Thursday, December 17, 2015

Beginner and Standard Muscle Gaining Training Programs

2 Different training programs you can use to grow muscle. It is good to alternate between programs when you plateau or every 3-6 months for muscle confusion to keep growing muscle at a faster rate.

1. Beginner's Warm-Up Program

This workout program is great for beginners who haven't lifted weights before. It is lighter and has a lower intensity that 'wakes up' the major muscle groups and preps the body for harder programs that can follow it. It can also be used as a high-rep program to recover joints and ligaments after workout programs that have put a lot of strain on them (low reps), or to strengthen joints before heavier workout routines. Muscle growth is achieved here by working muscles more frequently, but less concentrated.

Day 1: Lower Body:

Exercise 1: Squats (3 sets of 20)
Exercise 2: Knee Extensions (3 sets of 20)
Exercise 3: Hamstring Curls (3 sets of 20)
Exercise 4: Calf Raises (3 sets of 20)
Exercise 5: Weight Crunches (3 sets of 20)
Exercise 6: Weighted Incline Back Extensions (3 sets of 20)

Day 2: Upper Body

Exercise 1; Bench Press (3 sets of 20)
Exercise 2: Dips (3 sets of 20)
Exercise 3: Pull Ups (3 sets of 20)
Exercise 4: Barbell Curls (3 sets of 20)
Exercise 5: Dumbbell Side Bends (3 sets of 20)


Tips:

  • Each exercise is performed with 3 sets of 20. The weight used is the same with each set. For example, when you perform barbell curls, use a 20 kg barbell for all sets.
  • If you are just starting a weight training program, follow a day 1, rest day, day 2, rest day, day 1 pattern until you are able to alternate between day 1 and day 2 without taking rests in between days (6 days a week = 3xDay.1 and 3xDay.2 per week).
  • If you can perform 20 reps in all three sets, then increase the weight. Work until you can do 20 reps of each set before increasing the weight again.

2. Standard 5-Day Split

The standard 5- day routine is most commonly used in weight training. This routine is a great program to move onto after the beginner's warm-up program above. Instead of splitting workouts into 2 days, the 5-day split separates workout days into 5 major muscle groups and supporting muscles. Each muscle group is focused on and worked harder in this program, but is also given a longer time to recover before being stimulated again.

Day 1: Chest and Triceps

Chest

Exercise 1: Incline Dumbbell Bench Press (4x12)
Exercise 2: Dumbbell Bench Press (3x8)
Exercise 3: Close-Grip Bench Press (3x8)
Exercise 4: Dumbbell Flies (3x10)

Note: exercise 1 and 2 use dumbbells because barbells can often be hard to get a hold of during rush hours at the gym. If you are more comfortable using barbells for these exercises, that is OK.

Triceps

Exercise 1: Tricep Dips (3x20)
Exercise 2: Skull Crushes (3x12)
Exercise 3: Pull Downs (3x12) 

Day 2: Back and Biceps

Back

Exercise 1: Pull Ups (3x20)
Exercise 2: One Arm Row (3x8)
Exercise 3: Bent Over Rows (2x12)
Exercise 4: Low Row (2x10)
Exercise 5: Chin Ups (Machine) (3x8)

Biceps

Exercise 1: Barbell Curls (3x8)
Exercise 2: Hammer Curls (3x8)
Exercise 3: Incline Curls (3x12)
Exercise 4: Concentration Curls (3x8)

Day 3: Core

Lower Back

Exercise 1: Stiff Legged Dead Lifts (3x20)

Overall Core

Exercise 1: Weighted Planks (3x2 minutes)
Exercise 2: Cable Wood Choppers (3x20)

Ads

Exercise 1: Weighted Crunches (3x20)
Exercise 2: Bicycle (3x20)
Exercise 3: Captain's Chair

Obliques

Exercise 1: Side Planks (3x 2 minutes)
Exercise 2: Dumbbell Side Bends

Note: When doing weighted planks, build up until you can hold each set for 2 minutes, and then increase the weight by putting a plate on your lower back, increasing the weight of the plate as you get stronger.
Note: For cable wood choppers, swing the cable from the top handle down to use more of your core. Swinging from the bottom up will use shoulders.
Note: For bicycle, increase weight by holding a dumbbell behind your head.

Day 4: Shoulders and Forearms

Shoulders

Exercise 1: Machine Shoulder Press (3x15)
Exercise 2: Dumbbell Lateral Raises (4x8)
Exercise 3: Dumbbell Reverse Flies (3x8)
Exercise 4: Dumbbell Military Press (3x8)
Exercise 5: Upright Rows (2x12)

Forearms

Exercise 1: Reverse Dumbbell Wrist Curls (4x20)
Exercise 2: Barbell Wrist Curls (4x20)

Note: With forearms, the first exercise has palms facing down and the second exercise has palms facing upwards to target different parts of the forearms

Day 5: Legs

Upper Legs

Exercise 1: Squats (10, 8, 6, 6, 4)
Exercise 2: Knee Extension (3x12)
Exercise 3: Hamstring Curls (3x12)

Calves

Exercise 1: Standing Calve Raises (4x15)
Exercise 2: Seated Calve Raises (4x15)

Note: with squats, the reps should decrease as the leg muscles start to fail. Once you can do the amount of reps specified in the 5 sets above, increase the weight.

Tips:

  • Even though this is a 5-day split, it can still be done 6 times a week. For example, week 1 can have day 1-5 Monday-Friday and day 1 again on Saturday, so that week 2 starts with day 2 on Monday
  • If you miss out on a workout, don't skip that day's muscle group. For example, if you missed Core on Wednesday, do them on Thursday when you are back in the gym instead of moving over to Shoulders and Forearms. This way, every muscle group is stimulated a day later than usual, instead of one muscle group missing an entire week of training.

For an advanced training program, called the GARRY bodybuilding workout program, click here.

The beginners program is a great introduction to weight training for beginners and helps strengthen the joints and tendons. The standard 5-day split is a great workout program to use regularly. It is also beneficial to alternate between the standard 5-day split and other weight training programs to keep muscles on their toes, growing as much as possible to adapt to new stimulus. STAY STRONG! 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Perfect Rest Day

Regular rest is important to maximize muscle growth. It prevents over training, gives your body a chance to grow and adapt to the stimulus you have put on it and ‘catch its breath’ so to speak. It also makes sure that your central nervous system and immune don’t fall behind. Most of us don’t like rest days, but they can be a good mental break to come back in full force. Additionally there are things you can do on your rest day that will help your body recover to its maximum potential.


Here is a list of things you can do on your rest day:

          Total Rest

Total rest is good for the body to recuperate. It gives your muscles the time to recover on a deeper level, refill their glycogen stores and grow in strength without rushing to recover before being worked again. Most workout splits work a certain muscle once or twice a week so that they can recover before their next session, but their recovery is sometimes limited because even though they are not being put under a physical stress, they end up competing with the other muscles that are working in the other sessions for nutrients. The body can only do so much at a single time, and occasional rest days that involve complete rest with any stimulus allows it to focus more of its resources on rest and growth instead of performing at the same time.

          Replacement

Those who are really dedicated to the iron often feel lost during the time that they would be pumping things up. It is also possible to also feel depressed because you don’t feel the endorphin release that exercise brings. Others even feel guilty for not pushing their bodies to the limit all the time. This can make some hate rest days, but some use this extra time as an opportunity to do things that they don’t usually have time for or don’t think about doing. These things can include taking a walk, going for a swim, spending time with family and friends, watching a good movie, cleaning out the house or eating at a fancy restaurant.

          Steam Room

The steam room is a favorite among those on rest days because they have an excuse to go to the gym (force of habit) even though they are not working out. The steam room also compliments rest and recovery because of sweating that helps remove toxins and waste products. Additionally, the increased blood flow from the heat and widened blood vessels increases the availability of nutrients to muscle for optimum growth.

          Stretching

Stretching is also a good option because it elongates the muscles, increases blood flow and relaxes them. The benefits that stretching provide not only help to get the most out of rest days, but offer additional benefits like improved range of motion and flexibility and decreased injury risk.

