Friday, June 17, 2016

Earn your offseason

Ahhh, the "offseason".  A time when one can relax a bit on food selection, training intensity, and basically half ass it until it's time to get your game face on.

If that's your attitude, then you can definitely expect to fall short of your strength of physique goals when the time to "turn it on" does come around.

The offseason is actually the "onseason" in regards to improvement for the competitive strength or physique athlete.  The worst thing you can do is treat this time with a lackadaisical attitude that many approach it with once the competition is over.  I too fell into such a mentality, and realize in retrospect that I wasted many years being highly unproductive during the times between competition.

For a lot of people, once the competition is over, there is a certain amount of drive that is lost because there may not be an eye-on-the-prize at that moment.  This doesn't mean one has to get online and sign up for a competition right away.  However, if you do plan on competing again then you need to approach the offseason with the mentality that it's the most optimal time to set yourself up for success on the stage, or the platform.

There's a lot to be said for what you do with this time in comparison that you do with the time leading into competing.  Some of the issues that can, or need to be addressed in the offseason are the following....

Address weaknesses - Any muscular area that is creating a weak link either in your physique or strength movements.  The offseason is the time to put them at the forefront of training so that when competition time rolls around, this is no longer a problem.  For strength athletes that means assessing the musculature that is often the secondary or tertiary mover that is holding you back.  For the bodybuilder or physique competitor, this is where you put that lagging bodypart on the training version of a nuclear meltdown mode for a few months to bring it up to give you balance.

Once in prep, the time to do so has either passed or it will be far less efficient due to either needing the time to specialize in certain movements, or a lack of calories.  Prep time is when focus should be centered around working the movements you will perform in competition, or muscle retention while fat is stripped off for the stage.  This is not the time where energy should be taken away from those things so you can fix something you knew was broken after your last competition.

Address mobility issues - This is another assessment.  Are you immobile, or just too weak to hold a position? Everyone thinks they have mobility issues, but most often what I've seen is that it's the weaker guys that tend to have these problems more than stronger guys.  I'm not saying this is the case 100% of the time, but the guys squatting 225 often think they need to foam roll, and do 17 mobility movements in order to squat, when the fact is, they are probably just too weak to hold the proper position when executing the technique.

However, I'm not bypassing legitimate mobility issues.  So if you have one, use the offseason to address becoming more mobile in whatever area needs that attention. . This should be something that helps with injury prevention.  And injuries are probably the biggest issue in regards to setbacks that  there is.  Time spend in rehab is less time spent improving at whatever it is you are preparing for.  Again, once competition prep time comes around, this should have been taken care of.

Address technique - This is far more paramount for the strength athlete.  If you're in meet or strongman prep mode, that is not the time to be changing around technique and tweaking your movements.  That's a great way to second guess yourself on game day, and end up failing due to overthinking, or falling back into old habits that were causing you to fail.

The offseason is time that should be spent drilling technique every time you set foot in the gym.  It should be second nature by the time you are getting ready for competition.  You should have training blocks during the offseason where technique is drilled at high volume and moderate to low intensity blocks.  By the time you start getting ready for your next competition, your new and improved technique should be an afterthought.  If you're tweaking and playing around with technique during the preparation process then your focus is not where it should be.  And that is executing the movements in the manner you're going to perform them with on competition day.  If you are tweaking your squat every workout going into the competition, what squat is going to show up on game day when it's max effort or max repetitions?

Address specialization - This could essentially be the 2nd part to addressing weaknesses.  Specialization means you're going to be spending the majority of your training time working on improving musculature that is lagging or weak.

For the strength athlete that is weak off the floor in deadlifts, this is the time where they would work on quad size and strength, because that's actually what creates more power off the floor.

However I want to be clear on something here, both the strength athlete and the competitive bodybuilder should have the same goal in the offseason.  And that is, building lean muscle mass.  This is not a time for doing 1 rep maxes for YouTube likes.  Strength athletes should be doing movements that help build the musculature involved in the competitive lifts, and bodybuilders should be specializing in building muscle mass in their weak bodyparts.  It's hard to grow in a calorie deficit, and basically impossible unless you're a noob.  And it's hard to specialize with extra training days a week if you're already doing three or four big training sessions based around the competitive lifts.

Have a training block in the offseason that is designed for overall hypertrophy, but also one designed for addressing a particular bodypart that is holding your strength or physique goals back.

 Recover from injuries and implement preventative measures - Again, this could be an extension of the mobility part, except that maybe you don't need to do mobility, you just need to give the joints a break from pounding a heavily loaded bar in fixed mechanical positions for those movements.  I once had a hip injury that no matter how much I rehabbed it, got any better.  Everytime I squatted it would flare up.

I tried everything under the sun and worked with two physical therapists to fix it.  Nothing helped.  Eventually, I just stopped squatting and left it alone for a few months.  When I went back to squatting it was fine.

Part of assessment, especially when it comes  to overuse and chronic pain from training, is to be smart enough to know that you need to stop doing certain movements, and let go of the notion that you have to marry yourself to them.  There's nothing more bewildering to me than someone so stupid (ahem, me) that they won't stop doing a movement that causes them pain, because they've convinced themselves that they will shrink or lose all sorts of strength if they stop doing it each week.

If you're a very advanced lifter, and have spent years and years building a foundation, it will take all of about 2 sessions of bringing a movement back before it feels natural again.  And if you're smart, it will take all of about 4-6 weeks to be back at your baseline level of strength for it.  The body is smart, and does not forget.

This is also the time to sit down and figure out, if you can, how you ended up injured.  Is it overuse?  Stop doing it so damn much.  This whole mantra that has taken over in regards to strength that you have to do the lifts 10,293 times a week is baffling to me.  If you're playing the long game, then part of that is understanding that longevity means not putting the gas pedal to the floor all the time.  That's a great way to cut your lifting career short.  Just ask Ronnie Coleman.

Remember training gives and takes.  And the type of training you are doing, if it is extreme, will end up taking a lot more than it will give back.  If slow and steady does indeed win the race, then understanding how moderation works is imperative.  This doesn't mean not to train hard, or train heavy, or train with low volume, it means finding balance among those things that keep inching you forwards, without putting  you on the ropes later because you got silly and stupid with your training ideology.

Implement conditioning and eat properly - Once again, once people think "offseason" they can often become a sloth in regards to conditioning, and undisciplined when it comes to their habits at the dinner table.

If training in the offseason is going to be as productive as possible, then your work capacity needs to be high.  After all, this is the time when growth should be taking place due to extra calories.  If  you're gassed after a set of 5 reps on the squat, then you're short changing yourself in regards to growth.  You need to be able to recover from balls out sets within a few minutes, and do another if possible.  And possible another.  For decades 20 rep squat workouts were the staple for growth.  If you want to throw up at the mere thought of doing a set of 20 reps on squats, then what does that say about your work ethic and work capacity?  How about two sets of 20 reps?

Without some level of conditioning then doing a significant amount of volume, or doing gut busting sets is going to be a wash.  This doesn't mean you need to turn into a marathon runner at all.  But you should at the bare minimum have two or three days a week where 20 minutes of your training is dedicated to improving your work capacity through cardiovascular work.  That can be a fast paced walk, sled pulls and pushes, or sprints.  But it needs to be something.

This should also be a time where you keep your bodyfat in check, or get it in check, and implement the 90% rule in regards to whole, nutritious food.  Here's an idea - earn a cheat meal in the offseason.  Most people equate cheat meals during a dieting phase only.  But your surplus in the offseason should still be made up of whole foods and not processed garbage.  Force yourself to earn your cheat meals in the offseason as well.  I know, that's an alien concept but if you're going to diet down later on then you've used the offseason to implement the ideology that cheat meals still need to be earned.

Conclusion - The offseason in some ways is actually far more valuable and important than the time being spent just preparing for competition.  This is where you continue to work on your foundation of strength and muscle mass, implement techniques for injury prevention, address current injuries or nagging pains, address weaknesses, and set the stage for a better performance come competition time.

This is a time where you should be training as hard as possible and eating in a very disciplined manner in order to make sure those things come to fruition.  Don't treat your offseason like time off.  Use it wisely and destroy your old performance easily when it rolls back around.

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Training nutrition revisited

I've done a myriad of protocols for pre-peri-post training nutrition over the years.  Most of which follows the usual thought of moving carbs and proteins in at various times in order to enhance recovery and promote growth.  I mean, that's what all the fuss is about right?  That's the debate involving what to eat or drink prior to and post training.

During prep, I did a lot of studying on enhancing this even more since I was using the exogenous ketones in that time to keep training intensity high, and not feel brain dead all the time.  Especially in the last 4-6 weeks prior to the show.  I wanted to come out of the show and take advantage of post show rebound growth, and have the best plan I could write out in order to do this.  Some of these protocols I used for the show (shouldn't be hard to figure out which ones), and others I'm using now in offseason mode.

This isn't a huge deviation from what I've done previously, but there are some details I thought were worth sharing.  Let me preface this with I'm not going to go back and forth all day about minor details.  I implemented a plan that worked.  It WORKED FOR ME.  There.  That's done with.  If you don't want to implement it and argue that's certainly your right.  I'm simply offering it up since I get asked these questions a lot, and  to give some insight as to how you COULD implement this into your nutritional paradigm in regards to enhancing the training effect.

So let's get to it.

