Author Archives: Bret

A Long-Term Plan to Build the Deadlift

Bret’s intro: My friend Carlo Buzzichelli sent me this article to post on my site (from his colleague Emanuele). Carlo is an Italian strength coach who studied under Tudor Bompa, has trained professional teams from numerous different sports, and has a penchant for tinkering with program design variables. One reason why I admire Carlo is because he and I represent two different extremes; he is highly technical as a coach and trainer in both form and programming, whereas I tend to be looser and more spontaneous with less attention to detail and more emphasis on auto-regulation (aka: winging it). 

Carlo

Carlo and Bret

A Long-Term Plan to Build the Deadlift
Emanuele Caratelli

Intro from Carlo Buzzichelli: Emanuele Caratelli, MSc, ISCI-Sport Strength Coach and ISCI lecturer, is one of the powerlifting coaches of the International Strength & Conditioning Institute powerlifting team. Our team won the raw deadlift National title for both male and female categories for two years in a row (2014 and 2015).Our athletes won a total of 13 medals and set 5 national records in the process. Among our athletes, most of the medalists are trained by Emanuele, who takes a long-term approach for the deadlift specialization.

You can find a summary of the results of our powerlifters at the bottom of this article.

Carlo Buzzichelli,
Director of the International Strength & Conditioning Institute (ISCI)

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Translation by Fabio Prescimone, Italian Academy of Powerlifting certified coach

In this article I will show you a deadlift program recommended to those lifters who are not beginner any more and want to improve their deadlift while training four days a week.

Just a couple of quick premises before I get into the details of my program: when programming the deadlift for intermediate athletes, I like to use very long cycles, starting from low percentages of 1RM and slowly increasing the intensity. This allows to work mostly on technique in the first part of the cycle and also to keep a high training volume: in my opinion, such a high volume is the key of the success for this kind of athletes, because it triggers structural and metabolic adaptations. I also choose to start from low percentages in order to keep a smooth technique for as long as possible: I rarely go over 90% of 1RM, and only after several weeks of training, so I can teach proper form and engrave it in my athletes’ mind, without creating too much “systemic stress”

Systemic stress is the residual fatigue encountered by all the physiological systems as a consequence of a training session. We all know that squatting for 6 sets of 3 repetitions at 80% of 1RM does not affect our body in the same way as deadlifting with the same loading parameters does. The day following a squat session we would probably feel neurally activated, certainly not tired and we could even do it again, if we wanted to. In the deadlift scenario, it would be very hard to repeat the same workout; it would require a great voluntary effort and the overall performance would be worse. All these differences are caused by the different systemic stress/burden.

Now, let’s show a sample program designed according to the principles exposed above.

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I choose to show this one because it really follows my principles: I love long training cycles for the deadlift (this one spans over 22 weeks), and I increase intensity very gradually (here we start from 57%).

This program has been used by two members of our powerlifting team. It was the first time they followed such a long periodization, and both have added many kilograms to their PR’s: the first one went from 155kg/343lbs to 195kg/431.4lbs (in the -66kg/146lbs weight class) and the second one from 205Kg/453lbs to 240Kg/531lbs (in the +120kg/265.4lbs). Both lifted raw (belt only).

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You surely noticed the weird percentages I used, such as 73%, 78%, 86%. Usually, we increase by 5%, but not in this case, for this simple reason: this program was designed around a guy who wanted to attend a deadlift-only meet, and I only thought of his condition and how to improve it as much as possible in the 22 weeks leading us to the meet. I wrote the loads he could easily use in that moment (first week), then the deloading phase (week 21 and 22) and finally the weeks when I wanted him to reach the highest work load, first in volume (week 13/14) and then in intensity (19/20).

After that, I just filled in the blanks, starting from the beginning, writing down for each week the sets, reps and kilograms to lift in order to reach our goal. The program eventually proved to be tremendously effective, so I retrospectively calculated the percentages (since I knew the starting 1RM) and used it as a general template for other people. As you can see, there are two column, with different percentages: one is calculated on the actual 1RM, the other one is based on the expected new 1RM.

Let’s see now the structure: for the first 12 weeks, the program has a 2:1:1 structure, two week of volume, one week of intensity and one week of deload.

First Macrocycle

As you can see, there are two weeks of high repetitions and a fair amount of volume, with a linear increase in intensity of 7%. In week 3, volume decrease by 63% and intensity increase by 10/15%. Week 4 is a regenerative one, with low volume and a 20% drop in intensity.

