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Why Bother Being Ripped?

The irony in this blog is that although I’ve posted several shirtless photos of myself to document my progress, I almost never take my shirt off in front of others in real life, not even at the beach (although I don’t find myself there too often). So what gives? Why bother getting ripped if nobody knows what’s under my clothes (with the exception of my wife)? For me, being ripped and staying ripped is the product of living what I deem a healthy lifestyle, although every person might have a different concept of what a healthy lifestyle is. I’m certainly not suggesting that if you’re not ripped you’re not healthy (in fact, I believe the two are generally mutually exclusive) but rather it’s that the habits I consider healthy and have incorporated into my life also happen to produce a ripped physique.

150 lbs @ 7% body fat. Mostly functional with a touch of vanity.

150 lbs @ 7% body fat. Mostly functional with a touch of vanity.

Vanity vs Function

Although I keep it to only a couple of minutes per week, I do admit that I enjoy taking photos of myself in the mirror. I like to track my progress. Is that vain? Is it more about form than function? There’s probably some vanity involved, but the lion’s share of everything I do is functional; it’s not for show. In my case, form follows function. I’m not interested in being ripped for the sake of it; I’m interested in having a healthy body, and being ripped just happens to come with it.

Let’s take three individuals with similarly impressive physiques, but for whom appearance tells only part of the story and can belie the truth about each person’s health.

Person 1: The “bulker” and cutter

This person prefers to be ripped for a portion of the year, using the bulk and cut method to put on muscle and [what I consider to be] a good deal of fat, then cut down for several months, losing fat and some muscle. Many bodybuilders engage in this practice for their sport. While this is perfect for some people (and probably necessary for bodybuilders), it’s not my cup of tea, especially considering that I don’t compete or have any aspirations to do so. I don’t like the concept of swinging fat stores and overall body weight in general so drastically over the year. I make no comment about how it factors into the health of others, but I know it’s not right for my health. I also believe that it can lead to more licentious eating (like things out of boxes or sweets) during the bulking phase. It doesn’t mean that all individuals who engage in a classic bulk are doing it, but it’s a common occurrence. Further, eating so much food creates a pro-inflammatory immune response and reduces the body’s ability to use energy for cellular repair because it’s so busy working to break down and integrate nutrients all the time. A ripped physique says nothing about blood profile or cellular health.

Person 2: The sculptor

This is an individual who is more focused on creating a ripped physique and less so on developing functional strength. He or she performs many sets of many reps of a mind boggling array of exercises to target every muscle from every angle. This is awesome for some people, but I stay far away from anything that resembles this type of routine, which results in little functional strength development, central nervous system inefficiency, and imbalances between muscle groups because I believe it’s simply impossible to know, say, how many triceps kickbacks must be performed for how many reps and sets under what kind of load at what speed to properly compliment the four sets of pec-isolating cable flyes you just performed. Why not just bench heavy instead?

Person 3: The full-body metabolic conditioner

Think CrossFit or boot camp style training. Lots of people love routines like these; they can be great for developing functional strength. I’ve personally done absolute monster loads of strength-based metabolic conditioning in the past. But if you’ve read my posts about walking, you probably know how I’ve come to terms with how counterproductive metabolic conditioning is for the average person (like me). I think it’s definitely helpful for certain types of athletes in small, judiciously applied doses, but otherwise I prefer to stay far away from it the same way I do targeted sculpting routines. Some (only some) CrossFit practitioners see peeing blood as the result of exercise-induced muscle tissue breakdown (a.k.a. rhabdomyolysis) as a rite of passage and wear it as a badge of honor (I personally think that’s the most absolutely insanely stupid concept/ practice on the planet). Metabolic strength routines can be hell on the joints and connective tissue. Those explosive movements can take a major toll on the body after years. I’ll be 33 years old soon, and I want to stay very strong in the least stressful way possible.

Person 4: Me

If I stand next to any of the three types of people described above I might not stack up visually, but there’s a good chance that I’d be ahead on the spectrum of functional strength, joint health and possibly blood health. Since I’m not interested in sculpting my body in the least, but I am focused on minimizing gym time, I perform absolutely zero targeted muscular work i.e….

