The only serious weightlifting injury I’ve ever had happened back in 1996. I had been experimenting with heavy weighted dips (doing this exercise with over 100 lb. attached to a belt). It was great for my ego, but I think it is largely to blame for wearing out all the cartilage in my AC joint (where your clavicle meets the shoulder). My doctors told me it was a pretty common injury among those who lift weights. My only option (other than live in pain) was to surgically remove the bone spur that had developed.
This meant I’d have to lay off the weight training for six weeks or so. I still remember returning to the gym for the first time after the layoff. I was wearing one of my favorite sleeveless workout shirts. Looking in the mirror was depressing–my arms looked like pipe cleaners to me. Needless to say, I probably didn’t look nearly as bad as I thought. Regardless, my arms had clearly lost some of their size.
Fortunately my size and strength returned very quickly. I actually broke some personal strength records within the next year or two.
I’m using this little story to illustrate a concept that is a bodybuilder or strength athlete’s best friend: muscle memory.
Technically this term (as most commonly used) has little to do with strength and size. Muscle memory refers to things your body “remembers” to do after multiple repetitions. My fingers, for example, are effortlessly typing this article without my brain thinking about each individual keystroke.
But many in the iron game have used this term to refer to what I experienced after my injury: gains in strength and size usually come back much more quickly than it originally took to earn them. We’ve kind of adopted “muscle memory” as a term to explain this phenomenon.
I have since learned how this works. It has to do with satellite cells and their role in hypertrophy (muscle growth). Satellite cells are located on the outside of muscle fibers and normally lay dormant. But when a muscle is stressed/damaged through resistance training, they go to work. These cells multiply and go to the site of the damage (keep in mind we are talking about damage at the microscopic level).
Here’s where it gets really interesting: satellite cells “donate” their nuclei to the muscle cells, which its one of the factors that cause it to increase in size (this is one of the main concepts in the MI40X program). Trained muscle cells have more nuclei than untrained muscles, and this change remains even after one stops training. The change, in fact, may be permanent.1
Formerly trained muscles, therefore, are already primed to grow back to their previous levels of size and strength–the additional nuclei are already there in the muscle cells, “waiting” to do their thing.
Muscle memory is real. This is good to know if you need to take some time of due to injury, illness, or any other reason.
1. J Exp Biol. 2016 Jan;219(Pt 2):235-42. doi: 10.1242/jeb.124495. Muscle memory and a new cellular model for muscle atrophy and hypertrophy.
I’ve had a chance to look over Renegade Strong, the latest program from Jason Ferruggia. This six-week program is designed to help you get “big, strong, and jacked.” I’ll tell you a little more about the program design.
Renegade Strength Program Setup
This book begins with Ferruggia explaining the overall training philosophy. He proceeds to a warm-up program you can use to get loosened up before each workout.
The main program is a four-day split, meaning it is designed for those who want to train 4 days a week. You alternate between upper body and lower body days, but variation has been built into the weekly routine. Some workouts emphasize heavier weights and lower reps, while others are designed to do use less weight and go with more volume/repetition.
As mentioned, this is a six-week program. The exercises don’t require any special equipment and I think you could do Renegade Strong at just about any commercial gym. Another nice feature is a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) section where he answers common questions a trainee may have about the program (alternate exercises, etc.).
Jason Ferruggia has developed a well-deserved reputation for putting together great workout programs. Renegade Strong is no exception. Let me share a few ideas on who I think this program would be well suited for:
*Intermediate or advanced trainees who want to ad some variety to their workouts.
*Guys who want to ad some conditioning elements to their routines (this program features some strongman type training that would suit this purpose).
*Older trainees (over 35) or who want physically demanding workout that are designed with long-term joint health in mind.
*Guys who are a little beat up and want to train around mild injuries (in other words, guys that are healthy enough to train but maybe have some achy joints, etc).
*Guys who are bored with training only the “big 3” (squat, deadlift, and bench press) and want to mix things up a bit.
I’ve had a chance to look over the Muscle Matrix Solution by Ryan Hughes. I’ll start of this review with a little information about the author.
