Resistance Training

Lift Light Weights For Big Muscles

I absolutely love the art of of bodybuilding. The science of gaining muscle has always fascinated me. I don't care too much about being on the beach, social media, or on stage showing off my physique. But I love the experimental process of creating a healthier body and mind. However, gaining muscle is still one of those topics that is terribly misunderstood. 

For those who want to maximize their muscle gaining potential, stay away from lectures by gym bros. They will typically give you what they think worked for them or what they saw in some magazine.

You might hear, "You have to lift to failure." "If it's not heavy then you aren't working hard enough."

But if your goal is to gain muscle and you have been searching for the truth, I'm here to give it to you. Science says it makes sense to train across the continuum of repetition ranges. While there may be validity to focusing on the so-called "hypertrophy range" (6-12 reps), both high (15-20+) and low (1-5) repetition ranges should also be incorporated into your training program.

Not only does such an approach ensure full stimulation of the spectrum of muscle fibers, but it also serves as preparatory work for optimizing performance in the hypertrophy range. Low rep work enhances neuromuscular adaptations necessary for the development of maximal strength. When max strength increases due to low rep work then you can guarantee you will be stronger at moderate loads. This will give you greater mechanical tension which is key to gaining muscle. Let’s say your low rep work increased your bench press from 150 lbs to 225 lbs. Now you can go down and train in the moderate rep range (6-12) with loads that was close to your old max. That is an example of how you can increase mechanical tension.

Now let's look at the other side of that equation. Performance of higher-rep sets help over time raise lactate threshold. This means you will have the ability to delay the onset of fatigue. This will increase time under tension during moderate rep training. Time-under-tension refers to how long the muscle is under strain during a set of an exercise. If you normally train biceps with curls at 50 lbs and the set lasts around 10 seconds. What will happen if you trained biceps with 25 lbs and the set lasts for 30-45 seconds? Over time you will get stronger and can increase the time under tension at that 50 lb set.

There are infinite ways in which varied intensities can be integrated into program design. Perhaps the best way to ensure continued progress is by periodizing training rep ranges over time. This simply means that you should have times in your training where all rep ranges are covered. How you go about covering that spectrum comes down to personal preference and making your program fit you instead of vice versa.

Another option is to base loading strategies on the type of exercise performed. I've experimented with this a lot in the past. I would focus on low to moderate-reps (~1-10) for multi-joint movements such as squats, rows, and presses. And prioritizing higher rep training (15+) for single-joint, isolation type exercises like curls, shoulder raises, and leg curls.

There are no set in stone rules here. The response to training varies by the individual and that is why you shouldn't follow what Jimmy in the gym said is the best program. You need to experiment with different approaches and find out what works best for you.

Big Backside = Long Life

Can we all agree that we get weaker as we get older? I'm pretty sure common sense would say your muscles don't hang around if you aren't using them.

In the science world strength declines at a very fast rate after the age of 40. So for example, a man 55 years young, even if he was an Olympic gold medal winner in weightlifting at 24, will typically lose 30-33% of the strength levels he had three decades before.

Your backside. Your rump. Your bum. Your derriere. Your backside.

When you neglect to save the largest muscle of the body we create some major issues.

The biggest reason why the glutes shut down is due to inactivity. A muscle will quit working properly if you fail to consistently activate it. It will also stop working suitably if you fail to regularly activate it to its capacity.

If your glutes are not strong, your entire lower body alignment may fall out of balance. Have you ever seen anyone walking bent over? Or how about anyone that sits in a chair and their lower back is screaming in pain?  Weak glutes can lead to issues such as ACL injuries, Achilles tendinitis, shin splints, runner’s knee and IT band pain.

If the glutes are not strong enough to do their job then something has to do it for them. Other muscles will take over that work load. Which is not a good thing. The hamstrings, low back, quadriceps and calves may become over active and that can increase your risk of injury.

Strong glutes support the back. When your glutes aren’t activating as they should, your psoas muscle, a hip flexor muscle that runs from the spine to the legs, takes over. An overstressed psoas causes back pain and compression in the lower lumbar vertebrae of the spine.

Not all back pain is a result of weak glutes, but it can be a contributing factor.

I love the hip thrust exercise. It can be scaled to any fitness level and can activate glutes through a full range of motion.

One thing I like about them is that there’s a fast learning curve so clients tend to pick them up fast. They can be a little awkward at first but I’ve found some ways to improve the experience that I hope you’ll find helpful.

Pause each rep for a second at the top to help ensure that you're coming all the way up and achieving full extension. Pausing will also ensure that you’re using glutes to do the work instead of the lower back.

Position your feet in such a way that when you're at the top of the movement your shins are perpendicular to the floor.

