Category Archives: Bodybuilding

Article Request Series: How has Instagram Changed Strength Training, Body Image Expectations, and Motivation?

Welcome to your front row seat to the world’s most impressive strength feats, abs shredded beyond belief, narrow waists, augmented breasts, and the world’s fittest and most attractive people at your finger tips, all you have to do is pull out your phone and scroll.

Instagram has become the unofficial home of fitness on the internet, it seems that every amateur powerlifter (guilty), aspiring bodybuilder or bikini competitor has a page and is publicly documenting their progress. On top of all these amateur and aspiring athletes, we have instant access to the world’s top lifters posting their training and competitions, and the world’s most attractive nearly-naked fitness models posting motivational photos with quasi-inspirational quotes. I would argue that no single platform has changed the landscape of fitness more than Instagram. Some of these changes have been positive, some have been negative, and for the most part, Instagram’s role in the fitness industry is still being written.

Instagram’s Positive Influence

People are starting

So has all this exposure actually inspired anyone to take up fitness and get after their goals? I’d say a resounding yes. I still remember when one of the lifters I was training told me the meet he wanted to enter sold out in 6 minutes… wait what? I missed a couple years in the powerlifting world due to a bad injury, and just 3-4 years earlier meets didn’t sell out, you signed up a couple weeks before the meet because you kept on forgetting to go online and actually fill out the form. Now there’s an explosion of new lifters looking to get their chance on the platform to test themselves, and there are even a few people in the general public who know what powerlifting is.

How about the bodybuilding shows? Right now the sport at the grassroots level is being financially kept afloat by the explosion of Insta-inspired bikini competitors and men’s physique category, outnumbering the bodybuilding, figure, and physique classes by at least 2:1 combined! The explosion of popularity in the strength and physique sports has been nothing short of phenomenal. Never before has it been more possible or in-vogue to start your fitness journey, document the entire thing, and attempt to inspire others to do the same.

Bigger goals and dreams

I know personally that Instagram has shown me that my initial goals were actually too low, and opened my eyes to what kind of strength feats are possible even at my current weight class. I can see what the top in my sport are doing, and expect better of myself. Seeing what world class lifters are doing has inspired me to chase higher goals myself, and even if I don’t hit them, I’ll have ended up further ahead trying to achieve them had I not changed my perspective in the first place

A chance to interact with the elite

I’ve actually had conversations with world’s top lifters and most successful strength coaches. Alice Matos pointed people towards an article I had written and offered some advice for my female clients, Paige Hathaway (pictured with the boxing gloves in the main picture) responded to my questions about her supplement line. I’ve learned from top physical therapists like John Rusin who has taken the time to point me towards further learning resources and answered questions about a shoulder injury, and I could list countless others, and all of this happened via Instagram. The best information and the best people in the world have never been so accessible, and you’d be surprised how many of them will take time out of their day to help you.

The Dark Side of Instagram

It’s not real

Most people know that the photos of Anllela Sagra (pictured left) and Devin Physique (pictured right) are heavily photoshopped, use professional lighting and photographers, airbrushing, hell they even shrink the skin with ice and apply other crazy industry tricks all to get the best photo possible. Even with all those tips and tricks, they’re still going throw away 80-90% of the photos they took, using only the best angles that portray a completely unrealistic image of what the model actually looks like. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “stop trying to look like the girl on the magazine, the girl on the magazine doesn’t even look like the girl on the magazine” it couldn’t be more true; however, that doesn’t seem to stop us from comparing ourselves to these caricatures of our favourite fitness models.

It can obscure your view of your own progress

I should be celebrating, so should Cam, and so should Marina, but we’re not, we’re all struggling with confidence issues directly related to our relationship with social media, specifically stuff we’ve seen on Instagram; Let me explain. Marina signed up for her first powerlifting meet in January, she’s been training hard and she’s made incredible progress, putting on 30+ pounds on her squat bench and deadlift in a matter of a couple short months, and despite her relatively short training cycle, she’s going to be competitive in her weight class at her upcoming meet in January. By all measures she’s making incredible progress, but like many others, she follows some of the best lifters on Instagram, and every time they post a video of their new PR, she just feels further behind. Cam recently added 100lbs to his bench press in record time, hitting the 4 plate mark for the first time in his life, which is something that not many people ever do, regardless of bodyweight; however, with the world at your fingertips, it’s one thumb stroke away to see someone doing 4 plates or more with ease, and it can seem like this is the norm and allow it to cheapen your own accomplishment. We tend to lose perspective of our own significant achievements with this skewed perspective that 4 plate benchers just grow on trees. I had a similar experience after missing a 635lb deadlift, and there was Jesse Norris, a weight class underneath me, pulling it for an easy 8 reps. The reality is not everyone who starts their fitness journey can end up in the world’s elite, the best are the best for a reason, but that shouldn’t stop you from celebrating your accomplishments along the way.

Mistreatment and misinformation

“you can’t even see the difference in those photos, you’re still fat! haha” – ready for these kind of interactions? That was a real comment taken from a transformation picture that trainer had posted online of one of her clients. People can be ruthless when they’re sitting behind the safety of their phone screen, and if you make your profile public, be prepared for some abuse. I personally can’t stand to read the comments on popular Instagram posts anymore, perhaps I’d like to ignorantly keep some faith in humanity. Making a change to your lifestyle or chasing a grandiose performance goal is already incredibly intimidating, the last thing anyone needs is some asshole keyboard warrior talking shit to make themselves feel better about whatever short coming of their own they’re overcompensating for.

