Friday, September 8, 2017

Part 2: Why Fad Diets Are Ruining The Fitness Industry

 

In Part 1 of this article, we discussed the rise of fad diets, what makes a diet a “fad”, and some of the more dangerous and unhealthy fad diets out there.

Today, in Part 2, we’re going to talk about some of the more popular fad diets out there. Now, these diets have provided some people with encouraging results; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should run out and try them.

(Side note: If you haven’t obtained your dieting macros yet, check out the IIFYM macro calculator. It’s time you started a sustainable diet!)

Let’s talk about why…

Very Low-Carb Diets

Now things are about to get interesting.

Low-carb diets are still extremely popular. And for good reason; they do help a lot of people lose weight. But this isn’t necessarily the magic of not eating any carbs at work, but rather – like any other diet that helps you lose weight – simple caloric restriction.

Much like very low-fat, low-carb diets lead to weight loss because you are effectively eliminating an entire macronutrient group from your diet. See, nothing magic.

And while I personally find very low-carb diets to be unnecessary, they do work for a lot of people for many different reasons.

The main reason low-carb leads to weight loss which is simply caloric restriction. Cutting out a whole macronutrient group from your diet leads to a drastic cut in calories as well; maybe even up to half in some people.

The Shift to High Protein

Considering the typical American diet, high in fat, carbohydrates and low in protein, it’s no wonder the low-carb fad has had some good results.

Another reason for the success of low-carb fad is that these diets are typically high in protein.

High protein diets have shown to be the most effective diets when it comes to fat loss for two reasons. One, protein provides you with a high level of satiety. It takes the body longer to digest protein so consuming more protein will leave you feeling fuller, longer.

Second, protein has a high thermic cost, meaning it takes the body more calories to digest it than any other macronutrient. Therefore, the more protein you eat, the more calories your body will expend while digesting it.

Good…But Good Enough?

fad diets

 

And while the low-carb fad does have some positives, they are far outweighed by the negatives. I’ll start with the obvious…carbs are delicious! Seriously, why would you want to live your life without carbs?

Carbohydrates make up some of the best foods out there, so if you can include them in your diet while still losing fat, why wouldn’t you?

In complete seriousness though, the main reason people fail at diets is they are either too restrictive or don’t provide enough variety. Low-carb does both.

(Including carbs in your diet while losing fat is beautiful, your Custom Macro Blueprint will do just that!)

The second problem with low-carb is that people often do not take calories into account. Many popular low-carb books and programs boast about how by eliminating carbs from your diet, you can eat as much protein and fat as you want and not have to worry about counting calories.

That’s wrong. Completely, and utterly, wrong. Which is why it’s included in this fad diets series.

Fad Diets Love to Blame Insulin

The thought process behind it is this: carbohydrates have the greatest effect on insulin levels. High levels of insulin (continual elevation) prevent the body from burning fat.

Therefore by eliminating carbs from your diet, you keep insulin low and will burn fat all the time.

The truth, however, is much different. First, carbs aren’t the only macronutrient that has an effect on insulin; protein will raise insulin levels too. Secondly, low insulin levels are not the driving force behind fat loss, calorie balance is.

So it doesn’t matter whether you are low-carb, high-carb or medium-carb, if you are not in a negative caloric balance, you will not lose fat.

Carbs Are Vital For Performance

Third and probably most important, carbs provide the fuel you need for great workouts and help keep your body’s hormones functioning properly.

Carbs are converted to glycogen in the body and are stored in the muscles to fuel workouts. The more energy you have during a workout, the better your performance, meaning the harder you can work and the more calories you’ll burn.(9)(10)

…just like low-fat and low-carb diets, paleo requires you to omit entire food groups on the unproven notion that they are “bad” or “unhealthy”.

Carbs also prevent the body from trying to convert amino acids into energy (which leads to muscle breakdown) by providing the body with an energy source by which to draw from during recovery.(11)(12)

Carbs have an effect on your thyroid and various hormone levels in your body too. Low-carb intake can lead to a decrease in T3, which is an important hormone in the regulation of your metabolism. Basically, low levels of T3 can cause your metabolism to slow.(13)(14)

Hormone Issues

Low-carb can also cause testosterone to drop while increasing your stress hormone cortisol. This is a recipe for disaster, as high levels of cortisol combine with low testosterone will lead to greater fat storage.

While popular low-carb diets like Atkins or Keto can provide some initial success; they unnecessarily rob your body of its preferred source of energy, while also encouraging the consumption of highly-processed, low carb foods, and offering no distinct advantages over simple caloric restriction.

“Ideally your macronutrient breakdown should be balanced to support your bodily functions without sacrificing your sanity.”

The bottom line is, while low-carb has shown to be effective when it comes to fat loss, it can be difficult to sustain and could negatively affect the way your body functions.

Going low-carb isn’t anything magic. If you like carbs, you don’t need to eliminate them from your diet just to lose fat. There are plenty of better ways to go about it that don’t involve suffering or extreme deprivation; such as a flexible dieting approach.

Paleo

fad diets

 

The Paleo, or caveman diet, has become extremely popular in recent years.

If you’ve never heard of the Paleo diet, the basic idea is to have your diet emulate that of our Paleolithic ancestors. To be true to the Paleo diet, if it wasn’t available to our ancestors, we shouldn’t eat it either.

That means that since foodstuffs such as dairy and grains weren’t around then, we shouldn’t consume them either. The basis for this is that this is the way our bodies were genetically designed to eat.

There are several things wrong with this assumption but we’ll talk about that in a minute. First, let’s talk about some of the good aspects of Paleo.

On the surface, the concept of Paleo is good. In order to follow the diet, you can only consume foods that were around when our Paleolithic ancestors roamed the earth. This includes things like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and animal protein. All of these are foods you should be consuming anyway and are healthy.

IIFYM blueprint

The consumption of these foods also increases satiety, which is another positive. One thing that Paleo has going for it, compared to other fad diets is you are less likely to be hungry while eating paleo because of the quality of food you eat. One reason many diets fail is

One reason many diets fail is that people are constantly feeling hungry. Any diet that staves off feelings of hunger is likely going to be more successful.

Positives < Negatives

Much like other fad diets, however, the positive aspects of the Paleo diet is a short list.

The biggest problem with the paleo diet is the notion that if our ancestors didn’t eat it, we shouldn’t either.

Again, this is completely, and utterly, wrong.

First of all, this is like saying that we shouldn’t brush our teeth just because toothpaste and toothbrushes weren’t around in the Paleolithic era. The logic that just because something was or wasn’t available should dictate whether it is “good” or “bad” is flawed.

So things like dairy and grains, which are full of vitamins and nutrients, are bad, but processed foods like Paleo bread, paleo cookies, paleo bars and paleo protein powder are fine?

Lol, okay…

“Instead of dealing with nonsensical diets, reach out to our coaches to help dial in your dietary needs.” 

Second, there wasn’t one specific Paleo diet. Our ancestor’s diets varied based on the region they were in, what food was available and what time of year it was.

Plus, food today doesn’t even closely resemble what it did thousands of years ago, due to genetic modification and manipulation.

Third, just like low-fat and low-carb diets, paleo requires you to omit entire food groups on the unproven notion that they are “bad” or “unhealthy”. Any diet that puts a ban on certain foods and requires you to deprive yourself of foods you may love isn’t going to work in the long run.

Like I said, the concept of paleo is great. Where the diet falls short however is its use of flawed science to perpetuate a style of eating that is outdated and really can’t be replicated. And any that forbids perfectly healthy foods while tries to sell you highly processed “diet friendly” versions should raise some eyebrows.

Clean Eating

clean eating

 

This is another very popular diet, especially among fitness enthusiasts.

Clean eating can mean different things to different people, but the general rules of clean eating are that “clean” foods should be: Minimally processed, and have a high nutrient density.

To take it a step further, foods like lean meats, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains should be prioritized while highly processed foods should be minimized or eliminated altogether.

Now, a diet consisting of whole, nutrient-dense foods is going to have positive effects on your body and your health in general, including increased satiety, more energy and less inflammation.(15)

…when making money is based on people’s ignorance, or using cherry-picked data to sell a product becomes commonplace; that’s when I have a problem.

A number of processed foods in the typical diet has been linked to a number of diseases and health issues. By minimizing these foods, you will help improve cell function, fight disease and just feel better in general.(16)

Now, like Paleo, clean eating is good in theory. Yet, it also suffers from some of the same pitfalls that Paleo does.

Draped In Ambiguity

First off, what exactly does “clean” mean?

Of course, it’s going to mean different things to different people and is impossible to define. The bigger issue with this, however, is regardless of how you define “clean”, it will ultimately come down to labeling foods as “good” or “bad”, “clean” and “dirty”.

This thought process is the cornerstone of fad diets. Clients following our programs are able to move away from this detrimental thought process.

The truth is, no one food is going to cause you to store more fat, just like no one food will help you lose more fat. Fat loss is about calories in vs. calories out.

This leads into the second pitfall of clean eating. People who are eating “clean” often don’t concern themselves with caloric intake, falsely believe that if they only eat “clean” foods that they cannot get fat.

However, if your daily caloric maintenance level is 2,500 calories, and you’re eating 3,000 calories each day, it doesn’t matter if those calories are coming from chicken and broccoli or McDonald’s, you will gain weight.

The Perpetuation of Fad Diets

fad diets

 

While the health and fitness industry has always been a big market, the rise of the internet has helped it grow exponentially.

No longer are people just restricted to getting their information from their local trainer, or the pages of a magazine. The online fitness industry has allowed clients and trainers alike, to reach people that they wouldn’t have been able to, not that long ago.

But with the good, comes the bad.

