Fitness Advice for the "Average Joe"

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


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Applying Portion Control: Grubbing Down without Going Down in Flames

“Ain’t no party like a D-Fong Party”… seriously, my good friend David Fong always has the best food at his parties, hands down. He also happens to own a Sonoma Chicken in Almaden Valley, San Jose, which is perfect because he loves food, wines, and spirits, and he’s very generous about sharing. So generous, in fact, that you have to be careful when you’re eating or drinking with him because your calorie meter can literally spin like a Vegas slot machine. Yesterday, he had a birthday event for one of his kids… and here’s a sampling of the food and multiple different kinds of wines and beers that were served in near-limitless fashion:

The menu included a full rotisserie pig (crispy skin), Korean Kalbi beef spareribs, baked salmon, chicken curry, shrimp & veggie stew, egg rolls w/ sweet chili sauce, stuffed mushrooms, mac & cheese, rice, salad, bread rolls, a wide assortment of fruits (melons, mangoes, strawberries, grapes, etc.), chocolate mousse with gummi bear toppings, jelly pudding cake, regular birthday cake, and a wide assortment of drinks, juices, beers, and various red/white wines.

When I look at this, I first get really hungry, then my brain begins to calculate the most efficient strategy to enjoy the food without busting my caloric budget for the whole week in one sitting 🙂 In general, I try not to let any meal be more than 40% of my daily caloric budget. For example, if I’m on a 2,500 daily calorie budget, I try not to let any meal account for more than 1,000 calories. Now, this is REALLY HARD at certain events, especially at a D-Fong event… I’m sure everyone reading this can relate. When you’re at events like this, unless you have really strict discipline, you will likely exceed your caloric budget for the meal, which just means that you will need to adjust the rest of your meals for the day to compensate (in some cases, you may have to adjust your meals for future days as well).

Basically, there are just a few important guidelines to follow when eating at a “take-no-prisoners” buffet like this:

  1. The most important thing is PORTION CONTROL!!! When there are so many options and so much variety of foods, it’s easy to over-do it… by the time you get through the buffet line, your plate is literally overflowing with food. Instead, the right strategy is to take just a little portion of each item that you want. In fact, just take ONE OR TWO small pieces from everything you like. Even when you take just a little bit of each item, I guarantee that your plate will be pretty packed by the end of the line. If by chance you are short on food, you can always go back for more, so take it easy on the portions and go more for variety. Portion control is also particularly applicable to a couple of culprits that usually contribute to taking in too many calories at these types of events:
    • Alcohol. Alcohol is deceptively high in calories, especially when you drink it in large quantities at social events. This is my weakness too. Especially when David comes around and practically pours the wine or liquor down your throat (God bless you, bro)… what I did today was to resist the temptation to drink any beer before the meal, although a bottle of Fat Tire was really seducing me and calling my name… instead, I had some white wine with my meal to enjoy. This way, I didn’t go overboard on my drinking.
    • Cakes, pastries, ice cream, desserts. These are loaded with fats/trans-fats and sugar, which usually make them very high in calories. However, if you’re at certain events, like a birthday party, it’s often hard not to eat at least a small piece of the cake. So again, if you must eat this, then take just a small sliver. Basically, what I do is allot myself a dessert budget so that the desserts combined do not exceed about 1/2 of a single portion. So if I’m going to eat a chocolate mousse, a piece of cake, and ice cream at one event, then I would take a very small portion of each so that collectively they add up to about half a portion of a dessert.
  2. Drain oil from oily foods and cut off excess fat.  For example, I always take tissues or napkins and “pat down” and drain excess oil from fatty meats (e.g. beef, pork), sausages, etc. to help reduce the fat that I am taking in. It may seem a bit awkward at first, but when you look at the grease that’s trapped on your napkins as opposed to inside your body, you will be happy to have done it. Same thing with excess fat on meat… can you imagine that hanging from your butt or your thighs? Cut it off and don’t put it into your body.
  3. Try to avoid certain foods altogether.
    1. Deep-fried foods. These are loaded with fats & trans-fats and are not only bad for you, but they can easily take you over your caloric budget in a split second. If you really must eat it, just take a really small piece.
    2. Soft drinks or other sugary drinks should also be avoided because they uselessly add to calories without making you full or adding any meaningful nutrition. DRINK WATER, it’s really good for you! I always get annoyed when I see parents teaching their kids to drink too much soda or even artificially sweetened juice… it’s just such useless calories that contribute to childhood obesity.

