Three Tips for Packing on Mass

By: Josh Bryant

Is your goal is to move up to the prestigious night shift at Chippendales from your dreaded day shift? Wanting to look a little more dapper in your corporate sports coat? Looking to build a bigger and better physique? This trio of simple techniques can help make it happen! check it out

When sizing up a man’s physical prowess, people look at the “yoke” and the forearms.  Anyone that can judge true power knows large forearms mean power.  Big Forearms means you establish respect right off the bat.  Bullies know the difference between the pec and bi warrior and the cat that can pull out your pancreas through your nose. Goals ranging from a tighter grip on belligerent patrons at a kick and stab juke joint between Ozona, Texas and the sunset…or just looking better…can be served by the outlined strategy.  

Anthony Ditillo Forearm Routine Powerbuilding legend and iconic strength author, Anthony Ditillo, wrote a fantastic article in 1969 entitled “Developing the Lower Arms.” Ditillo had a goal of increasing the size of his forearms. Ditillo’s own words on how he trained his forearms: “I train my forearms 4 times per week; twice at the end of my upper-body training days and again twice at the onset of my lower-body training days. I perform the Reverse Curl first, doing 5 sets of 10-8-6-4-15 repetitions using progressively heavier weights each set (excepting the last). In between each set I perform the massaging method using ‘Ben-Gay Lotion’ as mentioned in previous articles dealing with the A.A.C. philosophy. I then perform the seated wrist curl, palms up, for 5 additional sets of 20 repetitions using the same weight, increasing it whenever possible. I also followed proper diet principles.” *Sidenote: A.A.C-Applied Artificial Circulation. Between each set and between each group of exercises while resting, Anthony’s training partner would rub Ben-Gay on his arms. The idea was to create heat, bringing added blood to the area. The results were Anthony put over a half inch on his forearms in less than two months.    Anthony deadlifted heavy and did strict curls with over 200 pounds prior to this, so he was no newbie.  Anything that works so well on an advanced trainee warrants further investigation!

Increased Frequency Training How did Anthony do it? Increasing frequency. Plenty of folks train their arms day in and day out and still sport spaghetti arms. Deadlifting every day won’t increase your deadlift, but if upper back strength is the limiting factor in your deadlift, a few extra upper back workouts a week can help bring the deadlift up to snuff. The key is strategic planning and placement in your periodized plan. Some bodybuilding methods have been validated by science (many Weider Principles) and others are purely a product of “bro science.” The notion that a muscle can only be trained once a week should have been put out of commission by the “bro science” lab a long time ago, real science says otherwise. Remember, younger folks recover faster than older folks, little muscles recover faster than bigger ones and predominantly slow twitch muscles recover faster than fast twitch counterparts.  In other words, a young man can train his calves more frequently than an old man can train his hamstrings at the same intensity.

Looking to Science Comparison of 1 day and 3 days per week of equal-volume resistance training in experienced subjects was a landmark study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in the year 2000.  The study compared 1 day versus 3 days of weight training weekly, with the training volume the same.  There were two control groups: Group 1 lifted 1 day per week for 3 sets to failure (1DAY) and  Group 2 lifted 3 days per week of 1 set to failure (3DAY).The 1DAY group achieved only 62 percent of the 1RM increases of 3DAY group in both upper-body and lower-body lifts! Muscle mass increases were greater in the 3 DAY per week group. This study implicated that a higher frequency of resistance training increased better strength and mass gains.  When a muscle group is lagging: try increasing frequency.  The potential concern is joint stress and your central nervous system (CNS). What’s the answer? Extra sessions at a submaximal intensity! Lots of lifters have had success bringing up the upper back and rear delts doing band pull aparts and face pulls every training session.  Other lifters have done very well doing pull-ups between every set. Many gymnasts have upper body musculature that would cause your average men’s physique competitor to drop a deuce in his board shorts! These same gymnasts could even hold their own in a natural a bodybuilding contest.  So, if this starts to sounds a little different keep that in mind.  Gymnasts train the same muscles on a daily basis.  

3 Recent Examples Some recent examples I have used with clients:

BJ Whitehead trained his hamstrings and glutes heavy on his respective squat and deadlift days.  Two additional days a week he would do 6-10 extra sets of exercises targeting these areas including: Body weight GHRs, body weight single leg glute bridges, light sled work, band leg curls and glute band kickbacks.  This resulted in a 50-pound PR deadlift within a couple of months. Keep in mind, this is a pro-level lifter.

