Q&A: February 2022

by on February 15, 2022

With regards to people that are prepping for a show, is “growing into the show” a phenomenon? Why does it happen even though like calories might be slightly lower and training might be increased, etc.

Cris Edmonds
So this boils down to 3 factors in my opinion:

Genetics – look at a guy like Kevin Levrone…….he would shrink after the show season due to taking time off, then blow up going into a prep.

I’m sure you all have heard the story Milos Sarcev tells about Flex Wheeler after his car accident. Flex came to Coliseum Gym at a soft/small 200 pounds and after 6 weeks totally transformed his body into one of the best in the world.

Next, what you will notice with both of those examples, Kevin and Flex had extended periods of time where they weren’t training and I’m sure decreased calorie consumption. So they both hit a growth spurt despite being in a calorie deficit.

Lastly, PEDs play a huge role in this equation. If you are running TRT or nothing before prep starts, then increase supps as the show gets closer, you will grow. Just the straight facts.

Now if you marry genetics, increased food consumption (or better quality of food), start training hard and add/increase gear you can grow like a weed into a show.

With all the talk about metabolic damage etc., regarding female bikini competitors, how low do you feel is too low for calorie level? When you hit the bottom line, what options are there?

Andrew Berry
Ok, so this is a good question. First, I think it’s important to understand that every prep causes some level of metabolic damage. What I mean by this is that the metabolism, specifically related to the thyroid output, takes a hit. The body likes homeostasis as in staying at and around the natural bodyweight. The body resists change, which is why its difficult to gain body weight (pushing calories) as well as lose body weight (cutting calories). The further we push from where the body likes to sit, the harder it gets. Second, often to get into great condition, we need to take caloric intake to a level that most wouldn’t consider. This is why everyone can’t be a physique competitor.

Now, some things to do to resist metabolic damage and continue to drop body fat: You can strategically add in refeeds during a prep. This can be as small as a single meal or last for several days. For example, if a female is eating around 50 grams of carbs a day, I might push the carbs up to 150 grams a day for 2-3 days at a time. This gets leptin signaling again, increases thyroid output and can mentally give the competitor the bump they need to continue into the next hard push. Research shows that carbohydrate feedings do better than fat or mixed meal feedings, but this isn’t always the case. Learning the clients body is crucial here.

The other important thing to do is make sure females in particular do not diet too long or too often. Intense diets can wreak havoc on the sex hormone profile in women which will make it harder and harder to get into shape for future competitions. Having a reverse strategy that is as methodical as the prep diet itself is often needed- and is also the hardest part of a contest prep. Once the show is over, rightfully so, people want to eat. They have pushed their body to the limit. Now, they don’t have that fear of being judged on a certain date so it’s much harder to resist the urge to binge. So, what I like to do post show is increase carb count but instead of listing carbs in the diet, put a number on it and let the athlete choose from mostly clean sources. This gives them some control and lowers the incidence of all out binges from being on such a structured plan.

For people who are allergic to all seafood (this involves fish oil caps) is there any way to increase the amount of omega 3s in ones diet.

Cris Edmonds
You really are going to have to double on High Quality (Omega 3 Enriched) Eggs, flax seeds and walnuts. Now these three are gonna be your best but, but realize they all have to go through a conversion process to get to DHA. So they won’t be as effective as fish oil.

Any tips for not tearing a pec? I almost tear mine frequently. I get constant strains and pulls?

Andrew Berry
Yes. First, eliminate or move the dangerous exercises to later in the chest routine. I’m talking about bench pressing. You will never see me benching first in a training routine for this reason. I want the pecs warmed up and full of blood before benching and if I do it, it’s going to be the third movement- maybe the second movement. Second, do more incline pressing in place of flat benching- I would also place this later in the training routine. Third, warm up and strengthen the surrounding tissue. I like to do 20 over and backs to start off every upper session and a few sets of side laterals. Fourth, on any barbell exercise, stop 2 inches from your chest. That extra 2 inches isn’t worth tearing a pec and not being able to train for a while. Lastly, if it just isn’t an exercise for you, avoid it. Better to be smart that brave here.

You say that if you don’t have chains you can reverse-band the chained exercises. Wouldn’t reverse banding de-load at the top, rather than the bottom, as with chains? Should the chains be replaced with bands in the standard fashion, so the bands de-load at the bottom?

Cris Edmonds
For sure there is a huge difference in banding, reverse banding and chains. I know a lot of you guys don’t have access to chains and it’s a huge pain to carry them to the gym……I did this for years bc I just loved chain squats and deadlifts.

What you have to realize is if you traditionally band an exercise you have to drastically reduce the load on the bar and you get a crazy amount of tension on the negative. It will deload some at the bottom of the rep, but not a ton.

With the reverse band, that to me closely resembles the way chains feel. You get a massive deload as you go down, then as you come back up, you feel the full load of all the weight. And that’s bc a reverse band allows you to put a significant amount more on the bar. Like chains, reverse banding is great for your joints as it takes the most load off, when your joints are the most vulnerable (knees in a squat or shoulders on a bench press).

With the reverse band you really must play around with how high you set the bands and how much band tension you apply. What I mean by that, is when you are at lock out, you will feel the total load of the bar.

Let’s use the squat as an example here. If you can squat say 405 for a good set of 6, if we reverse band it properly, I should be able to add a plate per side, taking the total bar load to 495 for 6 clean reps. If you have the correct band, when you are at max depth, the bands will deload the weight to 405, then as you stand up, you get more and more of the bar weight bc as you know, as you get closer to full ROM your body becomes stronger.

