I’ve had the chance to look over a new program from the folks at Critical Bench called 40 Strong. This one is of special interest to me since I am now over 40 years old (I hit the big 4-0 a few years ago). Here’s my review:
Let’s face it, a lot of guys in their 40’s (and older) are completely out of shape. This can happen for several reasons:
*Other things take priority over planning exercise and training.
*The aging process is accelerated by bad habits (an unhealthy lifestyles).
*Testosterone levels can plummet if the natural decline is further accelerated by obesity, poor diet, etc.
*The “mid-life crisis”–men feel like their life is not where it should be.
You get the idea. Needless to say, a workout/diet program cannot solve all of these issues. But it may be a starting point for those who want to improve their fitness level and overall quality of life. And a well-designed program can also help those who have been consistently training but want to mix things up a little in light of new priorities and goals.
This is where 40 Strong comes in. The authors have designed it to be something that can be incorporated into the “typical” life of a man with a career, family, and all the other responsibilities that life brings. I’ll give you a little information on the training and nutrition philosophy behind this program:
Nutrition: I’ve noticed that as I get older I’m a lot more sensitive to the foods I eat. In other words, I can quickly feel the difference between a few days of eating healthy food vs a day or two of junk. The nutrition parameter gives you some general guidance for choosing healthy foods.
Training: The exercise component of 40 Strong is designed with more mature trainees in mind. It incorporates cardiovascular training (steady-state cardio as well as circuit type training), stretching/mobility, and strength/hypertrophy training. One nice thing is the exercise descriptions link directly to a YouTube video–you can watch and see exercise (or exercises) demonstrated. The workouts get longer and/or more intense as you progress through eight weeks.
Let me give you some ideas on the type of man that 40 Strong would be most beneficial for:
*Men in their 40’s who have neglected their health and want to start getting back into shape (losing fat, building muscle, becoming more flexible, etc).
*Older/experienced trainees who simply need a change of routine. Guys who have been weight training for years, for example, may need to spend some time on cardiovascular training an mobility.
*Men who need to focus on diet and fat loss while maintaining their muscle/strength. I see a lot of older guys who train but are just too fat. They would look (and probably feel) better if they focused some of their efforts on getting leaner.
If this sounds like you I think you could benefit from this program. You could spend 8 weeks on it then move on to something that is a little more advanced or specialized.
One of the first pieces of equipment a trainee will want to consider is a weightlifting belt. I recently bought a new one (more on that later), so I thought this would be a good time to write about this topic.
The “Weaken Your Abs” Myth:
Some believe wearing a belt weakens your abdominal muscles. This is not true–a belt gives your abs something to push against, so they are very much involved in a belted lift. I would, however, advise you to only wear a belt during: squats, deadlifts, and military/overhead press. Putting one on as soon as you walk in the gym is counterproductive.
Let me add something else here: I would also advise you to train “beltless” for your first few months. Just work on your form and start building your foundation before using any equipment. After that you may want to consider using one (more on how to use it later).
Why Use a Belt?
As I’ve mentioned, wearing a weightlifting belt while training gives your abs something to push against, which raises your intra-abdominal pressure during the lift. This increased pressure adds stiffness to your trunk and gives you more stability.1 There’s also some evidence to suggest a belt can reduce compression on your spine when used properly (when you inhale in order to push your abs against it).2
Here’s the bottom line: most people find they can lift more with a belt than without. All things being equal, pushing or pulling more weight will accelerate your gains in size and strength.
There are two more benefits I’ll mention before moving on:
Awareness: having a belt on may help you be more aware of your posture and body positioning while training. This is kind of hard to explain, but you’ll know what I’m talking about when you experience it–you simply have a better “feel” for your stance, position, etc.
Back Warmth: I like to wear a lose belt even during my warm-up sets for the squat and deadlift. It helps get my back warmed up (and keeps it that way).
Types of Belts and Buckles
Start training in a typical gym and chances are you’ll see a belt that looks something like this: wide in the back and narrow in the front. This is a very common style, but it’s not what I would recommend if you are wanting to get the maximum benefit. I would encourage you to invest your money in a powerlifting style belt–one that is a uniform 4-inch width all the way around (you’ll see pictures of this style below). Remember something I said earlier: a belt gives your abs something to push against. A powerlifting belt is perfect for this purpose.