Brandon Braner has made gains in his bench press after dropping 70 pounds of bodyweight.  We are talking a 600+ pound raw bench presser.  With Brandon, we attacked his upper back heavy twice a week.  Two additional submaximal sessions were implemented a week consisting of: face pulls, lat pull down variations, band pull aparts, light chest-supported rowing variations and straight arm pull downs. We also attacked Brandon’s arms twice a week; increased from one halfhearted workout previously.  The result was Brandon built a bigger platform (upper back to bench from) and increased his arm measurement by an inch while weighing less.  Big arms are not the end game in powerlifting but it makes heavy weight feel lighter and a lot more stable.

I have also used this with a few different Bikini competitors. When the behind is behind, you guessed it, increase frequency training! For example, if you train your lower body twice a week, divide it by a heavy day and a repetition day.  A couple times a week, between sets on upper body training, do things like: light one leg reverse hypers, light butt blaster, light one leg glute bridges, light cable kickbacks and begin every workout with submaximal weighted walking lunges.

Check out Bikini Pro, Heather Klaassen!

Practical Application Let’s say your triceps are behind in development.  Current training split is as follows: Monday-Chest Tues-Arms Thurs-Back Friday-Shoulders Saturday- Legs On Monday/Saturday, in a separate session or mixed in your workout (if you cannot train twice a day), do band tricep pushdowns for 3 sets of 15-20 reps @ 70 percent intensity (70% of what you could do 15-20 reps with, not a 1RM). Next, do dumbbell triceps extensions 3 sets of 12 reps @ 60 percent intensity. Then do overhead dumbbell extensions 3 sets of 10 reps @ 60 percent intensity.  Over the course of 8 weeks, instead of working your triceps 8 times, you have done it 24.  In the process, you have not fatigued your CNS or sacrificed other workouts because of the magnitude of the intensity.  In the lab, generally folks say it takes 48 hours for a muscle group to recover.  This is way over simplified; if your leg workout is 15 body weight squats a day, the recovery is different than a Tom Platz leg workout where your last rep is determined by literal failure.

Final Thoughts Consider giving submaximal high frequency training a shot to bring up a lagging body part.  If you don’t have time to train twice a day, no problem!  Hit the lagging body part as part of a “staggered set” between sets of your primary movements.  Staying with the triceps, hit band push downs between sets of squats, this way you don’t add additional time to your workout but put in the extra work. Unconventional results sometimes call for unconventional strategies! 
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by Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS

Anyone who consistently exercises for a period of time encounters the pivotal intersection of training for health (aka “training to maintain”) and training for performance. The decision to ascribe to a certain training mentality depends on a person’s maturity, competency, and synergism of biomechanical and bioenergetic qualities. The methodologies will differ from training to maintain and training for performance. Training for performance entails adhering to lockstep progressions designed to engrain proper motor engrams which develop motor skills requisite to improvement.

As a person demonstrates mastery along a continuum of progressions, advanced exercises no longer seem advanced. Conventional wisdom would suggest that fitness professionals incorporate a series of progressions with their clients and athletes, however, a majority of time, that ideal is blatantly violated in practice.

Countering the “but, it looks cool” argument

Fitness professionals often become enamored by the countless college strength and conditioning program hype videos featured on YouTube or the deluge of blundered attempts at coaching proper technique on popular weight loss shows.

People falling prey to waning motivation, including a fitness professional’s clients and athletes, may request that certain exercises or modalities be included in their programs. While I don’t have any contention with the following methodologies, I find their application most times as overwhelmingly flawed.

1. Olympic Lifting

Olympic lifting, or weightlifting, is comprised of the clean and jerk and the snatch. Both lifts are performed with barbells and require painstaking technical precision that is gathered from a balance of joint stability and mobility, strength, and power. To get really good at the Olympic lifts takes years of devoted practice. It’s an Olympic sport for crying out loud. While less specialized and neurally efficient athletes and lifters might not be able to perform a full clean and jerk or snatch from the floor, they can assuredly benefit from an incorporation of elements of the Olympic lifts.

Each lift begins with a pull off the floor and concludes with a deep squat position, so becoming good at deadlifting and squatting is crucial to success in Olympic lifting. Instead, many trainers have their clients swinging for the fences during their first at bat with the barbell. The more than likely result? Deplorable and potentially injurious technique.

