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: Lifting for Hypertrophy

READER: I am a big fan of yours and am always reading your items on Breaking Muscle. I was first familiarized with you a few years ago when I got your Muscle Logic book. I love Escalating Density Training, and I have a question for you regarding it. The general guidelines are to choose a weight that is a 10-12RM and start out doing sets of 5. You have said it’s all about getting the most work done and managing fatigue. If I can get more total reps by doing sets of 3-4 reps, is that a good approach if hypertrophy is my goal? Or am I crossing over to a different type of training (endurance, maybe?) by doing so.

 

hypertrophy, lifting

 

CHARLES SAYS: Glad you liked the book! (Available here for anyone who might like to get a copy.) In any event, yes - sets of 3-4 (and even lower) will certainly become necessary as fatigue accumulates, so it's fine and even necessary to do that.

 

Every time you take a set to or near failure, you stimulate hypertrophy development. Just as a bit of clarification, going to failure is technically more effective, but it will limit the amount of work you can do afterward. So I don’t recommend it as a normal practice since the slightly greater benefit it offers comes at too high a price. My advice is to take sets to about 1-2 reps away from failure for the most part, and you'll be good to go.

 

One last point is that my above advice applies especially to “big” movements and muscle groups. It’s especially unproductive to take squats and deads to failure, for example. But for things like curls and triceps pushdowns, it’s not a huge deal since those muscles will recover pretty quickly no matter how hard you train them.

 

Question #2: Testosterone Replacement Therapy

READER: I'm 47 years old and feeling like a target for Viagra and testosterone-replacement therapy ads. It's not that I'm unhappy in my life, but recovery isn't what it once was and neither is my sex life. Is TRT the same as being on ‘roids? Will I go crazy and ruin my life? Will I ever be able to stop?

 

CHARLES SAYS: Well, low sex drive might be a sign of low T levels, but if your lifestyle is harsh (high stress and fatigue, in particular), that could account for it as well.

 

"The common notions about testosterone usage causing 'roid rage,' heart disease, and so on are mostly bunk, by the way."

At a minimum, it’s a good idea to get your hormone levels checked if for no other reason than to get a baseline. TRT is technically the same thing as being on steroids, with three important differences:

 

  • The dosages are lower than what most athletes use when they’re “on a cycle.”
  • TRT is legal.
  • TRT is doctor-monitored, so you’ll know you’re not harming your health.

 

The common notions about testosterone usage causing “roid rage,” heart disease, and so on are mostly bunk, by the way. In fact, low T levels can cause these unwanted symptoms. For more info, my colleague Jay Campbell has written a great book on the subject that’s well worth checking out.

 

Question #3: Relieving Muscle Soreness

READER: What are your best tricks to relieve DOMS - either before you get it or once you have it to make it fade more quickly. I don't have access to a massage therapist. I only make minimum wage.

 

CHARLES SAYS: Okay, a few thoughts for you on that question:

 

  • Acutely, getting adequate sleep is probably job one. Maybe the biggest single factor for muscle recovery, followed by…
  • Nutritional intake, especially calories and protein. If you’re not consuming adequate fuel, your body will rob protein from one muscle in order to feed another. Let that sink in for a minute.
  • Chronically, there are program design factors you can manipulate to enhance recovery. Mainly, seek to ramp up your training volume over the course of three to five weeks, and then employ a deload week where you reduce your volume dramatically (check out my weekly training volume for my last four or five journal entries and you’ll see this practice in action).
  • I think foam rolling can be quite useful, but most people go too hard, in my opinion. You can see this in the recent trend of using PVC pipe, for example. People always revert to thinking, “If it hurts, it must be good for me.”
  • Finally, DOMS is a sign you’ve created the stimulus necessary to grow new muscle, so it’s not a bad thing, right?

 

hypertrophy, lifting

 

Question #4: Skipping Leg Day

READER: I know they say it's bad to skip leg day, as I'll end up looking out of balance upper/lower wise. But is it bad for training in general or in any way other than the imbalance? My lower body grows so easily, all I have to do is walk or hike and it grows as fast as my upper body when I work hard at upper-body training. But if I'm hurting my overall progress by skipping legs, I will add them in.

 

CHARLES SAYS: Honestly, if your legs are already well developed in relation to your upper body, and assuming your goals are primarily health and aesthetics, I think you’re fine to train them minimally or not at all.

 

If you have strength goals, though, my answer would be a bit different. Watch how heavily my legs are involved on this set of flat dumbbell bench presses:

 

 

The legs contribute to both upper-body and whole-body strength tasks more than most people appreciate. So do some analysis on your goals and base your leg training frequency on those grounds. But again, if you’ve got good muscular development in your legs from simple ancillary activities, and you’re not a competitive lifter, I say put them on the backburner and focus on your weaknesses.

 

Question #5: Using the EZ-Bar

READER: What is the EZ-curl bar for? How is it functionally different than a straight bar? Should I use both? Does it matter?

