Category Archives: Exercise

It’s Not How Much You Lift; It’s How You Lift It

“It’s not how much you lift; it’s how much you look like you can lift.” — IFBB Pro Bob Cicherillo

I’m decently strong. I deadlifted 405 at age 22. I can do 20 full range chin-ups in my 30’s. With that said, I don’t really care. If someone were to ask me, “How much do you bench?”, I don’t really know. When I go through my workouts, I blindly select a weight, whatever feels right.

You see, for most people’s primary fitness goal (vanity, let’s just get that out of the way right now), lifting the weight should be a secondary goal. What you’re really doing is applying resistance to motor patterns. Muscles control skeletons, therefore, movement is created by muscles. The key is to feel the contraction of the muscles with just enough load applied, not arbitrarily lifting the weight by any means necessary.

When I workout in commercial gyms, most of the people on the machine before me use way too much weight. They are thinking about lifting heavy loads rather than contracting the muscles and it shows in their [lack of] development. So here’s my tip: focus on control and applying loads to intentional movements rather than lifting weight. The “how to” is a subject of hands-on training; but if you apply this to every set, every rep, you’ll be way ahead of the game. Your joints will be healthy. And the best part is, it doesn’t matter how strong you are; you’ll look strong.

5 Exercises for Greater Glutes

I’m old school. I like brutal exercises to work the butt. If you go to cultures where sitting in chairs is not common, you’ll see perfectly sculpted asses. Here are five of my favorites for bringing up the rear:

1. Squat

The grandaddy. Make sure to work your technique properly. My favorite is the selectorized FreeMotion squat. It has swiveling shoulder pads that adjust to your build, so that you’re not balancing a bar across your back. I also like to use my palms to push up against the handles to distribute the load even further. It angles backward as you descend into a squat, just like your body does, activating the glutes and taking pressure off the knees. Most importantly, the selectorized version gets harder at the top to match your strength.

2. Uphill walking

Walking in general, and especially uphill walking, involves significant hip extension, which is a primary function of the gluteus maximus.

3. Stairs

Along the same lines, stairs are a really great progression from uphill walking. Take your time, because they are tough! Don’t feel like you always need to be indoors, either. Some hiking trails have man-made “steps” built into them. If your legs are long enough, skip every other step. You’ll get a greater range of motion, and hence, greater glute activation.

4. Hip extension machines

These allow you to load the hip muscles, sometimes without involving the knees (which tend to get overworked in leg workouts). My preference is the LifeFitness “Hip & Glute”. It allows the greatest range of motion and the counterweight is guarded so you don’t get hit by it (which has happened to me). You also benefit from standing on the non-working leg.

Another good one, if you can find it, is the Hammer Strength “Hip and Back” machine. You lie on your back and extend both hips at the same time, with a pad behind each knee. The only caveat is that with heavy loads, you’ll need to buckle the seat belt and really grip the handles to keep your butt from lifting off the bench.

5. Lateral movement

Now we’re getting into the gluteus medius and minimus. If you want your glutes to be well-rounded, lateral movements are necessary. Skip the seated abducion/adducion machines once in a while and go functional. Standing sideways movements integrate abduction/adduction, extension, and rotation. Have fun with this. You can do: sideways walking with resistance bands attached to your ankles, slideboards, cariocas, sports that involve lateral motion/change of direction, and even sideways uphill walking/stairclimbing.

Most important for a Brazilian-like butt, get lean! You need to be lean to bring out the muscle shape and give the illusion of a round butt with a tight waist. You don’t need to be anatomy chart lean, but you’ll never see an anatomy chart or a cadaver with a flat butt.

Long Live Nautilus

Hoist. Life Fitness. Cybex. Freemotion. Makers of quality fitness equipment, but all leave something to be desired compared to the original (and, in my opinion, best) brand of commercial strength equipment: Nautilus.


The first Nautilus machines were built in 1970 by Arthur Jones. Revolutionary at the time, Nautilus machines offered several distinct advantage over free weights. Whereas barbells, dumbbells, and pulleys have a single direction of resistance (i.e. resistance moving in a straight line), Nautilus uses lever systems, or commonly bars rotating around axes (similar to how bones rotate around joints). With this rotary form of resistance, you get constant tension on the intended muscle group(s). Jones took this a step further with the spiral-like “cam” design (shaped like a nautilus shell), varying the resistance throughout the movement. In effect, you get a resistance profile that approximates the natural human strength curve. In real world terms, this means a smooth feel throughout the movement, a better pump, and accelerated results.