You’ll see two thicknesses available if you start shopping around: 13 mm and 10 mm. The thicker (13 mm) belts are going to be stiffer and take longer to break in. Most lifters (including yours truly) go with the thinner 10 mm belts–13 mm is overkill for the needs of most trainees.
Now let’s talk about the most commonly available types of buckles: lever, single prong, and double prong.
Pictured here is the first powerlifting belt I ever owned, and as you can see, it a lever belt. I bought this one almost twenty years ago and it’s still holding up nicely (the site I bought it from no longer exists).
The biggest advantage of a lever belt is the quickness with which you can tighten and loosen it. One quick motion and you’re either ready to lift or ready to rest after your set.
The biggest disadvantage of a lever belt is the fact that you need a screwdriver to adjust it. This may not be a big deal, but it’s something to consider.
One more thing: I’ve heard people expressing concern over the lever breaking (due to metal fatigue, etc.), but I’ve never had this problem. You could always buy a replacement if this happened.
I recently ordered this single prong belt from bestbelts.net, and so far I’m really happy with it.
The advantage of a single-prong buckle is the relative ease with which you can adjust the waist size. Right now, for example, I’m at my “winter weight”–about ten pounds heavier than I usually am during warmer months. I can just pull the belt a little tighter as I get leaner.
There may be times that you need to adjust the belt tightness more frequently than seasonal weight differences. You may, for example, want to experiment with what feels right for a particular lift or even a particular day. This is what I’m enjoying about a single prong belt.
Needless to say, the disadvantage of a prong belt is that it’s a little more difficult to tighten or loosen it (compared to a lever belt). But so far this hasn’t been a big deal at all for me.
Two prongs theoretically increase stability and add to the life of the belt (since the stress is distributed over two holes). But the extra prong makes these belts more difficult to use/adjust, and I doubt it it is worth the extra hassle for most trainees. But if you if you just have to look like “the Wolverine” when you train . . .
Using a Belt
As I mentioned earlier, I would recommend you only use a belt for lifts that put compression of the spine: squats (including front squats), deadlifts, and overhead/military press.
How heavy should you go before putting it on? There’s no hard-and-fast rule for this, and you can experiment and see what works for you. I usually put mine on loosely even for warm-up and lighter sets on the before-mentioned exercises. This doesn’t give any real support, but it does help get my back warmed up. I wait and tighten it up for heavier sets. As a general rule, for example, I tighten up my belt when squatting over 300 lb (maybe a little heavier for deadlift).
The tightness and positioning of your belt is something you’ll also need to experiment with. I’d recommend you tighten your belt snugly, but not so much that you can’t inhale and brace hard against it with your abs. I tend to wear mine a little lower on my waist for squats and a little higher for deadlifts (a subtle difference, but one I can feel when training).
A solid powerlifting belt is a great investment. It will help you lift heavier weights and should last for years (if not decades). Hopeful this article has helped those who are thinking about buying and using one.
1. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 1999 Feb;14(2):79-87. Effects of abdominal belts on intra–abdominal pressure, intra-muscular pressure in the erector spinae muscles and myoelectrical activities of trunk muscles.
2. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2006 Oct 15;31(22):E833-9. Effect of a stiff liftingbelt on spine compression during lifting.
Jason Maxwell has created a new program for gaining muscle mass just in time for the holidays. I was very impressed with his DUP Method program, (a system for increasing your one-rep max) so I was looking forward to checking it out.
Maxwell’s bulking program is called Decembulk, and I’ve had the opportunity to look over it. I’ll start this review by sharing what you get if you decide to invest in this program:
Decembulk Program Components:
The Getting Started Guide: This short document simply tells you how to use the program–read the manual, decide how many days you want to train, and follow the nutrition and training protocols accordingly. Pretty simple, which is a good thing (I don’t like overly complicated programs).
Printable Training Logs: Decembulk is set up with some flexibility in terms of training frequency. You can train 3, 4, or 5 days a week according to your schedule and preferences. You simply print out the training logs accordingly.
Training Calendar: This will guide you through the program by telling you which workout you are supposed to do on a given day. If the calendar says “Workout A1,” for example, you just find that workout on your training log. The calendar has guides for the 3, 4, and 5 day a week program.
Bulking Calculator: This spreadsheet will guide you through the nutrition aspect of the program by showing you how many calories and macronutrients you should be taking in. Be sure to pay attention to it: people tend to overestimate or underestimate the amount of food/calories they are actually consuming.
