Month: June 2014

Is Calculating LeanGains Macros and Calories Irrelevant?

I used LeanGains to develop and maintain this condition... but I also didn't.

I used LeanGains to develop and maintain this condition… but I also didn’t.

I owe a good deal of my success in learning how to get ripped to Martin Berkhan, founder of the LeanGains intermittent fasting protocol. When I began to understand that intermittent fasting was conducive to both caloric control and muscle maintenance and/ or gain, I really began to understand how to get ripped. But reflecting on my experience with LeanGains recently, I realized that I had actually been following relatively few of the program’s guidelines, yet I still got ripped, and I still put on muscle. Naturally, I began to wonder how relevant those guidelines were. Since I’m interested in determining how little effort is really required to get ripped and determining what’s best for me, I decided to pull LeanGains apart and examine the pieces.

The Big Five

  1. I see lots of inquiries online about how to calculate daily LeanGains macros. If you were to ask me how, I’d tell you that I’m really not sure because I never did it… yet I still got ripped using LeanGains.
  2. I also see lots of discussion about how to get ripped by employing LeanGains’ caloric cycling rules of 20% above maintenance on lifting days and 20% below maintenance on non-lifting days. I definitely couldn’t provide much information on the subject because, again, I never did it, yet I still managed to get ripped using LeanGains.
  3. Then there’s the issue of using BCAAs every two hours after a lifting session when fasted until the eating window opens. I frequently either forgot to take them, was too busy to take them, or purposely didn’t take them… yet I still got ripped fasting daily for 21 hours per day.
  4. Of course,  to the above point, I just naturally stopped following the 16/8 fast/ feed guideline a few weeks after beginning LeanGains in favor of 21 hours fasted… and yes, I still got ripped using LeanGains.
  5. Then there’s the reverse pyramid style training program that Martin Berkhan himself uses, or did at some point. It seems like a good program, but I never used it exclusively and I still got ripped following LeanGains.

These realizations led me to the conclusion that I was having a delusion that I was following LeanGains, when I really wasn’t. But I still got ripped. Placebo? No.

How to calculate LeanGains macros? The question might be irrelevant.

I’m gonna come right out and say it: macro cycling played no role in me getting ripped. If it had, I don’t think I would have been able to drop from 13% body fat to 7% (9 lbs of fat) with only a 2 lb net weight loss. That means I gained 7 lbs of muscle at the same time.* I paid exceedingly little attention to my carb to fat ratio. When I look back at my MyFitnessPal logs (which automatically tracks macros) I see that there was no pattern to my fat/ carb intake. I sometimes ate high fat on lifting days and high carb on non-lifting days. Sometimes it was reversed. Sometimes I only ate 120g carbs, sometimes 250g. Sometimes I forgot to eat carbs, as in “40-grams- for-the-day-from-broccoli-and-kabocha-squash” forgetting to eat carbs. After conducting a bit of a deeper dive into my nutrient data, I discovered that my three-day carb average was usually in the low 200g range. From that fact alone, I’d have to conclude that averaging 200g per day over three days is adequate for me and enables optimal lifting performance. That said, I always maintained consistent protein intake of 130-150g/ day. I’m not suggesting that macro manipulation is wrong–it’s just not right for me.

*In the spirit of full disclosure, I had dropped heavy lifting in favor of total engagement in a [stupid] metabolic conditioning program [that ate my strength and muscles for a snack] for the eight months before I began fasting intermittently. This possibly primed my body to respond more rapidly when I began lifting heavy again. As an aside, something else I don’t understand about macro cycling under LeanGains is that carbs are to be consumed on lifting days, after lifting. But from that time until after the next lifting session (48 hours), carb intake is to be reduced significantly. It makes more sense to me that carbs are increased on the rest day evening so that the muscles are primed with glycogen for the following day’s lifting session.

I said nah-ah to cycling daily caloric intake.

