Chalk: it’s messy, but it works

June 18th, 2007

Yesterday, I got to try out chalk as a means of giving my hands a better grip on the bars. For the longest time, I used to train with gloves. I still got callus’ forming in my hands and I noticed my grip was very weak without them. When I started the strength training routine however, I decided to let go off the gloves and try to develop some grip naturally with the weights I was lifting. Sure enough, after a month or two of weight training, I developed a natural grip and had slightly stronger forearms. As the weights got heavier and heavier, I realized that my hands were quite moist resulting in me losing grip. I literally felt the bars slipping off my hands!

The solution was simple: use chalk. As a famous strength training coach once wrote in his book, “[Chalk] increases traction between the bar and the hand, reducing the likelihood of lost bars and grip accidents. It reduces callus formation, since stress against the skin of the palm and the fingers is a function of the movement of the bar against it, and callus forms in response to this stress.” (p. 211) Putting this little experiment to the test, I had a wonderful workout with the chalk. Well, except the first time I actually put it on my hands, it made a bit of a mess around me. One trainee looked at me and smirked at my novice attempt (there was a cloud of chalk around me). I quickly apologized for the mess. I understood to use minimal amounts of the substance upon the next time I applied it. Luckily, my local gym (the Monster Gym in Montreal) allows the usage of chalk (I made sure to ask one of the staff members about this). This is a great thing as many gyms do not permit such a commodity. Of course, every real gym should allow it, as the coach goes as far to mention that “A gym without chalk is a health spa.”

Lifting Incorrectly

May 25th, 2007

One of the things I have noticed (through myself) is that people always try to lift heavier weight but at the same time perform the exercises incorrectly, usually with bad form or technique. This ends up causing serious injury, especially when it comes to squats or the power clean. For example, when squatting, rookies a lot of people stop squatting above parallel (instead of performing “Ass To Grass” squats) in hopes of lifting heavier weight. Most advanced trainers know that stopping above parallel is dangerous, inefficient and useless. A lot of trainees also maintain incorrect form by forgetting to keep their knees outwards when squatting down and not leaving a shoulder’s width between their feet. I have also witnessed some people simply going down a few inches from the starting point when squatting (referred to as “quarter squats” among the community) which is quite simply, a wasted workout. Usually, these people who start off on the wrong foot have a hard time fixing their technique since they feel discouraged when they downgrade the weight on the bar. They must know that when you actually perform the lifts correctly, you are going to get more efficient results than simply lifting heavy weights. You will only get stronger if you build the base correctly (meaning, utilize the full potential of your muscles). In other words, use the full range of your muscles to achieve optimum results. When you squat all the way down, you are actually using all of your hamstrings potential to build better muscle.

More than two months ago, I learned the above the hard way when I was performing the squats incorrectly and this resulted in me experiencing a slight pain in my hamstrings. For the next month and a half, I had a hard time performing the squats because of this pain. Until I realized my form was to blame, I wasted more than a month performing incorrect squatting techniques. To fix my problem, I re-read the squat section in the Starting Strength book and figured out what I was doing wrong (my knees were too inward). Coupled with some key stretching exercises, I was back in the squatting game and have been lifting heavier since with the proper form. Sometimes you need to re-evaluate your exercise techniques to make sure you’re getting the best out of your workouts.

Bench Press Plateau on a Strength Training Routine

May 13th, 2007

I’m sure a lot of people are wondering if plateauing on the strength training routine is even possible. It shouldn’t be surprising that it indeed is possible, but the trainee must know that you can plateau on any program, strength or not. Usually, I would have to say the number one cause for lack of strength increases is due to not eating enough. Instead of eating proper healthy foods, a lot of rookies decide to spend money on supplements in hopes of “breaking that plateau” when a simple diet change is required for less the cost.

One of my weakest areas of training is the bench press I have to admit. As of this post, I am going up in weight on the squat and deadlift on a weekly basis, while the power clean and shoulder press are progressing slowly. This is to be expected according to a professional strength training coach as the squat and deaf-lift use more muscles than the other exercises, so you will go up in weight much quicker on them as opposed to the shoulder press, power clean and bench press.

If you are interested in breaking a bench press plateau, take a look at the following suggestions.

