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Ep. #1103: Q&A: Current Training Goals, Lower Back Pain, My 5 Favorite HIIT Workouts, & More


Hey. Hey, Mike Matthews here and welcome to Muscle for Life. Thank you for joining me today for a q and a episode where I answer questions that people ask me over on Instagram. How it works is every Wednesday or Thursday, I put up a story asking for questions. I get a bunch of questions. I go through them.

I pick one to answer that are topical or interesting, or just not beaten to death, things that I haven’t already written and spoken about many, many times. And answer them there on Instagram briefly, and then bring everything over here to the podcast where I can answer the questions in more detail, share links and so forth.

And so if you want me to answer your questions, find me on Instagram, follow me at Muscle for Life Fitness and look for that story that I put up every weekend. Submit your questions. Okay, so. In this week’s questions, I’m going to be answering what my current training goals are. If sumo deadlifts are a bad choice for hypertrophy, the best way to stay motivated, what’s the benefit of seated calf raises versus straight leg calf raises, finding a balance of work and family and.

Training the best forms of magnesium, how to deal with back pain. What are some simple evidence-based ways to reduce back pain? The correlation between muscle soreness and muscle gain and more. WA lead A asks, what are your current training goals? Well, currently I want to enjoy my workouts. That’s important.

I want to maintain my physique and my performance. I want to avoid injury, and I wanna spend no more than 60 minutes in the gym, maybe 70 minutes, 60 to 70 minutes, three days a week. That’s what I’m doing right now, Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Push pull legs. Probably closer to 70 minutes per workout, and that is more than enough to maintain my physique, maintain my performance, not enough to progress.

If I were trying to gain muscle and strength, I would have to be in the gym at least four days per week, probably 70 to maybe 80 minutes per workout, but five days per week would be ideal if I were trying to progress, and I did that for. Probably close to three years, up until several months ago when I switched to three days per week.

Well, first I switched to four days per week and then accepted that four days per week is not necessary if I’m just trying to maintain three days a week is plenty. And that also gives me some time to do a little bit of extra cardio. So I am in the gym lifting three days per week, and then I’m doing 30 minutes of steady state, moderate intensity cardio on the other days.

So four days per week, but previously, for about three years, I was in the gym five days per week, 70, 80, sometimes even 90 minute workouts. I was following my Beyond bigger, leaner, stronger program. And so that two to three year period began when I began the process of writing the second edition of Beyond Bigger Lean or Stronger.

And that included updating the training regimen and it started with me running it myself. And that was probably six or seven months of running the program, tweaking it. So then it can go into the book, which I then published a little bit later. And then I just kept going with it because I was enjoying it and it was working.

I was gaining strength and gaining muscle. But if I look at, let’s just say three years, there’s probably closer to three years than two years. If I look objectively at what did I gain? For three years of a lot of hard work, I did gain a fair amount of strength. Prd, front squat, prd, deadlift, almost got to my previous PR and bench press, which though if I think about body weight previously, my, so my best bench press that I.

I’ve logged, that I can remember was about 2 95 for two or three reps. So one rep Max around three 15, but I weighed like, I think two 12 at that time. And so on the Beyond bigger lean or stronger program, the 2.0 program, I got to. A one RMM probably of low three hundreds, maybe 3 0 5, but outta body weight closer to 1 95 to 200 pounds.

So relative strength is gonna be close to a, a pr, if not a pr. And I set a PR on my front squat in an absolute sense. So I. Weighed less than my previous best front squat, and I front squatted more. That one RMM was in the low three hundreds, I wanna say 3 20, 3 15. I ped on deadlift, which was a one rep max of around 500, 4 94 95, something like that.

Again, at a lower body weight than my previous best deadlift, which was a one RMM of. Four eighties and so I made progress over those few years with the strength gain, obviously came muscle gain. Also with the additional volume that I was doing came muscle gain. But given where I’m at in my body composition and in my fitness journey, given that I have already gained the vast majority of muscle and strength that is genetically available to me, it really was not that much.

