Category Archives: powerlifting

Is The Hulk better than Spiderman?

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I had the opportunity to interview Stan Lee in 2003, as I was still moonlighting for “Hollywood” red carpet premieres, as the Daredevil movie was coming out.

Daredevil was in his category of characters who would become superheroes by an amazingly coincidental concourse of circumstances, nothing short of magic. Instead of trying to rationalize with science he couldn’t explain or justify, he decided to come up with mutations, as part of human evolution.

His mutant superheroes were faced with discrimination in their story lines analogous to racism, homophobia or any other societal fails for human beings.

Allow me to regress and diminish the potential seriousness about the topic to something way less important, especially when terrorist attacks occurred once again, this time on Belgian grounds, using Stan Lee’s pantheon of characters as backdrop to make my silly, yet valid point: is The Hulk better than Spiderman?



Judging from what I see, read or hear from some peers in the community, it would appear so. The balance weighs heavily in favor of the big green guy as being the only form of fitness that matters, that is relevant and all others are a joke. Yet, we could argue that Spidey’s strength, agility, flexibility, climbing and jumping abilities make him a lot more versatile, and his control over his body and actions make him more useful and functional than essentially a creature his alter ego can aim more or less.


In the training, as well as “perception of what strength means” community, Hulkmeister represents what we should aim for, that his abilities trump and fix everything that’s wrong with us. And no, it is not stated in a way that implies the pursuit of strength, rather implies a certain physicality, which is extremely useful on a daily basis for any desk job (if you didn’t detect it, that was sarcasm).


Wait, I hear a fanboy mentioning to me that post-Banner can jump really f*$%&ing high and far. I had to use The Hulk because most people know who he is. So let me amend to this other guy (if you saw the first solo Wolverine movie, you may recognize the character), who is a slightly more realistic fictional character to make a point for something I see a lot of being sold as the end-all be-all supreme attribute of health: enter the Blob.


Let’s get back to reality for a second. On one hand, being super strong and able to lift superheavy weights is pretty cool and plenty useful. On the other hand, being svelte, spry and mobile is useful, makes it easier to navigate the world around us, and is generally a greater indicator of health, especially when cardiovascular disease and other diseases tend to follow certain body types. To have the confidence to be proud of one’s strength achievements and get off your tush frequently to pick heavy stuff up and put it back down is admirable. But please, do not hide behind that strength under the guise of health.

There are still other things to consider, such as how the joints can only support a certain frame for so long, how taxing extra mass is on the body and wears out internal organs, and that carrying excess body fat is hazardous to your health. My job is not to motivate, rather educate and my intention is not to shame those who struggle with fat loss. As good coach will tell you, eat like an adult, get off your ass, exercise, rest and do not latch on to one aspect of fitness because it won’t get rid of whatever unhealthy thing you’re trying to fix by itself.

Look, everything has a purpose. A Lamborghini Aventador is beautiful, but it won’t take you far off-road. An oversized 4×4 Hummer is powerful and intimidating, but it won’t win you the Indy 500 or last long in a chase. The family crossover vehicle will carry your groceries, your camping gear, a few kids to little league practice, your office supplies and nowadays will pack enough powerful ponies under the hood without being too thirsty to hold its ground, even if it’s not as cool.

Georges Hébert discusses “strength” in his book on physical education for women:

“Physical strength, in its broadest sense, is made up of various elements [1], of which the most important ones are:

  • Resistance, endurance or breath, which allow the execution without failing of prolonged work, gymnastics or other, to sustain the same efforts and also to bear fatigue of any kind.

This element of strength, the most precious of all, depends greatly on the value and function of the internal organs. It is the natural outcome of regular and methodical training, as well as routine work of any kind; finally, it also depends on a hygienic and regular lifestyle, free of excess.

  • Pure muscular power, or simply muscle, which enables the execution with various body parts of sufficient efforts in many aspects: pull, push, squeeze, grab, lift, carry, throw, hoist, hit to defend, etc.

This element of strength depends directly on the degree of development achieved by the muscles, as well as the nervous arousal communicated by will, meaning the power of the nervous system.

  • Speed, meaning the ability to be able to do quick moves, rapid extensions, spring launches, sudden stops, etc.

