The Value of Failure

February 23, 2014     Posted in Mental & Philosophical by Gloria Kaneko     0 Comments

I was watching an episode of The Twilight Zone the other day which was very interesting.  In this episode a genie granted a hard-working shop owner four wishes, where he could ask for absolutely anything he wanted.

The Value of Failure

Being very skeptical of the genie, the man’s first wish was to repair a broken panel of glass in one of his store’s display cases, as a test to see whether the genie really did have the power to grant him anything he asked for.  Sure enough, the genie granted the man his wish and the glass panel was new again.

For his second wish, the shop owner asked for one million dollars in cash, which the genie also granted.  The generous man gave away part of the money to friends and acquaintances, and after the tax man came to collect his share, unfortunately the man was left with only five dollars.

The man then thought about asking for one million dollars after tax for his third wish, but fearing being cheated once again, he and his wife decided against it.  This time he asked for something he thought couldn’t possibly go wrong, something he thought was dead sure – to be the ruler of a foreign country where he couldn’t be voted out.

Once again the man was granted his wish, and he found himself as Adolf Hitler at the end of the second world war, just about to commit suicide to avoid being captured.  Eager to get himself out of the terrible situation, the man had no option but to wish that everything was back to normal once again, using up his final wish.

Back in his store with his wife, the shop owner finally decided that his store and his life weren’t so bad, he cut his losses and the couple were happy that in the end, nothing was lost.

The moral of the story was that you always have to be aware of the consequences or pitfalls of fast, easy success, which is absolutely true.  But I also saw another very important lesson in the story.

When the shop owner failed with his second wish and was left with only five dollars, I believe the wise thing to do was to build on the lesson he had just learned and wish for after-tax money for his third wish, as he had first thought.  Then, if something went wrong again, he would be wiser still and have a final wish to get it right by correcting any other mistake.  Instead the man acted out of fear, disregarded what he had just learned from his failure, and tried for something totally new and therefore uncertain.

This is what many people who are trying to lose weight and become fit tend to do.  They try something, and when it doesn’t go the way they were expecting or hoping, they instantly switch to something different.  Oftentimes they spend many years of their lives hopping from one program, diet, or idea to another, getting nowhere and learning nothing in the process.  Taking shots in the dark over and over is no strategy for success.

From when we’re young we’re taught that failure is a bad thing, but it isn’t.  Failure is a real and necessary part of life, it’s part of the journey to success.  When you fail, you have something very valuable, don’t let it go to waste.  Instead, learn from your mistakes and build on them.  That’s how you get propelled in the right direction towards success.

The biggest consequence of looking for fast, easy success is that you actually make the journey a lot longer, harder and more frustrating than it would be if you just worked towards it and accepted the inevitable failures and setbacks along the way.


Zen and the Art of Training to Failure

February 12, 2014     Posted in Exercise, Mental & Philosophical by Fabian Colussi     0 Comments

Following on from Gloria’s blog post a few weeks ago about the role of the mind in training, I just wanted to talk a little bit about training to failure, since the mind is very closely tied up in this.

Training to Failure

Training to failure isn’t something you necessarily do in each and every set of your workouts, but you do it often enough (depending upon your own personal program, of course) to warrant understanding what exactly it means and how it’s done.

Now, you may be thinking, it’s very simple – you just keep going until you can’t do anymore!  And you would be pretty correct.  But the problem is that the failure point for any given exercise isn’t always that clear cut.

For example, is failure the point at which you absolutely can’t do anymore repetitions of an exercise while maintaining strictly perfect form?  Or is breaking from perfect form just a little quite acceptable, for the sake of being able to do another few reps?  How many more reps?  Is a little bit of “cheating” OK just to finish off a set, and if so, how much can you cheat?

Added to that, you’ll also find that the failure point can involve a lot more “grey area” for some exercises than for others.  In many cases your limit can be largely a mental one in that it depends heavily upon your mindset and your tolerance to pain, whereas in other cases it’s more a physical limit that depends on your strength.

Understanding failure and how to achieve it is paramount for getting the most out of each set of your workout.  Below is an outline of how I like to approach a typical failure set to get the absolute maximum benefit out of it, assuming my objective is hypertrophy (muscle growth).

Internal Focus

First of all, start off the set with what Gloria described in her blog post as an Internal Focus.  This means forming that mind-muscle connection by focusing on the muscle group you’re targeting with the exercise, and visualizing it working as you perform each rep.

What this does is it causes the target muscle group to activate maximally, and do as much of the work as possible, with as little assistance as possible from assisting muscles.  As Gloria mentioned, studies have shown that focusing in this way makes a dramatic difference to the amount of muscle activation you achieve in the target muscle.

