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Getting Big vs Getting Strong

Are these two mutually exclusive goals or can we train for a little bit of both?

Check it out HERE.

Unsung Hero of the Musculoskeletal System: Gluteus Medius

by Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS

Let’s face it, there are a number of muscles that don’t get the press they deserve. A majority of our body’s 600 plus muscles (actually 656) never receive any attention, until an issue which hinders strength and or performance manifests itself.

Devoting too much time on the showy muscles and devouring the big three without any concerted assistance and supplementary work will eventually compromise your ability to train and acquaint you with your local physical therapist.

While the stars of our musculoskeletal anatomy (i.e. the pecs, deltoids, and gluteus maximus) are routinely featured in mainstream press, many forget the vital role supporting muscle groups play in facilitating the proper function of the “stars of the body”.

Unsung Hero: Gluteus Medius

The gluteus medius gets no love. It’s shadowed by its neighbor, the glute max anatomically and in the press. As such, it receives little or no attention within a strength training program. Integral in providing hip stability, the gluteus medius is capable of generating more hip abduction force than any other muscle of the lumbopelvic hip complex due to having the greatest abduction moment arm at the greater trochanter. When it becomes inhibited from disuse or trauma, the tensor fascia latae, piriformis, and sartorius then inherit the role of abducting the hips, eventually leading to knee and/or lower back pain, since they cannot summate the amount of abduction force the gluteus medius is capable of generating.

Orginating from the external surface of the ilium, between the superior and middle gluteal lines and the iliac crest, the gluteus medius attaches to the lateral portion of the greater trochanter of the femur.  Its primary role involves stabilizing the hips, particularly during a single legged stance, which occurs during the support phase of gait. A weakened or inhibited gluteus medius muscle triggers a viscious cascade of compensatory patterns throughout the kinetic chain.

When the gluteus medius cannot provide runners stability in the frontal plane through abduction torque on the stance leg, the hips and torso may lean toward the side of the swinging leg, thus exhibiting a pattern known as Trendelenburg Gait. When the hips drop during gait, the IT band becomes stretched over the greater trochanter of the femur and pulls on the lateral epicondyle of the knee, altering the tracking of the knee and potentially igniting patellofemoral pain. Gluteus medius dysfunction may also lead to medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints) and foot pain.

Gluteus medius weakness is also implicated in back and hip pain. When the gluteus medius is not firing properly, it cannot generate the necessary internal torque to meet the external torque created by bodyweight and external load, resulting in aberrant lumbopelvic movement patterns that place a number of structures at risk of injury. A lack of hip control forces the quadratus lumborum, a key lumbar stabilizer, to work overtime as it attempts to secure the hip position during movement.

Assessing and Progressing

Corrective strategies geared toward optimizing function of the gluteus medius should entail a thorough assessment which influences the design and implementation of programming and exercises. Since the cardinal role of the gluteus medius is stabilizing the hips, you may have your client or athlete assume a single legged stance and gauge static stability and muscular endurance. Further, you may have your client or athlete perform a step up or step down, while you look for a hip and/or trunk shift. In conjunction with the field tests, you may also want to see if they have any sacroiliac joint issues, stemming from injury or laxity. An unstable SI joint essentially nullifies the function of the gluteus medius. Also, it would be prudent to collect anthropometric and goniometric measurements to determine if your client or athlete has a leg length discrepancy, which may be structural or adaptive.

Once it is determined that your client or athlete is presenting weakness of the gluteus medius, programming considerations should include self myofascial release for the muscles of the lumbopelvic hip complex, particularly the piriformis, quadratus lumborum, IT band, and adductor complex, which may be overactive.

Exercises should be prescribed and progressed based on the abilities of your client or athlete, utilizing the 4X4 Matrix, which commences with non-weight bearing activities that provide no resistance and ends with standing exercises encompassing external load.


