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25 for 25:Training Tips to Build Muscle, Strength, and Athleticism-Part 2

I told you I’d be back. I’ve got over a dozen more tips to help you build muscle, strength and athleticism intermingled with lifestyle advice that’s made my life much more enriching and enjoyable.  If you haven’t read part one I strongly suggest you do so here ===> Part 1

If not then here’s the cliff notes version:

  1. Take everything with a grain of salt and find out why
  2. Hip Dominant exercises for bad knees
  3. Play more
  4. Stop training to failure
  5. Put more Pull in your training
  6. Train heavy while dieting
  7. Carb Backloading is awesome
  8. Deload your training for the love of god
  9. Perform mini-workouts
  10. There is no perfect diet
  11. Sacrifices must be made
  12. Read more, learn more
  13. How you train is what you get

14.Bruce Lee is the Man

Take any one of these quotes and live by it. My favorite is “To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.”

bruce lee knows how to build strength, muscle, and athleticism
Photo credit: http://marcus-chai.blogspot.com


15. Go Neutral 

Neutral hand position will place a greater amount of work on pushing and pulling muscles without compromising the position the shoulder joint. By dispersing the weight over the entire hand the load is spread evenly through the arm, maintaining forearm and elbow health. In pressing exercises keeping the elbows tucked decrease shoulder joint impingement. A neutral grip is your best choice with the presence of shoulder pain.

16.Stop Being a jerk

This should be a no-brainer but more people than not would rather trash someone or call them out rather than provide a solution. This is disgustingly prevalent in the fitness industry where we preach caring about people and improving lives. The hypocrisy is alarming.  Step up and be a leader, not a prick.

17.Have Free Days

Not all training needs to be recorded, planned, and calculated. It’s important to take time and do the things you enjoy in training. Stop being so  stingy and have some fun. 

(Note: I do this weekly, keeping one day where I don’t keep track and hit my biceps, calfs, lats, or whatever other exercise I’m looking to bring up. It’s made my training much more fun. )

18. High Frequency Training 

High-Frequency training is the best option for beginning lifters, athletes, and those looking to acquire a new movement skill as training movements with a high-frequency rapidly improves motor learning and skill acquisition. In other words, you’ll learn what to do and perfect your technique faster. In you’re a beginner then full body workouts are your premier muscle-building workout for improvements in both size and strength. ====> Learn More About High Frequency Training

 20.Everything has a risk/reward

This has become evident as I train a predominantly athlete population. Too often everything is said in absolutes because it’s influential writing.

“ Box squats are “the best way to do squats for strength or performance.”

You “must do the Olympic lifts to be athletic.”

“maximal strength is the most important quality to train.”

Those are all valid points, but everything has it’s place and everything is a tool.

No-one will have the same form–there are anatomical limb-length differences, injuries and bony junctures that require unique considerations. You just might not be built to do a specific lift, regardless of what the hottest  program on the market says. Consistently trying to jam square pegs into round holes will leave you beaten, broken, and weak.

Sorry, this won't help you unless you're training for the circus
Sorry, this won’t help you unless you’re training for the circus

21.Countdown sets > High Rep Sets

I’m not a huge proponent of high-rep training. In pursuit of reaching the numbers on a workout people sell out on technique and heave weight without care for form or control. In most cases I stick with countdown sets over high rep sets, here’s why:

  • Improved rep quality
  • Increase in total training volume
  • Increased cardiovascular demand
  •  Increased load at set reps

Here’s how to break it up:

  • Instead of 8 Reps per set Countdown 4-3-2-1
  • instead of 10 Reps per set Countdown 5-4-3-2-1
  • Instead of 12 Reps per set Countdown 6-5-4-3-2-1
  • Instead of 15 reps per set 7-6-5-4-3-2-1

22.Stop Multi-tasking

Don’t be the “10 year guy” who despite his hard work, lives the same life with the same body, same frustrations, and exact same goal. It’s probably that guy we all know doing 3 sets of 10 with 135 on the bench press every day.

Drop the act and get awesome by narrowing your focus. Here’s How:

1.Multitasking is less efficient. Switching back and forth between tasks zaps focus and takes more time.

2.Multitasking is complicated, leaving you more prone to mistakes and stress.

3.Multitasking makes you GO CRAZY. In this age of information we need to reign in terror and find a calm medium.

the Solution:

Pick a big goal. Following the goal, pick out what small, behaviors you can do each day for two weeks that will help you reach you goal. Once you have mastered and tracked that goal for two weeks, add to it with another behavior.

