, as well as in attendance (which is true for most bodybuilding contests).

Phil Heath (current Mr. Olympia) was also in attendance. I’ve been to several Olympias and my goal one year is to fly out to the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, OH.

It was a great weekend and I got in a training session at Venice Gold’s Gym. Dexter Jackson was training legs with Charles Glass (2 weeks out from the Arnold Classic), as were a few other pros, such as Ben Pakulski. 50 Cent was also in the gym working out. You never know who you’ll run into at The Mecca.

‘I Am Bruce Lee’

I had the privilege of watching a limited engagement screening of the new documentary, “I Am Bruce Lee”. The film was very well done, inspiring, entertaining, moving, and showed a lot of clips/interviews that were never seen before. I encourage you to check it out when it’s released on Blu-ray. Everyone will get something out of it, whether you’re a Bruce Lee fan or not.

Rather than review the movie, I want to talk about how Bruce Lee inspires me as an individual and how I resonate with his philosophies.

Number one, Bruce Lee is definitely my body image role model. I could never get as big as Arnold, so I identified more closely with the sinewy build of Lee. I once said that my ideal is to be a beefed up version of Bruce, and the man had a mean lat spread (bodybuilders know what I’m talking about). It’s interesting to note that Bruce Lee was all about function over form, when it came to physique. That is, he made sure he carried just enough bodyweight to carry out the task [of kicking ass].

Bruce Lee was also a deeply knowledgeable individual, and shunned tradition for tradition’s sake. He embraced individuality versus being a follower, which I can definitely relate to. I think in order to evolve as a human being, you have to transcend those before you. This is never comfortable or socially acceptable, so Bruce Lee was always up against strong adversity in terms of his philosophies. However, all great minds once had their ideas rejected.

Finally, Bruce Lee had a powerful persona. I kind of wonder what it would have been like to meet him, as he seemed very intimidating. At the same time, he had a charm and charisma about him, and didn’t boast, which is why he has been described as a “coiled up cobra”.

Bruce Lee definitely had a strong impact on people around the world, not only martial arts. As a physical culturist, he’s truly a legend. 70 years since his birth, I’m carrying on his legacy in the art of expressing the human body.