Special Summer Tank Pre-Order

Summer is here, and so is All Strength Training’s FIRST custom designed tank top!  Perfect for showing off all of your hard work logged over the cold months, wear it to the beach, to the gym, or anytime you just want to look a little more awesome.

Tank tops are available in both men’s and women’s sizes through Next Level Apparel.  If you got one of our last t-shirt designs, your size shouldn’t change, but they are athletic fit, so if you want something a bit looser, just order a size up.

Men’s style: Click here to view

Women’s style: Click here to view

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All shirts are $20 plus 3.95 shipping.  Orders are due by July 7, 2014.  We cannot guarantee any orders received after July 7.

Men’s Sizes

Women’s Sizes

What Nobody Tells You About Body Transformations

Let me start off by saying that I do really enjoy seeing impressive transformation photos – I think that any example of the human body being pushed to its limits can be a very inspiring thing.  However, thanks to social media, this notion that anybody can lose 25, 50, maybe even 100 pounds in a matter of months has permeated our senses to the degree that it’s expected by many uneducated observers to be the rule, rather than the exception.

In reality, just like Kim and Kanye’s wedding, there is more hype than substance behind most before and after shots.  Let’s not even get into the prevalence of illegal drugs, Photoshop alterations, and even using two completely different people in the before and after shots.  As a hilarious side note, I have actually seen real transformations called out as fake by internet trolls because “hey, that tattoo switched sides between the before and after picture – it’s obviously not even the same person!”  Yes, it’s either that… or you don’t know how mirrors work.  Anyway, where were we?  Oh yes…

The Actions Don’t Match the Words

This is a very common one in, shall we say, less than ethical marketing – you’ll see something like “lose 15 pounds in 30 days with this miracle pill!  No diet and exercise needed,” plastered over a woman standing inside her now-oversized pants.  The picture might be real, but sad to say, if you ever see the words “without diet and exercise,” what you are being fed rhymes  quite well with “morse pit.”  Pills alone have never, and probably will never, produce dramatic results.  And if you see a weight loss drug or pill that notes that in the fine print “results not typical” (i.e., EVERY ad ever), that’s the company’s way of saying to you, “well, we never promised that YOU could do it.  So we’ll just keep your money, thanks!”

Stop looking for the miracle pill, people.  It doesn’t exist.

They’re Not Always Healthy

Look at any of the advertising for some of these “nutrition systems” that have flooded the market in the last few years – Herbalife, Body by Vi, Isagenix, Whey Awesome (okay, that last one isn’t real… but give it a month).  They all follow the same M.O. – take away real food for 3 months, and live off of shakes and questionable supplements.


See that?  That’s the “Transformation Kit” for Body by Vi.  What do you get?  2 shakes a day, some fish oil, some “Flavor Mix-Ins” with artificial sweeteners, fat burners, energy drinks, and appetite suppressants.

So how does it work?  Do I just drink the shakes?  Do I get to eat real food?  Hell if I know.  I looked over all of the information provided with the kit on their website, and not a single mention was made of what to eat outside of the crap they send you.  I don’t even actually know if you’re SUPPOSED to eat other than what they send you.  So I imagine a lot of people see the photos, order the kit, eat twice a day and load up on energy drinks and fat burners for 3 months… and then stop, and go back to real food…

and then what?


Their shake has 90 calories.  NINETY.  GODDAMN.  CALORIES.  No wonder they load you up on fat burners and energy drinks – 90 calories would barely get a normally functioning adult through their morning bowel movement.  Which you probably won’t have.  Because you’re only getting 180 calories a day.

But what if I can’t live off of 180 calories a day?  Never fear, dear reader, we have more bullshit in a bag to sell you.  Let’s take a look at the rest of their product page.  We have some artificially colored, artificially sweetened pseudo-healthy Cocoa Puffs ripoff, we have a low fat protein cereal, and we have whatever the hell a “Nutra-Cookie” is.

There it is, folks, pack it in.  Body by Vi has it figured out – the key to weight loss is shakes, cereals, and cookies.  But hey, at least it’s really expensive!  And now that you’ve gotten used to maintaining your “health” off of cereals and cookies, what do you think you’ll eat lots of when you inevitably blow your diet from being literally starved to death?  If you said cereals and cookies, high-five yourself before the bone loss sets in and you fracture your own hand.

They’re Hard Work… Really… Really Hard Work

But what about some of the authentic, legit transformations that do exist that achieved their results with good old-fashioned hard training, real food, and maybe some moderate supplementation?  It can be done, right?

