Thursday, July 27, 2017

5 Rules for a Powerful Upper Body Workout


Let’s face it, who doesn’t want a jacked upper body? There’s no shame in it, and by following the points in today’s IIFYM article you create both a powerful and sculpted upper body in no time!

While following the basic lifts and rules is important, if you truly want to optimize your upper body muscular adaptations you need the latest and great scientific techniques discussed in this article.

(Remember, your diet must also be optimal to get any noticeable muscle gains, you can use our IIFYM macro calculator right HERE to see exactly how much you should be eating!).

Here are 5 scientifically backed techniques we use at IIFYM to help you craft a powerful upper body workout along with practical examples to get you started!

1.) Focus on Mechanical Tension to Maximize Upper Body Power

While there is an ongoing debate within the fitness industry to decipher the exact mechanisms of muscle growth (hypertrophy), one factor that is not debated is mechanical tension.

Mechanical tension occurs when you move moderate-heavy loads with high levels of force output. Mechanical tension disrupts muscle integrity, this ‘shocks’ the body and causes several cellular mechanisms which activate MTOR, the key pathway that stimulates muscle protein synthesis and new muscle growth (1).

To optimize mechanical tension in your upper body workouts you’re going to want to perform heavy compound movements. These force your muscles to generate lots of force while also increasing training volume, another key factor in muscle growth!

Here are some great upper body exercises to maximize mechanical tension:


upper body



  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Bodyweight Dips
  • Incline DB Press
  • Weighted Push-ups


  • Overhead Barbell Shoulder Press
  • Seated DB Press


  • Bent over barbell row
  • Pull-ups
  • DB Single arm bent over Row
  • Lat pulldown


All of our personalized programs here at IIFYM utilize strategic compound movements to optimize mechanical tension and muscular growth, you can learn more on these here:

2.) Use Metabolic Stress to Stimulate New Upper Body Growth

Metabolic stress is another key factor in muscle growth and is the perfect addition post focusing on the compound mechanical tension based lifts.

High levels of metabolic stress may increase cell swelling, anabolic hormone production, and alter motor unit recruitment patterns. Combined, these can increase upper body power and growth (2,3)!

The easiest way to picture metabolic stress is to an intense ‘burn’ and ‘pump’. If you’ve ever done high rep training or used drop sets/supersets then you can be sure you’ve stimulated some metabolic stress.

…it is important to strategically manipulate your volume loads and allow for appropriate recovery.

Often people also have days where they typically focus on either mechanical tension (heavier loads) or metabolic stress (lighter loads).

However, if you’re going to add both into your workout I recommend focusing on the mechanical tension in the beginning of your workout and metabolic stress in the end!

Some great upper body exercises to maximize metabolic stress are listed below:


upper body


Chest (Reps 15-30)

  • Pushups
  • Cable fly
  • DB Fly
  • Machine chest press

Back (Reps 15-30)

  • Reverse body weight rows
  • Low cable row
  • Straight arm pulldowns

3.) Volume

Another rule for a powerful upper body workout is ensuring proper amounts of Volume within a workout and within a week or month!

Training volume is essentially the amount of work your muscles perform. Training volume can be quantified by multiplying your Sets X Reps X Weight = Total Volume.

Recent research suggests that there is a dose response relationship between total volume load and muscle growth! In short, greater volume loads will result in increased upper body muscle growth and power.

breastfeeding calories

One group of researchers found that 10 sets per muscle group per week was optimal. However, these loads may vary person to person. For example, greater volume loads have not been researched as extensively in a trained population.

If you are currently doing more than 10 sets per week for each muscle, try adding 20% more sets/reps next month and see how you benefit (4).

One way to increase the volume of your workouts is to provide sufficient rest periods between sets. Longer rest periods will allow you to sufficiently recover between upper body exercises and allow you to train with greater loads which will increase your overall training volume!

Increased Training Frequency


upper body exercises


Another great way that we recommend here at IIFYM is an increased training frequency. For example, if you currently just train your chest once per week, adding in a second chest session (even if it’s short) will cause noticeable improvements in upper body muscle growth and power.

While volume is a key driver for muscular growth if not periodized properly chronic high volume loads may lead to cumulative fatigue and potentially even over reaching. Therefore, it is important to strategically manipulate your volume loads and allow for appropriate recovery.

In all of our plan here at IIFYM, we systematically vary volume to optimize both recovery and growth. Lastly, one final way to deal with the increased stress from training with high volume loads is to dial in on your nutrition.

One way to make sure you’re consuming and an efficient number of calories are by using one of our many personalized calculators that we offer on Yet, if you’re looking for a customized diet plan, one our coaches will build your Macro Blueprint!

4.) Vary Your Exercises

Another principle of training that we believe to be essential here at IIFYM is exercise selection, which basically promotes the use of multiple upper body exercises rather than the same 2-3 every week.

All our work out protocols from IIFYM provide sufficient exercise variation to maximize results, while also reducing overuse injuries, boredom and continually keep your body adapting to avoid plateaus or slow progress.

Several pieces of research have supported this method, showing that varying your upper body exercises may create different activation patterns and promote uniform muscle growth (1,5)!

…optimize your upper body training, make sure you vary your rep ranges within a workout or at least on a weekly or monthly basis (8).

In fact, one study examined the effects of different workout regimens with different levels of exercise variation. They compared the growth of the quad (front leg muscle) using just one exercise versus multiple exercises. Interestingly, they kept training volume (sets) the same to solely investigate the effects of exercise selection.

After the trial, these researchers discovered that increased exercised variation resulted in more overall muscle growth in all four heads of the quadriceps (6).

Based on this, switching up your upper body exercises may allow you to develop your upper, middle, and lower portions of your muscles, or, hit all the heads/muscle fibers within that muscle group. You can vary the exercises within a week along with total program re-designs every 4-8 weeks.

Below are some variations of upper body exercises that you can add into your routine:


upper body



  • Incline push-ups
  • Decline bench press
  • Incline machine press with resistance bands
  • DB fly’s
  • Cable fly’s (Varying your stance, closer to the machine and stepping further away)


  • DB seal row
  • Single arm cable row
  • Barbell Deadlift
  • Standing T-Bar Row
  • Pull-ups (Vary your grips- wide, narrow, supinated)

5.) Vary Your Rep Ranges

If you’ve ever had a workout designed here at IIFYM you will see we vary the rep ranges within a session. As discussed, there are greater benefits by using both heavier and light loads into your upper body workouts. By combining the two, we can focus on both upper body power and growth.

While the common ‘8-12’ rep range is effective, research suggests that higher and lower rep ranges can still be beneficial, it also reduces boredom and works multiple aspects of performance (such as strength, power and muscular endurance) (7)!

On top of that, one study showed that varying your rep ranges within a given workout or given week may provide you with some added benefit for muscle growth. Therefore, here at

Therefore, here at IIFYM we believe in order to optimize your upper body training, make sure you vary your rep ranges within a workout or at least on a weekly or monthly basis (8). Yet, remember that without a dialed in diet, muscle growth (hypertrophy) is tough!

One of our coaches can create your Custom Macro Blueprint to help you put on slabs of muscle with minimal fat gain!

Here are some example rep ranges to implement each week:

  • Day 1: 6-8RM
  • Day 2: 12-14RM
  • Day 3: 18-20RM

upper body


Example Workout Applying All 5 Power Rules!


Reps Rest
Barbell Bench Press* 1 1 4 8 2 min.
Barbell Bent Over Row *1 2 4 8 2 min.
Incline DB Press *2 3A 3 10 90 seconds
DB Seal Row*2 3B 3 10 90 seconds
DB Cable Fly’s *2 4 3 10 90 seconds
Single arm cable row *2 5 3 10 90 seconds
Pushups *3 6A 3 20-30 90 seconds
Bodyweight reverse rows *3 6B 3 20-30 60 seconds

*1 = Mechanical Tension
*2 = Exercise Variation/High Total Volume
*3 = Metabolic Stress / Varying Rep Ranges

Wrapping it all up

There you have 5 rules for a powerful upper body routine that can help you increase both upper body power and growth!

    • Start your upper body routine with compound lifts that use heavier loads and target mechanical tension!
    • Next, make sure you add in high rep metabolic days or burnout exercises/sets at the end of your workouts to maximize metabolic stress or the ‘pump’.
    • Volume is another primary driver of muscle hypertrophy. You can increase volume by taking longer rest and doing more reps per set, or, simply adding in more sets per workout or training days per week.
    • Exercise variation may alter muscle activation patterns and promote more overall muscle growth over the long-term. Try to alter your exercise selection within a workout or on a weekly/monthly basis.
    • Lastly, to optimize these adaptations it is essential you are consuming the right diet, specifically calorie intake and the correct amounts of protein. If you are unsure how much protein or total macros/calories you need in each day check out this article here: Protein RequirementMacro Split, and IIFYM under a Microscope.



