If you have trouble sleeping through the night, make sure your last meal is 2-3 hours before going to sleep. This decreases digestive stress and lowers the odds of waking as blood sugar levels decline.
If you have low energy levels, try eating only red meat and nuts before noon, and white meats and green veggies later in the day. Red meats trigger an increase in dopamine and white meats raise serotonin more.
Take your bodyfat in grams of fish oil each day for four weeks (20 grams for 20%, for example). Then decrease it to 75% for 4 weeks and 50% for another 4 weeks.
Train each muscle group with less volume and more frequency (2-4 times per week) using full-body or alternating upper- and lower-body sessions.
If you struggle to keep an accurate food log, just take a picture of each meal with your smartphone instead. No measuring, no guessing required.
Move more. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, or get off the train one stop earlier and walk the extra few blocks. This is not your cardio, but it promotes fat-burning.
Carbs are not necessarily the enemy, but most people take in far too many. Think that you need to “earn your carbs.”
Don’t eat carbs before your workout if you’re trying to lose fat. Would you go to the gas station to fill up if your tank is already full, or would you wait until you drive a few hundred miles first?
Have a goal and a deadline. Whether you reach it when you want to is less important than knowing what you want to achieve and how quickly.
While I’m still pursuing my target of 4% bodyfat by April 15 for the end of the AST Ultimate Challenge, I indulged one too many times over the weekend (vanilla bean coconut ice cream and half a bag of gluten-free oreos on Friday night, then pizza, cookies and brownies at a bar mitzvah party on Saturday night). One of our big suggestions for recovering from cheats is to always train the day afterward, and to make it a very intense session with lots of reps and little rest. This is what I came up with:
First Exercise – Barbell Squats
No good repentance workout is complete without some sort of squat, and I went with the classic squat. Not paired with anything, just pyramided sets of 10 reps with about 60-75 seconds of rest in between each set, until I hit my last set and did a set of breathing squats. Breathing squats are where you take what you could normally do for 10 or 12 reps, and go for 20 reps, taking 3 deep breaths at the top in between each rep. You essentially take 10 seconds of rest in between each rep, and the whole thing takes several minutes to get through. I didn’t quite make it to 20 but made it to 17 with 185lbs (20lbs over my current bodyweight).
Superset – Glute/Ham Raises and Drop-Thru Split Squats
I did the glute/ham raises starting with my legs straight and torso perpendicular to the floor (almost like a traditional hyperextension) and then took them all the way up for sets of 12 with added dumbbell weight, then went to drop-thru split squats (both feet elevated on platforms so that the knee can “drop thru” where the floor would normally be), also for sets of 12. I absolutely HATE drop-thru split squats as the burning in the quads and glutes gets so intense that I need a fire extinguisher to put it out afterwards. 3 rounds each with 60 seconds of rest in between each exercise.
Finisher – Prowler sprints
Just awful. 3 sprints of 80 yards with 110lbs on the Prowler with as little rest as I could handle. The first sprint actually looked like I was running, but it quickly degenerated into something resembling a motivated hobble.
From start to finish it took less than 30 minutes but I’ll be feeling it for a few more days.
As long as I have been training with weights (since I turned 14 years old, so over 15 years now), my biggest priority has been increasing muscle mass. The first day I spent in the weight room, I was 5’7″ and 108lbs, and got stuck trying to bench press an empty Olympic barbell. Unfortunately, this was also during a period in the 90’s when the “skater look” (baggy pants with oversized leg openings, two-sizes-too-large t-shirts, and wallets with chains attached to them) was popular, which made my frame (or lack of one) even worse.
So that very same day, after getting stapled under that bar, I went to Waldenbooks and bought my first Muscle & Fitness magazine, that had nothing but the abs of a very ripped male and female on the front cover, and I devoured every bit of information I could find in that magazine, as well as countless other issues over the next 5 years. In fact, from 1997 to 2003, almost all of my knowledge about training was pulled from issues of Muscle & Fitness, Flex Magazine, MuscleMag, and whatever else I could find, as well as the “Bible of bodybuilding,” Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.
And it worked well enough – in the first year of training I went from 108lbs to 132lbs and actually had something other than bone where my pecs should be for the first time ever. Now, though, looking back, the simple process of puberty would probably have been enough to add at least 15 or 20lbs. So whether or not it really “worked” is actually up for debate.
Over the next handful of years I went up to almost 185lbs, but in clothing never really looked like I worked out, and the best term for my physique would still be “skinny-fat.” Even though I followed all of the “rules” those magazines told me to – I trained every body part once a week using all of the routines that the pros said they used, and ate exactly what the magazines said to eat – chicken, canned tuna, oatmeal, potatoes, pasta, and I drank a gallon of whole milk a day for over a year straight. But I still had no abs, and still didn’t look like I worked out.
