Fitness Advice for the "Average Joe"

By Paul Kim (Silicon Valley Entrepreneur & Certified Personal Trainer)


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3 Practical Steps to Make Your Stubborn Muscles Grow

PKDS-1Sig

Every single person on earth has lagging or stubborn muscles that he or she wishes would look better. Even for the few who look like Hercules, when you look at them carefully, you can almost always see flaws in their physique. Sometimes, the under-development is a result of the person just being lazy or under-prioritizing that particular body part. For example, you see a lot of guys in the gym who look like they should be walking on their hands because they have big arms but no legs. But in many cases, under-developed muscles can result because certain body parts just don’t respond to a person’s training regimen as well as others. And thus, you get people complaining that their chest never grows, or their calves are stubborn, or they just can’t get a six-pack.

Well, the good news is that 99% of you will be able to fix this by following the 3 steps that I outline below for at least 2 months. These steps are designed to prioritize your lagging muscle(s) and bombard them beyond your normal activity levels to force growth & development.

  1. Train your Lagging Muscle FIRST during each appropriate workout session. This is at the core of prioritizing your lagging muscle(s). You have the most energy and are usually most focused at the beginning of your workouts. As such, you need to devote this time to developing your lagging muscle(s). It’s so easy to get caught up in a routine where you work each muscle in the same sequence every single time… but often times, your lagging muscles are worked at the end of your workouts, when you’re tired and itching to get out of the gym. Simply changing the order of your exercises and putting your maximum effort on your lagging muscles can literally do miracles for these muscles. For example, if you are having problems getting your calves to a respectable level, then always hit this muscle FIRST in your workout sequence, as opposed to LAST like most people do. Also, usually I try not to do super-sets when I’m prioritizing a lagging muscle because I want to give it my undivided attention.
  2. Do 1~3 more sets than “normal” for your Lagging Muscle(s).  Just to be clear,  I’m not usually a proponent of increasing workout intensity by simply adding more sets and thus making a workout longer. However, when I’m trying to “catch up” a lagging body part I make an exception because it works by making you physically do more work and overload the muscle, and often times this is just what the doctor ordered to attain growth! So for example, if you’re used to doing 6 total sets on your biceps, do 8-9 sets during the 2 month period. Remember that the key here is not just to increase the number of sets, per se, but to overload your muscles to stimulate growth – as such, keep your rest relatively short and make each set super intense (go to failure or beyond using a spotter on each set). To be clear, you only need to increase sets on your problem muscles, not on any other body part.
  3. Rest fewer days and hit the body part again more frequently. For example, if your shoulders are lagging, and you usually hit your shoulders once every 5 days, try and see if you can hit it every 4 days. Now, use caution and common sense when you do this… it’s okay to be a little bit sore when you hit the muscle again, meaning that your muscles have mostly recovered, but you shouldn’t be so sore that you have not recovered enough yet (then you would end up doing more damage than good to your muscles). Assuming that you hit multiple body parts in one workout session, this would mean that your muscle-couplings (muscles that you usually work out together) would be thrown off, which is totally fine (e.g. if you usually work your shoulders and biceps on the same day, chances are that on your next workout, you would work your shoulders with other body parts).

And as always, work out INTENSELY… perform each set to failure (or beyond with a spotter), except your warm-up set(s), and keep pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone in terms of higher weights and squeezing out extra reps, because the work you do past the point of failure is where you will see the best results.

Here’s an example from my personal experience. Biceps have historically been a body part that I have neglected for various reasons. So last year, when I was doing my body transformation, I worked hard to get them to catch up. Usually, I work biceps every 4 days or so… but I made a concerted effort to catch them up to the rest of my body. As such, over several months, I disciplined myself to hit them 3 times per week (e.g. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays). But to ensure that I would recover sufficiently between workouts, I hit biceps HEAVY on Mondays and Fridays (heavy weights where I could only do 3~5 reps before I failed), and on Wednesdays, I would go slightly lighter and go to failure at around 7~9 reps (I also did more “shaping” exercises like Preacher Curls and Cable Curls, as opposed to more “bulking” exercises like heavy Standing Barbell Curls). Within 2-3 weeks, I saw a real difference by using this approach… my biceps were getting fuller, larger, stronger, and more vascular because they were getting the attention that they deserved.

Try this approach to your lagging or stubborn muscles and let me know how it goes! It works for me, and I’m pretty sure it will work for you. Good luck!

-PK


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Not Seeing Improvements in Your Body? Here’s How You Break through a Plateau!

About to get dunked for hydrostatic testing (fat %)

About to get dunked for hydrostatic testing (fat %)

Have you ever worked your butt off in the gym or at home to burn off the weight or gain some muscle, but it seems like nothing you do seems to work, and your body seems to be completely unresponsive to the workouts that you’re doing? Yeah, we’ve all been there – you’ve hit a PLATEAU.

You usually hit a plateau when your body adjusts or acclimates itself to the intensity, progression, and format of your workouts. So how do you break through annoying plateaus to get your body to respond to your workouts again? Throughout my 20+ year workout career, I’ve literally hit dozens of plateaus, and here is my practical advice to smashing through them:

