Monthly Archives: April 2011

Iron Warrior – Josh Leeger

         vs.         

I’d give this fight even odds.  Here is what my bro Josh had to say about what the Iron Game means to him:

What does the Iron Game mean to me?  To me, it’s meant transformation.  Let me explain.

As Nate pointed out in one of his posts, the Iron Game is similar to the Riddle of Steel.  As Thulsa Doom says – “Steel isn’t strong, boy.  Flesh is stronger!…What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?”

The Iron is the same way.  The Iron has no strength.  In fact, it has the opposite of strength.

What you learn after dealing with it long enough is that you have to be strong within.  You exert your will against it time after time.  The Iron Game isn’t about winning or losing.  It can’t be, because you’ll always lose.  The Iron will always have one more pound…one more plate…one more rep.

The Iron Game is about learning, striving, persisting.

In the face of certain failure, you persist.  In the face of pain, you strive harder.  When the Iron hurts you, you find the real culprit staring you down in the mirror.  In the face of the Iron you’re forced to reckon with yourself.  It is a path of self-reckoning.

Who am I?  What am I capable of?  When I can’t do it, what exactly is stopping me?  Is it “impossible,” or did I simply not prepare myself for this?  Since the game can’t be won, the questions continue, like a never-ending Zen koan.

Those Zen riddles were designed to take the student beyond the place where their rational mind could “figure things out.”  “What is the sound of one hand clapping” goes the famous riddle.  Meditate on that long enough, and logic breaks down, words lose any meaning, and Reality appears all at once, slapping you in the face.  People who experience it are called “enlightened.”  They laugh, they cry, they put their shoes on their head and walk out of the room.

The Iron has always been the same for me.  It is a thing never “solved.”  It sits and waits (or should that be “weights”?).  You move ahead, you move backward, it stays the same.

And through that process, YOU comes through.  Through the struggle, the only things that are always there are You and the Iron.  Your body might have changed.  You might be stronger or weaker that day.  But somehow “you” is still there.  The Iron might be chrome-plated or raw.  It might take the shape of a dumbbell or a barbell, but there it is, somehow the same as it always was.

The Iron Game for me has always been this Riddle.  It’s the Riddle of life, that the followers of the ancient Mystery Cults in Greece and Rome used to go into ecstatic trances after.  It’s the Zen koan of the physical body, of physical reality.

Solve it, and you’ve reached enlightenment.  Just don’t tell me the answer.

Nate’s Notes:  You know, its rare to find someone who is just as passionate about the Iron Game as me, even though my life is basically spent in gyms.  But my good friend Josh is one of those guys.  From powerlifting to bodybuilding to even Highland Games competition, the guy just loves to train.

He also happens to be one of the smartest guys I know in the game.  When I have a biomechanics or physiology question, he’s the guy I turn to.  He’s made the Iron Game his career — ten years running a training business along with thousands of hours researching through seminars, self-education, and in labs and libraries attaining his Masters degree in Kinesiology.

In my ten years in the industry, he is one of the best connections and personal friendships I’ve made.  If you are passionate about this game, then you can’t go wrong connecting with him as well.  Here’s where to do it:  http://leegertrained.com

Q: Why am I not losing weight on a strict adherence to the Paleo Diet?

ANSWER:

Well because if your goal is to look like a Cro-Magnon man, then Paleo diets are great. And if you are 100lbs overweight, insulin resistant, type II diabetic, and just need to move closer to a natural, healthy bodyweight, Paleo diets are great. But if your goal is to reach the upper echelon of physical development (ie lose that last 10lbs, get ripped, look great naked, etc.), then in my opinion, 100% Paleo diets suck caveman booty. Just kidding, but not really.

Reaching a healthy body weight is one thing, but at some point getting to ultra-low body fat percentages, six-packs and whatnot, becomes somewhat of an unnatural process. The ripped guy would have died first in caveman times because a certain amount of body fat is advantageous as a back-up fuel source during times of food deprivation. So if you want to get rid of that extra reserve that your body physiologically wants to carry, you can’t just eat what your ancestors ate or rely on instinct. You need to add in targeted Sports Nutrition principles.

