Water Wonders

People are always looking for a quick fix when it comes to health and fitness. Companies in the industry take advantage of this: they market their products as the solution to all your frustrations. The harsh truth is this: no single product is going to get to your goals. There's no pill you could take to instantly lose 50 lbs of fat; even weight loss surgeries, which do work, necessitate that you change your lifestyle after the surgery to maintain your new body.

There is no quick fix in fitness. But there are basic things you could start doing that would benefit every aspect of your lifestyle, both inside and outside of the gym. To me, one of these basic things is drinking more water.

Water itself is simple. It has no taste and no calories. Frankly, it's the most important thing that I consume in my diet. More important than creatine... more important than kale... more important than eggs. All of these are staples in my diet, but water is phenomenal. It affects so many different aspects of your health.

People can survive a week without food. Heck, some people can even stay wide awake for a few days straight and barely survive. But if you go 2 days without water, you will die. 48 hours and it's game over.

But nobody seems to drink enough of it. The vast majority of people are dehydrated, including some who live active lifestyles. Could you imagine what happened if you stopped drinking water, period? I mean think about what happened to SpongeBob without it:

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He doesn't look Insta-worthy here, does he? The same might happen to you if you skimp on water!

Seriously though, let's look at some specifics of why water is so important.

Muscle Building

Water plays a big role in building big muscles. Your muscles are mostly made of water. Hypothetically, if you ripped out your muscles and sapped them of any water content, you would be left with tiny strings of organic tissue; your swole arms would suddenly be smaller than your wrists! When properly hydrated, however, your muscles are large and with big veins to boot.

You notice the impact of water on the muscles at the gym especially. Think about when you get a pump doing high reps on curls or another exercise. Your muscles are inflating due to water temporarily being (too bad it's temporary; I wouldn't mind my muscles looking pumped 24/7) stored there during the workout.

Drinking sufficient water before, during, and after your workouts is key for optimal muscle gains. I usually take sips between every set of my workout to make sure I'm properly hydrated. This is even more important during cardio workouts than during lifting workouts; going for a run leaves you sweating far more than sets of Deadlifts and Overhead Press.

Fat Loss

Water facilitates your fat loss process as well. Water helps detox your body and triggers your fat burning processes. If you're currently trying to lose weight but aren't drinking much water, you're sabotaging yourself. You need to keep yourself hydrated in order to promote fat loss and retain your muscle.

Being dehydrated has a noticeable effect on your belly as well. There's a thin layer over your abs that isn't fat: it's water. When you're not drinking enough water, your body thinks that you're dehydrated and retains any water it has in response. The layer blurs the muscle definition you would normally see in your six pack. So even though technically this subcutaneous water layer isn't fat, it's still no good for your physique.

Immune System

Health is far more than just fat and muscle. Your immune system is a vital organ system and can hinder your fitness if not taken care of. I usually get a cold once, maybe twice a year, and I never had an immune system this strong in high school or earlier. Back in the day I would get sick 4 times a year or more. By living a healthier lifestyle, however, I've managed to avoid this. Water plays a key role in this process.

What's the most common tip mothers tell their children when they get sick? It's to drink plenty of fluids; water is the best fluid that there is. Whether you have a minor cold or a serious infection, drinking water will help you flush the germs out of your system and restore your body to its healthy state.

My Recommendation

Water needs will vary from person to person, but generally, I would say 1 gallon a day should keep you covered. If you spend a lot of time outside in the heat or exercise rigorously each day, you might need even more than that. Personally, I drink my water out of a 25 ounce Swell bottle and I fill it up at least 4 times a day. I usually sip out of it every 10 minutes throughout the day.

An even simpler rule is this: drink enough water that you urinate every 1 - 2 hours. Also, your urine should be clear; a yellow color, especially one with a dark tint, hints that you're dehydrated at the moment.

Now this 1 gallon amount includes all fluids in your system. So if you're drinking juice or milk, those count too. Vegetables and fruits contain trace amounts of water as well; all of these thing add up toward that 1 gallon number. Coffee and tea are diuretics, but they're still liquids you're pouring into your system.

