More on Muscle Building and Why We Hate W.O.D.s

Chris Lopez: What is your general philosophy when programming for muscle and then how does diet come into play? Then we can get into frequency as well when you talk about that.

Forest Vance: Sure. Well, since I was already talking about diet and fat loss let’s go to the diet the muscle gain part. It is interesting to think a lot of people that have never had the – have never been in the boat of having to actually gain weight have a hard time relating to the fact you would actually have to eat more calories and force feeding yourself almost. You are eating more than your actual caloric amount for the day. Someone that has always been in that whatever you want to call it mesomorph body type can’t really relate to someone who is like the ectomorph who is really skinny.

Like I was saying before I played pro-football. When I was in high school I started high school at 160 pounds. I ended up getting up to 245 by the time I graduated and then over 300 by the time I was finished with college. I kind of have been at both ends of the spectrum a little bit. The same thing goes for gaining muscle is that we have to take the approach of eating a ton and same thing, tracking their calories, tracking your intake very carefully. But actually making sure you are getting into a caloric surplus instead of a deficit. And so that is one key thing is making sure you’re eating is dialed in. Making sure you are actually getting more calories than you are spending on a daily basis. You can take some of the same approaches. You might be able to add it. You still should be focusing on vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, little starch, no sugar. You can probably incorporate a little bit more of the carbohydrate stuff. Especially if you are in a muscle gain phase. It doesn’t necessarily mean you can go out and eat junk food and stuff like that. But you are trying to get to a calorie surplus. That is key is making sure you are eating enough when it comes to the muscle gain stuff.

The programming is like let’s say you have your fat loss person alternating between your training day like a weight training resistance whatever you want to call it, strength day and cardio day. Someone really, truly trying to gain muscle I would say drop the cardio. My experience with clients, I train mostly fat loss clients in my studio. I probably get 5 to 10% of guys who want to gain muscle. For whatever reason they always have this mental block about that. How can I do that. It’s impossible. I say drop the cardio. The truth is if that is your goal, if you are truly trying to put on muscle you are burning extra calories. You are trying to get to a surplus and then you are going out and doing all this extra cardio. That is like doing the opposite of what you are trying to do.

You have to minimize that. You have to minimize as much as possible external stresses. You have to get lots of sleep. You should be sleeping for eight, nine, 10 hours a day. And then, as far as the programming goes I know that we use that – I use that Neupert book as an example of the complex style of workouts for the fast-paced metabolic conditioning type of stuff. The concepts in there about the time and the tension. Keeping those muscles under tension a certain amount of time. That actually can be a great approach for gaining muscle as well. Another example of that would be the kettlebell book which a lot of kettlebell – people who are into kettlebell RKC, hard style stuff are familiar with. It is like one of the original programs by Pavel and he does his Grease the Groove clean and press ladder. It is strength, but it is also addressing some of that time and tension and density training where you – just for people who don’t know a ladder a clean & press ladder is when you do one rep on the right, one rep on the left. Two reps on the right, two reps on the left. Three on the right. Three on the left. And you do that and then there is a progressive way to work up the weight that you are using.

That program is actually done with a single kettlebell. That is one way to do it. Using two kettlebells and increasing the actual amount of load you are training with is another great way to address muscle gain. The big name of the game is being able to actually use more weight and load in your training when you are trying to gain muscle.

Chris Lopez:  And so strength – your strength levels will come into play a lot as far as gaining muscle obviously the stronger you are, the more weight you can lift. The more weight you can lift the more work you can do. The more work you can do the more muscle you can gain, right?

Forest Vance: Absolutely.

Chris Lopez: Let’s talk about you, personally. What about your workouts? Your personally as far as what you are doing, training for yourself. And then how you would program or structure your workouts for your clients. Are you like a very intensity kind of guy. You can go a lot throughout the week? I know some guys, me personally, right now I am working out six days a week because I feel like I need to – my body needs a good kick in the butt. I am varying intensities with my workouts just to make sure that I can get six quality workouts in without completely burning out. How would you do that for your clients or for yourself and what type of stuff are you doing right now, personally?

Forest Vance: Okay. This is good. This is a good question. Right now I have been training for this Tough Mudder that is coming up. I am doing it this weekend. I have been doing that for the last 12 weeks trying to get trained for it. My training is slightly different. Like I said, for people who haven’t heard of it – I am guessing most of your readers have heard of it. You have those in Canada? The Tough Mudder, are they up there now?

Chris Lopez: Actually, yea. I have a friend who is trying to put together a team of 100 people and so I am thinking about joining his team. Both you and I know Craig Ballantyne quite well and he just did the Tough Mudder I think it was last month in August.

