Brent’s Training Program

I have a cousin who recently asked me to put together a basic program for him. His goal is to be athletic in general and to get a bit leaner. This program will be for training three days per week which will be total body in nature. He is a young healthy guy in his 20s so we don’t have any exercises to avoid and no real limits other than time in each session. With the goal to get a bit leaner and the few times per week he will train we will be doing lots of super sets and some tri sets so he can get through his workout quickly and efficiently.

Day 1 2 3
Movement Squat Bench Press Deadlift
Sets x reps Warm up to 1×10 then -10% 2×10 Warm up to 3×10, if you get all reps add weight, if not decrease the weight Warm up to a top set of 5 then -10% 2×5
Movement Military Press DB Rows Dips or Push ups
Sets x reps 4×8-12 5×10 each arm 3-5 x 10+
Movement Body weight low rows DB Lunges Pull ups
Sets x reps 5 sets of as many as you can then each week after beat that number by 2 2-5×10-20 each leg 3 sets of as many as you can then each week after beat that number by 2
Movement DB Romanian deadlifts Back Extensions Bulgarian split squats
Sets x reps 2-5×10 go for a big stretch here 3-5×15-20 3-5×8-15 each leg
Movement Arms Abs Arms
Sets x reps Pump up 100 total reps at least Pump up

 

This is a simple shot at hitting the total body in a way that should lead to increasing some muscle mass, but more importantly preserving it while he tries to lose weight. In general he should look to get in about a gram of protein per each pound of body weight per day spaced out in about 4 meals or more. This can mean your typically three daily meals and then a post workout shake. For his cardio he should simply pick what he enjoys and I would recommend doing some type of sprinting once to twice per week (with hills being my favorite method to utilize for this). You don’t have to get fancy to really build muscle initially. I would recommend he try to stick with these exercises for the first two months then change them accordingly with exercises that still use the same muscles (bench press can become dumbbell bench). Also, he should be trying to handle the heaviest load he can in each movement and then taking a deload when he feels beat up and is not making any progress (usually will happen after 4-8 weeks). Feel free to add in more core work like planks and follow your soreness for if you aren’t recovering well before your next training session feel free to do decrease the total number of work sets.

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Thoughts on Fasting and Intermittent Fasting

Recently a few friends have been asking me to weigh in on my thoughts on fasting and intermittent fasting. Now I think you can see a lot of good information from Rhonda Patrick’s Found my Fitness website with her interview of Valter Longo, but with that being said my goal is to just simply put out my quick thoughts on this.

What is fasting?

Fasting comes in a variety of forms, but the basic goal is to take in no calories or very low levels of calories which causes your body to have to use its own stores to get you through the day. Now starvation has been shown to decrease your resting metabolic rate and obviously cause hunger and lower performance, but what this can do is cause your body to go through what is known as autophagy and apoptosis. Autophagy is where, inside of your cells, damaged proteins are broken down to their basic amino acids which in turn destroys damaged proteins that otherwise could malfunction and then lead to potentially negative things like cancer. Apoptosis is when a cell actually chooses to kill itself so it then doesn’t continue to multiply and perhaps multiply without control (which is cancer). Both of these are encouraged while in a fasted state which is a good thing for the body (on occasion).

What is intermittent fasting?

This is where you typically eat to a certain clock and only eat in a specific time window each day. There are a number of approaches, but the most popular tends to be 8-12 hour long eating window and then 12-16 hours of fasting. This can be easy to attain as long as you can avoid excessive snacking and go hungry for a few when you wake up in the morning or avoid food later at night. This does require some fore thought and some avoidance of snacking at different points of the day.

It isn’t for anyone

This type of lifestyle could be quite difficult for a number of people. Some would struggle with this style of eating due to issues with low blood sugar. Others might have issues with this due to stress from their lifestyle. You can try out a wide variety of approaches to this style of living and eating, but don’t worry about what the zealots might say. This might work well for you or it might not. Eventually the science might be able to outright show how this is the best way for humans to eat for health and longevity, but more work needs to be done in this area. And when it comes to maximal human performance, eating like this will make it harder to have an optimal intake in a number of cases for different types of athletes (recovery and performance). You do this diet for your health, not for performance.

It might be potentially good for some people

Some folks might have positive effects on their health for doing this and in general on occasion people should go hungry. This allows you to remember what it is like to be truly hungry, and know you won’t die because you skipped lunch or didn’t eat for one day. The potential use of this for long term health with decreasing risk for cancer and potentially for diabetes is definitely there, so give this a shot if you want, but by no means is the science where it needs to be to unequivocally tell you to do this. That being said more science is showing its potential positive effects. Thanks for reading and if you have any questions on this please let me know.