This element of strength depends above all on the more or less high sensitivity of the nervous system, which transmits the command to the muscles to move into action. It also depends on muscular quality and more or less joint flexibility. Long muscles are more favorable to quick actions than short, thick, ropey muscles.

  • Agility, meaning the ability to not only to use one’s muscles and use one’s skills, but also to preserve strength to postpone the effects of fatigue.

Energetic, but clumsy individuals generally waste their strength without function or precise goal. They are often, because of that, inferior to those of medium strength who know how to better manage their efforts more adroitly.

  • Resistance to cold, as well as heat and any weather.
  • Energy and any other virile qualities: will power, courage, cold-blood, decisiveness, firmness, tenacity, the taste for action. Finally, self-control to dominate one’s fears under any circumstances, resist physical and emotional pain, etc.

An individual of medium physical value, but energetic, focused, courageous and tenacious, is always superior in life to an individual having exceptional physical abilities, but soft, lazy, scared and without mental toughness.

  • Knowledge of the process of execution of the fundamental exercises (basic educational exercises) and at the same time, a sufficient ability level in all of them.
  • Finally, sobriety, meaning temperance and moderation in eating and drinking, and frugality, meaning simplicity in choice of nutrition.”

[1] The Strength Code contains the detailed works characterizing strength and the practical tracking of those skills (another book to translate on my list).


Addition by subtraction, or how to simplify the workout for better gains of any kind.

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Regardless of what your ultimate goal is in fitness, maintaining all-around athleticism remains key for your daily activities. And frankly, there is no ultimate goal, because that means it would be the end, with nothing to look forward to beyond. Goals change. Life, give or take a few variables, on the whole, does not.

You need to eat, sleep, rest. Your health and work will change, and how you eat, sleep and rest will adjust, like your training program. Unless you are competing as an athlete or are playing a superhero on TV, you don’t really need to be this big, or that strong. Really, you don’t, and don’t let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise. You do need to stay mobile, stay strong, maintain your muscles, and you do need to walk up stairs, pick stuff up, hold on to things, carry them, run to or from something, even if just walking quickly or avoiding something. Stay Spry!

There is no hack for any exercise, other than for the sake of breaking form so you can find it again. Like saying “there’s no place like home” after you’ve been around the world.

Pick a few things, do them well, do them often. Like, five. Do them for a while. Don’t count the reps, just do as many as you can in a short, predetermined duration of time (10 minutes?) and stop anytime you know or feel your form looks like crap. Start maybe by doing it as well as possible, then when the clock runs out of time, do something else, and come back to the previous exercise the next day.

Rather than add more stuff to do, to eat, to supplement with, get rid of what’s not super essential. If you did a chest exercise, a quad dominate exercise, a back exercise, a shoulder dominant exercise and a hamstring dominant exercise and have time for something else, go twist, rotate, throw, jump, climb or punch. But don’t add another chest exercise if it doesn’t make you better at something else other than pushing the buttons out on your shirt.

Or, if you ran, climbed, punch & kicked, jumped onto or off of something, and threw something, broke a nice sweat, feel a little tired, with a grin and sense of satisfaction: you’re good! keep at it.

Ignore the magazines, the pressure. Easier said than done, right? Do the stuff mentioned above, I promise you the pressure eases up as the feeling of well-being increases!

What’s The Natural Method and what does it mean?

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Shouldn’t I have answered this question many moons ago?

I have answered that in a few podcasts actually, the latest one from Joseph deLeo at Leo Training (link to come when it’s live)

I belong to a closed group on Facebook called the Movement Mavericks, started and monitored by Rannoch Donald and Neil Hill, who are not only huge supporters, they are also great promoters of proper movement skill and walk the walk when in comes to being all-around athletes and servicing their clients as such.

One way to explain it and make it a bit different from any answers I provided thus far is that it is simply the full development of our organism as nature intended, without excess or (whatever the opposite of excess is). Nothing unnecessary, nothing superfluous. We can all understand the notion of not having excess fat, being physically inactive, or needing to be physically active because we no longer are concerned with being part of the food chain. We don’t have to hunt and gather to survive, therefore we’re not utilizing our “naturally designed” physiology. I suspect some will potentially take offense, reject or misinterpret Georges Hébert’s vision when it comes to muscle building or strength training for what he considers to not be natural.

