Why Walking Is Crucial to Getting Fit

Walking to lose weight and get fit

Getting out in nature should be reason enough to do more walking.

When most people think of starting an exercise program there are certain images that tend to come to mind – hard work under a barbell or on a weight machine, dripping sweat going all out on a stationary bike or on a long run. These are all great things to aspire to in a fitness program. The thing is, they all share a common trait. They’re all intense.

When people think of getting fit they almost always fixate directly on the intense side. It’s understandable, that stuff just feels like exercise. It immediately gives you the physical feeling of having accomplished something. The problem is, this fixation often causes people to completely ignore the relaxed options in a fitness program like walking.

And you really should be walking.

Why Walking Is So Important

Okay, quick caveat for the people who will want to get technical: Can you get fit without including any walking in your routine? Yes. Can you get fit by only walking? Also yes.

I wasn’t being hyperbolic in the title, I do think walking is crucial for most people looking to get in shape, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get there without it. I also don’t want to make it sound like walking is all you need – all the quantified-self gadgets like FitBits have convinced a lot of people walking a certain number of steps is the magical key to getting healthy and fit and it doesn’t quite work that way.

Like so many things it’s best to stay somewhere around the middle. Walking has so many benefits, especially for your average person who’s looking to lose some fat and hopefully get a little stronger without having to spend hours in the gym everyday, that it’s a huge detriment to leave it out.

Why do I consider walking such an important addition?

The main reason is that it makes for a solid calorie burning option that doesn’t ever grind you down. Everyone’s different but an extra mile walked in a day burns around 100 calories. That adds up to an extra 700 calories burned every week, which adds up to the 3500 calories needed to shed a pound of fat about every five weeks.

At a pound lost every five weeks you would be down ten pounds in a year. That may not be an incredible amount, but it’s substantial enough when you consider a one mile walk will probably take you less than thirty minutes.

You don’t have to stop at one mile though, because walking adds very little to training stress and won’t leave you feeling completely beat like heavy lifting, sprints, or a longer run can. This is especially important for two groups – people just starting out and people who are at higher levels and are pushing the limits of their training.

If you’re in the first group, chances are your recovery sucks. All the time I see people trying to dive into the hardest exercise program they can find and then learning the hard way that when you have a stressful job, kids,
shitty eating habits, and routinely get by on five hours of sleep a night you can’t take on something that intense without crashing. The other group tend to understand good recovery practices, but are pushing their training so hard they can’t do anything else to optimize their recovery. Walking provides both a way to burn additional calories without destroying themselves.

The low impact nature of walking also makes it great for people who are starting out severely overweight, or with an injury or other medical concerns that make it dangerous or ill-advised to engage in higher intensity activities.

Since you’re down in a lower cardio zone you’re also putting your body in an aerobic state where it will tend to use stored fat for fuel rather than drawing energy from your glycogen and glucose stores. If your goal is to be losing as much fat as possible then keeping your body in a state predisposed to burning fat as fuel is going to help.

On top of these benefits, relaxed continuous movement like walking is one of the best ways to build up your bodies vascular system – arteries, blood vessels, etc.

Building up your vascular system this way benefits all your other training making your heavy lifting and your higher intensity cardio more effective by providing better internal structure. It’s also a great stress reliever, which for some will be as big a benefit as everything else.

How to Program In Walking

Unlike other things, there really aren’t many things to consider when programming walking in to your fitness routine. Since it’s not a big stressor you can use it as a warm up or cool down around your lifting or more intense cardio. I also often recommend just adding in an evening walk of a couple miles if it won’t interfere with your schedule as a way of ensuring at least a minimum amount of daily activity.

If you’re unable to do a more varied exercise program you can always just start with daily walks as well. A past client was unable to lift or run due to an injury and he managed to lose over fifty pounds without doing any exercise other than walking.

A key thing to remember though is that walking won’t make up for a poor diet. Really, no amount of exercise is going to make up for taking in way too many calories. You need both sides of the equation to make things work well. This is part of why I think things like the FitBits wind up being so misleading – people think they can walk their 10k steps and then eat an entire pizza for dinner and still lose weight. That’s not likely to work.

Whether you’re just starting out, or have been training for a long time, the list of reason’s you need to be including walking in your training is extensive. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring one of the most powerful tools you’ve got available to you in your efforts to get in shape.

Have any other suggestions for people who are trying to include more walking in the fitness programming, or even a success story of your own built around getting out there and walking more? Leave a comment and tell us about it!

5 Reasons You’re Failing to Get Fit

Weight Loss Obstacles

These common obstacles might be what’s holding you back from reaching your fitness goals.

Getting fit, particularly to a basic level, is simultaneously frustratingly simple and incredibly complex.

It’s simplicity comes from the fact that there are really only two things you need to do once you boil it down. The first is to take in fewer calories than you burn or inversely to burn more calories than you take in. The second is to regularly move in some way that challenges your body. That’s it – and technically you could probably leave that second one off if you really wanted.

The problem is we’re not dealing with simple math or well-engineered machines here, we’re dealing with biology. Biology is messy. There are thousands of chemical processes going on all with their own variables and differing levels to which we even understand them. Compound that with psychological and sociological components that come with behavior modification, and what should be a simple process of just showing up and doing the work gets complicated.

That complexity can make it difficult to figure out what the problem is when you’re failing to make progress. Thankfully, I’ve found that it’s almost always something out of this handful of issues holding people back.

The Short 80/20 List of Fitness Progress Roadblocks

This is by no means an exhaustive list of what could be secretly sabotaging your efforts to lose weight and get fit, but these are absolutely the most common. Following the 80/20 pattern 80% (probably more actually) of people wind up being held back by 20% (probably less) of the potential problems. More likely than not if you have the basics in order and still aren’t seeing progress one or more of these is going to be the culprit.

  • Lack of Sleep – Sleep is an essential part of fitness. Sleep deprivation cripples testosterone production (reducing it by up to 15% in one study), increases stress hormones like cortisol, and predisposes you to poor decision making which is likely to lead to poor dietary choices and skipped or half-assed workouts.

    Don’t think that just because you’re not dozing off in the middle of the day it means you aren’t sleep deprived either. It only takes getting a little less than six hours of sleep on average to start accumulating the negative effects of sleep deprivation. Especially if you’re also putting additional demands on your system through activity and calorie deficit, you need to make sure your sleep is good enough.

  • Snacking & Untracked or Poorly Tracked Calories – It’s extremely easy throughout the day to grab something little to eat without thinking about it. Maybe it’s because you still carry a habit of using food as a reward, maybe it’s because of social pressures like presence of that box of doughnuts in the break room. Whatever the reason, I frequently find people who are trying to watch their calorie intake who will snack on “little” things throughout the day and then not bother to track them in whatever system they’re using to monitor their calories.

    Those little snacks add up though, and before long they’ve eaten a calorie surplus everyday for the past two weeks when MyFitnessPal or whatever says they’ve been in a deficit. It looks and feels to them like they should be losing because it’s so easy to forget all those little snacks when in reality they may even be putting on fat.

    This sometimes also pops up with the “Well, fuck it” attitude people get when they make a small indiscretion. They have a minor slip, maybe one of those office doughnuts, and then don’t bother logging it and figure that since they already screwed that day up in regards to their diet they might as well have an entire pizza for dinner that night and just try again tomorrow.

    If your tracking system says you’re in a calorie deficit but you’re still gaining weight, dial in and make absolutely certain there aren’t calories going unaccounted for.

  • Overtraining – I strongly considered not including this one at all, but I recognize it probably ought to be included just in case with certain caveats. Those caveats tie in to the reason I thought about leaving it out, and that’s because I consistently see people getting so scared of overtaining (even when there is no real danger of it being a problem for them) that they severely undertrain.

    Overtraining, or more accurately not allowing yourself adequate recovery, will impede your progress. For the large majority of people though their level of fitness won’t be high enough to be concerned about overtraining in the traditional sense until they’re at or nearly at their goals. Instead what I think most people should be watching out for is either their fear of overtaining causing them to not train hard enough, or that they’re currently putting themselves on a program they can’t handle long term, whether that’s physically or socially or whatever.

  • Misjudged Activity Levels – Whenever I take on a personal training client they have to go through a number of assessments and discussions related not just to where they would like to get from a fitness standpoint but also where they are starting out from. One of the things I always ask, usually tied to the process of figuring out a starting point for calorie and macro goals, is for people to tell me how active they are on an average day not counting workouts.

    On a scale of 1 to 5 with a 1 being completely sedentary and a 5 being extremely active a lot of people will place themselves at a moderate 3. Then when I start asking about their day they tell me something along the lines of they wake up and sit in the car for an hour on the way to work, then sit behind a desk for eight hours, then an hour sitting in the car heading home, then they sit and catch up on things in their home office, then sit down for dinner, then sit on the couch with the family to watch TV and relax until bed.

    These people seem strangely shocked when I let them know that in reality, they are a 1 on the activity scale. It’s deceptively easy to trick yourself into thinking you’re more physically active on a day to day basis than you actually are. When you’re trying to get fit, even if you’ve developed and are sticking to a good workout habit, take the time to make sure you’re not then spending the entire rest of the day sitting. Upping the general amount of movement you do throughout the day can make a big difference.

  • Poor Progress Tracking – This last one is maybe a little bit of a trick answer. Sometimes the problem that’s causing you to not be making progress is that you are making progress. You just don’t know it.

