Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Process of Building Muscle


Too many people forget how this process works, or they ignore it or they never understood it in the first place. 
Not gaining muscle fast enough? Just do more exercise! Not losing weight fast enough for you? Just add more cardio! Or work out 6 day a week instead of 5! Most of these answers are often WRONG!

What follows is an extreme over simplification of the entire process but understand the basics and you'll be ahead of a lot of other people.


When you work out you are stimulating/stressing the muscle (exposing the muscle to movement/weight it not accustomed to). This causes small microscopic tears in the muscle fibers (that’s why you may get some muscle soreness) and the body adapts to the stress by repairing itself. In the process of repairing itself it increases the size and /or the number of fibers in the muscle making it stronger and /or larger.

Some soreness is actually a good sign. It tells you that you have worked the muscle enough to make it adapt by getting stronger. You will quickly learn the difference between good pain (soreness) and bad pain. If the pain is in the joint it could be bad pain.  If it’s in the connective tissue (ligaments or tendons) it could be bad pain. If it’s in the muscle and goes away in 2 to 3 days it’s not a problem. Note: You don’t always have to experience muscle soreness to get stronger. Your central nervous system will also adapt to the exercise. You should be at least moderately tired when your workout is finished but feel like you could do the workout again within hours.


The human body is a remarkably adaptable and efficient organism.  The average person’s body will adapt to stimulation within only two to six weeks depending on the person’s experience with resistance training, nutrition, recovery and genetics. But the average is around four weeks. In other words, unless you change up the stimulation every four weeks or so you will likely hit a plateau in your development. Meaning you will slow or stop the progress of getting stronger.

You don’t need to completely change your workout program every four weeks to avoid a plateau. There are a number of ways to alter the stimulation without changing you entire program:
·         Increase Resistance- Increase the load (weight). Depending on experience with training, the goal of the training program (strength, hypertrophy, fat loss, speed, stamina, power, etc) and the muscle group. (Some muscle groups recover and adapt faster than others) the weight should be increased every 2 to 4 workouts for a given muscle group.
·         Increase Volume- Increase the number of sets. Increase from three sets to 4 sets per workout for example.
·          Increase Intensity- Drop sets, rest-pause, etc.
·         Decrease rest periods between sets. For large muscle groups (glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, chest or back) the normal rest periods should be no more than 1 to 3 minutes. For smaller muscle groups (biceps,triceps, calves, forearm, traps) the normal rest periods should be between 30 seconds and 1 minute.
·         Increase time under tension (TUT)- Doing the reps at a slower pace. For example: Performing the negative portion of a repetition by lowering the weight at a measured three to 5 second pace while using the same number of sets and repetitions. Note that you may need to decrease the weight by 10-20%. Studies show that the eccentric (negative) portion causes more adaption than the concentric(positive) portion of a rep.
·         Change the angle of attack: Varying the grip width (using a wider or a closer grip, changing the position of the feet in leg exercises, changing the grip using various palm positions (overhand, sublimated, reverse, false) or devices to increase the size of the bar.


If you have an injury or an illness everyone knows there is a period of recovery required for their body to heal properly. Yet, many people don’t allow proper time for their body to heal from the intentional damage inflicted by exercise.
Unless you are very advanced at your chosen method of exercise each body part should not be worked more than once or twice (at most) per week with at least 48 to 72 hours between workouts for that muscle group. The larger muscle groups require a longer recovery time than smaller muscle groups and compound exercises working multiple muscle groups simultaneously (Dead lift, squat, etc) if lifting heavy, may need up to a week recovery time.
The best medicine for recovery is sleep. That’s the main purpose of sleep. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours sleep per night every night but especially on your workout days.  For those people accustomed to sleeping less this may take some “practice”. But it will soon become a habit for most people.  At first it may mean changing you normal schedule. Try going to bed an hour earlier. I bet you can function just fine if you have to miss the latest episode of “Swamp People” or “Housewives of Jackson's Gap”. Without sleep, your progress will stall.


This part of the process is probably the most important.  Your body needs certain nutrients to survive. It needs certain nutrients to be able to grow. Without adequate nutrition your progress will stall very, very quickly. If you want to get stronger, build more muscle, get faster, lose weight or whatever your nutrition needs to support that goal.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be any sort of strict “diet”. (“Diet” is a four letter word!) But it must provide the nutrients your body needs. And eliminate as many” empty” calories as possible. Sometimes “nutrient timing” is almost as important to your goal as what you eat. (When you eat what).  A nutrient program and nutrient timing program should be designed around your specific fitness goal.

