From the Archives: The Most Important Lift of My Life, Or How To Answer the Question “Strong Enough?”
by Tom Bailey | August 17, 2019
“[M]y attempt to answer the question must deal with a single rep and not sets across. However, the single rep does not need to be a PR, it simply needs to be the successful completion of the most important rep of your life.”
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Imagine going from newlyweds to newly homeless. That’s what happened to Mostafa Yousri and his wife 16 months after they tied the knot. The house they shared in Egypt literally collapsed. Yousri stayed with friends while his wife stayed with her family until they could rent an apartment three months later.
“For about 90 percent of my life, I had poor eating habits. And this incident only made it worse,” Yousri says.
He succumbed to comforting himself with food. Years went by, and it didn’t become evident to him how much he was hurting his health until he couldn’t run even a short distance without totally crumpling and gasping for air. He realized that something needed to change.
Over the course of two years, Yousri completed multiple Bodybuilding.com challenges to get to where he is now. He became a sponge, soaking up all the information he could find about nutrition and fitness, slowly but surely figuring out ways to make progress and keep the weight off better than before. The 2019 All Access Challenge Series gave him the chance to buckle down even harder.
“I was honored by winning the weekly challenge in this year’s Bodybuilding.com Challenge Series four times in a row,” he says. “From that point on, I took a pledge to never go back to my old way of life again.”
This is his story.
Snapshot: Mostafa Yousri
- Height: 5′ 9″
- Weight: 165 lbs.
- Occupation: Architect
- Location: Alexandria, Egypt
What did life look like for you before this transformation?
Life became really harsh after I basically lost all my possessions when my house collapsed only 16 months after my marriage. I was homeless for three months. I would stay at a friend’s or a relative’s house, not knowing when the nightmare would end. My family and friends were trying hard to save the situation, and it was decided that my wife and I would rent an apartment. Forgetting what had happened was not easy, though.
I became obsessed with food and smoking. It was obvious that I had gained a lot of weight after visiting most of the restaurants in my city to try different dishes. Moreover, I learned how to cook in order to satisfy my unquenchable desire for food. I was even on the verge of quitting my job as an architect in order to work in a nearby restaurant to satisfy that increasing desire for more new dishes. I would devour one dish after the other, but I would never feel full, and I had already stopped enjoying the taste of food.
What made you decide to make such a huge change?
The shock came one day in 2017. I was late for a very important meeting and had to run 100 meters to catch the metro. When I finally managed to hop on, I was totally out of breath and barely able to move. For the rest of the day, my exhaustion was very obvious to everybody.
I always say to myself, “I believe I deserve the best,” which is a nice saying, but I realized that rather than repeating it, I should be worthy of it. I couldn’t accept not being able to run 100 meters without it affecting me so badly. At that time, my wife advised me to subscribe to Bodybuilding.com and follow the diet she was following as well as workout programs and read articles on diet.
How did you accomplish your goals?
After reading several articles about nutrition and building muscle, I realized how fatal the mistakes I made in the kitchen were. I stopped preparing unhealthy meals and used all the cooking experience I had gained to prepare high-quality meals that met the macronutrient criteria suitable for my weight at that time. It was not easy, but whenever I thought about what had happened to me, I would become more patient and more determined to walk my path to the end.
Seeing the first progress picture after taking those steps left me more motivated, and that only grew with each passing week of the 250K Challenge in 2017. I trained hard for 4-5 days every week. Not only did healthy food taste better and better, but just breathing felt easier and more satisfying.
I took part in the 2017 “Still in It” competition a few months later as a means of developing my physical abilities. That experience influenced me greatly, and I learned a lot from it. Moreover, I took part in the 250K Challenge again in 2018, hoping to be a source of motivation to others.
Then, January 2019 marked a true turning point in my life. I took part in the Bodybuilding.com All Access Challenge Series, and I decided to dedicate my time and exert my utmost effort, supported by my experience and faith, to finish with flying colors. I wanted to be a source of motivation to my son, family, and everybody around me.
