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.

Simplicity – by Jamie Bolton

Everyday we are confronted by choice. A lot of choice. When training. When eating. When supplementing.In training, we are confronted by an array of machines, pulleys, cables and god-knows what else. Our friend the barbell and his pal the power rack are left neglected.In eating, our supermarkets our clogged full of synthetic, processed-attempts of food. Our friends, organic meats and fish, delightful fruits, veggies and other natural wholesome goodness, are left underappreciated.

In supplementation, a raft of superhuman-claiming products fight for our attention. Our friends, the staple protein powders, vitamins and omega 3s are left forgotten.

In short, we have too many choices. We chronically suffer from paralysis by analysis. There is too much information. We attempt to use everything at our disposal and hence achieve nothing.

We ignore the most adaptable piece of equipment we have – the barbell. I use maybe 10% of the equipment available in the gym. I can’t remember the last time I used a machine. I wouldn’t hazard to state that most of those using a fraction of the equipment are the ones seeing multiples of the average progress. 90% of the time, all I use is a barbell, power rack and some dumbbells. Even with that, there are still a myriad of choices – load, set, reps, tempo, rest. The truth is though it’s easier for a facility to cram itself full of machines than barbells. Why – it’s easier to sign people up and let them roam the machines with little risk of injury, than to have to teach everyone how to squat. The people who want the power racks are just lower margin business.

You only have to walk around a supermarket to see that 80% of the store is crap you don’t want to be putting in your body. A good rule of thumb – the more heavily advertised the less you should probably want to eat it, nutritious food doesn’t tend to advertise as well! Stick to the outside perimeter of the supermarket for most of your needs – all the goodness is there. Fruit and veggies, potatoes, meat, fish, eggs, milk are there. With the occassional excursion inward to pick up goodies like oats, brown rice, spices, nut butters, oils and so on. Again even when you limit your choices here there are still a tonne of options, take meat, will it be chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, pork or something else?

Take the standard supplement company website. ‘SuperMass Gainer v2 – gain 20lbs of muscle in a week’. Maybe not as extreme as this but you get the picture. The standard basics are typically all you need most of the time. Why are products like this pushed then? Advertising and margins. The basics don’t advertise well – whey protein powder is well, just whey protein powder. It’s not as fashionable as other stuff, it doesn’t latch onto what people want to be true – that this game is easy. More than that, whey isn’t nearly half maltodextrin (sugar) like half the crap on the market – hence its lower margin. It’s not hard to see why what is advertised, is so heavily advertised.

When you look at it like this, its not hard to see why and how people continually manage to get this wrong. We all get sucked into advertising hype now and again. We get sidetracked from the basics in our training.

I guess the take-home point is that everything out there, for the other guy – the supplier, is a business. What matters is the margin. The profit. The places that aren’t like this are fewer and increasinly further between. The hardcore training facility. The healthy foods markets. The no-bullshit supplement company. But they exist.

When in doubt, strip it back to the basics. Walk into a facility and confronted by too many machines? Head to the barbell. Supermarket full of boxed processed crap? Stick to the outside. Supplement website pushing too much advertising in your face? Get your whey and get out!

When in doubt, take the KISS approach - Keep It Simple, Stupid

Despite what they want you to believe, this stuff really isn’t complicated. It’s straightforward. It’s simple. It’s also hardwork.

Remember Occam’s Razor –

“It is futile to do more with what could be done with less”

