Failing with Failure

11 10 2013


A few weeks ago a buddy of mine asked me the following question:

“What is the importance (or unimportance) of going to failure on every set? Everything I have seen has mentioned how taxing going to failure can be on the CNS, and yet I see everyone in the gym going to failure on every set. Is going to failure bad assuming you can maintain the same form on the last rep you had on the first rep (admittedly that’s a big assumption)?”

Ah yes, going to failure. We’ve all seen those guys at the gym, curling up the bar as their friend struggles on the bench press: “One more buddy!” Truth be told, I’ve been that guy. When I started getting into strength training, it was all about pushing my body to the limits- I went to failure all the time. I literally probably went to failure at least once per workout, whether that entailed having a spotter help me with my last few reps, or simply doing isolation sets like biceps curls until I could no longer lift my arms. As a novice (and young) lifter, in hindsight I feel as though going to failure didn’t hurt me nearly as much as it would now, as an older more experienced lifter. However, I also used to get injured a lot more in my younger years when I was pushing my body to failure on a consistent basis, so take from that what you will; this is simply my anecdotal evidence, but correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation.

The issue, as I see it, is that inexperienced lifters- even some lifters who have been going to the gym on a fairly steady basis for several years- don’t have a very good feel for their actual 1-rep maxes, and haven’t been lifting long enough to find that balance between high, productive intensity, and going to absolute fatigue. The bottom line is this:

Going to failure is unproductive.

Pretty much everything I’ve read or learned over the years backs up this statement. There simply isn’t any evidence out there that training to failure is an effective way to train strength or grow muscle. Yes, there certainly are bodybuilders out there who have and still do swear by this method, but there are definitely other factors at play; I have no doubts that anyone employing the “going to failure routine” could train more effectively. When you lift weights, you are training your CNS (central nervous system) and you are attempting to initiate a growth stimulus in your muscles. You need not go to failure to achieve this stimulus- that final struggle is not the catalyst; progressively increasing intensity in an intelligent manner is. Of course, this does not mean that you shouldn’t train with a high intensity; as I’ve mentioned before, intensity is a major key to progress. To give you an example, the vast majority of my training sets fall in the 70-90% range. If I perform too much work in the 95-100% range, bad things will happen. I save my 1-rep max attempts for competitions and/or for testing my lifts 1-2 times per year. The key is learning to push yourself without taking it too far and employing progressive intensity for sustained success. Going to failure is the key to getting injured, retarding progress and looking like an ass at the gym. In other words, going to failure is failure itself. Not only that, but without a spotter, failure can be dangerous- please don’t be this guy…

On that note, novice lifters especially should absolutely train with a spotter as much as possible. I would never encourage going to failure, and every lifter should try to minimize this as much as possible, but a spotter can minimize the damage as you learn your limits. As I alluded to earlier, I don’t think going to failure is as detrimental to novice lifters, but the more experienced you are, the more critical it becomes to never miss a rep. If I miss a rep in my training, I’ve either programmed poorly, have under-recovered, or just straight up screwed up. In any case, I would almost surely take a few days off to let my body rest, and then start my program anew. If I fail and don’t press the reset button, I know I won’t be able to plow through and progress to my maximum potential; it’s that serious.

Just another reason to avoid going to failure...

Just another reason to avoid going to failure…

In conclusion, if you are looking to build muscle, get stronger, or achieve any sort of physical progress you should concentrate on the 3 Ps:

  1. Perfect your form
  2. Perform all reps with control
  3. Progress your weights slowly

It’s as simple as that. Going to failure might make you feel like you’ve pushed your body to its maximum potential, but things aren’t always as they seem- you’ll almost surely be on the path to injury, and you’ll look like a dick in the process.

For more information on weight training,, you know how to find me!



One For The Men: How To Boost Your Testosterone

26 04 2013


Seeing how yesterday’s post was for the ladies, here’s a great piece for the men: 8 Ways to be an Alpha Male by Tomorrow, from my friends over at Muscle & Fitness.

