Training for MMA Fighters: Using the Grappler

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.

#1: Landmines

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.

5 Easy Changes to Maximize Body Composition

Lots of attention is paid to the glamorous side of fat loss and muscle gain – fancy training programs get a 10-page spread in “Muscle & Fitness,” fad diets that make incredible “too-good-to-be-true” promises get to be on the New York Times bestseller list, and supposedly cutting-edge supplements get a shiny label and a huge, shredded bodybuilder with a model on each arm advertising how Super-Ultra-Hydro-Whey 50 is the reason they look the way they do. But what about the basics? You know, the boring stuff that actually works? We give them lots of love at AST, and suggest you do the same.

#1: The Meat & Nut Breakfast

When it comes to bang-for-your-buck dietary adjustments, nothing beats the meat and nut breakfast.  This is a trick that we borrowed from renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin, and it’s been effective in everything from dropping lots of bodyfat (one of our clients lost over 25lbs just by consciously making an effort to fix his breakfast) to improving energy and productivity at work.  The premise is simple – sugary and starchy breakfasts raise insulin (a fat-storage hormone) and serotonin (the happy, feel-good hormone), which usually results in the need for a nap 2-3 hours later.  Protein and omega-3 fats, on the other hand, keep insulin low and raise acetylcholine and dopamine (the “drive” hormones), which leads to less bodyfat and more productivity and mental clarity.

Want to read more?  Check out The Meat and Nuts Breakfast article from Charles Poliquin himself.

#2: Increasing Water Intake

Quick question – how much water should you have every day?  For about 99% of overweight and obese people, the answer is simple – more than what you’re having right now.  If I had to estimate from past experience, I would say that most of my clients over the last 10 years averaged about 12oz of water a day before they started doing something about it.  You would be surprised at how quickly weight starts coming off when you fix your water intake.  It doesn’t even have to be anything like a gallon a day (although that would be great!), just start with adding 2-3 extra glasses a day on a consistent basis.  Doing it for 2 days at a time doesn’t count, doing it for 200 days does.

Water is an essential component in fat metabolism, so trying to get lean without water is like trying to drive a car with no gas.  Push on the accelerator all you want, that car is going nowhere.

#3: Optimizing Basic Mineral Status

Before any fancy supplements are necessary, I like to ask clients to have blood levels of 3 things checked – vitamin D3, red blood cell (RBC) zinc, and RBC magnesium.  99% of people who come into our center are deficient in at least one of those 3, if not all of them.  Ignore what the “lab norms” might tell you is good, since the norms are purely the range that 95% of people fall into, and since most people who get their bloodwork done are not that healthy, you don’t want to compare yourself to somebody who is in less than ideal health.  Read more here about optimal levels and supplementation.

#4: Supplement with a Quality Fish Oil in High Doses

Fish oil is another boring old supplement that gets far less credit than it deserves.  Yet in high amounts, it can work wonders to kickstart the body’s lipolytic (fat-burning) genes and turn off the lipogenic (fat-storing) ones.  We use the same dosing recommendations as experts such as John Berardi, Charles Poliquin, and Johnny Bowden – use 1-1.5g of fish oil per % bodyfat, per day.  So somebody who is 30% bodyfat would use between 30-45g of fish oil per day for up to 4 weeks.  Try to split it into as many small doses as possible (5-10g per serving), and liquid fish oil is easier to take and more cost-effective in high amounts than capsule forms.

#5: Use a Cheat Meal

While it might seem counter-intuitive, a cheat meal once every 5 to 7 days can serve to keep you leaner and more compliant with your nutrition program.  The cheat serves two functions: first, it helps to preserve sanity and prevent you from “falling off the wagon.”  In my experience, the average person can make it about 4-6 weeks on a restrictive diet without deviating, but after that, things become too difficult and instead of going off a little, they will go way off and completely lose any benefits that the diet had given.  A weekly cheat meal gives you something to look forward to and is not so infrequent as to make it unrealistic.

