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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

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A Soda a Day Will Take 4 Years off Your Life…Really?

For all of us who enjoy imbibing on our favorite soda, I am afraid there is more bad news. Not only does soda consumption contribute to diabetes and obesity, apparently it will shorten our life span.

According to the researchers from the University of San Francisco, drinking soda regularly was associated with the accelerated shrinking of telomeres. You can read the report HERE.

What are telomeres, you ask?

Telomeres are specific DNA–protein structures found at both ends of each chromosome, and the primary purpose of telomeres are to protect our genetic data, making it possible for our cells to divide. It is the cell division that keeps the body healthy and thriving. However, every time the cells divides, the telomeres get shorter. Eventually the telomeres get so short they can no longer facilitate cell division. This leads to cell deterioration and death. Scientists do not know how to prevent telomere shortening, but there are lifestyle habits than can speed up the shortening process…and others that will slow it down.

Apparently, drinking soda will speed it up.


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The researchers examined cross sectional associations between the consumption of sugary sodas, diet sodas, and fruit juice. It included 5309 adults that had no history of diabetes or heart disease. The results showed that those who drank soda on a regular basis (at least one 12 ounce can a day) had shorter telomeres. Those who drank fruit juice had a marginal lengthening of telomeres, and those who drank  diet sodas showed no significant change.

The researchers calculated from their findings that drinking one 20 ounce soda a day would lead to average of 4.6 years of telomere shortening. That puts it in the same category of aging as smoking.

This is a big claim made by the researchers from the study, but is it really true?

It should come as no surprise that there are skeptics, and they say that there is no correlation to soda consumption and a decreased lifespan. For example Daniel Enberger, who wrote a rebuttal to the study, noticed that there was a contradiction in the study itself. The study that claims soda consumption will shorten lifespan, but that other sugary drinks such as fruit juice do not. I noticed this statement as well, and I was confused when I read it because I know that sugary drinks of any kind for a long time is a risk factor for diabetes, and thus the possibility of shortening lifespan whether the telomeres say so or not.

Daniel Enberger also makes a good counter point about the study claiming that a soda a day is as bad as smoking cigarettes. He points out that far more people consume sugary drinks daily than smoke, yet 440,000 people die each year from smoking but only 112,000 die from obesity. You can read his article HERE.

That’s not all. There have been several studies that attempted to find a correlation of telomere length and longevity, and as of 2016 the verdict is inconclusive. See Here, Here, and Here for a few examples.

This all brings us back to the main question about telomeres: can measuring the length of telomeres determine the lifespan of an individual, and if so can we take steps to slow down or even reverse the process of telomere shortening? I think the field has promise, but there is much research that needs to be done.

Personally, I cannot imagine that one can of soda a day will take almost 5 years off your life. The body is a bit more resilient than that.

Having said that, I would still recommend strictly limiting your soda intake. You will be healthier if you do.


Gregg Hoffman



Good Questions

I recently received a questionnaire directed at fitness trainers from a book publisher. The purpose of the questionnaire is for a book that the publisher could distribute to people who may be interested in finding a competent fitness professional. I think it is a good project, and I was happy to take the time out of my schedule to answer the questions.

I thought the questions were well thought out, and I feel it would be of benefit to share the questions…and my answers here.

Without further ado, here we go.

Q. When it comes to nutrition about building muscle, it seems that few experts can agree on what is a healthy diet and what is not. How can people know which advice to take, with all of the contradictory
information out there?

A. Everybody needs to do their own research and do not take the suggestions of the fitness trainer at face value. The truth is that there are many similarities between many of the “good” diets out there. It is these common threads that should be the cornerstone of a healthy eating plan. Beyond that, it is a matter of tweaking the diet to how the person’s body responds the best along with his or her personal eating preference.

Q. It is said that after a workout you should have a meal of proteins or carbs. Is that true? If so why?

A. The prevailing theory is that the body is primed for nutrient absorption right after a hard workout, especially the first two hours afterword. With this, trainers assume that a meal replacement shake will create the optimal muscle building environment. Personally, I do not think ingesting a protein shake right after a workout is all that important. I stumbled on some research suggesting that the body maintains that nutrient absorption “window” for much longer than previously thought…up to 24 hours actually. Imagine that. A good intense workout sends the signal to the body to build muscle, and it will regardless of whether the trainee eats something right after the workout or not. It has plenty of resources to draw on to start the muscle building process. Unless the trainee is an athlete in training and in need of a high calorie diet, I generally recommend restraining eating anything until the trainee feels hungry. The rationale behind this approach is that after an intense workout, the glycogen stores will be empty thus forcing the body to rely on the fat stores for fuel. In essence, it assists in the fat burning process, and the body will still gain muscle. I have been very successful with this approach.

