How to Improve Your Pull-up Game!

I’ve had the luxury to help hundreds of people over the course of my career.  For those that were committed and took my advice seriously, they made tremendous gains.  That’s right, not everyone that crossed my path transformed their bodies into the perfect picture of health.  That’s OK though, not everyone is willing to do what’s necessary to get the results they want.

17 Bodyweight Exercises for Optimum Strength and Conditioning

Anyone that knows me knows that I love to throw a barbell around.  Lifting weight is my sanctuary.  There is something to be said about being able to move your bodyweight though.

The strength required to perform high skill bodyweight exercises is not to be underestimated.  Not only that, you can actually get pretty jacked without any additional resistance.

How to Deadlift Like a Boss!

If you’re looking for a quick fix stop reading now.  If you’re looking for a secret exercise that’s going to add 50lbs to all your lifts then this blog isn’t for you.  If you’re looking for someone to hold your hand and do the work for you, I’m sure there’s a daycare center in your local area that will meet your needs.

I’m looking for people who want to learn the most effective ways to become better and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.  I need people with that “wax on, wax off” mentality that “Danielson” had in the Karate Kid.  No excuses, no whining, just shut up, do the work and have faith in the process. I’ll never lead you down the wrong path as it’s in my best interest to provide you with all the tools you need to be successful.

Now, let’s get down to business.  If you’re still reading at this point, it means you are serious about making serious gains and eager to start waxing some cars (Mr. Miyagi was wise beyond his years).

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you need that “wax on/wax off” mentality

The topic of discussion today is the mighty deadlift.

For anyone that is trying to pack on serious muscle and get as strong as possible, it only makes sense to deadlift and deadlift WELL!  When performed correctly and when your body is dialed in, no other exercise will allow you to lift as much weight as a deadlift.  Make no mistake about it, the deadlift may not be a highly technical lift but it gets butchered more often than not for a number of reasons including:

  • starting with the hips too low
  • initiating the lift with arms instead of the legs
  • rounding of the lower back
  • trying to squat the weight up
  • weak hip extension

These are just a few reasons why so many people struggle with deadlifts and end up with all kinds of injuries.  You aren’t going to be another victim though, you are going to be the envy of all your boys at the gym when they see the kind of weight you’re gonna be moving.

To become a master of the deadlift, there are some key areas you need to strengthen and develop including:

  • Posterior chain strength – The lower back, glutes and hamstrings need to be strong as titanium if you want a big deadlift.
  • Grip strength – Pulling big weight means you need need to have a strong grip to hold on to that S.O.B.!
  • Upper back strength – Often neglected, upper back strength is critical to a strong lockout.
  • Hip hinge ability – A solid and efficient hip hinge is what separates the men from the boys.
  • Grit – To move big weight, you can’t have a casual attitude.  You need to be able to dig deep and lift like your life depends on it.

To be a strong deadlifter, your technique should also be solid and effortless.  You shouldn’t have to think too hard about your body position and what muscles you are using.  Getting lots of practice at lighter loads will help to refine your technique until it just becomes automatic regardless of the weight.

Here are a few quick tips to perfect your deadlift form:

  • keep your feet about shoulder width apart or slightly wider
  • keep your hands just outside of your feet
  • push your knees against the inside of your arms to help activate your hips
  • look down and slightly forward
  • pull the “slack out of the bar” before initiating the lift – this helps to engage the lats
  • keep your hips above parallel with tension on the hamstrings
  • lock your arms and flex your triceps.
  • initiate the lift by pressing your feet into the floor and pulling simultaneously
  • focus on using your hamstrings and glutes to extend your hips at the top of the movement.
  • breathe out at the top of the movement.

Check out the video below to see what deadlifting like a boss looks like.

As well as refining your technique, there are also a number of exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles used during a deadlift.  These accessory movements, as they’re sometimes called, are just as important as the deadlift itself if you want to move big weight.  Here are some really effective accessory exercises that will help you build that brute strength that is so necessary for big deadlifts.

Bent over barbell rows – This exercise is one of the best exercises for upper back strength and muscle development.  This will strengthen your lockout at the top of the movement.  3-4 sets of 8-10 reps will do the trick.

Russian kettlebell swings – The kettlebell swing is phenomenal for reinforcing the hip hinge.  The swing requires you to explosively extend the hips using power from the glutes and hamstrings making this a natural carryover to the deadlift.  The key is to use a relatively heavy kettlebell and swing it with lots of power to really strength that posterior chain.  The Russian swing is the preferred option since it shifts the focus more onto the lower body rather than the shoulders with the American swing.  Try 6-8 sets of 20 at the end of your workout and let me know how your hammies feel the next morning!

Farmer’s walks – There’s no doubt a strong deadlift requires a strong grip.  Sometimes that can be the limiting factor when you start to approach failure.  Farmer’s walks are hands down the best way to toughen up your grip.  Mix it up with heavier loads for shorter distances and moderate loads for longer distance to build more endurance.  Never let grip strength be the reason you miss a lift again.

Glute/Ham raises – This is a badass exercise.  I’ll warn you, it ain’t for newbies.  Lifting 75-80% of your bodyweight with just your glutes and hamstrings takes some serious strength.  Elite powerlifters and sprinters swear by this movement.  Start slow and try some negatives first until you can build up the strength to do full reps.

Deficit Deadlifts – To increase the difficulty of any exercise, simply increase the range of motion of that exercise.  Deadlifting from a deficit will increase the eccentric loading of the low back, glutes, and hamstrings forcing them to contract with more force.  You don’t want to go quite as heavy when working from a deficit but you really want to focus on keeping neutral spine and maintaining tension on the posterior chain.  Reduce your load by 10-20% when working from a deficit.  Throw these in every couple of weeks to shock the body and keep things interesting.  Try 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.

deficitdeads

a couple of inches can make a world of difference

Hill Sprints – Does deadlifting make you a better sprinter or does sprinting help you to become a better deadlifter?  Another case of the chicken and the egg I suppose. One thing’s for sure, deadlifting and sprinting go hand in hand.  Sprinting is another great way to build strong glutes and hamstrings.  Just another reason to quit jogging and build some impressive strength.  Add in some workouts dedicated to sprinting and power development and watch your numbers go through the roof!

sprinting-runner

sprinting is excellent for the glutes and hams!

As you can see, the key to deadlifting like a boss is developing a strong posterior chain, grip strength, and upper back strength.  Of course, good technique will go a long way as well.  Getting lots of practice, build strength with these accessory exercises and you’ll be pulling double your bodyweight in no time!

cranekick

You are now ready to do battle!

If you have any other questions about deadlifts, feel free to drop a comment below.

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9 Ways to Break Through Stubborn Training Plateaus!

So it’s Monday and it’s bench day – naturally.  You’re happier than a 9 year old boy at Disneyland.  You get to the gym and immediately head over to your favorite bench.  You feel pretty good and you think today could finally be the day you set a new record.  You start with a couple of light warm up sets to get the juices flowing before you start to add weight to the bar.

What I Learned from the 2015 Crossfit Open…

The 2015 Crossfit Open is officially over and was it ever an eye opener! The competition was fierce and the workouts were humbling to say the least. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Crossfit Open, it’s a worldwide competition to find the fittest man and woman on Earth (believe it or not, there is no other contest to determine this).  It’s a 3 stage process that includes the Open, Regionals, and then the Crossfit Games.

I’ve been competing in the Open since it’s inception in 2011.  As a fitness professional who is passionate about training and always enjoyed some good, healthy competition, this was and still is a natural fit for me.  I know there’s a lot of pundits out there that turn their nose up at Crossfit, but if Crossfit can get over 200,000 people worldwide to participate in this thing they must be doing something right.  Any fitness enthusiast who appreciates elite athletic performances should take a closer look at what is happening in the Crossfit community.  There were some absolutely mind-blowing performances during this year’s Open that would make even Stevie Wonder do a double take!

The Open is a 5 week process that consists of 5 different workouts with one workout being performed each week.  Each workout presented a different challenge and targeted different aspects of one’s overall fitness.  Absolute strength, relative strength, muscular endurance, and aerobic/anaerobic conditioning are some of the main elements that are tested across various exercises and time domains (i.e. long workouts vs. short workouts).  As someone who enjoys being challenged and always looking for different ways to get the best results, I was able to learn quite a few lessons from this year’s Open.

Here’s what I learned from each workout:

Workout 15.1/15a – For the first time ever in the history of the Open, there was a 2 part workout. Part 1 (15.1), being a traditional 9 minute AMRAP (as many rounds/reps as possible) of 15 toes to bar/10 deadlifts (115#)/5 snatch (115#) followed immediately by 15.2 – 6 minutes to establish a 1RM clean and jerk.

15.1 was a true test of core strength and muscular endurance with toes to bar being the limiting factor in this workout.  You needed to be able to perform this exercise in high volume if you wanted to separate yourself from the rest of the field (assuming you had no issue with 115# deadlifts and snatches).  The ability to move one’s body through this range of motion at high intensity requires a degree of core strength that no amount of situps or crunches could ever duplicate.  For all you meatheads out there, add this exercise to your repertoire to build a titanium core.

15.1a was curveball to say the least.  Traditional thinking would lead anyone to believe that testing a 1Rm max under a state of fatigue would be completely ridiculous.  How can anyone expect to lift anything close to their max if they’ve just completely exhausted themselves with 9 minutes of some crazy bodyweight/barbell complex?  The truth of the matter is that most participants were able to hit 90%,  if not more, of their 1RM – myself included.  Whether it’s a combination of adrenaline from being in a competitive environment and conditioning your body to do anything at any given time, maximal strength can still be expressed under a reasonable amount of fatigue.  In no domain other than Crossfit would this type of performance ever be revealed.  Who says strength needs to come before conditioning?

Workout 15.2 – This workout was a repeat from 2014 that included a challenging couplet of overhead squats and chest to bar pullups.  You had 3 minutes to complete 2 rounds of 10 overhead squats (95#) and 10 chest to bar pullups, the next 3 minutes you to had complete 2 rounds of 12 reps of each movement and the rep scheme kept increasing by 2 reps until you could not  complete the reps within the 3 minute period.

Can you say “Pullup City!” This workout definitely epitomizes Crossfit with its high demand for pullup capacity.  Kipping or butterfly pullups go without saying if you expected to do well in this workout.  Much like 15.1, the barbell movement was not the limiting factor unless you really struggle with overhead squats.

There’s always been a lot of debate over the value of kipping and butterfly pullups. Here’s the deal, if you want to do more work in less time then kipping/butterflying is a must.  If you simply want to get strong and build more muscle then you can get by without ever learning to kip or butterfly.  Having said that, the ability to kip or butterfly can help you squeeze out a few extra reps if you are working to failure on any given set.  This will lead to more time under tension putting greater stress on your lats, biceps and forearms which can ultimately lead to increases in strength and muscle mass.

Making sure you have a solid base of strict pullup strength is key before progressing to kipping or butterfly in order to reduce the risk of shoulder injuries.  Kipping/butterfly pullups also make a traditionally strength based exercise more metabolic because of the speed and volume that they can be performed.  This movement definitely isn’t for everyone, but for the stronger, more athletic gym rats this exercise will definitely add shock value to your training.

Workout 15.3 – This was a workout that separated the men from the boys.  For the first time, there was a workout that started with muscle ups.  It was a 14 minute AMRAP of 7 muscle ups/50 wall balls/100 double unders.