The second function is more physiological – a low carb, paleo-style diet free of gluten and dairy will work wonders over about a 2-3 week time span, but after that, progress will slow due to depletion of a hormone called leptin, which contributes to fat-burning.  Throwing in a cheat meal with more carbs and calories in general boosts leptin levels and kickstarts progress.  The key is not to overdo it and to follow some simple rules:

  1. Always eat your protein first.
  2. Eat your cheat meal at the table, not on the couch or in front of the computer.  It needs to be a meal, not an entire evening.
  3. Put everything you want to eat at the table with you within arm’s reach.
  4. Eat whatever you want.
  5. When your butt leaves the seat, your meal is over.
  6. Try not to have your cheat meal be the last meal you have before bed.  Eating between 5-7pm is ideal.

There you have it.  Give these simple tricks a try and enjoy a leaner, stronger you!

Get Your Blood Tested for Optimal Body Composition

Most people who are struggling to add significant amounts of muscle or lose bodyfat quickly will try just about anything to get results – every fad diet, every “cutting edge” workout routine from your favorite grocery store fitness magazine, every “amazing new” supplement with ads that show men and women with physiques that you would kill for.  But when we screen new clients coming in to start a program, when we ask when the last time blood work was drawn, over 90% of the time the answer is “more than 2 years ago.”

On top of that, the extent of the education on the results provided by the doctor typically focuses on things like cholesterol and glucose, with very little attention paid to other key information that could make all the difference in the world for how much you get out of your physical efforts.  Below I will list what I believe to be 3 of the most important blood tests that are very easy to do and can be taken by most doctors and covered under most insurances.

Vitamin D3

Most of our exposure to vitamin D comes via sunlight, with very little vitamin D coming from our diet.  In addition, the RDA for vitamin D is a meager 400IU per day, which means that even foods that are fortified with vitamin D don’t contain it in any quantities that will do any good very quickly.  Combine poor food intake with limited sun exposure and you’re very likely to have low levels of D.  In fact, the average blood levels for Americans living north of Atlanta, Georgia are 14ng/mL.  Optimal levels, however, are between 80-100ng/mL.

Red Blood Cell Magnesium

Per Charles Poliquin:

“Magnesium is the fourth-most abundant mineral in the body, with approximately 66 percent of it found in bone and 33 percent in skeletal and cardiac muscle. It is absorbed in the small intestine and excreted through the kidneys. Magnesium is involved in 300 essential biochemical reactions in the body, ranging from ATP production to protein synthesis, so it is obviously important for optimal athletic performance and a high quality of life.” (Magnesium Deficiency: A Growing Health Crisis)

Although the labratory norms for RBC magnesium are typically between 1.8 and 2.2mg/dL, optimal ranges have been shown to be somewhere between 4.2 and 6.8mg/dL.  Several different types of magnesium are available, composed of different “chelates” which make them more likely to be absorbed by specific tissues in the body, such as the liver, the muscles, and the brain.  It is also available in topical forms for those with history of GI upset or symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

 Red Blood Cell Zinc

Zinc, like magnesium, is an essential mineral for many of the body’s functions, but is also one of the most common mineral deficiencies.  Common side effects include low testosterone and aromatization of testosterone into estrogen, as well as decreased muscle mass and delayed muscular recovery.  Ideal levels for those training intensely have been shown to be between 1,400 ug/dL.

Addressing Deficiencies

If you show as deficient in any of the above 3 nutrients, it would be beneficial to use a functional medicine doctor or other practitioner to help you develop a plan to restore deficiencies.  It is important to note that many times it can be necessary to use a “therapeutic dose” of a vitamin or mineral to restore a deficiency – in other words, a dose that’s significantly more than what would be suggested for daily maintenance.  But think of it this way – it’s not much different than a doctor recommending 200mg of ibuprofen for a headache, but 800mg for a severe sprain.  The dose will be tailored to the condition.

Please, if you have been struggling to make changes but aren’t seeing the results you want, contact your physician and ask to have these three tests taken.  Then seek out help to get the appropriate guidance to restore nutrient status and get the body you desire.

For more information on nutrient deficiencies and how they can impact your health and physique, click here to learn more about BioSignature Hormone Analysis and to schedule a consultation.

Fix Your T-Spine to Improve Your Posture & Your Press

When it comes to improving posture and preventing injury, it’s best to start by working from the inside out.  This is why core training has become so popular over the last few years – the idea that your center of mass has to be strong to control what’s going on in your extremities makes a lot of sense.  When it comes to generating power, the same theory holds true.  Ask any well-trained martial artist how much power a punch can generate when combined with adequate breathing, hip rotation and core control.

