Hold Fast Iron

"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17

Hold Fast Iron is dedicated to sharpening the lives of others.  


Written by: Mark Smith

Today is gorgeous. A picture perfect mid-Spring day, one of those Chamber of Commerce days where every tour given is a deal made. Days like this are welcomed by everyone I have ever met. It seems that everybody is an outdoor enthusiast when conditions are just right. And rightfully so I must add, deep down we want to be outside more. It is in our DNA, but we have gotten away from an adaptive practice of play outside. Today is perfect; no one will have trouble playing outside today. I will take all my evening students out for some childhood-like fun. Yesterday was less than ideal; rainy, a bit windy, and a chill in the air of foreboding evening storms. However, I managed a wet hike with my 60 year old father, and my 22 month old son. 

In the March edition of my monthly newsletter I wrote about the importance of getting outside in all types of weather and conditions. I am blessed to live in a place where we have nice weather most of the time so it makes things a little easier. It does rain often though and this past winter we were not spared nor was anyone from the beastly cold and unrelenting grasp of Old Man Winter. Inevitably 2014-2015 winter will go down as a historic one.  Although the months of January and February had weather similar to Scotland I still made sure to get outside often and encouraged my students to as well. I believe that as a modern society we are losing a very valuable part of our humanity. That is adaptability.   This is the modern age, your thermostat is set at 72, you get in your car and make the interior as comfortable as possible; most gyms nowadays are climate controlled with heating and AC (mine is not). We avoid being out in the rain, the cold, the extreme heat, too windy etc. etc. Our skin is the largest organ and in many ways the most neglected organ in terms of training.

When we get outside in all kinds of weather we condition the skin and allow it to do its job, which is to accommodate to the elements and be our first line of protection, but also our first line of information. We feed the extroceptors and neurons when we mix up the conditions in which we play. I often joke that I like all weather (though high wind is super annoying), and it’s because I am outside year round. It gets hot and VERY humid where I live; god I love it, a good sweat. Sometimes we have wind chills in the single digits; good, bundle up and go for a run give the lungs a bit of work.  We also get a lot of wet, chilly days. These are my favorite and delightfully refreshing (everyone around me hates them). They're perfect for a walkabout, a trail run, or some odd object training.  I have chosen rather than complaining about the weather, which I have absolutely no control over, to instead embrace it and continue to develop my outdoor practice in all weather.

Should you train outside, you too will adapt and become more comfortable. In the end you will be more adaptable, be more mentally tough, see more of the great outdoors, have a better attitude, and just enjoy life more. This has been my experience thus far and I hope to pass it on to others. One last thing to remember as the English say, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.”  



Click below to learn more about Mark and his training philosophy.

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Supplements that give your brain the boost it needs

(NaturalNews) The brain depends upon specific nutrients in order to function with peak capacity. There are certain nutrients that are challenging to get from our diet and lifestyles. These nutrients can be supplemented through whole food based sources. These are some the most specific nutritional supplements for healthy brain function.

Vitamin D3

This is extremely critical for brain development and maturity throughout life. Lowered vitamin D3 levels are associated with autism, dyslexia and ADHD in children and neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's in adults.

The optimal source of vitamin D3 is through the sun. Most of our ancestors were able to derive optimal vitamin D3 levels through regular sun exposure. In the Northern climates, they would get a lot in the summer and then their diet of fatty fish, organ meat and raw milk that naturally contain little bits to keep them going in the winter.

Researchers have found that the optimal vitamin D3 levels are between 70-100ng/ml. Over 95 percent of society is well under these levels. Taking 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily is a great way to ensure your levels are optimized and your brain development is at its peak

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements and astaxanthin reduce inflammation. Omega-3s help provide better cell membrane receptor activity while astaxanthin has the unique ability to cross the blood brain barrier as well as the blood-retinal barrier while most carotenoids do not. This helps protect the brain and eyes from inflammatory damage and reduces the risk for blindness, cataracts, macular degeneration, dementia, Alzheimer's Disease and other neurological disorders.

Astaxanthin works particularly well against peroxyl radicals that damage cell membranes. This is particularly important because all essential fats, in-particular, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA are very fragile and susceptible to free radical damage. Astaxanthin is the most powerful antioxidant at inhibiting the oxidation of these essential fats. Take one to two grams of EPA/DHA daily with four to eight milligrams of astaxanthin.


Gut health is extremely critical to brain health. Children with neurodevelopmental problems like Autism, dyslexia and ADHD are known to have leaky gut syndromes and often have very profound food allergies. When the gut is damaged, it allows food particles to cross into the blood stream where the immune system creates an inflammatory attack. This inflammation passes into the brain and screws up neurological processing.

Many individuals have dysbiosis or bad bacterial balance in their gut and parasites like Candida. The parasites and opportunistic bacteria release toxins into the blood stream that get into the brain and cause inflammation leading to poor memory, brain fog and advanced states of brain degeneration.

Supplement with a high quality probiotic that has diverse strains (at least 20 different strains) and over 50 billion colony forming units. This is the probiotic that will deliver results and you will feel the difference after a week.

B-complex vitamins

Methylation is a key biochemical process that happens billions of times every second to repair the DNA in the body. B vitamins are the key components to healthy methylation processes. Take a whole food-based multivitamin and/or B complex supplement and improve your gut health to absorb these nutrients more effectively. It is also key to eat lots of dark, green leafy vegetables and organic animal products to get these nutrients.

The key methylators include vitamin B6, folate and B12. Research has shown that lowered levels of these nutrients all result in a significantly increased risk of dementia, mood and anxiety disorders and neurodegenerative processes. Niacin which is B3 also has been shown to be important for cognitive function.

