Archive for the ‘ Nutrition ’ Category

Rebuilding My 5×5 (and becoming the Wolverine)

NOTE: I wrote about two-thirds of this post and when I saved it as a draft, WordPress fucked up and erased all but the first line. Needless to say, I’m furious, and will do my best to rebuild it. Clearly, I need to start writing drafts offline first.

I love the classic 5×5 program. Like Pat Sherwood, I like clean, simple programming. A good training protocol and workout should have a clear, Zen-like quality about it, and I’ve yet to encounter anything in strength training that achieves that as effectively as the 5×5. Furthermore, it’s uniquely effective, which is part of the reason it’s survived a strength training staple over 60-plus years of fitness fads (its worth and merit is still being discussed by top minds today). I had personally dabbled in weight training for years before I finally started a 5×5 protocol that delivered both the strength and aesthetic growth I had been searching for.

For those that don’t know, the 5×5 program refers to the sets and repetitions used by the athlete during training workouts. So, 5×5 refers to 5 sets of 5 repetitions (SETS x REPS), giving you a total number of 25 working repetitions per lift per workout. The popularity of the 5×5 protocol is largely attributed to Bill Starr, who wrote about it in his book The Strongest Shall Survive: Strength Training for Football, where he said:

The researchers found that 4-6 repetitions of 4-6 sets, increasing the weight on each successive set, produced the most significant increase in strength. Terrific, I simplified the formula to five sets of five reps as that was the exact median and it was easy to remember.”

There are several variations of it, but the purest and most simple 5×5 has the athlete warm up thoroughly, then perform 5 sets of 5 reps at the same weight (called “sets across”). I’ve always like this best, as I feel it’s both the most challenging and the simplest, and especially in beginners, nets excellent growth. However, my personal and anecdotal experience has let me to determine this variation while effective in a caloric surplus is particularly brutal and excruciating in a caloric deficit. Given that I am on a quest to slowly and stably take myself down to approximately 10-12% body fat using flexible dieting, a caloric deficit is necessary evil. Recently, I’ve noticed increased fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and more grinding and missed reps than “normal” for me in the gym. All of these are indicators of under-recovery, that my body and nervous system can no longer take going “balls to the wall” for sets across every single workout. Thus, it’s time to re-evaluate my programming to further progress my goals of improving strength while slowly and safely decreasing body fat.

So now what? Anyone that knows me knows I am a big fan of the Wolverine character and Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of him on film. It’s taken several years and a few serious missteps, but both Days of Future Past and The Wolverine before it finally started delivering stories and action worthy of Jackman’s talent and Logan’s character, and Hugh has certainly achieved a physique worthy of the character. Like many, when stuck in a crossroads or dilemma, I look for inspiration. This time, I turned back to Hugh and his trainer David Kingsbury.

Logan (as played by Hugh Jackman) in X-Men: Days of Future Past

Logan (as played by Hugh Jackman) in X-Men: Days of Future Past

As fate would have it, Hugh’s training for both The Wolverine and Days of Future Past is a bit of a hybrid of an ascending load 5×5 and Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program. It uses the varying percentages of Wendler’s program and 3:1 load:deload cycle, while pursuing slightly higher volume overall (closer to a 5×5).

The base percentages for Hugh Jackman's training.

The base percentages for Hugh Jackman’s training.

From both of these references, I started rebuilding my own 5×5 using a similar ascending load cycle. The end result?

A little programming.

A little programming.

The reality is nothing fancy. I’ve borrowed from Jim Wendler the four-day day split for the main lifts, with a rest day in the middle, as well as the increasing loads over the three week cycle. However, I’ve modified the overall volume and loads to stay within the 5×5 parameters. However, this is purely cosmetic on a lot of levels, and a program that followed the same loading but with a 4×6 rep scheme would likely achieve almost identical results (and potentially save time in the gym due to the reduced number of sets). See below:

4x6 Variant

4×6 Variant

The key points on both is staying within that 4-6×4-6 range that seems to be the physiological “sweet spot” for natural athletes not assisting with drugs, and to cycle intensity to allow sufficient recovery despite the caloric deficit. Now it’s time to get to work.

Shit that has to stop

This post is a series of micro-rants regarding some major peeves of mine.

MANNERS: Recently, I’ve seen appalling displays of manners at restaurants and food joints.  Most shocking, the worst offenders are usually the elderly, especially if the server not Caucasian.  People, it’s not that hard.  You greet the server (“Good morning”/”Good afternoon”), wait until they’re ready, then order politely (“I’d like…, please.”).  Instead, I’ve physically seen old ladies completely fail to acknowledge the presence of their server, and just, “I want XYZ, no cheese, et cetera,” with no humility, respect, or even a “thank you.”  It honestly  makes me want to come across the room or table and choke slam you.  The service industry may serve, but the people that work in it are still people, and believe me, they have just as many issues and problems to deal with as you do.  So start treating your servers like they’re human beings, perhaps, and show some damn civility.

