Sean Hyson

Fitness Distilled

July/August 2015

2013 Ways To Get Stronger, Leaner, Part I

posted on January 14, 2013
written by Sean Hyson

Sorry I’m late. I wanted to get this post up in the first week of January so you could have as much ammunition as possible to start 2013 right. But assuming your resolutions haven’t gone off the rails yet, there’s still time for this to help you.

Here are 20 ways to get stronger, and 13 ways to get leaner, in 2013. (Yeah, I know the title of the post sort of implied there would be 2,013 ways… that’s the magazine editor in me!) I’m going to break this into two or three parts because a single post would be unbearably long, but when it’s all done, count ’em up. There will be 2013 tips.

Sort of :-)



1. Eat a lot more potatoes. The one carb source ALL the experts seem to agree on is potatoes/sweet potatoes. Rice and oats can be hard to digest and fruit can convert to body fat, but all nutritionists advocate more spuds for putting on clean weight

2. Keep your lower back as fresh as possible. When your lower back is sore or tight, you just can’t go heavy on anything. You’ll feel that your base of support is gone. This happens when you have a particularly brutal squat or deadlift workout, or you train the lower back too often. I frequently see programs where someone is squatting on Monday, doing bent-over rows on Wednesday, and deadlifts and back extensions on Saturday. You’re not giving yourself enough recovery time.

I love bent-over rows, so if you want to keep them in, I understand. But they need to be done either on the same day as most of your other direct lower-back training or far removed from it. And if your back is feeling tweaked one day but you’re scheduled to row, go for chest-supported rows instead.

Bent-over rows can be a back breaker even when done right.row

3. Pyramid. Strength coaches have criticized the old bodybuilding pyramid method pretty harshly. They say sets of 12, 10, 8, and 6—as it’s often done—weakens you before you get to the heavy weights, limiting your strength gains. Yeah, maybe. But if I start with six reps, am I really ready to go that heavy?

Pyramiding is not the perfect approach for strength. The powerlifting method of multiple sets in the 3 to 5 range is better. But pyramiding doesn’t exactly make you weak. I’ve seen Ronnie Coleman and Arnold Schwarzenegger put up some pretty good weight for 6 or so reps long after sets of 12 to 15. The purpose of a pyramid is to hit a broad range of muscle fibers with a broad range of reps and get volume in to grow from, but also to simply warm you up. Higher reps pump more blood into the area you’re training and prepare it to lift heavier later. If you want to lift heavy and KEEP lifting heavy as you get older, this is a perfectly valid approach, and maybe the safest.

4. Once a month, go off your program. The staff at Muscle&Fitness has been meeting sporadically for group workouts over the past few months, and we’ve all been saying they’re some of the best workouts of our lives. In the beginning, some of the guys were worried about breaking their routine. They felt they were on strict schedules and didn’t want to disrupt the flow of their progress.

Well, life has a way of disrupting workouts anyway, so you might as well get used to it. After the first session, nobody cared that they had to do different exercises than they had planned to or did 5 sets for back instead of 4. It was competitive, fun, and we all left KNOWING we had gotten stronger for it.

I’ve written about the value of good training partners, a good gym, and camaraderie on this site many times before, so I’ll try not to repeat that more. But even if you train alone, sometimes just going to the gym and “winging it” with some fun exercises you want to experiment with is the smartest thing you can do. It’s also a good way to test yourself. If you’re REALLY getting stronger, you should be able to handle more weight on leg extensions than you could before the last three months of squatting. Use days like this as a gauge.

5. Wave your loads. This partly relates to the pyramid concept, and partly contradicts it. Hey, whatever works, right? Try doing a set with moderate weight, then doing a fairly heavy set (around 3 reps). Back off to another moderate set but go heavier than you did the first set. Then go really heavy on the fourth set—near a max lift. Then back off and do a bunch of reps. 

This is the basic approach I’ve been using on presses and pullups lately and it’s worked amazingly well. It’s post-activation potentiation and CNS trickery, but it may be more than that. I know that just walking in the gym and warming up briefly I can’t do more than about 12 chinups. After I do a few sets with varying weights, I can do 18! That’s quite a boost in one workout. Try it.

This is nature’s weight gainerpotatoes

6. Hit your numbers. If you want to gain weight, aim for 16–20 calories per pound of your body weight. That’s Nate Miyaki’s recommendatiom and he’s done well with it. If you’re very skinny, aim toward the higher end of that range, but most of us will do fine with around 16. A 170-lb guy should eat 2,700 calories a day.



1. With the exception of fish oil, dramatically reduce the amount of oils you consume. This means cooking without oil, and that may mean more poaching, baking, and grilling. I like coconut oil, so leave a few tablespoons in, but in general, cutting back on fats cuts down your calories and improves the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your diet. (Omega-6’s are prevalent, so fewer of them and more omega-3’s is ideal for heart health and a bunch of other functions.) Also, a lower fat intake makes skin less oily, too. I had a girlfriend who used to blot my head with a napkin like I was a greasy slice of pizza even when I was sitting still (gross, I know). There doesn’t seem to be a need for that anymore.

