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Do the Murph Challenge this Memorial Day

Do the Murph this Memorial Day Weekend

The Murph Challenge is a HIT workout to do every Memorial Day. It’s an excruciating workout that will kick your ass and humble you.

You’re probably asking though, what is the Murph and why should I do it?

About Lt. Michael P. Murphy and why we do the Murph Challenge

Lt. Michael P. Murphy was a Navy Seal who made the ultimate sacrifice for his teammates during Operation Redwings. Lt. Murphy heroically sacrificed his life for his teammates to save in a dire situation. Michael Murphy is a hero. Not many people are will to do that to save their teammates. It takes a very special person. We do the Murph to honor him and keep him in our memories. 

Michael Murphy

If you want to read up more on this mission and Michael Murphy in general you can check out the book called “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Luttrell. There is also a movie out about it starring Mark Wahlberg playing Marcus Luttrel and Taylor Kitsch portraying Michael Murphy. 

Foundation

You can officially register for the workout via on their official website

Once registered, you can select an item of purchase and that money goes straight to the LT. Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation. You can find more details out about its here 

The Murph Challenge Workout

So what is the workout?

Well, the workout consists of the following:

It’s not easy whatsoever, but if you have a pull-up bar, you should give this workout your time and dedication even if you don’t have a weighted vest. 

Final Thoughts

I do the MURPH every year now. It never gets easier, but somehow my times get better. Go figure. If you want a tip, break the workout into 10 sets of:

  • 10 pull-ups
  • 20 push-ups
  • 30 squats

Do the mile run before and the mile run after. You’ll be surprised at your time and that you were able to get through it. If you do the Murph, post your time up in the here.

Post your time also on social media and spread the word on The Murph Challenge and the story of Lt. Michael Murphy. 

If you did the Murph and you feel like your cardio isn’t great, see if an elevation mask would benefit you. 

Image sources: https://special-ops.org/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_P._Murphy

Are Deload Weeks Necessary?

Most workout regimens last about 12 weeks or 3 months worth of time. In that time frame (depending on how hard you’re training), your body is going through a lot of physical stress. If you continue without any breaks, you may eventually start doing damage to your body. You won’t be able to lift as much weight or get the great results that you usually would. This is why most workout programs include a deload/rest week. Some programs incorporate time off while others lower weight and require continued gym compliance. Let’s go over the proper way to take a deload week and what would work best for you.

WHAT IS A DELOAD WEEK?

A deload week (also known as taper week or unload week) is time off from your normal workout regimen. The goal of a deload week is to allow your body to rest and recover, with the aim to lower the potential risk of injury and overtraining. A deload week is not a rest week. You aren’t taking 100% of your time off from working out. You will still be exercising but at a lower volume (Read “How to go about a deload week” to understand what volume is). Essentially, if you’re doing weight lifting, you want to lower your normal weight down to about 40% for lifts during this period of time.

WHEN TO IMPLEMENT A DELOAD WEEK?

FOLLOWING A PROGRAM

If you’re following a specific training program, then that program may already have a deload/taper scheduled into it. If this is not the case, then a rule of thumb is to take a deload week every 4-6 weeks. Usually when you’re doing a training program, your 4th or 5th week is your “peak” week. Your volume may have increased by a large margin. After this peak week, you would want to do a deload week.

NOT FOLLOWING A PROGRAM

If you’re not following a strict program, I would recommend paying attention to your training outputs and patterns of increases, decreases or a plateau of strength. If you’re seeing increases in strength and continue to do so, by all means continue on with your workout plan. However, once you start to realize that you may be plateauing, losing strength, or even getting injured more often you need to take a deload week. I want to reiterate though, after 4-6 weeks you should take a deload week. You will lower your risk of getting injured and plateauing.

VOLUME AND HOW TO GO ABOUT A DELOAD WEEK.

The whole point of deloading is to lighten the load/volume compared to your ordinary training routine. Studies have shown that decreasing your normal volume by 40 – 60% is key. Volume is the amount of weight you lift multiplied by the amount of reps, then taking that number and multiplying it by how many sets you did. For example. If I deadlifted 225lbs for 6 reps of 3 sets I would do the following equation : 3 * (225 * 6). (Sets * (Weight * reps)). This would be equivalent to 4050 lbs. So if you were deloading and decreasing by 40% of that you would do 4050 * 0.40 (Volume * Deload_Percentage) which would equal 1620lbs. It’s important to note that you have a few way of going about hitting that desired volume.

You can do one of the following:

  • The same weight with less reps/sets
  • Less weight with the same reps/sets.
  • A mixture of both.

Each is outlined below.

SAME WEIGHT WITH LESS REPS/SETS

So if you were trying to reach a total volume of 1620 lbs and trying to lift the same weight with less reps/sets our workout would look something like this:

  • 225lbs for 7 reps for 1 set
  • 225lbs for 4 reps for 2 sets
  • 225lbs for 2 sets for 4 sets

You can choose either one of those and you’re looking at around 1500-1800 lbs volume which is around the percentage we are trying to hit.

SAME REPS WITH LESS WEIGHT

Now if you were trying to do lighter weight for the same reps and sets, your option would be 90 lb – 100 lbs for 6 reps for 3 sets.

MIXTURE OF LESS WEIGHT AND LESS REPS/SETS

If you wanted to do a mixture of the both you can have something like:

  • 185 lbs for 4 reps for 1 – 2 sets
  • 165 lbs for 5 reps for 2 sets
  • 150 lbs for 6 reps for 2 sets

Out of the 3 options, I usually recommend either a mixture of less reps/sets and less weight or same reps with less weight. However this depends on the individual and how you’re feeling. Since I always feel like you’re at a higher risk of getting injured if you’re training heavy, during my deload week I like to keep the reps/sets the same and lighten up the weight.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Deload weeks are a great tool to incorporate into your workout routine. You should try to implement them every 4-6 weeks or after a “peak week”. It’s important to note again, this is not an excuse to just not workout. You will still be working out, but just at a lower volume/frequency. Doing so can lead to greater benefits in your training, minimize a plateau, minimize risk or injury and more. If you haven’t implemented a deload week before, try it and take note on how you feel after your deload week.

