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Lack of lats? – Why BCAAs? – Can you drink beer and body-build? – How to get a manly grip – Non-existent upper pecs – Sports for cardio?

By Iron Vic Steele

Greetings from Asbury Park! 

I saw you tell a reader a few months back that there was an old saying, “show me a man with great biceps and I’ll show you a man with lousy lats.” That’s me! So, what does a guy with good biceps do to bring up his subpar lats? I do the standard stuff, pulldowns with different handles, different grip widths, to the front and back. I also do seated rows. I am an intermediate guy. I have been lifting seriously for ten years. 

Lanny, Jersey


The whole saying goes, “Show me a man with great biceps and I’ll show you a man with lousy lats” – and conversely, “Show me a man with great lats and I’ll show you a man with lousy biceps.” A trainee can “arm pull” back exercises. To contract the lats, the trainee must pull a barbell, dumbbell or machine handles inward, pulling the payload towards the body. You can activate the biceps to pull a weight. To isolate the lats, the biceps need be taken out of the equation. To take the biceps out of back work, use lifting straps. Proper usage of lifting straps allows the grip to relax a tad, even while pulling maximum poundage. Add some heavy lat movements, barbell rows and deadlifts. Use strict technique, strap up and start “back pulling” lat exercises. Another tip: when wearing lifting straps, place the thumbs on the back of the barbell, dumbbell or machine handle. The biceps cannot fire to any significant degree if the thumb is not wrapped around the bar. I use straps on all my back exercises and place the thumb behind the bar. The straps keep the weight from slipping out of your hands, even without the thumbs. Straps also allow the bodybuilder to squeeze out extra growth-producing reps. 


Tell me again why branched-chain amino acid supplementation is important? There has always been a lot of positive press on amino acid supplementation in general, and BCAAs especially. I suppose amino acids in capsule form is more concentrated. I am in a slump and looking for some new angles to get me moving. I was thinking about pairing some BCAA supplementation with a conditioning program. I want to combine a high-volume weight training program with a high-volume cardio program. This lean-out phase would be supported by appropriate Parrillo-style nutrition. I was thinking about adding Parrillo Amino Acids.

Janis, Port Arthur


Muscle Amino Formula™ is the Parrillo BCAA formulation. Branched-chain amino acid (BCCA) have an aliphatic side-chain with a branch. A central carbon atom is bound to three or more carbon atoms. There are three BCAAs, leucine, isoleucine, and valine. John Parrillo recommends hard-training bodybuilders take 2-3 or more Muscle Amino Formula™ capsule heading into a hardcore weight training session. The idea is to saturate muscles, to super compensate, what is going to be depleted. During a high-intensity workout, BCAAs are exhausted. By taking Muscle Amino Formula™ heading into a training session the depletion is forestalled. Coming out of the workout, the best possible post-workout supplementation strategy is to take another 2-3 or more Muscle Amino Formula™ capsules, ideally washed down with a Parrillo 50/50 Plus™ post-workout replenishment shake. 50/50 Plus™ is designed to take advantage of the “window of opportunity” that opens after an intense training session and closes 2-3 hours later. Nutrients consumed while the window is open are consumed at 2-3 times the normal rate. This is the perfect time to take Muscle Amino Formula™ capsules. This sounds like a smart strategy: link-up BCAAs with a lean-out phase: the amino capsules will help preserve and build muscle by establishing anabolism before, during and after a high-intensity training session. Your lifting strength will increase if you super-saturate with BCAAs.

Good afternoon!

What is your opinion of alcohol and bodybuilding? I like to drink when I go out on weekends and don’t see me giving that up anytime soon. Does this mean I can never be a bodybuilder and never make and gains? Do pro bodybuilders not drink? Is there a difference in the type of alcohol consumed? Is it better to drink whiskey than beer? Gin rather than Grand Mariner? Help a brother out! 

Sluggo, Cleveland

I drink. One day a week I drink whatever I feel like. Mostly beer and wine, which doesn’t have the day-after ill-effects that hard liquor has. The high sugar liquors, sambuca, Irish Crème, rum, any liqueur or fruity drink, drives alcohol deeper into the cells. The sugar and alcohol combine to poison the body. I drink once a week – but I am not entering Mr. Cleveland in six weeks. Anyone with competitive bodybuilding aspirations at any level will need to let drinking go during the show prep phase. Here is an inconvenient fact of life: there can be no fat oxidation if any alcohol is in the system. Alcohol (like MCTs) always goes to the head of the oxidation line: no matter what is in the body and next up to be digest, drink a beer, a mixed drink or a shot of scotch and the alcohol gets preferential treatment: it goes first and until it is completely oxidized, nothing else happens. How long it takes for the body to rid itself of alcohol varies person to person. Food for thought. I don’t think having drinks on a weekend is that big a deal. 


