How To Build A Calisthenics Body

Lately, there’s been a lot written about calisthenic strength training—enough that, finally, we’ve come close to reclaiming the word “calisthenics” from the 1980s exercise videos that mostly people have associated with it. But whatever you call it, bodyweight training is hotter than ever.

This modality has existed since the dawn of time and it’s being talked about like it’s a brand new phenomenon, even though we all know the opposite is true. Before the invention of machines, barbells, and bench presses, mankind was getting strong and ripped using nothing more for resistance than bodyweight. Pressing, pulling, and squatting are hardwired into our DNA. So why is there all this hoopla about calisthenics? Why now?

Some claim it is part of a larger trend toward minimalism in training. Others say it’s the feeling of empowerment you get from owning a body that’s truly “self-made.” Perhaps others are impressed by the unique feats of strength associated with extreme calisthenics. I actually think all of these answers are right, but there’s something more, too.

Let’s face it: Everybody who works out pays attention to aesthetics to some degree—even if they would never admit to training with that goal. No matter how “functional” or “sport-specific” their training may be, we all react to imagery, and I’ve found that advanced bodyweight strength training produces a uniquely impressive physique.

What has become known as the “calisthenics body” is easily identifiable by a rippled, muscular build, erect posture, balanced development, and no superfluous body fat. Say what you will, that’s what really gets people talking!

The Calisthenic Body Is The Cohesive Body

One of the beautiful things about calisthenics is that we celebrate movements that use the whole body cohesively, rather than attempting to isolate small body parts one at a time.

There’s no doubt that different exercises emphasize certain muscles more than others, but let’s be clear: 100 percent isolation in any modality is impossible. However, you can still try to isolate. We don’t, and the reason is because we know that to do something as difficult as a one-arm pull-up, strong arms and lats aren’t enough to get the job done. We need to utilize strength and tension from the entire body.

The principles of calisthenic strength training have a direct physical manifestation, because the strength-to-weight ratio required to perform advanced movements has specific demands. Practitioners of calisthenics develop an ideal balance of muscle mass and body fat that allows for dominance of their own realm. They’ve got everything they need and nothing more.

The body that results doesn’t lie. There are telltale signs. Here’s what they are, and how to build them.

Calisthenics Abs

The calisthenics body starts in the middle, because when you train with bodyweight, you use your abs for every single exercise—and it shows! But if we want to get specific, bar-work is where the tell-tale calisthenics abs are built, utilizing movements like full-ROM hanging leg raises and windshield wipers.


A serratus with a steak-knife edge, and the bulging six-pack abs contained within, are the marking of the calisthenics body.

These movements have a direct effect on the trunk’s overall appearance, since they rely heavily on the serratus anterior in addition to the muscles you usually think of when you hear the word “abdominals.” This has a huge effect by shaping and framing the entire abdominal region. A serratus with a steak-knife edge, and the bulging six-pack abs contained within, are the marking of the calisthenics body.

Calisthenics Arms

Just as with abs, bar work is your best friend when it comes to arms, particularly biceps, which


get a better workout from chin-ups than from all the curls in the world. Because you’re pulling far more weight than you would typically curl, the gains are astronomical, and the choices are infinite.

Do them all—overhand pull-ups and underhand chins, wide-grip and narrow, thick bar, switch grip, and hanging from irregular objects—and you’ll create amazing tensile strength and powerful connective tissue. Combine the grip training you get from bar work with advanced push-up variations—fingertips, knuckles, back-of-hands—for forearms that would make Popeye jealous.

It can take any number of machine-based isolation-style exercises to hit the arms (and chest and shoulders) from as many angles as good old-fashioned dips. Performed deep, with full range of motion, the results are undeniable. Try as many different hand widths as possible for maximum results. They can also be done on a bench or straight bar. Have some fun!

Calisthenics Back, Shoulders, And Chest

Exceptionally wide lats are a trademark of the calisthenics body. Because we don’t attempt to isolate the arms, we have a greater chance of unlocking the genetic potential of our lats through pull-ups, muscle-ups, bar levers, and the human flag. The lats play a huge role in these movements and plenty of others, and their development is a direct result of a varied bodyweight pulling program.

The shoulders are used in all upper body calisthenics strength training and get a substantial workout from every exercise mentioned thus far. The “V” formed by the lats gets even wider when we train handstand push-ups. Even guys who think they can military press massive poundage are often humbled when they attempt this exercise, but if they stick with it, they’ll discover that handstand push-ups lead to astronomical gains in the shoulders. Take ’em slow and controlled, and touch your nose to the ground.


The lats play a huge role in these movements and plenty of others, and their development is a direct result of a varied bodyweight pulling program.

Of course, the push-up is the granddaddy of all chest exercises. It can be progressed to deliver a far greater punch than the classic version we all learned in gym class—and which is a spectacular exercise in its own right. But it’s tragic to stop there when we can play with inclines, limit points of contact, or increase range of motion. All of these methods employ progressive techniques to build a thick, hard, powerful chest. That chest will be your prize once you master the one-arm push-up, which combines balance, stability, increased range of motion, and muscular overload in one exercise.

Calisthenics Legs

Critics of calisthenics love to perpetuate the falsehood that bodyweight athletes have underdeveloped legs. Ironically, these are the same unfounded jabs that have rocked the weightlifting community at large for years. There are many ways to skin a cat, and we all have more in common than apart. No matter how you choose to work out, everybody’s legs need training!

Take it from me: When you train your legs using only bodyweight, they get strong! And it’s not from external resistance, but rather from manipulating gravity and doing complete movement patterns. Bodyweight squats go all the way to the ground—ass to ankles. I’m more concerned with building strength through the full expression of a movement than from overloaded half-reps where the hamstring never touches the calf.

Try doing 40 bodyweight squats all the way down. If that sounds easy, do it anyway just to make sure. And if it iseasy, then try doing five more… on just one leg! Exercises like pistol squats exploit our inborn sense of balance, which many of us have lost track of over the years. To own this movement, you must push, pull, and stabilize using all your leg muscles, in a perfect marriage of strength and mobility.

