If you want to stay in shape you have to plan ahead for weekday meals.   It is only by making decisions in advance, such as “what will I have for lunch” that you stay on track.  One of my weekday lunches this week is steak, asparagus and yam.

The problem I always have with steak is the same problem I have with everything – overcooking.

Another answer from Alton Brown.

This week I bought a 3/4 lb sirloin.  I always estimate that the cooked weight is 75% of the raw weight.  That’s probably high but until I get a food scale its the best I can do.  Therefore, I estimate that I end up with 9 oz cooked and split into three meals.

What about the vegetable?  Asparagus was on sale this week – decision made!  12 spears give me the approx calories I need in a meal.  It does not take very long to cook so I either throw it in the oven for a few minutes while something else cooks or I steam it separately.

One half of a yam (also on sale) rounds out the meal.  Bake one yam, and you have it for two meals.

Calorie and nutrient breakdown - steak, asparagus, and yams

January 2016

Say Hello To January.

Its the start of a new year and I’m here in a place that so many of us can relate to.  Hung over from the holiday eating binge and left with a lot of work to do.

Have you ever been there?  Not completely out of shape, but far from where you was six months ago?  From November through New Year’s I tend to slack off.  It starts with Thanksgiving and then just  continues with all the parties over the next six weeks.  I had a great time but now there’s a price to pay.

Enough Is Enough.

Now its time to get motivated and  get back in shape.  Actually, motivation is the easy part.  There are so many thing that I’m excited to try this year.  The hard part is narrowing it down.  The strategy is one thing at a time.  Build some momentum and keep trying the little experiments.

The Start and The Finish

I started the month weighing in at 170.2lbs and 14.2% body fat.  That’s pretty big for me.

I ended the month at 164.2 lbs and 12.7% body fat.  In other words, I dropped six pounds a bit more than half of it fat.

That’s a pretty good result.  January was a success.

The Goals

  • Establish a daily calories needed for maintenance
  • Drop my body fat percentage
  • Work on my bench press

Mission accomplished on all three.

The January Plan

  • Average daily calories – 2,350
  • Macro nutrient breakdown – 40% breakdown, 30% carbs, 30% protein
  • Supplements – none
  • Training – twice weekly strength training, no aerobic training

The Experiment

The January experiment was to employ some of the cold tactics described by Tim Ferris in The Four Hour Body.  Specifically, I drank lots of ice water and took cold showers every day of the month.

The cold tactic works.

Some of the stuff I’ve read on the subject says that cold showers can actually boost your immune system.  I came down with a cold before starting the program.  It was gone a few days into the routine.

The Results

My body weight leveled off at the end of the month at 164.2 lbs.  I am confident saying that 2,350 calories is my maintenance level for this body weight.

No strength gains to report.  This was month one of a three month cycle.  All planned exercises / weights / reps / tul were achieved with the exception of one workout skipped due to the after effects of snow shoveling.  I chose recovery over training.

The Beginner’s Guide To Bodybuilding: Part 2

Everyone has an opinion about reps

Rep counts are everywhere.  Do a search on the subject and you’ll find information from people who recommend sets of 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 5, 3 or even singles.  Here’s what you need to know about rep counts:

They all work

That’s right.  All of them.  There are differences in Rep rangesthe results that you’ll get, but those differences will be slight if you stay way from the extremes.  In general low reps are about building strength and high reps are about cardio and muscular definition.  The differences  are probably marginal for the beginning bodybuilder and that’s why the number you choose is probably not that important.

But let’s pick one.

Consistency is necessary.  Without consistency its impossible to track progress.  So we have to pick a rep range and stick with it for at least one cycle.

It would seem that the majority of us should stay in the middle of that upside down pyramid.  Lets try to get the best of both worlds and keep the sets at somewhere between six and twelve reps.

Wait a minute.  I said “pick one” and I give a range.  Yes, a range.  Do it this way – pick a weight you can handle for six reps and gradually work it up to twelve.  When you get there, add weight and do it again.  If you find a six rep increase to be a bit difficult, narrow the range.  Try 8 to 10 instead.