Q. What type of protein powder is best for muscle gain?

A. Most experts will say that whey protein is the best for muscle gain, and that may be true. However, the benefit, in my opinion, is negligible. There are many good protein sources that will do a good job, and I would rather encourage my clients to eat real food with a good amount of protein and healthy fats.

Q. What is the correct way to breathe when working out and how does it help a person when lifting weights?

A. The conventional recommendation for breathing is to breath in during the eccentric portion of the lift (lowering phase), and to breath out while performing the concentric part of the lift (lifting phase). It is assumed that the trainee will be able to accomplish a higher number if reps in this manner as opposed to, say, holding the breath at certain points of the set. I have no disagreements with this strategy, but I much prefer to have my clients use a short/shallow breathing technique accompanied with actually holding the breath briefly at the sticking point. My clients are able to focus much better on the performance of the lift this way, and the holding of the breath for a brief moment during the sticking point actually helps the client finish the rep.

Q. If a particular exercise hurts, is that normal?

A. It depends on the hurt. The burning sensation that someone experiences during a strength training exercise is a good thing. In essence, it means that the muscle is working very hard, which is the stimulus to make it stronger. On the other hand, if the trainee feels a sharp pain, usually close to the joint, then the trainee needs to stop the lift. Working through this kind of pain over a period of time can lead to soft tissue injuries.

Q. What should someone do if they get muscle cramps during a workout? Should they work through it or do something else?

A. Muscle cramps during a workout session is rare, but it is usually a sign of dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance. Stop the exercise routine immediately and get some fluids.

Q. Which are better free weights or machines? Is there a huge difference, if so why?

A. Better for what? Building muscle? The stimulus for building muscle is rather simple: Making the muscle work as hard as possible in a short amount of time. Realizing this, both machines and free weights can accomplish that task remarkably well. Having said that, there are unique benefits to both free weights and machines.


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Machines, for example, are designed to coincide the resistance curve with the strength curve of the muscle. Stated differently, the resistance will either get heavier or lighter during the range of motion to match the changing strength level of the muscle. As an example, the hamstrings will be able to produce more force when the leg is straight, and less force in the fully contracted position. If the machine does not adjust for this, the weight will be just right at the beginning of the lift but very heavy at the end. The machine’s main goal is to keep that tension, if you will, constant throughout so there is no point where the muscle gets a chance to rest, nor too heavy for the muscle to complete the lift. Moreover, machines are designed to isolate a certain muscle group to force that particular muscle to work harder.

However, the strengths I mentioned of machines are also the downfall of machines. By isolating muscle groups to such a degree as machines do, there are many supporting muscles that do not get very much stimulus to get stronger. A good example are the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder joint. The primary purpose of the rotator cuff muscles are to provide stability and support of the shoulder while the chest and back muscles are working (they also create movement as well, for the rotator cuff muscles are the primary muscles used in swinging a tennis racket or throwing a baseball), and a chest press machine has a set groove throughout so the rotator cuff muscles do not have to work very hard to stabilize the shoulder. This can lead to the chest muscles getting stronger than the rotator cuff muscles, creating a muscle imbalance. In theory this imbalance can lead to injury. Free weights, on the other hand, address this shortcoming. When performing a lift with free weights, the trainee has to both lift the weight…and balance it at the same time. The smaller stabilizer muscles work much harder to accomplish this task.

Additionally, free weights offer many more exercise options than machines. Machines usually perform only one function, whereas a dumbbell can be used for many exercises that can work different muscle groups.

There is one final consideration, and that is personal preference. Since both machines and free weights are capable of improving strength, it is better for the trainee to decide what he wants to use. Personally, I prefer to use a combination of free weights and machines.

Q. What advanced techniques should someone use to build muscle?

A. There are many useful advanced techniques one can use to build muscle. Here is a brief list:

  • Forced reps

  • Negative reps

  • Descending sets

  • Super-sets

  • Pre-exhaustion

The first two are considered set extension techniques in that they help the trainee work beyond failure/fatigue on a set. The other three are variations of a combination of sets with very short rest intervals specifically targeting a muscle group such as the legs or chest.