    If you’re only tracking your weight in pounds and even that only sporadically than you might lose four pounds of fat and gain five pounds of muscle between weigh-ins and think you’re doing something wrong. If you only keep an eye on your lifts you might think you’ve stalled out when you can’t add more weight but don’t realize you’ve dropped 2% bodyfat in that time. Remember how biology is complex? Well that means that progress in something like fitness is rarely linear. Before you declare that you’re failing, make sure you’re tracking a range of different indicators of progress over an appropriate amount of time. You might be succeeding and not even know it.

If you feel like you’ve stalled out on your fitness goals, or just were never making progress to begin with, checking off each of these problems should remove whatever obstacle is stopping you. The key is to never stop testing, evaluating, implementing adjustments, re-evaluating, and then doing the whole thing over again. As long as you stick with it you’ll get there eventually.

Have any other common problems you’ve run into? Other helpful suggestions for people who feel like they’re stuck, or a question for everyone to help you get back to making progress toward your goals? Leave a comment!

An Introduction to Understanding Body Types

Body Types or Somatotypes are Bullshit

The three body types pop up often in fitness discussions – but do they really matter?

If you’ve been wanting to get fit for any amount of time you’ve probably run across the idea of the three body types – Endomorph, Ectomorph, and Mesomorph.

Usually this seems to come up in one of two types of discussions, the first being ones about whether or not ‘X diet’ or ‘Y fitness program’ is right for your particular body type and the second tends to be focused on blame shifting (things like, “Well of course he got fit, he’s a mesomorph. I’m an Endomorph so it’s basically impossible for me to get in shape.”) or on telling people why they’ll never make it.

What really is the deal with these body type categories though? Do they actually matter at all, or is it just a bunch of bullshit?

Let’s take a look.

The Origins of Somatotypes

The three body types (endomorph, ectomorph, and mesomorph) are technically named ‘somatotypes’. The word was coined in the 1940s by the creator of the designations William Herbert Sheldon combining ‘somato-‘, a Greek root that means ‘body’, with the word ‘types’. Since it just means ‘body types’, I’ll continue to use that instead of the needlessly scientific sounding alternative.

There are a lot about these body types and their creation by Sheldon that we’re not going to go into much because we’re going to focus on the bits that will matter for you from a fitness standpoint. That being said, some of the history is nice to know when considering how to think about these categories – so here are some quick bullet points to keep in mind.

  • Sheldon firmly believed and proposed that the body types he was describing were also linked to a person’s psychology and behaviors. He proposed that a person’s body type indicated personality, morality, and future potential or lack thereof. This is obviously false.

  • The research and the ideas Sheldon was putting forward were based heavily in the ideas of eugenics, which is generally just racism and xenophobia with the word ‘science’ scrawled across it in spray paint.

  • Sheldon developed these body types by obtaining copies of thousands of nude photos taken for a different, previous medical study of Ivy League students without getting anyone’s consent or approval.

  • Even though formulas were later applied to quantify some of this, his original body type designations were created based entirely on visual observations of photos of nude students and therefore aren’t what you might consider ‘scientifically rigorous’.

Now you might be saying, “Wait a minute, it sounds like these are arbitrary classifications pulled out of the ass of a more-likely-than-not racist eugenicist who effectively stole a collection of photos of nude college students without anyone’s consent to stare at all day for his ‘study’. Why should I even care about these?”

For the most part – you shouldn’t. At least, not the crazy racist pseudo-psychology stuff. The thing is even though most of the ridiculous and/or downright offensive stuff has fallen away the three body types have largely endured. You’ll find references to them a lot in the fitness world and there are some things about them that can be helpful for people trying to get fit.

So what are they?

The Three Body Types Explained

We’ll pretty much only be focusing on the modern conceptualization of these and leaving out the the awful stuff that was originally tied to it. The three body types are endomorph, ectomorph, and mesomorph – not to be confused with Animorphs who are Earth’s first and last line of defense against the Yeerk invasion and are too distracted by the horrors of war to worry about diet and exercise.

  • Endomorphs are categorized as people who have a super easy time putting on weight (generally meaning bodyfat) and an equivalently more difficult than average time losing it. These are the stereotypical ‘I eat one doughnut and gain twenty pounds’ people, or the folks who are always trying to lose weight but never seem to be able to.

  • Ectomorphs are the opposite end of the spectrum. People in this category are what are usually called ‘hardgainers’ in the weightlifting community. Think Captain America before the super soldier serum.
    These are people who find it hard to put on weight (usually meaning muscle) and seem to always stay skinny, but can never put on any muscle no matter how much they eat and lift.

  • Mesomorphs are more your post-super soldier serum Captain America types. People in this body type tend to have narrow waists, broad shoulders, lose fat easily and build muscle like it’s nothing. Folks in this category are the types who could live on nothing but cakes and pizza and still look like a swimsuit model, or who can accidentally look at a barbell for too long and have suddenly gained 10 lbs of muscle.

Now these shouldn’t be necessarily taken as a sliding scale, where a 1 is an endomorph and puts on weight easy, a 10 is an ectomorph and loses weight easily, and a mesomorph is a 5 right between the two. Instead it’s more like a triangle spectrum, where each body type is one of the points and people fall somewhere within the bounds of the triangle.

Alternatively you could think of having three body type buckets and you have ten ‘points’ to distribute between all three. If you go Endo/Meso/Ecto then a 8/1/1 distribution for example would be a ‘pure’ Endomorph, but most people would be more like a 6/1/2 or a 3/2/5 or something like that. So just keep in mind that this is not an A, B, or C kind of choice.

Why Understanding Body Types is Useful, and How it Can Hurt You

A general understanding of the three body types can be excellent jumping off point to figuring out what you need to do in order to get to the fitness level you want to be. At least, so long as you don’t take things too far or give these ideas more power than they ought to have.

Do you feel like you mostly fit in the ectomorph category and struggle with building muscle?
Then you should probably make sure your calorie intake and protein consumption is high enough, de-emphasize cardio, and prioritize strength training. Are you probably a endomorph and feel like losing weight is impossible? Then you might want to start with making sure you’re not going overboard on calories, fix your sleep, start a habit of frequent easy movement activity like daily walks, and begin an appropriate strength and cardio training program. Are you a mesomorph and can eat whatever you want and do a handful of push-ups and look like a pro athlete? Well, then you have it kind of easy – but you should still strength train and keep an eye on your calorie intake at a minimum because your ability to skate by on minimal effort will probably dissipate with age.

Beyond that use as a general starting point, there really isn’t any need to get hung up on these body types. I frequently see and hear people both online and in person working as a personal trainer use these body types as an excuse or as a way to make themselves feel better for giving up. I’ll hear things like:

“There’s no point in trying to lose weight, I’m an endomorph. It’s just in my genetics to be overweight.”

“Of course he looks great, he got lucky genes. He’s a mesomorph and looks great no matter what he eats. Must be nice to have it so easy.”

“Why are you trying to lift weights? You’re an ectomorph, you should try running marathons or something instead, that’s what you’re built for.”

“I wish the damn Andalites would finally show up and help us. Maybe I should ask Cassie to go on a date if we make it back from tonight’s mission.” Wait. No. That was an Animorph one again. Sorry.

The point is people let the ideas of these body types and lumping themselves into one of these categories dictate what they think they’re capable of. That’s wrong.

Do genetics play a role in metabolic rate? Sure. But in studies the max range they’ve found between the metabolisms of people is around 600 calories in an extreme case. Around 96% of people fall within the range of 1,840 to 2,160 kcal burned per day resting. That means if you think of the least fit person you know and the most fit person you know they both probably have resting metabolic rates within 300 kcal of each other. Even in the extreme case people in that last four percent fell between 1,680 and 2,320. That means even that possibility of having a resting metabolic rate difference of 600 calories between you and a friend is about 1/2 of a percent.

To put it into context, a Pop-Tart is 200 kcal. Not a pack, that’s 400. A single Pop-Tart.

So before you whine about how you have bad genetics and a slow metabolism and that’s why you’re still overweight and that friend of yours is so fit, recognize that even if that’s true (and it probably isn’t) and you have an exceptionally unlikely low metabolism and your friend has an exceptionally unlikely high metabolism they are still only burning 3 Pop-Tarts more calories per day as a result of that.

Saying you have ‘bad genetics’ or a ‘slow metabolism’ is a bullshit excuse.

On one hand, this is great – it means there is not some invisible immutable force stopping you from succeeding.

On the other hand, this is harsh – it means the fact that you haven’t gotten fit is at least in a significant way if not totally due to your own failings.

Don’t Let the Idea of Body Types Own You

What’s the takeaway here?

The concept of these three body types is still prevalent – honestly even among fitness professionals. You’re going to her this stuff come up. Use it as a starting point for introspection and examining your situation but don’t let it own you. Falling into a kind of fatalistic, hard-deterministic way of looking at your health and fitness because a racist pervert in the ’40s wanted to psychoanalyze people based on how fat or skinny they were is a bad plan.

Having mental models about how your body currently tends to react to things is good, letting arbitrary categories force you to give up and not try to get fit is bad.

Do you have any other questions about these body types? Any ways I didn’t mention they can be used positively,
or ways they get used negatively that you think people should watch out for? Leave a comment and share them with us!

Fitness & Motivation Lessons from Pokemon Go

A Wild Pikachu Appears by Sadie Hernandez - Pokemon Go

Unless you’ve been stuck inside Rock Cave for the last few months without an HM05, you probably know about Pokemon Go. As a side-effect of its wild popularity, people have been touting it as being one of the most successful fitness apps to date and some have even been suggesting it’ll have a big effect on fighting obesity.

While I think it’s being a little optimistic to think a little extra walking is going to get everyone fit, it definitely is getting otherwise sedentary people out and moving around – so what is Pokemon Go doing so differently from the Fitbits, Jawbones, VivoFits, et al. that never sparked nearly as strong of a fitness craze as expected? Moreover what lessons on motivation and taking control of our own fitness can we take away from its successes?

