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Weight Training and Powerlifting Questions

2003 - 2005

Since I started this Fitness for One and All Web site, I have received many emails from people on a variety of subjects. On this page I will present some of these dealing with lifting weights. The emailers' comments are printed in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My responses are in red.

In some of my responses, I refer to my own training. These comments refer to what I was doing at the time of the email. But I change my routine often, so for the routine I am currently using, see Training Log and Five Phase Cycle (4/29/05 - 11/11/05).


>Subject: Flabby Chest

Hello,

I train my upper body every other day with the exception of Sundays. In addition to that, I do various arm and back workouts which exercise my biceps, triceps, delts, and back muscles. I have achieved good results in all of them with the exception of my pecs. My upper pecs however have achieved some muscle and tone. My lower pecs and sides underneath my armpits still remain rather flabby however. Do you have any advice on how I can decrease the flab in this vicinity and gain tone without getting too huge?

My regimen includes a bench press, and a dumbbell fly where I lie on a bench parallel to the ground and bring the weights over my head. Two other exercises I do are on the same machine. It has two stacks of weight. One stack sits to my left and the other lies near my right arm. I connect handles to ropes above my head, fully extend my arms away and above my body and pull down standing up. The other exercise is similar but my body is bent at the waist.

Well thank you sir for your time and any help would be appreciated.

Sincerely,
Paul K.
8/9/03<

Several thoughts come to mind. First off, you cannot "spot reduce." The only way to lose "flab" is to loose fat. But you have no control where your body will take the fat off from. But still, a general weight loss program should help.

As for exercises, I would recommend dropping the dumbbell and cable flyes. They are simply too taxing to the shoulders for what they are worth. You'll get much better results with compound exercises. You don't mention if you are using free weights or a machine for benches, but to hit the areas you mention, you need to use free weights.

The first exercise I would recommend is wide grip benches. These will target your outer pecs. For these, use as wide as grip as you can without overly taxing your wrists. Personally, I use a slightly wider than shoulder width grip for regular benches, then for wide grip benches I move my hands one hand width further out on each side.

If your upper pecs are developing but not your lower, to target the latter, the best exercise would be decline benches, with either a barbell or dumbbells. But for these you will need a decline bench of some sort. It should have about a 30-degree decline.

If you don't have a decline bench, another very good exercise for the lower pecs is dips. To target the lower pecs you need to lean forward about 15 degrees. If you do them straight up and down then your triceps will get most of the work. Also, be sure to go down as far as your flexibility allows but not so far as to overly tax your shoulders. And be sure to do them in a slow, controlled manner so as not to hurt your shoulders.

If you cannot do dips with your bodyweight, some gyms have an assisted dip station. Ask a gym employer to demonstrate how to use it. Or if you don't have access to such a machine, then have someone hold your legs and provide some assistance. Eventually you should be able to do them with your full bodyweight.

If bodyweight dips are too easy, then use a dip belt. These are leather belts with a chain attached to hang weights onto. These are available from APT.

Do your shoulder and triceps work after the chest work. But keep it to a minimum as the shoulders and triceps will get a lot of work from the above. You might not even need separate triceps work.

I'd also recommend cutting back to working the chest/ shoulders/ triceps only twice a week, say Monday and Friday. Use the following routine:

Monday:
Bench
Dips
Press

Friday:
Wide Grip Bench
Decline Bench
Dumbbell press
[Triceps pushdowns]

Do 2-3 work sets of 6-10 reps for each exercise. Work very hard, but stop just short of going to failure. Also do 2-3 warm-ups sets for the first exercise of the day and 1-2 for the rest.

I would also recommend cutting back to twice a week for your upper back/ biceps work. It can be done after the above or on two separate days. And if you're not currently doing leg and ab work, you really should start. Again, work them twice a week.

Personally, I lift four times per week, doing chest/ shoulders/ triceps/ abs on days one and three and legs/ back/ biceps on days two and four.

As for getting "too huge" you will only put on size if you eat to do so. Without "extra" calories you shouldn't gain weight. But you should be able to lose fat and gain muscle so that your weight stays the same but the proportions change.

I hope that helps.

>Subject: Re: Flabby Chest

Dear Mr. Zeolla,

Thank you very much for your time and advice. I appreciate it very much and intend to follow your advice. I am currently on a bit of a hiatus right now because I am starting college in a matter of days, at any rate I do intend do what you have recommended as soon as possible. Thank you very much once more.

Sincerely,
Paul K.
8/12/03<


>Subject: Gaining Power

Dear Sir,

I was wondering if you could help me improve my bench and squat. I can currently bench 340 and squat 350. I weigh 220. I have been stuck at this level for a while, and I'm a little frustrated. I watch my diet and run a few times a week to keep the pounds off, and I make sure to get plenty of rest. What am I doing wrong?

