Note: Charles is here on a weekly basis to help you cut through the B.S. and get to the bottom of the biggest questions in health and training. Post your questions directly to Charles in the comments below this article.

 

Question #1: How Should I Work My Biceps?

READER: What's your favorite biceps exercise, and why?

 

CHARLES SAYS: Well, the arm biceps actually has three distinct functions:

 

  1. Elbow flexion (the most familiar for most of us)
  2. Hand supination
  3. Shoulder flexion
Breaking Muscle Shop

 

So the “ideal” biceps exercise, if there was one, would start with the elbow and shoulder fully extended and the hand fully pronated, and finish with the elbow and shoulder fully flexed and the hand fully supinated.

 

Unfortunately, there is no practical way to do this with meaningful resistance. So if I had to pick a single exercise, I think I’d pick a standing dumbbell curl, where you make sure to go through a complete range of motion at the elbow, and also take care to fully and actively supinate the hand at the finish of the movement.

 

biceps, training program, bicep curls

 

Thankfully, we’re not limited to only one exercise, so I’d also recommend performing incline dumbbell curls (which preferentially recruit the long head of the biceps muscle), and I’d throw in some straight barbell curls as well, since they allow for the heaviest loading for the biceps.

 

Also, don’t forget the biceps-building potential of chin ups!

 

Question #2: What's Better? Volume Increases or PRs?

READER: Most training programs seem to use increases in weight as the main, or sometimes only, method of progression. Wouldn't it also be acceptable, or even preferable, to use volume as the variable that you increase from week to week instead of intensity? Are there programs that progress volume as a main feature?

 

CHARLES SAYS: That’s a great observation on your part. And I agree that many people could benefit from paying more attention to the use of volume progression, especially when training for muscle growth (hypertrophy).

 

As a characteristic of the training load, volume is probably the key driver of muscle growth, and it’s also responsible for how quickly previously developed adaptations will decay after the cessation of training. Adaptations built through long periods of high volume training will decay more slowly than adaptations built through periods of lower volume training.

 

"One way to think of this approach is that you’re “earning” a weight increase rather than taking it in an arbitrary way."

Another point worth considering for those who have mostly relied on intensity in their training is that a focus on volume will represent a form of novel stimulus that can reinvigorate further adaptations.

 

As a practical example, a nice way to progress your training load would look like this:

 

  • Session 1: 185 pounds for 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Session 2: 185 pounds for 4 sets of 9 reps
  • Session 3: 185 pounds for 5 sets of 10 reps
  • Session 4: 190 pounds for 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Session 5: 190 pounds for 4 sets of 9 reps
  • Session 6: 190 pounds for 5 sets of 10 reps

 

In this progression strategy, for the first three sessions, intensity is held constant while volume is gradually increased. Then, you continue by increasing intensity while bringing volume down a bit, followed by two consecutive sessions with increased volume. One way to think of this approach is that you’re “earning” a weight increase rather than taking it in an arbitrary way.

 

Question #3: What's This About Fitness Training Regulation?

READER: I recently saw a news story about attempts to regulate the fitness industry in Washington, DC. According to this story, if this regulation is considered to be successful, it'll eventually spread across the entire United States. Thoughts?

 

CHARLES SAYS: Well, let me think — how do I feel about the same organization that gave us the food pyramid and the DMV regulating my profession? Umm, no, not a fan.

 

I’m as dismayed as anyone by the quality of personal training in the United States. I’d rate over eighty perfect of trainers as incompetent as a matter of fact. But trust me, no government-regulated certification agency or governmental certification standard will have any meaningful impact on the current sad state of personal training.

 

 

It is better to let the free market evolve and correct itself. A good example of this is CrossFit. While I’ve still got my issues with it, CrossFit has improved by leaps and bounds over the years, mainly because the market has forced it to.

 

History has shown again and again that anything the government can do, private enterprise can do better and cheaper. Sure, there are terrible trainers out there, but as the consumer becomes more and more educated, gradually the cream will rise to the top, and incompetent trainers will have more and more trouble making a go of it. At this point, they either need to raise their game or find another line of work.

 

This Week’s Training

This Week’s Volume: 58,121 Pounds (Last Week: 63,294 Pounds)

 

Significant Lifts:

 

  • Squat: 340x5

 

It suddenly hit me that I’m a bit closer to meet date than I realized. As of Monday the 7th, I’m only eleven weeks out, and the last three weeks of that will be a taper phase. This means I really have only eight weeks of hard training left.

 

My shoulder and knee issues have improved even further, but I’m still avoiding exercises that seem to exacerbate them — flat and incline dumbbell presses for example. Which is fine, since specificity dictates less and less exercise variation as I get closer to the meet.

 

My deadlift felt surprisingly weak this week. I’m perhaps still not fully recovered from the previous heavy pulling sessions. My squat and bench are still going strong however, so all in all, I think I’m pretty much on track.

 

Thanks guys, enjoy the videos, keep those questions coming and your thought for the week is — just because it hurts, doesn’t mean it’s benefiting you!


Monday, September 7, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 202.2 Pounds

Volume: 20,358 Pounds

 

Squat

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 225 lbs × 5
  • Set 6: 275 lbs × 5
  • Set 7: 315 lbs × 5
  • Set 8: 340 lbs × 5 (Video Below)
  • Set 9: 275 lbs × 5

 

 

Stiff-Leg Deadlift

  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 6
  • Set 2: 185 lbs × 6
  • Set 3: 225 lbs × 6
  • Set 4: 225 lbs × 6
  • Set 5: 228 lbs × 6

 

Leg Curl

  • Set 1: 80 lbs × 6
  • Set 2: 80 lbs × 6
  • Set 3: 80 lbs × 6
  • Set 4: 80 lbs × 6

 

45° Back Extension

  • Set 1: 150 lbs × 6
  • Set 2: 150 lbs × 8 (Video Below)
  • Set 3: 150 lbs × 6

 

 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 202.2 Pounds

Volume: 14,015 Pounds

 

Bench Press

  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 185 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 205 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 225 lbs × 5
  • Set 6: 225 lbs × 5
  • Set 7: 205 lbs × 5

 

Seated Row

  • Set 1: 150 lbs × 6
  • Set 2: 150 lbs × 6
  • Set 3: 150 lbs × 6
  • Set 4: 150 lbs × 6

 

Lying Tricep Extension

  • Set 1: 85 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 85 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 85 lbs × 8

 

EZ Bar Curl

  • Set 1: 75 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 75 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 75 lbs × 8

 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 201.4 Pounds

Volume: 23,748 Pounds

 

Deadlift

  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 225 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 275 lbs × 5
  • Set 6: 315 lbs × 5
  • Set 7: 365 lbs × 5
  • Set 8: 405 lbs × 4
  • Set 9: 425 lbs × 3
  • Set 10: 405 lbs × 3

 

High Bar Squat

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 3
  • Set 5: 225 lbs × 3
  • Set 6: 225 lbs × 3

 

Back Extension

  • Set 1: +150 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: +150 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: +150 lbs × 8

 

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Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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