Friday, May 23, 2014

What Is IIFYM and How Does It Work?

Sorry for the lack of posts, graduating college and finals really took a bunch of my time up. Now that I’m done, I’m going to really try to post on here as much as possible. If any of you would like, I decided to make an Instagram for this blog and for my journey through fitness, so give a follow. I promise loads and loads of healthy food, recipes, and humorous memes.

Anyway, one topic I always wanted to write an article about, but never had the knowledge or experience to do so was about “IIFYM.” After going through the trial and error in the beginning, I’ve become a supporter of the IIFYM movement, and have seen great results with it now. IIFYM = If It Fits Your Macros. The main idea of IIFYM is it lets you indulge in some of the so called crap we all love to eat, so long as we’re hitting our daily calorie, fiber, macro, and micronutrient numbers. So at night you’re craving a serving or two of ice cream? Earlier in the day get in some fruit, some veggies, hit that fiber and protein number, and enjoy your ice cream. Now performing IIFYM correctly involves a little patience, you need to measure out your portions, or weigh them as I do, and track everything. I’ll cover that later in the article but first:

What In The World Are Macros

Macros, or macronutrients, are what make up your calories. Protein, Fats, and Carbohydrates are macronutrients. Protein and carbs are 4 calories per gram, and one gram of fat accounts for 9 calories. While not everyone knows what their macro amounts are, there are plenty of websites to helpdetermine your caloric intake necessary to reach your goals and will help break down your macros. Keep in mind, these websites are estimates, not exact numbers, so you will need to adjust given how your weight fluctuates.

For example, if you want to lose weight, and you start with 2,300 calories, and after one week of eating that caloric load you notice your weight increases by 1.5 pounds, then you would try decreasing by 100 calories and adjust your macros accordingly. Simple as that, just need to go through trial and error and have patience until you start to see the results you want to see.

So How Does IIFYM Fit in the Grand Scheme of Things?

Well, a calorie is a calorie – For the most part. Yes there are different hormones that some will try to manipulate (Low carbs = low insulin), but for the most part, 2,300 calories from take-out is 2,300 calories from “clean” foods.

Now does this mean I’m saying you can lose twenty pounds on the only twinkie and ice cream diet? I mean, sure you can, but it won’t be healthy. You need to focus on hitting specific goals through your daily eating, and THEN you can squeeze in some of the junk you crave.

For example, I love Cookie Crisp cereal, but for years swore it off since it wasn’t a clean food. Once I started to realize the science and main idea behind IIFYM, I decided to give it a go for a week.  I bought a food scale, and replaced my normal post workout oats and protein with a protein shake and 2 servings (56g) of cookie crisp. I did this for a week, and not only did my weight remain unchanged as I was eating at maintenance level calories to test this diet out, I was happier since I was able to eat foods that I haven’t had in forever.

I made sure to hit my protein and fiber goals, and made sure to get plenty of vitamins and minerals in through various vegetables and fruits. To be honest, ask yourself this: Does your body really know the difference from a gram of carbohydrate from Cookie Crisp or Oats? In the end, it all gets digested in the same place, AND AS LONG AS YOU HIT YOUR CALORIC INTAKE AND MACRONUTRIENT TOTALS FOR THE DAY, you’ll be fine.

Will Ferrell's got it down
This is from a recent refeed during my diet that called for copious amount of carbs. I've never met a carb I didn't like.

Here's a normal day of eating from last week. Right now i'm experimenting with carbs super high, and fats super low. So far it's been a success.

I capitalize that top sentence big time, because I’ve seen others try IIFYM and use it as an excuse to eat boxes of poptarts, bowls of ice cream, and dump loads of fruity pebbles everyday, and then they get upset when they’re fat. You need to track your portions and caloric intake for this diet to really work.

How Do I go About Tracking my Intake?

There’s many ways. You can write it down with pen and paper or you can use one of the hundreds of apps dedicated to calorie counting. I use MyFitnessPal because it’s simple to use, you can store your own foods and recipes, and there’s a huge database to help find other foods.

What I like to do is the night before, or in the morning, I’ll plan what I’m going to eat for the day. I make sure to hit my calories, my carbs, my protein, fiber, and fats, and then I simply just plug in what I want to eat. It takes time to get used to doing this, but in no time you’ll become a wizard at making adjustments and filling it out on the fly.  Making your own food in your house and controlling your portions to find your proper caloric intake is optimal in the beginning. Once you have an idea of what caloric intake you need to say, maintain your weight, then you can start adventuring outside your own kitchen and really use IIFYM to enjoy these “dirty” foods.

One of the best parts of MyFitnessPal is the database that also includes foods from many popular restaurants. Going to Chipotle with friends but didn’t plan that into your macros earlier in the day? Simply erase dinner or whatever foods you need to, and check out the nutrition facts on the company’s website to make your food entry. I tend to over estimate in this situation, since not surprisingly, the dude behind the counter making my burrito can give two farts about my macros, but as long as I’m within earshot, I can eat happy and not feel guilty.

And I know pretty much everyone today has a smart phone, and the MyFitnessPal app on Droid and iPhone’s is so clutch when you want to or need to make adjustments on the fly. It’s truly a great piece of software. It’s also free.

So an example of how I go about tracking my intake is as follows. I’ll weigh out say two servings of cereal, measure out 4 ounces of unsweetened almond milk, plug it into MyFitnessPal, and bam its right there. If I plan the day before, I’ll just simply follow the plan. For example, if I planned a meal that’s going to be 1 serving greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, and a scoop of protein powder, I’ll simply weigh out the greek yogurt, use a tablespoon measuring cup for the peanut butter, and take one scoop of the protein. Stir it in a bowl, and bam delicious.

Why Is IIFYM Superior to Other Diets?

