Unlock Your Highest Potential

Selected questions from Jan 07 - June 07

Q: What are the most important training factors for hypertrophy?

A: Big, compound lifts taken to within a rep of failure ; Lots of good, clean food and supplements (especially protein) ; Adequate rest/recovery strategies (especially sleep) ... Those are the basics; once those are taken care of, it's more about details than anything else.

Follow up Q: All right, then what are the most important factors for max strength?

A: Using big, compound lifts (sounds familiar, right?) ; Having a great training environment (both gym-wise and partner-wise) ; Using the max effort (ME) method ; Training what's weak (this includes specific body-parts, training where you miss in the specific movement, and training what you need with regards to the strength curve.


Q: Why do you recommend I take so naps? That’s for my grandma! (question from a hard headed athlete … I’ll ALWAYS  take a lousy athlete on a garbage program with a good attitude over a gifted athlete that has a horrible attitude.)

A: In real life situations, the consequences of being sleep-deprived are grave. Remember these international disasters: Exxon Valdez oil-spill, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the Challenger shuttle explosion? Theres been a lot of speculation that they were linked to sleep-deprivation. Taking this into the gym can mean that the ability to concentrate and focus can become compromised which means less of an effort and intensity in the workout.

Athletes who suffer from sleep-deprivation have been shown to see a decrease in cardiovascular performance (time to exhaustion is quicker). Sleep-deprivation in studies has been shown to occur around 30-72 hours. For an athlete who has a full course-load, studies, mid terms, and trains, sleep-deprivation can accumulate very rapidly. Another study looked at cortisol and performance levels after staying up for an 8-hour period overnight. Performance declined and cortisol levels increased. For someone looking to pack on muscle and increase strength, this is bad news since the main focus is to minimize cortisol release since it is a catabolic hormone.From a fat loss perspective, sleep deprivation can impair fat loss through a decrease in levels of the satiety hormone leptin, and increases in the hunger hormone ghrelin. Essentially, the accelerator for hunger [ghrelin] is pushed and the brake for satiety [leptin] is released. The leptin levels are screaming ‘More food! More food!’because it is responsible for telling the body when it is full. However, with decreased production of this hormone, the body will crave calories (especially in the form of carbs) even though its requirements have been met. For someone trying to diet, good luck! Voluntarily sleeping less than 6 hours per night has been associated with an increased incidence of impaired glucose tolerance, according to a cohort analysis of the Sleep Heart Health Study (SHHS) reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine.This may mean that a chronic lack of sleep can impair glucose tolerance, which can make body recomposition a difficult task. Most people have a hard enough time trying to regulate their carbohydrates and time them so that the body metabolizes them efficiently.


Q: I've got an imbalance in my hips, which according to my physical therapist is causing shoulder problems. My right hip sits slightly higher than my left and is rotated out slightly. I feel as if my lower back is tighter on the right side. I also occasionally get pain at the top of the right hamstring when doing Romanian deadlifts, good mornings, etc. Any idea what could be causing it, and what specifically I should work on?

A: I'd bet money that you have a tight hip flexor (tensor fascia latae, psoas, iliacus and/or rectus femoris) on the right side. Several (of these muscles) are also lateral rotators, and if they are shutting your glutes off, then your piriformis could be working overtime to externally rotate the hip.  This would increase your lordotic curve (e.g. increase back pain) and put your hamstring in a constant stretch. Increasing your lordotic curve can be painful I'd start all your workouts off with static stretching of the right hip flexors and piriformis, followed immediately by glute briding, X-band walks, and other similar exercises that recruit the gluteus. Then, take this into your workout by forcing the glutes to do their share of the work on lunges, pull-throughs, Romanian deadlifts, etc.



Q: There are a million diet books out there; what books do you personally recommend?

A: I don’t recommend “diet books”.  Like you said theres a million diet books but yet we have a obesity epidemic. Why? Because there’s a big component missing from these “diet books” that keeps people from learning how to lose weight permanently. Behavior change, plain and simple! And you know what's not missing? Gimmicks. Diet books are written on gimmicks. That's part of the problem. I wouldn't say all mainstream diet books are crap (i.e. some components of the Zone diet and the nutrition section on Men's Health Book of Power Training is decent). Furthermore, more of the problem is the mindset of people who buy the books. Their mentality is all quick-fix, not "I'm going to eat this way for life. Diet books need to address the psychological side of things (i.e. the emotional and addiction issues). Again, we know Twinkies are bad; the problem is we eat them anyway. That stuff starts in the head, not on the plate.



Q: How do I rehabilitate a herniated disc? It doesn't seem like such a bad hernia: I don't need painkillers or pads, but I just get an annoying pain once or twice per day when walking or standing for a long time.

A: Here are the basics that I've used with my back pain clients/patients over the years:

  • Focus on hip mobility. Stick with exercises like A-P swings, S-S swings, knee hugs, pull-back butt kicks, etc. As mobility improves, then you can move into different/more challenging exercises.
  • Focus on core/lumbar stability exercises. Depending on how acute your condition is, I wouldn't do any movement-based exercises at all; start off with basics like bird dogs, glute bridges, and front/side pillars.
  • The biggies to avoid here are excessive movement at the lumbar spine: excessive extension, rotation, and especially flexion could all be problematic.
  • If you're going to do lower body exercises, you may have to focus on single-leg lifts for the time being.

My best advice, however, is to consult with a qualified physical therapist, if you haven't done so already.

Q: My dad is suffering from plantar fasciitis in his left foot. His doctor's recommendations were basically to ice it and wear supportive shoes. Is there anything else he can do?

A: Here's my quick-and-dirty fix for the plantar fasciitis people:

  • Stretch the calves; knees straight (gastrocnemius) and knees bent (soleus). The best stretch for this is the one where you lie on your back with your leg straight and a towel over your toes. Pull the leg back into a hamstring stretch, then really pull on the towel to bring the toes toward your shins. This will hurt like hell, I guarantee.
  • Foam roll the calves, peroneals, and plantar fascia. Rolling a tennis ball on the plantar region (bottom of the foot) is very effective as well.
  • Secret weapon in the fight to alleviate plantar fasciitis. Work on strengthening your anterior tibialis (dorsiflexor) muscle.
  • As the doctor recommends, ice the plantar fascia to reduce inflammation.



Q: What time of day do I need to stop eating? I usually hear anything from 6-9 PM. Is this really important?

A:  There is no magical time. If I'm hungry at 10 PM, I'm going to eat at 10 PM, and I usually do. It's more about total calories than the specific time of day.  Now, with that said, I wouldn't recommend a 64 ounce Slurpee from 7-Eleven right before catching some shuteye, but, then again, I wouldn't recommend that any other time either. As a general rule of thumb, if a drink takes two hands to hold, it's more than you need in one sitting. And, really, if there was just one magical time, why does every recommendation change (4 PM, 6 PM, 8 PM, etc.)? Energy balance is relative but it's also additive (throughout the day and week). I've found that people who restrict their intake starting at 6 PM are more likely to go off their diet at night, or don't last as long as other people because they burn up all their willpower.