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Creatine dilemma, strength without bulk and a huge set of traps

Some inquisitive queries shared by some of my good friends, drawling light upon a set of thoughts many of us might have had form a long time:
Question: "Is Creatine a drug? I have been suggested that repeated creatine usage can lead to disorders such as adrenal fatigue, ultimately resulting in Kidney Failure.Can normal folks like me who do not intend to be huge bodybuilders but to be fit and healthy individuals also benefit from it?"

The good news is that creatine in its most popular supplemental form, Creatine Monohydrate, IS for you.

Creatine is definitely not what someone means when they refer to it as a drug. It is in fact a healthful, bio-available molecule that is also present in most of the foods you eat such as meat, eggs and fish. Most abundantly, it is present as creatine phosphate.

The most widespread use of creatine in the form of supplementation, as creatine monohydrate is to improve the energy levels during a high intensity workout session by storing high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine. During periods of stress, phosphocreatine releases energy to aid cellular function. This is what causes strength increases after creatine supplementation.

However, a lesser known function of creatine is how it can also help the brain, bones, muscles and liver. Most of the benefits of creatine are provided through this mechanism. Evidences also suggest a boost in immunity and better brain function following creatine usage. One of the most inclusive pieces I have read on creatine dosage is THIS ONE.

And I can understand the concerns where several people believe creatine causes problems related to the kidneys. To my knowledge, I am yet to see someone with healthy kidneys getting them affected due to creatine usage. Of course, every ingestable compound has its recommended dosage and even good things when over-consumed, may turn into bad things. The much recommended 5 grams of  dosage daily, still works like a charm.

Most of the confusion seems to stem from the substance creatinine which is a metabolite or waste product of creatine, which also happens to be a diagnostic substance used to monitor Kidney problems. However, this in no way renders creatine unsafe for its users.

As for which creatine supplement variant to be used, I have always found the plain old micronized creatine monohydrate to be the most sustained working product for me. All the other creatine variants have been coming and going, but this one gives me most bang for my spent buck. I have really seen creatine variants which fill up the entire room with mesmerizing fragrances when its tub is opened, Although there is nothing bad with such a decoration scheme but personally, I may not be the guy who spends more only for this dramatic effect.

Question:"I'm a choreographer and my profession requires me to never get bulky or heavy. But lately, I have started experiencing knee pain and discomfort. My physiotherapist has suggested to indulge in a progressive resistance training program. I have joined a gym and started lifting weights after a long time. However, I am worried if consistently lifting heavier weights can end up making me bulkier and heavier. Is there a way I can tailor my lifting to not make me bulkier?"
Lifting is a means to an end result. The end result here is to improve your overall strength. Strength, not much unlike dance, is a skill and needs brief and frequent practice sessions(which is what we do every day in the gym).

Now, drilling further, our mind learns a new skill when the nervous system consisting of all the involved neurons gets trained. If the skill is a movement pattern, the neurons have to fire in a certain way in order to consider the skill to be learned. Strength thus is more a property of your nervous system, than the other peripheral mechanisms such as musculoskeletal and endocrine systems(although they are all equally in synchrony when you perform a feat of strength).

Taking an example of a heavy deadlift, we all have images of hefty powerlifters lifting upwards of 700 pounds in competition and go ahead assuming that is the way they will end up looking after deadlifting heavy. Now, some trainees may purposefully add bulk to their frames by ingesting more calories, since they added bulk and metabolic support may help in getting their deadlift numbers up. However, powerlifting also abounds in examples of lifters where seemingly athletic lifters have lifted enormous weights compared to their body weight. Here's Bob Peoples as an example. Bob Peoples deadlifted 725lbs at 181lbs bodyweight and at the age of forty way back in the 1949. Or for further reference, let's look at Lamar gant pulling 634 pounds at a bodyweight of 123 pounds.

These examples are evidences that we can get incredibly strong by practicing the big lifts and can keep adding to the weight without worrying too much about getting bulkier. Of course, we may not train with as much volume as used by those with a bodybuilding mindset. Also, the crucial aspect of managing your calories to stay within the maintenance zone can also not be undermined.

