Posts Tagged ‘program’

Last time was all about preparing mentally and physically for training so now we will talk about getting the most out of the session in the moment.


There are a few times in your life where you make landmark improvements in your life and I’m going to share many of those with you here. Briefly, the best information I learned about healthy fat loss while strengthening muscle came from Tom Venuto’s Burn the fat, Feed the Muscle; Ben Pakulski was the one who taught me the most about exercise form and muscle growth with his MI40 program. As far as mental focus and drive, I credit Anders Ericsson’s book Peak alongside Carol Dweck’s Mindset.


The term focus is one that I love because it is all about being in the present. It puts your mind squarely on the task at hand. But I find that focus is something that needs cultivation. It means secluding yourself from outside distractions. It is something that gets better with persistent practice.

Focus is having laser vision on your current activity while pushing towards your desired future. It is connecting your mind to your body. It is he single moment when you what to quit a set but you tell yourself that this rep is the one that will determine whether you progress.

I’ve said before that progress is not easy, and this is one area that is definitely not easy. Nor is it intuitive. Our bodies and minds are designed for survival, meaning that when things get difficult our brain tells us that we are entering a danger zone and that’s when we quit.

That instinct is clearly important, but being aware of it, and knowing when you can push past it is where we begin to grow. In this way that inclination to quit can actually serve you extremely well, as it will guide you ever closer to the edge of your comfort zone.

The more you practice reaching this point and pushing past it, the better you get at doing it naturally – which can impact your life both inside and outside of the gym.

The pursuit of getting to this point where we not only face challenges head on, but in fact enjoy such opportunities to progress can be understood using what Carol Dweck calls the “growth mindset”. When we learn to crave growth we also learn to love the challenge.


With the right mindset and the right teaching, people are capable of a lot more than we think.” – Carol Dweck

Ingredients for progress:

  • Specific performance goal
  • Focus
  • Meaningful positive feedback

As I suggested in part 1, short-term performance goals take into account your current limitations and give you a target to aim for that is slightly beyond your current ability. This should be slightly ambitious but not unrealistically so.

The term “progressive overload” is probably familiar to most who have entrenched themselves to some degree in physical activity – even more common is the concept of the “comfort zone”.

But a term that may not familiar to you is the “zone of proximal development”, an intriguing concept initially developed by psychologist Lev Vygotsky.

While the intentions of this concept seem to be geared towards childhood development, I’ve found it to be applicable to training psychology as well. The zone of proximal development represents the happy medium between pushing upwards enough to progress while not so hard as to inflict injury or discouragement. This is where I always strive to be – on a constant but gradual incline.

This idea can also be conceptualized by thinking of your comfort zone as something that is continuing to grow as you progress.

It may help to remind yourself that any upward climb is – by definition – difficult, while also maintaining the humility to understand our limitations.

In order to ensure progress you should keep a training log. This will help you know week to week the amount of weight to use and also help track your progress.

Additionally, while I suggested having an open mind and being creative with your program creation, there is also value to keeping a program somewhat consistent over a number of weeks. This helps you know that you are advancing in either weight or reps.

As an aside, I find humility itself to be a key component of improvement of ANY kind. In fact I have heard it said that humility is the prerequisite to wisdom.

Feedback can come in many forms, it could be from progress photos or a coach, or just a friend commenting on your progress. Whatever the source, it seems to be a key component to maintaining long term progress. Instagram has become a breeding ground for “attention seekers” but while its commonplace to shun such people, the reality is that getting positive responses is actually something we need.

The Ingredients of Muscle Growth

If we think of muscle building as hypertrophy, there is little better resource than the work of Brad Shoenfeld, who determined that the primary factors leading to muscle growth are: muscle damage, muscle tension and metabolic stress (aka cell swelling).

Brad suggests periodizing these factors. Personally I’ve found that simply being aware of them can help understand the true goal of the training session.

In the protocol I suggest below all of these factors come into play, and by being mindful of them you will access their true power.


The “contrast principle” or “perception effect” suggests that our mind perceives things in comparison to one another. So how can this be used to improve physical training?

Instead of training with a constant weight for a constant number of sets, try reverse pyramid training. This method suggests starting with the heaviest weight and dropping the weights while increasing reps for successive sets.

I’ve seen time after time that implementing this techniques has resulted in rapid strength and muscle gains.