Why do you think you never see Paleo-ites with their shirts off? Because the majority are just skinny-fat (although there is always one guy that is genetically gifted, is an exception to the rule, and everyone points to as their example of Paleo-superiority). Well sorry to bust your bubble, but I’ve competed against world class NATURAL bodybuilders that would make your Paleo-god look like Richard Simmons.

And I don’t mean to be a jerk, honestly, I am really just trying to help you. I know what its like to be frustrated at a plateau, because I used to follow a 100% Paleo diet back in the day until I became more educated in exercise physiology and nutritional biochemistry. 100% Paleo is honestly just too simple of an approach for a physiological process as complex as fat loss.

Now before anyone gets their caveman, loin cloth panties in a bunch, I believe there are many great principles we can take from the Paleo Diet. In fact, so much so, that I’d say about 80% of my dietary recommendations are Paleo-influenced. But in my industry, we need to get out of trying to slot everyone into one little neat system. You’ll never convince me that a 300lbs sedentary office worker just trying to see his toes (among other body parts) again should be eating the same thing as a relatively fit, athlete trying to reach elite body composition levels. That makes no sense, common, scientific, or any other.

OK, now that the overview is out of the way, you are either (A) asleep, and in that case sweet dreams (B) logged off this site and logged onto Sportscenter.com (guys) or an online shoe store (girls, or vice versa, who knows?), and in that case have fun (C) excited to learn more, and in that case let’s break down your specific situation step-by-step. We’re going to go down a few different assumption roads so we can look at several possible solutions to your specific problem.

1. Maybe your current bodyweight IS your natural, healthy bodyweight. If it is, and that’s all you are shooting for, congratulations. Keep doing whatever it is that you are doing. I think most people could attain a healthy bodyweight by following a Paleo-style diet and walking alone, no formal exercise necessary.

2. But if you have higher physique development aspirations, maybe you need to look outside of 100% strict Paleo parameters.

3. You need to follow a diet more than a few weeks to attain noticeable results. Try a few months (and a few years if you want to reach elite status). I think shows like the Biggest Loser, and miracle pill and supplement marketing have skewed the public’s perception of realistic weight loss goals and time frames . We want fat loss and we wanted it yesterday right? Well, real fat loss takes time. And if you lose weight too quickly, you are likely losing more muscle than fat, damaging your metabolism, and setting yourself up for a huge weight rebound. This is the stuff you don’t see off camera on NBC.

4. Although food selections may give you a few metabolic and hormonal advantages, calories still count. If you are not in a relative calorie deficit, you are not providing an environment where your body will break down its own fat stores to obtain fatty acids. And on a side note, most formulas I’ve seen overestimate people’s true daily caloric needs.

5. Oils are not a true Paleo food. Where were the oil-refining factories in Caveman times. You may be in a “fat burning” mode, but if you are pouring oil on everything, your body is simply burning the dietary fatty acids you are consuming instead of being forced to break down body fat. True cavemen got most of their fat through their animal protein sources.

6. Fruit:  Fructose is one of the worst compounds for body composition enhancement — directly leads to insulin resistance and fat accumulation. A small amount of fructose from 1-2 pieces of whole fruit a day is cool, but if you’re pounding bananas all day like a chimp, the fructose can add up. And definitely cut out concentrated sources of fructose like fruit juice, dried fruits, high fructose corn syrup and SUGAR (which is actually one molecule of glucose per one molecule of fructose.

7. What kind of training are you doing? Cardio sucks for fat loss, you can check out my article on this topic in the articles section. And if you have a knee injury, the repetitive nature of, and joint pounding cardio can have on the joints is probably only aggravating your condition. At least with strength training, you can control the exercise tempos and vary the angles to make sure you aren’t making the knee worse.

Alright, I’m worn out. Hope that helps answer your question.

Q: Is “Body-For-Life” a good way to get ripped?

ANSWER:

Well first off, I gotta’ question for you, and those following this. Does anyone else think the new T-mobile girl is hot? Is it just me? Some of my friends think I’m crazy, which makes me think I may be going crazy. That is entirely possible.