Pokemon Go vs. Fitbit

When Fitbit launched people thought that it would have a huge impact on lowering obesity rates and helping to improve overall fitness levels. Gamification (adding game elements like scoring and competition to encourage user engagement) was, and still is really, a hot and exciting method for getting people to do things – particularly in conjunction with the growing quantified self movement. Fitbit ticked both boxes. It provided a solid game element in trying to score your recommended 10k steps per day, providing badges and rewards for meeting goals, and in allowing you to compete with friends, and it gathered enough data on steps, stairs climbed, calories burned, sleep quality, weight change, etc. to be a solid entry in the self-quantification realm.

It’s done well, but it never took off quite like Pokemon Go has. I think the key reason being the Fitbit focuses on gamification, while Pokemon Go approaches things from the opposite direction with ‘fitnessification’.

Alright, I made that word up for lack of a better one and it needs work – the point is that while Fitbit attempts to make fitness into a game, Pokemon Go takes an existing game and plugs in a fitness element.

This might not seem like an important distinction, but it makes a noticeable difference. No matter how many game elements are included in the Fitbit system, your overall goal is still to walk. You can look at it as getting 10,000 points per day if you want, but you know you’re doing it for fitness. Sure the badges and the competition and things motivate you, but beneath that you understand the point is to get you to walk.

Pokemon Go is the opposite. The point is not to walk, that’s just something you tend to have to do in order to play the game. Your goal is to catch Pokemon, take gyms, things like that. The fact that you have to be up and moving around most of the time to accomplish that is secondary.

This is a much better approach to things, because in the end what people care about is having fun. Things like Fitbit, Fitocracy, Duolingo, or HabitRPG attempt, to varying degrees of success, to inject the fun of a game into a productive activity. That certainly helps, but it will never be as successful as injecting a productive activity into a game.

Wii Fit did an alright job of helping people take some steps toward fitness, but in the end it fell to the same problems – the design of all the games was built around making fitness fun, rather than starting with something already fun. After a while people just tire of it and it gets relegated to the closet.

Imagine if you took something like Final Fantasy VII but changed the battle mechanics so that you had to do push-ups or squats to win battles. You wouldn’t play that game to get fit, you would play it because it’s a good game. You would do a ton of push-ups and squats too, not because you think you should exercise but because Sephiroth murdered Aerith and is killing the planet and that bastard has to pay.

Lots of people would probably wind up in the best shape of their lives too.

So, assuming you’re not a game or app designer, what’s the takeaway here?

The Secret to Staying Motivated

If you’re struggling, rather than approaching things like Fitbit and trying to inject fun into your fitness routine (or whatever you’re trying to improve) take the better route – find something fun that also has some small element of what you’re trying to improve in it.

If the prospect of going to the gym or out for a daily run makes you want to crawl back into bed then why force yourself to do those things just for the sake of progress when there are fun options out there? Take a martial arts class, a dance class, a parkour class, go rock climbing, or kayaking, or swimming, go play basketball, or tennis, or even something like tag.

Are these things necessarily going to get you in the same kind of shape adhering to a well-structured strength and conditioning program would get in?

Almost certainly not.

But Pokemon Go alone isn’t going to have anyone dropping a hundred pounds and running in marathons either. Small progress is something though and – unless you’re missing out on potentially better progress by stressing over the small stuff – that small amount of progress is leaps and bounds better than making no progress at all.

Embracing this mindset will make it much easier to continually make some kind of progress in your goals. Any time you’re trying to think of some way to make something you don’t want to do but feel you need to do into something fun, change the equation around and try to think of or create something fun that contains aspects of your goals.

Do you have any examples of other ways to incorporate learning or fitness goals into games instead of the other way around? Leave a comment!

Photo Credit: Sadie Hernandez

The Basics of Programming for Strength Training

Math by Byron Barrett

Strength programming doesn’t have to be this complicated.

A problem I see repeatedly in people who begin a new fitness program – whether it’s strength training, bodybuilding, or something else – is what I call program paralysis.

Program paralysis is where a potential trainee spends so much time working on developing or finding the perfect training program that they either never actually manage to get started on it, or they over-complicate it to such a degree that they start it but then drop it after a few weeks because it’s too much for them.

It doesn’t have to be that complicated. If you’re a new lifter/trainee rather than stress over all the minute details just get these handful of things in line in your programming and you’ll be fine. These are mostly specific to strength training, but trainees focusing on bodybuilding and other aspects can take things away as well.

Practice What You Want to Improve

If you want to improve at a specific lift, you need to be performing that lift. Whether it’s a single lift or multiple, if you want to get better at them and be able to perform them more easily with heavier loads then they need to be included in your programming somewhere.

I realize this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised.

This isn’t to say that the only way to improve at a specific lift is to perform it – accessory work can have a big impact but it should be done in conjunction with the lifts you’re aiming to improve at.

Perform Each Lift Between One and Four Times Per Week

Particularly for people starting out, there’s no real need to stress out too much over having X number of workouts per week. So long as you’re performing each lift at least once per week, you’ll see progress. Keeping it less than four helps allow for recovery and makes sure that you don’t start feeling overwhelmed or burnt out schedule-wise and wind up quitting.

If it works better for you this could be one single giant workout per week, or even seven different workouts per week – the point is more to find something you can stick with consistently. People stress out too much sometimes over feeling like they have to lift three times per week, or do a five day split because that’s what the forums told them, when they would make decent progress just getting a solid session in once per week.

It’s better to work each lift only once per week, then feel like you have to commit to more and have it fall apart because you can’t fit it into your schedule.

Keep the Volume Up

For your main lifts, the ones from the first part up there that you specifically want to improve on, you want to get the majority of your volume in the 70% to about 85% of one rep max (1RM for short) range. This range should keep providing you with returns for a while starting out. If you’re unsure of your 1RM in various lifts there are calculators online that can help you figure it out, or you can grab a spotter and just test things out.

On heavier workouts around or above that 85% of 1RM mark shoot for between ten to fifteen total reps per workout of those main lifts, and for lighter workouts closer to the 70% 1RM end you can dial it up to 25 to 40 total reps per workout. How you split those up into sets is up to you, and it matters more that you can get up to that total volume in the workout than it necessarily does that you can do however many in a single set.

Supplement those with accessory work that supports those main lifts or hit any areas where you seem to have specific weaknesses. The accessory lifts you can keep in the thirty to fifty reps per workout range. As for weight, for accessory lifts it’s generally easiest to follow the old bodybuilding stereotype and just pick a weight that allows you to do eight to twelve reps per set.

Things like periodization and other fancy programming schemes can help, but they’re not strictly necessary and they can very easily over-complicate things. The closest thing I generally recommend for beginners is changing up your accessory lifts every now and again and playing around with different set & rep schemes while keeping your total volume consistent – but that’s mostly to keep you and your body from getting bored with the workouts.

Continue to Follow a Progression

You won’t continue to improve if you never implement some kind of progression – if you only do the same thing over and over again you’re guaranteed to eventually stagnate.

Over time you should be adding weight, adding sets, adding reps, whatever it takes to progressively add volume over time. In a general sense any kind of progression will be helpful, although if your primary goal is increased strength you should start out prioritizing adding weight / load and if your primary goal is building muscle or bodybuilding you should start out prioritizing progressions that add volume – either additional reps, sets, or both.

Observe and Re-evaluate

It’s not necessary to have a ‘perfect’ program from the outset – but it is important to keep an eye on your progress and continue to re-evaluate things to make sure you aren’t continuing with something that’s not providing the results you’re after.

While over-training is generally not a problem for new lifters, it can happen. If you find that you’re not progressing and that you feel run down and beat all the time, then back off a little on the volume and do a little less until you feel good again and see yourself making concrete progress.

If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, where you aren’t making any progress but you feel perfectly fine all the time in regards to energy levels, then you probably aren’t doing quite enough and can increase your training volume and do a little more each week until you start seeing progress again.

I hope this goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway, if you’re seeing good progress keep doing what you’re doing! Seriously, don’t mess with things if you’re seeing progress. There’s no reason to tweak a good thing until it stops giving you some kind of return, then you can fix it.

If you keep these handful of criteria in mind you should be able to put together or select a good training program to start making progress. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that training volume is a huge predictor of results – if you want to get bigger and stronger more volume is almost always the answer.

Have any questions or something to add? Let us know in the comments!

Photo credit: Byron Barrett

The 5 Key Elements for Successful Fat Loss

Bathroom Scale by Mason Masteka

We talk a lot about efficiency here – not necessarily because we feel everything has to be optimized and made super-efficient, but rather because a lot of things in life get severely over-complicated. As a result people struggle with things not because they can’t do them or they’re too difficult, but instead because they get too caught up in minutiae to make any real progress.

Fat loss is an excellent example of that process in action.

There’s so much information on fat loss out there that it can be staggering. Should you or shouldn’t you eat breakfast? Is meal timing important? Should I go paleo, eat vegan, use a detox program, do a juice cleanse? Should I sprint, run a 5k everyday, lift heavy, not lift at all?

It goes on and on.

Time and time again with my coaching clients I find people have gotten so wrapped up in all these little things that they completely miss the big important variables that are going to have the biggest effect.

Fat Loss the 80/20 Way

we’ve already gone over the 80/20 approach to nutrition. Most of that will carry over here, just because nutrition is a large part of the fat loss equation, but this will be a bit broader of a look at things.

