The Spark: Melissa McKinley

How do you make the connection between caring for others and caring for yourself? Melissa McKinley’s nursing career caused her to put her own health on the back burner. Yet it was her same instinct to look after people—this time, her family—that inspired her to take control of her life.

This is Melissa’s story.

Why Did You Decide to Transform?

Working as a nurse made it hard to be healthy, but I never really thought I was overweight. At 170 pounds, I told myself I had a “large bone structure.”

I first decided to start losing weight in January of 2016 when I went shopping for a dress to wear to the nursing ball. I wanted something stunning, but none of the gorgeous dresses I tried on fit me.

I was so embarrassed by each one I put on that I wouldn’t come out of the changing room to show my boyfriend. I left disappointed and with a goal: to fit into a nice dress in time for the nursing ball the next month.

But I fully committed myself to competing in My Fit Squad to help my baby brother. I wanted to introduce fitness into his life to help with his depression. I knew from experience that weight lifting and cardio provided a great release from everything else that we can’t control. My brother, my mother, and I all competed.

Melissa McKinley Before

Age: 22, Height: 5’4″, Weight: 170 lbs., Body Fat: 30%

Melissa McKinley After

Age: 22, Height: 54″, Weight: 125 lbs., Body Fat: 15%

How Did You Accomplish Your Goals?

Simply put, I followed my meal plan and worked out as often as I could. When I felt like giving up or skipping the gym I would look at how far I had come. Looking back on progress pictures was what kept me on track.

I also followed Lauren Drain on Instagram. She’s a nurse and a fitness model. She is one of my biggest inspirations because I can relate to her.

My mother is my other inspiration. She has more dedication and determination than anyone I know. I called her every day I didn’t feel up to going to the gym. If my mother told me I was going, I was going.

How Did Help You Reach Your Goals?

BodySpace provided the competition. I have always been a competitive person, but when I went to university I couldn’t find the time to join any sports teams, and I couldn’t afford to fly halfway across the country to enter bikini competitions. The competitions on are free to enter, which is the best part. All you need is a camera and your determination.

I also love the articles. It’s amazing that all that information is there for free. I convinced my nutritionist that having gummy bears post workout was better than fruit because of an article on

Everything you need to change your life is there for you—for free. The community on BodySpace is so helpful. I can ask any question I want and get answers. Everyone is so supportive. If you want to change, you can.

What Aspect Challenged You the Most?

The diet was the most difficult part, especially with my job. Families of patients bring in sweets for the staff all the time. There is never a shift that I do not have access to junk food. But it did get easier over time. I eventually stopped getting crazy cravings when I changed my meal plan.

Food and alcohol always seem to be everyone’s “go to” when they want to hang out. That made spending time with friends difficult. I literally sat there with a friend at a fancy restaurant while they ate and I drank a glass of water. You really notice this culture we have around food when you start to eat clean.

How Did You Improve Your Diet?

I decided it was time to invest in myself, so I took an extra year on my nursing degree just so I could pay for the food that I wanted to start eating.

When I first started to make changes I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I started buying vegetables and making salads, but didn’t skimp on the dressing. I would steam carrots, but load them in butter.

I had no clue as to how much protein and carbs I should have in a day. I didn’t realize that vegetables like carrots, peas, and corn could have a lot of sugar. I learned at a slow pace. My diet was certainly not perfect at this point, but I did lose approximately 20 pounds eating this way.

I finally put aside some money to hire a nutritionist, which changed my life. I followed the countless meal plans he made for me. I followed the “fish and asparagus diet” for eight straight weeks during My Fit Squad. After that I went to more carbs and more options.

How Did Things Change?

I lost 45 pounds and significantly reduced my body fat percentage. After my transformation I started getting daily messages from people I had never talked to, either asking for help in their fitness journey or stating that I was their inspiration. With all eyes on me I couldn’t stop. I love that I am someone’s inspiration to be a better version of themselves.

My mother and I created a massive domino effect. After we won, friends and family started believing that their goals were possible. My boyfriend lost nearly 50 pounds. I helped him with meal plans and workouts. Before all of this he was not interested in fitness in the slightest.

My boyfriend’s parents are both overweight. They have been saying for years that they want to change, but never changed their lifestyle to match their goals—until they saw their own son do it. This change is happening all throughout our family. It is incredible to see.

My life now is amazing. I have control over my body, which I’ve never had before. I am a happy person, and I am still continuously helping others change their life.

My boyfriend and I still make comments about the food in our grocery cart. We have a lot of “remember when” moments. Now I know what to eat to lean out and bulk up, and that gives me strength. It was a long journey to get to this point, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

What Supplements Helped You Throughout Your Journey?

With Breakfast

Iso Surge, 5 Lbs.

1 Serving


1 Serving

Fish Oil

1 Serving

With Lunch


1 Serving


DIABLO, 10 Servings

1 Serving

During Workout

AminoLinx, 30 Servings

1 Serving


Iso Surge, 5 Lbs.

1 Serving


1 Serving

Before Bed

Fish Oil

1 Serving

Iso Surge, 5 Lbs.

1 Serving

What Training Plan Kept You On Track?

At first, I would come home from work and do a half-hour cardio workout instead of watching TV, no matter what. Then I used random BodySpace workouts all throughout My Fit Squad. I never tracked them, but they still worked!