As I mentioned yesterday, growth hormone (GH) is to women what testosterone (T) is to men: muscle-building, fat-burning, life-improving. High testosterone has a direct correlation to everything that could possibly awesome in a man’s life. The bad news? Testosterone levels, as a whole, have dropped dramatically over the last few decades. The reason for this phenomenon has yet to be determined, but I’m sure it has a lot to do with the typical North American lifestyle: low-quality nutrition, low levels of physical activity and less physical interaction with the opposite sex (the internet does have its disadvantages). As always, I encourage you all to read the article itself (especially this one, as it contains links to several other great articles), but here are the keys points (they may sound familiar, I wonder why…)

  • Don’t Fear Fat – The male body uses saturated fat to create testosterone, and as I’ve mentioned before, this “bad” fat won’t hurt you as long as you keep your unsaturated fats in balance and avoid a diet obnoxiously high in sugar and processed carbs.
  • Perform More Deadlifts From a Deficit – Or at the very least, perform more deadlifts in general.
  • Don’t Limit Your Protein – This one is simple. Be a man and eat your protein; lots of it. As the article states, don’t stop at 30 g per serving- that’s a myth created by some weak vegetarian.
  • Take Breakfast Down a Notch – Yep, skipping/delaying breakfast can boost your test. Are you actually still eating first thing in the morning???
  • Sleep More than 7 Hours a Night – Again, something I covered last week.
  • Increase the Intensity of your Workouts – Lift heavy things and do sprints. Again, this shouldn’t be news to my readers.
  • Desire More Sex – This one is interesting but it makes total sense. Show more interest in sex, boost your sex hormones. Science, what a thing.
  • Get your Testosterone Checked – All joking aside, I would like to encourage all my male readers to get your testosterone checked. I did this 2 years ago, discovered that I had very low levels of bioavailable testosterone, and we are still working on finding a solution. It’s a hormone that can drastically affect the quality of your life, so get it checked, and make sure you’re firing on all cylinders.
Strive for excess testosterone... Just don't be that guy.

Strive for excess testosterone… Just don’t be that guy.

That’s it and that’s all for today! For additional information on testosterone and lifting heavy things, don’t hesitate to send me a message!

Happy Friday!


My War Against BOSU Balls (and all other nonsensical “training”…)

23 04 2013


It’s time for me to go to bed, but I just saw an article that I had to share. Remember when I told you to stay away from BOSU balls and concentrate on compound, challenging lifts instead? Well, Kiefer over at Dangerously Hardcore has done it again, with one of the best articles I’ve read in a while: Unstable Surfaces For Stability Training (AKA Clown School). Top points for a great title as well. This about sums it up:

“A single fact—that the body will only produce maximum force when it is stable—would be enough to make any sensible person throw away the stability ball, BOSU ball and all the other almost stupidly unstable training surfaces that you see so often in commercial gyms. All of these methods actually prevent the body from getting stronger.

The best possible mode of exercise to increase core stability, strength, power and even bone density, not to mention hypertrophy, is full body movements with heavy loads. Push-press with a 6-rep max overhead, don’t do side-laterals on a bosu ball; dead lift two-times your body weight, don’t try Romanian dead lifts on (in)stability discs.

Increasing load during an exercise is highly effective and equivalent to unstable-surface training for strengthening the core. The difference, however, is that while on an unstable surface, your nervous system never lets you fully contract your muscles, which means stability training on unstable devices (come on, that just sounds stupid, doesn’t it?) is merely a way to waste time in the gym.”

Read the article if you already haven’t done so. Do it now. It’s short, and perfect.

Want to get improve your stability? Balance? Strength? Body composition? Posture? Confidence? Charisma? There are two links in this blog post, and both links contain the answer. Keep it simple, keep it safe, and keep it real, homie.


5 Exercises To Perfect and 5 Exercises To Forget

12 03 2013

The title here is self-explanatory- I’m going to list 5 exercises that you should include in your life on a regular basis and 5 exercises that you should completely forget about. The criteria for these exercises is based on my personal opinion, but the exercises to perfect are safe, efficient and will get you the most out of your time at the gym, whereas the exercises to forget are potentially unsafe and have superior alternatives.

