If I had to say what the biggest difference in the way I trained a year ago and the way i train now is, the difference would be bullheadedness.

To clarify, a year or two ago, I trained under the assumption that, because I’d read a couple of books, I knew all I needed to know. Not just the knowledge to get strong, but I was so smart I was going to reach my natural genetic potential. I’d see people doing exercises in the gym (exercises that I either didn’t like or wasn’t familiar with) and say, “Well, those might work for them, but I’m way different; I don’t need to [insert exercise here].” It was an ego boost to feel like I was doing the master-supremo-maximus workout and know that I had all the secrets to lifting heavy. Right up until someone would come in and hoist Pumping Iron-heavy weight and I’d be like, “Oh I’ll get there eventually.”

I think you really have to have someone come in and shock you with how much better they are than you for you to really give an honest assessment of where your mind and body are at.

You really have to get rid of the, “That works for them, but it won’t work for me, I’ll keep doing this,” mindset. I’d really been cheating myself every time I’d see someone come in and throw a couple hundo up and think to myself, “I’ll keep doing what I’m doing to get there,” as opposed to, “What the hell is this guy doing.”

Three people I’ve seen in my gym really come to mind (really because I’ve been able to watch what they do). These are really strong guys.

Two are essentially the grand masters of front and back squats, respectively. I’d come in and see them put 405 on the bar and push some reps and immediately think, “I hate squats, I am not good at squats.” Eventually, you reach a point where you have an internal dialogue that goes something like this:

>I want to squat big

>Okay, then do squats

>B-but I don’t like squats and they hurt

>Then stop lifting, nobody likes a guy that skips leg day

I think it’s a humbling moment to have made legitimate progress, but realize that what’s been holding you back is your lack of cojones.

For the longest time, my chest lagged behind everything else I did. It still does, but lets tell ourselves I’ve made progress. I got away with telling myself and others that I’d dislocated my shoulder (sophmore year of highschool) and couldn’t [read: didn’t want to] bench. Then I started to bench and eventually was just doing 3×6 bench every time I worked upper body, expecting to see results.

Enter the third guy.

Picture in your mind the physical manifestation of the words “human tank.” Chances are you have pictured him correctly: the widest set of shoulders I’ve ever seen and a gigantic chest. I’d come in and whenever I’d see him, the heaviest weights on the dumbbell racks would all be missing. About ten feet from the racks were 100, 110, and 120 lb dumbbells strewn about. Nicest guy you’ll ever meet, but an absolute beast. By then I’d had my epiphany: I was going to steal this guy’s chest routine.

I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing someone else’s routine. In fact, you shouldn’t feel bad about it. It’s an homage. Seeing someone with a great chest or great legs and not saying, “I need to do what he’s doing,” is what wasted so much of my time.

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Been a while since my last post.

This one deals with exactly what the title says. How do you get ripped quick?

Well, that depends on your definition of “ripped.” Maybe your “ripped” is my “shredded,” or my “ripped” is your “cut.” We’ll deal with that later.

Something a lot of people overlook is diet. In fact, I’d say that diet is about half of the equation to having a good body, getting ripped, being healthy, et cetera. What many people will tout as a “good diet” is not something well suited to a lot of muscle mass. Lots of people will tell you, “oh yeah I’ve been eating a lot of Clif bars lately, dude,” or “man, you should get, like, more complex carbs and stuff.” These people have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.

“What do I do then?”

Well, the best solution that I’ve found is Paleo. What is Paleo? It’s eating only what your ancestors would have eaten. It is, in many respects, similar to a gluten-free diet in the sense that you do not eat grains. Crazy, in this world of HFCS that we live in, but if you have the money or the perseverance to go through with the diet, you will see immediate and lasting changes in both your physical condition and your energy levels (even mood, to some degree).

The guidelines for Paleo are these:
– Don’t eat things that your hunter-gatherer ancestors wouldn’t have eaten (chocolate, ice cream, sorbet, Snickers, HFCS, etc.)