You’ll also get three bonuses when you order Decembulk: 6-Minute Finishers, for arms, shoulders, and chest. You can add these “mini routines” to the end of your training sessions in order to give additional attention to lagging body parts (or muscles you just want to give extra attention to).
Decembulk Program Review:
Muscle size and strength are connected, but you are likely to see the best results when you train with one specific goal in mind. Jason Maxwell has designed Decembulk for those who want to spend a few weeks focusing on hypertrophy/mass. His workouts are designed to create the perfect combination of tension, muscle damage (on the microscopic level), and metabolic stress in order to help you achieve new gains. This, combined with the right nutrition, should go a long way in helping you put on a few pounds of quality mass.
Let me be clear on something here: this program is not a fat loss system (that should be obvious, but I just wanted to make it 100% clear). If you are wanting to lose fat there are several other programs out there (Maxwell’s DUP Method can be adjusted for fat loss). Decembulk is not for you if your goal is anything other than putting on mass.
I think this program would be good for the following:
*Beginner/intermediate trainees who have been training for a while and want to focus on getting bigger. Decembulk would be great for guys who have learned a few of the basics and want to take their mass-building to the next level.
*Athletes who want to move up in weight class or just get bigger for their chosen sport. The winter season is when a lot of guys want to focus this goal, and I think Maxwell’s program would be good for this.
*Returning trainees who want to regain some size they have lost during a layoff. Those who have been out of training for a while and want to start back by putting on some mass should see good results.
*Ectomorphs (skinny guys) who want a system specifically designed for gaining weight.
If you match one of these descriptions then I think Decembulk would be a good investment. It is a reasonably priced program and I think you’d find it to be a good investment of your hard-earned money.
The only serious weightlifting injury I’ve ever had happened back in 1996. I had been experimenting with heavy weighted dips (doing this exercise with over 100 lb. attached to a belt). It was great for my ego, but I think it is largely to blame for wearing out all the cartilage in my AC joint (where your clavicle meets the shoulder). My doctors told me it was a pretty common injury among those who lift weights. My only option (other than live in pain) was to surgically remove the bone spur that had developed.
This meant I’d have to lay off the weight training for six weeks or so. I still remember returning to the gym for the first time after the layoff. I was wearing one of my favorite sleeveless workout shirts. Looking in the mirror was depressing–my arms looked like pipe cleaners to me. Needless to say, I probably didn’t look nearly as bad as I thought. Regardless, my arms had clearly lost some of their size.
Fortunately my size and strength returned very quickly. I actually broke some personal strength records within the next year or two.
I’m using this little story to illustrate a concept that is a bodybuilder or strength athlete’s best friend: muscle memory.
Technically this term (as most commonly used) has little to do with strength and size. Muscle memory refers to things your body “remembers” to do after multiple repetitions. My fingers, for example, are effortlessly typing this article without my brain thinking about each individual keystroke.
But many in the iron game have used this term to refer to what I experienced after my injury: gains in strength and size usually come back much more quickly than it originally took to earn them. We’ve kind of adopted “muscle memory” as a term to explain this phenomenon.
I have since learned how this works. It has to do with satellite cells and their role in hypertrophy (muscle growth). Satellite cells are located on the outside of muscle fibers and normally lay dormant. But when a muscle is stressed/damaged through resistance training, they go to work. These cells multiply and go to the site of the damage (keep in mind we are talking about damage at the microscopic level).
Here’s where it gets really interesting: satellite cells “donate” their nuclei to the muscle cells, which its one of the factors that cause it to increase in size (this is one of the main concepts in the MI40X program). Trained muscle cells have more nuclei than untrained muscles, and this change remains even after one stops training. The change, in fact, may be permanent.1
Formerly trained muscles, therefore, are already primed to grow back to their previous levels of size and strength–the additional nuclei are already there in the muscle cells, “waiting” to do their thing.
Muscle memory is real. This is good to know if you need to take some time of due to injury, illness, or any other reason.
1. J Exp Biol. 2016 Jan;219(Pt 2):235-42. doi: 10.1242/jeb.124495. Muscle memory and a new cellular model for muscle atrophy and hypertrophy.
It’s time for another body transformation interview! I’ve had the privilege of talking with Lyss Remaly. This incredible woman went from weight over 350 lb. to winning 1st place in a bodybuilding competition. She’s also the first person I’ve interviewed who used bariatric surgery to help her reach her goals.
