No matter what your main fitness goals are, whether that be getting more athletic, losing some fat, gaining good weight or preparing for the 1st annual Pokemon Go national championship (because you will need some crazy stamina for that), accruing more muscle mass will almost always help.
Not only will it help, but no matter your main goal, gaining some muscle should be a priority.
The only time I would suggest that gaining muscle would not be appropriate is if an athlete is already lean and is on the brink of pushing the limit on their weight class…if their sport requires they stay within that weight class.
Besides that, gaining muscle should be a must!
This doesn’t mean have to shoot for wearing a thong and stand on stage (but if you want to by all means go ahead) .
What it does mean is you should absolutely not be afraid of gaining some lean tissue (muscle), and should in fact try to do so…no matter your goals!
Let’s go over how gaining muscle will undoubtedly help you achieve your health and performance goals.
1)“I want to look beastly in my extra small t-shirt” (for the Bros)
Ok, hopefully you don’t rep the extra small t-shirt, but in any case if you want to fill your t-shirt and make it look good, gaining some muscle will help.
And while this point is directed more towards our brosephs, for the ladies who want to look a little more “toned” (<— I hate that word by the way), some muscle will help with the defined look you are going for…look to the next point for more on this.
I hope that is obvious and why I won’t spend anymore time on this point.
2) “I want to tone up, not get man arms.”
It is funny because for those of us that have been in the fitness field for some time now, we are sick and tired of reading articles about how strength training, even hypertrophy training (training for muscle gain), will not result in females becoming overly muscular and manly looking. For us this is old news.
Just yesterday I had one of my female athletes tell me, “I don’t want man arms” so this is still obviously a common misconception for some of the ladies.
So to clear this up, it is very difficult for females to gain massive amounts of muscle as they don’t have enough of the hormones to support it…mainly testosterone.
Even some of the strongest strength training females, those who toss around sufficient amounts of weight on a regular basis, do not look overly muscular. In fact, the muscle that they carry looks very, for lack of a better term, “toned”…I just threw up a little typing that.
For example, take my wife and TOP Fitness athlete Jamie. She can deadlift twice her bodyweight, bang out 12+ chin ups and regularly pushes large amounts on the sled.
This is a picture of her during our recent vacation to the Dominican Republic. And I’m not just saying this because she is my wife (although it will hopefully win me some brownie points), but she looks good!…Very athletic and lean, not manly and “too muscular.”
So please ladies, don’t be afraid of gaining too much muscle and looking “manly.”
3) “I want to be an absolute savage on the field, court, ice, etc.”
The main athletic quality that separates one athlete from another when skill is equal, is power.
Power is defined as strength x velocity, or how quickly you can express your strength.
For that reason, a stronger athlete has a greater potential to be more powerful (explosive). So gaining strength should be of high priority.
The thing about strength is that much of the strength gain we experience is a product of our central nervous system adapting and becoming more efficient. This is especially true for those of us that are new / relatively new to strength training (less than 2 years of consistent training).
But after one becomes a trained individual, a big player in our ability to gain more strength is the cross sectional area of our muscles…in other words, how big our muscles are.
This does not mean that a more muscular individual will always stronger, but it does mean that they have the greater potential to be stronger. A stronger individual then has more potential to increase power and explosiveness.
Bottom line is that more muscle may not directly result in being stronger and more explosive, but it will give you more to work with to get stronger and more explosive…a good thing if you are looking to be a beast of an athlete.
4) “I don’t want to get injured.”
You may have heard that muscle is “armor for the body,” and I would have to agree.
The more muscle you have the more soft tissue there is to absorb contact forces and prevent direct blows to the underlying skeletal and internal organ systems.
I think it is pretty clear from these pictures that when I was injured and roughly 140 pounds I would have been lucky not to break a rib if the wind blew too hard. Whereas now at 185 pounds it would take a little more to do the same damage…if you missed it click HERE to read about what happened to me.
Along with having a more effective barrier from outside forces, more muscle means greater potential for strength, and when joints are placed in compromising positions, you will have a greater ability to get out of those positions, or at least avoid the extremes.
One thing I have to emphasize though is that even if you have a sufficient amount of muscle mass, if you are moving wrong to gain that muscle you will likely experience an overuse injury. So movement is still king!