Back bridging, another calisthenics staple, requires further recruitment of hamstrings, glutes, and spine erectors. Raw strength and supreme flexibility combine to define the backside of a bodyweight warrior.


This one is harder to quantify than the others, but I know it when I see it. Any red-blooded man or woman who is sure that they could pull their body up—or press it through the floor, or hold it strong at any angle—conducts themselves with a certain quiet cool that cannot be explained. You can call it “relative strength,” but there’s something objectively inspiring about it.

The posture and physique is unmistakable. When you know your own pound-for-pound power and truly own the calisthenics body, you stand tall!

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Define Your Delts: 5 Must-Do Shoulder Exercises

The shoulders play a key role in nearly every upper body exercise. Because of their critical function, extreme range of motion, and potential to bulge under your shirt like two stolen cannonballs, strong shoulders are essential for maximum performance and a well-rounded, fit physique. This article will help you maximize your shoulder development with a science-based exercise attack.

Shoulder Structure And Function

Before you train, it’s important to understand the muscles you’re targeting. Your shoulders are composed of the larger deltoid muscles—anterior, medial, posterior—and smaller rotator cuff muscles that support the ball and socket joint. The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles—the teres minor, infraspinatus, supraspinatus, and subscapularis—which aid in all overhead and rotational movements at the shoulder.

The deltoid muscles are the prime mover of arm abduction—moving the arm away from the body—along the frontal plane. The front (anterior) muscles are involved in shoulder abduction when the shoulder is externally rotated—think lateral raises with your thumbs turned up. The anterior deltoid also works with the subscapularis, pectorals, and lats to internally rotate the humerus bone, effectively turning your thumbs in and towards the center of the body so your palms face back.[1]

The rear (posterior) fibers are strongly involved in transverse extension, as in cable back rows.[2] The lateral fibers perform basic shoulder abduction when the shoulder is internally rotated, like in lateral raises. They also perform shoulder transverse abduction, as in a reverse flye, when the shoulder is externally rotated.[3] An important function of the deltoid muscles is also to support the humeral head to prevent dislocation when carrying heavy loads, as in a heavy farmer’s carry.[4]

Must-Do Movements

1. Standing Dumbbell Press

Sitting is overrated. While it might cause you to have a lower one-rep max, a standing dumbbell press better stimulates shoulder growth than a seated press. Though you’ll be lifting less weight, the standing shoulder press requires more stability, so you’ll be actively strengthening your core and adding balance to your physique while you smoke your shoulders.[5]

There’s no doubt that the standing dumbbell press performed with a full range of motion is the best exercise you can do for maximum deltoid recruitment. A study from the University of Padova found that using the widest range of motion when performing the military shoulder press—elbows fully extended at 180 degrees—resulted in a significant increase in electromyogram (EMG) activation of the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, medial deltoid, posterior deltoid, upper trapezius, middle trapezius, long head of triceps, and teres minor.[6]


Standing Dumbbell Press


If you haven’t been fully extending your elbows during your shoulder presses, you’re in for a surprise. Check your ego at the door, drop the weight, use a full range of motion, and reap the rewards of working smarter and harder with the following steps:

  1. With your feet shoulder-width apart, take a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Raise the dumbbells to eye level with your elbows bent to about 90 degrees.
  3. Brace your core and drive the dumbbells up and together, extending the elbows to 180 degrees.
  4. Pause, and slowly return the weight to the starting position.

2. Prone Reverse Fly

Skip the machines. A recent study showed that the EMG activity for the posterior deltoid and infraspinaturs was greatest when performing a reverse fly with a neutral hand position (palms facing each other) compared to a pronated grip (palms down). While you might be tempted to hop onto the seated reverse fly machine, you’re better off using free weights and a bench to perform the prone reverse dumbbell fly. Not only do free weights allow you to get in the optimal hand position, the movement also better isolates the rear delts and recruits more stabilizers than the machines.[7]


Prone reverse flye


  1. Lie face down on a flat bench with the balls of your feet firmly planted into the ground for support. You can roll up a towel and place it under your forehead for comfort.
  2. Grasp the dumbbells with your arms angled out and a slight bend in your elbows.
  3. Retract your shoulder blades as you bring the weight up, squeeze, and then lower the weight under control.
  4. Repeat. Maintain constant control and tension throughout each rep.

3. Bent-Over Reverse Fly 21s

This triset targets the rear delts while hitting the medial and front heads as well. It’s a great variation to throw into the end of your routine. Remember to keep the weight light in order to maintain proper form and keep the mind-muscle connection you need to maximize every rep.


Bent-Over Reverse Fly 21s


  1. Start in a bent-over position with your core tight and knees slightly bent.
  2. Perform the first seven reps with a neutral grip (palms facing each other). Retract the scapula, squeeze, and slowly resist the negative.
  3. Perform the next seven reps with a prone grip (palms facing down). Lead with the pinkies out as you squeeze the rear delts during each rep.
  4. For the last seven reps, turn the palms back to a neutral grip and perform a forward raise. Keep the shoulders down as your raise the dumbbells and slowly lower them with control.

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4. Lateral Raises With Kettlebells

Take your standard dumbbell lateral raises to a new level. Using kettlebells will add an extra challenge for your forearms and shoulder stabilizers since you really need to control each rep’s weight, which isn’t directly in your palms. It is important to focus on squeezing the deltoids instead of allowing momentum to take over the movement.


Lateral Raises With Kettlebells


  1. Grab a pair of kettlebells and hold them at your sides.
  2. With your elbows slightly bent and your wrists locked, lift each kettlebell up and out to the side until your arms are parallel to the ground. Turn your thumbs down at the peak contraction to better target your side delts.
  3. Pause for a second and slowly lower back to starting position.
Advanced Variation:

Perform this with the weight hanging directly underneath the handle and go heavier.

5. Neutral-Grip Sternum Chin-Up

If you’ve never performed this version of a chin-up, you’re missing out. Give it a shot. Not only does it hit your lats and rear delts harder than a traditional chin-up, it also blasts your core.