References

BOSQUET, L., MONTPETIT, J., & ARVISAIS, D. (2007, August). Effects of Tapering on Performance: A Meta-Analysis : Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Retrieved April 02, 2018, from https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/fulltext/2007/08000/Effects_of_Tapering_on_Performance__A.19.aspx

Do Elevation Masks Improve Your Cardio?

I’m sure in some way or form you’ve seen the elevation mask or otherwise known as the Bane mask. You’ll see athletes use them while preparing in the offseason, you’ll see fighters use them preparing for a big fight, you’ll even hear the average gym bro sometimes wearing it during a cardio session and sounding a bit like Darth Vader. It seems like whoever wears one is training HARD but does it actually improve your endurance and cardio in the long run?

What Are Altitude Training and Elevation Masks?

An elevation mask is a piece of equipment you buy to alter yourself to become Bane. Okay… not really, but its purpose is to simulate altitude training. When training at a higher altitude, the amount starts to decrease, and essentially, there isn’t as much air to breathe. When you’re in a high altitude state (8000 ft+) your body has to start compensating for the lack of oxygen that’s being produced. One way your body does this is by creating more red blood cells. More red blood cells in the body mean that your body has an easier time delivering oxygen throughout your body. The point of the elevation mask is to simulate altitude training because unfortunately, we all can’t just train in the Himalayas. T elevation mask doesn’t actually simulate the high altitude pressure, it just reduces the amount of air you’re intaking. Most elevation masks have “resistance valves” which valves allow you to select the intensity/altitude.

Effects Of The Elevation Mask

When using an elevation mask, the person is hoping to achieve better endurance, and achieve a higher V02 max. A VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen that a person can use when training/exercising. With the more oxygen you’re able to intake, the more energy you’ll have for greater endurance when you’re working out. The elevation mask may not exactly simulate a high altitude, but it does help improve your VO2 max and other parts of your cardiovascular strength. According to a study published in 2016, people who used an elevation mask showed improvements in VO2, ventilatory thresholdpower output, and respiratory compensation threshold. It’s important to note that with an elevation mask, you will see improvements in these areas but it’s not a direct replication of altitude training, and if done improperly you may not see results at all.

How to Train with an Elevation Mask

One of the main benefits of actual high altitude training is that you’re living in that environment for a long period of time. When using an elevation mask, you’re only getting about an hour of that same exposure. To see real benefits from an elevation mask, you would need to train with it frequently since your training session will only be about one-two hours max. I would recommend training with the elevation mask for at least a total of 3 – 4 hours a week to see benefits.

If you happen to purchase the training mask 2.0, you’ll notice your package comes with resistance caps. The resistance caps indicate the intensity. It’s suggested that if you train with the resistance mask frequently you should increase intensity (or change the resistance caps) about every 4-6 weeks to improve performance and avoid a plateau.

Final Thoughts

Training masks can be a great tool to improve your performance and cardiovascular strength. The key is frequent training with it though. It may seem like a scam of sorts because it doesn’t actually simulate high altitude training, but using the mask can still provide benefits that would be harder to achieve without the training mask.  You can purchase one at trainingmask.com or on amazon. Soon you’ll be doing crazy things like this :

Bane Mask

Note: The above link is an affiliate link.

 

Want to know if cardio is detrimental to your gains? Check out this article

References

Porcari JP, Probst L, Forrester K, et al. Effect of Wearing the Elevation Training Mask on Aerobic Capacity, Lung Function, and Hematological Variables. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2016;15(2):379-386.

Zisko N, Stensvold D, Hordnes-Slagsvold K, et al. Effect of Change in VO2max on Daily Total Energy Expenditure in a Cohort of Norwegian Men: A Randomized Pilot Study. The Open Cardiovascular Medicine Journal. 2015;9:50-57. doi:10.2174/1874192401509010050.

Exercises to Fix Your Posture

When people look at you, one of the first things they notice is your posture. Your posture can either give off the impression of someone who is confident and in charge or someone who is weak and a loser. It leaves a strong first impression on other people. For some people, good posture may be as simple putting their shoulders back and standing up straight. However, doing certain exercises can help you naturally improve your posture.

WHAT CAUSES BAD POSTURE

In today’s age it’s very easy for our posture to become quite poor. We are always staring down at our phones or we are hunched over on our computer all day. Our bodies will start to naturally fall into that position from doing these things on a daily basis, it’s bound to happen that our posture will start to suffer. Naturally, other things can contribute to poor posture as well, but from the causes mentioned here, daily stretches and exercises can minimize bad posture and promote natural good posture!

ROUNDED SHOULDERS

Our back/shoulders naturally start to take a more round shape when we look down at our phones and computers all day. Even though rounded shoulders and bad posture can easily be from our daily routine it can also be caused by muscular imbalances such as tight/overpowered chest and weak shoulders/back area.

Image from http://www.strengthsensei.com

TESTING

We’ll perform a quick test that will determine if we have rounded shoulders or not. The first test to perform is the “pencil test”. To perform this test follow these steps:

  1. In each hand hold a pencil (pen or any stick for that matter)
  2. Relax both arms as if you’re just standing like your normally would.
  3. Note your hand position.

If the pencil is facing forward / thumbs point forward, then you pass the test! However, if the pencils are facing inward / the back of your hands are pointing forward then you have rounded shoulders.

 

SOLUTION

If you have rounded shoulders it can be because of a tight chest, weak back, or a product of daily activities. In your workout routine, I would recommend including deadlifts, dumbbells, or machine rows. These exercises are more back dominant and can drastically improve your posture overall. You can also include some stretches to fix this issue as well.

