I Forgot To Work Out For Seven Years

Guest Post By Alex Cain

This is a fitness plan like no other that begins with the story of that time I forgot to work out for seven years. But don’t judge me. After all, everyone falls off the wagon now and then, right?  Why should future fitness trainers be the exception?

Here’s how I turned things around — and how you can, too.

Click here to  download my free eBook 4 Secrets of Looking 10 Years Younger in 10 Minutes. It has the full details. But we begin…

A long time ago, in a city far, far away.

Okay, it was 2012 and only 2,000 miles away.

I was in Chicago, a jazz musician living the jazz musician life (minus the drugs.)

Translation: I was 26 and broke. I’d been living on Ramen and Jack Daniel’s and hadn’t had a vegetable or a good night’s sleep in recent memory.

I was 175 pounds and what we in the fitness industry call “skinny fat.” (Skinny fat is when a person is not visibly overweight, but they have a high body fat percentage with little muscle on them.)

So, to sum up: broke, tired, malnourished, and weak. The perfect quad-fecta.

Now you’re thinking, “Do I really want to take fitness advice from this guy?”

Yes, you absolutely do. Because I turned it all around and got back in the best shape of my life.

The Origin Story

Obviously, I wasn’t born a skinny-fat musician in Illinois.

I grew up in the Seattle area and was a very athletic kid. Playing baseball was my reason for living in those days. It was my alpha and omega, and I prayed daily to my baseball God, Derek Jeter.

 

And I was good. I was always skinny growing up, but really strong. I was freakin’ fast, had a great glove, hit for a high average (with lots of doubles) and stole truckloads of bases. I even had a stretch where I didn’t make a fielding error for almost two seasons.

Tooting my own baseball horn is just to set up how devastated I was when I tore my rotator cuff late in my High School years. It destroyed any chance I had at playing in college.

It was world-ending. I had to quickly switch gears and get into something else.

I’d been a band geek since 4th grade and had started singing in Junior  High. By the time I graduated, I’d participated in All-State band/orchestra and a U.S. Concert Band European Tour as a trombonist. As a singer, I’d won the State title in classical and musical theater vocal performance. Not a shabby backup plan.

So, in college I was a musician. I got a degree in Jazz Studies: Vocal Performance and Music Business. I moved to Chicago. I tried to start an Independent Jazz Label called Second Balcony Records.

I lost all my money, strength, and my independence from alcohol. I got fired from several jobs.

I was struggling hard and losing.

The Comeback Kid

Don’t worry, dear reader, this is where your humble narrator turns it around.

Realizing this lifestyle was not only unhealthy but terribly unenjoyable, I moved back home. With my parents. At age 26. Not great for the self-esteem, and even worse for dating.

But, I got to eat real food and sleep well. After a solid month of sleeping, I got a job at Gold’s Gym working the front desk with a bunch of High Schoolers.

Then one day, realizing my arms were small and my stomach doughy, I decided it was time to get back in shape.

Cue the montage music.

Alex Cain Fitness PlanThis was when I decided to become a trainer. Since then, I have been devouring every piece of fitness info I can find, and earning numerous certifications.

It has been the most fun and rewarding chapter of my life.

I dropped my extra fat, build 30lbs of muscle, and got a six pack. My deadlift went from 135 (I’d never deadlifted before) to 405. I finally benched more than 225. My squats and lunges stopped hurting and got strong. I regained my confidence, slept better, and had more endurance than the Energizer Bunny.

The journey changed my life and inspired me to help other people take control of their health.

Great Story, What’s In It For Me?

In fairness to you, patient reader, I’ll summarize the trials and tribulations of my “get strong and healthy” journey, and distil the events to the interesting bits.

The five most important aspects of getting from scrawny back to brawny were as follows:

1)   BE CONSISTENT. It’s the roughest habit to build, but once you do everything gets easier. Go to the gym every day. Don’t feel like working out? Ok. Go to the gym, do one exercise, go home. Is it your rest day? Cool. Go to the gym, sit in the sauna, go home. Park your car in the gym lot for 5 minutes then leave. Do whatever is necessary to make going to the gym seem as regular and low-hassle as possible.

2)   ASSESS YOUR WEAKNESSES. Often, this takes a seasoned pro to do correctly. You must identify your problems. I had tight quads and a weak posterior chain (back, glutes, hamstrings). This caused knee problems. Without addressing my glute weakness I’d be one of those guys saying dumb stuff like “Squats are bad for my knees”. Spoiler alert: they aren’t. You squat wrong. Find out your imbalances and asymmetries and get to work on fixing them.