  1. Use a “Phased” Approach to Muscle Confusion: I’ve found that the most important factor in breaking through a plateau is to confuse my body and muscles through systematic change in my routines via Phased Muscle Confusion. I say “Phased” confusion because you should NOT make “muscle confusion” a recognizable pattern, as your muscles need to genuinely be confused and overloaded. For example, I’ve seen programs out there where they supposedly “confuse” your muscles by performing different types of exercises sporadically throughout the week (e.g. mix in Cardio Boxing or Plyometrics to your routine), but the problem is that these changes come at such regular intervals that people’s bodies come to expect the change and adapt quickly to it. In addition, in many cases a sporadic “mixing up” of exercises don’t yield long-term gains from that particular exercise type/genre because it’s used so sporadically. This is why I recommend employing a PHASED approach, where you stick with a different type of routine for at least 2~4 weeks at a time, so that your body can benefit from the positive effects of the “confusion.” Incidentally, I’ve built Phased Muscle Confusion into the workouts in Alpha Trainer… what you will find is that each phase is a bit different from the prior, which helps to keep your muscles guessing and minimize the effects of plateaus.
  2. Change the Order, Pairings, and Types of Exercises: Often times, people get so stuck on their “routines” that they rarely deviate from them. This presents many challenges, including the fact that certain body parts don’t get worked as hard as others.
      • Change Exercise Pairing: For example, many people hit their Chest and their triceps on the same workout day continuously (almost always chest first, followed by triceps) – this exercise pairing is perfectly fine, but if you never change your exercise pairings or your exercise ordering, chances are good that certain muscles are not getting worked as hard as they could be. In this example, if you are always exhausting your chest first before hitting your triceps, you’re not going to be able to maximize improvements in your triceps because it’s already somewhat fatigued from the chest workout (which also works your triceps). It makes sense to mix up your routines for different periods such that your triceps are worked hard first, followed by another body part, such as biceps, back, or legs.
      • Change Exercise Ordering: Another example I want to give is that simply changing the order of the exercises on the same body parts can yield amazing results. For example, I’ve broken through bench press plateaus in the past where my bench press max became stagnant after always doing flat bench press first, followed by incline bench press… when I changed up the ordering and performed incline bench press first, followed by flat bench press for a 2 month period, my body broke through a plateau, and my max bench press went up by ~40 pounds soon thereafter! It’s because my upper chest was not getting maximum stimulation because it was pre-exhausted from the flat bench in the past, but now I was giving it the attention that it needed to get stronger.
      • Experiment with Barbells, Dumbbells, Cable, Different Exercises, and more: Go through phases where you focus more heavily on a specific workout apparatus, such as barbells, dumbbells, cables, Hammer Strength machines (excellent “machines” that use free weights), etc. I’ve had much success going through a progressive stage of focusing on barbells, then focusing on dumbbells, then working on Hammer Strength machines, etc. The reason is that each apparatus works your muscles slightly differently because of the angles, positioning, and balance, so they develop your muscles differently. For example, although you can do less absolute weight on the dumbbell bench press as opposed to barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press works your stabilizer muscles far more, and when you develop these muscles, they help you tremendously in gaining overall muscle size and strength.
  3. Put focus on a specific body part: sometimes what you need to break out of a plateau is to simply focus most of your attention on a specific body part. For example, try getting much stronger on your legs, chest, or shoulders. When you do this for weeks to several months, often times you will find that you naturally break out of a plateau, and all of your weights improve as a result of a stronger individual muscles!
  4. Take it easier for a short while, Turbo!: Sometimes your body hits a plateau because you are exhausted from OVER-TRAINING. Again, this is why a phased approach to developing your body is necessary. Don’t be afraid to take it down just one notch for a few weeks, as you let your body and muscles recuperate from months of hard work and exercise. Now, I don’t mean you just stop working out (although in some cases it really makes sense to take a week or two completely off), but definitely change it up for a couple of weeks. For example, if you have been working out heavy for months with low reps of 3~6, go through a phase of working out with lighter weights at 8~12 reps. Or try lower intensity circuit training, instead of high-intensity bodybuilding type of workouts. Giving your body a welcome respite is sometimes exactly what your body needs to help it recover from the negative effects of over-training.
  5. Finally, you can increase the Intensity of Your Workouts by Adjusting the following Factors: Many times, you need to work out more intensely to break out of a stagnant plateau. But remember, after working out super intensely for a few months, be sure to take it down a notch for a couple of weeks to prevent over-training.
      • Progressively use heavier weights. Remember to push yourself. You can reduce the number of reps you do, but push yourself to do more weight (while maintaining good form). This is one of the best ways to overload your muscles.
      • Perform more reps to failure, more forced reps, more “strip” sets. Perform each set to exhaustion, until your body can’t handle another rep. By pushing yourself to your physical limits (while staying safe), your body will be forced to adapt by becoming stronger and bigger.
      • Perform more sets (in some cases, not all). Use this sparingly… but in some cases, some people just don’t do enough sets to get a good workout. Or if your workout stamina has increased, don’t be afraid to add an extra set in your workouts to overload your muscles. Remember, I am not espousing long workouts or high volume workouts – in fact, I prefer shorter but more intense workouts. But in some cases, you will need to add an extra set to your workouts to increase intensity.
      • Reduce your Rest Time (unless you are trying to maximize your strength). Unless you’re doing Power Training and primarily trying to increase your strength, reducing your rest times is a good way to increase your workout intensity and get better results.
      • Perform bi-sets and tri-sets. There’s magic in performing different exercises one after another with minimal rest… this makes your body work hard, and it also makes you burn more calories during your workouts AND AFTER your workouts, through an effect called EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption), or “Afterburn”. Again, I’ve mixed in many bi-sets and tri-sets into the routines on Alpha Trainer to maximize intensity and EPOC.

By employing these principles in your workouts, you will probably be able to break out of your plateau. Try it out, and let me know how it goes! Good luck.

-Paul.


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Weight Training to Build Speed, Power, and Vertical Jump!

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As I watched the Superbowl recently between San Francisco 49’ers & Baltimore Ravens and looked around at the incredibly big and strong athletes who spend countless hours in the gym training, I was reminded of the importance of weight training to become truly fast, quick, & powerful. But most people don’t understand HOW to train properly to develop speed, quickness, & vertical jump. So my purpose in writing this post is to take all of the complicated theories, books, and training methods that deal with building speed & quickness and summarizing the concepts for you in an easy-to-understand format to you can employ them immediately. I could talk about this topic for days, but I’m going to keep this post as succinct as possible, while giving you the framework to design the most effective workout for yourself.

To start, here’s an explanation of the two basic formulas that impact speed & quickness (we’re going back to high school physics for just one second!):

  1. P = F * V.       Power = Force x Velocity.
  2. F = M * A.      Force = Mass x Acceleration.

Formula (1) states that Power is a function of Force multiplied by Velocity. Simply put, the more Force (think of it as maximum strength) you can apply at the Fastest Speed (Velocity) possible, the more Power (Speed, Quickness, Vertical Jump) you will generate. So the faster you can lift a heavy object, the more power you will generate. A widely accepted rule of thumb is that it’s easier to increase your strength (force) than it is to increase your speed (velocity), which has more significant genetic limitations. For example, I can still remember the very first time I ever got under a barbell to do a bench press… I was a skinny little 15 year old, 120 pound Freshman in high school, and I had no idea what I was doing, but I remember being able to bench press ~120 pounds (1x my body weight) for several reps… more than a decade of consistent weight training later, that 120 pounds for reps essentially tripled to a max bench press of ~405 pounds at a body weight of 180 pounds during my mid-20’s (~2.3x my body weight). I read some research a long time ago which shows that you can increase strength up to around 4x from your starting point through consistent weight training…  the point being that you can increase your strength much easier than you can your speed, so focus on increasing your strength to increase power. In case there is any doubt that increasing strength will actually increase your speed, quickness, & vertical jump, take a look below at some random Powerlifters jumping up in the air after a lift… powerlifters have such strong legs, their vertical leaping abilities are very well known (I especially love the portly, 300 pound dude on the left leaping high up into the air, which makes me smirk). In addition, I have not worked specifically at jumping in a very long time, but because my I can squat a lot compared to my body weight, I am still able to get pretty high up in the air (about ~35″).

JumpingPowerLifters1

Formula (2) states that Greater Force is generated by either increasing the mass of the object or the acceleration applied to the object. No need to confuse yourself here… just think about FORCE as the Maximum Strength that you can apply to something. The key here again is to increase your maximum strength (getting as strong as you possibly can).