Sources for this article include:


Alpha BRAIN by Onnit

About the author:
Dr David Jockers is a Maximized Living Doctor and owns and operates Exodus Health Center in Kennesaw, Georgia where he specializes in functional nutrition, functional medicine and corrective chiropractic care to get to the underlying cause of major health problems.

Learn more: www.naturalnews.com

Don’t Just Declutter, De-own

Written By: Josh Becker

“Owning less is far more beneficial than organizing more.” – Twitter / Facebook

We are a culture drowning in our possessions. We take in more and more (holiday, birthdays, sales, needs), but rarely find opportunity to discard of it. As a result, our homes fill up with more and more stuff. And because we believe the best solution is to find organizational tools to manage all of it, we seek out bigger containers or more efficient organizational tips and tricks. But simply organizing our stuff (without removing it) is always only a temporary solution. By definition, organizing possessions is an action that must be repeated over and over and over again.

At its heart, organizing is simply rearranging. And though we may find storage solutions today, we are quickly forced to find new ones as early as tomorrow. Additionally, organizing our stuff (without removing it) has some other major shortcomings that are rarely considered:

  • It doesn’t benefit anyone else. The possessions we rarely use sit on shelves in our basements, attics, and garages… even while some of our closest friends desperately need them.
  • It doesn’t solve our debt problems. It never addresses the underlying issue that we just buy too much stuff. In fact, many times, the act of rearranging our stuff even costs us more as we purchase containers, storage units, or larger homes to house it.
  • It doesn’t turn back our desire for more. The simple act of organizing our things into boxes, plastic bins, or extra closets doesn’t turn back our desire to purchase more things.  The culture-driven inclination to find happiness in our possessions is rarely thwarted in any way through the process.
  • It doesn’t force us to evaluate our lives. While rearranging our stuff may cause us to look at each of our possessions, it does not force us to evaluate them—especially if we are just putting them in boxes and closing the lids. On the other hand, removing possessions from our home forces questions of passion, values, and what’s truly most important to us.
  • It accomplishes little in paving the way for other changes. Organizing may provide a temporary lift to our attitude. It clears a room and subsequently clears our mind, but rarely paves the way for healthy, major lifestyle changes. Our house is too small, our income is too little, and we still can’t find enough time in the day. We may have rearranged our stuff… but not our lives.

On the other hand, the act of removing possessions from our home accomplishes many of those purposes. It is not a temporary solution that must be repeated. It is an action of permanence—once an item has been removed, it is removed completely. Whether we re-sell our possessions, donate them to charity, or give them to a friend, they are immediately put to use by those who need them.

Removing possessions begins to turn back our desire for more as we find freedom, happiness, and abundance in owning less. And removing ourselves from the all-consuming desire to own more creates opportunity for significant life change to take place.

As you seek to get your life organized, challenge yourself to remove the unneeded things in your home. Rid yourself of the extra weight in a permanent manner. Carry a trash bag from room-to-room. See how big of a donation pile you can make. Or help eliminate debt by selling them. It doesn’t matter so much how you remove them, as long as you do. For it is far better to de-own than declutter.

Joshua Becker is a writer inspiring others to live more by owning less. Interested in incorporating minimalist principles into your life? Checkout Josh's eBook, Simplify

2 Secret Methods for Obstacle Race Training

Written by: Mark de Grasse

Obstacle races, with all of their rope climbs, uneven terrain sprints, spear throwing, and heavy carries, are just one of the many activities that can directly benefit from functional fitness tools like kettlebells, sandbags, steel maces, steel clubs, and suspension tools. Better yet, specific training methodologies like Unconventional Training are designed to build a fully capable athlete by balancing key fitness abilities like strength, conditioning, and agility.

Did you know that even the ancients used two training methods that could massively enhance your ability to perform during obstacle races?

What if I told you that the most useful training methods that could enhance your obstacle race abilities don’t come from a high-tech training lab in a prestigious performance training center, but instead our ancestors from thousands of years ago? It makes sense if you think about it; who would have the best ability to run a jagged landscape full of obstacles...a spearman hunting down his next meal or a warrior on an ancient battle field maybe?

While functional training is often touted as one of the keys to success for obstacle racing, there are several extremely useful implements that you’ve probably never even tried. Try combining these “new” warrior implements with some Unconventional Training protocols to dominate your next race!

Erik Melland demonstrating an overhead squat.

Erik Melland demonstrating an overhead squat.

The Steel Mace: The Key to Grip Strength

If you’re looking for the grip strength you need to pull any load across rough terrain and the grip endurance you need to hang from one bar while swinging to another, the Steel Mace is the fitness tool for you.

The Steel Mace is a recreation of an ancient training tool known as a Gada. It’s extremely simple; basically just a ball of steel at the the end of a 40 inch handle. Typical Steel Mace weights vary from 10 to 25 pounds; this may not sound like much, but the way the weight is distributed makes a huge difference! Even experienced Steel Mace users will still rely on a 25 pound Steel Mace for a list of exercises.

While some of the core benefits are found using traditional swinging/rotational exercises like 10-to-2’s and 360’s, this versatile implement can also be used as an offset barbell or sledgehammer.

Since the weight of the Steel Mace is located at the end of the handle, controlling movement requires much more grip and forearm strength than balanced implements like barbells and dumbbells. Simply gripping the Steel Mace off center and holding it horizontally will force your arms and grip to work much harder. The push/pull engagement necessary to keep it level with the ground will have you sweating in no time. Add movements like the Steel Mace Joust or the Curl Grip Squat into the equation and you’ll wear out your grip in under 60 seconds! Give this set a shot and find out what the Steel Mace can do for your grip.

Sample Steel Mace Grip Workout (Visit ONNIT Academy for full demonstrations)

A1: Steel Mace Curl Grip Squat 4 rounds x 30 seconds

A2: Steel Mace Joust 4 rounds x 30 seconds

REST: 30 seconds between rounds

John Wolf demonstrating the Front Press Lunge exercise.

