Happy New Year? It Can Be

Here we are again. Another year has passed. 2013 had its ups and downs, but more ups than downs. My family grew by one beautiful little girl. There were struggles, but looking through the prism of hindsight, they were bigger in my mind than what they actually were.

This is relatively common. Our struggles were only struggles because we let them be.

So as we embark on 2014, let’s do our best to limit our struggles. At least physically.

How is this possible? A flexible plan. Right now, I’m constructing a plan for myself. I’ve set some lofty goals and I know I need programming and benchmarks. Included in those goals:

500 lb rack pull
450 lb squat
285 lb bench press

That’s adding 100 lbs, 90 lbs, and 40 lbs, respectively. All attainable. All challenging. All impossible without a plan.

Most people start the new year wanting to exercise more. This is where they fail. Before they even start. They exercise. They don’t train. The goal is abstract. It’s unrealistic. It’s sporadic. The opposite is true when you train.

Does training mean a strictly regimented and unenjoyable plan. It can be, but it’s just as prone to failure as no plan. If there isn’t room to make adjustments, you will not be successful. For example, a benchmark isn’t met. Is the plan a waste? Probably not, but maybe some minor adjustments need to be made.

No plan is perfect and everyone will suffer setbacks. There no pro athletes reading this, so our day jobs will interfere. You will fall off the proverbial wagon of training. It happens. But the will to remain consistent can overcome if you follow your plan.

Will 2014 be the year you make that resolution happen? Maybe. But hoping, wishing, or dreaming it won’t make it happen. Hard work, consistency, and encouragement will. The best way to predict your future is to make it happen yourself.

Have a happy new year!

Have a Meathead Christmas

I was recently reading an article about what to get the fitness buff on your Christmas list. I was slightly disappointed, though. I get that everyone is trying to sell something, but when every other other item is something you sell, you aren’t being helpful anymore. So to counteract this, here’s a list of things any meathead would want and/or need and the relationship level for each gift.

You Don’t Care For This Coworker

Lacrosse Ball
Reasoning: If you have that meathead you don’t like in your office pool, look no further than the lacrosse ball. An underrated piece of equipment, it can be used to massage sore glutes, forearms, and quads. A good tool for rejuvenation and recuperation.

What this says: I read a blog about meathead gifts and I don’t like you very much, but Merry Christmas!

Coworker You Do Like

Lifting Straps
Reasoning: There’s a 10 dollar limit on the office Secret Santa and this dude looks like he lifts. He nods and waves when he comes in. Doesn’t leave the coffee pot empty. Did a keg stand at the retreat. That guy’s alright!

Although I’m not a huge fan of these for their intended purpose (see below), they are good for assisting in developing proper squat technique.

What this says: 10 dollar limit bro. You couldn’t have done any better.

We’re Friends

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Fat Gripz
Reasoning: This gift is about helping a friend. It shows you took some time, discovered an area of weakness, and made a solid purchase.

This will assist the fitness guru in attaining a stronger grip. Grip is an unfortunate limiting factor for strength development. These can also be used to take some stress off of your elbows during pushing movements.

What this says: Your weak handshake is embarrassing for you and me. I choose to associate with you. Get better.

The Cardio King/Queen That You Are Genetically Linked To

Wahoo Blue Heart Rate Monitor
The Reasoning: Your dad/sister/cousin won’t shut up about the marathons, half marathons, 10k’s, 5k’s and other stupid events they participate in. So allow them to track even more stupidity like calories burned. Maybe then they’ll shut up about “runner’s high”, which apparently happens right before they crap their pants.

In all seriousness, this is a good gift for the meathead as well. If they are hitting up some met/con, the app associated with the device can tell if you’re slacking.

What this says: I put some thought into a gift and although I may not approve of your cardio lifestyle, I love you just the same.

We Have Offspring Together

Weight Releasers
Reasoning: Your spouse’s pathetic bench/deadlift/squat is hurting the relationship. If there was a way to load up the bar on the eccentric phase of the lift, but still be able to knock out reps on the concentric part of the lift, maybe you would love them more.