Forest Vance: That’s awesome. So yea, absolutely. I think depending on the course it is 10 to 12 miles. There is 28 obstacles all this stuff like jumping in 35 degree water, crawling through Maryland tunnels, going over 12 foot walls. It will be great. I’m excited. So anyways, my training has been a little bit different because I have been training for that. I have been focused on getting specifically ready for some of the obstacles and doing like pull ups. Definitely been incorporating the kettlebells into the training for that. But doing more cardio and even some long runs which is not part of my normal training.

So to answer your question in terms of programming over time so that is what you were asking for myself and my clients. I mean, I think there is lots of different approaches you can take. One common one you see the hard style – what it is really called is emulating periodization where you are changing your intensity throughout the week. You are doing a heavy day, a medium day and a light day, which is good. Which is fine. The approach I generally take is I like to program in four week blocks and partially science based. The trick is if you are changing your workouts all the time and this is a really common problem. I think especially for people who are getting their information from the internet I call it kettlebell ADHD. The idea is that they go online and they are like I am going to search and find this – let’s see what kettlebell workout I am going to do today. I am going to go on YouTube and find – oh this one is awesome. I am going to do this one. And then tomorrow – I am going to find this one. Right? Then you get sucked into the allure of these metabolic conditioning workouts. You get smoked, you feel like you really worked hard after you are done. That is cool. That is great. That is fine. The issue is over time you don’t really have a logical progression or cycle or structure to your workouts. With that being said you also have to make sure that you do change up. You don’t want to do the same thing for six months. Your body physiologically adapts to doing the same thing.

What you got to do – I program in four week blocks. Without getting too sophisticated or fancy or anything with periodizing someone’s workout over the next six months and who knows what is going to be happening in the next six months, right? I mean if they are an athlete at a competitive level that’s fine. The person who wants to lose 30 pounds which is the majority of the clients I have in my training studio it doesn’t necessarily have to get that sophisticated.

We will do a program and stick with the same program, focus on the same goal and build up intensity each week. So the first week we are learning the new movements, getting in a good workout, not going crazy. Next week we are scaling up the intensity. Third week maybe we are getting close to failure at the end of our set maybe hitting it a little. Flirting with that level of intensity and then the last week we are just going crazy ____[00:40:45] and then we repeat it. That is kind of how we do it.

Chris Lopez: That is very cool. That is a great way to approach it. I like the four week block thing and I think – you and I were speaking before we actually started recording. I am not a big fan of the workout of the day or people surfing the internet looking for today’s workout. I totally agree with you. There is no progression. There is no logic behind it. It is almost entertainment instead of actual training with some type of structure and some type of plan. I couldn’t agree with you more. Go ahead.

Forest Vance: I was just going to say it is so common. So many people do that. Even when I say that I think people do it anyways. Then they don’t realize that just for doing today’s feet of strength and doing 400 meter run and back pedal and fingertip pushups and bottoms up presses for three rounds for tonight or whatever it is for the day. You tell your friends it is impressive but it doesn’t necessarily result in long-term results.

Chris Lopez:  The worst part about it is there is a lot of trainers that do that. I have seen a lot of one on one trainers they show up you are on the treadmill for five minutes. They are like okay so what are we going to do today. He is kind of talking to himself asking a rhetorical question it is like dude, you don’t have a plan? There has got to be a plan.

Forest Vance: Exactly. Absolutely. You’re right. There is no question about that. If anything it is like boredom on the trainer’s side. I got to mix it up and do something that is cool and interesting for my client. That is not a good reason. I mean, that is a good thing and that is a good point. There is something to be said that – some people doing the same workout or doing the same structure with some progression for four weeks they get bored. You have to sometimes to a degree you have to be like alright I am going to be mentally disciplined and I am going to fight through that a little bit in the name of actually getting results in the long-term.

Chris Lopez: Exactly. You do have to fight through it. Understand that it is a process. It is not instant gratification immediately every single time you have to have a big picture type of goal. I think that is a product of society. We will get into a big philosophical discussion about that.


  • Reply November 24, 2012

    Natasha Kay

    Great interview. I agree that workout ADD is no good but I’m also the type of person who absolutely has to do something different every time (even if just slightly). I think that’s why I love kettlebells so much — it always feels like a different workout.

  • I think you are right that very few people have ever had to deal with trying to gain weight. I hav been trying to lose weight for the past 4 years. I keep getting a little closer to my goal then I go on vacation or there is a Holiday like Thanksgiving that leads to me cheating on my diet in a massive way and gaining weight. I look forward to the time when I can try to gain weight.

    I disagree about cutting out the cardio though. You just need to be smart about it. I recommend at least 25 minutes of interval sprints per week even for people trying to build muscle. It won’t burn that many calories but it will give you better endurance and it raises your testosterone and HGH which help build muscle.

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