Just be aware, however, that focusing internally in this way is so effective at maximizing the working of the target muscle that you’ll need to use less weight than you otherwise would.  So if your goal is to impress people in the gym by working out with big weights, you should probably ignore this advice.  But if results are your goal, then focusing internally is one of the best things you can do to improve the quality of your workouts.

External Focus

Once you feel you can go no further in the set, switch to what Gloria described in her blog post as an External Focus.  This means focusing on the completion of the movement itself, as opposed to the target muscle group being worked.

This shift in focus causes your body to automatically recruit assisting muscles to aid the major working muscle group, making the movement somewhat easier to continue.  Just how much more you can complete using this technique depends on the exercise and muscle group being trained.  In some cases it may allow you to complete several more repetitions, and in others perhaps only one.


Once you feel you can’t go any further using an external focus you have, strictly speaking, reached your failure point.  Bear in mind that up to this point, you’ve maintained strict form and haven’t relied on any deviations to make the movement easier for yourself in any way.

To have any way of continuing the set further, therefore, you’re going to have to “cheat”.  That means breaking from perfect form in some way to allow either other muscles, or momentum, or some other factor, to assist the target muscle group further and therefore allow one or more additional reps to be performed.

Opinions are divided as to whether such cheating is a good thing or a bad thing.  In my opinion, cheating is fine, with the following conditions:

1. It’s done safely and doesn’t create the possibility of injury.

Jiggling or rocking your body backwards and forwards to get through a sticking point or to lock out a heavy deadlift, for example, is just plain scary and should be avoided at all costs.  Rocking your body slightly to facilitate one or two more bicep curls, on the other hand, is quite safe.

2. It’s kept to a sensible level.

Cheating ceases to be sensible when it becomes necessary to compensate for using way too much weight, and/or where an exaggerated amount is necessary.

We’re all familiar with the practice of swinging one’s body slightly during Lat Pull-Downs to get some assistance from momentum.  When done moderately for a repetition or two as a cheat, that’s fine.

Just two days ago in the gym I saw a guy performing Lat Pull-Downs and swinging so hard that his body was literally 30 degrees from horizontal at the bottom of each movement, making the exercise look more like a row than a pull-down.  That exaggerated a movement simply isn’t sensible, in this case so much so that it actually diverted a major part of the effort away from the target muscle group.  Added to that, because he was using far more weight than he could handle, he needed to use this “cheat” for the entire set.

3. It’s only used for a sensible number of repetitions.

In my opinion, a cheat is only really acceptable when used to complete a partial repetition and maybe perform one additional one.  In a longer set of say 18 reps or more, completing a repetition and perhaps two additional ones is okay.


Incorporating a small cheat into the end of a failure set allows you to get a few additional reps from the set, which means a little more volume and therefore more overall benefit.  It does this simply by lightening the load slightly on the target muscle group for those extra few reps to make them achievable.

As I mentioned earlier, cheating is different for each exercise and each muscle group.  In some cases you won’t be able to cheat safely, in which case you shouldn’t at all.  Sometimes cheating will make a minimal difference to your set and other times it will make quite a bit.  The important thing is to keep it safe and not overdo it.

By using this 3-step approach to getting the most out of your failure sets you’ll maximize the effectiveness of your training by ensuring as thorough a workout on your target muscle groups as possible.

Give it a try!


Metabolic Damage v3.0 (Damage Control)

February 6, 2014     Posted in Nutrition, Weight Loss by Layne Norton     0 Comments

In the latest installment of the BioLayne video log we dive into some of the responses to the first two videos on metabolic damage/adaptation.  I was not prepared for the volume of response to the first two videos nor was I prepared for the level of blowback from the coaches who perpetuate these starvation diets & endless hours of cardio.

Metabolic Damage

Here I address the ‘Damage Control’ that these people are trying to implement to save face.  I also spent a lot of time talking about specific research on the metabolic adaptations to low kcal/excessive exercise including a review paper from the University of Colorado entitled ‘Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain’ published in the American Journal of Physiology that is the best piece of literature I’ve ever read regarding this subject.  We cover many of the adaptations that happen due to the ‘energy gap’ created by low kcal/excessive exercise and how they can set you up for massive metabolic slowing & weight regain when dieting is done improperly.

Research studies discussed in this video:

Biology’s response to dieting:…

Metabolic responses to prolonged weight reduction:…

Adipose gene expression in response to caloric restriction & weight regain:…

Calorie restruction increases mitochondrial efficiency:…

The defense of body weight:…








The Mind’s Role in Training

January 21, 2014     Posted in Mental & Philosophical by Gloria Kaneko     0 Comments

As you can imagine, dragging yourself into the gym five to six times a week on a mission to push yourself to new limits time and time again can be extremely challenging – physically, emotionally and mentally.  You certainly learn a lot about yourself – what your strengths are, as well as what your weaknesses and fears are.  And you learn how to come to terms with all these and somehow work with them and around them to progress towards your goals.

