The Jungle Gym – Interview with Ben Coker & Jamie Bolton

EK: Boys, welcome back from the Jungle Gym. From the video footage you’ve already posted we can see it was quite an experience. To kick off our interview today can you tell us – what was the most challenging aspect for each of you whilst in the ‘Jungle Gym’?
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Jamie: Thanks it’s great to be back, the Jungle Gym was quite a trip to say the least! For me, the most challenging aspect was learning to forget the ‘norms’ of at home, and to have to really think outside the box. Of course, this led to its own problem and in trying to create more options very quickly I ended up with ‘paralysis by analysis’, i.e. too many options in exercise selection, from the tools I created.

So the old simple message of ‘keep it simple, stupid’, suddenly became my mantra for the trip. I honed in on the most effective movements, whatever they happened to be in each scenario, and then I hammered away at them. Why make it more complicated than it needs to be!

Ben: Food. From my experiences in the Jungle gym I found that my rough maintenance level is and or was about 3500 – 4000kcal! I say was because the heat out there will have increased my basal metabolic rate. Regardless I require a relatively large amount of kcal to keep my level of muscle mass. Give me a bar and I can keep my back growing or at the very least maintained by hitting various grip chins for volume. But without the level of nutrition…trust me its hard to keep hold of energy hungry muscle mass!

EK: Certainly, we all know how important nutrition is in this game. How was it that you actually managed to keep up some form of decent nutrition and some continuity whilst travelling?

Ben: For me I went straight to my old friend. Milk. For those of you who know me I put away milk by the litre, commonly consuming 4L of organic full fat a day. The same was true for travelling. I don’t care about what people say about dairy/ full fat milk being the devil and linked to all sorts from heart disease to diabetes…its bull. There is plenty of unbiased research out there backing me up, plus the fact I consumed 4L a day for pretty much a year and every time I get a check up I’m passed as very fit and healthy, but that’s not for today’s discussion!

No matter where you are, there is a good chance you can get milk. Its packed with vitamins & minerals and has a near perfect blend of macronutrients…and it’s cheap. So for me I sourced out milk and kept tanked up on it. Now despite what anchor man said, milk is actually  good choice at hydrating you too, and so I regularly sipped on milk as we were out and about. Feeding and coping with the heat. Win win.

Of course I didn’t just drink milk. I ate lots too. Again, for those of you who know me, I am easily pleased in the food department. ‘Boring’ foods suit me to the ground and whats even better is that they make me grow. Eggs like milk can be found in most places, are cheap and pack good macros, nutrients and kcal. Picking up eggs be they scrambled, fried or even in omelets was relatively easy and i relied on them whenever we had a chance. Oh I’m forgetting a tiny point – the cholesterol in eggs helps in your body’s testosterone production.

Jamie: One thing in particular is trying to eat like the locals do. Why? Because they can’t afford any expensive, processed food. Instead they’re eating locally grown, natural produce; and what’s more, it’s going to be incredibly full of nutrients compared to anything at home.

It’s also worth adding that if you know you’re going to be really remote like I was in Uganda, and that meat may well be extra scarce / expensive, then it might be worth taking a whey protein supplement with you, like I did with MP’s Whey Impact Blend . If you can, even bump your protein up so it’s getting close to even just 0.75g/lb it’ll make a world of difference.

EK: Jamie, you were staying in an extremely rural location whilst in Africa. Can you briefly describe the location and shed some light on your methods of training whilst there?

Jamie: I was in a place called Kanungu, in rural south-west Uganda. We’re talking dirt roads, long-drop toilets, and power for a couple hours per day (if you’re lucky). Real basics. But incredibly refreshing in looking at what you really need to live with.

As far as training went, the TRX was a great tool to bring along with me, but knowing I was in the same location for 6 weeks, I didn’t stop there. I had a local carpenter knock up a log press and 2 farmers handles, at about £9 a log. And I made a ‘Jerry Bar’ out of four 20litre jerry cans, some wood and rope.

It's amazing what you can construct very quickly in the jungle gym

The biggest adjustment was to using fixed loading, be it bodyweight or the logs. In other words, no ramping up. This lack of loading was a problem, at first. Then I adapted and worked around it. Bodybuilding techniques like pre and post-exhaust made an appearance, and working in a circuit fashion worked very well too. Most of all, I really attacked my conditioning, the one thing that can always be improved.

EK: Give us an example of the most improvised bit of training equipment used in the ‘Jungle Gym’

Ben: Whilst in Cambodia we travelled to Sihanoukville and there we found a nice secluded beach. That being great in itself (as we could avoid the street sellers) we actually stumbled across a piece of drift wood in the form of a log/branch. Being the opportunists and training fanatics we instantly interpreted this object of a sled! Out came the TRX straps and so the training began. An improvised yet extremely easy way to get a workout done. Below is a compilation we made of various exercises we performed with this drift wood sled…

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EK: What factors in your improvised training do you feel were important in enabling you to keep your strength levels so high and even improve in some cases?