Also, while more muscle will give you a better chance to avoid or reduce injury, please don’t be that dude that walks around like you have an S on your chest…someone may want to test that out.
With that said, more muscle will help you prevent or mitigate certain injuries…pretty important and helpful when it comes to being successful in sport, and being able to enjoy life!
5) “But I want to lose weight!”
While some of us do need to lose overall body mass, when many of us express that we want to lose weight, we are actually talking about reducing body fat.
Whether you have 30 plus pounds to lose, or you are just trying to get rid of some extra body fat that is providing a light cover over your six pack abs, gaining muscle WILL help.
The reason is, the more muscle you have, the more metabolic tissue you have to burn calories throughout the day.
This is why more muscular individuals can typically eat more without experiencing gains in body composition (body fat) when compared to a less muscular individual of the same weight.
If you were to google “how many calories does one pound of muscle burn” you will typically find estimates from 30-50 kcal (calories) per day. This number is likely inflated, so lets just go much lower and say it is 10 calories per pound per day (which is too low but I’d rather give the worse case scenario).
That means an individual that has 5 pounds more muscle will burn an extra 350 calories per week…even if they were to just sit down and do nothing but watch the “boob tube” all day (my what my parents used to call the TV).
Therefore, the goal should be to gain as much muscle as possible while burning body fat. This is better termed body recomposition (gaining muscle and losing fat).
This is not easy as muscle is best gained in a caloric surplus, while fat is best lost in a caloric deficit…but it can absolutely happen!
The takeaway is that carrying more muscle will allow you to burn more calories throughout the day. That means you are burning more calories when you are not training…sounds pretty good especially when your goals include losing weight or getting leaner.
Stay tuned for part II
Now that you know gaining muscle is a good thing, and should be a focus no matter what your goal is, keep your eye out for part II where I will explain how to most efficiently gain muscle. We will talk about the factors that effect muscle gain and how to set up a program to maximize them.
I will also briefly touch upon how to integrate muscle gain within your program when your main focus is on other outcomes that were discussed above (performance gain, fat loss, injury prevention, etc.).
If you enjoyed this article and think others will benefit from it, please share it!
To your health and performance,
For the majority of us, one of the things we look forward to the most every year is vacation, myself included.
In fact, as I write this I am sitting on the beach in the Dominican Republic soaking up the sun…well, more like hiding from the sun but you know what I mean.
We work hard and take care of business in order to pay the bills (or do well in school for our youth athletes) and live a life with less worry. This can be extremely draining, both physically and mentally.
I am fortunate as every day I go to work, I enjoy positively impacting the lives of those athletes who I interact with and coach…yes, that includes the adult athletes too! Some of us are not so lucky.
But nonetheless, I along with the other TOP Fitness coaches work long hours, and over weeks and months, a few days of vacation sounds pretty nice.
Although vacation is a time to relax, enjoy good food, great company and rejuvenate a bit, it can also be a stressful time for those of us who take pride in our nutrition and training.
The environment changes, the food options can easily be less than stellar, and a quality training facility is likely not available.
This sounds like the perfect recipe for gaining excess body composition (FAT), losing training momentum and taking a giant leap backwards with your health and performance.
It doesn’t have to be that way!
You could pass on all of the wonderfully tasty food that is available to you.
If you are of age, you could refuse to attend social events and/or abstain from drinking any alcohol.
You could get up early to crush a 90 minute training session, and go to bed early in order to ensure adequate recovery so you could again repeat the process over the next few days.
You could do all of this, and in the process give up the chance to enjoy new foods, have some fun with friends over a couple of drinks and experience the night life in a different environment.
How does that sound?
If I’m guessing correctly, it sounds like you want to X out of this article immediately while you flip me the bird (or at least give the computer the finger).
And I don’t blame you, nor do I expect you to (or want you to) attack your vacation this way.
Instead, take a look at the following strategies in order to enjoy your vacation without falling completely off of the nutrition and training bandwagon.
- Make a plan.
Whether you are on vacation or not, the first principle to staying consistent with your nutritional efforts is to have a plan.