So I gave up on bodybuilding for a while and blamed my “bad genetics,” and tried to focus more on powerlifting, where it’s okay and even beneficial to carry extra fat, where cardio is a four-letter word, but even then I struggled to make progress. My strength level probably wouldn’t put me in the top 500 in my weight class nationally, and the fat just kept accumulating.
Then, in early 2010, I was introduced to BioSignature Modulation and Charles Poliquin. I had read a lot of Charles’ writing on T-Nation.com, but had never really taken anything to heart and just figured that, while I was very good at getting all of my clients in shape, I would just play the “genetics” card whenever it came to my own appearance.
Over the next several years, I began to understand that blaming what my parents gave me (or didn’t give me) was just a cop-out, and that instead of blaming my genes, I should be embracing them. Carbs make me fat? Then get rid of them. The first time I met Charles in person, he told me, “for the next six months, the closest you should get to carbs of any kind is through photographs.” For a few months, I scoffed at the idea, and continued to plug away. Eventually, I started removing things like dairy and gluten, but still didn’t shy from fruit or rice, and my post-workout shake still had about 40 grams of protein and 150 grams of carbs. I looked a little better, but nothing dramatic, and stayed around 15-16% bodyfat on average.
Then, I made a decision to go “all-in” on Charles’ recommendations for somebody with my body type, which include:
High protein and vegetable intake (most days over 200g of protein and 1lb of veggies or more)
Low-carb/no-carb with the exception of a weekly cheat meal
Using basic supplements like a multi, fish oil, HCL, D3, zinc and magnesium to fill in nutritional deficiencies
Ditch classic bodybuilding splits for frequent but short full-body training sessions with big movements
Use insulin-regulating supplements such as Insulinomics, Fenuplex and Glucose Disposal
The changes were very immediate. The first time I did the 14-day low carb boot camp I lost 3.8% bodyfat and gained 6lbs of lean mass. Of course, after about a month, I started allowing a few carbs back in (although much less than before) and increased my cheat meal frequency from once a week to twice a week. However, I was still able to maintain at right around 12% bodyfat (as opposed to the 16% I had been prior) with relatively little effort.
Now, to coincide with AST’s 2012 Ultimate Challenge, I am working toward 4% bodyfat for a photo shoot we’re doing at the gym in mid-April, and am staying very low-carb/no-carb throughout, based on Poliquin’s original recommendations. In the first month, I dropped over 3% bodyfat and gained 12lbs of lean mass. While I can count on one hand the number of carbs I’ve had since the beginning of January, I have done no cardio other than what my training sessions provide.
The point? Perhaps instead of blaming your genetics, it’s time to embrace them and defy convention.
There are a few things that I know to be true about most athletes:
They tend to require lots of short, explosive movements
They perform better with less fat on their bodies
While there are definitely exceptions to the above rules (for example, marathoners and sumo wrestlers), these are plenty that fit the rule – martial artists, gymnasts, football players (particularly skill positions), track and field athletes, the list goes on and on. So when choosing training programs for athletes, it’s important to consider what impact it has on one or both of those characteristics.
One program that we have found to be extremely effective is Charles Poliquin’s German Body Comp for Athletes program. It’s a progression on the original German Body Comp (or GBC) program, which is a fat-loss program designed for the general population with emphasis on full-body training session that use big movements, high reps and short rest periods. However, the Athletes version of the program makes some modifications to help balance maintaining or increasing athleticism with improving body composition.
For example, each day of the 4-day split in the program begins with some variation of an Olympic lift. Because of their technical difficulty, Olympic lifts are usually best left out of programs for your average Joe or Jane, but are incorporated here because of their ability to generate power without adding excessive amounts of body mass (also known as relative strength). In general, the repetitions are kept lower than usual to emphasize development of fast-twitch muscle fibers that are important to excel in most sports.
The important thing to note with this program is that there is room to vary things a bit – if you know what you’re doing, it can be used more as a template than as a “do as written or it won’t work” setup, and it’s quite easy to swap out variations on Olympic lifts, squats, pullups and presses that comprise the core of the program. Charles’ personal recommendation is to stay on it no longer than 6 weeks, and I’ve found that between 4 and 6 weeks is best, depending on recovery abilities.
For the original article direct from Charles himself, click here.
