Category Archives: Fat Loss

Do You Want to Look Better for 90 days, or Forever?

Probably the most common fitness related goal is weight loss, more specifically fat loss, and every one wants the fastest route there starting yesterday, I get that, but not many people pause to think that if they get there, how hard will it be to stay there and not rebound like the majority of flash-in-the-pan crash dieters and over-exercisers? Do I know how to do this without an all or nothing mentality?

Let’s clear the air really quickly: the fastest way to fat loss is through dietary restriction and through large energy expenditures. At the start this will mean a fairly radical dietary overhaul, and various weight training circuits, intervals and other high intensity methods that put out large amounts of energy in a relatively short period of time, BUT, is this the most sustainable way to transform your physique? Probably not.

Strength, Muscle and Habits are yours to keep

These three things are the most important long term predictors of a transformation that is yours to keep forever, not just rented for 90 days before your trip to Mexico or 10 year reunion, so let’s talk about each one of them in a little more detail.

Strength

“I don’t care how strong I am I just want to look better!”

At the base of this sentiment, I get it, you didn’t come into the gym to be the world’s strongest man or woman, you just want to look better, but, your strength has a whole lot to do with how quickly you’ll lose fat. Thanks to Greg Nuckols for highlighting this in one of his articles, but the energy expended during a workout is highly correlated to how much resistance you’re overcoming (aka how much weight is on the bar) and lifting a 300lb deadlift for 8 reps takes almost perfectly 2x as much energy to move as 150lbs for 8 reps, but they both take the same amount of time. So the person who is consistently getting stronger over time is actually expending progressively more and more energy in the same amount of time as the person who stays the same strength but just does endless circuits. The person getting stronger is also building muscle to boot, which brings us to the next key piece of the puzzle

Muscle

The more of it you have, the more energy you burn at rest, and the more energy you burn while you move. So long as you keep training, and don’t do any crazy starvation diets, the muscle you build is yours to keep, and there it will sit, silently pushing up your metabolic rate 24/7, and giving you better return on your workouts. Compare that to the person doing cardio and interval training only, who will likely be losing some muscle tissue and therefore slow their metabolism over time, and because of this they will have to train longer, or eat even less to maintain their fat loss efforts. Eventually this practice becomes prohibitively restrictive, downright unenjoyable, and unsustainable; you can’t eat nothing and run forever.

Habits

Building muscle takes time, actually significantly longer than it takes to gain or lose fat, and to do so takes consistency. You’re going to need to show up to the gym at least 3x per week and make that a habit, you’re going to need to eat enough of the right foods to recover from the muscle damage you created in your workouts and probably take care your hydration. You’re going to notice that sleep affects your strength, and that’s pretty damn important too.

The weight on the bar never lies to you, you can’t fake strength or pretend you’re working harder by grunting, if you’re hungover, eating poorly, and half-assing your workout, the weight won’t move, simple as that. By measuring your progress with objective numbers instead of subjective sensations, you take responsibility for your own progress and will have to look introspectively if something stops working – this is where true progress happens! It’s the same process and habit formation you can apply to your nutrition, your sleep, your health, and any other important facet of your fat loss/physique transformation journey.

We have had some incredible transformations at Blacksmith Fitness, people who have lost up to 100lbs and stayed there for months and counting, and every single one of those people are stronger, have more muscle, and better habits than they had one day 1 – it’s not a coincidence!

 

Article Request Series: How to Stay Motivated When Life Gets in the Way

 

Motivation as an emotion fades for everyone – everyone, at some point in their training career, therefore motivation must come in the form of strong reason why you’re doing this in the first place

Think of all the people with amazing intentions at the beginning of the year, it’s January, it’s a new year, and the motivation for change is at an all time high. A large number of those people will actually take action, buy new workout clothes, get a book on nutrition, sign up at the gym and for a few weeks to two months they will actually go! If you’ve ever been in a gym in January you can attest to all the new faces and the long waits for equipment, but, around mid February, the gym floor goes quiet, and you’re once again left with the same familiar faces week in and week out all the way to December 31st. So what separates these familiar faces from the ones who dropped out in mid February? Do they have less responsibilities, no kids, and an easy job that doesn’t have weird hours or mentally taxes them? Maybe, but probably not. What about those people who were there in January and into February? Were those months inherently less busy than the other 10 months of the year? Did life conveniently take a cease fire on all schedule crisis during those months? Maybe, but also probably not.

The biggest difference between those that make it day in and day out and those who start strong but quickly fade is usually the strength of their reason why they’re there in the first place. The second biggest difference is that they turned goals into habits, which are much less dependent on motivation to complete.

You should have goals, you should have specific goals, and they should mean something to you – that last part can’t be stressed enough. For me personally, I used to be motivated by chasing records, pushing my potential as far as it could possibly be stretched, and always competing against my former self. Now, 2 years ago two separate doctors told me I would never powerlift again, and fuck that, no one tells me I won’t be able to do something, I’ll show you – thanks for the motivation! These are the things that keep me going on days where everything hurts, I’m being a little bitch, and I want to make excuses as to why I can’t train that day. Your reasons should be different, but they’d better mean something to you. If you want to lose 20lbs of fat, why? What would be different? how do you view yourself now, and how would that change if you were to accomplish and maintain your fat loss goal?

Now that you’ve got your goal, and your reason why, write it down in detail as a note to yourself. Sounds cheesy? Fuck it, it probably is, but do it anyways. Tell yourself what drives you, why it really matters, and what it would mean to you to accomplish it. Now that you’ve got it put it somewhere you’ll see everyday; I personally recommend the bathroom mirror or taped to the side of the bedside table so you can’t cover it with other shit and forget about it. Read it when you need to, chances are you’ll stop reading it fairly quickly, but every time you see it you’ll be reminded why you’re doing this in first place. The plain fact of the matter is that you have time for what you deem important, and your schedule tells no lies. If you watch 5-6 hours per week of netflix or any type of non productive screen time, you had enough time to accomplish your fitness goals. What you’re actually saying if you choose netflix over fitness is that it’s more important to you, and you have a stronger reason to watch TV than to train, and you know what, that’s ok! BUT, DON’T TELL ANYONE THE REASON YOU COULDN’T ACCOMPLISH YOUR GOALS WAS BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME! You’re making barriers that don’t exist.

Now the second part is to turn that initial motivation into habits you can keep. So you’re motivated to lose 20lbs of fat and you’ve got strong reasons why, now what is it going to take to lose that? Depends on where you start and how much you have to lose, but science seems to point towards 5-6 hours per week of planned exercise and changes to your nutrition, and possibly lifestyle changes as well. So instead of trying to change everything at once, start with one habit, for instance, make it a goal to get into the gym 4x this week. Keep plugging away at this goal until you get in consistently for at least two weeks in a row, this is your only goal! Don’t worry if you fail, just keep trying until you nail it. Now on to the next habit. You probably don’t eat enough vegetables, so lets start there, try to eat at least a handful of veggies with every meal and eat them first. Got it two weeks in a row? Awesome, onto the next one. Maybe you drink too much juice, pop, beer, or wine, so the next goal is to drink water only for the next two weeks. Repeat these habit goals and the goals will accomplish themselves.

The cool thing about developing habits is that one at a time, you develop the skills to keep them. Say for instance you struggle with the first habit of making it to the gym 4x per week, perhaps you always struggle with finding the energy to go back to the gym after you come home and eat dinner, so you realize that you need to pack a protein shake in your car so you can hit the gym on the way home. You get to develop your own personal strategies that help you overcome your barriers one habit at a time, and once those barriers are defeated, and habits are formed, they require much less active mental attention and motivation to get them done, it’s not much different than how you made brushing your teeth a part of your routine.

One thing I’ll touch on is developing a good relationship with your ability to move and exercise. It’s easy to view hard physical work as punishment or dread some of the feelings of pushing yourself (muscle burn, nausea, fatigue etc.) but ask someone who’s had that ability taken away from them how much they miss the ability to move and be in control of their own physical destiny, and how hard it is for them to sit on the sidelines. My heart and mind goes out to Erin right now, who is battling cancer, just starting chemo, and can’t wait to get back in the gym the moment she can. She knows that movement and exercise are privileges, not punishment; don’t wait until your lifestyle choices make it to the point where you can’t move anymore without pain or complications to realize this. 

Motivation may start as an emotion, but it continues as a discipline, you may need to re-motivate yourself by reminding yourself why you started, but your discipline and habits will carry you through the rough times when you don’t feel like going. When life gets busy the only thing that can keep you going is making yourself a priority, dont quit! You deserve to demand better from yourself. Realize that the decision not get after your goals is always a decision, and your schedule will tell you what you’re making a priority. Remember, you have the privilege of having the ability to get after your goals, so do it! You fucking got this!

 

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. 

 

The Truth About Toning Part 1: Can You Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time?

Anllela Sagra, (main picture) an Instagram fitness model, is considered “toned” and sports an impressive physique, but what is “toning” and how can you produce this look?

Spoiler alert: there is no such thing as toning! There is only lean tissue gain or loss, or fat gain or loss. There is some evidence of muscle shaping, but more on that in part 2. Since muscle “toning” has no scientific definition we are going to take a quick look at two common operational definitions to avoid confusion:

Toning situation #1: “I want to tone up for summer”
Toning situation #2: “I want that long, lean, dancer look”

Situation #1

When someone comes up and says, “I want to tone up for summer” they usually have accumulated an extra ring around the middle and have gone soft due to inactivity and sneaking a few extra Christmas cookies. In addition to the extra fat doing all sorts of pesky things like messing with insulin sensitivity, nutrient partitioning (where the energy goes), increasing estrogenic activity in both males and females creating a sort of positive feedback loop that makes getting fatter even easier, you also have to deal with the loss of energy burning lean tissue, lowering your daily energy expenditure and reducing anabolic hormone signaling.

On top of all that, one of the less commonly known effects of sedentary lifestyle is that inactivity shifts you into an anaerobic state more often, with less ability to burn fat as a fuel while at rest/very low levels of activity; fat can only be metabolized aerobically, but don’t think that’s a license to start running long miles to achieve the summer body of your dreams. Aerobic training (or cardio as it’s more commonly referred) will affect the fat loss side of the equation but it comes at a cost: approximately 3% of the energy demands of steady state cardiovascular training will be supplied by your body’s proteins. To make matters worse this protein degradation comes without an anabolic signalling to rebuild what is lost (think of anabolic signalling as your angry mother that is telling you to fix everything you just broke)! So while initially losing some fat, you are playing a dangerous game with your metabolic rate and are losing your muscle tissue in the process. Studies show that unless you are constantly increasing your distances, runners actually get fatter over time! The result is that most cardio-only trainees end up as shrunken down “skinny fat” versions of their former selves.

When someone comes in and says they want to look like Michelle Lewin, Anlella Sagra, Paige Hathaway, Kayla Itsines (just to name a few) or Lazar Angelov, Ryan Reynolds, etc. Most likely they need to not only gain muscle, but also lose fat. So the question remains…

Can you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time? YES! But it has its limits.

Studies repeatedly show that especially in untrained (underactive previously) or detrained (underactive currently, but previously active) individuals, the answer is unequivocally yes, for about 8-16 weeks, even on a carbohydrate reduced diet. However, fat loss will occur at a much greater rate than lean tissue gain and both goals will be compromised (meaning they won’t have happened as fast as if they were focused on solely). With untrained or detrained individuals, almost any type of training works, so long as it provides adequate anabolic signaling. This means that whatever you’re doing better have a PLANNED hypertrophy (muscle gain) component in addition to whatever metabolic conditioning methods you’ve included (battling ropes, stair climbs, skipping, sprints etc.) and ideally should happen on a different day than your conditioning. Bootcamp or Crossfit “workout of the day” style programming where different modalities (strength, anaerobic, aerobic etc.) are often mixed together in circuit fashion will confound some of the anabolic signaling effect of the hypertrophy (muscle gain) and further compromise the lean tissue gain effects. The completely untrained will succumb to this effect to a greater extent than the detrained. More likely is that lean tissue will be spared and fat will be lost, but this has a short lifespan so:

Is there a better way? YES, but wait until progress stalls with a mixed program.

What about trained individuals, can they gain muscle and lose fat? YES But it’s even harder.

The secret is to move fast.

Take a look at the physique of a top sprinter or an Olympic weightlifter (aside from the heavyweights) and try not to be impressed. Most of these athletes are single digit body fat percentage, sport great muscularity, and definitely do not do bulking and cutting phases like bodybuilders. The link between these two types of athletes is that they both move incredible weight at a high speed. The weightlifter obviously does this, but consider that a sprinter is landing with impacts of 6+ times their own body weight on a single limb! A 2008 Japanese study linked load and velocity of movement to metabolic parameters and came up with some interesting results that should be of great interest to you if you are trying to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, high velocity training targeting type II muscle fibers produced:

“A reduction in accumulated white adipose tissue and improvements in metabolic parameters independent of physical activity or changes in the level of food intake”

Translation: reduced fat through a different mechanism than diet or energy debt due to the amount burned during exercise also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC)

The mechanism of this change is beyond the scope of this article, but I recommend you do some further research if you are interested. Take note that fat loss was not affected by level of food intake.

Read that again, fat loss was not affected by level of food intake!

Now, within reason, don’t think that you’re going to be able to crush a box of Krispy Kreme’s daily and get away with it, however, when you train high force at high velocity the extra calories are more likely going to be shuttled to their anabolic duties building lean muscle tissue while fat levels reduce and stabilize in the single digit range! The key is not to compromise quality of output, so focus on fewer reps and larger volume of sets stopping at the first signs of fatigue. Sprints, squats with bands, kettlebell movements, weighted jumps, explosive weighted throws all lend themselves to this style of training!

Basic prescriptions for this type of training

Pair a moderate load explosive movement with a low load high velocity movement in quick succession. A prerequisite is the ability to handle explosive training, so technique must be addressed and adequate strength levels must have been acquired in the introductory phases. Examples are posted below:

  1. Lower Body Variations
    1. A) Squat Variation 3-5 reps with 60-80% controlled lowering, explode up
    2. B) Continuous Broad Jump 5 reps, max distance OR 10 yard sprint OR hurdle hops 3-5 reps
      1. Option 2:
        1. A) Deadlift, Hinge, or Olympic Variation 3-5 reps 60-80% explosive
        2. B) Kettlebell swing 5-10 reps OR Overspeed kettlebell swing 5 reps OR kettlebell snatch, clean etc. 5 reps use low resistance and move fast
  2. Upper Body Variations
    1. A) Bench Press 3-5 reps with 60-80% controlled lowering, explode up
    2. B) Medicine Ball Chest Pass 5 reps OR Standing banded horizontal press max reps in 7 seconds OR Plyometric pushups 3-5 reps
      1. Option 2:
        1. A) Weighted Chin-up 3-5 reps, control descent, lift explosively, no kipping!
        2. B) Medicine Ball Overhead Slam 5 reps OR Shock Chin-ups (explosively lift yourself past the bar and let the hands go, catch the bar on the way down)

The options are limitless, and once you have mastered the dual exercise complexes, you can move on to a more advanced version that pairs a moderate load explosive compound lift with high velocity low movement, with a timed very high velocity extremely low load movement

What Your Car Can Teach You About Fat Loss (This Works)

Today we’re going to finally uncomplicated and un-bullshit the fat loss process using the analogy of a car burning fuel. Reality is most people with zero background in mechanics probably have a better idea of how a car works than how their own body functions; that’s ok actually, until you need to fix something. Once you need to fix something suddenly the “I just press this pedal and it goes, now it doesn’t” doesn’t do much to help you find a solution.

Sick of hearing useless and conflicting fat loss advice? Me too. There are too many over-simplifications and over-complications of the fat loss process. You’ve probably heard a few of the mantras of the “fat loss is simple, not easy” crowd, but they all boil down to “eat less, move more” – great advice, sort of. Then on the other side lies the complicated theories on how complex hormone interactions, energy systems, inflammation, metabolite signalling, circadian rhythms, genetics etc all contribute to your ability to lose fat… what a headache. Although there is definitely good research that is highly complex, on this side of the fence is where all the pseudoscience, bullshit, and terrible scientific inferences are made. It’s also where supplement companies attempt to confuse you into thinking you need a pill to lose fat.

First off the basic premise behind the car analogy is:

  • Fat is the gas you want to burn
  • High intensity work uses NOS to boost the engine
  • Muscle and organs are the engine
  • *hopefully you’ve seen the original fast and furious, this will probably make way more sense

And the basic principle behind fat loss is: energy out must be greater than energy in

So we’re going to clear up the fat loss process once and for all, while making as many mechanics as possible cringe at the terribly inaccurate car analogies. Basic disclaimer: in order to make a common sense analogy, some inaccuracies are inherent, but the main goal of this article is turn theory in actionable advice and to understand a little bit of the “why” without going through a whole physiology lecture. So here are the factors involved in fat loss

Size of the engine:

If you want to burn a ton of fuel (counterintuitive I’m aware) then you need a bigger engine. I think we can all agree that the Honda Fit is burning less fuel to go 100km vs the 18 wheel big rig sitting next to it at the traffic light. Your muscles and organs are the engine, but since most of us aren’t too interested in growing our kidneys for fat loss, from here on in we’re just going to say it’s the muscles. Larger muscles = more fuel being burned. 

Types of fuel and how the fuel gets from the gas tank to the engine:

We have two major types of fuel in our body, fat, and stored carbohydrates, fat is burned by the aerobic system while stored carbohydrates are burned by the anaerobic system (this is an oversimplification by the way, but leave the finer distinctions to the athletes and places where it matters more). For now, fat = regular gas, stored carbohydrate = NOS

As you can probably imagine, if the name of the game is put more energy out than you are taking in, then we probably want to be running on NOS all the time, hitting super high revs and high speeds burning as much fuel as possible, but just like in the original fast and furious movies, it only lasts so long and then it burns out. We also have the problem that burning a ton of NOS helped with the energy equation, but we really want to burn regular gas because that’s the fat we’re trying to lose. Fortunately we have a “gas to NOS” converter installed, that will allow us to turn fat into carbohydrates, but it is important to note, this piece is installed by the engine (muscles) not the gas tank (fat stores)

So we still have a problem of getting the gas to the converter, this happens via our fuel pump and fuel line. The fuel pump is the heart, the fuel line is the blood vessels. In order to get a bunch of fat to the converter you need to improve the fuel pump and line, fortunately for us, the more we use something the better it gets and weight training, repeated sprinting, and regular low/high intensity cardio will improve the heart and blood vessel network, improving the delivery of fat to the “gas to NOS” converter.

The last piece of the equation is the “gas to NOS” converter itself, quite simply, if it’s a cheap knock off it won’t do it’s job very well, and instead of turning fat into carbohydrates and then burning them off, the engine will only run on new carbohydrates coming in via the diet, i.e. you going out and buying new tanks of NOS to replace the ones you’ve used, with the zero effect on energy in and energy out. So what if you just don’t replace the NOS tanks? Well, then you only get to run on regular gas but at much lower speeds – this is the recovery process. You’re stuck here until you can refill your NOS tanks from the convertor. The only way for you to “upgrade” you converter at the start is to do low intensity medium to long duration cardio. Once you have the “upgraded gas to NOS” converter, you can improve it just by running it, meaning weight training, and sprint work will maintain the system at a high enough level to continue to turn fat into carbohydrates and having a large net effect on both energy out and direct fat loss.

So here are the prescriptions to get the best fat burning car/body possible if you are starting from a relatively unfit starting point:

  1. Diet: Fill the tanks less than you draining them, more articles on this later
  2. Weight training: be the 18 wheel truck, not the honda fit, weight train 3-4x per week with medium intensity for 6 weeks, kick up the intensity after 6 weeks
  3. 4-6 weeks of low intensity cardio, 3x per week, 30mins 120-140bpm: improve the fuel line and fuel pump, upgrade your convertor
  4. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) 6 weeks and beyond: Start using a ton of NOS, maintain the convertor, burn a ton of regular gas through conversion
  5. Intensify HIIT Training by adding more intervals, using less rest, etc: 

On Facebook I had promised to post some examples of my favourite interval methods for fat loss, so here they are in no particular order:

  • Tabata Interval Options (20s work as hard as possible, 10s rest) rounds of 4mins, 2-3mins between rounds
    • First of all most people make the mistake of not working hard enough during the work portion, if you are using added resistance to any movement, it should be heavy enough that you can only complete 8-12 repetitions per 20s, if using bodyweight, you should be aiming to move as explosively as possible.
      •  Full Body Tabata Intervals
        • Interval 1 Alternating Dumbbell Split Squat Jumps, Interval 2: Mountain Climber
        • Interval 1 Push-up, Interval 2 Skip Rope
        • Interval 1 Dumbbell Push Press, Interval 2 DB Walking Lunge
        • Interval 1 Single Arm Kettlebell Bench Press, Interval 2 Kettlebell Swing
        • Classic Burpee
      • Half Body Tabata Intervals, good for split programs where you cannot afford to exhaust the body parts that you will be using in your next session
        •  Upper Body
          • Interval 1 Push-up, Interval 2 Renegade Row
          • Bear Crawls
          • Interval 1 Kettlebell Push Press, Interval 2 Renegade Row
        • Lower Body
          • Interval 1 Kettlebell Front Squat, Interval 2 Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift
          • Dumbbell Lunges
          • Interval 1 Dumbbell Suitcase Deadlift, Interval 2 Overhead Dumbbell Squat
  • Classic HIIT Intervals (work rest intervals can be progressed for further challenge once max total workout time has been hit, it’s generally not a good idea to take HIIT over 20mins in total length)
    • 10-15s incline treadmill sprints on the minute 16-20mins
    • 30s bike sprints, 30s light pedalling 8-16mins
    • Battle Ropes 30s work, 30s rest 10-20mins
    • KB Swings or Snatches max in 1 minute, 1 minute rest 10-20mins
  • Evil Creations (try at your own risk)
    • KB swing to Front Squat Ladders 1,1 to 20,20
      • Pick a single kettlebell, usually 20-24kg for most men, 12-16kg for most women, and start with a single kettlebell swing, then clean the kettlebell and perform a single front squat, then immediately perform 2 swings, then clean the kettlebell with the other hand and perform 2 front squats, then 3 swings, 3 front squats, 4 swings, 4 from squats etc etc. until you reach 20 swings and 20 squats. The idea is to do this with NO REST
    • Trap Bar Farmer’s walk with 60% of your max deadlift 4 sets of maximum time (aim for 2minutes) 1 minute rest, use straps if your grip severely limits the amount of time you can achieve
    • KB Front Squat to 30s Farmer’s Walk, 8×8, no rest.
      • Perform 8 kettlebell front squats with two kettlebells, then immediately go for a brisk farmer’s walk for 30s, repeat 8 times, no rest
    • Single Leg Romanian Deadlift to Overhead Carry, 8×8, no rest
      • performed in the same fashion as above

These are just some of my favourites, but you’re really only limited by your creativity. Make sure you go through steps 1-3 before attempting any of these workouts. Keep in mind this article is aimed at those who want to lose fat and look amazing. If you have competitive fat loss goals or want to get down into low single digit fat percentages, your fat loss journey is going to be much more personal and complicated. Hopefully this helps clear up some of the BS around he fat loss equation, and helps you on your way to the body you’ve always wanted. As always feel free to ask any questions! Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Have We Finally Found the Best Diet?

