Congratulations gentle reader. You have just taken the most important step of your life. You’ve admitted that you’re a pathetic weakling and want to get stronger. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.
Ultimately, the kind of training you do should be somewhat determined by your goal. And yet, strength is a generalized adaptation, so on the other hand, when you’re first starting out your strength program is going to be fairly general. Wrap your head around that for a moment.
That didn’t make any sense. Can you try again?
Okay. building a general base of strength will help in just about any endeavor that you do, whether it’s looking better, competing in strength sports, staying out of a nursing home (muscle loss is the number one cause of disability among the elderly), or performing better at a sport.
Use Compound Movements
Generally speaking, strength is going to be built best with compound movements. These are movements that involve more than one joint. Working multiple joints at the same time provides a number of benefits.
It takes less time. Now there are some people who simply love the gym and want to spend all day there. I’m going to assume that you actually have other things to do in your life and would like to minimize your time in the gym. Compound movements help you do this. because one movement will cover several different muscles and joints.
It works the body as a system by allowing muscles to function as they naturally want to.
It allows more muscle to be worked
Keep it simple stupid
As a novice you need a novice program. I mean, you can use an intermediate or advanced program, but you’re not going to get as much out of it. If you’ve ever driven a stick shift, you can start in 3rd gear, but it’s a lot easier and faster to start in 1st gear. So what makes a novice program?
Increase the weight each workout
3-4 workouts per week. No more.
As a novice, you can recover from stress of lifting weights within about 2 days, so you want work out about that often, but not more. You don’t get strong by lifting heavy weights. You get strong by recovering from lifting heavy weights.
As a novice, you can increase the weight on the bar every workout, so a novice program should take advantage of this by designing it in. It’s not complicated. Choose a weight. Lift it for the prescribed number of sets and reps. Next time, add 5 pounds and repeat. When you can’t go up 5 pounds, go up by 2.5 pounds.
It’s simple to be a novice. A novice program should be simple. Don’t complicate it.
So where should I start? How about Starting Strength?
I like the Starting Strength model and recommend it. But you need to understand it. It’s a novice program, and will only last you 3-6 months. It’s not meant to be done forever. It’s designed to be simple and provide a foundation of strength.
At its most basic, it starts out with four lifts on a two day split routine that looks like this:
Week: Monday Wednesday Friday
1: 1 2 1
2: 2 1 2
Phase 1: 2-4 weeks
Overhead Press 3x5
Bench Press 3x5
You can add in chinups at the end of workout 2 if you like.
You can also add some barbell or dumbbell curls if you really want to.
So what weight should I start at?
Start with a lightweight. Probably just the bar. Do a set of five.
If it’s easy, add 10 pounds, and do another set of five.
Repeat step 2 until a set feels mildly challenging. (This might be step 1 for some people.)
The weight that felt challenging will be your starting weight. Do two more sets with that same weight.
Log the weight in a notebook. Next workout, you’ll add 5-10 pounds.
Phase 2: Once you’re comfortable with Deadlifts
Now, you add in power cleans in place of deadlifts on Workout 1.
Overhead Press 3x5
Power Clean 5x3
Bench Press 3x5
Phase 3: When it gets hard to recover from deadlifts
It’ll take you several months to get to this point, so I’m not going to describe it. By this time, hopefully you’ve bought the Starting Strength book, maybe joined their forum, and read enough on their website to know what to do.
How do I do these exercises?
I’m going to provide several videos for each lift below. You don’t have to watch them all. Generally speaking, watch the first one. Try it yourself. Take a video of yourself and compare your form to it. If you want or need more detail, then watch the others.
These are the foundation of the program, and the most functional of all the movements. More than any other lift, this one will keep you out of a nursing home.
Starting Strength recommends and prefers what are commonly referred to as “low bar” squats. The videos below teach their method. You don’t have to use low bar if you don’t want to. High bar squats will work just fine.
For years Alan Thrall preached “whatever works for you squats,” but when he plateaued and started using the Starting Strength style squats, he started progressing again. Here he teaches what he learned.
Here, Alan Thrall’s Coach describes three common mistakes.
Here we have Starting Strength Founder, Mark Rippetoe teaching his squat method. This is a playlist.
Overhead Press, AKA The Press
Playlist of Mark Rippetoe teaching the Overhead Press
Alan Thrall explaining how to set up for the Press
Alan Thrall teaching the 5 steps to a good deadlift. Similar to his squat, Alan had stopped progressing until he changed his technique.
Common Deadlift Errors:
And Mark Rippetoe teaching the Deadlift.
We’re half way THERE!!!
Okay, at this point you should be done with your first workout. If you wait three minutes between sets and take one minute for each set, it should have taken you about half an hour. So now enjoy a little Bon Jovi before you learn the next lift for Workout 2.
The power clean is the most technical of the lifts that you’ll do in the Starting Strength program. You shouldn’t try to learn this lift until you have a a fairly clean deadlift. So somewhere between Week 2 and 4.
That’s a lot of videos! Anything else I should know?
How about diet?
Good question. Generally speaking you should be eating a fairly high protein diet. A good rule of thumb is 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. If you’re very obese, you could go a bit lower. If you’re very thin, you might want to go a little higher.
You’re going to get the most out of Starting Strength if you’re in a caloric surplus. Building muscle is an anabolic process. Losing fat is a catabolic process. Your body doesn’t like to do both at the same time. (You can for a limited time if you’re starting out obese.)
When talking to skinny young men, the founder Mark Rippetoe’s advice is to eat 4500-5000 calories a day for the first month or two and don’t worry about getting fat. Once you’re strong, it will be easy to lose the extra weight. If I were younger, I’d follow this advice myself. But since I’m an old man, I make do with a small caloric surplus of about 300-500 calories per day. (You can estimate your maintenance as 15 x your bodweight in pounds. If you’re inactive, then use 14 x bodyweight.)