Sometimes you will push through your toes which don't activate glutes to their full capacity. Instead your quads take too much of the load. To ensure that you are targeting glutes you should try to lift your toes off the ground. Or try to pick your toes up within your shoes.

Here's a video of a perfectly performed hip thrust.

Why I Love Dumbbell Exercises

Dumbbell exercises have been a huge part of my training regimen since I started lifting weights at age 12. My dad had a set in the garage that I would use. The old school ones where you had to screw the weights on. It definitely sharpened my math skills.

Dumbbells are great tools to have in your strength training arsenal.

They allow for a lot of variety within your workouts. They have a lot of real world practicality and they have some significant advantages compared to barbells.

Of course they aren't included in most gym discussions because they aren't macho man exercises and leaves very little room to ego lift. But they have the best carryover in real life in my opinion. You will never barbell bench press something in real life unless you are stuck under an object and have to press it off of you. Pretty sure those chances are fairly slim. However, you will be faced with obstacles in life where you have to handle different weights of things and have to get in and out of various shapes. Having dumbbells in your training regimen will help improve your fitness to enhance your quality of life. 

I’m not claiming that dumbbells are the best workout tool and that they’re superior to any other piece of equipment. Barbells, kettlebells, machines, or anything else can definitely play a role in your strength development but this article will just dive into the positive aspects of using dumbbells.

Dumbbell exercises can be a little easier on the joints when you are starting out in your lifting journey. You may have some old shoulder injuries, elbow pain or back pain. Dumbbell exercises can be a little safer until you gain full mobility within all your joints, tendons and ligaments. An example of this is to take a look at flat bench dumbbell press and compare it to it's counterpart flat bench barbell press. The dumbbell version tends to be a bit more elbow and shoulder friendly because you can have more natural movement since your hands aren’t fixed in place. You have the freedom to turn or rotate them as you press. Those little tweaks can make for a very safe exercise and not hold you back from making very good strength gains.

The same thing applies to a dumbbell standing press compared to a barbell overhead press. Having your palms face your face instead of facing forward could be the difference into you forming that shape pain free. This is why I recommend people who have had previous shoulder or elbow issues to use dumbbells in their training.

This is why many of my favorite upper body and lower body exercises use dumbbells.

So if you’ve noticed some problems with certain upper body barbell exercises, try swapping them out for the dumbbell version and see how things feel.

I'm a huge advocate for training the body unilaterally as well. We all have a dominant side. Sometimes using a barbell can only exaggerate that. Using dumbbells can improve your weaker side and help you create a more stable, functional physique.

The last reason I love dumbbells is because they are great for home gyms. You don't need any fancy equipment early on in your journey. A pair of dumbbells can take you such a long way. A pair of power block dumbbells can save you a ton of space if that is a resource that is limited in your household. These dumbbells increase in 2.5 pound increments from 10 to 50 pounds. That is perfect for a home gym.

Dumbbells can be a great tool if you’re new to the wonderful world of strength training and want to ease into lifting. Begin by performing basic compound exercises with dumbbells and strive to get stronger.

No workout tool is perfect for everything but dumbbells are a great place to start in your lifting journey.

2 Muscle Building Mistakes Men Make

This one is definitely for the men but much of the information stands true for both males and females. 

When I look back on the thousands of conversations that I have had with men regarding their current health and fitness routines I have concluded one thing; they are all experts and I'm not. 

It is as if the countless hours of study, degrees, certifications, and my personal 15+ years of weight training is null and void. 

Thankfully my father taught me some valuable lessons when dealing with people. Listen twice as much as you talk was one of them. He used to always say we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. 

At some point I eventually penetrate the thick skull, years of misinformation, and the ego driven know it all guy that has a degree from the Muscle & Fitness magazine. Working cattle all my life has graced me with a never ending amount of patience.

The same 2 principles seem to haunt most men when it comes to building muscle. So I'm going to share them with you so you are ahead of the game. Thank me later. 

1. You Perform the Same Exercises Every Time You Train

Most people have the 'list' of exercises that are staples in their routine. It's human nature to want to stick within your comfort zone so I totally understand. You can't miss bench press Monday right? 

It is okay to have movements that you feel that you respond best to. But you have to understand that muscles become accustomed to the continual use of the same movements. This will make them increasingly resistant to trauma. Why would you want the time that you spend in the gym to work against you? The goal is to create metabolic stress to the muscle so your body undergoes the remodeling process continually.

You should always utilize a variety of exercises over the course of whatever training cycle you are on. Switching angles, planes of movement, and even your hand and foot spacing plays a huge role in your muscle building efforts. There is no hard rule on how often you should be changing exercises though. I tend to stand by the general guideline to make some sort of routine changes at least on a monthly basis. 