John Wolf demonstrating the Front Press Lunge exercise.

The Steel Club: The Spartan’s Choice for Core Strength

How do you stabilize your core as you carry heavy loads up hills, rotate and contort your body to get up, around, and under obstacles, or take a hit while sprinting through the Gauntlet? You train for it! As any warrior should know, swinging a Steel Club is the best way to do that!

The Steel Club is exactly what it sounds like; a heavy, baseball bat-like piece of steel used for swinging. While your ancient ancestor could probably wield heavy clubs like a boss, you can’t. Not to worry though! The Steel Club is a relatively new unconventional training tool that combines the use of swinging and grinding movements to engage your arms and core more than almost any other piece of exercise equipment.

The cousin of the Steel Club is the Indian Club; an extremely popular shoulder and arm mobility tool used for hundreds of years across the globe. While the Steel Club utilizes some of the rotational movements that made Indian Club popular, it goes far beyond in its capacity for building iron core strength.

The use of the Steel Club is all about controlling unwanted body rotation. In order to stabilize both your body and the Steel Club through a list of hundreds of dynamic movements, you’ll need to focus on strengthening and controlling your core. This requirement enhances your ability to control your entire body, leading to enhanced performance in any challenge you may encounter.

Two exercises that can quickly engage your core and humble you to the potential of the Steel Club are the Steel Club Clock Squat and the Steel Club Alternating Pullover. These exercises will awaken your inner warrior while highlighting the weaknesses in both control and stability that you may have. Start light! While achievable with some practice, you can hurt yourself swinging any heavy weight around if you’re careless!

Sample Club Core Strength Workout (Visit ONNIT Academy for full demonstrations)

A1: Steel Club Clock Squat 1 to 10 Seesaw

A2: Steel Club Alternating Pullover 10 to 1 Seesaw

REST: None. Perform 1 Clock Squat then 10 Alternating Pullovers, then 2 Clock Squats and 9 Pullovers, etc.

Mark de Grasse is the founder and editor of My Mad Methods Magazine, a publication dedicated to unconventional training methods, which was started in2010. With a primary goal of bringing the greatest amount of people to an optimal “functional” standard, Mark has dedicated years of his life to networking with coaches and trainers who are willing to step outside the box when it comes to fitness. Working with hundreds of fitness professionals around the world, Mark collects their knowledge in the form of articles, pictures, and videos, and organizes them to make the greatest global impact. He is the editor, graphic designer, writer, and photographer of the publication.

To learn more about Mark and his work, please visit: www.markdegrasse.com

Onnit Battle Ropes

Materialism, Minimalism, and Immortality Symbols

Written By: Joshua Becker

“Modern man is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, or he spends his time shopping, which is the same thing.” —Ernest Becker

The philosopher, Ernest Becker (1924-1974) is best known for two works: The Denial of Death and Escape from Evil.

Through these books, Becker weaves together a philosophy of humanity that argues most of a person’s actions are based on his or her fear of death. He writes, “Of all things that move man, one of the principal ones is his terror of death.

But for Becker, it is not just the fear of physical death that moves people. In Escape from Evil, he contends that humanity’s greatest fear is to die without significance.

What man really fears is not so much extinction, but extinction with insignificance. Man wants to know that his life has somehow counted, if not for himself, then at least in a larger scheme of things, that it has left a trace, a trace that has meaning. And in order for anything once alive to have meaning, its effects must remain alive in eternity in some way.

To compensate, we begin to engage in the pursuit of immortality projects—any activity that will allow us to outlive our physical lives. By securing for ourselves immortality symbols, we are able to successfully defeat death, outlive our mortality, and overcome our terror of death.

These symbols could take many forms (writing, art, architecture). But Becker writes that most modern people in capitalist societies turn to wealth and possessions as their immortality projects. “Money gives power now—and, through accumulated property, land and interest, power in the future.” He contends that the pursuit of wealth and possessions is so common, “no wonder economic equality is beyond the imagination of modern, democratic man: the house, the car, the bank balance are his immortality symbols.”

I was first introduced to Becker’s philosophy years ago. And it has helped shape my understanding of why minimalism is a foreign idea to so many people. For those who pursue immortality through wealth and possessions, minimalism stands in sharp contrast to some of the very forces that make them human—even against the primal motivation of self-preservation.

But Becker’s contribution also gets me thinking, “Where then, do we find the motivation to own less? How do we live a life that is not motivated by the accumulation of more and more possessions? Is it even possible to live a life apart from the accumulation of money and possessions as our immortality symbols?”

Yes, of course it is possible. The key, it seems, is to discover and pursue new immortality projects—to make a conscience decision to not allow the appeal of the visible to crowd out its invisible competitors.

As a result, we choose to live a life of significance by embracing integrity, trustworthiness, honesty, and responsibility. We choose to touch the lives of others in meaningful ways by meeting their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. We seek to elevate others rather than ourselves. We invest in justice and equality. Through work, we contribute to society rather than only ourselves. And above all else, we choose to champion and excel in love.

By seeking these invisible immortality symbols, we address our need for significance and we satisfy our desire for immortality. We impact the lives of others and outlive our physical lives. And removing the pursuit of physical possessions from our affections provides even more opportunity to secure true immortality symbols.

Joshua Becker is a writer inspiring others to live more by owning less. Josh is the author of the bestselling author of Simplify

The ONE Thing You Can Do to Achieve Your Fitness Resolution in 2015

The New Year’s Fitness Resolution; for most people, it’s nothing more than a sad reminder of how you failed to achieve the six pack, thigh-gap, or the massive arms you wanted to achieve last year. Sure, you may have been gung-ho for the first couple weeks, but your enthusiasm quickly trailed off. Most people hit a wall after what I like to call, “fitness binging;” this is when you workout way too much and eat way too little when first starting a new fitness program, then fail, crash, and wait a month or more before trying it again.