Pretty simple. But what is implied in this singular principle is what is important. The science behind the eat-like-your-hunter-gatherer-ancestors idea is solid. Science has arrived at something called the Glycemic Index. The GI of a food is simply how quickly it makes your blood sugar rise after you eat it. Why is this important? Well, that deserves its own paragraph

When sugar enters your system, your pancreas secretes insulin, which has the effect of lowering blood sugar, increasing anabolic functions of the body, and causing fat deposition. Insulin is released based on the demands of the body at that moment, as a safeguard against potentially neurotoxic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). When you eat things that have a high glycemic index and eat a lot of it, your body has to secrete insulin to maintain a homeostatic balance in your blood and prevent you from damaging your body. All the sugar that would have made your nerves die off (as they do in diabetes) is now going straight into storage – fat. Insulin is the key factor in all of this, and it’s not the villain. Sugar is. Equally important is the fact that people tell you, “don’t eat fat, it makes you fat. ESPECIALLY SATURATED FAT.” Not true. Fat, unless it’s coupled with an insulinotropic food (causes insulin release), won’t be deposited into your adipose tissue to the same degree that sugar is. Your body, especially if you’re a male, NEEDS saturated fat. Low sat. fat causes low testosterone. I’m guessing you wouldn’t enjoy that.

Now, when I’m doing Paleo, I simply don’t have the time to do all the meal prep. So I get as close as possible. Cheese is okay, chicken tenders aren’t bad, and beef jerky is God. I’ll post a link to an awesome Paleo recipe website at the end.

Another diet tip: meal timing. A popular trend lately is people telling you to snack all through the day. “Five meals a day, to keep your metabolism boosted up,” they will say. Resist the urge to listen to them. They are unenlightened.

What to do? Intermittent Fasting. IF, like its brother Paleo (which, when coupled together are the best cutting method i’ve found) is loosely based upon what we assume our hunter gatherer ancestors did. While on the prowl, you don’t eat until you capture and kill something or you find it. IF 16/8 is the method I use, and I’m happy with it. Fast for 16 hours of the day and feast for 8. During a feast, you eat all of the calories that you were going to eat over the course of the day in that set amount of time. The science behind this again deals with insulin. When you eat five times over the course of the day, you’re experiencing five separate insulin spikes over the course of the day, keeping you anabolic (fat-depositing) almost the full day. During IF, you sleep then wake, and for however long you’re awake until your feast, you’re catabolic (fat-consuming). Ideally, you have your day’s workout just before your feast’s start so that you finish your lift (or whatever) and immediately start the anabolism that will help you rebuild (on paleo, you’re getting some awesome red meats and fats to help rebuild, too).

Now that we’re done with diet, on to training.

During my cut, I switched to a split (upper-lowerbody, alternating, ABxABxA), and have seen some crazy results. Because of restricted diet, you’re going to want to focus more on certain parts in the gym. I was finding that my modified big three program (Bench, Squat, and DL plus accessories every day) was getting really hard to do in the gym. Just motivation and energy running dry. The split is the perfect solution. Just as well, it allows you to focus more on each muscle group with separate exercises.

Focusing on stupid exercises will not get you anywhere, especially at this point in your training. Focus on the classic movements. Suffice it to say, nine different types of curls will not get you anywhere and I’ve never seen anyone get huge pecs by doing nothing but crazy-looking chest flyes every day. In the interest of your time, I’ll post my routine here for you, and you can take from it what you will.

All exercises to be done with the max weight for that amount of reps.

Chest/upper back day:

Overhead Press 3×6
Barbell Rows 3×8
Bench Press 2 sets warmup, 2×6, 1×8
Underhand bench press, 10, 8, 6
Wide grip pullups weighted, 8, 7, 6
Dips, 2×7
Kroc Rows 3×10
Hammer curls (cheating slightly) 8,7,6
Lateral raises 3×8
Heavy cheating shrugs 3×8
Hanging leg raises 10,8,6

Leg/lower back day

Deadlift 2 sets warmup, 3×5
Lowbar Back Squat 2 sets warmup 3×6
Calf raises (increased ROM) 3×8
Weighted Lunges 3×12 each side
Weighted Overhead Lunges 2×12 each side
Hanging Leg raises 10,8,6

Keep in mind, this is an advanced/intermediate program, and will probably leave you crippled with DOMS if you are new to lifting. My leg day still leaves me with crippling DOMS.