If you’re obese, then you’ll want to eat in a mild deficit at first, so maybe 12 x your bodyweight. If you’re very obese you could be more aggressive and eat 10 x bodyweight.
No matter which strategy you choose, understand that adequate nutrition plays a huge part in getting stronger, and reducing calories is going to reduce your strength. While you’re in the novice phase, don’t be too strict. Once you’ve gotten strong, then you can can reduce calories and get lean.
What about fat and carbs. You can go however you like here, however, higher in carbs, and moderate in fat tends to do better for most non-obese people.
What should I eat? The vast majority of your food should come from “whole” sources. If you don’t know what that means, then try Dr Jordan Feigenbaum’s advice and only eat foods that have one ingredient. I have a number of recipes on my website of foods that have helped me on my own fitness journey.
You should have some desserts or other treats that you enjoy every day. If you don’t, then you’re more likely to binge and go off diet altogether. My three secrets to not going overboard with treats are:
Log it before you eat it.
Weigh out your serving
Put the container away.
Leave the kitchen before you eat it.
This will make you less likely to have “just a little more” or go back for seconds and thirds, and fourths.
Is this going to make me big? I don’t want to be big.
Only if you eat in a large surplus. Now, the plan is to gain both muscle and fat during the initial novice phase, and then to lose the fat afterward. You’ll look a bit fluffy during this process, but it’s temporary.
If you’re worried about looking like this, that takes drugs.
Now, if you’re a woman, there are some extra things to be aware of.
As part of the adaptation process, your muscles are going to be a bit fuller temporarily. Stick with it, it will go away.
Your weight will fluctuate over the course of your menstrual cycle. You simply cannot compare your weight or your measurements from week to week. What you need to do is compare them to the same week the cycle before.
This is so exciting. Are there any fitness channels that you like?
This is a tough one. Most of the Youtube fitness channels are junk. Here are are few that I like that won’t lead you too far astray:
Starting Strength: Heck this whole article is about Starting Strength, so I guess I should recommend the Youtube channel. Mark Rippetoe (“Rip”) is quite the character. The channel has a bit of everything.
Barbell Medicine. Two Starting Strength who are also doctors run the website BarbellMedicine.com and have a podcast by the same name. Dr Feigenbaum’s youtube channel is their outlet. They are also active on Instagram. I really enjoy their take on things.
Alan Thrall: You’ve seen some of his videos above. Alan has a gym called Untamed Strength and recently became a Starting Strength coach. He now offers online coaching through Barbell Medicine.
Omar Isuf is a Canadian who just got into lifting. He’s quite the character, and his channel reflects his growth over the years that he’s been lifting. He likes to have lots of guests from the lifting world.
Should I get a personal trainer?
No. Most of the personal trainers, especially the ones that work at commercial gyms (Planet Fitness, LA Fitness, 24 hour Fitness, etc.) are garbage. You’re lucky if their advice doesn’t actually harm you. It would be a good idea to get a coach, preferably someone who is familiar with the Starting Strength model and performs the basic compound lifts themselves. If you can’t find anyone local, you can get online coaching at both Starting Strength and Barbell Medicine.
And finally, if all else fails, you can post your questions and even videos of your form on the Starting Strength forums and get answers for free.
The lifts are not all that terribly difficult, and you’re going to start with fairly light weights and slowly increase the weight over time, so don’t freak out. You’ve got plenty of time to fix your form and get better at it. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing wrong. Because who’s naturally good at everything the first time?
Congratulations. You’ve decided to start lifting weights. But you’re not sure where to start, so you start searching the internet and youtube for guidance, and suddenly, you’re overwhelmed with terms that don’t seem to make any sense. You go to a gym and try to join in a conversation but people look at you weird because you’re using the words incorrectly.
This article should help clear up some of the confusion and help prevent some embarrassing moments while you transition from novice to expert.
Weightlifting, Weight Training, Lifting Weights, and more
Weightlifting technically always refers to Olympic Weightlifting. This is an officially recognized Olympic sport. It is very very specific. The two main components are the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. (Described later under Specific Exercises.) To avoid confusion, don’t say you’re weightlifting unless you’re doing olympic lifts. Sometimes abbreviated “oly” or “oly lifting”
Lifting weights on the other hand means any activity in which weights are being used.
Weight training is sometimes used interchangeably with lifting weights, although the term implies using the weights as part of a systematic plan to achieve a particular goal.
Powerlifting is a sport in which people compete in three different lifts. They do a single squat, bench press, and deadlift. You add the maximum weight for each lift together, and the highest total wins. It’s slightly more complicated, with weight classes, but that’s the general idea.
Strongman refers to a sport with a number very specific feats of strength including picking an Atlas stone (large round rock), giant tire flipping, and picking a log up off the ground and lifting it overhead. Strongman lifts are more awkward than Olympic lifts and Powerlifts.
Bodybuilding specifically refers to using weights for the purpose of winning bodybuilding competitions (or achieve a look that could). Bodybuilding is primarily concerned with size and shape of muscle. At the highest levels, bodybuilding depends on having the right genetics for symmetry and proportion. There are several different “levels” within bodybuilding. Traditional bodybuilding (think Arnold Schwarzenegger or Lou Ferrigno for us old people) is called Classic or Classic Physique. The newer class is “physique” where guys are typically smaller and wear board shorts instead of “posing shorts” (think Speedos).
Female bodybuilding has three levels, Physique (similar to men’s classic and is dominated by steroids), figure, and bikini. Bikini is the least muscled of the levels. There is also fitness which is kind of like figure but with some sort of athletic routine (usually gymnastic or dancing).
Aesthetics refers to training for looking good (which of course is subjective). The most popular male role model of aesthetics ever seems to be Brad Pitt’s character from Fight Club. Note that looking good with clothes on is not necessarily the same as looking good in clothes. Bigger typically looks better in clothes (for men anyway), while leaner typically looks better with no shirt.
Strength training refers to training to maximize strength. It could be for its own sake or for in the pursuit of a strength sport (Olympic Weightlifting, Strongman, Powerlifting, or other smaller specialty strength endeavors).
