Archive for July, 2010

August: Exercise of the Month

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Chest Height Cable Woodchops

When people think about a six pack, sit ups still pop into their head. It’s a real shame that the sit up or crunch is still regarded as one of the best exercises to train the abs. The truth is that the elusive six pack hides under fat and if the excess fat doesn’t get shifted then no number of crunches in the world will bring it out. Let’s not go to deep into that issue…another blog post…for another time. This month demonstrates a nontraditional abdominal exercise that trains the core muscles in the transverse plane.

Chest height cable woodchops keep you in an upright position, which will help with the flat stomach affect. The reason I think this exercise is so great is because; it’s easy to perform correctly, clients feel it straight away, it can be loaded up easily and the abs are challenged in transverse plane. Further, unlike conventional sit ups, the woodchops do not encourage slouching.

Try chopping your way to better performance and aesthetics, just keep in mind that you want to have straight arms and keep the hips pushed forward.

Three sets of ten reps each side should do the trick to develop/ continue to develop core strength.


July: Exercise of the Month

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

The Inverted Row

Back in April the ‘Exercise of the Month’ series looked at an extremely basic, yet completely powerful upper body exercise.  This month is very similar.

The Inverted Row is a great body weight exercise that works the upper back muscles. In fact, the movement pretty much covers all the opposing muscles which are involved in a press up. If performed correctly the; lats, traps, biceps, rear delts and all the small yet significant muscles in between are called upon to execute perfect form on the Inverted Row. If you find yourself doing press ups and bench pressing then you should also find yourself performing just as many sets and reps on some sort of horizontal pulling exercise.

The Inverted Row is not the most common move performed by recreational lifters (barbell rows are often favoured), which I think is due to the fact that it’s reasonably difficult to perform with just body weight as the resistance. Sure, loading up a barbell and rowing might make you look more meaty (until the exercise turns into more of a deadlift and your head starts bobbing like a pigeon to achieve full ROM) but the truth is that the Inverted Row does just as good a job at training your upper back and saves loading up the spine.

I prefer to use this movement as an assistance exercise. Try using three or four sets of eight to twelve reps, ensuring your chest/ribcage touches the bar with each rep. If it is a new movement for you then don’t be discouraged if you can’t touch the bar after five reps – don’t go back to the barbell rows yet either! Simply use lower reps and more sets until your strength levels improve.

FMT Variations for Beginners:

  • Keep 90 degree angle at the knee 
  • Straight legs

FMT Variation for Intermediates:

  • Legs on a bench (straight)
  • Hold for 3 seconds at top of movement

FMT Variation for Advanced Trainees:

  • Perform with weighted vest
  • Perform for timed sets

Remember, stay balanced and throw in July’s Exercise of the Month just as much as you do press ups or horizontal pressing movements.

Super Shakes

Monday, July 12th, 2010

If muscle building is your goal then getting enough food down you is going to make the difference between becoming brawny or staying scrawny. We all know that beginners can put on muscle relatively easily with some basic training to stimulate the muscles. Unfortunately you’re only a beginner once (unless for some reason you’ve had a huge time off from exercise) and to enjoy continued progression, food intake should be just as important (if not more important) than the training.

I can recall many occasions where I’ve heard people complain about how difficult it can be to consume enough calories to get growing…My reaction is always the same: “REALLY?!”. Now let’s be honest, is it really difficult to consume enough calories to build muscle? In most cases the people that struggle to shovel enough of the good stuff are making the wrong nutritional choice. Why have three weetabix and two boiled eggs for breakfast if you’re training hard and trying to gain weight? Wouldn’t 100g of bacon, two eggs and two bagels give you more protein, carbs and calories? This post could easily turn into a long rant, but the point is: it isn’t too difficult to manipulate a diet to ensure it favours muscle building. Are you getting your three helpings of hamburgers a day?

With that in mind, a great snack (and often my breakfast if I have early morning clients) is a variation of a super shake. It’s time to put down the ~300cals breakfast, or one fruit for a snack. It’s time to load up on a super shake.

What you need is (1) a blender and (2) an imagination. Super shakes are; high calorie, high muscle building, convenient, delicious time savers that make increasing calorie intake absolutely easy. I mean, a typical super shake of mine will have 1200 calories (which for me is around a third of the total calories I need to build muscle).

Here is one of my favorite super shakes that I often use as a snack:

  • Ice
  • Milk
  • Oats
  • Flaxseeds
  • Banana
  • Chocolate Whey Protein Powder
  • Peanut Butter

This chocolate flavoured shake tastes amazing and I like to throw in a lot of oats so that it’s thick. Play around with the above ingredients for taste/ to suit your nutritional needs, but whatever you do – keep it high calorie.

