Best Back Workouts for Women (updated July 2019)

Back Workouts for Women

Why Train your Back?

In order to get that sculpted body you’ve always wanted, training the muscles in your back is essential. Working out all sections of the back, primarily the latissimus dorsi, is a key element to widening your upper body. This gives your waist a narrower appearance and also helps to round your shoulders.

So what are the best exercises for training back? Because the back is such a large muscle group — it travels from the shoulder blades and sculpts downward to the tailbone — hitting these muscles with a lot of power and tension is crucial. Muscle needs to break and reform in order to grow, and since the back typically holds a lot of weight it needs even more weight applied to it to change it.

Using free weights are the best way to target any muscle group because it mimics typical, everyday movement. Training your back is no different. Using hand-held dumbbells and barbells are a key way to target your back. However, using some machines, such as a seated cable row or lateral pulldown, or iso-lateral strength machines, are prime elements in sculpting your back muscles.

Best Latissimus Dorsi (Lat) Exercises

Lateral Pulldown

image @ www.bodybuilding.com

This movement is best for beginners because it is a machine-based exercise. However, the amount of force that can be applied to the muscle is intense enough to sculpt the back to give that “winged” appearance and silhouette your waist.

This exercise can also be done with a single arm by using a handle attachment on the machine, which can more directly target any imbalances on the right versus left sides.

To perform this exercise:

  • Adjust the weight by moving the pin into the appropriate weight.
  • Hold the handles at either end with your thumbs facing upwards.
  • Keeping your chest up and your shoulder blades down and back, pull the bar
    down to the tip of your chest — the bar should come within an inch of your
    chest but not necessarily touch it.
  • Keep pressure on the bar as you let it up so that you don’t release the tension
    on the lats.
  • Do not let the bar back into the starting position because it will release the
    pressure on the muscle. Instead, keep your arms bent at at least fifteen
    degrees and begin the next repetition.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 8-10 repetitions.

Barbell Row

image @ www.seannal.com

Any form of row is a great back builder because the bar needs to fight gravity. Any exercise that needs to fight gravity will add more tension to the muscle, which will tear more muscle fibers. Using a barbell is also a great tool because, like a dumbbell, it more closely resembles everyday movement and is more natural to the body.

This movement can also be done with an EZ Bar with the same motions. However, instead of placing it back on a spotter rack, keep your hold on the bar and continue through the full set (as shown above).

To perform this exercise:

  • Secure the spotter racks on either side of the squat rack at knee-height.
  • Load the barbell on either side with an appropriate weight — make sure it’s
    even on either side and that the clips are securely on!
  • Grip the bar with either a pronated (fingers facing downwards) or supinated
    (fingers facing upwards) grip.

    • a pronated grip will better target the lats and the elbows should be
      pointed outward.
    • a supinated grip will better target the rear delts, which are located
      over the shoulder blades, and the elbows should be pointed
      downward and close to the body.
  • Pull the bar from the spotter racks and up toward the chest while squeezing
    the back. Imagine that you’re trying to meet your elbows behind your back as
    you complete the movement.

    • The bar should meet at the lower chest.
  • Slowly release the bar back down to the starting position by placing it on the
    spotter rack.

    • This stopping motion allows the lats to be activated at the beginning
      of each repetition.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 6-10 repetitions.

Iso-Lateral Row

image @ www.bodybuilding.com

This is another machine-based exercise, but the difference lies in the weight distribution. Instead of a weight rack you must load plates onto the machine, which can increase the tension applied to the muscle. Like any other machine-based back exercise, though, it can be performed with a single-arm to fix muscular imbalances.

To perform this exercise:

  • Load the machine on either side with an appropriate weight and fix the seat
    so that the cushion comes in line with your entire chest.
  • Hold the handles at either side with a pronated grip.
  • Tense your lats, keep your chest up, and keep your shoulder blades down and
    back as you pull the handles straight back. Again, imagine like you’re trying to
    make your elbows touch behind you as you complete the repetition.
  • Slowly release the handles forward so to not lose the tension on the muscle.
  • At the top of the movement, keep the arms bent to keep the muscle activated
    and begin the next repetition.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 8-10 repetitions.

Seated Cable Rows

image @ www.zerostepsback.files.wordpress.com

Any variation of rows are a great way to directly target the back. It also has several variations and can be performed on several different machines. One of the easier movements can be performed on the low row machine while gripping either a handle attachment, a bar attachment, or a wide-handled bar attachment. Each attachment will target the back in a different place, but all have the same general form.

*A handle attachment will more closely target the rear delts and inner lats, a wide-handled bar attachment will target the outer sweep of the lats, and a bar attachment can target the outer lats with a pronated grip and the inner lats and rear delts with a supinated grip.

This exercise can also be performed with one hand to directly target muscular imbalances.

To perform this exercise:

  • Sit on the bench with your feet on the pads after setting the weight with the
    pin.
  • Grip the attachment with both hands with your thumbs facing upward and
    your hands in the same place on either side.
  • While bracing your feet against the pads, keeping your chest up, and your
    shoulder blades down and back, pull the attachment toward your lower chest.

    • Keep the attachment within an inch of your chest.
  • Release the attachment slowly to keep the tension on the muscle; at the end of
    the movement, your arms should remain at about a forty-five degree angle to
    withhold muscular tension.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions.

Dumbbell Pullovers

image @ www.bodybuilding.com

This is a relatively simple movement, but also a great back finisher because it demands intense pulling on the lats. The key to this movement is to choose a weight that is easy enough to move and hold without awkwardly rotating your shoulder, while also holding enough tension on the muscle to tear the fibers.

To perform this exercise:

  • Set yourself up on a bench with your shoulder blades resting on the bench
    and your feet far enough away to create a flat plank.

    • This movement can also be done by lying your entire body on a
      bench and hanging your arms off the end, but it takes a significant
      amount of tension off of the core.
  • Start with your hands cupping the dumbbell over your chest, body up in a
    plank position.
  • Bring the dumbbell back over your head while keeping your arms bent at
    roughly a forty-five degree angle to prevent unwanted tension on the
    shoulder.
  • Draw the dumbbell back until it’s about 2-3 inches from the floor behind you
    (this gives a great pull on the lats).
  • Brace your lats and pull the dumbbell back to the starting position. Keep your
    arms bent the whole time.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 12-15 repetitions.

Remember to Train Heavy!

What’s most important, and most intimidating, to women is the aspect of lifting heavy weights. Moving heavy weight is nothing to fear! The female body does not have enough testosterone to have that “bulky” look of a male who trains at the same intensity. Instead, training your muscles with heavy weight can: increase your metabolism, build muscle mass, reduce body fat, and give you those curves you’ve been chasing after.

While these back exercises can be effective while training with a lighter weight, the impact will not be the same. For maximum results, choose a weight that exhausts you by the sixth or seventh repetition for a set of 8-10. This ensures that the muscle is tired, torn, and able to be repaired.