Training Mind

Any athlete or person who’s committed to working out for a purpose goes through this journey of inner discovery.  And part of the process is getting to know how to best prepare yourself mentally every day and for each and every workout you face.

Having trained specifically for competition for almost two and a half years now, I’ve learned just how vitally important the mind is for not only keeping me on track to my goals but also for getting the best possible results from each workout.  I can’t overstate what a huge effect it has.

For me, there are two sides to mental preparation for my training.  One side keeps me going to the gym each and every day without fail, and the other keeps me putting 100% into every workout session I do, or more importantly, getting 100% out of every session.

Knowing how to keep myself committed to my training program has always been pretty straightforward to me – I dedicate time each and every day to thinking about my goals, visualizing where I want to be and what I want to achieve, and motivating myself every morning with videos and photos of my heroes and role models.

How to mentally prepare myself for my workouts and how to approach them mentally, on the other hand, has been more a process of trial and error, to learn what works best for me.

What I find personally very important is to try to remain emotionally detached from the workout I’m about to do or I’m in the process of doing.  I try not to think or form an opinion about whether I like or dislike doing a particular exercise or working a particular body part.  I don’t think about whether something is going to be hard or easy.  I approach everything with a cold, mechanical mindset, like I just have a job to do and each job is the same as every other.

By playing the “favorites” game you put yourself at a disadvantage when you have to do the tougher exercises.  You risk becoming unsure of yourself and being defeated by the exercise before you even start.  It will actually feel harder to perform.  You can’t allow it to get the better of you.  There’s no room for doubts or feelings if your goal is to get the absolute best out of your workout.  You have to be focused 100% on crushing whatever you’re working on.

In my case, I’m following a very specific program with my training so I bring a workout sheet into to gym with me each time that tells me exactly what I need to do – which body parts, which exercises, how many sets, how many reps, what weight, what intensity, and so on.  I find this helps a lot because it means that I don’t need to think about anything in the gym, and I can just go through my list mechanically and focus on actually doing the job to the best of my ability.  I don’t need to think about what to do next, how many sets I’ve done, what the time is, and other distracting issues.  I can remain totally focused in the present each moment.

Being in the present is particularly important during an exercise.  A number of studies have conclusively shown that your mind has a great influence on what your muscles actually experience during a workout.  Evidence shows that you can actually mentally alter the amount of contribution different muscles make during an exercise, for example, even with no observable change in exercise form.  This strongly supports the long-held belief by bodybuilders in the mind-muscle connection.

My mental focus during an exercise depends upon the objective of the exercise.  Most of the exercises I do are aimed at muscle growth, or hypertrophy, so for those I use what’s referred to as an internal focus.  This means focusing closely on the muscle group being trained (mind-muscle connection), so that it’s activated maximally and therefore does most of the work and gets most of the benefit.

Training Mind

Some examples of this are focusing on my lats during pull-ups or pull-downs, so that they do most of the work and my biceps contribute as little as possible; focusing on my upper and mid back during rows for the same reasons; and focusing on my quads or glutes during squats, depending on which I want to emphasize.

You’ll find that just using mental focus alone, you can reduce the weight required by many of your exercises, simply because you force the muscle group being trained to work so much harder.  This may sometimes be a little difficult for your ego to come to terms with, but the results speak for themselves.

Sometimes exercises in my training program aim to build strength or power, and for these I use what’s called an external focus.  This means focusing on the actual result of the movement, rather than the source.

So for example, if I’m doing power squats to build leg strength, I don’t focus on my legs or which muscles I’m using, but rather on the bar.  I psych myself up to have an aggressive power mentality, and think about pushing the bar up as powerfully as I can, with every shred of my strength, at all costs (without sacrificing safe form, of course).

The internal focus and external focus have two different objectives, one is to maximize and focus the effort and the other is to maximize the result.  And the difference that using these makes to the effectiveness of my workouts is enormous.

At the end of the day, however, we’re all human, not robots, so as much as we try to avoid it, we can still have occasional bad days where we feel tired, demotivated, or simply not at our best, and our mind can weaken.

Like many people, my least favorite type of exercise is cardio.  And on those days when I’m not feeling mentally 100% but have a particularly grueling cardio session to do (these normally only come along during contest prep, thank goodness!), I make a point of doing my cardio workout first, followed by my weights session, rather than the other way around as I normally do.

