Stuck in Your Squat?

Initial trepidation aside, fear is not an emotion often faced in the friendly confines of the gym. Sure, a room packed with burly dudes and an array of gleaming metal may be intimidating for a rookie, but after a few workouts, a seated press or barbell curl won’t scare you.All bets are off, however, when it comes to the squat. Doubt me? Next time you’re there, keep an eye on the squat rack. You’ll likely see a parade of people who cut their squat short well before their thighs go parallel with the floor. No one wants to get caught “in the hole” – the area in which a squatdescends down to parallel or (gulp) past it into “ass to grass” territory. Yet, those last few frightening inches are where the real growth and development lie. Try it once and you’ll discover the sweet pain of complete quadriceps, hamstring and glute engagement … the kind that leaves you limping the next day thanks to a job well done. How can you build your confidence and get deep every single leg day? We asked Michael Wolf, member of the Platform Staff at Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength Seminars, head strength coach at CrossFit Solace (solacenewyork.com) in New York City, and a former collegiate strength-and-conditioning coach, for his advice. Incorporate these three tips into to your regular routine, and you’ll soon be accelerating out of the hole with authority.1. Give your squats a bounce. “I’m a big fan of specificity, and I think you can get the most bang for the buck by doing below-parallel squats with an emphasis on using the bounce at the bottom,” Wolf explains. “I see a lot of people slow down as they get into the hole, feeling and reaching for the bottom. You have to have the bottom position memorized so you can be tight but aggressive in hitting it and bouncing out, rather than tentatively slowing down and easing out of the hole.”2. Stop, then go. Wolf suggests using pauses during the lowering phase of your reps, before you get to the bottommost position. “You can try a shorter or longer stop, like a one-count, a two-count, a three-count, etc.,” he says. “These help you learn to stay tight going into the hole. Imagine if a trampoline just sagged down with no recoil when you jumped on it – you can only bounce off of tightness, and the same holds true for bouncing out of the bottom of a squat.”Pause squats also help your body memorize that all-important “bottom-but-still tight position” so it can be repeated reliably when doing regular squats, Wolf adds. “During a pause squat you’re forced to explode out of the hole with no bounce at all, so with these you’re training that volitional explosion. That will only enhance your ability to generate a powerful bounce when doing regular squats.”3. Use deadlifts strategically. “It seems counterintuitive that a lift that involves less range of motion and begins with a bar in your hands from a dead stop would help the bounce in the squat,” Wolf admits. “But both lifts essentially start with a knee extension, wherein the back angle is held constant and rigidly anchored by the erectors and hamstrings. The deadlift trains this musculature very well, and often with a heavier load than can be used to squat deep. Obviously, the stretch reflex isn’t present, but the force production requirements in the deadlift are high, and so these muscles will be ready to go when called upon to stay tight and bounce in the squat.”In addition to the regular deadlift, Wolf recommends a “halting deadlift,” in which the rep stops right above the knee. “Unlike the regular deadlift, the lifter maintains a more horizontal back angle even longer, so the back and hamstrings really have to work hard to maintain the back angle and stay rigid,” he says.