Hébert rejects things we now refer to as powerlifting, or bodybuilding. Training for hypertrophy is such a popular thing, especially among men, and it has been for decades (think of the Pumping Iron days and the buff look of superheroes). And while we can all value strength, how much strength do we truly need? We do like to say that strength trumps everything, that it’s a great go-to fix for most issues (and I agree), there has to be a limit, at some point. Hébert’s motto of “be strong to be useful” can also be translated as “be strong to be functional”. The subtle variation can be detected if you speak French and are familiar with both the original text and my humble translation/transliteration.

Indeed, much like I still struggle with the best English title for the book on women’s physical education, I modified the exact terminology of the original books to reflect a more current understanding of training. Terms we know and can identify quickly and currently may very well be used differently in 20 years. An example of a change I made a decision on is (and you can attack me for the stance, the choice was necessary and this blog, or any other platform like a workshop or speaking engagement can serve the purpose of further explaining my choices): utilitarian exercises, which I renamed functional exercises. Hébert calls them “utilitaires”, for utility, like a utility knife serves a purpose, or any tool. We like to call that functional today, and while utilitarian may be more appropriate, I still have to engage people in a way they understand it. I can’t break too much ground or challenge mindsets without some way to have people identify with it first.

So, reverting to utilitarian, “être fort pour être utile” has an element of functionality and because his program, his Natural Method is geared at all-around athleticism, a focus on just strength training, while it may provide one with the usefulness of being strong for a specific task, automatically eliminates other utilitarian or functional features. For instance, a strongman will usually not have the ability to run long distance, or run very quickly, yet someone who is a runner only (let’s pick an endurance runner) will not have the strength to be useful at other tasks. And because the Method originates from a military need, it all comes back to the source of what Dr Ed Thomas like to teach:

  • Medical/corrective
  • Military/Martial
  • Visual (for a harmonious development of the body)

Also, the hyper focus on strength training only, at the expense of other aspects, is a direct validation of the SAID principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands).

Let us not misinterpret consequently that the Natural Method doesn’t apply to people with muscles developed beyond a natural environmental need (there is no such thing as environmental need, globally speaking, unless you’re a sherpa, a Maasai warrior or other exception). Bodybuilding has no real function, yes. But who cares? What’s important is the bodybuilder being able to have a certain level of skill in other areas: agility, coordination, basic climbing or scaling, throwing light or heavy objects, being able to run. I happen to work with bodybuilders who value the work and principles brought forth by Georges Hébert and apply them in their training while still working on developing their muscles beyond what Nature intended or daily needs call for (and I am not talking about drugs or other things, only that unless specific attention is given to hypertrophy, muscles will only grow so much from basic labors required in the wild).

There is a reason why many ‘natural’ movements (as in philosophies or fitness approaches) like to refer to our hunting and gathering ancestors looking a certain way, because no caveman would pick up a rock or tree trunk and dead-lift it for reps with the goal to get stronger or bigger. It simply didn’t exist or didn’t fit into the lifestyle. Today, it’s a choice and an interest with a health benefit, whereas fitness then was a necessity for survival. No one actually dies today directly from being unfit (heart disease will do it for you as a consequence only) because rare is the person who has a saber tooth tiger chasing them. Gazelles and lions get it, but we don’t have to. We’re not getting picked out of the herd anymore.

The Crossfit movement tries to adhere to that, actually, by pushing it to excess, though. That’s the spirit of competition (something Hébert rejected to a point, as he believes in competition among peers during training and development as a way to equalize all trainees, but not for the sake of competition and scoring). Hébert didn’t care about being Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger, but he believed in being strong, fast and harmoniously developed based on the stimulus provided by all the activities. He was a generalist, a jack of all trades, and you know what? That’s not such a bad thing to be. Consider pro athletes: their ultra specialization makes them broken, physically, sometimes mentally and there is a reason sports careers are short (the career spans depending on the damages caused by the activity on the body). They are masters at their craft, for a while, and many end up badly hurt after they retire. For the rest of us, being fit, strong, functioning individuals is a lifetime journey, its span only affected by our health and fitness.