It was a few pounds of muscle, probably distributed. Throughout my body, it was a small enough amount of muscle to where you can’t really see much of a difference in pictures before and after that two to three year period. And so it was fun and I, I did enjoy the process, but uh, just a couple of months ago, I looked at how much time I was spending in the gym and how difficult these workouts are and what they require in terms of recovery and in terms of eating and so forth.

And just accepted that it probably makes more sense to go into a maintenance protocol. I don’t want to be spending 5, 6, 7 hours a week in the gym, and I do want to be doing several hours of cardio per week, but don’t want to spend even more time exercising. I don’t wanna spend 5, 6, 7 hours a week lifting weights and then another.

Few hours a week doing cardio, and I also wouldn’t mind a bit less in the way of repetitive stress and aches, particularly in joints, which is inevitable when you’re doing a lot of weightlifting. Injuries are not inevitable, but aches, sometimes pains, and just higher levels of stress inevitable. And so for those reasons, as I mentioned, I’m now doing a push pull legs, three day per week, bigger, leaner, stronger ish program.

Really mostly four to six reps, some six to eight, the occasional eight to 10, but most of my work, let’s say between four and eight reps, focusing on compound exercises for maximum efficiency and pushing in those workouts, you know, pushing close to failure, making sure that those hard sets truly are hard sets and pushing for progress where possible.

Understanding though. That progress is going to be more or less nil, first and foremost, because volume now is lower. It’s probably around eight to 12 hard sets per major muscle group per week, and eight to 10. That range is not enough to produce progress in. Really any muscle group at this point. Even my calves require like 15 to 20 hard sets per week to really make progress.

However, eight to 10 hard sets per week is more than enough to maintain my muscle and strength in any muscle group. So that’s what I’m doing right now and those are my training goals. Alexandra Tara 17 asks, are sumo deadlifts a bad choice for hypertrophy? I’ve stuck with Romanians, but sumos feel good.

Well, I think that sumo and conventional deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts, really any type of deadlift is underrated for hypertrophy these days. It’s trendy to say that you don’t need to deadlift, and that deadlifting is. Overrated for hypertrophy or even useless for hypertrophy. But I disagree because a deadlift, let’s say specifically a sumo deadlift or a traditional deadlift, it trains everything really on the backside of your body and it allows you to safely move heavy loads, which is good for hypertrophy, and it’s a very functional movement.

That hip hinge movement is very functional for. Daily living. Now, do you have to deadlift? No, of course not. You don’t have to do any exercise. But if you look at what it takes to train every muscle on the backside of your body, your entire posterior chain with isolated exercises, you can do it, but it takes quite a bit more time.

So you can do one set of deadlifts or you can do one set of calves and hamstrings and glutes and spinal erectors, and the muscles in your upper back, including your traps. So just keep that in mind with your programming. One set of a sumo deadlift or a conventional deadlift is volume for quite a few muscle groups.

Ball and Bailey asks Best way to stay motivated. You know, sometimes you gotta ask yourself, I. Do I need more motivation or do I just need to decide that not accomplishing my goals simply is not acceptable? Brian, explore asks, what’s the benefit of seated calf raise with less than body weight? Well, when you’re training your calves, if you do a straight leg exercise, like think of a a leg press calf raise, or a standing calf raise, that is going to emphasize the larger and more visible muscle in your calf.

So that’s the gastroc anus. Muscle. And then with bent leg exercises like the seated calf raise, that’s going to emphasize the smaller and deeper soleus muscle. And so then if you want to maximize your calf development, you want to do both straight leg exercises and bent leg exercises, and you can do them 50 50.

You can split your calf volume, 50% straight leg, 50% bent leg. Have you ever wondered what strength training split you should follow, what rep ranges you should work in, how many sets you should do per workout or per week? Well, I created a free 62nd training quiz that will answer those questions for you and others, including how frequently you should train each major muscle group.

Which exercises you should do, what supplements you should consider, uh, which ones are at least worth taking and more. To take this quiz and to get your free personalized training plan, go to Muscle for Life, show Muscle FFR Life show slash training quiz, answer the questions and learn exactly what to do in the gym to gain more muscle and strength.