When I started working with my nutritionist, he gave me this workout regime to follow:

Day 1: Side Delts, Front Delts, Triceps, Abs, Calves

Day 2: Lats, Rear Delts

Day 3: Squats, Glutes, Hams

Day 4: Biceps, Abs, Calves

Day 5: Chest, Light Triceps

Day 6: Deadlifts, Glutes, Hams

Barbell Deadlift

5 sets, 8-12 reps

3 sets, 15-20 reps

Thigh Abductor

3 sets, 12-20 reps

Barbell Hip Thrust

5 sets, 10-15 reps

Stiff-Legged Barbell Deadlift

3 sets, 10-15 reps

Thigh Abductor

with a squat on machine.

3 sets, 10-15 reps

Barbell Hip Thrust


3 sets, Max reps (per leg)

Barbell Lunge

or Smith machine

3 sets, 10-15 reps (per leg)

One-Legged Cable Kickback

3 sets, 12-20 reps (per leg)

Lying Leg Curls

5 sets, 10-15 reps

Seated Leg Curl

3 sets, 10-15 reps

Where Will You Take Your Fitness Next?

I will continue to work on building muscle. I have been more focused on growing my glutes. I’m far from done building that booty! I would love to be a fitness model, but I feel like I have years of work to do before that could happen. I’m going to keep working on myself and inspiring others. I love helping other people reach their goals!

What Advice Do You Have for Aspiring Transformers?

Go at a pace that will set you up for success, and try not to do too much, too fast. If you’re super new to fitness, set smaller, more achievable goals. There are plenty of meal plans and workouts on, use them! I love the articles. Sign up for emails.

To compete you need to have a strong mindset. You need to remind yourself every day why you are doing this. If I was not passionate about my goals I would not have succeeded.

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The Case For Pre-Workout Protein

If you don’t eat enough protein, it doesn’t really matter when you take it—your gains will be limited. But once you are getting enough, the question becomes how to distribute it. Are three square meals and a snack enough, or do you need to add a shake here and there? If you do toss back a shake, when’s the best time to do it to get an edge and maximize recovery?

You may have assumed that the answer was open and shut. It’s post-workout, right? Maybe not.

Protein in A Nutshell

Following resistance exercise, the rates of both protein synthesis and breakdown are often elevated.[1,2] In other words, you are both stimulating the growth of new muscle, and withdrawing amino acids from existing tissue. Without an increase in amino acids in the blood to fuel the synthesis process, protein breakdown will remain elevated, and could result in a negative “protein balance.”[3]

Think of net protein balance like your gains account: if it is largely positive, you will build muscle over time; if it’s negative, you will break down muscle over time.

This is why most experts recommend consuming a protein shake or supplement post-workout.

This is why most experts recommend consuming a protein shake or supplement post-workout.

Since whey and similar supplements are absorbed much faster than a full meal, consuming protein immediately post-workout can help amplify the protein synthesis response and increase the amount of new proteins deposited—often to a greater degree than just resistance exercise alone. This tips the balance in your favor, and can increase your muscle mass over time.[4,5]

Here’s where it gets interesting: If we know muscle proteins break down over the course of a training session—don’t panic, we all know it happens—it is reasonable to assume ingesting amino acids or a shake before exercise could be beneficial as well. As Krissy Kendall, Ph.D., discussed in her article “Sore No More,” providing amino acids to the body beforehand may actually decrease exercise-induced muscle breakdown. Couple that with the increased protein synthesis that naturally follows exercise and you have a winning recipe for building muscle!

There is some research to support this. A study published in 2007 found that when subjects were provided a 20-gram protein shake immediately before lower-body exercise, net protein balance was positive both before and following exercise, and synthesis rates were significantly elevated compared to baseline measures.[6]

Time to Shake It Up?

The basic takeaway from the 2007 study seems clear enough at first glance: A pre-workout shake is definitely better than nothing, and is perhaps comparable to a post-workout shake in its benefits. But it also raises more questions. For instance, does the study actually show that pre-workout is an ideal period, or does it show that timing doesn’t really matter at all and any time is a good time, as long as you get a shake sometime?

That seemed to be the conclusion in a meta-analysis performed in 2013, when researchers reported that, after controlling for other factors, there was no difference between different timing protocols on measures of strength or hypertrophy.[7] They concluded that if net protein balance is positive, as is the case following ingestion of proteins, muscle will be built—period. Therefore, the greater the number of times you can stimulate this process throughout the day, the greater your muscle-building results should be.

There’s additional research to back this notion. A study published in 2009 showed that consuming protein supplements before and after a workout did not produce greater increases in strength, hypertrophy, or power compared to having shakes in the morning and evening.[8] However, both groups increased all these factors to a greater extent than the control group.

Should I Double Up?

“Get enough protein” is still the overriding message here. But given how profound the boost in muscle protein synthesis is following resistance training exercise, I would argue there’s still a case for occasionally doubling up and having a shake both before and after exercise, since the body is known to be more receptive to supplemental protein during this time.[9] However, there’s a caveat.

While anyone who lifts would likely see some benefit from doubling up, it’s likely not going to be significant in most cases. However, you should consider it if you are in a particularly demanding phase of training. In-season bodybuilders who are in a higher volume period, or other lifters who may be in a peaking cycle, could potentially notice improved recovery by adding a shake before training sessions.