Pre-workout -  60-90 minutes prior to training

Casein pre-workout with a banana and some peanut butter.  This combination, especially if it is micellar casein, which causes no insulin response, is great for a few reasons.  Casein tends to be a slow digesting protein, so while you're training you're going to have a full spectrum of amino acids still getting into the bloodstream.  Bananas are a low glycemic index carb, but it doesn't even matter since we're adding in some peanut butter which would bring down the GI score of any carb ingested with anyway, but I still like playing this on the safe side to keep blood sugar levels from bouncing off the wall before you train.  So with this combo, I kept insulin and blood sugar on the down low.

- 20-30 minutes prior to training

I use the 3.0 keto-os.  Which has leucine in it, which is the branch chain amino acid for activating mTOR, the primary muscle building pathway in the body.  So now we're activating muscle protein synthesis half an hour before training, and getting the benefits of including exogenous ketones, which give us another energy source in addition to glucose for training.  For those in a highly depleted state, like being in contest prep, the reason they tend to notice a huge lift in brain fog and have focus again is that, from what we're seeing is that the ketones go towards energy for the brain.

Which would explain why you go from being like a zombie, to suddenly having that drive and focus for hard training again.  But even if you're not carb depleted or in prep, you're still getting the benefits of reducing inflammation with BHB, which means faster recovery time between workouts, which means you can train more, which means you have more opportunities to stimulate growth.  Not only that, but inflammation is related to just about every illness known to mankind.  So if you want to improve your health, it's a great overall addition to your diet.  If you don't give a shit about all of that, don't buy it.  I don't care.

Peri-training -

During training, I started to hyperdose BCAA.  I know there's been a lot of back and forth on the net about the benefits of BCAA, and I'm not sure why.  There's a mountain of studies that have shown that using BCAA helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis, helps reduce soreness and promote recovery and a more highly anabolic environment.  I have actually found that using around double the recommended dose (around 40 grams instead of 20) does in fact make a difference in recovery time and reduced soreness from training.  Now for a while, I was using cyclic dextrin during training, but I ended up realizing that if my carb intake was high, the truth was I wasn't going to go through all my muscle glycogen and liver glycogen during a training session that was only 45 minutes to an hour and fifteen minutes long.  Are they going to get depleted?  Yes of course.  But you can replenish your glycogen stores just fine and your body is actually in a more primed state to do so post workout.

Second, I just prefer having something that has a "taste" to it during training.  I drink over a gallon of water a day as is (and at times more than 3 gallons a day during prep), so having something that has "flavor" to it is mostly a personal choice.

Post-workout -

Which leads us to post workout nutrition.  Now the thought for a long time has been that as soon as training is over you have to slam your carbs and protein in order to recover, and replenish glycogen stores immediately post training.

Net protein balance is an absolute requirement for muscle growth to happen (net protein balance is when muscle protein synthesis is greater than muscle protein breakdown and is a MUST for growth).  But muscle protein synthesis is elevated for up to 24 hours or longer post training, and glycogen synthesis  is elevated for up to six hours post training before returning to baseline.  Not only that, but fat oxidation is also increased in a post workout state.  So post workout your body is actually in a fat burning mode.  There is the debate that you're turning off this time of fat burning if you ingest carbs immediately post training, however the counter argument to that is carbs post workout go towards nothing but glycogen replenishment, and that fatty acids fuel normal resting requirements.  I'll come back to that.

Now to insulin sensitivity post workout.  Insulin sensitivity is high post workout.  And whey protein alone spikes insulin very efficiently, and insulin is what we need in order to reduce muscle protein breakdown.  Whey isolate also increases muscle protein synthesis.  So it's pretty easy to conclude that post workout, you can wait while fat oxidation is high, then get in your post workout shake sans carbs and find a positive net protein balance while keeping the fat burning furnace high.  I also recommend a mixture of 50/50 isolate and casein post workout (25 grams of casein and 25 grams of isolate) as isolate is a fast digestion protein that gets the amino acids into the cells quickly due to it's high insulin response, where as noted before with casein, it's a slower digesting protein that will feed the cells amino acids for several hours afterwards.

Now we've set the stage for a few things

- Longer period of fat oxidation post workout, so this means an increased time in fat burning mode
- Achieving a positive net protein balance with the inclusion of whey isolate by reducing muscle protein breakdown, and increasing muscle protein synthesis.
- Using a slower digesting protein to prolong the anabolic environment.

The flip side of this is for those who want to gain weight, or are in offseason mode where fat burning is not a primary objective.  In that case, 50-100 grams of carbs coming from waxy maize or cyclic dextrin is a great idea, as it clears the gut fast and replenishes glycogen stores very quickly.  But even for those who are trying to get leaner, you still need to replenish glycogen post training, but this can be done so efficiently in the six hours post training when the body is in a state for increased uptake of glycogen.  It really all depends on goals and what you're trying to maximize in your training or body composition.

So here will be the counter argument about all of this.  And I will say I'm on board with either and will give my two cents, and then be broke as fuck.

Truthfully, you can do either regardless of whether you're trying to get lean or gain mass.  At the end of the day you're still going to need to be in a calorie deficit to lose fat, or a calorie surplus to gain mass.  However, you can tweak this process a bit in order to eek out slightly better results for both.  Obviously eliminating 50-100 grams of carbs (200-400 calories) will help with getting into a calorie deficit.  However, those quick digesting carbs are far more likely to be stored in the muscle post training, and then you could just as easily manipulate your carb intake for the rest of the day to find the desired deficit you need.  The addition of those 200-400 calories will obviously be a great idea for someone looking to add calories for mass gain.

See?  No reason to be dogmatic.  It's possible both approaches work.  I know, that's effin crazy, but it's true.

Experiment with BOTH to see what YOUR results are.  Don't argue.  Try both out.  People have gotten lean doing it both ways, and people have gained mass doing it both ways.  Tweaking it for yourself will help you to understand which works better for you, and your goals.

For the novice, most of this is irrelevant.  Get a good meal in 90 minutes prior to training and within 1-2 hours post training.  For the advanced lifter, these things will make a difference in recovery and growth.

Conclusion -

Lastly, this protocol has worked VERY WELL for me.  So while I'm including studies, I really am done with going back and forth over the net arguing about all of these nuances.

Here is the REAL DEAL - you're going to have to experiment to find out what works FOR YOU.  Period.  Citing study after study without ever applying methods or ideologies into your training or nutritional paradigm is just mental masturbation.  And it's annoying.  Feel free to copy and use my plan, or play around and design your own that you find results with.  People THAT, and that alone, is the best way to find out what works most efficiently FOR YOU.

I hope to hear back from anyone who implements this and talks about their results.  My suggestion is to give a protocol a try for an extended period (at least 8 weeks) before you come to conclusions about it, and to also have your DIET AS A WHOLE, dialed in before you come to those conclusions.  What you eat from sunrise  to sundown is more important than this particular window of nutrition.  This particular paradigm is merely a piece of the puzzle.  It's an important one, but if the rest of your diet isn't on point it will be nearly impossible to gauge how significant or insignificant the results from implementing these strategies will be.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Getting my cherry popped - My first bodybuilding experience

Sorry I've been away so long.  There is a reason I haven't been writing much.  Mainly because I was preoccupied with getting ready for a bodybuilding show.  

So let's get right into it.

My origins into lifting were about bodybuilding.

I think I bought every Flex and Muscular Development ever published for about 15 years.  Plus all the other ones like MuscleMag and Ironman as well.  

Dorian Yates was the guy who, when he came on the scene, I really identified with.  

His work ethic, discipline, his love of hard work and having a reason behind everything he did really resonated with me.  He went against the grain on so many of the things he did because he was a thinker in regards to his lifting and nutrition, and obviously it paid off for him, and I think he did ok.

Later I found myself more interested in powerlifting obviously, and got into the world of bloat eating and everything being about pounds on the bar.  Not that there's anything wrong with that per say, but it really is about as different from bodybuilding as ice skating is from hockey.  The only two things those have in common are the ice.  And the reality of it is, the only things powerlifting and bodybuilding really have in common is that barbell and dumbbells are both used.  And even then, that's not always the case with bodybuilders.

My love for bodybuilding never really died.  It just lessened over the years.  With that lessening came far more interest in perfecting my knowledge about powerlifting, and how to properly execute the big three, programming for them, and about as much as I could cram into my pint sized brain about it as I could.

As with anything, as you immerse yourself into one endeavor, knowledge of the other will wane.  Or at least fall behind.  Such happened with bodybuilding and bodybuilding style training.  

But over the past two years, my interest in powerlifting began to wane, and my first love of bodybuilding became apparent again.  

The world of bodybuilding I left looked totally different than the one I was getting a glimpse of now.  Which would be expected in the social media age, but there were even more massive differences than one would even expect.  

I mean, I've been aware of men's physique competitions for a while now.  Guys getting onstage without having to show their legs was well....weird to me.  Whether they had leg development or not, it was still a really weird deal to me that someone would be in a contest where "physique" was in the name, and he could have been sitting down in a cubicle chair with grandma's hand made throw blanket on his legs, and still win.  

There were lots of other things as well.  Bikini competitors have taken over competitions where they pack in by the millions and what used to be a day long event of looking at bodybuilding has become a 9 million hour marathon of watching women's bikini divisions where honestly, 90% of them have no reason being up there.