Yes, it can.  And it can be done in an impressively short period of time.  Here is the problem – most people don’t want to disclose how much work goes into it simply because it makes it harder to sell your system than if you make it sound effortless.  Nobody wants to hear the sacrifices that you will inevitably have to make to get there.  We try to be pretty authentic with what we put our clients through to get some of the results we advertise, and here are some examples of what to expect:

  • You will limit your food intake and your calories.  This cannot be avoided.  It doesn’t mean you’re eating 600 calories a day from powders and pills, but it does mean you will eat things you don’t want to, and that you will have to say no to things you crave at times.
  • You will train hard, and train often.  You want to look like that guy on the cover of Muscle & Fitness?  He probably dieted for 6-12 weeks for that shoot, and he was probably already in pretty damn good shape.  He still probably trained 4-5 days per week on average, and probably did some supplemental cardio or conditioning to boot.  So no, we can’t make you look like him in two months if you’re only going to work out twice a week, and not break a sweat while you do it.
  • You will probably have to say no to nights out, to ordering take-out on the way home from work, to a beer before bedtime “to help you unwind.”  Sorry.
  • You might have to bust out a food scale every now and then.  Not always, but don’t rule it out – it’s a tool to use and it works.
  • You will probably feel like giving up at least once.  It’s normal, it’s tiring.  It may be worth it, or it may not be.  It’s a decision for you to make, not anybody else.  There’s nothing wrong with being realistic and choosing the slow and steady pursuit over the “gotta have it now” one, and vice versa, but that brings me to my last point…
  • You cannot bullshit yourself.  Not having a firm grasp on what is needed to achieve the look you want in the timetable you have set for yourself is one of the biggest mistakes people make.  It’s why so many New Year’s diets fail miserably in a matter of days, weeks at best.  You can’t go from doing a kegstand out of a horse trough one minute, to no booze, no sugar, no starch, training 6 days a week and making all of your meals from scratch in the span of a day.  “I’ll start tomorrow” is the death knell of “challenge” type transformations.

But know that for those who are willing and able to put the work in, big things can happen.  And if you aren’t able to, don’t be ashamed, don’t look for excuses on why the person you see has it easier than you… just… be more patient.  It’ll take longer to get there and that’s okay, but you need to be okay with it and understand that there is nothing wrong with continually honing your body over weeks, months, and years.

12 weeks of real, hard work.
12 weeks of real, hard work.

It Can Be Rewarding

Don’t misunderstand me – there is nothing wrong with undertaking a transformation project on yourself.  But I feel obligated to make sure that you go into it loaded with the right information, because the truth is… it’s not the norm to drop 50 pounds in 90 days.  I wish it was.  But it isn’t.  It took you 10 years to gain it, it isn’t coming off in 10 weeks.  At least, not without a fight, and maybe still not even then.  But just know that whatever success you do achieve, is your own, and you will have a right to be proud of it when it is all said and done.

So give yourself a high five when you’re done.  I just hope you don’t break anything.

Quick Tip: Limit Caffeine Post-Workout


For many people, a morning cup of coffee is a bit of a ritualistic experience.  All you have to do is spend 10 minutes inside a Starbucks at 5am and take note of the number of mental zombies rattling off an order so complicated you’re not sure if they’re getting a cappuccino or giving nuclear launch codes.

We’ve touted the benefits of caffeine on this site before, but what about timing?  Maybe you’re somebody who has to hit the gym first thing in the morning, and you don’t get around to your morning fix until you hit the break room at the office.  Or maybe you work out after work, and then brew a pot of coffee so you can stay up later to finish all the work you didn’t get to during the day.  Well, get ready for some bad news, because your coffee may be doing more harm than good the way you’re doing it.

First, let’s look at some of the things we know about coffee and caffeine in general:

  • Coffee raises cortisol, a stress response hormone.  We know that too much cortisol is a huge issue in our modern culture and can have pronounced impact on health and body composition.
  • Coffee acts as a natural diuretic, therefore impacting nutrient absorption.  Who here has uttered the phrase “uh oh, my coffee’s running right through me” before?
  • In a significant percentage of people, caffeine acts as much as a physical stimulant as it does a mental one, thanks to that big boost in cortisol courtesy of your adrenal glands.
  • Caffeine has been shown to decrease insulin sensitivity.  Not long-term, but temporarily due to the spike in cortisol, which, again, as we know, means that if cortisol goes up, blood sugar management temporarily goes down.

So what does this mean in the context of drinking it after training?

  • We want cortisol to go up shortly before and during training, as acute increases in cortisol actually help to mobilize bodyfat.  When it’s already elevated, however, the last thing you want to do is add more.  Your goal should be to bring cortisol back down to normal as fast as possible after training.
  • You want to drive nutrients into the cells quickly after training to help promote recovery and protein synthesis.  Emptying the GI tract too quickly is not going to help your post-workout shake be any more effective and will likely counter a lot of the benefits.
  • It’s okay to want to stimulate your mind after training, but we want to avoid amping up your nervous system at the same time.  Instead, nutrients that have been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier such as acetyl-L-carnitine, bacopa extract, and alpha GPC would be a better option.
  • Post-workout is one of the best times to take in carbs.  That is, unless your insulin sensitivity is suppressed.  Thanks, but no thanks, coffee.

The takeaway?  Save caffeine for pre-workout use only if possible.  If not, at a minimum, give your body 3-4 hours after training to get cortisol levels back to a normal state before having a follow-up dose.

A Reaction to the Stupidest Thing I’ve Ever Read

If you’re not familiar with Tracy Anderson, consider yourself blessed. If you are, you probably know that she is probably one of the worst influences to come out of the fitness industry since the advent of “finger down throat for reps”. Besides being a woman of questionable business practices, she also happens to be Gwenyth Paltrow’s trainer, which unfortunately, gives her terrible advice more weight. Because nothing bad happens when you combine dense with denser.