2. Plyometrics

Plyometric programming is where most fitness professionals and gym goers strike out. In fact, more often than not, fitness professionals and gym goers would have a hard time delineating plyometric movements amidst strength training exercises. In certain circles, gouged shins and scraped shins caused by box jump mishaps serve as medals of valor. For fitness professionals depending on healthy clients to pay their bills, a mere scratch of droplet of blood could potentially get them fired or invite a lawsuit.

Plyometrics arose from Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky’s Shock Training which was used to replicate the biomechanical demands of the takeoff in triple jump in training. Plyometrics greatly involve the stretch shortening cycle of musculotendinous structures. In the stretch shortening cycle, kinetic energy is stored and rapidly redirected shortly after absorption. Muscles and the tendons they blend into are activated during decelerative movements to produce more force. The rapid turnover of energy is most notable during athletic movements, such as sprinting, jumping, and rapidly changing direction.

But in order to gain any benefit from plyometrics, one must have an acceptable degree of extensibility of soft tissue structures, which includes muscles and tendons. Compromised tissue quality places joints and connective tissue at a greater disposition for injury. Further, one must master basic movement patterns before performing them explosively. If a person can’t perform a bodyweight squat, they have no business performing a squat jump.

Outlined below is a sample continuum of squat movements, useful in progressing someone from a squat to a squat jump. Squat Jump Progression 1. Isometric Squat Hold
• Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width
• Sit back, shooting your hips to the rear
• Keep your torso rigid, with your chest showing
• Maintain this position for a specified period of time 2. Squat
• Shoot your hips to the rear
• Achieve the bottom position of the squat
• Ascend to upright position, driving through your heels and extending your hips
• Drive your knees out and don’t let them collapse inward 3. Squat with Pause then Hop
• Assume the bottom position of the squat; pause
• Hop out of the squat and focus on landing softly (to spare your joints and connective tissue)
• Drive your hips to the rear, keeping your core tight as you descend into squat position
• Once you master the movement, progressively increase the height of your hops 4. Vertical Jump
• Assume a quarter or half squat stance, with your hips flexed and knees slightly bent
• Explode out of the stance and leap up, extending at the hips, knees, and ankles
• Land as softly as possible 5. Vertical Jump with Rapid Descent
• Stand with your feet hip-width apart
• Quickly drop into a quarter or half squat stance
• Explode out of the stance and leap up, extending at the hips, knees, and ankles
• Land as softly as possible 6. Drop Squat into Vertical Jump
• Quickly descend into a deep squat, maintaining a neutral spine and an engaged core
• Explode out of the position and leap up, extending at the hips, knees and ankles
• Land as softly as possible 7. Reactive Drop Squat into Vertical Jump
• Same as the Drop Squat into Vertical Jump, except preceded by an auditory or visual command
Lastly, plyometric exercises are often not appropriate for novice and overweight individuals. Bones, joints, connective tissue, and soft tissue undergo great amounts of force during landing and decelerative actions. Considering that 70% of musculoskeletal injuries involve the lower body, special care must be taken when implementing plyometrics. Some considerations include:

• Teaching clients how to stabilize their body in a desired landing position.
• Slow things down for clients by showing them how to perform the movement without the explosive muscle action.
• Have them practice landings, by jumping onto a lower surface.
• Incorporate box jumps with individuals who are already proficient at jumping. Box jumps reduce ground contact forces (GCF) associated with landing from a jump.

3. Cross Training

The emergence and growth of cross training has become viral. While some people consider cross training and offshoots, such as CrossFit, to be the bubonic plague of the fitness industry, they do serve a purpose when properly applied. If cross training modalities are carried out in accordance with the guidelines of progression, which includes overload, and recovery, all is well. However, individuals opting to engage in these modalities must be cognizant that they are not geared to specifically address certain qualities including but not limited to: strength, power, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance, instead eliciting moderate improvements among them, making them inappropriate for athletes needing a mastery of these attributes in competition.


Individuals should evaluate their goals and investigate options which will help them reach them in the safest, most effective, and most efficient manner possible. Fitness professionals and athletes must be aware that the improper application of certain training methodologies can prove deleterious to health and performance. 

By: Josh Bryant

Most information on supplementation on the Internet is hawked by stake holders, pyramid schemers, sponsored athletes and, of course, people that want a short cut.

 I am none of the above!                                                                                

I decided to do my own research on BCAAs—if you don’t care to read further—in a nut shell, if you train hard, take them.