Main Goal: I want to gain 10 pounds of muscle

Behavior 1: Lift weights 4x per week focusing on squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and chin ups (check off everyday for two weeks)

Behavior 2: Consume a post-workout shake of 50g protein and 100g carbs. (check off everyday for two weeks)

Behavior 3: Get at minimum 6 hours of sleep per night. (check off everyday for two weeks)

Get the point? I work with my clients to add one behavior at a time for 12 week blocks. Taking things step by step, focusing on one goal at a time yields real, practical change no matter the goal.

P.S. Use this ===> Goal Tracking Sheet

23.Take Creatine

Creatine is the safest, most researched, and effective sports performance supplement on the market. In addition, creatine is now being researched as a study and cognitive aid. If you’re looking to increase your work capacity, strength, and power then it should be a supplement staple.

Get more creatine knowledge bombs from a post I did for Tony Gentilcore here: Creatine: Cutting to the Chase 

24.Practice what you preach and find a Mentor

Book and scientific knowledge is very useful, but it won’t make you stronger, shredded, athletic, or a better coach unless you apply what you know. Don’t be an internet hard-ass who critiques everyone, get uncomfortable, learn, and better yourself.

Admittedly I’ve struggled with criticism in the past—until I sought out mentors and coaches to learn from. Train hard, find someone better at it than you, and listen.

25.Do Floor Presses

Don’t get me wrong—I love the bench press, but my body doesn’t always agree. I still barbell press, but my heavy days are more shoulder friendly with the floor press. Plus, you’ll negate leg-drive and get the more pure-upper body strength exercise and develop a ton of deadstop-starting strength.

Get the details in an article I wrote for T-Nation here: Master the Floor Press

26.Travel More

Listen, you come up with every “yeah, but” excuse in the book but they’re all just a  cop-out.  At 25 I already notice how much more difficult it is to travel—commitments at home to my fiancée, my dog, my job, and my Facebook community all make it difficult. Regardless, I still book a trip every couple months because it helps me:

  1. Live life as an adventure
  2. Connect with more people and understand the world
  3.  Gain some damn culture!

You won’t regret leaving your weekends of watching movies on the couch—go explore, learn, and try something new.

Still not convinced? Read this: Travel while you’re young

27. My Mission is to give you the Tools to Take Control


Closing Thoughts:

I could keep going but this beastly post is over 2,000 words and nine pages, but at least I have a head-start for the next few years. No doubt this list will change and continue to grow. I have many ways to improve but being a young dude I’m looking forward to the challenges of becoming a better coach, leader, and person.

Hopefully these tips help you take control and get better, too.

In Strength,


25 for 25:Training Tips to Build Muscle, Strength, and Athleticism-Part 1

Considering I turn 25 at the end of this month I thought it’d be cool to spin off 25 Tips for 25 Years.  Yep—Training Tips to build muscle, strength, and athleticism tossed in with a few bits of randomness to guide your pursuit of a strong, shredded, and athletic body.

Well, That was the plan.  Then I couldn’t stop writing so you’re in for a few bonus tips.

Nuff’ chit-chat, lets get down to business.

 1.Take Everything with a Grain of salt

I used to believe everything said by my peers —whether it was from a popular website or word of mouth from someone in great shape if It was on the web or important enough to share it must be true. Problem is everyone has their biases and is a product of their unique experiences. It’s best determine things for yourself by becoming educated with experience in the gym, under the bar, on the field,  and through science.

Bottom Line: Try to take something from every experience and apply it to make yourself better,  but also ask ” why do they think this, what is there past, and does this necessarily apply to me.” Success speaks, but question everything with an open mind and find out “why”.

2. Focus on Hip Extension Dominant Exercises 

Most people are unable to master the basic “hinge” position and as a result use their lower back for most exercises, stick to potentially dangerous machines, and can’t reach full hip extension.
The result?

Pancake asses, back injuries, and no explosive power.
Tisk, Tisk.

Flip the script and master technique with  exercises like Romanian Deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, hackey pulls, cleans, and glute-bridges. In addition to growing a glorious set of butt cheeks you’ll be training movements that transfer athletically, resist back injuries, and improve your posture.


Luckily I had great parents growing up that taught me you reap what you sow and instilling the value of hard work.  Problem is I have issues relaxing and turning the switch to “off” until recently.
Hard work is great, but being all-work and no play is recipe for burnout and a pretty unhappy life.
Work hard, but  value un- winding and doing things for pure enjoyment.

Take some time to Play

P.S. go do something fun immediately after reading this.

4. Stop Training to Failure

Performing an exercise to failure consistently zaps the central nervous system (CNS) and will leave you exhausted and unable to train hard consistently. There’s a difference between what you feel and what’s creating an actual training stimulus. Keep the burn-outs to a minimum or at least stick to low-risk exercises like bodyweight movements or isolation exercises.

