My Dad Bod Rebuttal

Does anyone else feel like we’re living 21 Jump Street (the new one not the fantastic TV show I grew up with)???  Like everything we knew to be true is now false. What was once cool is now looked upon with disdain.

The Dad Bod is a sign of the times.

In 2013 women were attacking Maria Kang because she didn’t accept having kids as an excuse for not being fit.  Now we have women holding men with soft, flabby physiques in high-esteem, in part because it helps with their own self-esteem.  And the overwhelming majority of guys are more than happy to oblige because they now have a legit excuse to be a lazy lump of shit. seth-rogen1_3288147b   If you haven’t read the short article written by Mackenzie Pearson of Clemson where the dad bod phenomenon was first unveiled I suggest checking it out.  However everything you need to know about the dad bod can be summed up by this quote from the article:

The dad bod says, “I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.”

With all due respect to Ms. Pearson I have no problem with her taste in guys.  Even if his body closely resembles that of a slug.  What I’m disturbed by is the mentality attached to it.

It seems that raising one’s standards has become so painful and exhaustive that we as a society have decided it’s just easier to lower standards across the board.

Why strive to be the best version of yourself when everyone else says it’s perfectly acceptable to be average or less?  It’s as though we’ve lost all sense of pride. I’ve always believed that you are either growing or dying.  You’re climbing or sliding. There is no maintaining because everything around you is moving fast-forward whether you like it or not.  But it seems there now is a way to avoid the climb.

Blow the top off the mountain!

Sorry, but I can’t except that. And I thank God that He has surrounded me with people who would never accept that mentality either. So for all the ridiculous dad bod photos floating around here is my rebuttal.  These are just a few of my dad friends and their fit dad bods…

fit dad, dad bod, natural bodybuilderTop natural bodybuilders Shevon Cunningham (DFAC World Champion) and Wil Usher with their boys.

 Master’s Pro Natural Bodybuilder Eugene Ring with son and grandson.

fit dad, dad bod, Dave(2)Dave Wilson, C-level business executive and dad who has more excuses than most to be out of shape but n

fit dad, dad bod, natural bodybuilder, powerlifter fit dad, dad bod, natural bodybuilder, powerlifter
Bodybuilding coach and Powerlifter John Gorman hitting the gym with this boys.

fit dad, dad bod, natural bodybuilderThe dynamic natural bodybuilding father and son duo of Shawn Wolfe and Sean Coleman.

dad bod, fit dad, natural bodybuilder Francesco(2)Italian Natural Bodybuilding Champion and my good friend Francesco Paleari.

Natural bodybuilder, dad bod, fit dad, Mike Lipowski IMG_4852
Yours truly with my 11 month old son.

fit dad, dad bod, natural bodybuilder fit dad, dad bod, natural bodybuilder
Natural bodybuilding pro Vic Cuzzupe and his baby girl.  

I realize not every man aspires to look like or be a natural bodybuilder and that’s all well and good.  I am not implying that every man should.  We all live under a different set of circumstances and priorities.  But the glorification of the dad bod all over the internet is nothing more than a race to the bottom.

What’s next?  Will being broke and jobless be the new “cool” in 2016?

I applaud all the guys out there who refuse to accept the new dad bod standard and who train their ass off to be healthy and fit for their family. It’s the example they are setting for kids, not their physique, that is a testament of their character. Take a bow fit dads!

Unconventional Bodybuilding (Pt.3)

Here are the final two pieces of conventional bodybuilding wisdom that will prevent you from realizing your best physique.

Unless you decide to take the unconventional road.

#4 – You Need to Use a lot of Supplements

I guess that depends on what you define as “a lot”.  Personally, I use protein powders, take a Shaklee Vitalizer pack (multi-vitamin, Omegas, probiotic, and B vitamins), and creatine and BCAA’s during my competition prep.  For a pre-workout shot of energy I typically drink a bold black coffee or I’ll use a pre-workout drink if my friend Rich Fitter has sent me any samples of the latest and greatest.

Whey protein powder, supplements, bodybuilding

The truth is, many top natural bodybuilders (not that I’m one of them) don’t take many supplements.  Most use what would be considered “the essentials” which is essentially what I outlined above.  But of course there are those that do consume virtually anything found on a supplement stores shelf if they think it will add an inkling of more muscle or burn more fat.

protein powder. Supplements for bodybuilders

More often than not, those with the best grasp on their training and nutrition utilize far fewer supplements than individuals that do not.  The conventional—and outright stupid—outlook on supplements is that results can be found in a pill or powder.

As the lyrics from Survivor’s song in Rocky IV so eloquently points out, “There’s no easy way out…there’s no shortcuts home”.

Unconventional bodybuilding would have you thinking and acting like a researcher or scientist.  And like any great researcher you need to control for as many variables as possible before introducing a new one.  That means spending months if not years getting your diet and training dialed-in so that if some new revolutionary supplement is added to the mix you can know for sure whether or not it actually made a difference.

#5 – You Have to Dehydrate to Show More Muscle Definition

This might be THE most misunderstood aspects of bodybuilding even for seasoned bodybuilders.

Answer this question for me: How much of your muscle is made up of water?

That’s right, 75%.  When you deprive or deplete yourself of water the first place the water leaves is the muscles.  Not underneath the skin like most broscience knuckleheads think.

I’ll tell you in a moment the unconventional method for getting water out from under the skin and it doesn’t require the use of diuretics.

But first…

Water makes up three quarters of our muscles size so our goal is to keep as much water in the muscles as we can.

Water, bodybuilding, supplements

The way to regulate water inside and outside the cells is through carbohydrates and sodium/potassium balance.

Each gram of stored carbohydrate holds 2.7 grams of water.  That means the higher the concentration of glucose in a muscle the larger or more fuller that muscle will appear as a consequence of holding more water inside of it.

This is why people who undertake a very low carb diet find their muscles looking flat or have difficulty sustaining a good pump when they train. Without a high concentration of glycogen in the muscles, water has nothing to latch onto.

However this doesn’t mean you can consume copious amounts of carbohydrates either.  The muscles can only hold a certain amount of glucose at any one time.  Exactly how much depends on your body type, muscular size, metabolic rate, activity level, training demands, and what you are accustomed to.

bodybuilding, carbohydrates, supplements

If more glucose is present than what the muscles can store, water now has no place to reside within the muscles so it winds up outside of the cells and underneath the skin.  This situation is commonly referred to as “spill-over” and is a bodybuilder’s biggest fear and the reason they erroneously cut their water intake days prior to competition.

The unconventional approach to carbohydrate intake.

A good starting point is 1.25-1.75g/lb. of fat free mass.  Those who are highly active, have a high metabolic rate, are insulin sensitive, or find their muscles appearing “flat” will need to adjust their carbohydrates higher.  However it is best to methodically make these increases so as to determine the ideal amount for maintaining fullness without spillover.

The other regulating factor in achieving the cellophane skin look is sodium and potassium.

Sodium regulates extracellular fluid activity.  Potassium is responsible for controlling intracellular fluid activity.

Salt shaker

What does conventional bodybuilding logic say?  Drop your sodium so you hold less subcutaneous water, and if you really want to hit a home run pop some potassium pills!!!