I’m not saying it’s superior to any diet. Any diet, or nutrition program, that you can follow for the long haul is the best diet. Period. It’s superior to me because I love Chipotle, and I love ice cream, and I love peanut butter cheerios. So if I want a bowl of one serving cookie crisp, one serving peanut butter cheerios, and one serving banana nut cheerios, I’m going to make it fit my macros, have it and feel great.

By the way, yes, I recommend that combo.

And the glory of IIFYM is the combinations of foods you can create and not worry about gaining loads of fat from overshooting your calorie target. I wanted a giant bowl of baked oats the other day, so I planned out 5 servings of oats, which is 200g, and ate the whole thing. It was great, and guess what? I woke up the exact same weight, since I was eating at maintenance level calories.

Today I wanted to make my own style of granola… so I had a bowl of banana nut cheerios, puffed wheat, unsweetened almond milk, and different types of fruit. No longer do I crave things because I can eat what I want, when I want, so long as it’s in moderation and it fits my macros.

Can You Give Me Some Examples of What Your MyFitnessPal Looks Like?

Sure, here are some screenshots of how I go about my eating habits. I tend to drink BCAA’s before the gym around 9:45, drink EAA’s during the gym, and then afterwards consume two bigger meals, and a smaller meal before bed.

Other Things to Note About IIFYM

Meal timing is largely irrelevant to body composition. Does this mean don’t eat after you workout? No, I wouldn’t do that. But if you’re someone like me who likes larger meals, then maybe eating two bigger meals in the back half of the day is better. If you like smaller meals, then go for it. Do what makes you happy.

While measuring your foods with measuring cups is a good start, I truly believe the best way to measure out correct portion sizes is to invest in a food scale. I use a Shaper Image food scale that measures in grams. From there you can read the nutrition facts on anything, and get the right serving sizes for that caloric load. Checking out the government’s site for nutrition facts on other foods, such as bananas, strawberries, chicken, etc will provide you with weighted numbers. For example, if you want blueberries just simply look up what 100g of Blueberries is on the USDA food list and maybe have half a serving, or the full serving. Whatever you want. That’s the glory of IIFYM.

It is tricky at first, but you’ll be 100% happy you went through the trial and error and maybe earlier frustrations of tracking your food intake in the beginning. When you realize you can lose fat to look good on the beach this summer while enjoying your favorite cereals, ice cream milkshakes, or bacon egg cheese sandwich while your friends are stuck eating salad and grilled chicken with asparagus every damn day.

Meal timing is irrelevant for the most part, as is combining certain foods. First linked is an article by Lyle McDonald where he reviews a study on meal timing, second is an article by Alan Aragon where he discusses how mixing carbs and fat together in meals doesn't automatically equal fat storage. Don’t fall for that mumbo jumbo “you can’t eat fats and carbs together as the insulin spike will cause the fat to be stored... as fat.” People don’t realize our bodies take hours to digest certain meals, and if you think food isn’t overlapping in your stomach from previous meals then you don’t know how digestion rates work.

I will say this though; certain foods will make you feel more lethargic or energized. I personally get more energy from higher carb meals and more lethargic and sleepy from higher fat meals. So my last meal of the day and my smallest is usually a higher fat meal. My two bigger meals are more carb dominant since they give me energy throughout the day, and my macros call for more carbohydrates than fats. Trial and error is the best way to figure out what suits you and what your body runs best off of.

There you have it, a brief little introduction on IIFYM and how to go about it. Now go have some ice cream, you deserve it!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hard Gainer No More: Your Guide to Adding Some Quality Mass

So you want to gain weight and some muscle mass. Welcome hard-gainer, or HG as I will affectionately refer to you as. You see, contrary to your belief, you can gain weight and I will help you. I’m the opposite of a hard gainer. I’m a former fatty, who lost 50 pounds and can gain and lose weight fairly easily. I envy you HG, to an extent, as the copious amount of food you get to eat makes me jealous. While yes it might seem impossible to gain weight, I can assure you it’s not.

HardgainerUnfortunately, the demise of most HG’s is they think they’re eating enough, when in reality they aren’t. Or, they eat enough, and are obsessed with killing themselves in the gym and burn too many calories to keep them in a caloric surplus. Anyone, and that means anyone, can gain weight; you just need to be in a caloric surplus.

Now finding this surplus, or your maintenance point, varies for everyone. Some people just don’t venture high enough to find out the caloric total needed for them to gain weight, but we’ll find it, don’t you worry. All-time Olympian Michael Phelps would have to eat over 10,000 calories a day to maintain his weight during his intense Olympic training!

Many of these hard gainers are just folk with EXTREMELY fast metabolisms. I’m talking it takes them 3,500 calories to even maintain their weight! Now while you might think this is impossible to hit on a daily basis, and while you might need 4,000 calories to gain some quality muscle, the scope of this article will portray some tips and tricks I give to some of my clients to rid themselves of the stagnant “skinny” guy status, to adding pounds of quality muscle. 

Training for the Hard Gainer

Why would training for the HG be any different? Well, their metabolisms are ridiculous fast and burn through calories like it’s going out of style. So how do we combat their extremely fast metabolism?

Limit Training Times

HG’s should avoid the marathon 90-120 minute training sessions. In my opinion, someone who has a tough time putting on weight should strive to be in and out of the gym in 60 minutes. Routines that are short and intense are perfect for HG’s, as they can stimulate the growth of muscle tissue, and can limit caloric expenditure through training. 45 minutes is even better, but shoot to keep it under 60 minutes. Remember, you grow outside the gym, not inside the gym!

Limit Cardio

Notice I say limit cardio, not abolish cardio. Everyone in my opinion should be doing some form of cardio, 1-3 times a week, year round. Why? Well, cardiovascular exercise is very important for the heart, and very important to keep your conditioning levels up to par. Cardio can help with your endurance, and can help your weight training portion by allowing you to bang out more reps without running out of breath. 1-3 sessions a week of High Intensity Interval Training is perfect.