It's really not hard to do this! Drinking enough water is simpler than any other fix you need to make in your training. Correctly performing the Squat or other exercises can be complex, but there's nothing easier than filling up a bottle throughout the day and drinking from it.

Wrap Up

There you go guys! Simple enough, I think. Start drinking more water and you'll notice amazing results across all aspects of your life.

Build That Booty

Title speaks for itself, doesn't it?

Well, in case it doesn't, here's a picture to get the point across:

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Traditionally girls are more concerned with building a nice butt, but guys should value this too! Just listen to the lyrics of "Shoop" and you'll know what I mean.

Strong glutes go beyond just having a nice caboose though. Your glutes are essential in keeping your body stable for several upper body movements like Overhead Press and Bench Press. Recently I was doing a set of Overhead Press without keeping my glutes tight enough and I actually pulled something in my lower back, so don't underestimate the role that these muscles play. Strong glutes lead to a safe and strong upper body.

Strength isn't everything, however. As with any muscle group, you want to use a variety of rep ranges in your routine to target it. Lift across the range of 5 to 15 reps (a set of 5, a set of 10, and a set of 15, for example) to maximally achieve hypertrophy for your butt. This is partly why bodyweight movements like squats on one leg are so effective; you do the heavy sets with dumbbells and the light sets with just your own bodyweight.

Of course, the rep range is nothing without using the right movements. Here are the top 5 exercises that will help you improve your butt.

1) Barbell Deadlift

Everybody thinks that the Squat is the best exercise for building a nice ass. And it's definitely up there, but to me, it's not the top dog.

Here's the trick: the glutes are not the main target of the Squat. Even if you go as deep as you can, squatting is primarily an exercise for your quads; even your hamstrings might be activated more than your glutes during a Back Squat to parallel.

Deadlifts, on the other hand, are driven by your glutes. Whether your stance is sumo, conventional, or a hex bar, deadlifting heavy weight will get your butt in gear (literally).

Here's a tutorial I have on the Conventional Deadlift:

 

If you eventually Deadlift 2.5x your bodyweight or more, your glutes will pop out like crazy; you'll need to buy some new jeans!

2) Back Squat

Please don't misinterpret what I said in the last bullet; Squats are still a phenomenal exercise for the glutes!

In order to activate them during the movement, you need to be hitting ATG (ass-to-grass) or parallel. Going halfway or a quarter of the way will do nothing to build that butt of yours (frankly, I'm not a fan of those variations anyway).

People also argue whether high bar or low bar is better. Frankly, I think both give about the same glute activation, so just choose the variation that enables you to do more weight. The same goes with stance width; pick the one that moves the most weight for you.

Here's a tutorial I have on the high bar version:

3) One Leg Romanian Deadlift

If you don't have access to real gym equipment, this exercise really deserves the top spot for targeting your butt.

The standard Romanian Deadlift is a great barbell exercise, but a risky one. It puts far more pressure on your lower back than the normal Deadlift variation. While this can build a strong posterior chain, it can also open your body to serious injury.

Doing this exercise with one leg, however, is a great alternative. It prevents any potential lower back issues and keeps the focus on your glutes and hamstrings.

Make sure that as you lean forward, you go as far as you can. This increases the tension on your glutes without you needing to increase external weight. Most people, including myself, can't go farther than their body making a right angle. If you have the flexibility to go even farther, then all the more power to you.

Scott has a good tutorial on this movement:

 

4) Bulgarian Split Squat

This one can be a bit unstable to perform, but it's definitely worth it. Somehow, doing a squat with one leg activates the glutes far more than doing it with both. I've noticed much more soreness in my glute muscles when performing this movement rather than my usual Back Squat (I perform both in the same workout in my current routine, however).

Make sure you're only pushing with the leg you're targeting. It can be tempting to jerk the stationery leg on the bench as you try to exert more force, but resist it.

Be very careful with the knees on this! They shouldn't go past your toes. For some reason, this exercise puts much more stress on your kneecaps than the traditional Back Squat.

Scott has a good tutorial for this one as well:

5) One Leg Hip Thrust

Doing a Glute Bridge with both legs is child's play for most people. What's more challenging and effective is a hip thrust with just one leg.