When sodium is too low it signals the release of the hormone Aldosterone which causes the body to reabsorb and prevent the excretion of sodium which then results in water retention OUTSIDE THE CELLS!  The more sodium is decreased the more Aldosterone is released and the smoother and more waterlogged the muscles begin looking.

The secret unconventional approach to subcutaneous water excretion is (drum roll please)….

Keep your water intake as high as possible (at least 1 – 1.5 ounces per pound of bodyweight) and keep sodium and potassium intake…NORMAL.

  • 1,500-4,500 mg Na
  • 1,500-2,000 mg K

That’s the secret recipe.  It’s not a trick, it’s not magic.  It is a predictable approach that will leave you looking as tight as a pair of skinny jeans on a Hipster.  Presuming you are lean enough.

That’s right, none of this will make any sort of a difference unless your body-fat is low enough to where you already have significant muscle definition.  Put simply, unless you have shredded shoulders, separation in your quads, or something that at least resembles six pack abs, all the manipulation of water, Na, K, and carbs won’t give you these things.


By and large bodybuilding is an illusion.  But it’s an illusion that’s created by being as lean as possible while retaining as much muscle as possible while at your leanest.  As mentioned at the very start of this series, you don’t simply grow into the incredibly shredded and jacked condition of a bodybuilder.   It’s an endeavor that takes time, patience, and the willingness to turn your back on the herd mentality and take the unconventional approach.

Since we opened this series with a quote I figured we should close with on as well.

When you’re used to being prepared to reject conventional wisdom, it leaves you open to learn more.
– Mayim Bialik

Unconventional Bodybuilding (Pt.2)

Continuing on with our look at the misinformation and misunderstandings tied to conventional bodybuilding wisdom and offering better (unconventional) alternatives.

#2 – You Should Not Eat too Many Carbs, But Should Consume a lot of Protein.


Despite being disproved time and time again, the belief that carbs make you fat has stuck around like gum under a middle-schoolers desk.

carbohydrates, high carb, low protein, low fat, diet

In my favorite aisle in the supermarket…the cereal aisle!

This is a deep topic that deserves its own attention so I am going to avoid going into extensive detail.  I’ll just summarize why if anything you want to be carb heavy for the purpose of achieving the lean muscular look of a bodybuilder.  But first, let’s address protein.

Based on an extensive amount of research protein intake for someone who resistance trains or performs high intensity exercise need to only be 1.6 – 2.4g/kg of fat free mass.(1-6)   Or for those of you that eschew the metric system, around 1 gram per pound of lean body mass.  That means a 180lb. male with 10% body-fat would only need approximately 162g protein per day (even if in a caloric deficit).

Why high carb?

  • Because carbs are protein sparing.  In the absence of carbohydrates or low glycogen levels amino acids are called upon to do “double-duty” and supply energy needs.  This is very inefficient and leaves fewer to perform their primary job of repairing and building muscle tissue.
  • They along with ATP are the muscles primary source of energy for forceful muscle contractions.  Low carb diets leave little immediate energy available for intense anaerobic exercise.7
  • Carbs combined with water is what gives our muscles their fullness and hard appearance (more on this in Pt.3).

#3 – You Must do Cardio to get Shredded

I’ll do anything but cardio!


I am not saying to avoid it if you enjoy it. Or that it can’t assist in fat-loss—especially if you do HIIT or some form of high intensity cardio.8, 9  But the notion that 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise several times a week to get bodybuilder lean is nonsense.

Thermogenesis is the name of the game and the caloric expenditure needed to trigger can be achieved through exercise or nutrition.  But really, it’s all about nutrition.  You can do cardio to help put you in a caloric deficit or you can choose to consume less calories.  Skip on the four Oreo cookies and you just saved yourself 30 minutes on the elliptical.  I know which option I’m going with!

There’s only a few reasons I’ve come across why some people must absolutely implement cardio to assist with fat-loss:

  1. Flat Ass Syndrome – Nope, it has nothing to do with developing glutes to rival Jen Selter. This is all about the terrible scenario that plagues millions of people which is extreme inactivity and sedentary work.  Put another way, people basically sit on their ass allllllllllll day.  They go to work by sitting on their ass in a car or on a train.  They get to work and sit on their ass in front of a computer for 8-10 hours.  They go home the same way came into work…sitting on their ass.  And then when they get home they sit their ass in front of a television while checking Twitter updates on a tablet. If this resembles your life in some way, shape or form then a little cardio might be necessary to.
  2. Diet is inadequate – Meaning they just have not touched on the proper distribution of calories and macronutrients to make fat-loss consistent or they have not allotted enough TIME to lose the necessary amount of BF.  The latter is very problematic for those competing in bodybuilding or any type of physique contest because the harder one needs to push their diet and exercise to meet a deadline the more susceptible they become to muscle loss.The negative impact is twofold. First, even if you reach your desired weight or degree of leanness you will not look your best.  Second, you will have suppressed your metabolism making it harder to lose more body-fat and easier to regain body-fat.
  3. Metabolic Kick-start – Sometimes you can do everything right and the G.A.S. (General Adaptation Syndrome) goes and spoils it all.  The more easily your body adapts to your diet the tougher it becomes to keep your metabolism elevated.  Adding some HIIT or any form of higher intensity cardio can help provide a different stimulus to cause a metabolic response.

#4 – You Need to Use a lot of Supplements

That depends on what you define as “a lot”.  I personally use protein powder, Shaklee Vitalizer, and creatine and some BCAA’s during competition prep.  That’s pretty much it.

My pre-workout is typically a cup of black coffee or if Rich Fitter hooks me up with some pre-workout samples I might use that for a shot of energy instead.

The truth is, while natural bodybuilders are probably the largest consumer of supplements many of the top natural bodybuilders in the world don’t take all that many.  Things such as protein powders, multi-vitamins, Omega’s, creatine, and BCAA’s are pretty standard but beyond that most everything else tends to be unnecessary if your nutrition and training is on point.


  1. Garthe I, Raastad T, Refsnes PE, Koivisto A, Sundgot-Borgen J. Effect of two different weight-loss rates on body composition and strength and power-related performance in elite athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2011 Apr;21(2):97-104.
  2. Mettler S, Mitchell N, Tipton KD. Increased protein intake reduces lean body
    mass loss during weight loss in athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2010; 42(2), 326-337.
  3. Pasiakos SM, Cao JJ, Margolis LM, Sauter ER, Whigham LD, McClung JP, Rood JC, Carbone JW, Combs GF Jr, Young AJ. Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. FASEB J. 2013 Jun 5.
  4. Phillips SM, Moore DR, Tang JE. A critical examination of dietary protein requirements, benefits, and excesses in athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2007 Aug;17 Suppl:S58-76.
  5. Helms ER, Zinn C, Rowlands DS, Brown SR A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2014 Apr;24(2):127-38. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2013-0054. Epub 2013 Oct 2.
  7. Couto PG, Bertuzzi R, de Souza CC, Lima HM, Kiss MA, de Oliveira FR, Lima-Silva AE. High-CHO Diet Induces Faster Final Sprint and Overall 10,000 m Times of Young Runners. Pediatr Exerc Sci. 2015 Apr 22. [Epub ahead of print]
  8. Falcone PH, Tai CY, Carson LR, Joy JM, Mosman MM, McCann TR, Crona KP, Kim MP, Moon JR. Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or combined high-intensity interval training using a hydraulic resistance system in healthy men. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Mar;29(3):779-85. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000661.
  9. Greer BK, Sirithienthad P, Moffatt RJ, Marcello RT, Panton LB. EPOC Comparison Between Isocaloric Bouts of Steady-State Aerobic, Intermittent Aerobic, and Resistance Training. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2015 Feb 12:1-6. [Epub ahead of print]

Unconventional Bodybuilding (Pt.1)

The biggest handicap in research is an ability to think outside the box.  The handicap is being encumbered by all the conventional wisdom in a given field.