The human body runs on Glycogen. Glycogen powers you brain, your organs, and all other body functions including your muscles. Glycogen is derived from the breakdown of Carbohydrates’ first. The secondary source, if sufficient carbs are not available is Protein. Provide insufficient carbs and the body starts to break down muscle tissue!  Usually not what you are looking for in any fitness program.
The last macro nutrient used by the body for energy is fat. Fat cells are used for storage not for energy except as a last resort.

Consume too many carbs (more than the body needs for current and short term energy needs) and it is converted to fat. Consume too few carbs (less than the body needs for current and short term energy) and the body starts breaking down muscle for energy. Carbs contain approximately 9 calories per gram

The muscles are primarily protein and protein is necessary to get stronger and for hypertrophy (muscle growth). Too much protein above that needed for growth and it too can be converted to fat. Protein contains approximately 4 calories per gram. Protein also takes more energy (calories) to digest than fat or carbs.

Fat is the body’s storage facility for reserves in times of extreme deprivation of other macro nutrients but it also have other very important functions. Fat is necessary in producing and utilization of some enzymes, some hormones and organ function and maintenance.  Fat contains approximately 9 calories per gram.

Get your diet right first with adequate protein, carbs and fat. You cannot out train a bad diet!

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lifter's Elbow. What Causes it? How Do I Fix It?


“Lifter’s elbow” is a fairly common ailment for gym goers. Lifter’s elbow is rarely any different in its causes and cures than “tennis elbow” or “golfer’s elbow”. 

Most cases are basically “tendonitis”. Tendons are very strong, cord- like connective tissue that’s attaches muscle to bone. The most common causes of tendonitis are overuse, repetitive motion, imbalances between a tendon and its opposing counterpart, or a combination of these factors.

Consider, as an example, an avid golfer. He (or she) may hit hundreds of golf balls a week (or even a day). All using the same grip, same hand position, same pattern of movement. Do you think one muscle group on one side of his arm is going to get stronger than the other? Of course it is. So, you have overuse, repetitive motion, and an imbalance between opposing counterparts.

You often get the same issues when lifting.

What makes lifting somewhat unique is that lifters can do things to reduce all three major causes of tendonitis easier that the golfer or tennis player. The golfer has to maintain basically the same grip on almost all his shots, make the same or very similar swing on all shots and if he’s anything like me he has to practice. A lot!

Causes and prevention for lifters

Poor Grip strength is a major culprit causing tendonitis for lifters. A weak grip puts a tremendous amount of strain on forearms, wrist flexors and finger flexors.

The obvious answer is to strengthen your grip. I’m not talking about those tiny springy thingies you squeeze while sitting at your desk or watching TV. I’ll talking true functional grip strength.

Farmer’s carries for 15 to 20 yards carrying 50% of your body weight in each hand (to start).

 Using the “false grip”.  The false grip is often used by lifters on pushing exercises. In using a false grip you don’t actually grip the bar with your thumbs. The bar sits on the fleshy lower part or your hand, more or less, sitting in line with your wrist.

The false grip can unquestionably boost your bench press numbers but it has some drawbacks, too.  It does nothing to strengthen you grip and it puts considerably more stress on the wrist and elbow flexors.

Using a supinated grip (palms facing the body) and pronated grip (palms away from the body) on all lifts

Use a neutral grip (palms facing each other) more often. The neutral grip allows the shoulder, wrist and elbow to all be more centrally located to each other, reducing the angle of the arms to the upper body, lessening the stress on the joints.


Tendons are made of much tougher, less elastic material the other muscles. They don’t grow as fast, they aren’t as flexible and they take longer to heal.
These areas need to be warmed up more than muscle through static stretching and with additional “functional warm-ups” (doing light warm up sets using lighter weight before you begin you actual “working sets”). Keep the affected area warmed up by doing additional static stretching between sets.

Myofacial Release

Think of this as self-massage. Technically, myofacial release refers to self massage of trigger points for the facia tissue surrounding muscles. But the same type of self massage can aid in warming up and relaxing of other types of tissue. Massaging the affected area with your thumb or knuckle or even a small hard ball (golf ball or racket ball, for example) can help keep the affected area warmed up.

Pressure straps

You can purchase these straps at almost any pharmacy. And they do work for relieving pain and allowing more weight to be handled.  These devices and how they work will be the subject of a different post. For our purposes here let’s just say they do work. For more detailed information: 

Use of unilateral exercises 

Switch to unilateral exercises to lessen the strain on the affected area. Use dumbbells or machines instead of a barbell for curls and use a lighter weight on the affected side.


