Random stuff I’ve either discussed or thought about in the last few days.

You can read part one here.

  1. Some workouts don’t go as planned. Even if your diet has been on point and even if you feel well rested from your last session. If you are attuned to your body and its limits, you will often feel when that time is early in your workout.

How do you feel it? The warm-up sets feel heavier than they should be. You feel a subtle soreness in your pecs in between your warm-up sets for bench presses. Knees feel sore after squatting. Lower back feels sore after deadlifting. When warming up for weighted chins, you might find that body weight chins go slow – when you’d normally be flying up for the first 4-5 reps. And when thinking about the weights you are supposed to use for your first work set (the heaviest load per my guidelines for RPT)…you hesitate. You think twice. You just can’t picture yourself doing that today.

Let me provide an example of my latest deadlift-session. This is an important lesson in how to listen to the cues that your body sends you.

I noticed something was awry already when loading up the barbell. I loaded it with 55 lbs weights (25 kg), which I carried across the room, one in each hand. These usually feel light to me. This time they felt heavier.

I proceeded to warm up with 50% of my 1RM; I usually do 3-4 easy and quick reps. It felt easy, but I noticed a lingering soreness in my lower back after the set. I upped the weight to 60% of my 1RM, hoping the soreness would “pass”. It didn’t.

I upped the weight to approximately 70% of my 1RM which is usually my last warm-up set before proceeding to my work set. I do a few singles with this weight and there is a certain speed and ease I expect to be able to do them with if I am fully recovered. To my disappointment, I found the speed and ease was not to be found today. By this point, my lower back felt sore as if I had deadlifted just a few days prior. I left the gym.

  • Cue number one: Carrying the weights I used for loading the barbell was heavier than usual.
  • Cue number two: Lower back soreness after the first warm-up set.
  • Cue number three: Impaired speed and greater degree of perceived effort when approaching weights at 70% of 1RM.
  1. Master the skill of backing off when it’s warranted. If your body is telling you to back off, per the above example, listen to it. Unfortunately, only a select few will have the presence of mind to say “screw it”, leave, and take 2-3 full rest days before attempting the same session again (or alternatively skip it altogether, rest, and move on to the next session in your cycle). The great majority will insist on pushing through despite subpar performance. And they will be much worse off, digging themselves deeper into the ground and risking injury.

A reward awaits those with enough temperance to throw in the towel and leave. I have always found that I come back stronger and more motivated. Many personal records of mine have been set after taking a few days of unplanned rest.

Leaving is easier said than done. You might feel like shit for a few hours. You might even feel like your day is ruined. This feeling will soon pass. When you have experienced the positive effects that unplanned rest usually brings, that feeling will get weaker each time you make the decision to leave. Live to fight another day. A better day.

Knowing when to leave is a habit that takes practice to develop. Developing this habit is extremely useful in the long term. You’ll gain more strength, more muscle, and will be much less likely to injure yourself if you just listen to the cues your body sends you.

How to avoid the plague of overtraining book picture
Serious hard-gaining trainees have the grit and character to soldier on even when the going gets tough. This is usually a desirable trait, but when it comes to dealing with the warning signs of overtraining, this grit can be destructive. Watch out for your emotions getting the better of your reason.

Wise words from Stuart McRobert in Beyond Brawn

  1. If you can’t relate to what I’m talking about above, it might mean something. Perhaps every training session is a walk in the park for you. Maybe the concept of beating your training log is foreign to you. Maybe you don’t even keep a training log or have a clue about what you did in your last training session. You arrive at the gym without any pressure to perform. And that’s probably why you are weak, why your physique is unimpressive, and why you haven’t made any significant progress in the last year.
  2. Don’t be afraid of a little pain now and then. For there is a wonderful reward waiting for you after completing that set of squats or deadlifts where you gave it your everything. Embrace and treasure the adrenaline rush. The soothing pulse of endorphins. The dopamine kick that comes from achieving a new personal best.
  3. Work on developing a competitive spirit in the weight room. That will take you much further than worrying about the optimal rep range for hypertrophy, whether protein hydrolyzates are better than isolates, and what brand of fish oil to buy.
  4. The proper way to perform chins and pullups is with a medium/shoulder width underhand grip (chins) or medium/shoulder width overhand grip (pullups). I often see people using a wide grip for pullups in the hope that it will hit the lats better. This only results in piss poor ROM (range of movement) and sore elbows. Knowing how poorly people tend to perform pullups I often recommend chins as the default lat movement when I can’t monitor the client in question. This is a fail-safe way of ensuring good ROM with increasing weights, as people also tend to skimp on ROM when adding more weight to pullups.