I also believe in moderation, of course. What’s the point of being too strict if you’re miserable all the time? And how are you truly enjoying yourself if you’re unhealthy, in pain, popping pills all the time and unable to do basic tasks, be they for fun or utility? On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being totally inactive and poorly eating and 10 being gangbusters gym rat orthorexic antisocial, choose to be an 8: eat well, train, and reward yourself with a few vices that you earned. But only if you earned them. If you fall below a 6, you’re not even average or median, you’re simply far below optimal. The difference between 8 and 10 is just as big as the difference between 6 and 8, but it’s far easier to get from 6 to 8 than it is to get from 8 to 10, and the benefits of being an 8 over a 6 are vastly, vastly worth the effort. Claiming lack of time is simply stating that “it’s not a priority”.

As a friend of mine recently said on FaceBook, try to say from now on “it’s not a priority” rather than saying “I don’t have the time”, and see how you feel. Is your health not a priority? Your strength? Your bank account? Your family?

How a complete “Natural Method” session looks like

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Home of the Natural Method

Not too long ago, I posted a blog about how Georges Hébert set up a complete session. If you go back and revisit that post with its vintage pictures, you will see that equipment was a bit different a century ago (like the mold below where you can pour concrete to make a construction brick). All goals are met, by the way, from developing strength, endurance, muscle mass, cardio, flexibility, agility (you know my FAST pillars by now), which incidentally leads to weight loss without it being the focus (all around athleticism leads to greater fitness, health and that leads to weight loss too!).


One of the reasons I wanted to give people an updated version of his training program is simply because equipment has evolved. Now, we’re not going to go show you all the selectorized equipment options or machines which isolate muscle groups which have been developed since. Instead, the focus will remain on variety of free weights, whether it’s a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, sandbag, sand bell, medicine ball etc…

One additional key is the use of technique. Again, using machines requires a much lesser level of attention to proper form, as it’s almost “done for you”, and if you are going to use free weights, form is essential.

So, here is an updated equivalent post, which also serves as another sneak preview of the upcoming book with the program design of Georges Hébert’s Practical Guide to Physical Education through his Natural Method.


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And of course, running (sprinting, jogging, racing) for speed, endurance, power, cardiovascular health, hygienic cleansing and waste elimination benefits through sweating etc…

Latest peek at photos from the upcoming book

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Because pictures tell a better story.

Many thanks (chronologically based on photography sessions) to Nick Bustos, Patrick Hartsell, Melody Schoenfeld, James Neidlinger, Ron Jones and Jennifer Winkelman for making yourselves available amidst all of your activities and busy lives to be part of this fitness project, shot by Antje Anders.

I also want to thank Throwdown and XFit Brands David Vautrin and Ted Joiner for lending us their facility and equipment!

Here is a sampler of jumping, lifting, throwing, climbing, fighting as well as some fundamental/basic educational exercises from the upcoming book based on Georges Hébert’s training program design.


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Lifting Terminology

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In the process of my translating Georges Hébert’s work, as well as the upcoming release of the 3rd installment of his Practical Guide to Physical Education, the chapter on lifting refreshed me with something something cool: lifting terminology in French!

Revisiting those terms I hadn’t heard since childhood P.E. classes was interesting, to see how some names almost cue the exercises to perform. I wonder also if they give any particular exercise some “freedom” to do the move (as opposed to rigid standards), the way Crossfit terminology adapted terms to avoid being chastised for incorrect form or deviation from standards in other lifting sports.

Anyway, here’s a fun translation of the terms used in English and what they are in French (translated already, so no French words in this blog). Grammatically, they’re conjugated, past-tense vs English nouns.

  • The standing Military Press/Shoulder Press: the “Developed”.
  • The Jerk: the “Thrown”.
  • The Clean: the “Shouldered”.
  • The Snatch: the “Torn Off” or “Ripped At The Roots”.
  • The Swing: the “Volley”, only one here that’s a noun. (Now, this is a one-arm exercise only, an overhead straight-arm swing, a move I have not seen, other than criticized versions thereof, which in this case is performed with a “Forward Slit”).
  • The Bent Press: the “Unscrewed” (a one-armed drill where the body leans down during the overhead pressing part, leaning side being the opposite of the pressing side, and done so to avoid jerking and keep it “grinding”. I’m going to play with that with my kettlebell heavy press!)

Exact descriptions will be presented in book 3, chapter VI.

A bench press, by the way, would be a “lying developed”, while the clean & jerk is “shouldered & thrown”, which sounds more appropriate IMHO.