The plate above is what I brought back to my seat to eat. In my head, I was targeting not exceeding 1,000 calories. As such, I just took smaller portions from a variety of different foods. Now, given that I had not had pork skin in so long, I decided to take some, knowing that it is packed with insane levels of fat. Also, I was a bit hesitant about taking any of the fried egg rolls, but I decided to put it on my plate. After eating this meal, I quickly emailed myself a short list of what I ate, so that I could track the calories later. After doing the math at home, here’s a breakout of the calories from this one plate:

  • White Rice: ¼ cup  – 60 calories. I intentionally took just a little bit of rice because there is so much food here to eat, so I would rather get my calories from the other foods.
  • Korean BBQ ribs (Kalbi): 1 + 1/3 ribs broken out into four pieces – 350 calories.
  • Roasted Pork (5 ounces, including ~1 oz of crispy skin): 390 calories
  • Salmon (2 ounces): 100 calories.
  • Chicken Curry (just 1 piece of meat with a little sauce): 40 calories.
  • Shrimp: 3 pieces. 55 calories.
  • Egg Roll (1): 130 calories.
  • Drink: water. 0 calories.

As you can see, the total came out to 1,125 calories (125 more than my target of 1,000 calories, max for this meal). Now, what could I have done to not exceed my caloric budget? First, under normal circumstances, I would NEVER eat pork skin… but I have been so good for so long, I decided that it’s okay for today. If I replaced the pork skin with regular pork meat, total calories would have dropped by about 90 calories, to 1,035. Also, I should have just passed on the egg rolls or taken half of one. That way, I would have been well under the 1,000 calorie limit.

Now, in full disclosure, I ended my diet last week, and I’m now in the early stages of my lean muscle mass gaining phase, which I will do for 2~3 months going forward. As such, I intentionally went back to eat a plate like the one above 2.5 more times yesterday, LOL! However, I purposely got small portions and went back to get more to continue the habit of portioning… it’s just a good habit that I will continue to practice. But you get the point that I would have stopped eating at that one plate and stayed pretty close to my allotted caloric budget for the meal, had I still been trying to lose weight, just like I have done for the last few months of my diet.

Enjoy your parties, but remember to apply portion control, and try not to exceed 40% of your daily caloric budget from one meal… if it happens, just make sure to adjust for it during the rest of the day. Good luck, and enjoy your food wisely!

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Developing Lethal Guns (Part 1): Biceps Workout (15-minute biceps workout included)

Ah, your guns… they are kind of a symbol of masculinity for men, and the desire to have great muscular development in the arms is a dream that many guys have. Similarly, for ladies, having nice, toned arms with no “cottage cheese” hanging down from the triceps when your arms are extended, would be a dream come true. But how do you develop fantastic arms? How do you develop guns that the U.S. government would certainly make you register as lethal weapons? In this post, I will talk about developing your biceps, which makes up about 1/3 of your arms, then in a future post, I will cover how to tackle your triceps, which actually makes up the lion’s share.

In general, a lot of people find biceps to be very hard to develop. Developing great biceps takes a lot of time, intense workouts, and smart planning & assessment of your workouts. Understand that nice guns take time to build, so you will not develop them overnight. Also, you have to keep studying your workouts and assess what areas of your biceps you need to further improve – do you need to put more “peak” on your biceps, more mass on the inner or outer portion, or fill out your entire biceps in general? Depending on your needs, you should focus on different exercises that focus and target these areas.

For me, I notice that my biceps respond best to varying types of stimulation applied from different angles, at different rep and weight ranges, at different workout sessions. Basically, all this really means is that I vary days when I go very heavy on my weights with less reps to develop strength and power, with other days when I am doing slightly lighter weights (this does NOT mean LIGHT WEIGHTS for a billion reps) with more exercises, more super-sets, and higher overall reps. These are just different ways to shock your muscles and overload them, to force them to adapt with growth based on different kinds of muscular stimulation. In addition, I go through phases where I focus on different areas of my biceps (e.g. upper portion, lower portion, inner head, outer head). For example, for a 2~4 week period, I will focus mainly on standing barbell curls with a straight bar, where I go heavy and keep my rep range from between 3 to 8 reps to develop mass and strength. By the way, I like standing barbell curls to develop overall strength because (a) you can pack on the most weight on these exercises to get your muscles accustomed to heavy weights (compared to preacher curls or dumbbell curls), (b) it’s great for overall muscular development throughout the entire range of motion for curls (as opposed to exercises like preacher curls that focus a bit more on the upper range of the curling movement), and (c) it allows me to flexibly choose my grip on the bar without the restrictions of a weird-shaped curling bars. As I do standing barbell curls with a straight bar, I vary my grip throughout my workouts (normally, I grab the weights at shoulder width, but then I grab it much wider to work my inner biceps head, and I grab much closer together to work more of my outer head. I will often do just one more exercise during a low-rep and strength and mass building phase, which is either preacher curls which isolate the biceps, or standing dumbbell curls.