With the diet/training principles explained above, following them strictly you should see results in about a week, with noticeable gains in shreddedness about three weeks.

Feel free to post any questions you may have!

Paleo eating link: http://www.paleofood.com/

I talk about recovery and rest days, overtraining, and mistakes made

Video  —  Posted: 02/01/2013 in Uncategorized
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As a PT, a post like this is obligatory.

How do you get six-pack abs?

Two things: muscular hypertrophy and low bodyfat percentage. It’s as simple as that. How does it work so simply? Think about it – the “abs” are just a muscle, and like every muscle there are only two things you can do to alter its appearance: induce hypertrophy and make it bigger or reduce the layer of fat that rests on top of the muscle.

These same principles apply to the Rectus Abdominus (the abs).

People will tell you all kinds of things like:

  • You need to do sit-ups. Like a lot of them, upwards of 50 reps. Over and over again.
  • You should be eating berries or “X” food, as these foods or magic objects will help “spot reduce” abdominal fat.
  • You need to work your obliques a lot, as these muscles will make your six-pack “pop”
  • “X” thing can be used in “Y” way to “melt” fat off your abdominal muscles/activate abdominal muscles more/push abdominals through

Everything listed above is utter bullshit. I’ll go into the reasons why spot reduction is a myth in another post, but trust me – it is a lie. More important is hypertrophy of the rectus muscles: 50+ reps will not make the muscle grow and it will not spot-reduce fat. All that it’ll due is put stress on your lumbar spine. Any exercises I mention you should do slow enough that the 6-8 reps that you will do burn and are a challenge near the end. We need to stress your muscles to the point that they increase in size. That’s how the most impressive abs are built.

To get a beautiful six-pack, all that is required is a little extra effort, conscientiousness about your habits, and about 7 extra minutes on your routine, explained here:

1. Don’t neglect squats and deadlifts:

The squat and the deadlift are integral to core strength and building your core as a whole. I put this first because there’s really no point in having six-pack abs if you’re just going to hurt yourself by having a weak back or intercostals. Essential to the squat and deadlift both is the concept of a respiratory “block.” You do this by inhaling and contracting your intercostal, oblique, and rectus abdominus muscles to build a stable “block” that keeps the spine in isolation from the rest of the exercise. The abdominals are held in isometric contraction agains the respiratory block you’ve created the whole time you’re even 1% into the squat: thus the squat is an excellent core exercise in addition to being a leg exercise.

2. Do ab rollouts

The ab rollout is an excellent exercise. I do them with my knees on a bench, making sure I focus on the abdominal contraction (they’re also excellent for your serratus muscles). Essentially you just take a barbell or an ab wheel and… roll it out, go out to arms about parallel to your body (no farther, as this can be injurious to your rotator cuff). They’re all I currently do.

3. Leg raises

Self explanatory: do them. they hit the lower abs in a way that the rollouts do not.

4. Eat Paleo

This means eat mainly proteins and fats. The notion that saturated fats are bad for you and unsaturated aren’t is mostly myth. Everything in moderation, and you’ll be fine – in fact, you need saturated fats: too little and you risk decreased testosterone levels. Carbs are your abs’ worst enemies. They cause insulin release and insulin causes fat deposition. Fat covers your abs. You want your abs visible. Solution? Eat more protein, more fats, less carbs. Simple.

5. Don’t skimp on your heavy compounds.

Forget running, forget swimming. There is nothing that burns calories and stokes your metabolic fire like heavy compound lifts. Squats, deadlifts, power cleans, snatches, and heavy presses all are excellent ways to supplement your fat-loss dieting. Without ruining your joints and energy levels like running does, these exercises build (highly metabolically active) muscle and burn fat off.