Jamie: For me, it was all about drilling my conditioning, when my conditioning steps up, good things really seem to happen. On top of that, I followed Ben’s advice and zoned in on accumulating some volume in my training to make up for the lack of loading, and this seemed to make a world of difference.

Ben: My goals were more geared to keeping good shape and muscle mass as opposed to my strength levels. I knew from experience that what strength I may lose, I would gain back quickly when I got regular access to a gym back home. That aside I did employ a few tactics into my training that I feel helped keep my strength levels so high.

Firstly, If I found a gym with adequate poundage, I made a point of making the first compound of either my upper push, upper pull or leg day, heavy. Make the most of the heavy weights if you find them and pile on the volume after.

Secondly, I lifted explosively on every rep. This is something I do regardless but I feel its effectiveness came to light whilst I was away. By trying to explode through the lift you serve to keep your CNS firing and not let it get sluggish and lazy. I even incorporated heavy rock shot puts In Sihanoukville as a method of keeping my pressing movement patterns firing.

EK: You mentioned making the most of any gyms you could whilst travelling. What type of access to gyms did you actually have?

Jamie: In Africa, none. It was all about what I was able to create from the local environment, or use my bodyweight to accomplish. Africa was hard work in that respect, but being pushed to think outside of the box, it really made me think about what was ‘necessary’ and what was more ‘nice to have’ but not ‘need to have’. It got better in Asia, just about.

Ben: In Thailand (bangkok) there were a few of the big ‘health spa’ gyms about so whenever we passed through Bangkok (twice minus the day we left) we hit one of them and made the most.

In Laos, Cambodia and the rest of Thailand we found a few gyms, all pretty spartan, some better than others though. It became all about going back to basics and trying to get the best out of the bad gyms and making the most of the gyms that were, well, actually gyms!

EK: How did you make the most of, lets say, one of the better gyms, in the instances you happened to stumble across one?

Jamie: In short, we nailed it. We both did some pretty sadistic levels of volume and pushed ourselves to the brink. But hey, we never knew when the next ‘good’ gym would turn up. You make the most of those days to put some extra work ‘in the bank’ to make up for when you can’t.

Ben: As Jamie said volume is crucial and I harked on to him a fair bit about it. When travelling around you don’t necessarily know the next time you going to have any opportunity to train. For me this lead to one sensible solution…beat the hell out of the muscles your training in each session. Forget stimulating and not annihilating…I obliterated the muscles and gave myself the luxury of needing a whole week to recover! It simply means you have to train less often.

Being relatively unaccustomed to volume training, Jamie actually put on body mass by adopting this principle into parts of his training. I think he secretly thanks me for it but he won’t admit it.

EK: Conversely, when posed with a ‘sub standard’ gym should we say, how did you make the most of what was their to ensure an adequate training effect?

Jamie: By not using any of it! Unless you’re giving me a rack, or even just a barbells and some plates, I may as well make the most of my bodyweight and the TRX instead. There’s no point in using something sub-standard when you’ve already got a very versatile piece of kit with you at all times – yourself.

Ben: In Hue we found a ‘gym’ that looked like something pre pumping iron. A barely functioning relic of the past. Despite visiting that place all I used in there was the pull down frame to perform 20 sets of 10 pull ups…I told you It’s all about the simple things that work and the volume! Here is a clip of that infamous place…

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EK: Jamie, you managed to actually put on muscle mass whilst away. Could you attribute this to any particular aspect of your training whilst away?

Jamie: Sure. For a start, I really had to dabble into high rep ranges. I can’t remember the last time I went above 8 reps before I left, apart from the odd widowmaker squat. Suddenly, 15 reps became low. That and keeping the diet in check and bam, I grew. Simple really!

EK: Ben, coming from a bodybuilding background and being a ‘big guy’, did your approach to training in the Jungle Gym differ from Jamie’s in anyway?

Ben: The biggest difference was in the food. I needed more. I train following a bodybuilders approach though and Jamie that of pure strength. Resultantly my volume was higher still than Jamie’s. Its the way I like to train and I am accustomed to it. Being at a relatively high level of development I find that I require that extra volume to keep such muscle mass and fullness. I also hit isolation or accessory movements a lot more after my main lifts. Again its a volume issue but also aesthetics. For example, with shoulders, I put a lot more side lateral, upright row and reverse fly movements into my workouts what ever way I could whereas Jamie was pretty much content on the main pressing and pulling movements. I went out my way to get extra work done and resultantly my workouts were longer.

EK: From your experience what pitfalls do you feel potentially await any future travellers?