5 Exercises to perfect:

Squat variations: back squats, front squats and overhead squats

Squats. I’ve explained why everyone should be doing them and I’ve explained how to execute them properly. Front squats are an incredible exercise and are especially good for quad development, but people mostly avoid them because they are a bit more uncomfortable and there are easy alternatives. Find a way to mix them in! Overhead squats are very difficult, but they elicit an incredible fat-burning effect; these will take a lot of practice, but if you have proper squat form and decent shoulder flexibility, you will eventually be able to add these to your repertoire. All-in-all, squats are arguably the one exercise that nobody should do without.

A lovely front squat

A lovely front squat

Deadlift variations: conventional, sumo and trap bar

My personal favourite exercise, and I recently wrote a piece on how to properly execute the movement. Conventional deadlifts are done with a narrow/shoulder width stance with the hands gripping the bar outside the feet, whereas sumo deadlifts are done with a wide stance and the hands gripping the bar inside the feet. The movement is basically the same, and both exercises use the entire body. I also covered trap bar deadlifts in my article last week, and these are a great way to develop your deadlift form and strength before progressing to an actual barbell. As I’ve mentioned before, this exercise needs to be performed with strict form and control, but the deadlift is a great exercise for both strength and fat loss.


Another great full body exercise (are you seeing a pattern yet?), the push-press is an overhead press, but with most of the power being generated by the lower body. Overhead pressing can be done with strict form, and with either a barbell or with dumbbells, but this primarily works the shoulders. With the push-press, the first movement is to drop the hips a few inches and then explode up, essentially jump-starting the weight (literally, your feet should leave the ground) and allowing you to overhead press more than a basic shoulder press; in a push-press, the arms merely finish the exericse, but it’s the legs that generate the majority of the power. For an added degree of difficulty, you can start with the bar on the ground and clean it up to your shoulders, but this is an entirely new movement altogether (clean and press). I would include the clean and press on this list, as it is phenomenal for fat burning, but the movement is too technical for the casual gym-goer (unless you do Crossfit, but don’t get me started on that…)

Pull-up variations: neutral grip, wide grip, arched-back

My new fav

My new fav

In my opinion, pull-ups are the ultimate upper body exercise. I won’t fight you on your choice of grip, as long as you do what you have to do to pull yourself up.  For beginners who may not be able to pull their own body weight, there are assisted pull-up machines at almost all commercial gyms. If not, you can use bands to assist you on a regular pull-up bar (just sling the band around the bar and around one of your knees and voila). Once you can pull your own body weight, you can start to try out the various grips. I prefer neutral grip because it is easier on my shoulders, but I also like the wide grip because it really hammers the lats.  I’ve recently started doing arched-back, neutral-grip pull-ups and I love them- they combine a vertical and horizontal pull into one movement, and it is amazing how quickly the muscles get fatigued. I highly recommend them to everyone.

Bench press variations: Barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press, crush-grip dumbbell bench press

As much as I loathe the bench press, it is a great movement, and one that cannot be overlooked for upper body strength. I highly recommend at least including dumbbell bench press (either flat bench or incline) into your workout regimens. Barbell bench press can be taxing on the shoulders, and I can understand people being deterred from the exercise at commercial gyms- bench presses are almost always the busiest stations at the gym and people love to hover around them and spend way too much time there. Most people can get just as much bang for their buck from dumbbells; and you should mix it up with flat and incline variations, as well as crush-grip bench press- which is the same as regular pressing, except you are crushing the ends of the two dumbbells together as you press the weights up and down; this will force more time under tension, and should theoretically illicit enhanced hormonal release- just make sure you control the movement and keep the reps nice and slow.

BONUS: Complexes. If you are looking to burn some fat, add complexes to the end of your workout; or if you’re pressed for time, your entire workout can be a few different complexes. The idea, essentially, is to choose a handful of movements (usually 3-6) and perform a set number of reps for each movement (usually 5-8) one after the other and all within one minute. You then rest for one minute and go again, usually for 4 or 5 sets. Compound movements (like those listed above) are typically the movements to include, but others can be lunges, reverse lunges, good mornings, hang cleans, shoulder raises, overhead extensions, etc. You can get creative with it. The end result (if you don’t give up) will always be the same- you will be sweaty, out of breath, and if you’ve challenged yourself with enough weight, you may even find it hard to walk. FUN!

Honestly, if you ensure that these exercises are the core of your training program, you will be very happy with the results. These exercises are the key to both upper and lower body strength, and will also help you burn the most fat.