  1. Eat well and check your diet: most rookies who start training will go up in weight and strength quite quickly without eating properly, but will end up plateauing eventually. Nutrition is probably the biggest cause of plateaus. If you want your muscles to recover and get stronger, proper nutrition is required during this phase. Remember, muscle is not made in the gym; it’s when you go home and recover after your workouts with good, clean food that allows your muscles to grow. Double check your diet; take in more protein and (clean) carbohydrates during the day. After your workout, have more protein (shakes are good) and eat well. Sometimes, people don’t eat enough and hence plateau since the muscles don’t have enough (or any) food to recover.
  2. Make sure your triceps and shoulders are good: weak triceps and shoulders will definitely stall your bench press, so make sure they’re up to par with the rest of your body. Are you doing the shoulder presses properly? Perhaps you may need additional triceps work (weighted dips are great!) to help with the load. This is usually overlooked by a lot of people.
  3. Switch to dumbbells: some people have better results with dumbbells than barbells. Rippetoe even says that dumbbells are a great (actually, better) alternative to barbells when it comes to the bench press, as it allows greater range of motion. Of course, you should definitely master the barbell bench press first before you switch to dumbbells.
  4. Take a break if you are over-training: if you have been training for months without taking a break, you should really consider laying off the weights for a week to let your fatigued body heal completely. Chances are you will come back stronger than when you left the weights. I have personally seen my strength shoot up quite a bit when I did this once, so I recommend this to anyone who has been training non-stop for months. Of course, if you’re a newcomer to weight training, taking a week off during the first 6 months to a year (in my opinion) is useless. Rookies should train as much and not miss a workout for a year (at least) as over-training their bodies during this stage is almost non-existent. For a rookie, there is no such thing as over-training. No such thing.

A lot of people will also recommend doing high repetitions for a month or two. I personally think this “recommendation” isn’t that great since it defeats the whole purpose of a strength training routine. Just my opinion, anyway.

How To Prevent Injury

March 29th, 2007

Two months ago, I had a minor injury occur on my hamstring, which resulted in me not being able to squat, deadlift or power clean for a whole month. I decided not to do any leg exercises for a whole four weeks to let my hamstring recover. This, of course, could’ve been avoided if I had taken the necessary precautions to prevent injury while strength training. I learned my lesson at the time and swore to never repeat that same mistake. By following the guidelines below, you can hinder the possibility of injuring yourself in the future. Without further ado, here’s the short list:

  1. Always perform warm ups before your exercises. Warming up allows your muscles to get ready to the exercises’ motions and oncoming weight increases. By getting your muscles warmed up and increasing your heart rate, you are preparing your muscles for activity and letting them know that you’re about to use them. On Rippetoe’s routine, you should always warm up with an empty bar and then gradually increase the weights slowly until your work sets. Take a look at the warming up page for more information on how to properly warm up.
  2. Make sure you’re 100% certain you can lift the weight. I’ve seen it too many times and it’s happened to me on one occasion (that resulted in my injury!): people (usually newbies) get too cocky and load up more weight on the bar then they can handle. Besides witnessing weights tumble down onto the floor, the unlucky ones will receive a jolt of pain in specific muscles. My advice: increase your weights slowly and don’t rush anything. Remember, there’s always the next workout to increase in weight!
  3. Stretch your muscles after every workout. Usually overlooked and forgotten, stretching after your workouts will help with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) which is basically next-day soreness and/or pain (a lot of rookies new to training will feel it). Stretching is beneficial for keeping your muscles happy, as it allows your muscles to strengthen, increase the range within a joint, and more blood and oxygen to pass through (thanks to the mechanical means of stretching the muscle). This way, future cramps are prevented and you’ll be ready for your next workout without (much) pain. Sometimes people also tend to stretch before their workouts. I consider this good practice as well and highly recommend it to start off your training on the right foot.

Do You Want To Get Stronger?

March 15th, 2007

I always hear people saying “I wish I could get stronger!” or “How can I get stronger?” yet they didn’t know where to start. You’ll also hear the same people say “I want to get bigger” or “I want to bulk up” but also weren’t quite sure how to proceed in terms of exercise and dieting. Luckily for them, I have created this website/blog for people who are clueless when it comes to strength training. Hopefully I’ll be able to guide them in the right direction and give them great training tips for maximum results based on a popular strength training book (which everyone should definitely pick up a copy and read).