Friday, October 21, 2011

Progress Blog

Hey guys, I hope everyone's enjoying the great Fall weather.

I recently started up another blog for anyone wanting to keep up with my progress on a day to day basis.

You can find it here:

It'll contain my workouts/nutrition/etc.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Muscle Growth 101

Fall. The leaves are fluttering down to the pavement and transforming into their autumnal colors, the temperature is winding down , football season is in full swing, and the holiday season is lurking just around the corner. The days of scorching summer days laying out on the beach or poolside are coming to a close, and the swim trunks and bikinis are getting swapped for jackets and cozy knit sweaters (no thanks, grandma).
For many, this end-of-year period is spent cheerfully amongst friends and family. It’s a time for relaxing on the living room couch watching the big game, carving festive jack-o-lanterns, and preparing for the bitter winter to roll around. However, for many athletes and other fitness-minded individuals, this transitional phase of seasons is also regarded as the prime time to focus on their performance. Bodybuilders and power-lifters affectionately refer to this time of year as “bulking time”; and why not? It’s not like there’s much else to do. 

With that in mind, regardless of your goals, it’s the perfect opportunity to begin thinking about how you will approach these next few months of short days and chilly weather. Weight training methods, nutrition, and a host of other factors all go into organizing an optimal routine for growth and better performance. Of course there’s a right and a wrong way to go about things. Unfortunately, most choose the latter side of things, both athletes and average joes alike, but thankfully, I’m here to provide some advice and recommendations. So let’s grow, shall we?

Weight Training

Light Weight, baby!

First thing’s first. Weight training. I’ve seen my fair share of nonsense going on at the gym, and if you go to a commercial gym, chances are you have too. Maybe someday I’ll publish a book named “Stupid Things People Do at the Gym Vol. 1”, but for now, I’ll stick with articles. Anyways, most guys and girls go horribly wrong when it comes to creating a sensible training routine. Even worse, most don’t even follow a set routine! There’s many things regarding weight training to go over, but you have to have a routine first, so let’s begin with that.

1.       You must create a set routine

That’s a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people waltz into the gym with no idea what they’re going to be doing. “Hmm…maybe I’ll do a set of bench press or hit some curls real quick.” Bad idea. Creating a set routine is vital to your success in the weight room. Without one, you’ll be fooling around for months on end with nothing to show for it other than time wasted.
Most beginner and intermediate lifters will do best to follow a typical set routine. (Advanced lifters generally need to incorporate some sort of periodization, but that is being the scope of this article.) It takes the guess work out of creating a system, and they are tried and true methods. Starting Strength is excellent for beginners. My bread and butter has been Reverse Pyramid Training, and another excellent routine is Lyle McDonald’s Generic Bulking Routine. I’d strongly suggest picking one of those. Creating your own special routine usually isn’t the best option.  Stick with that works. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel.
Regardless which system you choose, there are a couple factors that must be constant:

·         Compound lifts
·         Adequate rest/recovery time between workouts

Compound lifts such as deadlifts, squats, bench press, and rows or weighted chin ups will give you the most bang for your buck. They’re the “money lifts” and you’d be a fool not to utilize them.  They should serve as your foundation and you should seek improvement in those lifts first and foremost. Other lifts will follow. Also, ensure you are getting enough rest in and out of the gym. Don’t do “circuit style” lifting. Rest enough between sets (3-5 minutes for compounds is perfect), and rest enough between workouts. Make note of your total workload/volume. Marathon workouts aren't necessary, and "pump sets" with a million reps do nothing but waste energy. The routines I have listed touch on that in more detail, so take a look. No matter what, stay consistent and keep track of how you are doing. This leads me to point number two.

2.       Log your results

It doesn’t matter where or how you do it. Record your results. Whether it is in your fancy smart phone, on a computer spreadsheet, or even in a notebook, recording your results is imperative to success in the weight room in the long term. Without having tangible data to look back upon, it is impossible to quantify your results. It serves as a great learning tool, and it is easy reference to look at when figuring out what weight to slap on the bar and whether or not your training is being effective. Keep your loads constant so that different rep schemes don't skew your results, and avoid skipping around with number of reps and weight at each workout, i.e 215x6 one workout, then 185x10 the next, and so on. This makes it increasingly difficult to measure progress on a weekly basis. Keep it uniform throughout.

