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Luke Matthews

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There is a reason the United States Marine Corps incorporates pull-ups in their physical fitness testing. They are the ultimate measure of upper body strength. I’m going to give you my best tips to increase your pull-up number as well as some reasons why your number is so low. Just like any other exercise, you have to break down the movement and understand how it all works to get the most out of the exercise.

When I was in the boot camp in the Marines, one of the strategies my drill instructor used for our pull-up development was to add weight. We would fill up our canteens with water and put one in each cargo pocket. It’s not a ton of weight, but it adds up. The muscles get used to a certain weight. Then, you drop about 20 pounds of “water weight” for your physical fitness test. You can feel the difference!

Before you proceed with pull-up progression, it’s important to make sure you are using all of your muscles properly. They all need to be contracting together. A lot of people are using primarily biceps or rear delts. The lats need to be the main muscle in use. This takes time to develop the mind-muscle connection with the lat. When you’re doing lat pull-downs, really establish the neurological connection with the muscle. Feel the fibres as you squeeze hard at the end range of motion. Keep in mind the scapula depressing and retracting. You can practice this by hanging from the bar with your arms straight and just contracting the scapulas back and down.

Before you proceed with pull-up progression, it’s important to make sure you are using all of your muscles properly. They all need to be contracting together.

Grip variations can be an excellent way to hit all angles of the back. Try working with a wide, narrow, neutral, and underhand grip. This will strengthen the lats, shoulders, and biceps which all work together in the pull-up motion.

You are always stronger when doing negatives. Try doing pull-ups starting at the top and slowly lower yourself down, resisting the pull of gravity. You can add weight to make it even more challenging. Again, this will recruit more muscle fibres and increase strength and endurance.

Try these tips and strategies and I’m positive your pull-up game will be the best it has ever been. Stay consistent and challenge yourself to beat your record high each week. Pull-ups are the greatest test of upper body strength. Let’s see how high you can go!

They’re coming! All the holiday parties, dinners, and get-togethers with all our favourite cheat meals and deserts. You literally feel like you have to dodge a minefield and once you get hit it’s all over. One cookie can turn into a weekend of sabotage. We have all been there. I’ve put together my top 3 strategies to focus on during the holidays to avoid a sugar-binging disaster.

I think one of the biggest mistakes people make going into the holidays is that they try and eat too little the day of the party. When this happens, people tend to indulge because they are already craving calories (energy) and sugar in particular.

The strategies:

  • Plan ahead. Mark your events down on the calendar so you can adjust your macros and calories for the week leading into that date. This will calculate into having some extra calories to use up on the day of the party or dinner. This should help you avoid starving yourself on the day off and turning into a starving angry lion.
  • Stay consistent with your workouts during the week and even through in an extra cardio session or two. This will give you a bigger “calorie bank” to use up during those holiday parties. If you can’t get back to the gym, add an additional 20 to 30 minutes of cardio after your weight training.
  • It’s important to stay present at any given moment, but take advantage of this month to focus on your 2022 goals. Occasionally start writing down your goals for the new year and how you are going to reach them.  For me personally, I start to put together my Marcos and diet that I’m going to start within January.  I’ll have my plan of attack all set for when January hits so I’m not scrambling around for direction when it’s already the new year. With this mentality, it will help you keep the big picture in mind keeping you motivated to stay on track during tempting times.

Spending the holidays on a restricted diet is no fun. Enjoy some of your favourite foods and use the extra calories to hit the gym hard. If you do end up in a slight surplus in calories it’s a good time to focus on muscle building and getting stronger. Everything is leading up to your 2022 goals. Start making that plan to make next year your best!

Photo By: PJ

It’s been a long day at work and your friends or co-workers want to grab dinner and drinks.  You haven’t been to the gym yet and it’s been a long day so you know afterwards it’s going to be late and your workout will suffer.  You also don’t want to upset your friends or the cohesiveness with your co-workers.  What do you do?

This situation recently happened to me on a business trip in Miami.  We got off around 8 pm and everyone wanted to go right to dinner.  I knew it was going to be a late-night and would be exhausted by the time I got to the gym.  The gym is one of my top priorities.  With that being said, instead of going out for dinner with everyone I went straight to the gym and got in an awesome shoulder day.

Actions can become habits very quickly.  Keep yourself accountable with consistency. If you are already in shape, you are that way for a reason.

There are a few things to examine here.  True friends will be understanding of your goals and lifestyle.  If they give you a fit about not joining them then they probably aren’t truly in your corner.  Remember, the top 5 people you hang around tend to be the biggest influencers in your lifestyle.