Then, I will go for a 2~4 week period when I add more variety to my biceps workout by going higher in my rep range with slightly lower weights, but weights that are heavy enough where I am struggling to do 6~10 reps. During these days, I will move quickly through exercise like the preacher curls, standing dumbbell curls, hammer curls, and cable curls. I go intensely with little rest in between my sets on these days, usually resting only 60~90 seconds between sets (as opposed to the heavier days, when I focus on strength and allow longer rest times in between sets, like 1.5~3 minutes).

If you are not seeing improvements in your biceps, here are the two most common mistakes that I see:

  • Weights are too light or too heavy. You should select weights where you can barely complete your set within the given rep range, with acceptable form. For example, if you are doing reps between 6~10, you should select weights that are heavy enough to where you struggle and fail at, let’s say, 7~9 reps. Conversely, sometimes you see people attempt to do weights where they cannot even get one rep cleanly, and they cheat too much. Remember, cheating a little to get 1 or 2 additional reps at the end of your set is totally fine… but ignoring form and cheating throughout the entire set is not acceptable and ineffective because it works the wrong muscle groups, it increases the chance of injuries, AND you look ridiculous to other people 🙂
  • People do not go to failure or go intensely enough to stimulate growth. Remember, if you do not push yourself hard, you will not attain much. Anything you want or attain in life is the result of butt-busting hard work. Super-athletes like Kobe Bryant, Christiano Ronaldo, and Jerry Rice all got to the top of their games because they’re willing to work harder than everyone else (and of course, tremendous God-given talent). Put in the effort and work, alongside smart planning and assessment, and I promise you will see results.

In the video above, I essentially demonstrate a Tri-set (three different exercises done back-to-back-to-back) of preacher curls, standing dumbbell curls, then hammer curls. This is similar to a super-set (see my post on Super-sets here), but of course, involves one additional exercise that is thrown into the mix. I like this progression of exercises because once I fail on the preacher curls, I can jump to lighter weights on dumbbell curls, and when supinating my wrists outward on dumbbell curls gets difficult, I immediately switch into hammer curls, which works the brachialis and forearm muscles along with your biceps, where I don’t need to turn my palms outward.

15 minute Biceps Workout: (Designed for Busy Working People)

Here’s a quick routine for those of you looking for a quick-but-intense, 15-minute biceps workout. It combines super-sets of 4 different exercises, and they are designed to target your biceps from different angles, with different equipment (barbells, dumbbells, cable) and work different parts of your biceps, to get good, overall biceps development. You will perform 6 sets of super-sets (exercises performed back-to-back with no rest in between), with 3 super-sets of Preacher Curls and Standing Alternating Dumbbell Curls, with 60~90 seconds of rest in between, and 3 super-sets of Standing Alternating Cable Curls and Hammer Curls, with 60~90 seconds of rest in between. Remember to go intensely and push yourself beyond your normal comfort zone, as this is how you stimulate growth. Try it out, and let me know what you think!

Super-set Group 1:

  • Super-set #1:
    • Preacher Curls: Target 8 Reps and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more.
    • Standing Alternating Dumbbell Curls: Target 8 Reps on each arm and go to failure. Use weights where you cann do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more.
    • Rest: 90 seconds or less.
  • Super-set #2:
    • Preacher Curls: Target 8 Reps and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.
    • Standing Alternating Dumbbell Curls: Target 8 Reps on each arm and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.
    • Rest: 90 seconds or less.
  • Super-set #3:
    • Preacher Curls: Target 8 Reps and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.
    • Standing Alternating Dumbbell Curls: Target 8 Reps on each arm and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.
    • Rest: 90 seconds or less.

 Super-set Group 2:

  • Super-set #4:
    • Standing Alternating Cable Curls: Target 8 Reps and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more.
    • Hammer Curls: Target 8 Reps on each arm and go to failure. Use weights where you cann do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more.
    • Rest: 90 seconds or less.
  • Super-set #5:
    • Standing Alternating Cable Curls: Target 8 Reps and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.
    • Hammer Curls: Target 8 Reps on each arm and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.
    • Rest: 90 seconds or less.
  • Super-set #6:
    • Standing Alternating Cable Curls: Target 8 Reps and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.
    • Hammer Curls: Target 8 Reps on each arm and go to failure. Use weights where you can do about 6 or 7 and cannot do any more. You may need to go down on your weights a little, if you are too tired from your last set.


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Wanna Be Fit? Then Don’t Forget to STRIP!

