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Muscle Growth

Muscle growth happens in spurts. No matter how much we might want it to be, it isn’t a non-stop process that just goes on forever without interruption. If you’re stubborn and try to force your body to grow nonstop, it will fight back with all the negative training symptoms of plateaus, over-training, burnout, and injuries.

You may already have experienced some of these things firsthand when it comes to training, or at least you know people who have. Well, it applies to nutrition, too. You can’t force-feed your muscles into growth simply by overloading them with more and more calories. Trying to force-feed your body will only work for a limited period of time and will ultimately result in poor health, bad habits, excessive fat, and a ruined physique.


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Help for the hardgainer

Your nutrition: Do not include to include high-volume, low-calorie foods in your diet. They won’t help you reach your target calorie intake. Don’t stuff your stomach with mountains of low-cal carrots; instead, focus on eating calorie-dense foods. To add lean muscle mass, most hardgainers require at least 20 calories per pound of bodyweight. If you’re eating all those calories in high volumes of veggies, fruits, egg whites and cooked oatmeal, you’re going to struggle. This isn’t to say these foods aren’t healthy choices, they’re just not ideal for the hardgainer. Choose calorie-dense picks like pureed vegetables, dried fruit, whole eggs, raw oatmeal and steak.

Sleep:  If you aren’t sleeping enough each night, it’s going to dramatically impact your progress. Aim for at least eight hours of sleep; get nine if you can. Hitting the gym before you’re recovered will just further break down your body – not what you want. Rest, recover, sleep and grow!

Add calories to your drink: In addition to your pre- and post-workout protein shakes, make an effort to drink AT LEAST one more shake per day. Include as many calorie-dense ingredients in this shake as possible: natural nut butters, ground flaxseed, coconut oil, ground or raw oats, milk powder, frozen fruit, Greek yogurt and/or cottage cheese. If you have a really hard time hitting your calorie totals, pick up a weight gainer.

Weight training: Focus on movements like shoulder press, bench press, and incline press. These lifts will target large muscle groups along with the smaller arm muscles. For a hardgainer, less volume is usually better. Set heavy weight goals and leave out the extra fluff. Focus on the compound moves for maximum mass.

Cardio:  When done correctly, there is a place for cardio in a hardgainer’s program. Plus you never want to ignore your most important muscle: your heart. Big muscles don’t stay big long in a coffin. You want to put on size and stay healthy. For optimal results, keep cardio to low or moderate intensity for 20-to-30 minutes. Two or three cardio sessions per week will keep your heart healthy, improve nutrient delivery to muscle cells and may even boost your recovery time.

Lift big, lift heavy: Since your primary focus needs to be on lifting heavy, keep your rep range low, like 6-to-10. Because you’re cutting isolation movements anyway, you won’t need to spend 10-to-15 reps on your triceps.

Rest between sets:  Because you’re lifting such heavy weight, extend your rest periods to regain maximum strength. If you’re used to 30 seconds of rest, I’ve got news for you – longer rest means more strength per set, which leads to weight, more reps at that weight, better total growth. Try for two-to-three minutes between sets. If you force yourself perform another set before you’re recovered, you won’t see optimal progress. Allow the body the time it needs to recover.

Fats: Healthy fats are the hardgainer’s best friend because they’re calorie dense and loaded with muscle-building benefits. Don’t sacrifice your carbohydrate consumption for fats; both need to be included in your hardgainer diet plan.

Carbs: Load up on carbs after a workout! After training, your body is in prime muscle-building and repair mode, so give your body the nutrients it needs to replenish glycogen and spur recovery. Post-workout, you should choose simple carbs like dextrose, maltodextrin, waxy maize orVitargo. If you normally skip carbs post-workout, this should be your first tweak. The results you experience will be almost immediate – fuller muscles, faster recovery, and increased strength.

Keep going: Building muscle takes time, hardgainer or otherwise. It takes patience, consistency and hard work. You play the iron game for life. If you’re stuck in the mud after a few months of training, eat more, lift heavier and eat more. Don’t give up. Increase your calorie intake, increase your training intensity and increase your gains.

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Why do I succeed?

I succeed because I am willing to do the things you are not.

I will fight against the odds.

I will sacrifice.

I am not shackled by fear, insecurity or doubt.

I feel those emotions—drink them in and then swallow them away to the blackness of hell.

I am motivated by accomplishment, not pride.

Pride consumes the weak—kills their heart from within.

If I fall, I will get up. If I am beaten, I will return.

I will never stop getting better. I will never give up, ever.

