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2016/04/29 08:33:35
James Leave a comment

Hamstring Training with a Bad Back

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker August 2008 edition
Previously I covered Quad Training with a Bad Back aimed at people like me, who suffer with lower back pain. This month, we'll turn to the back of the legs and look at ways of building huge hams when back pain will not permit you to do deadlifts. As much as deadlifts are possibly the best exercise they are definitely not an option if you have lower or mid back pain.

Any leg day should begin with a good stretch and warm up; particularly important if you have a bad back. Try to spend 5-10 minutes stretching all the muscles in the legs. Ham day is often in conjunction with quads so your hams will probably been warmed up anyway. If you can't do deadlifts or stiff legged deadlifts then your compound movement will have been leg press from earlier in your workout. After quads I'd recommend two hamstring exercises. Firstly, machine reverse hamstring curls will be a great first choice, followed by either lying or standing leg curls. With each, feel the movement and contract the hams fully. On extension, don't lock out as this will keep the tension on.
  • Stretch and warm up
  • Quad workout
  • Reverse Leg Curls
    • 1 x warm up 15 reps
    • 2 x 8-10 reps
  • Lying Leg Curls
    • 1 x warm up 10 reps
    • 2 x 8-10 reps
Your hamstrings will be worked after this, and, if you have performed each exercise carefully, you should have no (additional) back discomfort. Follow a leg workout with brief stretch to warm down and minimise DOMS.
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2016/04/27 10:13:42
James Leave a comment


This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker May 2008 edition
Quark is also known as topfen or sometimes simply as 'white cheese'. It is a type of curd cheese made by letting lactic acid bacteria ferment milk. And yes, it is a great muscle building food becoming increasingly popular in bodybuilding diet plans. The reason why it is so good is that it is a very high protein food, with over 14g protein per 100g and as a typical portion size is 200-250g, you can see that quark easily provides sufficient protein for one meal or snack. The principle protein is the milk protein casein (about 80%), making it a great slow released protein source for your bedtime feed.

Quark originated from central Europe and the name is derived from German. It is soft, white and unaged making it spreadable and similar to cream cheese. The bacteria species mesophilic lactococcus are added to milk to make an acid culture to precipitate the proteins. Rennet is added to help the texture and most of the whey is removed. Traditionally, this is done by hanging the cheese in loosely woven cotton gauze and letting the whey drip off, which gives quark its distinctive shape of a wedge with rounded edges. However as quark is being more popular it is now being produced more commercially where the cheese is separated from whey in a centrifuge and later formed into blocks.

Quark is suitable for vegetarians and is also high in the minerals calcium and phosphate. Carbohydrate content is quite low at 5.3g per 100g and there is zero fat. Quark can be purchased from any good supermarket or health food shop, and as it is quite bland in itself, it is often flavoured with herbs and spices or fruit. It can be spread onto breads and biscuits, eaten with salads or as a side to a main meal, blended with other ingredients to make high protein smoothies or simply eaten with a spoon as a snack.

Quark is a great muscle food - give it a try!
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2016/04/20 06:41:33
James 1 comment

Squeezey Training

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker June 2008 edition
Over recent months, I have been getting increasingly more and more little niggles: my lower back, a small tear in my left pec; elbow pain, delt pain, knee pain - obviously I'm getting old! I generally train quite heavy and base my workouts around power compound movements - always been a great believer in sticking to the basics. However, due to these injuries, I've been forced to have a re-think, at least temporarily.

I've dropped the weights, and have started doing more machine work and isolation movements for all body parts. This has lead to the development of a brand new exercise concept: 'squeezey training'... ok, so it's not really a new concept, infact it's not really a training principle per se; but it's what I call it, and, let's be honest 'Squeezey Training' makes an interesting title for a training article in The MuscleTalker!

What is squeezey training?
Nothing new here, and it simply is what you're no doubt guessing it is; it's where you squeeze each rep at the top, and let the muscle fully extend at the bottom. Rep ranges should be at least 8 reps, but preferably 10-12 per set. You can do squeezey training in just about any exercise, but it's best suited to non compound movements, as the idea is to take the stress off of the joints and surrounding muscles. I'd do 3-4 sets per exercises with 2-3 exercises on smaller muscles and 3-4 exercises on larger muscle groups.

Let's use the dumbbell flye as an example. Lay on a bench with a moderate weight dumbbell in each hand. Make sure your form is perfect; have your arms extended sideways, with a slight bend in your elbows. Move the dumbbells together in an arc, but at the top really 'squeeze' the pecs tight for about 2 seconds. Then let the weights come slowly down to 180°, and at the bottom let the weight pull your pecs out. Repeat this 8-12 times.