High skill gymnastics, muscular endurance, and aerobic capacity were put to the test on this one.  Being technically proficient in all 3 movements was important as there was a small degree of “interference” in this workout.  Interference is when the same muscle groups are being used across multiple movements.  In traditional strength and conditioning workouts, this could be referred to as “pre-exhaustion,” or “contrast training” and has many benefits but in Crossfit workouts, this is suicide.  Being efficient would reduce the amount of energy used and muscle fatigue throughout the workout.  There was no heavy barbell in this workout so absolute strength was not a factor.

The ability to perform high skill movements at a steady yet fast pace are commendable feats of human performance.  This workout really gave new meaning to energy system training.

Workout 15.4 – Yet another test of high skill bodyweight exercise in this couplet of handstand pushups and power cleans.  This 8 minute AMRAP looked something like this:

3 handstand pushups

3 power cleans (185#)

6 handstand pushups

3 power cleans (185#)

9 handstand pushups

3 power cleans (185#)

12 handstand pushups

6 power cleans (185#)

15 handstand pushups

6 power cleans (185#)

18 handstand pushups

6 power cleans (185#)

etc

In the world of Crossfit, the handstand pushup is the new pushup.  This workout was a great test and really pointed out my weakness (well one of them at least).  The power cleans were moderately heavy but again not the limiting factor in this workout.  I’m not quite sure if there is any direct substitute for the handstand pushup as it presents its own unique set of challenges.  Just do more handstand pushups I suppose.

One thing is for sure, no amount of shoulder pressing and push pressing can prepare you for the stability and strength required in the handstand pushup.

Workout 15.5 – No Crossfit competition is complete without the infamous thruster.  In the grand finale, we had a fairly straightforward yet lethal couplet of rowing and thrusters.  For time: 27/21/15/9 row for calories/95# thrusters.

Nothing crazy here, just go hard and fight through the pain.  I’ve always said the thruster is pound for pound the toughest barbell exercise and is utterly destructive when paired with anything.  In a true test of grit and pain tolerance, this workout symbolizes what people fear most about Crossfit.  “A wolf in sheep’s clothing” if you will, this workout left the biggest, strongest and baddest flat on their backs.

After this thorough analysis, there are a few major areas that I need to address to have greater success in the future including:

Shoulder mobility – I’ve always had strong and stable shoulders however, I’ve never had the greatest shoulder mobility, specifically external rotation.  This has always hindered my thrusters and clean and jerks.  A long and concerted effort is needed to improve this and will greatly enhance my movement efficiency.

Muscular endurance – There have been many cases during workouts where my muscles will give up before my lungs.  A combination of muscle stiffness and larger muscles makes it difficult for them to work for extended periods of time.  Handstand pushups and chest to bar pullups were a perfect example of this.  I do lots of mobility work but more is needed along with some soft tissue work to break down my sticky muscle fibers.

Lose weight – I’m fortunate that my weight does not fluctuate too much throughout the year (210lbs) but my ability to pack on muscle easily doesn’t work in my favor so much when it comes to high volume bodyweight exercises like muscle ups and handstand pushups.  To be more competitive, I’m going to need to shed a few pounds of muscle.  Time to dust off my running shoes and start jogging!

Overtraining – 3 out of the last 5 years, I’ve come down with a cold either in the first or second week of the Open.  It could be purely coincidence, the time of year, or possibly that my body was in an overtrained state that was made vulnerable through intense competition.  In the future, I need to keep a closer eye on my training volume and intensity leading up to the Open to ensure adequate recovery.  There’s nothing more frustrating than to train hard all year only to have your body break down right when you need it most.

Pacing – Believe it or not, Crossfit workouts require a lot of strategy and pacing to be successful.  Very rarely is it like a drag race where you just put your foot on the gas and hope your engine doesn’t explode before you cross the finish line.  Over the years, I’ve learned how to pace myself better through workouts but this is always an area that can be improved by getting to really understand the limits of my body.

Programming – The most successful people always have someone to model themselves after.  The best athletes have coaches to guide and monitor their progress.  I’ve always taken things from various coaches and made it my own and I’ve had reasonable success. The problem is, it’s too easy to systematically leave gaping holes in my training.   I would like to see how my performance would change if I follow some other successful programming.  Hey, even the best barber needs to get his hair cut by someone else, right?

The fitness game is constantly evolving and the limits of human performance are continually being stretched to new thresholds each and every day.  As someone who tries to maintain a panoramic view of the fitness industry, Crossfit has done a bang up job of getting more people off their asses and training with some intensity while defying what we think we are physically capable of.   I know my training regimen over the next few months will be inspired by my experience in this year’s Open.  With nothing to lose and everything to gain, I’m excited to see how the next few months shake out. “Do more work in less time.”  I’m still shockingly impressed by the genius of this concept.

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7 MORE Habits of Highly Fit People…

I don’t need to tell you that exercise is a good thing and everybody should do it in some way, shape or form.  I also don’t need to tell you that if you exercise, you’ll probably start to look and feel better.  What isn’t so obvious though, (or at least to 90% of people who don’t get the results they want) are the habits and character traits of those who achieve their goals.

In Part 1, I only scratched the surface with the 7 habits of highly fit people.  I’m going to dig a little deeper and give you some more insight into what separates the really fit from those who just “want to be really fit.” I’m a firm believer that both your attitude and performance in the gym are highly correlated to how you conduct yourself in everyday life.  Are you always late? Do you do things to the best of your ability or simply to get it over with? Do you look for ways to be more efficient or do you just cut corners? It doesn’t matter if I’m talking about training, work, or any other part of your life, these are questions you should always be asking yourself.

It has been said that with the proper mindset, anything can be achieved.  The problem is, most people are too preoccupied with irrelevant bullshit, put unrealistic expectations on themselves, and make working out more dramatic than a reality TV show! Waiting for the “perfect” time,  trying to find the “perfect” program, or expecting huge results before you’ve put in any real work are just a few surefire ways to be back on the couch with a beer in one hand and a bag of Doritos in the other.  It’s time to wake up and smell the organic, black, freshly brewed, no cream, no whip coffee.  If you want to be successful, you need to model yourself after successful people who are already where you want to be.  Here are 7  MORE habits that will help you get your shit together and get some real results:

1. Willing to make sacrifices – It’s funny how hard it is for people to just buckle down and make a commitment to something.  I’m not sure if it’s fear, laziness or a deadly combination of the two, but people can find any excuse not to face reality.  We can talk ourselves into or out of pretty much anything.  The people that are in the best shape have no problem taking action and making the necessary sacrifices until they have achieved their goal.  Work, school, kids, TV and partying on the weekends are all secondary to getting the results they want.  Unless you win the lottery, you’re probably going to be working for a little while so you might as well throw that excuse out the window.  At the end of the day, when you can accept that the only thing standing in your way of success is you, then you’ll do what is necessary to become a powerhouse.

couchpotato

“My PVR is way too full to get to the gym today.”

2. Don’t compare themselves to others – “Man, that guy is huge!” “Did you see how much he was squatting?!” “I’m never gonna be that strong.”  These are some of the things we all say to ourselves when we see someone who is just killin’ it at the gym.  Even worse, social media has made it extremely easy to see what every Tom, Dick, and Harry is doing which, at times, can be motivating but also make you question every aspect of your training.  There’s always going to be someone bigger, stronger, and faster than you but that shouldn’t deter you from putting your head down giving your best effort.  Even the fittest people, despite being extremely fit, are simply trying to be the “best version of themselves” as Elliott Hulse would put it.  Knowing and accepting that 100% is all you can give and all you should expect will make training not only more enjoyable but also more sustainable.  Turn your phone off and get to work!

MSDTWIN EC015

there will always be someone bigger, stronger, and faster than you!

3. Focus on the process rather than the outcome – It is a well known fact in sports psychology that the best athletes are more process oriented than outcome oriented.  What this basically means is that the best athletes focus on the task at hand and let the results take care of themselves.  They focus on each workout, each exercise, each set, and each rep until eventually they’ve created a masterpiece.  They’re not checking their abs in the mirror after every set of ab wheel rollouts, they’re not weighing themselves 3 times a day, and they’re not testing their max deadlift every week.  To be great at anything you have to understand and have faith in the steps/process it takes to achieve greatness.  Worrying too much about the end result only creates stress which hinders your training altogether.  We all know Rome wasn’t built in a day and deep down inside YOU know that it’s going to take more than just a few workouts before you become a true physical specimen. So stop acting like a 6 year old kid on a road trip to Disneyland asking “Are we there yet?” and just enjoy the ride.

4. Work through and around injuries – I’ve talked about injuries before and how they can be an inevitable part of training – training hard that is.  It’s been said that the highest performing athletes train at such high volume and intensity that they are always on the cusp of injury.  Pushing the envelope day in and day out has its’ risks as well as its’ rewards.  Although inconvenient and frustrating, injuries don’t stop the highly fit from getting what they want.  Injuries are simply a bump in the road, not an excuse to give up altogether.  The highly fit take injuries as an opportunity to learn more about their bodies, address weaknesses and imbalances and recuperate stronger than they were before.  Learning new exercises, deloading, and soft tissue treatment are a few ways to stay in the game.  Click here to learn more about how to deal with injuries.

UFC 168: Weidman v Silva 2

the best athletes are always on the verge of injury

5. Understand that failure is a part of the process – Much like being injured, from time to time you won’t always have the greatest workout.  Every now and then, for whatever reason, your energy might not be the best and you won’t be able to push yourself as hard.  You might only squeeze out 8 reps on the bench when you would normally do 10 or you have to run at a slower pace on the treadmill to get through your intervals.  It happens.  World records and PRs can’t be set everyday.  The fittest people know that training isn’t an exact linear progression where every workout will be better than the last.  If it was, I would have an 800lb squat and be able to run a 4 minute mile but that simply is not the case.  There will be ups and downs but as long as you keep moving forward and not dwell on missed lifts or some random cheat meal your chances of success will be much greater.

6. Work through plateaus – “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, then you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.”   If you’ve been training long enough, there always comes a point where it becomes harder and harder to make gains.  You feel like you’ve been lifting the same weight for the same number of reps for an eternity.  You’ve hit your ceiling.  This is as good as it’s going to get so you might as well hang your jersey in the rafters and retire, right?  Wrong.  Plateaus are an opportunity to reassess your training and mix things up a bit.  The fittest people know that sometimes the smallest little tweaks to their programming can make a world of difference.  If you’ve been doing the same routine for more than 6 weeks, then it’s probably time to switch things up a little.  Anything from changing your training split, the order of exercises or how many sets/reps you do can be enough to shock your body and break through.

7. Open-minded – We all have our favorite exercises that we like do on a regular basis, myself included.  That doesn’t mean that they are in our best interest or are moving us any closer to our goals.  The fittest people understand that to get the best results you have to be open to new methods and new ways of thinking.  Crossfit, as controversial as it is, incorporates some of the most effective training methods from powerlifting, olympic weightlifting, and track and field to get the best results possible.  If you asked to see the training programs of the top 10 Crossfit Games athletes, the top 10 bodybuilders, and the top 10 sprinters in the world, you would get 10 different Crossfit programs, 10 different bodybuilding programs, and 10 different sprinting programs.  Taking your blinders off and accepting that there is more than one way to do things will go a long way in your training.  Whether you want to build muscle, get stronger, or even run a marathon, there is something that can be learned from various training methods.  Don’t be a fitness Nazi.  Listen. Learn. Evolve. Apply. Repeat.

nazi

nobody likes a Nazi.

