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Podcast Interview with Average Bros Fitness

Check out my latest interview from Average Bros Fitness. We talk about training, nutrition, motivation, the fitness industry, and competition. Enjoy!

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Blog Motivation Training Workouts

Be Like Bruce Lee, My Friend (or How to Stick to Your Training)

There’s a famous interview with Bruce Lee where he describes his philosophy of his life. As he was most notable for his martial arts and movies, he applied this mindset to everything. He was truly a man of deep reverence by his peers, the public, and an ever-growing audience from every generation to this day.

His philosophy was a profession of adaptability. To conform with the winds of change. To take the form of whatever is challenging us and use it to our advantage.

Bruce Lee still fascinates me to this day. I can’t get enough of his timeless voice taking on life’s biggest struggles with simple (but not easy) approaches.

How to adapt your mind

As we all like to restart our training efforts from time to time we need to equip ourselves with a few steadfast principles that can be applied to our long term plans.

Notably, I like to take Bruce Lee’s philosophy to the heart of my training. Lee stresses that we must be like water. To take the shape of whatever we are presented with (more or less). It’s a unique perspective on how to adapt. Not to complain about the situation, not to feverishly find ways to get out of the work ahead of us, and not to subvert any entity to make things easier on us.

When it comes to your physique goals, make this time one of adaptability. This time you’ll start with the philosophy of water before you lift a single weight or perform a single pushup. Know that life will always throw wrenches your way big and small and that you have the ability to assess the challenges and act with flexibility.

How to adapt your training

I’ve said it many times, “Don’t plan a break from training, life will provide it for you.” With that said the first order of business is to become consistent with training, eating habits, and recovery.

Are you hitting on all your training days each week?

Are you preparing and timing all of your meals?

Are you sleeping and resting enough?

Nothing beats consistency. Once you have that established you are miles ahead of the crowd.

“There are no traffic jams on the extra mile because most are not willing to put in the time to get there.”

Next, be aware that those perfect plans will get squashed, guaranteed. This is when we need to adopt Bruce Lee’s philosophy on whether it’s cancelling our training session for the day due to an unforeseen family obligation or shifting gears on our workout plan because every squat rack is taken by some kid scrolling through their phone.

You see, most hiccups that perceptually derail our training have two surprisingly unique parts. One, they usually don’t last as long as we think, and two, they aren’t as severe as we fear. So adopting an adaptation mindset will transform those mythical mountains into mole hills.

But what about the big things like a gym closing and being forced to workout from home for a while or some sort of lifestyle change that has us training sporadically, later or earlier than you prefer, or limiting your time? The same principle applies.

If we are as creative and adaptive as we like to think we are, why not put it into practice? Why beat our head against the wall when we can simply adapt, go with the flow, and be like water? Take the form of whatever is presented to us and make it work to our advantage?

The best laid plans

I know what your thinking. Why not just force my way there? Why not tell that kid to scram off the squat rack? Because we have too much to learn if we don’t.

If you always start with squats during a leg workout then here’s your opportunity to shift gears and try a new sequence. Can’t bench press due to crowding today? Perform an all dumbbell chest routine. Can’t use your favorite cardio machine? Try a new one. Or better yet, go outside.

The opposite will only keep us frustrated, angry, and stagnant.

The point is that adapting moves us forward. If applied liberally, we will always be moving toward a better circumstance. We may perceive roadblocks as such, but there is another, more effective perspective to adhere to. One of water.

In the middle of chaos lies opportunity.

Bruce Lee

I’ll leave you with this reminder.

You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.

Bruce Lee

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Blog Motivation Training Workouts

What I Did on My Week Off

Most of us will treat a week off from the gym as just that: a week away, usually indulging in some bad food, and giving our joints, tendons, and ligaments a break.

I have a quote I tell almost every client:

“Don’t schedule time off. Life will do it for you.”

In other words, life will find a way to keep you away from the gym, your workouts, and anything else that has you on a productive schedule toward your physique goals. Things like family matters, injuries, sickness, natural disasters, or anything else you can imagine will surface and take their toll.

So I say train, maintain, and keep on the gain train until you either experience one of these episodes or you simply start getting burned out and desperately need a break of sorts.

How to take a break

Aside from the obvious scenario of enduring some sort of serious setback such as a sickness or injury there are some loose rules I follow when I’m in need of a break due to a muscle strain or the all-too familiar burn out we all experience.

If I’m just burned out, my body isn’t getting the pump I want in the gym, I feel flat and low on energy, my appetite has waned, and/or I’ve just lost my enthusiasm to show up to the gym I’ll take some deliberate action.

I will take one of two options. Option one, I will take around three or four days off from the gym completely. It’s not a week, which feels too long to me. It’s just enough time to start missing the gym by day four or five and regain that excitement and enthusiasm to get back to work.

