What I’ve Been Up To: Training Evolution

What I've been up to (1)

In my last post I discussed how my diet changed over the last year. After building my body up to 200 pounds, I trimmed excess body fat, settling at 185 pounds with under 15% body-fat.

Today, let’s look at how my training has evolved, both inside and outside of the gym.

A discovery I made, well over a year ago, was that I had very weak glutes, immobile ankles/calves, and significant external rotation of my femurs.

Starting with isometrics, constant balance and postural work, and abduction exercise (moving legs laterally from the body), I was able to build up the stabilizers throughout my hips and legs. I moved on to strengthening my posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, hips, and lower back) with more classic strength exercises in the gym. c38aea10a40c31734d76e09933886e86

With the strength and neurological proprioception I developed, I jumped into a novice program known as Starting Strength. This program included back squats 3 days a week, adding 5 pounds a session – bringing my squat from an easy starting weight of 185 to around 275 in only 2 months.

As it got tougher to increase my squat 15lbs a week, I moved to my favorite undulating periodization program: 5/3/1. This got my squat to around 315 after a few more months.

Finally, I switched to a conjugate based system – two days a week focused on developing explosive speed on the bench press and squat and two days for max attempts on these lifts.

Through addressing my weaknesses, building my strength back up with improved form, and well calculated programming, I was able to set new records in the 4 major lifts that are vital for proper human movement – I deadlifted 405lbs, squatted 350lbs, benched 275lbs, and pressed 175lbs overhead!

I timed this peak in strength with the peak of my bulking cycle I discussed in my last post. Any lifter will tell you – if you want to put 10lbs on a lift, put 10lbs of mass on your body! Haha.

Knowing that I would soon start reducing calories, I transitioned to a classic images“bodybuilding” program – starting sessions with a heavy lift to maintain my strength, but then dedicating the rest of the workout to higher reps, moderate weight, and short rests. This is the perfect formula for stimulating muscle growth, which can prevent loss of muscle as bodyweight is lowered.

This style of training also allowed a much-needed break from the neurological recruitment involved in lifting maximal weights. All I had to do in the gym was close my eyes and focus on the stretch and contraction of specific muscles – quite meditative in a way.

I ended with a program developed in the early 1900’s by nowdeceased trainer Vince Gironda (“The Iron Guru”). His program involved 6 sets of 6 reps with only 15 seconds rest. Over the course of six weeks I worked up to 8 sets of 8 reps, still with only enough time for 3 deep breathes between sets. And trust me, after completing 64 repetitions in about 8 minutes, any weight feels heavy!

During this time I also replaced high intensity interval training (HIIT) with steady state aerobics such as biking and running. I did this to get some endurance training and take advantage of the gorgeous Vermont mornings and evenings. As a “strength athlete” at heart, I only run twice a week – with Wednesday’s focused on increasing my 1 mile speed and Saturday’s adding 1 minute out and back each week.

At the moment, I’m running an Olympic weightlifting program for the first time in my life. This involves the “clean and jerk” and “snatch”, variations of these movements, and different styles of squats almost every day.

 

black-weight-liftingOlympic lifting requires superb athleticism, speed, and mobility. I have built up my raw strength, pushing or pulling a heavy weight, often grinding to complete a rep…but this new style of training should help train other movement pathways within the body.

So far it is going excellent! I am feeling more agile and mobile from these full body, technical lifts. I plan to continue for another month or two in order to get enough exposure to this new style of training.

But honestly, I’m eager to return to powerlifting – I’ve got to get my squat to two times bodyweight (close to 400lbs), my deadlift to 500, bench press to 315, and achieve a bodyweight overhead press!

I’ve already got the basic outline for 3 particularly programs I will use over the next 6+ months to reach these goals.

And that’s what trainings all about: doing what you love; throwing in some new stuff to ensure balanced development; and proper programming. As long as you are consistent day-in and day-out, you can expect to improve from one year to the next.

As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions or if you want a program designed for your particular needs. I wouldn’t be where I am without the valuable information I’ve learned from others – I only wish to provide the same value to all of you!

Thanks again for reading! See you next time when I wrap up this series with more lifestyle development, including changes to my recovery techniques, supplementation, and day-to-day life.

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How to lift without “Getting Bulky”

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My personal goals involve increasing muscle mass, reducing body fat, and performing heavy barbell lifts.