Available on Amazon Kindle now!

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Here it is, folks!

After hours, weeks and days of translation work, practical application, field testing on myself, peers and clients, the release of the first book of The Natural Method trilogy is here for you to download for the whopping price of $1.99! A bargain basement price if you consider the cost of the original work and the slowly climbing prices of vintage fitness books.

Just like with any method or system, it is important to understand it, assimilate it and even at times question it before going out and teaching it. I invite all readers to do so first by digesting the information and even apply existing knowledge to it. After all, while the exercises themselves are not new, be it for familiarity of execution and alternative warm-up drills (all of which will be covered in the second book due in January 2015), the layout, organization, sequence of training and intensity management of exercises outlined in this first installment are of benefit to all in the fitness industry.

Group ex, one-on-one, novice to expert, scoring and measuring tools, it’s all here today, courtesy of one of the pillars of our fitness History.

Get it now for less than a trip to your local name brand java joint!


Lesson model and order

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This is an excerpt from the book, Chapter IV. It charts the order of drills and explains the intensity variations for optimal performance within the session, from warm-up to cool down.

  1. Any kind of walking.
  2. Corrective exercises.
  3. Flexibility and mobility of the arms, leg and trunk.
Correcting mindset, warming up the body and general loosening up of the body (aesthetic benefits).
  1. Basic arm and leg movements, simple or combined, free hand or with gear.
  2. Lifting.
  3. Throwing.
  4. Combatives: boxing and wrestling.
General and symmetrical development of all the body parts. Joint flexibility (aesthetic benefits).Skill development and coordination in order to improve fighting, lifting and throwing abilities (functional benefits)
  1. Suspension/Hanging.
  2. Supported/Planks.
  3. Climbing variations.
  4. Balancing drills geared also at overcoming fear of heights/vertigo.
Specific development of the upper body, trunk and core musculature (aesthetic benefits). Sense of equilibrium, agility of all kinds for climbing or scaling (functional benefits).
  1. Hopping.
  2. Speed training.
  3. Short distance runs.
Intense action on the major systems of the body: cardiovascular and respiratory (hygienic benefits).Improvement in normal and work pacing (functional benefits).
5 Trunk and core specific Emphasis on back, thoracic and abdominal musculature development (aesthetic benefits).
  1. Jumps of all kinds: with or without momentum, with hand support, on moving or fixed obstacles.
  2. Velocity/speed   and distance running (like in Section 4).
  3. Swimming.
  4. Games utilizing running, jumping, swimming, fighting actions etc…
Same benefits as in Section 4, but more intense.All the exercises in this section produce hygienic, aesthetic and functional benefits.
  1. Breath work.
  2. Marching/Walking.
Restore the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems.Breathing education.





–       Exercises in Section 1 simply serve to warm-up and loosen up the body.

–       Exercises in Sections 4 and 6 on average require greater effort than those in Sections 1, 2 and 3.

–       Section 5 is positioned on purpose between two sections of more strenuous nature (jumping, running etc.) because the exercises in this section require little effort but provide the body with the necessary relaxation characterized by a lowering of the heart rate.

–       Finally, exercises in Section 7 are geared towards restoring the breath and lowering the heart rate before resting. They can be performed during the session when the taxing efforts of a particular exercise require restoration.


Spartan Race & Warrior Diet

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On Sunday, December 12, 2010, I participated, along with 3 other tough guys, in an event called the Spartan Race.
Rather than do the thing on my own, I thought it’d be more fun to have a team (besides saving a few beer bucks on the registration fee and building team spirit).

I like to work towards a goal, and the mere training goals of strength building or hypertrophy didn’t tickle my adrenal glands enough to generate any kind of training fire inside me. While my personal routine didn’t change in preparation of the event, I wanted to prove that I can be ready any time, any day, and that the conditioning I put myself through would be enough. So, the only variable I changed in my training was my diet, which was great because I embarked on a journey I’ve been hearing about and wanted to experience myself after rave reviews. I’m talking about Ori Hofmekler’s Warrior Diet. My personal results have been fantastic and I am glad to endorse it!

