Monday, November 28, 2011


"300" Bill said to me as he was standing under the pullup bar.

"What? The movie? Awesomesauce, when are we watching it?"

"No, we're not leaving here until we each do 300 pullups."


"shut up and get to it"

Bill was an amazing lifting partner, and I had the pleasure of working out with him during my stint in the very...industrial Allentown, PA. Yes, there's a Springsteen song about it. No, I didn't know that until I lived there...for a week.

Almost every day, Bill and I met after work and we lifted our hearts out. Our leg day motto was "squat till you puke," which luckily never happened to me. Obviously, I'm a slacker.

Bill was an amazing motivator. I came into the gym having already met my then goal of sub 10% body fat and was honestly aimless. It wasn't until I met him that I realized how clueless I was about lifting. My new goal: learn everything I could from him. He needed someone with a positive attitude and drive to improve, I needed someone to teach me and push me past my limits. It was a match made in weight room heaven.

When you spend so much time with a person, you learn what drives them. Not just for their physical goals, but professionally, personally, and even emotionally. Bill had a pure, internal motivation: to constantly push himself to become stronger, faster, bigger and be the best he could possibly be.

Internal motivations are the best kind. They're pure and unwavering. External motivators have their purpose, and there is nothing wrong with them, but they tend to be temporary: Look good for summer, photoshoot coming up (the boys in the DCGFFL Calendar - which is raising money for scholarships for LBGT high school athletes - know what I'm talking about), or that reunion that's around the corner...these are all fine and good. With hard work and dedication, you'll achieve your goal. But what happens after that date? What will you work to achieve?

Bill instilled in me the want to always improve myself. Until then, I was driven by the externals, which is why I was wavering when I met him. I'd go to the gym, do my routine, and do decently, but I never achieved anything. My motivator - which was external - was complete. Now, I see that every lift session makes me stronger, every mile logged makes me faster, every healthy meal - leaner.

I'm on the path towards a better version of me.

So, what drives you?

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Swift, Pre-Holiday Season, Kick in the Ass

One of my favorite pre-holiday season articles.

Disclaimer: Not for the easily offended.

Merry Christmas, Bob
by Chris Shugart

"So, what are you doing for a living these days?" Bob asked me. We're sitting on the couch at one of those tedious holiday get-togethers, you know, the ones where you're supposed to be nice to family members you never see except during major holidays and funerals. I think Bob is my wife's brother-in-law's second cousin or something.

"I'm the assistant editor and a writer for Testosterone magazine," I say. Bob looks at me with a blank expression on his face, as if I'd just told him I sell handmade testicle warmers beside the freeway and was looking to open franchises across the nation.

"It's a bodybuilding magazine," I say.

Blank expression. Deer caught in the headlights. Ronnie Coleman doing trigonometry.

"Oh," Bob finally says, "I heard you were, like, one of those bodybuilder guys or something. So, what's that like, you know, working out every day and stuff? I just don't have time to lift weights all day, but I have been meaning to get rid of this beer belly." He takes another sip of beer. "What do you suggest?" Sip.

At first I was a little offended. I wanted to grab him up and say, "You can't tell I'm a bodybuilder?! Look at my ass! Now, if that's not a nice round squat-built piece of sirloin, I don't know what is! You think that comes naturally? I can crack walnuts with this puppy! Wanna see? Huh, punk? Do ya? Do ya?"

Then I realize this just might cause a scene and could cost me several Christmas presents. I was planning on returning any presents I got and using the money to buy a power rack, so I didn't want to jeopardize this gift getting opportunity. I also realized that old Bob probably had a certain preconceived image of a bodybuilder and I just didn't fit that image. I'm not gorilla huge; I weigh about 205 at 5'11" right now. (When I first started lifting I was a pudgy 159, so that's not too shabby.) Also, I wasn't wearing clown pants, a fluorescent string tank top, a hanky on my head and one of those little fanny packs. And isn't that what real bodybuilders are supposed to wear?