But there is an alternative

I’ve said in previous posts that there are better ways to track workouts than counting reps.  In fact, I think that focusing entirely on rep counts can be a bad thing.  The goal of any exercise should be to keep the bar moving continuously at an even pace in strict form.  No bouncing, jerking, heaving or cheating.  Reps counts can be a bad thing when you sacrifice good form in the pursuit of “one more rep”.  It is the pursuit of one more rep at all costs that  short circuits so many cycles and prevents so many of us from making the gains that they should.

Its an easy line to cross.  After all, a workout is a multi-tasking event.  Humans are only capable of focusing on so many variables at a given time.  Good form is hard to maintain.  Think of all you have to pay attention to when under a heavy squat bar.

  • Retract your shoulder blades
  • Chest out
  • Weight on your heels
  • Back straight

That’s only a short list.  Add to that the task of counting to ten.

Was that 8 reps or only 7?

It might sound like a joke, but can you say that you never asked questions like that during a hard set of squats?  Those with training partners don’t have that problem, but people like me in the basement gyms do.

In the face of the pain that goes along with an intense workout its understandable that you might lose your count.  If you are focused on counting at a time when your muscles are weakened, you form will break down.  You might hit your rep target but the result is only the illusion of progress.  Your cycle will stall.

Why not try TUL (Time Under Lift) instead of counting reps?  Take your cell phone and bring up the stopwatch function.  Start the timer and get the bar into position.  Glance at the watch to get the start time and lift until you “can’t lift no more”.  Check the time at the end and you have your TUL.

Try this:

  • Each movement gets two warm up sets of five reps each and one or two work sets.  Don’t bother counting reps on your work sets, because…..
  • Work sets are done for time, not for reps.  Keep it going with slow, continuous movement done in strict form for anywhere from 45 seconds to 1 minute.
  • Choose a weight heavy enough to make it a challenge to get to 60 seconds TUL with the weight.  After you hit 60, increase the weight, drop the goal down to 45 seconds and gradually progress until you hit 60 seconds.

Equating the two approaches, a set of ten reps done at a 3/3 cadence (three seconds up and three seconds down) would give you sixty seconds TUL.

Whichever way you choose, remember that the differences are insignificant.  The only thing that matters is effort.



The Paradox of Choice

There are not that many variables.

  • Frequency
  • Exercises
  • Sets
  • Reps

Those are the big ones.  We can get into some more obscure issues like rest between sets, but if you want to build muscle or lose fat or just stay in shape those are the four big variables.

The biggest secret about training is that those four variables are very difficult to screw up.  There are tons of good information out there.  Many great prorams just waiting for you to try.  Although the possible combinations are endless, results will differ only slightly from approach to approach.  Just pick one and go.

The paradox of choice refers to the idea that endless possibilities are a problem.
“Paralysis by Analysis” is another way to look at it  When presented with too many choices most people get confused and just want someone to answer the questions for them.  But you don’t really need anyone to answer those questions. You have to answer the right questions for yourself.

The right questions are not about sets and reps.  They are about circumstances and desire:

How much time do you have to work out each week and each day?

How much time do you want to devote to working out each week and each day?

Circumstances and desire.

Circumstances limit your choices.  Desire makes the decision.  Rest and nutrition have more to do with your success or lack there of.  You will spend far more time sleeping and eating than you will in the gym.

So figure out what fits your schedule and what you can get excited about and go with it.

Happy lifting!

photo credit: big box via photopin (license)

Make Ahead Breakfast

I am a morning person.  I love mornings.  I get things done in the morning.

My problem is that as the years have gone by, more and more things have been added to my morning routine.  I am out of time and I need some changes.  Is there a way to get more done ahead of time?  Yes.  Of course there is.  This article from Mike Matthews really helped.   Batching tasks is an effective way to save time so why not batch breakfast?

This past week I took some of the ideas from that article and gave it a try.  On Sunday, I scrambled a dozen eggs with a baked sweet potato (chopped), a diced zucchini and about two cups of spinach.  Add a bit of Italian seasoning (love it on eggs) and…


…six days of breakfast.

Split it into three containers and freeze two of them.  Eat one half of each container per day.