One step I learned that can help people reach their goal fast is organizing their priorities. Write down all the steps that can help you accomplish your mission successfully, like your training schedule, what you need to buy for food preparation, and your supplement schedule. In addition, I found that mental training is as important as physical training. Concentrate while targeting a certain muscle! It makes a difference in effectiveness and overall quality of your workouts.
What supplements helped you through your journey?
What did your nutrition plan look like throughout your journey?
I used the following carb-cycling diet plan:
- Training days: 50% carbs, 30% protein, 20% fat
- Rest days and active rest days: 30% carbs, 50% protein, 20% fat
My carb sources were typically potatoes, sweet potatoes, white or brown rice, beans, and oats. For protein, I ate whole eggs, chicken, fish, and some dairy, and my fats mostly consisted of peanut butter, avocado, nuts, and olive oil. I avoided fried or fast foods, drank three liters of water a day, and had a free meal every 10 days.
Here’s an example of what a day of eating looked like:
1 small handful
What did your training and cardio regimen look like?
Day 1: Legs, Abs, and Cardio
Day 4: Upper Body, Abs, and Cardio
What was the most challenging aspect of your journey?
Time. I work for 60 hours per week, which leaves very little time for learning and application. To achieve my goal, I needed time for reading, learning, preparing healthy meals, training five times a week, and having some time to rest. And after a while, something new appeared on the horizon—we were blessed with a baby boy who brightened up our life like no other thing.
One thing I learned is that you shouldn’t work endlessly. Work shouldn’t be your whole life, just part of it. When you have a goal, you should do your best to achieve it and save time for what’s important to you, regardless of how busy you are.
If you could say one thing to someone aspiring to take on a major transformation of their own, what would it be?
Don’t listen to any negative comments. Some people are simply “energy vampires”; they do nothing except give destructive criticism. Set your goal, work hard to achieve it, learn, seek advice from experienced people, and exert great effort. Dust yourself off when you fall. You deserve the best! And be patient. Good things take time.
“Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.” –Ovid
What are your future plans or goals in fitness?
My first goal is to become certified in personal training and sports nutrition so that I can pass on what I have learned to others. From there I would love to develop my own sports program and nutrition program in the light of my experience and spread them widely in order to motivate beginners from all over the globe. For my personal fitness journey, the next steps include running a marathon and completing the Ripped Remix program.
How did Bodybuilding.com help you reach your goals?
Bodybuilding.com was my go-to source for workouts, articles, and supplementation. I tracked all of my workouts, including the 12-Week Muscle-Building Trainer and 4Weeks2Shred by Kris Gethin. The videos included in these programs helped me really learn as I was going. Plus, I could track my weights during workouts. BodySpace is another great tool where I kept track of my weight and body fat percentage to easily see the progress I was making. Bodybuilding.com also has an awesome YouTube channel with motivational and workout videos, and their social media channels are a great way to watch motivational videos presented by Bodybuilding.com athletes. Joining a fit family helps you feel successful and forget about any old failures.
Any cool or interesting facts about yourself that you would like to share?
Not only did I develop myself physically, but I also learned photography and playing the piano, and I became sure that sports are the beginning of all positive things. I’ve formed a running team and have taken part in several marathons in my city. Today, I feel I deserve to dream high, and I hope to be a source of positive energy to everyone.
Interested in embarking on your own transformation journey? Check out Bodybuilding.com All Access to find the perfect plan to help you get started.
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Robert Santana, dietitian, Starting Strength Coach, and gym owner, on what you need to do to put on muscle.
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I was thinking the other day about what it felt like to be big as hell and pretty damn strong. I may be a used up fifty-something has-been now, but in the old days I did okay for myself in powerlifting.
I remember like it was yesterday. I was coaching high school football in Florida at the time. The year was 1996, and I was sitting in my living room watching Powerlifting Video Magazine. My ex-wife sat on the couch next to me, asleep. Whenever she wanted to take a nap, she would sit on the couch while I watched training DVDs. The Bulgarian Training Hall tapes put her to sleep the fastest, but this powerlifting video was doing the trick also.
I had purchased the copy of Powerlifter Video Magazine on a whim and when I turned it on, a behemoth named Kirk Karwoski was pacing a gym floor in Maryland with a Walkman on. He then proceeded to take off the Walkman, throw it against the wall, strutted over to the bar that was loaded with plates while people gathered around, watching.