3)   LIFT FREE WEIGHTS. Machines are for fragile, injured, or lazy people. There, I said it. There are specific exceptions to this rule, but for general fitness stay off machines. Using free weights (dumbbells and barbells) for compound movements will bring the most satisfying and rapid results you can get in a gym.

4)   EAT BETTER. You don’t have to count calories. Just cut out the obvious garbage food and eat like a grown up. Eat veggies and lean protein with every meal. Remember when you were a kid and you’d beg your parents to take you to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal? Whenever you get the craving for fast food, you’re that kid again. Don’t be a child, be your own parent. You’d be amazed at how far that simple advice will take you.

5)   GET A PRO TO HELP YOU. I was lucky working in a gym. I made friends with the training staff and they’d help me along the way. Then I became a trainer and learned more than I thought I could know about how the human body works. I can’t stress enough the importance of well informed, professional guidance. That program you found on the internet wasn’t made for you. That’s why it doesn’t work. You will improve by leaps and bounds if you are doing exercise customized for you.

There’s much more about all this in my free eBook 4 Secrets of Looking 10 Years Younger in 10 Minutes. Download it here right now.

The Saga Continues…

From here on out, the goal is to help you do the same. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I made all the mistakes you will make on your own. Then I learned how to completely avoid them with exercise science.

A wise guy once said “Do or do not. There is no try.” So, don’t wait seven years like I did. Don’t just try to do better. Commit. Go all-in on yourself.

Do it.

Seriously, if this scrawny punk can do it, you definitely can.

Then: I’m on the right, and that shirt is a medium.

Then: I’m on the right, and that shirt is a medium.


Now: Stud-muffin, shirt also medium.

About The Author

Alex Cain helps people unleash their inner superhero. He’s worked with everyone from high school and college athletes shooting for the big leagues to rehab patients. But he now focusses mostly on “regular folks” who want to lose weight, gain muscle and look great. Did he mention he wrote an eBook called 4 Secrets to Looking 10 Years Younger in 10  Minutes?  You should download it by clicking here. Really.

28 Tips to Build Muscle and Strength

Let’s keep this simple.

I turned 28 this past week and honestly, this is the first time I sat back and thought….

Holy shit. I’m creepin’ in on 30. And while I don’t feel older, a few interesting things happen when you enter your late(r) 20’s.

The real world smacks you up a few times. For me, training is iron therapy. Whether it’s a daily stressor or something major, the gym has always been a place where nothing else mattered. Conquer the weight, and you can conquer anything you put your mind too.

On a more serious note, hangovers are much worse. Seriously. WTF?

You reflect on what you’ve done and what you where you want your career to take you.

Time doesn’t seem like a luxury; rather, a rapidly depleting asset. Whether you’re 18, 28, or 48, there is no time like the present to take massive action.

Natural testosterone and growth hormone levels taper off. Training correctly, eating healthy, and focusing on a healthy lifestyle can prevent much of this, but it’s still a humbling realization.

So, in the spirit of 28 years, here are 28 tips to build muscle and strength help you build lean muscle and strength to look, feel, and perform your best.

Pick a few of these tips and starting taking massive action. Soon, you’ll be making the best gains of your life.

Enjoy,

Eric


1.Consistency is King

Find the program you’ll do consistently. 3x per week for months and years is better than 5x/week with missed workouts and long layoffs.

 

2.Train around pain, not through it.

If it hurts, don’t do it. Then, find the cause.

 

3.When in doubt, follow this training split

This is simple, straightforward, and will build strength and muscle without living in the gym.

Monday: Upper (heavy)

Wednesday: Lower (heavy)

Friday: Upper (volume)

Saturday: Total Body (volume)+ isolation work

 

4.Get Strong First

Building muscle depends on first having a base level of strength. This means strength allows you to lift heavier weights for more reps, progressive overload, the driving force for all progress in the gym. Get strong first. Trust me, everything else will be much easier.

 

5.Warm-Up

Take 5-10 minutes to warm-up. No more, no less. This warm-up will change your training, I promise.

6.Do Three Ramp Sets before your heavy work set

Don’t jump right into your work set. If you squat 225×10 in today’s workout, do one at 135×10, a second with 185×5, then a third at 205 x3 reps. This primes your nervous system for more strength gains and over time adds volume to help you build muscle.

Related: Ramping Sets for Brutal Strength

 

7.Do an Explosive Movement

Jumps, medicine ball throws, and explosive push-ups fire up your CNS, which helps you activate more muscle fibers. The muscle fibers you activate, the more muscle you can build. Plus, you’ll boost athleticism.

8.Lift Heavy and build Strength

Using heavy weights for 1-6 rep sets activate more muscle, create hormonal changes for growth, and supply the necessary tension to build lean muscle.