The internet has allowed many so-called experts and gurus to make a living selling products/services that benefit them more, monetarily, than it benefits their clients, physically.

And this includes fad diets.

From the downright dangerous fad diets such as the HCG diet, or cleanses and detoxes, to ones based on bad science like low-fat or paleo, every fad diet has one thing in common: people are making money off it.

Now, I’m all for capitalism, and the freedom to earn a living. Yet, when making money is based on people’s ignorance, or using cherry-picked data to sell a product becomes commonplace; that’s when I have a problem.

Profit Before Health with Fad Diets

And it’s not the client or consumers fault. They just want to lose weight or be healthier. It’s the fault of the individuals who’re supposed to be helping people, who instead seize the opportunity to make a dollar, at any cost. When they use their position of authority within the industry to sell things that people don’t need, or can’t benefit from.

And that’s why it’s important that clients and consumers of health products educate themselves, and don’t just take everything at face value.

“That’s the beauty of flexible dieting/IIFYM, it allows for multiple interpretations without unnecessary restriction.”

Yes, there are some diets like low-carb, paleo, or clean eating, that when done correctly, can benefit fat loss. However, the marketing and perpetuation of “extreme measures for extreme results” has sullied what are otherwise sound nutritional principles.

There are a lot of great people, doing great things, and helping a lot of people in this industry. But there are also those out to make a buck, regardless of how it’s done, or if they’re actually helping anyone.

Don’t just assume because something worked for someone else, that’s it’s good for you too.

It’s best to have a program that is tailored to your variables, such as a Custom Macro Blueprint.

 

The post Part 2: Why Fad Diets Are Ruining The Fitness Industry appeared first on IIFYM.



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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Best Back Exercises To Increase Pull-up Volume

 

Lebron may “wow” crowds pulling up for threes, and Migos by “pulling up in a ‘Rari” but for most of us, our best chance of impressing someone with our pull up skill is in the gym. Unfortunately finding someone with sick pull-ups skills is about as rare as finding someone that actually puts their weights up after using them.

Normally the best advice someone gets when looking for the best back exercises for better pull-ups is to simply “perform pull-ups more.” Or to just start by using an assisted pull up machine until they’re able to execute bodyweight pull-ups.

Although practice does make perfect, many considerations are left out that can greatly help gym goers bring up their pull up skills, even if they aren’t in a sports car at the club. Implementing the below considerations and strategies can help you improve aspects of your performance under the bar and out of the gym for better pull-ups and a stronger back.

Also, remember how crucial your diet is while consistently (and otherwise), a great place to start is with our macro calculator.

Determine Your Baseline

Before you get to work improving your pull-ups, it’s a good idea to first determine what exactly you’re working with. Few people walk onto a basketball court and immediately start draining shots and slam-dunking. In the gym, performing pull-ups can be compared to hitting three-pointers in basketball.

The shot itself may be incredibly similar to close range shots, but you aren’t likely to succeed behind the arch until you’ve first mastered shots around the paint.

If you’re just getting into a regular weight training routine, don’t be disappointed if you can’t immediately rep out multiple pull-ups. It may be one of the best back exercises, but it’s also one of the hardest. Just like those three-point shots, it takes time to reach that level.

It may require some months of consistent, balanced weight training programming before you can properly execute a pull-up, and if that’s the case, that’s totally fine.

Once you’ve been weight training consistently for some time though, it can be helpful to test out your pull-up proficiency. Doing so can give an idea of where you’re currently at and better evaluate what the best back exercises are to begin helping you improve.

The Test

 

best back exercises

 

The best way to test yourself is to simply find a pull-up bar and attempt to execute one, or as many body weight pull-ups as you can execute. The not-so-simple part of this test is making sure you’re actually performing your pull-up properly.

A lot of people can swing, strain and struggle their way above the bar, but fewer people actually perform a pull up in the manner it’s intended. When looking to first test out your pull-up skills, consider the below pointers.

Place your hands in a pronated (over hand) grip, slightly outside of shoulder width. Feel free to use a small box or step if you happen to be shorter and need help getting up to the bar. It’s better to use a step and make sure your set up is correct than to jump up to the bar and eliminate that opportunity to start strong.

Once you are set up and hanging from the bar, work to fully retract your shoulder blades before beginning to pull. This can be difficult for those new to retracting their shoulder blades and is something we’ll cover later in this article.

However, think of it as the opposite of shrugging- push your shoulder blades down and back. Doing this will help you better engage your back muscles and not rely too heavily on your arms to do the work.

What to Do With Your Feet Placement and Movement

Either cross your feet at the ankles and allow them to fall slightly behind your body, or put your feet together, legs straight, and maintain a nearly straight line with your torso. Whichever feels more comfortable to you, the main focus is keeping your feet stable throughout the pull-up and prevent yourself from overarching your lower back which can place undue stress on your spine.

If we’re creatures of habits, our muscles are machines of patterns.

Although swinging your feet throughout the repetition can make it easier by providing body English to the movement, it removes a considerable amount of activation within your back muscles. Try to consistently keep your body stable throughout the movement for better muscle activation and long-term benefits from the exercise.

Test Results Explained

Once you have a hang on the proper execution of a standard pull up, you can now test yourself by seeing how many pull-ups you can properly perform before hitting muscular failure or proper form begins diminishing. The number of pull-ups, or lack thereof, can determine the direction to take training and the best back exercises to perform moving forward, this article will include progressions for two different categories of test results:

  1. Completed 1 or fewer pull-ups
  2. Completed 2 or more pull-ups

The following sections will cover considerations that can greatly help both categories of athletes looking to improve their pull-up performance. Later in this article, the training templates and suggestions will be given to both categories individually. Regardless of where your current pull-up progress is, we’ve got you covered!

Principle of Specificity

 

best back exercises

 

Although too often used as blanket advice by average gym goers, there is some merit to simply “perform more pull-ups” when looking to get better at them. This is true not because that’s all you need to do, but instead to highlight the principle of specificity within training performance.

If we’re creatures of habits, our muscles are machines of patterns. Attempt a movement for the first time, whether that is a dance move, an agility test or a resistance training exercise, and you’ll likely feel a bit unsteady and clumsy. Practice that same movement consistently for a few weeks, and it’ll soon begin feeling like second nature.

This is because our muscular and nervous systems are closely intertwined. Without our muscles, the signals received and sent through our nervous systems would never lead to actions. Likewise, without a nervous system firing properly, our muscles would just be a motionless pile of tissue.

Together, that’s when the magic happens. As we begin practicing a movement pattern, our nervous and muscular system becomes more and more proficient at working together (1, 2).

Consistency is Crucial

Our nervous system can more efficiently send out the correct signal, and our muscles can more accurately respond to execute that movement pattern more consistently and correctly. Essentially, sometimes the best back exercises for athletes are simply the ones you’re being consistent in executing.

IIFYM blueprint

Our bodies first learn how to efficiently execute a movement through improved neuromuscular activation, and then begin adapting to execute the movement more forcefully through muscle hypertrophy (3).

This said it can be easy to understand why it’s so important to regularly practice the best back exercises for our goals. Baseball players take batting practice constantly, basketball players throw up thousands of shots each offseason, and competitive weightlifters perform hundreds of reps each month to become better at their primary lifts.

Frequency Matters

One of the best back exercises for better pull-ups is simply doing pull-ups more often. If you’re new to training (≤ 6 months) then training back once per week is a great starting point that can produce a lot of initial growth. However, for those training longer than 6 months, consider increasing frequency to 2x/week, spread evenly throughout the week.

This frequency can be great for better increasing specificity toward your goals and optimally building a better back, and better pull-up performance.

Training a body part 2-3/week is great for long-term muscle and strength progress due to increase motor pattern efficiency, but also through more optimized muscle protein synthesis (MPS). After a resistance training, MPS is elevated for around 36-48 hours post-workout.By hitting the best back exercises for our goals every 2-3 days, we maximize the spikes in MPS we promote between workouts for better total muscle growth. (4, 5)

Drop for a Better Pull

 

best back exercises

 

Snoop Dogg would surely endorse this section because anyone looking to improve their pull-up performance should assess their current body comp, and in most cases, drop it like it’s hot. Even though you’re looking for the best back exercises to improve our pull-ups, body comp evaluations can help you become more efficient at any exercise you perform.

This doesn’t mean crash dieting. On the contrary actually, gradual dieting approaches better retain muscle tissue and strength. Anyone looking to improve their pull-ups should assess their body fat levels. Then consider a mini cut or brief dieting phase as you continue your pull-up pursuit.

Having some body fat is necessary and eating in a caloric surplus for extended periods of time is especially necessary for ensuring optimal muscle growth and strength improvements. However, there comes a point, which differs for each individual slightly, where too much body fat isn’t detrimental.

Excess fat can actually just make our movement patterns less efficient by decreasing relative strength. The force we can produce relative to our own body weight.

“Looking for help with your diet? IIFYM Macro Coaches are here to help you!”

It can be pretty obvious why this is especially important for pull-up performance. If your strength levels are the same in both scenarios, but in scenario ‘A’ you had 200lbs to pull up and scenario B you had 185lbs to pull up, then scenario ‘B’ is the clear preference for someone with the goal of improving their pull-up count.

Optimizing body composition essentially makes the best back exercises better by improving the efficiency we are able to perform them.

Slow but Sure Wins the Race

Dieting for an extended period of time can eventually negatively affect strength levels and training performance. However strategically performing a brief dieting phase, or “mini cut” can allow athletes to reduce excess body fat and improve their training efficiency.

A “mini cut” or longer fat loss phase can be a success with a Custom Macro Blueprint.

A very effective strategy is to find a local facility that offers BODPOD of DXA body composition scanning. If unavailable, even assessing your body composition through progress photos compared to previous, leaner body weights can help you get an idea on where your current body composition is.

