Luke Matthews


When it comes to reaching your goals, it’s all about having a plan and maintaining a big-picture perspective. It’s too easy to fall off the wagon if you have a bad day, miss another workout or fall victim to bad food cravings. With the perspective of winning the week, it gives you a mental tool to see 7 days as a whole.

If you can make progress each week and keep it as your lifestyle, that’s when you know you are on the right track to making it life-changing.

This mindset gives you time. If you mess up a day or two you have 5 or 6 other days to make up for what threw you off. This can also prepare you for a big birthday or holiday dinner. Garlic knots and pizza can be planned and managed in the week leading up to that meal. By adjusting your workouts and diet, you can fit in foods you enjoy pretty easily. I like to think of this strategy like it’s a bank account. Money spent is calories eaten. You get so many calories a week to eat. It’s your choice how and when you eat them. A deposit can be made using your workouts during the week to help out with your budget.

I personally used this mentality during my week to stay on track while still being able to enjoy some of my favourite foods. Remember, it’s all about balance and maintaining a healthy lifestyle both physically and mentally. If you can make progress each week and keep it as your lifestyle, that’s when you know you are on the right track to making it life-changing. Consistency is key, one week at a time.

Heading into the winter it’s easy to lose sight of next summer and your fitness goals. For me personally, I like to be in my top physical condition by the beginning of June. I’ve learned to not get too far behind over the winter months, as the journey back to the top condition can be torturous. Maintain your focus and remember your vision for next summer so you don’t dig yourself into a hole.

A lot of people like to start a “bulk” during the winter months. Depending on your goals that can be a good idea, however, I never recommend a “dirty” bulk. Bulking while overeating can be an easy way to gain unwanted weight. The surplus of calories can help you build some muscle, but once you start to shred down a lot of that muscle can be lost.

I recommend doing a “clean” bulk. What does that look like? A surplus in calories between 500 and 1000 daily while still tracking your macros and eating clean food. Dirty bulks often give people the sense that they can eat whatever they want. Again, I don’t recommend this because you can gain too much-unwanted weight. Keep your macros balanced and managed as well, it can be easy to lose track making them unbalanced. You want to keep your ratios somewhat the same with maybe a higher level of protein. Your clean bulk must be accompanied by a solid workout routine that focuses on strength and hypertrophy.

I like to do a slight clean bulk, adding about 500 calories to my diet. Calories are still managed and measured so I know what my macros look like and the extra 500 calories aren’t out of thin air. Strategic placement of macros is in mind as I increase protein to aid in my training that’s focused on building muscle.

If you are not interested in bulking this winter, remember to keep up with your cardio and balanced diet. The cold weather can discourage cardio outside which can neglect your cardio training altogether. Stay disciplined and hit the treadmill, stair master, or whatever keeps you consistent. I always try to keep in mind those spring months and get a head start with maintaining my plan through the winter months. Your body and mind with thank you for it.

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Are you having a hard time getting the results you want from the gym? Does it seem like your “hard work” isn’t paying off? These are just a couple of questions we have asked ourselves at times over the years when goals are taking longer than expected.  I want to challenge you to look in the mirror and really ask yourself, am I really “All In?”

Going all in doesn’t mean you have to eat chicken and broccoli for the rest of your life. It means you take those small steps that turn into consistent habits that forge the body and lifestyle you want. The most successful people make small changes over time. Small good habits lead to big change. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is expecting changes to happen overnight. Maybe this can happen for a while, but big changes usually don’t last long. It’s the little changes that snowball into more and more good habits that break into a lifestyle.

It’s pretty straightforward what habits should be at the forefront of your lifestyle. Meal prepping with the right foods and a consistent workout plan that includes resistance training should be automatic. However, the key to all of this is to make it consistent. Good things take time, time and consistency.

I encourage you to take those first steps by taking a vow to yourself that you will see it through and make it your lifestyle. Work hard and focus on your vision and keep pushing it forward.  You will always have a time that you stumble, but it’s when you get up and right back at it that separates you from the rest.

Photo by: Taylor Cifuentes

Whether your goal is to become lean or you are already where you want to be, the habits that got you there will also keep you there. The concepts that paved that path to become the shredded need to be dialled in as daily habits in order to maintain your hard work and focus. I’ve listed 4 lean habits below that will help remind you of what needs to take place during your day and weekly planning to stay on track.

