Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Is There Such a Thing as a Fat Gene?

Is There Such a Thing as a "Fat Gene"?

Yes. it's called the "FTO Gene" and has been associated with obesity risks. So there is, in fact, a genetic factor in obesity. 

But FTO does not make you fat directly. It appears to affect satiety, which means you tend to consume more calories before feeling full than people without the gene.

But that's not the whole story! In a multitude of studies involving almost 10,000 individuals over many different ethnic origins, the weight gain attributable to the FTO gene averages only 6.6 pounds.

And, no, the FTO gene does not make it more difficult to lose excess weight.

Monday, January 30, 2017

You're Magnesium Deficient

You're Magnesium Deficient 

Eighty-five percent of Americans are deficient in Magnesium and don't even know it. For athletes, the rate is even higher.

You may think you're immune to this common deficiency because you eat a banana every day. But think again. You're have to consume 9 bananas each day just to meet the Recommended Daily Requirement (RDA) for magnesium for the "average American" (meaning sedentary and overweight). Any type of athletic endeavor requires more.

You might ask, "If I'm deficient and don't even know it why is it a big deal?" 

Magnesium plays a part in over 350 biochemical reactions in the human body. These reactions are crucial in energy production, protein synthesis and insulin metabolism, temperature regulation, formation of healthy bones and detoxification functions.  Lack of magnesium results in poor athletic performance and workouts, muscle cramps, difficulty losing fat, poor recovery, excessive anxiety, kidney stones,insomnia, high blood pressure and even heart arrhythmia. Lack of magnesium also affects brain function.

Why are so many of us deficient in magnesium? 

  1. Crappy Soil. Magnesium has been depleted over the years and not replaced. So plants don't contain as much magnesium as they once did. Look around your local garden store. You won't see a lot of fertilizers containing magnesium.
  2. Modern diets-Too many carbonated drinks-the phosphate binds with magnesium and prevents absorption. Too much sugar causes the body to excrete magnesium as does caffeine and many prescription drugs. Refined grains in bread and pasta have 97% of the magnesium stripped out of them. Mainly, most people just don't eat enough of the foods high in magnesium such as green leafy vegetables, seaweed, beans, nuts, avocados and bananas.
The RDA for men is only 420 mg/day and 310 mg/day for women. Any kind of strenuous exercise increase the need for magnesium by as much as 20%.

Your doctor can check your level of magnesium and other minerals with a simple fasted blood test.

If you are deficient, as 80-85% of Americans are, you're probably going to have to supplement you diet. If you do, purchase a good brand and choose the chelated form rather than the oxide form.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Sugar, By Any Other Name...

Sugar, By Any Other Name...

Everyone knows the quote from Shakespeare; "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet ..."

Well, sugar by any other name is still sugar.

I've written, several times, about how the food companies go to great length to hide ingredients in their food labels while still conforming with legal requirements. But I'm not sure most people realize just how far they push the envelope.

So here is a list of 81 ingredients found on food labels that all mean basically the same thing- Sugar.

Highlighted names I thought were particularly inventive. Some I even gave a gold star (*)

Anhydrous dextrose
Agave syrup
Beet Sugar
Brown sugar
Barley Malt
Cane juice
Cane juice solids *
Cane juice crystals*
Cane Sugar
Cane syrup
Carob syrup
Caster sugar
Coconut sugar
Confectioners sugar
Corn syrup
Corn syrup solids*
Crystalline fructose*
Date sugar
Demerara sugar
Diastatic malt*
Dehydrated cane juice* (Love these next 4-Know what you get when evaporate cane juice? Sugar.)
Evaporated cane juice*
Evaporated cane syrup*
Evaporated sugar cane*
Fructose crystals
Fruit juice crystals
Fruit juice concentrate
Glazing sugar
Glucose solids
Glucose syrup
Golden sugar ( if it's "golden" syrup it must be ok)
Golden syrup
Granulated sugar
Grape sugar
High fructose corn syrup
Icing sugar
Invert sugar (WTH is inverted?)
Invert sugar
King's syrup* (This must be really special!)
Maple syrup
Maple sugar
Malt sugar
Pancake syrup
Powdered sugar
Raw sugar
Refiner's syrup
Sorghum syrup
Superfine sugar
Table sugar
Turbinado sugar
White sugar
Yellow sugar

Then we have the sugar alcohols:

Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate

Confused yet?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Spanish word for tomorrow is mañana.