 

9.Chase the Pump

To maximize muscle growth you need metabolic stress to trigger growth. Add in higher rep sets from 8-15+ reps with incomplete rest. YES, this should be difficult.

 

10. Finish Workouts with a Carry

Farmers walks build a strong, resilient, and muscular body from head to toe. Pick up something heavy, squeeze it to death, and walk tall like your head/spine are on a string. Try grabbing plates or dumbbells and go for 60-second walks.

Build Muscle and Strength

 

11. Train Muscle Groups More Often

Frequent training yields quicker skill development, meaning you’ll get better at your most important lifts, faster. Combine this with the fact that the more often you stimulate a muscle, the more protein stimulus you’ll create, and you have the perfect recipe to build lean muscle and strength.

Related: High-Frequency Training For Maximum Gains

12.Vary Your Reps

Heavyweights for 1-6 reps create tension. 8-12 rep sets provide high tension, volume, and metabolic damage. High rep sets “shock” your body into growth.

Use them all.

13.Use Fat Gripz For Bigger Arms

Most folks neglect their forearms. Use Fat Gripz to build bigger arms, a stronger grip, and reduce stress on the wrists, shoulders, and elbows.

Wrapping up today's #training session with a killer drop set using @fatgripz Hit 12-15 reps using a double overhand grip on the fat gripz, pausing and squeezing for peak contraction at the top of the rep. Once grip fails or you get to your rep goal move to a neutral grip chest supported row until failure. This absolutely crushes your #traps, rhomboids, forearms, and last. Here's why you should try it… Fat gripz force you to grip harder, building crushing grip strength and adding tons of metabolic stress to grow your arms. Because you have to squeeze as hard as possible you improve muscle fiber recruitment through your entire upper body via irradiation. Improved focus. The minute our lose focus on your technique or get lazy your grip will fail and the set ends. More mental engagement improves training quality above all else. And finally… you'll get an insane #biceps and #forearm pump. We both know that's what really matters 💪🏼😉 P.S. Want to build a high performance body that looks as well as it performs? Join the Bach Performance community to cut through the b.s. And start making the best progress of you life. Link in bio:

A post shared by bachperformance (@bachperformance) on

14.Pick One Goal

Pick one goal. Only one. If you chase two rabbits you’ll catch none. You can’t lose 20 pounds, get 17-inch arms, and dunk all at once. Go all in, then change.

15.Get Lean first

Men, if you’re over 17% body fat then you need to diet down first. Ladies, the same rule applies if you’re over 25% body fat. Trust me, it’s much easier to gain lean muscle with better insulin sensitivity and health. If you’ve got a beer gut and go into bulk mode, you’ll be gaining more fat around your waist than muscle on your chest and arms.

A crummy proposition, right?
Lose fat, aiming to be 12-14% or less for men, and 20% or less for women, then try to add muscle.

16.Lower Slower, Grow Faster

The eccentric or negative action creates a ton of muscle-building stimulus. Lower under control, add in a pause, and press back up. Take 2-4 seconds on the way down.

17.Create the Mind Muscle Connection

Flex your target muscle for 5-10 seconds before you lift. Or, add a 15 rep pause at your stick point on isolation work, such as the half-way point on a biceps curl. If you can’t feel a muscle, it won’t grow.

 

18.Hard Conditioning Once or Twice Per Week

Do you want to become an unathletic, fat blog? No. Get off the couch and sprint, run stairs, play a sport, or do intervals each week.

19.Take Less Rest On Isolation Work

Seriously, these little muscles don’t need three minutes to recover. The goal of isolation work is to pump the shit out of your muscles. Reduce rest, create the pump needed for growth, and get out of the gym faster.

2o. Get Stronger Over Time

You don’t need to PR every single day. BUT, you should get a few pounds stronger each month. This takes time. Stay patient and add weight to the bar.

21.Perform a Horizontal Row Each Day

Dumbbell row, barbell row, inverted row in a rack, row with a TRX, or do a cable row. Do some horizontal pulling motion to build thicker arms, a strong back, and prevent shoulder injuries. Every. Single. Day.

Here’s one of my favorites.

22.Deload

To fully benefit from your training you need a periodic deload. If your body can’t super compensate and come back stronger, you’re wasting your time. I prefer a deload (use lighter weights and less volume) for one week every 12 weeks.

23.Track Calories…Occasionally.

Bodyweight in pounds x14+300 calories per day. Aim for this number of calories first. Is the scale moving? Good. Stay with it.

Not budging? Add 300 calories.