So here’s the bottom line. To maximize Power, Quickness, Explosiveness, and Vertical Jump, you need to concentrate on improving in the following key areas:

  1. Increase your Maximum Strength in the body parts that matter for your sport. For example, if you want to increase your vertical jump, increase your maximum strength in your quads, glutes, lower back, hamstrings, and Calves through key exercises like squats and deadlifts. You accomplish this by training VERY HEAVY, in the 80~100%+ of your 1-rep maximum range. For example, if your maximum squat for 1 full repetition is 300 pounds, then after performing sufficient warmup sets, you need to train with weights in the 240~300+ pound range for low reps, like 1~6 reps. When you’re training heavy, for any of the exercises where you are positioned underneath the weights (e.g. squats, bench press, barbell shoulder press, etc.), make sure you have a spotter AND/OR use a safety cage to be safe to prevent becoming workout roadkill. Also, try to perform the reps as FAST AS YOU CAN. The key point is not whether the weight is moving quickly… in fact, it’s not possible to move your 1-rep max weight very quickly… rather, what’s important is whether your muscles are working and understanding that it’s trying to move the weights quickly. This helps to actually activate your Fast Twitch muscle fibers (Type 2A and Type 2B) and helps you to recruit more of these Type 2 muscle fibers, which also helps to improve your rate of force development, which is the next key point.
  2. Increase your RATE OF FORCE DEVELOPMENT. What does this mean? Research shows that it generally takes more than 0.5 seconds to develop maximum force because it takes time and coordination for your muscle fibers to fire and be recruited… but the challenge is that many explosive activities, like jumping, sprinting (each stride), swinging, etc. are completed in a fraction of a second (like 0.2 seconds or less). So the key to increasing FORCE to increase power is to increase the amount of usable or recruitable force you can generate in a short amount of time. This requires muscles to be trained to fire quickly. Two great ways to do this are as follows:
    • Plyometric/Reactive Training: Plyometric training, first invented in Russia in the 1970’s, focuses on training your muscles to fire very efficiently, as well as quickly utilizing the potential energy that is stored via the stretching of the tendons (kind of like a rubber band that accumulates energy quickly, then releases).
    • Weighted movements performed quickly/explosively: Use moderate to moderately-heavy weights for maximum results, say, in the 30~80% of your 1 rep maximum. But again, move the weights very quickly. Some examples of exercises you can perform are jumping weighted squats, jumping weighted lunges, medicine ball throws, etc.
  3. Increase your Velocity or Speed through Plyometrics and Training in the Actual Sport.
    • Use Plyometric or Reactive Training. By nature, Plyometric exercises helps get you faster by improving explosive reaction time in your muscles.
    • Continue to Train in the Sport or Activity that you are trying to Improve in. It goes without saying that if you are a boxer, continue your live boxing training, and if you’re a basketball player, continue playing basketball. No amount of strength training in the gym or weighted workouts will ever mimic the actual speed and neuromuscular coordination that training in the actual sport will accomplish.
  4. Lower your Body Fat, and thus your Body Weight. This reduces the weight that the Power you generate has to carry or launch in the air, and thus increases your speed, quickness, vertical jump, etc. Think about it this way: who do you think will likely jump higher… a 150 pound guy who can squat 400 pounds, or a 300 pound guy who can squat 400 pounds? My money’s on the lighter guy, assuming his rate of force production and velocity are equivalent to the other guy, or even if slightly inferior. It definitely pays to have good pound-for-pound strength.

Anecdotally, I have a younger brother named John who’s about 5’11” or so… at his best, I’ve seen him do reverse slam dunks while pulling the ball down to his mid-chest level with both hands (below is a video of him dunking)… not bad for a guy of his stature. But what’s amazing to me is how much effort he put into his vertical jump, and how much I saw him improve, when he was a kid. What really helped him in the jumping arena was him developing serious leg strength via heavy squats, as well as improved muscular efficiency, velocity, and efficient force production via plyometric exercises. One summer during college, I remember training with him at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach, which has an intensely steep and high hill made of sand, where we would hop up the hill with weights strapped onto us (I remember it well because I vomited at the top of the hill after my first workout session). But John worked hard throughout the summer and worked on plyometrics and squats… after which, he was skying and throwing down the basketball with ease.

Hope this helps in understanding how to improve your speed, power, and vertical jump. If I have time, in future posts, I will post some workouts that combine heavy weightlifting, plyometrics, and explosive weight training. Until next time, more power to ya! 😉

-Paul.


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Stay Fit while Traveling: Tips for the Road Warrior (2-Day/Full-Body Workout Included!)

One of the toughest obstacles to maintaining a good health & fitness routine is TRAVEL, whether it’s for work or for pleasure, because it throws off your routine in terms of the foods you eat, workout facilities, workout schedule, and your body’s natural rhythm. Apropos to this topic, I’ve been on a business trip to South Korea for almost a week now, with another week or two left. From the get-go, I knew this was going to be a very grueling trip, with many all-night work sessions with business partners, multiple “compulsory”  drinking events, and having to eat out pretty much every meal (many readers can probably relate to this on their trips). So before this trip, I tried to plan out as many health-related issues as I could to minimize the damage that I’d inevitably cause my body. So I made a list of the top fitness priorities while being on the road. They are as follows:

1. Get sufficient protein and vitamins.

It’s very difficult to get sufficient protein intake (at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight) when I’m on the road, so I went shopping on Black Friday for a bunch of protein bars, a bottle of multi-vitamins, and a ton of meal replacement powder (Myoplex) for when I’m on the road. This way, no matter what circumstance I encounter, I’d be ready. Below is a picture of some of the protein and vitamins that I brought on this trip. 

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This small preparation of protein in my luggage has gone a long way for me. In the morning, I drink a packet of Myoplex (meal replacement), which gives me 290 calories with 42 grams of protein (more than 20% of my daily protein requirement). My caloric and protein intake during the day is very sporadic and hard to predict, so this little piece of certainty goes a long way. Also, the protein bars (e.g. Atkins Bar, Zone Bar) have been extremely handy, as I’m locked in an office for much of the day, without time to go out and get the right kind of foods with high-quality protein. So I just pull one of these bars out and munch whenever a craving hits me, or when I feel I’m going too long without protein.

I brought enough protein bars to have up to 3 each day (3 x 19 grams = 57 grams of total protein), which was a wise decision. Noticeably missing from this trip is Whey protein – I had to drop this from my inventory because I didn’t have space to lug around a 5 pound tub of this stuff… yes, I could carry a smaller amount in a different container, but it wasn’t worth the hassle and extra luggage, given that I was already bringing meal replacement powder (I’m a guy, so I pack pretty light and don’t exactly travel “J-Lo style”, with an entourage and 35 suitcases, you know what I mean?).