  • no biceps curls
  • no crunches
  • no shrugs
  • no triceps kickbacks
  • no dumbbell rows
  • no cable flyes… no cable work at all
  • no pec deck
  • no leg extensions
  • no leg presses
  • no leg curls
  • no calf raises
  • no shoulder raises
  • no… you get the point

…and use only heavy compound barbell lifts, chin-ups, pull-ups and dips. This is how I’ve developed a relatively high strength to body weight ratio in virtually any anatomical position. I can strictly front squat 125%, back squat and bench 170% of my body weight for reps, deadlift almost 190%, overhead press 100%, chin and pull-up 130% and dip 160% for several reps. I list these stats not to brag, but to make the point that one not need look very strong to be very strong. If you’ve ever watched American Ninja Warrior you might have noticed that the most successful competitors are those who are masters of their own body weight. They’re people who can maintain precise control over their bodies under exceedingly physically taxing conditions for extended periods. These individuals are ripped more often than not, but they’re also usually only carrying moderate amounts of muscle. Whenever I see someone big and ripped ready to attack the course, I know they’re likely not going to be completing it because it’s virtually impossible for them to overcome the weight of their own muscle, much as the way an enlarged heart is more likely to fail. This is no knock on big muscles by any means–it’s simply a statement that I prefer to maintain a high degree of mobility and an ability to carry my weight in a more effortless manner. Ten years ago I was at 166 lbs (big for me) with 10% body fat, and I was a tortoise with poor endurance. And since being ripped is a year-round state for me, I’m not drastically swinging my eating habits. I might add a couple hundred calories into my diet by opening my eating window to four hours per day for a couple of months when I want to add a little more muscle, or close the eating window a bit if I want to lose a little fat, but this is primarily for reasons of vanity. At its core, the lifestyle I follow heavily favors function and integrated health before all else, and rippedness follows.

Ripped Recipe: Easy Sunday Italian… Chili?!

I’m half Italian. I live in Brooklyn. I’m third generation Brooklyn on both sides. I grew up eating pasta with red sauce at grandma and grandpa’s for Sunday dinner (at 2pm). They might have shaken their heads at this one if they were alive today. I promise this is so freaking delicious. My three year old boy goes bananas for it. Warning: vegetarians might consider skipping this post entirely.

This makes an enormous pot.

Ingredients

A handful of simple ingredients are killin it in this recipe.

A handful of simple ingredients are killin it in this recipe.

1.5 lbs ground 90% beef (much better if your butcher grinds it)
~1 lb sweet Italian sausage (my butcher makes these) decased and broken up
~1 lb hot Italian sausage (ditto)
~1 lb grass fed chuck stew chunks
2 jars Classico Florentine Spinach and Cheese sauce**
1 large can diced organic tomatoes
1 medium eggplant, cubed
1 large sweet onion, diced
3/4 to 1 cup red wine
a little unsalted beef stock on standby (might not be necessary)
4 large carrots, one diced small, the rest medium diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp ground fennel
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
Dried basil, oregano, salt and pepper to taste

**I use this particular Classico blend because I think it tastes very good and it only contains 4g sugar per serving. That’s around half of others. And I know, the real Italian thing to do would be to cook everything from scratch, but this is a quick prep recipe, so don’t hate.

Awaiting their awesome saucy destiny.

Awaiting their awesome saucy destiny.

This is a Cote du Rhone I used for this particular batch of chili. I think  it tastes a little like grandma's closet, so I have no reservations about dumping it into a recipe.

This is a Cote du Rhone I used for this particular batch of chili. I think it tastes a little like grandma’s vest closet, so I have no reservations about dumping it into a recipe.

Preparation

  1. Add a pat of butter to a large (8qt) stock pot. Get it really hot, and add chuck and sausage chunks. Brown them well. Remove and set aside.
  2. Add ground beef to pot and brown. Add crushed garlic and let turn golden brown in beef fat. Add pepper to taste. Don’t salt yet or else you’ll draw out too much water from items in pot and reduce cooking temp too much. Add onions and cook until translucent with some pieces lightly browned. Add salt to taste now. Add ground fennel, oregano (I like a lot), basil (I like a lot), cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Continue to cook for a few minutes until the sweet fragrance makes you drool onto your toes.
  3. Add browned chuck and sausage back to pot. Add jarred tomato sauce, small diced carrot (adds sweetness) canned diced tomatoes and wine. Bring pot to a simmer and leave there for 2.5 to 3 hours. Chuck should be very tender. Add eggplant, peppers and remaining carrots. Cook until tender (15-25 mins depending on how soft you like). Done.