LeanGains suggests that its practitioners swing caloric intake hard from day to day based on lifting vs non-lifting days. The recommendation is +20% on a lifting day, and -20% on a rest day. On a 2,500 calorie diet, that’s a 1,000 calorie swing multiple times per week. I found that it actually became complicated and felt very unnatural to consume so many calories on a lifting day. This stands in paradoxical contrast to how natural fasting for 90% of the day feels to me now. The rationale behind the guideline is that the body requires all that extra energy to build muscle. But in my experience, like macro cycling, it just doesn’t matter. I maintained a daily calorie deficit of 300-600 calories whether lifting or not. This can only mean that for me, protein synthesis is relying to some extent on fat stores for fuel. This would make sense since we know that fat stores provide a buffer for energy imbalances (i.e. deficits), although I’d imagine that a body fat threshold exists below which muscle catabolism becomes more efficient than fat catabolism. Whatever the case, the takeaway from this I believe, is that there’s flexibility in any program. This is certainly not a knock on LeanGains or its creator. But if I hadn’t experimented and listened to some things my body (and brain) was telling me, I might not have been as successful in achieving my goals. That’s what learning how to get ripped was all about for me.

The little jury in my brain is still partially out on BCAAs

I admit, my statement about BCAAs at the top of this post might have been a touch hyperbolic. I do take BCAAs, but not like I used to. When I began fasting intermittently, I gulped them down according to Martin Berkhan’s recommendations of before, during and after lifting, and every two hours until feeding time. But after a while, I began to get lazy about the two-hour rule to the point where I didn’t have any between 8am and, say, 2 or 3pm at which time I’d have my first meal (that’s since changed to 5 or 6pm). I pretty much failed at adhering to that guideline and I still got ripped. Now it’s true that I might have hindered my gains [picture the Hodge Twins saying that], but it just goes to show that there’s no hard and fast line that defines the boundaries of how to get ripped. I do, however, believe that BCAAs have played a critical role in my lifting performance. On two occasions I tried lifting under truly fasted conditions without anything in me but water. In a word: disastrous. In two words: utter failure. My guess is that BCAAs are so acutely effective for my lifting sessions because they provide energy in the form of calories, which I think is separate from other anabolic qualities they possess. I’ve estimated that one scoop of the BCAA supplement I use (Modern BCAA +) contains 30 calories*, so a couple of scoops before and during lifting provides around 60 calories, which provides an energy boost, albeit modest.

*Unlike the case for foods, the U.S. FDA only provides nonbinding supplement labeling recommendations (you can read all about the boring details here) . More specifically, supplement manufacturers are not required to list caloric content anywhere on the product label. Nevertheless, BCAAs are building blocks of proteins, and do contain approximately the same number of calories per gram. Keep in mind that although a 7g scoop of pure BCAAs might contain ~28 calories (7 x 4), it might contain more or less depending on the extent to which other ingredients are present in the supplement (e.g. electrolytes, artificial sweeteners, etc.).

Eating doesn’t matter. I don’t ever eat.

Of course that’s not true, but it sometimes feels like it. While LeanGains programs for a 16 hour fasting window, on many days of the week I easily go 21 hours without eating, which a year ago I would have said is preposterous, foolhardy, pointless, difficult and just plain backward. My fasting pattern just naturally evolved from the initial 16 hours; I wasn’t intentionally trying to extend it. My point is (again) that based on my experience, the processes and practices for getting ripped are flexible and customizable to an individual’s preferences and needs.

There are lots of ways to lift.

LeanGains’ founder is fond of the reverse pyramid lifting method, which, in my opinion, is an awesome technique that I use as a component of my own strength program (you can learn about the details of the RF Strength Program here). But because I or someone else thinks it’s great and has had success using it doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. I’m not suggesting in any way that LeanGains is claiming that it is; I’m just making the point that modalities for getting ripped are multifarious. The most effective eating style, supplement stack (if you’re into that) and lifting routine is one that is crafted by the individual to his or her unique predilections and requirements (as long as basic core principles are accounted for).

Ripped Recipe: Watermelon or Fruit Punch BCAA Citrus-Mintade Ginger Fizz

A few fresh ingredients take BCAAs in a new direction.

A few fresh ingredients take BCAAs in a new direction.

This recipe is a departure from my standard of not including chemicals in my food; it’s a necessary evil though. Because I fast for what’s recently turned into 21 hours per day, I require some form of nutrition that favors maintainance of an anabolic state while remaining as close to fasted as possible. For this reason, I take BCAAs (branch chain amino acids). They’re completely synthetic and contain artificial flavors and Sucralose. I take anywhere from zero to 30 grams per day. Because they’re unnatural and expensive, I wouldn’t recommend BCAAs to anyone unless they’re lifting heavy in a fasted state and want to maintain a near-fast for several hours after lifting. They’re totally unnecessary otherwise. I’ve already written more than I like to for a recipe post.

