Fitness Advice for the "Average Joe"

By Paul Kim (Silicon Valley Entrepreneur & Certified Personal Trainer)


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Not Seeing Improvements in Your Body? Here’s How You Break through a Plateau!

About to get dunked for hydrostatic testing (fat %)

About to get dunked for hydrostatic testing (fat %)

Have you ever worked your butt off in the gym or at home to burn off the weight or gain some muscle, but it seems like nothing you do seems to work, and your body seems to be completely unresponsive to the workouts that you’re doing? Yeah, we’ve all been there – you’ve hit a PLATEAU.

You usually hit a plateau when your body adjusts or acclimates itself to the intensity, progression, and format of your workouts. So how do you break through annoying plateaus to get your body to respond to your workouts again? Throughout my 20+ year workout career, I’ve literally hit dozens of plateaus, and here is my practical advice to smashing through them:

  1. Use a “Phased” Approach to Muscle Confusion: I’ve found that the most important factor in breaking through a plateau is to confuse my body and muscles through systematic change in my routines via Phased Muscle Confusion. I say “Phased” confusion because you should NOT make “muscle confusion” a recognizable pattern, as your muscles need to genuinely be confused and overloaded. For example, I’ve seen programs out there where they supposedly “confuse” your muscles by performing different types of exercises sporadically throughout the week (e.g. mix in Cardio Boxing or Plyometrics to your routine), but the problem is that these changes come at such regular intervals that people’s bodies come to expect the change and adapt quickly to it. In addition, in many cases a sporadic “mixing up” of exercises don’t yield long-term gains from that particular exercise type/genre because it’s used so sporadically. This is why I recommend employing a PHASED approach, where you stick with a different type of routine for at least 2~4 weeks at a time, so that your body can benefit from the positive effects of the “confusion.” Incidentally, I’ve built Phased Muscle Confusion into the workouts in Alpha Trainer… what you will find is that each phase is a bit different from the prior, which helps to keep your muscles guessing and minimize the effects of plateaus.
  2. Change the Order, Pairings, and Types of Exercises: Often times, people get so stuck on their “routines” that they rarely deviate from them. This presents many challenges, including the fact that certain body parts don’t get worked as hard as others.
      • Change Exercise Pairing: For example, many people hit their Chest and their triceps on the same workout day continuously (almost always chest first, followed by triceps) – this exercise pairing is perfectly fine, but if you never change your exercise pairings or your exercise ordering, chances are good that certain muscles are not getting worked as hard as they could be. In this example, if you are always exhausting your chest first before hitting your triceps, you’re not going to be able to maximize improvements in your triceps because it’s already somewhat fatigued from the chest workout (which also works your triceps). It makes sense to mix up your routines for different periods such that your triceps are worked hard first, followed by another body part, such as biceps, back, or legs.
      • Change Exercise Ordering: Another example I want to give is that simply changing the order of the exercises on the same body parts can yield amazing results. For example, I’ve broken through bench press plateaus in the past where my bench press max became stagnant after always doing flat bench press first, followed by incline bench press… when I changed up the ordering and performed incline bench press first, followed by flat bench press for a 2 month period, my body broke through a plateau, and my max bench press went up by ~40 pounds soon thereafter! It’s because my upper chest was not getting maximum stimulation because it was pre-exhausted from the flat bench in the past, but now I was giving it the attention that it needed to get stronger.
