Month: January 2015

21 Reasons to Avoid CrossFit Like the Plague if You Want to Get Ripped and Strong

Before I begin this semi-tirade, I’d like to first explain that I’m not completely opposed to CrossFit. The program has make physical fitness more appealing to the masses, and that’s great. Moving is better than not moving. But that’s also like saying not doing drugs is better than doing drugs. Not doing drugs means no cocaine or heroin, but you can still smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, drink soda and regularly get three hours of sleep a night. The four people I know who joined CrossFit gyms decided to do it because they wanted to get fit, and that seems to be one of the primary reasons people do it. But what does “fit” mean? I asked a couple of colleagues at work what it means to them; their answers were all pretty much the same. One said, “To lose fat and put on some muscle.” Another said, “To be able to do things without getting tired and to have more energy.” Another said, “To have a chiseled stomach and just get strong.” I agree with all them–that’s my definition of getting fit. But using CrossFit to accomplish these things is like using a Rube Goldberg machine to turn on a light.

This is CrossFit

Using CrossFit to get fit/ ripped/ strong is like using a Rube Goldberg machine to turn on a light.

Using CrossFit to get fit/ ripped/ strong is like using a Rube Goldberg machine to turn on a light.

Just like boxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and baseball and American Ninja Warrior are sports, so too is CrossFit. Don’t get it twisted. CrossFit is a sport. It is the sport of exercising excessively and randomly. It is NOT bodybuilding. It is NOT powerlifting. It’s not Olympic lifting. It is NOT sprinting. It is not marathoning. It’s not gymnastics. It’s a twitchy, bizzare Frankensteinian extreme workout hybrid of all of those. Those other sports I named will all get you fit (except maybe baseball), but more importantly, they all have a purpose, a goal. In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the goal is to become better at submitting your opponent. In baseball, it’s to become more accurate hitting and catching a ball and running the bases. In American Ninja Warrior, it’s to exercise as much coordination, speed, strength and balance as possible to overcome an obstacle course. In weightlifting, it’s to develop larger, stronger, more explosive muscles. CrossFit’s goal is to endure excessively random, excessively intense exercise. Any highly experienced strength coach will tell you that the systematic, repetitive level of fatigue CrossFit creates limits peak strength development itself, as well as the efficiency with which strength can be developed. CrossFit, quite literally, makes you good at nothing. To many people new to sport/ strength training, CrossFit looks awesome, but it really, truly is not. It is simply obnoxious activity for activity’s sake.

Just like those other sports, CrossFit can certainly get a person fit, but if being healthy and creating a hard, powerful, explosive, ripped body are the goals, CrossFit is completely pointless and a massive waste of energy. I wince at the thought of needlessly ripping through all those calories. There are WAAAAAY better ways to get fit/ strong/ jacked/ ripped/ powerful/ fast. CrossFit analogy: you have to go grocery shopping for the week and you’ve got one hour to do it. The store is five miles from your house. You walk into your garage, get into your car and drive to the store, buy six bags of food, and drive them home. But why did you use the car when you could have used your skateboard? It’s the same reason why you don’t use CrossFit to get strong and a ripped/ jacked/ excellent physique. Getting strong and ripped is much easier than blowing your body out with CrossFit, the frantic, yapping, directionless Jack Russel Terrier of exercise routines.

You can develop a fantastic body and get really, really effing fit by slowly lifting heavy weights (moving slowly at the gym, in general), resting a lot, walking, stretching, and eating foods that go bad if left unrefrigerated or if you don’t eat them within a few days of purchase.

21 reasons why CrossFit is not the way to fitness

1. Hard on the joints and connective tissue
CrossFit employs exercises that put enormous strain on joints. There’s lots of jerking of heavy weights, putting the shoulders in compromised positions, yanking, jumping, swinging, flailing and other stuff.

2. Too many reps of complicated, unnecessary motions
CrossFit uses lots of Olympic lifts regularly performed in sets of 20 or more reps or for time intervals. I feel really strongly about this: I think it’s absolutely stupid. One of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen, actually. I usually don’t write using such a scathing tone, but CrossFit really brings it out of me. Olympic lifts like the clean and jerk, the snatch and the power clean are very technical and require immense full body coordination. Olympic lifters practice these for years using low reps over many sets with plenty of rest in between. Maxing out until cardiovascular or muscular failure on these types of lifts is the pinnacle of dumbness. That’s what a lot of CrossFit gyms promote.

3. Practitioner of everything, master of nothing
Practice CrossFit, become a master of, well, nothing. Crossfit actually unabashedly prides itself on this concept–that it’s broad and general. It doesn’t develop peak strength because the cardio stress competes with the muscular stress, so you get ok at both but great at neither. That’s cool if that’s your goal, but I want full, hard muscles and low body fat, and I want it the easy way. There’s a sport for that. It’s called old- school, heavy-ass weightlifting with lots of rest between sets. Additionally, lifting heavy weights improves the force and speed with which a muscle can contract force a.k.a. explosivity.