I serve this over rice pasta, jasmine rice, oatmeal (yes, that’s right), potatoes, cauliflower, cauliflower and cabbage, butternut squash, kabocha squash, spiralized zucchini, etc.

My Approach to Lifting

I’ve received a couple of inquiries over the past few days about why my lifting routine is so complicated and if it can be simplified. While I very honestly don’t think it’s complicated, one of this blog’s goals is to demonstrate just how easy getting ripped and staying ripped can be. To that, I do agree that it can be further simplified; truth be told, I generally do use the simpler version of the Ripped Forever Method during most sessions.

Two main principles

1. Lift very heavy barbells with great focus using basic compound motions and aim to improve (add reps or weight) each session.
2. Do not spend more than one hour in the gym.
Plus this:
3. Walk. A lot.

Lifting using the RF RPT Swing method

RPT is an acronym for reverse pyramid training. It’s not a new idea, and it’s not my idea, but I use it heavily (no pun) and tailor it to my own needs (which might be the only unique part). It’s simple: lift the heaviest load the smallest number of times on the first set and progress to lifting the lightest load the largest number of times on the last set.

I always perform three main lifts (Stronglifts style) followed by two to three “accessory” lifts. The accessories are also almost exclusively performed with a barbell or, less frequently, with dumbbells. Never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever machines.

Day A main lifts:
Barbell back squat
Push press
Deadlift

Day B main lifts:
Barbell front squat
Flat bench press
Pendlay row

Day A (this was my exact main lift session from Friday 7/25):

Barbell back squat:
Warmup (this goes quickly): naked bar x 10 | 95 x 7 | 135 x 5 | 185 x 3 | 205 x 1
Working sets: 235 x 2 | 225 x 3 | 210 x 4 | 195 x 6 | 185 x 8 | 185 x 8

Push press:
Warmup: naked bar x 8 | 95 x 4 | 115 x 3
Working sets: 140 x 3 | 135 x 3 | 125 x 4 | 115 x 5 | 95 x 7

Deadlift:
Warmup: 135 x 4 | 185 x 3 | 225 x 2 | 250 x 1
Working sets: 270 x 2 | 250 x 4 | 225 x 6

Day A accessory lifts:
Dead dumbbell swing press (I think I invented this): 80 x 10 per side (that’s it)
Supine (palms up) T-bar row: 90 x 7 | 90 x 7 | 90 x 7
High cable row (literally the only exception to the machine rule): 120 x 8 | 120 x 8 | 120 x 8

More on the accessory lifts

After the main lifts, I perform 2-3 accessory lifts, usually for three sets performed using a “freestyle” modality. Here’s an example of some of the options:

  • I might do 3 sets of speed dips, pumping out as many reps as possible in 20 second sets.
  • I might do 3 sets of 5 reps each of heavy weighted dips
  • I might do 3 sets of 8 reps of moderately-weighted chinups
  • I might do 3 sets of 8-10 reps of a decline or incline bench press
  • I might do 3 sets of 6-8 reps of good mornings
  • I might do 1 set of 5 reps on each side of my body of a heavy dumbbell suitcase deadlift
  • I might do 1 set of 10 reps on each side of my body of a dead swing press with a dumbbell
  • I might do 3 sets of 8-10 reps of a T-bar row
  • I might do 3 sets of 8-10 reps of a high cable row (one of the only times I use a machine)
  • I might do three sets of 12-14 bodyweight pullups

This method has been extremely effective for me because it address both physical AND mental obstacles. The goal is dynamic. Regarding the RPT portion, set two is different than set one, set three is different than two, etc. After grinding out a seemingly insurmountable and endless set of three heavy squats, I am elated in knowing that I will not have to do that again today (or tomorrow or the next day for that matter). I particularly enjoy using this method because it hybridizes strength and hypertrophy lifting modalities. Very heavy weights and low reps stimulate brute strength development (think powerlifters and strongmen/ women), while lighter loads and higher reps stimulate sarcoplasmic development a.k.a. hypertrophy (think bodybuilder).  What’s particularly beautiful to me about the “swing” method is that the next time I perform these same exercises, I might shift the entire rep range up and load range down. So instead of:

235 x 2 | 225 x 3 | 210 x 4 | 195 x 6 | 185 x 8 | 185 x 8

…I might opt for something like:

210 x 4 | 195 x 6 | 185 x 8 | 175 x 10 | 155 x 12

Crazier still (it’s not really crazy) is going for something like:

235 x 2 | 225 x 3 | 185 x 8 | 175 x 10

See what I did there? There’s a big load and rep gap between sets 2 and 3.

