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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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, Bodybuilding.com’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
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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.

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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

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

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.

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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!

References
  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, http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl.
  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 randyherring@bodybuilders.com!

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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.

Abdominals

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
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Oblique
  • Location: Side of the waist.
    • Internal Obliques
    • Transverse Obliques
    • External Obliques
  • Function: Tilt and twist the torso
  • Exercises: Side Bends and Decline Oblique Crunches
Intercostals
  • 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

Serratus
  • 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 Bodybuilding.com to help you with your form.

Core Strengthening Workout Programs

Sample Core Workout 1

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Cable Crunch

Sample Core Workout 2

Sample Core Workout 3

Sample Core Workout 4

Sample Core Workout 5

Conclusion

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 Bodybuilding.com’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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5 Ways To Add Super-Healthy Chia Seeds To Your Diet

You may be well-versed in the benefits of chia seeds, but let’s be honest; a spoonful of these tiny beads by themselves doesn’t sound too appetizing. Don’t worry, I agree. Try the following suggestions to make chia seeds an appetizing addition to your daily diet.

1. Chia Icing On The Cake

Chia seeds make a great topping for oats, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, protein puddings, and salads. And yes, you can even add them on top of cake! Chia has a rather neutral taste, so it can add a bit of crunch without affecting the overall flavor of the dish.

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2. The Proof Is In The Protein Pudding

For a dessert that won’t blow up your physique, try making a chia pudding. Blend together 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup yogurt, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons honey, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Pour everything into a jar and stir in 3 tablespoons chia seed. Seal the jar shut, and let the mixture chill until thickened, about two hours. You can even add your favorite protein powder!

3. The Daily Chia Grind

Ground chia seeds are now available in powdered form, making them an excellent addition to your favorite protein pancakes, oatmeal, or homemade energy bars. They can even serve as an excellent breadcrumb substitution in meatballs or meatloaf!

4. Spread The Chia Love

Chia seeds are an excellent source of soluble fiber, which enables them to form a highly versatile gel when mixed with water.[1] Take advantage of this quirk to create a better-for-you jam to put on your morning whole-grain toast.

Simply heat 1-1/2 cups of your favorite berries in a saucepan over medium heat until they begin to break down, about five minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons chia seeds, 1 tablespoon honey, and an optional 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, then heat for another two minutes.

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Gently mash the mixture with a potato masher or fork, and let it cool to thicken. Spread, and enjoy!

5. Egg-Replacement Therapy

The same gelling quality that makes chia jam a possibility for your morning toast also lets you create a substitute for eggs when making baked items like muffins.[2] For each egg, add one tablespoon of chia seeds and 3 tablespoons of water in its place.

Let this mixture sit for 10 minutes, until a goopy texture has formed. Now it can be used to create a binding effect in a recipe, much like an egg would.

References
  1. Coorey, R., Tjoe, A., & Jayasena, V. (2014). Gelling properties of chia seed and flour. Journal of Food Science, 79(5), E859-E866.
  2. Borneo, R., Aguirre, A., & León, A. E. (2010). Chia (Salvia hispanica L) gel can be used as egg or oil replacer in cake formulations. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110(6), 946-949.


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Clayton South's Health Facts: Betaine Anhydrous

What is it and where does it come from?

Betaine anhydrous ((CH3)3NCH2COO) is a vitamin derived from choline. Dietary sources of betaine anhydrous include spinach, cereal grains, seafood, wine and sugar beets. It has a molecular weight of 117.15.

Wine and Spinach

Betaine anhydrous is also known by the following names:

  • Trimethylglycine (TMG)
  • Methanaminium1-carboxy-N,N,N-trimethyl-, inner salt
  • 2-(Trimethylammonio) ethanoic acid
  • hydroxide, inner salt
  • (Carboxymethyl) trimethylammonium hydroxide inner salt
  • Trimethylammonioacetate
  • Glycine
  • Glycine betaine
  • Trimethylbetaine
  • Trimethylglycocoll
  • Abromine
  • Glycylbetaine
  • Oxyneurine.

What does it do and what scientific studies give evidence to support this?

Betaine anhydrous is a versatile vitamin that is used by the body for a wide variety of physiological purposes.

Betaine may be helpful by helping support healthy homocysteine levels. [1,2]

Animal research suggests that betaine may help support liver health. [3,4,5,6,7,8]

In humans, betaine is essential to the maintenance of intestinal function and cell production. It may help support kidney health, and it may also function as an antioxidant.[9] Betaine has also been suggested to support plasma methionine and S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) levels under certain conditions. [10,11]

As a nutritional aide, betaine anhydrous has been suggested to be lipotropic (i.e., fat-loss supporting) by promoting the oxidization of lipids. It has also been noted to increase appetite, improve digestive efficiency, and in animals it has been suggested to promote lean mass.