The Mechanics of the Bench Press (updated July 2019)

What is a Bench Press?

A bench press is probably one of the mot famous exercises among meatheads. At any given point, you will see someone with an overdeveloped chest loading a barbell with heavy plates. If you continue watching, you will see this fabulous meathead perform the bench press for far too many sets at hypertrophy reps, just to prove a point. But he’s not wrong: the bench press may be one of the best exercises for developing your pectoralis major.

So how do you perform a bench press? Ultimately, it’s pretty straightforward. You un-rack the barbell, lower it, and then press it back up. However, most people perform this simple exercise wrong.

So let’s talk about how not to perform it wrong so that you can outshine those meatheads in the gym.

The Set-Up of a Bench Press

The Arch

If you’ve seen a photograph of a professional powerlifter benching such as their back is arched. And no, it will not hurt them. Arching your back is one of the key components of a bench press, and the lack of it is why most people perform it incorrectly. If you want to look like Bradley Martyn, read this full article below.

For starters, it does look painful.

image @ www.zelsh.com

Some individual’s arch is so pronounced that they appear to be bending in half. However, the thoracic spine can naturally bend that much in some people. Really, the degree of your arch is fully dependent on your individual back mobility. However, no matter how immobile your back is, it should still be arched.

Arching your back is a key component of the bench press for a few reasons:

  1. It emphasizes the chest. Anytime you set up for a chest exercise, your chest should pop out. This allows the arms to have a larger range of motion to really target the chest. Pressure applied to the upper body actually travels through the back first, so stopping without moving through the full range of motion will halt the pressure of the exercise. And no one wants to bench for rear delts.
  2. It locks the shoulders in place. Along with emphasizing the chest, arching your back allows your entire scapula (or the shoulder blade) to lay on the bench. Keeping your shoulders locked in place will prevent your upper body from moving around during the lift. This is paramount because you want the pressure to remain above your chest at all times to prevent injury (and working the anterior deltoids instead of the pectoralis major).
  3. It retracts the scapula. When benching, you don’t normally think of your scapula at all. In actuality, the pressure comes from the scapula. Retracting your scapula before each set also helps to lock everything in place so that the bar comes down to the sternum, which is what you want. Keeping the bar in line with the sternum allows for maximum chest activation.

So please, ignore those meatheads in the gym who say that you should not be arching, because you should be. Your bench will improve tenfold and your chance of injury will quickly diminish.

You can also practice retracting your scapula while standing. Hold a dowel in front of your body, hands a little wider than shoulder width. Roll your shoulders down and press your chest forward, retracting your scapula. You should feel immense pressure from your upper back. Then bring the dowel close to your sternum. Remember to pull through your back, though. It’s weird, but you’ll feel it in your chest. I promise!

Your Feet

image @ www.i.ytimg.com

Again, no one really pays attention to their feet when benching. However, feet placement can make or break a good bench. Keeping your feet flat on the floor wherever they may can actually set you up for disaster, and here’s why.

Much like you don’t want your shoulders to move when benching, you want your hips to be immobile, too. However, when your feet are haphazardly placed they will not support the hips. The heavier the load, the more the hips will want to move. This results in instability near the chest (even if the shoulders are braced against the bench). It may lead to injury. It’ll definitely lead to insufficient gains.

The trick with your feet is to bring them as close to the upper body as possible. When setting up, think of placing your feet as close to your head as possible. You will go up on your toes. You will feel ridiculous. However, by doing this you are locking your hips into place. Your entire body is rigid, save for your arms. Now, you can bench without fear of dropping the weight or moving around too much on the bench.

Your Hands

image @ www.musclemag.com

This is dependent on the person and what their goals are. If you are training more for inner chest and triceps, then keep your hands closer than shoulder width. This allows for a smaller range of motion and keeps your triceps locked in place. The pressure of the bench will target these muscle groups specifically. However, don’t be flashy: keep the weight much lower so that you can handle it without injury.

If your goals are to develop your outer chest, keep the hands a little wider than shoulder width. This ensures a fuller range of motion so that the entire muscle is firing. It will still target the triceps and inner chest but more indirectly. For this stance, you can up the weight to something heavier but still just as manageable.

However, both of these variations should still have the same set-up. Keep your shoulders down and locked and your feet up toward your midsection so that your entire body remains immobile. This ensures the best bench!

The Mechanics of the Bench Press

image @ www.worldsportsculture.com

Great, now you know how to set up for a bench press. In actuality, setting up is the hard part. It’s also the part where most people fail. Often times, individuals will keep their shoulders splayed on the bench and their feet placed wherever, which is a calling card for disaster. While they may be making some strength gains, they are not maximizing their efforts. They’re also more prone to injury. So don’t be that guy. Now you know better!

So let’s actually perform the exercise.

  1. Set up for as long as you need. (Personally, I wait for the drop in a song to get pumped up enough to tough out a couple reps.) Just make sure your hands are equidistant on the bar to avoid imbalances.
  2. When you’re ready, take a deep breath in.
    1. Toying with your breath is actually a great muscular indicator. It signals to the muscle that it’s time to work because it’ll tense up due to restricted air flow. Releasing your breath allows the muscle to relax; use it on the eccentric movement.
  3. Unrack the barbell (or have a spotter un-rack it for you if you’re going heavier) and slowly lower down. The bar should either touch or come within an inch of the sternum.
  4. Exhale and press the barbell back up until your arms are fully extended.
  5. Continue in this fashion until you feel your arms about to give out.
    1. Make sure that you don’t pause for too long in between reps. This will tire out the muscles without them doing any actual work.
  6. Re-rack the weight.

And there you have it, the mechanics of a bench press. The actual movement is basic and straightforward, which is why it attracts so many meatheads. It doesn’t have as many difficulties as a squat, and much less than a deadlift. It also recruits a significant amount of muscle fibers from the upper body — the pectoralis major and minor, the triceps, the biceps, and the upper back — which shuttles it into the “compound movements” category.

But now you know better. You know that a bench press also requires a significant amount of time setting up — sometimes longer than the press itself. But when done correctly, the bench press is one of the best movements for overall chest development. So if strength gains are in your future, definitely add the bench press. You will not be disappointed.

Clean Eating V. Macronutrient Tracking (IIFYM) (updated July 2019)

What is “Clean Eating”?

image @ www.a2-images.myspacecdn.com

If you’ve heard someone on a diet speak about the food they eat, they’ve probably called their meals “clean”. Or, rather, they turn down food choices that they deem “unclean”. These “unclean” food choices are typically calorie dense foods, such as sweets and salty snacks; sugary, calorie dense beverages; white flour carbohydrates; alcohol, including wine, beer, and spirits; and fried foods, among others.

“Clean” foods, then, normally refers to wholesome, nutrient-dense foods. These include, but are not necessarily limited to: lean meats, such as chicken, turkey, and center-cut pork chops; white fishes, such as tilapia and cod; olive oil; fruits and vegetables; whole grain carbohydrates; sweet potatoes; “organic” nut butters; reduced fat beverages and meal replacements; and water.