4. Immune fatigue
This is a big, big negative. CrossFit workouts are known for their preternatural ability to create total body fatigue. A once a week, excessively-intense CrossFit style workout might be a useful part of a well-balanced training program for, say, an elite MMA fighter who requires endurance under physically stressful conditions, but this is not how CrossFit boxes look at their workouts. It’s all-out, all the time. Most people train like this several days per week. The immune system functions optimally when balanced training program with plenty of rest is employed. I used to get colds 4-5 times per year when I exercised like this. I haven’t had a single cold since I stopped exercising like this. True, my system might respond differently than others’, but people aren’t really all that unique when it comes to stuff like this.

5. More potential for injury
Dozens of reps of compound barbell exercises until you can’t do any more? This is so wrong I’m crying thinking of all the poor people who involve themselves in this stuff. Weights + high-level fatigue = stupidity beyond description. Here’s one of many great examples of the horribly misguided movements CrossFit not only endorses, but pushes like crack on people who love… crack. Take the upright barbell rows a bodybuilding exercise typically used to build the deltoids. It puts the shoulders in a compromised position because they’re internally rotated while under a significant load. This impinges upon relatively weak tendons that are part of the shoulder girdle. Over time, this creates undue wear on the tendons. Kinesthetically, it’s just plain bad. Know what? Any barbell compound lift that requires a clean (to move the bar from the floor or from hanging above your knees in one swift motion up to your collarbone) is requiring you to do exactly just a fast upright row. That’s what a clean is. And CrossFit has you performing that motion over and over and over and over and over until your heart and or muscles say uncle.

6. More potential for barfing
It’s almost encouraged by CrossFit, and certainly not frowned upon. I’ve never vomited from exercise in my life and have never seen any individual who knows what they’re doing in the gym vomit either. If vomiting = making progress and getting strong, then I’m the only exception to the rule. And I know I’m not.

7. Not sustainable into older age
These workouts are too physically intense and riddled with so many complex, jerky movements it’s just not possible to carry on with into old age. I see many strong, fit old timers lifting the right (old school) way at my gym, and I just want to hug them because they make me confident that I will be able to continue doing what I’m doing for the next 40 years.

8. Stupidly expensive
Where I live in NYC, you can easily pay in the upper $200 range per month to work out with basic equipment in a box. Know what? I can do the exact same thing for $35 per month at my cheap gym full of barbells and power racks. That’s about 90% less than a full CrossFit membership costs. And if I wanted to join a cult, I could do it for free.

9. Better ways to develop full body strength
Like the classic compound lifts executed with control and precision. Back squat. Front squat. Deadlift. Bench variations. Overhead press (and why the heck would anyone ever do handstand pushups a la CrossFit when an overhead press is far superior and overloadable?). Good mornings. Barbell row variations. Struggling at 5-8 reps. 3-5 sets. Sufficient rest between sets. Walking throughout the day. This develops ridiculous strength, stability, and, providing your diet is right, a ripped as hell body.

10. Unnecessarily grueling workouts
There’s just no reason why you should ever leave the gym feeling blown out. In my opinion, it means you’re doing something wrong. Almost every day I leave the gym feeling more energized that when I arrive there. CrossFit aims to kill you, to fatigue you, to make you want to rest for the rest of the day.

11. Momentum is used like it’s a good thing
Tell me something: why am I personally able to do 25 kipping pullups with perfect CrossFit form (picture a monkey having series of full-body spasms), but only 12 “normal” pullups under strict control, with one second up, a second static contraction, and two second concentric lowering phase? Why when I’m done with a set of kipping pullups do I have no idea which muscles I’ve worked? Why when I do strict, momentumless weighted pullups do I feel like my lats, rhomboids and deltoids are going to burst? Because kipping pullups are done for the sake of doing kipping pullups, while classic, strict pullups are done with the specific goal of developing muscle and progressively building strength. Momentum factors into virtually every single exercise CrossFit peddles. When did classic lifting stop being the most effective tool for developing an amazing physique and healthy body?

12. CrossFit trainer certifications are more about money than knowledge
It takes a couple of days to get a basic CrossFit coach certification, which means you can run your own gym. No previous experience required. That scares the crap out of me. A novice coach teaching incredibly complex, unnecessarily frantic movements to other novices. If you’re gonna do CrossFit, make sure your coach has years of CrossFit coaching under his or her belt. But then again, maybe you should just avoid the problem and not do CrossFit.

13. Performing advanced compound lifts in a fatigued state
Notice a theme here? I would never, ever, ever suggest to anyone that they should perform heavy squats after just having done 30 kipping pullups, or, even worse, sets of 20 deadlifts. There are some seriously wrong things happening in CrossFit gyms.

14. Really, really bad idea for novices
Hell, I’m a fairly advanced lifter myself, have been training for over 20 years, have participated in/ tried virtually every exercise fad out there, have participated in CrossFit workouts, and would never suggest a CrossFit workout to even my fittest friends. There’s just too much potential to lose focus, lose control, break form doing herky-jerky reps of whatever very technical is being pushed and damage a rotator cuff, compress a disc, sprain an elbow, etc.

