Mike: I am Mike Matthews, and this is Muscle for Life. Thank you for joining me today for a new episode on the art and science of optimizing your exercise selection based on your circumstances, based on your goals. Because if you want to get into great shape, if you want to gain, let’s say, most of the muscle and strength that is genetically available to you, you have to do a bit more than just lift heavy things and you really begin to realize that and experience it firsthand when you are well into your intermediate phase, maybe transitioning into your advanced phase in your fitness journey.
So after you have a good, let’s say two, three. Four years of weightlifting under your belt. If you want to keep making progress without getting hurt, you have to start paying attention to some subtler aspects of training. I guess you could say that were not very important in your beginner phase, or even in the beginning of your intermediate phase, the first one to maybe three years, you didn’t really have to pay attention to these things.
You could just pay attention to the bigger things and make great progress that way. But eventually, these subtler aspects of training become cumulatively. More important, much more important. And two of those things are exercise selection and exercise execution. What exercises are you doing and why? And how are you doing them and why?
And those two topics are the focus of today’s episode. And in today’s episode, you’ll be hearing mostly from my guest, Cassem Hanssen, who is an educator and researcher, primarily known for his work with biomechanics. He has produced a lot of educational material on biomechanics and how we can use biomechanics to optimize our training.
And well, in today’s episode, he’s in his wheelhouse because that’s what we’re gonna be talking about. Now. Cassim is also the founder of N one, which is an educational resource and coaching service that specializes in completely individualized training programs and nutrition. So if you like today’s discussion with Cassim, you will probably also like what he is doing over at N one.
Hello Cassim. Thanks for coming on my podcast.
Kassem: Hey Mike, glad to be here. Long-term fan of the podcast. So I knew this one was gonna be on the list eventually.
Mike: Thank you. Thank you. Well, uh, I’m glad we’re here to talk about exercise selection,
exercise modification. I guess in some cases, a topic that, you know, we’re just talking offline is not very important and these, this is my opinion.
And if you disagree, I would love to hear why. But this is something that I, I would think is not very important to people who are brand new. So if you’re new to strength training, well, I guess it is important to select correct exercises. Let’s just say if you’re in your first year of strength training, It’s very hard to mess it up.
If you just have a halfway intelligently designed program that just takes you through some basic movements, basic exercises, you get strong on them. That’s kind of your first year. That’s probably gonna produce more or less all of the muscle and strength that you can gain in that first year. But then as you move into your second year and beyond, it gets much harder to continue gaining muscle and strength.
That’s where something like. What we’re gonna talk about today, I think can become worthwhile. It can be, it can be a productive way to use your time, even if you’re, you’re the individual going, okay, so how do I make my second year maximally productive? How do I make my third, fourth, fifth year until eventually I just can’t really gain much muscle and strength anymore?
There is a point, I think, where it makes sense to learn a bit more about the many different exercises that you can do to train your major muscle groups and understand differences, understand advantages, disadvantages, understand certain modifications to make exercises more effective. And some people might say, well, you could point to any individual decision along these lines and say, well, it’s not really gonna matter whether you do the barbell curl or you do the cable drag curl.
Uh, as long as you can continue getting stronger. And then you go, well, here’s an advantage of maybe this cable drag curl in a certain scenario, and you will probably do a little bit better and go, well, yeah, who cares? Okay, but. If you make enough of those improvements though cumulatively, it can add up to something meaningful.
So that’s why I thought this would be a, a useful discussion, not just interesting, but something that people can learn. They can ideally come away from it with some ideas about how they’re going to modify. They’re programming to try some new exercises or try doing exercises in different ways that they’ve always done one way, because that’s kind of the standard way to do it.
Kassem: Yeah. One of the ways I like to put the nuances of this stuff is none of the stuff matters until it does. And you know, I think that’ll vary depending, you know, on everybody’s journey. Like when it comes to the exercise selection, you know, if you’re just starting off, sometimes these things are gonna be more like troubleshooting things like, Hey, I don’t have this piece of equipment.
What’s something similar? Or, this exercise either doesn’t fit me well, or I have, you know, orthopedic issue when I perform it, or something like that. Cool. These are solutions for there, but in terms of like, you know, hypertrophy, yeah, it’s gonna scale with everything else that you do. The harder you train, the more that you train, the longer you’ve been training, I think.
When you look at these things is these pieces become more valuable as you bring up the other variables, they have that compounding effect, right? But if you’re, you know, you’re just hitting the gym twice a week, you’re not doing a lot of volume, well then, like these things are not gonna move the needle.
You’re not gonna be able to pick an exercise that gets you twice as much out of the same volume, so to speak. But if you’re doing a lot of volume, or you’re training really hard, That’s where these things can help, you know, not just from the her phy perspective, but they can kinda really give you a lot more options with your training frequency and your volume.
Because you can start being more specific and like giving yourself like, Hey, normally when I trained legs, it’d take me so many days before I could do a certain movement. But now if I’m a little bit more specific with my movements, now all of a sudden now I can hit legs Monday and Thursday because I’m choosing movements that are just a little bit more specific and divergent.
So the recovery, you know, between those two sessions, there’s so many ways that stuff can be used for other than just like, Hey, what is better for hypertrophy? And I think it’s just important that people look through that lens of a lot of times getting better. Hypertrophy is using these tools, not just because, oh, in isolation, just looking at these two is good, but also what.
What do these tools allow me to get from the other aspects of training, whether that be, you know, how much effort and proximity to failure, or how much volume or how can I structure my stuff in terms of my frequency throughout the week and stuff like that as well?
Mike: Yeah, great points. So we can get right into it.
Uh, wherever you want to start. If you want to. You, you led with just an example there regarding lower body. If you want to jump right in there just for people who are wondering. About how that might look. How can you modify your lower body training to make it better suited to, let’s say, training twice a week, which for people listening, you’re gonna have to do, if you’re an experienced weightlifter, you’ve gained amount of a fair amount of muscle and strength in your lower body, and you’re trying to gain whatever’s left.
Just the sheer amount of volume alone, like I, I would guess you’re gonna have to probably do at least 12, and that’s probably low, probably more like 15 hard sets for your lower body per week. And if we’re talking about all lower body, we’re gonna say quads, hamstrings, glutes, maybe calves. If you care, and you’re not gonna do that all in one session, you’re gonna have to do that in at least two sessions.
And so how you program that is going to matter because it’s not just a matter of doing the volume. You have to also progress. You have to achieve progressive overload in some way. Ultimately, that should probably turn into more weight on the bar or on the dumbbells or on the machines. So how do you get there?
Practically when you have to do that much volume and now you’re doing two sessions per week.
Kassem: So there’s two kind of two logics that we can go down here. One is, okay, how do I start breaking up the exercises so that, you know, maybe I could have, you know, maybe a quad dominant day and hip dominant day or whatever.
Two, get more recovery throughout the day. But then there’s also the within session, like just being more specific with the exercise selection. ’cause one of the things that happens as we start to, you know, get our adaptations to training is, is that. The threshold of stimulus that we need starts to go up.
And if you’re just a beginner and you start doing an exercise, that exercise could be above that threshold for a whole bunch of synergistic muscles. But as you start to become more advanced, what happens is it’s gonna maintain the threshold for certain muscles, but other muscles are gonna drop off. Like if you want to take this to an extreme, when a beginner starts the squat may be sufficient enough to train their calves.
That’s how low the threshold is at the beginning,
Mike: or possibly, possibly hamstrings. Or you think that it never gets there with hamstrings.
Kassem: I mean, if you wanna take it to the extreme of the untrained, then yes, even hamstrings. ’cause I mean we, in the untrained walking, Produces hypertrophy. So the threshold is very low, but most people listening to this probably are not rolling out of bed, rest into the gym.
So just principally, if we’re thinking like, well, is the squat gonna be a good hamstring exercise? Like Yeah, probably not. Unless you are literally just starting at the gym and you don’t have any other like physical laboring activity.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah. I ask that because some people have extreme opinions one way or another on that.
Kassem: I think there’s a couple different things that, you know, that make people get lost on some of these topics. And one is most people aren’t ever training just one exercise. So it can be hard for them to be like, Hey, yeah, it seems like, you know, my hamstrings are growing and I’m doing squats. But it’s like, well, are you only doing squats?
’cause they’re probably doing leg curls and they’re probably doing some sort of hinge and, and whatever. So sometimes it’s just, you’re just conflating, you know, the overall effect of your program and you happen to have x, y, Z exercise in there. And the other is, is that your, the vertical fibers of your adductor magnus, so they’re basically the ones that.
Are the longest on the inside of your leg. A lot of text, we’ll call that the hamstringing division, but it doesn’t cross the knee, but it’s right next to the hamstrings. So if you get sore in that tissue or you feel that working, it’s gonna feel a lot like the hamstrings. Um, it actually even shares like the same nerve root as the hamstring, so it’s gonna be a similar feeling, similar sensation.
And also you’re gonna get soreness. And because it doesn’t cross the knee that is gonna be more involved in your squatting type motions. It’s basically gonna be involved, you know, in everything that would involve the glutes in a sagittal type plane type motion. Like a, like a squatter, a split squat. So building on that, if we look at starting to separate exercises, if we take the squat is like this is the base exercise that’s kind of like the hit everything, right?
