Category Archives: Articles

The One Supplement ALL Athletes Can Benefit From

 

Walk into any GNC with an open mind and a dream of building muscle and be prepared to shell out $200 on some supplements that probably won’t do much. Supplements are a polarizing subject; some believe they are worthless while others think they’ll change your life. As usual, the true answer lies somewhere in the middle. Many supplements are indeed worthless but some have legitimate research proving their efficacy. It’s a billion dollar industry for a reason, you can only fool consumers so much nowadays.

 

So what should you take? There can’t be one supplement that works for everyone right? Well, to a certain extent there is. That supplement is creatine monohydrate.

 

I know I know, not a sexy answer. But oftentimes the most basic practice is the most effective. It wasn’t until I became CSCS certified and learned about the body’s energy systems that I truly appreciated the role creatine plays. Most of us know one of the major functions of creatine: pulling water into the muscle cell making it hydrated and anabolic. Pretty obvious benefit there. But to understand the other half of the equation we need a brief understanding of bioenergetics.

 

The body has three main energy systems; the creatine phosphate system, glycolytic system (which can be further broken down into fast and slow glycolysis), and the beta oxidative energy system. The energy system you use for exercise is primarily dependent on the intensity and secondarily dependent on the duration. High intensity short duration activities (lifting, sprinting) deplete your creatine phosphate energy system. During these activities, Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) becomes Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP) via a process called hydrolysis.

 

In order to become useful for energy production, ADP has to become ATP once again. This is where creatine comes into play. Creatine phosphate, which is stored in muscle, loans a phosphate molecule to ADP so it can become ATP once again. You can see why supplementing with creatine, and thus increasing muscle creatine content can be very useful. The creatine phosphate system is both rapidly depleted and rapidly regenerated.

 

Creatine supplementation makes sense for anaerobic athletes like football players or powerlifters, but what about aerobic athletes? How could a marathon runner benefit from creatine if their training intensity is low and long in duration? You have to consider one simple principle of bioenergetics. You are never using just one energy system, you are always using all three. A marathon runner is PRIMARILY using their beta oxidative energy system, but it is not as if they are using 0% of their creatine phosphate or glycolytic systems. So while creatine may not help them to the degree it would an olympic sprinter, it still serves a purpose.

 

A few notes on creatine to conclude:

  1. Creatine monohydrate is still considered the most effective form. The good news is that this version is very inexpensive.
  2. There is no need to load creatine, you will eventually saturate your muscles by taking 3–5g per day.
  3. If you experience bloating, you are likely taking too much or not drinking enough water.

5 Mistakes Advanced Lifters Make

There are situations where becoming proficient at a skill can be a curse.  Naturally, we tend to rest on our laurels and get comfortable with the results.  Working out is a stress and the gains are the adaptation to that stress.  The funny thing is, you will make gains doing virtually any type of workout program as a beginner.  You are introducing a new stress and your body is adapting and building muscle.  Most people don’t realize this and think that their way is the right way.  With that being said, here are five mistakes that even seasoned gym veterans make related to their workouts.

 

Not using periodization in their programs

 

How long are you going to do three sets of ten for every exercise?  There is a fear among bodybuilders about doing five reps or twenty reps per set.  What many don’t realize is that the relationship between reps and goals works as a continuum.  When you perform a set of twenty squats, it’s not as if there are zero hypertrophy benefits.  There are some hypertrophy benefits and some endurance benefits.  Proper periodization allows one to avoid plateaus.  There are various types of periodization protocols, all of which serve a specific purpose.  Some change on a workout-to-workout basis, others change weekly or even monthly.  It’s up to you to determine what fits your needs.

 

 

Changing for the sake of changing

 

I get a chuckle when people tell me that they are shocking their muscles by doing different exercises.  Correct, they will be shocked when you perform an exercise and feel zero tension as a result.  I’m all for experimentation, but it’s important not to be stubborn.  This is of particular importance when it comes to ‘popular’ exercises.  The classic example I give to my clients is myself and dumbbell tricep extensions.  Tricep extensions are a staple in the arm workouts of many individuals.  I simply don’t do it.  They feel awkward and I know I’m not getting a proper contraction.  There are plenty of other exercises that engage my triceps more effectively.  Don’t feel the need to do something just because everyone else is.

 

It's known that Ronnie Coleman only had an 'A' and a 'B' workout for every body part
It’s known that Ronnie Coleman only had an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ workout for every body part

 

 

Staying in the same gym

 

Most people don’t like change, especially when it comes to their surroundings.  It’s human nature to get comfortable in the same setting day after day.  The gym is no different.  Inevitably, you will make friends with the other patrons and the staff at your facility.  It’s important to be honest with yourself and determine if this is affecting your workouts.  The answer is probably yes.  Take a few weeks to check out a new gym.  Work out in a place you aren’t comfortable.  A place where you can focus on yourself.  Odds are you’ll find a piece of equipment you’ve never used before.  Even corporate gyms usually have different machines that vary from location to location.