Hughes first started training when he was a teenager. He was 6’1″ tall and weighed only 135 lb. But he had a passion for training and was able to compete in his first bodybuilding competition at age 19. He would eventually become one of the first IFBB Men’s Physique Pros, an International Fitness Cover Model, and a well-known trainer and fitness professional. He is considered one of America’s top personal trainers and has appeared on nationally syndicated television shows.
Muscle Matrix Solution Program Components (Summary)
Once you make your purchase you will get an email with login information. As you can see (by looking at the screenshot) you begin with a welcome page. The navigation tabs on the top of the page will take you through the rest of the program:
This section includes an overview of the program in video form. Hughes walks you through what the program includes and how to set it up specifically for your needs. Some of the topics he discusses are optimizing hormones (like testosterone), training, diet, and supplementation. He also gets into some motivational issues that will hopefully help inspire you to get started and stick with it.
There are also two downloadable pdf files in this section: 1. Welcome file/e-book, and 2. Cover Model Secrets, which explains some of the final steps bodybuilders/models take to get ready for a photo shoot or contest.
Ryan Hughes explains the workouts in this section (which he calls Matrix Training). His program combines three different styles of training, all of which are proven to be effective individually. The idea is that these training techniques will work together synergistically when combined. The workouts are set up in three different tracks: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Progression is built into the workouts so will improve in the amount of weight you use, the amount of reps you can do, and the amount of time you rest in between sets (you will be able to get by with less rest time as you progress through the program). He goes on to explain the specific set and rep range you’ll be doing.
There’s a downloadable file where you can see the actual workout plan (the specific exercises, set/reps, etc.).
Keep this in mind: the program is set up for you to do brief, intense workouts (about 45 minutes). You won’t be spending all day in the gym, but you will have to train hard–these workouts will not be easy.
Hughes’ nutrition plan is based on three key principles:
1. Flexibility: This doesn’t mean you can eat pizza and ice cream every day. It does mean that you can eat foods like this every once in a while in moderation. In other words, you can follow this lifestyle without having to plan your entire life around a 24/7 strict diet.
2. Meal Timing and Nutrient Combination: You will be guided in eating certain types of foods according to the time of day and/or your training. You will try to eat most of your carbohydrates, for example, in the evening after you train. This advise may sound different that what you’ve heard before, but it does work (based on my personal experience–I eat most of my carbs either after I train or at dinner).
3. Macronutrients: Ryan explains the role of protein, carbohydrates and fats and how you can manipulate your intake of these to build muscle and burn fat.
There is downloadable file you can use to read about these principles.
This section also includes a nutrition calculator. You can use this to customize your eating plan for your specific needs.
The video and the pdf file breaks down Hughes’ recommended supplement protocol. This is one area where I have some disagreements with the author. I personally do not believe any supplement can significantly increase testosterone and nothing he wrote has changed my mind. Instead of getting into details I’d rather just give my standard advice: stick with basic supplements like whey protein powder, (micronized) creatine monohydrate, a multivitamin, and fish oil. Use these basic supplements with reputable brands and you’ll do fine (and you’ll keep more of your hard-earned money).
The Exercise Library:
Drag Curl Demonstration Video
This is another nice feature of the Muscle Matrix Solution. I always appreciate video demonstrations of exercises and these are well done.
This final video/pdf wraps up the program. Hughes talks about defining your goal(s) that were on your mind when you ordered and implemented this program. He recaps all the program components (training, nutrition, etc.) and encourages you to embrace what you have learned as a lifestyle. He also mentions an insider’s coaching club you can join if you choose to.
This section has the Abdominal Accelerator program available for download. This is a plan for those who want to spend 30 days focusing on maximizing their fat loss. I think this would work really well with or without the supplements mentioned.
I think the Muscle Matrix Solution program is put together very well and will get results if you follow both the training and the nutrition plans. The set and reps Hughes recommends makes sense to me because it is a good mix of strength and hypertrophy (growth) rep ranges. I found the material to be well organized and easy to navigate.
Who would this program benefit? A few types of people come to mind:
*New trainees who want a step-by-step system to guide them on their journey of building muscle and/or losing fat.