In the morning time I’ll tend to throw in some berries to replace the chocolate. For a protein source I’ll either use egg whites or unflavoured whey protein. Again, it comes down to your imagination (and preferences).

No excuses not to build muscle. If you’re scrawny then super shakes are your recipe for success.

An Insanely Effective Type of Interval Training

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

By Tom Venuto
Burn the fat

High intensity interval training can be done in a variety of different ways. Here’s a wickedly-effective type of interval training: it requires no machines or fancy equipment, you can do it outside in the sunshine and fresh air, it develops killer conditioning, carves out legs like a sprinter, and burns calories at an accelerated rate…

In other articles about running/aerobics and high intensity interval training, as well as in my Fat loss books, I’ve written about how you can integrate both traditional steady state cardio as well as high intensity interval training into your training program for optimal body composition improvement, health and increased fitness – you don’t have to choose one form of cardio or the other. In fact, settling into dogmatic views about cardio will only limit you.

Traditional steady state cardio is pretty much self-explanatory and intuitive. But many people are still confused about the best way to do interval training.

An Insanely Effective Way To Do Interval Cardio
I’m not sure if there is a single best way to do intervals because there are so many choices and everyone is different in their goals, interests and personal preferences, so “best” is a relative thing. But let me give you one of my personal favorites that is breathtakingly effective:

Stair sprinting!
Your typical interval workout in the gym might be on a stationary cycle, treadmill or stairclimber with short 30-60 second bursts of high speed and/or resistance, followed by a 60-120 second period of low intensity recovery. That’s usually a 1:1 or 1:2 work to recovery interval. You then rinse and repeat for the desired number of intervals, usually between 6 and 12.

I sometimes have access to a great set of university stadium steps with a straight shot right up – 52 steps.

Sprinting it takes about 10 seconds or so, walking down about 30 seconds. Those are short intervals with a 1:3 work to recovery interval ratio. That wasn’t by design, it just happens to be how long it takes to run up and walk down that particular flight of stairs, but co-incidentally, that fits within common recommendations for short sprint-style intervals.

I make sure I’m warmed up first, I usually start with a couple flights up at a slow jog then a run, before sprinting, usually 10-12 rounds.

Even if you jog/run instead of sprint, (or pause briefly at the bottom of the stairs), when you do the math, you can figure that this usually doesn’t take more than 10-12 minutes.

Why do I like stadium step sprinting?

1. Stair sprinting is a time saver. Like other forms of interval training, it’s entirely possible to get as much if not more cardiovascular conditioning in 10-15 minutes than you’d get from a much longer session of slower cardio (depending on the intensity and effort levels).

2. Stair sprinting is engaging. Many people get bored doing long slow to medium intensity cardio sessions. This is a great way to break up the monotony of traditional cardio workouts. Even though it’s tough, it’s actually kind of fun.

3. Stair sprinting is incredible for leg development. As a bodybuilder, I like to look at all types of training not only in terms of conditioning, fat loss and health, but also whether they will add or detract from the physique. I find that brief but intense stair workouts are amazing for leg development – quads, hamstrings, glutes and even your calves. In fact, I started training on the stairs more than 20 years ago, and I always considered it as much if not more of a leg workout than anything else.

4. Stair sprinting can be done outside. If you have access to stadium steps, as opposed to just a stairwell, you can enjoy the sun and fresh air.

How to integrate stair running into your training program
If you’re an overachiever type, you might be tempted to do these sprint workouts in addition to your current strength training and cardio workload.

However, keep in mind that intensity and duration are inversely proportional. When you do high intensity cardio or all out sprints, you are condensing more work into less time. That means the best part is, you can do a brief but intense stair workout instead of one of your long cardio sessions rather than in addition to them.

Recommendation: Start with one session per week, then progress to two if you choose. You can do traditional cardio the other days of the week if you want or need additional calorie-burning. Lower intensity cardio in between weight training and interval workouts can also serve as active recovery.

Not everyone has access to a full flight of stadium steps, as you might find at a local University. Running flights of stairs in a high rise is another effective and no-cost way to train on stairs. Although you can’t truly sprint with twists and turns on each floor, you can jog/run.

No stairs? Hills will get the job done too and they may provide you with more flexibility in the length/duration of your intervals. I’ve found some big hills at just the right grade of incline that I can do 30-45 second runs up, with about 90-120 seconds walk down. Grassy hills are nice, when available, as they spare you some of the impact from running on the concrete.

Sprinting up stairs is not for everyone. If you have a history of health problems or orthopedic issues, check with your doctor before doing any kind of high intensity training and of course, don’t train through the pain of injury. If you are significantly overweight, it may be a challenge just to walk up stairs, let alone run up, not to mention it might create undue stress on your joints. But as you get lighter and fitter, it’s a challenge you might slowly work toward.

