4 Ways to Burn Fat during the Holidays

With the holidays coming up, it’s essential to keep your waistline in check. I’m sure that ringing in the new year with extra midsection mass is the last thing you want. So if you want to know how to get ripped before 2013, follow these four steps.

1. Consume Organic Chia Seeds Before Meals – according to folklore, Aztec warriors consumed chia seeds to help with strength and stamina. Whether that’s true or not is irrelevant: chia seeds are an excellent food. They contain plenty of omega-3s, vitamins and trace minerals. The unique nutritional profile of chia seeds will improve your strength, endurance, recovery and sleep.

The key to losing fat is to incorporate foods that are low in calories while being densely packed with nutrients. Chia seeds fit the bill perfectly. The digestive support they provide, along with five grams of fiber per tablespoon, makes them a natural and effective appetite suppressant.

How to use: mix one tablespoon of organic chia seeds in water and let them sit for a few minutes in order to “bloom.” Once the seeds have expanded, drink the liquid 15 minutes before two meals each day. It’s good to chew the seeds as you’re drinking the mixture. The other option is to use ground chia seeds, but you must chug it down as soon as you put the tablespoon in water because it’ll gel quickly. You want that gel effect to happen in your stomach.

2. Eat Organic Raspberries Between Meals – for years I’ve talked about the importance of eating berries when fat loss is your goal. Much like chia seeds, they contain a big dose of nutrients with minimal calories. All berries are excellent, but when it comes to fat loss, red and black raspberries rank highest in my book. There are two reasons.

First, raspberries contain the highest levels of ellagic acid of all berries. This is an important phytochemical that has anti-estrogenic, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects. Second, raspberries also have the highest fiber content of any berry, and this is essential to stave off hunger. My clients are amazed by the hunger-curbing effect of just six ounces of raspberries between meals, whether they eat one meal per day or more.

How to use: raspberries come in a small, six-ounce container at virtually every supermarket. Eat one container’s worth of raspberries once or twice each day when you’re most hungry.

3. Eat Veggies and Protein First – I’m a guy who really likes to eat food, and I’m not talking about boiled fish with white rice. Pasta and potatoes are frequently part of my main meal at night. Now, both of those foods can wreak havoc on your waistline if you eat too much at the wrong time.

So when you sit down for one of your holiday meals that grandma worked so hard to prepare, the last thing you want to do is insult her by keeping that sweet potato casserole off your plate. The trick is to eat vegetables first since they’ll start to fill you up fastest without inducing a large insulin response. Second, eat the majority of your protein source to also provide satiety while keeping insulin in check.

At this point in the meal if you eat carbs the insulin response will be blunted by the vegetables and protein that came before it. And best of all, you’ll eat significantly less carbs because you won’t be ravenously hungry. Your abs will be happy, and so will grandma.

4. Use HFT to Stay Lean – burning fat primarily hinges on nutrition, that’s why the first three steps focus on it. However, there are simple training strategies you can follow during the holidays to keep you lean. One of the best steps is to train more frequently around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Now, this doesn’t require more trips to the gym. For example, most people skip training on Thanksgiving day, but this is the day when your muscles should have the highest insulin sensitivity so the food you eat will go into your muscles instead of your fat cells.

A simple body weight workout that will help you stay lean during the holidays is: 100 push-ups, 100 lying leg raises and 100 lunges (50 with each leg). These reps should be spread throughout the day into three or four mini-workouts. For example, when a commercial comes on during an NFL game, knock off 25 push-ups, 25 leg raises and 12 or 13 lunges with each leg. Do this four times during the day and you’ll significantly improve insulin sensitivity.

Even better, use the holidays to add muscle to your underdeveloped muscle groups as covered in my new training system, High Frequency Training. The targeted HFT plans for muscle growth require little to no equipment and the mini-workouts take just a few minutes. With HFT, you’ll make better use of those extra holiday calories by providing growth and repair instead of fat gain.

Stay Focused,

How to Fix Stubborn Muscle Growth

You train hard and you’ve put on a decent amount of muscle over the years. But there’s a problem: certain muscle groups are still underdeveloped compared to the rest of your physique. Maybe it’s your biceps, calves or shoulders. The problem could be in any muscle group.

You already train the big compound lifts along with isolation exercises that target those lagging body parts. If your biceps are puny, curls are the answer. If your calves are reminiscent of a pair of pencils, you do standing calf raises.

That approach might have helped a little, but it didn’t help much. Those muscles are damn stubborn. You can’t figure out what the problem is because 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps with isolation exercises is what all the biggest bodybuilders are doing.