Such a pattern will be used for two more macrocyles, with linear increments in volume for the first two weeks and in intensity in the third one.

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Second macrocycle

Percentages are increased in “volume weeks” (5 and 6), but they are still low, so we can work on proper form. That is why we use a number of repetitions (5’s) that may sound a bit inappropriate, but which is really useful, because it allows me to give feedback after each repetition, so that the athlete can correct himself and do the next repetitions with perfect form. Low intensity, as we said before, allows the athlete to listen to his own body and to correct himself.

In this phase there’s a high number of sets, because we are teaching the motor pattern to our CNS, and this is possible only if we repeat many times the same pattern, just like when we are learning a poem by heart or using a new tool. The endless repetition of the same action, however, doesn’t lead to perfection, because there’s an optimal learning curve: if we repeat the stimulus too much, there’s no improvement, and cumulative fatigue actually corrupt the pattern we are trying to build.

I’m not saying that I know the magic number of such a learning curve, but we know that the ability to absorb information (in this case, work capacity) can be trained too; this is the reason why volume constantly increases.

Above we saw that this program follows a 2:1:1 structure, but I didn’t explain the rationale of this choice. The reasons for a week of higher intensity after two of high volume are the following:

  • avoiding the loss of rate code, since we use low percentages to work on technique;
  • to give the athlete a psychological break; after two weeks of worrying about all the details of set-up and movement, he’ll feel some weight in his hands and will only think about lifting it;
  • low-intensity work can soften the athlete both psychologically and physically, but on the other hand, high-intensity work doesn’t leave room for technical improvement, so we just thought of this happy medium. We later empirically found that short periods of high volume followed by higher intensity phases were very well tolerated and effective.

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Third macrocycle

Structure 2:1:1. As you can see, during volume weeks we get very close to 70%, because we’ve been working for eight weeks, and training has created positive adaptations, making the athlete able to tolerate such voluminous work load. Now we introduce a variable: sets of 6 repetitions. So far we have been working with 5’s, and even one more repetition creates fatigue and makes technique work harder.

During the intensity week we get closer to 80%, with doubles and singles, to prepare the athlete to the first milestone of this program, two weeks later. Intensity is slightly increased in deload week too, since we can expect that the 1RM is already higher.

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The fourth macrocycle is the one I consider the turning point of the whole program: from now on, structure changes to a more traditional 2:1, mostly because:

  • we’ll create a high systemic stress, so we need to deload more frequently;
  • there will be “volume only” and “intensity only” macrocycle, and three weeks of them may be too much to tolerate (because of the high stress)

After all these weeks spent on technique work, with a bit of maintenance of rate code, we surely learned a better control of the load and we already increased our 1RM, but this is going to be the macrocycle I deem fundamental for the success of this program. I think every program should have a kind of “shock macrocycle”, a phase that create a systemic stress high enough to trigger a “flight or fight” response that takes our athlete to the next level of adaptation.

This may seems to contradict what I wrote at the beginning, but it’s not the case, because we only use this shock once in 22 training weeks, after 12 weeks of preparation and 8 weeks out of the meet.

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The shock of this phase is a tremendous volume, because in the first week there are 20 sets in the first workout and 15 in the second, but they are only 3 repetitions, at slightly under 80%. We can safely presume that the first sets will be fairly easy; as cumulative fatigue sets in, it will be very challenging to keep proper form and good speed. Actively fighting to keep technique and speed against fatigue is an excellent training for the CNS.

Total repetitions are 105 in first week and 92 in the second one, but we have done more earlier, with 100 and 120 in week 5 and 6. What makes these four workouts unique is the way they follow one another: the first one, with 20 sets, scares and defies the athlete, which will be exhausted by the end. The second one is even harder because of the fatigue from the previous one, but since the load is 5/10kg lighter and there are 5 less sets, the athlete will be more confident.

The third workout has even lower intensity and half the sets, to give a break both physically and mentally, but we add a repetition. The fourth workout is probably the most taxing of the whole program, since it comes after a high-volume week and has the athlete doing 15 sets of 4 repetitions at 80%. After this workout the athlete will feel exhausted because of the last two weeks, and he will still feel the same during the following week , even if it is only a deload week with far less volume (66% less). The first workout is light, the second has a higher intensity but with a low volume and a big buffer.
In the fifth macrocycle we hope our subject has already acquired a consistent motor pattern, since he will be almost bored by the repetitiveness of the movement he has been doing. He will also have a very high systemic stress because of the former macrocycle, despite the deload week.

