Strength and Nutrition: Smart Strength With Charles Staley

Wow, a variety of reader questions this week on bicep curls, powerlifting, and paleo.

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: So, What About Biceps?

READER: I noticed that you use bicep curls in your routine fairly often. What do you like about them? I mostly focus on the big three and leave out any accessory work. Should I add them in?

CHARLES SAYS: Well, yes, I do a lot of curl. I didn’t used to. But here’s why:

  1. In terms of my muscular development, my arms are a bit underwhelming compared to everything else. I’m not only speaking in aesthetic terms, but also in terms of my powerlifting goals. Yes, I know, what does arm size have to do with bench pressing? Well, the more arm mass you have, the more tissue compression you achieve when your elbow is fully flexed, this creates a natural “spring” that can add pounds to your bench.
  2. Being a small muscle group, the bicep recovers quickly, and therefore, can and should be trained more often than other muscles. So on the one hand, training biceps isn’t a big priority, but on the other hand, it also doesn’t cost much to train them.

Question #2: Powerlifting, Age, and Injury, So What Gives?

READER: How long do you think you’ll be powerlifting? I always notice that a lot of older powerlifters seem to be busted up.

CHARLES SAYS: I’m not sure to be honest. I can tell you that, for me at least, powerlifting is a means to an end more than an end unto itself. In other words, I’m using it as a way to stay accountable to my training, as a way of testing myself, and also as a laboratory to test my theories and practices in a real-world way. So, I think of it like a boat that gets me across the river – once I’ve gotten across, I no longer need the boat.

What’s on the other side? I’m currently working on a book for older guys looking to be physical outliers, and I want to be sure I’m walking the walk 100%, so I plan to bring up a few weaker areas of my game, including mobility, and I’d also like to tighten up by body composition a bit, as well.

“I can tell you that, for me at least, powerlifting is a means to an end more than an end unto itself.”

As for being busted up, thankfully I’m not, at least yet. I attribute a lot of this to being a careful person in general. I don’t do a lot of “ego lifting,” and when something hurts, I stop (case in point, see this week’s training).

Question #3: Do You Paleo?

READER: Charles, I’ve never heard you talk about paleo. Do you like? Dislike?

CHARLES SAYS: Boy, it sure seems like I’ve written about it, but maybe not. I do have a few thoughts on the subject ether way:

Firstly, I think it’s a false premise that Paleolithic man was healthier than we are today. True, they didn’t suffer from some of the chronic diseases that we suffer from today (diabetes and cardiovascular disease, in particular). But they likely did suffer from many illnesses that are mostly unknown in (at least) Western civilization today – parasites and infectious diseases come immediately to mind.

The second false premise is that there was a single Paleolithic culture, and by extension, cuisine. In truth, Paleolithic peoples ate quite differently depending on where they lived. Some of these peoples even ate grains, for example.

Paleo diet, strength, training

With those points being made, I still think most people would be healthier eating “paleo” (definitions differ, but generally by this I mean fewer carbs, more fiber, higher protein, and less processing) than what they’re eating now. That doesn’t mean, however, that you need to go “full-paleo” to enjoy those same benefits. For example, gluten poses no issues for most people.

Finally, I have to laugh when I see the marketing exploitation surrounding the whole paleo movement. Last week I saw an ad for “glazed doughnut” paleo bars, for example. Sheesh.

This Week’s Training

This Week’s Volume: 36,594 Pounds (Last Week: 38,265 Pounds)

Significant Lifts:

  • Deadlift 455×5
  • Paused Bench Press: 225×5

The main story for this week is that my right shoulder and knee have been hurting a fair bit, so I’ve backed off, particularly on squats and on overall volume. Even so, I hit some really good numbers this week, and both shoulder and knee seem to be better, so I expect to be back to 100% next week.

One final note is that I’ve been working with Dr. John Rusin on some mobility drills, so I’ll be reporting more on that soon. John really understands the psychology of lifters (being one himself) and has put together a handful of drills designed to have high payoff for me. Looking forward to seeing how that pans out for me and I’ll keep everyone posted.

Thanks guys, keep those questions coming!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bodyweight: 202.4 Pounds

Volume: 10,705 Pounds

Bench Press

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 10
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 6
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 195 lbs × 5
  • Set 6: 205 lbs × 5

Life Fitness Row

  • Set 1: 60 lbs × 8

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

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

Seated Row

  • Set 1: 100 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 120 lbs × 8

Tricep Pushdowns

  • Set 1: 130 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 130 lbs × 8

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Bodyweight: 202.8 Pounds

Volume: 16,315 Pounds


  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 225 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 275 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 315 lbs × 5
  • Set 6: 365 lbs × 5
  • Set 7: 405 lbs × 5
  • Set 8: 455 lbs × 5 (Video Below)

High Bar Squat

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 205 lbs × 5

Leg Curl

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

Friday, August 28, 2015

Bodyweight: 202.6 Pounds

Volume: 9574 Pounds

Bench Press (Paused)

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 10
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 6
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 205 lbs × 5
  • Set 6: 225 lbs × 5

Chin Up

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

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

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

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Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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