Remember that your muscles are some greedy monsters and in order to keep them happy you must give them variety. 

2. You Believe that You Should Train In the Same Rep Range All The Time

This argument runs crazy in the fitness industry. For the longest people would always say that muscle growth is maximized in the moderate rep ranges (6-12 reps per set). That argument has some research to back it up but it is far from being indisputable. Even if it were 100% true that still would not mean that you should only train in that rep range. 

Let's break it down. 

Training in lower rep ranges (1-5 reps per set) maximizes strength increases for sure. Being in this rep range at times will help you use heavier weights during those moderate rep range training days. Training in low rep ranges at times translates to being able to create better muscular tension which will give you better growth. 

High rep sets (15+ reps per set) will help you increase your lactate threshold. Why would you want to delay lactic acid build up? If you build this up then you will have the ability to keep a lid on fatigue when training in those moderate rep ranges. This will also increase the time you have the muscle under tension which is important in the growth process as well. So you get double the benefit. Who doesn’t want more bang for their buck.

So stop with I’m doing the 5 by 5 to pack on size and then high reps to get cut program.

Bottom line is muscular development can continue to happen when you use a full spectrum of rep ranges. Your program should include both low reps, moderate, and high repetitions. 

Building muscle is harder than following some program you saw in a magazine or some viral Facebook trend. I’m tired of seeing men train year after year in the gym only to never see the gains they are looking for. Hopefully some of these tactics are already being used in your current program and if they aren’t then start as soon as possible. 

Can Fat Be Turned Into Muscle?

This question is more common than you may believe: Can you turn body fat into muscle? The answer is simple. No.

You can work to burn fat and replace it with muscle. But we can't turn body fat into rock solid muscle. You need to understand how resistance exercise leads to building muscle to grasp what I mean. 

Let’s take weight training as an example. Lifting a weight increases muscle mass by first damaging muscle on a cellular level. The process then activates a ton of signals in the muscle that tell your body to turn the proteins you eat into new muscle tissue as a repair mechanism. That mechanism is what’s known as muscle protein synthesis. 

Having enough protein in your diet will help you build new tissue. The other nutrients like carbohydrates and fats are generally used as energy to fuel exercise.  

It’s important to understand this process since energy status is related to fat stores in your body.

Weightlifting can indirectly decrease fat stores. Body fat fuels both the muscle-building process and acts as an energy source for the exercise that is needed to damage muscle. 

You can't turn fat into muscle.
You can't turn muscle into fat. 

They are completely different on a structural level. 

Muscle is made up of amino acids and fat does not contain any amino acids on a structural level. 

The vast majority of muscle built is from dietary protein intake.

In summary, lifting weights can both build muscle and help with fat loss. They are two separate results and not one being the result of another.

Resistance Training For Children

Should you let your kid lift weights? I guarantee you have heard of all the potential 'dangers' related to this right?  

However, there has never been any scientific evidence that youth weight training is harmful to the normal growth and development process. Your child can in fact perform barbell squats without fear of stunted growth!

Weight training is not even listed in the top 10 most prevalent injuries for children. According to some of the most updated statistics from Stanford Children's Health the highest rates of injury occur in sports that involve contact and collisions. Youth football, basketball, baseball and softball, and soccer rank as some of the highest injury prone sports for youth sports. More than 775,000 children, ages 14 and younger, are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries each year. Most of the injuries occurred as a result of falls, being struck by an object, collisions, and overexertion. Children ages 5 to 14 account for nearly 40 percent of all sports-related injuries treated in hospitals. More than 3.5 million kids under age 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year. Guess what? Resistance training isn’t in the list at all. This is often attributed to good coaching and qualified supervision.

Resistance training for kids is extremely beneficial and safe. I believe that the sooner your child has a barbell in their hand the better. Especially with the issues of self-confidence climbing and child obesity rates rising. Why not give them something that teaches discipline, and boost a positive self-image? 

My father put weights in my hand at a young age. Around the age of 8 I started to train with him in the garage. We had a bench press that was duck taped so it wouldn’t fall apart and a squat rack. It was one of the best gifts he ever gave me. I can't thank him enough for introducing me to resistance training because it taught me so many valuable lessons.

Here are the reasons why I believe your child should be in a resistance training program. 

Shape a Positive Self-Image

The most significant basic developmental task for children is developing self-worth. If they don't master self-worth, they become self-absorbed instead of self-aware. Confidence makes social life a lot smoother. It also makes it a lot safer. Studies show that self-confidence is one of the single best shields against bullying. A child’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in a particular situation is important. This is known as self-efficacy. If it isn’t built up then they may have less confidence in their ability to stand up for themselves.