Now doesn't this look refreshing? Non-fasters might enjoy as well.

Now doesn’t this look refreshing? Non-fasters might enjoy as well.

1-2 scoops watermelon or fruit punch BCAA powder (I prefer Modern BCAA +)
juice of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 lime
flavored seltzer of your choice (I prefer Polar brand)
several leaves fresh mint
1-2 thin slices of fresh ginger

Add lemon juice, lime juice, mint leaves, and ginger to small vessel and muddle well with the back of a spoon. More muddled = more fresh flavor.

Add BCAA powder to 1-2 oz water in bottle or shaker and shake hard until dissolved.

Combine citrus-mint-ginger solution with BCAA solution over ice in large glass, add flavored seltzer to desired dilution and stir gently.

How to Get Ripped, Section 2.1: The Zen of Intermittent Fasting

I dropped breakfast and pushed lunch to late in the afternoon.

Before becoming ripped this time around, I used to eat breakfast. As a NASM Certified Personal Trainer (I used to train people as a hobby), I told my clients that they should eat breakfast. Why did I do that? For one, “everyone” on TV, the internet and in the business said you’re supposed to, and for two, it seemed to make sense. How else would you have energy to exercise? You’d certainly waste away without breakfast. Needless to say, I’ve discovered through my own experience that this just isn’t true. It was a pretty significant moment of realization for me. I frequently eat my first meal of the day around 2:30 or 3pm, which concludes an 18 hour fasting period.

Martin Berhkan is the father of an eating protocol (many consider it a lifestyle) called 16/8 intermittent fasting a.k.a “LeanGains“. Some people reading this might already be familiar with it. The core principle is that you don’t eat for a period of 16 hours straight, after which you can eat within an 8 hour window. I’ve adjusted it to my own preference of typically 21 hours fasting, three feeding during the week and around 18 fasting, six feeding during the weekend.

There are several styles of intermittent fasts with each specifying a different fast length and frequency. Examples include the Warrior Diet and Eat Stop Eat, the details of which aren’t relevant to this post, but they’re all the same in principle: don’t eat for a certain period of time, then eat within a specified time window.

Many individuals have found LeanGains to be exceptionally effective for maintaining both leanness and an internal environment conducive to protein synthesis (i.e. muscle development). Berhkan cites multiple studies that explain why intermittent fasting is so effective. The main concepts include the following:

  • Little to no circulating insulin during the fast promotes a flush of human growth hormone, especially after heavy lifting. This provides an ideal stimulus for muscle growth. Additionally, growth hormone is a potent fat burning and muscle sparing agent.
  • Fasting promotes muscle glycogen depletion to the extent that the muscle will be apt to rapidly “soak up” nutrients once reintroduced when the fast concludes.

As an aside, Bojan Kostevski of recently released some very interesting research on intermittent fasting and its effects on human health. You can find it here.

Stop eating to reduce hunger… WTF?

I’ve read numerous studies on this subject, some cited by Berkan, others that I found on my own. The evidence is clear that contrary to conventional wisdom, muscle loss is not an issue when fasting for short periods like this (even 21 hours is considered to be a short period). But in the end, I have a basic theory (that I mentioned in an earlier post) about why intermittent fasting can be so effective: it is a tool that enhances control over caloric intake. Because insulin levels are minimized during the fast since glucose isn’t present in the bloodstream, blood sugar undulations are nearly nonexistent and hunger is suppressed to a great degree. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t done it myself, but it absolutely worked for me. Less hunger = better compliance with caloric restriction goals. I’d even venture to say that for me, fasting has made appetite control as close to effortless as possible. All in all, I tend to think it’s a little less scientific than some proponents make it out to be, but that’s just my opinion. I’ll stress again that I chose intermittent fasting because it integrates well with my lifestyle and I enjoy it for several reasons. I love not having to spend time preparing food and eating in the morning, and I also prefer pushing my first meal as far into the afternoon as possible because when I’m at work I can’t really enjoy what I’m eating. This is why I like to eat the majority of my calories at home in the late afternoon and evening.

