Stuart McRobert Q & A - Miscellany Of Topics #1!

Some of you who don't have internet access, or who prefer not to use the internet other than for work, have asked for a selection of the post-FURTHER BRAWN answers, revised and updated, to be published...
For about three years I've produced a questions and answers column for It was the first year or so of answers, together with a batch of answers from elsewhere, that were revised and sorted out to produce FURTHER BRAWN. Some of you who don't have internet access, or who prefer not to use the internet other than for work, have asked for a selection of the post-FURTHER BRAWN answers, revised and updated, to be published in HARDGAINER. Generally speaking, the answers deal with topics either not covered in my books, or not covered in detail there.

 Hands Getting Cold After Squatting?

I've noticed that my hands turn cold after my 15 reps of squatting. After a few minutes my hands return to body temperature. Is squatting cutting off circulation to my hands?

  The bar placement on your shoulders and/or the hand position you use, may be hampering your circulation. I'd suggest that you try a slightly different bar placement-a bit lower, not higher-and a wider hand placement on the bar. Tinker with those two factors, from workout to workout, until you find a combination that doesn't cause your hands to feel cold at the end of a set of squats.

   Would The Tru-Squat Help My Back Pain?

In BEYOND BRAWN you say that the Tru- Squat helped bring you back into your previous condition after not squatting for some years. I have a bad back and can't squat without extreme pain. The only thing I can do is one-legged squats for a short spell, then I'm forced to stop and do leg presses when the dumbbells get heavy. Do you think the Tru-Squat would benefit me?

  I'd say the Tru-Squat is worth a try, but don't go buying one to try it. Contact the manufacturing company, Southern Xercise (800-348-4907), and find where there's a machine near you, and then contact the owner to see if you can give it a try for a good few workouts.

The Tru-Squat does involve contraction of the back musculature, but there's no forward flexion, and there's no weight directly against your spine. Also, substantially less weight is needed on the Tru-Squat than in the barbell squat, to produce the same degree of work. Ball squats and hip-belt squats are two other alternatives to consider, and both cost peanuts compared to a Tru-Squat. The Tru-Squat continue to be safe for my back, but it irritates my knees sufficiently for me to have stopped using it.

 Why Are There Exercises For Biceps But Not Triceps?

I noticed in a lot of routines in Further Brawn that I see no exercises listed specifically for triceps, but the same routines have specific exercises listed for the biceps. Why?

  Because there's usually more work for the triceps from the big exercises than for the biceps. Dips, benches and overhead presses all give the triceps a lot of work. Chins and supinated pulldowns work the biceps hard, and rows give the biceps some work. Whereas most trainees include two of the pressing movements that really hit the triceps, many don't include the chin or supinated pulldown. This is why curls are often included in abbreviated routines. Relative to the size of the biceps, it's strange that a specific exercise is usually included for it while the calves and hamstrings may be neglected in many cases, both of which are much larger than the biceps.

 Work Hamstrings Directly Even If I Am Squatting?

If I squat heavy, do I have to do any hamstrings work in addition to the squats? What's the primary purpose of the stiff-legged deadlift? Do I need to do stiff-legged deads if I squat heavy?

  The primary purpose of the stiff-legged deadlift is to work the hamstrings, erectors, glutes and upper back. Squats hit the hams, glutes and erectors (along with the quads and adductors), but the stifflegged deadlift, for most people, works the erectors and hams more than does the squat. I'd recommend that you use the stiff-legged deadlift as a companion exercise to the squat, other than for shortterm very-abbreviated programs. But be sure you use impeccable form, and don't use an exaggerated or excessive range of motion for you. Never round your lower or upper back.

The stiff-legged deadlift alone isn't, however, adequate to work the functions of the hamstrings. At least in some training cycles, the addition of the leg curl is a good idea, to produce improved balance between the musculature and strength of the front and rear thighs. If you can't stiff-legged deadlift safely, perform one or two hard sets of the leg curl once every 4-7 days on a consistent basis. I now include the leg curl as one of the most valuable single-joint exercises.

