Showing posts with label Fitness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fitness. Show all posts

Monday, February 24, 2014

Arnie as a teenager (left). Myself as a teenager (right)

I'm blessed with the ability to gain muscle relatively quickly and easily. Ironically, as a fashion model this has been more of a curse over my 10 year career than a blessing. A few weeks of eating and training how I would like to and I no longer fit the sample size 40 suits!

While I'll admit that part of my growth potential is genetic, I think it can largely be attributed to my passion/obsession with food, sleep and lifting heavy things. Also in my teenage years I went through a token megalomania phase where I wanted to be Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thankfully I got over that boyish beefcake obsession but it did teach me how to train hard, eat prodigiously and get results fast. 

If you're a "hard-gainer" or simply need to build more lean muscle mass here are my five (no shortcut, no supplement, no bullshit) tips to honest muscle growth in a safe, sustainable and healthy way. 

1. Eat real (Paleo) food - more than you think you need. 

If you are lean, if your current diet sucks, if you're "skinny fat", or if you have been trying to lose weight through calorie restriction (and obviously failing because it doesn't work) the chances are that you are not getting adequate nutrition. 

In all of these scenarios, and even if you are overweight, your goal should be to build lean muscle mass, as this is the only sustainable way to improved body composition and optimal health. 

You need to be eating enough quality food not only to maintain your current state but to build new tissue. That is, you need periods of energy surplus - but only of quality, real (Paleo) foods. Extra calories from crabby carbs like sweetened cereals, protein bars, shakes and juice will screw your metabolism and counter your efforts to grow lean.

So cut the processed, adulterated, modern food out of your diet and eat big, satiating meals of whole foods that are high in quality fats, moderate in protein (you don't need to consume prodigious amounts of protein to gain muscle), and moderate in safe carbohydrates. I have written many articles on nutrition so check them out for more detail. 

But basically you need to focus on nutrient and energy dense foods like pastured eggs, coconut products, oily seafood, sweet potatoes, raw nuts, 85% dark chocolate and (not-too-lean) grass-fed meat and pork. 

If you really want to gain size then incorporate more starch such as white rice, sweet potatoes and whole fruit. And if you tolerate dairy then consider adding in fermented, full-fat, (preferably raw) dairy like aged cheese/sour cream/greek yoghurt/kefir.

2. Sleep more

This is both simple and crucial. You cannot repair and rebuild if you don't rest and reset. I believe sleep is actually more important than training. 

If you smash the gym but only sleep five hours a night, even if your nutrition is impeccable, you will go backwards and put your health at risk in the long term. 

Sleep eight or nine hours a night. The better the quality and quantity of your sleep, the quicker and easier you will gain muscle mass and shed fat. 

3. Train hard, smart, and not too much

Lifting heavy weights is not the only way to gain muscle, but it's the best, fastest, and most efficient way. 

Exercise needs to be an acute stress to your body - enough that it causes positive adaptation and growth but not so much that it becomes a chronic stress from which you cannot recover.

The effective dose of exercise is actually a lot less than you would think. Given that you train at intensity (that is, complex movements at a challenging amount of weight, until failure, without too much rest) I think that two intense weight sessions per week, such as a circuit of 20-30 minutes if you're not stuffing around, is sufficient to build substantial amounts of muscle without risking injury or overtraining. 

I would suggest adding one sprint session to this per week, along with as much low-level movement or activity as possible (e.g. walking, yoga, commuter cycling) and you're good to go!

4. Avoid "chronic cardio"

Q. What do fitness models, sprinters and bodybuilders have in common, besides having massive guns and less than eight percent body fat? 

A. They don't do hours of cardio per week. 

That's right. If you want to get lean then doing long sessions of steady-state cardio is a very bad way to go about it.

When you're trying to build lean muscle mass a high volume of endurance training or "chronic cardio" will counter your efforts. 

Distance running or cycling, for example, is all about efficiency. Do these singular, repetitive movements enough and your body will strip away non-essential muscle to make you more efficient at running or cycling. Just look at pro cyclists or marathoners! Endurance comes at the cost of physique... Unless you're going for that emancipated look (models)?

