High Intensity – Back and Biceps

In an earlier post I talked about the general principles I try and follow for every workout I do…How to get ripped for the rest of us – The general theory of getting ripped.

In this post I want to go into specifics of how I apply this to a back and bicep workout. As mentioned in the previous post I separate the workout into a strength building exercise at the beginning, and then follow this with some more focused hypertrophy work.

The strength builder:

My favorite strength builder is the weighted pull up. I start the work out a goal of 3 sets of 5 with 40kg weight (adjust this to suit your own current level). I use an underhand grip as this recruits more muscle groups, specifically the biceps and between sets I allow as much time as needed until I feel recovered and ready for the next set.

I ensure that I pull up as quickly as possible with the weight belt preventing me from kipping on the way up. I pull my chest completely to the bar and then lower back to the starting position over around 4 seconds. If I manage 5 reps I don’t just stop, I keep going until I am unable to finish a rep. At the point of failure I continue trying to pull for another 3-4 seconds before lowering slowly from whatever point I managed to get to.

On the final set only, in addition to this 3-4 seconds of effort after failure, I will also reattempt the final rep without rest 2-3 times, knowing full well the rep is impossible but still managing to carry out a partial rep.

weighted pull ups for strength

weighted pull ups for strength


The hypertrophy:

The first exercise I carry out for this part of the workout is a seated single arm cable row. My aim is around 10 reps but I don’t stop at 10 reps, I keep going until absolute failure as I will describe in a moment. The 10 reps is a target to allow me to adjust the weight as necessary in the following workout, ie if I hit 12 reps I will increase the weight next time.

So, my goal is 10 reps for 2 sets on each arm with very little rest between sets, one arm recovers while the other works.

The technique I use is again to pull back as quickly as possible while maintaining good form, and then slowly lower the weight over 3-4 seconds. At the point of failure I allow myself to use my body weight to help pull the cable, essentially cheating with bad form, and then ensuring good form on the 3-4 second lowering phase. Once I can’t lift the weight even with the body weight assistance I continue another 2-3 partial reps, knowing the rep can’t be completed but using as much range of motion as I can manage.

seated cable row

seated cable row

The final exercise is a bicep curl on the cable machine. I prefer to use the cable machine as I find with dumbells you lose resistance at the top of the movement. My aim for the curl is 1 set on each arm of around 12-15 reps, although usually only around 6-8 of these reps will be unassisted. Very little rest between the 2 arms in preferred.

For each set I pull quickly again and then lower slowly over around 3-4 seconds. At the point I can no longer complete a rep, I use my free hand to assist only as much as needed to complete the pull section of the movement, and then lower of 3-4 seconds without assistance. At the point I am unable to lower the weight slowly under control, the exercise is over.

cable bicep curl

cable bicep curl

So this workout should take less than 1 hour and depending on rest times can be completed in 30-40 minutes. There are a total of 9 sets, 3 for the pull ups, 4 sets of rows (2 for each arm) and 2 sets of curls (1 for each arm)


Rowing and conversations with the ego

One of my favorite movies is Guy Richie’s “Revolver”. It took me about 3 viewings to understand what the hell was going on but eventually I realized the movie is about a man who goes to war with his greatest enemy, his own Ego.

In the movie, his Ego is the voice he hears in his head, not in some crazy “kill everyone” way but in the same way we all have our own voice in our heads. In the movie, his big awakening moment was his realization that the voice in his head was not in fact “him” but his ego, pretending to be him. If that doesn’t make sense I definitely recommend watching the movie, but just in case you can’t be bothered, here’s a couple of quotes from the movie to get my point across.

“The greatest enemy will hide in the last place you would ever look.”

“The greatest con, that he ever pulled… was making you believe… that he is you”

These lines are referring to the main characters ego. We all hear that voice in our heads and we do assume that this voice is “our” voice. This voice in our heads pretty much aligns with our own wants and needs as long as we stay in our comfort zone, but once you wonder out of your comfort zone, the ego doesn’t like this, and will try to convince you to go back to where you are comfortable.

You may be wondering, “what the hell has this got to do with rowing?” Another quote from the movie goes something along the lines of “wherever you don’t want to go is where you will find him”. In the movie, the main character is scared of tight spaces and so he purposely puts himself in a tight space to make it easier to hear and identify the fact that this voice he is hearing is not him.