VEGANS: I don’t have a problem with vegans.  One of my closest friends is a staunch vegan.  I do have a problem with their sometimes idiotic logic.  Beans, rice and quinoa are carbohydrates, not proteins.  I don’t care if they contain a complete protein within them.  If you break them down based on their macro-nutrient distribution, they are fucking CARBS.  Eating one cup (cooked) of quinoa nets you a whopping 8-grams of protein.  To achieve the same level of protein as a single chicken breast, you’d have to eat three cups of quinoa, at which point your macros are now completely fucked because you just gorged yourself on carbs.  Yes, I am failing to take into account the rest of the meal, or even the day as a whole, but my point still stands.  I mean, a vanilla milkshake has protein (since it contains whole milk).  Does that make it a good source?  Fuck no.  Even worse, if you go check out this “resource” here, you can see that the author (PhD, RD!) argues that a vegan athlete weighing in at approximately 174-pounds requires only between 60-80-grams of protein per day.  Also, it is “easy for a vegan diet to meet recommendations for protein, as long as calorie intake is adequate. Strict protein combining is not necessary; it is more important to eat a varied diet throughout the day.”  So not only is he further propagating the idiocy that a balanced and varied diet is important (I’ll come back this in the next micro-rant), he’s basically saying that in order to hit your protein macros, just eat more, even if it completely fucks your carbohydrate macros and means you’re taking in 3,000-calories a day.  Sweet!  Again, I am not bashing veganism.  I choose not to do it, but I understand the animal abuse concerns, and respect the decision of those who choose a vegan lifestyle.  I don’t respect silly bullshit, however, and that is exactly what this is.  A vegan diet is inherently carb-heavy, protein-deficient.  As long as you acknowledge this up front and take steps to fix it, great.  What I dislike are people that try to pretend it’s not broken when the deficiencies are staring them in the face.  If you choose to be vegan, especially if you’re an athlete, watch your carb macros like a hawk, supplement your meals with protein smoothies made with vegan protein (yes, it does exist), and take vitamin B12.  Easy.

A BALANCED DIET: This is hardest battle to fight with my clients.  A lot of people have just been told for so long that they need an “even balance” of macro-nutrients that they just can’t wrap their mind around the idea that carb cycling might actually lead them to greater fat loss or performance.  Exchanges usually go something like this:

Them: Don’t I need more carbs?  Like whole grains and stuff?

Me: What do you do all day?

Them: Sit at a desk, pretty much.

Me: …No, you don’t need more carbs.

Them:  :'(

Seriously.  People are so damned addicted to their carbohydrates that they seriously believe that they “need” them to function behind a desk.  It’s lunacy, and another reason why the western world is getting so friggin’ fat.  I’ll make this really simple: Carbohydrates should be adjusted and balanced to your total athletic workload, and not anything else.  If you do two hours of mixed martial arts every night after work, then, yeah, you’re gonna need some carbs.  Similarly, if you weight train like the Hulk, you’re gonna need some carbs.  If you drive from your desk to the elliptical machine and read Us Weekly or the Times while doing “cardio” then you don’t need carbs.  Kiefer wrote a good piece on this recently.

I can’t think of anything else that’s pissing me off at the moment.  So here is Mikko Salo being awesome, as usual.  Not going to lie, I am rooting for Mikko this year (and not just because he says some of the funniest shit in the most deadpan fashion).

New year. Don’t waste it.

It’s a new year.  Don’t waste it.  Since the vast majority of New Year resolutions are based around body weight and image, we’ll start there.

Your Body

35.7 percent of Americans in the United States are obese.  Not just overweight, but bloody OBESE.  In 2008, medical and healthcare costs resulting from obesity-related conditions were $147 BILLION.  And I’m not just pulling these numbers out of ass.  I’m probably the antithesis of religious, but even I’ll admit the Bible is right when it tells you that your body is your temple.  So stop feeding your temple garbage.  Seriously.  Sit down and educate yourself on the SCIENCE behind how your body works, then go forth and reap what you’ve sown.  Start here.  Then move to here.  If you’re a power athlete or someone generally looking to grow bigger, faster and stronger, then start here.  Avoid anyone that preaches the benefits of whole grains, tells you carbs are okay in the morning as they’re low-gylcemic, or tells you that cutting certain foods is “dangerous” and “unbalanced.”  Drink less alcohol, eat more green vegetables, and double your protein intake.  Your body is an engine.  Why would you ever think you can fill up the tank with low quality fuel (that’s food) and get high quality output (that’s your body fat percentage)?

A lot of the quite literally shitty nutritional advice we receive comes from our own government, which has unfortunately put forth advisory policies that aren’t based on any sound, peer-reviewed or critiqued science.  Is it really so surprising that whole grain carbohydrates are the biggest thing recommended by the government when US agriculture represents a sizable portion of the GDP?

