[Case Study: Steve] The Step-By-Step Process To Pain-Free Aesthetics

I’m excited for you to dive into this blog because it’s going to paint the FULL picture of what a client of mine typically goes through to get to their goal. I worked with Steve for just over a year. I have to say that in the very beginning because whether it’s mobility, fat loss or building muscle, this shit takes TIME. A LOT of time. Adaptation in any physiological regard takes time. So if you expected to come to this blog and read some quick fix and short-cuts, you can bounce now. Because that’s NOT the case! Okay, let’s jump in.

I’d like to start with laying out where Steve STARTED, to show you what was going on in my brain as I created his first nutrition and training plan. You’ll see that I took many pieces of his life into consideration because as I’ve said in previous posts, EVERYTHING matters. Work schedule, sleep, stress, food preference, training history, injuries, EVERYTHING

 

Here are Steve’s specs:


Height: 5’10 

Starting Weight: 185 (EXACT same weight in each photo…)

Starting Fat%: 14 - 16%

Goals: Move in the gym how he wants while staying injury free, Increase Mobility & Strength, Get & Stay Lean


As you can see, Steve had a pretty good starting point with some solid goals. The main piece to his story was the lower back pain he was experiencing, some big inconsistencies in his nutrition, and his previous movement & training program initially which was keeping him from accomplishing his goals. Another big piece that he initially didn’t realize the impact of was his work schedule and overall enjoyment of his previous job. Let’s look at that:


How His Previous Job Impacted His Journey


He worked a 9-5 that sometimes turned into a 7-7 and had some late evenings. He also took some projects on the side that he worked during the weekends occasionally as a contractor. How does that impact training, nutrition & recovery? 


Training: Steve now trains in the morning, but before he trained at night. If he worked late it would throw off his training schedule pushing his gym time later and later which would make him MORE fatigued before he even started. After a 12 hour day working at a place you don’t really want to be, it’s tough to then go train after. Being a bit more tired than usual would mean less energy to put out in the gym, meaning longer rest periods, less weight at times and maybe even gassing out sooner than usual. 


That means his overall training volume (which we weren’t concerned about TOO much in the beginning since he was in pain) would decrease on average if he worked late. His motivation or drive to train would also be lower because of the stress he was taking on from work. And while it may not seem like the same, the stress from training and the stress from his job impact the body similarly if not the same. A stressor places a certain demand on the body and if the body can’t adapt, it becomes chronic stress which leads to a whole list of problems. And stacking chronic stress from life with stress from training just drains the body because it’s never TRULY recovering.


Nutrition: So how does his work schedule impact his nutrition? In a few ways. 


Firstly, he usually only had 2 meals a day with a protein shake after his training. Sometimes he’d have to push his last meal (after not eating since lunch at work so sometimes 6-8 hours later) which would push a ton of calories to late late at night. 


Secondly, it also would put a pretty big gap between his pre-workout meal and his training session which isn’t ideal for lifting heavy either. 


Finally, his nutrition later in the night doesn’t necessarily GUARANTEE digestion issues, but it’s a huge stress on the gut depending on how you sleep. You’ll see how we optimized his nutrition later on based on this issue. 


Recovery:  How does this schedule impact his recovery? Even if he only had a late night once a week or every other week, it would throw off his sleep schedule. Waking up EARLIER and leaving LATER while staying at the gym LATER is a combination for poor recovery. Why?


Sleep deprivation = stressor

Long work day = stressor

Training Session = stressor

Inadequate calories intake = stressor


It’s a nasty cycle. He gets stressed because he’s not sleeping enough which is creating MORE stress because he’s not recovering well from his gym sessions. Effectively, he’s just constantly breaking down his body without rebuilding it fully. Combine that with the irregularity in nutrition due to this cycle and you have a large amount of stress that you can’t recover from/ adapt to. 


We had a conversation about how much his previous job was impacting his goals and came to the conclusion that it was time to find a different opportunity. Sure, this is outside of the scope of a training/ nutrition coach but it was CLEAR that he did not want to be where he was. He told me he would DREAD waking up and going there. I knew EXACTLY what that felt like because I used to be in the same place at my previous job. It seriously drains you in more ways than you think. He was giving his energy, his time and his brain to something he didn’t care for. 



How His Previous Training/Movement Impacted His Journey


Now we’ll see what Steve was doing before we started working together. All of this information is part of what every client sends to me in the beginning so I can make all these decisions of how I will later optimize all these relevant pieces to get them to their goals. 


He was in the gym 3-4 times / week doing an upper/ lower body split with high reps + low rest and a HIIT finisher at the end. He didn’t do much cardio (wanted to run) because it usually hurt his back. And he actually was having low back flare ups during his training so he took the previous week off before submitting the questionnaire to me.


He wanted to get lean while staying injury free, but also build muscle and strength. Here’s the thing: you can’t do both. You can’t get lean and build muscle and build strength. Well, you can, but it’s VERY VERY difficult and Steve wasn’t in a position to do so with his injuries and current habits. So we had to focus on just getting him injury/ pain-free while focusing on recovery. So let’s look at his training program:


He was doing a 3-4 day upper/lower split with high reps and low rest periods + a HIIT finisher. Building muscle requires progressive overload by slowly increasing the overall training volume overtime. If you’re doing high reps with low rest, there’s a good chance you’re not lifting too heavy. If your reps are high, your weight is low and if your reps are low, your weight is high. It’s important to train in ALL rep ranges to provide more rooms for progression in your training and thus more training volume. Strictly training in a high rep range with low rest times will only allow to lift so heavy. In addition, you’re not training all energy systems because your first energy system ATP-PC or adenine triphosphate phosphocreatine requires AT LEAST 2 minutes (sometimes 3-5 in some cases depending on the person) to fully recover. 


This first energy system is where you’re the STRONGEST and most EXPLOSIVE. But it only lasts for about 12 seconds. After that you’re switching to a different energy system that’s glycolytic or utilizes stored glycogen in your muscles to continue fueling your training. When you consume carbs, they are converted to glucose and then absorbed by your cells as glycogen. When you train and work for longer than 12 or so seconds, glycogen because the fuel source INSTEAD of ATP-PC. You’ll typically see a set of 1-3 reps being highly fueled by that first energy system depending on how long the lifter performs it for. 


And the fatigue you get from lifting heavy is DIFFERENT than the fatigue you receive when doing high rep training. When you lift heavy you are stressing your CNS or central nervous system that is responsible for stimulating your muscles to lift stuff. Central fatigue is different than that burning you feel from lifting many many reps. Your central nervous system essentially can’t communicate with those muscles as optimally to handle the stress of lifting a big ass barbell or dumbbell. Pure strength training is all about building a more resilient Central Nervous System by training that first energy system, ATP-PC. And if you’re ONLY lifting lighter weight for many reps, you’re never growing that resilience in the central nervous system to lift heavier and increase training volume over time. 


The high rep low rest training was  the first big problem with his program before. The second was his actual movement. You’ll hear in his video at the bottom of the page, but Steve was coupling a lot of his movements with his lower back. So when he wanted to move through his hips in a deadlift or squat, his lower back would do a lot of the work. When he was doing his HIIT work, he didn’t have the mobility to accomplish some of the positions he was doing previously, so his lower back got a lot of the stress. Combine the stress of training with poor mobility + HIIT with poor mobility and you have a lower back that has breached its capacity! And that low back or lumbar dominance showed up in a lot of other activities Steve liked to do. Let’s look at some still shots of his assessment videos he sent me in October 2018: (I no longer require these videos as I assess my clients now via IG video or Skype)

 

Keep in mind I gave him no exact cues (like poke you butt, lean this way etc), I just told him what to do. There are a few things that stick out but the main thing I want you to look at is his lower back. What’s happening in all of these photos? There’s a rotation point at the lumbar spine. What I mean is that all his movements are loading his lumbar spine like you’d load a bicep curl, leg extension etc. In all these movements, the lumbar spine is meant to be stable and in its natural NEUTRAL curve. Not into excessive extension or flexion. You can see the flexion in his squat:

That piece rounding there is lower back in a common fault people refer to as “butt wink”. The goal was hip flexion to achieve adequate squat depth, but instead of using his hips, his lower back did the work. In the lunge (while not as obvious) with a careful eye, you can see the same low back dominance (and I see this in MANY people):

 

A flaccid belly and thick waist means his core isn’t pulling TIGHT aka lack of IAP (intra abdominal pressure). And if there’s rib flare or a flaccid belly, that means the lumbar (or something else nearby) WILL stabilize the spine. And it’s important to test this movement without cueing anything because I don’t want him to assume certain postures or “core tightness” because it would be a false positive. When people aren’t THINKING about their movement, it shows their TRUE stability and mobility. That’s very important.

 

Finally, let’s look at his shoulder flexion (overhead):

Same thing, except now his lumbar spine is in EXTENSION being pulled because of the rib flare you see. There’s no extension at the upper spine (upper back) and ALL  his extension is at the lumbar spine. If that’s tough to see, look at the angle of his waste. If he truly was NOT extending at the lower spine and flaring at the rib cage his waist would be small and parallel to the ground. His rib cage and pelvis are separating essentially causing that angle at the waist. And because his low back is extending and pelvis is rotating forward (anterior pelvic tilt) you see the waist is angled downward. 