For me, the best way I have found of hearing this voice is with rowing on the concept 2 rowing machine. Specifically, I have found the 2k row to be the best distance for this. The time and pace for the 2k just seems to work out best. Let me try and explain how this works for me.

I start out the row with a definite goal in mind, to get a PB. I would love to get under 7 minutes but I haven’t managed to make it yet. But this is my own goal, me, my want, my desire, my decision. And so I start the row, the first 500m usually goes down ok, but slowly, as I become tired and very uncomfortable, the conversation begins…

You’re not going to be able to do this, you’re only at 500m and you’re already tired.

“I CAN do this, I just need to keep on going, every time I hit 500m it always feels uncomfortable and I’ve got PB’s many times before”

As 1000m comes and goes…

You may as well just stop now, if you go all the way to the end you’re gonna feel sick and horrible and you won’t have the PB anyway, if you stop now you won’t have the PB but you’ll still feel good.”

“NO! If I stop now I’ll never know if I could have got the PB!”

And finally, the last hundred meters, the voice is loudest…

Just stop or you’re going to be sick, I can’t do this, i’m too tired, there’s just no way I can keep this going for these last 15 seconds”

And to be honest, at this point the other voice, the real me, the me that made the decision to get that PB, my voice is tiny. That voice that says, “Just keep going”.

For me, the voice that is telling me “I can’t do it”, and “I should stop”, that’s the ego. The voice that says, “keep going”, that’s me. I used the rowing machine to provoke this internal argument so I can isolate the ego from my own thoughts the same way the character in Revolver went into the tight space to isolate his. Once you can acknowledge that this inner voice exists and is not in fact “you”, you can at least attempt to overcome it when it pipes up when you are out of your comfort zone.

Before I end I wanted to give an example of when being aware of this has helped me. Fairly recently I decided to start coding Apps for mobile phones. I had the thought that at some point some years in the future I would like to be able to work for myself as a coder. So i’m studying and building my first app and I come across some problem that it doesn’t appear as though I can overcome, and this voice pipes up “I can’t even solve this one problem, how am I ever going to be able to work for myself doing this, I’m never going to be able to learn all this there’s too much to learn, I’m never going to be able to work for myself doing this.”

I found myself listening to these thoughts, and I said consciously to myself, “shut the f%$k up” I realized that this was not me saying these things. I had put myself out of my comfort zone and the ego had piped up. Maybe I won’t be able to work for myself, but at the very least I’m not just giving up because my ego doesn’t like to be out of its comfort zone.

So, go and find your ego. I’m not saying you’re gonna be able to get rid of that voice that says “you can’t do this” when things get uncomfortable, but at least you might recognize the fact that voice is not you.


How to get ripped for the rest of us – Diet and Nutrition

In my introduction to this series How to get ripped for the rest of us – Introduction I talked about how I don’t count calories, calculate syns or follow any special diet, and that instead I follow a few simple rules that have allowed me to develop the physique that I have now while still eating, for the most part, like a normal human being.

Let me just say before I get into it, I am by no means saying that there are not quicker or more effective ways to lose weight and/or get ripped. But keep in mind this is supposed to be a guide for the rest of us, who don’t want to spend time counting calories, calculating macros and spending hours and hours in the gym. Also keep in mind, my motivation for eating the way I do is not only to control body fat and build muscle, but also to promote health and longevity. I do not believe it is worth sacrificing health in order to make short term gains.

So with that being said, lets go into the few simple rules I follow…

Rule number 1 – Sugar is the enemy

I think most people are finally getting the memo that fat is not what makes people fat. No, sugar is the real enemy. The whole fat is bad for you idea was so ingrained in our collective thinking that its taken some time for the message to get around. And if you’re just getting this message now, then don’t dismiss it. I don’t want to go too deep into the science, if you want that then have a google for some actual scientific studies, but I will go into the theory very briefly.

The basic reason people put on fat is not because they eat fat foods, it’s in the way the body breaks down and processes the foods you eat. To put it simply, if you put in what you need, the body will use it, if you put in more than you need, the body will store it. But it’s not as simple as you eat it and voila its available to the body, if so anytime we ate anything the body would have to store almost all of it as the body only needs a small amount of energy at one time unless we are taking part in some physical activity.

