Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Only Way to Work Abs – Part 1 of 2

We all know thousands of crunches and sit-ups are what it takes to get perfect abs, right?
Sadly, these exercises have grown synonymous with strong, attractive abs and they are probably what you see everyone doing in the gym too.  It turns out that crunches and sit-ups are incredibly ineffective for developing core strength.  And crunches and sit-ups actually do more harm than good!  I will just use crunches as an example from now on, but keep in mind the same rules apply for sit-ups.


Your core muscles were designed for one thing only – to keep your spine straight.  When performing a crunch, an unhealthy strain is put on your back at its weakest point.  This weak point is at the back of your lower spine, which contains a huge amount of nerves.  The high amount of nerves increases the potential of nerve damage.  Flexing your spine over and over with a crunch also puts you at risk for a disk hernia.  Your spinal disks can only take so many bends.  The more you bend, the closer you are to causing bulges or hernias.  Hernias can be debilitating, by the way. They can cause weakening of your entire body and incredible back pain.  You’ve always heard to lift with your legs to avoid hurting your back, right? So why would you do this same bend in a lying position?
“But crunches make my abs look good.” When you are doing a crunch, you are not using the muscles in the way they were designed.  And you are not building muscle for your health, you are only building them for looks. And guess what!  If you do enough of these excruciating crunches, you will actually have some horrible looking abs.  They will look great from the front, but when you see them from the side your stomach will actually poke out.  There are some guys in fitness magazines that appear to have incredible abs, but they are actually complete weaklings.  Not only have they created abs for the purpose of looks, they have put unnecessary wear and tear on their backs.  I’d like to think of them as chiropractors’ best friends.


Before we get started, I need your help.  I am soo tired of hearing the word ‘abs.’  I think it is the word ‘abs’ that got all of us doing these stupid crunches and sit-ups in the first place.  Can you help me by replacing the A-word with the word ‘core’ and vow never to use the A-word again?  Thanks, now let’s move on.
The best way to get the strongest, sexiest, and healthiest core is to work the muscles in the way they are designed.  Here’s a quick anatomy lesson to help us out – your core is composed of :
Rectus Abdominus – the six-pack, connects the rib cage to the pubic bone, balances the spine, creates abdominal pressure to help with lifting and going number 2 (these are my technical medical terms)
External Obliques – front side of body, assists in twisting and bending
Internal Obliques – underneath external obliques, assists in twisting and bending
Spinal Erectors – Run up both sides of the spine in the back.  I can always tell who is a strong lifter with a healthy core by looking at their spinal erectors.  The physical elite have big strong spinal erectors that make a ‘valley’ that runs up their spine.
Quadratus Lumborum  – also in the back, straightens the back and allows it to flex backwards
Multifidus Muscle – runs down the spine and connects to every vertebrae, forms scaffolding to keep back upright
Iliopsoas Muscle – connects at spine, goes through pelvis, connects to thigh, main posture muscle and strongest of hip flexors, allows you to lift your leg
Gluteus Maximus – a core muscle believe it or not, largest muscle in the body, moves leg backwards and rotates your hip, also important in straightening the back

To improve athleticism and your overall strength, you must train all of these muscles. The good news is you should not ever need to isolate any of these muscles and you can work them all at once.  

The best core exercises are the ones that require you to hold your spine straight.  The pushup is generally thought to increase strength in the chest, back, and arms, but it is an excellent example of a good core exercise.   Pushups force your core muscles to stabilize your body and keep your spine straight throughout the exercise and this is exactly what you want.  

In Part 2 of “The Only Way to Work Core,” I am going to provide you with a thorough list of excellent core exercises.  For now, I want you to try the plank (illustration below).  No, not the trend where people lie on their face in weird places, the exercise!  Support your body on your arms and toes. Keep your body perfectly straight (you might even say ‘as straight as a plank!’). And try holding this position for as long as possible. If you can hold it for 90 seconds or more, try lifting an arm or a leg and pointing it straight.  If you want a bigger challenge, try putting your elbows on a Swiss ball.  I have a challenge for you all this week.  See how long you can hold a plank and let me know your time in the comments below.  Remember not to dip your butt and keep your body straight! 3, 2, 1, go!