This one is fairly obvious. Sometimes rest is the only cure.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Fitness FAQ


I’m always looking for ideas for content. And specifically content that is relevant to the greatest number of people. So help me help you better!

I want to answer your questions but you have to ask them first
So use the email address at the bottom of each post or under my “Contact” tab on . Or just leave ma a comment. I answer your questions directly to you or in a future post (without using your name in the post).

Be sure my email, is in your trusted contacts list so it doesn’t go to your spam folder.


Steve Carroll


How long should I stick with my current program?

As long as it’s working.

Don’t give up on your program too quickly or you’ll probably miss a good part of the benefits that program was designed for. You’ll probably hit a few periods where you don’t feel like you are making progress but stick with the program if it was working for you in the beginning.

To get over those minor sticking points just make a few tweaks to combat Adaptation Response every few weeks. ( increased repetitions, weight, sets, time under tension, density (work completed in a set amount of time), range of motion, degree of exercise difficulty, or exercise order)

Programs are usually designed for a minimum of 12 weeks but for some people a program may continue to work for much longer. If you are still progressing after 12 weeks stick with it.

Just don’t stick with same program forever!

What is the difference between a drop set and a rest-pause set?

Both are means of increasing the intensity and/or volume of your sets. Neither should be performed (usually) except on the last set of any given exercise.

Drop Set:

To perform a drop set, immediately (without any rest period) decreases the weight you used on your set by a minimum of 20% to 50% and resume the lift until momentary muscle failure. Drop sets are usually easier to do on machines or a cable apparatus because all you have to do to drop the weight is move the pin in the weight stack.

Rest-Pause Set:

To perform a rest-pause set decrease the weight 20% to 50% then resume the set at the lower weight after a 10 to 20 second rest period and continue to momentary muscle failure. Rest-Pause works well with free weights because you have time to remove plates from the bar during your brief rest period.

Either drop sets or rest pause can be continued more than once on any given set if you like. You would simply continue to drop the weight each time then continue to failure again. Beginners and even intermediate trainees need to work up to multiple drop sets or rest- pause. They will kick your butt! (in a good way).

Should I take a multivitamin?

The answer is debatable. Your first choice should almost always be to get you vitamins and minerals from whole foods. Very few people eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables these days and I’m as guilty as many other people.

Canned fruits and vegetables are usually lacking in adequate vitamins and minerals and often have ingredients added that may sabotage your meal plan. Almost all have added sugar and copious amounts of salt, preservatives, artificial colors and other ingredients only a chemist could pronounce. Read the labels! Some brands may be better than others.

Getting you vitamins from a bottle are the only viable options for some people. But supplements have their own set of problems. Most are not considered drugs and are not routinely tested for purity or validated for their actual ingredients by the FDA. Recent testing by independent labs (not FDA) has disclosed large discrepancies in actual ingredients and their labels. These were brands sold by major retail outlets. They, at best, aren’t what they claim to be and, at worst, actually harmful.

In addition, many vitamin and mineral supplements, even if what they claim to be, are not as effective as vitamins and minerals from whole foods. According to some nutrition experts your body absorbs more vitamin C from eating one large apple (10.3 mg of vitamin C) than from a 1500 mg vitamin C tablet.

So, get your vitamins from whole foods as much as possible. If you do use those from a bottle, stick with the large name brands.


SEND YOUR QUESTIONS TO . If I don’t have an answer I’ll find someone who does.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Girl that Lifts?

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Exercise Selection Based on Your Personal Physical Structure


“You are unique…….just like everyone else”

You’ve heard that phrase before from me. But it’s always important that you remember it when it comes to training. There are any number of exercises you can do for any given body part or muscle group but all of them won’t work well for you.  Some of them may even contribute to your chance for injury. A lot of this has to do with your individual physical structure.

It’s obvious that some people are taller than others, some have larger hands, longer arms or shorter legs or wider shoulders or bigger feet. But there are also differences that reflect your particular habits or lifestyle. Do you sit all day at work, or spend all day on your poor flat feet?  If your job involves physical labor, is it predominately lifting or pushing or pulling?

Be careful of taking advice from untrained individuals on what exercises work best and how you should do those exercises.  What works for them may not work for you or may even cause you injury. Often, the exercise may work fine for you with just a minor tweak or two…a change in foot or hand position, a different grip, dumb bells instead of a barbell (or vice versa).

