Halftime

It’s halftime 2017. We’re into summer now, time for beaches, barbecues, vacations and fun. It also means the year is halfway over. Remember six months ago when you decided you were going to do all these great things this year? Are you on track?

Most of us start the year off all fired up about all the changes we’re going to make. Then a few weeks or months in we let ourselves get sidetracked. Maybe this happened to you.

We have six months left to finish all the things we set out to do in ‘17. Perhaps you’re on track and you’ve been diligently marching towards your goals. That’s awesome. I suspect you’re in the minority though.

For the rest of us, this is a call to action. New Year’s isn’t the only time you can resolve to change for the better.

If your goal is to lose 100 lbs or 50 lbs or whatever, and it hasn’t happened yet, don’t give up. If you wanted to add 100 lbs or however much to your squat and you’re not on pace, don’t quit.

Each meal is an opportunity to get back on task to your fat loss goal.

Each day is a chance to have a great workout.

Progress never happens as fast as we’d like it. And it definitely doesn’t happen if we don’t put in the work consistently.

So, if you’ve let the first six months of ‘17 slip through your fingers, there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t get the time back. It’s pointless to dwell on feeling bad about it.

Instead, let’s regroup, refocus, and rededicate ourselves to take action in the right direction. Today.

Just like halftime in a basketball or football game, it’s time to game plan for the second half. There is nothing we can do about the score of the first half. That is done. Figure out the things that have been working well. Discern the things that areas that haven’t. And come up with a strategy for accomplishing our goals.

Swearing to eat perfectly and workout daily for the rest of the year is pointless. We just proved we won’t do that, didn’t we?

Concentrate on making a conscious choice to narrow our focus. Don’t worry about October or December now. You know your long term goals. But they’re often abstract and seem far away. It’s time to take daily action towards them.

Small, daily progress towards the target adds up over time. The steps we take daily are tangible and measurable.

Do one thing to put you closer to your goals today. One thing. Today.

If you’re trying to drop fat, maybe the thing is choosing to have a smaller meal for lunch today. Or going for a walk. If you’re looking to build muscle and strength, make sure you have a great workout today. Give 100% effort.

Let’s go!

Thanks for reading. Any comments or questions, leave ’em below.

Minimum Effective Dose

Minimum effective dose. A three-word phrase meaning just enough to have an effect. It’s great when it comes to medicine. You take only as much as you need to in order to get better. Taking more won’t make you heal faster. Taking too much will actually make you sick.

There’s a tendency to think that “more is more” when it comes to fitness. More weights. More sets. More reps. Longer sessions. It’s certainly true that increasing these things can be beneficial… but only up to a point.

As you do more, you’ll encounter the law of diminishing returns, where (in this context) each marginal increase in effort is no longer matched by an increase in results. This is a really frustrating place to be.

Imagine (or remember when) you’re first starting out training. Each workout you see improvement. Many call this period “newbie gains.” There are reasons for this but they can easily be summed up thus: at the beginning you have nowhere to go but up. As you get more and more experienced, you’ll see the rate of your improvement gradually slow down.

Training is about stimuli and adaptation. Your workouts provide a stimulus your body isn’t used to. With proper rest and recovery, your body adapts to the previous stimulus. In other words, the first time you try to run a mile, it’s difficult. The second time it’s easier. Congratulations, you’re in slightly better shape. The downside is it will now take a slightly greater stimulus to cause your body to adapt further.

By the way, this cycle doesn’t just happen in fitness. At one point, you found it challenging to read single letters. The fact that you’re reading this now means your brain adapted. You learned more complex words and sentences and now you can read. (Insert your own joke here about articles continuing to stimulate brain growth).

Minimum effective dose should allow you to keep gaining steadily for a long time. You leave yourself as much space to add more things as you can.

It’s about sustaining progress over the long term.

Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be. Start simple. You can always add complexity later if it’s necessary. Start off slowly. Fitness isn’t about getting as lean or as strong as possible as quickly as you can. It’s about being healthy and having a high quality of life sustained over the long run.

It’s very tempting to try to ramp up as fast as possible (to lose 50 lbs. or get that 315 lb. bench press NOW!) right? There’s a definite cost. Losing weight as rapidly as possible means you’ll lose muscle and strength as well as fat. You’ll have to deprive yourself of foods you enjoy. Are you really going to live the rest of your life without any carbs? Is this sustainable? What does this mean about the rest of your life?

Put another way, if you start at full speed, what do you do when that stops working? You cut out all the “bad” foods, you workout 2 hours a day, 7 days a week. At first it worked really well but a couple months in your progress has stalled. Now what do you do?

Using the minimum effective dose means that you have room to adjust when your rate of progress begins to stall. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to focus on training hard and eating smart. You need that in order to achieve your goals. But you don’t have to live an ascetic life to get what you want.

Your training should be challenging, no question. But it doesn’t need to leave you feeling destroyed after the workout. If you’re trying to lose fat, your calorie deficit should be just enough to keep the train moving, not the bare minimum to keep you alive. If you’re trying to put on mass, your surplus should be sufficient that you’re not adding a lot more fat than muscle.

Thanks for reading!

The Grind?

Okay, so this post is going to be a little bit of a rant. You’ve been warned.

It’s really common to hear people use the term “grind”. I hear it all the time in the context of work and also health and fitness.

“You gotta grind.”

“I’m on my grind.”

“Grind every day.”

I admit it’s a semantic thing and in the grand scheme, is it all that important? Probably not. But I think what is important is to be intentional in the way we think and the way we use words.

Let’s start with a definition: Grind v. to reduce to powder by friction. When people recommend everyone always be on the grind, I picture this kind of pulverizing. I think it’s stupid.

The point of fitness isn’t to crush you to powder, it’s to build you up. Or, as I like to call it, the complete opposite. Obviously this involves hard work. You’re not likely to see good results over time if you don’t put in the work. There’s no disputing this.

I suspect people use “grind” because they want to extol the virtue of hard work and get people to understand that it’s never going to be easy. This is a valuable message. I also think it’s often their way of saying, “look how hard I’m working! I’m awesome!” which is just bragging.

Maybe picturing yourself grinding yourself or something into particles is motivating to you. It isn’t to me. It seems painful, repetitive, boring and fruitless.

Doing the work it takes to get the physique you want isn’t going to be the most fun thing ever every day, but it should be enjoyable. Is it repetitive? Yes, somewhat. You will have to learn to enjoy the process. But it doesn’t have to be boring. If it’s painful, you are doing it wrong. If it’s fruitless, you are really doing it wrong.

My main point is I think it’s much better to see yourself building you up. Your weight may go up or down, depending on your goal, but make no mistake: you are building. Your habits, discipline, strength, fitness, and confidence will all improve.
bricks-167072_640

Build > Grind

Rant over. Hopefully, this gives you something to think about.

Thanks for reading.

Easy Meal Prep

Let me say first off, I’m not a good cook. Some people really love cooking. They look forward to shopping for ingredients, prepping everything. They cook with love. They even hum while they do it. Strangest of all to me, they don’t mind washing all the dishes after.

I am not one of those people. Don’t get me wrong, I like food. I don’t love it. I know that means many of you will think I’m the weird one. I’m cool with that.

If you’re an oddball like me, this is for you.

Get thee a slow cooker. I’m mad I only “discovered the magic” a couple years ago. It’s made meal prep so much easier.

I got tired of spending upwards of $75 a week on overpriced food and being frustrated dealing with the lunchtime crowds.

With a slow cooker, you can prepare a week’s worth of food in just a few minutes. You put everything in the pot and hours later it’s ready. Then you put it in containers for each day and you’re good to go.

Don’t worry, this isn’t actually an infomercial.