Anderson has built a reputation off of the idea that women can absolutely transform their bodies (the word “physiques” would be too harsh of a term and too masculine, as far as she is concerned) through fad eating and ridiculous exercise (I won’t even call it “training”, because it isn’t) with dumbbells that only come in rainbow colors. Anything over 2kg will make a woman “bulky,” she says.

But because that wasn’t stupid enough, she absolutely had to offer something for the men. Because why have strong shoulders, a big chest and well developed extremities when you can look frail and emaciated? Hell, maybe you and your wife could share the same skinny jeans!

The interview that was recently published (which you can read here if you have free time and too high of an IQ) touting her new mens’ program is literally a minefield of stupidity, and here are some of the worst verbal explosions.

I did a five-year research study with 150 women and measured them every 10 days and I created original content and sequencing for each of them and navigated them.

Yet you follow it up with this gem – “I wasn’t measuring BMI or typical measurements. I was measuring based on the idea of how to create balance where there is imbalance in the body.”  So basically, you didn’t measure anything.  That is, if anybody actually buys into the idea that you got 150 women to see you at least every 10 days for 5 years straight in a small town in Indiana.

…I’m smart about what I eat. If I ate a tablespoon of Yak Butter, which has 800 calories in it, or if I drank a diet soda – what would happen? If you asked 100 people in the middle of America the following question – “Will I gain more weight if I ate a tablespoon of Yak Butter or drank a soda?” – unanimously they would say Yak Butter. But they’re wrong. Your body has no idea what the hell to do with the soda, so this floats through your body, and it stores it as inflammation, which is a very important word that needs to be understood correctly.

Holy crap, where to start.  First, 800 CALORIES IN ONE TABLESPOON OF YAK BUTTER?  That’s pretty interesting, since, unless that butter has the density of lead, a tablespoon of any butter is typically around 10-15g in total weight, meaning the MAXIMUM amount of fat it could contain would be 15g.  15g of fat x 9 calories per gram = 135 calories.  Most butter sits right around 100 calories per tablespoon.  Nice lack of even basic nutritional understanding for somebody who is supposed to be a “world renowned guru.”

Second, I literally feel like the principal from Billy Madison after reading the second half of that statement.  Inflammation is not a “thing”, it is a symptom, a diagnosis.  This is like saying that “now Robbie can’t see because his diet was too high in blindness.”  So yes, you are correct, inflammation does need to be understood correctly; unfortunately for you, you may as well have just tossed a bunch of Scrabble tiles into a blender and typed what came out, because you have no idea what you are saying.

Men want to be panthers. They want to be machines that function. Right now, it’s all about being ‘skinny ripped’ – you want to look good in a tailored suit. It’s important for men not to overdevelop.

Just… where’s the Tylenol?

Men and women are very different. Men go through one hormonal change in their life, women go through at least four…

I think somebody wasn’t paying attention during sex ed… or physiology… or your nutrition courses… or… never mind, you’re obviously just joking.  Where’s Ashton Kutcher hiding?

Wishes, Wants & Needs

Now that we’re headlong into the new year and approaching spring, we’re about to begin noticing a very seasonal phenomenon (and no, I don’t mean old men in black socks and sandals telling my kids to get off of their lawn) – something you could call “The Rise and Fall of the New Year’s Resolutioner.”  You know the type; you may even BE the type – the person that, on December 31, dives 100% into dieting, learning a new language, finding the Loch Ness monster, etc., tossing everything else in their life aside for this single, solitary aim, believing whole-heartedly that “damn it, this year is the year! I’ll have that six-pack!  I’ll go to Europe and not sound like an uncultured American when I ask where the baño is!  I’ll finally have Nessie’s head hanging on my wall and the internet will worship me as their king!”
Little known fact: Nessie speaks Russian and has a rockin' six-pack.
Little known fact: Nessie speaks Russian and has a rockin’ six-pack.

Fast forward two months, and Craigslist and eBay are littered with barely used Bowflexes, Rosetta Stone discs, and sea monster-caliber sonar equipment.  What went wrong?  Why do so many of us lose those lofty aspirations that we held so near and dear just a few weeks ago, back when we felt like nothing could stop us?

The reality is, there is a sort of hierarchy to goal-setting and making personal change, and many people talk at one level, but their actions show that they’re really at another.  These stages are Wishing, Wanting, & Needing to change.


Everybody knows a Wisher.  The person who will complain “I’ll never have a body like yours!” while elbow-deep in a Costco-sized package of Double Stuf Oreos covered in maple syrup.  The person who hopes to become a famous movie star simply because a talent agent saw them and thought that the way they serve a latte shows “a lot of passion”.  The person who aspires to become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams by playing the lottery with the numbers from last night’s fortune cookie.