Ok Body For Life? Lets get this thing rolling.

If your goals are purely cosmetic (appearance first, performance second or not at all) which it sounds like they are, and you plan to consistently engage in a regular strength training program — which it sounds like you do, then I think Body For Life is one of the best commercial programs out there. I’d take it over any of the new trends towards low-carb or Paleo eating, or cross fit/cross-training.

Again, this is assuming regular anaerobic activity and appearance-based goals. If you are sedentary, a low-carb/Paleo-style diet is more appropriate because you aren’t burning a ton of carbohydrates and don’t need to replenish glycogen stores (a car sitting in the garage doesn’t need gas).

And if you have performace-based goals (improving strength, power, or muscular endurance), a cross-training program may be more appropriate. Programs geared towards performance should be different than those geared towards hypertrophy and fat loss. This reiterates what I’ve been saying on all along. There is no one universal program that is right for everyone, everywhere. The fitness industry needs to stop trying to slot everyone into one diet or training program. It should be the other way around. Every person needs to make sure their training program and diet MATCH their individual goals. Or in other words, prioritization necessitates specificity.

I’d say my nutrition advice has been influenced by several different resources:  Paleo Nutrition, Sports Nutrition, the traditional  Japanese Diet, and various authors in the fitness and bodybuilding communities — Bill Phillips and Body For Life being one of them.  With your specific goals, I’d say you are heading down the right path. But pulling from my research and professional experiences, I’d say Body For Life is far from perfect. So I figured the best way to help you out is to go over the pros and cons of both the diet and training recommendations. You can decide from there what you think is the best approach.

Since diet has, by far, the biggest impact on body composition transformation, lets start there first.

BODY FOR LIFE DIET PROS:

1. Overall the diet composition and macronutrient ratios are basically a higher protein, moderate carbohydrate, lower fat approach. I think this is the best plan for anaerobic athletes. Sedentary folks (or those who are obese and/or diabetic, pre-diabetic, insulin resistant) would follow a more moderate protein, lower carbohydrate, higher healthy fat approach. But you ain’t sedentary right?

2. Each meal/snack is centered around a LEAN protein source. This helps provide the steady stream of amino acids you will need to initiate protein synthesis and build/maintain muscle. It also helps control blood sugar, hunger cravings, and feelings of satiety.

3. You are instructed to include a serving of complex carbohydrate with each meal/snack. This provides the glucose your body needs to refill glycogen stores. Essentially, it provides the fuel you need for training, and provides the anabolic stimulus your body needs to build muscle and respond to training sessions (carbs, and the resulting insulin release, shuttle amino acids into the muscle cell to initiate protein synthesis). So despite what you’ve heard, insulin is not all bad, especially for the athlete.  No NATURAL hormone your body makes is all good or all bad, you just have to use diet and lifestyle factors to control them.  The combination with protein helps to moderate insulin release better than eating carbs alone.

4. SIMPLICITY. The diet basically says to combine a serving of lean protein with a serving of complex carbs at each meal and snack. How simple is that dude? He even gives you serving shortcuts — a serving of protein is about the size of a deck of cards, a serving of carbohydrates is about the size of a fist. No measuring or weighing necessary.

5. There are some cool transformation stories, and pictures of hot bodies (girls in bikini’s, guys in board shorts — whatever you prefer).

BODY FOR LIFE DIET CONS:

1. The author is (or at least was) the owner of the supplement company EAS. So the diet, at least in some part, was created to promote and push supplement sales. He recommends 3 of the 6 meals/snacks come from his protein shakes or bars. I disagree with this. Whole foods are always better than supplements. The shakes and bars can be used for convenience from time to time (its better than a cheeseburger), but they should not be the core foundation of your routine. Too many artificial, chemical ingredients.

2. 6 meals/snacks is too much for most people, and too inconvenient for those living in the real world. I recommend spreading calories over 4-5 meals.