Let’s look a few scenarios:

Your friend is much shorter than you with shorter arms and is more “barrel chested”. All other variables are equal (age, weight, experience, training time, and grip).

Who is going to have the better bench press? Hint: it’s not likely you! Your friend is going to have a shorter range of motion. His arms are shorter and his chest is closer to the top of his range of motion.

Your longer arms and less rounded rib cage not only mean you must move the weight farther, your longer forearms puts your elbows below the level of the bench and gives the elbow a tendency to flair our away from your sides. Both of which puts much more stress on your shoulder complex. It also stretches the pectoral muscle and its tendon attachment to the upper arm to extreme ranges of motion.

What’s the fix? A closer grip will shorten the range of motion as will keeping the elbows closer to the bench. Unless you are in an official competitive meet you can also shorten the range of motion by not taking the lift to lock-out (don’t push the weight all the way up to fully extend you elbow) and/or lower all the way to the chest.

Genetic Differences.

Other differences exist between individuals. Some are genetic and some are caused by lifestyle. Genetic differences are more difficult to fix.
Lack of sufficient hip mobility, for example, is usually caused by lifestyle. But many cases of insufficient hip mobility can be genetic. The structure of the hip joint can vary substantially between individuals. And this can be true of almost every joint. An individual’s hip structure can make it difficult to do certain exercises. Squats, for example.   But there are almost always alternatives to every movement. Using squats as an example there are: box squats, hack squats, goblet squats, front squats and others.

You have a desk job and spend most of your time seated behind a computer screen.

The odds are very high that you body had adapted to your occupational restrictions and your shoulders (and several other muscle groups) are no longer in the optimum position. Your shoulders likely have shifted well forward of where they should be. (Translation; your posture sucks) All this causes weaknesses in portions of your shoulder’s muscle structure and the improper alignment of the bony structures.

Do you think you should do the same exercises as your friend who pulls heavy loads all day at work?

The fix? Start doing twice as many pulling exercises as pushing exercises until your shoulders and posture are improved. And find pushing exercises or variations that don’t cause pain.

While we’re on the subject of sitting your entire working life, do you remember when you were a toddler and could squat ATG? (Ass to grass). Do you think age has anything to do with the fact you can’t even get your thighs parallel to the ground now? Age probably has little to do with it.

Look at a National Geographic Magazine and see how many old people you can find still squatting the same way you did as a toddler. They can still squat that way because they don’t have office chairs or dinner chairs or easy chairs or double cheeseburgers with extra large fries and a large chocolate shake!

You’ve been lifting now for a while and your chest has been growing steadily. Suddenly, you’re having shoulder pain.

Your chest has gotten stronger but you’ve neglected your back. (You can’t see it in the mirror so it’s not as important. Right?)

You have an imbalance. Your chest muscles (Pectorals) have pulled your shoulder forward of where they should be. Leading to poor posture and the same type of injury as sitting in that office chair all day. And guess what. The fix is the same.

These are just a few examples and the fixes are greatly oversimplified. There are often many ways to skin the same cat.

The point of all this is:
1.     Find what needs fixing and fix it (posture, imbalance)
2.     Experiment with different exercises for each muscle group. “No Pain-No Gain” is bunk. If it hurts, find a better exercise or a better set up or a better variation
3.     Don’t wait until you have an injury or pain that limits your progress to find the best program that works for you.

   For dozens of variations on different exercises go to  and find what works best for you or contact me by commenting below or email.

 If I don’t have an answer I’ll try to find someone who does.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Which Should I Use; Machines or Free Weights?


Both! In fact, you should use (or at least try out) all equipment available to you.
Both machines and free weights have advantages and disadvantages. Which you use will also depend on your primary goals.

Weight Machines

The Good:

(+) Machines are easy to learn and to use. Most even have a picture or directions attached to the machine itself. Or, just watch other people using the machine ahead of you. (I hesitated about adding that last sentence-I’ve seen some people do some very strange things on a machine) As the old saying goes: “When all else fails, read the directions.”

(+) Machines allow you to use more weight and or more volume without assistance. A spotter is often needed for heavy loads using free weights.

(+)Machines usually force you to use better form on any particular exercise (but not always)

(+) Machines allow better isolation on particular muscles or muscle groups

(+) machines usually allow you to work around certain injuries or disabilities

(+) In general, machines are usually safer from the standpoint that, if you get in trouble, the machine is not going to let you drop several hundred pounds on yourself.

The Bad:

(-) Machines usually don’t require you to balance or stabilize your body to any large degree. Therefore, you are not using or strengthening the stabilizing muscles surrounding your joints as much as few weights.