*Intermediate or advanced trainees who have reached plateaus in their training and are ready to try some new workout techniques.
*Guys who want to look better–those who want to build a lean, muscular physique and be more self-confident.
I’ve had the opportunity to look over Andrew Raposo’s Fighter Abs program. Let me start this review by explaining what you get if you order this system. You’ll be directed to a download page where you’ll see the following:
Fighter Abs Program Components
The Coaching Video Workouts:
This page has videos divided into three levels of difficulty: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. There are 19 videos total with a pretty good variety of exercises. These videos are well done and you’ll be abele to see exactly how to do the prescribed exercises.
Fighter Abs Exercise Manual:
This pdf file is a complete illustrated guide to the exercise program. It includes both pictures and step-by-step descriptions of the movements you’ll be doing (stance, body positioning etc.). You could easily print this out if you want, but I had an easy time reading it in digital form.
12 Week Blueprint:
The previous components I mentioned show you how to do the exercises. The blueprint shows you how to put it all together–it is a complete “road map” of how to set up your training schedule. It includes tips for getting started, how to incorporate the Fighter Abs routine in an existing program, choosing the phase you should start with, etc.
Get Mobility Like a Fighter Videos: These warm up exercises are designed to help with flexibility/mobility. Doing these movements will keep your joints healthy and should help with tight muscles or even poor posture.
Mobility Exercise Manual: This is the illustrated guide to the mobility exercises. Like the main exercise manual, you’ll see descriptions/instructions on how to properly execute the movements.
Mindset Solution: This document is all about the mental aspects of training. You’ll learn how to condition your mind for training and you’ll find some of these principles carry over to other aspects of life.
4 Week Mobility Blueprint: Raposo explains how to incorporate this mobility work into your routine over the course of a month. I’m guessing you would notice a marked improvement in just a few weeks, especially if you’ve never worked on your mobility (or haven’t done it in a long time).
7-Day Rapid Fat Loss Accelerator Guide: Needless to say, no one will see your abdominal muscles if they are covered in fat. This guide shows you how to kick-start your fat loss if that is one of your goals. You’ll be manipulating your calories and macronutrients (carbohydrates, etc.) for maximum results. There is a limit to how much you can lose in a week, but this will teach you the limits of what can be done in a short period of time and maybe even motivate you to keep working towards getting leaner.
Supplement Guide: As the name implies, this is a the author’s recommended supplements. He recommends some specific brands (as most fitness professionals do), but I’d suggest you just stick to the basics and find less expensive brands.
Not everyone who trains does so with the idea of looking like a bodybuilder. Some find the lean, athletic, powerful physiques of MMA fighters to be more appealing. Fighter Abs is the kind of training that is more in line with that goal.
I should mention something here: this program is not some “short cut” to having six-pack abs–there is no such thing, and anyone who tells you otherwise just isn’t being honest. Having visible abs comes from having low body fat along with a few other factors (genetics, etc.). I’ve mentioned MMA fighters, and they are the perfect examples of this–some of them have washboard abs, others don’t–even when they are in top condition.
I think this program is put together well and would be beneficial for the following:
*People who want to add some variety in their training. You could incorporate these exercises into an existing program to help with core/abdominal strength, conditioning, and mobility.
*Trainees who want an alternative to the typical bodybuilding routine. This may mean you want a break from lifting weights or you just want to explore another type of training altogether.
*Martial artists who want a program that will help them with their basic strength/conditioning. I think this would be especially good for beginners who need to develop the basic strength.
*People who are interested in studying self-defense. This isn’t a self-defense program per se, but learning some of these movements would be useful for that purpose.
*Trainees who want to ad some variety to their abdominal training. It is easy to get bored with crunches, etc. This program may help you stay motivated to train abs and core muscles.
I’ve had an opportunity to check out a new program called The DUP Method (from Jason Maxwell and Mike Samuels). I’ll start this review by explaining what you get if you decide to invest in this program:
DUP Method Program Components:
#1 The DUP Main Manual
This document serves as a starting point, explaining the overall training philosophy and science behind the strategies you’ll be using. It will give you an overview of the program as well as some different options for training frequency (anything from 2-5 days). Once you’ve read this you’ll have a basic understanding of why this method should make you stronger.