You’ll find – like most cases where you break things down to find the highest return variables – that these aren’t the big, flashy, cool, sexy, technical sounding things. Sure, it sounds cool when you can sit around and spend twenty minutes explaining the intricacies of carb cycling and gluconeogenesis to somebody, but if you don’t have the boring stuff taken care of it’s not going to get you far.

So what are the five high return variables you should be worrying about first in fat loss?

1. Maintain an Overall Long Term Calorie Deficit

If you want to lose fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit overall. The best way to achieve this for most people in my experience is through creating a small weekly calorie deficit in their diet.

There have been a lot of arguments lately over the whole ‘Is a Calorie a Calorie’ thing. Don’t worry about any of that for right now. If you’re overweight, treating all calories equal and ensuring you’re in a deficit on a weekly basis will get you substantially further than stressing out over whether you’re getting fat calories, protein calories, or carb calories.

In order to figure out a caloric deficit, you first have to know how many calories you need to eat to maintain your current weight so you can subtract from it. You can use the Harris-Benedict equation, the Katch-McArdle equation, or the old 12 x bodyweight in pounds equation, though all of these have fairly high margins of error.

The best way is to keep a completely accurate food log for one week and compare it to changes in your weight over that week. If you stayed the same that’s likely roughly your maintenance range. Once you’ve gotten that rough estimate introduce a deficit by cutting it down a bit and continue to monitor things. Don’t assume you’ll get one calorie number to stick to and that’ll be it – expect to constantly be rechecking and updating your deficit as you see what changes your body is going through.

2. Focus on Whole, Nutritious, Unprocessed Foods

Going back to the ‘Is a Calorie a Calorie’ thing, you find in some cases the extreme If It Fits Your Macros adherents. They insist that you can consume nothing but pizza, beer, and ice cream and still lose fat.

Technically, they’re right.

As long as you kept yourself in that caloric deficit we talked about above you could lose fat that way. The problem is for most people it presents a lot of problems. The most obvious problem is, in general those things tend to be less nutritious in a holistic sense.

I don’t mean holistic in the way someone might apply it to a crystal healer, I mean holistic in the sense of having all the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and other things that come along with eating your fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed meats. While they aren’t something you should stress out over too much in relation to more important things like macronutrients and calories, being deficient in them because all you eat is junk food is not going to do you any favors.

Additionally, due to the high caloric density of most of those types of foods, it’s hard to only eat enough that you stay under your necessary caloric deficit. Even if you manage to avoid the temptation of having just one more slice of cake, or a couple more beers, you are likely to find yourself going to bed hungry. Going to bed hungry is a surefire way to ensure you’re going to decide to give up on your eating plan.

Can you still have some junk food? Of course. As long as it doesn’t put you over your calories – but I strongly recommend keeping it at or below 20% of your total calorie intake. Fill the rest with vegetables, meats, and other whole foods and you’ll find it much easier to stick to your deficit.

3. Prioritize Long Term Adherence

Which brings us to number three. Adherence.

Anyone can follow the most painful, complicated, intricate diet and training program in the world for a day or two. Maybe even for a week. That’s not going to help.

You need to treat this like a marathon, not like a sprint. You need to avoid looking at this like something you’re going to suffer through for a couple months so you can not be embarrassed at the pool or the beach, and instead look at it as something that you are changing about your entire life. These new habits and ways of looking at things are for life.

For life.

This also means you need to not make it completely fucking miserable.

I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had try to convince me to let them eat at some insane deficit like 1,000 calories below their maintenance per day, or want some super hardcore P90-Cross-X-Fit-Whatever workout program for them to do everyday because they feel like they need to drop fat right now.

Approaching it this way is like tackling an Ironman triathlon with the expectation of sprinting through the whole running portion. You are guaranteeing you’ll crash and burn, and then inevitably wind up back where you started.

Adherence is probably the single hardest thing about fat loss, but if you focus on making it a priority you’re setting yourself up to be substantially more successful than everyone else.

4. Exercise

Can you successfully lose fat entirely by diet changes alone with no additional exercise? Absolutely.

But why make it harder on yourself?

Do not try to use exercise as a way to create a substantial calorie deficit or as a way to ‘work off’ the extra stuff you ate that you shouldn’t have or as a way to ‘earn’ that pint of ice cream you want to have. It doesn’t work that way.

You should use exercise for two things – the first is to add and maintain muscle mass for a passive benefit to your metabolism and your overall calorie burn throughout the day, and the second is as a way to subtly help ensure that the deficit you created is in fact a deficit given the potential inaccuracy of those calculations you did.

Note here that when I say exercise, that might mean walking the dog everyday. That might mean playing basketball, soccer, tennis, whatever. Unless you have some specific additional goal to train for or really enjoy a particular form of ‘traditional’ exercise like running or weight lifting don’t worry so much about it. Go find something active that you really like to do and do it as often as you reasonably can. If you have to force yourself to do it, it probably won’t help your adherence.

5. Focus on Processes Instead of Results

Many of the problems I talked about in points above (wanting to go all out too soon, not being able to adhere to changes, doing unpleasant forms of exercise, etc.) are all strongly influenced by having a results focus instead of a process focus.

What that means is, people fixate on something like ‘I want to lose 30 lbs. by the end of next February’. In general, this type of goal isn’t always bad – but when it comes to things like fat loss it can lead to some problematic behaviors.

First and foremost is the tendency of people to start to get discouraged if they don’t see continual improvements. When it comes to fat loss, you’re almost guaranteed your weight is going to do crazy things for no apparent reason to you. You’ll retain water sometimes, gain five pounds over a weekend for no obvious reason, and other strange things. Biology is messy.

Many people have this happen and then panic that they won’t make that 30 pound goal or whatever in time. Then they fall into stress behaviors, or make panicky decisions, and generally just screw things up even worse.

Instead, focus on the process. Make a goal like ‘I’m going to stick to my calories everyday for two weeks’, or ‘I’m going to go run with the dog for 30 minutes twice a week this whole month’.

Those types of goals not only keep you motivated since they’re easy to achieve, i.e., the power to accomplish them is entirely within your control unlike the 30 pounds thing, but that via achieving them you’ll find that you’re more likely to meet that goal of losing 30 lbs. than if you had made that your goal in the first place.

Process focus will always outperform result focus.

Going on from There

Once you’ve got all these big return variables down, you can start worrying about the little things more if you want to. Situationally some of them can have a fairly big effect. They key is to leave them for after you’ve got these other five things down, and to not let focusing on them interfere with any of the more important variables.

Do you have anything you’d like to add to these five? Do you have any tips you’ve found useful for following any of them, or for better ignoring all the little relatively unimportant things? Share them with everyone in the comments!

Photo Credit: Mason Masteka

GoBadass: A Guide to GoRuck, the Toughest Day of Your Life

Road to Epic GoRuck - Carrying a Telephone Pole around Cincinnati

What, never carried a telephone pole around?

If you’ve done obstacle course races you might have heard of GoRucks before, but if not then allow me to summarize it for you: it’s the most rewarding, tiring, mentally tough fitness-y “event” you’ll ever do.

It’s torture, but it’s so much fun. You may find yourself with your face nose-deep in a stranger’s rear-end, but by the end of the day you’ll be friends and comrades. You’ll be dirty, ache all over, and have sores on your feet, but a huge grin on your face. It’s hard but will teach you more about yourself in one day than you’ll learn in a year.

What’s a GoRuck?

GoRucks are tough to describe briefly as there are different levels of difficulty, secrecy, and not much else out there like them.

GoRuck was founded by a Green Beret Veteran who wanted to be a voice for good, employ Special Operations veterans, and build a bridge between the military and civilians. The result was a company that makes military-grade rucksacks and holds events geared to mimic special ops training.

I could compare a GoRuck to an obstacle course race (OCR) – except that a GoRuck is not a race, there are no obstacles and, unlike a normal race, there are physical challenges. Also you’ll have a rucksack with bricks in it. Lastly, you won’t be competing against anyone except perhaps yourself – you’ll be a part of a 20-30 person team that you’ll look after and who will look after you.

There are a few different levels of GoRuck as mentioned: Light, Challenge, Heavy, and Selection. There are also some specialized Expedition events, but I’ll cover these a bit more in depth soon. Each event is led by the team cadre, a Special Ops veteran flown into each city just for the event. Unlike with obstacle course races, every GoRuck event is unique and it’s entirely possible that the cadre will make it up as they go. The uncertainty about what you’ll be doing is part of the experience and appeal.

Differences Between GoRuck Events

As mentioned, the main types of GoRuck event are the Light, Challenge, Heavy, and Selection. It’s easiest to lay out the differences in a table, so have a table!

Event Length Distance Pack Weight Avg. Pass Rate
Light 4-5 hours 7-10 miles <150# = 2 bricks (~10lb);
>150# = 4 bricks (~20lb)
99%
Challenge 10-12 hours 15-20 miles <150# = 4 bricks (~20lb);
>150# = 6 bricks (~30lb)
94%
Heavy 24+ hours 40+ miles <150# = 25lb;
>150# = 25lb
50%
Selection 48+ hours 80+ miles 45# <5%

If you can complete a 5k OCR, you can do a GoRuck Light. You might not have a good time, but you’ll be able to do it. From there they go up in difficulty. Someone who does regular strength and cardiovascular training could likely do a Challenge as well.

While I have yet to do a Heavy or Selection (though I plan to somewhere between 2015-16), I think the pass rates speak for themselves: they are difficult and you cannot expect to succeed without dedicated training.

You must weigh your ruck down for each event, and you can use bricks (~4-6lb each on average) or sandbags. I highly recommend going for bricks over sandbags as sandbags get heavier when wet, and you will get wet. Make sure you wrap the bricks in duct tape beforehand and write your name and phone number on them. Labeling them is important if you decide to throw them away after the event – so they aren’t mistaken for bombs or anything.