For anyone interested in learning more about how to determine whether it’s a good time to diet, or continue with your offseason, another article of mine, “THE TRANSITION: TO START CUTTING FAT OR BULKING?” is a great resource to check out here on IIFYM.com.

Also, be sure to check out the free IIFYM Macro Calculator if just getting started with managing your diet.

Sync Up

 

best back exercises

 

Our bodies are basically like Apple products. Our mind is the MacBook and muscles the iPhone. Not only does performing a specific movement consistently improve our ability to efficiently execute that movement, so too does it improve our ability to sync up our mind-muscle connection.

Much like syncing up our iPhones without laptops for better productivity. A phrase used often in fitness magazines but rarely explained in detail- our mind-muscle connection is essentially our ability to mentally “tune in” to our bodies.

Watch a young, aspiring bodybuilder try to fully flex their back muscles for the first time and you’re almost sure to see them struggle. This isn’t because they’re clumsy, but instead due to the lack of familiarity in how to actually activate their back muscles on command.

Give that athlete a few weeks of consistently focusing on flexing their back muscles and perform movements that help them improve that ability and they’ll soon be hitting full lat spread poses every time they walk past a mirror.

The Mind Games Continue

Once again, this is because our minds and muscles are closely connected. As we gain experience weight training, flexing for poses and stabilizing our core- we gain a better ability to use our muscles more effectively, and physically execute the movement patterns we are thinking about.

With many athletes, performing pull-ups early on entails using almost entirely arm muscles and very little, if any, back muscles.

This ultimately limits their ability to execute pull-ups since the back muscles are much more complex, larger and able to produce much more force compared to the biceps. Without completely incorporating the muscles within the back, athletes are greatly limiting their pull-up potential. They instead transform one of the best back exercises into an inefficient arm exercise.

Not only will balanced back training improve your pull-up performance, but it will also allow for better overall symmetry and proportion in your physique.

If you are able to do a few pull-ups, but afterward barely feel any fatigue in your back, this may apply to you. Luckily, if that is the case, there are some exercises and strategies you include to help better incorporate your back muscles. Enabling you to get the absolute most out of the best back exercises and greatly reduce frustration along the way.

Tips for a Better Mind-Muscle Connection

When working on improving the mind-muscle connection with your back, it’s helpful to incorporate a few basics exercises into your warm-up routine before back days. Although progressively lifting heavier weight is important for muscle growth, it can be tempting to neglect muscle activation for the sake of just moving a lot of weight.

After a general warm up, below are some of the best back exercises to help you further warm up and begin each workout with activation in mind.With each, the main goal isn’t to lift a lot of weight but to simply focus on maximizing the involvement of your back muscles with each rep.

Execute these movements with a slow rep speed, full contraction, and a 1-2 second squeeze with each rep. Focusing on the squeeze can help athletes gain a better feel for what it’s like to fully incorporate the various, major back muscles and lead to better activation during the actual working sets of the workout.

Really feel your back working with each set. The result is better muscle recruitment and greater long-term progress.

When approaching the best back exercise form, treat it like “elbowing” someone standing behind you when performing rowing movements. Think more about using your back, and your arms as simply attachments to hold the weight, and not actually to move the weight.

During back exercises, your back muscles are doing the majority of the work, your arms just happen to be there so your hands can hold the handle.

The Best Back Exercises for Improved Muscle Activation

 

best back exercises

 

Activation Exercise Sets Reps
Band Pull-Aparts 2 12-15
Kneeling Cable Face Pulls 2 12-15
Standing Rope Lat “Pullovers” 2 12-15

With training experience and muscle activation sets, you can improve your ability to activate your back muscles more effectively. In turn, applying that to your pull-up sets can help you incorporate the muscles capable of producing the most force, and stimulate the back muscles that pull-ups are designed to strengthen and grow in the first place.

The more you can connect with your back muscles and less you emphasize your arm involvement, the greater the potential for improvement in perfecting your pull-ups.

After all, we can perform the best back exercises in the world, but if we aren’t performing them optimally, we risk leaving a lot of results on the table, or in this case- the pull-up bar.

Build Your Back Base

Before we get into some pull-up progression strategies, it should be noted that a key to successful pull-up progress is first having a solid based of overall strength- namely bicep, latisimus dorsi, rhomboids, teres major and teres minor.

IIFYM blueprint

Along with practicing pull-ups, it’s a good idea to include a variety of other back exercises in your training routine to help set and continue building your strength base. Not only will balanced back training improve your pull-up performance, but it will also allow for better overall symmetry and proportion in your physique.

Using our list of some of the best back exercises in each movement pattern, try to include at least one exercise from each category in your weekly back training.

The Best Back Exercises and Movement Patterns

Rowing Variations

  • 1 Arm Dumbbell Rows
  • Machine Back Rows
  • Seated Cable Rows
  • Pendlay Rows
  • T Bar Rows

Vertical Pulling Variations

  • Seated Close Grip Pull Down
  • Seated Pronated Pull Down
  • 1 Arm Cable Pull Down
  • Pull-Up Variations

Shoulder Abduction & Elevation Variations

  • Kneeling Cable Face Pulls
  • Reverse Pec Dec Fly
  • Band Pull-Aparts
  • Chest Supported or Bent Over Dumbbell Reverse Fly
  • Dumbbell & Barbell Shrugs

Major Compound Movements

  • Barbell Deadlifts
  • Rack Deadlifts
  • Deficit Deadlifts

Workout Strategy – Category 1: (Completed 1 or fewer pull-ups.)

 

best back exercises

 

We all start somewhere, and especially with pull-ups, not being amazing at repping them out is certainly understandable. After incorporating the best back exercises and considerations from above, there are some category-specific workout strategies that can help as you continue complimenting your pull-up pursuits.

For this example, we will assume you are training back, in some capacity, twice each week. Let’s say Tuesday and Friday are training sessions you’re normally including some back work. Including pull-up, specific work early in both sessions, and focusing on variations best suited to prime you for better, complete pull-ups can go a long way in pointing you in the right direction.

Having your pull-up exercises early in your sessions can also help you put the most attention and energy toward your pull-up priority.

Note on Eccentric Training

When unable to perform many or any, pull-ups a typically suggested antidote is to begin by performing eccentric pull-ups. That is, using a small step to get into the “up” position and simply lowering yourself slowly back down.

Eccentric exercise can be a great step in improving pull-up performance but isn’t likely the best first option. Although it can induce solid muscle growth and improve motor patterns, eccentric exercise is also likely to produce significant muscle damage to new trainees.

The main point is to be patient and operate at your own pace.

Although they make the list of best back exercises for better pull-ups, it’s important to make sure not to overuse them early on to allow for sufficient recovery from each workout. (6,7)

Week 1-2

Assisted Pull-Up Machine

Day 1: 3 Sets x 8-10 Reps
Day 2: 3 Sets x 4-6 Reps

*Gradually reducing assistance each workout

Week 3-4

Day 1: Banded Pull-Ups

4 Sets x 6-8 Reps

Day 2: Eccentric Pull-Ups

2-3 Sets x 4-6 Reps (4 second eccentric)

Week 5-6

Day 1: Standard Pull-Up Singles

6-8 Sets x 1 Rep

Day 2: Banded Pull-Ups

3-4 Sets x 6-8 Reps

Week 7 – As Needed

Day 1 & 2: Standard Pull-Ups + Banded Pull Up Complex

2-4 Sets x 2-8 Reps

*Perform each set by first completing as many standard, unassisted pull-ups as possible, then transition immediately into banded pull-ups to finish each sets’ rep scheme

 

best back exercises

 

Once capable of completing approximately 2 sets of 4+ repetitions 

Standard Pull-Ups, 2-4 Sets x 4-8+ Reps

This isn’t just some of the best back exercises to improve pull-up performance. The program is also laid out in a way that each exercise builds upon the previous one.

Assisted pull-ups with a machine help trainees add just enough assistance to gain better motor pattern improvement and gradually decrease assistance until ultimately needing very little assistance to execute the exercise. This point does not only improve strength but a better feeling for the movement in general.

At this point, banded pull-ups feel more natural, and confidence has grown as you approach a traditional pull-up bar. Moving forward, each successive step helps to build on that initial progress, inching closer and closer to full, traditional pull-ups.

“The best back exercises, to begin with, are those that best fit your current training status”

The key point to remember is that each level of progression may require more or less time than this outline suggests. For some, it may require a few more weeks in each level to really get the skill down and gain sufficient strength. For others, already able to perform 1 pull up successfully, it may be somewhat easier to reach the point of traditional + banded pull-up sets.

The main point is to be patient and operate at your own pace. Progress doesn’t happen overnight, but with each successful workout, you’re that much closer to your goals.

This is also true with your diet, being patient is key. Follow a sustainable program with your Custom Macro Blueprint.

Workout Strategy – Category 2: (Completed 2 or more pull-ups.)

The progression strategy from category 1 won’t drastically change for category 2. What will change will be where you can begin in the outline, and our list of the best back exercises to perform as you advance later in your progression.

If you’re already capable of performing at least 2 traditional pull-ups, it can be helpful, to begin with, pull-up singles to increase total pull-up working volume, then progress toward a variety of pull-up variations that can complement your overall strength progress.

These variations will stimulate a different proportion of overall back musculature and simply keep your workouts interesting, as you become a pull-up pro.

