Struggle With Food? You MUST Read This!

As you very well know, I like to read.  Often I don’t do it as much as I would like, but I love it nonetheless.  What I read most often is blogs and articles written by other trainers whom I admire and respect.  This keeps my mind churning, and it helps keep me fresh and challenged as a trainer.

Sometimes, the things I read give me new ideas for exercises or nutritional strategies.  Sometimes I am reinforced in the way I currently train, and others I am challenged to accept that maybe there is a better way to do what I’m trying to do.  And then sometimes I’m struck by the flat out honesty an author has and by their willingness to be completely transparent.

That happened two days ago.

My friend Nia Shanks posted a blog entry that was incredibly honest about her struggles with food.  The way she lost complete control of what she was  putting into her body, and the damage it had both physically and emotionally.

Every once in a while I put up some “good reads” that are articles or blogs that I think you will enjoy reading.  Sometimes people read them, other times they don’t.  Today, I’m telling you GO READ THIS BLOG ENTRY.

Nia chose to be incredibly vulnerable and open about her struggles and I think things like that resonate with people in powerful ways.  Much more so than “How To Get Ripped Abs!” or “Something Hilarious Written By the Handsome Michael Gray”.  In fact, I would argue that posts like the one Nia recently wrote can be absolute game changers for some people.  They see that they aren’t the only ones who struggle with what they eat.  Someone can identify with them.  They aren’t alone.

Seriously, go read the blog entry.  And please, please, please leave Nia a comment thanking her for being brave enough to share her story with thousands of people!

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An Exercise You Should Try: Parallel Woodchops

OK, OK, OK…let me make something really clear.  I know I’ve been kind of hit and miss lately.  OK, maybe for a few weeks.  But I’m back now…I promise baby, we’ll spend more time together.

In all honesty, the fat loss seminar I held this weekend was waaaaay more work than I thought it would be and it ate up a ton of time over the last month.  In fact, by the time this weekend was over, I was shot.  I actually took yesterday morning off to sleep in and spend a little time R and R-ing.  But the seminar is over now and I’m going to make a concerted effort to be posting on the blog at least twice a week with lots of new bodacious content.

Also, the seminar was recorded and I should have it available online within the next couple weeks.  So be looking for that.

If you’ve been around the blog long, you know I’m not a huge fan of typical ab work (i.e. crunches, sit-ups, etc.), for a variety of reasons.  And while my stance on them has softened a bit in the last few months, I still believe they have a very small role to play for a very small percentage of the population when it comes to getting and maintaining strong abs.

One of my mostest favoritest moves to strengthen the abdominal wall is called the parallel woodchop.

Here’s what it looks like:

It has two huge benefits that I really like.  First, it develops rotational power.  Second, it has an anti-rotation element, meaning that if you control the weight on the way back, your abs have to resist giving in to the weight that is trying to cause you torso to rotate.  Both of these things are good when it comes to strong abs.

Here’s how to do it:

-Grab a handle on a cable column (or resistance band) and stand with your feet wider than shoulder width.

-Rotate your torso and pelvis so they are both facing the cable column.

-Brace your abs tightly.  Imagine that someone is going to punch you in the stomach.  That’s what it means to “brace” your abs.

-Once the abs are braced, pull the weight using your abs, not your arms and rotate the torso and hips until they are facing away form the cable column.

-Keep the abs tight and reverse the movement, making sure to not let the weight pull you back.  It’s important that you stay in control of the weight through the entire movement.

Also, it’s important to note that the hips and torso should move together.  If you notice in the above video, I’m not rotating through my low back, rather I’m keeping my lumbar spine “locked” with my pelvis.

I like to perform these for 3 sets of 8-12 reps.

Give them a shot and let me know what you think!

Girls Gone Strong

With my “Everything You Need To Know About Fatloss” Seminar tomorrow, I’m looking at a crazy full day. I’ll spend most of the day reviewing material, making my Power Point slides, and reassuring myself that I wont throw up while presenting making sure everything is ready to go.

I know I’ve mentioned it a ton lately, but today will be the last time-if you’re at all interested in dropping some body fat or just understanding how dropping body fat works, be sure and sign up for the seminar here.