– Aubrey de Grey

Bodybuilding is wrought with conventional wisdom. And what people believe makes someone look like a bodybuilder or fitness model is shrouded in misconceptions.

bodybuilder, natural bodybuilding, unconventional bodybuilding, muscle hypertrophy, muscle maturity

Setting aside the use of PED’s or other bodybuilding drugs; looking muscular, strong, shredded or fit is the result of a very specific set of circumstances.  Circumstances EVERYONE has the ability to control.

Over the next three blog posts I’ll speak to these circumstances, uncover misconceptions, and provide some unconventional and counterintuitive training and nutrition methods of my own to maximize your development and enhance appearance.  But before I do we need to come to a mutual understanding about something.  And that something is…

Bodybuilding is an Illusion

Shawn Ray

When I was a young lifter with aspirations of looking like Frank Zane and Shawn Ray I thought you simply built muscle to the point that your skin stretched to epic proportions, fat melted off of you and deep muscle separation was inevitable.   In other words, you GREW into being completely JACKED.

You can imagine my disappointment and that of every teenage boy who ever thought the same thing when that didn’t happen.

So what did happen?

Well, muscle was built.  Just not to epic proportions.  And a degree of thickness was achieved that made it quite obvious (with a shirt on) that some heavy lifting had been going on.

And therein lies the rub…”with a shirt on”.   Because with the shirt off neither I (at the time) nor 99% of those who lift weights resemble anything like the guy on the cover of Muscle & Fitness.

However, realizing how bodybuilding is an illusion can change all that.

The two key factors for creating the illusion of being enviously jacked are…

  1. Being as lean as possible.
  2. Retaining as much muscle as possible while at your leanest.

These two factors are very much controllable.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is:  Getting as lean as you’ll need to means that you are going to be fielding a lot of questions and concerns from your friends and family about your “health” because of how “skinny” you’ve become.  They’ll tell you to stop whatever you’re doing.  They’ll say you look terrible.

I say, don’t worry.  It’s just jealousy!

In order to look how 99% of the population can’t you have to do what 99% of the population won’t.

Assuming that you are among the willing the question is, what do you do?  This is where conventional bodybuilding wisdom enters the scene and attaches itself to you like a psychotic girlfriend.  Despite the warning signs that she is absolutely nuts, for some reason you accept it and after a while you can’t seem to let go.

The road less traveled is often intimidating because it goes against convention.  This is especially so in bodybuilding.  Let’s look at what conventional wisdom says is necessary for superior physique development and see what we can offer as an unconventional or better alternative.

#1 –You Must Train Nearly Every Day and for Hours.

A commitment to training and a commitment to training with highest quality of effort possible are two different things.  Plenty of people maintain their daily obligation to go to the gym and put in their 60-90 minutes of exercise.

But do they make progress?

In some cases, yes.  In many cases, no.  In the instances where they do make GAINZ the question is whether or not they NEED to put in that much time.

2 hours

On average I spend just 2 hours training each week.  There are times when I train more but they are infrequent.  I am far from genetically gifted.  Yet despite spending half to one-third the time training as most natural bodybuilders I’ve still been able to make consistent improvements and compete at a high level for 15+ years.

This is NOT an indictment of high-volume and high-frequency training—whose supporters are likely foaming at the mouth like an attack dog ready to pounce on me right now.  Nor should the high-intensity crowd think I’m lending support to their minimalist approach.

It’s prudent for all factions to recognize the benefits provided by the other training methods and think about what parts they can pilfer and use to their own benefit.

The Unconventional Approach…

  • Focus on Quality over Quantity.
  • Training too or near muscular failure (1 rep shy) 80-90% of the time.
  • Perform the highest volume of work (sets and reps) in the shortest time possible. However, this doesn’t mean perform reps at hyper-speed.  Use a cadence of 2-4 seconds on the positive and 3-5 seconds on the negative to maintain constant tension on the muscles.
  • Push your boundaries not only by lifting heavier weight or performing more reps but by manipulating ALL training variables.
  • Recognize that exercise is a negative stress on the body and only serves as a stimulus for muscle hypertrophy; lending to the importance of ample recovery time.
  • Keep workouts to 20-45 minutes.  (Eliminate time spent socializing and taking selfies and this shouldn’t be problem).
  • An average of 3-4 workouts/week.
  • Train each muscle group once every 3-5 days.

By no means am I implying that my training will produce dramatically greater results than training with less intensity and longer.  I am simply pointing out that the common BELIEFS regarding how much time must be dedicated to looking like a bodybuilder is severely misunderstood.

The Least Understood Stage of Fat-Loss

fat-loss, body-fat, natural bodybuildingWe all recognize that on some level fat-loss is more of a mental challenge than a physical one.  Typically, if you follow a plan you lose body-fat.  The trouble is following the plan.

One of the stumbling blocks that I haven’t heard any coaches or nutritionists talk about (which doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been talked about) that is common among nearly every individual—natural bodybuilder or every day Jane—is best summarized by a recent conversation I had with a female client who is prepping for her first natural bodybuilding contest.

She’s made incredible strides with fat-loss in the past 5 months.  But despite being her all-time leanest and extremely well defined by competition standards she said, “My body looked better when I was a few pounds heavier.” 

Similarly I’ve been told the same from non-bodybuilding clients who although overweight, reached a certain point in their fat-loss where their body looked—for lack of a better term—“awkward”, compared to being just a few pounds heavier.  Mind you they were still overweight at this point.

And I’ve noticed the same of myself during competition prep.  There typically comes a time early on in my prep when despite being leaner I’m not lean in the areas I need it most resulting in that “awkward” appearance.

This is a critical juncture for anyone losing weight because when you’re at this stage it is very easy to abandon what you’re doing.

I mean heck, if you don’t look as good as you did just a couple of pounds heavier, why keep pushing to lose more, right?

However this is the time when you have to ignore the mirror and keep pushing forward.  It’s an unfortunate fact that we lose body-fat indiscriminately.

You don’t get to pick and choose where fat comes off first.  And even more unfortunately, where you want it to come off most is usually where it comes off last.  This is the real culprit and reason for the disproportionate appearance being discussed.

So what’s the point?

The point is, don’t quit!