Option two would be taking a week or two to downshift my training. That is to avoid taking any sets to muscular failure, reduce my volume and load a bit, and not pour on the intensity so much. I get in, get a little pump, eat a little more, and get on with my day. In other words, each workout isn’t taken as a step forward in progress, it’s seen as maintenance only. The pressure is off.

What I did on my week off

This past week I took a bit of a hybrid approach to those listed above. I started to battle a severe tightness in my shoulder which spread to my other shoulder and neck areas. My range of motion was terrible and I knew instinctively that it was something I shouldn’t fight through. It was time to take some time off.

But I wasn’t ready to take a break.

I decided to give my upper body a full week’s rest. No training from the waste up at all.

Instead I focused on lower body only for that week. In order to train more days than not I decided to split my leg training into two days working everything twice. It was broken down like this:

Monday: Quadriceps
Tuesday: Calves and hamstrings
Wednesday: Off
Thursday: Quadriceps
Friday: Off
Saturday: Calves and hamstrings

Each workout looked a little like this:

Leg extension 3-4 x 20
Leg press 3 x 20
Box squat or Bulgarian split squat 3 x 12-15

Standing calf raise 3 x 10-16
Seated calf raise 3 x 10-16
Seated leg curl 3 x 10-16
Standing single leg curl (on leg extension) 3 x 10-16
Romanian deadlift with dumbbells (optional) 3 x 12

This enabled me to keep training all the while taking a break where it was needed most. Additionally, I was able to keep training most days of the week and not bury myself with a ton of volume and intensity each workout since I split my leg training up like this.

What’s next? Well, with much-needed rest my shoulder feels better and I will be posting on here soon about what split and routine I’ll go to next.

Stay tuned.

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Blog Motivation Training

The Best Body Part Split for You: A Reader’s Question

I get some great questions about training, nutrition, recovery, and motivation from readers. Many of these questions are common among you so I’d like to answer some right here for all to benefit from.

Here is an email I received from Nick. He has a few concerns about training splits.

Hey Brad,

This is a little different question that may or may not have an easy answer but I need your advice and reasoning to finding my way.

At 40yrs old, I’ve probably reached my genetic potential being that I’ve been lifting almost 20 yrs now. I would like to know your reasoning for hitting each muscle twice per week? I mean, on paper, it seems great- lots of volume per week, science backed being that muscles recover in a few days and most approve. But how effective is it in reality compared to any other workout? At the end of the day, if your not progressing in weight, reps no matter the rep range, the progress halts. So I find trying to fit 3 muscles in a workout, then doing it again in 4 days just making the process harder… ?

I personally haven’t gained any more muscle regardless of the frequency I’m training.  1/2 or 3 times per week. The reason I’m asking is because I feel like I want to make things simple. Sometimes my wife says, “If want to workout before we leave to run errands you have about 30-45min.” Chest/Back and abs could work but I cant really push hard enough. This brings me to my next point.

A couple times last week this happened where I had very little time. So I decided to do just chest-4 exercises, 4 sets each abs at the end. I even wanted to do some cardio after which never happens. My intensity was higher, my focus was greater and I was lifting heavier than I normally do due not having to save intensity and energy for multiple muscles per workout. 

I find the bro split quite enjoyable and honestly effective. Even with the low frequency, I really can’t find too many other problems with it. I enjoy each workout separately and can really give all my attention to the muscle I’m working. 

Since I have arthritis in my knees, hitting legs once per week is great and who doesn’t love hitting arms? Haha. I follow the splits you do because you know what works, but I don’t feel I truly enjoy them because I’m constantly researching or finding ways to sway my decision to doing a bro split but I know you don’t agree with this approach so I’ve hesitated sending this email.

Thanks Brad, Nick

Your thoughts are appreciated 

***

Nick makes some great points and has some legitimate questions and concerns. I’ll do my best to help out by breaking down a few things.

My best splits

I’ve posted before about my favorite body part splits. I must stress that these are my personal favorites. If you’ve followed my writing for any length of time you’ll know that I’m a fan of a bit more frequent training and also grouping several body parts together on each day.

I’ve also talked a little about how this fits into our over 40 crowd–how splitting your training isn’t all that much different than that from years ago. I do, however, replace exercises, perform a few differently, and pay very close attention to recovery. But I must repeat that those splits work for me. I’ve had and continue to have success with them and don’t have a need to change at this point.

I also like to prescribe those splits to readers and clients for the simple fact that the majority of them are under training and need something to shock them into new muscle growth. In other words, what they are currently doing (normally a “bro split”) just isn’t working for them. This may be due to the fact that the “bro split” just isn’t for them or that they just aren’t working hard enough.

Whatever it may be, they voice that what they’re doing simply hasn’t reaped the results they’re after.