You have made a commitment and goal to live a healthy and fit lifestyle.  This doesn’t mean you can’t miss a gym session or ever have pizza again.  It means that there will always be an excuse to miss the gym or not eat clean again and again.  Actions can become habits very quickly.  Keep yourself accountable with consistency. If you are already in shape, you are that way for a reason.  You do today what others say that they will do tomorrow.  Everyone wishes to be healthy and fit, but it’s the ones that make it their lifestyle.  That means you have to make sacrifices.

You may catch some heat for it at the moment, but remember that you are inspiring more people than you think.  Some of the people that are inspired by your behaviour the most will never let you know.  Keep that in mind and you always have that little extra motivation to do you.

When it comes to the gym we tend to avoid certain exercises or muscle groups that we suck at.  Why do we suck at them?  It can be due to a lot of things such as weakness, lack of mobility or range of motion, and poor form.  I want to encourage you to select a muscle group of exercise you feel you suck at and dominate it.

This kind of challenge can get you excited to hit the gym with new goals.  It’s motivating to watch and feel progress in something you aren’t very good at.  Take a squat for example.  When chasing a personal record gives you that competitive drive to achieve a personal best.  The same concept applies to getting good as something you used to avoid.  It gives you something to work on instead of going to the gym and doing the same old routine.

The best reward is seeing the difference not only in the mirror but the confidence and sense of accomplishment you achieved.

A lot of people don’t do abs, or they do a sloppy set at the end of their workout.  They hate doing abs because more than likely their abs are weak.  It really is as simple as that.  I would suggest working on your abs at the beginning of your workout with an added amount of volume.  From there you can work your way up in sets and reps.  You will quickly notice your core becoming stronger and more effective in the movements.  From there you add in different angles and exercises that make up a well-rounded core workout.  The best reward is seeing the difference not only in the mirror but the confidence and sense of accomplishment you achieved.

This course of attack is great for anything you are struggling with at the gym.  Whether it’s shoulder mobility, rotator cuff strength, flexibility, or bigger biceps, this strategy can get you focused and determined.  Once you master the targeted area you can move on to the next one and build your body from weakest to strongest.  Give it a try, you don’t have to suck.

Photo By: Frank Kovalchek

I get a lot of questions from people asking how to change up their workout routine.  There are a lot of answers to that, but I’m going to focus on one specific way that can reignite your next gym session.

I’m a huge believer in changing up your tempo.  Sometimes things get “boring” or monotonous in the gym, especially when we get complacent which happens to all of us at times. Changing up your tempo can feel like a whole other exercise.   The muscles will freak out screaming “what are you doing?”  This will trigger more muscle recruitment and damage for growth and conditioning.

Sometimes things get “boring” or monotonous in the gym, especially when we get complacent which happens to all of us at times. Changing up your tempo can feel like a whole other exercise.

There are several ways to change up the tempo of the exercise.  No matter what you are doing, try doing the exercise slowly.  Take about 3 times long as it would normally take to complete the movement.  For example:  When doing lateral raises, really slow down the eccentric lowering of the dumbbells.  You will notice the muscles fighting harder to resist than the gravitational force.  This will defiantly set your shoulders on fire forcing more muscle recruitment.  Another form of tempo change is to do half reps in-between a normal full rep.  For example:  When doing a squat movement, perform a half squat or pulse.  At the bottom of the squat continue halfway up, then go back down before raising all the way to the top.  This will challenge your legs in a different way.  This keeps muscles under tension a little longer and will adhibit muscle confusion which causes them to strengthen.

The next time you hit the gym try changing up the tempo.  I promise it will feel like you are doing a whole different exercise.  You don’t have to do this every time, but it’s a great tool to use for building your physique and fitness in general.

Photo By: Andrew Feraci

Yesterday was leg day.  I hit a personal record with my squat that made me remember how far I’ve come. I hope this story inspires and reminds you that perseverance and the will to press forward can take you further than you ever thought possible.

At the end of my freshman year of college, I dove for a fly ball in the outfield that separated my pelvis.  The doctor told me many things, but one was that I may never be able to squat under a barbell with any kind of load ever again.  As a college athlete and fitness fanatic, I was devastated.  I spent the upcoming summer and fall working with chiropractors and endured intensive physical therapy.  I had just come off an All-Conference freshman year and I  was determined to at least get back on the field and continue my career.  The adjustments and PT helped me get back to a starting position halfway through the spring of my Sophomore year.  However, I never did hit the squat rack as my doctor had advised.  I was just happy to get back playing.