      • Experiment with Barbells, Dumbbells, Cable, Different Exercises, and more: Go through phases where you focus more heavily on a specific workout apparatus, such as barbells, dumbbells, cables, Hammer Strength machines (excellent “machines” that use free weights), etc. I’ve had much success going through a progressive stage of focusing on barbells, then focusing on dumbbells, then working on Hammer Strength machines, etc. The reason is that each apparatus works your muscles slightly differently because of the angles, positioning, and balance, so they develop your muscles differently. For example, although you can do less absolute weight on the dumbbell bench press as opposed to barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press works your stabilizer muscles far more, and when you develop these muscles, they help you tremendously in gaining overall muscle size and strength.
  3. Put focus on a specific body part: sometimes what you need to break out of a plateau is to simply focus most of your attention on a specific body part. For example, try getting much stronger on your legs, chest, or shoulders. When you do this for weeks to several months, often times you will find that you naturally break out of a plateau, and all of your weights improve as a result of a stronger individual muscles!
  4. Take it easier for a short while, Turbo!: Sometimes your body hits a plateau because you are exhausted from OVER-TRAINING. Again, this is why a phased approach to developing your body is necessary. Don’t be afraid to take it down just one notch for a few weeks, as you let your body and muscles recuperate from months of hard work and exercise. Now, I don’t mean you just stop working out (although in some cases it really makes sense to take a week or two completely off), but definitely change it up for a couple of weeks. For example, if you have been working out heavy for months with low reps of 3~6, go through a phase of working out with lighter weights at 8~12 reps. Or try lower intensity circuit training, instead of high-intensity bodybuilding type of workouts. Giving your body a welcome respite is sometimes exactly what your body needs to help it recover from the negative effects of over-training.
  5. Finally, you can increase the Intensity of Your Workouts by Adjusting the following Factors: Many times, you need to work out more intensely to break out of a stagnant plateau. But remember, after working out super intensely for a few months, be sure to take it down a notch for a couple of weeks to prevent over-training.
      • Progressively use heavier weights. Remember to push yourself. You can reduce the number of reps you do, but push yourself to do more weight (while maintaining good form). This is one of the best ways to overload your muscles.
      • Perform more reps to failure, more forced reps, more “strip” sets. Perform each set to exhaustion, until your body can’t handle another rep. By pushing yourself to your physical limits (while staying safe), your body will be forced to adapt by becoming stronger and bigger.
      • Perform more sets (in some cases, not all). Use this sparingly… but in some cases, some people just don’t do enough sets to get a good workout. Or if your workout stamina has increased, don’t be afraid to add an extra set in your workouts to overload your muscles. Remember, I am not espousing long workouts or high volume workouts – in fact, I prefer shorter but more intense workouts. But in some cases, you will need to add an extra set to your workouts to increase intensity.
      • Reduce your Rest Time (unless you are trying to maximize your strength). Unless you’re doing Power Training and primarily trying to increase your strength, reducing your rest times is a good way to increase your workout intensity and get better results.
      • Perform bi-sets and tri-sets. There’s magic in performing different exercises one after another with minimal rest… this makes your body work hard, and it also makes you burn more calories during your workouts AND AFTER your workouts, through an effect called EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption), or “Afterburn”. Again, I’ve mixed in many bi-sets and tri-sets into the routines on Alpha Trainer to maximize intensity and EPOC.