To summarize, make the necessary sacrifices to make training a part of your life, focus on yourself, have faith in the training process, don’t let injuries get you down, don’t be afraid to fail, find a way to work through plateaus, and remember there’s more than one way to get great results.

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How to Perform the Perfect Push-up..

It doesn’t matter what type of exercise program you’re doing, it’s almost guaranteed that you’re going to have to do a push-up or some variation of it.  This exercise is a staple in most law enforcement and military training programs and is one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do.

The irony is that despite how common this exercise is, it gets absolutely butchered most of the time.  Some of the most common mistakes include:

  • wrong elbow position – elbows flaring out to the side
  • wrong hand position – hands internally rotated
  • inability to maintain plank position – lower back and hips sinking
  • improper head position – looking up
  • improper range of motion – not able to touch chest to the floor

Despite being a convenient exercise (i.e. no equipment and little space required) it isn’t a simple exercise.  Having the ability to press a large percentage of your body weight for multiple reps requires a fair amount of relative strength.  Therein lies the struggle.  To become a master of the pushup, use these quick fixes.

Keep your elbows below your shoulders – The elbows should be at approximately a 45 degree angle to you rib cage when performing a push-up.  This takes stress off the shoulders and places it on the chest and triceps which is what you want.

elbowsout

improper elbow position

elbowsin

proper elbow position

Externally rotate your hands – Keep your hands slightly turned out at an “11” and “1” position.  This will prevent the elbows from flaring out and activate your lats to stabilize your shoulders throughout the movement.

hands2

improper hand position

hands

proper hand position

Keep your core tight – The push-up can be thought of as a moving plank.  This makes it extremely important to maintain a solid core throughout the full range of motion.

Flex your glutes – To also help maintain proper plank position, be conscious of flexing your glutes to stabilize your hips.

Keep your head in a neutral position – There should be a straight line from the top of your head to your heels.  Looking up puts excess strain on your neck and will cause you to arch your back excessively.

pushup

improper head/hip position

pushup2

proper head/hip position

Lose weight – You might be strong as on ox under the bar, but if you struggle to move your own body weight, it might simply be due to the fact that you’re too heavy to move your weight efficiently.  You skinny bastards have the upper hand for once!

Check out the video below to see what a perfect pushup looks like.

If you struggle to perform a proper push-up with full range of motion, then there are many progressions you can use to work up to a full push-up.

Keep in mind, all of the above rules still apply even though you are doing progressions.

  • Push-ups from the knees – This is the one of the simplest progressions as it requires you lift lower percentage of your body weight.
  • Hands elevated push-ups – The next step would be to try push-ups with your hands elevated.  This will challenge your core strength a bit more while still lifting a lower percentage of your body weight than a full push-up.  The angle you perform these will depend on your strength and ability to get full range of motion.
  • Isometric pushups – To break through sticking points, you can try isometric holds at various points in the movement.  Start at the top position and lower yourself down to a point that is challenging and then hold that position for 5 seconds.  Try 2-3 sets of 5 repetitions.
  • Negative push-ups – Performing negatives is a great way to build strength and stability.  Start at the top position and lower yourself down slowly.  Aim for a 3-5 second tempo. Try 2-3 sets of 5 repetitions.

Check out the video below to see how to perform a negative pushup.

Aside from modifying the range of motion, you can also build chest and tricep strength using these exercises:

  • Bench press – Arguably the best exercise to develop chest and tricep strength.
  • Dumbell chest press – A great alternative to the barbell bench press as it will challenge your stability and strength.
  • Strict shoulder press (barbell or dumbbell) – Although a vertical press, the shoulder press will help to build strength and stability in the shoulders and strengthen the triceps which are all required to be proficient in the push-up.

If you’re pretty comfortable with the push-up and can do at least 30 reps unbroken, then give these advanced exercises and variations a try.

  • Feet elevated push-ups
  • Spiderman push-ups
  • Close grip push-ups
  • Ring push-ups

ringpushupsringpushup2ring pushups are great way to challenge your core strength and upper body stability

  • Clap Push-ups
  • Dips (ring or straight bar)

ringdips

ringdips2

ring dips will really test your upper body strength and stability

Becoming a master of the basics is secret to success in fitness. Work on your push-up game and don’t be another victim of sloppy form.

 

 

 

How to Build Strong Shoulders and Prevent Nagging Injuries

I’ve always referred to training as a journey and I always say “the journey is the reward.”  What I forgot to mention is that along this journey there may be a few bumps in the road.  Depending on your training age, genetics, and lifestyle, you may have an injury or two along the way.  If you’ve been training for a long time and never had any setbacks consider yourself lucky – maybe you should even write a book!

The point is, although injuries do happen from time to time, you can overcome them and become even more resistant to them in the process.  Being disciplined and taking a systematic approach is the key.

It’s safe to say that I’ve had my fair share of sprains and strains over the years – 3 achilles tendon ruptures and multiple hamstring strains to name a few.  As a result, I’ve had to learn how to work through and around various aches and pains.  Over the last few months, I’ve been suffering from some bicep tendonitis in my left shoulder.  I have good days and bad days.  Do I ever get frustrated? Absolutely.  Have I stopped taking my body for granted and become more strategic with my training? Absolutely.  Have I become wiser and more savvy as a result of dealing with this injury? ABSOLUTELY!

Coincidentally, this brings me to our main topic of discussion – building strong shoulders and preventing nagging injuries.  There are a number of factors that contribute to shoulder injuries that include but are not limited to:

  • Bad postureKelly Starrett said it best “sitting is the new smoking.”  If you sit at a desk all day then you aren’t doing yourself any favors.  Excessive sitting leads to rounded shoulders, tight traps and pecs and destroys your shoulder mobility.
  • Over development of the pecs – If you’re a meathead that lives and dies by the bench press, then you will most likely run into shoulder problems at some point in your training career.  Too much pec work pulls the shoulder joint forward making it vulnerable to impingement and other chronic injuries.

bench-press-pic-2

too much heavy pec work can lead to shoulder problems

  • Poor thoracic mobility – Also known as the “T” spine, thoracic mobility plays a huge role in your ability to perform overhead lifts without putting stress on your lower back.
  • Poor external rotation – Having trouble holding a proper “rack” position in a front squat or thruster?  Your external shoulder rotation is most likely limited.
  • Hyper active upper traps – Unfortunately, when we are stressed we tend to carry it in our neck and shoulders which makes these muscles hyperactive (they compensate for other muscles that should be doing the work).
  • Weak back muscles – A strong upper back is necessary to stabilize the scapula and keep the shoulder joint in a neutral position.  Muscular balance is critical to healthy joints.
  • Over use – You CAN have too much of a good thing.  Because the shoulder joint is involved in so many exercises it can easily become overused and develop chronic injuries.  Knowing how to moderate training volume can save your shoulders a lot of stress in the long run.
  • “Behind the neck” exercises – Loading the shoulder from behind the neck puts it in a very vulnerable position and can lead to dislocations and ligament tears.  Play safe and keep the weight in front of you.
  • Not “packing” the shoulder – During certain exercises like a chin-up or a push-up, the shoulder acts as a stabilizer and can only do so if it is in a “packed” position.  This is done by engaging your lats and rhomboids to pull your shoulders blades down and together. This protects the shoulders and makes the movement more efficient.

bad-posture1

“sitting is the new smoking”

The shoulder joint is a complex structure comprised of a number of muscles, ligaments and bones allowing it to move through multiple planes of motion.  The recommendations outlined will help to build strong healthy shoulders, prevent various chronic and acute injuries, as well as help to actively rehabilitate common shoulder dysfunctions.

If you want to have what Eric Cressey refers to as “bulletproof shoulders,” there are 3 main areas you need to address in your training:

  1.  Strength – The ability to load the shoulder joint and move those loads efficiently.
  2. Stability – The ability to load the shoulder joint and HOLD those loads efficiently.
  3. Mobility/Flexibility – The ability to move the shoulder joint through various ranges of motion without any pain or restriction.

To develop these areas,  there are many approaches you can take but at the same time it’s important to have a solid foundation which is built on basic fundamental exercises.

To develop strength, the following exercises should serve as the foundation of your training:

Overhead Exercises

Depending on the current state of your shoulders, overhead exercises may or may not be in your best interest.  If you have strong, healthy shoulders with good mobility, then going overhead will only reinforce those movement patterns.  If you suffer from an impingement and lack the thoracic mobility to lift overhead efficiently, then you might have to address these issues first.  If you’re pain free, these exercises should be a part of your shoulder training:

  • Strict Shoulder Press
  • Push Press
  • Strict Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • 1 Arm Dumbbell Push Press

The strict presses and push presses are the best for overall strength and muscular development.  Single arm variations are also a great option to address any muscular imbalances.

tspine

your thoracic mobility will determine your ability to go overhead

Pulling Exercises

Too often, injuries like tendonitis and impingement are a result of bad posture, and over development of the pecs and anterior deltoids.  This pulls the shoulder joint forward making it more difficult for it to move freely overhead or in any direction for that matter.  To offset this anterior rotation, it’s important to develop strong back muscles such as the lower traps, rhomboids, rear deltoids and lats.  The law of gravity states the “what goes up must come down.”  The law of healthy shoulders states “for every push there must be a pull.”  Here are some pulling exercises that your shoulders will thank you for later:

  • Pull-up/Chin-ups
  • 1 Arm Dumbbell Rows
  • Bent Over Rows
  • Inverted Rows
  • Incline Dumbbell Rows
  • Face Pulls
  • Band Pull Aparts (front and overhead)
  • “Y”s, “T”s and “W”s

inclinerow

inclinerow2

incline dumbbell rows are great for the lower traps and rhomboids

Pull-ups and chin-ups are vertical pulls that strengthen the lats while the rowing exercises and pull aparts are horizontal pulls that will target the lower traps and rhomboids.

Rotator Cuff Exercises

I mentioned earlier that the shoulder is made up of a number of different muscles.  There are two main muscle groups that make up the shoulder – the deltoid and the rotator cuff.  The deltoid has 3 heads (front, lateral, and rear) and the rotator cuff is made up of 4 muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor).  The rotator cuff sits under the deltoid and holds the shoulder joint together.  These muscles, if weak and neglected, can lead to a host of shoulder problems.  It’s important to take the time to strengthen these muscles  in isolation to protect them from strains and tears.  Here are some rotator cuff exercises:

  • Internal/External rotation with shoulder abducted/adducted

The external rotators generally pose the most problems and more time should be spent strengthening them.

Stability Exercises

Strength and stability go hand in hand which leads us to the best exercises for building shoulder stability:

  • Kettlebell Windmill – Builds shoulder stability while develops hip and lower back mobility.

windmill

windmill2

windmills are great for shoulder stability and lower back/hip mobility

  • Turkish Get-up – Builds shoulder stability while develops core strength and balance.
  • Overhead farmer’s walk – Builds shoulder stability while develops core strength and balance.

overheadwalk

the overhead walk will BULLETPROOF your shoulders

  • Overhead lunge – Builds shoulder mobility while develops core and leg strength.
  • Overhead squat – Builds shoulder mobility while develops core and leg strength.

The limiting factor in these exercises is the ability to hold and stabilize weight overhead. This is arguably the best way to build shoulder stability.

Mobility/Flexibility Exercises

Keeping your shoulders healthy also requires adequate mobility/flexibility through all the major planes of motion – flexion/extension, internal/external rotation, and abduction/adduction.

