Moving to Morning Training – Q&A

Question: For reasons beyond my control, I have to change my lifting to mornings, rather than evenings. Not really pumped about it, but it’s either change, or don’t lift at all.  I’ve been looking on the Internet for credible information about morning lifting (what to do, what not to do, in terms of nutrition, supplements, volume, etc).  It’s one of those subject where I FEEL like I know what would/wouldn’t inhibit my progress; but there’s a reason I’ve not chosen to do it in the past and it had nothing to do with the alarm – I just wasn’t getting anything out of it.   Do you have any recommendations for my situation?

Answer: With early morning training (and here I’m talking here about resistance training specifically) there are a few issues that need to be taken into account.  One of them is food intake and here there is a lot of variance.  Blood glucose is usually on the lower side in the morning and not everyone performs at their best under these conditions.

In this situation, getting something (ideally with some carbohydrate and protein) before lifting is a good idea (I’d mention here that the studies which found that pre-workout carbs/protein were more anabolic were looking at morning fasted training so this is one place where getting something into the system is probably ideal from a training adaptation standpoint).  This isn’t universal and some people do just fine without eating.

But let’s say you’re one of those people who needs to have something in them to lift at their best.  Now we have another issue, some people don’t do well with food in their stomach during high-intensity activities.  At the same time, others can eat a big meal and go train and have no issues.  Some of this depends on the type of training as well: folks doing low repetition work with longer rest intervals don’t tend to have the same issues as those doing more ‘metabolic’ type work (with higher repetitions and shorter rest intervals).


Bench Squat Deadlift, 300, 400, 500 – Q&A

Question: I’ve seen it suggested that good lifts for a natural lifter are a 300 pound bench, 400 pound squat and 500 pound deadlift and that these types of numbers will take someone pretty close to their genetic maximum.  But I have a question, whenever I look at powerlifting results, it always seems that the squat is higher than the deadlift.   Of course, most guys in my gym can bench more than they squat or deadlift.   What’s going on, are the numbers above wrong or is it something else?

Answer: While I’m not 100% certain where those values come from, it’s probably safe to say that Stuart McRobert and the folks who contribute to Hardgainer magazine have done the most to promote them as good goals for natural lifters.  But, as you point out, occasionally you can find instances where the numbers don’t seem to pass the reality check, usually where the squat exceeds the deadlift.

Part of this is due to some of the assumptions going into those numbers.  First and foremost realize that that exact numbers are easy to get hung up on but were probably chosen as much for convenience as anything.  People like round numbers and 300, 400, 500 has some nice ascending round numbery symmetry to it.

It certainly looks better to most than the Metric conversion (the exceedingly useful values of 136, 181 and 227 kg which just look messy).  I’d argue that, for someone using pounds anyhow, using 45 lb divisions makes more sense.    A 315 bench, 405 squat and 495 deadlift (respectively 3, 4 and 5 plates per side) makes more sense since that’s how pound using lifters think.  But doesn’t look as clean as 300, 400, 500 (the 495 deadlift is especially irritating since it’s only a baby plate per side off of 500 lbs).

But beyond that the pattern is what’s really important here, the idea is that bench is lower than squat which is lower than the deadlift.  Assumed in that pattern, mind you, is that equal work is given to each lift.  Clearly a typical gym lifter who benches 8 times per week and doesn’t know where the squat rack is (or puts nothing more than token work into their squat or deadlift) may bench way more than they squat or deadlift.  It’s really not a relevant example though.  It’s outside of the parameters of what’s being discussed.


Correcting a Strength Imbalance – Q&A

Question: Just wondering what are some good ways to correct imbalances? I had a hard labor job when I was in my early 20’s and not thinking about it at the time did everything with my dominant side, and have never seemed to be able to fix it. I’m not even sure where to start. Any suggestions would be helpful. Thanks.

Answer: Imbalances across the body (e.g. left vs. right leg or right vs. left arm or what have you) are fairly common and can be caused by a number of things.  You mention one, many jobs involve moving in a repetitive fashion in one direction only.  For example, grocery store checkers typically rotate one direction (from the register to the belt) repeatedly with no shift.  Many labor jobs are similar with the same asymmetrical pattern being repeated for hours, days, weeks, months or years on end.

In many sports, the same is seen.  Runners who always run the same direction around the track can end up with issues as one side of their body is stressed differently than the other; rowers often get imbalances as a function of one oar moving differently than the other.  Imbalances (and back problems because of them) are absolutely endemic to my former sport, ice speed skating.  I think you get the idea.