Train For Strength

Lifting for strength increases is the best way for HG to add some quality muscle mass. Again, marathon lifting sessions are not beneficial for someone who seemingly can’t add weight, so by keeping your sessions, short, intense, and heavy, you’ll have a lot more success in building quality muscle mass. My article on progressive overload is perfect for you to read up on when it comes to adding strength, especially the idea of adding even something as simple as 2.5 pounds to your lifts each session. It’ll add up over time, trust me!

Nutrition For the Hard Gainer

So the moment you’ve been waiting for, nutrition to gain some mass. Remember, a HG’s metabolism is usually extremely fast. They typically do well on high amounts of carbohydrates, and can burn through these carbohydrates like crazy. While a HG’s metabolism can let them get away eating some of the more “unhealthy” foods, I still recommend eating nutrient dense foods, such as rice, oats, vegetables, and healthy fats even if you have trouble gaining weight. While your metabolism might give you an excuse to get away with eating like crap for now, that metabolism will eventually slow down as you age. Also, consuming boxes of pop tarts and gallons of ice cream might put weight on you, but they’re void of specific nutrients that your body needs every day to perform optimally.

In the end though, a caloric surplus is the best way to promote anabolism.  So how do we keep those calories high?


Carbohydrates and the HG usually fit together like a glove. A match made in heaven if you will. They’re the guys we all envy, as it seems they can eat all sorts of junk and it doesn’t negatively impact their physique. Their metabolism usually rips through carbohydrates.

So if we crush these carbohydrates, should we avoid them? No! Carbs are extremely important in maintaining energy levels, and they are protein sparing to an extent. Protein sparing meaning that the body will use glucose from carbohydrates as energy rather than breaking down proteins for energy through gluconeogenesis.

<3 Carbs

HG’s should try to eat lots of carbohydrates, to keep the protein they consume spared, and focusing on pre, during, and post workout carb nutrition can be extremely beneficial. Consuming carbs pre workout will allow carbs to be used as energy rather than hard earned muscle tissue. Intra workout carbs, usually in the form of a liquid (Such as Gatorade, or even some powdered carb supplements like Dextrose powder) can help keep energy levels up and continue the protein sparing battle you seek. Finally, post workout carbohydrates can help promote insulin secretion through the pancreas, which helps drive amino acids and the glucose from your carbohydrates into your muscles as glycogen for growth and recovery.

Aim for: Slow-digesting carbs such as oats pre workout, fast digesting carbs in a liquid form intra workout, and a mix of carbohydrates post workout.

Rich’s Hard-Gainer Post-Workout Shake Suggestion (Macros are estimates):

2 Scoops protein powder ~ 300 Calories, 5g Fat, 10g Carbs, 50g Protein
2 Cups of whole milk ~ 300 Calories, 15g Fat, 20g Carbs, 15g Protein
2 Tablespoons of All-natural honey ~ 140 Calories, 0g Fat, 35g Carbs, 0g Protein
2 Tablespoons Peanut Butter (Or any nut butter) ~ 190 Calories, 16g Fat, 8g Carbs, 7g Protein
3 ounces (1 large) banana ~ 75 Calories, 0g Fat, 20g Carbs, 0g Protein
½ Cup (40g) Oats ~ 150 Calories, 5g Fat, 27g Carbs, and 5g Protein
3-4 ice cubes

Blend and drink up!

Roughly 1,155 Calories; 41g Fat, 120g Carbs, and 77g Protein. The perfect post-workout recovery shake, and I’ll add it’s delicious!


Protein is essential to build muscle. Just because your metabolism crushes carbohydrates like it’s its job, without adequate protein intake, muscle cannot be built.  Try to hit at least 0.8 g/lb to build muscle, but hitting 1g/lb of bodyweight is my usual recommendation. Protein powder can help if you’re in a rush and need a quick protein snack, but whole foods is the way to go.


Fats and essential fatty acids are the x-factor in my opinion when it comes to gaining weight for the HG. Proper fat intake ensures proper hormone production and provides all sorts of other health benefits. In terms of benefiting the HG though, fat’s are very caloric dense.

By caloric dense, I mean fats carry more calories per gram than carbs and protein. Carbs and protein carry about 4 calories per gram, but fats carry 9 calories per gram.  So how do we use that to our advantage?

Foods that are high in fat content can help provide ample amount of calories. Examples of such are nuts, nut butter, olive oil, fatty cuts of meat (steak and salmon), and avocados. For an example, 28g, or about handful of almonds, give you 160 calories! Think about how easy it is to scarf down a handful almonds. When you need an ample amount of calories to grow, don’t be afraid to take a shot of olive oil or a spoonful of peanut butter from your mom’s food pantry. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or even peanut butter-banana (my personal favorite) will be your best friend. Those extra calories will really add up.

Eat more then!

Weight-Gainer Shakes

While weight-gaining shakes have a place for some in terms of ample amount of calories for an on-the-go shake, they’re far from necessary. The shake listed above can give you over a thousand calories, and will cost much less than a 10-pound bag of the latest weight gaining powder. It’ll also be void of the preservatives and fillers, that many, not all are chock full of. You can Google recipes for all sorts of different flavors of weight gaining, all natural shakes, or even create your own! Experimenting is key, and if you lack the creative touch, feel free to email me and I’ll be happy to share some recipes:

There you have it Mr. Hard Gainer. While it may seem impossible to add that muscle mass you so desire, I can assure you it’s not. I just helped a client go from a skinny 122-pounds to 145-pounds in 6 months, and you can do it too! With proper training and nutrition, and even employing some of the tips in the article, you’ll be on your way in no time!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Progressive Overload: Your Key to Consistent Muscle Gains

At a plateau? Want to start adding muscle? Don't know where to start? Want consistent changes to body composition? I introduce the one, the only, progressive overload.

What is progressive overload?

Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training. It was a principle founded during World War II by Thomas Delorme, and today it's a method used worldwide in physical therapy, strength training, and power lifting.

Basically, by adding more stress through each workout, your body will continuously adapt. Whether you're increasing one more rep from your squats last week, or adding 2.5 pounds to your bench press, progressive overload can consistently make sure you're improving.