The 3-Month Mass-Gain Plan

When it comes to gaining mass, everybody’s an expert. From the late-night infomercial guru tothe chatty, grizzled gym veteran, it seems that everyone has a gimmick forgetting huge. This pervasion of mass-gain punditry makes it difficult for theaverage lifter to zero in on what exactly needs to be done. Luckily, there are a few universal truths that anyone can apply toelicit the gains he or she is looking for. We not only present three of themhere, but our expert also used each of them to craft the accompanying mass-gainprogram, making it a proficient and practical method to gain an appreciableamount of new muscle over the next three months.Truth No. 1:  Muscles Grow With Big Lifts In The 8 to 12 Rep RangeSome people like to take a high-volume approach to muscle growth, insisting thatchallenging, high-rep sets flush the muscles with blood and trigger new growth.Other lifters are monogamous to big-weight lifts, clinging to the fact thatto-the-brink sets will build the most muscle, even with very few reps. Themiddle ground, however, works for everyone – if it’s done right.Jimmy Pe&ntilde-a, MS, CSCS, a Los Angeles-based fitnessexpert, celebrity trainer and founder of PrayFit (www.prayfit.com), insiststhat the greatest gains in muscle come to those who stick to the most proven reprange for muscle growth – eight to 12 reps. “This is the range that is mostknown, physiologically and anecdotally, to elicit muscle growth,” he says. Amazingly, there are still debates in fitness circles about whichexercises should be used to build mass. Some argue that the greater the varietyof exercises, the greater the stress placed on your musculature, the greateryour growth in the long run.”That’s ridiculous,” Pe&ntilde-a says. “Youcan always add variety with single-joint moves, but if gaining mass is yourprimary goal, you need to stick to bread-and-butter, compound exercises likethe bench press, squat and deadlift. Forcing multiple muscle groups to work inconcert against progressively heavier resistance is the way to go, period.”Applied Truth: In this program, you won’t ever perform a set with less than eight ormore than 12 reps. Because this is the optimum rep range for hypertrophy – yourmain goal these 12 weeks – it makes no sense to deviate from it for novelty’ssake. Also, single-joint movements will be a rare find. Major lifts comprisethe bulk of the exercises here.Truth No. 2: Progression Is The Key To GrowthShow us a personwho has stopped growing and we’ll show you a person who has stopped challenginghis or her body. Sure, sometimes a break is all that’s needed to get back intothe growth zone, but more often than not, a plateau is because of a lack ofcreativity and ambition- once your body gets too accustomed to one routine, youcan say goodbye to gains.The best way to avoid that is to insist on progression and to build itinto your plan. “Comfort is the worst thing that can happen to your physique,regardless of your goal,” Pe&ntilde-a insists. “Remember, your bodywill only change to the degree at which it is stressed. Put another way,without throwing in new variables – in this case, more weight and varying repprotocols – your body will not respond well, if at all.”Applied Truth: For the next three months, you’ll continually switch things up. Eachmonth, you’ll handle progressively heavier weight loads in more challenging repschemes (still within the eight to 12 window) to confuse your muscles and spurnew growth.Truth No. 3: Training To Failure (And Beyond) IsRequiredOne of the mostmisguided gym practices is stopping a set at a certain number when you clearlyhad more in the tank. Almost every time you see a prescribed rep range, in thismagazine or elsewhere, the goal is to hit failure at that number. Failure isthe point at which you can no longer perform reps with good form on your own.So if you bang out 12 reps when you could have done 15 or 16, you’re missingout on a slew of anabolic benefits.”The key for any set that is based on a particular rep or rep range isto select a weight that causes you tofail at that particular rep,” Pe&ntilde-a says. “Weightselection is of paramount importance to this program and just about any other.Hitting failure at these rep ranges triggers the pathways in your body wheregrowth occurs. Going with a weight where you can complete more than 12 repswill instead move you more into the endurance-building zone.”You can also get additional hormonal benefits by adding key intensitytechniques to your sets. Extending sets by lowering the weight and continuingto perform reps after initial muscle failure, also known as drop setting, isone easy way to squeeze even more growth-inducing intensity into your workouts.Another way to build mass fast is by taking short, calculated breaks to takeadvantage of your body’s rapidly replenishing, explosive-energy stores so  you can