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2018-01-21T00:46:01.581Z
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Photo cred: Martin Rittenberry 

It’s a question I am asked often: Should women powerlifters train differently than male powerlifters? For the most part no, because when you place the lion’s share of your training on getting stronger in the big three, the outcome is the same: Any human who trains the competition lifts consistently will get stronger. In a (friendly) battle of the sexes, most of the differences in performance between men and women can be explained by body size and composition, and a man and woman with the same size muscles will have roughly the same strength. But due to a higher proportion of Type I muscle fibers than her male counterparts, and being better metabolically suited to burn fat during exercise, a woman’s body is more resistant to fatigue in training. As long as sleep and nutritional needs are met, women can handle a far greater total amount of training volume and frequency than one might initially assume.

I train people who identify along different points of the gender spectrum but for my powerlifters who get, or have gotten, their period, seeing the above unfold always leads to an almost audible sound of a mental switch being flipped. “I didn’t know I could do that!” and “I never knew I could feel so strong,” are common refrains. The effects that come along with the choice to pursue improved strength,...

Editor’s Note: The following post was written by longtime personal trainer and fitness writer Meghan Callaway. Enjoy!

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Locking a few fundamentals in place — which I describe here — will boost your ability to perform any and every type of pull-up and chin-up variation. Body positioning, control, and appropriate levels of tension apply across the board, and there’s tremendous overlap in muscles used: the lats, traps, and biceps are always involved.

That said, varying your hand position and grip width will recruit more of this or less of that muscle group, and you can leverage that information to hit certain areas harder in accordance with your own personal fitness goals.

Standard Pull-Up

In a standard pull-up, your hands are slightly greater than shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from you (called a pronated position).

This exercise strengthens and develops the lats, traps, rhomboids, deltoids shoulders — especially your rear delts — plus serratus (located on your sides over your ribcage), biceps, and forearm muscles. (These areas areas are highlighted in the image above.)

If you’re performing any version of the pull-up or chin-up well, you will also be using the muscles in your anterior (front) core, obliques, lower back, glutes, and your entire. Even your pecs (the muscles in your chest) will be involved.

Video Demo:

Neutral-Grip Pull-Up...

Editor’s Note: today’s guest post is from someone I’m downright giddy to feature, and that’s hypertrophy specialist Bryan Krahn. Krahn, a fellow longtime writer, editor, and coach, is more passionate about the prospect and process of building a muscle than anyone I’ve ever met, and as such, he’s turned over every rock and tried every practice in pursuit of best practices. His own and his clients’ results speak for themselves, but the arguments he makes in support of training for size are pretty great, too. I’ll let him take it from here.

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Why should someone lift weights?

To be strong. Healthy. Capable. Vital. To slow down the insurmountable wasting forces of age, so one day you can do the Macarena at your grandchild’s wedding.

All wonderful reasons that even the most hardcore anti-exerciser could rally behind.

But what about simply to look buff and beefy?

Suddenly those cheers of encouragement turn sharply critical.

That’s vain. Self-absorbed. Shallow.

But is it so wrong to enjoy being muscular?


Tweet “Is it so wrong to enjoy being muscular?” @bryankrahn doesn’t think so.
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Flexing Gender Norms

As is often the case when comparing experiences between genders, men seem to get a lot less grief than women when they opt to chase muscle for muscle’s sake.

Part of it is because of how many of us were brought up. Boys will often curl Dad’s old plastic dumbbells before he learns to...

Dear Future Lifting Buddy,

The very first thing I want to say is that I’m excited for a gym date with you. Someday, somewhere, I cannot wait to pump it out side by side. Look me up anytime you need your biceps-curl fix.

But…is training specifically for muscles and vanity worthwhile, in the long run?

When I first started training for hypertrophy, I was sure that my existing strength would disappear, my cardiovascular fitness would decrease, and since it wasn’t full of “functional training,” I would get all creaky. I was scared, so I understand if you’re feeling a little trepidation. I thought I knew it all and this “bodybuilding stuff,” with its single-joint movements and body-part-split training days, would not be the way to train for my goals.

And from a mindset perspective, I could not wrap my head around the fact that, while this style of training certainly focused on physique, it could have other benefits, too.