    Sleep and rest hours dictate the way your body burns calories. Whether those calories are coming from body fat or elsewhere. If you are not getting enough sleep, your body will not recover properly. I feel like sleep is underrated. Sleep helps keep your hormones balanced and intact, which aids in recovery and promotes results in the gym.
    Meal prepping for the week is one of the biggest “secrets” to staying on track. It really doesn’t take that much effort each week to prepare a good amount of meals for the week. In the end, it actually saves time because you get it all done in one shot and don’t have to cook or clean up each meal throughout the week. You are also in charge of what you put into your meals. It takes the power away from last-minute drive-through slip-ups or quick options that aren’t standard for your macros.
    As stated above, eating meals away from home decreases awareness of the calories and ingredients in the meal. The more in control of your food environment, the better. You never know what kinds of oils, butter, or similar ingredients a restaurant puts on your food.
    Understanding or having a background in how to track macros and what is essential for your body is key for keeping your weight and body metrics where you want them long term. Without his baseline, it’s hard to know intuitively where you should be in compliance with your goals.

Hitting the gym for most people is the easiest part of the fitness journey. It’s what you do the other 23 hours in the day for weeks, months, and years consistently that makes the biggest changes. Make lean habits a part of your everyday life, and you are well on your way to getting lean and maintaining it for life.

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It’s important to know how many calories you need to eat each day.  Once you dial that in you can choose the best low-calorie diet plan. Your daily calories will depend on your goals, size, sex, and activity level. Weight loss does not occur without a caloric deficit. This means you need to burn more calories than you consume.

Getting started on a new diet can become overwhelming, especially when you are trying to plug everything you eat into MyFitnessPal to count all your calories. Instead, I suggest monitoring portion sizes to moderate what you are eating. This takes a lot of pressure off feeling the need to be “perfect.” Now, you can focus on the concepts of managing your caloric intake rather than being so fixed on the exact numbers. If you are eating a certain portion size currently and maintaining your weight, remove a little from each of your regular portions to reduce calories. Get a mental picture of what your portion sizes currently look like and then decrease from there. If this does not lead to weight loss, remove a little more. Be patient and not everything has to be cut to the extreme.

Remember, it is extremely important to consume enough calories with a focus on nutrient-dense foods so that you can fuel your daily activities and perform at your best in the gym. A slow and steady rate of weight loss is easier psychologically as well as physically and is simpler to maintain.

I know I used the word “diet” in this article which can be misunderstood. Think of this slowly lowering of calories as your lifestyle until you reach your desired weight. Then, maintain that caloric intake and activity level as your lifestyle. You can always increase calories for holidays and vacations to enjoy. However, keep the balance of calories as a week-long timeline to keep everything managed and regulated. When it comes to weight loss there is never a shortcut. Give yourself plenty of time and stay consistent.

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Putting nutrition over trying to burn calories should be your top priority.  It’s so much easier to eat your calories than to burn them. That’s why I say you cannot outwork a bad diet. Nutrition is king! I’d advise anyone trying to lose weight, or even build muscle for that matter to invest their money into a nutritionist or legit nutrition program before hiring a personal trainer. I’m sure other trainers out there will be upset with me for saying that, but if you want real results in the gym, the nutrition has got to come first. I won’t take on a client until they can honestly tell me they have stuck to their nutrition plan for at least two weeks. Honestly, I should probably stretch that out to a month because nutrition is just too important. You will see results in the mirror faster if your focus is on nutrition. Think of your workouts and training as the “extra credit” you put in.  This is especially the case when the goal is to lose weight.

It’s so much easier to just drop certain food additions so you don’t have to put in extra time at the gym.

For perspective, you can cut 250 calories from your diet by swapping your morning coffee drink for black coffee. Whatever cream and sugar or coffee enhancements you are adding could be killing your hard work in the gym. In order to burn 250 calories, you need to jog for about 30 to 40 minutes depending on your weight just to make up for that added coffee reinforcement. It’s so much easier to just drop certain food additions so you don’t have to put in extra time at the gym.

Your body adapts. It takes 1-2 weeks to adapt to the cardio and endurance training you put your body through. It will always want to become more efficient. With something like weight training, your body can take up to 4-6 weeks to adapt. Not only is weight training more efficient in burning calories over time, but it will be more beneficial for your body in burning energy.

Focus on things like calorie consumption and the ratio of macronutrients. This will help speed up your metabolic process and impact the way that your body burns energy. Look at something like a total daily expenditure table. This will give you some knowledge about how much your body needs to burn throughout the day and how many calories you can eat. Get your nutrition right first and then get your workout routine established. Your results will come faster than you think.