Question: "I'm having a pretty tough time growing my trapezius muscles. I have been using different varieties of shrugs in my training, yet to no significant effect. Can you suggest me a game changer for making traps the size of a Stealth bomber?"
Shrugs do work the scapular elevation function of the upper traps, the meaty upper portion which is the hallmark of champion wrestlers and strongmen. However, there is a potential barrier with the shrugs approach to training your traps.

Although the total range of movement in a shrug is comparatively lesser than other movements, the relatively lesser number of muscles involves in a shrug renders a rather weaker anabolic potential to the exercise. Compare it to a deadlift where seemingly all muscles of the body are in dynamic action as against being statically involves in a shrug. The compound effect of the simultaneous play of these many muscles gives the deadlift an edge as an exercise that develops almost everything, Everything including thick and dense upper traps.

It is with this premise in the background that I could never see the degree of trap growth given by the deadlifts by howsoever heavy shrugs I did. In fact, an interesting case in point here would be the barbell power cleans. A power clean, if the usual exercise poundage correlations are to be considered, shall almost never be close to how much you can shrug. For an individual who can shrug just upwards of 400 pounds, the power clean would be lucky to reach the 250 mark. And yet, the clean, from the explosive nature of the pull, develops the trapezius with a much lesser weight than that can be shrugged. The explosiveness and the anabolic potential of the harmonic synchronization of a larger number of muscle groups being involved makes this possible.
Explosive Pulls: A brilliant medicine for stubborn traps

My take would thus be to include a healthy mixture of deadlifts and barbell power cleans into your trapezius training arsenal and observe how these time-tested lifts add visual mass to your traps.

Thanks as always for the wonderful set of questions and comments. Keep sharing your thoughts and feedback. Would love it if you share the blog across your social network profiles as well. :)

Hair-raising posts for the week - Episode 1

Apart from a really pleasant September in this part of the world, here's what's hot in the allies of strength, health and fitness reads this week:

Statutory Warning: You may end up taking your shirt off and start cranking push ups in your office after reading some of them. So, it's NSFW if you would, you know, call that NSFW kind of stuff!

The clean and the deadlift simple cues for a stronger setup

Quick ques on distinguishing between two of the most important pulling movements you might be doing in your quest for strength. Smart pointers on how the mechanics may slightly differ on the clean and the deadlift unlike what many of us would normally believe.

Swedish Girl Deadlifts 418 Pounds

 Of course, how can we not have a solid look at this video of a 17 year old swedish football player girl who just deadlifted 418 pounds like a boss. And for those of you quipping about 418 pounds not being a a really heavy weight: The girl here has a bodyweight of 150 pounds. Go ahead and enjoy a testosterone boosting show.

Protein Trickery - Nitrogen Spiking

TC Luoma's take on why you may need take a second look at your protein powder supplement manufacturer's processes and legal stature, may be one crucial piece of information you should be reading today.

Viking Day Rope and Sled Pulling

Is your regular routine of big, bold and heavy lifts not giving you that 'extra' challenge that marks the difference between you being Thor saving the earth from Loki, or not? Well, these grit challenging, rugged ideas may develop a real intestinal fortitude that can cover you up there.

Daily Dose Deadlift Plan

If I were to follow a program where one big lift needs to be hit the maximum number of times per week, my pick would undoubtedly be the deadlift. By the same token, here's a great program to design a deadlift specific program. It has got all the elements required to forge a routine having the discipline required to keep your pull getting bigger.

The One Element of your training that can't be forsaken

Not a single training session of mine passes without someone coming up to me and asking what I am writing in that little notepad in between my work sets. Which should tell you how uncommon keeping a training journal is even today in weight training population. Charles Staley reinforces on this core principle of progressing in a sustained manner.

Max Muscle, Less Vareity

Old school working wisdom from Coach Zack Even-Esh.

A Quick and Dirty Way to Add Muscle

Tony Gentilcore posits about a tried and tested with time training technique that might be one of the missing links in your strength-hypertrophy training. Enjoy reading.