Jamie: Expecting to do too much. I set out with this glorified idea of doing nearly daily bodyweight activity. Didn’t last for long. You have to remember that you’re away travelling and there to enjoy it. So it’s important to be minimalist in both your expectations and your approach. By the end I was training just 2 days per week. And I got on just fine.

Ben: I agree with Jamie and we spoke of this matter frequently when out there. Stressing out will only serve to reduce your Testosterone levels and ramp up your cortisol levels. The mechanics are to long winded to delve into here but essentially your body only has a finite ability to make testosterone or cortisol (via the conversion of cholesterol and in turn pregnenolone). As one goes up the other goes down. Keep the cortisol (stress) down by getting the weight of not leading the perfect training life off your back. Every little helps. Plus as Jamie said, you are here to life live and experience the world. After all what’s 6 weeks out of your whole life?

EK: In hindsight, could you have better prepared yourself for a length time away? Or put another way, are there any things a traveller could do in the build up to going away that would help them on the road?

Jamie: I’m not sure I could have prepared any better, as part of the experience is that it’s a vast unknown quantity. The one thing I’d say that is important though, is to start thinking about it in advance and how you’ll approach it. In other words, if you’ve got minimal training time, what are your real bang for buck, go-to exercises. And what do you do if the equipment isn’t there. What’s your back up plan? With that in mind, it might be worth investing some time into reading up on advanced bodyweight movements, as you might need them a lot.

Ben: One tactic that I use often before going away is purposefully ‘overreaching’ as its technically known. I up my training volume and intensity the couple of weeks prior to going away, reaching a point of mild over training. This means that when I go away, I can actually not train for a week to two weeks and still be supercompensating (diet dependant). In the case here that equates to a third of my time away!

I would also like to address the issue of flexibility and being able to let the mind broaden to different training practices, as when your on the road you ARE going to have to do things that aren’t in your normal training. If you are not mentally prepared this can be stressful. Knowing you will have to adapt and then thinking about how you can do that before hand lessens the blow when your presented with less than ideal conditions. It also means that you can get training done instead of being left scratching your head or worse, giving up and not training!

EK: As a final take home for our readers, If you could ‘coin’ the principles of how to train whilst on the road or away from mainstream training, how would you do so in as few words as possible?

Jamie: Think outside the box, use the local environment to your advantage, and most of all – enjoy it!

Ben: In true Coker style…Basics. Volume. Milk.

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Shotgun Movements – by Jamie Bolton

It’s 2012. The apocalyptic events predicted by religion and popular media are running riot. The 12 Horsemen, Solar storms, magnetic pole reversals, you name it. It’s happening.What’s worse, a crazed gunman has roamed into the Elite Kinetics Performance Facility and is now holding a shotgun to my temple.

The world may be ending, but worse yet is the EK team held hostage....

“Tell me the secrets. Give me the answers. What movements should I be doing?”

To top it off, it appears he’s got a limited brainspan and can only remember five, yes five, movements in total.

“I want to build a lean, muscular physique, but I won’t use more than five movements.”

I’m usually loathe to pick favourites as everything has its time and its place in a program. Well maybe except bosu-ball dumbbell presses amongst other retarded movements, but you get the picture.

These have no place in any program

But this guy does have a shotgun to my head, so I’m inclined to do what he asks!In the all encompassing field that is strength training, I try to pick movements that are just that. With these 5 movements I am trying to address all the key qualities this guy needs to be developing in order to meet his goals:
1. Strength
2. Power
3. Hypertrophy
4. Conditioning

Finally, we need to address all the key movement patterns and structures in the body, otherwise we are going to end up with some seriously unbalanced development over time. I don’t want our armed friend here to come back and complain!

So this is what I’d prescribe:

1. Complexes

A complex is a series of exercises performed with a barbell back to back without letting go of the bar. I’m slightly cheating here as it is technically more than one exercise, but since it’s continuous, I’m counting them as one! There are many ways of setting these up, but my favorite is the JB Complex.

You can set these up in as many ways you can imagine really. I wrote more here recently on the beauty of complexes if you want to see a bigger list of their benefits.

2. Trap Bar Deadlifts

Possibly the uncrowned king of the lower body exercises.  It gives the benefits of both the squat and conventional deadlift without the drawbacks of both. The squat is a great lower body movement, but since the bar is placed across the upper back, upper body involvement is well, limited. In contrast, the conventional deadlift gets far more upper body involvement, but the weight distribution often leads to temptation for form to weaken and lower backs to round.

From a cost-benefit perspective, we get the best of both worlds using the trap bar deadlift. We get the desirable upper body involvement of the deadlift, but the weight distribution of the squat with the movement firmly through the heels.

