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Bad Leg Press Breaks Leg

It had to happen sooner or later. Someone got injured doing a leg press with a load that was way too heavy for him to use. Minor injuries do happen from lifting weights, but this one looked very serious. As near as I can tell, he snapped either his femur or tibia.

The video is no longer up. I bet he was not too happy that it went viral. In any event, I will explain what he did, and what should be done with proper technique.

It looks like he has approximately 1,200 lbs loaded on the machine, which is a lot but it is not unreasonable…if someone is strong enough to lift it with proper form. Clearly he is not.

To get stronger, one does need to lift progressively heavier weights. In truth, everybody has the capability of lifting more weight than they believe they could. Most of us do underestimate how strong we truly can be, and what happened to this guy will make many people apprehensive to train with the proper intensity they need for good results.

So how can you tell how much weight should he be using for maximum stimulation without causing injury?

First of all, he should be using a weight that he can do for a full range of motion without having to use his hands on his knees. Moreover, he should be using a load that he can lift with a smooth and controlled tempo for at least 5 to 6 reps before he reaches fatigue and/or failure.

The fact that he did a very short-range of motion (meaning he barely worked his quadriceps and most likely did not engage his glutes at all) on the first rep spoke volumes about the load simply being too much.

The second glaring issue was the need he had to keep his hands on his knees to do the lift. Trainees underestimate how much help the upper body gives the legs when they do this. This poor guy used his hands so much that his legs really could not lift the weights he had on the machine at all. It was very evident when he wanted to rack the weights after he was done with the set.

We do tell our clients…and all good fitness professionals do as well, to not lock out your knees on the leg press. It can lead to injury, and it looks like that happened in this video, but that is not the reason why his leg folded. His leg buckled because his hands were holding his knee in place, and if you watch the video closely, you can see that his leg buckled as soon as he let go. That is yet another sign that the load was waaay to heavy.

So how much weight should he use for the leg press? By looking at his physical development, I would say that he could safely handle a load in the 700 to 850 lb range, full range of motion with a controlled tempo for the appropriate rep range. That would still be an impressive amount of weight to lift…and he would get stronger without injury.

In contrast to his performance, below is a video of a leg press I did a few years ago. I did it with 1,020 lbs.

You will notice that I never put my hands on my knees…until the final rep to help myself through the fatigue. Furthermore, I did a full range of motion with a smooth and very controlled tempo, and yes, I never locked my knees during the whole set. I was thoroughly cooked at the end of the set, and I never got injured from doing a heavy leg press in my 30 plus years of lifting.

In summation, lifting heavy weights is necessary to get stronger for both men and women, but proper form, as evidenced from the first video, is very important to prevent injury. Using a load that can be done with no help and with a smooth and controlled tempo for a full range of motion for a minimum of 6 to 8 reps before fatigue is a time proven way to go.


Gregg Hoffman

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I Don’t Want to Get Big

“I don’t want to get big and bulky”

Sharon and I hear this all the time. When it comes to lifting weights, women are still afraid of getting too big.

I imagine they envision this:

woman bodybuilder

Yes. I’d be afraid of that too. However, it is impossible for a woman to get this big and muscular with a well designed strength training program. Here’s why.

Women naturally have lower testosterone levels than men do. Testosterone is the hormone that promotes muscle growth (along side human growth hormone). Good thing, too, because testosterone also promotes body hair and it deepens the voice. That does not mean that women can’t build muscle. They can, but they are able to do it through other hormonal means. It has come to my attention that women secrete more human growth hormone than men, and women are equal to men in the amount of IGF-1 that they produce. IG-1 is a hormone similar to insulin in structure and it works in conjunction with human growth hormone to reproduce and regenerate cells.

Women have less cross-sectional muscle mass than men to begin with. This is the more valid point about the difference between men and women. According to an article titled The Natural Muscular Potential of Womenwomen can gain as much size…and sometimes more strength than men. The difference is the overall muscular size between men and women. Men simply have more size and strength to start with.