Go Forth

Last but not by any chance, the least, words of timeless wisdom by Dan John where he magically blends, training philosophy, education, religion and life in a way only he can possibly do.

Enjoy these cleansing reads. Goosebumps, adrenaline rush and a very zen-lke enlightened training guaranteed!

7 Quick hacks to transform an inactive office lifestyle into a fit and awesome one

Let's face it, office really isn't a place where one can expect to outperform their athletic best. Really, with hours after hours of unnoticed sitting, bending over at the desk/monitor, being deafened by phone calls and experiencing worrying levels of Computer Vision Syndrome, office really gives us a really un-delicious menu to savor everyday.

If you are like me, the thought of turning the table upside down and finding out hacks for making things more in motion. Here's how you too can be one of the smartest and most sought after fitness inspiration without compromising your office deliverables.

And don't worry, your boss won't mind you doing them!

By the way, it does not include hotly dressed charming females being present as 'mood-en lighteners in office:

1. Frequent office perimeter walks.
I would have started with 'park your car four blocks away from office and walk your way to and from the office', but I figure the parking space in most IT parks is already too congested, so most of us are covered there. But even if you do not have any amount of walking in your office life, right from swipe in to swipe out, here's what you can do: about midway into your work day, lock your terminal and head out for a carefree and rejuvenating walk taking circles around your office building periphery. I may even suggest investing in a pedometer to count your steps every time and gauge some progress. It's a free of cost move which can restore a host of functions in your dormant body such as hip mobility, ankle mobility, blood circulation, breathing patterns(more on this shortly), boosting your metabolic rate and impart a sense of well being owing to the enjoyment of some fresh air and unseen/overlooked greenery around your campus, if your office is like this:
Infosys Campus, Mysore

2. Hydration breaks( or "I want to drink a lot of water so I can take a lot of pee breaks"): We are 70 percent water, right? Water occupies a majority of the mitochondrial volume inside your muscle cells. Drinking enough water might be the single best thing we can do to boost our success both in the gym or at the desk. From improving digestion to supporting a gamut of life supporting processes, ultimately resulting in the difference between that 405 pounds barbell rising up smoothly up from the floor or not in the gym next morning. I have even witnessed radically improved immunity after I almost doubled my water intake last summer. And then of course, the mobility walks resulting from the frequent visits to the loo are something we can live with!

3. Stand Up: The simplest approach to solve a problem is to find out what caused it in the first place; then seek to reverse the condition. Most occupational dysfunctions stem from prolonged sitting, an inevitable occupational hazard in the modern employment landscape. What must then be the quickest way to reverse the damage done by sitting to us?


Standing up frequently in between work can not only save your lumbar and cervical spine from the kyphosis(convex shaped curves) torture which sitting on your butt, slouched over a computer screen can result in. As you stand, all your joints, right from the tarsals and metatarsals of the toes, the ankles, the knees, the sacroiliac(hip) joints, the lumbar, thoracic, cervical spines reverse their state and counter the effects of chronic sitting. In fact, every time I stand, I witness a mild upliftment of my mood(maybe since all the office hotties can now notice me better). A great rule of thumb I came across in an article I have read long ago is to stand up for about 20 seconds every 20 minutes.

4. Shoulder check: Continuing from the previous point, let's say you are in a board room meeting and have no room to rally stand leisurely. You can still pay homage to the Gods of fitness by taking a look if you are rounding or slouching your shoulders anteriorly. If so, quickly pull your shoulder blades back and down. In the words of the legendary Gray Cook, Pack Your Shoulders. A more understandable hint would be pull your shoulder blades towards the opposite hips. A packed and stable shoulder structure such as this is a matrix that can safeguard our spine against most slouched posture related spinal deformations and is always a better way to sit than rounding up.
Sitting straight safeguards your spine and makes you look better!

5. Shake out the tension: I borrowed this term from Pavel Tsatsouline's Fast and Loose video series. While this approach entails shaking and waving off your hands and feet in between heavy sets of weight training exercises in order to release the amount of tension in these peripheral muscle groups and boost intra set recovery.