24.Eat Protein and Veggie With Each Meal

Eat a serving of protein the size of your palm with each meal. Have a veggie too. Don’t neglect health. Without a healthy body and a healthy gut, you’ll struggle to build muscle.

25.Sleep 6-8 hours

Sleep is the best thing you’re not doing for your body. Get 6-8 hours of sleep per night. This optimizes mental function and anabolic hormone levels to keeping you in a good mood. If it came down to training one less day per week and getting more sleep, more sleep would be better.

26.Avoid Blue Light

Get blue light filters. I have them. They’re hideous. But…I can watch Breaking Bad reruns and still sleep like a baby. If you work late, put the “flux” blue light filter on your computer.

27. Supplements

Supplements are to supplement a healthy diet. If you take anything, consider a quality protein powder, creatine monohydrate, magnesium, greens powder, Vitamin D, and a high-quality fish oil. Honestly, this is all I’d consider.

28.Limit the Booze, Buddy

Hey, it’s my birthday and I’ll kick back a bourbon or three. But overall, limit yourself to 6 or fewer drinks per week if you’re serious about gaining size and strength. This should be enough for you to enjoy time with your buddies or have a drink to unwind. But keep in mind, excess alcohol crushes your testosterone, growth hormone, sleep quality, and motivation. Fitness should improve your life, not consume it. Have a few drinks, but stay within reason.


Did you enjoy this post?

If so, here’s a FREE Muscle Building Cheatsheet with 25 Expert Tips from the Worlds Best Coaches.

Thanks!

-Eric

Five Ways To Stay in Shape At Age 40+

5 Ways To Stay In Shape At Age 40+

If you’re over 40, can you live up to the saying: “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better!”

Can you stay in shape, or is it all downhill?

Can you avoid the pain of achy joints and the disappointment of losing muscle strength?

5 Ways To Stay In Shape At Age 40+, Stay in shape

Consider the story I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago about a guy who trains at my gym. He puts in the work, but there’s a problem.

He does the same exercises and uses the same weight every time. There is no rhyme and no reason. And he looks the same…day after day, week after week, even year after year.

He’s annoyed by his lack of progress. He’s using the same workout routine he used when he was 25.  But now  his joints constantly ache. He hasn’t gotten any stronger. He doesn’t have more energy. His arms haven’t grown bigger. And most of all, he’s pissed that he can’t lose stubborn lower belly fat.

The reason?

If you don’t push your body beyond what it’s currently doing, it won’t change. What works early on in your fitness journey won’t always help you stay in shape.

When I posted the story on Facebook, controversy erupted, along with some misinterpretation. (Oh, the joys of social media.) But amidst the trolling, a great question was asked.

How does “progression” change when you get older?

Whether you have decades of experience or are walking into the gym for the first time, here are specific ways to train smart over the age of 40.

Determine Your Goal

What is progress to you? Different goals require different plans of action and levels of determination. Consider the following.

You Want to Gain Muscle or Minimize the Loss of Lean Muscle

Maintaining lean muscle mass and strength is progress in and of itself. This study suggests untrained people will start losing strength and muscle at age 30. Yikes.

If you’re in your 30’s and not exercising, now is the time to start.  You can delay the bad stuff. Those who already train, like my client Tim, can take their fitness step further stay jacked.

Here’s a picture of Tim and me training nearly six years ago. Today? Well, he still has bigger biceps than I do. Damn it.

training over 40, Stay in shape

The benefits of gaining lean muscle:

  • The more lean muscle you have, the more muscle glycogen your muscles will store. Besides keeping your muscles looking full, increasing glycogen storage in your muscles creates a “dietary buffer” that allows for more flexible food choices. Hello, steak and potatoes.
  • Lean muscle mass improves insulin sensitivity, helping you become more efficient with breaking down and using food. You’ll also decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
  • It helps you look pretty fucking awesome. You’ll be strong, athletic, and capable of handling yourself in the gym and out in the world.
  • Muscle is metabolically “expensive,” meaning it takes more energy to maintain lean muscle mass than fat mass. This supports a healthy metabolism and makes it easier to stay lean.
  • When you lose body fat, muscle provides the “tone” shape, and/or definition you crave. Dieting only takes you so far. You need a base of lean muscle to get the look you’re after.

What About Getting Stronger?

Getting strong is a great way to stave off muscle loss and improve everyday function and energy. Regardless of your age, the rules of progressive overload always apply. To build muscle and strength in the gym you’ll need to do more than your body is accustomed too.

But don’t limit your options to heavier weights or more reps. Maintaining your strength but improving range of motion, technique, or using a slower tempo is overload, after all.

