I’ve had the chance to look over a new program from the folks at Critical Bench called 40 Strong. This one is of special interest to me since I am now over 40 years old (I hit the big 4-0 a few years ago). Here’s my review:
Let’s face it, a lot of guys in their 40’s (and older) are completely out of shape. This can happen for several reasons:
*Other things take priority over planning exercise and training.
*The aging process is accelerated by bad habits (an unhealthy lifestyles).
*Testosterone levels can plummet if the natural decline is further accelerated by obesity, poor diet, etc.
*The “mid-life crisis”–men feel like their life is not where it should be.
You get the idea. Needless to say, a workout/diet program cannot solve all of these issues. But it may be a starting point for those who want to improve their fitness level and overall quality of life. And a well-designed program can also help those who have been consistently training but want to mix things up a little in light of new priorities and goals.
This is where 40 Strong comes in. The authors have designed it to be something that can be incorporated into the “typical” life of a man with a career, family, and all the other responsibilities that life brings. I’ll give you a little information on the training and nutrition philosophy behind this program:
Nutrition: I’ve noticed that as I get older I’m a lot more sensitive to the foods I eat. In other words, I can quickly feel the difference between a few days of eating healthy food vs a day or two of junk. The nutrition parameter gives you some general guidance for choosing healthy foods.
Training: The exercise component of 40 Strong is designed with more mature trainees in mind. It incorporates cardiovascular training (steady-state cardio as well as circuit type training), stretching/mobility, and strength/hypertrophy training. One nice thing is the exercise descriptions link directly to a YouTube video–you can watch and see exercise (or exercises) demonstrated. The workouts get longer and/or more intense as you progress through eight weeks.
Let me give you some ideas on the type of man that 40 Strong would be most beneficial for:
*Men in their 40’s who have neglected their health and want to start getting back into shape (losing fat, building muscle, becoming more flexible, etc).
*Older/experienced trainees who simply need a change of routine. Guys who have been weight training for years, for example, may need to spend some time on cardiovascular training an mobility.
*Men who need to focus on diet and fat loss while maintaining their muscle/strength. I see a lot of older guys who train but are just too fat. They would look (and probably feel) better if they focused some of their efforts on getting leaner.
If this sounds like you I think you could benefit from this program. You could spend 8 weeks on it then move on to something that is a little more advanced or specialized.
One of the first pieces of equipment a trainee will want to consider is a weightlifting belt. I recently bought a new one (more on that later), so I thought this would be a good time to write about this topic.
The “Weaken Your Abs” Myth:
Some believe wearing a belt weakens your abdominal muscles. This is not true–a belt gives your abs something to push against, so they are very much involved in a belted lift. I would, however, advise you to only wear a belt during: squats, deadlifts, and military/overhead press. Putting one on as soon as you walk in the gym is counterproductive.
Let me add something else here: I would also advise you to train “beltless” for your first few months. Just work on your form and start building your foundation before using any equipment. After that you may want to consider using one (more on how to use it later).
Why Use a Belt?
As I’ve mentioned, wearing a weightlifting belt while training gives your abs something to push against, which raises your intra-abdominal pressure during the lift. This increased pressure adds stiffness to your trunk and gives you more stability.1 There’s also some evidence to suggest a belt can reduce compression on your spine when used properly (when you inhale in order to push your abs against it).2
Here’s the bottom line: most people find they can lift more with a belt than without. All things being equal, pushing or pulling more weight will accelerate your gains in size and strength.
There are two more benefits I’ll mention before moving on:
Awareness: having a belt on may help you be more aware of your posture and body positioning while training. This is kind of hard to explain, but you’ll know what I’m talking about when you experience it–you simply have a better “feel” for your stance, position, etc.
Back Warmth: I like to wear a lose belt even during my warm-up sets for the squat and deadlift. It helps get my back warmed up (and keeps it that way).
Types of Belts and Buckles
Start training in a typical gym and chances are you’ll see a belt that looks something like this: wide in the back and narrow in the front. This is a very common style, but it’s not what I would recommend if you are wanting to get the maximum benefit. I would encourage you to invest your money in a powerlifting style belt–one that is a uniform 4-inch width all the way around (you’ll see pictures of this style below). Remember something I said earlier: a belt gives your abs something to push against. A powerlifting belt is perfect for this purpose.
You’ll see two thicknesses available if you start shopping around: 13 mm and 10 mm. The thicker (13 mm) belts are going to be stiffer and take longer to break in. Most lifters (including yours truly) go with the thinner 10 mm belts–13 mm is overkill for the needs of most trainees.
Now let’s talk about the most commonly available types of buckles: lever, single prong, and double prong.
Pictured here is the first powerlifting belt I ever owned, and as you can see, it a lever belt. I bought this one almost twenty years ago and it’s still holding up nicely (the site I bought it from no longer exists).
The biggest advantage of a lever belt is the quickness with which you can tighten and loosen it. One quick motion and you’re either ready to lift or ready to rest after your set.
The biggest disadvantage of a lever belt is the fact that you need a screwdriver to adjust it. This may not be a big deal, but it’s something to consider.
One more thing: I’ve heard people expressing concern over the lever breaking (due to metal fatigue, etc.), but I’ve never had this problem. You could always buy a replacement if this happened.