One of the hardest parts about following any nutritional program is what to do when you’re out of your normal environment – it’s not that tough to stay eating clean when you’re able to prepare your own meals and shop at the grocery stores you’re familiar with. But what do you do when you have to travel for work or for vacation? Christine and I experimented when we took a weekend mini-vacation to Dallas over the weekend.
Tip #1: Prepare Ahead of Time
This is first for a reason – if you just want to try and wing it, odds are pretty significant that you’re not going to get quality nutrition in you. At best, your meal frequency will be very low; at worst, you’ll blow everything because you’ll just go with what’s convenient and available, which is usually never very good.
So we planned ahead. We took a box of Ostrim sticks, a quart-sized bag of raw, unsalted nuts, our vitamins packed in a pill case, and extra veggies for the plane ride to Dallas. However, if we could do it again, we would have doubled the amount of Ostrim and nuts and also packed some pre-bagged post-workout/meal replacement powders and a Blender Bottle or two.
We also scouted the local grocery stores for various veggies and deli meat to snack on, as we had called our hotel to make sure we got a room with a refrigerator. For lunch each day, we went to the grocery store and grabbed a rotisserie chicken with as few additives as we could find and split it between the two of us.
Tip #2: Ask for What You Want
There is not a restaurant on the planet that can’t make you a steak or grilled chicken and steamed veggies if you ask for it. Our first day in town, we hit Outback Steakhouse for lunch. I got a steak and broccoli with butter, and Christine got wood-grilled chicken and steamed veggies. We also asked our server right away not to put the bread plate on our table to avoid temptation. Drinks were simple – coffee and lemon water.
Tip #3: Know If You Plan to Cheat
There is nothing wrong with having the occasional cheat meal, and sometimes it’s easiest to time it for when you’re traveling so you don’t have to stress about being careful the entire time. This is especially true if you’re on vacation with a spouse or family. However, you need to know when you plan on cheating, so that you aren’t tempted to turn the entire trip into one big junk food binge. Figure out where you want to go, what you want to have, and tell your spouse or family so they can help hold you accountable.
Tip #4: If You Overdo It, Make It Up With Extra Training
Most gyms have enough equipment to get a decent fat loss workout in, even if it’s just dumbbells and benches. Some dumbbell swings, clean and presses, snatches, squats, rows and presses can easily be made into a circuit workout to work up a significant sweat, and you can be in and out in 30 minutes or less if you’re productive with your time. If you go off your gameplan, get in the weight room and make up for it, then get back on the horse.
Use Supplements to Mitigate the Damage
There are several supplements that help to control the damage done from one too many nights out on the town. My favorite combination is a tablespoon of liquid fish oil, 2 tablets of Insulinomics and 2 capsules of Fenuplex or Glucose Disposal. If the cheat is late at night, add a few capsules of Uber Mag Plus in there and it will help keep body composition under control in a pinch.
The truth is, travel can be stressful, but if you think ahead and work out a plan, you can minimize the damage. If you have any big trips coming up and you want to know what you should be doing to come out unscathed, give me a call and we can put together a plan that will fit your needs.
I have made it a habit to do our 14-day low carb boot camp about once every 6 months, and just finished my first one of the new year. I figured that 1) I had been coasting a bit for the last 6 weeks or so and needed a jump start, and 2) most of the participants in our 2012 Ultimate Challenge are beginning the competition with it, so I should refresh myself on what to expect. Here’s a quick layout of all of the “extras” (for the basics of the boot camp itself, click here):
For the most part, I stayed with the basics – multivitamin, zinc, magnesium, high doses of fish oil, and HCL. I also added Insulinomics and Glucose Disposal to address insulin resistance (I swapped out Glucose Disposal for Fenuplex after the first week because I ran out). I also followed up each training session with a post-workout shake with 40g New Zealand whey, 2tbsp glutamine, 1tbsp glycine powder, and 1-2tbsp Primal Greens (a powdered greens superfood) to keep post-workout cortisol at a minimum. I also added a couple of capsules of magnesium to my post-workout shake on days when I had to train later in the day.
None. I did absolutely no cardio whatsoever for the entire 14 days. If you are going to do cardio, keep it high-intensity intervals and 20-30 minutes max. I have found that cardio raises cortisol more than it helps with fat loss so I do better with just staying low-carb instead.
We recommend either full-body training sessions or a combination of upper- and lower-body exercises (i.e. quads and back in one workout, hamstrings and chest/shoulders in another), 3-4 times a week. I stayed with what has worked for me in the past, German Body Comp for Athletes. I made a few adjustments based on equipment availability but other than that stayed true to the program as written. It was a bitch.