15. Everything is max effort performed to near exhaustion
There is no virtue in blowing yourself out during any workout. The only exception might be for the mental challenge every once in a while–like running a marathon. Otherwise, what the heck is the point? Any regular fitness program that stresses AMRAP i.e. “As Many Reps As Possible” as a core lifting modality is absolutely, positively asinine in my opinion. I exercised this way for years. CrossFit is an overtrainer’s paradise.

16. No long-term plan for progress
Take two untrained individuals. One begins a classic, heavy compound lifting program, while the other starts CrossFit. They both experience rapid muscle gains in the beginning. They both lose body fat (because they’re also eating properly). As time passes, the lifter steadily continues to make strength, power and size gains, while the CrossFitter’s progress slows considerably. Eventually, the CrossFitter is making no progress and is essentially just doing exercises for the sake of it. One of the many problems with using CrossFit to get ripped and steadily build power and strength over the long term is that its workouts are completely random without a central focus on the concept of progressive overload. The workout of the day can be anything. Randomness = confusion = no gains. I’ve never heard of a CrossFitter saying, “In two years time I want to be able to do 75 hang cleans without stopping.” There are no real, solid, long-term goals that can exist in CrossFit because progressive overload is a foreign concept. The workouts are all about going balls-to-the-wall all the time, which is the exact technique to use if you don’t want to make progress. This is not training. This is just hard exercise. Classic, proven, unglamarous, “boring”, slow, heavy lifting enables the practitioner to set goals with a clear plan for getting there, like, “Within two years, I want to increase my five-rep back squat by 70 pounds. I will get there by adding weight to the bar according to [whatever the progression method is]. I will record every rep I perform, every set I complete, and take notes on how I feel doing it.”

17. Counterproductive for muscle development
Sure, you might see some jacked CrossFit practitioners on TV if you watch the CrossFit games. But that development is in spite of CrossFit. You’d better believe they’re doing lots of stuff (like classic heavy lifting) that’s not part of any CrossFit WOD to be able to compete in the games.

18. Herd-think, herd-exercise, little individualization
You either do the workout of the day, or you don’t do CrossFit. Maybe today my shoulders and traps are really fatigued and I want to focus on the prime movers in my lower body. Nope. Sorry, you’re doing those snatches and handstand pushups and ring dips and kettle bell swings. And you’re gonna kip. Oh yeah, you’re gonna kip. That’s what’s on the menu today. I’d rather take a Krav Maga class–at least I can learn some truly useful self-defense techniques with the herd.

19. No time for centering and focusing
One of the most important aspects of a solid strength program is the time between sets and even the seconds between reps used to recenter the mind and focus on the coming task. That time engenders self-correction and a mental environment more conducive to autoregulation. That’s where you’re constantly monitoring how you feel and the quality of your form and adjusting accordingly. Because CrossFit promotes so much non-stop, frenetic movement performed under significantly sub-maximal loads, there’s a lot less time to autoregulate and take stock of the feedback your body is providing.

20. Kneeling at the muscle confusion alter
Muscle confusion is the theory that strength gains will slow and/ or stop if you keep doing the same stuff because your body adapts to everything. You have to “keep your muscles guessing” if you want to get strong. The idea is complete bullsh*t, at least in the way it’s typically applied by fad workouts like P90X and Insanity… and CrossFit. And I’ve done them all, people (throughout my less “thinkingful” early and mid 20s). The fact that the body adapts to everything cannot be disputed. But these obnoxious workout routines have taken that truth and bastardized it for their own marketing and ca$h benefit. They’re like, “Do these three exercises really fast and light, then do this one slow and heavy, then don’t repeat them again for like 15 days, but make sure you sprint in between and throw medicine balls at the wall a lot and then do 10 sets of five pushups in between the in-betweens and climb a rope really fast and do as many hang cleans as you can in two minutes then do one really heavy rep of a deadlift. Don’t let your muscles catch on because your muscles have brains, see, and they need to be confused to do their best.” This isn’t even a hyperbolized version of CrossFit. It’s what goes on in those gyms. The best, most unfailingly simple, time-tested approach to building a massive-strength-to-bodyweight-ratio is to do the same major big compound lifts over and over and over, adding a little more weight each time. Ever hear the saying “practice makes perfect”? 10,000 back squats performed over the course of years with the goal of adding a little weight or adding one more rep to just one set during each session will make you a fit beast, man or woman. There’s always some flexibility around set, repetition and loading schemes, exercise order and perhaps modest alterations around exercise selection (like maybe heavy good mornings this week instead of heavy Romanian deadlifts to shift a little emphasis off my lower back), but this in no way, shape or form resembles the insanity of Insanity, and CrossFit WODs.

21. Marketing itself as the end, rather than the means to it
After everything I’ve just ranted, I think the real shame of CrossFit is that it can actually fit into a well-rounded strength and conditioning program for enhancing athletic performance when applied judiciously. Sure it’s very general, but it can build mental stamina and overall endurance. But these things shouldn’t be viewed as ends in themselves. They are lower-level components–building blocks–that can help bolster general performance in sports and pursuits with specific, well-defined goals and reasons for existence. It doesn’t make any sense to treat an activity that can be a tool to help bolster general sports performance into a sport itself.