The action of betaine is potentiated in the presence of choline (its precursor), folic acid, and vitamins B-6 and B-12. In some circumstances, betaine anhydrous can be used as a substitute for methionine and choline chloride.

Who needs it and what are some symptoms of deficiency?

Betaine anhydrous is orally supplemented in the form of a powder. All persons who are free of medical complication and in good health can benefit from incorporating betaine or betaine-containing products into their lifestyle and overall health-management strategy.

In times of stress, endogenous betaine levels may be insufficient to support optimal immune-system function. Consequently, athletes and members of the general population can derive benefit from betaine supplementation.

How much should be taken? Are there any side effects?

Dosage guidelines vary by age and medical fitness.

As a general dose, adults can supplement with two 3-gram doses daily, for a total of 6 grams per day.

As a general dose, adults can supplement with two 3-gram doses daily, for a total of 6 grams per day.

All persons should follow label dosing recommendations.

Possible side effects can include diarrhea, stomach upset (gastrointestinal irritation) and nausea. This substance is not known to interact with medications, but users should consult with a physician prior to its use.

Administration should be immediately discontinued if itching, chest tightness, rashes, trouble breathing, or swelling of the face or hands occur.

Diabetics should not supplement with betaine anhydrous or products containing this ingredient, and pregnant or nursing women should consult a physician prior to betaine-anhydrous administration.

References
  1. Schwab, U., Törrönen, A., Toppinen, L., Alfthan, G., Saarinen, M., Aro, A., & Uusitupa, M. (2002). Betaine supplementation decreases plasma homocysteine concentrations but does not affect body weight, body composition, or resting energy expenditure in human subjects. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 76(5), 961-967.
  2. Gahl, W. A., Bernardini, I., Chen, S., Kurtz, D., & Horvath, K. (1988). The effect of oral betaine on vertebral body bone density in pyridoxine-non-responsive homocystinuria. Journal of Inherited Metabolic Disease, 11(3), 291-298.
  3. Hilt, G., & Tuzin, P. (1973). Clinical results using betaine citrate (Flacar) in fatty livers. Medizinische Monatsschrift, 27(7), 322.
  4. Nicrosini, F. (1972). Therapeutic activity of betaine aspartate. La Clinica Terapeutica, 61(3), 227.
  5. Cairella, M., & Volpari, B. (1972). Betaine aspartate in the therapy of liver diseases. La Clinica Terapeutica, 60(6), 513.
  6. Cachin, M., & Pergola, F. (1966). Betaine aspartate in the hepato-digestive domain. Semaine Thérapeutique, 42(8), 423.
  7. Barak, A. J., Beckenhauer, H. C., Junnila, M., & Tuma, D. J. (1993). Dietary Betaine Promotes Generation of Hepatic S‐Adenosylmethionine and Protects the Liver from Ethanol‐Induced Fatty Infiltration. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 17(3), 552-555.
  8. Murakami, T., Nagamura, Y., & Hirano, K. (1998). The recovering effect of betaine on carbon tetrachloride-induced liver injury. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 44(2), 249-255.
  9. Chambers, S. T. (1995). Betaines: their significance for bacteria and the renal tract. Clinical Science, 88(1), 25-27.
  10. Selhub, J. (1999). Homocysteine metabolism. Annual Review of Nutrition, 19(1), 217-246.
  11. Barak, A. J., & Tuma, D. J. (1983). Betaine, metabolic by-product or vital methylating agent? Life Sciences, 32(7), 771-774.


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8 Moves For A Crazy-Strong Core

Many compound lifters scoff at abdominal exercises and argue that heavy squats and deadlifts work the core sufficiently. I think this is a mistake. Sure, the core gets taxed during heavy compound movements, but it’s often the hidden weak link and limiting factor that keeps lifters from reaching new PRs.

In other words, a stronger core inevitably leads to bigger lifts. If it helps, think of it this way: Squats and deadlifts work the glutes and hamstrings a hell of a lot, but most serious lifters still do supplemental posterior chain work. Why should the core be any different?

There’s a catch, though. Crunches, basic planks, and side planks aren’t going to provide the stimulus necessary for strong lifters to get stronger, because they’re simply too easy. You need to challenge yourself with difficult, high-tension core exercises to see improvement across the board.

Here are eight demanding exercises to take both your abdominal strength and your overall strength to the next level!

Exercise 1 Iso Chin-Up Hold with Leg Raise

Generally I’m not a big fan of combination exercises, because one exercise is typically a lot harder than the other and you end up not being able to push yourself on the harder exercise. But here, both exercises are equally difficult, thereby allowing you to blast your upper back and core simultaneously.