I love this image from  Premiere Movement from their article about a similar topic:

You can see the angle issue I was talking about. Without that cannister analogy or the unopened coke can, you don’t have stability at the torso. In addition, you’re putting a ton of load on the lumbar spine. Check out their article here: https://www.premiermovementnd.com/why-squeezing-your-shoulder-blades-together-isnt-the-answer/

 

So Steve had these dysfunctions just in body weight screenings. Now imagine these dysfunctions being LOADED time and time again in the gym. His lower back taking the load from squats, deadlifts, lunges, benching, rowing, EVERYTHING. And his body changes its structure to adapt to that movement. Add in his desk job sitting in lower back (sitting isn’t the issue, the stability is) and his lower back is being loaded 24/7 and can never be stable. 

 

This analysis is not DIRECTLY saying the dysfunctions are causing back pain. Pain is complex in nature and is a response to the brain not feeling safe in a certain situation, loading, environment or emotion/ memory. However, it definitely contributes to inefficient loading and shear force on the lumbar spine. So in time, pain can certainly result as it did. It’s important for you to pick out these small dysfunctions in your own training. It’s not nitpicking, it’s performance enhancement. These issues with his back held him back for so long. But after we tackled them and improved his mobility and stability, Steve was crushing weight no problem. Making him more aware of these movements faults he had, helped him be smarter with his training and know his limits. 


And besides the pain he was experiencing, he wasn’t building muscle because the actual tension he wanted to occur (in his hips, for instance for squats) was NOT happening therefore he was not optimally loading the muscle fibers he wanted. His body couldn’t be in a position to ACTUALLY build his legs and glutes. So even if you’re not in pain, if your movement is dysfunctional, your growth will be dysfunctional as well. You won’t grow where you want to. 

 

How His Previous Nutrition/ Dietary Habits Impacted His Journey

Nutrition was also a HUGE part of helping Steve make this transformation. Steve actually wasn’t under or over eating. His calories were in a good place following ideal maintenance calorie intake. To test out where he was, I had Steve track his macronutrients via MyFitnessPal for 5-7 days. Of course 5-7 days is not necessarily indicative of his calorie intake completely, but it’s a good start. So here’s what I gathered from Steve’s first 5 days of tracking:



Protein

158g

136g

183g

107g

126g

Carbs

120g

179g

180g

349g

115g

Fat

83g

72g

438g

117g

70g

Calories

1859

1908

5394

2877

1594

 

Averages:

Protein: 142g

Carbs: 189g

Fat: 156g

Calories: 2726

Supplements: Multivitamin + Whey Protein after workouts [Occasionally consumed fish oil]

Speaking on his macros first, His protein was a bit too low and his fat was a bit too high for his activity level. 

Protein should be somewhere between .8g - 1.2g/ lb of bodyweight depending on the current goal of that nutrition periodization block. 

At 142g he was at .76g /lb of bw. We’ll talk about how I phased Steve’s protein intake a bit later.

 

Fat should ideally fall somewhere between 20% and 50% of the total daily calories based on activity type and goals. 

At 156g that made up 51% of his total calorie intake based typically on activity and goals. And you may be saying that it’s just from the high day, but without knowledge of that high day and the facts about palatable foods (which we’ve discussed many times) this high day would just happen again. Steve was getting in the gym about 4 times a week so he needed way more carbs and way LESS fat to properly fuel and recover the energy systems he was stressing in the gym. When you lift weights for longer than 10-12 seconds (first energy system) you dip into your glycolytic energy system which is science for carbs. That energy system is fueled by carbohydrates being converted into glucose, then absorbed into the body’s cells as glycogen as discussed before. Once the training happens and the stimulus is received for a long enough time at a high enough intensity, glycogen is converted to glucose in the body and used as energy to produce force and lift. Properly fueling that energy system leads to better recovery, increased performance and thus lifting heavier weight for more total training volume over time. 

High fat diets are typically best used during periods of recovery focused nutrition or when intense training is not going to be utilized as much. Then we wouldn’t need a higher carbohydrate intake. And keep in mind that the calories wouldn’t change. This particular analysis is on the DISTRIBUTION of those calories amongst the macros. And we’ll speak on this distribution in the phased section later on. 

 

Carbs should just fill in what’s left from protein and fat.

The carbs are a key for performance because as training volume increases the carbs are going to be incredibly valuable for increasing the stored glycogen pool to use during training and recovery as well. We’ll dive into carbs a bit deeper when I show the optimization phase later on. 

On average though, Steve wasn’t far from his calculated maintenance calorie intake of 2837, however, there was A LOT of variance in his intake. And he talked about this in his questionnaire! One of the main reasons for this high variance was from what we first talked about... his job. Because he didn’t know whether or not he was staying late or had to go in early, sometimes he would skip breakfast, causing him to have a big ass meal in one sitting. And if that meal is particularly palatable (easy to consume and usually high in fat and carbs), you’ll be able to eat a shit ton.

His overall food quality was pretty solid with lots of vegetables, fruit and multiple protein sources. Even when decided to order out, he was still quite close to his ideal calorie intake at maintenance (minus the 5k day). 

In addition he wanted the ability to go for a trip and have some beer without worrying about losing his results or stalling his progress. I wanted to also add that Steve was taking caffeine pills in addition to drinking multiple cups of coffee throughout the day while only getting 5-7 hours of sleep per day. So there was a lot of stress on his body through multiple aspects. 

Before I jump into the phases of each aspect of Steve’s journey I wanted to speak about the importance of all this information he gained. Awareness is 90% of the battle. Steve and I were in constant communication going back and forth about this stuff. He didn’t know how much all these things were impacting his life till he became aware of it. And as the dots started to connect, it made sense why he was seeing results in the gym. It made sense why he wasn’t able to move the way he wanted when he wanted, all the issues he was having made sense. Now he just needed a course of action to make the changes he was looking for. So let’s get into that next!

Phase 1: Establishing New Baseline + Optimization

The first phase was all about optimizing what he was already doing in every aspect of training, nutrition & recovery for some quick and easy changes. You can’t try to do everything at once in the  beginning. It just doesn’t work! The body and mind need time to adapt to any kind of new regiment you give them. 

 

Phase 1a: Training [Regress to Progress]

I’ll be honest with you, Steve’s programs evolved/improved as my knowledge on training & nutrition improved. I’ve learned SO MUCH over the last year and I would change things up had I gone through this programming another time. But to be honest, that’s how it should be. 

At the time I was just really getting into program design for the online space. I didn’t have that human in front of me so it was tough for me to actually plan things out appropriately. I had just linked up with Cody Boom Boom so I modeled a lot of my training after his in the beginning.

Steve’s first training cycle was a 4 day, Upper/ Lower split and included a pretty hefty warm-up that moved him through some dynamic stretching and basic “activation” work. I put activation in quotes because your muscles are always active, it’s more of an up-regulation of that muscle and firing MORE motor units [will talk about this later] to make your brain more aware of that muscle specifically if you’re about to load it with weight training. 

The link to the full program is HERE

Like I said, it’s hefty. I wouldn’t give someone that nowadays, but it got Steve pretty warm to train well so it got the job done! He didn’t have an extensive warmup in the past so there was some benefits from that newness as well. Training pain free and increasing the strength of his hips was the first goal. Steve had previously been back squatting, deadlifting and benching but not feeling the greatest in these movements since his mobility and stability weren’t where they needed to be. So I scaled back the modalities of these exercises to decrease demand on his joints and positioning making them easier to do.

 

Back Squat => Goblet Squat

Exercise 

Sets/Reps

RPE

Rest

Notes

Video

Goblet Squats

See Notes

8

1.5

Week 1:  4x10-12 

Week 2:  4x10-12 (Add 5 - 10lbs)

Week 3:  4x10-12 (Add 5 - 10lbs)

Week 4:  4x10-12 (Add 5 - 10lbs)

Make sure you lockout your glutes!

Send me a video of your goblet squats

Here

 

The goblet squat is a great alternative when scaling down your training due to mobility issues or movement pattern inefficiencies. By holding the weight in front of you, you take off the external rotation of the shoulder and scapular retraction needed to execute the back squat effectively. In my opinion, most people don’t have true scapular retraction WITHOUT rib flare. Here’s what I mean:

The shoulder blades (scapula) are squeezing together as shown by the arrows, and the fists are above the elbows as shown by the lines drawn under the elbows showing external rotation of the shoulder. Both of these positions are being challenged in a pretty dramatic fashion with the back squat. And most people that I’ve worked with initially don’t have this position. 

 

So from a mobility standpoint, they can’t actively attain the end ranges necessary to achieve the picture above, especially with weight on their back. And from a stability standpoint, they can’t maintain a neutral lumbar spine (lower back) to achieve this position without flaring their ribs and thus extending their lumbar spine. Remember: if your ribs are flaring, you are loading your lower back and TEACHING your brain to adapt to that position. 

Bench Press => Floor Press

Exercise 

Sets/Reps

RPE

Rest

Notes

Video

Floor Press

4x10

8

1-1.5

Keep the shoulders rolled back into the ground the whole time. Keep the quads engaged! 