The goal is to always add more weight or an extra rep to the analogous set performed during the same exercise last time around. It’s so flexible and freaking wonderful. Please do let me know if you have any questions.

Why Red Wine is Important

Of course red wine isn’t important unless you want it to be.

Eating vs. Experiencing: I do both to stay ripped

I take time to schedule time to focus on savoring and engaging with the food that’s in front of me… but that’s only if the food in front of me is worth experiencing.

Here’s an example: tonight I might have a chicken breast with a heap of braised cauliflower, a few ounces of roasted kabocha squash and a baked potato. These are all foods I enjoy eating, and together they also present a nice nutritional profile; that’s great. My primary goals in eating are that 1) I’m consuming something that I think tastes good, and 2) I’m getting the right amount of calories from primarily whole sources. But the foods I typically eat for these purposes are also less complex from a gustatory standpoint. I’ve always referred to them as “face foods” i.e. foods that I can just pound into my mouth without really thinking about their flavor profiles, namely because they’re either sort of subdued or not exceptionally complex. Like rice pasta in red sauce with spinach and meatballs tastes really good to me, but I don’t consider the flavors to be exceedingly complicated or especially noteworthy. For me, a food that just tastes good is very different than a food that makes me stop and think about the way it tastes when I put it in my mouth–a food that creates an experience.

Foods meant to be experienced, not just eaten.

Foods meant to be experienced, not just eaten.

Strong, pronounced flavors are deeply satisfying and are a great tool for helping me keep ripped

Foods that create the most intense experiences for me are those with very strong and/ or complicated flavors. 100% dark chocolate. A fine imported salty prosciutto with sweet honeydew. An ounce of fatty Italian salami. A few shavings of black truffle. A tablespoon of a small-batch, high-quality peppery organic olive oil, sipped as if it were never meant to be consumed another way. A three or five-year old Gouda. An espresso, black. A complex red wine like Rioja or a deep, inky petite syrah. I make time to eat these foods when I know I won’t be distracted and can focus on them alone and experience their unique scents and flavors. I don’t consider myself a foodie, but I can certainly appreciate when something has an exceptional flavor according to my taste buds. Sometimes I feel as if I fall into an almost meditative trance when engaging with food in this way. Not only is it immensely satisfying, but it’s also a way for me to satisfy my soul without going overboard on calories, since I’m slowly consuming relatively small amounts of food. If I can, I enjoy breaking my daily 21-hour fasts at least a few times per week through this experiential style of eating.

High Fat, Low Sugar is Best, and Why Pinkberry Isn’t Healthy

15g sugar, 14g fat per 1/2 cup serving. An excellent dessert option.

15g sugar, 14g fat per 1/2 cup serving. An excellent dessert option.

It’s no secret that I’m not afraid of fat. Actually, I’ll qualify that. Trans-fat, yes, afraid. Fried foods, yes, afraid. Oils (except for non-heated extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil), yes, afraid. Naturally occurring saturated fat? Not afraid of it at all. Although I don’t consume them in enormous quantities, organic eggs, butter, milk, cream, cheese, lard and tallow are staples in my diet, and I make sure that around half to two-thirds of the fat I consume is naturally saturated. This works out to 60-80g of saturated fat per day, which is way higher than our government’s recommendation. Clearly, I take the government’s idea of what we should be eating with a grain of salt… or a gram of lard. There are many reasons why I believe saturated fat is not only healthy to consume, but necessary. My opinions have been shaped by a good deal of my own research. I won’t preach about it here any more than I already have, but you should feel free to do some Googling if interested.