Don’t buy goalie equipment

Well now that I have your attention, a friend of mine recently called me up about wanting to set up a home gym and what type of barbell should they buy to start off with. Now when it comes to barbells there are a variety of options out there. A good metaphor that I can think of here is like gloves in baseball/softball or equipment in other sports. If you have a good fielders mitt you can use it for essentially any position in softball/baseball, but a first base mitt and a catcher’s mitt will be hard to use in the infield and outfield. The same is true with barbells. When you start off, I would actually suggest most people just buy the simple and cheap set you can get at any major sporting goods store. The bar won’t spin very well, it will bend when you put any real weight on it, but to start off just get a simple bar. You will break it or bend it when you get strong enough, but until then just go with the basics.

Once you have gotten strong enough that the cheap barbell is obviously too cheap for your goals, I would suggest buying a multipurpose bar like a basic barbell from Rogue or a Texas Power Bar. These will work for most people, and will last you your lifetime if you take care of them. They won’t be the best for any one sport (weight lifting, power lifting, etc.), but they will work for solid training

Now let’s say you want to compete or you are crazy strong, now it is time to look at specialty bars, and I would look at a competition weight lifting bar through Rogue, Werksan, or Ivanko, pick the training bar version in these since they will be a bit cheaper but still be of high quality. You might want to get a women’s Olympic lifting bar if you are female due to it having a slightly smaller diameter which makes it easier to grip. If you are a powerlifter, a deadlifting bar or squat bar will be good choices. Finally, there are other specialty bars like a safety squat bar (SSB), trap bar, swiss bar, etc. If you have the extra coin they might be worth it, since they tend to be easier on you orthopedically when you get older.

If you have any questions about barbell recommendations please leave a comment below. Another key is companies will usually put their bars on sale once or twice a year, so be patient with buying them. Also, at trade shows you can usually purchase a bar at a huge discount, along with check on craigslist and other sites for people that might be selling of the bars that they never used.

Transitioning to Barbell Training with large groups

I’ve been talking with a coach that is working with a young cheerleading team and wants to have some ideas of how to transition them to barbell training. My goal with training these athletes is to start with basic movements that help teach correct technique and then working them up to the traditional barbell lifts. Please take any of these progressions that you see and applying them to anyone you work with. The choices here are made for working with larger groups so you will likely have enough equipment for everyone.

Squats

Start with goblet squats. This is where you hold a dumbbell with both hands up at chest level and then squat down aiming to keep your elbows inside of your knees with your chest up. This version helps build the basic squat technique and use a weight lighter than your typical Olympic barbell of 45lbs. With this exercise I like to follow my friend’s squat protocol where you have them do the same weight each week with extra repetitions each time to help improve time under tension and the skill of squatting without progressing the load until they show they are capable.

Military press

Start with pressing a plate or dumbbell with two hands and aiming to do so with pressing that weight up and back so that it is directly overhead. This allows for a lighter load than the barbell again since a number of your athletes will have to work up over months to become strong enough to press an empty bar.

Deadlift

Starting your athletes off with dumbbell sumo deadlift, specifically with the dumbbell on its side facing up is a good choice and allows for lighter than the barbell in the beginning. This can also scale for a while since you might not have bumper plates and the first time you can get them to pull from the normal start position off the ground is when they get to 135. You can also set the bar in the blocks when they start off empty and then move up accordingly with adding in more weight lower the blocks when it sits on the plates.

Olympic lifts

Start off your athletes with working on a basic dumbbell RDL (Romanian deadlift) to shrug or jump shrug and then from there teach them the basics of the dumbbell snatch. For progressing in to the power clean, teach them the barbell RDL shrug and the front squat separately and then when they understand how to do both introduce the power clean. Working with wooden dowel roads or PVC pipes are a good simple way to help them start to learn how to do the movements.

Bodyweight exercises

Doing lots of push ups, low rows, squats, and lunges will always be a great way to help develop the basic strength to do a number of these movements along with training the core with planks and other exercises so that they will be capable of supporting the weight as they transition to barbell movements

Thanks for reading and if you have a progression that you like to use with certain exercises please feel free to share below along with if you have a movement that you would like some ideas on how to progress please comment below with your question.

