Health and Nutrition

What is your training philosophy? Guidelines for the non-athlete.

by Matt Jordan on June 13, 2014 No comments

Article Overview: 811 words on building a training philosophy for for the non-athlete.

My speciality is designing workouts for individuals with specific sport performance goals and helping athletes come back from injury.  I also get lots of requests to design programs for people who are looking to stay fit and lean while minimizing additional wear and tear on their body.

I understand this battle.  On the one hand high intensity training brings results.  On the other hand, half a lifetime of competitive sport or the normal routine of spending 5-8 hours sitting at a desk takes its toll. Keeping your body healthy  eventually becomes more important than hitting a personal best in the gym.

The pendulum in the fitness industry has shifted towards high intensity training of all modalities and types.  The long-term sustainability of this approach is extremely low especially in the absence of high levels of regeneration/recovery – something to which most individuals are unable/unwilling to commit.

It is important to build a training method and a philosophy that minimizes negative or maladaptive stress, and promotes positive training stress.

The key to a training program’s success is creating a meaningful energy flux (i.e. creating a disturbance in energy balance) and stimulating the body’s adaptive response.  The more frequently we cause an energy flux, the better the results.  The better our timing of changing the training stimulus in light of the body’s non-linear change in its adaptive response, the better the results.

Here are some recommendations for building your training philosophy, and striking a balance between positive training stress and negative/maladaptive stress:

  1. Start your workout by prioritizing three areas of MSK deficiency. This could be mobility-related, motor control-related, or synergist-strength related. It is beneficial to get a set of eyes on you in a formal movement evaluation to pinpoint these areas.
  2. Use a combination of whole-body multi-joint movements in each workout. These comprise your indicator or primary lifts. Multi-joint movements are known for providing the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to hypertrophy and strength development.
  3. Even though you may not be a high performance athlete, periodize your training. A good method is to alternate between a mesocycle (i.e. 3-4 weeks) in which you load by volume (extensification or accumulation where time under tension > 30s – reps 8-15) and then a mesocycle in which you load by intensity (intensification – time under tension < 20s – reps < 8)
  4. Start each each mesocycle with an introductory microcycle (a microcycle = 4-7 days). This can be followed by two building or overreaching mesocycles. In the first of the two building microcycles, it is best to increase the number of sets slightly (e.g. add 1-2 sets onto the primary or indicator lifts), and lower the rep bracket by 1-2 reps (e.g. go from 10-12 reps to 9-11 reps). In the second overreaching mesocycle, continue to increase intensity by lowering the repetition scheme and slightly reduce the number of sets. The final microcycle should be an unloading phase in which both the number of sets and the intensity are reduced.
  5. Manipulate rest intervals and tempo to achieve your training effect while reducing the external load requirement. These may be two of the most overlooked training parameters. For example, by reducing the speed of movement in the eccentric phase from 1 second to 4 seconds, there is an increased time under tension and the reduction in speed reduces mechanical advantage necessitating the use of a lower external load. Remember, time under tension and building tension are two keys for eliciting muscle hypertrophy. Conversely, the conscious acceleration and maximal neuromuscular activation while concentrically lifting a submaximal load can elicit substantial gains in muscle strength and power.
  6. Carefully plan the number of sets taken to technical failure. I say technical failure as I don’t mean passing that point of technical breakdown. Poor mechanics are a huge culprit for accelerating MSK dysfunction. Instead, you should plan in advance the number of sets in any given workout that are going to be taken to technical failure. Emerging research suggests that equal or superior gains in explosive strength, maximal strength and hypertrophy may be achieved by keeping a couple of reps in the bank.
  7. Intersperse higher intensity training sessions with some lower intensity sessions. This is not popular in the fitness world but sub-aerobic threshold training volume and restorative sessions (e.g. mobility/flexibility) will go a long way to increase your tissues structural tolerance and your overall work capacity.
  8. Nutrition and sleep are your two biggest assets for optimizing recovery from training and become increasingly important with age.
  9. Lastly, don’t get stuck doing the same program for months on end. While too much variation (think of chaos training – something I do not support) is problematic, too little variation leads to stagnation and is a real killer for overall gains.

These are just a few principles I find effective for establishing a training philosophy when the goals have moved beyond high performance sport although many of the principles apply here too.

Feel free to send me comments or feedback.

read more
Matt JordanWhat is your training philosophy? Guidelines for the non-athlete.