So you mix things up and add more sets, reps or new exercise variations. Nothing worked. Now you’re at a point where you don’t know what to do. It’s time to blame your parents for passing on genes that aren’t conducive to bulging biceps.

As a trainer, my job is to find a solution to this problem. I made many mistakes in the early years as I used the typical bodybuilding approach to bring up my client’s lagging muscle groups. But over the last 17 years I’ve been able to put the pieces together as I collected data and experimented with an unimaginable number of protocols to target muscle growth. Most didn’t work.

It wasn’t until I realized this essential fact: each stubborn muscle group requires a unique strategy to make it grow.

If you’ve been doing standing calf raises for high reps to build your calves, it probably didn’t solve the problem because the calves grow best from an intense yielding contraction like when you land from a jump. The quadriceps require an opposite strategy: they’ll build fastest with high volume work that emphasizes the concentric (shortening contraction) phase. This is why cyclists build such impressive thighs.

Of course, Olympic lifters build massive quadriceps with a different approach. The Olympic lifts necessitate a full squat with heavy loads as part of the snatch or clean and jerk. But If I tell you to start doing heavy Olympic lifts 5-6 times per week like they do, it would be a poor solution. Your knees and joints would get beat up in no time.

To fix stubborn muscle growth, it’s necessary to adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Train with a higher frequency: no one would argue that 30 workouts will produce more growth than five workouts. Training a muscle group more often will result in faster gains, provided you can recover. You must increase the training volume for that muscle group without overwhelming recovery.

2. Avoid most isolation exercises: if curls were the answer, every guy would have big biceps. Professional bodybuilders achieved their status because they were born with the ability to quickly build large amounts of muscle everywhere. If you apply their training parameters to your stubborn muscles, it won’t solve the problem.

The exception to this rule is the deltoids. It’s one muscle group that will grow from isolation exercises. I can tell you the solution to small deltoids in one sentence: do 100 reps of the standing lateral raise every day. Within two weeks you’ll realize it works.

However, virtually every other major muscle group requires a unique strategy. What works for the calves won’t work for the quads. What works for the pectoral muscles won’t work for the biceps. The pecs respond well to high rep sets, whereas the biceps typically get smaller with that approach.

3. Use a progression plan: a muscle will only continue to grow if you make it do more work over time. If you start doing 100 push-ups per day your chest will quickly get bigger. But after a few weeks it’ll stop growing because the body already added all the extra muscle it needs to adapt to that demand. That’s why it’s necessary to start with just enough volume to stimulate growth, and steadily increase it from there.

My system for putting these three components together to target stubborn muscles is covered in my upcoming ebook, High Frequency Training, available October 16.

Stay Focused,

Can You Build Muscle with High Reps?

What’s the best rep range to build muscle? That’s a question many of you have probably pondered over the years, especially if you’re wanting to know how to get ripped. Most people do 8-12 reps per set for maximum growth. However, heavier weights can build just as much muscle, if there’s enough volume. Three sets of three reps (3×3) won’t add much mass, but 10 sets of three reps (10×3) definitely will.

So what about high rep training? Can it build just as much muscle?

I love heavy lifting as much as the next guy, but there are times when your joints need a break and your muscles need a different type of stimulus to accelerate growth. High rep training can be the path to new muscle, if you adhere to the following four steps:

1. Take each set to failure: I’m not a big fan of training to failure; however, when training with light weights it’s necessary to take each set to the point of exhaustion. With heavier loads (eg, 4-6 rep max) you can get away with avoiding failure because the load is heavy enough to recruit your largest motor units, even if you don’t reach failure.

For muscle growth, the motor units must be fatigued. If you can do 25 push-ups but you stop that set at 19 or 20 reps, there won’t be enough fatigue to stimulate growth through an increase in protein synthesis. Research by Burd, et al (2010) shows that training with light loads (30% of max) can result in the same level of increased protein synthesis as heavy loads (90% of max), provided you take those high rep sets to failure.

Training to “failure” can mean different things to different people. My definition: when you can no longer achieve a full range of motion rep with perfect form you’ve reached failure. Don’t push beyond that point.

2. Choose the right exercises for high rep training: There are certain strength exercises that should never be taken to failure: squat, deadlift, and Olympic lifts. The risk of taking any of those exercises to failure far outweighs the potential benefit, and this is especially true with high rep sets that accumulate a huge amount of fatigue. As a rule, stick to high rep training to failure for upper body lifts and single leg lower body exercises.

A few of my favorite exercises to train to failure with high reps are: push-up, pull-up, handstand push-up, lunge, standing calf raise, and single-leg hip thrust.

3. Don’t go too light: You could curl a soup can all day long and it won’t add muscle to your biceps. When the load is too light it’s impossible to recruit and fatigue the motor units that are large enough to result in visible growth.