That is why I succeed


Everyone measures their level of success differently. To some, having the house of their dreams is their definition of success, or having a powerful job that takes the to the far corners of the earth. To me, success is measured by my level of happiness, which is determined by my willingness and ability to meet the goals I set for myself.  Being happy, and successful, is having good relationships, great friends, an unconventional family and the ability to look in the mirror everyday and say, “you’re a good person!”

Whether it’s accomplishing a physical goal like the Ironman, teaching a yoga class for the first time or starting this website, each one started with the first step  because of my willingness to overcome the fear and the definition of success I had laid out before me.



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More Muscle Building Ideas

Weighted Sit Ups. Why do volume when you can add weight and also build thickness.

Power Shrugs. Performed with an Olympic lift style explosiveness, power shrugs allow you to move a lot of weight and tax the traps into massive growth.

Cable Crunches. Forget floor crunches – add some weight and thicken your six pack!

Side Bends. Side bends not only help to build core stability, enhancing your performance on other compound exercises, but they also target the obliques, helping to build an impressive midsection.

Seated Calf Raises. The easiest way to isolate and blast the calves.

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Key Chest Exercises

Bench Press. The king of all upper body muscle building movements. The bench press is so popular that it is often seen as having it’s own training day – bench press Monday.

Incline Bench Press. The first choice of many top pro bodybuilders.

Dips. Once considered the upper body squat, dips are a great compliment to any bench press movement.

Dumbbell Bench Press. You will really be able to feel the chest work with this pressing variation.

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press. A solid alternative to the incline barbell press.


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Key Muscle Building Exercises

Squats. Squats are the king of all muscle and strength building exercises. No workout should be without deep squats. They are performed with a barbell, generally in a squat rack. Squats not only build massive legs, but also stress most of the upper body. They are like a hormonal nuclear bomb – destroying the entire body, forcing it to get bigger and stronger with ever rep.

Deadlifts. Second only to squats in effectiveness (and a very close second at that), deadlifts are anothermanmaker that will pack on slabs of muscle mass while helping you become as strong as a bear. Like squats, deadlifts are a barbell only exercise.

Dips. Dips are often called the upper body squat, and for good reason. Dips work the shoulders, chest and triceps very hard, and are a great overall exercises for building a beefy upper body. Dips should be performed at a parallel bar dipping station.

Pull Ups. It seems that even the strongest and most fit lifters can barely squeak out more than a few pull ups. The pull up is an excellent exercise for building the back and biceps, and should be used instead of inferior exercises such as the lat pull down when possible.

Bench Press. The bench press is an upper body staple. There are several highly effective variations including the flat bench barbell press, flat bench dumbbell bench press, incline bench barbell press and incline dumbbell bench press.

Overhead Press. As with the bench press, there are numerous quality variations of the overhead pressthat can be used. Nearly all seated and standing dumbbell and barbell overhead presses are solid choices. You may also use the Arnold dumbbell press, and behind the neck overhead presses. Another popular press variation is the standing push press.

Rows. Both barbell and dumbbell rows are tremendous upper back exercises. Old school barbell T-bar rows are also a solid choice. While cable and machine lifts are generally sub-par, seated cable rows can be very challenging and effective.


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Shoulders Exercises For Strength & Muscle

Your shoulder muscles are your deltoids. There are three of them: middle, posterior (back) and anterior (front).

Strong shoulder muscles help with any effort in which you push weight overhead, or to the side or front of the body.

Well-defined and bulky deltoids also help create that triangular shape that bodybuilders seek.

Here are my top targeted exercises for the shoulders..

  • Seated or standing press – dumbbell, barbell
  • Lateral raise
  • Front raise
  • Upright row

For the raises, you can use both dumbbells and cables. Upright rows can be done with barbells and dumbbells.

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Consequences of Competition in Bikini, Figure, Physique & Vanity Industries

Competing on stage in the best condition of your life is what drives many to step in front of judges. To achieve the goal of looking at you very best is the drive behind endless cardio sessions and starving yourself into shape!

And then ‘the stage is set’ not just for results – but for all kinds of post-contest trauma and consequences.

Its becoming more apparent that competition in the Physique industry can change competitors minds in very destructive ways.

Metabolic Damage can result from  the Dangers of Dieting. It’s now a phrase thrown around as an industry buzz word – and being used by people to sell various phony versions of expertise – as if ‘they’ have some kind of answer for prevention or cure for it.

Metabolic Damage is not like some kind of common cold you just ‘get over.’

