Friday, February 13, 2015

J. Arthur Squiers on the Tom Barnard Show (at 1:30:00 timestamp)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

New Adventures

It's been a long time since I've written a post and a lot has happened since then.  We are back into running again (it was mostly hardcore weight lifting before).  The goal is to really lean out and aim for extremely fit and athletic.  We've also gotten into watersports quite a bit (mostly wakesurfing).  This has lead me to pursue another passion of mine, mobile app development.  Here is our latest creation:

This is going to be my focus for now.  If you are into watersports, I encourage you to try this app.



Saturday, February 16, 2013

Time To Start Cutting

It's cutting time.  For the most part, I've reached my goal.  I'm weighing around 202 lbs and I've learned a lot in the process.  I didn't stay quite as lean as I would have liked, but when you already have some size, it is extremely hard to gain muscle efficiently without accumulating some fat.
All bulked out and ready to cut

As someone who really enjoys bodybuilding (without competing), this is a strange dichotomy to deal with.  It is really fun to walk into the gym feeling like you are busting out of your sleeves more and more each week, yet it's not so fun to watch your abs gradually disappear.

In the process of my "winter bulk", I gained about 25 lbs.  I'm not sure how much of that is muscle, but it is time to get lean and find out.

Here is my plan:

-- Intermittent fasting: I will eat within an 8 hour eating window every day.  I gave up intermittent fasting a while ago because I found that I couldn't gain size effectively while doing it.  However, as far as getting lean, it is still my favorite approach.

-- More cardio (High Intensity Interval Training):  While bulking, I was spending almost all my gym time lifting.  Now I will add in interval style cardio and cut back significantly on my time with the weights.  

-- Stay focused when lifting:  It is still important to continue to get some quality lifting sessions in to make sure you keep all your muscle when leaning out.  I've learned a lot about stimulating the muscles into growth and I am sometimes appalled at how I used to lift in the past.  It is so effective to develop a mind-muscle connection when lifting and focus entirely on keeping tension on the target muscle during a set -- resisting on the way down and contracting hard on the way up.  Most people use too much weight to do this effectively.  

With that in mind, I noticed a great illustration of focusing on working a muscle the other day.  I was doing barbell curls next to another guy who was doing the same thing and I was feeling a burn in my biceps that I rarely used to achieve -- keeping my arms at my sides and not letting the weight all the way down at the bottom  (which removes tension from the biceps).  Anyhow, they other guy was curling(swinging) noticeably more weight than I was and when I looked in the mirror he was laughing and shaking his head at how ridiculous the scene looked.  Here he was, half my size and I'm standing there, arms all pumped up and crazy looking, lifting significantly less weight than he was.  Yet, I couldn't have cared less, because I was there to hit my muscles the best way possible and not worry about anything else.

--No sugar (when possible), control the carbs, get enough protein.  I've written about sugar, insulin and fat storage in the past. 

Those are my main points for getting lean and keeping muscle.  I know the more common bodybuilding way of doing it revolves around carb cycling.  However, the intermittent fasting method just seems to work better for me.

On a final note, I hope people don't think I sound pretentious when I write about this stuff.  I really enjoy writing and fitness is a big part of my life, so if you like reading about my experiences, that's awesome.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Almost There

The goal is in sight.  I can see it on the horizon.  I only have 5 pounds to gain before weighing 200 lbs.  I ran into a bit of a plateau for a while there, but then made some adjustments to get back on track.  If I've learned anything about fitness goals over the years, it's the importance of being able to figure out when to change things up so that you continue to make gains and when to be patient and stick with your current routine.  More importantly, I've learned to never get discouraged; at least not for long.  