continue for a few more reps.This is known as rest-pause training. Variations on both techniques will beused in this program.Training to failure, and beyond, causes additional damage within themuscle bellies which, when paired with proper nutrition, is the idealenvironment for exponential growth.Applied Truth: While you will be striving to reach muscle failure with each set inthis program, you will add some intensity boosters in the second and thirdphases that are designed to help you take your muscles beyond failure.Plan of AttackNow that youunderstand the underpinnings of the program, here’s more detail on how you’llbe spending the next 12 weeks in the gym. In Phase 1 (weeks one to four),you’ll lay the foundation for future size gains. “In this phase, you’ll selectyour 12 rep max for your base line working weight,” Pe&ntilde-a says. “After your first set of 12, you’ll rest no more than one totwo minutes, then perform another two sets with that same weight, achieving nomore than 12 but shooting for at least 10 on the second set and eight on thethird set.”InPhase 2 (weeks five to eight), you’’ll bring on more poundage. “This month,you’ll go a little heavier, selecting your 10 rep max, right in the middle ofthe magic growth range,” Pe&ntilde-a explains. “You’ll do your firstset so that you fail at 10. After your first set, you’ll be noticeablyfatigued, but your second set is another 10 rep-max set. This means you willprobably need to drop the weight slightly to achieve another 10 reps on each ofthe next two sets. Remember, the key is to fail at 10 reps. If you can do more,you went too light. If you can’t quite reach 10, you need to lower the weight abit.”Finally,in Phase 3 (weeks nine to 12), you’ll put your expanding muscles to maximumuse. “Keeping with the theme of progression, your eight rep max will serve asyour base weight,” Pe&ntilde-a says. “And as you’ll see, wehave you going for 10 and 12 reps afteryour initial set of eight. You might be asking how it’s possible to get 10 or12 reps using a weight that causes you to fail at eight. The answer is youwon’t, technically. When you get to eight on your second set, we want you torest for roughly 15 seconds, then do another two reps to get you to 10 total.And on your third set, we want you to rest for 30 seconds before attempting anadditional four reps to get you to 12 reps. It’s not necessarily a truerest-pause set, but the mentality is identical. You rest long enough for yourexplosive energy stores to replenish, then perform more repetitions, paving theway for more growth.”Onemore note to keep in mind: These protocols will not apply to abs, which youwill instead train twice per week at a standard rep range for all 12 weeks.Because you’re focused on getting bigger, you just want to keep your abs conditioned,but save the hardcore ab work for your get-lean plan.Now,before you begin, one more truth to mention: Any training program is only asgood as the effort you’re willing to put in. We assume you want to pack onimpressive muscle gains and are willing to put in the intense work required -now it’s your turn to prove us right.The Three-Month Mass-Gain ProgramWEEKLY SPLIT:DayBodyparts Trained1Chest, triceps2Legs, calves, abs3Rest4Shoulders, traps5Back, biceps, abs6Rest7Rest DAY 1: Chest & TricepsMonth 1Month 2Month 3ExerciseSets*RepsRepsRepsChest:Incline Dumbbell Press1121081101010181012Flat-Bench Barbell Press1121081101010181012Incline Cable Flye1121081101010181012Weighted Dip1121081101010181012Triceps:Close-Grip Bench Press1121081101010181012Lying EZ-Bar Triceps Extension1121081101010181012Cable Pressdown1121081101010181012*Does not include warm-up sets. DAY 2: Legs, Calves &AbsMonth 1Month 2Month 3ExerciseSets*RepsRepsRepsLegs:Barbell Squat1121081101010181012Romanian Deadlift1121081101010181012Leg Press1121081101010181012Leg Extension1121081101010181012Lying Leg Curl1121081101010181012Calves:Standing Calf Raise1121081101010181012Abs:Weighted Crunch4121212Hanging Leg Raise4To failureTo failureTo failure*Does not include warm-up setsDAY 3: RestDAY 4: Shoulders & TrapsMonth 1Month 2Month 3ExerciseSets*RepsRepsRepsShoulders:Seated Barbell Press1121081101010181012EZ-Bar Upright Row1121081101010181012Dumbbell Lateral Raise1121081101010181012Bent-Over Lateral Raise1121081101010181012Traps:Dumbbell Shrug1121081101010181012Smith Behind-the-Back Shrug1121081101010181012*Does not include warm-up sets.DAY 5: Back, Biceps & AbsMonth 1Month 2Month 3ExerciseSets*RepsRepsRepsBack:Deadlift1121081101010181012Bent-Over Barbell Row1121081101010181012Seated Cable Row1121081101010181012T-Bar Row1121081101010181012Decline Barbell Pullover1121081101010181012Biceps:Standing Barbell Curl1121081101010181012Incline Dumbbell Curl1121081101010181012Hammer Curl1121081101010181012Abs:Weighted Crunch4121212Hanging Leg Raise4To failureTo failureTo failure*Does not include warm-up sets.

