Muscle Building Inquisition PART II – An interview with John Paul Catanzaro continued

QFAC: For a beginner, I would probably go more for the slow, controlled situation.

JPC: Right! But again you have to qualify the question because the answer will depend on what they are training for. If they are training for power or speed, then of course the one that is going fast will give them the better training effect, but if they are training more for body composition or hypertrophy, then the slower, more controlled reps will probably bring them within the time under tension that will elicit that sought-after effect so it all depends.

Now can you utilize both schemes? Yes. With advanced trainees, we tend to stick to explosive concentrics. The eccentric action will be controlled for the most part, but it depends on the movement and what we are trying to achieve. Occasionally, we will insert isometric stops as well, but concentric actions at the advanced level are usually explosive. It does not necessarily mean that the weight is going to move fast but the intent is always explosive

QFAC: Nice way to clear it up because I know there is a ton of confusion in this industry over tempo training. Another common thing in the gym that you see all the time are guys doing half reps. How effective do you find partial reps for size?

JPC: Partial reps can be effective to get over a plateau, but if you are using them constantly in your training then you are basically shooting yourself in the foot! Not only will it reduce flexibility, but you will adapt strength solely in the range you train in

Work defined is the amount of force you produce over a given distance. There is a quite a big difference between someone doing a quarter squat versus a half squat versus a full squat. Every once in awhile you can incorporate quarter squats or half squats to help bust through a training plateau, but you should encourage full range of motion with most exercises.

Much of the misconception that strength training produces a muscle-bound, inflexible individual stems from partial rep training. In fact, the second most flexible athlete is an Olympic weightlifter. If you train in full range of motion, the weight alone will provide passive stretching. These guys can do full “ass-to-the-grass” squats with some serious weight, but many bodybuilders who train in a shortened range of motion can barely tie their shoe laces! It all depends on how you train

QFAC: That is true. Many guys in the physique world cannot see the forest because they are blinded by the trees! They always have to perform certain exercises in a particular way or they think they’ll never grow. Do you agree?

JPC: I do. Squats are a great example, but another good one involves chin-ups. You get a bodybuilder to do a chin-up (i.e. supinated grip) or a pull-up (i.e. pronated grip) and many times they end up repping out with half the range of motion. But once you get them to do a full repetition – and I mean from a dead hang at the bottom until their chin clears the bar at the top – all of a sudden watch how their numbers start to drop! It’s a big blow to their ego, but that’s a true chin-up. That is what personal trainers and strength coaches need to teach – they need to prescribe full range of motion. Every once in awhile you can use partials or isometrics or other methods to help blast through plateaus but to use them constantly in training I think is doing an injustice to your client.

QFAC: Well put. I think there is far too much of that going on now. Let’s change subject for a minute. Many people are interested about building wide shoulders. I saw an article you wrote about doing seated lateral raises and then standing up to extend the set. Do you have any other suggestions to build shoulder width?

JPC: If your program design has a healthy diet of presses, rows and chins, then doing specialized shoulder work is really unnecessary. But if you have a bodybuilder that wants to build full boulder-sized shoulders, then doing isolation movements like lateral raises, for instance, is warranted.

Most people think that the shoulders are comprised of only three heads, the anterior, medial, and posterior head, but research shows that the shoulder is actually made up of seven segments. To truly train and stimulate all heads of the shoulders, you want to train them at different angles – even just a slight change in angle can actually alter recruitment pattern.

For example, the first 15 to 30 degrees of (humeral) abduction involves primarily the supraspinatus muscle, which is one of the muscles that makes up the rotator cuff. The medial deltoid contributes to a greater extent the further you start to abduct into the movement. You can affect recruitment for the lateral raise by altering your body position: side-lying on a Swiss ball or on an incline bench will stimulate more supraspinatus; whereas, leaning away from a pole will hit more of the medial deltoid fibers.

There are many ways to influence the deltoids and hit them through different angles. I find that trisets and giant sets are quite effective for building shoulders. If your goal is to build full delts, then yes, I would recommend doing additional isolation work, but if you are doing plenty of rows, presses and chins, don’t bother.

QFAC: What are the advantages of using trisets?

JPC: The advantage is that you can get a lot of work done in a short period of time, and that you can hit the muscle through different angles with various exercises.

Go back to shoulders. If you perform an “L” lateral raise, you cut the lever length in half. By doing regular laterals and then switching to L-laterals as you fatigue, you can extend the set. Then, by moving from a seated position to standing, you can start incorporating a little more of the legs to aid the upper body which will further increase the time under tension!

