Categories
Blog Nutrition

An Effective Diet Plan From a Reader

Nick, a long-time reader of the blog, recently communicated to me about looking at his diet plan. He had seen at a few diet plans of mine in other articles and needed a little advice about if he was on the right track or not.

At the risk of sounding overly simplistic I wrote back that I thought he was definitely on the right track. After ruminating on his plan I started to think about the why. Why his plan wasn’t in need of an overhaul.

Here is what he sent me:

Hey Brad,

Was wondering if you can take a look at my diet and let me know if I’m in the right track. Now, I’m 40yrs old, married, two kids and two jobs some of the items are out of convenience, but mostly I’m able to stay CONSISTENT with this approach.  I’ve tried eating 5-6 cooked meals per day but it’s just not practical given my lifestyle and I’m not a professional bodybuilder and my wife hates it….

Here it is,


1) 3/4 cup oats, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup egg whites, banana 

2) protein bar or 2oz of turkey jerkey,  1 oz almonds, apple


3) 2 whole wheat bread, 5 oz lunch meat, 1 slice lowfat cheese, banana 


4) 2 whole wheat bread,  2 tbsp PB , 1 scoop protein, apple


5) 5 oz chicken,  1 cup rice, 1 cup veggies 


6) 1 cup yogurt,  1/2cup granola, 1 tbsp PB, 1/2 scoop protein 

It’s based off of the diets I’ve seen you post in other articles.  Ive been told my lunch and snacks are not high quality but again it’s not practical for me to eat fish, chicken and beef 5 times per day … Although this works I just wanted your opinion on it. Should I be using chicken breasts on my sandwiches or is the lunch meat ok?

Thanks Brad. Still doing the 3 day split but saw the new push/pull/legs program you just posted. Definitely have to try that sometime. 🙂

Nick

***

Obviously, he read a few of my earlier diet plans and catered them to his own lifestyle. I couldn’t find much in his plan to adjust only the issue of the quality of lunch meat. I found a few commonalities and patterns that made this a good plan.

  1. It’s practical. He’s like me and probably you too: family, kids, job, and other obligations that can sometimes limit extensive cooking and prepping. He’s taken a real-world approach to his diet plan.
  2. It’s balanced. Sure, he’s not eating some sort of wild tuber from Central America that claims medicinal value, but he does include lean proteins, complex carbs, healthy fats, and some good sources of fruits and vegetables.
  3. It’s simple. He includes easy to prepare foods, meals that are easy to transport, and enough meals throughout the day to stave off hunger. It isn’t some sort of extreme diet that promises miracles. In other words, a layman can see the value in it.
  4. Supplements are used sparingly. He distributes his supplements carefully to accommodate his workday and training. Supplements are just that: things that support an already solid diet. His diet focuses on real food first.
  5. It works for him. This is probably the most important point. Aside form a few adjustments over time (which is natural) he finds this fits his lifestyle and can easily adjust anything, if necessary, from there. And most-importantly he states he’s been consistent.

I just wanted to highlight Nick’s message and diet and drive home the point that you can have an effective diet plan that supports your training efforts and still be practical and realistic.

***

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Categories
Blog Training Workouts

New Split New Muscle Gains

I’ve been on my current training program for some time now. As one of the three programs I absolutely love to do and produces an appreciable amount of gains in muscle mass and strength, I think it’s time for a change.

Has the current routine stopped working? Not necessarily. It’s just a number of factors go into switching body part splits.

  1. Interest. Over time even the most routine animal (me!) can get a little tired of the same ole split after a while. I’ll be returning to it soon enough, but it’s time for a little mix-up.
  2. Patterns. As a creature of habit I’ve experienced great gains in size over the years, but over time patterns start to manifest themselves and my body starts to “catch on.” After a while it starts to feel a little like going through the motions.
  3. Recovery. Because of the inroads of patterns made and the waning interest my body starts to lag a bit on recovery. The same-ole same-ole gets to be taxing and things start to slack.
  4. Focus. A new split gives me the opportunity to shift some things around a refocus my energy in a different sequence. So instead of training back after chest, it’s now front and center.
  5. Experience. I hope by now (at 46 years old and over 30 years of training under my belt) I know what I’m doing and can detect when it’s time for a change. But I will always be a student and hungry to learn more.

New split

So what does the new split look like? I’ve written a little about it before, but here I want to flesh-out what I’m actually doing each day. Group A and B are alternated for each cycle. I usually train five days per week so this routine will rotate on different days each week.

Group A

Day 1: Chest, shoulders, triceps, abs.

Incline bench barbell press 4 x 8-16
Flat bench dumbbell press 4 x 8-16
Feet-elevated push up or flat push up 2-3 x as many as possible

Seated or standing side lateral raise 3 x 10-20
Seated dumbbell press 3 x 8-16
Rope face pull or upright row (optional) 3 x 10-20

Lying triceps barbell extension 3 x 10-16
V-bar press-down 3 x 10-16

Abs.: choose two ab exercises to be superset for three rounds.

Day 2: Calves, quads, hamstrings

Standing calf raise 3 x 10-16
Seated calf raise 3 x 10-16

Bulgarian split squat 3 x 10-12 each leg
Leg extension 3 x 10-16
Leg press 3 x 10-16
Dumbbell Romanian deadlift 3 x 10-12
Seated leg curl 3 x 10-16

Day 3: Back, rear delts, traps, biceps, abs.

Wide-grip pull up 4 x as many reps as possible
T-bar machine row 4 x 10-16
Medium-grip pull-down 3 x 10-16

Bent-over lateral raise 3 x 10-16
Barbell shrug 3 x 10-12

Incline bench dumbbell curl 3 x 8-16
Barbell curl 3 x 8-16

Abs.: choose two ab exercises to be superset for three rounds.