When Life Gets in the Way – by Jamie Bolton

We’ve all been there when life just seems to ‘get in the way’of our regular schedule. Deadlines at work, family overload, prior engagements and holidays, to name but a few.Often the difference between those who get results on a consistent basis and those who don’t, is that the former find ways to work around obstacles that pop up in life and get the time in the gym done.
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Some of this is psychological for sure, they MAKE time to train. But a plenty of it isn’t. It’s about being intelligent with the time you have and getting something in regardless.
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It’s about going from say 6 sessions at an hour a piece, and squeezing them down to 3 sessions a week at 45mins each, but still moving in the right direction. Heck, time may be even more pressing than that and it means stripping it down to even 2 sessions a week of 40mins. But you can still be moving forward. If you train intelligently.
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At its core, the key to this approach is stripping out what provides a weak investment of your time, and focusing on the big compounds that offer the best bang for your buck. It’s a pretty simple concept, and it works fantastically well.
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Yet why do people struggle then when time is short? I believe it’s fear. Fear that by dropping the barbell curls their arms will suddenly shrink, that without every conceivable raise their shoulders will morph back into their former-narrower selves. Believe me they won’t. You can give every bodypart enough stimulation so it at least maintains whilst training like this, and the majority of bodyparts can still grow. If you do it intelligently.g
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I like to use the 80/20 principle a lot, and here is no different – 20% of what you do gives you 80% of your results. Using the former example: 6 sessions a week @ 1 hour each is 6 hours total gym time; 3 sessions at 45mins each gives you 2 hours 30mins. Thats still 41.6% of our former gym time. Plenty, then to still achieve at LEAST 80% of our former results.
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There are a million and one ways you could set this up. So I’ll just show you what I like to use when I’m short on time. I take a full-body approach, training 3x per week. I’m a huge, huge fan of Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1, if you haven’t come across it, look it up. This is my fall-back to program. It’s my baseline for comparison. When time presses, I use this to get by in the following way.
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Sunday:

Squat – 5/3/1 Method
Bench Press – 5/3/1 Method
Pull ups – between every set of pressing
Conditioning – DB Swings 3×50

Tuesday:
Power Clean – 5/3/1 Method
Dips – 4×8
Pendlay Row – 4×8
Conditioning – Farmers walks 6x50m

Thursday:
Deadlift – 5/3/1 Method
Overhead Press – 5/3/1 Method
Pull ups – between every set of pressing
Conditioning – Complexes 3×8

Nothing terribly fancy. All bang for buck exercises and nothing more. That said, the tuesday session typically may leave me with 5-10mins extra free, in which case I just play it by ear and add some isolation work if I fancy it. Each day also begins with 3×6 of the JB complex to warm up. I’ll also tend to do 3×5 at 80% of my top set afterwards for the main lifts.

Sometimes I don’t, like others I’m sure, have time even for 3x per week. In which case I go to 2x per week and drop the tuesday session, since it’s composed of mainly accessory work anyway. The Sunday and Thursday sessions are the bread and butter of the program. It also works the other way. Occassionally if I have extra time I wasn’t expecting, there’s room enough here to add a little more, like a few sets of hill sprints or some bodyweight circuits at home. You get the picture. The point is that training like this, there’s enough of a stimulus to keep you progressing, but likewise enough ‘room’ for recovery you can add a reasonable amount more before running into problems.

AWAY FROM HOME

When away from home, its a slightly different proposition. If I have access to a (decent) gym then I’ll crack on with as I wrote above. But if the gym’s shoddy, or rather, there isn’t one, then it’s time to get imaginative.

The first thing I do is to take my TRX Suspension Trainer with me. Suddenly that gives me plenty of options. It’s not very hard to think of a tonne of circuits you can set up with this and standard bodyweight movements. You might not be able to quite load movements enough for the lower rep ranges unsuprisingly (think 3-5reps say), but instead the point is to just focus on quality reps and to accumulate a lot of volume of work.

The Traveller's Best Friend

A simple example of what I might do as a circuit would be:

TRX Inverted Row x10
TRX supported one-legged squat x10
TRX Incline Push up x10

5-6 rounds of this with minimal rest and you’ll be toast. You can of course add more, but taper the number of rounds accordingly.

Wrap Up

I hope this gives you a good few ideas on how to strip down your training when life gets in the way and to be sure to train anywhere. There are a million and one possibilities of how to. How you do it isn’t necessarily important though. The point is that you do it. Sure, life might try to get in the way. But if your training is THAT important to you, then you should be able to squeeze it in, no matter what. Strip it down and hit the basics.

Why are YOU here? – by Jamie Bolton

Why are you here? Why are you training?

Do you want to even be?
 