An early Nautilus cam

Several generations later, Nautilus still offers some of the best commercial strength machines, in terms of biomechanics, comfort, durability, intuitive design, and even upholstery. Here is a highlight of a few of their equipment lines:

Nautilus ONE

The future of single station strength! Rather than using a pin to select from a stack of weights, Nautilus ONE machines use a dial. This is the most intuitive design I’ve ever seen and it requires virtually no maintenance. It’s adjustable even in 1 pound increments and  you’re able to “dial” the weight from the exercise position. The Nautilus ONE line consists of 16 different machines.

Nautilus ONE Abdominal Crunch -- "The Clamshell"

Nautilus ONE Abdominal Crunch — “The Clamshell”

Nautilus EVO

Previously called Nautilus Nitro, the EVO line is currently their flagship line, consisting of 25 different machines. The engineering and research that went into these machines demonstrate a commitment to biomechanical excellence above and beyond any selectorized equipment out there. If you have them at your gym, get on them and feel the difference.

EVO pec fly

EVO pec fly

Nautilus XPLOAD

Similar to the more well-known Hammer Strength (interestingly created by Arthur Jones’s son), the Nautilus XPLOAD is their plate-loaded line of strength equipment. The movements are very similar, but the plate-loaded machines offer a few advantages:

  • Zero friction, conducive to more explosive movements
  • Independent movement arms for a more balanced workload
  • Ability to use more weight

In my opinion, XPLOAD is superior to Hammer Strength, because the resistance gets harder as you contract, rather than “swinging” throughout the movement.


XPLOAD Leg Press

I wish Nautilus machines were available in more gyms, so if you have them, take advantage of them. Or, if you’re a club owner, consider this objective review. They’re the most effective tools for many goals–among them, building muscle and preventing injury!

Here is their website:

Why Your Calves Suck (and what to do about them)

Calves are one of the most genetically determined muscle groups but that’s no excuse to have sticks for legs. Well-shaped calves look dynamite in a pair of shorts and keep you from looking ridiculous with a giant upper body and ski poles down below.

In my experience, it’s not the lack of genetics; but improper training that keeps people from reaching their genetic potential.

Mistake #1 Going Too Fast

I see it all the time in the gym: people using the calf machines and bouncing up and down. Not only does this take the targeted muscle group out of the equation; it can be extremely dangerous. Go slow–you’re working with a relatively small range of motion, so take your time.

Mistake #2 Not Using Full Range of Motion (R.O.M.)

Along with ballistic motions, people often use short motions, not taking full advantage of the machine’s build. Go all the way up and down for a complete lengthening and contraction of your lower leg muscles. Only the ball of your foot should be on the machine’s footplate. It should cramp a little, and that’s good.

Mistake #3 Not Aligning Your Feet Properly

Biomechanically, feet pointed in our out don’t affect muscle recruitment. In fact, they take away from it. The ideal position is legs hip distance apart, and feet pointed straight.

Mistake #4 Not Training the Tibs

This one bugs me the most. Most fitness centers don’t equip their gyms with tibialis machines. The Tibialis Anterior are the muscles in front of your shin primarily responsible dorsiflexing your foot (think toes to shins). Uphill walking is a good natural exercise, but my favorite are one of these types of machines:

You insert the front of your foot under the pad with your heel resting on the foot plate. Then, you flex the foot upwards. Your shin muscles get a pump like they do from a good hike.

Alternatively, you can do a Reverse Calf Press on a leg press machine.

Use these tips to get your calves to grow, and get lean so you can see all your hard work.

The Truth About “Calorie Burn” on Exercise Equipment

You’ve probably been at the gym, pedaling or stepping away on one of the machines, and caught a glimpse of how many calories you’re burning during exercise. However, do you know what these numbers mean? (Explanation below)

The truth is, if you burned for example, 500 calories during an exercise bout, it doesn’t mean you burned 500 extra calories on top of your basal metabolism. It means you burned 500 calories including your basal metabolism. Confused?

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the number of calories you burn at complete rest. The reason you enter your weight into the machines is so that it can estimate your BMR. If you just do “quick start” it assumes you weigh 150 pounds.