Then he put his hands on the bar, let out a guttural scream that would shatter glass, got under the bar, gingerly stepped back with the prodigious poundage, and with only a belt on, squatted that son of a bitch five times. The weight was 800 pounds. I was enthralled with the amazing show of strength. Later, I became friends with Kirk and was able to pick his brain about training. But at the time I was like, Who is this guy? I had never even squatted 600 pounds. I didn’t really know anything about this powerlifting stuff. Where would I see it? Once in a while, Muscle & Fitness or Iron Man Magazine would have a feature article on someone in powerlifting.
And then there was Powerlifting USA Magazine, which was good when you could find it, but where I grew up in Maryland, it was tough to find stores that sold it. Back then, I only knew what some of the strongest football players lifted. I had read where Randy White of the Cowboys had squatted 600 pounds, so that was my goal. Once I squatted 600, I thought I was strong until I saw that video of Karwoski. So now I needed to dive deeply into this powerlifting stuff. I set a goal. Funny, the goal had nothing to do with the bench and deadlift at the time. I just wanted to squat heavy. I knew that 700 pounds would be my next goal.
I had always been able to gain and lose weight when I set my mind to it. One time in high school, I decided to train for a bodybuilding show and went from 218 pounds to 169 pounds in three months. And I’ve lost thirty to fifty pounds on numerous occasions to compete in bodybuilding. But this time, I needed to do the opposite. I needed to gain a bunch of weight. I needed the mass, because I knew that one of the fastest ways to get stronger was to gain weight. So I started eating. Eight tuna fish and mayo sandwiches a day, packed in a huge cooler with milk. After work, I ate a bunch of chicken and rice and pasta. In three months, I went from 240 pounds to 280 pounds and six months after that, I topped out at 312 pounds standing five feet and nine inches tall. I was heavy as hell, my blood pressure was up and I was up to a size 46 waist. But I got strong quickly. Eventually, I squatted 755 pounds at the heavier bodyweight and missed an 800 squat. My training was great at the time. It seemed that anytime I put on a few pounds I got stronger and the weights felt lighter.
The most fun days were Saturdays when I squatted. I was doing a version of the “Russian Squat Program” that called for a light day at 80% of your one rep max for 2 sets of 5, and on the heavier day you started at 85% of your one rep max for 3 sets of 5 and added a rep, and also added 5-10% onto the bar each Saturday. The most memorable squat workout was when the template called for 610 pounds for 6 sets of 5. I believe that I threw up for the first time after the second set, then I threw up after the third set and dry heaved my way through the rest. Because of the amount of sweat pouring out of me, the crotch in my squat suit ripped out before my final set. I have always sweated a lot, but at that heavy bodyweight I sweated a downpour. I dry heaved during the last set and the bar had slipped halfway down my back, but I still finished. I was sore for a solid five days after that training session, but the next time I squatted, the weight called for was 650 for 3×3 and it was easy.
One day I was on my eighth tuna fish sandwich, and I decided that there had to be a better way to do this whole thing. First off, I was miserable. I don’t know if I could see my feet over my pendulous belly. I had achieved what I set out to achieve but I knew that I couldn’t keep that bodyweight up for very much longer and stay alive.
I cleaned up my diet and started to drop weight. All of this coincided with getting a job as an assistant strength coach at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I was lucky because my boss was Rob Wagner, he of the 799lb ADFPA World Record squat. He really helped me technique-wise, and this time I decided to set some three-lift goals. I wanted to squat 800, bench 500 and deadlift 700. I always felt like when you could lift those numbers or more, you were damn strong. I reduced my bodyweight to under 220 in a year and everything felt heavier in the weight room. So I crept my bodyweight back up to 268 pounds but I did it by eating better. Lots of beef, rice and chicken. And Wagner changed some things: he widened my squat stand some, changed my form in the bench emphasizing the elbows tucked in and placing the bar at the highest point of my chest. As far as the deadlift went, I did it once a week but as a contest approached, I would keep the squat volume high like before but I would just pull a heavy single once a week. My deadlift, along with everything else, improved.
