Wow, I couldn't believe how many questions I received so quickly. I already started a completely new Q & A section before even submitting this one. Hope things are going well with all of you.
[ Q ] First I would like to say that I enjoyed your article very much, and I wanted to ask you one thing. There is something wrong with my right arm. It is smaller and weaker then my left arm and it doesn't contract very well even though I'm right-handed. I already went to a doctor and he said that I have a neurological problem, probably in my spine. Do you know what could I do to make the signal from my spine reach my right arm better? What could I do to make my right arm contract better? I have heard that doing a lot of reps with little weight does help, is that true?
[ A ] Hi Alex,
Thanks for the question and the compliment. I'm sorry to hear about the differences between your arms and the physical problem you're experiencing. I'm not a doctor, but I have read about and always believed in the neuromuscular connection. Bill Phillips discusses this in his Body-for-Life book on page 70. Here's what he writes:
"By now, I've broken a sweat, and I've also fired up something called the neuromuscular junction, which is the point where our muscles receive a signal from our brains to flex. These signals are carried by neurotransmitters and flow through the nervous system like electricity flows through wires.
It takes a few sets to get this neuromuscular junction primed. But once it's amped up and delivering full voltage, we will be stronger on the fifth set of an exercise (NOTE: he means the 5th set after 4 warm-up sets) in this workout - you'll be able to lift a weight 12 times that you might have been able to lift only eight times earlier in the workout. This system, however, is primed only for a brief period - there's a pretty small window of opportunity."
I'm not completely familiar with your condition, but this does sound like what you're talking about. If you read my other article about the way I train, you know I don't follow the training in the Body-for-Life book; however, that doesn't mean I don't incorporate parts of it into my training. I learn from everything I read, that book included, and I warm-up very similarly to the warm-ups in the book.
I start with a lighter weight and progressively build up to my first set of all-out intensity. I increase the weight with each warm-up set and decrease my reps. I usually do 4-5 warm-up sets for each bodypart, unless I've already warmed-up the muscle training another body part. For example if I train biceps after back or triceps after chest I won't do all those warm-up sets since training back warmed-up my biceps and training chest warmed-up my triceps.
Aside from the neuromuscular connection, the other main reason I warm-up in that fashion is to prevent injury. By the time I start my first all-out set, I already have a mild pump going, my joints feel loose, and I feel much stronger than after my first warm-up set. In my opinion, most, if not all bodybuilding injuries come from overtraining, poor form, and lack of a proper warm-up. It's in your best interest to warm-up well: you'll gain more muscle, lift more weight, and prevent injury.
My other recommendation would be to train with dumbbells. This will ensure each arm lifts the same amount of weight. When using barbells, one arm might contribute more than the other, worsening your imbalance. Also, even though one arm is stronger, never do more reps with one arm than the other, because that will also increase your imbalance. In other words, if you're performing dumbbell curls, you might be able to do more reps with one arm than the other. DON'T! Stop when one arm reaches muscular failure. This will bring your arms back into balance.
Regarding training with lighter weight and higher reps, I would NOT recommend training that way. That kind of training isn't going to improve your strength or improve the differences in your arms. I would recommend training with heavy weight, and low-to-moderate reps (4-8 rep range), very slow and controlled. That's how I train all the time, and that's how I recommend everyone trains. Really focus on the negative and lowering the weight under control. Training with higher reps will only improve your muscular endurance, and do little to nothing for your strength and muscular growth.
Best of luck, and if there's anything else I can do, please let me know.
[ Q ] Hello Scott,
I saw your email on the bodybuilding.com website. I hope you do not mind the email. First off, congratulations on winning the BFL contest. I entered the contest back in 1999, and although I didn't win, I gained a wealth of knowledge about exercise and nutrition. I like you continue to read tons of information about different workouts and nutrition plans. I was curious about your workouts.
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Did you truly do only 2-3 sets of exercises of only 4-6 reps? What did you do for warm-up if anything? Did the weight you chose only allow for 4-6 reps or could you have pumped out a couple of more reps? In other words, how did you find the proper amount of weight to use?
I have always been in pretty good shape, but my biggest enemy nowadays is time. I am 33 yo, married, have a 19 month old daughter and another baby on the way in August; I take care of children with heart disease for a living and as you can surmise do not have tons of time to workout 6 days a week. Unfortunately, we do not live near family so we get no Grandma/Grandpa help with the kids.
Anyway, of all the exercise plans I have seen recently, yours would be ideal for me (4-6 reps; 5 days/wk). The 8-12 rep range is starting to wear on my joints and the 6-day-a-week program is just not practical anymore. Is there any more detail to your workout?