If you value easy preparation and saving time it’s pretty much amazing.

It’s a great way to make sure you’re hitting your macros targets (protein, fats, can carbs) in a cost-effective and delicious way.

The advantages are:

  1. Convenience
  2. Cost effectiveness
  3. Easy prep
  4. Easy clean up
  5. Little time commitment
  6. Delicious meals for the whole week

An example of a go-to meal prep is this:

~1000 g (raw) chicken thighs

~750-~1000g red potatoes

Spinach and baby carrots (Choose a couple vegetables you like and go crazy)

Add salt, pepper (or whatever seasoning you like)

~16 oz of chunky salsa (I also use Italian dressing. Again, it’s totally up to you)

Everything goes in the slow cooker, I set it for 10 hours. You don’t even have to pay attention! When the time is up the cooker switches to a warming setting so your food won’t burn. The food comes out tender and juicy.

I divide it into containers and put them in the refrigerator and I’m set for the week.

The macros for this would be roughly:

Chicken: 350 calories, 48 g protein, 16 g fat

Potatoes: 100-140 calories, 3 g protein, 0.2 g fat, 24-32 g carbs

Salsa: 140 calories, 28g carbs

The macros for the veggies are so small I don’t really count them. The beauty of vegetables is they provide a bunch of micronutrients (minerals and vitamins) and volume without very many calories at all.

Oh, I almost forgot, the clean up is really easy too!

I know many of you discovered the value in slow cookers long ago and to you I say, why didn’t you tell me sooner?

If you haven’t tried it, give it a go. It’s so simple to tailor the ingredients to foods you’ll enjoy!

Thanks for reading.

The 5 Best Back Exercises

5 Great Back Exercises

The back is a body part that tends to be neglected for the obvious reason that we can’t easily see it in the mirror. We can plainly view ourselves in the gym’s mirrors working on the beach muscles in the front. While that’s fun, let’s show the back some love.

Ignoring the back means missing out on lots of gains and more importantly, risking muscle imbalances and potential injury.

An over-developed front side (e.g. chest, anterior shoulders, etc.) can lead to tight musculature and a hunched over look, kind of like a gorilla. This means the muscles in the back are weak and over-stretched.

From a side view, there should be a virtual straight vertical line from your ears, past your shoulder, past the hip, leg, and ankle. An imbalance of the front side would pull the shoulder forward, in front of the ear.

Making sure to incorporate back exercises will help you maintain proper alignment. Oh yeah, it will also get you a strong and awesome looking back, too. Look good, feel good, be better at life, right?

Here are 5 of my favorite back exercises:

Deadlifts

This is first because it’s the best one. This isn’t exclusively a back exercise. When done correctly, it’s a compound exercise which works your entire posterior chain. Compound means it works more than one muscle group and more than one joint. Posterior chain is a fancy term for all the muscles on the back of your body. Deadlifts train your butt, hamstrings, and back. These are some of the largest and strongest muscles in the body. This means you’ll be able to work up to some pretty heavy weights and train your whole body efficiently.

Weighted Pull-Ups

You don’t have to use added weights to benefit from it. In fact, being able to do pull-ups in itself is pretty impressive. Pull-ups are another compound movement. They mainly work your latissimus dorsi (the large muscles on either side of your back). But they also target your shoulders, biceps, smaller muscles in the back, and your forearms and hands.

Adding weight obviously makes pull-ups more difficult and also more rewarding. Without it, your options for efficiently developing strength are limited. There are other ways to increase the progressions of pull-ups but being able to add weight is really efficient.

Varying the width of your grip slightly changes the emphasis of the pull-ups. Positioning your hands wider will focus more on the outer lats. Pulling with your hands closer together will focus more on the lower lats. It’s a good idea to incorporate a mix of both for better back development.