But what if there was a limitation in your movement that made all of that extremely hard, to the point where other, more vulnerable parts of the body had to start picking up the slack?  This is what can happen if the spine is not properly aligned.  Because as much credit as the core gets for being the center of the body, in reality, without the spine, the core means nothing.

The spine is divided into 3 major sections – cervical (upper, including the neck), thoracic (the mid-back), and lumbar (the lower back).

Much of the motion in the cervical and lumber areas is controlled by how much movement is available in the thoracic, or t-spine.  Try this to see what I mean:

Stand up in your typical “slouched” posture – shoulders forward, back rounded, shoulder blades apart and chest sunken in.  Now, without changing your body position, try to reach overhead.  If you don’t change your body position, two things will happen:

1) You won’t be able to reach up overhead very far at all.

2) To compensate, you’ll start leaning backwards and letting the lumber spine shift into an arched, or flexed, position.

Now, try the same drill standing as tall as possible, with the chest up and shoulders back.  You should get a lot higher without much compensation at the lower back.

But here’s the problem – unless you were able to get your biceps right beside your ears without having to shrug, lift your shoulders, lean back, move your hips, or arch your back, you’re still compensating.  And most likely, the problem is restricted movement in the t-spine.  This restriction can come from bad posture, previous injury, overworking the front of the torso (chest, shoulders, biceps) while ignoring the back of the torso (upper back, lats, triceps), poor flexibility, etc.  With so many possible restrictions, it’s necessary to take a multifaceted approach to fixing it.

Step 1 – Mobility

The first thing you have to do is get movement back.  I like to use more than one mobility drill for any given bodypart just to hit it from a few different angles.

Step 2 – Stability

Stability is simply the ability to control movement in a given range of motion, big or small.  Stability and balance are not synonymous, so being able to stand on a circus ball and squat with dumbbells over your head does not make you stable, just insane.

Step 3 – Strength

The last piece of the puzzle, think of developing strength as the piece that makes the first two steps stick.  You can increase flexibility and mobility, but if you don’t strengthen up the right areas to hold that new position, the body will revert right back to where it was.

The following video shows one of my favorite progressions for improving shoulder mobility through the thoracic spine:

Suggested Pre-Workout Corrective Program
A1. Foam Roller Thoracic Extension – until improvement is seen
A2. Quadruped Thoracic Rotations – until improvement is seen
A3. Wide-Grip Pullup Static Hold – start with a moderate band for assistance, when 30 seconds is achieved, decrease band assistance. Ideally you will be able to do it with bodyweight or with additional resistance from a chinup belt in the long term.
A4. Prone Cobra – 8-15 reps, stopping several reps short of fatigue

One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give when it comes to the flexibility and stability pieces is not to get hung up on sets and reps. Work it until you feel noticeable improvement, then move on to the next movement. Even with the strengthening exercise (the prone cobra), you’re using it as a warmup, so don’t kill yourself on it. Get some work done, make it difficult, but keep it clean and be safe. Good luck!

Overspecializing Young Athletes is a Mistake

As a kid, I remember playtime well.  We did everything from play sports basketball, football and baseball (although I was never very good at any of them), to riding bikes and skateboards, to climbing trees and hills.  Even during Iowa winters, my brothers and I would amuse ourselves (and likely our parents) by going into the pasture behind our house and sledding/tobogganing/sliding down the giant 300-yard hill on our butts, only to have to begin the slow march all the way back to the top to do it again.  Sure, we had video games, but those were usually reserved for when the weather was bad or when the sun was down.  When we could, we played, and we did a TON of different things.

Now, as a father of two quickly-growing boys, my job is to make sure that they receive that same experience.  The problem is that it’s significantly harder to give kids that time nowadays, for several reasons.  First, I live in the city limits of Chicago, so I am in no way able to just let my kids roam free without worrying about them the way my parents could in a rural Iowa farm town.  Second, the rapid growth of entertainment-oriented technology is way, WAY above what I can ever remember.  My not-even-4-year-old son Ethan can work my smartphone, turn on our computer and find his computer games, and operate our Netflix all by himself.  With all of those temptations, who wants to have to go outside and move?