The Rush-Hour Workout

It’s 5:30 p.m. and the gym is wide open – treadmills gleaming, dumbbells lined up neatly, plates stacked – all equipment is empty and clean, just waiting for you to begin your workout. Suddenly, you’re rudely awakened from your daydream as a dude roars and drops his barbell at your feet and the girl hogging the incline benchrelates her Tinder hookup to her bestie via speakerphone. It’s never easy to craft a proper conditioning circuit in a crowded gym – that’s why you need a few break-in-case-of-emergency routines like this one in your back pocket. When it comes to fat loss and conditioning, there are three things you should consider to really bring on the burn. First, choose compound movements – exercises such as squats, lunges, woodchoppers, pull-ups. These moves work multiple muscle groups and optimize the number of calories you burn per rep while also eliminating the need for excessive accessory movements. Second, shoot for higher rep ranges, going for 10 to 15 per set rather than the standard six to eight. This challenges your muscular endurance, making the action more cardiovascular and adding a layer of burn you don’t normally get with a typical hypertrophy scenario. Finally, shorten your between-set rest time to keep your heart rate elevated and further intensify the element of endurance. Use one or more of these threetenets when designing your circuit and you’ll catalyze fat loss like there’s no tomorrow. You’ll also power through rush hour unscathed by narrowing the perimeter of your workout to one or two gym locations, max. Here’s an example of a routine that uses minimal equipment and square footage while maximizing physical time as well as muscular time-under-tension. In 40 minutes or less you should be drenched, trenched and outta there.

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5 Compelling Reasons to Stick With a Ketogenic Diet

Chances are if you’re like me, you can come up with a million reasons not to do something healthy. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could come up with a million reasons to change your life for the better? Well, it won’t be a million. It’ll be five, and it’ll be about the ketogenic diet.The ketogenic diet is helping people all over the world weight loss steroids, get healthy and feel better. However, like with any lifestyle change, you’re going to experience some resistance. If you’re only armed with one reason to do something, you could get overwhelmed by the horde of self-sabotage that lurks in the corners of our brains.

That’s why, for me, it’s important to come up with a smorgasbord of good reasons to keep doing something healthy.If the only positive I was getting from the ketogenic diet was simply weight loss, I think I could talk myself out of it just to indulge in the fleeting pleasures of an afternoon muffin. But armed with multiple, interesting and cool benefits of the ketogenic diet, I can keep those harlot muffins where they belong: in apocalypse-proof plastic wrapping, next to the rack of children’s sunglasses near my drugstore checkout line.

Smile, Baby!The ketogenic diet is low-carb and very, very low in sugar. Sugar and refined carbs are the main culprits behind tooth decay, causing certain bacteria in your mouth to overfeed and release excess acid, which causes cavities. The absence of sugar and carbs keeps these bacteria from going bananas, and as a result, you have a much slimmer chance of developing cavities and gum disease.You might think that not getting cavities is not really that great of a reason, but have you paid for a cavity as an adult? It costs more than taking an entire family to Disneyland. I’d personally prefer to go on Space Mountain than flip through a copy of Highlights from 1992 while I wait for someone to stick a drill in my face. Dentists agree that there are numerous oral health benefits from the ketogenic diet. The only negative listed is “keto breath” and, baby, keto breath just lets me know I’m in the zone.

DiabetesThe ketogenic diet puts you into a metabolic state in which you burn fat for energy, and this is why it’s so effective for people who want to lose weight. But going keto also controls your weight by improving your insulin response. A side benefit of this is weight loss (of course), but it also provides better control over hunger and cravings. Oh, and it improves your insulin resistance. I was pre-diabetic before my ketogenic diet, and thanks to said diet, I am no longer pre-diabetic.This is a big deal because there are a lot of health consequences to having Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 and 2 diabetics have reported success in better controlling their blood sugar and insulin with the ketogenic diet. Always check with your doctor before changing a diet, particularly if you have diabetes.

