Worthwhile Supplements – The Brawn for Brains Recommended List

Last Updated: 4/12/17

In the past few months I’ve repeatedly been asked to list some of the supplements I’d recommend on this blog.  I’ve put this off because I want to do thorough research for each type of supplement, present my findings and then make a recommendation based on those (like I did here). However these articles take a lot of research and time to create so I’m going to use this article as a half way point.

In this article I’m going to list the supplements I recommend and my reasoning.  I will only recommend supplements that I personally have taken, if there’s something you think would be better than what’s on the list tweet it to me (@brawnforbrains) and if it is I’ll be sure to update my listings.

Full disclosure: Buying any of the products listed through the links I provide will put a small percentage of that money in my pocket; Help a grad student out!


Whey Protein

To start, if you are lifting weights and trying to gain an athletic body composition then you likely should be on a high protein diet.  Eating this much protein in a day can be exhausting, especially if you are a vegetarian.  For this we have whey protein supplements.

MyProtein Isolate – Best Value, High accuracy to label.  The taste is alright, you aren’t really going to be craving it but it does go down easily.


Dear god this is a ridiculously overcrowded market.  Essentially the main ingredient in all preworkouts is caffeine but some add creatine, bcaa’s, nitic oxide boosters, etc… I’ve found that the more crap they seem to try to cram in there the less effective it is overall. For this section I’m putting two recommendations; the first is my “Minimalist Homemade Pre Workout” and the second is a premade option if you don’t want to deal with buying individual ingredients. You can read more about preworkout here.

Matt’s Minimalist Preworkout

Legion’s Pulse – Average price for a preworkout product, high accuracy to label and tastes amazing.  The guys over at Legion Athletics did an amazing job with this product.  It’s the only preworkout I’ve seen that pairs caffeine with Theanine, something known to occur in green tea and believed to promote euphoria from caffeine instead of the jitters. While you can definitely find preworkouts on the market with more than the 350 mg of caffeine that pulse provides you really shouldn’t require such high levels of caffeine unless there is some deeper issue.


For this I recommend creatine monohydrate, it’s the form of creatine that has had the most research done on it and shown to be effective time and time again.  For those who do not know: creatine monohydrate is a great supplement for weight lifters because it can be taken up by your cells to form phosphocreatine which helps your muscle cells rapidly renew ATP resources. Each of the recommendations I make below is simply pure creatine monohydrate.

Bulk Supplements Micronized Creatine Monohydrate

MyProtein Creatine Monohydrate


You can read a full explanation of my choice here.  Multivitamins are certainly not necessary but they are great insurance policies should your nutrition have multiple gaps.

Legion’s Triumph

Branched Chain Amino Acids

There are way too many supposed benefits from drinking BCAA cocktails and that’s made the price skyrocket.  BCAAs have their use but it’s very specific: Branched Chain Amino Acids have been shown to effectively prevent muscle catabolism, so I only drink it when I am in a phase of reduced calories and/or in a fasted state, especially if I am exercising in a fasted state.  Outside of that very specific window I do not usually ingest BCAA’s.

Bulk Supplement’s Pure BCAA’s (Unflavored) – This is one of the better deals however it is up to you to find an acceptable way to ingest it.

Fish Oil

Let’s be frank, only a very select few of us are actually going to get an optimal amount of Omega-3 fatty acids through our diet.  Much like a multivitamin I find fish oil to be a good insurance policy.

Nordic Natural’s Fish Oil


And that’s it.  At least currently, those are the only supplements I am taking and would recommend.  Remember with supplements that they’re not some magical serum that’s going to unlock your true potential.  You need to have a solid diet as your basis and only supplement to fill in the gaps.

Again if you think this list could be improved upon from any addition and/or replacement please tweet it to me (@brawnforbrains) and I’ll be sure to test it out!



Getting Started: The Bench Press


The bench press is practically synonymous with resistance training. As you’d expect this results in a large emphasis on benching among newbie gym goers chasing a brag-worthy answer to that persistent question:

“How much can you bench?”

I’m going to tell you right now, don’t go hoping for a bigger bench overnight.  Bench pressing progresses slowly but it does so consistently if you do it right.  Build your pressing power without deficiencies and you’ll finally have a satisfying answer to the above question.