From now on, we will prime CNS recovery and try to restore an optimal hormonal balance to get a peak performance. This is the reason why daily volume will be far less, switching from 100 to 30 repetitions (66% less), but intensity will raise. After all the frustrating low-intensity, high-volume workouts, technique should be consistent enough to allow the subject to concentrate only on using all of his strength. Furthermore, high-intensity phases are the natural continuation of high-volume ones, and psychologically the subject is eager to test himself.

Let’s get a closer look: in the first workout we get to 85% of 1RM, but for only two repetitions, because the athlete has not fully recovered after the shock macrocycle. We can assume that the deload week has only given the start to the regeneration which will lead to the activation of parasympathetic nervous system; it’s not unlikely that the athlete can feel two repetitions at 85% very hard. We will explain him that is normal, because his body is still recovering.

During the second workout we want the athlete to feel a lighter weight so we lower intensity, but we add a repetition. Our purpose is to prepare the first workout of second week, where we get to 95% of 1RM for singles; the second one is at 85% again, but for 3 repetitions. During the deload week, as usual, the first workout is a very easy one, to refresh technique, while the second get us closer to regular training loads. High performance is not expected in this macrocycle, because of cumulative fatigue, but proper form should be maintained.

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The sixth macrocycle is the last one, and the most important after the fourth; not only because it leads us to the competition, but also because we highly stimulate our athlete’s rate code. Volume remains low, while the athlete will only think to accelerate the barbell as much as possible. This will require a great effort, because with percentages from 85% to 95% of 1RM, it will be very difficult to see the barbell move fast.

The reiteration of stimuli between 65% and 80% has been very high – almost boring – throughout the whole program, technique is now extremely consolidated, that is why in these last two weeks before the deload we require the athlete to just push as hard as he can. In this phase athletes are relieved because of the low volume and also because, finally, they are not constantly reminded to pay attention to small technical details. They feel free to just lift aggressively.

Loads are high, 92% and 97% of the old 1RM, but our athlete will feel them a bit easier than during the previous macrocycle (the maximum volume one), exactly easier than week 17 (where he got to 95%).

Since he will also lift loads close to his 1RM, he will build confidence and desire to get as soon as possible to the test/meet day, to see all the progress of such a long preparation.

Last two weeks are a tapering, where we work with doubles at 86% (in the first) and triples at 78% (in the second). Usually I use doubles at 80% and triples at 70%, but in this case I prefer higher percentages because this is not the usual 8/12 week cycle, so 1RM should have dramatically increased; by the way, if we look at the second column (the one with % of expected 1RM), we’ll see that deload is very close to 80% and 70% (82 and 74, respectively).

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3

Tapering is one of the most important part of the program, after the shock macrocycle; the latter elicits strong adaptations and improvements, the former shows them. Just like the bride’s hair: the haircut is essential, but a good styling will show it at its best, and like a good hairdresser we have to know the “face” of our subject, for a fitting hair style. Someone may need some more volume and/or intensity, someone less, doubles at around 80% for two workouts in the first week, and triples at 70% for one workout in the second are a good starting point.

I cannot give you the perfect tapering, since this is the most craftsman-like part of coaching, where there’s still something artistic and intuitive, since there are so many variables that only the coach who has been following the athlete for all the preparation is able to synthesize.

One last consideration: this program seems doable only by powerlifters. This holds true only if the program is followed to the letter, but the logic behind it can be used to build any deadlift routine, as long as you respect the proportions between each phase. For instance, the shock macrocycle is essential, and it should be planned at around 3/5th of the program duration, whether it lasts 20 weeks or 10.

The shock macrocycle can be built using volume as a stressor (just like in our case) or intensity, something like 5×5 at 85%. Then you put the last two weeks of tapering like we did, reducing volume even by 50%.

These are the principles of this program, if you respect them you can build many other programs of different duration.

carlo

How to Get an Amazing Workout With Just Your Partner for Resistance

This weekend, I visited my girlfriend Diana in Nogales – a tiny border town in Arizona. She’s in school right now doing her rotations, and I intended on training at an actual gym. However, the town’s only gym was already closed for the day, so the only option was to train at her home. We didn’t have any free weights or resistance bands, or even any chin/dip bars for that matter, so we had to either go with bodyweight exercises, or use each other for resistance. In my Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy book, I provide what I believe to be the best bodyweight exercises in existence.