Split refers to the number of workouts in a cycle, with most cycles taking a week. Each unique workout is usually assigned a letter (A,B,C, etc.) So a 3 day split generally refers to working out 3 days a week. For example Workout A on Monday, Workout B on Wednesday, and Workout C on Friday. A 2 day split has 2 workouts that alternate, you might do Workout A on Monday, Workout B on Wednesday, and then Workout A again on Friday. The next week, you would start with Workout B and repeat the pattern. A five day split has five different workouts. You get the idea.
Other Common Splits: Bro Split refers to a 5 or 6 day split, where each body part has its own workout. PPL (push/pull/legs) refers to a three day split where one day is “push,” another day “pull”, and a third day “legs”.
Rep (repetition) refers to one complete movement of an exercise. So in a squat, squatting down and standing back up is one complete rep.
A set is a number of repetitions done together. So 5 reps done in a row would be considered one set of 5 reps.
3×5, 5×5, 3×10… are shorthand ways of describing set and reps. The first number is the number of sets. The second number is the number of reps in each set. So 3×5 means three sets of five reps each. 3×10 means three sets of 10 reps each.
Rep Max, Max Rep, RM all refer to a set where a person cannot do another set. So a set of five reps where the lifter can’t do a sixth rep is called a 5RM.
Intensity refers to the weight on the bar combined with the effort it takes to lift it. High intensity typically means heavier weight, and therefore lower rep sets. So a 3RM set would be more intense than a 5RM set. Intensity is often calculated as a percentage of a person’s 5RM or 1RM. Alternatively, intensity can be measured subjectively using a scale known as Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) (see below). One thing to be careful about is that intensity in the exercise physiology research literature does not refer to this definition, and instead refers to taking a set to failure. Under this definition, taking a light weight to failure at 25 reps is just as intense as taking a very heavy weight to failure in 3 reps. It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world except for Lola!
Progression means increasing the weight over time. The rate of progression is limited by a person’s training age, which is not measured in time but by getting stronger. The terms Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced are generally used to describe training age.
Novices (or newbies) have the fasted progression because they’re starting from basically zero. Almost anything they do is going to make them stronger, which is why 12 week beginner’s programs never lack for testimonials. Some people like to use strength standards to gauge a person’s training age, but the best gauge is usually how often a person can increase the weight on the bar. If the answer is every workout, then the person is a novice.
Note that the novice stage can last anywhere from 3 to 9 months on a well designed program. Not eating enough or sleeping enough or running too intense a training program, and being older can decrease the length of the novice phase. Alternatively using a poorly designed program can result in a person never exiting the novice stage. The vast majority of gym goers are novices no matter how long they’ve been training.
Intermediate lifters can no longer increase the weight on the bar every training session. Intermediate programs are usually designed to allow the lifter to make weekly progress, and as a result are more complicated. Before a person progresses to an intermediate program, they should ask “The First Three Questions.”
Am I trying to take too big a jump in weights. A rank novice may be able to go up 10lbs each workout where a more experienced novice can only go up 2.5lbs each workout.
Am I waiting long enough between sets? As the weight gets heavier, it takes longer to recover between sets. Metabolic fatigue can be a limiting factor with shorter recovery periods. A brand new lifter may be able to do their next set after just 1 minute, while a more advanced lifter may need 3-5 minutes between sets.
Am I getting enough calories and sleep? One does not get strong by lifting heavy weights. One gets strong by recovering from lifting heavy weights. Not providing your body with enough calories and sleep will impair your ability to get stronger.
Advanced lifters can no longer progress each week, and now the time frame extends to a month (or longer) and the program becomes even more complicated.
Gains is slang for increasing performance in the gym. It generally refers to increasing the weight on the bar or increasing the number of reps with the same weight, but the term is quite nonspecific and can even refer to looking better.
Frequency can refer to either the number of workouts in a week or to the number of times a particular lift is executed, or to the number of times a particular muscle group is worked. Confusing right? Get used to disappointment.
Volume is another amorphous term that can be used to mean several different things. The definition I prefer is the total number of reps in a given time frame (workout session or week). So in a 3×5 workout, you would be doing 15 total reps for that lift. In a 5×5, you’d be doing 25 total reps in the workout for that lift. A competing (although inferior) definition of volume simply the number of sets. This treats a set of one rep the same a set of 10. A third definition of volume is the total number of reps times the weight lifted, although this is better called tonnage (see below).
Tonnage refers to the total weight lifted. So if you benched 225 lbs for 3×5, you lifted 3x5x225 = 3375 lbs for the workout.
Work sets are juxtaposed with warm up sets. A work set is a set heavy enough to induce a growth stimulus. Warm up sets on the other hand are lighter in weight and their purpose is to get the blood flowing to the muscle warming it up and allowing the movement pattern to be practiced. A proper warm up should not fatigue the muscle. It should prepare the muscle.
Effective reps refers to the idea that in a given set, some of the reps are harder than others. Imagine lifting a light weight for 30 reps. The first ten to 15 reps might be easy. Those reps are not “effective,” because the muscle is not having to struggle. The heavier the weight, the higher the percentage of reps that will be effective.
Periodization refers to the planned change in a training variable to promote progression. Intensity, volume, and frequency are the main variables that can be manipulated. The simplest periodization is called linear progression, where only intensity if varied–you add a small amount of weight to the bar every session. It’s not truly linear because the amount of weight added gets smaller over time. You might start out adding 10 pounds each session, and then after a few weeks only 5, and then eventually 2.5. So it’s more of a logarithmic progression, but I don’t foresee that catching on anytime soon.
Naturally linear periodization can’t go on forever of eventually everyone would be as strong as Superman. Eventually Other forms of periodization must be used if a trainee wants to continue to make progress, so frequency and volume may also be changed. Buzzwords you may hear include daily undulating, weekly undulating, and block periodization. Novices don’t need any fancy shmancy periodization and should just stick to linear until they can’t any more.