Be sure to build up gradually and adjust the workout based on your current health and fitness level. You could start with as few as 4-6 rounds and build up from there. You can also start with jogging up the stairs, then progress to running, then move to sprints. Be sure you are fully prepared and warmed up before attempting all out sprints as sprinting when unprepared is a notorious source of hamstring pulls.

Some coaches believe that running uphill is safer than sprinting flat surfaces. Writing for Staley, Coach Steven Morris says, “Another great reason to hill sprint: even an athlete with horrendous running form will be safe running hills. This is simply because the hill does NOT allow the athlete to over-stride nor does it allow them to reach top speed, both major factors in hamstring injuries.”

Stair sprinting is a perfect complement to the cardio portion in my Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle program. If you’re healthy and already fit, try this advanced interval workout and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results!

Train hard and expect success!

Tom Venuto, author of
Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle

Founder & CEO of
Burn The Fat Inner Circle

About the Author:

Tom Venuto is the author of the #1 best seller, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of the World’s Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom is a lifetime natural bodybuilder and fat loss expert who achieved an astonishing 3.7% body fat level without drugs or supplements. Discover how to increase your metabolism and burn stubborn body fat, find out which foods burn fat and which foods turn to fat, plus get a free fat loss report and mini course by visiting Tom’s site at: burn the fat.


The First Four Weeks

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

A little over a month ago I started my first ever specialization program. Due to my injury history my lower body strength has always been much more impressive than my upper body strength – this program would change that. The upper body specialization program lasts twelve weeks including rest weeks. Everything was planned; reps, sets, tempo, recovery, exercises, the split, loading weeks and down weeks. On paper it looked tough. You know one of those workouts or programs you look at and a sick smile forms on your face? The kind of smile that occurs when you are contemplating the challenge ahead and relishing not only the outcome, but the feeling that the process will give you. Well maybe that’s just me, the point is that it was planned, progressive and tough.  Before starting the fight with the weights I realized that my recovery would have to be spot on. No room for error.

An Experiment
As I alluded to, the program looked great on paper but it wasn’t tested. Sure I have written hundreds of programs and planned many progressive training schedules that deliver results time and time again. Sure I have been training people for five years now and have in the trenches experience. Sure I am currently studying strength and conditioning at degree level and have countless hours of self study clocked, but the bottom line is a program on paper is only as good as the real world results it delivers. With my knowledge base I knew that the upper body specialization program would deliver results because I designed it to do exactly that, little did I know that the results would surpass my expectations.

Because I am Bias 
I throw myself into each training phase and program, so training hard was always going to happen.  Of course, I could not complete this program myself and claim that it works for everyone. I had to get others involved. I took people with a range of different training experience and different body types. There were only two prerequisites:

  • No beginners– This program is way to intense for a beginner. It has high frequency with moderate volume so a beginner couldn’t cope. Further, beginners get results with little effort as long as they adhere to your program (beginners get stronger as they learn movements they are not use to).  
  •  All or nothing – No space cadets doing a session here and there, each person must be ready to do four sessions a week for four weeks. Nothing ‘half-assed’, it’s all or nothing. Train hard and heavy or go home.

My group includes a footballer, a volleyball player, a rugby player, a recreational lifter and me. The average body fat percentage (pre-program) was 12.5% and at the time we boasted 36 years of training experience between us. Needless to say, my group was already in pretty good shape. That’s why this program is a specialization program. Training the legs is definitely my favorite muscle group to train but they are on hold for another five weeks.

The Split
For growth and gains this program is high frequency with moderate volume. There are three intense upper body sessions per week with one maintenance lower body session.  In addition to the lifting (and just because I like to exercise) my group did hills runs once a week. Clearly I can’t give too much away at the moment, but look out for the coming weeks where more program details will be revealed.

Four Week Results
Once the whole program is completed I will retest my groups performance (Bench Press 1RM and Chin Up max reps) as well as aesthetic tests (body fat, weight and girth measurements). For now, here is what has happened:

  • I lifted 10kg more in each set of military press for a total of 40kg gain (on one exercise…in four weeks!)
  • My body weight has gone up, but I look leaner (I will have exact facts at the end of the program).
  • Each person in my group made similar gains to me in each main movement of each upper body session.

Weeks five+
Week five is a deload week and week six marks the beginning of another four weeks of loading. The split, sets, reps and recovery all remain the same; however, the exercises do not.

Learning from what I have experienced in the first four weeks I will be increasing my calorie intake (again) to help me recover. The program is totally brutal and if you’re not eating/sleeping right then there is no way you can handle the intensity.

Stay tuned for video footage of weeks 6-9 and I will give more of an idea of the sets/reps and clever pre fatigue method (not pre-exhaust) that this program uses.