Before I piss off a bunch of bikini competitors, there's tons of physique guys and classic physique guys that really have no business being up there either.  And despite the crybaby whine fest I read online when someone writes this, and goes on and on about how people can do what they want to do (yes they can), and that if they set a goal and go out to achieve it, that there's nothing wrong with that.

And I agree.  But not in this case.  

And the reason is because the guys who dieted their ass off for 10, 12, 14+ weeks (oh and the women that did so too), that had to lose 20, 30, 40+ pounds in order to be in good enough condition to actually compete to win, have to sit backstage all day long while those 12 million bikini competitors go through the 3,255 classes that they all have.  Everyone in the audience does as well.  

It makes for a very long and grueling day.

I mean, you only need attend a show to know this.  But it's even worse, when you're back there waiting all day, wanting to get onstage to compete and have to wait while some chick that I can't tell has lifted a day in her life or dieting for 19 minutes parades around, for basically the sole purpose to say she did a show.  Let me state that PLENTY of bikini competitors were in shape, and looked awesome.  But there were plenty that I couldn't tell spent 12 minutes in a gym and zero time pushing away from the buffet line.  

But at this point I'm semi ranting and that's not what this piece is really about.

As with most paradigm shifts in life, most of us have that one moment, where we decide we're going to make a change.  There is usually some shark bites up to that point (a shark doesn't just eat its prey on the first bite, it takes a "taste" at first, to make sure that hey, this shit is good to eat), that leads to that choice.  

I had a couple.

A few years ago I was attending a meet in Springfield, Missouri and the walk from the hotel to where the meet was being held, was a decent hike.  Walking to the meet, I had to stop in the parking lot and lean against a car to catch my breath.  This was at my heaviest bodyweight ever (I believe I was pushing 290 at this point), and while at the time I made a joke about it, I remember thinking in my head how fucking pathetic it really was.  

On the walk back, same thing.  Had to stop halfway in order to let my back stop aching and catch my breath.  

Those two moments weighed on me for a few days.  I hated it.  I hated how I felt.  I hated training.  I hated how boring and monotonous it had become.  Doing the same shit week in and week out.  A squat, a bench, a deadlift, or some variation of those and I was just bored and fucking burnt.  

But most of all, I just didn't feel like me.  

I grew up playing sports.  For years I was sparring partners for MMA guys, and being in shape was something that always made me feel good.  Being able to do sprints and walk without my  feet hurting and doing high rep leg work was shit I missed.  I also missed feeling lean and athletic and really just overall....muscular.  

Despite the fact that so many guys in powerlifting think they are jacked, most are really just fat guys.  And hey I love my powerlifting friends, but I was one of those fat guys too.  And being fat is not being jacked.  

There's a really big gap between those two things.

And I missed being jacked.  And I hated being fat.

The second shift was when I went in and got my blood work done.  Of course, some people are going to say it's related to gear.  But it wasn't.  I mean, unless a replacement dose of test puts you on pace for an early heart attack and shit, it wasn't that.  It was my eating, my lack of "moving" and those layers and layers of fat that covered what underneath I suppose was muscle. 

I had to fix this.  I don't really give two shits about what I squat or deadlift if I'm headed for my deathbed before 50.  My eating had become undisciplined and my conditioning had taken that utterly stupid fucking motto of "anything over 5 reps is cardio" that is so proudly boasted by the lazy as fuck crowd.

I decided on the drive home from that appointment that things would change that day.  

I sat down and wrote out my diet, wrote out how I would start my base conditioning, and scrapped all the training that was based around powerlifting.  I wanted to have fun again.  I wanted to get back into shape.  I wanted to feel good again, and look good again.  I didn't give a rats fucking ass about hitting some one rep max anymore.  I'm not demeaning powerlifting in any way by writing this.  I am saying this was about MY life.  And my training, and what I wanted and needed to do.

I had zero plans to do a bodybuilding show.  I just knew I was tired of how I felt, and disgusted with how far I had let myself fall in regards to health.

Once I had everything in place, I was machine like in my plan.  I would allow the occasional cheat, but with my goal setting completely rearranged, I rarely got off track.  I didn't even crave junk.  Shit man, I had spent years eating all I wanted.  Anything I wanted.  I'd had enough of it.  I enjoyed having a plan again, and one that was a means to an end.  Or at least, led me into something I could wake up to everyday and be happy about.  And the current state wasn't it.

A few months in I had some convos with my good friend Trevor Kashey who said he'd work my diet for a while if I was open to it and I was more than happy to let him.  Trevor is probably one of the smartest diet guys I know, he just doesn't have the following or name a lot of people have because he likes to stay under the radar.  But to say he knows his shit is like calling the grand canyon a ditch.  

So he shot me over his plan and I put it to work.  

It was boring as fuck.  Same few foods all day long.  And I had zero problem with this.  I'm not one of those people who bitch and cry with their first world problems about not having enough variety in their diet.  Boo fucking hoo.  That really annoys the shit outta me.

Anyway, I ate the same shit everyday for months on end, and I got leaner and leaner and leaner.  And no, don't fucking ask for the diet.  Go hire Trevor, as this is what he does for a living, and get him to help you.  

After a while, being the thinker that I am (yes I do think) I started to make some changes myself as I hit plateaus.  I would let Trevor know this and he never had an issue because he trusted I knew what I was doing and knew my body.  

Once I got down into the 240's, and was in decent enough shape (Trevor still said I was fat), my friend John Meadows chimed in one day to me and said "you're looking pretty good man.  You know, you should do a show."

Let me explain something to you about John.  He's really nice.  No, he really is.  But he has this way of talking you into things like your grandmother does.  Like getting you to plow her a garden or build her a new fence.  But she asks or tells in a way that prods you along to do it, and makes you feel kinda good about doing it.  Until you're knee deep into it, exhausted, realize it's really hard work and and then you think to yourself "fuck you, Grandma."  

Don't worry we'll get back to that.

So I was like "yeah, that'd be cool.  To actually do a show.  Why not?  I grew up on bodybuilding.  Do a fucking show.  Why not?"

So it just so happened that Muscle Mayhem, the biggest NPC bodybuilding show in the midwest was about 10 weeks out at that time.  

Hey, 10 weeks!  That's like, a normal kinda bodybuilding diet type thing.  

Why not? What could be so bad?

Let me preface this with the fact that this of course, was my first show.  So by no means is everything I will write here some veteran penned prose.  This is just my account of what I did, what shit felt like, and what everything was like for me.

Once I registered for the event and paid for my NPC card, I knew I was locked in to doing this.  So I sat down and plotted out my diet and strategy for training and cardio and went to work.

I had a goal.  Not only that, the goal would require me to slather up in the salad dressing in my draws and pose in front of a crowd.  Something I had never done, and was exceptionally nervous about.  But I'm down for doing shit I am nervous or scared of doing because that is indeed how you grow, get better, and reward yourself with new experiences.  And that's what living really is to me.  Doing the shit you never thought you'd do.  

Within reason, I mean.  

My training had already changed months ahead of going into this thing.  I had torn a pec doing dips quite a few months before, and my pressing strength has still never really returned to full capacity since then.  And honestly, that's ok.  It really is.  Which was another great thing about making this transition.  No longer was my "worth" as a lifter based around pounds on the bar.  

The bad thing was, all those years of powerlifting had left me mostly in a forgotten state about performing movements for "bodyparts" in very particular ways.  You see, training to "isolate" (yes I'm aware you can't REALLY isolate off any area completely) a certain muscle group requires far different mechanics and execution than just training to move weight through space.  In fact, because there are so many different movements you need to be able to do in bodybuilding to maximize this effect, the amount of knowledge to do so is infinitely larger than for powerlifting.  

So I had to go back to sort of relearning and unlearning at the same time.  I had to relearn a lot of things that I used to do, and unlearn the powerlifting way of doing a lot of things.  

Routine wise, I had a rotation of movements I cycled through based on what I felt like I needed to improve upon.  Now being 10 weeks out, the truth is, I was going to walk into the show basically with what I had.  Especially once the calories started to drop.  At those points, you're just doing your best to hold on to the mass you've spent all that previous time building.  However at 10 weeks out, calories are still high enough to train exceptionally hard and make some minor improvements here and there.

Since my arms suck, I generally hit arms two or even three times a week for quite a few weeks.

I did an absolute metric shit ton of hamstring work, and even more lunges.  As I felt my hams and glutes were probably quite a bit behind where they needed to be.  

For quite a few weeks, training was usually twice a day, with a conditioning or steady state session thrown in as well.  So it was a LOT of work.  

As the weeks went on, and the calories slowly came out, I reduced training down to once a day, but still trained 6 or 7 days a week for the most part.  Of course, two of those sessions were usually arm training and those are not hard to recover from.  

As the show drew closer, I then reduced volume a bit, but added in some intensity techniques (I was already doing them but not quite as often) for those sets to extend them as far as possible.  That generally meant 1-2 true working sets but with strip sets AND rest/pause work in both sets.  

As calories hit an all time low the last month or so, you are basically a zombie.  And loading plates just isn't something you really want to do, and machine work really becomes your best friend.  This is often why you will see videos of lots of guys in prep mode just doing machine work for the most part.  Barbell and dumbbell work is exceptionally taxing, and when you are dragging ass all day long, moving a pin in a stack takes a lot less energy then moving plates and dumbbells around.  And once again at that point, you're just trying to hold on to whatever muscle you built in the offseason, and machines will suffice just fine for that.  Training is still "hard", relatively speaking.  It's as hard as your mind and body can muster up.  But you make adjustments due to exceptionally low energy reserves. 