          Light Cardio

Light cardio is a popular form of rest (often called active rest) because it allows people to still exercise when they are ‘resting’ from their prioritized form of exercise. Light cardio can benefit rest and recovery because it increases blood flow, which will help take away toxin and waste products from recovering muscle and at the same time increase the rate at which required nutrients are delivered to these muscles. Cardio at a higher intensity or for a prolonged period of time, however, can actually inhibit muscle growth because this could cause the body to redirect resources (energy and nutrients) from muscle to cope with the new stress placed on it.


These things can help to maximize your rest days. It is best to try a combination of these. For example, doing light cardio on some rest days will contribute to a balanced health and fit body, but rest days with complete rest (no exercise) are also necessary for the body to dedicate all of its resources to growth and development alone. STAY STRONG! 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Good Gym Days And Bad Gym Days

Had A Bad Day At The Gym?

Today’s workout session was a failure. It was a terrible day at the gym; you couldn’t do the weight or the reps that you could last time. Is something wrong? And how can you stop this from happening again?

Above is an illustration that shows the typical pattern of growth. This kind of pattern can be seen in economics, price markets, relationships, business revenues, learning capabilities, physical improvements, population growth etc. For example, a business that is growing in sales rapidly will not necessarily have a better sales day than the previous one every single day. Some days will be slower than others, even though sales are generally increasing in the long run. Your body works in the same way.

Let's get back to Gym.

We have all had those days, and the good news is that it is completely normal.  They say that 80% of your workouts will be the standard, clock-in clock-out routine kind of workout; 10% of your workouts will be one of those amazing, ‘wow factor’ days where you feel like you’ve made a lot of progress in just one session and the remaining 10% of the time you will have a workout that seems to be more of a flop than anything else. If you experience a bad workout once in a while, then you have nothing to worry about. It is a part of training and just like anything else in life, your body works in a cyclical pattern, moving in a certain direction with bumps and turns along the way.
Why do we get these bad days?
There are a variety of reasons that could contribute to the difference between a good workout, a great one and a bad one. For example, these factors could include sleep, stress, mental focus, social distractions, diet (short term or long term), starting a new workout program, using the same program for too long, over training, low blood sugar levels, the kind of music that was playing, dreams you had the last time you were sleeping, mood, arousal, and hormone cycles.
Think about it this way, in two years from now, will the fact that you had a bad day at the gym make a difference? Not really. But what will matter is the fact that you worked through it and didn’t give up.

I’m having these days increasingly often, what could be the issue?

If you are having these days increasingly often, then there could be a determining factor that you need to take care of. Below of a list of the most probable causes, in order from most probable to least:

Over Training

The most common cause of decreased physical performance is, ironically, too much physical performance. Are you putting so much strain on your body that it is starting to break down? It is beneficial to take a rest day at least once a week, and have an entire week of rest once every 8-10 weeks so that your body can recover and adapt fully. Additionally, working a certain muscle group too often for it to recover between sessions will hinder muscle growth and strength.

Under Training

You could be training at an intensity that does not stimulate your muscles enough to spur on growth and adaption. Aside from that, you could be working a certain muscle group too long after it has recovered, so that it adapts and then decreases in size and strength because it does not feel the need to stay at a certain size anymore. The body is made for optimal survival, and it will decrease muscle size if it does not feel the need to keep them because muscle costs the body a lot in energy and nutrient resources to grow and maintain. Try to find a good balance between training enough, but not too much.

Diet

Diet is also one of the most common reasons for decreased performance or slowed transformation. If your body does not have the building blocks it needs, it will be unable to change. Besides building blocks, it also needs fuel for energy as well. Make sure that your macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins) are right for your physical output and goals. Additionally make sure that you getting the right micronutrients (minerals, amino acids, vitamins, fatty acids, etc.) to keep the body in a healthy equilibrium.

Same Program

If you have been using the same workout routine for too long, your body will start to adapt and plateau. It is considered optimal to change your program every 3-6 months for the best results. Changes can include exercises done, exercise order, workout split, rep range, intensity, duration, etc.

Sleep

Most muscle growth happens during sleep. Sleep is the body’s time to grow and recover without interference. If you are not getting enough sleep, then your body does not have the time to change and might break down muscle to fuel its other needs like mental well-being, which it will prioritise over physical transformation.

 Motivation

Studies have shown that listening to the right music has a direct effect on the amount of reps that a person can do. Additionally, men are able to lift more weights when attractive females re around them. This shows how much being in the right mental state can affect your workout.

 Stress

Exercise is good for stress and those who exercise are better able to cope with stress, but mental stress can have an impact on the body in a negative way, in-turn impacting the body’s ability to lift weight or exercise. Try to make sure that you outside-the-gym life is not stealing from your inside-the-gym life.

Too Much Junk

Expanding on the point above, there could be junk in your life that is hindering you from achieving your goals. These things can include smoking, drinking, late nights, eating habits and other distractions.

Sometimes a bad day is just a bad day. Be proud of the fact that you at least went in and had the perseverance to finish the workout regardless of how you performed. We have all had bad days, but what really matters is whether you stand up and get back to it. STAY STRONG!

Benefits of Skipping For Bodybuilders

Skipping can actually help bodybuilders achieve greater muscle growth. Here are a few reasons why:

Because Skipping is Cardio

Cardio has been thought to be the arch enemy of muscle growth, but the right kind of cardio can help muscle growth by increasing blood circulation and improving anaerobic performance.

Skipping Improves Workout Performance. You have less Light Headedness, less Nausea and less Fatigue.

Skipping improves your energy performance and endurance. This is why boxers skip; so that they can perform at the highest intensity for prolonged periods of time. The reason why people often experience light headedness, nausea and fatigue or feeling exhausted when doing squats, for example, is because they are not used to expending so much energy in a short period of time. The body is therefore trying to cope with the energy-intensive part of the workout instead of the muscular stress. When your body is more adapted to working at a higher intensity, you will feel less of these side effects.

Focus on Muscular Fatigue Instead of Cardio-Vascular Fatigue

Ever had to stop squats or deadlifts because you feel light-headed or nauseous? What if you didn't get that feeling at all and could carry on until your muscles failed, instead of your energy system? Skipping makes your body more adept at high exercise intensities, so that when you train under the iron, you can focus on delivering maximum stimulus to your muscle without hindered energy limitations.

Speedy Recovery

Because of the above, when your body is more cardio-capable, recovery after your workouts will be quicker and more efficient. Your body will need to recover less from the energy-related aspect of training and can focus more on recovering from muscular stress. This means that you will enter into an anabolic state quicker and more recovery can be done per muscle per day. Less resources (nutrients and energy) spent on energy, more resources (nutrients and energy) spent on muscle! 

Excess Energy: 

Because you will also require less rest in between sets, your workout can either be shorter or include more exercises. Having higher energy levels also means that you will push harder during your weight training.

Increased Metabolism:

Skipping increases your metabolism, so your body will burn carbs quicker for energy. This means that you will need to make sure that you are eating enough carbs, otherwise your body will break down muscle. The brighter side of an increased metabolism is that your body is better able at producing energy, which can also be used for muscle growth and recovery.

Better Immune System

Being more physically fit increases your immunity so that you get sick less often, we all know how illness can set us back a few weeks!


Skipping Tones Your Body

Skipping is a great way to keep your bulk phase as clean as possible (more muscle, less fat) and speed up cutting phase (shorter duration needed, better results at the end)

Skipping Tones Muscle

Skipping tones the shoulder, arm, ab, quad, hamstring and calve muscles. Adding an aerobic exercise like skipping to a weight training exercise will add a separate stimulus to the calves, for example, challenging them to grow bigger to adapt.

Good Joint Health

High rep training helps to solidify joints so that they are stronger during low rep training. Skipping helps to build shoulder joint stability, for example, so that they are less prone to injury under the bar.

Add Jump Rope To Your Routine, But Don't Subtract It!