3. Power Clean & Press

The Power Clean & Press is a great movement for developing total body explosiveness. It’s impossible to do one slowly. To top it off, it engages and taxes almost every muscle in the body. As a result, this movement will help add slabs of muscle all over your frame. And the increases you’ll see in power and neuro-muscular coordination will make you a faster athlete too. What more could you want?

4. Pull Ups

A full, properly-executed set of pull ups is one of the best movements you’ll see in slapping on precious width and thickness to the back of a body.

The Latissimus Dorsi attach all the way along the spine. In other words, its one HUGE core muscle. And is key in pulling strength, overall trunk stability in pressing, posture and general longevity. Not that the Pull up solely relies on the Lats, the rest of the upper back comes in to play too. Real bang for your buck. Forget the lat pulldowns.

It’s also a 2-for-1 exercise in as much as varying the grip width, and  whether using a pronated or supinated grip, changes the emphasis on varying parts of the back. But thats an article for another day.

Form is crucial, each rep from a dead hang please. No pathetic half reps allowed.

5. Farmers Walks

Great overall body strength & conditioning movement. To reiterate what Ben Coker said here, they’re a great way to build the back, traps, legs, core and grip.

When you include farmers walks in a program, everything else can’t seem to help but go the right way. They’re an awesome, primal movement pattern that needs to be hit. Leave them out at your peril!Programming

Our crazed gunman then returns and demands:

“How do I put all of this together?”

Like this:
A. Complexes 3×8
B. Trap Deads 3-5rm max
C. Power Clean & Press 5×5
D. Pull ups 3x max reps
E. Farmers Walks 4x50m

Complexes are a great way to warm up the entire body for the rest of the session. 3 sets of 8 does nicely here.  With Trap Bar Deadlifts, we want to work up over as many sets as needed to a strong 3-5 rep max. Everytime we get 5 reps, we add weight the next session.

Similarly with the power clean and press, we aim for 5×5, adding weight from set to set until we can’t get 5 reps, plus these should feel light after the heavy deadlift. With Pull ups, we want to cause as much fatigue as possible to maximally stimulate the upper back, so we go to positive failure on each set. Finally, we hit 4 lengths of 50m with the farmers walk to fry what’s left of our shotgun pal.

Try the above for a great total body workout if you are short on time or just want to get back to basics. Perform twice per week and hit some basic conditioning like hill sprints 2 or 3 times per week on top and suddenly you’ve got a pretty decent program.

Wrap Up 

The reality is obviously that we don’t have to limit ourselves like this. But sometimes adding exercises doesn’t necessarily mean added results.As Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible but no simpler.”

It’s always a useful exercise to go through your training and work out what exercises are really adding value to your program, and what is just there for the sake of it. Getting back to the basic, shotgun movements can be a great way to keep your training simpler and more effective. Sometimes less is more.

Are Your Hip Adductors Sub Standard? – by Ben Coker

So you’ve been hammering away at your legs – busting your ass of to try and get them stronger and bigger. Frustratingly you just don’t feel any stronger in the ‘hole’, those squats just won’t fly up and the tape measures still shows the same inches around. What’s going wrong? It’s a safe bet that your hip adductors could be  substandard.

The adductors as a group constitute a large muscle mass in which all of the muscle originate on the pubic bone and insert running down the medial femur. There role is to provide hip adduction – bringing the thigh across the body (towards the midline) and also to maintain pelvic position during gait.

The potential strength development of the movement adduction is significant since the agonist (hip adductors) are very large when combined as a group. Yet in many movements and sports activities the adductors are not the main agonists and consequently are minimally loaded or strengthened through activity. This highlights the potential for underdeveloped adductors in athletes and gives rise to the benefits of specific resistance training for the adductors.

In specific activities like squatting the adductors they play an important role. Mark Rippetoe explains wonderfully:

“At the bottom of the squat, where the hamstrings and adductors are fully stretched, there is as much pull on the knee from the posterior as form the anterior…the adductors have stretched too, and if the knees stay parallel to the feet, as they should, the adductors will get tight and pull on the femurs. This  “knee out” position anchors the femur so that adductor contractions and hamstring contractions produce hip extension, which is apparent when sore adductors show up the day after a heavy squat workout”

“If the knees are shoved out to the sides at the bottom of the squat, the adductors are tightened. If this is done correctly, there is a slight “bounce” or muscular rebound off the hamstrings and adductors at the bottom of the squat, which initiates the upward drive out of the hole”.

This highlights the importance of the adductors in strengthening the squat. Clearly therefore additional resistance training for the adductors will help improve your squat – namely out of the ‘hole’.

Rippetoe also adds that hip extension in this manor is accomplished “much more efficiently and much more safely for the knee when it occurs from this correct position- the position that cannot be achieved unless the squat is deep”.

This is a clear message to me that if you want to improve your max. squat, adductor size/strength and knee health you have to squat deep. There is also the conclusion that by developing our adductors we can actually improve our squat strength out of the hole.

