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The Drop Set – Episode 11: Maintaining Prep Focus and Using the Scale Correctly

Prep is long and hard, whether for a show or some other goal – finding and developing your strategy for maintaining focus is absolutely key to your success.  Also, how to use the scale to track daily weigh-ins without driving yourself insane.

The Drop Set – Episode 10: Meal prep tips and tricks, Macros 102

Every bodybuilder has to meal prep, but how do you make it easier and more efficient (discussion starts at 6:00 in).  Also, the sequel to macros 101:  MACROS 102!  Fine tuning your flexible plan for optimal results (discussion starts at 37:42)

The Drop Set – Episode 9: Assessing Progress, Supplements A-Z

How do you assess your progress?  Should you rely more/less on numbers, or is there more to it than just that?  Also, a very candid talk about supplementation, covering ALL types – what’s good, what’s not, and what should really be avoided.

The Drop Set – Episode 8: Hypertrophy 101

I’m back!  After an unplanned hiatus I figured I might as well come back with a vengeance – this episode was also broadcast via Facebook Live and covers just one topic:  HYPERTROPHY.  How to build muscle, including concepts and tactics you can employ in your training to make your time more effective.

The Drop Set – Episode 7: Roles of a coach and reducing injury risk

Coaches come in all shapes and sizes and with a wide range of strengths and weaknesses.  I outline what I consider to be the primary roles a coach can fulfill so you can determine what’s important to you.  Also, how to reduce your risk of injury in a sport that should really be quite safe!

Varying approaches and strategies for training legs

There are a billion (precisely…I counted) articles online talking about the best way to train legs, why you NEED to train them twice a week, why training them more than once a week is a bad idea, or why you should only squat and forget everything else.

This is not one of those articles.

Instead I will talk about various approaches you CAN take – the pros and cons of each, and providing some examples – and you can compare this against your own thoughts and biases (when it comes to legs I think we all have a bias…very few of us are indifferent on the subject), and also put these ideas next to what YOU have been doing so you can evaluate your own long-term progress and see if perhaps a shake-up is in order.

So without further adieu – here we go!

Option #1 – skip ’em!

Unless you are the second coming of Tom Platz and your legs so far overpower everything else that you have to wear baggy sweat pants with your XS shirts – this is not an option.

Option #2 – do a little on the side

I’ll never forget a conversation I had in the gym with a complete and total “bro” about 15 years ago when he was giving me the breakdown on his routine (which I did ask him about…oh wait no I didn’t).  He said he did legs and back on the same day – about an hour for back, then a couple supersets of leg extension and leg curls, then presumably out clubbing for all I know.

This might be worse than option #1 – because you’re fooling yourself into thinking you’re actually doing something productive when you are horribly shortchanging yourself.

Option #3 – set aside a full day for legs

This is exceedingly common and in most traditional “bodybuilding” split workouts, this is what you’ll find.  Personally I’m not a big fan.  Legs are complex and there’s a shit ton of muscle in them (or at least there should be) – trying to work them thoroughly and fully in one day a week is a BIG task.  If you don’t enjoy training legs, this will easily be your least favorite day and you will dread it, and commonly this can lead to underperforming as you go through it.  If you LOVE legs and they are currently well balanced with your upper body, this can be a solid approach.  Give ’em a thorough beating and let ’em recover – maybe bump up calories/carbs a bit on this day as well to help fuel the tough session.

Option #4 – hit legs multiple days per week

This is my most common course for most of my clients.  This can range from 2 quality sessions up to 3 or even 4 in some cases – but more is not always better.  Recovery matters too.  You can take the bro approach mentioned in option #2 above and supplement with some additional leg work on non leg days to help bring up lagging areas as well.  I personally will do this periodically – hitting some FST-7 leg extensions at the start of shoulder day, for example.

Now option #4 opens up a whole can of worms, so let’s dig a bit deeper into the possibilities here and see how we might break these down further.