Trust me when I tell you that the last few leg workouts often took half the day of me talking myself into doing them.  Surprisingly enough, some of them would be really good.  But the very last few leg training sessions were mentally very hard to get up for.

Diet wise, I didn't get stupid.  I slowly lowered carbs by about 25 grams a day every few weeks.  Down until I got to about 150 grams total a day.  That was my rock bottom intake for prep until peak week, where I did 50-75 grams a day for three days during glycogen depletion.  

My conditioning/cardio work was mostly HIIT style work until those points.  And then it all turned into steady state work because the energy for sprints and training just isn't there anymore.  Or at least, it wasn't for me.  Hell, the steady state cardio was even hard at that point.   

Peak week - the biggest mind fuck ever

So for months on end you slowly watch your body rid itself of excess fat and get to see all the veins and striations come in.  It's slow, but it happens.  

During the week of the show, most people have what is called "peak week" where you manipulate water, sodium, carbs, and protein intake in order to show up your best the day of the show.  The point is to arrive as dry and full as possible.  

Now up until this point, your diet has been really constant throughout the process.  As mentioned earlier, you're just lowering carbs a bit each week so there's nothing dramatic going on.

Well during peak week, all of this shit goes out the window, and you're going to be moving shit around every few days and as you do, your body will change in appearance - sometimes hour to hour.

One hour you might look so amazing you feel ready to hit the stage right then.  56 minutes later, you look like a bloated whale carcass and think "what the fuck, there's no way I'm doing this shit!"

Now everyone has a different method to their peaking, and despite everything you're going to read on the net, there's no "one shoe fits all" here.  I spent plenty of time talking to vets who told me that it took them quite a few shows to nail down their peak week to find what worked best for their body.  Everyone is different, and responds different to different protocols.  What sucks is, when it's your first show, you have zero point of reference.  So you're just going to have to figure out an intelligent protocol to use, that makes sense from a physiological perspective, and roll with it.  

Post first spray tan #toastmode

The best advice I can give here is this - while your body is doing all this weird shit just keep your head on straight.  Understand there is a process to it, and that it's all about the day of the show.  Now about what you look like the day after you did your carb loading and you spill over and look like an Elephant carcass that's been sitting in the sun for a week.

This article could get super long, because I'm exceptionally verbose in my writing so from here I'm just going to give some high level overview thoughts - 

  • Know this about peak week - It's just there to fine tune what you've spent the last 10, 12, 14, 16 weeks doing.  At best, you'll get maybe a 2% better look from it.  But fuck it up, and it reduces it by 10% or more.  I know, I just mind fucked you even more if you plan on doing a show.  But this is why it's important NOT to do some crazy shit during peak week, and that MOST IMPORTANTLY YOU WORK TO GET AS MUCH FAT OFF AS POSSIBLE BEFORE THEN.  So all the weeks preceding it are far more important than that week as a whole.
  • Do NOT obsess over what you are going to weigh on the day of the show.  I didn't.  I was at least smart enough to know that.  No one gives a shit what you weigh onstage.  It's better to weight 10-15 pounds less, and have exceptional conditioning, than to weigh X amount for the sole purpose of saying you weighed that amount for your show.  Not only that, but weighing less, and being leaner will actually make you look bigger than if you're carrying more fat.  I weighed in at 224.9 pounds.  But the truth is, I think I would have been tons better at around 215.  I weighed myself throughout the process and I think I actually looked my "best" a week or two before the show when I was as low as 221.  I may have just been a bit dryer that day.
  • From my understanding however, every show you do, you tend to have the ability to dial bodyfat down lower and lower, so long as you stay on point diet wise.  Maybe this is just about getting smarter with what works for you, and what doesn't.  My guess is, it's a bit of both.
  • To keep continuing on that path - everyone can get into condition.  Conditioning is about willpower and discipline.  If you show up fat on the day of the show it's a reflection of the fact that you did NOT have the discipline to diet properly.  I mean, fuck if you have to just do the "fish and a rice cake" diet every fucking day for 10 weeks then do it.  But there's no excuse for showing up out of shape.  None.  Zero.  If you spillover and look smooth, that's a sign you fucked up your peak.  Forgivable.  Showing up clearly way too fat, where you still look 10 weeks out?  It's a reflection that either you have no idea how to diet (and there's too many resources on the net to help with that, so it's not an excuse), or that you just have no fucking discipline and are mentally weak.  Period.  
  • Speaking of which, you're going to have insane cravings during prep.  I mean that unlike you've never had in your life.  You will want to sneak shit in.  DO NOT DO THIS.  Your body is going to send signals to you to eat with the fury of 40 million Spartan warriors.  And certain times are going to be worse than others.  I can tell you this - when you fight through those times, that is when you will usually see the bigger drops in bodyfat.  So just white knuckle that shit and bear through it.
  • More on cravings - You might possibly find yourself doing shit like, salivating over foods you've never craved before in your life.  I'm not a big cheese fan.  Never was.  However one night at the grocery I stopped in this section where they had these huge blocks of cheese and just looked at them all for about 10 minutes.  I snapped out of it and wondered what the fuck I was doing since I've never really liked cheese.  Cookie however, are a whole different ballgame.  And one dark night at the grocery I stopped in the bakery and opened up a bag of lemon drop cookies and just stood there and smelled them for a while.  Eventually I noticed an elderly lady behind me watching me do this.  She seemed slightly mortified at the whole scene.  Being as cranky as I was, I looked at her, probably fairly menacing, and said..."WHAT?!?!?  I'm in prep!"  Yes, that really happened.  Trust me, you're not quite yourself the last few weeks.
  • Naps saved my life.  I've never napped in my whole life as much as I did the last 6-7 weeks before the show.  Sometimes twice a day.  Which is also because you can't sleep worth a shit at night.  I usually woke up between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m. pissed off that I was wide awake but exhausted.  Sometimes I could go back to sleep, and sometimes I could not.  So I would just go do cardio for 30-45.  Then eat, then know I'd just get a nap in later on in the day.  I also napped to music for some reason.  Usually I like it to be quiet when I sleep, however for some reason I napped better to music playing.  My go to was generally two songs.  "The Last Goodbye" by Black Label Society, and "Hello" by Adele.  Yes I know, you hate that song.  But my girls love it and I would listen to it with them a lot, and the context helped me relax and sleep.  So I don't care what you think.  Since I was the last human on the face of the planet to have heard "Hello" according to my girls, I will link "The Last Goodbye" for you.

  • The last few weeks you give very few fucks.  Laundry takes a back seat.  So does cleaning.  You look down at the clothes pile on the floor and say "fuck it, not picking that up."  And just put your dirty clothes back on.  Why not?  You're going to train 3 times that day anyway, and if you put on clean clothes for every training session you'd be doing laundry all day.  And you don't have time for that because you're also cooking every few hours and napping between that time.
  • I've never made so many grocery store trips in my life.  "Why didn't you stock up, Paul?"  Oh wait, you think I didn't think of that???  I DID!  I stocked up.  But you're still making a ton of trips.  Honestly, it helped me focus as another task to prepare.  And you better be focused.
  • You will be irritable as fuck.  I mean exceptionally so.  So anyone who interacted with me on the net the past few weeks....I'm sorry.
  • Posing - This is basically what cost me a placing (2nd in masters, 3rd in open) in each division.  Posing is hard.  It's not you flexing in your mirror for some Instagram selfies.  You could be shredded to the bone with the most complete development in the world. If you don't know how to properly show it through posing, you will look lesser than the guy next to you who isn't quite as conditioned or as well balanced as you, but can show his strong points better.  Get someone who can teach you how to pose, and start months out.  I waited too long and thought 6 weeks or so would be enough time.  I struggled with getting my hamstrings to contract properly in rear poses.  I also had a painful right hip flexor that didn't always allow me to contract my right quad the entire time during a pose as it would spasm.  Then I would find myself sort of relaxing all over due to it.  Make no mistake, posing requires a different kind of "conditioning" than cardio or lifting.  It's hard work.  And it makes a MASSIVE difference on the day of the show.  These are not "little" things.  These things make a huge difference on competition day.  Get on posing early and learn how to show your strong points and hide your weak ones.  If I do another show I will not let this be something that costs me a placing.  It will be a major priority.
  • During the last few weeks of prep, the exogenous ketones were a fucking life saver, and what helped lift the brain fog from the starvation fatigue.  I'd take them about 30 minutes before training.  On the days I forgot to do so (and you forget a lot in this time), training was like being Ed Norton in the shower in American History X.  On the days I remembered, training was solid.  Of course strength was shit in the last few weeks, but as long as I got the ketones in, I at least had some focus and more energy for  training.  Then they would wear off of course, and I'd be back to being an extra in The Walking Dead.  I would often hit another serving later in the day if I needed it so as not to forget to keep doing things like bathing, talking, breathing, etc.  Funny enough, a few weeks before this I told Allen Cress, who also competes, about them and got him on them and he basically cursed me for not introducing him to these before.  If you are dieting hard these are a life saver.  If you're interested, here's my link for them....
  • On show day, make sure to pack yourself a blanket, a pillow, some tunes to listen to, a ton of things to eat like normal meals you ate during prep, but also some snacks because it's going to be a long day - but also because  your eating is part of getting fuller leading up to your time on stage.  Again, that's a process you're going to have to figure out.
  • My training partner, my middle daughter, made fun of my diet face everyday for the last month before the show.  Attaining diet face is a badge of honor.  If you don't have it going into the show, you're definitely nowhere near lean enough.  Not even close.  Shoot for looking like Skeletor.  Or the zombie version of Michael Jackson in thriller.  That should be your goal. 
Diet face on point