Week 1 & 2

Day 1 & 2: Standard Pull Up Singles

6-8 Sets x 1 Rep

Week 3 & 4

Day 1 & 2: Standard Pull Up Singles & Doubles

6-8 Sets x 1-2 Reps

Week 5 – 8 (or as needed)

Day 1 & 2: Standard Pull-Ups + Banded Pull Up Complex

2-4 Sets x 2-8 Reps

*Perform each set by first completing as many standard, unassisted pull-ups as possible, then transition immediately into banded pull-ups to finish each sets’ rep scheme

 

upper body

 

Once capable of completing approximately 2 sets of 6-8 repetitions

Day 1: Standard Pull-Ups, 2-6 Sets of 6-8+ Reps

Day 2: Advanced Pull-Up Variation, 2-6 Sets of 6-8+ Reps

At this point, it’s safe to say you’re standard pull up foundation is pretty strong. Once you become confident in completing multiple sets (6+ reps each) of traditional pull-ups, it can be a great idea to periodically program variations of traditional pull-ups to compliment your training. Some effective variations include:

The Best Back Exercise for Advanced Pull-Up Progression

  • Neutral Grip Pull-Ups
  • V Bar Pull-ups (V Bar attachment placed over a straight pull-up bar)
  • Pull-Ups with Static Holds at the Top of Each Rep
  • Chin Ups
  • Weighted Pull-ups & Chin-Ups (weight belt for added resistance)
  • Olympic Ring Pull-Ups (increase your focus on stabilization)

Pulling (up) all the Stops

There is a multitude of paths you can take to reach pull-up proficiency. The distance, enjoyment and relative ease of the journey may differ.

Ultimately as long as you are progressively getting stronger in an organized training routine based around the best back exercises for your goals, keeping pull-up variations as a major training focus, and properly adjusting your diet to meet your body composition goals, pull-up performance is certain to improve.

Regardless of your exact routine, using the above considerations and progression schemes can help you get where you’re going quicker through adequate building blocks and the best back exercises shown to facilitate muscle growth and strength in a balanced way. Lebron can keep his pull-up threes; you’ve got pull-ups at your gym covered now!

 

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

9 Foods That Are Beneficial For Cognitive Health

 

Sometimes we need reminding that food has powerful impacts on our health. What if I told you that blueberries can make you have a better memory? What if I told you dark chocolate could improve your concentration?

And what if I told you that to date, 99.6% of pharmaceutical drugs developed to combat neurological diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease [AD] have failed? I think I have your attention.

This article will give you a rundown of the nutrients and foods with the strongest evidence for neuroprotection, and for improving cognitive function.

(Side note: understanding how to fuel your mind and body starts with a proper intake, our macro calculator is a great starting point.)

1. Fish

 

cognitive

 

The strongest evidence for any nutrients protecting against cognitive decline lies with the marine omega-3 fatty acids, EPA & DHA; as little as 1 oily fish meal per week is associated with less incidence of AD and dementia (1; 2; 3).

The primary benefit appears to derive from the fatty acid DHA, the main fatty acid in brain tissue that is found highly concentrated in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, herrings and anchovies (3).

A consistent feature of this research is that the effects of marine omega-3 fatty acids are preventative, and intake throughout the lifespan is the strongest association with protection against cognitive decline (4; 5). At a minimal intake of 1-2 meals per week, this is a simple dietary addition to any IIFYM strategy.

Your Dose: 3 x 90-120g servings of oily fish per week.

2. Dark Green Leafy Vegetables

 

cognitive health

 

Several nutrients vital for cognitive health are provided by this broad food group, which encompasses foods like spinach, kale, Swiss chard, lettuce, rocket, cabbage, broccoli etc. In particular, vitamin E and vitamin B9.

Next to the omega-3 fish oils, high dietary intake of vitamin E is strongly associated with lower risk of neurodegenerative disease (6).

An interesting feature of vitamin E research worth paying attention to is supplementation in controlled trials has failed to improve cognitive function (7; 8). Vitamin E thus appears to be a nutrient where dietary intake comes first.

Our client’s macronutrient intakes allow for plenty of Vitamin E consumption with their Custom Macro Blueprint.

Vitamin B9 is another nutrient abundant in dark green leafy vegetables, and the B-vitamin family have been implicated in neurological disease, due to their multiplicity of roles in neurological processes (9).

Additional Cognitive Benefits to Dark Leafy Greens

The mechanism may be through lowering homocysteine levels; traditionally considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, high homocysteine levels have been associated with risk of AD (9). Recent controlled trials have found improvements in cognitive function with supplementation of vitamins B6, B9 and B12, via reducing homocysteine levels (10; 11).

Vitamin K is also abundant in vegetables of the dark green variety and is an oft-overlooked nutrient in brain health. Higher circulating vitamin K levels are associated with less cognitive decline with ageing (12).

Dark green leafy veggies serve another purpose for our IIFYM coaches: adding bulk to clients diet plan’s during fat loss phases.

With that said, it’s nice to able to eat a lot of something during a diet, and with this low- calorie food group, you not only get density for your diet but nutrient density for your brain and overall health.

Your Dose: 1 large greens salad – about 2 cups chopped vegetables – daily.

3. Berries

 

cognitive memory

 

Specifically, blueberries and strawberries have been singled out as particularly beneficial for cognitive health (13). The reason lies in a group of non-nutrient compounds known as flavonoids. Flavonoids are a diverse group of plant chemicals that are highly concentrated in berries, grapes (yes, this includes red wine), cacao and teas, and high dietary intake of flavonoids are associated with lower risk of dementia and AD (14; 15).

Citrus fruits are home to another member of the flavonoid family, namely the compounds hesperidin and narirutin, both of which have been shown to result in boosted brain function.

Anthocyanins, a subtype of flavonoid, have been shown to improve cognitive function across the lifespan. Supplementing elderly adults suffering mild cognitive impairment with anthocyanin-rich concord grape and blueberry juice, respectively, improved their cognitive function when consumed daily over 12-weeks (16; 17).

In otherwise healthy children aged 7-10yrs, supplementing with blueberry anthocyanins – equivalent to 120-240g fresh berries – improved memory performance acutely assessed 6-hrs after ingestion of blueberries at breakfast (18).

Eating blueberries, strawberries, and dark-skinned berries daily is a simple, low-calorie and carb, easily IIFYM-compliant way to boost your memory and cognitive function.

Your Dose: 120g blueberries daily.

4. Citrus Fruits

 

cognitive

 

Alarmism over the fruit sugar, fructose, may have chased orange juice away from your breakfast table. Your brain may be calling it back. Citrus fruits are home to another member of the flavonoid family, namely the compounds hesperidin and narirutin, both of which have been shown to result in boosted brain function.

In a randomised, placebo-controlled crossover design trial [the gold-standard in research], consuming 500ml orange juice with 549mg hesperidin and 60mg narirutin [total 45g sugars, FYI] for 8 weeks improved executive function – the brain tasks which regulate attention, focus and organisation – an effect that had not been measured in other flavonoid studies (19).

From an IIFYM perspective, commercially available orange juice may be a bit of a waste of your macros. 45g of carbs in OJ could be 300g of potatoes, and you’ll be fuller for a lot longer on a fat loss diet with the latter.

Setting up your diet for satiety and adherence is a common issue our IIFYM coaches work through with clients. With the main resource being a Custom Macro Blueprint to alleviate these issues.

The positive feature of the studies into flavonoid-rich citrus is that they used otherwise healthy adults, without any cognitive impairment, and found improvements in global assessments of brain function (19; 20).

Cognitive Benefits with a Caveat

These studies do, however, come with a caveat: it would be hard to find a commercially available orange juice with the same hesperidin content (circa 500mg). Citrus fruits contain an average of 15mg/100g fruit flesh, and analysis of commercially available orange juices has shown a range of 12-15mg/100ml (21).

Thankfully, then there is a solution from Chinese researchers to obtain an equivalent dose of hesperidin used in studies: sun-drying tangerine peels, which contain the highest concentration of hesperidin at 50-100mg/g (22). 5-10g of sun-dried tangerine peels will give you an equivalent dose of hesperidin used in the research.

Your dose: 5-10g sun-dried tangerine peels daily or regular citrus fruit consumption.

5. Dark Chocolate

 

cognitive

 

Need an excuse to eat chocolate? Your brain health is one. The caveat here is that it is dark chocolate [min.70% cacao] that we’re talking about, as the benefit is derived from cocoa flavonols [see a theme with these foods?].

Cocoa also contains caffeine and another brain-boosting plant chemical known as theobromine. The synergistic effect of these phytochemicals has led to some interesting results; improvements in visual acuity, working memory, attentiveness and response time (23).

IIFYM blueprint

And if you need that mid-afternoon cognitive lift, without the over-stimulation or sleep-disrupting effects of caffeine late in the day, then dark chocolate may give you the lift you need. In a randomised, placebo-controlled trial in healthy adults, consumption of 520mg cocoa flavonols – equivalent to around 20g dark chocolate – reduced subjective mental fatigue, where subjects underwent a battery of cognitive test performed 2-minutes apart (24).

All in all, this happens to be both a delicious and, from an IIFYM perspective, minimally invasive means of boosting cognition.

Your Dose: 20-40g dark chocolate containing 80-90% cacao daily.

6. Cruciferous Vegetables

 

cognitive

 

I know, I mentioned some of these – kale, cabbage – in no.2 above, but the reality is that the Brassica family of veg deserve their own slot, due to the presence of a family of compounds known as glucosinolates. In particular, a compound known as sulforaphane looks particularly promising for brain health.

Brain inflammation is gaining recognition as a cause of depression, and sulforaphane has demonstrated similar efficacy to pharmaceutical anti-depressants, an effect mediated through its potent anti-inflammatory action (25).

The effects of sulforaphane may convince you never to pass on the Brussels sprouts again at Thanksgiving: the highest food sources of sulforaphane are Brussels sprouts, broccoli sprouts, cabbage and raw broccoli.