The post 5 Rules for a Powerful Upper Body Workout appeared first on IIFYM.

from Articles & Interviews – IIFYM

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

7 Actions to Take When You Hit a Weight Loss Plateau


Your cutting diet plan has been going extremely well. Over the past few months, you have made significant strides towards your weight loss goal. Then everything changes and your results come to a screeching halt as you reach your first weight loss plateau.

What do you do next?

This is a common point of confusion for many. Should you eat more food, less food, do more cardio, change up your workouts or some combination?

The goal of this article is to provide tips to handle a weight loss plateau in order to break through them and continue progressing towards your weight loss goal.

If you haven’t even started on your journey towards your goal weight, start with our macro calculator!

1. Ensure you are tracking intake accurately

The first action most individuals take when a weight loss plateau occurs is to make drastic changes to their plan. However, prior to changing anything, it is important to confirm that you actually are eating the calories/macros you are targeting. If not, increasing consistency with your nutritional intake should be the first step prior to making adjustments to your plan.

Nutrition Under-Reporting


weight loss plateau


Nutrition under-reporting is extremely common. A review of self-reported nutrition data from large nutrition surveys found that intake is commonly under-reported by 18 to 54 percent with certain subgroups under-reporting intake by as much as 70 percent (1).

Similarly, significant under-reporting was observed in a study of overweight middle aged women who declared they had reached a weight loss plateau and could not lose weight on an intake of fewer than 1200 Calories daily (2).

Over the 14 days studied, the women reported an average daily intake of 1053 Calories, but measured intake was actually 2081 Calories on average. This means these women were not accounting for over 1000 Calories daily! They reached a weight loss plateau because they were eating over 2000 calories daily, not because they were a unique case.

I know what you are thinking. The data I’ve presented are from surveys of the general population and obese women, not someone who is experienced in tracking intake accurately like you. However, there is evidence that even well-educated individuals under-report intake.

In a recent study, dietitians did not account for 223 Calories on average (3). However, non-dietitians in this study under-reported intake by around twice as much (429 Calories per day on average).

What this means is that even well-trained, highly educated individuals regularly under report intake. Therefore, it is a good idea for even the most experienced individual to double check tracking accuracy when weight loss plateaus occur.

Where do under-reported calories come from?

Non-tracked calories commonly come from a number of different places including:

  • Condiments
  • Fruit/Vegetables
  • Extra Bits
  • Snacks
  • Beverages
  • Gum
  • Vitamins/Supplements
  • Any other unaccounted food/beverage providing calories


weight loss plateau


It is important that you are measuring portions accurately. One common source of untracked calories is measuring in weight versus volume. For example, the nutrition information on the side of an oatmeal container is listed based upon a weight measurement (e.g. 40g). The label also says this is approximately 1/2 cup.

If you were to measure out ½ cup, it may weigh 60g and provide you with an extra ½ serving of untracked calories.

Along the same lines, ½ serving of peanut butter (16g) is around 1 tablespoon. If you make that tablespoon a heaping tablespoon you could easily have 30g peanut butter or more. That is another 50-100 calories unaccounted for.

Although these small differences do not seem like much, if you are doing them multiple times daily they can add up to the large numbers of under-reported calories observed in the scientific literature. This level of under reporting could definitely contribute to a weight loss plateau.

Cross Checking Macro Entries

Additionally, many people currently track intake using a tracking app. Many of these apps allow individuals to input nutrition information for a food. As a result, some of these entries have errors and some may even have calories listed, but nothing listed for macronutrient content.

breastfeeding calories

Therefore, it is important to double check that what you are entering for the nutrition value of a food is accurate. This can be done by double checking the food label of packaged food or by consulting the USDA Food Composition Database for foods that do not have a nutrition label:

If you find that you have been consuming more calories than you thought, the first step is to accurately track intake prior to changing anything. In many cases, tightening up tracking accuracy will be enough to break your weight loss plateau. If it is not and all calories are accurately accounted for then you truly have hit a weight loss plateau and adjustments will be necessary.

2. Double check that you have hit a weight loss plateau

Prior to making any adjustments, it is important to check that you really have hit a weight loss plateau. At first glance, it may seem obvious. If you aren’t losing weight you have hit a weight loss plateau. However, there are a few other details to keep in mind.

How often are you weighing?


weight loss plateau


Body weight commonly fluctuates a few pounds daily. This due to a combination of factors such as sleep patterns, hormones, stress, salt intake, water intake, bowel movements, sweat and a number of other factors. However, the daily changes in weight from these factors come primarily from water and intestinal food mass weight, not real tissue weight.

Therefore, it is important to look at averages and trends over time rather than an individual weigh-in when assessing progress. If you weigh-in on Wednesday each week and your weight doesn’t change, it could be due to random daily fluctuation. In this situation, it is entirely possible your weight is trending down on average and you have not hit a weight loss plateau.

However, if you weighed daily and don’t see any loss when comparing weekly averages that is much more indicative of a weight loss plateau.

When are you weighing?

Body weight fluctuates throughout the course of the day. Most individuals find they weigh more at night when they go to bed than when they wake up in the morning. Similarly, I could drink a significant amount of water during a workout and weigh more post-workout than when I arrived at the gym. However, this doesn’t mean I’ve gained body fat as a result of working out.

The rate at which weight is lost should be a balance between quickly enough to keep progress moving so that you don’t drag your cut out indefinitely, but not too fast that you are dieting away excess muscle mass.

For these reasons, it is important that you weigh-in under the same conditions each time you weigh. The easiest way to do this is to weigh-in first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything on the same scale.

Females – where are you in your cycle?

It is common for a woman’s body weight to fluctuate throughout the course of their monthly cycle. Some women see an increase in body weight due to fluid retention the week prior to their monthly cycle, others see it the week of their cycle and some see no large fluctuation throughout the month. Oftentimes this increase is mistaken as a weight loss plateau.

However, if you are someone who sees an increase in scale weight due to fluid retention at a certain time each month it is important to keep that in mind when assessing progress. For example, if your weight is up on average, but it is the week of your cycle where you typically see an increase you likely have not hit a weight loss plateau.

It will be important to wait until after your monthly cycle to assess progress rather than jumping to potentially unnecessary adjustments since you likely have not reached a weight loss plateau.

Have you consistently hit your nutrition targets?


weight loss plateau


This is something I discussed in detail above; however, it is important enough I felt it should be mentioned again. If you are eating above your calorie/macro numbers on a regular basis and not losing weight, it is not because you have hit a weight loss plateau on your current plan.

Prior to making any adjustments, it will be key that you accurately account for everything you are consuming and hit your numbers consistently. In many cases, increasing consistency will be enough to get a break through your weight loss plateau and get weight loss moving again.

Are you adding muscle?

When starting a weight loss journey, it is common to begin incorporating resistance training. If an individual is new to resistance training, it may be possible to add a meaningful amount of muscle while decreasing a meaningful amount of body fat at the same time (4). As an individual becomes a more advanced weightlifter, this may still occur, but not to the same extent as in a beginner.

For those who are lifting weights (especially those new to lifting weights), it is important to use the scale in combination with progress pictures, strength in the gym and how clothes are fitting when evaluating progress.

If you are someone who is new to lifting who is seeing increases in strength, visual change and notice your clothes are fitting differently you likely are seeing changes in body composition due to added muscle. We see this often with our clients and make it apparent that this may be what’s causing their weight to remain constant.

3. Reduce calorie intake

You have ensured you are tracking accurately and your morning weight is not trending down on average. This means you have hit a weight loss plateau and adjustments will be needed in order to get your weight trending down again.

Since energy balance is the difference between the calories you eat and the calories you are expending, one easy way to create a negative energy balance is to reduce calorie intake.

Size of Calorie Adjustment


weight loss plateau


A calorie adjustment typically does not have to be extremely large to break through a weight loss plateau. Oftentimes, a reduction of 50 – 150 Calories daily may be enough to get loss moving again. If you’re still having trouble with your diet plan, our coaches will dial in your approach with a Custom Macro Blueprint.

For those tracking macros, this will primarily be achieved through a reduction in carbohydrate and fat because an adequate protein intake is important to prevent muscle loss in a fat loss phase (5). Ideally, adjustments should be made until the target rate of weight loss is achieved once again.

Target Rate of Weight Loss

The rate at which weight is lost should be a balance between quickly enough to keep progress moving so that you don’t drag your cut out indefinitely, but not too fast that you are dieting away excess muscle mass. Even if you are not lifting weights, your goal during a fat loss phase should be to retain muscle mass because this will result in the greatest change in body composition.