For the leg curl, be sure to use a machine and set-up that enables you to position the axis of rotation of the apparatus so that it lines up with the center of your knees. If the two points are out of alignment, the leg curl will irritate your knees and produce more harm than good. Use the right set-up or don't use the leg curl at all.

 Hand Position During Sumo Deadlift?

How close together should my hands be when I sumo deadlift?

  If your hands are very close, there are two immediate problems-no knurling on the bar (in most cases) and thus a weakened grip, and poor control of balance of the bar. I'd say you should have your hands about hip width apart, and definitely on the knurling of the bar. With a stronger grip, and better control of the bar, your form can only be helped, not hindered.

 How Can I Get Back Into Deadlifting?

The first time I deadlifted I managed 310 pounds for a few reps. I managed to get up to 395 for 5 rest-pause reps. I couldn't figure out the training frequency and thus couldn't keep tabs on progression, so I decided to give the deadlift up. After a similar time period of squatting I only managed 225 pounds for 5 in the full squat, without a belt. I realized that I'm more gifted at the deadlift than the squat. I want to start deadlifting again. The problem is that I can't seem to get a gaining momentum going with the deadlift.

  That you were able to deadlift so much the first time is extraordinary, and indicates natural ability well above the average unless you have a background in heavy manual labor that built the required strength. Your problem wasn't deadlifting frequency. You should never have been deadlifting 310 pounds the first time out.

Though an apparently simple exercise, the deadlift still needs to be mastered by using light weights, and then gradually building up the resistance while maintaining perfect form. It's impossible to master form by starting out on an exercise with a weight that makes you struggle. You took a huge risk when you jumped into intensive deadlifting without a period of adaptation. You could have suffered severe damage.

Start deadlifting again, and do it properly this time. First, learn all the ins and outs of deadlifting. Only then should you proceed. Start with 60 kilos or 135 pounds-a 20-kilo/45-pound plate on each end of an Olympic bar, plus spring collars. Master the form in a couple of sessions, doing multiple sets of 6 reps each time, and until you have it off pat.

Video tape yourself so that you can actually see how you're lifting. Once form is perfect, and the groove entrenched, add 5 kilos/10 pounds per week, for the first four weeks, and thereafter drop to just half of that a week. Perform 3 work sets of 6 reps each, following warm-up work. Don't progress any faster than that. Impeccable form is imperative. Video tape yourself every few workouts, to check on your form. If your form degrades, cut back the weight, and build up again, but without any degradation.

Assuming you don't have any setbacks, it will take you about eight months to get to 310 pounds. At that point, cut back to 2 x 6 works sets, following minimum warm-ups with 135 pounds, 200 and 265. If done properly you'll get to 310 x 6 x 3 with perfect form and lots of potential for keeping the progression going at 5 pounds per week for a further few months, and then at a slower pace thereafter (assuming you're eating and sleeping well each day). Over the second half of the year you're going to have to crank up your nutrition, rest and sleeping habits, in order to provide the recovery "ingredients," otherwise your progress will grind to a halt.

You may not be happy about the prospect of starting the cycle with 135 pounds, but the thought of being able to handle around 400 pounds a year or so from now should excite you. But you won't get there if you rush things now. (This rate of progress is unusually quick, a reflection of your above-average deadlifting potential.) So long as progress is happening nicely, stick with deadlifting once every seven days. But if or when progress starts to get really tough, stretch out the deadlifting frequency to once every 10-14 days.

The squat is potentially a great exercise. You should continue to squat providing you can do it safely. If you've also been making mistakes in your form and progression scheme in the squat, then that would seriously limit your progress and make injury likely. Please learn lessons from your deadlifting, and apply them elsewhere in your training.

 Should I Alternate Squats And Deadlifts?