The point from no.2 also applies here: this food group count minimally against your carb and calorie goals from your Custom Macro Blueprint, and are easily incorporated in the recommended doses daily.

Sulforaphane protects against the accumulation of amyloid-β, the plaque which builds up in AD, and oxidative damage to the brain (26; 27).

This is yet another example of the preventative effects of nutrition in relation to brain health, as a diet rich in sulforaphane in youth protects against later cognitive impairment (28).

Your Dose: 50g broccoli sprouts; 100g Brussels sprouts; 250g broccoli; daily intake. NB: consume raw, or lightly steamed – never boil.

7. Green Tea

 

cognitive

 

You can drink your way to a better brain, too. For green tea, not unlike dark chocolate, the effect is a result of a combination of compounds, namely green tea catechins, caffeine, and the amino acid theanine, which is unique to tea (29).

Recent evidence has shown that catechins and theanine improved cognitive function over a 16-week period (30). Neuroimaging shows green tea significantly increases calmness, shown through increases across alpha brain bandwidths, which is the brain frequency associated with relaxed attention (31).

Caffeine positively impacts mood and cognitive processes and interestingly can promote neuroplasticity

Green tea consistently shows improvements in mood, alertness, and attention in healthy adults (29). Interestingly, these effects appear to be dependent on interactions between caffeine, theanine and catechins, as the compounds in isolation are less potent (29). The good news? No need to consider green tea within your IIFYM framework: the drinks, my friend, are free.

Your Dose: 3 cups per day (each containing 3-5g leaves dry weight)

8. Eggs

 

cognitive

 

The concern over diet and cholesterol is a concern our IIFYM coaches hear regularly. However, they also have the evidence-based answer: the evidence no longer supports associations between eggs, dietary cholesterol, and blood cholesterol levels (32).

This has been put to bed in dietary fat research, but still, hasn’t trickled down to the lay public. Even in obese subjects, consumption of 3 eggs per day improved their lipid profile – there was no change in LDL-cholesterol and increased HDL-cholesterol (33).

So, with that aside, what do eggs do for your brain? Provide the richest dietary source of choline, the raw material required to synthesize the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is responsible for learning and memory.

Higher dietary choline intake is associated with better memory performance and reduced risk of neurodegenerative disease (34). From an IIFYM standpoint, a 4-egg omelette may take up a lot of macros. Our coaches at IIFYM, in this case, will recommend smaller servings for a client, but more regularly.

It truly depends on your allotted fat intake, which you can find out with a Custom Macro Blueprint.

Your Dose: Up to 12 eggs per week (average 2 per day, 6-days a week).

9.  Coffee

 

cognitive

 

I know you were waiting with bated breath to see if it made the list, and it deservedly does, due to the presence of multiple compounds which exert beneficial effects on cognitive function. Coffee contains caffeine, cholinergic compounds [i.e. boosting acetylcholine] and other plant compounds like theobromine [which you’ll recall from dark chocolate/cacao].

Where our coaches at IIFYM notice, many clients tripping up on fat loss diets is a cognitive dissonance toward liquid calories: “coffee” does not mean the 200kcal Grande Starbucks caramel latte.

With that said, there is strong evidence that habitual coffee consumption protects against Parkinson’s Disease (35). Caffeine positively impacts mood and cognitive processes and interestingly can promote neuroplasticity i.e. the ability of the brain to change and develop new connections (35).

Evidence suggests caffeine reduces inflammation in the brain, providing a protective mechanism against depression and neurodegenerative disease (36). As with green tea, the drinks are free: just remember that from both the cognition perspective and the “free” IIFYM standpoint, we are talking about black coffee.

Your Dose: 1-2 cups per day.

Conclusion

You may have noticed that a theme of much of the research in this area is preventative effects of consumption. Ultimately, the earlier your diet includes a consistent intake of the doses of these foods – or more particularly the beneficial compounds within them – the better.

From an IIFYM perspective, one of the uniform benefits of these foods, perhaps except for eggs and oily fish, is that they come with minuscule caloric weight. Berries, greens, and cruciferous veg can all be included daily without detracting much from your diet plans and weight loss goals.

Green tea and black coffee are free, but if your weakness is the matcha latte or pumpkin-spiced frap, obviously, the purpose of the IIFYM framework is that you can have it – just make sure to plug it into your macro tracker, liquid calories still count.

Nutrition is vital to cognition, so be sure to take this aspect of your brain health seriously, as prevention remains the only cure.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Best Core Exercises to Protect You from Injury

 

We all have abs, yet not everyone is able to achieve that sacred ripped 6-pack. While we could discuss how to achieve that defined midsection (which we do briefly below), this IIFYM article is going to focus more on the functioning of your abdominals, rather than the aesthetics.

This brings to question what the abdominals are intended to do, and that is stabilization. Without our core, our upper and lower body would be working against each other rather than on a uniformed front.

Our core is essentially what keeps up upright so that our upper body isn’t flopping forward or arching backward, causing serious injuries—especially to something like the spine. So, how do we keep our core strengthened to aid us in everyday tasks?

Well, this IIFYM article is going to showcase the best core exercises you should definitely add to your workout routine.

Can You See Me Now?

Clearly, abs are made in the kitchen with a solid diet plan. We have heard that time and time again in magazines and even in articles here on our IIFYM.com site—and it’s 100% the truth.

If your diet plan isn’t on point, the ability to see any type of definition around your midsection is slim to none, regardless of your activity level.

The best piece of advice I can give when tightening up your diet plan to help shed unwanted body fat and expose eye-catching abs is to pay attention to your macros and be accountable for everything you put in your mouth.

 

best core exercises

 

With IIFYM, you aren’t as worried about the commonly deemed “good” and “bad” foods, more than anything it comes down to if you’re hitting your numbers. If you aren’t sure where to start, IIFYM has some great programs available for you on the website to help get you moving in the right direction.

If you are more of the type to figure things out on your own, you are more than welcome to utilize our macro calculator.

This quick and easy IIFYM calculator will lay out how many calories you need per day to achieve your goal—whether it be weight loss, increase muscle mass, or performance driven. From there you can even get a breakdown of your macros if you wish.

Anatomy Lesson

Before breaking down the best core exercises, let’s first discuss the makeup of the core so we understand exactly what muscles we are working, where they are located, as well as their function.

As with any exercise, you want to go through the full range of motion using strict and proper form.

I’m a huge advocate for understanding the reasons why you are doing something as well as where the muscles are so you can truly envision squeezing and working the individual muscles versus going in blindly utilizing the best core exercises without at least a little knowledge on what you’re working.

Rectus Abdominis

Your rectus abdominis is just a fancy name for your abs. When in your head you visualize a 6-pack, that’s exactly what we are describing here.

The function of your rectus abdominis is to pull your upper torso towards your hips. To visualize this movement, think of an abdominal crunch (which just so happens to have not made the list of best core exercises). The rectus abdominis is located from your sternum and travels straight down to your pelvis bone.

Obliques

 

best core exercises

 

The oblique muscles are what give you the ability to twist and tilt. To visualize the purpose of these muscles, imagine holding your arms out in front of you while you are standing erect. Without moving your lower body, you twist your upper body to the left or right side without needing to move your feet.

This side to side motion (twisting) is due to the strength of the oblique muscles. The five best core exercises mentioned later in this IIFYM.com article will certainly help you strengthen this muscle group.

Oblique is a generalized term considering there are three different types of oblique muscles that help make up your core. You have the external obliques, internal obliques, and transverse obliques.

To visualize the different oblique muscles, imagine your external obliques running from the middle of your pelvis (below your belly button), and running diagonally to your sides. The internal obliques do the opposite where they are found from the outer edges of the pelvis and run diagonally towards the centerline of your body.

breastfeeding calories

Last, but not least, the transverse obliques run left to right through your core. So, as you can see, you can think of your obliques like a mesh that travels in all directions to help keep your upper body stable.

Serratus

The serratus is a muscle group that is found from your lats and travels to between your front abs. If you can envision a bodybuilder, think of where they pose with their arms above their head.

When looking at them from the front, the serratus are the long strands of muscle that you see traveling from their lats diagonally towards their midsection—sometimes almost looking like feathers. The function of the serratus is to pull the scapula forward and rotate slightly.

Envision the movement like throwing a baseball or pushing someone where it’s pulling your shoulder blade forward.

Intercostals

While not really talked about when you think about the core, these smaller muscles are found between the sides of the rib cage and aid in elevating and depressing the ribs.

The intercostals are activated when you engage your rectus abdominis and move/twist from side to side such as when doing a bicycle ab exercise on the floor where your legs move as if they are pedaling a bicycle and your elbows move across your body to touch the opposite side’s knee.

If you want to see these muscles and get as lean as possible, IIFYM has everything from a 90-day weight loss challenge, coaching, Custom Macro Blueprints and even recipes that you can utilize. If you haven’t checked out the IIFYM.com programs, I highly recommend you take a few minutes to see how they can take your health and fitness to the next level.

The Best Core Exercises

 

best core exercises

 

As with any exercise, you want to go through the full range of motion using strict and proper form. The articles found here on IIFYM.com are to help keep you safe and working towards your goals. When form is compromised, injuries can occur which is counterproductive to what you are trying to achieve. By finding out what the best core exercises are, you can protect yourself from injuries.

While we could sit here and discuss our favorite exercises that we THINK are putting us in a position for success, I’ve found a study conducted by San Diego State University that looked at a long list of exercises and have found the below to be the best core exercises, and ones that we should all include in our abdominal routines to build a stronger core.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is standing behind the five best core exercises found in the SDSU study…

All of the best core exercises mentioned below should be completed in the 8-15 rep range and can have a total of 3 sets.