If you are in the Light or Challenge, you’ll have your pack visually inspected by the Cadre, however for the Heavy and Selections they may bring a scale to check the weight of your ruck.

Not having the proper amount of weight in your pack is an immediate dismissal from the event.

Beyond the main events (called “Good Livin’”), they also have Expeditions, scavenger hunts, a 5k, and firearms training events. The Expeditions include GoRuck Ascent (mountaineering, climbing, navigation, survival training, and wilderness medicine), GoRuck Beached (learn amphibious skills and practice in missions), GoRuck Navigator (route planning, map reading, compass & gps skills, and survival skills), and finally GoRuck Trek (learn spycraft and mission planning skills, then practice in a mock mission.)

Road to Epic GoRuck - Crossing the Ohio River into Kentucky

You’ll get lots of stares, cheers, people stopping to ask questions then calling you crazy. You’ll feel crazy.

What to Expect

Each event is different, however there are some basic things that are common. Usually, they are laid out as a main objective (get from A to B), with military-inspired challenges to test your teamwork and physical and mental fortitude. You’ll get uncomfortably close to strangers, receive and/or give aid, hike a lot, carry a lot of things, challenged and exhausted in every possible way, and be smiling when it’s all over.

Without going into too much detail, some of the challenges in GoRucks I have done are: Lots of the famous log carrying along with challenges that tested our navigational, teamwork, strength, strength endurance, memory, focus, planning, mindfulness, foraging and observational skills.

You’ll do things you don’t want to do, but have to do for the mission. For instance, we had to army crawl (real army crawling where your head and ass are down, not this bullshit) while being mindful of precious objects we had to protect in a park field where lovely dog owners had carelessly left their dogs’ feces for us to avoid crawling through (spoiler alert: not everyone could avoid it.)

Likely you’ll find a log or telephone pole to carry, but each event also requires that the team carries a weight (weight of item varies upon event), an American Flag, and a GoRuck flag.

Expect to be gawked at by onlookers curious what you are doing and what on earth would possess you to do it.

You can train for the physical aspects, and should, however your mental game is going to make or break the event for you. If you are tired or off, you’re going to have a bad time. If you try to cheat or be lazy, you’re going to have a bad time (and likely get sent home – yes, if you are not a team player or are not completing challenges as instructed the Cadre can decide you’re out.) If you are mentally tough, you’ll succeed. If you are weak-willed a GoRuck will break you.

There will be times when you want to quit, when your body aches and your thoughts are fuzzy, but you’ll have to convince yourself to push forward, to keep going. Everyone starts out doe-eyed and eager, however a few hours in everyone will be tired and their true colors will be visible. Are you going to be the person who gives up? Who complains the whole time and drags everyone down?

You can sort of train mental toughness by pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to the edge of your limits, physically and mentally. The more you do it, the more your limits increase and the harder you have to work to hit them.

Most of all, expect to be a part of the team. You’ll move as a team, complete challenges as a team, and finish as a team. A lot of the challenges will require teamwork to complete and if someone is injured or requires aid it is expected other team members help them. This could be carrying an injured teammate, offering to carry extra rucks if you are unable to help carry the log or if someone is near extreme exhaustion, sharing water, so on and so forth.

The prize for completion? Honor, a patch, and new friends.

What to Take

GoRuck has a list of required and suggested options for each event, however I have a personal packing list I’ll share to help give you ideas. A good thing to keep in mind is that you will be carrying this stuff for several hours – do not pack any more than necessary.

  • Bricks – Obviously, however I have a couple additional suggestions. Duct-tape them, but then also duct tape them together and wrap them in some easy-to-quickly unwrap bubble wrap for comfort. Find some way to secure them and to keep them up high in the pack with something a foam yoga block underneath them. Having them wrapped in bubble wrap, secured and high up on your back distributes the weight more evenly and prevents them from jumbling around and having a corner poke you, or having them slap against your lower back and wears you out less quickly.
  • Sunscreen – If your event is during the daytime this should be a no-brainer.
  • Gloves – Optional, but highly recommended so you don’t get torn up hands (and before anyone with a “tough guy” attitude comes in here, it’s not cool to get broken glass shoved into your hand.)
  • LOTS OF WATER – Bring a huge water bladder, and additional sources of liquid refreshment. During one of my rucks, a team member’s water bladder cap broke and they lost all their water and another ran out from drinking it all up too quickly – lucky for both of them I brought four bottles and was more than happy to share.
  • Carabiner – This will come in handy if some part of your ruck breaks, which is a high possibility. If doing the Heavy or Selection, a carabiner rated for holding your weight is required.
  • A Properly Fitted Ruck – It’s tempting to get a huge Ruck or to get a very small one, however I highly suggest you try multiples to find the perfect one for you. Too big and it will be a burden (I used one too large and suffered by getting hit in the chin multiple times doing crab-walks with it on backwards), too small and it wont fit everything required. You’ll also need to experiment with the straps to make sure it won’t wear on your lower back and will cause minimal shoulder pain.
  • Reflective Tape – This is required to be on your ruck and/or on your person at all times. This was previously suggested, however is now absolutely required after a Rucker lost his life during a nighttime event. Safety is not a joke.
  • Headlamp & batteries – Required for nighttime events and just flat out handy.
  • Pre-packaged snacks – I specify pre-packaged for ease of access and storage, however a friend of mine took Ziplock bag filled with 2 lbs of bacon she cooked and was more than happy with it. In each event, you’ll have opportunities to sneak in a bite to eat if necessary and considering how active you will be you will want to. I am personally a big fan of Clif energy & protein bars, but bring whatever you enjoy and will be easy to eat. Candy bars are not uncommon.
  • Cash, ID (in a plastic bag and/or cards) – You’ll need cab fare in case you decide to bail or if you get booted, but also if your cadre is nice and allows you a break to buy extra water/snacks this will come in handy (also: you can buy a meal with your comrades afterward.)
  • Comfortable Shoes, Socks, and Extra Socks – For the Light and Challenge you can get away with wearing sports shoes, however it is highly suggested (and required for the Heavy and Selection) you purchase a comfortable pair of boots with ankle support. Thick socks to help prevent wear on your feet are also important – arguments have broken out over the best pair of socks for GoRucks, so I’ll leave that up to you.
  • A Friend – Everything’s better with a friend isn’t it? While you will get close to your team mates and encourage each other to push forward, having at least one person you know will be an added source of camaraderie and encouragement.
Road to Epic GoRuck - Kissing the Ohio River

You have to be prepared for whatever is thrown at you. Including doing push ups in a polluted river full of broken glass and metal.

Training

GoRucks will require a lot of low, steady-state endurance, strength, strength endurance, and possibly periods of sprinting or brief running. You’ll have to build a plan you find sustainable and enjoyable, however I have these few suggestions:

2x per week: Strength Training – I suggest picking or building a weightlifting routine that focuses on increasing overall strength.
2x per week: Cardio – Running is your best bet here, building up to a 5k is more than enough for a Light and Challenge. Because GoRuck’s are varied, vary your workouts too and do HIIT sprints and hill sprints, too. Alternatively, you can also do lightly-weighted exercises for intensity/time (example: front squats with dumbbells or a lightly weighted barbell for 20 reps for 5 sets, or for a set time.)
1x per week: Practice ruck with pack-weighted exercises – Set a pack weight, distance to walk and exercises to do during the walk and increase all variables as able to. For example, you could do a 5 mile walk with a backback weighted to 10lbs hitting up the park on your way. While at the park practice army crawls, bear crawls, crab walks, push-ups and squats, hill sprints, and planks. After you’re done, continue your walk until you get back to your starting point. Other good ideas: sandbag carrys, farmer’s walks, wood chops/sledge hammers, sled pulls, box jumps, and burpees.

How long you’ll need to train beforehand will depend on your current physical state and how badly you want to rock the ruck. If you just want to pass the Light and are average health-wise, a 6 week training plan should be more than enough. If you want to thrive, I’d suggest a bit longer.

Just remember to start small and build up as your body allows, and value your rest days.

There are no requirements for each event, save for the Selection, and no way to predict exactly what you’ll need to be able to do, so this plan is just to give you a general idea of things to think about when building your own training plan.

The pre-requisites for the Selection are (and you will be tested on them during the event, if you fail at any one of them you will be dismissed):
– 2 minutes to complete a minimum of 55 push-ups sans-ruck
– 2 minutes to complete a minimum of 65 sit-ups sans-ruck
– 5 mile run within 40 minutes sans-ruck
– 12 mile run with ruck within 3 hours and 30 minutes. Ruck must weigh 45lbs at all times, not including water and food.

Why you Should do a GoRuck

At the beginning of my first ruck I was all-smiles and eager to take on whatever challenges thrown my way. By the middle, I was repeating affirmations and encouraging “Don’t give up! You’ve got this!” statements in my head and trying to ignore the “Why did you sign up for this?! This is horrible!”, and by the end I was banged up and tired. However, I gained an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and perspective. Possibly AIDS too – the Ohio river is polluted and full of litter folks, and doing burpees in it is not exactly advisable.

I’m sure by this point many of you reading this are thinking “Why the hell would I put myself through that kind of misery? Why would you want to ache, carry telephone poles around town, torture yourself in a dirty river, and drag your face through dog poo?! And you PAID FOR IT!”

Well, because it’s fun. Because the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment from the experience cannot be described. As you do more rucks, even repeating levels, the mental devils still come back and you will still have to push yourself. No matter what you will get scraped, bruised and exhausted.

But it is worth it.