Let’s say the machine estimates my BMR at 2400 calories per day (2400 calories burned in a 24-hour period). That’s 100 calories per hour (2400 calories divided by 24 hours). If I exercise for an hour and the machine says I burn 500 calories, that’s not 500 extra calories, it’s 500 calories total. Remember, in one hour I burn 100 calories, anyway. So I really only burned 400 extra calories.

The Real Formula:

  • Enter your bodyweight into the machine if you want an accurate calorie count.
  • Use the BMR formula to estimate your daily calorie burn.
  • Divide this number by 24 to get your hourly calorie burn.
  • You can divide further if you spend less than an hour on the machine (i.e. 30 minutes = 0.5 hours, 45 minutes = 0.75 hours).
  • Finally, subtract this amount from the number of calories the machine says you burned, and you’ll get a more accurate count of the additional calories you burned.

A typical meal at a famous fast food restaurant in California can equal a whole day’s worth of calories for a medium to large-sized individual, so it remains important to make wise food choices if staying lean is your goal.

Gold’s Gym – Venice, CA: The Mecca of Bodybuilding

Gold’s Gym in Venice, California is considered “The Mecca of Bodybuilding”, and for good reason. I used to be a member here and still consider it the best gym in Southern California. There are many fitness centers throughout Los Angeles, but very few give you the hardcore experience of Gold’s Venice.

The Gym

The first thing you’ll notice about Gold’s Venice is its massive size. The gym is essentially a huge warehouse building, located just minutes from the beach. There are three big rooms and an outdoor area, featuring the best exercise equipment, old and new. The place is well ventilated with large doors, so you’re getting natural light and fresh air.

The Atmosphere

An obvious reason to come out to Venice Gold’s is the energy. Despite being a gym known for bodybuilding, it’s a very social and welcoming environment. The clientele is as diverse as the gym itself. You’ll see professional bodybuilders, actors, musicians, WWE wrestlers, models, and many more, all who train very hard. The general gym etiquette is very good; but at the same time, you can make all the noise you want. For the purist gym rat, nothing beats the sound of weights clanging.

The Experience

If you’re out in California, I definitely recommend training at The Mecca. Google has apparently bought the land so I plan to visit as often as possible. It will be hard to find a comparable location, but I hope it stays in Venice.

Differences Between Muscle and Fat

Contrary to what is sometimes stated, muscles cannot “turn into flab” any more than fat can turn into muscle. The two are entirely different tissue.

So what is the difference between muscle and fat? Plenty! But I’ll list those that matter to you and me. Keep in mind I am not making a statement about preference for muscle or fat, just offering several physiological facts:

  • Muscle is dense and shapely
  • Fat is bulky and shapeless
  • You can actively contract muscle
  • Fat jiggles
  • After genetics, muscle is 100% determined by activity (type, severity, and frequency of the stimulus)
  • After genetics, fat is 100% determined by long-term fuel balance (fuel absorbed – fuel expended)
  • After puberty and initial training growth, muscles do not increase or decrease dramatically in a short period. The exceptions are injury or steroid use.
  • Fat can increase or decrease dramatically in a short period
  • Muscle burns around 5-6 calories per pound
  • Fat burns around 2-3 calories per pound
  • Muscle contains a high percentage of water
  • Fat contains very little of its weight in water
  • Muscle gives you power
  • Fat is dead weight
  • Muscle is proportionately distributed throughout the body if you’re following a balanced training program
  • Fat is stored mostly around the middle
  • Muscle makes physical labor easier
  • Fat makes physical labor harder
  • You can isolate and train specific areas of muscle
  • You cannot isolate specific areas of fat (i.e. spot reducing)

Here are four additional myths dispelled:

1. Muscle doesn’t “weigh more than fat” (does a pound of bricks weigh more than a pound of feathers?). Muscle is more dense than fat, but not by much.

2. Muscle doesn’t fluctuate as much as fat. Muscle atrophy (loss) or hypertrophy (gain) is not easy to achieve on large levels; however it is possible to lose a lot of fat in a short time (though not easy) or gain a lot of fat (easy). What fluctuates more wildly than both? Water.

3. Excess calories do not build muscle. Excess calories do build fat.

4. Exercise is not necessary for weight loss. Exercise is very important, but even if you slept all day, all the major organs of your body would still need fuel. However, exercise contributes to your energy deficit, increases functional capacity, improves your shape, enhances your mood and makes dieting easier.