While anyone who lifts would likely see some benefit from doubling up, it's likely not going to be significant in most cases.

Make sure you understand how your body handles protein, though. Protein takes a lot of energy to digest, so if you take in too much right before you lift, you’ll be diverting blood flow away from the tissues that need it the most. You may also run into gastrointestinal issues, particularly with higher dosages too close to intense training. If your pre-workout shake means you have to give a weak effort in the gym out of fear of throwing up, or if it makes you feel full and weighted down, then it didn’t help anything.

The answer: Start with a low dose—no more than 20-25 grams—and consume it at least 30-60 minutes before training. Once you’ve adapted to this new routine, play around with the dosage and timing to see what works best for you. After training, stick with fast-digesting sources such as whey, and feel free to increase the amount above what you took in pre-workout.

Find the sweet spot, and you might find that better recovery and better gains are your reward.


  1. Biolo, G., Tipton, K. D., Klein, S., & Wolfe, R. R. (1997). An abundant supply of amino acids enhances the metabolic effect of exercise on muscle protein. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 273(1), E122-E129.
  2. Phillips, S. M., Tipton, K. D., Aarsland, A. S. L. E., Wolf, S. E., & Wolfe, R. R. (1997). Mixed muscle protein synthesis and breakdown after resistance exercise in humans. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 273(1), E99-E107.
  3. Biolo, G., Maggi, S. P., Williams, B. D., Tipton, K. D., & Wolfe, R. R. (1995). Increased rates of muscle protein turnover and amino acid transport after resistance exercise in humans. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 268(3), E514-E520.
  4. Tieland, M., Dirks, M. L., van der Zwaluw, N., Verdijk, L. B., van de Rest, O., de Groot, L. C., & van Loon, L. J. (2012). Protein supplementation increases muscle mass gain during prolonged resistance-type exercise training in frail elderly people: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 13(8), 713-719.
  5. Pennings, B., Koopman, R., Beelen, M., Senden, J. M., Saris, W. H., & van Loon, L. J. (2011). Exercising before protein intake allows for greater use of dietary protein–derived amino acids for de novo muscle protein synthesis in both young and elderly men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 93(2), 322-331.
  6. Tipton, K. D., Elliott, T. A., Cree, M. G., Aarsland, A. A., Sanford, A. P., & Wolfe, R. R. (2007). Stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis by whey protein ingestion before and after exercise. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 292(1), E71-E76.
  7. Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., & Krieger, J. W. (2013). The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 53.
  8. Hoffman, J. R., Ratamess, N. A., Tranchina, C. P., Rashti, S. L., Kang, J., & Faigenbaum, A. D. (2009). Effect of protein-supplement timing on strength, power, and body-composition changes in resistance-trained men. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 19(2), 172-185.
  9. Burd, N. A., West, D. W., Moore, D. R., Atherton, P. J., Staples, A. W., Prior, T., … & Phillips, S. M. (2011). Enhanced amino acid sensitivity of myofibrillar protein synthesis persists for up to 24 h after resistance exercise in young men. The Journal of Nutrition, 141(4), 568-573.

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3 Simple Moves To Build An Insanely Strong Backside

If the rest of the world pursued achieving their goals with the same degree of passion and fervor that that one woman in every gym gives to building a great set of glutes, we’d end world hunger in a matter of weeks. You may have seen her: She can turn virtually every machine in the gym into a butt blaster—and does just that, as she works her glutes from every angle possible, and a few you didn’t know were possible.

I’m not arguing with this woman’s goals. In fact, more men should share those goals. (Seriously, dudes: biggest muscles in the body.) It’s the execution that’s a little overboard. No, you actually don’t have to figure out how to make a Nautilus pull-over machine function as a glute machine to build a mean set of glutes. You can still just use dumbbells, a barbell, and some bands to get the job done.

The movements listed here can be done right in your home gym, so long as it is equipped with a barbell, a bench, some adjustable dumbbells, and resistance bands. Or, you can bring these ideas to the gym with you, and you’ll never have to wait in line for a hamstring curl machine or kick-back station again.

1. Dumbbell Glute Kick-back

This is simple, primitive, and seriously effective. It’s also a case where the cheap DIY version of a movement is better than the expensive machine it’s mimicking.

With the kick-back machine, a lot of people actually have trouble feeling their glutes do the work because they often initiate the movement by extending the knee—which is a quadriceps movement. Soon enough, this move is more like a reverse leg press movement than a glute-dominant one.

With the dumbbell kick-back, the knee stays in a state of flexion, because you’ve got a dumbbell placed in the bend of the knee and you must hold it there. This eliminates knee extension in the movement, so by default the quadriceps will never do part of the work. The other thing this does is keep the hamstrings in a static contraction, adding in some awesome hamstring work.

To do it, just place a dumbbell in the bend of your knee, and remember to flex the foot up to hold it there. Lean slightly forward and raise your foot behind you, holding the top position for a second or two before returning to the start position.

Doing 4 sets of 12-15 reps per leg will get the job done. You can start with these to get the glutes firing, or use them at the end as a finisher.

