Friday, November 29, 2013

Why Isometrics Is Critical For Your Strength Training-- Guest Post by Jarell Lindsey

I am lucky enough to have a guest post from physical culturist and supersmart dude, Jarell Lindsey guest posting today on the subject of isometrics, which, as you may know, is a subject I LOVE.  Check it out. 

Why Isometrics Is Critical For Your Strength Training

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that, even if you know about isometric training, what you know is probably wrong. I say this because the things I've seen on the Web about isometric training is largely misinformed, with a few exceptions. If the things I read about isometrics were true, I'd understand why no one would want to do them; however, isometrics are largely underrated as an exercise, and here's why.

The 15º Argument. One of the biggest arguments against isometric exercises is that they only improve strength in a 15º range from the angle the exercise is done. This means that you'd have to do a whole bunch of exercises at different angles just to get the same benefits as a full range exercise. That's a load of biscuits. That would make sense if a muscle only contracted in sections relative to the angle you worked. Instead, muscles contract or relax. That's it. They don't activate certain sections, so when you do an isometric exercise, the WHOLE muscle contracts, so the WHOLE muscle benefits. The difference with isometrics and full range exercises is with the nervous system, not the muscle; when you do a full range movement, your nervous system gets more efficient at those movements. Isometrics just builds overall, unspecific strength from the inside out.

The Functional Strength Argument. Another argument is that, because you aren't actually moving, isometric exercises don't help with functional strength. This is a very relative statement, because weightlifting won't make you a better sprinter, and wrestling won't make you a better boxer. Functional strength is relative to each individual activity, so no, isometrics will not technically build you functional strength. But for general movement, strength application, exercise, running, and pretty much all physical activity, isometrics will strengthen you, perhaps more than many other forms of exercise. Again, if you want sport specific function, train specifically for that sport, but isometrics will be great to help you build strength and conditioning. Furthermore, if you do choose to train isometrics in various angles, it's even better for general function because various angle isometric exercises do a lot to develop tendon strength.

Isometrics Don't Build Muscle. This statement is just intrinsically false. One of the first experiments of isometrics involving a frog whose leg was tied to a support showed that the frog's isometric contractions built so much muscle in that one leg that the frog jumped lop-sided. Isometrics can and do build muscle...wait for it...BUT. You won't get much muscle growth unless you do a maximal contraction. Holding a heavy weight in your hand until it drops is a cool way to train isometrics, but that's not a maximal contraction. Maximal isometrics is loading 700 lbs on the bar when you can only curl 150 lbs, but still putting all your energy into the lift as if you were going to lift it regardless. Doing an isometric push up hold for long periods of time will build some pretty decent strength, but trying to isometrically bench press a weight that's way too heavy for you will fatigue your muscles much quicker (if you do try this, please be safe with it and make sure to breathe properly throughout the exercise). 

Now isometrics don't generally give you bodybuilder size muscle, simply because isometrics builds on your strength proportional to your size. Nevertheless, there is a way to train isometrics for mass, which involves sub-maximal contractions for reps. Let's take the weight holding example; if you held a heavy weight in a curl position until your arm fatigued, you'd develop a little strength, but if you repeat that 8-10 times in your workout, you'll build some serious size. Basically, maximal isometric contractions = incredible strength; sub-maximal isometric contractions for reps = mass. Happy training :)

Jarell Lindsey is an avid physical culturist, and owner of He is an advocate of isometric training, and enjoys catch wrestling, sparring, or exercising in his free time. His training advice can be found on fitness, martial arts, and health sites across the web. Coming from a family plagued with various health conditions, he has been in pursuit of the best methods of health management and strength training around since youth. He is currently studying for a Bachelors in Exercise Science, and he hopes to motivate more youth to pursue physical fitness as a lifestyle. He offers training and diet advice, interviews from leading fitness experts, and self improvement advice. Ultimately, he encourages a physical culture revolution to overcome the modern health crisis.

Mighty Legs for Super Strength-- Guest Post by Benjamin Bergman

Benjamin Bergman is one strong dude, and a fantastic resource for strength-related subjects.  Enjoy this post he guest-blogged for me today! 