These are basic, but serious questions that everyone should ask themselves when training. Basic, but very revealing.

If it’s because you WANT to be better. Because you WANT to progress. Welcome. You realise that you are in this for the long run. You realise that this isn’t some short term thing. This is a lifestyle for you. You’re not just doing this because you feel you ‘have to’. You’re doing this because you want to. When the going gets tough, you’ll still be there. And that’s exactly why this kind of person gets the results that everyone else is envious of.

If its because you feel you ‘ought’ to be here you may want to think again about what you are really achieving. Is this a chore for you? Are you just ‘going through the motions’? Is this just something you begrudgingly force yourself to do? If it is, let me ask you this. When was the last time you saw results? I thought so.

If you are only in this for the short run, don’t be surprised by a lack of progress.
 
Your viewpoint will massively affect your results in this game.

When you see it as a lifestyle, it’s suddenly not hard to find time to train. It’s not hard to make the right food choices. Why? Because it’s who you are. You’re in it for the long haul. Progress occurs as an accumulation of your consistent actions.

If it’s some ‘chore’ that has to be done, then what do you think will happen? Well, eventually it ends up like all chores. Like the dishes. Like the washing. It gets put off with excuses until the point where you realise you haven’t trained this week. Or even this month. You’re no longer progressing. At best you’re fighting to stand still. In reality, you’re regressing. The analogy only runs so far. It’s not like the dishes where you can put it off, then wash and rinse and you’re back on top.  It’s more like building a straw house, then halfway through stopping and letting it blow away. Each time you’re starting from scratch!

Don't take this approach to training, you don't get anywhere fast

What I’m getting at here is that your viewpoint on this is going to affect your end results. If this is some chore for you, then don’t be surprised when you seem to be endlessly spinning your wheels and making limited, if any, progress.

If this is your lifestyle, then welcome. Progress will come to you. At times it may be fast. At times it may be slow. But your on the right track. And you’ll get there in the end. As long as you stick to it.
 
Now, if it is a chore for you, then you really need to look ask why.

Are you going through the motions? Is it just boring? If it is, it may be time to take a long hard look at your program. When was the last time you changed things? Or how about following a pre-designed training program? Or hired someone to write one for you? Following a proper program will not only provide better prospects of results, but likely will result in increased enthusiasm. It also forces you to challenge yourself.

What about your training environment? Does your gym just plain suck? Then switch facilities. Heck, buy yourself a TRX and get outside now and again! Do you do better when training with a partner? Then find one. Or do you need to be shown ‘the ropes’ and guided through the basics in form to really ‘get it’? Then find a generous, experienced lifter and ask for help. You might be surprised at the response. Or, find a reputable trainer and pay him/her for a session or three.

How about the food side of things? Think that ‘healthy’ food is boring? It might be time to crack out a recipe book. You don’t have to just eat plain chicken breasts and broccoli. There are a tonne of different spice options, which are all natural and healthy. And there is more to meat than just plain chicken. Use your imagination. Good food doesn’t have to be unhealthy and ‘boring’.

Good food doesn't need to be boring

So, why are you here? Training doesn’t have to be a chore. Eating ‘right’ doesn’t have to be boring. It’s what you make of it. It’s always what you make of it. Embrace it as a lifestyle and watch the results flow in. Your body wants you to. It’s just the bit in your head you need to deal with.

“The good Lord gave you a body that can stand most anything. It’s your mind you have to convince.” – Vince Lombardi.

Mistakes of Bulking Part 2 – by Ben Coker

Last week I posted about 5 key areas for failure when pursuing hypertrophy, focusing on food. This installment of bulking mistakes focuses on 5 common training errors…
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1) Not doing the basic muscle building lifts enough or even at all!

Too often the main compound lifts are neglected in programmes. They are either not done which is just plain dumb or they are done but with the premise of doing them because one knows they should! These people do them just to get them out the way so they can do the easier exercises!

‘All aboard for no gains!’