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Let me be very frank here. Even many men who want big muscles, and are willing to train very hard to achieve that end, will never build the big muscles that you see on the professional bodybuilding stage. I know this from first hand experience. I started lifting weights because I wanted to be a bodybuilder. I trained very hard. A few times I trained so hard that I got sick and I had to take a couple of weeks off from training (that was smart). Through all of that, I did gain muscle…quite a bit of muscle, but nothing compared to what a professional bodybuilder is able to do. My point is this: since most men cannot get that big and muscular look naturally even if they want it, it would be near impossible for women to get that look from intense strength training. The only reason they do is because they take muscle building drugs. Dianobol, insulin, IGF-1, and other such steroids in large dosages. Very dangerous amounts if you ask me.

But for women to have the toned, shapely looking body that they desire, they do have to train with a high level of intensity. Women have to train hard enough to work the fast twitch fibers because the fast twitch fibers are the ones that become more defined when they grow. The slow twitch fibers do not. Sadly, most women train only with enough intensity to work the slow twitch fibers. As an example, the typical workout women do with weights consist of three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions for a given body part with a load that’s easy enough to accomplish this task without any real effort. This is common, and it never produces the results women are looking for.

It takes intensity of effort to work the fast twitch fibers. Whether one chooses to do one set or three sets on any given body part does not matter much. What matters is that by the end of the set…or series of sets, that last couple of repetitions are so hard from fatigue one could barely finish them. Shaky muscles, labored breathing, and a feeling of exhaustion are all good signs that the fast twitch fibers are recruited in a workout. This should be the goal to strive for with every workout.

Sharon is a great example of what a good and intense strength training program can do for the female form. Here is a photo:


Sharon takes all of her sets to failure, and she uses weights as heavy as she can handle for 8 to 12 reps. Clearly, she is not big and bulky.

Women. Don’t be afraid of intense strength training. You will not get big and bulky. Instead you will get a leaner, shaplier body.


Gregg Hoffman

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Explosive Exercise: Do We Need It?

weightlifting-mattie-rodgers-daniel-camargoEvery time I do an initial consultation with a potential client who has past experience with weight training, and has participated in high school and college sports; more specifically foot ball, baseball, and Lacrosse, they use explosive movements when lifting the weight on every set that I have them to do. This, even after I explain to them that I want a slow and controlled lifting technique with a smooth turnaround at both the top and the bottom of the reps. It has happened 100% of the time. The consults that I do with people who never lifted weights before do not do this. They listen to me…and follow my instructions very well.

 Explosive movements are when a trainee will jerk, heave, or hoist a weight to get it to start moving, and the trainee attempts to move the resistance as fast as possible. Power lifters, Olympic lifters, athletes of the above mentioned sports, and Cross-fit® disciples are famous for training explosively.

There are two explanations given that I have found for the rationale to do explosive training.

  • More muscle fiber recruitment (i.e) making the fast twitch fibers work more thoroughly.
  • To get faster and more powerful for the given sport. A good example would be an offensive lineman using Olympic lifts to better “explode” off the line of scrimmage to push back the defensive lineman crouched across him.

One thing is for sure. Explosive lifting, especially with heavy weights increase the potential for injury in a big way. It is too easy to get a herniated disk, rotator cuff tear, elbow tendonitis and other such injuries from explosive training. So, in my opinion, there had better be concrete proof that it produces results that are superior to slower movement weight training.

I will not address the point of whether or not explosive training is a requirement for deeper muscle fiber recruitment, i.e. the fast twitch fibers. I will explore that topic more in-depth in another blog. Suffice it to say here that yes, you do work the fast twitch fibers with slower rep speeds. You do not need explosive exercise to succeed at fast twitch fiber recruitment.