Group B

Day 1: Chest, shoulders, triceps, abs.

Incline bench dumbbell press 4 x 8-16
Incline machine press 4 x 8-16
Push up 2-3 x as many as possible

Machine or one-arm cable side lateral raise 3 x 10-16
Front plate raise 3 x 8-16
Rope face pull or upright row (optional) 3 x 10-16

Overhead rope extension 3 x 10-16
Straight bar press-down 3 x 10-16

Abs.: choose two ab exercises to be superset for three rounds.

Day 2: Calves, quads, hamstrings

Seated calf raise 3 x 10-16
Standing calf raise 3 x 10-16

Single leg press 3 x 10-16 each leg
Leg extension 3 x 10-16
Walking lunge 3 rounds

Seated leg curl 3 x 10-16
Dumbbell Romanian deadlift 3 x 10-12

Day 3: Back, rear delts, traps, biceps, abs.

Close-grip pull up 4 x as many reps as possible
Bent-over barbell row 4 x 10-16
Wide-grip pull-down 3 x 10-16

Rear delt cable lateral raise 3 x 10-16
Dumbbell shrug 3 x 10-12

Dumbbell curl 3 x 8-16
Cable curl 3 x 8-16

Abs.: choose two ab exercises to be superset for three rounds.

*Rest between sets are 60 seconds for large body parts (chest, back, quads) and 30 to 45 seconds for smaller (shoulders, arms, calves, hamstrings).

What’s different

Aside from the obvious (the split) I’m also lowering my reps a tad. Now, this isn’t groundbreaking, but it does reinforce my belief in making small, intentional changes. Since I know my body pretty well at this point there’s no need to make some monumental shift just for the heck of it. I’m from the school of “change only a few things at a time.”

We’ll see how this goes as I’ll post about my results here in the near future. I’m excited to get started on the new split as it’s rekindled my enthusiasm and I’m predicting I’ll only see great results.

Until then, happy lifting!

Categories
Blog Motivation Training

What to Do About Burnout

We all face burnout sooner or later, but do we really deal with it in a systematic way that benefits our long-term goals? Or do we just haphazardly take time off and let loose on our diets and training?

Is there a better way to handle when we feel burned-out, tired, and overly fatigued from training? Can we take control of our burnout so we can avoid throwing our progress down the drain?

A quick review of symptoms

Despite your best efforts you will inevitably reach times where your body is just plain tired from training at such a high intensity. No matter if you regulate said intensity, strategically take rest days, manage stress levels, ensure proper sleep and recovery, and practice great diet habits you’re still susceptible.

Some symptoms of a much-needed rest include:

  • Lack of motivation to train most days of the week
  • Lack of the infamous “blood pump” in your workouts
  • Struggling to just maintain current strength levels
  • Tiring in the middle of a training session
  • Decreased intensity during training
  • Lack of motivation to stay on your current eating plan
  • Increased body aches and minor pains (not related to any serious sickness)
  • Trouble sleeping or inconsistent sleep patterns
  • More than normal chronic soreness or the feeling of overall body weakness
  • Decreased appetite

Of course this isn’t a list derived from some medical journal summarizing clinical findings. This list is more practical and relatable to your “at-home diagnosis.” In other words, you don’t need a complete medical workup to tell you you’re burned out.

Which approach?

So you’ve decided you’re burned-out. Now what?

If you’re experiencing several of the symptoms above (or maybe you just know something’s up) then let’s look at some best practices to both properly recover and stay on track with your goals so that all that progress you made over the last few months wasn’t wasted. Let’s not take one step forward and then one step back.

I’m not immune. I face fatigue every now and again, but I take a much more instinctive approach in handling this. I always say:

“Don’t schedule time off. Life will provide plenty for you.”

What I mean by that is life will find ways to force you to take time off. Whether it’s a sickness, stress from work, family obligations, injury, vacations, or any other episode life throws at us life will find a way to throw a wrench into our best laid plans.

Now some may argue this approach touting the advantages of periodization models of training. That is a systematic training plan designed to include certain levels of regulated intensities, volumes, loads, and frequencies in order to elicit specific training outcomes. It has its place in certain training systems namely strength for performance, but hypertrophy (building muscle mass) is a bit of a different animal. Additionally, we are normal people with jobs, families, and other stresses that push and pull us. In order to pull off a perfectly constructed periodization plan would mean living in a bubble.

That is why I feel a more instinctual perspective is a better, more realistic indicator of when a break is due.

What to do to stay on track

So what do we do exactly? Well, it’s not rocket science, but I will list a few things I’ve done and continue to do to stave off total burnout and stay on track with my long-term training goals.

  1. Recognize your burnout and shift your perspective to recovery. This is easier said than done. If you’re like me you tend to be all or nothing most of the time. Once I reach an overly fatigued level I shift my mindset to one of “back off, it’s time for some rest.” This is simply a shift in mindset — temporarily.
  2. Schedule about three or four days of complete rest. If you are severely fatigued then you’re in for some real rest. Three or four days away from training will do wonders for your entire system including your joints, muscle tissue, nervous system, and overall mental state.
  3. During those days off focus on recovery. Your days off aren’t green lights to veg out, eat like crap, and party at all hours of the night. Your goal is to use these days to your advantage. Imagine you are in some sort of rehab recovering from injury. This is a time to take care of yourself.
  4. Don’t let the diet slip. As mentioned above, don’t let your diet go to crap. Yes, have a cheat meal or two (you may need the extra calories for repair and recovery), but don’t go overboard or you’ll end up spiraling out of control and blow this whole process.
  5. Sleep is the best cure. Of course keep up with your protein intake, complex carbs, and healthy fats, but sleep will be your most powerful weapon against the damage you’ve done. Nothing has the therapeutic effect like quality, sound sleep. Nap if you can, too.
  6. Return carefully. Once your time off is over resist coming back to the gym full bore. Take another four or so days to come back to training at half speed. Reduce your volume, avoid muscular failure on all sets, and pump the brakes on the intensity. This time is your barometer determining how you’ve recovered.
  7. Crank up the intensity when you’re ready. You’ll know when you’re ready to attack your training again. I’ve found that the best indicator is my enthusiasm for training. Once I start looking forward to going to the gym again I know that my body is recovered and hungry for training.