As a general rule, stick to loads that allow 20-30 reps for your first set for your high rep workouts. If you can any more than that, the load isn’t ideal for growth. From there, keep cranking out sets of as many reps as you can with that same load until you reach a target number of total reps (eg, 50 reps for that muscle group).

4. Get the most out of each rep: When training with light loads, the speed and tension you develop in each rep becomes paramount. If you purposely slow down the concentric (muscle shortening) phase, you’ll leave the larger motor units untapped. And when the muscle group is maximally shortened, that peak contraction should be squeezed briefly to build extra tension. With that extra tension comes extra muscle growth because you’ll recruit more motor units.

Bottom line for tempo: the shortening (concentric) phase should be fast, followed by a brief but intense squeeze of the muscle, and then do the lengthening (eccentric) phase under control.

When you do high rep training the right way, you can build new muscle and train more frequently because it’s less stressful to the central nervous system (CNS) and joints. That’s why there are many body weight exercises in my new book, High Frequency Training. Coming October 16!

Stay Focused,

How to Reduce Muscle Soreness

Your ability to build a bigger, leaner and stronger body is directly correlated with the number of workouts you can do, and how much intensity you muster each time you hit the gym. If a workout leaves you so stiff and sore that you can’t move for five days, results will come slowly at best. But if you can drastically reduce soreness and restore strength levels, you will gain muscle faster because you can train more often with a higher intensity.

Research is mounting to support the use of tart cherry juice as a highly effective recovery aid. It appears that supplementing your pre- and post-workout training with it can provide a powerful assistance to recovery by reducing soreness and restoring strength more quickly. In addition, tart cherry juice has shown to have a positive effect on boosting your natural melatonin levels so you can sleep better: a key to faster recovery and growth.

How does tart cherry juice help you recover faster with less overall soreness? The reason is likely due to the fact that tart cherries contain flavonoids and anthocyanins that induce strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

You can find plenty of studies on Pubmed to support the use of tart cherry juice, but these three studies will probably interest you most:

Bowtell JL, et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Aug 2011
What it showed: 10 well-trained athletes consumed tart cherry juice 7 days before and until 2 days after a bout of leg extensions for 10 sets of 10 reps. Subjects restored strength faster and measures of protein carbonyls (a marker of oxidative stress in aging and disease) were reduced.

Howatson G, et al. Scand J Med Sci Sports. Dec 2010
What it showed: 20 subjects consumed tart cherry juice 5 days before and until 2 days after a marathon run. Three markers of inflammation (interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, and uric acid) were reduced, and strength was restored more quickly.

Connolly DA, et al. Br J Sports Med. Aug 2006
What it showed: 14 male college students drank tart cherry juice twice a day for 8 days. They performed a workout on the fourth day. Strength loss and pain were reduced.

Surprisingly, it appears that you don’t need much tart cherry juice to get a favorable effect. The studies vary greatly with regard to dosage: some were as low as a few ounces per day while other protocols were as high as 24 ounces per day. It’s also likely that the extract in pill form could produce the results you’re after if the carbs scare you.

For the last two years I’ve been using tart cherry juice with my athletes and myself. The results have been impressive, so I thought I’d share my protocol with you. Keep in mind, this protocol isn’t necessarily what I’d do for pure fat loss, but when it comes to building muscle, strength, and performance, this combo works awesome.

The Tart Cherry Juice & Warrior Whey Protocol

15-30 minutes before training: 4 ounces of tart cherry juice mixed with 4 ounces of water and 1 scoop of Organic Warrior Whey.

Immediately after training: 4 ounces of tart cherry juice mixed with 8 ounces of water and 2 scoops of Organic Warrior Whey. (Note: I use R.W. Knudsen’s Organic Just Tart Cherry juice but any organic version will probably work as well.)

It’s important to note that part of the effectiveness of this protocol comes from this whey. It’s simply the best protein powder I’ve ever used. Since it’s not heated or acidified in the manufacturing process it contains all the natural immune boosters that help reduce soreness, restore strength, and build muscle. And it tastes incredible. You’ll soon learn how chemically bitter other protein powders are when you taste it for the first time.

Make no mistake about it: when you mix grass-fed whey with organic tart cherry juice you have a powerful combination during your workouts to combat muscle soreness and supercharge recovery and growth.

Stay Focused,

Get Rings for a Bigger, Stronger Chest

When it comes to building the chest muscles, it’s easy to think that the bench press is king. However, the biomechanics of the bench press make it a poor chest builder since the movement primarily overloads the triceps and anterior deltoid. Plus, there are many other flaws with a typical bench press that I discussed here. 