Concentric contraction occurs when a muscle shortens. For example, lifting a weight overhead, pulling a weight off the floor, or standing up.
Eccentric contraction occurs when the muscle lengthens. For example, lowering a weight or sitting down. Many exercises have both a concentric and eccentric portion; for example, in a squat, you first squat down (eccentric) and then stand up (concentric). The eccentric portion of a movement is sometimes called the negative.
DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) refers to soreness that comes on within 12 to 48 hours of performing an exercise. DOMS is more associated with the eccentric portion of a lift. It is also associated with using a new movement pattern. This is why people are always sore on “muscle confusion” programs like P90X. You’re always doing something new so you’re always sore. DOMS is NOT associated with getting stronger.
Bro is short for brother and can use in almost any situation. It is often used in place of “dude.” For example, “There was this bro at the gym…” It can be used in place of “you” as in “Bro, try lifting this way.” It is often used in a slightly pejorative manner to refer to gym goers who may not be the most productive or adhere to outdated training opinions. These outdated opinions are derisively known as “Bro science” which gets passed from bro to bro in a telephone-like game until there is no semblance of actual science (or even common sense).
Swole is slang for swollen referring to a person’s muscles getting larger.
Natty refers to a natural, meaning someone who is not on performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Someone who is secretly on PEDs or suspected of being on PEDs is often referred to as a fake natty. “Half natty lighting” refers to using lighting, shadows, and angles to make a person appear better than real life. It is sometimes used the same ways as fake natty.
PEDs is short for performance enhancing drug.
Gear refers to any number of PEDs but usually includes testosterone.
Eat Clen and Tren Hard is a twisting of “eat clean and train hard” usually a cynical response to the question “How do I look like [insert name]?” that implies that the person in question is taking PEDs and to look like him, you probably need to take drugs too. See Clen and Tren below.
Clen is short for clenbuterol, a selective beta-2 agonist that enhances muscle contraction and mobilizes fatty acids aiding in weightloss. (It’s in the same drug class as albuterol so it can also help with asthma.) It was never approved in the U.S. for humans or animals raised for food; it is, however approved for use in horses as a bronchodilator..
Tren is short for trenbolone, the most potent testosterone analog that we currently have. (Potency refers to the amount of effect that a drug has per dose.)
Supp does not refer to a greeting. It is short for supplements. Supplements are generally anything that not is not a medication or drug. The line can be blurry. Many supplements are isolated chemicals such as creatine or L-carinitine. Others “natural” such as ma huang (not legal in the U.S.).
Creatine is the only supplement that has compelling human research to support its effectiveness. (That’s not to say nothing else works; but the evidence is not as strong.) The only version you should take is creatine monohydrate. Pretty much any brand will work. Take 5mg daily. You have to work out for it to work. Not everyone responds to it. As a side effect, it produces intramuscular water retention making muscles look fuller but also causing a small increase in weight (yes water weighs something).
This post has been a long time coming. It goes back to July, 2017 when I was feeling frustrated that I couldn’t seem to get back down to 165 pounds. I was just bouncing around between 172 and 178. So I decided to do something drastic and try Lyle McDonald’s Rapid Fat Loss Diet. (Note, based on my results I signed up to be an affiliate for the program, so if you click the link and buy the program, I’ll get a small cut.)
The remainder of this article is a log of my progress on the diet over 11 days. I originally posted this in a fitness related Facebook group, but I’ve had enough people ask me about it that I figured I’d put add it here. In another post, I’ll give a few more details about the program
I’m still stuck at 174-176 lbs after several months, so I’ve decided to do a 2 week crash diet. In a nutshell, it’s very high protein, low fat, low carb. 200g protein, 6g fish oil, low carb veggies, and Halo Top half an hour before workouts. With this approach, I’m getting about 1200 calories a day. (Why did I do this in the middle of mango and cherry season? #terribletiming.) For the record this approach is called a Protein Sparing Modified Fast (PSMF) and is meant to be used very short term. I learned about this diet from Lyle McDonald’s Rapid Fat Loss Book. I just refer to it as crash, because that’s the term Lyle uses to refer to it. I’m currently 173 pounds.
Rapid Fat Loss Log
Day 1 Sunday
I’m 174.2 pounds. 33 inch waist.
Day 4 Wednesday
All right, end of Day 4 on the crazy diet (started on Sunday). So far, so good. I’m eating a ton of food, so not too hungry as long as I don’t go too long without eating. Averaging 195-210 grams of protein and 1150-1250 calories. (And that’s tracking even the Skinny Girl 10 calorie dressing and calories from salsa. Only thing I’m not tracking is the arugula and spring mix.)
Weighted chins 55×4, 45×6, 25×8
Incline 180×4, 170×6
OHP 130×5, 120×7
The squats were really hard today, but to get done in time for work I was supersetting the warm ups with incline and the worksets with OHP. I also did the usual Greek God Program accessory lifts and abs both days.
I’m REALLY tired right now, but that’s mainly because I didn’t sleep much sleep last night because of kiddos wanting to sleep in my bed because of a thunderstorm.
Waist hasn’t budged at 33 inches.
All told, so far the main issue I have with this diet is I had to give up free lunch today, tomorrow, and Friday because I can’t get the free food to fit these macros.
I also made the mistake of trying cottage cheese. Pretty nasty stuff, especially when you can’t spare any calories to enhance the flavor. Guess I’ll have to stick with Greek Yogurt (basically the same macros).
Day 5 Thursday
Pretty much the same thing except no workout. I want to save the photos till it’s over, because it’s much more impressive without the intermediate photos ;-). But I can tell you that I now fit into my size 32 pants that I’ve been trying to get back into since October. This morning, I was 169.8 lbs!