Yesterday, on Facebook, I was asked to “Like” a new Facebook page.  Once I saw what it was, I was MORE than happy to “Like” away. 

Several women, including friend of the blog Nia Shanks, have started a page called “Girls Gone Strong”.  In short, it’s a page celebrating females being strong and lean and empowering them to to things they never thought they could.  My only worry is that the internet might turn in on itself from the amount of awesome that this page is surely going to produce.

If you’re a female, be sure and check out the page here.

If you’re a dude and need to be reminded that you really should kick it up a notch because 120 lb Nia Shanks can out deadlift you any day of the week, be sure and check it out too.  (Actually, dudes should check it out no matter what because women getting strong is not only an important message to get out in the fitness industry but also rediculously cool.)

Again, check out the page here. 

“Like” it. 

Visit it frequently.

Thank the girls behind it for being passionate about getting the truth about women and fitness.

Pass the word along to your friends. 

Sign up for my seminar.

Oops!  How’d that get in there??  Oh well…

Be good this weekend.

Everything You Need To Know About Fat Loss: Expectations

If you’ve been around this blog long you know that this coming weekend I’m holding a fat loss seminar, and I’ve had several people ask me what they can expect from it.  In short-a lot.  But here is a little more detailed answer:

-A detailed overview of food and the importance of it in regards to fat loss.  We will cover proteins, fats and carbs and the role each play in a fat loss nutrition program.

-The importance of recovery and hydration.

-How to set up your training programs and design them specifically for maximizing your fat loss efforts.

-The debunking of several fat loss “myths”.

-The important role that hormones play in both losing and keeping body fat.

-A thorough overview of several popular diets, as well as pros and cons of each.

-Common pitfalls in both nutrition and training that will bring your efforts to a screeching halt.

What this seminar will NOT be is a massive sales-pitch.  I will not try to convince you as to why you must hire me as a trainer, or try to talk you into buying this certain supplement so that you can reach your goals.  This is simply a TON of information beign provided to you to give you the power to drop body fat and keep it off.

Trust me, if you’re wanting to discover a leaner you, you don’t want to miss this!

I’ve decided to extend the pre-registration date until this Friday at midnight, so be sure and register here!

Truth In Advertising?

Before I get started, I want to give a quick reminder that today is the last day to pre-register for the “Everything You Need To Know About Fat Loss” Seminar.  Be sure to do so here before the registration price goes up!

Yesterday, on MSN, I saw a story that immediately piqued my curiosity. 

Contemporary artist, Ron English, pulled a clever and poignant stunt in a grocery store in CA.  He replaced several “normal” cereal boxes with recreations that depicted his feelings on the high sugar content in many popular cereals. 


I have to say I laughed out loud at the “Sugar Smack” Frog mainlining sugar.  Partly because it’s funny, and partly because it’s not that far off.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that cereals are addictive or the reasons America’s obesity rate is shooting through the roof.  But I’m not going to say that they aren’t a part of the problem.

When I was a kid, I knew cereals like Lucky Charms, Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops were full of sugar.  Everyone did.  That’s the reason that my mom vary rarely let me eat them, no matter how much of a fit I threw.  She knew that they weren’t good for me and didn’t allow me to stuff my face with them on a regular basis.  (By the way, thanks for that mom…I’m happy about it now.)

The problem has become that as our society has become slightly more health conscious, food companies are trying to do everything they can to make their products look healthy.  Now cereals are “fortified with vitamins” and a “great source of whole grains”.  And who wouldn’t want their kids to have vitamins and whole grains right?  I mean it really is a win win situation.  The kid gets something crazy sweet, and the parents get to feel like they gave something healthy to their child.

And then you have frozen diet foods that are low calories, and lower calories must be good right?

And these frozen waffles are made with whole grains too!

OMG, did you know that chocolate milk is a good source of vitamin D?

And red licorice is fat free!  This is A.MA.ZING!

It almost as if everything is good for you…

Seriously, next time you go to the store look at how almost every food product is trying to promote something healthy about itself.  It’s really quite startling.  “Gluten Free”, “Low Fat”, “Fat Free”, “Good source of…”, and on and on.