The bottom line is that it tastes good.  Not great, but good.  I give it a solid three out of five stars.  The biggest drawback is that it gets a bit watery and has to be drained.

Goal Setting 2016

Goals are all over the internet right now.  It comes with the season.  As year end approaches people are motivated by the start of a new year to take on new challenges.  There is no shortage of advice on how to set and achieve those goals.  Workshops, webinars, courses, blog posts (like this one) are all over the place at a variety of different prices.

Save your money.  Its really not that complicated.

Most peNew Goalople think goals are about will power.  I disagree.  The challenge is staying conscious of them.  So many things happen in our daily lives that it is easy to get distracted, forget, lose track and drift off course.  Before you know it,  the well thought out goals that you set in December and January have morphed and twisted.  You end up going in a circle.

The cycle goes on.  Set the goal, drift off course, get disappointment, admit failure, rebound, reload and set a new goal.

Keep the goal in front of you and you be less likely to drift off course.

Try this:

First, get a notebook.  If you want to use a computer or your phone, fine, but a notebook works better.  The act of writing by hand has an impact that typing doesn’t.

Another plus is that you are limited to the number of pages in the book.  Goals should have a goal line.  The amount of information you can type in a Word document is limitless and that won’t help you stay on course.

I like the old “composition” notebooks that I used back in grammar school.  Not the spiral bound piece of crap where the pages end up falling out.  I’m talking about those black and white hardcover jobs with the stitching in the middle.  Those won’t fall apart so easily.  You can get one with 100 sheets in it and that’s exactly what we need.  One hundred day goals are doable.  Its a short time frame for you to build up some gaining momentum.

Yes, I know that a 100 sheet book has 200 pages.  That means that each notebook covers a max of two goals.  That’s a good thing.  Don’t work on too many goals at once.  Each one has a 100 day limit so pick the two that are most important right now and work on those.  Other goals can wait for the next 100 days.

Second, set up your notebook.  Write the 100 day goal on the first page of the book.  You can jot down your five or ten year objective if you want, but that’s not what the notebook is for.  The notebook is for goals with a goal line that is in site.

Let’s say that your 100 day goal is to add twenty pounds to your bench press.  It can be five pounds, it can be 100 pounds.  Who cares?  The amount is not important because that will vary with the individual.

In order to hit that twenty pound increase in the next 100 days or so you have to plan out thirteen or fourteen weeks of workouts.  You can do that on a spreadsheet and I’ll cover that in another post.

Below the one hundred day goal you write out the goal for the first week.  You can take it off the spreadsheet.  How much will you bench this week?

Below that, outline the week.  Make a list for Monday through Sunday and write the one major action to be taken on each day.  To be clear, ONE MAJOR ACTION.  For the outline we want focus on a narrow range of activities.  Going for too much will cause drift.

Below the outline write the reward that you will grant yourself for successfully achieving the weekly goal.  Rewards are important.  They don’t have to be huge.  They just have to be an acknowledgement of a job well done.  Do not neglect this step.

Third, use your notebook.  Each evening, on a fresh page, write the activities that you have to do the next  day in order to achieve your goal.  In this step you can list as much as you want because your time frame is only the next twenty four hours.  Include not only in-the-gym activities but also things like rest, nutrition and reading or research.

When you are done with that, review the day just ended.  Check off the activities that you followed through on and put an X next to the misses and failures.  We all have failures so don’t bother ignoring them.  Minor failures are expected and are part of the process.  Acknowledge your shortcomings and move on.

Every morning read your 100 day goal, the outline for the week and the steps to be taken that day.  That will keep the big goal in the forefront and keep you on course.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t alter or change.  It just means that you won’t do so inadvertently.  Its the drift that you want to avoid.

Compete or Work Together?

“The third group worked out with a single partner and was told that the results of their test were based on the partner with the weaker performance”.

That piece of information comes from an article on Breaking Muscle.com from Doug Dupont.

Have you ever thought about training partners that way before?  As I read this article I expected Doug to tell me that the third group was competing against one another.  Instead, its a team approach.

The next question – is the motivating factor the fear of letting your teammate down or the fear of losing?  I believe the answer is the later.

