Archive for June, 2013


Posted: June 29, 2013 by Savvy Saver in Uncategorized
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In the words of the great Jon Pall Sigmarsson, “There is no reason to be alive, if you can’t do the deadlift”.


If you are reading this and you are new to the world of fitness, you are going to discover the holy grail of strength training – the Deadlift.

If I were to enumerate the benefits of this lift, I would need a week. If the squat is the king of strength training, deadlift is the queen. And if you’ve played chess, you’d know that the utility of the queen is much more than the king.

Let’s start listing the muscle groups which get activated during the deadlift. Let’s start from the head.

1. Traps (Trapezius)

2. Lats (Latissimus dorsi)

3. Rhomboids

4. Small muscles between vertebrae

5. Serratus muscles of the back

6. All of the rest of the upper and lower back

7. Abs (obliques as well as rectus abdominis)

8. Quadriceps

9. Hamstrings

10. Glutes

11. Forearms

Now try and remember one exercise or one workout you did which involved or activated so many muscle groups at the same time. There’s hardly anything in the body which is not in action during a deadlift.

A lot of people are scared of this lift because it requires the use of the back and back injuries are the worst. Well if you go on a hunting trip and start treading barefoot towards a lions pride, no wonder you’d get eaten. Moral of the story is to start with light weight and move up slowly.

Let us now go over some quick tips on how to deadlift.

The first thing that you have to make sure before deadlifting is that the weight should be as close to your body as physically possible. This means that when you’re pulling the weight up, the weight should graze your shins before you lift and lockout. If your shins are soft, wear khakis/sweat pants while training.

Keep your back straight at all times. Your lumbar spine should always be tight and not curved. As long as your spine is straight, you will not hurt yourself doing this Godly lift.

Use your legs. Even though it might seem like an upper body dominant lift, quads, hams and primarily glutes have a very important role to play in the deadlift. When pulling the weight up, a cue which might help is to imagine pushing the floor away with your feet.

Chest up, head in line with torso and back straight. Also make sure your arms are not bent at the elbows. That would put the load on the biceps. Biceps being a smaller muscle group than the triceps aren’t usually accustomed to take heavy loading. If you don’t want a bicep tear like this, make sure you’re keeping your arms extended straight.

If you’re still short of reasons or scared to do deadlifts, go here. Enough talking, go deadlift some weights already!


The very first time that I squatted was on the Smith Machine; biggest mistake of my life. If you want to be as strong as an ox, read on about how the Squat can help you with your goal.

The squat is probably one of the most controversial exercises in existence. If you ask me, or any of the best powerlifters/ olympic lifters/ strength coaches, they’d tell you that a perfect squat is one in which you go down till your hip bone is at least in line with your knees. Here is an excellent article about how you can work on your depth.

Now the question, why is the depth so important? Well, if you load up the bar and unrack it only to go half way down before coming up, you’re not working most of the muscles involved in a squat. This is something which I like to call half squat (or quarter squat, depending on the depth). You’re probably just working a little bit of your quads and maybe a little bit of your core. The squat is meant to be a full body exercise. If you want bigger arms, you know what you should do: that’s right – heavy squats. And unless you do it completely, you’re not going to reap the benefits associated with it.

There are two kinds of back squats, the low bar back squat and the high bar back squat. As explained by Rippetoe in this video, the low bar back squat enables you to lift more weight. If you want to know how to low bar back squat, buy your copy of starting strength here or check out the resources on the stronglifts page or just shoot me an e-mail and I might be able to help you figure it out.

Now, a lot of people argue that deep squats (parallel and below parallel) will blow your knees. Let me put a counter-argument about bench pressing here. If you study the mechanics of bench press, it is quite similar to the squat. The lever joint in the squat is the knee while in the bench press, it’s the elbow. Would it be a valid point to say that benching heavy weights will blow your elbows? I am sure you get the point. However, you can injure yourself if you load up the bar heavy quicker than you should or squat with improper form.

I have had my own issues with the squat. I broke my fibula (ankle) a few years ago so my right ankle isn’t as flexible as it should be. And then there’s muscle imbalances. But I haven’t yet hurt myself on the squat bad enough to stop squatting. The key thing to keep in mind is to squat with flat sole shoes or barefoot. This way you have a solid base to push the weight off the floor, also your feet stay flat which enables you to keep the weight on the heels as opposed to squatting in running shoes.

Another key point to keep in mind is that the squat isn’t supposed to be just knee bending and sitting down. One needs to push their hips back far enough and sit back as if sitting in a chair (try doing this and finding the analogy). As far as I think, you don’t need to go all the way down to the ground. That is impossible for many due to mobility issues and is controversial too. Go down deep enough so the hip bone is in line with the knee, make a video of yourself squatting if required.