Chins involve a greater total muscle area* than pullups, which is another factor that makes this movement an all round better choice. Pullups on the other hand hit the lats better which is why I might make this the primary choice for lat specialization-routines. Of course, there’s no reason you can’t include both movements in your training routine.

* On this particular issue, I am not sure. I recall an old study using electromyography for chins and pullups which found the former to be slightly better in terms of total muscle area activated. I’ll look around and see if I can find it. Let me know if you are aware of any evidence to the contrary. Should I be wrong, I still stand by my recommendation for chins as the first hand choice due to the fact that people generally maintain a better ROM for this movement.

Martin Berkhan — Back Flexed
My experience with chins as the default lat movement is that it greatly lessens the need for direct biceps work. Throughout my training career I’ve performed very little direct work for my biceps. The best biceps growth I ever saw came many years ago when I was training for a one-arm chin-up.

Addendum part one

One commentator linked this article. Though it does not reveal whether chins are superior to pullups in terms of total muscle area involved, or vice versa, it provides some interesting data. Note that weighted chin-ups wins out in terms of peak biceps activity and mean lats activity.

Some say that wide-grip pull-ups are better than underhand-grip chins for lat development, but they’re actually very close. The weighted chin-up edges out the weighted pull-up in mean activity, and the weighted pull up-edges out the weighted chin-up in peak activity. Quid pro quo.

Bret Contreras

Addendum part two

I e-mailed Contreras and this is what he said in response to the question –

Do you know if it is possible to rank chins above pullups, or vice versa, in terms of total muscle area involved or the degree of mean/peak activity in the targeted muscles? Which one would you consider to be the all round better choice for someone looking to get the most bang for their buck so to speak.

His reponse –

I believe that the two are very similar in lat activity as the wide grip may give a preferential angle but also less ROM and less resistance. The chin has more ROM and more resistance, but maybe the angle isn’t quite as good as the pull up. My EMG studies confirm this, which is why I said “quid pro quo”.

If I had to go with one or the other, I’d agree with you and go with the chin. The greater ROM and resistance in my opinion has to work more muscle – maybe the same amount of lat with a little more bicep, rhomboid, mid and lower trap, etc. Even if the chin and pull up are close, the tie has to go with the greater ROM. “

  1. Glycogen depletion lowers metabolic rate via decreased noradrenaline output and is only restored to basal levels with a high carb meal. I rarely employ glycogen depletion in my training protocols, but a few of you do. I am convinced that there are a few Crossfitters, PX90-adherents and kettlebell-enthusiasts reading this that deplete a fair amount of glycogen in their workouts while following a low carb diet. Low carbing is fine. But going too low on carbs on training-days is a suboptimal strategy. Have some carbs with your post-workout meal and save the low-carbing for other meals. Your metabolism and performance will be much better off. A minimum of 1 g/kg body weight or 0.45 g/lb of predominantly starch-based carbs is a rough guideline for post-workout meals following training sessions that deplete a fair amount of glycogen.
  2. What might have been the reason for my subpar deadlift-performance? Three days prior I had been squatting hard. Hard enough to break my personal record. One might think two days of complete rest in between squatting and deadlifting is sufficient. And for some, it is. But it’s not the first time I have learned that this is not the case for me and others approaching high numbers in these lifts. When training squats and deadlifts to failure, I have found that a minimum of three days of rest after squatting before attempting deadlifts is required to ensure optimal performance in the latter. After deadlifts, two days of complete rest is needed before attempting squats. And even that is pushing it. When squatting and deadlifting heavy, I think the advanced trainee might be better off abandoning the traditional weekly cycle and use an 8-day cycle.

Example: A1-rest-B1-rest-A2-rest-B2-rest – and start over. Deadlifts and squats are rotated on A-sessions, which are lower body-dominant. Each lift is trained every eighth day with three rest days in between lifts.

  1. As your proficiency and strength in squats and deadlifts reach what I call “highly advanced” levels, you will find that training these lifts close to failure will take a much greater toll on your body than before. Put differently, an advanced lifter training these lifts to failure will need a longer time to recover than a beginner or intermediate trainee.
  2. What do I consider a highly advanced level for key lifts, and when do I think people attain a highly advanced training status? When you can do a minimum of 5 reps at 2 x body weight and 2.5 x body weight for squats and deadlifts respectively. More on this topic in a future post.
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