What I mean by that is you could quarter squat way more than you can full squat. Which is why you can flatten the strength curve when reverse banding. This takes some practice in the trenches, but when you nail it, you will see exactly what I am explaining.

I noticed in the “Hard gainer” case study, he mentions things like his “energy levels were lacking”, he “felt hungry this week”, “workouts were super pumped up” etc. Then you followed by changing something in the diet accordingly. I wonder, as a physique prep coach, what are the most important questions that you ask your clients about their subjective feelings each week? Also how do those answers lead you to decide what factors to change about the diet as you move forward that week?

Andrew Berry
For me, I have a check in protocol that includes not just the simple stuff like weight or pictures for visual but more in-depth questions about:

  • Digestion<
  • Energy
  • Sleep duration and quality
  • Pump in the gym
  • Desire to go in and train

Now, it’s important that someone be very honest with this stuff but also make sure they are being realistic. For instance, energy is going to be low towards the end of prep. Often first timers, or those that have never been in great contest shape are shocked at how this feels over the last 2 weeks when they do get into great condition. If we see strength dropping big time suddenly or there is no pump in the gym, to me, that’s a sign that we need to pull back in some capacity whether it be reducing training frequency or volume and add in some calories in a refeed- all short term, just to get the person back to a place where they can progress and push hard again. With digestion and sleep, we need to look at things such as food choices (make changes as needed) or add in supplementation to address the issue. All in all, it’s important for the athlete to be honest here but also understand that they are not going to be feeling like their best self until after the show.

I have competed, and done well, in powerlifting since 2001. I also won my pro card in strongman in 2006. I’m am now 34 years old, and 280lbs. I competed twice last year, but to be honest, all the years of extremely heavy lifting has taken its toll. I have extreme hip osteoarthritis and am just generally beat up and achy from all the years of lifting so heavy.

I absolutely love strength training. I own one of the top strength gyms in the country however, I just don’t think my body can handle the extremely heavy stuff any longer.

I have accepted, and am actually quite excited to start training for bodybuilding, even though I have no desire whatsoever to compete. I just want to get healthy, and train to get bigger and leaner. I have a tremendous base of muscle already from my years of powerlfiting, and think it will be fin to work towards new goal. I have joined your member site and am reading absolutely everything I can get my hands on.

My question for you…is do you have any advice for a guy like me, who has lifted heavy for decades, built a good base of dense muscle, is extremely strong, but totally beat up and just want to get healthy and start training for aesthetics for the rest of my life?

Cris Edmonds
All day long MountainDog workouts are going to best for you in terms of physical health, but also mental health. What I find is a lot of guys who come from other very competitive backgrounds crave to be pushed and train hard, but all they know is loading up the bar on squats or deads to achieve that.

With the protocols John has designed you will push the exercises more taxing on the joints later in the workout after your muscle is fully pumped. This allows you to train hard, but to also train smart.

Exercise sequence is often overlooked, but in MD training its in your face. I would recommend picking up Creeping Death 2 and jumping full steam into the world of smart bodybuilding training.

When you worked a full-time job Monday through Friday how did you plan your meals? What did you eat at work? Also, what kind of supplements did you take back then?

Andrew Berry
It all came down to time management. I was a personal training often working 5:30 am- 4 pm most days with maybe a 1-hour break in there somewhere. So, how did I get 4 meals in? So right off the bat, I explained to clients how important nutrition was so they would understand that I needed to get my nutrition in. They were coming to me to improve their physiques so it’s important to lead by example. I would do my eggs and oats before work at like 5 am. From there, every 3 hours or so it would be a protein and rice. Now, with clients back-to-back it’s hard to get meals in. What I would do in this situation is slam half my meal on the hour and then eat the other half when that hour is done. This worked out well because clients needed to warm up so I could tell them what to do, go and take 5 minutes to pound half my meal and then do the same thing with the next client and repeat the process again in 2-3 hours. Serious clients understood how important that was to me as I was “leading by example.” On that note- I see a lot of personal trainers develop a physique, get tons of clients and within several years lose the physique that made people seek them out because they stopped putting the attention to detail in on their own nutrition.

I think I took all the same supplements I do now… fish oil, vitamins, protein powder, intra carbs and aminos.

When it comes to training, do you think volume or intensity is what drives the ship for maximum muscle growth?

Cris Edmonds
What a great question!! Bc to me the answer can be both. In order for a muscle to grow it needs new stimulus. That can be in the form of more bar load, more reps, more sets or more intensity via supersets, drop sets, cluster sets, rest pause, etc.

You will find that as you progress as a lifter you must change one of the above variables I order to grow. If you follow John’s system, he designed it to do Hard/Heavy/Intense sessions early in the week, followed by lower intensity, but higher volume pump sessions.

To me that is the happy medium to optimal growth.

I was curious about your thoughts on creating diets based around LBM. I know you typically work with individuals who have very low bodyfat levels and a very high amount of lean body mass. My thoughts are with protein and carbohydrate needs; for example, an average male at 180 pounds with 20% body fat might need a lower level of protein and carbohydrates, training the same amount as another 180 lb. male with 10% bodyfat.

Andrew Berry
So, I don’t use any formulas or anything like that when developing a diet for someone. My first move is to look at what they are doing currently and make improvements from there. For example, if they are eating 3 meals a day and it looks like they are lacking protein, my first move is to tell them to eat 4 meals with a protein source as the cornerstone. Once they can master that task, I work up from there. Over time, they will most likely get to a place where they are eating something like 1-1.25 grams of protein per pound of lean mass, but I think it’s too much of a jump to get someone to eat “perfectly” after not having any guidelines previously. I prefer to do small steps. Acquire the skill, put it in the bank and then move on to another one.

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