Q&A With Marc McDougal -- September by: Marc McDougal

chairQ&A With Marc McDougal — September by: Marc McDougal
Q: I was speaking with a gentleman today at my gym about thick bars, and he recommended contacting you with my questions. Do you have any rules or guidelines when it comes to replacing traditional bars, dumbbells, and cable attachments with larger diameter implements (two inches and up) for bodybuilding purposes? Also, are there specific exercises that you’d use them for and others you would avoid?
Lastly, how do you periodize the changes for maximum efficacy?

A. Theoretically, thick grips will offer a neural challenge thereby activating more motor units in the targeted muscle group(s), resulting in a greater strength and size gain over time. However, the effect may be exercise specific. Researchers out of San Francisco State University recently ran a study comparing thick grip training with traditional Olympic bar training and found some interesting results (1). Subjects performed one arm chest presses with an isometric contraction, at 45 and 90 degrees of elbow flexion (a medium and wide grip). They then measured force production with thin vs. thick bars at both angles, as well as EMG readings for the pecs and forearm flexors. They found the subjects were actually eliciting higher muscle activation with the thinner grip (standard Olympic barbell size). Does that mean we should throw out the thick bars with Crocs and Affliction shirts? Here’s my take. Fat bars are probably a waste of time for pressing exercises, but a valuable tool for pulling movements when periodized properly. Here’s a quick Yes/No list for those of you that just skim my articles for irreverent one-liners, pictures of hot girls, and charts:

Say “Yes” to Fat Bars with these exercises:
Pull Ups/Chin Ups
Bent Over Rows
Dumbbell/Barbell Curls
Seated Cable Rows
Lat Pulldowns
One Arm Rows
Upright Rows
Say “No” to Fat Bars with these exercises:
Bench Press
Close Grip Bench Press
Overhead/Military Press
Tricep Extensions/Skull Crushers
Cable Pressdowns
Cable Crossovers
Back Squats
Front Squats
Say “Maybe” to Fat Bars with these Exercises:
DB Lateral Raises
*Try them out, if you notice a benefit, keep it in the loop. Those with trouble adding size to their traps may find the most benefit.

As for the research, this is just one study…and it was isometric so it’s certainly not the final word on anything. But, it does make sense. When pressing the neural activation is coming from the load sensitive pressure on the hand pad, not gripping…which is why some people will bench with a false grip or even leave their hands open without suffering any strength loss. Gripping isn’t an issue, compressive force is.When pulling, neural activation is without a doubt heightened by using an implement of greater diameter. You can test this pretty easily; with pull ups an average trainee will increase their body weight reps to failure immediately by using a thicker grip. Try this test: Perform BW pull ups to form failure (not total/twitching failure) on a thin bar, rest 5 min, and then re-test with a 2’’ diameter bar. You should see an increase in volume of about 10-20%. If you don’t have access to a thick pull up bar, wrap a towel around it (fairly thick, account for the compression of the material).

If you have an inadequate nervous system, perform the thin/thick test on consecutive days, (and not training any vertical pulling on day one other than the single set test). This will also apply to a 3RM with external load; most people can expect a gain of about 3% (body weight plus external load).  That being said, neural adaption will take place and the benefit will plateau. This is highly individual, ranging from 3 – 20 workouts or so. Remember this is highly training age dependant, and based on how efficient your nervous system is at picking up patterns. So work thick grips in for a few weeks on pulling/gripping exercises, and then drop them.

Q. Is the benefit of adding elastic bands to free weight exercises great enough to bother with the hassle? Or is it just a pain in the ass for minimal reward?

A. An average trainee with less than 3 years of consistent weight training isn’t likely to see much benefit from adding elastic bands to their current program. However, for experienced trainees elastic bands can be a highly valuable addition to free weight exercises. Recently some researchers out of the Exercise Science Department at Ithaca College in New York set out to find out whether the addition of elastic bands offer any additional benefit over and above free weights alone (2). They took 44 weight trained subjects and divided them into two groups. One group performed the squat and bench press in a traditional manner, the other group performed these movements with elastic bands attached to the barbells. After accounting for the extra load provided by the bands (smart move), the 2nd logged improvements 3x greater in the squat and 2x greater in the bench press. Average power also increased by a factor of three in the second group.

Pretty noteworthy results no matter how you look at it. I should mention; like any tricks you throw in a program this should be cycled judiciously. Long term/chronic use of bands can lead to joint dysfunction/pain, so don’t get hooked on the rapid strength gains. Use it for a month, and then set them on your nightstand for a month. That way, they’ll still get used…

Q. I was reading in a women’s magazine about taking in powdered glucose before a run for better energy, any benefit to this? I want to lose fat and lose muscle, just basically drop weight, I’m about 105lbs. Will the extra calories throw off my goals? I don’t even have much fat, but anything else I can do to speed up muscle loss?

A. Avoid powdered glucose, the last thing you want to do is get more calories in the way of your noble quest. As far as speeding up muscle loss, the obvious choice is crystal meth. Although, if you happen to be one of those “law-fearing citizens” that so often catch starring roles in my nightly muses, you might want to consider a more arcadian resolution. The simple pedestrian option is to sniff glue at regular intervals throughout the day. However, taking into account my assumption of your willingness to adhere to aggressive goals at the expense of general health and well being, I feel comfortable recommending you step it up a notch by filling an athletic sock with gold spray-paint (gold has the most toxic chemicals), hang it around your neck and inhale deeply all day. Either the glue or the spray paint methods are blue-ribbon appetite suppressants, both coupled with a sidecar of accelerated proteolysis. Good luck to you and your inevitably retarded children!

Q. I’ve used your “Lose Fat Like You’re on Crack” workouts with great success for fat loss and conditioning. I’m wondering how to best incorporate cardio with this program. Before weight training sessions, after, different time of day, or separate days?

A. Never before, sometimes after, most of the time a different day. I typically have people perform cardio work whenever it best fits in their schedule, as long as it’s not right before weight training. If you only have a limited number of days you can make it to the gym, it makes sense to perform weight training and cardio in the same session…just perform weight training first.

However, if your schedule allows it might be best to do cardio on a separate day when performing circuit weight training like LFLYOC. A recent study used cardio timing as a variable, and the researchers showed a significant benefit to performing cardio on a separate day for certain factors (3). The study came to the following conclusion:

“Circuit training alone induced strength and power improvements that were significantly greater than when resistance and endurance training were combined, irrespective of the intrasession sequencing”.
This strongly suggests that when trying to maintain strength and lean body mass, that one would benefit from doing the Lose Fat Like You’re on Crack routine on separate days from dedicated cardio. Research aside, most people will find that after a tough weight training circuit involving compound movements, attempting hard cardio is a near futile endeavor. Just get a good meal in and hit up the cardio the following day.


1. Fioranelli D, Lee CM. The Influence of Bar Diameter on Neuromuscular Strength and Activation: Inferences From an Isometric Unilateral Bench Press. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 May; 22(3):661-6 2. Anderson CE, Sforzo GA, Sigg JA. The effects of combining elastic and free weight resistance on strength and power in athletes. 3. Chtara, M, Chaouachi, A, Levin, GT, Chaouachi, M, Chamari, K, Amri, M, Laursen, PB. Effect of concurrent endurance and circuit resistance-training sequence on muscular strength and power development. J Strength Cond Res 22: 1037-1045, July 2008

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