Positive Transfer, Negative Transfer and Neutral Transfer

Coaches want the athletes under their tutelage to do explosive weight training because of the concept of transference. They believe that being explosive with weight will transfer to being explosive on the playing field. Seem reasonable on the surface, but let’s take a closer look.

Research has shown that there are three types of transference. Positive transfer, negative transfer, and neutral transfer.

Positive transfer is where one activity has a beneficial effect on the second activity. A good example of positive transfer is learning how to play the guitar for a couple of years, and then trying to learn how to play the ukulele. Both are string instruments with a similar structure so learning the guitar beforehand will make the learning curve shorter with the ukulele. I have seen this first hand, for my daughter plays both instruments very well (proud of you daughts!).

Negative transfer is where learning one skill will make learning the second skill much harder. I have two examples that come to mind from personal experience. I played baseball most of my childhood (loooved it), and I became a pretty good hitter with power. I learned a specific set of coordinated movement patterns to hit the ball with a fair amount of accuracy and power that took years to develop. When I was older I played softball, and even though I knew how to swing a bat, I could not get a good hit on the ball to save my life. The trajectory and the speed  of the ball coming toward me completely threw off my timing and my swing. I played softball for a couple of years and I never felt I got the hang of it. This leads into my second personal experience.  Had I known then what I know now about negative transfer, I would not have used the doughnut on my bat to warm up before I went up to bat. A doughnut is basically a 2 1/5 lb weight shaped like a doughnut that you put on the bat to make it heavier while you take practice swings. The theory being that the bat would feel lighter when you do face the pitcher so you can swing the bat faster and with more power. In would not do that now because it turns out that when we practice motor skills, it takes thousands of repetitions in the same setting with the same weighted instrument (say, the weight of a football or the weight of the bat you will use), and the same motion to reach higher levels of mastery of that skill. I have no doubt that using the doughnut for my practice swings made my hitting percentage worse than if I had done no practice swings at all.


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Neutral transfer is where the previously practiced skill has no effect one way or another on mastering the new skill set. A clear example of that would be, say, learning how to play the guitar would not influence learning how to be a fastball pitcher.

So, where does explosive training fit into this? Let’s examine the clean and jerk. It is a two-part motion exercise. The first phase of the lift is to lift the bar from off the floor to the upper deltoids. The lifter must jerk the weight off the floor and as the bar is travelling upwards, he must position himself under it properly to land it on his deltoids. The second phase of the lift is to hoist the weight upwards overhead with the elbows fully locked and the lifter standing in the same plane as the torso and bar bell. Just like the first part of the lift, the trainee has to position himself under the bar properly to be able to finish the second part of the lift. You can see that the lift takes a great degree of well executed coordinated movement patterns that takes years to master, so not only is it a strength lift but it is also a skill lift. Moreover, the trainee is learning how to move heavy resistance straight up and down against gravity. If an offensive lineman is using the olympic lift to improve his explosiveness to push back the defender and create an opening for the running back, or to give the quarterback more time to throw the ball, the skill sets he learned from performing the clean and jerk has no meaningful transfer to the skill set he needs to learn on the football field. The clean and jerk skill set will not give positive transfer, nor will it have a negative transfer. It has neutral transfer.

Let’s use another, more common example. The bench press. Just like the Olympic lifts, athletes are taught to do the bench press in an explosive manner, i.e. let the bar come down as fast as possible, bounce the bar off the chest, and then “explode” the bar the rest of the way up. Does this have positive transfer? Doubtful. First of all, the trainee is laying down on a bench, which has no carryover potential to the lifter using that skill set to push a lineman back. Secondly, the lift does not involve the legs, lower back, nor any other muscles that are involved for the lineman. This is another example of neutral transfer.