The lifts that are hardest get the best results. Compounds must form the vast majority of your programme. Isolation exercises from a hypertrophy perspective add shape to a huge mound of putty. With them we can add little extra bits of size to get a complete stage shape. These little extra bits put on to an already large piece of putty yields impressive illusions for size and density. But you can’t sculpt or shape if you have no putty to work with in the first place (ie limited muscle mass). In this case adding little bits to a little will yield slow and unimpressive gains. So unless you have a 17+ inch biceps for example, curls should hardly appear in your split but heavy chins should.

Ditch the curls...

2) Lack of intensity

Often people don’t do enough work for muscles to force the best growth out of them. It is essential for hypertrophy that we actually make the muscles work through fatigue. This isn’t about strength and letting the CNS fully recover for another 1RM, this is about working the target muscles hard and forcing them to grow.

Built with intensity.

If you are not sweating then believe me your intensity sucks! Work hard and push through fatigue to get optimal results. Upping your intensity may mean ditching your ego and lifting lighter but hey ego gets you no where intensity does.

There also needs to be a decent accumulation of work done for a movement pattern or exercise in a session to make it worthwhile. I’m talking mainly about doing enough working sets here. Too often people warm up to a working weight then switch to the next exercise. 3 working sets mean just that 3 sets where your working with the top weight for that session!

3) Poor body splits and recovery

This can be the undoing of many programmes. Often the right exercises are in a programme but how they are combined and spread out is woeful at times.

Doing arms one day then back the next, or doing chest one day then shoulders the next are good examples of this. The splits are good in that they could contain the heavy compound lifts to work the muscles well but done back to back  over training occurs and the second session is not performed optimally enough and can actually hinder recovery and progress from the day before.

It is essential that you get 2 days rest between hitting body parts directly to get the best out of each session. Failing to do so leads to under recovery and a subsequent lesser performance in the next session which over time will lead to an accumulation of over training and lost results. Doing a back workout, followed the day after by a leg session that involves deadlifting is going to lead to under performance on the deadlift. Little things like this add up across many splits preventing optimal training and growth.

Remember if you train like a madman and you will get more out of the days when you are not training but you need to have those rest days to actually realise this! Ensure that your spilt allows for enough rest days where your body doesn’t have to deal with any training stimulus at all and can focus solely on repair and growth.

4) Missing out key body parts that give the appearance of fullness and density.

Side delts are vital in giving you a wider appearance from the front and back. As a result they help to accentuate your V taper. They also tie in the traps to the arms to give a fuller, denser appearance.

Rear delts are crucial in making you look thick and complete from unflattering 45degree angles. They also give a finishing touch to the upper back, helping to build that mountain range that is visible through the back of a t-shirt. Its worth noting that in bodybuilding, it is the rear delts that stick out the furthest in the most muscular pose, highlighting their importance in the size illusion.

Rear delts make a most muscular physique!

Without a thick set of sweeping hamstrings you quads will never look big! Neglecting hamstrings will leave your legs looking puny and ill sightly despite what quad size you have. Not only this but big hamstrings can actually build bigger quads as it allows you to squat and deadlift more! Whatever way you look at it if you don’t have big hamstrings you won’t have big well rounded legs. As the bodybuilding saying goes ‘a good set of hamstrings is an overdeveloped set of hamstrings.’

Calves. All I can say to this is how silly it looks when your as wide as a house up top yet are walking on match stick calves! Calves are a very impressive muscle group when well developed and often if someones calves are of epic proportions then you can bet that they are gonna be massive up top.

So ego lovers if you wont people to gawk at how big you instead of laugh at how unbalanced you are…get some calves.

5) Changing programme every week when the scales haven’t gone up as much as last week.

Building muscle is a long endeavor and gains are non linear in the way they appear. Trust in your training and ‘stay the course’. Keep training hard and consistently and give those result time to show themselves because they will. Programme hopping will get you nowhere. Fact.

Nutrition: Building a Basic Diet – by Jamie Bolton

In the previous article in this short series, we established the fundamental ‘laws’ of nutrition which underpin all successful nutritional programmes. 
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Now before you read on, I need you to be honest with yourself. Is  implementing those laws in that article yielding newfound results? If so, then stop reading. Stop right there.  This isn’t for you. Seriously. Why add more detail? All it will serve to do is complicate matters. Keep it as simple as possible. Likewise, if you are struggling to follow the laws then do you really think adding more detail will make it easier? No. It will just cloud things further.