Wall Angels
Requirements: A wall!
How to:

  1. Place your back up against a wall with your butt against the wall as well.
  2. Hold your hands up against the wall with your elbows and and back of your hand touching the wall. (As if a cop told you to put your hands up)
  3. While keeping your elbows and hands against the wall, bring your arms all the way up
  4. Bring your arms now back to the starting position and then repeat.

Do this for about 10 – 15 reps. I would also recommend doing this a 3 – 6 seconds up and 3 – 6 seconds down.


T Stretch
Requirements: Resistance Band

How to:

  1. Take a resistance band and hold it in both hands in front of you shoulder width apart and your thumbs pointing up.
  2. From there, slowly stretch the band out in front of you. With your thumbs pointing back. (Make sure you really feel the back of your shoulders contracting).
  3. Slowly retract back to the starting position and repeat

Do this for about 30 reps.

For both of these stretches, I would recommend incorporating them into your morning and night routine, and if you have time, during the afternoon. These moves need to be done consistently to get real success.

ANTERIOR PELVIC TILT/FORWARD HIP

Anterior pelvic tilt, or forward hips, are the shortening of the hip flexors and the lengthening of the hip extensors. This problem is caused by sedentary lifestyle and can lead to other annoying issues down the line. Even though you should be able to easily look into a mirror and be able to tell if you have anterior pelvic tilt, you can do the Thomas Test.

TESTING

You can have someone help you perform the Thomas Test, I recommend getting a physical therapist to test you but you can also do a self assessment on yourself.

Requirements: An elevated, flat surface (table).
Steps to perform:

  1. Lay down on the flat surface with your legs hanging off the edge.
  2. Pull one leg up to your chest.

If the opposing lower thigh (the leg you’re not pulling to your chest) does not touch the table then you have anterior pelvic tilt. Again, I do recommend getting a physical therapist to perform the test on you.

SOLUTION

Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
How to:

  1. Place your right knee on the ground.
  2. Place your left leg at a 90 degree angle in front of you.
  3. Push your hips forward and hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
  4. Switch leg positions and repeat.


Bridge
How to:

  1. Lay on your back with your legs bent, feet flat on the floor, your hands by your side.
  2. Elevate your hips up until your body has formed a straight line with no bending inwards on your hips.
  3. Hold for about 10 – 15 seconds

Repeat this exercise for about 8 – 12 reps.

   

Clam
Requirements: Resistance Band
How to:

  1. Place resistance band above your knees.
  2. Lay on your side with your knees bent at a 45 degree in front of you.
  3. Keeping your knees at a 45 degree angle, lift and rotate your top leg in an “opening” fashion, all the way until your knee is pointing up.
  4. Bring your knee back down

Perform 20-30 reps on both sides

.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Having better posture is not only good for confidence but it’s good for our health and can help us avoid injuries. Rounded shoulders and anterior pelvic tilt are some of the more common things people deal with in terms of having bad posture. Doing compound movements like squats and deadlifts can help with the issues listed above, however, to really conquer these issues, stretching needs to be included to target specific muscle groups not engaged in other exercises. For best results, incorporate these moves into your daily routine. Try to do them at least 2 times a day.

How to Utilize BFR Training

BFR  training (Blood Flow Restriction) has a scary name to it. Any time I just mention it, I get a very weird look from whoever I’m talking to. I can’t blame them, I’m sure I had the same reaction the first time I heard the term. BFR isn’t new, but people are starting to implement it into their workouts more and more. With BFR training you will be able to break plateaus and gain muscle and strength with lighter weights! Yes, you read that correctly.

What Is BFR Training?

Blood flow restriction (BFR), also known as occlusion training, is when a person uses wraps/bands to restrict blood flow to specific muscles when they’re working out. Usually, these bands are placed on the upper arms or upper thighs when training. When performing BFR training, you restrict the veins (not arteries) blood flows into the muscle and also prevent it from leaving the muscle. Essentially, blood is being trapped in the muscle.

If you’ve worked out long enough, you know what a “pump” is; it’s one of the best feelings in the world and you wish you could always look as good as your pump. When you do BFR training, you will have the CRAZIEST pump of your life for the reason that blood is trapped in your muscle. It’s one of the reasons your muscles grow.

This pump is also known as cell swelling. Cell swelling and metabolic stress are key factors in muscular growth. Another contribution to muscular growth is the fact that you’re fatiguing your muscles extremely fast. When you fatigue your muscles, your body has to start recruiting more fast twitch muscle fibers which have a greater chance of growing.

How To Use and do BFR Training

We understand now that BFR training has enormous benefits like increased strength and muscle size. So how do you go about starting BFR training? Let’s first go over some fundamentals of how to use BFR to your advantage and how to apply it to your workout.

Exercises and Repetitions

When training with BFR you don’t need to use heavyweight. Most optimal results come when using about 20% of your 1RM for high repetitions. For example, if I can do leg extensions for 200lbs for about 8 – 10 reps I would use around 90 – 100 lbs doing BFR for about 20-30 reps. You can apply BFR to any part of your workout-squats, bench, deadlift, curls, leg press etc. It’s up to you what workouts you want to do it with. You could also do a whole BFR workout and still do heavy sets. However, you will fatigue fairly fast and your form may be sacrificed which can lead to injury.

Another thing is that when I do BFR training, I like to cut down on my rest time between sets unless it’s a compound movement (squats, bench, deadlift etc). If I’m doing isometric exercises (curls, leg extensions, tricep pulldowns, etc.) I cut down my rest time to 20-30 seconds between sets. This increases the intensity and volume of your training.

Band Tightness

When applying the bands, the general rule is that on a scale of 1 – 10 in terms of tightness, you want to be around a 7 (10 being really tight.) If at any time you’re experiencing numbness or pain, loosen up the straps. Personally, I worked my way up and started at a 4 in tightness and slowly progressed to 7 to make sure I wasn’t going too tight and to learn how my body responded to the exercises.

