Is Diet A Four-Letter Word?

Woman #1:  Hey, I’m trying a new diet!

Woman #2:  Oh yeah?  What’s it called?

Woman #1:  The Hollywood Sit & Scream 48-Hour Diet.  The ads guarantee losing 30 or more pounds in 2 days.

Woman #2: Wow!  What do you have to do?

Woman #1:  Well, for 48 hours I have nothing but coffee, Polish sausage and saurkraut 6 times a day, and then I have three beers for breakfast.  I also take something called X-Treme Herbalax 5 times a day between meals.  Then I wake up the morning of the third day and all of my insides end up in the toilet.  Did you know that your colon can weigh up to 4 pounds?

If the above conversation sounds at all familiar to you, you’re familiar with the modern state of the fad diet industry (also, you should see a doctor, as you need your insides to be inside of you).  There are dozens upon dozens of short (usually 7 days or less) diets that promise incredible results by using some insanely limited combination of foods and supplements in high amounts.  However, if you’re reading this site, I probably don’t have to tell you that those diets do more harm than good, and often lead to increased weight gain after the fact.  How did we get to the point where diets are defined by how unhealthy they are?

It doesn’t have to be that way.  A diet, in its simplest definition, is simply a specific plan to achieve a particular result by a certain deadline.  That’s it.  Want to lose 20lbs in 12 weeks for a wedding?  You’ll be dieting.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Will you keep up the same level of adherence and commitment after the wedding?  Probably not, because the deadline has been removed.  Did you cut out soda and start drinking tea?  Did you continue that habit after your goal was achieved?  Then you’ve made a lifestyle change.  It’s an open-ended adjustment with a broader focus – your long-term health.

The difference between a diet and a lifestyle change might seem inconsequential, but it’s actually pretty dramatic.  If I measure somebody’s body composition and they’re 30% bodyfat, and they set upon a target of 10% bodyfat, the steps they will take to get there are going to be dramatically different depending on the sense of urgency.  If I have 6 months, the room for error is reduced if not eliminated altogether, whereas if I have 2 years, there is room for mistakes and the inevitable lapse in dedication.

I think that as a society, we have come to expect that we can get what we want with very little sacrifice, in a short window of time.  How many ads have you heard on the radio promising some little pill that will let you drop 30lbs in a month with no needed exercise or dietary change?  And people are surprised when it doesn’t work?  Come on.

Again, I am not against somebody choosing to use a series of small changes to reach their goal over a long period of time.  If that’s what fits your level of priority, that’s totally fine – not everybody is physically or mentally able to go “all in” right away, if ever.  But it’s important to get the advice of a qualified professional to help you reconcile your goal with your ability to make the big changes.  You may want to lose 10 pounds a week, but if you refuse to cut out starch and think supplements are a scam, you’re in for a rude awakening when the scale won’t budge and your clothing won’t fit any looser.

Remember, you don’t have to diet – many people do wonderfully off of small, progressive adjustments with the intent of changing their lifestyle, but when your old college roommate invites you to go to Maui in two months and you’d prefer to not be able to use your stomach as a shelf, you, my friend, are going to need to diet.  Just please, stay away from the saurkraut.

My Advice to New Personal Trainers

The personal training and coaching industry has exploded in the last several years, and there are many poorly educated, albeit well-meaning, trainers who got into the job just because they love working out and “talking shop,” but without really having an understanding of what’s expected of you.  After all, most popular certifications do an awful job of preparing you for the reality of the fitness industry.  It’s extremely competitive, full of people promising things they can’t deliver.  Here’s how to set yourself apart from the rest of the pack.

#1. Look the Part.

You don’t have to look like you just stepped off of the cover of a muscle magazine year-round, but it’s impossible to deny that personal training is a visual industry. People who hire a trainer will, 9 times out of 10, go with the guy who looks the way they want to look over the guy who has a wall full of diplomas and certifications. It doesn’t matter how good of a trainer you are, if the prospective client doesn’t choose you, you’ll never get to show it.

Would you let him teach you how to get in shape?

This is where things like before and after pictures are extremely helpful. Let’s say you’re 250lbs, but you used to be 400. If I walk into your studio, I’m going to have some doubts about hiring you for fat loss, but if you show me that before picture, it gives you instant credibility. Who knows more about fat loss than somebody who’s dropped 150lbs?

This makes me qualified to talk about fat loss.

Bottom line: part of the sale is your appearance. If you won’t accept it, you may be in the wrong profession.

#2. Your Client’s Goals May Not Be Your Goals.