Yes, I understand, your child might be the confident kid. They may even be the superstar. But kids who aren't socially awkward suffer silently from a distorted body image that's probably a lot worse. The social pressure for them to be the best or the prettiest could leave him or her constantly hungry for some internal fulfillment they can't define. 

Weightlifting, however, can give adolescents a say in their physical destiny and appearance. With a resistance training program they play an integral role in developing self-worth. The ownership, investment, and discipline it takes to accomplish that change in physical appearance can often help build the other parts of the self-worth equation as well.

Create an Environment for a Healthier Kid and Strong Family Bonds

Lifting makes kids health and food conscious. Food takes on a whole new dimension when you lift. It becomes fuel, and sustenance. It becomes purposeful, and that purpose is building and maintaining muscle, daily energy, and recovery. They will also learn balance. Kids should know how to enjoy some of their favorite sugar filled foods but not at the expense of pushing aside nutritiously dense foods. 

It's easy to bond with kids during infancy. But most parents aren't as good in maintaining these bonds when kids get older and presumably more complex. My father and I bonded during our weight training sessions. It was something I looked forward to. Weightlifting gives you something to share and a way to acknowledge your kid's effort and achievements, along with their weaknesses. They will learn life isn’t about wins, losses, or participation awards. They will learn that you get out what you put in.

If you are a parent of a young child and considering a weight-training program, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is your child mature enough to accept coaching instructions?
2. Does the training program emphasize lifting technique and not the amount of weight lifted
3. Is there a qualified coach to supervise my child?
4. Does the coach understand how to monitor the training program and vary the intensity of lifting to avoid over-training and injuries?

If you can answer yes to all of these questions, a weight-training program can be implemented with your child regardless of age.

Weight training is safe for children of all ages to perform as long as they are adequately supervised and coached. Consult the child’s primary physician before starting any new physical training program. (I have to say that but science is science)

Yoga & Pilates vs Strength Training

Yoga and Pilates are great forms of exercise that have many health benefits. I've practiced both throughout my career in health and fitness. I'm not going to attack either of those methodologies because I see value in both. But way too often I hear terrible claims and marketing ploys that mislead people. 

"Yoga gives you long lean muscles."

"Pilates will lengthen your muscles and give you that tone you want."

I feel as if people have the notion that Yoga and Pilates do something special to your muscles compared to plain old resistance training. It's as if Yoga and Pilates gives the physique of a dancer and resistance training gives the physique of a bulky bodybuilder. But the truth is these claims are false. 

In order for you to understand that those claims are false I have to explain a little anatomy and physiology. But in its simplest form because I don't want to bore you. 

Muscles have a fixed origin and insertion. In other words, they start somewhere and end somewhere else. Aside from surgery, these attachment points cannot change. 

It would seem that basic static stretching would be the best way to lengthen muscles. Yet, this is not the case. Stretching will indeed help you achieve greater joint range of motion, but it does not do so by actually lengthening the muscle. It works by decreasing the brain’s perception of a threat and “releasing the brakes,” so you can stretch a muscle further than normal. Stretching works on the nervous system to increase “stretch-tolerance.”

Common sense would say that the more intense the exercise, the greater its effect on total body fat loss. This is true. Higher intensity exercise is more effective at reducing total body fat compared to lower intensity exercise. The purpose of Yoga and Pilates is not to exert the greatest amount of effort or burn the highest number of calories possible during the session. Both combine exercises and poses with other tactics aimed at centering the body and improving mental state. Some of which include breathing, meditation, and flow. Yoga and Pilates sessions can indeed be intense. But if your approach is to exhaust yourself then you’re missing the point. When lifting weights you can crank up the intensity as high as tolerable, which lead to greater caloric expenditure and fat burning long term.

Progressive resistance training does a better job of promoting lean muscle than Yoga or Pilates. Over time this will lead to greater changes in body composition. Thus, resistance training is better suited for leaning out the body and reducing body fat stores than Yoga or Pilates.

You do not have to choose between resistance training, Yoga, or Pilates. If you enjoy all of them, you can do all three throughout the week. Yoga and Pilates are effective forms of exercise with many positive attributes with regards to health. If you desire long, lean muscles, lifting weights in the gym will get you there faster than Yoga or Pilates. Yoga and Pilates will build muscle and reduce fat, but they won’t do it as efficiently as resistance training. It’s time we put an end to misleading marketing tactics and stick to the science.

Weppler, C. H. (2010, March). Increasing Muscle Extensibility: A Matter of Increasing Length or Modifying Sensation? Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association. Retrieved from