Don’t allow a momentary inconvenience or displeasure with your appearance prevent you from attaining the physique you desire most.  Celebrate this stage in your fat-loss because it indicates what you really want is right around the corner.

10 Rules on How NOT to Bodybuild

The following is a book excerpt from Brian D. Johnston’s new book High Density Training: Eclectic and Strategic Bodybuilding for the Natural Athlete.  I have long considered Johnston a mentor and one of the most brilliant minds in fitness for his unique ability to tie together the art and science of exercise for muscle and strength development, particularly for natural bodybuilders.

high density training - bodybuilder

In his latest book Johnston explores the connection between training density (volume per unit of time) and it’s effect on muscle hypertrophy and achieving the bodybuilder look. This excerpt is a tongue-in-cheek look at the mistakes made by those who want to look like a bodybuilder but are unwavering in their training.


Become a weight lifter by trying to see how much you can lift (for whatever number of repetitions); avoid the quality of the training experience for any particular muscle since it’s the quantity of what you lift that is vital to success.


Force yourself to keep lifting heavier weights by increasing outlying muscle participation (squeeze the heck out of all muscles to increase overall body force); this does not increase tension on the targeted muscles, but will drain you systemically and impress your ego – and if you feel drained overall, then you must be on the right track.


In order to fulfill the above requirements, do not alter your program for as long as possible – stick with the same exercises performed in the same manner until you become so frustrated by looking the same, even after increasing your lifting performance by 20% or 30% (and you feel like you’re going pop an eye-ball if you add any more weight to the leg press) that eventually you have to change to another program of doing the same exercises in the same manner repeatedly (and then keep that up for as long as possible). However, during this time maintain your belief in the numbers – after all, math is a universal language that does not lie and it’s the most disciplined science we have; if the reps or how much you lift increase, then something good must be happening toward obtaining that superstar body you always wanted. As with any gambler, eventually you will win the jackpot so long as you remain consistent and keep playing those same cards.


Don’t even consider the idea that integrating different combinations of effort-sets-frequency-performance methods may have value and could stimulate change in muscles that are highly adaptable and have adapted to the ‘routine’ you have given them; people who think “insanity is defined as doing the same things over and over and expect a different outcome” are themselves insane and not thinking logically – eventually good things come to those who train hard (since intense effort is the key and the proverbial ‘light switch’ that allows muscle luminosity to shine down in all its glory).


In order to keep sets to a bare minimum, make certain your effort is 100% by the end of a set and on all sets, as this also ensures you will trigger the growth mechanism response; after all, there can’t possibly be any other factor in the overall demands of training that could contribute to triggering that cause-and-effect; it all comes down to how hard you train and if you feel like puking or passing out at the end of the set. And yes, don’t forget to add set extenders, such as forced repetitions, negatives and static holds that have you endure for another 30 or more seconds after already having reached failure…just in case reaching failure wasn’t quite enough on that particular day, or perhaps you can produce extra growth weeks or months from now from the added effort done today!

high density training - pulldowns


Avoid the pump and any deep feeling of congestion/fatigue in a muscle by keeping the number of sets you perform to a bare minimum; if you train as hard as possible and the numbers go up (in load or reps), what’s the point of performing additional sets beyond 1-2 for a muscle?


As you feel progressively more fatigued over the weeks, months and years, don’t forget to decrease the number of exercises performed, as well as your frequency…and to the point of barely training; at this juncture you can brag about doing 10-minute (or less) workouts every 14 days and how the massive loads you lift continue to climb (to the point of maxing out all the machines at your gym). You may want a better body, but surely the results in how much you lift someday will translate into muscle… like an alchemist turning base metal into gold.


As hypertrophy remains unchanged, muscles slowly flatten and body fat slowly increases (thus giving the illusion of greater size or bulk, particularly under your favorite XXL sweatshirt), mock those who do look good as their size is merely ‘edema’ and ‘inflammation’ from all that ‘pumping,’ as well as glycogen over-compensation – in other words, their look isn’t real, an illusion, whereas you are the real deal! Your results in exercise gym performance speak for themselves!


In support of Rule 8, make certain to keep body fat levels high so that it is impossible to determine if growth is or is not occurring; that way you can forget about it as you focus on your weight ‘lifting.’ Concurrently, avoid any picture taking with your shirt off as photographic evidence is no evidence at all – lighting can play tricks on your eyes and mind. Really, anyone who looks better than you in photos must be because of a pre-pump and trick lighting (shadows) and not because of how they train.


As time marches on, as you age and testosterone levels decrease, clarify to those who ask “do you weight train?” or “do you still weight train?” that you don’t have very good genetics and anyone who looks good must be on steroids – even if those people weigh the same as you at the same height, yet look so much different; if not the drugs, then it must be all that inflammation and glycogen forced into the muscles.


Get the entire story on how high density training can help you optimize your muscle development and appearance.  Email to order your copy of High Density Training: Eclectic and Strategic Bodybuilding for the Natural Athlete today.

BODYBUILDING RAMBLINGS: A Torrid Love Affair with Machines

Does it make me less of a tough guy because I prefer machines over free weights?  Am I now required to relinquish my “Hardcore” membership card because of this admission?  A mindless iron-pumper who’s never done a critical evaluation of machines versus free-weights will surely answer with a resounding yes.  (He’s probably calling me a pussy too.)

I pay it no mind though.  I still squat, deadlift, bench press, military press, do barbell rows and use dumbbells just as much as the hardcore. And I recommend you do too.

Mike Squating

You see, I;m not here to lambast free-weights for all their imperfections nor do I view machines as being of superior value.  I see value in both and thus implement both.  When experts in either camp pits one against the other it displays their own fundamental misunderstanding of what matters when it comes to muscle hypertrophy.

It’s Not the Wand, It’s the Magician

If you think machines somehow do the work for you, you’re deluding yourself.  If you think free-weights are always more demanding than machines you’re further deluding yourself.

How demanding an exercise is has more to do with how it’s being performed than the exercise itself. True, some exercises are inherently more demanding because the number of muscles involved and the complexities of the movement—think squats.  But a set of heavy leg presses taken to the point of muscular failure or beyond can be just as demanding or more, than a set of heavy squats stopped a few reps short of failure as most of us do for safety reasons.

Hard versus Hard on the Muscles

If you train like a wimp—and by wimp I mean you terminate your sets just as the burn sets or always stop a couple of reps short of failure because you’re a cream puff—then free-weight exercises will feel harder than machines.  As mentioned, free-weight exercises tend to have greater involvement of assistant movers and stabilizer muscles and this contributes to the overall systemic stress you experience.  But don’t mistake the exercise feeling harder as actually being harder on the target muscles.

If your goal is muscle hypertrophy then maximizing the mechanical tension and cellular fatigue (metabolic stress) of the muscles being targeted should be your focus.  Dispersing muscular tension amongst multiple muscle groups diminishes what’s experienced by the target muscles.

This leads to the primary reason I find machines more beneficial than the conventional bodybuilder.

Pain as a Rite of Passage

Creating an environment wrought with deep cellular fatigue and metabolic stress is not fun.  It’s typically accompanied by a degree of muscular burning equal to being branded with a 1300°F iron. (Okay, maybe not that bad but if feels like it  3/4 of the way through leg extensions.)