Let skipping add to your workout, but don't let it take away from your original goal. As great as skipping can be as a complimentary exercise to a muscle growth program, too much can be a bad thing. If your main objective is to grow muscle, do not skip so much before weight training that you don't have enough energy to finish you training at an optimal level. As well, skipping too much after a workout might overload your body so that it spends less of it time recovering (and growing) from muscle stimulus to cope with the stress of this intense cardio. One of my favorite ways to include skipping into my routine is to skip at night because I train in the mornings, so that it does not interfere with muscle growth. Additionally, don't push yourself too hard when skipping. Rather give 100% during weight training workouts and around 60% when you skip. Don't try to push yourself to perform better in the same way you push yourself to improve on every workout. Your body will slowly adapt with time and rather increase the intensity or time over smaller increments so that your body spends more of its precious resources on muscle growth instead of trying to adapt to skipping more.

Silly analogy: a little chilli makes French toast better, but too much takes the original flavor away. Stay Strong!

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Effects of Smoking on Bodybuilding

Looking to take your bodybuilding endeavors to the next level by finally putting down those nasty cigarettes but need the motivation and some information to give you that push you need to quit? Well then, dear smoker, you are at the right place!

We all know that smoking is bad for you, and that it hampers your training progression. Here is a list of reasons why quitting smoking will help you to get bigger, stronger and fitter.

Smoking Harms Blood Sugar Levels

Nicotine causes a quick, short-term release of blood sugar. This is one of the reasons why smoking often leads to diabetes. It also lowers insulin sensitivity, which means that your body is less able to handle sugar and energy production. The less your body is able to create and utilize energy, the less energy you have during workouts and you get tired quicker. Your strength is also hampered, which means that if you didn’t smoke, you would probably be able to lift heavier weights, for more reps, for a longer period of time, causing a greater stimulus leading to greater muscle gains. Insulin helps to regulate sugar and therefore energy. Because your body is less able to regulate energy, it is less able to perform other functions that require energy that it needs to do to adapt and grow muscle, such as filling muscles with glycogen (the energy in the muscle that enables it to work). Because energy is already lowered in smokers, their bodies take longer to change from a stress-induced state that exercise causes to the anabolic, repairing state that grows muscle and strength. When the body stays longer in this stress-induced state, it will start breaking down muscle as a survival mechanism for energy and nutrients.

Smoking affects Your Breathing and Oxygen Levels

One of the most important roles of the lungs is to take in oxygen from the surrounding air and expel carbon dioxide out. Smoking physically damages the lungs, and also progressively smothers the lungs with tar. Additionally, the lungs are also too busy trying to heal and clean themselves out to function optimally. This greatly reduces the amount of oxygen that the body has at its disposal and the amount of carbon dioxide it can get rid of. This leads to decreased energy and strength, lengthened recovery times needed between workouts and a lowered ability for muscle to grow and adapt from stimulus.

Carbon Monoxide and other Toxins

Smoking increases the amount of carbon monoxide in the blood, along with other toxins. The naked eye can see the different between the blood of a smoker and that of a non-smoker. The blood of smokers is thicker and darker than that of non-smokers. If you think about blood and veins as a road which acts as the body’s delivery system, then the carbon monoxide and other toxins can be seen as elephants in the road that take up a space that is not designed to accommodate them. They get in the way of the other vehicles and stop them from doing their job properly, turning an efficient road into peak traffic on damaged roads. The body is also less able to respond the way we want it to with weight training because it is busy fighting off and trying to cope with these harmful chemicals. For example, these chemicals place an unnecessary burden on the liver and kidneys which are metabolizing and eliminating these chemicals, on top of regulating and creating chemicals needed for growth.

Smokers Get More Sick

Smokers get sick more often than non-smokers, and when they fall ill, they are sick for longer and experience worse symptoms. We all know about the terror of falling sick and being unable to gym, as well as feeling like we are losing all the strength and size gains we have worked so hard to get. Getting sick more often means that your body spends less time in the gym, and less time growing from strength to strength and the worse symptoms mean that you suffer greater setbacks every time you get sick.

Smoking Disrupts Eating and Diet Habits

Eating the amounts of food you need in order to gain mass can sometimes be challenging. The increased appetite from quitting smoking is a great chance to stock up on the extra calories that you need to increase muscle growth. In the long term, smoking will no longer interfere with your appetite and blood sugar levels.

Sleep

Smokers not only need more hours of sleep than non-smokers, but their sleep is of less quality. One reason for this is because their bodies spend a lot of time trying to cope with the demands placed on it from smoking. Another reason is because of the nicotine withdrawal they go through while sleep. Getting better quality sleep as a non-smoker means that your body is better able to recover and grow muscle every night you sleep.

Recovering From Smoking Instead of Growing

As mentioned earlier, smoking placed a big burden on the body and the body is in a constant battle to deal with its harmful effects and survive. This energy that the body spends counteracting the negative effects of smoking would be much better spent building muscle.

Smoking and Focus during Workouts

Smokers are less able to concentrate because they are in constant withdrawal from nicotine. This withdrawal starts a few minutes after their last cigarette and builds up as time goes by. Withdrawals usually get to a point where people start craving another cigarette after 30 minutes, which is why the average person smokes a box (20 cigarettes) a day. As time drags on, withdrawals intensify, leading to symptoms like thirst, moodiness, dropped sugar levels, lack of concentration etc. These withdrawals mean that smokers are generally not as able as non-smokers to focus 100% on their entire workout program.

Smokers Take Longer to Build Muscle and Reach Greater Levels of Fitness than Non-smokers

Can you grow muscle if you smoke? Yes. Can you get bigger muscles than most people who go to the gym if you smoke?  Yes. Can you compete in bodybuilding competitions and have a successful bodybuilding career as a smoker? Yes. Can you do all these things with the same amount of time and energy compared to if you didn’t smoke? No. You can still get there, but the road will be longer and tougher.

Rather quit smoking and give your body every fighting chance that you can to reach your goals as quick as possible. STAY STRONG!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Health Benefits of Sweating

You sweat while you work out, while in the sauna and throughout the day because of heat. Sweat is the body’s way of cooling the body down because of the cooling effect when water evaporates from the skin. In the cave man era, humans were able to run for long periods of time - longer than most animals – because their ability to sweat. Sweating prevented them from overheating, which would lead to collapsing, feinting and even death.


Sweat is smelly and unattractive, but is essential for life. Here are a few benefits of sweating:

Sweating Prevents Death. 

This is because of its ability to cool the body down. If humans could not sweat, then more than 70% of the human population would die within one week. Scary statistics…

Sweating helps to detox the body. 

Sweating allows the body to release some of the toxins that it needs to expel through the skin. This detox method can release up to 30% of the toxins and impurities that the kidneys and liver would otherwise have to deal with. This eases the burden on the kidneys and liver, allowing them to perform more of their other bodily functions like energy, nutrient and hormone control, metabolism and release.

Sweating is good for the skin. 

Sweating opens up the skin so that it can receive some of the nutrients and minerals from within. This includes lipids and oils that moisturizes dry skin and also allows the skin to release excess oils that might cause pimples and blackheads. People who sweat more often have better looking skin than those who sweat less.

Sweating can be used as an indicator to the level of effort used during exercise. 

Although people sweat differently (i.e. some people sweat less after high intensities of exercise while others sweat a lot even when they are not exercising.), without sweat people could push past what is safe because we could be overheating without realizing it. The dangerous effects of overheating progress until death.

Sweating decreases water retention. 

Sweating gives the body an opportunity to get rid of some of the excess water under the skin. This excess water looks like cellulite, can make people look bloated and hides muscle definition. Sweating also gets rid of sodium, which is an important mineral but can cause health problems. People who follow a typical westernized diet consume too much sodium (the amount of sodium needed is 2400 mg. The average American consumes 7800 mg a day).


People who don’t engage in exercise and therefore don’t sweat often enough tend to have higher levels of toxins in their bodies. They are also more prone to duller looking skin which is more likely to breakouts with pimples or blackheads or whiteheads, rashes, redness, inflammation and flaking.
As healthy as sweating is, sweating too much can cause the body to lose precious nutrients like water and electrolytes that the body cannot survive without. Make sure to replenish water whenever you sweat to stay hydrated and eat a good diet that is rich in minerals and electrolytes. Mineral and electrolyte dense foods are foods like fresh, raw produce (like vegetables, leafy greens, fruit, seeds, nuts) red and white meat, fish and seafood.
It is commonly believed that those who sweat more are healthier than those sweat less. The fitter you become, the more you will sweat as one of the ways that your body becomes more adept at cooling itself down.