The Spanish word for tomorrow is 


At least tomorrow is the literal translation.

However, the practical usage of the word is "sometime in the future" or even "sometime in the unspecified future".

If you've ever lived anywhere that operates on "Island Time" you quickly learn that it can mean anywhere between sometime in the future and never! 

And when used in relation to human goals it seems "tomorrow" and "manana" are interchangeable. It seems "tomorrow" never comes either.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

That "New Car Smell"

That "New Car Smell"

Recently someone mentioned that they had attended a lecture by Dorian Yates. (6 consecutive Mr. Olympia titles) and were disappointed in the lecture because Yates didn't share his "secrets".

Dorian Yates

Twice in my life I've had the opportunity to meet or listen to a talk by men who have held the title of the "Strongest Man in the World".

The first was Paul Anderson in the late 1950's or early 1960's. I was still in grammar school and his presentation was more about religion and his home for disadvantaged boys than about being strong. Paul did about 500 of these speeches a year, mostly at schools.
Paul Anderson

The second was Bill Kazmeir.( 3 consecutive "World Strongest Man" titles). "Kaz"  once owned a gym in the town where I attended college and would drop in occasionally to see and sometimes work out with his friend Dr. Terry Todd. 

Dr. Todd was a story himself. He had held about a dozen world power lifting records including being the first man to lift 1600 pounds, 1700 pounds, 1800 pounds and 1900 pounds. He was the first man to squat 700 pounds. He won the first two National Power Lifting Championships. I was lucky enough to be able to work with Dr. Todd for about 3 months.
Dr. Terry Todd

What  do Dorian Yates, Paul Anderson, Bill Kazmeir and Dr Terry Todd have to teach you?  "There is no secret. There is no magic pill. There is no secret sauce."

What did Dorian Yates lecture on?
  • Perform the basic lifts
  • Eating for your goals
  • Work toward perfect form every lift
  • Watch your rest and recovery
  • Work hard
  • Consistency
What did I learn watching Kazmeir work out and being trained by Terry Todd? Exactly the same things.

Note that one of these guys is a champion body builder, 2 are strong men competitors and another was a power lifter. Yet the message is always the same.

Everyone likes that "new car smell" and it's ok to try something different sometimes. It helps prevent boredom and plateaus. New things shake things up and prevent your body from getting too comfortable. 

But in the end, that new car smell is going to become more like the smell of your gym bag or your favorite dog or that sweaty t-shirt that somehow got lodged between the seats. But guess what, that old car will still be what gets you where you want to go.

Monday, January 16, 2017

For Maximum Muscle Growth Use Lighter Weights (Sometime)

For Maximum Muscle Growth Use Lighter Weights

If you are at all serious about gaining muscle, whether for aesthetics or fat loss, you've no doubt heard that (1) you must train heavy using 80-90% of your 1RM or (2) you need to train in the 60-75% of your 1RM and that 8-12 reps is the sweet spot for hypertrophy. 

Now I'm telling you to "train light for hypertrophy." Confused yet?

If you are a student of "Periodization" you probably understand. If you're not familiar with periodization, you need to go back and read Periodization. How to Get the Most From Your Training Program

Using Lighter Weights doesn't mean using those cute little pink  2  pound dumbbells.

Using lighter weights means dropping down to about 50% of your 1RM but pushing the reps up to 20-25 reps per set and to total momentary muscle failure.