It also goes without saying that developing a large muscle group in the legs, which the adductors are, is like tapping into a goldmine in regards to hypertrophy of the legs. Building up your adductors will do wonders for aesthetics  resulting in significant hypertrophy and ‘fullness’ of the leg.

Compare these two examples:

Yes the legs on the left are bigger overall but regardless of quadriceps development look at the difference in the inner thigh mass...the adductors make a big difference!

Interestingly by building the adductors in both strength and size, we improve our depth in squatting which not only makes us better at squatting but also saves our knees AND actually serves to further develop such properties of adductors! Squatting deep is a winning cycle.

Its also worth noting by having a more developed set of adductors they will enable you to squat heavier weights and this extra weight will stimulate your quads to grow and strengthen even more! Your adductors could be limiting the size and strength of your quads by dictating how much weight your can put through them!

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So what exercises develop the adductors?


1) Squats

Unless you’ve been asleep this should be apparent by now! As Rippetoe highlighted, squatting deep will call upon the adductors to help in balancing the anterior posterior forces on the knee and in hip extension out of the hole. This stimulation will cause them to grow in strength and size. Let us not forget that powerlifting stance squating both free and box variations (wider stance) put extra stress on the adductors and inner thigh musculature as the adductors are stretched more and the leg action is more of adduction in the up phase in this stance.

BUT the key here is to actually squat deep!

People out there will be undoubtedly reading this and agreeing, ‘oh yes, deep squats – people need to do them’, but don’t realise that they still don’t do them themselves!

Be honest to yourself and ask for an external opinion from someone who can squat to depth themselves. Get them to evaluate your form and ensure you are hitting depth. Only then will you be stimulating the most growth out of your adductors by squatting. If not you could just compound the imbalance.

Extra emphasis can be placed upon the adductors by using a second pause at the bottom of a deep squat.

2) Sumo Deadlift

These work the glutes, hamstrings and adductors more as opposed to conventional deadlifts. The low back sheer force is drastically reduced in sumo deadlifts making the movement heavily hip reliant. The sumo stance puts the legs more in a position of abduction meaning that the adductors are recruited more in the lift as they in effect try to pull the legs back into adduction. 

3) ‘Frog stance’ leg press

This modification leg press is an exercise I have had great results with in both adductor size and strength (giving rise to a larger squat max and a more stable ‘hole’). Just like powerlifting stance squats and sumo deadlifts the adductors are stretched more in this position and the up phase involves more adduction of the hip.

Simply place your feet higher and wider than normal with toes pointed out slightly and get real low in the bottom position – no partials here! This loads the posterior chain and inner thigh more than in a conventional leg press.

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These can be implemented at the end of a workout when fatigue dictates lighter weights to be lifted if you are wary of the ‘alien’ positioning. This is key for avoiding injury especially as in this new position you will be weak and you joints exposed when you first attempt the lift.

Controll the eccentric with the posterior chain and adductors. You should feel them being loaded as the foot plate gets lower.

The motion really stretches out the adductors putting them under more eccentric stress and due to the position of the legs, the press portion of the movement is more in line with the anatomical movement of adduction (the prime movement pattern of the adductors).

4) Walking lunges with hold

Single leg work I feel is important both for performance and hypertrophy and walking lunges are my favourite. The adductors (along with the abductors) play a role in leg and pelvis stabilisation and this is heightened during single leg work.

To target my entire leg not only the adductors in the best way I used a wide ‘step’ and sink straight down into the hole, keeping the torso upright.

Again I pause at the bottom when the adductors are loaded and then squeeze straight up. I try to minimise the push off of the back leg and turn the movement more into a single leg squat.

5) Isolation exercises

As a final brief note, lets not forget those ‘sissy machines’ that isolate the adductors; cables, seated and standing pad machine variations. These can be used to top of a gruelling leg session and NO it doesn’t mean you are a girl because you are doing them!!

Everything has its worth if used in the right context!

This article goes a long way in highlighting the way the body works in unison and the importance therefore of not neglect body parts to achieve improved strength and aesthetics. If you are struggling with strength out of the hole in your squats and or your upper leg strength and size has stagnated, try adding in some of the above exercise to your programme and see the difference.

I did and I enjoyed the results.

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References

Rippetoe M.  Strong Enough: Thoughts from thirty years of barbell training.  Pp. 66-69. The Aasgarard Company, Wichita Falls TX. 2007

Trap Bar Deadlifts: The Best of Two Kings – by Ben Coker

Often around the gym you will hear guys sneering at someone who is performing a trap bar deadlift.

‘Its not a real deadlift’, ‘Its just an easy deadlift’ or ‘be a man and use a straight bar’ are common comments thrown around gyms born simply out of ignorance.