Tragically, wishing and hoping are about as far as they ever get to succeeding.  They never pull themselves together to make that first step – they won’t invest in a gym membership, some acting classes, a financial management book.  They’re convinced that magic will happen if they just continue to exist for a little while longer.  And wouldn’t you believe it?  Nothing.  Happens.  Ever.  You know the saying “good things come to those who wait?”  Bullshit.  That expression should be “the exact same thing will happen today that happened yesterday to those who wait.”


Next up we have the Wanter.  This person will have drawn themselves together to take that first step.  They’ve signed up for a gym membership and started a diet, they’ve thrown out all of the junk food in their house, and defriended all of their drinking buddies on Facebook.  And things go great… at first.  They lose some weight, drop a clothing size or two, and manage to dodge every social gathering possible for the first few months.  Everything is going perfect.

And then it happens.  “It” could be a lot of things.  You overslept your alarm and don’t have time to work out before work today.  You get sick and the thought of eating protein turns your stomach.  Your 6-year-old niece needs to sell 20 more boxes of Girl Scout cookies to win a trip to Washington, and you’re the last stop on her list.  You break your ankle doing the hustle in your brand new size 6 bellbottoms.  Whatever “it” is, it means one thing – everything is no longer perfect.  And for the Wanter, when things are no longer perfect… watch out, because you’re about to get buried under a pile of excuses longer than Lindsay Lohan’s rap sheet.

“My parents gave me bad genetics, I’m just destined to be this way.”  “I’m just so tired all the time and I need at least 3 pounds of carbs a day to operate at my best.”  “My trainer told me to workout 4 days a week, but it’s so easy for him to say… he gets to work in a gym all day!  He can work out whenever he wants!” (Yes, I overheard you.  Yes, the next workout you did was a deliberate punishment for saying something so stupid.  No, I don’t feel bad about it.)

Everything is sunshine and roses for the Wanter… until it’s not.  Then all bets are off and everything gets tabled until next year.


At the end of our list we have the Needer.  This person has placed such a priority on their goal that nothing short of death is going to keep them from reaching it.  You may be able to think back in your life and identify a time where you were indeed a Needer – a med student studying all weekend long to graduate at the top of their class while simultaneously holding down a job to pay for bills and schooling; a parent who has been laid off who sends in dozens of applications and goes through 30, 40, maybe 50 rejections before finally landing their next job, because God damn it, if I’m not working, how am I going to feed my family?  No amount of failure or rejection will stop the Needer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these people don’t feel the pain of failure.  Failing sucks, I don’t care who you are, and if anybody tells you otherwise, they’re lying to your face.  The difference is, in spite of the pain and frustration, they remain persistent.  They will still have their ups and downs, questioning whether it’s all worth it, but in the end, they will get back up, dust themselves off, and continue to push forward, because they have a deep-rooted, personal desire to achieve something.  They’re not doing it because somebody else told them they should, they’re doing it because for them quitting is not an option.

I should also point out that for the Needer type, there is no New Year’s Resolution, because why wait until January 1 to start something that I can start right now?  Days on the calendar do not dictate when you let your motivation peak, and today is already here, so why not now?

“If there is one thing I can pass on from my humbling experiences in life, thus far, I will tell you this, the next time someone tells you “the absence of expectations is the absence of disappointment, do not listen. Have expectations. Keep them great. It’ll be a very bumpy ride. You’ll even get bruised, sometimes very badly. Sometimes, you’ll come to an abrupt halt or even fall off your ride. But you’ll grow. And if you do not grow, you do not live.”― Pandora Poikilos

Quick Tip: Eat the Right Fruit for the Best Body Comp


There is a lot of contradictory advice amongst nutrition experts in regards to carb intake for fat loss, especially those coming from fruits.  Some nutritionists will tell you to aim for three or more servings daily of fruit, while other hardcore low-carb coaches will tell you that all fruits should be completely eliminated if the goal is to lose fat.  The truth, as usual, sits somewhere in the middle.

When it comes to fruit selection, as a general rule of thumb, you should be choosing thin-skin fruits, ones that allow you to eat the skin, over thick-skinned fruits that need to be peeled prior to consumption.  The simplest explanation is as follows: the thinner the skin on the fruit, the higher the fruit’s antioxidant content, as the thin skin means greater exposure to the sun’s rays.  Thinner-skinned fruits also tend to have a higher fiber content and less sugar than their thickly-wrapped counterparts, as most of the fiber is found in the skin itself.

So what fruits should you choose?  Go for things such as various types of berries, apples, peaches, pears, or plums, and limit intake of bananas, oranges, clementines, and tropical fruits such as watermelon.  A six-ounce container of blackberries has less than 100 calories, 10 grams of fiber, and very little sugar.

How many times a day should you eat fruit?  We’ve had the best success keeping it at no more than two servings daily, with the a serving being roughly the size of your fist, and with the best timing being first thing in the morning with breakfast, and after a strength training session, perhaps blended in with your post-workout protein shake.

Featured Recipe: Balsamic Marinated Skirt Steak & Garlic Sweet Potato Fries

We posted a picture of this on our Facebook page last week and we had enough interest in it to warrant posting the recipe.  Super awesome and only takes about 30 minutes from start to finish.