6. Don’t give up

It sucks, but nothing happens overnight. especially for me, I had to build muscle before I lost fat, and even then, it was hard to keep off. In my experience, you’ll hit a breaking point where you’re finally comfortable or competent enough to really turn your 80% up to 110% and really see results. Keep going and be real with yourself about the level of effort you’re applying and I promise you’ll eventually look the way you want. Determination is insurmountable.

Go for it: there’s really nothing that’s holding you back.

-Matt

Deadlifting 405 lbs without a belt is a terrible idea. Why this had not occurred to me before I’d done it several times is beyond my comprehension, but the important thing is that I know it now.

The failure to think through what I was doing, or, rather, laziness bought me a horrible back injury after my 405 single: I hadn’t warmed up and pulled it with awful form – bar away from my body, back engaged too early, rounded lumbar curve.

After the lift, my back was tight, hurt when I bent forward, and a tingling ran down the back of my glutes to my hamstrings. All classic signs of a slipped disk.

I dodged a massive bullet – now, two weeks after the injury I am 80% sure it’s not a slipped disk. This is what happened, for your learning pleasure.

Day 1 after the injury: tightness starts, hurts a little bit to bend over, pain and tightness localized in the lower left quadrant of my back.

Days 2-10: Like an idiot, I continue to lift. I don’t deadlift, but bent-over-rows and power cleans are especially aggravating to the injury.

Days 11-18: continuing to lift, its starting to occur to me that I may be doing more harm than good. After every lift, the pain is intense, but after a good night’s sleep, it seems to loosen up.

By now I had pretty much narrowed the injury to either a Quadratus Lumborum or Spinal Arrector tear or, far worse, a slipped lumbar disk.

Final days, including today: Looked up stretches for the lower back and such online. Lying on my bad, I did about three thirty second bent left leg crossovers to loosen my glutes and lower back. I then got off the bed and stood feet shoulder width apart in front of the wall and did an assisted hamstring stretch to loosen my hammies and glutes again. The final two things I did were massage my hip flexors and stand perpindicular to the wall and take my palm, raise it over my head, and touch the wall to my right (stretching my obliques, lats, and also hip abductors). I cannot tell you how much these helped.

I didn’t go to the doctor, which could have and probably should have been my demise. But I lucked out.

Point is, be tender with back injuries, and DO NOT LIFT WITH AN INJURED BACK. The back is something that will ruin your life if you really mess it up right.

Also very much of note, and I will end on this: when dealing with injuries (especially the back), look for other areas that may be related to the problem. For me, my excessively tight hamstrings had caused my comparatively weak left side back muscles to eventually give up and go into spasm (a state of constant contraction designed to minimize further injury). Just as referential pain can indicate problems elsewhere in the body, an injury to a certain part is not necessarily indicative of a problem with that specific part. An excellent example is knee pain associated with leg presses. The knee is not necessarily being injured to the extent you feel it, but, rather, the quadriceps muscle is in a state of high activity, while the equally important hamstring muscles are relatively relaxed. As the insertions of these muscles are both on the epiphysis of the tibia, both act on it. The tight quadriceps pulls on its connection to the tibial tuberosity and by the nature of human anatomy the patella (kneecap) as well. Normally these static contractions of the muscle tonus are equally balanced between the pull of the quadriceps and hamstrings, but with the hamstrings relaxed relative to the quadriceps, the condition called “runner’s knee” presents itself.

Thanks for listening as always!

