Q: I’ve got a lot of fat to lose, but I’m motivated to get ripped this summer. My problem is that I’m not sure how to go about it so I get the fastest results possible. Should I go on a low-carb diet and do cardio every day? I want to build muscle too, but a lot of people tell me that a low-carb diet isn’t good for adding muscle mass. Help.
A: There have been lots of heated debates about low-carb vs. higher-carb diets. The answer, which Jonathan Lawson and I discuss in our nutrition guide, X-treme Lean, is very simple. You should treat carbs as fuel.
You need enough glycogen from carbohydrates to replenish what you burn from your muscles—to keep them full and able to contract intensely during your workouts. On top of that you need a slight excess to power bodily functions, like optimal brain activity.
How much is that? The body stores about 400 grams of glycogen in the muscles and liver. If you train two or three bodyparts hard at a workout and deplete all the glycogen from them, that adds up to maybe 100 grams. You need another 30 to 50 grams for good measure—and good brain health. That’s a total of 130 to 150 grams a day you need to replenish.
What if you take in more than the amount your brain and muscles use? Excess will be burned from your bloodstream for energy during daily activity—instead of bodyfat—and anything left over will be shunted into the fat cells.
If you don’t work out, you need even fewer carbs, but most people take in 200 to 300 grams a day—a primary reason there is an obesity epidemic. In fact, if overcarbed sedentary folks start doing cardio, they basically burn excess blood sugar to fuel the cardio, without using a lot of bodyfat. (There’s a way to tap into fat stores almost immediately with cardio, as you’ll see in a moment.)
Back to you: First, start gradually reducing your carb intake, and take in very few carbs at night, when you’re more sedentary. I say gradually because a severe cut all at once can send a starvation signal and cause your body to hoard fat and burn muscle tissue. Reduce carbs and calories slowly over a few weeks—and, if possible, try to get the majority of your carbs close to your workout so you can refill muscle stores.
Over the course of a few weeks you’ll reach 130 to 150 grams a day. Hold that count and gradually increase your activity with more frequent walks, etc. Simple. Having higher-carb, or cheat, days every so often is mandatory for proper thyroid function and metabolism revving.
As for your weight-training workouts, focus on growth hormone increases and triggering muscle microtrauma, the two keys to fast fat-to-muscle effects. For example, do the last set of each of your compound, or midrange, exercises, like squats, in negative-accentuated style—that is, one second up and six seconds down.
Negative-accentuated sets require less weight, but the slow-mo lowering causes muscle microtrauma. The negative stroke produces microtears that help you shed blubber quickly. How? Your body burns fat for energy when it repairs the muscle damage over many days. In other words, you’re burning fat continuously, even when you’re sitting still.
On isolation exercises, like cable flyes, use drop sets—two sets back to back with a weight reduction. That will increase muscle burn, which increases growth hormone release. GH is a potent fat burner and also an anabolic synergist—it helps make other muscle-building hormones, like testosterone, more powerful so you get bigger and leaner.
Now for the fat-to-muscle finisher: After every weight workout do at least 15 minutes of steady-state, low-intensity cardio, like on a treadmill. That’s critical because right after you hit the weights, all of the sugar is out of your bloodstream; you’ve burned it during your sets. That means your cardio will tap into fat stores almost immediately. Very efficient blubber-busting tactic.
A number of other fat-to-muscle techniques can speed your results, but the ones here should get you started on your road to ripped.
Q: I’ve been on a Power/Rep Range/Shock program for a few months, and my strength has gone up considerably. The problem is that I haven’t gained much size so far. Do you think I’m doing something wrong?
A: Eric Broser, the developer of P/RR/S, addresses that in the Q&A section of his new e-program, The Power/Rep Range/Shock Workout, which is the companion manual to his new DVD, “Power/Rep Range/Shock Max-Mass Training System.”
“One way to increase size gains for some individuals is to increase the frequency of Rep Range and/or Shock week so that the structure is P/RR/RR/S or P/RR/S/RR, for example.”
That makes sense because on Rep Range week you do sets for seven to nine reps, 10 to 12 reps and 13 to 15 reps—you run the table on fiber activation, thoroughly covering all the mass-building bases. During Power week you do low-rep sets, and in Shock week you use eight to 10 reps but with drop sets, etc. Of all three weeks, Rep Range has the most potential to produce exceptional growth stimulation for the majority of bodybuilders.
To make the Rep Range week even more effective, we’ve found that Positions of Flexion is ideal for every bodypart: On the big, midrange exercise, like close-grip bench presses for triceps, you do seven to nine reps; on the stretch-position move, like overhead extensions, you do 10 to 12; and on the contracted-position exercise, like pushdowns, you do 13 to 15.
Or you could switch the order of the last two exercises—performing pushdowns (contracted), then overhead extensions (stretch) and ending with 10×10 on the extensions for fascia expansion, similar to Hany Rambod’s FST-7 method.
Either way, POF results in lower reps for force generation, medium reps for stretch overload and higher reps for occlusion and continuous tension—an exciting, balanced muscle-making attack, the perfect mass-building trifecta.
[Note: The Power/Rep Range/Shock Workout is available at www.X-traordinaryWorkouts.com; the companion DVD is available at www.Home-Gym.com.]
Q: I’ve watched a lot of the pro bodybuilders’ training DVDs and noticed that most don’t bring the bar all the way to their chest when bench pressing, and they don’t lock out at the top. I tried it, and it seems to work the chest muscles much harder. Is that correct form—more of a middle-range movement?
A: Most of the biggest bodybuilders go by feel, and they’ve found that stopping short at the bottom and not locking out engages the pecs more effectively. That’s exactly how Ronnie Coleman does his bench presses, as shown on his DVDs.
The reason is something Jonathan and I have discussed in our X-Rep e-books: reversing the rep at the point on the stroke where maximum force can be generated by the target muscle. Research shows that point to be where the muscle is semistretched but not completely elongated. On a bench press, that point is an inch or two off the chest.
But isn’t the top part of the stroke where you’re strongest? Yes, but not due to pec power; that’s where your triceps and delts are more involved. The bottom range is where the chest can explode with the most pec-fiber-activating force.
Not locking out keeps tension on the pectorals and reduces the involvement of the triceps and front delts, so by stopping the bar short of touching your chest and before lockout at the top, you create more tension time and pec-fiber recruitment.
What about rep speed? A new study compared a three-seconds-up/three-seconds-down repetition cadence with a one-second-up/three-seconds-down style. The fast-up/slow-down tempo produced more muscle gain. Why? In this case I believe the controlled explosion at the semistretch point produced more fiber activation, which resulted in more growth-activating microtrauma. It’s why end-of-set X-Rep partials work so well—you continue to attack the semistretch point after full-range exhaustion. [Int J Sports Med. In press. 2009.]
Pros like Jay Cutler and Ronnie Coleman use the controlled-explosion method on most of their sets, and both even do X-Rep-only sets—partials that include the semistretch point—on some exercises. Interesting, exciting stuff from an efficient muscle-building standpoint.
Editor’s note: Steve Holman is the author of many bodybuilding best-sellers and the creator of Positions-of-Flexion muscle training. For information on the POF videos and Size Surge programs, see the ad sections beginning on pages 236 and 264, respectively. Also visit www.X-Rep.com for information on X-Rep and 3D POF methods and e-books. IM