Applying the knowledge of positive, negative, and neutral transfer to whether a certain style of strength training has more carryover to a sport over a different approach, namely strength training using a slower and more controlled cadence in contrast to a fast and explosive style of lifting, I see no extra benefit to using explosive movements to any given sport. Both styles of lifting will greatly improve strength and general conditioning which does have a positive impact on any given sport, but explosive movements will increase the likelihood of incurring an injury off the playing field. Indeed, even barring injury explosive training can shorten an athletic career because of the undue stress placed on the tendons, ligaments, and joints of the body. I can also say this with certainty….there is no reason for a middle-aged trainee to use explosive exercise to reach a high degree of fitness. It is just not necessary, so why do it?


Gregg Hoffman

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Visceral Fat Loss: A Guestimation

Yesterday, I took measurements of my client before his workout. Andrew has been a client for quite some time now, and he has been both consistent and very successful with his fitness program. He lost 33 pounds of scale weight and he has gained an estimated 4 to 6 pounds of muscle. All in all, he lost closer to 36 to 38 pounds of fat. Very good results indeed.

 The reason for this post is because the results of his latest measurements were a bit unusual. To give you some background, I use a combination of girth measurements (arms, chest, waist and thighs), scale weight, and skin-fold measurements to determine body fat. Moreover, I use the Lange skin-fold caliper. The Lange calipers are considered the gold standard in the medical profession and the fitness industry. About a year ago I also added two measurements around the waist: one around the narrowest area of the waist which is generally about two inches above the waist, and the other measurement around around the belly button. I did this to add a bit more accuracy.


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Andrew lost three pounds since his last measurements, and he lost about an inch around his chest and close to 2 inches at both waist measurements. Here is where it gets interesting. Even though Andrew lost some inches around his waist, the skin-fold measurements did not change. He had 63 mm from the four sites the last time I measured him (the Triceps, Biceps, Sub-scapula and Suprailliac crest), and yesterday his skin-folds were 64 mm. In essence, there was no change. According to the chart, he is still around 21% body fat.

How could this be? He lost some weight, and I know it was not muscle because his strength was still improving. He also lost inches around the waist. This is a definite sign of fat loss. The only possible conclusion that I can think of was that Andrew did not lose any subcutaneous fat, but he did lose some visceral fat.

Visceral fat is stored within the abdominal cavity, and it accumulates around the internal organs such as the liver, pancreas, kidneys, and no doubt the heart. Visceral fat is much more active than subcutaneous fat because it is the fat that plays a role on hormonal function, and not in a good way. Too much visceral fat is associated with an increased  risk of diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancer.

I did some research to see if there was a way to measure visceral fat, and it seems the only reliable way is by taking a whole body scan of some type such as the DEXA scan or maybe an MRI if you wanted to. However, a more practical way is to take a tape measurement of your waist and hips at the largest point, and then divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. If the ratio is 1.0 or higher for men and 0.85 for women, it is considered excessive.

Getting back to Andrew, he lost visceral fat but not subcutaneous fat between the times I measured him. So even though the skin-folds still say he is around 21%, the more likely answer is that he was originally close to 23% body fat before, and now he is closer to 21%…or he was closer to 21% before and now he may be around, say, 19%. One way or another he lost some body fat that I cannot really measure.

To me, this is good news because of the health dangers associated with visceral fat. I would rather see the visceral fat go down before the subcutaneous fat, and there is no doubt that the subcutaneous fat will also come down over time with a continued commitment to the program.


Gregg Hoffman

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Success Story: Yalana Getting Her Hot Body

Yalana never did an organized diet and exercise program before she started working with Sharon. Her only form of exercise was walking, and she does a lot of that. She does not own a car so she takes the bus everywhere she goes, and by default she walks more than the average person. In spite of her general high level of physical activity, she was still gaining fat and losing muscle.

Yalana always wanted a hot looking body, but she never could figure out how to get it. As luck wold have it, my wife went to see her about getting her nails done (Yalana is a nail tech), and they had a conversation about what it takes to get the kind of body she wants. Yalana was very excited and they struck a deal so Yalana could get some customized personal training with my wife.