But there’s also something almost spiritual about fasting for me. Somewhere between 14 and 16 hours in, I usually begin to experience a mild euphoria and my ability to concentrate goes through the roof. I’d read many accounts of this phenomenon and can say from my own experience that it’s real. Additionally, not having to think about food for hours of the day is truly freeing. Before I began fasting, I felt like I was hungry all the time at work, thinking about what I should eat next. Insulin circulating through my body kept me hungry, and the small snacks I ate were never ever completely satisfying; they just kept me hungry. Having a maximum of only a six-hour feeding window now means that when I eat it can be a lot of food and very satisfying, and that’s good for my soul.

Coming off the fast

I typically prefer to come off my fast (especially a 21-hour weekday fast) with decaf coffee (decaffeinated via water or CO2 method only) and a quarter cup or so of whole milk. I don’t like to jam a bunch of food down my gullet straight away. This is completely a personal preference.

All this said, I don’t believe that fasting is a requirement for getting ripped, since I’m pretty sure that old school guys like Ed Holovchik, Steve Reeves, Jack LaLane, Lou Ferrigno, and early Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t get ripped fasting–they lifted heavy using strength programs designed for progressive overload, controlled their calories and rested. But fasting is great for me, and I don’t think I will ever stop fasting intermittently since I find it so crucial to effortlessly staying ripped.

Ripped Recipe: Caramelized Cauliflower in Lemon-Garlic Brown Butter with Rosemary and Pecorino

Enough said.

Enough said.

No further description warranted.

900g cauliflower cut into florets (1 large head)
1 Tbsp butter (I prefer organic cultured butter)
1 Tbsp bacon fat (or another of butter)
juice of 3/4 to 1 lemon
3 large cloves garlic, sliced very thin
2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp dried sweet basil
1/4 cup + a little grated pecorino romano
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
kosher salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Heat 1 Tbsp butter in large pan and cook until just golden brown.
  2. Turn flame to high. Add cauliflower and allow to brown, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from pan once soft enough for your liking.
  3. Add bacon fat or other Tbsp butter to pan. [Bacon fat tastes much better to me. And it’s just as good for you as butter. Do some googling if you don’t believe.] Heat it up. Add garlic, rosemary and basil and sauté until garlic slices just begin to take on a light brown hue. Add red pepper flakes and cook for an additional 20-30 seconds.
  4. Add lemon juice immediately followed by cauliflower and cheese. Mix well and remove from heat. Spoon into bowls and top with a little grated cheese and more red pepper. Eat.

How to Get Ripped, Section 2: Creating an Energy Deficit

In my experience, understanding how to get ripped means understanding how to lose fat and not muscle. The way that I lost fat was by creating a deficit of 300-600 calories each day. This point is so simple, but so critical that it’s worth spending another minute on.

In my experience, learning how to get ripped = learning about maintaining an energy deficit.

In my experience, learning how to get ripped = learning about maintaining an energy deficit.

Well known and respected exercise physiologist Lyle McDonald wrote a great article on this. I think it’s definitely worth the 10 minute read on his website. Try paying special attention to the section titled “Muscle and Fat are not Identical”:

If you’re opposed to reading it, here’s the crux of his lesson:

Energy In (corrected for digestion) = (BMR/RMR + TEF + TEA + SPA/NEAT) + Change in Body Stores

It means that if you eat 2,000 calories (corrected for a handful of calories you poop out as the result of fiber intake) and you burn 2,000 calories between your resting metabolic rate + the number of calories required for digesting food + calories used during deliberate exercise + calories burned as the result of spontaneous movement (i.e. fidgeting) + change in tissue energy mass, you will maintain your weight.

Simplified even further, fat loss all still boils down to energy balance i.e. energy in vs. energy out.

In recent years there has been a groundswell of ideas and studies conducted by researchers relating to why we get fat. Many of these studies have spawned their own diets and eating styles e.g. Atkins, Paleo, Primal, Keto, NutriSystem, intermittent fasting, the more general “eating clean”, etc.

As a matter of personal choice, I have modified the Primal style of eating and LeanGains intermittent fasting protocol to my own preferences. But my takeaway after experimenting with many eating programs is that at their core, they are simply tools that can help an individual achieve caloric targets. Read that again. And one more time. My opinion, based on experience with all of them, is that they’re not terribly special in any way other than that they improve caloric control potential and can be relatively easy to incorporate into one’s life.