So we’ll say it’s like the least specific that you could, um, you could apply that same principle to like leg presses and hack squats depending on how you sit them. But we can start with exercises that are very balanced, which is good when we want to train a whole lot of muscle with one exercise. But as we advance, we start running into the point where, man, One of those muscles is gonna be what causes you to actually reach failure in that set.
And the other muscles are essentially gonna have reps in the tank still, so you’re not training to the same r i r across all the muscles within an exercise. And that separation starts to happen more as we become more advanced in training. So that’s where it’s like, okay, now can I do a squat that’s more for my quads by using a heel elevation, right?
And then can I do something that’s more hinge like an R D l? And so like between those two exercises, now we’re basically getting all of the muscles that we were in a squat. But I’m making sure that my quads are now the limiter and getting all the stimulus when I do the squat because it’s more quad dominant and I’m making sure my hip extensors are getting, are actually causing failure with the hinge movement rather than doing a squat.
And maybe, you know, I have some reps in reserve left in my glutes and my adductors because my quads are what actually failed first. So I’m turning my quads close to failure, but I might have, you know, 6, 7, 8. 10 reps in the tank, you know, in my glutes, under those same conditions. You can continue building that out and that’s kind of what happens.
And so if we look at this on a continuum, the first thing that you would do is you’d be like, okay, how do I change my squat setup? Like the most applicable thing I think there is using a heel elevation. Which allows you to get your knees forward more. And when our knees go forward, that essentially means that the amount of work that the quads have to do relative to the hipc sensors is gonna be more.
And if we look at most people’s squats, once it starts to get challenging, like later in the set, the tendency is always to like kick the butt back, right? And what that does is essentially takes a little bit of load off the quads. So when we use a heel elevation, we’re essentially doing the reverse of that.
We’re putting more load on the quads. And it actually makes it harder to do that cheat ’cause now instead of, you know, pushing your butt back a little inch, now you literally see your form deviate like, you know, four to six inches of translation in the Shara plane, like pushing your butt back. It’d be very noticeable once you kind of start breaking that technique.
We’re doing two things there. One is we’re making the quads work harder, but the other is, is we’re actually decreasing how much work the hip extensors and the lumbar spine and all of your erectors, all of the burden on the posterior chain is being relieved. And that opens up the opportunity now for us to put.
Another exercise in,
Mike: yeah, to do an R D L, which may not feel great if you were just doing a barbell back squat and try to follow it up with heavy R dls.
Kassem: Yeah, like one of the cardinal things is, is like when you start putting into a program is you gotta be careful of like when, how much squatting and deadlifting can you have in combination?
How close you know together can you have those? And if you like, if we look on the continuum from beginner, like an absolute beginner might be able to do both of those in the same workout, just fine. Then you take the opposite extreme, which be like, you know, somebody that’s like at a decent level of power lifting, they might have to alternate weeks in which they train those.
Exercise. One week is a squat week, the other week is a pull week where they do their deadlift right? Because there is so much crossover fatigue, right? And so depending on where you exist on that spectrum of like how long you’ve been training and how much you’ve advancing those movements, all of a sudden then it becomes like, okay, well I may not be able to do a deadlift, but I could do other things.
Or if I make my squat more knee dominant, then I can actually fit. Both exercises in the same week, and I don’t have as much fatigue crossover, which is likely the path that you’re gonna choose if your goal is hypertrophy, right? Like if you’re a power lifter, you’re, your programming is based around those, those lifts.
If your focus is hypertrophy, you don’t have to stay loyal to any exercise, right? Like you have the freedom to go wherever you want. So that means that we can continue down that continuum as far as we want. So if the first step is doing a heel elevated squat, well then the next step might be moving to a hack squat, right?
Because now we’ve essentially removed the spine, the erectors out of the movement completely, right? We’ve added stability, which tends to increase the amount of output. So we’re, we’re essentially gonna be able to train the muscle to a greater degree of, you know, we’ll say like, Failure’s usually defined by whether or not you can complete the rep.
But if we say physiological failure, meaning just like how much stress we’re able to impose on the muscle, when we have more stability, we’re able to get to closer to physiological failure. Like we’re able to like get a little bit more stimulus. We’re able to recruit a little bit more motor units because our brain doesn’t have to stabilize as many joints, so it’s got fewer muscles and to work with.
So it can basically make the muscles that are working work harder. And so adding that stability component can be good. And then we can still do, you know, if you have a hack squat where the platform can allow for like, you know, a little bit of plantar flexion so that, you know, ankle mobility is is not an issue and you can still get like that full deep range of hamstrings to calves, that’s gonna be good.
And the main benefit of. Switching to that hack squat, besides it being stable, is just that when you have something behind your butt, essentially what that does is normally, like at the squat, we talked about how your hips would push back when you would wanna cheat. Now, in this instance, when your quads are pushing, they actually create a little bit of friction forward, like towards your toes, right?
And that force is now absorbed by that. Back, rest being behind your butt. So what that does, it allows you to basically use as much of your quads as you can throughout the whole rep, where in a squat you have to balance. So you’re kind of limited on how much you can fire each muscle because you have to go up and balance where you.
You’ll fall over, right? So you’re removing that balance component and it’s essentially allowing you to take advantage of the constraints of the machine to use your quads even more. And this is where we take that a step further and look at the pendulum, which is essentially designed to magnify that element.
’cause now that back piece, you’re actually kind of actually pushing your butt back up into it. But instead of it being like a squat motion where you’d be moving horizontal, you’re kind of in this like swing type motion. So when you drive back, you’re really driving with the quants. So if we look at the comparison of those, we’re essentially getting to just like a little bit more quad bias to a little bit more quad bias, a little bit more quad bias.
And then that shift from the hack to the pendulum is essentially making it even more quads, less hips. And for a lot of people, if they still struggle a little bit with range of motion in a hack squat, they will find that in the pendulum. Because essentially what the pendulum does is it basically pushes your butt towards your heels at the bottom, which that’s closing the knee joint.
That’s getting to that very stretch position, which you know, The more and more research we see, that seems to be the most valuable place that you want to be going in terms of range of motion and where you actually want the exercise to be challenging from a hypertrophy perspective. So the pendulum basically ticks all of the boxes in terms of, okay, now we have stability, we’re getting deep into that range of motion.
It’s very biased towards the quads, and you’re not gonna be able to cheat much, you know, with your glutes and stuff like that to get outta that position as you fatigue. So when you, you know, knowing what failure is for your quads is gonna be very, very apparent
Mike: and you can, you can safely go really as, as, so you can go right up to failure if, if that makes sense.
But I generally don’t do that. I on on pendulum, I’ll usually. Have one more rep left. So, but that’s, you know, it’s pretty close to failure. Max would be two reps left and I, and I can do that without even having to think about it on the pendulum. I can just think about just pushing as hard as I can. That’s all I have to think about.
Kassem: That’s actually the point that I was rolling into is these exercises that are more specific. It tends to be easier to gauge that. R i r.
Mike: Yeah. And that just for people listening, reps in reserve, how many good reps left do you have? So you’re in a set. It’s getting hard and if you ask yourself, alright, if I really had to, how many more reps could I do?
And once you get closer to failure, if you’ve been training for a bit, you’ll have a pretty good sense of it. We all probably tend to underestimate rather than overestimate, but you should, if you, if you’re thinking I could do maybe two more, maybe you could get three more, again if you’re experienced, but not five more.
Kassem: In general exercises that are more specific, it’s easier to know when that point is. And also exercises where there aren’t as many other elements to fatigue or challenge. So there’s a more skill, like the more of a skill component there is to an exercise, the harder that is to gauge, right? And the more there’s an opportunity for there to be, say, like a respiratory fatigue.
Like when you’re squatting, if you’re going to failure, you’re gonna be like huffing and puffing unless you’re doing, you know, like, you know, three or four reps, right?
Mike: Like doing sets of eight, sets of 10, squat, deadlift. Within even ending those within, let’s say one to two, uh, one to two, r a r. I mean, it, it kind of feels like cardio toward the end of that set.
I mean, it’s, it is, uh, it’s cardiovascularly demanding, that’s for sure.
Kassem: Yep. So by removing that component, I think one, it makes it easier for most people to actually train a couple reps they otherwise wouldn’t have. But it also just allows you to be more sure that like, okay, that really is two reps away, right?
Where it’s just like, okay, this felt really hard because I’m breathing hard and, you know, I’m stabilizing this with my back and I’m also, you know, kind of worried that I might go down or not come back up. Like, all of those things are gonna lean you, lean you, or push you towards maybe cutting that set a little earlier than you would comparatively to, you know, hack or, or pendulum.
Mike: Yep. And with some of these exercises, uh, in my training, I also now and then will push to failure where like, really I cannot get, I have to on the pendulum, I’m gonna be sitting down, I. Just to keep my sense of failure kind of calibrated, so to speak. I don’t have to do it very often, but just to remind myself what that actually feels like and how many grinder reps you really can do if you have to.
Kassem: Yeah, I think that’s a very important element because if you never go to failure, how do you know that you’re. Two reps in reserve is really two reps in reserve. So I mean, I’m a huge fan of, you know, usually it’s like, Hey, the last set of an exercise is gonna be taken to failure. Like, I mean, it’s not a rule, but it’s a practice that we use, I would say the majority of of the time now, there can be periods of time where you specifically like say, Hey, all of these sets are gonna stay like a couple reps away or whatnot.
