Here is the final installment of my interview with the God of Turbulence Training, and one wacky Canuck, Craig Ballantyne.
Craig Ballantyne: Let’s discuss some more muscle building stuff. You can talk about what you’ve got going on in terms of how you work with your guys to build muscle. You talked a little bit about it so far, but what are your main philosophies?
Jason Ferruggia: Always get stronger. That’s the main theme no matter what the goal is. Again, we stick with big basic exercises and I do a lot of bodyweight stuff or bodyweight plus external resistance. I’ll have one to three big barbell exercises a week where we’ll usually work up to one top end set for the day. Usually always trying to set PR’s, unless it’s a deload week or we are cycling the weights back down, as you need to do from time to time.
For the maximal strength exercise I cycle it in a number of ways and I often wave the reps, so maybe three weeks we’ll work up to an eight rep max, a six rep max, a four rep max, and then we’ll deload on week four. Then, the following month we’ll go seven, five, three and deload. The next month we’ll go six, four and two. Then, the following month we’ll do five, three, one.
I’ll do that with a few big, basic exercises like presses, squats, and deadlifts. These are great exercises to use this template on. Rows are hard to do for maximal weights with low reps, and I find loaded chin ups for heavy sets of 1-5 to be a little dangerous for some people. Some can do them. Others can’t.
The standing press is far superior to the bench press for a variety of reasons; probably the two most important being it doesn’t beat your shoulders up as much and it is far more functional and involves more muscle from head to toe.
But guys love to bench and many athletes get tested on, so I use it at the gym. For a while I eliminated it all together for everyone but the football guys who were getting tested on it. Unfortunately the mainstream has brainwashed everyone into thinking it’s the be-all, end-all upper body lift so everyone is always begging me to do it. In time many lifters will find that is indeed the end-all lift. Meaning it will end all training for you if you are not careful and don’t use picture perfect technique and smart weight selection. Even then it’s a big risk. The older you get the riskier this lift becomes. A much smarter option would be to stick with floor presses or even better- incline presses.
Now back to the cycle- guys who are getting tested on a lift or guys who just want to improve a certain lift will usually stick with it longer than that 16 week cycle.
I would stick with the squat longer because you don’t adapt to a lower body exercise as fast as you do an upper body exercise. And people need to keep an exercise as complex as the squat in their routine for long sretches to really get good at it and to make significant progress.
We might switch the upper body max effort exercise a little bit more frequently, depending on how we are cycling the weights. So each month we might rotate from an incline press to a floor press to a military press, or something like that.
After the big lift the majority of the assistance stuff is going to be all bodyweight or bodyweight plus resistance. For this we will use TRX Straps, ropes, etc. Then we also do stuff with kettlebells and nontraditional implements and strongman equipment.
All the assistance work is going to be in the 5-12 rep range for the most part. If it’s a beginner, I’ll keep them lower in the 5 to 8 range. We also try to minimize the rest periods on assistance work as much as possible; usually taking no more than 60 seconds. If it’s a big exercise we’ll go longer, but generally we try to keep the rest periods down.
I like to use a lot of alternating super sets. Let’s say you do a set of dips and then you alternate it with an inverted rope row, you’re working antagonistic muscle groups to get more results in less time. When you do that you can keep the rest periods lower without having any negative impact on your performance.
Craig Ballantyne: Very nice. Let’s talk about nutrition. How many extra calories do you recommend for someone that wants to build muscle and still try and lose fat at the same time? How many extra calories do you recommend for the real skinny guy who needs big transformation?
Jason Ferruggia: I wish I could give you an exact number. I’ve never been an exact number and formula kind of a guy. I find that everyone is different. I know that some guys do have complex formulas that work pretty well, but it depends on exactly on how much body fat you’re carrying, how much extra activity you’re doing outside of the gym, how old you are and how fast your metabolism is.
I basically just take someone’s starting weight and their body fat. I see where they’re at and I kind of just know, based on a variety of factors. I can ballpark where they should be. I know for people listening or reading this, it’s kind of frustrating because I’m not giving you an exact formula. But, through experience I can tell when I’m working with someone.
For Sean Hyson’s transformation, I kind of just ballparked it. I saw where he was at, did a couple of calculations in my head and then I said, “Let’s start with this.” We basically stayed in touch every few days and he told me what was happening. I said, “Okay. We’re going to drop your calories by 250 a day for the next three days and then we’re going to jack them up by 500 the next day. Let me know exactly what you see happen during those days.” It always worked out pretty well. And he was giving me constant feedback so were able to adjust on the fly. Then if anything didn’t work, I knew how to change it to make it work.
So, I can’t give exact numbers.…
You could say an extra 500 a day above maintenance would be an average for someone looking to gain weight, and try to keep those calories clean. If it was someone skinny with a fast metabolism, you could really eat anything. You could eat pizza and ice cream and burgers all day. It’s really hard to get 4,000 and 5,000 calories just from clean sources like chicken breast and sweet potatoes and broccoli.
So, skinny guys, definitely don’t be afraid to add in some junk food. I wouldn’t go to McDonalds, but you can eat some pizza here and there, some coconut milk ice cream, throw down a couple tablespoons of olive oil after every meal, things like that. Just keep the calories clean and obviously, minimize the processed food, the fast food and the fried food.
Craig Ballantyne: Very good. Just to finish off, is there anything else that you want to bring in and recommend in terms of everybody’s whole life holistic transformation? I know that you talked about the Center Pointe stuff, the Holosync CDs. Is there anything else that you recommend people get in their life, whether it’s yoga, stretching, anything at all?
Jason Ferruggia: Yes, definitely. I do love the Holosync Meditation Program. That’s helped me out a lot. I’m a pretty intense person, so it helps me mellow out. I do that for a half hour a day.
I’ve also been turned on to Eischens Yoga by my buddy Jon Hinds. It’s pretty good for a warm up or cool down and for overall alignment. When you’re out of alignment nothing works properly. I always used to have a real negative impression of yoga, but this stuff that Jon does is completely different than anything I have ever seen before and the only type of yoga I would actually admit doing. You have to experience it to try it. I recommend people try using the beginner sequence on his DVD for eight weeks to see how they feel. It makes a difference.
I do believe that everyone should get outside in the sun and fresh air as much as possible. That’s crucial for Vitamin D production and optimal hormone levels and overall health and sense of well being. I can’t recommend that highly enough. That’s critically important. You sleep better, you feel better, you think better… fresh air and sunlight are very, very important.
People spend so much time inside and that is a lot worse for you than being outside, no matter how polluted the air may be.
You always read reports of all kinds of toxins and chemicals leaching from your cabinets and whatnot. Plus the fact that sitting in front of a computer all day is not the healthiest thing in the world either. Far from it.
So, get outside, get your vitamin D levels jacked up to adequate levels with some sunshine. Definitely, breathe in fresh air. Go outside and play, run, or even just do some deep breathing exercises outside.
People may argue that effective cardio, like a walk every morning doesn’t burn a ton of calories, but for me I do it just because it clears my head and I got a lot of fresh air. That way, first thing in the morning, I’m out in the fresh air breathing deeply, and then I just feel so much better throughout the day. I can think more clearly and I have more energy.
Those things really have made a huge difference for me and I think they’ll make a huge difference for everyone. Get some fresh air, practice deep breathing, get adequate sunlight and practice meditation.
Craig Ballantyne: Very good. Well, thank you very much doing the interview. I really appreciate it. It’s a completely different way of looking at transformations and especially at nutrition.
Jason Ferruggia: Thanks for having me.
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