-Matt

In training, we have something called a “master cue.” The master cue is something that you give when your client is doing an exercise that will (hopefully) correct any form defects they are developing in the heat of the set (or just keep them going with good form). For the squat, a good master cue is “ass first, hip drive.” For the deadlift, an excellent one is “chest up, drive your heels through the floor.” The skill of cueing is important in training because the cue is the smallest effective bit of information you can possibly give the client and, ironically, can be the most useful. Why not explain it before the set? Well, you should. When the client is in the middle of a set, though, they can’t possibly pay attention to a technical description of the lift or look at you doing a demonstration. They don’t have the concentration capacity to apply 100%, look at you, understand, and consciously correct their form in the middle of a squat. The master cue gives them something they can process immediately and apply. Instead of spending 30 seconds explaining which muscles they should be feeling when, you give them something easy and digestible, something that gives them the “a-ha” that they can put in effect immediately. Think about it. When I say, “chest up, push the heels through the floor,” you can do that immediately. It’s simple. You don’t even need to think about it. Chances are, while you were sitting there your back straightened a little and your chest rose just as you read that. Compare that to me saying, “Your lumbar spine should be extended but not too much, don’t engage the back till it’s past your knees, keep your ass low to the ground at the start,” and you realize the importance of the master cue.

Not to say that all you need are cues. The technical description of a lift is very important too – it breeds understanding of the true biomechanics of the lift and helps you to coach yourself. The difference is that one deals with understanding and requires thought and a mental process to ingrain it as, “that lift,” whereas the other, the master cue, doesn’t require thought, it just requires action. It is saying, “do this,” as opposed to “when you set up like this, that should be as such.” And that is the skill of the master cue.

Now, the second half.

Something I realized at the gym today while doing my bench press was the common misunderstanding (even by trainers) of the phrase, “Slow descent, fast push.” To explain the true nature of what this phrase really means (and not the misconception), I have to start with the har

d stuff.

Something I learned in physics class a long time ago is that muscles have a spring constant (backed up here: http://ajpregu.physiology.org/content/278/6/R1661.full). What is a spring constant? In physics, a spring constant is the amount of force required to extend or compress a spring “x” distance. Since muscle is elastic in nature  (to a point), it stores energy as it is extended and releases that energy (to a small but effective degree) to contract again.

Shamelessly edited from google images.

Now, it’s only logical to remember that muscles are not perfect springs. They do, however fit the definition as materials that store elastic energy as they deform due to force.

But how does this relate to physiology and exercise? Cue the misused “slow down, fast up” cue. The good nature is there, but the meaning has been lost behind the cue.

When force is applied to muscle at rest, the stretch muscle engages unconsciously as a result of a motor nerve feedback loop. As the muscle stretches, it contracts to oppose the force being applied to it (to prevent damage to the skeletal system, nerves, and especially the muscle body itself). An excellent example of this is the jaw clasp test: holding the mouth slightly open and relaxed, ask a friend to (or do it yourself) tap with one finger, applying the force downwards, the top part of the chin, just below the lip (the mandibular protuberance). Chances are, unless there is something gravely wrong with you, your relaxed jaw will not bounce downwards, and the masseter muscles in your jaw will resist with just enough force to hold your jaw in almost the exact same position.

If you think about this, it’s an incredibly evolutionary advantageous adaptation. If muscles were strictly under somatic (voluntary) control, chances are, our ancestors would have had far more dislocation, sublaxation, and ligament tear injuries. The system favors muscle injuries over synovial and ligamentatious injuries. The advantage of a system that experiences solely muscle belly injuries (a pulled muscle) over damage to the connective tissues of the body is that muscle tissue is vascularized. Vascularized tissue (as opposed to avascular) is tissue that has blood vessels running through it, meaning it is fed by an active blood supply. Muscle is vascularized. Connective, ligamentatious, and cartilagineous tissue is avascular. What this means is that, being that the latter three types are only fed by proxy, by synovial fluid or other means, they are much less quick to heal than muscle tissue, and more likely to heal in a less-than-useful fashion. Muscle tissue, since it has excellent blood supply, heals very quickly, flushes waste very quickly, and, when healed actively (used in the fashion it is designed while healing), will heal with a minimum of scar tissue.

So now we know why and how the stretch reflex works, but where does it tie into the cue and the spring constant?