C bas three asks, how do you find time to balance work, family, and gym? The honest answer is no. Social life and no hobbies. That’s my honest answer. I have basically no social life and I have no hobbies. And I don’t necessarily recommend that it’s not a great long-term strategy for happiness and wellbeing, and it has certainly lowered the amount of happiness and wellbeing in my life.

But it has also allowed me to get a lot of work done without losing my health and family. And that was a, a conscious decision. I consciously chose to give up, socializing, and to give up hobbying, but not. My health or my family. C Mifsud 12 asks, can you rank the types of magnesium, citrate, glycinate, et cetera?

Well, because of bioavailability and total elemental magnesium, first is ssom magnesium, and if you don’t know what that is, head over to buy legion.com/mag, B u y L e G I o n.com/mag and you can learn about it. Because my sports attrition company sells it. And then number two on the list would be citrate, and number three would be oxide, glycinate, and aspartate.

Those seem to be about equal in terms of bioavailability and total elemental magnesium. Okay, Dane DC asks, as a Florida man was pulse of viable option to wean yourself off smoking bath salts. Um, duh. Is the space pope a reptilian shapeshifter. Daniel MFT one who appears, I think in just about every Q and a episode, and that’s not because I explicitly choose his questions.

I actually don’t even look at the names. Usually I’m just reading the questions, looking for interesting questions, so I guess he’s just good at asking the type of questions that I like to answer anyway. He asks, uh, about lower back pain. So he says, I need some advice on lower back pain. Okay, so first is to stretch slash massage gun slash foam.

Roll your hamstrings because tight hamstrings can produce back pain. And then the second I. Tip is to check your internal hip rotation on both sides, because a lack of internal rotation can lead to SI joint dysfunction. That can in turn, lead to back pain, especially when put under heavy loads, think deadlifting, squatting, and so forth.

This is something that I had an issue with years ago. The internal rotation on my left side was terrible, and I had SI joint on my left side that would sometimes turn into lower back pain. And by correcting that, by improving internal rotation with some simple stretching, and I had to do the stretching every day, and it took several months to really make a big difference.

But once I corrected that imbalance in my hips, that was the end of of that problem. And that problem actually did return. It was the end of the problem for some time, and it did return several months ago. And then in looking into it further, I found some research on the correlation or the connection between weak adductors.

So that’s, uh, abduction a d. Duction is moving a limb toward the midpoint of your body. A B deduction is away from the midpoint of your body, and if your hip adductors are not strong enough, or if there’s an imbalance between those muscles and other muscles, other hip muscles and lower body muscles that can lead to SI joint pain.

So I checked my hip adductors and they were not very strong. There definitely was an imbalance between the strength of my abduction and abduction, as well as other elements of my hips and my lower back. And so I started to use the abduction machine doing six to eight sets per week. And when I started, I wanna say that 135 pounds for sets of probably 12 to 15 was.

That that was pretty difficult. And now doing, let’s see, I think I’m doing 205, 210 pounds for sets of 12 to 15. So I’ve increased my strength there dramatically and quickly, and that has made a big difference with my SI joint. It’s feeling a lot better. So that’s a long second tip, but that’s a second tip.

Two parts to it, I guess. Third tip here is to get up and move around after every hour or so of sitting. Try not to sit for hours and hours at a time because that can lead to lower back pain. And finally, fourth tip. Try the legs up the wall position every day for 10 to 15 minutes. You can just look at that online.

Alright, Dustin b Webb asks, does someone truly need to train until pain slash soreness for it to be effective? Practically speaking, yes, because if you are not sore whatsoever, After a workout or the day after a workout. So like you train lower body, then you have the next day, and then you have the following day.

That’s usually the day when the soreness really hits. But if you’re not experiencing any soreness whatsoever in any muscle group at any time, you’re probably not training. I. Hard enough, but that doesn’t mean that you need to get really sore either if you’re getting really sore, if you are struggling to walk downstairs or walk upstairs, for example, the day after training lower body or the day after that, you’re probably overdoing it.

Ed Salas asks, is it a waste of time to train after a night of two to three hours of sleep reset tomorrow instead? Well, you don’t have to train if you have gotten very little sleep. But it’s not a waste. Research shows that you will probably perform about as well as you would with more sleep. If we’re talking about one night of sleep deprivation, multiple nights, no, your performance going to fall off a cliff.

