I was interviewed for a big name fitness magazine recently and they asked for my top five muscle building and fat loss tips. This is, of course, very hard to narrow down and come up with just five. But I did my best and here’s what I told them…
Train Like an Athlete
Just about everyone I know wants to look like Reggie Bush, Nate Marquardt or even Dwight Howard. So why train like Ronnie Coleman or Flex Wheeler? Train like the guys you want to emulate.
When you train like an athlete you always end up looking significantly better. I can’t guarantee you the same thing will happen if you use a bodypart split from an 80’s muscle mag. Typical bodybuilding protocols don’t work exceptionally well for the genetically average, drug free lifter. Full body workouts or upper/lower splits do.
You should be training for enhanced performance, first and foremost, trying to improve at every workout. Your strength work and conditioning/ cardio should be hard, heavy and fast. Always be explosive on everything you do. None of the light weight, slow tempo nonsense, and no focus on simply chasing a pump. Medium intensity, steady state cardio that drowns your fast twich fibers in lactic acid, is a great way to kill your speed and explosiveness. It also causes overuse injuries and excessive cortisol production. So that’s out too.
Use big, compound exercises for the basis of your strength work. Add in some throws, jumps or Olympic lifts for explosive power and strongman training for functional strength and conditioning. Always strive to increase your performance from one workout to the next by lifting more weight, doing more reps, jumping higher, running faster or getting done in less time. Don’t just simply go through the motions to get a pump or burn some calories. That’s never gonna cut it.
Move Your Body Through Space
When you move your own bodyweight (or bodyweight plus resistance) like you do in a chin up, pushup, squat, parallel bar dip, inverted row, etc. there is a greater amount of neuromuscular coordination. This means you will recruit and activate more muscle fibers, thus you will get bigger, stronger and leaner a whole lot faster. This is why squats are superior to leg presses, chins are superior to pulldowns, dips are superior to pushdowns, glute ham raises are superior to leg curls, and inverted TRX rows with a weighted vest are superior to machine rows.
As far as conditioning and cardio goes, you have to realize that the human body wasn’t designed for repetitive steady state activity but rather short bursts with a wide variety of different movements. This is exactly what you do when you play most sports. When you pump away on a stationary bike for 30 minutes you are fighting evolution. What you need to do is get outside and move your body. Run, jump, cut, crawl, play. It’s what you were designed for. When in doubt, you can never go wrong with hill sprints for cardio/conditioning.
So focus on free weights and bodyweight exercises like chins, dips and sprints, play as many sports as possible, and avoid the majority of strength or cardio machines like the plague.
Less is More
When training for size, strength and speed, quality is always more important than quantity. If you undertrain you will make some progress, albeit slowly. If you overtrain you will make zero progress.
When in doubt, do less. Limit your workouts to 45-60 minutes (excluding warm up) and 12-16 total top end, hard, work sets (this doesn’t include warm ups or working up/ ramping sets).
While some people will argue that extreme amounts of volume are necessary to induce gains in muscular size and strength you have to realize that the single most important factor is progressive overload. If I had a kid who squatted 135 for 1o reps work his way up to squatting 405 for ten reps he is obviously going to be significantly bigger. Everyone would have to agree with that. But if I increased his sets from 1 to 50 over that same time period would he make the same gains? Of course not.
Volume is limiting. You can’t infinitely increase it. But you can increase the load for quite some time. And when you finally hit a plateau (which usually comes long after most people think it will as long as they’re training smart) you would simply need to make a few adjustments to get back on the road to progress again. (Fractional plates come in very handy here) It aint that complicated.
Simply focus on doing a low volume of quality training and getting as strong as you can on 5-10 key exercises that always remain constants in your program and you will see dramatic changes in your physique.
Eat Organic, Whole Foods
The one thing you can never bargain shop for is food. Cars, clothes, material possessions… yes. Save your money. But never skimp on what you are going to put into your body. It’s literally the most important buying decision you can make.
The first rule of thumb to follow is that if a caveman couldn’t eat it you probably shouldn’t eat it. Almost nothing that comes in a box or plastic wrapper or that contains any artificial ingredients whatsoever can be considered healthy.
Focus on getting the majority of your calories from vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds (all of which can be turned into delicious meals by following the Renegade Recipe Guide) and lean, grass fed beef, free range chicken, bison, wild game and organic eggs, and limited amounts of wild caught fish. If you can’t chew all of your protein (which is the best option) add in a top quality protein powder like Sun Warrior or All Pro Science Grass Fed Whey.
Be sure to drink nothing but pure water and the occasional cup of green tea or glass of red wine. Also, remember to avoid conventional, pasteurized dairy, corn, wheat and sugar as these cause inflammation throughout the body leading to pain and disease.
Get More Sleep
Getting 8-10 hours per day of high quality sleep is simply the best thing you can do for recovery, building lean muscle, burning bodyfat, improving insulin sensitivity, enhancing immune system function, boosting testosterone and growth hormone levels, repairing damaged tissues/injuries, improving brain function, etc, etc, etc. If you are not sleeping you have a major problem and it needs to be addressed with high priority.
Get into a routine that helps you unwind at night. First, write down everything you need to do tomorrow so it’s out there on paper and hopefully off your mind. After that’s done take a shower and/or drink some calming tea. Turn off the TV an hour or so before bed and dim the lights. Read some fiction or something that won’t get your mind racing.
Also be sure to turn off all cell phones and other similar devices. Dr. Mercola and Paul Check have gone into great detail about why having these devices on or anywhere near you when sleeping is a bad idea so make sure they’re off and in another room.
To take it to the extreme it’s even been recommended to unplug all electronic devices in your bedroom at night. The choice is yours on that one but I’d do my best to limit them. Also keep your bedroom as stress and clutter free as possible. It should be minimally decorated, dark and cool. The bedroom is for sleep and sex.
So there you have it. Yes, I cheated and there are way more than five tips in there. But it was my list so I made the rules. Start following any or all of these tips today and I guarantee you will see some definite improvements.
Please leave your comments and questions below.