Train your normal 4 or 5 days split routines, but try this method. You'll need to give it a good 6 weeks though. DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) will be bad (or good, depending on how you look at it), but your muscles will feel strangely 'nice' after a workout.

Happy squeezing!
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2016/04/19 17:08:02
James 3 comments

Sweet Potato

This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2008 edition
The sweet potato is also known incorrectly in parts of the USA as a yam. The sweet potato goes by the scientific name of Ipomoea batatas, is a member of the Convolvulaceae family and a storage root. While the yam has the scientific name Dioscorea Species, is from the Dioscoreaceae family and is a tuber. And finally, sweet potatoes are native to Central America while the yam is native to Africa and Asia.

Now that little confusion has been cleared up, more about the sweet potato; one of the oldest vegetables known with relics dating back 10,000 years discovered in Peruvian caves. They were brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus. Today the main commercial producer is China which is responsible for around 80% of the World's production.

Unsurprisingly given its rich orange colour the sweet potato is an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), with 100g providing a whopping 2006 IUs of it, against a daily recommended intake of 2300 for women and 3000 IUs for men. The same 100g will provide around 1.5g of protein, 24g of carbohydrate and 2g of fat. You also get a healthy vitamin C punch of around 22mg, as well as vitamin B6, potassium, iron, copper and manganese; eat the skin and you get a very healthy serving of fibre too. Vitamin A and vitamin C are powerful anti-oxidants which combine with natural anti-oxidant properties of the protein found in the sweet potato to combat the free-radical damage of hard training - essential for recovery and growth after hard workouts. Without vitamin B6 your protein metabolism is compromised, as is your ability to produce serotonin, so you don't grow and you don't feel good about it either! Add the minerals and you have the ingredient to help you recover and grow efficiently.

For the hard training bodybuilder the anti-oxidant rich sweet potato is an excellent choice, providing low GI carbohydrate in a satisfyingly satiating package of vitamins and minerals with virtually no fat. So go off and buy some, avoid any that are in chilled cabinets. Sweet potatoes hate the cold, they won't grow in it, and when stored in it taste considerably unsweet indeed. Instead head away from the chilled section and look for those that have a rich colour, are firm and without cracks, bruises or soft spots. Also it may be worth paying the extra for the organic variety as often the non-organic ones are dyed or waxed to improve their appearance. Once you get your sweet potatoes home, don't put them in the fridge - they don't like the cold remember - instead they should be stored in a cool dark and well ventilated place, and definitely not in a plastic bag. Sweet potatoes are quite fussy and will spoil quickly if they temperature is too warm.

My favourite sweet potato recipe: slice, place on a baking tray, season with season all, spray lightly with olive oil and bake - simple and tasty, add a nice slab of steak with my broccoli and green beans and I have bodybuilder's steak and chips.
2016/04/17 15:47:00
James Leave a comment

Very Low Calorie Diets for Weight Loss

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2008 edition
Very Low Calorie Diets (VLCDs) have been around for years. Probably the most well known was the Cambridge Diet which became popular in the 1970s. They are, by definition, dietary regimens which are extremely low calorie, below 800kcal (3350kJ) per day, formulated to be nutritionally balanced for protein, fats and all micronutrients. Commonly they are a powdered formula which can be mixed with water, juice or another low calorie liquid base. A reputable producer will encourage that the user is supervised and has counselling before, during and after. VLCDs should only be used by the obese who have tried more conventional methods of weight loss. However, due to their convenience, they are often used as a quick fix method.

VLCDs receive a mixed reaction from health professionals. Many feel that they are potentially dangerous and only a temporary measure; however some feel they have their place with certain individuals if used correctly. They do not suit some people, but a lot of VLCD dieters have lost a great amount of weight in a relatively short period of time, and felt fine. The principle problem lies in keeping the weight off after the plan. This can be a major problem when people finish and support is needed.

Howard's Way is an example of a reputable VLCD, where clients get full support before, during and after. It's important with any nutritional program to keep an open mind, and whilst VLCDs would definitely not be my first port of call for weight loss advice, they may have their place in extreme cases. The best type of dietary advice is the type that suits the individual, and what suits the individual can take many guises.