These are a great tool for busting through plateaus. They provide for an increased load without the fear of getting pinned under a bar.

What this says: Honey, it’s time to crank it up a notch!

We Have Offspring Together And You Still Love Me
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Prowler or Dog Sled

Reasoning: You’ve been together awhile and you want to express your love monetarily. These things are not cheap. If you are planning to purchase one of these, there is no weighing of naughty or nice. This is “Do I have the world’s greatest spouse?” territory. If the answer is yes, then purchase one.

There is no better workout than pushing a sled. It’s versatile. Develop strength? Load up the plates. Work on endurance? Push it for 20 minutes with little rest in between intervals. Truly a great, great piece of equipment.

What this says: I love you and realize that this, not a Lexus, will give you a December to remember.

There you have it. A list of meathead gifts for all situations. If you’re looking for any last minute gifts for the author, I’d like my boss, Frank Shirley….

As Good As It Gets (No Jack Nicholson)

Callie was not happy. A two year old recent recipient of surgery rarely is. Carson and Grant were doing what brothers do (fighting) and being quite loud. The dog was circling Lacey’s feet because she was sure there was food in her hands. Caroline had lost her bink and was making it well known that she didn’t like it. A triphasic storm of chaos, noise, and tears.

It has to get better than this, right?

***

Three days prior, I was a bundle of nerves. Callie, my daughter, was under the knife and I was alone with those thoughts. My two sons, Carson and. Grant, were at school. The baby, Caroline, was sleeping and although her listening skills were phenomenal, she didn’t offer any encouraging words to ease my anxiety.

I made bottles. I rocked Caroline to sleep. I changed an enormously ferocious diaper. I took a stroll around the block. I read. I prayed. Loaded the dishwasher. Cleaned the kitchen.

The boys completed their studies for the day and their madness kept me distracted. Breaking up fights over toys, consoling the loser, and correcting the winner. Chicken nugget lunches with chocolate milk and folding clothes. I welcomed the chores.

A phone call. THE phone call. All was well. The surgery had been a success and my first daughter was doing well.

Relief. I exhaled for the the first time in 3 hours. I prayed again. A prayer of thanksgiving.

****

Fast forward three days. What constitutes a soft mechanical diet consumes Lacey and the boys are happy to have a large amount of gogurts in the house. The soup I put in the microwave for 30 seconds too long is too hot for my little survivor. The ice cube I’m attempting to bite in half sticks to my bottom lip. The bowl of soup in my left hand and the chocolate milk, spoon, and other half of the ice cube in my right hand, prevent me from doing anything other than attempting to shake the ice off of my lip. I imagine I resemble a wet dog after a bath, only less coordinated.

The ice cube falls and dinner is served. Later, the boys retire to their beds. My recently repaired daughter has her head on my shoulder and I can feel the drool seeping through my shirt. She exhales correctly on my shoulder for the first time and hug her a little tighter.

****

I’m gathering the toys and arranging cushions on the couch. The same toys and the same cushions and the same mess I’ve dealt with all day. Dishes in the sink can wait. I fall into the recliner, flip the handle , and push back. I’m finally going to read the paragraph that I’ve tried so desperately to read all day. With the highlighter cap in my mouth, the first seven words scroll across my eyes.

It stops at seven words. 20 feet away, a door opens and a little girl stands behind a safety gate rubbing her eyes. She doesn’t cry or whine. She stands there, pointing at me with her Disney princess blanket over her shoulder. There’s no plea. There’s no question. There’s an expectation.

Of course, I oblige.

It has to get better than this?

That isn’t possible. This is as good as it gets and it’s incredible.

Mistakes of a Failed Work in Progress

Yesterday, I turned 34. If you didn’t know, this is prime mid life crisis age. Now is the time most men are buying that BMW, starting the use of male beauty products, and thinking they still have a shot with college coeds. Unbeknownst to most men my age, the BMW doesn’t make you cool, those beauty products are a waste, and even if you could land a sorority girl, the first time you heard her talk with an inflection at the end of each sentence that implies a question when the sentence was clearly a statement, you’d want to strangle her quietly while telling those darn kids to get off your lawn.

