Q: What’s your opinion of Romanian deadlifts?
A: I was first introduced to Romanian deadlifts by former Romanian weightlifting star Dragomir Cioroslan, who was, at the time, the newly appointed United States national weightlifting coach. Dragomir went on to coach World Championship silver medalist Wes Barnett.
Of course, the exercise was around before it was popularized by Dragomir. It used to have names like Keystone Cop deadlifts but had been somewhat forgotten. The weightlifting performances of athletes like Nicu Vlad drew fresh attention to its effectiveness.
Besides prescribing Romanian deadlifts for strengthening the posterior chain, I like to use them to improve dynamic flexibility. In that case, I instruct the athlete to decelerate in the last few inches of the eccentric, or negative, range and concentrate on improving the range.
I use a variety of loading parameters, but I don’t see the use of going lower than three repetitions per set. It’s one of those exercises on which form can easily be lost; that’s why I want a minimum of three reps.
Also, I prefer at least three seconds for the eccentric-range tempo. It’s of paramount importance to control the load.
I recommend that you stretch your hip flexors between sets, as they tend to tighten up. Many trainees overthink the exercise, especially when first learning it.
Starting-position setup. Your grip on the bar should be pronated and just slightly wider than shoulder width.
Bend your knees about 25 degrees to relieve pressure on the iliotibial band.
If you’re going to do more than three reps per set, I suggest you use a pair of quality straps like the ones made by Schiek.
Descent. Go down until you’re about to lose your lordotic curve. The glutes should shoot backward during the descent to compensate for the shift in center of gravity.
Most trainees won’t be able to go lower than midshin without losing their lordotic curve in the eccentric range; however, I’ve seen exceptional athletes, such as alpine skier Cary Mullen, have to perform it on a bench to keep the barbell plates from hitting the ground.
Ascent. Lift your trunk. Do not round your upper back to initiate the movement.
1) Do not hyperextend your cervical spine at any point.
2) Do not bend your knees more than the angle set in the startup position.
Q: How do you handle the concept of hardgaining?
A: Hardgaining is mainly a mental issue. Over the years, gaining muscle mass has been a challenge for me. Not in terms of program design—that was the easy part. It was more in terms of consistency in nutritional intake and simple lifestyle changes. I had to come up with some tricks. Here are my six best tips for solving the problem.
1) The liquid meal quick start.
Start the day with 40 to 60 grams of unsweetened plain high-quality whey, such as Whey Stronger. Add 20 grams of glutamine and five grams of creatine monohydrate, and take it with three grams of the carnitine of your choice. I prefer acetyl-L-carnitine for its specific positive effects on the brain and testosterone.
An hour later you should have another meal, a solid one, such as steak and eggs. Whenever I lose muscle mass because of extensive traveling, I go back to that habit. It usually translates into regaining five pounds in less than five days.
2) The “ding-ding” time-to-eat trick.
In my life I’ve always found that taking the time to eat is key to gaining mass. Sounds simple, but when you run a business, write articles, coach, train, have a family and so on, skipping meals becomes an issue. Use an electronic watch or some other electronic timekeeping device to monitor when you should eat next. Once you’ve had a meal, set it so it ring 2.5 hours later, indicating that it’s time to eat again. My good friend Angus Cooper was a bronze medalist in hammer throwing at the Commonwealth Games. He used to find me wherever I was and, with some high-calorie food in hand, yell, “Charlie, eat!” With his help I finally got from 192 to 200 pounds for the first time—and it took just two weeks of the Kiwi’s food-coaching antics.
3) The power of napping.
Nap as often as possible. The more naps I took, the more I grew. Publisher Robert Kennedy is also a big proponent of napping for muscle growth. A good nap should be between 20 to 60 minutes. When I teach in Sweden, at the Eleiko Education Center, I always tend to gain mass very easily. Why? I’ve found the perfect hiding place to take a nap after lunch. I usually snooze for 60 minutes, then get up and teach for the rest of the day. I am the type of guy who can nap on a clothesline, a busy shooting range, at a nursery for newborns—no amount of noise or postural discomfort will prevent me from sleeping. What a gift. Obviously not everyone has the luxury of catching a quick snooze at work, but even if you only do it on the weekends, it will make a significant difference in how much muscle you can gain.
4) The 150 percent calorie-splurge day.
From former world powerlifting champion Mauro Di Pasquale, M.D., I learned to increase the calories of my clients by 50 percent above what they regularly eat once every five days. Works like magic. Are all the calories clean? Hell, no! The key is to avoid trans fats, such as the ones you’d find in crappy protein bars. I prefer protein pancakes with maple butter, organic oatmeal cookies and the like. To determine your calorie needs, multiply your weight by 16. If you weigh 200 pounds, you need 3,200 calories to maintain weight. On your 150 percent day, eat 4,800 calories spread out over six or seven meals. Make sure that the hypercalorie day is an off day from training.
5) The branched-chain amino acids bottle trick.
Always carry a bottle of BCAAs with you. If a meal is going to get delayed once your watch goes off, get some water and take 10 to 20 capsules. That will prevent catabolism until you get to eat.
6) The secret high-calorie jar.
In one of my cabinets at the office I keep the “secret high-calorie jar.” It’s basically a mixture of nuts and dried fruits. If a meal is delayed, I take two handfuls from the mix. The bottle contains dried apricots, dried blueberries, Thompson raisins, dried figs, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, dates, pecans, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, dried cherries, dried mango slices, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and macadamia nuts. It keeps my blood sugar constant and prevents me from going psycho. When my blood sugar gets too low, I’m about as pleasant as Charles Manson on PCP with a toothache. I sometimes add amino acid caps to further the anabolic process.
Besides providing you with a load of quality calories, the mixture gives you many valuable nutrients such as selenium from the Brazil nuts, magnesium from the cashews, antioxidants from the dried fruits and so on.
Q: What’s the correct way to perform pullups?
A: Pullups and chins are the kings of lat-building exercises. Unfortunately, they’re rarely performed properly. Here are the do’s and don’ts of proper chinup performance.
• Keep your head neutral or with your chin slightly elevated throughout the entire repetition cycle.
• Keep your legs in line with your torso.
• Concentrate on driving your elbows down as you pull up.
• Inhale on the way up.
• Exhale on the way down.
• Concentrate on the working muscles, not on the load you’re pulling.
Research is clear on that last concept. If you focus on the muscles, you produce more force than if you focus on the load.
• No swinging and flexing of the hips to gain momentum. It’s called kipping in gymnastics circles; you want to focus your mind on the pulling muscles of the upper body, not on the hip flexors.
• No excessive arching of the lower back.
• No rounding off of the shoulders at the top. That means you’re relying too much on the subscapularis to complete the range of motion, which will eventually lead to shoulder impingement.
Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most successful strength coaches, having coached Olympic medalists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit www.CharlesPoliquin.net. IM