Let me know! Are you guilty of doing endless crunches and sit-ups?  How long can you hold a plank?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

DAY 21

DAY 21, 181.5 lbs
Back in the 180s! Not too many people would be proud to be adding weight to the scale, but, for the ectomorph like me, it's a good thing.  I know that my diet does not facilitate any unhealthy weight gain. So for me, increases on the scale can only mean one thing - increased muscle mass.

I finally started to add some HIIT to my weekly exercise regimen.  HIIT (or High Intensity Interval Training) has been gaining popularity in the last few years and more and more studies are showing its incredible benefits.  So why should you do HIIT? To put it simply, in only 10 to 20 minutes, HIIT provides cardiovascular benefits that rival long-distance exercise while also improving power, strength, metabolism, and fat burn. This means you can drop the hours of cardio and get MORE benefits in LESS time. I'll let you decide what to do with all of the extra time!

You can do HIIT by running, swimming, cycling, or by jazzercise for all I care!  I'm going to use running as an example because its easy for most of us to strap on some shoes and get outside.

Sprint (preferably up-hill) at 90% of your ability 30 seconds
Jog/Walk at 50% for 30 seconds
Repeat 10-15 times

If you think it sounds easy, you are in for a surprise.  I had hard time staying motivated and an even harder time keeping my food down.  I do not suggest eating within 2 hours before HIIT.  By the end of it, you will be breathless, shaky, sweaty, and begging for mercy.  'No pain, no gain' definitely applies here, but it is undoubtedly worth it.  Whether you are looking to burn fat, build muscle, or just live a longer and healthier life, you have to make HIIT part of your weekly routine!

Now I'm lifting 4 days a week, HIIT 2 days, and resting 1 day.  I feel healthier already.

Monday, February 20, 2012

DAY 15

I spent the end of last week traveling with family, so I did not have much time for working out or eating properly.  I did the best I could with getting enough calories and protein and I even did a full workout with dumbbells in a Marriott hotel gym in Victoria, Canada.  It's not too difficult to keep at it while you travel! You have 168 hours in your week. You can at least use 4 of those hours to get some exercise! 

DAY 15, 180 lbs
I'm excited to be starting a new 4-week strength training routine this week.  I'm very happy to have recruited a friend of mine to join me.  We'll be getting up at 4:30 every morning to get in the gym before work.  We'll be doing a lot of high weight with low repetitions (i.e. 4 sets of 4 reps).  The workout comes straight out of The New Rules of Lifting: Six Basic Moves for Maximum Muscle, so, unfortunately, I can't share it with you. However, I urge any weight lifters (from beginners to intermediate lifters) to purchase this book! It is an excellent resource for up-to-date lifting routines and techniques. It has given me a whole year of very effective weight lifting routines!  If you already have the book, I am using the Strength 2 routine for these next 4 weeks.

The only thing that the book lacks is proper instruction on working the core and the abdominal muscles.  I substitute crunches for planks for working my core. Crunches and sit-ups are highly ineffective.  I'll write a post on this soon!  For now, just start doing more planks.  If you can easily hold plank for a minute, try putting your feet on a bench or a swiss ball.  You can also try lifting one hand and the opposite foot for 10 to 15 second intervals.  There are tons of variations of the plank to help with core.

Let me know! How do you work your core?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

DAYS 9 and 10

Happy Valentine's Day!  I hope y'all made time to look good for your significant others.  I know I couldn't thank my wife enough for the love and support she gives me.  I can honestly say I don't always enjoy lifting weights, but I am motivated each and every day by her.  I work hard to make sure that we will have a long, healthy, and happy life together.  I love you, Lee-Cassie.  I can't wait to see what the future holds for us!

Valentine's Day was no excuse to miss a day a training.  I squeezed a great workout into my busy schedule.  I feel like my body is starting to head in the right direction now that I have the right food to fuel me and the right schedule to get proper rest.  One set-back has been the crowds in my gym lately.  I workout in a shipyard, so when we have more Navy ships docked, there are more people in the gym. I plan on starting to workout early in the morning this Thursday. We'll see how that goes.