Here

 

 

The second big lift that we scaled back was the bench press. There are a lot of requirements to executing the bench press and I think they get overlooked pretty often. The depth of the bench is actually a big one. The shoulders get deeper into internal rotation as you pull the bar closer to your chest in the bench press. If you don’t have adequate shoulder internal rotation, your actual humerus isn’t rotating in the ball and socket joint and there are likely some connective tissues getting overly stressed BECAUSE the joint can’t rotate adequately. If you’re not sure whether or not you have adequate shoulder internal rotation look at this image and test the position:

 

 

 

 
You’d probably need right where that red line is which is ABOUT 30-35 degrees of shoulder internal rotation. You’d need to be able to access that position with control and ease. Ideally, everyone should be able to get to 90 degrees where the arm would rest flat on the table. But that takes time to develop. While you’re building the mobility/ active control in your shoulder to an adequate amount, the floor press is a great alternative to limit the amount of shoulder IR and extension (moving your shoulder behind you) needed to bench press.

 

 Conventional Deadlift => KB or DB deadlift

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Kettlebell Deadlift

See Notes

7

1.5

Week 1:  3x10-12 

Week 2:  3x10-12 (Add 5 - 10lbs)

Week 3:  3x10-12 (Add 5 - 10lbs)

Week 4:  3x10-12 (Add 5 - 10lbs)

KEY: Maintain tension in your lats, hams and glutes. Since you’ve had low back pain, we want to divert the resistance to those muscles and practice that actively. 

Send me a video of your KB DL

Here

 

This regression decreased the amount of hip flexion in the hip hinge necessary to setup for the deadlift. In this video I am pulling my shoulders down. If you watched my content lately, I don’t do that anymore because I was unknowingly promoting rib flare. So, going back I would have that execution to look something this => HERE. The main difference is not pulling the shoulders back and assuming a more hip dominant position. I’m also leaving the knees softer to focus more on actual hip extension and not allowing my lower back to extend at the top of the deadlift.

 

But in general, Steve couldn’t keep his spine stable while deadlifting so his lower back would curve in some direction (extension or flexion) and NOT stay neutral. This modality made it a bit easier for him to execute the lift a lot better!

 

Bent Over Row => Chest Supported Row

 

Chest Supported Row

4x6

1.5-2

Pull hard into your lats! 



Here

 

 

The final regression we did was the trading the bent over row which required a plethora of things from torso stability, a solid hip hinge and shoulder internal rotation too! In this video as well looking back on it, there’s a bit of extension in my lower back that I didn’t realize either. Here’s a better updated execution with an emphasis on time under tension => HERE

 

Taking away the need to be bent over that way allows for a better mind-muscle connection initially so that we can slowly add on more difficulties in the position to get back to a bent over rowing variation. 

 

If you’re wondering about overhead pressing, I replaced that with a landmine alternative. I’ve spoken about this before, but I don’t think anyone (except maybe 1% of the population) should be overhead pressing because it requires thoracic extension high in the t-spine. And most people don’t have that. When they try to extend their upper back their lumbar spine usually does instead! 

 

Overhead Pressing Alternative 

 

The advantage of the landmine press is that it simulates and overhead press but takes out the need for 180 degrees of shoulder flexion (meaning arms by your ears) and thoracic flexion high in the t-spine. And it still crushes your shoulders as well while teaching your serratus how to go along for the ride (depending on execution of course). Here’s a video of the ½ kneeling landmine press with again, more emphasis on time under tension => HERE.

 

Some of the other lifts were focused on getting Steve more into his posterior chain, specifically for his hips. Getting him to feel his hamstrings and glutes more in his training.

 

So a lot of training involved hamstring & glute development through exercises like this:



Stability Ball Hamstring Curls

2x10 - 12

7

0

Ensure the glutes are engaged and hips are locked out. Keep the work in the hamstrings. It’s really important that you keep your glutes engaged. 

Here

 

 

And this:

 

Weighted Posterior Focused Back Lunges

3x10

8

1.5

Lead these back lunges with your hip, hinging at the hip. You want to feel the stretch in the back of the legs and the glutes. Really focus on moving the hip back first and not the knee. Very key.

Here



 

The whole program was a posterior chain or back of the body focused program. I

wanted to make sure that we were developing his glutes and hamstrings to help take some load off of his back. 

 

His upper body work included a lot of “corrective exercises” to target some of the smaller muscles he’d neglected in the past. Stuff like this:



YTWA

3x15/ each

6

.5

These smaller muscles we’re targeting on your back respond really well to a “pump” so really focus on feeling it in the lower middle part of your back for the Ys and in between the shoulder blades for the Ts. Ws should be back of the shoulder and rotator cuff while As are mid/lower traps and lats. 

Here

 

 

And like this:



½ Kneeling Face Pull

As

Many

As

Possible

9

0

Bang these out for as many reps as possible. It’s only one round here but we want clean quality reps. When you feel your form start to break down, you’re done. 

Here

 

 

 

 

The goal was to strengthen some of the upper body muscles that again, were neglected. Helping his smaller increase in strength and size initially was important, but just making him more AWARE of these muscles was the real objective so his brain would learn to use them a bit more effectively in his bigger lifts. 

 

Again, I don’t program that stuff anymore, but it helped him at the time, so it got the job done. 

 

His cooldown for every workout was some passive stretches so he could feel good at the end of the workout.

 

 

 

And while I don’t give passive stretching much anymore for cooldowns, they’re a fine starting point. Nowadays I usually gives CARs (controlled articular rotations) as cooldowns which is basically just the joint through its full range of motion in a circular fashion. And at this time, the mobility work wasn’t as formal as it is now. It was more suggested. We’ll get into mobility HW later on.

 

Phase 1b: Nutrition [Optimization of Current Intake]

 

To optimize Steve’s nutrition I adjusted his macros a bit so his body would better utilize the calories he was taking in. So we didn’t actually increase or decrease any calories at first. Optimization of the composition of the calories is always the next step after growing more aware of what you’re putting into your body. So as a review here’s what Steve’s macros + calories were:

 

Averages:

 

Protein: 142g

Carbs: 189g

Fat: 156g

Calories: 2726

 

And here’s how I shifted them for the first cycle:

 

Protein: 142g => 180g

Carbs: 189g => 260g

Fat: 156g => 105g

 

(Took off 26 calories to make it 2700 but those little bit are pretty negligible) 

 

So now let’s dive into how I went about changing each of these areas:

 

Protein => 180g

 

As a review, here’s how you should program protein:

 

Protein should be .8g - 1.2g/ lb of body weight (.8 grams - 1.2 grams of protein per pound of your body-weight)

 

That range would depend on many things from activity level to goals (maintenance vs. surplus vs. deficit) adherence etc. but that is typically a good range to fall in for protein. Steve was already around .8g per lb of bw (only 2g off) but would benefit from more since he was going was:

 

  1. Trying to build muscle
  2. Recovering from injuries
  3. Snacking and having inconsistent hunger patterns

 

So I put him right under 1g/lb of bw at 180g. That would only be 1 extra protein shake and one serving of protein per day. Or it could be 2 more servings of protein per day. The extra protein would improve his recovery from training + injuries and stabilize his hunger a bit better with additions from the other changes. 

 

To help increase his current protein intake I gave Steve one of my staples for a lot of clients trying to get more protein in:

 

The Morning Shake

 

You include some kind of fruit (berry preferred as some people don’t digest certain fruits well), green veggie, fat (coconut oil, nut butter) and then a protein powder. This formula covers a lot of great stuff in the morning besides just protein so it was a great habit for him to develop.

 

He would get a great balanced macronutrient profile (protein, carbs from fruit and fat from nut butter or coconut oil). His micronutrient profile would also be on point because he’d be including a serving of vegetables in his breakfast. 

 

The shake wouldn’t be as satiating as a non-blended meal, but it would 100% be better than 2-3 cups of coffee he was drinking in the morning => splurging later on a big high fat, high carb lower protein meal.

 

The key is balance throughout the day. A balanced spread of food promotes routine and regulates/ stabilizes hunger so you’re less likely to sporadically eat and snack. 

 

Eat Protein With Every Meal

 

No matter what, if he was eating, protein was involved. Every meal.

 

On The Go

 

If he was ever traveling, I encouraged him to bring protein powder with him as there’s water fountains everywhere. Shaker + Protein Shake + Water = 25-30g of protein quick.

 

I also encouraged him to use protein bars from CVS, Rite Aid etc if he was in too much of a rush to prepare the shake. 

 

These are some easy strategies you can apply in your pursuit to eat more protein! Super simple and applicable to any scenario! 



 

Fat => 105g

 

I like to program fat second because fat is usually programmed as a percentage of your total daily calorie intake.  

 

Fat should usually take up 20% - 50% of your total daily calorie intake.

 

That range would depend again on many things, but typically you look at activity levels and goals. So as discussed earlier, periods of high fat should be used during times of recovery focused training & nutrition blocks or when intense activity in the gym is at a lesser frequency and volume. Steve was training often enough to where his fat didn’t need to be as high as it was. So I lowered his fat to 105g to represent 35% of his total calories as opposed to 51% as it was earlier. 

 

I didn’t want to put it THAT low because we were just going after maintenance and one of the true markers of maintenance calories is overall great health. If fat gets TOO low (15-20%) like you would in a fat loss cycle, you might see recovery, joint health, hormonal health, digestive health etc suffer from such low fat intake for a long period of time. Steve was recovering from some injuries to his back as well as experiencing some gut issues (most likely from a combination of the high fat intake as well as the stress to his digestive system from the volatile eating).

 

So getting Steve into a nice balanced groove was priority. 

 

 

Carbs => 260g

 

And finally carbs are last since you just fill these in.