If the previous piece however, made perfect sense and you found yourself nodding along realising you follow all of the laws, and would appreciate a more thorough understanding, read on.

In this article I will go into a bit more depth around the 3 macro-nutrients – what they are, good sources of them, and why we need them. I’ll also show you how to pull it all together and hopefully do all this without going too sciencey on you!

Protein

As far as the performance athlete should be concerned, protein is the building block of muscle. So we want plenty of it or we won’t recover or grow optimally. To touch on a popular analogy, if the body is a house, then protein is the bricks, if you don’t provide enough your house won’t ‘grow’ very quickly, if at all.

The best sources of protein are: meats, fish, milk, eggs & protein powders.

How much? Aim for 1g/lb of bodyweight as an absolute minimum. 1.25g/lb is a better ‘minimum’, and all the way up to 2g/lb can be beneficial. This might seem a lot, and it probably conflicts with what you’ve heard, but I’ll provide some simple anecdotal evidence – ask any big guy how much he eats – it will fall more within this realm then the textbook definitions.

Some meaty food porn. Get plenty of protein.

For those who want more evidence that that, here are some good pieces to read here and here.

Fats

Fats are the boo-boy of the media. The nutrient they love to hate. Low-fat this and low fat that. I’ll tell you now – they’re wrong. Fat doesn’t make you fat – excess calories do. Fat most definitely should not be avoided.

Fats are the low-activity energy source for the body. Any non-strenuous activity, from sleeping to even walking is mainly fuelled by fatty acids.

Getting the right kind of fat intake is crucial for optimal hormonal balance. Additionally, vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, so limiting your fat intake is also limiting your vitamin intake. Fats are sources of essential fatty acids, i.e. the body can’t do without them.

There are 3 kinds of fats, and we want to consume all of them.

  1. Saturated. Good sources: meats, eggs, whole milk and coconut oil.
  2. Monounsaturated. Good sources: red meat, whole milk, olive oil, nuts, avocados.
  3. Polyunsaturated. Good sources: salmon, grass-fed beef, sunflower seeds, walnuts.

Aim to get about ⅓ of your fat intake from each of the types of fat. Polyunsaturated tends to be one of the more awkward to get plenty of and so supplementing with a fish oil supplement can be useful – in particular omega 3.

How much? Aim for about 0.6g/lb when maintaining or cutting, and look to up intake to about 0.8g/lb when bulking.

Oils, Avocados, Nuts & Seeds - all great sources of fat

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, or carbs, are the instant-energy nutrient of the body, and are used to fuel intense activity as well as being the brains preferred energy source. Again carbs have been attacked in the media and low-carb crazes touted as the way to go. Again, the media is wrong.

A great analogy with carbs is to think of your body like a car and its gas tank. If your gas tank, your glycogen (carb) stores in your muscles, is full, and you continue to pour in more gas, what happens? Well, it spills over. The body is the same, but instead of gas going everywhere, fat does. But we do want to keep a full ‘tank’ so we need to tailor accordingly.

The main differentiation between carbs is the speed at which they are digested. Some will talk of this as being about simple vs complex carbs, but maltodextrin (a popular ingredient in ‘weight gainers’) is a ‘complex’ carb yet digests as fast as simple sugar. Instead, we use the glycemic index (GI) to look at how fast a portion raises blood glucose (sugar) levels. Also, we must bear in mind the total number of carbs in a portion, i.e. carrots have a ‘high GI’, but unless you want to eat a kilo of them, it doesn’t matter!

Some people will trash talk high-GI carbs as if they are the devil, but they have their place, as do the seemingly preferred lower-GI carbs. The rule of thumb with carbs as I have found, is to eat according for what you are about to do, or have recently done. And I mean this both in terms of quantity and type of carb.

