Free weights vs. machines, workout intensity, protein shakes, Weston A. Price Foundation, organic food

Q&A with Mike Furci

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QFurciHey Mike,
Been keeping up with your articles on -- some great information! However, I still have issues maximizing my workouts. How do I determine if I am working at 100 percent? How exactly do I figure out how much resistance or weight I should be using to create max tension? And I have been using mostly machines -- is that a bad choice? Will I get better results using free weights? To give you an idea of what I'm trying to accomplish: I'm 6-foot-2, 226 lbs. The lowest I have weighed in the last two years is 198 lbs, but I didn't have much muscle mass. I'd like to drop down to about 205 to 210 lbs with more bulk than fat. My big issue is my mid-section. Along with the beginner's workout program you laid out, how much cardio should I be doing?

Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

If you are training with 100 percent intensity, you'll be creating the maximum muscle tension. This can be done with both machines and free weights. Training intensity is the percentage of physical exertion that one is capable of. Training with 100 percent intensity is the best way, the only way, to stimulate muscular size and strength in the shortest amount of time. You ask, "How do I determine if I am working at a 100 percent?" By taking your working sets to positive or concentric failure.

Taking a set to the point of failure, where you cannot possibly perform another rep despite your maximum effort is one of, and perhaps the most important of several factors in your success. To answer another one of your questions, intensity cannot be measured accurately with reps or weight. While performing a set, intensity increases exponentially with each successive rep. Performing the first five reps on the leg extension is not equivalent in intensity to performing the last five reps. Hence, five reps is not the equivalent of 50 percent intensity.

Allow the reps to dictate the weight. If your target is to do between six and eight reps, and you only get four reps to failure, you need to lighten the load. Conversely, if you exceed your target rep range, you need to raise the load.

The only way to train that is completely accurate is with all-out intensity to failure. This will give you a concrete view of how you're performing. If you train with 100 percent intensity during every workout, and you do not progress, you know you are not recovering. There will never be a question whether you are providing a strong enough stimulus for progress. However, if you follow the percentage of intensity, or the percentage of max rep principles, and use less than 100 percent intensity, how will you know you are training intensely enough to stimulate muscular size and strength? If you plateau, are you training too hard or too long? Do you lower the percentage or raise it? Do you need more rest, or do you need to train at a higher intensity? There is no need for this guessing game.

Your goal is to bring about the largest, most rapid outcome for your individual genetic potential. In order for this to occur, the body requires100 percent intensity every working set of every exercise. This is the only truly accurate way to gauge the efficacy of your training program. Nothing less than 100 percent will do.

So, like most others, your big issue is with your mid section. If I said it once I've said it 10,000 times, "There is no machine, exercise or pill that is going to give somebody a leaner midsection. If you do not change the way you eat, you can do ab machines, stability ball exercises and cardio until you're blue in the face and it won't matter." My advice is to read the following articles and adjust your lifestyle accordingly:

Ed Downs

Debunking the Calorie Theory
Evolution of the unhealthy American: Parts I, II and III

QHi Mike,
My name is Zach and I'm 17. I have been exercising for a while through running, pushups, crunches, etc. My question is about the protein craze. I understand high protein diets, but this is not my question. What I am wondering is about the protein shakes like Muscle Milk and others. What do you think of these, and how do you advise using them if you feel they are a benefit?

Zach B.

Before I discuss different brands of proteins, let's go over some basic facts you should understand that will help your decision in choosing a product and how much to consume. Protein is by far the single most important supplement/nutrient you can consume in your quest for size and strength. But protein is not only important for muscle building, it's imperative for optimum health. Protein repairs and maintains everything in our bodies from hormones to muscles to bones. Consciously consuming a diet low in protein has no benefits; is not based on good science, and is merely a matter of ignorance.

How much protein should you consume? The International Society of Sports Nutrition, in a 2007 position statement, concluded that bodybuilders and strength/power athletes require just under a gram of protein per pound per day; consistent with my recommendation of 1 g/lb of lean body weight. However, if you train intensely, which is how you should train, empirical data suggests you may need upwards of 1.5 g/lb. Have no fear; this extra protein is not harmful, unless you have a liver or kidney dysfunction, and will not make you fat.

In your e-mail you ask what I think about different brands of protein and how I advise using them. In my article "Protein Rx" I discuss in detail different types of protein and the top brands available. I also list the prices of the products I recommend at the time the article was written.

