Then Vs. Now: Two Different Approaches to Muscle Gain

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.

Tragically, I couldn't find any pics of me in high school, but picture a skeleton in these and you have the idea.

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.

Don't lie, there's a copy on your bookshelf right now.

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.

 

Program Review: German Body Comp for Athletes

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.

 

Staying Paleo on the Road

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.

Pictured: convenient and available.

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.

My First Boot Camp of 2012

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):

Supplements

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.

Cardio

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.

Training

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Guest Blog: The Human Diet

Mary Turner is an All Strength Training client and reformed vegetarian.  We asked her to share some of her experience in discovering the paleo diet and what it has done for her.

“If it’s important to you, you will find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse”

We have all seen this quote on the walls at AST. I think it applies to our diet as much if not more than our training. Within this last year I have changed my diet significantly. As a vegetarian of 20 plus years, it was not easy. But the longer I researched the Paleo diet, the more important it became to change my diet. So, I found a way.

I realized that as humans we are animals and we have a natural diet. Just as cows are supposed to eat grass, homo sapiens are suppose to eat meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds. For years, eating the true human diet was not important to me, so I found excuses. Below are my three favorite, which I still hear from vegetarians as well as meat eaters.

1. Eating something that walks around is disgusting!
Yes, it is. But animals eat animals.
2. Organic Wheat, Dairy, etc is natural so it must be good for you.
Trees are natural too. Are you going to eat some bark for dinner?
3. Vegetarianism is good for the environment.
No, actually, it’s not. In fact, it takes more resources to grow all that wheat to feed you than it does to grow a cow. If you really want to know more about this read The Vegetarian Myth.

As humans our bodies are designed to process protein from meat, carbs from veggies and fruit, and fat from animals and nuts, for the other systems in our bodies to utilize. I had been substituting a large part of my diet with grains, dairy, legumes, soy, etc all things that my body is not designed to digest. For years I struggled with depression from lack of fatty acids only found in meat. Now, getting out of bed isn’t the hardest thing I do every day. I had digestive issues which disappeared immediately after I started eating meat. Waking up three times a night was the norm. This was due to my blood sugar dropping due to the lack of protein in my diet. I could go on and on about all the changes I have experienced. If you want to read the full story go to http://marcat-recoveringvegetarian.blogspot.com/ (Well, if I am going to plug books I’ve read, I might as well mention my blog)

Now, you may think, ya ya ya, you were a vegetarian and I’m not so I am getting the protein I need. That may be but if you are still eating wheat, dairy, corn, rice, soy, legumes, etc. you are damaging your body similarly as to how we damage a cow when we feed it corn. Basically, every time you eat wheat, yes whole wheat too, you damage your intestinal lining in addition to spiking your insulin levels. But, I am sure Zach has already told you that! If you want to learn more about what these “foods” do to you I highly suggest reading The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf.

We tend to look at diets as something we are on instead of something we have. Now, when someone makes a comment about my “strange” diet, I just reply “I’m not on a diet, I have a diet, the human diet” These same people comment on how great I look and ask for my advice on “dieting” quite often. Then, they go to Chipotle and come back with a burrito (not in the bowl, in the tortilla) and you can bet there have rice, cheese, and sour cream in there too. I get very frustrated and often think about how the trainers must have felt trying to help me in my vegetarian days. Which takes me back to the beginning of my thoughts here, is being a healthy and lean human important to you?

Common Misuses of Foam Rolling

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:

  1. Always, always start with the feet (plantar fascia) first.
  2. 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.

Quick Tip: Limit Food Additives to Stay Lean

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.

Quick Tip: Stretch Your Hips & Quads to Help Back Pain

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.

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.

Building Mass for Life: Part 2

Part 1 of this series can be found here.

People ask me all the time: Why did I do it? What was the real reason why I added so much weight when I was already “healthy”?  I didn’t want to be the skinny guy, that’s why! But when I stop and think about it, I realized what influenced me the most to make changes. I am currently a competitive athlete so my sport and performance was a huge influence. My career as a strength and conditioning coach was another thing. Would you really listen to a skinny strength coach? I didn’t think so. And you know what? I’m not gonna lie. The Kid wanted to look damn good!