Robert
9/19/03<

When someone says they are stagnating on their lifts, the first thought is they need to change something. Change the number of reps, the number of sets, the assistance exercises you have been doing, or even your form. You should also have change built into your routine so that you are regularly changing something.

Personally, right now I am using what I call a "two-week rotation." Week one I do higher (5-8) reps on the powerlifts without any gear, and week two I do lower (1-4 reps) with belt and wraps. I also alternate higher (6-8) reps and lower (3-5) reps on major assistance exercises.

In addition, after each contest, or about every 3-4 months, I completely revamp my routine, including changing all of my assistance exercises.

I would suggest you read over some of my past routines and my current routine that I have posted on my site. You might want to try one of these routines and methods of incorporating change.

You might also want to read the article on Proper Performance of the Powerlifts that I just posted. Maybe you will find a tip on form that you could use.

You also should be sure you are not overdoing it on the running. A little bit of aerobics is helpful, but too much will cut into your recovery abilities from your lifting workouts.


>Subject: Bench grip width

Gary,

Your site and yourself are inspirational to me. I found you on the Web after seeing your ranking in the masters top 20. I am a lightweight masters bencher. I have a modest raw record in my federation in the 132 class. I have not disciplined myself to make 123 yet. How wide do you go on your competition bench grip?

It is impossible for me to follow the norm. The more I read the more confused and frustrated I get. It is great to be able to go to a site by a lightweight masters lifter. Any suggestions are appreciated. Nutrition tips for cutting fat are welcome if your time permits.

Your accomplishments and credentials are impressive.

Respectfully,
Paul S.
9/5/04<

Thanks for your email and the kind comments. As for bench grip, what I do is put my thumbs in the middle of the bar. I then measure out one hand span each way out. IOW, I expand my hands as much as possible thumbs to end of pinky finger. On most bars, the end of my pinky is then right where the knurling begins. But some bars differ, so I use my hands to make sure. In any case, I then move my hands out to where my pinkies ended and put the end of my thumb there. Then I extend my thumb and grip the bar there, and then wrap my thumb around the bar.

IOW, my grip is one hand span and one thumb length out from the middle of the bar.

Another important point, as I come down towards the chest I fan my elbows out some. But then as I come off of the chest, I bring my elbows in as I ascend. This way, with my elbows out, I feel I get more push off of the chest from my chest muscles, but I bring my elbows in on the ascent to get more push from the triceps. I also push slightly towards my head. So the bar moves at somewhat of an angle on the way up.

As for cutting fat, I'm not sure if you're referring to weight loss in general or specifically about cutting weight for a contest. The former is a rather broad topic. I discuss diet quite a bit on my site (under the Nutrition section) and in my Creationist Diet book.

As for cutting weight before a contest, I have an article on this subject on my site [see Cutting Weight/ Post-Weigh-in Eating and Drinking]. For my most recent contest, I did change things some. I discuss this at the beginning of my most recent contest report [see IPA World Powerlifting Championships - 2004].

I hope that helps.


>Subject: beginner/oldster

I am an Evangelical Christian who started weight training 3 months ago. I need instruction for effectiveness. I am also a vegetarian. I need guidance for nutrition. I work out 6 days a week but have no formal instruction, just making it up on my own...help!

Thanks.

Sincerely,
Tim
5/1/05<

I am currently working on a two-part article directed towards those just starting an exercise program. It will appear in the next two issues of my FitTips email newsletter. It should help you get started. So unless you object, I'll place you on my mailing list. The first part should be sent out later this week. [This article is now posted starting at: Training Routine for the Totally Out of Shape]

That said, I already have some sample routines posted on my site. I have also been posting my own routines. So you might want to check those out.

But I will say that if you are lifting six days a week, that is too much. At your stage, you should only be lifting three times a week, with maybe doing aerobic work like walking or bicycling on three opposite days.

As for specific exercises, below is the type of routine I used when I first started out. Alternate between the two routines, lifting again, 3x/week. Descriptions of these exercises are on the Proper Performance of Exercises pages.

Day One:
Squat
Bench Press
Press
Rows
Reverse Curls
Side Bends
Crunches

Day Two:
Deadlift
Leg Curls or Stiff Leg Deadlift
Close Grip Bench Press
Dumbbell Incline Bench Press
Dumbbell Rows
Curls
Bicycle Ab Exercise

As for nutrition, see my Nutrition pages. They should answer your questions. You might also be interested in my Creationist Diet book.

The above emails originally appeared in the free FitTips for One and All email newsletter.
They were posted on this site August 4, 2005.

Powerlifting and Strength Training
Powerlifting and Strength Training: Weight Training Questions

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