What it can mean on the office floor is releasing the amount of tightness accumulated in muscles such as the pectoralis minor(chest), the biceps, the hip flexors, the neck, forearms, legs etc.

The right way to shake would be to do a bunch of waves with your hands and see to it that the harmonic waves travel all the way to the shoulders. A similar action can be done by shaking the feet, all the way to the hip.

6. Breathe: Taking shallow breaths while being deep involved in critical tasks can be a deal breaker in the quest to stay fit and healthy for longer and correcting it by conscious effort to catch yourself breathing shallow every time and correcting it by taking deeper, fuller and 'stomach' breaths can tone down your office anger, and help you concentrate better on those numbers in your business report.
Here's how to breath correctly. May need a bit of getting used to, but well worth the labor. Trust me.

7. Prepare your own meals: Something which I myself am working on getting in my lifestyle. The premise behind this move is the seemingly limited menu available in most office cafetarias. Moreover, the restaurants and delis located around office spaces literally abound in labels such as McDonalds, KFC, Subway, Starbucks et al. Now, I am not sure about most of you but the last time I was choosing a long term physique/health friendly meal combo from these places, I had a really tough time.

I can already hear some of you whisper, "It's really ok to consume such binge choices once in a while, even if I am on a diet", which is a perfectly acceptable quip. However, we are talking about forming habits that can be undertaken on a daily basis and which account for the way we look and feel when done for a continued and long time. Moreover, we are talking about a population that spends its majority of time in the most unfit form of culture possible. Thus it makes sense to optimize our choices wherever possible.

7.Take the stairway to heaven: I am almost always out of my breath while climbing upwards of four floors in the office, even in the best of my shapes. Ditching the elevators during crowded hours can
also free you of the perils of waiting while the vast majority of the office goers use it. Using this free of cost natural stairmaster in the office can be a formidable move to improve your conditioning as well. Use it at our will; run the stairs, climb steadily or if time allows, do a sprint as well.

Enjoy these easy to follow hacks and believe me folks, office shall never be the same old lethargic place any more !

Age, Profession and Family: Excuses, or opportunities?

I remember an incident from my teenage days when I was told after finishing a somewhat grueling weight training workout in the gym by one of the gym members seemingly in his 40s,

"Son, it's always easy when you are this young. Age brings with it, its own challenges and disadvantages, which will keep pulling you away form your machismo ridden lifting theatrics which you just did. "

For a moment, I was dumbfounded. I nodded with a freaked up look in my eyes and walked away.

Years later, when I suppose, I was in my college, when in the middle of a set of heavy barbell good mornings, one of my good friends approached me with a quip:

"That's really cool bro. But think about me when I sit for prolonged hours during the night attending calls with customers across the continents. It leaves you with very less in the name of courage and capacity to lift something heavier than I do in the gym. Work robs you of your energy. You will face it when you start working a full day job, brother."

And then, very recently, there was this very charming lady who during an after training chat with me over a cup of coffee said something to the effect of:

"well, you got to live my life buddy. I'm a mom of a four year old, a wife and an employee working a full day shift in an MNC environment. It's really hard work. You may not understand now. It's easy to preach training when you aren't any of the above. Life's tough!'

These are some of the frequent rants I get to hear when I ask people about what's keeping them from reaching out to a gym and get enrolled. Or, start a home based exercise program.

At the time when I had these conversations, I took them by the word and believed that there seriously is a lot in life that is yet to come, and that with time, my training dedication shall falter.

However, as I have grown, I have found most of these conditions of life to come true for me. I have aged(the way any biological organism would). I have moved on to work a really occupying job as an IT consultant with a small team, which means most of the 24 hours I have in a work day are expected to be working at the desk(or pretending to :) ). And of course, the responsibilities surrounding a grown up seemingly never fade. I am not far away from becoming a man of family too, so the rigors have started building up.

Am I thus a slower, weaker or more inefficient lifter/weight trainee now as compared to the good old days, as I was told? Not by any chance.