Another example involves hitting the shoulders with various exercises. You can go from say an overhead press to an upright row to a lateral raise and hit each of them with different rep brackets. The presses use a lower rep bracket; the upright rows a medium bracket; and train the laterals with higher reps. Trisets enable you to recruit different motor units, which is advantageous to hypertrophy.

QFAC: Talk a little a bit about splits. This is a very controversial topic, What have you found to be some of the more effective splits or do you prefer whole body workouts?

JPC: I really like incorporating antagonistic splits of opposite muscle groups, body parts or movement patterns. One that is quite popular that many of the top coaches use is to perform chest and back together, then to do quadriceps and hamstrings together on a separate day and you usually incorporate abdominals on that day as well, and then finally perform triceps and biceps together on yet another day with any additional delt work. That type of three-day split tends to work well for most individuals.

Whole body workouts are recommended for beginners because they are learning how to lift and are using much lighter loads. With low intensity, the frequency can be greater – in other words, you can present a set of stimuli more frequently. However, as you advance and the intensity increases, you cannot present that stimulus as frequently. You need more time to recover. That is where splits are advantageous.

The key is to determine what the ideal frequency is to make that 1 or 2% increase each workout. This depends on the individual. Teenagers who live at home with their parents and go to school do not really have much stress in their lives and their hormones are raging! A 3 in 5 system (i.e. 5-day rotation) works quite well where Day1 is chest and back, Day 2 is legs and abs, the third day is off, Day 4 would be arms and delts, the 5th day off and then they repeat the cycle.

A 30 year old working 9 to 5 with a mortgage and a kid will have a little more stress in their life, so a 3 in 6 system (i.e. 6-day rotation) works quite well. And if you have a 50 or 60 year old whose hormones have declined considerably, then they do not recover as well. Add on top of that a couple of kids, maybe some employees, problems with their marriage, debt, etc. and you’ve got a ton of stress! Well, a 3 in 7 schedule (i.e. 7-day rotation) might be more suited for them.

So frequency depends on where you are within that continuum, and even then, it depends on the situation. You may have an 18 year old that just lost a parent or is on exam week and is under a tremendous amount of stress. That will definitely affect their frequency if they want to continue to make progress.

QFAC: Good stuff! I don’t think many people put much thought into how their lifestyle may affect their workouts. I want to ask you about arm training real quick. Where do you see the biggest results with your clients and what kind of sets and reps are best with arm training?

JPC: As they progress, we tend to use lower rep brackets with arm training. The key is to perform big bang, multi-joint, compound movements, such as weighted close-grip chin-ups and parallel-bar dips, for low reps (i.e. 6 or lower) and a high number of sets (i.e. 6 or more) in an undulatory or wave-like manner. In other words, by alternating between volume, or what we term accumulation phases, followed by more intensity driven (or intensification) phases tends to work quite well assuming that their recovery is adequate.

QFAC: Excellent! What exercises should they be doing for their arms?

JPC: For the elbow flexors, if they are not doing chin-ups – and there are over 70 variations available – they will not achieve maximum arm growth. Next, there are various arm curls out there. I often recommend Zottman curls, which involves a supinated grip on the concentric and a pronated grip on the eccentric action, as well as incline (both supinated and neutral/hammer grip) curls, which tend to hit a little more of the long head of the biceps. Also, consider improving forearm size and strength with neat little tools such as Fat Gripz or Tyler grips. I’ll explain how to use these gems in a future article.

Keep in mind that the elbow extensors make up the majority of upper arm size so don’t neglect them. The best exercises there include dips, close-grip bench press, California press with a Swiss ball or Olympic bar, various triceps extensions (particularly in the decline position, which hits all 3 heads of the triceps according to MRI studies) and pressdowns.

QFAC: That just about covers everything, JP. What are you working on right now that you might want to share with our readers?

JPC: Well, after a year off from speaking to set up my new training facility in Richmond Hill, Ontario, I’m back at it. My seminar series has commenced primarily in the Greater Toronto Area (which is the most populous metropolitan area in Canada by the way), but we are working on some dates in the States as well.

QFAC: Great! Thanks for a fantastic interview.

JPC: No problem. All the best.

john Paul Catanzaro

John Paul Catanzaro, B.Sc., C.K., P.F.L.C., is a certified kinesiologist and professional fitness and lifestyle consultant with a specialized honours Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and Health Science. He owns and operates a private studio in Toronto, Ontario providing training and nutritional consulting services. For additional information, visit his website at or call 416-292-4356.

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