But then in those cases I say, Hey, well at least at some point in a long mezo, or if you change Mezzos more frequently, like maybe every other one, you throw that back in there so that you don’t kind of lose that. I, I don’t want to get too much on a tangent away from the exercise selection, but this is an anecdote observation from just coaching from years or whatever, uh, whatever, and working with, you know, everybody from like, you know, people on the Olympia stage to, you know, just your average gen pop is that r p e, which is, you know, rated to preserve exertion.
Like how’s hard something is on a one to 10 versus reps in reserve don’t scale the same as you get bigger and stronger. Like once you reach a certain strength, like, it’s like, man, everything over a certain load. Feels like an r p e nine or 10. Like it, like it doesn’t matter if there’s multiple reps reserve, it becomes very hard to gauge that ’cause you just reach a point where it’s like, yeah, all of the loads that you’re using are now heavy, right?
This is mostly for people that this isn’t gonna happen in the first like two years of your training. But you know, if you’re getting closer to that decade, you know, of training, right? And you’re like, you’re, you’re maybe you’re getting close to, you know, pushing two to three times your body weight on the big lifts, like that type of scenario.
You’re probably in a state where r p E is basically always high and it’s no longer a very good gauge. So if you don’t occasionally calibrate that, it’s very hard because your perception of the effort is kind of what we’re kind of intuiting to that r i r. And if we don’t maintain that calibration, then that’s tough.
So I think especially as you get more advanced
Mike: and your perception’s also influenced by how well you slept the last night, which, which may not influence your performance, you may have it in you. To do exactly what you need to do. But yeah, your sleep wasn’t so great. And so everything in the workout is just feeling harder than it normally does.
Or, um, your psychological state. How focused are you on your workout or do you have other things on your mind? I. So there are other factors that can make a workout, uh, or an in a set feel harder or easier, and it’s subjective. Whereas objectively, if we’re looking more at how many reps could you do if you had to, your performances not influenced by these factors that are making it feel harder or easier.
Kassem: Yeah. If you guys were to see this in real time, so we have these live events that we teach, you know, we teach biomechanics, but a part of what we teach is also effort and trying to actually get people to calibrate to this. And the way our events go is the first day we kind of warm everybody up by doing arms, right?
Because it’s like, how hard is it to go to failure on like, you know, biceps and triceps and, and whatever, right? And then the second day we have the squat patterns and stuff like that. And in the morning is the more complex exercises where we don’t push people, you know, as hard in terms of proximity to failure.
And then in the afternoon we throw people in stabilized exercises and we have this. Amazing, like glute bias, leg press that we use essentially on that day. I just, just murder people. That’s, that’s essentially what happens. But I take them to a place that they probably have never, never been before, and it’s a perfect opportunity because okay, it’s a stable exercise.
They’re extremely safe in their, you know, they got good spotters and also the environment. So that’s a, that’s a huge element is, is that when you’re in a room and now you have like 20 other students yelling and screaming for you, and then you’re also, you paid a whole bunch of money to come and hang out with these nerds and talk about fitness for four days.
You know, having a training partner, having motivation, even good music, all of those things can really impact that, right? Like just the environment on the day. And so one of the things that I, you know, will sometimes help tell people is like, look, Choose where you want to put in that effort. Like set it up right.
You know? Okay. Like, you know, put your favorite song on, you know, make sure you have your, you know, you choose a good exercise where you’re gonna be safe, confident, have a spot or whatever, you know, film it, you know, put some skin in the game, you know, if you want to or whatever. Right. You know, um, whatever it takes.
And that way. Like you’re really setting the bar for what you’re capable of. And then when all those other things come in like, oh, hey, I didn’t sleep that well, you can kind of adjust your standard relative to like, okay, this is what it would be on my best day. Today’s not my best day. So what’s a realistic expectation?
But it’s really good to know what you’re capable of on your best day in the best situation, you know, possible. Right?
Mike: Yeah, that’s a good tip. It’s, my training is a bit different now. I’m just more in a maintenance mode. But for two or three years I was pushing for progress and part of that programming was AM wraps, so as many reps as as possible pre losing.
And I would do that after four months of training. I do it on the big exercises, and I wasn’t comfortable going actually to failure on a, a deadlift or a squat just because I, I don’t want to get hurt. I, I, it’s not. I’m not competing, you know, I’m doing this for fun. To me, it just, the, the additional risk wasn’t worth the reward, but I was willing to, to push close, like let’s say like one, you know, one to two good reps left maybe, maybe even more often.
When I was doing these AM reps, it was one, like the last rep was really a grinder. And I came to notice after doing that for a couple of years, that just those points alone of being a little bit, uh, I was looking forward to it, like getting whatever, whatever song was, you know, got me fired up. Being really focused, knowing that, okay, this is kind of the culmination of several months of training.
Let’s see what I can do. And being ready for that would produce, in some cases, surprisingly, better performances than where, If I, I would look at my training logs over the previous, it was like a four month mesocycle. I like to track r a r, I don’t track rp, but look at my R and know that again, you know, if I’m, I’m fairly accurate with them.
I wasn’t, I wasn’t completely diluting myself, but to look at just my performance with given weights versus that amrap, there was always an inexplicable jump in performance where it’s like, where did that come from? Like my one RMM just went up by 35 pounds on that one day, uh, on my squad, or my deadlift or my bench press or whatever.
So it was just an interesting experience and I, you know, I’d come to expect it and then I was okay, especially following that was a pretty tough week. Where I would do it was just one set of amrap and some back sets. But I would do my AM wraps in one week, and then the following week deload and then restart.
And so for the next couple of weeks, sometimes I would notice, all right, my performance. Especially in that deload week, it would, it was kind of a joke how it felt like we just fell off a cliff and then slowly would come back and repeat the process. But I’ve experienced that firsthand. It’s interesting.
Kassem: I made a transition similar to that.
Like when I turned 35, I was like, you know what? There really isn’t a reason for me to ever put 600 pounds on my back ever again. Like they’re just, you know, there’s not, um, but also high rep squats suck.
Mike: Yep. I still go back to like, you know, I, I really, I like the four to maybe max eight rep range, and I’m Okay pushing relatively close to failure on the big exercises with that.
I’m not murdering myself with these 10 rep, which I was doing previously. I was doing, so the mesocycle would start with, um, higher volume if we want to view it as term in terms of reps or, or, or just like tonnage. And so it was higher rep ranges, so that was sets of 10 on the squad, on the deadlift. The rest of the exercises were refined.
I mean, it. A 10 rep bench press is nothing compared to a 10 rep deadlift, but I hear you. And then after doing that for a while, I’m like, you know, I just don’t wanna do that anymore. I, I just wanna do sets of five six, maybe I’ll do a few sets of eight now and then. Yeah.
Kassem: So the solution that, that I kind of resided on is that, you know, there’s certain exercises where I’m gonna leave a couple reps in the tank and there is no wiggle room on technique.
But then I have other exercises where then, you know, now it’s super safe and I can go to that place. So for instance, if, you know, since we’re on the squat, I’ll leave a couple reps in the tank of the squat. And as soon as I get to the point where I feel like, hey, you know, like it’s almost like I squat as a kind of hybrid of like, this is just to maintain my strength and technique in the movement.
But then what I’ll do is, you know, my second exercise will be a leg press or a pendulum or, or something, or maybe it’s a leg extension. And on that it’ll be like, cool, this, I can take that. All the way because I, you know, I love training hard like that, but you know, the risk to reward in some of the big compounds isn’t there, especially if you don’t have a goal that’s like really, really important.
But I mean, what’s the risk reward to like taking a set of leg extensions? I. All the way to where you can’t even move at an inch. It’s like, you’re gonna be fine. I mean, it’s gonna hurt, it’s gonna be, uh, it’s gonna be uncomfortable, it’s gonna burn, but you can safely go there and you can kinda get, you know, that dopamine hit from that training experience, you know?
And also I think it, I feel better leaving the reps in the tank on those other exercises, and I don’t get greedy because I know I have another outlet, you know, for that effort. Yeah. Yeah.
Mike: It’s funny. That’s exactly what I’m doing now, especially again, after the two or three years of pushing heavy and hard for, I mean, I made good progress, but good progress for me.
I, I couldn’t have gained more than one or two pounds per year of muscle in, in those couple of years. And, uh, a fair amount of strength and hit a couple prs, especially relative to body weight, but Okay. I was like, all right, that was fun. But now I’m gonna train, I’m gonna change my training a bit, and that’s one of the changes that I made as like you, I like to train hard.
I like to push myself, but I don’t want to get hurt. And as, as the weights get heavier, also, I’m 39. I’m not 25 anymore. I’m not invincible like I was before. And so I’ll switch between back squat and front squat. But I, I like to keep in a barbell squat. I’m just not pushing as hard as I was. And then I’ll move to a, something more quads focused, like a leg press or a pendulum, and be willing to push even harder there.
And same thing with if I’m, if I’m doing any sort of leg curl, um, I’m not concerned about proximity to failure. It just hurts. But you’re not gonna get hurt. Your ability to gain muscle and gain strength is greatly impacted by how well your body can recover from your training and how strong you get in your training.
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Use the coupon code muscle and save 20% or get 6% cash back in reward points. Try recharge, risk-free and see what you think. So for elevating heels on a squat, if we just go back to that, for people who are wondering how should they best go about that? Some people might be thinking, oh, should I put a couple plates underneath my feet, or should I get some squat shoes or a slant board to get it more extreme or something else?