However, the only way any of these “unclean” foods would become “unclean” is if they fell into a pile of dirt. Likewise, these “clean” foods would only be “clean” if you happened to wash them first.

Then Why Clean Eating?

Foods that are typically labeled as “clean” are, yes, more nutrient dense. Simply put, this means that they contain more micronutrients — vitamins and minerals — per gram than do their “unclean” counterparts.

Therefore, your diet should contain a majority of these “clean” foods. Per day, it is just as essential to obtain micronutrients, water, and adequate fiber as it is to exercise and get plenty of sleep per night. However, what most “clean” eaters will fail to realize is that you can overeat on “clean” foods. And, whether “clean” or “unclean”, overeating will lead to weight gain.

Fat Loss is Energy in Versus Energy Out

image @ www.abuelostaqueria.com

An example of a “clean” meal could be as follows: a kale and spinach salad, topped with cherry tomatoes, cucumber, shredded carrots, grilled chicken, avocado, red onion, reduced fat cheese, and with an olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette on the side. Or, how about “healthified” tacos with a flax-ground flour tortilla, white cod, greek yogurt (to replace the sour cream), avocado, lettuce, chopped tomato, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime?

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

But what each individual needs to realize is that while these foods are heavily nutrient dense, having three of those white fish tacos can set you back nearly 30 grams of fat for one meal. For a runner or someone who performs long-distance sports daily, that’s no problem. But if you are a stay at home mother training through exercise DVDs on her living room while the kids are napping, this one meal can definitely help to increase fat gain.

What’s even worse is that some of these meals can actually contain more calories than “unclean” foods. Not to mention, most reduced fat products contain a slew of chemicals to mask the lack of fat and sugar. While most of these products have been scientifically tested, not all of them have. Plus, a good amount of them have been proven to have adverse effects both inside and outside the body. In that case, it’s better to just eat the fat.

What is Tracking Macronutrients?

image @ www.nancyscraving.com

Macronutrients are the protein, carbohydrates, and fats required for your body’s internal processes. These numbers, calculated in grams, are how many of each macromolecule your body should be ingesting per day for maximum efficiency.

Every type of food contains macronutrients. So, both “clean” and “unclean” foods contain protein, carbohydrates, and fat. All types of foods, therefore, can be “tracked” — or the proportion of their macronutrients calculated and accounted for — to fit your day’s daily quota.

With tracking macronutrients, no food is off limits. Instead, an individual can figure out the amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fat in each type of food and have whatever amount that can “fit” into their daily allotted macros. In this way, you can literally have your cake and eat it, too.

IIFYM – If It Fits Your Macros

However, let’s not get carried away. Just like how eating three flax-ground flour tortilla fish tacos can quickly add up to overeating, so too can the power of macronutrients. As of late, the fad for “macro trackers” has been to fit as much “unhealthy” food into their diet as they can, just because they can. Eating nothing but protein powders, Pop-Tarts, and string cheese can have its adverse effects, though, such as lowering nutrient levels in vitro, overall sluggishness, and a decrease in performance. While fun foods are definitely fun, they should not take up the bulk of your diet just because they “fit”.

So What Do I Do?

Ideally, a combination of both “clean” foods and tracking macronutrients is the gateway to success. Ingesting “clean” foods such as whole grains, lean meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, oils, and less processed food will strengthen the body and give it the fuel it needs in order to perform its best. However, “unclean” foods, in moderation, can help with quick pre- and post-workout fuel, mental sanity, and less stress when socializing.

Therefore, the term required for everyday living is “balance.” You need a balance between the wholesome and nutrient-dense foods as well as the more processed, “good for your soul” foods. Each type of food has its place, its worth, and its way into your diet. However, while keeping track of your macronutrients, no food (or an entire food group) has to be off limits. Instead, it becomes much easier to understand the nutritional value of food and plan when you choose to eat it accordingly.

image @ www.cdn.muscleandstrength.com

Myofascial Release (updated July 2019)

Myofascial Release

What is Myofascial Release?

A Word on Muscle Fibers & Fascia

If you train regularly, then your muscles are more than likely sore. They’re tight, tense, and hard to maneuver a few days after a workout. Sometimes, it feels like the muscle is so tight that it cannot move at all.

This is because your muscle fibers tense up after exercise due to constant muscle contracting and relaxing. After all, the whole purpose of the intense exercise is to contract these fibers in the hope that they tear. But if the muscle fibers are just short of tearing, then they just become tense. And if the pressure is not released, they remain tense.

The layer above the muscle fibers becomes tense, too. This layer is called the fascia. It is a thin, fibrous layer that covers every muscle and organ in the body in one continuous sheet. It’s very densely woven and moves with the muscles, making sure that they are not injured during activity. Most times, this fascia layer is relaxed and can move without any restrictions. However, when stressors are added to the body, the fascia tenses up and becomes more immobile. These stressors can include physical trauma, emotional stress, inflammation, and scarring of the muscle (source linked here).

So tense fascia cannot move as easily. It limits the body’s mobility. And since the fascia covers all the organs and muscles in the body, tight fascia means limited muscular mobility. This can make training difficult, even to the most experienced lifter. It also becomes dangerous. If you try to move too tense of a muscle that has limited mobility, it is more prone to injury. It’s easier to tear. And while most times the goal is to tear muscle fibers, this tearing is negative. It limits athletic capacity instead of advancing it.

So What’s Myofascial Release?

Myofascial Release is a hands-on technique meant to release the pressure on the fascia. This allows it to once again have full mobility. And this full mobility means the muscles can move more freely, too.

Think of a massage. The masseuse drives his or her thumbs into your tense muscles. You feel pain, but as he moves his hands to another area of your body that area feels lighter. There are no more knots in the muscle. When you roll your shoulder, you can feel the bones moving under the skin. Suddenly, the muscle is free!

This is an example of myofascial release. With concentrated effort, the masseuse is applying pressure to the tense fascia. This direct pressure will release the tightened fascia because it moves and separates underneath the directly applied pressure (source linked here).

Benefits of Myofascial Release

If you’ve ever had tight muscles, then you know how debilitating it can be. Pressure on your low back makes it hard to bend over. Tight hamstrings make walking up and down stairs nightmarish. And tense shoulders makes writing, cooking, or anything hands-on painful.

