My First Nutritional Cleanse

In the past, my attitude toward cleanses has typically been some combination of “and how exactly is high dosing cayenne pepper and lemon juice supposed to do anything but destroy your toilet?” and “what the hell is a spiritual cleanse?”  However, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence (some real science as well, but it’s not a tremendously well-studied area) that various cleanses and detoxes, when performed correctly with adequate nutritional support, can have a positive impact on health and performance.

I was exposed to Dr. Robert Rakowski’s 7 Day Cleanse a few years ago at my first BioSignature course, when Charles Poliquin explained it as one of the protocols available to practitioners.  Unlike many popular cleanses, this one actually involves more than just a “eat fifty lemons a day for a week” level of simplicity, and has multiple components to support healing of the body.  Here’s a quote I found directly from Charles explaining the cleanse he advocates:

“Before I even get started, I want to be clear in how I define a cleanse. It is the process of improving or increasing the body’s ability to remove toxins from your internal environment. I’m not talking about colonic therapy and I’m not talking about joining Hollywood celebrities at a posh detox center. A cleanse involves reducing the amount of toxins coming into the body and increasing the amount of toxins leaving the body. Another component of a cleanse is to reduce the amount of toxins your body creates which requires adequate nutritional support.”

In essence, here is what is involved:

  • using various forms of medical food powders as the foundation for nutritional support over a 7-day period (best selected based on the individual’s BioSignature results)
  • supplementing with greens and reds “superfoods” and glutamine in between meals to alkalize the body and increase nutritional support of detoxification
  • adding in a limited amount of appropriately selected supplements based on the individual’s needs for the cleanse (examples from the Poliquin line – Yang R-ALA to help chelate heavy metals, P1P2 Balance to support phase II detox through the liver, Magnesium Glycinate and Topical Mag cream to lower cortisol from the stress of detoxing, DIM 2.0 to enhance detoxification of estrogens)
  • various forms of physical activity to increase circulation and help mobilize toxins through the body (strength training, massage, infrared sauna, foam rolling)

I began my first day the day after we returned home from the hospital with our newborn son (because hey, why NOT get it all out of the way at once?) and my daily outline looked something like this:

2tbsp Primal Fiber 2
1tbsp Primal Greens or Reds
1tbsp glutamine
15 BCAA Excellence

2-3 scoops Primal Clear 2.0
1tsp glycine
1 DIM 2.0
1 Calcium D-Glucarate
1 D3 Excellence
2 EPA/DHA 720 Blend
3 Yang R-ALA

2-3 scoops Estrogenomics
1tsp glycine
3 Multi Intense Iron Free
1 Methylator Support
2 P1P2 Balance

1tbsp Primal Greens or Reds
1tbsp glutamine
1 DIM 2.0
1 Calcium D-Glucarate
1 D3 Excellence
2 EPA/DHA 720 Blend
3 Yang R-ALA
15 BCAA Excellence

2-3 scoops Primal Clear 2.0
1tsp glycine
3 Multi Intense Iron Free
2 P1P2 Balance

2-3 scoops Estrogenomics
1tsp glycine
1 DIM 2.0
1 Calcium D-Glucarate
1 D3 Excellence
2 EPA/DHA 720 Blend
4 Magnesium Glycinate

1tbsp Primal Greens or Reds
1tbsp glutamine
15 BCAA Excellence
4 Magnesium Glycinate

10pm (bedtime)
2tbsp Primal Fiber 3.1
2 ProFlora Excellence
1 pump Topical Mag (applied to the carotid artery)

Each day for 7 days, you also choose 1 green vegetable to eat an unlimited amount of. I shot for at least 3 cups of each veggie per day using the following – broccoli, celery, spinach, zucchini, cucumber, snow pea pods, and asparagus. After the 4th day, roughly 2 cups a day of brown, wild or purple rice are added back in.