One could also argue why you’d do an OCR, marathon, or triathlon, and the reasons are really simple: they are fun, incredible experiences that push you to your mental and physical limits. They are excellent ways to stay healthy and fit doing a challenging activity you enjoy.

Road to Epic GoRuck - Group Picture

Being finished is a relief but you’ll also find yourself wanting more – the endorphin high and immense feelings of accomplishment are addicting.

Are you up for the challenge?

Get out there and do a GoRuck! If you’ve already done one, what did you think of it? Share your experience and training ideas in the comments below!

Thoughts on Fat Pride from a Formerly Fat Fit Guy

Fat Boy by James Marvin Phelps

Fat Squirrel cares little about your opinion of him.

I grew up as a fat kid.

Through the majority of my childhood I ranged from what might be considered chubby all the way up to full-blown obese in my teen years. At one point I was even inching up on the 300 pound mark. While the argument could be made that as a male my experience was less severe than what a female would have been subjected to I can still say I know what it’s like physically, psychologically, and socially to be a fat person.

My experiences during that time, and the time since then in which I’ve become more fit and healthy than I’ve been my entire life, are why all the attention I’ve seen lately being given to fat pride bother me. As someone who’s been in both worlds, I thought it would be helpful to express my thoughts on the subject.

Fat Shaming, Female Body Image and a Disclaimer

Rustled Jimmies Everywhere

I am fully aware that this is going to rustle some jimmies.

I want to make it very clear from the outset that I’m not advocating fat shaming here. I don’t think that the portion of the ‘fat acceptance movement’, as some people in that camp like to be called, that is against fat shaming, negative body image, or self-loathing is a bad thing. I 100% support that part of it.

I also want to recognize for a second time that, in general, this usually gets painted as a feminist or at least feminine-centric issue. Being a male, that means that my commentary is going to be coming at least a little bit as an outsider looking in. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m speaking authoritatively on the female experience because I can’t. Unfortunately, because of how generally fucked up the U.S. sociocultural environment is when it comes to female body issues I can’t get away from addressing these things in relation to this topic.

Lastly, I want to note these are just my thoughts on the subject as someone who spent most of his life in the obese category – you can think whatever you want about it. If I severely rustle your jimmies you’re welcome to leave a comment to let me know what you think.

What’s the Fat Acceptance Movement?

Before I give my understanding of all this fat acceptance stuff I want to give you a few links in the interest of fairness / just in case I’m totally misunderstanding something. I have better things to do than beat up on a straw man. So here, here, here, and here are four quick examples I found.

To my understanding the general idea is to be proud of being fat, to embrace it in order to make it a positive thing overall. It’s no secret that in the U.S. the media deifies a particular body image for both men and women that is, for the average person, at best unrealistic. This is exacerbated by the prevalence of digital editing and overall Photoshoppery that these ads are subjected to after everything else.

They rail against the psychological and physical harm this causes and argue that as a society we shouldn’t consider there to be anything wrong with being fat. To subvert the cultural standard that being fat is negative they suggest embracing it and taking it as a personal point of pride.

Hanging on to this though, as can be seen in a couple of the links above, is a related idea that trying to lose weight is either harmful, misguided, entirely impossible, or all of three combined.

The Parts of Fat Pride That I Like

The foundational message is one I can both relate to strongly and agree with – cultural ideals when it comes to body type are unnecessarily unrealistic and seriously fucked up.

If someone is overweight they should never be made to feel lesser for it. Asking people to measure up to images that have been heavily doctored and then loading them with oppressive amounts of guilt and shame when they inevitably fall well short of that is blatantly wrong.

Additionally a lot of our cultural ideas about why people become fat (they lack willpower, they’re lazy, no self-control, etc.) are flat out wrong.

Weight change and fitness are not a willpower issue. Very few people are overweight because they choose to be, or because of some fault of their own. Now, I don’t hold them entirely inculpable either, I think things like food addiction are too often blown out of proportion and used as a scapegoat. The reality falls somewhere in the middle, they’re not 100% at fault for being fat but they’re not 0% responsible for their condition either. (Sorry, if you want things with clear cut answers the fields you’re looking for are mathematics or physics, not biology.)

For all those reasons I find fat shaming reprehensible. It’s clear cut abuse and bullying. From that standpoint, I wholeheartedly support anyone who wants to stand up and say, “Haters gonna hate. Fuck you all. I like myself the way I am.”

That being said…

The Parts of Fat Pride I Despise

Tagging along with all the things I can support are some things that I’m vehemently opposed to. The primary one being an insistence that no one can lose weight or become fit long term and therefore no one should try.

Within several of the links I shared above as examples and in others I found while digging around I found it asserted repeatedly that not only is there no way for people to lose weight long term, but that it’s overall more unhealthy to try to lose weight than it is to remain overweight or obese.

As someone who has lost weight and become fit and healthy and stayed that way long term, as someone whose job it is to help other people do the same, it bothers me to hear people claim it’s not possible and work to deter people from trying.

Many of the sites making these claims cite the abstracts of flawed studies and meta-analyses to support their claims making them appear more credible to people who won’t bother to pay to read the study or who aren’t knowledgeable enough to note the flaws in the methodology. This can lead people who might have been considering making a positive change in their lives and starting the process to lose weight and get fit to instead decide not to bother.

I find this kind of active discouraging of people to improve their lives just because you don’t think it’ll work reprehensible.

My Overall Thoughts

Personally, I equate being overweight or obese with smoking cigarettes.

Culturally, as of late anyway, smoking is probably more publicly discouraged than being overweight, but I still draw a lot of parallels between the two. Most people recognize that both smoking and being overweight are generally detrimental to your health. Regardless, people are still overweight and people still smoke.

This is primarily because neither is always a ‘choice’ in the purest sense. Environmental, familial, cultural, and economic factors can predispose individuals toward smoking and/or obesity. Once you’re on the path to either, it’s extremely hard to get off of it. You can’t tell someone who is addicted to cigarettes to just ‘quit smoking’ and expect them to do it. It’s not strictly a willpower issue. In the same way you can’t just tell someone who’s overweight to ‘eat less and move more’ and expect them to get in shape.

I have family members who smoke. I care about them, so I’m always there to help and encourage them to quit. That doesn’t mean I badger them, ridicule them, or generally behave like an ass toward them if they don’t want to quit. It is, ultimately, their choice (issues of addiction and agency come into play, but we won’t go into that right now) whether they want to quit or not.

I have family who are overweight and I treat them the same way. If they want to make a change and lose weight I’m there for them. If they don’t, I’m not going to push it or shame them as a result.

I fully support any efforts to empower people to stand up to societal norms that are often at best arbitrary and at worst directly harmful. Hell, the general ethos of this site is one of embracing non-conformity. But we should also encourage people to take their health into their own hands rather than telling them that any attempts to change themselves would be futile.

Where do you stand on this? Leave a comment and let us know.

Photo Credit: James Marvin Phelps

How to Calculate Your Macros Part 2 – Macronutrient Ratios

Bountiful Feast by Virgil Chang

So by now you ought to know all about what macros are and how to count them and you should have gone through the first part of this two part article and figured up an estimate of how many calories you need and want to aim for per day. That means that we’re ready for the final part of the process – figuring out your specific macro ratios & amounts.

If you haven’t gone through at least the previous article to figure out your caloric needs, go do that really quick. You’ll have a much easier time following along and you’ll be able to have your macros ready by the end of the article. You’ve got to know your calories first though.

All set? Good.

Choosing Your Goal

The first step in figuring out your actual macronutrient ratios is going to be choosing what specific goal you’re pursuing; a cut, a slow bulk or recomposition.

Cutting and slow bulking you were introduced to in the previous article, but recomposition is going to be new here. Recomposition is going to be for all the people who read the last article and thought to themselves that they didn’t fit in either category well. It’s also for people, particularly athletes, who for whatever reason need to keep any muscle loss during their cut to an absolute minimum or potentially even build additional muscle while losing fat.

That being said, choosing recomposition as a goal will make things go much more slowly. The majority of people will probably want to go with a cut, particularly if you’re looking to burn off fat.

Assuming you didn’t already choose one when figuring up your calories in the previous article (you should have) here’s the quick rundown of who each is for in general:

  • Cut – For anyone whose primary goal is fat loss. The goal is to lose as much fat as possible while sparing as much muscle as possible.

  • Recomposition – For anyone whose goal is fat loss but who absolutely need to maintain or gain muscle at the same time. Athletes or people who are already near 10% body fat and are trying to shave off those last couple percentage points will be the majority of this category.

  • Slow Bulk – For anyone whose primary goal is muscle gain. The objective here is to gain as much muscle as possible while gaining as little fat as possible. For best results most people here should already be lean enough to have visible abs.

Once you’ve figured out where you want to be, we can get down to figuring your exact macros out. For example purposes I’m going to bring back our example gentleman from the previous article. I’m going to name him Stan this time around for ease of reference.

If you recall, Stan is 200 lbs. and 20% body fat. He did all the calculations from the previous article and found he has a Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) of about 1,838 calories per day and an estimated Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) of about 2,325 calories per day. Let’s take him through all three goals.

The Cut

We’ll start with the cut both because it’s the one most people are likely to need and because at 20% body fat it’s definitely the one Stan needs.

You have two options here. The first is the more basic and it’s just to follow an even caloric deficit across the entire week cycle. This is what we did in the previous article, Stan wants to lose weight so he picks a caloric target less than his TDEE and greater than his BMR. For our purposes now, let’s say 2,000 calories per day average. Then he’d adjust from there after some time based on his progress. There’s some room for wiggle but as long as his average over the week is about 2,000 calories per day that’s the important thing.

