So, if you have a body type similar to mine and want results similar to mine, here are some general guidelines for exercise, nutrition, and rest that might help you achieve that end. The link is always visible, though in fine print, at the bottom of every page on this blog (see the link entitled “Fitness & Diet“). From time to time I update this fitness info, in case it is helpful to anyone. Please note that I am still eating on an Intermittent Fasting schedule. As I have said repeatedly, diet is 75% of success in fitness, and you need to eat clean and in proper amounts. You can find out your daily caloric needs with this calorie calculator. As a rule, since I need 2500 calories to maintain my weight, I consume 2000 calories on rest/HIIT days, and 3000 calories on Strength days. This ends up averaging out to 2500 calories per day, but it lets me play some advanced games with metabolism and fat storage/usage.
In June 2014 I found that I was burnt out from free weights. At that time I was bored of it, and I felt like I was developing tendonitis from the constantly increasing weights (you have to always go one step further when you are trying to build mass – that can mean adding weight/resistance, slowing down, adding reps/sets, perfecting some nuance of technique, resting for shorter amounts of time between sets, etc… but whichever of those nuances adjust, you have to go further than you did in the previous workout). I bought Convict Conditioning, a regimen for calisthenics (body weight exercises), after being dazzled by the guys at BarStarzz, and I have been doing it religiously for six months now. I definitely feel reconnected to my body, and I have enjoyed doing what I refer to as “living movement” as opposed to the “dead movement” of lifting heavy objects and putting them back down; however, I have been doing this on my own, and perhaps without guidance I have done something wrong. Whatever the case, I have not gotten the results I wanted. I removed High Intensity Interval Training from my regimen, and eliminated nearly all of the free weights (barbells and dumbbells) in order to give nearly all my exercise energy over to Convict Conditioning. Perhaps I wasn’t doing something properly, but although I have definitely progressed through many of the levels of Convict Conditioning and gotten stronger and more stable/flexible, I have lost mass and definition. Yet I do enjoy the calisthenics, and I do feel they are tremendously beneficial for integrated, functional movement training; range of motion; and connection to the body itself.
I do not want to abandon the calisthenics, because it is far too valuable. I did, however, find a format that I am going to revise that allows me to have it all! With this structure, I will be able to keep the calisthenics of the Convict Conditioning system of progressions that I have enjoyed so much; I will be able to add free weights back into the mix; and I will also have space in my week for HIIT again. It is important to remember that you should NOT do strength training and HIIT on the same day (your body cannot recover adequately from the combined effort, and you risk injuries or catabolism [the process of breaking muscle down for energy]). While doing Convict Conditioning exclusively, I wanted to do a 5- or 6-day body split, so I couldn’t do HIIT at all. Now, I think I have found a way to include all this yummy variety!
I have devised a rotating monthly cycle that inverts focus back and forth between mass/strength gains and cardio-vascular/endurance gain. It is important to create change in your regimen, so as to avoid burnout, repetitive use injuries, and stagnation. Both schedules include two days of rest per week. I have selected Thursday and Sunday, because those are the days I tend to travel to and from the places I visit when I am seeing clients. Schedule A focuses on strength, so three of the five days are given to that and only two to HIIT. Schedule B is the inverse: It has three days per week for cardio, and the other two are for strength. During Schedule A you should allow 45 minutes to do the strength workouts, and 30-40 minutes during Schedule B. During Schedule A you will need about 45 minutes for HIIT, but during Schedule B you may need as much as an hour.
The format I took from Body Building calls for two warm-up sets for each body part that is going to be trained. I have decided to give those two warm-up sets over to calisthenics, instead of using very light weights. In the charts provided, you will see “Step X” repeatedly. The Convict Conditioning system provides 10 steps for progressing through Push Ups (chest), Pull Ups (upper back), Squats (legs), Bridges (lower back), Handstand Push Ups (shoulders), and Leg Raises (core). These make up “The Big Six.” Each step uses the body to make the progressions more and more difficult. Warming up with and progressing through these calisthenics steps will allow me to remain connected to a form of exercise I enjoy and value very much, while also preparing my body to move weights more safely and efficiently. I cannot suggest strongly enough that you include calisthenics in some form in your regimen (dance, yoga, martial arts, Convict Conditioning, etc.).