By using this strategy when my mind isn’t at its best, I find that not having the thought of an impending tough cardio session hanging over my head allows me to focus better on my weights session.  It’s mentally more uplifting knowing that once the tough workout is out of the way, the rest of the day will be easier by comparison.

It’s very easy, once you’ve been working out for a long time, so grow complacent and start simply “going through the motions” with your training.  This is when your results really begin to suffer noticeably.  That’s why it’s so important to always work hard on staying mentally engaged both with your fitness lifestyle as a whole and with each workout session.

Work on finding out how to best use your thinking to maximize the results of your training program as a whole and of your individual workouts.  Get familiar with what works for you personally and make a habit of using your mind as much as you use your body during your training sessions.

It’s not about trying to make yourself perfect or a machine that can’t be stopped, that will never happen.  It’s simply about understanding the great power of your mind and managing it cleverly to allow it to give you as much of an advantage in your training as possible.


Ronda Rousey and Cowardly Critics

January 17, 2014     Posted in Rants by Fabian Colussi     0 Comments

I read an interesting blog post recently by Dr AnnMaria DeMars, mother of UFC champion Ronda Rowsey, where she basically defended the actions of her daughter following her win over Miesha Tate at UFC 168 in December of last year.

Ronda Rousey & Miesha Tate

Following the fight, Ronda refused to shake Miesha’s hand, in what many people saw as a classless act of poor sportsmanship.  It incited widespread booing by the crowd in attendance, so much so that it almost drowned out Ronda’s post-fight interview in the Octagon, and later went on to be the subject of ongoing discussion in the media and on social networks.

Shortly after the fight I posted a congratulatory note to Ronda on our Facebook page for her victory, and even there she attracted quite a number of critical comments for her decision.

The bitter rivalry between these two athletes is certainly no secret to any UFC fan, but as Ronda pointed out in her post-fight interview, it was what she saw as Miesha’s disrespect that prompted her to snub her opponent’s offer to shake hands:

“For me, family comes before anything, even the boos and cheers of the crowd.  And I feel like it would disrespect what she had done to my family if I shook her hand.  As I said, she did an amazing job but I can’t shake the hand of someone who spits on my back.”

Personally, I didn’t see Ronda’s actions as poor sportsmanship at all.

Refusing to shake your victor’s hand – that would be sulking over a loss.  That would be poor sportsmanship.

Taunting your defeated opponent after a victory – that would be gloating.  That would be poor sportsmanship.

But refusing to shake an opponent’s hand after having defeated them, for reasons external to the fight, in my opinion, doesn’t qualify as poor sportsmanship.  Now, it could be argued ad infinitum whether or not Ronda’s reasons for her actions were enough justification.  At the end of the day that’s up to the individual, and in Ronda’s view they obviously were.

Anyhow, this whole episode got me to thinking about something that I really find quite annoying, and that is people who judge or criticize others, when and only when they consider it socially safe to do so.

As someone who administers a Facebook page and other social media accounts dealing with fitness, and who visits dozens of related social media accounts on a daily basis, I come across a lot of critical and judgmental comments and posts by people.

But interestingly, over the several years that I’ve been involved in this area, I can honestly say that I don’t recall once ever having come across a negative or derogatory comment aimed at an overweight woman.

Why is that?

Well, simply because it’s considered inappropriate, politically incorrect and socially unacceptable to criticize someone for being overweight.  Society sees that as cruel, so people are generally too afraid to do so publically.  By criticizing an overweight person they run the risk of being labeled insensitive and bullies, and of attracting hateful criticism themselves.

But criticizing a woman for being too thin, too muscular, or for having surgical enhancements?  Well, that’s a whole other matter.  That’s socially far safer and can therefore apparently be done much more freely.

Countless times I have read posts and comments such as “she needs to eat something”, “someone give her a burger”, or “that’s unhealthy” in response to a photo of a woman who’s seen by some as being too thin; comments such as “she looks like a guy” or “that’s gross” directed at a muscular woman; derogatory comments about being fake directed at a woman with breast implants; and so on.

Notwithstanding the fact that more often than not, these individuals who criticize seem unable to distinguish between someone who is unhealthily thin and someone who’s simply slim and toned, they nevertheless take it upon themselves to be cruel and judgmental, simply because they feel they can get away with it without any backlash.

On the contrary, they generally expect support for their comments.  They believe that by taking the so-called moral high ground and preaching about what they see as intentional unhealthy, dangerous or “extreme” practices by others, it gives them license to . . . let’s call it what it is . . . be haters.

Being overweight is far from healthy.  The negative health effects of obesity are widely understood and well documented.  So then, why do these morally superior people who are seemingly so concerned about the health of strangers choose to limit their criticism to just thin, fit or muscular women and not overweight women?