Tips for Success
I started the boot camp at 12.5% bodyfat, was down to 10.3% after the first week, and finished at just over 9%. I added about 3.5lbs of lean mass (maybe muscle, maybe fluid, but not fat) and lost about 5lbs of fat. There are a few things that will make or break your success on this thing:
Keep protein intake high. Eat animal protein every time you eat, and eat as often as possible. My protein intake averaged just under 400g per day at a bodyweight of 155-160lbs.
Eat vegetables at every meal. On top of keeping you full, veggies have a high thermic effect – meaning they take more calories to digest than there are in the food to begin with, due to the high fiber content. Your body has to go to bodyfat to make up the difference.
Prep your meals in advance. Since eggs aren’t allowed on the boot camp, I used variations on burger patties for my breakfast and snacks to get me through. Every few nights we would prep 1-2lbs of ground turkey, beef, chicken, or sirloin into 3-4oz patties and I would just grab two of them with some nuts or cucumbers for a quick meal. Without the planning I would either have not eaten or have had to turn to crap just to get something in me.
One interesting note – last night I had a cheat meal after finishing the 14th day, and had pizza, breadsticks and ice cream with my boys. About two slices into the pizza, I got a splitting headache that lasted the rest of the night. Expect your body to reject unhealthy food after it’s over.
Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release (SMR) if you’re fancy, is widely accepted as a useful tool for correcting postural dysfunction and alleviating muscle soreness and stiffness. However, just like anything, there is a right way and a wrong way to apply it. Here are some of the more common mistakes that I see when it comes to soft tissue work, and how to fix it:
Working in a Haphazard Order
Particularly when used for corrective exercise and treating posture dysfunction, there are specific patterns you should follow when foam rolling. Instead of just jumping around to whatever feels the tightest,follow steps to ensure that as you release tension in one area, it preemptively releases tension in other areas along what are called the myofascial lines. here are a few simple guidelines to follow to get the most out of the least amount of time:
Always, always start with the feet (plantar fascia) first.
Work from the pelvis outward. If you need to release tension in my calves and my glutes, start with the glutes and work toward the calves. If it’s the lower back and the traps, start with the lower back and work along the vertebrae of the spine until you arrive at the traps.
Rolling Stiff and Lengthened Muscles, Not Tight and Short Ones
Here is the best example of this scenario – somebody will walk into the gym, grab a lacrosse ball or foam roller, and start attacking the area between the shoulder blades. Why? Because the area feels stiff and sore. Logically, this would make sense; however, in application all it does is make the problem worse. Here is why.
In corrective exercise, there are typically two types of muscles, usually situated opposite each other. There are muscles that are loose and lengthened (and often weak, but not necessarily), and muscles that are tight and short (usually stronger than their loose and lengthened counterparts, but again, not necessarily).
If you look at your typical desk jockey, you will usually see rounded shoulders, a hunched upper back, and a forward head tilt. This usually results in tight and short anterior delts, pecs, and traps, with loose and long scapular retractors (rhomboids, teres major and minor, posterior delts). If all I roll is the upper back complex, all that serves to do is release even more tension, which makes the muscles even looser and longer, and allows the opposing muscle groups to get tighter and shorter. A better approach would be to open up the chest and shoulders with soft tissue work first, and then briefly work the upper back to increase blood flow.
Ignoring Trigger Points
The point of foam rolling is to find the areas that create the most discomfort, and apply generous amounts of pressure until the scar tissue that has built up in that area begins to break up and release muscular tension. However, human instinct is to run away from the pain, so what normally happens is that if I spend 2 minutes rolling my IT band, I’ll spend 1:45 rolling the areas that aren’t too awful, and just sort of pay passive attention to the intense pain that comes from the areas that are in need of the most attention.
Instead, pay attention to the two or three areas in each muscle that create the most tension – especially the ones that cause any sort of radiating tension in other muscle groups. There are your trigger points for that area. Spend most of your time here and don’t worry about the rest.
Soft tissue work has a plethora of benefits to everybody from word class athletes to busy executives to the senior citizen who is just trying to maintain mobility, but it only works when it’s applied correctly. Take these three tips and make the appropriate adjustments to get the most out of the least amount of time.
Along with controlling the macronutrients of the food you eat (protein, carbs, and fat), it’s important to make sure that you limit any additional ingredients that might be added that provide no nutritional value, and oftentimes only serve to keep bodyfat on and inhibit change in body composition.