As the common saying goes, “Fail to plan and plan to fail.”
The biggest thing is that while on vacation, you may have to deviate from the plan a bit. But as long as you stick to your main principles (keep reading below) you should be just fine.
I am planning on having a good breakfast with a little something I want (likely a pancake with some real syrup), but for the most part it will be comprised of eggs, veggies and fruit.
For lunch I will have some meat, veggies and quality carbs such as rice, potatoes or beans…and the same for dinner.
And for each meal I am allowing myself a bite or two of a “treat” whether that is actually a sugar laden baked good or a handful of cereal…whatever I am in the mood for.
2) Protein and veggies are king!
As you noticed above, my meals will be focused around protein and veggies.
If you can make it a point to eat your protein (meat, eggs, fish, etc.) and veggies first (any veggie in any form except drowned in butter or other creamy sauce), you will not only signal your “full hormones” in order to prevent overeating of the “not so healthy stuff,” but you will ensure that you are prioritizing the nutrients necessary for continued muscle growth and health.
After your protein and veggies you can consume an appropriate amount of carbs, which all depends on your size, sex, activity level for that day and overall goals…(I have a complete guide for this if you want it, so just let me know).
3) Have a little something.
You are on vacation, so you should be able to enjoy your food, and as touched on above, you should be able to have a little something you want.
Whether that is a pancake at breakfast, a cookie at lunch or a piece of cheesecake at dinner, you should be able to eat these guilt free. The key is to eat an appropriate amount.
One small pancake with a little maple syrup, one cookie and a couple bites of cheesecake thought the day will not destroy your physique or health…especially if the rest of your meal was quality protein and veggies.
Just don’t think you can crush a plate sized pancake that is submerged in syrup, an entire sleeve of cookies or a pound of cheesecake and not experience any unwanted side effects (the walking jiggles for example).
Remember, a little something!
4) Be aware of your liquids.
Again, this is another principle that should be used all the time, not just on vacation, but is especially useful when you are allowing yourself a bit more leniency with your food.
Try to eliminate your intake of sugary and overall calorie laden beverages.
Unless a glass of wine or beer is your little something, you should focus on consuming only water, tea and coffee (free of cream and sugar) throughout the day.
Try to stay away from fruit juices, sodas, creamy/sugary coffee or tea.
This will help to keep your overall caloric intake, as well as the amount of sugar or other processed ingredients to a minimum, which again gives you a little more wiggle room for everything else.
5) Eat a protein rich snack before a meal.
By consuming a protein rich snack (protein powder in water/low fat milk, beef jerky or other jerky, nuts, etc.) you are providing your body with nutrients that will provide a sense of satiety for little calorie.
This is helpful before a meal as it will help signal fullness and help you prevent overeating.
Not only that, but it will again help you ensure that you are consuming the protein necessary to support your health, performance and physique goals.
6) Use protein powders.
Piggy backing the previous point, making good use of protein powders is a powerful way to keep nutrition consistent while on vacation.
I am not a huge advocate of replacing whole foods with protein powders, but if you are planning on consuming larger than normal meals later in the day (or have already consumed one or two), downing a protein shake with some veggies on the side is a good choice to replace a meal.
Just make sure that the rest of the meals during the day provide other quality nutrients you find in whole food options.
7) Bonus: Fast?!
This strategy is one that is of complete preference.
If you enjoy having larger meals less frequently, fasting (not eating for long periods of time but then consuming larger meals in a small window of time), may be of use.
Again, this is helpful if you plan on having a larger than normal breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Some example may be skipping breakfast in order to eat a larger lunch and dinner. Or the opposite, eating a larger breakfast and lunch and skipping dinner.
Personally I have tried both and do not enjoy either, but I know many individuals who have had success with this strategy.
Try it if you would like, and if not, no big deal…that is why it is a bonus point!
1) Short burst sessions.
Hopefully when you are on vacation you have some fun activities planned that you want to complete each day. With this, time is likely to be limited to make it to the gym.
With a limited amount of time to dedicate to training, the best approach is to hit it quick and intense.
Full body sessions are best and you can focus on completing the session as quickly as possible, or give yourself a certain time (say 20 minutes) to complete as much work as possible.