I read your article about the health benefits of grass-fed raw cream butter. I suffer many minor health problems that I believe stem from leaky gut syndrome. I am very interested in consuming some of this, but wonder where I can get some. Is this only something that can be purchased from local farms?

Thank you.

Eating whole natural foods is a must if you want optimum health. Local organic farming that provides raw dairy products is becoming more popular, but it's an uphill battle against mounds of destructive legislation. If you live in a state like Ohio, you'll have a hard time finding raw dairy products, because it's against the law despite being far more nutritious and healthy.

My recommendation is to visit The vast majority of the diseases and ailments people live with, and die from, is directly related to the processed man-made food we consume. All you have to do is take a look at what is happening across the globe. As societies move away from consuming indigenous natural food and eat more man-made processed food, the incidence of disease increases.

The Weston A. Price Foundation is dedicated to restoring whole natural foods to our diet by supporting community-based organic farms with pasture-fed animals. I've been a member for several years, and find the foundation to be a wealth of invaluable information. Their shopping guide can help you find a farm that provides raw dairy products that's near you.

I have just looked at your web site and it's fantastic. It has told me mostly all I need to know. Just a couple of little questions though.

First, I use Maximuscle cyclone, Thermobol and Progain--is that a good idea? Second, what exactly does Progain actually do -- does it put fat on to you, to turn into muscle, or does it put muscle on to you?

Last, I pretty much do what you said for both biceps and triceps; do I do both biceps and triceps on the same day? Also, is it okay to do bicep and triceps workout twice a week?

Thank you very much. I'm looking forward to receiving an e-mail back.

ALet's start with Cyclone, "Britain's #1 selling ‘all in one' muscle formula." This is what Maximuscle claims anyway. Because I have never heard of these products, I needed to do a little research in order to give you an appropriate response. Unfortunately, there is very little information about Maximuscle products out there. However, there's quite a bit of coverage discussing their athletic sponsorships; this means nothing in terms of product quality because many athletes will say they eat shit if the price is right.

When figuring out what supplements to take it's not only important to look at the ingredients list, but the amounts of each ingredient. In the U.S., ingredients have to be listed in a descending order. The number one ingredient in Cyclone is dextrose -- SUGAR! The proprietary protein blend they call Biomax is the second. Creatine, glutamine, EFAs and other ingredients like flavoring round out the rest of the product.

As a post-workout product, Cyclone appears to be fair. Maximuscle claims their proprietary blend of protein includes three types: whey protein isolates, whey protein hydrolysates, and whey peptides. In your quest for muscular size, protein is the single most important nutrient you can consume. Although I cannot assure you of the contents of Cyclone, I can say with certainty the protein content per serving is too low and the sugar is too high.

I recommend purchasing a quality protein product and adding your own creatine and sugar. Some of the proteins I recommend are Pro Complex, 4Ever Whey Isolate, Gold Standard 100% whey, Isobolic Isolate Protein, and Monster Milk.

Thermobol is nothing special. Does it work? There is some evidence suggesting that ingredients like citrus aurantium (bitter orange peel) or green tea extract help to mobilize fat to use as fuel. Does this mean you'll get leaner if you take Thermobol? I doubt it. If products like this really worked they would sell like crazy. Such is not the case. The best way to find out if Thermobol or similar products work is to use them while changing nothing else. If you start to diet and or increase your training while using these types of products, how do you know if it works?

Finally, Progain. Even though I do not prescribe to using "weight gainers," because the whole premise behind their use is ludicrous, there are two reasons to use a weight gainer. One, you're either under weight (skinny) or two, you want to gain weight for the sake of gaining weight and could care less how you look. Just remember, gaining fat or "bulking up" is not a prerequisite to gain muscle.

The main ingredient in most weight gainers is sugar, while the main ingredient in Progain is oligofructose. Oligofructose does not digest in the upper GI tract, which yields a reduced caloric value. Most importantly, oligofructose does not lead to a rise in glucose levels, which helps to keep insulin levels low. Even though the level of protein in Progain is too low, if you're going to take a "weight gainer" this is a good one.

If you're training as intensely as you should, training your arms once a week is plenty. If you're not making gains, and you're training with 100 percent intensity, you're overtraining and you need to cut back on the volume or frequency of your workouts. I hope you're training your entire body. Balance is an essential component to a strong, healthy physique.

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