However, the majority of my clients do not share these goals. Most of my clients want to lose weight, regain function, improve posture, and reverse disease.

In fact, one of the most frequent concerns I hear from those trying to get in shape is that they “don’t want to get big muscles”.

For that reason, I’m going to discuss what causes muscle growth, and how you can avoid getting bulky muscles while still leaning out and improving performance.

The technical term for developing muscle size is “muscular hypertrophy”. Hypertrophy is merely the process of tissues increasing in volume. And the form of muscular hypertrophy that results in the largest muscular gains is “sarcoplasmic hypertrophy”.

Strictly speaking, 8 to 12 repetitions with a moderate weight is the protocol for hypertrophy training. However, intensity and volume are the real deciding factors.

Intensity is accomplished by working until the muscles can no longer perform the exercise properly, known as “failure”, and moving quickly between sets.

Volume is an equation of sets, reps, and weight. This means that 2 sets of 20 repetitions

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Female Olympian in the 165 lb. weight class. Does SHE look bulky?

with 5 pounds will result in more growth stimulus than 3 sets of 1 repetition with 50 pounds.

I personally perform an exercise for 4 sets of 15 repetitions if I am trying to increase muscle size. Almost any load can cause significant growth when performed for 15 slow and focused repetitions.

I bring up the topic of intensity to address those that avoid lifting heavy weights because they don’t want to bulk up. The classic bodybuilder approach of 8 to 12 repetitions means that “heavy weights” (relative to the individuals strength) cannot be used.

BulkyThe weights that bodybuilders handle may look heavy but this is merely because they are very strong and have been lifting, with regular improvement, for a long time. It may look like a bench press with two 75-pound dumbbells looks heavy, but if the individual is doing it for 8 or more reps, they could handle over 100-pound dumbbells for fewer reps.

Contrarily, lifting a massively heavy weight for fewer than 5 repetitions will actually train the mind more than the muscles. Yes, the body is getting a great workout, but lifting a maximum load for 1, 2, or 3 repetitions results in more neurological adaptations than muscular growth.

So, if any rep range can stimulate muscle growth, and 8 to 12 reps with a moderately-heavy weight is the most promising to grow muscles, what can you do to avoid “bulking up”?

  • Always feel like you could do 2 to 5 more repetitions with perfect form. The moment you go to failure, and technique breaks down, you are causing muscular damage that will result in the muscle growing larger during recovery.
  • Also, take the time you need to rest between sets. Many bodybuilder programs recommend timed recoveries under 60 seconds, sometimes as low as 15 seconds. Starting your next set before the muscles are ready is a surefire way to stimulate muscle growth.
  • Finally, don’t consume excess calories! One of the main goals of exercising is to increase lean body mass, but, if you don’t want your muscles to grow considerably larger, eat at, or even below, maintenance so your body replaces fat with lean mass.

One last point worth making is regarding “toning”. The same people that say they don’t want to “grow muscles” say that they “only want to tone”. Believe it or not, tone means muscle! There is no way to make fat or skin look “toned”. The definition or tone visible on a fit persons arms, legs, or torso, is actually their muscle.

This doesn’t mean that you have to train like a bodybuilder and put on 50 pounds of muscle to looked toned… but replacing body fat with lean body mass (also known as muscle) is necessary to achieve a fit physique.

The world of fitness, nutrition, and health is filled with mixed messages, preconceived notions, and bogus ideas. But please don’t give any mind to the false claims that lifting weights and increasing strength will make you bulky!

If you work within your limits, have a program structured to your goals, and don’t eat to excess, you will achieve a healthy and proportionate figure.

And as always, if you would like professional guidance, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at paulromasco@hotmail.com !

 

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Donate Blood!

I am always offering ways to improve health and performance. Improvement in these areas is an admirable goal for any individual.

My number one recommendation for everyone is to first improve their diet –replacing packaged foods with vegetables, fruits, and local meat and eggs.

However, an ideal diet, high in nutrient density, can have one unfavorable outcome: elevated blood iron levels.

High iron levels become an issue when an individual starts eating adequate protein but doesn’t participate in activities that result in bleeding. Historically, we would risk injury during hunting, defending ourselves from prey, or just living life with fewer comforts than we have now.

This is more problematic for men than women, as women have a natural method for disposing of excess iron through blood on a regular basis.

