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3 Essential Steps to Build Muscle Strength and Size

18 Aug

Straight Bar Deadlift

The fastest way to build muscle strength and size is good old-fashioned strength training, done right. Over time, strength training challenges your muscles by breaking them down so they repair and recover bigger and stronger than before.

To be optimally effective, strength training must be combined with proper nutrition and rest. Although there are some strategies to accelerate the process, there are no shortcuts. You have to do the work and follow the plan.


Without proper nutrition, you will compromise any muscle strength and size gains you hope to achieve. Simply stated, your body needs the raw material that food provides for growth.

It’s essential to eat sufficient calories, as well as carbs and protein, 30 to 90 minutes before and after working out. For every pound you weigh, aim for 0.8 grams of lean protein per day; whole grain and high fiber carbs; and healthy fats, like those found in olive oil, nuts, and salmon.

Weight Lifting

You’ll need to work out three or four days per week to reach your goal. Here are some guidelines to get you on your way:

Favor compound movements over single-joint movements: compound exercises, like Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Presses and Inverted Rows, involve more than one joint and engage multiple muscle groups. Triceps Extensions and Biceps Curls are single-joint isolation exercises. Compound exercises require greater muscle activation, recruit larger muscle groups, and stimulate strength and size gains.

Lift heavy weights: if you want to build muscle fast, you need to push your body to use as many muscle fibers as possible during exercise. Lifting heavy weights allows you to challenge your muscles, which is the key to making strength and size gains.

For any given exercise, build strength and power by using a weight that you can lift no more than 4-6 repetitions per set; build muscle size by using a weight that you can lift 8-12 reps per set; and build muscle endurance by using a weight you can lift 15+ reps per set.  If you can perform more repetitions than that, the weight is too light and you will fail to make gains.

Try supersets: we emphasize supersets at Athletic Performance Training Center. By pairing push and pull exercises, you are able to work twice as many muscles in a time-efficient manner to help build overall muscle strength and size.


Several different rest factors must be considered in your training:

  • Get a good night’s sleep, seven to eight hours each night.
  • Do not rework a muscle group until it has the chance to recover for 48 hours.
  • Rest between sets to allow your muscles to recover so you get the most out of each set. As a general rule, the higher the intensity of your workout (the more weight you lift) the longer your rest interval should be.


Your thoughts?

Build Explosive Power with the Dumbbell Squat Jump Pyramid

11 Aug

Dumbbell Squat Jump

Here’s a simple but challenging, triple-extension “finisher” we use for some of our athletes at Athletic Performance Training Center to build and develop leg drive and lower-body explosive power.

Here’s how to perform our Dumbbell Squat Jump Pyramid:

  • Grab a pair of 15 lb. dumbbells and do five (5) squat jumps
  • Immediately grab a pair of 20 lb. dumbbells and do four (4) squat jumps, followed by
  • 25 lb. dumbbells – three (3) squat jumps
  • 30 lb. dumbbells – two (2) squat jumps
  • 35 lb. dumbbells – one (1) squat jump
  • Repeat two (2) squat jumps with 30 lb. dumbbells
  • Three (3) squat jumps with 25 lb. dumbbells
  • Four (4) squat jumps with 20 lb. dumbbells
  • Finish with five (5) squat jumps with 15 lb. dumbbells

As your dumbbell weight increases, your repetitions decrease, until you do one rep with your heaviest dumbbell.  Then you reverse the process, decreasing dumbbell weight and increasing repetitions, until you reach the weight and reps with which you started.

Observe proper squat jump technique, as follows:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and dumbbells at your sides.
  2. Start by doing a regular squat, then engage your core and jump up explosively.
  3. When you land, lower your body back into the squat position to complete one rep. Land as quietly as possible (which requires control) and proceed to the next repetition.

You can adjust the weight of the dumbbells – lighter or heavier – to meet your needs.  For example, a lower-intensity (lighter dumbbells) pyramid might look like this:

Body weight – 3 lb. – 5 lb. – 8 lb. – 10 lb. – 8 lb. – 5 lb. – 3 lb. – body weight


Your thoughts?

Build Stronger Legs with the Romanian Deadlift

7 Aug

If you’re like some of the exercisers I see at local gyms and recreation facilities, your leg workout consist primarily of the leg extension (bad exercise) and leg press (better).  If you’re doing squats… good for you.  That’s a step in the right direction.