They are very effective protocols to have in the toolbox, but the secret is in using them very sparingly. As an example, when a trainee does a set to fatigue, he may have the spotter help him with two or three more reps after the fact (forced reps) in an attempt to work harder. The truth is that one good rep beyond failure is all the trainee would need because if he knows he will be doing multiple reps after failure, he will hold back a little on the previous reps. This will make the set extension technique less effective. It would be better if he just focused on completing one good rep after failure. The same principle applies to all of the advanced techniques. It is much better to use any one of these techniques once every other workout, and for only one body-part per workout.

Q. What are the basic exercises to do for muscle mass?

A. This is a good question. Compound exercises which are exercises that create movement around two or more joints seem to work the best. Leg presses, barbell squats, and dead-lifts are great for building mass for the legs. Likewise, dumbbell presses or the bench press work very well for building the chest muscles. Isolation exercises such as a leg extension or cable fly do not work as well because one cannot use as heavy of resistance as one can with compound movements.

Q. How can someone tell if their personal trainer’s certification is legitimate?

A. Many, if not all of certifications will give the the aspiring personal trainer a base knowledge of exercise, physiology, anatomy, nutrition and other criteria to be a competent trainer. The truth is that a certification is not what makes an exceptional trainer. I put much more value on a trainer that spent time working as an apprentice under a highly respected fitness trainer or organization through continuing education, mentoring, and studying the latest research. Moreover, testimonials have far more value showing the competency of a fitness trainer than the certifications he may have. To put it simply, getting a certification is the starting point for the fitness trainer, but the true value is garnered through experience in the field.

Q. How can people get motivated to get to the gym?

A. This is a multi layered question and yet unique to every individual. The individual may be motivated to begin an exercise program for many different reasons, which is good, but maintaining the motivation over the long haul is the real challenge. A high percentage of people quit their exercise program after a few months, if not weeks of starting their program. I believe there are three main causes of decreased motivation.

  • Most exercise programs require a big time commitment on a weekly basis.

  • The results do not come along as expected.

  • Burnout.

Most exercise programs will have the trainee in the gym anywhere from 4 to 8 hours a week. The trainee will have no problem committing to this regimen at first, but it will get tiring after a few weeks. Additionally, once life starts getting in the way, say, by needing to take the kids to a play or the boss wanting the fitness enthusiast to stay late on a project, he will start missing workouts. This will throw off his whole routine and he may just give up.

The other problem is that many exercise programs really do not work very well. The trainee can spend several hours a week in the gym for some time and may lose maybe a couple of pounds of fat. The return on investment, if you will, is not very good. This is very demotivating, and the trainee will most likely quit.

The final reason I believe that many people have a hard time staying motivated is from burnout. Spending a large amount of time in the gym working out will lead to over training. The trainee may get injured or he may simply be tired all of the time, and he will quit working out.

It has been my philosophy to streamline the exercise program so that the trainee can see remarkable results with very little time in the gym. I have had great success with client motivation and retention this way. I recommend it for anybody who wants to make a life long commitment to the fitness lifestyle.

Q. What can people do to stay motivated, after they’ve started a workout program?

A. See the above question.

Q. Do most personal trainers yell at people, like drill sergeants, to keep them motivated? What if someone wants to hire a personal trainer without being screamed at?

A. Ha. This question reminds me of a local personal training studio that used anger and insults to motivate the client base. The owner would refer to the women as “fat bearded ladies” and the men as sissies. He would also throw Twinkies at the clients when they were exercising and would put them in cages if they did not work as hard as he thought they should. It was all a gimmick, and he did have some initial success. Moreover, many trainers do use loud screaming and drill sergeant tactics to motivate the clients. Personally, I do not subscribe to this strategy. I think most people have enough negative feedback to deal with in regular life. They certainly do not need it in the gym. I much prefer to use positive reinforcement and good rapport to facilitate my client’s fitness transformation. I do believe that the positive reinforcement strategy does a much better job of helping the client internalize a fitness minded lifestyle.