Positive points
  • Very good weight loss in a very small amount of time
  • Constant satiety if the client uses them correctly
  • High water intake - 4 litres
  • Improved glycaemic control and insulin sensitivity (Capstick et al (1997)
  • Rapid reduction of high blood pressure
  • High success rate of people losing weight (if done correctly)

Short falls
  • Some people can suffer sluggish bowels / constipation, leading to the need for a laxative and/or added fibre (in sachet form)
  • Low blood pressure while in ketosis, leading to extremities feeling cold (in winter) and dizziness if standing too fast
  • Some people report that their hair seems to be thinning out as hair growth slows during ketosis; which is reversible afterwards
  • After achieving their target weight, and on resuming a conventional diet, many people regain some/all of the weight loss. However this can be rectified if the dieter has appropriate counselling and nutritional advice

If you're a person who feels wants to try a VLCD as just another diet, then I wouldn't recommend them. VLCDs are to be used seriously in serious people, who have tried conventional weight loss regimens, and need a tough but structured approach; but careful re-introduction of foods after the diet is imperative and counselling should be available.

Capstick et al (1997). Very low calorie diet (VLCD): a useful alternative in the treatment of the obese NIDDM patient. Diabetes Res Clin Pract 36: 105-11
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2016/04/16 19:00:55
James 1 comment

Quad Training with a Bad Back

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2008 edition
If you're on of those guys who like me, suffer with lower back pain, you'll be wanting to crack on with your training and train around the injury. Legs can be hard to train with a bad back, but there are ways around it. Obviously it depends on where your back pain is, so let's assume that it's a lower back problem, as in my case.

As much as squats are the greatest leg mass builder, they are out if your back isn't up to it; even with perfect form, there's no way that you can cope with the pressure of heavy weight pushing down on your back. However you still need to include a compound movement in your quad routine. If you're careful, then leg press should be fine, as long as you have access to a good machine. I always find the bit of leg press which hurts the most is the getting in and out of the 45° machine, not the actual movement!

Any quad day should begin with a good stretch and warm up; particularly important if you have a bad back. I spend 5-10 minutes stretching all the muscles in my legs, as well as my abs, glutes, obliques and spinal erectors.

Although often it's preferred to perform a compound movement first, if you're training with an injury I'd recommend an isolation movement to begin with to pre-exhaust the muscle, meaning there's more stress on the target muscle and less on the injury during the compound movement. So, in the case of quadriceps, I would start with leg extensions. You may need two or three warm up sets with a light weight performing 15 or so reps. Then do two sets of slow, controlled extensions with a weight comfortable for 10 reps, squeezing each rep at the top. Remember to flex the quad between sets - feel the muscle and think the muscle.

The problem with leg extensions is that they can cause a strong muscle pump in the lower back - not good if your back is already sore. Therefore make sure your bum is positioned well back into the seat, your back is straight and you're holding onto the side of the chair. Concentrate the stress on the quads only.

After extensions, move onto the 45° leg press machine. Load this up with enough weight to comfortably do 10 reps with minimal stress for the first set. This is for you to get comfortable with the positioning and be aware of any potential stress on the lower back. Then add enough weight so you can perform a strict 8-10 reps to positive failure. Do this for three sets.

Your quads will be worked after this, and, if you have performed each exercise carefully, you should have no (additional) back discomfort. Move onto hamstrings, calves or simply spend a few minutes stretching to warm down are reduce DOMS.

Stretch and warm up

Leg extensions
2-3 x warm up 15 reps
2 x 10 reps

Leg press
1 x warm up 10 reps
2 x 8-10 reps
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2016/04/14 17:24:47
James Leave a comment

Bulking Blunders

This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker March 2008 edition

1: Dietary Fat Phobia
Many of us are health conscious and have taken on board the prevailing low fat is good health message. Unfortunately, low fat isn't always that good at all. Not only are the now famous omega fatty acids really very good for us, indeed, without them we get dumber than we are already. They affect lots of other things too, which given they are involved in the construction of cell membranes isn't too surprising. However, it's not only the healthy essential fats we bodybuilders need, we can also benefit from having a little saturated fat in our diets. Saturated fats are used to make hormones, most notably testosterone. Neglect them and you make life really very difficult for yourself.

2: Fearing Fat
We strive hard to get a lean hard physique and when those abs are showing through we have something to brag about. The hardest thing to accept is that to add muscle we may have to sacrifice the six pack. Being super lean sure looks good but when it comes to muscle growth it doesn't cut it. Not only do we need the raw materials for growth, but a little extra fat and water actually helps us lift more by cushioning and supporting our joints. The heavier you lift the greater the growth stimulus.

Solution: a hearty portion of lean red meat and oily fish at least twice per week.