If you want to strengthen your legs the smart way, work the oft-neglected muscles of the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings) by adding the Romanian deadlift (RDL, a.k.a., straight-leg deadlift) to your workout.

A study at the University of Memphis suggests that the straight-leg deadlift is more effective than the leg curl machine (another bad exercise).  “The exercise activated the most muscle in the lowering phase,” according to lead researcher Brian Schilling.

Try these variations:

Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions, allowing 4 seconds to lower the weight.  Push your hips back to start the lowering motion, and drive hips forward to resume standing position.


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You’ve Got to Work Through Some Discomfort

4 Aug

Initially, the working title of this article was going to be, You’ve Got to be Able to Work Through Some Discomfort.  But then, I thought, certainly (virtually) everyone has the ability to work through some discomfort.

So then, I thought, maybe willingness is the issue.  Maybe when things get tough, some people just aren’t willing to work through some discomfort.  I think this is probably closer to the crux of the issue.

Finally, I thought, maybe awareness is part of the problem.  Maybe some people just don’t know how to work through some discomfort.

Now, from a training perspective, understand that when I refer to “working through some discomfort,” I’m not talking about lightheadedness (yep, that’s a real word), dizziness, and/or nausea.  When that happens, we shut people down.

What I’m referring to is the discomfort – physical, psychological, and emotional – that invariably accompanies a challenging workout.  Muscular fatigue that makes you feel like your brain and body can’t – or don’t want to – continue.  And, I’ll be the first to admit, it can be difficult to push yourself and keep moving forward when that happens.

Here’s a gem from my friend and Yoga instructor extraordinaire, Megan:

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I like that.  I think it’s helpful to consider that a challenging juncture in your workout is a resting point and not a stopping point.

I am also convinced that the problem is more mental than physical.  I think lots of folks just don’t believe they can keep pushing forward.  They lack the mental discipline and intestinal fortitude to keep going when the going gets tough.

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Condition yourself to push through your workout when your body and brain feel like quitting, even if it’s just one more repetition.  Over time, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you can accomplish.


Your thoughts?

6 Ways to Trim Your Waist

2 Aug

If you want to slim your waistline, you can’t focus on spot training. You will need to increase your fat burning furnace with strength training, cardiovascular activity, and an appropriate diet.  Done in combination, these strategies will help you trim your waist quickly and improve your health.  Fat carried around the waistline increases your risk for serious health issues, including Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers.

Here are 6 ways to slim and trim your waist:

  1. Have a plan.  Set a fat loss goal for yourself.  In order to shed one pound of fat per week, you will need to burn 500 calories per day.  This can be accomplished through exercise and diet – for example, you could burn 250 calories with exercise and reduce your calorie intake by 250, daily.
  2. Get moving.  Engage in vigorous activity. Moderate-to high-intensity activity accelerates the fat/calorie burning process.  Jogging burns almost twice as many calories as walking.  Other good calorie-burning activities include racquetball, jumping rope, and hiking.
  3. Try interval training.  If vigorous activity is too aggressive, initially, try interval training.  This approach involves alternating intervals of high- and low-intensity activity.  Begin with a moderate activity, like walking, and incorporate periods of jogging, as tolerated.  Rotate between walking and jogging during your workout, gradually increasing the duration of your high-intensity activity.
  4. Lift weights.  Exercise with weights, or some other type of resistance (even body weight), at least twice per week.  Total-body training sessions will benefit all your major muscle groups, and trim your waist in the process.  Incorporate core (planks, leg raises, etc.) and rotational exercises (lateral kettlebell swings, weighted twists) into your training plan.
  5. Watch your diet.  Make sure your diet – both quality and quantity – is aligned with your goals.  Keep your daily calories consistent with your ideal/target weight.  Choose nutrient-dense foods that contain fewer calories and allow you to feel satisfied.  Produce and protein are the rule.  Fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains are high in fiber, which take longer to digest.  Keep your dairy low-fat and your protein lean.
  6. Eat breakfast, and don’t skip meals.  Avoid sugary, high-carb breakfasts and instead choose protein and whole grains.  Studies show that a protein-rich breakfast like an egg-white omelet will fill your stomach and help to reduce food cravings later in the day.  Eat, but don’t feast, every three to four hours to keep your metabolism running, so your body won’t go into starvation mode and stop burning calories — which is what happens when you don’t eat for extended periods of time.