Sweating might not be the best thing for your image and it might make you feel uncomfortable, but at least you know that it is a healthy thing to do. Keep hydrated and make sure your diet / supplementation includes the minerals and electrolytes that are lost from sweating. STAY STRONG!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Stretching For Bigger Muscles


Can stretching really lead to bigger muscles? Yes it can! Stretching can be used to maximize muscle recovery and performance when used to compliment a good strength training routine. Today we look at how stretching can help you on your journey to bigger arms and massive legs.

One of my favorite reasons why stretching helps muscle growth is because it elongates the muscle. By elongating the muscle, there is more space for the muscle to grow. This makes the muscle look bigger and more aesthetic. It won’t look shortened or too small for the area it is supposed to cover anymore. Think of biceps that have a little lump in the middle. By stretching the biceps, they can lengthen to appear larger.

Static and dynamic stretching for muscle


Static stretching




Static stretching is the kind of stretch where you hold a certain muscle for a few seconds before releasing (like toe touches). Research has shown that static stretching before exercise (hamstring stretch before running, for example) does not actually decrease the risk of injury. Research has also shown that static stretches do not improve muscle performance either, but can actually decrease muscle output. For example, stretching biceps in a static fashion before doing bicep curls will decrease their maximum output before failure. This effect lasts for over an hour following a good, thorough static stretch. The reason appears to be because static stretching relaxes the muscle fibers, sensitizing them to tension.

Does this mean that there is no place for static stretches in the world of muscle growth? Not at all! Static stretches aren’t very effective as a warm-up for before exercise, but they do offer benefits like increasing range of motion, releasing tension and correcting postural imbalances. All of these effects will decrease overall risk of injury in the long-term and help with optimized muscle gain, if used at the right times. By increasing the range of motion, you are able to get the best out of every rep. For example, people who have a problem with their heels lifting off the floor during the squat (bad form) because of tight calve muscles and tendons can do static calf stretches for a few days to loosen them - so that heels are flexible enough to stay on the ground and stabilize the entire squat movement (this is the right way to do them).

Lifting weights can tighten muscle fibers over time - which leads to them losing their overall range of motion. For example, people who have built up their upper bodies but have not stretched regularly can often feel uncomfortable when resting with their hands folded behind the back of their head.  This tightness is not because the muscles gets too big, but because the muscle has grown tighter over time and is not as elastic - as a result of all the tension. Static stretching can both prevent and undo this.

As discussed above, static stretching won't help much if done before exercise. Static stretching can, however, be done after exercise to cool down. This works very well because when the muscles are warm, they are more flexible and will therefore respond well to stretching. This will increase how much they can stretch, and by extending them further, you can increase your range of motion even more.

Even better: static stretching is great to do on rest days to maximize recovery and growth for a variety of reasons. Firstly, not much energy is required to stretch and this means that you are still not burning too much energy on your off days (which should be directed towards muscle growth). Secondly, static stretching will release built up tension. It also helps relaxes the muscles. This helps them to recover faster and grow more. Static stretching also helps to improve blood flow, which helps the muscles disperse lactic acid and get the nutrients needed for recovery.

Pro tip: stretching in the steam room will increase flexibility, release tension, improve circulation (and nutrient delivery), and increase recovery even more.

Dynamic stretching



Dynamic stretching is the type of stretching that has movement throughout the stretch. For example, swinging the arms in front of the chest and behind the back to stretch out the upper body (chest, back, biceps and triceps) is a dynamic stretch. Dynamic stretching, in contrary to static stretching, is well suited as a warm-up before exercise because it increases blood flow to the muscles and ‘wakes them up’ before exertion. Studies have shown that the dynamic stretching of a certain muscle before weight training increases its power and strength output immediately afterwards. For example, swinging the arms in front of the chest and behind the back could increase the amount of reps performed on the bench press. Besides increasing short-term power, dynamic stretching also elongates the muscles and increases overall range of motion.

Stretching helps to make sure that the muscles stay supple and flexible. Having big muscles won’t cost you your mobility - if you stretch them regularly. For bodybuilders, stretching does not need to be done daily, but a good stretch once or twice a week could really give you an extra edge. As small as the impact that stretching has on muscle growth seems to be, the difference adds up over time and makes a significant contribution.

Personally, I do a static stretch routine on my active rest days. STAY STRONG!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Steam Rooms: The Good,The Bad and The Truth


There are benefits to steaming, but there are also risks and potential health implications that could hinder the progress of your physical transformation. Today I look at the balance between keeping your steaming habits healthy and avoiding any potential health implications.

Everything you need to know about using the steam room


The benefits

Steams rooms are very popular and have been shown to increase overall health. Here are a few reasons why:

Sweating: Toxin release

Sweating is great for you. Sweating is the body’s natural way of cooling itself off, but the body also uses its sweat glands to release toxins that are accumulated from foods, liquids, impurities in the air and all the other ways we unexpectedly poison ourselves. You can sweat up to 30% of these toxins that would otherwise be excreted through urination and defecation (or accumulate in the body). By sweating more, your kidneys and liver have less of a burden to carry regarding toxin release and can spend more time and energy on their other bodily functions. The liver can break down fats into energy more efficiently when it is healthier. Other bodily functions that need the liver include hormone control, converting and utilizing other chemicals and agents throughout the body, protein synthesis, conversion of carbohydrates, sugars and fats into energy, stress management and sleep regulation. Sweating also releases sodium out of the body, decreasing overall sodium levels. This will help lower overall blood pressure levels.

Beauty: Better looking skin

Using the steam room regularly actually makes you more attractive. People who use the steam room (or sauna) have a particular radiance for around an hour after their sessions, and using steam rooms often will improve skin health and appearance over the long-term as well. Using the steam room is also beneficial for people with oily skin because the heat opens up the skin’s pores and allows the extra oils to be released, which will be washed away in the shower afterwards. This leads to cleaner pores with less oil suppressed underneath the skin. The steam room is also beneficial to people with dry skin because the opening of the skin’s pores allows oils and lipids to hydrate the skin. Additionally, the steam adds moisture to the skin which provides short-term relief from the constant dryness that people with dry skin suffer. See how I manipulate my skin to produce more or less oil using simple homeostasis principles.

Cardio-like health benefits

Sitting in the steam room has similar effects and benefits to a cardiovascular workout. Steaming causes the body to heat up more than normal. Heat is directly linked to metabolism. This causes an increased heart rate and also opens up the airways. These effects improve both heart and lung health as they are stimulated to work harder for these short periods of time as a response to the heat. By working harder, they adapt by getting stronger and increasing their overall capacity - the same way that cardio makes them stronger. Standard cardio can actually help strength trainers increase muscle mass if done right.

Increased blood circulation

The heat acts as a vasodilator. This means that the veins and arteries widen because of the heat, allowing more blood to flow through the body and its limbs, muscles, organs, skin, brain etc. The increased heart rate also plays a significant role in increasing blood circulation as the body tries to pump more blood into the extremities (legs and arms, feet and hands) and away from the core in an effort to cool the body down.  This is why your legs and arms go red and veiny in the heat. They go pale when the body is cold as the body tries to draw blood (and the heat the blood carries, which is vital for bodily functions) away from the extremities back into the core as a survival mechanism. The increased blood circulation induced from using a steam room has many benefits because the body is more able to carry precious nutrients (like oxygen, water, proteins, energy, minerals, etc.) throughout the body to where it is needed. It can also carry away waste products like lactic acid (learn about lactic acid to improve performance) and carbon dioxide a lot faster. This speeds up the healing and recovery of wounds, muscles and sickness. This is why using the steam room is one of my recommendations for maximizing recovery and growth during your rest week.