Two recent studies illustrate this.

The first study involved subjects new to resistance training comparing training to failure with lighter weights vs. heavy lifts.
Both study groups ended the 12 week study with roughly the same muscle gains. (Hypertrophy). 
This study drew some criticism though because "newbies" can typically have muscle gains doing almost any program for the first few months.

The second study, however, involved well trained subjects with a minimum of four years experience. The results were still the same.


Refer back to the article  Periodization: How To Get The Most From Your Training Program. High rep work to failure causes metabolic stress by trapping metabolic by-products in the tissue.

High rep work also targets your Type I (slow twitch) muscle fibers that get somewhat neglected during heavy lifting. Type I fibers account for 40-60% of your muscle in most cases.

High rep work also gives your joints and connective tissue (ligaments and tendons) a well deserved break. I recommend high rep work for everyone but it's especially beneficial as you age. When you resume heavier work your connective tissue will be much better equipped to handle heavy loads.

Remember, light, high rep work is only one piece of the puzzle. Use it for only as long as it's working and that will vary by person.
Usually about 4 weeks in some people but up to 12 weeks in others.

Remember, it's periodization. When progress slows in the high rep  period, start the medium weight 8-12 rep period with more weight. And finally heavy low rep period.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Are Your Fitness Goals Realistic?

Are Your Fitness Goals Realistic?

It's early January and hopefully you've come up with a set of fitness goals for 2017 and have already started doing the work.

But are your fitness goals realistic? Unfortunately, there's a strong chance they are not. 

It's not your fault. The public is constantly bombarded in magazines, TV ads, internet ads and posts promising so many unrealistic, even outrageous, promises for weight loss and muscle gain that you come to believe them. Unrealistic has become the new normal. 

These scammers promise you unrealistic goals because they know that's what you want to hear. Telling you what you want to hear sells! Never mind that most are load of road apples. (If you don't know, road apples are horse manure)

Unfortunately, setting unrealistic goals that are impossible to meet is probably the main reason people become discouraged and give up by the middle of February. The average New Years "Resolutionist" is gone after 55 days.

It's important to note that these numbers are based on people new to the gym. That matters because those new to fitness will make faster gains in the first few months than people who have been at it for awhile. As your "training age" (How long you have been training) increases progress will, over time, slow.

How fast can I build muscle?

It will take a minimum of 2-3 weeks before you even begin to notice any increase in muscle size.

If you have 13 inch arms now and want to add one inch to your arm size expect it to take at least 2-4 months of consistent workouts.

In terms of scale weight-an increase in overall lean body mass- expect to gain, on average of around 2 pounds per month at first.

It may come as a surprise to many, but women gain roughly the same percentage increase as men. 

How fast can I lose fat? (fat--not weight)

This is very dependent on your current body fat percentage. Determining your body fat percentage accurately can be tricky. but some of the formulas for estimating body fat percentage are accurate enough for our purpose and accurate, scientific, methods are expensive.

HERE is a calculator used by the U.S. military.

The full formula to determine how much you should lose gets messy but you can use this formula to simplify things:

body fat % / 20=percentage of body weight you should aim to lose per week

So, using the calculator above, lets assume you body fat % is 30%.
30/20=1.5 pounds per week.

You can certainly aim to lose more than that but you'll almost certainly lose muscle in the process. You'll be thinner but you'll still be fat. It's called "skinny fat" and is, in some ways, more dangerous than being overweight.

Review your 2017 goals. 
Are they realistic? 

If you are serious about getting healthier adjust you goals and I'll still be seeing you in the gym after February.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

How to Get Bigger Arms..

How to Get Bigger Arms..

I still get questions about building arms. It gets a little frustrating. I explain the process and a week later I see the same people who asked the question spending 70% of their workout doing barbell curls with poor form. Why? Because doing it right is "too hard" for the little snowflakes.