After a year or so at Penn, I was now ready to hit my goals. I signed up for a powerlifting meet in Roanoke, VA. And guess who was there coaching? Freaking Kirk Karwoski. When I saw him, I had a feeling that this was one of those days where things go right. And they did: I ended up squatting 820 pounds, benching 505 pounds and deadlifting 740 pounds. It was a day to remember for me. It was one of those days were the stars aligned and all was right with the world.
I learned a lot during my time when training for powerlifting. I learned that folks who say they can’t gain weight are full of crap, I learned that you can be strong at a lighter body weight if you train and diet correctly. And with Wagner’s tutelage, I learned that I could make improvements even as an advanced lifter.
After I reached my strength goals, I had no desire to compete again in powerlifting. I wanted to try my hand at some boxing and Muay Thai and I also did some more bodybuilding. But I will always remember and look fondly upon the days when I could walk under a squat bar and everyone in the room stopped to watch. I miss those days when 405 pounds was 50% of my one rep max. I miss those days when every weight felt light, and I miss the simplicity of the workout; 3 big exercises, very little assistance work (some incline bench, bent rows and hammer curls). Absolutely enjoyable workouts.
Now, for me, it’s all about squeezing and contracting and all of that hypertrophy stuff, which is great and all, but it isn’t the same as having to put 100 pound plates on the bar because the 45s won’t fit. And when you are that strong, you feel like you can lift anything in the world, and the confidence that type of strength brings is just different – like you reached down and grabbed onto something, some potential inside of you that was just waiting to be realized.
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A Commanding General’s Intent, and What it Means for Your Training
by Grant Broggi, SSC | August 13, 2019
When a Marine commander takes command of a unit, one of the first things they do is publish their intent for the individuals that they now command. A commander’s intent for a unit can be likened to a “vision” for those under his charge, or more clearly, what purpose those individuals (Marines and Sailors) should feel they serve day after day. The new Commanding General of the Fourth Marine Division (4th Mar Div) recently published his intent for the roughly 17,000 Marines and Sailors that make up the division, laying out his purpose and what they should accomplish.
The 4th Mar Div, unlike the other divisions in the Marine Corps, is comprised of the reserves. The other divisions in the Marine Corps are made up of all active duty Marines – Marines that put on the uniform and serve 365 days a year. This is not the case for the 4th Mar Div. Here, there are only a handful of active duty Marines, and the overwhelming majority are reservists, meaning they are only active two to three days per month (one weekend plus two weeks in the summer). The division has the same standards, the same requirements, and must be ready at a moment’s notice to answer the country’s call, just like the other divisions, except for that one small caveat. They only have 38 days a year to be a Marine, which equates to less than 10% of what the active duty divisions have. Yet somehow, year after year, since the division’s inception in 1943, they have been able to accomplish their mission: augmenting the active duty divisions with combat-trained personnel during a time of war.
How is this possible? How can a unit that trains 38 out of 365 days a year be prepared for battle, to fight alongside the active-duty component? I’ll tell you how. While the current general may have just recently laid out his intent for the Marine Reservists that make up the 4th Mar Div, it’s a summary of what the division has been doing for over 70 years. It’s a concise four points that every Marine can remember even if they only put on the uniform 38 days a year. And if these four points are applied to your training, you will have success in the weight room just as the division does on the battlefield.
As an adult male there are two things on which I have spent the majority of my time: being a Marine and barbell training. These two things have consumed my thoughts, and they are completely intertwined throughout my life. But what does it mean for you? Well, when I heard Brigadier General Michael Martin’s (commander of 4th Mar Div) intent I realized he was doing me a big favor. He was letting me know how to focus my efforts as a Marine Officer on my unit, while simultaneously letting me know how to focus my efforts as a barbell coach on my lifters. So consider yourself one of my lifters, and apply these ideas to your training.
The Four Tenets of the Commanding General’s Intent Applied to Your Training
1. Mastery of the Basics, Brilliance in the Basics: You cannot do the complex if you cannot do the simple.
For the Marine: “Brilliance in the Basics” is not a new term in the Marine Corps. It’s something that General James Mattis first coined during Operation Iraqi Freedom in the early 2000s when giving his “vision” to all of his subordinate commanders before heading into battle. Over my time in the Marine Corps, I have heard this term in just about every training evolution I have participated in. It’s the concept that you must get really good at the basic thing before you can even try to do the complex thing. Or, that when you have mastered the basic thing (loading your rifle), you will be ready to accomplish the more complex (conducting an ambush).
