All Strength Training Core Challenge July

July Challenge: The Core Challenge

As easy as it is to write off “core training” as just another trendy way to get personal trainers to add another certification to their wall and a few extra letters on their business cards, it’s also not enough to treat core training as another name for abdominal training.  Also, while we often hear that big exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses are great for developing core strength (and they are), that only works if you know how to use your core muscles during those types of lifts.

For our purposes, we’re going to define “the core” as anything responsible for stabilizing the lower spine, the hips, and the pelvis.  More than just the visible abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, if you’re fancy), it also includes the external obliques, the transverse abdominis (the deep abdominals that you can’t see), your erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, and the glutes – medius, minimus, and maximus.

Why Should You Do Core Training?

The primary benefits we’re going to be aiming for during the Core Challenge are going to be:

  • Improved breathing patterns, including better use of the diaphragm
  • Better posture
  • Reduction in back and hip pain or discomfort
  • Stronger glutes and abdominals
  • Better integration of the core into larger lifts such as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses

What Is the Core Challenge?

The Core Challenge involves training these muscles 6 days per week, with one full day of rest, using short workouts and steady progressions.  Instead of doing longer workouts less often, training muscles that you struggle to use well allows you to practice more often and retain the patterns better, no differently than practicing a golf swing, playing an instrument, or learning a new language.

Want to get started? Download the Core Challenge program here.

You can find the video demonstrations for each movement on our YouTube page on our Core Challenge playlist.  Videos will be added one week at a time.



The 4 Week Pullup Challenge Workout

When it comes to fitness “bucket list” goals, for many people it’s as simple as “I want to be able to do one pullup again. Just one!” So we’ve made February officially Pullup Improvement Month here at AST.

Important note: this is the technique that you SHOULD be using when you do a pullup.

So flailing, flopping, bouncing, and generally attempting to imitate a drunk seal jumping through a flaming hoop while surrounded by penguins throwing lawn darts… won’t count.

You’ll start by finding out how much weight you can lift for 1-2 strict, clean reps.  If you can’t lift your entire bodyweight for one rep, you can either use an assisted pullup machine (available at most commercial gyms), or use thick resistance bands attached to the rack or the pullup bar itself (we use resistance bands from EliteFTS here at AST).  By stepping inside the bands it creates assistance, not resistance, allowing you to reduce the size of the bands over time as you get stronger.

Your goal over the course of four weeks is to increase the number of reps you can do with that initial resistance/assistance level, and then re-test your 1-2 rep strength at the completion of the program.

You’ll be performing this workout 2-3 times per week, and it can be done either at the beginning of your workout, at the end, or as a stand-alone on days you normally wouldn’t train.  We’re using it after training sessions with our clients and we’ve removed any pullup variations from our regular programming over the course of the Pullup Challenge to avoid any overuse and fatigue issues that would hinder progress.

Download the 4 Week Pullup Challenge, and leave a comment to let us know how you did!

Single Leg Glute & Hamstring Triset

Most leg workouts, if they happen at all, put a lot of focus on the muscles of the quads with movements like squats, leg presses, and leg extensions, but the hamstrings and glutes are an afterthought, maybe getting a few sets of leg curls at the end of a workout.

This circuit turns everything on its head, putting all of the stress on the glutes and hamstrings and removing the lower back from being a significant factor by keeping the stress on one leg at a time.

3 Keys to Overcoming Roadblocks

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Doing a photo shoot has always been one of those things that I thought was for “other people”. I always had excuse after excuse of why I could never do one – I will never have the right body, I completely lack the confidence, and what if I get bloated the day before! I never set out to do a shoot, it just kind of . . . happened.

#1: It sounds cliché, but don’t give up

After having my third child in February 2013, I remember driving home from the gym hyperventilating between tears. I felt chunky, fat, weak, and all of the other self-sabotaging emotions. I couldn’t even visualize being fit again, let alone seeing my abs. For the next several months, I took it a day at a time. Some days I would feel strong and in control of my food. Other days I would put away a half gallon of ice cream and brownies while feeling like an utter failure. I made a resolution – Have more good days than bad. I wasn’t telling myself it was OK to screw up, but I WAS telling myself not to feel guilty when I did. I was being real. I knew that if I started having more good days than bad, the body I wanted would follow. At that point, my goal wasn’t about a number on a scale or a percent of body fat, it was about not giving up. I did not see a photo shoot as the light at the end of the tunnel, but persistence made it happen. Focus on an action, not a result – you can control the action.