So I'll try another approach. I'll give you the high points from an article by Chris Colucci from T-nation quoting advice from some of the best coaches in the business-past and present.

Bob Hoffman in 1939 (Coach of the American Olympic Weightlifting Team from 1936 to 1968)

"Big arms are generally the result of all around training. You couldn't expect to use a Mack truck tire on a Ford. Neither could you expect to build a 17 inch arm on a 120 pound body. 

Charles Poliquin in 2000 (Poliquin has a master's degree in exercise physiology and has trained Olympic lifters, Olympic speed skaters, Olympic shot put champions, hurdlers and top players from the NFL and NHL) 

"A good rule of thumb is that for every inch you want to gain on your arms, you need to gain roughly 15 pounds of equally distributed muscle mass.
The human body will only allow for a certain amount of asymmetry. Therefore, if you devote your training energies solely to building big arms, you'd eventually reach a point of total stagnation because you weren't training your legs."

In other words, train for overall body strength and muscle mass and your arms will get bigger. Train arms moderately and spend the majority or your gym time getting stronger and bigger overall.

Or stay scrawny and weak. Your choice.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Never Waste a Perfectly Good Injury

Never Waste a Perfectly Good Injury

Sooner or later it's going to happen. Things are rocking along smoothly. Your fitness journey is progressing, your job is going well, your new girlfriend is supper hot. Then BAM!

Some body part decides to break or strain. Or you step off a curb and roll your ankle with a loud "pop" (Been there, done that) or you tear a quad while moving a large flower pot for your wife.(seen that). Or you (stupidly) miss the safety catch on the leg press and crack a rib. (done that too)

So what happens next?

 Will you lie on the sofa with an orange cloud of Cheeto dust swirling around your head, feeling sorry for yourself, or find a way to turn it into an opportunity?

There are ways to turn an injury into an opportunity. Scientist call growth from adversity "adversarial growth".

Face the fact that, once an injury occurs, there's nothing you can do about it. Sitting around feeling sorry for yourself and dwelling on your bad luck isn't going to do a damn thing for you. Find a way to make the best of it.

Assuming you do all the right things medically, healing will take as long as takes. It takes patience. But let's talk about exercising some "aggressive patience".

Aggressive patience is being patient enough to allow the injury time to heal properly but being aggressive in what we do while nature takes its course.

Review what happened to cause the injury

  1. Did you re-injure an area that had been injured before? Did you come back too soon after the previous injury? Did you do all the rehab exercises you were told to do and do them long enough?
  2. Has this been a chronic problem? If so, are you over-training, using poor form or allowing enough rest and recovery time?
Other suggestions

  1. If you have an upper body injury take the opportunity to work on those skinny legs. I'll wager that 70% of you have been skipping some leg days.
  2. If you have lower body injury use the time to work on those lagging upper body muscle groups. At least 50% of you will have back muscles that could use a lot of work.(even if they don't show in the mirror)
  3. How's your conditioning? Are some of your lifts limited because you don't have the stamina you need? Lack of proper conditioning may be limiting your gains. Work on it.
  4. Unilateral training. (Training only one arm or one leg, for example) Unilateral training carries a huge bonus--training unilaterally with the non-injured limb has been been proven to minimize muscle and strength loss in the other (injured) limb.
  5. If you are severely limited in physical activity use the time to learn something. Study, tweak you programming, rethink your goals and lay out a detailed plan to reach them. 
  6. Find out all you can about rehab of your particular injury and put it into practice.
  7. Stay as active as possible even if you are very limited in what you can do.
  8. Keep your nutrition plan on point (while allowing for the reduced activity levels)
If you read yesterday's article you know I recently came off a 10 week medical layoff. I was extremely limited in almost any form of activity. But, to be honest, I could have been more active than I was. I had little appetite. But again, I could have managed my nutrition better. Both would have made recovery much easier.

About all I did right was learn all I could about my condition and plan out my program so that I could get back to my former strength and muscle mass as soon as possible. 