2. Glute Destroyers

There’s no real name for these so I gave them one. And it’s a damn good name, because these might be one of the hardest and most painful glute and hamstring movements in the history of the universe. Luckily, there are enough awesome benefits to make them worth the struggle:

  • The static flexion at the knee causes the hamstrings to have constant tension on them throughout the movement.
  • The static hip extension (you should be pushing your hips into the bench very hard the entire movement) is required for maximum glute contraction.
  • They demand plantar flexion of the foot to hold you in place, which also eliminates calf involvement, meaning more tension for the hamstrings and glutes.

Note: To do these safely, you will need to load up a barbell heavy enough to push your feet into it so that they are stable. You don’t want to go light here and have the barbell flying up in the air. Some other pointers:

  • Turn your toes slightly out.
  • Use a bench that is high enough so that you aren’t banging your head on the floor at the bottom (that would suck), and can get a full range of motion.
  • Keep your feet pressed into the barbell the entire time. This will keep steady tension on both the glutes and hamstrings.
  • Hold the top position for a second before returning to the bottom.

Start with body weight on these for 4 sets of 10-15 reps, depending on how difficult they are for you. If you can bang these out for 4 sets of 15 with no problem, then hold a dumbbell or plate for extra resistance.

3. Banded Stiff-Legged Dumbbell Deadlifts

The finisher here is some good ol’ heavy stiff-legged dumbbell deadlifts—with a twist, however. Wrap a resistance band around the back of your neck, and hold it under your feet.

The band eliminates the dead range of motion at the top of the movement, where the resistance curve starts to decline. This way, the glutes aren’t allowed to get lazy at the end of the range of motion, and are forced to push through into hip extension against the band resistance at the top.

I like to go somewhat heavy on these even with the bands and do 3 sets of 10-12 reps, making sure to get a full range of motion.

You could stitch these together into a workout, or you could toss any of them in as a finisher after 500 walking lunges. (And before you ask, those lunges are 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, not 1, 2, 3.) If you can handle that, you’ll have built a backside that’ll change your lifting life.

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Sculpt Your Quads 30 Seconds At A Time!

“If anyone can finish this workout the first time through clean and without faltering, I’d be down to eat my own toe,” says Hannah Eden, RSP Nutrition athlete and owner of the PumpFit Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Not that we’d hold her to that—we’d prefer she keep all 10 of her little piggies, TYVM—but Eden has indeed created a quadriceps workout packed with such destructive force, your muscles will have no choice but to respond and grow. That is, of course, after they stop quivering like Jell-O once you’ve completed the session.

This workout aims for a maximum muscle pump, engorging the muscles of the upper thigh. It does so through focused work in three ranges of motion and abbreviated rest periods. You’ll receive only enough rest to press onward.

“This will flood the muscles with blood, which carries all the necessary components to nudge muscle growth,” says Eden. “And don’t get it twisted—it may involve shorter ranges of motion, but it is a huge challenge for anyone. Forgive the oxymoron, but you’ll feel so much good pain in your legs.”

Second by Second

The workout consists of three rounds of action, using just two quad-and-glute-targeting exercises: banded squats and Bulgarian split squats.

For the banded squats, you’ll put a band around your upper legs just above the knee. (Eden uses Mark Bell’s Hip Circle bands, but there are other quality brands out there.) As Eden explains, adding a band around the top of the knee “triggers hip and glute activation, since you push out against the band.”

She further explains how adding a resistance band to any workout places more stress on the targeted muscle throughout the range of the motion. This is why you get a massive pump from bands—the more stress on the muscle, the more blood pumping to it.

Beginners can go unweighted for this exercise and the one following, but more advanced lifters are free to add some light kettlebells or dumbbells in the front rack position.

Start with 30 seconds of as many good reps as possible in the bottom half of the range of motion—thighs parallel to the floor to start, then lowering your glutes downward a few inches.

“These are ‘pulse’ reps, so you’re doing a smaller, consistent range of motion,” Eden says. She warns not to use momentum on this movement if you want to see results. “It’s not bouncing; it’s controlled, a few inches up to thighs parallel, then a few inches down as deep as you can get without losing your balance,” she says.

Use a gym clock with a second hand, a stopwatch app on your phone, or a partner who can monitor the time for you. After the 30 seconds are up, immediately switch to the upper range of motion—thighs parallel to start, then moving up to standing and back down to parallel. Continue repping in this upper range for 30 seconds. Finally, without rest, perform full range-of-motion squats for a final 30 seconds.

Now you can rest for 30 seconds—see the pattern here?—before moving right into Bulgarian split squats. Elevate your left foot back on a flat bench and assume a split squat lunge position. Place the top of your foot on the bench with the sole facing up. Do pulse reps for 30 seconds in the bottom half of the ROM, then pulse 30 seconds in the top half, followed by 30 seconds of full-range squats.

“Your front foot should be placed so that when you lower yourself, your knee doesn’t track out past your toes in the bottom position,” Eden instructs. “Also, keep in mind you’re resting only 30 seconds at the end, after you do all three: the lower, upper, and full squats.”

Sculpt Your Quads 30 Seconds At A Time

Following your 30-second breather, repeat the split squat on the other side, placing your right foot on the bench behind you and your left foot in front. Complete as many clean reps in 30 seconds as you can of each variation. Rest 30 seconds at the end before starting the entire circuit from the beginning. Yep, you read it right—another full round of banded squats and Bulgarians.