The maximum average weekly rate of loss to minimize muscle loss will depend upon an individual’s body composition:

  • Overweight – Up to 1.5% of body weight weekly
  • Average Body Composition – Up to 1.0% of body weight weekly
  • Extremely Lean – Up to 0.5% of body weight weekly

In addition to increasing muscle loss, large adjustments may also reduce dietary compliance if intake is adjusted too low. Ultimately, you want to achieve your target rate of loss with an energy deficit that you can sustain consistently.

As discussed above, without consistency, you likely will not see progress towards your weight loss goal.

4. Increase NEAT

Energy expenditure makes up the other side of the energy balance equation. However, energy expenditure is not as simple as energy intake.

An individual’s total daily energy expenditure is a combination of their basal metabolic rate (the energy required for basic bodily functions to stay alive), exercise activity, the thermic effect of food (roughly 10 percent of energy consumed is used to digest and absorb the food you eat) and non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) (6).

What is NEAT?


weight loss plateau


NEAT is all of the movement done outside of the gym. This includes voluntary movements such as those done at work or around the house and involuntary movements such as fidgeting. The amount of energy expended from NEAT can vary by up to 2000 Calories between individuals of a similar size due to differences in occupation and daily activity (7).

Much like reductions in calorie intake, increases in cardio when a weight loss plateau occurs often times do not need to be large in order to see weight loss.

Based on these results, it is clear that staying active during daily life is key to keeping energy expenditure high.

What happens to NEAT during weight loss?

During dieting, NEAT is reduced and contributes to weight loss plateaus (8). Some of this reduction is voluntary. Oftentimes individuals feel more sluggish while dieting and in response move less; however, this reduces NEAT contributing to weight loss plateaus.

On the other hand, some of the reduction in NEAT is out of our control. For example, dieting individuals start fidgeting less without being aware that it is occurring.

Therefore, it is important to stay active outside of the gym to keep NEAT elevated and prevent weight loss plateaus. This doesn’t necessarily need to be anything extreme, but a conscious effort to be active during daily life can go a long way, especially if you are finding that you tend to be less active as your cut progresses.

How do I increase NEAT?

If you are struggling to increase NEAT, studies have shown that use of a pedometer to track steps increases physical activity levels (9). If you need more information on how to increase your NEAT then one of our experienced coaches can build your Custom Macro Blueprint.

Therefore, it may not be a bad idea to track steps and have a daily step minimum during a fat loss phase in order to keep NEAT high, especially if you find that you are not active outside of the gym.

5. Add formal cardio

In addition to increasing energy expenditure through activity outside the gym (NEAT), energy expenditure can also be increased through activity inside the gym. This is typically done by increasing the amount of cardio an individual is doing in the gym.

How much cardio?


weight loss plateau


Much like reductions in calorie intake, increases in cardio when a weight loss plateau occurs often times do not need to be large in order to see weight loss. Ultimately, the amount of formal cardio you are doing should be something you can stay consistent with and realistically fit into your schedule.

In addition, it is important to pick a type of cardio you enjoy as this will likely keep you more consistent. Our clients have found it easier to meld this addition into their current routine.

What type of cardio?

For those who lift weights, excessive amounts of cardio may interfere with muscle size and strength gains (10), especially experienced lifters (11). Higher intensities of cardio may reduce this interference because high-intensity cardio provides a more similar training stimulus to weight lifting than lower intensity forms of cardio.

However, high-intensity forms of cardio can be more difficult to recover from. Therefore, it will be best to pick a combination of high intensity and steady-state cardio that you are able to recover from and consistently perform.

Ultimately, the goal of added cardio and reductions in calorie intake are to achieve the target rate of weight loss in a way that you can stay consistent with in order to break through your weight loss plateau.

6. Take a break from dieting

I know what you are thinking. You have hit a weight loss plateau and your goal is further weight loss, why would I be telling you to take a break from dieting? However, there are a few reasons for this.

For those who have been dieting for a while, you may have noticed that your motivation has taken a hit from the prolonged restraint and low energy intake. If this has gotten to the point where your reduced consistency is the primary reason you have hit a weight loss plateau, a break from dieting may be the answer to increasing consistency.

Refeed Days

This break from dieting can be approached in a number of different ways. Some individuals will incorporate a refeed day each week during a weight loss phase. During a refeed day, caloric intake is increased to around maintenance typically through an increase in carbohydrates.


weight loss plateau


Refeed days can be beneficial for a number of reasons including increased performance in the gym during a hard workout and most importantly a mental break from as much restriction for a day.

One thing to note is that if an individual is going to incorporate a refeed day, caloric intake over the rest of the week will need to be reduced in order to keep weekly energy balance constant.

For example, if an individual consumes an extra 600 calories on their refeed day, 100 calories will need to be removed from the other days of the week to keep weekly energy intake constant in order to keep weight loss to continue.

Diet Break

Many times, a break longer than a single day may be necessary in order to have the mental break necessary to increase consistency. In this case, an extended diet break may be the answer. During a diet break, calories are increased to around your current maintenance for a period of time (often times ranging from a week to a couple of months).

…the key to long-term sustained progress is embracing the process and rolling with the punches rather than stressing about every little thing.

This will allow you to maintain your current weight and provide you a mental break prior to dropping back into an energy deficit. For many individuals, a diet break can be very effective for increasing motivation and consistency once they are back in an energy deficit, ultimately resulting in more weight loss long-term.

In addition, metabolic adaptation occurs during an energy deficit for a number of reasons including (6):

  • Lean mass loss
  • Reduction in food intake / thermic effect of food
  • Reduced NEAT
  • Decreased hormones such as leptin, insulin, thyroid, estrogen, and testosterone
  • Increased mitochondrial efficiency
  • Increased gut microbe nutrient extraction

The result of these adaptations is a reduced energy expenditure and weight loss plateau.

Fortunately, these adaptations are not permanent. Once an individual increases energy intake these outcomes will trend in the opposite direction and metabolic rate will increase once again. Whether this results in additional and/or easier weight loss once an individual drops into an energy deficit again requires further research.


weight loss plateau


However, there is some evidence that incorporating a diet break in a weight loss intervention does not have an effect on the total weight lost during the intervention (12).

One important thing to note is that a diet break is not a free-for-all. It will be in your best interest to continue tracking intake during your diet break in order to prevent weight re-gain. This way you can pick back up right where you left off following your diet break rather than having to lose a significant amount of regained weight.

However, assuming body weight gain is kept in check during a diet break, it can be an effective tool to increase adherence to the diet once you go back into an energy deficit, break through your weight loss plateau and see more progress long-term.

7. Don’t stress

When the first weight loss plateau occurs, a common reaction is to stress out about the lack of progress. However, if this stress is elevated to a certain point, it may start to affect progress.

Fitness should be something that enhances your life, not takes away from it. You have chosen to lose weight and nobody should be forcing you to do so. If you are stressing about progress to the point it is taking away from your quality of life it may be important to re-evaluate why you are losing weight in the first place.

Weight loss will not fix other issues going on in your life. This is highly stressed with any of our clients that get deeper into their caloric deficit.

breastfeeding calories

If you are an unhappy person, having a 6 pack will only make you an unhappy person with a 6 pack. One thing that is important to ensure is that you are losing weight for the right reasons, not as an escape from other issues going on in your life. Those issues will still be there once you have lost the weight unless they are appropriately addressed.

Additionally, if you stress about the scale to the point it makes you dislike the process you are likely going to be less consistent. As mentioned many times previously throughout this article, if you are not consistent you will not see as much progress.

Patience with the Process

Therefore, the key to long-term sustained progress is embracing the process and rolling with the punches rather than stressing about every little thing.

When a weight loss plateau occurs, stay calm, double check that your intake is tracked accurately and that you truly hit a weight loss plateau. If so, make adjustments to energy intake, formal cardio and your activity outside of the gym to achieve your target rate of loss once again.

Keep these adjustments to a place you can sustain and that isn’t incredibly stressful to do so, yet where you are seeing progress towards your goal as well. Ultimately, by taking things in stride you will not only stay more consistent and see more progress but also be a much a happier individual while doing so.

The post 7 Actions to Take When You Hit a Weight Loss Plateau appeared first on IIFYM.

from Articles & Interviews – IIFYM

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

10 Macro Friendly Foods That Are Natural Vasodilators


Your macronutrients are the starting blocks. At IIFYM, it has been preached over and over; keeping track of your macros is the fastest way to achieve success, in a replicable manner. Yes, we know conventionally you may have been conditioned to believe that only healthy foods that taste like cardboard (these natural vasodilators won’t, we promise) are the only ones that are right for you, but we beg to differ.