For the lifter: You already know you need to be strong. If you did not, then you would not have found this article. You know that you get strong through the big barbell lifts: the squat, press, bench press, and deadlift (because they use the most muscle mass). So now, you just need to master those movements. Master the basics. Don’t worry about your paused squat, about adding bands and chains, about rate of perceived exertion, sumo deadlifts, or dynamic effort. That will just waste your time. Worry about the basics. Worry about how to perform the basic back squat safely and efficiently. Worry about how to pull a set of five deadlifts in complete lumbar extension, even when it’s heavy and very, very hard. You are not a professional athlete; if you were, you would be getting paid to workout. Instead, you are paying to work out. Master the basics. Hire a coach, and be brilliant in the basics.
2. Blocking and Tackling: Offense and Defense
For the Marine (specifically the Marine Reservist): Blocking and tackling is applied during those 2-3 days per month that you wear the uniform. It’s a sports analogy that goes back to the first point of mastering the basics, but it holds true to training Marines for combat. Machine gun drills, offensive attacks, reinforcing a defensive position, these are the blocking and tackling drills that Marines must be focused on regardless of their particular job in the Marine Corps. There’s nothing complex here, time is limited, just block and tackle, hone the basic offense and defensive skills.
For the lifter:
Blocking: block the things that keep you out of the gym. Block your excuses. Block your aches, pains, and minor injuries (they will come). Get to the gym three times a week and train. That’s it. That’s the offense.
Tackling: tackle your workout. Time is limited for you as well; you are busy with a lot to accomplish. You know what your workout is – you have your numbers from your last session. Do not waste time: get to the bar, get under the bar, put in the work, and measure your progress.
3. Repetitions and Sets
“The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war.” – SgtMaj Mike Miller
Brilliance in the Basics and Blocking & Tackling all come together through the third point, Reps and Sets.
For the Marine: It means conducting your drills again, and again, and again. As an Artillery Officer, I have watched countless Section Chiefs (The Marines in charge of a howitzer) train their gun crews (5-7 cannoneers assigned to a gun) on how to employ (emplace, load, and shoot) their howitzer. Some can do it quickly, some not so quickly. Some need lots of yelling, hand pointing and red faces, while some look like the masterful conductor of an orchestra. The difference between a highly proficient gun crew that can quickly shoot artillery rounds and one that looks like a circus is reps and sets. The proficient crew has not wasted any time, they’ve maximized every minute they are wearing the uniform, and have built confidence by doing it over and over again.
For the lifter: It’s not an analogy. It’s what we do. Three sets of five. Over and over again. The workout doesn’t change, the load changes. Strength goes up. Reps and sets. Each rep builds confidence, each time you get under the bar even when you think that it may not move builds confidence for the next set. This is what makes us stronger (literally); increased stress to drive adaptation. Workout after workout. Rep after rep. Set after set.
4. K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, stupid.
When the top advisor to the General recently explained the General’s four points, he stated the following when he got to number four: “Is there really anything more we need to add?” And then he quit talking. In this case, I feel there are a few things that we could.
For the Marine: Regardless of your job in the Marine Corps, be brilliant at it. Every Marine is a rifleman, so stay true to the “blocking and tackling” of what truly is offense and defense. Get better through repetitions and sets, train yourself and your Marines over and over again. Keep it simple – not everything can be prioritized
For the Lifter: Get a coach and master the basic barbell lifts. Be consistent, get to the gym three times a week, and be ready to perform your workouts. Hit the reps and sets, three sets of five repetitions, add weight each time. Force your body to adapt. Keep it simple, because there’s no need for additional exercise, crazy rep schemes, or tying yourself up with rubber bands. Train your body, over and over again.