#2 The DUP Method Nutrition Guide
Needless to say, you can’t get big and strong without a good eating plan. This document will show you how to set up your diet/nutrition in order to maximize the benefits of your training. You’ll be guided in calculating your daily caloric intake as well as macronutrients (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates). Be sure to look over this carefully–many trainees fail to reach their goals because they don’t put much thought or planning into their diet.
#3 The Optimal DUP Workout Log
According to the author, the ideal setup for this program is to train five days per week. That may sound like overtraining, but you have to remember that the volume (number of sets and reps) is adjusted so you’ll be able to adequately recover. Anyway, this workout log is convenient because you can print it out or put it on your smartphone. Either way you could bring it to the gym with you.
#4-Day Per Week Workout Log
As the name implies, this workout is designed for those who can only train four times per week.
#5 The “Busy Man’s” Workout Log
This one is for those who can only train three times a week.
#6 DUP For Beat Up Lifters Workout Log
This is a program variation for lifters who are a little older and/or training around old injuries. Some trainees, for example, may have back issues or joint problems that require them to make some adjustments in their exercise selection, etc. This would be helpful for men (or women) in that situation who want to keep getting stronger while avoiding re-injuring themselves.
#7 DUP For Hypertrophy Workout Log
As the title implies, this program is set up for those who are primarily concerned with building muscle (vs. those who are only interested in strength/powerlifting).
#8 DUP For Fat Loss
Last but not least, these workouts are set up for those who are interested in maximizing fat loss while also benefiting from the strength aspects of the training.
You’ll also get some nice bonus material if you decide to order. BONUS #1: Bench Press Tutorial Video BONUS #2: Squat Tutorial Video BONUS #3: Deadlift Tutorial Video BONUS #4: Bigger Bench Checklist Bonus #5: Customization Guide Bonus #6: DUP Arms Specialization
Bonus Material (Deadlift Tutorial)
I think you’ll find the video tutorials especially helpful. You can watch them online or download them onto your hard drive (I’d recommend downloading them).
Additional Products (Upsells):
Here are additional program packages you can add on to the basic package. You do not have to purchase these, but you can if you are interested: The Accelerator Package: This includes a manual for diet, training, supplementation and complete workouts for those who want to do an all-out, 6-day per week training schedule.
The Done-for-You Package:This includes spreadsheets for all five of the workouts in the basic package. You just put your one rep max in and it calculates it for you. A nutrition spreadsheet is also included.
The Specialization Package: This includes specialization guides for bench press, deadlift and squat. These programs would be useful for those who really want to focus on improving one of these lifts.
Have you ever noticed how many guys go to the gym and lift the exact same weight for the same number of reps week in and week out? The reason is pretty simple: they are training like newbies.
Beginner trainees will usually get a little bit stronger every week, regardless of training methodology. But linear progression (adding a little weight to the bar each workout) will only get you so far. You will eventually reach a “sticking point”–a lesson I learned the hard way back in the 90’s.
This is where periodization comes in–training in a way that works with your muscular and neurological system. Daily Undulating Periodizationis a unique variation of this strategy that can be very effective.
Keep this in mind: this way of training is not like the typical bodybuilding type split you see in the magazines (and gyms). But I think you’ll find it to be a refreshing change of pace–one that is backed by science. One study, for example, found that the DUP method was superior to linear methods (like 5×5) for building strength in those with significant training experience.1
I believe the DUP Methodcan teach you how to start making progress again if you find yourself stuck in a rut of no noticeable gains.
*Intermediate to advance trainees who want to break through plateaus in their overall strength. This includes increasing your max in the bench press, squat, and deadlift.
*Athletes who want to increase their strength in order to be more competitive in sports.
*Guys (or girls) who want be strong in addition to looking strong.
*Trainees who are willing to commit to a different style of programming than what they may be used to (especially those who have done a traditional bodybuilding split).