Kassem: The most important thing is, is that you choose something that is gonna be stable and safe, right? That’s just like the bare minimum. So when it comes to using plates, they’re not impossible, but you’re not on a flat surface, you’re on like the edge of a rounded surface. So in terms of stability, that’s probably like the lowest amount of stability that you could use in terms of elevating your heels.
So if you have any other option, I’m gonna say probably choose that over using plates, right? But if for for whatever reason you’re just like, look, I’m not gonna invest in anything. Then my gym doesn’t have anything. It’s stand on plates or nothing. By all means. Go ahead. Stand on the plates. Just, you know, maybe this is one of those instances where you have to like pull from the other variables where like, hey, if you start feeling where like, all right, the stability’s maybe impacting your technique.
Maybe you don’t load it as much, or you don’t do those couple reps that you would had, you had a more stable foot platform. Then when it comes to the other options, so. When you’re either looking at the individual wedges or slant boards where you basically have one for each feet, or you’re looking at squat shoes or inserts.
The benefit of all of those is the fact that they’re individual to the foot, which means that wherever your stance needs to be, the platform is in the plane of your foot, and that helps a lot with stability and it also decreases unnecessary forces going through. The knee and the ankle. So what I don’t really like is if people have like a, like a toe out stance when they squat.
I don’t like them to use a single slant board. So if you, all you are gonna use is a single slant board. You pretty much need to limit your squat technique to whatever you can do where your toes are basically gonna be straightforward and you’re gonna be relatively narrow. Like everything’s kind of moving basically in the same plane as it would be if you imagined yourself on a pendulum squat type thing where it’s like, okay, your knees are kind of in front of your hips and your toes are just below your knees and everything’s kind of moving forward and back.
You don’t have this toes and knees going out thing going on, but if you can have the edge. Individual to the foot, then you can basically get that effect in a variety of different stances, which isn’t just like better per se. It also gives you options in terms of like, hey, you know, a little bit narrower stance is gonna target a little bit more of the glutes and a little bit wider stance.
It’s gonna target a little bit more of that, you know, adductor magnus that we were talking about earlier. So it also gives you, you know, variations in your setup and it allows that whatever your like natural balance squat is, that the wedges are right in there. Now in terms of, you know, comparing the slant boards and wedges to either squat shoes or the inserts, a lot of that’s just gonna be magnitude right.
And convenience, you know, are gonna be the thing. So like my recommendation usually is just like, hey, if you are competing and you have squat shoes, then by all means you can use your squat shoes. But if you are just, if you don’t have anything and you’re gonna invest in it, I would invest in individual wedges because not only can you use them for squats, but you can use them for a variety of other exercises and you’re not limited to.
The shoes they won’t wear out, so you don’t have to keep buying them. Actually, most squat shoes are more expensive than a pair of wedges are anyway. Um, but I’d love wedges for other things like split squats and I’ll use ’em for all sorts of, like, you would be surprised at how many random uses you find for a simple wedge in the gym once you have access to it.
And then there’s also heel inserts. So basically it’s like a cork thing that you put inside your shoe that can be great for people that travel. So you just, you just throw ’em in your suitcase and then cool, like it, like there. But if this is something that you could have at your gym or you could keep in your trunk or whatever, I think the wedges are the best option.
’cause one, you can choose multiple sizes, you can use them for multiple exercises, and you’re not stuck using them for the whole session. Like if you put on your squat shoes and you’re doing this and then you’re gonna go do a hinge, you may actually not want that heel elevation for your other exercises.
So then it becomes, you know, an inconvenience. The one caveat of that is, is that the squat shoes and the heel, uh, inserts do allow you to basically get that effect on poorly designed machines. So say you have a leg press or a hack squat or whatnot, and it’s just not designed very well. So you have trouble getting full range of motion in it.
You can either do like a sissy style technique where you come up on your toes, which is perfectly fine. A lot of people are like, oh, isn’t that gonna limit you or, no, it’s, it’s just fine. But if you wanted to be able to keep the pressure through your whole foot, something like a squat shoe or the he insert would allow you to kind of get.
That type of an effect on a leg press or a hack squat. But ideally, you know, in a perfect world you just have a leg press and hack squat that’s got a well-designed foot platform to begin with, right? So there’s some pros and cons to all of them, but, uh, if I had to pick like, what I think would be the best overall, it would be the, you know, just get yourself a set of, you know, wedges or individual slant boards and this, my second option would be either the shoes and the inserts.
My last option of something that you would actually purchase would be a single slant board, because that gives you the fewest options, right? And then if you don’t want to invest in anything, yes you can use plates, but just be mindful of that stability factor because it does change. Kinda like that risk reward equation.
Mike: Makes sense. And switching then quickly to hack squat, just as a note for people listening, it depends what type of hack squat. Talk about a. Machines that are well designed or not well designed. It depends what type you have. So I, uh, many years ago I was training in a gym that had what is probably a more traditional hack squat where you’re more upright.
Whereas the gym I’m in right now, you’re closer to laying down than you are. I. Standing up and you were mentioning just the, if you can use the, the, the backward force, put more emphasis on your quads because it’s just pushing now back into the hack squad. I remember I was thinking back when I was in the hack squad that was more upright.
I benefited from that. But now the hack squat that it’s okay, but the, the one that, that I’m using now, unfortunately, because you’re, you’re almost laying down your, your butt tends to, Come off of the back rest a little bit, and then that just feels uncomfortable. So I have to, I have to consciously keep my butt down on it, which
Kassem: so when it comes to the supine, you know, where basically you’re, you’re not in as much of a hip fluxx position. Right? Actually, that’s what I would consider the most standard hack squat, or it’s most common is, is that kind and the other one, it’s like, it’s kind of like a, an upside down leg press, right?
But a lot of times awful brand also branded as hack squat, right?
Mike: I don’t remember the angle. I don’t, I, it probably wasn’t a 45 degree, it was more acute than that. But maybe you’re at a 30 degree angle where you’re more, you’re more upright and now it’s kind of the other way around.
Kassem: So when you are using the one where you’re more hip extended, so that’s the, the one where you’re more laying down.
The way to be able to still take advantage of that is to make sure your feet are low enough. So in that a lot of people, they can put their feet up higher and still get full knee flexion ’cause their butt can just come down behind it. But essentially what you want to do is, Try and get your feet a little bit lower.
And this is where you know if it’s well designed, it’s got a platform that you know, allows for the ankle mobility for you to get your heels closer to underneath your butt, right? And if you do that, what will happen is, is then your quad force will end up pushing you more into the back pad, especially at the bottom.
With the higher foot position, what happens is at the bottom right and you start to push up, your quads aren’t gonna be pushing you into the platform quite as much and you’re gonna get to a point where basically as your glutes are coming in, they’re kind of like hip extending you off. So you can try and do that with, by lowering your feet a little bit, you could try and mentally accomplish it by just focusing on driving with your quads and maybe pushing your toes forward a little bit.
And another thing that you can do that will pretty much eliminate that. Is to go with like the up on your toes, like heels under your butt motion. Right? And again, there’s nothing wrong with that. And it, it gets a great stretch and it makes the profile very, very length and bias. So from a hypertrophy perspective, it’s great.
From an ego perspective, you’re gonna put a lot less weight on the machine. You know, for somebody like you that actually may be like, great, it’s like, hey, cool, I don’t have to put as much like just stress on my body as a whole, right? I can really challenge my quads. So instead of, you know, four plates on there, I can use two.
And I, you know, I’m solving kind of two problems at once where it’s like, okay, I moved my feet lower. I’m getting a deep stretch in my quads, making the bottom really hard. And also now it doesn’t feel like my butt’s coming off because essentially making it near impossible for my glutes to do much of the work.
Mike: Yeah. Great. Great tips. So those are the two follow-up questions. I just, before we moved on to maybe you wanna talk upper body, we could go in dumbbell versus cable exercises. That is, and I, I’ve seen more and more discussion about not just shoulders, but also biceps and triceps and anywhere else you might want to go with that.
I think that that might be a good topic that, um, Is very topical.
Kassem: Yeah. So in the gym, basically we’re just walking around with, you know, and looking at a bunch of sources of resistance, whether they’re machines, dumbbells, cables or whatever. And then the question is, well what can I do with that? And does that actually suit the gold that I want?
Right? So when we’re using free weights, whether it’s barbells or dumbbells, basically we have physics to work with. So gravity’s pulling down and that’s basically the direction that pulls. So that works great in exercises where what we want is something that’s basically pulling us straight down to challenge us.
But for some exercises, like having something that could pull horizontal is actually gonna work out a lot better. And that’s where cables come in is we can basically, essentially what a cable does is it’ll, the cable system does, is allows us just to change the direction of gravity, right? So instead of down like now it’s pushing back.
So, you know, so could we do it? We can sit and do a chest press instead of laying and do a chest press. There are small details in terms of like, oh, there’s friction with cables and stuff like that. But those are like the nuances of the nuances. So if you think that this stuff only matters a little bit, stuff matters like even less.
When you look at being able to say, Hey, if I’m doing a lateral race right for my middle delt, a regular dumbbell lateral race is not gonna challenge you much at the bottom because basically the weight’s just pulling you drown. Right? Like it’d be more like the dumbbells are more suited for you to do a shrug than a lateral race at that point in time.