I used to see this a lot when I was a trainer at Gold’s Gym in California – wannabe bodybuilders who call everybody “Bro” having their female clients who want to lose fat do an entire workout of just arms. Or powerlifters who have their executive clients doing speed squats onto a box with chains on the bar, worrying about whether they’re using 62% or 63% of their max squat.

This is very easy to do as a trainer, and it’s also one of the easiest ways to lose clients. It doesn’t matter if circuit-style fat loss training with high reps and short rest intervals bores you to tears – either learn to deal with it, or don’t take fat loss clients.  Just remember – they’re paying you, not the other way around.

On a similar but slightly different note – there’s no need to impress your client with fancy gimmicks and tricks.  While squatting on top of a stability ball may look impressive, it’s also stupid.  Ditch the fancy balls and ladders and learn the basics.  Because the fastest way to impress a client is to make them look awesome, not to get a second job at the traveling circus.

... No.

#3. Know Your Value.

How much do you charge? Is it competitive? Are you trying to be the lowest price in town, or selling yourself as “the best of the best”? What’s your education? How many testimonials and success stories do you have? These things all impact how much you charge. Here are a few things to remember when setting rates:

– If you’re just starting out, you have no business charging what the pros do – you haven’t proven your ability to deliver results yet. If I have a 50-client portfolio full of impressive transformations, I might be able to demand $100 or more per training session. If I’m a 19-year-old kid still in college who hasn’t even finished his weekend certification, an hour session should cost $20-30. As you get better, you raise your rates. As you increase your credentials, you raise your rates. My first few clients paid me $10-15 an hour to essentially hold their hand during their workouts. I didn’t know much other than what I learned from fitness mags and from my own personal experience. Now I can command a significantly higher price point because I have the ability to deliver results.

#4. Understand Nutrition.

You have to include nutritional counseling as part of your training package. You have to. If you want your clients to have any hope of reaching their goals, you have to get into their diets. You have to not be afraid to tell people what they’re doing wrong and guiding them through the process. You don’t have to deliver a 7-day customized meal plan with nutrient breakdowns, but you need to know when to adjust protein intake, meal timing, supplements, etc. And you’d better practice what you preach – don’t tell all of your clients to avoid gluten like the plague if you’re going to eat Wheaties every morning and hit the local pizza spot during a break.

#5. Keep Records.

Without record keeping, you can’t show your clients, or yourself, how successful or unsuccessful your training is. Lots of new trainers, and far too many experienced trainers, never take bodyfat measurements, or pictures, or tape measurements, or keep track of training programs or weights used. A lot of guys on bodybuilding forums like to make fun of the “clipboard holding trainers” they see, but I’d rather see my coach holding a clipboard or a notebook than nothing at all. If you’re not taking notes and keeping records, it shows your clients that you don’t really care about that information, so why should they?

A career as a personal trainer or strength coach can be extremely rewarding, and it can also be the most stressful thing you’ve ever dealt with in your life, sometimes both at the exact same time.  But if you set yourself up for success from the start, you can make it a lifelong pursuit.

10 Mass Building Tips for Hardgainers

#1.  Get lean first.

It’s much easier to do the things you need to do to gain muscle when your bodyfat is low.  For example, carbs are protein-sparing, meaning they serve the function of providing energy to the body so that protein can be directed toward muscle growth and repair.  However, if your bodyfat percentage is high, you’re likely more insulin resistant, which means those additional carbs will be turned to bodyfat.

It’s not necessary to be stage-ready 365 days a year, but trying to maintain near single digits is a good idea.

#2.  Use BCAA’s during your workout.

The first month I added 20-30 grams of BCAA’s during each training session, I gained 6lbs of lean mass.  Clients that I’ve worked with rave about diminished recovery time and being able to get a few extra reps out of each workout.

Branched chain amino acids, made of leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are essential amino acids and have a preference toward being used for muscle growth, and have been shown to increase protein synthesis and raise insulin sensitivity.  In clinical settings, they have also been used to treat severe burns as well as side effects from liver failure.

Males should use at least 20 grams per workout, and females should use at least 10.  I recommend using capsules instead of powder as the taste of the powder tends to be awful, so some companies add artificial sweeteners or sugars to mask the taste.

#3.  Keep a food journal.