But if it’s just one night, you probably will perform just fine. That workout is probably going to feel harder, like your perceived exertion is going to be higher. It’s going to feel more difficult, but. You probably are going to perform fine. And other research shows that resistance training can counteract some of the negative physiological effects of under sleeping, so that’s a reason to get in and do a workout if you didn’t get enough sleep.

Holly Kahn asks What happens when you can no longer progressively? Overload. Well, if you can no longer progressively overload, then you are going to stop gaining muscle and strength. But you need to remember that there are several ways to progressively overload. One way is to increase how much weight you lift.

That’s the most effective and straightforward way, but you can’t. Do that regularly, forever. Obviously there is a time when you can’t just add weight to the bar every week anymore, and then you need to think about some of these other methods of getting there. Like for example, increasing your rep range in each set.

So with a given weight, you’re getting, let’s say sets of 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, whatever. And then over time with that, Given weight, you can do a rep or two or three more than you could several months ago. That is a form of progress. That is a form of progressive overload, and when you make enough progress in that way, you can kind of cash that in, so to speak, by adding weight to the bar or dumbbell or machine.

And that’s going to knock. Let’s say if you add between five and 10 pounds, depending on the exercise, that’s going to knock two reps off of your performance. So let’s say you’ve worked your way up to eight reps on an exercise. Maybe you can even do two sets of eight reps, and then in your third set, you’re getting six or seven.

Okay? You add five or 10 pounds to that exercise, and now you’re getting two sets of. Six reps with that weight and maybe five reps in your final set. Well, you first achieved some progressive overload by working your way up to being able to do those eight rep sets, and then you incorporated more progressive overload by increasing the weight.

Another element of progressive overload is increasing the number of sets you do per week. You just have to be careful with that because you don’t want to. Increase the weekly volume for any major muscle group too quickly, for example, in most cases, you might add just one or two sets to the total weekly sets that you’re doing for a major muscle group, and stay with that for at least two weeks, if not four weeks, to let your body adjust to it before adding more volume, but increasing the amount of hard sets that you’re doing per week.

That is a form of progressive overload, and you also can increase the number of workouts that you are doing. Each week. And if you wanna learn more about progressive overload in each of these points that I just shared, head over to legion athletics.com, search for progressive overload, and you will find an article that I wrote on the topic.

Okay, next up we have a question from Jaw Mc G 90. And they ask, wait five times per week plus cut. Lost three pounds in three weeks. Scan says one kilogram fat gain, one kilogram muscle loss. Possible. Yeah, that’s possible. But much more likely is that you’ve lost intramuscular fluids and not lean tissue, and that then registered as lean mass loss, which made it look like your body composition went backward.

But an easy way to know if you are not losing muscle when you’re cutting, if you are retaining muscle or even gaining muscle, is if you are maintaining your strength or if you’re gaining strength while you’re cutting. And. If you are an experienced weightlifter, you are not gonna gain strength over the course of a cut.

Maybe for the first few weeks. Like if, let’s say you are lean bulking and you’re making slow and steady progress, and then you start cutting, you go right into a cut, which is fine. You have momentum on your side. So you may notice that the first few weeks of the cut feel pretty good. You are. Still making slow progress in your workouts.

You have good energy levels, but eventually that starts to taper off and eventually, if you’re cutting long enough, if you wanna get really lean, you are gonna lose a little bit of strength. You’re gonna lose at least a rep or two or three on your big lifts. But if you are not losing a significant amount of strength, if you’re not having to take large amounts of weight off of the bar just to hit your rep targets, you’re not losing any muscle to speak of.

Jason Remer asks The lizard people control the world, but who controls the lizard people? And so I put a poll up for this one, and the options were Hillary Clinton Illuminati, and Space Commies. And the results of that poll were 49% of people believe that Hillary Clinton controls the lizard people. 26% voted for the Illuminati and 25% for space Commies.