Here’s my viewpoint on trap bar deadlifts…I love them. I think its a fantastic exercise. They are a staple in my training and should be viewed as much a mass and strength builder as squats and regular deadlifts.

There seems to be plenty of mass and strength here...

Now before people start losing the plot here, I want to make a few things clear. I DO love squats and regular deadlifts. They are great mass and strength builders and should be stables in any serious strength/hypertrophy programme. Also the specifics of squatting and deadlifting are important for many athletes such as powerlifters, Olympic lifters and strongmen and so they need to be practiced most definitely by such athletes.

The point I am highlighting is that most athletes don’t. The trap bar deadlift offers them the benefits of both the squat and the regular deadlift in one exercise but without any of the negative aspects of the two conventional lifts.

The trap bar deadlift puts the lower body in the same basic position as in a squat. When performing trap bar deadlifts you step inside the bar as opposed to having the bar in front of your shins (in a regular deadlift) or on your back (if you were squatting).

This puts the load more in line with you centre of gravity. This reduces the strain or sheer force on the lower back when compared to a regular deadlift. This is an important point for people who want protect their low back as much as possible especially those coming back from injury or with chronic low back issues, or simply athletes whose spines take a beating as it is in their sport without adding even more in training.

If we were squatting the bar would be up on the shoulders yet in trap bar deadlifts despite being in the squat position the load is not resting on your spine but actually disrupted across the shoulder girdle. As a result there is less compressive force through the spine and thus less stress on body/CNS when compared to if we were performing regular squats.

Trap bar deadlifts also allow you to completely control the entire eccentric phase of the lift as a result of the line of pull being more in line with your centre of gravity. The eccentric phase is a crucial component of a rep in terms of producing hypertrophy and the trap bar deadlift allows you to maximise its benefits.

In a regular deadlift due to the positioning of the knees and the path of the bar a complete controlled eccentric is not possible. The bar either travels horizontally away from you and your centre of gravity to get around the knees putting your body in a suboptimal position which can obviously result in injury or the weight is simply dropped back to the floor.

As mentioned earlier this is not a message to say stop deadlifting and squatting. Hell no! Indeed the extra strain they put on you (if used sensibly) works wonders on hormone responses to training and muscular development. Its also key for athletes that needs to perform regular deadlifts and squats in competition to use them in training! But even here the trap bar deadlifts can be used to increase frequency of leg training and to spare the low back. If you are an athlete or weekend warrior looking to build mass and strength and save you low back wherever possible the trap bar deadlift is for you.

Wrap up

The trap bar deadlift offers the  benefits of squat leg development and the benefits of deadlifting upper back, trapezius and forearm development. Not only this, they also reduces stress on the body (recovery is quicker and there is less stress on immune system) and the potential for injury is reduced.

Any athlete (or regular trainer) looking to spare their low back in training to allow optimal performance in competition should seriously consider trap bar deadlifts as their leg exercise of choice.

Coker’s Mass Shakes – by Ben Coker

After my previous articles ‘Belly up Mr Hardgainer’ and ‘Bulking on a £3 Budget’ and numerous other big eating emphasises in other posts, I have received a lot of questions regarding options for other protein shake recipes that I use.

Therefore today I though I would share a few more of my blended shake recipes that I use when bulking. Nothing ground breaking here but I understand sometimes people just like to see  something in writing. Remember options are endless based on your tastes, metabolism and goals!

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Breakfast

Shake 1

2 scoops MP impact whey protein
100g oats
500ml full fat organic milk
banana (av. 120g)
Rasberries (123g)

Total kcal 1079

Shake 2

1 scoop MP impact whey protein
1 cup Greek yoghurt
500ml full fat organic milk
50g oats
1 banana (av. 120g)
dried apricot 50g

(add water to vary thickness)

Total kcal 1000

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Post post workout

I use a basic whey and dextrose shake immediate after workout to increase gastirc emptying and maximise the nutrient uptake immediately after exercise. Use this shake within the next hour window.

Shake 1

2 scoops MP impact whey protein
200g oats
80g dextrose
500ml chocolate milk

Total kcal 1549

Shake 2
2 scoops MP impact whey protein
200g oats
2 bananas (240g)
500ml skimmed milk

Total kcal 1329

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Evening

Shake 1

2 scoops MP impact whey protein
50g peanut butter
20ml extra virgin olive oil
500ml full fat organic milk

Total kcal 1042

Shake 2

1 scoop MP impact whey protein
1 cup Greek yoghurt
500ml full fat organic milk
25g oats
50g cashews

(add water to vary thickness)

Total kcal 1116

Hopefully after seeing these recipes you will be instantly formulating some of your own liquid mass gainer ideas.  Get in the kitchen and experiment!