Now for a word of caution…. if you are too ambitious on your first/heaviest set you risk injury (yes this is coming from experience). A set or two of lightweight warm ups to mentally practice the form will help prevent against this, and make sure that the incremental increase from your last session is moderate. In actuality it’s the second set where true growth often occurs as this is where you are typically lifting above your previous ability.


In order for progress to be true there has to be a controlled variable. This is one reason why training to “failure” is preferred when doing resistance training.

This means that you are physically unable to perform any more repetitions while maintaining proper form. That point cannot be overstated, because doing a low number of reps with a relatively light weight won’t accomplish much (outside of rehabilitation purposes).

It should be noted that at different parts of the range of motion you have greater strength. If you have ever seen someone squatting or bench pressing with chains this is the reasoning behind this. In the case of bench press, as you push the bar farther from your chest you are stronger and therefore the chains give you more resistance to work against.

However in many gyms using chains isn’t practical, so one way I’ve found to be more practical for getting to muscle failure is using “top partials” – which is doing a few reps at the top – or more accurately – strongest few inches – of the range of motion at the end of each set.


Density refers to the amount of “work” done within a set amount of time. From my experience it is an amazing way – if not the most effective – to progress physically as well as aesthetically.

In my Superhero training program I suggested working on three things: power, size and speed.

Using density as a measurement can help improve all of these.

The beauty is that you can progress in a number of ways almost indefinitely because the amount of density is essentially:

(sets) x (reps) x (load) / time

So you can progress by:

  1. lifting heavier weights
  2. doing more reps
  3. doing it in less time – usually done by decreasing rest time.
  4. A strategic combination of the above three.

One of the best ways to do this type of training is using reciprocal inhibition (RI), which means pairing up antagonizing my muscle groups. This is my favourite RI split:

  • Day 1: chest + back (rowing)
  • Day 2: quads + hams
  • Day 3: shoulders + back (lats)
  • Day 4: biceps + triceps

And then I will work low back and abs into the routing intermittently.

Try doing that split while using a rep scheme something like this:

20 reps, 15 reps, 6 reps, 8 reps, 10 reps, 6 reps, 8 reps, 15 reps.

Then each week decrease the rest time between supersets from about 60 sec to 15 seconds. When the rest becomes that low you can go back to 60 seconds but with heavier weights 😊

Related: Man’s Search for Muscle: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Anyone familiar with Layne Norton may have read some of his contest prep articles, as I have – and in fact I used some of his advice when preparing for more than one photo shoot.

Recently he unleashed an ebook which is extremely long and in depth, all about the process of preparing to go on stage in a physique competition, and even though I have no interest in stepping on stage it intrigued me.

First of all, I must say I highly appreciate the fact that when you go to his page (which I refuse to link) it is not one of those 10-zillion page long advertisement pages, it is simply a picture of the ebook and you can choose either the men’s or women’s version — although I’m almost certain they are the exact same book… because throughout the thing it gives advice for both men and women.

So while it was a far better buying experiences than most of the online sales experiences I have to admit that my first read through of the books ok left me annoyed.

Why? Because it is being pitched as a comprehensive 260 page book, which suggests there is a ton of information packed in there. However it could have easily been shaved down by a hundred pages or so.

The first 80-some pages were filled with very basic information about calorie balance… in other words stuff that anyone who is about to enter a show already knows.

The last section is all about poses, which is probably helpful to some people but let’s do a quick reality check… anyone who is serious about getting on stage will almost certainly need a coach, not a $40 ebook to learn this stuff. Having a coach for doing a show is also vital because you tend to be so depleted that it’s almost impossible to do everything with meal planning and creating an effective training program on your own.

Buuut – the book does an excellent job of laying out much of the detailed information a coach would normally be handling so it can be good educationally if you choose to work with a coach and if you choose not to, you’ll have a better idea of why you probably should be.

I actually see the book as more of a narrative in the life of a professional bodybuilder than an actual how-to guide.

There are millions of books that will help you get from bad to good in terms of physique improvement and I believe the goal of this book was to help people go from good to great. Does it succeed in that? Yes in a sense. Layne discusses much of the same topics that can be found in his pre-contest articles but in more depth in the latter parts of the book. He also talks about what to do after a show, which may be excellent for anyone on a restricted diet of any kind.