Kevin: Lyss I’d first like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Please start things off by just telling us a little about yourself (where you live, family, occupation, etc.).
Lyss: I currently live in Scottsdale, Arizona. I am originally from Chicago, Illinois and made the move out here a few weeks ago for a new work adventure. I am the Senior Catering and Event Manager for Hilton Worldwide so I get to plan weddings and big parties! It’s a blast!
My amazing family is in Chicago. I’ve lived with them my whole life. Now that I’m on my own I find I’m naked a lot more than I used to be around the house!
Kevin: Based on the pictures I’ve seen you once weighed 350 lbs. Did you always struggle with your weight (since childhood) or was it a problem that developed later in your life?
Lyss: I was ALWAYS fat. When you’re a newborn and look like you have rubber bands on your arms and legs it’s cute. But when you’re 18 and look like that…not so cute!
Kevin: What was the turning point for you? What made you decide to begin your body transformation journey?
Lyss: I had what I call my “click moment” when I was 21 (December 11th, 2010). I was getting on an airplane from Las Vegas where I went to college to New York (I was auditioning for an off-broadway play). I literally could not fit into the airplane seat. The airline made me buy the seat next to mine just so I could fit. To make matters even WORSE, I had to be given an extender for the seat belt because it didn’t fit.
I was a crying mess and decided then and there that I HAD to change. I had a whole life in front of me that I was sabotaging. I couldn’t even put on my own bra or walk up a flight of stairs. Everything just clicked in my mind.
Kevin: You began with the help of bariatric surgery. I believe you are the first person I’ve interviewed that took this route (which makes me even more thankful to talk with you). What was that experience like? What advice would you give to those who are considering surgical intervention for their obesity?
Lyss: This can be a sensitive topic for some because some people are ignorant and just don’t understand the process. Bariatric surgery is exactly what you said…help. It’s not a quick fix, a magic pill or even the be-all end-all to successful weight loss.
Yes, the surgery gave me a violent shove in the right direction. But 5 months after surgery I had only lost 20 pounds. I realized that while I was eating far less, I was still eating the same crap foods that got me into that condition to begin with.
That was when I had my second “click moment” and realized that the food wasn’t the problem. It was just a symptom of the problem and it was up to me to really figure out what the problem was. THAT was when the real weight loss journey and transformation began because I had to work out my food demons. I had to come to grips with the the “why’s” of what I was doing and fix the bad habits that I had formed over 21 years of life.
Kevin: Not everyone who does weight loss surgery gets into intense, bodybuilding style training. What made you decide to do it?
Lyss: I have always been strong. My dad was built like a brick outhouse and passed those genetics to me and my little brother (thanks daddy-o). I HATE cardio: I always say that I’ll only run if I’m being chased, and even then I would try to negotiate!
I walked into a gym after I had my second “click moment” and literally went from machine to machine, figuring out how it worked, what muscles it worked, and seeing how much weight I could move. I FELL IN LOVE! I talked to all the “meat-heads” for advice, read everything I could get my hands on, and bought myself the Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. My life was totally changed!
When I got to my goal weight of 150 pounds in 2012 I looked at myself and said… “Okay…that was a fun challenge…what’s next? I’m going to compete in bodybuilding.” There it was. I put it in my mind and I didn’t stop.
Kevin: Did you experience any plateaus in your fat loss? How did you overcome them?
Lyss: Of course. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the beast when training for anything I think. I had to keep pushing, keep consistent, and find other ways to track my progress. Some weeks my strength or endurance improved or my clothes fit better even though I didn’t see the numbers on the scale go down. It was helpful to celebrate improvements in other aspects of fitness.
Kevin: What does your typical week like in terms of training and diet?
Lyss: I train 6 days a week and take one day of active rest. I work out using a body part split and on the active rest day I might swim or go for a long walk or hit the stair climber. I do some form of cardio every day since my job is pretty sedentary. I keep my diet very low carb and high protein. I follow a paleo type lifestyle where I have cut out all artificial sweeteners. I make my own condiments and spices and really focus on good quality fuel.
Kevin: What was it like for you to compete in a show?
Lyss: It was literally the GREATEST moment of my life. I loved every single minute of the process–from day ONE of prep to the moment I walked off that stage with a 1st place trophy in my hands.
Kevin: What’s next for you?