This was especially relevant a few weeks ago, because I was suddenly getting nowhere and even started to lose weight.  Then, I made some key adjustments and have since gained 5 pounds of (mostly) lean mass within the last 3 weeks.  This is what I did:

Eat all the time: I decided to stop Intermittent Fasting and save it for when I want to start cutting -- in April.  I was getting lean from the fasting, yet I just couldn't put down enough calories in the remaining hours to gain size.  Maybe some people can bulk while using that method, but it wasn't working for me.  So, I started eating all the time: cottage cheese, eggs, oatmeal, peanut butter sandwiches, protein shakes, chicken, almonds, etc.  I also started eating a lot more carbohydrates, like oatmeal and Go Lean cereal.  The carbs were a big change for me, since I used to avoid them like the plague.  I needed them, however, because it takes a ton of calories to build muscle when you are 190 lbs.  Yet, I still eat very clean, because bad food hinders muscle growth and promotes fat storage.

Fish Oil:  I've known for a long time that fish oil is "good for you".  Yes, it has great Omega 3s that your body can easily utilize (as opposed to those in flax, which the body has to convert first).  Yes, it's great for your cardiovascular health, your brain health and it helps burn fat...and now, recently, a study came out showing that it significantly improves muscle growth. Wait! What? Improves muscle growth? Now you've got my attention!  So I'm taking fish oil for my, um, health.

Music: I was mostly a non-headphone runner and I've always been a non-headphone lifter.  It sometimes annoyed me when I would go up and ask people if they were finished with a barbell and they would have to pull an earbud out to hear me.  However, I recently read about a study from the Weider Research Group which showed that people who listen to their preferred music, while lifting, experience a noticeable improvement in strength during the workout.  So, now I'm rockin' the iPod as I pump out reps to Guns N' Roses, Metallica and Nirvana.  I will admit, it does really help me stay focused and lift hard.

More sets: I've also started doing significantly more sets per muscle-group while not going to failure most of the time.  For example, for chest I will do four sets of bench press, three sets of incline press, three sets of incline flyes and three sets of cable crossovers.   This is considered a volume approach.  In the past, I've usually performed two or three sets total for an entire muscle-group and went to absolute failure every time.  However, I seem to be responding quite well to this new type of training.  I should also mention that I am now only working each muscle group once per week.

So, hopefully these additions to my routine will continue to help me reach my goal -- and maybe even go further.  As you can see in the photo, even though I had previously been a no-frills lifter, I am now all decked out with headphones, straps (for grip when pulling), weight belt...water bottle.  Hey, whatever works.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Accelerating Size Gains

Man, do I enjoy clanging heavy iron around in the weightroom -- a passion of mine that I had forgotten long ago.  As I work toward my goal of weighting over 200 lbs by April (while staying under 10% bodyfat), I have been continuing to refine my program and find ways to keep the gains coming.
About 3 months ago, when I got really serious about building muscle, I weighed 175 lbs and I'm now sitting at an acceptably lean 192 lbs.  I was never able to gain that quickly during my bodybuilding years in college.  I think that is mostly because I am lifting and eating much smarter now.  Back in the day, my training style was all ego  -- throwing around more weight than I should have been and eating anything I could get my hands on.  Now, I'm into controlled, focused lifting and a clean diet. 
I'll elaborate on this more below as I outline some important adjustments I've made to my routine, which I believe have had a significant impact on my progress.

Vary the Rep Range: I've seen plenty of research lately showing that an important method to gaining size is to use a wide variety of rep ranges.  I am currently doing 2 sets of 8-10 reps for each exercise and then often decreasing the weight by half and cranking out 50 reps for a third set.  The idea is to hit the slow twitch (endurance) fibers, which are usually neglected by bodybuilders -- this helps create more muscle volume.  I've also found it is also good to do really heavy sets of 5 reps every few weeks to shock the muscles and build strength.  In addition, I do a fitness class called R.I.P.P.E.D., which involves a lot of high rep work with light weights.  For me, such a wide range lifting types keeps the muscles adapting and growing.

Keep a Lifting Log: To really progress, you have to push yourself to do more weight or reps than you have done before.  With so many exercises and variations, it is almost impossible to keep track of this in your head.  I've actually found a smartphone app called Jefit, which is great for logging my workout.