Supine Hip Abduction with Core Brace

Lie on ground, relax head, shoulders, and arms on the ground and straighten legs
Flatten lumbar curve by bracing core
Plant heels of feet into ground and slowly slide them away from each other
Hold for a three second count
Return to starting position
Repeat movements for specified reps


Lateral Leg Raise with Bent Knee

• Assume quadruped position, place hands and knees at an equal distance from one another
• Flatten lumbar curve by bracing core
• Elevate one knee off ground and drive it up to hip height
• Hold for a two second count
• Return to starting position
• Repeat movement for specified reps


Banded Side Lying Clamshell

• Wrap resistance band around legs and position slightly over the knees
• Lie on side with head supported with flexed hips and knees
• Position heel of top foot on top of toe of bottom foot
• Keep core tight
• Drive knee out and exhale
• Hold for a two second count
• Return to starting position
• Repeat movement for specified reps


Spread Eagle Sit Up

• Firmly plant hips on ground with legs spread as wide as possible
• Grasp a small weighted object – a plate, kettlebell, or dumbbell
• Lie back while keeping core tight and heels planted on the ground
• Drive back up by using abs and obliques to pull yourself up and exhale
• Hold briefly at the top
• Slowly return to starting position
• Repeat movement for specified reps


Lateral Squat

• Position feet as if you are about to squat
• Move hips back and shift weight to heels while moving laterally
• Plant drag leg into ground and keep core tight
• Drive back up by using bent leg and exhale
• Slowly return to starting position
• Repeat movement for specified reps
• Can be performed with band, dumbbell, kettlebell, plate, or barbell



Workout of the Week: The Ultimate Chest Slay

No time? No problem. Build a bigger chest with this old-school chest workout. 

Check it out HERE. 

Debunking the Fat Burning Zone


Breaking down the barriers and setting the facts straight for optimizing fat loss


By: Chris Policastro, MS, CSCS


How many times do you walk into the gym, only to see rows of people trudging away on cardio machines for hours at a time, falsely thinking that they are blasting calories and burning fat? This is common practice, especially as warmer weather approaches.

Are those seemingly endless overtures on the treadmill conducted at low intensities worth the investment?


Whether it’s the treadmill, elliptical or stationary bike, these machines typically have a “fat burning zone” setting. This zone, which still offers an adequate workout, can be quite misleading. If it were that easy to exercise at low intensity and see fat loss, wouldn’t we all be a lot leaner? Nothing is more discouraging than putting in hours in the gym week after week only to lose little or no fat. The average gym goer doesn’t know much about intensity levels and its impact on metabolism. These individuals read the labels on cardio equipment and see “fat burning zone” and think “Hey that’s what I’m after; this must be the best thing for me to do.”



This low intensity zone (50-80% of max heart rate) is often known as LISS “low intensity steady-state” cardio and it burns a greater percentage of fat calories than carbohydrates. This means that fat is oxidized as the primary energy source. However, the key here is ratio. At a low intensity, you burn approximately 50-60% of your calories from fat, and 40-50% from carbs. But, it’s the total number of calories burned (energy expenditure) that determines results. 


LISS must be progressive and there is only so much "duration" you can add. Unless you have all the time in the world to jog on the treadmill, LISS cardio will not burn the number of total calories needed for fat loss. Although it does sound better to do LISS for the fact that it uses fat stores directly as the main source of energy, your body only burns those fat calories at that precise moment. When you’re looking for a shredded physique and muscle mass retention, HIIT (high intensity interval training) is the way to go.


Contrary to LISS, HIIT requires short spurts of high intensity (80-90% of max heart rate) and low intensity (think peaks and valleys). HIIT burns more total calories (60-65% from carbs and 35-40% from fat) for an equal amount of duration and will maximize fat loss due to the body using calories to repair damaged tissue post exercise. This after burn, also known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), represents the additional calories your body will burn after the exercise session has been completed in order to return your body to its resting state.


 If you want to see changes in your body, you have to increase your metabolism. One of the main reasons why HIIT is so beneficial for fat loss is because it increases your resting metabolism (your fat burning furnace). This 24-hour energy expenditure will burn more calories post exercise than LISS and will allow you to maintain your muscle mass because HIIT elicits a growth hormone response.   



