Tuesday, September 25, 2012


These past few weeks, we’ve taken a look at some of the different fitness goals people have. Most commonly, they want to lose a little weight, or even a lot of weight. It’s also common for people to want to get toned up, and sometimes increase their size or strength. But sometimes, people tell me they’d like to get “ripped.”

While getting “ripped” means different things to different people, it’s usually associated with wanting to have good muscle tone everywhere, and such low body fat that all the abdominals and oblique muscles (sides) are showing. This type of physique is pretty unusual, especially in adults.

Being ripped is much more common in males, especially in the teenage years. This is partly due to metabolism and partly due to activity level. The more active they are, the leaner they are. Girls tend not to be quite as cut, even if they’re just as active. There are several reasons for this.

Guys have extremely high levels of testosterone, especially at that age, which results in greater muscular development. Their additional muscle mass increases metabolism which burns more calories, even while resting.

On the other hand, females tend to maintain higher levels of body fat. This is due to much lower levels of testosterone, but much higher levels of estrogen and other hormones. This means their muscle mass will typically be much less than that of males. Women also tend to have more body fat around their midsection for protection of their reproductive organs.

For these reasons, I’ve observed that women wanting to get cut or ripped usually have to work harder than men to get the same result. But that doesn’t make it easy for guys either, especially as they move out of their younger years. For every decade it gets harder.

Someone in their 20’s will find it easier to get ripped than someone in their 30’s. Those in their 30’s will find it easier than someone in their 40’s or 50’s, and so on. This is partly due to metabolism changes as we age. Activity levels also play a huge role, as does decreased muscle mass in both men in women.

But the biggest difficulty in getting ripped is due to our diet. We tend to eat more than we need, especially guys. And even regular fitness enthusiasts often have poor diets, too high in carbs and too low in protein.

If these problems weren’t enough, there’s one more. The easiest pounds to come off are the first few, early in the process. In contrast, the hardest pounds to lose are those stubborn last few, especially around your abdominals and obliques (side muscles).

That will take a very complete and focused effort, with little room for error. This means you’re going to have to maximize your muscle mass but also burn away most of your body fat. But these are conflicting goals.

Pros build up their muscle mass and then do a cut phase where they eat less and more cleaner, eliminating most carbs altogether. Most people find it hard to stick with such a restrictive diet.

To see the top row of abs, your body fat needs to be around 10%. To see the next row, you’ll have to lose another percent, getting down to around 9%. To see another row, you’ll have to be around 8%. The last row will get you down to around 7%. And to eliminate the rest of the body fat below your belly button and around your hips, you’ll need to get down to around 5-6%.

Not only is this difficult, but it usually can’t last very long. Those fitness models and professional bodybuilders you see in the magazines are photographed at a time when they are at their absolute peak fitness and lowest body fat.

They know when the photo shoot is, and train and diet to peak at that moment. They pull back on the heavier weights, focusing on lighter weights and more repetitions, and also increase their cardio. They’re often dehydrated, sometimes even using artificial means to get there.

A good example would be an MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter who cut weight before a fight. They look extremely ripped because they’ve gotten as dehydrated as possible to eliminate any weight due to water weight so they can make their weight.

But once the photo shoot, bodybuilding competition, or MMA fight is over, they have to return to a more normal diet. In the case of fighters, they hydrate and eat right after the weigh-in. Fitness models and bodybuilders typically resume a more traditional muscle building phase. As a result, their body fat can quickly go back up as much as five percent or more.

There’s another way to do it that might work better for you. High intensity exercise programs like P90X, Insanity, or Cross Fit can help get you there. Eliminate rest periods during your weight lifting by doing supersets of opposing muscle groups or adding ab exercises between sets.

Do higher repetitions in some of your sets, and add burn-out drop sets to failure. Add an extra cardio session each day, like going for a 20 minute walk every morning, or riding the bike an hour every night. Or do 20 minutes of cardio like the rower and bike before your workout and then another 20 minutes after. It doesn’t have to be hard, just burn those calories.

