“The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices that you make will shape your life forever.” – A Bronx Tale
Not every dude can look like a model.
No magic workout or miracle skin cream or even plastic surgeon could transform Gary Busey into Charlie Hunnam.
Yet we all have potential to look just a little bit better than we presently do – some of us a lot. Yet only a charmed few get anywhere near their personal zenith. Why?
A big problem is misinformation. In fitness, the biggest disseminators of information (magazines, both online and print) are owned by supplement companies. So they need skinny college kids to spend hundreds of dollars a month on “workout nutrition” or overweight women to drop 80 bucks on a bottle of repurposed caffeine and methamphetamine just to keep the lights on.
This was drilled into me during my early days as a fitness writer. I once wrote an article about “the best foods for building muscle” (original I know.) My selections included beef, eggs, chicken, rice, oatmeal, and milk, and maybe a cursory vegetable or two.
The editor-in-chief sent it back to me, with a polite but direct reminder that the company paying my salary didn’t sell groceries – they sold supplements.
I changed the article. But I also changed directions. And haven’t looked back.
The training advice in these mags is no better.
Not because the writers don’t know how to teach an exercise or design a program. But because the magazines fail to address the needs of a large segment of the population, the dudes that just want to look better.
Part of the problem is every fitness writer wants to sound cool or cutting edge, and many of the editorial gatekeepers are dorks that sit in front of Macbooks all day and have never actually worked with real-life people. Put those two things together and you get articles like “Cluster Training for Fat Loss” and “10 Cool Things to Do With a Bosu ball.”
Newsflash: Not many people really give a shit about deadlifting 600 pounds or throwing a 98 mph fastball.
Even if they think that type of thing is cool (I know I still do), the average Joe shuffling into the gym just wants to lose some weight, build a little muscle, look better naked, and maybe get a bit healthier. Whether their front squat is 66% of their back squat typically doesn’t show up on the proverbial radar.
Simple. Yet also the area magazines screw up the most.
So that’s where this blog is going.
I’m going to fucking fire hose you dear readers with a hodgepodge of tips centered around one hopelessly superficial goal, a goal I embraced many years ago: looking better. And how to do it.
I’m not going to cover everything but I sure as heck will cover a lot – from building muscle to losing fat to not dressing like a dork or worse, a douchebag.
Better buckle up Harvey, cause the bullet points are about to fly.
1. The most important step you take before embarking on an exercise program is determining why you’re doing it. And being honest.
Show me a guy who says “I exercise so that I can still slow dance at my daughter’s wedding” and not only will I show you someone who couldn’t give a shit about his kid’s nuptials, but also someone whose felt skinny his whole life but is too proud or concerned about looking “weak” to admit it.
As such, they mail it in following some “healthy exercise routine” when what they really want is to be crushing big workouts and eating bigger meals.
You’ve got one shot at this life. If you’re not going to start now, when will you?
2. Fat guys should get lean. I never suggest women should look a certain way. And it’s not just because I happen to prefer a female figure with a little kaboom. I just think women have a tougher go at this hormonally and have enough to deal with from society without listening to my shit. So instead I focus on men.
And guys, if you’re fat, the best thing you can do to look better is to lose fat. So the very first question dudes should ask themselves is, Am I a Fat Bastard? This should dictate every choice down the line, from diet to program design to whether those Euro-cut swim trunks are right for you. (They never are.)
If you can’t answer this truthfully, just have someone take a picture of you with your shirt off. There are few things more humbling. But you’re a man, you can take it.
3. After getting lean, the best way to improve the look of a physique is to add lean mass all over. So a basic program built around the push-pull-squat-hinge matrix and a mix of heavy and moderate loading. Repeat for at least a year. This will pack muscle on anyone. But with apologies to the “basic barbell trainers,” nothing works forever.
We all respond to training differently, and very few guys will develop symmetrically. Most of us will have a strong or “showy” bodypart or two, a half dozen or so that sorta respond, and at least one that wouldn’t grow even if you rammed the fucking thing full of Synthol.
This is a watershed moment, where every physique minded guy has to ask himself: If I only do what I’ve always done, can I really expect anything different?