As I keep seeing my weekly lifting volume increasing(not necessarily the duration of my workouts, but the amount of work done), lifting technique improving, and better results generating, I can posit the fact that training quality for me has only gone up in spite of added challenges from life.

Age does make you smarter and the kind of physical exercise strategy you use also tends to reflect it. If you do spend your time reading, gathering information and implementing it in your training, connecting with brighter minds, attending workshops, analyzing training logs and journals, there is always a high probability that even after the physiological barriers which age can put upon you, you may keep progressing in one form or another in the weigh room or the track or field.

Of course, we may somehow reach a spot in our age where we may no longer be able to outperform our younger and much carefree self. But that is is lifting more weight is the only performance marker you measure. There are many more metrics of training progress, such as cardiovascular output, body composition, mood, endocrinological health, digestive health, appetite, libido, sports and athletic performance etc. The list is really big to not keep progressing on any one of them.

This equally applies to the ladies among the audience. Considering 20 minutes about 4 days per week needed for a progressive weight training based workout program is needed to reach a body composition improvement and strength goal it's not something which can't be fit into even a busy, working mother's routine. Women, in several social set ups play a variety of roles on a daily basis. With the growing demographic of working class women, the expectations from them have risen from being only a wife or a mother to a high performing employee in the office.

However, the decision to consciously make improvements in one's appearance or health is only as big as making any other life decision.Going over to a gym on your way to office to inquire an yearly membership is as cumbersome as visiting the dentist to make sure your jawline is not losing its classic boy-winning shine. Not missing your morning ten minutes of walk/pilates/bodyweight training session is almost as much of a trouble as not missing the latest episode of the latest season of your TV Serial. And lifting weights is only a tinge more uncomfortable than carrying grocery bags or your one and a half year old toddler on the road. You see, there ARE pain issues here, but most are psychological/emotional than logical/physiological.

This does not at all mean that people who are growing old do not face the physiological consequences which are not in their hands. I personally know a lot of ladies in their late forties and early fifties who are suffering with osteo arthritis and have experienced a setback in their fitness plans. I even know of people working in a corporate environment who are so much consumed by their work ethic and highly occupying work that I myself feel incapicatated to advise them on managing time for fitness.

Cases like these abound. But what this rant is particularly aiming to say is that the expectations from us in terms of time and efforts for transforming the way we look and feel may be much lesser than what most of us are led to believe by popular media.

One of the best things I have been doing to myself as I age, get busier and more depended upon, is to never let the thought of excuses cross my mind when getting better is a priority. Having a high quality health, physique and wellness makes us a more useful human in general.   Make sure you are not letting virtual reasons fall in the way of a stronger, better and more useful you.

Great reads the will make you jump out of your office chairs NOW

As the work week passed by, here's some rapid reads to kick start your day. I was too lazy to write something this week got a good kick and inspiration to get moving and active after giving them a read. And you will, too!

Some high octane reads for your hair raising pleasure and to get you started on the active  road.

It's a bad idea to be seated on those office chairs for long, you know!

1. Strength and Nutrition: Smart Strength With Charles Staley
Charles Staley speaks on how much space do biceps curls occupy in the lifting enthusiast's training toolbox(Hint: As much as any other exercise), powerlifting and paleo eating:


bicep curls, strength, training

2.  Successful Aging - it's your choice !
Successful Aging – it’s your choice!
Successful Aging – it’s your choice!
Successful Aging – it’s your choice!
Almost everything you might ever want to know about aging beautifully and healthily. Author Monica Mollika draws a cutting edge perspective upon the science and distinctions that define the various types of aging and how we can tap into it to improve ours. Pretty geeky and sciency stuff ahead though.


3. 13 Words That May Help Change Your Life
 Mega motivation for stepping out of your comfort zones, NOW from Tony Gentilcore:


4. When it Comes to Squats, Easier Doesn't Work
The Equalizer of the strength and conditioning world, Mark Rippetoe sheds light on the basic, yet out-of-your-comfort-zone world of Squatting big and Squatting DEEP.

 "And now, let's get busy taking those mobility breaks from our couch/office chair and enjoy moving!"  :)
Monica Mollica