(-) Most machines require you to use the same path of movement day in and day out. This can lead to overuse injuries from repetitive movement (think carpel tunnel syndrome).

(-) Many older machines don’t allow you to adjust the path of the movement to your particular needs. (Height, length of the arms or legs, differences in shoulder and hip mobility)

(-) Machines are not as functionally useful for everyday movements nor for athletic movement.

Free Weights (Barbells, dumb bells, kettle bells, etc)

The Good:

(+) Free weights allow for a full range of motion. You are not required to use a predetermined path or pattern

(+) Generally better for improving strength by placing greater emphasis on the stabilizing and auxiliary muscles.

(+) Free weight training provides more functional strength for everyday life and athletics.

(+) Free weights are necessary when performing the major compound movements (Squats, dead lift, etc) though machines are available that mimic these movements it’s difficult to get the same results.

(+) Free weights are much less expensive if you are using a home gym and take up much less space.

The Bad:

(-) Free weights have a much higher learning curve than machines. Lifting heavy with free weights requires a certain amount of skill and training. Bad form with free weights can quickly lead to injury.

(-) Heavy free weight exercises require the assistance of a spotter or partner

You’ll hear the free weights are better for strength and functional movement and machines are better for body building. But the studies are in disagreement. I read a study recently indicating no difference in strength gains between machines and free weights. But the parameters of the study were a little fuzzy.

My opinion:

Both are helpful and beneficial.
There is little doubt that you can make faster strength gains with the compound lifts with free weights. But that may be because there are no machines that closely mimic the heavy compound lifts. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the future. There are some out there but they have a long way to go to be as effective as free weights.
Building mass using isolation (single joint) exercises is probably better on machines because the machines make it harder to cheat on the movement. Here the machines have an advantage.

So use whatever works best for your goals.

SEND YOU QUESTIONS TO  If I don’t have an answer I’ll find someone who does.


Check out the Special 20% off on Select Proteins and BCAA's in the sidebar to the right!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fix Your Puny Calves, Traps, Abs and Pecs | T Nation


A while back I ran an article about "Work Your Lagging Body Parts The Hardest" You can revisit the article by clicking on the title.

Those lagging body parts most likely include your calves, traps, abs and chest. These are almost everyone's hardest muscles to coax into a growth response.

The article below by Christian Thibaudeau at T-Nation shows you how. Specializing in building bodies that perform as well as they look, Christian Thibaudeau is one of the most sought-after trainers by the world's top bodybuilders and CrossFit competitors.

Just click below and enjoy....
Fix Your Puny Calves, Traps, Abs and Pecs | T Nation

Send your questions or comments to

Check out the Special 20% off on Select Proteins and BCAA's in the sidebar to the right!


Monday, September 21, 2015

The Simple Diet for Athletes | T Nation


A few weeks ago I wrote an article about "Healthy foods that Aren't Healthy" about foods labeled as healthy or commonly believed to be healthy that may be wrecking your nutrition plan. You can read it here:

Healthy Foods that Aren't Healthy

Chris Shugart at wrote an article that backs up what I stated and goes a few steps farther. It's basically a way to simplify your nutrition plan using common sense and things you already know but have a tendency to ignore. Too many plans make things so complicated that few people will stick to them very long. If you hate counting calories or counting macros, weighing all your food or eating smelly food from plastic microwavable trays you'll like this approach. The best part-it works.

Chris works with professional athletes including NFL players but the plan works for anyone.

Read Chris's article here:

The Simple Diet for Athletes | T Nation

Check out the Special 20% off on Select Proteins and BCAA's in the sidebar to the right!


Friday, September 18, 2015

Amazing Exercise for People Over 50

Begin by standing on a comfortable surface, where you have plenty of room at each side.

With a 5-lb potato bag in each hand, extend your arms straight out from your sides

and hold them there as long as you can. Try to reach a full minute, and then relax.

Each day you'll find that you can hold this position for just a bit longer.

After a couple of weeks, move up to 10-lb potato bags.
Then try 50-lb potato bags.
Eventually try to get to where you can lift a 100-lb potato bag in each hand
and hold your arms straight for more than a full minute. I'm already at this level!