That being said, I would simply suggest that if you get the book you set your expectations appropriately; it is not likely to be 260 pages of NEW information, but a large dose of old information, some “nice to know” information and a little bit of advice that will very likely be valuable at some point in your life if you want to get ridiculously lean.

When Man of Steel hit the screen I wrote some of my most popular blogs:

  • Man of Steel: Building a physique like Henry Cavill’s Superman
  • Man of Steel Cannon Ball Shoulders
  • Building a Man of Steel Chest with “SUPER DROPS”

    Now That Batman V Superman is on the way I’ve taken it one step further by making an interactive video-based program, starting with: Man of Steel training program Part 1

  • As a kid I loved Tarzan, even though my main source of exposure was audio stories on vinal – which were recorded versions of the 1966 show starring Ron Ely. When Casper Van Dien played the role in the 1998 I wanted so badly to love it despite it being pretty awful.

    Now a new version is coming out starring Alexander Skarsgard (and my mistress-to-be Margot Robbie) and if you’ve seen the trailers for The Legend of Tarzan – whether you think it looks visually stunning or narratively stupid, no one can deny that the dude is peeled!

    Skarsgård’s physique is either inspirational to those who enjoy getting fit or maddening to those who don’t know how to. Before I get into some specifics on how to train and eat for this let me point something that the cinema hides: people “peak” for very short periods of time.

    A perfect example of this is the movie Man of Steel where the production schedule was coordinated with Henry Cavil’s trainer to get him to peak for the one shirtless scene.

    Fitness models and bodybuilders have the same challenge, to get into their peak condition for stage time. 

    So it is an unrealistic expectation to think anyone walks around like this 24:7, but working towards this type of shape we can certainly stand apart from the crowd.

    Alexander is tall and lanky, which leads me to suspect he is a stereotypical ectomorph. While he was fit before this film, his challenge was probably putting on muscle more than it was getting lean.

    Because of this his specific training was probably hypertrophy-based. There are bound to be magazines popping up with “Tarzan training” designed as all-in-one programs, but while such stories (strong emphasis on the word “stories”) may be entertaining they are not likely to be practical for most people.

    For most people on the earth what I’m about to suggest will get you much closer. It’s a 2-phase regime, first getting buff and leans and then getting scorched.


    In phase 1 we need to lay the foundation and get into great shape. This requires dedication and mental resilience. It’s about building and toning muscle while dramatically singeing body fat.

    I’ve had a number of “false starts” through the years so here are the ways I’ve found to overcome those…

    Probably the most important is a shift in mindset. I will say this again but the most powerful mental switch you can make is changing “I want” or “I should” into “I must”. This has helped me in every aspect of my life.

    With a new-found commitment to getting into ridiculous shape, here’s how to begin phase 1:

    Day 1: gorge! Shop! Read! Goals! Spend $!

    The day 1 feast is as vital as it is enjoyable. If you have been a yo-yo dieter in the past there’s a good chance your metabolism is slowed down so this will help kick start your engine. It is also a good way to remind yourself that junk food is not as good as your brain wants you to think. Mentally it tells you that this journey is about enjoyment and pride, not self deprivation.

    Make sure to stock up on healthy food that you will be using to fuel your transformation.

    Read and/or re-read good material to help inspire you and remind you of key principles. Suggestions are “Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle” by Tom Venuto, or check out “SuperHero Physique” which was designed to be motivational as well as educational. Even “Body-For-Life” has a few good nuggets. You can always click on my Fat Burning blogs for tons of material.

    Set your goals. What I suggest initially is to take your current measuring stick and use that. For example if you just think you look out of shape something like “I must get a six pack” – write it down because we’re going to come back to it.

    Spend a little money. Invest in yourself. This could mean buying a treat at the supplement shop, ordering a fitness book, etc, it really doesn’t matter. The fact that you are putting cash into this tells your mind that you are commuted and stand to lose if you don’t see it through.
    Day 2: Measure! Refine goals! train favorite part! Log your food!

    Begin day two by measuring your weight and body composition. Also take a picture. This is not fun but remind yourself that this is going to be the worst measurements and it’s only going to get better from here on.

    Using your measurements refine your written goal. For example having a six pack might now mean burning 30 lbs of fat. As a measurable amount you can now track your progress.

    Start of your training program with your favorite body part/parts. For example I generally begin with chest and biceps or shoulders. Make sure to log your training (I use the free app Pump-N-Log). I’ll get into the nitty-gritty of the actual training shortly…

    Begin the habit of logging what you eat. As with training I’ll get into the details shortly but the most important thing you can do is log your food with either an app, a book (such as Buffer’s training and diet log) or a spreadsheet.