Combine that with extreme budget cuts for most schools that have required the reduction or complete elimination of most physical education programs, and young athletes (and young adults in general) are not being exposed to as wide of a variety of stimuli as in years past.  That is why I am a firm believer that kids younger than high school have no business in being single-sport athletes.

I’ve seen it a lot lately, talking with parents when they come into our facility looking to have their son or daughter train with us to improve their sports prowess.  “But,” they’ll say, “we don’t have a lot of time, because Johnny plays soccer year-round, and this summer he’s going to a soccer camp where they’ll have him do conditioning drills for 7 hours a day for six weeks, then he’ll start his fall league where he’ll practice 5 days a week and have 2 games a week, usually double-headers, then he’ll play indoor soccer during the winter, then in the spring he’s back in an after-school soccer camp and then he has to practice 500 kicks before he goes to bed.”

“Oh, and his ankles always hurt.  I think it might be genetic.”

Really?  It’s a miracle his feet aren’t detachable at this point.

Even worse, beyond just being single-sports athletes, I’m seeing lots of kids who are now single-sport, single-position athletes, at the ripe old age of 9.  “My son Billy is going to be a pro pitcher some day, give me some drills so he can throw faster.”  What he really means is “give me some drills so I can destroy his rotator cuff so badly that it’ll look like melting swiss cheese left out on a hot summer day.”

There is no way around it – overspecialization at a young age increases the risk for injury.  10-year-olds should not be capable of tearing a hamstring, yet they occur in dramatic numbers now.  There needs to be balance in activity, and it’s not happening anymore.

I have a simple request for parents who might read this: please, PLEASE, make your kids play more than one sport.  I don’t care if it means you go out into your driveway and play H-O-R-S-E with them every night after soccer practice.  I don’t care if you take your kids to the park and let them climb the jungle gym and the monkey bars.  Just don’t pigeonhole them into one activity or sport and set them up for potentially life-altering problems down the road.  Let your kids be kids.

Of course, it never hurts for parents to get involved with their kids’ activities, too.

Supplement Review: BCAA Excellence 2.0

If you pay attention to supplement advertising at all over the last several years, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the phrase “peri-workout nutrition.”  Simply stated, peri-workout means “during your workout.”  There is a lot of new science coming out that has shown that there can be significant benefits in strength and lean mass by choosing the right supplements in the right doses and taking them while training.  One such supplement is branched chain amino acids.

BCAA’s have been available as a supplement for as long as I can remember; in fact, I tried them for the first time when I was 14 years old.  However, a few things have changed since then, both in the timing, and in the dosage.  For a long time, it was recommended simply to take 3 or 4 before a workout.  In fact, the first BCAA’s I used (SportPharma BCAA, which are no longer available) were only available in a 30-capsule bottle, and cost me about 30 bucks.

Now, based both on research and anecdotal evidence coming from one of BCAA’s most staunch advocates, strength coach Charles Poliquin, it is recommended to take a much, much higher dose, and to take it during training.  For a 200lb male, Poliquin recommends taking anywhere between 20 and 50 grams of BCAA’s, either in powder or capsule form.  The downside to using a powder is that, unless additional sweeteners are added, the taste is, frankly, awful.  I used to have several clients use a powder for their BCAA’s and had a lot of issues getting them to finish it all before their workout was over.  However, for about the last 6 months, we’ve been using the capsules available from Poliquin Performance, BCAA Excellence 2.0.

Here are some of the things we’ve been using BCAA’s for with our clients with great success:

  • increased insulin sensitivity
  • increased muscle mass (anywhere between 3 and 6lbs in the first month on average)
  • preserving lean muscle mass during bouts of intense fat loss
  • increased workout volume (# of sets)
  • improved recovery between workouts
  • increased workout frequency (less time between training the same muscles or movements)

In fact, I put on about 6lbs of lean body mass the first month I was using them, during which time I also did our 14-day Low Carb Boot Camp, and still increased muscle mass and strength.  Even female clients who are using them at a lower dose are seeing improved strength and muscle definition in conjunction with their fat loss programs.