“You’ll do the circuit three times through,” Eden says. “It’s very simple with just two exercises and the same 30-second upper/lower/full/rest design throughout. Once you get that down, you’ll be able to power through the workout without having to stop and think about what’s coming next.”

Not thinking too far ahead is probably a good thing considering the pain you’re about to experience.

“Oh yeah, this will hurt for a while,” Eden laughs. “I haven’t met anyone who could complete this without their form breaking during a set or needing to pause to gulp some air and regain some use of their quads. But this is a really efficient, fast way to develop and shape your quads and glutes without a long, complicated workout.”

Technique Tips

Most people assume a bodyweight squat is easy, but in Eden’s own words, “there is so much that can go wrong.” Here are some of her cues to keep your squatting form on point when performing banded squats, weighted or unweighted:

  • Set your feet hip-width to shoulder-width apart. Your toes can be slightly turned out, based on your personal preference and body alignment.
  • Think functional. You sit down and stand every day, so when you squat, imagine there is a chair behind you. Engage your core, retract your shoulder blades to keep your chest up, and push your hips back to tap your booty on the imaginary seat behind you. Drive up through your heels, squeezing your glutes and quads at the top of the rep, to create a straight line from your shoulders to ankles.
  • Do a visual check—use a mirror if you have one—to ensure your weight is in your heels and your knees are not past your toes at the base of your squat. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Don’t let your knees buckle or cave in during the set.

For Bulgarian split squats, beginners can forgo the bench and keep both feet planted on the floor. “Elevating the back foot just gives you a deeper range of motion,” explains Eden.

  • At the base of your rep, your front leg should form a 90-degree angle, with your knee behind your toes. Stack your knee on top of your ankle, ensuring the weight is evenly distributed in the middle of the foot.
  • Keep your chest up during your reps, engaging your core to help with balance. Resist the urge to lean forward, and try to keep your back knee under your hip. Look in a mirror—your back knee, hip, and shoulders should all be in line at the bottom of the split squat.

Survival Tips

There’s no denying it—this workout is a beast. Here are three things you can do to ensure you make it to the end:

  1. Come in fresh. Don’t try to do any other body parts or exercises before doing this workout. All you need is a simple 5-10-minute warm-up. And avoid this workout after a regular cardio session…unless you want to drag yourself back to the locker room.
  2. Breathe. Concentrating on breathing helps you accomplish two things: It brings in the oxygen you need to keep going, and breathing keeps you focused on something other than the uncomfortable lactic acid buildup in your quads.
  3. Stay hydrated. Keep water on hand, and make sure to take a couple swigs during your rest periods—especially in a hot environment or any time you’re sweating profusely. Water can help ramp up energy levels and transport nutrients your body needs before and during your training session. RSP Nutrition makes a great nitric oxide pre-workout supplement for this purpose, called DyN.O.
The 30-30-30 Leg Workout

3 total rounds, resting only where indicated.
Squats – With Bands

Rest 30 sec. before moving on to next exercise.

1 set, 30 sec. (lower ROM)
1 set, 30 sec. (upper ROM)
1 set, 30 sec. (full ROM)

One Leg Barbell Squat

or Bulgarian Split Squat. Right leg. Rest 30 sec. before moving on to next exercise.

1 set, 30 sec. (lower ROM)
1 set, 30 sec. (upper ROM)
1 set, 30 sec. (full ROM)

One Leg Barbell Squat

or Bulgarian Split Squat. Left leg. Rest 30 sec. before repeating circuit.

1 set, 30 sec. (lower ROM)
1 set, 30 sec. (upper ROM)
1 set, 30 sec. (full ROM)

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Pro Tips For Getting Back To The Grind—The Good Grind

Tell me this isn’t one of the most ironic scenarios possible in the fitness realm. Once you feel summer approaching, you work your ass off to remove that comfortable blanket of buttery body fat you put on over the winter. You clean up your diet, hit those dreaded extra cardio sessions, and re-dedicate yourself to consistent, maximum-energy workouts. By the time beach season arrives, you’re ready to unveil your lean, mean, physiques to the world. Your body is ready for summer! But why is it that once summer arrives, your willpower goes on vacation too?

For most of us, no sooner has the sand gotten between our toes than all our training and attention to good nutrition take a backseat to partying, concerts, barbecues, theme parks, and bonfires. Alcohol flows like water as chicken breasts and sweet potatoes give way to hot dogs, chips, and ice cream. Instead of working out, we veg out. And cardio? Ha! As if you’re going to be pumping up your heart rate when it’s 90 degrees out!

So, there you are as Labor Day approaches. Those sharp cuts you busted your butt to reveal have once again gotten buried under a blanket of body fat. With a sigh and a parting glance at the row of closed-up lifeguard stands, you know it’s time to get back to the grind, back to looking your best again.


When I’m not ready to say goodbye to summer, I ramp up my outdoor fitness to help ease the transition,” says Cellucor athlete Jen Jewell. “Take advantage of the fact that it’s still light out after work, and make outdoor workout dates with friends to keep the social elements of summer going.”

Summer's Ending and it's Time to Get Back to the Grind

It’s never an easy transition from the freedom of summer to the boundaries of fall. But if you want to look your best again, this is the time for setting priorities—no slacking off. The sooner you put that dedication of yours back in gear, the sooner you’ll start seeing glimpses of that physique you had a few short months ago.

