3 reasons you’re not gaining the muscle you want


img_3180As men, it is encoded in our DNA to want big muscles. They make us feel strong and powerful … and they look great too!

Heck, when I saw the picture of myself five years ago on the beach, it was a lack of muscles that signaled to me that something had to change. And thus, my life was changed through fitness.

For many men, much like myself when I started, I had always had a hard time gaining size. Five years into it, I’ve figured out the main reasons why muscle growth hadn’t happened for me previously.

Here are the 3 reasons you might not be gaining the muscles you want.

1. You’re not training the right way

I once had a client come to me because he was having trouble building muscle and adding weight. Been there!

He told me he was hitting the gym six days a week for about an hour each time, and that he was doing all of the major compound lifts that you should be doing to add muscle (more on that in a bit). He was clearly committed to putting in the time at the gym.

However, when I asked him exactly what he was doing in terms of sets and reps, that’s where the problem showed up. He was lifting heavy weight for 3-6 reps, for 5 sets.

It was no shock to me that his lift numbers had gone up, but he hadn’t seen the muscular gains he wanted.

That’s because he was in a Strength phase of his training and not a Hypertrophy phase.

There’s a reason powerlifters look different from bodybuilders. They train to achieve very different results. When you are lifting for pure strength, it is less about how big your muscles are and more about how well your neuromuscular system activates your muscle fibers for movement. Simply put: How can you move as much weight as fast as possible?

As a result, powerlifters – those looking for pure strength – lift heavier and heavier weight for just a few reps at a moderate amount of sets.

Hypertrophy, on the other hand, is all about applying enough tension to your muscles that they enlarge (i.e. grow bigger) in response to being activated for a prolonged period. This is bodybuilding.

If you want to gain muscle, as a foundation, you need to lift in the 8-12 rep range for 3-5 sets per exercise. I’m a huge fan of supersets in this rep and set range, which are plentiful in my 8-week muscle-building guide, Project Size.

And you must be doing the major lifts: bench press, squat, deadlift, overhead press. But understand that as a personal trainer, I value proper form and moving the weight for its intended purpose (i.e. mind-muscle connection) over lifting super heavy weight when it comes to building muscle.

2. You’re not eating the right way

I am not a nutritionist or dietician; however, there are some basic nutritional guidelines that I can share that have worked for me, and there are also some myths that I’d like to debunk.

The most solid piece of nutritional advice that I can give you is this: eat real food.

I shouldn’t have to explain this any further, as I believe you know exactly what I mean by that statement. You know what is healthy food and what is unhealthy food. You know that a grilled chicken wrap that you make at home is healthier than a fast food burger.

We can debate the healthiness of one food over another, but the point is that eating real food means eating food your body can use. Not stuff that has been processed, packaged or manipulated to no end.

Fresh meats, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats – food that is as close to the way nature made it at the moment you consume it.

And if you’re trying to gain muscle, you need to eat enough of it. Track your caloric intake, and shoot for a macros breakdown of 50% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 20% fats.

Regarding protein: ditch the bro science that tells you you need to eat 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. In reality, you really only need about 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight a day to be in the proper balance.

Regarding carbs and fats: I am wary of any diet that tries to radically alter the way your body was naturally made to perform. That’s why I am hugely skeptical of, for instance, the Keto diet, which essentially removes all carbs from your diet in an effort to get your body to tap into fat reserves for energy. In theory, this works. I worry about what will happen to the bodies of the athletes who eat that way, particularly since high protein, high fat diets can increase risks of heart disease and cardiovascular problems, and its alternating the natural way our bodies store and use energy.

Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred and best source of energy for athletic performance. But again, eating the right types of carbs is crucial. Things like brown rice, quinoa, oats, sweet potatoes, and cruciferous vegetables, provide the most benefits, while carbs like processed breads and pastas, refined sugars, and juices are to be avoided.

3. You’re not thinking the right way

This is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn.

The lie that fitness can be achieved with a quick fix is told over and over again. A 30-day shred here. A restrictive diet program there. A wrap, a pill, a machine, a procedure everywhere.

The most important thing to remember with any fitness goal, if you want it to produce real, long-lasting results, is that you must have patience. The kind of results that set you up for the long haul take a long time to achieve.

That’s why its so often said: There is no finish line.