However, I believe that all lifters, personal trainers, and strength coaches should have a firm grasp of training with every type of loading. Partner resisted training is highly effective, and it is very useful when traveling.

The particular workout featured in this article is best suited for stronger males with smaller partners. The Zercher koala bear and piggy back reverse lunge hammer the glutes and quads, the straddle single leg hip thrust hammers the glutes and hammies. The weighted push up hits the pecs, front delts, and tri’s. The straddle one arm row hits the upper back and bi’s. And the weighted RKC plank annihilates the abs. Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of these exercises – they work incredibly well.

This guy probably won't be able to do these exercises...

This guy probably won’t be able to do these exercises…

I will film another workout down the road that strong women can do with their partners; the exercises are different but the workout is equally as effective.

Piggy Back Reverse Lunge

lunge

Set up like you’re going to give your partner a piggy back ride. Lean forward slightly (this increases glute activation by the way), step significantly far back into a deep lunge, then propel your body back into position. You can alternate legs, or hit all the reps with one leg before switching to the other leg.

Zercher Koala Bear Squat

squat

I know, I know, this looks highly sexual. If this offends you, get over it and quit being such a prude. It’s actually one of my favorite squat variations for the glutes. She’s going to hug you like a koala bear, and you’re going to hold onto her legs as if you were doing a Zercher squat.

By the way, when I tested glute activation with all different types of standing squat variations, the Zercher variation ranked the highest. Some of my clients get higher glute activation from moderately-heavy goblet squats than heavy barbell squats. The Zercher koala bear squat feels like a combination between a goblet squat and a Zercher squat, and you feel tension on your glutes through most of the movement (unlike traditional barbell squats) if you do it right. Squat down deep, keeping the knees out, and as you rise upward, sort of thrust the hips forward as if doing a hip thrust.

Straddle Single Leg Hip Thrust

thrust

Yes, this appears highly sexual in nature as well, I get it. If it gets you and your partner all riled up, then great – maybe you can follow the resistance training session off with some “cardio.” But really it’s not that big of a deal…in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) we were constantly in this position with other dudes, so again, no need for prudes getting offended.

Have your partner straddle you. She needs to keep her feet off the ground so that you’re lifting her entire bodyweight. Make sure you keep your torso level and avoid hyperextending the spine. Tuck the chin slightly as this encourages posterior pelvic tilting, which equates to more glutes and less erectors. You can alternate legs, or hit all the reps with one leg before switching to the other leg.

If the single leg version is too hard, you can do double leg hip thrusts with a controlled tempo; this works well too (I included a few reps in the video of these done bilaterally). 

Weighted Push Up

push up

With the weighted push up, she needs to sit high up on your upper back so that the resistance is pushing straight down on the shoulders. Try to avoid hyperextending the lumbar spine or raising the shoulders faster than the hips, make sure you use a fairly full range of motion, and keep the arms at roughly a 45 degree angle relative to the torso (if looking from an aerial view from above).

Straddle One Arm Row

row

Straddle your partner’s torso and row her toward your body. The more upright you are, the more you’ll work your upper back, whereas the more horizontal you are, the more you’ll work your mid back and lats. I like trying to feel the row in my upper back as this region tends to get neglected in traditional S&C rowing movements, so I stay more upright (I don’t really have a choice as in order to get full ROM, I have to stay pretty upright, but I’ve stood on top of two tables and had Diana lay in between them so I could be more horizontal – this worked very well too). Make sure your partner tucks her chin – you can see in the first two reps of the video that I almost gave Diana a whiplash.

This exercise is pretty challenging for her too, as it’s very hard to maintain a solid grip onto the arm, especially if you’re sweaty. She’ll need to place her feet on a table and bridge up, and maintain this position throughout the set.

Weighted RKC Plank

plank

Make sure your partner sits on your low back and places her feet on the back of your legs. This effectively loads the abdominals and obliques by placing a huge extensor moment onto the lumbar spine and anterior tilting moment onto the pelvis, which are countered by the aforementioned muscles.

If you slightly 1) tuck the chin, 2) round the upper back, 3) bend the knees, and 4) posteriorly tilt the pelvis, you’ll feel it in your glutes and abs to a much greater degree.