I'm not saying don't go for a run or ride if you enjoy doing so, I'm just saying that if muscle is your priority then do as little "chronic cardio" as possible and instead focus on high intensity weights and sprints. Feel free to do as much low intensity movement (e.g. walking, yoga, hiking, etc) as you want though. 

Arnie after a few more years of steroid abuse...

5. Rest, recover and don't overtrain

I've already mentioned the importance of sleep and the benefits of short, intense workouts over high volume training but I think this point bears repeating. 

Smashing yourself at the gym, on the pavement or on the road everyday will be counterproductive to your progress (unless you are 18 years old or devouring anabolics like Arnie in the 70s)

While the precipitous overtraining promoted by hardcore fitness communities [cults] like CrossFit or Barry's Bootcamp does lead to great results initially, I believe that this style of training is both unnecessary and unsustainable for the average person. The risk of injury or burn out is simply not worth the results it if your objective is health and a good physique more so than elite performance.

As a type-A personally who is slightly masochistic I've done my fair share of overtraining in the past. I get it. I loved CrossFit for my brief stint at it. Hard workouts are addictive, especially in a competitive environment or group atmosphere. Yet if your goal is to build muscle in the healthiest, most sustainable way that will enhance longevity rather than hinder it, less is definitely more. 

This is why I suggest spacing out your weight sessions with at least one (and up to four) rest days. 

My ideal weekly schedule will look something like this:

Monday: heavy lifting session
Tuesday: yoga
Wednesday: sprints
Thursday: weights + metabolic conditioning (i.e. circuit training)
Friday: rest
Saturday: Rest/Play (cycle, surf, walk along the beach/river, get some sun, etc)
Sunday: yoga

In NYC (except for winter) I cycle everywhere on my fixed-gear as my mode of transport... Often up to two hours a day. This does not count as 'training' but rather 'movement’. So even though I am highly active almost every day I only consider myself to be doing around one hour of actual intense 'training' per week, split over three workouts.


If you want to build muscle honestly and healthily you need ample nutrition, sleep and rest. Training is important but intensity trumps volume. To summarize:
  1. Nutrition: Eat as much clean, real Paleo food as you want/need. 
  2. Sleep: Aim for eight hours a night, minimum.
  3. Train: Train hard, smart and not too much.
  4. Avoid chronic cardio: do weights/circuits, sprints and lots of movement.
  5. Avoid overtraining: rest, recover and rebuild.
"Form a habit. Forge a lifestyle." 

The Paleo Model

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Monday, January 13, 2014

In this guest post on the Blackwood Fitness blog I give an insight into my own personal health and lifestyle journey and share four transformative truths that I have learned along the way. Here is an excerpt: 

"At 13 years old, I was unhappy with my body. My pre-pubescent years of soy milk, McDonald’s and Kit Kats had left me with ‘puppy fat’ and little man boobs. With a new-found level of competitiveness (and therefore physical motivation) at High School, I decided I’d had enough of being a chubby kid. I took matters into my own hands, or more correctly, onto my own hands. My (re)solution was push ups... " 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Paleo Model Bodyweight WOD

I've decided to lean down a wee bit coming up to Christmas. Not that I'm particularly heavy at the moment (around 84kg at 6'2). However, I have been focusing on strength and power this year in my workouts - doing low rep range olympic lifts, powerlifts, sprints etc - and I've been somewhat neglecting my muscular (strength) endurance. 

I'd like to improve my maximum pull ups, push ups, handstand hold, dips and other measures of relative strenght, while continuing to improve my balance and flexibility through yoga and stretching and also develop some more gymnastics skills. i.e. I want to be a lithe, supple puma rather than a jacked up gorilla. 

So I'm going to stop the heavy lifting for a while and instead ramp up the intensity with bodyweight workouts and circuits, incorporating some more intervals on the treadmill and rower to also improve my cardiovascular endurance and speed. 

As you know I'm not a fan of steady-state cardio but I still want to be able to run efficiently when necessary and feel light on my feet. Carrying excess muscle hasn't been a priority of mine since High School. It certainly doesn't help with modeling. It's all about lean! My goal remains to improve metabolic conditioning and functional strength, rather than just being able to run far. 

With the above in mind, today's workout is a great full body circuit focusing on key structural movements - a pull, a push, a squat, a gymastic (isometric) hold and a core-developing exercise. 

