Russ Howe PTI - GymTalk Reader Q&A Session

Reader Q&A With Russ Howe PTI

Here at GymTalk HQ we’ve been impressed by a few things recently:

The women of the Winter Olympics (gorgeous), ‘Da Hulk‘ (lifts like an industrial crane, communicates like a giant toad), and Russ Howe.

Indeed, we were so impressed with personal trainer Russ Howe’s wealth of knowledge during our recent interview that we asked him if he’d be interested in answering some of our readers’ gym-related questions as a follow-up blog post.

Being the good sport that he is, Russ kindly agreed.

Many thanks to everyone who took part in this – and thanks, of course, to Russ for taking the time to comprehensively answer all of your questions.


Russ Howe

What’s the best way to burn fat (without fat burning supplements)?

– Romario De Silva

Training-wise, without a doubt the answer is simply making high intensity interval training your preferred method of cardio and radically lowering your rest periods (or occasionally removing them completely) on lifts.

This will:

  • Increase overall workout intensity
  • Massively increase calorie burn in the gym
  • Improve fitness and conditioning
  • And keep your calorie burn significantly higher for almost 12 hours (EPOC, aka “The Afterburn Effect”)

If we’re talking diet, then it’s all about figuring out your tolerance of carbohydrates and then tweaking it to find your optimal level.

I like to set protein and fats are around 1.5g and 0.5g per pound of body weight respectively, then tentatively aim for around 1.5g carbohydrates per pound over the course of a few weeks.

Depending upon the response, after a few weeks decrease carbs to 1g.

A few weeks later decrease to 0.5g.

While doing this, keep adding in a high carb day every 5-6 days in order to shock the body and prevent the metabolism from slowing down.

If you’re combining that type of diet with a solid high intensity routine, you’ll melt away fat.

I would never go any lower than that.

To be honest, you should never really need to.

And when you increase carbs again, simply reverse-diet back up rather than suddenly bumping them.

This will minimize fat regain – a mistake I see countless times with people coming off low carb diet plans and suddenly regaining the weight by going straight back to their normal diet.

Have you seen or heard about the Evolution Workout by Joe Manganiello?

If so do you rate it?

– Ross

joe manganielloHi Ross.

Yes, I have heard of it and yes, I do rate it.

This is almost exactly the style of training I like to have clients follow when they are shooting for conditioning and/or fat loss.

You’re not going to gain very much size with this plan, but you should know that going into it.

Celebrity workout DVDs and plans have generated a bad name in the past because they are usually the result of some Z-list personality who has crash dieted and released a quick fix programme before the January rush.

But Joe’s programme is not in the same mould.

The workouts are quite intense – you need to be prepared for war each time you go to the gym.

It’s a decent programme!

Do you have any glove recommendations for a person suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome?

– Glori B

While there are tons to choose from, there is one “golden rule”: they need to be a loose fit.

Most gym gloves are tight and somewhat restricting, which is the direct opposite of what you need and in most cases would actually make it harder for you to workout.

I have a fast metabolism and have tried multiple diets and protein supplements but I can’t seem to gain any size.

Would you be able to recommend anything?

– Dean Burnham

Hi Dean.

In order to get around this issue we need to understand your body’s tolerance towards carbohydrates properly.

Carbs are always the key to this question.

Protein and fats should be set quite high due to the magnitude of muscle building and health benefits they yield.

I like to have clients set a “ball park” figure of around 1.5 grams protein and 0.5 grams fat per pound of body weight.

Carbohydrates, on the other hand, can be played with to suit the individual’s physique.

You could have a totally different carb tolerance to another guy, which is often why you’ll hear people proclaiming that, “I only have to look at a cake and I put a pound on.”

I would begin by setting my carbohydrates to 1.5 grams per pound.

The tricky bit when you want to put on size is sticking with something long enough to assess it.

Leave it for at least 2 weeks to assess whether things are heading in the right direction.

If not, increase to 2 grams and continue assessing results.

Keep progressing up in half grams.

Because of the way the human body is programmed to work, you will eventually find the correct balance.

Is it bad to lift early in the morning (5-7am) and should you eat before the workout?

– Vinny Cyrus Cole

Hi Vinny.

Hell no, it’s perfectly fine to lift early in the morning.

In fact, many serious lifters prefer this method.

I personally choose morning workouts over evening workouts every single time.

The difference in muscle you can build is very minimal, and the fact is either is better than not working out at all.

If you want to get scientific on this subject, the “best” time of day to workout is around 3pm.

Our testosterone levels are significantly higher early morning, but so are our cortisol levels, whereas by mid-afternoon our testosterone to cortisol ratio is at it’s optimal range for results.

But like I said above, the differences are not really significant enough to warrant changing your entire workout schedule!

You should always eat before a workout, but the foods may change depending upon your primary goal.

If your main goal is to pack on size then both protein and carbohydrates are important before you hit the gym.

If you are shooting for fat loss and plan on doing some HIIT or high intensity weights, though, take your protein but leave the carbs until afterwards.