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Ripped Recipe: Baked Veggie Oat Patties with Lime-Cumin Aioli

Ripped Veggie Oat Patties

Sounds weird, I know, but they’re good. I created these several months ago when trying to figure out how to get lots of vegetables into my son. I’m not a fan of disguising vegetables, but sometimes it’s just necessary. This recipe is gluten-free. You could make it dairy-free too by eliminating the cheese and figuring out what else you could bind it with.

<strong>Ingredients</strong>
You can use literally any vegetables you like. For this particular batch I used the following:
1 large zucchini
3/4 head cauliflower
1/2 head broccoli
1 medium vidalia onion
3 large carrots
1 medium sweet potato
1 small can tomato paste
2 beaten eggs
1.5 cups oat flour (I just put quick oats in the blender for a few seconds to make flour) *you could sub in some almond flour or coconut flour too
a cup of shredded cheese of your choice
optional grated parmesan or pecorino, like a half cup

<strong>Preparation</strong>
Grate all veggies except onion into a big bowl (I use a regular box grater). Small dice the onion because it doesn’t grate cleanly. You could also just dump everything into the food processor.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cook the grated veggie mixture in a couple of batches just until a little soft (like 5 mins). Add oat flour, tomato paste, cheese and spices to veggies once they’re done cooking and back in the bowl. Taste the mix and add whatever seasonings you want. You can go really simple with salt and pepper or go Italian and add garlic powder, basil and oregano. Or you could go more Middle Eastern with cumin, ras el hanout and fennel. You could go Indian with curry spices. Do whatever you want really. Let this mix cool so it’s not more than warm. Then add eggs (you don’t want the eggs to cook until you bake).

Lay some parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Next, using your hands, form patties with the mixture (it will be sticky). If it seems too wet and sticky (like it’s not staying together at all), just add more oat flour until it holds together better. I like to wet my hands with a little water so the mix doesn’t stick as much to my fingers. Set the patties on the parchment-covered baking sheet with at least a centimeter between them. Bake at 350 until golden brown. I’ve never timed how long this takes, but somewhere in the 45-60 minute range.

I like to eat these wrapped in lettuce with a cumin-lime aioli made with:
a couple Tbsp mayo
cumin to taste
juice of half a lime
salt to taste
chili powder to taste
(mix all the above together)

Getting Ripped: “The Opposite of Common Sense” Series, Part III — Eat Plenty of Carbs

The trend of vilifying carbs is hotter than the dot com boom and shows no signs of letting up. Yeah, and it’s totally wrong. Energy balance is the only thing that matters. You will lose weight if you burn more calories than you consume. That’s it. It’s the first law of thermodynamics. But notice, I said “weight” not “fat”. “Weight” could mean any combination of muscle and fat. I explained in part II of this series that the key factor involved in regulating the type of weight you lose (i.e. muscle vs. fat) is heavy resistance training in addition to an energy deficit. Technically, you could eat only Saltine crackers and still lose weight, and specifically fat.

Having a large proportion of your calories come from carbohydrates is really important while cutting because we know that it’s super important to keep lifting heavy and with a lot of effort during a cut. But remember, you’re going to be in an energy deficit, meaning that your capacity to move the weight will be diminished. The problem with cutting carbs while cutting is that your muscles will quickly become depleted of their favorite and most accessible fuel source, glycogen. If you reduce carbs, you reduce muscle glycogen and your capacity to move the weights right along with it. When lifting, if your body is depleted of glycogen, energy will come from fat. But fat and glycogen metabolism each occur through two mutually exclusive pathways. The bottom line is that the fat pathway doesn’t provide anywhere near the immediate energy that muscle glycogen pathway does. You will be at a real disadvantage if you rely on fat metabolism for the acute energy requirements of a set of heavy squats.

But what about the people who say carbs are different that the other two macronutrients (fat and protein) because they just somehow make you fat? There’s been a classic argument going on between Jillian Michaels (of Biggest Loser) and Gary Taubes (an anti-carb researcher); Jillian says carbs are just like any other food and losing fat is about energy balance, while Gary basically says carbs are the enemy. Check out this YouTube vid for some clips of the argument. The way I see it is that they’re talking right through one another and they’re both right. If you you eat lots of carbs, but accurately monitor your calories in and out and eat below your maintenance calories AND lift heavy, you will lose fat. I’ve done it many times while eating ice cream, cereal, fruit, potatoes, oatmeal and rice. So clearly this would indicate that Gary Taubes is wrong and Jillian Michaels is right, right? Yes and no. Taubes’ entire argument against carbs is based on the mechanism of autoregulation, whereby the body sends the appropriate satiety signals to the brain at the appropriate time. In essence, it’s the body’s natural “stop eating” signal. With a diet comprised of the right foods, this autoregulation mechanism works well, and people won’t become fat. I agree completely. Taubes says that when carbs–particularly foods made with refined cereal grains–are introduced into the diet, the autoregulation mechanism breaks because these foods create disproportionate insulin responses, which drives blood sugar through the floor and creates more hunger that is out of line with real energy requirements. That false hunger breeds more eating and potentially fat gain. I agree with all of this. I can feel this… like what happens to my body when I eat rice, which makes me hungry. I know this, but I like rice and I eat it with other stuff to buffer those effects and I also know what “false hunger” feels like and when to ignore it.