So when the goal is to add muscle and strength to the chest muscles, one exercise I use is the rings fly. There are three benefits of the rings fly that a barbell bench press can’t match.

1. Freedom of scapular motion: any exercise that challenges the shoulder joint should allow the scapulae (shoulder blades) to move freely. Rings, of course, allow your scapulae to move like they should, unlike a bench press that locks your shoulder blades into place. This unrestricted movement pattern helps preserve shoulder health while staving off imbalances.

2. Simple progression: the rings fly is easy to modify, based on your strength level. You can place the rings higher from the floor (mid-thigh level) if you’re weaker, and lower the rings as your strength increases. When the rings are just a few inches off the ground, the rings fly will challenge the strongest guys you’ll find.

3. Abdominal Recruitment: the third benefit of the rings fly is that it requires a deep, intense contraction from your abdominals throughout the movement to stabilize your torso. The abdominal contraction is similar to what you feel during an ab wheel rollout.

Check out the video below with technique guidelines for the rings fly from my Rings and Power tour. Get your rings at Christian’s Fitness Factory.

Stay Focused,

Total Body Training Twice Per Week

Question: CW, due to work demands I can only lift weights twice per week. The other two days I do Muay Thai. Can you help me design a program to get bigger and stronger? Thanks, BS

CW Answer: First off, when you can only train twice per week it’s essential to do total body (i.e., full-body) training. This allows you to hit all the major muscle groups twice per week, and that’s sufficient to make progress. In fact, I have many professional fighters perform two total body workouts each week since they’re constantly toeing the line of overtraining because of all the boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, etc. they must also perform.

Since you only have two days per week to get bigger and stronger, there are a few adjustments that should be made.

1. Increase the Volume of Each Workout: In my book, Huge in a Hurry, I outline a system of training a total number of reps per exercise with a specific starting load. For example, you might start with a load you can lift 6 times and perform as many sets as it takes to reach 25 total reps for that lift while sticking with the original load. Each subsequent set typically consists of fewer than 6 reps due to fatigue: that’s how it’s supposed to be. So to reach 25 total reps, your reps for each set might be: 6, 5, 4, 4, 3, and 3.

However, with only two workouts per week it’s better to perform a greater number of total reps per exercise, such as 40 or 50. When the total number of reps is up around 50, use a lighter starting load. A load you can’t lift more than 8 times for the first set works well in this case. If you attempt 50 total reps with a 6 rep max you’ll end up doing too many sets of 1-2 reps in the end.

So your quest to reach 50 total reps with the original 8 rep max will probably go something like this: 8, 7, 6, 6, 5, 5, 5, 4, and 4. The other option is to perform 10 sets of 5 reps and avoid reaching failure on any set.

Now you might think that 10×5 per exercise would protract the workout. It won’t if you use compound lifts and organize the exercises in a circuit. I favor a higher number of sets, and that’s why I’m also a big proponent of circuits. The following full-body workout, for example, can be finished in approximately 25 minutes:

1A Pull-up from rings for 5 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1B Dip from rings for 5 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1C Romanian deadlift for 5 reps
Rest 30 seconds, repeat 1A-1C nine more times

2. Perform Unilateral Exercises Each Week: Performing exercises one limb at a time is essential in any training program, regardless of the frequency. But when the frequency is low it becomes even more important to have a workout that builds stability strength around the joints and spinal column. This ensures that your body stays strong and in balance.

So your second workout of the week could look like this:

1A One-arm row for 5 reps, each arm
Rest 30 seconds
1B One-arm bench press for 5 reps, each arm
Rest 30 seconds
1C Reverse lunge for 5 reps, each leg
Rest 30 seconds, repeat 1A-1C nine more times

Again, this is a relatively brief workout that takes around 30 minutes, even though you’re performing 10 sets per exercise.

3. Add More Exercises to the Circuits: Make the most of your two trips to the gym each week by adding exercises that target your weaknesses. The above examples fulfill the requirement of a total body workout: upper body pull, upper body push, and a squat or deadlift or lunge variation. But if you have the time, add more exercises to the circuit. When a client is limited to two workouts per week, I’ll typically perform a circuit of five exercises. The two extra exercises don’t have to be compound moves: you might want to add a calf or abdominal or arm exercise.

When you add extra exercises to the circuit, decrease the volume of each exercise to 40 total reps. Here’s an example:

1A Pull-up from rings for 5 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1B Dip from rings for 5 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1C Lateral raise for 5 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1D Romanian deadlift for 5 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1E Ab wheel rollout for 5 reps
Rest 30 seconds, repeat 1A-1E seven more times

Follow these three steps when you’re limited to two workouts per week and you will get bigger and stronger.

Stay Focused,