And now we have more classes for Figure and new classes for Bikini and all kinds of ways in-between (Model Searches etc.) The result is of course – more post-contest and post-diet consequences and issues for someone like me to deal with.

Unlike so many others I can see it for what it really is and the dangers it presents. Otherwise intelligent people lured so strongly & the pressure put on them – they take the advice of local “Coaches”  – if you are ‘truly serious’; you are told:

Be Aware some Coaches have no real background than reading industry rags and going to industry websites and calling it “knowledge.” And yes of course, this is but the worst end of the Coaching spectrum, but it is still a relevant truth to point out and discuss.

This is one reason why I wrote this article. Ensure your personal trainer or coach is fully accredited and of highest standards. (Check online with REPS). The UKBFF now run training and nutrition courses and are a great place to start.  Check for details

But what is it really all about and what is going on for the modern competitor that must be considered?

First of all, like any sport you have to realize there are going to be those just “born” to excel at this endeavor. It’s what we call “genetics.” But the word is so misused in this industry that very few realize what it truly means. And sure “competing” – if done right – which is more rare than common these days – competing can lend to personal strength and empowerment – but it can also lead to a nightmare of self-denial and depression and anxiety.

Young ladies feel compelled to conform to idealized standards of judgment – and to achieve a level of leanness that may put their own metabolisms and physiologies into a tail-spin of self-destruction.

And NO – one Guru’s diet over another, does not prevent this.

Alluring on the outside – the pursuit of the competition-ready physique is actually very dangerous on the inside. But no one is having that conversation in real terms – just blowing off the potential risks and consequences while glorifying the whole experience – the world of physique competition can be extremely damaging to the health and wellness of its most eager participants.

Getting contest-ready is a pursuit of absolutes – absolute leanness, ‘whatever it takes’ mentality and sacrifice. These requisites already appeal to people with eating disorders or personality conflicts and body-image issues. It’s a way for them to “legitimize” their own disorders – not overcome them. There is no ‘instant gratification’ in the pursuit of the contest-ready physique. This can teach discipline and the ability to deny physical and psychological pain. But these things can also become dangerous obsessions – presented in the sub-culture media as “enviable” character traits. Competitors have to put up with severe hunger, meticulous meal-timing rituals, distress, discomfort – and all the while expecting little recognition or reward for the efforts – not in real terms anyway.

As contests gets closer the competitor has less energy and more apathy for anything not associated with the contest. This can often include your own family, social engagements, etc. And all the while knowing that only a very select few have the physical, physiological and metabolic genetics to rise to the top – they push themselves and deny pain, deny hunger, deny emotions, and deny themselves. Indeed self-denial and self-deprivation are at the heart of “competition” in this game.

And yes while most sports involve some level of self-denial and self-deprivation – these other sports aren’t for the sole pursuit of being judged for your personal “exterior” and nothing else. For many results don’t go your way and results are based on a strict judging criteria. There is no start and finish line, the fastest guy doesn’t win the race and for many that’s a hard pill to swallow.

And then the world of competition becomes its own structure for your life.  Feedback and input from the outside – even if that includes family – this feedback is ignored – even if it is caring and healthy and normal.

What feedback becomes “accepted” at this point is where body-perfection is something ‘normal people’ just don’t understand.

The time requirements necessary for competing and the energy-draining nature of it for most competitors leaves little time left over for a ‘real life’ separate from that world.

There becomes a sense of isolation building and now your own personal self-image requires a sense of control and structure that is like building a wall around yourself. And there you are as competitor who has walled yourself in to keep the real world out. And feelings of reward, adequacy and achievement come with a very high risk of objectifying your own body in the most destructive ways.

I’m not an outsider, so I speak from personal experience myself and what I know and see with clients I work with.

BUT of course competing can be a healthy avenue of self-expression.  I just feel competitors on their road to stage need to be aware of their actions on the way and take a step back and enjoy life and the prep along the route.

A decade struggle with a post-contest eating disorder is just not worth it. To never accept your body again, as it is, is just not worth it.

In the post-contest real world – to love the taste of indulgent food – but choke on the aftertaste of shame for having eaten it, is just not worth it.

Increasing your body-weight set point after each competition diet – so that you are now 30-40 lbs past where your weight was before you ever began competing – is just not worth it.

You start to see the world through body-image focused glasses. Body-image becomes self-image. Watching your weight takes on a kind of “survival” level of importance. You become sensitized to your own beauty by comparing it to the ideal – but you also become ever more focused on your perceived personal physical flaws. And this is reinforced by your Coaches or judges who tell you, “Well you need to work on this and this” – with no consideration of what working on “that” may take out of you or away from you. Slowly but surely the empowerment of competing turns into self-rejection, self-disgust, self-avoidance – then possibly despair, depression, anxiety and even self-destructive behavior.