5 Exercises to forget:

Behind the head shoulder press

Sure, this exercise may effectively the anterior deltoids and other shoulder muscles, but it is absolutely killer for the health of your shoulder joint. Behind-the-neck pressing puts your shoulder joint in a compromising position at the very end of its range of motion. The glenohumeral joint (shoulder joint) may be one of the most mobile joints in the body, but it’s also incredibly unstable- this is why so many people have shoulder injuries!  Just because you can get a barbell behind your head doesn’t mean that you should do repetitive, stressful movements with it.

I can hear his shoulders screaming.

I can hear his shoulders screaming.

It’s much safer to press overhead with the bar in front of your body. Stick to the push press, strict military press, or dumbbell shoulder press- your shoulders will thank you.

Barbell upright rows

Much like the previous exercise, upright rows do a good job of targeting certain muscles, like the traps and deltoids. Unfortunately, they are also good at targeting shoulder impingement. What is shoulder impingement you ask? This occurs when one of the rotator cuff tendons becomes inflamed from being repeatedly dragged across bone.  It’s no coincidence that if a doctor thinks you have a shoulder impingement, he’ll get you mimic the exact movement of an upright row to see if you wince in pain. It’s a crap movement, and the reward does not even come close to outweighing the risk.

If you must do upright rows, please at least use dumbbells. Better yet, forget the movement completely, and use a combination of deadlifts and dumbbell shoulder raises to target your traps and deltoids.


Ab exercises without additional weight are mostly useless. There, I said it. Here are a few facts:

1) It is impossible to spot reduce fat on the human body. Doing crunches will not make you lose belly fat, much like curls will not make you lose arm fat.

2) I’ve read that it can take up to 250,000 crunches to burn a pound of fat. I’m not entirely sure how you’d even determine this, but I’m inclined to believe that it probably takes more.

3) Unless your body fat is already extremely low, the definition created by repetitive unweighted ab exercises is completely lost.

NOTE: Especially avoid sit-ups with a twist at the top- sit-ups put the spine into flexion, and adding rotation to this flexion pushes your intervertebral discs to the side and back of your spine, which is where they are susceptible to herniation. There is simply no reason to put yourself in this compromising position.

I wouldn’t call sit-ups or crunches dangerous, but they are extremely inefficient on all accounts. If you are going to do a sit-up, do it with some weight behind your head. Better yet, do planks, ab roll-outs and ab pull-downs (from a high pulley)- these exercises will strengthen your core and help you burn more fat. Please note though, ab exercises are an accessory movement, and should be down towards the end of your workouts!

Anything involving a Bosu ball

Feel the burn.

Feel the burn.

Most people have a hard enough time perfecting movements like the squat and deadlift on flat ground, let alone a wobbly piece of equipment. I’m not sure whose idea the Bosu ball was, but I would like to strike them. Want to work on your stability? Do single-leg deadlifts and squats. Poor balance? Try yoga. If you want to capitalize on your time at the gym- whether it be for strength gains or fat loss- concentrate on the compound movements listed in the top section of this article and leave silly, dangerous toys like the Bosu ball in the corner.

Hip Abduction/Adduction Machine

Otherwise known as the “I’m tired and unmotivated so I’m going to use the machine that takes the least amount of effort” machine, or the “I’m feeling provocative and want to make all the men stare and women uncomfortable” machine. Seriously though, does anyone even know what this piece of equipment is supposed to do? Has anyone ever used it and then woken up the next day and thought, “Damn, I really overdid it on the adduction machine yesterday.”? Do any other leg exercise. Do some side lunges. Jump up and down for 30 seconds straight. You can accomplish more by doing basically anything else… Unless your goal is to show your crotch to as many people as possible. Then feel free to use this machine all day.

I'm tired... oh, here's my crotch.

I’m tired… oh, here’s my crotch.

BONUS: Almost anything involving a partial range of motion (unless you are specifically training for this movement). Exercises include: half-squats, quarter-squats, half-bench, half-shoulder press, half-pull-ups, half-dips, etc. You are cheating yourself if you are not going through the full range of motion. I will probably write a separate piece on this in the future, as there is too much to write here. Long story short- use the full range of motion for every exercise you perform and you’ll get better results.