    Day 7: measure and adjust

    Take your measurements again after a week. Pictures are usually best every two weeks. Based on your results make adjustments to your diet. Whatever you do, don’t get discouraged. Tell yourself “I must see this through”. There are bound to be ups and downs along the way, so use this as a tool not an excuse to quit.

    This phase is a typical program I run for 6-12 weeks.


    Simply put, the best training here is a 3-4 day split using a rep-range of 8-12 to failure.

    Here is a good example of such a workout:

    Day 1 – chest & biceps

    • Barbell Bench press – 4 sets x 8 reps
    • Incline dumbbell press – 4×8
    • Ez bar curls (wrists supinated) – 4×8
    • Cable crossovers – 3×10
    • Alternating dumbbell curls – 3×10

    Finish with 10-20 minutes of cardio.

    Day 2 – back & hams

    • Straight-arm pull downs – 4×10 (plus drops after last set)
    • Lying leg curl – 6×6 (partials after each set)
    • Barbell or cable rows – 4×8
    • Stiff-leg deadlift – 3×10,8,6

    Finish with HIIT cardio

    Day 3 – Quads & Calves

    • Barbell squats – 8×8
    • Leg extension 3×12
    • Seated calf raises 100 reps in as short a time as possible 

    10-20 min cardio

    Day 4 – delts and triceps

    • 3-way delts raise – 3×10
    • Cable press down – 4×8
    • Seated barbell military press 3×6 – super set with
    • Dumbbell laterals – 3×8
    • Overhead dumbell triceps extensions – 3×10
    • Rear delt bent dumbbell laterals – 3×10 superset with
    • Dumbbell upright rows – 3×8

    HIIT cardio.

    What to eat is a huge thing here. The main thing is to eat enough good food to keep you metabolism running well.

    The most effective strategy still is to follow these guidelines:

    • Keep calories around 85% of maintenance for 3 days then have one re-feed day every forth day at about 110%
    • Have 6 meals per day ensuring protein with each meal
    • Drink a cup of water every waking hour
    • Keep carbs clean; avoid carbs pre-workout and first thing in the morning
    • Include omega-3 fat sources
    • Have lots of vegetables

    PHASE 1 supplements:

    The main purpose of sups here is to fill in gaps of your diet. So protein powder, greens powder, multivitamins and omega 3 fish oil are awesome for this.

    Despite the speculation around whether krill oil is worth the added cost I’m a huge advocate of it. I’ve found it significantly helps with inflammation in my shoulders and absolutely no fish burps unlike other fish oils. I also suspect that it is superior for insulin sensitivity based on my personal resultsof lowering belly fat but I have no concrete evidence to support that at this time.

    Since this article is getting a tad long I’m going to give you Phase 2 or “the grand finale” in my next post. Phase 2 is where we will go from a great physiqu to an “elite” physique!

    PHASE 2 – coming soon


    Super Hero Physique

    Time for another no-biased, no BS and of course non-endorsed review that is not here only to sell you on buying the program.

    One of latest fitness “program”s to hit the on-line marketplace is Mike Gillette’s “strength psychology”  Or “psychology of strength” (depending which site you go to) which has been advertised to help people build “mental toughness”.

    It is an interesting starting point for a program but not a program in its entire form. It is pretty much the exact same concept as part 1 of Superhero Physique – so those who have bought that will find nothing new here (and Gillette’s program is a supstantially greater cost).

    For those who haven’t bought Superhero physique and are interested in Strength Psychogy, I would suggest using causion before buying it. First of all, if you consider yourself menatally “weak” much of what he says will fall on deaf ears, and if you consider yourself already mentally strong chances are you wont listen to many of his suggestions anyway. 

    Also keep in mind that this product is being marketed by a group that tells salesman to give their best information away for free, so basically the best stuff to be learned is on the sales site and his articles anyway, so you are likely to feel underwhelmed if you buy it — but they don’t care as long as they get your money.

    I’m not going to sit here and tell you the information here is bad as such, it’s just rehashed concepts that have been around for decades. With that in mind I can’t recommend spending your money on this one.


    Super Hero Physique
    superhero_physique by Shawn Buffington

    SOA – a hilarious new webseries