I’ll start this post off with a video I first saw years ago. Here is the legendary Tom Platz doing high repetition squats with heavy weight (well over 500 lb). This video was filmed back in 1993. Tom Platz and Dr. Fred Hatfield (aka “Dr Squat) were doing a “squat off” in Germany. Hatfield won the one-rep max competition by squatting 855 lb. Platz won the rep competition with the weight you see here:
A while back I wrote an article on the best rep range for building muscle and burning fat. I basically argued that a 5-10 rep range is going to be ideal for both of these goals. I still believe that–most of your gains will probably come from this range.
But more advanced and older trainees may want to consider experimenting with higher repetitions (let’s say 15 and up). There are some good reason to do so:
I’ve heard several bodybuilders say they had better leg growth from training with higher repetitions. This makes sense because the quadriceps in particular tend to have a high number of both fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers. You’ve just seen what Platz was capable of in his prime–his legendary thighs were built with both heavy lifting and high reps.
High rep training has the advantage of being able to stimulate the muscles with less strain on the joints. Older trainees in particular may find this to be very helpful. But even younger guys can benefit from simply giving the joints a break.
Training with higher reps will produce more lactic acid, which in turn tends to produce growth hormone (a helpful hormone for burning fat).
I’ve found that training beyond my usual rep range also helps me learn to push beyond the pain barrier and force my body to keep going when my muscles are screaming to stop.
Variety in Training
Going to the gym can get kind of boring if you do the same thing week after week. Dropping the weight and going for higher repetitions is a simple way to challenge yourself and keep things interesting.
Some recent studies indicate that training with high repetitions is an effective way to build muscle. One study, for example, took fifteen healthy young men and randomly assigned them to different workouts, measuring their bodies’ responses to different training stimuli: 1. One set to failure with 80% of one-rep max (1RM) 2. Three sets to failure with 80% of 1RM, and 3. Three sets to failure with 30% of 1RM. Needless to say the third workout tended to be much higher in repetitions (20-23). They found that lower weights/high reps produced a similar anabolic response to lifting with heavier weight and low reps.1 This is just one of many studies you can find verifying the efficacy of this kind of training. Bottom line: training heavy is not the only way to build muscle.
These are just reasons to consider incorporating higher reps into your workout. Now let me give you some practical tips (in no particular order of importance):
Exercise Selection: I think you’ll find some exercises simply aren’t good choices for high reps. I love deadlifting, but I rarely go over 5 repetitions for that particular exercise. My form simply starts to break down if I try to go beyond that. The same goes for front squats.
I tend to be old-school and prefer free weight exercises, but it may be advantageous to consider machines with this kind of training–especially if you are working out without a spotter.
Time Under Tension: Using less weight will mean you can lift more slowly and deliberately. Take advantage of this and maximize the time your muscles are under the tension of the weight.
“Burnout” Set: One of my favorite techniques is to finish my training with one or two sets of high reps after I’ve done some heavier sets.
I hope you find these tips helpful. Try them and see if they don’t produce new gains.
1. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 Jul;113(1):71-7. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00307.2012. Epub 2012 Apr 19. Resistance exercise load does not determine training-mediated hypertrophic gains in young men.
Ben Pakulski has a new program out called Incredible Bulk. I’ll start this review by summarizing what you get when you buy this program:
1. The Incredible Bulk Main Guide:
This is the main book which explains the overall training/nutrition philosophy of the program. Traditional bulking, Ben argues, is not effective because trainees often just overeat for several weeks hoping to gain muscle mass. This eventually works against the body’s hormones (and I believe causes damaging inflammation). Many who do this end up creating fat instead of hypertrophy (muscle growth). A smarter approach is cyclical in nature–alternating between “shred” phases and “growth” phases (diet and training are adjusted for each phase). That’s it in a nutshell, but the book explains this in much more detail.