The next time you’re doing your shopping and you think to yourself “Wow, I didn’t know that was good for me!”, go out to the parking lot and punch yourself in the face until you feel logic creeping back in.

Resume shopping.

Interview With Tony Gentilcore (Part 2)

Yesterday, I posted Part 1 of my interview with trainer and writer Tony Gentilcore.  If you missed it, be sure and check it out here before you read part 2.  Today we’re continuing with the rest of the hi-jinx.

What do you find is the most commonly overlooked element when someone is trying to drop body fat and get lean?

 TG:  The notion that you still need to LIFT HEAVY SHIT.  When training solely for fat-loss, it’s imperative that you maintain as much lean muscle mass as possible.  Far too often, I see trainees spending waaaaaaaay too much time doing cardio and using high(er) rep protocols in order to get the job done.  First off, if your nutrition is dialed in, that alone will take care of 90% of the fat loss right there.  Secondly, when kcals are reduced, you’re not going to have the energy to perform all of that higher rep work optimally.  Sooner rather than later, you’re going to run out of gas and stunt your progress.

For me, I still like to see people spend a little time lifting in the low(er) rep ranges (3-5 reps) and give the body the stimulus it needs to KEEP MUSCLE.  From there, I’m all for people tossing in some metabolic-based training where the perform circuits/finishers/conditioning/stuff that will make you hate life. 

To be clear, though, and this can’t be stressed enough – your diet is going to be the determining factor when it comes to fat loss.  If you’re not providing a caloric deficit (and diet is the easiest way to do so) you’re shooting yourself in the foot.  Having said that, the main mistake I see most trainees make is performing waaaaay too much volume and neglecting the strength side of things.

I couldn’t agree more, and this (high reps for weight loss) is another one of those dogmas that just wont die.

 This may be the most important question you will ever answer.  Which would you put your money on in a match to  the death-a grizzicorn (half grizzly, half unicorn), or a rhinuppy (half rhino, half puppy)?  And why?

Things to consider:

-Both have horns

-Grizzly’s are MEAN

-Puppies are adorable, but have wicked bad breath

 TG:  Ooooooo, tough one!  I’d have to go with the rhinuppy.  Puppies ARE adorable, and can use said adorableness to trick it’s opponent before stabbing it with it’s horn.  Jesus, that’s a lame answer.

Yeah, you kind of squandered that opportunity Gentilcore.  You could have gone into the advantages of the fur covered armor, or even the distraction of the puppy’s floppy ears as it charges.  Man, what a waste on such an important question.  Actually, I’m just happy that you re-typed “rhinuppy”, because that word is ridiculous!

I’ve heard you do a lot of the program writing for CP’s fat loss clients.  What is your basic approach to writing those programs to maximize the clients time and efforts, and what elements do you prioritize for fat loss clients?

 TG:  First and foremost – and this is yet another thing I feel many trainers miss the boat on – is improving the movement quality of people.  For lack of a better term:  people move like shit.  And one of my biggest pet peeves is when I see other trainers taking people through some advanced circuits that have them doing asinine things like 50 reps of BOSU ball squats, followed by juggling medicine balls (probably on a BOSU ball), followed by running over their right arm with a car. 

Obviously I’m being a bit facetious here, but I think you get the point.  The result is that many trainees are under the impression that “harder” is better; that so long as they shit their spleen out of their mouth it was an effective training session.  Not so much.

I feel wholeheartedly that if we (and by we, I mean ALL trainers out there) paid more attention to the movement quality of our clients, that they’d see markedly better results in the long-term – whether their goal is fat loss or to deadlift a Mack truck.

End rant.

Having said that, I think my approach to fat loss is pretty much on par with what most recognizable names in this industry do:

-Stress nutrition.  Trust me, you’re NEVER, ever, never, ever, x infinity, ever going to out train a poor diet.

-Focus on compound movements that force people to use as much muscle mass as possible.

