More Work, More Muscle
Training for freakish mass isn’t supposed to be easy. Here are some tough-love solutions to some common training roadblocks.
By Craig Richardson, IFBB Pro; Photography by Jason Breeze, courtesy of MHP; Model: IFBB Pro Craig Richardson
[Q] Craig, I’m 6’5″, so for me squatting just feels like a lot of work. Do I need to suck it up or can I find alternatives for getting bigger thighs?
[A] Everyone knows one of the best mass builders is the squat, so unfortunately you do have to suck it up and do them. They’re a pain in the butt, especially for taller guys who don’t have favorable biomechanics working for them. I’ve been taught that there are two roads ⎯ the easy road and the hard road. At the end of the hard road, the rewards are much greater. For example, I have a love-hate relationship with another thigh exercise, the leg press. I can do a good amount of weight and I feel that my legs get really good results from doing them. In the offseason, when I weigh in at 255, I get a little short of breath from going so deep and that can make me light-headed and red-faced. But the results are worth it, so I keep plowing through. So you’ve just got to squat. You could try to find ways to make it easier for you, perhaps by trying the Smith-machine version (use a slightly wider stance) or putting a flat bench under your glutes.
[Q] When I’m carrying a little more bodyfat, I feel like I can train heavier. When I’m training hard and super lean, I can’t lift with the same kind of intensity. Is this normal? How do I get strong and look good?
[A] Sorry, this is a case that involves trade-offs. When you’re heavy, you have more fat and water cushioning your joints; therefore, you can lift heavier with less pain. When your bodyfat starts to drop (like bodybuilders close to competition time), you strive to keep the intensity high despite reductions in poundage. So this isn’t an uncommon situation. When you drop bodyfat, you typically lose some muscle size, so you can’t lift as much weight. Hence, the key is to learn how to maintain what you’ve got as best you can. Thus, it isn’t unusual for competitive bodybuilders to be much weaker at contest time, despite looking their best.
What’s important is that you leave your ego at home and make the necessary changes to ensure you don’t hurt yourself. Your goal is longevity. You want to train for 10–15 years with a steady training regimen ⎯ that’s how you put on quality muscle. Using lighter weight, slower reps or peak contractions to boost your workout intensity when heavy training isn’t possible, means you’ll be able to dial in your physique and train for longevity.
[Q] Craig, I keep trying to tell the guys at my gym that using straps is for suckers. Please tell these guys that real men go strapless!
[A] Hey! I’m one of those guys who use straps! There are mixed reviews though. Depending on what you’re training for, you need hand strength. If you’re training for powerlifting, football, judo or wrestling, you need a strong grip, so you might want to forego using straps when you train. But if you’re looking to get the best gains in mass, you’ll want to use straps. On heavy rows, deadlifts or shrugs, for example, your grip will fail first so it becomes a limiting factor in your training, since your hands can’t keep up with your traps, back and biceps. Here, using straps makes sense so you can maximize the number of reps at a given weight. In addition, you can always train your grip and/or forearms afterward so they get the stimulation they need for a strong grip.
[Q] I’m a food guy ⎯ chicken, turkey, fish, veggies, rice and oatmeal ⎯ over supplements. I’ve never been a big believer in supplements, but everyone says I’m limiting the kind of progress I can make. What’s your take?
[A] If your body type or goals are anything like mine, you need some of those supplements, because you can’t always get in the proper amount of protein, carbs and amino acids from food throughout the day. I need about 400–500 grams of protein per day and about 700 grams or so of carbs. That’s a ton of whole foods, and frankly I don’t have the time or inclination to be in the kitchen several hours a day! Sometimes, I can’t eat it all, so I add a shake or two between meals as a meal substitute. I take MHP’s Probolic-SR as a way to consume extra protein throughout the day. I believe supplements are very important, and if you think of them as a supplement to whole foods they’ll surely help you achieve your goals.
The most important parts of your day, nutrition-wise, are the periods before and after your training sessions. Here’s the pre and post-workout supps Craig relies on from MHP to help him push through tough sessions and trigger new muscle growth.
NO-Bomb & Dark Rage – “NO-Bomb is the best arginine-based, preworkout product out there, and Dark Rage helps increase the production of red blood cells. So this means I’m getting more nutrients to the muscles during every workout. This combination, which provides me with a huge pump and great stamina, is a staple for me. The great thing about these is that they don’t make you jittery, unlike some other supps in this category. They just give you better mental focus. When you think your biceps can’t possibly curl any more, these supps drive you to keep going until total failure.”
Dark Matter – “Everyone knows you have about a 30-minute window of opportunity to replenish your muscles once you’ve beat them all to hell. This is your window to replace spent muscle glycogen and start the repair process, which is why I use a product that contains a mix of protein and waxy maize, creatine, BCAAs among other ingredients. By maximizing my recovery, I’m stronger for my next workout.”