There are so many options out there, each with their cult-like followers proclaiming that their approach cures cancer and turns you into a semi-bionic super god that breathes fire and shits awesomeness; however, once you get past the surface marketing hype you will often find that these diets have more in common than they have apart. Here are just a few of the popular methods being touted as the holy grail of nutrition for physique:

  • Carb cycling
  • Ketogenic
  • Carb backloading
  • If it fits your macros (IIFYM) aka flexible dieting
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Zig-zag
  • Zone diets
  • Hand measuring
  • “eating clean”
  • “calorie is a calorie”

First let’s tackle the “eating clean” diet; it’s not really a diet at all. Eating clean will mean something different to everyone, and from what I and many others have observed, usually involves some pretty heavy self bargaining and willingness to succumb to shady food marketing. “cheese is good as long as it’s natural right?” “I’ll get frozen yogurt instead of ice-cream”, “these chips are baked, so i’ll just have the whole bag, it’s not that bad”, “chocolate has bioflavonoids that are supposed to be good for your heart” etc. Read on and you’ll see that “eating clean” doesn’t adhere to the basic tenants that the other diets in the list have been built around, with the largest shortcoming being that it makes no attempt to control the amounts of food being consumed.

There are a still a few that still believe that a calorie is a calorie and that someone eating 1500 calories of swedish berries, Mcdonald’s cheeseburgers, with a multivitamin, and some one eating 1500 calories lean meats, fruits, nuts and vegetables will have the same physique. The problem is that this idea arose from studies didn’t involve moderate to intense physical exercise, more specifically a periodized resistance training program, or have a study period long enough to truly show the cumulative effects on the slower acting hormonal systems. However if you truly believe in this approach I highly suggest you talk to your doctor about conducting your own study for at least 1 year and report back with your results.

Other’s suggest that you can eat infinite amounts of food, as long as you eat the right types at the right time, pointing to research on insulin sensitivity, activity of micronutrients, intestinal flora, growth hormone output, leptin, thermic effects, nutrient partitioning etc. This is where the bulk of nutritional research is being focused nowadays (about time), but if you’re thinking that you’re going to be able to eat 8000 calories of avocado, grapefruit, and chicken breast without gaining any fat, then you’re in for a rude awakening. Most of these diets revolve around the fact that it’s pretty damn hard to shove 9000 calories of lettuce and carrots down your throat (although if you try please make sure you film a fast motion video of your attempt, also don’t try this). This leads me to the point that most popular diets from our list up top still left standing, although they have greatly different approaches have these points in common:

  1. They control total amount of food consumed
  2. They provide adequate to high amounts of protein
  3. They provide adequate intake of essential fats
  4. They attempt to control insulin levels

So which one is the best?

The best style of eating is the one that you can realistically adhere to for the longest amount of time.

Adherence to a nutrition program is the #1 determinant of success when it comes to nutrition for physique improvements. If you’re a vegan, chances are that you aren’t going to adhere to a strict ketogenic diet even if some new research comes out showing that high protein, high fat is the key to looking like the spawn child of Aphrodite and Hercules (it could be done, but your food choices would become severely limited). Likewise if you can’t bear the idea of measuring/weighing your food or inputting everything you eat into a calculator/app, you probably won’t do very well with the zip-zag approach (high/low caloric cycling with the same ratios of protein, carbs, and fat), these people will probably do better with a food list and approximating portion sizes with their hands like precision nutrition recommends. Hate portion control altogether? Maybe modified intermittent fasting is for you, after all you can only get so many calories into your stomach at one time, again a food list will greatly increase your chances of success with this approach. Maybe you hate planning your own food, so pay someone else to do it for you.

The most important thing when evaluating a diet is actually to evaluate your personal preferences and tendencies and figure out which one will suit your lifestyle the best. Once you have chosen a method, you can tweak and adjust to achieve your desired effect. Try sticking to one style of eating for at least 4 months. If you’ve adhered to the style, made revisions, and still have the itch to try an new method, by all means give it a shot. Yes there are individual differences and you may respond to one slightly better than the other, but if you do find that one style of eating works better for you, don’t become one of those irritating fans that claims that they’ve found the holy grail of turn-you-into-arnold-schwarzenegger-in-a-week diets, and that everyone else might as well be eating paint chips; we have enough of those in the nutrition world already.