For physical activity, you want to do something every day for about 20-30 minutes to work up a sweat and increase circulation, but you do NOT want to increase lactic acid in the bloodstream. I trained 4 days out of 7, picking 2 exercises and doing 10 sets of 3 with short rest intervals. For example,

A1) Heel elevated back squat, 10×3, 40X0, no rest
A2) Romanian deadlift, 10×3, 50X0, 30 seconds rest

I tried to pick weights that I could handily hit at least 6 reps with under normal training conditions. I also did some form of foam rolling every single day for about 10-15 minutes, and did one 30-minute treatment in an infrared sauna to pull out plastics and heavy metals.

I have had a few clients do this before, as well as my wife, and the first few days are typically the hardest (one of my clients once told me she felt like she had been possessed by a demon she was so irritable the first 3 days), but honestly, the entire 7 days was an absolute cakewalk for me. No headaches, no irritability, no cravings, no sprinting for the bathroom to “free the demons,” nothing. When I finished I felt like I could have handled another week of it with no problems. Not everybody tends to be that lucky though, typically 7 days is more than enough time to make changes and see results.

So what results did I see?  During the week my bodyfat dropped from 11.3% to 10.2%, my scale weight dropped from 166 to 158, and promptly rebounded back to 164 within 2 days of eating regular meals, and my training didn’t suffer.  My digestion has also improved and I’ve been able to reduce caffeine intake by about 25% by resting my adrenals for the week.

If you suffer from IBS, extreme fatigue, estrogen management issues, or are likely to have a buildup of toxins circulating in your body (for example, living in a very metropolitan area such as Chicago, Los Angeles or New York), a 7-day cleanse done once or twice a year may be what your body needs to keep progressing.

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.


Altitude Training at Sea Level

Those of you who have been in the garage at AST in the last few weeks may have seen me pushing the Prowler while wearing a mask that, upon first glance, might look more appropriate on the set of Pulp Fiction than in the gym.  Lifestyle preferences aside, there is actually a significant cardiovascular benefit to using such a mask, called an altitude training mask.  In mixed martial arts and other combat sports, athletes have regularly used high altitude training to take their performance to the next level.

Going into the mountains and training at higher elevations has been a favorite training tool for years, not only for the seclusion and ability to focus on an upcoming event, but from the physical changes made in the body and the blood from training in the thin air of the mountains.  Then, when the athlete returns to their regular elevation they find that they are stronger and faster for longer.  One explanation is that the lack of oxygen forces the body to produce more red blood cells, which are the body’s primary way of delivering oxygen to muscle and other tissues.

So how does this “freak” mask help bring these gains without having to move to the Alps?  The mask helps by creating pulmonary resistance, in other words limiting the flow of oxygen through the mask and forcing the body to increase RBC production to adapt.

In the short time that I have used the mask I have noticed that when in training (sparring, conditioning, weight training, etc.), I’m subconsciously slowing down my breath and I have been able to last a lot longer, with more productive training sessions.  This is important to me because as an MMA fighter, my sport is all about maintaining speed and power longer than the other guy.

High altitude training has also been shown to help those with asthma, since asthma tends to force hyperventilation, and using the training mask requires slowing down breathing and increasing use of the diaphragm muscles.  There is benefit for all types of endurance sports, including running, cycling, triathlon competition and others.  So strap on your “gas mask” and get to work!


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

My 2011 Supplement Protocol

I’ve gotten a few inquiries from some of our clients as to what supplements I actually take myself, since I’m the facility Biosignature practitioner and am responsible for designing protocols for all of our clients.  The following is a breakdown of my daily routine:

2 Multi Intense
3 Ultra HCL 4.0
2 Uber Zinc
1 Methylator Plus 3.0
2 Perfect E 3.0
1 Uber C
1 tsp Omega 3 Liquid

2 Multi Intense
3 Ultra HCL 4.0
2 Uber Zinc
2 Perfect E 3.0
1 Uber C
1 tsp Omega 3 Liquid

Pre-Workout (about 45 minutes prior)
3 Java Stim
2 Fast Brain 2.0

During Workout
30 BCAA Excellence 2.0

Post-Workout (mixed in 500ml water/500ml fruit juice)
45g Whey Stronger 2.0
150g Quadricarb
10g Creatine Monohydrate
15g Glutamine
5g Glycine
3 Glucose Disposal Px
2 Uber C
2 Taurine
2 Magnesium Glycinate

2 Multi Intense
3 Ultra HCL 4.0
2 Uber Zinc
4 Uber Mag Px
2 Perfect E 3.0
1 Uber C
1 tsp Omega 3 Liquid

2x a week I also take 20 D3 Excellence to bring up blood D3 levels.

All of the above supplements are from the Poliquin line, simply because that is what we carry at AST.

A Visit to the Compound

Originally published here:


I recently got the opportunity to visit Elite Fitness Systems in London, Ohio for the first (and hopefully not the last) Learn to Train seminar, with all proceeds going to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Even though I’ve followed the company and have been a customer for several years, this was my first opportunity to visit their on-site training area (nicknamed Area S4, or The Compound) and meet their sponsored athletes and the owner of EFS, Dave Tate.

The first item on the itinerary for the seminar was technical instruction of the 3 power lifts – squat, bench, and deadlift. After Dave took us all through some technical points on one of his lifters (Ted Toalston, who looks a lot bigger in person than in their videos), he asked the group, “so who thinks their squat sucks?” I had my hand in the air before Dave could even turn around, and was lucky (unlucky?) enough to be torn to shreds by Dave, as well as Todd Brock, a friend of Dave’s and a great powerlifter himself.

While I don’t have the most impressive squat in the world, I always thought it was rather technically sound, especially since I am pretty good at hammering the technical aspects into my training clients. However, it seemed like this was one of those cases of “even trainers need trainers,” because I clearly wasn’t practicing what I had been preaching.

The first thing Dave and Todd noticed was my grip – specifically, that I was completely incapable of fully gripping the bar with my left hand, no matter how hard I tried. I’m not sure if it’s something to be proud of or terrified by that it was actually something neither had seen before, and didn’t quite know how to fix. The answer seemed to be widening my grip out substantially and it seemed to take care of it.

Dave and Todd then spent the next 30 or so minutes making tons and tons of adjustments to my technique. Never in my life has it been so painful to squat an empty barbell before, but by the time they got done with me I had a list of things to fix and a smile on my face.

Then we all broke out into stations and received additional one-on-one coaching from some of the EFS-sponsored lifters. I think everybody got a little overzealous with the squat, because the group was originally allotted 30 minutes to practice, but ended up going for about 2 hours. Although, since I saw several personal records broken among even just the small subset of lifters at my station, I don’t think anybody particularly cared that it ran long.

From there we moved on to the bench press, with Dave giving a relatively short, maybe 15-minute breakdown of the performance and leaving the rest up to the coaches who were handling each station.  I think everybody was pretty gassed out from a few hours of squatting and we wrapped things up in about 30-40 minutes.

Last in the technical part of the seminar was the deadlift.  Again, Dave did some quick review and left the coaches to make the bigger corrections.  Although, I did hear Dave give one of the most logical, yet interesting, ways to get males to set up right for the sumo deadlift, which was, simply, “try to drop your nuts onto the bar.”  The best part was seeing all of the metaphorical light bulbs going off over a good twenty heads after he said it.

Since we were running late from a long squatting session, lunch was already there, so Dave told us to alternate between lifting and eating.  Again, we broke out into groups, and Todd Brock was the coach working my station.  Having helped coach my squat with Dave at the beginning of the seminar, he took one look at my deadlift and said, “well, at least we know you’re good for something!”  Which is good, because the deadlift is the one lift I feel pretty comfortable with so it was nice to have a little affirmation.