Let’s use an example to illustrate how this all works:


Let’s say you perform 30 minutes of LISS exercise and burn approximately 200 calories. Based on ratios about 120 of those, or 60 percent, come from fat. However, exercising for the same amount of time at a high intensity will burn approximately 400 calories. About 140 of those, or 35 percent, come from fat.  This shows that the high intensity workout burned a total of 200 calories more and an additional 20 calories came from fat.


While steady state cardio does have its benefits - especially for those who are very deconditioned, have medical or orthopedic issues, or are sport specific training - people should focus their time in the gym with HIIT to optimize fat loss. Your cardio program should not look like that of a marathon runner or you will definitely start to compromise your strength and muscle gains.


Keep in mind that you lose weight and body fat when you expend more calories than you consume, not because you burn fat at a certain ratio. So how do you optimize your time in the gym? There are hundreds of heart-pumping exercises out there for more efficient ways to burn fat. Crank up the intensity with these sample workouts!


Four Week HIIT Training Program:

Choose any mode of exercise: hill sprints, bike sprints, treadmill climbs, the rower, etc. 


Week 1: work to rest ratio of 1:4. Complete 8 rounds.  (15 sec work, 1 min rest)

Week 2: work to rest ratio of 1:3. Complete 8 rounds. (30 sec work, 1:30 min rest)

Week 3: work to rest ratio of 1:2. Complete 8 rounds.  (30 sec work, 1 min rest)

Week 4: work to rest ratio of 1:1. Complete 8 rounds.  (30 sec work, 30 sec rest)


You may vary the amount of rounds; however, you should limit total time to 20-30 minutes to spare metabolic damage and strain on the CNS. Alternatively, you can remain at a certain phase for more than one week to suit your current level of fitness. However, if you feel like can do a ton of rounds, you probably aren’t keeping the intensity high enough.


This type of training will speed up your progress by maximizing fat loss and maintaining muscle mass. Try to do these HIIT workouts on non strength days and allow for proper recovery.



Another form of HIIT can be done with strongman exercises. This type of training really is the epitome of functional strength and will improve overall strength and conditioning. It can be used to train the anaerobic endurance system. Here is a sample routine:

              Circuit: 3 rounds, 2-3 min rest between rounds

A1 Deadlift- 6-8 reps

A2 Tire Flips- 6-8 flips

A3 Sledgehammer strikes- 20 strikes

Circuit: 3 rounds, 2-3 min rest between rounds

B1 Squat- 6-8 reps

B2 Farmer’s Walk- 40 yards
B3 Clean & Press- 6-8 reps


Each exercise should take no longer than approximately 20-30 seconds to complete. Use appropriate loads that will not compromise form.





How does diet influence fat metabolism, and how should you eat around a HIIT cardio session?


In order to lose body fat, fatty acids must be mobilized or released (from resistance training or HIIT) from fat stores and sent to mitochondria, which are cellular organelles that convert nutrients into energy. You want to first create an energy deficit through limiting carbohydrate intake prior to the session. This will encourage your body to place a greater reliance on fat oxidation as opposed to burning sugar. The consequent stress on energy production will then stimulate an increase in mitochondria, which will allow for a greater rate of fat oxidation. As the saying goes, “Use it or lose it.” If you don’t give your body a reason to change through an appropriate level of stress, the mitochondria in your cells won’t change.


After an intense workout, the body’s immediate energy stores have been depleted. Without adequate nutrients to fuel the repair process, our muscle tissue is predisposed towards breakdown (catabolism). To counteract this, we must consume protein to help repair our damaged muscle fibers. Consider having either a protein supplement or protein-rich meal within 30-60 minutes of completing your session. This is important because amino acids are the building blocks of protein and will kick start protein synthesis in addition to limiting muscle protein breakdown.  Aim to ingest a daily total of 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.


You need to periodize your diet just like you would your training to ultimately reach your goals.