What’s the best way to improve grip strength? For a lot of reasons, I want to increase my hand strength to a significant degree and let’s just say its confusing out there insofar as what is the best way to increase hand strength. What is your opinion on getting a better grip?

Ronnie, Kensington

So much depends on your grip-strength benchmark. If closing hand grippers is the benchmark then you should practice a lot at squeezing grippers. If the grip-strength benchmark is sustained grip strength, I would suggest performing double overhand deadlifts, using either sumo or conventional deadlift technique. The idea is to pull each deadlift rep precisely. Make the deadlift a continuous tension exercise by using a slowed lowering and not allowing the poundage to settle on the floor between reps. This smooth pace and continuous tension turn the overhand deadlift into the best of all grip developers. Perform 5-rep sets. Another favorite grip developer, one invented by powerlifting legend Ed Coan is to shrug with a barbell using an overhand grip. Set the barbell in a power rack and perform a single, high rep set of shrugs. Shrug until the weight opens the hands and the barbell falls onto the pins set a few inches below the shrug low point. Shoot for 20-reps. Put grip-shrugs at the end of a back-training session because after one set of these, you will be wrecked for anything else that involves grip. A lot of hardcore iron men like to use thick handled barbells to make gripping smaller bells easier. If you are needing grip endurance, try Arnold’s favorite grip exercise, the forearm-burning wrist roller.


My upper pecs are non-existent. I have good front delts and triceps – and no upper pectorals to speak of. How do I learn to isolate a muscle that, apparently, I have been unable to isolate my entire life? I am ‘hollow’ around my clavicles. What is your favorite upper pec isolation exercise?

Ben, Texas


I would concentrate on incline dumbbell presses. These need to be done with great precision. First off, forget about poundage: this is about isolation using continuous tension. This variation is done on a 45-degree incline bench. Keep your back stuck to the bench – do not let the butt rise off the bench. The reps are paused. Inhale as you lower the bells, pull them down with tension. On the descent John Parrillo recommends “oppose the lowering by firing the antagonistic muscles: engage the triceps and lats to “resist” the lowering. Pull the bells all the way down to the shoulders. Pause for a short second – no need for exaggerated or long pauses. After a short pause, push smoothly to a full and complete lockout. A hard lockout makes 45-degree incline pressing not only the best of all upper pec exercises but also a superb tricep developer if every repetition is locked out. Start with a pair of light bells for eight precise reps. take small poundage jumps between sets. Ingrain the technique and retain it as you work through 3-5 sets. Get a big stretch at the bottom of each rep. Feel the upper pecs (and triceps) contract in real time. Use upper pecs to lower the bells with control. Feel the upper pecs start the push and feel the triceps finish each rep. Work dumbbell inclines once a week. Push up poundage ever so slightly each week. In two months, you’ll fill out those hollow collarbones.


What do you think of sport for cardio – you know, like swimming, tennis, soccer, flag football, softball, etc., riding an exercise bike is sooooo boring! Is it possible to get your cardio without resorting to sitting or riding a cardio machine? Half the time at my gym there is a waiting list to get on a cardio machine – ridiculous! 

Renee, Denver


It depends on what sport you pick. Let’s back up. What is the goal of cardio? To elevate the heart rate to such a degree that the calories are oxidized at an accelerated rate and the metabolism becomes elevated. Parrillo-style cardio causes the athlete to sweat profusely. If you are not sweating you are not working hard enough. Can you work hard enough to reap aerobic gains performing sports? Some sports. Obviously running up and down a soccer field or a rugby field without pause qualifies. Bowling or golf is insufficient. Swimming can be if you are an adept swimmer. I used to break a terrific sweat playing racquet ball with a good opponent. Baseball or softball has too much standing around. Basketball is a good one because it is continual action. Tennis for intermediate and advanced players is excellent. Tennis for beginners is poor exercise because so much time is spent chasing the ball. Outdoor running is fantastic and requires no special gear or equipment. Alternate long, steady state runs with sprinting. You need to push, huff and puff, sweat and seek to improve. Done right, intense cardio combined with Parrillo-style nutrition is the optimal way to melt off body fat and improve fitness. If the goal is serious cardiovascular exercise, some sports are terrific, and others are insufficiently intense and a complete waste of time.

2020-01-25T23:43:14-05:00 January 25th, 2020|Iron Vic Speaks, The Press|

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