Joelle Leva asks how to not be intimidated by others at gym when we are at the beginning of the journey. That’s a good question, and fortunately, there’s a lot less judgment and a lot more support in gyms than many people realize because everyone is there to get better, and except in the case of sociopaths and psychopaths, other people are excited.

To see other people get better. And so you have this community in a gym of people who are getting better and who like to see other people get better. And that’s particularly true of the most jacked people in the gym who might seem to be the most intimidating. Those people are often the most encouraging, especially with newbies.

John Tillman asks thoughts on walking more versus high intensity interval training workouts for weight loss. Well, walking more is definitely the easiest way to speed up. Fat loss and high intensity interval training is great if you don’t have time to walk, maybe one to two hours per day, around 8,000, 10,000 steps per day, and you still wanna burn a significant amount of calories.

That is where high intensity interval training shines. So you only have, let’s say, an hour per week. That you can really give to cardio workouts. You might want to consider doing some high intensity stuff, but if you can get out and walk for at least an hour, if not two hours per day, and that doesn’t mean necessarily going for walks for one to two hours per day.

I guess when I say get out, it implies that. So this would include any and all steps. So this would include walking around your house, walking around your office. If all of the walking that you engage in is somewhere around, let’s say a. Hour and a half, two hours per day. That is great. That’s gonna burn several hundred calories and it’s going to prevent you from spending long periods sitting probably, because it’s mostly gonna be smaller spurts of walking.

I. Just throughout the day, maybe plus a quote unquote walk or two where you just go outside for 15 to 30 minutes and take a walk. And then if you want to combine both of those things, if you want to get your walking done every day, so you’re getting your steps in and you want to add, let’s say no more than an hour of cardiovascular training per week, I would recommend considering high intensity interval training for that hour, assuming that you are cardiovascularly.

Fit enough to do that. If you are brand new to all of this and you are very out of shape and you have a lot of weight to lose, I would not start you with high intensity interval training. I would start you with just moderate intensity, zone two cardio. But if you are a bit more fit, maybe you are doing that zone two cardio right now and you just wanna get a bit more out of that time than you could do the high intensity cardio rather than the zone two cardio.

But keep in mind that it needs to be high intensity, difficult cardio to burn a significantly larger number of calories than that zone two cardio if it’s short sprints and long rest periods. For example, research shows that it is not going to burn more calories than just steady state for let’s say an hour per week.

So for hit to be effective, you do need to work up to more challenging regimens where you have longer sprint periods and shorter rest periods. Okay, Linden ePEP asks, do you think body positivity is affecting obesity? Well, I’ve read some research on this and the effects seem to be unclear, but if I had to bet some money and then just look into the crystal ball and get the answer, I would bet on a net negative effect, because I would bet that a lot of.

The messaging around body positivity is just normalizing obesity and thereby making it more personally and socially acceptable to be obese and thereby discouraging people from losing weight who should lose weight, not merely for the purposes of aesthetics, but for health. Lucky Sand Hue 7 0 2 says, need some videos slash tips for HIIT cardio.

Well, this is a, a good follow up to what I just talked about a couple minutes ago. So here are five of my favorite HIIT protocols. So the first one is called the Timmons method, and this involves, Doing a 22nd sprint at about 90% of your max effort, followed by two minutes of active recovery. You then repeat that four times for a total of nine minutes and 20 seconds of exercise.

And this is a good introduction to hit because it provides the shorter sprints and the longer rest intervals. But as I mentioned earlier, you want to progress from. That, that’s a good place to start. But if you want to get the most that hit has to offer, you need to level up as they say, to a more difficult protocol.

And so, for example, here’s another protocol that I like. It is the four by 30. So this one is a 32nd sprint at about 90% of your max effort. So this is all out. You can’t have a conversation, you’re breathing heavily, and then you do a one minute act of recovery. You repeat that four times for a total of six minutes of exercise.

And if that is too short for you, because you are. Pretty fit. You can turn that into a six by 30. So you’re doing six 32nd sprints with two minutes of active recovery after each sprint for a total of about 15 minutes of exercise. Another protocol that I like is the four by four. So this is a four minute sprint at about 90% of your max effort.