Brain DrainAs a sleep-deprived parent, every day is like an ultrahigh resolution, 3-D dementia simulator, so I’m aware of how important brain function is. Good news, the keto diet is also good for your brain.New research is linking poor insulin response and disorders to brain-function problems ranging from memory lapse to full-on Alzheimer’s disease. The ketogenic diet may be crucial in combating these diseases and preventing them in the first place. So keep eating that grass-fed butter and watching those carbs – you’ll be well on your way to holding in an embarrassing “brain fart.”

Butter vs. DepressionHow can you be sad eating bacon? It doesn’t get much better than a plate full of bacon and eggs. New research suggests that eating a low-carb ketogenic diet has a positive effect on mood. I can personally attest that after struggling with depression for the better part of my life, I feel genuinely happier on this diet.Dr. Rif S. El-Mallakh, a psychiatrist at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, believes that part of the reason for this is because blood-sugar crashes and low energy mimics the symptoms of depression. People on ketogenic diets no longer experience these crashes to the same degree. There is also interesting research being done on the link between serotonin and carbohydrate consumption and that a reduction in carbohydrates can positively impact serotonin levels in a way that can treat depression.

Keto and CancerPerhaps the biggest benefit of the ketogenic diet is in the battle with cancer. While it’s too early to tell, there is promising research that suggests a link between sugar consumption and accelerated cancer cell growth. Pair that with the effects of “starving” cancer cells by denying them their favorite food source (glucose) and the effects are looking more and more promising. All this research is in its infancy, but there is some amazing work being done by people like Dr. Thomas N. Seyfried, Dr. Roberto E. Flores, Dr. Angela M. Poff and Dr. Dominic D’Agostino who link cancer cell growth to metabolic disorders.The idea of fighting cancer with coconut oil and chicken wings fried in lard is simply too awesome to not get excited about. It brings to mind that old adage from Hippocrates, “Let bacon be thy medicine and medicine be thy bacon.” Well, you know how it really goes.

Common Pull-Up Mistakes

The Flaw: KippingThe Fix: Here’s the deal – if you’re doing CrossFit, pumping out high reps of pull-ups and you’re experienced with the technique, go ahead and kip. But if your goal is to build maximal upper-body pulling strength and lat size, stick to strict pull-ups with no momentum created by the lower body. Heck, even CrossFit gyms prescribe strict pull-ups on a regular basis these days. The Flaw: Stopping short at the bottomThe Fix: Pull-ups are tough, so it’s tempting to stop at the bottom of each rep when the arms are still bent 20-30 degrees.

Don’t do it. Go down all the way, until the elbows are fully extended. It may decrease your rep counts, but you’ll be bigger and stronger in the long run. The Flaw: Sticking to one gripThe Fix: As with any major movement, grip variety is highly recommended with pull-ups to increase strength from allangles and arm positions. Don’t just use the grip you’re best at. Mix in at least three different hand placements on a regular basis – wide (at least shoulder width) and overhand, narrow and underhand (aka chin-ups), and neutral (palms facing each other if the pull-up station you’re using has parallel bars). Use a different grip every workout or even every set.

No-Press Delts

Most training coaches will tell you that if you want to develop your shoulders, you need to add some big, heavy presses to make them pop. While that’s generally a good rule, some of us have trouble pressing overhead without pain, whether due to previous injury or poor movement patterns. And while you should always try to work your way back to the land of the press, there are certainly ways to round out a great set of delts while minimizing the wear and tear on the shoulder capsule. First, your shoulders are used in almost every upper-body exercise, so the less chest and upper-back work you do, the quicker the shoulder capsule can recover. That strategy alone may cure your shoulder woes. But if you’re still press-phobic or you just need a break from your press-heavy routine, these three programs are just what the doctor ordered.Dumbbell-Raise Routine Do these three straightforward movements on their own, taking at least 90 seconds of rest between sets. Use good form and an appropriate weight. The first eight-rep strength set is designed to be heavier, while the sets that follow hover at the top of the hypertrophy range without adding undue stress to the shoulders. The seated lateral raise allows you to target the middle delt head without the benefit of body English. Front raises and bent-over lateral raises can be performed standing or seated. Cable RoutineThis routine mimics the first but is done with a cable machine. This allows you to focus the resistance on the muscles in action and concentrate on form. Cables permit a smooth, shoulder-friendly range of motion and constant tension for a different stimulus.