After we wrapped up the last of the technical part of the seminar, we moved into program design.  While a lot was covered, I think one of the best takeaways for the day was the concept of making sure your programs fulfill 3 requirements – 1. Is it sufficient?, 2. Is it necessary?, and 3. Is it safe?  The idea is that if you have to answer no to any of those things, the program is flawed.  An example given was somebody who makes 3 attempts at a max weight and misses every one – were those last 2 attempts really necessary for the program to work, or was it just motivated by ego?

Finally, maybe about 40% of the group stuck around for the business discussion, where Dave shared the timeline of Elite Fitness Systems and covered a lot of the mistakes that he made in developing and growing the company.  The thing that really impresses me is that Dave is so incredibly open about where he’s gone wrong and doesn’t sugarcoat anything.  I posed a question during the Q&A about a problem I had been having with one of my coaches not catching on fast enough, and after some back and forth he pretty much said (I can’t recall the exact wording) “you’re the one who’s fucking up by not making it clear enough what you want.”  I know some people wouldn’t be as straight-up in their response, and I appreciated the no-BS answer.

I can absolutely guarantee that if Dave ever holds another one of these seminars, I will be going again and taking my entire staff.  Those of us who got to attend this year are definitely a lucky bunch.  Thanks again to Dave, Todd Brock, Jason Pegg, Ted Toalston,  Steve Diel, and everybody from EFS who helped out.  With any luck I hope to see you all next time!

Book Review: Enter the Kettlebell!

Enter the Kettlebell!

About two years ago, I decided that I needed to learn how to train with kettlebells.  I didn’t necessarily feel like I had to drop a couple thousand dollars to go through the certification process, but I at least needed to know how to perform the basic movements without killing myself.  Having known a few RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) instructors already, I knew exactly where to go to learn: Pavel Tsatsouline, the godfather of kettlebell training in America.

Pavel has released probably close to a dozen books on various subjects, from abdominal training to bodyweight training to his idea of what bodybuilding programs should look like, but if there’s one thing he knows, it’s kettlebell training.  He developed the Russian Kettlebell Challenge certification for trainers and instructors and initiated the production of the first kettlebells made in America through Dragon Door.

Dragon Door kettlebells

Back in 2001 Pavel released The Russian Kettlebell Challenge in book form and with a companion DVD, and about the same time began offering his RKC certification courses.  Kettlebell training took off in America, and in the next few years they started popping up in every training studio and commercial gym you can think off.  Hell, even Wal-Mart sells them now, and you can thank (or blame) Pavel for that.

A few years later, Enter the Kettlebell! was released as essentially an updated version of The Russian Kettlebell Challenge, and it too has a companion DVD to take you through all of the technical details that are hard to convey in print.  It’s noted in the book that Pavel has changed some things since the original text, and that the new book takes precedence over the old one.  So bear that in mind if you’re thinking of picking up both books.

Through the book, Pavel covers the basic kettlebell movements: the swing, the snatch, the clean and press, and the getup.  These four movements are the foundation of kettlebell training, and are most likely the biggest “bang for your buck” movements as well.  The technical details are covered quite well, with a ton of pictures on how to perform the various stages of the lifts, as well as some great pics of how NOT to do them as well.  Pavel also has a great sense of humor that is spread throughout the text and photos, which makes it a much easier read than some training books.

One caveat: I’ve heard complaints from beginners that the book is hard to comprehend without the DVD to go with it.  I picked up on the text descriptions just fine with help from the photos, but then again, I have several years of training under my belt so I probably pick up on the little stuff quicker than a newer lifter.  So you may want to dish out a few extra bucks and get the DVD to be safe.  It can’t hurt, it’s just as entertaining as the book, if not a bit more.

One last thing: the warmup movements that Pavel recommends before workouts are worth the price of the book alone.  They’re pretty simple, but amazingly effective.