 

Carbs should just fill in the last portion of calories left over from fat and protein.

 

I wanted to use this space to explain an important relationship to regulate through the use of carbs: the insulin/ cortisol relationship.

 

Insulin is again released through the pancreas to signal that it’s time for the cells in the body to absorb glucose and convert them to glycogen to be used later (like when you lift for instace). Cortisol gets a bad rep as the “stress hormone” but it’s actually PIVOTAL for your results when managed appropriately. 

 

These two hormones are inversely related. Meaning, when Insulin is high, cortisol is low and vice versa. Let me explain: When you’re hungry for prolonged periods, your cortisol continues to rise to assist you in searching for food. Your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is further activated to increase heart rate, blood pressure and aid an overall higher drive for movement. Your body is gearing you up to go FIND food. It is your biological imperative to consume energy. You need it to survive. So the elevation of cortisol and driving of that fight or flight system helps you fulfill that imperative for survival. And as the cortisol rises, your insulin falls because there’s no energy to absorb. 

 

Then once you find food and consume it your body receives energy quelling the cortisol elevation and sympathetic drive from the nervous system. So insulin will rise and start the energy absorption process stimulating the parasympathetic (rest and digest system) nervous system slowing heart rate, decreasing blood pressure and slowing things down overall. 

 

And this relationship is fluctuated a lot unintentionally throughout the day because food accessibility is at its highest level ever. Food is right in your fridge, or a phone call away. That availability is great, but also is a curse as a lot of these food are low in fiber (which is a carbohydrate btw), protein and fat. 

 

That’s why carbs get a bad rep. They DO stimulate MORE hunger if consumed alone and the glycemic index IS valid when they are consumed alone thus potentially leading to overeating and weight gain. The glycemic index is a ranking system on how certain foods influence the insulin release into the bloodstream. However, this index is essentially IRRELEVANT when there’s a balanced macronutrient profile in the meal as a food like chicken breast has literally no carbohydrates so it has NO impact on insulin release from the pancreas. 

 

Steve and I eventually talked about all this stuff, but at first, it was a simple conversation about increasing protein and carbs to improve performance and build more muscle. Education = Compliance 100%. But at the beginning, sometimes it’s about building good habits that you can see the impact from. After that, THEN diving into the science stuff further solidifies the LIFESTYLE changes you make after building those habits. Later on, we went into meal timing once he got a bit more consistent with tracking since we started around the holidays back in November 2018.

 

So let’s look at his check-in sheet from Week 2 in November 2018 BEFORE starting to implement these strategies (he started the new training before he started the nutrition plan):

Now let’s look at 2 weeks later:

Date is a typo, should say 11/25, Week 3

His performance went up, strength went up, recovery, and he wasn’t experiencing any nagging pain after training. And for sure, these changes weren’t JUST from the nutrition, but having a larger energy pool for the gym as well as optimal recovery definitely was a huge part of the equation. His hunger also stabilized a bit more (10 => 7). And as his adherence to the nutrition plan grew better, he was seeing more progress in the gym and his overall day-to-day life. 

 

And now let’s look at 2 weeks later:

 

 Lifting heavier, no pain, no soreness, more confidence in his lifting and better adherence in his macros. His hunger also massively stabilized to a great level at 5. He’s not too hungry, but not too full. That goldilocks perfect level. The biofeedback was showing the progress of his metabolism and overall health through the training and nutrition we were implementing. 

So at this point Steve was a great baseline. We optimized his nutrition for the most part and got him moving way better in the gym with more confidence. 


Phase 2: Dietary/ Training Flexibility + Accounting For The Impact of Life Stress

 

So we made some great gains in phase 1 in the gym and in the kitchen to get Steve at a better place. In this phase, there were a lot of things OUTSIDE of the gym that tried to disrupt Steve’s progress. But I’ll show you how we worked things out and kept Steve on track. In addition we experienced different smaller injuries along the way that slowed down his movement a bit. 

 

The main things that kept throwing Steve off track was the frequent traveling and his job. Initially I had Steve on a 4 day upper/lower split, but we eventually changed to a 3 day full body split as he could better adhere to that. I thought maybe we’d have to reduce calories a bit to accompany the decrease in activity, but there were no real changes in body composition and biofeedback actually improved, so I kept calories the same. You’ll see in this phase that I actually ended up INCREASING his food intake because his biofeedback was right on the cusp of being at its greatest potential. His training also changed drastically as my knowledge on mobility increased. His warmups got shorter and more specific. His training was still around the same amount of time, but for the first time I gave him specific Mobility Homework that he was to complete on his rest days at first, and then eventually everyday. He was having some rotator cuff issues and we identified that his deficiency was in external rotation of the shoulder. Let’s dig in.

 

Phase 2a: Training [Introduction to Functional Range Conditioning + Different Splits]

 

In this phase I introduced Steve to FRC (Functional Range Conditioning) from the FRS curriculum because I knew it would help his shoulder a ton. At the time I wasn’t FRC certified (whoops) but I learned a ton from interviewing multiple top dogs in the FRC community, paying for an in-person assessment from my guy Ian Markow and following a ton of the smartest FRC providers on the gram. And as he was seeing results with his shoulders, I started to apply the concept of the PAILS/RAILS drills to other joints in his body. I’ll get to that in a bit. Here's the link to his program HERE

As you can see the warmup is shorter (still pretty damn long… sorry Steve haha) and has some more technical drills in it. I won’t go through each one but I’ll explain the overall concept of the PAILs/ RAILs drill from Functional Range Conditioning [don’t worry, I’m certified now ;)...].


PAILs

Progressive

Angular

Isometric

Loading

 

RAILs

Regressive 

Angular

Isometric 

Loading



The first part of the PAILs/RAILs drill involves a stretching phase. Stretching IS useful, because it will stimulate the nervous system to allow you to dip into some passive range of motion. And you need to hold these stretches for 2 minutes for an optimal stimulus. In the plan I said 30 seconds (details are important) and that's my mistake. But you learn! We still saw some pretty good results because of the 5 rounds he did per warmup. The difference between this method and most others is that most methods just stop working after the passive range has changed. And they leave a lot of gains on the table because of it. After passive range has been dug into, you get into the active strength training for your joints. 

 

Each piece of the drill involves either pushing or pulling. PAILs you’re pushing into a surface, RAILs you’re pulling away from a surface. The concept is to strengthen both sides of the joint for a perspective motion to build strength at the capsular level of the joint. With each round you gain a little bit more range of motion (to a point) and you teach the brain that you can be strong in that range of motion by loading the joint there.

 

Finally you end with some “lift offs” to save the work accessing that gained range with strength. Later on, I’d use a new warmup system to prepare the joints to move well in their respective ranges of motions the client would use in the strength training session. 

I did a few of these “warmups” on Instagram in a series called Mobility For Muscle. Check out the squat warmup one here: Squat Warm-Up MFM

This system has been a change for many of my clients because it helps them become more aware of what their body is doing in space. It’s really easy to go through the motions and not intentionally load certain movement patterns “correctly” which in this case is a way that will build the most muscle for you. I eventually also got Steve doing CARs or Controlled Articular Rotations daily as I learned more about the FRS system. But we’ll get to those later. 

In the actual lifts, I started to transition Steve back to the bigger lifts after 3 months of working on his mobility and control in each of these movements. 

 

Goblet Squat => Tempo Back Squat

Slow Pause Back Squat

4x8

9

1.5

4 seconds down, 2 second pause then explode up and squeeze the crap out of your glutes. These sneak up on you so start light and hone in on your execution.

Week 1: Add 5 - 10lbs

Week 2: Add 5 - 10lbs

Week 3: Add 5 - 10lbs

Week 4: Add 5 - 10lbs

Here

 

The idea behind moving slowly was to teach his brain (through time under tension) that this specific motion was safe to do. It also helped him FEEL his glutes and legs do the work as opposed to his back. The idea was to start very, very light so the heavier load wouldn’t allow him to cheat. When you’re moving heavy weight, sometimes that causes “better” mobility. It’s not real though. Whatever you can do with LOW weight, is what you can ACTUALLY do safely. 

And week by week we added just a little bit of weight. We had multiple conversations about control. Once he felt he couldn’t control the weight throughout the entire motion (especially after the pause at the bottom of the squat) he’d gone up too much weight and it was time to regress. We didn’t care about getting to big weight QUICKLY, we cared about being able to lift pain and injury free.

Kettlebell Deadlift => Hex Bar Deadlift

 

Hex Bar Deadlift

5x5

9

2-3

Same as last cycle but we’re going heavier.

Here

 

I reallyyyyyy like the hex bar deadlift for people trying to train the deadlift pattern while recovering from injuries. It’s basically like picking up two heavy ass suitcases. You’ll notice that I’m again pulling my shoulders back and down. And even in the explanations, I didn’t really understand at the time why my deadlifts were giving me back pain. Well….

Maybe lifting 315lbs with my lower back was why? Nahhh that’s nonsense. 

 

Heh…

Anyway, the hex bar deadlift worked so well for Steve. It was higher off the ground thus decreasing the angle of flexion at his hips and putting his back in a safer position to stay stable.

Floor Press => Barbell Bench

Barbell Bench

4x8

9

1.5 - 2

Keep the shoulders rolled back into the ground the whole time. Keep the quads engaged! 