Artificial Values, Hidden Problems

One thing I teach my students about when working with people in coaching or personal training is that a number of people are less healthy than they think. The reason for this, is that we can easily use drugs to essentially prop up our performance when we would suck it up otherwise. Easy examples of this are people taking blood pressure medication so when you take their blood pressure they are normal, but this is hiding the fact that their default is unhealthy (high blood pressure). The same can be said about cholesterol medication, we are essentially hiding the original problem not fixing the root cause. The kids are usually on board at this point, so then I switch my sights and talk about the abuse of amphetamines (typically caffeine) and depressants (typically alcohol) for their personal use to get through their day and schedules.

How many times has someone told you that they “get enough sleep” while drinking a huge cup of coffee and if you even make a comment about stopping their coffee intake they clutch it to their chest and look at you like you just tried to steal their baby? The caffeine is filling in for the sleep they don’t get. Notice cats, dogs, and nearly every other animal you meet doesn’t delay sleep when they are tired and doesn’t have to have a pot of coffee to just get moving in the morning or be able to tolerate other human beings.

The same can be said when we look at people who need to drink in order to fall asleep. They have to have their wine, cocktail, or beer each night in order to relax. This is a crutch to avoid doing the hard work of learning how to relax.

Now this is not meant to be a character judgement, but instead help folks be mindful about their own reality and try to make small changes so they can cut back on their daily use. The strategies we develop and employ each day are there because they serve us a purpose in the context of how we currently live. I simply want people (and myself) to start asking the question of: “How can I improve my life so I don’t need these substances?”

The occasional cup of coffee to make you feel more amped up and ready is great, but when we create a reliance on it, when we need a cup just to get to “normal” it is time to take a hard look. The same can be said of drinking. I hope you got something out of reading this post and thanks as always for taking the time to read it. Have a great day and if you have any questions please leave a comment.

Westside for Skinny Cheerleaders

Here is a quick and dirty program that I gave to some of my athletes here. Take a look and have fun with it if you try.

Max effort upper

Exercise 1: Build up to a max set of 3-5 reps in one of the following exercises and rotate them each week:

Push press, strict press, close grip inclines, seated military press, close grip bench press, Close grip floor press

Exercise 2: two sets to failure of one of the following:

Db military press (seated or standing), Db steep incline press, DB incline press, Dips

Db one arm military press

Exercise 3: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps of one of the following

Db rows, Machine rows, Barbell rows, Body weight low rows, Cable rows

Exercise 4: 100 reps of one of the following:

Band pull aparts, scarecrows, face pulls, rear delt flyes, seated db power cleans

Exercise 5: 3-4 sets of 8-20 reps of one of the following:

Db shrugs, barbell shrugs, db snatch (light weight on this one), Cuban presses

Exercise 6: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps of any curl exercise of your choice

 

Dynamic effort Lower

Exercise 1: 5-8 sets of 3 jumps in one of the following ways:

Box jumps, Seated box jumps, Box jumps holding light dumbbells, Medicine ball broad jumps

Exercise 2: back squats 50% of your max for 10 sets of 2 reps, aim for max speed and pause in the bottom of each rep. You can switch this to clean pulls or snatch pulls same idea with speed

Exercise 3: 1 leg exercise 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps of one of the following:

Bulgarian split squats, Reverse lunges, Lunges, Step ups

Exercise 4: Hip exercise: 4 sets of 8-20 reps of one of the following exercises:

Back extensions on 45 degree machine, Back extensions on the GHR, GHRs (glute ham raise), Romanian deadlifts, Kb swings

Exercise 5: heavy abs 4-5 sets of 10-20 reps of one of the following:

Hanging leg raises, Incline sit ups, Weighted planks, Db side bends

 

 

Rep Effort Upper

Exercise 1: Medball push press to ceiling 5-8 sets of 3 maximal throws let the ball hit the ground between each rep. Can do this one handed or two. Use a light ball 5-20lbs. most likely 8-10.

Exercise 2: 3 sets of failure in one of the following exercises:

Db bench press, Db incline press, Db military press, Weighted dips, Weighted push ups, Handstand push ups

Exercise 3: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps pick one of the following:

Chin ups, Pull ups, neutral grip pull ups, Lat pulldowns (not a fan)

Exercise 4: pick one of the upper back exercises from the other upper body day and do 100 reps of it (break up sets where you need to)

Exercise 5: 4 sets of 8-12 reps of one of the following:

Lateral raises, Machine lateral raises, Upright rows, Lateral raises with thumbs pointed down

Exercise 6: triceps 4-5 sets of 8-12 reps, pick one of the following

Overhead skull crushers (French press), Tate press, Skull crushers, Cable overhead skull crushers, Db overhead skull crushers

Exercise 7: biceps 4-5 sets of 8-12 reps pick one exercise with the fat grips on the bar and go for it.