Use Intensity Boosting Reps: After my second set, I always try to do something to boost the intensity of stress put on the muscle.  One method is doing a few negative reps after failure -- I'll cheat the weight up or have a spotter help and then let the weight down very slowly.  Negative reps (resisting the weight while lowering it) have been shown to induce as many, if not more, muscle fiber stimulation than the positive (lifting) portion of the rep.  Another method for intensity is "rest pause", where I will set the weight down after reaching failure and wait for about 15 seconds, then pick it up and do more reps.

Only Use The Proven Supplements: I don't chase magic in a bottle.  The bodybuilding supplement industry is ridiculously lucrative and people spend a ton of money with no noticeable payoff.  The only truly proven supplements for muscle building are creatine and whey protein, both of which are quite cheap.  In addition to those two, I also take Shakeology to keep me healthy.

Intermittent Fasting: Warning, this is very controversial!  You would be hard pressed to find a trainer that would recommend it. In fact, some of my good trainer friends might give me a hard time for posting about this.  However, in full disclosure, I'm trying it and have been rather pleased so far. The idea is that you fast for 12-16 hours a day and then eat your food for the day within the remaining window of time. Recent research has shown that when you fast for this long, your human growth hormone levels increase by up to 2000 percent! Proponents of Intermittent Fasting also claim your body learns to burn fat very efficiently in a fasted state, which goes against the generally accepted "starvation mode" theory. I remember always being scared that if I didn't eat every 2 hours, my body would burn muscle. According to the Intermittent Fasting community, this is not the case; fasting actually builds up your HGH levels, which primes your body for growth while burning fat. Then, when you do eat food, BOOM, serious muscle gains! As unconventional as intermittent fasting is, I decided it was worth a try -- as I like to try new things.  Dr. Mercola is actually a big proponent of fasting -- his methods are sometimes a little "on the fringe", but he is usually right about a lot of things.

Anyhow, those are the refinements I have made in my training that I have found to be very beneficial.  On another note, many people have asked my why I am not running anymore.  I was a very dedicated runner for over 5 years, which led me to training hard for many races -- including 3 marathons.  I am very thankful for my experiences as a runner; it was definitely an important and rewarding phase of my life.  However, I reached a point where I decided it was time for different fitness goals.  I rediscovered my passion for weight lifting, which life events had steered me away from 15 years ago.  At this point, when I compare myself as a runner 2 years ago (left photo) to training more like a bodybuilder now (right photo), it has become clear which avenue suits me more.

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading my blog!


Monday, November 5, 2012

My Best Muscle Growth Program So Far

I set a goal to put on as much muscle size as I can in the next 5 months and here is the program I have created to do it.  I have been using this regimen for the past 4 weeks and it has been extremely effective so far -- creating some of the best gains I've ever experienced.

I will point out right away, I am still doing 2-3 cardio classes per week, which include high intensity intervals and explosive plyometrics.  I absolutely do not want to lose any athleticism or endurance during this process.  Muscle mass is not useful to me without agility and stamina.  In addition, the interval training during these classes is effective for stimulating growth hormones (weight lifting still stimulates the most) and it is beneficial to keep a constant flow of growth hormones going throughout the week for muscle growth and fat burning.

Speaking of growth, there are a few very important principles I focus on when lifting weights in order to stimulate growth.  The biggest thing, I have found, is an intense focus on putting the muscle under constant tension from heavy weight during the entire set.  That is a key word: tension.  Sustained tension + heavy weight = growth.  In every exercise that you do, do not lift the weight and then let it come falling back down for the next rep -- your are missing out on half of the growth stimulus.  Let the weight down in a slow, controlled manner under tension and then lift it up.  I also try not to let the muscle relax at the top or bottom of the rep -- I keep it tensed.

The other important thing is to go to failure.  For every lift, I do one or two warm up sets with lighter weights just to get the muscle ready and then I do ONE set to failure.  By failure, I mean, the muscle cannot lift the weight anymore.  Often, when I can't lift the weight anymore, I will do a few partial reps (cheat reps) or just hold the weight in place to keep the muscle under heavy tension for a little longer.