Here

 

After working the floor press and increasing the mobility of his shoulders, Steve felt confident to try bench pressing. In most cases I’d probably progress from floor press to a dumbbell bench press first, then to a barbell bench. But he felt confident so we went for it at a low intensity. 

Since we were still doing a full body split, he was working every part of his body each session. It was a different training style than he was used (did upper lower for a long time) but it was more efficient and better fit his schedule. During these full body sessions a huge piece of making gains was his accessory lifts. Here’s a few:

 

Single Leg  Bulgarian Split Lunge

4x8

8

1-2

Slow and controlled pace! Aim to feel this in your glutes.

Here

 

Single leg training may be on THE most important things you can do to improve your bigger bi-lateral training exercises (squat, deadlift etc). Your Central Nervous System fires to each side of your body differently in the amount of motor units it stimulates to complete certain movements. Think of a motor unit as a communicator for a group of smaller muscles to the brain that when grouped together make the larger muscle you see contract like a bicep. Everytime you contract that muscle the brain makes a decision as to whether or not to recruit a certain amount of motor units to INCREASE the level of the contraction or LIMIT it. Here’s what a motor unit looks like:

So as you can see a muscle is a group of thousands upon thousands of smaller muscles that are controlled by that yellow thing called the motor neuron like I said earlier. Giving more attention to certain parts of your body that may not have as much motor unit activation can lead to more strength in that part of your body because it builds trust in the brain that YES this leg can do stuff.Thus the brain will stimulate more of these motor units, thus recruiting more muscle fibers to thus increase the amount of force that the total muscle can produce. 

If you only load both sides simultaneously, your brain will just default to the side it trusts more every time. I guarantee it. Because remember, your brain doesn’t give a shit that you wanna build big ass legs. It’s just trying to protect you. So if when you start squatting, it senses that the left leg ain’t gonna be able to equally distribute the load you’re placing upon it in relation to the right leg, you better believe that right leg is going to get loaded more. And we’re naturally asymmetric by nature. We’ll most likely never have PERFECT balance between each side, but we can do the best we can to limit that gap. 

Here’s another accessory lift I made a staple in many of Steve’s programs:

 

Multiplanar Lunges

3x8 per side

7

.5

Use your hips! Don’t let the knees take over this movement. You want to feel the work in your hamstrings and glutes. Follow the video closely. And again keep your knee lined up with your foot. Body awareness!

Here


This specific movement will move you into certain positions you don’t frequent
INTENTIONALLY often. Think of your body as being sliced into different glass cases:

Most of the training traditional training programs give are in the sagittal plane. Think of anything that’s goes front and back. Lunges, squats, deadlifts, etc. There’s not much work done in any of these other planes. So your muscles only receive intentional training in this plane of movement, stretching and contracting in this plane of movement specifically. 

 

But you need to move in these other planes because in real life, we move in ALL directions. 

 

Coronal Plane = Frontal Plane and that involves motions that are side to side. Think of side lunges or any kind of lateral movement (you ever do the lateral walks with bands around your knees to “activate” your glutes?) 

 

Transverse Plane = Anything dealing with rotation. Think swinging a baseball bat, throwing, twisting etc. We do this shit everyday, but don’t train it. 


Try out the multiplanar lunge and see how it feels! It’ll change your gains. 

 

For upper body we stuck to the basics: 

1 Arm DB Rows

4x6

9

1

More strength! 

Here

 

Alternating DB Press

3x10

8

1

10 each arm (1 and 1 is 1) One arm at a time keeping the scaps locked in the entire time! 

Here

 

Just lots of unilateral training is the key. And working joint mobility unilaterally works the same way!

Here’s the shoulder mobility exercise that changed the game for Steve’s shoulders:

 

Shoulder Work

Rounds

RPE 

Rest Period

Notes

Video Link

Shoulder ER PAILS/RAILS x2

1-2 Rounds

9

0

a.) Drive fist into ground or yoga block for your shoulder ER end range at 10%  of your maximal tension to start. Ramp up 20, 30 etc to 60% holding for 10 seconds at 60%.

 Lift fist off object squeezing rotator cuff muscles holding for 10 seconds. Repeat from 60% - 100% intensity PAIN FREE holding at 100% for 10 seconds. Lift and hold for 10 seconds. After you finish, perform 3 reps of trying to lift into that end range again.

Here

 

Try it out for your shoulders and see how much work it takes! No weight required. Remember we’re fighting to increase the trust your brain has for your joints in deeper ranges of motions. So that alone will make it pretty tiring and difficult. 

Here’s a link to the program HERE.

You’ll notice it says part 3. I skipped talking about a middle program we did for when he was traveling for now as I’m going to discuss that next. You’ll also notice the shoulder mobility work is presented differently. Use the one I gave you above as an updated version. It’s a bit cleaner.

Here’s where we start to see some difficulty in adherence as Steve was traveling a lot during this time. Besides training, Steve is a pretty active dude. He likes to participate in a lot of extra-curricular activities outside the gym! And that’s so great. This high activity is one of the many reasons he got the results he did. Staying active outside the gym is freaking huge. But with these activities on the weekend comes a difficulty in sticking with the program. Between him being more involved at his job and him going snowboarding on the weekends, he was pressed for time. So we cut down to a 2 day split. 


And yes, he wanted to build muscle and get stronger, but the stress and schedule constraints of trying to adhere to 3 days a week was weighing on him. So we both decided on a 2 day split that would allow him to get in the gym and get busy, but wouldn’t be too much to handle given his busy schedule at the time. It’s okay to dial back on training a bit and just maintain muscle while stuff is going on in your life. You need SIGNIFICANTLY less volume to maintain muscle than to build it.

Here’s a link to that program HERE.

It still focuses on the main lifts with each day being a push or pull focus. So day 1 is a back squat (lower body push) with an upper body pull (pendlay rows). For day 2 it was a lower body pull (deadlift) with an upper body push (bench). You’ll get the biggest bang for your buck with lower body compound exercises since they’ll recruit the most muscle fibers and cause the biggest calorie expenditure. 

It’s a pretty effective way to stay on track around the holidays, when work is causing you to stay later at night etc.

Because the reality is that if your training schedule is causing you stress and you’re beating yourself up over trying to adhere to it, you’re doing more harm than good. In addition, if you’re not RECOVERING well, you’ll also be doing more harm than good. So this 2 day split was a perfect training program while he was busier.

Injuries Creeping In

During this phase there were a lot of seemingly random injuries that kept coming up. First it was his upper back feeling achy and tight. Then he pulled his groin a bit making squats and other lower body exercises more difficult to accomplish. He eventually felt some lower back and tailbone issues as we progressed to heavier weights which I’ll speak on in the 3rd phase.

But for his achy and tight upper back we did some thoracic spine work that became a staple in his warmup to get some more blood flow to his upper back and relieve some tension. He did these religiously. Here’s a video of that HERE.

When you’re performing this one, make sure you keep your pelvis and rib cage in line. You’ll notice in the video that mine flares in extension of the T-Spine. If that’s happening, you are no longer working through your t-spine. You are working through your lower back and lumbar spine. So just be aware of that throughout. 

While he was recovering from the groin and upper back injuries, we replaced his lower body training with some mobility work meantime. It would allow him to get to his deepest squat depth, with control, without compromising his execution and using his lower back. Check that out HERE

The whole idea behind this approach was to prep all the necessary joint motions of the squatting pattern, then load them safely at his end range of motion. While we rebuild and recover, we solidify confidence from his brain that this position is in fact safe so that we could start loading it with weight again. And he was getting a pretty good workout from it so it was a win-win. We kept the intensity relatively high by again challenging that end range of motion. It’ll make you work!

 

The worst thing you can do is ignore the twinges and dysfunctions you experience as they’ll probably get worse! I’ll get into the low back pain that resurfaced later on in the third phase. 

 

Phase 2b: Nutrition [Holding Maintenance + Dietary Flexibility While Traveling]

On the weekends, he was doing a ton during this period. He’d literally snowboard for the entire day and I think there was a bit of a debt between the lack of sleep (he was averaging around 6 per night at the time) and high energy expenditure on the weekends. So I added some more carbs.Would help with that insulin/ cortisol relationship I spoke of earlier and it would give him some more energy to use during his excursions on the weekends. Snowboarding itself is a stop and go kind of sport. He wasn’t literally snowboarding all day. It would be multiple bursts of snowboarding with breaks in between. That’s glycolytic by nature. So his nutrition needed to match that energy system need.

 

Protein: 180g

Carbs: 260g => 300g

Fat: 105g

Calories: 2860

 

This macro split and calorie intake amount was also closer to the calculated amount I derived at the beginning. So even though his training went down in the gym, the stress in his life + snowboarding on the weekend, made up for it from an overall stressor to his body standpoint. 

The biggest issue nutrition wise was Steve fitting enough food into his schedule before the gym. By the time the gym came around, he’d have so much protein left to get into his body (along with other food) that it was disrupting his sleep. He was waking up in the middle of the night. So to combat that, we spoke about how to get more food into his day. Remember, he was super busy at work and sometimes couldn’t really step away from his desk.