DAY 10
My sweet wife went grocery shopping for us this week after I compiled a list of the types of food I should be eating every week to fuel my workouts.  Below is my personal 7 day list if you're curious. I don't have too much time to write tonight.  I'm getting to bed early so I can get in the gym bright and early tomorrow morning.   

2 Pineapples (precut)
Plums, Pears, or Oranges

5 Bags Fresh Spinach
3 Bags Baby Carrots
7 Potatoes
1 Onion
4 Red Bell Peppers

1 Dozen Eggs
2 Large Containers Plain Yogurt
4 Cartons Egg Whites
Sliced Sharp Cheddar
2 Gallons Milk

3 Packs Chicken or Turkey Sausage
4 Pounds Extra Lean Ground Beef
Large Bag of Chicken Breasts

Whole Grain English Muffins (NOT ENCRICHED)
1 Box High-Fiber Cereal
Steel Cut Oats
Spaghetti Noodles

Banana Cream Syntha-6 Protein Powder
Sports Drink Mix
Fish Oil Capsules (EPA + DHA = 300 to 600mg)
1 Bottle Flax Oil
Green Tea
Spaghetti Sauce

Let me know! How is your workout going? What does your grocery list usually look like?

Monday, February 13, 2012

DAYS 7 and 8


Sunday was spent recovering from all of my 13 hour nights at the shipyard. I got off work around 6:30am and decided to stay up until about 11:00pm in order to get back on my normal sleeping schedule. My body was incredibly achy from the first week of workouts and all of the running around at work. It was nice to sit at home and finally get some rest.


Phase 1 (Strength), Week 2
DAY 1, 178 lbs
DAY 8, 178 lbs

Today is my start of week 2 and man, what a day.  My body is definitely still used to sleeping through the day and working at night.  My hamstrings and abs were still really sore from last week's workouts and unfortunately, today was leg day.  Just like several exercises on the last 3 workout days, I lowered the amount of weight I normally lift and made sure I was using perfect technique. Next week, I start a new 4-week strength workout routine. I'm incredibly happy to have these leg days behind me.  I get them done, but I'm definitely not a fan of leg days! I always remember that if the workout hurts really bad then it must be working.
DAY 8 Workout

You may see some improvements in my body since Day 1, but it is definitely a slow process. The fact that I was not able to eat enough food last week really set me back too. The good news is that I am getting groceries tomorrow.  I'm also learning how to use Fit Day to record all of the food I eat each day.  Soon, I will be able to give you insight on my daily nutrition too! Look for this within the next week.

Just some quick info on my workout spreadsheet: The tempo I use on each lift is very important. You may have heard of 'muscle confusion.' Your muscles get used to doing certain exercises, so you try to change them every few weeks to avoid plateauing. You can also change the amount of reps you do on each exercise. Doing more or less repetitions will force your body to recruit different muscles for the same task, thus keeping you from plateauing. So, I also vary the amount of reps for certain exercises at least every few weeks. So, about the tempo! The 3 digits provided give me the speed at which I complete each lift. Picture a bench press. With a tempo of 311 I would lower the barbell for 3 seconds, pause for 1 second, and raise it back up for 1 second. Got it? I vary my tempos just like my exercises and amount of reps to continue to 'confuse' my muscles. Lifting slower will allow more tear in your muscles while letting you to focus more on your technique. I advise using 311 when you are starting any exercise.

Let me know! How are you exercising this week? Do you hate leg days as much as me? Do you like to incorporate different tempos in your lifts?

Invest Now!

You probably already have a good understanding of basic finances,
right? Then you know about compounding interest - earning interest on top of interest.  Wait, isn’t this a health blog??? Yes. Bear with me!

Let’s say someone is planning on retiring at 65.  If someone puts $1,000 in a retirement account when they are 25, that $1,000 would turn into $45,000 by the time they get off the job. If they wait untilthey’re 35, they would only have $17,000. Delaying the investment by only 10 years led to barely getting one third as much at retirement!