Just google or YouTube any movements you are unsure of, or even better, ask a trainer to demonstrate and check your form. 

Warm Up 
500m row
Dynamic stretching

Workout (Advanced - no rest between exercises)
10 pull ups
10 dips
10 pistols per leg (one-legged squat)
60 second handstand hold (against wall)
18 TRX reverse crunch

800m Run (as fast as possible, not a jog)

9 pull ups
9 dips
9 pistols per leg
45 second handstand hold
15 TRX reverse crunch

600m Run

8 pull ups
8 dips
8 pisols per leg
30 second handstand hold
12 TRX reverse crunch

400m Run

Cool Down/Stretch

If you need to scale down this workout here are some alternative exercises:

1. TRX standing incline row
2. Bench dips (with legs on floor)
3. Air squats
4. Push up hold (at top of push up)
5. Lying leg raises

Instead of the run you could do a slower jog (same distance). Alternatively you could use a stationary bike (1.5km, 1km, 0.5km) or ergo rower (500m, 400m, 300m).

This workout really smashed me yesterday, but in a good way. I went pretty hard on the runs and was gasping for breath like a winded footballer after each round. However, unlike after a heavy CrossFit workout, I left the gym feeling good and energised and today I'm not crippled with delayed onset muscular soreness. Winning! 

My post workout meal of wild salmon salad, roasted beets, sweet potato and Brussels sprouts from Dig Inn was epic!

"Eat Paleo. Train. Live life." - The Paleo Model.

Monday, October 7, 2013

I often promote the benefits of sprint training. I really think it is something that everyone should incorporate into their workout regimen. Here's why...

Aside from the obvious benefits, sprints are fun, simple and time efficient. Of course I don't expect everyone to hit the track and smash out 11 second 100m sprints! As always be smart - work to your limitations and ability level.

Sprints can be done across many different modules and environments - on the beach (soft sand/hard sand/sanddunes), in the water (pool, lake or ocean), in the gym (treadmill, eliptical, stationary bike, ergo rower) etc. The only thing that matters is that you really push yourself for a few sets of brief but maximum efforts. 

Mum, if you're reading, that means sprinting for you may entail just eight hard strokes on the rowing machine, repeated 5 times, with 90 seconds rest in between... After a good warm-up of course!

During all out anaerobic (high-intensity) efforts, your mitochondria (cell engines) burn fuel far less efficiently than during aerobic exercise - up to eighteen times faster by some accounts. This is part of the reason why sprints are such an effective training method. 

Additionally, the so called 'afterburn effect' of high intensity training suggests that energy expenditure post-workout is what counts. One study showed that up to 95 percent of the calorie cost of anaerobic exercise occurred after the workout. 

Put simply, doing cardio may burn more calories during any given session, but the effect stops there. And if you do compensatory (over)eating afterwards, or are fatigued post-workout and therefore less active for the rest of the day you may even find yourself in a caloric surplus on workout days. This explains how people can ramp up cardio and still see a worsening in body composition.

Doing sprints on the other hand may not burn so many calories during the session, but the cumulative effect of this 'afterburn' will enable sustained fat-burning given proper nutrition, especially when you also consider the resulting increase in lean muscle mass from hypertrophy.

Short, punctuated, intense stressors to the body (such as a quick sprint workout) can stimulate muscle growth, increase strength, performance and power output without over-taxing the system. Given you don't pull a muscle sprinting is one of the best, safest and most effective forms of exercise out there.

Contrast this to "chronic cardio" - for example, slugging it out on the bike or pavement for an hour or more. While this may improve cardiovascular fitness and endurance up to a point, the high volume, moderate intensity and often high-impact nature of prolonged aerobic activity tends to leave the body taxed and prone to low-level inflammation, overtraining, injuries and potentially adrenal fatigue and illness. 

Aside from the acute versus chronic stress argument, which I elaborate on in this article, here are five other points that suggest that sprint/high-intensity-interval-training is far superior to steady state aerobic exercise, in my opinionNB: I am not citing any specific research here and some of these points are purely observational/empirical and not in anyway scietific so don't get your panties in a twist!

1. Professional endurance athletes such as triathletes and road cyclists (like thoroughbred racehorses) often have supressed - or at least more sensitive - immune systems and are therefore more susceptible to common colds and flu. 