Here’s why maintaining or even improving your strength is so important:

  • Strength makes everything else easier, meaning you’ll have more functional capacity to do everyday activities.
  • Strength increases muscle fiber recruitment. Building (or even maintaining) strength helps you maintain muscle fiber function, particularly type 2 muscle fibers. This helps you maintain athleticism. On the other side, type 2 muscle fibers, the fast twitch ones, can help prevent falls as you reach the twilight years.
  • Strength training can reduce bone loss (osteoporosis) and muscle loss, atrophy. In both cases, you’ll gain the strength and structure to perform regular activities with ease.

It’s clear lean muscle and strength play an important role in helping you maintain a high quality of life as you age. But here’s the deal: A 55-year-old lifter probably can’t do the same stuff as the 25-year-old hot shot at the gym.

How Does Making Progress Change?

If you’re new to training. You’ll be able to build lean muscle and strength by weight training 2-3x per week. You’ll make gains right away by improving your central nervous system (CNS) function as your body learns to activate more muscle fibers and improve coordination between muscles and movements. We call this neural adaptation. Further along down the road, eating a diet to support building lean muscle will help. Don’t expect to build tons of muscle if you’re older. But remember: even a slight increase or maintenance over time is extremely beneficial.

If you’re an experienced lifter. Yes, you can still make gains. But chances are your body won’t take kindly to chasing strength records as your only means of making progress. Look for other methods to create progressive overload.

  • Slow down your tempo. This creates more time under tension, which helps you build lean muscle and do more work with less total weight.
  • Add pauses during your reps. This builds strength in common weak points and increases time under tension. Together, this can drive gains in strength and muscle.
  • Increase your range of motion. More range of motion will hit a greater number of muscle fibers. Make sure your form is tip-top.
  • Decrease rest periods to increase the cardiovascular and metabolic demand of your training. Always good to lose the spare tire, right?
  • Give timed sets a whirl. Your body doesn’t know reps or weight, it knows tension and time. Battle the clock, like performing a set of goblet squats for 45 seconds, instead of chasing rep or resistance based- records.

Putting It All Together

Lift weights two or three times per week to get stronger. Keep your focus on the bread and butter lifts of all good programs: Squats, hinges, rows, presses, lunges, and carries. Don’t be obsessed with setting a PR or stick to barbells as your only training tool. Use whatever tools allow for pain-free training, bump the reps up a little bit, and get after it. Done right, you’ll improve muscle fiber recruitment and stave off sarcopenia, the dreaded “

Done right, you’ll improve muscle fiber recruitment and stave off sarcopenia, the dreaded “age-related muscle loss” that drains your performance, physique, and strength.

Add movements like skipping, light rope-jumping, cariocas, and other athletic-based movements to improve your balance, coordination, and athleticism. Learning (or relearning) new skills is great for both mind and body. Challenging your body keeps neural pathways fresh for better physical and cognitive function. As a bonus, many of my clients have said this is a fun change of pace.

Five Tips for Training Smarter

1. There are NO absolutes.

No, you don’t need to do a barbell back squat. Or a deadlift. Or (for the love of god) bosu ball jump squats. In the gym, there are no absolutes. Don’t fall prey to the dogmatic folks who say, “you need to do this” or nothing works.

Here are a few common sense rules to keep you in the right direction.

(1) If something hurts, don’t do it.

(2) Move your body in multiple ways. Push, pull, squat, hinge, and carry stuff.

(3) Don’t fall in love with one tool. Use your bodyweight, dumbbells, kettlebells, or whatever you have around you. See what forces you to work hard without breaking you down.

2.  Warm Up Every Day

Most people spend their days hunched over computers and phones. Over time, that takes its toll. The bad posture gets hard wired into your system and becomes the new “natural.”

Take time each day to move in new ways. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but stay active.

Use the mobility drills and activation outlined here to increase your mobility, reduce pain, and improve posture.

This is the exact warm-up my clients follow day in and day out.

 

3. Reduce Axial Loading

Axial loading, known as loading from the top-down in the lifting world, is done via exercises like back squats, cleans, and military presses. In small doses, axial loaded exercises are great. They’re the big compound movements. They improve bone density, total body strength, muscle mass, and are important for building a strong, athletic body.

But you must do them sparingly. The older you become, the less tolerant you’ll be too heavy and explosive exercises. Your spine won’t tolerate heavy compressive load from heavy weights or shear stress.

These exercises aren’t bad. They’re only problematic when they’re poorly planned, don’t allow enough recovery, and irritate chronic injuries like a twinge knee or achy back.

If you’re going to do squats, presses, and deadlifts, cool. They’re great exercises. But pay close attention to how your body recovers.

