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Troubleshooting January 2013

on Tuesday, 01 January 2013.

Often my grip gives out in many of my prime mover exercises. Other than improving forearm and performing grip exercises what else can I do to aid my lifts, it's very frustrating when my grip gives out before my muscles.

Use chalk! The chalk that's commonly used in gyms is magnesium carbonate; properly used this is a terrific aid for a stronger grip. Although not support gear in the sense of something that is durable – e.g. Straps, wraps, squat suits and bench shirts- chalk is still a form of support tackle

Use chalk everywhere that you need help, especially in back exercises and upper body pressing movements. In the latter, your grip isn't going to give out like in the deadlift of the chin up; but what often happens is that during the reps of the bench press, for example, the hands slip outward a little unless you apply chalk. Losing your grip, even just slightly, in any exercise may not only ruin the set in question, but can be very dangerous.

Experiment to find the right amount of chalk. Use too little and you'll not feel much benefit. Use too much and your grip may slip. But use enough and your grip will be strengthened.
Chalk isn't only for using on hands. For the squat, to help the bar not to slip, get someone to chalk your t shirt where the bar is going to rest. If you're a heavy sweater and are going to do some sort of pressing with your back on a bench, get someone to chalk your upper back. This will help prevent your torso sliding on the bench during the exercise.

What are your thoughts on pre-exhaust techniques?
In pre-exhaustion, an isolation exercise is done immediately followed by a compound movement for the same target muscle. This is supposed to intensify the stress on the muscle concerned and increase the growth stimulus. For example, a straight arm pull-down followed by a deadlift or a wide-grip row. Some trainers promote this method with vigour, but I think it has theoretical and practical shortcomings and I'm not a fan. Probably the most obvious theoretical shortcoming is that the maximum tension on the target muscle is reduced.

Pushing any single set hard takes effort and concentration, to do two exercises back to back with a high degree of effort is much harder to do. What happens, even with strongly motivated trainee's, is that consciously or subconsciously the isolation exercise is stopped short of being worked very hard. Or, more likely the compound exercise becomes a bit of a joke because the trainee is wiped out from training hard on the isolation exercise, and then can't push hard on the multi joint movement. A typical trainee and certainly a hard gainer will never get bigger and stronger from working hard on just isolation exercises, so it makes little sense to perform pre-exhaustion sets when they result in the major exercises being done with diminished intensity and poundages.

I suspect I may be overtraining. I am hitting the gym every night after work but it's like I'm dragging myself there. The past three weeks my lifts have been sub-par. I hit each body-part twice a week.

Overtraining is the cumulative effect of relentless high-volume or high-intensity training, or both, without adequate recovery, that results in the exhaustion of the body's ability to compensate for training stress and adapt to it. An over-stressed body regresses. This is nature's way of forcing you to cycle your training intensity. There is a fine line between doing enough and doing too much.

Unfortunately by the time symptoms of overtraining have manifested themselves and become apparent you are already overtrained. Here is a by no means exhaustive list of symptoms of overtraining: reduced poundages, reduced enthusiasm for training, not bouncing back from your workouts, disrupted sleeping patterns, minor aches and pains that niggle and don't go away, different eating patterns, reduced level of concentration during sets, getting frequent colds and feeling run down, wanting the workouts to end, legs feeling heavy both in and out of the gym, increased resting heart rate, increased diastolic pressure, bring anxious about your training not going well and an inclination to 'cut corners' in your workouts to 'just get them done'.

However not all trainees will display the same symptoms. Ask yourself how many of the above can you relate too at the moment? If you note three or more of these symptoms, chances are you are in some stage of being overtrained.

If you are alert to the symptoms of overtraining and become aware as soon as you're starting to overdo your training, you have the opportunity to prevent it turning into a total nightmare. I would suggest that you stay out of the gym an extra few days, rest a bit more, pay more attention to your nutrition and reduce your volume of work when you get back into the gym. If you have too, revise your whole approach to your training and give yourself more rest days, or do fewer sets/reps. If you still feel stagnant after taking some times off, take a fortnight off. When you get back to the gym cut your lifts back by 10% and take a month or so to build back up. This one month down period may restore you, avoid full-blown overtraining, and set you up nicely for a period of gains.

What's your take on raw produce? On Facebook I notice that numerous bodybuilders are consuming a lot of raw vegetables. What do you look for when purchasing them?

The most healthful fruits and vegetables are those that have been grown organically – without the use of insecticides, herbicides, artificial fertilizers, or growth-stimulating chemicals. Organic produce can be found in select health food stores, as well as in some supermarkets and greenmarkets and through food co-ops.

When choosing your produce, look for fruits and vegetables that are at the peak of ripeness, these contain more vitamins and enzymes than do foods that are underipe or overripe, or that have been stored for any length of time. The longer a food is kept in storage, the more nutrients are loses.

Once you get your organic produce home, running water and a vegetable brush are probably all that will be needed to get it ready for the table. If the produce is not organic, however, you will want to wash it more thoroughly to rid it of any chemical residues. Use a soft vegetable brush to scrub the foods, and then let them soak in water for ten minutes.
You can also clean produce with nontoxic rinsing preparations, which are available in reputable health food stores. If the products are waxed, peel them, because wax cannot be washed away. Remove as thin a layer of peel as possible.

Most fruits and vegetables should be eaten in their entirety, as all parts, including then skin, contain valuable nutrients. When eating citrus fruits, remove e the rinds, but eat the white part inside the skin for its vitamin C and bioflavanoid content.

Although most people usually cook their vegetables before eating, both fruits and vegetables should be eaten raw if possible. All enzymes and most vitamins are extremely sensitive to heat, and are usually destroyed in the cooking process.

I am a hard gainer and I get bored of the same exercise all the time. What's your opinion on variety?
Are you training for results or for entertainment? Some people stress the importance of training variety as a means to prevent overtraining. If they mean rational training variety within the confines of what works for the drug-free typical trainee - fine. But if they mean, as they usually do, to change the routine every so often despite the training volume, frequency and/or intensity being beyond the recovery abilities of the trainee, that's not so good. And if they mean chopping and changing exercises every week or few, that's training suicide for you.

'Hard gainers' need to stick to a pool of safe major exercises and a fixed sensible training format for a sustained period of time before making any changes. Only in that way can they get full value from each exercise. How can you get the most from an exercise, or a rep or set format, if you do it only for a couple of weeks? You will be forever getting used to exercise changes- i.e., learning or revising the grooves, finding the right working poundages, and familiarizing yourself with changes. You'll never have sufficient time to dedicate to consistent workouts to build up your exercise poundages into new personal bests. The most important factor behind sustained training motivation is sustained progress, and excessive variety will kill your gains.