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Myostatin: How to make the Incredible Hulk August 6, 2008

Posted by Matt Brown in Human Enhancement, Strength.
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This story is a little old but it’s still pretty interesting.  A few year ago a child was born to a Michigan family.  I was apparent pretty quickly that something was different about this kid.  At 5 months old he could perform an iron cross, a gymnastics maneuver usually only performed by top gymnasts.  It turns out that the kid, Liam Hoekstra, had a rare genetic mutation that inhibits myostatin in his body.  Myostatin is a protein that inhibits muscle growth, seemingly by keeping muscle stem cells from being utilized.  When myostatin is turned off or blocked the result is muscles that most bodybuilders would kill for.  This kid has a natural mutation but scientists are currently working on an artificial myostatin blocker that has the potential to be a serious boon when it comes to treating muscle wasting diseases like muscular dystrophy.  It also has the potential to replace steriods as an athletes preferred doping drug.  Apart from the enormous muscle development inhibiting myostatin seems to have no side effects, the kid is a normal little boy in every other way, which would make it ideal for both purposes.  The original article can be found below.



Fundamental Exercises: Bench Press February 2, 2008

Posted by Matt Brown in Fitness, Strength.
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Simply stated, the bench press is probably the best upper exercise you could possibly do. That’s not to say it’s the only one you should do, but your unlikely to find a better test of upper body strength. If you’ve been in a gym you’ll have noticed that most of the weight lifting equipment is dedicated to this lift. That’s not an accident. The bench press primarily works the pectoralis major, the deltoids and the triceps, effectively targeting half of the major muscles in the upper body. Besides it’s exercise benefits, there’s something appealing about being able to press more weight than anyone else in the gym, and it’s a well established fact that guys love showing off the benefits of this lift, namely a big chest and arms. Unfortunately for some people, weight takes precedent over safety. Not everyone performs this lift with proper technique, which you’d think would be important when lifting a few hundred pounds over your face. So, without further ado, lets jump right into proper bench press technique.

Step 1: Lay down on the bench with you feet planted firmly on the floor. Your butt and your shoulders should be in contact with the board. Depending on which muscle groups you want to emphasize your grip could vary, but a good basic grip is to have you hands slightly more than shoulder width apart. I do not recommend using a false grip, having the thumb besides the fingers rather than over them, due to the risk of the bar slipping from your grasp. Use at you own risk.

Step 2: Raise the bar from the rack, this may require help depending on the weight you are lifting, and bring it to a pause above you. Ensure that your ready to continue, then proceed with the lift.

Step 3: In a slow controlled motion bring the bar down, bringing it to a stop just barely touching your chest at the bottom of the lift. The bar should be positioned so that it more or less lines up with the nipples. Do not bounce the bar off your chest. Not only is this bad for your chest, as if that needs to be sad, but it also lessens the amount of work your muscles need to do in order to get the bar back up. You’re here to get a workout dammit, don’t cheat!

Step 4: After the bar touches your chest, push the weight back up, again in a smooth and controlled manner. If you want a harder workout, pause for a second when the bar touches your chest. It will make it harder to get the bar back up. Raise the bar up until your elbows are locked out. Repeat for as many reps as you want.

I want to stress one point I made at the top of the article. The bench press is a great lift, but it is not, I repeat not, the only lift. To many times I have walked into a gym to see a guy with a massive chest and triceps, but with skinny little legs and no back. There is more to fitness then the bench press. Remember that.

Fundamental Exercises: Deadlift November 7, 2007

Posted by Matt Brown in Strength.
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The OTHER lower body exercise.  In addition to probably being the oldest lift in the world, tests of strength in ancient cultures probably involved lifting stones, it is also a fantastic workout for all the muscles of the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, calves and lower back), muscles which play a dominant role in many athletic activities, such as running and jumping.  Like other lifts, there are some myths about the deadlift, mainly concerning its safety or supposed lack thereof.  These myths probably originated from idiots who walked into the gym, wanted to be like Arnold and lifted way more than they were ready to do.  Performed correctly, the deadlift is a safe, effective lower body exercise. 


 Step one: Place feet shoulder width apart, shins either touching or within an inch from the bar.  Hands are slightly more than shoulder width apart and in an up-down grip; one palm facing towards you, the other facing away.  Your knees are bent so that your thighs are parallel with the ground.  Keep your back straight at about a 45 degree angle, your abs tight and your anus clenched (Trust me on this, especially if your lifting heavy weights.)            