2. Sprint and power athletes have far more muscle tone and are more ripped than endurance athletes. Excess muscle is detrimental to endurance performance, which is why road cyclists and marathon runners appear so skinny and often un-toned. 

3. Strength and lean muscles mass are perhaps the two best indicators of health and longevity as we age. The more lean muscle mass and the stronger you are, the longer and healthier your life will be, ceteris paribus ("other things being equal"). Yes I studied Latin... Don't roll your eyes at me!

4. Sprint training promotes hypertrophy (muscle growth) while endurance training tends to promote atrophy (muscle wastage). 

5. Ussain Bolt is a sprinter, and he is cool. Ipso facto, if you sprint you will also be cool.^ 

Three Sprint Workouts for the Track (For relatively fit people):


  • After a thorough warm-up, do an all out 50-80m sprint along the straight
  • Walk back to the start line for recovery (60-120 seconds)
  • Repeat 5-8 times 


  • After a thorough warm-up start jogging around the track
  • On a straight ramp up the pace until you reach an all out sprint and maintain for 6-10 seconds
  • Back off to a walk (recovery) for 30-90 seconds
  • Slowly ramp up the pace until you reach your sprint again
  • Continue in this walk, jog, sprint fashion around the track until you have completed 5-10 sprints


  • After a thorough warm-up sprint the straight (60-100m)
  • Do a walking lunge across the width of the field (i.e. from finish line to 200m line). If this is too difficult you can do a walking lunge for part of the width of the field, say 20m and walk the rest
  • [Feel the deep burn in your thighs... it's so deep]
  • Sprint the back straight (60-100m)
  • Do a walking lunge back across the other end of the field (i.e. from the 300m to the start line)
  • Repeat until you have completed 4-8 sprints
If you are just starting out, are overweight, out of condition or have injuries that prevent a running workout then don't despair. There are many ways to achieve a level of intensity that will bring results to you, no matter how basic it sounds. 

Try a low impact form of sprinting such as on the rowing machine or stationary bike. The concept is the same. 1. Warm-up (jog laps, do some dynamic stretching). 2. Sprint as fast as you can for a short but intense burst. 3. Rest to recover (30-120 seconds). 4. Repeat.

Incorporating a short, simple sprint training session such as this even once a week will reap huge benefits for your health and body composition.

Just remember: Cardio = not cool. Sprinting = cool.

^Bolt-like coolness not guaranteed.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Who do you think looks better naked?

MYTH # 2: Do cardio to burn fat

This myth ties in with the calories in, calories out myth. Conventional wisdom will tell you that you should do volumes of steady-state cardio or "chronic cardio" (to steal a term from Mark Sisson), in order to get in that "fat-burning zone". 

Jump on the treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical or stair-master for 30-40 minutes three or four times a week and the fat will just drop off you, right? Wrong. 

As controversial as this might sound I honestly believe that you are wasting your time if this is your exercise routine. 

The benefits of doing chronic cardio such as this are minimal - yes you will improve your cardiovascular fitness up to a point, and you will get very efficient at jogging/cycling/climbing for 30-40 minutes on a stationary machine but after the initial gains you will plateau and the only way to improve is to increase the volume over time. 

Before you know it you are running for an hour, five times a week and you don't look, feel or perform any better - aside from being very good at running for an hour on a treadmill. 

Chronic cardio is unsustainable and can become detrimental to your health. Why? Once again it comes down to your hormones. Jogging for 40 minutes is a stress to your body. Being overweight or having poor running form - as most people do due to our penchant for big, cushy running shoes - will only increase the stress to your body.

Punctuated, acute, small amounts of stress to the body can be a good thing. The process is called 'hormesis'. The body adapts to the stressor and becomes stronger for it... Up to a point. 

Chronic stress in high volume - such as running marathons - has the opposite effect. The stress overwhelms the body. Cortisol and adrenalin (the fight or flight hormones) flood the system and the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response) dominates the parasympathetic (relax and recover) nervous system too much of the time. 

If this hormonal and nervous-system imbalance persists then the wheels will start to fall off your wagon of health. 

Adrenal fatigue will likely ensue. Your sleep suffers, you feel agitated, anxious, lethargic and hungry. Ironically the only time you feel good is during and after training when serotonin, dopamine and endorphins are elevated. This only perpetuates the downward spiral as you train harder and more in order to feel better, periodically.