A year later, Yalana has the rocking bod she always wanted.

Here are the photos taken when she started and the follow-up photos eight months later:


Let’s start with the measurements, and then I’ll give my insight to what it all means.

She weighed 122 lbs when she first started with Sharon, and when the second set of photos were taken, she weighed 123 lbs. She gained a pound. It would seem that she is gaining fat, but that is not the case. The girth measurements around her arms, chest, and thighs all went down. She lost a 1/4 inch around her arms, 1/2 inch around her chest, one inch around her hips and 1/2 inch around each thigh. If she gained fat, those girth measurements would go up. Furthermore, her body fat percentage did go down. She was hovering around 27 to 28% when she started, and the second set of measurements had her at 25%.

The thing I find surprising is that her waist measurement did not go down. Sharon measured it at 26 inches the first day, and it was still 26 inches the second time. In the first set of photos you can see a little bit of a roll where overlapping her tights, and her waist is visibly narrower in the second set of photos. It looks to me like she lost about an inch, maybe more around her waist.

You can also see that her arms and upper back look leaner too.

To sum it up, Yalana gained muscle and lost fat even though the scale said she gained weight. It looks like she gained about 4 or 5 lbs of muscle, and I bet she lost about 4 to 5 pounds of fat.

She kept at it, and here are some recent photos:

These photos were taken spontaneously. Yalana came in and showed us how lean she was in through the waist, so we took some photos just to see. We did not take measurements, but we will soon. However, you can clearly see that she gained even more muscle and lost more fat. She has tight, lean abs now. You can see the definition, and she has a good hour-glass shape too.

Yalana made a fantastic transformation with her body. It is wonderful to see.

For her exercise program, Yalana did two workouts a week with Sharon, and she was incredibly consistent. She never missed a workout. Besides walking, Yalana never did any kind of cardio program this whole time. I think she is a great example of how unimportant cardio work is for losing fat. Yalana’s workouts consisted of a mixture of intense strength training, functional training, and core/stability work, all done in under 30 minutes per workout.


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Yalana’s diet

Yalana made some big changes to her diet when she started working with Sharon. She used to eat pastries for breakfast every day, and she had quite a bit of a sweet tooth. For the most part, she did not pay much attention to what she was eating. This is what she eats regularly now:

  • Chicken, fish and eggs
  • Avocados
  • Cheese
  • Nuts
  • Bread
  • Vegetables
  • Tequila with Pineapple juice (this is her favorite indulgence)

She no longer eats meat because her doctor said her cholesterol is too high, and she does not drink coffee.

Yalana is not as strict on the carbohydrates as we recommend, for we would rather see her cut out the breads, and along those lines, we would like to see her eat more meat. After saying all of that, though, she was still very successful with her program. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

A new attitude

Just like Sharon, Yalana is strongly dedicated to her new way of life. When I interviewed her for this post, she told me that she values what we do very highly. She gave an example that if she was offered a full week paid vacation in Hawaii or a year’s worth of personal training sessions with us, she would choose the training sessions. Her commitment backs that up, for she always takes the bus across town for her workouts, and she never missed one! Rain or snow, it did not matter. Her regret is that she wished she would have been able to start ten years sooner.

Because of her new-found strength and fitness, Yalana feels much more confident in her body. She noticed a dramatic improvement in her skiing. She says she has so much endurance that she feels like she could “smoke a cigarette while she goes down the slope”. Not that she would…hopefully. She also loves showing off her body to her friends because she has the tight tummy and narrow waist that she always wanted. She feels more comfortable in her skin, as they say.

Yalana’s final statement was that it took her 50 years to find her dream…but she did find it.

Congratulations Yalana!