And there’s a multitude of effects that can have, right? So one is, you know, the resistance challenge, which that basically is just a fancy word for where is this exercise hard is not where we’d want it to be for hypertrophy because. For her perch weave. We generally want it to be hard when the muscle’s being stretched at its long length.
So for a lateral raise, the delta is in a more stretched position when your arm is down and it’s getting shorter as we’re coming up. The other thing is when we have exercises that are, we’ll say very light at the bottom, and we’re moving a big piece of mass like a dumbbell, it encourages us to want to swing it and do other things.
You know, you incorporate other motions that aren’t necessarily beneficial to the hypertrophy stimulus we’re going for.
Mike: And it’s hard to not do that with a dumbbell sideways as you get stronger unless you’re just gonna do sets. And sometimes you’ll see people that they’ll try to do super slow reps or super high rep sets, but if you want to do a set of eight reps or 10 reps with enough weight that.
Feels challenging and you want to end close to failure. I’ve found it just difficult to balance the training load and technique and not allow myself to swing around too much.
Kassem: Have you ever seen like a very young athlete, you know that very new to the gym, but it’s just a physical specimen in terms of strength and then they go into the gym, you see them lift and all of their techniques are that way, right?
They’re accelerating and swinging things. The funny thing is, is like that’s actually the more, we’ll say, the more efficient way for us to move that mass, right? So intuitively that’s what our body wants to do. And a lot of times for hypertrophy, what we’re doing is we’re essentially working, you know, away from all of the athleticism that is wired in us to say, Hey, let’s not do this the most easiest way.
Let’s do this in the way that actually is the most challenging and struggling for that muscle. You know, evolutionarily, if we did this back in the caveman days, we all would’ve just starved because we’ve just been wasting energy to accomplish very little, you know, calories are not, you know, are not hard to find.
Um, so we, we have energy to waste, right? Yeah. Uh, so we’ve like flipped to the opposite side of the spectrum so that, that is a learning curve to understand like, hey, The goal is not for me to just move weight through space. The goal is for me to challenge this muscle in a way that is gonna produce hypertrophy.
Well, what we’re leaning more towards of that is it’s like, okay, I want this exercise to get that muscles into closer, you know, to a stretch position. I want it to be hard there and when I, when I choose to move the load, I wanna move it in a way where basically this muscle’s doing the majority of the work throughout whatever range of motion I’m using, right?
Not let anything else take over. So if we set up a cable, what we can do is we can set the cable to basically be pulling horizontal from like our hand height. And what that does then is that’s actually gonna make the exercise pulling us into a deeper stretch and also making it more challenging where the muscle is longer.
So basically it’s like kind of flipping the resistance challenge, whereas a regular Dumbo lateral race, if you actually did it slow and controlled, it’s very easy at the bottom, very hard at the top. If we take that same tempo and do that with a cable, it now becomes challenging at the bottom and easier at the top.
And I’m saying bottom and top, but really what matters is at the lengthen versus the short position. And so when it comes to dumbbells versus cables, a lot of times we’re just looking at is like, okay. Does the cable offer me the opportunity to get closer to getting that muscle either to a better stretch and making it more challenging there than I can with the dumbbells.
But if we look at something like, say a dumbbell press, then the dumbbells do just a fine job at that because you know, as you’re lowering the dumbbells into the stretch position, the dumbbells are, they’re loading your chest like as much as they can there. And then as you get to the top, that’s, you know, where it gets easier.
Right now there’s a small little caveat that I’ll just throw in there. ’cause somebody will be like, well then how can I struggle to lock it out? We always fatigue. Towards the short position, regardless of where the exercise is hardest with at the beginning. So just understand that that’s always gonna be an element, right?
So if you reach failure on a barbell press, everybody usually gets the bar a couple inches off their chest before then they get stuck, right? And there’s a lot that goes into why that is. And I don’t think that’s important. I just wanted to let people know like that is an element of fatigue, not necessarily the challenge of the exercise.
’cause in pretty much most exercises, regardless of where they’re challenging from the beginning, you will fail at the lockout or the short position. Re regardless. So for exercises like dumbbell presses, you know, and even things like squats, you know, I know we’re talking about, uh, lower body, but like squats are hard at the bottom, easy at the top.
So the free weight motion and gravity, you know, does a fine job of making those exercises harder, more than muscle is longer. But delta are a big one because basically all of your delts get shorter by bringing the arm into the body at some point, right? So your lateral delts, it’s more of a frontal plane, meaning like, you know, pulling towards like your hand, like coming into the side of your butt.
So, okay, so I would need a load like essentially pulling through my body and you could argue that, well, could I lay sideways and do a dumbbell lateral? In theory it’s like, well, yeah, that is kind of doing it, but. The complications of orientating that way and then having to balance the mass. A lot of people will be like, this is unnecessarily difficult and hard to coordinate.
And that’s ’cause ideally we wouldn’t be lifting straight out to the side, but we’d be lifting a little bit more in the scapular plane, which the scapular plane is essentially the angle that matches the backside of our ribs. So it’s like, it’s not straight out to the side. It’s a little bit in front and it will vary between individual and where your arm path is, but it’s just not straight out to the side.
It’s a, it’s a little in front. And so if you’re just lifting a dumbbell and you start going out in front, well then all of a sudden it’s gonna wanna like fall in front of you and you know, so there’s a balancing act there that it’s not perfect with a cable. We’re not limited to that. So like, A cable, I can pull straight out to the side or I can pull slightly in front.
I can pull more specific to the muscle that I want. And that’s the other element that’s really important for, you know, hypertrophy is it’s not just the range of motion and having it challenging there, but also that the actual motion is very specific to that muscle. So this same thing applies to front delts and rear delts.
Like, okay, well your front delts basically come into your body. Almost think of it like, it’s like if you were kind of like trying to shorten your lat and push your arm behind you, that’s essentially stretching your front delts, you know, in the front. So if you could have a weight that was pulling.
Backwards that you could then pull up versus a dumbbell, that would be hard when your hand was like in front of your face, right? Well, then the cable’s gonna be a little bit better, and then that same thing happens. Well, we could lay on a bench, like on an incline bench and do front raises with dumbbells.
That would make it harder at the bottom and a little bit easier at the top. But again, you’re gonna find that the motion is not quite perfect. ’cause likely what you’re gonna want to do is go a little out to in with your cable front dealt raise. Whereas with the dumbbell, you’re pretty much just gonna go straight up and down.
Or if you do decide to pull your arms in, there’s no resistance to coming in. So you’re not actually doing any, you’re not creating any extra mechanical tension really to get the the weight there, because the resistance doesn’t pull sideways with a dumbbell, it only pulls down towards gravity. So cables just allow us to be more specific.
And a lot, a lot of times it’s also just more convenient, right? So, ’cause it’s like you talk about like, okay, I could set a bench sideways and then try and like straddle it, you know, and wrap my feet around it and somehow balance and then lift the dumbbell. Be like, cool. If you’re at home and all you have is free weights, by all means, then you can do that stuff.
But if you do that standing next to a functional trainer, you know, at your gym, I’m gonna be like, why are you making this more difficult than it needs to be? Right? You have a perfectly well designed machine right there to make it so that you don’t have to like, you know, break your fingernails off into the bottom of the bench while you’re trying to hold onto it.
Doing a side lateral race. For hypertrophy, we’re trying to pick motions that are increasingly more specific to the muscle as we kind of advance in our training age. And cables give us the, we’ll say, a larger library of motions than free weights do.
Mike: Yeah. Just to add to that, it becomes more and more important as you, uh, and I know you know this, but for people listening, as you gain more muscle and strength, if you want to keep gaining muscle and strength, you have to do more volume.
You have to work, you have to make these muscles work harder. And if you are not doing, let’s say, enough direct volume for individual major muscle groups, they’re just not going to progress much, if at all. So for people listening in, think of how you’re doing some, some rowing. Is that volume for your biceps?
To some degree. Not direct volume, that’s indirect, but that one set of, uh, Any type of row is not gonna be as effective for growing your biceps as one set of a biceps curl. And so that applies to. Individual delta, it applies to every major muscle group. And to your point, cassim, when you are programming and you are an intermediate or advanced weightlifter and you are willing to put in the time and the effort that it’s gonna take to continue gaining muscle, you do need to be thinking about these things because of just the sheer amount of systemic fatigue that comes from an exercise like a squat or a deadlift or an overhead press that was able to provide an effective training stimulus to many muscle groups.
And you had mentioned this earlier in the podcast, so just kind of tying it back into, into that. But it is an important point and it can seem kind of counterintuitive, where I’ve had people reach out to me and they’ve seen how my training has kind of changed over the years and, and they follow other smart people on social media and see that you have these very fit people who have been training for a long time and.
Their training looks more like bro training, they would say, than any other split, really, actually, like some people, they, they’re just surprised to see, oh, all these, all these kind of bodybuilding body part movements as a isn’t that kind of inefficient. Why aren’t you doing more compound exercises? Why do you do so many machines?
Why do you use cables? And so you’re answering some of these questions now, if it’s purely for the purpose of maintenance, well then we actually kinda go in the other direction. That’s, that’s where I’ve gone now with my training. I’m lifting three days a week so I can spend less time in the gym, make some more time for cardio, make some more time for work and so forth.