Myofascial Release can solve many bodily problems. Some of them you probably didn’t even know were caused by tense fascia! But here are a few examples of what Myofascial Release can help with:

  1. Back Pain. Release that tense lower back by applying pressure right around the hips and the lower lumbar region.
  2. Bladder Problems. Unless your bladder issues are medically linked, it could be the tightness of the bladder and the surrounding organs making you need to pee. Releasing the pressure on the pelvic floor can return your bladder to normal functions.
  3. Bulging Spinal Discs. Bulging spinal discs are vertebra that has repeatedly been exposed to heavy lifting and trauma. The added pressure around any spinal area can shift a disc out of place and cause excessive pain, back tightness, and soreness. However, releasing the tension from the area via Myofascial Release can help to relieve symptoms and prevent future injuries.
  4. Carpal Tunnel. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a tightness in the forearms, wrists, and chest. It causes numbness in the hands and wrists and makes it difficult to type or write. Releasing the tension on the upper back, chest, and arms allow free movement of the fascia and prevent tightness.
  5. Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is chronic pain associated with fatigue, problems sleeping, and touch sensitivity. However, careful application of Myofascial Release to the infected areas can help to release this tension.

This list is just a few examples of how Myofascial Release can aid in mobility and muscle soreness. For the full list, visit the link here.

Examples of Myofascial Release

Massage

As mentioned earlier, massages are a great way to release fascial tension. They’re also the most direct because pressure can be applied right to the infected area. Masseuses and massage therapists are trained to release the muscular and fascial tension from inflicted areas and can do so in either thirty or sixty minute.

There are also different degrees of massages. Deep tissue massages are more inclined toward myofascial release, while general massages tend more towards muscle spindle release. However, both are excellent tactics for relieving muscular tension. They’re also generally cost effective and worth the investment.

Foam Rolling

image @ www.sits-pod21.demandware.net

If you frequent any gym, they more than likely have a foam roller. Foam rollers are hard foam tubes, either 12″, 18″, or 24″ long. Essentially, foam rollers are used as a massage to release fascial tension of large muscle groups.

Foam rolling is meant to be done independently, which is why it is so popular among gyms. An individual simply lays the tense area over the foam roller and moves back and forth, rolling the tight muscle along the foam. By applying enough gravitational pressure, the fascia will start to move. However, foam rolling first attacks the muscle spindles and releases the tension from them. Consistent foam rolling will eventually release fascial tension by shifting it back to its original location along the muscles.

Foam rolling is also one of the cheapest methods of myofascial release. Sports equipment and online stores carry foam rollers for under $20. They also last a long time and are relatively transportable.

Cryotherapy and Ice Baths

image @ www.static1.squarespace.com

No one likes to be cold, especially not tense muscles. While cryotherapy will not immediately tackle the fascia, it’s a surefire way to alleviate tight muscle spindles.

Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) is a generally new trend. An individual stands in a chamber for up to three minutes and is sprayed with air at subzero temperatures. The purpose of WBC is to stimulate skin sensors. This triggers a response from the Central Nervous System (CNS) to release endorphins that alleviate pain and elevate mood. It also increases blood circulation, which helps to decrease inflammation and remove toxins from the body (source linked here).

WBC is done at professional locations in some major cities. Look up your area to find cryotherapy centers near you!

Chiropractors

Chiropractors are another great way to alleviate fascial tension. A chiropractor is a technician — some say, doctor, some refuse — specifically trained to target tense areas in the body. This is normally done by cracking backs, necks, and the like to release the tension surrounding the area. The relief is normally immediate.

Chiropractors may also use massage therapy and thermal practices, such as icy/hot patches. This helps to loosen the muscle spindles and the fascia before they tense further.

The Takeaway

You’ve all heard that stretching is an important part of exercising. You can’t train a tense muscle because it’s more prone to injury. And you wouldn’t even want to train a tense muscle because it’s so limiting as it is.

Practicing Myofascial Release is a surefire way to make sure your muscles remain mobile and agile. Not only can it aid in exercise, but it also alleviates the pain of daily activities. So crack your neck, roll out our quadriceps, and be kind to your fascia.

The Best Protein Sources (updated July 2019)

What’s the Hype About Protein?

image @ www.img.webmd.com

In short, protein helps build muscles. Muscle fibers are made of protein, so incorporating more protein into the diet is essential. Typically, the amount of protein needed ranges from 0.8 – 1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. Obviously, men need more and women need less. However, the amount needed is also based on an individual’s goals. If you’re looking to significantly increase muscle mass, then you should ingest more protein than someone looking to maintain their muscle mass.

However, protein is also one of those macronutrients that should stay relatively consistent. If your protein intake drops too low, the body does not have enough amino acids to efficiently maintain your current muscle mass. If this happens, no matter how efficiently you are training, your muscle size will decrease. So no matter what, make sure you’re getting in an adequate amount of protein.

Some Restrictions

Now, how you get this protein varies due to a few circumstances:

  1. Dietary Restrictions. If you’re allergic to fish, for example, you’re not getting your protein from tilapia.
  2. Taste Preference. If you don’t like tilapia, then don’t eat tilapia. No one is forcing you to eat something you dislike for the sake of muscular growth!
  3. Monetary Restrictions. Some people can afford nicer whole protein sources than others, and that’s just the cold hard truth. If you can only afford chicken breast and tilapia and maybe some steak when it’s on sale, then do that. No one protein source is better than the other in vitro.
  4. Seasonal Restrictions. Maybe you’re a seasonal shopper, and your favorite fishes aren’t currently in season. It’s okay, there’s always alternates!
  5. Locational Restrictions. Some areas have some food that others don’t, and that’s just how things are. If you love a food but it’s not in your area, then don’t sweat about it. Get it when you can, don’t get it when you can’t. Besides, it’ll be a lot more special when you finally get it again, anyway!

The Best of Each Protein

There are several different types of protein, but I’m going to touch upon the ones that are most common. Namely, these protein sources are: chicken, some fish, pork, steak, and dairy products.

Although, don’t be fooled. These options are not the only way to get your daily protein intake. In fact, if you’re vegetarian you can’t have a majority of these things, and if you’re vegan you can’t have any. These are simply the protein sources that get you the best bang for your buck. However, whole grains, nuts, legumes, beans, and meat substitutes also contain a decent amount of protein per serving. They simply do not contain as much as meat sources.

For the best bet, eat some meat for protein. If not, protein powder and bread is a great alternative to get in your daily required allotment.

1. Chicken

Chicken is the universal staple protein source of most bodybuilders. It’s easy to cook, it’s chock full of protein, and most cuts are relatively lean. Here’s a rundown of each variation of chicken you can get:

image @ www.images.wisegeek.com
  • Breast — The staple beyond staples. Per ounce, chicken breast contains 40 calories, 0.3g of fat, and 8.5g of protein.
  • Thigh — Chicken thigh is a much fattier piece of meat than chicken breast. Per ounce, chicken thigh contains 60 calories, 3.1g of fat, and 7.5g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Wing — The king of all kings at bars and SuperBowl parties, but not necessarily for muscle gain. Per ounce, chicken wings contains 63 calories, 4.5g of fat, and 5.2g of protein.
    (source linked here.)

Obviously, you get the most protein with chicken breast. However, if your diet allows you to have more fat per day, then sure, have a thigh or wing. You just need more for the same amount of protein as a breast.