I'm a big fan of this one, mainly because you can play with so many progressions. If you're just starting out, lie down on the floor and raise your body just using one leg. If that becomes too easy, lie with your upper back on a bench and do the movement from there. By some chance if that becomes simple as well, put a 25 lb or 45 lb plate on your torso as you perform the movement.

There aren't too many tutorials on this booty builder, but here's a good one:

Wrap Up

There you have it everyone! Use these tips and build your best butt ever.

Mega Metabolism

The basic way to lose fat fast is to increase your metabolism. People argue over the best ways to do this, however. Some say hours of daily cardio will help you achieve it; others claim that all you need to do is some resistance training every week.

Well, I'll speak from experience on this one. I never had a fast metabolism to begin with; it was only ever average. Back in high school, my maintenance was roughly around 2,000 calories a day, much like the average American diet.

These days, however, it's bounced up to 3,000 calories. Most people bulk with that much food, yet somehow it's become my maintenance. Despite eating so much, I exercise with the intensity of the Black Panther, and that definitely burns some energy.

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By the way, if you haven't seen the movie yet, I would HIGHLY recommend it. Moving on...

Ultimately I enjoy having a metabolism this high. It lets me have more flexibility with my diet; if I want to sneak a donut or slice of pizza each day, it won't have a negative impact on my physique. People who burn less than 2,000 calories a day can't say the same; a large slice of pizza has 400 calories, and eating one of those every day could lead to weight gain over time.

Again though, I wasn't always like this! Some guys have it bad and have 3,000 calories as their maintenance just as they're starting their fitness journey. They're the lucky ones when it comes to fat loss. I was never that lucky, but in the same way I boosted up the energy I burn each day, you can do it too!

Here are 4 quick steps to supercharging your metabolic processes!

1) Weightlifting

Resistance training burns tons of calories. Whether you use free weights, machines, or just your bodyweight, lifting is an effective way to both build muscle and burn fat. The more muscle you have on your frame, the more calories your body will naturally burn from day to day.

Ultimately, the focus of your lifting should be compound exercises. For one thing, they're more efficient. A heavy set of deadlifts can grow your entire upper back and posterior chain rather than individually isolating your lats, traps, lower back, glutes, etc. Am I saying isolation is useless? Of course not; but compound lifting is definitely superior.

Another advantage with compound exercises is that because they involve so many joints and muscles, they burn tons of calories. You can feel it during some of the sets too. Try doing 20 reps of Back Squats to failure; as your squeezing that 20th rep out, your heart will be racing like crazy.

Here are some very effective compound exercises:

  • Deadlift
  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Squat
  • Chin Up
  • Dip
  • Row
  • Split Squat

Your routines should center around these. Throw in isolation exercises where needed (Dumbbell Curls and Tricep Extensions, for example, if you have trouble building those arms) but focus on the compounds. And make sure you don't lift for more than 60 minutes at a time.

2) Cardio

Lifting will help boost your metabolism, but it's not everything. You shouldn't be lifting weights 5 - 7 days of the week; cardio should be performed on the other days instead.

Personally I lift weights 3 days a week, perform cardio another 3 days of the week, and use Monday as a rest day (I spend it sleeping in a bit after the weekend).

Now you want to perform cardio the proper way. Hours of running at a time would certainly burn tons of calories, but it would also throw your hormones out of balance. When you run for longer than 30 minutes straight, cortisol starts to shoot up.

I went through a phase in college where I was running 4 times a week for about an hour at a time; I was lighter than ever (almost a measly 150 lbs) but I STILL couldn't see my six pack. Fast forward to today and I see my six pack even at 170 lbs of bodyweight.

The proper way to use cardio for maximal fat burning is by performing it in intervals. My cardio of choice is sprinting on a treadmill: I perform it as follows:

  • Stretch and warm up
  • Sprint at max speed for 30 seconds
  • Rest 2 - 3 minutes
  • Sprint at max speed for 30 seconds
  • Rest 2 - 3 minutes
  • Sprint at max speed for 30 seconds
  • Rest 2 - 3 minutes
  • Sprint at max speed for 30 seconds
  • Rest 2 - 3 minutes
  • Sprint at max speed for 30 seconds
  • Rest 2 - 3 minutes

5 sprints may not seem like much, especially to those of you who competed in track during high school or college, but this really has worked wonders for me. I probably burn as many calories during this as I do during my lifting workouts.