The Fourth Marine Division came to be in 1943 for service in World War II. By early 1944 they were fighting the Japanese throughout the pacific, making four major amphibious assaults over 13 months. Elements of the division were once again deployed in support of both Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s; providing combat-ready units within 32 days of activation. To this day Marines from the division are deployed in support of operations across the globe. The division recently lost three Marines to an IED attack in Afghanistan on 8 April 2019.
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All you need to train is your body. Mastery of that one machine makes the world a playground and almost certainly ensures a life of physical vigor. Bodyweight movement is the best because it is:
- Cheap (you need $0 of equipment)
- Adaptable (you can do it on a boat, you can do it with a goat)
- The most natural, functional form of training
The majority of our modern health issues stem from abandoning normal human activity and a normal human environment. When we run hills, bear crawl, do push-ups, climb, and use our body weight for exercise, we are replicating the normal human activities that have made us such brilliant physical specimens for most of human existence. Yet, there is often one major problem that comes with bodyweight training. You need some sort of “equipment” to do any sort of pulling action.
The Bodyweight Pull Predicament
We don’t live in a natural environment where pulling ourselves up on trees and rocks or pulling ropes is a daily occurrence. You can drastically increase the number of exercises available to you with something as simple as a pull-up bar, a suspension trainer, bands, or one kettlebell. But, remember, this is an article about ditching equipment. Think of it as physical minimalism. We’re trying to reduce our dependency.
The way bodyweight movement is typically employed is for busy people trying to insert a few movement circuits in throughout their day, use calisthenic training programs, or obtain through group training classes that have limited space and equipment. There is often no equipment available at all and the tendency is to focus far too much on anterior dominant (front side of the body) exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups, mountain climbers, crunches, and V-ups.
These exercises are all great, but they only tend to exacerbate the negative postural trends of modern culture. Think about the position we spend most of our lives in, whether sitting in a car, a desk, or a restaurant booth. You tend to have hip flexors shortened, shoulders rolled forward, and the neck rounded down over a phone, laptop, or meal. All of these typical bodyweight exercises only contribute to those postures. They pull us forward and in, bring our head closer to our knees. Most strength coaches will audit any program after they write it to make sure pulls are even or greater than pushes in order to counteract the normal living trends.
Some movement is almost always better than no movement, but we are going to be far stronger, more injury resistant, and healthy if we hit the posterior chain (the backside of the body as well). It is simple to do this with the lower body. Add a few glute bridge variations, some scales and lying abduction work and call it a day. But how do you work upper body pulls without any equipment? Below are a few simple ways.
It doesn’t take much to get a phenomenal workout just in the posterior delt. Gravity tends to do the trick. Keep your shoulders down, chest up, and neck neutral and try these variations of the Y, T, and W for great back exercises that might burn deeply while offering your lungs a rest after a bunch of jump lunges and mountain climbers.
No-Equipment Hinge to Y, T, W, A, and Back
It’s easy to add mild resistance if you’d like.
No-Equipment Lying Back Exercises
Get your body moving in the opposite direction of your normal daily posture by using the following three exercises. All are demonstrated in the video below.
2. Lying Y, T, W, A (Blackburns)
3. Y, W Handcuff
The rowing motion itself is very important to train, but can be a bit trickier. I like the below two bodyweight row variations. The video demonstrates both row isometric contractions and the reverse push-up crunch.
5. Row Isometric Contractions
6. Reverse Push-Up Crunch
Work These Into Your Day
At the end of the day, you are probably best off if you make it to the park occasionally for some pull-ups. But for the most part, you can accomplish all your pulling needs without any equipment. This makes grabbing exercise anywhere and anytime even more effective and easy to do.
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John Guerra, North Carolina Central University Guard, talks about his experience using Starting Strength to get into Division 1 athletics during the 2019 Starting Strength Coaches Association Conference held in Wichita Falls.
- 00:00 Introduction (Will Morris)
02:25 John Guerra
05:15 Finding Starting Strength
06:13 Inspiration at the Starting Strength Seminar
09:00 Basic requirements for being a competitive athlete
09:23 ACL injury & recovery
11:13 Getting to the next level – Division 1
16:28 Training through injury & pain
25:31 Parting message
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Mark Rippetoe answers questions from Starting Strength Radio fans. Topics include online coaching, Rip's injuries, hypertrophy training, and the Joe Rogan Podcast.