Gregg Hoffman

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“The Biggest Loser”: A Re-examination of the “Set Point” Thoery

It finally happened. A researcher was curious enough to see what happened metabolically to the people who went through the rigorous diet and exercise routines that must be followed on the show “The Biggest Loser” several years later. The results were sobering but unsurprising. The researcher, Kevin D Hall and his colleagues, published their study in the online journal ObesityThe conclusions they came to was that most of the contestants gained most of the weight back (only one contestant has been successful at keeping off all of the lost weight), but even more disheartening was the fact that all of the contestants ended up with a slower metabolic rate after the show than before. Collectively, the metabolic rate was lower by 500 calories a day. As an example, if a contestant was able to maintain his weight of, let’s say, 200 lbs on 2,500 calories a day before he did the intense 7 month diet and exercise regimen, he would struggle to maintain the same 200 lb weight on 2,000 calories afterwords. Danny Cahill, the contestant who started “The Biggest Loser” weighing 490 lbs, finished the show weighing 191 lbs (Admittedly, this is a remarkable feat, and he looks fantastic in his after photos. You can see them here), but he now burns 800 fewer calories a day than someone who has not dieted but weighs the same 191 lbs.

I first learned about this study by my good friend and staff trainer, Josh, and I intended to write a blog simply based on the findings of the lower metabolic rate, and I still intend to do so. However, I wanted to garner more information on the study so I dug deeper, and I found some fascinating insights that were not mentioned in the NY Times article that I believe are relevant in changing the tide of obesity. I will explore these findings first, and then finish with my recommendations.

The effect of extreme diet and exercise on fat-free mass. It is theorized that fat-free mass has an impact on the basal metabolic rate. More specifically, the more muscle mass an individual has, that more calories he will burn, even at rest. So, in theory, if the contestants had a lower resting metabolic rate (I will refer to it as RMR from now on), they should have lost some muscle. Here is what the study has to say:

  • Fat free mass at baseline: 75.5 ± 21.1 . Fat free mass after 30 weeks (the biggest loser contest): 64.4 ± 15.5. Fat free mass 6 years later: 70.2 ± 18.3.

For the sake of simplicity, I will use the first set of numbers for all of the stats. Fat free mass at baseline, before the contestants started the strict regimen, was 75.5 pounds. After the contest was over, the fat-free mass was on average 64 lbs, and 6 years later it was hovering around 70 lbs.  What I find of interest is that the contestants lost fat-free mass during the contest, even while exercising. In other words, they lost muscle. I am sure that part of the regimen included strength training, but I also know for a fact that the show had the contestants exercising upward to 7 hours a day, mostly in the form of aerobic exercise. There is no question that these contestants were in an over-trained state.

Moving on, the contestants all gained back some fat-free mass after the contest, but not all of the fat-free mass that they had before the contest: 75 lbs before the contest as compared to 70 lbs afterword, yet the RMR has not improved. This is counter-intuitive to my belief that more muscle means more calorie burning and a higher RMR. It shows me that there is more to RMR than just muscle. Clearly there are hormonal factors as well. Having said that, I also suspect that in spite of the strength training the contestants did for the show, they really did not work the deeper fast twitch fibers that they are capable of developing. The reason I say this is because they could not have done a hard strength training workout…and six more hours of chronic exercise everyday and especially on a low-calorie diet. It explains why the contestants lost fat-free mass during the contest, and I theorize that the contestants gained other fat-free mass back after the contest besides muscle. I don’t doubt that they gained some muscle, but they may have gained some water weight as well.

The researchers, on the other hand, remarked that the contestants did gain some muscle back after the six-year lay off, but that they all were well below baseline. I concur, and this can be reason enough for the lower RMR.

Would you like your own customized Hystrength exercise program? You can. Click on the image to learn how

Would you like your own customized Hystrength exercise program? You can. Click on the image to learn how

Total Energy Expenditure decreased for the same amount of exercise. Total Energy Expenditure, or TEE, was 3,804 ± 926 at baseline, and it was 3,002 ± 573 right after the strict diet and exercise regimen. This is in alignment with the observations of the researchers. To put it succinctly, in spite of all of the hard work and sacrifice that these contestants put into their weight loss efforts, it is clear that they will from now on burn 500 fewer calories a day for the same amount of exercise. Talk about a downer. TEE did improve after six years. It jumped back up to 3,429 ± 581, but it was still lower than before the contest began.

Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), dropped significantly after the contest, and it did not return to baseline after 6 years. The resting metabolic rate at baseline was  2,607 ± 649 kcal/day, and it dropped to 1,996 ± 358 kcal/day at the end of the 30-week competition. Moreover, it stayed about the same six years later (704 ± 427 kcal/day below baseline). It is the resting metabolic rate that will consistently burn the majority of the calories an individual will consume on a daily basis, and a key factor in weight maintenance.