Starting with Push Ups

Photo by

Most people that I have met that are unable to perform a single push up think it makes sense to start with bench pressing light weight. The reasoning is usually that they can press a couple of dumbbells that are lighter than their entire body so it gives them a place to start. This method has some truth to it and isn’t inherently bad, however I prefer to make the push up easier and progress towards perfection with push ups before starting with external weights.

Let’s star with set up.  Push ups begin in what’s called the “high plank” position.  Your feet should be together, hands directly under your shoulders, and spine flat (neck too).  You should be able to assume this high plank position and hold it taught for at least one minute.  If you can’t hold the high plank for one solid minute then you may want to start with holding high planks for sets of 10-20 seconds until you can.

Next we have the lowering phase.  Keep your back flat and legs stiff while slowly bringing your chest towards the ground while keeping your elbows close to your sides.  Think of your body as a stiff wooden board and your arm, shoulder, and chest muscles are a jack controlling the ascent/descent of the board.

Stop lowering once your chest is within 2-3 inches of the ground.  Keeping your elbows by your sides forcefully contract your chest muscles and extend your elbows.  You should feel activation in the two prime movers of the push up: the chest muscles and the triceps.  You should return to the high plank position you began in.

To test yourself start with trying to complete 12 perfect push ups.  Don’t lie to yourself if they start to get sloppy, make them as clean as possible.  If you can complete 12 perfect push ups then you can proceed onto the bench press section.  If you cannot complete 12 perfect push ups try the following progression:

  • Take 50% of the amount of perfect push ups you could do, round down if needed.
    • Example: I could complete 9 push ups, then I use 4.
  • For 4 days complete 4-6 sets of perfect push ups of the number above, resting 3+ minutes between sets.
    • Example: I would then do 4-6 sets of 4 push ups for the next 4 workout days.
  • On your fifth workout day try to go for 12+ perfect push ups again.  If you hit 12 go onto the next section, if you don’t repeat this progression.

Approaching the Bench

Photo by Mandarina1997 – Wikimedia commons

Once you’ve established that you can accomplish at least 12 perfect push ups you are ready to get under the barbell.  Start by simple experimentation; lie on the bench and experiment with where you are comfortable unracking the bar from and do a few practice reps (2-4).  Typically people like to put their clavicles almost directly underneath the bar in the racked position but this may prove difficult for some, play around with it.

The next most important things to consider when setting up are the location of your feet, butt, and upper back.  Your feet should be firmly planted on the ground and assuming a wide stance, your butt and upper back should be making solid contact with the bench.  Don’t worry about emulating those crazy back arches you’ve seen on instagram, that’s not a beginner technique and should be developed under the supervision of an experienced trainer.

From this set up position put your arms straight out, letting your hands go past the bars (think of doing a zombie walk kind of look).  Note where your forearms line up with the bar, this tends to be a good marker for where you should put your index finger when gripping the bar.  Lower your hands to the bar and grip the bar.  Tighten your grip and shoulders before lifting the bar, you can do this by imagining that you are trying to bend the bar. Push the bar upwards to unpack it.

From this top position slowly lower the bar towards the bottom portion of your chest while keeping your elbows near your sides.  Notice that these instructions are very similar to the instructions for the lowering part of a pushup.  Let the bar make gentle contact with the bottom of your chest, don’t let it crash into your sternum! From here contract your chest muscles forcefully and extend your elbows to drive the bar upward.  You should feel the two prime movers of the bench press, the pectorals and triceps, being activated.

Once you have the basic movement pattern of the bench press established you’re ready to start moving some weight.  There are a lot of really good power lifting progressions for increasing your bench press but if you’re new to bench pressing (i.e. Your maximum bench press is less than 80% of your bodyweight) the best method tends to be simply increasing your exposure.  If you’re in this boat try the following protocol:

  • Bench Press 1-2 times a week with at least 1 day rest between sessions.
  • Bench Press for 2-3 warm up sets, and 3-4 working sets.
  • Working sets should have a simple progression like staying within 8-12 reps.
    • If you can do more than 12 reps, increase the weight.
    • If you can’t do at least 8 reps, decrease the weight.

Try this basic protocol and when you finally hit a wall with some heavy weight then move on to one of the more developed programs.  Such as the Brawn for Brains Big 3: Bench Press Progression.