In other words, if that awesome advice “just do chin-ups and dips to build big arms bro” hasn’t worked in years, do you really think that just doing more chin-ups and dips will suddenly take you to the 19-inch gun Promised Land?
Here’s the thing: when someone says “I only need to bench press to get big triceps” or “I just have to squat and my legs get huge” these assholes have above average genetic potential in that particular bodypart. God help us all if they actually trained those body parts with full gusto.
It’s not unlike a naturally lean guy who says he only needs to eat a little less fast food to get ripped. They’re the exception, not the rule. They shouldn’t be giving advice. They should be counting their blessings and shutting up.
You have to do more for structural weak points, not less. Which leads to the next point.
4. You do not have to train a muscle group every 5-7 days. You can train at a much greater frequency than that – in fact, the quickest way to bring up a weak bodypart is to train it three times a week or more. Just extra care must be paid to keeping overall volume at a tolerable level.
One of the best ways to push frequency without overextending recovery is to use something my friend Ryan Faehnle calls “touch up” workouts.
A touch-up workout is simply a quick 1-3 set “blast” of work for a given bodypart, performed 48 hours or so after the “main” workout.
So a guy with lagging shoulders might follow this:
Monday: Shoulders & Biceps (Main shoulder workout).
Tuesday: Quad-dominant Legs (Touch up posterior deltoids)
Thursday: Chest & Triceps (Touch up anterior and lateral deltoids)
Friday: Back & Hamstrings (Touch up posterior deltoids).
5. Don’t rest so much. To get strong, rest as long as you need between sets. Then add another minute or two. For hypertrophy or fat loss, however, you should maintain a brisk pace. For most this means starting the next set well before respiration has returned to normal. It’s not easy but it makes the workout much more metabolically demanding while cranking up mental engagement. Note: this isn’t circuit training, just hard training.
6. The most important rule in menswear is fit. And for stuff to fit you need to be fit.
Last time I was back in New York City I treated myself to some new glasses from Tom Ford on 5th avenue. With the new 007 movie Specter about to hit theaters, the salesman told me they were already bracing for a deluge of men looking to get a “James Bond suit,” and then maybe score with some exotic damsel named Pussy Galore.
But even the salesman admitted that what makes Daniel Craig look so damn cool isn’t so much the quality of the suit but the impeccable tailoring — and of course, the fact he’s in great shape. I mean, a 350-pound Chris Christie in a $3000 suit wouldn’t exactly set hearts aflutter, tailored or not.
Still, the dude is fucking balling.
7. Guys train their biceps all wrong. If your arms are lagging, start your biceps work with something that hits the brachialis more. Variations of the reverse curl are my favorite. Adding a pause at the mid-point of the rep increases the muscle building tension even more. It also conditions the forearms, which when developed along with the calves dramatically improves the overall polish of the physique.
Here’s my current biceps routine: (Yes, I stole this from you Charles Poliquin):
A1) Reverse Curls with EZ bar and narrow grip x 6 reps
Rest 10 seconds.
A2) Reverse Curls with EZ bar and wide grip x 12 reps
Rest 10 seconds
A3) Hammer curls using rope attached to a low pulley x 25 reps.
Rest 90 seconds and repeat twice.
B) Casey Viator forearm pose x infinity.
8. Buy good shoes. Really good shoes. Go cheap on your boxer briefs – most people won’t notice anyway, though I suppose that depends on your “lifestyle.” But shoes? Forget about it. You deserve better boss. And yes, women notice. Just get them re-soled every few years. Gangster.
9. Balance pushing and pulling exercises. The effects on posture (not to mention shoulder health) over time is indiscernible. And by balance I mean more pulling than pushing. Often a hell of a lot more.
10. Get a haircut that works for your fucking head. Not someone else’s. Nothing says, “I lost my manhood and much of my dignity” than a 40 year-old dude who tries to sport a bleach blonde coiff like Justin Bieber.
And if you’re losing it, just pull the trigger and buzz it. Newsflash: you lost the damn war. So now you’re like one of those old Japanese soldiers holed up in some island cave in the South Pacific still fighting World War 2. There’s honor in surrendering if the war cannot be won. So wave the white flag and buy a shaver.
Thanks for reading. And if you want to work with me, click here.