So in general, we added some supplementation and snacking during the work day to push some of his calories to earlier in the day so the calorie intake at the end of the day wouldn’t be so much. Here’s an example of a scheduled macro nutrient intake guide:

Meal

(Spread 3-4 hours apart)

Protein 

Carbs

Fat

Meal #1 (Post-Workout)

35-40g

60-65g (fruit+starch)

5-10g

Meal #2 

35-40g

35-40g (mostly veggies)

15-20g

Meal #3 

35-40g

35-40g (mostly veggies)

15-20g

Meal #4 (Pre-Workout)

35-40g

60-65g (starchy)

5-10g

 

Let’s go through this and talk about why this split is optimal. Keep in mind this split is ideally for someone training in the morning. If you wanted to shift this be for someone that trains at night it would look like this:

Meal

(Spread 3-4 hours apart)

Protein 

Carbs

Fat

Meal #1

35-40g

35-40g (fruit)

15-20g

Meal #2 

35-40g

35-40g (mostly veggies)

15-20g

Meal #3 (Pre-Workout)

35-40g

60-65g (starchy)

5-10g

Meal #4 (Post-Workout)

35-40g

60-65g (starchy)

5-10g

 

Let’s talk through this split. I’ll speak about it generally and pinpoint the differences between each as I explain the overall split. I’ll start with protein. Research has shown equally distributing protein across at least 4 meals is optimal for stimulating muscle protein synthesis to build more muscle. I don’t typically cite things that often, but that specific of a metric, I wanted to cite it so you could check out some of the research on meal timing/ frequency. But remember, that number is irrelevant is your calories aren’t where they need to be. So that number will always be the same across the board.

In the morning (unless you train) the carbohydrates in your meal should be mostly comprised of fruit. Carbohydrates from starches (rice, potatoes etc) are stored in the muscles while carbohydrates from fruit are stored in the liver to be utilized by the brain and other parts of the body. While carbs stored in the muscle are used for training to fuel heavy lifting and high exertion activity. 

During sleep, the brain depletes the liver glycogen so it’s best to replenish that glycogen with fruit in the morning. It’s not like having starchy carbs in the morning is “bad”, it’s not. It’s just optimal to replenish that liver glycogen in the morning and save the starchy carbs for later in the day around your training. If you are training in the morning you’ll want to combine fruit + starchy carbs to replenish muscular and liver glycogen! You’d use the night before as a “pre-workout” meal where you’d load a slow digesting carb (sweet potato), lots of veggies and protein to hold you over to the morning and potentially through your workout if you decide to train fasted. Because ain’t nobody waking up at 4am to eat before training. 

Note: If you’re hungry in the morning before training, drink a protein shake real quick. Should be good to go. (BCAAs are also an option, but those are IN a protein shake already so, you don’t really need them. If someone tries to sell you both BCAAs and Protein in the same sentence, you can now giggle to yourself)

And that leads nicely into carb amounts before and after training if you’re not training at night. They should be high in starchy carbs 2-3 hours (depending on the person) before training that digest pretty fast. White rice is the perfect example of a pre-workout starchy carb. After training the carb should be slow digesting carbs since you’re about to go to bed. A sweet potato would be great here for post-training carbs when training at night. Digests much slower than white rice so the blood sugar will dip much slower along with the rest of the meal consumed. If blood sugar dips too quickly before bed, you run into the risk of waking up in the middle of the night. Which we of course don’t want for optimal recovery + sleep cycles. 

Fat should basically be high when starchy carbs aren’t. The high protein + fat will provide satiation and slow digestion so that once you get to lunch you’re not starving. And because fat slows digestion, it needs to be low around training so that blood isn’t still being funneled to your gut to aid digestion when you need it to be redirected to your muscles to help you train. If you do consume high fat before training, you probably won’t feel the greatest during your actual training as blood will be pulled from the gut while it’s still busy.   

Please keep in mind that if you don’t stick with this format you still can and WILL get gains. The reason I present you with this info is so you can put yourself in the best position to get the best training sessions and best recovery. If you’re properly fueled before your training you’ll have more energy, meaning you’ll get more out of every rep, have better execution and overtime, build more muscle whichhhhh leads to more fat loss. 

Circling back to Steve, we found that too many of his calories were getting pushed to later in the day as opposed to a more even spread out because he wasn’t each much during the day. This issue goes back to his job demanding a ton from him and it negatively impacting his health. So we got him on a better split that included some snacking (protein bars + granola bars mainly) that weren’t necessarily “ideal” based upon what I just told you, but they had him feeling fueled up and ready to crush his workouts because he was still getting the right amount of calories into his body. And that’s what counts at the end of the day. A lot of the time you’ll have to fit what you see online into YOUR lifestyle. 

The online coaches that are putting information out there are framing from their experience and education which is great! However, sometimes what coaches learn in the books and courses, don’t always apply to the clients we work with. And that’s a huge part of becoming intuitive with the people we work with. And you’ll have to apply the same kind of mentality to your nutrition as well. So always take things you read with a grain of salt and ask yourself this question: would this work for me? If that’s NOT a resounding YES or you’re unsure, you probably should do some more research on the strategy to test its applicability to your life and also the legitimacy of the information being presented. 

One major life update that changed a lot for Steve was getting a new job. After numerous talks about his previous job was giving him so much stress and trouble, we started to see how that impacted his gym performance and overall mood in general. So around April before his race (good timing) he acquired a new job, and LOVED IT! It was the perfect environment he was looking for in a job so that took a lot of pressure off of him. It was great seeing him be brighter on calls and just happier in general with the new job. Throughout this process one thing that was interesting to me was that he was SO DAMN HUNGRY. I’d already bumped his calories recently but he was just still hungry. But when I really thought about it Steve was doing a lot.

Training during the week, taking trips being active in sports all weekend and finally, he started running. He worked up to 3 times a week at a moderate pace. The running was a recent addition to his overall activity that was in preparation for his first competitive race in over 3 years. Now the race wasn’t that long (about 4 miles in a leg inside the Pittsburgh Marathon), but with everything going on in his life, he needed more food. His hunger and cravings told the story. So to help him recover a bit better during the week I gave him these macros:

 

Calories

Protein

Carbs

Fat

3105

180g

360g

105g



Nothing changed but his carbs, I added 60g that was only lasting for 2-3 weeks. The plan was to up his calories through carbs for the race (which allowed him to push himself to a 8:00/ mile pace for the 4 miles which he was pleased with) and then cut after a few days of recovery. I’ll get to the cut in the 3rd phase but I wanted to chat a bit about sustainability when traveling. I spoke about how Steve wanted to enjoy beer while on his trips. That was important for many reasons, but the main was his mental and emotional health. It was important for him to get a break. While he loved his job, the startup/ chaotic environment was still quite demanding on him, so having that time away and not worrying about the plan THAT much, was important. And he didn’t go balls to the wall either, just enough to feel relaxed and get the break he needed. I will say during a friend’s birthday, he saw that he gained some weight after the event during his cut in the summer.

 

We’d spoke about planning his calories out for big trips & events, but he had yet to put it into practice. On our check-in call he told me he’d gained weight, but didn’t stress about it because he understood that the planning didn’t happen. I guaranteed him that if he planned ahead, his weight wouldn’t change. During his cut, which we’ll talk about in a bit, he did exactly that and saw no changes. Planning goes a long way! 

 

Phase 3: Fat Loss Phase + Tackling Root Causes Of Injuries/ Pain

 

And now we’re here. The phase you’ve probably been waiting for the entire blog. The fat loss phase! As you can see, there was a ton of prep to get to this point! Steve was down for the ride, and that’s why he got the results he got. Patience & Adherence. During this phase we were seeing that tailbone pain/ issues get a bit more serious. And after some time we employed some help from a local Chiropractor that specializes in a technique called Functional Release, we saw some even better results for his joints. It’s basically combining Chiropractic + FRC into a pretty cool technique for helping people better. I’ll get into that during the first training section. We discovered, as I discussed earlier, the real reason Steve was seeing issues with his training. Let’s dive in. 

 

Phase 3a: Training For Fat Loss + Dealing w/ Injuries

 

Training for fat loss is going to be basically the same as training for building muscle. You’re prioritizing your heavier lifts at the beginning of the session when the Central Nervous System is fresh and ready to get busy, then pushing into accessories and less demanding lifts as you go forward. TOO many times people do tons of cardio instead of continuing to build muscle.

 

Let nutrition be what SHOWS the muscle. Use the gym to BUILD the muscle you want to show through nutrition. Cardio should be thought of as the sprinkles on top of a solid fat loss cake (maybe not the best analogy, but you get it haha). Cardio comes to help fat loss that’s lagging a bit when there should be a calorie deficit or progress stalls a bit. It should NOT be an entire day.

 

In terms of the split itself, I like a full body training program. Full body movements and training programs are my favorite for increasing effort levels in the gym since a lot of the movements recruits more muscle fibers and have a potential to burn a bit more calories than upper lower splits. 

Here was Steve’s 3 days of training in the gym


The warm-ups were a nice prequel to joint specific mobility primers that focused specifically on the joint motions he was going to need to use during the training session. Highly encourage you to click through some of these and see how they relate to your warmups for these same lifts. 

As we were still nursing some pain in his tail bone, I modified the exercises involving his hips to be the safest versions possible, while still making the workout fun for him. You’ll notice I put 0 overhead motions in this program also. Again, not many people should be going overhead at all. If your extension point in your spine is LOW in your lower back or even in the lower part of your middle back, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Especially if the low back gets pulled into extension and you’re just cranking reps in that extension. I did have a modified ½ kneeling landmine shoulder press that worked pretty well for simulating that overhead motion. 