In the stressed state your body retains fat, especially the (bad) visceral fat around the midsection and organs. You crave insulin-spiking carbohydrates to pep up energy levels and suffer energy slumps throughout the day. At night you have the 'tired and wired' feeling of physical exhaustion coupled with mental alertness making getting to sleep difficult. Sound familiar? 

Anyone who has overtrained in the past will be familiar with the above symptoms. Adrenal fatigue is particularly common among type-A personalities who crave stress, adrenalin, excitement and don't know when to back off the training. I have definitely suffered in the past due to my obsession with the gym. 

Bradley Wiggins - Winner of the 2012 Tour de France... looking jacked!

Our Warped Perception of Fitness

Unfortunately our modern definition of fitness is greatly at odds with the natural state of health that is our God-given right.

In the last couple of decades we have come to herald the endurance sports. Marathons, ultra-marathons, Iron Man, triathlons and distance road cycling are no longer the realm of professional athletes. Every day, busy people are pursuing these activities as a hobby. 

While I am in awe of such feats of endurance, dedication and mental toughness, I discourage people from jumping into marathons or triathlons as a means to improve health, longevity or body composition. 

If your goal is to run a marathon or complete an Iron Man then I respect that and wish you every success. But if your goal is to look, perform and feel great then I would suggest you stay the hell away from the inevitable overtraining, pain and suffering associated with such endurance sports. 

Running marathons is not healthy. There are studies that show that long term distance running can negatively impact life expectancy. One particular 30 year study that followed 52,600 people found that those who run more than 20 or 25 miles per week had the same mortality risk as the sedentary people in the study (Hauser, 2012). Other studies show the potential for acute and long-term damage to the heart of running marathons (Schmermund, 2008). 

Let's not forget that legend states that the first dude to run a marathon dropped dead from a heart attack after he finished. True story! 

At the risk of touting unscientific, observational generalisations, it just seems to me that endurance athletes on the whole don't appear to represent the pinnicle of human health, IN MY OPINION. How many marathon runners look emaciated, feeble and old well beyond their years? 

I've seen plenty of cyclists, iron men and triathletes that look ten years older than their age, and I don't think it's merely the sun damage. Punishing your body to the extremes of aerobic capacity is an incredibly pro-inflammatory pursuit, causing oxidative stress and potentially speeding up the aging process. 

Of course some of this will be offset by the benefits of maintaining a good lean muscle mass, insulin sensitivity and adequate vitamin D levels and many other confounding factors associated with extreme fitness pursuits.

But for the lay person who just wants to look good naked, are marathons or 200km bike races a good route to healht? Not in my opinion. 

Excessive cardio training and the lifestyle and diet that goes along with it (having to fuel the body with high glycemic and nutrient-poor carbohydrates such as sports drinks, energy gels, grain-based carbohydrates and processed foods) is a sure recipe for poor long-term health. 

From personal experience, when I went through my obsession with road cycling a few years ago I was routinely cycling 60-100km a day, several days a week. I felt great on the bike but my overall health and wellbeing suffered. 

I was relying on crappy carbohydrates to get by - smashing sports drinks on the bike and then munching down museli and yoghurt, muffins and other snacks throughout the day. I was permanently hungry and over-tired. 

I was utterly spent and useless for a day or two after a big ride. I got sick frequently with minor colds and sore throats. My mood was all over the place and cycling became more of an obsession/addiction than a healthy outlet and mode of transport - as it should be.

I still absolutely love cycling and going on long rides once in a while but now it's purely for fun, not as a competitive or fitness pursuit.

Halfway through a 170km ride during 'Around the Bay' fundraiser in Melbourne. Fun!
Of course the drawbacks of pushing myself too hard on the bike only became clear in hindsight. After adopting a Paleo diet and smarter fitness regime I now understand that you don't need to train like mad to be fit and healthy. 

Now I understand that eating clean, resting and training less but smarter is the best way to live well, feel good and increase your overall productivity in life. With the exception of a nasty bacterial chest infection in July I haven't been sick in two years. It's actually not 'normal' to get colds every winter. 