Balsamic Marinated Skirt Steak

2lbs skirt steak (flank steak or flat iron steak will also work but skirt is by far the best)
1/2 cup olive oil
2tbsp Balsamic vinegar
2tbsp spicy brown mustard
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Juice of one lemon or 2tbsp lemon juice
1 pinch ginger
2 packets stevia

In a large glass dish or Ziploc bag, combine all marinade ingredients with the steak and coat completely.  Throw the steak in the fridge while you preheat the grill.  For extra awesome, allow the steak to marinade for at least 30 minutes before grilling.

Grill for 4-5 minutes per side for medium or longer if you like it more done (but it’s skirt steak, so you shouldn’t).

Garlic Sweet Potato Fries

3-4 sweet potatoes, skin on
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

First, fill a large saucepan about half full of water and bring to a boil on the stovetop (tip: for a faster boil, put the lid on while you heat the water).  While the water is heating, cut the sweet potato into wedges or slices.

Turn your oven on “broil.”

Once the water is boiling, add the sweet potatoes and boil, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Drain the saucepan and add the sweet potatoes to a glass dish.  Pour the sweet potato marinade over and mix with a wooden spoon or soft spatula (sweet potatoes will be hot, so if you choose to use your hands, be careful).

Lay sweet potatoes on an ungreased cookie sheet in a single layer and broil for 5 minutes per side.

Let cool and serve.  Thank me later.

steak fries

Carbs at Night?

If you’ve followed conventional nutritional methods in the last 20 years, you’ve probably heard it.  Every “expert” weight loss coach, every two-bit 24 Hour Fitness bosu ball trainer, every well-meaning but poorly-educated general practitioner has probably spit it your way at some point: “don’t eat carbs after 6pm; it’ll make you fat.”

At first glance, it sort of makes sense, doesn’t it?  After all, you’re going to bed in a few hours, and all you’re doing is sleeping.  You don’t burn many calories doing that, so all that sugar and starch is just going straight to your lovehandles until they qualify for their own zip code.  Right?  Wrong.

There are a few problems with chopping carbs too early in the day.  First, most of you reading this probably produce an unnecessarily high amount of the stress hormone cortisol, which, when levels get shot through the roof, lead to fat storage in the belly (for more on that, check out this article I wrote a few weeks back).  Not only that, but too much cortisol makes it impossible to relax, which can disrupt the quality of your sleep.  However, one of the easiest ways to get cortisol in check is through something that will raise insulin (no, seriously, go read that article!)  As long as you don’t go nuts, and as long as you pick a nice fibrous source (oatmeal with some heavy cream and a handful of blueberries comes to mind, thank me later), it’ll help you wind down and get some quality rest.

Secondly, your body is actually not slowing down very much when you sleep.  In fact, it’s been shown that when a person with a reasonably healthy metabolism is able to dip into REM sleep at night, their metabolism will actually GO UP.  So that argument doesn’t hold up very well in reality.

Lastly, it’s impractical for a lot of people.  Dinner and evenings tend to be the most social times for a lot of people, whether it be the mom who’s worked all day and wants to sit down to a pasta dish (gluten free, of course!) that she made for her family, or the high-level executive who wants to be able to have a steak and potato with a glass of wine while entertaining a new client, if the goal is to figure out how to balance healthy eating with a normal lifestyle, the window of 6pm, or 3pm, or whatever time window you see get tossed around, doesn’t fit very well.

Again, it just comes down to not overdoing it.  If you annihilate an entire pizza, an order of breadsticks, and a burrito, you will get fat.  But it doesn’t really matter if you do that at 12am, 4am, or 2pm, the result will still be the same.  But if your overall food volume and you’re getting the right amount of protein, fat, and fiber for the day, it doesn’t matter as much what time certain things are eaten in the long term.  So don’t be terrified of having a blueberry after 6pm – trust us, it really won’t automatically make you balloon up.

A Photo Finish

I recently undertook the challenge of giving myself 12 weeks to prepare for a professional photo shoot.  My motivation?  I turn 30 in September and wanted to disprove age as an excuse.  Ever since I’ve been training, I’ve always heard, “oh, wait until you get (insert number here)… it’s way harder now.”  I also wanted to show that you can make a big transformation even when life is not perfect, and still keep with a hard deadline.  In fact, I told the photographer when I scheduled the shoot, “do not let me reschedule this.  If I try to change the time, charge me twice.”

The results were pretty sound, especially for my first time going to this length to prepare for something.  I can honestly say that there is very little that I could have done differently based on the knowledge I had of my body going into prep.  I did learn a few things in the process, though, which I will point out as I walk you through the 12-week process.

Before we get started, here are the big stats:

Diet start: 4/21/13
Starting BW: 165.5lbs
Starting BF: 12.6%

Photo shoot date: 7/13/13
Ending BW: 152.2lbs
Ending BF: 4.9%

On the left, taken one day after starting prep. On the right, taken 3 days before the shoot.
On the left, taken one day after starting prep. On the right, taken 3 days before the shoot.

Training Guidelines

One thing I knew going in is that I didn’t want to write my own training program, because with a newborn baby creating sleepless nights, two other boys who didn’t want to play second fiddle to a baby, a wife who needed my help at home to keep from going insane, and a growing business with over 80 clients to watch over, I didn’t want to be mentally responsible for one more person, even if that person was me.