Injuries can cause this to occur as well; when one side of the body is injured for example, the body often adapts by inhibiting a certain muscle (or finding a substitution of a different muscle) and over time this leads to imbalances.   Making this more difficult is that once an imbalance occurs, the body often finds ways to use other muscles to do a movement to avoid the weakness.   You also often see adaptations in muscle length with the weaker side becoming somewhat loose and the strong muscle becoming tight. This isn’t universal but at this point we’re getting into physical therapy.

So what do you do about it?   I’m going to assume you know where the imbalance is.  It might be between your right and left arm (most people tend to be a bit stronger on their dominant arm side since they tend to favor it already) or a right and left leg.  That could mean quads, glutes, hamstrings when I say ‘leg’. For someone who does a lot of rotation, you might see a bunch of different issues including imbalances between arms and even rotationally (i.e. the obliques on one side might be significantly stronger than the other).


Back-Cycling Weights – Q&A

Question: I’ve been stuck lifting certain weights for quite a while now and just started learning about back-cycling weights or doing deloads and building back up in order to break past previous maxes.

I was just wondering, why does this work? How much should you back cycle weights? Should you back-cycle everything at the same time or only lifts that are stalled? Can you do this indefinitely (back-cycle and build back up and just keep repeating, passing your maxes with each cycle)? Also it’d be nice to hear some of your random thoughts
about this concept, and plateauing in general. Thanks!

Answer: Ok, a lot going on here and this is going to be a fairly long answer for a Q&A.  First let’s define terms: Back-cycling in this context refers to a situation where someone deliberately backs off their work weights for some period of time before starting to work back up towards those previous maxes in an attempt to smash through them.

So, for example, someone who had been stuck at 200lbsX8 reps in the bench press (for example) might back up to 80% of that 160 lbs for 8 repetitions and then start working back up in some fashion.  How they work up isn’t that relevant although, as you’ll see, I’ll assume a fairly linear increase.  That isn’t required, one could just as easily work in an undulating fashion back towards their previous maxes.

Mind you, this is only one way to back-cycle but it’s the simplest; you drop back to the realm of 75-85% of your previous best weights and then work back up over some period of time.  How far you drop back and how long you take to build back up depends on a host of factors; one of the primary ones is the length of your training cycle.

As a generality, the longer the training cycle, the longer you spend working fairly submaximally before getting back to your previous maxes.  Many old-school powerlifters would do long 12-16 week cycles where they didn’t even attempt new maxes until the end; you can google Ed Coan’s training as an example of this.  Similarly, Hardgainer author John Christy (RIP) often recommended a 4-6 week submaximal buildup before trying to push past your previous maxes into new territories for months on end (he kept progress going by using small weights and lots of food).


Training when Sick – Q&A

Question: Hi, I was wondering if it was ok to go work out when I was sick?  Do you have any guidelines for this?

Answer: First I’d like to start with an old joke.

Q: Which is faster, heat or cold?
A: Heat, because it’s easy to catch a cold.

Ok, with that out of the way, some commentary on training when sick.  This seems especially relevant now that’s it’s winter and people are often carrying around various bugs that they can pass to one another (and I’m not just talking about drunken make out sessions at the office Christmas party that makes everybody uncomfortable the next day).  This was something we dealt with constantly in Salt Lake City; since we skated on a big ice oval, the air was pretty stagnant and anybody who carried a bug to the oval often gave it to everyone else.  Which brings me to my first point.

When you’re sick and especially when you’re contagious, do everyone a favor and stay out of the gym.  Here’s why: it’s selfish as hell of you to put everyone else at risk of being sick.  Yes, we all know that you’re body obsessed and addicted to training.  But it’s not all about you, believe it or not.  I’m as sociopathic as the next guy (perhaps a touch moreso) but making a bunch of other people sick by being a selfish asshole is just rude.  Gyms are a veritable haven of germs to begin with and making a bunch of other people sick because you’re too neurotic to miss a single day of training is bullshit.  If you’re contagious, stay home.

But let’s assume that you’re not contagious, or you train at home, or whatever makes my paragraph above irrelevant. Can you train when sick? More importantly should you?  Finally, if you can and want to, what should you actually do?

And the answer to the first question is that it depends.  The general rule of thumb is that if your sick is only in your neck or above (e.g. stuffy nose, sneezing, headache, sore throat; basically the stuff that Nyquil fixes), you’re cleared to train.  It may not be much fun but you can train.