Honestly I don’t feel bad. From reading people’s experience with this diet, I was expecting to feel like crap. Other than getting tired if I go too long without eating, I haven’t felt hungry or deprived (other than having to say no to free food at the office). Unless the suck comes on hard in the next few days, I might do a second round after a week or three at maintenance if my body dysmorphia says I need to drop more weight.
Question from the peanut gallery: Are you taking electrolytes? Answer: I always eat a lot of salt. I’m getting several servings of low fat cheese and/or nonfat Greek yogurt for calcium but am also supplementing with a Calcium/magnesium supplement. I’m not overtly supplementing with potassium, but I probably should.
Even with the Halo Top and tracking carbs from tomatoes and cucumbers, I was only at 59 carbs yesterday. This morning’s workout was
Weighted Chins: 55×5, 45×6, 25×9
Squats: 205 2×5 plus warm ups (those are beginning to suck)
Plus rest of Greek God Program Workout B
The hard part will be that today I HAVE to go to the cafeteria for new Freshman preview day, so there will be temptations galore. Their real food might not be the best, but they have some awesome desserts.
Day 8 Sunday # 2
So far so good. I didn’t get enough sleep last night because I stayed up too late, but other than being a bit tired today, I’m not having many issues. Slight calf cramp this morning when getting out of bed (only for half a second), so I upped my potassium intake from 500mg to 1000mg (top of recommended supplement range). I’ve had these same cramps when not on the
I had three bites of my son’s Piña Colada snowcone this afternoon, but because I’m a flexible dieter, I didn’t call myself a failure and binge afterward. Pretty sure, it only added 5-10 calories. (editorial note: this turned out to be a giant mistake, because he was sick at the time, and I ended up getting his sickness.)
I’m beginning to get used to eating like this. I think I might eat this way 1-2 times a week once the PSMF is over to allow for the extra calories on birthdays and summer cookouts. While I wouldn’t recommend the whole PSMF to the average dieter, it does seem like a good 1 day strategy.”
Question from the peanut gallery: What are you eating? Answer: General eating template:
Pre-workout because I’m working out in the morning (also functions as breakfast)
-1 cup (1/2 pint) of Halo Top
-1 pound of chicken breast (crockpot or grilled)
-Large salad with mixed greens, 100g of tomatoes, 2 persian cucumbers, no calorie or low calorie dressing (Walden Farms or Skinny Girl)
-28g no fat cheddar (might go on the chicken or might go on the salad.
-Another salad with a different flavor dressing
-1 cup nonfat yogurt (optional)
-Protein to get up to 200g (london broil, turkey breast, chicken breast, 95% lean ground beef)
That gives me somewhere between 1150-1250 calories and 200g of protein.
I don’t feel deprived at all eating this way for one day, and it’s a ton of food. (Note, this is based on a 145 LBM (175lbs at ~15% BF.
Question from the Peanut Gallery: How did you handle work? Answer: There’s a refrigerator and microwave at work. I keep a bottle of chipotle Tabasco, salsa, and no calorie dressing there.
Day 12, End of Diet Recap
It’s day 12 off the PSMF. I had planned to stay on the diet through the end of today, but I have a free lunch at work, and a party at home tonight, so sacrifices must be made.
Weight: I started at 174, and today I was 167.4. At least 3-5 pounds of that is water and glycogen since a PSMF is ketogenic (glycogen depleting).
Waist: My waist went from 33 to 31.5″. I’m now wearing size 32 pants with extra room in the waist. Before the diet, I couldn’t fit into them comfortably.
Strength: I lost one rep on incline (but sometimes I lose a rep when eating normally), none on OHP, Squat, or Chins.
Feeling: For the most part, I felt great on the diet. I never felt hungry or deprived (except in the sense that I couldn’t eat the catered lunches at work). I forgot to take my magnesium supplement last night, and woke up with a leg cramp at 3am (although I’ve had similar cramps just on AFL). Other than that, I’ve had no negative experiences with the diet.
Like I said in my last update, I’m not sure that I’d do this again, but I can certainly see eating like this one or two days a week to occasionally to maintain a deficit. As promised, here are the before and after photos. They’re kind of subtle, but I definitely have a lot more shoulder definition and slightly more ab definition. My wife says I look like an underwear model again.
If you watched the news on Hurricane Irma recently, you have been led to believe that the entire state of Florida was being evacuated. In fact, only the barrier islands and a couple blocks inland were evacuated. As you can see from the map below, the actual number of people evacuated is tiny.
Evacuation Map of Palm Beach County
The media would gloss over it, but every now and then the Governor would say, “If you don’t need to evacuate, you should stay where you are.” So the vast majority of Floridians should have stayed where they were.
There is a season for Hurricanes
Unlike earthquakes, which seem to be random, Hurricanes only occur during Hurricane season, usually from September through November. During the Summer, the Atlantic Ocean warms up above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This creates the conditions necessary for the development of hurricanes.
The nice thing about hurricanes is that you get more than a week’s warning that they’re coming. Now up until this year, most people ignored hurricanes until about 48 hours before they hit. Then there would be gas shortages and people would strip the grocery stores of food and water. This year, with Irma, people started freaking out more than a week before.
The bottom line is that the right time to prepare for a hurricane is before hurricane season. In fact, National Hurricane Preparedness Week is the second week in May. But I know you’re a procrastinator like me, so I’m declaring June 25, Heymanator Hurricane Preparedness day. So let’s look at how you can be prepared to live without power. In this article we’ll talk about some creature comforts: food, phones, and tablets, and fans.
Your Refrigerator/Freezer will stay cold for at least 2 days
For some reason, the vast majority of my friends seem to think that if food has softened at all in the freezer it should be thrown out. So let’s review a little thermodynamics.
Your freezer is usually around 0 degrees F
Your fridge is usually around 40 degrees F.
Water freezes at 32 degrees F AND melts at 32 degrees F.
This means that, if still have a single formed ice cube in your freezer, then your freezer did not go higher than 32 degrees, and your food is safe! On average, an unplugged refrigerator should keep cold for about 2 days.