Here’s a video showing the movements in action:

I did this workout yesterday and my pecs and glutes are very sore today! I did:

2 x 8 with the piggy back reverse lunges
2 x 15 with the Zercher koala bear squats
2 x 8 with the straddle single leg hip thrusts
3 x 6 with the weighted push ups
3 sets of 8 with the straddle one arm rows, and
2 sets of 25 seconds with the weighted RKC planks

Your sets and reps will necessarily differ according to your strength and how much your partner weighs (Diana weighs around 120 lbs), so adjust accordingly. Please give this workout a try and let me know what you think.

The Top 3 Diet and Lifestyle Changes to Make for Better Training Results

By Eirik Garnas
Darwinian-Medicine.com

As every gym goer can attest to, there are both “good” and “bad” days in the gym. Some days, everything feels like a chore and the weight you lifted for 2 reps the last workout will barely move an inch, while other days, everything just seems to flow effortlessly and you set new PRs across the board. These differences can largely be traced back to what you did the 23 hours you spent outside of the weight room. Although it’s clearly impossible to have awesome, PR-setting workouts every day, it is possible to bring all of your training sessions up to a higher level – and largely eliminate the really crappy workout days – by properly addressing lifestyle factors such as sleep, microbial exposure, diet, and sun exposure.

cooking-woman

A healthy, anti-inflammatory lifestyle lays the basis for optimal performance in the gym

To understand how to optimize our diet and lifestyle, we have to look back at the long evolutionary journey that shaped the human body. Perhaps needless to say, modern environments are very different from those our primal ancestors evolved in for millions of years. There has been inadequate time and selection pressure for natural selection to sculpt the human body into one that is well-adapted for the modern, industrialized milieu. This mismatch between our ancient genetic blueprint and modern way of life is a key to understanding why so many chronic diseases and health problems are on the rise (1, 2).

Several elements of modern, Western lifestyles (e.g., chronic sleep loss, high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, inadequate microbial exposure) are novel and proinflammatory, and it’s safe to say that most people in the western world suffer from some degree of chronic low-grade inflammation, a condition characterized by elevated levels of several proinflammatory mediators in systemic circulation (3, 4). This is concerning because low-level systemic inflammation is a common denominator of most, if not all, chronic diseases of civilization (3). Also, of particular interest to those involved in strength & conditioning, chronic low-grade inflammation can wreak havoc on your hormone levels, adrenals glands, energy levels, and workout results (I’ve been there). Chances are, even if you feel “pretty good”, your health condition is still poor when compared to one of your preagricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors, and you probably have some degree of low-level inflammation going on.

Besides physical activity, I strongly believe that the quality of your diet and sleep and the health of your microbiome are the most important determinants of your health. Also, since all of these things impact your energy levels, immune function, hormone levels, and ability to recuperate after workouts, you’ll not only become a healthier you by focusing on these three aspects of your lifestyle and health, but you’ll also achieve better results with your training.

Below are 3 diet & lifestyle changes that get your health condition closer to the evolutionary norm and help improve your physical performance and workout results. Some of the strategies mentioned are probably already known to you, but hopefully you can extract something new and useful as well.

1. Set yourself up for better sleep

Sleeping-Bodybuilder

Everyone involved in health and fitness knows that sleep is important. But what exactly is a good night’s sleep? Is it enough to get in bed at roughly the same time every day and focusing on the number of hours you spend sleeping? Not really. To manufacture a truly good night’s sleep, a more holistic approach is needed.

The use of blue-light emitting devices at night, consumption of various stimulants, chronic stress, lack of sun exposure, artificial lighting, and poor diet choices are just some of the many elements in the modern 21st century lifestyle that wreak havoc on our internal biological clock and sleep.

63% of Americans report that their sleep needs are not being met during the week, which is not surprising as recent research shows that a typical American sleeps for only 6.1 hours each night, 1 hour less than the national average in 1970, and between 2 and 3 hours less than ~100 years ago (1). Similar trends are seen in other parts of the world where artificial lighting and electronic devices have become a natural part of daily life, and it’s no doubt that insufficient and disordered sleep are among the biggest health problems in contemporary societies.

This is in stark contract to the how things were like in the preindustrial days – and even more so the Paleolithic period (2.6 million years ago – 10.000 years ago), where sleep happened in concordance with the natural fluctuations in light and dark, a campfire was the only source of light after sundown, and buzzing mobile phones and tablets were nowhere to be found.