To Be or Not to Be a Moderate

by Matt Jordan on June 11, 2014 No comments

Article Overview: 784 words and a personal position piece on life long fitness in a world focused way too much on image and status.

How much are you willing to give up for leanness?

For some individuals, the answer is: a lot.  There is no doubt that being lean and having single digit body fat numbers is a big ego boost for many people out there.  For some this comes easier than for others due to factors like good genetics.  For others, single digit body fat is truly a religion and an obsession.

The figure below represents the change in percent body fat over a lifetime for the Athlete, the Obsessed, the Moderate, the Obsessed but Inconsistent, and the Sedentary folk.  What I’m trying to show is the real difference consistency makes versus being obsessed, and where the real problems lie.

In an effort to hit single digit body fat numbers,the Obsessed resort to extreme measures.  Of course many of these measures are effective for getting down to single digit body fat numbers but at what price?  Obviously there are the simple pleasures in life that one must renounce such as a traditional morning coffee with the occasional chocolate croissant.  However, there are undoubtedly many other negative effects associated with extreme nutrition and fitness fads related to health and mental wellbeing.

As we get inundated with advertising and media showing us how we “ought” to look, the Obsessed but Inconsistent individuals really get the raw deal.  Not only must there be a constant feeling of  not measuring up to the industry standard but no doubt there is also a lot of failed attempts to hit an unattainable target.  The perpetual swings between periods of unsustainably high commitment and periods of low commitment add up resulting in a trend over a lifetime towards the slippery slope of increased body fat and decreased muscle tissue.  For the Obsessed but Inconsistent, the periods of extreme deprivation and extreme dieting can only be balanced with periods of extreme indulgence.

Then there are  the Moderates.  They employ simple strategies consistently that allow them to maintain body composition at a reasonable level over a lifetime.  The issue with the Moderate is that their story is nothing new and not overly interesting.  You can’t sell the Moderate approach whether that be in a book, online or in a seminar.  In fact, it seems as though the voice of the Moderate is rarely heard.  While the Moderate’s popularity may have died alongside the popularity of the VCR, the question should be asked whether or not the new iteration is a better alternative.  As far as the VCR goes, I’m going to say Apple TV is a big improvement.  However, I can’t say the same about the theories and beliefs espoused by the Obsessed, which appear to have silenced the Moderates.

The difference between the Moderate and the Obsessed is shown below in the green highlighted area.  This is what a lifetime of commitment to extreme measures will bring you.  As we progress through the lifespan, not a single person can entirely overcome  the forces of nature and aging.  Sadly, while there are few certainties in life, the cycle of birth, aging and death are non-negotiable.  Of course this can be mitigated with exercise/lifestyle, and the natural trend towards increased body fat and decreased muscle tissue can be attenuated.  The question is whether or not the shaded green zone is really worth depriving oneself of ALL the simple pleasures in life.  I will leave it up to you to decide for yourself.

The green highlighted zone also shows what being a Moderate won’t bring you.  Living your 20’s, 30’s and part of your 40’s with near single digit body fat can’t be attained with occasionally enjoying simple pleasures and indulging.  In order to accomplish this sacrifices must be made.  Extreme results require extreme measures.

The orange zone in the figure below represents what consistency can bring you and what inconsistency can’t bring you.  The ups and downs of the Obsessed but Inconsistent typically leads towards an overall increase in body fat with time.  However,  simple strategies like sweating regularly, eating a lower calorie diet with nutritious food, and still indulging once in a while will generally bring decent results over a lifetime.  The orange zone represents what the basics and staying the course bring to the table.

The red zone  is the real issue for North American society.  This is where the bulk of the scientific research is focused and it is often the ammunition used by the Obsessed to justify extreme fitness and nutrition approaches.  However, let’s be fair in recognizing that this problem is one that requires a complete change in attitudes and beliefs.

I also think the solution to this dilemma is more inline with the Moderate approach than the Obsessed approach.




read more
Matt JordanTo Be or Not to Be a Moderate

Oral Allergy Syndrome – The Truth About Food Sensitivities

by Matt Jordan on May 17, 2012 No comments

I’ve trained hundreds of elite athletes ranging from Olympic medalists to up and coming development athletes.  Invariably, elite athletes will come across a range of experts throughout their careers, some of whom bring excellent advice and wisdom, and others who lack the education and knowledge to provide sound training advice.