Even if you have a generator, you don’t need to run it 24/7. Running it for 2 hours twice a day should be enough to keep your food perfectly cold.
Strategies to make the most of your Fridge/Freezer
Before the storm
If you have a lot of space in your freezer, fill up jugs or bags of water and freeze them.
Identify items that can be sacrificed in case of power failure (for example that ham hock you’ve planning on making into soup for the past 2 years.)
Get out some old blankets. Once you lose power, you can put them on top of the fridge to insulate it.
After you lose power
Take the ice cream out of the freezer and eat it.
Put your milk and other easily spoilables into the spot in the freezer opened up by the ice cream.
Cover up the fridge with the blankets to increase its insulation.
You don’t need a generator
If you have a car, you already have all the generator you need to power your refrigerator (and charge your cell phone and tablets). All you need is an inverter. The average energy star refrigerator will draw somewhere between 150-200 watts when running, but takes 750-800 watts when starting up.
SO… you’ll need at least a 400 watt inverter (most inverters can handle a surge double their rating, although YMMV), but it’s safer to go with an 800 watt inverter. The important thing to remember is that a car’s cigarette lighter socket will only allow ~150 watts to be drawn. Try to run your refrigerator through it, and you’ll likely blow a fuse. Instead, you’ll need to use alligator clips to attach the inverter directly to your battery.
But before we get to the nuts and bolts, let’s talk generalities. An idling car or SUV uses about 0.2-0.5 gallons of gas per hour. So if you run your car for two hours twice a day to power your refrigerator, then you’ll use between 1 and 2 gallons of gas. This isn’t quite as efficient as a dedicated generator, but then again, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to buy a $50 inverter and make $15 cables than even the cheapest generator.
And you can take the inverter with you on your next road trip and use it to do all sorts of fun things in the car like let your kids play Xbox. Or make coffee while camping because you were too lazy to learn how to use a French Press. And let’s not forget that an inverter is much smaller and easier to store than a generator.
So, after the storm passes you by, you…
pull your car out of the garage,
pop the hood,
leave the car running,
connect your inverter to the battery using the cables,
While you’re at it, maybe you should charge up your iPad, Kindle, phone, and maybe your laptop too.
Heck run some fans to help keep you cool maybe this cheap personal fan running 35 watts max or this whole room Vornado fan running 65 watts max.
When you’re done running your refrigerator, you can unplug it, turn your car off, and keep charging your cell phones and ipad.
Note: when running your refrigerator, take the covers off. Then put them back on when you’re done.
What Inverter should I get?
Pro tip: get a 1×4 that’s long enough to lay across the hood of your car/suv. Then mount the inverter to the board. Wrap some old t shirts around the ends of the board to protect your car’s finish from the board and prevent it from sliding. Now when you need to use the inverter, you won’t have to balance it on top of the engine. You just lay the board across the car after opening the hood.
What kind of inverter should you get? Steven Harris (whose advice much of this article is based on) recommends the following brands/models. He particularly likes the Whistler because supposedly it can handle double its rated power draw for up to 10 seconds. But it’s a little pricier. Yes, these are the same brands that make radar detectors.
Note that when using 800 – 1600 watt inverters, you’re going to need to use much heavier gauge wire and keep the wire as short as possible (<3 feet). Either 0 or 2 gauge wire is recommended for 1600 watts, and 0 gauge if you’re going above 1600 watts. It’s cheapest to buy the wire by the foot from Lowes or Home Depot, and then put ring connectors on them yourself (or buy something like this). None of the 800 watt and up inverters listed come with wires.
The Amazon links in this article are affiliate links, and if you buy through them, I’ll get a small commission. If you’d prefer to support Steven Harris instead of me, you can go through his links at Solar1234.com or you can support Jack Spirko (The Survival Podcast) by buying through his Amazon links.
Okay, okay. It’s more like 8 hours of eating, since I intermittent fast (basically just skip breakfast).
One of the things that helped convince me that I could handle this diet thing was 24 hour eating videos. I didn’t actually video myself eating today, but I ate what seems like an enormous amount and still kept it under 1800 calories. So I’m going to share all of the food that I ate today. If you’re new to this whole tracking your calories thing, try logging the food here in MyFitnessPal to check my work.
I woke up at 7 am and then went back to sleep until 8. Then I took care of the kids while Jen got her hair done. The kids and I started playing computer games, and it was 1pm before Jen got back home.
At 1:30, I had a Diet Cherry Dr Pepper and a banana. It was 121g without the peel. That was enough to stave off my hunger for another hour while I got the kids fed and made lunch for Jen and me.
By the time lunch was done, and I sat down to eat, it was 2:30. I had
400g of chicken breast (weighed raw). Slice it lengthwise so you get two thinner pieces. Salt both sides and sprinkle with Ranch powder. Sautee said chicken in 2g of Kerry Gold butter.
I actually planned out dinner before lunch. Corban had asked for Taco Friday a couple days ago, so I already had a pretty good idea of what I was going to eat. Instead of a taco, I made mine into taco salad. Started cooking around 6:45 and finished eating around 7:30.
4 oz organic grass fed ground beef (from Aldis) with taco seasoning and 25g of onion
Finlandia reduced fat cheddar (2 slices)
5 black olives (sliced)
Friendly Farms Brand Nonfat Greek Yogurt 80g (different brands of Greek yogurt vary wildly in their protein/sugar content; this brand has the most protein and least sugar of all I’ve tried)
Little bit of taco sauce
Kirkland Organic Tortilla Chips 28g
I didn’t track the taco seasoning or the lettuce. This is a great flavorful (albeit relatively small meal). You could use sour cream or low fat sour cream, but I use the Greek Yogurt mostly for its protein content to hit my macros.
Macros for Dinner
After dinner, I went for a walk. After walking, I had dessert (about 8:30). I’m still 10g of protein short, so it’s time to Release the Secret Weapon!!
Halo Top Ice Cream!