Get on a plan,” recommends IFBB pro and Cellucor sponsored athlete Craig Capurso. “A good plan will walk you through what you need to do daily. When you’re left to do the thinking yourself, temptations begin battling for your time.”

Waking up earlier to train can also help you schedule your commitments.

“I often claim I don’t have to do to everything I’m supposed to,” admits Capurso. “But if I get up and start before my usual day begins, I can cross one more thing off my list before temptation leads me astray.”


Whether you’ve been staying up all night playing World of Warcraft with your buddies, watching the boardwalk lights go off, or closing down your favorite watering holes, it’s time to rein it all in. As you probably know only too well, late nights and lack of sleep are detrimental to a lean, muscular body.

Summer's Ending and it's Time to Get Back to the Grind

Fatigue itself can cause the release of excess cortisol, also known as the stress or fight-or-flight hormone. Cortisol gave our ancient ancestors the sudden energy they needed to avoid hungry saber-toothed tigers, but all that hormone flooding into your bloodstream can also lead to muscle loss and fat gain. If you’re trying to get back in shape, that’s the last thing you want happening.


In hotter weather, most of us don’t have the best appetites to begin with. When we do get hungry, we’re often away from home and looking for whatever is tastiest and most convenient. That usually means fast foods, fried foods, sugary foods, and adult beverages.

As you may have noticed—or tried not to notice—very few of the foods you can buy at beachside stands or amusement parks are conducive to building ripped, muscular bodies. Now that those enticements are gone, it’s time to take back control of your diet and stock up on fresh poultry, lean red meats, eggs, fish, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, oats, and vegetables. And with your pantry and fridge full of good food, let meal prepping begin again!

Summer's Ending and it's Time to Get Back to the Grind

Stock your refrigerator with clean meals you can take to work, school, or anywhere else with little daily effort. With some good planning and preparation, you’re starting out on the right foot on your road to ripped-dom.


Now that you’re back into your normal routine, you can also get back to consistently taking your vitamins, minerals, creatine, fish oil, protein shakes, and everything else that contributes to looking good and feeling better.

As much fun as summer can be, there’s a lot to be said for getting back into a groove again, if that groove includes plenty of rest, good food, and dedicated workouts. The seasons are changing and it’s time for us to change too—to change into our workout clothes and hit the gym.

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More Fitness Buffs Than Ever Are Getting Rhabdo (And It's Not At CrossFit)

Last week, the New York Times published a story detailing the alarming increase of the serious condition known as rhabdomyolysis—or “rhabdo.” Rhabdo has been a hot topic in the lifting community for years, and has often been tied to CrossFit-style training and the unofficial CrossFit mascot “Uncle Rhabdo.” But the article wasn’t about CrossFit, it was about a group exercise class you can do in just about any commercial gym these days, with a community that spans all ages and fitness levels: spinning.[1]

What? Spin class can be dangerous? It’s true. And before you laugh, realize that rhabdo is serious business. It occurs when damaged muscle tissue breaks down rapidly, and the damaged muscle cells leak their contents into the bloodstream, which is then filtered by the kidneys. This process results in brown-colored urine, intense muscle pain, and muscle weakness.

Exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis (EIR) carries potentially serious consequences, including permanent kidney damage, severe muscle damage, cardiac arrhythmia, and even death.[2,3] To make matters worse, there are no definitive pre-existing conditions to help predict whether certain individuals are at higher risk for developing rhabdo than others. Although if you have had rhabdo in the past, your chances for developing it again are significantly higher.

Not exactly what you had in mind when you hopped on the bike after work, huh? Although rhabdo is a well-documented phenomenon among the highly-trained military and emergency response personnel, the New York Times cited the growing popularity of high-intensity exercise ideologies for the sudden increase in the number of reported rhabdo cases for civilians. Here’s what you need to know to avoid it.

Listen to Your Pain

In nearly every reported case, patients claimed they experienced intense muscle pain during the exercise, but kept exercising despite this warning sign. In a recent study, researchers concluded that one step toward prevention is increasing awareness and education surrounding EIR for individuals who participate in intense physical exercise, as well as those who supervise physical exercise.[4]

More Fitness Buffs Than Ever Are Getting Rhabdo

Additionally, these researchers found a simple perceived rate of exertion test may be useful for gauging whether the exercise was too intense and had potential to cause EIR. Although they found sustained maximum intensity exercise to be a crucial risk factor, a case study published in 2015 found that low-intensity, high-repetition exercise was the cause of EIR in a 23-year-old female.[5]

What You Can Do

It is the responsibility of both the trainee and the trainer to be aware of the potential threat of EIR. Studies show that the incidence of EIR from Fall of 2014 “coincided with the increased media attention and a new exercise trend.”[3] In other words, don’t leap into any new activity without a little ramp-up period.

In terms of lifting sports, experts agree novice trainees should start at a lower intensity and gradually increase intensity over time, with a recommended safe lifting load of 60-70% of 1RM performed for 3 sets of 8-12 reps to increase strength.[6,7] Don’t try to out work or out lift the seasoned vets the first time you set foot in the box.