I feel lucky to have worked this out relatively quickly and at a young age. Most people, however - mainly due to a poor diet - never discover what it is like to actually feel good most of the time. 

I think this is why it becomes easy to fall into the 'fitness' trap. 

Training hard feels good. At first you get great results. Even when overtraining you still always feel good after a long, hard session. It is easy to become addicted. And doing some training - even too much of the wrong kind - can be better than doing nothing. 

But I'm here to give you a short cut and to save yourself years of pain, plateaus and unhappiness that can come about from chronic cardio and overtraining. 

Clearly not everyone is at risk of overtraining. Most people can get away with doing chronic cardio a few times a week and may even benefit from it. My avid cycling friends are super fit, happy and healhty and will likely balk at this post. However, cycling is their obsession and not just a means of looking good naked. 


I congratulate my friends who have completely marathons. I am even considering doing some sprint triathlons myself one day for fun. Endurance feats have their place, but they are not the best path to achieving your health and body composition goals. 

If looking good naked is your goal, there are far better, easier, healthier and more enjoyable ways to achieve good body composition that don't involve mindlessly jogging on a treadmill for hours each week.

I know I'm gonna get some outraged runners and pissy cyclists here that will chose to ignore my advice (which is fine) but please listen to what I'm saying: If your goal is to get lean (which I define as improving body composition by lowering your body fat percentage and increasing your lean muscle mass percentage - i.e. absolute weight does not matter!) then I am recommending that you don't focus on cardio training as your main route to weight loss. 

If your goal is to get good at running 10km then by all means run your little legs off. I even encourage people to do some higher volume cardio once in a while to mix it up and to maintain a baseline for aerobic endurance. 

You never know when you may need to run 42.195km to deliver a message that the Persians have been defeated...

ANTI-RULE #2: Train less but smarter and avoid chronic cardio

You'll have to trawl through my other articles on fitness to get more insight into how to train smart to get lean. But in a nutshell: 

  • Lift heavy weights at least once a week, preferably twice - This must be a real challenge. Strength gains are important and building lean muscle mass is key. Don't worry girls, you won't get bulky! 
  • Do all-out sprints at least once a week - This can be on a track, a hill, on sand, a treadmill, a bike, a rower, swimming, anything as long as it is an all out (balls to the wall) effort (scaled to your fitness level, of course, Grandma). 
  • Do lots of low-level activity such as walking - a few hours a week, ideally.
  • Do other activities that you enjoy, as much as possible - whether it be yoga, pilates, hiking, frisbee, surfing, climbing etc. Preferably outdoors and with friends.

And of chief importance - exercise is only a small piece of the puzzle... maybe 20 percent. This is a contentious issue in itself. Any personal trainer or exercise physiologist will tell you that exercise is paramount because you need to build lean muscle and improve insulin sensitivity in order to lose weight. 

And I agree… up to a point. Exercise is important, but diet is crucial. You can spend time and money tweaking an engine to get a few more horsepower out of it, but if you're still putting rubbish fuel in the car won't run any better. 

This is why I still maintain that nutrition is the real key. Exercise all you want but if you eat crap not even Zeus can help you look good naked.

Click here for the final installment, PART III, on Weight-loss Myth # 3: 'Eat low fat to lose weight'

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Monday, September 16, 2013

The Big Three Weight-Loss Myths

I have discovered that conventional wisdom is often wrong. Dietary studies, often funded by multinational food conglomerates, commission some of the most biased, manipulated and unscientific research that you will ever find.

This research is then picked up by the mainstream media who sensationalize the authors' conclusion from the abstract - often misinterpreting the results. Other media outlets pick up on the story and ramp up the sensation even more so to attract more eyeballs. 

The same falsehoods are repeated again and again, and eventually they stick. You know the ones - you need dairy for calcium, healthy whole grains for fibre, foods fortified with vitamin C and folic acid to prevent disease and don't eat too much red meat because saturated fat will kill you, etc etc.   

Unfortunately if an untruth is repeated often enough it becomes a truth in many people's minds. There are plethora health and diet myths out there - from red meat causing cancer to cholesterol causing heart disease. But more on those another time.

For now I have selected what I believe to be the three big weight loss myths that most screw with our public health psyche and actually cause more damage than benefit. Here is the first one:

MYTH # 1: Calories in, calories out

Calories matter. A little bit. But unlike the mainstream media would have you believe, they aren't the be all and end all. 

