I never thought I would be strong.
I don’t know where I got the idea from, but for some reason, I always measured my physical fitness on a gauge of surviving a zombie apocalypse.
“If the zombies come, could I depend on my body to survive?”
- could I maintain running for long distances at a decent pace?
- could I pull myself up walls and over obstacles?
- could I switch back and forth from cardio to plyos (such as jump squats or burpees)
- could my stamina hold up long enough for the slowest person to get eaten before me?
As a result, the kind of training I did was extremely physically enduring. I prided myself on my stamina. I loved knowing that everyone I met would quit before I would.
My body was “strong”, but I burned a lot of calories.
Regardless of how much strength training I would do, I could never build solid muscle. I would always burn it off while running or HIIT training.
The picture below was taken on Oct 2018. In this photo, I weighed 171 pounds. I could easily do 10 pull ups and I ran anywhere from 15 – 20 miles a week.
Peak zombie survival mode.
This year, things changed.
You all know I had back surgery. Because of that, I can’t run anymore. I’m almost positive I caused my injury from running so as much as it pains me, I have to give that up.
This was a difficult time. After the surgery, I couldn’t bend over for a full month. My wife had to put my socks on for me. I didn’t exercise for at least 4 months. I ate lots of cookies and Milky Way bars.
I was very depressed. I tried to keep my spirits up by focusing on work but when I would get out of the shower, I didn’t even recognize the guy I saw looking back at me. This is a picture of me in December 2019. In this photo I probably weighed 179.
On New Years Day of 2020, I made the decision to get my shit together. I decided to start seriously investing in my strength training. I gave myself the time to heal and committed myself to the process.
I always wanted to be strong. I always wanted to be big. I would mask my insecurity of being skinny by convincing myself that “it wasn’t the look I was going for.”
But this year I went all in. The results are pretty stunning.
This is me on May 18 2020.
In this photo I weigh 186 pounds.
It’s amazing to see this photo of myself. I never thought I would be able to have solid muscle the way I do now. You can clearly see the difference in my chest, my shoulders, and my belly.
So how did I do it? What was my process that enabled me to build so much solid muscle?
Diet is 80% of the Battle
There is no way I would have been able to maintain the diet if I didn’t have my wife in my corner.
Lucky for me, my wife loves fitness and nutrition as much as I do. The difference is, my wife really loves cooking. If it weren’t for her, I would have had to buy a meal plan service.
If you don’t take your diet seriously, there’s no way you will get serious results. It just won’t happen.
Here’s what my diet looks like…
- Black coffee
- 1 waffle (butter and sugar-free syrup)
- 2 eggs with the yolk
- 1 egg white
- 3 chicken sausages
- a plateful of sauteed veggies. The veggies range anywhere from broccoli, zucchini, spinach, kale carrots, etc.
- chicken (8 – 10 oz)
- potatoes or black rice or quinuo
- broccoli or green beans
- G Hughes BBQ Sauce
- Rice cake with almond butter and some healthy jelly Juliana buys
4 oclock ish
- a few bites of chicken
- a few spoonfuls of potatoes
- a clump of veggies that I shove into my mouth
- power crunch bar
- on days when I was feeling sassy, I would eat cheese and crackers
- 1 scoop of 1st Phorm whey protein shake
For dinner we would try to mix it up a bit. There were many days when we would eat the same chicken meal I listed above for dinner. But we would also switch it up…
- Bison burger with Dave’s Killer bread
- Ground turkey wraps
- Sauteed peppers and mushrooms
- black rice
- sweet potatoes
- GT’s Kombucha
- Daily jug filled with filtered water and mixed with BCAA’s and 1 Scoop of Raw Creatine HCL
Side Note – A bodybuilder or a dietitian would probably tell you my diet was too relaxed. To really get the absolute best results, you should track your macros. I decided to keep things relatively flexible. I find I can get obsessive about food and body image.
I am very self aware in this regard and I purposefully don’t track my calories in that way because I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.
Regardless, if you want to change your physique and muscle mass, the diet is the difference between seeing progress or not.
When I’ve told people about the diet, the first thing they always say is “I can’t eat that much.” But it’s easier than you think.
There is something very peaceful about eating the same thing at the same time in the same way every single day. It removes all the decisions out of my day. I don’t have the think about eating. The choice is already made.
Aside from the physical effects I feel, the mental effects I feel are just as strong. The focus and clarity of thought I get from removing the choices of food from my life are remarkable.
The Weight Lifting
I wouldn’t have been able to do this without a trainer. The types of exercises are totally different from what I am used to. The first month was a process of figuring out how my body reacts to different movements.
For instance, I didn’t even realize how weak my shoulders were. I’ve had to practice shoulder exercises more so than others because I didn’t know how to properly activate the muscles. It took patience.
Here’s what my typical week looks like…
- Quad extensions – Do 4 sets of 10 increasing in weight. These need to burn. These are strong muscles so feel free to go heavy.
- Squats – I can’t do back squats with weight so we do a lot of high rep squats with 20 lb dumbbells.
- RDL’s – I can’t do deadlifts so we do RDL’s with 40 lb dumbbells. So many I can’t even count. Really stretch your hamstring on these.
- Hamstring curls – 4 sets of 10 increasing in weight. We would also do them with a band where wrap a band around my ankles and as I curl my heels to my butt he pulls against me with the band.
- Bulgarian split squats – YO FUCK THESE THINGS FOR REAL. FUCK EM.
- Calf Raises – 4 sets of 20, usually on the side of a 45 lbs plate.
Then we usually finish leg day with some kind of circuit. It could be something like back lunges on a reverse ladder. So you start at 8 back lunges each leg, then do 7, then 6, 5, 4 …. till the end.
We get creative so it changes each workout.