If you’re not able to do pull-ups yet, don’t worry. You can start with the lat pulldown machine. Another way to work your way up to pull-ups is to do negatives. Negatives are when you focus on the lowering part of the exercise. For this, you jump up to the bar and hold yourself in same position you would as if you’d just completed a pull-up. As slowly as you can, lower yourself until your arms are almost fully extended. Drop from the bar and then jump back up for the next repetition.

 

Weighted Chin-Ups

Chin-ups are a variation of pull-ups that work the same muscles, but a little differently. With pull-ups, your palms will grip the bar facing away from you (a.k.a. a pronated grip). For chin-ups you use and underhand grip, so your palms will face you (a.k.a. a supinated grip). This causes the biceps to be more involved in the pulling than they are with pull-ups.

You’ll see some pull-up bars will have handles you can use where your hands will face each other (a.k.a. a neutral grip).

 

 

Bent Over Barbell Row

Those two are examples of a vertical pulling lift. You want to make sure to hit some horizontal pulling too. Bent over barbell rows are a great way to develop your lats, rhomboids, trapezius and biceps. There are several versions of rows you can choose from.

 

 

A variation I like to use is dumbbell rows. Dumbbells require each arm work independently so you’ll ensure both sides are trained equally.

If you prefer machines, a seated row or a cable row can train these muscles similarly.

For you body weight exercise enthusiasts, you’ll love inverted rows. You can use a bar or suspension straps.

 

 

Good Mornings

Last up on this list of go-to back exercise are good mornings (I have no idea why they’re called that by the way).  It’s a hip hinging movement great for strengthening the lower back as well as the glutes and hamstrings.

 

There you have it. By no means is this an exhaustive list of all the possible back exercises.  Add these five to your training so you’ll be balanced, front and back. They’re a solid base you can use to build a strong, functional back that looks great!

Thanks for reading. Let me know your favorite back exercise in the comments!

 

 

Use Reverse Pyramid Training to Keep Making Gains

How Reverse Pyramid Training Can Help You Keep Making Gains

In this post I’m discussing Reverse Pyramid Training and how it can help you get stronger. No, it’s not magic. But it’s an efficient tool you can use to improve your lifts without spending all day at the gym. If you have all day to spend at the gym, that’s cool. Most people don’t. RPT is a good way to get the most bang for your buck on your compound lifts.

RPT is when you start your working sets with the heaviest weight. You will want to warm-up first, of course. Skipping a proper warm-up is a great way to get injured. If you’re injured, you can’t train. So don’t get injured. I like to use a really light weight for 10 repetitions. Then rest a minute and go a little bit heavier for 5 repetitions. After another minute of rest, one last warm-up set of 1-2 repetitions and you’re ready to go. The concept here is to find the sweet spot where you’re warmed up and acclimated for your working sets but not fatigued.

Then rest 2 minutes before starting the first working set. Since you’ll only be using this weight for one set you can give it your all. Shoot for 4 repetitions. Rest a full 3 minutes. It may seem counterintuitive, but we’re aiming for strength not just a pump. The full rest period allows your muscles to fully recover. For the second working set you lower the weight by about 10% and aim for 6 repetitions. Rest for 3 minutes and you’re ready for your last working set on this exercise. Reduce the weight by another 10%. Your target is 8 repetitions.

 

Reverse Pyramid
Reverse Pyramid Training

If you find on any of the sets you can’t hit the minimum number of repetitions, the weight is too heavy (for instance, if you can’t get that 4th repetition in the first working set). Don’t be hard headed about it. Reduce the weight on the bar. Just back down and build back up. It’s no big deal and it happens to all lifters at some point. Sometimes one step back to take two steps forward really is the best way.

In contrast, regular pyramid training looks like this:

 

Pyramid
Pyramid Training

The benefit of RPT is you hit the heaviest weight when you’re freshest. Normal pyramid training is where you add weight to each subsequent working set. It does work, but obviously, by your last sets you’re already fatigued. This means your 4-repetition max will be lower than it would be if you attempted it at the beginning, as you would when using RPT. Also, RPT is far less of a grind. You focus on the one really heavy set. The subsequent sets allow for some volume work without wearing you down.