3. FOOD choices. I like the lean proteins, but I don’t like all of the carb selection recommendations. I’m with the Paleo-crowd on this one. He recommends a lot of the whole grain bread and cereal products. These can be problematic for a lot of people because (1) most people have a sensitivity to gluten (the protein in wheat, rye, and barley), if not a full blown allergy and (2) whole grains contain anti-nutrients like lectins and phytates that block mineral absorption and can be very hard on the digestive tract.

I would stick to more natural carbohydrate sources — think caveman or cultural carbs — so things like yams, potatoes, rice varieties, vegetables, and 1-2 pieces of WHOLE fruit.

BODY FOR LIFE TRAINING PROS:

1. It was one of the first commercial programs to acknowledge the importance of strength training for FAT LOSS, not just building muscle. Strength training is crucial for fat loss because it helps build muscle, boost metabolism, improve insulin sensitivity, and stimulates natural lipolytic (fat-burning) hormones like growth hormone.

2. It emphasizes a 3-day a week strength training program, which is great. It is also realistic and sustainable for most people.

3. It uses simple, basic bodybuilding-style exercises, which I believe are the best for transforming a body, not the new-age circus acts that are going on in gyms today (stand on one foot on a Bosu ball, close your eyes, touch your nose, then do a dumbbell curl). That stuff looks cool, and is marketable, but the basics are the basics for a reason — they are far more effective. Just look at the bodies of some of the trainers prescribing some of the more complicated, “innovative” stuff. Do they even look like they work out? Remember, fitness trends come and go, but basic barbell and dumbbell exercises have stood the test of time.

BODY FOR LIFE TRAINING CONS:

1. In addition to the 3-days a week of strength training, he also recommends 3-days a week of high intensity cardio. I think this is way too much for most people to recover from. I think 4 days of high intensity activity is plenty for most NATURAL athletes. Beyond that, you start impairing recovery ability.

2. While I believe strength training should be the core of any fat loss plan, I think traditional cardio is overrated anyway.

3. Modifications. If I were to modify the training program I would just tell you to do 4 days of strength training and cut the traditional cardio. Or you can stick to the 3-days of strength training, and go outside and do some non-exercise specific walking on the days you were supposed to do the high-intensity cardio. Walk for your errands kind of a thing. This will allow you to burn a few extra calories without all of the negative drawbacks of traditional cardio (cortisol elevation, muscle loss, reduced testosterone levels, the need to wear high and tight running shorts, etc.).

*Last tip. You don’t need to buy the book. The website tells you all you need to know, and has the food lists, etc.

Alright, hope that helps.

The Benefits of Walking

I’ve repeated the following statement multiple times on this site and within articles for various publications: most people could cure their overweight blues, reduce insulin resistance, dramatically improve other biomarkers of health, and reach a reasonable, “healthy” bodyweight by improving their diet and WALKING alone, no formal exercise sessions necessary.

That’s something gyms, equipment manufacturers, supplement companies, and trainers don’t want you to hear or believe, because then you’d have no reason to pay for their expensive products or services. All you would need, which is all you really do need, is some knowledge, some personal accountability, and some consistent action. That’s the truth.

It doesn’t have to be getting your butt kicked by Bootcamp Betty/Meathead Mike, or Body Composition Bust. Nor should it be. There are various approaches (some more appropriate than others) depending on where you currently fall under the health and fitness spectrum.

Now, if you are an elite athlete and have higher aspirations of physique development: like toned legs, ripped arms, or a six-pack; that’s one ballgame. You’re going to need some Miyaki-style, samurai warrior-like strength training sessions. In other words, you ARE going to have to put up with a meathead like me, and that a$$-kicking IS what the doctor ordered for developing your cover model body. No mercy for the ridiculously vain (myself included)!

But for those who are overweight, de-conditioned, and just starting out, it’s a whole other ballgame in a vastly different ballpark. You need a much less aggressive plan of action so you don’t burn out, get injured, succumb to soreness misery, get fed up with gym meatheads/divas, and give up. For this demographic, I believe that walking, and a targeted, structured, and disciplined nutrition plan is the most productive and efficient route to results.