5 reasons for the success of my hypertrophy phase – by Ben Coker

Well the beloved bulking phase has passed for me and I am now 2 weeks into a mild trim. Looking back on the months since Christmas in which I put on 11kg, I reflected on the things that contributed to my success. My previous articles on the mistakes of bulking 1 and 2 went a long way in keeping me on the road to success but this article explains 5 more personal reasons.

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1) I set quantifiable, challenging but realistic goals.

For me I had two post-its on my wall; one saying 150kg for 10reps = 170kg and the other 114.3 kg / 18stone, both surrounded by inspiring quotes I hold close.

The first refers to benching 150kg for 10 reps which should equate to a 1rm of 170kg + by the end of my bulk. The second refers to the body wight I wanted to achieve by the end of my bulk.

These notes were glaring at me every time I sat in my room, there was no escape. I had held myself accountable. Looking back those notes where instrumental in me smashing both targets.

I feel that simply entering a bulk phase with the notion of ‘I want to be bigger and or stronger’ will undoubtedly lead to poor or sub optimal results. Have a fixed finish point and make it visible to you everyday as a reminder to yourself; are you doing everything you can to reach your best?

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2) I built my calories up slowly but ultimately if I wasn’t eating when I felt I shouldn’t have then I was stunting my growth.

A recent article about leaving something in the toolbox applies here. When starting a bulk dont go over crazy on the food. Trust me simply by giving your body as little as 500kcal extra a day from its maintenance or dieted levels it has been on between bulking phases is enough to make the body  put on muscle at impressive rates.

BUT here’s the twist. This rate of growth slows as you put on weight so you have to keep increasing your calories over the hypertrophy period to get that surplus of calories above your RMR!

And boy did they the calories have to go up!  Two thirds of the way through my bulk I plateaued. I wasn’t eating enough, but surely 6000kcal a day was enough?

‘Obviously not you idiot’ I told myself.

I went and revised my list on the mistakes of bulking and all boxes were checked barring the fact I wasn’t eating when I felt I shouldn’t!

So up went the calories to 7000kcal and even 8000kcal on some days. What happened? From being stuck at around 110-112kg bodyweight I flew up to 114kg then continue up until 116kg.

So build up those calories conservatively but keep building them up! Don’t fear fat gain as long as your building muscle as fast as humanly possible. There will be another time for you to ‘unveil’ your sculpture later…

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3) I walked everywhere

This one is so important especially when you get REAL heavy but also if you put on a decent level of mass in a relatively short period of time. Last weeks article also touched on it.

By walking everywhere everyday you body doesn’t notice the effects of the extra mass gradually being put on. You feel lighter on your feet, and your cardio-respiratory systems are much better adapt to cope with the larger mass.

Honesty call, I love being big but even to me an out of breath mass monster don’t look (or feel) too good! Everyone should be able to walk briskly for at least an hour whilst still holding a conversation. And I’m glad to say that despite impressive gains in muscle mass I don’t feel ‘burdened’ with the extra weight.

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4) Adapt to setbacks: I got outside the bodybuilding world and fell in love with a sled

At one point my knee was playing up a bit and so I sought different ways to hit my legs. Pulling a sled caused no pain in my knee and so there was the answer.

If I’m stuck with this I thought then I may as well load the thing up to the max and put a lot of work through my legs. 4 weeks of puke inducing sled training and my legs grew by an inch.

A slap in the face reminder that different is good sometimes, even for a bodybuilder. Any bodybuilder would settle for an inch on their legs but for me the benefits went further. Since quitting rugby some time ago I had not run for years. Despite my strength I was now slower and struggled to sprint under my new weight.

The sled training got me right back on track; my legs were not only bigger now but their power had also been increased. I was now functional again despite being kilos heavier and I loved it! I also enjoyed the sensation of high intensity cardio believe it or not. It made me feel healthier and that’s priceless when piling on size.

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5) Deadlift, Deadlift, Deadlift.

I have had issues with my low back for a while and have spent a long time rehabbing and tentatively dabbling in deadlifting again in the process of recovery. But by this bulk phase I was ready to hit them in ernest. I knew deadlifts were the missing link to gorilla muscle, and gorilla muscle was what I wanted.

Gorilla muscle: built by deadlifts.

So I deadlifted and deadlifted a lot. Not always super heavy but I made a point to work hard on form and intensity. Some days I did heavy singles, some days sets of 5 and some days I even did super volume on them like 10×10 or sets of 30reps at 1.5 x bodyweight.

The results of fanatical deadlifting?. My low back and core is now a whole lot stronger and my discs far more protected. A movement that had crippled me even to think of, I now loved. My legs ballooned. My back got super thick. Oh and finally all my other lifts sored up and as a result all their relevant muscle groups grew in a crazy fashion.