Lyss: I will be competing again in 2016 in August at the WBFF worlds in their transformation division. I may do a show before then here in Arizona since a year seems like a LIFETIME away! I am also focusing on finishing my book that I am writing about my entire journey. I’ve been working on it for two years and I’m DETERMINED to finish it by fall.
Kevin: Is there anything I haven’t covered that you’d like to say/share?
Lyss: I just want to take a second to thank you for the opportunity to share my story. It means more to me than you know to have the chance to share my journey with others. I promise…regular people are capable of doing incredible things…you just have to trust yourself, your body and be your own motivation.
Kevin: Thanks again for taking the time to do this interview!
Most guys (especially younger trainees) start going to the gym with one thing in mind: building muscle as quickly as possible. I can relate to this goal–allow me to tell you a little personal history before I go any further:
I’ve been fascinated with strength and muscle since I was a kid. I remember seeing comic book advertisements from Charles Atlas during my elementary school years. I never ordered any of his programs, but the thought of having a lean, powerful physique captivated my imagination.
One of my first (embarrassing) attempts at lifting weights happened when I was about twelve years old. My cousin had begun to mess around with a weight set his parents bough him and invited me to join in. I thought I was strong, but I was unable to bench press whatever amount he put on the barbell (I think it was about 120 lb.). I asked my parents to buy a weight set for me for Christmas (or maybe my birthday) and they agreed. Soon I had my own set of concrete-filled plastic weights and would train sporadically.
My next vivid memory is from my high school years: training with “real” (Olympic-style) barbells and plates for the first time while trying out for the football team. I could barely move the day after that first workout with the team. I wasn’t very strong (being a “late bloomer” physically didn’t help), but that slowly began to change as I kept training. I never became a great football player, but I did develop a passion for building muscle and strength.
Arnold Schwarzenegger became my idol in my college years. I carefully studied both his publications on training and his pictures. He’s still my favorite bodybuilder, but I later realized he wasn’t a realistic role model for someone like me (more on that later).
I kept working out through the 90’s, experimenting with different training techniques (some worked, some didn’t). I spent way too much money on supplements, most of which did absolutely nothing (I tried almost everything the supplement industry produced: prohormones, etc.).
I’ve never competed in bodybuilding–it’s just not one of my goals or priorities in life. But I did end up building a pretty good physique, and regularly train to this day (I’m not in my 40’s).
This article is kind of a collection of things I wish I knew back when I first started training years ago. I didn’t know much about building mass and strength when I first started lifting–I learned through bodybuilding magazines, misguided coaches and other various sources. There was a lot of trial and error involved, and I’m convinced I could have made better gains in less time if I knew then what I know now. I’m hoping these tips will help new trainees avoid the mistakes I made.
Here are a few things you need to avoid if you are serious about getting bigger and stronger:
Mistake #1: Spending too much money/time/energy on bodybuilding supplements.
As mentioned, I spent way too much of my hard-earned cash on bodybuilding supplements in my younger days. The vast majority of the stuff I bought didn’t do anything to help me build my physique. That money could have gone into savings or other better uses.
Here’s what you have to understand about the bodybuilding supplement industry: it exists to make money, not muscle. It is a largely unregulated business, and you’ll get ripped off quickly if your believe everything they advertise.
I’m not opposed to supplements, but you need to stick to the basics and don’t be in a hurry to try the latest, greatest products. Wait until multiple studies are done on new formulas before deciding to try or buy. More importantly, don’t expect supplements to make that much difference–your diet and training are going will be much, much more important than any pill or powder you use.
Mistake #2: Copying the Routines of Professional Bodybuilders
Some guys make the mistake of trying to train like professional bodybuilders, using routines they see in magazines. This is not a good idea for several reasons:
1. Genetics: Professional athletes of any kind are going to be genetically gifted, so what works for them may not work for you.
2. Anabolic Steroids: You can’t expect to get the same results as a guy who is taking drugs. His recovery ability will be enhanced beyond what is naturally possible, so following his routine is not advisable.
3. Fictitious Routines: You can’t even be sure that a routine printed in a magazine is the one your favorite competitor actually uses–it’s quite possible that a writer/editor just made it up.
Mistake #3 Poor Nutrition
Can you make gains on a crappy diet? Yes–I built some size and strength with a completely haphazard eating plan during my college years. But if you want to build quality mass in record time you’ll need to put just as much planning into your nutrition as your workouts. Many trainees will spend hours in the gym without putting a fraction of that time/effort into their eating plan. Remember: we are talking about building your body as quickly as humanly possible–that won’t happen with poor nutrition.