Getting a good night’s sleep is particularly important for those who are training hard, because when we sleep, several systems in our body are in a heightened anabolic state, a state that facilitates the repair and growth of the nervous, immune, and skeletal systems. Insufficient sleep leads to increased production of cortisol and has been linked with a myriad of adverse physiologic effects, such as impairment of glucose control, increased inflammation, and fat gain (partly by causing leptin levels to fall) (5, 6). In other words, as every strength trainee can attest to, training goes so much better when you’ve slept well.

While completely disconnecting from the interwebs when the sun goes down and avoiding all of the previously mentioned modern sleep-disruptors is not a viable option for most people, making some small adjustments can really go a long way towards optimizing sleep. Personally, I’ve never had an actual sleep disorder, and for most of my life I was under the belief that the quality of my sleep was very good. However, when I started to dig into the research on the topic and make some adjustments to my sleeping environment and schedule, I realised that what I had considered to be a good night’s sleep was actually a pretty mediocre night’s sleep.

Some tips that can help you manufacture a good nights sleep:

  • Keep to a routine.
  • Sleep in a completely dark room.
  • Reduce or eliminate the use of light-emitting electronics and artificial lighting after sundown, and especially the last couple of hours before bed.
  • Install f.lux or another similar program on your computer. This program makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.
  • Expose yourself to a lot of bright light in the morning and during the day.
  • Avoid checking your phone, e-mail, etc. right before bed.
  • Take a very cold shower about 1-3 hours before going to sleep. (This is something I’ve found to be very effective).

2. Take better care of your microbiome

superorganism

Microbiome is the current buzzword in the health & medical community – and for good reason. If you’ve been paying attention to the research in this area or read any of the hundreds of news stories about the critters living in and on us, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that the number of microbial cells in our body vastly outnumber our human cells (the number cited is often 90% microbe vs. 10% human), and that these microbes influence everything from our metabolism and digestion to brain function, mood, and behaviour. But why should the typical gym junkie looking to gain muscle and strength care? Well, because most of the human immune system is located in and around the gastrointestinal tract, and the gut microbiota – the collection of microorganisms found in the gut – plays a crucial role in maintaining and regulating this system (7). Gut dysbiosis and increased intestinal permeability (AKA leaky gut) set the stage for translocation of bacterial endotoxins from the gut and chronic low-grade inflammation and have been linked to a plethora of chronic health problems (7, 8).

If that’s not enough to get you excited about taking better care of the trillions of microbial travellers that inhabit your body, consider the fact that gut bacteria play a role in controlling the production of anabolic hormones that are essential for muscle growth and recovery between workouts. In a recent animal study, researchers found that “male mice routinely consuming purified lactic acid bacteria originally isolated from human milk had larger testicles and increased serum testosterone levels compared to their age-matched controls.” (9). And it wasn’t just a small difference, mice eating the probiotic bacterium Lactobacillus reuteri had significantly higher levels of circulating testosterone regardless of the type of diet they consumed. Going forward it will be very interesting to keep an eye on the human research in this area.

So, what kind of diet and lifestyle modifications should you make to improve the health of your microbiota? Will going down to the health food store to buy an expensive probiotic supplement do the trick? No, not really. Most probiotic supplements on the market today have several drawbacks that limit their usefulness. That doesn’t mean all probiotics are a waste of money, and in the future, advanced probiotic supplements and microbiome modulators will probably play an essential role in the treatment of a wide range of health conditions. However, it’s safe to say that for most people, diet and lifestyle are the key things to consider.

In my opinion, looking back at the long co-evolution of man and microbe is the key to understanding how we can improve the state of our microbiome. For most of human evolution, antibiotics, highly processed foods, infant formulas, and hand sanitizers were nowhere to be found, all births were performed the way evolution intended, high levels of fermentable fiber were consumed every day, and all activities occurred in a microbe-rich, natural environment. It was primarily under these conditions human-microbe relations were shaped, and hence, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the scientific research on the human microbiome consistently show that we can learn a lot about how to achieve a healthy microbiota by looking to our evolutionary past. While we clearly can’t go back to the preagricultural days, we can adjust our modern lifestyle so it more closely resembles that of our ancient forebears.