To access the “afterburn” associated with HIIT our body must blast through our carbohydrate reserves, so munching a big bowl of carb-heavy foods before the gym would only serve to delay that process.

How can I improve my squat technique, particularly torso positioning?

At present I cannot keep my back upright enough so lower back is taking a lot of the weight.

– Greg Vinden

Hi Greg, you’re not alone in this.

This is something which taller people tend to experience quite a lot.

Here are five tips which hopefully help:

1) Get lifting shoes.

If you’re wearing trainers/running shoes they’re tilted at the back, pushing your weight forward.

Hence why most lifters squat barefoot.

2) Stretch your calves.

Around 50% of the time this is merely a flexibility issue.

3) Take a look to ensure your feet are adequately spaced.

Aim for a little wider than shoulder width, and point your toes towards 10 O’ Clock and 2 O’ Clock.

This will allow you to “sit into it” more without a fear of losing balance.

4) It’s often a sign of somebody relaxing for a second while “in the hole”.

If you relax your back and neck, your torso naturally begins to arch forward.

Stay tight throughout.

5) Look up!

Sounds really simple, but if you’re keeping your chin up and looking towards the ceiling as you push up you will notice an immediate improvement.

Is it better to do one monster session once a week hitting all major areas (leg press, chest press, shoulder press, pull down, row) or better to split this down into 2-3 smaller sessions per week focusing on 1-2 areas each?

– Seb Atkinson

Hi Seb, my answer here would be 2-3 sessions every time.

Not because working with a split system is superior, but because 2-3 sessions per week is always superior to one.

Even if you are a complete beginner in the gym, you should be hitting the weights more than once per week and you can train full body every single time because it has ample recovery time in between sessions.

A split routine comes in when you feel full body sessions are no longer providing your body with the stimulus to grow, which allows you to train each body part in much more detail.

If you’ve been lifting for longer than 4 months then I’d go with a split routine all the way.

8) What’s the best way to build your chest outside of the gym without a bench?

Any exercises you would recommend?

Mine is currently weedy.

– Rick Redman

Hi Rick.

I could go down the “trendy trainer” route and start giving you all this nonsense talk of balancing from rubber bands attached to tree branches in parks under the bullshit guise that it’s “functional”, but the fact is the best move for building your chest is Push Ups.

The same Push Ups Arnold did 50 years ago.

There are a magnitude of different variations to try (wide grip, close grip, diamond grip, inclined, explosive, clapping).

If you’re working out at home there are tons of exercises you can do but the primary “kings of the jungle” remain the old-school basics:

Push Ups, Pull Ups, Inverted Rows, Squats, Lunges.

Apart from scurvy, is there any long term damage to be had by eating plain rice and chicken three times a day?

– Will Sykes

Hi Will.

Chicken and rice has been a “go to” meal for bodybuilders of decades gone by and there is certainly no reason to fear consuming it.

But much like training, variety is the key to success.

The risk of contracting scurvy does not come at a price of eating chicken and rice, it’s a result of eating a very monotonous diet lacking in important vitamins and minerals – most notably, vitamin C.

No matter how big or ripped you’re aiming to be, there is absolutely no reason to fear living exclusively off chicken and rice, so put this worry to bed immediately.

chicken and rice

Do you like the women in your life to have the same level of fitness as you – or can they be chubby?

– Eleanor Isaac

Honestly Eleanor, I don’t care either way.

The way I was brought up, I was taught that if you want others to respect you for who you are then you need to also respect others for who they are.

If you genuinely fall in love with someone, it’s never about looks.

Some may disagree, but that’s the case for me.

I’ve been with girls who loved the gym and could talk for hours about working out, as well as girls who found talk of reps and HIIT boring as hell, and I can honestly say it made no difference.

My current girlfriend isn’t a gym rat.

In fact she finds my whole “gym persona” cheesy as hell, but it makes me laugh to make her laugh.

I love girls who lift, but it has no bearing in terms of a relationship.

If a girl makes me happy to be around her, I don’t care what she can bench.

What is the right balance in training muscle groups over a week?

For example, how many times a week should you train chest, legs, back, arms, etc?

– Tom Love

Hi Tom.

Our muscles can take a hell of a lot more punishment than many people think.

You’ll undoubtedly have “that guy” at your office who tells you that training more than three times per week is “overtraining”.

Of course, studies show that if your recovery and nutrition is sufficient you have absolutely nothing to worry about with overtraining a muscle.

In fact, there was one particularly fascinating study from Brazil which monitored over 400 gym enthusiasts who trained for more than 11 hours per week and all believed they were suffering from overtraining.

Using detailed interviews and individal muscle biopsies, they discovered that only a very small fraction of them actually were!

The majority of our muscles are fully recovered and ready to go again after just two days, with the exception of legs (understandably as our largest muscle group) which tend to take 3-4 days in most people.

I often have clients blasting the gym 5-6 days per week, working each muscle group twice over.