I was so incredibly wrong. And I learned my lesson quickly.

I went into hypertrophy training with a closed mind, but it soon opened wide my viewpoint on just about everything.

From fitness and training styles to nutrition, career, and relationships, training for Bigness — size and shape, physique and vanity — has transformed not only my body, but my life.


Training for Bigness has transformed not only my body, but my life.
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There’s a lot of bro-science (or anecdotal trial-and-error) in the realm of hypertrophy training. And no matter what any of us gym rats want to admit, we have all participated in it at some point or another. Because, while a lot of the time bro-science is largely unsubstantiated by actual science, there are instances in which the anecdotal experience of years of bodybuilding does, indeed, match up with that of the findings of scientific studies.


There are instances in which the anecdotal experience of years of bodybuilding match the science.
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Score one for the bros! But I’ll get to that in a minute.

When it comes to the best repetition range for specific fitness goals involving weight training, the long-standing repetition continuum contained in most traditional and trusted textbooks was the go-to resource, for both fitness professionals and lifters. Most of these sources share a similar version of this scale that looks something like: 1 to 5 reps for pure strength and/or power, 6 to 12 reps for hypertrophy, and anything above that for muscular endurance. It has always been implied that, having a specific goal in mind, crossing between those rep ranges for your training would be pretty much flat-out worthless — as in, you could never get strong if you only train...

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is from someone I’ve bonded with over the years over our experience of being athletes and trainers who share a fierce love of new challenges. Meghan Callaway is a fount of fitness ideas and experience, covering a wide range of topics under the strength umbrella with extraordinary rigor and thoroughness. 

Today’s post addresses what might be the single greatest measure of strength-to-body-weight ratio, the pull-up, and provides tips for getting over the bar.

With her? Any roadblocks that stand in the way of your first pull-up (or dramatically increasing the number of reps you can do) don’t stand a chance. Turning it over to her….

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Pull-ups are one of the most effective strength-building upper-body exercises you can perform. Add to that their versatility — they can be performed anywhere you can access a pull-up bar, rings, monkey bars, or even a sturdy tree branch — and you can essentially create your own gym wherever you are. Not to mention, banging out multiple reps — or conquering your very first! — can make you feel like your favorite superhero.

While many people think of the pull-up as purely an upper-body exercise, make no mistake: Your entire body is involved. In order to thrive at performing pull-ups, your whole body needs to work as a synchronized unit. This includes your glutes, anterior (front) core muscles, and even your legs.

While there are many different pull-up and chin-up variations, several key...

Listen, maybe today’s not the day, OK?

 

Hi, my name is JVB. I’m 39, just a few months shy of turning 40, and I’ve just now started paying attention to my period.

(Are you eye-rolling so hard at me right now? I am.)

The truth is I’m very lucky: ever since I got my period at age 12, the whole experience has been pretty low-key. I didn’t (and still don’t) get cramps and my period arrives pretty regularly and lasts 3-5 days. My flow has always been in a manageable range (can we all agree that day two is the worst, though?) and over the years I’ve moved from being self-conscious about pads, to feeling super annoyed by tampons, to absolutely loving my menstrual cup.

My period has been only mildly annoying when she appears, like a friend who you really like and value but who is an uncomfortably close talker when they come over to chat.

But it turns out that periods are just one part of our hormone stories! (I am so late to this game.) Lately, likely due to the increased demands of this powerlifting cycle, I’ve noticed how strongly and specifically my hormones impact the energy I have for my workouts. Some days I feel like a got-damn superhero who can lift all the weights while needing minimal recovery. Other...

 

The barbell deadlift: I know you desire to lift a barbell as big as a Cadillac (and I really love that about you). But for as simple to execute as this movement appears to be from the outset, deadlifting involves much more than picking up the weight and setting it back down again, especially if you want to keep improving your strength and technique by chipping away at this strength-building super-lift.

I’ve written about the basics of the deadlift set up and how to strengthen your sumo deadlift so check those out first if you haven’t caught them yet. But if you’re square on your deadlift and want to tighten up your ship even more, you can implement these tips in your very next deadlift session:

 

1. Find Your Power (Foot) Position

Breaking your bar off the floor while deadlifting requires a burst of power right from the get-go. It’s not uncommon, however, for me to observe my in-person lifters and my Unapologetically Strong online coaching lifters initially setting up for their conventional deadlift with a stance that’s slightly too wide—and their knees end up banging into their arms on the ascent—or too narrow, and their knees collapse together when the bar rises to their mid-shin.