"There is a common theme in the majority of the fitness resolutions: they are aesthetically based." ~ Mark de Grasse

Losing fat, building muscle, and “toning up” all deal with the same desire to look more attractive, which people hope will garner them with more confidence, entice the opposite sex, look sexy naked, etc.

There is really nothing wrong with this (in another article I’ll talk about the “function” behind physical aesthetics); however, like most “skin-deep” goals, it’s hard to invest the necessary time and effort into achieving shallow objectives.

Let’s say that your goal in life is to have a high-performance car, would you be satisfied if you painted your 1999 Toyota Corolla red, added a racing spoiler, and applied some shinny hub caps? No! If you’re serious about getting a high performance car, you want it to RUN like a high performance car, not just look like one (and no, you’re Corolla won’t pass for that either). Finally getting what you truly desire is all the sweeter.

Worse yet, you probably won’t achieve your aesthetic-based objective anyways, no matter how shallow it is. The truth is that the visible side of fitness is the LAST thing you will most likely achieve. Most of the other benefits to exercise (like improved strength, endurance, agility, durability, etc.) will be felt much sooner.

The one thing you need to do is both simple and extremely complex at the same time; you need to stop thinking of fitness as something you achieve, and start thinking about it as something you practice. What most people have been doing is what I like to call “Results Based Fitness,” but what most people need to do is “Skill Based Fitness.”

Skill Based Fitness will change your entire mindset about exercise, shifting it from a near-term focus on physical goals into a long term focus on skill development.

Why would you want to look at fitness like this? I call it the “Riding a Bike Physical Degradation Paradigm.” The concept has to do with the rate at which different aspects of your physicality degrade over time.

Riding a Bike Physical Degradation Paradigm:

One of the reasons why it’s hard to stay motivated and progressing over months or years is because there will always be pitfalls. I don’t care if you’re a fitness professional or not, life is rough, and illnesses, family issues, financial situations, and a million other reasons WILL delay or halt your training. If all you have developed is improved strength or conditioning, you will rapidly lose your gains.

In my experience, the physical enhancements gained through exercise degrade in the following order:

  1. Conditioning
  2. Strength
  3. Skill

The reason why the first two decline is due to the degradation of fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers (to learn more about that, read “How Quickly Do You Lose Gains from Strength Training“). The third, which I call “Skill,” is the last thing you lose.

Just like riding a bike, once you learn, you can pick it up again quickly, even if it’s been months or years. Having a skill in fitness also makes gains more efficient; you get injured less because you know proper form and your body’s limitations based on your past experience, you know exercise progressions and regressions based on the hundreds of exercises you know, and (again, similar to riding a bike), you can basically pick up where you left off (at least in terms of skill). All of these elements make getting back on the horse much easier. Are there methods that lend themselves better to skill development? Of course!

Unconventional Training & Skill Development:

Unconventional Training methods like kettlebells, steel maces, steel clubs, bodyweight training, and others lend themselves extremely well to skill development because of the following reasons:

1) Hundreds of Exercises

Each Unconventional Training implement was chosen because of its versatility. There are literally hundreds of exercises (not including compound movements) that can be performed which each implement.

2) Advanced Trainers

In Unconventional Training, progression means more than bigger muscles, more weight, or faster times, it means improved movement and expertise with the implement itself. You can think of it more like a martial arts instructor rather than a personal trainer.

3) Program Versatility

Unconventional Training implements can be used individually for any program focus (strength, conditioning, agility, etc.) or separately to support other training techniques. This means that no matter what your objective is at any given time, the skills you know with each implement will be applicable.

4) Rotational, Ballistic, & Core Training

A lot of credence is given to “functional training,” but few standard training methodologies offer the amount of functional benefits that Unconventional Training methods do. The reason that kettlebells, steel clubs, steel maces, etc. are so beneficial is because each one can be used for a variety of exercises that build your entire body through full body movements. Just a few of those movement types include rotational and ballistic exercises that constantly engage your core, and as any functional trainer will tell you, core strength is the key to functional abilities.

Mark de Grasse is the Chief Fitness Officer of Onnit Labs, heading up the Onnit Academy. He is also the founder and editor of My Mad Methods Magazine, a publication dedicated to unconventional training methods since 2010. With a primary goal of bringing the greatest amount of people to an optimal “functional” standard, Mark has dedicated years of his life to networking with coaches and trainers who are willing to step outside the box when it comes to fitness. Working with hundreds of fitness professionals around the world, Mark collects their knowledge in the form of articles, pictures, and videos, and organizes them to make the greatest global impact. He is the editor, graphic designer, writer, and photographer of the publication.

To learn more about Mark or his work, please visit: www.markdegrasse.com and www.onnitacademy.com

How to Gain Weight and Build Muscle

This post originally appeared on Mark's Daily Apple on 7/9/14 by Mark Sisson. 

So you wanna put on some lean muscle mass. And you want to do it within the context of the Primal Blueprint, but aren’t sure where to start. It’s a common question and it’s about time I addressed it head on.

Mark Sisson is over 60 and knows a thing or two about optimal living.

Mark Sisson is over 60 and knows a thing or two about optimal living.

As I’ve made pretty clear, our ultimate goal is to achieve positive gene expression, functional strength, optimum health, and extended longevity. In other words: To make the most out of the particular gene set you inherited. These are my end goals, and I’ve modeled the PB Laws with them in mind. But that doesn’t mean packing on extra muscle can’t happen with additional input. After I retired from a life of chronic cardio and started living Primally, I added 15 pounds of muscle, while keeping low body fat levels without really trying, so it’s absolutely possible for a hardgainer to gain some. The question is how much and at what expense?