Leptin and triglycerides remained lower than baseline six years later. The hormone Leptin is produced by the fat cells. Leptin production increases whenever the fat stores increase, and the main function of Leptin is to send the signal to the brain whether there is enough fat stored or not. In other words, more Leptin will send feelings of satiety, thus curbing appetite. Lower Leptin levels will have the opposite effect. What this study shows, though, is that after an extreme diet and exercise program Leptin levels will stay low even when the body starts to store more fat. Consistently lower Leptin levels will keep the hunger pangs high. This is one of the hardest challenges of chronic dieters.

Insulin sensitivity did not improve six years after the competition, even at lower sustained weight loss. Insulin insensitivity is a precursor to both diabetes and obesity, and the fact that there was not an improvement of insulin sensitivity after weight loss is concerning.

The good news for the contestants of The Biggest Loser is that triglycerides stayed low. High triglycerides have been shown to increase the risk of heart attack. Concurrently, both high density lipoproteins (HDL) and adiponectin increased. HDL is the “good cholesterol”, in that it helps in the prevention of heart attacks. Adiponectin has been shown to help the body regulate glucose and fatty acid oxidation. Just like Leptin, it is secreted from the fat cells and acts as a regulatory mechanism for fat storage or fat burning. The more adiponectin that is in circulation, the better the environment is for fat loss.

In summation, even though there were many negative adaptations to the extreme diet and exercise intervention, mainly a lower overall metabolic rate and no improvement on insulin sensitivity, there were some improvements that can help in sustained weight loss and healthier blood markers.

The “Set Point” Theory

This brings us back to the “set point” theory I wrote about in a previous blog. You can read it here. The basic premise of the set point theory is that the body has a certain set point of muscle and fat it wants to hold, and it will do anything in its power to maintain that set point. In other words, when an individual wants to lose fat and goes on a diet and exercise routine to achieve that goal, the body will slow down the metabolic rate thus making it harder to maintain the fat loss and easier to gain the fat weight back with fewer calories than before she started the diet.

During the discussion, the researchers confirmed that this is, indeed, an example of the set point theory in play. Interestingly they contrasted the slower metabolic rate of the contestants of The Biggest Loser to obese people who went through gastric bypass surgery, who were able to still lose weight after one year with no significant down regulation of the metabolism.

My Thoughts

Just like the results of the study Dr. Rudolf Liebel did, the contestants of The Biggest Loser did see a slower metabolism after the intervention, corroborating the set point theory. No doubt that the findings are disheartening to all who want to lose excess fat and keep it off permanently. However, I do believe that there is a better way. Moreover, I do believe that the “set-point” can be readjusted. The impression of the set point theory is that you can re-set the set point downward only i.e. a slower metabolism. I imagine the set point more like a thermostat. You can adjust a thermostat down…or up for your comfort. Why not the body’s set point?

I believe that most diet and exercise programs actually encourage the body to lower the metabolic rate. As a matter of fact, the body does so simply for self-preservation. Placing the body under extreme duress of the likes of The Biggest Loser, where the contestants are exercising 7 to 8 hours a day on a very low-calorie diet (1,000 calories a day or less), for over four months, the metabolism will shut down. It has to so the body can survive. Extreme diet and exercise programs will throw the hormonal system completely out of whack, and I imagine that it is almost impossible to get the body back to functioning in a normal sense again.

I do believe that you can turn up the set-point of the body to burn more calories for the same amount of exercise…and at the same time to decrease the appetite to prevent over-eating. All we have to do is send the proper signals to the body. The signals we want to send are:

  • Build and maintain strength/muscle mass.
  • Release fat from the fat stores more readily.
  • Burn fat for fuel instead of sugar.

Too much exercise, especially aerobic exercise makes it more difficult for the body to build muscle. Additionally, the body learns how to burn less energy with consistent bouts of cardio exercise. That is one reason why the contestants of The Biggest Loser had a lower metabolic rate six years later. I know that they did some strength training as part of the plan, but they could not have trained very intensely considering the high volume of overall exercise they did.

A far more productive exercise program would be to cut the overall volume of exercise way down…even to the point of no aerobic exercise at all, and instead focus on two to three intense strength training sessions a week to encourage muscle growth. Over time the body will build more muscle, and it will tend to burn more calories even at rest.