Here are some great mobility/flexibility exercises to get the shoulders moving freely:

  • External rotation with stick
  • Handcuff stretch with band
  • T-spine stretch on foam roller
  • Shoulder dislocates with stick
  • Towel stretch

Towel-stretch-IR

towel stretch

handcuffstretch

handcuff stretch

It’s important to note that too much mobility/flexibility (aka laxity) in a joint can be just as bad as not having enough.  If you have lax shoulders, then your primary focus should be on building strength and stability to prevent injury.

The shoulder plays either a primary or secondary role in a wide range of upper body exercises which makes it so critical to keep them healthy if you want to train hard and continue to make gains.  Don’t wait until shit hits the fan to start taking care of yourself.  Use these exercises as a PREVENTATIVE measure to a long lasting, pain free training regime.  Check out the video below for a great shoulder warm-up routine!

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Fitness Finishers: 7 Lethal Finishers to Get You Shredded!

Growing up, I was a big wrestling fan, I mean huge!  Macho Man Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, you name it and I was all about it.  I lived to see all of my favorite stars go head to head and beat the snot out of each other (yes, I knew it was fake even back then).  But, what I loved most was watching the way these guys would end their matches.  There was always something to look forward to, a special move that would leave their opponent out for the count – a FINISHER.

This was something that always made the matches exciting and gave everyone something to look forward to.  It was what made each wrestler unique and notorious all at the same time.

You’re probably thinking “what does all this have to do with fitness?”  Two reasons actually.  First, I just really liked wrestling as a kid and I thought I’d make that mainstream information.  Second, the most electrifying and devastating part of a well programmed workout is also known as a finisher.

RandySavageHulkHogan

wrestling sure was good back in the day!

Depending on who you talk to, the finisher may be the most dreaded or the most welcomed portion of a workout. There are a few characteristics that make a finisher truly effective:

  • Highly metabolic – your conditioning is definitely put to the test
  • Includes a variety of compound movements – the more muscles working the better
  • 5-15 minutes long – long enough to do damage but not so long that intensity is compromised
  • You’re spent – it’s called a finisher for a reason

The primary objective of any good finisher is to:

  • Increase metabolic conditioning – both aerobic and anaerobic systems will be targeted
  • Burn more fat in less time – higher intensity yields greater fat burning potential
  • Preserve muscle mass – compound movements help to maintain lean muscle
  • Make workouts more challenging and exciting – beats sitting on a treadmill for an hour

The sky’s the limit when it comes to putting together killer finishers.  The key things to keep in mind are your current fitness level, exercise selection, and how much you’re willing to suffer!  It should go without saying that intensity is definitely the name of the game here.

Over the years, I’ve definitely put myself as well as others through some pretty epic workouts.  However, there are a few spicy ones that come to mind.  Here are 7 finishers that will hopefully one day go down in the hall of fame.

1. “Death by burpees” – Anytime you hear the words “death by” you should be afraid….. very afraid.   The “death by” rep scheme is where you perform 1 rep of an exercise, the next minute you do 2 reps and you keep adding one rep every minute until you cannot complete the full rep count within the minute.  It gets intense pretty fast but makes for a great conditioning workout.  Your workout would look like this:

1st minute – 1 burpee

2nd minute – 2 burpees

3rd minute – 3 burpees

4th minute – 4 burpees

etc. until failure.

A good goal would be to get to 15 minutes or more.  Burpees….Never leave home without them.

2.  Thrusters – The thruster is likely the most feared barbell exercise.  It’s potency is not to be underestimated.  This full body exercise will get your heart pumping and send your metabolism into overdrive in no time! Your thruster workout will look like this:

Every minute on the minute for 8 minutes: perform 8 thrusters.

Start on the minute and perform 8 thrusters. The time remaining in the minute is your rest. Repeat for 8 minutes – 64 reps total).

Use a moderate weight that will allow you to complete all the reps in the allotted time.

Sounds simple enough, but the short rest periods will catch up to you pretty fast leaving you gasping for air and drenched in sweat in a mere 8 minutes!

3. Row 100 calories for time – Rowing sucks.  But it delivers one hell of a workout.

Fellas aim for 5 minutes or less.

Ladies aim for 6:20 or less.

Things to remember:

  • Maintain long and powerful strokes.
  • Don’t go out too hard from the start.
  • Keep your breathing controlled.
  • Try keep a consistent pace.
  • Save some gas for the final 20 calories.

3.  Wall/balls and double unders – These two exercises were made popular by Crossfit and for good reason – they will humble even the biggest and strongest specimens on the planet.  The combination of throwing a medicine ball to a 10ft target paired with a high skill conditioning exercise like double unders will serve up an extra large can of whoop ass! Your workout will look like this:

In 10 minutes, complete as many rounds and reps of:

1a. 15 wall/balls

1b. 30 double unders

(men use a 20lb ball/women use a 14lb ball)

Aim for 6 full rounds or more.

Things to remember:

  • Try to keep a steady pace for the entire 10 minutes.
  • Break up the wall/balls early to prevent “redlining” and taking too many long breaks.
  • Stay relaxed and don’t get too frantic with your double unders.

Wallballs

Tombstone_Piledriver

not sure what’s worse, wall/balls and double unders or a tombstone piledriver

4.  Box jumps and pushups – These are two great body weight exercises that make for an effective full body workout.  Your workout will look like this:

1a.  Box jumps 21/18/15/12/9/6/3

1b.  Pushups    21/18/15/12/9/6/3

You can approach this workout in 2 ways:

  1. Try to keep all sets of pushups and box jumps unbroken and rest 45-60 seconds between sets (rest only after you’ve completed a set of box jumps and pushups).
  2.  Complete the entire rep scheme as fast as possible.

The first option may be better for beginner to intermediate lifters and the second option will definitely challenge advanced lifters.  Either way, you’re gonna get a fantastic workout.

5.  Dumbell snatches and split jumps –  All you need is a dumbell and some heart for this little ditty.  Your workout will look like this:

1a.  Dumbell snatch 5ea/6ea/7ea/8ea/9ea/10ea arm

1b.  Split jumps 5ea/6ea/7ea/8ea/9ea/10ea leg

Again, you can either do unbroken sets with short rest periods (45-60secs) or complete the entire rep scheme as fast as possible.  Choose a weight for the dumbell snatch that is challenging to do 5-6 reps with and use that weight for the entire workout.

dumbbell-snatch-25-of-your-body-weight

sometimes a single dumbbell is more than enough…

Things to remember:

  • Make sure you get full range of motion with your split jumps (back knee touches the ground and full extension of knees and hips in the air).
  • Make sure you get full range of motion with your dumbell snatches (dumbell touches the ground at the bottom and arm and legs fully extended at the top).

6. Clean and Jerk/Back Squat Complex – There’s nothing like a good barbell complex to put hair on your chest (or give you that bikini body if you’re a lady).  Disputably the most effective way to burn calories and hence burn fat, barbell complexes are must if you’re looking to get shredded.  Your workout will look like this:

1a.  Clean and jerk 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8

1b.  Back Squats     1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8

Use the same weight for both the clean and jerk and the back squat.  The limiting factor in this workout will be the clean and jerk so use a weight that you can clean and jerk comfortably 4-5 times.

Try to perform unbroken sets with short rest periods (45-60secs) or complete the entire rep scheme as fast as possible.  Get ready to sweat, this one’s gonna cook.

7.  Kettlebell swings and stairs – Nothing fancy here, just good old fashioned work.  Sometimes keeping it simple is the most effective way to go.  Your workout will look like this:

1a.  Stairs              3/4/5/4/3

1b.  KB Swings 15/15/15/15/15

Fellas try a 24kg kettlebell.

Ladies try a 16kg kettlebell.

Depending on your fitness level and mobility, you can either use the Russian or American swing.  For the more advanced lifter with no injuries, you can use the American swing. For beginners or anyone with shoulder or lower back issues, the Russian swing will be a safer option.

Annie-Thorsdottir-KB-Swing

the American swing definitely packs a punch!

Try to perform unbroken sets with short rest periods (45-60secs) or complete the entire rep scheme as fast as possible.

If you don’t have access to a staircase, you can do shuttle runs instead (i.e. 50/75/100/75/50 meter shuttle runs).

We all want to get the best results in the least amount of time possible but unfortunately that means you’re going to have to endure a little pain and suffering to get there.  It’ll be all worth it when you have herculean strength and a body that would have given the Ultimate Warrior a run for his money.

ultimate-warrior-2

rest in peace Warrior!

What other exercises do you like to use for finishers? Drop a comment below!

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How to Burn Fat – The Definitive Guide…

Training in essence is quite simple – training objectives that is.  Let’s be honest, most people fall into one of two major training categories – fat loss and muscle building.  Of course, there are other goals such as strength, work capacity, endurance and things like that, but most of us are either trying to achieve some combination of fat loss and increased muscle mass.

Today, we’re going to look specifically at fat loss and the most effective ways to shed those dreaded jiggly bits.  Notice how I used the term fat loss and not weight loss?  The problem isn’t weight, it’s fat!  Just because you lose weight doesn’t mean you’re any better off than you were before.  The idea is to improve your overall body composition to become healthier, stronger, and fitter overall.  Achieving this takes a little more than simply going on a cabbage soup diet and riding the elliptical for 2 hours a day.

What it comes down to is being smart and strategic with both your training and nutrition. If you’ve been training for any length of time whatsoever then you’ve probably made a few mistakes along the way including:

  • long, monotonous cardio sessions at the gym
  • crash dieting only to gain back the weight you lost and then some
  • switching from weight training to cardio exclusively
  • using light weights and high reps to try and get ripped
  • drastically cutting your calories
  • endless ab workouts that still leave you with a flabby belly
  • training 7 days/week

It’s all good though, making mistakes is part of the training process.  Learning from them is what’s going to take you to the next level.  Now let’s get down to business.

There are many ways to achieve great results but I’m going to outline some of the most effective methods that will burn fat AND preserve muscle mass.  That’s right, you have to be able to keep your hard earned muscle in the process otherwise what’s the point? Unless you just want to be skinny fat and have the strength of a 10 year old boy then you better listen up.

Here are some proven methods to burn fat in a SENSIBLE and SUSTAINABLE fashion:

1. Lift – Most people that want to lose fat will usually decide to take up jogging or some other cardio activity first.  Not the best move. The first step to burning fat is to actually build muscle and the only way to do that is to lift.  Studies have shown that people who weight train exclusively lose more fat than people that do aerobic exercise exclusively. Muscle is the engine that burns all fuel, the more you have the easier it is to burn fat.

2. Use big lifts – Once you’ve decided to start jacking weights, you’ve got to make sure you’re using the most effective exercises and those are the big compound lifts.  Exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses, and chinups use lots of muscle groups and elicit the greatest metabolic response compared to isolation exercises.

46-arnold-schwarzenegger-leg-squat

lift big to get lean

3. Interval train – There are numerous studies that point to the effectiveness of interval training.  Methods such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) and tabata are prime examples of how better results can be achieved in a fraction of the time.  As opposed to steady state cardio, interval training forces you to work at higher intensity causing you to burn more fat while preserving lean muscle tissue.  Greater improvements in aerobic conditioning have also been shown with interval training versus traditional cardio.  If you’re pressed for time and want a killer workout, give some of these firebreathers a try:

  • treadmill – 1min on/1min off x 8 @ 15% incline
  • sled pushes – 40 meters x 10 (60-90sec rest between rounds)
  • burpees – 30 seconds on/30 seconds off x 8

froningsled

sled pushes = intensity!