When pulling conventional, a great way to find your own power...

 

I love to write love letters about the bench press, and hunker down, because this is juicy one. Not so secretly, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you’re on board with getting better at this lift because my dream scenario includes women who are fanning out and claiming their benches in gyms all over, executing this lift with rock-solid form. (What, you don’t dream about bench pressing? Just me?)

I’ve written several posts about the basics of bench pressing, including where to put your hands where to put your feet, and how to press the bar once you get into position.  If you need a review on the basics, head to those blog posts to practice the fundamentals, but if you’re already on board with bench pressing, here’s how you can continue to fine-tune this lift and improve your technique in your very next session:

 

1) Get a Grip.

Handling a barbell for the bench press is not going to feel the same as holding dumbbells, so we shouldn’t treat it as such. You aren’t going to be able to achieve completely neutral wrists with a barbell and with your hands locked into position, your elbows and shoulders don’t have as much freedom to move as when you’re holding individual weights. This means it’s not only important to have your hands in the...

When I was a kid, I watched one of my dad’s favorite movies, Caddyshack, often enough that one golfer’s ability to control the path of his putt with his mind (and the mantra “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na”) still stands out vividly to me. “There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen,” says Ty Webb (played by Chevy Chase). “And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.”

Below, Unapologetically Strong head coach JVB teaches you two drills that will teach you to be one with the barbell (a critical mindset for overcoming fear of big squats). Turning over the wheel to her now….

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I coach lifters both in person and in my Unapologetically Strong online coaching group and sometimes my more experienced lifters hit a mental roadblock when it comes to their back squat. The fear factor.

This scenario is most common with my powerlifters who are approaching the end of their meet-peaking training cycle: they can now squat more than they ever previously thought possible and even though they’ve been making great overall progress, they will mentally freeze at the thought of squatting even more weight on the platform.

I understand this feeling, I get it (because I’ve been there). The squat...

 

I’ve always been a fan of big things: Big muscles. Big weights. Big hair. (One of my favorite sayings used to be, “The higher the hair the closer to God,” and I still say it sometimes, in full jest, tongue firmly planted in cheek.)

Big things also often mean the same to me as comfortable things, like pillows, sweat shirts, and cars with a backseat I can stretch my legs out in. I like it when I can spread out, it just feels good.

And I feel the same about my workout tights: while I want them fitted (all the better to showcase the big muscles while avoiding extra fabric scrunching up and around my body during workouts) I have a hard and fast rule no matter the brand:

The waistband must be high. Like almost to my bra, high. Low-rise leggings are not welcome here.

No matter what clothes you choose to workout in, feeling comfortable in your workout gear is imperative; anything else is a distraction from the hard work you’re putting in. For me, that means workout leggings my body can spread out in, with a waistband that won’t grab or pinch in weird places, and that I don’t feel the need to yank up after every set of squats.

I know many of you are on board with this too and so I conducted my own research for the best, high-waisted leggings around (It was a...

If I could choose a superpower it would almost certainly be the ability to see into the future. Just think of the possibilities if you could accurately predict the future. You’d never have to worry about money because you could just invest in guaranteed winners. You wouldn’t die of some Final Destination freak accident because you could see the bouncing runaway wheel that flew off a semi truck coming before it was too late. You could probably even take the correct countermeasures to stave off disease by knowing exactly what to intervene against.

It’s probably a little too much to ask for that kind of ability to predict the future, but I do think there’s a way to gain a little bit of a superpower.

When a baseball player swings at a baseball, they’re not reacting to the ball, they’re predicting where it’s going to be. It takes about 400 milliseconds for a baseball to travel from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s glove and human reaction time is pretty well fixed at 200 to 300 milliseconds, with studies showing that elite baseball players aren’t any quicker at reacting. That means they’re already having to decide when and how to swing when the ball has barely left the mound.

In a less quantified example, every time you load up your plate for a meal, you are making a prediction based on how hungry you are that...