Neutral-Grip Sternum Chin-Up


  1. Start with a neutral grip on the chin-up bars. Pull your shoulder blades together and drive yourself up until your chest reaches the bar.
  2. Keep your chest and shoulders open as you pull yourself up. Focuson the rear delt squeeze at the peak contraction. At the top of the move, your body should be at a 45 degree angle from the ground.
  3. Brace your entire body as you slowly lower yourself back to the starting position with your torso upright.
  4. Potau JM, et al. Quantitative Analysis of the Deltoid and Rotator Cuff Muscles in Humans and Great Apes. Int J Primatol 2009; 30:697-708.
  5. Saeterbakken AH and Fimland MS. Effects of body position and loading modality on muscle activity and strength in shoulder presses. J Strength Cond Res; 2013 Jul;27(7):1824-31.
  6. Paoli A, et al. Influence of different ranges of motion on selective recruitment of shoulder muscles in the sitting military press: an electromyographic study. J Strength Cond Res; 2010 Jun;24(6):1578-83.
  7. Schoenfeld B, et al. Effect of hand position on EMG activity of the posterior shoulder musculature during a horizontal abduction exercise. J Strength Cond Res; 2013 Jan 8. [Epub ahead of print]

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50 Shades Of Yellow: What Color Should Your Pee Be?

An old joke says you don’t buy beer, you rent it, but the yellowish liquid in that ceramic bowl is no joke. Urine can offer telltale signs of what’s happening inside the body it’s departing. Depending on the color, urine can offer signs of everything from dehydration to infections to even certain cancers.

So before you flush, it’s time for some urination education. We’ve got all your answers covered concerning the tint of your downstream flow.

Find out what’s normal, what to look out for, and how the amount of water you drink can impact your health.

Urine, I’m Out

Before we start talking about why your pee color matters and what you can do about it, it’s important to know a little bit about the urination process and what organs are involved.

Blood is filtered through your kidneys, where waste, minerals, salts, sugars, and other chemical byproducts are removed. Some sugars are reabsorbed into the blood that remains in the kidneys. Everything else is given the ol’ heave-ho in the form of urine, which passes through your urinary tract and out the Slip ‘N Slide know as the urethra.

Your personal plumbing system, aka the urinary tract, comprises four parts: the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Urine passes from the kidneys, down through muscular tubes called ureters, and into the bladder. Think of the bladder as a holding tank for urine, where it sits waiting to be expelled through the urethra.

What Color Is Ur(ine) Rainbow?


Your pee can tell quite a story about your health and hydration. It’s important to note that urine can temporarily change colors depending on what you are eating, how hydrated you are, and any medications you are taking. Although it’s rare, some medications and foods can make your urine look green, or even blue!

Here’s what your pee might be telling you:

  • Straw-Colored To Transparent-Yellow Pee: This is the normal urine color of a healthy, well-hydrated body. This is what it should look like.

  • Transparent Or Clear Pee: You should always be properly hydrated, but you can actually drink too much water, which will make your urine virtually colorless. Overhydration for long periods of time can lead to serious complications. We will get to that later.

  • Dark Yellow Pee: Still “normal”—but verging on signs of dehydration. You should probably start sipping water more regularly.

  • Honey-Colored Pee: Time to up the water intake. This isn’t going to cut it.

  • Maple-Syrup-Colored Pee: Uh-oh! This is could suggest severe dehydration or liver disease.

  • Pink To Reddish-Colored Pee: If you’ve been noshing on red-pigmented foods like beets, rhubarb, or blueberries, then you’re probably fine. If not, you may have blood in your urine. This can be transitory, or it could be a sign of something more complicated: a urinary tract (UTI) or kidney infection; kidney stones or kidney disease; or cancer of the kidney, bladder or prostate. Of note, UTIs are far more common among women than men.

    Bottom line, don’t mess around if you see urine with a reddish hue. Visit your primary care physician or a urologist, stat, and get checked out.

  • Foamy Or Fizzy Pee: If it only happens on occasion, then it’s just a cool hydraulic effect—you’ve got a good flow going. But if it happens every time you tinkle, it could indicate high protein in your urine, which you may need to get checked by your doctor.

Clear Pee Has Got To Go!

You’re likely getting the impression that water is a key player here, and you’re right. H2O keeps your organ system running like a well-oiled machine. The urinary tract is a prime beneficiary, but drinking water consistently also helps regulate your body temperature, clears your bowels, removes waste, and keeps your skin youthful. And that’s just a few of the perks!

Although dehydration is a far greater concern than overhydration, some people actually drink far more water than they need to. Normal, healthy pee actually has a yellow color from a pigment called urochrome. It’s true that the darker that yellow becomes, the less hydrated your body is. However, drinking so much water that your pee is clear can actually cause an imbalance in your electrolyte levels.


Although dehydration is a far greater concern than overhydration, some people actually drink far more water than they need to.

The disruption of the natural balance between water and sodium in your blood can lead to a blood intoxication known as hyponatremia. Hyponatremia is often associated with ultra-endurance sports that last more than three hours. Endurance athletes are at a greater risk because as they consume large amounts of water while losing sodium through sweat. This fluid overload without the replacement of sodium can lead to blood sodium concentration that falls below normal level.

Common symptoms of hyponatremia include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache and confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps
  • Seizure or convulsions
  • Coma

Even if you aren’t an endurance athlete, you can still be at risk for overhydration. Researchers note that hyponatremia is one of the most common electrolyte abnormalities. A good key to preventing overhydration is to sip—not gulp—water throughout the day, and to take in about half your body weight in ounces of water per day. For instance, a 140-pound woman should take in about 70 ounces of water per day.

Honey, Brown Is Not A Good Color On You

Dehydration occurs when you lose more body fluids than you are taking in. If your pee is looking a bit dark, increase your water intake. One of the easiest ways to make sure you’re getting enough water is to premeasure your water in the morning, and keep a full glass by your side throughout the day. Sip water at work, while you’re sitting at a stoplight, or during exercise. Once your glass (or bottle) is empty, fill it back up.