[ A ] Hi Glenn,
Thanks for the compliments, and I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Of course I don't mind the e-mail, in fact I want to questions and comments. I want to help people, and I want them to experience what I've experienced through fitness and a healthy lifestyle. Also, congratulations on your success with the contest!
Yes, the training you saw in the article is exactly how I trained. I have no reason to lie about my workouts. Those workouts I listed contained plenty of sets to stimulate muscle growth. Please keep in mind that even though I only do 2-3 sets of an exercise, I do 3 exercises for large bodyparts like chest and back, and 2 exercises for smaller bodyparts like biceps, triceps and calves.
I did 4-6 reps, and that was definitely all I could do. I don't do forced reps, but I definitely could never have done one more rep. If I could have done one more rep, than I would have done one more rep. I always train to positive muscular failure, which means doing as many reps as I can on my own, without being able to do one more rep.
Finding the proper amount of weight to use is easy. If I couldn't do 4 reps, then the weight was too heavy, and I'd use less weight. If I could do more than 6 reps, then the weight was too light and I'd increase by a certain amount. If I was doing squats, I might increase by 10 pounds, and if I was curling, I would probably increase by 5 pounds.
Keeping a training journal is invaluable. It allows me to see whether my strength is improving. I never have to guess how much weight to use, because I always have it recorded from the previous workout. I don't do many sets, so I don't want to waste any sets trying to figure out the right weight. I change exercises regularly, so if I didn't do an exercise the week before, I can look back on previous workouts and see what I was using the last time I performed that exercise. You have to keep a training journal.
In the first question in this article, I talked about my warm-up procedure. Essentially I do 4-5 warm-ups sets for each muscle group, increasing the weight and decreasing the reps with each set. If a muscle has already been warmed-up from training a previous muscle, than I won't do as many warm-up sets. For example, if I train biceps after back, or triceps after chest.
My training is pretty simple. I had it all laid out in the article. The only thing I would continue to stress is emphasis on the negative. If you're starting to have joint problems, it's even more important for you. Muscle growth comes from the negative. Lift the weight slow and controlled, and leave your ego at the door. You might have to decrease your weight a little bit, but you'll gain more strength and muscle size in the long-run. Plus, you won't look as silly as those guys who bounce the bar off their chests during bench presses, or look like gorillas swinging from the cable attachment on pulldowns.
Let me know how things work out for you Glenn.
I really like your articles. I am an EAS Myoplex user myself. I think it is awesome that you are into bodybuilding and a Christian. May I ask you a question? My wife and I are members at a church that has a HomeChurch every other week. My problem is I get along with the men in the group but some of them are "nerdy" and not the type of guys that I have an interest in hanging around outside of church activities. Do you know what I mean? Have you ever had this problem?
I hope I don't sound crazy to you.
[ A ] Wow, now here is a question I didn't expect to be asked, and no, you don't sound crazy. As a Christian, I was very excited about being able to write bodybuilding articles and hopefully share my faith with other people; however, this is a surprise, but not a bad one in the least. Hopefully I'll be able to help you in this area, as well as I might be able to help you if you had a fitness-related question.
I'm part of our church's college/career group, which is like a home group for people leaving high school and entering college. We're all single, and at 26, I'm pretty much one of?well, actually, I am the oldest member. I'm also, one of the only ones who has an interest in bodybuilding. Other members of the group are interested in working out, but even they probably think I'm obsessive. They see me carrying around my shakes, and meals of tuna, chicken and green beans with me.
When I eat any of the junk food that's always present whenever we hang out together, they make jokes and give me a hard time. Still, when I won the Body-for-Life contest, appeared on television, or started getting articles published, some of these same people were unbelievably supportive and encouraging. Even though many of them had no interest in fitness, and probably hadn't even heard of Body-for-Life before, because of our friendship, they were happy for me.
I guess I'm trying to say that we're all different. I'm very different from the people I hang out with, and they probably think I'm very different from them; however, our differences really don't matter. If I only looked for people that were the same as me, I'd probably be hanging out alone at my apartment all the time. These same people who are completely different than me, have become my best friends, and pretty much a family to me.
When I was in college, before I became a Christian, I definitely judged everyone, and didn't want to hang out with any "nerds." I was probably missing out on some pretty cool people. Besides, I'm sure there are plenty of people who will read this, and think I'm a nerd for being a Christian or feeling the way I do about things; however, I can tell you that I'm much happier now, than I was in college when I judged others. Besides, who says neither of us aren't nerds?