Both appetite regulation and making the body more receptive to using fat for energy instead of glucose for energy has far more to do with the types of calories consumed than it does with how many calories are consumed. According the alternative hypothesis, high carbohydrate, low nutrient dense foods encourage overeating and fat storage, whereas low carbohydrate nutrient dense foods, like the Paleo way of eating, have the opposite effect. In large part, it does this by keeping the insulin response low, thus promoting the use of fat for fuel instead of glucose. This was a very different protocol than what Dr Liebel used (he had his dieter under 600 calories a day using only a meal replacement shake, which I have no doubt was very high in carbohydrates), and what the contestants had. The contestants had a lot of Franken foods such as jello, Kraft cheese and energy drinks and the like (see more here). This is a common practice for most dieters, and I believe that eating like this makes it much more difficult to keep weight off in a sustainable way.

To everybody who has tried to lose fat the conventional way but failed to maintain it, I say there is another way. All hope is not lost. Try an approach similar to what I outlined here and see what happens. You will lose fat. You will gain muscle. More importantly, you will not beat up your body, and it will be much easier to keep what gains you do make without feeling deprived.


Gregg Hoffman




Can You Give Me a “Mass Building” Routine”?

My step son recently asked me for an exercise routine to “build muscle mass”. Interestingly, when my step son is consistent with his weight lifting program, he is both very strong and muscular, and it surprised me when he asked me the question. He tends to carry a bit more body fat than he needs to, but he still looks good. However, if he would just lose about 10 to 12 pounds of fat while maintaining the muscle, he would have an unbelievable and very enviable body. He would have the body most guys who lift weights would kill for.

But I digress. Getting back to the main point of the article…how does one build muscle mass? More importantly, what exactly does that mean?

I believe that the concept of building muscle mass stems from the bodybuilding community. You don’t hear of a power lifter talking about building mass, nor is it a very common term in sports such as football. When they talk about gaining weight, they simply talk about adding more muscle, or as in the case of power lifters, they just focus on getting stronger.

The phrase is also synonymous with “bulking up” that bodybuilders like to do. They do this during the off-season in an attempt to put on as much muscle as they can, and then come contest time, they try to lose as much fat as possible and try to keep the muscle they built during the off season. If the bodybuilder is successful he will have a well defined body (called ripped, shredded, and so forth) with the muscles still looking thick. The general strategy of gaining mass or bulking up is to lift heavy weights with a lower repetition protocol, very similar to what power lifters would do to get stronger, in combination with an excessive calorie diet…far more than what the bodybuilder needs for weight maintenance. For example, many aspiring bodybuilders will eat in the neighborhood of 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day. I even read an article by a famous bodybuilder where he claimed to eat an average of 10,000 calories a day!


Interested in building more muscle in the most time efficient way possible? Click on the image to learn more

Basically, the theory is this: building muscle takes a lot of energy, how much is unknown, but it is better to overestimate caloric intake so the body can build muscle as fast as possible, and lifting heavier weights will add thickness to the muscles (hence the “mass”).  A bodybuilder will gain fat during the “mass building cycle”, but that is no big deal, for when he is ready to get lean, he simply cuts his calories and at the same time he will add more volume (total exercises), lighter weights, and higher reps to his strength training program to lose the fat and get the before mentioned “shredded” look.

Cycling the training program between the mass cycle and cut cycle is the way all bodybuilders prepare for contests, and they have been successful with it. However, it is a protocol I would not recommend for either gaining muscle or losing fat. Allow me to explain.

First of all, gaining muscle is simply a matter of getting stronger. If a trainee is able to lift 100 lbs for 10 reps and 2 months later he is able to lift 130 lbs for 10 reps, he obviously is stronger. Along with that is more muscle mass. This can happen in spite of a higher calorie diet or not. In other words, he really does not need to eat a high calorie diet to gain muscle. What he needs to do is send the signal to his body to build muscle. The body will then prioritize its resources to build the muscle.