Opening up of pores and veins

As discussed earlier, using the steam room opens up the body on many levels, from opening pores on the skin which release oils and toxins, to opening veins and arteries to encourage better nutrient delivery and usage, to opening up the lungs and nasal passages to loosen and remove phlegm. Heat and steam is a great way for the body to open up passages that can sometimes get clogged up.

Improved immune system

Your core body temperature increases in the steam room. Many germs and viruses cannot survive the one or two degree increase in body temperature and therefore die off. Because of increased blood circulation and released toxins, the body’s immune system is also made stronger and more adept at killing off bodily invaders - the few that do survive the temperature increase. Here are more ways to conquer illness faster.

Destress and relaxation

Steaming has a relaxing and de-stressing effect. This is a great way to take a break from the mental stress from work and the physical stress from working out - which can turn out to be quite refreshing for both body and mind. The de-stressing effects help with other ailments that often arise because of stress and the relaxing effects can speed up general recovery and add to general happiness.

Cleansing, detoxification and release of hormones

Steam rooms help the body to clean itself from the inside out. Not only does sweating release toxins; but the increased blood circulation, relaxation effects and increased ability for the kidney and liver organs to perform other functions allows the body to metabolize and deal with hormones like cortisol (the body’s stress hormone), flush out lactic acid build up from physical exertion and get rid of acids from food. Strength training can also release muscle-building hormones.

The negative effects of using the steam room


As healthy as they can be, steam rooms can be dangerous as well. Using the steam room can sometimes even counteract the anabolic effects of weight training and slow the body’s ability to recover from exercise. Over-steaming can harm the body and reduce immune function, recovery rate, and normal function. Here are a few reasons why:

Dehydration

Sweating is great for you, but too much sweating can harm your health. One of the most common reasons (and most preventable) is water storage. When you sweat, your body loses a lot of water. Dehydration can happen very quickly and can lead to weakness, failure of normal functioning, feinting, hallucinations, death and even worse… decreased muscle mass! It is therefore important to make sure that you drink plenty of fluids while using the steam room and don’t stay in for too long. Too much of anything can quickly turn into a bad thing.

Elevated heart rate and blood pressure

As discussed earlier, using the steam room temporarily elevates your heart rate and increases blood pressure. As much as this can be a beneficial and an often-desired effect, it can be dangerous too. For example, people with very high blood pressure or who are at risk of heart attacks or strokes should not use the steam room because this temporary increase might push their heart rates or blood pressure past safe levels. For healthy individuals who don’t have heart or blood pressure problems, this isn’t a risk as long as they don’t stay in for too long.

Overheating

Staying in the heat for too long can push your body past the safe levels of stimulation to dangerous levels - a point where health is compromised. Stay in for long enough and you will die. It is important to make sure that you get out as soon as you start feeling dizzy or start feeling uncomfortable. However, heat is not dangerous when used in moderation. Increased blood circulation from the heat will also lead to greater blood loss from open wounds, which is why people with open wounds should not use the steam room, for both their and others’ health and safety.

Minerals and electrolytes

When you sweat, you lose salts, minerals and electrolytes that your body needs to function properly. If these minerals are not replaced (or if too much is lost in a short period of time) your body can suffer from mineral or electrolyte deficiencies, which can lead to a variety of negative health effects. Click here to read more about minerals, electrolytes and their roles, sources and deficiencies.

Germs, viruses and fungi

Although the increased body temperature kills many common germs within the body, public steam rooms can also be viable breeding grounds for other pathogens which thrive in hot, humid environments. Since many people use these steam rooms daily, it is easy for these pathogens to transmit from one person to the other through the floors, seats, walls and taps. One example of a fungus that is very often transmitted through steam rooms is athlete’s foot. Make sure that the steam room you use is cleaned regularly, that you wear sandals in the steam room and that your skin does not touch any surfaces. You can do this by wearing a towel around your waist.

Chlorine

If the same water is used over and over in the steam rooms, high levels of chlorine can evaporate into the air, which is then inhaled and can cause toxicity in humans. It is always safe to ask gym staff how often the steam room water is replaced with fresh water.

Rest and recovery (too much stimulus)

Just like exercise places a stress on the body, steam rooms also place stress on the body to cope with heat and then bring the body back to a normal temperature afterwards. Using the steam room too much (especially in conjunction with too much training) to place too much stimulus on the body to deal with more stress than it can handle. As much as moderate usage will help with recovery, too much time forcing the body to respond to heat stress can lead to overtraining.

Drug interactions

Using steams rooms with medicines, illegal substances and alcohol can be dangerous. Drug rehabs often use steam rooms to help recovering drug and alcohol addicts detoxify from drugs and substances, but using the steam room whilst under the influence of alcohol, for example, can be dangerous because alcohol dehydrates the body and further dehydration from steaming could drain the body of more fluid than it can cope with. Whenever on medication, make sure that you consult with your doctor before using a steam room to make sure that the medicine you are using won’t have any adverse effects from the steaming. Some substances, for example, are rendered mute (don’t so what they are supposed to) or have counteractive effects because of steaming. Drugs that are meant to adjust blood pressure and circulation are especially affected by heat therapy.

The truth about steaming


Should you steam?

It is totally up to you, but steaming from time to time will be beneficial to your health and can actually help you to achieve your goals because it can keep your body detoxed, destressed and running optimally. It can complement muscle building, fat loss and fitness pursuits (by speeding up recovery). I steam around once a week to increase the body's ability to recover.

How often should you steam?

It is considered optimal to steam 2-3 times a week. Steaming more often could drain your body of too many essential minerals and electrolytes.

How long should you steam?

Do not steam for longer than 20 minutes, depending on the heat of the steam room. It is not about building up tolerance and resistance to steam rooms like exercise. It is about increasing body temperature to the point where your body sweats. Longer steaming times can place a greater stress and nutrient loss (electrolytes and minerals) on the body, instead of a stress and toxin release. When starting out, steam for 5 minutes only, then cool off and then another 5 minutes for your body to get used to it, then build up to one 20-minute session only.

Can you steam after a workout?

This has been a topic of debate for a long time. Some argue that steaming after a workout is a great way to relax the muscles and body after physical exertion and makes for a great ‘cool-down’ session, flushing out lactic acid, increasing blood blow and nutrient delivery where it is needed. Others argue that physical exercise already increases body temperature and that steaming after a workout prolongs recovery and keeps the body out of its anabolic state after exercise because it takes longer to cool down than it would from exercise alone. Try both and see what works best for you. Personally, I don't steam on muscle-building days because I already have a cool-down routine (light, short cardio), I want my body to return to a normal (anabolic or muscle-building) state as soon as possible and I focus on nutrition for the best post-workout recovery.

At what other times can you steam?

 Steaming on rest days is a great way to relax and increase blood flow to help with rest and recovery (and is also a great excuse to get into the gym when that’s the only place you want to be on rest days). Some say that steaming before a workout gets the blood flowing and is a great ‘warm-up’ before exercise. Steaming is one of the best ways to maximize recovery on rest days.

Make sure to shower before and after using the steam room

This is very important. This cleans away all the extra dirt that might clog your pores before steaming, and washes off the toxins released after steaming. By showering before and after using the steam room, the risk of germ and fungus transference from one person to another is also reduced.

Replace lost nutrients

Don’t steam too often. Eat enough healthy, balanced foods every day. Many people drink a mineral and electrolyte replacement after steam sessions.

It’s up to you to choose what works best for you. If you enjoy steaming, have fun! If you don’t, that’s okay too. STAY STRONG!

Monday, November 23, 2015

How to Get Rid of Freckles Naturally


Can you get rid of freckles without surgery or cosmetic procedures? The short answer is yes.

Freckles… freckles… freckles. People who don’t have freckles and sun spots wish that they did. For those of us who do have them, we’d rather do without these 'beauty spots'. Freckles are nothing more than concentrated deposits of melanin (the pigment in our skin). The bad news is that the cheaper and most natural freckle removal methods won’t take freckles away overnight. The good news is that there are things that we can do to make them fade away over time - to the point where most of them eventually disappear. Here are a few solutions that you can look into to get rid of those sun kisses.