Feel lunch coming back up? Consider that another sign to check yourself. Letting a perky spandex-clad instructor adjust your resistance dial when you’re already working hard, or allowing the intimidating cohorts at the local box to push you to the puking point is never a good idea.

Listen to your body, don’t let yourself get bullied or intimidated into working harder than you should, and don’t be afraid to stop when you feel pain.

  1. O’Connor, A. (2017, July 17). As Workouts Intensify, a Harmful Side Effect Grows More Common. Retrieved August 14, 2017, from
  2. Tietze, D. C., & Borchers, J. (2014). Exertional rhabdomyolysis in the athlete: a clinical review. Sports Health, 6(4), 336-339.
  3. Rhabdomyolysis—National Library of Medicine—PubMed Health. (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2017, from
  4. Apeland, T., Danielsen, T., Staal, E. M., Åsberg, A., Thorsen, I. S., Dalsrud, T. O., & Ørn, S. (2017). Risk factors for exertional rhabdomyolysis with renal stress. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 3(1), e000241.  
  5. Tran, M., Hayden, N., Garcia, B., & Tucci, V. (2015). Low-intensity repetitive exercise induced rhabdomyolysis. Case Reports in Emergency Medicine, 2015.
  6. Khalil, M. A., & Saab, B. R. (2016). Resistance exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis: Need for immediate intervention and proper counselling. Australian Family Physician, 45(12), 898-901.
  7. Kraemer, W. J., Adams, K., Cafarelli, E., Dudley, G. A., Dooly, C., Feigenbaum, M. S., … & Newton, R. U. (2002). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 34(2), 364-380.

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How To Get Low-Carb Benefits Without Cutting Back On Carbs

The winds of dietary change often shift: One minute, butter is in, the next it’s out. Red wine is bad for you until it’s good for you. And don’t get me started on coffee and chocolate.

The same is true when it comes to the role carbs play in enhancing athletic performance and fitness. Carbs used to be considered the bane of athletic performance—until they became performance fuel. Today there’s a resurgence in popularity of low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets. And so the wheel turns again.

The fact of the matter is that if you’re a performance-minded individual, recent research seems to support LCHF diets as the most efficient way to improve strength, performance, and overall fitness. But what if you could get the benefits of a LCHF diet without having to lower your daily carbohydrate intake? That would be pretty sweet.

Making this kind of win-win more likely is a recent paradigm shift in sports nutrition. According to the new “train low, compete high” model, you can improve your performance by manipulating your carbohydrate timing to perform a few targeted low-intensity training sessions per week in a glycogen-depleted state.

Without consuming any carbs prior to your workout, you can upregulate your aerobic adaptations, while upping your carb intake elsewhere during the day to prepare yourself for a higher-intensity resistance training session. Glycogen depletion paired with restricting carb intake is the key to boosting your work capacity through this strategy.

Let’s have a look at how this is actually achieved.

What Do We Mean by “Aerobic Adaptations”?

Your muscle cells, like all the cells in your body, produce energy in an area of the cell known as the mitochondria. By training in a low-carb state, you can increase the number of mitochondria in your muscle cells. The more mitochondria, the greater your body’s capacity to produce energy, as well as to produce and transport oxygen to working muscles.

How To Get Low-Carb Benefits Without Cutting Back on Carbs

This combination of increased mitochondria and improved transport of oxygen to your muscles is the aerobic adaptation that increases your aerobic capacity and leads to better performance.

You can optimize these adaptations by properly structuring when you get your carbs.

Traditionally, sports nutrition experts have encouraged athletes to maintain a constant level of daily macronutrient intake, on the theory that the body divides these macros more or less equally throughout the day.

The traditional approach to carbohydrates has been to sustain performance by consuming a lot of carbs before, during, and after training. But all this was thrown into question when researchers noticed that athletes performed well in targeted trainingsessions while in a low-carb state.[1]

What this means is you don’t have to constantly consume carbs all day long. In fact, by decreasing your carb intake before low-intensity cardiovascular training (LIT) and raising it before high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or resistance training, you can get the benefits of a LCHF diet without lowering your overall daily carb intake.

Timing and Structure for Carbohydrate Intake: Then Versus Now

A typical protocol would be to consume your normal carbohydrate intake over the course of the day so you have all the carbs on board you need for your evening HIIT or strength workout. After the workout, you would reduce your carb intake, consuming protein and fat instead, and wake up ready to perform your morning LIT workout in a glucose-fasted state. This is a perfectly good way to train, and one study done in triathletes showed it significantly increased performance, including reduced time to complete a 10-kilometer run.[2]

Under the new paradigm, you would still plan to do your morning LIT session in a low-glycogen state after a night of carb fasting. The critical difference in the new approach is that you would continue to withhold carbs for three hours after that training. The reason: During this low-glucose, post-workout period, you experience the best adaptive response.[3]

How To Get Low-Carb Benefits Without Cutting Back on Carbs

Once the three hours have passed, you would then resume carb consumption at lunchtime and in the meals running up to your HIIT or strength workout later in the day.