Step 2: Begin to lift the weight up, moving your entire lower body in unison.  Keep the arms straight as you move up.  This is not an arm exercise.  Make sure not to let the angle of you back drop towards parallel.  This will place most of the strain on your back muscles, which is a great way to hurt yourself.  Starring at a point on the wall above you will help to keep the back straight.               

Step 3: As you come up to a full standing position, straighten you back so that you are standing straight up.  If your shoulders are rounded forward, pull them back.  When you finish, you should be standing straight with the bar resting against your quads.            

 Step 4: In a controlled manner, bring the bar back to the ground.  Do not drop the bar as most gyms will kick you out for ruining there floors like that.  Also, be sure to keep the back straight all the way down.  It is still very possible to hurt yourself during the descent. 

There you have it.  The deadlift.  What I have outlined here is just the basic model.  There are numerous variations to this lift; sumo, Romanian, etc.  Once you’ve got the basics down, experiment, find the one that works best for you.   

Fundamental Exercises: Squats October 22, 2007

Posted by Matt Brown in Strength.
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   The lower body exercise.  If your not doing them, you might as well turn in you gym membership and walk away.  Seriously, get moving.  Squats work every major muscle in your lower body; quads, hamstings, glutes and calves, in addition to your lower back and some upper body muscles.  According to some, squats can even improve your upper body strength, due to the fact that heavy squats can increase the levels of muscle building hormones in the body. 

   Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about squats out there, mostly concerning the safety of the lift.  Many people still believe that performing heavy squats will lead to knee problems and joint pain and should be avoided.  In actuality, the tendons and ligaments of your body respond to stress in the same way as muscles, by getting stronger and thicker, so heavy squats will actually strengthen the joints.  That being said, when you have a few hundred pounds of weight on your back, it goes without saying that there exists a potential for injury if you have poor technique.  There are many variations of the squat, so for this instruction, I will be using the basic back squat.

Squat Technique 

1) Balance the bar along the trapezius muscles of the shoulders, hands spread as far as is comfortable.  Feet should be about shoulder width apart, with the toes pointed slightly outward (30 degrees or less.)  To help keep your back straight, pick a spot on the wall in front of you about a foot higher than you and keep staring at it throughout the lift.  DO NOT look down, as this will cause the back to round out.

2) The first motion of the squat is a backwards motion with the butt, as if you were going to sit down in a chair.  Follow with a bending of the knees, keeping the knees over the toes the whole time.  Don’t allow the knees to bend inwards.  That’s a sure fire way to get hurt.  Keep bending until your thighs are parallel to the ground.  Remember to keep your back straight (but not upright) and your abdominals tight.

3) Push through your heels and begin to raise up.  Keep the upward motion controlled and don’t allow yourself to sway.  Return to the starting position.

 Well, know you know how to perform a basic back squat.  What are you waiting for?  Get out there and start lifting.

The Clean and Jerk September 5, 2007

Posted by Matt Brown in Strength.

If, for some strange reason, you were only allowed one lift with which to work out, the clean and jerk would be the one to do. Called the “king of lifts,” because it allows more weight to be lifted above the head than any other lift, the clean and jerk is the single most effective lift in a weight trainers arsenal. It works most of the major muscle groups in the upper and lower body and provides the ultimate full-body workout. However, care must be taken when performing this lift, because it is very easy to injure yourself without proper technique. When first starting out it’s best to use something light, a empty bar or even a broomstick depending on your strength.

Step 1: Begin with bar on floor. Feet should be shoulder width apart with toes pointed forward or slightly out. Hands should be shoulder width apart. For the clean phase, it’s easier to have the thumbs inside the fingers in what’s called a hook grip.

Step 2: Moving the hips and legs in on motion, pull the bar upwards. When the bar reaches waist height, pull yourself under the bar by dropping into a squat. The bar should be resting on your collarbone.

Step 3: Stand up out of the squat, keeping bar still for the moment. From here, adjust your grip and your stance as necessary.

Step 4: When ready, bend the knees slightly and explode upwards, pushing the bar above your head. Simultaneously, bend your legs underneath in a lunge position, front leg bent and back leg straight. To finish the lift, bring legs back under body, shoulder-width apart.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I have no clue what this video is worth, but this is how the pros do it.

There’s a reason that this lift is one of the standards of Olympic weightlifting and used by sports teams the world over. It can and should become one of the primary lifts in your workout.