This stuff is some kind of magic. One cup of ranges from 120-180 calories (about half the calories of normal ice cream) AND it has relatively high protein (10-14g per cup). AND it tastes really good. Here in South Florida, you can buy it at Target, Walmart, and Publix. Someone I know in Tarpon Springs says his Costco carries it (sadly, mine does not). People also report buying it at Krogers (we don’t have any down here).
I’ve been working my way through the flavors. Tonight was S’mores. I rank it third of the three flavors I’ve tried so far. It has small chocolate chips in it, and they get stuck in my teeth (same reason I don’t like mint chip). So far, my favorite flavor is cookie dough followed by peanut butter cup. Once I’ve tried all the flavors I can get locally, I’ll post my full ranking.
Macros for Dessert
Halo Top Alternatives
Okay, you don’t actually have to buy specialty ice cream. You could have gotten the same effect from eating 50 more grams of chicken breast and 2 Oreo cookies. Regular ice cream can also be an option, but you only get to have half a cup (usually about 100g) for 130 -160 calories. The nice thing about the specialty ice creams is that you can eat more of it than traditional ice cream, so you feel less deprived. And the extra protein does mean that you can be a bit more flexible with the rest of your day.
So here are a couple other low calorie Ice Creams/Yogurts
Yasso makes several different products. The one I’ve had is a cookie dough frozen yogurt bar. It’s 100 calories and has 5g of protein. Tastes very good. They have them at Walmart and BJs near me.
Englightened produces a low calorie, high protein ice cream and ice cream bar. I haven’t personally eaten them yet, but a friend says he likes them better than Halo Top.
My total calorie count for the day is 1771 calories with 159g protein, but I’m probably over estimating my fat intake since I drained the taco meat and overestimate my oil spray. On the other hand, I didn’t log the Ranch powder, taco seasoning, or lettuce.
The key to great potato wedges is not to wedge them. Instead, slice them. That way the pieces are uniform thickness, so they’ll be the same done-ness throughout. I get pretty much perfect results using this recipe/technique every time.
Oil of choice (I like to use cooking spray as the potatoes don’t stick as much with it)
Other spices as desired
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Slice the potato into approximately 1/4 inch slices
Spread/Spray small amount of oil on a small sheet pan.
Sprinkle oiled pan with salt.
Place potato wedges on pan and press into oil.
Spread/Spray a small amount of oil on top of the wedges.
Salt, pepper, and use any additional spices (rosemary would be nice)
Bake for 15 minutes, then flip the wedges and cook an additional 10 minutes*.
Remove, and allow to cool long enough not to burn your mouth.
Serve and eat.
*10 minutes works 90% of the time. If the slices are thicker than usual, or if you live at high elevation, try letting them go for another 5 minutes. The tops should be brown. If you see the tops blister, then pull them out; they’re done.
When I used to make this with coconut oil or olive oil, I used about half a teaspoon of oil. With the cooking spray, the bottle is anywhere from 0-5 grams lighter after using it. Either way, you’re talking probably less than 3-4 grams of fat (30ish calories). So the vast majority of calories come from the potato.
Even a massive 350g potato only has 62g of carbohydrates and 260 calories (including a bonus of 7g of protein). Compare that to 350g of French Fries (using Wendy’s fries as a comparison) with 1192 calories (partly because cooked potatoes have less water). Okay, let’s do an apple to apple…uh…potato to potato comparison. If you eat the same amount of carbohydrate (62g) of French Fries, you get 475 calories.
So the potato wedges have about 200 calories less than an equivalent amount of fries due to the lower amount of fat. This let’s you eat more chocolate!
Who knew that Swiss chard was amazingly awesome and delicious? I didn’t…until we got some from one of those “meal box” services. So I had to cook it, and it turned out to be so good that I’ve made the dish four more times. So without further ado, here’s the recipe. I’ve modified it to have slightly less fat (as I prefer to eat mine in the form of chocolate).
One bunch Swiss Chard (rainbow or single color)
8 oz of cubed butternut squash (we use the frozen organic stuff from BJs)
Onion or shallot diced
One clove garlic minced
2 oz shredded gruyere cheese
1/2 cup of milk (preferably whole)
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
Salt and Pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Cut the stems off of the Swiss chard and chop into pieces about the same size as the squash or onion
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the chard stems and onion and a large pinch of salt.
While the stems and onion saute, slice the chard leaves into smaller pieces (I usually go about 1.5 – 2 inch squares)
When the stems and onion has softened, add the garlic, and thyme. Stir until squash begins to soften.
Add the huge pile of chard leaves and more salt. Turn until it wilts (about 2-3 minutes)
Stir in the gruyere and milk. Turn the heat to low and allow to thicken a minute or two.
Taste the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer the mixture to a small casserole dish and top with panko bread crumbs.
Cook covered for 10 minutes and then uncovered for 5-7 minutes until bread crumbs are brown
Remove from oven and let stand about 5 minutes before serving.
I usually eat half the recipe. Macros on this are approximately:
And yes, you just ate half of that enormous bunch of greens. Don’t you feel so healthy? Almost virtuous.
Earlier I mentioned that this came from a food box service. Jen and I have tried several of these including HelloFresh, Blue Apron, Sun Basket, and Plated. By far, my favorite one is Plated where this recipe came from, and the top photo is from their recipe card. Apparently there’s no way for me to refer you to them and get credit for it, so this post is free of commercial interest.
Although I’m known at work as a mild-mannered pharmacology nerd with mad computer skillz, my first love is “extreme” sports and physical challenges. Recently, Jen treated me to two fun physical challenges, flying trapeze and flyboarding. Here are the videos:
This was my first time flyboarding. It’s really fun, but has a bit of a learning curve. This video is the result of a 25 minute session cut down to two and a half minutes. The key is to somehow lock your ankles and knees but keep your body relaxed. You can see on my better attempts that my ankles/feet stay in the same position. On my less stable attempts, you can see how unstable my ankle angle is. I hear that the second and third time sessions are dramatically easier than the first attempt. It’ll be fun to do this again. This was at SoFlo Flyboarding. Kids have to be 80 lbs minimum. Can’t wait till the kids are little heavier…Jen! Can we feed Logan more?