If you prefer to do HIIT or strength training in the morning, reverse the process. In one study, well-trained athletes ate a high-carbohydrate breakfast two hours before a glycogen-depleting, high-intensity training session. They didn’t consume any more carbs until just before performing a second, lighter session later in the day while glycogen-depleted.[4]

During Your Low-Carb State, Avoid ALL Carbs

You want to carefully time when you consume carbs before and after a workout, but you need to pay attention to any carbs you take on during a session, too. In one study, subjects who were already glycogen-depleted consumed a glucose-containing sports drink during subsequent training. Doing so negated any aerobic adaptations they might have gained.[5]

By carefully monitoring when you consume your carbs, you can get the benefit of a low-carb diet without having to reduce your carbs, which is a beautiful thing. Wait until the carbs you have consumed have a chance to convert into glucose before you begin a HIIT session. And you don’t need to follow this paradigm for every workout. Pick 3-4 targeted LIT sessions a week and plan your carb consumption around them.

  1. Impey, S., Hammond, K., Shepherd, S., Sharples, A., Stewart, C., Limb, M., Smith, K., Philp, A., Jeromson, S., Hamilton, D., Cloce athletes. PHY2, 4(10), p.e12803.

  2. Marquet, L. A., Brisswalter, J., Louis, J., Tiollier, E., Burke, L., Hawley, J., & Hausswirth, C. (2016). Enhanced Endurance Performance by Periodization of CHO Intake:” sleep low” strategy. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 48(4), 663-672.

  3. Bartlett, J. D., Louhelainen, J., Iqbal, Z., Cochran, A. J., Gibala, M. J., Gregson, W., … & Morton, J. P. (2013). Reduced carbohydrate availability enhances exercise-induced p53 signaling in human skeletal muscle: implications for mitochondrial biogenesis. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 304(6), R450-R458.

  4. Cox, G. R., Clark, S. A., Cox, A. J., Halson, S. L., Hargreaves, M., Hawley, J. A., … & Burke, L. M. (2010). Daily training with high carbohydrate availability increases exogenous carbohydrate oxidation during endurance cycling. Journal of Applied Physiology, 109(1), 126-134.

  5. Morton, J. P., Croft, L., Bartlett, J. D., MacLaren, D. P., Reilly, T., Evans, L., … & Drust, B. (2009). Reduced carbohydrate availability does not modulate training-induced heat shock protein adaptations but does upregulate oxidative enzyme activity in human skeletal muscle. Journal of Applied Physiology, 106(5), 1513-1521.

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The Perfect Half-Hour Quad Workout

Your day is full of commitments and you hardly have any time to train. And just when you thought your day couldn’t get any worse…you realize it’s leg day.

Fear not, lifter of iron. This workout will make the most out of the time you have and bring heat to those quads in 30 minutes—guaranteed!

The Perfect Half-Hour Quad Workout

Barbell Squat

1 set, 10 reps (60 sec. rest)
1 set, 8 reps (60 sec. rest)
1 set, 5 reps (90 sec. rest)
1 set, 5 reps (90 sec. rest)
1 set, 5 reps (90 sec. rest)

12-15 reps (no rest)

Goblet Squat

12-15 reps (60 sec. rest)

Single-Leg Leg Extension

1 set, 10 reps (Per leg,10 sec. rest)
1 set, 9 reps (Per leg, 9 sec. rest)
1 set, 8 reps (Per leg, 8 sec. rest)
1 set, 7 reps (Per leg, 7 sec. rest)
1 set, 6 reps (Per leg, 6 sec. rest)
1 set, 5 reps (Per leg, 5 sec. rest)
1 set, 4 reps (Per leg, 4 sec. rest)
1 set, 3 reps (Per leg, 3 sec. rest)
1 set, 2 reps (Per leg, 2 sec. rest)
1 set, 1 reps (Per leg)


Squats are the undisputed King of the Quad Burn. Of course we’re using this exercise to get the party started! Even though this workout is short, you’re still going heavy. Warm up with two sets, first 10 reps then 8 reps, with a minute of rest between. After that, increase the weight and finish with 3 sets of 5 heavy reps.

If you’re short on time, don’t play around and chit chat—focus on the task at hand and get it done. You only get 90 seconds to rest between sets. If you wear knee sleeves, make sure you keep them on so you can save time. If you wear wraps, definitely keep them on until you’re done here. Remember, the clock is ticking.

Superset: Leg Press & Goblet Squat

Supersets make perfect sense for a quick workout—double the volume in half the time, right? Load up the leg press with a weight you can sustain for at least 12 reps but not more than 15. Choose a dumbbell weight you feel you can work with for the same number of reps. Leg presses come first, immediately followed by the goblet squats.

This is a superset, so you get no rest between the exercises and a minute of rest between each superset. Three rounds will serve you well here. I know you’re in a hurry, but don’t forget to focus on the negatives, making each rep count. Remember—you need the workout to be productive as well as fast.

Single Leg Extension

The Perfect Half-Hour Quad Workout

This is the grand finale, so give it all you’ve got. Choose a weight you can sustain for around 10 reps with one leg—and make sure you start with your weaker leg. You’re going to do a serious rest-pause set. Perform 10 reps with that leg, immediately followed by 10 with the other. When you finish, rest 10 seconds, go back to the first leg, and do 9 reps. Follow this with 9 reps for the other leg. Rest 9 seconds.

Already guessed the pattern? You’re going to go backward from 10 reps to 1 rep, resting for the same number of seconds as the reps you just completed. With the few minutes you have left, give those quads a nice stretch—because you’re done!

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