By employing these principles in your workouts, you will probably be able to break out of your plateau. Try it out, and let me know how it goes! Good luck.

-Paul.

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Weight Training to Build Speed, Power, and Vertical Jump!

Jump1

As I watched the Superbowl recently between San Francisco 49’ers & Baltimore Ravens and looked around at the incredibly big and strong athletes who spend countless hours in the gym training, I was reminded of the importance of weight training to become truly fast, quick, & powerful. But most people don’t understand HOW to train properly to develop speed, quickness, & vertical jump. So my purpose in writing this post is to take all of the complicated theories, books, and training methods that deal with building speed & quickness and summarizing the concepts for you in an easy-to-understand format to you can employ them immediately. I could talk about this topic for days, but I’m going to keep this post as succinct as possible, while giving you the framework to design the most effective workout for yourself.

To start, here’s an explanation of the two basic formulas that impact speed & quickness (we’re going back to high school physics for just one second!):

  1. P = F * V.       Power = Force x Velocity.
  2. F = M * A.      Force = Mass x Acceleration.

Formula (1) states that Power is a function of Force multiplied by Velocity. Simply put, the more Force (think of it as maximum strength) you can apply at the Fastest Speed (Velocity) possible, the more Power (Speed, Quickness, Vertical Jump) you will generate. So the faster you can lift a heavy object, the more power you will generate. A widely accepted rule of thumb is that it’s easier to increase your strength (force) than it is to increase your speed (velocity), which has more significant genetic limitations. For example, I can still remember the very first time I ever got under a barbell to do a bench press… I was a skinny little 15 year old, 120 pound Freshman in high school, and I had no idea what I was doing, but I remember being able to bench press ~120 pounds (1x my body weight) for several reps… more than a decade of consistent weight training later, that 120 pounds for reps essentially tripled to a max bench press of ~405 pounds at a body weight of 180 pounds during my mid-20’s (~2.3x my body weight). I read some research a long time ago which shows that you can increase strength up to around 4x from your starting point through consistent weight training…  the point being that you can increase your strength much easier than you can your speed, so focus on increasing your strength to increase power. In case there is any doubt that increasing strength will actually increase your speed, quickness, & vertical jump, take a look below at some random Powerlifters jumping up in the air after a lift… powerlifters have such strong legs, their vertical leaping abilities are very well known (I especially love the portly, 300 pound dude on the left leaping high up into the air, which makes me smirk). In addition, I have not worked specifically at jumping in a very long time, but because my I can squat a lot compared to my body weight, I am still able to get pretty high up in the air (about ~35″).

JumpingPowerLifters1

Formula (2) states that Greater Force is generated by either increasing the mass of the object or the acceleration applied to the object. No need to confuse yourself here… just think about FORCE as the Maximum Strength that you can apply to something. The key here again is to increase your maximum strength (getting as strong as you possibly can).

So here’s the bottom line. To maximize Power, Quickness, Explosiveness, and Vertical Jump, you need to concentrate on improving in the following key areas:

  1. Increase your Maximum Strength in the body parts that matter for your sport. For example, if you want to increase your vertical jump, increase your maximum strength in your quads, glutes, lower back, hamstrings, and Calves through key exercises like squats and deadlifts. You accomplish this by training VERY HEAVY, in the 80~100%+ of your 1-rep maximum range. For example, if your maximum squat for 1 full repetition is 300 pounds, then after performing sufficient warmup sets, you need to train with weights in the 240~300+ pound range for low reps, like 1~6 reps. When you’re training heavy, for any of the exercises where you are positioned underneath the weights (e.g. squats, bench press, barbell shoulder press, etc.), make sure you have a spotter AND/OR use a safety cage to be safe to prevent becoming workout roadkill. Also, try to perform the reps as FAST AS YOU CAN. The key point is not whether the weight is moving quickly… in fact, it’s not possible to move your 1-rep max weight very quickly… rather, what’s important is whether your muscles are working and understanding that it’s trying to move the weights quickly. This helps to actually activate your Fast Twitch muscle fibers (Type 2A and Type 2B) and helps you to recruit more of these Type 2 muscle fibers, which also helps to improve your rate of force development, which is the next key point.
  2. Increase your RATE OF FORCE DEVELOPMENT. What does this mean? Research shows that it generally takes more than 0.5 seconds to develop maximum force because it takes time and coordination for your muscle fibers to fire and be recruited… but the challenge is that many explosive activities, like jumping, sprinting (each stride), swinging, etc. are completed in a fraction of a second (like 0.2 seconds or less). So the key to increasing FORCE to increase power is to increase the amount of usable or recruitable force you can generate in a short amount of time. This requires muscles to be trained to fire quickly. Two great ways to do this are as follows:
    • Plyometric/Reactive Training: Plyometric training, first invented in Russia in the 1970’s, focuses on training your muscles to fire very efficiently, as well as quickly utilizing the potential energy that is stored via the stretching of the tendons (kind of like a rubber band that accumulates energy quickly, then releases).
    • Weighted movements performed quickly/explosively: Use moderate to moderately-heavy weights for maximum results, say, in the 30~80% of your 1 rep maximum. But again, move the weights very quickly. Some examples of exercises you can perform are jumping weighted squats, jumping weighted lunges, medicine ball throws, etc.
  3. Increase your Velocity or Speed through Plyometrics and Training in the Actual Sport.
    • Use Plyometric or Reactive Training. By nature, Plyometric exercises helps get you faster by improving explosive reaction time in your muscles.
    • Continue to Train in the Sport or Activity that you are trying to Improve in. It goes without saying that if you are a boxer, continue your live boxing training, and if you’re a basketball player, continue playing basketball. No amount of strength training in the gym or weighted workouts will ever mimic the actual speed and neuromuscular coordination that training in the actual sport will accomplish.
  4. Lower your Body Fat, and thus your Body Weight. This reduces the weight that the Power you generate has to carry or launch in the air, and thus increases your speed, quickness, vertical jump, etc. Think about it this way: who do you think will likely jump higher… a 150 pound guy who can squat 400 pounds, or a 300 pound guy who can squat 400 pounds? My money’s on the lighter guy, assuming his rate of force production and velocity are equivalent to the other guy, or even if slightly inferior. It definitely pays to have good pound-for-pound strength.