Why is progressive overload important?

Well if you want to continue to see strength increases, body composition changes, or just improve your overall fitness status, you should incorporate some form of progressive overload.

How do I incorporate progressive overload?

Now here's the fun part. There's a myriad of different ways to incorporate progressive overload into your training routine to continue to see gains.

Before I get into these different methods, I would like to suggest that if you aren't already tracking your performance in the gym, you should probably start. Whether you write it down when you're done lifting, or bring a training journal with you to the gym, knowing exact numbers can be extremely beneficial in the long run.

I personally use's BodySpace app to track my workouts, my measurements (weight, body fat, leg size, etc) and to consistently check my performance to make sure I'm improving.
So now on to the good stuff, the different ways to go about progressive overload.

Increase Weight

The first and most obvious way of performing progressive overload is to increase the amount of tension your muscles are placed under. In simple terms, lifting more weight. Now if you're thinking, "I need to slap another 30 pounds on my bench press to see gains," that's not true at all.

Small incremental increases is all you should strive for. By literally adding those small, dinky, who-actually-uses-these, 2.5 pound circle weights to the bar, you can continue to add tension and encourage the muscle to grow. You might think "what's 5 pounds" in the grand scheme of things, but overtime this approach really pays off.

I don't recommend attempting progressive overload in this situation...

When you're doing 6-10 reps of that weight, add another 5 pounds. Initially you might think 5 pounds isn't doing you any good, but in the long run, you'll continue to make progress and get stronger.

Remember, weight training, bodybuilding, dieting or any fitness goal is not a sprint. Its a marathon and you should be in this for the long haul, not for a quick fix.

Increase Reps at a Given Weight

Another method of progressive overload is to add additional reps. By beating your previous attempt at a weight or an exercise by just one rep (one!), you just added more stress to the body to encourage muscle growth without going crazy.

For example, if I'm trying to develop my chest and I'm doing incline dumbbell chest press, all this method prescribes is beating my previous attempt. So if I did 80 pounds for 5 reps, this time through I'll go for 6 or 7. The time after that? I'll shoot for 8 reps.

I don't necessarily have to jump to a heavier weight that I might not be ready for, which, with dumbbells, can be dangerous to your joints.

Increase Set Workload

Increasing your workload is another form of progressive overload. Say you usually do 5 sets of 8-10 reps of squats. You've reached a plateau and past knee issues don't allow you to go heavier.
One method is to increase the actual workload and add another set to the exercise. So doing 6 sets of 8-10 reps.

I don't always recommend this route at first because someone will take it to the extreme and do 12 sets of squats, but its good to do in order to breakthrough a plateau, then return to your normal set/rep scheme.

Decrease Rest

My personal favorite of the progressive overload methods is to decrease rest time between sets and exercises. It is truly an excellent way to continue to grow.

My personal way of decreasing my rest is to plan a workout ahead of time and perform it as I normally would and keep note of how long it takes me. If it takes me 70 minutes to perform my routine, the next time out I'll try to do it in 50 minutes.

The exact same weights, reps, sets, and exercises. Just less time. This increases the stress your body is placed on by providing less rest for your body to fully recover. Again, it's another stressor in place, and in the realm of progressive overload, that's what we're looking for.

Increase Intensity

Increasing intensity might sound vague, "just work harder!" you might say. But I'll show you some simple ways to increase intensity.

Drop Sets

A drop set is one of my favorites. Perform a set as you normally would, and when you finish, immediately lower the weight and continue to press on. Say you do 8 reps of 60 pounds of triceps pushdown, then drop down to 40 pounds and go for 12-15 reps!

Super-Sets and Tri-Sets

Super-sets are when you perform two different exercises back to back with no rest in between. They can work the same muscle group, or work opposite ones. So two different styles could be biceps curl with the EZ Bar and then immediately performing biceps curls with dumbbells.

Another style is to do biceps curl with the EZ bar and then work the opposite muscle group, in this case the triceps, with a different exercise (say triceps kick backs). It allows one muscle group to rest, while you're simultaneously working another.

Tri-sets are simply super-sets but with three different exercises in a row. So for a cheat tri-set, I like to end with low weight/high rep bench press, to incline cable fly's, and then finish off with push ups! 3 sets and I'm good to go.

Increase Frequency

By increasing the frequency you train for a lagging body part, you force the muscle to adapt yet again. 

So if you're used to training each body part once a week, try training each body part twice a week in a different split to change it up, and do this for 4 weeks. 

I like to do a 5 day split hitting every body part twice: Shoulders & Back & Dead lifts/hamstrings (Full Body), Chest & Arms, Rest, Legs & HIIT, Shoulders & Back, Chest & Arms, and then either low intensity cardio or a short core workout. Then, I'll repeat.

I'm personally a fan of higher training frequencies, and one in particular I recommend is Layne Norton's PHAT program. I've done it before, and I like to cycle between what I'm doing now and his.

Increase Time Under Tension

One of the most overlooked ways of incorporating progressive overload is increasing time under tension. Time under tension refers to the actually time your muscle is contracted, extended, or even squeezed.

I love using this method for back exercises, such as lat pulldowns. When I want to continue to see results, I'll incorporate increased time under tension.

I'll pull the weight down using my latissimus dorsi, and then contract the isometric squeeze after the concentric movement. Then I'll slowly return the weight back but consistently make sure my lats are engaged in the exercise. Then repeat.

This style of training is also known as eccentric training. Eccentric training is the idea of making the eccentric phase of an exercise longer to train the muscle in a different way. The eccentric phase is the portion of the movement that lengthens the muscle and/or returns it to its starting point.

For example, the eccentric phase of the lat pulldown is the part where you are returning the equipment above your head. Now instead of letting the weight pull you up quickly, hold the contraction point with your lats, and slowly let the weight return. You'll feel a great burn and its a completely different style of working out!