Why The Warrior Diet: Switch on Your Biological Powerhouse For High Energy, Explosive Strength, and a Leaner, Harder Body?
Well, for starters, if my own coaches and RKC comrades have been raving about it, it was endorsement enough for me to give it a shot. Designed for efficiency and maximal energy, it seemed like a no-brainer since my journey as a new father has been tough on the eating and sleeping schedule, 2 vital components of any successful fitness program. I directly asked Pavel Tsatsouline, who’s been on it for years I believe, his take on it. While it wouldn’t necessarily pack mass on me, it would give me plenty of energy and time to both work and take care of the baby when my wife needed time for herself and her work, in between my own clients.
Since any balanced diet revolves around insulin management, I was skeptical because all I was ever taught was to eat frequent meals during the day, which prevents overeating and “survival” metabolic slow-down. See, the Warrior Diet has you go through periods of controlled under-eating during the day alternating with over-eating at night.

I can almost see your furrowed brow on one side, raised brow on the other side. Some of your “hmm…” can be heard through the web too!

Hofmekler has you eat only live and raw foods during the day. Coffee or tea is allowed. Drink as much water as you want of course. Squeeze some fresh veggies and fruits and guzzle it down, chew on some raw almonds, cashews or pistachios. Hunger is a sign of vitality. Of course, don’t mistake that for an anorexic program! You eat enough to sustain and actually stimulate insulin release and get you going, burning fat and preserving muscle. You can even ingest a protein shake. But don’t stuff yourself like the domestic nomadic Zoo animal our society turned us into. Think predator, hungry, strong and driven to survive and thrive! When a big cat like a lion or a tiger feasts, they eat till satisfied, unsure of when their next meal comes. That’s you at dinner time. Eat till you’re more thirsty than hungry. Follow the VERY HEALTHY order of salad first, then your veggies, then your protein and if you have room, your carbs. Mix and match textures, colors, tastes (crunchy, soft, sweet, sour, savory, green, red, cold, hot…) and eat away. Then, rest up and sleep. While asleep (night time, circadian rhythm), you only use enough calories to rebuild your muscles from your hunt (I mean, training), while stocking up energy for the day ahead.

Think warrior, Roman soldier: when do you have time during battle to take a break and eat. Your adrenaline’s pumping, you’re hungry for life, food but need to stay razor sharp. How do you think you’d do if you felt like after Thanksgiving dinner while trying to slash away at your enemies? Lethargic is my guess. Save that for sleep!

Hofmekler goes into better detail in his book, and I urge you to give it a shot. I wouldn’t if I didn’t try it myself.

I have always been a fan of the TNT diet, which taught me that we only burn carbs at high physical intensity training (weights, sprints, martial arts, surfing, tennis…) and burn fat when our heart rate is slow/resting (blogging, sleeping, surfing your desk, watching TV…). The Paleo diet adheres to the same principle, though I am no fan of eating liver, kidneys or any other filtration organs and I do mind eating the better cuts of meat. I am picky, I won’t eat certain parts, like the heart or the brain. Sorry, Paleo dieters, you’re better people than I am, and I see no real reason to do this, other than maybe to generate less waste from the animal that “donated” its life.
The Zone diet doesn’t work, because not everyone’s needs are the same. Athletes vs couch potatoes, pregnant vs non-pregnant women, marathon runners vs shot putters. You can’t say we all need 30% fat, 30% protein, 40% carbs. And ultimately, the body reach homeostasis, so why not try something new, that makes sense and is on par with your goals? It even works if you’re not a lifter, and just want a new program. Read it, read Ori’s points and analysis.

I started 10 days before my 5K obstacle course in the Malibu mountains, the infamous Spartan Race. By body fat percentage was at 12.5% on a Saturday. On Tuesday, I had dropped 3% body fat at my annual physical exam. My lifts, my energy and my mood have been better. On the day of the race, after completing uphill runs, scaling steep 10′ walls, mud crawls, cold water swim, cargo nets and gladiators with big foam sticks at the finish line, I felt exhilarated, elated and I never got sore nor did I feel more fatigued than after a “medium” intensity workout!

To me, that was validation enough in my eating with the Warrior Diet, as well as my training with kettlebells, powerlifts and natural movement patterns, staples of my (and your) physical fitness development!
(I did run wearing my Vibram Five-Fingers and was glad I did. The grip and agility it gave me, especially after crawling through wet, muddy areas, was a nice welcome compared to wearing soggy sneakers!)