How to Apply the Bands

Upper Body

If you’re doing any upper body workout you want to place the bands right above your biceps/ right below your shoulders.

BFR-Training-Arm

Lower Body

If you’ll be performing any type of lower body workout, you want to place the bands on your upper thigh. It can be placed outside or inside your clothing as well.

BFR-Training-Leg BFR-Training-Lower-Body

BFR Training Safety and Final Thoughts

BFR Training is a very safe method of training and has been proven many times to be. Physical therapists even use BFR training on clients to help them recover from injuries. It’s a great tool to use. I like to only train BFR 2-3 times a week. I don’t like to do heavy lifting and BFR together because it causes me to fatigue too quickly and can sacrifice my form. If you implement BFR training into your schedule, I promise you that you’ll have great results in strength and muscle gain! Currently, I use these straps and they’ve worked wonders!

If you’re looking more into recovery and what you can do for it, try taking a deload week.

Note: The link above is an affiliated link. 

References

Hughes L, Paton B, Rosenblatt B, et al.Blood flow restriction training in clinical musculoskeletal rehabilitation: a systematic review and meta-analysis Br J Sports Med 2017;51:1003-1011.

Yamanaka, Tetsuo, Farley, Richard, Caputo, & L, J. (2012, September). Occlusion Training Increases Muscular Strength in Division.: The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. Retrieved February 10, 2018, from https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2012/09000/Occlusion_Training_Increases_Muscular_Strength_in.29.aspx

Loenneke, Paul, J., Pujol, & Joseph, T. (2009, June). The Use of Occlusion Training to Produce Muscle Hypertrophy : Strength & Conditioning Journal. Retrieved February 10, 2018, from https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Fulltext/2009/06000/The_Use_of_Occlusion_Training_to_Produce_Muscle.11.aspx

Lose Weight Easily. A Step by Step Process

Losing weight seems like a complex process. You often hear about all of these fad diets that pop up every few months on how you can lose X amount of pounds in as little as 3 days. In some cases, it may be true. In other cases not really. Losing weight is a much more simplistic process than what it’s made out to be. We are going to go over the different types of fats, the key to losing weight, and a step-by-step process on how to lose weight with ease.

Different Types of Weight

When we’re in the process of losing weight, we are more concerned with how much weight we lose on the scale. It’s important to note though that we have different types of weight. Your body is made up of lean body mass and body fat.

Lean Body Mass

Lean body mass is your weight minus your body fat. This includes muscular tissue, bones, water weight, organs, and skin. When we refer to “lean body mass”, this is what we mean. Usually, if you’re dropping weight that is lean body mass, you’re either losing water weight or muscle tissue. If you’re losing LBM due to organs, bone density or skin… well that might be a problem.

Body Fat

Body fat is broken up into essential body fat and storage body fat. Essential body fat is the amount of fat we need to live a healthy and functional life, whereas storage body fat is the accumulation of fat/adipose tissue that protects the internal organs. Key word is that it accumulates and can becomes excessive. When you’re losing weight, your goal is to lose storage body fat.

What Losing Weight Easily Comes Down to

We learned that when we are losing weight, our main goal is to lose stored body fat while maintaining as much lean body mass as possible. To lose weight, it comes down to one simple rule, you have to be in a calorie deficit, meaning that you have to burn more calories than you intake. That’s the simplicity of it. Most fad diets work mainly because you’re in a caloric deficit during the process. Let’s look at what a caloric deficiency means for you.

Caloric Deficit

When you’re in a caloric deficit you’re intaking fewer calories than your body is burning. In return, your body starts burning down fat and uses that as energy.

For example, if your calorie maintenance was 2000 calories a day, you can eat 1800 calories a day and be in a calorie deficit and you would start losing weight. It would be as simple as giving up a can of soda or a couple of snacks a day to go into a 200 calorie deficiency.

Granted, you may lose about 0.25 – 0.5 a week but you would be losing weight nonetheless. Now, let’s say you worked out 3-5 days a week and your calorie maintenance was 2000 calories. If you increase your workload (workout 5-6 days a week or more) you can then eat 2000 calories and still be in a calorie deficit and losing weight.

By increasing your workload, you’re utilizing more energy and burning more calories than you’re taking in, which will lead to weight loss.

Losing Weight Easily Calorie Scale

Step by Step on How to Lose Weight Easily

From above we know that going into a calorie deficit is the key to losing weight. So the first thing you want to do is figure out what your calorie maintenance is. You can click here to utilize the calorie calculator to determine your maintenance calories. Remember, maintenance means if you hit that goal, you are not gaining or losing weight, it’s just the baseline amount your body burns throughout the day.

Step One: New Caloric Goal

So let’s say for example your maintenance calorie intake was 2000 calories a day. The first thing you would want to do is take this number and subtract around 200-300 calories. So your new calorie intake will be 1700-1800 calories a day.

Step Two: Macronutrients

Now that you have your new calorie goal, you’re going to need to get your new set of macros. To understand why macros are important, you can click here. To give a quick summary though, protein is the most important factor when it comes to calculating your macros. The reason being is because you want to maintain as much lean body mass as possible and only lose fat. Granted, this is practically impossible to do on a cut (same as trying to go on a bulk without gaining fat), but you can at least minimize the amount of muscle loss by intaking a proper amount of protein.

Ideally you want to have around 1 gram of protein per pound of body mass. So if you weighed 160 lbs you would want about 160 grams of protein per day. When it comes to carbohydrates and fat, you can weigh that out to decide what works best for you. If you prefer to follow a more keto diet, minimize the carbs and increase your fat intake.

If you’re wondering how you would go about adjusting your macros let’s break it down a bit more. For every 1 gram of protein = 4 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories and 1 grams of fat = 9 calories. We know that our calorie intake is 1700-1800 but we’ll stick with 1800 for now. We also know that we need to consume 160 grams of protein in order to maintain as much lean body mass as possible.