So as a quick recap, say your bench press is stuck at 185 pounds. You can go about increasing this in any of the ways given above. Maybe you need to try 190 pounds instead of going for 200 pounds.  You can drop down to 170 pounds and try to do 8 reps instead of 6. You can perform some drop-sets from 155 pounds down to 95 pounds. You can do a set, and then bang some push ups out. The possibilities are truly endless!

So next time you're stuck at a certain weight, or you're struggling to see results, incorporate one of these methods to keep pressing on!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Why CrossFit Isn't the Safest Route to Your Fitness Goals

Man, has CrossFit stood the test of time. I mean it has undoubtedly become more and more popular by the day, for reasons I cannot understand. But I digress. CrossFit’s National Games are on ESPN, the athletes are becoming more and more well known, and the affiliations with major corporations and companies in America prove that the people love CrossFit. I have the utmost respect for those who practice CrossFit professionally, and if doing CrossFit is your way of getting in shape and it’s something you genuinely like, then so be it, all the power to you.

But there’s one thing people need to realize before they start doing CrossFit, whether it’s on their own, at a CrossFit certified gym, or with a CrossFit certified trainer. In my opinion, there is no doubt that CrossFit comes with a higher risk of injury in comparison with normal strength training and cardio workouts.

Why CrossFit Isn't the Safest

People fail to realize that the CrossFit pros are ridiculous athletes. And a quick thirty-second YouTube search for “CrossFit fails” can show you some of the scariest moments in exercise history. It’s just a riskier form of exercise, a greater hazard to burn calories, and a more dangerous method to build strength.

Do people really love doing ridiculously inefficient movements with extremely high risk of injury? Before I get to why you should think twice before you do CrossFit, let me reiterate: do whatever type of fitness it is that makes you enjoy the process and get results. But just realize there are safer ways to go about this.

Too Much Emphasis on More Weight and More Reps

The first problem I have with CrossFit is the constant obsession to put up higher weight and perform more reps in a smaller time frame. Is it great to better yourself and strive for improvement? Of course. But when you’re sacrificing proper form and safe movements to just squeeze out a few more reps of “snatches,” you’re putting yourself at a greater risk for injury.

Your average CrossFit athlete will just completely disregard his form in an effort to put in more work. They’re addicted to beating their previous times, almost to a fault. Whether this work is more weight, more reps, or a shorter duration, often time form is thrown out the window. When someone is performing reps of Squat Jumps and trying to get more reps in a 60-second window than last time, they become obsessed with the results and not the form or process. They begin to let their knees cave in, knees extend over their toes, or fail to keep their chest up and back erect. Or they barely go down low enough to really engage the hamstring and gluteus muscle. Now not only are you at a greater risk of injury, you’re performing an inefficient exercise and not working the intended muscles to their full range of motion.

Instead of focusing on more, I always implore clients to focus on doing it right.  It’s great that you can do 50 pull-ups in a row. But if the form is a swinging motion that is more for your forearms and shoulders and not your latissimus dorsi and other back musculature, then it defeats the purpose of performing a pull up.

Lack of Attention In CrossFit Classes

Most, not all, but most CrossFit classes are really just 10-15 people following a dry erase whiteboard of exercises and trying to complete it as fast as they can with one trainer trying to watch the form of everyone. It’s impossible. A good trainer can watch and ensure proper form of maybe 5 people in one sitting, maybe one or two more. Any more than that and you simply need more eyes to watch those being instructed.

So when you have 15 people doing barbell clean and presses in a ratio to one instructor, you have an environment that is more predisposed to someone getting hurt. Professional CrossFit athletes know what they are looking for in proper form, and know what they did wrong when they perform a rep incorrectly. A beginner cannot make that necessary adjustment, and shouldn’t be expected to make that adjustment. Because of this, more attention must be paid to the beginners in order to ensure proper form during the exercise, and safety. Having one trainer watching and instructing 15 or sometimes more people is not a great way to ensure the safety of others.

CrossFit Isn’t Training, It’s Exercise

You want to get bigger, faster, and/or stronger? Well then CrossFit is not for you, in my opinion. While you can train your lower body to have stronger legs when your doing prowler sprints, CrossFit is just a form of exercise. Lifting weights and using progressive overload is the most efficient way to make your legs stronger. Doing CrossFit type movements such as these prowler sprints or squat thrusters are far less efficient to building leg strength.

CrossFit athletes don’t perform all CrossFit style workouts day in and day out to improve. To improve their overhead squat, they do normal barbell back squats and other leg exercises to strengthen their legs. They do core work to stabilize the spine while holding a massive load over their head. They don’t do countless reps of the exercise to improve; they train their body and other muscles to be better at the exercise. There’s a difference.

And unfortunately many won’t realize this difference. They’ll attempt to keep adding weight to their overhead-squats, and since this is a much more dangerous and advanced exercise than say, a back squat, they are again at risk of injury. The athlete should focus on improving overall leg strength and core stability before adding more weight to their overhead squat. Not add weight to the overhead squat to improve that exercise.


Unfortunately, of the insane amount of people who sign up for these CrossFit classes, many of them get injured. Some aren’t as serious as others, maybe some calluses or rolled ankles, but others are much more serious.

Case in point: Rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis is a potentially fatal condition, which is caused by the breakdown of muscle cells. Under extreme conditions, your muscle cells explode and they expire. They then leak out excess amino acids and protein into the blood stream. Among these proteins that are broken down is myoglobin. Normally the body would just get rid of the waste, but myoglobin in the blood is extremely taxing to the kidney and can potentially do great harm to your kidney in a short amount of time.

Now am I saying this is going to happen? No. But it’s something to think about when your CrossFit trainer and all of CrossFit society are pushing you beyond your limit, exercise after exercise. What’s crazy is Rhabdomyolysis, or more commonly known as Rhabdo, is something some CrossFit instructors actually know about; yet continue to push people beyond their limits regularly.