The point is that if you if you understand your body, if you understand how different foods work, if you calculate calories and maintain an energy balance, you can eat whatever food you want and override the autoregulatory inhibition that some carbs cause (although from the micronutrient standpoint, it’s not a good idea to eat refined foods). With the right carbs in your diet, you’ll have to do less overriding and more letting your body guide you.

Ripped Recipe: Frozo-Fizzed Fruit Float

This is an every night thing for me.

Fizzily fantastic.

                        Fizzily fantastic.

Ingredients

Fruit of your choice
Trop 50 juice, whatever flavor (I like the blueberry pomegranate)
Plain or flavored seltzer (I like Polar champagne strawberry, apple ginger, lemon, and blackberry bergamot best)

Preparation

Dice whatever fruit you like into approximately 1/2″ cubes and freeze for a few hours. I like watermelon, plum, pear, sometimes nectarine and sometimes a little banana.

Put frozen fruit into a glass (I like a wider, shorter one). Fruit should come up to or close to rim. Pour cold seltzer over fruit until covering half the fruit. Fill rest of glass with cold Trop 50. Eat.

When the cold seltzer hits the frozen fruit, it sort of freezes to the outside and creates a carbonated slush shell around some of the fruit. I never drink juice except for the few ounces of Trop 50 I use in this recipe. I’m not a big fan of artificial sweeteners but Trop 50 impresses me somewhat because stevia is used in it. I guess stevia in the powdered form is technically artificial, but it’s sure not aspartame, sucralose or acesulfame potassium.

Getting Ripped: “The Opposite of Common Sense” Series, Part II — Lifting More = Bad

Do not lift more weights, do more exercises, do more sets, or spend more time lifting

Lots of people think that getting ripped means doing lots of reps for lots of sets of lots of exercises. High reps for definition, right? That line of thinking seems common sense, but is totally wrong. Definition is the result of low body fat and a base of solid muscle. During a cut, the goal is to force the body to retain muscle and burn fat. I explained in yesterday’s post in this series that heavy weightlifting forces the body to switch its fuel source from muscle to fat when in a caloric deficit; it’s a new stimulus telling it to spare muscle because it’s critically needed for something. The most effective way to stimulate a muscle is to fully fatigue its fast twitch fibers, which are heavily recruited during acutely intense activities (like sprinting and heavy weight lifting), as opposed to slow-twitch fibers, which are recruited more heavily during endurance activities (marathon running, biking, tennis, walking, brushing teeth, etc). To make it simple, the heavier the weight, the more quickly all fibers of the muscle become fatigued assuming that proper form and loading is used. The general guideline for the big compound lifts is that the weight should be heavy enough that you can push out between five and eight repetitions per set with proper rest intervals (anywhere between 90 seconds and five minutes between sets depending on the lift). Generally, I find that lifting elicits the best gains when I’m struggling on my last repetition of each set somewhere in that range. But in a caloric deficit you have less energy to lift and your body’s capacity to heal itself is reduced, so something has to give. The smartest thing to do is to reduce lifting volume. When I’m cutting, I reduce sets down to just three per exercise for a total of only 12-15 sets. To some people, that might sound like not much, but it’s absolutely plenty for retaining muscle. Novices/ untrained individuals/ people coming off a layoff will usually even gain muscle while while cutting using very heavy weights and fewer sets. There is, of course, a caveat: every single set really has to count toward creating as much fatigue (trauma) in the muscle as possible. This means lifting hard and smart. Hard means that near maximum effort is put into every rep with great form. Smart means that you only use the big compound lifts (all types of barbell squats, all types of deadlifts, all types of barbell presses-bench and overhead, all types of barbell and cable pulls, but no bullsh*t isolation moves) and you stop the exercise after three sets even if you’re feeling like you can go for more. The problem with going for more is that you can end up creating more trauma to the muscle–normally a good thing when in an energy surplus–than the body can handle and repair when in a caloric deficit. So you end up breaking your muscles down at a greater rate than that at which they’re being repaired, and that means muscle loss. Clearly, that’s antithetical to our goals.

To summarize yesterday’s Part I post and this current post, to get ripped, eliminate structured cardio from your exercise diet and perform a limited number of sets (like three) of a limited number of COMPOUND lifts (like five max) using a weight you cant push for more than eight reps with great form. Part III coming soon (it has something to do with carbs).

Don't be this guy

Getting Ripped: “The Opposite of Common Sense” Series, Part I — Cardio = Gumby Body

It’s absolutely amazing to me how the gates of the Ripped Palace opened wide when I began doing literally the exact opposite of what I (and I think most people) think is the way to get it done. In the following three-part series, I’ll detail what I consider the top three actions that defy logic on the surface, but make complete sense when explored more deeply.