Although Instagram is going to give you the chance to interact with some of the world’s best, for every knowledgeable person, there’s at least 20 others aggressively marketing the most ridiculous of quick fixes and lacklustre fitness products and supplements, so beware and have a strong bullshit filter on at all times.

So has Instagram had a net positive or negative effect on fitness as a whole? I’m not sure, but as an individual you can use it as motivational tool, and a chance to interact with like minded people. If you feel the negative side effects starting to creep in, feel free to check out, unfollow, go private, and take a moment to reflect on just how far you’ve come.

 

 

Are you defeating yourself before you’ve even tried? 

There’s a common saying that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you deal with it; I couldn’t agree more. If there’s one thing that ties all successful people together, whether it be in business, athletics, physical or mental transformations, beating addictions etc.  it’s the fact that they all took responsibility for their actions, and all of them believed they had the power to change. 

It’s time to stop killing your own dreams with shitty self talk and a victim attitude. No one has achieved anything by feeling sorry for themselves or blaming outside circumstances. You. You have the power to change your health and physique. You CAN look and feel the way you’ve always wanted. You might have challenges that others don’t, so what? It’s not about them, it’s about you. Everyone knows someone who puts in half ass effort in the gym, eats absolute garbage, yet walks around with single digit body fat and looks like a Greek sculpture: chances are that isn’t you. So do you quit, feel sorry for yourself, blame the universe and your parents for shitty genetics and lying to you about Santa Claus? No. Fuck that. You only have one job and that’s to beat the person you were yesterday.

Can you look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you’ve truly done everything in your power today to work towards your goals and your dreams? You probably never will, and you know what? That’s a beautiful thing. That means that there’s always a way to get better. Could you have pushed a little harder, gotten one more rep? Could you have made it a priority to get to the grocery store on Sunday? Could you have drank 500ml more water, or watched one less Netflix show and gone for a walk instead? There are hundreds of little daily habits that you can do that will add up. Focus on one and get after it. Got it? Cool. Onto the next habit. 

Don’t be afraid to fail. Fail a hundred times, fail a thousand times. Just keep trying one more damn time than you fail.

The second you say you can’t, you’re lying. I can’t means I won’t. Don’t give up on yourself, don’t believe that things are happening to you, make things happen. The best time to start was yesterday. The second best time to start is today. Do it now. 

 

See How One of The Blacksmith Fitness Bikini Competitors Overcame Adversity and Made it on Stage For Her First Show

Ushna’s road to the stage was anything but easy or typical. Ushna originally came to see me after 7 months of being unable to train due to an impingement pain in her lower back, SI joint, and shoulder capsule from poor movement mechanics and compensation patterns. The first month and half was spent on drills ranging from breathing mechanics to muscle activation drills and using various activated neuromuscular techniques to calm overactive muscles while adding in whatever training we could that wouldn’t aggrevate her symptoms; however, very little training at this time could diverted towards types of exercise that worked towards her goals of getting on stage for her first competition. Over the next few months as Ushna started to improve drastically to the point where Ushna wanted to train for a competition, and Ushna was able to add over 12lbs of muscle to her frame, but here were the challenges we still faced:

  • Abdominals were still too weak to allow the combination of axial and compressive forces to allow for enough load to cause the musculature of the legs to adapt:
    • No squats, deadlifts, barbell lunges or any exercise involving a loaded barbell on the back
  • Obliques and glute medius were too weak/lacked the proprioceptive control to handle many explosive movements
    • No sprinting, kettlebell swings, barbell or dumbbell complexes, or jump training – many high intensity interval methods were unavailable, leaving us the recumbent bike to do the majority of her cardio/interval work
  • Anteriorly tilting the pelvis caused impingement pain in the SI joint and lumbar spine:
    • Very limited selection of exercises to work the glutes and hamstrings

And we had 8 weeks total to get her ready for the last show of the year, so we got in touch with Adwin Krishna to help with what was going to be an incredibly tough transformation to get on stage. So with 2 coaches and 8 weeks we started to prepare and we got underway.

The challenges didn’t end there, she got out to a great start with the fat loss; however, Ushna made an honest mistake and was missing one of her meals for 3 weeks, causing her metabolism to come crashing to a halt and fighting her efforts every step of the way, so with only 4 weeks out this was how she was looking

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At this point both Adwin and I talked for hours about how we could save this competition prep and still have Ushna get up on stage and deliver a physique that she could be proud of, and it really came down to one thing – it was going to take perfection and all the combined tricks we had up our sleeves, but most importantly, Ushna was going to have to work insanely hard and smart through the next 4 weeks. I can’t say how proud I am of Ushna for how hard she worked over the next 3 weeks, and her dedication to her diet, supplementation, water, everything we asked her to do, she nailed; however, Ushna was thrown one last curveball. 9 days out from her competition she was badly rear-ended and spent the day in the hospital.