This was actually my second time doing the trapeze, but the first time was more than two years ago. This was an Aerial Trapeze Academy Groupon. With the Groupon, you only get to do the beginner session, which is three practice swings, where you try to get into the knee hang/transfer position. If you can successfully get into that position, then on the fourth swing, you get to to try for a mid air catch. They also do birthday parties and private groups. Kids can do it as young as 4 years old, and they work with autistic kids. Once you’ve done the beginner session, you can do more advanced stuff. This is really easy and fun if you have any amount of athleticism/body control. Highly recommended. PSA: Hanging from the bar with your knees can give you friction burns. If you have leggings or tights, you should wear them.
It’s been almost a year exactly since my weight loss journey began (if you start the year from my bout of the flu). Just a warning. At the end of this post there will be before and after photos. If half-naked, middle aged men offend you, don’t scroll down.
I started out the year at 212 pounds give or give a few pounds.
I lost 6 pounds on the Flu (no appetite plus fever plus diarrhea will do that to you). No telling how much of the weight was just water. But hey it was a start. I’d better capitalize on it.
I lost 8 more pounds on three weeks of Atkins/Ketogenic diet. Ketogienic diets cause a fair amount of water loss, so not all of it was fat, but it was fairly effortless. Ketogenic dieting is pretty brainless. “How many carbs are in this food. Okay, I can’t eat it…or I can only eat this much.”
But after I started tracking my calories, I realized the real reason I was probably losing so much weight is that when you have a hefty soda, junk food, and dessert habit, when you cut out those carbs, you also cut out all that fat too, leading to a massive calorie restriction. You just don’t realize how few calories you’re eating…or at least I didn’t I guesstimated that on average I was only eating 1200-1600 calories per day even though I thought I was eating way more.
On February 21, I switched to a flexible dieting/”If it fits your macros” approach along with strength training. I can eat whatever I want (within reason) as long as I hit my calorie and protein targets. This leads to the concept of tradeoffs. For example, almonds are often touted in the Paleo/Keto world, but chocolate has fewer calories and is more satisfying. SOLD!
I immediately gained 2.5 pounds, which I attribute mainly to increased water retention as I was no longer in ketosis. I stayed on Aggressive Fat Loss until September 1, when I weighed 166 pounds. I hadn’t weighed 166 pounds since I worked as a Lifeguard and Beach Attendant in 1995. Only this time I had better abs.
On September 2, I officially started bulking. I kicked off the bulk with a two day cruise where I just ate whatever I wanted which happened to include two entrees for dinner every night. This was the first time I had eaten breakfast since starting Aggressive Fat Loss. I later estimated that I ate 2000 calories just for breakfast on the cruise. I gained an impressive 10 pounds on the cruise although a large part of it was water that I lost over the next few days.
I bulked through Christmas ending up at 184 pounds (18 pounds heavier than my lightest on September 1). I absolutely LOVED the eating, but I didn’t like the look. Yes, I gained muscle as was the plan, but I also gained fat, and I much preferred having more defined abs. I could have gained a bit more muscle, but I tweaked my shoulder (while playing, not while lifting) and was unable to push the weight on bench press and overhead press.
The Final Countdown
The Monday after Christmas, I started cutting again. As of this writing, I am 176 pounds. I plan on continuing to cut until I have a true six pack. I guesstimate that if I was able to put on 5 pounds of muscle during the bulk and keep it through my cut, that I will end up around 165 pounds. If I was able to gain and keep more muscle, it will be little heavier. From there, I plan to do a series of very lean bulk cycles, gaining no more than 10 pounds over six months and pretty much stay between 165 and 175 for as long as I can.
Some final thoughts
I am incredibly thankful that I found flexible dieting. It works and is very sustainable. When I started the journey I would have been happy with just losing 10-15 pounds. I never dreamed that I would end up looking better at 42 than when I did at 22. And I have flexible dieting to thank for giving me the hope to not only make it a goal but see it through to fruition.
At 42, I had better abs than when I was 22!
But this isn’t just about looks. I’m much stronger, have better blood pressure, resting heart rate, fasting glucose, and cholesterol levels than before. I have more energy now and generally feel better. And most importantly I know I can keep this up for years. (Note that I mean the lifestyle, not the calorie deficit. You only need a deficit to lose weight. After that you can eat more.)
My brother had a lot of success with a ketogenic diet. I had always had a not-so-secret love affair with low-carb diets, so based on his experience, I did it too. Despite the initial weight loss, it just wasn’t much fun after a while. So I left it for flexible dieting, which I was able to stick with until my goal. My brother on the other hand eventually stopped from not being able to sleep well and leg cramps. According to him, if you google “Atkins le” or “ketogenic le”, Google will suggest leg cramps.
Most people who diet fail to keep the weight off, and I can understand why. You can’t just go back to whatever you were doing before and expect to keep the weight off. You have to maintain your lifestyle changes for the weight change to become permanent. And the beauty of my current diet is that I can truly eat whatever I want within reason. I can have a large cheat meal or cheat cruise…as long as I adjust my calories before or after. I can eat dessert every day (much to the chagrin of my wife who thinks treats aren’t treats if you get to eat them every day).
There’s nothing magical about any particular program. All you need are the following components:
A solid caloric deficit
Adequate protein to maintain muscle mass
An eating plan that you enjoy so you can make the process sustainable.
Strength workouts to convince your body to hold on to muscle (otherwise you’ll lose quite a bit of muscle along with that fat)
I should also give a shout out to Radu Antoniu, whose videos are some of the most informative, entertaining, and well edited out there in the fitness world. His program Shred Smart is also worth looking at even though you can learn everything you need to know from this free videos.
Heck you if you want to pay me to hold your hand through the process, I’d be happy to do it. Just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.