Chest and Push Muscles
- Bench Press – Usually light warm-ups then 4 sets of 10 increasing weight. We usually end the bench press with some kind of max to test my progress.
- Push-ups – 5 or 6 sets of however many you can do till failure. Push until you got nothing left these pay off big time!
- Incline dumbbell press – 4 sets of 10 w 30 lb dumbbells. To get creative, put a band around your back and hold it in your hand along with the weight.
- Chest flys – 4 sets of 10 laying on the ground with light dumbbells. I do 12 pounds but you really want to extend far out. A slight bend in the elbow.
- Tricep extensions – 4 sets of 10. Use a red band and attach it to the squat rack.
Then we usually end with some kind of high rep arm burnout. It could be up-downs or holding high plank while high five-ing a partner or the side of a bench with alternating hands.
Back and Pull Muscles
- Pull-ups – 5 or 6 sets of however many I can do each round. Just like push-ups, you want to really push yourself until you can’t even think about doing another one. These pay off big time.
- Inverse rows – 4 sets of 10. So if the bar is on the squat rack, you lay flat on the ground and pull yourself up so that you bring your chest to the bar.
- Renegade rows – 4 sets of 10 each arm. Feel free to have a wide base. Keeping your core stable is really important.
- Incline rows – 4 sets of 10 each arm. I can’t do bent-over rows so instead, I put my chest on an incline bench for stabilization and then pull a dumbbell to my belly button.
- Band pulls – Lots of different variations of pulling exercises using the band. Think of anything you would do on a cable machine.
- Shoulder extensions – 4 sets of 10. (My shoulders were my weakest point so I started with 8 lb dumbbells but now I can do 15 pounds no problem)
- Military Press – 4 sets of 10.
- Dumbbell Bicep curls – 4 sets of 10.
- Straight Bar Bicep Curls – 4 sets of 10.
- Back Flys – Keep your back straight and pull your shoulder blades together
There are all types of variations of these exercises. We would constantly create variations, but it’s a lot of the same movements over and over again.
Lifting for strength is not the same as lifting for fitness. You need to really break the muscle down.
It’s not uncommon for the workouts to last 90 minutes. Rep after rep – completely crushing the muscle fiber.
The important part is to learn control. You have to focus your thoughts on the muscle so that you completely activate it and then squeeze it as hard as you possibly can. In many cases, the weight is irrelevant. You can break the muscle down simply by committing to the squeeze.
Naturally, you will need to increase weight as you get stronger, especially to gain mass. The point I am making is that it’s been a big shift in mindset for me. It’s not about “completing the workout” as much as it’s about “breaking down the muscle.”
My Cardio and Fitness
The reality is that if I didn’t maintain some level of cardio, I would not be happy.
I need to get my heart rate up. I need to sweat. I need to jump around and get out of breathe. On the weekends, I make it a point to incorporate some kind of high intensity or static cardio exercise.
This is what I do because it makes me happy. For me, fitness is a personal journey. There is a strong chance I am depleting my muscle gains by continuing to burn these calories, but I try not to take it too seriously.
For me, there were 3 types of exercises I do to maintain my cardio.
I have a concept 2 rowing machine in my gym. This is my meditation work. This is the work I need to do to keep my mental health in check and to constantly test my stress levels.
The beautiful thing about rowing is that if you can build a rhythm with your breathing and your heart rate, it almost feels effortless. But if you try too hard, it feels labored and you gas out.
A typical rowing workout is a 5000-meter row. Usually I float around 27 strokes per minute. It should take me about 20 minutes.
But, it’s not uncommon for me to do a power row which is over 7000 meters or so. I’m working towards a 10,000-meter row in June.
The Body Coach
There’s this guy on YouTube named Joe. He does fun video workouts.
If I’m being honest, he can be a little gimmicky with his content, but he does have a series of real intense HIIT sessions. I basically do the same 25 minute workout over and over again. It’s the one below.
This is a great circuit for cardio, strength, mobility, and mental toughness.
Training with my sister
Every Tuesday at 4:30 CT, my sister hosts a group workout on zoom. It lasts 45 minutes.
Even though it’s digital (thanks COVID), I still find the group workouts to be a beneficial part of my training and the enjoyment that I get from exercise.
At the end of each workout, it’s fun to take a few minutes to chat with the other people in the class and congratulate each other on a job well done. My sister is a tough trainer. You can follow her here.
How It Feels to Be Strong
I have no desire to compete in bodybuilding and I don’t ever want to lose the parts of fitness that I love, such as the cardio and the HIIT workouts.
But this new experience in my life has been extrememly rewarding.
Like most men, I still feel insecure at the gym. I love going to the gym because I love fitness. But I never felt comfortable walking up to a bench press or being next to groups of guys who clearly have lots of strength. It’s probably why I work out alone because I don’t want to go to the gym with another guy who would be able to lift twice the amount as I could.
The most I have ever benched is 165. I used to really work at it too. The problem was that my fitness regimen and my diet didn’t allow for the kind of results I was dreaming of.
After 5 months of solid work, I bench pressed 205 easy. I’m confident I can do 225 by the end of June.
I feel confident in a way I never did before.
My fitness always gave me confidence, but this is different. I feel more powerful. I feel stronger. I feel like I can move shit out of my way. I can see the way people look at me differently when I walk past them in a tank top.
I feel like I am just getting started on my journey of strength training.
Ultimately, strength training is like anything else. I’m always reminded of a quote from one of my idols, Kai Green.
“Everyone wants to be a bodybuilder but no one wants to pick up this heavy ass weight.”
There’s no way around getting muscles other than picking up heavy shit and putting it back down. It’s been a lesson in patience, focus, discipline, and mental strength.
I’m more excited than ever to progress in my journey of physical fitness.
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