It’s simple – they’re cowards.

Ronda Rousey

Am I suggesting that we should be criticizing overweight women more?  Of course not, that’s not my point.

Ideally, no one should be criticizing anyone.  We’re all individuals, some of us are naturally thin and some are naturally heavy.  Some have to work hard to lose weight and some have to work hard to gain it.

But all that aside, there’s far more to each and every one of us as people than our appearance and our physical size.  That’s not what defines us as human beings.  So no one should be judged or labeled by that criteria.

My point is that if someone insists on being critical of others, then they should at very least have the guts to be honest about how they feel about everyone, and not just single out the soft, easy targets because they’re too afraid of saying something that will go against public opinion.

They shouldn’t just hate on people where they think public opinion will support them, or where they know that they themselves won’t become targets of criticism, because of what society deems to be okay or not okay.  That’s straight out cowardly.

These people pretend to have sympathy for those that society labels as “no go zones” for criticism.  But it’s not sympathy, it’s fear.  Fear of being criticized themselves.

Saying what’s on your mind, even when you know it will be unpopular, takes courage.

That’s why I admired Ronda Rousey’s decision at UFC 168.  Refusing to shake Miesha’s hand after the fight was bound to draw heavy criticism and put her in disfavor with the crowd.  Societal convention dictates that you must shake your opponent’s hand, otherwise you’re a bad sport.

As I mentioned earlier, personally I didn’t see it as poor sportsmanship under the circumstances.  But the majority of people no doubt would have – because she broke the rules of convention, and that makes people uncomfortable.

Ronda knew that, but instead of bowing to conformity she stuck by her beliefs and stood her ground, regardless of the inevitable fallout.  That takes guts, especially for someone like her who’s in the public eye.

To me it’s refreshing to have a role model like Ronda Rowsey in the public attention.  Someone who isn’t afraid to break conventions, say what’s on her mind, and be her own person, for better or worse.

She certainly has caused some waves but I think that’s a good thing.  She’s a great example of someone who doesn’t bow to society’s expectations, but rather has the strength to march to the beat of her own drum, whether society likes it or not.

You have to admire that!


The Birth of Pseudo-Fitness

January 9, 2014     Posted in Rants by Fabian Colussi     0 Comments

I’m still shaking my head hours after having read this article!

Planet Fitness

Planet Fitness, one of the fastest-growing gym companies in the US, recently removed squat racks from one of its gyms because a customer complained that it was “too intimidating”.

Wow!  Just wow!!

This is a gym that offers its clients free pizza, bagels and tanning beds – to cater for, as this article puts it, “the casual gym goer who might be turned off by gyms being a little too ‘fitness oriented’.”

Wow again.

Seriously, what hope does humanity have of overcoming the obesity epidemic when we have celebrity medicos on TV peddling their miracle weight-loss scams every day, and now gyms – until recently places seen as being for “fitness fanatics” – feeding people fast food and teaching them that it’s OK to be half-hearted about fitness?

Well, let’s be realistic here . . . it’s not Planet Fitness’ job to help overcome the obesity epidemic, nor is it any concern of theirs.  At the end of the day, they’re a business and profits are the only thing they’re interested in.

So from that perspective, if you think about it purely from a marketing point of view, their business model is, admittedly, exceptionally clever.

Consider the client that represents the largest sector of the fitness market – the casual exerciser who doesn’t particularly enjoy working out, who only works out as little as they can get away with, who doesn’t want to work too hard but will cut every corner they can, who has little or no motivation, and who finds it extremely difficult to give up their indulgences.

Now, imagine if you were to:

  1. Assure them that they don’t need to try too hard.
  2. Take away their incentive for being extraordinary, after all, that’s hard work.  Instead, teach them that being mediocre is just fine – that’s where they’ll feel much more comfortable.
  3. Avoid offending their sensibilities by exposing them to people who are anything more than mediocre.
  4. If this isn’t possible, use leveling strategies such as ridiculing of extraordinary individuals to diminish their appeal.
  5. Remove any evidence that may possibly suggest they could be doing better, working harder, or striving to be more.
  6. Teach them that because they’re “working out” they’re free to eat anything they want, even fast food!  (It must be OK – it’s available at the gym!!)
  7. Provide them with all the fast food they want – this not only keeps them happy and coming back today, but keeps them dependent on your services and therefore coming back tomorrow – a double whammy!

What would you have?

You’d have a virtual nirvana for your target market.  As I said, marketing genius.

At some point however, I believe that companies need to start having a conscience and taking on some social responsibility, especially where public health is concerned.

We’re not talking about an infomercial selling the latest ab exerciser here.  We’re talking about gyms, with professional trainers.