Might not matter what you eat

Paleo, Primal and keto (although Primal and Paleo can both be integrated into a ketogenic diet) heavily emphasize eating primarily vegetables, meats and fats (including saturated animal fats), and minimizing carbohydrate intake. I’m not saying anything new here: fat, protein and vegetables are satiating and minimize insulin response (although protein spikes insulin when consumed alone). High carbs (especially sugar) = big insulin response = blood sugar drop = hungry again = less likely you’ll be able to or want to achieve your caloric/ fat-burning goals. If you wanted, you could technically eat 500 calories worth of only bread every day below your caloric maintenance level and lose fat. You could eat McDonalds or shrimp or cheese or marshmallows or only barbecue sauce and still lose fat as long as you put your body into an energy deficit. I should say here that in my experience, a low carb diet is not conducive to getting ripped since heavy lifting is required and maintaining adequate muscle glycogen stores helps with that. More on my opinion of carbs here.

Dropping fat is only half of the requirement for getting ripped; the other half is maintaining, and ideally building muscle at the same time. Once muscle becomes a requirement, then the macronutrient composition of the diet becomes important, but in my experience, still not to the extent that some might say [link to macro blog post].

What about “Eating clean”?

I believe that “eating clean” is just another tool that assists in achieving caloric goals. Since “eating clean” typically means staying away from fast/ processed/ boxed/ canned food/ refined sugar (a la Primal/ Paleo to some extent), you’re likely eating vegetables, meat and unprocessed or minimally processed fat (dairy, animal fat etc), and plant-based carbs like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, rice etc. Although some of these foods can spike insulin, on balance, this style of eating keeps insulin under control and moderates hunger. I think it’s really that simple.

How To Get Ripped, Section 1.0: Set Priorities

This post covers the first topic in the Ripped Forever “How To Get Ripped” outline, and is a copy of the static page of the same name on (I’m realizing that blog posts are generally more consumable). It would have been more accurate to title this “How I Got Ripped”, since I’m not suggesting that my way is the only or best way to do it, but it was very effective for me.

I thought I was ripped ten years ago, but I’m more ripped now and used far less effort to get to here this time. Looking back, it’s clear that it was due to my lack of understanding about the different approaches required by each one of the goals listed below. My approach then was to basically throw everything at the wall and hope it would stick. After much reading about how to get ripped, it became clear that I would have to do one of the following:

Focus on mainly fat loss first while hopefully maintaining  muscle and strength.

Losing fat quickly requires a larger caloric deficit, which also creates conditions more conducive to muscle loss… and grumpiness in my experience.

Focus on developing strength and muscle first while maintaining body fat percentage.

If the primary focus is building strength quickly, a caloric surplus is required, which is not as conducive to fat loss. In 2005, I put on 13 pounds of muscle eating at a surplus and lifting heavy, but fat loss stopped and reversed too.

In my experience, the above two goals can’t be accomplished simultaneously (i.e. losing fat quickly and gaining muscle quickly); the approach each requires tends to conflict with the other more than it harmonizes.

Focus on losing fat slowly while building strength and muscle slowly.

Losing fat slowly while building some strength and muscle slowly is often referred to as a recomposition. Some trainers who I know believe that a recomposition is only possible for people with little to no lifting experience, but I don’t that’s completely true. Although I have been lifting fairly steadily for 17 years, I hadn’t done so for the eight months prior to relearning how to get ripped this time. So it might be more accurate to say that a recomposition is likely to be more pronounced for individuals who are either new to lifting or who are experienced lifters coming off of a layoff. At any rate, a recomposition was the right choice for me because one of my prerequisites for getting ripped and staying ripped was that it had to be easy and comfortable. Losing fat slowly requires only a modest caloric deficit. The modest energy deficit I maintained was also conducive to some strength and muscle gains so long as I maintained the right anabolic conditions, including lifting heavy and with intensity according to a well-planned strength program. These concepts, along with several others that became central to my understanding of how to get ripped, will be detailed in future posts.

Ripped Recipe: Ripped Mint Hot Cocoa

Super simple, tasty and proteiny.

Super simple, tasty and proteiny.

This one is so simple. I felt like a genius for a minute after creating it.

3/4 scoop chocolate casein powder
1 peppermint tea bag
10 oz boiling water

Mix casein with a couple of oz warm tap water. Mix it well so there are no clumps. Slowly add boiling water while stirring rapidly. Steep mint tea bag in mixture for 3-5 mins depending on how strong you want it. Drink.

Ripped Recipe: Cabbage Leaves Stuffed with Beef, Pork, Plum, Apple, Walnut, Vegetable and Mint Topped with Sweet and Savory Tomato Coconut Sauce

Look good? This dish combines North African,  Greek, Italian and Polish flavors.