If you are going for more of the metabolic hit, completing a few exercises in circuit format as quickly as possible is good.
If you are going for more of the strength component, completing exercises utilizing heavier weights for less than 6 reps is warranted. With this format simply do as many sets in a given period of time, resting long enough to keep the weight heavy.
Either way, make sure the session is less than 30 minutes total in order to have more time to enjoy your vacation but still crush a session.
2) Double Sessions.
You read that right, double sessions!
A little trick from the football world, modified slightly to get in a little more training while on vacation.
If you do not want to spend an hour plus in the weight room at any one time during the day, but have a few shorter blocks during the day to complete some quality work, double sessions may be the best approach.
I personally love this when I am on vacation. Not only because it allows me to keep my sessions shorter, but because it allows me to get my body into a state where I burn a little more calorie, stimulate my musculature and increase my insulin sensitivity a couple times throughout the day.
This is good as it allows me to better utilize the meals I am consuming to go towards growth and repair. Also, if you are of age and have the urge to start sipping on the adult beverages a little early, knowing you have one more short season helps you keep the alcohol consumption to a shorter period of time…usually a good thing when maintaining health, fitness and performance is a goal.
My favorite way to approach this is to resistance training in the morning and condition at night.
3) Use your body.
The majority of the time, the hotel weight room / gym is less than optimal. If you are lucky you will have a DB rack that goes up to 50 lbs and maybe a cable column. If you are not so lucky you will likely find a treadmill and stationary bike…and maybe a pair of 10 lb pink DBs or Shake Weight .
In either case, you have a great tool you can utilize to get in a quality session…your bodyweight.
Completing a session that consists of bodyweight squats, lunges (forward, reverse, lateral, walking), step ups, push ups, pull ups, inverted rows, jumps, bounds, sprints, etc. is a good alternative when you can’t throw around some iron…or at least the degree to which you are accustomed to.
Also, by using your bodyweight to complete a session, the area needed is minimal. You can find yourself in a small room, or anywhere outside…it doesn’t have to be anything fancy which is perfect when you are on vacation and a quality facility is not available.
4) Vary your tempo for a greater training effect.
When there is not a significant amount of resistance available, sometimes it is difficult to achieve the training effect desired. For example, if you have great lower body strength, regular bodyweight squats will seem like child’s play. And the same goes for regular push ups when your upper body strength is significant.
Instead of scratching those exercises from your routine, try manipulating the tempo (the speed of the movement). Using slower tempos and pauses will increase the time the musculature is under tension and therefore increase the difficulty of the exercise. This may be something like 5 seconds down on the squat or push up, a 2-3 second pause at the bottom and 1 second on the way up.
On the other end of the spectrum, you can utilize explosive tempos / power movements to also increase the difficulty of the exercise. For example, you can do squat jumps instead of squats or power/plyo push ups where you are pushing yourself off the ground in place or regular push ups.
Slow down or speed up the movement to make it more challenging…a very efficient way to train when the resistance available is minimal.
Swimming has been talked about as a great training method for those who have joint issues or are rehabbing from an injury and higher impact forces do not go over so well.
But, swimming can also be an extremely taxing and efficient way to condition when running, biking, rowing, etc. may not be available…or you just need to switch things up a bit.
And if you are someone like me, swimming is more like trying not to drown so the amount of energy expended is extremely high.
Many hotels will have a pool available, or if you are in a tropical area the ocean is a fun choice.
And a great way to attack swimming is intervals.
For example, you can swim as fast as you possible can the length of the pool, rest for 30s and repeat for 10-20 sprints (or however many you can handle).
And if you are looking for more of your cardiac output work (longer, lower intensity) you can simply swim laps in the pool for 15-30 minutes. Either way swimming is a great option for conditioning while on vacation, or really any time.
6) Choose active, well, activities.
This is not so much a training tip as it is a physical activity tip.
Again, on vacation we will likely consume a few more calories than normal. The nice thing is that while on vacation we should be able to choose our activities.
Try having fun with activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, snorkeling, playing basketball/tennis/golf/etc. or trying to crush everyone in a super intense game of darts…that was happening on my most recent vacation.
