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.
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 the opportunity to look over Andrew Raposo’s Fighter Abs program. Let me start this review by explaining what you get if you order this system. You’ll be directed to a download page where you’ll see the following:
Fighter Abs Program Components
The Coaching Video Workouts:
This page has videos divided into three levels of difficulty: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. There are 19 videos total with a pretty good variety of exercises. These videos are well done and you’ll be abele to see exactly how to do the prescribed exercises.
Fighter Abs Exercise Manual:
This pdf file is a complete illustrated guide to the exercise program. It includes both pictures and step-by-step descriptions of the movements you’ll be doing (stance, body positioning etc.). You could easily print this out if you want, but I had an easy time reading it in digital form.
12 Week Blueprint:
The previous components I mentioned show you how to do the exercises. The blueprint shows you how to put it all together–it is a complete “road map” of how to set up your training schedule. It includes tips for getting started, how to incorporate the Fighter Abs routine in an existing program, choosing the phase you should start with, etc.
Get Mobility Like a Fighter Videos: These warm up exercises are designed to help with flexibility/mobility. Doing these movements will keep your joints healthy and should help with tight muscles or even poor posture.
Mobility Exercise Manual: This is the illustrated guide to the mobility exercises. Like the main exercise manual, you’ll see descriptions/instructions on how to properly execute the movements.
Mindset Solution: This document is all about the mental aspects of training. You’ll learn how to condition your mind for training and you’ll find some of these principles carry over to other aspects of life.
4 Week Mobility Blueprint: Raposo explains how to incorporate this mobility work into your routine over the course of a month. I’m guessing you would notice a marked improvement in just a few weeks, especially if you’ve never worked on your mobility (or haven’t done it in a long time).
7-Day Rapid Fat Loss Accelerator Guide: Needless to say, no one will see your abdominal muscles if they are covered in fat. This guide shows you how to kick-start your fat loss if that is one of your goals. You’ll be manipulating your calories and macronutrients (carbohydrates, etc.) for maximum results. There is a limit to how much you can lose in a week, but this will teach you the limits of what can be done in a short period of time and maybe even motivate you to keep working towards getting leaner.
Supplement Guide: As the name implies, this is a the author’s recommended supplements. He recommends some specific brands (as most fitness professionals do), but I’d suggest you just stick to the basics and find less expensive brands.
Not everyone who trains does so with the idea of looking like a bodybuilder. Some find the lean, athletic, powerful physiques of MMA fighters to be more appealing. Fighter Abs is the kind of training that is more in line with that goal.
I should mention something here: this program is not some “short cut” to having six-pack abs–there is no such thing, and anyone who tells you otherwise just isn’t being honest. Having visible abs comes from having low body fat along with a few other factors (genetics, etc.). I’ve mentioned MMA fighters, and they are the perfect examples of this–some of them have washboard abs, others don’t–even when they are in top condition.
I think this program is put together well and would be beneficial for the following:
*People who want to add some variety in their training. You could incorporate these exercises into an existing program to help with core/abdominal strength, conditioning, and mobility.
*Trainees who want an alternative to the typical bodybuilding routine. This may mean you want a break from lifting weights or you just want to explore another type of training altogether.
*Martial artists who want a program that will help them with their basic strength/conditioning. I think this would be especially good for beginners who need to develop the basic strength.
*People who are interested in studying self-defense. This isn’t a self-defense program per se, but learning some of these movements would be useful for that purpose.
*Trainees who want to ad some variety to their abdominal training. It is easy to get bored with crunches, etc. This program may help you stay motivated to train abs and core muscles.