4. Make Heavy Days Lighter and Less Frequent

The biggest difference between now and ten years from now will be how often you’re able to lift heavy.

While heavy one-five rep sets are great for building strength, more experienced lifters will have a much harder time recovering from heavier weights. Instead of always blitzing the 1-5 rep range, bump strength work to 4-8 reps, control the eccentric (way down) and accelerate every rep on the way up.

If my clients want to push strength numbers in these lifts, We keep “heavy” sets in the 4-8 rep range rather than 1-5 rep sets. Further, we ramp up to heavy 5-8 rep maxes every 4-6 weeks, not weekly.

Feel free to lift heavy regardless of your age, but pay close attention to how your body tolerates the stress. Consider a deloading from axial loaded exercises every 8-10 weeks to give your body a break. Once you have a significant base of strength, you’ll preserve most of your strength and might even build more muscle in this rep range, all while preserving your joints for the long haul.

5. Find the Routine You Will Do, No Matter The Circumstances

Training four or five times per week with strength work, mobility, and conditioning is great. But sometimes it’s impossible to do everything when you have work obligations, kids, school, and dozens of commitments.

Instead of skipping the gym when life gets crazy, understand what you’re capable of doing consistently and schedule training like a non-negotiable meeting. If you skip make the gym, perform this short routine every morning when you get up.

Set a timer for ten minutes and do this:

– Push Up x10
– Squat x10
– Inchworm x5
Groiner with T-Rotation x1/side
– Side lunge x5/side

This takes just ten minutes each day. That’s it.

Remember, half the battle is getting there. Sometimes it’s okay to maintain. When the chance arises, increase your focus and intensity.

In the greater scheme of fitness, an imperfect fitness routine performed consistently will win out over the “perfect” program done sporadically.

Go Forth and Live Well

Growing older is part of life. The pursuit of a healthy, strong, and energetic body is about pushing past your comfort zones and getting a little bit better over time.

But there are many ways to accomplish your goals.

Don’t fall for the trap that you “must do” any one thing. The only absolute in training is there are none.

Instead, find what you enjoy and do it consistently.

Even more important, find out what agrees with your body and keep doing it. If exercises are making you hate the gym or causing old pains to creep back in, take them out and find the cause.

The real goal of the gym is to challenge yourself and take action to conquer what was previously deemed unconquerable.

The payoff is a happier, healthier and longer life. And big biceps. 😉

Physique Training For Athletes: Look, Feel, and Perform Superhuman

Look, Feel, and Perform Like an Athlete

Look, Feel, and Perform Like an Athlete

Physique training for athletes? WTF? Is that a joke?

Training for physique and improving athletic performance are often seen as opposite goals. Which brings us to a common cliché: “opposites attract.” And like most clichés, this one contains a large measure of truth. But does it apply to training for physique (lookin’ better naked) and improving performance?

More importantly, can you harness the power of opposites to your benefit and have it all? That would include an athletic body and that looks like it’s a few weeks of dieting away from being on a magazine cover.

Want to Look better naked and perform like an athlete? I’ll show you how in our FREE course Seven Days to Superhuman. Click here to Join the FREE Course.

The Physique-Performance Dilemma

At one end of the spectrum lies physique. That would be physique-driven training aimed at maximizing lean muscle gains while staying more shredded than a julienne salad. (Yes, that was a Tropic Thunder reference.)

At the other end of the spectrum lies performance. That’s training focused on optimizing movement efficiency, strength, and speed to improve sports performance.

Can You Improve Performance AND Look Better Naked?

In a word, yes.

But it requires specific planning.

To be the best in anything, you need to eventually specialize in it.

This is why:

  • Tom Brady doesn’t strut onto the Olympia stage in a pair of nut-huggin’ briefs.
  • Rich Froning isn’t huckin’ touchdown passes all over the field.
  • Phil Health doesn’t crush cleans and kipping pull-ups at The Crossfit games.

World class performance requires a narrow focus and specialization.

But for you, me…and 99.9% of the people meandering around the gym? We’re pretty damn good, but we’re not world class. If you’re willing to make reasonable compromises in both physique and performance you can lose fat, build muscle, and improve your athleticism at once.

Sound too good to be true?

It’s not. You can drive performance gains while simultaneously building muscle and losing fat.

But it takes time. You’ll need an expert plan, patience, and consistency. Which brings us to…

What Happened At the Coffee Shop

The other day I grabbed a coffee (well, a red-eye with an extra shot of espresso) with a prospective client, Ryan, at a basic coffee shop near the gym. Ryan is a 29-year-old former college athlete sick of watching his gut grow bigger and clothes grow tighter (in a bad way.) His athleticism is vanishing and he isn’t happy with how he looks.