In fact, following macros and finding appropriate macro friendly foods is the fastest way to accelerate your progress and achieve success. Don’t know your macros? No problem! You’re in luck, as they are just a stone’s throw away over in our macro calculator.

Which brings us to the “meat” of this post; finding macro friendly foods that are natural vasodilators, and enhance blood flow to your muscles, and throughout the body as a whole. Sure, supplements may sound promising, but there is a large gray area in what supplements exactly contain. As there are tons of hidden additives that may unfavorably affect your macronutrient requirements (such as those found in heavily marketed pre-workout boosters).

Well stress no more, as you are about to have your mind blown with these 10 foods that are natural vasodilators which are extremely flexible, and will still fit your IIFYM requirements, all while boosting your blood flow. Here we go!

1.) Coffee


natural vasodilators


Coffee is the beverage of champions- period. Never in history has there been a beverage more consumed than coffee, which simultaneously provides ergogenic benefits. Can’t function without your cup o’ Joe in the mornings? We feel you.

Yet, coffee does much more for you than merely acting as a stimulant, as it also boosts vasodilation and blood flow. According to a study conducted in 2015, men who drink 2 or more cups of coffee daily are far less likely to experience erectile dysfunction (ED), a condition caused by poor blood flow (1).

Though ED causes can be more complex than simply reduced blood flow (such as being compounded by diabetes etc.), this is strong evidence for the argument for coffee. Either way, this is a great addition to this list of natural vasodilators.

And why wouldn’t you want to drink more coffee? It’s delicious to boot, and is one of life’s true pleasures! And the best part of it all?

Coffee is extremely macro friendly. In fact, it can have close to 0 net effect on your macros, as when consumed black without additives, the macronutrient yield is extremely low. So get chugging and pump up that blood flow!

2.) Cayenne And Chili Peppers


natural vasodilators


There’s something alluring about cayenne or chili peppers that keeps us coming back to them again and again. Maybe it’s the succulent fire-breathing-mouth-watering effect they deliver? Whatever it is, one thing that is sure is that they complement an IIFYM plan perfectly.

How so? Well, for one, peppers are not notorious for being high caloric foods (though they can be if you eat a lot), and can easily fit your macros. Or maybe, it is the way these peppers can make your blood boil- in a good way of course.

Similar to chili and cayenne pepper, grapeseed also increases levels of the enzyme responsible for producing nitric oxide, translating to many benefits.

But what is of particular interest to us is the ability of the active ingredient, known as capsaicin, to promote the activity of an enzyme known as nitric oxide synthase (2). This little-known enzyme is what is required for the production of nitric oxide in tissue, helping to improve vasodilation and blood flow.

This effect by which capsaicin increases levels of this enzyme have been observed during multiple studies, and also explains why some male enhancement products have the ingredient capsaicin in it; let’s just say it “spices” up things in the bedroom!

3.) Grape seeds


natural vasodilators


Normally, eating the fruit would be the main course, with its peel or seeds optional; but what if things were reversed in this case? Yes, even though grapes are a powerhouse in their own right (SPOILER: more on grapes to come).

In this instance, their seeds take all the glory as one of the natural vasodilators. Why? Because they house health benefits not known by many, and are extremely low calorie, fitting comfortably into an IIFYM plan.

In addition, grape seeds or supplemental grapeseed extract is one of the few true natural foods that help stop testosterone from being converted into estrogen. This by itself is worth its weight in gold but isn’t what we’re after first in this case.

We are after the ability of grape seeds to boost vasodilation, by once again increasing levels of nitric oxide in the blood. Similar to chili and cayenne pepper, grapeseed also increases levels of the enzyme responsible for producing nitric oxide, translating to many benefits.

You can expect to see improvements in blood pressure, vascularity while working out, and buffering of fatigue. Indeed, the only deterrent to consuming grape seeds is that they have a bitter taste, and may not be tolerated well by everyone.

4.) Dark Chocolate

natural vasodilators

This is the most pleasurable macro friendly food out of this list of natural vasodilators, simply because it shows the power of IIFYM. You would be hard-pressed to find a healthy lifestyle plan that allows you to have chocolate, so you know you’ve hit the jackpot!

To be clear, we’ve specified dark chocolate since milk chocolate or other varieties do not have the flavonol content that is required to elicit an effect, and will not significantly alter your macro requirements as other varieties would.

This is the kind that has a slightly bitter taste and at least 70% cacao content. However, this does not mean that dark chocolate isn’t delicious, or that it is without health benefits. In fact, it would take far too long to highlight all the advantages of dark chocolate, so how about we stick to our primary target? Vasodilation.

breastfeeding calories

Yep, you could frankly have a serving of good old dark chocolate before your workout, and experience an awesome pump to successfully smash it. Many bodybuilders swear by the vasodilation the experience from melting half a bar of dark chocolate into their pre-workout drinks.

Almost all of these attributed benefit is due to the presence of a compound known as epicatechin, which is an antioxidant flavonol (similar to the compounds in tea). These findings have been confirmed via studies, which demonstrate significant vasodilation after just five days of daily consumption of flavonol-rich chocolate (3).

Finally, we know dark chocolate is a caloric beast. However, it is also chock full of fiber, and a little goes a long way, so consuming a bit daily can be accommodated by making a note of its macro content.

5.) Watermelon



Did you know that watermelon does not have a high sugar content? Oh yes, believe it or not. Many associate this fruit with being loaded with sugar, when in reality, it’s just water!

This is why watermelon has made the list of one of the best macro friendly natural vasodilators, gaining the highest stamp of approval by us here at IIFYM.

What makes watermelon so sought after, is the presence of an amino acid called L-Citrulline. This amino acid can convert into L-Arginine, which is the direct precursor of nitric oxide. In fact, consuming more L-citrulline is a better way of increasing arginine than just consuming more arginine supplements (4)! See a pattern yet?

Consuming more L-Citrulline improves vasodilation, up to at least its saturation point. But nevertheless, it is a welcome addition to these natural vasodilators.

6.) Cold Water Fish, Especially Salmon


natural vasodilators


Salmon and its gang of cold water compadres (tuna, cod, etc.) are well known by many thanks to their excellent omega-3 fatty acid content. Omega-3 by itself is beneficial for overall blood vessel health, and hence healthy blood flow, but this macro friendly food has more going on for itself.

…like many of the other natural vasodilators on this list, increase nitric oxide by increasing the amount of enzyme (nitric oxide synthase) available to act on and convert arginine.

In particular, is the presence of a molecule known as coenzyme Q-10. This important biological molecule has numerous functions, but relating to promoting vasodilation, it helps to relax arteries, improve blood vessel function and prevent the breakdown of the nitric oxide molecule itself (5).

What this means is that it is able to exert its vasodilatory effect for a longer time. Making it a great addition to this group of natural vasodilators. Cold water fish are incredibly dense in protein and fat, so be sure to remember that when formulating your plan with one of IIFYM’s knowledgeable coaches.

7.) Grapes (and Red Wine!)


natural vasodilators


Ok, before you ask why we put red wine in brackets, it’s because we’re not sure if you’re ae an ehm… closet drinker. Yes, red wine does have proven health benefits, but its macro content is less than desirable (as alcohol sugars aren’t really helpful for anything).

Grapes, on the other hand, are great for your macros. They have ample Vitamin C (which can foster blood vessel health), along with numerous polyphenols, the most famous being Resveratrol.

breastfeeding calories

And this is exactly the guy we are looking for; Resveratrol found in grapes, like many of the other natural vasodilators on this list, increase nitric oxide by increasing the amount of enzyme (nitric oxide synthase) available to act on and convert arginine (6). This conversion is referred to as the “rate limiting step” and is the key to increasing vasodilation.

8.) Pomegranate


natural vasodilators


One of the richest sources of anti-oxidants known to man. Pomegranates are also strong contenders for the crown of being the number one in this list of macro friendly natural vasodilators.

Similar to the other foods on this list, pomegranates upregulate nitric oxide synthase enzyme expression, but also protect nitric oxide itself (7).

Thus, it can be regarded as promoting a self-sustaining vasodilatory system, on the one hand increasing nitric oxide, and on the other preventing premature removal of it from the blood. Pomegranate fruit can be consumed on its own (though it is a chore to eat it), or can be taken as juice- you just need to be careful of juices with excessive added sugar.

9.) Onions

natural vasodilators

The inconspicuous and everyday onion can help you in your quest to compile macro friendly foods, owing to its content of a compound known as quercetin. The quercetin in onions has a nitric oxide protectant effect, as well as a “scavenging” action, promoting its recycling to make new nitric oxide molecules.