 

Max effort lower

Exercise 1: Back squat build up to a heavy set of 5. Take as many sets as you need to do so. Next week do trap bar deadlifts for a max set of 5. Following week do front squats for a max set of 5 reps. The following week go up to a max set of 5 in the safety squat bar. Be sure you are squatting to parallel and using good form. One week 5 rotate back to the back squat and beat your old PR.

Exercise 2: pick another unilateral exercise from the other lower body day and do it 3 sets of 6-12 reps

Exercise 3: pick another hip exercise from the other lower body day and do it 3 sets 8-15 reps

Exercise 4: high rep ab work, do what you want, but lots of reps here.

Exercise 5: push, pull, or drag the sled for 5-10 trips of 30-60 yards

 

This program was written with liberal inspiration from both the folks at westside barbell and from Joe Defranco’s Westside for skinny bastards program. If you need more context on exercises or programming please go to those websites and read up on the exercises and their programming.

Glass cages

A concept that I just came across the other day is the idea of glass cages. This is limits or prisons of our own designs that we create due to our own behaviors and self-imposed limits. The goal here is to be mindful and to give a few examples of how this effects all of us and how we might need to break them from time to time.

Hates the job, but it pays well

I was talking with one of my cousins the other day and we talked about life and work. He could be making more, but he thoroughly enjoys what he does and has the quality of life he desires. He then told me about a close friend that absolutely hates his job, but won’t change his job since he would have to take a pay cut and his family doesn’t want to live in a smaller home or not in the country club neighborhood. This guy is a prisoner of his own making. This is his glass cage that he doesn’t enjoy.

Going for long walks

When I was younger, the thing that helped me bust out of my own rut was by going on long walks. I had developed a thought that traveling anything over a half a mile from my parent’s home was too far and needed a car to travel there. It was by going walking (and even roller blading) that I realized that I could travel as far as I wanted from my parent’s house as long as I was willing to do the work. This for some reason really helped me break loose from some other self-defeating and fraudulent thinking that I had fallen prey to (I would always be fat, weak, etc.). It was through the walking and testing what I thought were my limits and breaking past them that helped me get past my prison of my own design.

I want to get strong, but don’t want to get fat

A number of kids that I work with will talk about wanting to get stronger and gain muscle, but don’t want to gain any fat. To give this context, this is usually from a student that is lean or quite lean for their gender. They are concerned that if they lose any definition on their abs they won’t be “attractive” anymore and won’t be able to attract the attention they want. If you have been training for a while and want to gain muscle mass you will likely gain a little fat in the process, and if you want to get really strong you will likely gain some fat (barring the use of anabolics in this argument). So they are trapped at their size and strength, because they are afraid to get just a little fat on their body.

What are your cages?

What are you complicit about for limiting yourself in one area or another of your life? You can slowly trap yourself in certain loops or realities without being deliberate about it, or even thinking about it. What are some conventions or behaviors that you do that you haven’t tested to see if they are in fact true? Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope this helps some of you.

Rage vs. Resolve

I have a few young folks training with me now and it is nice to see the fire in their eyes to get stronger. I like their intensity, but one concept I’m trying to get through their heads is the difference between rage and resolve. Rage is obviously just being fired up and crazy to attack the weights. There is definitely a time and a place for this approach, but it can sap you and take a while to recover from especially as you get older. Resolve is just that quiet fortitude to accomplish what you set out to do.

Think of how much you can do as a continuum. Each day you will fluctuate a little bit depending on how much you have eaten, how much sleep, time of day, etc. I’d say your average relatively trained person can be plus or minus 10% on any given day. If you walk in to the gym with resolve to hit what you need to, you won’t be red lining yourself. If you always have to rage hard and go crazy to make your lifts at some point you are going to stomp on the gas pedal and nothing is going to happen.

Use your resolve when you are training to improve your performance and save your rage for those truly maximal attempts in competition or during the peak week of your training. In the words of the Clash “anger can be power”, but don’t run on it all the time since it will start to wear you down. Build your resolve and you will be able to train for the long term. Then when it is time to compete, bring the rage.

GPP – General Physical Preparedness

A concept that comes up frequently in athletic performance is general physical preparedness (GPP). GPP is your general fitness levels. This involves your basic levels of strength, power, endurance, coordination, mobility, and agility (among others). Having good GPP sets you up to be a decent athlete, but to be a good player of a sport you need what is known as Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP). This is the difference between being able to bench press a lot of weight and being able to throw a shot put. The GPP here is bench pressing, the SPP is throwing the actual shot put. Now you can have great technique with throwing the shot put, but if you can’t even press the weight of the shot you won’t throw it very far. So GPP is important, but the difference between bench pressing 500 and 600lbs. when it comes to throwing a shot won’t make near as much of a difference as between bench pressing 0lbs. and 100. The goal here is to develop a set amount of GPP for anyone that you are capable of attaining the SPP you want in a given area.