2. Ben’s Personal Grocery Shopping List for Massive Size:
This guide will show you the kind of foods you should be buying the next time you go grocery shopping. I think you will find this helpful, but I don’t worry too much if you can’t buy a bunch of organic foods (as he recommends). Just use it as a general guide for the types of foods you should be eating. One more thing I’ll add here: Ben recommends “gluten-free” items. I am personally skeptical of all the hysteria regarding gluten. A small percentage of the population is sensitive to gluten, but I don’t think it makes much difference for the rest of us. My advice (at the risk of being repetitive): use Ben’s list as a guide for the general types of foods that will help you follow the diet, but don’t be overly concerned about organic, gluten-free, etc.
3. Incredible Bulk Workout Guide:
This training manual will show you how to set up your workout for both the cutting/shredding and bulking phases of this program. Ben explains the variables you should consider when setting up your workouts: volume, frequency, rep ranges, rest intervals, etc. He also addresses cardio and other things you should consider when training.
4. Example Weekly Workouts Guide:
This document is a sample workout showing the exact exercises you could use on a five day split (training 5x/week) during the growth phase. It gives you a good idea of how to set up your training.
5. Supplement Stacks Guide:
This is Ben’s recommended supplements. My advice: just stick with whey protein, creatine monohydrate, fish oil, and a multivitamin. Do that and you should be just fine. I also would not recommend supplementing over 30-50 milligrams of zinc per day (going overboard on zinc can cause a copper deficiency).
I agree with the premise of the Incredible Bulk program and I think this is an effective method for putting on quality mass while minimizing fat gain. I think this program would be good for the following:
*Intermediate/advanced trainees who are looking to break through plateaus in building muscle mass.
*Bodybuilders who are looking to add some size in the off season.
*Athletes who want to go up in weight class without getting too fat.
Phase Five of Hypertrophy Max is called Max Intensity. Previous phases have been geared more towards hypertrophy in terms of the rep ranges and weights (% of one-rep max) you were using. But the training you’ll be doing in this phase is designed for neurological adaptation (strength and speed). One of the techniques you’ll use is wave loading, a technique that has been proven to optimizing strength gains.
You’ll be training heavy this month with the goal of increasing strength. This will in turn help you build size: generally speaking, the strongest guys will also be the biggest guys. Be sure you have a capable spotter and don’t sacrifice form in order to lift more weight. You’ll notice that the coaches (Ben and Vince) emphasize controlling the weight.
I remember doing concentration curls back in the early days of my training. I was in the high school gym and an older teammate on the football team gave me a tip. He advised me to slowly lower the weight over a count of a few seconds. This was my first time to hear about “negatives.”
I’ve learned more about this kind of training over the years. Mike Mentzer believed in emphasizing the eccentric/negative part of the repetition. He advocated doing a few slow negative reps at the end of an all-out intense set. Ben Pakulski also utilizes this technique in his training videos.
One advantage of this method is maximizing time under tension–the amount of time the muscle is under the stimulus of a given weight.
Overloading the negative repetition is another variation of this technique. Here’s the idea: you can resist more weight than you can actually lift. Let’s say you can bench press 275 lb. Chances are you could slowly lower more than that–probably well over 300 lb. By doing so you would be putting 300+ lb of tension on your muscles, even if you can’t lift that amount of weight.
At least one study suggests this way of training is effective. Forty male subjects were divided into five groups and trained using the leg press for 3x a week. They all used the same percentage of their one-rep max during the concentric (lifting) part of the repetitions. But each group used a different % of their one-rep max for the eccentric (negative part of the lift): 0, 33, 66, 100, or 138%. Strength gains were the same in those using the 100% and 138% load for their eccentric training. But only the trainees who overloaded the negative repetitions (the 138% group) gained mass in their legs (they were also the only trainees to increase bone mineral density).1
One if the biggest challenges with this kind of training is the need for a spotter on certain lifts. But there is a pretty simple solution that can be applied to many exercises: lifting the weight with two arms/legs, then lowering it with one. This works very well on the leg press, for example.
We shouldn’t go crazy over one study or think of this technique as a “magic bullet.” But it seems like it is worth a try if you are trying to break plateaus in your size gains.
1.Eur J Appl Physiol. 2014 Jul 22. Early-phase musculoskeletal adaptations to different levels of eccentric resistance after 8 weeks of lower body training.