***Bonus tip (6.5): Have your wife, husband, kids, boyfriend, girlfriend, friend, etc. hold you accountable.
The reason it has been easy for me over the past two years to stay consistent with my training, nutrition and physical activity efforts while on vacation is because my wife is extremely dedicated to her health, fitness and performance.
We help each other get up early if need be, train consistently and make sure that our little something at our meals doesn’t turn into a lot of something.
If you can find someone to help you with this it is a huge advantage!
There you have it. 13.5 strategies to help you when you are on vacation.
Just remember that it really comes down to moderation with everything. You should be able to enjoy yourself without throwing all of your hard work out the window while on vacation.
And if you haven’t picked up on it yet, these principles and tips are very similar to the principles and tips that you can use during your everyday life.
Let me know if you have any questions and please pass this information along if you found it useful.
To your health, fitness and performance.
If purchasing, prepping and cooking healthy food that tasted good were easy, every athlete would be walking around resembling those of ancient Sparta.
Unfortunately when times are busy, nutrition is one of the first things get tossed to the wayside. It is at no fault to the busy athlete, it is simply that there is only so much time you can allocate to each aspect of life. Those being school or work, practice or competitions, training (everyone should be training), nutrition, family, friends and of course, Netflix.
Of these components, nutrition is likely the first to fall below the red line (Biggest Loser reference). So instead of simply becoming another athlete who “doesn’t have enough time to cook up something good”follow the tips below to make it a little easier to fuel your body with high quality nutrition.
1. Make healthy breakfasts that are easy to grab and go
When an athlete asks for some nutritional guidance, the first thing I do is ask them to record a 4 day food log (2 week days plus the weekend). 95% of the time the first thing to jump off the page is the lack of a nutritious breakfast, or breakfast at all.
Usually I will see a muffin/bagel, granola bar or bowl of cereal as the typical breakfast, if the athlete has eaten breakfast. And when I ask them why they chose that option (or not to eat), 99% of them answer that it comes down to lack of time.
I could try to encourage them to get up 10 minutes earlier so they can have some time to make a quality breakfast, but I am not that naive to think that most athletes would forgo hitting the snooze button for the 3rd time in order to get up and make breakfast.
While breakfast may or may not be the most important meal of the day (it has been questioned), I do believe that starting the day with a quality meal will help set the stage for the remainder of the day.
My tip: The best thing to do is prepare the breakfast the night before. That way there is no extra time needed in the morning.
Some examples are:
-Hard boil some eggs to eat with a piece of fruit
-Cook oatmeal (try it with berries and protein powder) and either throw some milk in it in the morning and eat it cold, or throw it in the mircrowave to heat it up.
-If you own a personal blender, put some fruit in the cup and freeze it. Add some protein powder, cinnamon and peanut butter in a container and put it in the fridge. In the morning throw some spinach in the blender bottle, pour in the protein and peanut butter mixture and add some milk. Blend and go.
-Make a greek yogurt bowl: take plain greek yogurt, add 1/2 a scoop of protein powder, cinnamon and cocoa powder to taste and stir. Top with berries and sliced banana. Cover and devour in the morning.
-If you do have a few minutes in the morning, chop veggies the night before and throw them in a pan in the morning.
Scramble some eggs and cook them with the veggies. Add cheese, salsa, etc and you have a delicous egg scramble that took only 10 minutes to make…because chopping the veggies is the longest part which was already done
2. Ask mom (or dad) to make extras for left overs for lunch or dinner the next day
This is pretty straight forward. Whoever the cook is, kindly ask them to cook in bulk so that there are plenty of leftovers.
Package up the leftovers in containers that you can grab in the morning, put them in your lunch box and go. If you are going to be out for a while, grab two containers.
Every weekend I dedicate a couple hours to getting all of my food prepped for the week, stored in containers and arranged in the fridge so it is an easy transition to my lunch box. If I didn’t, it would be extremely difficult to eat the way I do.
3. Always carry snacks…good ones!
No matter where you go, always pack a snack or two.
Even if you don’t need them, you know they are there in the case that you get stuck out later than expected, have multiple practices or competitions in a short period of time or end up lost in the Great Northern wilderness trying to out run a pack of hungry wolves…in the last scenario you may want to sacrifice your snacks to sidetrack the wolves, just saying.