Mighty Legs For Super Strength
by Benjamin Bergman
In sports, if you want to score a touchdown you run with the ball, in basketball you jump to make a shot, in baseball you sprint the bases to steal or score a run, in soccer, you’re whole strategy starts with the legs. Without great leg training you won’t get far in most sports and you need those quick, agile and mighty oak thoroughbred legs to keep yourself in the game. A lot of injuries occur within the legs; torn muscles, ripped tendons, broken bones and other injuries so it’s important to not only keep your legs crazy strong but also durable and healthy.

I’ve seen this many times when I was a weightlifter and I still see it in other areas as well and that’s people don’t put in the effort to put on lean muscle mass in the legs. Some have great upper bodies but have flamingo legs. One of the key ingredients to successful muscle, tendon and conditioning building is squatting. I use to not like squats very much because I only knew a few variations and I’d be bored doing them, now I have learned more than a number of variations and it helps me be creative. Whether you’re a lifter or bodyweight enthusiast, the squat is a top category for powerful and enduring legs. Have the squat work for you and o variations that are suitable to your goals and you’ll find how powerful your strength becomes just by adding the Squat.

I’m not knocking anybody but I personally believe cardio training with those machines are way overrated and don’t have great value. I just don’t see the point of driving somewhere to go walking or running and if you’re walking to the gym to go on a cardio machine to run or walk, don’t you find it a little redundant? To get the best out of your cardio from my experiences and learning from other guys, high volume intense training is a great option. You can do high rep squats, sprints, holding a horsestance or wall chair and these methods alone can give you all the cardio you need. Got stuff to carry; put some rocks or sand in a bag and see how long you last carrying it, animal exercises such as duck walks, frog jumps, jumping like a kangaroo or rabbit are great exercises and will get you breathing hard fast.

When you build efficient training with basic leg exercises a lot of things come into play and first one I’d mention is hormone levels. For men, testosterone is the pinnacle for our body’s system and as we age our hormones begin to sink faster than what is told of us, to prevent this, high intense leg training can help jump start our natural growth hormone and give us new muscle to build which will burn fat, boost metabolism and build naturally strong, powerful and energetic legs. For women, one of the very things they want to have is a firm lower body with beautiful thighs and a great butt. It’s not that far of a stretch to make that happen but it takes effort and will to make that happen. When you lovely ladies do great levels of basic leg training, fat will burn off your body like a furnace, your butt will start to lift and your legs will make men’s heads turn. All these boosts can be done with sufficient leg training and not only will you have great strength and enduring legs but also lean muscle that will carry over, for men it’s those tree trunk redwood thigh legs, for women it’s that sexy, strong, confident and lean legs.

Give your legs the strength they crave and you will find significant changes in your entire body from head to toe, not to mention great amounts of energy for everyday life.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thankful (a little personal today)

It's been a really tough year, but it's also made me realize how much I have to be thankful for.

I'm thankful that my mom got to spend her last Thanksgiving on Earth with me last year.  She had never been to one of my celebrations before, since the rest of the family is back East, but she had, by some stroke of luck, decided to spend it with me in 2012.  She died unexpectedly just two months later.  I am so thankful for the time I got with her.

I'm thankful for my new studio.  I had been wanting to open a place of my own for quite some time now, and did not think it would happen this year.  But circumstances pushed me into making that decision much sooner than I'd thought, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I'd ever made.  It's scary, financially, but it's worth every penny.

I'm thankful for my amazing clients.  I am so lucky to get to do what I love and to have such awesome people I get to work with every day.  I would not be where I am without their support, and they make me love my job exponentially more. 

I am thankful for my fingertips, which grew back after my accident earlier this year despite all predictions.  I'm also thankful for all my other body parts, which I intend to keep firmly attached and in full working order for all time, thank you very much.

I'm thankful for Dave, who has been there for me 80,000% through everything I've gone through in the last year and a half, good and bad.  I am the luckiest woman in the world to have him in my life.

I'm thankful for my amazing friends, like Devjani, Wendy, Ann Marie, Lisa, Robyn, Michele, Jabina, and so many others who I did not name, who have stood by me for all the good and bad throughout the years (and, in some cases, throughout the decades!).  I define family as the people you choose to be yours rather than what blood dictates.  And these people are, without a doubt, family. 