3.       Progressive Overload is your best friend

Progressive Over-wha? Yes, progressive overload. Essentially, this just a fancy way of saying  “adding more weight to the bar over time. If you aren’t putting weight on the bar over time, then you are not getting stronger (duh!). And if you aren’t getting stronger, then what makes you think you’re growing? That’s right, you AREN’T. This is a fundamental principle behind weight training. If the weights aren’t going up, then you’re doing something wrong. It’s as simple as that. And if you are lifting weights to get “toned”, then you are showing initial signs of the terrible pandemic known as “F#ckarounditis”. Martin Berkhan has certainly observed this horrible phenomenon and wrote a fantastic article on it over at . I suggest you take a look at that article to ensure you aren’t prey to the deadly disease. Always remember: It's not strength training if you aren't getting strong. Ever notice how the biggest guys are also the strongest? It's no coincidence.

There's really no 'secret' to getting stronger and improving your lifts. Follow a sensible program, log your results, focus on improvement, add some drive and dedication, and you are bound to grow and gain strength. But of course there is that "special ingredient" that plays a pivotal role in your success. Enter nutrition.


Not so fast, Homer.

Nutrition is an area with tons of debate and arguments surrounding it. Crazed lifters enter World War III every time diet is brought up, and with the way some people preach their "diet" and shun those who are against it, diet might as well be a religion to some people. What ever happened to keeping things simple?

To achieve success and results from weight training-or any sport for that matter-you must have a sensible nutritional approach. Most guys hear the word "bulk" and go to an all you can eat buffet and just stuff themselves, justifying their eating habits by claiming they "are packing on mass". No. Unless your goal is to become The Blob, you need to keep an eye on your nutrition. Nothing crazy, but there are some simple guidelines that should be followed. 

1.Sufficient calorie intake

Unless you are a total beginner, to effectively make gains in the weight room and add some size to your frame, you need to be taking in more calories than you burn. So yes, you do need to eat more. How much more? Well that depends. Most guys will go overboard and end up putting on sloppy weight way too fast, and if looking good year round is on your list of things to do, this is far from optimal (assuming you are relatively lean to begin with). 

A good starting point is 16-18 cals/lb of bodyweight. Start on the low end and check how your progress is in the weight room compared to how your bodyfat levels are doing. If you aren't gaining weight, eat a little more. If you are gaining too much weight, eat a little less. This isn't rocket science. Beginners should shoot for a higher rate of weight/muscle gain per week, while advanced guys should accept a much slower rate.

2. Protein

Many people hear the word "protein" and immediately associate it with eating nonstop steak and eggs all day. While delicious, it's nothing more than a vast over exaggeration . Stick with 1-1.5g/lb bodyweight. And no, protein is not harmful for health. Just another myth. On the plus side, protein intake has been shown to demonstrate increased satiety (fullness after a meal). 

3. Fat

The nation as a whole seems to be "fat-phobic" , but in reality, there's nothing wrong with dietary fat. 0.5g/lb bodweight is a good starting point. Peanut butter, avocado, dark chocolate, fattier cuts of meat, eggs, and dairy are some easy ways to get your fat intake. I'd also note that you should be consuming EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids). Shoot for about 3.5g of Omega 3s per day. They're truly super and provide a bunch of health benefits. 

4. Carbohydrates

Almost as terrible as being "fat-phobic", the popularity of ketogenic and other low-carb diets has grown tremendously over the past few years. I'm not going to get into it all, but carbs are a crucial element of muscle growth nutrition. Overall, these should be the bulk of your diet, and I'd say about 50% of the your total caloric intake is a great point to start from.

Food Choices

As for food choices, I recommend forming the basis of your nutrition around whole, nutritious foods. I also advocate getting plenty of vegetables and fruits, however that doesn't mean "junk-food" is banned. A good diet is one that can be adhered to and enjoyable, and that includes a treat here and there. I for one love my ice cream post-workout. Just make sure they don't dominate your diet, and you're good to go. Alan Aragon wrote a great article dispelling all the myths and provides some great in-depth reading on food choice.