Pretty much everything you do has an impact on your microbiome in some way. To keep this article from getting too long, I’ll just mention four action items that are particularly important:

  • Eat more fermentable fibers. Fiber intake in the modern, industrialized world is miniscule when compared to the levels that are/were consumed among hunter-gatherers and non-westernized, traditional people, something that has profound implications for human health.
  • Eat traditionally fermented foods such as kimchi, kombucha, and kefir. These types of foods contain a wide range of beneficial microorganisms, some of which may colonize the gut and/or contribute genetic material to bacteria living in gut biofilms through horizontal gene transfer.
  • Enjoy contact with healthy people and pets. Microbes are continually shared between individuals through kissing, touching, etc.
  • Eat fresh, raw, and minimally washed/cleaned vegetables and fruits from a trusted source (e.g., from the farmer’s market or backyard garden). We often hear about the dangers of food poisoning from eating raw produce, but less attention is given to the fact that ingesting food-borne microorganisms can help add biodiversity to the gut microbiota.

3. Adjust your diet so it is better matched with your ancient genetic make-up

fruit

When it comes to nutrition, a lot of lifters, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts tend to put most of the focus on macronutrient distribution, micronutrient intake, pre- and post-workout meals, and calories consumed. For some, the whole diet thing is simply boiled down to eating according to the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) strategy, which is fairly popular within the fitness and bodybuilding community. However, as anyone who’s read more than a couple of blog articles and abstracts on nutrition will tell you, while eating primarily “whole foods”, putting some emphasis on meal timing, and making sure you’re getting an adequate supply of protein, fat, and carbs is certainly a good starting point, only focusing on these things is way too simplistic when the goal is to eat a truly healthy diet.
To really be able to design a healthy diet we have to take into account where our food comes from, how it’s produced, how it’s digested, absorbed, and metabolised, and ultimately, how it affects our hormone levels, gut microbiota, and gene expression.

When researching the connection between nutrition and health, many would say that the first step is to go for the randomized controlled-trials, meta-analyses, and systematic reviews on the subject you’re interested in. After all, these types of studies are considered the gold standard of nutritional science. However, although RCTs and comprehensive reviews are absolutely invaluable when digging into nutrition and health topics, the problem with initiating the search for answers this way is it can often lead us astray.

One of the primary reasons there’s so much confusion and debate about nutrition is that there are a thousand different ways to look at the science/literature. Someone who’s drawn to the vegetarian movement will quickly focus on the studies that seem to support his cause, while those who favor a very low carb diet will point out the dozens of trials that seemingly support their ideas.

Even someone with no apparent preconceived notions can quickly be led astray and come to the wrong conclusions by looking at the research. Let’s take a subject like saturated fat for example. On the one side, there are plenty of seemingly good studies showing that a diet high in saturated fat can trigger translocation of bacterial endotoxins from the gut and low-grade chronic inflammation, while on the flip side there are also several reports indicating that saturated fat consumption is not linked with higher risk of atherosclerosis, heart disease, and all the other conditions butter and lard have been blamed for (10). The reason for these conflicting results often boil down to differences in study design and methods, and it can often be difficult to separate what is good and bad research. Without a guiding framework to help us make sense of things, we’re grasping in the dark.

So, what is this guide we need to make sense of nutritional science? Evolution, of course!

By looking at how we’ve eaten for millions of years, how our brains and guts have evolved, and how nutrition transitions have impacted human health, we establish the foundation we need to design a healthy diet in the 21st century. It’s not always easy to decipher our evolutionary history in such a way that we can draw concrete conclusions, but even by just getting a fraction of the answers we are looking for, we can begin to make sense of why things are like they are. With this evolutionary perspective in mind, we suddenly have a base to build our ideas upon.

Darwin didn’t focus much on nutrition and exercise, but he unknowingly gave us many of the tools we need to be healthy and fit in his book “On the Origins of Species”. By combining his ideas on evolution and natural selection with the science on epigenetics and microbiomes, it’s usually possible to predict what nutrition studies will show even before they have been done. That doesn’t mean doing and reading research is a waste of time – of course not, it just means that it’s important to remember that the evolutionary template is the foundation that supports everything else.