This fact pretty much leads to the cornerstone of my whole philosophy of eating to lose body fat. You have to eat in such a way that the energy in the food you have eaten, only becomes available to the body at the rate (or slightly lower than the rate) your body needs it.

If you don’t want to get too technical, just remember that. That is the number one thing to keep in your head at all times. Its so basic to the whole point of this I’ll repeat it… The rate at which energy becomes available to your body has to be slightly lower than the rate at which your body uses the energy if you want to burn fat.

So with that in mind, the reason rule number 1 is “Sugar is the enemy” is because high sugar foods break down and become available to the body at a very high rate, a rate higher than your body is likely to be using that energy unless you are taking part in some physical activity. And so when you eat sugary foods, it’s very likely your body will store a lot of that food as fat. Like I said its obviously way more complicated than this, but understanding that basic principle will get you 90% of the way there.

Rule number 2: Protein! I love protein

I’m not just in the business of losing fat, I don’t just want to be skinny. I want to have a low body fat and have a decent amount of muscle. I think this rings true for women too, “strong not skinny” is definitely the way forward. And so for this reason, as much as I want to avoid sugar to prevent storing my foods as body fat, I also want to be consuming enough protein to make sure my muscles can recover and grow following on from a heavy workout.

So with rule number one and rule number 2 in mind, whenever I look at a label on a food container and ponder whether or not eating this will either help or hinder my goals, I look at the protein to sugar ratio.


Yep, just like in “You don’t mess with the Zohan” it’s all about the ratio. I don’t have a hard and fast rule about the ratio of protein to sugar but in general, the more protein to sugar the better. If there is more sugar than protein I don’t even bother unless it comes under rule 3 (coming shortly!) and most often, I want there to be at least four times as much protein than sugar for me to consider it as a food that will help me towards my goals.

Below is the nutrition on the back of a pack of rolled oats that I often eat for breakfast, probably the most carb heavy thing I eat.

Typical Values Typical Values Per 100g Per 40g Per 40g1 (%*)
Energy 1565 kJ 626 kJ 1222 kJ
374 kcal 150 kcal 291 kcal (15%*)
Fat 8.0 g 3.2 g 8.6 g (12%*)
of which Saturates 1.5 g 0.6 g 3.9 g (20%*)
Carbohydrate 60 g 24 g 38 g
of which Sugars** 1.1 g 0.4 g 15 g (16%*)
Fibre 9.0 g 3.6 g 3.6 g
Protein 11 g 4.4 g 15 g
Salt 0 g 0 g 0.30 g (5%*)

So a couple of things to note, the protein is way higher than the sugar content. Although this is very carb heavy the carbs should be released slowly as my body needs them. I also add a few ingredients to push the balance towards higher fat/protein than sugar/carbs. such as peanut butter and various seeds.

Rule number 3: Don’t forget your health!

So quite often I hear someone mention something along the lines of fruit being bad for you as it contains a lot of sugar. While technically this is true, there are a couple of things that you should think about around this. Firstly, in whole fruit (not juice) the fibre in the fruit does help to slow down how quickly your body can get hold of the energy. So while this does not mean eating fruit will keep you in that magic zone of having less energy available than your body needs at any single point in time, it does reduce quite how much over this threshold you might go.

The second thing to consider here is this. Fruit has a tonne of vitamins and nutrients that are just so good for you. Life is not all just about reducing body fat, we need to be healthy too right? So weigh up the pros and cons. If you just eat fruit all day then sure, you’re not gonna get far with your fat loss goals. But if you eat some fruit once or twice a day, then sure you’re body might only be in fat burning mode 80-90% of the time instead of 100% but also you’re receiving vital nutrients and vitamins.

A final word on mindset

So that’s pretty much my 3 simple rules. Avoid sugar, seek out protein, and think about your health with regards to ensuring you get all the vitamins and nutrients you need. Simples. I did want to say one thing about mindset though. I know a lot of people will eat something they shouldn’t, and when I say shouldn’t all I mean by that is , not in line with your goals. It’s not a sin! It’s just moving you in a direction opposite to where your goal lies. So anyway they eat something they shouldn’t, and immediately have some thought along the lines of “well I’ve ruined it now and so I may as well give up”.