What all the discussion boils down to is the interpretation of how to manipulate a hormone called insulin. The short story is that insulin is a storage hormone. When blood sugar levels rise, insulin is secreted to bring it back to baseline. This is useful around a training session as we can use it to pack our muscles full of fuel when they are craving it. But outside of these times, if we crank it up too much, we may end up driving carbs into fat stores instead (as the tank is ‘full’). So at these times, it is better to lower carb portions, and eat lower-GI carbs so as to ‘top off’ glycogen stores, rather than dumping excess carbs on the body and causing fat gain. For a more detailed discussion, see here.

Good sources of both high and low GI carbs include:

High GI carbs – raisins, white rice, white potatoes.
Low GI carbs – fruits, vegetables, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal.

Fruit & Veggies - great low GI carb sources

Let me give you some examples. If you are about to have a heavy squat session, then you would take in some quick-acting carbs beforehand, like raisins. After, since your muscles are going to be craving fuel, you could follow up with some white rice, and in sizeable portions too. A bit later on, you might follow up with a smaller portion of sweet potatoes, which are slower digesting to ‘top off’ glycogen stores.

In contrast, if you were about to sit down at a desk all day, then its best to minimize the size of carb portions and stick to the lower GI variety, in particular fruits and vegetables, since you are not about to be very active at all.

How much? Carbs really are the macro-nutrient that follow your goals, in other words, step them up if you are in a mass phase and step them down when in a leaning phase. In a mass phase, aim for 1.5-2g/lb. If at maintenance, aim for 1g/lb. And in a lean phase, aim for 0.5g/lb.

Putting it all together

I realise some of you are probably groaning at the fact that this will involve some maths, but it is your body, surely its worth the investment of a few minutes with a calculator!?

To give you an idea of what it looks like for a 200lb male:

  • Mass phase – 250g Protein, 160g Fat, 300g carbs = 3640 calories
  • Maintenance – 250g Protein, 120g Fat, 200g carbs = 2880 calories
  • Lean phase – 250g Protein, 120g Fat, 100g carbs = 2440 calories.

For a 140lb female, it would look like this:

  • Mass phase – 175g Protein, 112g Fat, 210g carbs = 2548 calories
  • Maintenance – 175g Protein, 84g Fat, 140g carbs = 2016 calories
  • Lean phase – 175g Protein, 84g Fat, 70g carbs – 1738 calories

And don’t forget to apply the laws of nutrition. For instance, we want to focus carbs around a training session. I would aim to get somewhere pushing toward 1/3 to 1/2 of the days carbs in this period.

To outline what a typical day may look like, a mass phase for our 200lb male could look something like this:

Breakfast – 100g of oats, 6 eggs, 500ml whole milk.
Lunch – 200g Salmon, 100g brown rice, 2 avocados.
Pre-training – 2 scoops of protein & 100g of raisins
Post-training – 200g chicken & 2 baked potatoes
Dinner – 200g steak (cooked in olive oil), 50g walnuts, steamed veggies

That may sound like a lot of food, but that’s what it takes to grow!

Similarly, for our 140lb female, a typical day in a lean phase could look like this:

Breakfast – 4 egg omelette with 30g cheese, 1 orange/apple
Lunch – 150g Tuna, 2 eggs hardboiled, mixed in a spinach salad with olive oil dressing.
Post workout – 200g chicken & 75g brown rice
Dinner – 200g Lamb steak, pile of steamed veggies

The key with the lower calorie meal plans is to focus on volume of food. We don’t want foods that are dense in calories. Instead we want lots of vegetables and fruits, which fill you up but aren’t heavy on calories.

Finally, remember to regularly re-weigh yourself and adjust the diet accordingly. The amount of food you ate to take you from 200lb to 220lb won’t be the same amount you need to get to 240lb – you need more! Likewise, on a leaning phase, as you drop bodyfat, you will need less calories, as you aren’t lugging around as much weight as before, so every activity requires less energy.

Summary

Using what I’ve provided here and in the previous two articles, you should now be able to put together a solid nutritional program. I want to re-iterate what I said in the very first article – focus on simple, wholefoods that great-great-granny would recognise. You can make a lot of different approaches fit into the template I have outlined here, and there is absolutely no reason to make your food choices ‘boring’.