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) consist of leucine, isoleucine and valine, which comprise an overwhelming majority of the amino acids your body needs for recovery and hypertrophy.

Anecdotally, many hard-training muscle heads swear by BCAAs; it’s not just bro science. Countless studies demonstrate BCAAs decrease fatigue in aerobic and anaerobic athletes and play a vital role in protein synthesis.

One of the most respected names in the field of exercise science, Dr. William J. Kraemer, from the University of Connecticut led a study showing, in a state of overreaching for two weeks, strength performances were not inhibited for a control group supplementing with BCAAs and strength performances went to hell in a hand basket with the group using a placebo.

Intentional overreaching is part of many athletes’ training plans. Supplementation with BCAAs has huge implications for performance and hypertrophy.

Bottom line, if training hard, heavy and with high volume fits your mortis operandi—you can benefit from BCAA a supplementation.

Hopping across the pond to Japan, a 2010 study published in the International Journal Of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism showed that women with no lifting experience supplementing with 100 mgs of BCAAs per kilogram of bodyweight prior to squatting seven sets of 20 reps had significantly less delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) than the a placebo group. Moreover, force production capabilities decreased 20 percent in the placebo group 48 hours after training but was unchanged with the group that supplemented with BCAAs. 

 A 2011 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism suggested BCAA supplementation in sports that change in intensity and require rapid responses to external signals, because a 10 percent faster reaction time was seen by a group that supplemented with seven grams of BCAAs prior to conditions that simulated a soccer game over a placebo group.

In 2011, another study showed BCAA supplementation prior to intense exercise decreased lactate production. Lactate production in itself does not bring on fatigue, but the inability to use lactate as fuel does. When lactate is produced faster than it is used for fuel, fatigue results; a buffer zone exists you cannot surpass—by dropping lactate production, this buffer zone expands-ergo your lactate threshold is increased. 

In conclusion—if you train hard, I recommend supplementing with BCAAs.

By: Josh Bryant Exhibiting your press in a shorter period has been my rally cry for over a decade to do more reps in a reps test.

Many people believe that the NFL 225# bench press test is an endurance test. But at 40 seconds, plus/minus 5 seconds, you are done.

If you go slow, fast or if you do 60 or 12 reps, you are done at 40-45 seconds. So it is important to train limit strength and explosive strength components that go with the bench press to dominate the test.

Some people think that you can either bench heavy singles or do a lot of reps but there is no way you can do both.

Chuck, at nearly 50 years old, never did any rep work and can dominate most linemen 100 pounds heavier in this test.


Exhibiting your press in a shorter period has been my rally cry for over a decade to do more reps in a reps test.

Many people believe that the NFL 225# bench press test is an endurance test. But at 40 seconds, plus/minus 5 seconds, you are done.

If you go slow, fast or if you do 60 or 12 reps, you are done at 40-45 seconds. So it is important to train limit strength and explosive strength components that go with the bench press to dominate the test.

Some people think that you can either bench heavy singles or do a lot of reps but there is no way you can do both.

Chuck, at nearly 50 years old, never did any rep work and can dominate most linemen 100 pounds heavier in this test

Back away from the pressdown station – these three moves can add serious mass in a hurry. Check it out HERE

Not all exercises are created equal. Make these key substitutions to accelerate strength and size gains. Check it out HERE


by Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS

Bulletproof your upper back with this high frequency protocol.

Whether your goal is unlocking the key to enhanced upper body strength and power or developing a yoke so scary that it
frightens your daughter’s prom date, keep reading.

It’s easy to spot serious lifters. They boast a big upper back.

Strong lifters are dichotomously identified from their weaker counterparts by a thick, heavily muscled upper back.
Whether your holy grail is the big three, the clean and jerk and the snatch, or in posing trunks under the lights, you
better plan on investing a decent chunk of your training to the upper back.

For many lifters, especially novice lifters, the upper back is their Achilles heel.

Weak and underdeveloped upper back musculature suffocates their strength building efforts like their clingy beau from high school.

Even stronger lifters and athletes can be plagued by upper back weakness, falling into the enticing trap of pressing more than

A weak upper back can set off a host of shoulder issues, including instability and impingement and potentially set the stage
for serious injury.

Before we dive into the protocol that’s benefitted many athletes, myself included, let’s turn back the time and review some

The muscles comprising the upper back work in constellation to orient and stabilize the bony anatomy of the torso and upper arms.