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It’s not that I don’t have my quirks or that I’m some uber-evolved member of the male group. I’m not. However, I am very content with life right now. My wife is great. My 4 children are awesome, even though the youngest won’t let me put her down as I type (2 am and she cries when the thought of no longer rocking her enters my mind. Yup, that sentence just startled her awake). Job pays the bills. And I’m passionate about training.

Not obsessed. Passionate. I enjoy learning about what makes one workout more successful than another. Why someone chooses one method over another. Biomechanical advantages vs personal preference. And of course, the best way to look good naked (the most common reason for training).

This passion has evolved though. It didn’t come without its setbacks and mistakes. If you’re one of the 3 people who will read this, please learn from the following and don’t allow the most precious gift of time to go to waste.

My Mistakes

1. Always training for hypertrophy

I spent 8 years not knowing what a max was. 8 years benching 155, squatting 185, and not deadlifting at all. Why? Because I was always trying to isolate muscles. Get the pump. 8-12 reps for 4 sets, every exercise, for 8 years. My reasoning was sound: I read it in a magazine.

Unfortunately, this dogmatic approach stalled gains. I would still be doing this today if I hadn’t decided to see how much I could lift one day. Boredom eventually got me out of a rut, but man, that was a long rut.

2. Not paying attention to the diet

That isn’t the correct title. I paid attention to my diet, but only one part of my diet: protein. I consumed so much protein. Vegetables? Yeah, screw that, no protein in celery bro. So much time spent tracking and eating nothing but protein. It was miserable. I was weak unable to gain any weight. Combine that with the mistake above and you have a recipe for no progress.

3. Too much cardio/Not the right kind of cardio

When I first started, I wanted to gain 30 lbs., but I didn’t want to gain any fat. In addition to lifting hard, I ran 12-20 miles a week as well. Guess what? No weight gained and stalling/plateauing on all my lifts.

While possible to gain muscle and lose fat in a macro view, I had a no tolerance policy in the micro. If I lost the slightest bit of definition in my stomach, I cranked up the miles on the road. I wasn’t willing to make short term losses for long term gains.

Additionally, I didn’t sprint. Like, at all. Despite this being a cornerstone for every sport I played growing up, I never did it. Most people today don’t do it. They prefer to ellipticize for 2 hours, than to sprint for 10 minutes. I understand now, but I didn’t back then.

Honestly, this list could’ve been doctoral thesis long, but you get the point. If there was a mistake to be made, I made it. What separates me today from me back then? Perseverance. Despite those setbacks, I read more. I trained harder. Became a trainer. Worked harder. Took additional classes. Attended seminars. Read books. Scrutinized and reached out to potential mentors. Most importantly, never quit.

At 34, I’m in the best shape of my life.

I know I’ll say the same thing next year.

Make Your Cheat Meal Work For You

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I posted this meme on Friday. Didn’t agree with it then, don’t agree with it now. That meme, and it’s author are setting you up for failure. And the attitude is a bit elitist if you ask me. It essentially says you aren’t committed enough to your goals. Personally, I think that’s crap. My wife will tell you that I’m committed (or need to be committed) to my meathead ways and my Friday diet consists of fast food and milkshakes. No matter what your goals, a weekly cheat meal isn’t going to undo your progress. As long as it’s done correctly. In fact, it can help you meet your goals.

So how does it work and why does it work?

I’m glad you asked. Below, I’ll detail the psychological and physiological effects of a cheat meal and how to best time your cheat meal to make positive progress towards your goals.

Psychological
You can’t have milk. Ever. Milk is completely gone from your diet. Are you craving milk? I chose milk because I’m currently drinking a glass, but it could be anything. I could’ve said alfalfa sprouts and you would instantly crave them too. That’s how we are built. We want what we can’t have.

Now, apply it to something you actually crave. Think of the most unhealthy thing that you can’t live without. Some people crave sweets. Some fast food. Whatever it is, if you say to yourself,”No more of that”, you’re going to want that.