Secondly, the body can make only so much muscle at a given time anyway. The claims in the bodybuilding magazines such as “build 10 lbs of muscle in a month”, are unrealistic. At most…most, someone who is drug free and trains hard will gain 1 to 2 pounds of muscle a month. It is usually much less, closer to 1/2 to 1 pound of muscle a month, and maybe even less than that. So when I hear someone claim that he added 10 pounds of muscle in a month, I am skeptical. The scale may show he gained 10 pounds, but my guess is that he gained maybe 1 pound of muscle…and gained 9 pounds of fat. Yes, he will look bigger. He will look bulkier, but that is because he will be carrying more fat. If he is carrying more fat, the definition of his muscles will not show.

Which leads to the third point: he now has to lose the fat that he gained through the bulking process for the definition of the muscles to show. Many bodybuilders have a lot of fat to lose when they go through the cutting phase, sometimes as much as 40 to 50 pounds! It takes severe caloric restriction to lose that fat, and most bodybuilders will go as low as 1,500 calories a day for weeks on end to to it. This is when they will go to a higher repetition/lower weight protocol. They bodybuilders will have to switch to this because to lose the fat that drastically, they will lose some of the muscle built during the mass building phase. They are simply not as strong, so they cannot handle the heavier weights. This, at the very least, is a grueling and torturous process to endure. Moreover, it is impossible to sustain it for a long period of time. As an example, when drug free bodybuilders are in contest shape, they can weigh around 160 to 170 pounds, whereas during the off-season they may be as high as 220 to 230 pounds. Muscle is damn hard to build, so from my viewpoint, it makes no sense to lose the muscle just to get cut. I can’t help but wonder if they would be better off staying lean and building muscle at the same time, and then lean out just a little more come contest time. This seems to be a bit more practical to me.

My Experience

I can talk about this from experience. I tried to build “mass” for several years by eating upwards to 5,000 calories a day and training with heavy weights. I did get bigger, no doubt, but I also gained a lot of fat. Furthermore, I reached an upper limit on strength, weight, and muscle mass, and adding more calories just did not make one bit of difference in my strength gains. Here is a photo of me after several years of overeating:Gregg before

As you can see, I do have a fair amount of muscle, but I have a lot of fat. I looked good in clothes, but not so much semi-naked. I am also weighing about 190 lbs in this photo. I was about 155 lbs when I first started lifting weights, so I gained a remarkable amount of weight, but my body-fat was around 17 to 18% at the time of the photo. I also had no real definition. It was at this point that I gave up on the idea of having big muscles and decided to try a low carb diet for a while. I still wanted to train as hard and with as heavy weights as possible…as if I was still “building mass”. I did this just to shake it up a bit and break away from the standard dogma. The results were amazing. Here is the photo I took after 6 months of changing my diet:

Gregg after I have far more definition in the second photo. According to my measurements, I lost about 14 pounds of fat…and I maintained all of my muscle. How do I know that I maintained my muscle? Because I was still able to lift the same amount of weight as I did on my “bulking” cycle, and I would not be able to if I lost muscle.


Lesson Learned

I learned from first hand experience that I do not need to eat an excessive amount of calories to put on muscle mass. I also learned that it is still very easy to put on fat, even if I train very hard. Furthermore, I learned that I can both build muscle…and lose fat at the same time. This is good to know. In other words, going through a “mass” or “bulk” building program is not necessary. All I needed to do to gain muscle mass is to train hard, like I would in a “mass building” routine and eat enough for the body to build muscle. How much is enough? That is easy to answer. Eat enough to be full. That’s it. If I am hungry, I eat. If I am not hungry, I don’t eat. Same strength. Same muscle mass….but much less fat.


So back to the question…how to build mass? From my experience, I learned that the main thing you need to do is to train hard enough to get stronger every workout. Many strength training programs can do this, but my preferred method is to use a weight that is heavy enough so I can get to momentary muscular failure within the 8 to 12 rep range. I can make the appropriate inroad into my muscle to induce growth. Moreover, I have found one set per body part for the most part is enough.

Oh, and don’t go crazy on excessive calorie intake. It simply is not necessary for building muscle.


Gregg Hoffman

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I visited sciencedaily.com yesterday to see what was the latest on diet and exercise, and, unsurprisingly, there was a research study done on rodents that found a low carbohydrate-high fat diet produced more weight, and especially fat weight on overweight and pre-diabetic mice coupled with worsened glucose tolerance and higher insulin levels. This was in contrast to the control group that ate their normal diet. The researcher made the bold statement from this project that the “Paleo” diet, which is very low carbohydrate and high fat, should be avoided, especially by individuals that are overweight and sedentary. Furthermore, he claimed that there was no research touting the benefits of a low carb or paleo diet.