As mentioned previously, his first exercise was always going to be the best bang for his buck. Steve particularly loved the Hex Bar Deadlift as it allowed him to be a bit higher and not as bent over like in a traditional deadlift saving his back some issues (or so we thought). Throughout the rest of the program we always included some kind of unilateral (single leg, single arm etc) training to make sure he was staying relatively balanced between both of his sides. We’re naturally asymmetric as I mentioned before and can’t do anything about that, but we can do the best we can to keep that gap as small as possible.

At the end of the session is a great space for cardio or some kind of high volume finisher. I employed some Dynamic Ab Circuit Training & EMOMs. If you wanted to do HIIT 1-2 times per week, at the end of the workout would be a good spot. 

True HIIT, by the way, is a SHORT burst of explosive stuff for 10-12 seconds then a 3-4 minute rest period. If you’re going for longer than 10-12 seconds, you’re out of your explosive ATP-PC energy system as talked about earlier. You’re dipping into that glycolytic system which is okay, but it’s becoming less and less HIIT and more cardio. 

HIIT examples:

Sprint 10-12 seconds ALL OUT

Assault Bike 10-12 seconds ALL OUT

Broad Jumps 10-12 seconds ALL OUT

 

Short bursts like this will cook you, I promise. Take 3-4 minutes between each set and see how hard it is to REALLY go all out.

 

Back to Steve’s plan. The Dynamic Ab Circuit Training focused on Steve learning to use his core while moving. So some hex bar carries, explosive HEAVY pallof for anti-rotation and some cable rotations to learn how to use his upper back for rotation. At the end of each round he was CRUSHED. But this was more for cardio which is why the rest periods were a bit shorter. These cardio or HIIT finishers are a great way to amp up a training session. But honestly, the finisher was the least of our worries after a bit.

 

Throughout his cut, Steve’s back was bouncing back and forth. Some weeks he felt great, some weeks his back felt pretty bad. So we decided it was time to outsource for some help with his back. 

We reached out to my good friend Dr. Keith Zryinyi down at the South Hills Performance Chiropractic. Certified in Functional Release for basically part of the body, Dr. Z, as we called him, took a hands on approach that combined Chiropractic and strength training. Through an in depth analysis, Dr. Z saw that Steve was basically using his lower back in all his movements and his brain had been taught to basically use his lower back to function as his hips. Years of doing this had changed his tensioning in lower back and left it up regulated. Through some tissue work and strength work after (hands on PAILS/RAILS) Dr. Z was an amazing resource to help put Steve in a position to get OUT of his lower back. 

I don’t trust many chiros because many just crack you and send you on your way. But Dr. Z understood how the nervous system worked and knew that if he just cracked you, the body would re-assemble back to the previous structure without some strength work to help hold it in place. So while Dr. Z helped with tissue work and hands on PAILS/RAILS I would give Steve some FRC based HW to continue to solidify these gains. His brain needed to be convinced OVER AND OVER AND OVER again that he didn’t need his lower back to accomplish the motions his hips needed to be doing. 

Check out the program HERE to see the HW. Just scroll down to the end of the program.

Please keep in mind that some of these positions may be difficult for you to achieve if you’ve done no work on your mobility previously. So keep that in mind as you go through this program.

Dr. Z and I made a good team because he would inform me of Steve’s progressions and where he needed specific strength work (with Steve’s permission of course). And eventually Steve was in a great spot to move forward! 

During this time we were improving Steve’s ability to use his hips to accomplish hip hinging for squatting and deadlifts, we focused on high tension LOW weight based training. We also modified the movements a bit to give him an easier time with executing them well:

Click HERE to check out his 3rd fat loss phase


Tension based training can still make some great gains as you focus more and more on loading the specific muscles you’re trying to use to move your joints and accomplish the hinges, squats, rotation etc in the gym. So this strategy worked well as a way to continue building muscle but also slowly get Steve back in shape to eventually lift heavy again. 

For the rest of the cut, we stuck to variations of this 3 day split eventually adding another day in the gym as a progression for more fat loss and it worked pretty well! As Steve got better and better, the appointments with Dr. Z grew fewer and fewer until he was only seeing Dr. Z about once a month. That’s how it SHOULD be. If you’re seeing a chiro or physical therapist, they need to be helping you build to how you were before the injury and then SURPASS it. You should end the relationship with the PT or Chiro STRONGER than before your injury, not barely functional. 

 

The only issues we saw in the rest of the cut from a training perspective was actually from a nutritional perspective. You’ll see in the nutrition portion of this cut that he’d be in the cut for 17 weeks. That’s a pretty long time for a cut. We dropped calories a few extra times throughout those weeks and he felt good for a while! But toward the end, his recovery started to decline a bit and he could FEEL the differences from when he first started. 

 

Phase 3b: Nutrition For Fat Loss + Assessing How Long To Be in a Cut

 

So in the previous section you learned how to train for fat loss. It’s basically the same as building for muscle. Here we’ll get into the nitty gritty for fat loss. Steve was very good at adhering to macros and meal timing & food quality, so I gave him some specific notes on both of these areas throughout the initial cut program.

 

Here were his first cutting macros/ calories:

 

Calories

Protein

Carbs

Fat

2605

180g

235g

105g

 

Only thing we really moved was carbs. He wasn’t running as much anymore, and was only in the gym 3 days/ week to start, so it made the most sense to me to cut from carbs. Here’s how we split his meal up:

 

Meal

(Spread 3-4 hours apart)

Protein 

Carbs

Fat

Meal #1 (Shake)

30-40g

20-30g

25-30g

Meal #2 (Lunch)

30-40g

30-40g

25-30g

Meal #3 (Second Lunch)

30-40g

30-40g

15-20g

Meal #4 (Pre-Workout)

30-40g

60-70g

5-10g

Meal #5 (Post-Workout)

30-40g

60-70g

20-25g


(and a few extra notes)

Few things: 

 

  • Drink half of your current body-weight in fluid ounces + 15 fl oz per hour of any physical activity throughout the day
  • Ensure you have vegetables with every single meal.
  • Ensure you have 1-2 serving of fruit per day (preferably in the morning)
  • Weigh yourself in the morning so we can see how the weight progression is as well.

Looking back on this I would have restructured this just a tad:

 

Meal

(Spread 3-4 hours apart)

Protein 

Carbs

Fat

Meal #1 (Shake)

30-40g

20-30g (fruits)

25-30g

Meal #2 (Lunch)

30-40g

30-40g (mostly veggies)

25-30g

Meal #3 (Second Lunch)

30-40g

30-40g (mostly veggies)

25-30g

Meal #4 (Pre-Workout)

30-40g

60-70g (fast digesting carb)

5-10g

Meal #5 (Post-Workout)

30-40g

60-70g (slow digesting carb)

5-10g

 

The main changes I made were just having a fast digesting carb before training to make sure you’d not be sluggish before training. White rice is a great fast digesting carb. And then after training you’d want a slow digesting carb like Sweet Potato to ensure for great sleep again like I discussed earlier. You don’t want to be waking up in the middle of the night because your blood sugar crashed. 

All of the previous info given in the earlier sections still apply! 

We held these macros for a while (6 weeks) and saw some results. He’d lost about 2-3lbs (from 185) and hovered around 181-183 for a few weeks. Before we lowered calories again we tried a few strategies:

  1. Supersets in the gym
  2. More activity (walking, stairs, etc) outside of the gym
  3. (Didn’t have much capacity for more but here are a few more) Adding a day in the gym
  4. Adding steady state cardio
  5. Change your training split

 

After those two strategies didn’t see any changes, we lowered his calories a bit more:

 

Calories

Protein

Carbs

Fat

2402

180g

200g

98g

 

For someone else, I would have lowered their fat more, but I was nervous about getting his fat too low while he was still dealing with some injuries. During this time he was still Dr. Z regularly and getting treatment for his back. I did take a bit (105 - 98g) so his ratio wouldn’t be too high in terms of his total calories coming from fat. It was at 36% the last cycle and kept it around that amount for this new one. And I took the rest of the calories from carbs. Never touch protein when you’re dipping lower into a deficit as again, we want to spare muscle loss and keep his recovery high from his training and of course for his injuries. 

Throughout the process of the cut, Steve had a few trips that (not on purpose) which counted as short diet breaks. Mentally, he got to get away from counting and tracking stringently for the few times he went away. Physiologically, his metabolism also got a break because he was most likely at, or near maintenance calories as he just ate as he wanted. Diet breaks are important for mitigating the impact of calorie deficits on metabolism. Metabolic Adaptation, as it’s usually referred to, isn’t as dramatic as people say. Your metabolism doesn’t come to a  screeching halt.

 

Here’s what actually happens:

 

NEAT or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis decreases

RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate or BMR) reduces SLIGHTLY (due to weight reduction) 

Thermic Effect of Food (energy used to process food eaten) goes down due to eating less food

 

Let’s dive into these a big deeper.

 

NEAT:

So NEAT is again anything that doesn’t involve purposeful exercise. Walking, taking the stairs, fidgeting, cleaning your house, things like that. When you go into a calorie deficit your body tries to get you to expend LESS energy to get you closer to your maintenance calorie intake. Making you move less will help with that. This adaptive response is why you sometimes feel pretty sluggish or feel a lack of energy throughout the day in a pretty aggressive cut. We actually burn a ton of calories from NEAT as you only spend 1 hour or so in the gym, but the rest of the day accounts for so much movement (or not) and can contribute hugely to your fat loss goals. 