At the same time, adjust your calories enough so you can lose a little bit each week. You don’t have to eliminate carbs, just the junk. Make sure the rest of your carbs are high quality, like fruits and vegetables.

Do only low fat dairy, and if you like breads, limit yourself to about half of what you’re used to. Make a sandwich with only one piece of whole grain bread. Use the smaller, lower calorie breads, or rye, which is lower in calories, and has a smaller insulin response. Learn how to quit eating when you’re full.

If you’re already near your ideal weight and in excellent shape, these steps will get you there but you have to stick with it. Little-by-little you’ll start seeing more and more definition, and if you want it bad enough, and don’t give up, you too can “get ripped!”

Don’t worry if you’re not ready for that yet. Most people just want to lose weight and get their life back, so Biggest Loser “17” is starting this week to help you get the ball rolling. If you want to participate, you need to get with me right away! Feel free to contact me through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tomdolanfitness if you have any questions or comments.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Last week I gave you the framework for how a weight lifting program can evolve as a person gets more experienced, and more serious. This week I’d like to give you some sample programs for a couple of those stops along the way.

Keep in mind that there are countless ways to lift weights, along with countless programs. These are a few programs that I use to help people get started and are by no means the only way to do things. As you learn more and more exercises, feel free to change things up often to keep your body guessing—and growing.


The first step is often a simple circuit training program with machines. My circuit hits both your upper and lower body, working opposing muscle groups back-to-back, so one group of muscles can rest while the opposing muscle group rests, and so on.

Chest Press, Seated Row, Pec Fly, Lat Pulldown, Shoulder Press, Rear Delt, Triceps, Biceps, Leg Extension, Leg Curl, Leg Press & Calves, Back Extensions, Ab Crunches.

Someone just starting out can get a full body workout with just one pass through the circuit. Pick a starting weight that you can do at least 10 times comfortably. When you can get 15 reps, increase the weight next time. As you get stronger, do up to 3 sets of each exercise with 20-30 seconds rest (between sets) before moving on to the next one.

A more advanced way of using the circuit is to pick two opposing machines like the Chest Press and Seated Row, and alternate them back-to-back without rest, for 3 sets before moving on to the next pair of machines. Another example is alternating the Bicep and Tricep machines.


Once you decide to start lifting free weights, you’ll have taken a big step toward getting bigger and stronger. A good next step is a 3-Day split routine that breaks the body up into Pushing, Pulling, and Lower Body/Abs. By splitting things up, you can focus more attention on each area by doing more exercises for each body part.

You’ll do Pushing exercises on the first day, Pulling exercises the next day, and Lower Body and Abs on the next. At that point, you take a rest day, do some cardio, or simply start over.

Pick a weight light enough to control, but heavy enough that you feel like you’re doing something. Start with lighter weights in your first set and increase the weights a little bit in each set. Lift heavier weights for size and strength, and do higher repetitions in some exercises for more endurance.

Try to limit the rest time between sets to 30 seconds unless you’re lifting heavier weights. That will give you a cardio benefit to your workout also. Where you see two exercises together, that’s a superset, which should be done back-to-back without rest.

Once you start moving some heavier weights in your Bench Press, Squat, and Dead Lifts, you’ll need longer rest breaks. It’s normal to take up to a minute or two between sets for the heavier sets. In extreme cases—for those lifting the heaviest weights—rest breaks can be as long as five minutes.

Take your time and work up to things. Do slow and steady movements that you are controlling at all times. Don’t overdo things. If you don’t know how to do something, go online and Google them, or ask a trainer or experienced lifter in your gym.