The second option is getting a little more complicated, but will get a little better results.

It involves changing the number of calories and the macronutrient breakdown based on whether it’s a training day or a rest day. Training day here meaning primarily lifting or resistance training, not necessarily cardio or metabolic conditioning things.

This makes it a little more work, but there’s an advantage to getting more calories and having more of your calories coming from carbohydrates on training days and getting fewer calories with more of those calories coming from fat on rest days. How this works in detail deserves its own article so I won’t go into it in depth here, but the general idea is you’re providing your body with more of what it needs to get through tough workouts and get protein to your muscles on training days and putting your body into a better fat burning environment on rest days.

We’ll look at the flat calorie intake option first.

Let’s go back to Stan and his 2,000 calories. He’s decided to make things easy with a flat calorie intake. Now that he knows his calories he needs to figure out what the macro breakdown will be. Here’s what you want to shoot for on a cut:

  • Protein – Between 1 to 1.5g of protein per pound of lean body mass.

  • Fat – Between 0.4 to 0.6g of fat per pound of lean body mass.

  • Carbohydrates – However many grams necessary to balance your calorie budget.

So Stan figures up his lean body mass (LBM) by multiplying his body fat percentage by his total weight and then subtracting that number from his total weight. (200 lbs. x .20 body fat = 40 lbs. of body fat, 200 lbs. bodyweight – 40 lbs. body fat = 160 lbs. lean body mass) He gets an LBM of 160 lbs.

Stan likes his meat and even though he’s cutting wants to spare as much muscle as possible and possibly add some, so he chooses the higher protein intake of 1.5g per pound of LBM. 160 lbs. LBM x 1.5g protein = 240g protein. Stan writes that down so he doesn’t forget it later.

Next we have fat. Stan picks an even 0.5g of fat per pound of LBM here which puts him at 80g of fat per day. (160 lbs. LBM x 0.5g fat = 80g fat)He notes that down too.

Lastly come the carbohydrates. Here Stan needs to figure out how many calories he’s got left in his budget and then how many grams of carbs that equates to. If you remember from the first macros article, protein is roughly equivalent to 4 calories per gram (technically less but for math’s sake we’ll call it 4), fat is equivalent to 9 calories per gram and carbs are equal to 4 calories per gram.

Stan multiplies these values by the protein and fat macros he wrote down and comes to 960 calories worth of protein (240g protein x 4 calories = 960 calories) and 720 calories worth of fat (80g fat x 9 calories = 720 calories) for a total of 1,680 calories accounted for.

Stan’s goal was 2,000 calories per day so we subtract that 1,680 from that to get a remaining balance of 320 calories. We apply the previous process in reverse and divide that by 4 and arrive at 80g of carbs. (320 calories / 4 calories/g of carbs = 80g of carbs)

That leaves Stan with daily macro targets of 240g of protein, 80g of fat and 80g of carbs. Since the caloric value of macros is constant if he eats exactly that much he’ll hit his target of 2,000 calories every time.

We’ll get to more specifics on what to do with this information a little later. For now, you should at least understand how to get to those values.

So what if Stan wanted to be a bit more complicated but reap the benefits of changing his macros on training vs. rest days?

First, rather than pick an even caloric deficit of 325 calories per day (2,325 TDEE – 2,000 calorie target) he would choose two different calorie targets, one for his training days and one for his rest days.

You want to aim for a small caloric surplus (above your TDEE) on training days, but enough of a caloric deficit on rest days that the total weekly calorie expenditure falls in a deficit. In other words, you want to eat more than you burn on training days, but overall burn more than you consume weekly. A good place to start for most people in my experience is with a 10% caloric surplus on training days and a 30% caloric deficit on rest days.

So in Stan’s case we take his TDEE of 2,325 calories and add 10% to get his training day calorie target of 2,560 calories per day (2,325 TDEE x .10 = 232 + 2,325 TDEE = 2,557 calorie target rounded to 2,560) and then take his TDEE again and subtract 30% from it to get 1,630 calories per day (2,325 TDEE x .30 = 698, 2,325 TDEE – 698 = 1,627 calorie target rounded to 1,630).

You could just do the same thing you did above to assign macros to these values, but since we’re already being a touch more complicated you might as well go the extra mile and cycle your macronutrient ratios as well. It’s not a make-or-break deal, but there’s a definite advantage on the hormonal side of things to consuming significantly more carbs and less fat on your training days and significantly more fat and less carbs on your rest days.

Just like there isn’t a golden calorie ratio that just works for everyone there isn’t a golden macro ratio split that’s guaranteed to fit everyone’s needs. You’ll need to adjust as you go based on how your body’s responding to things.

I like to start most people out at a 75/25 25/75 split since I usually get a good response from it and can dial in from there. That means 75% of your remaining calories after you take your protein out will come from carbs on your training days and the remaining 25% from fat and the reverse on rest days.

I like to keep protein consistent for simplicity’s sake, I would also recommend not going below between 50 to 60 grams of fat per day average over the week. Going below this tends to create problems with people’s hormone production (in short, less testosterone, low energy, diminished sex drive, etc.).

So here Stan would take his training day calories of 2,560 and subtract his protein calories first to get 1,600 calories (240g of protein = 960 calories, 2,560 training day calories – 1,600 calories). Then we figure out what 75% of that is which comes to 1,200 calories (1,600 x .75 = 1,200 calories) and then, since carbs are worth 4 calories each, divide that number by 4 to get 300 grams of carbs per day (1,200 / 4 = 300g carbs).

We do the same thing for fat but with the remaining 25% to get 45 grams of fat (1,600 x .25 = 400 calories / 9 calories per gram of fat = 45 grams of fat rounded up). This is less than the 50 to 60 I recommend but it’s close enough that the higher fat levels on rest days will usually even it out.

That leaves us with 240 grams of protein, 300 grams of carbs, and 45 grams of fat on training days totaling to around 2,560 calories – due to the rounding there will be small discrepancies, don’t sweat it you should be adjusting as you go anyway to dial in on where you need to be.

We do the same thing for rest days but in reverse and we get 240 grams of protein, 56 grams of fat, and 42 grams of carbs.

Personally, while it does even out to just over 50 grams of fat per day average I would consider upping the fat just a bit here and lowering carbs further on rest days – especially if you feel those signs of reduced testosterone production. It would take a bit of playing with.

Recomposition

I’m not going to spend as much time going through examples here and on the slow bulk since you should understand the math having gone through the cut section. The math is all the same here, except instead of using the 10% over and 30% under calorie split we do a split of 10% over on training days and 10% under on rest days.

This should be the option primarily for people who need to cut down a little but have a strong need to conserve every ounce of muscle mass or for people who are new to training and currently very weak. The slow bulk option is there too but you can get excellent results with the recomposition set up if you currently look like Steve Rogers’ before picture.

When it comes to the macro split we can use the same 75/25 25/75 split here as well. Keep in mind though that we will be adjusting as we go. Give it a few weeks of consistent adherence, evaluate your progress and then make alterations as necessary.

In Stan’s case, for reference, he would be targeting 2,560 calories on training days broken into 240g of protein, 300 grams of carbs, and 45 grams of fat and 2,095 calories broken into 240g of protein, 96 grams of fat, and 72 grams of carbs.

Slow Bulk

The slow bulk follows the same basic pattern, except like with the cut you have the option of following the flat calorie surplus laid out in the first article on macros or by doing the more complicated but slightly more favorable caloric and macro cycling.

If you choose the flat model you just use the previous article to determine how much of a surplus to shoot for based on your training level then divide up your macros like we did with the cut.

  • Protein – Between 1 to 1.5g of protein per pound of lean body mass.

  • Fat – Between 0.4 to 0.6g of fat per pound of lean body mass.

  • Carbohydrates – However many grams necessary to balance your calorie budget.

Let’s say Stan’s in the beginner category and has never really done any lifting before. He shoots for a daily surplus of 300 calories which brings him to 2,625 per day when added to his TDEE of 2,325. He then follows the chart above to divide it up – 240 grams of protein again takes 960 calories out of his budget leaving him with 1,665 left, 80 grams of fat takes 720 more calories out leaving 945 calories which leaves 235 grams of carbs per day to balance things out.

If you’re going for the split you want to have a calorie structure of 30% surplus on training days and a 10% deficit on rest days. Essentially the inverse of the cut.

In Stan’s case, following the same process we’ve used the last few times, we come up with a training day calorie target of 3,025 calories partitioned into 240 grams of protein, 390 grams of carbs, and 57 grams of fat and a rest day target of 2,093 calories partitioned into 240 grams of protein, 96 grams of fat, and 130 grams of carbs.

Choosing one of these you should be able to get your initial calorie and macro set up down to start. Make sure you track things as closely as you can and keep an eye on how you’re progressing. If things aren’t heading in the right direction the you need to adjust a little and go from there. Specifically how to adjust is something that needs its own article, but in general if you’re not losing fat you need to adjust your weekly calories down a touch and if you’re not getting stronger or building muscle you need to adjust your weekly calories up a touch.

If you need some more specific advice on how to set up your macros, or you just don’t want to be bothered with all the details, we do have some coaching spots available where we take care of all that for you.

Confused about how we got to certain values? Have any questions about how to set things up for certain goals? Leave them in the comments!

Photo Credit: Virgil Chang

The 80/20 Guide to Nutrition

Homework by Nathaniel Watson

Nutrition doesn’t have to be this complex – as long as you know what to focus on.

Nutrition is a complicated thing.