2. Embrace salt and pepper as seasonings. Everybody knows the basics of how to eat healthy—salads, meat, whole foods. The problem so many have is not keeping it as simple as that. They add dressings and butter and oils and other fixins until they’ve effectively canceled out the health effect of their meal. Even if they’re aware that Bacos aren’t a good choice and make an effort to add them sparingly, they’re still adding them CONSISTENTLY. To get very lean quickly, and to stay pretty lean long-term, you simply have to appreciate plain food. Not “plain” as in really bland and tasteless, but plainer than “the works” at your local salad bar.

In the absence of everything else, salt and pepper add a lot of flavor, and they go well with so many dishes. So does lemon juice, salsa, and a pat of butter. Pare down your seasonings and you’ll appreciate these flavors more. Then you can start adding more things back in and see how your body responds. 

3. Do non-competing supersets. This is the whole basis for Craig Ballantyne’s enormously popular Turbulence Training programs, and the equally renowned German Body Comp method. I’m firmly in the camp that says that what you do in the weight room doesn’t have much of an effect on fat burning, beyond the fact that muscle increases metabolism. But when you superset upper and lower-body exercises, I swear you feel leaner almost immediately. 

Deadlifts followed by chest presses, squats and then rows… these kinds of combinations work like crazy. By sending blood up and down your body, your heart works harder and you burn more calories. You also get a greater release of growth hormone. If you want to train specifically for fat loss IN ADDITION to dieting hard, this is the approach I’d go with.

This may be the “hot” supplement of 2013cyclic

4. Use cyclic dextrin. This is the “hot new carb on the block”. If you’ve been using waxy maize or maltodextrin, this stuff is supposed to be the new evolution of carb powder. Gaspari Nutrition seems to be the only mainstream company pumping it out right now (it’s called Glycofuse), but you can get it on as well. Cyclic dextrin is supposed to leave the stomach very quickly, causing an insulin reaction without upset stomach or bloat. It also doesn’t effect fat metabolism, so you can still burn fat during a workout and afterward despite taking in a big shot of carbs. I’ve tried the Gaspari product and it tasted pretty good. I didn’t recover any worse on it than other carb powders I’ve used, so I’d say this is one worth watching. Mike Roussell and John Meadows stand behind it.


I’ll be back to finish this list. Happy New Year, my friends.


  1. Gravatar

    14 Jan, 2013

    Justin Grinnell

    Great post, Sean. Always a ton of useful information in your posts. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Gravatar

    14 Jan, 2013

    Thomas Lhamon

    With the new year, I have tried a couple of new things that I believe are working. If nothing else, their placebo effect has made them work some other way.

    #1 - I am taking a twice daily dose of iron. I have athletic anemia due to my working out like a madman 365 a year, so a normal guy would need much less than me, regardless, I have noticed a marked increase in my alertness and reduction in fatigue as my body is able to carry the oxygen it needs more efficiently. Because Iron can be toxic in high doses, it's best to take one in the morning with food and one in the evening with food.

    #2 - My new routine is a strange pyramid scheme. I do most of my moves in a 3X15 set/rep scheme and then finish with one really heavy 5x5. The last, heavy set is a compound move like flat barbell bench (not something like flys). So on back day for example, I would do pull downs, rows, etc., at 3 x 15 and then do super heavy deadlifts at 5 x 5. The advantage to this is that I am warmed up by the time I get to the heavy stuff AND since I'm tired by then, I don't need as much weight to make it feel heavy. This might seem odd, but at 43, my concern is injury and if 205lbs feels heavier than 225lbs, I'll go with it.

  3. Gravatar

    14 Jan, 2013


    Love my sweet potatoes ! Eat two every evening with my Salmon. Oh, is Arnold doing bent over rows ? or stiff leg dead lifts in the pic ?

  4. Gravatar

    14 Jan, 2013


    Sean--------Would you recommend the "lower" fat plan for someone following CarbNite? Thanks, Richard

  5. Gravatar

    14 Jan, 2013


    FYI, it seems Biotest has cyclic dextrin as the main carb in their Mag-10 product:

  6. Gravatar

    15 Jan, 2013

    Your Name


    Thank you.


    That's interesting about the iron. I think this would only be helpful to someone who has a natural deficiency, but there are probably a lot of chronic exercisers like you who would be glad to know this.

    As for your pyramid routine, I think that's almost foolproof for not getting injured but that's putting deadlifts much later than I would want to do them.


    Arnold is doing rows there and his form is terrifying. But I ain't gonna be the one to correct him.


    No. Do Carb Nite as written. The plan requires a lot of fat. When carbs are out completely, fat becomes a must.


    That is true.

  7. Gravatar

    15 Jan, 2013

    Sean Hyson

    That last comment was from me, guys. I just jumped the gun :-)

  8. Gravatar

    09 Feb, 2013


    Man, I wish I'd seen that pic of Arnold with the caption 3 years ago.

    That's how long it's been since I pretty much permanently ruined my back doing bent over rows.

    I was a total NOOB back then and I was totally careless and massively egotistical. The result was a back injury which has stayed with me all these years and prevented me from progressing in some of my lifts (deads and squats).

    We live and we learn eh?

    Great stuff as usual Sean.



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