(Chest, Shoulders & Triceps):

• 5-10 min warm-up on Schwinn AirDyne or Elliptical

• Bench Press or Dumbbell (DB) presses on a ball (4-5 sets of 8-10 reps)

• Incline Bench Press or Pec Fly Machine (3-4 sets of 10-12 reps)

• DB Lateral Raises -AND- DB Overhead Tricep Presses (3 x 10)

• Front Shoulder Raises w/bar -AND- DB Kickbacks (3 x 10)

• Single Arm Cable Tricep Pushdowns (reverse grip) (3 x 10)

• 5-10 min cool-down on Schwinn AirDyne or Elliptical

(Back & Biceps):

• 5-10 min warm-up on Schwinn AirDyne, Elliptical or Rowing Machine

• Straight Bar Dead Lifts (slightly bent knees) -AND- Wide Grip Pull-ups or Lat Pulldown machine or Assisted Pullups on Chin/Dip machine (3-4 sets of 10-12 reps)

• T-Bar Rows -AND- Preacher Curls w/EZ curl bar (3-4 sets of 8-10 reps)

• DB Hammer Curls (3-4 sets of 10-12 reps)

• DB Concentration Curls or Cable Curls (3 x 10)

• 5-10 min cool-down on Schwinn AirDyne, Elliptical or Rowing Machine

(Lower Body & Abs):

• 5-10 min warm-up on Schwinn AirDyne

• Rear Squats (5-6 sets of 8-10 reps) -AND- Leg Raises (12-15 reps)

• Leg Extension Machine -AND- Leg Curl Machine (3 sets of 10-12 reps)

• Calf Machine -AND- Cable Crunches (3 sets of 12-15 reps)

• 5-10 min cool-down on Schwinn AirDyne

Feel free to contact me through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tomdolanfitness if you have any questions or comments!

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Last week we talked about the main three fitness goals I’ve seen—toning up a bit, losing a little weight, or losing lots of weight—along with a basic game plan for each goal. But there are some other goals that people often have, including gaining size and strength; getting ripped; and training for specific events. This week I’d like to focus on Gaining Size and Strength.

This is a very common goal, particularly with men. Gaining size and strength is not all that difficult to do, especially for someone just starting out. At that point, most anything will work, and it really comes down to just adding more calories to your diet, and getting to the gym often, hitting the weights.

You need to make sure the calories are high quality, with lots of protein for building muscle and bone. That protein can come from low-fat dairy products, lean meats, nuts, peanut butter, and often, protein shakes.

Your protein shakes should also contain glutamine, and some carbs, both of which help your recovery. The better ones have several different types of protein which have different absorption rates, and they often taste better too. Several reputable online stores include: www.gnc.com , www.bodybuilder.com , and www.nutritionexpress.com , which is where I get my shakes.

You’ll also need some quality carbs like whole grains and fruits to fuel your workouts. You can even purchase different workout shakes that can help you fuel up before your workout too. Personally, I just have a good breakfast with some fruit, whole-grain waffles, and some yogurt.

Weight-lifting routines for beginners often focus on all the major muscle groups and are called whole-body workouts. Typically, you’ll start with weight machines, doing a circuit which hits all your muscle groups in a sequence. The machines will help learn different exercises and how to use your muscles in a pretty safe manner.

As you advance, however, you’ll probably want to replace many if not all of the machine exercises with free weights. While machines are great for isolating muscle groups, free weights require you to balance and control the weights yourself, which uses more stabilizer muscles. You also won’t have the leverage advantage machines often provide, so you’ll be doing more work, which gives you a better workout.

At that point, you’ll probably also want to start splitting things up into different workouts (workout splits). Then, you might do only Pushing exercises one day (Chest Shoulders & Triceps), Pulling exercises the next day (Back & Biceps), and Lower Body exercises (Legs & Abs) the next.

After that, you’d either start over, or take a rest day. Since you’re limiting your workout to fewer muscle groups, this allows you to do more exercises for each area, working those particular muscles harder. This is called a 3-Day Split Routine.