Why CrossFit Isn't the Safest

Another problem with pushing yourself constantly is elevated fatigue levels. By exhausting yourself constantly, you’re tiring out the rest of your muscles and your central nervous system. After being exhausted and barely being able to move, try to go do some jump-ups on a 2-foot platform, and see how hard it is. Unfortunately the culture of CrossFit says push, push, push, and for those who aren’t ready to handle it put themselves at a greater probability of injury.

Regrettably, those new to CrossFit view this culture as a push-it-to-the-limit constant type of exercise, and that’s when injury, both minor and serious, can really wreak havoc in someone’s life. And as CrossFit’s founder, Greg Glassman once said about the “sport”, “It can kill you, I’ve always been completely honest about that.”

Talk about reassuring.

Those Sissy Pull-Ups

Sorry, this truly gets to me. I hate when I see people claiming they can do 30 pull-ups in a row. Normally it’s an incredible fitness feat, but when you’re swinging and using momentum to do 50% of the work, you’ll unfortunately see 50% of the results.

Do a real pull-up – go all the way down, and use your back, not your arms, to perform the exercise.

So should you completely avoid CrossFit? No, not completely, but before you engage in CrossFit type training you need to understand the risks involved. You should do this for any type of exercise, but with the amount of injuries seen in CrossFit it’s apparent there’s a greater risk of injury there. It comes down to the age-old question, “is it really worth the risk?”

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Training Vs. Lifting

When you go to the gym, what’s your primary goal? I ask this because I bet more than half of the responses would be the same: “To get strong and look good.” Great, that’s an awesome goal. But how are you going to go about it? Are you going to eat better? Lift Heavier? Lift more? More cardio? There are hundreds of different protocols you can follow to hit such a generic goal, but how many go about the weight training aspect of the gym is very inefficient. I say inefficient because 90% of people I see in the gym are lifting weight, heavy or light, and not training the muscle they intend to develop.

Woah. But if you’re lifting, aren’t you training your muscles. To an extent, yes, but are you optimally training that muscle? No, probably not.

A scenario: You see someone bench pressing, and they’re lifting say 225 pounds for 5 reps. His form is awful: his elbow’s are going past the 90 degrees mark, his lower back is arching up, his neck is lifting off of the bench for that extra oomph, and he’s not controlling the weight in the eccentric phase (Dropping the barbell towards you), rather just letting drop down fast and bouncing it off of his chest. He feels big, he feels macho. What he doesn’t realize is of that entire balls-to-the-wall-max-out effort; he blatantly missed the point of the exercise.

To train his chest effectively and efficiently.

How’d he not train his chest effectively? First, by not controlling the weight downwards in the eccentric phase, he’s losing out on recruiting valuable muscle fibers to decelerate the weight. Second, dropping the bar all the way to his chest, and bringing your elbows below your shoulders and past 90 degrees, he’s using his anterior deltoids to initially push the weight back up. Not only is that not your chest, but also that’s an excellent way to develop a biceps impingement and not be able to wash your hair later when you are 40 years old, let alone bench press in the future.

How was it not efficient? Well for starters, his chest sure as hell didn’t lift that 225 pounds. A lot of different muscles did, and a lot of different muscles are not meant to perform that movement. By design, the bench press is meant to train your chest, not your anterior deltoids, lower back, quads, or whatever else you want to throw in there. While some will challenge this view, your goal should be to train specific muscles and their functions, not lifting heavy ass weight to look huge and possibly get yourself hurt.

The same could be said for most abdominal exercises unfortunately. Too many times I see many people banging out 100’s of crunches, and because they’re not focusing on engaging their core, and instead a certain amount of reps, they end up training their hip flexors or lower back.

This is where training the muscle is an extremely important topic in my opinion. Instead of lifting heavy weight and just throwing it up in the air as fast you can, your goal should be to train the muscle your targeting by the specific exercise of your choice. Making the mind-to-muscle connection is vital here. Actually feeling the muscle lengthen, contract, and squeeze during particular movements is crucial to proper muscle recruitment and development.

Not only is making the mind-to-muscle connection important, but controlling the weight you are lifting is extremely important to get maximum muscle fiber recruitment and decrease the risk of injury. Newsflash to some guys at the gym, but dumbbell curling 50 pounds in each hand by using your legs and back to swing the weight up, and then letting it completely drop isn’t training your biceps effectively. A proper biceps curl involves a slow eccentric phase (Lowering the weight), and a concentric phase (Bringing the weight towards you), and isometrically squeezing the biceps at the curl point. Then slowly lowering it again.  You’re also at a large risk of injury, as the biceps is very small muscle and not meant to catch a 50-pound dumbbell from dropping mid-air with gravity forcing it downwards. He might think he’s strong, but show me a guy who’s got strict form with his biceps curls and controlling the entire movement with 40-pounds, and I’d be more impressed.

Think about it next time you go to workout. Am I here to lift heavy weight (power-lifters, you’re different, lift some heavy ass weight by all means! Safely), or am I here to specifically train my chest and my triceps today? Focus on what you do and the muscles you’re intending to workout, and I guarantee you’ll see better results.

Not everyone is an anatomy major and understands muscles and their functions, and I completely understand that. But before you get into weight training, I strongly recommend consulting a trainer who can show you how to go about performing each exercise effectively, efficiently, and safely. At the very least, go to YouTube and search proper form videos. Figuring it out is an excellent way to keep yourself from getting a herniated disc when you do barbell dead lifts because you insist on rounding out your back like a cat.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My Top-Five Supplements To Help Improve Performance

Everyone loves certain supplements for certain reasons. I for one have experienced a numerous amount of different supplements from experimentation. From the staples such as fish oil, to the ergogenic aids like beta-alanine, I have tried a bunch of different supplements to see what works best for my body and what can actually give the best results. I also read about what really works, and dosages from, something that I really stress to everyone before they begin to take something. With that being said, I figured I’d share with you my personal top five list for what supplements are my favorites. 

