Arguably, the reason why many needed to see me in the first place was due to poor training habits (coupled with too much time spent in a chair). They’ll also use external apparatus to stabilize movements for the sake of muscle isolation and “extra focus on the muscle fibers.” These training habits eventually rewire the nervous system to forget how to activate the stabilizers it was born with and effectively make the everyday bodybuilder prone to injury and, in the long run, substantially less capable at life.
Training for functional mass involves protocols that build nice big Hollywood muscles while also making the body more useful at real life tasks and less prone to back, shoulder and knee injuries. Their muscles are rock hard when activated, but unlike powerlifters and bodybuilders, they have the ability to switch off when not in use and are not short and chronically tight.
If the goal is functional mass, arguably the best training modality would be Olympic lifting with a mix of calisthenics. O-lifting is a long and highly rewarding path, for those who possess the movement ability.
However, it’s not accessible to the vast majority of everyday people, because we just don’t move well enough. I encourage anyone to start their O-lifting journey if they can pass my simple litmus test: being able to hold a naked (20 kg) Olympic bar overhead while sitting in the deep squat for two minutes.
Never use a bench, chair, pad, fixed resistance machine or anything to help stabilize movement or isolate target muscle groups. Smashing the muscle fibers to destruction, so they’ll grow back bigger and stronger is absolutely achievable using the stabilizers you were born with.
I think that avoiding the use of external apparatus for help with stability is the most important rule that should be applied to all training, no matter the goal. Replace it with squat ‘n’ pull, hinge ‘n’ push, loco mote ‘n’ resist rotation, say.
Don’t go the gym and further train yourself to flex into the shape of a cashew nut (biceps, chest and superficial abs). It promotes feelings of depression and weakness and arguably brings you closer to the grave.
Be more superhero and train extension, with dead lifts, pull-ups, push-ups×, squats, cleans, military press* and loaded carries. *A skilled practitioner presses from their lats while radiating tension throughout the midsection with their glutes.
For mass training, two kettle bells always beats one because this increases the work volume. When I’m programming for my remote clients, any given functional mass session only lasts 40-55 minutes.
Given that the first 15-20 minutes of that is spent on joint mobility, this leaves a short window for the main workout component. Ballistics involve kettebells being swung through two-planes of motion (swings, cleans and snatches).
For goals such as losing weight or improving conditioning, ballistics should outweigh grinds. Since the golden years of bodybuilding in the ‘70s, it’s been known that the more time the muscles spend under tension, the better for hypertrophy.
I served in the Royal Marines Commandos with a dude who had a better body than Captain America. He only ever did thousands of really light reps and isometric holds with resistance bands and baby dumbbells.
We may have admired his physical appearance, but we relished in the fact that he was weak and sub-par as an operational Commando. His dead lift was pathetic, he couldn’t outrun a hedgehog, let alone run a heavy backpack over a mountain, he often had lower back pain, and he couldn’t reach his magazine pouches because his big, useless muscles were in the way.
Through my years of training I know that loaded jump squats are a very reliable ingredient for developing legs like tree trunks. But crippling injuries also usually come as a complimentary extra for those who can’t deep squat slowly without load.
If someone can sit in a deep squat position for over 4 minutes, they qualify for adding load. Then after some months, adding explosive speed will induce miracle muscle growth.
This is an age-old ingredient for muscle mass because it optimizes hormone release and facilitates the highest possible volume. Strength is tension… How much full body tension you’re able to produce reflects your ability to apply force.
More relaxed, loose muscles = better blood flow, faster recovery, less chronic tension and related injuries. But if the goal is looking like a Marvel superhero in the shorter term, without breaking the first two (and most important) of these golden rules, training to failure in some lifts for 2-3 months won’t do any harm.
But if you want to put on some muscle mass in a short space of time without cocking up your hormone balance by taking vitamin-S (anabolic steroids), train to failure and grow some sarcoplasmic muscle mass. A great way to deplete the glycogen stores within the muscles and leave your arms or legs feeling like they might drop off.
Many uneducated or inexperienced trainers think it’s their mission to create delayed onset muscle soreness (Does) for their paying clients after every session. Regular, weekly Does creates excessive muscle toxicity, which has a plethora of negative side effects and cripples good movement.
Soles Does in unavoidable for people who’ve been wearing foot coffins (shoes) all their lives and want to learn to run properly. Does in all major muscle groups is expected for the first couple of weeks of any good hypertrophy program.
Every session should begin with 20 minutes of joint mobility and muscle activation, relative to your individual movement needs and injury history. All programs should contain all human movement patterns and should obviously be suitable for the person it’s written for.
In the last few years, kettle bells have gone from a popular but still somewhat esoteric strength-training obsession to being considered as a fundamental tool right alongside barbells, dumbbells, body weight, and machines. Case in point: After an interaction over social media, I recently had the opportunity to train Nicole Wilkins, a four-time CFBB Figure Olympia champion and a three-time CFBB Figure International champion, to dial in her form on the major kettle bell lifts.
On the contrary, there are plenty of ways to fit them in, depending on if you're in-season or off-season training and if you are looking to add muscle or lose fat. Secondary strength/volume: Single-arm standing or seated kettle bell presses, before a superset of dumbbell or cable lateral and front raises.
Burnout and/or cardio: Kettle bell snatches, 5-8 per arm at the top of each minute, to burn serious calories and boost shoulder strength, or heavier kettle bell swings to hammer the rear Delta while also building up the entire back side of your body. “Kettle bell snatches and swings are just a great way to incorporate cardio into your routine and get your heart rate up,” she told me.
One of the biggest advantages of training with kettle bells is the ability to increase both mobility and stability throughout the joints that need one or the other. Maintaining joint mobility is a crucial part of staying injury free, because the inability to move through exercises with a full range of motion can be detrimental in your ability to get into the correct positions needed to lift safely.
Joint stability, on the other hand, is essential for being able to safely bear the load you're lifting, without one of your “weak links” raising the white flag. If you are looking to improve mobility and stability, the Turkish get-up is a great exercise to add to your routine.
However, once the weights get heavy, the long handle of the dumbbell places immense pressure on the hands and wrists, making it unstable and harder to push heavier loads overhead. If you use a kettle bell, the weight is more compact and the pressure will remain on the forearm allowing for a neutral or rotating grip.
If you're like most people, you'll find you're able to move more weight through a greater range of motion, with a more natural movement pattern. That's why strength coaches love the double-kettlebell front squat as a spine-friendly way to build athletes' quads, glutes, and hamstrings, while also demanding serious work from secondary and tertiary muscle groups such as the shoulders and core.
“ Kettle bells may be more form-oriented than other tools used for strength training, but if you put in the work consistently you will get better and you will see progress,” Wilkins told me. I started out as a beginner with kettle bells six years ago, after injuring my back in CrossFit so badly that my doctor told me to never lift again.
Whether you are a bodybuilder, powerlifter, Crossfire, or just enjoy swinging kettle bells, we all want to stay healthy and be able to keep learning new ways to do what we love. The goal of bodybuilding may be to increase muscle mass and decrease fat to look aesthetically your best, but by supplementing your training routines with kettle bells, you can develop more muscle, improve cardiovascular conditioning, build up muscular endurance, improve overall mobility and stability, and develop better body awareness while still reaching your goals.