2. Research the foods you might eat ahead of time (for nutritional analysis) and practice Portion Control when eating.

Don’t you hate getting sprung with uncertain foods that contain uncertain ingredients and calories, especially when you’re traveling overseas and you’re not as familiar with the foods of the other culture? That’s why I did my research in advance to see what the most likely foods I’d eat would be. I went online ahead of time and researched the nutritional content of some of the foods I would likely eat on the trip (Google is a powerful tool!). This helped give me a grasp of how much I would need to apply portion control to the foods I ate, based on my daily caloric budget.  If I encounter any foods that I don’t recognize, I try not to eat more than the amount that fits on my hand, until I learn more about the nutritional value. Below is a sampling of some of the foods I’ve eaten with business partners and friends on this trip, while practicing portion control:

Food Everywhere - 1

As I’ve said consistently throughout my blog, no matter what kind of diet you’re on (whether you’re trying to lose or gain weight), it doesn’t matter what types of foods you eat, as long as you (1) stay within your caloric budget and (2) get ample protein to fuel muscular repair and growth. Portion control comes in handy to help you stay within your caloric budget, and the protein bars and meal replacement powder have come in very handy in providing ample protein, given the uncertain dietary environment of this trip.

3. Adapt your workout to your environment (“Ghetto’s Gym”)

Remember that scene in Rocky 4, where Rocky goes to Russia and uses his natural surroundings to improvise workouts because he was given really crappy equipment and facilities (I especially love how he shoulder presses the carriage… what a beast!)? Well, sometimes you have to get creative because the workout facilities you encounter are inferior to the ones you are used to.

Rocky Scenes - 1

My business and pleasure trips have taken me to some remote places, including Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, etc. If you want to stay fit on trips to such places, you have to adapt and do what I call Ghetto’s Gym… this is where you improvise exercises based on the existing fitness equipment or do a ton of body-weight intensive exercises like push ups, burpees, bear crawls, inverted wall shoulder presses (upside down), pull ups, and situps. For example, on my trip last year to El Nido, a remote nature reserve in the Philippines, I performed a lot of wide-grip pull ups, behind-the-neck pull-ups, and bicep pull-ups while hanging off the side of the boats where I spent a lot of my time on during scuba diving and touring excursions… I just did them until I couldn’t do any more, then I’d force myself to do a few more partial reps 🙂

Ghetto's Gym - 1

Fortunately on this trip to Korea, the gym close by is of acceptable quality (better than most hotel gyms). I just pay ~$10 each time I work out, which is fine.

IMG_0799

Now, given the intense schedule on this trip, I condensed my workout to train my entire body in 2 sessions, with each session lasting about 35 minutes (I took the pic above after my first workout session in Seoul). I do these workouts every other day. Of course, this is not ideal to get maximum results, as I’m not training frequently enough or giving each body part enough attention, but it suffices for a super-busy business trip. I’ve outlined the workout regimen I’ve been using on this trip to Seoul below. Let me know what you think!

Busy Traveler’s 2-Day, Full-Body Training Workout: (each session is ~35 minutes)

Day 1: Work your Chest, Triceps, Biceps, Abs (~36 minutes)

  • Super-set #1:
    • Incline Bench Press (warm-up set): 15 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderately light weights and focus on pumping blood into your chest (I use 135 pounds)
    • Barbell Biceps Curl (warm-up set): 15 reps. Don’t go to failure.  Use moderately light weights and focus on pumping blood into your biceps (I use about ~70 pounds).
    • Rest: 60 seconds.
  • Super-set #2: 
    • Incline Bench Press (intermediate warm-up set): 10 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderate weights and focus on pumping blood into your chest while getting used to heavier weights (I use 225 pounds)
    • Barbell Biceps Curl (intermediate warm-up set): 10 reps. Don’t go to failure.  Use modestly light weights and focus on pumping blood into your biceps (I use about ~90 pounds).
    • Rest: 90 seconds.
  • Super-set #3: 
    • Incline Bench Press: Target 6 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your chest at the top (I use 285 pounds).
    • Barbell Biceps Curl: Target 6 reps and go to failure.  Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your biceps at the top (I use 145 pounds).
    • Rest: 90 seconds.
  • Super-set #4: 
    • Incline Bench Press: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your chest at the top (I use 235 pounds).
    • Barbell Biceps Curl: Target 8 reps and go to failure.  Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your biceps at the top (I use 125 pounds).
    • Rest: 90 seconds.
  • Super-set #5: 
    • Dumbbell Flys: Target 6 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your chest at the top.
    • Hammer Curl: Target 6 reps and go to failure.  Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your biceps at the top.
    • Rest: 90 seconds.
  • Super-set #6: 
    • Dumbbell Flys: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your chest at the top.
    • Hammer Curl: Target 8 reps and go to failure.  Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your biceps at the top.
    • Rest: 90 seconds.
  • Super-set #7:
    • Dumbbell Flys: Target 12 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your chest at the top.
    • Hammer Curl: Target 12 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your biceps at the top.
    • Rest: 90 seconds.
  • Tri-set #8:
    • Lying Triceps Extension (warm-up): 15 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderately light weights and focus on pumping blood into your triceps.
    • Lying Knee-up Crunches: 30 seconds.
    • Plank: 30 seconds.
    • Rest: 90 seconds
  • Tri-set #9:
    • Lying Triceps Extension: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Lying Knee-up Crunches: 30 seconds.
    • Plank: 30 seconds.
    • Rest: 120 seconds
  • Tri-set #10:
    • Lying Triceps Extension: Target 10 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Lying Knee-up Crunches: 30 seconds.
    • Plank: 30 seconds.
    • Rest: 120 seconds
  • Tri-set #11:
    • Cable Triceps Pushdown: Target 6 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Seated Leg Raises: 30 seconds.
    • Plank: 30 seconds.
    • Rest: 120 seconds
  • Tri-set #12:
    • Cable Triceps Pushdown: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Seated Leg Raises: 30 seconds.
    • Plank: 30 seconds.
    • Rest: 120 seconds
  • Tri-set #13:
    • Cable Triceps Pushdown: Target 10 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Seated Leg Raises: 30 seconds.
    • Plank: 30 seconds.