I read somewhere that Bob Peoples used to alternate squats and deadlifts. When he became stale in one of them he used to switch to the other. I'm thinking of trying this approach. What do you think?

  Peoples was a phenomenal deadlifter, though his round-back style is off limits for regular mortals. He deadlifted 725 pounds at a bodyweight of 189 pounds, in 1949! Peoples used many innovative training methods and pieces of equipment.

I'm all for doing what works for you, though if you're going to alternate the squat and deadlift, the deadlift needs to use heavy thigh involvement or otherwise your leg strength is probably going to back track while you focus on the deadlift. If you deadlift with either the trap bar or shrug bar, you can get lots of thigh involvement, and will alternate somewhat similar exercises, as the parallel-grip deadlift has more in common with the squat than the straight bar deadlift has.

 Are Overhead Barbell Press Really A "Big" Movement?

Why are seated or standing overhead dumbbell or barbell presses in the "big movement" group with squats, deadlifts, dips, etc? In my opinion, I don't see how working such a small grouping of muscles would stimulate the same growth as squatting 20 reps.

  Any overhead press can't compare with intensive 20-rep squatting when comparing total muscular involvement and growth potential. But behind the really big exercises-the squat and bent-legged deadlift-come the next tier of major exercises, which includes the overhead press variations, along with the dip, bench press and chin, as examples. The overhead press is included in the big movement grouping to distinguish it from the isolation movement grouping-laterals, for the shoulders, for example.

 Can I Take Lifting Too Far And Hurt Myself?

I'm 46 years old and as of now I'm stronger than I've ever been and I'm still making progress. When should I consider stopping or changing the direction of my lifting? I'm still in good health and enjoy training. I don't want to take it too far and endanger myself.

  There are no rigid rules here relative to numbers, because there are big differences among individuals. I'd say you should continue getting stronger for as long as you safely can, and for as long as you continue to have the appetite for it. How much farther you can go depends on where you are relative to your potential.

Perhaps you've been training for only a couple of years and can squat 240 x 20. Or perhaps you've been training for twenty years and can squat 340 x 20. If the latter, I'd say you're around the point where you should move to maintenance strength work for a while, and then live with the gradual decline in strength that will take effect soon, though perhaps not for a few years yet if you keep yourself in good condition and health. But if you're at 240 x 20, I'd say you can keep progressing in strength for a while yet.

Either way, be sure you're giving serious attention to cardiovascular health and conditioning-three sessions per week of 30-40 minutes of moderate aerobic work, or much shorter bouts of harder cardio work. Additionally, if you need to burn calories through aerobic exercise for the sake of weight control, then walk for an hour or so each day.

Beyond exercise, do all that you can in other areas in order to look after your health-eat healthfully, take plenty of anti-oxidant supplements, avoid harmful habits and environments, sleep adequately and well, avoid severe stress, do work you enjoy, and have some regular but moderate exposure to sunshine. And keep in mind that being happy is an important part of good health.

 Can I Substitute Deadlifts For Squats?

Is the deadlift a good substitute for the squat, in the context of leg training?

  Depends on the deadlift and the individual. If you're talking about the trap bar or shrug bar deadlift, then for sure it's a good substitute for the squat. For some people, that form of the deadlift (the parallel-grip deadlift) can provide a more productive workout for the legs.

If you mean the conventional straight bar deadlift, it depends on how much leg work it gives you. If your leverages favor the squat more than the deadlift, then using the deadlift as your sole upper-leg movement will reduce the training effect in that area, and the conventional deadlift wouldn't be a good substitute for the squat for leg work for you. In such cases, the sumo deadlift may provide more leg work than the conventional deadlift.

If your leverages are more suited to the deadlift than the squat, then the difference between the deadlift and the squat, at least for leg work, may be more blurred. In this case, the parallel-grip deadlift is the way to go-then you can get the benefit of your improved leverages for the deadlift but with more leg flexion than with a straight bar, and thus perhaps get more leg involvement than from the barbell squat.

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