Gregg Hoffman





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Success Story: 30 lb Fat Loss in Six Months

Andrew looked us up in February of 2016 for guidance in losing fat and improving his overall health. Six months later he has lost 30 lbs of fat and looks incredible. I took photos of Andrew the first day, but I had Andrew keep his shirt on so we really cannot see the remarkable changes. I did, however, take his photos in April that we can use for a comparison with the photos we took in August. Andrew had already lost 15 lbs by April, but you could still see a remarkable amount of fat loss from the photos in August as compared to the photos in April.

Andrew weighed 210 lbs in February. He weighed 180 lbs in August, a little over 6 months later.

Here are the photos:

                                             Before                                                      After

Andrew gained muscle as well. This I know because he increased his strength on all of the major lifts. For example, his first leg press was with 200 lbs for 15 reps and he now does the leg press with 620 lbs for 10 to 12 reps. He did dumbbell presses with 25 lbs for 15 reps and now he regularly uses 50 to 55 lbs.

I would say, based on his strength gains, that he gained approximately 4 to 5 lbs of muscle.

Andrew’s goal is to weigh approximately 170 lbs with his body fat level around 12 to 15%. He can achieve that in another 4 to 6 months.


The exercise program

Andrew would see me, on average, two times a week for his workouts. I would put him through the Hystrength protocols, which include a combination of strength training, functional exercises and stability work. He did not do any aerobic exercise the whole time.

The diet

During the first week we worked together I explained to Andrew the eating plan we use. It is a low carb approach that is similar to plans like the Atkins diet, and the more recent Paleo eating plan. The reason I am a fan of the low carb eating style is that, quite simply, carbohydrate consumption drives fat storage via the release of insulin. A low carb diet limits insulin production, allowing the body to use fat for energy. You can learn more about that HERE.

A part of our eating plan is the use of a sliding scale that Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint uses. It is a three-tiered scale. The first level is that if an individual would like to lose fat at a rapid pace, he should strive to keep his total daily carb intake to 50 grams a day or less. If the individual would like to see steady fat loss albeit at a slower pace, he can shoot for 100 grams of carbs a day or less, and once he reaches his fat loss goal, he can then experiment with a carbohydrate intake of 150 grams or less a day.

After the discussion, Andrew then downloaded a calorie counter app to his phone so he could track his total caloric and carbohydrate intake for a week. This gave him some basic information as to what foods are very high in carbs…and how much 2,500 calories a day looks like in comparison to how much 2,000 calories a day looks like.

Once he found the holes in his diet, he then took out the high carb foods (he found that his breakfast cereal was a big carb contributor), and he made it his goal to shoot for 100 grams of carbs a day. He did not need the calorie counter after a week or so. He was able to “eyeball” how to keep his carbs under control.

He was very successful with this approach, and the beauty behind it is that he took the information I gave him and figured out how to implement it in a way that he could make steady progress and make it a sustainable plan without feeling deprived. In other words, he owned it.

Andrew’s success is a great example of how fat loss and muscle gain can happen with very little exercise…and without having to count calories. One does not have to be hungry all the time, nor committed to a high volume of weekly exercise to lose fat and gain muscle. His success demonstrates how it is a matter of sending the right signals to the body to lose fat and gain muscle. That is all the body needs.

I tip my hat to you Andrew. Great job!


Gregg Hoffman

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Success Story: Nine lbs of Muscle in Five Months

This blog is a commendation to a client of mine. Alec approached me in late February for my guidance in helping him gain muscle. He is a young guy who is very slender and has the type of frame that is very difficult to put on muscle. He is, in the business, what is called a hard gainer.

Hard gainers have to be especially focused on proper eating, and the exercise program needs to be intense enough to stimulate muscle growth on a consistent basis with enough down time to fully recover between the workouts. To put it bluntly, hard gainers need to be especially motivated and focused to put on any meaningful muscle.

He committed to me for 40 personal training sessions, and I have to say that he did a fantastic job putting on muscle. According to the measurements, he gained nine pounds of muscle in a little over 5 months. Just as tellingly, he did not gain any extra fat in the process. Let’s start with the photos:

The images on the left were taken on February 25, 2016, and the images on the right were taken on August 9, 2016. There is a clear and marked improvement with both muscle thickness and definition.