Monday, January 9, 2017


This article was written last year  but never published. But I have had a number of readers who also experienced long, unplanned lay-offs and wanted to know how I handled recovery. So here is the plan I chose to follow:


For those that don’t know, I had a 10 week layoff for medical reasons. Little or no activity for those 10 weeks, nutrition went to hell from lack of appetite and, as a result, I calculate I lost about 12.5 pounds of muscle. Beginning weight when starting recovery workouts was 195. Down from 207.

And thank you to all the well-wishers and encouragement during all this.

Keep in mind we’re not talking about gaining “new” muscle. I guess you could call it “old muscle” (especially in my case!). Your muscle has, what is sometimes called, “muscle memory”. Vlaimir Issurin refers to it as "Residual Training Effect" (RTE) That simply means you can gain back mass you’ve lost over a few weeks or months much easier than you can add new muscle.

But those of you who are trying to add mass but have a habit of skipping leg day, pay close attention to weeks 5,6 and 7 (where lower body work started). In those 3 weeks I added 9 pounds of muscle.

With the loss of strength, I thought I’d better start there. It’s hard to gain much mass if you’re too weak to move the bar. It's also hard to start with strength when your stamina is down so much from inactivity. Thus the high rep sets for the first 2 weeks.

Week 1:

35% of my previous 1 RM (1 Rep Max) shooting for 15 to 20 reps, 3 sets of only about 6 or 7 exercises. No lower body work except calves. Five days a week.
 My usual load is 60% to 80% of 1 RM for 9-12 reps.

I hit my rep count of 15-20 reps on 85% of the exercises and was close on all of them.

Week 2:

I moved the load up to 40% of 1RM.
Hit rep count on 100% (15-20)

Week 3:

I increased the load to 50% of 1RM but dropped rep count to my usual 9-12.
Hit rep count on all sets except overhead press.

Body weight=197.5 (+ 2.5 pounds)

Week 4:

I increased load to 55% of 1RM with rep count of 9-12.
Added some lower body work but kept the load on lower body at 40% of 1RM. Main purpose was to get over leg soreness before next week.

Week 5:

Increased load to 60% of 1RM and added several more exercises (9-10 per day) and kept lower body at 40%.

Hit all rep ranges except overhead press. I can only attribute this to the fact I've had 2 torn rotator cuffs and it took a long time to get my shoulders up to par in the first place. 

Week 6:

At this point I’m happy with strength gains. Strength is up in the neighborhood of where I was before the layoff except my shoulders are still lagging. And, of course, legs are lagging because I started 4 weeks later on working lower body again.

It’s time to work on the mass by increasing the volume-a lot.

Every exercise cut back to 50% of 1RM, 2 sets at 9-12 reps all with 3-5 second eccentric (lowering) tempo, PLUS 2 drop sets or Rest Pause sets on every exercise.

Week 7:

Same as week 6

Week 8:

At the beginning of week 8 my weight was back up to 206.5!

Week 8 was the same as weeks 6 and 7 except that I cut out the slow eccentrics but kept the drop sets/rest pause sets

10 weeks of forced layoff with almost no activity and poor nutrition and back to my old strength and muscle mass in 7 weeks. I would think younger and more highly trained people could recover even faster.

What I want you to take-away:

Sooner or later, most people will have a planned or unplanned layoff of weeks or months and some will use that as a reason to quit. But you can usually get back your strength and muscle in less time than you think.

You have to work at it but it’s a lot easier and takes a lot less time than it took you to get there in the first place.

Don’t waste all the time and effort you put in to get fit.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

QUESTION: “Where should we “seniors” start if we want to get fit?”

QUESTION: “Where should we “seniors” start if we want to get fit?”

An article from 2015 Body Building and Fat Loss for Seniors  has recently overtaken all other articles as the most popular article over the last 2 years. And a more recent one, I'm Too Old to Get in Shape, is also doing well. Those articles are what prompted the pile of recent questions similar to the one serving as the title to this article.