 

For Steve we made sure he was still being as active as possible outside of the gym to make sure he was not seeing this decrease in NEAT. Luckily Steve loved to participate in a ton of extracurricular activities for fun like Tennis, Skiing and Softball. So every week he was always moving pretty often. 

 

RMR:

Resting Metabolic Rate or Basal Metabolic Rate (usually Basal is reserved for a lab setting) is the ideal amount of calories the body needs to just function. It’s NOT maintenance calories. It’s the absolute minimum for basic functionality of the body. This amount adjusts to be a bit lower as you lose weight. But again, this amount is MINIMAL. Using my current specs I’ll show you how much it changes based on the calculator I shared with you earlier

Male

26 years old

5’9

170lbs

1741 RMR

Keeping everything the same, if I lose 10lbs @ 160lbs, here’s how my RMR would change:

1696 RMR

1741 - 1696 = 45 Calories

Not a huge difference. But it adds up overtime. 

 

TEF (Thermic Effect of Food):

Each food you consume requires a certain amount of energy to process and digest that food. 

Here’s a rough percentage for each macronutrient:

Protein: 30%

Carb: 5%

Fat: 4%

TEF overall accounts for about 10% of the total daily energy expenditure (calories burned per day).

That high protein cost is another reason why we encourage so much protein consumption. It takes the most amount of energy to process. Fat takes the least. Doesn’t mean fat is bad, it just costs very little to digest. And this individual piece of the puzzle is small, but it adds up! 

Combining all these factors together, you see adaptive thermogenesis where the amount of calories you decrease to get into a deficit originally no longer works as effectively, or stalls all together. Just KNOWING this will better prepare you in the future. The diet breaks help mitigate these effects as since you’ll be consuming more food for a few days, you’ll move more, increase TEF and be in a better place psychologically before going back into the cut. 

 

And at the same time, there may be a point where you need to continue to cut calories if you feel that the goal hasn’t been hit yet, or you feel that you could cut more. So we cut Steve down one more time to these macros:

 

Calories

Protein

Carbs

Fat

2195

180g

200g

75g

 

At this point, taking more from carbs wasn’t possible as 200 is already quite low given how active Steve still was. The best place at this point to take from (since we left it at such a high %) was fat. And even at this lower intake Steve was still at a comfy 30% of total calories. So he was still in a safe spot. After a few weeks of this intake, we started to notice negative trends...

Because at some point, the body just can no longer handle being in a deficit for a certain period of time and will start to breakdown. Around week 16 Steve was seeing this and talked about it explicitly in his check-in sheet with me: 

...I'm beginning to think I should end this cut a little earlier than I thought, and really spend some time trying to bulletproof myself.  My back has actually started to feel like its been getting worse - Sunday it got a lot worse all of a sudden, I didn't do anything out of the ordinary but I think I might have been laying on it wrongly because when I got up, I was in pain in the lower right corner all of a sudden and that has persisted until now (but it has subsided somewhat). 

My flexibility is really hampered by this, it hurts any time I bend down (not when I'm 100% vertical though), and I'm gonna ask Dr. Z to take a look at my appt today.  Regardless of whatever this is, considering my back isn't getting better & I feel like I'm doing everything else right... I think it might be in my best interest to go into 'recovery mode', strictly focusing on mobility & increasing my calories back up to maintenance.  Definitely looking for your thoughts on this though. Stress has also subsided somewhat, last week was just a killer work-wise. Sleep has definitely gotten better though too.”

You cannot recover optimally in a deficit after a while. And everyone has different thresholds for which they can’t continue past. And I’d informed Steve that at some point we’d have to pull him out even with the breaks. And as soon as we started to see some negatives, we both agreed it was time to end the cut. Normally, you’d want to stick at the intake amount you’re capped out at for a few weeks, but given we’d gone a little too long, the reverse diet back to maintenance was what Steve’s body needed. He’d achieved being as lean as he’d wanted to be and saw the weight loss he wanted (4-5lbs) so it was time to get back to a balanced intake for maintenance calories. 

In normal cases, you’d go right before that amount where the negative stuff would start to happen. You’d find a nice threshold of a bareable deficit and hang out there for 3-4 weeks to give your body some time to adjust. Following that you’d reverse diet back to maintenance and then just hang out there for ideally the amount of time you were in a deficit. We’ll jump into the maintenance phase now and you’ll see how much better he felt afterwards! 

 

Phase 4: Reverse Diet + Maintenance + The Send Off!

 

Phase 4a: Training [Can’t Tell Ya]

Yup, I unfortunately can’t reveal this training as Steve decided to take part in my Mobile Muscle beta test group and run through the Mobile Muscle program. I’ll talk about it a bit and go through a few of the insights we discovered from him going through the program, but if you wanna know about it, you can buy it HERE :). 

One of the biggest components of my program is the fact that it forces you to be intentional about where you load tension in your body doing movements as I require you to move really slowly. The brain learns best at first going slow as it has time to communicate with the right stuff without feeling too much danger from moving too much weight too fast. Whenever your brain feels threatened, fight or flight mode will take over and you won’t have control of where you load stuff. That was one of Steve’s biggest findings with Mobile Muscle. He saw how his body wanted to default when lifting too heavy too soon. As he built better patterns through the high tension, he eventually worked up to lifting heavy having that understanding of FEELING the tension going to the right places. 

 

He and 15 other people had access to me as well for any questions they had along the way. I’d respond with videos, images, FB Livestreams, whatever was necessary for them to see the results they wanted or to feel what they wanted to feel in their movements. So again, if that’s something you want or are looking for, cop Mobile Muscle and get started! 

 

Click HERE To Purchase Mobile Muscle; Your Blueprint For Pain-Free Aesthetics

 

Phase 4b: The Reverse Diet + Recovery + Maintenance

We COULD have shot Steve right back up to 2800 calories, but there would be a good chance of all types of issues like bloating, digestional issues, some fat retention and an overall discomfort with eating such a large amount more of food so quickly. The body needs time to adjust to any type of dietary modifications so it’s not very optimal to just jump from phase to phase. Use the reverse diet (in either direction) to phase the body back to maintenance after an extended period in a deficit or surplus of calories. And you’ll want to SIT at maintenance for a while after. Here’s Steve’s reverse protocol:

 

Week

Calories

Protein

Carbs

Fat

1

2195

180g

200g

75g

2

2305

180g

228g

75g

3

2420

180g

257g

75g

4

2541

180g

287g

75g

5

2668

180g

318g

75g

6

~2845

180g

362g

75g

 

You can see things are a little bit different than the previous maintenance calories from earlier in the blog. The main difference is the lower fat intake. 

~2845

180g

362g

75g

Vs.

~2860

180g

300g

105g

 

Relatively the same intake amount, but the main difference was giving a higher carb to fat ratio. The main reason for this was because at the end of his reverse he was going to be entering the spring with softball and tennis being more prevalent in his schedule. He was also returning to training at heavier weights and more volume since his skiing season was over. Finally, he wanted to eventually enter a lean gain phase (which requires a calorie surplus) following us finishing. 

 

When you’re in a surplus of calories, it’s important to keep fat relatively low. You’ll want to primarily move carbs up to improve performance as you increase your total training volume each week. The carbs will supplement the heavier weight and increased frequency in the gym. The carbs will help you recover better, lift heavier and improve your endurance in the gym as well. So you’ll FEEL how different it is to lift with a higher level of carbs!

Two weeks into the reverse diet, Steve was really FEELING the changes. Check this out:

I FEEL GOOD! I feel stronger than I have in a while, I'm doing better in the gym, I'm doing better with my back (granted, still have a little pain from time to time, but I wake up and I'm not in pain & I'm not super sore after softball/gym.  AND I'm liking what i see in the mirror - my weight this morning was 181, but I was at 176 at one point this week. But I look more ripped than i have in a while. Overall, really on board with this whole step-by-step back to maintenance so far.”

 

He was FEELING stronger, LOOKING leaner and RECOVERING better. All things you should EXPECT to see. You should feel better in a reverse diet, you should feel stronger, you should sleep better, everything from a biofeedback perspective should feel better. And as you continue to increase calories, MATCH that increase with more volume in the gym. So lifting heavier, more and more often.

Intensity, Volume and Frequency should all increase! That’s how we ensure the calories taken in are being utilized effectively. Steve was building muscle in the areas he wanted because he was taking his time reversing and getting stronger. The before and after in this blog was actually AFTER Steve did his reverse diet back to maintenance. I make a point to say that because he was eating a bit more calories (50-100 more) than in the before pic, but was LEANER, STRONGER and pain-free. 

After Steve reversed back to maintenance he just held there till we stopped working together. He understood the importance of a maintenance phase and just allowing the body to relax for a bit. So that brings us to where Steve is today. 

A well informed, intentional and educated mover who understands how to phase his body through any type of change he wants. That’s what you get when you spend time learning how to do those processes. A lifelong skill that you’ll be able to utilize for the rest of your life. 

So if that’s something you want, something you desire, apply for online coaching with me and let’s get you started. As I told Steve and as I tell everyone I work with, my goal is for you to eventually fire me because you’ll be so damn knowledgeable. I look forward to hearing from you :).

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY TO PAIN-FREE AESTHETICS HERE


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