Life is for living, and your diet shouldn't leave you feeling chained like a prisoner. Yup, you can enjoy drinks with friends and pig out on Thanksgiving too. Pumpkin pie is a gift from heaven. Don't forget the whipped cream.


Most supplements are utter garbage, and use clever marketing schemes to snatch your money. I recommend sticking with the basics of a multivitamin, fish oil, creatine (2.5-5g/day) and a Vit D/Calcium supplement if you don't regularly consume dairy. Whey protein may also be of use to you if you don't regularly consume enough protein from meats and such.

Meal Frequency

"How often do I eat? Isn't 6 times a day better for you?" The truth is, meal frequency has no impact on your results. Eat when it's convenient for you, whether that's 3x a day or 6, it doesn't make a difference in the long run. Though, why you'd want to eat 6x a day is a mystery in itself... As long as you meet your calories/macronutrient intake (protein, carbs, fats) for the day, it won't matter much. Truth be told, I've had my best results incorporating 16 hours of fasting daily followed by an 8 hour feeding phase a la LeanGains. Whatever fits your schedule and is maintainable in the long term is best. 

Fine Tuning

The recommendations I've given are just that: recommendations. They're good starting points, but ultimately you should see how you are doing and adjust. Everyone is different, and everyone has certain preferences. Protein should remain a constant, but feel free to fool around with your total calorie intake and carb/fat ratios. Some guys do better on moderate fat diet, moderate carb diets, while some do just fine with having  a high carb intake. See what works best for you.

As far as weight gain, you want to be gaining good weight in the form of muscle. While some fat gain is to be expected while trying to gain size and strength, too much is a strong indication of overeating. Adjust accordingly! And if you aren't gaining any weight at all, up the calorie intake a bit. 

Other Topics/Questions
"What about cardio?"

Well, it depends. Lyle Mcdonald has written a great article on cardio and strength training over at his site, so I suggest you take a look there. I really couldn't do it enough justice here, but in essence, it does have its pros and cons.

"I hit a wall with my lifts and can't progress anymore."

There are several factors to consider.Are you sleeping enough? Are you eating well? More often than not, it could be a sign of over-training, in which case a deload could be just the right perscription. Lower your volume and/or reduce the work load/weight for a week to give your central nervous system a breather.

"Something came up, and I can't make it to the gym today. What should I do?"

Don't stress it. Just do the workout the next time you make it to go the gym. Don't do something irrational like combine two workouts into one, etc.

"I'm having a hard time eating enough calories. I just feel full."

Look over your diet, and opt for more calorie dense items, i.e Rice instead of potatoes for example. This often does the trick. Or, swap some carbs for fat here if you just can't find yourself eating enough.


Well, there you have it. Getting stronger and bigger doesn't need to be a headache. It's really quite simple when you get right down to it. Again, consistency, not a magic forumula, will lead you to success.

Make sure to follow my blog and follow me on Twitter @Cup_of_Joe_Blog

Happy Fall y'all!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

LeanGains Meals

I like to end my PWO meals with some low-fat ice cream. This is a favorite of mine.
A fresh garden salad, a monster cheeseburger, and marinated then grilled chicken breast with my signature sauce with some roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes.
Sheppards pie for a PWO St. Patty's day feast. Mounds of mashed potatoes and gravy, ground beef, corn, peas, carrots, and assorted other veggies all baked in the oven and sprinkled with melty cheese. Not pictured: The clean up crew: toasted bread with non-fat butter spray.

Post workout comfort food. Creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, peas and carrots, potatoes and chicken breast roasted in herbs and spices, and for cleanup, some toasty bread with non-fat butter spray. 

Moderate sized Pre Workout Meal. Grilled chicken breast covered in my signature sauce, green beans, potato, and some corn on the cob.

On rest days, I keep it high protein, higher fat, and plenty of fibrous veggies and fruit. Here's some roasted brisket, grilled chicken breast (with my signature sauce of course) and some filling veggies. For dessert, I've gotta have the cottage cheese and berries. Very satiating.

There you go, some of the meals I've been eating lately. Stay tuned for more delicious updates.