*It should be noted that we at IIFYM.com, as well as the author, would advise you to consult with your doctor before engaging in any new diet plan or exercise program, including the ones found here on IIFYM.com

Top 5 Most Effective Core Exercises:

  • Bicycle Crunch
  • Captain’s Chair
  • Stability Ball Crunch
  • Vertical Leg Crunch
  • Reverse Crunch

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is standing behind the five best core exercises found in the SDSU study and trying to get these exercises out in front of the public to utilize so they aren’t spinning their wheels on exercises that aren’t as effective.

ACE even documented how to perform each of the best core exercises above, which we are sharing with you below.

Bicycle Crunch

Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground. Put your hands beside your head. Bring knees up to about 45-degree angle and slowly go through a bicycle pedal motion.

Touch your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee. Keep even, relaxed breathing throughout.

Captain’s Chair

Stabilize your upper body by gripping the hand holds and lightly pressing your lower back against the back pad. The starting position begins with you holding your body up with legs dangling below. Now slowly lift your knees in toward your chest. The motion should be controlled and deliberate as you bring the knees up and return them back to the starting position.

Stability Ball Crunch

 

best core exercises

 

Sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor. Let the ball roll back slowly. Now lie back on the ball until your thighs and torso are parallel with the floor. Cross your arms over your chest and slightly tuck your chin in toward your chest. Contract your abdominals raising your torso to no more than 45 degrees.

For better balance, spread your feet wider apart. To challenge the obliques, make the exercise less stable by moving your feet closer together. Exhale as you contract; inhale as you return to the starting position.

Vertical Leg Crunch

Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground. Put your hands behind your head for support. Extend your legs straight up in the air, crossed at the ankles with a slight bend in the knee. Contract your abdominal muscles by lifting your torso toward your knees.

Make sure to keep your chin off your chest with each contraction. Exhale as you contract upward; inhale as you return to the starting position.

Reverse Crunch

Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground. Put your hands beside your head or extend them out flat to your sides—whatever feels most comfortable. Crossing your feet at the ankles, lift your feet off the ground to the point where your knees create a 90-degree angle.

Once in this position, press your lower back on the floor as you contract your abdominal muscles. Your hips will slightly rotate and your legs will reach toward the ceiling with each contraction. Exhale as you contract; inhale as you return to the starting position.

Now that you know what it takes to work your abdominals effectively through the best core exercises, let one of our IIFYM coaches build your Custom Macro Blueprint to help speed up the process and allow you to reach your end goal quicker.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

New Lifters: Embrace The Muscle, Forget The Scale

 

You recently incorporated weight lifting into your exercise routine. During the short time you have been lifting weights you notice that your clothes are fitting differently and visually you can see some muscular development. However, the scale isn’t moving.

At this point it is common to question:
“What is happening?”
“Am I actually making progress?”

This is a common point of confusion for those who are new to lifting weights.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to dive into this scenario and clarify how to assess progress when beginning to lift weights for the first time.

If you’re here, then you most likely have your macronutrient breakdown. If not, then start with the IIFYM macro calculator.

Benefits of Lifting Weights

 

muscular development

 

Before we dive into what happens when an individual begins to lift weights, it is important to discuss reasons why weight lifting is an important part of an exercise routine.

For those looking to maximize body composition change, lifting weights to increase muscular development is going to be a key piece of the puzzle. A recent analysis of over 200 diet and weight loss studies concluded that incorporating weight lifting along with an energy deficit resulted in the greatest changes in body composition observed [1].

It is also important to note that spot reduction of body fat is not possible.

This means for those looking to maximize fat loss and muscular development weight lifting should be a part of your plan. In addition to muscular development and the visual changes associated with regular weight training, there are a number of other health benefits associated with lifting weights [2, 3]:

  • Improved Bone Density
  • Reduced Anxiety and Depression
  • Improved Self-Esteem
  • Reductions in Heart Disease and Diabetes Risk
  • Improved Sleep
  • Reduced Pain in Chronic Pain Sufferers
  • Improvements in Cognition with Aging
  • Increased Independence with Aging

Clearly, there are a number of benefits to lifting weights beyond changes in physical appearance and muscular development. Therefore, it would be advisable to include weight lifting into your fitness routine.

What to do in the Gym

 

muscular development

 

When beginning to lift weights, there can be a lot of confusion. With so much information out there, it can be difficult to know what you should be doing in the gym; however, here are a few pointers to those just starting out:

Train Your Entire Body

We all have body parts we would like to improve more than others; however, muscular development across the entire body is going to be important for functionality during daily life and injury prevention.

It is also important to note that spot reduction of body fat is not possible. You will not lose more body fat in a certain region by training it more.

In addition, by training all muscle groups you will increase muscular development and body composition change compared to only training certain body parts.

Furthermore, it is going to look goofy if you have a lot of muscular development in one body part, but not others. Therefore, it will be in your best interest to train your entire body, not just body parts you want to focus on.

Although training is crucial for muscular development, it starts with your diet. Our clients have seen a lot of progress in this manner with a Custom Macro Blueprint.

Learn Good Technique

 

muscular development

 

It is important that a new lifter learn good technique first prior to adding heavy loads to the bar. This will maximize the effectiveness of the lifts performed and minimize injury risk.

Free Weights vs. Machines

Both free weights and machines can be effective for increasing muscular development. Utilizing a combination of both may increase variety in the gym and help keep a new lifter interested and consistent.

Rep Ranges

A wide variety of rep ranges has been shown to increase muscular development [4, 5]. For those interested in maximizing muscular development, incorporating most work in the 6-15 rep range is likely best.

However, there is likely benefit to performing some work in both the <6 and >15 rep ranges as well.

Progressive Overload

Regardless of the movements and rep ranges performed, a lifter’s focus in the gym should be progressive overload.

breastfeeding calories

In fact, a review of over 200 nutrition and exercise weight loss interventions observed the largest changes in body composition when weight lifting was incorporated progressively [1].

Progressive overload can be achieved through increasing weight used, the number of reps performed, sets performed or even by getting the same number of reps with better technique. However, it is important to note that form should not be sacrificed at the expense of progressive overload.

Other Gym Members

Many new lifters are concerned about what others will think of them. However, the vast majority of gym members are more concerned about their own workouts than what you are doing.

Something that may seem like a big deal to you likely won’t even be noticed by most other gym members.

Beginners can Obtain Muscular Development Quickly

 

muscular development

 

An individual’s potential for muscular development will be at its highest when first starting to lift weights. Studies have shown young healthy males can add 4-5 pounds of lean mass in the first 10 weeks of weight training [6].

Over the first year of proper training, experts have estimated that a new male lifter can add between 15-25 pounds of muscle. A new female lifter may be able to add approximately half this amount.

The amount of muscle gained over the first year will depend upon a number of factors such as consistency with a nutrition and exercise plan, genetics [7] and if the individual is in an energy deficit. Maximum muscular development will likely not occur when an individual is not in an energy deficit.

However, as an individual becomes more trained, the rate of muscular development will be reduced. An experienced drug-free lifter may only be able to add 1-2 pounds of muscle annually (if that).

If the scale is not changing and you are getting stronger, it is a good sign that you are adding muscle, losing fat and improving body composition.

Moreover, for an experienced lifter, progress is going to be maximized by choosing either fat loss or muscular development as the primary goal because muscular development and fat loss will not occur simultaneously to a larger extent.

For a beginner, muscular development and fat loss can occur at the same time and to a significant extent. Studies in beginning lifters have observed meaningful amounts of fat loss and muscle development during the initial months of training [6].

If you are new to lifting weights, it is important to realize that body composition change can occur without the scale changing because you are at one of the few times where a significant amount of muscular development and fat loss can occur at the same time.

Other Markers of Progress

 

muscular development

 

Aside from the scale, there are a number of ways a new lifter can monitor progress:

Pictures

Progress pictures can be a very powerful way to monitor progress over time. Typically, visual changes will occur quickly during the initial months of weight training; however, it is important that progress pictures aren’t taken too frequently to give change time to happen between sets of pictures.

In addition, it would be advisable to take pictures at the same time of day, in the same location/lighting and under the same conditions to be able to accurately assess progress.

Strength

A new lifter can gain strength rapidly. This increase in gym performance is important to track because if you are gaining strength, it is very likely you are also gaining muscle.

If the scale is not changing and you are getting stronger, it is a good sign that you are adding muscle, losing fat and improving body composition. We’ve seen this with many of our clients.

As new lifters in a calculated calorie deficit with their Custom Macro Blueprint, they have changed their body compositions considerably.

Body Measurements

Body measurements (such as waist and hip circumferences) can be a great way to monitor body composition change. Be sure to take body measurements under the same conditions.

How Clothes Fit

A common way many new lifters notice body composition change is in the fit of their clothes.

A Word of Caution on Body Fat Tests

Many individuals use body composition assessments to track progress. However, it is important to note that many of the methods typically available have a large amount of error. For example, bio-electrical impedance analysis commonly used at gyms has an error of +/- 8 percent [8].

To minimize error, it is important to measure body composition under the same conditions (for example, first thing in the morning, fasted, in minimal clothing and with an empty bladder).

It is also important to take the results into consideration along with other markers of progress as body composition measurements alone can have large error margins.

Using the Scale

 

muscular development

 

Many new lifters will want to use the scale to assess progress. Should you choose to use the scale, there are a few factors to take into consideration:

Daily Fluctuation

Body weight commonly fluctuates a few pounds daily. This due to a combination of factors such as sleep patterns, hormones, stress, salt intake, water intake, bowel movements, sweat and a number of other factors.

However, the daily changes in weight from these factors come primarily from water and intestinal food mass weight, not real tissue weight. Therefore, it is important to look at averages and trends rather than individual weigh-ins when assessing progress.