It’s not always good enough to sit back and say that individuals need to be the ones taking responsibility for making informed choices for themselves.  Not when your business is seen by those individuals as a qualified and supposedly trusted source of information.

It’s misleading and unethical.

Health and fitness is confusing enough for the average member of the public without icons of the industry adding to the already-overwhelming mess of lies and misinformation out there!


Metabolic Damage v2.0 (Metabolic Capacity)

December 17, 2013     Posted in Nutrition, Weight Loss by Layne Norton     0 Comments

Metabolic Capacity

In this BioLayne Video Log I describe what drove me to do the first Metabolic Damage Video Log, what the response has been, and more information about how to recover and improve metabolic capacity.














To Deprive or Not to Deprive?

December 12, 2013     Posted in Mental & Philosophical, Nutrition by Gloria Kaneko     0 Comments

Within fitness there seems to be an ongoing difference of opinions when it comes to treats, cheats, cheat meals and cheat days.

The most conservative groups out there believe in eating “clean” all the time, with no exceptions.  Then on the other side of the coin there are those who believe everything is OK in moderation.  Within that camp there are those who believe in having the occasional treat here or there, those who believe one or two cheat meals a week is good, and others who advocate a whole cheat day every week.

Ice Cream

So, who’s right and who’s wrong?

Obviously, from a purely physiological point of view, eating the right foods (if indeed there is such a thing) in the appropriate amounts all the time has to produce the best results in the shortest time.  After all, adding junk food, for example, to an otherwise healthy eating program has to have some negative effect, regardless of how small.

But the problem is, people are not machines.  You simply can’t disconnect the psychological aspect of the diet from the physiological, as much as you might like to think you can.  As a matter of fact, due to the fact that, at the end of the day, it’s your mind that’s calling the shots and making all the decisions, the truth is that the psychological aspect is probably the more important of the two.

It’s the same with fitness in general.  Most people fail because they quit, not because their diet program wasn’t perfect or their workout program wasn’t ideal.  It’s their mind that determines whether they succeed or fail.

So does that mean that allowing yourself lots of cheats, to keep your mind happy, is the best choice?  Well, it depends.

It’s been over two years now that I have been training specifically for competition.  During my first year, I was on a diet program which can best be described as clean eating.  It was very strict, with only certain foods prescribed.

We were allowed one so-called cheat meal each week though.  I say “so-called” because it wasn’t a cheat meal where you could have anything you wanted.  Instead, we had a choice of a handful of different foods.  So it wasn’t so much a treat as it was a momentary departure from the usual strictness of the diet.

So, in a nutshell, the diet was pretty extreme.

After one year on that program we learned about and started to implement flexible eating practices for my training program.  We began tracking my macros, and as long as my daily food choices fit my macros (along with several other constraints) they were acceptable.

The whole concept of flexible eating made sense to us.  Of course we researched it a lot before adapting it and we saw what amazing results many top competitors were achieving through flexible eating, without having to deprive themselves of some of their favorite foods.  We also understood that restricting yourself to a handful of supposedly clean, acceptable foods was nutritionally crippling.

But anyhow, this post isn’t about the physiological arguments for and against different eating practices, but rather the psychological.

On my new, flexible-eating program I instantly felt much freer and happier.  It meant that not only was I enjoying a much wider variety of foods, I could also have some of my favorite things from time to time, like ice-cream, sweets, and so on, by working them into my macros.

People that support eating treats in moderation or having scheduled cheats make the argument that if you deprive yourself of something, then it’s going to cause you to crave it more and more, simply because you can’t have it.

I always believed that was true, after all it makes sense.  But after doing flexible eating for a while, I found that the opposite was true for me.

I found that having treats around the house like ice-cream or garlic bread tempted me.  It made me think about them all the time, that they were there waiting for me.  And when I worked them into my macros so that I could enjoy them from time to time, it was very difficult to stop at the prescribed portion amount once I had a taste of something.

For me, I found that a treat was almost like a drug, where if I had a taste of it, I started to crave it more and more, and it became difficult to stop.


So, does that mean that the people who believe in all things in moderation are wrong?  Of course not.  It just means that what they believe is not necessarily right for everyone.

No one way is right for everyone, because we are all individuals.

For me, I have found that the best way is in fact to deprive myself of my favorite treats.  I allow myself some maybe at Christmas time and other special occasions, but those times are so infrequent that their disruption is minimal.  Once the occasion is over, I move on and get back into my training mindset.

If I were to allow myself a treat every week, my life would be a misery of constantly battling to keep control.

As it is, when I’m in training mode, eating lots of lovely and varied foods, but none of my favorite treats, my mind is at ease.