Bob continued to sit there drinking his Natural Light, smoking a cigarette and waiting for an answer, oblivious to the fact that he'd come this close to seeing some serious walnut- crunching ass power. I tried to figure out how I could explain to the average guy what the typical T-Man does and why he does it. How could I get him to understand what it is we do, how we feel, how we live? So I took a deep breath and told him something like this:

"Well, Bob, I guess you could use the term bodybuilder if you really need a label for what it is we do. Most of us actually don't stand on stage and compete, though. We lift weights and manipulate our diets so that we'll look good naked. Sure, it's healthy too, and we'll probably live a longer and more productive life than the average guy, but mostly it's about the naked thing. Truthfully, it goes beyond even that.

"Let's be honest here. We do it because of people like you, Bob. We look at you sitting there with your gut hanging over your belt and we watch you grunt and groan just getting out of a chair. Guys like you are our inspiration, Bob. You're better than Anthony Robbins, Bill Phillips, Deepak Chopra, and Zig fucking Ziglar all wrapped up into one. We love it when guys like you talk about not having time to exercise. Every time we see you munching on a bag of potato chips, you inspire us. You're my shot in the arm, Bob, my living and breathing wake-up call, my own personal success coach.

"You want to know what it is we do? We overcome. We're too busy to train, too, but we overcome. We're too busy to prepare healthy meals and eat them five or six times a day, but we overcome. We can't always afford supplements, our genetics aren't perfect, and we don't always feel like going to the gym. Some of us used to be just like you, Bob, but guess what? We've overcome.

"We like to watch 'normal' people like you tell us about how they can't get in shape. We smile and nod sympathetically like we feel your pain, but actually, we're thinking that you're a pathetic piece of shit that needs to grow a spine and join a gym. You smile sheepishly and say that you just can't stay motivated and just can't stand that feeling of being sore. (For some reason you think that admitting your weaknesses somehow justifies them.) We listen to you bitch and moan. We watch you look for the easy way out. Because of people like you, Bob, we never miss a workout.

"You ask us for advice about diet and training and usually we politely offer some guidance, but deep inside we know you won't take our advice. You know that too. We smile and say, 'Hope that helps. Good luck,' but actually we're thinking, 'Boy, it would suck to be you.' We know that 99% of people won't listen to us. Once they hear that it takes hard work, sacrifice and discipline, they stop listening and tune us out.

"We know they wanted us to say that building a great body is easy, but it just isn't. This did not take five minutes a day on a TorsoTrack. We did not get this way in 12 short weeks using a Bowflex and the Suzanne Somers' 'Get Skinny' diet. A good body does not cost five easy payments of $39.95.

"We like it that while you're eating a candy bar and drinking Mountain Dew, we're sucking down a protein shake. You see, that makes it taste even better to us. While you're asleep we're either getting up early or staying up late, hitting the iron, pushing ourselves, learning, succeeding and failing and rising above the norm with every rep. Can you feel that, Bob? Can you relate? No? Good. This wouldn't be half as fun if you could.

"We do it because we absolutely and totally get off on it. We do it because people like you, Bob, either can't or won't. We do it because what we do in the gym transfers over into the rest of our lives and changes us, physically, mentally, maybe even spiritually. We do it because it beats watching fishing and golf on TV. By the way, do you know what it's like to turn the head of a beautiful woman because of the way you're built? It feels good, Bob. Damned good.

"When we're in the gym, we're in this indescribable euphoria zone. It's a feeling of being on, of being completely alive and aware. If you haven't been there, then it's like trying to describe color to a person who's been blind since birth. Within this haze of pleasure and pain, there's knowledge and power, self-discipline and self-reliance. If you do it long enough, Bob, there's even enlightenment. Sometimes, the answers to questions you didn't even know you had are sitting there on those rubber mats, wrapped up in a neat package of iron plates and bars.

"Want to lose that beer belly, Bob? I have a nutty idea. Put down the fucking beer. I'll tell you what, Bob. Christmas morning I'm getting up real early and hitting the iron. I want to watch my daughter open her presents and spend the whole day with her, so this is the only time I have to train. The gym will be closed, so I'm going out in my garage to workout. You be at my house at six in the morning, okay? I'll be glad to help you get started on a weight training program. It'll be colder than Hillary Clinton's coochie in there, so dress warm.