As we chatted, he made it crystal clear what he wanted: everything.

He didn’t want to train like an athlete anymore. His shoulder aches and his back twinges. Still, he wants to stay athletic, but he’s really more concerned how he looks and regaining the “I can accomplish anything confidence” he had in his early 20’s.

Translation: He wants to be confident and get laid more without looking like a scrub when he’s playing pick-up basketball. No harm in that!

Here’s my step-by-step process to creating the ultimate plan for Ryan. If you’re looking to boost athleticism and look a bit better naked, this sample template can serve as a guideline for your next training plan.

The Warm-Up (8-12 minutes total)

The typical gym-goer spends their day crunched up in a desk, car, or keeled over their phone. They’re left with chronically agitated body positions like locked-up hips, internally rotated shoulders, stiff backs, and dormant glutes that leave them with pain and quasi-modo-esque posture. Sexy. The best remedy is a specialized warm-up to attack stubborn tight spots, activate weak and dormant muscle groups, and wake your body up for intense training.

General warm-up

This is a three to five-minute spurt of general activity followed by five to seven minutes of dynamic activation drills. I’m not too specific here–get up, move, and warm your body up with a rower, jump-rope, or bike. Alternatively, bodyweight circuits work well.

Sample Bodyweight Circuit
Push-Up
Bodyweight Squat
Inverted Row
Reverse lunge
2×8 for all movements and minimal rest.

Activation and Mobilization
Emphasize improving movement through the hips, trunk, and shoulders. Moving from simple to complex drills. Hold each position for one or two seconds at the end range of motion.

Do these drills daily, as mentioned in my Warm Up Every Day article. You’ll find thorough explanations of each exercise there.

Quadruped Fire Hydrant 1×6

 

Quadruped Hip extension 1×6


Sumo-Squat to stand 1×6

Groiner with t-rotation 1×3/side

 

Inchworm 1×6


Overhead extension+ floor slide 1×6

 

I tend to keep all prehab/rehab based movements during the warm-up. If we need to dig into the nitty-gritty of improving T-spine or hip mobility, we’ll do it here then move on.

Workout Specific Warm-Up+ Power Development:
3-10 Minutes

Moving past the general warm-up, we look directly at the training goal for the day. Is it strength or power? Hypertrophy or fat loss?

I used to jump directly into a heavy lift after the warm-up, but I’ve found people have fewer injuries and better performance with a little more work.

Spending additional time grooving movement patterns is a great way to add pain-free volume for muscle growth. It also fires up your nervous system for better strength, power, and athleticism.

Lower Body Focus, Squat Example
1a. 45 degree back extension 3×10 Rest 0-30 seconds
1b. Pick one of the following: squat jump, box jump, medicine ball back toss. 3×5, rest 60-90 seconds

Why: This fires up your glutes, lower back, and prepares your posterior chain for all the gains. Explosive exercise to improve muscle fiber recruitment and athleticism.

Lower Body Hinge Pattern
1a. ½ kneeling Pallof press 3×8 rest 30 seconds
1b. Broad jump, box jump, or medicine ball back toss 3×3, rest 60-90 seconds

Why: Provide additional activation for deep stabilizers before heavy or explosive loading. Then, groove explosive movement pattern similar to the lift.

Upper Body
1a. Band dislocations 3×8 rest 0 seconds
1b. Band pull-apart 3×8 rest 0 seconds
1c. Clap push-up or medicine ball overhead slam 3×8 rest 60-90 seconds

Why: Here, we improve shoulder mobility activate the muscles responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint, then add an explosive exercise to improve muscle fiber recruitment.

In all cases, we’re focused on movement quality and the mind-muscle connection first. Then if it fits your goals an explosive movement to boost athleticism, prime the CNS, and increase muscle fiber recruitment.

Strength (15-30+ Minutes Depending on the Day)

At this point, you’ve attacked faulty movement patterns, addressed weak-points, and fired up your CNS to move some weight. It’s time for world domination (aka lifting heavy ass weight!)

Focus on one or two strength movement per session and use primarily total body, upper-lower, or push-pull-legs style training splits.

Here are my favorite strength movements:

Lower Body: Conventional deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, back squats, front squats (here’s a wicked progression), or cleans

Upper Body: Chin-up (rings or rotating handles), dips (rings or rotating handles), floor press, close grip bench press, low incline press, single arm press, single arm clean and press, seated military press.

Reps and Maxes: Confession time. I rarely have clients shoot for a true one rep max. The risk isn’t worth the reward most times and we’re better off building strength with near maximal strength work between three and six reps. Older, seasoned, and more beat up lifters stay in the five to eight rep range.