If you’re not seeing the results you want or expect, first evaluate how much time you’ve given yourself, and ask yourself if you’ve been at it long enough for it to matter. Then, evaluate your methods.

Interestingly enough, when lifting to gain muscle size (hypertrophy), results are often not visible for up to 8 weeks, despite the fact that your body is actively responding to the resistance. Nearly two months to see results?! If you’re not patient, this is exactly the window of time when most people quit.

Don’t look at visible results as validation of your efforts. Understand and know that those will come. Play the long game knowing that you’re not in this for the 30-day results; but rather, you’re creating something to last you the rest of your life as a fit dad.

At-home workouts for the new dad

img_4660New parents often have a difficult time finding time to exercise and workout in the weeks and months following the birth of a child.

Understandably so.

You’re learning how to take care of a new life, you’re learning your new baby’s eating and sleeping habits, and for you dads, you’re taking care of the mother of your child to help her recover from childbirth.

While you might be in a zombie-like, sleep-deprived state during this time, it is still important to get in at least a few hours of exercise a week to maintain your own physical – and mental – health and well-being.

Case in point: After the birth of my son, I was so focused on taking care of him and my wife that I neglected my own upkeep. I wasn’t paying all that much attention to my diet, and between work and changing diapers and night-time feedings and play time with my son, I rarely did anything for myself.

It ultimately landed me in the hospital with an ocular migraine brought on by stress. Not a fun place to be with a wife and a less-than-two-week-old child.

So as much as you can, dads, make some time to take care of yourself. Move around. Eat right. And sleep when you can.

To help with the “move around” part of this equation, here are some simple at-home workouts you can do while your wife is napping and while your new bundle of joy is safely in the swing next to you.

Workout 1 (Perform in a circuit of 5 rounds; rest 60 seconds in between rounds)

  • 20 Pushups
  • 10 Single-leg squat touchdowns (each leg)
  • 20 Mountain climbers
  • 10 Split squats (each leg)
  • 30 seconds High-knee run

Workout 2 (Perform in a circuit of 5 rounds; rest 60 seconds in between rounds)

  • 20 Decline pushups
  • 10 Side lunges (each leg)
  • 20 Planks with leg lifts (10 each leg)
  • 10 Burpees
  • 30 seconds Jump lunges

Workout 3 (Perform in a circuit of 5 rounds; rest 60 seconds in between rounds)

  • 20 Elbow to hand planks (10 each arm)
  • 10 Lunges (each leg)
  • 20 Pushups
  • 10 Jump lunges (each leg)
  • 30 seconds Mountain climbers

Guard yourself from becoming obsessed with your health and fitness

img_4246It might appear to many people that I am completely and totally obsessed with my health and fitness.

I workout six days a week, a majority of my social media posts are about fitness, I eat almost entirely organic, gluten free foods, I’m a certified personal trainer, and my favorite outfit is a pair of athletic shorts and a gym shirt. And in many conversations, the topic usually ends up falling on one of the above mentioned items.

The truth is, yes, I deeply care about my health and fitness. It consumes a great deal of my energy and effort, as it is truly a part of my identity.

However, it is important to note that I did not decide to commit to being health and fit just to be healthy and fit.

The whole point of me starting my fitness journey was to live as long a life as possible to be there for my family. It would go against my original and ongoing inspiration if my dedication to my health and fitness came before the time I spend with my family.

And that is why it is so important that as a fit dad, I must guard myself against pushing past the point of dedication into obsession.

There have been many times over the past five years that I have felt myself getting close to being unhealthily consumed by my attention to my physical health. Whether it be obsessing over a missed workout or denying myself food because it isn’t healthy enough, if left unattended, these thoughts can turn into actions that damage those relationships that are most important.

You must be intentional about not becoming obsessed.

It’s crazy to even write that, as many people, especially when they are just starting out, struggle to get into a routine with their fitness. But believe me, there comes a point where the struggle dissipates and habits take over.

My family and I recently took a vacation to San Diego, and I made a commitment to myself that during those five days, I would not think about the workouts I missed, I would not think about how the food I was consuming was unhealthy, and I would not waste a second thinking about “catching up” in the gym the following week.

And it was worth it.

I had an incredible time with my family, I ate amazing food and drank some amazing drinks without once thinking about macros, and I didn’t get the urge to workout once.