Anecdotally, I have a younger brother named John who’s about 5’11” or so… at his best, I’ve seen him do reverse slam dunks while pulling the ball down to his mid-chest level with both hands (below is a video of him dunking)… not bad for a guy of his stature. But what’s amazing to me is how much effort he put into his vertical jump, and how much I saw him improve, when he was a kid. What really helped him in the jumping arena was him developing serious leg strength via heavy squats, as well as improved muscular efficiency, velocity, and efficient force production via plyometric exercises. One summer during college, I remember training with him at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach, which has an intensely steep and high hill made of sand, where we would hop up the hill with weights strapped onto us (I remember it well because I vomited at the top of the hill after my first workout session). But John worked hard throughout the summer and worked on plyometrics and squats… after which, he was skying and throwing down the basketball with ease.

Hope this helps in understanding how to improve your speed, power, and vertical jump. If I have time, in future posts, I will post some workouts that combine heavy weightlifting, plyometrics, and explosive weight training. Until next time, more power to ya! 😉

-Paul.


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Turbo-charge your Workouts: the Miracle of Super-sets (20-minute chest workout included)!

Are your workouts getting stale? Can’t seem to get over your strength plateau? Too busy at work, so you can’t seem to put the time into the gym? Well dear brothers and sisters, you gotta try doing some Super-Sets of the same muscle group! Better yet, do super-sets, but do them with strip-sets mixed in, like in my video below (refer to my prior post on Strip-sets). Especially if you have not done them before, they will blast you into a new orbit… I mean, if you do them right, they will catapult you from low-level airspace into the stratosphere of muscular development and maturity. It’s like putting Miracle-Grow fertilizer on your muscles…`you get the point already. Take a look at an example from my recent workout:

What are super-sets, and why are they important? Quite simply, they are an advanced training method in which you do two exercises, one after the other, with little or no rest in between. They can either be for the same or different muscle groups. I’ve found that the primary benefits of super-sets are that they really increase the intensity of my workouts and overload my muscles and force them to adapt, grow, and get stronger. Doing these have helped redevelop the deep “hardness” in my muscles that I’ve been lacking for so long while running startups in the Valley. In addition, for busy bodies, like most of the people reading this blog, it’s an amazing way to reduce the number of total sets that you perform, and thus reduce the time you need to spend in the gym while getting great results. I mean, if you’re like me, you absolutely HATE doing things that waste your time, right? By the way, I usually do these at the tail end of each muscle group. You don’t want to make every set a super-set, since super-sets are really intense, and constantly training like that without ample rest and so-so nutrition could easily lead to over-training and regression.

When you do super-sets here’s what you need to focus on:

  • Use Maximum Intensity. Do these like they are the last things you will do on earth. The more you get closer to your maker, the better your results will be, I guarantee it. That’s why I often do one, even two strip-sets before immediately super-setting a second exercise, to make it that much more intense!
  • Be Mindful of Your Form. Again, it’s okay if your form becomes a little less perfect, especially when you are cranking out your last few reps, but try to get as many with good form as possible. After all, you do have to do them properly to maximize muscular gains.
  • Feel Each Rep, Don’t Just Go through the Motions. Too many people just go through the motions of a super-set, frantically trying to just “finish” or “survive” the set. This is the wrong mindset. Each rep is actually taking you closer to where you want to be physically, so cherish it. Enjoy it (as much as you can, anyways). And most importantly, FEEL it.