"But let me tell you something, Bob. If you don't show up, don't bother asking me again. And don't you ever sit there and let me hear you bitch about your beer belly again. This is your chance, your big opportunity to break out of that rut. If you don't show up, Bob, you've learned a very important lesson about yourself, haven't you? You won't like that lesson.

"You won't like that feeling in the pit of your stomach either or that taste in your mouth. It will taste worse than defeat, Bob. Defeat tastes pretty goddamned nasty, but what you'll be experiencing will be much worse. It will be the knowledge that you're weak, mentally and physically. What's worse is that you'll have accepted that feeling. The feeling will always be with you. In the happiest moments of your life, it'll be there, lying under the surface like a malignant tumor. Ignore it at your own peril, Bob.

"Don't look at me like that either. This just may be the best Christmas present you'll get this year. Next Christmas, Bob, when I see you again, I'm going to be a little bigger, a little stronger, and a little leaner. What will you be? Will you still be making excuses? This is a gift, Bob, from me to you. I'm giving you the chance to look fate in those pretty eyes of hers and say, 'Step off, bitch. This is my party and you're not invited.' What do you say, Bob? Monday, Christmas morning, 6am, my house. The ball's in your court."

Okay, so maybe that's not the exact words I used with Bob, but you get the picture. Will Bob show up Monday? I don't know, but I kind of doubt it. In fact, Bob will probably take me off his Christmas card list. He probably thinks I've got "too much Testosterone," like that's a bad thing. I think Bob is just stuck in a rut, and as the saying goes, the only difference between a rut and a grave is depth.

The way out of the rut is to make major changes in your life, most of which won't be too pleasant in the beginning. The opportunity to make those changes seldom comes as bluntly as I put it to Bob. Most of the time, that opportunity knocks very softly. What I did was basically give Bob a verbal slap in the face. You can react two ways to a slap. You can get angry at the person doing the slapping, or you can realize that he was just trying to get you to wake up and focus on what you really want and, more importantly, what it'll take to get it.

If you're a regular T-mag reader, I doubt you need to be called out like Bob. But maybe you've caught yourself slacking a little here lately. Maybe you've missed a few workouts or maybe you started a little too early on the usual holiday feasting, like, say, back in September. Just remember that the time to start working on that summer body is now. The time to get rid of those bad habits that hold you back in the gym is now. You want to look totally different by next Christmas? Start now. This isn't because of the holidays or any corny New Year's resolutions either. The best time is always now.

Christmas day I want you to enjoy being with your family and friends. I want you to open presents, sip a little eggnog and have a good meal. But if your regularily scheduled workout happens to fall on December 25th, what will you be doing at six o'clock that morning?

That's what separates us from guys like Bob.

© 1998 — 2009 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, November 18, 2011


"I just want to tone up” – probably the vaguest answer anyone who is seeking fitness advice can give.

It’s also probably the most frustrating answer someone who’s being asked advice can hear when asking someone what their goal is. Why? Because it doesn’t actually tell us anything.

-Drop to single digit body fat % by my trip to the beach
-Gain 10lb of muscle before the next football season starts
-Be able to bench 225lb for 15 reps by the next “pump and run” race (no, I'm not talking about Sunday morning, they’re a great way to even out the pure-runners and the weight lifters in a single competition).

These are goals. Why? They’re measurable. They have a time frame. There are solid markers towards achieving them. Having a vague goal makes for vague results.

The general healthy rule of thumb is this: 2lb/week. That is the most someone should lose or gain per week without worrying too much about losing muscle with the fat or gaining too much fat with the muscle. Now go back and look at your goal: does it fit this rule? Yes: Awesome, now get to work. No? Reevaluate and make a realistically healthy goal for yourself. If you’re cutting and you find yourself losing 4-5lb/week, make sure you’re eating enough (see the last post)! If you’re gaining more than 2lb/week….well, you’ll notice a more-than-normal jiggle factor. As with every rule, there are exceptions. If you’re just starting off, you’ll notice a sharper rate than that. As long as you’re eating enough, take the kick start loss/gain for granted!