So there you have it. 5 exercises to perfect and 5 to forget. For more information on how to incorporate or eliminate these exercises from your current workout program, don’t hesitate to reach out to me!

Happy training!


Workout Tempo; Strength Gain vs. Fat Loss

1 03 2013


I came across this succinct little video over on the Muscle & Fitness website (which, in my opinion, is one of the better strength/fitness magazines on the market) and I wanted to share it for a few reasons. Take 3 minutes out of your day to give it a watch, and take note of the following:

1) Slow tempo = strength gains. Fast tempo = fat loss (notice how out of breath he becomes after the 4 fast reps; this is what I’m talking about!)

2) Notice his squat. This is what you want your squat to look like.

3) His lack of sleeves. Someone must have stolen them. Poor guy.

That’s all for now. Happy lifting!


5 Reasons You’re Not Gaining Muscle

27 02 2013

A quick one here for experienced lifters- most of this will not apply if you are new to working out.

Jason Ferruggia over at The Renegade Rules recently posted this informative article. It is simple and straight to the point. If you’re struggling to add muscle or get stronger, the points made here can be very helpful.

The Coles Notes:

1) You’re Still Doing 5×5

I am going to elaborate on this and say “You’re still doing a basic program”. Plans like the 5×5 is great for beginners because it will enforce proper technique, keep training volume reasonable for a newbie and help you build a solid muscular base. My buddy and I were just talking the other day how 5-3-1 isn’t even an efficient program for us anymore. You need variety and rep work to continue to make progress as your lifting acumen grows.

Or you can buy one of these.

Or you can buy one of these.

2) You’re Not Getting A Pump

Cellular swelling and the act of accumulating fatigue is a very important aspect of muscle growth for everyone but beginners. You need to incorporate some high-quality, higher rep sets (8+) or rest less between sets or both. Intensity is king, and you need to make sure you’re lifting heavy weights for reps as well- if you’re lifting a weight for high reps with a short rest period and you’re not getting a pump, it is time to increase the weight!

3) You’re Just Hoisting Weight & Not Maximizing Tension

I’ve been very guilty of this in the past (and sometimes currently, no doubt), because everybody wants to lift the heaviest weights possible. Due to this, we take on more weight than we should and end up using poor form. When this happens, we end up compensating in strange ways instead of allowing the proper muscle groups to execute the movement. If you are lifting heavy and having pain in your joints and/or tendons, you probably want to lower the weight and concentrate on lifting with the proper muscle groups.

4) You’re Resting Too Long Between Sets

Shorter rest periods = muscle growth. Keep your goals in mind- if you want to get stronger, it’s ok to take longer rest between the heavy sets of your first exercise or two, but the rest ends there. That’s why I almost always superset my accessory work with minimal rest; under a minute unless I’m dying. If you keep it between 45 and 90 seconds rest you should be good, but don’t get up over the 2 minute mark. Remember, you want to feel like you are working hard; if you aren’t sweating or out of breath, you need to work faster.

5) You’re Not Changing Your Programming Enough

This is a bit redundant with the first point, but again, more advanced lifters need more frequent changes. Variety is the key to muscle growth and to staying healthy, as it eliminates repetitive stress. Mix it up and get jacked.

Like I said- simple and straight-forward. Make sure you’re following the guidelines above, and if you’re eating well and sleeping well, you will add muscle and strength.

For more questions on how to get jacked and strong, you know how to find me.


Why you are getting nowhere at the gym, and how to fix it

8 01 2013

I often hear people complaining that they go to the gym but never see any results.  The gym isn’t a magical place where you can go and achieve results by osmosis- trust me, I’ve tried- but some people seem to treat it this way.  Although everyone is different, here are some key factors as to why you aren’t seeing the results you want:

Too many isolation exercises

Isolation exercises, or exercises working one specific muscle group, should really be saved for accessory work at the end of workouts. Whether you are looking to get stronger or burn more fat, your first exercise(s) should be multi-articulated, or exercises that work multiple large muscle groups. For lower body, think about squat and deadlift variations. For upper body, think about bench press, overhead press and pull-up variations. You aren’t doing yourself any favours by going to the gym and hopping immediately on the leg extension machine. Not comfortable with these exercises? Ask one of the personal trainers for assistance- this is what they are there for!