Mentally, my mind needed the break. And truth be told, so did my body. But I was only able to fully “turn off” because I consciously made the decision to do so.

I encourage you to constantly take stock of your priorities and how you are spending your time. If your health and fitness – or anything, really – is unhealthily becoming an obsession that takes you away from the most important things in life, get it in check.

The gym will still be there, even after five days spent lounging on the beach in San Diego.

How Vinnie Saunders fought back after nearly losing his life

Episode 10 of the Fit Dad Fitness is live!

Almost a decade ago, Vinnie Saunders was literally run over while out on a jog with a friend, and he was left clinging to his life while his friend lost his. The fact that Vinnie can move at all is a miracle, let alone the fact that he’s performing CrossFit workouts and doing leg day twice a week.

This week’s podcast episode of all about Vinnie’s perspective and perseverance through hard times. His positive outlook on life makes me want to be a better man in every sense of the phrase.

Listen to this episode!

The Fit Dad Fitness Podcast is available on iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/…/fit-dad-fitness-po…/id1237764163…), Google Play, Stitcher (http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/fit-dad-fitness-podcast), and SoundCloud (https://soundcloud.com/user-795131006). Please give it a listen and subscribe, and let me know what you think. I can always improve, so any feedback is greatly appreciated! Thanks everyone!

Go into the gym with a plan

I was at the gym this morning and overheard two guys talking as they were walking out onto the floor.

“What do you want to lift today?” the first guy asked his friend.

“I don’t know. Arms?” his friend responded with a shrug.

I have no idea how their workout went, or if they even ended up working out arms. I went back to my own business, but that short exchange made me pause and think about how important it is to go into the gym with a plan.

Look, many guys I know who have struggled to find time to get into the gym have done so because they were not diligent about planning out what they would do once they actually got to the gym.

For many of my personal training clients, this is one of the greatest underlying reasons for why they signed up to work with me in the first place – they wanted a detailed, thought-out plan that they could follow. By not having to come up with their daily workout plan themselves, it become one less hurdle they had to overcome on their way to creating a fitness habit.

But if you don’t work with a trainer, be sure that you put in the time and effort to create a plan for how you are going to use your time at the gym. Think about things like:

  • What are my goals?
  • How much time do I have?
  • What exercises do I want to do?
  • What body parts will I focus on?
  • What will make me feel like I got in a good workout.

I often hear the cliche phrase, “The only bad workout is the one you didn’t do.”

I get the intention behind this – that the act of simply getting in the gym and moving and being active is better than not doing anything at all – but I refuse to subscribe to the logic that simply showing up is acceptable. You should approach each and every workout with intentionality, with a goal in mind, and with a desire to make improvement over the previous day.

By going into a workout without a plan, you risk wasting time and undermining your progress.

You want to be a fit dad? Be intentional about the effort you expend. Don’t use up the precious energy you have on a wasted workout.

Have a plan. And plan for success.

Need a plan? Try my free eight-week muscle-building guide, Project Size.

A Fit Dad Q&A

In this solo episode of the Fit Dad Fitness Podcast, I answer questions that guys asked on my social media accounts about being a healthy, fit dad.

I answer:

  • The best strength training options for endurance athletes who want to put on muscle
  • How to stay active with your children in the weeks and months after bringing home a new baby
  • How to fit in a workout when you have a child who sleeps inconsistently

I hope you enjoy this episode! Please share this episode with a dad that you think would benefit from these answers.

Listen to this episode!

If you enjoy the Fit Dad Fitness Podcast, please subscribe, and leave a rating and a review. Follow everything Fit Dad Fitness related online at FitDadFitness.com, and on Facebook (facebook.com/fitdadfitnesspage), Instagram (instagram.com/fitdadfitness), and Twitter (twitter.com/fitdadfitness).

Perseverance and fatherhood with former NFL linebacker Anthony Trucks

Did you catch the season premiere of American Ninja Warrior? If you did, you saw Anthony Trucks CRUSH it!!!

Anthony’s story is almost too heartbreaking, too emotional, too inspiring to believe.

From his earliest memories of being abandoned by his biological mother, to the horrors he experienced while in the foster system, to the redemption of finally finding a loving family, to the accomplishment of playing college and pro football, he story is truly epic.