Over the last 10.000 years, human diets have become progressively more divergent from that of our ancient ancestors. These rapid changes started with the incorporation of grains and dairy as staple foods with the Agricultural Revolution and gained speed and power with the introduction of refined vegetable oils, fatty domesticated meats, large quantities of refined sugars, “fast food”, and certain other evolutionarily novel food items over the last couple of centuries. In comparison, the human genome has remained relatively unchanged during this time period, something that is concerning as our nutritional needs are determined by our genetic make-up (11, 12). Over millions of years of life as foragers, natural selection shaped the genome that we to a large extent still carry with us today (1, 11). Certain genetic adaptations (e.g., lactase persistence) and alterations of the gut microbiome have allowed us to tolerate various novel foods, but we’re clearly not well-adapted to the typical Western diet a lot of people consume today.

The Paleo Diet has received its fair share of criticism lately, as is to be expected for anything that goes against mainstream thinking and becomes so popular in a very short time. However, the facts remain; the typical diet of our preagricultural ancestors has all of the qualities that science tells us make you fit and healthy. It’s very nutrient-dense, low in antinutrients, high in protein and fiber, and devoid of trans fatty acids and refined sugars (11, 13). Also, all of the foods allowed on a hunter-gatherer type diet have a low-moderate reward value, maximum carbohydrate concentration of approximately 23%, low-moderate energy density (honey and very fatty cuts of meat being the exception), and high satiety index (they fill you up) (14, 15).

So, what does this mean? Should you eat a strict Paleo diet? That’s certainly an option – and no doubt a great one if you get it work for you. However, many see the Paleo Diet as unrealistic and unnecessarily restrictive and find that the dietary pattern of our preagricultural ancestors serves best as a starting point for designing a healthy diet in the 21st century, not a strict set of rules.

If you’re someone who’s skeptical about ancestral diets and/or like your morning cereal too much to even consider changing it for scrambled eggs and vegetables, you’ve probably already stopped reading or started peppering the comment section with your opposing views. However, if you do see the value – which is to me obvious – of looking to traditional societies and our hunter-gatherer past (which comprises 99,5% of the evolutionary history of our genus, Homo) for tips on how to eat, here are a couple of action items for you:

  • Reduce or eliminate your consumption of the most obvious offenders (e.g., foods high in refined sugar, refined grains, most breakfast cereals).
  • Eat more fiber. Estimates suggest that fiber intake among most hunter-gatherers was >70 grams/day (16), and some have been known to consume vastly more than that.
  • Eat more high-quality foods rich in protein. Protein has a potent effect on thermogenesis and satiety and “high” protein diets are particularly great for those looking to lose weight.
  • Emphasise food quality. Buy organic, grass-fed, and/or wild foods when possible.
  • Reduce or eliminate your intake of cereal grains. Contrary to what the conventional food pyramid suggests, whole grains aren’t the ultimate health food.
  • Don’t be afraid of coconuts, grass-fed red meats, eggs, and other whole foods that are relatively high in saturated fat and/or cholesterol.
  • Don’t put too much emphasis on meal timing and meal frequency. Focus on food choices, and eat when you’re hungry.

I hope this gave you some tips on how you can adjust your diet and lifestyle to achieve better results with your training. Visit my website if you want to learn more about how you can take better care of your health.

About the author

eirik-beachName: Eirik Garnas
Website: www.Darwinian-Medicine.com
Besides studying for a degree in Public Nutrition, I’ve spent the last couple of years coaching people on their way to a healthier body and better physique. I’m a personal trainer from the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, with additional courses in sales/coaching, kettlebells, body analysis, and functional rehabilitation. Subscribe to my website if you want to read more of my articles on fitness, nutrition, and health.

Frog Pumps: A Highly Effective Bodyweight Glute Activation Drill

Hi fitness friends! Here’s what I want you to do.

  1. Get into a glute bridge position
  2. Flatten out lumbar spine
  3. Tuck neck into chest
  4. Dig elbows into ground and make fists
  5. Put bottoms of feet together and scoot heels as close to butt as possible
  6. Bridge into the air while maintaining position, repeat for desired # of reps

Frog Pumps

Essentially, you’re flexing the knees, abducting and externally rotating the hips, posteriorly tilting the pelvis, and flexing the lumbar spine, which takes the hammies and erectors out of the equation and shifts the burden almost entirely onto the glutes. This is a great regression for those who struggle to feel their glutes during hip thrusts (or squats or deadlifts for that matter). It can be used as a glute activation drill during the general warm-up prior to the strength workout (3 sets of 10 reps), or as a finisher at the end of a workout to burn out the glutes (2-3 sets of 20-30 reps).

Please watch this video for details: