Category Archives: Physique

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 2: Can You Create the Long, Lean Dancer Look Via Training?


Ok now that we’ve covered the “I want to tone up for summer” guy/girl, let’s tackle situation #2 the person who says, “I want that long, lean, dancer look”. Long lean muscles flow into each other with a slight definition, taking away the sharp look of the joints, the muscle belly is relatively straight, and no glaring peaks or valleys giving the “soft toned” look (think of the model on any yoga product vs the bodybuilder in the supplement commercial).

The question now is, are these qualities trainable?
Unfortunately the answer is sort of, but mostly no. Let’s examine why, and talk about the limited role of muscle shaping.

We’re going to make a quick comparison to the sprinter from part 1.

(Troll disclaimer: I’m fully aware of the genetic component involved in a top level sprinter, from fiber spread, type of glycolytic enzymes, single reaction time, rate coding ceiling, to the series/parallel component of elastic fibers in connective tissue etc. etc. if you want to debate this let’s wait until the speed articles, deal?)

While there is a huge genetic component to the success of a sprinter in competition, the sprinter’s physique is predominantly a product of their training. By selectively targeting high threshold fast twitch muscle fibers via specific training, they can elicit both an anabolic (muscle building) response, and direct effect on fat loss, (and you can too!). The dancer, however, is specifically selected for his or her aesthetic appeal, and their physique is both a product of their activity and mostly their genetics.

The “long and lean” look is a predominantly a byproduct of three qualities:

1) Long muscle bellies and a short transition into the tendon attachment giving the look of the muscle spanning the whole length of the bone, flowing into the next muscle with no sharp valleys. Where the muscle attaches to the tendon and bone is 100% genetically predetermined, and short of some sort of debilitating surgery there is no way to change this.
2) Where that tendon attaches to the bone, the closer to the joint, the better, also 100% genetically determined
3) Muscles that do not “peak” from bone they follow. This is somewhat trainable, but you are going to have to start from your genetic starting point and don’t expect to see metamorphic changes.

Recent studies have finally confirmed the bro myth that you can selectively hypertrophy (grow) specific areas of the muscle belly, but only up to your genetic limit. Once you hit your genetic limit you are once again determined by your individual genetics, but chances are you are far from that level, even if you consider yourself an advanced trainee. So say you have a short biceps muscle belly and a long tendon that leaves a gap between your elbow and bicep peak, you could choose something like an incline stretch curl focusing on the bottom portion of the lift and ease off the peak contraction to selectively target the lower fibers of the muscle to smooth out some of the peak. The idea is to pick exercises that put the most stress on either side of your natural peak to smooth out the muscle line. Combine this with some extended stretching and you may be able to slightly alter the aesthetic look of your muscles; however, unless you are a competitive figure athlete or a fitness model etc., stick to the basics: gain muscle, lose fat, improve your physique, and be happy with the genetic shape you were given.

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

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


  • 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.

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.

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.