4.  Do steady state cardio after interval training – Now I know I just said that steady state cardio is inferior to interval training but all forms of exercise have value depending on how and when they’re used.  Studies have shown that interval training helps to effectively release fat cells into the bloodstream to be used for energy.  However, sometimes not all of those fat cells get used.  Something as simple as 10-15 minutes of steady state cardio after a hard session of intervals can be an effective way to pick up the leftovers and burn even more fat.  Think of this as the icing on the cake.

5. Fasted cardio – The idea here is to perform your cardio sessions first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.  This is also when your growth hormone levels are highest and insulin levels are lowest.  At this time, your body will efficiently use fat for energy.  Both steady state cardio and interval training will be effective at this time.  If you’re not a morning person or accustomed to training on an empty stomach then you may find it hard to workout at your normal intensity levels.  If the quality of your workouts are suffering too much then you may be better off training at other times during the day when your output is higher.  However, this is definitely a great option for those of you who like to get your workouts over and done with first thing in the morning.

6.  Complexes – This is disputably one of the most effective fat burning methods.  Complexes are when you perform a series of compound movements in succession with little to no rest in between each movement.  These complexes can be done with barbells, dumbells, or kettlebells as long as there is sufficient overload.  The overload allows you to burn more calories and maintain strength and muscle mass while you melt the fat off your body.  Here some complexes that never disappoint:

  • barbell complex – 10 hang cleans/10 thrusters, 9 hang cleans/9 thrusters etc… 1 hang clean/1 thruster (rest 60-90 sec between sets)
  • dumbell complex – 10 db squats/8 db bent over rows/6 db push presses x 5 (rest 60-90sec between sets)

When performing complexes, use the same weight for all the movements and keep strict rest periods to keep the intensity high.  The combinations are endless, they key is to go hard to get the best results.

Check out the video below of Rob Orlando crushing the “bear” complex.

7. Crossfit – Yes, believe it or not, Crossfit is a fantastic way to rev your metabolism and shed some serious fat.  Much like complexes, Crossfit uses a wide variety of functional movements and when performed at high intensity you get one hell of a metabolic stimulus!  The intensity (doing more work in less time) is what makes Crossfit so effective (and controversial).  The proof is in the pudding, all you have to do is look at the physiques of some of the top competitors.  Of course, Crossfit isn’t for everybody but it’s hard to argue some of the tremendous results it delivers.  If you’re looking to spice up your workouts and shock your body, give Crossfit a try.

8.  Train 4-5x per week – Workout frequency is just as important as workout intensity.  To ensure you are getting enough metabolic output, you should be training  4-5 days/week.  This will keep your metabolism elevated and enhance your fat burning efforts.

9.  Keep your workouts under an hour – If burning fat is your number one priority, then your workouts should be shorter and more intense.  No more long, arduous sessions at the gym.  Focus on quality exercises and being efficient with your time.  Full body strength complexes or 15-20mins of strength work followed by 15-20mins of interval training is the way to get things done.

10.  Train explosively – Not enough good things can be said about the benefits of developing power.  Using explosive exercises like sprinting, plyometrics, and Olympic weightlifting are phenomenal for fast twitch muscle fiber development and smoldering fat cells.  To learn more about training for power click here.

powerclean

in the land of strength, power is king..

11. Get plenty of sleep – During sleep, the body has an opportunity to repair itself and set the stage for optimal fat metabolism.  Growth hormone and testosterone levels increase during sleep and are vital to burning fat.  Keep your hormones and metabolism in check by getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

12.  Eat only when you’re hungry – Sounds simple enough but you’d be surprised how quickly we turn to food to be social or to kill time.  If you listen to your body more and only eat when absolutely necessary, you’d be surprised how much less you’d consume.  I’m not suggesting you starve yourself just simply be more conscious of your intake.

13.  Eat plenty of protein – Adequate protein intake is necessary to preserve lean muscle and will keep you full longer.  This reduces the urge to snack on refined sugars and processed foods. Aim for at least .75-1 gram per pound of bodyweight.

14. Eat healthy fats – That’s right, eating fat will help you to lose fat.  Healthy fats found in foods like fish, avacado, nuts, and eggs don’t spike insulin levels the way refined sugars do.  This means that your body will better use these foods for energy rather than storing them as fat.  Also, these foods contain more vitamins and minerals making them a better food choice overall.

nutsssssss

15. Take caffeine before training – Caffeine has been shown to stimulate the release of fat cells into the bloodstream to be used for energy.  A cup of coffee 30-40 minutes before a workout can be enough to jumpstart your metabolism not to mention provide a nice energy boost before your workout.  If you’re sensitive to caffeine then less potent options like green tea may be more suitable.

16. Keep most of your carb intake around training – It’s important to maintain a reasonable carb intake even when trying to lose fat.  To help fuel your workouts consume some carbs 30-60 minutes before training.  Nothing too heavy, something that digests relatively quick like fruit is a good option.  To maximize recovery, consume fast acting carbs within 30-60 minutes post workout.  Your carb intake can be higher at this time since you are less likely to store excess carbs as fat.  Listen to your body and consume enough carbs to give you the energy you need to train without feeling sluggish or depleted but not so much that you are gaining weight.

17.  Cut calories effectively – If you’re the type of person that likes to count calories then you need to make sure you reduce them in a rational manner.  What I mean is that you don’t want to cut your calories too drastically.  If you do, you run the risk of 3 major pitfalls:

  1. slower metabolism  – the body is now burning less fat at any given time.
  2. reduction in lean muscle – the body is now burning muscle instead of fat for energy.
  3. increase in fat – restricted calories can lead to cravings for unhealthy, calorie dense foods that promote an increase in fat.

Don’t cut calories by more than 500 per day to ensure normal metabolic function.  It’s also important to note what calories you are cutting.  For example, you don’t want to reduce your calories from protein too much as they are needed to preserve lean tissue.  Manipulating fat and carb intake may be your best bet depending on what your consumption levels are at currently.

Sensible and sustainable are the key words to take home.  You can definitely use more extreme methods to cut fat but life will be miserable and you’ll most likely gain every single pound back and more.  Training should be enjoyable and rewarding and these methods will ensure it stays that way.

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Words of Wisdom: 41 Fitness Rules to Live By…

Here’s the deal.  If you’re looking for a quick fix, an easy out or some magic pill then this fitness game probably isn’t for you.  If you’re dedicated, open-minded, and enjoy pushing your physical and mental limits, then I’d say you have a fighting chance of not living your entire life as a snot-nosed weakling.

Like any other game, the fitness game has rules (or at least they should be rules, then you could dropkick any fool who tried to break them) that when followed your chances of success increase tenfold.  In other words, the goal is to train hard, get great results and not look like a complete douchebag in the process.

Not to sound like an old man, but with age and experience does come wisdom.  It would be an injustice for me not to pass on the few “pearls” I’ve learned over the years (I’m still learning by the way).

Here are 41 fitness rules to live by:

1. There are NO RULES! – The strongest, fittest and most bad-ass physical specimens walking the face of the earth didn’t get there by following some cookie cutter program in a textbook or magazine.  They got there through trial and error, hard work and discipline, and defying conventional wisdom.  Keeping an open mind and the ability to adapt will keep your training fun and rewarding.

bruce

2. Not all exercise is created equal – If it were, then long walks on the beach would be all we need.  We have to stress our bodies in specific ways to achieve a desired result.  For example, heavy deadlifts and sled pushes produce a drastically different result than a 10km jog.  If you want to be weak and look malnourished then jogging will meet your needs but if you want a body that’s worth a double take, then you’ve got to push weight – on a regular basis.

3. There is no ideal program – You can search high and low trying to find the “perfect” program but it simply doesn’t exist.  What does exist are effective programs that when properly applied produce fantastic results and ineffective programs with no substance that are a complete waste of time.  Anything that forces you to work hard and makes you better than you were yesterday is an ideal program.

4. Compound movement is and always will be king – It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to get bigger, stronger or lose fat, the answer is always to use compound exercise.  I’ve yet to see an effective program that didn’t contain a squat, deadlift, press or row, but I have seen a ton of shitty programs filled with curls extensions, and crunches.

5.  Universal machines are expensive but provide little value –   Pick up a dumbbell or a barbell and learn how to move weight through natural ranges of motion that aren’t predetermined by a machine.  No one’s ever asked you what your max “pec deck” is.

6. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” – Advancements in technology has changed the way we communicate and live our lives.  In some ways better and in some ways worse.  The abundance of choice we have nowadays has distracted us with useless “wants” however the best results are still achieved when we fulfill our basic “needs.”  Needs such as our primal need for a healthy diet and regular exercise.  A stalk of broccoli was good for you 50 years ago and it still will be 50 years from now much like a chin-up or a lunge.  We’ll never outgrow the basics.

7. The “Big 3” will never go out of style – To further elaborate on #6, the big 3 (squat, bench, and deadlift) and its variations are the foundation of almost any good strength and conditioning program.  Become a master of these exercises and everything else is gravy.

8. Nothing great was ever achieved without intensity – Whether your goal is strength, hypertrophy, work capacity, or fat loss, training at high intensity is undeniably the way to go. Shorter rest periods, more time under tension, steeper inclines, and higher speeds are just a few ways to get to the promise land faster.

9.  No program will work unless you do – It’s not enough to just show up.  You have to put in work and lots of it.  The world’s greatest program is useless without effort.

10. Reserve low intensity cardio for active recovery – A light jog, a long walk or a bike ride are great ways to flush out toxins and keep your muscles loose until it’s time to hit it hard again.

11. Don’t neglect accessory work – Use unilateral exercises to address imbalances and weaknesses.  These exercises aren’t as glamorous as the big lifts but are necessary for proper activation, stability, and strength.  Exercises like single leg deadlifts and single leg glute bridges are an excellent choice.

12.  You don’t always have to go heavy to get stronger – Let me clarify.  You don’t need to always train in the 90% or above range to increase your strength.  Just the other day, I hit a 455lb back squat and I haven’t put more than 400lbs on my back in over 5 years! Don’t underestimate the strength that can be developed at higher rep ranges.  Good quality sets in the 5-15 rep range can produce some shocking results.  It will also be easier on your joints in the long run.

13.  Don’t neglect your overhead strength – Lifting weight over your head is an often under trained movement pattern.  Like I mentioned earlier, it’s important to train through all major planes of motion to avoid muscular imbalances.  Strong, healthy shoulders will allow you to get more out exercises like benching and chin-ups.

14. Maintain healthy thoracic mobility – Overhead strength does not exist without sufficient thoracic mobility.  Many of you have been unlucky enough to have a job where you sit at a desk all day.  This absolutely destroys your posture and inhibits a lot of major movement patterns including overhead range of motion.  Work on your thoracic mobility to avoid neck and shoulder problems.

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thoracic mobility is critical for overhead movements

15. Lifting shoes can save you a lot of pain and frustration – If you have poor ankle mobility (i.e. you have trouble squatting to full depth and keeping your heels on the ground) then Olympic lifting shoes may be the answer to your problems.  Not to mention, they just look cool.

16.  Hang cleans and hang snatches are the way to go – Olympic lifts performed from the “hang” position are excellent for beginner to intermediate lifters. There’s less room for error (i.e. early arm bending and the bar coming away from the body) and promotes explosive triple extension (hips, knees, and ankles extend simultaneously).  These movements are simply too good to pass up.