Gym fitness club indoor with young women training weights with legs

The discomfort is just part of the process. It’s the price we pay for “Gainzzzzzz” as every meathead lifter (male and female) likes to say these days.  …I love you all BTW.

Creating the aforementioned environment is more easily accomplished using machines which is why I’m not just the machine club president but I’m also a client.   For all the great benefits big compound free-weight exercises give us the one drawback is that the weakest muscle group gets worked the hardest.

In order to balance the scales of muscle stimulation, exercises that help isolate each muscle group are necessary.  Properly designed machines help to nullify weak points and maintain constant tension on the target muscles…

But Not all Machines are Created Equal

Shout-out to my good friend and groomsmen at my wedding, Mark Houghton, who posted this study to my Facebook wall:  EFFECTIVENESS OF ELBOW FLEXORS TRAINING ON MACHINE WITH VARIABLE-CAM AND DISC
Karczewska, M., Urbanik, C., Madej, A., Iwańska, D., Staniszewski, M., Mastalerz, A. Jozef Pilsudski University of Physical Education in Warsaw

The researchers of this study compared biceps training on machines with a variable resistance cam (ala Nautilus) whereby the resistance changes relative to the strength of the muscle at various joint angles versus machines that used a circular disc and the resistance remains constant despite joint angle.  The results of the study showed an increase in peak muscle torque (13%) and power (20%) by the variable-cam group and 6% and 10% respectively for the disc group.


And although not statistically significant it should be noted that a greater increase in muscle circumference at rest was observed in the variable-cam group (1.7cm vs. 1.1cm Right arm and 1.6 vs. 0.9 Left arm).  Read the full study here.

Unfortunately there are very few quality studies comparing variable resistance machines to free-weights.(1,2,3,4,5)  However, of the research that does exist, most of the data points to a slight edge in strength gains for variable resistance and no significant difference in hypertrophy.

All Results being Equal

As I pointed out at the start of this article I don’t necessarily find machines to be superior to free-weights I just prefer them over free-weights.  I use both because I believe variety matters for the purpose of having a well-balanced physique and I see the pros and cons of each.  Research gives a small nod to variable-resistance machines for strength gains and hypertrophy is [for now] equal.  So why my preference?

First, I value efficiency.  Some people live to be in the gym, I live to get a result from it and then move onto other activities and interests (like writing these articles for you).

Second, I’m not a sadist but I relish in the deep fatigue and discomfort experienced when I can precisely target a muscle group.

Third, I like taking the skill out of the exercise so I can focus squarely on intensity of effort and training to failure without needing someone to spot me (I usually train alone).

Fourth, I love not having to rack my weights!



[1] Pipes TV, Wilmore JH.
Isokinetic vs isotonic strength training in adult men.
Med Sci Sports. 1975 Winter;7(4):262-74.

[2] Pipes TV.
Variable resistance versus constant resistance strength training in adult males.
Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1978 Jul 17;39(1):27-35.

[3] Walker S1, Hulmi JJ, Wernbom M, Nyman K, Kraemer WJ, Ahtiainen JP, Häkkinen K  Variable resistance training promotes greater fatigue resistance but not hypertrophy versus constant resistance training
Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013 Sep;113(9):2233-44. doi: 10.1007/s00421-013-2653-4. Epub 2013 May 1.

[4] Manning RJ1, Graves JE, Carpenter DM, Leggett SH, Pollock ML.
Constant vs variable resistance knee extension training.
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1990 Jun;22(3):397-401.

[5] Boyer, B. T. (1990).
A comparison of the effects of three strength training programs on women.
Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, 4, 88-94.

Super Slow Training and Bodybuilding

Amass as much muscle as possible and present it as part of a symmetrical physique.

That is the bodybuilder’s creed.  There is not much more to it than that.  There is no bias, there are only results. Whatever will improve results will be heralded and whatever does not will be discarded.

Amid the heap of least effective training methods for bodybuilding stands Super Slow™ and its spin-offs.

Bodybuilders have for the most part shunned most forms of slow training but not for what would be considered the obvious reasons:


  • The overwhelming discomfort brought about by the buildup of lactic acid.
  • The boredom of moving as slow as a pregnant turtle (15-30 seconds to complete a single rep).
  • The systemic drain (CNS fatigue) following each workout.
  • Or the lack of “spice”.

The truth is, any dedicated bodybuilder will happily accept any by-products of a training method no matter how much discomfort or boredom it brings if the method helps him to attain larger, more fully developed muscles.  In fact most bodybuilders learn to embrace those aspects of training that the average trainee is less likely to tolerate.  It’s called commitment to your craft.

My early years as a competitive bodybuilder coincided with my discovery and the implementation of Super Slow™.

The workouts were excruciating, physically draining (leaving me lying on the floor for 15 minutes afterwards) and required a tremendous amount of mental toughness—and I embraced them for all of these reasons.  Most bodybuilders I knew and still know today rarely train so hard they end up lying on the floor or praying to the porcelain God.  Super Slow™ protocol also required just 1-2 workouts per week—something considered blasphemous within bodybuilding.

In my mind I was breaking the mold and would be living proof that the classic bodybuilding programs were nothing more than drivel.  And that one could achieve equivalent results or better with Super Slow and equivalent programs.


If we isolate certain elements of slow training protocol, what’s being implied is quite rational based on exercise science.

Unfortunately when these singular elements are combined into what appears to be a logical protocol, what actually transpires does not fully reflect theory.  At this juncture a bodybuilder who is more concerned with reality than theory will abandon such method in lieu of something that works, even if that something lacks a logical basis.

Where Super Slow™ and other slow training protocols stumble is in their extreme interpretation and implementation of exercise science principles.    

For example it is completely rational to lift a weight slowly for the purpose of reducing momentum and the contribution of stored energy torque, increasing muscular tension, obtaining greater feel for the muscle(s) being targeted, and decreasing the risk of injury.

But is it necessary to take “moving slow” to the extreme of single repetitions that take upwards of 15-30 seconds to complete?  More importantly is it truly beneficial to move this slowly?  An analysis of several studies on repetition speed done by Chris Beardsley at Strength and Conditioning Research would indicate otherwise.

As with most things there comes a point where even a good thing can go bad if taken to an extreme.

Rep Speed

On average most slow training protocols have the trainee execute each movement with a 10/10 or a 10/5 cadence give or take 2-3 seconds based on the exercises range of motion.  If working within the accepted time under tension (TUT) for hypertrophy (30-90 seconds) moving at the above cadence would equate to performing only 2-5 repetitions.

Although TUT is of great importance what happens within that TUT is of equal importance.  More contractions mean, greater blood flow and interstitial fluid to the muscle fibers, increased mechanical work and protein synthesis, and less time for ATP replenishment and recovery of already worked muscle fibers, as well as activation of more satellite cells at the point of stretch.

Training Frequency

One thing I love about most super slow training methods is that they rightfully recognize the importance of balancing exercise stress and recovery.  Most bodybuilders grossly overreach their recovery ability, resulting in perpetual stagnation.  A periodic decrease in training frequency (and volume) would be a quick and easy remedy but it’s a remedy that often goes ignored for fear of being seen as less than hardcore.