How To Build Muscle Fast: The Basics
Now let’s get into the basic things you should be doing if size and strength is your goal. I won’t be sharing every detail, but this overview should get you going in the right direction.
1. Build strength in the basic lifts like deadlift, bench press, squat, etc. These old-school, multi-joint movements will give you a lot of “bang for your buck,” providing a powerful training stimulus to the large muscles (back, thighs, etc.). Get stronger in these movements and you’ll be on your way to building a more massive, powerful physique. It’s fine to spend some time on isolation movements (like curls), but focus most of your time and energy on the big lifts.
2. Stick to the 5-12 rep range. You’ll find that the vast majority of your growth comes from this range of repetitions because it gives you a good balance of volume and intensity. You can experiment with higher/lower reps once you get more advanced, but stay somewhere within this range if you are just starting out. Here’s another tip: you’ll find that somewhere between 30-60 total repetitions per muscle in each workout session should be enough training stimulus for growth.
3. Train each muscle (or muscle group) twice a week. A muscle will typically recover within about 72 hours of being trained. After that you should be able to work it out again. You can get by with less frequent training, but you are missing opportunities for growth (52 opportunities per year).
1. Eat .75 grams to 1 gram of protein per lb. of body weight. This is plenty for building muscle, regardless of what you might read about the insane amounts of protein some bodybuilders supposedly eat. It’s fine if some of this protein comes from supplements (like whey powder), but most of it should come from “real” food: meat, eggs, etc.
2. Eat a calorie surplus–consume more calories than you are using. You’ll probably need to eat at least 17 calories per lb. of body weight in order put on weight. Some may need to eat way more than that. Here’s another tip: you may need to keep an eating journal for a few days to track what you are eating (you may be eating far fewer calories than you think you are).
3. Add extra meals (or shakes) if needed. You may find it difficult to get adequate calories/protein from only three meals a day. Eat an additional meal or drink a protein shake if needed, but don’t get caught up in thinking there is some magical number of meals a day for building muscle. Just eat as many times as you need to properly digest your protein/calorie requirements.
Those are the basics on how to build muscle fast. If you want more information I’d recommend you invest in a quality program to guide you step-by-step. This is one of the best investments you can make for getting started the right way. Vince Delmonte’s No-Nonsense Muscle Building would be a really good investment for beginners or skinny guys who want to get big.
I’ve had a chance to look over Renegade Strong, the latest program from Jason Ferruggia. This six-week program is designed to help you get “big, strong, and jacked.” I’ll tell you a little more about the program design.
Renegade Strength Program Setup
This book begins with Ferruggia explaining the overall training philosophy. He proceeds to a warm-up program you can use to get loosened up before each workout.
The main program is a four-day split, meaning it is designed for those who want to train 4 days a week. You alternate between upper body and lower body days, but variation has been built into the weekly routine. Some workouts emphasize heavier weights and lower reps, while others are designed to do use less weight and go with more volume/repetition.
As mentioned, this is a six-week program. The exercises don’t require any special equipment and I think you could do Renegade Strong at just about any commercial gym. Another nice feature is a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) section where he answers common questions a trainee may have about the program (alternate exercises, etc.).
Jason Ferruggia has developed a well-deserved reputation for putting together great workout programs. Renegade Strong is no exception. Let me share a few ideas on who I think this program would be well suited for:
*Intermediate or advanced trainees who want to ad some variety to their workouts.
*Guys who want to ad some conditioning elements to their routines (this program features some strongman type training that would suit this purpose).
*Older trainees (over 35) or who want physically demanding workout that are designed with long-term joint health in mind.
*Guys who are a little beat up and want to train around mild injuries (in other words, guys that are healthy enough to train but maybe have some achy joints, etc).
*Guys who are bored with training only the “big 3” (squat, deadlift, and bench press) and want to mix things up a bit.
Most young men walk in the gym with dreams of looking like a bodybuilder, NFL wide receiver, or maybe even a UFC fighter. Trainees may desire different levels of musculature, but most of them want the one centerpiece that all great physiques have in common: washboard abs, also known as a “six pack.”
Having shredded abs is an admirable goal. But there are some cold, hard truths you should embrace before hanging all your hopes and dreams on the status of your midsection. You’ll be much less frustrated if you keep some of these things in mind.