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keeping the bar close to the body is essential in Olympic lifting

17.  Strength can solve most problems – Want to run faster? Jump higher? Want a bigger chest and shoulders? 9 times out of 10 the answer is to simply get stronger.  The more weight you can lift, the more force you can produce and the more you can stimulate your muscles to grow.

18.  Women who look best in yoga pants don’t do yoga – Random thought but the irony was too good not to mention it.

19.  Ladies, your ideal body is just a few squats and deadlifts away – Your fat loss efforts will be more successful under the bar than on an elliptical machine.

camille

20. For beginners, training is a sacrifice, for veterans it’s a way of life.

21. Bodybuilding is not for the general public – Bodybuilding works but the workouts are too long and boring for the average Joe to stay committed long enough to get any results.

22.  Less is more – Training doesn’t need to be complicated to be effective.  In fact, there are a relatively small amount of movements worth doing on a regular basis so don’t waste your time with all the “fluff.”

“It’s not daily increase but decrease – hack away the unessential!” – Bruce Lee

23.  The “ideal” body can be achieved with basic strength training, high intensity conditioning, a high protein diet and limited consumption of processed foods PERIOD.

24. Yoga’s greatest value is in active recovery – In the strength and conditioning world, flexibility and mobility are often overlooked and yoga is a great way to address this.

25. Exercise is the best preventative medicine on the planet – The only catch is that it’s hard work and you have to do it regularly.

26.  The secret is to gain momentum – Newton’s Law of Inertia can be applied to fitness as well.  It basically states that it takes less force to keep an object in motion than it does to put it in motion in the first place.  In other words, the hardest part about training is to simply get off of the couch and get started.  Once you’ve established the habit (which for most takes about 6 weeks) and gained some momentum, it’s far easier to stay committed.

27. Overtraining is like the moon – We know it exists, very few have experienced it and it’s so far away that it’s not something the average Joe needs to be concerned about.

28.  Lifting weights is the new prescription medication – Decreasing testosterone levels? High blood sugar? Low bone density? Lift.

29.  Lifting weights fast is the new cardio – Barbell and dumbbell complexes, and intervals using big lifts are the way to shed fat and build a strong set of lungs.

30. If it comes from European descent it’s a good thing – i.e. TURKISH get-ups, BULGARIAN split squats, ROMANIAN deadlifts, RUSSIAN kettlebell swings…

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bulgarian split squats aren’t glamorous but they work!

31.  Develop your posterior chain – The best way to develop strength, power, and athleticism is to develop your hip extensors (glutes, hamstrings, and lower back).  Kettlebell swings, sled pushes, and deadlifts are a great start.  Well developed glutes and hamstrings make for an admirable physique that is more resistant to injury not to mention you’ll be as strong as an ox.

hammy

32.  Train your weaknesses – If you suck at an exercise do it at least once a week.  Either at low intensity or high intensity just do it.  Doing what you’re already good at might feel good but it doesn’t make you any better.

33.  A weight vest is a great investment – Another random thought but it’s such a great training tool.

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sky’s the limit with a weight vest!

34. Variety is key but don’t stray too far from the basics – Switching up grips, loading (front vs back), and tempos are easy ways to keep the body guessing.  However, don’t get so creative that the objective of the exercise is completely lost.

35.  Don’t neglect your conditioning – 5-10 minutes of a high intensity finisher at the end your workouts is enough to maintain a good level of conditioning.  It’s far easier to stay lean year round than it is to try and lose 20lbs every summer.

36.  The “listen to your body” conundrum – Veterans need to listen to their bodies more and learn how to take their foot off the gas sometimes and rookies need to learn how to push through discomfort and understand that pain is only temporary.

37.  Compliment your barbell work with high rep bodyweight exercises – Absolute and relative strength are the foundation of a well rounded fitness program.  For every bench press there’s a pull-up, for every deadlift there’s a push up.  You get the picture.

38. Dan John put it nicely – “Put weight overhead. Pick it up off the ground. Carry weight for time or distance. The body is one piece.”  If you’re doing all of these things on a regular basis it’s pretty hard to lose.

39. Crossfit is hard not dangerous – It’s tough, it’s really tough but that’s what makes it so appealing.  If we never pushed the boundaries, no one would’ve ever climbed Mt. Everest and we never would’ve put a man on the moon.  Not all of us are cut out to test the limits of the human body but that doesn’t mean those limits shouldn’t be tested.

40. Veterans are intrinsically motivated and don’t need a reason to push themselves. Rookies are extrinsically motivated and need to book a tropical vacation before they start to take things seriously.

41.  Can’t we all just get along – Bodybuilders, powerlifters, Crossfitters, and anyone that just enjoys being in great shape all share a passion for training.  It makes no sense to judge and ridicule someone else’s training methods if they are achieving their goals and having a good time in the process.  Let’s be honest, everyone steals ideas from everyone so it’s hypocritical to condemn another “system” of training. Bodybuilders use powerlifting methods, Strongmen use bodybuilding methods, and Crossfitters use everything in between so I don’t see what all the fuss is about.  The people that complain about how unhealthy they are but are too lazy to do anything about it are the ones that should be worried.  The rest of us that put in work day in and day out should be open to new ideas and know that there is more than one way to workout.

I hope you enjoyed these few pearls of wisdom, I’m sure I’ll have more for you as time goes on.  Until then, train hard and train with a purpose.

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40 Nutrition Tips for Optimal Health and Performance..

Training to become the best possible version of yourself requires time, dedication, persistence, and just plain hard work.  To get the most out of your training, regardless of your goals, you need to get a stronghold on your nutrition.  That doesn’t mean you need to be a Nazi and never indulge in anything outside of mineral water and steamed broccoli,  but you certainly have to demonstrate some discipline and recognize the red flags when they’re placed right in front of you at the dinner table.

Nutrition can sometimes be like a chess game with its complexity, numerous choices, and the need to constantly adjust according to your current situation.  However, with experience comes wisdom.  Just like a savvy chess player, you learn what moves set you up for the greatest chances of success, you make fewer mistakes, and you start to win most of your battles.

To simplify the nutrition game, make more sensible choices, and get better results out of your training, I’ve laid out some tips that I apply to my daily routine as well as others that I’ve learned through years of research.

Let’s take a look at nutrition tips for optimal health and performance:

1.”When it comes to fat loss,  genetics may somewhat ‘load the gun’ but you don’t have to pull the trigger and reload it twice.” I love this quote.  Don’t use bad genetics as an excuse to eat poorly and not make an honest effort to get in shape.  The power to transform your body is in your hands, the question is how bad do you want it?

2. Never be hungry, never be full – Somewhere in the middle is just right.  When your body is in a comfortably fed state, your blood sugar levels don’t spike causing you to store excess fat nor do they plummet causing you too burn valuable muscle for energy.  Think of it this way, when you’re stuffed after a big meal how do you feel? When you’re starving because you haven’t eaten in over 6 hours how do you feel? Neither is a good feeling.  Aim to feel good all the time.

3. If it’s comes in a box or a can it’s not worth eating – Man has created many marvelous things to improve our lives, unfortunately food is not one of them.  Most foods that come in a box or can are highly processed and contain very little real food.  Stick to fresh, whole foods as much as you can. This gives a whole new meaning to “keeping it real.”

4.  “All You Can Eat” is a bad idea – Buffets provide great value but you are pretty much guaranteed to go overboard on your portions.  Especially for those trying to lose fat, this is the last place you want to be.  “All You Can Eat” might be light on the wallet but heavy on the waistline.

5.  Don’t fear fat – There’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding fat in the diet.  Your body needs both saturated and unsaturated fats to function optimally.  Healthy sources include eggs, fish, avacados, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, and lean meats.   The key is to keep your fat intake in the right proportions relative to your protein and carbs.  Depending on your goals, fat should be make up 25-30% of your total intake.

6. Replace your starches with more colorful veggies – With the exception of sweet potatoes and yams, you want to moderate your consumption of starchy carbs especially if you are trying to lose fat.  Colorful vegetables are more nutrient dense and cause less inflammation and bloating than refined starches like bread, pastas, and other grains. As long as you consume adequate protein, you can still build and preserve muscle without a lot of starch.

7.  Don’t drink your calories – It’s pretty easy to start the day with a latte with whip cream followed by a soda or fruit juice to go with your afternoon snack.  These empty calories add up quick and before you know it, you’ve consumed an extra 750-1000 calories and you’ve got nothing to show for it except 2 extra inches around your waist.  Stick to water, dilute your fruit juices if you drink them, and remove all pop including the diet stuff (which is probably more poisonous).

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the calories add up faster than you think!

8. Cut out sugar – There’s not a whole lot more to say about this other than sugar is public enemy #1.  With the exception of fresh fruit, you want to avoid processed and refined sugar as much as you can.

9.  Avoid gluten if it affects you – There’s a lot of buzz surrounding gluten these days but it only needs to be avoided if you have an intolerance to it.  For the rest of you, consume moderately and get on with your life.

10. Gluten Free isn’t always healthier – To further elaborate on #9, unless it never had gluten to begin with, like meat and vegetables, then that food is most likely processed and contains minimal nutritional value anyway.

11.  Keep your carb intake highest around training – The body best utilizes carbohydrates during intense workouts and post workout.  This means it’s OK to consume carbs prior to training to make sure you’re fueled properly and fast acting carbs should be consumed post workout to replenish glycogen stores and maximize recovery.

12. Drink more water – Most of us are far too dehydrated which impairs our ability to function and perform in the gym. Start the day by drinking 300-500ml of water.  Depending on your activity level, muscle mass, and water content of the foods you eat will determine how much water you need each day.

13.  Learn how to cook – Eating meals prepared at home will be far healthier than eating out at restaurants.  There are lots of quick and simple recipes that you can use to make healthy meals that actually taste good! For quick and easy recipes click here.

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Robert Irvine knows his way around the kitchen and the gym!

14. Shop the perimeter – It’s safe to say that 75-80% of the foods in the grocery store aren’t designed for human consumption.  Sure they taste great but that doesn’t negate the fact that they’re highly processed and put you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and any other diseases that haven’t been named yet.  The perimeter of the grocery store is where all of the fresh produce and lean meats are found and this should be where you spend most of your time.

15. Prepare meals in advance – “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  Having your meals prepared at least a couple days in advance is the best way to avoid impulse eating.  If you work long hours, having  dinners prepared in advance saves time and reduces the likelihood of ordering greasy takeout.  Packing healthy lunches will save you a few trips to the drive thru as well.

16. Eat enough protein to support muscle mass – There will always be a debate about low carb and low fat diets but no one ever got great results on a low protein diet. Whether you’re training to get leaner or to build muscle, you need to keep your protein intake in check to support the cause.  At least 1-1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight will be sufficient.

arnoldschwarzenegger2

Arnold definitely ate enough protein

17.  Take a greens supplement – Although I’m not a huge advocate of supplements without a balanced diet first, a greens supplement can provide a lot of nutrients to improve energy and gut health.  Start the day with a tall glass of water with some greens.  Who knows, before you know it, you’ll be a morning person.

18.  Supplement only what you can’t get from real food – As mentioned in #16, supplements should be taken when the rest of the diet is in order.  There’s no point in drinking 3 protein shakes a day if you’re pounding potato chips and Pepsi between meals.  Having said that, it can be tough sometimes to always get in enough nutrients from food so supplementing can help to make up the difference.  Don’t get too caught up in buying the “latest and greatest” products, you can’t lose with real food.