If you think about fat loss and muscle development as a journey (I don’t mean some spiritual juju, I’m talking about thinking of it as an analogy) then every meal that you eat that satisfies your protein and other nutritional needs while keeping  “The rate at which energy becomes available to your body … slightly lower than the rate at which your body uses the energy”, is a step in the right direction in this journey. Good stuff. Now if you eat a meal that does the opposite of this, because you succumb to temptation or maybe you just have a life and you’ve gone out for dinner with friends or family, this means you’ve taken a step in the wrong direction in this journey.

Now this is the important bit, if you’re on a journey somewhere, anywhere, and you take a couple of steps in the wrong direction. Do you just throw your arms in the air and shout “F**k it” and turn around and go home? No, because that would be completely insane. You retrace your steps and quickly make up the lost distance. As long as you’re taking more steps in the right direction than the wrong direction, you’ll eventually get to where you’re going.

Of course, the less steps you take in the wrong direction, the quicker you’ll get there.



How to get ripped for the rest of us – Introduction

Welcome to my first post in my series, “How to get ripped for the rest of us” You may be asking, why even bother? The fitness world is absolutely saturated with guru’s and trainers, so why bother listening to me? I mean, I’m nowhere close to being the biggest guy or the most ripped guy. Instagram and YouTube are filled with ripped muscle freaks so why listen to me when these guys above are floating around on the internet? Well let me explain…

First, here’s a picture of me from a shoot for a fitness magazine from a couple of days ago. I’m not as big or as ripped as the guys mentioned above, but I’d hope 99% of people (AKA the rest of us) would be happy with this physique. But still, why take advice from me rather than the bigger or more ripped guy?


Reason 1:

First, I don’t do and have never done steroids or any kind of weird illegal or dubious performance enhancing drugs. I’m not saying that ALL the guys in the pics from Instagram are doing (or have done) them, but let’s be honest, the industry is full of it. Now if someone wants to risk their health to get bigger muscles and become more ripped, then fine, whatever its their body. What I hate though is when these guys then start giving out fitness advice like they are some kind of guru while never mentioning the number one thing they did to get into that shape. If you take, or have taken steroids and you start trying to advise someone on how to have a body like you, you’re number one tip better be “take steroids” otherwise you are bulls***ting yourself and everyone else.

My health and longevity are more important to me than getting bigger quicker, and so reason number one to listen to me is, you don’t need to compromise your health with illegal drugs to achieve my level of physique.

Reason 2:

OK so second, I do not live in the gym. In a normal week I spend around 3-4 hours in the gym. This is for 2 reasons, first I don’t have time to work out all day every day, I have a family and a job working 12 hour shifts and other interests I’d like to pursue. The second reason is the training style I use focuses on short intense workouts, and that will be the focus of my 2nd post.

So the second reason to listen to me, you don’t need to live in the gym to achieve my level of physique.

Reason 3:

I don’t calorie count, I don’t calculate “syns” and I don’t follow some bizarre “eat only this or only that” diet. I eat pretty much like a normal human being following only a couple of (what I find to be) easy rules when it comes to nutrition. I’ll do an entire post about nutrition shortly.

So reason number 3 to listen to me, you don’t need to go on some crazy diet to achieve my level of physique.

Reason 4:

The final reason is that everything I give out on this blog will be free, there’s no long sales buildup to buy my fantastic program, or E-book or personal online training plan. My philosophy is that all the fitness information you need is online available for free anyway, and so charging for it just seems a tad cheeky to me. Of course all that free information is so mixed in with all the bulls**t that it needs filtering out, and that’s part of what I intend to do here.

So the last reason to listen to me is I’m not selling anything. I have no reason to bulls**t.

So if after all of that, you think maybe it is worth reading on and finding out more, head over to the second post where I explain my general theory of training… How to get ripped for the rest of us – The general theory of getting ripped.

How to get ripped for the rest of us – The general theory of getting ripped.

In my previous post, How to get ripped for the rest of us – Introduction  ,  I explained why anybody should bother to listen to me in a world filled with fitness Guru’s. In this post I want to go over my general theory of training, which has developed over many years into what I now believe is the best training program I have ever developed.

Let me briefly explain where this program has come from. For many years I trained like a classic bodybuilder I guess, I thought rest days were for wimps, I trained around 20 to 30 sets in a single gym session, usually sets of 10. I made some fairly decent gains like this, and on a very strict diet I built a muscular but still fairly slim build.