*One More Point* I only recommend supplements to those who have their training regimen and diet down pat. Supplements only SUPPLEMENT what you currently have going. You can take any supplement and it will have no effect if you don't train well and eat right. Training and diet first, then LEGAL supplementation after!

Number 1: Fish Oil

The all-star supplement in my opinion, and a supplement I feel as though everyone should be adding to their stack. Fish oil is staple for many people, whether they are in fitness or not. Fish oil has an insane amount of benefits. Some off the top of my head: Lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, reduces total triglycerides, increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind), reduces cognitive decline as we age, helps our brains function properly, and can help increase fat tissue oxidation. Whew. Obviously that’s a lot of benefits from one pill, and many also report a decrease in joint pain when supplementing with fish oil. 

Dosage: Minimum of 250mg daily, but the inflammation reducing effects is seen at 6g daily. I take 6g daily, sometimes doing up to 9g daily.  Remember though, 1g of fish oil is the same as 9 calories, and 1g of fat, so be sure to factor that into your diet.

Number 2: Beta-Alanine

The new creatine? Maybe. Beta-alanine has really come on as the new potent ergogenic aid. Beta-alanine has been proven to help performance in the 60-240 second range, which shows it has a direct positive effect on endurance. Obviously, greater endurance means a greater work potential, and greater work potential can eventually lead to be better results. According to several studies beta-alanine has been proven to increase muscular endurance, decrease fatigue, decrease fat mass (Most likely because of the lack of fatigue/increased endurance when working out), and can increase lean body mass. Again the increase in lean body mass is nothing to do back flips for, but every little bit can help.

Dosage: 2,000-5,000 mg (2-5g) daily. It can be broken into two doses, or taken at once. Most will take it pre workout to really capitalize on the extra endurance. It’s also been noted a tingly sensation to occur after supplementing with beta-alanine, which eventually will dissipate off with continued use.

Number 3: Leucine

Here’s where I differ from some. I prefer to supplement straight doses of Leucine instead of the more common placed BCAA’s. BCAA’s include Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine, usually at a 2.5/1.25/1.25 dosage split per 5g. For those who have a high protein diet and consume enough daily protein, supplementing with BCAA’s is somewhat pointless, as all food contains BCAA’s. But, my boy Dr. Layne Norton has proved Leucine play’s a direct role in stimulating protein synthesis. Leucine has also shown to help prevent muscle from catabolism when in a calorie deficit, so when cutting this can be extremely beneficial. Leucine truly is the all-star of the BCAA’s trio, and is the most extensively studied and research of the three.

I love memes.

Dosage: According to Norton’s study, adding Leucine to a protein rich meal can help elevate muscle protein synthesis. He recommends eating 4-5 hours between meals in order to let protein synthesis come to baseline and then “spike” synthesis again with another 2-3g of Leucine with your meal.

I personally like to consume 5g-pre workout (I train fasted, so to prevent muscle catabolism) and 3g-post workout for the effects mentioned above. Then I’ll have another 3g later in the day.

Number 4: Creatine

Creatine, the original superstar ergogenic aid. While beta-alanine aids with performance in the 6-240 second range, creatine helps improve endurance in a wider range and supply muscles with ATP when placed in moments of stress. Creatine is a supplement that really can benefit anyone no matter the goal. Effects from creatine include: increased power output, increased lean body mass, an increase in hydration (Pulling water into muscle cells), increase in muscular endurance, and a decrease in fatigue. Some good things right there. Creatine is really the true champion in fitness and the most researched and clinically proven supplement to work.

Dosage: 5g daily. No need to “load,” as you’ll eventually reach saturation levels. Can be taken at anytime of the day, but I prefer to take it post workout with my 3g of Leucine.

A recent addition to my stack, and now one of my favorite supplements, Acetyl L-Carnitine, or ALCAR, is a supplement involved in energy metabolism. It helps support brain neurons through mitochondrial capacity and can give you mental alertness. It also has been shown to help prevent the effects of aging. In addition, it could help with fat burning, but the evidence in this regard isn’t 100% solid yet. But the main reason I take it: The mental focus and brain boosting ability it has. ALCAR dosed pre workout helps me focus, and it helps decrease fatigue. Other benefits to supplementing with ALCAR: decrease in muscle damage, an increase in insulin sensitivity, improved brain cognition, and again a reduction in fat mass – most likely due to the increase of movement and motivation one usually experiences after taking ALCAR. ALCAR is a supplement I really like, and will continue to suggest it to others to see if it fits their goals.

Dosage: 500-2,000mg. I take 1g pre-workout, and 1g later in the afternoon.

So those are my top five favorite supplements, and staples for me. Other supplements are important to me, but if I had to sell everything, and only got to pick five, these five would be my picks!

Monday, January 27, 2014

5 Tips To Get You Started On Losing Weight

When a client or a friend comes to me and asks me how they can lose weight and look for some easy tricks to start, I usually always start with five tips I’ve found to help reduce calories. Now, the most efficient way to lose weight is to have a plan, try to track your food, and completely take the guesswork out of it. For some of us, this isn’t feasible. Whether it’s the lack of time or the lack of knowledge, we look for little tips and tricks that can help us get on the road to losing weight. Here are the five tips I like to give people:

11.    Emphasize Lean Protein

Protein is a very under eaten macronutrient amongst individuals. While some athletes go overboard and start chugging down protein shakes left and right, the regular person who’s trying to get in shape more times than not can add more protein to their diet. In previous articles I’ve mentioned the benefits of adding more protein to your diet. Some of these benefits include increased satiety or fullness from a meal, an increased thermic effect of food, and when in a caloric deficit, a better retention of lean body mass.