And in those 70, 80 minute workouts, I am trying to benefit from some of that indirect volume. ’cause I, I don’t have the time to. To do a bunch of direct volume for all the individual muscle groups that would require that if I were trying to get bigger and stronger. But right now, I’m happy where I’m at.
I just wanna maintain it. So like you, I’m doing some of the big exercises ’cause I like them and I just wanna maintain a baseline level of performance, but I’m also doing some, uh, of the rows, for example, knowing that like, okay, I’ll do those eight sets of rows plus four sets of biceps. That’s it, that’s my biceps volume for the week.
Knowing that, that’s plenty to maintain.
Kassem: So I think, you know, you can look at sets as like a currency and so the more sets you have to work with, then that opens up the exercise selection. But if you only have a few, if you have a small number of sets to work with throughout a week or for a body part, then you need each of those sets to be less specific.
’cause you need it to cover, cover more. The other aspect is like, if it’s not a set. Currency thing, but it’s just simply a time thing. Be like, Hey, I got, you know, one hour, three times, or whatever it is. A lot of people think that that’s the only route that you can go, but it’s not, it just depends on how much creativity do you wanna put into your program.
And are some of these like kind of more, we’ll say like bouncing around type programs where you know you’re doing multiple exercises in a circuit type fashion, is that actually feasible to do where you train? Right, because you know, if you’re jumping in a busy gym at five o’clock, well that’s probably not, you’re probably not gonna be able to do like, you know, a giant set.
But if you have the time, like it’s like, okay, it, if you were talking about, hey, I’m gonna do a barbell press, you know, and try and count that as some triceps, some delts or whatever, it’s like, well you could fit a, you know, a fly and a tricep extension and maybe a shoulder press or something. Do a circuit through that and take the same amount of time as like doing your barbell press and then taking your obligatory rest interval or whatever.
So I think one of the things that makes good coaches, good coaches is, is they’re able to like really maximize both. Time economy and set economy by choosing and organizing their exercise. I mean, ’cause it’s, these are tools. A client is basically a problem that you need to solve with those tools and just figure out, okay, they have access to this, this, and this.
How can I use that? Not only from a hypertrophy perspective, but also just like, Hey, if we have more than one way to go at this, that means we’re not having to be stuck to the same boring type of routine all the time. And some routines will favor different stimulus, you know, whether you’re focusing more on body comp or strength or whatnot than others.
So being able to have that flexibility and knowing, hey, here’s a way that, you know, let’s say this person really loves having more direct arm work in their program. Right? Cool. Like we could find a way to design that in there, or this other person. Absolutely wants to do the most bare minimum amount of direct arm.
You know, we, you could, you could essentially, you know, just reverse engineer that’s like, okay, cool. Well, since they don’t like doing that, I’m gonna choose exercises where, like you said, we’re getting more of that indirect volume so we can minimize the actual amount of direct works they would need to do.
Right. We’re getting away from like, talking about like optimal hypertrophy, but very much so like practical for individuals that ultimately, like you can argue like, hey, there’s a huge component to actually making programs that people are gonna enjoy and be consistent with. And that having a greater magnitude in terms of like the results over time versus like, Hey, physiologically, I have written you the most perfect program ever, but maybe you will hate it.
Or, you know, you, you won’t actually do it, or you won’t push hard or you won’t be consistent with it, et cetera. Right. You know, so being able to find that balance is, is amazing. But I think an important message is that like, if you’re willing to be creative, the more tools you have, the more ways you’ll figure out how to use them.
But going back to the bro split, what I will say is a lot of people look at the bro split as like, Hey, that’s the very we’ll say it’s the the safest way of programming. Because essentially you’re like, look, I got a whole week to recover from whatever I do, right? So if I do too much or you know, I don’t choose good exercises or whatever, that’s not gonna impact the next section that much.
But when you’re trying to train a muscle group or a, you know, a pattern two or three times a week, you don’t have the luxury of making a lot of bad choices in terms of exercise selection and volume, because now you have to be recovered within appropriate timeframe. So I think a lot of people just do the bro split, and I’m, I’m not against bro splits, like I think, you know, there’s many ways that you can go at this, but I think a lot of people appreciate the lack of, we’ll say intellectual effort.
That it takes to write a bro split versus another split. ’cause I’m just like, okay, all of the push things, just throw them on that day. There we go. If you’re doing other things, like it does take a little bit more thought, right? And again, that’s where you know, either if you’re putting more thought into your training or you’re hiring a coach or whatever, like those are the problems that you get that you should be really good at solving.
And that’s where you can deliver a lot of a lot of value. Because I do think that for most people, especially earlier on or whatnot, I think a lot of people are gonna benefit from. Dividing up their volume to training most things, like twice a week. If you’re in the phase where you’re like, man, I’m really trying to get hypertrophy, it seems that man, like two times a week seems to be like that sweet spot because you’re kind of getting to that point where it’s almost a struggle to fit all that volume on one day you’re like reaching a point of diminishing return.
So it’s like, what am I really getting out of these later sets in the workout? You know, if you know I’m doing, you know, 20 some sets of, you know, whatever body part or whatnot, you know, and also then the just like, you know, it becomes, we’ll say a, uh, a logistical problem sometimes, or a practical problem sometimes too.
’cause it’s like, okay, now what you have to do is you’re gonna be like, you’re, something is always gonna be like either crippling, sore, um, and you know, for certain days it might be a two hour workout and then another day it’s a 45 minute workout and you know, so like, it just, you end up with a lot of logistical things.
But if you just want to be like, Hey, how do I make sure that I’m gonna be ready for chest again the next time I train it? Cool. Train it once a week. Right. You know, if you’re writing a program and seven days later you’re. Chest is still sore, then you do, you probably need to make some, like, that’s, you’ve really botched that the volume and stuff on that program.
If, if you can’t meet performance after, you know, a whole week of recovery.
Mike: Great points. Coming back briefly to cables versus, let’s just say other options, can you speak briefly about, I just wanna hear your thoughts on cables for biceps, cables for triceps versus free waste versus machines. Also cables for glutes, just because I see a lot of people, usually women doing pull throughs and, and other exercises that they’ve heard are, are, are more effective if they use a cable versus a machine or a free weight.
Kassem: So the biceps are similar to chest in that, you know, there’s more options for kinda loading that stretch with a free weight than there, than there is for triceps.
Mike: Like, sometimes people will ask, okay, what do you think about an incline dumbbell curl versus maybe a cable drag curl, for example,
Kassem: with an incline curl, we’re going into shoulder extension, right?
So you’re getting the biceps longer. Where is a, a drag curl? You’re actually like, you’re kind of pulling your elbows back as you do the movement. And so ironically, a lot of people are like, oh yeah, I do drag curls for biceps. But actually a drag curl would be better for the short elbow flexors that don’t cross the shoulder.
’cause you’re lengthening the biceps by doing the shoulder extension, pushing the elbows back and shortening them at the elbows. So the the brachialis and the brachial radis, which are the elbow flexors that just cross the elbow, that don’t cross the shoulder, those are actually gonna be a little bit better trained with the drag curl ’cause you’re doing the opposite function.
Of the biceps at one joint, you know? So if you’re gonna do that, you could do it with like a neutral or a pronated grip and kind of accentuate that a little bit more, versus doing something like an incline curl. You’re lengthening the muscle. But interestingly, there was a recent study that actually compared the preacher curl to the incline dumbbell curl, and what they found is, is that the preacher curl, even though it’s at a shorter muscle length, because a preacher curl is hard at the bottom, whereas an incline dumbbell curl, even though you’re in a stretch position, it’s still easy where the muscle is stretched, that the preacher curl is a little bit better.
So we can’t necessarily just like count on like, Hey, we’re, we’re in a stretch position, and that’s good enough. It also needs to be challenging there. So an exercise I really like better than a incline dumbbell curl. Is either to do a cable curl where the cables are pulling behind you so that basically your shoulders are extended, but you also, the exercise is challenging in that stretch.
So you could just, you know, you set the cables, you know, a little below your hand and then you just walk away from them. And you can do it that way. But you can do a similar exercise with dumbbells by essentially laying on the slanted part of a preacher curl. So basically like now you’re not quite as stretched as an incline curl, but the benefit is, is now your upper arm is supported.
Mike: And, and just so people understand, so you’re saying not seated on the preach, but you’re like standing and kind of draped over it with your, am I hearing that right?
Kassem: Your back is on it supine. So your chest is up in the air. Yeah. So the, the reverse preacher where your, your chest is down, right? That’d be moving the bicep into a short position.
But essentially what we’re doing is like in an incline bench, it’s only supporting our back and then our arms just hang down and so therefore we’re just straight up and down. But if we lay on our preacher, basically what it does is it supports our humus and it picks it up. So, but what that does is it, Makes it so that the exercise is gonna be hard at the bottom because your humorous is gonna be at like a 45 degree angle at the bottom instead of straight up and down.
And also it’s supporting it. So between those two, people ask me like, well, but which one is better? And I don’t know. ’cause this is the, we’re in the case of the multiple variables where it’s like, hey, the cable curls get is a little bit more of a stretch, right? ’cause you’re gonna be in sho more shoulder extension, but the preacher curl where you’re lying on it.
So I just call it a supine preacher curl. Like, you know, so if you’re looking for it, that one has more stability, right? And so my, my suggestion is, hey, try both if you like one more than the other. Cool. Or alternate them. Because when we get to like some of these level of nuances of like, okay, we’re talking about range of motion, we’re talking about the resistance challenge, we’re talking about things like stability and specificity.