You may be able to abstain for a bit, but you will eventually fail. And an epic fail it will be. A binge will happen. Guilt will set it. Your motivation will wane and you’ll lose interest your goals. You’ll decide it’s too hard to reach your goals and you’ll quit.

But what if you planned a day in which those cravings could be met. The food devil on your shoulder would silenced and kept at bay for the next 6 days. And, as you’ll learn below, it can be beneficial to help you meeting your goals.

Physiological

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This might be a slight exaggeration. Morpheus always had a flair for the dramatic. However, if your cravings are large fries, a milkshake, or a couple of beers, there is a way to make those foods work for you. Below we delve into how people diet and avoid certain foods, and how that actually works against them reaching their goals.

Stop Thinking Purely Metabolically
Most people who want to lose weight, do so by cutting calories. They see it in a simple mathematical equation. Less calories taken in=more weight loss. This is true to a point. Eventually, you reach a point where that method works against you.

A significant decrease in calories leads the metabolism to slow due to a decreased amount of the hormone leptin. The leptin hormone relies on calories to be effective. It increases your metabolism and cause you to burn more fat. More calories=more leptin=more fat burned.

Obviously, you can’t do this everyday. You want to be in a caloric deficit overall, but a sudden, shocking, once a week increase in calories will be enough to drive leptin levels up and increase your metabolism.

Nerds will call it a “strategic overfeed”. I call it delicious.

How To Cheat Meal
The rules are, there ain’t no rules. That’s a lie, but the rules aren’t difficult to follow.

1. Choose a day that you are going to need those calories. Your hardest workout. I typically do strongman training on Friday and I want to push my limits. Tire flips, sled pushes, farmer’s walks. If you’ve done things like this before, you know you’re going to expend some calories. More than likely, my cheat day will be Friday because of this. You probably know this because I love cheat day Friday and let everyone know how much I love cheat meal Friday.

2. It’s one meal, not one day. If the goal is raising leptin levels, you need one large caloric intake, not a bunch of snacks throughout the day. That one meal can be appetizer, meal, and dessert, but make it one sitting. If it’s a sleeve of thin mints (mmmmmm thin mints), so be it. But it is once a week. You want ice cream? Then ice cream you shall have—-once a week.

3. Buy cheat foods the day of. If you have it readily available, it won’t be a once a week splurge. You’ll cheat on your cheat meal and she is a jealous temptress. You will not get the same results if you eat these foods through the week. Remember, the goal is to shock your body. The clean diet you have during the rest of the week, is prepping your body for that shock. Don’t undo it by cheating on your cheat meal.

4. Have fun. This is your meal. Make it count.

If you’re interested in further research Engineering the Alpha by Adam Bornstein and John Romaniello, goes into much greater detail. If you just want to take my word for it and cheat meal like a boss, that’s cool too.

As always, you can contact me with any questions.

Surviving GNC

I’m not a big supplement guy. That may surprise some of you. I was, at one time, a huge supplement guy. Actual bills took a backseat to my goals to find the exact supplement cocktail that would make look like Ronnie Coleman. The only difference between me and him were the supplements. Real food? Please dude. I need more longjack to up the test levels. Electricity is overrated when you need bufferized, twice enhanced, soon to be illegal creatine.

I even worked at a GNC. Not for the money, but for the discount. Really. This was in college and I had a few other jobs, so working 10 hours a week to save an additional 30% made perfect sense. Based on how much money I was blowing at the time, it made sense.

But marriage and kids came along and I had to prioritize. At first I thought my supplement fueled gains would suffer, but I found researching things make prioritizing much easier. Reading actual research instead of magazine ads led me to the conclusion that I was an idiot and that I had wasted a lot of money. Not just in the products, but also in the prices that I was paying. Online shopping became my vehicle for the few supplements that I did purchase. Prices were better and it was delivered to my front door.

However, there are times when circumstances have dictated that I fill the gaps with a trip to GNC. I was in this position just last week.

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I entered the store for one reason: a multivitamin. But I was amazed at the enormous amounts of new brands, labels, and products available. My curiosity was piqued. Despite needing just one thing, I began looking around. I thought I should. The most common genre of questions I am asked is about supplements, so why not see the new products that are out there.