While I’m not a fan of lifelong food tracking, food logs are good for one thing: perspective.  It’s easy to think you’re eating a lot of food, but handing over your journal to somebody who’s skilled in nutrition for hypertrophy can expose a lot of holes in your habits.  Pick 1 or 2 habits to fix at a time, and continue to log so that you can see (or not see) improvement.  Once the changes become more or less permanent, then a journal may not be as necessary.  Or, if you’re tech-savvy, take a picture of everything you eat and drink for a week and have a qualified coach review it with you.

#4.  Keep a training log.

This goes with point #3, but I would consider it even more important.  I’ve worked with some guys who claim to train extremely hard, but when asked about details in their program, they often can’t remember something as simple as the exercises in their prior training session.

Keep a detailed log with the exercises, number of sets, reps, exercise tempo, and rest periods, as well as the time of day of your session and any relevant notes (illness, muscle stiffness, joint pain, etc.)

#5.  Take care of your fascia.

In recent years there has been speculation that one of the limiting factors in a muscle’s ability to grow is the quality of the soft tissue, or fascia, surrounding it.  When there are adhesions or scar tissue in the muscle fibers, it limits the muscle’s ability to grow “out”.  Getting treatment in the form of deep tissue massage or Active Release Technique can be extremely beneficial, as can performing self-myofascial release techniques such as foam rolling or lacrosse ball rolling.

IT band foam rolling

In addition, a new line of topical products from Zanagen are gaining popularity both in their ability to aid in muscle growth as well as relieving delayed onset muscle soreness, allowing a greater training frequency, which could lead to better gains.

#6.  Ditch the muscle magazines.

While I’m familiar with the feeling of flipping through the pages of Flex Magazine or MuscleMag International and aspiring to the physiques of some of the pros, there are several dangers to getting the majority of your training advice from those types of publications.

First, the majority of pro bodybuilders are very genetically gifted.  Sometimes you can see from very early on pictures that they carry muscle very naturally, and in some cases it’s simply a “just add water” situation – while they never were very impressive without training, as soon as they hit the gym with some level of seriousness the gains come relatively easily.  If you’re a hardgainer, that’s likely not you.  Even if you’re seriously underweight, your first year of training you may have only put on 10-12lbs, whereas some pros describe their first years adding 30, 40, or 50lbs within the first 12 months.

Second, assuming that the programs are actually used by the competitors you see (many times the workouts are just ghost-written), you have to remember that those programs are written by genetically gifted, pharmaceutically enhanced individuals who can get away with training their arms for an hour and a half at a time, once a week.  The average lifter will likely overtrain in volume, and undertrain in frequency.

Mr. Olympia Phil Heath, who is not a hardgainer.

Instead, look into hypertrophy programs from coaches who work with lots of “average” lifters, including Nick Mitchell, John Meadows, Shelby Starnes, Charles Poliquin, and Christian Thibadeau.  9 times out of 10, it will look nothing like the newsstand magazines.

#7.  Get enough sleep.

When you sleep, you release growth hormone.  Many so-called hardgainers are also the same people who will stay up until 2 or 3am all weekend long and then drag themselves out of bed at 5am on Monday, slam down enough caffeine to make a bull stop blinking, and wonder why they can’t grow.

Shoot for 7-9 hours of sound sleep every night.  Keep your room pitch black, don’t fall asleep watching TV, and take magnesium at night if you can’t get to sleep early enough (aim to be in bed by 11pm at the latest, ideally even before 10pm).

#8.  Train twice a day (sometimes).

If you’re in a hurry to put on some muscle, and your nutrition is already sound, then the limiting factor may be the amount of training you’re doing.  When carefully planned (and reduced appropriately when needed), training two or even three times a day can help speed up muscle growth.  For more on higher-frequency training, search out writings from Charles Poliquin and Nick Mitchell.  Keep in mind, it’s not for everybody, and your nutrition, supplementation and recovery have to be spot-on to avoid overtraining.

#9.  Take some time off.

While this may seem contradictory to #8, it’s actually just a different side of the same coin.  Training needs to be periodized, meaning there are times when lots of training is appropriate, and there are times where you’re better off focusing on rest and recovery.  If you’ve been training 2 hours a day for 3 years, and your joints are beginning to ache, your sleep patterns are terrible, and you become highly irritable, consider either switching to a low-volume, low-frequency deloading program for a couple of weeks, or just outright stay out of the gym and rest up.  You’ll come back stronger and more enthusiastic to lift than before.

#10.  Get help.

If all else fails, hire a qualified strength coach or personal trainer who has a history of getting results with his or her clients.  Ask for testimonials, look at before-and-after pictures, and do your homework.  Above all else, if your prospective coach or trainer is making promises that sound too good to be true, they probably are.