Day 2: Work your Shoulders, Back, Legs (~37 minutes)

  • Super-set #1:
    • Barbell Squat (warm-up set): 15 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderately light weights and focus on pumping blood into your quads.
    • Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlift (warm-up set): 15 reps. Don’t go to failure.  Use moderately light weights and focus on pumping blood into your hamstrings.
    • Rest: 90 seconds.
  • Super-set #2
    • Barbell Squat (intermediate warm-up set): 10 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderate weights and focus on pumping blood into your quads.
    • Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlift (intermediate warm-up set): 10 reps. Don’t go to failure.  Use moderate weights and focus on pumping blood into your hamstrings .
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Super-set #3
    • Barbell Squat: Target 6 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlift (intermediate warm-up set): Target 6 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 150 seconds.
  • Super-set #4
    • Barbell Squat: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlift (intermediate warm-up set): Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 150 seconds.
  • Super-set #5
    • Hang Clean Push Press (warm-up set): 15 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderately light weights.
    • Barbell Upright Row (warm-up set): 15 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderately light weights.
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Super-set #6
    • Hang Clean Push Press (intermediate warm-up set): 10 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderate weights.
    • Barbell Upright Row (intermediate warm-up set): 10 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderate weights.
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Super-set #7
    • Hang Clean Push Press: Target 6 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Barbell Upright Row: Target 6 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Super-set #8
    • Hang Clean Push Press: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Barbell Upright Row: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Super-set #9
    • Barbell Bent Over Row: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Dumbbell Side Raises: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Super-set #10
    • Barbell Bent Over Row: Target 10 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Dumbbell Side Raises: Target 10 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Super-set #11
    • Barbell Bent Over Row: Target 10 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Dumbbell Side Raises: Target 10 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Set #12
    • Machine Calf Raise: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 60 seconds.
  • Set #13
    • Machine Calf Raise: Target 12 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 60 seconds.
  • Set #14
    • Machine Calf Raise: Target 12 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.


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Say NO to Chicken Legs: Why it’s Vital to Work Your Legs (40-minute full leg workout included)

(Pic: Demonstration of Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlifts)

Legs… they’re the largest muscle group in your body and are vital for so many of your daily activities, from walking, running, jumping, playing with your kids, playing sports, etc. And yet they are the most neglected body part when it comes to working out. I know you’ve heard people ask, “how much do you bench?” But have you ever heard anyone ask, “how much do you squat?” Probably not, unless you’re talking specifically about squats. This shows how non prioritized leg workouts are in our society. It’s kind of funny to see the wide gamut of excuses that people employ for why they don’t work their legs. I’ve heard so many, ranging from “My legs are big already” to “I run for my legs” to “I don’t do legs because I won’t be quick and flexible.” Well let me pull out my B.S. translator… hmmm let’s see… it says these excuses are often used by people who are usually lazy or unmotivated to work legs because it takes so much effort… it also says that sometimes these excuses are used legitimately by people who really don’t know any better.

It’s important to realize that you can work your legs to accomplish many different goals, just like you can for your other muscles. If you want, you can train to get your legs big, muscular, and strong (e.g. power lifters, strength athletes). On the other hand, instead of focusing on getting super thick legs, you can work them to be functionally strong, quick, and flexible, like what sprinters and professional athletes who play football, soccer, basketball, etc. do. Actually, I’m one of those people whose goal for legs is not to necessarily become “Quadzilla” but to build functional strength, agility, and quickness for sports – naturally, these workouts come with size gains, which is great, but again, this is a somewhat secondary for me to athletic performance. And I accomplish this goal by combining hard leg workouts in the gym with actual game play (e.g. soccer, basketball) and plyometrics. The only challenge that I carefully manage is to plan my workouts and sporting activities so that I have plenty of time to recover from each activity and give my full attention to the next. For example, as I’ve gotten older, I definitely need at least 48 hours to recover from a soccer or basketball game, and I need even more days to recover from a hard leg workout. So what I do is play indoor soccer on Tuesday nights with my team, work my legs with weights on Thursdays, then play basketball on Sunday evenings. This allows me to recover from each activity to concentrate fully on the next. Now, you may ask the question whether intense, heavy leg workouts have hampered my speed and agility? Not at all, in fact, they have helped me become faster and more powerful. Frankly, I love the look on a defender’s face after I burn the crap out of him all night to score a hat-trick or drive around him all day for easy layups… they simply don’t expect a “beefy” guy to be faster and quicker than them. But hey, look at NFL running backs… they are some of the fastest, most powerful, and most agile people around, and those guys do serious squats, deadlifts, and legs in general, so obviously, these workouts help performance. The point I want to make is that having different goals for your leg development is totally acceptable – what’s not acceptable is not training them because you’re lazy, it takes too much effort, or you have some erroneous notion of intense leg workouts.

Below, I’ve summarized the primary reasons why, in my opinion, legs are the most critical body parts to work out in your entire body:

  1. Releases more natural, anabolic hormones in your body than other exercises. Research shows that working legs releases more growth hormone and testosterone naturally in the body versus other exercises. As such, working your legs benefit your other body parts because of the increase in these natural bodily hormones. Ladies, there’s no need to worry, as increased natural testosterone will help your workouts but won’t make you more masculine, I promise 🙂
  2. Burns the most calories and fat. Your legs are the largest muscle group in your body. As such, working your legs burns the highest amount of calories and fat. This is fantastic, especially if you are looking to get more toned or trying to lose weight/fat.
  3. Fundamental for all sports, athletics, and day-to-day activities. Can you think of many physical, day-to-day activities or sports that don’t involve your legs? Whether you’re carrying luggage, cleaning out your garage, running, jumping, or playing sports, your legs are essential for success. As such, you will see your athleticism improve as you continue to develop your legs.
  4. Achieve large strength and muscle gains EVERYWHERE on your body. The cool thing about working out your legs is that these exercises benefit many other parts of your body. For example, doing squats and deadlifts will not only strengthen your legs and butt, but they also strengthen your lower back, core, and upper body muscles (yes, it’s true!). If you have never done weighted leg exercises before, I promise you that you will see huge increases, not only in legs, but also in other areas when you start working your legs. It’s actually quite amazing.
  5. Symmetry (e.g. NO CHICKEN LEGS!). Finally, you don’t want to be the person that people laugh about at the gym… you know, the one people say should be walking on their hands as opposed to their legs? You want to make sure you have a good balance in your body, even for the sake of aesthetics alone!
  6. It gives you a sexy looking butt! Seriously, it does! Many of you will now work your legs, just because of this, right? Oh well, whatever gets you to do it!

My 40-minute Leg Workout

I’ll finish off this segment by sharing a 40-minute leg workout that I use quite frequently. Again, I change my workout around quite a bit, but when I’m pressed on time, this one works like magic. It’s optimized to build general strength and power in your legs. Now, here’s a few things to remember when you’re working your legs:

  • Stretch and warm up your body well, especially your legs, knee joints & ligaments, and lower back. Leg workouts put tremendous strain on these body parts.
  • Use strict form and be particularly careful with your knees and lower back. These are very critical areas of your body, and injury to them can cause serious disruption to your life, work, and athletics. As such, it’s especially important to use strict form and focus on safety.
  • When you do Squats, do not go lower than “90 degrees” unless you are using much lighter weights. There is a bit of tradeoff between incremental growth by breaking 90 degrees (where your butt is almost touching the ground) versus the risk of serious knee injury – in my opinion, the very slight gain from going down all the way until your butt nearly touches the ground is not worth the dramatic increase in potential injury. I know many people who’ve sustained serious injuries from going down too deep in their squats, and they are never the same afterwards. As such, I espouse going down deep, but only until your thighs are parallel or close to parallel to the ground – I don’t recommend you go down any lower than that, unless you are on a very specific program and you are using much lighter weights.