If you do Pushing on M, Pulling on T, and Lower Body on W, and then go right to Pushing on TH, Pulling on F, and Lower on SA, you might want to hit things a little heavier or do more in the workouts earlier in the week. Then when you hit them again, later in the week, go a little lighter, or do fewer exercises. This will help you recover for the following week.

Advanced body-builders often do 4-Day and even 5-Day Split routines. A common 4-Day Split routine is Chest & Triceps-M, Back & Biceps-TU, Legs & Abs (W), and Shoulders (TH).

A 5-Day Split could include Chest-M, Back-TU, Legs & Abs (W), Shoulders (TH), and Biceps & Triceps (F). In each case, these advanced splits allow you to pull out a specific area that you’d like to focus on, so you can do more exercises that hit that exact muscle group.

These aren’t the only ways to do it. I know some really successful guys who split it up in different ways. One does Chest & Biceps, Legs & Shoulders, and Back & Triceps, throwing in some Ab exercises every other time.

This is the big picture—the overall plan of action. For more specific information like exercises, sets and reps, you need to dig deeper. Get with a trainer or someone in your gym that looks like they know what they’re doing.

Be careful though. Don’t think that just because someone looks great and got great results with a program they did, that it’s right for you. Everyone’s different and the real fun comes from figuring out what works best for you.

I’m convinced that most programs will bring results, at least for awhile, if you’ll just stick with it. After awhile, it’s good to change things up. This makes your workouts fresh and interesting, and also keeps your body guessing.

One good resource is www.bodybuilding.com . You’ll find lots of article detailing specific routines, including all the exercises, number of sets and reps. Or you can pick up a recent copy of “Muscle & Fitness”, “Men’s Health”, or “Oxygen” (for ladies).

Next week I’ll give you some sample workouts I like for each routine we looked at today. Don’t forget, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tomdolanfitness !

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


Like we talked about last week, this is the season when we start to see things picking back up in the gym. Many are just getting back into things after a summer packed fill of other activities. But for some, it might be the first time in a long while. For a few, it might even be the first time!

Even though everyone’s situation is a little different, we all need a plan. So what’s your main workout goal? Here are some of the reasons people have for getting back in the gym, and a basic game plan.

If you just want to tone up a bit—this is probably the easiest thing to do. All you need to do is add some basic weight training workouts for 30 minutes, three days a week, on M-W-F. It could also be T-TH-SA. Just make sure you get a rest day between.

Start with the machine circuit in your gym. If you’re not sure how to use the machines, get with a trainer or a friend who’s familiar with the equipment. At some point, you might want to add some free weight exercises too. You won’t need to change your diet much, if any. You might want to add some protein however, to support that new muscle!

If you just want to lose a little weight—this is still pretty easy. All it takes is adding 30 minutes of activity every day while keeping your food intake the same. Use the same weight training program outlined above on M-W-F.

On T-TH-SA, do 30 minutes of cardio on the treadmill, elliptical, recumbent bike, upright bike, Schwinn Airdyne, rower, or stair-stepper. It can be 30 minutes on one piece of equipment, or you can break it up. Some people like to do 5 min jogging, 5 min rowing, 5 min on the Schwinn Airdyne, and then repeat it 2 or 3 times.

On the food front, you’ll need to start watching what you eat a little bit. Try to cut back on the things you know you shouldn’t eat (junk foods, candy, pop, etc…). Go for something better instead, most of the time, like fruits and vegetables, and foods with more whole-grains.

With this approach, you’ll see a change in your clothing within a couple weeks. In a month, you can expect to lose 5-10 lbs without too much trouble. The more you do, the quicker you’ll see the results.

If you want to lose lots of weight—this is a pretty tough job but you can do it. The problem is that it takes a lot of work to burn fat that you might have taken years to put on. It also takes a pretty disciplined approach to your eating, because you need to change lots of habits you’ve had for years too.