I have no cravings and I never even think about them.  I can even see ice-cream and other treats and they have no effect on me.  It’s like a switch flicks in my head where they no longer interest me.  Because in my mind I know that they’re off limits for now.  They’re for another time, so there’s no temptation.

I think that it’s rare for a trainer or a nutritionist to tell you to deprive yourself of your favorite treats, even if it’s in moderation.  It would be a very politically incorrect thing to say, and they would fear being criticized or looked down upon for it.  No one wants to be labeled an extremist.

But the truth is, as I’ve found through my own experience, that sometimes depriving yourself works fine.  Not necessarily for everyone, but for some.  I’m sure that many people would in fact crave something more by depriving themselves of it.

What works best for you?

Only you can answer that.  Just don’t blindly follow other people’s opinions or recommendations that are based on political correctness, or you may never know.  Try things for yourself, and you may just find that you unexpectedly stumble upon an easier and smoother road to success!


Big Lats

December 3, 2013     Posted in Exercise by Nick Tumminello     0 Comments

This article was originally published in

T NATION recently ran a terrific article on how and why to do pull-ups. In this one, I want to tackle a subject that’s related, but different: how to build bigger, stronger lats.

If your lats have a natural propensity to grow, you don’t need to know much more than whatever you learned the last time you picked up Flex: do a lot of pull-ups, pulldowns, and rows, and make sure everyone can see your “intense” face when you do them.

The rest of us have to give the matter a bit more thought, which is where I come in.

I want to start with a look at what the lats actually do, including the fact that they’re a misunderstood and underappreciated part of your core. Next I’ll show you some tweaks that will make pull-ups and pulldowns more effective. And then I’ll get into some of my favorite lat exercises, which are effective and fun to do.

Too Big to Fail

Back Muscles

Given how big these muscles are, and how important they are to a bodybuilder’s physique, you’d think the latissimus dorsi would get a lot more attention than they do. Instead, back-training articles tend to focus on neglected muscles like the middle traps and rhomboids, which until recently few of us considered as major contributors to strength, performance, or appearance.

Certainly, those muscles are important, but now it’s the lats that seem to be too small a part of the conversation.

No other muscle has as much of a mechanical effect on as many joints as your lats. If you look at how the lats originate and insert, you’ll see that the lats are connected to your upper arms and your hips, with numerous attachments to your lumbar spine and ribs in between. It’s the only muscle with connections to your upper and lower body.

We all know that the relationship between your shoulders and hips is essential to your function and athletic performance. So strong lats are one of the big keys to improving your game as well as your appearance.

Because the connective tissues of your lats attach to your pelvis and lower spine, the lats are part of your core. If you train the upper- and lower-body functions of the lats simultaneously — as I show later in this article — you’ll end up with a stronger and more athletic middle body than you’d have if you focused your core training on abdominal and lower-back exercises exclusively.

Add Some More Pull to Your Pull-Up

If you’ve ever spent time looking at an anatomy chart, you’ve probably noticed the fibers of the lats run diagonally. And yet, exercises like pull-ups and lat pulldowns load the muscles in a vertical vector. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course — your lats are still doing the work even if the angle of pull doesn’t mimic the fiber orientation precisely.

But there’s a way to add a horizontal vector to the vertical line of pull, with the combination creating the equivalent of a diagonal. (I explained all this in “A New Angle on Cable Training,” my first article for T NATION.)

Pull the bar apart.

You can’t do this literally, of course. But if, while doing your pull-ups, you apply a force as if you were trying to pull the bar apart, you’ll add an extra challenge that should increase recruitment of your lat muscles.

When doing lat pulldowns, you can take a wide grip, holding the angled parts of the bar. Your lats will then pull your upper arms to your sides in a diagonal trajectory that lines up pretty well with the muscle fibers.

The Double-Duty Lat Pull — The Compound Row

Let’s return to the discussion of the lats as part of the core. Because the lats insert at the iliac crest — the top of your pelvic girdle — they play a role in back extension. And when you extend your back, you’re almost always tilting the top of your pelvis forward at the same time, exaggerating the arch in your lower back.

A lot of guys incorporate and exaggerate back extension when they do seated close-grip rows. That is, they bend forward on the negative and then lean backward on the concentric part of each repetition. My guess is that few T NATION readers do this, because more advanced lifters know that it puts unnecessary stress on the lower back, while at the same time taking work away from your upper-back muscles.

But there is a way to combine back extension with a close-grip pull without so much risk to your lumbar spine. It’s called the standing compound row.

Put the triangle extension on a high cable pulley, stand a few feet back with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, and bend forward at the hips so your torso and arms create a straight line with the cable. Straighten your hips as you pull the handle to your lower chest.