Also, my hero is a guy named Barry Branaman, and he'll be the first person to tell you that he's a nerd. We have our bible studies at his house on Wednesday nights, and I'm friends with his wife and children, spending time with them during our college/career group, talking to them at church, and going over to their house for dinner on occasion. I even remodeled his bathroom for him as a favor. Anyway, being a nerd worked pretty well for him, because he has a beautiful wife and family, and he seems to be one of the happiest men I know.
I would encourage you to try to establish friendships with these people you find "nerdy." Besides being a more mature Christian, you'll probably really learn from them and appreciate their friendships.
Please let me know how things turn out.
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[ Q ] I just read your Q & A and I have one thing to say. I wish there were more bodybuilders such as yourself. People have to stop reading the bodybuiding mags and comparing themselves to the beefed up bodybuilders on the front covers. The truth is that these bodybuilders take steroids, and without steroids, we wouldn't have any bodybuilders who can be ripped at 260 pounds.
Anyways, what I liked the most is that you preach short workouts, and the use of compounds movements that get the job done faster, with low reps and heavy weights. The only thing I wouldn't agree is with your hour long cardio sessions.
I personally do cardio for no more than 10 minutes, and do weight training for no more than 20 minutes. I'm not a bodybuilder, but instead a martial artist. So my martial arts training is long, because I work on endurance, but I look nothing like a runner. Ever hit the bag? It's intense, and that's what pushes you. You build yourself up to a point where you can maintain a close to maximal intensity for as long as possible.
Anyways, enough about me and my training philosophy. I do have a question. I'm 17, and I'm starting college and will be able to use the weight room there, but right now all I have is a barbell. How can I set up a routine using just a barbell. THere are a lot of movements I can't do, such as the squat and bench press. I've been experimenting a lot with olympic movements and crossfit.
This is my current split:
- Monday: Push Press
- Tuesday: Chinups & Hindu Pushups
- Wednesday: Deadlift
- Thursday: Chinups & Hindu Pushups
- Friday: Push Press
Basically, I'm trying to increase my poundage on the Push Press and deadlift, and trying to increase my numbers on the chinups and Hindu Pushup.
The biggest problem is that since I can't really work my chest using barbell right now, for the next month until school starts, I'll be working my chest and back in an endurance fashion, and my shoulders and legs in a strength fashion. This will create an imbalance. Who knows, maybe I'll end up having a big shoulders and legs with disproportionate chest and back, or maybe vice versa.
What do you think about this?
[ A ] Hi, thanks for the compliments on the article; glad you enjoyed it. When I was a kid I had a punching bag, but I didn't use it too much. When I did though, I got a good workout, so I can imagine you using that for cardio.
You said you didn't agree with my cardio workouts, but I do those because they fit my lifestyle and my goals. I enjoy doing cardio longer and with lower intensity so that I can read and have a devotional time. I know a shorter, more intense session would be more beneficial, but like I said, it fits my goals and lifestyle. Whenever I speak to people, I recommend shorter, more intense cardio sessions. I'm going to write about cardio in an upcoming article.
Regarding your questions, there are some changes I would make to your training. I admit that I'm not as familiar with increasing strength as muscle, but my strength has really improved during my time bodybuilding. Still, I'm a firm believer in lifting heavy weights, which is best for strength and muscular gains.
You're hitting your shoulders and triceps four times per week (Monday and Thursday when doing push presses, and Tuesday and Thursday when doing Hindu pushups), and your back three times per week, three days in row: Tuesday through Thursday with the chinups and deadlifts. Plus, you have 3 days rest between days of push presses, and only one day of rest between chinups and Hindu pushups.
You have a good selection of exercises, but I would change your split.
Here's what I would do considering your equipment and goals:
- Monday: Hindu pushups, Push Presses, and lying triceps extensions with the barbell (you'll be training your chest, shoulders and triceps this day)
- Tuesday: Chinups (overhand, then underhand), Deadlifts, lunges, and maybe some barbell curls if you don't feel like your biceps got enough work after the chinups and deadlifts (you'll be training your back, biceps and legs this day)
- Wednesday: Off
- Thursday: Repeat Monday's workout - Hindu pushups, Push Presses, and lying triceps extensions with the barbell
- Friday: Repeat Tuesday's workout - Chinups (overhand, then underhand), Deadlifts, lunges, and maybe some barbell curls if you don't feel like your biceps got enough work after the chinups and deadlifts
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Here's my reasoning:
- You have the same amount of rest between the two workouts.
- You're concerned about strength as much as muscular growth, so I didn't recommend a typical bodybuilding workout (i.e. training each bodypart once per week with plenty of rest).
- Each workout has a focus on the lifts you mentioned.
- You'll have a well-rounded workout that hits all your muscle groups, to prevent any imbalances like you mentioned.