The deadlift is the king at building the whole body as the whole body is used. This hypertrophy phases owes a lot of its success to the fact that in it I could for the first time deadlift pain free.  I took full advantage and the scales and measurements went through the roof as a result.

Tricky Triceps and Lousy Lock-outs – by Ben Coker

Do you have match stick arms? A horse shoe that is more fitting for a ‘My Little Pony’?  Do you find yourself struggling to lock out your presses?  Here are some exercise modifications that I use regularly in my pressing workouts or on separate arm days to grow those triceps into horseshoes of epic proportions and develop a super strong lockout.

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1) Dead-stop lock outs from pins (bench or standing/seated OH press)

The sticking point in presses is often the point where the triceps would be taking over in the lift. This works just that.

Firstly I like the standing overhead version. Why? 1) a big shoulder press equals gains in the bench press 2) the synergistic and stabilising work by the lower traps and all the upper back muscles and posterior chain gives you a thicker upper back, a stronger core and a therefore a stronger set up when doing a flat bench.

These are in effect partial reps and so isolate the triceps (and delts) better. Simply set the safety pins at whatever level your sticking point is or at a level to isolate the delts and or triceps to whatever degree you want.

The beauty in these is that dead-stop start allows you to mimic a sticking point by adding in inertia. By having to start each rep from the artificial sticking point you are forced to work through it having to overcome the humbling force of inertia. By being able to set the bar on the pins each rep you remove all stretch shortening activity, its just your muscles versus the inertia of the weight!

Its also worth noting here the beneficial carry over dead-stop pressing has in sports where a stretch shortening contraction is not available yet a powerful press is needed – think football linemen and  shot put for some obvious examples.

The safety pins mean that no spotter is needed and that you can go through fatigue with rest pause. This is essential for overloading those triceps. In effect an weight that you can do for 8 reps without pins, you can now do for 12. Taking a couple seconds rest before each rep when near or at failure enables you to grind out more reps then you normally could. Trust me if you got the guts you’ll be surprised at what you can do.

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2) Isometric press for 3 count (bench or overhead press).

Again this modification can be performed in the bench press position or the overhead press position.

Set you safety pins at a suitable level and rest the bar on them (Yes another dead stop movement because they are bad ass!). Now simply add in another set of safety pins above the first set at whatever part of the press you find you have a sticking point. Proceed to press the bar off the pins and up into the set of pins above. Here you drive as hard as you can, imagine that you are trying to break those safety pins like your life depended on it! Hold that for 3 seconds then return the weight to the first set of pins. Repeat for reps.

Whats happening here is that the second set of pins is a definite sticking point, one you cant actually break… but  be sure to give it everything you’ve got. This teaches you to recruit as many fibres as you can at this crucial part of the lift where you normally fail and also not to give up and keep driving (and breathing) through ‘the wall’.

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3) Pin press into eccentric skull crusher.

Set up is similar to the previous exercise except you only need the first set of safety pins. Close grip press the weight up and then eccentrically lower the weight down in the form of a skull crusher until the bar rests on the pins. Slide the bar back into it’s original position and continue for reps.

These are great as again they use a dead-stop, they allow you to use rest pause and there is no need for a spotter. But, more importantly, it allows you to overload the triceps with a weight that you would not normally be able to handle as you only do the eccentric part of the lift as a skull crusher. This is great for getting those triceps accustomed to heavy loads and makes them swell!

Another modification that can be used but not shown in the video is this: When you can no longer control the weight eccentrically as a skull crusher you may still be able to rest pause and grind up some standard pin presses…get ready for some serious pump if you do!

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4) Triceps Hell

The title of this says it all. Taken straight from Dave Tate at EliteFTS this exercise kicks butt!

What to do: Set up in a bench press position. Choose a weight. Do 5 reps off of 1 board, then without racking the weight do 5 reps off of 2 boards, then off of 3 boards and so on until you do 5 reps off of the 5 board. This is killer. You will need a spot and someone to hold/swap the boards.

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5) Mechanical Drop Set Triceps Cable Extensions

Mechanical drop sets allow you to focus on performing more reps once you hit failure by making a small change to the execution of the movement to allow yourself to get more reps with the same weight.

In this exercise perform cable rope extension keeping your arms apart until failure. When you can no longer perform a rep with the arms in isolation, squeeze the handles together for the concentric part of the lift and keep the arms apart for the eccentric portion. Once you reach failure again try to squeeze out mini partial reps at the top of the movement (if you can). Insane pump guaranteed with these burners. N.b. the weight in this video is way off working set weight and so the pump reps won’t be as easy as demonstrated…most of the time I can only do 1-3  I’m that fried!

(Apologies for the video orientation).

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Wrap up

Include these exercises as finisher on pressing days or incorporate them into body part splits to see big gains in performance and aesthetics in the triceps department!

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