Anyway, I do believe that simple sugars (especially fructose) are unnatural (and counterproductive at best, damaging at worst) in concentrations any higher than they might occur in fruit. That aside, I’m an ice cream freak, a condition at odds with my beliefs about sugar since ice cream contains, ummmmmmmm, sugar. What to do?

Read the label

Brilliant idea, right? If you take the time to compare the labels of different ice cream brands and flavors within brands, you’ll see that the sugar content varies massively between them. Calories tell almost none of the story. The difference in sugar content between one flavor in a brand and another can be double, but the calories might still read the same if the one with more sugar has less fat than the one with less sugar. This is very common with flavors that contain lots of mix ins, as well as with frozen yogurts, which are typically marketed as a healthier alternative to ice cream. This can be potentially misleading because they tend to (or at least can) contain more sugar.

Pinkberry–A wolf in sheep’s yogurt

Take this example: I recently found myself in a Pinkberry (frozen yogurt seller) when on a short vacation in California. In my opinion, Pinkberry attempts to market its products as healthy, although they don’t say it outright. Maybe that’s just me reading into it, but I think when most people think of Pinkberry, they think of a food product that’s not bad for them, and with all the hype around the probiotics their products contain, maybe even good for them (there are plenty of better ways to get a dose of probiotics). Anyway, of course I had to download the PDF containing complete nutrition for Pinkberry’s entire line of flavors (it’s literally 44 pages). I discovered that the majority of its offerings contain inexplicably large quantities of sugar. I calculated that across 35 flavors the average sugar content per 100g (or 1/2 cup) is around 22g, yet there’s no fat in most flavors. Without a good dose of fat to buffer that sugar, most of Pinkberry’s products are efficient insulin bombs (although there is the notable exception of Pinkberry’s plain Greek yogurt with only 6g sugar). That’s without any toppings, nearly all of which are unabashed sugar missiles. One serving of, say, the chocolate chip cookie dough topping is 12 grams and contains 5g of sugar. “Ok, 5g isn’t terrible”, you say, but do you have any idea how tiny 12 grams of cookie dough is? That’s less than 1/2 of one ounce. You almost can’t see it when it’s in the cup! Drop a couple of ounces of those on and you can VERY easily hit 60g of sugar in your final product, if not more.

There’s another frozen yogurt company out there called Red Mango that offers true “frozen yogurt” that really tastes like yogurt (tart) and has much less sugar than what we normally think of as frozen yogurt. I have to admit that I’m not fond of the flavor of this “real” frozen yogurt (I prefer to eat regular non-frozen yogurt), but I think that their products (or at least many of them based on what I can see on their website) are actually healthy.

Eat Ice Cream (or at least something with more fat and less sugar)

So in light of my opinions about natural fat (like the fat in a quality ice cream) and sugar, you can understand why I prefer not to eat frozen yogurt unless it contains less fat and less sugar than its ice cream counterpart, which is rare indeed. When I buy ice cream, I look for something with 13-15g of sugar per 1/2 cup serving and anywhere from 10-16g fat. I’m wary of ice creams with lower fat. Some companies create lower fat ice creams mechanically by churning air into their products (which then have to be called frozen desserts because they contain too much air to be legally deemed ice cream). Others add fillers, stabilizers and thickeners like carrageenan, mono and diglycerides, various gums, starches and who knows what else. I’m fine with extra air, but not with fillers. The frozen dessert in the image at the top of this post is awesome for several reasons. First, its base is coconut cream, which is exceptionally nutritious. Second, it contains 15g of sugar per 1/2 cup serving, which is acceptable to me. Third, it has 14 grams of fat, which is very satiating and helps moderate the insulin rush. Fourth, there’s scotch in it, and boy, you can taste it.

Ripped Recipe: Two-minute Avocado Banana Chocolate Protein Pudding

This is my every night go-to. It’s a staple. Excellent rich texture.

An awesome staple for me.

An awesome staple for me.

Ingredients
1/2 avocado
1/2 banana
1.5 scoops chocolate casein or 1 scoop casein and .5 scoop chocolate whey (The more casein, the thicker and denser the product. More whey = lighter, mousse-like.)
70g frozen mixed berries (a little more than a quarter cup)
3/4 cup water
3 ice cubes
cinnamon to taste

Preparation
You’ll need a very strong, small blender for this with a small cup so that the final product is smooth. I use a NutriBullet (600 watt motor) with the small (18 oz) cup.