Final Thought

For fat loss, what matters most is the difference between the number of calories you expend and the number of calories you consume. The total number of calories burned each day needs to be the main focus, not the ratio of fats and carbs. It matters little where the calories come from, as long as it’s not from protein! Focus your exercise program on resistance training and HIIT to keep your metabolism elevated and your hard earned muscle. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable!




Target Your Triceps With These Unique Variations on Classic Exercises

Let's take a look at four exercises that will aid in building horseshoe triceps that will fill out your sleeves most impressively.

Check it out HERE

Workout of the Week: Beef Up Your Chicken Legs

Chicken legs are great for dinner, but they look totally silly attached to a huge upper body. 

Check it out HERE

Staggered Sets to Expedite Gains

By: Josh Bryant

If growing slabs of muscular beef on your neck, traps and forearms is your mortis operandi because of violent dealings at the notoriously truculent Cairo fish market or if you just want to look better in your birthday suit—read on!

The most common excuse for lack of results is TIME.

For the gym socialites, this is going to require a major paradigm shift.

What I am saying is small talk is out.

This is your workout; you are not Dale Carnagie. Be a missile with laser like precision.

The way to complete more, particularly the extras you normally skip, is called staggered sets.

Staggered sets involve training several muscle groups together, alternating the muscle groups with each successive set.  Generally, larger muscle groups are paired with smaller muscle groups.  An example would be using a wrist roller in between sets of the squats. The larger muscle group recovers while you train the smaller one.

Of course the big movement is the priority; the key to success is to avoid interference.  Between sets of deadlifts, grip work is out (you have to grip the bar), biceps are out (unless you want to tear a bicep), back, abs and hamstrings are out---triceps pushdowns, lateral raises and flyes are in.
You get the idea!

In 2008, a Spanish study supported the efficacy of this training method.  Two groups with strength training experience did two separate workout protocols.  One was a standard bench press workout of five sets, the other staggered sets of bench press, calf raises and leg extensions.  The bench press consisted of the same sets and reps as the first group. Bench press performance was unaffected.

Interestingly, the researchers called this training “circuit training.”  It was more intense than traditional staggered set training. Applied to a training program, more will get done, weaknesses will be brought up, and more calories will be burned.

If your forearms need extra work, try some fat grip zottman curls between sets of leg presses; for the neck give the four way neck machine a shot between exercises on arms day.  The idea with staggered sets is to stimulate muscles, do not annihilate them in the words of the immortal, Lee Haney.

No time—no problem—staggered sets are the solution!