We’ll multiple the 160 grams of protein by 4 and that equals 640 (160 * 4 = 640). So 640 calories needs to be dedicated to just protein. Let’s subtract that from our 1800 and we’re left with 1160 calories (1800 – 640 = 1160). With that 1160 calories you can do whatever you want!

So if you wanted to do a keto diet and needed a minimum of 40 carbs a day then you would do 40 * 4 = 160. Then you would want to do 1160 (remaining calories) – 160 (calories from carbs) = 1000. Now you have 1000 calories left for fat so then you just do 1000(calories remaining)/9(calories per gram of fat) and you’re left with 111 grams of fat.

Your macronutrients would then be 160 grams of protein, 40 grams of carbs, 111 grams of fat. It may look like a lot at first, but it’s not too bad and you can make your own calculations in a minutes! For the rest of the examples, we’re going to stick with an ordinary carb/fat intake so we’ll say our protein is 160 grams of protein, 145 grams of carbs and 64 grams of fat.

Step Three: Exercise

Now we have everything figured out it’s important that you still exercise the same amount you usually do. If you’re doing resistance training, your main goal when cutting should be to maintain as much strength as possible during the cut. You’ll most likely lose strength no matter what, but you want to try and maintain as much as possible to not see any drastic decreases in strength.

Cheat Meals and Exercise

I want to also note that if you know you’re going to go out to eat and probably go over your macro and calorie range, you should double down on your workouts. If you usually do resistance training, add cardio to your workout that day and vice versa. If you usually do both resistance training and cardio in your workouts just do a little bit more than usual. This way you’re most likely going to expend more calories than you’re consuming and hopefully stay in a calorie deficit (or at-least close the margin of excess calories eaten).

Step Four: Tracking Weight

One of the most important steps is to track and log your daily intake. When you don’t track the foods you’ve eaten it’s very easy to forget what you’ve taken in during the day and underestimate the amount of food you’ve already eaten. I remember the first time I started tracking my food I was surprised on how fast everything started adding up! When you start tracking your items, you’ll be more self aware of just how much you’ve eaten and where you’re at throughout the day in regards to your macros. I promise, once you start tracking your food intake, you’ll see better results. There are plenty of great tracking apps like Myfitnesspal or My Macros + (you can also do it old school and write it all down).

Step Five: Checking In

The last part of this process is checking in. After every week it’s important to check your body weight and your body fat. From here you can see if you’re on track with your goals. Let’s go over a few scenarios that can occur and what to do (all assuming you’ve been keeping track of calories and macros):

I’m Not Losing Weight and/or Body Fat

If you didn’t lose any weight or body fat don’t panic! A simple solution to this problem is take the calorie intake you originally had and reduce it by 100. You can do that, or add some extra training time into your normal routine.

I Gained Weight and/or Body Fat

If you gained weight during the process, follow the same advice as above but reduce your calories by 150 this time and see where you lay in the following week.

I Gained Weight and Lost Body Fat

If you gained weight and lost body fat, that means you gained some lean body mass. This isn’t a bad thing. You should keep you calories and macros the same. If your body fat starts to increase though, then you’ll reduce more. (Note lean body mass also means something like water weight)

I Lost Weight and Didn’t Lose Body Fat

This is usually due to dropping water weight. You can drop water weight REALLY fast. Whenever you hear someone say “I lost 10lbs in a week!” It’s mainly water weight they lost. You’ll still be keeping your calorie intake and macros the same

I Lost Weight and Body Fat

Congrats! This is what you want to achieve! You won’t be adjusting your calorie and macros. You want to be able to consume as many calories as possible and still lose weight and fat. So once you hit a plateau, you’ll cut back on calories again.

Final Thoughts

This may seem like a lot to take in! You may even be thinking to yourself “hm this isn’t as simple as he made it sound like.” Trust me, it is. Tracking your food and checking in once a week takes up a small fraction of time. Once you do it for a week or two, you’ll get used to it and it’ll be part of your daily routine that you won’t think much of it.

Best Music to Listen to When you Workout

Music is one of the few, but most important things that fuel my workout. It gives me energy, it gets me ready, and puts me in a proper mindset to get after my workout. If for some reason you haven’t listened to music while training I highly, HIGHLY recommend it. With all of the genres out there, what is the best music to listen to when exercising? I actually like to break up my playlist based on the type of workout I’m doing (cardio, resistance training, mobility/yoga). Here are the genres I listen to for each kind of workout:

RESISTANCE TRAINING/PRE WORKOUT

If you know me personally, you know I’m a huge heavy metal fan. When it comes to resistance training I always listen to heavy metal. It provides an extra pump that is almost undescribed. When you’re listening to a band like Amon Amarth, a Swedish band that has all of their songs based on Norse mythology, and you hear things like “See me rise, the mighty Surt Destroyer of the universe, Bringer of flames and endless hurt, Scorcher of men and Earth” with crazy riffs and drumming in the background, how could you not get hyped? You feel like you’re about to destroy everything in your path. Weights look puny and light and you feel like you can conquer the world. If I’m about to go for a new PR (personal record) or one rep max, my go-to song is The Heaviest Matter of the Universe by Gojira. I can’t put into words how good this song is. Next time you’re going to lift heavy, listen to that song. You won’t be disappointed.

Another genre I listen to during resistance training is hip hop. I wouldn’t listen to it during the workout itself, but more often during my warm up to get into the proper mindset. I’m not too much into hip hop and my knowledge of artist is very limited. However, I usually listen to Kendrick Lamar or Eminem.