3: Not eating enough
This is usually a product of fearing fat. Put simply, you need an excess of calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat and every other nutrient you can think of to provide the materials to grow bigger. The adage to look like a 250lb bodybuilder you have to eat like one rings very true. Sure, if you weigh 180 and suddenly eat like Jay Cutler it is a sure fire way to look like the Michelin man, but you have got to eat like a 200lb person to be one. This is the reason that some people grow on their cutting cycles - they are actually eating more. Eat like a mouse, look like a mouse.

4: Having a see-food diet
If not eating enough is a problem for some, then getting banned from the local eat all you can buffet is a real danger for others. It may be tempting to eat everything in sight to provide a surplus of calories, but overdo it and it won't go to muscle, it will go to fat. Bulking up to 300lbs plus is great for professionals, most of us aren't and we can't get away with adding 60lbs of weight to gain 5lbs of lean tissue. All that happens, more often than not, is that when we try and lean out we end up giving our gains back and a little bit more.

Solution: Be sensible with your food.

5: Haphazard eating habits
Bodybuilding truly is 24/7 sport. Many bodybuilders have well constructed and planned cutting diets with meals timed practically to the second, they will steadfastly carry boxes of food with them in their quest for the perfect body. Then when they have got there, forget all that and eat when the feel like it. This is not the way to grow, leaving long gaps between meals increases the likelihood that you will actually start using muscle for fuel, and that come the next meal the body will decide to put a little away as fat in case you decide to leave a long gap again. Also eating haphazardly often leads to days of massive under and over consumption of food rather than a regular pattern. This unpredictability creates an unpredictable environment that does not encourage your body to grow muscle, instead its likely to store on the days there is a surplus to fuel the days when you under eat. When we bulk we want the same stable metabolic environment as when we cut; the difference - your cooler weights more!

Solution: As the saying goes: fail to plan - plan to fail, and that counts for your nutrition too!
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2016/04/09 10:12:30
James Leave a comment


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker March 2008 edition
This month the Punica granatum takes centre stage; widely touted as a super-food conveying all sorts of health benefits, its time to look a little more closely at the pomegranate.

The name pomegranate comes from Latin, where granatus means 'seeded' and pomum is 'apple' - seeded apple, while its scientific name Punica comes from the Phoenicians who promoted its cultivation. Nowadays the drought-resistant pomegranate is cultivated worldwide, so it should be available near you.

Nutritionally 100g of pomegranate will give you around 3g of protein, near enough no fat, and 17g of carbohydrate for a total of 61 calories. A decent sized pomegranate will weigh around 150-200g but you can't eat all as we shall see. Compared to many other foods the pomegranate is anything but a nutritional powerhouse; its biggest punches are vitamin C at 6mg per 100g and potassium at 259mg per 100g. Not saying other nutrients are absent, just they, like the pomegranate's fibre content, are very small indeed. Which nutritional nugget should have you wondering why the pomegranate has its super-food reputation?

The key is pomegranate's 17mg of phytosterols per 100g. The most abundant are the punicalagins, hydrolysable tannins with a formidable anti-oxidant ability. This anti-oxidant ability has translated into research into the true capabilities of the pomegranate. So far research using pomegranate juice as had significant effects on LDL cholesterol oxidation, foam cell formation and macrophage oxidation, or to the rest of us - it reduces the risk of heart disease by its preventative effect on artery hardening (atherosclerosis). Also pomegranate studies have shown that its juice can reduce blood pressure; it acts as an agiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor.

In addition to its heart health benefits, pomegranate has also shown promising benefits in relation to prostate cancer prevention and prevention of osteoarthritis; investigations are on going for these and other benefits. Pomegranate seed oil contains polyphenols which inhibit estrogen synthesis, and its juice has some anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties which are good for the health of your mouth too.

Now you are convinced to give the pomegranate a go - what do you do with it? First you break it open - made easier by scoring with a knife. Then you separate the seed casings or arils from the skin and the white supporting stuff (that's pith and capillary membrane). If you do this in a bowl of water the white stuff floats and the arils sink. You can eat the entire seed raw, or you can use it in a variety if dishes - it's used widely in traditional Middle Eastern cooking, and is found in a number of traditional Indian and Greek dishes, as well as being used in Turkey as a sauce or marinade, and even salad dressing. It has a distinctive flavour that depends on the ripeness of the fruit; ripe pomegranates are sweet going to sour or tangy the less ripe they are. Their characteristic taste is somewhere between the two, laced with the tang of tannins (like a good red wine!).
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