The suggested dose for a 200lb male is about 30-40 capsules spread over the course of the workout, adjust accordingly for your own bodyweight.  The only downside to the capsules is that occasionally you’ll burp one up midway through a workout, which has a bit of an unpleasant aftertaste.  If it wasn’t for that they’d be a 10 out of 10 for sure.

Rating: 9/10

Retail: $52.00 for 500 capsules from Poliquin Performance

Product Review: PlateMates


One of the biggest problems with working with weaker clients or in exercises that require less weight (such as dumbbell curls, lateral raises, rotator cuff training, etc.) is that it’s very hard to make progress with conventional dumbbell increments. I might be able to do 15 reps with a pair of 20lb dumbbells, but might be lucky to get 5 or 6 with 25lbs. Think about it – if I bench press 225lbs and add 5lbs, that’s only an increase of about 2%. But if I add 5lbs to 20lbs, that’s an increase of 25%! Would you progress right from 225 to 280lbs? Not likely.

Enter PlateMates. PlateMates are small magnetic weights that come in small increments – 5/8lb, 1.25lb, and 2.5lb. They simply stick onto the ends of iron or metal dumbbells or barbells (they won’t work on rubber-coated dumbbells, however) to make the appropriate weight increase.

At AST, we have 6 pairs of 1.25lb plates that we use, so in our original example of using 20lbs, I can then progress to 21.25 (1 PlateMate on one side) to 22.5 (1 PlateMate on each side) to 23.75 (2 on one side, 1 on the other) before progressing up to 25lbs, giving that many more chances for improvement. This is an example of what Charles Poliquin calls the “Kaizen principle,” essentially meaning “progress any way you can.”

They can be found on Amazon for about $40 or less per pair, and they make an incredibly handy tool. Even if you work out at a commercial facility, you can just throw a pair or two in your gym bag and use them when they’re needed.

Rating: 10/10
Retail: $28.95 for a pair of 1.25lbs from Amazon

Team AST Goes to Nationals!

This weekend, 3 members of All Strength Training’s powerlifting team went to the 2011 USPF Raw Nationals to compete against over 100 other lifters. The lifters included all 3 of AST’s coaching staff – myself and Christine on Friday, and Sergio on Saturday. Another member of AST’s powerlifting team, Mark, had to miss the competition due to family commitments (but I’m sure he’ll be back on the platform as soon as we can find him another meet to do).

All of the lightweight divisions competed on Friday, so Christine and I lifted together. Christine was the only female lifter in the raw division (the raw division allows only the use of wrist wraps, knee sleeves and a belt – no squat suits or bench shirts), and competed without the use of even wraps or a belt. In the process, she set 4 USPF American records in the 123lb open women’s weight class – a 132lb squat, an 83lb bench press, a 176lb deadlift, and a 391lb total (all personal records as well). She also narrowly missed an 88lb bench press.

I also lifted raw with no equipment, in a competitive 165lb weight class (the eventual winner, Troy Smith, opened the deadlift with over 500lbs and ended with somewhere between 540-550lbs). This was my first time lifting in competition with no supportive equipment at all, and ended up coming away with a 248lb squat, 209lb bench, and 358lb deadlift (I was particularly happy with the deadlift, as that had been a lift I’ve struggled to improve on for the last 2 years).

Christine and I both left a little on the platform and felt that we could have definitely gone heavier on 3rd attempts. Christine in particular – she proceeded to break her own deadlift PR in training on Sunday by pulling 195lbs, 19lbs over what she did in competition on Friday.

Sergio lifted on Saturday, and did not have his best day on the platform. He hit his squat opener of 374lbs, but struggled with and missed 385lbs twice. He also was strong enough for his bench opener of 275lbs but was redlighted for jumping the head judge’s “press” command. He then jumped to 286lbs for his 2nd and 3rd attempts but was unsuccessful with both, disqualifying him from the rest of the meet. We’ve already talked about a few errors he made in preparation for the competition and he’ll be back in the gym on Monday ready to get it right next time.

The competition was run incredibly well, and we would like to thank Lance Karabel and Ted Isabella for putting on a great meet. Hopefully Team AST will continue to grow, and will return to the platform later this year.