Are my splits working?

Now let’s address Nick’s concerns. He states in his email that the more frequency coupled with appropriate intensity and volume is a tough box to check day after day and week after week.

One of the many lines stood out to me:

I follow the splits you do because you know what works, but I don’t feel I truly enjoy them

That tells me volumes. Nick also states the research and what others have said regarding more frequent training, but motivation toward your plan is pivotal. Simply put, if you’re not enjoying your training, if you’re not excited to show up every day and hit the iron hard then something needs to change no matter what science says.

Now, I love science. I’m a believer in peer-researched studies touting the benefits of specific protocols, but we are all built a bit differently and we all have our little silos we live in. I, for example, have always trained the way I do: more frequency, moderate volume. That has worked for me and I am incredibly adapted to training that way. I’ve tried “bro splits” and honestly don’t like them. But that’s me.

Back to Nick.

Are your splits working?

Nick made some other interesting remarks regarding performing a traditional “bro split” due to time constraints.

My intensity was higher, my focus was greater and I was lifting heavier than I normally do

Then he concluded with this.

I find the bro split quite enjoyable and honestly effective.

This tells me through life’s unexpected circumstances and ultimately self-discovery Nick virtually stumbled upon a solution to his dilemma.

And I understand Nick’s frustration. We all scour the internet for answers. We read the research, read blogs (like mine) and think those are the only ways to execute their plans for more muscle.

I am the first to tell anyone reading that I do not have all the answers and that my way isn’t the only way. Nick has found where he needs to be: training with a traditional “bro split” under his own terms and conditions. My advice to him is to limit his intake of other programs and information with a filter and keep listening to his body. He should continue to fine tune his plan with small changes only where needed and pave his own way.

I hope Nick can update us all on his progress in the comments section below. I’m sure there are many more readers in the same boat.

Happy lifting.

***

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Blog Motivation Training

Over 40 and New Fitness Tech

A student of mine recently approached me about training and wanted my opinion on a new fitness app he was contemplating using. He spoke on end about all the things this app could do to inevitably help him achieve his goals of more lean muscle. The app, he explained, tracked everything from reps and sets to calories and meals plans.

This eventually got me thinking about us over 40 types. Would we benefit from such detail-oriented technology to propel us forward in our physique pursuits? Are we at an age where technology is needed to gain that once all too important edge for building muscle on our aging frames?

One would easily think so.

The rise and root of tech

The influx of technology in every aspect of our lives is now the norm. Specifically, we wholeheartedly and blindly accept technology as the final missing piece in our seemingly forever struggle in the world of fitness. Almost every fitness facility (aside from a few choice and more personal-oriented places) has adopted some form of advanced technology offered to members.

From publicly displayed heart rate readings displayed on a “mega board” to integrative apps specific to your group complete with a social media component to keep you always plugged-in and connected. Every new advancement promises to be that missing piece. The final solution you’ve been searching for.

Arguments are made referring to testimonials galore relating the ease to our already established trust in technology. After all, technology always moves our lives forward. Right?

Is it rocket science?

Allow me digress for a moment and state that I am not against technology in general. And I am not against tech in fitness either. My big picture perspective hinges on the necessity of tech and not the novelty of it. If it has an important, necessary use then I will try it and possibly adopt it, but I refuse to fill my life with useless apps and other programs for the sheer reason that they exist or the fact that everyone seems to be using it.

Here is my take on the entire subject: No matter how old you are, fitness isn’t rocket science. The body still reacts to resistance no matter the source. It doesn’t know the difference from training in front of an expensive interactive control panel and flipping an old tractor tire down a dirt road.

Weight training, calories in calories out, cardiovascular training, protein intake, quality sleep, and every point in between requires no tech. The common principles to get going and progressing are discipline, consistency, and persistence. No tech needed.

Over 40 tech use

You may have contemplated the need for tech especially when you’re north of 40. You may feel like your days of slinging heavy weights around haphazardly are over.

In some ways they are, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find new ways to train for muscle growth–get in the gym and hammer away with intensity and ferocity. Those days are not behind us. Cranky shoulders and clicking knees will not stop us from training the way want to train.

I believe, however, that tech is not our savior. At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, I believe we need to make a sound plan and forego all the cute little gadgets and just get to work. Leave the cell phone in the car, write down your plan, and get after it.

Practice the discipline to show up each day and train with purposeful intensity. Practice consistency to make every workout each day, week, and month. Practice persistence that you will succeed with every set and every rep.

Technology is a wonderful tool. It’s made a lot of aspects of our lives better, more convenient, and not to mention safer. But we can’t allow it to give us an excuse. An excuse that if we don’t have this new shiny thing we won’t succeed–that it’s the key to our goals.

Let’s get back to basics.

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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!

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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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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.

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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 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.

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

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