After many years of floating around the same weight and body fat and strength levels, I turned my attention to strong man training. And so my training program changed from the many sets of 10, to around 10 sets of 5 on a particular training session. Around this time I came across Mike Mentzer and his High Intensity Training system. This was the first time believe it or not I’d ever heard someone talk about the importance of rest days, and not just 1 or 2 here or there, but many rest days. Which seems completely crazy now I think back at it by the way, that I had never heard that before.

So after listening to Mike Mentzer I decided to incorporate many more rest days into my program, and as if by magic my weights started shooting up. Consistently every training session I would get a new PB. It made perfect sense of course, if there was no recovery time, how could I expect my body to recover and grow stronger? As well as my weights increasing, my muscle mass grew, becoming the heaviest I had ever been by around 4kg.

When I decided to stop doing strong man training, and refocus on working on my physique, I took Mike Mentzers advice back into my bodybuilding training. Not only his ideas around more rest days, but also his ideas around short, high intensity training. In particular the idea that growth and development come from the point in training where you fail. That is where the body is forced to adapt. I trained with this style for some time before realizing that despite my strength continuing to increase, there was little change in my size.

So at this point my current training style developed. I wanted to mix some 3 sets of 5 strength training style movements with some higher rep, high intensity movements for the smaller muscle groups in a particular session using slow eccentric movements to help build growth. Let me just mention right now, this is my own opinion and what I’ve found to work, before all the internet gym bro’s fill my comments section with hate. Here’s a breakdown of all the points a workout should contain…

1. A heavy powerful movement to build strength

A heavy, powerful movement. Lets take a pull-up as an example. I want enough weight to be aiming for around 5 reps, for some this might mean using additional weight, for others it may mean they need to use assistance such as a machine or resistance band. I want to move as quickly as possible, using strict form (AKA without flailing around like a fish out of water). The idea here is to recruit as many muscle fibers and activate as many motor neurons (the nerves that fire contracting the muscle fibers) as possible in the shortest amount of time. This is purely a strength building exercise.

2. A slow eccentric movement

This is where the muscle growth is stimulated. Studies have shown most muscle growth is stimulated by the eccentric phase (the lowering phase). Not only this, but you’re actually stronger in this phase and so a weight you may need to lift quickly to get it up, you will be able to lower slowly under control, extending the amount of time you are in this eccentric phase.

Using our pull-up example, after lifting up to the bar as quickly as possible, I lower myself down over a period of 3-5 seconds. This will reduce the overall amount of reps you can accomplish, and so you need to put your ego to the side, but the total amount of time under tension will be greater.

3. A high intensity overload component.

For the 3 sets of 5 I push until absolute failure, even carrying on the attempt for 2-3 seconds after it is obvious the rep cannot be completed. However, on the final set, and for the other sets in the session that are not 3 sets of 5 (which i will go into next) after a rep has failed a high intensity overload component needs to be added. It’s important to continue trying the failed rep for 2-3 seconds before giving up and going onto the overload component. Some of the techniques I’ve been using are…

  • Partial reps: Once I have failed a rep I continue to attempt further reps, this works better for movements where you tend to fail at the end of the movement or in the middle of the movement and not at the bottom. In the case of the pull-ups, I may accomplish another 1-2 half reps before not being able to pull up at all.
  • Drop sets: A classic choice, once you’ve failed, simply drop the weight slightly as quickly as possible and carry on for another 1-2 reps.
  • Assisted with slow negative: If there’s some way to assist in the lifting phase of the movement, you’ll still be able to bring the weight down slowly under control. I use this for example on dips, if I can’t raise up any more, I step up using my legs, and then lower slowly under control for another 2-3 reps.
  • Rest-Pause: If none of the other techniques are possible, one final one is to wait 5-10 seconds after the failed rep, and then try again which should allow you to squeeze out one more rep, or at least attempt to.

 4. Assistance / Additional exercises

So every workout will have one main big compound movement, but I also like to do 2-3 more exercises of 2-3 sets each. An average workout should have around 10 sets in total. These assistance exercises will use a smaller amount of muscles or even be isolation exercises. I typically use lower weights and aim for 10-15 reps per set, and I use the high intensity overload techniques on every set.

And that is the basic theory of a typical gym session. In later posts I will do some write ups of individual workouts so you can see the principles in action. This seems to be working for me giving a nice balance between strength and size gains, with body fat typically being controlled with nutrition. And on that note, nutrition will be the subject of my next post…