Many people will disagree with me on doing one set vs. multiple sets, yet I will never deter from it.  I've seen too many studies on this and have experimented  with every other way myself over the years.  I firmly believe that doing another set, after I've already stimulated growth for that specific movement, is a waste of energy that could be applied to the next exercise or towards recovery.

My weight training workouts are short (15-20 minutes) and intense.  Get in the gym, stimulate the muscles by going to failure, get the heck out, eat and grow.  The intensity comes from a focus on the muscle I'm working and putting it under tension from a very heavy load, throughout the range of motion, during the entire set.  The intensity is not about grunting and facial contortions, it's about mental focus.  My ideal rep range is 10-12 reps for building size; as opposed to focusing on power using the lower rep range -- which has more to do with improved neuro-muscular firing patterns and less to do with muscle size.

Anyhow, here is my program.  I have 3 different weight lifting workouts that I rotate over 4 weekdays.  The rotation keeps things fresh so that it's not always "Monday is chest day", etc.

Workout 1: Chest and Triceps (Dumpbell Press, Incline Dumbell Press, Overhead Dumbell Tricep Press, Tricep Pushdowns, One Arm Cable Tricep Pulldowns)
Workout 2: Back and Biceps (Seated Cable Row, Lat Pulldown, Standing Barbell Curl, Cable Curl, Cable Rope Curl)
Workout 3: Legs and Shoulders (Squats!! Dumbell Overhead Press, Upright Barbell Row)

Here is a typical week schedule for me:

Sunday: R.I.P.P.E.D class (interval, plyo, power, endurance, etc.)
Monday: Weight Workout 1 and Turbo Kick(often just the interval portion)
Tuesday: Weight Workout 2
Wednesday: Weight Workout 3
Thursday: Turbo Kick (cardio with intervals)
Friday: Weight Workout 1
Saturday: Rest

I'm also eating more during this program.  I've added in some carbohydrates with my protein but still avoid sugar when possible.  I need a calorie surplus to make sure I'm always growing, but I want to be very careful not to gain a noticeable amount of fat.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Ideal Eating Plan

After having experimented extensively with nutrition and diets for many years, I finally feel like I have established a plan that works perfectly for my goals -- being as fit, lean and athletic as possible.  I have determined that a "cycle" during the week works best to burn fat during one part of the week, and also rebuild, recover and reset the body during another part.  A lot of the science from this comes from the Metabolic Effect philosophy, along with my own adjustments to make it realistic and sustainable.  Here is my layout for the week.

Monday: "No Carb Day":  Try to eat as few carbohydrates as possible.  I usually have a Shakeology for breakfast and then only protein and veggies the rest of the day.  This is the day that requires the most discipline and it's only one day!  For me, the foods for this day include: eggs, almonds, chicken, cheese, peanut butter, salad and beef.  I also use a spoonful of unsweetened cocoa with some cinnamon in hot water frequently to curb cravings and I am never hungry.

Tuesday-Thursday: "Moderate Carb Days":  I still focus on protein in order to keep fat metabolism high by keeping the blood sugar from ever spiking.  However, I start to bring in some moderate carbohydrates during the day.  For me, this means having some whole grain bread, a bowl of Cheerios, or a potato.  I always use Almond Milk instead of Cow's Milk in order to continue avoiding sugar.

Friday-Sunday: "Normal Eating Days": This is an extremely important part of the cycle.  On Friday I start to become less restrictive and by Sunday I am pretty much eating what I want.  I still try to keep it healthy, avoid sugar when possible and not go crazy, but this is the time to live a little.
It can be tempting to continue to be very strict during the weekend, thinking I will get better results, yet this phase of the cycle serves many purposes.  For one thing, it gives my body the extra calories it needs for a few days to rebuild muscle tissue and recover from workouts during the week.  Giving muscles a chance to grow is the biggest long term metabolism boost one can attain.  This phase also prevents the body from getting too used to carbohydrate deprivation, in which case it wouldn't respond as well to the diet.  Finally, it makes the eating plan sustainable, psychologically, in the long term.

This plan has been working very well for me over the past few months and I plan to stick with it.