You probably see where I am going with this.  Your body is much like an interest-bearing account.   It is incredibly important to develop
healthy habits as early as possible.  People that do not take time to invest in their body early in life have a lower life expectancy, are generally less happy, and are often much more prone to diseases. You save money so you can live a comfortable life once you have retired. There is little point in saving this money if you are not going to be alive and well when you’re done with work.  If you wait to exercise and eat healthy, you are doing your body a horrible disservice.  If you are older, however, don't make excuses. It is never too late to start! Take time to develop life-long healthy habits today.  You will be thanking yourself later in life!

Here's a list of a few healthy habits you could work on tonight:
1) Exercise at least 3 to 5 hours a week (elevate your heart rate!)
2) Eat only lean meats, whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables 90% of the time
3) Be less sedentary (find hobbies that let you get outside and move around)
4) Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night
5) Eliminate clutter so you can focus on the people and things that you love
6) Surround yourself with people who also want to live a long, healthy life

Saturday, February 11, 2012


I'm shrinking! My body weight has dropped to a 5 month low of 178 pounds. Unfortunately, I am trying to add muscle (thus weight), not lose it. This week serves as an excellent example of how to eat during weight lifting for both those trying to build muscle mass and those trying to burn fat.

My job requires tons of running around, climbing ladders and stairs, and ducking through passageways. I have been working 13 hour shifts this week, so I am doing a lot more of this than normal. Since my activity level has increased, but I have not had time to eat more food, I have been losing weight. If your goal is weight-loss, this is exactly what you should do (increase your activity level while eating a balanced diet). But my goal is to put on muscle mass. If I want to continue to see gains on the scale and big gains in the weight room, I have to eat more to keep up with my caloric demands.  Pretty simple!

I'm hoping this evening is my last 13 hour shift. Once I am done, I will write a few posts I have been wanting to share with you. Plus, I will start providing you with my daily nutrition information and tips! Photo update will be posted Monday.

Have a great weekend. Get out there and do something!

Let me know! What are you doing this weekend to stay physically active? 

Friday, February 10, 2012

DAYS 3, 4, and 5

 Technique, technique, technique...

I keep having to repeat this.  My goal each and every day is to improve, so I have always been really competitive with myself.  For example, if I benched 185 pounds last week I would want to bench at least 190 pounds this week. These kinds of increases are possible, by the way, but here is my problem... The weights I have lifted previously have been completed with poor technique.

If you start lifting with poor technique, you may have a very hard time correcting it later on. 

If I were to continue to lift heavier and heavier weights each week, I would not be able to improve my technique. I'll use an exercise from today's workout as an example - the static lunge.  I have done the static lunge before with a 155 pound barbell, so I wanted to be able to at least do 155 pounds today.  While repeating that mantra in my head (technique, technique, technique), I figured out that when I was lifting 155 pounds I was only bending my knees half as much as I should have!  Your back knee should come close to touching the ground while your front knee bends about 90 degrees. I was able to complete the exercise with perfect technique and tempo after dropping the weight to 105 pounds.  In short, technique should always come before the amount of weight you lift! Who cares if the guy next to you is benching 300 pounds. As long as you are maintaining proper form, you will be on your way to being the healthiest you can possibly be.

This week is still crazy at work. I worked out on Monday and Tuesday then rested Wednesday and Thursday. I just got off of another 13 hour night shift and went straight to the gym.  I am still unable to get proper nutrient timing with my horrible schedule.  I'm doing the best I can on nutrition, but I will likely not see too much improvement with my body this week without the proper food for fuel and recovery. Food is undoubtedly half of the battle when it comes to weight lifting. I can still honestly say I am making huge improvements though, because now everything I do in the weight room is with proper form.

Let me know! Have you struggled with using proper form in the past? What are the exercises you have the most trouble with?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Body Weight: 180.6 (up 2.2 lbs from day 1)

One thing I failed to mention in my Day 1 post is that I have a wild work schedule at the shipyard this week. I normally work 8 hour days from about 7 until 3:45, but about 4 to 6 weeks out of each year I am required to work 13 hour shifts. So right now I am working from 5:30pm to 6:30am and I go straight to the gym as soon as I get off of work.