Developing GPP

How you develop this GPP is by doing work. This is as simple as going for a walk, doing some pushups, or hitting some barbell squats. Your goal here is to develop your general capacities. This means the range of motion you can do an exercise in (mobility), the amount of force you can develop doing it (strength) over time (power), how many times you can do this for (conditioning), and how accurately (coordination). The easiest way to develop this is to simply do the work and add another 5-20% (better off with 5-10%) to the amount of total work you do each week and deload on occasion. What this means if you currently do 20 pushups a day, next week try to do 21-22 and keep increasing this volume over time. If you do 100lbs. for a set of 10 try to do 105-110lbs for the same amount of reps. Don’t overthink it, just do the work and slowly increase how much you do.

When to develop SPP

At some point you are going to need to be specifically able to work. There is a big difference in conditioning needed to run on a treadmill and to play soccer or basketball. Both require running, but the latter two have lots of changes of direction. So when you know your stressors are going to be different start about one to two months out with committing to developing your abilities specific to the sport you are looking to participate in. Start with a slight amount of actual sport practice and then increase the volume and duration accordingly.

Why take your time with the GPP and the SPP

The goal here is simply not to get hurt and to allow your body to adapt to the stress. You can build up to crazy amounts of volume with time, but if you do this rapidly you greatly increase your risk of injury. My goal with anyone I coach or work with is to make sure that they never get hurt. Now, injuries will happen to anyone if they train long enough and hard enough, but aim to slowly let your body adapt over time and spend most of the year just being in general shape, then once in a while focus in on having a high level of performance in one area or another.

At the end of the day, your goal should be to either maintain the amount of work that you can do, or be increasing it over time. Being generally fit will help not only your performance and body composition, but increase your health span and quality of life. If you want some good ideas of how to program GPP in more definition just let me know.

Understanding Variables

I recently has a good conversation with my sister about one topic and how certain people get hung up on one variable to control to the detriment of what are the major variables that matter. This got me thinking to write up a simple thought piece on how variables work and why we need to be aware of some concepts with how they can work.

One variable

Most people understand how one variables can effect another. An example of this would be things like genetics where one trait gives us our eye color or our hair color. This however is rare in reality and we need to keep in mind things have multiple causes.

Multiple variables

A good example of how multiple variables effect outcomes is concepts like height. How tall you are is a function of a large number of variables, like your genetics, how much sleep and stress you got as a child, and your nutrition. Each of those then have a number of individual variables (multiple genes for height), how much sleep you got each year of your life along with how much stress and activity and the forms of that stress, finally how many calories you were able to eat on average, how much calcium and vitamin D was in your diet and so on. I like to show my students how there are a number of variables that give us performance and we need to not only look at the variables we know and can track, but think about what are we not testing or can control for. After they do a test like a maximal handgrip (test how much force you can produce when closing your hand) and we relate it to the size of their forearm when corrected for lean mass this typically will explain about 70% of the final results in that someone with a more muscular forearm (bigger around) produces more force, what we don’t test and what is likely a part of that other 30% is how big are their hands, how well adapted is their nervous system, how good was their effort, how well recovered are they, have they eaten that day, are they sick, and the list goes on. By the end of the class they are good at not just seeing the relationships we have shown, but starting to identify what is in the percent left over we haven’t explained.

Which is the most important?

The variables that are the most important are the ones that contribute the most to your success. This means if you focus on only these you might have solid success without having to worry about other variables. These are the first ones to master and then worry about the variables that don’t make as big of an effect. A good start here is lifting heavy weights if you want to get stronger, also to simply be consistent with your training and to be sure to progress your program with time.

Which is the least important?

With the variables, take a look and see which are the least important. Which ones make the smallest difference? These are the ones to bother with last or not at all. When people debate sometimes they can get hung up in these variables so it is important to understand how to steer the conversation back to the things that make the biggest difference. An example of this is the argument for real sugar compared to high fructose corn syrup at the end of the day the key to remember is they both suck. In health and performance you get people that preach that everyone needs to do cryotherapy or sauna, which can be a good choice, but these are the same people only sleeping 4 hours per night.

Putting it together

With your life and your training start with the most important variables and then when you have mastered them move on to the variables of lesser importance. By starting with your “big rocks” you will make better progress and feel like you are more effective then immediately starting off by majoring in the minor.