I used to teach college classes.  Part of the course requirements were to stand up in front of the class and give a five minute presentation.  In the beginning, it was every man (or woman) for himself.  When assigned as an individual project the results were not great.  There were always a few students who did not put forth the effort.  Later, the format was changed to a group presentation,  The results were outstanding.  I attribute the improvement to the peer pressure element.  When other people are counting on you it makes a difference.   The speeches were much better.

In the classroom, in the gym and in many other areas of life, the takeaway is that people will try harder to support other people than they will to rise above it.

photo credit: Ukarumpa Sports Day 2010 tug of war via photopin (license)

Are You Training To Failure or Are You Just Quitting?

Working out alone in a basement or garage gym is a way of life for thousands of trainees.  These are the people who get up early or stay up late to grind out reps with barbells and dumbbells.  Nothing flashy, no distractions, and no spin class going on in the next room.  Just us and the weights.

That’s the upside.

There is a downside and one of them is the comfort zone.  Training solo is preferred by many, but are they all training this way for the right reasons?

In most areas of life no one likes to fail.  The gym is an exception.  Training to failure is often our goal.  What we have to avoid is quitting.

Can you push a set to the max without someone there to push you?  I’m not talking about the safety aspect.  It goes without saying that you need to be smart.  I’m talking about what goes on in your head.  Human nature is to head for the door as soon as the pain starts.

Can you eek out one, two or even three more reps?  Its hard to keep the weight moving.  Its hard to know when the set is really done.  That’s where a good training partner is worth their weight in gold.  A good training partner knows how to push you to your limit.

Can you do that by yourself?  There is no answer to that question, but here’s two ideas to help you get to the limit:

1 – Time Under Lift.  I write about this concept a lot and that’s because I believe it is a superior way to train.  Make the clock you goal and give yourself permission to use negatives and static holds to get there.  Just be sure not to get sloppy.

2 – Start counting when the reps get painful.  This is a play on the famous quote from Muhammad Ali.  When someone asked him how many sit ups he did he responded by saying that he did not know because he didn’t start counting until it started to hurt.  When it comes to squats, bench press and dead lift, by the time the pain starts you probably don’t have much left in the tank.  So make your sets only one, two or three reps but only count the ones that hurt.



Missing Your Numbers

Did you miss your numbers today?

I did. I missed on the bench. That’s nothing new. Bench has always been the most challenging exercise for me. Over the years I’ve missed on the bench more times than I can count.

What’s interesting is that in the same workout I hit my planned numbers for everything else.  So why is failure the first thing that comes to mind when I think back on what I did this morning?  Because everyone else does the same thing.  We all do.  We’re wired to see what’s wrong, not what’s right.  The stuff we do right is just not that interesting to us.  It’s the stuff we got wrong that’s the problem.

Maybe that’s the right way to look at weightlifting.  If you never failed on an exercise why would you be motivated to go back to the gym?  You would have nothing to prove.  You would never know the satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment that come from striving and achieving after struggle and failure and trying again.

On Tuesday I will try again.   And again on Thursday.  And on and on and on.

photo credit: Bench-Pressing Snowman via photopin (license)


Spending Money Is Less Painful Than Action

The result of action could be failure and failure is painful.  Think about it.  If you actually did something it might not work out.  You might even end up looking stupid.  So its easier to buy a book or watch a seminar or buy some strange piece of equipment or even join a gym.  To do those things you have to part with some hard earned cash and that can feel painful.  It can even fool you into thinking that you did something.

But you didn’t.  Not really.

Skills have to be learned, but they also have to be applied.  No one makes progress in the weight room or in relationships or in your career without standing up and trying. Progress IS NOT continually investing and analyzing and tweeking.  Progress is moving forward and demonstrating to yourself that you are better today than you were yesterday.

So here’s the challenge:

Ignore all advice and opinions until you put something new into action.  Try what you learned yesterday before learning something new today.

How do you do that? By doing better today than you did yesterday. That’s it. Not by buying a course or a service or a product or listening to a podcast or continually changing your exercise form, number or reps, choice of exercises, etc.

Do better today than you did yesterday!

Or even do worse than you did yesterday.

Just do something.