I have some uncontrollable set-backs because of this crazy work schedule.  Throughout my 13 hour shift I only get about 15 minutes to eat. This completely ruins my nutrient timing and I cannot come close to eating enough. The only thing I can do is eat as much as I can whenever I can.  I am also running around a lot which increases my caloric demands.  So I should actually be taking in more calories during this schedule, but it is impossible to do so.  I'm hoping all of these 13 hour nights will be done before the start of next week. Until then, I will not be providing you with my daily diet. I don't have time in my day to eat the right foods, much less track all of my meals and post about it. So you can expect me to start sharing my daily diet with you next week!


Today, I decided to lower all of my weights a little bit and really focus on my technique and tempo.  I think that us guys tend to do as much weight as possible, often sacrificing technique.  Technique is far more important than that extra 10 lbs you could throw on the bar! 

That's all I have time for today. I can't wait until these horrible night shifts are over and I can get in a routine!

Let me know! Do you have an inconsistent work schedule? If so, how do you make time to workout and eat well? Do you have any questions about my workout (above)? Are you guilty of sacrificing technique to get that extra 10 pounds?

Monday, February 6, 2012


Day 1, 178.4 lbs
Today is the day. No more procrastination. No more talking and planning. It's time to get it done!

As some of you may know, I have been using some incredible workouts from The New Rules of Lifting since last August. I've seen some significant strength gains and gained 10 pounds of body mass. My bench max went from 175 to 225 (a 29% increase) and my squat max went from 255 to 345 (35%). I saw similar gains in just about every exercise. However, there were things I did not do well during these 23 weeks. Here's the list:

Never missed a scheduled workout during those 23 weeks
Completed every set for each exercise (e.g. I never stopped after 2 sets when I had 3 to do)
Always drank a post-workout protein shake
Avoided excessive cardio

Didn't drink enough water
Didn't eat 6 meals each day
Didn't eat enough (at least 4000 kcal on workout days)
Didn't eat enough vegetables and whole grains
Didn't take proper rest intervals between each set (e.g. Taking a 2 minute rest when I should only be taking 1)
Didn't perform quick, intense cardio a few times per week (12-15 minutes)

This time around, I have 25 weeks of workouts planned with 3 weeks of rest included.  I am going to correct everything I didn't do well before.  I'm using information from Scrawny to Brawny to create the perfect nutrition plan for my goals and body type. I will be sure to take proper rest periods between sets and I'll definitely make sure I am getting a few intense cardio sessions every week. Each phase below has 4 workouts per week.

Phase 1: 6 weeks of Strength
               1 week off
Phase 2: 6 weeks of Hypertrophy
               1 week off
Phase 3: 4 weeks of Strength
               1 week off
Phase 4: 6 weeks of Fat-Loss

Throughout the next 25 weeks, I am going to keep you up-to-date with my progress by posting my workouts, diet, and (currently embarrassing) photos.  I hope you will follow along with me! I can't promise it is going to be easy, but extraordinary results take extraordinary measures. Let's get it done!!!

Today's Workout



Let me know! Let me know if you have any questions about my workout listed on the spreadsheet above or anything about this post. Also, I would really appreciate some words of encouragement! Your support means a lot. Let's get it done!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Grocery List – Whole Grains

You should be eating 5 to 8 servings of whole grains every day.  How many do you eat?  If you are like the average person, you fall well short of the amount you should be eating every day.  I strongly suggest that you start finding ways to add the following grains into your diet, but first let me give you a quick shopping tip.

The best rule to follow when you are picking out grains is to avoid enriched or refined grains.  Grains that are enriched or refined are stripped of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  When you are looking for grains you must look for whole grains!  When you’re looking at the ingredients of whole grain bread or pasta, make sure that the word ‘enriched’ is not on the label!  There are tons of ways to prepare raw whole grains.  