Time of Day

It is important to weigh-in at the same time of day under the same conditions to minimize fluctuation. An easy way to do this is to weigh first thing in the morning in minimal clothing prior to eating or drinking anything.

Menstrual Cycle

Many women will see an increase in water retention around the time of their monthly cycle. Therefore, it is important to keep this in mind when assessing body weight.

Take Home Points

In a new lifter, significant body composition change can occur without much change in body weight. As a result, it is going to be important for a new lifter to assess progress through alternative methods.

If you are seeing a visual change in your pictures, getting stronger in the gym, losing inches and noticing a positive change in the way clothes are fitting, screw the scale you are making progress!

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Best Chest Workout Program to Build Mass

Big and perky, that’s how we like ‘em. Someone new walks in and it’s the first place our eyes snap to. No, I’m not talking about a bar scene, but actually, the gym and finding the best chest workout for a bigger pair is a seemingly never-ending journey.

A balanced physique is important, but every man out there hopes for a particularly impressive pair of pecs to show off to his bros and impress the ladies. Luckily, we share your passion for a nice pair, so we’ve created a guide with the best chest workout tips to help you maximize your efforts!

Incorporate the below principles in your training, and use tools like the IIFYM macro calculator to begin taking control of your diet, and fuel your way to the best chest workouts for a bigger, perkier pair!

Progressive Overload is a Pec Priority

There are a lot of factors that contribute to the best chest workout strategies for strength and size. Of the multitude of important factors, none are likely as important as progressive overload is in resistance training. Now, of course, we first need to make sure we’re executing the exercise properly to avoid injury and ensure full muscle activation.

Once that’s taken care of though, it’s extremely vital to consistently focus on lifting a given weight for more repetitions, or lifting a heavier weight each workout.

Our bodies, but especially our muscular systems, are extremely adaptive. Past the minimum necessary for daily activities, our bodies aren’t very interested in gaining slabs of muscles. It’s metabolically expensive to build and maintain, and especially with the relatively sedentary life most of us live, extra muscle isn’t really all that important to survival.

This makes it vital for us to have the best chest workout possible each session if we want to create sufficient stimulus for our bodies to then adapt by further developing muscle tissue.

Moving Past Adaptations

 

best chest workout

 

Too often, trainees hit the gym consistently yet use the same weight and repetitions each and every workout. 6 months later, they have nothing to show for their efforts. This is because as our neuromuscular system adapts to a training stimulus, it improves its ability to lift a given weight using less total muscle fibers and more efficient neurological signaling to the muscle.

As we get better at lifting, let’s say 200lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps, we eventually use less total muscle fibers to lift that weight.

What this means for athletes is not only a lack of strength and size progression but an actual regression in size over time. We not only don’t improve, but we actually begin to look worse without constantly pushing ourselves to lift more weight for more reps over time. (1) The best chest workout isn’t one particular rep scheme or list of exercises.

The best chest workout is one that that continually challenges us through more reps, more weight or more total sets completed over time.

 Rep Your Set

Anyone that’s followed my content here on IIFYM.com knows I pretty much have to insert a reference to rap music somewhere in my articles. Well, Future isn’t the only one that “gotta rep the set.” When I program athletes’ training, there are three factors, in particular, I always keep in mind: Progressive overload, rep range manipulation, and training frequency.

The best chest workouts available are those that keep these as top priorities. Other factors are important, but these three, in particular, can vastly benefit athletes.

Once you’re consistently focusing on lifting more weight for more reps, it can be very beneficial to training a career for athletes to also manipulate their rep ranges each training block.

Without getting too technical, the best chest workouts incorporate a variety of rep ranges, all of which help promote muscular strength and size gains through different mechanisms. Varying rep ranges also helps promote sufficient central nervous system recovery, which encourages better long-term training performance.

Although a larger variety of rep ranges and training techniques can offer benefits, a very effective, general rule of thumb is to train exercises between a range of at least 1-12 rep sets, differing training load based on your one repetition max (1RM) and the percentage of that 1RM that coincides with the rep range we’re using for compound exercises. (2)

 

best chestworkout

 

1RM% Initial Loading Chart

Rep Range 1RM Percentage
2-4 90-95%
4-6 85-90%
6-8 80-85%
8-10 75-80%
10-12 70-75%

For isolation exercises, training load should be self-determined through warm up or “acclimation sets” which can help the athlete find the proper weight to use with exercises such as chest flies which don’t have a 1RM to base initial training load off of.

At this point, it’s important to make a concerted effort to complete your programmed rep range with the initial training load, then add more weight to the bar as often as possible (while making sure to keep safety the top priority).

Extremely high rep ranges (upwards of 20 reps) can also offer unique benefits to muscle growth such as cellular swelling and metabolic stress adaptions. For athletes just getting into a structured program, the best chest workout first focuses on 1-12 rep ranges, which can offer plenty of benefits. (3)

Then as training experience is gained, incorporating higher rep ranges in the neighborhood of 12-20 reps can add additional benefits through increased cellular swelling and metabolic stress within muscle tissue.

The best chest workouts include at least (2) of the below rep ranges to train in each training program. Compound exercises like presses can safely be executed anywhere between 1-12 repetition ranges. On the other hand, isolation exercise and exercises that can place a lot of stress on the shoulders such as dips are likely safer to perform between 6-12+ repetitions per set. (4)

If training chest twice per week, try programming a different rep range focus on both days. This will allow you to more effectively maximize the best chest workouts and the muscular adaptions they can promote.

For example, your training programming may look something like this:

Training Block 1 (Week 1-12)
Day 1 Rep Range Focus: 4-6 Reps

Day 2 Rep Range Focus: 10-12 Reps

Training Block 1 (Week 13-24)
Day 1 Rep Range Focus: 2-4 Reps

Day 2 Rep Range Focus: 8-10 Reps

Training Block 1 (Week 25-36)
Day 1 Rep Range Focus: 5-7 Reps

Day 2 Rep Range Focus: 10-12 Reps

By this point, you likely get the idea. Every 8-16 weeks, shifting the rep ranges you emphasize in your training can help you continually get the best chest workout possible.

Tune into the Right Frequency

 

best chest workout

 

The third major factor in creating the best chest workout program, and really the best training program in general, is determining the most appropriate training frequency for your goals. As the below chart helps reflect, for those just beginning a structured training program, hitting each major muscle group just 1x/week can provide a lot of benefits early on and allow for athletes to better adapt and recover sufficiently to the new training stimuli.

Then, as our bodies positively adapt to training, largely through a mechanism commonly termed the “repeated bout effect” we gradually improve our ability to sufficiently handle greater training frequencies. (5,6)

A safe rule of thumb is 6 months of more of consistent training, athletes can then begin incorporating increased training frequency by hitting each major muscle group twice each week.

This increased training frequency benefits resistance-training athletes by more effectively taking advantage of training induced muscle protein synthesis (MPS). MPS is the recovery and growth mechanism responsible for muscle tissue getting bigger and stronger.

Research has helped show that MPS is heightened for approximately 36-48 hours after a resistance training session. So if you train chest on Monday, MPS will be increased and muscle tissue will be repairing and growing until around Wednesday evening.

Keep in mind that as frequency increases, volume should be adjusted accordingly does allow sufficient recovery from week to week.

The Best Chest Workout Frequencies by Experience Level

Beginner (training less than 6 months)
– Each major muscle group 1x/week

Intermediate (6+ months)
– Each major muscle group 2x/week

Advanced (12 months+)
– Each major muscle group 2x/week
– Increase frequency of weak muscle groups to 3 or even 4x/week periodically

This is important because, as we’re able to, training chest again later in the week can help us maximize the “spikes” in MPS we can achieve each week.

If we continued only training chest on Mondays, then Thursday-Sunday of that week we’re missing out on time we can produce more stimulus for growth. Even though Monday is typically “national chest day” in most gyms, the trainees hitting chest again on Thursday or Friday will achieve the best chest workout benefits than those following an old school bodybuilding split and only training each muscle group once.

In most cases, training each major muscle group twice each week, separated by at least 48 hours, can be a very good spot for athletes.

The exception being competitive weightlifters or those with noticeable weak areas they are determined to bring up. If competing in power lifting meets, increasing the frequency of barbell squats, deadlifts, and bench press greater than twice each week is common as the skill of each lift is better perfected leading into the competition.

 

best chest workout

 

The Advanced Require More Frequency

For the rest of us, increasing training frequency of a weak area to 3 or even 4 times each week in some capacity can provide benefits.

In the case of a weak chest which many of us deal with, this may mean having two designated chest workouts each week, then incorporating a third day of a bench press or fly variation in order to increase the frequency we’re able to stimulate our chest muscles.

This can help us maximize MPS stimulation while also improving the motor pattern of chest exercises, allowing us to get better at the skill of the exercise, and more effectively gain strength through it.

As a side note, it’s important not to overdo our training frequency. Sometimes increasing weak point training frequency has its benefit. At the same time though, the best chest workout program can quickly become a bad program if frequency or volume reaches a point in which recovery begins taking a major hit and we begin feeling too run down to perform effectively.

Work Your Angles

You don’t have to be a model to appreciate the importance of working your best angles. In resistance training in general, but especially when focusing on getting a bigger chest, the best chest workouts will take advantage of the variations in muscle activation that training in multiple movement patterns can produce.

A study in 2010 helped support the benefit of training in multiple angles by comparing activation in flat, 28°, 44° and 56° chest press to determine the best chest workout exercises. Results of the study showed that activation of the clavicular head of the pectoralis major was highest in 44° and 56° incline presses.