I recently ordered this single prong belt from bestbelts.net, and so far I’m really happy with it.
The advantage of a single-prong buckle is the relative ease with which you can adjust the waist size. Right now, for example, I’m at my “winter weight”–about ten pounds heavier than I usually am during warmer months. I can just pull the belt a little tighter as I get leaner.
There may be times that you need to adjust the belt tightness more frequently than seasonal weight differences. You may, for example, want to experiment with what feels right for a particular lift or even a particular day. This is what I’m enjoying about a single prong belt.
Needless to say, the disadvantage of a prong belt is that it’s a little more difficult to tighten or loosen it (compared to a lever belt). But so far this hasn’t been a big deal at all for me.
Two prongs theoretically increase stability and add to the life of the belt (since the stress is distributed over two holes). But the extra prong makes these belts more difficult to use/adjust, and I doubt it it is worth the extra hassle for most trainees. But if you if you just have to look like “the Wolverine” when you train . . .
Using a Belt
As I mentioned earlier, I would recommend you only use a belt for lifts that put compression of the spine: squats (including front squats), deadlifts, and overhead/military press.
How heavy should you go before putting it on? There’s no hard-and-fast rule for this, and you can experiment and see what works for you. I usually put mine on loosely even for warm-up and lighter sets on the before-mentioned exercises. This doesn’t give any real support, but it does help get my back warmed up. I wait and tighten it up for heavier sets. As a general rule, for example, I tighten up my belt when squatting over 300 lb (maybe a little heavier for deadlift).
The tightness and positioning of your belt is something you’ll also need to experiment with. I’d recommend you tighten your belt snugly, but not so much that you can’t inhale and brace hard against it with your abs. I tend to wear mine a little lower on my waist for squats and a little higher for deadlifts (a subtle difference, but one I can feel when training).
A solid powerlifting belt is a great investment. It will help you lift heavier weights and should last for years (if not decades). Hopeful this article has helped those who are thinking about buying and using one.
1. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 1999 Feb;14(2):79-87. Effects of abdominal belts on intra–abdominal pressure, intra-muscular pressure in the erector spinae muscles and myoelectrical activities of trunk muscles.
2. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2006 Oct 15;31(22):E833-9. Effect of a stiff liftingbelt on spine compression during lifting.
Jason Maxwell has created a new program for gaining muscle mass just in time for the holidays. I was very impressed with his DUP Method program, (a system for increasing your one-rep max) so I was looking forward to checking it out.
Maxwell’s bulking program is called Decembulk, and I’ve had the opportunity to look over it. I’ll start this review by sharing what you get if you decide to invest in this program:
Decembulk Program Components:
The Getting Started Guide: This short document simply tells you how to use the program–read the manual, decide how many days you want to train, and follow the nutrition and training protocols accordingly. Pretty simple, which is a good thing (I don’t like overly complicated programs).
Printable Training Logs: Decembulk is set up with some flexibility in terms of training frequency. You can train 3, 4, or 5 days a week according to your schedule and preferences. You simply print out the training logs accordingly.
Training Calendar: This will guide you through the program by telling you which workout you are supposed to do on a given day. If the calendar says “Workout A1,” for example, you just find that workout on your training log. The calendar has guides for the 3, 4, and 5 day a week program.
Bulking Calculator: This spreadsheet will guide you through the nutrition aspect of the program by showing you how many calories and macronutrients you should be taking in. Be sure to pay attention to it: people tend to overestimate or underestimate the amount of food/calories they are actually consuming.
You’ll also get three bonuses when you order Decembulk: 6-Minute Finishers, for arms, shoulders, and chest. You can add these “mini routines” to the end of your training sessions in order to give additional attention to lagging body parts (or muscles you just want to give extra attention to).
Decembulk Program Review:
Muscle size and strength are connected, but you are likely to see the best results when you train with one specific goal in mind. Jason Maxwell has designed Decembulk for those who want to spend a few weeks focusing on hypertrophy/mass. His workouts are designed to create the perfect combination of tension, muscle damage (on the microscopic level), and metabolic stress in order to help you achieve new gains. This, combined with the right nutrition, should go a long way in helping you put on a few pounds of quality mass.
Let me be clear on something here: this program is not a fat loss system (that should be obvious, but I just wanted to make it 100% clear). If you are wanting to lose fat there are several other programs out there (Maxwell’s DUP Method can be adjusted for fat loss). Decembulk is not for you if your goal is anything other than putting on mass.
I think this program would be good for the following:
*Beginner/intermediate trainees who have been training for a while and want to focus on getting bigger. Decembulk would be great for guys who have learned a few of the basics and want to take their mass-building to the next level.
*Athletes who want to move up in weight class or just get bigger for their chosen sport. The winter season is when a lot of guys want to focus this goal, and I think Maxwell’s program would be good for this.
*Returning trainees who want to regain some size they have lost during a layoff. Those who have been out of training for a while and want to start back by putting on some mass should see good results.
*Ectomorphs (skinny guys) who want a system specifically designed for gaining weight.
If you match one of these descriptions then I think Decembulk would be a good investment. It is a reasonably priced program and I think you’d find it to be a good investment of your hard-earned money.