Anthony’s life has been one of extreme ups and downs, and through it all, he has maintained a positive attitude that has pushed others to “trust their hustle” and achieve great things – in business, in fitness, and in life.

In this episode of the Fit Dad Fitness Podcast, Anthony and I get into how he learned to be a father having not had a father figure growing up, and how fitness has helped make him the man he is today. Enjoy this episode!

Listen to this episode!

The podcast is available on iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/…/ep-6-perseverance-…/id1237764163…), Google Play, and SoundCloud. Please give it a listen and subscribe, and let me know what you think. I can always improve, so any feedback is greatly appreciated! Thanks everyone!

3 ways I found time to workout

IMG_2133When I first started my fit dad fitness journey five years ago, the greatest obstacle I had to overcome was a lack of time.

Let me rephrase that: The greatest obstacle I had to overcome was what I perceived to be a lack of time.

As a husband, a father, and a professional, I kept getting hung up on how I was going to fit in my trips to the gym. This had always been my stumbling block, as it is with many guys looking to get fitter and healthier.

The reality was that I simply had not made it a priority over other things in my life, and so the time to workout appeared to be nonexistent.

But five years ago, my health and fitness became a priority for me, and guess what? I found the time. Funny how that works.

For me, two things were roadblocks to finding the time to workout:

  1. I didn’t want to workout after work because a) the gym was so busy at that time, and b) my energy was waning by the time I got off work, and I wanted to have energy for my family at home, which brings me to my second roadblock:
  2. I wanted my gym time to affect my time with my family as little as possible.

So, here’s how I made the time to get to the gym, while still being a husband, a father, and a professional:

1. Woke up earlier

This one is a “duh” answer, but it’s the truth. I just committed to waking up earlier.

If I wanted to keep my time with my family at a maximum and still get to the gym, my only two options were to either workout after everyone went to sleep at night – which, as I mentioned above was not ideal for me – or workout before everyone got up in the morning.

I chose the morning.

I told myself there would be no hitting the snooze button, and in five years, I haven’t touched that button once.

That also meant I had to get to bed a little earlier as well. So instead of staying up late to watch Conan, I went to bed.

I found out that a morning workout is the perfect way to start my day. It gets me going, I feel super energized afterwards, and I feel like I’ve already accomplished so much before the sun is even up.

And also because I want to be completely real with you, I want you to know that I also started taking a preworkout as well to help wake me up and get the juices flowing for my morning workouts. I held off for as long as I could because, well, frankly I was not too crazy about the idea of my skin getting that tingling, crawling sensation. But honestly, it’s never been a bad thing, especially not after I began my workout.

2. Stopped watching as much TV

I was never a big TV watcher anyway, but I do like Seinfeld re-runs, The Big Bang Theory, and Conan.

However, this one wasn’t hard for me to adjust to. I simply stopped watching as much TV. Not a big deal for me.

But again, my thinking was that by not watching those TV shows as much, it meant I was either spending more time with my wife and kids, or I was going to bed on time to get the rest my body needs.

Now that my kids are older and I’ve darn near perfected my routine, I do watch a bit more TV now, but if I needed to, I could cut TV out entirely and be just fine. It’s all about priorities, man.

3. Showered at the gym

I gotta tell you, this one was a major stumbling block for me. I’m a guy who loves his long, hot showers, and the idea of giving up my shower time at home in exchange for the locker room shower was almost a deal-breaker for me.

But, by showering at the gym after my workout and heading straight to work after that, I saved myself roughly 30 minutes each day.

That meant I had to pack my gym bag the night before, get a pair of shower flip flops (there is not a chance I’m barefooting it in the locker room shower), pack my meals for the next day, and figure out some on-the-go breakfast options that I could eat either quickly at home without making a lot of noise, or on my way to the gym.

It also meant that I started shaving the night before, as I didn’t want to shave at the gym and take up that much more time in the morning.

The world doesn’t owe you an easy time

I’ve been hearing something lately that has really started to bug me. I’ve been hearing it and seeing it a lot – on podcasts, on social media – and it’s the saying that goes, “If it’s not a ‘hell yes,’ it’s a ‘no.'”

The intent behind this phrase is that you should say “no” if you are presented with an opportunity to do something or you are asked to do something and you are not gung ho about it – if your answer isn’t “hell yes, I want to do it.”