It doesn’t have to be, at least unless you really want to start getting into the energy pathways and biochemical stuff. If you’re just looking to lose weight, get a bit stronger, or just be overall healthier the nutrition knowledge required to get you there is actually pretty simple. The problem is the fitness industry in general (Yes I realize I am, de facto, a part of that industry but I’m trying to do better here) emphasizes all the complicated – and often expensive – aspects of nutrition first and ignores the things that matter most.

Nutrition and all the goals linked to it follow the 80/20 principle as much as anything else does. There are a minority of high return actions that will lead to a majority of your results and a majority of low return actions that will lead to a minority of your results – in other words about 20% of what you do will get you about 80% of your results, while the other 80% of what you do will only be worth about 20% of your results.

The best course of action then, with anything, is to focus on that 20% of actions first that will give you 80% of your results.

So What’s Really Important?

Going from most important at the top to least important at the bottom, I’d divide things up as follows:

  1. Calories

  2. Macronutrients

  3. Micronutrients

  4. Meal Timing

  5. Supplements

If you flip the list over it could be a ranking for things you’re most likely to see articles about in health & fitness magazines.

The problem is that complicated and detailed processes are sexy and make us feel like we’re doing something. They also offer people an out as for why what they’re doing now isn’t working. They follow a program for a week or two, possibly with poor adherence, don’t see the results they want and then see a magazine article telling them the secret to weight loss is five small meals a day while carb cycling and taking green tea extract.

‘Oh,’ they say to themselves, ‘no wonder I’m not losing weight. I’ll do that instead.’

Then inevitably they don’t get anywhere on that plan and come across something a few weeks or a month later and decide to try that. They wind up feeling like they’ve worked super hard and tried everything and nothing’s worked, when really they’ve just bounced from one complex thing to another. It’s like nutritional busywork.

I’ve had people in consults at the gym complain about how they have so much trouble losing weight. When I ask about their nutrition habits they rattle off twelve supplements they’re taking and explain how they eat six meals a day timed at very specific intervals and avoid gluten like the plague – but it’s still not working. They wonder if they have thyroid problems or are just genetically predisposed to be overweight.

Then when I ask how many calories they actually get in a day, they say they have no idea.

Why people have a tendency to ditch the boring, unremarkable but effective things for the flashy, sexy but useless things deserves an article of its own. For now though, lets look at the order in which you should be focusing on things.

Calories

Calories are the most important variable in any kind of physique change.

I’m going to say it one more time because the ‘A calorie isn’t always a calorie’ rhetoric has been pretty loud lately.

Calories are the single most important variable in weight loss or gain.

Now I will concede that the primary thing calorie balance will affect is weight change. What types of tissue that weight consists of is largely determined by other factors like training and your macronutrient breakdown (which is why it comes next in the hierarchy).

It doesn’t matter what else you’re doing in your diet, if you want to lose weight but are in a positive energy balance because your’re getting too many calories on a daily basis you’re not going to get there. Trying to out exercise your diet is a bad plan as well – it just leads to running yourself into the ground trying to make up for all the junk you ate. You should train to meet a training goal, not to balance out your calorie budget.

If you have no idea where to start, you should head over to my article on calculating calories for different training goals and figure out where you need to be.

Macronutrients

Macronutrients – Macros from here out because I’m lazy – are the second most important thing after calories.

If you want a more in-depth explanation you can read my full beginner’s guide to macros, but the basic explanation is that macros are the basic units of nutrition – Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrates. Like with the letter ‘Y’ and its occasional vowel status we can also add Fiber and Alcohol as sometimes being considered macros depending on the circumstances and who you’re asking.

In the general sense your macro breakdown is one of the primary factors in determining if it’s muscle or fat tissue that you’re gaining or losing as a result of your calorie balance. While manipulation of them is not necessary to reach most physique goals it does make things much, much easier and more efficient.

Additionally, some of the more fine-tuning oriented physique goals like a body recomposition that don’t involve a lot of actual weight change are going to be more heavily influenced by what you’re doing with your macros than other goals.

I’ll have the second part to my macros article up soon which will go over in more detail how to arrange your macros for various goals and will update this article once it’s up.

Micronutrients

Micronutrients are next on the list in order of descending importance.

Where macronutrients are the big units of nutrition like protein and fat, micronutrients are all the little things like vitamins and minerals. I also include water here which we’ll get into in a minute. In general the primary distinction is that while a macronutrient has caloric value, micronutrients provide no calories.

If you live in a developed country chances are pretty low that you’re going to be deficient enough in any micronutrients to cause any severe health problems. As a result, it’s not as important to be concerned with them if your calories and macros aren’t already taken care of.

That being said, there’s a decent difference between your micronutrients being at sufficient levels to get by without anything like scurvy or goiters showing up and being at optimal levels. Everyone is going to be a little different in their needs here, but you should aim for eating a lot of fibrous vegetables and getting at leat one or two servings of fruit per day. Ideally changing it up as often as possible, don’t just eat bananas everyday because they’re convenient.

A multivitamin isn’t a bad idea but it’s not a replacement for fruits and vegetables. There are just too many phytonutrients and zoonutrients that aren’t going to get into a multivitamin (things like lycopene, flavonoids, and indoles). Think of a multivitamin as an insurance policy just in case you don’t get enough fruit and vegetables in a day.

I also include water here because, while water is definitely important in terms of survival, most people reading this aren’t going to be in danger of getting so little water they have severe health problems. Like the micronutrients there’s a difference between enough and optimal, but worrying too much about whether you’re getting 6 cups of water or 8 in a day won’t matter much if the other stuff we’ve gone over isn’t where it needs to be.

When it comes to water recommendations there are just too many variables like climate and activity levels to give any kind of catch-all recommendation for an amount. Instead I like Lyle McDonald’s recommendation of trying to have at least five clear urinations per day.

That means five trips to the bathroom per day where your urine comes out clear, not yellow or dark. If you can manage that you know you’re getting enough water for your situation.

Meal Timing

Meal timing is next step down on the ladder of importance, and one step higher on the ladder of things you’re likely to see people needlessly obsessing over.

I cannot count how many people, clients and otherwise, I have come across who were concerned with getting their meals timed exactly perfectly. This can range everywhere from the bodybuilding (and lately weight loss) apothegm of having to have five small meals a day as evenly spaced as possible, or to being concerned with whether they should eat their post-workout meal within 30 minutes or an hour of finishing – Thor help you if there’s a protein shake or pre-workout supplement involved in there somewhere.

This is not to say that meal timing can’t play a role in the effectiveness of your nutrition program, but most people put way too much focus on it. It’s like worrying about whether you should put summer or winter tires on a car that’s missing its engine.

Most people probably won’t need to worry much about meal timing. My personal inclination is toward intermittent fasting, and its a protocol I use with a majority of my clients. That being said everyone’s different and it’s complicated stuff. I’ll be putting together an article (or a series of them more likely) on all the details, but for now I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Get your calories and macros down and sort out your vitamins and minerals first.

Supplements

At last we come to the end of our list – supplements.

Supplements are big business and they feed into people’s quick-fix inclinations. As a result they wind up being an area people spend way, way too much time worrying about. In our car without an engine analogy supplements are the sound system. Nice to have, makes the trip easier, but it isn’t going to help get you from point A to point B much in and of itself.

You can do just fine with zero supplements but they can be helpful at times, so here are the handful I would recommend if you really want to do some fine tuning and have a little extra money to throw around.

  • Whey Protein – Not necessary since you should be trying to get as much of your protein from whole food sources (i.e., meat) as possible on account of all those zoonutrients, but I’ll concede it’s a lot more convenient and potentially more economical if you need a higher protein intake to use shakes to fill in the gaps.

  • Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) – Only really necessary if you’re going to train fasted. So if you’re on an intermittent fasting schedule and prefer morning workouts or just prefer training fasted for any reason then getting some BCAAs before and after will make a substantial difference. If you don’t fall in this category these aren’t really necessary.

  • Fish Oil – Fish oil & omega-3 fatty acids have strong evidence to support that they’re beneficial in a mild way to a wide range of areas including mildly reducing inflammation & blood pressure, strongly reducing triglyceride levels and mildly enhancing brain function. That means while not vital, it at least helps a lot things a little bit.

  • Caffeine – Caffeine obviously gives you energy and has been shown to improve performance in training sessions. I would not personally bother with an expensive pre-workout supplement that’s got a bunch of extra filler and costs an arm and a leg when you can get an equivalent boost to performance by downing a cup of a coffee or an espresso 30 minutes or so before training. I would not recommend this if you train later in the evening though since quality sleep is more important than a slightly enhanced training session.

  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D deficiency can be a problem depending on your habits and where you live, particularly in the winter. Being in Ohio I will occasionally supplement some vitamin D during the colder months since I’m indoors a lot more and mostly covered up. If you can, you’re much better just going outside and getting a bit of sun. It doesn’t take much to get enough.

  • Creatine – If your goal is to build muscle creatine can definitely help. It’s probably the single most researched supplement out there and is safe and generally pretty inexpensive. It’s not magic though, and some people have unpleasant side effects like digestive problems, so your mileage may vary. The one possible exception is if, against all better judgement, you’re a vegan or vegetarian then it’s much harder to get enough creatine from dietary sources and you’ll probably benefit more from it than others.

That’s it. That’s really all I’d recommend and conditionally at that. Please don’t run out and buy everything on that list because you probably don’t need it – but understand which ones might be helpful for you once you’ve got the rest of the stuff in this article nailed down.

If you prioritize things along these lines and focus on the high return variables like calories first, you’ll make a lot more progress toward your goal a lot more quickly. Just remember not to lose track of what’s most important and to stay consistent and you’ll get there.

Have any questions or anything to add? Leave a comment and let us know!

Photo Credit: Nathaniel Watson