Of course, this is my experience with how I handle burnout and fatigue. We all must remember that we are not machines that can systematically turn on our intensity levels and continuously make progress with no end in site. We are human after all that ebb and flow through life. Physique building, to me, is an ever-evolving learning process with no end in site. If we can regulate burnout, train smart, and take the long view then we are better positioned to continue walking into the gym recovered, rested, and ready to take on the next workout.

Happy training!

***

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Categories
Blog Motivation Training

The Lost Art of Deep Work in the Gym

I guarantee that I can take most individuals who are on a quest for more muscle and a leaner physique and multiply their progress several times over within several weeks. I don’t like the word guarantee very much and avoid mentioning this overused term, but this is a time I can confidently expouse that infamous phrase. More on that shortly.

I am a fan of analog. Not because I’m some sort of trendy neo Luddite or trying to make some in-your-face point. I grew up before cell phones, consumer use of the internet, and, believe it or not, before TVs littered gym walls. I walked into the gym at 15 years old feverishly focused on the crude (by today’s standards) setup of benches, racks, and metal plates and dumbbells. Some of those dumbbells were made by the gym manager that included welded plates and steel piping for grips.

I remember hearing the clang of metal plates being hoisted overhead or squatted before I even entered. It was a sound that would become a familiar and welcoming beacon every day afterward. It was my very own Pavlovian dog whistle which signified the beginning of each workout session. The clangs were loud enough to drown out the music overhead — no one minded.

Deep work: the only choice

Love it or hate it, Crossfit cultivates a unique environment of community, motivation, and focus. Go to any “box” and you will only find strangers cheering on each other sans cell phones, headphones, or brainless loitering.

Most of my experiences in the gym were similar. I was the young, naïve kid stomping his brash feet into the gym full of experienced lifters. At first I was most-likely seen as young, dumb, and inexperienced. I soon realized I instantly became a small fish coming from my backyard home gym setup replete with visions of conquering mountains and the self-belief that I was starting to become “somebody” with a little muscle to show for it.

It didn’t take long for me to settle in, realize my place among the natives, and begin the second chapter of my physique development. I became a sponge requesting help from the older lifters picking their brains, watching their training techniques, and processing all this information at light speed. I befriended many of the older lifters and listened. I listened not only to the training advice I also started to understand proper etiquette and due respect.

You see, gyms back then weren’t full of all walks of life like they are today. Most of the general population were out running or biking. Weight training was reserved for us “obsessed types” who formed a close family of sorts. A family which I was immediately adopted into. This welcoming gesture was a normal occurrence. Experienced lifters would see a young guy like me and extend a helping hand regarding everything from lifting technique to how to act properly and respectfully. It was an atmosphere that fostered a sort of self-generated and naturally-evolving brotherhood/mentorship. It was an unconscious indoctrination required to enter into the iron pit of weight plates, muscle, and discipline.

The wrong path?

A funny thing happened one day when I happened to blink for too long. Looking back on my 30-plus years under the bar, in gyms around the world, and setting my feet on multiple competitive stages something seemed to happen figuratively overnight. The “fitness landscape” took on a seismic shift. Maybe I’m being a bit too dramatic or possibly taking all this to heart, but the sun started to set on the brotherhood and pupil/mentor era of the unofficial university of weight training. No longer did I hear the clang or iron and steel. That music was quickly muffled by plastic and rubber-coated material designed to usher in a kinder, gentler demographic of those willing to pay higher prices for “fitness.”

I must clarify that my experience wasn’t the cliched and stereotypical world of meatheads, a monopolizing mentality, and the exclusion of outsiders. It was a welcoming atmosphere of the inclusion of us weird types who loved lifting. The shift to an even more inclusive population of “doctors and lawyers” as I like to say was taken with open arms.

The seismic shift I’m referring to here is the advent of the intense and whirlwind movement of social media, Youtube, and the so-called “influencer.” No longer were we, as kids, following and paths of competitive bodybuilders and more importantly the very men we were training with and along side of. We were now instantly muted despite any level of experience, knowledge, or useful practicality. No longer did our advice, inclusion, and camaraderie matter. Not that we were high on our horses or self-important. It was more of a matter of the brotherhood splintering through both attrition and the shifting climate of more intrusive technology.

The distraction trap

As technology took advancing leaps it started to permeate through the gym doors, stomping in much like I did as a teen. TVs were put up on walls, headphones covered ears, and cell phones came in and set up shop. We went from a social family to a closed-off, leave-me-alone robotic culture seemingly overnight.

The excuse of focus along with music choice, checking social media incessantly, and the overbearing busy culture became accepted. It instantly became the new normal. But this new normal killed the traditional gym culture. It came in while we were sleeping and quietly slashed its throat in its sleep.

Now we are left with a crowd of strangers relegated to their proverbial corners. The serious lifters are no longer communicating with each other. They now hold tight to their chosen dogma solidly entrenched and ready for a fight. The melting pot of training styles split and found rival homes within the same walls. Now we are left with a disjointed wasteland of distracted gym-goers lost in their screens without much regard for actual physical and mental results.

It’s not all bad, however. As mentioned earlier, Crossfit has single-handedly and successfully reinvigorated the fitness culture at least for a segment of the population. Additionally, there are still those of us, me included, that hold tight to the original culture of the friendly hello and willingness to help others.