On the other hand, activation of the sternocostal head of the pectoralis major was higher at angles closest to 0° presses.(7)

Another study in 2016 resulted in similar findings, with the addition of -15° decline bench press activation measurements. In this study, not very surprisingly, flat and decline bench presses activate more lower pec musculature. 30° and 45° bench press activated more upper pec.

Each angle incorporated differing proportions of the measured pectoral recruitment, suggesting that each angle likely provides unique benefits to muscle growth.(8,9)

Simple Rule of Thumb For the Best Chest Workout

 

 

With this said, multiple training sessions each week, with progressive overload in mind will provide large benefits regardless of exercise selection. However, logical exercise selections in each training program can help trainees further maximize results. This can be achieved in a variety of programming methods.

However, a simple rule of thumb can be to include at least 1 variation of chest exercise in each of the major angles offered in the average gym- 0° (flat), 30-45° (incline) and -15° (decline) in each training program.

Then, periodically adjust the portion each training block is focused on a given angle. For example, 8 weeks of 85% flat and incline and just 15% decline.

Then the following 8 weeks shift focus to 60% of sets in flat and incline, and the remaining 40% of chest volume toward decline. The exact percentages of training volume don’t exactly matter. The point is varying the amount of training dedicated to a given angle can help provide the best chest workout balance over time.

Inclined to get a Bigger Chest?

A quick note on incline presses and fly movements. Be careful to err on the side of caution when adjusting your incline movements. In an effort to maximize angles for total chest activation, you may be tempted to raise your incline very high to maximize angle variation.

Doing so, as you may imagine, can lead to overstressing the shoulder joint and inferior chest activation. A good rule of thumb (chest in this case) is to work between -15° decline up to 45° incline movements. Doing so can help keep your shoulders healthy and chest activation high. When in doubt, flatten it out.

Decline the Invitation to Small Pecs

Walk into a gym and flat & incline movements are being performed all over. Decline movements, on the other hand, seem to be a bit rarer. Granted, decline movements do typically require more set up time.

However, both anecdotal and scientific evidence help highlight the great benefit trainees can reap from consistently performing them.

Although decline fly movements or dumbbell work can be a logistical pain in the pec to set up. Taking advantages of a decline barbell and smith machine bench press can be a great asset to trainees focused betting the best chest workout possible.

It’s a great movement to really overload the muscle, offers a great stimulus to both the lower and middle portions of the chest muscles, and some studies have even shown similar activation in the upper chest compared to a 30° incline bench press.

Needless to say, data like this helps make the decline bench press a big hitter for getting a bigger chest. (10)

 

Devil’s in the Details

We can give exercise suggestions and workout plans to help you grow your chest. Without ironing out the details though, the best chest workout is still likely to leave a lot to be desired in the growth department. To get a bigger chest, we first need to stay healthy enough to train consistently in the first place.

Not to mention, details such as bench press form and preventative exercises can help us better activate the muscles we’re focused on growing in the first place. Below are some of the best chest workout primers to help you do just that.

Mind your Bench

A gym is a respectable place, so we can’t have benches going wild every time things get a little exciting. We’re all pumped to get bigger, but taking time to mind the details that can form a better bench foundation. A foundation that will support better muscle activation and go a long way in ensuring more consistent progression.  

If you haven’t already, the mind-muscle connection is something I’ve touched on previously in my “The Best Back Exercises to Increase Pull Up Volume” article here on IIFYM.com. After reading this, check out that section for a thorough explanation of why an efficient mind-muscle connection for physique development is so beneficial.

In brief, in order to really achieve the best chest workout, it’s vital to make sure your pecs, not your pipes, are doing the majority of the work during your chest exercises.

As with any training session, making sure to warm up prior to hitting your working sets can greatly reduce risks of injury. As well as improve the elasticity and contractile force of muscle tissue and better nutrient transport to working muscles prior to getting into the heavy lifting.

That being said, performing some exercise specific warm ups just prior to starting your actual session can help you get better contractions. In turn, better activate your chest and perform your exercise more efficiently for more consistent growth.

The main goal with these primers are simply getting a better feel for activating your pec muscles and getting in the mindset of using your pecs to do the majority of the work- not your shoulders and arms.

Performing a few sets of cable or pec deck flies, along with some isolated pec contractions can help you get into that mindset before getting into your warm up sets of your first actual exercise.

The Best Chest Workout Primers

Exercise Sets Reps
Pec Deck Fly 1-2 8-10
Standard Push-Ups 1-2 8-10
Pec Contractions 1-2 8-10

The key to each of these is to go light on all three. These aren’t meant to be pre-exhausting exercises, but purely to help you gain better activation by focusing on contracting your pec muscles to finish off your warm up. Pec deck flies and push-ups are self-explanatory. Pec Contractions are a bit more obscure though.

Pec deck flies and push-ups are self-explanatory. Pec Contractions are a bit more obscure though.

Although it may sound odd, I’ve found that simply concentrating on getting a full contraction in my pecs several times before getting in my working sets really helps me activate my pecs during movements like bench press.

Simply sit on a bench or stand up somewhere, and fully squeeze your pecs and hold for ~1 second, relax and repeat as need. You’ll notice more blood coming into your pec muscles, and a generally better ability to really activate your pecs as you move into your working sets.

Fine Tune your Form

As this section highlights, building and refining our base can be huge in progressing more consistently in your pec pursuits. This holds especially true when it comes to your bench press form. It may be a boring topic, but keeping a constant eye on proper form can help us all make sure we’re training effectively and safely throughout our careers.

After all, it’s hard to see results from even the best chest workout if we’re constantly nursing nagging shoulder or wrist pain, or heaven forbad a torn pec. Each person’s form will vary a bit based on differences in body structure, however, there are some general pointers that can help you make sure your bench press is allowing you to better grow your chest and prevent being sidelined by injuries.

Each person’s form will vary a bit based on differences in body structure, however, there are some general pointers that can help you make sure your bench press is allowing you to better grow your chest and prevent being sidelined by injuries.

Bench Press Tips

  1. Retract shoulders to form a solid base
  2. “Pull apart” bar with your hands to increase stability and pressing power
  3. Plant feet fully on the floor to maximize force output and low back safety
  4. Try to keep elbows at around 45°, not 90° to your torso to maintain shoulder health
  5. Keep wrists in line with forearms to take stress of wrist and forearm

Prehab Your Pecs

Another less sexy, but very significant factor in consistently having the best chest workout is to consider performing some “prehab” work to keep your shoulder complex healthy and able to support your chest training.

The extent of which prehab work is necessary for a trainee will depend on factors such as current shoulder health and overall pressing volume focus.

However, if you’re noticing frequent tweaks and pains in your shoulders, along with taking necessary rest to prevent any major injury, it could be prudent to add in some rotator cuff work to your programming.

Doing some brief rotator cuff work at the end of 1-2 training sessions per week can help strengthen and maintain ideal rotator cuff strength.

Although this may not directly grow your pecs, it can go a long way in keeping you healthy and more capable of giving maximal effort in your chest training.

After all, the best chest workout is a healthy chest workout. Focusing on going very light and executing a full range of motion, try periodically adding the below exercises at the end of 1-2 of your training sessions to ensure healthy rotator cuffs and more chest training.

Prehab Exercises

Exercise Sets Reps
Standing, Rotator Cuff External Rotations* 1-2 12-20
Standing, Rotator Cuff Internal Rotations* 1-2 12-20
Band Pull Aparts 1-2 12-20

*Can use a physical therapy band, exercise band or cable station

Putting it All Together

At this point, it is pretty clear that a lot of considerations play into creating the best chest workout, with the details of the plan personalized to each individual. Each person will have differing needs in terms of total training volume, frequency, and exercise selection. As you apply these principles though, you can personalize them to benefit your personal progression. To highlight how all these factors may come together in an actual training program, below is a full workout template reflecting the best chest workout principles.

As you apply these principles though, you can personalize them to benefit your personal progression. To highlight how all these factors may come together in an actual training program, below is a full workout template reflecting the best chest workout principles.

This template is based around a relatively lower training volume block for someone just starting to hit chest twice each week, without any one portion of his or her chest being much weaker than another. A generally balanced proportion of movement angles, some prehab work for longevity, and a moderate rep range variation to comprise the best chest workout to base your training off of. If hitting all body parts twice each week, the other muscle group in each session should be performed after finishing the chest exercises if chest growth is a major focus in your training.

A generally balanced proportion of movement angles, some prehab work for longevity, and a moderate rep range variation to comprise the best chest workout to base your training off of. If hitting all body parts twice each week, the other muscle group in each session should be performed after finishing the chest exercises if chest growth is a major focus in your training.

The “Best Chest Workout” Template

Monday (Day 1: 4-6 Rep Focus)

Exercise Sets Reps
Flat Barbell Bench Press 4 4-6
30° Smith Machine Incline Chest Press 3 4-6
Bodyweight or Weighted Dips 3 10-12
Standing, Rotator Cuff External Rotations* 2 12-15
Standing, Rotator Cuff Internal Rotations* 2 12-15

Thursday (Day 2: 10-12 Rep Focus)

Exercise Sets Reps
Flat Dumbbell Bench Press 4 4-6
15° Decline Barbell Bench Press 4 10-12
Standing Incline Cable Fly 3 10-12
Band Pull Aparts 2 16-18 

*5-10 minute general warm up and chest specific warm ups performed before each training session.

At the end of the day, there’s honestly isn’t one best chest workout. The exact workout an athlete needs and choose can vary quite considerably. There are some very important principles that should apply to every athlete, and help them design the best chest workout for their personal needs and preferences. Place these pec-building principles in your program and start having your best chest workout, every workout!

Place these pec-building principles in your program and start having your best chest workout, every workout!

The post The Best Chest Workout Program to Build Mass appeared first on IIFYM.



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