Hypernatremia is severe dehydration and caused by the presence of excess sodium. This does not occur because of a high sodium intake (unless you drink a lot of sea water or soy sauce), but because of water deficiency.

Other signs of dehydration aside from darkening urine include:

  • Fatigue, excessive yawning
  • Moodiness
  • Lack of focus
  • Dry mouth
  • Dry skin
  • Headaches
  • Constipation

Hypernatremia is severe dehydration and caused by the presence of excess sodium. This does not occur because of a high sodium intake (unless you drink a lot of sea water or soy sauce), but because of water deficiency. You can lose a lot of water during long bouts of exercise, or with certain illnesses and medication.

To treat mild to moderate dehydration, grab a sports drink that will rebalance your electrolytes and add sodium back into your system. Take extra precautions when working or training outside in hot weather or training in a facility without air conditioning.

  1. Hypernatremia. (2000). New England Journal of Medicine, 817-818.
  2. Mentes, J., Wakefield, B., & Culp, K. (n.d.). Use of a Urine Color Chart to Monitor Hydration Status in Nursing Home Residents. Biological Research for Nursing, 197-203.
  3. Kavouras, S. (n.d.). Assessing hydration status. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 519-524.
  4. Speedy, D., Noakes, T., Rogers, I., Thompson, J., Campbell, R., Kuttner, J., … Hamlin, M. (n.d.). Hyponatremia in ultradistance triathletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 809-815.

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In Depth Look At Ketogenic Diets And Ketosis

What exactly is Ketosis? The metabolic state of ketosis simply means that the quantity of ketone bodies in the blood have reached higher-than-normal levels. When the body is in a ketogenic state, this means that lipid energy metabolism is intact. The body will start breaking down your own body fat to fuel the body’s normal, everyday functions.

What’s So Great About Being In Ketosis?

Establishing this metabolic state of ketosis even for a short period of time has many outstanding benefits.

Benefit 1

The main benefit of ketosis is that it increases the body’s ability to utilize fats for fuel, which gets very lazy on a high-carbohydrate diet. When on high-carbohydrate diets, the body can usually expect an energy source to keep entering the body. But in the state of ketosis, the body has to become efficient at mobilizing fats as energy.

Benefit 2

Ketosis has a protein-sparing effect, assuming that you are consuming adequate quantities of protein and calories—0.7 grams per pound of body weight per day—in the first place.[1] Once in ketosis, the body actually prefers ketones to glucose. Since the body has copious quantities of fat, this means there is no need to oxidize protein to generate glucose through gluconeogenesis.


Ketosis has a protein-sparing effect, assuming that you are consuming adequate quantities of protein and calories in the first place.

Benefit 3

Another benefit has to do with the low levels of insulin in the body, which causes greater lipolysis and free-glycerol release compared to a normal diet when insulin is around 80-120. Insulin has a lipolysis-blocking effect, which can inhibit the use of fatty acids as energy. Also, when insulin is brought to low levels, beneficial hormones are released in the body, such as growth hormone and other powerful growth factors.

Benefit 4

Another small but very important benefit of the ketogenic diet is that when in the state of ketosis, ketones, along with a high protein intake, seem to suppress appetite.[3] A high-carbohydrate diet, on the other hand, increases hunger levels. Because you have to consume a lot of fat on a ketogenic diet, which hold 9 calories per gram, you are not getting much food volume. It’s not mandatory to be hungry on a reduced-calorie diet.

Where Is The Scientific Data?

Fatty acid production in fat tissue is stimulated by epinephrine and glucagon, and inhibited by insulin. Insulin is one of the hormones the pancreas secretes in the presence of carbohydrates. Insulin’s purpose is to keep blood glucose levels in check by acting like a driver, pushing the glucose into cells. If insulin were not to be secreted, blood glucose levels would get out of control.


Glucagon is on the other side of the spectrum; it is insulin’s antagonistic hormone. Glucagon is also secreted by the pancreas when glucose levels fall too low. This usually happens when a person skips meals, or does not consume adequate amounts of carbohydrates for an extended period of time. When this happens, glucagon is secreted by the pancreas to break down stored glycogen in the liver into a more usable form, glucose.

When the body’s glycogen stores begin to get depleted, rates of beta-oxidation increase, resulting in the mobilization of free fatty acids from fat tissue. This is where the metabolic state of ketosis comes in. During beta-oxidation, ketone bodies are released from the liver—because they cannot be utilized by the liver—and travel to the brain to be used for fuel. The free fatty acids can then be turned into a usable energy substrate.

What Is A Ketone, Or A Ketone Body (KB)?

A ketone body (KB) is a byproduct formed during the conversion of fatty acids to fuel. Some fatty acids are oxidized by the liver for energy production. Others can be partially oxidized to form the substrate acetoacetate, which is then converted to beta-hydroxybutyric acid; collectively, these are termed ketone bodies. Ketones can be used by all tissue containing mitochondria, which includes muscle and the brain.

Does Being In The Metabolic State Of Ketosis Present Dangers?

I feel the benefits of the ketogenic diet outweigh the pitfalls, but as with any diet, speak with your doctor first. Some of the points of arguments are:

Pitfall 1

During the first few weeks of the ketogenic diet, the body has to go through the “metabolic shift,” as Dr. Mauro DiPasquale calls it. While going through this, the body will experience a small degree of fatigue, brain fog, and even dehydration due to the increased water loss associated with ketoic-induced diuresis and water loss from depletion of glycogen stores.

Once the body gets used to manufacturing ketones as the main energy substrate, the body actually has more energy than it previously had, and you won’t have to be fighting through all those low-blood-sugar crashes your high-carb meals previously gave you. Additionally, hydration should be an area of high priority, especially before, during, and after exercise.

Pitfall 2

Blood-lipid profile is also a concern on the ketogenic diet due to the staggering amounts of saturated fats in the diet, although the diet can be centered around healthier unsaturated fats—which isn’t as fun as eating an egg and cheese omelet, fried in butter, with bacon on the side!

Blood-lipid-profile issues are experiencing much debate; some people following the ketogenic diet will experience a drop in cholesterol levels, but for some people, cholesterol levels will increase.