Brown Rice (Basmati, Long Grain, Medium Grain, Short Grain)
Oats (Steel Cut/Rolled)
Quinoa (pr. keen-wah)
Wheat (Bulgur, Durun, Hard Red, Soft Red, Kernels)
Wild Rice


Whole Grain Bagel
Whole Grain Bread
Whole Grain Cereal
Whole Grain Crackers and Graham Crackers
Whole Grain English Muffin
Whole Grain Granola Bars
Whole Grain Oatmeal
Whole Grain Pasta
Whole Wheat Bread


Low in fat
Helps weight loss
Makes you feel full longer
Aids in digestion
Excellent source of fiber
Rich in vitamins, minerals, and plant enzymes
Prevents constipation
Reduces risk of heart disease
Protects you from some cancers
Prevents type 2 diabetes
Longer life expectancy

Make sure you are getting your 5 to 8 servings. Go shopping now if you have to! Whole grains are incredibly important for building a healthier you!

Let us know! What are your favorite whole grains? How many servings do you get each day?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

When To Eat

Do you eat 3 balanced meals every day? Is dinner your biggest meal of the day?  Are you one of those people who just can’t eat breakfast?

If your answer is yes to any of these questions, you have it all wrong!

If you have been following along these last few weeks, I have given you a glimpse of  what you should be eating and drinking for optimal health.  Lean meats, fish, dairy, whole vegetables, whole fruits, whole grains, unpasteurized fruit juice, water, etc.  See Grocery List - Fruit , Grocery List - Vegetables, and Grocery List - Meat, Poultry, and Fish for some guidance in what to eat.

What I have not yet discussed is when to eat. I like to call this nutrient timing. Improving your nutrient timing will allow your metabolism to stay high throughout the day and turn your body into a well oiled, fat burning machine. 

If someone asked you, "What are the two most important meals of the day?", what would you say? If you said breakfast and after your workout, you are correct!  Do you know why?


When you are getting your long night’s sleep, your metabolism is at its most efficient state and you have tons of stored energy and low levels of glucose in your muscles.  It is extremely important to eat a healthy meal within 1 hour of waking up in order to keep your metabolism high and build up stores of nutrients for the day. You have to avoid simple carbohydrates and refined sugars, because these foods will have a negative effect on your metabolism. Plus, the excess glucose actually turns into fat! Don’t start your day with a plate of fat. Instead, eat lean proteins (e.g. egg whites or natural peanut butter), complex carbohydrates (e.g. whole grain english muffin or a whole grain bagel), whole fruits, and vegetables.  Breakfast will affect your metabolism more than any other meal. The effects last the rest of the day. If you are not eating breakfast, you are shooting yourself in the foot. I would say you’re shooting yourself in both feet. If there is anything you take away from this post it is that you should start every day off right with a good, nutrient-rich breakfast!


Cardiovascular and anaerobic exercises both use nutrients very quickly, so exercising, like sleep, will create nutrient deficiencies in your body.  For this reason, what you eat after your workout can be very similar to what you would eat for a healthy breakfast. In the meals following your exercise, you should replenish your body with lean proteins, carbohydrates, and vegetables. If you consider yourself to have a sweet tooth, post-workout is probably the best time of the day to get your sugar fix. A little sugar improves your insulin and glucose levels. I’m not a huge fan of sweets, but my post-workout protein shake includes hydrolyzed whey protein (quick dissolving for quick supply to the muscles) and sports drink mix (sugar).  If you drink a post-workout protein shake, make sure it is immediately after the workout. Also eat a solid meal within two hours of your workout. Avoid fatty foods (even healthy fats) in the 6 hours following your workout.


You have probably heard this one before. Eating six meals each day is incredibly important for maintaining a high metabolism. You will get nutrients more frequently, avoid over eating, and spend less energy handling waste products.  Many studies have shown that a person who eats 6 meals each day gets way more nutrients than a person eating the same exact food in 3 meals. The body can only absorb a certain level of nutrients, so large meals create tons of excess waste that slow the metabolism down.  If you’re eating three meals per day, it is time to make the change! Take a few minutes each morning or night to prepare your meals if you have to.

These three rules apply to everyone wanting a healthier body. If you want an individualized eating plan meant for your particular goal (weight loss, muscle mass, etc.), feel free to email me or leave a comment below. I would be more than happy to help!

Let us know! Which one of these tips do you struggle with the most? If you eat 6 meals per day, how do you take time to prepare each meal? Leave a comment below!