Oh, and don’t forget to keep your core tight. Imagine yourself flexing your abs in the mirror or getting ready to get punched in the gut. Your core should be as tight as it would be in any of those cases. This helps keeping the spine neutral and reduces shear forces on the back. If you cannot do this yourself, get a belt. Remember, the belt is not support. It just helps you to push against it and keep your core tight.

Remember to start light and move up slowly while focusing on form. If you have questions, there are tons of resources out there both good and bad. Shoot me an e-mail and I’d point you in the right direction.

Have fun squatting!

So you joined a gym and had a PT design a training routine for you. You have no idea what the training routine is going to do for you, but you have trust in the PT’s abilities. Read on if you want to know how to question the PT’s routine and refine it to your needs.


The first thing that you need to do is to ask yourself about your fitness goals. Do you want to run faster, or lift heavy or play a sport better or run a marathon? One training routine cannot serve all purposes. All training regimens are different. Once you’ve narrowed down your goals, it is going to be a lot easier to decide what program to follow.

Strength – If you decided that you want to lift all those plates like Franco Columbu in the picture above, you have a very simple path defined. The easiest way to train for maximum strength is to lift the maximum weight you can for 1-5 reps. Usually this is the way power-lifters train and work up to a 1 rep max for their power-lifting meets. There are many beginner programs out there like Starting Strength, Stronglifts, Greyskull LP. If you are an intermediate or advanced lifter, you might want to try the Texas Method, Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 or The Cube Method. In an interview with Starting Strength coach Mark Rippetoe, Ed Coan admitted using 5 reps in his training. If you don’t know who Ed Coan is, go here.

Strength and Size – If you want to look big and gain strength at the same time, the ideal rep range to work with would be 6-12 reps. Although, strength gains might not be the same as with a lower rep range strength based training program, you will surely gain some strength along the way while getting big. Remember, more size doesn’t necessarily mean more strength.

Endurance – Anything greater than 12 reps is going to help you build endurance. Remember, the weights used in these rep ranges would be a fraction of those used for strength training else you’re lifting too heavy here.

If you want more info about rep ranges go here or here.

If you want the best of all the good things: strength, size and endurance, you will have to switch it up and work with different rep ranges. But if you’re just starting out, strength is the way to go. Everything else follows suit.

Size and Strength

Posted: June 9, 2013 by Savvy Saver in Strength and Size
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How often do you hear people telling you that they want to get huge? It’s all about the size of the biceps isn’t it? Perhaps not.


When I started working out, I didn’t know what I was doing. I remember one of the PT’s asking me about my fitness goals when I joined a gym and I had no clue. The one thing I knew was, I wanted to get big. It didn’t take the PT much effort to figure out a routine for me and it wasn’t too long before I was lifting heavy weights. I remember that I got big, so big that my shirts won’t fit and some of my trousers had to be thrown away. I had achieved what I had wanted.

I looked humongous. But my waist size was higher since I started training. I was benching 145 lbs but I couldn’t do a single pull up. I was curling 33 pound dumbbells but I was fat. I never thought about searching for information on the internet to help me with my training. I remember doing countless bicep curls and tricep extensions and wrist curls (I don’t even know if that works any muscle).

A few years later when I got the chance to go to graduate school, I thought I might start training again. So I started doing the same thing I once did to get big. But I was weak. I would load up the bar with 45 lbs each side and crank out maybe 2 reps on the bench. That was mission accomplished for me.

My mind was fixated on specialized isolated muscle training. I used to workout on a split routine which looked something like this:

Day 1:

Bench press (3X10)

Incline bench press (3X10)

Dumbell flyes (3X10)

Decline bench press (3X10)

Lat pull down (3X10)

Reverse grip lat pull down (3X10)

Dumbbell pullovers (3X10)

Overhead dumbbell press (3X10)

Lateral side raises (3X10)

Day 2:

Bicep curls (3X10)

Preacher curls (3X10)

Barbell curls (3X10)

Dumbbell tricep extension (3X10)

Tricep extension (3X10)

Squats on smith machine (3X10) (rarely)

I did this for 6 days a week alternating days 1 and 2. The reason I wrote all of this down is that I don’t think anyone should follow this routine. By following this specialized isolated muscle workout, I was getting nowhere. I thought I was getting stronger but I wasn’t.

One of the days, a good friend of mine introduced me to a new beginner program (well new for me). You can find it here for free. The program was as simple as a math test (I am Asian). It just needed 3 days a week with just 5 barbell based lifts; 3 on each day. I was in disbelief. For one, the program had zero isolation movement exercises. I thought, “how can this thing even work?” But, I still decided to go ahead and give it a try. I started with the empty bar on most of the lifts and gained strength quickly. I was amazed at how fast I was getting stronger. I even starting doing pull ups, even though I was not benching as much as I did earlier with the split routine. I could feel that I had a much balanced and stronger physique than I had ever had before. The downside? I was not getting as big as I had gotten before.

I could give you more examples of how strength and size are confused to be related somehow, but aren’t. I will save that for some of the posts in future.