A lot of times there won’t be an exercise that’s perfect. And I think that’s where understanding this stuff a little bit is like, okay, I chose an exercise that I really liked and it was really good ’cause it was stable, but maybe this next meso I’m gonna choose this other exercise ’cause it gets me to a range of motion or a resistance challenge that that other one didn’t quite get.
So understanding like, hey, how is this different than that? But they’re both good, but just for slightly different reasons. I think that’s extremely valuable because a lot of times we talk about exercises, if they’re the one exercise that that’s all you’re gonna do forever. When in reality like you’re gonna rotate through exercises.
So understanding like, hey, how do I pick exercises? You know, three or four of them that are always gonna be like really big hitters for my bicep. And I’m like, okay, those are like two good options and they’re so close. But in different ways that I would be completely guessing on what the outcome was if we were actually to do a study on which one of those would be better for her prophy.
But I would venture to say both of them would do significantly better than an incline dumbbell curl, because they’re both challenging and they’re at the same or longer muscle length.
Mike: Right. Makes sense. And then what are your thoughts on triceps? I mean there’s obviously, there’s just the traditional, any, any sort of push down you can do overhead or any other.
Cable versus free weight or or exercise. Would love to hear your thoughts.
Kassem: So I pretty much do almost exclusively cable tricep work, right? Whereas with biceps, it’s probably close to 50 50, right? Because there’s a lot of good exercises where I can challenge the length of position, like a preacher curl or verse preacher curl, things like that.
But when it comes to triceps, basically in order to load the tricep in the stretch position, like your hand has to be getting pushed to the same shoulder, which doesn’t really leave room for a dumbbell. It’s very hard to also like position your body into the shoulder positions that you want and then be able to kind of push against it.
So what I tend to find is that, you know, if we’re talking about the niggles or the elbow pain that people get, a lot of times when the key aggravators. Is fixed grip tricep work because you’re essentially stuck in a width and a plane and you’re also not able to load the tricep as well in its stretch position.
Whereas with a cable now, essentially we can basically position our shoulder however we want it, and we can try and get the cable pulling towards the shoulder as much as possible. Now when we look at a traditional push down where the cable’s in front of you, when you come to the top, it’s gonna be pretty easy.
’cause essentially the cable would need to be like pulling through your body. Like if you drilled a hole through your chest and ran the cable behind you, well cool, then that would be great. Probably some practical challenges there, right? But we can do things where we can kind of position it so that a cable can be pulling either behind our back or over our shoulder.
And in those instances, we can get that challenge in the length and position, right? And still kind of line that up. And so my favorite tricep cable exercises is one basically is where like the cable is like behind you kind of running over your traps. And you can do that as a pressy type motion, almost kind of like a JM type, you know, press where it’s a very elbow extension dominant press there.
Or you can do it as a partial extension only. And then I also like a version where you, you reach over the opposite trap, so the cable’s over the opposite trap, and so your arm’s kind of coming across the body. And that’s gonna stretch a little bit more of the lateral head. ’cause the lateral head kind of ties into the posterior delta in the fascia there.
And then for the long head, that’s the one where basically if the cable is gonna be like behind you pulling down. So that’s what most people will do. An overhead, you know, overhead is helping getting the muscle long. But the main benefit that you want to have there on top of that is you want that cable to basically be pulling you down like towards your butt.
So you’re probably gonna set the pulley behind you, kind of like close to the bottom of your shoulder blades. And then you’re gonna be nice and close to that so that you can get basically a challenge in the lengthened position in a variety of shoulder positions. But anytime the cable is out in front of you, then likely that’s gonna challenge the short position more.
It’s gonna be harder closer to the lockout, right? And easier and the stretch. And it’s not that those are bad exercises by any means, right? It’s not like it’s you do lengthened exercises or you get no hypertrophy. But if we are talking about like, hey, if you’re gonna, if you’re actually gonna think about these exercises, For her phy, those exercises are a few percentage points better.
If you have the cable, might as well use the cable in the way. That’s a few percentage points better.
Mike: Yeah. And I, I personally, I feel the difference in an overhead versus just a traditional push down. And I prefer an overhead, that cross body, I’m gonna try that, that I like that, um, that makes a lot of sense.
But I can feel that difference when, when I’m training, whereas probably I, I would not notice a difference as much between just a standard dumbbell curl and just about anything else that I’ve tried for dumbbells. I mean, maybe I’m just not, it’s not standing out to me now. Maybe our friend in the gym doing it, I would notice it, but it just, the difference in the stimulus to the triceps is very noticeable to me by making that change, I.
Kassem: Yeah, well you have two things going on there. ’cause the other thing is, is that you’re basically taking the scapula close to its end range. And so since the long head kind of anchors there, when we get the bone, that’s kind of the anchor close to its end range. It’s a more stable position too. So you tend to feel a better contraction and get a little bit more out of it.
Um, versus when it’s down, you know, the scapula can move all over the place, you know, and the tricep is also gonna be part of what’s helping manage that shoulder extension. So, It’s a little bit more of a complex movement, which means, you know, the effort relative to the stimulus might be thrown off a little bit.
And the amount of motor recruitment, like all these little, those little things, they start to build up. You know, it’s like, oh, well it’s just this, but it’s like, oh, well there’s stability, there’s positioning, there’s motor unit recruitment, and specific, all those things. And like, oh, when you add all them to bump, it might be a very, say, noticeable change in training experience.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah. Good point. And then lastly, if you have a few more minutes, I wanted to touch on glutes just because it, it’s popular. I see a, again, it’s mostly women, but doing a lot of, a lot of glute volume, a lot of different exercises, a lot of different variations and cables are definitely in the mix.
Kassem: One of the things that’s challenging for the lower body versus the upper body is, you know, for our upper body we’re using our arms and attached to our arms as hands, which means we can grab things and we can push and we can pull and we can do all these nice things.
And then when it comes to lower body, we’re pretty much basically just like, well, our shin is pushing into a blunt object, or our foot is on something, but we’re not really able to like articulate that thing around, right? Like there’s not a leg press where you can kinda like move the thing sideways and whatever, right?
It just moves on a predetermined path. Cables afford us to move in a lot of motions that we can’t get with exercises where we either standing on the ground or using machines where we have a fixed footpath. So especially like looking at things where we’re doing abduction and stuff like that. Now, in terms of specific to the glutes, one thing since we’re kind of have hit this button of like range of motion seems to matter, is that the glutes are actually stretched.
Both by doing hip flexion, which is, you know, bringing your knee up, but also with a deduction, which would be bringing your knee, like across, like towards midline. So the, the different divisions of the glutes are gonna be different variations of those. Like everything from like, you know, like if you just type in like Google stretch into Google, what you’re gonna see is basically somebody with like 90 degrees of hip flexion and then a deducting, like pulling their leg across their body.
Right? Or you might see the floor version right. Okay, so that’s gonna work one aspect, but then also coming up higher, but not as far across is gonna work lower portions of the glute max. So when it comes to cables, I would say industry as a whole, a lot of people are doing exercises that really focus on the short position, right?
So they’re just doing kickbacks, you know, or they’re doing AB deductions and whatnot. Compared to doing, if you had to go from doing no ab deduction work to doing cable abductions, but only doing the short position, for sure, that’s gonna be an improvement to your glute growth, but it’s not gonna max out the potential growth that you could be getting versus doing AB deduction exercises where you’re actually taking advantage of the stretch position as well.
So exercise is where you basically are coming across the body in some way, shape, or form. So, If you really wanted to capitalize on the abductions, like we have an exercise that, most people call it a glute mead kickback, but it’s essentially, it’s like a 30 degree plane. So it’s mostly abduction with some hip extension.
Right? Like I think the, the way that I usually describe the difference between the glute max, which is the big muscle on the back versus the glute mead, which is on like the back quarter, right? So it kind of, you know, some people refer to it as upper booty ’cause it kind of helps like the top back quarter stick out a little bit more.
The glute max is mainly hip extension and some abduction. So all the movements are gonna be mostly front to back, but just a little bit of that side to side. Once you get to the glute meat, you flip that and it’s mostly side to side with a little back, right? So if you’re doing cable motions and you’re focusing on that, I think that if you’re looking to get like a round, you know, peach looking booty, then you probably should be incorporating some AB deduction work.
That’s probably the first thing to include because you’re likely getting sagittal work if you’re doing leg presses and lunges and split squats and you know, all of those things. You’re working hip extension at some point, or maybe you’re doing, you know, hip thrusts and bridges and things like that. But all of those are like, those are good for glute max.
’cause we’re working mainly hip extension, but you’re not working a lot of the abduction. So first one of those, I would say that if you were gonna add something in would be something that’s more abduction bias. So using a cable that basically would pull your leg across. And what I basically tell people is like, it’s almost like you wanna take the adductor of one leg and scrape it across the quads of the other leg.
Well, you have to go forward to get in front of the quads, but you’re mostly gonna be going horizontal. And then essentially you’re just gonna keep following that leg path as you do the. The kickback or out if you will. And so that’s a probably a good place to start in terms of like, Hey, I wanna start suing something there, but set it up in a way where that cable is making it challenge when the muscle is stretched.