Some quick snack examples are:
-Mixed nuts or peanuts (if you are not allergic of course).
-Fruit such as apples, oranges, bananas, peaches, etc.
-Vegetables such as baby carrots, celery or cherry tomatoes.
-Beef jerky (or if you like the other stuff there is buffalo, turkey, alligator, etc…my favorite is KRAVE).
-Healthy protein bars (check out this link for some ideas… 7 healthy protein bars, and 3 to avoid).
-Home made protein bars (there are tons of easy recipes out there like these…PROTEIN BAR RECIPES).
-Protein powder in milk, almond, water, coffee, etc. (if you can’t have any of the previous snacks)
4. Use protein powder as a snack, nutrition enhancer or last resort
I know in a few of the previous points protein powder came up a couple of times.
The big thing to remember about protein powder is that it is not a necessity for getting or staying strong, nor will it cause you to rip out of your shirt like Bruce Banner when he gets angry…when he becomes The Incredible Hulk for those of you don’t know.
If you noticed above, most of the suggestions that used the protein powder were ones where protein powder was used to enhance the nutrient profile of the meal/snack.
The only one where protein powder was by itself (protein in milk, almond milk, water, etc.) was if you did not have access to any of the aforementioned snacks.
Protein powder is a great additive to meals and snacks, but by itself does not provide other nutrients such as carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals that are also conducive to health and performance.
That is why I always suggest trying to have real food meals/snacks first (with protein powder added if you want) and then protein powder by itself as a last resort.
But don’t get me wrong, if you are about to train or have a competition and you haven’t eaten in a while (2+ hours), or have just completed a training session or competition and won’t have access to a real food meal within an hour of your session, some protein is warranted.
Just don’t think that protein powder is your key to getting jacked (guys) or that it will make you overly muscular (ladies)…but this is a whole other article.
5. Always carry a water bottle…and refill it!
Although some may say this point is not a “nutrition” point, it is!
One of the easiest ways to stay healthy, perform at a high level and feel like an overall badass is to stay hydrated.
Ok, so maybe directly feeling like a badass is a stretch, but staying hydrated will help you push more weight, cut quicker and sprint faster, which in turn results in a feeling of badassery.
Physical performance (as well as mental) has been shown to be negatively impacted when hydration status is sub optimal. Not only this, but hunger pangs can many times be attributed to being dehydrated.
Basically, if you want to perform well, and keep from feeling ravenous throughout your day, make sure to stay hydrated by carrying a water bottle all day, and refilling it frequently.
I’m always amazed to hear how many athletes carry water bottles, but never refill it throughout the day.
Wrappin’ It Up
Nutrition is key for everyone, and especially for those who regularly place a high physical and mental demand on their body (athletes, both competitive and recreational!).
Unfortunately, it is one of the last things on our mind when we get super busy.
Use the tips above to ensure that sticking with a healthier nutritional regimen is easily incorporated into your daily lives.
Make sure to leave any questions in the comments below and help your friends and family out by sharing the article with them!
To your health and performance,
Like most performance enhancement coaches, I pursued a career in the industry because I love to train, be athletic and look good without clothes on…and I knew this from a very early age.
When I was in 7th grade my father introduced me to my first “true” training session. Back then all we knew was that lifting weights made you stronger and allowed you to build muscle. So I did what you would typically find with any teenage male doing when it came to training: I was benching, doing 30 variations of dumbbell curls, hitting some push ups and trying to chisel up my six pack.
My father gave me a little more direction as he was following a classic body building routine, so eventually I threw in some back, shoulders and tricep work. No leg work though…I played basketball so I got plenty of leg work, and no girls were interested in how my legs looked, it was all about the chest and bis.
And while I now know that a body building split, especially one that dismisses legs , is not optimal for enhancing performance, gaining muscle and losing fat, I still noticed progress in all of those qualities.
So as any truly competitive individual would do, I dedicated myself to training (lifting at that time) in order to give myself an advantage on the court (I was a basketball player) as well as boost my ego…I was a teenage boy!