Here are the measurements:

 February 25, 2016                                       August 9, 2016                  Gain

Weight:        134 lbs                                                145 lbs                               9 lb


Arms:          R: 11 3/8      L: 11 1/4                         R: 12 3/4  L: 12 1/4          1 inch

Chest:         35                                                           35 7/8                            7/8 inch

Waist:       28                                                             30                                   2 inch

Belly Button: 31 1/2                                                32 1/4                              3/4 inch

Thighs:     R: 19 L: 19                                             R: 20 3/4 L: 20 3/4        1 3/4 inch

Skin-fold measurements:

Bicep:            7                                                               7

Tricep:          11                                                               9

Subscap:      13                                                              12

Suprailiac:   21                                                              27

Total:            52 mm                                                     54 mm

Body fat: 19%                                                               19%

Let’s take a closer look at the data. His skin-folds were 52 mm on the first day and 54 mm six months later. The 2 mm difference is statistically insignificant since I could have measured in a slightly different place between the two times. This suggests that his body fat percentage did not go up or down. It stayed about the same, and I will comment more in depth on that shortly.

The girth measurements are what is both inspiring and impressive. He gained an inch in each arm…and almost two inches on each thigh. This demonstrates that he did, in fact, gain some solid muscle. The fact that you can see more tone in his muscles corroborates with the girth measurements that he did gain muscle and not fat. As an interesting note, I never had Alec do a calf raise, but you can see that his calves are bigger in the second set of photos. This is an example of how the muscles of the body will gain strength in relation to the other muscles of the body, even if there is no direct isolated work on a particular muscle.

Surprisingly, he also gained some girth around his belly button and waist, even though he did not gain any meaningful fat according to the skin fold measurements. This leads me to hypothesize that he may have gained some thickness in his core muscles, which would make sense because we worked just as hard on strengthening his core as we did building his superficial musculature.

The Exercise Program

When the question of building muscle mass comes up, most trainers will recommend a rather lengthy workout regimen. It will usually consist of splitting up the body parts and performing many sets. Additionally, trainers will in general recommend that the client spends at least four days a week in the gym. Personally, I am not a fan of that style of training because it is simply far more time that is needed to make the muscles stronger. Research has shown that increases in muscle strength….and with it more size, is better achieved by training intensity over training volume. In other words, harder but shorter workouts.

Operating from that paradigm, I had Alec doing two workouts a week, training the whole body at once. Furthermore, his workout sessions lasted twenty to thirty minutes each, so he spent less than an hour a week devoted to exercise to gain 9 pounds of solid muscle.

It may seem nearly impossible for someone to make large gains in strength with very little exercise. I get it, but let me share some numbers with you.

Alec’s first leg press was with 80 lbs and he did 14 reps. He did not go to failure but he sure felt it. By his last session, Alec did a leg press with 650 lbs for 12 reps clean, meaning he was ready to move up to 670 lbs his next workout. He started with 15 lbs for dumbbell presses and he was doing 45 lbs when for his last session. The final exercise I want to use as a comparison is the pull-down, which is a good exercise for the upper back. Alec started with 50 lbs and he used 115 lbs for his final workout with me.

Is it possible that Alec would have seen even better muscle gain from a typical split routine? Even though I am a staunch proponent of short, intense workouts for best results, I do acknowledge that some people have success with longer and more frequent workouts. However, a nine pound gain in muscle in six months is a remarkable accomplishment, and I do not think he would have built more muscle with a volume approach. He may have gained the same amount of muscle, but he would have spent far more time in the gym to make the same gains.