However, the problem with many slow training models is they take the ‘stress/recovery archetype’ to the extreme of only 1-2 workouts each week sometimes less and rarely more.

For an individual experiencing a high degree of systemic stress from their training, as is common with Super Slow™ or any number of similar programs like Slow Burn™, such low frequency is necessary to allow for systemic recovery.  One of the [many] drawbacks however is that less workouts means less protein turnover, and this is an important mechanism in maximizing muscle hypertrophy.


Slow training denounces the need for variation so most programs go unchanged for long periods.  It’s true that for beginners and even some intermediates becoming proficient at performing their exercises is important in order to be effective at targeting the intended muscles. And for this reason it is best to stay with the same exercises until those skills are honed.

But for an advanced bodybuilder who already possesses a high degree of lifting proficiency executing the same exercises week-in-and-week-out on the same equipment in the same exact manner is wasteful. Being overly accustomed with an exercise diminishes its ability to disrupt homeostasis and give the muscles cause for adapting beyond their current development.

There are two other reasons why, as a bodybuilder, more variation in exercise selection is necessary—symmetry and detail.

When we talk about symmetry we are not only speaking about the balance of the upper and lower body or even the development of one muscle group compared to another—but the balance within a muscle group.  Having an imbalance within a muscle group is not only an aesthetic problem but will often result in chronic injury.

It is not uncommon for a muscle to lack detail simply because certain points along that muscle have not fully developed.  While it is no guarantee of “full development”, performing a variety of exercises at various angles ensures that a muscle will receive adequate stimulation along its entire length.  No handful of exercises—even on the most bio-mechanically correct exercise machines as most slow training facilities boast to owning—can ensure complete and balanced development.

Overload and Progression

Slow training models only view overload through the lens of single or double progression, meaning an increase in weight lifted and/or the number of reps performed or TUT.  Again, this is absolutely correct…for beginners and intermediates.

Overload is anything that adds to the burden of exercise.  This means you can overload through an increase in volume, frequency, or intensity, or changing rep performance (i.e. increase or decrease in lifting tempo, Zone Training, 21’s, stage reps), adding set variables (i.e. forced reps, negatives), vary exercises, angles or equipment, as well as increasing weight load, reps, or TUT, or any combination of them all.

Focusing solely on strength gains at the advanced level of training or for the purpose of bodybuilding is ignoring the fact that increasing strength does not always necessitate an increase in size.

The Verdict

Bodybuilding is an endeavor that requires much attention to detail and constant fine-tuning. Individuals who pursue bodybuilding are not interested in average results.

Yes, very good results can be had performing only two half-hour training sessions per week.  Personally, I rarely train more than two full hours in a week and neither do the majority of my clients.  Quality does trump quantity, except when the quantity is less than optimal.

Speaking of optimal.  From this article I intentionally left out the debate that goes on between slow training advocates, the High Intensity Training community and the rest of the resistance training world regarding whether performing one set to failure is optimal for muscle hypertrophy.  The reason I left it out is because the answer is yes and no depending on a number of individual factors and factors related to program design and application that are too exhaustive to discuss here.

Though this article is not meant to bash those that perform Super Slow™ and similar training methods, I can’t help but to point to their inefficiencies for the purpose of bodybuilding and declare them inadequate for bodybuilders seeking the upper limits of muscular development.

Fitness Professionals in MLM = Not Professional?

I’m stepping away from my usual blog posts about the art of muscle and strength science for a moment to address something that has become a burning itch under my skin.  I’m sure I’ll lose a few of my fitness professional friends over this one, but that’s okay.  And I’m sure I’ll make a few new friends as a result of this, and that’s okay too.

My purpose here is not to rearrange my “friends” list but to explain why I and many others in the health and fitness arena choose to align with MLM (multi-level marketing) companies that produce health and wellness products.

Several times I’ve heard fitness professionals and personal trainers—some of whom I respect immensely—make a statement along the lines of, “If you’re involved in an MLM you should not even call yourself a fitness professional.”

Okay…well…I’m going to challenge that attitude.  And I’m well equipped to because that was my stance for the first fourteen years of my fitness career.  (The past two years have decimated those beliefs.)

On the most primitive level you don’t like MLM’s because you don’t understand them.

And you don’t understand them because you’ve never been involved in one.  Or you had a bad experience with an MLM and feel like you got “burned”.

You think you know how they work but how could you—you’ve never been involved in one.  You only have your perception of what an MLM is and how it works.  That, combined with the bullet points from what others have told you, leads to your baseless belief that “It’s a scam.  It’s a get rich quick scheme.”

I know all the reasons Fitness Professionals think MLM’s are “Unprofessional”.

  • Low-barrier of entry.
  • People in MLM’s are not qualified professionals.
  • It’s a sales job and you don’t like “selling”.
  • It’s a pyramid that preys on people.
  • If the products are so good then why are they not in stores?
  • You can’t make any real money.

I will not dispute that there is some legitimacy to the above claims.  After all, the first thing that turned you off was that your Aunt Debbie started her MLM business in the amount of time it takes you to walk to your mailbox.  Barrier to entry is low.  One needs to be willing to part with a few hundred dollars and start buying the products and voila, you’re in business.

Which leads into one of the primary reasons you despise MLM’s.

You don’t respect anyone who’s not a trainer or fitness professional by trade talking to people about products to improve their health, lose weight or help prevent disease.

“They’re not qualified!” you’ll cry.

And yet half the personal trainers with this nose in the air attitude became trainers following a ridiculously easy online or weekend certification course.  Talk about a profession with a low-barrier of entry—look who’s calling the kettle black.

But if you are one of those that had to work hard to earn your credentials, and consider yourself in the top 20% of trainers, you would actually admire what the top 20% of MLM people do to get where they are.  (It’s not all about getting people to join. More on this later.)

Let’s peel back the layers on the “qualification” issue.  I’ll start by asking, you, my fitness professional brethren a question:  When was the last time you recommended a supplement or suggested an approach to nutrition after reading a few articles, research papers, or books?

Don’t say you’ve never done it.  Truth is, unless you’re a licensed nutritionist, dietetic, or have a background in nutritional biochemistry you are no more qualified than anyone else to educate others on these topics.

But because you investigate these topics and learn from reliable resources that have extensive insight and knowledge, you feel confident in your ability to pass along the information.  You guide people to what you think is best for them—and there’s nothing wrong with it.  As long as it’s you doing it, or those you think have the right to.

(Keep in mind, there’s someone out there smarter and more versed than you who thinks you have no right to educate people.  …Just saying.)

Science and education are what you’re looking for, right?

I can’t speak for every MLM but Shaklee (whom my wife and I have been partnered with for just over two years) does an incredible job educating their distributors and customers.  As you’ll soon see, their entire business model depends on education.

Shaklee has poured millions of dollars into creating in-depth educational programs and resources and staffs over 70 full-time doctors, scientists, and nutritionists at their headquarters in Pleasanton, CA.   Not only are they actively involved in the development of products but they are accessible to distributors and customers to educate them on the products’ use and health implications.