5. Use a 1:2 Push: Pull ratio

I’ve had Cranky and crunchy shoulders for years but I’ve still made pushing the most weight I could a priority.
That’s a damn good question. It’s probably because XYZ program from (enter your favorite major fitness site) said I need to train a big bench press or I’m a sissy destined to be small, weak, and un-athletic.

Personally, it’s no longer worth blitzing my shoulders to add 5 lbs to my bench, so I overhauled my training with a push-pull ratio of 1:2 and even 1:3 with carefully planned heavy pressing to fill my ego.  The result—Healthier (and bigger) shoulders, better posture, and a thicker yoke. Add in chin-ups whenever you pass the bar, do 100 band-pull a-parts daily, and perform a pulling exercise between every set of pushes.

How To Do Pull-Ups


6.Train Heavy When Dieting

Let’s make this clear—doing a significant cut really sucks, but the results are well worth it when you get that six pack or fit back into your “skinny clothes”. Problem is most people blitz themselves with high volume and low loads when in a caloric deficit.

That’s a No, No. Too much volume will be more than you’re able to recover from, zapping your energy and wrecking your hormones. 

Instead, use loads of 85+% of lifts to maintain/improve testosterone production, maintain strength, and preserve muscle mass when in a caloric deficit.

7.Erghh ma Gerd Carb Backloading 

 I’ve spoken ad-naseum on carb cycling and the importance of food choices over other factors, but carb backloading is awesome.

What it is: Eat a diet focused around healthy fats and lean protein for the majority of your day. Then, have large qualities of carbohydrates (if it fits your goals) at night.

By keeping carbs towards the end of the day you’re allowed more freedom to eat socially—large meals at night where you relax and enjoy good company. The increased carbs at night promotes relaxation and serotonin production, helping you sleep like a post-Thanksgiving turkey bender.

8. Take a Damn De-load Week

Like most of you I’ve fallen prey to the thought that more exercise is always better. Problem is if you never back off with a deload  you’re really limiting your performance gains and opening the door for injury.

It’s so important that I wrote an entire post on the deload and how to do it. Click here for the piece I did for Dean Somerset ==> Recovery and Adaptation: The missing piece in Training Program


Jump out of your chair and do 20 push-ups and 20 squats. Feel better?
Thought so.

Intersperse bodyweight workouts throughout your day whenever you get the chance: Do Push-ups, pull-ups, squats, or whatever floats your boat. You’ll feel better and accumulate a ton of training volume that adds up big time.

10. Read 1+ Hour/Day

I’m an avid reader, but it wasn’t always that way. Like anything else reading is a skill, you must extract the information you’re consuming and absorb it like a sponge.
You won’t get a better education value than spending $20 on a book every few weeks. There are people much smarter and better at things than you and I; invest your time in critically reading their work and you’ll hone your craft rapidly.

Vary your reading and get a blend—marketing, training, business development, sci-fi, 50 Shades of Kinky Grey it doesn’t matter, read things that challenge your mindset with the intent to learn. If you pick up a few things and disregard the rest of a book it’s perfectly fine.

Here are five of my favorites:

  • The Power of Less by Leo Babauta
  • Seth Godinà anything by him is gold
  • Supertraining by Siff and Verkhoshansky (get your exercise nerd on!)
  • The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
  • Why Zebras don’t  Get Ulcers By Robert M. Sapolsky

11.There is No Perfect Diet

Food choices are the key, not how and when you eat them. Intermittent fasting, carb backloading, six-meals per day, and Atkins are all great, but there is no perfect diet. Find what style of eating best suits your busy lifestyle, and then implement it with high quality food choices and discipline.

Hello Meat Sweats
Hello Meat Sweats


How far you fly depends on how hard you’re willing to work and what sacrifices you will make. Going out to get blitzed on Jager-bombs every weekend might be fun, but it’ll negate your diet and hard-work from the gym.   While you don’t need to completely neglect things you enjoy, step back, and see where you can improve.

13.You get what you train for

If you train like a bodybuilder you might build some solid muscle, but probably won’t be too athletic. Same thing with powerlifting, you’ll get strong, but will it transfer to looking good naked and being a high-performance beast? Nah. You MUST train for what you want. If you’re training is imbalanced your results will be imbalanced. If you don’t jump, run, cut, throw etc. you won’t be athletic, you’ll look like Tarzan and play like Jane.

Closing Thoughts:
“Wait, what? I thought you said 25?” I didn’t forget, but I know you and I can only focus on a blog post for a few minutes. Anymore and I start drawing random animals on the “paint” application and you’ll browse ESPN for the latest arrested athlete.
Anyways, some of those may be old-hat, but i’d implore you take these tips to heart and improve where you find holes in your life and training. Whether it immediately improves your training balance or makes you smarter I’m willing to bet you’ll take your training up a notch.

In Strength,

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