Two full and complete leg sessions per week

A solid approach.  But – personal opinion here – trying to fully and thoroughly hit quads, hamstrings, adductors, AND glutes (yes, you too guys) in one session can feel like an overwhelming task.  I prefer the divide and conquer approach.  If you were to do this, it’s pretty easy to come up with an A/B workout structure where both sessions are similar but there are variations between the two.  Using different squat variations (front squat one day, back squat the other day), swapping out RDL’s for good morning, varying your foot positioning on a leg press, even going from one leg extension machine to a different one (because they all FEEL different).

One day for quads, one day for glutes and hamstrings

This is what I’m doing currently.  The main concept here is that a great deal of glute exercises will also work the hamstrings and vice versa – so this is an efficient approach.  You can kick off each workout with a compound movement targeting the appropriate group and plan on going heavy – maybe 5 sets of 5 or something – and this will set the tone for what follows.  Some kind of squat for quad day, maybe a sumo deadlift for glute/ham day.  The quad workout becomes an all-out assault where they never really have a chance to recover – though with many of the exercises you’re hardly isolating the quads, just focusing on them more.  A narrow stance leg press, lunges, step-ups – these will use all the leg but you can direct more of the work into the quads with subtle adjustments.  On glute/ham day, you can do a half and half workout where you kill glutes completely before moving on to hamstrings, or alternate exercises with varying emphasis – a hip thrust, followed by a curl, followed by a kickback, followed by an RDL, etc.

One day for thighs (quads/hams), one day for glutes

Similar to the above except this allows for an entire day focusing just on glutes.  Bikini competitors, I’m looking at you.  Mix it up between heavy, lower rep work and lighter (or unweighted) higher rep/activation work.

One day for quads, one day for hamstrings, and one day for glutes

If everything below the waist is lacking, this divide an conquer approach may help you wrap your head around the situation in the best way.  This gives you a single task to focus on each day, and you can work to isolate each group to some extent so that the others will remain relatively fresh when their turn comes around.  Intersperse upper body workouts between these as well – either 2 or 3 of those to hit everything, depending on if you’re following a 5 or 6 day split.  This will be a BIG change most likely – your legs are lacking probably because they’ve been undertrained at the expense of your upper body, so this is turning that equation on its head and can really force you out of your comfort zone.  And if you know anything about bodybuilding, leaving your comfort zone is typically a sign that you’re doing the right thing.

Another thing to consider is the concept of “dominant” days.  In a quad dominant workout, you’ll hit a lot of quads but also deliberately hit hamstrings and/or glutes as well.  This is also a solid approach that can blur the lines a bit between the black and white divisions mentioned above, which can be a good thing or perhaps less useful – depending on individual training preferences as much as anything.

Summary

All of those approaches are valid in their own way – the key is understanding what YOUR body NEEDS – not, generally speaking, what other people are doing or how you want to train.  If you’re in this with competitive aspirations or simply to build the most balanced physique you can, you owe it to yourself to look in the mirror objectively and give an honest assessment of what needs work – and then the fearlessness to adjust your plan accordingly and implement it with maximum intensity.

The Drop Set – Episode 6: Offseason strategies & searching for a coach

Some advice for the New Year’s crowds, my take on 2 very different approaches for off-season growth, and also a coach’s tips on how to search for an online coach!

Effectively Logging your Workouts

If you’re reading this, you should be logging your workouts.  Unless you have a freakshow memory, you just aren’t going to remember all the important stuff – and if you do this long enough, all the days/weeks/months/years tend to blend into each other and before you know it, you’re going to the gym to hit shoulders only to pull into the parking lot saying “wait…I did shoulders yesterday” – it happens, trust me!

Bodybuilding is all about progressive overload.  Consistently asking your body to do more than it has done before and more than it wants to.  If you’ve read any of my previous posts or on social media, you also know I’m not a “lift heavy!!!!” kind of guy.  Tension is what matters, and so when logging we need to track more than just poundages if we’re going to track it successfully.  There are a lot of variables to consider and unless you track and monitor those also, you can’t be sure you’re actually progressing.

So let’s look at this – the anatomy of my logbook from a recent chest workout.