And, of course, I am really thankful for my family-- my brothers, my sister, my niece and nephews,  my aunt and cousins.  I have a pretty fantastic blood family, too.  :)

I am thankful for my furkids, who I love so much it's ridiculous.

I am thankful for being able to perform music I love with awesome and talented people.  I am really lucky to be able to utilize both my biggest passions (fitness and performing music) in my everyday life!

I am thankful for my excellent health, the fact that I am able to have such healthy, high quality food and water at my disposal, for shelter and reliable transportation, and for all the comforts of life I probably take for granted most of the time.

I am really thankful for everything in my life, good and bad.  It's made me who I am, and I'm proud of who I am.  I am beyond lucky for everything I have and everyone I know.  Life is precious and beautiful, and it's so important to look around every once in a while and realize how fortunate we really are. 

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Beast Your Bench

The bench press is one of the most difficult exercises in which to make gains for most people.  I know it's my most challenging lift.  And for those of us who bench, the quest for a bigger bench seems neverending.  So I decided to ask a bunch of people who are much smarter than me to give their best three tips on improving the bench.  Here's what they said:

Jarell Lindsey, physical culturist, owner of Muscular Strength Systems, and all-around awesome guy:  

1) Train your upper back. This is often a neglected area for a lot of people who train chest, but this is important for increasing your bench press. A lot of the muscles of your upper body connect to your scapula (seventeen to be exact), and this includes the chest muscles. Training your back makes the tendons that connect to your chest stronger. Furthermore, training your lats allows you to set up the weight much better, so that your bench pressing form doesn't resemble a guillotine. The back is the landing pad for your press, and the more stable the landing pad, the better your press will be.

2) Keep your elbows tucked in. The bench press is largely a chest and triceps movement, but the shoulder plays a definite role in the bench press. The problem is that people sometimes put unnecessary stress on their rotator cuffs and this can cause injury. By making a conscious effort to tuck your elbows toward your sides during you lift, this recruits more strength from your triceps and will in turn help you get bigger numbers in your lift.

3) Control the weight coming back down. This will help your form, and keep you from making the weight shake while you bring it back to your chest. If you press hard all the way up and just let the weight kinda drop back down, you rob yourself of the eccentric strength benefits you could get. Eccentric movements can be very effective for strength and muscle gains, so if you control the weight coming down, you'll be sure to increase your overall strength in the movement, and get that extra pump from the workout too.

Some very quick tips from Nic Branson, trainer to several record-holding powerlifting and strongmen, who will expand on these later if you want:

Increase training frequency

Use your legs

Get out of your own head

World-champion powerlifter Ellen Stein swears by the following to pump up her bench press:

Smolov cycle


2 second pauses a few inches off the chest

The amazing strongman (and one of my biggest mentors) Bud Jeffries recommends the following: 

(Yeah, that's me up there.  :) )

1) Really learn how (the right form) to bench press and practice it. Most people don't really know how. Without good form its like trying to win the Tour de France without knowing how to ride a bike. 

2) Balance the stress. My best bench press came when I did heavy bench press but only moderate shoulder work. Too much volume or too heavy too often undoes the progress. 

3) Heavy but not absolute max single rep sets. Lets you be fast and work heavy without burning out.

4) Bonus tip-work your back. Your lats are the base for your press. Learn to use them and work them till they're strong.

Bret Contreras is much more than the "Butt Guy."  He knows a LOT about strength training, and when he talks, I listen.  

1. Learn to get tight. This takes years of practice. The set-up is just as uncomfortable as the lift itself. At the bottom of the lift, your low back is arched, your weight is on your upper back, your scaps are retracted and screwed into place, your lats are tight, and your glutes and legs are tensed.

2. Think of pulling your chest up to the bar at the bottom of the lift. This will help you stay tight. When you reverse the motion, think of pushing your body away from the bar, into the bench.

3. Utilize pause bench press, board press, floor press, and speed bench in your training. 

Dru Patrick is a world-champion lifter, and when it comes to benching, he knows his stuff.