Do No Structured Cardio

Take a pair of twins. Same body type, same age, weight, height, bodyfat %, metabolism, caloric requirements, etc. They both want to drop fat, so they both create a daily caloric deficit of 500 calories. Twin #1 creates the deficit by engaging in vigorous cardio for an hour. Twin #2 does no cardio, lifts very heavy weights for 40 minutes (let’s say that burns around 200 calories), and cuts caloric intake by 300 calories. Twin #2 loses fat much more quickly than twin #1 and develops a more muscular physique in the process. What gives?

I’ll get straight to it: cardio creates hunger and and diverts precious resources from muscle retention and development processes. I’ve said in many past posts that I was a chronic cardio addict until only a couple of years ago. During that time, I struggled to hold muscle. Cardio was why. When you put your body into a chronic energy deficit, it wants to do whatever it can to reduce its energy needs to accomodate the deficit. Analogy: your body is a cargo plane. You’re half way across the Pacific Ocean, full of cargo when you realize that one of the fuel tanks is punctured. The puncture is your energy deficit and the more cardio you do, the bigger the hole. You can do one of two things: dump your cargo or dump your fuel. Simple choice, right? Dump the cargo to preserve the fuel you have so you don’t splash into the ocean, which is exactly what your body does when you engage in chronic cardio, but the cargo is your muscle. MUSCLE. Your body requires energy to hold muscle, but requires virtually nothing to hold fat. Fat = fuel. So in an effort to reduce energy demand, your body happily scarfs down muscle before it burns fat (it’s not all-or-nothing, but the majority of what’s metabolized will be muscle). Fat is precious to your body because it’s pure energy, and very energy dense, so–get ready to have your mind blown–your body will attempt to retain fat at all costs. This explains “skinny fat” syndrome, i.e. when an individual looks slim but carries less muscle and more fat as a result of putting his or her body into a caloric deficit and either lifting no weights, or not lifting the right way. Accordingly, the body has no reason to retain muscle, so it dumps as much as it can and retains fat for what it’s treating as an emergency (the energy deficit). Since there’s a lower limit to muscle loss because muscle is used for everyday activities (like walking and washing your hair), the body will have to spare a base amount of muscle. But the bodies of people who engage in chronic cardio without hitting the heavy weights will shed mainly muscle until the next best option becomes fat (think of Gumby. Gumby is slim, but, well… gumby.). But even if a person who performs heavy cardio also lifts heavy weights, the body will still burn more muscle than it will when lifting heavy in the absence of heavy cardio. I think it’s clear now why Twin #1 is having a problem losing fat and shaping up.

So if you’re truly interested in dropping fat, try your best to ignore “common sense” and forget the structured cardio. Don’t get me wrong–activity is still really important for general health (lymph movement, overall mobility, sanity) which is why walking throughout your day is more beneficial, easier, less stressful and more productive overall than banging out an hour of hard cardio out in the gym. Just get your 10,000 steps.

Abdominal Exercises Are Useless. I Promise.

My friend asked me an interesting question the other day: “What do you think is the most useless exercise, and what is the most useful?”

The second part of the question is tough to answer, but I told him that if I could do only one exercise, it would be the front squat deadlift. Sure, there’s no such thing as a front squat deadlift, but cheated on the answer because I think they’re the two most effective strength exercises a human can perform. But the answer to the first part was a no-brainer: any exercise that targets the abdominal region directly–like sit-ups, crunches, leg raises/ lifts, and certainly torso twists–is the most useless. Blech.

Look at the two photos below. In the one on the left (July 2014) my abs are a little more defined than in the right (Jan 2015). Is it because I stopped doing direct abdominal work? Definitely not, because I haven’t done any–I repeat ANY–direct ab work in years. My abs are slightly more blurry now because I’m purposely carrying more fat. On the left I’m sub-7%; on the right, I’m just over 8%, which on my body equates to a couple of pounds. My strong core is purely the product of heavy front squats, heavy back squats, and heavy deadlifts. I truly believe that direct abdominal work is a waste of life, except of course for the pros who are interested in carving out fine details (which is only worthwhile at the sub 5% bodyfat level.

None of this is to say that you can’t develop abs with crunches and other stuff [crap], but why bother? Isolation exercises do nothing for intermuscular coordination and development of proportional strength i.e. the right ratio of strength between muscle groups for optimum functional balance. So if you’re doing tons of direct ab work, you’ll also have to do tons of lower back isolation work, and if you do that, you’ll have to make sure you’re getting the right amount of hamstring stimulation, which means you’ll also need to make sure you hit the muscles of your hip complex and the three heads of your quads. There’s just no way to know if you’re developing strength in all those areas in proper proportion to one another. Seems complicated, right? It is. But it’s not if you just stick to the basic giant compound lifts and forget about hitting individual muscles.

Best Ways To Stay Weak

Like many working people with families who frequent the gym, I have limited time for it. So I make damned sure that my top priority is to use the time I have there as efficiently as possible. I spend no more that one hour at the gym on any given day (on weekdays, that’s even pushing it a little). With less than an hour a day, six days per week, getting into amazing shape is easy. Here are the things I never do because they help weakness grow.