Yes, in metabolic ward studies where people are in a completely controlled environment they will lose weight when calories are restricted, for a short period of time.

In fact, most people will lose some weight when you create a calorie defecit. But the effects are not sustainable. Starving yourself will only get you so far. 

The human body's primary goal is to maintain balance - homeostasis. 

If you are eating too few calories your body will slow down to preserve energy. Your hormones will adapt to their new energy-poor environment. 

Our genetic predisposition to survive famine will kick in and our internal state will adjust so that our body become extremely efficient at burning calories. This is a bad thing if there is no real famine.

Your body temperature will drop, you will feel lethargic, you will become less active, your mood will darken, you will become less productive and less fertile. 

Like Weight Watchers, this is clearly not an effective long term weight-loss strategy.

How many women do you know who have starved themselves in the name of losing weight? They cut down to 1500 calories a day and lose 5kg. Then they cut down to 1200 calories a day to lose an extra 3kg. What's next? 500 calories a day to lose that last 3kg? This is clearly ridiculous, unsustainable and downright unhealthy. Try it prednisone for yourself and see how you feel. Then see how you feel when you cave, raid every fast food joint in your post code and eventually regain all that weight and some.

On the flip side, conventional wisdom would have you think that if you just exercise a little more, say 40 minutes on the elliptical every day, then that extra 300 calories you burn will add up to fat loss over time, right?

Let's do the math. Given that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie, and that 1 gram of fat = 9 calories, then if you burn 300 calories extra per day you will burn 33.33 grams of fat per day. 

Extrapolated over a month that equals roughly 1kg of fat. So if you just do 40 minutes on the elliptical every day for a year you will lose 12kg of fat!

Amazing! And guess what, that's the same if you weigh 100kg or 45kg, right? And that's the same if you eat 1600 calories a day or 3000 calories a day, right? And that's the same if you get all your calories from donuts and beer or from kale and salmon, right? And of course you won't lose any muscle along with the fat.

No. This is pure bullshit. Calories in do not equal calories out. Not even close. 

I eat between 3,000-3,500 calories a day. (I DO NOT count calories by the way, but I've calculated this a few times). Some days I will eat 1200 calories just of 85% dark chocolate and coconut fat (coconut manna by the spoonful, anyone?). 

If you follow the traditional wisdom of calories, I should weigh about 300kg right now. But I don't. I'm 6"2, 83kg and about 8% body fat. Why? Because my body has become very inefficient at burning calories and very good at maintaining a healthy weight. Also I get the majority of my calories from good nizagara fats while also keeping my blood glucose and insulin levels in check (by limiting fast carbs) creating a fat-burning not fat-storing environment. 

I am always hot, I fidget, I have lots of energy to run up the stairs. My body burns through the excess calories. My body thinks, well, we always have enough food so I don't need to store excess body fat. We are in a time of plenty. 7kg of stored body fat is more than enough for me, thanks!

I heard something very interesting on Robb Wolf's podcast last week. Renown personal trainer Jim Laird, who has trained hundreds of women over many many years, explained that he has never once had a woman come into his gym who was eating enough food. 

That is, every single overweight woman he has ever trained was not eating enough calories to maintain a healthy weight. This seems like a paradox but often in order to gain lean muscle and shed fat you need to increase your intake of quality food. You need to up-regulate your metabolism so it burns calories at a greater rate. And the best way to do that is to increase your lean muscle mass. 

Building lean muscle is effectively like adding more capacity to your engine. Imagine transforming yourself from a four-cylindar 1.3L Hyundai Accent that crawls uphill even with the foot to the floor into a 4.0L V8 BMW M3 beast. 

This extra weight from lean muscle adds power to your engine and increases performance across the board. It ups your metabolic rate while also protecting you from injuries and aging. It also adds a buffer so that if you do overeat you prednisone won't gain fat so easily. Or conversely, when you under-eat your performance won't suffer and you won't be scrambling for the pantry or convenience store to shove some sugar down your neck. 

As the BMW you can still be efficient at highway cruising speeds but when you want to ramp up your output you can really rev things up and burn through the fuel - which in the case of getting and staying lean, is a good thing. 