Your thoughts?

6 Ways to Tone Your Legs

26 Jul

Lots of our female clients are looking for help to firm and tone their legs… fast.  That requires some effort, but you can shape your lower body with a combination of strength training and cardio.  You won’t necessarily need a gym, as most of the exercises we will share can be done with your own body weight.  Aim for 2-3 days per week, for both strength training and cardio (we like alternating days between the two types of training, in order to leave a day of rest between strength training days).

Here are 6 ways to firm and tone your legs:

  1. Do squats (or some variation).  Squats – traditional or single-leg – are among the most effective exercises for strengthening and toning your lower-body.  Before attempting the barbell back squat, begin with body-weight squats and progress to the dumbbell goblet squat.  Maintain proper technique and challenge yourself by increasing intensity (weight, repetitions) as you progress.  Lunges are another option, and can be performed in combination with, or as an alternative to, squats
  2. Work your posterior chain.  Don’t ignore the muscles behind your legs, your hamstrings and calves.  Exercises like the glute-ham raise, Romanian deadlift, and Swiss ball hamstring curl are great choices for working your hamstrings.  Calf raises can help strengthen and tone the muscles of your lower leg.
  3. Run (or walk) uphill.  Instead of running or walking on flat terrain, take a trip to your local stadium and add stadium stairs to your workout.  If that’s not an option, find an area with a hill or incline.  You’ll be surprised by how much even a small incline can increase the intensity – and the benefit – of your workout.
  4. Add intervals.  If you want to get lean, you need to burn fat.  High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is one of the best ways to burn fat.  HIIT involves alternating intervals of high- and low-intensity activity.  HIIT works equally well, whether the type of exercise is resistance/strength training or cardio.  The key is to go hard during the high-intensity portion of the interval, and keep moving, even during the low-intensity portion of the interval.
  5. Get up off your feet.  Jumping exercises are a great addition to any workout.  Squat jumps and split-squat (alternating lunge) jumps require no equipment and can be done anywhere.  Plyometric exercises — such as box jumps, hurdle hops, and depth jumps — require greater expenditure of energy and burn more calories.  Add these exercises immediately after your squats or lunges.
  6. Eat smart.  If you really want to get lean, your nutrition plan must complement your fitness regimen.  Avoid (or, at least minimize) foods like white grains, pasta, fruit juices, and other processed, high-sugar foods. Ultimately, excess blood sugar gets stored as fat.  Make sure your carbs are whole grain and high-fiber.  Increase your protein consumption by eating more lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish), eggs, and dairy (milk, Greek yogurt), and add a daily protein shake to your diet.


Your thoughts?

Why You Shouldn’t Treat the Off-Season Like a Vacation

21 Jul

Athletes usually consider the off-season as a period of rest, but this is the time to get strength and conditioning work done! During “downtime,” sport-specific activity like practices and games are at their lowest level, so your training activity should increase.

Once an athlete has completed his or her sport season, a rest/recovery period of about one week is suggested. Since the demands of the sport season have decreased, strength and conditioning should be a priority. An athlete can now train with maximum frequency (number of days per week), intensity (amount of weight, loads) and volume (number of sets and repetitions).

Think of your off-season in phases. This promotes long-term training and performance improvements. Keep in mind, the key word here is performance; it doesn’t benefit an athlete to improve in the weight room unless those improvements can be applied to his or her sport(s) of choice.

Hypertrophy/Endurance Phase

Very low to moderate intensity and very high to moderate volume; the goals for this phase are to increase lean body mass and develop muscular endurance in preparation for more intense training in later phases.

Exercises ideal for this phase are:

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Bench Press

Basic Strength Phase

High intensity and moderate volume; this phase progresses to more complex, specialized, and sport-specific training.

In addition to previous exercises, add:

  • Lunge
  • Step-Up
  • Push Press
  • Lat Pulldown

Strength/Power Phase

High intensity and low volume; this phase involves increased strength training intensity and power/explosive exercises.

In this phase add exercises like:

  • Hang Clean
  • Push Press
  • Medicine Ball Throws
  • Plyometrics


Your thoughts?

6 Ways to Sculpt Your Abs

19 Jul

Everyone wants a lean, muscular physique and six-pack abs.  And, although there are lots of people and products making lots of promises, you can do all the abs exercises you want but, until you lose that layer of fat covering your midsection, the only thing you’ll accomplish is strengthening the muscles hidden beneath the fat.