Lack of variety

I constantly see the same people doing the same exercises at the gym. It’s OK to have your favourite exercises (it’s a GREAT thing to enjoy any kind of exercise, and you should use this as motivation to get to the gym!), but if you do the same thing every time at the gym, your body will never adapt. Make an effort to try new exercises, or at the very least, switch up your set and repetition scheme- if you typically do 3 sets of 12 repetitions, the next time at the gym do 4 sets of 8, and the next time do 5 sets of 6 (with the corresponding increase in weight of course, but I’ll get to that in a bit). If you see someone at the gym doing an exercise you don’t know, don’t hesitate to stop and ask them about it. Or again, ask a personal trainer for some suggestions, and ask them how to show you proper form- it’s their job!

Too much cardio, not enough weights

Cardio is great- I will never bash any kind of physical activity- but running 5k every day isn’t going to get your very far (mind the pun). In my opinion, there are only 3 reasons to do cardio: either you LOVE it, or you are trying to burn excess calories, or you are training for a race/sport. Regardless of your reason, you need to have weights in your workout regime as well. Steady-state cardio will burn calories, but if you add weight training into the mix, you’ll see big results. Weight training builds muscle. Muscle burns fat. Therefore, more weight training can lead increased fat

Not lifting heavy enough

This goes hand-in-hand with the comment about a lack of variety.  I find that women have the hardest time with this concept, as they are afraid that lifiting heavy weights will give them chest hair and make them look like Chyna from the WWE. Ladies, if you stay away from steroids, weights will be the best thing that ever happened to you. Lifting heavy doesn’t have to be done with every exercise, but again, you need to introduce your body to a new stimulus if you want it to adapt (and in turn, see results). As a rule of thumb, and especially for your first, multi-articulated exercise(s), you should use a weight that is close to what you can maximally lift. If your goal is to do 4 sets of 6 repetitions, use a weight that you can lift no more than 8 times before failure, while maintaining proper form. This may take some trial and error to figure out, but you’ll definitely be introducing a new stimulus as you do this as well, so don’t be shy! If your heart rate isn’t elevated and your muscles aren’t getting tired, you likely aren’t lifting heavy enough.

Poor diet

I was guilty of this for years. I would go to the gym and push myself, but I never thought about the importance of refuleing my body. Without the proper macronutrients and vitamins and minerals, your muscles cannot recover properly, and the work you did at the gym will go to waste.  Lifting weight tears your muscles apart, and it’s your nutrition that rebuilds them bigger and stronger. Make sure to consume carbs and protein immediately following your workout and make an effort to eat high-quality food on a regular basis. If you’re finding it hard to eat right because of a hectic schedule, supplementation should not be overlooked.

Too much chit-chat

I understand that the gym can be a social place for many people, but if your primary objective is to change your body, your workout program should come first and your social life should come second.  Taking too much time between sets can be extremely counter-productive and limit the efficiency of your workout. Strength training (lifting near-maximal weight for low reps) requires more recovery time between sets, but most workouts require less than 2 minutes of rest between sets. If you’re going to chat, try to do it between exercises, not sets, but always keep your priorities in mind.


Poor recovery

As I mentioned above, eating low-quality foods or not eating enough will be extremely detrimental to the recovery process post-workout. Aside from diet, excessive stress, poor sleeping patterns, and other lifestyle factors such as alcohol abuse are equally (if not more) problematic. Exercising can help mask the negative effects of these aspects of life (which is sometimes the goal for people at the gym), but if you intend to see your body adapt and progress, a healthy diet, sleeping pattern and lifestyle are paramount. For more information on recovery, this article breaks it down nicely.

Not thinking on your own

We aren’t all experts, but exercising isn’t brain surgery.  Using common sense and listening to your body can go a long way. Asking an expert is also a simple thing to do.  If you’re not seeing the results you expect, ask yourself the following questions: How is my diet? Am I really pushing myself at the gym, or just going through the motions? Do I have enough variety in my program? Don’t be afraid to make a change and try something new, your body will thank you!  If you’d like specific advice on how to improve your programming and results, contact me here.

There are many reasons to explain why some people fail to see results at the gym, but if you tackle the issues above, I’m sure you’ll see a huge difference.

Happy lifting!