Ways to get rid of freckles at home


Lemon juice

Lemon juice is very healthy thing to drink regularly. Lemon juice, though, acts very similar to a kind of bleach when it gets into contact with the skin because it is acidic. Because of its acidity, it works as a mild exfoliation; removing a small portion of the lop layer of the skin where it is applied. This removes a part of the dead skin cells from the outer layer of skin and encourages the skin to make more new, younger-looking skin. People use lemon juice to lighten the color tone of their skin and freckles, and sometimes on other areas like the arms and torso to soften tan lines. Because of lemon juice’s ability to lighten the skin, it is a great tool to help fade freckles away. Some freckles will even fade to the point where they are no longer visible, although some will fade but still stay slightly visible. Unfortunately, this takes time and will take more than just a few days to work effectively.

Directions and use:

Dab undiluted lemon juice onto the skin to lighten up tan lines or freckles before going to bed and let it dry out. Wash off in the morning after waking up and repeat every night. The skin should start to lighten and freckles can fade – sometimes to the point of disappearing – after a few weeks. If your skin is very sensitive, dilute the lemon juice with water. On your first night, try it out on a small patch of skin to determine how sensitive your skin is and to see whether you have a negative reaction to it. All skin types are different and some people might get burnt from the acidity of too much lemon juice at once.

Exfoliation

Exfoliating the skin removes the outer layer of skin which is made up of dead skin cells. Frequent, thorough exfoliation helps the skin to rejuvenate itself - even to the point where the concentrated melanin deposits (freckles) are removed and new, spot-free skin can replace the area.

Directions and use:

Be careful if you are using another exfoliation method while using the lemon juice method mentioned above. DO NOT use another exfoliation method directly before are after the lemon juice method. This will damage your skin. Depending on the sensitivity and tolerance of your skin (which will improve over time), you should wait from 5 days to 1 full day (and night) for using another exfoliation technique.

DO NOT exfoliate more than once in one session and DO NOT exfoliate for two days in a row. You need to give your skin enough time to rejuvenate and give the new skin which was recently underneath the removed layer time to adapt to becoming the new outside layer of skin. DO NOT scrub until your skin starts to go red or pink (this can lead to permanent damage) and DO NOT scrub until it starts to feel painful. I personally exfoliate until I feel a light tingle. After a good exfoliation, your skin will look polished and glow. DO NOT exfoliate more than twice a week. The reason why you should not exfoliate too much, too often or too hard is because the point of exfoliation is to remove the uppermost layer of skin which consists of dead skin cells and overdoing it will lead to the removal (and damage) of the healthy, living skin layers which you want to get as healthy and untouched as possible. This skin needs to look good and rejuvenate into better looking skin, and can only so this when it is healthy enough to do so. DO NOT focus on scrubbing freckles until they disappear or go lighter. This won't happen and you will end up damaging your skin. You will never notice an immediate difference after a single exfoliation. You can only work towards fading freckles in smaller intervals, since freckles are present in many layers of skin.

Just do a light scrub twice a week with a few days of ‘rest’ in-between sessions. After a few weeks (yes, it does take that long), the speeding up of skin renewal brought on by exfoliation will lead to the gradual removal of the concentrated melanin formations. Again, you will not see any differences after the first few exfoliations, but freckles can fade after a few weeks or disappear in a few months.

One of the most popular exfoliation methods is the use of exfoliation gloves that can be purchased at most supermarkets. These gloves don’t cost too much and can be re-used over and over again. You simply put the gloves on before going into the shower or bath and then lather them with soap and water (which creates a soapy lather like a scrunchy). Rub the skin all over your body with the lathered gloves in circular motions and rinse when done. Do not make the water too hot while doing this in the shower or bath, because intense heat can damage your skin.

Another popular method of exfoliation is through the use of pastes that contain a grainy or sandy substance that can buffer the skin's surface. You can purchase these pastes at stores or make them at home by using household items. Popular combinations include baking soda and water, salt (smooth salt only because the larger, coarse salt can hurt the skin) and olive oil or even mud made with clean, treated sand and water. Rub the exfoliating paste onto the skin in circular motions for a few seconds before rinsing off afterwards.

Some wonder whether exfoliation is a normal or natural process for the skin to go through. The truth is that it is more natural than you would initially think. In the jungle, our skins would naturally brush against trees, leaves, dirt and other things which they are now protected from with clothes and other comforts. Scraping against random things every day paved the way for new skin regeneration.

Increase general skin health

The healthier your skin is, the better it will be able to regenerate itself and the younger it will begin to look in general. This can speed up the methods above and slow down the formation of new freckles. Here are a few things that you should be doing to keep your skin looking as good as possible.

1. Eat a good diet

Eat a healthy diet that is balanced with enough carbohydrates, fats, proteins, fruits and vegetables. Proteins are needed build new skin tissue, fats are needed for proper hormonal function and moisture, carbohydrates ensure that your body has the energy that it needs, and eating fruit and vegetables gives your skin important vitamins like vitamin C. Make sure that you get enough fiber every day, so that your body can eliminate the toxins that obstruct nutrient flow and other key functions.

2. Sweat

Sweating is great for your skin. It helps nutrients to reach the surface and allows for the elimination of impurities that can get trapped in the skin or just below its surface. It also helps the liver to deal with other functions because it eases its detoxification load. Liver spots can appear on the skin when liver function declines.

3. Exercise

Exercise can keep your whole body (including your skin) younger for longer. This will improve your skin's ability to regenerate and stay supple. Other advantages of exercise like stress reduction, blood circulation, and nutrient delivery will directly improve skin health.

4. Drink enough water

Water will help to keep your entire body well hydrated and eliminate excess sodium. This will also hydrate your skin, but also ensure that there are fewer toxins that can damage your entire body and more space for nutrients to reach critical places - from the inside out.

5. Get enough sleep

Sleep is where the body recovers from damage and regenerates itself the most. When your body is forced to cope with less sleep than it requires, it focuses on performing functions that it deems most important for survival and is not able to do things which will ensure its best long-term state. Here are great tips for people who struggle to fall asleep.

6. Stress less

Avoid unnecessary stresses and take the time to do the things that you enjoy. This will help to decrease the amount of stress that your body has to cope with. Stress makes your body think that there is some kind of impending danger and alters its function in order to prepare for the perceived risk. When in a stressed state, the body slows down (and could completely halt) its repair and recovery processes. The steam room helps me to de-stress, sweat, recover physically and detox at the same time.

7. Avoid smoking and alcohol

Smoking increases the toxic load, decreases nutrient delivery and clogs up the body's recovery processes. This increases skin damage and decreases your body's ability to create new skin (or even maintain existing skin properly). The effects of alcohol are very similar. Both of these habits also hamper liver function.

8. Avoid sun damage

I love the sun. I believe that we were meant to be in the sun regularly - just like the rest of nature. This doesn't mean, though, that I let me skin get damaged by the sun. This would be counter-productive. Limit sun exposure, depending on your skin type. Do not stay in the sun for so long that your skin gets red (or even pink) - no matter what kind of skin type you have. Skin damage from the sun leads to freckle and spot formation. If you like to suntan (like me), get out of the sun before your skin goes red or pink. This lets me tan more frequently, avoid freckles and allows me to go brown sooner after every session in the sun.

Cosmetic and immediate procedures


Dermatologists (the skin doctors) offer freckle removal services. If you are interested in this method of freckle removal, ask your doctor for more information and ask for a referral to a good dermatologist in your area.

During a 30 minute to 1 hour session with the dermatologist, he or she will burn off the first (outermost) layers of skin on a freckle to instantly remove it. This does hurt, but the burning off notion takes about a second per freckle and a dermatologist could take off over 50 freckles in a single session. Your skin will need time (usually a few days to two weeks) to heal from this in the areas where the doctor has taken off the freckles. It will look like you have chicken pox with all the red marks. In some cases, scabs can form. After this process your freckles will be no more.

Another method of freckle removal uses intensive light pulses which penetrate through to the deepest layers of skin to break up melanin formations. After this light stimulation, the freckles start to break up and disappear after a day or two. This does not damage the skin or make any marks, and actually helps to make the skin look younger.

Well there you have it, who said you couldn’t have the body you want!? STAY STRONG!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Does Alcohol affect Muscle Growth?