1. Engage in structured cardio
As a former cardio addict, this idea and especially the practice was tough to get used to. But once I did it, everything began to make sense and my body composition started to change like magic. After years and years of exercise and doing the wrong things, I now know what’s right. I believe that structured cardio is not only unnecessary, but also counterproductive for losing fat. It made me hungry and it also made me weak. It did absolutely nothing for my strength and size and zilch for functional ability. Replacing structured cardio with heavy weight lifting was one of the most productive things I’ve ever done in my life. I very strongly believe that cutting calories from the diet is far more effective than cardio for dropping fat. Don’t get me wrong–I’m still a proponent of activity, and I always make sure to get 10,000 steps per day (according to the FitBit in my pocket). That’s around 500 calories worth of stepping spread over the day during the process of living and working. I almost always go out for a walk mid-day. I take the stairs up eight flights to my office, I bike to and from work. That’s plenty. The body can only divert so much energy to repairing itself; I’d rather that energy go into lifting and fixing the damage I do to my muscles during my lifting sessions (getting stronger and bigger) than be wasted just for the sake of it. Here’s an analogy: an hour on the elliptical is like dumping a gallon of kerosene onto the street and igniting it, while an hour of heavy lifting is like using that same gallon of kerosene to heat water that spins a steam turbine that powers a machine that builds muscles (I think the analogy fell apart at the end there). This is no knock on people training for sports and marathons and the like–it’s a statement that [in my opinion] for the average person like me, doing cardio to get a cut/ toned/ strong body is fantastically unproductive and a waste of precious time.
2. Engage in bullshit lifts
Compound lifts are where it’s at. All forms of barbell squatting (back, front, Bulgarian split, hack), all forms of deadlifts (American, Romanian, stiff-legged), good mornings, barbell (and a little dumbbell) pressing (i.e. flat & incline bench, overhead), and big pulls (Pendlay rows, t-Bar rows, dumbbell rows, weighted pullups, cable rows [alternatively, deadlifts can fit in here as well]). That’s it. They get more of the muscles and joints working in the way they’re supposed to move and contract in relation to one another than any other crap lifts. Isolation lifts are for champion bodybuilders who are already extremely low on body fat (like 4%) and are looking to extract supernatural definition from very specific muscles. My only exception to the rule is six to ten WEEKLY sets of assistance work for the triceps and six to eight WEEKLY sets of assistance biceps work. Zero direct abdominal work because none of the muscles that are part of the abdominal/ core complex are meant to contract eccentrically as their primary function, which is what happens during a crunch or sit-up or whatever other useless “exercise” is touted as being a great ab stimulator. If you don’t believe me, look at my abs on the home page. I haven’t performed a single direct repetition for my abs in years, yet I still have a strong, defined core. It’s simply a combination of low body fat % and performing the big lifts. They all require very powerful isometric core contraction, which is exactly how our abdominal muscles are built to work.
3. Lose focus
I do my best before each set to focus on making it an all-out animalistic effort with the knowledge that the second it’s over I can completely relax for a couple of minutes. That’s the reward. I think about it this way: an hour-long lifting session probably boils down to around 20 or 25 minutes of very intense effort and that I won’t have to generate even 10% of that effort for any of the remaining 1,415 minutes [of the day] outside of those 25 minutes.
4. Rush lifts
I mentioned earlier that my lifting sessions last an hour. Sometimes a lift might be so taxing that I need extra time to recover between sets. That’s fine. That’s good. It means the set was tough and my body will respond by adapting to it providing I give it the rest it’s asking for. Inevitably, as a result, there are some sessions during which I realize I’m running out of time to complete all sets of all lifts that I set out to take on. The constant is that I must be out of the gym on time. The variable is how I choose to use my remaining time. I could do one of two things: 1) rush to complete the remaining sets, or 2) continue to take my time, but not complete the remaining sets. I choose #2 every time. Rushing and lifting stand in diametric opposition to one another. I’d rather eat a pint of ice cream before rushing a lift. Ice cream feels better going down. If I have six minutes left in the gym and I still have, say, four sets of a lift to complete, I’ll simply continue on my pace, putting every ounce of effort I have into the sets I’m able to complete in that time and forget about any sets I might have missed. Intensity is way more important than getting everything done.
5. Ignore the importance of tracking progress
Could there be a correlation between the number of people who lift without recording their progress and the number of people who make little progress? I think so. Journals are good. When my goal isn’t losing fat, I aim to improve every lift every session. If it means one more rep at the same weight or the same number of reps at a greater weight, or the same number of reps at the same weight but at a faster pace, it’s all good to me. That virtually impossible to track without a journal.

Fasting 20 Hours Daily: My Experience One Year In

I haven’t posted for a long time, but I just had the sudden urge to write. I’ve officially been fasting every day for a year now, the majority of which has been for 19.5 hours daily (9pm – 4:30pm). I don’t see myself ever going back to a more “normal” eating pattern. When people find out that I fast every day for so long (usually because I don’t eat at work), most of them are intrigued and ask questions. I thought I’d post some of the questions I’m asked most frequently and how I answer them.

“Don’t you get hungry?”