Add avocado, banana and most water, followed by berries, ice cubes and finally protein powder topped with a little more water and cinnamon. Order is important. protein should be closest to blade so that it gets completely incorporated. Blend until smooth (around 20 seconds in the NutriBullet). If the blender chokes, add a little more water. I eat right out of the blending container.

Week 16: Beginning to add muscle

image

Week 16. Body fat in high 6% range at 148 lbs.

Now that I’m down to a body fat % in the upper sixes, I’ve begun a new 16-week cycle during which I’ll reduce the rate of fat loss in favor of muscle development. My goal is to drop to 6% bf and add 4 lbs of muscle over the course of the next four months. The primary technique I’ll use is… eating (while continuing to engage in a strength routine). I’ll reduce my daily fasting time from 21 hours to 20 hours to allow myself to more comfortably consume 300-400 calories over what I’m currently taking in.

Ripped Recipe: Tonight’s Dinner – Braised Baby Back Ribs Over Mashed Kabocha and Merguez Sausage in Lettuce Wraps with Yogurt Sauce

I fainted after eating this.

I fainted after eating this.

Ribs

Ingredients
3 lbs baby back ribs (I get extra thick from my butcher)
Several Tbsp rub of your preference (this time, I bought a pre-made rub)
1 cup white wine or red wine or unsalted chicken stock
a few cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, minced
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp white vinegar

1 Tbsp ketchup
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp barbecue sauce

Preparation
Rub ribs with… rub. Refrigerate for a couple of hour wrapped in foil. Use one large sheet so that it completely encloses the ribs with the seam at the top. You’ll want to be able to tightly seal the ends once it’s in the oven.

Preheat oven to 225 F.

Mix liquid, garlic, onion, honey, sugar, Worcestershire, vinegar in bowl and warm in microwave for a handful of seconds to increase viscosity of honey.

Remove ribs from fridge and add about 2/3 liquid to foil pouch. Make sure pouch holds liquid inside. Reseal, put on baking sheet and into oven for around 2.5 hrs.

Toward the end of cooking time, pour remaining braising liquid into small pan. Add ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, mix and reduce to lightly syrupy consistency.

Remove ribs from oven, brush with reduction, place under broiler for 6-10 mins or however long it takes to get the caramelization you want on the ribs. Cut up and suffocate these with your stomach.

Ribs awaiting glaze in background; glaze and steaming kabocha in fore.

Ribs awaiting glaze in background; glaze and steaming kabocha in fore.

Mashed Kabocha Squash

Peel and cut a kabocha squash into approximately 1″ cubes. You can either steam them for 12-15 minutes until tender or roast at 425 F for 35-40 mins. Kabocha (more than any other squash IMO) takes on an amazing flavor during a nice roasting.

When finished cooking, place squash in large bowl. Add a few pats butter (I like organic cultured butter), some grated Romano, salt, pepper, milk or stock. Maybe some cinnamon. Smash with fork or potato masher. Load plate and place drippy ribs on top if you haven’t eaten them all before sitting at the table.

Merguez with Yogurt Sauce

This makes 30 sausages. I don’t know if it’s truly Merguez (probably not), but the flavor profile is similar.

Holy Merguez, beefman! My vision is closing in!

Holy Merguez, beefman! My vision is closing in!

Ingredients
3 lbs 90/10 ground chuck (I actually use a mix of 90 and 85)
1/2 large sweet onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 Tbsp fresh mint, minced
3-4 Tbsp dried parsley
4 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp Ras El Hanout
3 Tbsp zatar (of which I ran out, so I substituted it with the following, which approximates the flavor: 4 tsp ground thyme; 2 Tbsp tahini; 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice)
1 tsp cinnamon

Preparation
In a bowl, mix everything listed above and refrigerate for an hour or so.

Preheat oven to 350 F

Roll beef mixture into balls, then elongate into sausage shape. Place onto parchment-lined baking sheet and brush with glaze recipe below. Into oven for around 20 mins or until cooked through.

For glaze:
1/2 cup red wine
2 tsp honey
a few Tbsp unsalted chicken stock
pinch kosher salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cumin

Mix all of the above and warm for a few seconds in microwave to decrease viscosity of honey.