Contracted muscle tissue has a much higher spring constant than relaxed tissue, which means that contracted muscle stores a much higher percentage of the energy that gravity exerts on the weights in your hands as it descends than relaxed muscle. When you get to the bottom of the exercise, the energy stored in the muscles is at its maximum. This higher fraction of elastic energy already stored means that less energy will be required in ATP form to drive the weight up. As a side note: this does NOT make the exercise any easier on the muscle, nor will it affect gains in muscle mass – the amount of mechanical stress, that is, actual physical damage to the muscle tissue, remains the same for the exercise, and as such the muscle will be rebuilt and experience hypertrophy and hyperplasia to the same degree as with higher ATP energy required.

When a trainer tells you, “slow down, fast up,” know the true meaning of this cue. When you are going, “slow down,” (on what is called the eccentric phase of the rep) you should be focusing on storing the elastic energy in the muscle groups you are using. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but you’ll feel when you do it right, especially on the bench press. It manifests as a unique tightness in your muscles; it’s a really powerful feeling. You’ll feel in control, even with heavy weight, as opposed to the shaky feeling everyone’s experienced. The best friend of the powerful spring feeling is GOOD FORM. 

Now, when you get to the bottom, DO NOT “let go.” What I mean by this is relaxing at the bottom of a rep. Again, you can feel this on the bench press the best. It’s when people get trapped under the bar. Save your rest for the top of the rep. If you “wait and relax” at the bottom of the rep, you release all the elastic energy stored in the descent, and force your muscles to do much more work going back up. It’s akin to learning the rowing stroke; you never “wait” at the catch, you drive as soon as you hit the “legs vertical” point. Think of the bottom of the rep as the “trigger.” You pull on that trigger and all that force builds up to the bang as you shoot the weight up. Yanking the trigger (by just letting the weight fall back down each rep) will throw the shot off and just ruin maybe even the set.

There you have it, the “true” meaning of “slow down, fast up.” What an anticlimactic ending.

As a side note, the reason the deadlift is so damn hard is because you come all the way to the floor, put the weight down, release all the elastic energy in your posterior chain, and pick it up again. What a mean, mean exercise.

If you were to ask me why I became a trainer, the answer would probably be something along the lines of, “By default.”

I don’t mean that as a bad thing. It’s not even a knock against myself. I’m too young to be a doctor; I’m still working on bigger things. But what I love is training. This is my career for now until something takes its place (if anything ever does). Why? Because I can have everything. Being a great trainer, transcending the ordinary, requires an understanding of all fields of human knowledge. Physics, anatomy, biology, and mathematics are all integral to training. Absolutely necessary. But the great trainers are masters of philosophy, they’re wordsmiths, they’re motivators, and, most importantly, they don’t settle for “good enough.” I love this aspect. Being a trainer is much like the nature of training itself. You are never stagnant, you must always exceed your level. Honestly, I’d rather be doing something that fulfills my craving for excellence than something that pays well but leaves me empty inside. Life is too short to do anything other than what makes it worthwhile.

As an athlete, whatever you do, never accept “good enough.” This is your enemy. Dean Karnazes ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. Bruce Lee could perform one handed, two finger pushups. Men conquer the highest mountain peak every year; they climb so high that, were their oxygen tanks to break, they would surely die minutes into the descent; they climb so high that the curvature of the earth is visible. Your body is capable of truly epic feats.

Knowing how to use it… That’s something different. I did stupid things when I started. Everyone does. Things that don’t make a bit of difference in your workout, things that have the sole effect of tiring you out. It’s only by being fed up with my progress stagnating that I was able to break the plateaus I encountered.

You’ll face sticking points. Everyone does. When you do, go read. Research. Do. When doing one thing gives you an undesirable result, there’s only one option – do something different! Don’t be afraid to try new things (within reason). Look up how to break plateaus. I can promise you that without the drive to learn new techniques, to truly exceed yourself, you will go nowhere.

Bruce Lee once said, “Be water.” It’s my motto. When water encounters an obstacle, it doesn’t push against it, doesn’t get fed up. It simply flows around. Water carves a canyon not through raw strength or anger but through persistence.

Approach your training with the same persistence. Changes will not happen overnight. Rome was not built in a day. Be persistent in your training and when you encounter an obstacle or a sticking point, be water and find a path with which to flow around your plateau.