Something inside me kept driving me to add weight to my squat.  Something told me that I’m not going to be limited by fear.

Fast forward years later, I worked my way back to squatting with high reps at 135 lbs.  I didn’t go too far past that weight from fear that I would re-injure my pelvis.  After my playing days were over, I would slowly work my squat weight and volume up more and more.  I would do a lot of plyometrics in order to burn fat and work my legs intensely without the added weight.  This worked well for the Men’s Physique division because of the fat-burning benefits of plyometrics, but also because of the board shorts hiding my upper legs.

Something inside me kept driving me to add weight to my squat.  Something told me that I’m not going to be limited by fear.  I knew my body well, and I wasn’t going to give up my discernment to someone that didn’t know my body, work ethic, or desire to squat again.

Just in the past 6 months, I’ve been really working on a progressive overload for my squat.  I’ve incorporated all the band work for my hip strength and stability as well.  The whole time I’ve had the doctors voice in my head.  That did two things:

  • It kept me humble and careful not to progress too fast.
  • It kept me motivated to prove him wrong, not so much the doctor, but to prove it to myself.  All the hard work has paid off and my pelvis is more sturdy than ever.  I certainly don’t advise anyone to go against their doctors’ advice.  But, I do advise you to push the limits strategically with a burning desire to persevere in hopes of reaching all that you are capable of.

Photo By: Andrew Feraci

I broke through my amateur culinary celling when I incorporated the powerful Cayenne pepper into my arsenal of spices.  Before I knew much about cooking I thought adding black pepper was a stretch until I found out about the kick of heat presented by the cayenne pepper.  It became a game-changer, not only for the taste but for the overall health benefits as well.

Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, which increases your metabolic rate.  It’s also known to raise the body temperature, regulate blood sugar, stimulate the circulatory system, aid in digestion, and relieve joint pains and inflammation.  Too bad it can’t do the dishes, but as you can see it’s full of a variety of benefits.

I love to mix it in my homemade chicken noodle soup to bring the heat, especially in the colder months to come.

Let’s go back to capsaicin.  Capsaicin is responsible for the heat cayenne pepper gives off which is responsible for all those benefits.  Capsaicin is known to produce extra heat in our body and burn more fat and calories in the process.  This can increase our body’s metabolic rate by 20 per cent for up to 2 hours.  Studies have found that Capsaicin can suppress hunger as well.  For me personally, I try to add in cayenne pepper power wherever I can throughout the day.  I’ll put some on my eggs in the morning or in my soup at night.  I love to mix it in my homemade chicken noodle soup to bring the heat, especially in the colder months to come.

I suggest looking into adding cayenne pepper to your everyday diet when you can.  After a week or so take note of any changes in your body you may feel such as reduced joint pain from the anti-inflammatory properties.  There is a whole mess of information regarding the health benefits of this super spice.  Other than the fiery taste, the metabolism boost has to make cayenne pepper a staple in my everyday diet.  Give it a try and if your taste buds can handle the heat, your body with thank you later.

Photo By: Mel Ricketts

You do great all week working out and eating clean Monday through Friday and then comes the weekend.  Do you stay on your regiment or do you fall off the wagon and set it on fire?  No matter what, sacrifices need to be made and that’s just the reality.  I’m no stranger to either one, but in order to stay clear of a disastrous weekend, there are several tips to follow to stay the course while still enjoying yourself.

Create a weekend routine
Structure and routine breed good habits.  Just like your weekly routine, your weekend should have some organization including your workouts and diet.

Don’t skip your workout just because it’s the weekend
Be excited to crush a morning workout so you have the rest of the day to hang with friends or do whatever.  You can enjoy the day knowing you got your workout in and can take pride in that.

Try not to deprive yourself during the week.
You are more likely on Friday night to feel like you hit the finish line and binge the rest of the weekend.  Stay balanced during the week.  I follow an 80% to 20% clean to not so clean regiment.  This keeps me human, and I don’t feel the urge to cheat on the weekends.  I keep the same ratio 7 days a week.

Crush your weekend goals just like the rest of the week!

Keep foods that you wouldn’t eat during the week out of sight during the weekends
In the past, I was guilty of having pop tarts on the weekends.  However, I would devour the whole box each time.  If it’s not in your regular diet try to keep it out of the house and only enjoy certain treats on special occasions.  This will keep you from building it as a habit.

View calories as weekly instead of daily
This means messing up your diet on one day won’t make a difference if you stay in a calorie deficit for the rest of the week.  This of course depends on your goals such as weight loss or maintenance.