1. Squats: 5 total sets. Go down until your thighs are parallel or close to parallel to the ground. Don’t go lower than that because the risk of injury outweighs any potential benefit. Also, keep a natural arch in your back and look up 45 degrees in the air while doing your sets, as this helps you keep the natural arch in your back. NEVER round your back, as this is a one-way ticket to injury.

  • Warm-up Set 1 (very light weights): 15 reps @ ~30% of 1RM(1-rep max). I use 135 lbs.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Warm-up Set 2 (light weights): 10 reps @ ~50% of 1RM. I use 225~275 pounds.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Heavy Set 3: 5 reps @ ~85-90% of 1RM. Go to failure. I use 385~405 lbs.
    • Rest: 2 ½ minutes afterwards.
  • Heavy Set 4: 5 reps @ 85-90% of 1RM. Go to failure. I use 385~405 lbs.
    • Rest: 2 ½ minutes afterwards.
  • Burnout Set 5: 10~15+ reps @ ~65% 1RM. Go to failure within this range. I use 275~315 lbs.
    • Rest: 2 ½ minutes afterwards. Go to your next workout station.

2. Leg Extensions: 3 total sets. Squeeze your quad muscles up at top and pause momentarily. Focus on getting a great contraction and pump.

  • Intermediate Warm-up Set 1: 15 reps. Don’t go to failure but focus on feeling the pump and the contraction.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Heavy Set 2: 6~10 reps. Go heavier. You should fail on your 8th ~ 10threp.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Burnout Set 3: 10~15 reps to failure. Drop the weights to somewhere between your warm-up set and your heavy set. Target going to failure around the 10th ~ 15th rep.
    • Rest: 2 minutes afterwards. Go to your next workout station.

3. Stiff Leg Deadlifts: 4 total sets. Be careful of your lower back on this exercise. Keep a slight arch in your back at all times. Do NOT round your back. Be sure to keep the bar in contact with your legs while doing this exercise (e.g. slide the bar down your thighs and shins), which helps keep tension on your hamstrings and glutes, which is the objective of this exercise.

  • Warm-up Set 1 (very light weights): 15 reps @ ~30% of 1RM(1-rep max). I use 135 lbs.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Warm-up Set 2 (light weights): 10 reps @ ~50% of 1RM. I use 225 pounds.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Heavy Set 3: 5 reps @ ~85-90% of 1RM. Go to failure. I use 315~335 lbs.
    • Rest: 2 ½ minutes afterwards.
  • Burnout Set 4: 10~15+ reps @ ~65% 1RM. Go to failure within this range. I use ~235 lbs.
    • Rest: 2 ½ minutes afterwards. Go to your next workout station.

4. Leg Curls: 3 total sets. Squeeze your hamstrings at the top and pause momentarily. Focus on getting a great contraction and pump.

  • Intermediate Warm-up Set 1: 15 reps. Don’t go to failure but focus on feeling the pump and the contraction.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Heavy Set 2: 6~10 reps. Go heavier. You should fail on your 6th ~ 10threp.
    • Rest: 90 seconds afterwards.
  • Burnout Set 3: 10~15 reps to failure. Drop the weights to somewhere between your warm-up set and your heavy set. Target going to failure around the 10th ~ 15th rep.
    • Rest: 2 minutes afterwards. Go to your next workout station.

5. Calf Raises3 total sets to failure. Go all the way down to stretch your calves, then go up and hold at the top of the movement. Don’t just go through the motion, exhaust your muscles.

  • Set 1:Perform 10 reps to failure. Select weights where you fail around ~10 reps.
    • Rest: 60 seconds afterwards.
  • Set 2: Perform 10 reps to failure. Select weights where you fail around ~10 reps.
    • Rest: 60 seconds afterwards.
  • Burnout Set 3: Perform 15~20 reps to failure. Select weights where you fail around 15~20 reps.

Let me know what you think about this workout. And remember… don’t neglect your legs because they’re the most important muscles in your body to work out!


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The “10 Commandments” of Workout Safety and Gym Etiquette.

Over the years of working out, I’ve seen some truly thoughtless & dangerous activities unfold in the gym. These events bugged me so much that I’ve been waiting to write about safety tips, gym etiquette, and how NOT to be an idiot and get yourself hurt or killed. So here are the “10 Commandments” to keep yourself and others in the gym safe and happy because it’s clear that not everyone knows them.

Rule #1: Use Weights that You can Properly Handle.

The picture above is from an actual guy that comes into my gym… I won’t release his name to protect the guilty. I mean, just look at this nonsense… dude, SERIOUSLY??? He has 16 plates (45 pounds each) stacked on the Smith Machine bench press, which comes to like 765 pounds including the weight of the machine… if he was truly this strong, I would bow down to the guy, but the problem is that I estimate he is only doing ~250 pounds of it himself, while his 3 spotters are doing the remaining 500+ pounds (1 guy in the middle + 2 on the sides). I mean, this is not a peeing contest… if you want to develop your chest or any other body part, you should use heavy weights, but WEIGHTS THAT YOU CAN HANDLE PROPERLY! This guy is asking to be seriously injured or killed, AND he is not building his muscles because his spotters are doing all the work. He needs to lower the weights down to say, 250 pounds, and either do it himself or ALMOST do it himself with a spotter. This is just plain STUPID. FYI, I’ve had the serious displeasure of spotting him on one occasion, and I had a sore lower back for several days afterwards because this guy insisted on doing like 15 reps too, which made his spotters really work their lower backs intensely (and it wasn’t even my back workout day). By the way, this guy above BROKE the only Smith Machine at one of my gyms in the area by doing this nonsense, so he’s on my craplist.

Rule #2: Use Good Form before You Go Heavy.

Using good form not only helps you to maximize your gains, but it helps prevent serious injuries. Always learn and practice proper form before trying to go too heavy.

Rule #3: Be Alert and Aware in the Gym.

Lifting weights is usually safe, but not if you’re not paying attention or unaware of your surroundings. I know of a guy who needed to surgically re-attach one of his fingers because someone had rolled a dumbbell close to his bench while he was doing dumbbell flys, and when he finished his set and put the weights down beside him, he caught his fingers between the dumbbells. Always be aware of what’s going on around you, so that you don’t get hurt, and just as importantly, don’t hurt others. Watch the video below. Be careful of morons like this, and definitely DON’T BE THAT MORON.

Rule #4: Re-rack your weights!