The free weight exercises in this regimen are performed as “drop sets.” Drop sets are what you get when you combine pyramid structures (gradually adding more reps/weight with each set) and reverse pyramid structures (gradually subtracting reps/weight with each set). So then, as the weight gets lighter, the number of reps goes up. You will do four drop sets for each exercise. In this way, for example, if you choose to do dumbbell chest presses you will do four sets with about 30-60 seconds of rest between each set (you will use that time to adjust the weight and get situated to start again): Set 1, 70% of max weight, 6-8 reps; Set 2, 60% max weight, 9-10 reps; Set 3, 50% max weight, 11-12 reps; and Set 4, 40% max weight, 13-15 reps. Don’t let this fool you… By the time you get to Set 4 for the exercise you should be STRUGGLING (but maintaing proper form/technique) to get to the end. Some regimens call for reverse/negative reps (focusing on spending more time on the part of the rep that lengthens the muscles in question, or returns toward the “beginning” of the range of motion), and others call for slower tempos (e.g. 2 seconds up, 2 seconds hold at peak of exertion, 2 seconds down = 6 seconds/rep = 2/2/2 tempo). You can definitely add in that type of stylized training to increase the challenge or to include variety in your progression. I suggest starting with a 2/0/2 tempo (4 seconds/rep), performing the concentric/shortening/flexion for two seconds, and the essentric/lengthening/extension for two seconds as well. Keep the motion smooth, controlled, and constant. Rest about 30-60 seconds between each set in the drop set. You can rest up to two minutes while changing to the next exercise, which is itself going to be performed as a drop set.
Selecting exercises can be confusing, but it is also fun. This is where you get to tailor your efforts to meet your goals. If you decide to follow along with Convict Conditioning, then your calisthenics progressions will automatically include complex/compound movements (exercises that involve multiple muscle groups simultaneously… e.g. pushups work the entire body at once, but especially the chest, triceps, and core), which is vital in terms of maintaining functionality and integrated movement. Try to be sure you include these compound movements, whatever regimen you decide to follow. In these charts I have selected, as much as possible, free weight exercises that are also compound movements. You will see “or variant” frequently, because there are so many different exercises to choose from, and you should remember to keep adding variety. For instance, “Shoulders (Press, or variant)” means that you should select an exercise that moves in the range of motion as a shoulder press; however, you might choose one that is more or less advanced to suit your needs. But if you are going to follow my regimen, do be mindful that I have chosen range of motion carefully. If you are already doing push ups for your warm-up for chest, note that chest flies (or variant) are included so that not all the chest exercises press in the same direction (which is what happens when you compare push-ups to dumbbell presses – that is the same direction and range of motion). Do keep the “(or variant)” in mind, so that you do not overemphasis one range/direction of movement and neglect others.
The charts call for you to know your “Maximum Weight,” so that you can calculate percentages of that. I suggest that as you are going to flip-flop from HIIT back to Strength that you check in with yourself once every couple months to reassess your ability. Your max weight is the weight at which you can perform only ONE repetition WITH PROPER FORM. Do NOT hem and haw with a heavier weight and do a grotesque rep with no control and call that your max weight. That is bullshit, and you will get hurt. Your max weight is nothing to be ashamed of, and if you are keeping a journal, it will be a milepost that lets you gague your progress. I STRONGLY SUGGEST YOUR KEEP A PROGRESS JOURNAL. Let’s say that the first time you start the Strength Schedule that your max for dumbbell chest press is a single rep with a pair of #30 weights. You will then know that for dumbbell chest press drop sets, that (for you) Set 1, #22.5/#20, 6-8 reps; Set 2 #17.5/#15, 9-10 reps; Set 3, #15, 11-12 reps; and Set 4, #12.5/#10, 13-15 reps. Not all places offer dumbbells in 2.5-pound increments, so you will have to figure out when to smudge up or down in your drop sets; however, it is better to smudge down and keep perfect form, rather than smudge up and train like a stupid ass. Getting hurt will cause you to have to take time off to heal, and during that “lamecation” you will lose your gains.
Journals are so important that I must insist again that you keep one. Devise a format that works for you, and keep it. Notate when you work out, how you feel going in, during, and after. Be specific about what you do, how many sets, how many reps, and with what resistances. Did you eat enough or too much beforehand? Was your sleep good or shit? Was work pleasant or crap? Did anything inspire you or piss you off before you started? Make a note on whether or not you feel you kept good form, tempo, and breathing during that particular session. If not, what was bothering you? The more specific you can be, the more you will be able to look back across time to learn which habits/situations propel or hinder you, and you will be able to see very specifically how you are progressing. On days when you aren’t inspired to exercise, looking at your journal can often tip you over into doing it. It is a fact that has been reported and repeated (but ultimately ignored too often) that PEOPLE WHO JOURNAL THEIR EXERCISE SESSIONS ARE FAR MORE LIKELY TO SET, MEET, SURPASS, AND MAINTAIN GOALS. Journaling is so critical to success that it really ought to be considered as important as sleeping adequately.
I hope all this helps you to either get started on, reconnect with, or create your own fitness regimen. If you have specific questions that I have not addressed, please feel free to ask them in the comments section below. You can download a pdf of the A/B Cycle charts here: TrainingScheduleAB.