The trade-off for a new 1-2 rep max P.R. is rarely worth the injury risk and systemic fatigue. Translation: it’s not worth feeling like dog shit for 2-3 days after all your lifts unless you’re training purely for performance.

Micro Progressions and Variations: Within each lift, we hit a ton of variety and cycle lifts frequently. Besides keeping lifts *fun* for clients, the slight tweaks prevent overuse and redundant movement patterns that can cause injuries. Make slight changes to:
Tempo (add a pause or longer eccentrics, like this neutral grip pull up)

 Mid-rep pauses (like this isodynamic biceps curl)

 

Accommodating resistance, like these band-resisted trap bar deadlifts

 

 

Every change, no matter how small, results in a different exercise with different muscle recruitment and adaptation for your body. If a movement pattern feels stale, even a slight change can bust you out of a rut without completely changing a program.

Your body doesn’t know an exact lift. It purely understands time, tension, coordination, and calling muscle fibers to generate force. Don’t fall in love with a particular lift. Once you’re strong, add in slight changes to avoid clawing your eyes out from boredom and continue riding the gains train to a better body.

Hypertrophy Portion (15-30 minutes)

Think back to when you looked your best. You weren’t just leaner; you were also younger, more active, and probably had more muscle mass.

With that is mind, training to build muscle mass is the most important factor in radically changing body composition…ergo looking better naked. Hell, more literature comes out daily that maximizing muscle retention is vital to your long-term health.

Why Muscle Mass Matters

Having more muscle mass can…
1. Improve insulin sensitivity, helping you lose weight and control blood sugar more easily. Basically, you’ll use food for what you want (exercise recovery, muscle growth), rather than adding fat.
2. Increase metabolism: Burn more fat at rest. Game blouses.
3. Lead to more activity: Given your strength also improves, everything in life gets easier from climbing stairs to chasing your nephew. More muscle begets you to be more active.
4. Make you look hotter. In clothes. Or naked.
5. Build a “dietary” buffer. Ever scowl at those jacked Fit Pro’s posting pictures of doughnuts? Me, too. But having greater muscle mass allows more flexibility in your diet. Your “cheat days” will be less harmful.

34577979 - muscular man skipping rope. portrait of muscular young man exercising with jumping rope on black background

In the hypertrophy portion of your workout, we’ll bump the reps up to 8-15+ reps per set, keeping rest periods from 15 seconds to 90 seconds. You’ll need to push the tempo, sweat, and bust your ass. But hey, nobody said it would be easy, right?

We’ll be attacking three main factors to help you build more muscle:

Mechanical Stress
Mechanical tension is achieved by using a substantial load and performing exercises through a full range of motion for a certain amount of time. The time you spend under load creates mechanical tension in the muscles to drive the anabolic process.

Metabolic Stress
Gettin’ a wicked pump isn’t just for stretching shirt-sleeves and feeling awesome, it plays an important role in hypertrophy. When you work out hard to achieve a pump, you build up lactate, hydrogen ions, creatinine, and other metabolites, but you also prevent blood from escaping. This metabolic stress plays a key role in signaling muscular growth.

Muscular Damage
Soreness is part of the training game. The inflammatory process from muscular damage actually aids in muscle growth. But too much muscle damage can keep you out of the gym, restricting your #gains. Pick two or three exercises based on your training for the day. Aim for anywhere between 25 and 50 reps with a slower tempo and 8-15 reps per set. Then add one or two more exercises focused on ultra-high reps, 15-25 reps for one or two sets. Keep the rest short, stress high, and make gains.

Finishers/Conditioning
The occasional 5-10 minute finisher or high-intensity conditioning bout can make you one tough cookie. You’ll build muscle, supercharge fat loss, and get the mental edge to dominate in and out of the gym. You can read more about finishers here.

Don’t crush yourself every time you hit the gym. Random challenges for the sake of being a training sadist and muscle “confusion” is a sure fire way to stay injured. But use periodic throwdowns and epic finishers as challenges to t0 see how tough you really are. They can help you conquer plateaus.

 

What you can do Going Forward

Ask what is missing from your current workout. Focus on giving your body the training it needs so you can look and perform the way you want.

This means hypertrophy routine would focus a little less on strength, power, and performance and more on volume and bodybuilding methods.

A performance focus would have a greater focus on strength and power, with less volume and fewer bodybuilding methods.

You can blend multiple levels of performance at any given time, but the attention you pay to each component should be specific to your goals at the point in time.

 

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McGill S. Low Back Disorders – Evidence-Based Prevention and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Human Kinetics; 2002

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