Here are 6 tips to help reveal your abs:

  1. Burn fat.  Doing lots of abs exercises won’t help you lose fat (I once read that it takes 250.000 crunches to burn one pound of fat!).  To lose fat, you’ll need total-body strength training, a certain type of cardio called interval training, and a diet that is consistent with your goals.
  2. Lift weights.  Every time you exercise, you should aim to work every major muscle group.  Research shows that the metabolic impact of strength training persists for up to 48 hours, post-workout.  The more lean muscle you build, the greater the number of calories you burn, at rest.
  3. Keep moving.  Turn your strength training workout into a metabolic circuit by minimizing rest intervals between sets.  Alternate between upper- and lower-body exercises, or push-pull exercises.  Increase the intensity even more by mixing in cardio exercises like step-ups, jumping jacks, running in place, or jumping rope.
  4. Work your entire core.  Don’t limit your focus to your abs.  Find exercises that work your entire core, from shoulders to hips.  We really like to incorporate planks – 4-point, 3-point, side, and several other variations – into our core work.  Rotational exercises, using kettlebells and medicine balls, tend to be higher-intensity and are also effective core exercises.
  5. Add intervals.  As discussed in a previous article, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is one of the best ways to burn fat.  HIIT involves alternating intervals of high- and low-intensity activity.  HIIT works equally well, whether the type of exercise is resistance/strength training or cardio.  The key is to go hard during the high-intensity portion of the interval, and keep moving, even during the low-intensity portion of the interval.
  6. Eat smart.  If you really want to get a ripped six-pack, doing the right abs exercises is only part of the equation.  Avoid (or, at least minimize) foods like white grains, pasta, fruit juices, and other processed, high-sugar foods. Ultimately, excess blood sugar gets stored as fat.  Make sure your carbs are whole grain and high-fiber.  Increase your protein consumption by eating more lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish), eggs, and dairy (milk, Greek yogurt), and add a daily protein shake to your diet.


Your thoughts?

7 Ways to Build Explosive Strength

17 Jul

Explosive strength is the key to performance in most sports. It’s the ability to move things—including your own body—really fast.

Whether you’re running, jumping, hitting or throwing, you need to apply maximum force as quickly as possible. This is power. There may be people out there who are stronger than professional athletes, but they aren’t on the field or on the court for one reason. They can’t apply their strength quickly enough.

So how you do you develop power? It all starts with your core—and I don’t mean just your abs. Explosive force is produced from your torso and hips.

To improve this ability, you must perform exercises explosively and emphasize hip extension. Your goal isn’t to max out but to perform each rep with maximum strength and speed.

Some of my favorite exercises for building explosive power include:

  • Squats
  • Trap Bar Deadlift and Romanian Deadlift
  • Step-Ups and Lunges
  • Hang Clean (my favorite) and Push Press
  • Kettlebell Swings
  • Plyo Push-Ups
  • Sled Drives, Hill Runs, and Parachute Runs

Perform your power exercises towards the beginning of your workout, directly after your dynamic warm-up. Since you won’t be fatigued from other exercise, you’ll be able to do each rep with max intensity.

For any weightlifting power exercise, aim for three to five sets of three to five reps at 75 to 85 percent of your max and rest for two to three minutes between sets. For plyometrics and sprinting drills, make sure to recover fully between sets, resting three to five times longer than the duration of the exercise.


Your thoughts?

Be Flexible With Your Training

10 Jul

I try to exercise six days a week, usually by strength training (3-4 days) and playing basketball (twice weekly).  Since I workout at the facility I own and operate, there’s rarely an excuse to miss a day (not that I haven’t).  But basketball isn’t always an option, since our group plays at the local middle school.  When school is not in session (holidays, summer, etc.) the gym is closed, which means no basketball.

If I can’t play basketball I’ll do something different.  I’ll run some sprints, intervals, or stadium stairs.  I’ll go for a bike ride, jump rope, or swim some laps.  They’re not necessarily my favorite activities, but I’d rather do something than miss exercising.

Your activity doesn’t need to be anything athletic or overtly exercise related, just do what you enjoy.  Walk your dog or work in the garden.  Get started on that home improvement project.  When you shop at your local mall, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.

The point is… just keep moving.


Your thoughts?

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