Nutrition and supplementation is undoubtedly one of the biggest sources of misinformation for an athlete.  This industry for the most part remains unregulated.  Furthermore, many certifications and diplomas in nutrition are very easy to obtain and do not provide the student with the same underlying education in physiology, biochemistry and statistics that is often mandatory in more formal university curricula.  This fundamental lack of training can not only lead to recommendations that are largely ineffective and useless for performance but in certain circumstances can also pose a health risk.

The industry that surrounds food allergies and sensitivities is a prime example of this.  The reality is that so many individuals in our society are run down and tired, and generally feel crappy.  Instead of looking for 99% solutions like changing lifestyle, learning to cope with everyday stressors, increasing physical activity, reducing caffeinated beverages, taking a meditation class, and cutting out evening computer work, which as been shown to disrupt deep sleep patterns, many seek out 1% solutions or worse yet magic bullet solutions to solve their problems.

Enter the pop culture nutritionist to administer a bunch of bogus tests and prescribe an endless list of supplements and misguided nutrition advice.  After returning from a pop culture nutritionist, I don’t need to have a meeting with an athlete to know the likely recommendations.  Cut out wheat and dairy, go on a cleanse, introduce a live greens product, drink water that has gone through filtration processes only understood by PhD’s in chemistry, eat only organic produce, eliminate all forms of processed grains and sugar… the list goes on and on.

Now I’m definitely not taking a knock at good nutritionists who provide some or all of the above mentioned advice when these changes are clearly needed for bettering an individual’s health but I find it strange that almost everyone ends up with the same issues and recommendations.  The reality is there are many other sources for an individual’s fatigue or health issues some of which include food sensitivities.  There are also situations where some of the seemingly universal recommendations made by the pop culture nutritionist can be dangerous.

With the seasonal allergy season upon us, I thought I would talk about Oral Allergy Syndrome and a related condition called Pollen Food Allergy Syndrome, which is an allergic reaction that occurs upon ingestion of certain vegetables, fruits, nuts, and common ingredients in nutritional supplements in individuals who are sensitized and allergic to environmental sources of pollen (Nowak-Wegrzyn, 2011).  These food and ingredients are often a part of the family for common environmental allergens.  For example, an individual with a ragweed allergy may have a reaction to melon or zucchini, and those with a birch pollen allergy may react to soybeans or celery.

The more mild symptoms of pollen food allergy syndrome are often benign and resolve quickly.  These include an itchy mouth and throat, burning lips, and other symptoms associated with the environmental allergy such as a runny nose.  However, under the right environmental conditions such as the start of allergy season, if these food are ingested and the triggering proteins make their way to the gut and intestines in tact, more serious reactions can occur such as vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension, and in rare cases, anaphylaxis.

Now in most cases, the symptoms are mild because the the offending proteins in the ingested food are broken down as soon as they hit the stomach.  The cooking process also breaks down these proteins and can reduce the chance of an adverse reaction.  However, supplements that contain grass or pollen ingredients can pose a significant risk to those with pollen food allergy syndrome as the allergen that is encapsulated in the vitamin pill or supplement can enter intact into the intestinal system.  Examples of these ingredients include wheat grass, spirulina, and bee pollen.  This can definitely pose a significant risk to sufferers of pollen food allergy syndrome, and can end up leading to the opposite of what was intended with symptoms such as low energy and stomach upset.  Additionally, while there is not a large amount of scientific information on the chronic effects of pollen food allergy syndrome, it appears that certain chronic conditions associated with other food allergies, such as eczema, may exist (Ballmer-Weber, 2006).

In closing, pollen food allergy syndrome is a significant issue for many individuals, and in my experience, is often overlooked by the pop culture nutritionist.  I mean who would have thought melon or zucchini might not be good for everyone.  If you suspect you have pollen food allergy syndrome, it is best to stop eating the offending food and to consult with your physician.

To the rest of you who are searching for a magic answer to your issues, remember this: food allergies and sensitivities are definitely a real issue but include way more possibilities than wheat, dairy, gluten, and the clean water pouring out of your taps.  Finally, pay attention to how you feel after eating a particular food or taking a supplement.  If the food is right for you, you will feel energized and focused.  If a particular food leaves you feeling bloated, spacey, fatigued, or with any other odd symptom, chances are this food doesn’t work for you so cut it out of your diet!


Ballmer-Weber (2006). Cutaneous Symptoms After Ingestion of Pollen Associated Foodstuffs. Hautarzt.

Nowak-Wegrzyn (2011). Clinical Manifestations of Oral Allergy Syndrome. Up to Date.

read more
Matt JordanOral Allergy Syndrome – The Truth About Food Sensitivities