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Older and Stronger
by Craig Brooks | August 06, 2019
Three years ago, on May 6, 2016, I attended the Starting Strength Seminar at Westminster Strength and Conditioning. I wanted to deepen my understanding of the barbell lifts, so I could continue to get stronger as a lifter, and gain more knowledge as a coach. I had started my Novice Linear Progression program about three months prior to attending the seminar. That weekend, I squatted 255lbs for five reps, pressed 135lbs (failed the fifth rep), deadlifted 275lbs, and benched 205lbs.
At the time, I was 46 years old, and at 5 foot 8 inches tall, I weighed around 180-185 pounds. I had always lifted weights as a young man, and I continued to train through adulthood, assuming I knew how to do it correctly. However, it wasn’t until I attended the seminar that weekend in May that things really clicked, and I became much more efficient under the bar. I was bitten by the bug, and knew I wanted to continue getting stronger. I had finally learned how to squat, deadlift, power clean, bench, and press the correct way, and I was going to make the most of it.
Before the seminar, I was just one of those guys who looked strong but wasn’t really strong, at least as strong as I could be. After that weekend, I continued my novice progression, training three days a week, even while on vacation. And because I was so consistent with my training, eating, sleeping, and recovery, I have made some significant gains over the past three years. Since May 2016, I gradually gained more weight and strength, and continued to add weight to the bar. I have worked hard over the past three years to apply the feedback I received that weekend.
The other day, I was sitting at Fivex3 Training, where I train and coach, getting ready to lift, and I took a moment to scroll through my log book, comparing where I was in 2016 and where I am now. What I read truly astonished me. Three years later, I am now 49 years old and my body weight is around 235 pounds. I can squat 450lbs for sets of five, press 185lbs, deadlift 450lbs, and bench 265lbs. Last October, I competed at a strength meet at Westminster, and finished with a 465lb squat, 182lb press and 475lb deadlift. I won first place in Masters, and 3rd place in Open. Granted, not every training session has been perfect or gone as planned. I have had days when my body has told me otherwise, and the weight has not moved well, but I have never allowed aches, pains, or injuries stop my training. Instead, I have just adjusted the lifts accordingly, and ensured I could still train even while recovering. My continued consistency with rest, recovery, nutrition, and training has certainly paid off.
By the end of this year, I will be 50 years old. Age isn’t slowing me down or stopping me from adding more weight to the bar. I coach and train each week at Fivex3 Training, and I definitely do not consider myself “old.” True, I’m not 30 anymore, and my body likes to remind me of this every morning, but I am not “old” – I am “older.” At 49 years old, I am training better than I ever did when I was younger, and I continue to make progress on all of my lifts.
To all of those new lifters who are between 40 and 50 years old, please hear this: You are not old. You do not need three days to recover between your training sessions. You do not need to eat 5000 calories. GOMAD does not apply to you. You do need more protein than you think you do. Forty is not the new 70. You can train three, even four days a week. You can recover. You will make progress. You can and will gain muscle, and yes, for some of you, you will need to gain weight if you want to be stronger. Don’t let your age hold you back. Get under the bar today and get stronger.
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You go to the gym regularly. You do your squats and deadlifts, maybe some stiff-legged deadlifts and leg extensions every now and then. You know that developing your lower body is as important as developing your upper body. Loading up the barbell truly gives you joy; you love getting stronger and watching your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes grow.
Occasionally, you throw in some Bulgarian split squats or lunges, but here’s the thing—you’re leaving a lot of strength and size gains on the table by not incorporating single-leg exercises more often.
No, you can’t lift as much weight during single-leg exercises as you would with bilateral exercises, meaning with both legs, but you can take your muscle growth and symmetry to the next level with single-leg moves.
These exercises let you focus on the weaknesses and imbalances between the left and right sides. You can get the same training effect with single-leg variations, as long as the exercise is hard enough for you and you’re seeing progress. Furthermore, if you have lower back issues and can’t load up deadlifts or squats, single-leg exercises are your holy grail for developing the lower-body muscles.
Here are my top 10 single-leg exercises you’ve probably never tried, but you should. Start with body weight only on these, and then add weight. Due to the nature of the movements, your core has to work extra hard to maintain stability and proper body alignment.