So I looked at who I know in the fitness industry that has a solid reputation for rapid body transformations, and settled on Ultimate Performance owner Nick Mitchell.  Nick had just put out a book through Men’s Health called The 12-Week Body Plan that details the program he actually used with somebody to prepare them for a photo shoot, so obviously this seemed like a good match.  Knowing that I wouldn’t have access to some of the equipment he used in the program, I had to take some creative license with a few movements, but as anybody with a background in training knows, as long is the program was written with some thought, it’s going to produce results as long as you put your work in outside of the gym.

The Meat (and Nuts) of the Diet

As much as I don’t typically throw this word around, I did, in fact, diet for this photo shoot.  This wasn’t a lifestyle change, this wasn’t a “eat clean 80% of the time” plan; it was a balls-to-the-wall, 100% compliance, DIET.

While I had an idea of how things would go, there was no pre-designed “12 week template” to follow – I had to monitor my progress closely, and make changes based on the outcome of each prior change.  Throughout the entire 12 weeks, nothing really stayed exactly the same for more than two weeks at a time.

A note to keep in mind as you read this: this is not intended to be something that you copy-paste and follow to the letter.  I respond to certain things differently than somebody else, and it has a lot to do with genetics, starting condition, training history, and ability to be compliant.

Ab shot

Weeks 1-2: Keep It Simple, Stupid

I started the intention to go the first several weeks on a low-carb, stripped down diet to accelerate change.  The guidelines were pretty straightforward – I was aiming for 5-7 meals per day, with half the plate being animal protein, and the other half being green vegetables.  That’s about it.  My protein portions averaged 8oz each from bison, beef, chicken, turkey, and various seafood, and vegetable servings averaged about 1.5-2 cups coming from spinach, asparagus, kale, cucumbers, and snow peas.

I also followed the following guidelines for higher-fat protein sources:

  • Red meat was consumed twice per day using leaner cuts
  • Pork (typically uncured bacon) was consumed 2-3 times per week
  • I ate a max of about a dozen cage-free eggs per week

I would usually add a handful of either nuts or pecans to my breakfast, but other than that, everything stayed the same for the first 10 days.  Some people might need to go longer depending on how much you have to lose and how long you’ve been feeding your body refined and processed carbohydrates on a regular basis.

Weeks 3-4: Carb Additions

By the time Week 3 had begun, I  had reintroduced some carbs in the form of Quadricarb, a carbohydrate powder mixed with my post-workout shake.  On days I wasn’t training, I kept things at the baseline from the first 2 weeks.

Since I was still dropping bodyfat and felt good, at the start of Week 4, I added 1 cup of gluten-free oatmeal with a packet of stevia for sweetener, and ate it right before bed.  I used water, not milk or cream, and would also usually add some cinnamon and nutmeg to give it a little better flavor.

By this point, I was also still not doing any extra conditioning, and was only training 4 days a week for about 45-50 minutes each time.


Weeks 5-6: Kicking In High Gear

Two things happened at this time: first, I began to add additional cardio to my strength training program; second, I began carb cycling to speed up fat loss.

I started using a 5-day carb cycling strategy that fell in line with my training schedule, which looked like this:

Day 1: Back & Shoulders, medium carb day

Day 2: off, low carb day

Day 3: Legs, high carb day

Day 4: off, low carb day

Day 5: Chest & Arms, medium carb day

Things would then start over with Day 6.  Here is how each type of day would look:

Low Carb Day – basically the same as the way I was eating during Weeks 1-2.  To offset the lack of carbs, I would eat red meat, eggs, or pork twice on those days.

Medium Carb Day – 50 grams of post-workout carbs from Quadricarb, and 75 grams from gluten free oatmeal or sweet potatoes before bed

High Carb Day – 75 grams of post-workout carbs from Quadricarb, and 150 grams of carbs from oatmeal or sweet potatoes, spread over 3 meals after training

On medium and high carb days, to account for the increase in caloric intake, I would keep protein sources to white meat and fish after using a lean red meat such as bison for breakfast.

Weeks 7-8

Nothing changed during Week 7 or Week 8; since it wasn’t broke, I didn’t try to fix it.

Weeks 9-10

As I was getting leaner, I started making slight reductions in protein portions, from 8oz down to about 6oz per meal.  As I was getting leaner I required less and less in terms of sheer food volume, and reducing my protein sizes gradually cut down my daily protein and fat consumption.  Veggie intake stayed high throughout.  I also cut extra carbs about halfway through Week 10 (although if I had to do it again, I probably would have left in post-workout carbs, as well as maybe another 50-60g on leg training days).

Weeks 11-12

I continued low-carbing through Week 11 up through the Tuesday of Week 12.  I also added some more HIIT training (more on that later).  On Wednesday, I started adding carbs, about 100 extra grams on Wednesday, 200 on Thursday, and a little over 300g on Friday.  Because I had been depleted for so long, and because I was using clean sources (sweet potatoes and oats) and not garbage foods, my muscles just soaked it right up and it was at this point that my abdominal skinfold was at its lowest, and actually dropped almost in half from Friday morning to Friday night, from 6.8 to 3.9mm.