After you feel confident at that level, put a potato in each bag.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Frequently Asked Fitness Questions


If I stop working out will my muscle turn to fat?
Muscle does not turn to fat. They are two very different types of cells. When you see your favorite athletes after retirement and they’ve put on a lot of weight it’s because their metabolism has slowed as they age and because their muscle mass has declined. They burn fewer calories in their daily activity. And they keep eating like they did their entire career but the training has stopped.
By the way, fat does not turn to muscle either. As a matter of fact, if you are overweight and lose weight you don’t lose fat cells. You still have roughly the same number of fat cells. The cells just shrink as you burn the fat stored there. That’s one reason it’s so easy to gain it back if you go back to old eating habits. The cells are already there just waiting for you to fall off the wagon.

Should I take a pain reliever (such as Nsaids) for DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)?

As a rule, No. Scientifically speaking, studies have shown that Nsaids and aspirin interfere with rate of recovery from training by masking some of the signals that initiate the construction and repair process including protein synthesis.
I do use Nsaids on occasion for tendonitis or minor joint pain but I wouldn’t use it just for simple DOMS soreness. If DOMS is severe enough to affect your workout I would increase my warm up and/or add some stretching to affected muscles. That will usually eliminate much of the discomfort.

Aren’t squats bad for my knees? (This one is important!)

NO. Squats can be absolutely brutal and they will challenge you every set, but there's another one of those myths floating around -- that they're bad for knees. Squats are not bad for the knees; improper squats are bad for the knees. Squatting with good form has been actually shown to be beneficial for the knees and make the move one of the biggest and best compound movements  you can perform. Every routine should include some form of squats. Squats will build a big foundation of strength.
On the flip side, squatting halfway or incorrectly can lead to problems, including knee pain. When you perform squats make sure your toes stay in line with your knees. Try not to make your knees buckle out or in.(Especially in) If you can’t get down to parallel on a conventional squat you need find an alternative and/or work on you hip and ankle  flexibility before attempting heavy lifts. Some people simply don’t have the hip flexibility to do conventional squats.

Alternatives include: Front squats, hack squats, box squats, split squats, Zelcher squats, Jefferson squats and others. There is almost always some form of squat that will work. You may have to work your way up to conventional back squats but the results are worth the effort regardless of your goal. You can see videos of all the squat variations at

SEND YOUR QUESTIONS TO  If I don’t have an answer I’ll find someone who does. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How to Protect you Shoulders when Lifting


The shoulder is the most mobile and flexible joint in the human body. It is also the area most prone to injury.

Compared to the stability of the hip joint, (another ball and socket joint) where the head of the femur (thigh bone) sits deep in the socket of the pelvis, the shoulder joint is much less contained, with the head of the upper arm bone sitting in a very shallow indentation in the scapula (shoulder blade). Think of a golf ball sitting on a tee. The muscles around the hip joint are some of the largest and strongest in the body. Whereas the muscles of the shoulder joint are generally thin and much weaker.

Even minor shoulder injuries can be painful and take an inordinate amount of time to heal. A major shoulder injury (such as a rotator cuff tear) can take up to a year or more to heal.

Causes and Prevention

The flat bench press seems to be most people’s favorite exercise and a universal measure of strength.
As soon as anyone knows you lift the most common question is “How much do you bench?” Bench presses are, or course, a pushing exercise.

Most people do way more pushing than pulling, focusing on chest exercises (they show in the mirror!) much more than back movements. This causes an imbalance between the chest and back, pulling your shoulders forward and out of position. Something as simple as reaching overhead can cause pain in the shoulder.

You should be doing approximately twice as many pulling exercises as pushing. Use seated rows, dumbbell rows, T-bar rows, pull-downs, pull-ups and, of course, dead lifts. On all pulling exercises concentrate on pulling your scapula (shoulder blades) back and down for maximum benefit. Work on strengthening both the upper and middle traps (Trapezius), Rhomboids and Lats (Latissimus Dorsi).

 Do fewer flat bench presses, which pin your scapula (shoulder blades) in a fixed and unnatural position and limit the ability of the shoulder to move properly. Instead use more incline presses and dumbbell presses and dumbbell or cable flyes and weighted pushups. 

If the shoulder press or military press causes pain, declining the back of the bench from fully upright (90 degrees) to a smaller angle (say 70 to 80 degrees) can often eliminate the discomfort.

Any exercise that moves the shoulder joint in an unnatural or awkward way should be avoided at any sign of pain. Upright rows and machine shoulder push downs come to mind.

Exercises to strengthen the shoulders must be performed with relatively light loads due to the smaller muscle fibers that make up the shoulder complex. As a result of the necessary lighter loads many lifters will extend the number of reps which can eventually lead to damage from friction and over use of the small muscles. To prevent overuse you are better advised to work the shoulder complex (primarily anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids) for shorter sets but on multiple training days. Use slow steady reps and don’t try to extend the range of motion higher than the tip of the collar bone. (The comfortable range of motion will vary by individual) And avoid “cheating”. The shoulders do not respond well to the unnatural stress of trying to force the larger range of motion. Stop the range of motion at any sign of pain.

