Monday, June 29, 2009

Drop it!

Most people while working out, do exercise sets of 8-10 repetitions with a weight they can handle, and then rack the weight back. While this is OK, there are techniques which can be employed to increase stress on the muscle thus increasing the amount of work done by the muscle(s) in a short period of time. "Drop Sets" is one such technique. Most people have been working out for a while have either seen others do drop sets or occasionally performed drop sets themselves. Here I will write about WHY drop sets are so awesome, HOW to do them right and WHEN to do them.

Why drop sets?

Drop sets are one of the ways to achieve maximal motor unit recruitment, fatigue the muscular, as well as increase the amount of work done in a very short amount of time. A drop set is essentially a series of mini-sets performed in continuation where the athlete picks up a heavy enough weight, trains until positive failure, picks up a slightly lower weight to continue training and continues, and he repeats this process until the muscle is completely fatigued.
So this is a perfect way of getting a lot of work done in a short period of time, increase muscle definition, get a great pump, increase time under tension. In other words, its everything one wants to achieve in the gym.

How to drop set?

Pick up a weight you would struggle to get 8 repetitions with, and do 6. Drop the weight, pick up a sightly lighter weight and perform another 6-8 repetitions. Drop it again, again pick up a lighter weight and perform 8-12 repetitions or until failure.
Its ideal to have a training partner while doing drop sets because he can hand you weights or reset the pin on the weight stack. If not, just do it yourself.

An example of doing the drop set right:
Pick up 80 lb dumbbells, crank out 6 reps, drop it. Pick up 65 lb dumbbells, crank out 6 more. Drop it and now pick up 50 lb dumbbells and crank out 6 more. Drop it again and curse me or the gods for recommending this idea. Pick up 35's and now do as many reps as you can. Then drop that weight and fall back on the bench, recover, get some water to drink, and then feel your muscle pumped up, looking better than ever before. You have done all you can to work the muscle, now its time to let it rest and eat right to let it grow.

When to drop set?

Drop sets need not be performed every workout, or on every exercise. Its a high intensity exercise and over doing it will cause fatigue of the central nervous system and thus slow recovery. However, use it for lagging body parts.Also, let the drop set be the last thing you do for your muscle for that workout. So if you are training chest, a drop set using dumbbells is a perfect way of finishing the workout. Again, for shoulders, time and again, bodybuilders claim drop sets are the most effective way of making those deltoids grow, so use it freely while working shoulders.

Finally, a word of advice to 130 lb skinny guys who want to try this to get their biceps bigger. Biceps are one of the smallest muscles in the body and over-working them is the worst idea one can think of to get them to grow. Maybe you will drop a dumbbell on your head one day and that will knock some sense into the brain. :-)

For the rest of the world, lets drop that weight, and not the attitude.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Super Breakfast

Everyone knows breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, people don't know the reason behind this. Also, people don't usually know what to eat for breakfast. And some people skip breakfast, which is probably the worst thing one can do to their body.

Why eat breakfast?
1. It is the first chance the body gets to refuel its glycogen stores after 10-12 hours of starvation.
2. Helps curb hunger and binge eating later in the day.
3. Without a proper breakfast to stop the catabolism, body loses muscle and the metabolism slows down. Remember, a slow metabolism means its harder to lose bodyfat.
4. Eating a proper breakfast jump starts the metabolism, helps curb hunger, keeps energy levels up,

What to eat?
Corn flakes? Muffins? Orange Juice? If you want an insulin roller coaster ride, then yes. The breakfast options advertized on TV are terrible. These contain almost entirely of simple carbohydrate which spike insulin levels and result in feeling tired after a few hours.
An ideal breakfast should contain enough protein, carbohydrate and healthy fats. Ideal options are eggs + a piece of toast, oatmeal + a small protein shake, etc. Point being get some protein in there.

While I know this, I struggle with low appetite in the mornings. I'm hungry but can barely stomach food. So far, I was eating some oatmeal and a small protein shake but now I've discovered a new way of getting the nutrients I want easily.
A friend of mine suggested this and I love the idea. We decided to call it super breakfast!

For this, you need:
2 scoops of Whey isolate(fast absorbing protein early in the morning)
6-8 ice cubes
10 oz water/milk
half cup quaker oats.
1-2 tbs peanut butter.

Put them all in a blender and mix it up until its smooth. The peanut butter and the protein powder add great taste and over all it comes upto about 12 oz and I just pour it into a big mug and sip on it.

How much protein, carbs and fat in this? About 65 gms of protein, 30-35 gms carbs and about 15 gms of fat. Perfect!

Want more carbs? Throw a banana in there. For the protein powder, I use chocolate, but you can experiment with different flavors.

So, drink up! And start the day right.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Super Squats!

Training legs is a pain. Everyone agrees, and most people slack away from it. Even experienced lifters hesitate to push themselves hard enough while training legs. However, there's few things one can do in the gym which leave the athlete with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment like a hardcore leg workout. Again, legs are the biggest muscles in the body, so training legs well means the metabolism shift which occurs as a result, and the release of all sorts of anabolic hormones in the body alone should convince one to focus on training legs.