Pitfall 3

Because carbohydrates are restricted to less than 50 grams a day, the issue of micronutrient deficiencies can occur. Thiamin, folate, calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium are typically inadequate in low-carb diets. The best thing to do to avoid this is to make sure you take a high-quality multivitamin to ensure you get 100 percent of the daily value. Also supplementing with a fiber supplement is a good idea to make sure your plumbing doesn’t get clogged.

Pitfall 4

Ketoacidosis occurs when the level of ketones in the blood gets out of control, which poses a severe health risk for diabetics. When massive quantities of ketones are produced, the pH level of the blood drops, creating a high-acidic environment. Nondiabetics need not fear, as the regulated and controlled production of ketone bodies allows the blood pH to remain within normal limits.

What About The Anticatabolic Effects Of The Ketogenic Diet?

Every reduced-calorie diet is catabolic, meaning the diet can cause you to lose muscle. ‘This is largely due to the fact that you are consuming less energy, so your body relies on other tissue (i.e., protein) to serve as an energy source. Added to that, some dieters do copious amounts of aerobic exercise when dieting, which can cause further breakdown of muscle. The brain can also call on protein to create more glucose for energy needs—a process called gluconeogenesis.


When in the state of ketosis, the brain will prefer ketones over glucose. For the dieter this is good! The body will not have to break down protein for energy.

Ketosis is different, because, when in the state of ketosis, the brain will prefer ketones over glucose. For the dieter this is good! The body will not have to break down protein for energy. In turn the body will be forced to use its fat reserves, a.k.a. your love handles, for its energy. This is why a low-carb diet is such a good method of dieting.

So What Is The Best Way To Get There?

Through experimentation, I have found that the best way to get into the metabolic state of ketosis is by starting off using a fairly high-fat intake with smaller amounts of protein. After your body gets into ketosis, the fat intake can be reduced and the protein intake can be increased. Keep in mind that keto-adapation takes about three weeks, so be patient!

Ultimately, you want your macronutrient range to look something like this— Fats should comprise the majority of your calories, anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of your daily caloric intake. Protein intake should be around 20 to 30 percent of your daily calorie intake, and carbs should not exceed 50 grams per day.

Part 1 | Part 2

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Strength Showdown: Pull-Ups Vs. Pull-Downs

If you’ve spent much time in a mainstream gym, you’ve probably noticed more people using the lat pull-down machines than doing actual pull-ups. This may cause you to think that machines are the best way to train the movement pattern of pulling down with the lats and other muscles of the middle back.

On the other hand, a lot of calisthenics fans are quick to write off the benefits of anything that isn’t bodyweight. I won’t go quite that far! There’s a reason that the lat pull-down has been a staple movement in gyms for decades.

So which one should take preeminence in your training? Let’s compare them side by side.

Simplicity: Pull-Up Wins


Part of what makes bodyweight strength training so appealing is that you can do it anywhere. It’s easier than ever to find a public park with a pull-up bar, or to install one in your own home. Outside of a gym, however, you are very unlikely to encounter a pull-down machine.

On the other hand, even if you can’t access a pull-up bar, you can still improvise by performing pull-ups on other surfaces such as ledges, street signs or doorframes. If you’re relying on a pull-down machine to work your lats, they’ll be out of commission any time you can’t get to the gym.

Likewise, if the program says pull-downs, and your gym’s cable machines are all occupied on a busy January evening, you have no choice but to wait. On the other hand, if you’re looking to do pull-ups, you can do them on dedicated bars, but also on neutral-grip bars, the side of a power rack, or rings. In many gyms, even the squat racks and various machines have pull-up bars built in. Trust me: You have options!

Approachability: Pull-Downs Wins


I’ve often maintained that any able-bodied individual has the potential to do lots of pull-ups. Unfortunately, most people have yet to tap into that potential. Disappointing as it may be, many gym-goers are incapable of doing even one clean pull-up.

While there are bodyweight regressions that any beginner can utilize to help work toward a pull-up (flex hangs, negative pull-ups, etc.), I recognize it can be more encouraging for a beginner to start out with the pull-down machine. It’s less of a shot to the ego, plus you can jump right in and begin with the full range of motion on day one.

Furthermore, larger folks tend to have a harder time with pull-ups. The more you weigh, the more resistance you’ll need to overcome. Though I like pointing out that long limbs will make your leverage less favorable regardless of your exercise modality, heavier people will find the pull-down more accessible, particularly if they are trying to work within the rep range of 10-15 generally recommended for hypertrophy.

Strength Gains: Pull-Up Wins


There’s no question that the pull-up builds overall pound-for-pound strength better than the pull-down. Pull-downs are great for beginners and heavy-set individuals, but pull-ups will keep you honest about real-world functional strength. No matter your size, the pull-up provides an objective assessment of your strength-to-weight ratio.

And while the pull-down machine can potentially provide more overall resistance if you use the entire weight stack, there are so many variations of the pull-up that you can always find a more challenging progression without the need for additional weight.

Normal pull-ups getting too easy for you? Maybe it’s time to start working toward a one-arm pull-up or building your reps up to a higher number such as my 20 pull-up challenge.

Adaptability: Tie

Pull-down machines typically come with handles that can be swapped out for other handles, allowing for various grips and hand widths, but the pull-up is in a league of its own when it comes to variety.

In fact, the pull-up is such a versatile exercise that there are literally entire tournaments dedicated to showcasing the constantly evolving number of freestyle pull-up variations.


The pull-up is such a versatile exercise that there are literally entire tournaments dedicated to showcasing the constantly evolving number of freestyle pull-up variations.

On the other hand, the pull-down machine makes it easy to adjust and monitor how much weight you are lifting. Since you can’t change your body weight as quickly and easily as you can move a pin farther down a weight stack, the pull-down can be advantageous for things like dropsets, percentage-based training, and high-rep training.

Keeping these two different aspects of adaptability in mind, I’m going to call it a tie in this category.

Muscle Activation: Pull-Up Wins


There’s no question that the pull-up gives you more bang for your buck than the pull-down machine.