1. Diet is THE Key to Six-Pack Abs:
Some sectors of the fitness industry continue to perpetuate the myth that abdominal training is the key to having a washboard stomach. We’ve all seen that infomercial with the incredibly lean, tanned, well-oiled fitness model using some kind of gadget designed to train the abs. And you can look like him for a few easy payments of 20 or 30 bucks.
You might as well hold on to your credit card, because the key to having visible abdominal muscles is having a low percentage of body fat. And the key to having low body fat is diet. Yes, exercise definitely helps–I’d highly recommend lifting weights combined with some form of cardiovascular conditioning. But it is virtually impossible to do enough exercise to overcome a poor diet.
Getting really lean will require you to put as much planning in your eating as you do your training. There are several effective diet strategies you can use (I prefer an intermittent fasting approach), but all of them will require you to use more calories than you consume for several weeks (or even months, depending on your current level of fitness).
2. Genetics Play a Role in Visible Abs:
Like it or not, some guys will have a much easier time achieving and/or maintaining six pack abs than others. Some men have low body fat levels because of their parents–they are genetically “programmed” to be lean and can stay that way with minimal dietary adjustments. We’ve all met that guy who eats a steady diet of fast food, trains sporadically, and still looks incredible with his shirt off.
The role of genetics doesn’t stop at overall body fat levels–it also has a huge influence in where you store your fat. Men naturally tend to have more fat around the midsection (women tend to carry it on their hips/thighs). But there is great variation in the proportion of fat we store around our stomach vs. other parts of the body. Some men can be quite lean through the arms and legs yet have large waistlines. Others store fat more evenly. These differences in fat distribution mean some can have visible abdominal muscles with a higher body fat percentage than others. Some will have to get their body fat level very low in order to have visible abs.
3. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Crunches:
Remember the picture of that bodybuilder you wanted to look like? Chances are he doesn’t look like that 99% of the time. Bodybuilders, fitness models, and even actors usually spend several weeks preparing for a single show, photo shoot, or scene. They undergo a strict diet and training regimen that, if properly executed, will get them to their desired level of leanness at the right time.
The “shredded” look often requires more than getting lean–subcutaneous fluid/water has to be carefully manipulated to make muscle definition more visible. Hugh Jackman began intentionally dehydrating himself 36 hours before his shirtless scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Bodybuilders often resort to using diuretics drugs, sometimes with fatal consequences.
To summarize, the strong physiques you see in magazines and movies are often temporary illusions–you may be looking at someone who is weakened by dehydration and calorie/carbohydrate restriction.
4. Getting Shredded May Lower Your Testosterone:
Here’s something else you should know: extremely low body fat levels (or the process required to get there) can have disastrous effects on testosterone levels. One study followed a natural bodybuilder as he prepared for a contest. He began with 14% body fat and worked his way down to 4.5% body fat over a period of several weeks. His testosterone went down 80% by the time he had reached his goal–80%!
It is incredibly difficult to naturally maintain strength and vitality when body fat drops into the lower single digits. This is one of the many reasons anabolic steroids have such great appeal to those who get ripped for a living. These synthetic hormones help offset the body’s natural response to several weeks’ worth of calorie restriction.
It is possible to diet and train your way to 5% body fat with no “pharmaceutical assistance,” but be prepared for a serious drop in testosterone.
5. Women May Not Care:
Let’s just assume you are able to get completely shredded without losing your interest in the ladies (remember that testosterone thing). Chances are they will not be nearly as impressed as you had planned. Yes, most women appreciate a lean, muscular physique. But don’t expect them to line up just to look at your abs. It just doesn’t work that way.
Attraction tends to be a complex thing for women, and most of them will simultaneously weigh several factors before giving you their attention. Personality, sense of humor, communication skills, success/ambition, and a long list of other characteristics are going to be more important to her than your shredded six-pack.
Believe it or not, I’m not trying to discourage you from pursuing physical excellence. Find a good program. Go to the gym. Clean up your diet. Lose that gut. Put on some muscle. Build some strength. Your genetic makeup may allow you to get a six-pack with a reasonably low body fat level. But you may need to settle for a good shoulder-to-waist ratio and flat stomach. Don’t despair: you’ll look and feel great at this level of fitness. And you’ll be within striking distance of the “shredded” look if you decide you want to take it that far.