They also host weekly webinars, conference calls, and speak at live events discussing the science behind the products and the results of clinical trials.

Speaking of research…

I find it ironic that so many of my Exercise Science Research Geek friends as I affectionately refer to them don’t demand more from the companies whose products they use.  In their eyes “the research” behind a product is the true worth of a product.

Well here’s a challenge to you all.  Go to your favorite vitamin or health food store and pick a product from five of the companies you believe to be the most reputable.  It could be something as common as a B vitamin or Multi.  Now call the company and request a copy of their clinical trials on that product.

I’ll bet they have nothing to offer.  Maybe except a reference to a study about that type of product/ingredient (but not theirs specifically) and a discount coupon.  My wife has done this more times than I can count—and with companies you all know and trust.

On the other hand Shaklee has over 90 abstracts and manuscripts in peer-reviewed scientific journals to support product efficacy and safety.  They run trials on THEIR finished product before it’s released for distribution.  And if even one ingredient (from a supplier) in a product is not up to their standard they halt production of that product (no matter how popular) until the right one is found.

This coming year (2015) Shaklee will spend $250 million on science and research.  That’s a quarter of a billion dollars just on research.  I wonder how many of your favorite brands are willing to pony-up a quarter of a billion just to improve their current batch of products and develop new ones.

I am not implying this is the standard for all MLM’s but for the one I work with it is.  For me it’s about…

Money spent the way it should be.

Remember bullet point number five: If the products are so good then why are they not in stores?

Someone once asked this of the founder of our company, Dr. Forrest Shaklee back in the late 1950’s.  To paraphrase his response; A product on a shelf cannot tell a person what makes it better or different from all the other products. That’s why you need people—people that are knowledgeable about the product and can communicate what it has the power to do. 

Seems like a rational answer to me.  I know that I do a much better job of explaining to someone in person what training at my fitness studio will do to help them than even the most comprehensive marketing pieces we produce.  You just can’t beat face-to-face communication, especially when you’re discussing someone’s health and wellness.

You’re smart enough to realize that companies spend billions of dollars a year to grab your attention in hopes that you’ll reach for their product on the shelf, right?  And you’re also smart enough to know that half the stuff they tell you is BS.  So I don’t quite understand the logic that, if a product is not on a shelf then it must be poor quality.

The reasons [most] MLM’s don’t spend money on advertising.

  • Instead of spending money on advertising they spend it on R & D.  (Again, Shaklee will invest $250 million next year in this area.)
  • Instead of spending money on advertising or celebrity endorsements they spend it on educating distributors about the products.
  • Instead of spending money on advertising they use it to pay people to spread their message.
  • Instead of spending money on advertising they use it to reward people for business growth.

You don’t bat an eyelash or voice your displeasure over products endorsed by athletes who likely never heard of the company before they got paid to know and talk about them.  Your rational senses tell you there is no reason to believe that the products they are pitching actually work, but you consider using them anyway.

That’s the power of seductive marketing.  It can turn the most cynical person into a buyer in a few thirty-second snippets.  And worse, you know what they’re doing as they do it.

So why vilify a company that chooses NOT to spend millions, if not billions of dollars on deceiving you?

Do you actually trust a paid celebrity over people that really use, benefit from, and are educated on the products they are recommending to you?

Our logic is severely flawed.  …But I guess that’s why marketing is designed to appeal to emotions and not logic.

It’s sales and I’m not a salesman

My sister is in sales and my father was a salesman too.  Both are exceptional at it due to a combination of their personality and drive to succeed.  I’m a personal trainer…I’m not a salesman.  But like so many other trainers I can “sell” the heck out of my services.

Why?  Because I believe in what I do. Because I know with absolute certainty I can change peoples’ lives.  And if you’re a trainer or fitness professional of any kind I know you feel the same way.

Does it bother you that some people don’t buy into what you do?  That they don’t really think your services are necessary to get in shape or be healthy?

Of course not!

You realize that what you do won’t be for everyone and you’re only concerned with those that it is for.  And you are certainly not going to spend your time trying to hard sell people on what you do—if they don’t want your help, it’s their loss.

Well the same goes for the products I recommend and proudly “sell”.

I’ve done my due diligence, I’ve read the research, and I use the products.

In fact, I used them for several months before ever recommending them.

Providing people with proven alternatives that can improve their health and wellness is not selling, it’s my job, and if you are a fitness professional it is yours too.  People come to us because they need the help of an expert.  This is not snake oil sales.  It’s sharing a gift with people that can permanently change their lives.

It’s a Pyramid and preys on people.

This is my very favorite objection fitness professionals cite for not joining an MLM.  The reason is, many are already part of a pyramid.

Wait, what?  Huh?

Yup, that’s right.

Ask yourself what a pyramid looks like?

There is a person at the top and then there are people underneath that person…and then people under those people…and others under them.

The traditional companies we all support are the real pyramids.  Think about it.  Who gets paid the most?  The CEO.  Who next? The Presidents of each division.  Next?  Vice Presidents, then Middle Managers, then Supervisors, and dooooooooooown the line it goes.

Even in small businesses there’s always a hierarchy.  You have one or two owners and then everyone else is “underneath” them, right?

So help me understand the concern about someone earning a percentage from the work you do?  The work they have to spend time teaching you to do.  It’s already happening unless you are the sole owner and operator of your business.  (And the percentage of what’s being made off your work in a “regular job” is no less—often grossly more—than that of MLMs.)

In reality, no one earns anything without adding value.

Anyone who has ever earned a good living in an MLM will tell you that you don’t make money simply by getting people to join.  Your earnings are tied to what happens after the initial purchase.  Specifically, the amount of value you are adding to people’s lives.

The folklores about people signing up their family and friends so they can advance themselves in an MLM and become a multi-millionaire is typically a) complete bullshit or b) a Ponzi scheme akin to The Wolf of Wall Street.  The latter resulting in imprisonment.

I can’t speak for every MLM but in Shaklee we get paid based on the quality and volume of work we put in.  We don’t earn anything if we’re not helping others be successful.   In every way we are like a 24 hour support staff for those we bring into the business.

The super slimmed down version of how my wife and I operate our Shaklee business goes something like this:

  • Someone decides to join our Team and start making a difference in the lives of others and themselves.
  • We then work with them day in and day out to assist in their personal and professional development (notice which one I listed first) and make a full time living from their business if they choose.
  • We then teach them how to do the exact same thing for others.
  • We remain right by their side coaching them every week to grow and achieve their goals.

Interestingly enough this is exactly what I have done with every trainer who has ever worked for me in my fitness studio.  And I’m sure many of you who own a fitness business or any business have done the same as well.  You recognize that your job as the leader is to develop your people so they can better serve other people (your customers).

Oh, and as far as those who bring you into an MLM living the life off all your hard work.  There are thousands of people in Shaklee and other MLM’s, my wife and I included, who earn more than the people who sponsored them into the business.  Because as with any business it’s the depth, quality and commitment to your work that determines earning potential.