For most people that would be it, it was already a short prep, 4 weeks of the diet had been mishandled, she was already battling two injuries and now she had to add whiplash and soft tissue injuries to the back, neck, and shoulders from a car crash to the list. She lost 3 very important days of training to the car crash, and our limited exercise list just shrunk to less than half, and you know what Ushna did? She rose to the occasion, kicked ass, and did everything in her power to present her best on stage.

So here’s the difference 4 weeks and car crash made:

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Again I can’t say how proud I am of Ushna and all her hard work; she didn’t win, but I guarantee that she outworked many of the girls who placed in front of her, and now we have until March until she competes again – This time we’ll have a full exercise list, a full length prep, and *fingers crossed* no more car accidents. I’m really excited for her next show and I know you guys are going to be blown away!

One of the Most Painful and Effective Ways to Build Muscle. Can You Handle the Blood Flow Restricted Method?

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If you want to find out what you’re made of, then grab a pair of resistance bands or some medical tubing and read on to find out what that blood flow restricted method (BFR) can do that almost no other method of training can do…

BFR Training: What is it, and why does it work? Like everything in fitness, we’re manipulating a survival mechanism

We tend to think a little too simplistically when we’re thinking of our muscles, we usually think of them as entire muscles like the biceps or the triceps, deltoids, hamstrings etc. and we tend to think that if we flex that muscle or use it, that we’re using the whole thing, unfortunately it doesn’t really work that way. Our muscles are actually made up of hundreds to thousands of independent contractile groups within the muscle belly, these groups are called motor units, and you almost never contract all these individual subunits of the muscle at the same time, in fact if you did contract them all your muscles can create enough force to serious damage themselves and sometimes rip the muscle right off the bone. As we approach our 1 rep max, we approach the highest amount of motor unit recruitment we can reach voluntarily – which may be around 65-70% of the available muscle fibre in the untrained and around 90% in the highly trained.

Fun fact: There’s really only two ways to get 100% motor unit recruitment, A) you must perceive that you or someone else is truly in a life or death situation (this explains those stories where 65 year old ladies pull cars off victims in motor vehicle accidents) or B) Using external electricity like an electrostim machine or getting electrocuted – I probably wouldn’t recommend either scenario

So in the name of the preservation of energy and not ripping our muscles off the bone, our brain is hardwired to always use the smallest amount of muscle, and the smallest motor units to do the job – this sucks if we want to maximally develop the muscle because we want to develop all the fibres! Sure we can keep adding weight to the bar and we’ll recruit more and more of the muscle, but, it comes with a cost, how many times can you actually do your 1 rep max? Well if it’s a true 1 rep max, just once. 1 rep, no matter how heavy, isn’t going to develop much muscle if you can only do it once, but what if there was another way to hit those big motor units that are normally saved for extremely heavy events? There is, and it’s called the blood flow restricted (BFR) method, or “occlusion training”

One of the things about the smaller motor units is that they are highly resistant to fatigue, this is why your arm doesn’t gas out after curling food to your mouth with a fork at every meal, but in order to resist this fatigue, they need oxygen, and that oxygen gets delivered by the blood. So when we cut the blood flow off, the small muscle fibres that normally would handle the lighter weights literally cease to function, leaving the big, normally untouched fibres to take over the load, and now we can hit them with a ton of reps. How many reps? The research right now is varied, but somewhere in the 100-125 total rep range seems to be the sweet spot.

So we’re hitting some new muscles fibres with a ton of reps that wouldn’t normally get them, but BFR training offers another muscle building advantage – it creates a ton of metabolic stress, which is one of the three main methods of muscle growth. The blood normally carries in oxygen and nutrients, but it also shuttles away the metabolites (aka the unwanted by-products of muscle contraction) away from the muscle. Normally theses metabolites are shuttled away from the blood fairly quickly, but when we exercise these by-products tend to build up a little faster and therefore exist in higher concentrations before the blood can take them away and shuttle them to liver to be turned into cool things or are filtered out by the kidneys. In standard conditions, the higher the concentration of these by-products, the more work we did, and the more likely it is that we created some serious muscular damage that needs to be repaired. This build up of by-products is one of the things that signals to the brain that we just did something that posed a threat to our survival, and it better do something about it before it happens again. When we block off the blood from leaving the muscle, these by-products build up in concentrations that really can’t happen under normal conditions, BUT, we really haven’t done anywhere near the damage that these concentrations would indicate. Regardless, the brain responds as if that amount of damage had been done – and viola, you get a huge muscle building response!

OK, sounds cool, but how do you do it?

First, let’s get through the disclaimers:

  1. I warned you this is one of the most painful ways to build muscle, and I wasn’t kidding, those last few sets are going to be absolute agony, and there’s going to be a burn you’ve never felt before.
  2. This method is for aesthetic purposes and/or athletes recovering from injury, it builds more mass than strength, and if used constantly could skew the strength to weight ratio in the wrong direction

Here’s the muscle groups work the best for this type of training:

  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Forearm Muscles
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves

You’re going to take a resistance band or some medical tubing, (or really anything you can make a good tourniquet with that won’t come loose as you flex the muscle) and you’re going to tie it around the joint above the working muscle at about a 7/10 tightness – we want the arteries to force blood in and increase intracellular pressure, but we want to block the venous return to the heart. Here’s the pictures from above again:

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If you look closely, there are two resistance bands tied around Riley’s legs right in the “crotch line” essentially right below the glute line and around the front of the thigh, this is the band placement for the quads and hamstrings

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Here it’s pretty easy to see the bands tied right beneath the shoulders, this is the band placement for the biceps and triceps

My favourite BFR method is to work antagonistic pairs of muscles, meaning that you train the muscle on either side of the joint at the same time so good options would be:

  • Quads and Hamstrings:
    • A) 5×25 Quad Extensions, no rest
    • B) 5×25 Lying Hamstring Curls, no rest
  • Biceps and Triceps: 8mins straight, no rest between exercises, don’t count sets
    • A) DB Bicep Curl: 10 reps
    • B) DB Tricep Extension: 10 reps
  • Wrist Extensors and Wrist Flexors:
    • A) 8×15 Forearm Concentration Curl
    • B) 8×15 Wrist Roller
  • Calves and Tibialis Anterior
    • A) 10×12 Seated or Standing Calf Raise
    • B) 10×12 Toe Raises

You’ll notice that the lower body lifts all use machines, I’d advise using machines as opposed to say doing BFR squats and deadlifts – the stability demands are just too high, and many of those so called stabilizer muscles are made up of a really high degree of oxygen dependent fibres (you do have to stand with them all day after all) so there’s a much higher risk of injury. Plus, when we’re going for metabolic stress, this is where isolation really shines, so stick with machine variants for the lower body, but feel free to use free weight versions of the upper body movements if you’d like. Something that is definitely important to note is that you don’t need to use very much weight with this method! 40-50% of your 1 rep max is plenty and sometimes even less is all that’s needed to make progress with this method. I always smile when one of my clients decides to go hero mode after this warning and grab a set of 30lb dumbbells for the bicep/tricep method outlined above; they usually make it to about 2-3mins before realizing exactly how terrible that life decision was and inevitably have to lower the weight to make it out to the full time. 20lbs for most trained men and 10lbs for most women is going to be plenty to get the job done, and I promise you will see both results and agony at those seemingly minuscule weights. The low weight required to make this method effective is one of the reasons it works for athletes recovering from injuries – you can start with your own bodyweight but still have the brain react as if it had done a full intensity session. Last but not least, rep quality matters! No using momentum or cheating, and make sure to squeeze the muscle as hard as possible with each contraction! You want to wring out the muscle and force all those by-products into the blood stream so they hit the brain’s receptors all at once.

When integrating BFR training into your routine I would stick to a max of 2 sessions per week and always implement it as the very last thing in your training session, with only some moderate cardio after if you have it planned for the day. if you’ve really given this method your all, chances are you won’t want to be doing much after anyways. As always if you have any questions about the BFR method or anything else fitness/sport-training related feel free to comment below or on the Blacksmith Fitness Facebook Page http://www.facebook.com/blacksmithfit

Do You Do This at the Gym? Use Reverse Pyramiding To Fix This Common Gain Killing Mistake

How many times have you seen this in your gym:

  • Guy walks up to bench
  • Adds 45lbs per side
  • Does 10-15 reps
  • Adds 25lbs per side
  • Does 8-12 reps, and only has 2-3 in the tank at this weight
  • Removes 25lb plate and adds 45lb plate, now at 225lbs
  • Does a glorified seizure on the bench and then racks the bar in frustration
  • Complains that he can never break the 225lb barrier

His real problem? The way he warmed up; it’s called traditional pyramiding, and in my opinion, it sucks. Enter reverse pyramiding to the rescue. The biggest problem was that our reference person induced way too much fatigue in the warm ups to 225 and told his nervous system to be conservative with its output, because it needed to perform multiple low intensity contractions. Keep in mind your nervous system is kind of like Usain Bolt, it has a HUGE amount of potential to kick ass, but it’s lazy, and doesn’t want to work unless you force it to. If you have the strength to do 185×12 then you have the strength to bench 225, but not if you fatigue yourself first and fail to prime the nervous system for what you want it to do. Below I’m going to explain how to warm up to actually getting a real rep or more at 225 if you already have the strength to do so. Please keep in mind this can be scaled to any number you want 315, 405, 495 etc. and applies to all other lifts as well.

  • Bar 2 sets of 5 reps, 30s rest, first set is slow and controlled grooving the perfect rep 5 times. The second set takes that pattern and adds velocity, telling your brain that it will need the fast twitch fibers activated in the coming sets
  • 95 x 5 reps, regular rep speed, re-groove the pattern
  • 135 x 5 reps, fast rep speed, stimulate the central nervous system
  • 185 x 3 reps,  regular rep speed, prime the nervous system for heavier weight
  • 205×1 whether it moves quickly or slowly, you must intend to move it quickly – the intention is just as important as the actual bar speed for recruiting fast twitch muscle fibers
  • 225x however many reps you can/want to do, if you want to use other methods afterwards, leave a rep or two in the tank
  • Do a sweet victory dance.

Now that you’ve hit the weight that you’ve always dreamed of, you have options. You can take advantage of the post activation potentiation effect – or PAP in most journal entries, which is like a fancy way of saying you’ve revved your internal engine and now it’s ready to kick more ass than if you started it cold. So now you can go back down the pyramid in a bunch of creative ways. Here are just a couple options:

Muscle Building:

  • 185 for 1-3 sets of max reps, rest 60-90s per set, use the same grip or change it each set (wide, narrow, close)
  • 135 for 1 set of max reps, use your weakest grip

Option 2

  • 205 with the rest pause method (3 sets to failure with 30s rest between sets) rest 2mins
  • 185 with the rest pause method (3 sets to failure with 30s rest between sets)

Option 3

  • Cluster 5×5 at 200-210 finished in as little time as possible

Strength:

  • Calculate your new 1 rep max

Each bullet is an option, all with full rest

  •  4-6 singles between 93-97%
  • 3×3 at 88-91%
  • 5×2 at 90-95%
  • Wait until next week and do 3,2,1 waves starting at 85% for 3 reps and add 5lbs do 2 reps, add 5lbs and do 1 rep, then add add 5lbs to your 3 rep set and restart the wave. Do 3-4 waves depending on feel. Note: if you’re above 300lbs in any lift, use 10lb jumps.

Athleticism and Rate of Force Development:

  • Calculate your new 1 rep max

Each Bullet is an option

  • 6×3 at 55-65%
  • 5×2 at 75% contrasted with an explosive lift under 40% or medicine ball throw
  • 3-5 sets of Bench press throws in the smith machine with 30-35% (don’t count the bar in the smith machine)
  • 4-6 sets of plyometric pushup variations 1-3 reps per set

This is just the tip of the iceberg, there are honestly 30-50 more options for each category that I could have listed, but the point is you can use the PAP effect to improve output in any of those categories, just be sure not to burn yourself out and work up to a 1 rep max every week. As a very general rule, don’t train at or over 90% of a 1 rep max for more than 3 weeks in a row, more advanced athletes should stick to 2 weeks (by advanced I mean you bench press at least 1.7x your own bodyweight) and the extremely advanced athletes can break the rules in very specific scenarios, but if you’re there you already know that.

 

 

 

 

The 9 Best Tips To Improve Your Fitness

  
This article started as a question: “knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?”. So thinking back, these are the things I wish I knew, or reminded myself of when I was starting to change from just working out for the hell of it, to goal oriented training. It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete after a record, competing in your first bodybuilding show, or looking to shed a couple pounds for summer, you can find something that applies to you and your training.  These tips are the 9 most effective training tips that I’ve compiled over 10 years of training myself and hundreds of others. Some of my more avid readers will notice some crossover between this article and the “6 things I’ve learned about life and training from 1.5 years and counting of rehabilitation” but I think the fact that some of those have cracked my top 9 shows just how important some of those lessons have been. Here they are in no particular order

1. Know Your Personality

I know I said no particular order but this may be the most important tip on this list. Are you one of those personality types that needs a kick in the ass to get out the door? Do you skip a training session just because your training partner cancelled? Or do you train through sickness and injury, staying a slave to your program because it’s written for 5 days a week; you have a broken arm, but it’s bench press day? Do you think you cannot skip a day because you’ll instantaneously shrink and your whole program will be ruined? Take a hard look in the mirror and figure out what side of the fence you sit on, and act accordingly.

One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard that puts this into perspective was “I spent the first 3 years of my training career learning to be consistent and never miss a workout, I spent the next 30 years learning to listen to my body and back off when needed” – wish I knew the author, but I’m pretty sure it came from the Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline Book, Easy Strength.

2. Keep a Training Journal 

I’ve written entire articles on the importance of keeping a training journal, so I won’t go overboard here, but I will hammer this one point: How do you know if you’re objectively improving and not just fluctuating up and down? Did you do 300lbs for 10 reps or 12 reps last week? Was your spotter yelling “it’s all you!” with a death grip on the barbell? Maybe that was the week before? You have to write it down to be sure.

3. Don’t Overreact to the Natural Highs and Lows

You will have good weeks, you will have bad weeks; you will add 20lbs to a lift in a week, and you will go backwards in another. You’ll wake up cut and dry one morning and the next day you’ll feel bloated and fat. Your 40y time will go up and down. Natural up and downs are part of the process, and for some reason the body tends to adapt in wave like cycles. Two bad workouts in a row doesn’t mean your program is shit, you’re shit, and everything needs to change, and two excellent workouts in a row doesn’t mean you’ve found the holy grail of training and now every single workout going forward will be a cornucopia of rainbows and angelic harp music leading to 1million Instagram followers and multiple world records. If you chart your progress, it should look something like a well performing stock; take a birds eye view of your training and make sure you’re trending in the right direction and don’t pay too much attention to the small fluctuations up and down.

4. Know why you’re really doing this

A lot of people will say they train just to lead a healthy active lifestyle, and for many of them that’s true, but for the lion’s share of people reading this I’d argue that the reason runs a little deeper. I’ve been training people for a really long time and have heard some intensely dark reasons for why someone wants to train to get stronger or to improve their physical fitness/body image; they range from abuse, to childhood comments, to wanting to know what it feels like to walk into a room without staring a floor in shame, beating drug addictions etc. By all means keep telling people you just want to be healthy and feel better, after all it’s none of their damn business, but know your own reason, internalize it, and make it a source of strength that you can feed from. Study after study shows that intrinsic (or internal) motivation, beats external goals or measurements of progress when it comes to making lasting changes.