We are all at a point, however, where we can honestly notice the current state of things. As with everyday society, we are less communicative, avoid face to face interaction, and in need of socialization for mental as well as for physical health. An app won’t make you healthier. Possibly in theory, but the practical evidence just isn’t there. We jump at the novelty of some new tech promising a doorway to a leaner body, more muscle, and a better life, but are quickly disengaged and on to the next shiny thing therefore making it ineffective.

The gym experience is then further thinned. It is treated as just another “thing” to try and throw away. The tight bonds never even begin to build; they aren’t even a thought. We want our phones, we want instant results, and we don’t want to be “bothered” with niceties, a quick hello or, (gasp!) a helping hand. We are firmly in our corners of life comfortable at a distance and still yearning for real results, real connection, and real experiences. We think we know what we want, but what we want is imagined as too difficult and uncomfortable. We’ve painted ourselves into a corner.

The advantage of analog

I made an unofficial decision a while ago of sorts. As a freelance writer I was an active player in promoting my work through social media. I acted much like the average user posting things: checking my analytics all too often and obsessing over online interaction. One random day I had enough. I quit posting and subsequently using the platforms I was on. I thought that if my work was good enough it would be shared. I didn’t want to push it out there; it should speak for itself.

Additionally, I started to move away from it entirely regarding posting anything at all. With that said, I took a stance of not wanting others to feel they have to follow me anywhere other than reading my work and/or following my blog. In other words, I don’t want to become an enabler of something I don’t do myself.

***

To this day I still enter the gym sans phone and headphones. I am still an advocate of modeling that old inclusive, social behavior missing from modern day gyms and everyday life. I see this not only from a behavioral/social perspective, but also from a progressive standpoint.

My goal (and I’m sure yours too) is to progress in the gym. We train to either build muscle, lose body fat, or a combination of both. We are trying to reshape our physique into a vision we have of our ideal selves. The bottom line is we want to do some work on ourselves. Period.

The reason I bring this up is that no app will do this for you. No special program, no new device, no special social media inspirational post or image will either. Only you can.

Unbeknownst to me I am a bit of an endangered species. I enter the gym, sometimes severely sleep deprived, sometimes hungry, and sometimes stressed. The moment my hands grasp the bar I am channeling and conjuring years of experience with that dead weight. That dead weight is both friend and foe — it’s the absolute answer. No tricks, fancy supplements, or tech can help me when hand meets bar. It is up to me. I bask in the fact that I am (now) considered a lifting minimalist. I don’t have a ritual of any kind of pre-workout drink or special elbow wraps. It’s just shirt, shorts, shoes, and me against the weight. It’s entirely up to me to make something out of it.

I see plenty of the opposite. Knee wraps, belts, supplements, phone, headphones, expensive “gym clothes,” perfectly quaffed hair, too much cologne, and a plentitude of selfies. The workouts themselves are more for display than for purpose. They resemble photo ops more than actual, effective training. Heaving heavy weights while bending, arching, and straining while checking for notifications between each set.

The deep work is missing. It has gone extinct along with the brotherhood. We have gone from intrinsic motivations and purpose to extrinsic and superficial wants. Those “gym bros” are forever embracing vanity for vanity’s sake. Posts, pics, and videos have successfully permeated the gym and the old culture has been both left behind and lost.

Becoming more analog is the answer.

Get in your head, reconnect with your workouts in a true sense. Disconnect from your obsession with vanity, technology, or anything that isn’t inline with your ultimate goal. Listen to your body, your training, your muscles, joints, and heart. That is the only way to tune into what you really need to be doing in the gym. You’ll develop an unbelievable level of intuition to progress you forward like never before.

But what about useful tools?

I know the argument well. What about those tech tools or other extrinsic things that tout guaranteed success? What about keeping up with the latest trends in fitness such as wearable tech that tracks a wide array of vitals? These things have to give us an edge, an advantage over our striped-down selves right?

All good arguments. As I mentioned earlier, all of these tools have some value in theory, but are we using them properly? Here’s the reality: we like novelty. We like new and shiny and we tend to play around too much with tech. Sure there are those out there who will do their due diligence and try their best, but it’s mainly a distraction. Why bring these things into your life when you can’t even get the basics down.

Answering some important questions is a start toward real progress. Are you making progress toward your goal? What are things you could do better? Are you wasting time with distractions?

The goal should be achieving so called deep work in the gym. Connecting with the task at hand, the real purpose that will produce significant, measurable results. You must be honest with yourself and write down your goals and then list out the most important steps toward those goals. It’s a simple and minimalistic approach, but one that cannot be undermined or ignored.

Backing up my guarantee

At the beginning of this I made a guarantee. One that would bolster most anyone’s progress in the gym many times over. I believe if you dispose of all the distractions in your life and firmly focus on the task at hand you will single-handedly increase performance. Now, this sounds a bit universal, but that’s the point.

In the gym, leave the phone in the car and keep track of your workouts in a notebook, write down exercises, sets, reps, and weight, wear an actual watch to keep track of rest periods, and stay focused on each set.

Additionally, be friendly, lend a hand where you see fit, and erase the mean-looking scowl off your face. We aren’t “soldiers of iron.” This isn’t a war. I’ve always looked at the gym as a shared apartment and we are all roommates. Let’s treat each other with respect and bring back the brotherhood of positivity and progress.

Who’s with me?

***

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Categories
Blog Motivation

Confessions of an Un-Bodybuilder

After World War II, General Patton faced a personal crisis. After the fall of the Axis powers, he longed for the engagement and action he felt during wartime. This frustration is of no surprise. After all, his instrumental leadership during a world war had also been a summiting of the Everest of self-actualization. A return to normalcy was bound to be rough landing.