Its action seems to depend heavily on oxygen concentration and blood pH, meaning that under certain conditions it could do absolutely nothing. However, owing to its extremely flexible low macro count, you can feel free to use onions and not negatively affect your IIFYM plan.

10.) Garlic


natural vasodilators


Going hand in hand with onion is everybody’s other favorite meal enhancer- garlic. Not one to be outdone, garlic also possesses its own set of tricks, being able to improve blood flow in the periphery (limbs, and blood vessels furthest away from the heart) (8).

Though garlic itself contains nitrates and nitrites which are converted to nitric oxide via saliva. Its actions are believed to be due to another compound, known as interleukin-6. Which is why it lands itself in this list of natural vasodilators.

The Final Say

There are much more macro friendly foods you will discover as you spend more time with IIFYM, and this is the exact beauty of it all.
You do not need to get bogged down with ridiculous restrictions, causing your diet to fail altogether.

No, instead you will be able to follow a SMART plan crafted by one of our specialist coaches, taking into account your individual differences and making a Custom Macro Blueprint that works for you. Losing weight or gaining muscle does not need to be difficult. It just needs to be built on a solid base of getting your macros in a way that works the best for you.

Allowing you to fit foods to help your goals such as these natural vasodilators!

The post 10 Macro Friendly Foods That Are Natural Vasodilators appeared first on IIFYM.

from Articles & Interviews – IIFYM

Monday, July 17, 2017 Interviews Matt Christianer

For our readers out there that might not be familiar with you, please tell us a bit about yourself.

I am 33 years old currently living in AZ engaged to the real Wonder Woman. Beyond that, I am the first IFBB MP Pro in history, 3X IFBB champion, 2x Olympian, co/star of the Netflix documentary the Perfect Physique, and have been published in many fitness magazines.

However, my story begins long before then. My love with fitness first started when I was 15 and got my very first job at a gym in Payson, AZ when my family relocated from Ohio. I lifted for two years before tragedy struck. At the age of 17, I was involved in a near fatal high-speed rollover car accident where I was wearing no seat belt.

I was life flighted to Scottsdale Osborn with head trauma and a broken hip and femur.

I remember wheeling my wheelchair back in the gym for the first time about a month after my accident. I could only train upper body but that did not stop me! I trained another year before I had to have a 2nd hip surgery. After another year, I was fully clear to train 100%.

This is when my quest for competing began! I would not dare step onstage without the legs to match my upper body. It took nine years after my accident before I would step onstage as a middleweight in bodybuilding.


matt christianer

Image Source: Pretty Masculine


I ended up winning both the novice and amateur divisions. From there, I went on to compete at the national level in bodybuilding until I heard about a new division starting in the NPC/IFBB, Men’s Physique.

Becoming an IFBB Pro as Matt has takes incredible dedication, starting with a flexible dieting macro calculator is a great place to start!

This was my division and I ran with it! I would eventually win three IFBB shows and have the honor to compete in two Olympias. Over the course of competing for years on end, I had completely trashed my hip and it was time for what I had been dreading for years…my 3rd hip surgery.

This surgery would end up being a full hip replacement. During my year and a half of rehab, I learned a lot about life, my spirit and the power of the mind. I could have never gotten through this last surgery and rehab without my amazing family and fiance Heather.

This year has been my comeback year and within the last few months have shot with Muscle and Fitness, Muscular Development, FitnessRX, Inside Fitness, A1 Supplements, and MD Latino. I will complete in my first show after having my full hip replacement on July 29, 2017.

The last time we saw Matt Christianer on stage was in 2015 at the Dennis James Classic. Why such a long break? (hips surgery plus whatever else)

After the Dennis James, I knew what had to be done, what I had put off for over seven shows… a full hip replacement.


Left: 3 weeks post hip replacement
Right: 1.5 years after hip replacement – 2 weeks out from IFBB prestige crystal cup


How is the recovery going?

The recovery is going well, however, longer and more painful than I had imagined. That being said, being able to train legs again, knowing my hips can take the weight is a very freeing feeling.

I have learned to listen to my body and am realistic with my strengths and weaknesses. My overall goal is symmetry. I end up getting in leg workouts 3x per week.

I still have some pain left, but my doctor has said that another year of rehab and training and the pain should be fully removed.

How long were you “out” for?

I actually walked out of the hospital the very next morning after hip surgery. I took a solid three weeks off as a mental break and to let my body focus on healing. From there, I slowly started my therapy and training in the gym again. I had lost so much size and strength it was a very mentally challenging time for me.

After a solid year of recovery, I really stepped up my training, and now here I am two and a half weeks out from my first show back after my hip replacement.

How did you deal with taking that much time off from the gym?

My fiancée took amazing care of me when I was down. The support I’ve had from her and my family, friends, and sponsors were a huge help. When I was forced to slow down and take time off, I really tried to enjoy the break.

I have been training for 18 years straight and I was able to mentally take a negative and turn it into a positive to come back recharged and better than ever.


matt christianer interview


Did you count your macros while you were healing?

I did not. I ate in moderation and did not restrict myself. After so many years of my life spent training and dieting I didn’t really need to track during that time. I had an idea of where I needed to be nutrition wise. I just wanted to focus on healing-mind, body, and soul.

breastfeeding calories

Now that you have recovered from your surgery, you have decided to compete again. Tell us about the road from recovery to being stage ready.

The road to recovery has been a grueling one. As I’ve mentioned, I’m two and a half weeks out from my first show back! After surgery, it has been a very gradual process. I started with mostly physical therapy and then moved to light training. I just kept slowly moving forward. I kept telling myself that I have to keep pushing forward, even if some days are just a crawl, its progress.

How has IIFYM helped you with your prep?

Well, I’ve been following the IIFYM strategy since my very first prep. I’ve found it to be incredibly beneficial and allows me so much more room for adjustment the further I get into the process.

Couldn’t imagine using any other diet to reach the stage in peak shape!

What were your macros when you started training for this show and what are they now?

My numbers when I started training for the show were; 200P, 250C, and 65F. I am now in the middle of a carb cycle where my numbers fluctuate between 200P, 150C, and 45F to 200P, 350C, and 45F.




What are your go to foods when dieting for contest prep?

For proteins, I am big on egg whites with lots of veggies thrown in. Turkey is a favorite staple of mine as well as grass fed beef, venison, elk meat, and fish. My fats are usually avocados and peanut butter, and eggs (when I keep in the yoke).

I keep it simple. I only use carbs that I have recently been consuming…

For carbs, everyone’s favorite, I love soda flavored slushies and jasmine rice for breakfast with cinnamon. I save a lot of my carbs for sour patch kids, as I’m a sucker for candy. I recently bought a snow cone maker and it’s been worth its weight in gold as it’s been 118 degrees in Phoenix this summer.

What kinds of foods do you use to carb up on during peak week?

I keep it simple. I only use carbs that I have recently been consuming; jasmine rice, sour patch kids, caramel rice cakes, Red Vines, baked potatoes, and donuts.




What are your go to foods when trying to add size in the off season?

Loaded Burgers! Oreganos Pizza! Lots of deer meat and steaks, any kind of potatoes.

(Our clients have the benefit of dieting with foods such as, one of our coaches will build a Custom Macro Blueprint so you can too!)

Let’s talk a bit about exercise. What type of routine do you follow?

At this point in my career after almost two decades of training, trial and error, I train 100% instinctive. I have learned to listen to my body and am realistic with my strengths and weaknesses. My overall goal is symmetry. I end up getting in leg workouts 3x per week.

Chest, back, shoulders, bi’s, and tri’s I train 2x per week. I train calves six days a week and end up doing 2-3 ab workouts per week as well. I base my workouts on stress levels, sleep patterns and overall energy level. I hit my strong body parts at the end of my workout and always start with my weak body parts first.


matt christianer


Do you take any supplements to help you train harder or recover faster?

I’m currently taking Isomorph28 made by APS nutrition which is there isolate protein. I also take their pre-workout Mesomorph but only on the days that I really need the extra boost! I take a nitric oxide booster called Plasmagen Nitrate before 75% of my workouts. Gotta have the pump! Love the pump!

How much cardio did you do to get in shape for this show?

The Macro intake usually takes care of my conditioning but before any big show or shoot, I’ll start cardio 3-4 weeks out. Usually between 15-25 minutes of HIIT 3X per week. I am two weeks out and currently doing 20 min of hit 3x per week.

What kind of cardio do you do to get in shape? LISS? HIIT? MISS?

I may switch it around due to my hip and how it’s feeling that day but I try and do as much HIIT as possible! I get on the stair climber and elliptical as much as possible. Hit it hard and get out.


matt christianer


What is your goal going into this show? I know you are training to win, but is there a minimum placing that you would be happy with? Top 5? Top 3 perhaps?