Throughout my high school and college career I spent a lot of time in the weight room. I continued to get stronger, more muscular and stay very lean. I was consistently one of the fastest, most explosive athletes when we played ball (either competitively or pick up). I looked good, felt good and I loved it!
***I wasn’t angry, just tired from sprinting
But then something changed.
I was beating the hell out of myself and not giving myself adequate recovery time, because well, more was always better…right?!
And to make things worse, I was not moving very well and I was a great compensator. I got the job done, but underneath it all, I was moving poorly, which, when paired with lots of volume and little recovery is perfect for an overuse injury.
My lower back was the first region to give me problems. Then my hips and finally my shoulders.
I ended up needing surgery to repair the damage in my hips, and I was told I needed surgery on my shoulder.
Luckily I have been able to stay off the table for the shoulders as with some help I finally figured out how to move. But, it was not before I lost everything that defined me. My athleticism, my body, my identity as whole. In essence, I had died. Not literally, but I definitely was not me anymore.
(Kyle Arsenault 2013)
Before you feel too bad for me, or get totally grossed out by that picture (I actually just threw up a little), I will tell you that I am nearly back to my previous self.
It has been a long LONG road back, and there have been a few big changes to the way I approach my training, nutrition and overall lifestyle. And it is those lessons that I want to share with you to further help you with your journey through health, performance and an athletic life.
**I had to give you a few more of the good pictures to try and erase the bad pictures from your memory!
The following tips have been compiled as a result of mistakes I have made, and after you read through them my hope is that you will not fall victim to the same mistakes.
1. Movement is King
As with most athletes, I am a great movement compensator. I will undoubtedly get the job done (squat, deadlift, lunge, jump, cut, etc.) but how I get it done is key for me to stay healthy.
Before I started to experience symptoms of my injuries, I would squat and deadlift with a hyperextended lower back, my knees would collapse in during lunges and my shoulder blades would stay pinned down and back when my arms would go overhead (among other movement flaws).
I would walk around and live with an anteriorly tilted pelvis and my shoulder girdle was nearly in my back pocket all day (not a good thing if you do anything with your upper body, especially under load).
These improper positions and faulty movements led to the degradation of the structure of my joints and eventually chronic pain.
So before you load the weight, volume and speed of movements, you must make sure the movement is EXECUTED properly. When a joint that is out of neutral and placed under stress, it is inevitable that it is going to degrade and result in an overuse injury!
2. Volume and Recovery is Queen
Some of us do not move well at all, still place stress on our bodies (training, sport, occupation), but will never experience chronic pain or injury. Not only are these people extremely lucky, but it is in large part the fact that once they are done stressing their bodies, they rest for the remainder of the day.
They do not train, then go for a run, then walk the dog, then hit a second training session. They likely train hard for an hour and the rest of the day is very low key. They then get adequate sleep and recovery.
I’m not saying that we should be totally sedentary and that will fix our overuse problems, but what I am saying is that loading too much volume on the body, and then compounding that volume with little rest and recovery is the perfect recipe for an overuse injury.
I used to train hard, play basketball for at least an hour, bike to and from my apartment to campus and then sleep less than 7 hours at least 6 out of 7 days per week.
Anyone who places this much demand on their body will eventually break. Controlling volume and recovery is key to longterm progress and health…more is not always better!
3. You Can Obtain Great Results with Less Work…
The next two points piggy back on the last. This point has to do with volume regulation.
Before my injuries I definitely fell victim to the thought that more was better, or, quantity over quality.
I was a student in the field of exercise science, and all of the text were explaining to me that there was a dose response to exercise that if I surpassed I would not experience better results (in fact I was doing more harm than anything). Still I felt that in order to get bigger, stronger and more athletic I had to complete a ton of work.
Nearly every training session would last 1.5 to 2 hours and I would complete a minimum of 30 sets (sometimes as high as 40 sets)…and that was before conditioning / basketball.
And don’t get me wrong, you absolutely have to continue to progressively overload the body in order for it to adapt, but there are better ways to do so than just simply adding more and more work.
Going to make you think about this pic…
Now, I rarely complete more than 25 sets total with 3-6 of those sets being lower level core/activation/mobility work. I spend no more than 75 minutes on a single session including warm up and post training recovery.