2. Pork

Pork is still a relatively lean cut of meat, just not as lean as chicken breast. Pork can also come in various forms, some more common than others. Here’s a rundown of each variation of pork you can get:

image @ www.irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com
  • Pork Chops — The classic cut of pork is the pork chop. Per ounce, a pork chop contains 53 calories, 3g of fat, and 6g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Pork Tenderloin — A good thing to remember is that any cut of meat with “loin” in the name indicates a leaner cut of meat. Per ounce, pork tenderloin contains 40 calories, 1.5g of fat, and 5.8g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Pork Ribs — The closer you get to the bone, the fattier the meat. This holds true for pork chops and pork ribs. If you want something leaner, try center cut. However, one ounce of pork ribs contains 45 calories, 3.3g of fat, and 3.2g of protein.
    (source linked here.)

Again, the closer you get to bone the fattier the meat. Therefore, if you are looking for lean cuts of pork, try center cut pork chops or tenderloin. If you’re tailgating, then try the ribs.

3. Beef

Beef has the reputation of being bad for you, and there’s a good reason behind it. Beef is the fattiest cut of meat that you can buy. There are leaner types of steak, yes, but it’s relatively fatty as compared to other protein sources. Here’s a rundown of each type of beef that you can get:

  • Steak — Steak is one
    image @ www.i.hurimg.com

    of the more popular beef choices. Per ounce, steak contains 55 calories, 3.3g of fat, and 6g of protein.
    (source linked here.)

  • Chuck (80/20) — Ground chuck (80/20) is probably the most popular choice when making hamburgers. The fat to meat ratio is pretty spot on for burgers, but not so much for meeting your lean protein quota. Per ounce, ground chuck contains 70 calories, 4g of fat, and 7g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Lean Ground Beef (96/4) — Lean ground beef is probably the best choice when trying for lean beef sources. It makes slightly subpar burgers as compared to the 80/20 cut, but it’s much better for your waistline. Per ounce, 96/4 ground beef contains 35 calories, 1g of fat, and 6g of protein.
    (source linked here.)

Beef is one of those cuts of meat that can be great or deadly to your fat intake, depending on which you purchase. Always look for “lean” in the label and trim the excess fat to make sure you’re getting as much protein with as little fat as possible!

4. Fish

Fish is very versatile. White fishes, such as tilapia, are much leaner fishes, while salmon and tuna are known to be a bit fattier. Here’s a rundown of the more popular types of fish that you can purchase:

image @ www.us.123rf.com
  • Tilapia — Tilapia is relatively cost effective and lean, and can be purchases fresh or frozen. Per ounce, tilapia contains 27 calories, 0.5g of fat, and 5.7g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Salmon — Another relatively popular fish choice is salmon. Even though it’s a little fattier, salmon contains Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats, both of which are essential to the diet! Per ounce, salmon contains 50 calories, 2.1g of fat, and 6.8g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Tuna — Whether in steak or sushi form, tuna is delicious and good for you, too! Per ounce, tuna contains 35 calories, 0.9g of fat, and 6.3g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Shrimp — Shrimp is lean and you get so much per serving. Generally speaking, you get up to six little shrimp per ounce. Also per ounce, shrimp contains 40 calories, 0.7g of fat, and 7.7g of protein.
    (source linked here.)
  • Cod — Cod is a less popular white fish than tilapia, but is still beneficial to your diet. Per ounce, cod contains 30 calories, 0.9g of fat, and 4.8g of protein.
    (source linked here.)

The Takeaway

When choosing proteins, you need to pick your battles. Some choices are better than others in terms of protein content, some contain more fat, and some you may not like. Really, the choice is yours. However, leaner cuts of meat generally contain more protein per ounce than fattier protein sources. So if more protein is your thing, opt for chicken breast, white fish, or pork tenderloins. You’ll get the most bang for your protein buck!

Squatting in Action: High Bar vs. Low Bar (updated July 2019)

squat-low

If you’ve ever heard a powerlifter speak, they will undoubtedly talk about their low bar squat. Conversely, if you’ve ever heard a weightlifter or a commoner in the gym talk about their squat, they’ll probably mention about how their traps are red and sore from the bar. While there isn’t a slew of differences between the two — high bar and low bar squatting — there is still large amounts of controversy between the two. But really, there shouldn’t be.

What’s a High Bar Squat?

A high bar squat is pretty self-explanatory: the bar is high while you’re squatting. It rests at the top of your shoulder blades, right underneath your traps (or the little peaks where your neck swoops down on your shoulders). Typically, high bar squats are performed by average gym goers and weightlifters. They’re also the most common squat type.

What’s Low Bar Squatting?

Again, the premise of a low bar squat is simple: the bar is physically lower down the back, about 2-3 inches. This placement requires more support from the hands, wrists, and forearms when completing the movement. It also means that the lifter needs to lean a little more forward during the squat because the weight he’s bearing is a little further down his back. But since he also gets a little more stability from resting the bar on the top of his lats instead of his traps, he can also move more weight. Not significantly more than a high bar squatter, only about 5-10% of the total weight, but enough. It’s why powerlifters tend to low bar squat for competitions and meets: since the goal of a powerlifting meet is to move the most weight, it makes sense to utilize the squat variation that will allow them to physically move more weight.

Okay, but what’s the difference?

Really, the main difference between a low and a high bar squat is the placement of the bar. The muscles — mostly the quads, which help control the knees and hip flexors — are being recruited the same amount for both low and high bar squats because the mechanics stay the same. The other difference is how much the knees track forward versus how hard the hip flexors need to work. In a high bar squat, the knees tend to move farther forward because of: 1) the higher weight placement, and 2) because your torso has a physically longer distance to travel (the difference between the bar placement in a high and low bar squat). This knee trekking does not apply as much in a low bar squat, which is another reason why low bar squatters can move about 5-10% more weight. They physically have less distance to travel with the bar in proportion to their core. Simply, it becomes more mechanically efficient to squat low bar that high bar. But again, not by much.Squatting

 

Should I change my squat form?

Squatting
Squatting

If you’re already squatting low bar, then keep at it. If you’re squatting high bar, then keep at it. The only time you should really consider changing your squat form is if you’re either bored with your routine and you want to switch it up a little bit, or you want to shift from weightlifting to powerlifting. Really, the only time switching squat form becomes applicable is when you’re competing to be the absolute strongest in the room — why not increase your squat by 5-10% if you have the option to? Just make sure you’re getting good pointers from a coach and practicing often before jumping right into the heavier weights.

(image @ www.ruggedfellowsguide.com)

Other than those two reasons, there is no real mechanical difference why any average Joe should change their squat form. The mechanical superiority of the low bar squat is slight compared to the high bar squat, and if you’re squatting with good form then it shouldn’t matter too much, anyway. In fact, the muscles can’t even feel the weight you’re using, whether it’s 25lbs. or 250lbs. All they feel is the tension of a lifter performing the exercise. So, really, unless you’re competing for the highest numbers, making sure your form is flawless and the tension is kept on the muscle is enough for significant change.