I’d be the first to tell you that lean body mass is healthier than adipose tissue. Generally, the more lean mass a person has, the longer and better they live. But to increase mass at the expense of agility, strength, or speed is, in my opinion, counterproductive. What would Grok do – go for enormous biceps or the ability to haul a carcass back to camp? Unless you’re a bodybuilder (nothing wrong with that, mind you; it’s just not my focus), I can’t advise simply packing on size without a proportional increase in actual strength. Those bulging biceps might look good on the beach, but then again, so does the body that comes with keeping up with the younger guys, knocking out twenty pull-ups in a row, and lifting twice your bodyweight. Form is best paired with a healthy serving of function. The two are quite delicious together, and, luckily, following the PB allows us to get both without sacrificing either.

Of course, we’re all built a little differently. The basic building blocks are the same in everyone, but sexual reproduction (as opposed to asexual reproduction) has the funny habit of producing unique genetics and small variations that affect the way we respond to our environments. It’s why some people are short and some are tall, or why some of us respond better to carbohydrates than others. Even though we all pretty much operate the same way, there IS a range of possible outcomes that is proscribed by your direct ancestors. By that same token, some people just naturally have more muscle mass. They’re usually innately more muscular than the average person, and putting more on through resistance training is often an easy task. Then there are those who can’t seem to gain a pound: the hardgainers. They might be increasing strength, but it doesn’t seem to translate into visible muscle mass. Now, my initial advice for a hardgainer is this – don’t worry too much about it! As long as you’re getting stronger, you’re doing it right.

Let’s face it, though. You’ve probably heard that enough already. It’s fun being the lanky guy at the gym who can lift more than most, but you’re dead set on bulking up (who doesn’t like a bit more muscle to go along with that strength?), and you want to do it in a Primal context. Besides, continuing to increase strength will eventually require increasing size. To do so, you have to target the very same anabolic hormones that others use to get big, only with even more enthusiasm and drive. Like I said, we all have similar engines, but some require more fuel and more efficient driving (sorry for the corny analogy). Activating these hormones will work for anyone, provided they work hard and eat enough food.

Nature's Natural Steroid

Nature's Natural Steroid

The main hormones that contribute to muscle anabolism are testosterone, growth hormone (GH), and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). A little more about each and how to utilize them:


Crazy bodybuilders don’t inject themselves with anabolic steroid hormones that are based on testosterone for nothing. Among other roles, testosterone is an important muscle-building growth factor that favorably affects protein synthesis in addition to working with other hormones (like GH and IGF-1) to improve their function (more on this later). If you want to increase strength and build muscle, testosterone is absolutely required (don’t worry, though: no injections necessary!).

Growth Hormone

It’s right there in the name, isn’t it? Growth hormone. It helps muscle grow and, perhaps more importantly, it burns body fat. After all, leaning out is a big part of building muscle (or else you’ll just look puffy) and GH will help you do it.

Insulin-like Growth Factor 1

IGF-1 is extremely similar in effect to GH, as it should be – GH stimulates IGF-1 production in the liver. In fact, it’s suspected that IGF-1 is actually responsible for most of the “growth-promoting effects of circulating GH.”

Anabolic hormones all work together. In fact, to maximize their muscle-building potential, you must have all three present. Testosterone increases IGF-1, but only in the presence of GH. GH promotes skeletal muscle cell fusion independent of IGF-1, but the two are most effective in concert. Luckily for you, the types of exercises that stimulate the secretion of one will generally stimulate the secretion of the others. Funny how that works out, huh?

Enter The Central Nervous System

In order for your body to start pumping out these delicious anabolic hormones, you must first give it a reason to do so. I might even say you should give your genes a reason to express themselves. The most effective way to do this is by notifying the central nervous system. Now, the CNS can be a stubborn bastard, but he’s all you got when it comes to interpreting stimuli and relaying messages to the rest of the body. He’s not easily perturbed, and he won’t bother if you aren’t serious. If you insist on doing nothing but light aerobics or tiny isolation exercises, your CNS will barely notice. If you want to get your CNS’ attention, pick up the intensity. Run some sprints or do some heavy lifting. When you do an exercise like the squat with a heavy weight, all hands are on deck. Your CNS realizes that some serious exercising is going down and notifies the hypothalamus, which in turn talks to your pituitary gland. This tiny – but vital – member of the endocrine system is the gland that dispatches luteinizing hormones to tell the testicles to secrete testosterone. It’s also the gland that synthesizes and secretes GH. IGF-1 is mostly produced by the liver, but its production is facilitated by the presence of GH, so we can see that it all comes down to CNS stimulation. Chronic cardio doesn’t affect your CNS in any meaningful way, so that’s why we tend to avoid it; vigorous sprints, hard and heavy lifting, and anaerobic output will get its attention, so do plenty of these to maximize muscle growth.

Cortisol: A Hormone to Avoid

Promoting muscle and strength growth also requires avoiding excess amounts of catabolic (muscle wasting) hormones like cortisol. Cortisol is the major stress hormone, and it exists for a very legitimate reason (dealing with “flight or fight” incidents, inadequate sleep, anxiety), but in large amounts cortisol increases serum amino acids by breaking down muscle, inhibiting protein synthesis and reducing amino acid uptake by the muscles – all awful things for muscle growth. Compounding the problem even further, the broken-down muscle is converted into blood glucose, which then raises insulin secretion and increases insulin resistance while promoting fat storage. And we all know how great those muscles look with a nice layer of adipose tissue covering them up! On a serious note, most people following the PB already minimize cortisol by getting plenty of sleep and reducing stress, but if you’re preoccupied with building muscle mass and engaging in extended workout sessions to achieve it, avoiding excess cortisol can get tricky: excessive exercise without enough recovery time actually increases cortisol. It makes sense (think of it like your body’s telling you it needs a day or two off), but the desire for more muscle mass drives many to work out to the point of counter-productivity. Just be careful, and give yourself at least a day of rest after a particularly grueling session.