Top 10 Resistance training songs:

  1. The Heaviest Matter of the Universe – Gojira
  2. Rip & Tear – Mick Gordon (Doom Soundtrack)
  3. Flying Whales – Gojira
  4. Destroyer of the Universe – Amon Amarth
  5. Twilight of the Thunder God – Amon Amarth
  6. Anything off Kill ‘Em All – Metallica
  7. Iron Tusk – Mastodon
  8. Holy wars – Megadeth
  9. Clenching the Fists of Dissent – Machine Head
  10. The Great Southern Trendkill – Pantera

There are so many more I want to list and I’m sure my top 10 will change, but currently, that’s what I’ve been listening to.

CARDIO

With cardio I’ve always had mixed playlists. Some days I’ll put on metal, other days I’ll put on rap. At some point though (and most often) I’ll turn to EDM(electronic dance music). I’m not a huge EDM fan, but I do enjoy listening to it during my cardio sessions. I’ll make the exception for when I’m doing something like HIIT(High Intensity Interval Training)- I don’t really like having a constant/consistent beat because usually HIIT workouts aren’t consistent and get changed up quite often.

My top 10 Cardio songs:

  1. Superliminal – Deadmau5
  2. One More Time – Daft Punk
  3. Touch It / Technologic – Daft Punk (Alive 2007)
  4. Pursuit – Gesaffelstein
  5. Stache – Zedd
  6. Who’s Afraid Of 138!? – Armin Van Buuren
  7. Iron – Calvin Harris
  8. EML Ritual – The Chemical Brothers
  9. Galvanize – The Chemical Brothers
  10. Greyhound – Swedish House Mafia

My EDM knowledge isn’t too great and some of these songs may be basic to true fans, but it helps me get through those long dull cardio sessions.

YOGA/MOBILITY

The times I do yoga or any type of mobility work, I like to listen to something that’s more unwinding and a bit more relaxing. My go-to genre is post rock. It can be slightly dramatic in sound, but usually it has a more calming sound to it. During mobility work you don’t want to be too distracted from what you’re doing (at least I don’t) and listening to something that helps me stay more focused usually works best.

My top 10 yoga/mobility songs:

  1. Barren Lands of the Modern Dinosaur – If These Trees Could Talk
  2. The Wilderness – Explosions In The Sky
  3. Pig Powder – God is An Astronaut
  4. The World is Our __ – This Will Destroy You
  5. They Move On Tracks Of Never-Ending Light – This Will Destroy You
  6. The Only Moment We Were Alone – Explosions In The Sky
  7. Ashes in the Snow – Mono
  8. Darkfield – Caspian
  9. The Heart That Fed – Caspian
  10. I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead – Mogwai

Don’t let the song titles fool you, these are some really amazing songs. Post rock may not be everyone’s genre, but if you’re looking for something relaxing or something to listen toto focus, I think you’ll like it 😉

FINAL THOUGHTS

Music is one of the main elements that fuel my workout (Fuel – Metallica). It gets me amped up and sets the mood and energy for me. When I see people workout without music I give them huge props cause I know my workouts aren’t the same without listening to some type of music. These are all of my go-to tracks depending on what I’m doing. Send me an email or DM on Instagram of any tracks you like to listen to! I’m always interested in new music to listen to!

Benefits Of Creatine

Creatine is supplement that is a bit mystic to most people. You’ll see someone look at another person who’s built and say something like “Wow that’s all creatine, bro,”almost as if it was a steroid. I’ve had people tell me they want to be “natural” and they think that taking creatine would make them “unnatural,” which is not true. Let’s go a bit deeper into what creatine is, and if it can help you see better results!

WHAT IS CREATINE?

Creatine is “an amino acid, that is a constituent of the muscles of vertebrates and is phosphorylated to store energy used for muscular contraction”. Basically, creatine allows your muscles to produce more energy. This allows you to be able to lift heavier weights and perform high intensity workouts quicker. Even though we know of creatine as a supplement, creatine is formed naturally in your body as well. It helps regenerate adenosine triphosphate or known as ATP. ATP is your body’s source of energy. To simply things, when ATP is used or gets “split off” it turns into ADP. ADP can be regenerated into ATP again though. When you take creatine, it helps ADP recycle to ATP[1]. Dr. Layne Norton has a great article explaining this process in more depth.

CREATINE BENEFITS

MUSCLE GROWTH AND STRENGTH GAINS

From the above section, we know that creatine will give us more energy and allow us to work out longer and lift heavier. Creatine will improve strength and hypertrophy when performing weight training[2].

Even from my own personal experience, once I start cycling on creatine my workouts take a noticeable shift. They’re more intense and I can push out a lot more than usual. My body usually has more of a “pump” to it as well. If you haven’t used creatine before, you’ll most likely experience noticeable benefits in strength and muscle mass fairly quickly.

IS IT SAFE?

Even though creatine sounds harmful, it’s actually a safe supplement to take! It has been shown through studies not to have any negative effects [3]. However, like anything else, if you take more than the recommended dose of it, it can lead to complications.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO TAKE IT?

BEFORE OR AFTER WORKOUT?

There tends to be a bit of debate on when the best time to take creatine is. Some people say the best time to take it is before their workout because it provides more energy. Other people say that they like to take it after their workouts to help ensure recovery. It’s been shown though, that taking it after your workout may be more beneficial, there isn’t a significant change in body weight and fat. One study found the benefits of post-workout creatine to be fat-free mass, 1RM for bench press, and fat mass.[4]

BULKING OR CUTTING?

One of the main side effects of creatine is increased retention of water weight. So if you’re bulking and start taking creatine, you’ll most likely gain an extra 4-5 pounds of water weight easily. It will also help with your overall goal of getting stronger and muscular gains.

If you were cutting and going into a competition, I personally wouldn’t recommend taking it because, like I said above, you’ll have an extra 4-5 pounds of water weight on you and you’ll not only be a bit more bloated, but you’ll look it too. However, if you can cut down the water weight and cycle off (stop taking the supplement for about 2-4 weeks) of creatine, then it doesn’t hurt. You’ll most likely have an easier time of retaining strength and mass.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Creatine is a great supplement to take that can help you achieve success in your journey. If you’re bulking, I highly recommend taking it, and if you’re cutting then I would say you can take it as long as you don’t have a contest coming up. Personally I use the optimum nutrition creatine and it’s worked great for me! I do want to state though, before you start taking any supplement you should talk to your doctor first to make sure it is okay for you to be taking it.