Rating: 8.5/10
Price: $34.95 from Dragon Door Publications

Book Review: 5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System for Raw Strength

Like most of you out there who have been training for more than a few years, I’ve tried dozens (and I mean dozens) of different programs and workout splits, all promising to “Add 50lbs to Your Squat in 7 Days!” or “Add 1 Inch to Your Arms in 12 Hours!” or whatever other ridiculous claim you can think of.  And, like most of you, I have nothing to show for it except for a bunch of training logs that hop around more than a rabbit on a pogo stick.

That was, until I began training for powerlifting.  When I first began, I discovered conjugate (or Westside) training.  Through Westside training I discovered Dave Tate.  Through Dave Tate I discovered Elite Fitness Ssytems.  And through Elite Fitness Systems I discovered Jim Wendler.

Wendler is a retired elite level powerlifter who also used to train with the Westside Barbell Club, and in the process squatted 1,000lbs, deadlifted 700lbs and benched over 600lbs.  He knows a lot about the system, and answered a lot of questions I had on the EliteFTS Q&A about it, including what he found didn’t work very well for him.  He found that a lot of the notable elements of Westside training don’t work very well for powerlifters who compete raw (that is, without the aid of bench shirts and squat/deadlift suits), including the box squat, bands, chains, and tons of accessory work.  When he retired from powerlifting he began working on a system of training that trimmed out much of what he deemed unnecessary and left in a foundation of a few very basic movements, with a focus on small, continuous improvement over many months and years.  Jim dubbed this system 5/3/1 (named as such because of the simple adjustment in rep ranges from week to week).

Jim Wendler deadlift

In the year or so that I was training using the Westside method, I was, indeed, a raw lifter.  And in that time, I began to notice that, just like Jim said, a lot of the things in the Westside method that work very well for equipped lifters don’t carry over as well to the raw lifter.  I saw many of the testimonials on the EliteFTS website talking about some amazing success stories with 5/3/1, and at the same time I had begun to stall in my own training and was looking for something simple to get me back on track.

I began my experiment with 5/3/1 at the end of September 2009 after having just strained my rotator cuff, so I started with some very conservative “maxes” for the big 4 lifts – military press, deadlift, bench press and squat.  Jim recommends taking 90% of what your best lift is and using that number to base all of your percentages on.  His logic is, it’s better to start too light than too heavy.

Having just tweaked my shoulder, I went even farther and dropped my military press and bench press down to about 75-80% of what I had done recently to give it some time to heal.  I began with the following “training maxes”:

  • Military press – 110lbs
  • Deadlift – 315lbs
  • Bench press – 175lbs
  • Squat – 210lbs

It didn’t take long before I began to see dramatic differences in my numbers.  One of the key points of 5/3/1 is that, on days you feel good, you try to go above and beyond the number of reps you need for your last set (5,3, or 1 depending on the week) and just go balls out.  You shouldn’t do it all the time, but when things are good, you should take advantage.

The numbers speak for themselves.  In 3 months on 5/3/1 I sawthe following changes:

  • Military press: 95×9 to 105×10
  • Deadlift: 270×8 to 315×10
  • Bench press: 150×8 to 175×9
  • Squat: 190×3 to 185×10 and 200×6

Granted, they’re not the huge numbers you see hyped by your average newsstand article, but they’re more substantial progress than I had made in probably the last 18 months leading up to starting the program.

I’m now on my 6th month of 5/3/1, and my numbers are still climbing.  I don’t push for rep maxes as often now as I did during the first few cycles, maybe 1 or 2 training sessions out of every month, but when I do, I’m still setting personal records.  I’ve also incorporated the program with a lot of my clients, and they’ve had similar success stories.

If you find that you’re stuck in a rut with your training, or just need to simplify things a little, give 5/3/1 a try.  But take Jim’s advice and commit to giving it a chance over the long haul.  Start too light, start too slow, and keep making progress long after the guy next to you has burned out on his “Gain 20lbs of Muscle in 18 Minutes!” routine.

Rating: 10/10
Retail: $19.95 (e-book), $24.95 (paperback) from Elite Fitness Systems