I’ve never led a global wartime effort. But I have had some rough landings. Here, what I’d like to do is look at General Patton’s situation as a problem of job identity, and see what we can learn.

But as the old saying goes what goes up…

I could only imagine the possible frustration he experienced once the war was coming to an end. Bittersweet only begins to explain it. On one hand he had accomplished his goal: To drive unceasingly toward the enemy with a singular obsessive goal for victory. On the other hand, during peacetime his utility, his usefulness was becoming increasingly threatened.

He had self-identified with his role as a war general so intensely, he was mentally stuck in his self-generated vacuum of past experiences. His life was surrounded by war, conflict, and the unique ability to live, navigate, and succeed in that environment. To abandon that in any way was, in some form, a predictable, uncomfortable fear.

In short, he couldn’t let go.

General Patton’s case is a great example of job identity.

I’m not suggesting any of us have the same monumental task to shed our postwar skin and adjust to life outside of a worldwide emergency, but we can all relate in some ways. History, as we all know, always has unique ways to teach us how to handle current struggles and challenges.

The set-up

After that deep dive into history let’s circle back to today. I wanted to title this “Un-Bodybuilder” for a couple of reasons. Sure, I can’t compare to the trials and events of General Patton, but it can provide reflection to be applied to other struggles in life. And maybe even put us in our place at times.

One reason: To tell the story of my shifting paradigm regarding my involvement in the fitness industry, writing, and ultimately direction. The other, to possibly give someone else something to relate to. Maybe you’ve found yourself in a similar situation and could use a little insight.

To give a little background I’ve been in fitness in one way or another for a while now. I started training at 14 years old, I majored in Kinesiology as an undergrad and earned my master’s degree in the same discipline. I became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

Along the way I started competing in drug-free bodybuilding, traveling the country to competitions hoping to “make it” one day – whatever that meant.

I also worked in hospital wellness centers, university rec facilities, and trained others for bodybuilding competitions.

I was immersed in the fitness industry and handled it well. I was striving, motivated, and looking to improve on everything.

I completely identified with being the “fitness guy.” I was even the unofficial fitness authority in my Air National Guard unit.

Fitness permeated into everything I did and experienced. At the age of 29 when I was diagnosed with cancer, Hodgkin’s Disease to be exact. For days, weeks, and months during treatment I would envision coming out of my last chemotherapy session determined to train, eat, and compete once again.

Eventually I would begin writing for several publications online and in magazines. I’d make my way up to associate editor and co-brand coordinator.

To top it off I was training people on the side, consulting with nutrition and training online, and constantly advising students in everything fitness.     

I was indeed “making it” I guess.

I, unsurprisingly, heavily identified with what I was doing. I unconsciously thought I was in the right place. I felt I had successfully merged passion with work. Desire with money. I lived and breathed fitness and others identified me in kind. I was consulted about diets, losing weight, and building muscle and I liked the fact that others confided in me, trusted my so-called authority. I was traversing the fitness landscape like a well-worn trail.

Was I effectively and happily immersed in my own little world or was I going through the motions with blinders on and beginning toward burnout?

Red flags

Early on I can honestly state I was climbing the ladder and happy for it. Getting paid to write, teach, and talk about an interest and passion is a dream come true for many. But the armor was starting to chink. Cracks were unknowingly forming while I was busy climbing the fitness ladder.

Warning signs are most-often spotted in hindsight and my case was no different. Looking back, I can clearly see material mounting in favor of eventual burnout.

One pivotal moment was taking on clients at my local gym. I was already inundated with everything fitness. Taking on one more role was exciting for a moment, but quickly lead to exhaustion. But I trudged through convinced it was the right path.

Other things were getting at me as well. Once one rock falls it doesn’t take much for the avalanche to start. When I was well on my way to burnout other aspects began to suffer. Stress set in and I simply and mistakenly chalked it up to the belief that I needed to work harder and push through.

Unaware of the ship sinking I was still playing music on the deck.

Have you ever felt like there were two miniature versions of you in your head and don’t know which one to listen to? One was telling me to keep pushing because that’s what one does. Press on. Since I had never once quit at anything until the end, I thought that this should be no different. The other voice was quietly whispering warnings that could easily be ignored. Since I considered myself a driver I chose to listen to the pusher.

Writing paralysis

One of the biggest influencers of my ongoing battle with burnout was my writing. As mentioned earlier I was writing for several outlets producing numerous articles each week. Month after month I met pending deadlines, writing, editing, and revising.

The content was the same. Training, nutrition, and motivational articles flowed out of my brain. I wrote only from experience of what I truly believed in instead of trendy miracle diets and uber cool-sounding programs.

I would often talk to other writers and editors who were mystified at my rate of output. Looking back, I can easily see the mere fact I was reaching out to others signified my frustration of overload.

I began repeating myself. Article topics were running together. Did I already write about this? Is this just repeating myself? Am I plagiarizing my own work? Is that even possible?

Then, at a very defining time, many companies were letting their writers go. Sure, they would still accept your work, but without compensation. I managed to navigate these waters for a while without too much loss, but things were beginning to change. For years I was free to write to my heart’s content, free to choose titles and subject matter, but now I was being given click-bait titles, assigned subjects without much focus on content. The industry was starting to shift to quantity versus quality. Additionally, the demand for more video came to town. People were reading less and watching more.

In a way I was relieved. I truly felt that I had written all I could have about fitness. Yes, it was and always will be an ever-evolving subject, but I believed that the principles still and always will remain the same.

I took what I thought was a well-deserved break from writing. Believing I had nothing else to add to the conversation I focused my efforts to teaching and training. It was a welcome sabbatical, but the desire to write was still there in the background.

Writing paralysis round two

During all this burnout I recognized that my love and passion for training had faded. No longer did I anticipate going to the gym and getting in a good ole fashioned sweat session. As something that was so instrumental in my life, I was subconsciously disappointed it had come to this.