The hardest exercise to do for legs? Heavy squats! Of most people who do squats, people try to find ways to make it "easier" but doing it either on the smith machine, or doing half reps or not going heavy enough. And this is again a cop out. The only way to hit legs hard enough to get them big, well defined and functional is to SQUAT. Unless one has a functional disability, like a bad back or a knee accident which doesnt allow squat, there's no excuse not to squat.

People who squat consistently as a part of their program will see great gains, not just great legs, but their whole body begins to transform and look the way they want it to. Indeed, squat is the secret of the best bodies around.

There's a book called "Super Squats" by Randall J. Strossen, Ph.D. In this book, he mentions a specific squatting concept called the 20 rep breathing squat. To quote him:

The nucleus of this venerable program is one set of squats - twenty reps in the set, to be sure, but just one set. Additional exercises are incidental, two or three sets of several other basic exercises at most, and the general caution is to err on the side of doing too few additional exercises rather than too many. Make no mistake about it, however, this one set of 20-rep squats is not your ordinary cup of iron tea: Whatever our recipe might lack in complexity of volume will be more than recouped in intensity.

That's it: one set of 20-rep squats, a couple of other basic exercises, plenty of good food, milk and rest. But, oh, those squats!

The specific approach to the 20-rep squats is nearly as simple as the overall program. First, load the bar to what you normally use for ten reps. Now, do twenty reps - no kidding. Second, every single workout, add at least five pounds to the bar. These two elements are what separate the men from the boys and produce results, by simultaneously embracing the two cardinal principles of weight training: overload and progressive resistance.

The overload principle states that unless you do more than you are used to, you won't build muscular size or strength. All those training cliches like "no pain, no gain" reflect the overload principle. By requiring twenty reps with your normal ten-rep poundages, you are forced into overload mode.

Reading this inspired me to try it out, so yesterday, I decided to get 20 reps with 220 lbs!! Crazy idea as it was a low carb day and my energy tank was running on empty! My friend took a video of me squatting. Check it out.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Truth about Soy Protein

Soy protein is controversial. It is a kind of protein which comes from soybeans and its a often suggested source of protein, especially for people who follow a vegan diet(avoiding meat, eggs and milk) or for regular vegetarians. So, there's a lot of noise from this crowd who tend to promote Soy protein more than it needs to be.

Soy protein has multiple benefits, however, it has a target crowd. Its ideally used by women. The advantages soy protein holds for women, might not be ideal for men. Let me elaborate. For men, using Soy protein may:
1. Soy lowers testosterone levels! Yikes! Soy products on the market contain phytoestrogens(known as isoflavones) and this is the kind of hormone which men dont want to increase in their bodies, as it leads to decreased libido and sperm count.
2. Soy protein also affects thyroid hormone levels, this means loss of energy and weight gain.
3. The bio-availability of soy protein is lower than that of eggs, casein and whey protein.

However, we dont need to be fanatics and swear off soy altogether. In low amounts consumed infrequently, soy does no to little damage. Infact, soy is often a "hidden ingredient" in about 60 % of any canned products we buy!
So, we cannot avoid soy, but dont chase it and definitely stop promoting it.

So does soy have a place in our diets? Yes. If:
1. A person is lactose intolerant. Then an obvious choice is to switch to Soy Milk.
2. Vegans, because they do not use regular milk, eggs or meat as a protein source.
3. If a soy based product, say like tofu is a part of someone's culture, then its unavoidable to a degree.

For women, soy is more useful. Genistein, one of the phytochemicals found in soy, can reduce the risk of cancer by preventing tumors from creating blood vessels that would increase their growth. Again, Phytoestrogens are currently being researched to determine their usefulness in acting like synthetic estrogen to protect women from bone loss, maintain cardiac health and those who use hormone replacement therapy. The phytoestrogens in Soy also help in easing the symptoms of menopause.

So, whats the final verdict on Soy? Yea or Nay? If you're a male, definitely say NO! If not, use it in moderate amounts. However, know that the upside of using Soy is barely what its made out to be.

Staying Injury Free.

We are only as strong as our weakest link. Once a person is determined to workout consistently over a period of time, there's few things which can come in the way. One such thing is gym related injuries.

People hurt themselves due to various reasons:
1. They see others lifting heavy weights, they try to imitate that and hurt themselves.
2. Improper range of motion or form performing the exercise.
3. Not warming up properly.

When people try to lift heavier than they can handle, they compromise on the range of motion, and do "half-reps", and such "half-reps" or incomplete range of motion puts tremendous pressure on the joints and cartilage. Such repetitive stress causes joint pain, or in extreme cases, muscle tears which take a long time to heal.
Another reason people might hurt themselves although they are doing everything right is that their diet lacks "healthy" fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids. They are essential to human health but cannot be manufactured by the body. For this reason, omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained from food/supplementation.

Supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids(Fish oil for example) reduces tenderness in the joints, decreases inflammation and reduces the activity of enzymes that destroy cartilage. The benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids are numerous, read here for further information on its benefits. I use 5-10 gms of fish oil a day, and along with protein powder, I consider fish oil to be a compulsory supplement for every one who trains with weights and is conscious of their health.

People also tend to ignore the role of Vitamins and Minerals in joint protection. Using a simple Multivitamin-Multimineral product, at the recommended daily dosage is generally enough.
So using Fish oil and a multi-vitamin/multi-mineral is usually enough as a preventive measure.

However, once an athlete is hurt, he needs more. If suffering from joint pains for a long time, I would recommend a product which contains Glucosamine, Chondrotin and MSM, all of which act towards repairing joint damage and restoring joint health and support normal function. A few years ago, in attempting to chase "numbers" in the gym, lifting more than I could, I hurt my joints and I relied on a glucosamine product to recover.

Also, people tend to train through injuries, not accepting that they need time off from the gym. There's no point in not letting the injuries heal. Again, with injuries, workouts tend to be half-assed, so suck up that ego and take time off from the gym.

Finally, I cant emphasize proper lifting form enough. No matter how heavy one lifts, all exercises should be performed with perfect form and full range of motion. Stretch and contract the muscle properly and the numbers will come. Its not about how much you lift, its not a exercise for the ego, because the ego is something you leave at the door when you walk into the gym. Walk in with heart, and the sole purpose to do it right.

Train heavy, Train right, or go home.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

For the Fairer Sex!

Walk into any gym, and where are all the girls usually concentrated? Either on the cardiovascular machines or in the aerobics room moving around little dumbbells hoping that they will look like the models they idolize. Take a look at any top female model who's "made it", and talk to her about her workout routine, she'll confess to training with weights a few times a week, in one way or another. The bodies of these models are lean, symmetrical and firm.

However, a lot of women are misinformed about the means to achieving this end and are convinced that starving themselves or spending hours doing cardio is the way to achieve this look. Weight training or resistance training is pretty much the only way to shape your body into being lean, symmetrical and beautiful.

Few facts everyone should be aware of:
1. Weight training elevates metabolism for many hours, compared to aerobics which does so for only a few.
2. Dieting and aerobic exercise without strength training causes muscle loss.
3. Women who weight train won't increase their muscle size much, just their muscle's density and strength. So forget the fear of "bulking up."
4. Muscle burns fat!

Most of the problems women have with their bodies looking the way they want comes down to 2 factors: slow metabolism and stubborn bodyfat areas. Weight training helps with both. Also, having some muscle on the body means the more fat you burn and can eat a reasonable diet without getting fat.This is called a good metabolism.

Many girls ask me how to "tone" their muscles, and lose fat from their legs, etc. I usually suggest weight training along with their cardio routine, and to add some extra protein to their diet. A simple circuit training workout is ideal for most women and will take them quite far in their pursuit of the beautiful body.

Jamie Eason has a simple but very effective workout called the "Plyo Card Routine". Check it out!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Research and Science Manifest in Muscle!

I get asked a lot how I manage to train the whole body thrice a week, training hard every training session and still recover from it. Recovery is a science. As one famous bodybuilder once said: "There is no over training, there's only under eating and under resting". While I don't subscribe entirely to that theory, I definitely believe people training each muscle once a week are missing out on the growth cycles they can achieve from training the hard briefly, but intensely multiple times a week.
The key to recovering from such training is diet, supplementation and rest.

1. Diet: Get a minimum of 1 gm protein per pound of body weight, and at least 5 grams fish oil everyday.

2. Rest: Get 8 hours of quality sleep. A nap during the day during the weekends helps too. During REM sleep, the body releases Growth Hormone and various other anabolic hormones which aid in the growth and body's recovery from hard workouts.

3. Supplementation: A lot can be made or broken in the supplementation people use. The intelligent use of supplements can vastly improve recovery rates and strength during training.

Currently, I use:

1. Protein powder after workout and before bed.

2. NO-Explode before workout.

3. Alpha Lipoic Acid post workout

4. Fish Oil before bed.

5. VPX Redline before workout.

I've been looking for a Branch Chain Amino Acid supplement to use during my workouts, which replaces glycogen levels very fast while flooding my system with animo acids. One product which has caught my eye is Ressurection by Diabolic Labs.

The primary carb source in it is Karbolyn, which is absorbed superfast and each serving contains Vitamin B6, and the key amino acids(Leucine, Iso-Leucine, Valine and Glutamine). These are the amino acids which the body burns off first during the absence of glycogen for energy, so using this product will prevent muscle loss, while increasing recovery rate and reducing muscle soreness. is offering it for a very low price because its a new product. Maybe I'll pick it up. It'll be my secret, and like my friend Jay Cholewa says:"Research and Science Manifest in Muscle"