  • I can't remember what week I was in, but it was close to the end where I could barely function and would often find myself not knowing what day it was, or where it was I was driving to.  During those times my thought always came back to this.  "Fuck you, John Meadows."
  • As bad you are going to feel on the day of the show, remember everyone else probably feels like shit too.  Be courteous.  Everyone is stressed.  Not just you.  
  • I didn't post that I was doing a show on social media.  I didn't want the attention about it, nor was it a bucket list item.  I went in to win.  I trained and dieted as hard as I could.  My learning experience, and there will always be learning experiences in new things you do, was obviously that I should have spent more time working on posing.  But back to the other part - if you ever plan on competing, have the mindset that you are going in to win.  At one point, a guy that was helping me with some stuff told me "Paul, it's a local show.  It's a huge local show, but you're approaching this like it's the Mr. Olympia."  And that let me know my mindset was right.  If you're going to compete, prepare to win.  Don't compete and waste your time and other people's time so you can say you stepped onstage.  Honestly, I abhor that.  I do.  And I don't care if that rubs anyone the wrong way.  I can't understand how someone arrives at that half-ass mentality.  Either be about it, or just don't do it.  If you want to get in shape so you look and feel better and have a goal, don't make the show your goal.  Set up a photo shoot, or look good for a vacation.  If you are going to go into a show, then it IS a competition.  Even if it's a subjective one, it's still a competition.  And you should be going in with the frame of mind to do everything within your power to win.  Period.  If that's not your goal, do something else.
  • I have so many people I want to thank that the list would go on forever.  But some stand out more than others.  Fred, Eugene, Joseph, John, Swede, Robin, Abby, Tiff, Bryan, Brandon, Eddy, Adam, Ryan, Susanna, Larry, True Nutrition.........tons of others I'm sure I am forgetting.  
Was a great experience.  I might do it again.  Who knows?

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The real power over winning and losing

I was never a big Tito Ortiz fan.  He was a very polarizing character and fighter.  People either loved him or hated him.  

Ok, so maybe I'm using somewhat of an absolute there because I didn't hate him.  I just didn't care for him.  I generally rooted against him, and watched pay-per-views he was fighting in just hoping to see him get his ass kicked.

Which basically means he was doing his job as a fight promoter.  

However after one particular fight against Chuck Liddell, he was being interviewed and he made a very profound statement that changed my perception of him.

He got beat up pretty bad.  But in the interview, he said this about his performance.

"That was the best I could fight."  

I can't remember if that was his exact phrase, but it was something like that.

And I remember thinking, that was a very honorable thing to say.  But not only that, despite the fact that he got his ass whupped pretty bad, he didn't seem terribly upset after the fight.  

Now, I'm not Tito Ortiz.  I didn't stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, either.  I'm also not  a mind reader, or psychic.  However, what I got from his words, and his body language was this.

He could walk away from that loss, knowing he prepared as well as he possibly could, fight the very best fight he could, and find some peace in that.

And I think there's a very valuable and important lesson to take away there.  The same one I've tried to instill in my own kids as they have participated in sports, or anything they have tried to achieve.

You can't always be the best.  You can't always win.  You will come up short sometimes.  But don't fall short because you failed to do your best.  Don't fall short because your efforts were short.  

There's a massive difference in losing because someone else was just better on that day than you, and losing because you failed to prepare to the best of your ability.  I also think, and this is just my opinion, there's something hollow in winning when you know damn well in the back of your mind, that you cut corners or didn't prepare to the best of your abilities as well.  Generally speaking, that's called luck.  And luck is not a strategy for success.  

If you're just so damn awesome that you can half ass it in preparation for something and still win, then good for you.  But here's a reality check; that won't last.  At some point, you will fall short.  Possibly even to someone with less natural ability than you, because they simply outworked you.

Now the other reality is, unless your mom and dad gave you the genetics to compete at the very highest of levels, all the hard work in the world isn't going to vault you to the top of the athletic/business/whatever food chain.  

Which is why I detest that motto of "champions are made, not born."

I'm here to tell you that is a pile of horseshit.  If you want to compete in the Olympics, or be a world record holder in pretty much anything, your genetics are going to be the biggest factor in that.  And let's be clear about part of that.  People often limit "genetics" to physical attributes only.  When the other equation there is the mental and emotional make up that most champions have as well.  

Pretty much every guy with a starting position in division I college football has exceptional physical skills.  Things you cannot train for.  Yet only a small fraction of those guys will make it to the NFL, and in three years or less, most of them will have washed out.  

This isn't hard to figure out.  Every guy in the NFL is exceptionally gifted from a physical standpoint.  It's the guys that understand how to work, and have the mental and emotional capacity to excel in that environment that end up sticking.  

I'm going to pull this part out of my ass, more or less, but I also remember reading one time that most of the guys try out for BUD/S, the Navy SEAL indoctrination course, are in good enough physical shape to make it through.  So why is the wash out rate so high?  Why do so many ring the bell to signify that they quit?

Because people break mentally.  Emotionally.  I'm sure it's exceptionally difficult to wake up on a day in and day out basis, and be pushed to the limit in regards to what you're willing to absorb.  What your mental and emotional taxation limit is will eventually be snuffed out.  

As they say, the mind will give out long before the body will.

This ability transcends throughout every elite position you can possibly find in life.  From athletics to business.  I mean, that skinny-fat CEO who can't walk up a flight of stairs without having to rest for 10 minutes before he plops back down in his leather bound chair because he's so out of shape is still in possession of something that genetically, gives him an advantage.  Some mental, emotional, intelligence make up that is rare and exceptional.  

The raw materials have to exist of course, but as noted, there comes a point where the wheat get separated from the chaff.  Where the division I guy with a 4.2 40-yard dash gets told he's not good enough to make the team.  Or where the guy sitting in the cubicle gets told he's being released while the guy who was sitting across from him gets promoted.  

Now, this doesn't mean life is fair, and that in every damn situation you weren't good enough and suck ass.  As noted, Tito probably prepared the very best he could.  He fought the best fight he could fight.

And he lost.

Or did he?

I'm not sure we really lose if we can truly be introspective enough to look at who we are, how we prepare, how we conduct ourselves in the face of adversity, yet still fall short of what we were trying to accomplish.  Sure, there's a scoreboard up there.  There's a W/L column.  It's great for statistics.  But it's not the measuring stick for personal effort.  That is often a very intangible thing.  

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.  I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan

At the end of the day, there is still nobility in failing, falling short, and even losing.  But only so long as we know that we prepared to the best of our abilities.  That we fought the very best fight we could fight.  There's still honor there.  There's still strength to draw from if you know that you prepared to the very best of your abilities, but it wasn't enough.  

And the only way to fully know when your best wasn't good enough, is to fail enough times so that you clearly understand how much of yourself you have to empty out into something, and what all you have to give up in order to obtain and achieve that.  And even may not be enough.

A hard lesson in life to learn, is that sometimes our best isn't enough.  There will always be someone stronger, faster, bigger, smarter, richer, better looking, and has better taste in home decor, cologne, and fashion.  But our best effort will always be enough in regards to building our character, our strengths, our courage, and our resolve and ability to persevere.  It's the one thing we truly have control over that allows us to walk away from a statistical check in the "L" column and still retain some pride in who we are, and what we gave.  

And that's how we arrive at the very best version of who we want to be.  And there's no losing in that.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The biggest losers keep on losing in the war on fat loss

This past week yet another story surfaced about the fact that contestants on that ridiculously stupid show "The Biggest Loser" had relapses back into fatness.

Why this surprises anyone I'm not sure.

I wrote a piece a while back about the studies that showed that obese people who lose weight, generally end up gaining it all back again at some point.  You can peep that piece in the link below...

If you don't feel like reading two articles, and I won't blame you if that's the case, here is the high level overview....

  • Obese people often develop addiction like symptoms to food.  Which are actually worse than drug addictions.  Making it harder to overcome than just being "disciplined".  It's not quite that simple.
  • The dopamine receptors must be "rewired" over time in order to essentially help people cement healthy eating habits.  This means eliminating the foods that got them obese in the first place, because they actually struggle more with cravings than the non-obese, or people who have a healthy eating lifestyle in place.
  • With all that said, people become obese due to lifestyle/eating choices.  Which is why it's important to educate people on these matters before they reach a point where losing weight is infinitely harder due to the physiological factors associated with severe obesity.
But back to that stupid show.

The article (holy shit, including this one that'd be three articles for you to read, and everyone loves a tl;dr now because they are intellectually lazy) is here............

Once again, if you want to skip it, I will cover my thoughts about it right here.

Basically the researchers found out that the body is going to fight back with every ounce of fat cell energy it can muster up to keep that once severely obese person at a healthy bodyweight.

The research also cemented a long held belief by lots of diet experts and coaches I know, that the body will reach a "set point" in regards to bodyweight, and will thoroughly enjoy staying there, and fight against moving from it.  