REFERENCES

  1. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (2016, August 19). Adenosine triphosphate. Retrieved January 20, 2018, from https://www.britannica.com/science/adenosine-triphosphate
  2. Wang C-C, Lin S-C, Hsu S-C, Yang M-T, Chan K-H. Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Muscle Strength and Optimal Individual Post-Activation Potentiation Time of the Upper Body in Canoeists. Nutrients. 2017;9(11):1169. doi:10.3390/nu9111169.
  3. Hall, M., & Trojian, T. H. (n.d.). Creatine supplementation. Retrieved January 20, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23851411
  4. Antonio J, Ciccone V. The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2013;10:36. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-36.

Overcoming Setbacks and Injuries

Getting injured during your fitness journey is probably one of the most frustrating things that can happen to you. You usually have to take time off in order recover from your injury. Usually when you get back, it feels like you just took 3 steps backward and you feel demoralized and unmotivated to get after it again. I know it’s terrible, I’ve been there multiple times. Let’s go through some strategies to overcome these setbacks and injuries.

WHAT CAUSED THE INJURY?

My most frequent injuries stem from during squats. Oftentimes, as soon as I felt like I getting better at it, I would injure myself and have to stop squatting for a month or 2. Then I would return back and have to rebuild my strength once again. Injuries happen for a reason though. Even though there can be many causes of the injury, it usually ends up being an issue related to mobility, form, or adding too much weight too fast. I went through knee pain, hip pain, lower back pain, elbow pain, shoulder pain, wrist pain and groin pain. All from squatting! Even though it would have been very easy to just say “Squats are bad for you!” and stop forever, that’s not the truth. I was doing something wrong and had to correct it.

LEARN FROM THE INJURY

Once I pinpointed what caused my injury, the first thing I did was try and figure out how to fix it. I found out I had knee pain because I didn’t have a straight bar path when I was squatting, so I took time to fix it. While you’re injured and resting, it’s a great time to learn more about the movement that caused the injury in the first place. Getting injured is a way of finding out where some of your weaknesses lie and offers a chance to fix them so they don’t lead to injury again.

FOCUS ON MOBILITY

Most of my injuries ultimately stemmed from poor mobility. Unfortunately, mobility is overlooked fairly often. However, lack of proper mobility commonly causes injuries. While I’m injured and resting, I focus my attention more on my mobility. I do a lot of self-myofascial release (foam rolling) and stretching. Focusing on mobility will help you to recover and contribute to the prevention of further injuries as well. At one point, I was suffering from lower back pain that was actually being caused by my glutes. I made sure to focus more on mobility in that area and it helped clear up my issues. You’ll find that when you’ve increased your mobility and are able to perform the move again, you’ll perform better than ever!

GO UPON YOUR NORMAL SCHEDULE

Even though you’re battling an injury, you can still do workouts to keep along your schedule. For example, if I injured hamstring, I would skip leg day for the most part and focus on mobility and stretches for legs, but I would still be able to do upper body workouts and focus on other parts that I may be lacking. If I were to injure my arm, I would focus on getting my leg workouts in and throw some more cardio into the mix (as long as it’s not using my arms). Just because one area is injured, it doesn’t mean you have to throw out your entire fitness plan! Keep on your schedule and replace workouts of the injured area with recovery work.

TAKE AN OFF/DELOAD WEEK

When you’re injured, you can go along your daily schedule, but sometimes the best thing to do is either to take an off week or a deload week. What’s the difference? A deload week is different from just not going to the gym. On your deload week, you reduce the amount of weight you lift compared to your usual schedule, which allows for recovery and prevents overtraining while still keeping to your schedule. In some cases, taking some time off from the gym and not doing any lifts at all can work in your favor. Sometimes, the cause of your injury could have been from overloading and not having proper recovery, so your body just may need a break.It’s important to listen to your body and not overthink things, if your body is telling you to stop, there’s no shame in taking some time off! You might want to try starting off by deloading and moving to a full off-week if you’re still in a lot of pain.

FINAL THOUGHTS-DON’T GET DISCOURAGED!

Being injured is terrible. I like to think of it as a learning experience that provides some time to focus on other areas of weakness. For me, mobility is my biggest weakness and being injured gives me extra time to work on that issue. During the time you’re injured, reflect on what you can do better so when you’re back, you’re better than before. Use the time to your advantage. While your body may be injured, your fitness journey isn’t. When you come back, you’ll know how to prevent that same injury in the future, you’ll be better and more prepared for the move, and you’ll be back with a fresh mind and body. I know from experience that going through sometimes long, grueling months of trying to return from an injury can be frustrating, but if you use that time constructively and learn from what happened, you’ll come out better in the end.

I also want to remind you that any injury you may have should always involve a consultation with a doctor in order to determine the best route for recovery.. You should also never “push through the pain”. The only time that advice is relevant is when you’re sore and you’re simply “pushing through” that. You should never push through an injury you’ve sustained. If you do have one, you should seek a doctor consult ASAP to prevent it from getting worse.

Tips to Improve Your Squat

The squat is one of the most dominant exercises you can do. It’s a compound movement that works out your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hips, and even your core. Unfortunately, squats get a bad rep. Many people get discouraged from doing squats because they hear that it’s bad for their knees/joints or they’ve experienced an injury firsthand when squatting before. The squat is not a bad movement and it isn’t “bad” for you. However, doing the squat improperly will lead to injuries and other issues. Let’s look over some of the most common issues faced during squats and see how we can fix them.