My original goal was to drop from 260+ to sub 200. I never put a time frame on it. I didn’t take into account my body fat percentage. I was extremely uneducated as to the healthy ways of losing weight. Like I said before, I started off by eating way too little and doing way too much cardio. I didn’t know better. I’m scared to even think about how much muscle I lost during that time.

Now, three weeks into my annual bulk cycle, I'm at 192lb from 185. The goal: get back to 200 – but by adding lean muscle – by the end of the year. 8lbs in 6 weeks, ~1.33lbs a week. Measurable. At the beginning of the year, it’ll be my goal to cut any fat that came on with the added mass (even under ideal bulking situations, there’s at least a 1:3 fat:muscle gain ratio).

Lose weight, gain weight, lose weight. No.

Lose fat, gain muscle, lose fat. Yes.

Goals evolve as you learn. They’ll change as you achieve what you thought your limitations were and surpass them. When you hit your original goal, don’t stop, reevaluate what you want. Push yourself beyond what you thought you could do 6 months ago.

Don’t stagnate.

Get faster. Get stronger.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Basics

That bagel with cream cheese and coffee with milk and sugar? Probably not the best idea for breakfast if you’re trying to change your body composition in order to be leaner, faster, and have more non-solo naked time.

“But it’s a wheat bagel and reduced fat cream cheese!” Now that was the kind of rationalization I made when I first started my transition. That is, when I actually allowed myself to eat back then. Like I said in the first post, I. was. an. idiot. I distinctly remember being proud that I had only eaten 800 calories a day and had done 2 hours of cardio. That’s will power, right? Nope, it was stupidity to the nth degree. No grown man should be eating <800 calories a day…unless he’s 50 years old, 3ft 6in tall, 75lbs, and never gets out of bed. Seriously, I did the math.

In order to save you what took me 6 months to get through my thick - albeit well groomed - skull, I have compiled a list of tips to get you started and, in a broad view, are applicable to pretty much any goal.

Here’s the quick and dirty:

1) Eat. Find out how much fuel your body really needs. Enter: The Harris Benedict Formula:

First, calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) – how much your body burns just from existing:

Men: 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.76 x age in years)
Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)

Once you have that, multiply that number times your activity factor:

Little to no exercise

Daily calories needed = BMR x 1.2

Light exercise (1–3 days per week)

Daily calories needed = BMR x 1.375

Moderate exercise (3–5 days per week)

Daily calories needed = BMR x 1.55

Heavy exercise (6–7 days per week)

Daily calories needed = BMR x 1.725

Very heavy exercise (twice per day, extra heavy workouts)

Daily calories needed = BMR x 1.9

So let’s take me as an example:
BMR = 66 + (6.23*185) + (12.7*72) – (6.76*29) = 1937 calories, just for sitting here
Take into account my lifting 5-6x a week, let’s low-ball with the Moderate AF: 1937*1.55 = 3000 calories a day, just to maintain my current weight

If you want to cut fat: subtract 500 from that number to lose 1lb per week, 1000 to lose 2. NEVER, ever, ever, ever, ever drop more than 1000 below your maintenance. Your body kicks into starvation mode and it starts to eat muscle instead of fat, which should never be anyone’s goal…except for Christian Bale in The Machinist.
If you want to gain mass: add 500 from that number to gain 1lb per week, 1000 to gain 2. I’m in a mass gaining phase right now, so at most, I need 4000 healthy calories a day. Eating that much, in itself, is just as (if not more) difficult than the lifting involved to gain the muscle. God bless almond butter.

2) Yes, I just called food “fuel.”
And yes, I’m going to compare your body to a car. What can I say, I’m butch like that. Remember this: 80/20. In my experience, 80% of any body transformation – whether it be to cut fat or to gain muscle – is based off what kind of fuel you give your body. You don’t give your body enough, you run out of energy. Give it too much, well, that could be a part of your goal. The important part is that you give your body enough quality fuel (amount based on #1). Lean meats, eggs, leafy greens, legumes – have at it. Cereals with cartoon characters? Yeah, no. You’re an adult. Time to eat like one.