Yes, if you wanna be fit, then don’t forget to STRIP. Say what??? No, I’m not encouraging you to bare it all on a dimly lit stage in front of hundreds of ogling fans… I’m talking about “stripping” the weights down when you cannot do another repetition of a certain weight, so that you can crank out additional reps at lighter weights (these are also called “Drop Sets”). This way, you overload your muscles and force much more muscular development than if you were to stop because you cannot perform another rep at a given weight.

Doing short bursts of strip sets is particularly effective for working professionals and parents with kids at home, who don’t have a ton of time to invest in the gym. Thus, performing just a few intense strip-sets in lieu of high-volume workouts, can give you the results that you need without keeping you in the gym for hours. And as always, performing strip sets are recommended for both men and women. At the bottom of this post, I give an example of a shoulder routine that I bang out in 15~20 minutes when I’m pressed on time.

Take a look at the video below:

Here, I demonstrate how stripping is done for side lateral raises, which targets the lateral (side) head of the shoulders, as opposed to the anterior or posterior. I enjoy doing these sitting down because (a) it makes it harder to perform than standing up and (b) it tends to keep my form more strict and the load focused on my lateral deltoids, so I’m not employing muscles in my back to complete the motion. Keep in mind that I am intentionally going quite heavy and sacrificing just a little bit of form (i.e. not going up quite as high on all the reps) in this video to really push myself, in order to trigger additional stimulation and growth in my muscles. Although I’m a firm believer in keeping my form strict to isolate and stimulate the proper parts of your muscles while minimizing involvement of non-key muscle groups, on your heaviest sets, or when you are trying to trigger additional overload and stimulation, using heavier weights with less strict form (“cheating principle”) seem to work wonders for me (make sure your form does not become completely compromised, however, as this is counterproductive). Finding the right balance in this strict form versus heavier weight spectrum that works for you is a vital key to unlocking deep, additional development in your muscles that you never thought was possible.

For example, when I’m in a rush, here’s an abridged shoulder workout based on strip sets that doesn’t take too long to complete. It allows me to bang out an intense shoulder workout, hits all three of the major areas of the deltoids (anterior, lateral, and posterior heads), and I can be in and out of the gym in like 20 minutes flat. Check it out:

  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press (Set 1): Warm-up set x 12 Reps with light weights. Do not go to failure. You are warming up your muscles. Rest 60 seconds before the next set.
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press (Set 2): Intermediate Warm-up set x 8 Reps with moderate weights. Do not go to failure. You are still warming up your muscles. Rest 90 seconds before the next set.
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press (Set 3): Do this one to failure, then perform 3 more strip sets until you cannot do any more reps.
    • Perform 8~10 Reps with weights you can only do for 8~10 reps. Do as many as you can with reasonable form.
    • Strip down about 25~35% in weight and do as many reps as you can.
    • Strip down about 25~35% in weight and do as many reps as you can.
    • Strip down another 25~35% in weight and do as many reps as you can. Completely burn out your anterior deltoids.
    • Rest 120 seconds before the next set. You will need this rest 🙂
  • Barbell Upright Rows (Set 1): Skip the warm-up set, as your shoulders are already warmed up from the shoulder presses. You will do a “one-and-done” set here, with 3 strip sets.
    • Perform 8~10 reps with weights you can only do for 8~10 reps. Do as many as you can with reasonable form.
    • Strip down about 25~35% in weight and do as many reps as you can.
    • Strip down about 25~35% in weight and do as many reps as you can.
    • Strip down another 25~35% in weight and do as many reps as you can. Completely burn out your deltoids.
    • Rest 120 seconds before the next set. You are going to feel exhausted.
  • Side Lateral Raises (Set 1): Skip the warm-up set, as your shoulders are already warmed up from the shoulder presses. You will do a “one-and-done” set here, with 3 strip sets.
    • Perform 8~10 reps with weights you can only do for 8~10 reps. Do as many as you can with reasonable form.
    • Strip down about 25~35% in weight and do as many reps as you can.
    • Strip down about 25~35% in weight and do as many reps as you can.
    • Strip down another 25~35% in weight and do as many reps as you can. Completely burn out your lateral deltoids.
    • By now, you are probably dying.
  • Bent-over Raises (Set 1): Skip the warm-up set, as your shoulders are already warmed up from the shoulder presses. You will do a “one-and-done” set here, with 3 strip sets.
    • Perform 8~10 reps with weights you can only do for 8~10 reps. Do as many as you can with reasonable form.
    • Strip down about 25~35% in weight and do as many reps as you can.
    • Strip down about 25~35% in weight and do as many reps as you can.
    • Strip down another 25~35% in weight and do as many reps as you can. Completely burn out your real deltoids.

Hooray, you are done with your shoulder workout! This should have taken you about 20 minutes or less to complete, and you should be completely exhausted on your shoulders. If you’re not, you did not go intensely enough. Try this workout, and let me know what you think!