This is almost always the first question. Sometimes I do, but only for very brief periods (like five or 10 minutes) that quickly pass. I consume the number of calories appropriate to my fitness goals (whether it be muscle gain or fat loss) in my 4.5-hour eating window at the end of the day, which I believe my body is processing through a good portion of the period during which I’m fasting and that helps limit hunger. I drink two cups of coffee each day as well, which definitely helps reduce pangs.

“How do you stay awake and how do you think clearly?”

I’m way more awake and clear-headed during my fasted period. When I begin eating food (particularly carbohydrates i.e. rice, potatoes and oats at the end of the day), I become palpably groggy and sluggish. That’s good because it helps me go to sleep, but only when I want to go to sleep. I’ve learned to use carbs like some people use Ambien. Only difference is that the carbs are natural, while Ambien is a scary chemical monster.

“Doesn’t eating so much right before bed make you fat?”

Clearly no. Not only have I found no academic literature demonstrating causality between eating right before bed and getting fat, but I also happen to finish eating literally a few minutes before going to bed every night and it has absolutely no effect on fat gain. Energy balance is still king. I also have a 50% bro-science theory that the body can more efficiently digest food when it doesn’t have to divert energy into doing other stuff like moving around, talking, thinking etc.

“Doesn’t your metabolism slow down?”

No. There are mountains of peer-reviewed studies in well respected medical journals clearly demonstrating that the metabolism of a healthy individual (human) doesn’t slow until somewhere in the three-day fasting range. My own experience is the best proof for me, and I see no hint whatsoever that my metabolism is slowing. In fact, my hair and nails have been growing noticeably faster since I began fasting, which is an indicator of a faster metabolism.

“How can you possibly build muscle without eating for so long?”

Technically, my fasting isn’t absolute; I do take BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) during my fasting period: ten grams spread out during and immediately after lifting, then another ten grams a few hours later. It works out to 80-100 calories (BCAA is technically protein, so it’s 4 cal/ gram). It’s the one supplement that without question has a direct effect on my rate of muscle growth. When I began fasting, I took BCAAs according this schedule, but after a few months of doing it, dropped the second serving out of a combination of forgetfulness and believing they weren’t necessary (I think I even mentioned that in a past post). I maintained a six-day heavy compound lift schedule and maintained my total daily caloric intake, but my gains slowed dramatically. I chalked it up to the body’s natural adaptive response (sort of a foolish idea looking back). But nearly four weeks ago after reading more about the importance of BCAAs while fasting, I reintroduced the second serving of BCAAs into my routine, and sometimes also a third smaller serving around 2pm. I changed nothing about my lifting or caloric intake other than the extra 40 or so calories that came from the added aminos. It’s no exaggeration to say that it was like flipping on the muscle and strength switch. Every single one of my big lifts has increased (working max on the deadlift by 6% and a whopping 11% on the back squat in just four weeks), and I’ve visibly added muscle. My wife noticed, some coworkers noticed, and my clothing is tighter in the right spots. I’m not a big fan of supplements (aside from creatine monohydrate, fish oil, whole food multi and vitamin D), but I strongly believe in the power of BCAAs for gains while fasting. I don’t think they’d be worth it if I wasn’t fasting since I’d be eating real food and getting a similar effect. The hypertrophy signaling power specifically of the BCAA leucine has received a good deal of attention in the bodybuilding community recently, and, based on my own experience, it’s definitely not just hype.

“How do you have any energy to lift heavy without food?

I eat a lot at night and lift early in the morning during a time when I believe my body is still processing all that food from the night before. I have more energy lifting fasted than I ever had lifting after eating a traditional breakfast. I’ve begun referring to it as “clean” energy in that blood sugar levels are stable and there’s very little circulating insulin. As long as I’ve consumed enough complex carbs the prior night, I have a ton of energy, which can probably be attributed to good muscle glycogen levels. I’ve heavily experimented with both carbohydrate loading and restriction, and have found that my strength and stamina decreases noticeably when I’m restricting, even when keeping total daily calories constant.

As an aside, I see no point to carb restriction other than for vanity’s sake. Yes, a high carb intake (200-300g/ day for me) tends to blur the abs a little and cloaks deltoid striations as a result of some fluid retention, but it’s such a great boon to strength development that I don’t care. My perception is that a common belief is that carbs cause fat gain. I think people tend to mistake the associated water retention with fat gain. It’s also why people drop weight like mad for a week or so on low carb diets. Most of that is just water. I don’t think there’s any way to have it both ways; it’s just not possible for a TRAINED individual to continue to make strength and size gains on a low-carb or calorie restricted diet. That kind of diet is great for getting ripped, but not stronger.

“Why do you fast? What’s the point?”

All said, fasting makes it much easier for me to control my calories, it improves my focus, it’s easy and convenient (no thinking about what food to bring to work, no lunch prep) and it’s vastly improved my understanding of how my body works. It’s special to me and always with me. I’ve become preternaturally aware of specific foods’ effects on how I feel. For example, I’ve learned to break each day’s fast with some meat (both fatty and lean), cheese and fruits and vegetables rather than something higher in carbohydrate because carbs absolutely, positively make be feel like I’ve been sprinkled with sleepy dust. Not a bad thing at all–just not good when I’m not ready to sleep.