I always train to win, but more importantly, I train to beat my best! There are a lot of things that you cannot control come show day, so all I worry about is what I can control. What I can control is coming in my best, leaving no stone left unturned throughout the training journey and having a smile along the way (even the nights I drag myself to sleep.)

Sure top three is great, but 1st is an automatic Olympia qualification, so you know what I’m gunning for!

Congratulations on your recent engagement. Tell us about your fiancée and how you proposed.

Thank you so much! Heather Schneider is my dream woman! The real Wonder Woman! We reconnected after not seeing each other for years after high school. I ran into her at a local show after moving back to AZ from LA. After a 5 hour talk over coffee, the rest is history!

I am so proud of her, not only because she is a national level bikini competitor and lives the fitness lifestyle, but because in June of this year after a million years of school, she became Dr. Schneider! Soon to be Dr. Christianer.


matt christianer


Watching her day in and day out, caring for her patients, and changing lives is so inspiring! I ended up proposing at her most favorite place, Disneyland! She has been going there since she was a little girl. I had her entire family in on it with me.

We set-up in front of the castle for a huge family picture. What she didn’t know was it was all a big set-up to pop the question.After her mom slipped the photographers the note, her dad distracted her and her sister Summer slipped the ring into my shorts!

I grabbed her by her precious little hands, explained to her how she has saved my life and got down on one knee. Best day of my life!


Follow Matt Christianer on social media to see more about his journey back to the stage: Instagram, Facebook, and on his website Christianer Training Revolution

The post Interviews Matt Christianer appeared first on IIFYM.

from Articles & Interviews – IIFYM

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Transition: To Start Cutting Fat or Bulking?


Low reps or high reps? Free weights or machine? IIFYM or Clean Eating? All of these questions pale in comparison to how often I’m asked whether it’s time to start cutting fat or bulking by athletes I consult.

It’s time such a common question is answered once and for all so you can decide the option best suited for you. The IIFYM macro calculator can be a great place to start, but tools like this are useless until you decide whether your current destination is Shredzville or Gainzville.

Have Your Cake or Eat It

The first realization that should be considered is the principle of specificity in terms of body composition goals. In general, it’s necessary to either choose fat loss or muscle growth to focus on in a given time period, not both simultaneously. This will help you make significant improvements in either area.

For untrained athletes that are just getting into a proper IIFYM diet plan and training consistently, or an athlete that has taken several months/years off and gotten back into a consistent routine- it can be possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time through the considerably new stimulus the reestablished program can produce, and the myonuclei created during past resistance training (1,2).

One other circumstance where both may occur is during the first weeks of a diet optimization of clients that could benefit from a better macronutrient breakdown or improved nutrient timing around workouts. However for those that have been training for, let’s say 6+ months or so, it becomes less and less likely that muscle growth will occur along with fat loss.

Choosing One

For fat loss to occur to any substantial degree, a significant enough caloric deficit must be created. For muscle growth to occur (aside from the above-mentioned exceptions) a caloric surplus must be consumed to fuel training performance through proper muscle glycogen stores, support muscle recovery and growth through adequate protein intake. While supplying sufficient hormone support through proper fat consumption.

Not to mention the countless variety of micronutrients obtained in a surplus (yet another reason a highly varied diet plan through IIFYM is important for sustainable progress), which is required for optimal performance and growth.

This is said to highlight the fact that although IIFYM may allow you to enjoy cake while cutting fat and in a bulk. You aren’t likely to have and eat your metaphorical cake when choosing your goal. This leads to the ultimate question of when to begin cutting fat and when to bulk throughout your training career. A question we’re happy to finally help answer for you!


cutting fat


Count Your Cutting Fat Phases

The first question that will help people decide if it’s time start cutting fat or not is to consider how long it’s been since your last cut. For many coaches including the coaching staff here and myself, a good rule of thumb is to have at least 6-8 months of a true bulking season before clients consider cutting fat again.

This isn’t 6 months since you last stopped dieting, but a true 6-month bulking season once you’ve properly reversed dieted and gotten back to maintenance or a slight surplus.

The short explanation of this rationale is the time it takes for health factors including metabolic rate and hormone levels to return to baseline levels after an extended dieting period. Prolonged dieting leads to negative adaptations within a person’s metabolism and hormones (3,4,5).

Although the changes are normal, they need to be addressed and returned to a healthy level after dieting in order to ensure notable improvements in strength and size, and that future diets are as healthy as possible.

Consider taking your previous, ideal body weight you really enjoyed being at, and use ½ to ¾th the above stage weight strategy as your approximate growth season range.

Although an IIFYM approach can make dieting much more sustainable. Making sure to spend significant time in a caloric surplus between dieting phases can be vital for optimal health and quality improvements in performance and body composition.

Spending at least 6-8 months in a true bulking season, while using IIFYM to consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods, can help to ensure health factors are back to ideal levels, and improvements are made between phases of cutting fat.

Although I tend to encourage people to spend 1-2 years in a surplus between cutting fat in order to maximize muscle growth (since drug-free muscle growth is a relatively slow process). The 6-8 months is at least long enough to ensure each diet plan is effective and safe for most individuals.

Stage Weight Strategy

For physique competitors, there is a great rule of thumb I tend to follow with my clients to help keep a bulking season in check. Determining whether it’s time for cutting fat, or to continue focusing on a bulking diet plan.

When entering a dieting phase, it’s best to approach it with a mindset of “slow and steady wins the race” to help maintain muscle tissue and health throughout cutting fat. However, we don’t want clients having to diet for excessively long periods of time due to gaining unnecessary body fat from the bulking season.

There tends to be a sweet spot for most people that allow for sufficiently fueled muscle growth and performance. While enjoying their favorite foods through IIFYM, and still keeping body composition at a reasonable level.

For male competitors, this rule of thumb tends to be around 20-25 lbs above stage weight. The athletes that have competed before can use their last stage weight as a reference point, then have 20-25 lbs above that show day weight as their growth season ceiling. Leaving their future contest prep more manageable.

build muscle and lose fat

Continue Bulking, Not Cutting Fat

In most female competitors I work with during the offseason, this range tends to float more around the 10-15 lbs mark. The smaller structure of females tends to call for a lower bulking season body weight to make improvements without getting unnecessarily heavy.

For males and females that don’t compete and subsequently don’t reach such low body fat levels when dieting. Consider taking your previous, ideal body weight you really enjoyed being at, and use ½ to ¾th the above stage weight strategy as your approximate growth season range.

So if you’re a female who performed a diet plan two summers ago to prepare for photo shoots or vacation, and reached a body weight of say 115 lbs. Using a maximum range of 123-127 lbs could be a great estimate of your ideal growth season weight.

Thinking of your bulking season body weight as being a flexible range, rather than a strict figure. This can keep stress low and progress consistent through growth season.


  • Males – 20-25 lbs above stage weight
  • Females – 10-15 lbs above stage weight


  • Males – 10-15lbs above previous ideal body weight
  • Females – 8-12 lbs above previous ideal body weight

Using this strategy, if you’re within the above-mentioned ranges, you don’t likely need to start cutting fat. Instead, continue focusing on getting bigger and stronger in the gym, and enjoying more of your favorite foods by following IIFYM.

Reverse Well, Progress Well

Another crucial question to ask yourself before reaching a decision is how well you reverse dieted after your last diet cutting fat. In my Reverse Diet Survival Guide here on, I covered the importance and strategies helpful in performing a proper reverse diet after you finished cutting fat.

And, how IIFYM can make the reverse much easier to execute. Due to the metabolic and hormonal adaptations I mentioned earlier, it’s important to spend time transitioning into a bulking season by gradually adding calories back in and reducing cardio for successful growth. This will set you up to be efficiently cutting fat in the future.

IIFYM blueprint

If you spent time gradually reverse dieting into your current bulking season. Enjoyed your favorite foods while keeping within your daily macro goals through IIFYM rather than bingeing or using cheat meals.

While also having your food intake at a reasonable level, and have your weekly cardio down to the minimum necessary for general heart health; you may be in a great place to begin cutting fat again.

On the opposite side, if you haven’t reversed dieted properly, are still consuming rather low calories from day to day, and still performing considerable amounts of cardio (more than 1-2 short sessions per week). Then it is almost certainly not a time for you to be cutting fat again.

First, it will be important to take the time to gradually adjust your diet and cardio to better performance supporting, health-promoting levels. Which will then help to ensure your subsequent diet isn’t putting you in danger of creating significant metabolic and hormonal disruptions.




Lean Gains > Mass Bulk

How you approach your muscle building season will greatly influence how often you may ask yourself whether it’s time to be cutting fat or bulking.