Right when the leg is pulled across you. Right. Because what, what I see a lot of is people just stand next to the machine and basically they’re starting from just standing and then just pushing their leg out from there and like, well, you’re missing like the 30% most lengthened portion of the range of motion by not letting your leg cross over.
So we’re really focusing on her per feed. We could be a lot more efficient, getting a lot more stimulus per set, getting that extra stretch in there when it comes to the glute max, if you wanted to add something in, that’s where it’s like, okay, probably the superficial upper portion of that, which is often called the iliac glute max.
If you, if you follow our stuff, you know, you’ll see people tagging the iliac glute. Kickback, and that’s essentially gonna be a little bit more hip extension. But essentially what you’re gonna do, like if you imagine that well, in a leg press, you could break your knee towards your chest and straight back down, but that’s as far as you can get it when an iliac kickback is, it’s bringing you into flexion, but also bringing your knee kind of towards your opposite pec, right?
So it’s a kind of cross body hip flexion. So it’s, it’s more hip extension than the glute mead kickback, right? In flexion and a little less abduction. And for that one, what I really like is for people to set up, to load the stretch of that one, you’re gonna have to have a high cable so that you’re essentially doing like a, like a foot pressed down, almost like if you, like, if you were doing a step up.
So what’s really valuable is if you have a cuff that goes under the foot, right? Not just the thing that goes around the ankle. ’cause if you get strong you’re just gonna, one, you’re gonna probably gonna rip out of that. But it’s also just gonna be like, you know, choking your. Half if you wanna do those, I suggest that you try and find the, the cuffs where you have a piece that goes under the foot.
’cause in order to make it challenging in the stretch, you need it basically to be pulling you up right at the beginning so that you’re basically kind of pushing more down. So we’ve kind of called these press backs instead of kickbacks. ’cause that’s kind of what it is, is it’s kind of like a leg press starting position.
Right? And being in that kind of like a deducted position again, is something that you’re not really gonna be able to get with a machine or a free weight. So typically those are the first two components that I add in for somebody that wants to kind of up their glute game on top of all of the other stuff.
Now I will say that, you know, doing things like leg presses and drop lunges, split squats and stuff like that, I think those are still probably the most important thing for just like overall glutes. Because one, they’re targeting the glute max, which is the biggest one, and we’re able to load them in the length of position.
And things like a leg press are extremely stable. But because we can’t be as specific to those other regions, and usually those regions will say highly correlated to the look that people are going for. I think that adding in something for the iliac, the upper portion of the glute max, or the glute meat, which is gonna be more of a abduction exercise, those are great things to add on.
And you typically tend to be able to do that without really impacting the volume of your other work because of the specificity of those exercises. Because you’re not really fatiguing those divisions of the glutes with your other exercises. So you tend to be able to slot those in and fit in that volume relatively well without it really taking away from the other stuff that you’re doing.
Mike: You can also take quads out, which, uh, I say that because I’ve had many women over the years reach out and say that. The butt that they want. If they were to just do quad dominant exercises like leg press and different types of squats and so forth, would require them making their legs bigger than they want them to be.
So they want to do only so much of the of the quad stuff to have nice muscle, muscle definition and the look they want there, but they want a butt that only gets their butt so far. And so, These are some, some good ways to get some extra volume in targeted that aren’t going to require your lower body as a whole to just get bigger.
Kassem: Yeah. When it comes to isolating the glutes over other things, you can do some things to make some of those bigger compound exercises. Less quad or less hamstring or less adductor. Right? And this is where understanding, like how to position your feet on a leg press comes into play. Right? So, you know, if we move our feet a little bit higher on a leg press, we’re gonna use a little bit less quads, right?
If we bring our feet a little bit narrower, we’re gonna use a little less adductor, right? So we’re slowly getting to making it a little bit more, more glute biased, right? You know, if you’re doing R DLS and you allow a little bit more knee bend, it’s gonna be a little bit more glute, a little less hamstringing.
So there are things that we can do so that you don’t necessarily have to eliminate those other things. But what you should do is you should use the most glute specific version of those. And then what you may need to do is you may need to. Like say, Hey, there’s a certain amount of volume that I can use those because they are gonna be a good amount of stimulus, but I’m not gonna go over that.
Because if you keep driving up the volume of those, eventually it will reach a threshold for some of those muscles that you don’t want to grow. And so then you fill in all of that extra volume with then your hip thrust, your bridges, your cable motions and whatnot that are even more specific, but maybe aren’t as strong of a stimulus on a per set basis in some cases, because either you’re losing some stability or you’re not able to load the range of motion that you want to as much and stuff like that.
Like you can load the length and position of a glute max really well in a leg press, but doing it in a cable. The stability challenge is significantly higher, especially as you get stronger, and especially as you’re like, you know, ’cause some of these people, they’re relatively small humans with, you know, just cannon balls attached to their pelvis now, right?
So they don’t have a lot of body weight to hold them down relative to how strong their glutes are, which means that, okay, now if we’re doing these exercises, they either have to be higher reps or I have to use pauses, or maybe I do super sets or post exhausts or, you know, clusters. Like you have to find ways to make it challenging without just being able to just apply, you know, regular, like, just progressive load and go close to failure.
Because now the, the loading of the exercise creates too much of a stability and a setup challenge because the exercise is just too unstable and the person doesn’t have, you know, enough body weight. Right?
Mike: So, I’ve seen that with cable pull throughs with women who are too strong for the setup and don’t weigh enough.
It just doesn’t work well.
Kassem: Yeah. So this is where again, you know, being creative and understanding, hey, when can I use this? Where to, where to use it? So when I was in my prime in terms of, you know, working with bikini competitors, like we used post exhaust techniques and stuff like that all the time. So for instance, like if we were doing an R D L or a leg press or something like that, you know, post exhausting that with a glute bridge hip thrust cable thing was a great way to decrease the loading demand on that second exercise.
And it allowed us to not also have to go to as close to failure on the other one, we tend to use more of the synergist muscles in those compound exercises. The closer we get to failure, even in a glute dominant leg press, you will use more quads. As you get closer to failure, ’cause your body will be reaching out to more, we’ll say, inefficient synergies to help however much it can.
So being able to say, Hey, we’re gonna miss out on a little bit of stimulus magnitude if we don’t go as close to failure in this exercise, but we’re gonna take that muscle still close to failure, but in more isolation by super setting it or post exhausting it with an exercise that is more specific. But we’re gonna still get some of the benefits out of, you know, training it up to, you know, Three two r i r.
Right. And then we’re just gonna jump out of it before our quads would really start to kick in. And then we’re gonna do, you know, thrust bridges, kickbacks, you know, something that can be a little bit more isolated, drop lunges or drop lunges or like, in terms of those type of movements, they’re, they’re one of the ones where it really takes out the quads in the hamstrings.
So like, if you need something that’s not cable, but is very, very glute biased, a reverse drop lunge is a very good free weight alternative if you don’t have access to do like cable press backs, kickbacks and things like that as well.
Mike: Awesome. Yeah. Great advice. Lots of, lots of information. I love it. Spend an hour and a half.
I, I can keep going, but I, I think this is probably a good point to wrap up what could be a first discussion and it could, I’m sure we could find other things to, to talk about in a follow-up interview. So why don’t we wrap up here and why don’t we let people know where they can find you and find your work.
If there’s anything in particular that you want them to know about.
Kassem: Um, so you can find us on YouTube and Instagram. It’s N one, the number one, uh, education. And you can find me personally if you want to like listen to a little bit of my bss. It’s just Coach Casm. But most of the exercise stuff we put out is on our exercise platforms.
Mike: And that’s where I’m guessing they can find a lot of demonstrations of a lot of the stuff that you’ve been talking about.
Kassem: Yeah, so the, we have courses for people that really want to get into the nuances, but then we also have a membership site that has basically just like exercise tutorials. So you can literally like, Hey, I wanna see, you know, glute max lengthened exercises and it, you can, you can filter by range of motion and, and stuff like that.
Um, which is, you know, I think for the people that are looking for that level of nuance, it’s kind of cool to be able to filter the exercises like that. On that topic, I am in the process of finishing up, hopefully maybe by the time this is released, our lengthened bias training guides. So basically we’re doing everything from covering the science component to the practical component and the different ways that you can kind of move things a little bit more into that length and bias training to get just, you know, get those extra percentage points you know, of hypertrophy.
So if this is a topic that interests you, We’re basically making a whole guidebook on that to kind of capitalize on a lot of the recent research that’s been coming out. And actually Milo Wolf, who has been doing or intimately involved in much of that research has actually been, uh, contributing to the, the science portion of that.
So I think if you like this stuff, that’ll be a very good guide to, you know, applying this stuff in, you know, across the body and understanding the principles behind that. So if it’s not the exact exercise, you can still apply it to whatever you have.
Mike: That’s great. And where can people, if they’re interested in that course, let’s say it is out by the time this is out or where can they find it?
Kassem: So you’ll be able to find that on N one training or if you’re following us on socials, I’m sure as soon as it’s released we’ll be spamming all, all over the places there. Right. And if it’s, you know, if we get it done in time, I’ll shoot you the link and you can throw it in the YouTube version of this if, if it’s done.
Mike: Yeah, absolutely. Alright, Cassem, well thanks again for taking your time. I really appreciate it. It was a great discussion.
Kassem: Yeah, that’s great, Mike. Let’s do it again.
Mike: Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful. And if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes.
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I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.