-When appropriate – super set.  Meaning, instead of performing straight sets where you take a rest in between; with super sets you’ll pair two, non-competing exercises back-to-back so as to optimize both the hormonal response as well as time efficiency.  A great example of this would be something like this:

A1.  Goblet Squats 4×6

A2.  TRX Inverted Rows 4×8

OR

A1.  Bench Press 4×5

A2.  Body weight Bulgarian Split Squats 4×10/leg

Ideally, I’d have the client perform A1, rest 20-30s, perform A2, THEN rest 60-90s.

Additionally, you can also set up tri-sets, and even quad-sets, which is something I know you’re VERY adept at utilizing Mike!

In this instance, I’d be more inclined to include more “corrective” exercises into the mix.  Or maybe even some fun stuff like med ball shenanigans or kettlebell swings.  Really, though, the possibilities are endless.  Using one of the above examples:

 A1.  Goblet Squats 4×6

A2.  Yoga Plex 4×5/leg

A3.  TRX Inverted Row 4×8

A4.  Overhead Med Ball Floor Stomps 4×15

I’m not 100% against using steady state cardio as a means to help aid fat loss.  But my perspective is to use steady state cardio as more of a recovery/blood flow component than anything else.  In the end, when speaking purely from a fat-loss standpoint, we need to prioritize things.  Most often, despite popular belief, steady state cardio is going to be last on the “to do” list.  This isn’t to say that it can’t be part of the picture, but when we’re dealing with people who already have a limited amount of time to train, steady state cardio just IS NOT a conducive use of time given the limited return on investment.

 Any parting thoughts for the readers?

 TG:  Yeah, I changed my mind.  Grizzicorn……;o)

Thanks Tony!

To read more from Tony, be sure and check out his blog at www.tonygentilcore.comDo it now!

Interview With Tony Gentilcore (Part 1)

Today we’ve got a Part 1 of an interview with fellow trainer, Tony Gentilcore.  Over the last few years, Tony has become a bit of a mentor to me and someone I have immense respect for.  On numerous occasions, he’s helped me with everything from problem solving troublesome clients, advice on how to run a better business as well as how to be a better writer.  He’s incredibly well respected in the fitness community both for being a trainer and a writer, and has a knack for telling it like it is-all while being hilarious. 

Tony was kind enough to take some time to drop by the blog and drop some knowledge.  So, without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

Hi Tony, thanks for agreeing to do this interview!  I know several of my readers are also fans of yours, and that those who aren’t most likely will be after this interview.  Why don’t you give readers a brief introduction as to who you are and what you do.

TG:  Well thanks Mike!   I appreciate the offer to come here to your site to talk some shop, and I definitely appreciate the kind words.  I know I say it all the time, but it’s very humbling for me to know that there are so many people out there who enjoy my work (and more importantly, my writing style) and are so willing to say such nice things.   I definitely don’t take myself too seriously, and it’s pretty cool that I have a lot of people who following my blog, as well as all the various articles I write.

I’m going to skip the obligatory “Hi, I’m Tony and I’m from a small town in Central NY that no one has ever heard of” introduction, and just go with the last five years of my life.  I currently live in Boston, MA where I am the co-founder (and co-owner) of Cressey Performance.  In short, we make people roughly 117% more badass than what they were when they first walked through our doors.  We’re known for all the baseball players we train, but we get a pretty eclectic group of people who train with us on weekly basis, whether we’re talking athletes, weekend warriors, fat-loss clients, or people who just want to lift heavy things up and down for the heck of it.   Outside of being a fighter pilot (or a lumberjack), I pretty much have the coolest job in the world.

On the side, I write for various publications – T-nation.com, Livestrong.com, and Men’s Health being most notable.  It’s funny, I never set out to become a writer (if you want to call me that), but it’s definitely grown into something that I love doing and something I feel allows me to reach out to a lot more people.  Anytime I can help people to step away from the stupid  – you know, body part splits, throwing egg yolks away, or listening to ANYTHING that Tracy Anderson has to say, to give a few examples – I consider it a good thing, and something I take pride in.

I like to consider myself a coach that practices what he preaches.  Nothing drives me more bonkers than when I read something by someone, only to find out that they don’t even train people!!!!  What’s up with that?  To that end, I’m all about getting people stronger, and as such, the bulk of my time (as a coach and writer) is emphasizing how important that is for overall well-being and general awesomeness.