Even if you do lose weight, the body is going to do everything it can to get you back to that long held set point.  This doesn't have to be hundreds of pounds either.  It can be that 20 pounds you worked really hard to get off.  The body will fight back at you for a very long time to try and get back to that weight.  

Even worse, the researchers found something that has sort of long been known about obesity and metabolic rates.  Which is basically the opposite of what a lot of people say in regards as to why they are obese.  

And that is, obese people tend to have very normal metabolisms.  They aren't obese because they have a slow metabolism.  They are obese because well, they ate their way into obesity.  Not because their metabolisms were in a sloth like state.

But here is the kicker - after they lost all of that weight, especially in such a rapid fashion, their metabolisms did slow down.  Significantly so.  

Their bodies actually slowed their metabolic rates to such a significant degree in order to pull their weights back to that old set point.  One contestant actually burns about 522 calories fewer than someone of her size would be expected.

Combine that with the fact that their brain had been hardwired over years and years of developing an addiction to food, and you're looking at a physiological environment that is going to make it damn near impossible for these people to maintain healthy bodyweights.  

Plummeting leptin levels were also another factor.  When these people made their way onto the show, just like they were in possession of normal metabolisms, they also had normal levels of the leptin hormone.  Leptin regulates your appetite, essentially.  When you are in a hypocaloric state (which means you're in an energy deficit) your leptin will drop, and signal to the body that you need to eat.  

After this, your leptin levels rise, and hunger subsides.  For a while.  

But with these people, their leptin levels plummeted.  Which basically made them ravenous all the time.  Again, this is their own body working against them trying to lose weight/fat and get to a healthy and sustainable bodyweight.  

When you start adding all of this up, it should be of no surprise that there are so many stories now about these people essentially finding themselves obese again.  

This doesn't mean that losing fat and keeping it off can't be done.  It just means that going on a show where the results are rigged, and the contestants are training up to 8 hours a day and on starvation diets is an absolute recipe for metabolic and physiological disaster.

This is why fad diets or crash diets flat out do not work.  I remember some time back when I heard about that HCG diet, where people were eating, literally, 500 calories a day.

Yes, it's limited to 500 calories a day.

Because so many of the people who read my bullshit are mildly educated, they will say "well that's stupid."  But here's the thing, you have to understand that so many people have no idea just how ridiculous and moronic that only eating 500 calories a day really is.  I'm not shitting you.

I worked with a guy who did the HCG diet.  He lost weight by the hour it seemed.  Of course he did.  He was eating less each day than dudes who were in the Bataan death march had access to.  

Two months after he hit his goal weight, he had gained all of his weight back.  I know....that's an Earth shaking revelation, but it did happen.  

I laughed.  No, I really laughed because he was a first class dick blossom.  Trust me, I'm not being an asshole about this.  

There's something to be said for people wanting to lose weight, and willing to do anything in order to make that happen as fast as possible, without ever educating themselves about what is sustainable in regards to dietary habits.  

It's because people WANT IT NOW.  

And that right there is the short circuit to all of this.  People don't want to hear that it's going to take 12 months, or 24 months, or even longer in order to get back to a healthy bodyweight or bodyfat.  They want a 10 or 12 week transformation without ever accepting that if you walked 10 miles into the woods, it's going to be a 10 mile walk back out.  

If you spent the last 10 years working your way to 400+ pounds, there's no 12 week transformation that is going to fix that.  There's no six month transformation that is going to fix that.  You can sit down, and be honest with yourself, and take a long hard look in the mirror and and be introspective enough to understand that if you want to implement changes that are going to stick, there's a lot of work to be done.  And it won't be easy, and it will be frustrating as hell sometimes, and you may even have the occasional relapse back into your previous habits.  

I work with enough people on body recomp to hear these frustrations weekly.  And I do sympathize because I know lots of people who are doing everything right, and to them, it's just not happening fast enough.

Really, it's no different than the skinny kid who wants to gain mass, and is willing to murder his grandmother in order to make that happen yesterday.  

Our body gratification desires can and will often get the best of our decision making.  It's the culprit behind fad diets and eating disorders.  Hell, let's be real, gratification of almost any kind can make us compromise our integrity and intelligent decision making in order to see what we desire come to fruition.  

These desires are what drive us to be short sighted and are often the driving force behind our poor choices.  

In essence, we give up what we want most, for what we want right now.  

Most of us aren't patient creatures.  And in the case of people who resort to extreme weight loss protocols, their lack of patience gets the better of them, and their better judgement.  

I have a lot of empathy for the people who went on that show, and suffered tremendously for the entertainment of people who sat down on their couch and watched each week, without ever understanding how much pain and agony those people subjected themselves to for the enjoyment of an audience.  I have no doubt that most of them had no idea what they were getting themselves into.  So before you chime in with "it was their choice", remember that no one....not even them....knew that this would probably have lifelong ramifications.   

Even worse, the trainers on the show are now heralded as fitness and diet experts when all they did was fuck up those people for life.  I feel like if anything the producers of the show and those trainers should somehow be held accountable for what was clearly poor decision making in regards to the contestants health and well being.   We're not talking about weight loss here - we're talking about completely screwing up someone's physiological system for years on end.  With health ramifications that possibly cannot be undone.  And let's be real, there's no way you can be a "trainer" with even a modicum of knowledge without understanding that massive calorie deficits and 8 hour long training days isn't a good fucking idea.

This isn't Fear Factor.  Where you eat some dog turds on a dare, throw up after, and then life resumes as normal.  Life didn't resume as normal for these people.  It got worse.  And for people who seek out fad diets as a quick fix are going to run into the same issues.  Which is why it's very important for people to get educated on the proper way to lose weight, get in shape, and find sustainable ways it can be done for them.  

My plea to people is to understand that there is going to be a long and difficult process to undo all the damage that has been done if you're trying to lose weight, and get in shape.

There are no quick fixes.  There are no short cuts.  There's no pill or cream or wrap or any of that shit that's going to fix you.  You spent years causing this condition.  So expect that it may takes years to overcome all the battles that will have to be fought and won in order to undo it.

Embrace the process involved in that, and then you have much better odds of not becoming another statistic in regards to people who lost weight, then gained it all back again.

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

The accelerator can be your worst enemy

A while back the lifting community was all in standing ovation about an Instagram post that 8 time Mr, Olympia, Ronnie Coleman made in regards to the current condition of his health.

Basically Ronnie has had two hip replacements, and is having to learn to walk all over again.  In the instagram post, he's in a wheelchair being helped up (if I am recalling correctly), and talks about his regrets.  His regret, in all of it, was that he was a coward.  A coward for not squatting that 800 pounds for 4 reps, instead of 2 reps.  Because he knew he could do it for 4, but chickened out and only did two.

Mind you, I believe Ronnie stated at one point that he didn't quit competing because he was ready to retire, but because of all the issues that kept him from training like he wanted to.

His post was shared a zillion times and people so applauded his attitude about it, stating "this is what it takes to be a champion", or some nonsense like that.  Yes I wrote nonsense.

Why?  Because if Ronnie's goals to continue winning and competing were cut short due to what he was doing, then no matter how you want to slice it, ultimately it was counter productive.

"But he won 8 times."

Yes he did.  And could have won 9, or 10, or 11, or whatever.  So in the end, he lost out on achieving more than he could have because he never adjusted his training or mental attitude, in regards to what his body was capable of anymore.

Dorian Yates was my favorite bodybuilder when I was coming up in my young years.  Dorian trained balls out, all the time, without ever taking his foot off the gas pedal.  Even just weeks out from a show.  When there's virtually no possibility that training in such a manner is going to improve on what you spent time building in the offseason.  At that point, what's done is done.  Dorian ended up suffering torn biceps and triceps, and later said that if there was one mistake he made it's that he didn't know when to ease off the training intensity before a show, and that doing so cost him those injuries.

I read this morning that Layne Norton is in such a state that he can't bench press is down over 100 pounds due to herniated disks in his neck.  He can't squat 135 pounds without tremendous pain in his hip.  His deadlift is a few hundred pounds off of his best.  He wrote he's tried everything under the sun to recover but nothing is helping.

I've never been a fan of Layne's attitude.  I've made no bones about that.  However, I never want to see these things.  I don't.  At some point, the one bond all of us have in regards to the iron is the love we have for it, what it means to us on a personal level, and how it reshaped our lives in a positive way.  I can't imagine being in the position Layne or Ronnie is in, and not being able to go to the gym and get in a great session without tremendous pain, or having to go through rehab so I can walk properly again.  In complete sincerity, as brothers in iron, my heart goes out to both of them.

But as the good book tells us, you reap what you sow.

There's been this lifting ideology in powerlifting, especially in the "natty" community, that you need to squat 4,536 times a week, and bench press at least equally that amount.  I also read that you can deadlift a ton of times a week despite the fact that most of the best deadlifters consistently advise against this because recovering from the deadlift is very difficult.  I have no idea why this mentality has taken hold in strength circles but it has, and I honestly think it's hogwash and nonsense.  People have been getting strong(er) for decades, and doing so while maintaining training longevity because they understood that recovery was still a factor in getting better.

Layne I believe, was a huge proponent of these super high frequency training modalities.  Not knowing when to back off, squatting and benching and deadlifting on a very high frequency basis.  I have no idea if this contributed to his current issues, but ruling it out all together can't be done either.  Layne also had very poor squat technique, and despite tons of people telling him this, he refused to take the time out to fix it.