If you are not adding value and helping others improve their quality of life, your quality of life will suffer.  That is why those who think this business is all about signing people up never make it long-term.  This business is about connecting with people and being a Quality of Life Ambassador to them.  You can’t be that—and won’t survive—if you con people into joining.

It’s your reputation, I get it.

No one could be anymore apprehensive about joining an MLM than me.  It took me eight years since first being introduced to Shaklee to even consider moving forward with the business.  And even then it took me several months to embrace it (despite the great results I experienced from the products) and make it a bigger part of my fitness studio.

I was fearful of the blowback from clients and colleagues if something was wrong with the products or they didn’t work.  I also didn’t want to be seen as a self-serving pushy salesperson.

The Cliff Notes version of my story is that the science and real-world proof won me over.  As a result, my clients have improved their health and achieved fat-loss, body composition and strength goals more quickly and with greater ease.

Closing Thoughts.

There are bad salespeople, business people, and service providers in EVERY industry and profession.  Does that stop you from using those products or services?

Have you stopped going to all restaurants because the food and service was bad at one of them?  Or did you chalk it up to that being a bad restaurant and move on?

If you’re a fitness professional reading this, I know how you feel.  I felt the same way too.  But what I found—when I set aside my preconceived notions and negative experiences with certain MLM distributors—is that the business is like any other.  The model is completely legit and the quality of products were SIGNIFICANTLY better than 98% of those found on a shelf.

As I said at the start, if you have never been a part of an MLM (or a Network Marketing company as many now refer to them) you have little basis for judging them.  Sure you can continue judging them based on the few (bad) people you know involved in them and say they’re Money Sucking Vampires.  But that would be like people refusing to consider your services because their first encounter with a personal trainer, chiropractor, nutritionist, coach, or whoever was an off-putting experience.

Just (whole) food for thought.  :-)


Think variation and muscle confusion are one in the same?  They’re not.

You cannot “confuse” or “trick” muscles into hypertrophy and strength gains.  When you nestle under the bar there is no hesitancy or confusion on your muscles part about what they must do—which is contract.  And if you’re doing it right, they’re contracting pretty frickin’ hard.


And when you work your muscles to exhaustion and finally call it quits, it’s crystal clear to them what needs to happen next.  They need to adapt.  It’s their evolutionary duty.

Hypertrophy and Strength Adaptations Result from Muscles being subjected to Specific Conditions.

The basic requirements for building muscle and strength are no secret.  Challenge the muscles with relatively heavy loads, use enough volume to sufficiently exhaust mechanical and chemical resources, progressively increase training demands, repeat the process frequently enough to maintain and elicit new gains, but not so frequently that you inhibit recovery.  Bam!  That’s it!

Keeping up with these requirements as you develop more muscle and strength, in and of itself creates variation.  But you and I know that is not the type of variation implied when fitness gurus speak of variation.

No, we’re told to switch things up.  That we shouldn’t keep doing the same thing.

But exactly what does that mean?

Change some Elements—Don’t do an Overhaul

As pointed out, if the goal is muscle hypertrophy and strength gains there are certain conditions your training must meet.  It’s what we refer to as the S.A.I.D. Principlespecific adaptation to imposed demands.  In the same way, if your goal is to run a marathon your training must reflect the best means of improving aerobic output and muscular endurance.

The idea is not to keep your muscles “guessing” (they don’t sit around between workouts wondering what’s coming next) but to give them exactly what they need to get the result you’re looking for.   If the foundation of your training remains intact and in alignment with your objective then varying some of the elements can help enhance results and circumvent plateaus.

The Many Faces of Exercise Variation

The elements we most commonly think of altering are the exercises, rep and set schemes, intensity, rep performance, and the type of workout.  I’ll address each individually.

Exercises – Varying exercises can be anything from performing the same exercise at various angles (i.e. flat chest press, incline press, decline press), performing vastly different exercises for the same muscle group (i.e. leg extensions and sissy squats)  or performing the same exercise using different equipment (i.e. barbell deadlifts vs. trap bar deadlifts or dumbbell curls vs. cable curls).

Those who implement a variety of exercises, cyclically, tend to have more well-rounded physiques with better balance between or within muscle groups.  There is also a reduced risk of overuse injury (barring excessive volume or frequency) resulting from working in the same plane of motion over long periods.

Reps & Set Schemes – Increasing or decreasing your rep range, set length (Time Under Tension) or the number of sets performed is a play on volume.  It’s a means of ensuring that all muscle fiber types (Type I, Type IIa, Type IIb) are subjected to the appropriate workload to maximize development.


It is also the easiest way to alter training demands. When your muscles acclimate to a particular workload an increase in volume is an effective means of challenging them to a higher level of conditioning.  However, this increase in your total demands—which is necessary—will affect recovery ability.

Conversely, lowering your volume by performing fewer sets is effective in providing for more recovery time.  Cycling between high, low, and moderate volume training affords you periods of heavy demands to stimulate gains and periods of lower demands to boost recovery and sensitize you to higher volume training.

Intensity – Just as with reps and sets, increasing your intensity of effort—by training to muscular failure or beyond—can heighten training demands and stimulate muscle hypertrophy and strength increases.  Taken too far for too long it can also stifle recovery by exhausting your CNS which is why it should be implemented judiciously and cycled.

Rep Performance – Changing repetition speed and the execution of your reps (i.e. stutter reps, partials, Zone Training, 21’s, negatives, etc.) is a means of disrupting motor patterns, influencing fiber recruitment, and increasing training demands.

Watch this tutorial on Zone Training for an alternative way of performing your reps and check out the related article: The Pump, Occlusion Training, and How to Enhance Them.

Why would you want to disrupt motor patterns?  After all, you’ve worked so hard to get your form right so you can properly target your muscles and handle the most amount of load safely, right?

The reason is, sometimes the adaption you get is not the one you want.  We want to develop our muscles, we want them to get stronger—but not all of the increases in strength you see in the gym is the result of increased muscular development. The more practiced and technically sound you are at certain lifts the less energy and resources you will use to perform them.

If the end game is to thoroughly fatigue your muscles and give them cause for further development then performing exercises in a manner they are unaccustomed to can present a new set of demands to adapt to.

Research on repetition speed has shown that faster repetition may hold a slight advantage over slow reps in increasing strength but there is no statistical difference in the effect on muscle hypertrophy. However both fast and slow reps have several advantages and disadvantages.  Watch this video for a breakdown of each.

Type of Workout – Different workouts lend themselves to different adaptations, this much is obvious.  A trainee who performs several different modes of exercise or engages in various styles of training may have greater overall fitness than someone focused on only one mode with one objective.  But they won’t necessarily excel or achieve their ideal level of development in any one area unless by genetic chance.

And this is where must be intentional about using blatantly different styles of exercise for variation versus altering the elements like mentioned previously.  If you can accept the potential for regression in certain aspects of your development by abandoning one type of training or exercise for another then by all means, go for it.

The Final Word

I understand what the “muscle confusion” guys are getting at. The need for exercise variation is overwhelmingly valid.  It just bugs the hell out of me—as well as every other sensible fitness instructor—when we have to explain to a neophyte that muscle confusion is nothing more than marketing bullshit.

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