In an age where everyone wants to have their cake and eat it too (figuratively and literally), how do you help clients understand that it’s OK to let some elements of training slide a little while aggressively pursuing others?  (Ex: gaining a bit of body fat while trying to put weight on the bar, or losing a little strength when trying to drop body fat.)

TG:  That’s the rub, though.  One of the HARDEST things to do as a coach is to get people to understand that it’s going to be kind of hard to deadlift 500 lbs while also being able to train for a marathon simultaneously.  Oh, and have 3.4% body fat to boot.  Sorry, it ain’t gonna happen.  Far too often, trainees try to ride multiple horses with one saddle.  Much of my job as a coach is to sorta let people know what I feel they should concentrate the bulk of their efforts towards.  Which, not surprisingly, is 1)  not sucking, and 2) getting stronger. 

Too, I’m not scared to give people a little dose of “tough love” when it’s called for.  Take the example you gave above (gaining a little body fat while trying to put weight on the bar):  what I have found is that once you show someone that getting stronger is kind of cool, they get addicted to it.  Truth be told, strength, at least in the beginning stages – as little to nothing to do with muscle mass.  It’s ALL neural.  Most people won’t see any aesthetic changes in their body for 4-6 weeks.  That being said, it’s crucial as a trainer or coach to EDUCATE your clients.  You should WANT to make them self-sufficient and not have to rely on you for everything.  When I’m working with skinny guys, for instance, I’m constantly trying to inform them on why it’s a good thing to want to put on weight, and that they’re going to be hard pressed to make ANY progress if they choose not to follow my advice.  I mean, they hired me for a reason, right?

I’ll work with them on what types of food they should be getting into their daily diet.  I’ll stress the importance of recovery.  And, I swear to god, if I find that they’re doing any additional cardio on the side, I’ll scissor kick them to the pancreas. 

Okay, not really.  But in the end, you just need to inform them to trust the process……and educate them!  Show them why deadlifts are better than leg curls.  Teach them that skipping breakfast just isn’t an option.  And in time, they’ll soon realize that they look a helluva lot better at 185 lbs (and a little less “six-packy”) than they did at 150 lbs soaking wet while looking like an emaciated Abercrombie and Fitch model.

I think part of the problem is, like you said, everyone wants everything now.  And we’re preached to by “experts” and infomercials that it’s possible in only 8 minutes a day.  The result is that no one wants to work for and earn a strong, lean and sexy body.

I know trainers (including myself) hate questions like “Hey bro, so like, if you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life what would it be?”, so I won’t ask you that question.  But how about one that is similar, but possibly not quite as frustrating to answer? 

As a trainer, what are your favorite lifts for each of the following body parts?

 TG:  Deadlifts.  Deadlifts are the answer to everything……;o) 

 Okay, I know you’re looking for more specific suggestions, so here you go.  But seriously, f***ing deadlift!

Shoulders- STRICT military press.

Chest – Seems how I’m an absolute god-awful (read:  really bad) bencher, I’m going to go against popular notion and say loaded push-ups.  Anyone who says push-ups are too wimpy, clearly has never been to Cressey Performance.  I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had grown me come in who couldn’t do a proper push-up, let alone for reps.  I just feel you get more for your training buck with push-ups.  Not only can you sexify your pecs, but you’ll also engage your core more, and they’re waaaaaay more shoulder friendly to boot.

Back – I LOVE chest supported rows.  But honestly – deadlifts really are the best back builder out there. 

Quads- full depth squats.   My dark horse:  reverse sled drags. (Note from MG: These are awesome, but they SUCK!)

Hamstrings –  I love good mornings here.  On an a side, I find that when I hammer my GMs, my deadlifts, too, improve.

Glutes – Bret Contreras pretty much settled this debate:  loaded barbell bridges.  Hands down.

Abs – stepping away from the cookie jar

Energy system work/conditioning (I realize this isn’t a body part) – a few come to mind here:  400M tempo runs, med ball circuits, Prowler

I said one mister!

OK, that’s all for today, but stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow where Tony continues to drop knowledge and answers one of the most important questions he’s ever answered.