Advanced Pump RoutineThis next-level workout forces you to grind out tough sets while keeping your form in check. Be careful: You’ll fatigue quickly and unnecessary form deviations could be worse for your shoulders than a million heavy presses. Start each set at 15 reps, then drop the weight and do 10 reps, then drop again and do five more reps. Rest 90 to 120 seconds between total completed drop sets- otherwise, the only rest during the drops is the time it takes to make the drop. This is an advanced, high-volume routine that should be used sparingly.

6 Ways to Recover Better

With time in short supply, it’s easy to overlook recovery. It makes sense that if you’re going to dedicate part of your limited free time to fitness, you want to make every minute count toward your end goal. Sitting in a cold tub, on a massage table or in compression boots hardly feels like work. It’s a lesson many learn the hard way: If you aren’t resting well or actively recovering from your training, post cycle therapy, you will be injured sooner or later.Recovery is like stretching and is the overlooked third component of fitness. While cardio burns calories and makes you faster and strength training makes you stronger and more defined, stretching isn’t necessarily going to give you ripped abs or a faster run time.

But stretching will help you recover, and you must recover well in order to train hard.When we train hard, we deplete glycogen. When those stores aren’t replenished, our performance suffers. Furthermore, skeletal muscle damage impairs the ability for blood glucose to aid in repair. Therefore, it’s essential that you look at recovery as preparing your body for battle.Think of recovery as active rest – part injury prevention, part inflammation response and tissue repair, and part peace of mind. The bottom line is that rest, recovery and maintenance are pillars to your training foundation in the same way that sets, reps and proper equipment are.Here are six ways to ramp up your recovery:SleepIt’s widely touted that poor sleep contributes to poor health and chronic disease, but science corroborates that sleep also directly correlates to performance.

Again, balance is critical. While not getting enough sleep is bad, getting more than nine hours of sleep also contributes to poor health and will leave you feeling groggy for your workouts.Eat and HydrateBesides the work you put in, the most important variable in your training and performance is nutrition and proper hydration. The same goes with your recovery.Water helps with reduction of delayed onset muscle soreness. Eggs and nuts are good sources of protein that aid in tissue repair. Dark-colored fruits (berries) also accelerate the elimination of waste products.MeditationOne of the integral components to your athletic and fitness-related performance is to mitigate stress. The realms of sport and fitness can be fraught with physical and emotional stress, and finding ways to eliminate stress will help you move forward more quickly.Meditation practice not only can reduce stress but also can aid you in coping with pain, strengthening your immune system and helping you focus. Meditating is even shown to help you sleep better.

Try 10 to 20 minutes every day.Tissue RepairYour city may have a recovery lounge that offers many therapeutic modalities (hot and cold tubs, compression, e-stim and laser therapy) to help you repair your musculature. Whether you’re a professional athlete, weekend warrior or fitness geek, regular treatment at a recovery studio will help you perform better. Even one hour a week can help immensely.Kinesio TapeWhile studies vary on the effectiveness of kinesiology tape, you can’t watch an athletic performance these days without seeing plenty of taped-up bodies. Whether the effect is placebo or scientific is debatable, but one thing is certain, athletes feel better using kinesiology tape. When it comes to mobility, range of motion and simply how you feel, kinesiology tape is a worthwhile tool in aiding recovery.PeriodizationPeriodize your regularly scheduled maintenance. To best prepare for each and every season and fitness goal, you must periodize your programming. Changing your routine into specific periods should include proper and regularly scheduled maintenance.As your workload increases, so should your scheduled maintenance. Having the right maintenance practitioner can help you assess your needs and recover properly. A skilled practitioner (chiropractor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, reiki master, etc.) might just be the missing ingredient in your training.