Pick two exercises from each variation, add some hip abduction work, and you’ve got yourself a complete single-leg lower-body workout program. Always start with the weaker leg for x number of reps and match the stronger side with the same number of reps. Do 1-2 additional sets on the weaker side.
1. Bench–Supported Single-Leg Deadlift
Set one bent leg on a bench behind you and bring your working leg up against it. Be sure your hips are squared off from the start, your core braced, and your shin vertical. Just as you would with a Romanian deadlift, hinge back at the hips and lower the dumbbell or kettlebell to the ground. Feel the stretch in your hamstrings and glutes before you come back up, keeping your spine neutral throughout. This is a great variation if you struggle with balance on an unsupported single-leg deadlift.
2. Staggered-Stance Romanian Deadlift
Speaking of single-leg deadlifts and balance, the staggered stance can be another alternative when you feel that your balance is limiting the amount of weight you can use on a single-leg/glute-focused exercise. From your normal deadlift stance, bring one foot back until your toe is in line with the heel of your front foot. Keep the heel of your back foot off the ground. From here, perform a Romanian deadlift the same way you would with a normal stance, only with more of your body weight leaning into your front leg.
3. Offset-Load Deadlift
This is like performing a Romanian deadlift with dumbbells (or kettlebells), but one side at a time. The same basics apply: feet shoulder width apart, hinging at the hips with a slight bend in the knees, back nice and flat, and pushing through your heels as you lock out at the top. This not only isolates one side at a time, but also forces you to maintain a stability in your core and your pelvis. (So you don’t fall over, obviously!)
4. Single-Leg Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift
If you thought Smith machine split squats were tough, your legs are in for a rude awakening. Set up as you would for a barbell squat with your shoulder blades squeezed together and a firm grip on the bar. Choose which side you’ll start with, and hinge back from the standing leg while simultaneously extending the nonworking leg behind you and touching your toe on the floor before coming back to center. You should only bend at your hips, and core engagement is a must, as always!
5. Sliding Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts
Sliders aren’t a commonly used piece of equipment in the gym, but they have their benefits when you’re looking to mix things up. To start, hold a plate or dumbbell on one side and place your opposite foot on a slider. As you slide your leg back, hinge at the opposite leg and keep the weight close to your body. A common mistake with this one is letting the knee on your front leg travel forward as your opposite leg slides back—remember, this is just like a Romanian deadlift (not a lunge) in that your knees should stay fixed in one place.
6. NT Loop Lateral Lunges
Here’s a real burner coming at you! If you don’t have an NT Loop, any resistance band will work, but make sure it’s on the heavier side and challenging enough. Loop the band around something sturdy and step inside the band. Place the band above your knee joint on your outside leg. From standing, take a side step with your outside foot, fighting against the tension of the band and pushing your hips back, almost like a lateral lunge—just not going as deep. You should be feeling this in the side of your glutes, the glute medius. Keep your toes pointed forward the whole time and the shin of your working leg perpendicular to the floor.
7. Sliding Lateral Lunges
Slide your way to better glutes with this one! Place your foot on top of one slider and work one side at a time. Slide that foot out laterally and sit back into a lunge on your standing leg. At the bottom position, you should feel your upper glutes taking on more of the load, and you should feel a contraction when you slide your leg back to center.
8. Curtsy Lunge with a “Step-Through”
This starts with a sort of curtsy lunge, stepping back and slightly inward, as you can see in the video. The step-through part should be very subtle, but its purpose is to increase the glutes’ range of motion and allow you to squeeze the glute hard on your standing leg.
9. Single-Leg Feet-Elevated Glute Bridge
For glute bridge variations, keep your hips even throughout the movement. A good way to check this is by touching your front hip bones and making sure they are even at the top position of the bridge—meaning, don’t allow one side to drop.
10. Single-Leg Feet-Elevated Hip Thrust
The same tip from the glute bridge applies to the thrust. You may have to play around with the spacing of the two benches, but the key is to set them where you have enough room to drop your hips down and create a 90-degree angle with your knee at the top. You should be driving up with the middle of your foot or heel.
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