1. Gain weight!!! If you look like a kitten you cant lift like a lion.
2. Find the weakest point in the lift and train it relentlessly with max efforts and in accessory work.
3. You better believe you can and attack the bar. I have seen lots of lifters get in the right spot and do all the right things but lift like a wimp. Attack the bar like a wild animal and press like you win a million bucks every time you're under the bar.

Fellow powerlifter and all-around cool dude Ric Garcia had this to say:

Dru nailed it, you gotta eat!!!! I am currently on a mission to add some size in order to get my bench over 2.25x BW. PR is 2x's BW in the gym so food is my friend right now.

1: If your shoulders can handle it, bench, bench, and bench some more. I have seen the best gains when I use a Grease the groove approach with my bench. I will have a programmed heavy day and speed day but also use around 60% of my 1RM and hit a easy sets of 2-5 throughout the day in order to dial my groove in. 

2: Work your triceps, HARD!!! The best benchers in the world have massive triceps. It is not by accident. 

3: Find a foot position that allows you to drive through the ground. This has taken me a long time to get down but when I do it, it makes a world of difference.

4: Learn to get TIGHT! I use STRICT ( no rotation in the hips) "heavy" renegade rows to groove tension through the whole body and rooting into the ground. They have had a great carry over to my bench.

 Last, but ABSOLUTELY not least, my amazing brother Brad Schoenfeld is kind of a smart dude when it comes to the human body.  And when I say "smart dude," what I mean is, "genius." You can't turn around without bumping into a journal article he's written. Apply these gems.


1. Train in the range of your weakness. A power rack is an excellent tool to assist in this regard. Set the pins within a narrow range of where you are weak, and then perform sets within this range. 

2. Apply an external focus of attention. This means you should concentrate on exerting force through the barbell, not your arms. Studies show external focus to be superior to an internal focus when the goal is performance-oriented. 

3. Utilize assistance exercises. Success in the bench press is only as good as your weakest link. Several muscles are involved as synergists, so it is important to make sure that they are all as strong as possible. Targeted work on the pecs, anterior delts, and triceps with single-joint movements can bring up lagging muscles so that overall strength in the lift is optimized. 

Questions?  Comments?  Suggestions of your own?  Post 'em here!! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kicking Cancer's Ass

2013 has been brutal.  Cancer took my mother in January, and everywhere I look, it seems to be wrapping its nasty hands around someone else I know.  I don't know if it's just in my own circle, or if cancer cases are growing exponentially.  Whatever the case, though, while I know full well there are no guarantees, I also strongly believe that we can give our bodies the very best possible defense against cancer (and lots of other diseases) through diet, exercise, and lifestyle.

There are all kinds of things that can cause cancer in our world.  However, there are certain lifestyle changes that are particularly important to change.  What to avoid:
  • Smoking (duh)
  • High levels of meat consumption, and processed meats in particular (1) (2) (3) (4)
  • A sedentary lifestyle (1) (2) (3)
  • Being unhappy (1) (2) (3)
  • Working the night shift (1) (2)
  • Poor sleep (1) (2) (3)
What about cell phone use?  There is some evidence to support a link between cell phone use and brain cancer, but the jury is still out.  (1) (2) (3) (4)

What about artificial sweeteners?  As much as I'd love to hate them, so far, there is little evidence that artificial sweeteners cause cancer.  I still don't like using them, though.  (1) (2) (3)

Here are some of the things my research has shown me are cancer's worst enemies:

Eat Your Fruits And Veggies.  There appear to be genetic variables in the ability to glean benefit from the many cancer-killing veggies out there (2), as well as in the ability to fight the cancer-causing effects of carcinogenic foods.  The cooking method will also affect the effectiveness of fruits and vegetables' health-giving properties. (2)  That having been said, however, a high vegetable intake has been associated with a decrease in the risk for many kinds of cancer, (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) although some studies show that the association is not significant,  (1) (2) (3) (4) and some studies report mixed evidence,  (1) (2), although there are those that question these statistics (1).  As with all dietary science, the data changes often and new findings pop up constantly.  The key here is not to become too focused on one food in particular; eat a wide variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables to glean the most benefit from their various properties.  The most effective cancer fighters in the fruits and veggies group appear to be:

  • Carotenoid-rich fruits and veggies (yellows, oranges, and greens), for lung cancer in particular, but possibly other cancers as well (1) (2) (3) 
  • Lycopene rich fruits and veggies (especially canned tomato products) for prostate cancer (1) (2)
  • Mushrooms for breast cancer and other cancers (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
  • Cruciferous vegetables (1) (2) (3) and, in particular, their sprouts (1) (2) (3)
  • Beans, including soybeans (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
  • Berries and cherries (1) (2) (3) (4)
  • Grapes and grape seeds (1) (2) (3) (4)
  • Hot peppers (capsacin) (1) (2) (3)
  • Citrus fruits (1) (2
  • Beets (1) (2) (3)
Spice up your life.    There are several spices that not only add flavor to your food, but also do great things to fight disease, including cancer.  Some of the greatest are:
  • Turmeric, one of my very favorite anti-inflammatories, has been found to have tremendous cancer-fighting properties, and can even help symptoms stemming from cancerous lesions when used topically. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
  • Alliums (garlic, leeks, onions) (1) (2) (3) (4) although there have been studies showing an increased risk of colorectal cancer for garlic consumption. (1)
  • Rosemary (1) (2) (3)
  • Basil (1) (2) (3)
  • Licorice, particularly for breast cancer (1) (2) (3)
Have teatime.  Tea contains numerous polyphenols that send cancer running for its mommy, but the type of tea consumed is important, as is the temperature.  
  • Black tea There is mixed evidence both for (1) and against (1) (2) (3) (4) black tea in the fight against cancer.  For the most part, the evidence is not promising for black tea, and its consumption might actually increase the risk of prostate cancer.
  • Green tea, on the other hand, has a ton of evidence showing its usefulness as a cancer-fighter.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
  • White tea has significant evidence as a chemoprotective agent.  (1) (2) (3)
  • Rooibos/Red tea also shows great cancer-killing promise.  (1) (2) (3)
  • Pu-erh tea is a fermented black tea, and may have significant health benefits, although there may be some issues with toxicity as well.  (1) (2) (3)
Go nuts.  And seeds. Various nuts and seeds show chemoprotective promise.
  •  Flaxseed has shown some promise as a cancer-fighter, although more study should be done.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
  • Chia seeds are a nutritional powerhouse with lots of potential for helping to keep the body cancer-free:  (1) (2) (3) (4)
  • Hemp seeds are great additions to salads and other edibles, and are great health-boosters: (1) (2
  • Caraway seeds aren't just for rye bread any more.  (1) (2) (3)
  • Almonds may be useful in battling colon cancer in particular.  (1) (2) (3
  • Brazil nuts are a rich source of dietary selenium, which is one reason why they help fight cancer.  (1) (2)
  • Walnuts show higher levels of antiproliferative activity than most other nuts.  (1) (2) (3)
What about coffee?  There is mixed information on whether or not coffee has a link to cancer.  For the most part, it does not seem to have any carcinogenic effect (1) (2) (3), although there may be some evidence of a positive relationship between coffee and lung cancer (1) (2).  This relationship, however, might be skewed by cigarette smoking or other lifestyle choices.   Coffee may have a protective effect against colon and rectal cancer.  Three cups a day seemed to help protect men from pancreatic cancer in one study, and four cups seemed to protect against premenopausal breast cancer in another.  For the most part, coffee seems to have a neutral or protective effect against many types of cancer, and little evidence exists linking coffee to increased risk of cancer.

Indulge in chocolate.  Eat high-cacao content chocolate-- besides being awesome, the stuff helps fight cancer.  (1) (2) (3) (4)

A few other soldiers in the cancer war:
  • Spirulina/algae (1) (2) (3)
  • Astaxanthin (1) (2) (3)
This is by no means an exhaustive list; as much as we have environmental and lifestyle choices working against us, we have lots of ammunition at our disposal, too.  Arm yourself.

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Little Bench Press Tutorial

I get a lot of questions about proper bench press form.  Since there's a lot of confusion about this topic, I thought I'd post a little tutorial.  Hope this helps!