Ever been embarrassed you got caught up in hype? I’ve been feeling like that about leg training, specifically with respect to squats and their apparent superiority over the leg press. The punchline: as far as building muscle goes, leg pressing is just as good as squatting.
Our bodies aren’t naturally inclined towards maximum strength and muscle*, which means a strong stimulus is required to force changes.
It’s logical to think we’d need a lot of different exercises, each with its own contribution towards building a large adaptive response. However, decades of training and experimentation has taught me that just five will do it.
I love progress photos, but especially seeing what kind of condition people can maintain long term. In case you’re similarly interested, here’s my own situation. I’ll include a few lifestyle details about what I’ve found works to build muscle and remain lean.
Squats are renowned as being an exercise you should do. Some go so far as insisting it’s the single best exercise there is. But if you’re not blessed with short femurs and a long torso, or simply don’t know how to do it, it can be an awkward movement that leads to constant pain and injury.
That was the case with me, squats always hurt my knees and back. Over the years I kept experimenting with technique and finally found a method that permitted a very deep squat with no knee or back pain. It can be distilled down to two things:
- Rethinking the squat as a hip exercise as opposed to a leg one.
- Consciously using my glutes to keep my hips open throughout the movement.
Since the beginning of time man has pondered the important question of how to look cool with no shirt on. For those with the right parents, it’s easy: lift heavy things and eat lots. However, that plan won’t work for the hardgainer with a slow metabolism. We’ll get slightly bigger and stronger, but mostly just fat. All is not lost, though. Our muscle mass might be meagre, but by focussing on being lean, we can still have a head-turning physique.
The are real benefits to intermittent fasting. Even just flexibility of food choice and the freeing up of time otherwise spent on meal preparation make it worthwhile, let alone other purported claims such as life extension. But is intermittent fasting bad for muscle? Some people think so, and as proof they say there are no really big guys who fast. It seems like a reasonable observation on its surface, but it’s mistaking cause and effect.
It’s chest day, and that means it’s time to the bench press. You walk into the gym ready to produce so much power that you shift the planet’s orbit—there’ll be no choice for your stubborn chest but to grow.
But afterwards you hobble out, shoulder joints stinging, deltoids and triceps aching, and chest feeling annoyingly fresh. Not exactly what you had in mind, so what went wrong?
It seems like a simple question. But if you ask what the best weekly training frequency is you’ll find yourself in the middle of a war of ideas. One camp swears by training no more than once a week, and the other by multiple times a day. The approaches are confusingly different.
So who’s right? How many times per week should we train for the fastest gains in muscle and strength?
Squats are hard. They can cause the type of fatigue that requires days to recover from, and that’s why it’s commonly advised to train them no more than once per week.
It’s reasonable advice …that I totally ignored. Instead I opted for the if a little is good a lot must be better line of thought (which rarely has any merit. Unless you’re talking about chocolate), and decided to try squatting every day.
If you lift weights you’ll eventually be forced to give some thought to joint health. Well, unless your name is Ronnie Coleman and you have bomb-proof joints. But even Ronnie Coleman succumbed to injuries and required corrective surgery.
Thankfully for the rest of us, lifting and joint health aren’t mutually exclusive.