What I found was old products in new containers at double the price.

One company in particular with shiny, metallic, industrial looking containers, was especially egregious. Amino acids for 50 bucks. Creatine for 60. I only was made aware of this brand because the sales rep tried to steer me towards it. Why wouldn’t she? She’s gotta make some flow, but I’m not obligated to assist.

Again, I’m not bashing GNC. They provide a service that can be very useful, provided their customers enter the store with information that isn’t from a magazine ad.

Here are some guidelines for choosing a supplement.

1) Is my diet bulletproof? If you think you can out-supplement a poor diet, save your money.

2) Does the use of this supplement support my goals? An endurance athlete taking creatine doesn’t make any sense, and someone taking a weight gainer doesn’t make sense for someone trying to slim down.

3) What does the research say? This doesn’t include customer reviews. Several companies will plant positive reviews on websites to enhance sales. A good resource is the supplement geek.

4) Does it contain a “proprietary blend” or some other type of blend? If the answer is yes, do not use that product. Why? This is a method supplement companies use to disguise ingredients. An example:

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5) Is the cost worth it? Ultimately, this is the most important question. I can tell you that most supplements do not meet this threshold. It’s your money. Spend it responsibly.

Link

Runners, as a group, are elitists. You have to go to a special store to have someone evaluate your running style, so you can get “proper” shoes. And by “proper” shoes, I mean 120 dollar shoes, with 30 dollar inserts. Then, as you strike out on your first run, a douchebag in ridiculously short purple shorts, visor, and arms so skinny, he had to shrink his extra small tank top so it didn’t look like he was playing in daddy’s clothes, scoffs at your “foot coffins” and tells you minimalist shoes are where it’s at. So back to the store to make your wallet another hundred bucks lighter. Down 250 bucks, you again make your way down the street. The iPod is rocking the Rocky IV soundtrack. A week later, your shorts are barely covering your giblets and you’re espousing a vegan lifestyle. How did this happen?

As you can tell, I don’t care for runners. Unlike my Crossfit post, I can’t say I like traditional cardio. I hate traditional cardio. It’s boring. It takes too long. But most importantly, it doesn’t yield good results. Read that again. It doesn’t yield good results. Results in sports or for weight loss, it is the most ineffective form of exercise.

How could this be? I go for a run or walk and I sweat a bunch, so I must be getting thinner, right? That’s a big fat “NO”.

I’ll give you a few examples. Americans have gotten fatter over the last 30 years, but we are exercising more. Read that again. Fatter, yet exercising more. In 2013 a large scale survey was conducted and found that more people were exercising, but using an aerobic model and not losing weight. Another study in 2012 compared aerobic activity of those who exercised 30 vs 60 minutes. Guess what? The 30 minute group lost more weight. And it wasn’t much for both groups. About 9 pounds over 13 weeks. Less than a pound a week. That sucks!

If traditional cardio sucks so bad, why do people do it? To tell you the truth, I don’t know. My guess is people like being in pain and sweaty. Maybe it’s in our history. We laud people who run marathons, half marathons, and triathlons as being in great shape. You won’t ask them to help you move the couch upstairs, but they’re in great shape!

So what’s the answer to losing weight? First of all, forget about weight. Shed fat. The best way to do that is to gain muscle through resistance training. Next, clean up your diet. Next, train like this guy:

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Not this guy:

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By adding sprint training into your regimen, you get the benefits of an elevated heart rate, without all the repetitive stress of jogging. Additionally, you ignite the larger fast twitch muscle fibers that make you powerful. Most importantly, it takes less time. Run a 400 meter sprint, then a 300 meter sprint, then 200, then 100. Recover in between each one, and you’re at the track for 15 minutes and have probably expended 400-500 calories. Go for a jog and see how long it takes to get that burn.

Hey look, if you enjoy running, I’m definitely not telling you to abandon it. I will question your sanity, but whatever. What I am saying is that if the goal is weight loss, there is a better method.