I have found that the pull-up not only elicits tremendous activation of the lats, traps and other upper-back musculature, but also activates the abdominals more than many conventional ab exercises like sit-ups and crunches.

The pull-down, on the other hand, intentionally removes the muscles of the core from the equation by having the practitioner seated with their legs fastened underneath a harness.

If you’re looking to work as many muscles as possible in an efficient and cohesive manner, there’s no question that the pull-up gives you more bang for your buck than the pull-down machine.

Overall Winner: Pull-Up

So which is the winner? It’s obviously the pull-up. I think we all saw that one coming.


It’s obviously the pull-up. I think we all saw that one coming.

If you’re not a novice, and you’re only going to do one of these moves, make it the pull-up. And if you can’t do pull-ups right now, I recommend making that a goal. My wife Grace has written that getting to the point where she could do a strong chin-up was a game-changer for her, and many people have told me the same thing. I doubt anyone is saying the same thing about the pull-down station!

But of course you don’t have to choose one or the other. Pull-ups and pull-downs can be paired within the same workout. You can use the pull-down to warm yourself up prior to your pull-ups, or to burn yourself out after you’re too fatigued for more of them. Try different methods, and let your own firsthand experience be your guide.

Now let’s go do some pull-ups!

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Zaevion Dobson's Legacy Lives On In His Gym

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, a hero is just a normal, everyday kid who shows unbelievable courage and selflessness on the spur of the moment. Zaevion Dobson is a hero like this.

On the night of December 17, 2015, the 15-year-old football player sacrificed his life to protect others. He was headed to a friend’s house to play video games when he was caught, along with several other innocent bystanders, in the crossfire of a gang shootout. The jokester teammates idolized and teachers adored could have run, but he didn’t. He used his body to protect several small girls, and gave his life in the process.

When they heard his story,’s Lift Life Foundation knew they had to help. In the wake of extreme tragedy, they wanted to make sure Zaevion’s memory lived on. Renovating the school’s gym for #24 became their mission.

The gym of Fulton High School in Knoxville, Tennessee was in need of some TLC. The underfunded inner-city school receives no money for athletics, and relies on game receipts and hustling coaches to make ends meet. They take great care of the equipment they do have, but their taped-together weights, worn pulleys, ancient treadmills, and machines held together with shoestrings showed they were in desperate need of an overhaul. The revamping was about more than 14 palettes of weight equipment; the 10-day labor of love was about injecting a sense of pride and hope into the student body.

The weight room at Fulton isn’t just a place for young football players to get big. It’s used by all sports teams, the PE and wellness classes, and the staff, and it means something different to each person who sets foot in it.

“A lot of kids see athletics as a way to a better life,” says Jody Wright, athletic director at Fulton High School. “They see a lot of their former classmates who play on TV on Saturday, and that’s appealing and enticing. Athletics to this community plays a big role.”

Now, they’ll have a safe space where they can better themselves.

The floor-to-ceiling tribute wall to Zaevion encourages students to live as he did and to emulate his valor, outgoing personality, and altruism. The gym encapsulates the “dream big” attitude of the young man who loved the X’s and O’s of football, but loved his community even more.

This is the second weight room transformation led by the Lift Life Foundation—their first was in Firth, Idaho—but it’s definitely not the last. We’re already hard at work on our third project in Anderson, Indiana. If giving young athletes a leg up in life is as exciting for you as it is for us, you can donate to the Lift Life Foundation, or nominate a school to be considered for a future renovation.

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Paleo For The Hard-Training Athlete!

Anyone looking to maximize their gym performance would be foolish not to make lean proteins, fibrous carbohydrates, healthy fats, and ample fruits and vegetables the basis of their diet. Get rid of refined, processed foods in favor of these wholesome choices, and you have a combination that’s right for any performance goal.

It just so happens that the paleo diet is founded on these very principles, which is why many high-level athletes follow this approach. Carb subtleties aside, the basic paleo-diet framework is sound and tough to argue against. But a grueling 90-minute lift, compilation of two-a-day training, or a prolonged endurance session will require more than an abundance of fruits, vegetables, and tubers to get the job done.

Here are two major changes to prime your Paleo approach for maximal performance!

Understanding the Paleo Diet

The paleo diet attempts to mimic the diet our omnivorous hunter-gatherer ancestors followed during the Paleolithic era. It’s based on eating naturally occurring real foods that have been subjected to little to no processing. Paleo is characterized by:

  • Moderate protein intake
  • Moderate-to-high fat intake
  • Low-to-moderate carbohydrate intake
  • Zero processed foods

Missing Link No. 1

With Paleo’s emphasis on being grain- and bean-free, finding the right carbohydrate sources suddenly becomes a major challenge. Sure, you can eat ample fruits, vegetables, and tubers, but you may become full well before getting all the carbs you need to maximize performance and recovery. That’s because fruits and vegetables are high in both water and fiber, both of which fill your stomach and slow your digestion. Try eating 100 grams of carbohydrates from veggies between your two daily training sessions and see how far you get.

Break the Carbohydrate Commandment

Strict Paleo means ingesting 50-150 grams of carbohydrates per day. If you were a sedentary person or just doing a light exercise program, that might be enough—especially if you were trying to lose weight. But for someone training as hard as you, it makes sense to bend the carbohydrate commandment. By including oats or rice on hard training days, you can ramp up the amount of fuel your body has on board to support high-intensity training and adequate recovery.

What to Choose

Stick with groats, steel-cut oats, rice, beans, and lentils (not the canned variety), all of which will be less processed than other carb sources.


Missing Link No. 2

Depending on who you ask, dairy may or may not be on the paleo guest list. The “dairy cow” as we know it today didn’t roam the earth tens of thousands of years ago. And it’s questionable whether anyone back then would have attempted to milk the wild, distant ancestors of the modern cow, which is why many paleo advocates abstain from any dairy-based food.

But the favorable nutritional profile of dairy can’t go unnoticed, and as a hard-training athlete, you’d be foolish not to bend this paleo principle.