Do the muscles being recruited change per squat form?

This is a valid question. Surprisingly — and though it’s rumored that the low bar squat focuses more on the hamstrings than the high bar squat — the muscles that are being recruited do not change per squat form. In fact, the hamstrings aren’t really utilized at all during the squat. Or, not as much as people put emphasis on. The “squat booty” is a myth, I’m sorry to say. They’re only a secondary muscle to the quadriceps, who need to control both the forward extension of the knee and the flexion of the hip. There isn’t even a huge difference in hamstring activation between front and back squats, so the difference between high and low bar squats is even more insignificant (Nuckols, 2014).

So there’s no reason to change my routine?

In actuality, there is no large difference between low and high bar squatting except for the placement of the bar. That’s really all there is to it. The mechanical advantages of a low bar squat are so insignificant that it’s not even worth switching unless it’s something you’re completely passionate about. Instead, just keep working on your squat, whatever form it may be — your muscles don’t know the difference.

The Mechanics of Deadlifting (updated July 2019)

Mechanics of Deadlifting

What is a Deadlift?

The Exercise Overview

A deadlift is a compound power exercise, most commonly used by powerlifters. It engages more muscles during one movement than any other compound lift. This makes it ideal for not only strengthening those muscles, but also is more efficient for those who lift with a time constraint.

image @ www.bodybuilding.com

Deadlifts are also the easiest exercise to lift the heaviest amount of weight with. There are two main reasons why:

  1. The distance between the floor and the top of the movement is relatively small, averaging only a couple of feet. As compared to a squat or bench press, this makes heavier weights much easier to handle.
  2. You really only perform half of the movement. Unlike a squat or bench press where you need to control the bar for the concentric and eccentric part of the lift, gravity takes over for the eccentric half of the deadlift. As soon as you bring the bar a third of the way down after locking out (or reaching the ending point of the exercise), gravity takes over and gets that bar to the ground. You just have to make sure that it doesn’t squash your toes.

Recruited Muscles

The deadlift is primarily a hamstring and glutes movement because the lifter uses his heels as the driving force. However, both the thoracic and lumbar spine are activated at the top of the movement, as is the latissimus dorsi and rear deltoids of the back. In addition, the triceps are recruited when lifting the bar off of the ground. Tricep activation is due to the pushing motion of the lifter relative to the bar — against popular belief, the first movement in a deadlift is pushing the bar off of the ground, not pulling it, to lift it. Therefore, the triceps and not the biceps are utilized to complete the movement.

The Mechanics

image @ www.cdn-mf0.heartyhosting.com

There are two different forms of deadlifting, conventional and sumo, but both have the same core mechanics. The trick to a deadlift is to keep your back relatively straight — no rounding at the top! Your feet should be planted firmly on the ground so that the heels are used as the primary driving force. Any additional pressure at the front of the body will just cause you to fall over.

The deadlift should be one continuous movement. Because of the heavy weight, some individuals have a tendency to lift the legs first and let the bar follow. This puts intense strain on the lumbar spine. Instead, the whole body needs to move as one. Ideally, the bar should travel up the path of your legs and follow the same path back down to the ground. It will make sure you keep control of the bar and prevent your back from being thrown out during the eccentric portion.

Another key component to completing the deadlift is to activate your latissimus dorsi before lifting the bar. Located right at the base of the armpit, the lats are the stabilizing force of the entire upper body. To prevent your back from rounding or your shoulders from slumping forward, pressure is applied to the upper back to keep it rigid. It’s a similar notion to locking your shoulders during a bench press. In order for the upper body to stay put and not ruin the rest of the lift, it needs to be activated. And stay activated until the bar touches the ground again.

The Equipment

A deadlift can be done with no outside equipment. There are some daredevils deadlifting a raw bar with no shoes on, and that’s great for them. However, the heavier the lift the more outside equipment will help. Here are some key tools for optimal deadlifting:

  1. Flat-soled shoes.
    image @ www.rougefitness.com

    Running shoes are bouncy for a reason: they keep half the foot off of the ground. However, since the primary driving force in a deadlift is the foot, the entire sole should remain planted on the ground. This gives the lifter better stability, which ensures a better lift. Powerlifting shoes or even Converse are great picks because they provide ankle mobility and keep the entire foot on the ground. Or any flat-soled shoes work, really. Just leave the running shoes at home.
    Powerlifting shoes can be found here, and Converse can be found here.

  2. Wrist straps.
    image @ www.roguefitness.com

    Lifting an iron bar off of the ground puts a lot of pressure on weak wrists. To avoid this, wrist straps are a great tool. They’re made of a combination of tough fabric and elastic, so one size really does fit every wrist. Wrist straps keep the wrists locked in place and prevent them locking out or bending. In addition, some wrist straps will loop around the wrist and then wrap around the bar to increase grip strength.
    Wrist wraps can be found here.

  3. Lifting chalk. Lifting chalk is messy but effective for those who hate using straps. Also, if you tend to sweat during exercise, chalk will soak up the liquid to prevent slipping grips. When trying to lift heavy barbells, a firm grip is the best grip. Chalk is also applied to the legs when wear shorts to prevent chaffing.
    Lifting chalk can be found here.

Choose Your Best Deadlift

So now you have the knowledge of deadlifting basics and key tools for the best lift. But what stance do you use?

image @ www.peakperformance365.com

Conventional V. Sumo

There are two types of deadlift: conventional and sumo. Conventional is a close stance deadlift where the hands are kept outside of the legs. Sumo is a wide stance deadlift where the hands are kept inside of the legs. Both get the bar off the ground by primarily activating the glutes and hamstrings. However, conventional deadlifts equally target the quadriceps, or the front of the leg. Conversely, sumo deadlifts work the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus and leave the quadriceps virtually untouched.

But Which to Choose?

Choosing your stance is primarily based on your physical build. Typically, individuals with long legs will choose sumo because they can get closer to the bar. Conventional deadlifts, while effective, make it more difficult for taller lifters to get down into the starting position. Similarly, individuals with longer torsos may also choose sumo deadlifts for the same reasons.

If you’re someone with short legs or a short torso, however, you may choose conventional. Having smaller limbs allows more room around the bar while still being able to get the full range of motion during the exercise. Similarly, someone with longer arms may choose conventional deadlifts because their arms are held farther apart. This actually reduces the space between him and the bar, making it easier to complete the movement.

Although, choosing your stance is also based on personal preference. You can learn one way but prefer the other way, or lift heavier, or have a higher repetition range. You can also lift in both stances if you’re indecisive. There really is no wrong way to deadlift. As long as your form is good and your back is not rounded during any part of the movement, deadlift away!