Finally, remember, nutrition is a VERY individual thing. You may find that you can’t gain weight with the mass phase numbers, in which case – add more calories until you do. Equally, you might find yourself going a bit overboard and gaining a bit too much fat for your liking, in which case, step things down a little, in particular on the carb / fat front. But as a guideline, these numbers should work well for most people.

Farmers Walks: The Overlooked Solution To Many Problems – by Ben Coker

The idea for this article came after a chat I had with two friends who are both training powerlifters. The context of the conversation was this: 6 weeks out from a meet one of them wanted to do ‘something a bit different’ and do some strongman stuff to break from the grind of competitive lifts and band/speed work etc. The other suggested it would be detrimental to the meet preparation. After listening on the debate I said that actually I think its a great idea, putting forward the question, ‘Do you know the benefits that heavy farmers walks can bring to your competition lifts and other lifts in general?’ After a brief silence I explained…

Farmers walks are one of the simplest and most function exercises ever. Period. Standing and walking are primal essential functions of human life and this exercise is just that. Stand up with a heavy weight and then walk with it a given distance. Every major muscle group is involved in this exercise, and not only that, dependant on the working distance, great stress can be put upon the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

Marius reaped the benefits of heavy farmers walks!

Lets think about the muscular actions and anatomical movements that are occurring and how they can benefit competition lifts and main compound lifts in general.

The farmers walk trains the entire posterior and anterior chains; the traps down to the forearms including the entire spinal core musculature. I hope your ready. Here it is from head to toe:

Farmers walks build monster traps. The upper traps are recruited to hold the shoulder girdle in elevation or at least maintain neutral. This distributes some of the load off of the spine making the weight feel lighter and thereby helps you keep proper posture. How do strong upper traps benefit other lifts?

  • If you are a raw bencher than the mechanics of the lift require the bar to be positioned higher up the body as you raise and lower the bar. This means that the upper back especially the shoulder girdle need to be stabilised and this is accomplished greatly in part by having a strong upper trap contraction.
  • When deadlifting strong traps are needed just as they are in a farmers walk to help distribute some of the load off of the spine making the weight feel lighter and enable better form of spinal extension.
  • When overhead pressing the upper traps play a huge role in lifting the weight. A shoulder press involves elevation of the shoulder girdle and that is the main role of the upper traps.
  • When squatting having strong chunky traps will not only allow you to tighten up and squeeze the upper back more (giving more stability and force transmission from the legs) it also means that the bar can sit more comfortably and stable on your shoulders. Ever wondered how Koklayev can squat 290kg with no hands? That’s part of the answer.
  • When bicep curling, if your upper traps aren’t strong enough to stabilise the shoulder girdle the weight you can curl greatly drops.

 

Farmers walks build a back of gorilla-like proportions.  The upper back (including lats) and all spinal erector muscles comes into play to ‘pin’ back the shoulder blades, maintain spinal extension, prevent spinal rotation and also lock the arms in position as the weights being carried want to oscillate. How does a strong back benefit other lifts?