I’ve had a chance to look over the Muscle Matrix Solution by Ryan Hughes. I’ll start of this review with a little information about the author.
Hughes first started training when he was a teenager. He was 6’1″ tall and weighed only 135 lb. But he had a passion for training and was able to compete in his first bodybuilding competition at age 19. He would eventually become one of the first IFBB Men’s Physique Pros, an International Fitness Cover Model, and a well-known trainer and fitness professional. He is considered one of America’s top personal trainers and has appeared on nationally syndicated television shows.
Muscle Matrix Solution Program Components (Summary)
Once you make your purchase you will get an email with login information. As you can see (by looking at the screenshot) you begin with a welcome page. The navigation tabs on the top of the page will take you through the rest of the program:
This section includes an overview of the program in video form. Hughes walks you through what the program includes and how to set it up specifically for your needs. Some of the topics he discusses are optimizing hormones (like testosterone), training, diet, and supplementation. He also gets into some motivational issues that will hopefully help inspire you to get started and stick with it.
There are also two downloadable pdf files in this section: 1. Welcome file/e-book, and 2. Cover Model Secrets, which explains some of the final steps bodybuilders/models take to get ready for a photo shoot or contest.
Ryan Hughes explains the workouts in this section (which he calls Matrix Training). His program combines three different styles of training, all of which are proven to be effective individually. The idea is that these training techniques will work together synergistically when combined. The workouts are set up in three different tracks: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Progression is built into the workouts so will improve in the amount of weight you use, the amount of reps you can do, and the amount of time you rest in between sets (you will be able to get by with less rest time as you progress through the program). He goes on to explain the specific set and rep range you’ll be doing.
There’s a downloadable file where you can see the actual workout plan (the specific exercises, set/reps, etc.).
Keep this in mind: the program is set up for you to do brief, intense workouts (about 45 minutes). You won’t be spending all day in the gym, but you will have to train hard–these workouts will not be easy.
Hughes’ nutrition plan is based on three key principles:
1. Flexibility: This doesn’t mean you can eat pizza and ice cream every day. It does mean that you can eat foods like this every once in a while in moderation. In other words, you can follow this lifestyle without having to plan your entire life around a 24/7 strict diet.
2. Meal Timing and Nutrient Combination: You will be guided in eating certain types of foods according to the time of day and/or your training. You will try to eat most of your carbohydrates, for example, in the evening after you train. This advise may sound different that what you’ve heard before, but it does work (based on my personal experience–I eat most of my carbs either after I train or at dinner).
3. Macronutrients: Ryan explains the role of protein, carbohydrates and fats and how you can manipulate your intake of these to build muscle and burn fat.
There is downloadable file you can use to read about these principles.
This section also includes a nutrition calculator. You can use this to customize your eating plan for your specific needs.
The video and the pdf file breaks down Hughes’ recommended supplement protocol. This is one area where I have some disagreements with the author. I personally do not believe any supplement can significantly increase testosterone and nothing he wrote has changed my mind. Instead of getting into details I’d rather just give my standard advice: stick with basic supplements like whey protein powder, (micronized) creatine monohydrate, a multivitamin, and fish oil. Use these basic supplements with reputable brands and you’ll do fine (and you’ll keep more of your hard-earned money).
The Exercise Library:
This is another nice feature of the Muscle Matrix Solution. I always appreciate video demonstrations of exercises and these are well done.
This final video/pdf wraps up the program. Hughes talks about defining your goal(s) that were on your mind when you ordered and implemented this program. He recaps all the program components (training, nutrition, etc.) and encourages you to embrace what you have learned as a lifestyle. He also mentions an insider’s coaching club you can join if you choose to.
This section has the Abdominal Accelerator program available for download. This is a plan for those who want to spend 30 days focusing on maximizing their fat loss. I think this would work really well with or without the supplements mentioned.
I think the Muscle Matrix Solution program is put together very well and will get results if you follow both the training and the nutrition plans. The set and reps Hughes recommends makes sense to me because it is a good mix of strength and hypertrophy (growth) rep ranges. I found the material to be well organized and easy to navigate.
Who would this program benefit? A few types of people come to mind:
*New trainees who want a step-by-step system to guide them on their journey of building muscle and/or losing fat.
*Intermediate or advanced trainees who have reached plateaus in their training and are ready to try some new workout techniques.
*Guys who want to look better–those who want to build a lean, muscular physique and be more self-confident.