 

Fasted Cardio (updated July 2019)

What is Fasted Cardio?

image @ www.drinkcocopro.com

More than likely, you’ve heard of someone performing fasted cardio. Simply put, fasted cardio is performing cardiovascular exercise without eating first. Studies show that this type of morning cardio burns up to 20% more fat than performing cardio after eating. Because of this, fasted cardio is considered the king of cardiovascular exercises. Especially among gym newbies.

Why Does it Burn so Much Fat?

Under normal circumstances, the body requires ATP energy from stored muscle glycogen to perform work. This fuel is taken from dietary carbohydrate — i.e, that cereal you had for breakfast and that sandwich you had for lunch. Those carbohydrates are then broken down into molecules and stored within the muscles. When needed, this muscle glycogen is utilized to perform work.

So what happens when there’s no muscle glycogen to support this work? The body goes to its next available energy source: fat. Especially since fat is normally recruited for aerobic exercise. This is due to the body’s reliance on oxidative phosphorylation. Oxidative phosphorylation produces the most amount of energy per capita — 36ATP, to be exact — and is the most reliant energy source.

So the body’s dependency on fat not only produces the most energy, but also takes stored body fat. So it’s basically a win-win. (source linked here.)

The Benefits of Fasted Cardio

Fasted cardio has many benefits. Most of them revolve around fat loss, especially stubborn fat loss, but that’s not really a bad thing.

Here are a few benefits to fasted cardio:

image @ www.bodybuilding.com
  1. Higher fat burn. This was already discussed, but it doesn’t hurt to bring it up again. Performing cardiovascular exercise while in a fasted state increases fat utilization, which increases fat loss.
  2. Target stubborn fat. For women, trouble areas are the thighs and hips; for men, it’s the lower back and lower abdomen. Sound familiar? Because the body needs a large amount of energy in order to perform work, it’s going to take from the largest stores. Good news for you, it’s normally the stubborn areas that have the most fat. So, logically speaking, the body’s going to take from there. Another win-win for fasted cardio!
  3. It pairs well with caffeine. Caffeine naturally releases fatty acids from their stores and releases them into the bloodstream. Fasted cardio utilizes fat for energy. Having an influx of readily available fatty acids makes it easier for the body to utilize them as fuel. It also makes it easier for you to lose fat. So skip the breakfast before cardio, but not the coffee.

The Negatives of Fasted Cardio

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to fasted cardio. The positives outweigh the negatives, but the negatives still exist. Here are some arguments against fasted cardio.

image @ www.bodybuilding.com
  1. It’s not the key factor in fat loss. Even though fasted cardio burns 20% more calories than other forms of cardio, it’s not the key player in fat loss. Diet is the number one factor in fat loss. Specifically, you need to be in a caloric deficit in order to lose weight. For example, if you burn 300 calories during your morning cardio but eat an excess of 500 calories throughout the day, you’re still over your daily caloric intake. No matter how much cardio you perform, overeating is overeating. Therefore, fasted cardio should supplement a well-rounded diet, not replace one.
  2. It can result in muscle loss. This is undeniably the weaker argument of the two, but it’s still a possibility. If performing too intense of work with too little energy stores, the body will then utilize muscle for energy. However, fasted cardio should be performed at a moderate intensity at most, so this is not a large issue. If you’re concerned about muscle loss, however, then take a scoop of branched chain amino acids or protein powder before your cardio session. It will count toward your daily caloric intake, yes, but will not stop fat utilization.(source linked here.)

The General Takeaway

So you want to begin fasted cardio. That’s great! Just remember that it is a supplement to fat loss, not the total solution. Even though fasted cardio burns up to 20% more fat than cardio after eating, it’s not the number one solution. First and foremost, caloric intake is the key to fat loss. Secondly, a good cardio regimen.

However, there are more benefits to fasted cardio than negatives. So if you’re someone who needs to get up and get their workout in, no sweat. Just drink some coffee or pre-workout and hit that treadmill.

ZMA Review 2018 -Benefits & Side Effects (Updated July 2019)

How and Why of ZMA

What is ZMA?

ZMA is a supplement composed of zinc, magnesium, and aspartate. It also contains some amounts of Vitamin B6. When taken in the correct dosages, ZMA is mainly used as a sleep aid. In addition, it has also been linked to increasing zinc and magnesium levels in deficient peoples.

However, the product is mainly known in the fitness community as increasing testosterone levels in men. This is due to zinc and magnesium’s link to increase testosterone in both men and women in vitro. (However, most studies have only tested men.) However, studies show that ZMA only has a significant impact on testosterone levels that are already low. If your testosterone levels are healthy, chances are ZMA will not help. (source linked here.)

The Main Functions

Primarily, ZMA is used as a sleep aid. This is because of zinc and magnesium’s part in:

  • increased immune function
  • hormone regulation
  • normalizing sleep patterns
  • normalizing protein synthesis
  • reduced fatigue
  • protection from oxidative stress
  • improved exercise recovery

However, women are normally tentative to supplement with this supplement because of its link to increasing testosterone. While ZMA does increase testosterone in unhealthy males, its impact is too insignificant to really impact females.

In fact, everyone should be supplementing with ZMA, especially if they are: heavily active, have trouble sleeping, or are deficient in zinc, magnesium, or Vitamin B6. (However, these minerals and vitamins can also be supplemented individually. Ask your health care provider which is the better option for you!) But if you are heavily active, then ZMA will do more than increase zinc levels. It also helps with protein synthesis by promoting healthy sleep. Over time, this helps to increase muscle growth. It also protects the muscles and organ systems from oxidative stress, which have been linked to decreasing muscle density. Preventing this also helps muscle growth. So basically, supplementing with this supplement is another surefire way to make some gains. (source linked here.)

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How and When to Take ZMA

This supplement is taken as similarly as other supplements. For best results, take ZMA on an empty stomach. This will ensure maximum absorption because the body can immediately digest the ZMA. For even better results, do not supplement ZMA with additional zinc, magnesium, or copper. An overdose of any one of these minerals can be toxic to the body, even when naturally deficient in one or all of them. So stick to either additional supplements or ZMA. Or ask your doctor. Or both.

  • Women and ZMA

There is a stigma among women and increasing testosterone levels. The media has it that women with “too much testosterone” will become “bulky and manly”. This, however, is simply not the case. Women straying away from ZMA, for this reason, is also ludicrous because ZMA is only linked to increase testosterone in males who are deficient; no tests have been run on females. Besides, the benefits of This supplement should outweigh the overrun possibility of slightly increased testosterone levels.

  • Women and Testosterone
image @ www.s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com

Against popular belief, women contain some testosterone in vitro. Men also contain some estrogen (but no one ever really talks about that). However, testosterone is imperative to proper hormonal regulation, bodily processes, and everyday living. It’s simply the ratios of testosterone per gender that vary, not the hormone. For women who are looking to gain significant muscle mass, regulating their testosterone levels is even more important because it’s linked to muscle growth.