19.  Eat Breakfast – There is some debate nowadays about the importance of breakfast but I can say confidently that it has been the most important meal of the day for me.  A high protein breakfast with healthy fats provides you with loads of nutrients to start the day plus you are more likely to eat healthy throughout the day if your first meal is healthy.  Scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions and a side of sliced bell peppers is how I like to get things started.

20. Eat the whole egg but skip the toast – The nutrients the egg yolk provides far outweighs anything you get from 2 pieces of refined toast.  Try a side of avocado or raw veggies instead.

21.  Never leave home without a healthy snack – Like your wallet or cell phone, you should always carry a healthy snack with you.  A piece of fruit or some mixed nuts are easy ways to tie you over until your next meal.  The last thing you want to do is starve then binge on comfort foods.

22.  Avoid dairy – What I like to refer to as “the unnecessary evil.”  Don’t be fooled, there’s nothing in a glass of milk you can’t get from less inflammatory foods.  Again, if you’re trying to lose fat, this is a high calorie food group you can do without.

gotmilk

so right yet so wrong all at the same time..

23. Avoid grains – Speaking of inflammation, grains are a primary culprit.  Bloating, allergies, and lethargy are just a few things to look forward to.  With the exception of steel cut oats and wild rice, there isn’t a lot of value in these foods.

24.  Avoid artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols – Found in a lot of “diet” foods and drinks, these are deceptive chemicals that the body doesn’t really like.  Try to get most of your sugar from fresh fruit. If you want to sweeten things up try stevia.

25.  Breakfast cereal is fast food – Breakfast is the most important meal of the day when it’s not a bowl of Count Chocula.

chocula

I guess I can thank my mom for never letting me have this as a kid

26.  Everything in moderation – If 90% of your eating habits are favorable then you can afford to indulge from time to time in the things you enjoy.  The further away your are from your goals the more strict you have to be.  Don’t always use junk food as way to reward yourself.  Looking better, feeling better, and performing better are the rewards.

27. Eat more raw veggies – Cooking food kills a lot of the nutrients so try to get a good dose of raw veggies on a regular basis.

28.  Eat more locally grown foods – The next best thing to growing it yourself is to eat from a local farm.  The fresher and less preserved the better.

29. Paleo isn’t perfect but it’s a great start – There is no perfect diet for everyone but the Paleo diet sends people in the right direction.  Less processed foods, more lean meats and vegetables and no sugar.  For the majority of the general public, I’d say that’s a great start.

30.  Use more spices and herbs instead of sauces – Cooking with herbs and spices like pepper, basil, garlic and tumeric provide lots of flavor without the preservatives and empty calories of bbq, teriyaki, and soy sauces.

31.  Black coffee and green tea are great engine starters – Jumpstart your metabolism, burn more fat, and have more energy for your workouts with coffee or green tea.  Nix the cream and sugar though.

32.  Avoid seed and vegetable oils – Seed and vegetable oils are highly processed and are high in omega 6 fatty acids which can lead to a number of health issues.  Stick to olive, coconut, and palm oils for cooking and dressing foods.

33. Avoid trans fats – Another highly processed fat that will do nothing for you except increase your risk of cancer.  Instead of margarine, use grass fed butter or ghee.

34.  Bulletproof your coffee only if your diet is bulletproof – Bulletproof coffee is as trendy as a foot long hipster beard.  That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing (the beard or the coffee).  You have to keep in mind that bulletproof coffee is high in calories (400-450cals) and provides very little nutrients other than fat.  It may keep you full longer but unless you are eating a lot of high quality foods the rest of the day you may be sabotaging your gains.  The safer route would be black coffee and a protein rich breakfast.

bulletproof-butter-coffee

cover-sparta

it’s debatable which is trendier..

35.  Bacon is Paleo but that doesn’t mean it should go on everything – Bacon gets a lot of love since it qualifies as Paleo.  This is another example of how the majority of food you eat must be high quality if bacon is going to make the cut.  High fat, high sodium, and filled with nitrates, bacon should be consumed sparingly.  You don’t need to have it with your eggs, on your burger, in your cookies, AND in your salad.

bacon-wrapped-turkey

HONESTLY??!!

36.  Focus on food quality rather than counting calories – Not all calories are created equal.  Just like not all exercise is created equal, the type of calories you consume are just as important as how many calories you consume.  100 calories from a bag of potato chips will be metabolized far differently than 100 calories from a sweet potato.  Learn and understand the types of foods that give you the best bang for your nutrient buck. Eat more of those foods and less shitty foods and you’ll never have to count calories again.  Does a stalk of broccoli have a food label on it? How about a bunch of bananas?  There’s a reason why whole foods require less scrutiny than fruit juices, low fat granola bars, and frozen yogurt.

37.  “Diet” and “Low Fat” aren’t healthier – When a food has been modified to reduce calories or fat it generally means that it has been replaced with artificial sweeteners or refined sugar to make up the difference.  You’re better off eating a smaller portion of the real stuff since it will wreak less havoc on your metabolism.

38. Speed and nutritional value are inversely related – With the exception of raw fruits and veggies, the faster it can be prepared the less nutritional value it has.  What takes longer, baking a piece of cod in the oven or deep frying it? Making a bowl of Wheaties or scrambled eggs with a side of spinach salad? The “slow food” industry is a niche market reserved for the patient and disciplined.  Another example of the tortoise and the hare perhaps?

Michael-Jordan-Wheaties-Box

Sorry Mike, I DID NOT have my Wheaties this morning!

39. Avoid high fructose corn syrup – High fructose corn syrup is like the Justin Bieber of food. It’s toxic, annoying as hell and it’s everywhere!

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Be careful, be very careful…

40.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – Don’t get too caught up in trends and fads if you are getting the results you want with your current eating habits.  Some of you might be eating more carbs than fats and vice versa and that’s totally fine IF IT’S WORKING!  Having said that, if you aren’t getting stronger, building muscle, getting leaner, or even feeling better then to put it mildly “your shit is broken!”  Take a step back and make small tweaks until you are headed in the right direction.

Hopefully these words of wisdom will help you take one step closer to reaching your goals.

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The Fitness Bucket List: 16 Must-Reach Milestones for the Die Hard Gym Rat!

If you’re competitive and have spent a fair amount of time under the bar then you’ve probably made some notable accomplishments.  Maybe you’ve dropped a waist size, maybe you can finally do a chin-up, or maybe you’ve managed to get to the gym consistently for 3 months straight.

These are all things to be proud of and definitely deserve a pat on the back.  However, I want to take it one step further and look at some SERIOUS feats that only the truly committed could ever achieve. Lifetime accomplishments if you will.

This is for the die hard gym rat, the intermediate to advanced lifter, or someone that simply lives and breathes fitness.  This is for the top 10% that eat clean, train hard, and can bend a barbell just by looking at it!

Now, you’re certainly not going to win any powerlifting competitions or the Crossfit Games with any of these feats but you can certainly consider yourself an accomplished and fit individual. You’ll definitely be on another level compared to most of the people at your gym.

We are going to look at 4 major performance categories: barbell strength, bodyweight strength, conditioning, and body composition.

This is for that 10% that eat clean and can bend a barbell just by looking at it! Click To Tweet

Barbell Strength – Will measure how strong you are in some of the major barbell lifts in absolute terms and relative to your bodyweight.

Bodyweight strength – Also known as relative strength, will measure your strength in the major bodyweight exercises.

Conditioning – Will measure both your aerobic and anaerobic conditioning with various training modalities.

Body composition – Measured as body fat percentage. Looking good takes hard work and discipline too!

The objective is to reach all of these milestones before you retire your jersey and hang it in the rafters.  Ideally, you will have the ability to hit all of these benchmarks at any given time.  See how you size up.

Here are 16 fitness milestones for the die hard gym rat:

Barbell Milestones:

1. Bench press – 315lbs or 1.5x body weight for men/ 135lbs 0r body weight for women

315bench

2. Back squat – 365lbs or 2x body weight for men/ 205lbs or 1.5x body weight for women

365Back-Squat

3. Deadlift – 455lbs or 2.5x body weight for men/275lbs or 2x body weight for women

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gotta love that “deadlift face”

4. Overhead squat – 185lbs or body weight for men/120lbs or .75x body weight for women

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5. Clean – 275lbs or 1.5x body weight/ 165lbs or body weight for women

6. Standing Shoulder Press – 165lbs or .75-.8x body weight for men/85lbs or .65-.7x body weight for women

A 315lb bench press is probably the gold standard as far as bench press is concerned.   If you’re really scrawny (i.e. less than 180lbs) then 315 probably isn’t in the cards for you.  However, 1.5x bodyweight is fantastic nonetheless.  When it comes to the deadlift, once you cross over that 400lb mark that shit is just straight up heavy!  Kudos to you if you can pull 455.

The overhead squat will possibly pose the most problems for most if you have any shoulder mobility/stability issues whatsoever.  It’s arguably the least trained barbell exercise as well.  The clean is also a movement that takes some time to master making 275lbs quite an accomplishment.  Like the saying goes “If it was easy, we’d all be doing it and we’d all look great with our shirts off.”

If it was easy, we'd all be doing it and we'd all look great with our shirts off. Click To Tweet

Bodyweight Milestones:

7. Strict Pull-ups/Chin-ups – 15 for men/8 for women

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8. Push-ups – 50 unbroken for men/30 unbroken for women

9. Dips – 30 unbroken for men/20 unbroken for women

10.  Strict Handstand Pushups – 15 unbroken for men/8 unbroken for women

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11.  Muscle-ups – 5 unbroken for men/3 unbroken for women

Keeping a good balance of absolute and relative strength is the key to being functionally fit.  This is also one of the main objectives in the Pure Payne Method.  Fellas, I hope all those years under the bar didn’t make you too big and heavy cause it would have shown in this section.   This is also an area where the ladies may struggle more due to less strength and muscle mass in the upper body.  It’s not often you see a woman do dips or handstand pushups but when it happens it’s a work of art!  As for muscle ups, one could argue that getting a single muscle up is already enough to start poppin’ bottles! The good news is though, once you’ve got one under your belt, it’s far easier to start getting multiples.

Conditioning Milestones:

It’s time to dust off the lungs and get ready to breathe hard – REALLY HARD!  Despite not being a huge fan of long slow cardio, the distances tested in this section are long enough to test the appropriate energy systems but not so long that you’ll burn 20lbs of muscle trying to complete them. The aerobic system (primary system for activities lasting longer than 2 minutes) is usually trained at low intensity for the purpose of burning fat (although some muscle is burned too).  The anaerobic system (primary system for activities lasting less than 2 mins) is an often undertrained and underestimated one.

12. Run 1 mile – 7 minutes for men/8 minutes for women

13. Row 2000m – 7:20 for men/8:20 for women

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14. Burpees – 100 in 8 minutes for men and women

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15. 100 Meter Sprint – 13 seconds for men/14 seconds for women

The tests that stand out to me are the 2000m row which should not be underestimated as anyone who has ever done this test knows it’s a crippler!  As for burpees, we all know the story with those, you’re just going to have to dig deep into your mental recesses to get through that one. The 100m sprint should also be interesting.  If the last time you sprinted was at your high school track meet or 10th grade basketball tryouts then you might be in for a little treat when you try to turn on the afterburners.  Explosive power is often the most overlooked aspect of any fitness program.