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The Eating Plan

I have a very different approach than most fitness trainers when it comes to a diet for building muscle. The more common approach for building muscle is to make sure the trainee consumes more calories than he needs for maintenance so that there is plenty of energy for muscle synthesis. Moreover, the diet will also be high in carbohydrates. The goal is to have the nutrition, I assume, to drive muscle growth. I do not care for this approach because the trainee will conjointly gain fat with muscle.

From my research, I realized that muscle building does not work that way. It is the stimulus from an intense workout that drives muscle growth, and the appetite will support the amount of calories the trainee needs. Let me explain.

We all know that when kids hit the teen age years, they develop a voracious appetite. The boys especially. Furthermore, we all know that they are going through a growth phase…a period where they need far more calories than they would need when they stop growing. Here’s one more example before I make my point. When you delve into the research on obesity that was done before the second world war (those guys were onto something about the true cause of obesity), it was clear that the generally high caloric intake and sedentary behavior was driven by hormonal manipulation. The researchers described it was this way: The obese person does not get fat by eating too much and exercising too little. The obese person is eating too much and is sedentary because he is getting fat.

In both cases, it is the effect of hormones that drive appetite. For the teenagers, it is the release of testosterone and human growth hormone among others that spur growth, thus driving a higher appetite to support the growth. People who struggle with obesity are also driven by hormonal manipulation. In this case, it is the chronic release of insulin that causes the body to respond in the manner to gain fat. Insulin is the hormone that encourages fat accumulation, and at the same time it locks up the fat already stored so it cannot be used as energy. Excess insulin will increase appetite…and decrease daily activity.

The way I see it, it is the proper form of exercise that will send a signal to the body to build muscle (intense strength training), thus prompting the body to release the hormones needed for muscle growth (testosterone, human growth hormone and the like), which will then stimulate the appropriate appetite the body needs to fuel the muscle growth without gaining excess fat. The cutting phase that bodybuilders got through to lose the fat they gain during the off season is no fun. It does not make sense, in my opinion, to put my clients through a restricted calorie eating plan if it does not need to be.

This is a way of eating for my clients who want to gain muscle to do so without having to count calories or overeating. However, to make this happen, the trainee must keep his carbohydrate content low. Doing so will keep the insulin levels lower, and it will allow the other hormones that we want to be released to do the jobs they are supposed to.

That is exactly what I had Alec do. I recommended a low carbohydrate/high fat/moderate protein diet. I also instructed him to eat when he was hungry and stop eating when he was full. Moreover, I did not put him on a regimented eating plan where he had to time his meals. This gave him much more leeway with his diet, making the eating plan much easier to follow and far more sustainable than what bodybuilders have to do.

It worked like a charm. Alec gained muscle. He did not gain fat. There actually was a period where he was losing fat while he was getting stronger because we both noticed that his abs were showing more definition, but he went on a junk eating binge for a while and gained some of the fat back. If he would have stayed the course with his eating, he would have gained the muscle and lost some fat at the same time.

Attainable goals for Alec

So how much muscle can Alec gain when it is all said and done? That is hard to say. Genetic factors really come into play. It depends on how many fast twitch fibers he has compared to slow twitch (fast twitch fibers grow bigger and get stronger), how much testosterone and human growth hormone his body naturally produces, and how much myostatin he has among other things (a protein the body produces to inhibit muscle growth).

I would venture to guess that he can gain about another 10 to 20 pounds of muscle if he stays focused and motivated to continue to train hard. He can gain another inch, maybe inch and a half in his arms along with another two or three inches in each thigh. He can also get his weight to around 165 to 170 pounds. He can stand to lose some fat too, although I would not recommend that he focuses too hard on that at this juncture.

Final Thoughts

Alec is a hard gainer. There is no question about that. He has the body that makes it difficult to put on a lot of muscle, but he still can gain muscle and develop the coveted “buff” body. Gaining 9 pounds of muscle like he did in the first 5 months of training is a fantastic triumph, and I grateful to be part of his journey. It has been a pleasure.

To you, Alec, I tip my hat.


Gregg Hoffman