Alcohol negatively affects muscle growth. Here are a few reasons why:


Dehydration

Alcohol is a mild poison and a toxin. This is why drinking it makes people intoxicated. It is also a diuretic, meaning that it causes the body to lose water. The main reason why people often experience a headache the next morning after drinking alcohol is because of dehydration i.e. not enough water and electrolytes for optimal brain function. At this point, your whole body is dehydrated - you just feel it in your head the most. Dehydration also affects the muscles. When in a hangover state, the body will draw water out of the muscles to put in the vital organs like the heart, liver and kidneys in order to survive. The body also needs the little water that it has to clean out the toxins from the body as quick as it can to get back to normal. This dehydration puts your muscles in a catabolic state (breaking down of muscle), instead of the anabolic state (building of muscle) that we all desire. If you spend a night drinking and the next day nursing your hangover, you have not only wasted that time where the body won't rebuild muscle, but you have caused your body to break down muscle mass to recover as well.

Metabolizing alcohol instead of protein syntheses

Starting from as soon as the second or third drink, your body gets to work to metabolize (break down) and process the alcohol so that it can exit the body before it causes further damage. When the kidneys and liver are burdened with the task of processing alcohol, they cannot convert protein into muscle and perform the other tasks that facilitate this process. Therefore, when alcohol reaches certain levels in the blood, protein synthesis (turning protein into muscle tissue) stops. This means that the body will shut down the process of turning protein into muscle from the time of drinking until the next day (way after the hangover state) when its functions start returning to normal. That is a lot of muscle growth time that is missed out on. Alcohol doesn't only affect your kidneys and liver badly, it also messes up your hormonal and blood sugar levels. Avoiding alcohol is one of the top suggestions when trying to increase testosterone levels.

Lack of energy, hangovers and messed up diet

When drinking to the point of a hangover the next day, the effect on the body is similar to a short-term cold or flu. If you have been building muscle for long enough, you know how detrimental getting sick can be to muscle gains, both size- and strength-wise. The effects of drinking too much alcohol can do the same thing - depending on the amount of alcohol consumed. Additionally, the lost workouts or decreased physical performance the day after alcohol consumption causes a temporary but unnecessary decrease in muscle stimulus. Think of how much muscle weight you lose when you get sick. Here are ways to speed up sickness recovery.

What about alcohol in very small quantities?

What about one beer? Some studies show that the occasional beer or glass of wine can actually be beneficial to health. For example, wine has shown to improve heart function and contain antioxidants. Beer has, among other health benefits, been shown to keep skin looking younger due to its silicon content. It is generally recommended that a person should only drink 500 milliliters or less of beers and ciders, one glass or less of wine and a single shot of spirits or hard liquors at a time (not all three - just one of them!). This won’t negatively hamper muscle growth. Some sportsmen and bodybuilders also believe that whiskey has the least damaging effect on physical health compared to other alcoholic substances.

The final verdict

Rather stay away from drinking too much alcohol to the point of getting drunk (or even tipsy). This will help you to maximize muscle growth. It is also dangerous and expensive. Too many valuable friendships have been ruined, lives lost, cars wrecked and lives permanently changed because of times that initially started as a ‘harmless night out’. I also don’t recommend drinking a beer, wine or even whiskey daily, because alcohol can be addictive. The best thing to do is create a life that does not have alcohol as an aspect of your weekly routine. The healthiest thing to do is create a habit of living where you can break away, have fun, relax and socialize without alcohol. It is OK have a single beer or glass of wine on occasion, perhaps once a month or less. Does that sound too scarce for you? If so, there might be a few adjustments that you can make for an even better life. STAY STRONG!

Cardio Can Help Weight Lifters Grow More Muscle


A positive correlation between cardiovascular exercise and muscle growth

Cardiovascular exercise can help you grow muscle faster, and I am not only talking about HIIT (high intensity interval training).


The old exercise spectrum: Cardio vs weight training

All exercise is healthy and helps to keep your body in shape. Healthy people exercise. These people can almost always be stereo-typically divided into two groups.

There are the healthy individuals on one side of the spectrum who focus almost exclusively aerobic or cardio exercises like running, swimming and cycling. Top performers in these fields can be found at endurance events.

The healthy exercisers on the other side of the spectrum focus on anaerobic or strength training. The top performers in these fields include strongman and bodybuilding champions. 

We all know that exercise has many benefits, but different forms of exercise have different benefits. Yoga is better at calming the mind and body and teaching oneself to deal with stress, which leads to a healthier and prolonged life. Cardio is better at improving heart and lung health, circulation and energy productivity, which also leads to a healthier, prolonged life. Strength training is great for strengthening the body’s structure for stronger bone, joint and muscle integrity, which also leads to a healthier, prolonged life. By doing different forms of exercise, you can get different benefits. If your goal is to build muscle, you can use cardio to obtain the benefits that will help you build even more muscle.

Bodybuilders focus on anaerobic exercises like weight lifting in order to maximize muscle size and avoid cardio because it depletes energy that could be used to do more muscle-building exercises, takes up nutrients that could be used to build muscle, and increases the amount of time used to exercise. 

Cardio-vascular exercise, though, can benefit the body in such a way that it is more efficient at building muscle. Here is how:

The benefits that adding cardio to a strength training program include:

Better aerobic performance. This comes in handy because you will get less tired throughout your strength training routine. Your body becomes better at burning energy for a prolonged period of time without resorting to muscle tissue. It will also be better at using oxygen for energy. Oxygen usage is directly related to lactic acid production.
By being physically fitter, you are able to put a larger stimulus on your muscles during your usual workout because you will be able to train for longer without stopping due to energy constrains. That also means that you will need to rest less in between sets as you catch your breath. This will place a further and greater stimulus on muscle fibers.
The improved oxygen and nutrient delivery systems that come through better blood circulation, heart function and lung capacity will improve the rate at which your muscles receive what they need in order to grow. Protein synthesis will start sooner and waste products will be eliminated faster.
Your body gets better at breaking down fat and using it for energy, which means that less muscle is broken down as a quick-fix for the body's energy needs. This can also lead to shorter cutting phases and longer bulking phases.

How to use cardio to increase muscle growth

Here are great ways to use cardio to benefit muscle growth (by increasing overall endurance and physical efficiency), without hindering maximum muscle growth (by stealing nutrients, energy and recovery time).

Do cardio as a warm-up and cool down, before and after a weight training session.

This serves a double benefit. Cardio is simply added to a weight training program without too much effort but with the benefits mentioned above. It gets the blood flowing and wakes up the body so that it is optimized for the serious exercise that follows. People that warm up are able to lift heavier weights for more reps and experience less injury. Doing light cardio after weight training will redistribute blood. This prevents blood pooling so that old blood that contains lactic acid and other waste products is removed from the muscle and new blood that contains nutrients can get to the muscles sooner. Cool down exercises are a great way to speed up recovery from exercise.

 Remember that cardio is used to complement and not take away from muscle growth, so keep warm-up and cool-down cardio sessions under 10 minutes each. Make sure you do this cardio until you start to develop a light pant, but not to the point where you are too tired or don’t have enough energy to give 100% during weight training. A light-to-medium intensity is best. Stop when you have developed a light sweat.

Do cardio at a different time of the day. 

You can also do cardio at a different time of the day to compliment muscle growth. Some people cycle or run in the mornings and then go to the gym after work at night time, for example. Remember that if your goal is to gain as much muscle mass as possible, keep cardio sessions at a low enough duration and intensity that your body does not have too much of a hard time coping with the extra pressure placed on it to adapt to cardio sessions as well. By keeping these sessions at a light intensity, blood circulation is increased and muscles can receive even more nutrients in the middle of their rest periods, and the body will slowly become better at burning fat for energy.


Do cardio on rest days. 

Cardio can also be done on rest days. This serves the same benefit as the ones above - the advantage of increasing blood blow to resting muscles to speed up recovery. Some people do this form of complimentary cardio by taking light jogs in the neighborhood or taking a swim in the pool at times that they would be training at the gym. 