We’ll go from top to bottom as we analyze the back’s major players.


The trapezius originates from the bony base of the cranial region (the external occipital protuberance) and along the spinous
processes of the seventh cervical vertebrae through the the twelfth thoracic vertebrae.

These fibers then branch out and blend into three separate regions.

The first region is the distal end of the collarbone and acromion. This swath of muscle is known as the upper trapezius which
exerts an upward pull on the collarbone and elevates and upwardly rotates the shoulder.

The second region consists of the medial aspect, or spine, of each shoulder blade. This region is referred by many coaches
and therapists as the mid trap, or trap 2. These fibers govern scapular or shoulder retraction.

The third region connects medially to the base of each shoulder blade. This area is known as the lower trap or trap 3.


The latissimus dorsi, or lats for short, collectively originates from the thoracolumbar fascia at the middle of the thoracic spine,
sacrum and iliac regions of the pelvis, low ribs, and at the inferomedial aspect of the shoulder blades.

The fibers blend into the bicipetal groove of the humerus, or upper arm bone, where they pull the shoulder into extension, internal rotation, and assist
with adduction.

Rounding out the team

Teres Major and Teres Minor

The teres group which collectively connect the humerus and scapula, work to extend the shoulder. The larger teres major adducts and internally rotates the shoulder as the
smaller and deeper teres minor externally rotates the shoulder.

Rhomboid Major and Rhomboid Minor

Similiar to the teres group, the rhomboids consist of a larger and smaller counterpart, both of which connecting to the shoulder blades. Collectively, they retract and downwardly rotate the shoulder.

The back also consists of levator scapula, which elevates and downwardly rotates the scapula, the posterior deltoids, which extends, abducts, and externally rotates the shoulder and the muscles of the rotator cuff which share attachment points along the humerus and shoulder blades, providing the shoulder
dynamic stability.

If these muscles aren’t as strong as the push muscles of the chest and shoulders, then problems ensue such as altered
scapulohumeral rhythym, impingement, and a greater propensity to pull or tear a muscle.

Now as they apply to the lifts we want to stay healthy for

Boost Your Overhead Pressing with a simple, yet effective move

Strong traps will allow us to upwardly rotate the shoulders so we can perform overhead presses. Remember, the upper traps and lower traps contribute to upward rotation
of the scapula. This action sets the stage for healthy shoulder articulation, permitting shoulder flexion and internal rotation – two actions that allow you to lockout a heavy lift overhead. If these actions are absent, then you’ll
end up adopting faulty and injurious movement patterns, such as cervical protrusion, flaring the ribs, or even worse, arching the lower back like a halftime contortionist. The combination of over arching the lumbar spine and overhead lifting is the biomechanical
equivalent of the Hatfields and McCoys playing a drunken game of cornhole. Oh and let’s mention that having big and strong traps beef up the muscular shelf you need to stablize a heavily loaded squat on your back.

Enter the Trap 3 Raise

Loved by strength training godfather, Charles Poliquin, the Trap 3 Raise targets the trapezius in their functional path.

In order to perform the Trap 3 Raise, the lifter leans against a bench or rack, with one arm supporting their body.

Next, the lifter will grasp a light dumbbell (think 3 to 15 pounds, depending on your strength and shoulder mobility) and retract their shoulder blades.

Finally, the lifter will raise the arm that’s grasping the dumbbell with the thumb side of the hand facing up at 30 degrees of abduction from the body.

Lat Tension for the Big Three

Strong lats allow us to lock ourselves to the bench during heavy lifts. A strong back is your muscular foundation during the bench press. Without it, you’ll squirm your
way to a sloppy red lighted lift that makes the red light district in Amsterdam look like a Bible study.

We need to harness lat tension in order to bench heavy so the bar doesn’t fall behind us or travel over the face. which usually results in a missed lift or injury.

Flaring the lats like a cobra helps us keep the bar in closer alignment with the body during the deadlift, mitigating the risk of sustaining a lower back injury.

And keeping the lats tight during a squat, prevents us from face planting like this wannabe commercial gym hero.


Okay, maybe not, but strong lats will keep us more upright in a heavily loaded squat by keeping the throacic spine extended, which allows us to pull the chest big.

Enter the Straight Armed Pulldown

Long championed by bodybuilders of yesteryear, this move trains our lats in their role of extending the arms.

Simply affix a cable attachment or band a foot or two above your head, and pull down on it, keeping the spine in neutral alignment with a slight bend in the hips and knees. Act as if you’re pulling the attachment or band through the body, keeping the core tight and chest big.