This is a common-sense rule related to cleaning up after yourself and being considerate to others. When you are done with an equipment, strip it down and rack it where it’s supposed to go. Leaving lots of weights on equipment is very rude, as it’s difficult for people, especially women, to use the weights after you’re done. Leaving your workout area looking like a grenade exploded at a quarry or a metal fabrication shop is NOT acceptable either. Would you like to work out in an environment like the one below? The answer is no, and neither would I.

Rule #5: Let others “Work In” with You.

Nobody likes or appreciates a “Gym Hog.” You don’t own the machines, and others need to get their workouts too. As such, be good about letting others work in on “your” machine while you are resting. I’ve known quite a few people who annoyingly monopolize a piece of equipment for 15+ minutes while resting for 3+ minutes at a time… and they give you the death stare when you ask to work in. This is extremely rude and is usually done by newbies who just don’t know the rules and very selfish people who don’t care about the rules. When you see this behavior, go tell the club manager, and the manager should lay down the law.

Rule #6: Towel Down Your Equipment After Use!

It’s never cool or sanitary to be slipping and sliding all over a piece of equipment that someone else just used. Be courteous and sanitary by bringing a towel to wipe down whatever equipment you used. If you don’t have a towel, use your shirt to wipe it off.

Rule #7: Manage Your Personal Hygiene!

I don’t need to explain this one. We all know the guy that leaves his scent all over the gym and the equipment. I remember my brother and I used to call this one super-stinky yet flirtatious dude in the gym “Pepe Le Pew” (the romantic French skunk on Looney Tunes) because he stunk up the entire gym and made me want to vomit with his aroma. Don’t be him. Take showers, use deodorant if you must, and bring a towel to wipe off your scent after use.

Rule #8: Don’t Loiter ON or AROUND Equipment.

It’s okay to chat with people, but be courteous to others and do your chatting away from the equipment. Getting on a long cell phone conversation while hogging up the bench press or treadmill during peak hours can result in death stares from other members. Also, it’s fine to flirt and get your mack on if you want, but let others use the equipment while you practice your pick-up lines.

Rule #9: Listen to Your Body.

Your body is really good about “talking” to you, and you need to get better at listening. Sometimes your body tells you that you should stop working out for the day because your muscles, ligaments, or organs are straining, and injury is imminent. Other times, your body requires you to take an extended time off from working out because you’ve “over-trained” for an extended period of time, and you’re better off resting for 1~2 weeks. Of course, the challenge here is to discern whether you really need to stop working out, or whether you’re just being lazy and inventing excuses to go home to ESPN and glazed donuts.

I’ll give you a personal example. When I was in my mid-20’s (a long time ago), I didn’t listen to my body very often… One day, I was bench pressing, and my body felt strange. Throughout several light warm-up sets, my muscles felt super tight and felt like they were being over-stretched. I considered stopping my workout, but I thought that I’d be a “man” about it and work through the weird discomfort. So I decided to use 405 pounds (my 1-rep max bench press at the time) and do super heavy negative reps, which is where you take the barbell and let the weight down onto your chest very slowly over 10 seconds while struggling against the weight the whole way. I also had a random, novice guy at the gym spotting me because I thought it would be simple, just like most other days. But on my way down, I felt the muscle fibers in my pecs separate, and I sustained micro-tears. In addition, the guy spotting me was not very strong, so I had to pick the weight back up and rack it mostly on my own with a damaged pec, which made the injury worse. Overall, this injury set me back for months. In contrast, I’m much older and a little bit wiser today, so I’m very sensitive about what my body tells me. For example, last week, I felt a pinch in my rotator cuff while trying to bench press… I immediately recognized the signs of imminent injury, and I decided to take some time off from working out, especially since I had been working out so hard for the last 4~5 months. Actually, yesterday was my first full day back to training, since taking a break 1.5 weeks ago.

Rule #10: Be Courteous and Friendly!

Open the door for other members, provide a spot for others, smile at people, let others work in, help ladies rack their weights (if they ask you), etc… these are all common sense rules, right? Please follow them, as it makes the gym a much more pleasant experience for everyone and allows you to make friends.

Following these 10 rules will help keep you safe, give you the results you are seeking, and continue to let your gym experiences be positive. Ping me if you any funny or ridiculous stories of people violating these 10 commandments above!


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Maximize Your Muscle Gains: How to Gain Lean Muscle Mass while Minimizing Fat!

Introduction:

Hey guys, before I get to gaining muscle, I wanted to say something. I’m writing this on the way to San Francisco on the Caltrain, heading to a consulting client’s site. Sorry that I was quiet on my blog for the last week… it was because this past week was my photo shoot week, and the temporarily “harsh” conditions that I subjected my body to resulted in me getting a little bit exhausted and sick. Basically, major scheduling issues made me shoot pictures/videos of my body over two back-to-back, late-night/all-nighter evenings, so I had to dehydrate and drink only subsistence-level fluids for almost 3 days, which wasn’t super fun (most bodybuilders do this for about 1 day or so). But the results were great in that my muscles came in looking super hard, dry, and vascular… I went into the shoot at 167 pounds, which is a weight that I have not hit since college, haha! The great news is that my diet is now over, at least for the next few months… the funny thing was that when my shoot was done at 3:00 AM this morning, I went home to raid my kitchen of junk food and my kids’ bags of Halloween candy, but the only things that my body was craving was water and relatively healthy foods like a Turkey sandwich, PB&J sandwich, and fruit, which I devoured like a savage, famished beast! It’s shocking how acclimated my body has become to good eating… it’s actually pretty cool 🙂

Anyways, through the multi-month process of dieting, exercise, taking detailed notes & journaling of all of my food intake and body weight, I learned so much about food portioning, losing fat, eating well, and my body’s response to dieting, temporary dehydration, and optimal carbohydrate levels for temporary aesthetics (pictures). As I said before, if you have never taken a journal of your food and body weight, or never counted your calories, read my post here, and I would really encourage you to try it for at least a couple of weeks. By the way, the last learning that I mention, optimal carbohydrate levels, does not refer to a diet that is constantly starving you of carbs… instead, since each gram of carb sucks in ~2.7 grams of water, I’m referring to temporarily optimizing your carb-intake for pictures so that you only have carbs INSIDE your muscles as stored glycogen, so that your muscles are full of water and look dense & full, as opposed to having free carbs outside your muscles that suck in water between the skin and make you look smoother… again, this is only a temporary manipulation for aesthetics and picture-taking purposes… I will make the point again that I LOVE carbs, and I’m a huge proponent of getting plenty in your diet to maximize your energy & performance in sports, weight training, and normal physical activity. In fact, my teammates on my indoor soccer team have been eagerly waiting for my diet to be done, as the low body fat and lower levels of macronutrients (including carbs) have resulted in me being less energetic and effective on the field…

Maximizing Muscle Gains:

Sorry for the long-winded introduction. Actually, as my title indicates, this post is not about losing weight, it’s about GAINING MUSCLE!!!!  A lot of people have asked me what the optimal number of calories to intake above maintenance-level calories to maximize muscle gains. Well the theoretic answer is that each person is different, and each person has a different tolerance to lean muscle versus fat gain. Having said that, here are some good, practical guidelines to follow, and I will end with an experiment that I will run on my own body over the next 2~3 months to show you exactly how much muscle versus fat that I gain.