If you experience shoulder pain that last more than a few days after a few days rest and much lower loads consult a medical or rehab professional. There are causes of shoulder pain not discussed here that need to be eliminated before beginning any type of self rehabilitation.  (Bone spurs, severe impingement, nerve damage, etc)

A serious tear of the rotator cuff can land you in the operating room. At best, a rotator cuff injury can require months to rehabilitate. I’ve had two. One required fourteen months of rehab. The other eight months. Almost any type of rotator cuff tear should be handled by rehabilitation professionals.

More minor shoulder injuries (over use or impingement) can still limit your use for several months. Rest the affected area for several days or until the pain subsides. Then very slowly with very light loads and a less than maximum range of motion test the affected area. Rushing this process will usually only cause set- backs. So take your time.

If you, or your medical professional, are satisfied that the condition is relatively minor and won’t cause further damage, move slowly back into limited pushing movements. One effective way is to use unilateral sets using a lower load on the affected side either using machines, cables or dumbbells until the affected side gets back up to normal strength. This will also minimize atrophy (muscle loss).

The takeaway:
·         Don’t neglect training you shoulders from the very beginning. They are the weakest link so don’t let your shoulders lag behind.
·         Plan your programming to avoid all imbalances but pay particular attention to push vs. pull balances. Always try do as many pulling as pushing (or more-some coaches say 3 times as much pulling as pushing)
·         Avoid exercises that put the shoulder in an unnatural position or extended range of motion or limit the free motion of supporting muscles.
·         Don’t try to work through shoulder pain. In most cases you’ll simply make the problem worse
·         Take any shoulder rehab efforts very seriously and very slow.

Shoulder Conditions

  • Frozen shoulder: Inflammation develops in the shoulder that causes pain and stiffness. As a frozen shoulder progresses, movement in the shoulder can be severely limited.
  • Osteoarthritis: The common "wear-and-tear" arthritis that occurs with aging. The shoulder is less often affected by osteoarthritis than the knee.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: A form of arthritis in which the immune system attacks the joints, causing inflammation and pain. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any joint, including the shoulder.
  • Gout: A form of arthritis in which crystals form in the joints, causing inflammation and pain. The shoulder is an uncommon location for gout.
  • Rotator cuff tear: A tear in one of the muscles or tendons surrounding the top of the humerus. A rotator cuff tear may be a sudden injury, or result from steady overuse.
  • Shoulder impingement: The acromion (edge of the scapula) presses on the rotator cuff as the arm is lifted. If inflammation or an injury in the rotator cuff is present, this impingement causes pain.
  • Shoulder dislocation: The humerus or one of the other bones in the shoulder slips out of position. Raising the arm causes pain and a "popping" sensation if the shoulder is dislocated.
  • Shoulder tendonitis: Inflammation of one of the tendons in the shoulder's rotator cuff. 
  • Shoulder bursitis: Inflammation of the bursa, the small sac of fluid that rests over the rotator cuff tendons. Pain with overhead activities or pressure on the upper, outer arm are symptoms.
  • Labral tear: An accident or overuse can cause a tear in the labrum, the cuff of cartilage that overlies the head of the humerus. Most labral tears heal without requiring surgery.

Send your questions or comments to If I don’t have an answer I’ll find someone who does.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Willie Murphy

77-YEAR-OLD LADY WEIGHS 105 AND DEADLIFTS 215 (Actually, I saw her on Rachael Ray's show lift 225 pounds. The stage manager screwed up and loaded the bar with 225 and didn't have the plates available to lower it to 215. Willie said "that's fine...I'll try"-Steve)

Willie Murphy is getting it on
I never say use the words 'I can't.' I will just simply say 'I will try.' That is how I live my life, every day," says Ms. Willie Murphy. If you have overindulged over Thanksgiving and need a little motivation to get back to the gym, then take a few minutes to check out how this 77-year-old lady gets it done.
Murphy, who is a competitive power lifter, weighs 105 and deadlifts 215 pounds, and power curls 60 pounds. The Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, NY, profiled Murphy last week and journalist Erica Bryant reports that the septuagenarian can also do one-handed pull-ups, one-handed pushups and fingertip pushups. In the video below, Murphy also lists how the work she does in the gym has positively impacted her life. Check it out, it might be the lift you need to get lifting!