The Sunday before the shoot, I also ramped up my water intake from 4-5 liters per day to 10-12 liters per day.  On Wednesday, that number dropped to 6 liters, then 3 liters Thursday, and finally 1 liter on Friday.  Since my body was used to a very high water intake, it kept flushing water out even as I was reducing my consumption, giving that dry, vascular look that is usually desired in photo shoots.

*Note: if you are just doing this program to drop fat and do not have a shoot or competition, DO NOT mess with your water intake.  It doesn’t do anything for fat loss and the results will only hold for less than 24 hours.

Cardio and Conditioning

For the first 4 weeks of the program, I did nothing but strength train 4 days per week.  I wanted to see how my body would react to the early dietary manipulations and didn’t want to skew the data with too many variables.  If I were to do it again, I would probably personally add in some HIIT after Week 2, but unless you know your body very well, I would keep it out for the first month.

At Week 5, all I did was add one High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout per week, using sprints for my intervals, either indoors on a treadmill, or outside on a track.  Here is one of my preferred HIIT treadmill workouts:

Sample HIIT Workout
5 minutes @4mph with 5 degree incline
10 rounds of 30 seconds @11mph/45 seconds @4.5mph, no incline
10 minutes @4mph with 7 degree incline
4 rounds of 60 seconds @8mph/90 seconds @4mph, no incline
5 minutes @3.5mph with 5 degree incline

I had a few different workouts I would work through, but that one was my favorite.

At Week 8, I added in 1-2 fasted morning cardio sessions to help drop additional fat.  These were typically done at 5am on an empty stomach, only having black coffee and 20 capsules of branched chain amino acids to help stimulate fat loss and prevent muscle breakdown.  Then I would just do 20-30 minutes of inclined walking at 4-4.5mph on a treadmill.  Boring.

One important note: if your sleep and recovery isn’t tip top, fasted cardio will only make you fatter and more run down.  If you need to cut anything when pressed for time or feeling run down, this is where to start.

Hanging leg raise

Big Finish

The last 2 weeks, I added more HIIT and cut out the fasted morning cardio so I was doing 3-4 30 minute HIIT sessions, either in the morning or evening depending on what my work schedule looked like for the day.

5 minutes @4mph with 5-7 degree incline
8 rounds of 20 seconds @13.5mph/10 seconds of complete rest standing on treadmill rails
21 minutes @3.5mph with 8 degree incline

All training and cardio was cut the Tuesday before the shoot, and from there all I did was rest, foam roll lots, and begin adding carbs back in.

Supplement for Success

I kept supplement use pretty moderate, but there are a few key products that I would definitely suggest if you can afford it.  If not, don’t worry about it – supplements are no replacement for hard training and consistent diet.

Fish oil – 1 gram taken with each meal, totaling 5-7 grams per day, acts as an anti-inflammatory and improves usage of bodyfat for fuel

Holy basil – 2 capsules taken with breakfast and dinner, increases morning energy and accelerates fat loss from the abdomen

BCAA capsules – 3 taken during each rest period of my training sessions, as well as prior to fasted cardio, prevents muscle breakdown and improves recovery

Carb powder – varies with post-workout shake depending on carb cycling schedule

Topical magnesium – 1 pump applied over my carotid artery a half hour before bed to knock me out and improve rest

That’s it.  Nothing crazy, and pretty affordable for a short run.

There you have it – a 12-week guide to big fat loss, and in all likelihood, several pounds of muscle gain as well.  You may have noticed that I didn’t list any cheat meals over the 12 weeks – that’s because they didn’t happen.  When you’re working against a deadline, you don’t always get the luxury of taking your time and worrying about lifestyle compatibility – certain things do get put on the back burner.  But if you work hard and stick with it, it’ll all pay off in the end.

I’d love to hear about anybody who decides to take this challenge on, please leave your thoughts and comments below!


The Insulin/Cortisol Seesaw: Control It to Lose Bellyfat

*A note to all of you science-minded types reading this – yes, I am purposely omitting some of the more complicated information to make it more accessible to those who need it the most. But if you already know that, this isn’t for you anyway.

Roughly 95% of the clients that we see at All Strength Training come in with primarily aesthetic-minded goals – everything from “flatter abs” to “drop 50 pounds” to “can you get rid of this?” Oh, on that last one it’s important to visualize the client grabbing whatever the afflicted area is and trying to shake it in our face for several seconds, sometimes without breaking eye contact. Weird visuals aside, the point is that we see a lot of people whose main goals are something to the effect of “I want to look better both in and out of clothing”. And out of those 95%, every single one of them is not satisfied with the current condition of their midsection.

The good news? The cause for most of your bodyfat storage in that area is pretty straightforward for the average person – poor blood sugar management combined with too much stress. The bad news? People have a hell of a time figuring out how to fix it on their own, partly because there is a surplus of really, REALLY bad information circulating out there that makes even the most well-intentioned effort to lose some of that trunk fat doomed from the start.