Plan ahead
If you have a dinner date or event where the food may be out of your control make sure to save up your calories during the day or week.  However, remember not to starve yourself the whole day or it may backfire on you.  It’s all about making smart and pre-planned choices for success.

Remember it’s ok to mess up.  Don’t punish yourself, learn from it and pick up where you left off.  One “bad” weekend won’t undo all your hard work.  The problem lies when it turns into every weekend.  Use that weekend to motivate you and follow the tips above.  Crush your weekend goals just like the rest of the week!

Photo By: V E R O N I C A

We have all fallen off the wagon from our consistent diet or healthy eating lifestyle.  Whether it be from one bad cheat meal, cheat day, week vacation, or a whole month that spun out of control, it can happen to anyone.  Sometimes we can pinpoint how it happened, but other times we end up saying “how did I get here?”  Let’s dive into some strategies to help you get back on track.

It all starts with the mindset.  Your body follows the mind so get that headed in the right direction first.  You have to know what your goal is with your fitness and diet.  A clear vision gives you something to work for or even maintain.  A good example of this is the fitness competitor after a competition.  Once they are off stage and grab that celebratory meal (mine was always pizza) their goal has been expired.  Competitors put so much focus into that day and the days leading up that that afterwards it’s easy to not have a goal or level they want to reach after.  This can cause days if not weeks or longer of aimless workouts and dietary discipline.  Definitely reward yourself and enjoy special events like weddings and celebrations, but the key is to always be one step ahead mentally with how you’re going to attack your goals in the days ahead.  For me personally, I have a vision of how I want a healthy fit lifestyle day after day.  I take pride in the discipline and consistency it takes to maintain a great physique.  Remember, if It was easy anyone could do it.  You are not just anyone!

One smart healthy choice at a time, one day at a time with a clear vision or your goal and you are on your way.  There is no better time to get back on track than today. 

Make one choice at a time.  Sometimes it starts with ordering that salad and burger rather than the burger and fries.  It’s making that first choice in the morning with smart food choices.  Keep your protein and healthy fats higher in the morning so your blood sugar isn’t spiked and you crave more sugar and carbs throughout the day.  Keep up with your workouts, weights and cardio.  Small choices each day like getting in that extra cardio or HIIT session make all the difference to get back on track.

Photo By: Jake & Erica Smith

Abs are the representation of a well-built physique and symbol of discipline.  They are easy to wish for, but obtaining them can be difficult to earn.  If it was easy everyone would have them.  That’s also what makes abs so rewarding when you see them start to form.  I have 6 quick tips to consider when training for abs.

Squeeze them at the top
Don’t focus on counting your reps.  The most important thing is to squeeze those abs at the top as if you are ringing out a wet sponge.  Ten quality hard contracted reps are better than 30 sloppy ones any day.  This is where a mind-muscle connection is extremely important and effective.  The abs will respond greatly to this technique.

No more than 15 seconds in-between sets
Abs respond well to time under tension.  I have found that 15 seconds is the magic number before the added benefit of the previous set starts to diminish.  It’s hard to only “rest” 15 seconds, but remember it’s about quality reps and time under tension, not about the rep count.

Train abs 1st
A lot of us train abs at the end of our workout when we are about to run out of steam.  We quickly get in a few sets and call it good.  Then we wonder why our abs aren’t popping with shredded obliques.  Abs need to be trained hard with our undivided attention just like any other muscle group.  I suggest training them first, at the beginning of your workout for a chance to give them the attention they need.  It also serves as a great warm-up for the rest of your workout and has them activated for stabilization that benefits the rest of your lifts.

You have to borderline obsess about getting them to get going in the right direction.  It takes discipline, commitment, and drive with your diet and fitness.

Isolation
Full-body movements are great for ab development and strength.  However, abs need to be isolated just like a rear delt to get them to form like a sculpture.  I break up my ab training into upper, lower, and oblique training days.  I only train them when they are fully recovered, so if they are still sore I take the day off.

Small movements
The abs fully contract with small movements.  An ab crunch contracts the abs totally without help from the hip flexors as in a full sit up.  Sit-ups are all fine and well, but when trying to isolate the abs keep it short and sweet.

Abs are made in the kitchen
At the end of the day, abs are made in the kitchen.  I believe that it’s 100% diet and 100% fitness.  However, if I had to really break it down I would say it’s an 80% diet.  You just can’t out-train a bad diet.  Get your macros in order and stay consistent.

Abs are one of my favourite muscle groups to train.  Follow my 6 tips and you will be on your way to the chiselled core you desire.

Photo By:  Jay Kenneth