 

 

Not taking time off

 

Habits, both good and bad, are hard to break.  An advanced lifter probably hits the gym five or six days per week.  It’s hard to give maximum effort when you’re training that consistently, no matter how good your intentions and mindset are.  Take a few days off.  Hell, take a week off.  You’ve spent years building a physique, it won’t disappear over a long weekend.  The time off will reinvigorate your passion for working out and give your body what was likely some much needed rest.  We all need a reset once in awhile.

 

 

Lack of a defined goal.

 

I want to get huge.  I want to get strong.  I want to get shredded.  If this is your goal, you will fail.  A proper goal can be quantified and has a specific time frame attached to it.  I want to lose ten pounds of body fat in twelve weeks is a clearly defined goal.  Seems simple, but this level of detail is rare.  If your goal is ambiguous, you’ll never truly know if you are making progress.  Ask a friend what their fitness goals are.  I’m willing to bet their reply will be one of the first three sentences in this section.

Is Becoming a Personal Trainer Too Easy?

I get the question of how one becomes a personal trainer quite often.  The answer surprises nearly everyone.  Buy the book, pass the test.  That’s it.  There’s no practical application or hands on work.  This was the exact process in getting my NASM certification, which is a highly regarded certification.  Personal trainers deal directly with a client’s physical well-being, shouldn’t there be more to it than a multiple choice exam?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for the ease of the certification process.  If it wasn’t that simple I may still be sitting behind a desk staring at a screen all day.  I was able to make a complete career change in my mid-twenties, years after college.  But to be honest, the personal training certification process really should be more rigorous.  I’m good at my job solely from experience and being a practitioner in the gym myself.  That book and that test didn’t change a damn thing.

I’ve seen some crazy shit at the gym.  Frankly I’m surprised more people don’t get injured, which goes to show how much the body handle.  But the wear and tear will eventually catch up and the body won’t be able to cope with it.  If you get bad advice from the beginning, you’re screwed.  Habits are hard to break.  A book worm that can memorize some vocabulary words won’t always be able to properly explain tension, posture, and form.  One-on-one interaction is a completely different ballgame.

The solution is simple.  Keep the textbook bullshit, it’s still somewhat relevant.  And make no mistake, I’m not trying to make this a four year college degree.  But every prospective trainer should have to complete an internship.  Shadow an experienced trainer for awhile, perform a few sessions yourself, and work with different people with different levels of fitness.  Get in the gym yourself as well, there’s no reason to not ‘walk the walk.’

Another controversial topic is the concept of out-of-shape trainers.  One argument is that a knowledgeable and successful trainer doesn’t necessarily have to be in shape.  The other argument is that the trainer should set a good example and maintain a high level of fitness.  I certainly favor the latter.  You don’t have to look like Phil Heath, but to me it’s hard to take an overweight trainer seriously.  There’s an overweight trainer at one of the gyms I frequent.  I’m sure he knows his stuff, but dammit when I see his pudgy ass shouting instructions I can’t help but shake my head.  And as I’m writing this I just had a spontaneous thought; a trainer should have to pass a physical qualification test similar to the police academy.

Being a personal trainer is a noble profession.  You can really improve the quality of someone’s life by getting them into shape.  There is a bit of a stigma with trainers though, and I think much of it has to do with the simplicity of becoming one.  If we change the process we can change the perception.

Top 5 Mistakes Noobs Make at the Gym

1. Too Much Too Soon

Just because you can handle the workload doesn’t mean you should take it on.  I rarely have a client completely new to lifting work out more than three days a week.  The idea is to maximize progress doing as little as possible.  This leaves reasonable room to add workouts, thus eliminating the potential of a plateau.  If you have someone working out five days a week right off the bat, what happens when they hit a sticking point a few months down the road?  You’re going to have a novice working out six days a week?  Doing two-a-days?  You have to be patient.

Dieting works the same way.  If you’re a female jumping right into a 1,200 calorie diet, what happens when the weight stops dropping?  Are you really going to compromise your health by eating 1,000 calories or less per day?  On the other hand, if you were able to exhibit patience and lose a little bit of weight eating 1,800 calories then that leaves so much more wiggle room to adjust.  You don’t have to dive into the deep end right off the bat.

 

 

2. Too Many Isolation Exercises

I take pride in making every workout different for my clients.  But after awhile I felt I was getting a little too cute and ‘machine happy.’  Compound movements are hard.  Compound movements work.  Exercise is a stress, and the gains you make are the adaptation to that stress.  You can only stress the body so much with isolation movements.  Don’t be the person doing set after set of hammer curls that can’t do a pullup.  It’s not efficient and quite frankly it’s embarrassing.  Learn the hard stuff first, you’ll be a better person and accomplish more in the long run.

 

 

3. Disregarding Core Exercises.

I’m basing this entirely on observation, but I would say the most common injuries are lower back and shoulder injuries.  It’s so hard to put into words how vital core strength is.  It affects your posture, balance, and overall strength.  Many people don’t realize that your core isn’t just your abdominals, it’s your obliques and lower back as well.  Do your core exercises first, not last.  If you wait until the end of your workout you won’t give them the respect they deserve.  It’s a nice way to warm up and prepare your body for the workout itself as well.  Piggybacking off of point #2, many compound movements engage the core in addition to the target muscles.