3) Lift weights.
No, you won’t get bulky just from lifting. Stop using that as an excuse. Muscle burns calories 24/7. Bet you can’t say that about that pole dancing class at the gym. Not saying don’t take that class, those skills might come in handy later. Cardio – with very limited exceptions – only burns calories during the window in which it is performed. Muscle constantly burns calories. If you’re just starting out, get a buddy who’s been lifting for a while or a trainer to show you some basic whole body lifts. Do that 3x a week with a day off in between each lift session. As you learn more, your routine will evolve.

Lastly, #4: Keep a journal.
Two, actually. Yes, for your feelings. The first should be a food journal, at least in the beginning. Everything that goes into your mouth should be tracked in here. Well, food and drink wise. Calories as well as grams of protein, fat, and carbs (aka a “macronutrient breakdown”). Fitday is amazing for this, it has thousands of foods already entered. If you’re feeling run down, go back to yesterday or the day before, make sure you’re getting enough carbs. Still hungry? Up your protein and leafy greens. Learn how your body reacts to changes in your diet and modify accordingly. After a little while, it’ll become second nature, just like instantaneously standing tall, chest out, gut sucked in when you see someone you think is hot. No? Maybe that’s just me.
Secondly – a workout journal. This. is. your. Bible. No lies, no embellishments, 100% honesty. Every day you go, every exercise done, every weight used. It becomes a great baseline so you can see how much you’ve progressed as well as a reference for later if you’re like me and can’t remember if you deadlifted 235 or 245. It stops you from regressing and keeps you honest. You skip a workout? It’ll remind you. It’s amazing the power an empty page has.

Welp, there you go. What took me six months to learn, you have off the bat. This might be new to some people and a refresher to others.

Either way, get off your computer and go lift something heavy.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

From the beginning

I used to be fat.

I used to be unhappy.

I used to have essentially zero confidence.

I was embarrassed by my own reflection.

I finally had enough. In a single moment, I was engulfed in a fire of what can really only be summed up as rage. Rage towards myself, towards the decisions I had made, towards the excuses that I had used along the way, towards my own lack of strength. Not physical strength, but strength of will.

I had gone to one of the most physically demanding schools in the nation, and yet I got fatter and fatter every year. I was embarrassed for the school, for it having me as a member of its Corps, because I didn't reflect the values of diligence, strength, and perseverance that they taught me. By the time I graduated, I had maxed out at over 260+lbs. I say + because once I hit 260, I stopped weighing myself, I was ashamed.

Two things happened at graduation that were catalysts for me to completely change my life.

The first, one of my rats - a kid that I had mentored my senior year, which was his freshman year - gave me a set of dogtags. One was his and the other was his father's from when he was a Marine in Vietnam. People work their asses off every day to wear those. To me, they were a tangible symbol of strength and dedication. I still pull strength from them today, over seven years after he gave them to me.

The second - and this is how most people start their transformation - a single picture. There I was, 260+, in my formal uniform. I remember having to get it resized two weeks before graduation - and not in a good way. I saw the pictures a few days after graduation and I couldn't stand to look at them.

The flint had been struck, the fire was lit.

I tried the stupid things at first, I had no idea what I was doing. Hours of cardio on next to no food. I mean it's calories in vs calories out, right? I was an idiot. Over the course of the next few years, I educated myself, I learned from fitness sites and friends of mine in the industry - from personal trainers to power lifters. It became the focus of my life. The better shape I got in, the happier I became and it reflected in everything: I was more productive at work, I could participate in more sports and meet new people, I became more confident and started going after the things I wanted - which made me even happier. Now, it's not rage that fuels the fire, it's passion. Passion for improving myself every day, to learn, to saying no to my own limitations and pushing for one more rep, one more plate on the bar, one last mile.

I am strong.

I am happy.

I am still on fire.