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Our diets can get off track every once in a while, but how does that happen? I like to call it “diet drifting.” It’s when weekly or even daily habits change without us even recognizing it. It can seem subtle, but that eventually drifts into bad habits that set us back. You might think you are doing everything you did when you were shredded, yet those little choices can get away from us. Remember, you can’t out-train a bad diet or even a drifting diet. That stubborn fat will slowly creep up on you without realizing it.

Last summer my diet and training were on point. Sitting at 5% body fat I was cruising. “Suddenly” I realized my body fat was up to 8% and was noticing some stubborn fat around the midsection. It made no sense to me as I thought I was doing the same diet and workout routine consistently without any changes. I kept a log of my daily routine for a week to see if I could figure this thing out. I was 5 days in when I caught the culprit. Every Friday, I would reward my hard work with a chicken sandwich from the drive-through. The thing that changed was the added waffle fries from out of nowhere that became a weekly habit. I traced it back to mid-summer when I was so consistent at 5% body fat I felt like I had some room to extend my little pleasure with added fries. That didn’t cease to stop over the next 7 weeks. Looking back it still doesn’t seem like much, but never underestimate the power of calories, especially bad calories.

Diet drifting is something that can happen to anyone. Make sure to track your calories every once in a while to ensure you are hitting your numbers. It’s so easy to get complacent when things are going well. If your body fat percentage goes up or you are gaining unwanted weight you can go back and look at your logs to find the cause. You can also keep a diet journal for a week and see if something pops out at you.

Going into this summer I’m going to watch out for those waffle fries and any other small habit that begins to pick up steam.  Catch it early and you’re right back in the game!

Photo by: Mina Arroyo

Are you really getting the most out of your workouts? It may seem like you are, but just “checking the box” won’t get you to where you ultimately want to be. However, that may just be a mental feeling of accomplishment over the reality of productivity.

It’s called Junk Volume, and basically, it’s referring to your reps, sets, or full workout where going through the motions is par for the session. You feel good because you were disciplined to go to the gym and put in the time. Yet, if you were to work out a third of that time with purpose, intensity, and focus the results would be staggeringly higher.

Focus on your mind-muscle connection plus the exercises that are best for you. I’ve been guilty of doing a chest exercise such as the chest press on a machine that doesn’t engage my muscles like another movement. In my head, I feel better because I got in 4 sets of chest exercises. The efficiency of that exercise was not even worth my time. Throw out exercises that don’t challenge you or the muscle. A contributing factor of this can be a bad form or your personal anatomy is not in unison with the exercise. For example, some people’s anatomy won’t let them squat properly. Their femur bones are longer than a typical person’s. This will cause their form to suffer resulting in bad muscle recruitment as well as possible injuries. Throw these exercises out the window if there isn’t a modified replacement and focus on the exercises that you feel get the muscles to work the hardest in the right form.

It’s important to get your mind right before heading into the gym. Have a purpose, goal, and vision of how you want to attack the next hour plus. The goals and results you set beforehand depend on how you make each workout count to the best of your ability.

The average person does average things. The elite person does elite things. The reason why certain people have their stellar physique is that they do the things that others won’t on a daily basis. They do things today that others will put off for tomorrow, or never.

Small changes in progression lead to big physique changes down the road. If you have hit a plateau you need to do something different. Below are some examples of strategies to level up your training and mindset to reach your desired physique.

  • After leg day, go on an hour-long hike. The average person would think this is crazy, but for the person that has an amazing physique, this is standard procedure. It’s inspiring to see what the body can do when it’s pushed to the limit. The physical changes to the body make it totally worth it.
  • Make cognitive decisions in your diet and make it a habit. Put cottage cheese on your salad in place of dressing. The typical person puts dressing on their salad thinking it’s normal behaviour. They are right, it is normal behaviour, but not for a physical specimen. In my opinion, cottage cheese works just as well as dressing. The nutritional benefits and results from that decision are night and day.
  • Be accountable for your decisions. The average person will justify their daily decisions in their workouts and diet. The elite person won’t make excuses. Be disciplined. Take accountability to keep yourself on track.
  • Continue to advance your knowledge in fitness. Don’t be afraid to try different fitness routines. Go up in weight or challenge yourself in a HIIT class. Challenge your body with something new. The average person will stick to the same routines, this is how the body plateaus.
  • Stay on track during the weekends. It’s too easy to feel like you hit the finish line by Friday night. This is usually when people start the decent in their diet and decisions. How about levelling up during the weekends. There is a huge sense of pride in yourself when you know you are doing things that others aren’t.
  • Aline your daily choices and mindset with the person that has the body that you want.  You can’t get it by doing average things.  Take it to the next level and make it a daily habit.

Photo By: Frank Kovalchek

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!