I like 12 week programs. They’re short enough that you can see the end, but long enough to help you learn some new habits. Follow the same weight loss advice above, but add two other things to your routine: a second workout every day, and a food journal. Set a 12 week goal.

The second workout can actually be the first workout in the day. If you have time, get up 20 minutes earlier and go walk a mile. Most people can do a mile in 20 minutes at a comfortable pace. It doesn’t have to be a hard workout, you’re just trying to burn some calories and get your furnace going for the day.

The daily food journal is important, because it makes you accountable. If you’re high tech, use an app on your smart phone or computer. There are lots of good ones out there like www.myfitnesspal.com , www.calorieking.com , & www.myfooddiary.com .

Write everything down. If you’re not using a program to help you with the calories, get the information off the cans, boxes, and labels or buy a small calorie guide. They’re cheap and will tell you what you need to know.

The main reason you write things down is to become aware of how much you’re eating, and the caloric value of different foods. When you compare it to the amount of calories burned during exercise, you’ll learn that it’s easy to undo a whole workout in just one weak moment!

Over the years, I’ve seen people lose up to 60 lbs in 12 weeks, with 30-40 lbs being pretty common. That was with really hard work, and lots of discipline in their eating.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter which particular diet you follow, or which specific exercise program you use. The main things are that you do something and that you stick with it. Once it stops working for you, change things up a little bit. Things will pick back up for you.

These aren’t the only workout goals people can have. Some want to gain size and strength, some want to get totally ripped, while others might want to prepare for some event like a 5K, obstacle run, Tough Mudder, Half-Marathon, or even a full marathon. More on those goals next week!

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tomdolanfitness !

Saturday, September 01, 2012


Every year at this time, we start seeing more people come back to the gym. We typically see a significant drop during the summers, and then things pick back up in the fall, as they are now.

Part of the summer drop is due to the increase in outdoor adult activities like baseball, softball, and running outside. Parents also don’t have as much free time, due to the kids being home from school—often with extra activities of their own.

Once summer ends, I can almost hear the giant sigh of relief as people start making their way back into the gym. Since the kids have to get used to a different routine all over again, it might be a good idea to look at some things to help you get your own routine going again in the gym. So let’s go back to fitness school.

First of all, don’t do too much your first few visits. If you haven’t been working out, you’ve lost some muscle tone and probably put on some fat. That’s O.K. We’ll take care of it. But right now, you just want to get moving again.

It’s very easy to overdo things—especially if you’ve really been working out a lot in the past. The problem is, your body needs to get prepared for those hard workouts, and if you don’t respect that, you’ll be incredibly sore, and possibly even get injured.

Lots of people get shin splints in the first couple weeks of a walking or jogging program. Part of it is their form, where they are spending too much time on their heels. The right way to do it is to try and land mid-foot if possible, and then lift your heel up while pushing off the ball of your foot. This will use more calf muscle and give your shins a break.

A good start is to come in and do some light cardio and stretching your first time. Work on walking two or three miles before you start running. When you do start jogging again, jog intervals like a minute or two, followed by walking intervals for a minute or two.

Once it starts feeling easy, you can lengthen your running intervals to a quarter or half mile. Then you can start doing a whole mile. Don’t worry too much about your speed either. Your body will tell you when you’re ready for more.

If you’re going to hit the weights, you might consider doing the machines for a week to get your muscles used to working out again. Start with weights lower than you were used to before, and stop before you’ve done too much.

If you want to jump right back into the free weights, that’s fine too. Just make sure you use slightly lighter weights than you did before. After a week or so you’ll be able to start lifting a little heavier, and in two to three weeks, you should be ready to start moving some of the weight you did before.

The main thing is to listen to your body—it’ll tell you pretty quickly when you’re overdoing things. You need to make sure you match the workouts with the right nutrition. Get plenty of protein in your diet for building muscle and bone, and some quality carbs to fuel those workouts. A pre-workout snack 45 minutes to an hour before will help keep you going!

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tomdolanfitness !