And the crazy thing is, I have achieved roughly 90% of the results (strength, size and body composition) as I did when I was spending upwards of 3.5-4 hours in the gym a day.
I put a priority on my main exercises, and follow them up with a few assistance exercises. This way I get rid of the extra volume that isn’t helping me, and would likely be setting me up for another overuse injury.
Instead of focusing on how much work you complete, make sure to focus on the quality of work you are completing.
4. High Low Training is Best
Again piggy backing on the previous two points, high low training is a great way to manage volume and recovery. I believe I first heard the term high low training from Joel Jamieson of 8weeksout.com.
It is exactly as it sounds…a great way to approach training is to break up high intensity days with lower intensity days in order to promote greater recovery between the more demanding sessions.
Before my injuries, I rarely completed low days. Every session was a demanding session, whether that was a resistance training session or a conditioning session. This not only led to a decreased performance with my sessions, but it was catalyst to my overuse injuries.
Now I make sure that my higher intensity sessions are bookended with lower intensity sessions. An example would be a lower body push and upper body pull day, followed by a low volume sprint day, then a lower body pull and upper body push day, followed by a cardiac output day (longer slower conditioning).
After that I may take a complete active rest day before I repeat the cycle.
This allows my body to adapt and grow stronger, leaner and more athletic. Not only that, but it gives my “mental gas tank” a chance to refill which allows me to put out a greater effort with every high intensity session.
Try following a layout like this for a little while and it is likely that you will notice that you are progressing faster, as well as happier and not dreading any one session.
5. Nutrition is Key…but You Don’t Have to Be Radical
When I used to learn something that was backed by quality evidence, I’d take it and run with it…sometimes a little too far.
So, when I found out that processed food was not optimal for health and performance, in my mind I could not justify consuming any…ever!
No more bagels, cereal, ice cream or pizza.
No more soda, fruit “juice” or creamer in my coffee.
I would skip going out with my friends and family, and even my girlfriend at the time, which never went over well.
Although I knew better, in my mind I thought that if I consumed any of the foods on the “you shouldn’t eat or drink” list, I would immediately lose my six pack, all of my muscle and my reputation as a healthy and athletic individual.
But I’ve learned better…thank God (or whoever you believe in).
Now I consume foods that I wouldn’t even fathom touching, EVERY DAY!
In fact, as I am writing this, I am finishing up a piece of sweet cornbread from a local bakery…and it is delicious.
But the key is, as we have all heard, moderation.
If I were to eat the whole loaf of corn bread, I would have a problem. It would be too much sugar and overall calories to sustain my physique and health. So instead, I’m eating a piece big enough for two solid bites.
And tomorrow I’m having a cheeseburger, and a bun…I know, OMG!!!
But with my cheeseburger I will have a side salad, not french fries or onion rings. See, moderation.
With that said, I still do stay away from certain things as much as I possibly can. Mainly hydrogenated fats and unnecessary added sugar.
The point is, you can have a little something that “you shouldn’t” every day and still be perfectly healthy as well as achieve and maintain the physique you want.
You just can’t let a little something turn into a lot of something every time you consume food (or drink).
Enjoying a little something will also help you stay consistent with your nutrition as we all know, depriving ourselves of anything for too long inevitably results in over indulgence and possibly the “what the hell, I’m just gonna keep going” attitude.
One last tip, plan on your little something(s), that way you can portion it appropriately and you won’t be so tempted when your co-worker brings in a dozen donuts on Monday.
After more than 2000 words (thanks for staying with me) I hope that the points above can help you avoid the long, arduous journey I have taken from healthy and strong, to weak and broken, and back again.
You need to move well (and learn how to do so!), manage the stress you put on your body, recover well, give yourself a chance to adapt and grow, and enjoy the little things along the way.
I also hope that you can see that achieving the body, health and performance you want does not have to come at such a severe sacrifice to your life, happiness and overall well being.
It will take work, and there will be some sacrifice, but as like anything else in life, when you are too radical you are likely to experience negative results, and affect those around you as well.
Let me know what you think about this article in the comments below, and share it with those you care about…ya Facebook, Twitter, whatever your social media go to is!
And for specific help, you can always reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
To your health and performance,