And then things that are just common sense become distorted into something else completely. The pattern of denying increasing hunger leads to increased appetite and urges. This leads to binging. Binging leads to emotional control issues – as well as more self-judgment and self-recrimination. So, avoiding food is often soon countered by all-out binges – set in motion by the “contest-diet” – and when those psychological walls come down after your contest – the walls that prevented you from eating – then all hell breaks loose. And you never know or experience a “normal” appetite or craving again. Soon, after one diet follows another – the body backs up its own self-preservation systems. What you used to be able to do to control your weight, no longer works. You have to do more and more to get less and less body-cooperation. You and your body are no longer in sync.  You are trying to force it, and it is trying to resist all along the way. What was once a happy honeymoon of the competition experience – is now a bad marriage of two-way hostility between you and your body.

Long-term issues begin to appear. Calcium disruptions leading to osteoporosis occur. Your immune system seems to get compromised and you are sick or tired more often than you can remember ever previously being. And where do I even begin on hormonal irregularities and issues with menses.

Competing is meant to show your physique in top health so be mindful on how your body responds. Meantime, if you are a competitor – become aware of what is going on around you and within you. Make mental notes about how your Coach is. Does he/she criticize your weight – or criticize, insult, or degrade your sense of yourself?

Eating disorders within the competitive world stems from

1) Frequent dieting that produces intense hunger and 2) Participation in “competitions or sports” where participants performances or appearance are “judged” not measured.

With these two well-researched facts in mind – “competing” in the physique industry puts competitors at high risks for consequences that could last decades.


Finally I hope this article gives an insight into a personally much loved sport that seems to be growing in numbers from year to year. Over 15 years competing with on average 4 competitions a year and prepping many clients along the way has led me to bring the glorious long road to light.

Yes, competition can be a life changing experience which leads to a greater health and life. And for all of you reading this I truly hope this be the case, as it has been with mine.

But for some stay aware on how your stage goal is affecting you on the inside not just the outside.

Stay strong, Train hard and Eat Healthy!

Neale Cranwell

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Exercises For The Biceps

If you’re new to weight training, getting to know which exercises target which muscles can be a little daunting without a reference or trainer to help you.

And although there are many, many exercises to choose from that will provide some benefit to a particular muscle or muscle group, here are my picks for targeting the biceps muscles (biceps brachii). These are in no particular order of benefit: all are excellent exercises.

Dumbbell arm curl
Barbell arm curl
Cable arm curl
Preacher curl
Reverse curl
Machine curl

Gallery Link

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The Tricep Extension “Skullcrusher”

Extending the arms by flexing and extending the elbow joint in a rear or overhead motion while holding dumbbells or barbells or a weighted cable is called “triceps extension.” This exercise develops the muscles at the back of the upper arms. The version in this description is the “skullcrusher” or overhead triceps extension while lying on a flat bench using a single dumbbell. It gets the name skullcrusher because some exercisers perform it incorrectly by lowering the weight directly toward the forehead. A barbell or two dumbbells can also be used.

Exercise Description

1: Choose a flat gym bench and lie face up with legs comfortably to each side on the floor or resting on the foot rest. Select a position that provides comfort and stability.

2: Select a single dumbbell (or barbell) of suitable weight.

3: Hold the dumbbell with both hands above your chest, straight up, and with the dumbbell shaft in a vertical position. This is the starting position.

4: Remember to start with a breath and exhale on exertion. Move the weight down toward the rear of your head with a flexing of the elbows.

5: Continue lowering the weight behind the head until the dumbbell head is about in line with the bench top, or even a little higher if this feels unwieldy.

6: Reverse the movement until the weight is held above the chest and repeat the exercise.

Points to Note

1: You can place your feet on the bench with knees flexed if this suits your body shape.

2: You should aim for 10 to 12 extensions for each of 3 sets or whatever you program indicates.

3: You can clench the dumbbell with one hand over the other because most people will not fit two hands around a dumbbell shaft side by side.

4: Make sure you have a firm grip because the skullcrusher will be traveling above the region of your head and face.

5: Don’t lower the weight to the region of the face or forehead. Ensure you pass the weight over the head. This exercise should be done slowly and carefully under good control.

6: Take care not to impact the back of the head when raising the dumbbell from behind the head to return to the starting position.

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