Ronnie could have changed his training ideology, and still kept winning Sandows for at least a few more years, and possibly never stared down the barrel of multiple surgeries for his hips.  Dorian could have backed off of his training intensity pre-contest time, and probably never suffered the injuries that also cut his career short.

People will point to their success and say "well they did what it took to win."  That can easily be debated.  Dorian didn't need to be training balls out just a few weeks from a show in order to walk in and destroy everyone.  The foundation he laid down to do so was already in place.  You really think he was going to shrink, or look less conditioned, if he just took his foot off the gas pedal for a few weeks before a contest, and lose because of that?  Because I don't.

Ronnie was already killing everyone for years, and could have easily changed his training modality that allowed for a longer competing life, without the ramifications involved in the training style that ultimately ended his career.

I don't know what all was involved in Layne's issues, but as stated, I do know that it appears he was a huge proponent of doing the big 3 multiple times a week, with near maximal poundages, and I honestly have no idea how or why anyone arrives at these training junctures.

People like to say that "training/powerlifting/bodybuilding is a marathon, not a sprint."  Then why do so many sprint their ass off, trying to reach goals, without realizing that the joints and connective tissue only has so many reps in them over your training life?   If you plan on training as a part of something you will do for a lifetime, then what's the rush?  It's going to be hard to reach your goals when you become so haphazard in training that eventually your state of being overzealous causes it all to come crashing down.

Years back, I knew a powerlifter who believed in this whole "squat five times a week" bullshit.  Often working up to 550+ every single day.  After a few months, his IT band and hips were so inflamed he could no longer squat without debilitating pain.  And he never hit the numbers he was chasing as his goals.

I've read many times that you need to do the maximal amount you can in regards to volume and intensity, and while it may look good on paper to buy into such principles, the fact is, the body can and will break down if you aren't smart enough to keep some of these things in moderation.

You can't smash the accelerator to the floor, and pin your foot down on it in a permanent state without blowing something in the engine at some point.  I'm here to tell you, no matter how invincible you think you are, if you don't learn some moderation in your training, you will pay for it eventually.  Not if, but when.

If 90% of your training efforts give a return of 90%, without the consequences of surgery or pain, then I feel like that's a better option than 100% of everything giving you a 100% return, but with possible training ending problems that are going to bite you in the ass down the road.

This doesn't mean you can't and shouldn't have periods in your training where you get a bit insane to get past a plateau, but that's the point.  It should be something done in short spurts that pushes you slightly forward, before instilling some sanity back into your overall paradigm.

I've made a lot of mistakes in my own training.  And maybe it's possible that if I did some things different that I squatted more, or benched more, or pulled more, or have more muscle than I do now.  But at 41, right now, I'm in the best shape I've ever been in, and on my "good days" can still overhead press over 300 and deadlift 700, and I don't wake up everyday in pain, or have any surgeries on the horizon.  I can go sprint multiple times a week, and do any and all activities with my kids.

There's no amount of weight on the bar that can outweigh those pleasures to me.  If none of those things matter to you, then that is completely your prerogative.  But if you want to learn something valuable in regards to what all of these people and guys like Mike Matarazzo (who said, as he was lying on his death bed "it wasn't worth it"), then it's that indeed, the phrase slow and steady wins the race.

Despite my dislike for Layne's attitude (or at least how it comes across online), I do wish him a speedy recovery, and that if he feels his training methods were a contributing factor due to his current condition, he can serve as a voice to his audience not to make the same mistakes he made.  That Dorian somehow can serve as an audience to the people who follow him, knowing the value in taking your foot off the accelerator.

And that people don't end up having to suffer and go through what any of those guys did, because they were smart enough to listen, and learn from the mistakes of others, rather than their own.

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

5 Training/Diet "hacks" that work good AF

Control your environment for diet control - 

When I was working in IT, much like the movie office space, we all had cubicles.  And because you can simply walk up and down the aisles and peer into co-workers cubes, I always felt like I got a little bit of insight as to their life.  Or at least, a snapshot in time.

For the co-workers I was good friends with, it never failed that when they were struggling with problems at home or otherwise, their cubicles tended to be messier and far more cluttered in that time.

This is just my own personal observation and nothing more than some anecdotal evidence, but I feel the correlation is strong.  Kinda like the woman going through heartache is likely to sit at home and eat a whole pan of brownies and throw discipline right out the window during that time.

While not always being the case, our environment that we control like our house or workspace, is often a reflection of our headspace and emotions at that time.  After all, it's hard to clean up and get everything neat and tidy while your personal world is being turned upside down.  So you literally turn everything around you upside down, or leave it in that state while your mind and emotions are occupied in a similar manner.

There was a study done a while back on this very thing.  100 women were asked to come in and sit down in either a messy or cluttered kitchen, and write an essay about either a time their life felt in control, or out of control.  The women who sat in the cluttered kitchen were asked to write about a time they felt out of control in their life, and the ones that sat in the clean kitchen were asked to write about a time they felt in control of their life.

The women were given snacks to eat while they wrote.  The ones that sat in the cluttered kitchen ate more than twice as many cookies as the ones that sat in the clean kitchen.

Some might dismiss this study because of all the quality control or blah blah blah, but I think it's right on point.

When your mind is occupied by feelings of having your shit together, and your environment is a reflection of that, discipline tends to easier, and willpower will be strong.

When your mind is occupied by feelings of chaos and discontent, and your environment reflects that, our other habits will reflect that as well.

As humans, it seems, whatever is at the core of us...whatever is driving our thoughts, emotions, and controlling our mind tends to reverberate throughout every other aspect of our behavior.

Fuck it, might as well eat all the cookies

Focus, or lackthereof, tends to cascade off into every direction of what we have control over.  Our words, actions, thoughts, and habits.

So it shouldn't be of any surprise that the women who were writing about feeling out of control sitting in a messy room would be more inclined to loosen the reigns on eating, and throw more caution into the wind.

I can tell you from experience that when life is really in the shitter it's very hard to find the mental energy or desire to clean everything up around you.  But I can also tell you this; when my own house is very neat and tidy that I do in fact work more efficiently, and seem to have my "shit together" better.

The next time your life feels out of control, remember this - there are still things you have control over.  And the truth is, those are the things you should be putting your energy into.  Because what's the point in sitting around worrying about things you literally have no control over?  All it does is keep you from being as efficient and organized in your life as you can be.

So if you are trying to clean up your diet, and be strict in your eating, literally stop and take a look around at the environments you are spending time in.  If your house is a mess, clean that fucker up.  If your workspace is a mess, clean that fucker up.

Take back control over the things you have the power over, and try to let go of the worries about things you cannot change.  I know this can be hard to do, but actually focusing on the things you can change, will help you find clarity in regards to the things you can't.

Listen to relaxing music while doing lunges -

I've written about this many times, but of course lots of people don't see everything I write, so here it is again.

I love lunges.  I think they are one of the most underrated movements you can do.  They have been hi-jacked by women trying to build glutes and legs and get "toned".  But the fact is, lunges are a great economy movement.

By economy I mean they do a lot of great things all at once.

They improve mobility, create balance throughout the lower body, stretch the hip flexors, and are great for pretty much every muscle from the hams to glutes to quads.

Many moons ago, I somehow ended up having some easy listening ballad type shit come on my Pandora during the end of my leg session.  This would normally be something I'd thumbs down during training as my usual selection is hard, fast paced metal.

But this shit came on during the middle of my set of lunges.  And I found myself lunging, and lunging, and lunging.  After my set, I actually added an easy listening/soft rock station and went back to lunging.  And sure enough I could do far more lunges than I had usually been doing.

It made total sense to me afterwards.

Adrenaline driving music, the kind that helps you "get up" for a big set of squats or deadlifts is great because naturally, you tend to get tighter all over and feel that rush of "crush-kill-destroy" while it's playing.

And this is good.

You need to be amped up and tight as fuck during those big movements.

But for lunging, the fact is staying tight as hell tends to zap you of energy a lot faster than if you're keeping the rest of your body very relaxed.

I likened it to fighting.  When you're sparring, the tighter you stay the faster you're going to gas.  You only  "turn it on" for a split second during a combination thrown, a punch or kick here or there.  But you must learn to stay relaxed if you want to have the energy explode when the moment calls for it.

Lunging isn't much different.  If your upperbody is tight and tense, then that's energy expended that has nothing to do with the part of the body you're actually trying to work.

You should stay upright during lunges, of course.  But you need to stay upright in fighting as well.  I mean, I've never seen someone fight bent over with floppy spaghetti noodle arms.

The key is staying upright, but keeping the torso mostly relaxed.   And what I found was, with the easy listening type music (and no I don't give a shit what kind of easy listening you use), I relaxed better, breathed better (instead of holding my breathe like in squats or pulls), and was able to do about twice as many lunges as usual than I was doing before.

Much like how we reflect our environment and how it's a reflection of us, music in training can and does play a big part in where our mind goes.  If you've ever left your headphones at home and had to listen to awful gym music you're very aware of this.  Your own music that resonates with you, and can give you that surge of focus and adrenaline can help drive you to a PR or to power through a hard set.

In this case, back off the head decapitating stuff, and throw on some relaxing shit and you'll notice a big difference.  I've had multiple people try this and they always laugh at the difference it makes.  So give it a whirl.