Before a muscle gets bigger, it must get stronger. You can train hard or you can train long, doing both is impossible. RPT is designed to help you get stronger in a time-efficient way. Lifting heavy means you’ll recruit almost all the muscle fibers. With regular pyramid training, the first few sets are easy and don’t require full muscle activation. But they do fatigue you before you get to your last and heaviest sets. Reverse Pyramid Training has you lift your heaviest when you’re strongest.

Your muscles will remain activated for the next sets as well. The first few repetitions will feel almost too easy. These sets allow you to get in enough volume without grinding your muscles and joints into dust.

As you get stronger, you will be able to do more repetitions. Your goal should be to add repetitions each session, or at least each week. Using RPT you’ll go from doing 4 repetitions to being able to get 6 repetitions of the same weight for your top set. Similarly, you’ll increase the reps for the next sets from 6 to 8 and from 8 to 10, respectively. Once you’re able to go from 4, 6, and 8 to 6, 8, and 10, you bump up the weights for all the sets. For lower body lifts you can increase the weight by 10 lbs. to each side of the barbell. For upper body lifts add 5 lbs. per side. Small, consistent jumps is the way to go. Now you go back to 4, 6, and 8 repetitions. And congratulations, you’re stronger!

Use RPT for your primary compound lifts, like squat, deadlift, bench and overhead press. You’re doing your heaviest lifting while you’re at your strongest, so you can optimize your gains. It allows for the most intensity without you having to do a huge number of sets and spending unnecessary hours at the gym.

It’s one more tool you can use to keep improving.

Give it a shot! Thank you for reading and leave a comment below.

Are Fundamentals Boring?

How Can Fundamentals Make You Better?

The fundamentals of anything are those things you’ll do day in and day out, countless times on your way to proficiency. Major League Baseball players take swings at a ball on a tee. NBA players shoot free throws at practice. Musicians do scales. They do these even when they’re already considered experts.

So, to answer the question in the title: are they boring? Yes and no. There are only 26 letters in our alphabet. Only 12 musical notes (any musicians out there, please feel free to correct me… nicely). Learning them doesn’t take too much time. Once you know the basics, you’ll understand how to tweak them to adjust when necessary. A new book or song doesn’t have new letters or notes, but a valuable new and unique arrangement. But without the focus on fundamentals you…

The fundamentals of fitness are proper nutrition, training, and recovery. Each is like a leg on a three-legged stool. Eat good food, maintain an appropriate energy balance with about 80% adherence. A life of deprivation is no life at all. If you eat well most of the time, that 20% allows you to have minor indulgences we all enjoy without sabotaging your progress. You want your training to be centered around compound exercises and consistent progression. The importance of rest and recovery are often understated. You need all three legs in order to have a stool that actually works.

What are the fundamentals of nutrition?

It seems like every day there’s a new piece on the “right” things to eat. The truth about fads is they’re designed to get you to click the link. Most people selling them don’t care if the information is accurate.

There are only a few fundamental blocks about nutrition. Base your diet around good, fresh food. If it’s got a ton of ingredients or preservatives, it’s not great for you. Get the best quality protein, fats and carbs you can afford. Different people have different tastes, so what works for someone else might not work best for you. People have success eating paleo, or vegetarian, or vegan, or whatever. A diet based on sugary snacks or fast food is not going to be optimal (you already know that, don’t you?). But remember, you don’t have to be perfect. Shoot for the 80% adherence and don’t sweat the rest.

I’m being intentionally vague here. This is about principles. You have to figure out what specifically works best for your situation.

That’s what to eat, but how do you know how much? This depends on a few things. If you’re trying to stay the same weight, you want to eat at maintenance level. Maintenance level calories just means you eat the same amount of calories as your burn. You know you’re doing this if your weight on the scale is relatively consistent over time. There will be some fluctuations day-to-day which don’t really mean much. They’re likely due to water retention.