The Culprits: Get to Know Your Hormones

For most people, the way it works is this – poor insulin management tends to create an excess of bodyfat in the sides of the trunk.  Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas to help regulate blood sugar after food has been consumed.  Some foods create a larger spike in insulin than others – fat, for example, has basically no impact on blood sugar whatsoever, whereas simple starches such as white flour and cane sugar create an extreme spike in blood sugar, and therefore insulin.  This is not all that unfamilar even to the most uneducated dieter, but there is a little bit more to it than that, which we will touch on later.

Along with insulin, the other major hormone that influences bellyfat, specifically through abdomen, is cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress.  Cortisol is sort of a low grade adrenaline, designed to be released in situations of “fight or flight,” but is also released during any stressful event, from a simple weight training session to a fight with your girlfriend to your 30th late-night viewing of Predator on TBS.

Insulin and cortisol are what are known as “seesaw hormones” – when one spikes in the short term, the other drops, also in the short term.  Allow me to demonstrate a scenario to make this easy to relate.

Is This You?

Our example subject, let’s call him Bob, is an upper-management type who works long hours and doesn’t sleep well.  Bob wakes up after having hit the snooze button one too many times (stress), as is often the case, and runs out the door without eating breakfast (stress).  He will, on the way to work, grab a large caramel frappachino with extra foam (big spike in blood sugar).  He’ll get to the office just in time to lecture a few of his employees for having missed critical deadlines (stress) before diving into a meeting that will last all morning (big drop in blood sugar coupled with more stress).  The meeting will run long so he won’t have time to go out for lunch, so he’ll grab a sandwich out of the vending machine and two leftover donuts from this morning’s meeting (big spike in blood sugar).  Around 3pm he’ll sneak out to grab another big foamy coffee/milkshake combo from the Starbucks across the street to keep him going for the rest of the day because he can’t keep his eyes open anymore (drop in blood sugar followed by spike in blood sugar).  Then he’ll work two hours of overtime trying to get caught up on paperwork (more stress) before going home.  On the way he’ll grab some fast food (big spike in blood sugar) before hitting the sack and tossing and turning for a few hours (more stress).

Look familiar?  Some of you will read that paragraph and laugh, but a large percentage of you read that and thought to yourself “how long has he been following me?”  This is, in fact, a pretty typical day for most modern-day office workers.

In our scenario above, Bob has, in a matter of less than two years, seen his waist size balloon up from a 34 to a 42, and his doctor is now lecturing him on the possibility of needing to go on Metformin to improve his blood sugar.  How did that happen?

For most modern Americans, the day starts off in one of two ways – either A) they skip breakfast, going about their daily stresses with no food to support their bodily functions, stressing the body out more because blood sugar is now low, resulting in hypoglycemia; or B) they eat foods such as lowfat yogurt with blueberries  and a bowl of granola cereal, leading to a substantial spike in blood sugar because all of those foods are low fat, low protein, high carbohydrate foods.

In either of the above situations, you start your day off with low nutrition, unsteady blood sugar levels and lots of stress.  By mid-morning you’re after stimulants such as coffee or Red Bull, either because you haven’t eaten in 14 hours or because what you had for breakfast was so starchy and sugary that blood sugar plummeted after less than 2 hours.  Cortisol shoots up, which makes you crave more sugar, then stress shoots up again from lack of adequate nutrition and the next drop in blood sugar.  Up.  Down.  Up. Down.  Starting to make sense yet?

What You Can Do

The good news is that the changes you need to make to control that seesaw effect are, for most people, straightforward.  Not always easy to implement because you might be breaking habits you’ve held for months, years, maybe even decades, but they are straightforward.

#1 – Improve meal composition.  Most meals you eat should contain moderate amounts of protein (6-8oz for males, 3-5oz for females on average), 1-2 cups of fibrous vegetables, and either good fats (coconut oil, various nuts, avocados, etc.)  or complex carbohydrates (brown rice, sweet potato, quinoa, etc.).  You don’t have to be terrified of eating carbs, but there has to be balance to the rest of the meal, as things like protein, fiber, and fat digest more slowly and will help regulate blood sugar more effectively than eating carbs alone.

#2 – Eat more frequently.  Not for the reason most people think, however – the idea that eating every 2 hours “stokes the metabolism” has been scientifically disproven.  What eating planned meals more often will do is keep you from getting so hungry that you will eventually tear the glass door off of a vending machine to get to a Mars Bar.  If you’re never letting yourself get that famished, you make better choices when you do eat.  Simple.

#3 – Eliminate unnecessary stressors.  Especially if you have a history of eating the way I described above, you have to take additional steps to reduce extra stress that you can control.  Late nights out?  Stress.  Not giving yourself enough time to get to work?  Stress.  Overdoing your training with things like two-hour weight training sessions or long-distance runs?  Stress.  All of these things will be working against you and your new nutritional habits.

For 90% of people, this is exactly where I would start them out of the gate.  It might not be glamorous, but it’s the stuff that produces results right away, and is also going to act as your support structure for when you want to get fancy with blood testing, supplement protocols, and training programs.  If you don’t have that foundation first, your body will crumble.