Of you are curious about the study, here is the link. Paleo Diet is Dangerous.

Wow. That is a bold claim. Most researchers, when confronted with the results of a study, use the phrase “may lead to”, “suggests that”, or the most common statement is “further research is necessary”, meaning the researcher finds the study uncovered some data that is intriguing and may be beneficial to implement, but not as an absolute truth that must be adhered to by the population at large. It sounds to me like this researcher has an agenda against the low carb-high fat diet that is gaining traction. I am a bit skeptical of his findings, but I always something of value, even from viewpoints I disagree with or research that do not seem to make sense. With that in mind, let us take a closer look at the study and see what we can really learn from it.

The Study:

The researchers took a group of mice that were six weeks old and, up to that point, fed a normal rat chow diet. They then divided the mice into two different groups. One group, the control group, was fed the normal rat chow which consisted of a macro-nutrient breakdown as such: 70% carbohydrate, 20% protein, and 10% fat. The macro-nutrient  content of the second group was made up of 6% carbohydrate, 13% protein, and 81% fat. Moreover, the fat breakdown of the second group was 55% saturated, 37% mono saturated, and 8% polyunsaturated fat. This is important in my view because I do recommend that my clients eat a higher portion of saturated fat than polyunsaturated fat, and the main reason  I recommend it is because too many polyunsaturated fats can throw off the balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids in the body. An overabundance of Omega 6 fatty acids tend to accelerate the aging process, and polyunsaturated fats are loaded with Omega 6 fatty acids. They let the mice eat ad libitum , basically meaning the mice could eat all they want without restriction on both diets for another 9 weeks. Body weight, body fat, blood glucose, triglyceride, and cholesterol levels were tested throughout the study, and ß-cell mass was measured after the conclusion of the study. Healthy ß-cell function is important for the pancreas to produce insulin in response to glucose in the bloodstream.

Overall Results:

The low carbohydrate-high fat diet did improve the blood profile in that plasma triglycerides decreased, and HDL and total cholesterol went up. The researcher on this project believes that higher total cholesterol is not good, although many other researchers believe otherwise. Higher HDL concentrations in the blood is good because it is the HDL’s that bring the LDL’s back to the liver to be reprocessed. It is an abundance of LDL’s in the bloodstream that lead to increased risk of heart disease.

However, the mice fed a low carbohydrate diet gained more weight than the mice fed the regular rat diet, but then again, the mice on the regular chow gained weight as well, just not as much. The researchers did not determine if there was a change in muscle mass (this would have been good to know). The low carbohydrate diet also did not improve insulin secretion or ß-cell mass.

The reason that this researcher believes that the low carb diet, based on these results, is not good for people with metabolic syndrome or diabetes is that it is easy to gain weight, and especially fat weight on a low carb diet,  and that the low carb diet does not improve insulin sensitivity.

My Observations:

Even thought the researcher came to a conclusion I do not agree with, I do believe that this was a good study. The main answer the researcher was looking for from the study was this: can a low carbohydrate diet improve ß-cell function, and can it aid in the regeneration of ß-cells? ß-cells in the pancreas produce insulin that helps shuttle glucose out of the bloodstream, so a well functioning pancreas can keep diabetes at bay. He found that a low carbohydrate diet, at least in mice, does not do that.

However, I am surprised that the mice fed a low carbohydrate diet gained fat. More often than not, a low carbohydrate diet tends prevent overeating for a number of reasons, thus making it easier to stay lean, even though one eats more overall fat than on a high carbohydrate diet. This study claims otherwise, but then again, this is only one study.

This study did not impress upon me the need to avoid using a low carb or Paleo diet for fat loss, or for that matter better overall health, for I disagree with the researcher that there are no studies proving the health benefits of a low carb-high fat diet. The Inuit, for example, have for many generations lived on a very very low carbohydrate diet simply because they had no access to any kind of carbs. They ate basically protein and fat, and they had no problem with obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Furthermore, doctors, as far back as the 1800’s, would often recommend to their clients who needed to lose excess fat to cut back on carbohydrate intake….not fat intake. Through years of observation, they found a low carb diet to work. This is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. There are more and more studies proving the efficacy of the Paleo way of eating.

I am taking this study with a grain of salt, for there needs to be more research proving his hypothesis to sway me to change my position stand.


Gregg Hoffman