5. Educate Yourself

I heard L-Arginine is good for nitric oxide production, no wait that’s only in alpha-ketoglutarate formation, no, now arginine doesn’t help with nitric oxide production it’s other nitrates that raise blood levels. Why is nitric oxide important again? It’s for pumps right? But I read somewhere that the pump doesn’t actually build any muscle, so do I even need this? Some other article says it doesn’t build muscle on its own but it helps you recover from strenuous exercise….

Man, it can get really confusing, and even more confusing when someone’s trying to sell you something. Your bullshit filter is your biggest ally in your quest to improve your fitness, and it can be tough to know where to start. My personal recommendation is to stick with one source of information at the start. I’ve made some recommendations in the #1 Reason People Don’t Make Progress Article, and once you have a foundation, then you can start branching out and expanding your knowledge base, which leads me to my next point

6. Keep an Open Mind and Positive Mind

I used to hate CrossFit; there, I said it, and with many of the gyms I still do. The inventors of CrossFit pretty much piss on 60 years of strength and conditioning research, know it, and market it with a smile. They take the highlight reel from every effective training modality and makes a watered down fast food version that they sell as the cure to cancer and sadness for everyone. BUT what I should have been thinking is: hey, looks like a lot people don’t want to specialize, like varied and fun training methods, and are interested in community-based fitness, and there has to be a way we can give it to them without the glaring errors in programming and injury risk. Also due to the popularity of CrossFit, some of the industry’s most brilliant minds turned their collective heads towards fixing some of the more significant shortcomings, new studies are being conducted, and with all the people experimenting with variants of concurrent training, we just might learn something that we can apply elsewhere. If you keep an open and positive mind you will learn so much more than if you shut yourself into a training cult.

7. Ask for Help

This one is straight from the 6 Lessons article, so again I won’t beat it to death, but never let your pride get in the way of getting better. I may be guiltier than most on this, but I’m working on it, and every time I beat the instinct to just do everything myself, I always come out better for it. Even just bouncing ideas off someone else and hearing yourself think out loud can do wonders. Suck it up and ask for help when you need it; you will be happy you did

8. Thinking you need X piece of equipment to achieve your goals

I am admittedly an equipment whore and am extremely picky about type of equipment I buy and put in the gym, but that being said I pulled my first ever 500lb deadlift with nothing more than a barbell and a set of dumbbells, a squat rack and an adjustable bench. If you have those basic items you have everything you need to train an elite athlete, compete in a bodybuilding show, lose 20lbs of fat, gain 20lbs of muscle, get faster, improve general or specific endurance, etc. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your progress would be 10x better if you just had X piece of equipment, it may help, or make something easier, but it’s never an excuse for lack of progress.

9. Even if you want to excel at many things, focus on one or two things at a time

“Check out my Sheiko style routine that I modified using the rest-pause method and intraset stretching, I’ve added tabata intervals to keep the fat at bay and fat burner for extra support. I’m also going to take creatine this cycle to maximize my mass gains and add in aerobic work for recovery, and sprints because I’ve heard they can alter the fast to slow twitch muscle fiber ratio. I’m also thinking about integrating peripheral heart action or bioenergetic sequencing to really optimize this training cycle, and on top of that I’ve got this new diet all set up” – Great. I don’t know what would be worse, if it worked or if it failed miserably. If you try everything at once, chances are it won’t work the way you intended, and even if you have some mild success, how are you going to repeat it? Was it the volume? The intensity? The specialized methods? The supplements? Would you have gotten better results by using the same routine with one specialized method? What caused the greatest interference effect? Can you sustain this workload forever, (you can’t), how will you change it to progress?. If your plan doesn’t work and you start running yourself into the wall, chances are you scrap everything and try the next super combo that you read about on X website and likely run into equally disastrous results. I talked about this in the “Can CrossFit be Cured?” article on the Blacksmith Fitness Facebook Page. Focus on one or two things at a time, evaluate the effectiveness of the methods, and sequence them in a logical order. I’d check that article out even if you’re not even remotely into CrossFit

There you have it, the best 9 tips for improving your fitness. As I look back on the list now that all 9 relate to the mental/congitive/emotional side of the training equation, and the more and more people I train, the more confident I am that the mind is the single most important factor in determining their success. Win the battle of the mind and you will crush your fitness goals, and you just might find that the iron teaches you something about yourself in the process.

The #1 Reason People Don’t Make Progress

Maybe this article is the wake-up call you needed, or maybe it’s going to tell you that what you’re doing now is perfect for you, but either way hopefully it helps you realize that action and inaction are both decisions!