Because you’re standing, your lower back doesn’t go into as much flexion as it would if you were bending forward on a seated row. Plus, standing movements like this are always more functional. In sports, the actions requiring upper-body strength and power are almost always dependent on coordinated action with the core and lower body.

The Hardest Rollout in the World

Most of you are probably familiar with the rollout, and its many variations. (If not, Mike Boyle has a great introduction in this article.) And you probably know that the lats are involved in the exercise; when you pull the wheel or barbell back from the rollout position, you’re using your lats, triceps, and various shoulder muscles along with your core.

The heavy medicine ball roll uses the same idea, but it’s much, much harder.

You need a heavy, sand-filled medicine ball — 30 pounds or more. The heavier the ball, the harder it is. Start on your knees, with your hands on the ball and the ball beneath your shoulders. Walk it out as far as you can, then walk it back. That’s one rep. Do 3 to 6 sets of 5 to 8 rolls.

Fit to Fight — The Fighter’s Pulldown

Fighters Pulldown

Combat sports feature movements that aren’t seen in other sports. So when I train fighters, it makes sense to employ some specialized exercises. The fighter’s pulldown is one of my favorites because it mimics positions that are unique to martial arts: overhooking an arm, blocking a body strike, or getting an opponent into the plum clinch position.

If you have a dual-pulley lat pulldown station at your gym, you can alternate arms, as shown in the pictures to your right. If not, attach a D-shaped handle to the single pulley and work one arm at a time. The action is the same: you want to pull your elbow all the way down to your hipbone, combining the pulldown with a side crunch.

And if you’re not a fighter? Do it anyway. It’s a fun exercise to try, and it’s one of the few exercises you’ll do that incorporates lateral core training into a more traditional strength movement.

I like to use higher reps on this one. Try 1 to 3 sets of 12 to 20 reps per side.

The Primal Movement —The Pivot Prone Pulldown

Pivot Prone Pulldown

Before you were born, you gestated with your knees up toward your chest and your spine curved. It gave you great leverage to kick your mother from the inside, and of course she appreciated that. So one of the most important movements you learned as an infant was how to extend your back and elongate the muscles on the front of your torso so you could push yourself up and look around at the world.

To do it, you had to pull your shoulder blades together, using your rhomboids, while lifting your arms to the sides with your elbows bent. If you hadn’t adducted your shoulder blades, you wouldn’t have had the strength to pull it off.

As adults, most of us spend so much time typing on keyboards with our shoulders hunched and arms forward that we start to lose strength and endurance in our rhomboids and lower traps — the muscles that pull our shoulder blades together and down.

That’s why my colleague Morgan Johnson, owner of Evolution Sports Physiotherapy in Baltimore, uses an exercise called the pivot prone pulldown, shown in a picture to your right. He uses it for injured clients and athletes, while I use it as a prehab exercise to keep my clients’ shoulders healthy.

You’ll need a dual-pulley lat pulldown machine for this one. Sit up tall, grab the handles with your hands facing out, pull your shoulder blades together, and then pull straight down to your sides. Since the low traps are predominantly endurance oriented, I like to use high reps, at least 12 per set.

Putting It All Together

If you do all of your upper-body pulls on one training day each week, you can put together these exercises in a program like the following:


Exercise Sets Reps
1) Wide-grip pull-up or lat pulldown 4-6 6-10
2) Dumbbell bent-over row (1 or 2 DBs) 3-4 6-10
3) Compound row 2-3 8-12
4a) Heavy medicine-ball rollout 2-3 6-10
4b) Pivot prone pulldown or fighter’s pulldown 2-3 12-20


If you’re doing an Ian King split, with horizontal pulling one day and vertical pulling another day, you can do the compound row as a horizontal pull, and on the other day incorporate the wide-grip pull-up, pivot prone pulldown, and/or fighter’s pulldown. Then you could do the medicine-ball roll with your core exercises.

And if you’re doing total-body workouts, like a Waterbury system, do one of the pulling exercises each day.

But whatever you do, by all means show your lats some love. Give them challenges commensurate with their size and importance to your physique and athletic performance. Add exercises that incorporate their function as part of your core, without cutting back on work for their primary function: pulling your arms down to your sides.

The reward is a bigger, wider, thicker, and stronger back, and a more bad-ass overall physique. And if you don’t want that … well, let’s just say you’re unique among T NATION’s readers.

Performance U






Metabolic Damage

November 26, 2013     Posted in Nutrition, Weight Loss by Layne Norton     0 Comments

Metabolic Damage

In this BioLayne Video Log we discuss Metabolic Damage.  What is it?  How does it occur?  How can you prevent it?  And how can you recover from it if it’s already happened to you?

All these questions are discussed in the video below.