The problem is, people don’t want to change their nutritional approach, even though that is the most effective way to improving their overall health AND reaching their body composition goals. They don’t want to sacrifice a little, and stop (or at least cut back on) eating cheese fries, sugar, or the 100 different kinds of breakfast cereals. They think they can make up for that lack of dietary discipline with more or harder time in the fitness penitentiary.

If you are familiar with my philosophy, you know my feelings on that one. You can’t out-work a poor diet — you’ll be stuck in that jail cell forever. Trust me, if you could, I would be willing to go to the gym three hours every day just so I could eat onion rings and M&M’s afterwards. For most of us with average genetics, it just doesn’t work that way. Here is a sad truth, that I hope eventually sinks in with you:

The majority of gym-goers are wasting their time in the gym until they put some effort into improving their diets.

I know other trainers would disagree — “lets burn it off Betty, give me a B, a U, a R, a N, what’s that spell?” — but that has been my personal experience with my client base (and those of my closest colleagues) over the last ten years.

THE CAVEMAN THEME RETURNS

But this is a “training” habit, not a “diet” habit, so lets leave the nutrition preaching behind and get this Zoolander-style walk-off going.

What’s wrong with modern society? We just sit around too much. Human beings were made to move. We can always look back to caveman times, to what we evolved from, to see what we should be doing for optimum health. We are hunters and gatherers. Back in the days, our ancestors walked miles a day searching for animals to hunt or vegetables to gather. We didn’t sit in front of a computer screen all day. With modernization, we are wolves trapped in white collars’ clothing.

And we certainly didn’t ride a stationary bike, pedal away on an elliptical, run on a treadmill to exercise for the sake of exercising, or to try and formally “burn off” calories to make up for last night’s ice cream bender. Most of the time we walked, just as part of normal daily activities — to get stuff done. We may have sprinted towards prey or away from predators (anaerobic activity — like adding interval cardio or strength training), but 90% of our activity came in the form of walking.

Most people underestimate the power of at least partially returning to this caveman-style habit, and simply attempting to walk more during a typical day. They think that’s a B.S., “cheesy” fitness tip, or that it’s an aerobic class or 2-hour cardio session, or bust.

They think if they don’t have time to get to the gym, they might as well just do nothing and sit on their butts watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the internet. They sit around reading health and fitness magazines or websites to “research” the complicated routines they are going to do when they finally do get to the gym (which ends up being never, or rarely). They don’t think smaller, simpler steps, like just starting up walking every morning or evening, or adding some non-exercise specific activity into their day — like taking the stairs, etc.

THE BENEFITS OF WALKING

The fittest people I know understand the power of walking. They know that walking is a small yet powerful tool in their fitness arsenal. Here are some of the benefits:

1. Walking can give us many of the same benefits as traditional cardio — calorie burn, increased cardiovascular efficiency, lowered blood pressure, etc. — without all of the drawbacks — joint wear and tear, repetitive strain, negative hormonal impact (overdoing traditional cardio can lead to increased cortisol output and testosterone suppression). You may want to check out our “Best Damn Cardio Article” Series in our articles section.

2. It is convenient — it can be done anytime, anywhere, and can be squeezed in to any part of the day (even multiple times), not as a “formal” training session you have to plan for. No equipment or commute to the gym are necessary.

3. It is not as boring as staring at a wall. With some outdoor walking, you get varied stimulus — buildings, trees, restaurants, blue sky, hot girls or guys (whatever you prefer) out on the town, etc., all depending on where you decide to go.

4. It is a good stress reliever. With the high stress of corporate jobs and modern living, walking is a good way to unwind, take your mind off things, let your brain relax, etc. If work is stressing you out, you are anxious and tense, and you feel like you are going to kill your boss or yourself, take a walk to clear your head. It helps.

Listen, I’m too much of a stubborn, meathead athlete (I ain’t sitting or lying around on a yoga mat for extended periods of time), a workaholic (that’s where my mind goes these days when there’s free time), and a pervert (I think you know what I’m saying with this one), to meditate. It just doesn’t work for me.

But somehow when I’m walking, I’m able to clear my mind and relax a little bit. It is kind of like my active meditation — my body needs to be moving in order for the WB cartoon I have going on up in my head to shut off for half an hour. Maybe it will work for you too.