To simplify things and write on my own terms I decided to crank back up my old blog (bradborland.com) and write. I made the choice to write on my own terms again and it was good for a while. I had fun writing about training and nutrition again and my writing was flowing, and, as a bonus, I felt I was helping others along the way.

I was cranking out workouts, nutrition advice, and motivational stories from my past. Sure, I was regurgitating old topics, but now I was able to convey them in my own way. It seemed to renew my interest, was perceptually sustainable, and I was getting decent feedback from readers.

My once dormant blog was once again a haven for self-expression. Even though I was still pigeon-holed into fitness I had a sense of freedom. It was my land and I was going to treat it my way.

Well, something happened along the way. Once the Covid-19 Quarantine of 2020 hit I found myself like many others around the world – without income. As the quarantine lingered on, I began to think in terms of making money, remotely.

I started scouring for information on online training. I joined groups, researched methods, and asked tons of questions. I knew that if I were going to move forward with it, I would have to turn my blog into a business. I’d need to restructure email sigh-ups, offer giveaways, and start (ugh!) marketing.

I wrote copy, started structuring my article writing with sales in mind, and kept a keen eye on metrics. I even started to post on social media. I did marketing to friends, kept up with all the trends, and felt as if I was going to “make it” once again.

Two major things happened at this point.

I had a nagging an overwhelming feeling that I was no longer true to myself. I was inundating myself with the very things I abhorred: marketing, sleazy sales, and ruining my passions with the crazy world of trying to merge those passions with business. I simply wrote my last (at the time) post and decided I was going down the same road as before.  

I walked away from the keyboard and made a deal. I would take a break from writing on my blog. A real break.

I started to allow myself to write on my own, on a word document, but nothing online. Why? Because I allowed myself to get caught up in the hype, of writing for sales, and to always try to appease the reader. I was no longer challenging my writing or the reader. I had succumbed to the industry just like so many. I was looking into video marketing, trying out different social media tactics, and constantly basing my success or failure on metrics such as views, comments, and other feedback. I would risk trying to hitch my wagon to business instead of creating real personal expression.

That sent me in motion to truly take a break. The other thing that hit the last nail on the head was an article I read by John P. Weiss. It was titled How to Create Content People Want to Read on Medium.com. (John also has a blog).

As the title suggests, John delves into the creation of content, but from a different perspective. I must have read the article three times as he succinctly summed up my feeling towards modern day creation and wholeheartedly justified my decision to just stop and look at what I was putting out into the world.

I wasn’t taking any deep dives into what I was writing. From my vantage point I wasn’t creating anything authentic enough to justify putting it out into the world. Most content these days consists of short bursts of status updates, easily digestible bits of ephemeral opinions, comments, and selfies. I’ve never been about that. I truly believe if I’m to put anything out there it needs to be of some value, something I can look back on and be proud of. Nothing fake, filtered, or showcasing a “perfect life,” but of significant usefulness, personal authenticity, and timeless integrity.

I needed to shut my content creation machine down and seriously wipe the slate clean. 

Time well spent

Even though time during the quarantine can be quite frustrating I tried to put it to good use. It was the first time I had been mentally and physically away from fitness in a very long time. I remember how beneficial annual trainings with the Air National Guard were. It was a time to disconnect, travel, work hard, and do something completely different for a while. I needed something like that again.

The time at home and away form the normal routine was something I had to recognize as positive at least for some part of my wellbeing. Yes, being out of work is terrible, not being able to see the future, and the waiting can become mind-numbing, but I was determined to make this time well spent.

I decided to declutter my head. I would stop the researching, creating, and experimenting with marketing ideas, I stopped posting blog and social updates regarding new articles or services I was offering, and I took a break from checking any metrics and analytics regarding my blog.

I wanted to be okay with not being “the fitness guy” for once. I wanted to intentionally strip away my self-identification with it, take the blinders off, and for once in a long while, look at my surroundings.  

It reminded of an old Peter Gabriel song, Solsbury Hill. In it he paints a vivid picture of his feelings about leaving the band Genesis; how he needed to break free so he could be true to what was about to be before him. A bit lofty on my part, I know, but I welcomed the inspiration.

With my new commitment toward more silence, less noise, and a healthy use of time I could honestly get back to what is and what could be important. I wanted to see what I could do for others to have a deeper impact and more meaningful creation.

English artist Henry Moore once said,

“It is a mistake for a sculptor or a painter to speak or write very often about his job. It releases tension needed for his work.”

This rings so true for me. I want to only create my best work, to share that best work with others only when the time is right, and to build on authenticity and integrity that I can be proud of for years to come.

***

Does this all mean I’ll never write about fitness-related topics ever again? No, of course not. It does mean, however, that if I do decide to jump back on that horse it’ll be something unique and as helpful to others as possible. The world is filled with information on training and nutrition overload. It doesn’t need another meathead like me to muck it up any more than it is already.

I will always be a work in progress. I will continually shed my skin, clear my mind, and be in pursuit of what really matters in the world. Much like General Patton’s desire, I’m hoping that my writing, content creation, or anything else I put out into the world will still be of use and utility without the burden of a self-imposed identity. 

I will always remember these words from French author Andre Gide:

“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

To be continued…

***

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Blog Training Workouts

New Leg Training Routine for My Bad Knee

My leg training has been mostly successful for the past few weeks. However, as with all things it can get a bit stale.

Always willing to change, I once again shifted gears and came up with another knee-friendly leg routine.

What’s different? I didn’t reinvent the wheel or anything, but I did throw in two important changes with my tweaked left knee in mind.

  • I went a bit heavier on most exercises. This lowered my rep range just slightly.
  • I included some unilateral (single limb) work.