Lift Really Heavy Things

If you haven’t figured it out already, you’re going to be doing some heavy lifting in order to put on lean mass. The foundation of your routine should be the big compound lifts: squats, deadlifts, presses (bench and overhead), pull-ups, rows, dips, snatches, power cleans, clean and jerks. These engage multiple muscles while triggering your hormonal response systems. Bodyweight stuff, while valuable, simply isn’t going to get you the strength and mass increases you’re looking for. Testosterone, while useful, only gets really anabolic when you start lifting. You need to get under some decent weight, enough so that your CNS and endocrine system are blasted, but not so much that you can’t maintain proper form.

A popular routine is the 5×5 method. Popularized by programs like StrongLifts and Starting Strength, doing compound lifts for five sets of five reps allows you to strike a balance between strength building and superficial muscle hypertrophy. Done this way, your hypertrophy won’t be purely sarcoplasmic, which results in fluid-filled muscles that look big but don’t see a corresponding increase in actual strength. Instead, the 5×5 method promotes myofibrillar hypertrophy: hard, dense muscle fibers that increase strength and size (with no puffiness). That’s real muscle that would make Grok proud.

If you’re lifting heavy and lifting hard, keep your workouts spaced at least a day apart and don’t lift more than 3x/week. Three exercises per session should be perfect. That may not sound like much, but it’ll be plenty if you do it right. Remember, you’re doing big compound movements that will really shock your system, with an emphasis on intensity and power. You don’t want to overwork yourself, release a bunch of cortisol, and set yourself back a few weeks.

Squats and deadlifts are absolutely required. No excuses. They engage the most muscles and produce the biggest hormonal response. They will be the bedrock of your mass building campaign. Most programs recommend doing squats every session, and I tend to agree. You can handle it. Deadlifts are a bit more taxing and so should be relegated to every other workout. So, one week you’ll deadlift once, the next week twice. You can also sub in power cleans for the occasional deadlifts (or do them in addition) if you’re comfortable with such a complex movement. Presses are paramount, both overhead and bench. I’d alternate both types of presses every session. Pull-ups are great, but weighted pull-ups are even better. Same goes for dips. Just try to get one pulling, one pushing, and one squatting exercise in each session.

An example for beginners, with sets coming first in the sequence:

Squat 5×5
Pull-ups 5xFailure (add weight if “Failure” is becoming more than 12 reps)
Overhead Press 5×5

Squat 5×5
Deadlift 1/2/3×5 (your choice; deadlifts can be incredibly taxing, and with exhaustion comes poor form, so be careful; sometimes it’s better to do a really heavy load for a single set)
Bench Press 5×5

Squat 5×5
Pull-ups 5xFailure
Overhead Press 5×5

Do this sequence every week (maybe Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and steadily increase the weight each session. Once you’re making progress, feel free to add in other exercises like dips or more Olympic lifts. For more mass, more lactic “burn” (and more GH secretion), reduce your rest periods between sets or even superset them. If you feel like doing some cardio, stick to sprints once weekly, or even a Crossfit-style metcon (metabolic conditioning) workout, maybe some Tabata burpees. The key is conserving strength and giving your body time to rest and recover for the next round of squats, deadlifts, and presses.

This “program” can be tweaked and altered. Just make sure you’re doing big movements while maintaining extreme intensity and great form. Oh, and always make sure to squat and deadlift. Always. They produce the most testosterone, GH, and IGF-1.

Eat Lots (I Mean Lots) of Plants and Animals

No one would ever call the Primal Blueprint a protein-sparing plan, but you’re going to have to eat even more than before. Stuff yourself. I always say that body composition is 80% diet, and that goes for putting on mass as well as losing fat. You need to provide plenty of protein for all those hormones to synthesize, after all.

  • Never let your protein intake go lower than 1g/lb of body weight when you are aiming to add long-term muscle. It’s the building block of muscle, and your body is going to be starving for it.
  • Eat plenty of saturated and monounsaturated fatFat blunts insulin secretion while increasing testosterone production. Insulin may be useful for stuffing your muscles full of glycogen, but that’s not what you’re going for… right?
  • Dietary fat, in conjunction with all the GH you’ll be producing, also spares muscle wasting.
  • You may have heard of the popular GOMAD method – Gallon of Milk a Day for easy mass-building. It undoubtedly works, but a gallon of milk isn’t exactly Primal and I can’t recommend it. Instead of milk, why not a dozen eggs a day? ADEAD? If you can manage it, eating them on top of your regularly scheduled meals is a great source of affordable protein, fat, and vitamins (Vitamin A in particular may have pro-anabolic effects).
  • Eat often. If you’re going for pure size and strength, fasted workouts and skipped PWO meals may not be the ticket. You’ll burn more fat with the extra GH secretion and existing muscle will be spared, but you may be missing the chance at prime protein synthesis when you fast. A PWO meal of protein and fat will still blunt the insulin secretion and provide fuel for your muscles.
  • Increase caloric intake. You’re going to be expending so much energy on the lifts (and you’ll continue to burn through it even on rest days) while eating clean, Primal foods (and keeping insulin low as ever) that fat accumulation shouldn’t be an issue at all. Eat!
  • On those days when you do expend a ton of energy – maybe on your metcon or sprint day – having a Primal-friendly starch, like squash or sweet potato, is a decent way to replenish depleted glycogen stores.
  • Eat a big piece of fatty meat every single day. Steak, whole chicken, lamb leg, organs, whatever. Just eat a solid piece of animal flesh for a powerful protein infusion on a daily basis.
  • A hardgainer is often someone who doesn’t eat enough. Sure, genes play a role, but you can ultimately have a significant say in how those genes rebuild you. To a point. Eat more and lift harder to grab the reins.