  • When bench pressing (raw or with gear) a strong upper back, including lats, are needed to secure the scapulae and provide a solid platform for the pressing muscles to act off of.
  • An integral part of the deadlift is a strong upper back. This enables an efficient transfer of force from the legs down to the arms by ensuring a stable shoulder girdle and preventing the weight from swinging forward (i.e. arms moving forward) as to maintain a shorter lever arm and less torque through the lower back. Needless to say having strong spinal erectors will enable you to maintain spinal extension under greater loads, which in the deadlift will allow a greater transfer of energy from the legs to the shoulder girdle and down to the bar – a bigger lift.
  • The upper back includes the lower trapezius muscle group and this muscle plays a role in scapulae adduction (key for deadlift shoulder girdle stability) but more importantly is its role in upward rotation of the scapulae. Any overhead press involves upward rotation of the scapulae. Not only is a strong upper back needed to maintain cervical extension but also strong lower traps are needed to assist in and ensure the correct movement of the scapulae in upward rotation. This is key not only for strength purposes but also shoulder health. It is also key in overhead pressing movements to have a strong spinal erectors to enable you to keep a strong upright platform for you to press the weight off of.
  • When squatting upper back strength is vital to ensure maintenance of spinal extension, and a tight grip on the bar. If your low back is weak then you will struggle to squat any type of decent weight and risk injury through not being able to keep spinal extension and allowing maximal energy transfer from legs to bar. How many people ‘fold’ when squatting as their upper back is simply poor. Maybe you’re one of them?
  • Going back to the bicep curl (because I know people out there still want to curl a car). If your upper back sucks, your shoulder girdle will not be stable enough to curl heavy weights. How many guys do you see curling, hunch back with their shoulder blades pointing out their back like a directional sign. Guys drop the curls and work on your Kroc rows.

 

Farmers walks develop the whole of your legs. You have to be stupid to not understand that walking with a stupidly heavy load requires a lot of lower body recruitment. Granted, they won’t build muscle or strength in the legs like squatting and deadlifting but their role in maintaining an upright posture is crucial. The glutes and hamstrings are needed for propulsion and in achieving full extension at the hip and knee. If you can’t extend the hip and the knees under a heavy load how do you expect to keep your spine in an upright position? You can’t. All you will do is put more torque stress through the spine which is tiring and potentially dangerous for spinal longevity. Carrying over to other lifts, simply think deadlift and squat lock outs and stabilising your torso during an overhead press and you should appreciate how maintaining hip and knee extension is beneficial.

Farmers walks develop a scaffold pole of a torso. The core is a whole body working together concept and farmers walks involve just that. Due to the various torques that exist in all planes of movement during a farmers walk it’s no surprise that these give all your core musculature a battle – that includes the major muscle groups as well as the deep musculature. The cross-over of having a rock solid core needs not preaching. In short: a strong core allows energy transfers through the body to be more efficient. Better transfer of energy means more force output, thus improving all lifts not to mention the health and longevity benefits.

Farmers walks will give you an iron claw. Grip strength – the bane of many lifters. Stop moaning and using straps. Instead, get some farmers walks done. A strong grip is associated with nearly all lifts. Studies have proven that squeezing the bar whilst squatting, pressing, and curling will lead to more motor unit recruitment. Not to mention the fact that strong grip strength means you can hold more weight without straps, key for strength competitors. Oh, and bodybuilders, I forgot you don’t need superhuman grip strength to excel in your sport. Fair point I agree but I ask you this: forearms look amazing when they look like dinosaur legs right? You bet they do. Do farmers walks as a finisher and get your forearms to epic proportions.

There you have it. I ask you now, ‘do you think farmers walks will help improve your lifts?’ If your answer is still unsure, seeing as I can’t slap you, I will leave you with this note instead. The more you become trained the more you have to put in to get returns. When your a newbie you can put in say 1 unit of effort (training, diet, rest etc) to get 10 units of results (size, strength etc). As you become seasoned and further away from your pre-training state you find that you have to put more units of effort in to get less units of result. That’s why pro lifters don’t keep growing or getting stronger at the rate that weed does who had just started going to the gym and now actually eats something more than a bowl of coco pops each day!

Take this idea back to my lifter friend preparing for his meet. He is continually getting down with the grind of his competition lifts. He is experiencing diminishing returns for his effort (not his fault it’s just how the body works). He can however try to maximise improvements in his lifts given what time he has. I suggested that investing time in movements like the farmers walk is likely to increase his chances of putting 5kg on his bench press in a few weeks then simply continuing to pound away on benching movements. Why? If you haven’t figured it out yet, the benching movements are relatively highly trained compared to the accessory muscles. Therefore in a few weeks the lesser trained muscles will improve at a greater percent than those more highly trained. A few weeks after giving this advice I happened to see the guy post the following as his Facebook status: ‘What a week! 3 new PBs and a 230 Deadlift!’ Enough said. Get walking. Farmers Walking.

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