Tag: build muscle

Properly Program Your Assistance Lifts

When developing a proper strength program you need to have lifts that are classified as either main lifts or assistance lifts. Main lifts are what your program is focused around and what takes the most effort. For me and the majority of my clients these main lifts are; squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press. Choosing main lifts is relatively straight forward but assistance lifts are usually where people go wrong.

The most common mistake people make with assistance work is simply doing too much. They do too many sets or too many exercises trying to train each muscle individually. Just like the main lifts, assistance lifts should be large multi-joint movements that can be progressed over a long period of time. People also tend to put way too much emphasis on their assistance work, or as strength guru Jim Wendler says it “majoring in the minors.” Simply put, you do not want to work so hard on your assistance lifts that your main lifts suffer.

Assistance lifts should serve to:
1. Increase the main lifts
2. Build muscle mass
3. Provide balance and body symmetry
4. Strengthen weak areas

All of this can be accomplished with a few large assistance lifts each day. The way I like to build a program is to pair the main lift of the day with a corresponding assistance lift. Here is an example:

Main Lift Corresponding Assistance Lift
Squat Hinge Movement (Snatch-Grip Deadlift)
Deadlift Squat Movement (Front Squat)
Bench Press Horizontal Pull (Barbell Row)
Overhead Press Vertical Pull (Pull-ups)

If you pair the main lifts with a corresponding assistance lift all you have to do is fill any gaps in the program or work on weak areas. Generally on lower body days I will program abdominal work and on upper body days I will program some extra upper back and shoulder work.

It may seem too simple but if you are doing the right things there is no reason to have more than 2-3 assistance lifts on a given day of the program.

Here is a list of my favorite assistance exercises in no particular order:
1. Pull-ups/Chin-ups
You can and should use a variety of grips and hand widths when performing pull-ups. You can switch them up every week or even every set. It really doesn’t matter; just pull yourself up to a bar.

2. Dumb Bell Rows
These can be done for straight sets or in “Kroc Row” fashion where you do a couple warm-up sets then perform an all out set of high reps (my favorite way to do rows). These are great for back development as well as grip strength.

3. Barbell Rows
There are many different ways to do these but my preferred method is to let the bar rest on the floor between each rep so you’re pulling from a dead stop each time. When doing these be sure to keep your back level and flat. Use a grip that is the same width as your bench press grip.

4. Front Squats
These are great for building up your squat strength as well as quad size. Whether you use a “clean grip” or cross your arms like a body builder, the bar must be resting on your shoulders just behind your anterior deltoid muscle (weight is not held by your hands). Take a stance slightly narrower than when you back squat and drop your hips straight down until they are below your knees. Keep your elbows high and chest up.

5. Snatch-Grip Deadlift
These are performed exactly like a conventional deadlift only you are using a very wide grip (as you would in a snatch). Your grip should be wide enough that when you finish the movement the bar is at the crease of your hips. These are great for developing the posterior chain and upper back.

6. Close-Grip Bench
Grip the bar with your pointer fingers just inside the smooth part of the bar. Focus on keeping your elbows tucked close to your torso while lowering and pressing the weight. This is one of the premier lifts to improve your triceps strength and bench press.

7. Dips
Great for developing pressing strength and muscle mass. Dips are very straight forward, just be sure you are using a full range of motion. These can be done with bodyweight for high reps or with weight added for strength work.


If you have any questions about programming your assistance lifts please contact:

3 Tips to Maximal Muscle Growth

One of the most frequently asked questions in the fitness world today is how to build the most muscle in the least amount of time. This question has singlehandedly been the catalyst for the creation of countless new exercises, exercise equipment, diets, and nutritional supplements all attempting to speed up results. Through this article I will cover three components to building muscle and attempt to remove some confusion on this controversial subject.

Possibly the biggest hurdle to gaining muscle lies solely in having an adequate diet to support the growth. Often we believe the word “diet” is synonymous with the practice of reducing calories. Although this type of thinking can be appropriate when trying to lose weight, it will have an adverse effect while attempting to build muscle. Even when our body is at rest it is still working like a car engine and requires fuel even if idling. The amount of calories burned in 24 hours (not including exercise) will vary person to person but will generally be around 1200-1500 calories. Adding an hour of intense exercise can bump this number up another 600-800 calories. Research has shown that up to 36 hour after resistance training your metabolism can be elevated also adding to the total number of calories burned. On top of that, each pound of muscle requires 30-35 calories a day just to simply maintain itself, so any new muscle built can have a large affect on the amount of calories needed in your diet. When we take all of these factors into consideration we can see just how easy it is to “starve” our bodies when trying to build muscle. For an accurate measurement of your personal caloric needs, it is recommended that you take Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) test.