People often ask me questions about certain aspects of fitness and physical training (which is awesome, keep doing it!) but often halfway through the conversation I’ll hear one of these lines:

  1. I really want to get into shape but I just don’t have the time right now. I’m too tired to start a fitness program
  2. I’ve tried everything and just can’t lose fat or gain muscle
  3. I can’t train for my sport because I injured my back, shoulder, knee etc. ______ physio/doctor/chiro/trainer/tarot card reader says I’ll never do ______ again. So I can’t.
  4. I can’t do _______ anymore because I’m too old
  5. There’s too much information out there, one place says to do this, another place says do that. It’s too confusing to start
  6. I can’t afford a personal trainer or strength coach

Now I’m sure you’re expecting me to say that all of these are unacceptable and everyone should be training for their sport or to achieve a healthier body image, but the reality is these are all legitimate life situations that can come up, some, in my opinion, are weaker than others, but all could happen to you. The real problem is that after I hear one of these lines there’s usually 0% ownership of the situation, and often the belief that this is happening to them as opposed to a result of their decisions. I’ll often make the incorrect assumption that they truly do want to improve their situation and that the reason that they stated is truly what’s holding them back, here’s an actual conversation I had with an athlete:

“Man I really miss hockey and want to play again, but I can’t play anymore because I injured my shoulder last year, i went to physio for 3 months but never improved”

“who was your physio?”

“______ from _______ clinic, I went for awhile, got an MRI that showed nothing, but I’m still in pain a year later, I’ve tried everything and it’s not getting any better”

“hmm well shoulders are a very complex and unstable joint, one of the physios I refer to helped fix Travis Lulay’s and Jake Virtanen’s shoulder after their team doctors failed to get any  significant improvement, did you want me to see if I could get you on his waiting list?”

“No there’s nothing he can do, my shoulder is messed”

Now if that the injury was the real reason that the athlete was no longer participating, the promising chance to finally fix what was ailing him should have been a welcome opportunity, but the real problem was the commitment to an injured mentality. Which leads me to this:

The number 1 reason people fail to see results, or even get started, isn’t genetics or life situation, injury status, age, or financial situation, it’s mentality and choices.

I want to be on record as saying that I have zero problem with the person who decides that fitness training isn’t that important to them right now, that’s their choice and I 100% respect that, it’s not my job, or anyone else’s for that matter, to decide what is best for them. My point is that “I can’t” is almost always “I won’t”. So with that in mind I want to go over the most common reasons I hear that people can’t achieve their fitness goals, how it relates to mentality, and how you could fix them if you’re in a similar boat

I really want to get into shape but I just don’t have the time right now. I’m too tired to start a fitness program

Don’t have time to go to the gym? no problem! If you’re strength or performance oriented check out Pavel Tsatsouline’s naked warrior manual, it requires zero equipment other than your own body, and revolves around 2 movements.

Time limited and need to train for a sport or activity? Get a single kettlebell and a customized program – an experienced coach could produce a national level athlete with nothing more than 16kg bell for most women, and a 24kg bell for most men in as little as 45 mins 2x per week for most sports (yes you read that correctly).

Physique oriented or just for general health? do a 2 Tabata intervals a day for a total of 8minutes invested, 20 minutes if you want to factor in the shower and changing clothes. No one is going to convince me that they don’t have a single 20 minute block in their day – you could drop a netflix show, spend less time on Facebook, get up 20mins earlier, shorten your lazy morning routine, cook larger quantities of food so you can reheat instead of making every meal from scratch, watch less cat videos, spend less time texting, make phone calls instead of emailing. If everyone took an honest look at their day, I’m positive they could come up with 20 mins to get some physical activity in. Maybe netflix is more important to you right now, that’s ok that’s your choice, but realize it is a choice, own it, and don’t complain that you don’t have time.

For the ones that say they don’t have the time and even if they found it, they’re too tired to do any physical activity, you just have to start. Energy is one of those paradoxical things where you have to spend it to get more, and there’s no short cut, so start slow, go for a walk, or dive into one of the options above and get going, in 4 weeks you’ll be wondering what took you so long to get started. Oh and all those things that were making you too busy and too tired? You’re now more efficient at them and they don’t drain you as much.

I’ve tried everything and I can’t lose fat or gain muscle 

Well since we’re being honest, no you haven’t tried everything. Not even close. Sure you may have been sucked in by some sleek marketing and bought into a pop-culture fitness program with a paid fitness model on the front who’s never used the device or done the program other than the one time in the photoshoot, and you might have even committed 100% to that program and seen very few if any noticeable results. So are you doomed to look like you do forever and now have no chance of ever achieving your body goals? No, that’s horseshit. I’ve never met a single person who couldn’t improve their physique barring serious medical conditions, and no, diabetes isn’t one of them. Next time research the product or program thoroughly, and find a system that works for you, or work with someone who understands physiology well enough to come up with a truly customized program (shameless self plug, I know). Thomas Edison is famed for taking 10,000 attempts to create the lightbulb, and after 9,999 he is quoted “I have not failed. I have just found 9,999 ways that do not work”; take this mentality and I guarantee you will reach your goal.

I can’t train for my sport because I injured my back, shoulder, knee etc. ______ physio/doctor/chiro/trainer/tarot card reader says I’ll never do ______ again. So I can’t.