5. Because it is a leisurely activity, you can multi-task. You can take a walk with a friend or family member to catch up. You can “talk business” or have an informal meeting with a colleague or client while walking somewhere. It’s an active way to spend some time with your kids — they love to just go out and explore. You can even be annoying cell phone guy or girl while walking.

THE WALK MASTER

Here are some tips to include a little more walking into your life. See if any of them are applicable for you:

1. Get up a half an hour earlier and take a morning walk.

2. Walk to get your coffee or tea on your midmorning or mid-afternoon break, but skip the pastries. You are walking to get rid of the muffin top, not add to it.

3. Take a walk at lunch and then eat at your desk.

4. Walk with the kids before dinner.

5. Walk to take care of some errands (i.e., drop mail off, etc.)

6. Catch up with someone over a walk.

7. If you live in a city, walk to your destination instead of driving or taking public transportation.

8. Do something active on the weekend: walk on the beach, go for a hike, walk to the grocery store, etc.

9. Cliché I know, but take the stairs instead of the elevator.

I’m sure you could think of some more opportunities within your specific daily routine to fit in a little more movement.

WRAP-UP

I know I ramble a lot, so I want to leave you with a little slogan to remember.

Stop eating refined/processed foods, Start walking more, and “every little (health & fitness) thing is gonna be alright.”

Principle #4 – The Riddle of Iron

Thulsa Doom: Ah. It must have been when I was younger. There was a time, boy, when I searched for steel, when steel meant more to me than gold or jewels.

Conan: The riddle… of steel.

Thulsa Doom: Yes! You know what it is, don’t you boy? Shall I tell you? It’s the least I can do. Steel isn’t strong, boy.   Flesh is stronger! Look around you. There, on the rocks, a beautiful girl. Come to me, my child…

Thulsa Doom: [coaxes the girl to jump to her death]

Thulsa Doom: That is strength, boy! That is power! What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength in your body.  The desire in your heart — I gave you this! –Conan the Barbarian

As Conan slashes his way to revenge, we learn two universal truths via his character arc/journey.  (1) A man is in complete control of the weapons he commands.  (2) A man’s spirit is far more powerful than any weapons he stands against.

That’s why two were able to stand against many in the final battle scene.  Conan didn’t need Crom.  He only needed his sword, some personal accountability for making his own destiny, and belief in himself.  With that realization, he fearlessly jumps into battle and conquers his enemies with a warrior’s fury, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds.  This lesson can be applied to all things.

Do I understand that others may potentially find it sad or pathetic that I’ve learned important life lessons from fictional characters?  Yes.  Do I care?  Not really.  Whatever can motivate you and help you become a better athlete — or man/woman in general — is valuable regardless of the source.  Red Sonja motivated me in a whole other way…

In Conan’s world, it was the riddle of steel.  In our world, it is the riddle of iron.  What is the answer to the riddle?  The twofold answer is the same as what Conan discovered:

1. A man is in complete control of the weapons he commands.  You can use the iron for whatever you desire: to get stronger, to get bigger, to get faster, to get shredded, to rehabilitate an injury, to let out some aggression, for personal sanity in a chaotic life, and everything and anything in between.  Don’t let others try to dictate what is the right way, or push their personal goals onto you.  Don’t follow the trends or conventions if you don’t believe in them.

Training needs to be a personal, individualized endeavor.  Simply identify your personal goals at this moment in time — whatever they may be and regardless of what anyone else thinks (especially society), find the right coach/mentor, and commit 100% to an appropriately designed program.

2. A man’s spirit is far more powerful than any weapons he stands against.  A spiritless man/woman may crumble before plastic-coated, pink weights.  But no bar, no matter how many plates or pounds are loaded onto it, is any match for a real man/woman.  Attack your training with confidence, not with fear.

Borrowing from another warrior culture — the samurai — remember this, “No matter what it is, there is nothing that cannot be done.  If one manifests the determination, he can move heaven and earth as he pleases.” — Hagakure.

Until next time, crush your enemies — the squats, deadlifts, rows, and presses that stand before you.