F.A.S.T. Pillar #1: Flexibility


My FAST Philosophy revolves around 4 pillars and a 4-way approach to fitness. The pillars are Fast, Agile, Strong and Toned and the 4 steps are about 4 elements (nutrition, training, hormones, environment), 3 steps (skill development, practice, application), 2 modalities (Ballistics and Grinds, as in the RKC school of strength training) and 1 body (yours).

When you mention “flexibility”, most people think of yogis, dancers, Pilates instructors and generally very lean body types. Other words associated with flexibility, among others, are “stretching” and for the folks who are not flexible, “pain” and “discomfort” also comes to mind. However, few people think of strength when the word “flexibility” is brought up.

Have you ever seen an Olympic lifter lift well over their bodyweight in an overhead lockout and deep squat? The shoulders or fully brachiated, elbows locked, chest open, back flat and straight and buttocks inches from the ground, heels firmly planted. I challenge you to go pick up a broomstick and perform the same movement. Go do it now (insert intermission music here while you try). You back yet? Not so easy, huh?

The overhead squat is a great way to assess a person’s mobility, flexibility and imbalances. Notice that flexibility is only one of the aspects I am focusing on. First of all, flexibility comes from mobility, a.k.a. your ability to move well. Most people confuse stability with stiffness, whereas if I can troubleshoot your movement and teach you how to move better, you will gain better flexibility and overall stability (e.g. the overhead squat requires tremendous flexibility under load while keeping that load -you and the weight- stable). Using the example of the lifter performing an overhead squat, his back is strong, shoulders are very mobile, calves and quadriceps very flexible to allow for proper dorsiflexion while the hamstrings come in contact with the calves at the bottom of the squat without lifting the heels off the ground.

I am not saying a yogi cannot perform such a feat, rather am merely pointing the fact that the ability to move a fridge and do a backbend are not mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, incorporating heavy lifts into your program will not only build your muscles and allow you to burn more fat, build strength and slow down the aging process, it will help your body become more functional because you are not focused on just one modality.

Stretching is an activity that, if you’re not good at it, is often overlooked or done improperly, especially if your range of motion is poor. Plus, your mind has trained your body into thinking you can’t go past a certain point. First, assess what your individual needs are. Second, your muscles are like an animal under attack, guarded and braced. Relax the muscles as you would appease the animal and you’re likely to be able to increase your range of motion, as you can pet the fearful animal. One way to relax your muscles is by actually engaging and contracting them. Say you cannot touch your toes. Stand with your knees touching, squeeze your glutes, contract your quads and lats and forcefully push your fists downwards, toward the floor. Repeat the action at every forceful exhale as you inch along towards the ground. It’s OK to bend your knees. Just make sure your butt is dropped below your shoulders before you come back upright.
Now, take a deep breath, exhale and relax into the toe touch. You’ve just gained a few millimeters, or inches, based on your natural level of fitness. By contracting the muscles, you’ve removed the fear of pain and focused on their strength. Upon release, the relieved muscle now is like the calmed animal and goes further into the stretch.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, or PNF, revolves around the concept of contracting the opposite muscles to relax the primary muscle and ease it into further range of motion. Relaxing your muscles into it is a great way to protect your muscles, especially under load when most injuries occur. Loosening up the body by loosening up the joints is a great warm-up prior to any kind of physical activity. Many people stretch before working out not realizing that stretching itself is a workout. Do a round of strength stretching and you might find the need to drop your working weight because of the onset of fatigue. And remember, when fatigued, your muscles are relaxed and if they’re too relaxed, your ability to lift heavy is compromised and you may hurt yourself.

Don’t stretch when you warm-up, rather loosen up the joints.
Use tension (strength) when going into a stretch, then relax and instantly increase your range of motion (temporarily at first, gets better with practice).
Stretch after training to restore proper length-tension relationship in the muscles and connective tissue.
Flexibility under load is crucial for injury proofing the body. If you perform heavy lifts without the flexibility and mobility to maintain proper form, you WILL get injured.
If your flexibility is only the result of stretching workouts like Pilates, keep in mind that it is not enough to develop strength or the ability to load your body with heavier weights, as you will not have developed proper leverage skills for your heavy lifts.

To read about pillars 2, 3 & 4, click on the links below:
Pillar 2: Agility.
Pillar 3: Strength.
Pillar 4: Tone.