Now we’re getting into some tough hits, right? And then you follow that with three minutes of active recovery. You repeat that four times for a total of 28 minutes of exercise, and this workout in particular is great. For boosting your aerobic endurance, and it burns a lot of calories, more calories than most other protocols because of those long intervals.

And remember that, that the unique benefits of HIIT are tied to the sprint intervals, not the recovery intervals. So if you really want to get the most that has to offer, you are going to have to work toward longer sprint intervals or more sprint intervals, just more sprinting rather than less. So another.

Protocol that I like is called a pyramid hit workout. So it works like this. You do a 32nd sprint, followed by 60 seconds of active recovery. Then you do a 62nd sprint, followed by two minutes of active recovery, then a 92nd sprint followed by three minutes of active recovery. And then we are going to pyramid back down.

So we just went up. Now we’re going back down to a 62nd sprint followed by. Two minutes of active recovery and then a 32nd sprint followed by 60 seconds of active recovery. And there’s nothing inherently special about that protocol, but it is a fun way to inject a bit of variety into your HIIT routine.

And then finally, we have the 10 by one method, which is a one minute sprint, about 90% of your max effort, followed by one minute of active recovery. And just repeat that 10 times for a total of 20 minutes of exercise and that. The protocol will accumulate a lot of high intensity time, so that burns a lot of calories without dragging out the length of the interval.

And that is, I think the most difficult part of HIIT workouts is just the length of those sprint intervals. So the four by four method, that four minute sprint, it is. Very difficult. So I do prefer the the 10 by one method because a minute of 90% is tough, but not grueling. And so with that 10 by one, you’re racking up a lot of sprint time without suffering too much for it.

Okay, Rammy Ya Deam asks, asked you last week, thoughts on glutamine. Well, glutamine is great, but if you’re eating enough protein, you’re getting enough glutamine as a supplement. Glutamine is highly overrated for basically anything because if you eat enough protein, you are getting enough glutamine, period.

It’s like BCAAs or eaas. And the only exception I know of this, the only evidence-based exception is people with gut issues. There are studies that show that glutamine supplementation may reduce symptoms in those people, but if you have a healthy gut, I don’t know of any reason why you should be supplementing with Glutamine.

Unfortunately, if there were good evidence for it, I would be selling glutamine. Legion would offer a glutamine product. We would put glutamine in something. Maybe we would put glutamine in, recharge our post-workout supplement, but we don’t because we can’t make an evidence-based argument for it. RG three.

Collins asks, what is your favorite set slash rep range to train in? Uh, anything between four. And eight reps on most exercises. Enough weight to get a good training stimulus, but not a crushing amount of weight. I really do enjoy doing twos and threes on certain exercises like certain squats and deadlifts and presses.

But you can’t do too much of that because your joint’s gonna take so much, but four to eight, you get a good pump from that, especially if it’s closer to eight. It’s also easy to know how close you are to failure when you’re doing, let’s say four to eight, which is very important for making sure you are training hard enough.

Once you get above 10 reps, it gets harder to know whether you are close to failure, like whether you are one rep or maybe two reps from failure, or whether. Your muscles are just on fire and it’s just painful. And so four to eight, though you don’t run into that issue nearly as much. You don’t get much muscle burn.

The muscle burn is just annoying it. It’s not a bad thing. It’s not particularly productive, it’s just obnoxious. And also four to eight allows for a moderate amount of training volume in an hour or so. Rohit hum. Asks, best way to deal with brain fog. Well, two things. One, make sure you’re getting enough sleep and enough high quality sleep.

Try getting more sleep. If you think you’re getting enough sleep, but you’re not sure, maybe you’re getting around seven hours and you think that’s enough, maybe it’s not enough. Try getting eight hours and then just move your body more. Those two things almost always lead to more. Mental clarity. Alright, Tom Gella asks, I donate plasma twice per week for extra income.

Will that affect muscle gain? It’s possible if your iron levels remain low because of that, but otherwise it shouldn’t be an issue. There is some evidence that donating blood can reduce your maximal endurance capacity, but that doesn’t really matter for muscle gain. 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.

And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you. And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you have. Uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share?

Shoot me an email, [email protected], muscle f o r life.com and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future. 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.





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