Guidelines to Follow to Maximize Lean Muscle Gains versus Fat Gains:

  • Start out with about 500 Calories above your maintenance level calories per day. There is significant debate among bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts about what this number should be. On the one hand, you do not want to starve muscle growth by making your caloric surplus too low, and thus potentially limit your lean muscle gains. At the same time, you don’t want to eat so much that Jabba the Hut would be jealous and your only gain a small % of this in lean muscle mass. Empirically, 500 calories seem like the “Baby Bear” level that is “just right” for 90% of people (it means that you will gain about a pound of body weight per week, hopefully most of which is muscle). Of course, this figure is not set in stone, so you need to take a log of your progress and adjust your calories up or down depending on the speed of your gains, your workout intensity and frequency, and the effect of this that you are seeing on your body.
  • Eat healthy, just like you are dieting to lose weight, but just eat more calories. Some people espouse eating just about anything under the sun, like JAWS (including your kitchen sink), to promote massive weight gain, irrespective of whether it’s muscle or fat, rationalizing that you can lose fat once you are ready to cut. But why make things even harder on yourself later? Anyone who has dieted can tell you that it takes hard work to lose a pound of fat. Why not optimize and promote LEAN MUSCLE GAINS as opposed to fat? Why not train your body to eat right (just more of what’s right) as opposed to eating crappy foods? Of course, I am not saying you can’t indulge yourself occasionally in life’s pleasures… on the contrary, if you must, use this time to eat out just a little more, eat just a little more junk food, and drink just a little bit more beer or wine with your family and friends. You can live a little. But don’t go too crazy because you have to lose the fat that you gain at some point.
  • Try to make your caloric surplus come primarily from protein and carbohydrates because it takes 10 x more calories to store protein and carbs as body fat than it takes to store fat in foods as body fat. Basically, your body’s metabolic processes burn calories… on average, your body expends like ~2.5 calories to store about 100 calories worth of excess fat that is not burned (your body stores ~97.5% of excess fat calories that are not burned), while it expends about ~25 calories to store about 100 calories worth of excess protein and carbs that are not burned (your body stores ~75% of excess protein & carb calories that are not burned). As such, you don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to conclude that most of the excess calories you put into your body should come from protein and carbs to store the least amount of fat in your body. If you are intentionally creating a caloric surplus to feed your muscle-building process, wouldn’t you rather have any excess calories remaining be predominantly protein or carbs? Of course, in reality, your body’s metabolic processes are happening continuously, so it’s super difficult to time the impact of the fat storage and muscle building process. And this certainly DOES NOT mean that you should starve your body of essential fats or cut out most fats from your diet. Not at all… keep your fat intake stable (e.g. 15~25% of your calories). I mean, if you magically have a practical solution to calculating exactly when I should eat what foods to make close to 100% of my weight gain be lean muscle mass, I will pay you a lot of money to get this implemented for me… in fact, there is a HUGE market of fitness fanatics out there who would pay you beaucoup bucks to do the same for them 🙂
  • Track your progress by keeping a log, including your body weight record at least once per week, a journal of your food and caloric intake, how you look and feel, and your actual body fat to lean muscle mass measurements (e.g. take a hydrostatic body fat test at several points along the way – this test is one of the most accurate tests to give you your ratio of lean body mass to fat). This is not a necessity, but a STRONG RECOMMENDATION. Believe me, you will learn a lot about yourself, and it will help you in whatever kind of diet in the future, whether you are trying to gain or lose weight.
  • Work out Heavy and Intensely, focusing mainly on Compound Movements, to make sure you gain good, lean muscle mass. In future posts, I will recommend some workout regimens and strategies to help you maximize your gains. But in general, during this phase, go as heavy as you can on all of your weights, and stick with relatively low rep ranges, in the 3~8 range per body part. Using heavy weights and lower reps helps you get stronger and promotes a lot of growth on your muscles, much more than doing lighter weights for 8~15 reps would do (this latter rep range is for other purposes, like endurance, cutting, shocking muscles, etc. that I will talk about in future posts).  For example, if you are doing squats, push yourself to go heavier, while not sacrificing form and safety, to get as strong as you can on it. This way, you will maximize your size and weight gains during this phase of growth. Also, stick to more Compound Movements, which are exercises that incorporate lots of muscles into your workouts (e.g. bench press, squats, deadlifts, shoulder press, standing barbell curls, close grip bench press, etc.), as opposed to focusing on specific body parts as much. I’m not saying ignore the smaller muscle groups, but spend 80% of your time on Compound Movements and 20% on focusing on smaller muscle parts.
  • Finally, give yourself a relatively finite period of time in which you will engage in these heavy, lean muscle mass gaining exercises. For example, select 3~4 months or something like that. The reason is that giving yourself a time period helps ensure that you don’t constantly go heavy all the time and allows you to “periodize” your muscles, so you do not overtrain or get too acclimated to heavy training and your body stops responding). Also, setting a finite time period psychologically creates a deadline, which could make you work harder towards attaining the most by your deadline, as opposed to getting in an infinite mass-gain stage.

In my experience, following these simple guildelines have helped me to maximize my gains from a “Gain Period” of Training.

Lean Body Mass Test: Guess what % of my gains will come from lean muscle mass, and I will buy you dinner!

Finally, now that I’m done with my diet (losing weight portion), I’ll be going on a lean muscle mass gain phase. So I’ll buy dinner to one person (if you are not in the Silicon Valley area, I will send you money for dinner) who gets within 5 percentage points of guessing what % of my gains come from lean muscle mass versus fat. If nobody gets within 5 percentage points, there will be no winner (if there are multiple winners, then the person who is closest – if there is a tie, then I will select the first person who responded). PLEASE ADD A COMMENT ON THIS POST, IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN GUESSING!!! Of course, the benefits of winning is more than dinner… it will be good conversation and perhaps some advice on your fitness situation… who knows, maybe we can even hit the gym together 🙂

I will gauge my lean body mass % increase in the following manner:

  • I am scheduled to get a hydrostatic body fat test next week. Once I get this done, I will take my lean body mass and body fat mass as the starting point for the calculations.
  • I plan to take several hydrostatic body fat tests along the way, but I will take a final one sometime later this year or early next year, and I will use these calculations to select the winner.
  • I will be logging all of my foods, calories, macronutrients, and body weight gains throughout this process, and I will upload it for everyone to see at the end of this period. I hope this helps other people.

Thanks, guys… until next time, take care, and get ripped!~