I’m a firm believer in the body’s natural ability to achieve proper homeostasis, provided we supply the right environment and the right foods. For some of you, that might mean lower body mass, lower than you’d like. In my opinion, that amount of muscle is probably “right” for you and I wouldn’t recommend going above and beyond to achieve more of it… but I also wouldn’t condemn it, especially if it’s pursued in accordance with the Primal Laws. As for me, I am comfortable where I’m at and tend not to seek added mass (I’m also at a point where lifting heavy increases my risk of injury, and I HATE downtime). But if you are a hard-gainer looking to add a few, as long as it’s not just show muscle and you can actually lift some decent weight and at the very least manipulate your own body weight comfortably, eat those dozen eggs and gain that weight.

You Are Not Your F&$@ing #KETTLEBELL: How to Start Unconventional Training

You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world. ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club


Few movie quotes can capture your attention quite like this one. In the movie Fight Club the lessons are many, and while they may be convoluted to some, they are profoundly clear and resonating to others. I am of the latter group.

In fitness, categorizing and segregating yourself into a particular method or group is extremely common practice. It is easier to “fit in” with a single technique or mindset rather than embrace the possibility that other methods exist and may even be better. People become “enlightened,” get some results, and are ordained into a single mindset, compelled to spread their wisdom to the next person with ears.

The truth is, your realization is nothing but a fleeting glimpse of the reality of fitness. Your current solution is in all likelihood, temporary. Progression can be fleeting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is your body’s natural ability to adapt to repeated actions. You must be open to the fact that what works for current you, will not work for future you.

The Kettlebell: Another Hunk of Metal

The undeniable truth about kettlebells (and every other implement ever conceived), is that they are inanimate pieces of material that are no different from anything else that humans create: tools. The thing that makes them different is not their dimensions, the smoothness of their handles, or their weight increments; what makes them different is you.

What has really changed in the fitness community is the collective mindset. We have gone from a purely aesthetic focus to a partially functional one. I say “partially” because the people who want to get in shape to “look pretty naked” still far outnumber the ones who want to “kick ass wearing whatever the f&$@ I feel like wearing.” Even so, there has been a substantial shift and the kettlebell, among some lesser used alternative implements, epitomize the new objective: feel better, move better, and look better.

If You Are Not Your Fitness Tool, What Are You?

If the implement is simply a symbol, what does that make you? According to the quote, “You are the all singing, all dancing crap of the world.” I take this is a less-than-polite way of saying that you are the world. As far as I’m concerned, without us, this planet is just another tiny chunk of stardust waiting to crash into another chunk of stardust until the end of time; in other words, nothing. Even if you supremely believe in mother nature, she is in extreme parol non-stop with a guaranteed end date of 5 billion years (sounds like a long time but isn’t in the grand scheme of the universe). Yes, we can save or destroy her, but let’s get back on the lighter topic of fitness for now.

Your goal in fitness should be a non-stop progression of performance with a time scale of exactly 1 (1 lifetime that is). Progressing, adapting, and learning what your body needs for your entire life is fitness; one implement is not.

With that in mind, we will continue to produce a non-stop, comprehensive, evolving stream of fitness information forever (or until the world ends, whichever comes first).

Getting Started with Unconventional Training

When you know nothing, it isn’t possible to make up your own program. While some people recommend that you take classes, get certified, read books, and otherwise commit massive amounts of time and effort in the pursuit of something that you have only just begun to understand, I will not do that to you. I am a realist. I know that your interest is waning just getting to this point of the article, so I recommend something extremely simple: use someone else’s step-by-step program and stick to it exactly. Don’t think, just do. There will be plenty of time to think and evaluate later.

Even so, I do recommend that you have at least one session with a certified kettlebell instructor if you decide to use kettlebells as your first tool of choice. A one hour session with a professional is worth 100 hours of imitating youtube videos on your own.

Now, I’m going to commit blasphemy according to some people by saying this: kettlebells may not be the best place to start (oh no!). They require a substantial amount of training and experience to master, and if you are just getting started, it may be detrimental to start with something so technical. Rather, I think you should start with the humble sandbag.

Sandbag training is extremely forgiving while also being effective. Due to the unstable nature of the implement, exercises require full body engagement. Better yet, dropping it on the ground won’t damage floors like metal implements will. For a complete 4 week workout plan, Click Here.

If you’ve used kettlebells in the past and you feel comfortable with them, but still need a more systematic approach to improvement, I wrote an ebook called The Machine Kettlebell Workout Plan. It includes 8 weeks of programming and some sound philosophies for approaching fitness in a logical manner. Click Here to download.


Mark de Grasse

Mark de Grasse is the Chief Fitness Officer of Onnit Labs, heading up the Onnit Academy. He is also the founder and editor of My Mad Methods Magazine, a publication dedicated to unconventional training methods since 2010. With a primary goal of bringing the greatest amount of people to an optimal “functional” standard, Mark has dedicated years of his life to networking with coaches and trainers who are willing to step outside the box when it comes to fitness. Working with hundreds of fitness professionals around the world, Mark collects their knowledge in the form of articles, pictures, and videos, and organizes them to make the greatest global impact. He is the editor, graphic designer, writer, and photographer of the publication.

To learn more about Mark or his work, please visit: www.markdegrasse.com and www.onnitacademy.com


The Wrong Side of Heaven

I watched the music video today for Five Finger Death Punch's "Wrong Side of Heaven" and was inspired to write this post. The video not only gave me chills, but reinforced the Hold Fast mission to help our nations service men and to encourage others to pursue the best in life. I myself did not serve, but have been mentored and inspired by some courageous service men to do everything possible to ensure that our nation's heroes and families are provided for. We hope that you will take a few minutes out of your day and think about what you can do, even if all you do is say a prayer for them.  The bulk of this post is my interpretation of the song, which in no way reflects the meaning intended by FFDP. Please keep that in mind as you read further. 