Doing cardio on rest days is called active rest. Some rest days should be active rest days (that include a light cardio element), and others should allow for complete rest. Complete rest ensures that the central nervous system gets enough time to recover and helps to avoid over-training. Click here for more tips about maximizing every rest day.

Keep this form of complimentary cardio easy as well because it meant to increase the efficiency of rest days, not add extra pressure on the body. A light sweat is a good indication of sufficient exertion.

Don’t overdo it

Cardio can boost muscle growth, but too much of it will start to compete with the body for energy and nutrients over muscle growth. Don’t give as much time and effort to your cardio workout in comparison to your weight training if muscle growth is your most important goal. 

Start with super light cardio that doesn’t challenge you as much as your weight training sessions and build up slowly so that your body never redirects the resources to adapt to cardio that it could have used for muscle growth. Keep a good eye on your diet and make sure that you are eating enough calories for the extra energy expenditure along with the usual calories needed for muscle growth.

Balance is always best, but if you want bigger muscle more than the ability to run a mile, tipping the scale in the muscle direction won’t hurt. However, dropping cardio altogether might not really be the quickest way to get there. STAY STRONG!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Creatine and its Different Forms

Creatine has gained a lot of popularity in bodybuilding and sports circles over the last few years. Today we look at what creatine actually is, what it does and the different forms that it is available in.


What is creatine?

Creatine is an organic acid that contains nitrogen. It is organic because its molecules contain carbon and it is acidic because it has a pH level less than 7. Don't let the word 'acidic' scare you; acids are very common in the body. For example, proteins are broken into amino acids in our bodies. Nitrogen is needed to make protein for new tissue like muscles, skin and hair.

Creatine is a natural substance found in meat and fish and in our bodies. It is naturally created to form basic functions. It is not essential to consume creatine to sustain life because our bodies produce creatine naturally from the amino acids glycine, arginine and methionine.

Creatine has the primary role of supplying energy to the body - particularly for muscle movement. Energy cannot be created without creatine.

Creatine as a pre-workout supplement

Creatine is often sold as a pre-workout supplement because it increases the body's ability to produce energy at a faster rate with supplementation. Since the body can produce more energy with added creatine, it is able to achieve a greater work load during workouts - which in turn leads to greater strength and muscle growth. This allows people to achieve their workout goals at a faster rate than normal.

Creatine is very effective in boosting anaerobic performance such as weight lifting, sprinting and other activities that require short bouts of energy.

To find out the difference between pre-workout, intra-workout, post-workout and meal replacement supplements (along with other tips for people who are just starting out with supplements), click here.

Creatine as a muscle building supplement

Taking a creatine supplement leads to greater weight gain, initially in the form of water retention and then later in the form of muscle growth. By pulling more water into muscle cells, creatine increases protein synthesis. There are many protein shakes and meal replacement supplements that contain creatine to boost muscle growth and recovery.

This article is a great introduction to supplementation for building muscle specifically.

The risks of taking additional creatine as a supplement

A great deal of research has been done on the possible health risks of taking creatine as a supplement, of which almost all studies conclude that creatine is safe to use. There has been some speculation that creatine damages the kidneys or the liver, but no studies have been able to prove this so far or find any correlation between creatine consumption and kidney or liver damage. However, it is still recommended that people with any kidney or liver issues avoid creatine supplementation.

It is generally recommended that not enough studies have been done to prove that creatine supplementation is safe for people under the age of 18, since the long-term effects of creatine during the growth phase before adulthood are not completely known.

Negative side effects

Studies have not shown any negative side effects that could cause long term health problems in adults so far, however some people do experience short term negative side effects because creatine retains a lot of water. For example, creatine monohydrate would have a lower absorption rate than other forms of creatine. This means that the unused creatine sits in your gut until your body expels it with other waste products. People can experience nausea, bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea and cramps if a large amount of creatine sits in the gut, pulling too much water into it.

Because of the water retention effects of creatine, it is best used during bulking phases and is best avoided while cutting.

Does creatine actually work?

The effects of creatine vary from one individual to the next, since bodily function, genetic make-up and substance interactions differ between people. There have been some cases where people don't get any of the positive benefits of creatine after weeks of use, where others benefit greatly. One key example of the different levels of benefit that individuals receive from creatine is the example of diet. Since creatine is only found in meat and fish foods, vegetarians would generally see a much greater effect from creatine supplementation than people who eat a lot of meat and fish - who are already consuming creatine-rich foods regularly.

Additionally, some forms of creatine work better than others. Not all creatine is created equal. Some people respond better to some forms of creatine when others respond better to other forms. In general, creatine in powder form has shown to be more effective in studies, compared to liquid forms (even so, some people report having a much more positive effect using the liquid form).

Different forms of creatine

There are different forms of creatine which can be bought at stores as supplements. Here is a list of the most common forms and their key characteristics.

Creatine forms by processing

Creatine monohydrate

  • It is the most popular form of creatine
  • It is the most basic, natural form of creatine which is the least processed
  • It is less soluble in water compared to most other creatine forms

Micronized creatine

  • Is basically micronized creatine monohydrate
  • Micronizing the creatine breaks it down into smaller parts
  • This increases the amount of the creatine that is absorbed and actually used by the body

Creatine serum (liquid creatine)

  • It is basically creatine monohydrate which has been dissolved in water
  • It is supposed to be absorbed more easily, but some people report no effects of this form whilst others report that it works very well
  • Some argue that this liquid form of creatine breaks down because of the water content over time, rendering it useless

Buffered creatine

  • Is made at a higher pH level than regular creatine monohydrate
  • It supposedly has the same effects as monohydrate without the possible negative side effects like stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and cramps
  • It is also believed that it does not break down as much as monohydrate - meaning that less in needed for the same effect as monohydrate

Creatine forms by bonding with other substances

There are many other creatine forms that companies create by bonding it with other substances. Many more types of bonded creatine will be created by these companies in the future.

Creatine ethyl ester

  • It is creatine combined with ester on a molecular level
  • It is said to be the form of creatine with the highest absorption percentage 
  • Apparently, everybody feels the positive effects of this form of creatine and doesn't cause any negative side effects like stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and cramps

Effervescent creatine

  • It is creatine combined with sugar or sodium and a bubbling agent
  • Has better absorption and taste than regular creatine

Creatine citrate

  • A form of creatine with molecules (citric acid) that increase absorption
  • It is more water soluble and absorbent, but is needed in a higher dose for the same effect as creatine monohydrate 

Di-creatine malate/tri-creatine malate (tri- is more absorbent)

  • Another type of creatine that is bonded with molecules (Malic Acid) to increase absorption
  • This creatine form is also more water soluble

Creatine orate

  • Another form of creatine bonded with a molecule (orotic acid)
  • Orotic acid increases energy production in the body. So basically, creatine orate has two different substances that both increase energy at the same time

Creatine HCL (hydrochloride)

  • This is creatine bonded with hydrochloric acid
  • It is more water soluble and absorbent than monohydrate
  • Many say that this is the best form of creatine around at the moment, while others say that it does not work at all

Creatine nitrate

  • Creatine that is bonded to nitrate
  • This form has the benefits of creatine combined with the additional benefits of nitrate, which also aids the body's energy production systems

Hydration when using creatine

Since creatine pulls water into the muscles, you need to stay well hydrated when using this supplement. Failing to get enough water will diminish creatine's effects and could make you dehydrated. This could be detrimental to your goals. 

For this reason, I suggest that people who are currently using creating should not drink alcohol at all. It will increase the negative effects that alcohol has on muscle growth.

I advise cycling creatine instead of taking it all the time. You can find out why here. While on creatine, I make sure that I am consistently sipping on water and never go thirsty because of its water-retention benefits (I call them benefits because the increased water retention in muscle allows for muscle growth). As always, don't overdo it - drinking too much water is actually possible.

Final word of the day

Creatine can work for you, but remember that we are all different and respond to it differently. Fortunately, there are many forms that are available for you to try and see what feels and works best through trial and error. Be safe and don't use creatine if you are under 18, have any kidney or liver damage or are cutting for a bodybuilding show (because creatine retains water). STAY STRONG!