 

 

4. High Expectations Without Patience

How many people at your gym truly have exceptional physiques?  Three or four?  Less?  I’m not talking about angled, filtered, amazingly lit Instagram celebrity photos.  Real human beings in the flesh.  So what makes you think you’ll look the same in a few months?  This isn’t a lecture, it’s just reality.  The ‘it’s not a sprint it’s a marathon’ cliche is true.  Building strength or a quality physique is a skill unlike any other.  If you want to be great at playing guitar or painting, you can practice for unlimited hours.  The body, on the other hand, has it’s limits.  You have a short window each day to maximize your workout.  It’s one of the few things where more ‘practice’ can be counterproductive (see point #1).

 

 

5. Not Having a Specific Goal

I want to lose weight.  I want to build muscle.  If this is your goal you’re fucked.  You need to be as specific as possible or else it is impossible to determine if you are making progress.  I want to lose 20lbs of body fat in six months.  Now you have a specific target and time frame.  Now you can make adjustments along the way because there is no ambiguity to your goal.  Think this is obvious?  Next time, ask some of your gym buddies what their goal is and see how many reply with one of the first two sentences in this paragraph.

 

You now know the rules, if you want a specific plan or have any general questions you can reach me at Sean@mindsetsandreps.com

Overtraining in MMA is Killing the Sport… and its Fighters

“Prizefighting is short.  Get in, get rich, get out.”

– Conor Mcgregor

 

Go to any recent UFC event’s Wikipedia page and look under the section labeled background.  Within the first few lines you’ll find the phrase was expected, as in Fighter X was expected to fight Fighter Y before sustaining an injury.  In three of the past four UFC major events (i.e. ones not designated as Fight Night), the original main event was changed due to a fighter pulling out as a result of an injury.  Michael Bisping replaced Chris Weidman in UFC 199, Ovince Saint Preux replaced Daniel Cormier in UFC 197, and Nate Diaz replaced Rafael Dos Anjos in UFC 196.  Note that UFC 196 was originally slated to be Fabricio Werdum against Cain Velasquez before BOTH fighters pulled out with injuries.

The craziest part of it all… the short notice fighters performed INCREDIBLY well.

No one gave Michael Bisping a shot.  No one.  He was a +540 underdog (i.e. you bet $100 on Bisping and win $540 if he does, huge odds in a fight).  It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when Luke Rockhold would knock him out just as he did in their first matchup.  Rockhold was on a tear at the time.  Bisping had been racking up a few wins, but was an aging fighter with a serious eye injury that compromised his vision.  Low and behold, Bisping shocks us all by knocking out Rockhold after taking the fight on two weeks notice.  With the week leading up to a fight consisting of media obligations and the weight cut, two weeks is essentially no time at all to prepare.

Ovince Saint Preux didn’t defeat Jon Jones, but remarkably went the distance with him.  It’s remarkable in the sense that most MMA pundits would dub Jones as the best fighter in the world and OSP was the 6th ranked light heavyweight fighter at the time, not exactly next man in line.  In fact, Anthony Johnson was offered the fight first but was not healthy enough to compete.  Saint Preux never had Jones in any real danger, but it’s fair to say that his performance exceeded expectations.

The Nate Diaz story is well documented.  He was literally drinking on a boat when he got the call to fight Conor McGregor, and then proceeded to choke him out in the second round.  How is this possible?  How can a guy with no active training beat a guy on a 15 fight win streak?

The answer is overtraining.  Overtraining leads an athlete to not only be susceptible to injury, but illness as well.  Often you’ll hear fighters say that they were sick leading up to a fight.

Mixed martial arts training is very unique.  A fighter has to devote considerable time to training in at least three different combat disciplines: striking, jiu jitsu, and wrestling.  Essentially, you could say that they are training for three different sports during one training camp.  On top of that, most are probably doing a few strength and conditioning sessions each week as well.  It is not unusual for a fighter to train three times per day, five to six times per week.  In the USADA era where steroids and blood doping are banned, it is impossible for the natural human body to handle such a taxing workload.

The argument that ‘MMA is a contact sport, injuries will happen’ holds some merit, but is generally overblown.  Rarely are boxing cards altered due to injury.  Concussions are a major issue in football, but will usually keep a player out for MAYBE a week.  The most devastating injury in football is the ACL tear, which is often a non-contact injury (see Jordy Nelson, Darrelle Revis, and Victor Cruz).

My hope is that fighters will begin to realize the point of diminishing returns with their training.  There comes a point where it is more important to be fresh and healthy as opposed to having crisp technique.  Your technique is fine.  You’ve been doing this your entire adult life and at this stage of training camp your cardiovascular conditioning is as good as it ever will be.  Skip the late night session and go to sleep.