Dive Into Dairy

Although not crucial for performance success, dairy can absolutely bolster your muscle-building and fat-loss efforts, taking your performance up a notch. Dairy is an excellent source of high-quality protein, calcium, and vitamin D. All three of these nutrients profoundly influence performance, recovery and body composition—key areas of interest for any athlete.


Protein needs no introduction or long spiel about its wonderful fat-loss and muscle-building benefits. Protein directly instigates muscle building while promoting satiety. But milk-based protein has so many good properties that it warrants a full rundown of its many benefits.

Milk protein is unique, because it’s a mixture of whey (fast-digesting) and casein (slow-digesting) proteins. Whey, in particular, is rich in the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), particularly leucine, the main instigator of muscle growth.[1] Both whey and milk protein have been shown to optimally stimulate muscle-building in the period after resistance training.[2,3] Whey protein supplementation has also been shown to spare muscle mass during a dieting phase.[4] There’s no “whey” you can expect to maximize performance without including this protein in your daily diet.

Dairy also provides immune-bolstering proteins like beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, and lactoferrin. Beta-lactoglobulin and alpha-lactalbumin play a role in enhancing the immune system.[5,6] Lactoferrin has also been shown to possess both antibacterial and antiviral properties.[7] After all, you can’t train hard if you’re at home in bed all the time!


Calcium plays a role in bone formation and muscle contraction. What’s more, meeting your daily calcium needs—particularly from dairy—has been shown to further drive weight loss (specifically body fat), and protect muscle mass while dieting.

An Obesity Research study divided participants into two groups, members of which consumed either a small (one serving per day) or large (three servings per day) amount of dairy for 24 weeks.[8] At the end of the time period, researchers found that the high-calcium group had greater fat loss, improved insulin sensitivity, and reduced blood pressure compared to the low-calcium group.

The second part of the study placed each group into a 500-calorie deficit. While both groups lost significant amounts of weight and body fat, the high-calcium group lost nearly twice as much weight and body fat and retained more muscle mass compared to the low-calcium group.

For most types of training, sporting more muscle mass and less fat mass is sure to heighten performance. If you’re calcium is lacking, you can expect little moo-vement in your gym numbers.


Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is the number one nutrient deficiency in the United States. Since the primary source of vitamin D is the sun, any little bit that can be obtained from a food source is helpful.[9] It just so happens that milk is fortified with vitamin D. One cup provides you with 30 percent of the (albeit low) recommended daily amount.[10] Vitamin-D deficiency has a negative impact on strength, sleep quality, and injury risk, all of which impact your ability to perform well.[11]

What to Choose 

If you’re looking to keep some semblance of paleo with your dairy, opt for full-fat options, because these undergo less processing than the low-fat varieties.

Putting Paleo in Perspective

It’s important to remember that the paleo diet isn’t a rulebook that you need to live by, but rather a collection of ideas and guidelines to help enhance your health and well-being. To take your performance to the next level, you need to be willing to give your body the high-quality resources it needs to repair itself and grow. (For even more on those resources, read my guide to paleo snacks and supplements.) When following a paleo approach, be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve your goals. They’ll be worth it!

  1. Norton, L. E., Layman, D. K., Bunpo, P., Anthony, T. G., Brana, D. V., & Garlick, P. J. (2009). The leucine content of a complete meal directs peak activation but not duration of skeletal muscle protein synthesis and mammalian target of rapamycin signaling in rats. The Journal of Nutrition, 139(6), 1103-1109.
  2. 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.
  3. Wilkinson, S. B., Tarnopolsky, M. A., MacDonald, M. J., MacDonald, J. R., Armstrong, D., & Phillips, S. M. (2007). Consumption of fluid skim milk promotes greater muscle protein accretion after resistance exercise than does consumption of an isonitrogenous and isoenergetic soy-protein beverage. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(4), 1031-1040.
  4. Frestedt, J. L., Zenk, J. L., Kuskowski, M. A., Ward, L. S., & Bastian, E. D. (2008). A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study. Nutrition & Metabolism, 5(1), 1.
  5. Sandstrom, O., Lonnerdal, B., Graverholt, G. & Hernell, O. (2008). Effects of alpha-lactalbumin–enriched formula containing different concentrations of glycomacropeptide on infant nutrition. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87(4), 91-98.
  6. Hernandez-Ledesma, B., Recio, I. & Amigo, L. (2008). Beta-Lactoglobulin as source of bioactive peptides. Amino Acids, 35, 257-265.
  7. Tomita, M., Bellamy, W., Takase, M., Yamauchi, K., Wakabayashi, H. & Kawase, K. (1991). Potent antibacterial peptides generated by pepsin digestion of bovine lactoferrin. Journal of Dairy Sciences, 74(12), 4137-4142.
  8. Zemel, M. B., Richards, J., Milstead, A., & Campbell, P. (2005). Effects of Calcium and Dairy on Body Composition and Weight Loss in African‐American Adults. Obesity Research, 13(7), 1218-1225.
  9. Fulgoni, V. L., Keast, D. R., Bailey, R. L., & Dwyer, J. (2011). Foods, Fortificants, and Supplements: Where Do Americans Get Their Nutrients? Journal of Nutrition, 141(10), 1847-1854.
  10. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2011. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page,
  11. Dahlquist, D. T., Dieter, B. P., & Koehle, M. S. (2015). Plausible ergogenic effects of vitamin D on athletic performance and recovery. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1), 1-12.

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The Ultimate Beginner 3-Day Full-Body Routine!

The following training routine is typical or basic and not designed for specialized training. Other specialized routines that can be used are listed in my Reverse Pyramid Training book. Selecting a routine should best fit your experience, level of fitness, goal(s) and allotted time (weekly schedule).

If you are a beginner the routine below is ideal for you. DO NOT imitate routines of advanced bodybuilders! You’ll only grow LESS in MORE time! Combined with performance nutrition, smart and hard training and sufficient rest a “lean tissue” gain of 24-36 pounds is realistic in the first two years of consistent training.