If your clothes are fitting tighter and the number on the scale is going up, that means you are in a calorie surplus. You are taking in more calories than you are burning. If this is what you want, good. But what if it isn’t?

If you’re trying to lose fat, you will need to be in a calorie deficit. This is when you burn more calories than you eat. The best long-term strategy is to have a moderate deficit. Figure out what your maintenance calories are and subtract 10-25%. The remainder is the amount you should eat. The smaller the deficit, the easier it will be to sustain the process. A large deficit will leave you feeling more tired and more hungry than you need to be, which makes bingeing more likely and without the lasting results you want.

Steak

Important note: Carbs are healthy. Fats are healthy. Protein is healthy. Many in the health and fitness industry like to demonize one of these three macronutrients.

Broadly speaking: Carbohydrates give us easy-to-use energy. Eating fats allows our bodies to better function hormonally. Consuming protein gives our bodies the necessary building blocks for muscle and other necessary tissue.

You want to consume all three macronutrients for better health.

But how much? For protein aim for about 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. So a person weighing 150 lbs. Should have around 150 grams of protein per day. Protein has 4 calories per gram, so 150 grams yields 600 calories in this example. For you, take your number of calories of protein per day from the total number of daily calories. This gives you the remainder calories for the day which you split between carbs and fats in the most satisfying way for you personally.

What are the fundamentals of training?

The most important thing is to find something you like to do. Even if there were an ideal training program (which there isn’t), if you don’t enjoy it, you’re not going to do it. Maybe you’d do it for a while but eventually you’d quit. So, again, find something you like doing and do it consistently. Whether it’s hiking, walking, recreational sports, swimming, whatever, have fun. If your goal is overall health, this is all you need.

If your goals include increasing strength or reshaping your body, I would recommend some sort of weight training. There’s a wide variety of modalities to choose from so I’m confident there’s something you’ll like. Bodyweight training, weightlifting, or yoga are a few examples.

Whichever you choose, get proficient with the basic movements. I can’t say this enough: use proper form. Use proper form. Use proper form. Seek continual gradual progression. For bodyweight movement or yoga this will likely involve more complicated positions. For weight training it’s using increasingly heavy weights. Compound lifts like the squat, deadlift, pull-ups, and presses are fundamental movements.

When you first start any program, just the fact that you are learning something new will cause improvement. Your body will soon adjust and you will stall. This is why consistent gradual progression is so important. It’s how you keep getting better.

What are the fundamentals of rest and recovery?

Rest and recovery may sound like the time when not a lot is happening. But it’s a vital aspect that’s easy to neglect. Your body needs time to repair. If you’ll indulge an imperfect metaphor comparing your body to a race car: the nutrition is the fuel that allows the training, which is speeding the car along the track. The rest and recovery is the time spent in the garage where the maintenance crew makes repairs and adjustments so that the car can go faster, longer the next time.

Getting the right amount of sleep will better allow your body to repair itself. The saying, you don’t get stronger in the gym, you get stronger in your sleep is accurate. You have to give your body a chance to use the nutrients in your food to rebuild you from the inside. For most of us this means about 6-8 hours of quality sleep per night. You probably won’t feel the effects of a lack one night, but it compounds quickly if you make it a habit. You’ll be more likely to get sick. It will be harder to concentrate, you’ll make more mistakes at work. You’ll be more prone to make bad decisions.

As it’s important to be consistent with your food and your training, it also matters when it comes to rest. Try to maintain a set schedule. Obviously there will be times when you have to stay up later or wake up earlier. Again, if you shoot for 80% you’ll be good.

Good food, energy balance. Solid training striving for progression over time. Rest and recovery. Over and over again. These will get you where you want to go.

Thanks for reading and please leave a comment below!