 

CHARLES SAYS: I believe it was originally designed for triceps training, but most people use it because it seems easier on the elbows than a straight bar. In fact, many people who cannot do curls without pain on a straight bar find they have no pain with an EZ curl bar.

 

"Dumbbell curls suffer from the same limitation that all exercises do: over time, your body’s homeostatic mechanisms will habituate to them."

Personally, I think dumbbell curls are superior to any bar since they allow full supination of the hand - an important but under-appreciated function of the biceps muscle. As a matter of fact, the authors of the landmark text Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual, Vol. 1. The Upper Half of Body  list supination as the primary function of that muscle.

 

With all that said, dumbbell curls suffer from the same limitation that all exercises do: over time, your body’s homeostatic mechanisms will habituate to them. Meaning, with each new exposure to the same stimulus, your body reacts with less and less alarm. So from my perspective, the best use for EZ curls is as a form of variation when it comes to curls anyway. Oh, and definitely do use this bar for lying dumbbell triceps extensions, which has been called “the fourth powerlift” due to its positive impact on the bench press.

 

This Week’s Training

This Week’s Volume: 123,952 Pounds (Last Week: 106,895 Pounds)

 

Significant Lifts:

 

  • Bench Press: 220x8
  • 1.5” Block Pull: 405x10
  • Military Press: 115x8

 

This pretty much wraps up eight weeks of high-rep training (deload is next week), and I’m looking forward to lower reps and bigger weights. I managed to hit a few lifetime PRs this cycle, including 220x8 on bench press, 200 (3x8) on dumbbell bench press, 405x10 on deadlift, and 115x8 on military press.

 

From here, I’ll next be in a general strength phase for seven weeks, followed by a peaking phase for eight weeks. In each successive phase, specificity and intensity goes up, while volume and frequency goes down.

 

Hope everyone’s enjoying the Q&A, keep those questions coming, and I’ll see you next week.


Monday, July 27, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 201.6 Pounds

Volume: 30,985 Pounds

 

High Bar Squat

 

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 95 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 185 lbs × 1
  • Set 6: 225 lbs × 8
  • Set 7: 245 lbs × 8
  • Set 8: 245 lbs × 8
  • Set 9: 245 lbs × 8
  • Set 10: 225 lbs × 8

 

Stiff-Leg Deadlift

  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 225 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 275 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 275 lbs × 8
  • Set 5: 225 lbs × 8

 

Leg Extension

  • Set 1: 160 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 190 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 190 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 190 lbs × 8

 

45° Back Extension

  • Set 1: 150 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 150 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 150 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 150 lbs × 8

 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 201.4 Pounds

Volume: 25,400 Pounds

 

Bench Press

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 1
  • Set 5: 205 lbs × 8
  • Set 6: 220 lbs × 8
  • Set 7: 195 lbs × 8
  • Set 8: 185 lbs × 8
  • Set 9: 185 lbs × 8

 

Seated Row

  • Set 1: 160 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 160 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 160 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 160 lbs × 8

 

Incline Dumbbell Press

  • Set 1: 130 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 140 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 140 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 140 lbs × 8
  • Set 5: 140 lbs × 8

 

Tricep Pushdowns

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

 

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 70 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 70 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 70 lbs × 8

 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 201.4 Pounds

Volume: 21,395 Pounds

 

1.5" Block Pull

  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 225 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 275 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 315 lbs × 3
  • Set 6: 365 lbs × 1
  • Set 7: 405 lbs × 1
  • Set 8: 430 lbs × 3
  • Set 9: 405 lbs × 10
  • Set 10: 405 lbs × 8 (Video Below)

 

 

1 & 1/4 Squat

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

 

Leg Curl

  • Set 1: 60 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 60 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 70 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 70 lbs × 8
  • Set 5: 70 lbs × 8

 

Friday, July 31, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 202.4 Pounds

Volume: 26,096 Pounds

 

Bench Press (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 80 lbs × 10
  • Set 2: 120 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 160 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 180 lbs × 8
  • Set 5: 190 lbs × 8
  • Set 6: 200 lbs × 8
  • Set 7: 200 lbs × 8
  • Set 8: 200 lbs × 8

 

Chin Up

  • Set 1: 8 reps
  • Set 2: 8 reps
  • Set 3: 8 reps
  • Set 4: 8 reps
  • Set 5: 8 reps

 

Tricep Pushdowns

  • Set 1: 150 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 150 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 150 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 150 lbs × 8

 

EZ Bar Curl

  • Set 1: 75 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 75 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 75 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 75 lbs × 8

 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

 

Bodyweight: 202.4 Pounds

Volume: 20,076 Pounds

 

Military Press

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 45 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 65 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 85 lbs × 8
  • Set 5: 95 lbs × 8
  • Set 6: 105 lbs × 8
  • Set 7: 110 lbs × 8
  • Set 8: 115 lbs × 8

 

Back Extension

  • Set 1: +150 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: +150 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: +150 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: +150 lbs × 8

 

Lying Tricep Extension

  • Set 1: 75 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 75 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 85 lbs × 8

 

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 60 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 70 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 70 lbs × 8

 

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