Now can we train upper back everyday?

I resoundingly say yes. Incorporating exercises such as the Trap 3 Raise and straight arm pulldowns, along with other staple filler movements, such as banded pull aparts, shrugs, blackburns, plank push ups, wall slides, and facepulls, will help groove proper shoulder comprise lengthy eccentric
component, recovery shouldn’t be an issue. Further, these exercises can be performed with little to no equipment and for anyone desiring shaplier shoulders, this will get you there within weeks. Shoot for a total of 100 reps per day utilizing a combination of the aforementioned exercises and check back in
a couple of weeks.

By: Josh Bryant
“Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well,” said Jack London.  When it comes to muscular development, heredity deals the cards but training plays the hand.

Regardless of the cards you were dealt—let’s examine how to play your hand.

Core Lifts

Big movements produce big results!

Core movements must form the core of your training program, even if pure aesthetics is the goal. Examples are squat variations, bench press variations, deadlift variations, dips and pull-up variations; these movements build the most muscle mass and produce the highest levels of inter and intra muscle coordination and High Threshold Motor Unit (HTMU) recruitment, which has the highest potential for growth. It also spikes production of anabolic hormones.

Rep Ranges

Rep ranges have to vary!

Sets with lower reps/heavy weight catalyze myofibrillar hypertrophy or the contractile element of the muscle, increasing limit strength.  This is why strong bodybuilders have a dense look.

Bodybuilders that never lift heavy do not have that dense, grainy look when dieted down. 

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is the result of higher reps; this is almost like swelling up the muscle. It’s the non-contractile element; this does not make you stronger.  For the athlete confined to a weight class, this is like increasing the size of a car but with no increase in the engine size, not a good thing!  For the bodybuilder, it is essential to fully develop a muscle.

Training All Rep Ranges

All rep ranges need to be trained!  Isolation exercises will play a role.  Core movements are more functional and natural but to “super naturally” develop certain muscles, you have to overload them with principle of isolation. 

Let’s look at the vastus lateralis, or the sweep of the quads. To fully develop it, you have to do leg extensions.  No human movements isolate the quads from the hamstrings, but a large sweep is the bodybuilding standard, ergo to acquire the sweep, you have to step outside the functional training paradigm and hit the leg extensions.

A holistic training approach is needed to maximally develop your physique!

By: Josh Bryant

“The difference between the freaks and the flocks is the F@-king Fork,” barked out “The Veteran” at Santa Barbara Gym and Fitness Center to some young punk that complained about his arms not growing—and did not realize he was receiving advice from a legend. Never formally trained in science, The Veteran always gave advice that science has since proven. He used to always say, “Cheating lost me my old lady, failure is why I am unemployed but cheating and failure in the weight room is how I developed these pipes.” Hard-nosed, high volume, heavy training built this man.  There is not a gay bone in my body but The Veteran had big, beautiful arms. So what about the beat-up, old head that wants to pack on some arm size but just can’t handle the heavy, high volume, repetitive strain of this type of training regimen? Occlusion training may provide some of the same benefits—further providing one more trick in the healthy, muscle head’s training arsenal. This begs the question: Is Occlusion training just one more way for the testicular challenged to avoid heavy pig iron or is it legitimate science that can help build muscle? Instead of turning to the latest glossy muscle mag, I decided to do my own research. What is Occlusion Training? A literal definition of occlusion is “a closure or blockage.” The purpose is not restricting blood flow to the muscle but inhibiting blood flow return to the muscle, triggering blood to sit in the muscle and experience a completely new level of cell swelling or, in other words, spark a hell of a pump.
Occlusion training was first studied in Japan and used a specialized pneumatic tourniquet, basically a fancy blood pressure cuff. This is not practical at the local weight pile, but a knee wrap will suffice.
If you want to get big—you gotta train heavy. Most text books and experts recommend weights greater than 65 percent of a trainee’s one-repetition max (1RM).  Occlusion training is the game changer. With occlusion training, similar rates of muscle hypertrophy have resulted using 20 percent of a lifter’s 1RM when compared to heavy pig iron.   Even more interesting is the results have been favorable for experienced lifters and beginners. How does it work? Examining a number of studies, occlusion training appears to work by the following mechanisms: increased fast-twitch muscle fiber recruitment, metabolic accumulation, increased anabolic hormonal responses to training, stimulation of protein synthesis and cell swelling. 
These are not competing factors—they work in concert to play a harmonious symphony of muscle hypertrophy. Large, fast-twitch muscle fibers have the most potential for growth, but are recruited with the high force production demands of moving heavy weights. When using a light load of 20 percent of a 1RM with occlusion training, fast-twitch muscle fibers are recruited much earlier in the set, so they grow.  The size principle tells us slow-twitch muscle fibers are recruited first; these fibers are mostly aerobic. By restricting blood flow, oxygen is restricted to slow-twitch fibers so they fatigue much faster and the recruitment process hastily shifts to recruiting fast-twitch muscle fibers—the ones that have the most potential to grow. Muscle hypertrophy results from mechanical tension, metabolic stress and muscle damage.  Occlusion training induces metabolic stress by way of the accumulation of lactic acid and hydrogen in the muscle. Normally, blood flow would remove metabolic byproducts; by restricting blood flow, it keeps them in the target area.
From a hormonal standpoint–one study showed occlusion training increased growth hormone levels 290 times above baseline levels, twice that of typical heavy weight training.
A 2011 study published by European Journal of Applied Physiology compared the effects of leg extensions performed unilaterally with one leg under an occlusion condition and the other leg under a normal condition.  Five sets were performed to failure with 30 percent of the subjects’ one-repetition max.  Maximal force production 48 hours post workout was significantly less in the occluded leg, DOMS was greater and increased resting tension was greater immediately post workout and 24 hours later in the occluded leg. Intracellular indicators of muscle fiber damage were greater immediately, 24 hours later and 48 hours post workout in the occluded leg.  Demonstrating hypertrophic adaptations may also result from increased muscle damage.