ANTI-RULE # 1: Eat more quality calories to lean down

  • Calories in do not equal calories out. This simplistic model is flawed. Your internal and external environment effects how calories are metabolized. Get over the idea that one muffin is equal to 50 minutes on the stationary bike. It just doesn't work like this. 
  • Calories are not your enemy. You want to eat enough highly nutritious calories to enable you to perform your best while also gaining or at least maintaining lean muscle mass. 
  • You can reduce your calorie intake and still gain fat, just as you can increase your calorie intake and lose fat.
  • Some people, particularly women who have dieted in the past may need to increase their calorie intake to get lean.
  • Starvation and sustained calorie restricted dieting is the worst thing you can do to lose weight. 
  • The best way to achieve a healthy lean weight is to build a bigger engine and tune your engine for performance by optimizing your hormones. Keeping insulin and blood glucose levels in check is paramount to fat loss. (How? Lift weights and sprint. Eat more fat and less crappy carbs).
A Final Word of Warning

Please don't misinterpret my point here. I am not saying that calories do not count at all. Calories do count. But the simplistic model of calories in, calories out is a complete myth. 

If you are significantly overweight or obese this suggests two things: One, you are consuming too many calories. Two, you are storing the excess calories as fat. If this is the case you will need to stop over-consuming calories until you reach a healthy weight.

This is different for a lean, healthy, active person. I am probably over-consuming calories. However, I am not storing the excess calories as fat - I am burning them. 

So I am not giving you a free pass to eat as many calories as you want, even if those calories come from "Paleo" foods like almond butter and grain-free muffins (which I don't recommend!) 

I am, however, trying to free you of the idea that in order to get lean you need to eat less and train more. You don't. 

Many of you, particularly those disciplined types who are starving themselves while slaving away at the gym and still not  losing weight may actually need to eat more and train less to get lean. 


Click here for the next installment: Weight-loss Myth # 2: 'Do cardio to burn fat'

[Image Sources:,,] 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sledmill Sprints

Here is a super effective and very efficient sprint workout for when you are in the gym but short of time. It is essentially a sled run without the need of a sled… and faster. This workout is so powerful because of the resistance of the treadmill belt paired with an all-out sprinting effort:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

This post is a nice little taster to my upcoming beast of an article and must read, 'The Three Big Weight-Loss Myths: Or how to get lean by defying conventional wisdom'.

Let me start by saying that not all things work for all people. There are many ways to skin a kangaroo. Yet I am convinced that the following seven tips are key to getting lean in a realistic, healthy and sustainable way and should work for most otherwise healthy people. 

These tips are merely common knowledge to the Paleo/Primal community. Yet they may seem absolute sacrilege to the "conventional" health industry that still spruiks the low-fat, high carb, weight-loss message... bringing misery to health novices with their quinoa and tofurky! 

Well forget that crap. They had their chance and failed miserably. Here's the real deal:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My Diet vs Exercise Analogy

From personal experience and extensive reading on (evolutionary) nutrition, diet and exercise, I believe that 70% of one's body composition can be attributed to diet (what you eat), 10% to genetics and 20% to exercise.

Therefore, given that you can't directly upgrade or trade in your genes yet (although epigenetics is a very exciting new field), I argue that it makes sense to focus on DIET rather than EXERCISE. Here is why:

It's a hell of a lot easier to affect change by focusing on the 70% rather than the 20%. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Barry's Bootcamp

A smart brand
Well I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about regarding Barry's Bootcamp - "The Best Workout in the World" according to their moniker and registered trademark.

Barry's has several locations throughout the States and has just recently opened a location in London. Judging by the popularity and exclusivity of this place, it wouldn't surprise me if they expand rapidly. Look out Australia! Barry sure has nailed his marketing and brand management. Just look at the attached ad with the trainers!

Now I am cynical at best about these so called 'Bootcamp' style group fitness classes. Maybe it is because I did a stint in the Army Reserves, maybe because I find it slightly cringe-worthy to pay some dude in cargo pants and sunglasses with no real Armed Forces cred a lot of money to yell at middle-aged women in LuLu Lemon pants, or maybe CrossFit made me biased. Nevertheless, cynical as I may be I also think that anything that motivates people to get fit is by default a wonderful thing.