Look good? This dish combines North African, Greek, Italian and Polish flavors.

I was standing in the grocery staring off into space trying to figure out what big thing to cook for dinner this week. I looked down and realized that I was literally standing over it. A giant head of green cabbage. That’s all I needed to get the creative juices flowing.

Some of the ingredients used in this tasty dish.

Some of the ingredients used in this tasty dish.

An unlikely trio.

An unlikely trio.

1 lb ground beef (90/10, organic grass fed preferably)
1.5 lb ground pork (ground local by butcher, preferably)
2 large heads green cabbage
650g eggplant, diced (1 large)
500-600g zucchini, diced (2 large)
250g carrots, diced (6 medium, I use organic)
350g sweet onion, diced (1 large)
250g portabella mushroom, diced (2 large, I use organic)
200g red bell pepper (1 large, I use organic)
300g black plums, diced (2 large)
200g granny smith apple, diced (2 small or 1 large)
2 cups uncooked jasmine rice
3 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 large can (28oz) ground tomatoes (I use organic)
1 small can (13oz) lite coconut milk
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup mint leaves, chopped
3/4 cup or so grated hi quality strong romano cheese
juice of 1 lime
3 Tbsp brown sugar
3 Tbsp ketchup
2 Tbsp dried sweet basil
2 tsp smoked hot paprika
2 tsp regular paprika
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp garlic powder
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup arrowroot starch
salt and fresh pepper

Get your veggies straight.

Get your produce straight.


  1. Chop base off cabbage(s) and remove core to around 2″ up (cut a pyramid around core to remove). Boil until soft and the leaves can be easily pulled off. Yeah, boiling kills the vitamins, but this ain’t about the cabbage.
  2. While cabbage is boiling, pour a little coconut oil and start the onion cooking until light brown then add garlic. Once garlic is light brown, add eggplant, cooking on high, stirring frequently. Once eggplant is about half its original volume, add mushrooms and continue cooking. When mushrooms are about half volume, add zucchini. The idea is to get a good deal of water out of the vegetables.
  3. When zucchini is around half its original volume, add plums and apples. Cook for a few minutes, then add beef and pork.
  4. Lightly cook beef and pork with the vegetables that were already in the pot for another 4-5 minutes. This is to reduce cooking time in the oven. Season with kosher salt and pepper.
  5. Add carrots, bell pepper, walnuts, chopped mint, cinnamon, both paprikas, lime juice, garlic powder, more salt and pepper and mix well. Turn off heat.
  6. Cook rice in 3 cups of stock. It should still be chewy once all liquid has been absorbed. Add it to the meat and veg mixture; it will finish cooking in it later.
  7. you might want to cook a little of the mix in the microwave for a minute to taste test and adjust if necessary.
  8. For sauce, combine coconut milk, ground tomatoes, ketchup, brown sugar, white vinegar and basil. Heat until it comes to a simmer. Add arrowroot slurry (arrowroot mixed well with a little warm water). Turn off heat and mix well.
  9. Wrap meat/ veg/ rice mixture in cabbage leaves. Shave center veins of leaves so they’re not so thick.
  10. Place stuffed cabbage leaves in baking dish, cover liberally with sauce, top with grated Romano. Cover with foil.
  11. Bake at 375 for 30, then uncover and let go for another 20. Let cool for 5 mins or so. Eat.
We ain't messin around.   This is many meals for a family of three.

We ain’t messin around. This is many meals for a family of three.

Ripped Abs Without Crunches, Cut Biceps Without Curls

All individuals have different goals. Some are more interested in developing massive strength, and less so in maintaining a ripped physique (e.g. powerlifters), while others are more interested in growing and specifically shaping individual muscles, while being less concerned about strength (e.g. bodybuilders). My interests have gravitated toward a hybrid of those, i.e. developing both the strength and physique I wanted as efficiently as possible.

For me, getting ripped became legitimately effortless once I understood how effortless it could be. Sort of a circular statement, I know, but it’s true. I also know from experience that it can also be excruciatingly difficult if it’s made to be that. I’ve noticed that my overall health and general physique flourish when I stress myself just enough, then stop long before I’m spent, and rest even when I feel I don’t need it. This is one of the reasons I dropped structured cardio almost completely out of my life several months ago.