High iron levels in the blood can pose as an oxidative stress for the body. And, if you recall the concern of fats becoming oxidized, you’ll remember that it’s the process of oxidation that causes most of our health problems.

Many studies that claim red meat causes cancer, actually examine iron levels in the blood. It is well accepted that unnaturally high iron levels can indeed be a precipitating event in the formation of different cancers.

So, if we are shooting for one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, and understand that grass-fed beef is the second healthiest protein source after seafood, what can we do to avoid the risks of over consuming iron?

Donate blood regularly!

This is something I have started recently and recommend for most healthy individuals, particularly men.

Not only can you help an individual that may be in dire need of blood, but you will also reduce the oxidative stress in your own body.

The American Red Cross allows you to donate blood once every eight weeks. This is because most donations will take about one pint of blood, which takes the body four to six weeks to fully replace. However, the plasma in your blood will be replaced within 24 hours so symptoms of fatigue should not last longer than this.

Donating blood is a stressor for the body, so you will need to curtail your exercise schedule accordingly. I usually donate blood on the Saturday before a recovery week. This means that I won’t have any scheduled exercise within 2 days of donating blood, and even when I do return to the gym on Monday, my workouts will be at half intensity for the following week.

Even though eating after giving blood can be beneficial, make sure you are still making healthy choices! Some donation sites still offer juices, cookies, or candy. I would recommend coming prepared with a piece of fruit or a protein smoothie.

Anemia, often caused by low iron levels, is common in our country and may be more problematic than “high-normal” levels. For this reason, I recommend getting a ferritin blood test before donating blood on a regularly basis.

On average, 10% of women nationally have anemia, while only about 2% of men have it. Because of this, I believe a regular blood donation schedule is far more beneficial for males.

Take a look at the effort you put into exercise. Consider how much time you spend shopping, cooking, and eating. Add up how much you spend on health insurance. Now ask yourself: is donating blood every few months to improve your health and possibly save a life, worth 30 minutes of slight discomfort?

Not every step we take to improve our health will directly help a fellow human – but this one will!

Blood-Donation

Why Work With A Personal Trainer?

Personal training is a relatively new profession. A few decades ago, the only people that had trainers were athletes or models earning millions of dollars a year. But now, the fitness industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy.

What changed?

Simply put, the public realized that more activity than our daily lives provided was necessary to live a healthy life. In addition, structuring physical activity long-term requires guidance by professionals trained in the human sciences.

Doctors are now recommending patients hire a trainer to help them get fit and stay active. We have started realizing that the standard advice promoting pharmaceuticals and refined foods is not helping the public. Doctors are now recommending patients with severe conditions to seek out the guidance of trainers and nutritionists. It’s becoming understood that personal trainers and nutritionists have more time and energy to dedicate to staying on top of new research and changing science.

But, without a doctors order, why would an individual seek out a personal trainer?

Goal Setting:

In a world filled with photo shopped models and over-sexualized media, it’s hard to figure out exactly what is healthy. Your trainer can help you specify realistic and healthy goals.

Getting Started:

There are millions of articles and suggestions detailing what to do for physical activity, and there are even more movements and specific exercises to utilize. A trainer can take your specific goals, limitations, history, preferences, and time constraints to tailor a program for you.

Education:

Most personal trainers have spent years studying the human body, movement patterns, and kinesiology. Some have educated themselves even further in the field of biomechanics or bio-molecular chemistry.
Keep in mind that not all education is equal though. Look for a trainer that has a college degree in the human sciences or a certification accredited by the NCCA (ACSM, NSCA, NASM, ACE, etc).

Empowerment:

Continuing from the last point, a properly educated trainer will be able to impart their knowledge to you, allowing you to structure your own routines and stay consistent over the long-term.

Rehabilitation & Avoiding Injury:

One final point regarding the education trainers go through – they will be able to help you recover from, or work around, any injuries, restrictions, or limitations you may have.
If you do not have any injuries or other issues, your trainer will ensure that your exercises are safe and effective, thereby avoiding any risk of injury from improper technique or overtraining.

Motivation & Support:

Your trainer will work with you to find what motivates you most! They will help keep you on track, providing a push when needed, or recommending a rest when necessary.
As previously mentioned, many personal trainers are up-to-date on the newest science involving nutrition and other factors, meaning they will be able to support you in every way to help ensure a healthy lifestyle.