Further benefits: Myostatin inhibits hypertrophy. That’s why magazines are filled with ads for “Myostantin Blockers;” not surprisingly, so far the results have, for lack of a better term, sucked! A 2005 study performed occlusion training on rats, published in ACSM’s journal, Medicine  (MSSE), showed reduced myostatin concentrations. 

Drawbacks: A study entitled “The Effects of Low-Load Resistance Training With Vascular Occlusion on the Mechanical Properties of Muscle and Tendon” published in The Journal of Applied Biomehanics showed that induced muscle hypertrophy from light weight load occlusion training was similar to training with heavy weight; tendon stiffness that results from training heavy was absent with occlusion training, suggesting if more traditional heavy weight training is not cycled in a training regimen, muscle strength increase will accelerate past tendon strength increases.

Frequency A 2012 meta-analysis  published in The European Journal of Applied Physiology found superior results in strength and hypertrophy in subjects that performed occlusion training to 2 to 3 times a week, contrasted to 4-5 times.

When can I expect to see results? The same meta-analysis showed hypertrophy in untrained subjects in as little as 3-4 weeks, compared to a traditional program that takes two months or more, typically. Strength showed significant increases after 10 weeks, showing strength gains resulted from increases in cross sectional muscle fiber area not increased neural efficiency.

What about endurance? A 2010 study published in The European Journal of Applied Physiology tackled this question.  A group of college ball players walked daily for two weeks at a speed of 4-6/km/h on a hill with a 5 percent grade for five sets of three minutes, with a one-minute rest interval between sets; performed twice daily.  The second group performed the same regimen under an occluded condition (a 110 mm wide occlusion devise was placed at the most proximal portion of the leg).
Two weeks later, endurance had not increased in the normal walking group but the occlusion group had significantly improved stroke volume, VO2 max and decreased their heart rates.  Occlusion training subjects increased anaerobic capacity by 2.5 percent!

Practically Applied

  • Wrap the strap or wrap around the top of the muscle you’re working (thighs, arms, etc.)
  • Wrap it tight
  • Use 20-40 percent of your one-repetition max
  • Do not loosen the wraps between sets as it will keep the blood trapped in that particular muscle
  • Do not “occlude for more than 10 minutes”

Occlusion training is exciting! Benefits range from rehab to hypertrophy or for the old head bodybuilder that needs a break from heavy training.  Science shows risks from occlusion training are no greater than traditional training.

Final Thoughts While occlusion training does offer some of the same benefits of heavy lifting, keep in mind no one has built world-class physique with occlusion training alone.  Limit strength is your base but this is one more weapon in your hypertrophy-inducing artillery.
Unarmed Combat Symposium with Metroflex Legend Rich The Terminator  Herron