#2: Partner with the Right Coach for YOU

I have had three coaches in the past 18 months. Although all of them were great, credentialed, and produce results, I had to find the one that was the perfect fit . . . for ME. By the third coach, I had found a coach that I could partner with, could ask anything, tell him anything, could be honest and feel no reason to hide anything. I trust him. He has never shamed me or made me feel guilty when I mess up. I respect him, and because of that, I push myself harder in the gym, eat more mindfully, and definitely have more good days than bad. He holds me accountable, and I want to be able to tell him “I killed that workout”.

The value of having an honest relationship with my coach is immeasurable. At one point, I had told him that I had been feeling run down and weak. This feeling persisted for quite a while. He listened and had me de-load my training for a week. He didn’t shame me, he told me I NEEDED to and required me to have a week in the gym where I just had fun. He listened to me and listened to my body. Because of our partnership and full disclosure relationship, he knew I was being 100% honest which allowed him to do his job – take care of me and my body.

My coach has always had my best interest at heart and isn’t afraid to tell me “no”. I sent him a picture of my ideal look and he did not respond with “Sure, let’s do it!” He responded with a challenge, “Take a step back. All of that is wonderful and very good, but needs to be done from a place of self growth, and self love. Not out of a place of pure dissatisfaction and not loving yourself” and a bit of brutal honesty “If I’m being very honest, her body fat percentage is likely messing with her cycle (non-existent). You can maintain NOT FAR off of that. In my opinion, she’s a bit TOO lean to be walking around like that all the time. Some people are genetic freaks – but she’s not one of them haha.”
See – best interest at heart. Conversations like these let you know you have a good coach.


#3: Understanding Needs vs. Wants

It takes time to get to know your body, to understand hunger versus stress, understand muscular fatigue versus emotional exhaustion. It takes time to know when it is OK to have a “cheat” meal and when it is not. It takes practice listening to your body. The ultimate goal is to learn to understand what your body needs versus what you want. As my coach did, he told me to take a de-load week because my body NEEDED it, not because I was bitching and moaning and asked for it.

How do you know when you grasped need versus want? The guilt is removed. If you justify having a donut, but know deep down you shouldn’t, there will be a tinge of guilt attached. Conversely, if you take a day off from the gym because you know yourself well enough to know that your body is zonked and needs a break – there won’t be guilt because you are educated enough to recognize the signs your body is giving off. This understanding goes hand in hand with having a good partnership with a coach. Until you understand your bodies feedback, a good coach can help you interpret what you are feeling.

Deciphering your bodies needs versus wants takes time – but once you grasp it, you will be unstoppable.


I never set out to do a photo shoot, but taking things one step at a time allowed me to get photo ready without crash dieting or over-stressing about it. Give yourself realistic action-based goals, find a coach that you trust, and get real with yourself.

For more about my background and struggles, stayed tuned for more updates.

Are You the Person I’m Looking For?