I have a ‘Total Gym’ and have never used it.

I have been a weight lifter/bodybuilder for many years but due to financial problems I must give up my gym membership.

Can I grow in size and strength with a Total Gym?

– Al Jones

Hi Al.

A lot of people instantly dismiss home fitness equipment like this, but I personally don’t have a problem with it.

While it is definitely silly for going down the “it’s better than a real gym” route with it’s packaging hype, it’s not all bad.

There are definitely effective workouts to be done with this piece of kit.

While it’s not really geared so much towards gaining size, you’ll still be able to build some strength and keep your fitness levels up.

The choice is obviously much more limited here compared to a weights room, but it certainly has it’s uses.

Is it wise to do deadlift and squat in the same session?

– Fabio Lucindo

Hi Fabio.

That’s a fantastic question because I see many different opinions on this in gyms.

You certainly can, but you’d have to compromise on one lift over the other in terms of maximum output.

Both exercises are awesome and you should definitely be doing both in your programme, but if you want to get the absolute most from each of them I would look to split them into different days.

Now despite the fact that many people like to incorporate deadlifts into their back workout, it is primarily a leg exercise and, quite frankly, during a heavy back workout you have other things you could be getting on with such as that set of punishing bent-over barbell rows or t-bars.

So one of the first things I do with a lot of clients is to introduce them to the idea of hitting legs twice per week (or every 4 days, depending upon their recovery rates).

One time they’ll hit squats, the next time they’ll deadlift.

Further still, the solid foundation created by carving out strong legs provides their upper body with a bigger platform to grow.

I have always struggled to gain any muscle mass on my calves.

What’s the best way to do this – workouts, sets, reps, etc?

– Neal

Hi Neal.

Calves are a body part which are largely determined by genetics.

Don’t use that as an excuse, however, as you can still develop them to their maximum potential.

But (like forearms) some people are naturally blessed whereas others struggle.

A prime example is Arnold.

All of his early shots were taken in water to hide his small calves, and even when he hammered them later in his career they were always a lagging body part.

arnold water calves

In order to develop them to their best possible shape and size, use these three exercises:

1) Standard Calf Raise

2) Seated Calf Raise

3) Donkey Calf Raise

Like traps, calves respond very well to high rep training so that’s where I would primarily be going.

I’m talking 20-30 reps per set here, not 15.

However, it’s good to throw in a curveball to prevent it from getting used to the stimulus being placed upon it.

One great technique to use (introduced to me by great strength coach Dave Stidolph) is a Kettlebell Calf Ladder.

To do this, line up every kettlebell in your gym and perform a ladder system, doing calf raises with them all without rest.

The weight is the amount of reps you do (i.e. 10kg = 10 reps, 15kg = 15 reps, 20kg = 20 reps).

I’ll have clients climb up the weights and then back down.

That’s a great way to finish off a leg workout and the body has no idea what the hell is going on.

What is the most important weight workout to do in your opinion?

– Mick

Hi Mick.

If you’re new to the gym then strength workouts are by far the most important type of weight workouts to focus on.

That’s regardless of whether your goal is fat loss or muscle size.

Having a base of strength from which to work is something that will help you with either target.

So that’s what I would spend the first month or so focusing on before reaching a crossroads and heading down a more specific route.

Should I be bothering with pre-workout supplements?

They seem to be all the rage but I’m a bit sceptical.

– Adam

You’re right to be sceptical, Adam.

Pre-workout supplements can be useful but they are one of the areas of sports supplementation which rely largely on the individual’s tolerance to certain ingredients.

Whereas something like creatine or whey protein is proven to be effective, a pre-workout product may blow your head off then have no effect on your friend.

pre workout meme

That’s due to the fact that he may be more tolerant towards caffeine, beta-alanine, or any of the other ingredients in there.

That’s also why they tend to have less effect the longer you take them.

Another reason you’re right to be sceptical of this category is that companies often hide their ingredients from you.

You read that correctly – they will actually try to sell you things without telling you what is in them.

The phrase to watch out for on a pre-workout supplement is “proprietary blend”.

This means the manufacturer will list the ingredients without telling you the dosages in the formula.

Now, in the early days of pre-workout supplements, companies used the phrase “proprietary blend” on their product in a bid to hide their formula from competitors and prevent them from stealing their secret.

That’s perfectly understandable.

But nowadays it’s often used as a guise to mask very poor ingredients.

You’ll know it’s got caffeine, green tea extract or beta-alanine in there but you won’t know how much!

You can usually tell the bad ones quite easily, as they try to take focus off the ingredients by placing ridiculous hype and promises of “exploding muscles” across the packaging.

Believe me, if they had a great set of ingredients in all the best, scientifically proven dosages – they’d be telling you about it!

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For more from Russ, head over to his website where he regularly blogs about all things gym and fitness.

Alternatively, hit him up on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and say hello!

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  1. Thank you for answering my question.

    Amazing article BTW very helpful!