Here’s an Example of super-sets that I enjoy doing for my CHEST when I’m pressed for time. Of course, I change up my routine quite a bit, but I mix in the chest workout below on occasion, especially when I’m trying to “cut up” and develop deep density in my muscles. It’s an effective part of a great chest routine. So try it out, and tell me what you think… your chest should be quite pumped and dead after this one!

 

20-MINUTE CHEST SUPER-SET ROUTINE

This routine is ideal for the busy, working professional or parent. You can be in-and-out of the gym in about 20 minutes and still get great stimulation on your chest!

  • FLAT BENCH PRESS: this exercise targets the middle of your chest. Be sure to bring the weight all the way down and touch the middle of your chest before powering it back up. You can vary the tempo of your down (eccentric) and up (concentric) motion to vary the focus and impact it has on your muscles (use faster concentric motion for speed & power training and fast-twitch fiber recruitment). In general, a moderate pace up/down is fine.
    • Set 1: 15 reps. Warm-up Set. Go lightly. Do not go to failure. I use 135 pounds here.
      • Rest 90 seconds.
    • Set 2: 10 reps. Intermediate Warm-up Set. Do not go to failure. Use moderate weights, about 60% of your 1RM (1-Rep Max – heaviest weight for which you can complete exactly one rep).I use 225 pounds here.
      • Rest 90 seconds.
    • Set 3: 6 reps. Heavy Warm-up Set.  Do not go to failure. Use 70~75% of your 1RM. I use 275 pounds here.
      • Rest 90 seconds.
    • Set 4: Stripping Super-Set! Go intensely to failure. Ask a spotter to help you.
      • Start: Use 85~90% of your 1RM. I use 315~335 pounds here (see video). Go to failure.
      • Strip-set: Strip down to about 60% of your 1RM and go until failure again. I use 225 pounds here.
      • Super-set: grab moderately light dumbbells and do as many Flat Bench Dumbbell Flys as you can. By this time, I am pretty tired from doing heavy strip-sets, so I usually use 60~75 pounds.
      • Rest 2~3 minutes.
  • INCLINE BENCH PRESS: Remember to bring the weight down high on your chest. Try touching your chest with your chin… where your chin touches your upper chest (almost at the base of the throat) is where the bar should come down to. If you put the bar too low on your chest (like MOST people do), then you are cheating yourself of growth in your upper pecs, which is the target of this exercise.
    • Set 1: 4~8 reps. Heavy warm-up set. No need for light warm-up, as you are already warmed up from the last few sets. Use 60% of your 1RM for flat bench. I use 225 pounds here.
      • Rest 90 seconds.
    • Set 2: Stripping Super-set! Go intensely to failure. Ask a spotter to help you.
      • Start: Use 70~80% of your 1RM on Flat Bench. I use 275~315 pounds here.
      • Strip-set: Strip down to about 50% of your 1RM on Flat Bench. I use 185~225 here.
      • Super-set: grab moderately light dumbbells and do as many Incline Dumbbell Flys as you can. I use between 50~75 pounds here.
      • Rest 2~3 minutes.
  • DECLINE FLYS: Go wide on your flys on a moderately declined bench. Focus on flexing your pecs/chest when your weights are at the top of the motion. You should feel this at the bottom and sides of your chest.
    • Set 1: 8 reps. Heavy warm-up set. Use dumbbells where you can barely do 8 reps using good form. Remember to go wide on your flys and squeeze your chest when the weights are at the top of the movement. I use 70~80 pounds.
      • Rest 90 seconds.
    • Set 2: Strip-set! Go intensely to failure.
      • Start: Go up ~20% in weight from your prior set. Go to failure. I use ~80~90 pounds.
      • Strip-set: Strip down to about 70% of your prior weights. Go to failure. I use about 60 pounds.
      • Strip-set: Strip down to about 70% of your prior weights. Go to failure. I use about 40 pounds.