Are you limited to only sprinting? No, I only suggested it because I truly think it's the best exercise anyone can do for fat loss. Here are some other cardio ideas:

  • Burpees
  • Kickboxing
  • Exercise Bike
  • Elliptical Machine
  • Stairmaster

Pick whichever one you prefer. Just make sure you stick to intervals and that the total cardio workout is no more than 30 minutes (even 20 minutes might be a better time limit).

3) Restful Sleep

Sleep impacts everything in your health and fitness, especially your metabolism.

I've always been a bad sleeper, and on nights where I get only 3 - 5 hours of actual sleep, I notice a HUGE drop in my energy and appetite. I'm lucky if I cram in 2,500 calories on those days.

Sleep needs vary from person to person; some people can operate fine on 6 hours of deep sleep. I've tried this before, but it just doesn't work for me; I feel wiped out after 2 days or so of this.

Time and time again, the National Sleep Foundation has recommended an average of 7 - 9 hours sleep per night. This seems consistent with most people; even most fitness channels online recommend at least 8 hours per night.

Let me emphasize this though: when it comes to sleep, it's quality over quantity. What's the point of "sleeping" for 10 hours if you wake up 5 times during the night? You might feel more rested just sleeping for 6 hour straight.

Personally, I operate best both in the gym and at work when I'm sleeping 7 - 8 hours, assuming I wake up no more than one time during the night. Lately I've been sleeping 7 hours straight and I feel alert the moment I wake up. I don't need to hit snooze or anything; I just get out of bed and start my day.

4) Active Throughout the Day

This is a bit more vague, but as a general rule, your metabolism will be higher if you stay active throughout the day. In contemporary society, people spend so much of the day just sitting around.

Instead of scrolling through your phone all day, go outside and talk a walk. Rather than use the elevators at your office, see if you could take the stairs instead. These may seem like simple and even intuitive ideas, but they can accumulate how many calories you burn over the course of a day.

Try to implement these at home at well. Let's say the weather is terrible outside and you don't want to go anywhere. Well, maybe see if there's something you need to fix or organize around the house. In my experience, there's always SOMETHING that has to be taken care of. Or better yet, maybe you could have a cat or dog you could play with.

Summary

There you have it! 4 steps to boost your metabolism. Keeping your calorie burning processes high will help you burn more fat and give you the ability to be more flexible with your diet. Stick to these tips and you can start grabbing that slice of pizza at lunch!

Significant Supplements

I've never been a fan of supplements. During the first few years of lifting, I never had a legitimate reason for hating them.

It's like how Michael Scott hates Toby; he doesn't NEED a reason to hate Toby. I mean look at this guy:

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With a simple glance, you can infer that Toby really ****ing sucks. Especially with the way he creeps on Pam while she's with Jim and how he has anger management issues.

...what was I talking about again? Oh right! Supplements.

After about 3 years of lifting, I finally started to try some different supplements and see if anything worked for me. In doing so, I ended up hating them anyway, but this time for legitimate reasons. Here are the reasons why I'm not a fan, even now, of most supplements:

  • Products contain ingredients that can readily be found in food
  • Marketing methods give consumers false expectations
  • Lack of regulation raises questions over if the products contain what they claim
  • Most supplements are promoted by fitness models using steroids

That about sums up my genuine complaints with supplements. But I've been viewing things differently as of late. Maybe there is a purpose for supplements.

For example: food poverty is a serious problem in the United States. Rather than spending money on healthy food day in and day out, someone impoverished might benefit financially from spending $30 per month for a premiere multi-vitamin.

In a perfect world, everybody would just eat nutritious food all day. But that's not easy to do, especially when people aren't as financially well off as others.