And looking good does not mean "look like Will Smith's little cousin."

Currently I am a competitive mixed martial mrtist who has aspirations to turn pro in the near future. In my mind MMA is the greatest sport in the world. But before I even began to train in MMA I boxed competitively as an amateur in Chicago. From 2005-2008 I competed at middleweight, which in boxing has a maximum weight of 165 pounds. I’m 6-feet tall, so as you could imagine, as a 6-foot, 160 pound guy I was the definition of bean pole. I was so skinny that my legs looked like the number 11 when I walked. I was a naturally thin guy, but not quite that thin. It was hard work to keep my weight in that range. I had to do a lot of cardio, minimal resistance training and, to be honest, my nutrition sucked. After training sessions I always felt sluggish and weak. I knew there had to be a better way.

By this time I had began training in MMA and I noticed something – those thick wrestlers who look like the mini fridge in a college dorm were tossing everyone around!

At times these guys might not have had the best technique but their quickness, explosion, athleticism, power and overall strength got them through. It was impressive to say the least. I had to ask myself, “Self, how are you going to improve as an athlete if you’re not doing everything possible to be successful?”

I saw firsthand how the stronger athletes fared in sports. Look at any major sport and literally only the strong survive. And even though I knew it wasn’t going to be easy I had to make it happen. I had a goal of being a successful athlete since I was a young child and I love to compete at the highest level possible. I was going to do it.

If you look at the world’s top athletes, take their best traits and find the common denominator. Well besides great genes – it’s true; none of us got to pick our parents. But not all of the world’s best athletes were always known as the best. Both Jerry Rice and Michael Jordan are both currently considered by most to be the greatest players of their respective sports but they both had setbacks in their rise to greatness. What separated them? Hard work!

I started getting into the weight room hard in the spring of 2008, and I did predominantly bodybuilding workouts to start – that is all that I knew. But I got stronger, and I gained a little bit of weight! I was even starting to walk around with imaginary lat syndrome (ILS). You know, when the skinny guy gets done working out and walks around like he’s holding two oversized duffel bags under each arm pit. And even though I looked goofy looking back, my performance improved!

Now when guys tried to take me down, not only was I able to shrug them off, I had more explosion in my step and more quickness in my strikes.  It surprised me more than anyone else because I was always told that lifting weights would slow down my hand speed, and in reality it had improved.

I soon began helping out with the high school strength and conditioning program in Skokie, Ill. I was able to work with their strength coach Mark Feldner, who was a former assistant strength coach at Penn State. Through him I began to learn more sports specific workouts. He showed me that in every sport there are different ways to train so there is no one specific workout for every sport and not to focus on individual muscles as much, the “show me muscles.” You know, the ones that make you look sexy when you get them all pumped and cut up.

Now at 25 I’m bigger, faster, stronger and WAY more explosive than I’ve ever been. I kept training and evolving not only as a mixed martial artist but as an athlete as well. I can also begin to see a change in my body because of my sport, thicker torso from my twisting and kicking, more pronounced shoulders from my strikes; there has even been a calf sighting!

Now I have figured out the things that are most effective for me and cut down on the fluff. I love my powerlifting base (bench, squat, deadlift). With that there has been a noticeable difference in my glute and hamstring size and strength which directly translates to my leg drive and power, which equals SPEED.

Now even though I love my powerlifting, I’ve had to do a bit more for my explosion, so Olympic lifts such as cleans have been added as needed. So if anyone says lifting doesn’t assist in being a better athlete just get your five chuckles on and keep it moving, there is no need to try to rationalize with irrational people. I’ve learned a lot in the time that I’ve made my transition and in this time my experiences have helped me become a better strength coach. The last thing anyone wants to hear is some skinny 155-pound guy telling them how to get “jacked!” That’s kind of like the guy who flunked out of school telling somebody how to study. It just doesn’t add up.