To these points, I figure why bother with exercises that target only one thing, like crunches or biceps curls? I see many gym goers performing lots of these types of exercises; these are clearly two really popular muscle groups to isolate, so much that it sort of cliché. I don’t know what the goals of these individuals are, and I pass no judgement on why they’re doing what they’re doing, but my best guess is that they probably want definition and/ or growth in those areas. But for my particular goals though, there are a few big problems with isolating muscle groups like this.

Abs with zero direct ab work.

Abs with zero direct ab work.

Muscular balance is upset [functional fitness suffers]
I developed imbalances in my overall musculature when attempting to stress individual muscle groups, and even experienced impingement in certain areas as a result of the impossibility of applying loads in the right ratios to antagonizing muscle groups in isolation. Take a hamstring curl, for example. When ever during the course of real life would the hamstrings be isolated to that extent? There is literally no natural motion that isolates the hamstrings the way a very unnatural leg curl does. You can look at it from the other side too: an individual who favors leg extensions (either intentionally or unintentionally) to the point where the quads become more powerful than they should in relation to the rest of the lower body musculature, can develop a painfully tight lower back and lordosis. Chances are exceptionally high that if one major muscle group in the lower body is firing during a real life motion, the rest of those groups are as well. This is why it makes sense to me to almost exclusively perform compound exercises with a barbell, like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and other fixed bar exercises like weighted chinups, pullups and dips.

Biceps without a single curl.

Biceps without a single curl.

Isolation takes too long
Two exercises for the biceps, two for the deltoids, three for the back, three for the chest, one for the abs… oh wait, make that two cause I gotta hit those obliques. Oh crap, lemme get my traps in there also, so one for that. I forgot triceps. I’ll add two exercises for those. This is pretty much the way I used to lift weights. I’ve written fairly extensively on the main pages of about why it was so absolutely pointless for me. Now, if I perform 3-5 sets of close grip heavy weighted chinups, I hit the biceps, lats, abs (lots of isometric work during a heavy chinup), traps, rhomboids and posterior deltoids. And as a bonus, if I squeeze all the way to the top of the motion range, I get hard pectoral work. Five sets of five reps of very heavy chinups takes maybe eight minutes. That plus some heavy front squats and deadlifts can easily be a complete and very effective workout completed in 40 minutes.

Isolation doesn’t develop strength
At least not nearly to the same extent that heavy compound lifts can. Compound lifts tax the central nervous system in a big way like nothing else can. A shoulder raise can’t do that. Neither can a calf raise. Nor a shrug. Reverse curl? No way.

Isolation has a place
None of the above is to say that I think isolation or working smaller muscle groups is worthless. I can’t say that, because many individuals find them very valuable and critical to their own goals. They’re just not relevant to my goals, and they absolutely are not a requirement for getting ripped and staying ripped.

Ripped Recipe: Garlicked Red Cabbage with Bacon and Raisins over Steamed Kabocha Squash

This is good. Very good. Sometimes I feel like eating a mountain of vegetables, and this is one way I do it.

You can basically eat 2 lbs of this and not break 500 calories.

You can basically eat 2 lbs of this and not break 500 calories.

1/2 large head red cabbage, sliced into 2-3 inch strips
1/2 Kabocha squash
4 slices bacon (I like uncured organic)
1/4 cup or so raisins
2 cloves garlic minced
2 tsp high quality garlic powder
1/2 shallot, diced
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (I like unfiltered organic)
Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper


  1. Cut kabocha squash in half. Gut. Peel. Cut into cubes. Put on to steam. It’s done when fork tender, maybe 15 mins or so.
  2. As squash is steaming, in a large pan cook bacon crispy. Set aside on paper towel once cooked. Reserve fat from pan in small vessel.
  3. Turn flame to high. Add shallots and garlic. Add a teaspoon or so of bacon fat. Cook until the garlic takes on a light golden hue.
  4. Add cabbage and raisins. Salt liberally to draw water out of cabbage. Cook over high heat for another minute and stir. Lower heat, add garlic powder, apple cider vinegar, fresh pepper to taste, and cover.
  5. Cook until cabbage is tender. Normally 15 mins or so.
  6. Coarse chop bacon, sprinkle half into cabbage and stir.
  7. Place kabocha in bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with cabbage. Sprinkle remaining bacon on top.
This is very special. Eat it.

This is very special. Eat it.