And it drives me nuts.

My wife and I were talking about this saying not too long ago, about how this mentality, on the surface, sounds right. You don’t want to get yourself into something that your heart is not into – that by doing this particular ask it would feel more like a burden to you rather than something you could throw your all and everything into.

The problem I have with this mindset is that it devalues the fact that life is not going to be easy all the time, life does not owe you a single thing, life does not owe you an always-exciting time, and that there is enormous value in hard work that may not always be fun and something that you want to do. Character is often best built in the instances where you don’t shout out “Hell yes, I want to do that,” when you’re asked, but you do it anyway.

The value of hard work can never be replaced, and hard work oftentimes isn’t fun or met with the mentality of “hell yes!” Ask any farmer if that’s the case. They do a ton of hard, grueling, taxing work that they probably don’t want to do, but they do it anyway, and the outcome of their work is that we have food on our tables.

We are often faced with times when we know we have to get a job or task done because it either needs to be done, or we know we’re going to come out the other side of it better for doing this work, or perhaps most importantly, it benefits others while we gain little in return. It’s called selflessness.

This notion of, if I’m asked to do something and my initial reaction isn’t “hell yes,” that it’s a “no,” is absurd to me. It screams of an entitlement culture in which you only do things that benefit yourself and your own agenda.

Apply this to fitness. At a macro level, absolutely, my mindset is “hell yes!” I want to go to the gym, I want to get better, I want to be fitter, I want to challenge my body in new and exciting and interesting ways.

But I don’t have that mentality every single day. There are some mornings when my alarm goes off and I hate the thought of getting out of bed. I don’t always wake up super stoked to go to the gym.

But I do it because hard work and consistency matter. Hard work done consistently over a long period of time will yield the results I want. I put in the hard work, and even though I might have a workout here and there were I’m dragging and my pre-workout isn’t phasing me and I can’t get the energy and motivation going and I don’t want to be there, I do it anyway because the outcome of it is far greater than the challenge that I’m going through in that moment.

And ultimately, I know I’m working towards being as fit and healthy as possible so that I can be there for my family for as long as I am able to affect. That’s what being a fit dad is all about.

I won’t let my son beat me at soccer

As our children grow up and become more involved in sports and activities, we fathers face a challenging question: Do I let my kid beat me, or do I not take it easy on them and make them earn a victory?

It could be anything – basketball, video games, checkers, a race to the end of the block and back.

My 6-year-old son and I were recently playing soccer in our backyard, and after I beat him 10-2, he got upset and started to mope.

My response to him?

“We don’t get to win just because we want to. You have to earn it. If you don’t like how a certain situation happened, you have to work really hard to change it. If you want to beat me, son, you have to practice, work hard, and keep trying until it happens. But I’m not going to just let you win. That’s not how the world works.”

Look, my son and daughter will benefit from untold amounts of privilege as they grow up. We are an upper-middle class, white, Christian family. The odds are stacked in my kids’ favor – my son even more so than my daughter since he is a male. I understand and acknowledge this privilege, and as such, I want to make sure it does not create a false sense of entitlement with my kids.

There was a time when I would have let my son beat me at soccer. As he was learning to walk. As he was learning to kick a ball.

But not anymore.

Now that he is showing interest in playing soccer and basketball competitively (we just signed him up for his first semi-competitive team), I see it as my duty as his father to teach him that winning is earned and not given, and to win consistently, you’ve got to work at it. And to beat someone better than you, it takes a lot of practice and experience.

That championship trophy you want? Work for it. That scholarship you want. Go earn it. That promotion you want? Outwork your competition.

I let my 4-year-old daughter beat me at games and activities. She loves racing me up the stairs when its bedtime. She wins most nights. Most.

So many people love to bash the era we live in as one of participation trophies and “everybody gets a medal.” We can debate all we want about who’s to blame for this mentality (for the record, no kid playing tee-ball ever demanded a participation trophy. It’s the entitled parents that started that trend).

But for me, I will teach my children not to value these meaningless rewards. They will know and understand that in many situations in life, there are clear winners and losers. And to be a winner, you must earn it. You must beat someone out.

And to remain a winner, you must outwork your competition day-in and day-out and continue to get better, because there is always someone working to be the next winner.