Here we go:

Routine A (rest periods are 30-60 seconds)

Standing calf raise 3 x 10-16
Single leg seated calf raise 3 x 10-16

Bulgarian split squat 3 x 12
Leg extension 3 x 10-16
Leg press 3 x 10-20
Dumbbell Romanian deadlift 3 x 12

Routine B (rest periods are 30-60 seconds)

Seated calf raise 3 x 10-16
Standing calf raise 3 x 10-16

Leg curl 3 x 10-16
Leg extension 2 x 16
Single leg press 3 x 12
Walking lunge 2 lengths
Dumbbell Romanian deadlift 3 x 12

***

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Blog Training

The Most Overlooked Training Principle for Muscle Size

I’ll spare you the normal intro B.S. and get right to it. The most overlooked training principle for putting on real muscle size is rest periods between sets. Pure and simple. Maybe you or someone like you is guilty of not following this hallowed rule?

I was for the longest time. When I was younger I was more focused on lifting heavier and heavier. Of course I wanted to get stronger. Who doesn’t? But I was sacrificing more size for strength. I was well entrenched in the strength game. Who could blame me? I was young and enthusiastic to a fault.

Over the years I tried my best to increase the amounts I was lifting and not really paying too much attention to other factors.

I lifted heavy stuff, used some body English, and kept pushing, pressing, and pulling on all cylinders.

Age, pain, and gains

A funny thing happens when you get older. Your joints start having a say in your everyday activity. Knees become a little stiff, shoulders get cranky, and sciatica rears it’s freaking ugly face.

In my thirties I started to clean up my form a bit. Since I wasn’t competing in bodybuilding anymore I felt the consistent and obsessive drive to always improve to be tamed a bit. I could exhale a little and try a few new things in my training.

For a time perfect form did some good, but some of my joints were still holding a grudge. I was still reaping the euphoria of the iron bug bite, but I had to do something to continue the ride.

I went back to my roots. I once again became a student, studied like a school kid, and buried my ego. I went full-on high rep training with short and strict rest periods.

Then the gains came once again.

Get your head straight and gain some muscle

There are several factors that go into muscular size or hypertrophy. Mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress are three of the main components. I’ll go into those more into detail in a later post if you want me to, but for now let’s look at what we can do right now to better position ourselves to pack on more muscle.

The key to your training should be to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible in a given muscle group. Furthermore, you should try to fatigue those muscle groups with appropriate time under tension.

To do this you need to do two things. Increase the length of your sets and reduce the rest time between them.

I’ve broadened my rep range from the traditional 6 to 12 over to 10 to 20 reps depending on what movement I’m doing and what body part I’m training. Plus, I’ve cut rest periods down to 30-60 seconds.

So you’ll see with my current training program I’ve checked both boxes.

The results? More muscle mass, better pumps, and nicer joints. You can’t beat that. The only thing you’ll have to give up is your ego, but I believe that fades with age anyways.

***

Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried this with your own training.

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Blog Training Workouts

Are Your Early Morning Workouts Even Effective?

It’s been a few years since I got up early (like 5:00 am early) to go train. I’m not foreign to it by any means, but it’s been a while to say the least.

With changing schedules and other reasons I decided to get up at 5:00 and be warmed up and ready to go at the gym by 5:30. At 45 years young I was as curious as any to see if I could still get in a decent workout with less sleep, less food in my stomach, and less blood in my extremities.

I can’t help to hearken back to my twenties when I was on some military job barely sleeping, eating like crap, and still killing it at the base gym. No matter what, I now not only have age to deal with, but, more importantly, I have mileage — 30 plus years of training to be frank. So my tires are a bit worn.

What I didn’t do

The one overall thing I didn’t want to do was to overthink anything. Early doesn’t mean that I must eat my usual breakfast, wait for it to properly digest, take supplements, and then go through my normal warm up routine as if it was 2:00 in the afternoon. If I attempted that I would be seeing 3:00 am.

Now, I wake up early anyways, and when I do I am instantly hungry. If I don’t eat within a few minutes of waking I get weak, lightheaded, and a bit cranky.

But things needed to change.

Time was a factor. I had to get home at a certain time to start the day so I couldn’t think about those details. I not only avoided overthinking, I also refused to lament on the fact that I was doing anything out of the ordinary. More on that next.

What I did

I took my usual mindset. I would get up, drink around 12 ounces of water, eat a small breakfast fig bar for some instant energy, drink 1/2 scoop of protein powder, and get after it.

As I mentioned earlier I also didn’t think too much into anything. I practiced what I like to call “sneaking in a workout.” That is, I showed up, trained like I always do without harping on the thought that I haven’t eaten or that I didn’t sleep enough. I “sneaked” my training in without really worrying too much about my circumstances.

And to top it off, I trained legs. So, there’s that…

Was it effective?

In a word, yes. The weights I used were roughly the same (basically I did what I did from my last workout without hitting my head against the wall trying to lift more weight or get more reps).

It’s a ton off your back when you don’t focus on the lack of sleep or prep and just do the dang thing. I do think that mindset had a lot to do with the workout being a success.

I also noticed two important things. One, training early was just another thing to get used to. Over time I could adapt to the new schedule and each day would prove to be more and more effective just like an afternoon workout would be.

Two, it was nice to experience training this early again. I forget how getting training under your belt early gets you into an action mindset. After a shower and my regular breakfast I liked the feeling of getting the workout out of the way and it put me into a productive mood for the rest of the day.

***

I’m writing this before lunch so I ‘m sure I’ll take a 5 minute power nap soon and hit the bed early later, but for now let me know your thoughts about this in the comments below. Are you an early trainer?

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Blog Nutrition

My Current Diet (Full Eating Plan)

I’m never one to give anyone a completely overhauled diet plan, especially when I barely know their habits, likes, or dislikes. Lifestyle can dictate a ton when it comes to fitness, health, building muscle, losing fat, and any other life-improving action.