Note that each exercise is numbered – if I’m doing a superset, I’ll note the moves as 1A and 1B, for example.  The “3×15” is sets x reps (obviously), and below that the weights are listed for each set.  This is the basic framework and gives me the ability to improvise significantly if so desired – but I try to limit that and stick to script as much as possible.

As to the numbered notes:

  1. I go to multiple gyms, so I mark where the workout was completed to avoid confusion in future sessions (yeah, it happens).
  2. Space over here (and below the poundages as well) is reserved for a second, third, and fourth time through a workout – aiming to progress each time by increasing the max weight on a set, doing more working sets towards the upper end of the weight range (ex:  if you’re leg press goes from 300 to 400 to 500 to 600 over 4 sets, that 300 wasn’t nearly as challenging as you thought it was), or adding volume by hitting additional reps or adding intensifiers (more on that later).
  3. The target for each set was 5 reps, so above each poundage I noted the actual reps hit (this was a particularly good day so there’s a big range here – I’ll be tightening that up next time and trying to hit that 5th rep at 245 also).
  4. Tempo notes – I use a lot of tempo work (though less on a chest workout because it does tend to irritate my right shoulder a bit), here I’m specifying how many seconds I’m holding the squeeze and negative phases of each rep for.  Also note that the reps for this move are a range, another reason to track reps above the poundages – I was able to hit the top end of my rep range for each set, so I’ll be more aggressive on that front next time.
  5. Often in the gym you’ll have multiple options for a certain exercise, and not all machines are created equal.  This Gold’s location has an Atlantis and a Life Fitness pec fly right next to each other but the poundages are nowhere near equivalent – important to track which exact machine you’re using if options exist (note that I did this on #3 as well – I went into the gym with just “machine press” intentionally left vague so I could to whichever one was unoccupied when I was ready for it).
  6. On the cable fly I added a drop set, and noted it with an arrow indicating the weight that I dropped to, and marked the reps hit at each weight above that.  This was an improv moment because I could tell at the increased weight I was going to fall short of my rep target to I wanted to do something to squeeze a little extra out of those pecs.  Next time through I’ll be trying to get closer to the target but will keep that drop set in.

Generally speaking, I do like to follow a series of workouts for 3-5 weeks, depending on how effective they feel and how quickly I’m progressing through it.  A new workout is basically an entirely new set of variables – maybe I hit 245 on incline for 4 reps, but if I move that to 3rd (instead of first) and target 10 reps instead of 5, it’s a whole new game.  My general strategy as I approach workouts over the course of a month:

  • Pass #1:  establish a baseline.  Be detailed in your logging, make a lot of notes.
  • Pass #2:  aim for new highs and eliminate some of the lower weights that probably shouldn’t have counted as working sets the first time through.
  • Pass #3:  same goal as #2 – while the improvement from 1 to 2 will likely be significant, the improvement from 2 to 3 will be much smaller.
  • Pass #4:  handicap yourself.  Make things harder while trying to still hit the same marks from pass #3.  Work in isometrics during rest breaks to keep the muscle from fully recovering, making it less ready to go for the next set – if you can still match the previous target, boom – you’re still progressing.

As you can see just by reading my thoughts reflecting on this particular workout from last week, there’s a lot of insight to be gained from a workout log if you A) take the time to record it, and B) take the time to study it.  With all the work you put into crushing your training sessions, hitting your cardio, and all the time invested in meal plan and following a diet – take a few extra minutes to strategize for your next workout before you get there.  Look at your previous performance, and establish some targets that you want to hit.  Go in with the right mindset, and get it done.

The Drop Set – Episode 5: Gym Efficiency & Coping w/Holidays!

More Q&A, a total softball thrown my way in “bodybuilding myths”, a discussion on how to be more efficient in the gym and also how to cope with holidays and all the associated food!

The Drop Set – Episode 4: Sleep, Lifting with tension

In episode 4 we do a little more Q&A, take a different spin on bodybuilding myths, discuss sleep quality and how to improve it, and finally start digging in to the nuts and bolts of proper lifting technique as we shift our focus on to creating muscular tension.  Enjoy!

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