So how do we go about adding more protein to our diet? Focus on choosing more protein dense meals for your “square” meals of the day. Try egg whites for breakfast, baked or grilled skinless chicken breast for lunch, and lean fish or another lean cut of meat for dinner. Fattier choices of protein are great too when grilled, but also come with more calories because of their fat content. For example, salmon is an extremely healthy fish, but can have twice as many calories as tilapia because of the fat content. I try to consume fattier cuts of meat at least three times a week, but I also make other adjustments in my macronutrients. Looking for some protein snacks? Some great options are protein shakes with some water and Quest protein bars.

A meal I often mention to people to try that’s extremely healthy and filling is a TexMex breakfast bowl:

4 oz 99% Lean Turkey Meat
1 egg
3 egg whites
28g (1 serving) of Sargento’s 2% milk fat mozzarella cheese
And Low-sodium hot sauce

Cook and mix it all together and melt that cheese! Approximate total macros are:
Calories – 325
Fat – 10g
Carbs – 1g
Protein – 53g

Right there you got a filling meal and it’s full of protein, great to keep you full for a long period of time. Another option to throw in there if you want carbs for maybe a pre-training breakfast is a slice of Ezekial toast topped with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter. Here you’ll be adding about 175 calories, 8g of fat, 15g of carbohydrates, and another 8g of protein.

22.    Smarter Food Prep

Okay, so now you’re emphasizing lean proteins more. Unfortunately, when someone gets this drilled in their new healthier style of eating, they don’t pay attention to how they prepare the food. For example, lets say you want to have some baked chicken for dinner.

You clean the chicken, and begin to think of different ways to marinate it. You throw some honey-mustard in there, some butter, and maybe an oil of some sort to have it nice and juicy, but what people fail to realize is that these marinades are full of sodium and unnecessary calories. Are there marinades that are better for you out there? Yeah, of course. Olive oil is an extremely healthy source of fats, but very rarely does someone use the one-tablespoon serving size that comes with 130 calories.  The way I see it, I’d rather have a 3-ounce serving of an avocado and eat my calories for the healthy fats than have a tablespoon of olive oil.

I usually recommend skipping the oils when preparing your meats and marinades and try low-sodium seasonings. My personal favorites are from the Mrs. Dash line, and not only are they sodium free, but some of them actually include some potassium in it. So next time you cook your lean turkey meat and you want to add some more flavor, put down the canned red sauce, and pick up the Mrs. Dash extra spicy seasoning and maybe some crushed red pepper. You get all the flavor, but none of the calories.

Also while it might be obvious, avoid deep-fried foods and try to emphasize baked and grilled choices. So next time you go to Outback Steakhouse choose the wood-fire grilled tilapia and not the pecan crusted tilapia. Easy way to save calories, and it’s still delicious.

33.    Drop The Liquid Calories

One of the most efficient and easiest ways to reduce the amount of calories you take in is to simply drop the calories you consume through liquids. This means only water, and no soda, no Gatorade, no Snapple, nothing with liquid calories. While fruit smoothies from the mall are fine (IF, and huge if, they’re made with real fruit and not those nasty syrups), drinking water will provide zero calories.

Diet sodas and diet, zero-calorie drinks are fine, but generally the healthiest choice is water.  Adding lemon slices to a water bottle is a great way to have flavored water if you can’t take the “plainness” of water. Look at it this way: I love Peach Snapple, and would routinely have two or three a day. Three regular PeachSnapples (16 fluid oz.) gives you 480 calories, all coming from 120g of carbohydrates and 117g of those are sugar! 117g of sugar! And it's not uncommon for people to have a soda during the day and a boatload of coffee creamer too. Make the switch to water and after a week or two you’ll be amazed by the results.

44.    Choose High Fiber, Low Glycemic Carbohydrates

Blood sugar control is something that really plagues our country today. Millions of people are suffering from Type 2 diabetes and have constant issues with blood sugar. One of the best ways to keep your blood sugar levels stable is to choose high fiber, low glycemic carbohydrates. In a previous article, I discussed the glycemic index and how it manipulates blood sugar, but I’ll cover it in brief real quick. The higher the glycemic number (Scale goes up to 100, pure Glucose being 100) the greater the blood sugar swing and insulin release. The sudden influx of blood sugar causes us to release a large amount of insulin, and then after storing and disposing of the glucose, we get tired, groggy, and then crash. What do we do when we crash? Reach for more sugary treats, and the never-ending, vicious cycle continues.  A lower glycemic food choice will have a lower insulin release, and since it’s digested more slowly, it will keep you fuller longer and provide a more long-term energy source.

Some low glycemic food choices are sweet potatoes, old-fashioned or rolled oats, brown rice, apples, and whole wheat bread. Combining your carbohydrates with fats can help lower the glycemic index of the food as well, as the fats will slow gastric emptying and digestion.

So when people feel fuller and have more energy, they tend to eat less and move more. Eating less and moving more essentially equals weight loss.

55.    Double Up On Vegetables

My final tip I give to others trying to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle is to double up on your vegetables. Vegetables, when grilled or steamed, are great to provide satiety and control blood sugar. The vegetables I like to focus on are the leafy green ones, such as broccoli, asparagus, and spinach. They’re high in fiber and a serving or two can be very filling. Again, when you’re more full, you hopefully tend to eat less. Vegetables also have tons of micronutrients to help your body run optimally.

Be careful how you prepare your vegetables too. I know my family loves to put butter on top of their grilled asparagus, which again adds unnecessary calories. I like to add seasoning to my spinach or squeeze a lemon over my broccoli florets. A good trick when eating out too is to skip the mashed potatoes or French fries and instead get a second helping of steamed veggies. You’ll still get full, and save a bunch of calories. And don’t be afraid to ask them for no butter on the vegetables, their job is to make you happy.

Ultimately, to lose weight you need to expend more energy than you take in. The best, and most efficient, way to lose weight is to track what you’re eating and try to slowly consume less until you see the scale move downwards. I understand if people don’t want to take the time to plan their caloric intake, but in the end taking out the guesswork is the fastest way to see results. Either way, employing the five tips mentioned above can really help increase satiety, reduce your overall caloric intake, and hopefully get you started to losing weight.