For yogurt sauce:
1/2 cup full fat plain Greek yogurt
juice 1/2 lemon
1-2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp honey
a few leaves minced mint
1/2 tsp garlic powder
scant 1 tsp cumin
scant 1 tsp ground thyme
scant 1 tsp Ras el Hanout
shake cinnamon
2 pinches kosher salt

Mix all of the above and refrigerate for a little while.

To serve, wrap sausage in lettuce leaf (bib or romaine is nice). Spoon on some yogurt sauce and kill it with your teeth. Heck, I even smashed some steamed cinnamon kabocha in there for extra drama.

My Three Most Critical Stretches

Regularly performing full-body heavy compound barbell lifts keeps me pretty flexible, but there are three stretches that I perform religiously because they’re so critical to my posture and overall health.

Thoracic extension

This one is awesome. It opens up my entire anterior from my lower abs to my jaw. It simultaneously expands all abdominal muscles, the rib cage, stretches the pectorals and anterior deltoids, and massages the thoracic (upper section) spine. It’s fantastic for posture and I get a nice crack out of a couple vertebrae using it, which is something I love. I wish I could crack every single joint in my body.

The exercise is performed with a foam roller (I prefer high density). The goal is to have both the butt and back of the head on the ground at the same time while breathing slowly and deeply.

The king of all upper body mobility exercises.

The king of all upper body mobility exercises.

Hip stretch with external rotation

Hip flexor tightness is a problem that plagues the majority of humans working office jobs sitting all day (like me). Tight hip flexors pull the pelvis forward (anterior pelvic tilt), which is the #1 cause of lower back tightness and pain, a problem that also affects many distance runners (an activity that I engaged in for years and was exceedingly good at until I came to terms with how fantastically damaging and tension-producing it can be). Tight hips can even cause knee, upper back and neck pain! Maintaining a high degree of hip mobility can mean the difference between living a life free of widespread muscle tension and living one plagued by muscular imbalance.

I’m sure I didn’t invent this stretch, but I’ve never seen it before. A physio band is looped around the top of one foot close to the toes and the leg is subsequently pulled across the body up and behind the other leg. Maintain focus on pressing the bent knee into the ground and thrusting that hip toward the ceiling at the same time. Moving the non-stretched leg away from the stretched leg increases the intensity of the stretch.

External hip rotation stretch.

External hip rotation stretch.

Hip stretch with internal rotation

This movement is the opposite of external rotation. A physio band is looped around the top of one foot close to the toes and the leg is subsequently pulled out and away from the body. Maintain focus on pressing the bent knee into the ground and thrusting that hip toward the ceiling. Moving the non-stretched leg away from the stretched leg increases the intensity of the stretch.

Internal rotation hip stretch.

Internal rotation hip stretch.

Ripped Recipe: Millennium Oat Royale

This is more a concept than a recipe. I effing love oats. The only carb-heavy things I eat are 1) rice, 2) potatoes and 3) oats. I’m gonna do my damnedest to blow your mind with oats right now.

I only use the 1-minute kind. You can figure out how to make the oat recipes below on your own, or comment with questions if interested.

Savory

Oats with tomato sauce and sausage! YEAH!

Oats with garlic brown butter and raisins! YES!

Oats with grated Romano, rosemary and sliced grapes! BOOM!

Oats with tahini, sesame oil, smoked hot paprika and pureed eggplant! WHAAAAAT!!!!?

Curried oats with ground lamb, cherry tomatoes and dried apricots! DON’T FAINT!

Oats with coconut oil, orange zest, milk and mint! I CAN HEAR YOUR HEART POUNDING THROUGH THE INTERWEB!

Oats with sardines, zucchini, fish sauce, sriracha and basil! I SWEAR IT’S AWESOME!

Like mac and cheese?! Screw that. Oats and cheese! DAMN SKIPPY!

Sweet

Oats with honey, wine and prunes! HOLY COW!

Oats with chocolate casein, coconut manna and frozen berries! AWESOME!

Oats with smashed ripe banana, cinnamon and peanut butter! BAM!

Oats with melted dark chocolate, kosher salt and cayenne pepper! OBVIOUSLY!

Vanilla ice cream over warm (thick) oats with nutmeg! SIMPLE!

The list goes on and on and on.