See pictures and video at USA Today below:

And I'll bet she can open a jar of Wickles Pickles!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Fitness Myth; Lifting Weights Makes Women Bulky


The fitness industry has brought this problem on themselves. Decades ago, when most of America was still in the dark ages regarding what a woman’s role in society should be, women were mostly shut out the fitness industry and most anything else involving athletics.

After world War II things improved a bit in much of the rest of society but not so much in the fitness industry.

In the sixties there was more progress, some by force, that saw women’s athletics grow substantially. Women’s golf and tennis began to come into their own.
Prior to 1977 female bodybuilding was practically non-existent.

In the 1980’s women’s bodybuilding took off. But there were problems. Much of the excitement was based on curiosity, and drug use (steroids) was rampant.
Because of the curiosity factor many promoters allowed and even encouraged the use of steroids by women.

Unfortunately, those images from the 80’s and 90’s and early in this century are what many people remember.  And those images of women with unnatural bulky bodies, square jaw lines and elongated faces have hurt the fitness industry ever since. Female bodybuilding still has some problems.

But the industry has gone through some positives changes. Several off-shoots have attracted many more women than bodybuilding itself. “Fitness competition”, “bikini model competitions”, and “fitness model competitions” have gained much more popularity than women’s’ body building.

“Fit” is becoming the new “thin”.


I’m 6 feet tall and weigh 200 pounds. I can show you women who can lift much more than I can and they weigh 125 pounds. Does that sound “bulky” to you?

And the word “toned” should be dropped from the vocabulary.  The picture below was taken directly from a women’s magazine recommending “toning” your arms using 5-8 pound dumb bells.

Do those arms look “toned” to you? Does anything in this picture look “toned”? “Anorexic” seems more appropriate.

The fact is, unless you are the one in a million females with 100 times the normal amount of testosterone or you’re taking anabolic steroids you will not get bulky.

So let's drop the act, shall we?

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

When Attempting a New Personal Record

When Attempting a New Personal Record, Pick Your Battles

There’s nothing inherently wrong with attempting new personal records even as a relative rookie. I don’t recommend attempting a single rep maximum (1RM) for several months for a totally inexperienced lifter.  But if the individual has learned and practices proper form for a given lift and understands the need for and practices a proper warm up it’s not out of the question.

Physically, the first attempt at establishing a 1RM needs to be no more than their calculated 1RM and no more than 5% heavier than their previous max for reps. A “Calculated 1 RM” is an estimate of your actual 1RM based on a formula. To see this formula and determine you 1RM look here:

New PR’s make an excellent short to medium term goal. It boosts self confidence and can give new life to a perceived stagnant program. It breaks the monotony.
A new personal record can also break through a plateau. And it’s just plain fun!

The first attempt at a personal record needs to be supervised by the trainer. The trainer or coach should emphasize their form, supervise the warm up and provide cues during the warm up and the final lift. Keep the cues consistent throughout the warm up and the final attempt.

Attempting a new PR needs to be on a day when both the physical and mental stars align. Any soreness in the muscle group in question can substantially lower the odds of making the lift. Any mental fatigue can also lessen the odds.

Missing the attempt is usually not too much of a psychological blow if the client has been properly mentally prepared.

However, future attempts at the same or lower weight, if missed, can cause some problems.

The client should understand that making a lift for a new PR on one day doesn’t mean they can make the same lift the next day. Or even the next week or next month! I have personally missed lifts 10% less than my PR. It’s not at all uncommon.

Missing a lift with a weight previously made can cause one to lose self confidence.
The client may start to wonder if their program is working, if their nutrition plan is working or if there is something wrong with them (or their coach).  Why are they getting weaker instead of stronger?

It goes back to that star alignment thing. Maybe they are not as rested. Maybe they had a few more beers last weekend. Maybe they are mentally distracted. Maybe there is a little muscle soreness. Maybe in preparation for today they over trained slightly. Maybe recovery time was not quite as long. Maybe their central nervous system isn’t hitting on all cylinders.

The answer? I don’t know that there is a definitive answer.

The only answer I can suggest is patience and experience. There comes a point where, while doing your warm-ups and building up to higher loads, you just know. You feel it. (Yes, with experience you can actually feel it) You feel your central nervous system kick into high gear. Heavier sets suddenly feel lighter than the previous set. There is no discomfort anywhere. You are focused and there are no distractions. When that happens…LIFT THAT $#*T!

SEND YOU QUESTIONS TO  If I don’t have an answer I’ll find someone who does.