People often cheat the heck out of hanging leg raises, usually by leaning way back, swinging, and creating momentum. This makes for a less than effective core exercise, and also leads to some significant spinal flexion. Holding the chin-up position helps prohibit backward lean, forcing you to be strict with the leg raises, which makes it safer and more effective.

Doing these with rings is especially great for stabilizing the body and keeping from swinging, but a bar works fine if you don’t have access to rings. Don’t lower your legs all the way down; stop 1-2 inches short to keep tension on the core. If it’s too hard at first, hold the chin-up at mid-level and/or bend the legs to shorten the lever length.

Counting time can be difficult for this exercise unless you’re positioned in front of a clock, so it’s best to go for reps.

Exercise 2 Iso Chin-Up Hold with Dynamic L-Sit

I suck at naming exercises, so I normally just call these “spread ’ems” or “open sesames.” No matter the title, it’s a great exercise to challenge your core and upper back.

Hold the chin-up position, go into an L-sit position, and slowly open and close your legs while keeping the torso steady. Learning to resist swinging is one of the most challenge aspects of the exercise. The slower you go, the harder it is. Try to keep your legs as straight as possible.

You can also do these from the hang position if the chin-up hold is too tough. Like the chin-up iso-hold/hanging leg raise combo, it’s usually best to do these for reps. Just make sure to wear loose shorts to avoid giving your fellow gym-goers a show they don’t want.

Exercise 3 Iso Chin-Up Hold with L-Sit Flutter Kicks

This movement starts at the same point as the open sesame, but moves vertically rather than horizontally. Hold the chin-up position, enter an L-sit position, and perform small flutter kicks with your legs straight out. These are harder than the dynamic L-sit combo, so master that exercise first.

The goal is to keep your legs straight, but if you’re unable to manage that initially, start with bent legs and progress to straightening them. Because the legs move quickly, it’s tough to count reps, so it works better to do these for time. Start at 5-10 seconds and build up from there. That time will go by slower than you think!

Exercise 4 Iso Chin-Up Hold with L-Sit Leg Extension

I saved L-sit leg extensions for last because it’s the hardest L-sit variation. Start by holding the chin-up position and extend your legs into an L-sit position. Bring your legs in, extend them straight out, and keep your torso steady to avoid swinging.

Put a medicine ball or dumbbell between your feet to increase the challenge. You can do these for reps or time.

Exercise 5 Single-Leg Plank Walk

Get in a push-up position with one foot on a Valslide or furniture slider and let the other foot hover just off the floor. From there, walk forward with your hands, keeping your arms as straight as possible, and keep your hips steady.

Walk as far as possible with one leg and switch legs on the way back. If you don’t have space to walk, use a slide board to walk forward and backward for a set number of reps, and then switch legs. In either case, this exercise works your core and shoulders and jacks up your heart rate, which makes it a great finisher to an upper-body workout, either on its own or as part of a circuit with movements like battling ropes, sled pushes, or farmer’s walks.

Exercise 6 Shoulder-Friendly Suspension Strap Fallout

The normal suspension strap fallout progression is to start with the straps around waist height and extend your body until your arms are directly overhead. As you improve, you lengthen the straps and extend out farther, progressing until the straps almost touch the floor, which resembles the starting position of a standing ab wheel rollout.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that progression, but for people with shoulder issues it can be problematic. To make it more shoulder-friendly, set up several feet behind the anchor point of the straps. This also makes the exercise significantly harder, because you don’t have to extend your arms out nearly as far to challenge the core. The tension is more or less constant throughout the movement.

There isn’t much range of motion at the arms, but this exercise lights the core up when done correctly. The farther you walk back, the harder it becomes. On the plus side, the farther you walk back the easier it becomes on the shoulders, but only walk back to a point where you can still control the movement. If you start to feel the exercise in your lower back, you’ve gone too far.

Perform this exercise for reps, and focus on progressively moving farther backward.

Exercise 7 Single-leg fallout

Single-leg fallouts decrease your support base, which makes the exercise harder and adds a rotary stability component. The normal fallout already does a great job at working the anterior core, so this wrinkle makes it even better at building all-around core strength. Like the shoulder-friendly fall-out, perform this exercise for reps and focus on progressively moving farther backward.

Exercise 8 Single-Leg Bodysaw

Regular bodysaws are great, and many people are surprised by just how difficult such a tiny range of motion can be. Once you’ve got that down, though, you can take it a step further by doing single-leg bodysaws. From there, if you feel frisky, try the single-arm, single-leg version, which challenges even the most advanced lifters.

Trying to count during this exercise is nearly impossible due to the intense strain throughout your body. Go for reps, and enjoy all the benefits your newfound core strength brings!

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