Caffeine Dosage for Optimal Health and Performance

by Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS

Affectionately dubbed as the working world’s fuel, caffeine renders virtually immeasurable effects on physiological systems, which impact physical and mental performance. Given confounding media reports and poorly designed research studies, many medical professionals and fitness professionals are left to ponder what sources and dosages are required for optimal elicitation of caffeine’s effects.
Caffeine, a psychoactive stimulant, is composed of a white crystalline xanthine alkaloid. Xanthine is the final product of purine metabolism, which involves the breakdown of purine nucleotide structures such as DNA and ATP, and is present in most human tissues.
Alkaloids are chemical substances which are derived from plants and composed of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. Alkaloids are classified by possessing a nitrogen containing base and organic compounds which is comprised of one of the following: a heterocyclic compound containing nitrogen, possessing an alkaline pH, and having the capacity to demonstrate distinct physiological effects. Alkaloids, namely caffeine, are found in plants, including roots, seeds, leaves, and the fruit of plants. Cherries of the coffee plant and leaves of tea bushes are provide the most abundant source of the caffeine alkaloid.
Caffeine is consumed throughout the world to amplify physical and mental performance. Research indicates that strength athletes are likely to benefit from caffeine consumption prior to training. Caffeine ingestion has been linked to resistance exercise performance when training to failure and reducing perceived exertion and pain (1,2). Caffeine also boasts potent lipolyctic properties, helping exchange free fatty acids for usable energy.
Caffeine interacts with the CNS through the antagonization of adenosine receptors, in turn impacting the dopaminergic and neurotransmitter systems. By flooding the brain’s adenosine receptors, caffeine counteracts adenosine’s inhibitory role in neurotransmission, plausibly explaining why those consuming caffeine may demonstrate greater power output (3). Remember, the amount of muscular force is dependent on two factors: the number of motor units that are recruited and the firing rate, or discharge frequency, of the involved motor units. Research has also shown that caffeine boosts cognitive functioning and memory through the up regulation of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) located in the brain’s hippocampal region (4).
Before outright classifying caffeine as a performance panacea, we need to view caffeine as we do other drugs. Each drug comprises a dose dependent response. A dose too great or too little will prevent the desired effect from being realized. Similarly, tolerance to caffeine will become elevated over time, thus nullifying the effects of baseline supplementation.
As a strength and conditioning coach, aspirant top flight powerlifter, and an administrative professional who works long hours, I’ll tell you that caution must be practiced when supplementing with caffeine. If you are not presently supplementing with caffeine, but are interested in trying it out, I would suggest consuming no more than 200-300 mg of caffeine per day, an amount that can be found among two to four cups of brewed coffee per day. Consuming more than the recommended amount of 200-300 mg of caffeine per day may potentially trigger insomnia, nervousness, muscle spasms, tachycardia, hypertension, and irritability. Caffeine consumed later in the day may also affect sleep onset latency.
If you are already supplementing with caffeine, I would suggest avoiding it or reducing it during deload periods, restorative sessions, and as a means to suppress appetite. I’d also suggest pairing higher dosages of caffeine, usually an entire day’s worth (200-300 mg of caffeine) with higher intensity anaerobic training sessions. Personally, I love to drink a towering black cup of coffee prior to higher volume lower body sessions. I have found that ingesting caffeine only two or three times per week helps to keep my tolerance in check. I would also suggest analyzing the content of preworkout supplements, which may contain stimulants in addition to caffeine. In early 2012, reports emerged that some companies were including or lacing their products with DMAA, or 1,3-dimethylamylamine, a synthetically derived stimulant which has been linked to a number of deaths, for enhanced potency. Anecdotally, caffeine does the trick, provided you do not heighten your tolerance.
In summary, its best to use caffeine judiciously and preferably in palatable forms such as coffees or teas. Supplements containing compounds in addition to caffeine should be closely analyzed for potential efficacy and safety risks prior to use. Caffeine should never substitute for a lack of sleep or poor diet.

Learn how Caffeine helps Bench Press Strength here


1.Duncan MJ, Stanley M, Parkhouse N, et al. (2013). Acute caffeine ingestion enhances strength performance and reduces perceived exertion and muscle pain perception during resistance exercise. European Journal of Sport Science, 13, 392-399.

2.Duncan MJ, Oxford SW. (2012). Acute caffeine ingestion enhances performance and dampens muscle pain following resistance exercise to failure. Journal of Sports Medicine Physical Fitness, 52, 280-285.

3.Doherty M, Smith P, Hughes M, Davison R. (2004). Caffeine lowers perceptual response and increases power output during high-intensity cycling. Journal of Sports Science, 22, 637-643.

4.Costa MS, Botton PH, Mioranzza S, et al. (2008). Caffeine improves adult mice performance in the object recognition task and increases BDNF and TrkB independent on phospho-CREB immunocontent in the hippocampus. Neurochemistry International, 53, 89-94.




Build A Wider, Thicker Back

Not everyone has hours a day to dedicate to back training, but if you’re willing to give your all for 45 minutes once a week, you can take your back development to a whole new level with the following routine.

Check it out HERE

Rest-Pause Training—Why It Works

By: Josh Bryant
Orlando Green with an 865-pound deadlift

A snap shot of all of the various strong, muscular men that have trained with the rest-pause method would serve as mute Bible testifying to the effectiveness of this method for building size and strength.

Furthermore, in the last few years, a number of laboratory studies have confirmed the effectiveness of rest-pause training.