(By the way, I hate the term “seniors”. And I’ve called out a number of other coaches and trainers for using terms like “seniors’, “elderly”, etc. I'm 67 in so I can make my point.  I think the word “Masters” or “Wise Ones” is more appropriate!)

I’ll get off my stump now and try to answer the question on where to start getting fit for us “Wise Ones”

I haven’t addressed this question publicly before because it’s complicated. There are a lot of variables that have to be addressed first:

1.     Age-a 50 year old will likely be easier to answer than a 70 year old.
2.     What are your goals? Strength? Fat loss? Mobility? Endurance? Aesthetics? All of the above?
3.     What medical conditions do you have?
4.     What old injuries might limit your ability?
5.     What medications are you taking?
6.     How long has it been since you worked out? (if ever)
7.     How much time can you devote to getting fit?
8.     Do you engage in any type of physical activity now? If so, what?

That said, work-arounds and alternatives can usually be found. And, bear in mind, there are many ailments and injuries that can actually be improved by getting fit.

And don’t misunderstand. I’d ask the same questions of a 20 year old. 

Despite needing answers to the above questions (and several more) I can give some general guidelines.

·        Talk to your doctor first. Let’s face it, we “wise ones” have more ailments and old injuries and medications.
·        Decide on your “real” goals. Read What is Your Real Motivation?l
·        Learn proper form- Proper form is paramount. Especially if you are new to exercise or if you’ve not been in a gym for a while.
·        Start slow. Your muscles may be ready but your connective tissues (ligaments and tendons) probably are not.
·        Don’t assume you can use techniques and guidelines you learned back in high school. The fitness industry has, scientifically speaking, made huge strides in (just) the last few years.

·        Make a Plan. Including a good nutrition plan. You can’t out train a bad diet.
·        Get professional help with your plan. Most gyms have professionals on staff whose job is to help. 

      Don't worry about being a beginner or starting over after many years. I know many people who didin't start until their 60's or even 70's. You can do this!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

"Doc, It Hurts When I Do This"

"Doc, it Hurts When I Do This"

Everyone has heard this old joke; the doc says "Then don't do that."

Here's another old joke:

A coach asks a group of lifters " How many of you suffer from shoulder pain?". Half the group raises their hand. The other half can't.

I published an article back in 2015 that you should read again HERE about good pain vs. bad pain. But we need to take the subject a step farther. 

No pain-no Gain is bunk but a lot of people grew up with that mantra ingrained in their brain and think they should push through the pain. 

First, learn the difference between pain and discomfort. All forms of fitness will (or should) result in some discomfort whether it  is caused from the buildup of metabolic by-products in the muscle (the "burn") or shortness of breath when running or feeling like your heart is beating so hard it's going to burst your ear drums. Without pushing your body to discomfort there is no progress.

Pain, on the other hand, is not a desirable outcome. Pain is your body telling you something is wrong.

If you get a pain signal and do nothing about it your body will increase that signal until you are forced to. In addition, the longer you force that signal to get louder the more that particular neural pathway gets optimized to signal pain. 

The reinforcement of that pathway has lasting effects. Even after the the inflammation is gone and the injury has healed the neural pathway is super-sensitized to respond to signals from the brain. Had a  super stressful day? How's that old shoulder injury ?

That super-sensitized pathway will also interrupt muscle firing patterns, which also means screwed up progress long after the injury has healed.

If you experience pain (not just discomfort) here are some suggestions:

  1. Stop what you're doing
  2. Try the move with reduced speed
  3. If that doesn't work, try the move with reduced load
  4. If reduced load doesn't work, try a shorter range of motion
  5. If you still have pain, try a different movement that doesn't create pain.
  6. If you can't do the movement without pain, stop all together and give the area time to heal.
 Before starting that movement again after allowing time to heal go through the above steps again to test the area.