Take, for example, heavy cream. While it’s great to add to your coffee to provide flavor and slow down the release of caffeine, not all cream is the same. A random sampling from a local Jewel Osco found four different brands of heavy cream, and 3 of them had ingredients beyond just cream. In fact, one of them was actually an organic brand (Land O’ Lakes) and still had additives. Here is the ingredients list:
Ingredients: HEAVY CREAM, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF EACH OF THE FOLLOWING INGREDIENTS;NONFAT MILK, SORBITAN MONOSTEARATE, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, CARRAGEENAN, SUCRALOSE, MIXED TOCOPHEROLS, NITROUS OXIDE.
Compare that with Dean’s brand heavy cream:
Ingredients: HEAVY CREAM.
So make sure to check your labels and if you don’t know where it came from or what it does, you may want to put it back.
One natural reaction to back pain, or pain in any particular area, is to focus all of your attention on where the pain is, not necessarily addressing the things that might be causing the pain in the first place. Often, back pain is brought on by excessive tightness or poor mechanics in other, opposing muscle groups and movement patterns.
With back pain, usually there is some sort of problem with the pelvis, typically presenting in what’s called an anterior pelvic tilt (to visualize, put your hands on your hips, and picture “pouring” your pelvis forward). Your butt will usually stick out and an excessive amount of lumbar arch (called lordosis) results. This is usually caused by muscles that connect to the front of the pelvis being unnecessarily tight, specifically the psoas (one of the hip flexors) and the rectus femoris (one of the four quadriceps muscles).
As part of your daily routine, simply apply a mix of foam rolling and stretching to the hips and quads. It’s best to begin with foam rolling the quads, then the hip flexors, before stretching. If done pre-workout, do your foam rolling first and static stretching after a training session, as studies have shown that static stretching pre-workout can limit power output.
With mixed martial arts fighting being arguably one of the most popular sports in the world right now, and definitely one of the fastest-growing, there is still very little available on strength training programs for the MMA athlete. With that in mind, over the next couple of weeks I will be putting up a couple of different articles directed specifically at that group. This article will primarily focus on what I believe to be the most important variable for both stand-up and ground fighting – core training.
For core work in general, I have found most conventional ab training exercises to be rather useless – things like situps, crunches and bicycle twists done for absurdly high reps does little to develop strength and at best will develop the slow-twitch, endurance muscle fibers in the abs and core, as opposed to the more powerful fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Instead, I prefer to see a mix of both compound (multi-joint) traditional strength movements that can be done with a heavy load (such as squats and deadlifts) that include a significant core component, and direct work done with heavy weight for low- to moderate-rep ranges. To get the best of both, I suggest using movements based around The Grappler.
The Grappler is a device invented by Louie Simmons of the Westside Barbell Club in Columbus, Ohio. Louie is arguably the greatest coach in powerlifting history, but he has also worked extensively with both fighters and track & field athletes and produced great results. One of his methods is using the Grappler, which is essentially an anchor point for two barbells so that they can be held one in each hand to mimic various barbell and dumbbell movements while increasing the workload coming from the trunk.
Below are a few of my favorite Grappler exercises. If you don’t have access to a Grappler or something like it, you can get the same effect by wedging two barbells into the frame of a power rack or in the corner of a wall. Just add a moderately heavy dumbbell or plate over the end to anchor the bar down and you’ll do just fine.
Odds are pretty good you’ve seen somebody doing this exercise or something similar already – it’s by far the most popular movement using the leveraged barbell concept. My favorite way to do it is to use two barbells, as it incorporates the rotational work of a regular landmine with an extra gripping requirement, since you have to hold onto the sleeve of the bars with each hand throughout.
#2: Standing Flyes
This is pretty similar to the landmine, but with the resistance moving in the opposite direction. It also adds in some upper chest and anterior deltoid work, which can aid in punching power.
#3: Standing Military Presses
Again, you may have seen this one before with one barbell, but I like the 2-barbell version both from a time-efficiency standpoint and from a difficulty standpoint – I think the two-bar version is significantly harder than the 1-arm because you can’t twist and turn to cheat the weight up. You can do it both arms at a time, or alternating, and can do strict presses or push presses.
#4: Bent-Over Rows
This is kind of like a T-bar row with a better range of motion. You can do it as shown in the video, or face the other way and grab the bar sleeve to add some extra gripping work.
#5: Floor Presses
Even though these can be a pain in the ass to get into without a partner, I like these as an alternative to regular barbell or dumbbell floor presses because the bars tend to get pretty unpredictable with their movement and therefore has some good carryover to being on the bottom of a guard or mount position.
Try out a few of these different movements and figure out which ones work the best for you. Keep the reps in the low-to-moderate range (as low 3 reps, all the way up to 12) and keep the technique clean.