It’s common for newcomers to follow old-school “bulks” that usually entail loads of calories with the intent of providing as much “fuel” as possible to promote muscle growth. Even at the expense of a reasonable body composition.

It helps to periodically perform a commonly termed “mini cut”, which can be a great “middle of the road” strategy to keep body fat in check while still allowing focus on making improvements.

The thought of tracking food intake with IIFYM or using our coaches for optimal growth seasons is thrown out the window. Instead, it’s replaced with eating as much, and whatever the young athlete can get their hands on.

Although this may sound enticing at first (who doesn’t like pizza buffets?) it nearly always leads to athletes becoming discouraged with the amount of body fat they have accumulated. Not to mention, excessive caloric surpluses have been shown by research to be unnecessary to gain optimal muscle strength and size between cutting fat phases.

There’s No Need For Excess

Applying IIFYM to your lean bulk diet plan can help to keep food intake, and subsequent body fat levels, in check and reduce the need for constant cutting fat phases.

The reality is, a large caloric surplus isn’t necessary to fuel gym performance and muscle growth. In fact, it’s been supported that as little as 100-200 calories per day above maintenance intake may suffice for consistent muscle growth in an intermediate, average sized male athlete (~180lbs) (6).

This, of course, isn’t to say additional intake is useless but does help to highlight the often unnecessary, excessive surplus.

We’ve created a plethora of bulking diet plans for clients while keeping their fat gain to a minimum in the process. It all starts with having one of our coaches build your Custom Macro Blueprint.

Being honest with yourself on how much of a surplus is actually required, being consistent tracking intake with IIFYM. While using previous stage/ideal body weights can help competitors and non-competitors alike to maintain a more reasonable, longer term lean bulk without the need to be constantly cutting fat to reduce unnecessary body fat.


cutting fat


Large Slash vs. Mini Cut

As with most topics in training and nutrition, there’s rarely a black and white answer to most questions. Although most people tend to approach their nutrition as extremes such as constantly cutting fat or perma-bulks, restrictive clean eating or sloppy version of IIFYM.

There are strategies that can help athletes meet somewhere in the middle for a more sustainable, enjoyable approach.

For people that decide to spend a lengthy amount of time bulking to focus on adding size and strength (1-2+ years). It helps to periodically perform a commonly termed “mini cut”, which can be a great “middle of the road” strategy to keep body fat in check while still allowing focus on making improvements.

…mini cuts help athletes continue progressing while retaining a growth season physique they can feel comfortable in.

Rather than undergoing extensively cutting fat every time you want to reduce weight. Consider performing essentially a miniature diet where the goal is to simply lose anywhere from 4-8lbs to get back within your ideal offseason weight range before once again reverse dieting gradually.

Following a mini cut using IIFYM principles can help make the brief period of energy restriction much more enjoyable while keeping fat loss efficient.

The Middle Ground of Extensively Cutting Fat and Bulking

Making gradual changes when entering a cutting fat phase is always a prudent move to avoid muscle loss and excessive metabolic adaption. Yet, performing brief, gradual mini cuts from time to time during a prolonged lean bulk season can further extend the time in an ideal environment for good health and great performance.

By entering a mini cut, the athlete can add just enough weekly cardio, and create just enough of a dietary reduction to lose a few pounds over the following weeks, get their bodyweight back into their ideal offseason range.

To obtain this ideal weight range, find out your ideal cutting macros with a Custom Macro Blueprint.

Yet, still remain at or near a surplus that can allow for continued strength gains in the gym. Doing this keeps the athlete in an environment conducive to muscle growth and performance enhancement, and body composition within an ideal, manageable range.

Rather than looking at your fitness goals as extremes, keep in mind there is usually some middle ground that can help you continue progressing without making drastic changes. Just as IIFYM allows athletes to enjoy their food while still reaching their goals, so can mini cuts help athletes continue progressing while retaining a growth season physique they can feel comfortable in.




Personal, not just Physical Progress

Anytime someone considers if they should start cutting fat or bulking, one of my first thoughts is to ask why they are considering one or the other. If you find yourself constantly jumping between a cutting fat and bulking, it could be important to ask yourself what is encouraging you to on an internal level.

When it comes to training performance and physique goals, there are a lot of strategies and considerations we coaches can help to highlight for clients. However, if the desire comes from a pursuit of happiness (cue Kid Cudi music), then there may be deeper issues to approach first.

Something I try to always help those I consult with to understand is that no amount of muscle gained, or body fat lost will lead to the feeling of happiness and fulfillment many mistakenly assume it will provide. Having a healthy body can no doubt improve your quality of life, but very, very rarely does reaching a certain body weight or gaining a certain amount of muscle truly make people content.

The Mental Balance

I’m no Tony Robbins so I’ll save the deep talks for other people to cover. Yet, I will say in my experiences with athletes and my personal experiences, considering the reason behind our decisions goes a long way in making the journey much more enjoyable.

If you’re constantly bulking and cutting fat without finding your own version of balance in life. It could be best to take some time and really evaluate what helps you to feel fulfilled in life before diving in even further with your fitness goals.

When athletes come to the realization that fitness can improve their lives, but isn’t the universal answer to their problems, the efforts put into gaining muscle and cutting fat become less stressful and more of what it should be – a part of life, not life itself.

Deciphering the Dieting Dilemma

As with most things in nutrition and exercise, the answer of whether you should cut or bulk is generally, “it depends.” Regardless of the decision, one of the most important factors in the success of each person will be to continue learning and applying strategies backed by science. Also, making sure to thoroughly vet coaches and trainers you put your trust in when starting the next step of your journey.

Although each person’s circumstances and needs will differ. Using these considerations can go a long way in helping you decide what your next move should be, to start building an even better version of yourself.

IIFYM blueprint

The post The Transition: To Start Cutting Fat or Bulking? appeared first on IIFYM.

from Articles & Interviews – IIFYM

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Reality vs. Perception of Body Image: The Falsehood of the Ideal Physique

Fit is IN

Nowadays, appearances are being brought to our attention constantly. Through billboards, TV commercials, magazine ads, and social media to name a few. It’s enough to make you stop and check yourself in every reflection you pass by, or to sneak in an ‘ab check’ every now and again. Because let’s face it; we live in a tough world with high standards. But, what’s realistic for you? Most people have extremely unrealistic expectations for themselves regarding body image.

Talk to one of our IIFYM coaches, or check out the macro calculator to see what could work for you. Because let’s be honest, not everybody was meant to fit in a size 2. And hey, that’s ok! Rock those big beautiful quads. Some of us are watching you in the gym…envious.

How the Body Ideal Has Changed Along With Our Body Image

Throughout the years, body image and the ‘ideal’ has changed dramatically. We’ve gone from curvy, modest women, to busty, lean, pouty-lipped vixens who have no problem showing off their round glutes to the world on a daily basis.

As times changed, so did the ideal beauty. Unfortunately, not everyone fits into the box of ‘what ought to be’. If you were to scroll through the latest and greatest Instagram hashtags, many of the most popular photos are of thin, round booty’d young women; scantily clad. Quite a change from the full bodied swimsuits of yesteryear.


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Perception and Why the Ideal Body Image is Flawed

In your day to day life, how often do you see these bronzed, muscular, lean bodies? Not very often, right? There’s a reason for that. The portrayal you see on social media is not accurate. There are numerous tricks and hacks to give the illusion of, well, basically anything you want. Want to look more successful?

Rent a nice car, borrow a high end, well to do looking suit, toss on a smile and snap a photo giving the illusion of grandeur. Want to look bustier? Throw on a pushup bra, and there you go.

Being a size 2 as a cardinal rule of success is just as annoying as saying 1,200 calories is the magic number for weight loss.

Such a simple change has such a massive effect; thus altering body image for those who see this. None of this is real. Just like what we see on social media. People only show you what they want you to see. Which means they probably won’t be posting photos of their rusted 1994 Toyota Camry with the busted tail light, or that 5lbs they gained over Christmas.

But don’t worry, you’ll be keeping that holiday weight gain to a minimum following IIFYM. Better body image and you get to have your cake and eat it too? IIFYM for the win!

Tips, Tricks, Hacks

There are certain ways to cheat the system. I guess you could call IIFYM cheating the system too. Losing weight and eating the foods you love? Life is so good, but back to social media. That’s what Instagram is for the most part. Algorithms, robots, spam accounts, hashtags; it’s all a game truly.

So, to get an advantage, we filter, bend, work our lighting, and do basically anything possible to get that edge. Body image weakening the more we try to keep up. Here are a few things you should know about the ‘fitspos’ you see on social media and why you shouldn’t base your body image on what you see.


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They’re not that lean year round.