So stop making excuses and lose the fat.  Notice I said fat, not weight.  I do NOT advocate that anyone, especially women, become waifs trying to survive on 800 calories a day to stay “thin.”  Your weight is a number, and your BMI (body mass index) is only a slightly less useless number.  What I am talking about is losing body fat, which almost all of us (myself included) have an excess of.  And no, it is not fucking healthy or natural to have rolls of fat.  So we work on it.  The problem is most of you don’t have even the slightest clue what you’re doing, so you fall for stupid advertising and shitty nutritional advice.  You sit on an elliptical or treadmill for 45 to 60 minutes regularly.  You maybe dabble with some weights, but usually dumbbells rather than barbells, and never heavy because you “just want to tone up.”  So you waste hours of your life doing this, eating lots of whole grain granola bars because they’re low in fat and “healthy.”  Flash forward a month or two, and maybe you’ve lost a few pounds, but more likely than not, you’ve barely made a dent in your fat reserves.  Your motivation drops, you struggle, and then you quit.  You resign with thoughts of how you just don’t have “skinny genes” and how you were “super healthy” but it didn’t work.

The reality is you were an ignorant sheep who followed the masses because you didn’t know any better.  The good news is that all of that is in the past and you have the opportunity from here on out to do better.

typical vs powerlifter

This is Staci, who was featured here.  The picture on the left was here trying to follow the typical “Cardio Bunny” routine at the gym.  Low fat, lots of grains, lots of running and other forms of “cardio.”  The picture on the right is Staci after she educated herself and found a barbell.  She starting powerlifting training, cut the excess carbohydrates and grains, and started eating more along the lines of the Paleo nutrition model.  Yup, she ditched the granola and elliptical and starting lifting HEAVY.  And guess what?  She didn’t “bulk up” or turn into a She-Hulk or a man.  Only an idiot would say the girl on the left looks better than the girl on the right.  The kicker?  Staci weighs more in the photo on the right, but looks better do to a lower body fat percentage.

Stacy isn’t alone in realizing the secret to a fabulous female figure is found in iron, not circles.


So far, the discussion has been skewed towards women, so let’s shift gears over to men for a few.  Gentlemen, women like muscles.  They tell you that they don’t, that they just want guys that are lean or built like swimmers, but honestly, begging forgiveness of the fairer sex here, they don’t know what they want.  They claim they want swimmers bods, but then they fawn and openly drool over Brad Pitt in Troy, or models like Greg Plitt.  Hell, anybody remember a little movie called 300?  Women like muscles.  In college I started lifting weights.  At just a hair under six feet tall, I went from skinny and lean 160 pounds up to 185.  The difference was startling.  Even girls I had been friends with for years started cooing over my arms and chest.  Suddenly, sorority girls who had never even known I existed were talking among themselves to figure out why no one was dating me.  This is a personal account, yes.  But I’m not alone:

It wasn’t long before I was in a zone. I was lifting at the gym three or four days a week, and supplementing that with a day or two of home workout. The differences in my physique and behavior were noticeable. Previously fitted shirts became snug around my arms and chest. My posture improved, making me look longer and sturdier. I threw out the trash shirtless.

Girls’ reactions were a lot more interesting. I’d catch them staring—sometimes several times during a conversation—at my arms and chest. Girls’ hands would linger on certain parts of my body when they would do one of those you’re-so-funny pawings. The nerdiest, most bookish girls, the kind who like sci-fi and talk with a slight lisp—who most people never-in-a-million-years would imagine cared about such things—would oooh and ahhh when I’d tell them to feel my biceps and half-jokingly explain that I was “in the middle of getting ripped.” I had unwittingly leveled-up.


Girls like muscles.  They like men that look like men, that radiate strength and confidence.  They downplay it, intentionally or not, because I think they are afraid of it being revealed that they can be as superficial and shallow as the men they sneer at.  It’s easy to claim that they don’t care about such things.  Words are cheap.  Yet you look at their behavior, their actions, and it paints an entirely different story.

So, gentlemen, it’s time to lift.  Start here and here.  Forget everything else.  To paraphrase Mark Twight, appearance is the result of fitness.  Bodybuilding is a horribly vain and superficial sport.  Lift for strength, speed, and power.  Eat clean.  The aesthetics will take care of themselves.  Don’t worry about supplements, but eat whole foods, and lots of them.  Get rid of your shitty Nike Frees or Shox or gel Asics.  Buy some Inov-8s or some Chucks.  Squat, press, deadlift, do pull ups, and sprint your way to an epic physique.

Surround Yourself

Most people are shitty, weak-minded individuals, who spew hate and insults at those who have the strength to do what they cannot.  Don’t announce to the world that you’re going Paleo for 30 days, but simply do it.  If people ask you what you’re doing, explain the bare minimum.  Few people really give a shit about insulin levels or the negative impact of gluten on the human digestive tract.  If you tell them you’re doing this “hardcore” (it’s not) diet, and removing grain and dairy from your diet, most people will try to talk you out of it.  Heed the words of Dave Tate: “90% of everyone you meet are negative pricks who will go out of their way to tell you why you can’t do something.  Once they know your goal, they’ll try and tear you down.  Just keep it vague, and all they can do is wish you success.”

Or find a community that encourages you to be athletic and strong.  Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who push you to be better rather than tearing you down to make themselves feel better.

The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over, yet anticipating or hoping for different results.  Everything you want can be yours if you have the audacity and strength to forge yourself into something better and just take it.

Don’t hope.

Just do it (Hooah, Nike).

Achilles (Brad Pitt)


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