  • Training Frequency: 3 days
  • Training Days: Monday, Wednesday, Friday
  • Routine Duration: 3 to 6 months
  • Sets Per Exercise: 2 to 3 sets
  • Rest Between Sets: Up to 2 minutes

Approximate “lean tissue” gain in 6 months: 12 to 18 pounds
For fat loss & muscle maintenance: Perform your cardiovascular exercise after weight training for 20 minutes.
For muscle gain only: Abstain from performing any cardiovascular exercise.

Full-Body Routine

3 sets, 12-15 Reps

Barbell Bench Press – Medium Grip

2 sets, 8-12 reps

Dumbbell Flyes

2 sets, 8-12 Reps

Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

2 sets, 8-12 Reps

Seated Cable Rows

2 sets, 8-12 Reps

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

3 sets, 8-12 Reps

Barbell Curl

3 sets, 8-12 Reps

Triceps Pushdown

3 sets, 8-12 Reps

Barbell Full Squat

2 sets, 8-12 Reps

Leg Extensions

2 sets, 8-12 Reps

Lying Leg Curls

3 sets, 12-15 Reps

Standing Calf Raises

3 sets, 12-15 Reps

Good Luck! Keep me posted or updated on your progress! E-mail me at!

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5 Core Workouts For A Tight Midsection – A Beginner's Guide!

Main Arms | Back | Chest | Core | Legs | Shoulders

Six-pack, eight-pack (genetic freaks), washboard, whatever you want to call it, your core is the centerpiece for any muscular physique. It is the eye-catcher for the opposite sex.

A muscular and well-defined core shows both strength and health. Both guys and gals strive to have a strong, toned midsection, but very few of them ever achieve getting one. If you have been looking for the perfect program to get you the tight, strong core you always looked for, look no farther.

In this article, we go over the basic anatomy of what makes up the core, and list five easy-to-follow workouts to help strengthen your midsection. Diet and cardiovascular training will have to be in check for you to see your abs. This article will only focus on the training that goes into building and strengthening your mighty core.

The core is composed of four different parts. Below, I will discuss where each is located, what its function is in the body, and also a couple exercises you can do to stimulate the muscle.


Rectus Abdominus
  • Location: Covers the area from sternum all the way down to the pelvis bone.
  • Function: Pulls the upper torso to the hips
  • Exercises: Crunch or Sit-up
  • Location: Side of the waist.
    • Internal Obliques
    • Transverse Obliques
    • External Obliques
  • Function: Tilt and twist the torso
  • Exercises: Side Bends and Decline Oblique Crunches
  • Location: Between the side of the rib cage. It comes into play when you flex the torso and twist from side to side.
  • Function: Elevation and depression of the ribs
  • Exercise: Air Bike

  • Location: Between front abs and lats.
  • Function: Pulling of the scapula forward and around like in the motion of throwing a punch
  • Exercises: Barbell Pullovers and Cable Crunches

Rep Ranges

The core is made up of primarily fast-twitch muscle fibers. Fast-twitch muscle fibers are more dense than their counterparts (the slow-twitch muscle fibers. Hence, hard, heavy, and explosive bouts of exercise will stimulate fast-twitch fibers a lot more.

This means that core training should be in the moderate rep range for best growth. No more endless reps of crunches and sit-ups like you’ve done in the past. Focus on sets in the 8-15 rep range.

Now that you understand which muscles make up the core, their function, location and the rep range needed to stimulate them, let’s give you some workouts to help you get that strong muscular core.

All exercises should be performed in perfect form because bad form or habits you start now will follow you and will lead to lack of progress or injury in the future. Many, if not all, the exercises will be new to you. So make sure you use the Exercise Guide on to help you with your form.

Core Strengthening Workout Programs

Sample Core Workout 1


Cable Crunch

Sample Core Workout 2

Sample Core Workout 3

Sample Core Workout 4

Sample Core Workout 5


There you have it: five core strengthening workouts. I like to work my core every 2-3 days. Try rotating these 5 workouts into your workout split. These workouts sure will help you get that strong muscular core you are looking for.

Remember quality over quantity with the core. Stick with the programs listed above and you will be just fine. As always if you have any questions don’t hesitate to drop me an email.

Main Arms | Back | Chest | Core | Legs | Shoulders

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Lifted: Original Transformation Series

Elevate your entertainment with’s original series, “Lifted”! Tune in weekly to follow ordinary people and top athletes looking to take their training—and their lives—to the next level. Learn, laugh, and cheer them on as they overcome their struggles—and inspire you to conquer yours.

Immerse yourself in the journey of brave individuals willing to transform in front of the camera. Whether redefining their purpose or hitting the gym for the first time in a long time, their stories will inspire you to get up, get moving, and get growing.  

Episode 1

Having a meaningful “why” behind the reason you’re transforming is essential to the process. It gives you a reason to keep pushing, to stay excited, and to forge ahead when times get hard. Today, get to know the Lifted crew and check out the reasons they decided to kick off their transformation journey.

Episode 2

It’s easy to get started, but day-to-day grind can be tough. Watch as each of these transformees battles balancing real life and fitness—whether that means kids, dinner parties, or time with fur babies. Today, get ready to see the Lifted crew do everything from taking progress pics to facing the challenge of weighing in and winning the struggles of fitting in morning cardio—even when you don’t want to.

Episode 3

Watch as each of these transformees tackles a major obstacle—from overcoming a sleepy start on race day and giving it all during a football game to balancing fitness and family to live life full circle.

Episode 4

Life happens—injuries, bad weather, and unexpected events—but that’s no excuse. Watch as these transformees break free from the excuses and start putting in the real work.

Episode 5

Life doesn’t always make it easy to fit in fitness, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. Watch as your favorites navigate travel, skip the excuses, and find inspiration—whether in sunny LA or frigid Iceland.

Episode 6

When you feel overwhelmed with work and family, you still find time for training. Find out how everyone manages to stay on track while dealing with stressor and life events.

Episode 7

Life stressors can lead to discouragement and unexpected binges, but even when you slip up, you can get back on track. See how everyone works to accomplish their goals: finishing a Tough Mudder, getting nearly 19-inch arms, and finishing a 12-week challenge on a strong note.

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