Testosterone is a hormone that is naturally produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands. For men, it’s naturally produced in the testes and adrenal glands. On average, women only produce about 0.5-2.5 nmol/L. Comparatively, men produce approximately 9-38 nmol/L on average, depending on the man’s size. Physically, women cannot handle much more than 3 nmol/L of testosterone. Even with additional supplementation, the female body will eventually cap out.

In fact, women have to be physically ill to handle significantly high testosterone levels. Most notably, high testosterone levels in women have been linked to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (POS). However, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is also linked to increased hair loss or growth, weight gain, acne, and/or menstrual problems, as well as increased testosterone levels. So, more than likely, you would know if your testosterone levels were becoming a problem.

Testosterone is an important hormone in women. Not only does it support muscle growth, but it also:

  • fuels sex drive
  • increases muscle density
  • increases bone density
  • aids in metabolism regulation
  • has some anti-aging effects

So the hormone you’ve been fearing this whole time can actually be the key component to most Cosmopolitan ads. Testosterone can help women to look younger and boost their metabolism, without deepening their voice or increasing chest hair production. Testosterone is wonderful! (source linked here.)

  • Is ZMA Safe for Women?
image @ www.media1.popsugar-assets.com

The short answer is yes. ZMA should be taken by both men and women, especially if heavily active. As mentioned, ZMA has such beneficial effects that not including it in your daily regimen is more harmful than straying away.

Zinc and magnesium additions to the diet will not spike testosterone levels in healthy women. Or, if they do, it’s not insignificant enough amounts. Instead, adding ZMA will add to the many benefits of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6 I’ve listed above. Why not bask in the benefits of improved sleep quality and hormonal levels? Or improved exercise recovery? Decreased fatigue? How about increased oxidative function?

Who Should Take ZMA?

In short, everyone should take ZMA. The benefits are too numerous to count, and it will definitely help more than it will hurt. So what’re you waiting for?

Check Best Price

 

How to Improve Your Big Lifts (updated July 2019)

What Are the “Big Lifts”?

The Big Four

image @ www.birthorderplus.com

The “big four lifts” refer to compound movements. These exercises are generally accepted to be the deadlift, squat, bench press, and overhead press (OHP) because they recruit the most muscle groups. While other lifts are also considered compound movements, they do not recruit as many muscle groups as the big four. Other forms of compound movements include exercises such as: lateral pulldowns, barbell rows, push-ups, etc.

Typically, weight lifters will utilize these four main lifts the most. They can improve multiple muscle groups at one time while also improving the lift overall. In addition, working one main four exercise can help to improve some others. For example, training your deadlift helps to improve your squat. This occurs because the hamstrings are recruited in both scenarios. Likewise, perfecting your bench improves your overhead press because both develop the anterior deltoid.

How do I Pick Which to Do?

Really, anyone can train the big four lifts. In fact, performing a compound movement is actually more beneficial for fat burn than isolation movements. This is because the metabolism speeds up with greater muscle density; muscle burns more calories per day than fat does. Compound movements activate more muscle groups, which, in turn, increases muscle density. You’ll become a fat burning machine!

However, a word of caution before embarking on the big four lifts. These lifts are compound and powerful for a reason. It is imperative to nail the form for each one before increasing weight. Having improper form for any exercise can result in serious injury. This warning increases tenfold with compound lifts, however, because of how much more demanding they are. Ask a friend or colleague to demonstrate the proper form for you before beginning! After that, you’re home free.

How to Increase the Big Four Lifts

image @ www.images.shape.mdpcdn.com

So you wanna train hard and lift heavy, huh? Good for you! Big lifting is not only more beneficial to the metabolism and the body’s muscle density, but they’re also lots of fun. Who doesn’t like throwing around some heavy weights in the gym every now and again?

There are a few key ways to improving your big four lifts, whether you’re primarily training the lower or upper body exercises. They include:

1. Proper Programming

It goes without saying, but having a solid program in place is the most beneficial way to increase your big four lifts. Proper programming refers to something either you or a paid coach has written (or a fitness friend, who knows?). This program generally lasts over the span of about six to eight weeks. This time frame gives the trainee (i.e, you) ample amount of time to work upon and improve his lifts.

Your programming should also reflect future strength gains. If your program only has you increasing your big lifts by five pounds every few weeks, then it’s not a solid program. With proper guidance, you should be increasing by either one repetition or five pounds every time you perform the exercise.

Now, there can be outside factors that affect these numbers. But generally speaking, you should be increasing by either five pounds or one rep each week. You should also not perform the exercise for strength — or high weight with a rep scheme of 4-6 repetitions — more than once a week. The same holds true for power training, or repetition sets of 1-3 reps.

2. Proper Recovery

Whether in-between sets or in-between days, you need to give your body the recovery it deserves. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • foam rolling / myofascial release
  • trigger therapy
  • massages (regular or deep tissue)
  • sleep
  • stretching
  • yoga
  • ice baths, hot tubs, and/or saunas
image @ www.rocktape.com

Any one of these recovery practices emphasize releasing the tension from the muscle. This reduces the stress placed on it and allows it to fully heal. And since muscle growth is the healing of muscle tissue, recovery becomes just as important as exercising.

In addition, program your training days well enough so that there are no conflicts with muscle groups. For example, do not train lower body two days in a row, or even over the course of three days. While performing heavy lifts, the muscles are under greater stress than isolation movements. Therefore, they need greater time for recovery in between training days. Aim for three or more days in between big lifts. This time frame gives your muscles ample time to recover before being fired again.

3. Accessory / Isolation Work

What good is an underdeveloped muscle group? If the muscle is underdeveloped, it cannot function properly. Likewise, if one muscle group is lagging another will compensate for it. This puts unnecessary pressure on the developed muscle, while the underdeveloped muscle does no work. In the end, both are injured and your lifts suffer.

The answer to this dilemma is accessory work. Accessory and/or isolation work is directly targeting the muscle. This forces that one particular muscle under constant stress, instead of being integrated with other muscles in a compound lift. For lagging muscles, this tunes them up without overdeveloping surrounding muscles. You can also directly target supporting muscles to the big four lifts, which will help increase them in the long run.

4. Hypertrophy Days

Hypertrophy refers to increasing the size of the muscle tissue. Hypertrophy lifts follow a repetition scheme of 8-10 reps per set. This repetition range adds just enough stress to tear the muscle while also making sure the weight can be heavier than lighter load days.

Hypertrophy days should be very similar to strength days in terms of exercise choice. However, the weight and repetitions change to support muscle growth instead of strength growth. This will not only help you to practice your form, but will also help develop all the working muscles of that exercise.

Hypertrophy days should be about three days or more apart from strength days. Or, they should change week by week: one week train for strength, one for hypertrophy. This latter tactic will take longer for strength development, but can still help to improve the lift.

image @ www.52bpijddwt-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com

So if the big four compound lifts are in your future, remember these key points. Nothing will increase your strength better than proper programming, isolation work, hypertrophy work, and proper rest and recovery!