Put all of your big movements last in the workout - 

I've been doing this for quite some time, and without fail when someone checks my Instagram for my training log for the day, I will get asked why I am doing my squats and other big movements after all of the other stuff.

Their retort to my "why not?" response is generally the same, not-well-thought-out one.

"Because I have more energy at the beginning of the workout when I can use more weight."

This is true.  However, my stance on muscle growth is that training frequency may be the biggest player in the paradigm of intensity, volume, and frequency.  The more often you can get into the gym, and stimulate growth - and recover from it- then faster you're going to grow.

Of course, this means you have to train very hard.  You can't just go into the gym and do some bullshit sets a bunch of times a week and expect to get mad gainz.  But doing your big movements first, where you're using as much bar weight as possible, tends to play havoc on the systemic recovery curve.

Whether you believe this or not, growth is not determined by how much you're lifting, but by a myriad of other factors that can and do impact hypertrophy.  You can grow off of sets of 5, and you can grow off of sets of 20.  Obviously the intensity (weight on the bar) is going to be much lower during a set of 20 than a maximal set of 5, but do three months of hard as fuck 20 rep squats and tell me if your legs don't grow.  In fact, I'd bet money they grow more than during all the months you did sets of 5.

With all of that said, if I want to train hard more frequently, then I have to weigh in the intensity, frequency, volume factors to meet the demands for recovery.

I've covered this before, but here it is again....

Two of these can be high, but the third needs to be down regulated.

If volume and frequency is high, then intensity needs to be lowered.

So if I want to train often, with a high degree of volume, then the weight on the bar needs to be lowered so that from a systemic standpoint, I'm recovering enough to meet the other variables.

And this is why I have moved almost all of my big compound movements into the end of my training sessions.  Because I still believe they have the greatest amount of value from a growth perspective, but if I want to be in the gym often, doing a lot of work, I can't be suffering from workout hangover because I went heavy on everything.  Remember, there is localized muscle recovery (which is fairly fast), and systemic recovery (the various nervous systems involved in training).

What I have found is that when I move my big movements to the end of my training, I can use far less weight, yet still bust ass on them and benefit from them.  So while using 405 for squats may seem "inferior" than using 500-600 for them, all my legs know is they are having to work exceptionally hard to move that 405 pounds.  At the same time, it's still 405 vs 500-600 pounds, and I wholly believe that from a systemic standpoint the impact on recovery is far less.

Another great example of this is front squats vs back squats.  You can take a maximal set of front squats to failure at 8 reps, but if it's at 365 pounds vs doing back squats to failure with say, 500 pounds, don't you think there is a difference from a systemic recovery standpoint?

I do.  I don't need a study for this.  I've seen it in my training.

So if you want to train hard, and often, be mindful of these factors, and do some pre-exhaustive work before your big movements and you will notice a massive difference in how you "feel" each day recovery wise.  You should be able to train more often, without feeling run down all the time.

To add, I don't care what you pre-exhaust with.  Just think in terms of more single joint movements, or "small" movements that put more tension on a very direct area than spreading it across a large degree of musculature.  So before you ask "what are your recommendations for...", well there they are.

Go in and experiment.

Avoid temptation one time at the grocery store, instead of every night at your house -

I wrote this on my Facebook page last week, but hey let's cover it one more time (and props to the guy who gave me the bolded title for this part).

I can't tell you how many messages or e-mails I get a week from people who blow their diet, or have trouble staying disciplined to what they are supposed to eat, and it's not always the weekend binging (but I will get to that as well).

It's not always the going out to eat on the weekends, or getting wasted at Bob's big kegger that weekend.  It's most often, shit they are eating out of their own pantry.

And my first thought when I hear this "how is that shit in there in the first place?!?!?!"

"I get it for my kids."

Oh so you feed your kids junk all the time.

"No, it's just for snacks!"

They can't snack on fruit or some yogurt or something somewhat "healthy" rather than Oreo's or Twinkies?

Hey look, you are the parent of your kids and if you want to feed them that shit, that's your call.  But here's the thing, if you're trying to drop weight or bodyfat, and you cannot refrain from eating your own kids junk food, then maybe it's best not to have it in the house all together?

I know, it's an Earth shaking revelation but if shit food isn't in your house, it's really hard know...EAT IT!

Here is a better option - Make a list of the shit on your diet, and JUST BUY THAT.  Nothing else.  Just what's on your diet.  Throw away all of the foods that call out to you like the devil asking you to participate in smoking meth and having orgies with two dollar hookers.

If you have kids, it's my SUGGESTION (I'm not telling you what to do here, so gear down, big rig), to buy them healthy foods like nuts, fruit, greek yogurt, etc.  You can also turn them on to chocolate rice cakes, which I personally find delicious and will eat 500 of them when I refeed and they are very low calorie.  It's hard to really fuck yourself up diet wise, by binging on rice cakes.  And there's a lot of flavors.  I'm just throwing it out there as an option.

Have your cheat meal mid-week by earning it on the weekends -

Everyone loves their cheat meal planning.  I swear it's become such a staple in dieting now that it's almost always one of the first questions I get when new clients come aboard.

"When is my cheat meal?"

First off, let's clear something up.  You don't even need planned cheat meals.  It's actually better to NOT schedule them in my opinion, and listen to when your body needs a refeed, than to believe that because some arbitrary day of the week has rolled around that it's time to have one.

If you're not already lean, I am going to stand by my stance that you don't need one at all.  If you're insulin sensitivity sucks nuts, and your body cannot partition your macros very efficiently then it's going to do a very poor job of moving those nutrients into the places it should be going, rather than right to your love handles or saddle bags as fat.

The former seems better than the latter doesn't it?

I know, I know, you need the mental break from dieting.


What I propose in regards to cheat meals, or refeeds, is to eat a high carbohydrate meal with very little fat involved and a moderate amount of protein.

Now that I'm consistently in single digits I have a much better handle on what my body does in regards to food variation.  When I refeed on "clean" food that is low in fat and loaded in carbs, I will wake up the next morning very full, and feeling awesome.  When I eat a bunch of shit that is loaded with high amounts of carbs and fat, I turn into a water buffalo for a few days until that water comes off.

I also "feel" shittier during that time as well, and my joints tend to hurt and I feel sluggish as fuck.

But back to planning cheat meals/refeeds if you happen to be one of those people.

Outside of the people who can't control themselves at home, eating all of their kids snacks, the people without kids who do indeed buy only what is listed on their diet tend to quite often blow their diet on the weekends.  Eating as much as 20% more calories than they did each day during the week.

So think about this - your diet could be on point all week.  You did awesome.  Only ate what you were supposed to.  Then the weekend rolls around and you have plans on Friday......and eat out and think "fuck it, I had a great week.  I deserve to splurge."  No biggie for the most part.

Then Saturday rolls around, and you have some friends over, and hey you have some finger food or they bring some dishes.  Well fuck me, you don't want to be rude, so you eat........all of it.

Sunday comes and you're sitting around in your pajamas until 3 P.M. and all discipline has gone out of the window at this point, and you're tired AF, and lying in bed all day watching bulk TV (this means 17 episodes of Breaking Bad in a row) and there is no "plan" in regards to eating.

You know why?  Because that shit feels good.  Let's decompress from life for an afternoon and eat some spaghetti with 9 loaves of bread dipped in olive oil and butter with cheese on it (ok that does sound delicious right now).  Evening hits and well, fuck, you realize the whole weekend has been one big food indulged binge.

Your week of discipline has basically been all for naught at this point.  And from my own observation these kinds of weekends tend to take about 10 days for most people just to GET BACK to where the were the week before they decided to go off the rails.  That's right.  You're looking at something to the tune of three weeks of being disciplined just to get back to where you were before.

So here is a better option.  Do NOT scheduled your cheat meals for the weekend.  And I will tell you why - If you've been strict, once you cheat, there is this huge urge to eat more food, or eat more shitty food than when you were walking down the straight and narrow.  Anyone who has dieting for a long period of time can identify with this feeling.

The urge to cheat again, becomes much stronger after a refeed or cheat than before.

If you look at your weekends as the "earning time" for your cheat meal mid-week, then at least you've set something in place mentally, to help keep you on track.

Second, when the mid-week refeed rolls around, my other suggestion is not to go out to eat, but to buy and cook your cheat meal.  Once it's eaten, if there are leftovers then bring them to your neighbor or throw them out.  Don't leave it in the house, dammit.

If you go out to eat, at least have SOME guidelines.  Like you can't order three fucking desserts (and yes I've done this and am being a total hypocrite, so kiss my ass...I'm still saying it's not a good idea) after two main courses.

The entire purpose of a refeed are a few.

1.  Replenish depleted glycogen stores
2.  Give a mental break from dieting if you need one
3.  Spike leptin so that your metabolism gets a bit of an upwards shift again

When you factor all of these things in, you can easily come to the conclusion that a refeed or "cheat" meal doesn't have to mean you eat a bunch of shitty food.  In fact, you can still use the same foods you're dieting on, and simply move the portions around.  So if you've been going very low carb, you can just dramatically increase your carb source (like rice or potatoes or whatever), while lowering fats and protein.

Or you can eat a butt load of sushi or plain pasta with some grilled chicken and marinara sauce, etc.  Point is, it doesn't HAVE to be a time where you shovel down a bloomin onion along with half a cheesecake.  In a lot of ways, that can indeed set you back, rather than spur you forwards towards your goals.

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