Furthermore, food isn't made the way that it was 50+ years ago. GMOs have become common in food prepared from your local deli to the supermarket in town. You could buy and eat organic every day, but it can be time consuming to prepare some organic meals (poultry, meat and fish, for example).

I'm going to throw out 2 supplements that genuinely do help and are hard to obtain from just your diet.

Creatine

Creatine is the best muscle building supplement out there. Having disappointed with countless other supplements (BCAAs, preworkout, whey protein, etc.) over the years, I'm proud to still be taking this one.

In theory you could obtain this supplement from food. However, creatine is only found in stake and fish. Not only are these foods that should not be eaten every day, but in order to obtain the necessary creatine levels for your body, you need to eat a lot of it: I'm talking 2 - 3 lbs of steak or fish DAILY just to ingest 5 grams of creatine monohydrate.

Honestly you might gain 5 lbs of lean body mass just from taking a daily dose of 3 - 5 grams. It really works; I'm definitely nearly 5 lbs heavier when I use it as opposed to when I don't. Some would argue a lot of this is just retained water, but I've seen the strength differences in the gym (my Bench Press, for example, is 3 - 4 reps higher when I'm using creatine compared to when I'm not).

Some people are concerned that the water retention could make your muscles (particularly your abs) appear less defined. This just isn't the case; check out this photo:

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I didn't touch this one up, unlike some that I put on Instagram. As you can see, the abs are quite visible and veins are all over my arms and forearms. If anything, I look better with creatine than without it.

I personally get creatine from a product sold by Legion Athletics called "Recharge" and it's been effective so far.

Fish Oil

Omega 3s are an essential part of any healthy diet. The vast majority of people are deficient in these fatty acids, and it's a shame since Omega 3s can provide the following benefits:

  • Cardiovascular health problems
  • Reduction of muscle and joint inflammation
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Improving emotional well being
  • Increased mental focus and learning
  • More muscle
  • Less body fat

Clearly Omega 3s rock! They go far beyond your body composition and influence a whole host of factors related to your health.

Now there are actually 3 different types of Omega 3s:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

DHA and EPA are more important for consumption. ALA can be found in nuts, eggs, and plants whereas DHA and EPA are found in fish. To a small extent, ALA can be converted into DHA and EPA by your body, but this shouldn't be the expectation if you consume only ALA in your diet.

Furthermore, to obtain sufficient Omega 3s in your diet, it's hard to obtain it simply from food. Like I mentioned in the section on creatine above, however, you shouldn't be consuming fish every day. I suppose you could eat walnuts and chia seeds every day to hit the appropriate level, but again, that's ALA; DHA and EPA are superior in terms of how they're utilized by the body.

This brings us to how effective an Omega 3 supplement can be for you. I personally have been using "Triton" from Legion Athletics, and I'm quite satisfied so far. It provides adequate levels of DHA and EPA without giving you a bad aftertaste.

Wrap Up

There you have it; 2 supplements that actually do something for you. These two aside, I would really make it a priority to get the same benefits of supplements from real food. Drink 16 ounces of coffee instead of taking preworkout... eat eggs daily instead of whey protein.

Is there a supplement you think should have been mentioned above? Do you totally disagree with these 2 I mentioned? Leave your thoughts below!

Sayonara Stress

In hindsight, I used to let stress get the better of me.

I was always the most serious one in my family: especially as a teenager, if things went wrong, I took them very personally and that didn't nothing for my personal well being.

In the early years of my lifting, I was that guy who would scream and shout and yell if the workouts didn't go my way. Thankfully, I was lifting out of my basement at that time, but even so.

Quick tip: turns out screaming at the top of your lungs does NOT turn you into a Super Saiyan.

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Fast forward to today, and I've found ways to be more relaxed both inside and outside of the gym.

The good thing about stress though is you can actively find ways to get rid of it. It's not a virus or cancer lacking a cure; there are simple steps you can implement to kick its butt.

1) Deep Breathing

You can survive weeks without food, days without water... but if you stop breathing, you'll only last for a few minutes. This speaks volumes regarding the effect your breathing has on your life.