Principle of Individual Differences

Remember the Principle of Individual Differences? Each of us has differences that eventually dictate how many reps and sets we can perform, how often we can train, and how much weight we should be using while training.

Rest-Pause training is custom tailored to individual differences.

Dr. Squat Speaks

In an excellent article titled “Finding the Ideal Training Split,” my mentor, Fred Hatfield, Ph.D., came up with numerous variables pertaining to recovery for training splits.

Some of these variables included tolerance to pain, level of “psych,” and amount of rest between workouts. Hatfield also determined that the “slow gainer” and the “fast gainer” have different recovery periods.

A “slow gainer” typically can complete 15–20 reps at 80 percent of his one-rep max. A “fast gainer” can complete only 4–6 reps at 80 percent of his one-rep max. The athlete should perform this “test” on several muscle groups, as each muscle group has a different tolerance to exercise.

This table, extrapolated from Hatfield’s article, will help you determine which type of gainer you are.


Type of Gainer Are You?



Reps Performed with 80% Max

Standard Deviation from Mean

Tolerance Level

Ability to Make Gains

4 or less


Very, very low

Fast Gainer (20%–25% of total population)



Very low







Average Gainer (50–60% of total population)




Slow Gainer (20–25% of total population)



Very high

21 or more


Very, very high


Once you have determined whether you are primarily fast twitch, slow twitch or somewhere in between, you then can determine your optimal reps, sets, weight and training frequency.

Fast Gainer/Slow Gainer Rep ranges

To completely develop the physique you’re looking for, a holistic approach to training must be taken.  In other words, volume, tempo, reps, and sets must be varied.  For the most part, fast gainers will experience their best gains with lower reps, slow gainers with higher reps.

The five sets of five repetition strength program with 85 percent of a lifters one-rep max would be extremely difficult for a fast gainer, yet impossible for some.  For a slow gainer this would be moderate intensity and provide very little adaptive overload.

A rest-pause set on the bench press for a true fast gainer with 85 percent of his one repetition max could look something like this: 85 percent x 3 reps rest 30 seconds 85 percent x 1 rep rest 30 seconds 85 percent x 1 rep.  Bottom line is the fast gainer performed five repetitions over three mini sets, that’s the most he can.  Since fast gainers make their greatest gains with low reps he will get bigger and stronger.

The true slow gainer with the same weight over three mini sets with identical rest intervals may have performed a sequence that went 13 reps, 7 reps and 5 reps; that is a total of 25 reps. Since that is maximum intensity and the slow gainer thrives on high reps, he will get bigger and stronger.

Unlike traditional single-repetition rest pauses that old-time strength athletes swear by, open ended rest-pause (i.e. doing as many reps as possible each mini set) training allows the athlete to adapt the weight to his individual capabilities.  A primarily slow twitch lifter will get more reps; a fast twitch lifter will get fewer reps.  Both experience an adaptive overload since maximal intensity is tailored to their individual differences.

Bottom line is both the slow gainer and fast gainer are performing their sets with an all-out effort; maximum intensity tailored to individual genetic make-up is synergy for great results.

Practical Example

Here is an example of a rest-paused bench press workout.

Rest-Pause Bench Press workout:

*Set 1-85% AMAP, rest 20-30 seconds 85% AMAP,  rest 20-30 seconds 85% AMAP

*Rest 2-5 Minutes

*Set 2-75% AMAP, rest 20-30 seconds 75% AMAP,  rest 20-30 seconds 80% AMAP


Rest-Pause Symposium/Demonstration


Final Thoughts

Bottom line is because of the rest-pause method, preppy Polos, priest collars and cashmere suits fit tighter.  Not to mention the fact that variations of this type of training have aided in the acquisition of Sandow and raw powerlifting world records.

The final icing on the cake is rest-pause training has given hope to those that feel hopeless.  Hard gainers thrive on this method; easy gainers maximize strength and muscle mass.   That’s why the pig iron program in Jailhouse Strong  is based off the rest-pause method.

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