Another obstacle to gaining muscle is having an appropriate program to follow. This means that not only is the program appropriate for challenging your current level of fitness, but also provides a clear progression in order to avoid the dreaded “plateau”. Research has shown that in order to build muscle, that muscle must be challenged to the point of failure at least 2 times per week with no more than 3 days rest in between. However, this does not necessarily mean that more is better. Training a muscle group 4-5 times per week will likely offer no additional muscle growth and can actually be harmful to your body. It is important to remember that your body needs rest otherwise it can easily slip into what is known as “overtraining”. Overtraining the body can hinder results and ultimately lead to greater fatigue and poor performance. Muscle growth happens not during the exercise but rather the days following, rest can be just as important as the workouts.

Lastly, and arguably the hardest factor to come to terms with, is patience. The fitness industry has been littered with ineffective products all promising the same miracle results using tag lines such as “Gain 18 lbs of muscle in two weeks!” or “Increase your bench press by 100lbs in 30 days!”. It is easy to get discouraged when infomercials and fitness magazines promote these ridiculous myths. Even when dialing in all other factors involving muscle growth, ultimately it is our dedication and commitment to a lifestyle change that has the most dramatic effect on results. Remember, “Nothing worthwhile ever came easy”.

Want That Beach Body, Get to Know Your Metabolism!

When the weather becomes sunny most people want to start to become active, go to the beach, wear those summer clothes and feel good about their body. The question most trainers get is how one can transform their body, after losing my winter weight, to a toned beach body. Well and easy way is to figure out what will change your metabolism or calories your burn throughout your day. I want to write to you about how strength training can really change your metabolism, and why it’s really the best way to go about getting that beach body!

There are three ways to change your metabolism through strength training;

  1. how you workout
  2. your oxygen consumption after you workout
  3. the increase in lean muscle mass

How You Workout! Whenever you move, your muscles are working and those working muscles require energy releasing heat as a byproduct of using that energy. Strength training in simple terms is movement but usually with an added load, and can alter your metabolism two ways; with the amount of muscle used to move the load and the amount of resistance applied to the body. When performing a squat exercise you are much larger muscles (like the quads & glutes) as well as more stabilizers (hip complex and core) to perform the exercise than say bicep curls where you are really just using the smaller bicep muscle and shoulder stabilizers. The difference in calorie burning can increase two fold per minute by doing a squat rather than a bicep curl (from 5 kcal to 10 kcal per minute of exercise). The other half to workout metabolism is the load; when lifting heavier weights (80% of your 1 rep max) you can burn 12 times as many calories as lighter weights (20% of your 1 rep max) because you need to incorporate more muscles, mostly stabilizers, to help move the larger amount of weight. So to get the biggest bang for your buck, make sure you are performing exercises using larger muscle groups with heavier weights (60-80% 1 rep max) in order to really change your body composition and increase your metabolism.

Your Oxygen Consumption After You Workout! What exactly is post-exercise oxygen consumption…in basic terms it is your body trying to repair all the muscle damage your workout just did to your muscle fibers. Your body has to work hard to restore used energy, eliminate waste by-products, replenish your used oxygen in the blood, lower your body temperature, lower your heart rate and lower elevated hormones after exercise; basically try to bring you back to the same level as before you worked out or “normal.” All of this internal work requires additional energy from the body which can significantly increase your metabolism after weight exercise more than after cardiovascular exercise. Now the increase in calorie burn is not huge like during the exercise, but with working out for 50 min at 50% of your maximum oxygen uptake, 15 times a month for 12 months you can burn an extra 92,400 calories or the equivalent of 26 lbs of fat with just the oxygen consumed after exercise needed to bring your body back to normal. Pretty neat huh!
Another factor to consider is what type of fuel your body is using during workouts. Weight training tends to utilize carbs more during the actual workout, but afterwards fat is utilized more to meet the energy demands of the body in its recovery phase; especially when higher intensity workouts are performed.

The Increase in Lean Muscle Mass! Everyone knows that properly performed high intensity strength training stimulates muscle growth/development. What you may not know is how your muscle changes your metabolism. First, your resting metabolic rate will increase with an increase in muscle mass because muscle burns 3 times as much energy as fat. Second, the more muscle one has the more post-exercise oxygen consumption. So if you can gain muscle, doesn’t have to be a lot, you will burn more calories during your workout, after your workout and throughout your normal activities!

Starting strength training at higher intensities will increase your calorie burn (mostly carbs) during the exercise and an increased utilization of fats after the strength training; elevating your metabolism for 2 – 15 hrs after. If you can increase your fat free muscle mass you will increase the amount of calories burnt during the exercise and at rest. So if you really want to start to work on your beach body, start to think about that metabolism and how to get it revved up and working harder! For more information on changing your workout or ideas on how to increase your metabolism contact any one of our qualified personal fitness trainers or the fitness director Jacob Galloway.