I like to instead look at what someone is doing and give suggestions. Here, I’m going to layout my current eating habits. This is just a current snapshot of what I’m currently doing to build muscle at 45 and slightly lose some body fat and stay healthy.

It’s not perfect and may evolve over time, but it’s a good look at how I’ve tried to remain practical and realistic. No pounds and pounds of beef here or perfectly curated photos of my meals for social media, just real-world eating for us regular folk.

Amounts are approximate and I’ve also included some notes at the end to explain myself.

Meal 1 (breakfast)

1/2 cup of organic oatmeal (quick oats) mixed with 2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter and cinnamon

1 serving of low sugar Greek yogurt

Coffee with sugar-free creamer

Meal 2 (lunch)

Turkey sandwich with low fat cheese slices

Piece of fruit or bowl of strawberries

or

2 whole eggs and two additional egg whites with low fat cheese

2 whole wheat slices of bread with low sugar or sugar free jelly

Meal 3 (post workout)

Protein shake: 1 serving of veggie protein with greens in water

1 piece of fruit

Meal 4 (dinner)

A variety of meals. Usually fish, chicken, or lean beef with a veggie such as sweet potato, zucchini, mixed salad, and a starch such as rice or pasta.

Notes:

  • Breakfast is by far my favorite meal. I wake up hungry and go straight into making it. I also get up early on purpose so I don’t have to run out the door and do the grab n’ go. I like to make my breakfast, sit and enjoy it.
  • Midmorning (between meals 1 and 2) I may have a serving of mixed nuts to stave off hunger. This is important since I could easily cram my gullet with junk.
  • Lunch is another predictable meal like breakfast. I just choose from two options and I like it that way. Less thinking involved.
  • Post workout is about the only time I take sports supplements. Currently, I’m trying out veggie protein with greens and superfoods. I don’t get a ton of veggies in my diet yet so it’s a sneaky way of doing that.
  • Dinner has the most variety. We cook for the family, but ensure that we are getting in lean meats, low fat, and healthy carb sources. In the past I would have another predictable meal, but as a man with a family it’s nice to change this meal up. Plus, it’s a good time to bond.
  • If I’m still hungry at night (like after a hard lower body training day) I’ll snack on a bowl of low sugar cereal with skim milk), but not often.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • I drink a lot of water throughout the day.
  • I take vitamin C and vitamin D3 in the morning and a multivitamin at night just for insurance.
  • Lately, I’ve curtailed junk foods and cheat meals. Having a sweet tooth get’s me into too much trouble. Plus, my training will start to suffer for it.
  • For the most part I don’t think of food as pleasure, aside from the occasional weekend meal (take out usually).

***

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Blog Training Workouts

My Current Complete Workout (Full Program)

I’ve received several messages from those who wanted to see my current workout in full. Thanks for the messages and here you go.

First a couple of points to be made:

  • I train around five or six days per week. I usually go with Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.
  • Each workout is an hour or less. Any longer and I’m not keeping track of rest periods enough.
  • I’m 45 so my reps are higher these days. This has actually proven to be better for muscle mass, for me at least.
  • Rest periods are kept between 30 (for smaller groups) and 60 seconds (for larger groups). Pay very close attention to this. It’s the special sauce in how all this works.
  • I operate my training on an A and B routine. I have two workouts for each day that I rotate on a regular basis. This keeps it interesting.
  • I’m more interested in putting on muscle and reshaping my body instead of building pure strength. These workouts will still get you stronger, but that’s not the main focus.
  • Abs are trained each day except leg day. 3 or 4 sets of crunches and 3 or 4 sets of leg raises.

Group A

Day 1:

Incline bench barbell press 4 x 10-20
Flat bench dumbbell press 4 x 10-20
Feet inclined push up 3-4 x as many as possible

Cross bench dumbbell pullover 3 x 10-15

Wide-grip pull up 4 x as many as possible
T-bar row 4 x 10-20
Medium-grip pulldown 3-4 x 10-20

Day 2:

Standing dumbbell side lateral raise 4 x 10-20
Bent-over rear lateral raise 4 x 10-20
Front plate raise 3-4 x 10-20
Barbell shrug 3 x 10-15

Single arm cable pressdown 4 x 10-20
Lying triceps extension 4 x 10-20
Incline bench dumbbell curl 4 x 10-20
Barbell curl 4 x 10-20

Day 3:

Standing calf raise 4 x 10-20
Seated calf raise 4 x 10-20

Leg extension 3 x 20
Leg press 3 x 20
Walking lunge 3 lengths
Dumbbell Romanian deadlift 3 x 10-15
Leg curl 3 x 10-20

Group B

Day 1:

Incline bench dumbbell press 4 x 10-20
Incline Hammer Strength press 4 x 10-20
Floor push up 3 x as many as possible

Cross bench pullover 3 x 10-15

Close-grip pull up 4 x as many as possible
Bent-over barbell row 4 x 10-20
Wide-grip pulldown 3-4 x 10-20

Day 2:

Seated side dumbbell side lateral raise 4 x 10-20
Seated dumbbell shoulder press 4 x 10-20
Cable rear lateral raise 3-4 x 10-20
Dumbbell shrug 3 x 10-20

Overhead rope triceps extension 4 x 10-20
Dumbbell lying extension 4 x 10-20
Standing dumbbell curl 4 x 10-20
Straight bar cable curl 4 x 10-20

Day 3:

Seated calf raise 4 x 10-20
Standing calf raise 4 x 10-20

Leg curl 3 x 10-20
Dumbbell Romanian deadlift 3 x 10-15
Leg extension 3 x 20
Rear foot elevated Bulgarian split squat 3 x 10-20 each leg
Leg press 3 x 20

***

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