Quick Tip: Build Your Back for a Bigger Bench

The bench press is often thought of as a chest-specific exercise, but when done properly with near-maximal loads, it can become a full-body movement.  And as is often the case, the chest is not the limiting muscle group in how much weight you can move.  In fact, many times a bench press plateau can be caused by a lack of upper back and lat strength.

The reason this is the case is that the body has several automatic reflexes that it will use to limit imbalances between antagonistic (opposite) muscle groups.  So when you reach the point where your lats and back can no longer help stabilize the weight, your body will shut it down and progress will come to a halt.

One simple solution is to superset chest movements with back movements, matching exercises set-for-set and rep-for-rep.  Not only will this help ensure that your back stays balanced with your chest, but there is also evidence that training antagonistic muscle groups in a superset fashion can help you lift more weight than if you had done conventional sets.  Here’s a sample approach:

Sample Chest/Back Workout:

A1.*  Incline Barbell Press – 5×6-8, 40X0 tempo**, 90sec rest
A2. Wide-Grip Pullup – 5×6-8, 50X0 tempo, 90sec rest
B1. Neutral Grip Dumbbell Press – 3×13-15, 30X0 tempo, 60sec rest
B2. 1-Arm DB Row – 3×13-15, 30X0 tempo, 60sec rest
C1. Incline DB Flye – 3×13-15, 2210 temp0, 60sec rest
C2. DB Pullover – 3×13-15, 2210 tempo, 60sec rest

*Complete a set of the A1 exercise, then rest, then complete a set of A2, then rest, then continue back to A1.  Continue until all sets of each pair are completed.

**The first number is the eccentric rep speed (i.e. the lowering part of a bench press), the second number is the pause in the bottom position, the third number is the rep speed up, and the fourth number is the pause at the top of a lift.  X denotes “as fast as possible.”

Snack Into Fat Loss

When it comes to changing body composition, nutrition is a major key – the old adage that “nutrition is 80% of your results” isn’t that far from the truth.  At best, you’ll spend up to 10 hours a week in the gym (for the average person, this is more like 2-3 hours), leaving you with more than 158 hours the rest of the week to screw it up.

An area of nutrition that we’ve found tends to be drastically underestimated is the importance of maintaining meal frequency.  Consuming a balance of protein, healthy fats and fiber every 2-4 hours helps keep two important hormones in check: insulin and cortisol.

Insulin and cortisol are what are called “see-saw hormones”: one goes up, which makes the other go down.  This typically results in wildly varying levels of both hormones throughout the day, which leads to inconsistent blood sugar levels, which can lead to increased bodyfat storage, particularly through the trunk (abs, obliques and lower back).

Problems associated with high levels of insulin:

  • increase in both size and number of fat cells, specifically in the upper back and the sides (love handles)
  • increased risk of insulin resistance (precursor to diabetes)
  • dramatic variances in energy levels throughout the day
  • increased oxidation of the brain (oxidation = rust)
  • insulin has been called the “hormone of aging”

Problems associated with high levels of cortisol:

  • increased fat storage in the abdominal wall
  • elevated heart rate
  • turns the body into a catabolic state (muscle-wasting)
  • increased stress on the adrenal glands and central nervous system
  • decreased testosterone output
  • reduced insulin sensitivity

So how do we keep those hormones in check?  By keeping meal frequency, and therefore blood sugar levels, constant.

It’s understood that not everybody will be able to eat a nice, sit-down, knife-and-fork meal every few hours, but it is very possible to take in foods that will help maintain steady blood sugar.  This is where smart snack selection comes in handy:

  • some combination of protein, smart fats, and fiber
  • sugar and starch are to be avoided at all costs
  • eat enough to make you satisfied but not so much that you become full, thus delaying your next meal beyond 2-4 hours

So what are good options?  We’ve compiled a list of our favorites below.

  • Unflavored or lightly seasoned beef or turkey jerky (stay away from additives such as teriyaki and A1 sauce)
  • Ostrim or other brand of protein snack
  • raw, unsalted tree nuts (macadamia nuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds, Brasil nuts, pistachios, etc.)
  • thin-skinned fruits (berries, cherries, apples, peaches, etc.)
  • raw or steamed vegetables of the non-starchy variety (no potatoes, peas or corn!)

Do you have a favorite snack combo?  Post it below and share it with us!