Normally, our breath is an involuntary process, which is all well and good. I wouldn't want to be responsible for actively controlling my own breathing throughout the day. When you're feeling stressed out, however, it's time to turn autopilot off and take control of your breath.

Breathe slowly into your belly (not your chest) for a count of 4; hold that breath for a count of 4, and then exhale for a count of 5. The timing may seem oddly specific here, but if done correctly, this will help you relax immediately.

2) Sleep

There is a strong correlation between your sleep and your stress. Think back to when you were in grade school. You probably slept 8 - 10 hours a night without a care in the world. Although you have more responsibilities today, you can experience that same effect simply by making sleep a priority.

I understand that you're busy; some people are trying to hustle and work their hardest. Frankly though, many of you just aren't making the time for sleep. Stop trying to attend social events during the week; those are for the weekend. If you have a show airing at 9 PM or later, save it for the DVR and just go to bed.

If you want more specific tips for healthy sleep, I have a full post on just that.

3) Give Me a Break

You should also make it a habit to take more frequent breaks during the day, especially when you're at work. This could be difficult for those of you who have advanced in your careers and have meetings almost constantly through the day, but still try to adhere to this.

For example, instead of taking a 60 to 90 minute lunch, maybe try eating lunch at your desk and instead taking 10 minute breaks throughout the day.

Or maybe try a different type of break. Does your job offer meditation or yoga classes during the day? Maybe speak with your supervisor and see if you can allocate your time in order to attend those.

The same goes for when you're at home. Are your parents and siblings just totally getting on your nerves? Well, get out of the house for a while and hang out with some people; no use sitting around in a toxic environment.

4) Music

I love music; it's part of what motivated me to take guitar lessons way back when. Did you realize how much of an effect music can have you on though?

Consider this: imagine you're listening to a symphony by Beethoven. The cadence and tempo of the piano drifts you to a peaceful place, possibly putting you to sleep.

Now imagine the track suddenly switches and "X Gon' Give It to Ya" by DMX starts blasting. Even if you're in your home, you'll probably get tense, as if you're about to fight someone.

I have a specific playlist on Spotify for when I'm working at the office; it's mostly EDM music with little to no vocals. This helps me focus on my work without stressing me out.

When you're home after work or class, maybe have specific songs you listen to just to unwind. Pick something to help you relax and empty your mind in the hours before bed.

5) Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

This is something I've noticed quite a bit as of late. Some people are just flat out miserable, but there's no good reason for it. A guy might refill his water bottle in the kitchen and start dropping f bombs repeatedly if it overflows. People scream at the wheel and blare their horn when an accident adds 15 minutes to their commute.

Is it really worth stressing about if it won't make a difference 5 years from now? Probably not, so why let it get to you?

If you normally lose your mind over the tiniest hiccup, make a conscious effort not to from now on. Try to see the forest through the trees; there's a much bigger picture to life that you'll never see if you're obsessed over the coffee you spilled on your kitchen table this morning.

6) Get Out

There's something about being in the outdoors that seems to bring us back to our roots. Even if it's something as short as a 15 minute walk, going outside for a moment can help you get fresh air and clear your mind from the nonsense bothering you.

Now obviously, if you live in an urban environment or if it's freezing outside, leaving your house might not seem like the most comfortable idea at first. But it's still worth the effort (some people aren't bothered by city life or the cold; I'm personally not a fan of either).

7) Exercise

Exercise can be one of the most effective forms of stress relief. If you've had a terrible day, letting out all your frustrations in a grueling gym sesh might be just what you need to do.

Now, I'm not a fan of going into EVERY workout like a gorilla; carrying that kind of anger with you week to week just isn't healthy.

But sometimes you NEED to have an angry workout; grip the bar as hard as you want to grab the person or thing that pissed you off. And once you've busted your butt through the workout, you'll find it's easier to let it go.

Some stress is hard to overcome: losing a loved one, being laid off, breaking up with someone... these things are very painful to go through. Exercise, however, can help you let loose.

Wrap Up

I hope these tips helped you out! Stress is never worth experiencing, so you might as well try to limit it as much as possible.

Try these tips and you'll see improvement in your fitness, your relationships, and your life in general.