Avoiding Boredom:

For many people, going through the same motions and exercises day-to-day will lead to loss of interest, and eventually lack of adherence. A good personal trainer will be able to keep your routines fresh enough to keep you focused, but still consistent enough to track progress.

Making Progress:

Finally, a personal trainer will be able to help you make constant progress over the course of your entire life.

The body will acclimate to any single stimulus in about 4-16 weeks, causing the individual to plateau. Many people will keep pushing, leading to injury, or simply assume they have reached their “limit”. However, if you have well-educated trainer, they will find a simple and effective way to make it possible for you to see continual progress.

There are countless studies proving the benefit of professional guidance, but a very telling and recent study showed that over the course of 10 weeks, individuals working with a trainer increased their strength by 10%, while those without a trainer experienced no improvement. The “novice affect” shows that most strength will be gained in the first 8 weeks of training, but this study was done on already fit and active individuals…yet they still made significant progress.

There are many other reasons to hire a personal trainer but these are the ones that come to mind from my time as a personal trainer.

Almost everyone has a doctor and a dentist, some people have an accountant or a lawyer, and others even have a masseuse or personal assistant. A personal trainer is just one more member of this team that works to serve and benefit you. The only difference with a personal trainer is that they can help keep you healthy for every minute of every day, for your entire life.

So, give it a try today! Look through the trainers available your local gym, investigate their credentials, and pick one you think you’d work best with. After that, the results will speak for themselves!

Testosterone

Eventually I want to post one-page “action plans” for things like improving blood cholesterol levels, lowering blood pressure, or normalizing hormone levels. But, before I can do that, it’s necessary to discuss these topics to learn the terms and find out what healthy numbers or ranges are.

We’ve already talked about cholesterol, so, today let’s talk about the hormone, testosterone.

Whenever I cite “maintaining healthy testosterone levels” as a reason for eating more of one type of food, or less of another, a woman within earshot will always proclaim that, as a female, they don’t care about testosterone levels.

One thing I’m realizing more and more is the power of certain words and the emotional response they elicit.

For example, “gluten” has started to develop a negative reaction from the general public. Alternatively, “low-calorie” is a very popular marketing label that makes people feel like they are making a healthy food choice.

The irony is that people aren’t sure what gluten is or that caloric content is dependent upon the amount of food consumed. “Gluten-free” does not make a food healthy and “low-calorie” foods are only low in calories if you eat a small portion.

How does this apply to testosterone?

My best guess is that when professional athletes, bodybuilders, and powerlifters started taking drugs to boost their testosterone levels to super-physiological levels, the general public’s perception of testosterone changed. Suddenly, testosterone was not a necessary hormone for life, found in every living creature, but merely a means to achieving unnatural levels of muscle and strength or boosting athletic performance.

So, what is testosterone really?

Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone but, more importantly, it is the most prevalent “anabolic steroid” produced within the body. Again, some words that may scare the general public…

Anabolic is simply the process of smaller units coming together to make larger units.

In the human body, this translates to muscles, bones, and all cells in the body rebuilding or becoming stronger.

Testosterone certainly helps with increasing muscle mass, but it is also necessary for maintaining any lean muscle mass, reducing body fat, and increasing bone density. In fact, low testosterone levels are a leading cause of osteoporosis amongst women and the aging population.

Testosterone production naturally decreases with age, and low testosterone levels become rather cyclical. This is because fat cells in the body convert testosterone into the female sex hormone, estradiol, thereby lowering testosterone levels further and creating a more favorable environment for fat to thrive and lean muscle to break down.

In addition, the interplay between different hormone levels in the body plays an important role in the development and growth of multiple forms of cancer. Simply put, high estrogen levels and low testosterone levels will stimulate the growth of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers.

For these reasons, I find it very odd when women in a gym tell me they are not concerned with their testosterone levels. In my mind, the point of the gym is to provide your body with a stimulus that it will recover from; making it stronger and better in the process. And, without testosterone, the body cannot recover adequately.

I’ll wrap up my post there but be on the lookout in the coming weeks for a short and simple action plan to maintain healthy hormone levels in the body.

For now, try to differentiate the concept of athletes raising their testosterone to unnatural levels through the use of drugs and the importance of naturally-occurring testosterone in your body.