This went out to all of our newsletter subscribers and clients a few days ago, and now I’m opening it up to all of our social media readers. I am writing this because I have something special to share. If you’re reading this, I think it COULD apply to you. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but I would rather let you make that decision instead of me, as I have been wrong more than once. As some of you may or may not know, I recently began competing in Physique competitions (which I have been thoroughly enjoying, by the way). But this isn’t about me. 52544-zach-trowbridge-11_final It IS about the fact that I am looking for TWO people with similar interests. I am looking to take two people to the stage within the next 12 months. Why? Because it isn’t enough for me to do it myself – if I can’t reproduce the results then it doesn’t really help me continue to grow even more as a coach. So, who am I looking for? I am looking for one client to work with one on one with me personally, as a private client, 4 days per week, for an hour at a time. This person, male or female, should be highly motivated to get into more than just good shape – they need to want something more. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re already a client at All Strength Training or not – it’s open to anybody! I am also looking for one person to work with remotely. This person probably won’t live close enough to train with me one on one, but you’ll get the next best thing. Customized nutrition, programming, and weekly Skype consult, and more. Now, the good part. I am not going into this with a particular set cost in mind. I would rather have the right people who will do what’s needed, rather than just those with the most disposable income. So I’m not putting a price tag on it yet – if you’re the person for the job, we can work that out later. 12 week transformation So what do I get out of it? 1. Promotion. Yes, I will use you to promote our services. On our website, through social media, in print, etc. Consider it a trade for offering this at well below what I would typically charge. 2. Data. You’re a beta tester for all of my nutrition, training, and supplementation protocols. So we will keep lots of records together, you and I. Workouts, pictures, measurements, consistently and regularly. How Do You Apply? Reply to this e-mail or send an e-mail to me personally at In about 500 words (a few paragraphs), describe what you want from me. How you want to look, what competition you would like to do, who you would like to look like, and tell me why I should pick you. Please, also specify if you want to be considered for one on one or remote training. Lastly, tell me what inspires you. People, places, activities, anything. I want to know what drives you to be a better person and motivates you to get out of bed each day. If you read this and think this isn’t for you, I understand. Not everyone wants or needs to go to the level I’m asking for this project. I would ask, however, that if you know someone who fits the bill, that you share this with them so that they might have the opportunity to be considered. Until Next Time, Zach Trowbridge

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.

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?

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!


Guest Post: The Kettlebell Challenge Workout

Zach’s note: Since I have been having a hard time keeping regular content flowing to the site, I’ve asked some of my close friends and colleagues to help out with some guest posts.  Today’s post comes from fellow trainer (and former boss) Forest Vance, an RKC-certified kettlebell instructor from Sacramento, California.  Here we go!


I have a new kettlebell/body weight challenge workout for you today … but first, I want to make sure you understand how a workout like this would fit into a long-term kettlebell programming scheme.

Do you stick to a structured and periodized kettlebell program – or do you “mix it up” and change your workouts constantly?

Are you endlessly searching out new kettlebell exercises and workouts to try, at the expense of starting and finishing a single, complete, solidly designed routine?

Bad news – you have Kettlebell ADHD.

All the variety sounds cool at first – new fun workouts, lots of different kettlebell exercises to impress your friends, etc. …

And changing your workouts over time is a good thing to keep your body from adapting.

The problem, though, is that with too much KB exercise/workout variety, it’s almost impossible to learn all the moves correctly in any reasonable amount of time – especially if you’re a kettlebell beginner.

The key is to stick with a program just long enough (typically 4-6 weeks) to see results, but not long enough to adapt and stall out your progress.

Now that’s out of the way:) … on to the challenge workout:

A cool, unique, and fun workout thrown in OCCASIONALLY and at the RIGHT TIME in an established and structured workout program is actually GREAT for accelerating results and keeping your workouts interesting.

Here’s a kettlebell/body weight challenge workout for you … just remember that this is intended as a one-off challenge you do maybe once per month or so – and NOT a regular program:

  • power jacks
  • push ups
  • reverse lunges
  • knee-to-elbow mountain climbers
  • KB swings

Do 20 reps of each exercise.  Perform the workout circuit-style, moving from one exercise to the next with as little rest as possible.  Do five rounds of the circuit for time.

Watch this video for a full breakdown of the routine:

In summary, challenge workouts are a killer way to accelerate your results and keep your workouts interesting – programmed correctly, and used at the right time.  Use the one in today’s article and video to get you started, and let us know how you do!

Good luck and train hard –

Forest Vance, MS, RKC II

Forest Vance holds a Master’s degree in Human Movement and personal training certifications through the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

He is also a Level II Russian Kettlebell Challenge Certified Instructor, Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist, Certified Performance Enhancement Specialist, and Certified Fitness Nutrition Coach.

Over the last 8 years, Forest has experience as a personal trainer, group fitness/boot camp instructor, fitness manager, and health club general manager.

He currently works as the owner and head trainer at his Sacramento functional training gym.

He also maintains a network of fitness-related websites, makes regular guest appearances on many others, has been featured in national newspaper, radio, television, and other media.

He is the creator and author of numerous books, DVD’s, and digitally delivered workout programs and systems.

To learn more and to get a free copy of his Beginner’s Guide to Kettlebell Training, check out his website at