KNEE PAIN

Knee pain is probably one of the most common pains associated with squats. Plenty of people fall victim to it, including myself. One of the major reasons knee pain occurs when squatting is usually because of a non-vertical bar path. When you squat, you want the bar path to stay in a straight, vertical line aligned with your midfoot. If the bar path isn’t accurate and lays more forward than it should, you will be putting all that pressure and weight onto your knees.

ANKLE MOBILITY

One of the causes of a non-vertical bar path is poor ankle mobility. Lack of ankle mobility could make you lean forward during a squat, which leads to an improper bar path. If you want to improve your ankle mobility I would recommend checking out this article. I highly recommend getting squat shoes as well, if you don’t already have them. I currently use Adidas Performance Men’s Powerlift 3.1 and they’ve worked wonders!

STANCE

Another issue that can cause knee pain is your stance while squatting. This is a little bit more tricky though. We all have a different anatomy, which means your squat stance is going to vary person to person. The recommended stance is with feet shoulder width apart and your feet pointed slightly out about 30-40 degrees out. Personally, I squat a little bit wider than shoulder width and have a foot stance of about 35 degrees out. One trick I learned to get a proper foot stance is to squeeze your glutes. Squeezing your glutes will usually place your feet in what would be an optimal position for you to squat. Play around with your stance and feet angles and see what is most comfortable for you.

LOWER BACK PAIN

Lower back pain is another common issue when people squat. There are plenty of issues that can cause lower back pain during the squat. It may be an issue with your form, a weak core, too much weight or mobility issues (or maybe a combination of sorts).

ANTERIOR PELVIC TILT

Something that is common though is anterior pelvic tilt. Anterior pelvic tilt is when the front of the pelvis drops and the back of the pelvis rises. It causes your lower back to curve and your stomach/gut will stick out more. Usually anterior pelvic tilt is caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Which can lead to either muscle imbalances or tight muscles. Since we tend to sit a lot, the hip flexors tend to get tighter which can cause anterior pelvic tilt.

One specific movement that helped with my tight hip flexors was the half kneeling hip flexor stretch. To perform the stretch, follow the steps below:

  1. Take your right leg and place your knee on the ground.
  2. Take your left leg and place it in front of you.
  3. While you’re in this movement push your hips forward and hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat on opposite side.

CORE STABILITY

For core stability, I highly recommend doing the Valsalva maneuver. The Valsalva maneuver is a breathing technique that will help to provide core stability and proximal (or center/core) stiffness which helps you power through movements. Most people say the proper way to breathe when lifting is to inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up. However, that isn’t the proper way to breathe when doing lifts, especially squats. It has been proven that the Valsalva maneuver increases intra-abdominal pressure which creates stability in the vertebral column. Doing this maneuver not only helps protect your lower back and your spine, but will also help you power through your lifts, and is a completely safe technique.

TIGHT HAMSTRINGS

For tight hamstrings, I recommend doing PNF(Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) hamstring stretches. Over time, it has worked wonders for me. My hamstrings are extremely tight and I usually end off a squat session doing these hamstring stretches. You want to already be warmed up before you perform this stretch.

To perform this stretch, follow the steps below:

*Requirements – Resistance Band.

  1. Lay on your back and put your right leg at a 90 degree angle and lay your left leg on the ground.
  2. Push your leg in the opposite direction and hold for about 5-10 seconds.
  3. Release and bring your leg towards you and you should be able to bring your leg closer to you.
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 for 4-5 times on each leg.

Here is a great video explaining the movement and showing the technique.

BALANCE/STABILITY

Another issue that occurs while squatting is improper balance while doing the movement. A while back I use to have a problem with balance and keeping stability. Lack of stability would cause me to either lean too far forward during my squat or cause me to lean side to side. This can lead to plenty of the issues we’ve described above. The solution to my problem was cured with one easy switch.

I use to always squat in front of a mirror. Mainly to look at myself lift and make sure I wasn’t making any mistakes during the lift. It makes perfect sense, but I could never get my stability down. The reason why is because the mirror was distracting me. I was constantly moving my eyes and following my own eyes in the mirror. This led to me being unbalanced and never keeping true stability. Just to try as an example, if you stand on one foot and keep balance, and you move your eyes up and down constantly, you will eventually lose balance fairly fast. Now try the same thing except keep your eyes fixated on one position (preferably slightly in front of you but towards the ground.) You’ll notice you’re able to keep balance with ease. Next time you squat try not looking into the mirror (squat the opposite direction.) If your gym equipment doesn’t allow you to squat the opposite direction, that’s fine; keep your eyes fixated on one position and you’ll notice how much easier it will be for you to maintain balance and stability.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The squat looks to be a very simple movement but there is plenty that goes into it. I personally used to get discouraged from squats any time injury occurred. You live and you learn though. The techniques I mentioned above helped my squat in so many ways. I would like to go into more about the squat and even how to perform the squat but this has been done countless amounts of times and there are people who are far more experienced with the physiology behind the squat.

Personally a book I highly recommend getting is The Squat Bible by Dr. Aaron Horschig and Dr. Kevin Sonthana. In the book, they delve into the basics of how to perform the squat (and multiple variations of the squat) as well as how/where injuries can occur, from your ankles all the way up to your shoulders, with detailed answers on why these injuries occur and stretches/movements on how to fix them. You can read my review of the book here. I also want to note, that if you’re experiencing any type of pain/injury, you should still contact your doctor or a sports doctor to get it looked at. Make sure to lighten the load if you’re injured or maybe just take some time off. It’s better to stop now rather than have the injury to get so serious that you can’t do certain exercises anymore.

REFERENCES

Myer, G. D., Kushner, A. M., Brent, J. L., Schoenfeld, B. J., Hugentobler, J., Lloyd, R. S., McGill, S. M. (2014). The back squat: A proposed assessment of functional deficits and technical factors that limit performance. Strength and Conditioning Journal36(6), 4–27. http://doi.org/10.1519/SSC.0000000000000103