Basic disclaimer: I’m not telling you to ignore your medical professionals advice, but I can tell you that there’s definitely some merit in getting a second opinion. Do your research into your professional, my criteria personal criteria is as follows:

  • Take any chance to see a sports medicine doctor over your GP, ask for a referral
  • When selecting a physiotherapist (or physical therapist for you Americans) look for someone who deals with athletes, who won’t be shocked by what you’re doing (I still remember the chiropractor who told me I shouldn’t deadlift after I told her I was a competitive powerlifter), unless they are new to the field, they should have at least one or more professional athletes as clients – for these people their body is their paycheque and they rely on the best mechanics to keep it in order. If you live in BC Here are the therapists that I refer to:
    • Soft Tissue:
      • Grant Kim – Spine and Sport, Port Coquitlam
      • Dan Bos – Abbotsford Physiotherapy
    • Spine alignment and loading issues, Concussions, Nerve-related issues:
      • Donald Grant – Catalyst Kinetics
      • Dan Bos – Abbotsford Physiotherapy
    • Nervous System Imbalances, Adrenal Issues, Overtraining
      • Jonathon Berghamer – Catalyst Kinetics
    • Eye tracking or Visual Issues/Training
      • Kevin Loopeker – Fortius Sport and Health
    • Keep in mind some of these people have extremely long waiting lists (up to 9 months)
  • If you’re having trouble with a certain issue even after seeing one or two very qualified physios or sports medicine doctors, start looking into ones that specialize with your specific joint or area of discomfort. Inherently some will be better with disc herniations, while other with shoulder impingments, be prepared to travel (within reason)
  • Never take no as an answer. If they can’t help you, they can’t help you, that doesn’t mean someone else can’t

Now just because your ankle is injured doesn’t mean you stop training completely, you still have a perfectly functioning upper body and no excuse not to use it. Always find a silver lining; shoulder is broken? leg press, seated calf raise, sprint, leg curl, lunge, back raise, abdominal work etc. Lower Back injury? Lie on a bench, brace the back, and get creative, next article will be how to train around a lower back injury, so stay tuned!

I can’t do _______ anymore because I’m too old

I hate this one. That’s your own self-imposed limitation and it’s got almost zero foundation in science. Ya maybe your chances of making the Olympic podium have dwindled but that doesn’t mean you can’t play recreational hockey or ski until you’re done with it. Take care of yourself physically with some activity outside of your sport, do some mobility work, and don’t ignore your aches and pains. The body has an amazing ability to adapt, just take a look at the studies done on geriatrics who start weight training after the age of 70, all of a sudden they are walking around, generally being a pain in the ass, and doing activities they haven’t done in years. There are 3 members over 90 years old at the gym I currently train at, and I see one of them at the rink every once and awhile still playing hockey. That can be you too, so long as you take care of yourself

There’s too much information out there, one place says to do this, another place says do that. It’s too confusing to start

I actually sympathize with this one, the internet era is an awesome time, but along with all it’s benefits comes all it’s faults, and the amount of misinformation is beyond ridiculous. The solution? Hire a coach while you work on your bullshit filter (shameless plug number 2). Pick one or two sources of information and don’t branch out until you have a solid base of knowledge, by then you’ll be able to assess different sources and integrate what works. Here are some suggestions on authors to read:

  • Bodybuilding and Physique:
    • Easy:
      • Jason Ferrugia
      • Precision Nutrition
    • Medium:
      • Josh Bryant
      • Bret Contreras
      • John Meadows
  • Athletic Preparation/Strength and Conditioning
    • Easy
      • Dan John
      • Pavel Tsatsouline
      • Michael Yessis
    • Medium
      • Mike Boyle
      • Eric Cressey
      • Louis Simmons
      • Mike Robertson
    • Hard
      • James Smith
      • Yuri Verhoshansky
      • Mel Siff
      • Cal Dietz
      • Charlie Francis

There are more than I can list, but those are some great starts, many of them have blogs, but some of them are dead, so needless to say they don’t have active blogs, although some of them have active websites run by other people dedicated to their work.

I can’t afford a personal trainer or strength coach

I can sympathize with this one as well, if you don’t have the money you don’t have the money, and fitness training is an optional expense, however, if you’re spending money elsewhere in the fitness industry and have nothing to show for it, then that’s where my sympathy runs out. Too many times someone will say “I wish I could afford a coach” and my next question is “how many supplements are you taking?”, and usually receive something along the line of “I take ____ pre-workout powder, BCAA’s, creatine, glutamine, omega 3’s, a multivitamin, and protein powder” some are taking even more. Now don’t get me wrong, supplements have their place, but they are the last 5% maybe 10%, so here we have people spending an average of $200-250 per month on the last 10% when they don’t have the first 90% covered. I guarantee you would get better results spending that money on a qualified coach, and eating a well balanced diet, and dropping every single supplement in your arsenal. So how does this relate to mentality? I’d like to think that most people know that there’s no substitute for hard work and a program designed specifically to you that adapts to your changing situation, and for the most part people understand this, but it’s all too easy to fall for the seductive marketing that the body of your dreams or that national championship is going to be sitting on the shelf at GNC for 49.99 and all you have to do is take it 2x a day with a meal.

My main point with all of these common situations is that there’s always a way to achieve your goals, they will take some small or large sacrifices on your behalf, but there’s always a way. So next time you say “I can’t” realize it’s more likely “I won’t” and decide what’s most important to you at the time; it might be netflix, but hopefully it’s improving yourself. Don’t make excuses, make decisions! Henry Ford said it best “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right” – it really is that simple.