Many of the fitness icons with massive followings are not shredded year round. Plus, many who demonize IIFYM, giving the impression that in order to be lean machines like they are, you MUST ‘eat clean’. All the while, inadvertently practicing a form of IIFYM on those weekend binges. Although it may appear that they’re lean and sculpted 365 days a year, it’s not realistic.

So, what many do is load up on photos when they’re at their leanest, and release the photos throughout the year giving the illusion of sculpted shoulders and tight, perfectly carved abs. The saddest part? They’re probably struggling with body image as well. It’s difficult going from a stage lean sculpted body, back to a manageable, realistic weight.

Which is why many want to live in a perpetual state of lean, God/Goddess like physical stature. What better way to do that than through social media?

They don’t just eat burgers and donuts.

IIFYM is great. Obviously. That’s why you’re on this site. But, all those cookies, donuts, and burgers they post about? That’s not an all the time thing. Again, many hoard photos, and post them at their convenience.

IIFYM blueprint

In reality, many eat a balanced diet. It’s not all fun foods and binge eating while waking up with a six pack. IIFYM is amazing, but it’s not magic.

Some social media celebrities use some sort of performance enhancer.

Whether it’s for muscle growth or fat loss, it’s no secret there are performance enhancers within the fitness community. What’s unfortunate, is that many who are new to the fitness scene are unaware of this and look to these individuals for inspiration, and strive to be just like them.

That’s fine; until you begin to feel discouraged that your shoulders are nowhere near the size of your favorite fitness model, or that you can’t reach the level of leanness many do. Plus, like I said, many take a ‘bro’ approach.

Demonizing IIFYM, while expecting people to forever abstain from treats or ‘fun foods’. Self-esteem and overall body image take a massive hit when you can’t live up to the standards of your favorite IG models. It goes without saying that some of these pages are downright discouraging and have a massive effect on body image.


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They work their angles.

Choose your favorite fitness hashtag and check out the posing dawned in each photo. Notice something? Maybe it’s because we’ve become so accustomed to it, but standing with your back overly arched, your glutes popping outwards, and your chest out, drastically changes the way a body looks.

Not to mention high waisted leggings, flexing, turning your legs inward/outward, pulling your shoulders back, etc. You get the point. A body overly posed compared to the same body standing in an anatomical position is going to show a massive difference. It’s all an illusion. Thus continually changing the ideal body image, and what’s perceived as ‘normal’.

Work With What You’ve Got

There are thousands of women out there that would love to ‘fit into a size 2’. But, that’s very unrealistic for many people. Being a size 2 as a cardinal rule of success is just as annoying as saying 1,200 calories is the magic number for weight loss.

Unless you want to start shaving your bones down, it’s just simply not plausible to shoot for an unrealistic goal such as fitting into a size 2 dress when you were born with curvy, wide hips.

There is no ‘happiness weight’, there is no musculature that will bring you complete joy, contentment, and an ideal body image, and there is no ‘diet’ or magical foods that will get you where you want to go…

Granted, it works for some women, but that’s SOME. Just like SOME people can lose weight without counting macros/following an IIFYM diet plan. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. There is no one size fits all. Some men are born with a naturally wide back and small calves (oh, the horror).

Some women are born with small, narrow shoulders and wide hips. You cannot change your body structure. What you can do is build on it, embrace it for what it is, and improve your own perception of body image.

What you see in the mirror every day is your body at its best, but also at its worst. The same goes for these fitness icons. Although they give the illusion of perfection on social media, odds are they feel the exact way we all do at times; completely inadequate with a less than perfect view of their body image.


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Mental Health – It’s Just As Important As Physical Health

Have you seen those women at the gym in between their sets marching in place? I have. It’s obsessive and strange; trying to burn as many extra calories as possible. Being “healthy” is such a relative term.

Some people try so hard to be healthy, they, in turn, become extremely unhealthy in their actions and obsessive mannerisms. Healthy is a term used for physical health, but just as important is mental health.

This health and fitness trend is becoming a disorder in itself. What it is, is semantics. You can call it health and wellness all you want, but what it actually is, a disorder when taken to the extremes many take it to, and it drastically affects body image. IIFYM is mocked, and ‘clean eating’ is praised and almost creepily coveted.

There’s even a new eating disorder called ‘orthorexia’ that’s popped up within the last several years. This is an obsession with eating only ‘pure, clean’ foods. That’s where we really have to look at the fine line between health and an unhealthy obsession.

Body Image and ‘Clean Eating’

Here’s a familiar scenario that’s seen quite often in the bodybuilding/fitness community:

A woman discovers physique competitions and wants to prove to herself that she can put on a swimsuit, get onstage, and strut her stuff showing off her hard work to the world! But, where to begin? An online coach suggests she cut out gluten, dairy, sugar, and fruit. But, she can treat herself to one cheat meal a week. She’s heard of IIFYM, but hey, that’s only for the weak!

The aspiring competitor restrains herself all week; avoiding plans with friends, bringing her Tupperware everywhere she goes, scouring food labels ensuring there’s no sugar or gluten contaminating her clean diet plan. But, once Saturday hits, it’s time to give into her cravings.

She orders an appetizer, followed by an entrée, and of course, dessert. Fitting as many treats into her meal as possible. Before you know it, she’s consumed 3,350 calories for dinner (this total is taken from a popular chain restaurant). When it would be best to avoid such diet plan-wrecking behavior by hiring an experienced IIFYM coach to create a Custom Macro Blueprint, that’s centered around balance.


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Fast forward post show. The competitor has successfully made it to the stage! Now what? Post show blues settle in, and there’s no goal on the horizon. Inevitably, abstaining from treats becomes difficult, and the competitor starts to give in. Bingeing on chips and pizza, and afterward, feeling horrible shame and guilt.

Plus, after this intense dieting phase, these massive binges lead to unwanted weight gain, plus a diminished body image. This then sends the competitor into another diet phase through ‘clean eating’. Thus starts the yo-yo of dieting, binging and an unhealthy relationship with food.

Yes, it happens. Often. By the end of it all, her body image is trashed, and much of this could’ve been avoided by implementing IIFYM.

Body Image and IIFYM

Here’s another scenario:

A new competitor decides to hit the stage. They hire an IIFYM coach who follows flexible dieting principles and macro counting. They manage to fit a treat in here and there throughout the week, and maybe even a little more on a weekly refeed day. No restrictions, no bingeing. The competitor can go out with family and friends, ordering mindfully from the menu.

Fast forward post show. The competitor increases calories, while still enjoying the food she loves following an IIFYM diet plan. No need to binge, no need to feel shame. There’s no massive weight gain, and no pit of shame she needs to climb out of. Plus, due to moderate, reasonable weight gain, the competitor’s body image is still in a positive place and allows her to carry over into her growth season happily.


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Changing Your Body Image Won’t Bring You Happiness – Changing Your Mentality Will

As many set out on their fitness journey they believe “if only I reach this weight I’ll be happy!”. Unfortunately, that’s not true.

There is no ‘happiness weight’, there is no musculature that will bring you complete joy, contentment, and an ideal body image, and there is no ‘diet’ or magical foods that will get you where you want to go (again, IIFYM for the win!). Ask anyone in the gym; you will never be as big as you want to be, or as lean as you want to be.

Stop Chasing the Ideal Body Image

Chasing that ideal physique is a forever quest, and the ideal is constantly changing. Below are a few tips for finding that balance and keeping a healthy body image/mentality as well as a healthy physique all while following IIFYM:

  • When browsing through social media, keep in mind that most things are not as they appear. These fitness icons are human too. Flawed, insecure and definitely not perfect.
  • If you’re still thinking about that donut you ate last week, and not in a reminiscing sort of way, that is NOT health. You can have a healthy body while still enjoying ‘fun’ foods. That’s the beauty of IIFYM!
  • Focus on what your body is capable of, not just how it looks. If you’re a competitor, it can be difficult transitioning from lean, prep body into fluffier, offseason body. So, rather than focusing on what your body looks like constantly, focus on what it can do. Set goals, hit new PRs, and focus on how amazing you feel at a healthy body weight. Feeling good in the gym, and feeling good about the food choices you’re making (enjoying a balanced diet and foods you love through IIFYM), is a great way to improve body image.

Reality vs. perception when it comes to body image is a tough topic. When we’re constantly being bombarded with these perfect images it evokes strong feelings of inadequacy in many people. Many use these social media pages as motivators, but end up feeling discouraged.

Scroll with caution, and keep these things in mind next time you’re feeling less than perfect, and reach out to an IIFYM coach to find a goal that’s realistic for you. A great place to start is with their Custom Macro Blueprint which is personalized to your goals.


The post Reality vs. Perception of Body Image: The Falsehood of the Ideal Physique appeared first on IIFYM.

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