Body Composition Milestone:

16. Body fat percentage – 12% or less for men/ 18% or less for women (can be measured with calipers, hydrostatic weighing, or DEXA scan as long as you use the same measure each time). This is the range where you’ll have some vascularity and you’re abs will show. This is also a range that isn’t too extreme and sustainable with a little bit of work.

Although I’ve never been an advocate of training purely for aesthetics, I would be naive to ignore the hard work and discipline it takes to achieve a lean physique.  For some of you, this might be the most challenging test because it will require you to change your eating habits beyond what you are comfortable with.

If you scored well in one category but poorly in another, don’t sweat it.  You’re probably guilty of training your strengths and avoiding your weaknesses like the plague.  Take it on the chin and use this as motivation to rethink your training and develop a more diverse approach to your workouts.

One last thing, check out this video of Rich Froning overhead squatting 255lbs for 15 reps! Unbelievable!

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Having Trouble Gaining Muscle? 19 Reasons Why You Can’t Get Jacked!

Hittin’ the gym can be one of the most rewarding experiences if you enjoy it and are achieving what you set out to do.  On the flip side, the gym can be a daunting and frustrating place if you’re injured, you’ve hit a plateau or you just don’t know what you’re doing wrong.

For most, building strength and putting on muscle is the primary reason for training.  There are many factors that will determine whether or not you are successful.  I can speak for myself when I say that having pretty good genetics helps but that just gets your foot in the door.  To build muscle and transform your physique requires a detailed look at every aspect of your training and lifestyle.  If you feel like something’s missing or you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere don’t stress, I’ve made many mistakes and I’m still learning as I go.  The good news is you’re probably making a common mistake that won’t take long to fix.

If you’re having trouble packing on muscle, here are 19 reasons why you can’t get jacked:

1. You’re a skinny bastard – Well, technically you’re an ectomorph.  This means you genetically have a slender, leaner body type.  The good news is you are one of those guys that can eat pretty much whatever they want and not gain weight (we all know those people and we can’t stand them).  The bad news is YOU CAN EAT WHATEVER YOU WANT AND NOT GAIN WEIGHT! Sucks to be you!  I’m exaggerating a little but you guys have a hard time packing on muscle because your metabolism burns more fuel than a formula 1 race car.  The trick for you guys is to keep your caloric intake high and a relatively lower caloric output during exercise to sustain a caloric surplus.  Focus more on big lifts, minimal conditioning and lots food. You could probably get away with training less frequently too (3-4 times/week).

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they both burn fuel at an alarming rate!

2. You’re a fat bastard – I’m coming from a good place when I say this, really I am.  You are what’s known as an endomorph and you unfortunately have the natural capacity to store more fat.  You guys know who you are.  If you even look at a box of doughnuts you gain 5 pounds. The good news is  you don’t have a lot of trouble building muscle and getting strong but you struggle to get lean enough for anyone to see all your hard work. You need to eat more nutrient dense foods, keep your caloric intake lower and activity levels higher.  Focus more on interval training for conditioning to preserve muscle and burn more fat and watch your intake of starchy carbohydrates.  You will have to train a little more frequently (4-5 times/week) to keep your metabolic rate up. Don’t despair, there’s still hope for you, you just need to be more disciplined in the gym and in the kitchen.

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3. You’re too young – I’m not talking about your biological age here, what I’m referring to is your training age; the number of years you’ve spent under the bar. If you’ve been lifting less than 5 years it’s pretty hard to build a strong muscular physique unless you have some freaky genetics and some good drugs to go with them!  Muscle, like most other highly sought after things in life, takes time to acquire. If you want to walk around at 200lbs with less than 12% body fat you better put your hard hat on and go to work!  Get in the trenches and start moving some serious weight.  Light, medium, heavy, high volume, low volume – JUST LIFT! Any program will work as long as you stick to it and put in a solid effort.  After you’ve got 5 years under your belt you can come talk to me about what to do next.

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get a few more years under your belt then come talk to me

4.  You’re not getting enough sleep – Don’t underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep or an afternoon nap for that matter.  Sleeping is your body’s prime time to produce testosterone.  Both muscle building and recovery are enhanced with quality sleep.  Aim for at least 7-8 hours per night and if you can fit in a short nap every now and then that would be even better for your gains.

5. You’re using the wrong rep schemes – When you’re lifting you have to be conscious of both the loads and reps you are using.  To make your workouts more effective, you need to train for both strength and hypertrophy (increase in muscle size).  Strength rep ranges are anywhere from 1-5 reps and hypertrophy ranges from 5-15 reps generally.  Shocking the body with ultra high reps (15-25) is a great way break through plateaus and stimulate growth.  The key is to keep changing it up so you always have something to adapt to.  Alternating every few weeks between strength and hypertrophy phases is the best way to keep things fresh.

6.  You’re not eating enough protein – Your protein intake is critical to your muscle building endeavor.  Think of protein like a passport, without it you ain’t going nowhere!! Aim for at least 1-1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight.  Try to get most of your protein from whole foods like lean meats, fish, and eggs.  Use supplements if you find it tough to get your daily intake from food alone and post workout for quick absorption.

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protein is your passport to getting jacked!

7.  You’re not eating enough carbs – Yes, you need to eat carbs if you expect to pack on any muscle whatsoever.  Protein and carbs go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly when it comes building muscle.  Carbs are needed for glycogen replenishment (the fuel your body uses during intense workouts) and to ensure that you aren’t using protein for energy instead.  Without proper carb intake, your energy levels will drop, the intensity of your workouts will suffer and your muscles will look flat and deflated.  Aim for 55-60% of your daily intake to come from carbs.  I’m talking about high quality carbs not the refined and processed stuff that will  give a beer belly or cancer.  I’m talking about good clean sources like yams and sweet potatoes, fresh fruits, and colorful veggies.

8. You’re not squatting enough – To get big, you’ve got to lift big.  Squatting is one of the best exercises for overall strength and muscular development. Your testosterone and growth hormone levels will get a huge spike which sets the stage for growth in every muscle in your body. Try to squat 1-2 times per week.  Mix up your weight, rep ranges, and variations (i.e back, front, goblet) to prevent overuse injuries.  Whatever you do, just squat. To get more out of your squat click here.

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she’s got the right idea!

9. You’re not deadlifting enough – Much like the squat, the deadlift should be one of your go-to exercises.  Improved grip strength, upper back and posterior chain development, the deadlift should not be ignored.  Do your deads to build blue collar strength and the body of a superhero.  Try to give yourself a few days between squatting and deadlifting sessions to allow your legs and nervous system to recover.

10. You’re working out too many days in a row – Believe it or not, there is a fine line building muscle and simply destroying muscle.  It’s vital that you program recovery days into your training otherwise all your hard work might start to work against you.  Try to take at least one complete rest day and one active recovery day per week.  Give your muscles, joints, and nervous system a chance to recover so you can have more quality workouts.  You also don’t want your cortisol levels (the stress hormone) to get to high cause that will just leave you tired and beat up.  Like the saying goes “take one step back to take 2 steps forward.” Training is the step back and recovery is the 2 steps forward.  I know you’re anxious to get in the gym and pump iron but you won’t last very long if you don’t take your foot off the gas every now and then.  Take it from a guy who’s spent over 15 years in the gym; if you want to continue to improve you better start taking pride in your recovery.

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going too hard for too long almost never ends well

11.  You’re too weak – Have you ever seen a really jacked guy in the gym who lifted like a prepubescent school girl?  Like I mentioned in #5, if you want to pack on muscle you need a solid base of strength to build it.  The more you can overload your muscles, the more you can stimulate them to grow.  If you can’t bench press your body weight, squat 1.5x bodyweight or deadlift 2x bodyweight then you still have some growing to do. Remember, strength is the cornerstone of any effective training program.

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you gotta move serious weight to get jacked!

12. You’re not explosive enough – When you look at an NFL running back or an Olympic sprinter’s physique you’re looking at a body that is comprised of a shit ton of fast twitch muscle fibers.  It’s the fast twitch fibers that give you that “tone” or dense look.  Hill sprints, sled pushes, and plyometrics are just a few great ways to develop explosiveness and a body that belongs on the cover of Sports Illustrated. To learn more about how to develop power click here.

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Linford defined explosiveness!

13. You want instant gratification – Maybe you’ve always gotten what you wanted when you wanted it.  Maybe you’ve never had to struggle. Maybe everything you’ve tried has always come so easily to you.  I got news for you, getting jacked is a huge investment of time, energy, and discipline.  More time than most people are willing to put in.  There is no easy way, just hard work day in and day out.  Trial and error will be your most effective training strategy.  If you aren’t prepared to grind it out then you better take up jogging.

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14.  You’re too inconsistent – I’ve talked a lot about the role consistency plays in getting results but I can’t stress it enough.  The only way little things lead to big things is through deliberate, repeated effort.  Don’t train hard for 2 weeks and then take 3 months off.  Don’t jump from program to program. Don’t make excuses for why you couldn’t get to the gym. You can have excuses or results, NOT BOTH.  Stay focused, treat every workout like it’s your last and everything else will take care of itself.

15.  You don’t have a planClick here to find out why your workout routine ABSOLUTELY SUCKS!

16. You have too many injuries – Shoulder impingement? Sprained ACL?  Torn bicep? If you are constantly getting hurt or suffering from old injuries that never healed properly (you never took the time to rehab them properly) then you’re gonna have one hell of a time trying to make any significant gains.  Imagine trying to drive a car with a flat tire.  You could,  but you won’t be able to go as fast and it will be a really rough ride.  That’s what training with injuries is like.  Being able to train hard and pain free is a beautiful thing.  Take some time to work on your mobility and get some soft tissue treatment.  Trust me, training is way more fun when you’re healthy.

17. You don’t have any heart – If you want to achieve a goal like gaining 10lbs of lean muscle then you had better be ready to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to get there.  Some things can’t be taught or coached, one of those things being HEART.  Are you the first one to show up and the last one to leave?  This is an intangible that can’t be read in a book or taught in school.  Either you you got it or you don’t.  If you’re waiting for someone to come and motivate you then maybe you’re not cut out for this fitness gig. This is what separates the good from the great, the average from the elite, the bone racks from the chiseled.  “When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.” 

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18.  Your workouts are too long – I know I said that you have to put in time if you expect results but I’m talking about QUALITY time.  Too often, people waste too much time socializing, resting too long, or doing exercises that aren’t really going to make them any better.  If you focus on quality movements and strict rest periods, 30-60 minutes should be more than enough time to get the job done.  A main lift, 1-2 accessory exercises and some high intensity conditioning and that’s all she wrote.  Stop floating around from exercise to exercise and get shit done!

19.  You’re unrealistic – You need to take a good, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself  “can I really put on 30lbs of muscle in 30 days?” There’s nothing wrong with aiming high but don’t be delusional.  All that does is set you up for failure.  Set small goals to compliment your bigger, long term goals. For example, a short term goal could be to workout 4 times per week. A long term goal could be to gain 10lbs of muscle in 8-10months.  Slow and continual progress should be your main objective.  Ironically, effective training requires high intensity activities like sprinting but the overall process of building muscle is somewhat of a marathon.

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better get some Windex for that mirror..

Don’t despair, your goals are still within reach, you just need to make a few tweaks. When you’re finished reading this article, read it again.  Then share it with your other muscle hungry friends.

What’s your biggest struggle with trying to gain muscle? Drop a comment below!

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