The song describes a man who dies and goes to heaven and is told by God that he is ashamed of him and is immediately sent to hell, where the Devil tells him more or less that he doesn't understand why he is there. The man, confused, then looks at God and the Devil and determines that he is to blame for being stuck in the gray area between heaven and hell. As a result he is now sentenced to this lonely place, where he'll suffer for eternity. 

This story stands out to me because many of us are stuck in this gray area between good and evil. We're strong enough to maintain some semblance of decency, yet too weak to overcome the temptations of life. This scenario plays out in each of our lives differently, but has powerful consequences none the less.  It doesn't have to be this way though.  Taking this mediocre path is a choice, not destiny. Each of us have a choice to either do the right thing and reap the rewards; or we can ignore the truth, choose the less honorable path, and suffer the consequences. 

Below are some of the choices we are all faced with in life. Take a moment to reflect on them and how you have responded to each. Remember though, that we are all destined to fail when facing life's challenges. The difference though, is that good men Hold Fast and fight to the end, while weak men give in and let the Devil destroy their efforts.  Which will you choose? 

- Will you choose to train hard, eat well and care for your body? Or, will you find excuses to train, over eat and silently suffer as your body withers away? 

- Will you choose to be jealous of others and the things they have? Or, will you fight the urge to compare yourself to others? Failure to do so can only breed hate. 

- Will you control the use of drugs and alcohol? Or, will you let them control your every thought and desire? 

- Will you choose a simple life and resist the desire to accumulate possessions and build a monument to yourself? Or, will you give in and waste your resources on things that will ultimately provide only temporary happiness? 

- Will you serve your nation and your community? Or, will you take from her and choose to ask only of what your nation and community can do for you? 

- Will you accept your flaws and be humbled by your imperfections? Or, will you get lost in your own perceived greatness and be consumed by vanity and how wonderful you think you are? 

- Will you honor your spouse and your commitment to them at all cost? Or, will you sacrifice your honor and give in to lust and temptation?

- Will you strengthen your brothers and speak the truth? Or, will you sit quietly by and hide behind political correctness and fear? 

- The next time you see a homeless person, will you dismiss them as a drunk? Or, will you see them as a person and offer them your food, clothing, money or friendship? 

This obviously isn't a complete list of life's obstacles, but it gives us a good place to start our reflection and journey toward a life well lived. Millions serve and thousands die for us to make these choices. Always remember that. Our nations needs good men; be one of them. 

Be humble...train hard...HOLD FAST!

As we mentioned above, please take a few minutes to view the video and share your comments below.  We pray that you will join us on our mission to build a better nation. 


I came across this article by Graham Holmberg and thought I'd share it because he does a great job emphasizing how mental toughness is equally, if not more important than skill when it comes to success.  He is specifically relating this trait to Crossfit athletes, but I think it can be equally applied to every aspect of life; that is, having a healthy marriage, being successful in your career, etc. Please check it out and share your thoughts. 

Hold Fast!


 Graham Holmberg  October 28, 2014  MindsetSports

Graham Holmberg.jpg

The Crossfit Games requires a slew of skills and respective level of athleticism. Although important, these are not the most important aspects of a Crossfit Games competitor.

“Look in the mirror…that’s your competition.” ~Anonymous

The main objective of the annual Reebok CrossFit Games is to find the “fittest on Earth”. With a claim such as this, you can expect the test to find the fittest is extremely difficult. The CrossFit Games starts out with over 200,000 participants. These athletes will go through a series of 5 workouts over the course of 5 weeks, known as the OPEN. From here, athletes than qualify to compete in their respective REGIONAL.

There are 17 regions around the world each one only accepting the top 60 men and top 60 women from the OPEN. Depending on regional size and depth of field, no more than 3 men and 3 women qualify from each region for the GAMES. So by the time we reach July we have went from 200,000+, down to 48 men and 48 women.

What Do Athletes of the Crossfit Games Have in Common?

As an individual who has competed in 5 CrossFit Games and came out victorious in 2010, I know it comes down to an athlete’s mental game and willingness to work hard and suffer. Although this sport of fitness requires a slew of skills and respective level of athleticism, mental game and toughness are crucial.

The men and women who make it to the Games have this unknown measure of willingness to suffer and keep suffering before giving up in a workout. Learning to push through the pain and telling your body to “shut up” is not something that is just there, it must be practiced and developed.

I can think back to some of my own workouts where that burn and pain start to swell up inside. My brain starts telling me to “slow down, this pace is too fast” or “you can’t go any further”. The first few times this creeps into my head I slow down and stop.

But the more and more I get to this point in my training session, I start learning to combat the thoughts and start visualizing myself going faster, lifting more weight, going further. I believe that this mental visualization and positive reinforcement becomes easier and easier the more you do it.

The Mental Aspect of the Crossfit Games

I would be telling a lie if I said that the pain of pushing a workout doesn’t exist anymore. The pain is there, more prevalent then ever because the more strength and conditioning you get, the harder you push, and therefore the pain actually increases exponentially. But you learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Once I was able to grasp this concept and train like this every day, I became very eager to compete against others.

Day after day, I beat myself physically and mentally preparing for the time to step on the floor with others to test and find out who is the fittest. Now, the real fun of all the training gets to shine. You feel faster, the weights feel lighter, and heavy breathing does not seem to creep up as quickly.

The truth is, most of these top competitors do not need the person next to them to push it hard. Just as a racehorse with blinders on, focuses on the track ahead of them and does not worry about the surrounding field. A top CrossFit athlete trains in a way of similar tunnel vision. Putting all concentration on the next rep in front of them and the next obstacle to overcome. The surrounding noise and atmosphere ignites every drop of adrenaline and will power.

This is why we see amazing times, lifts, personal records and incredible performances all year round with CrossFit competitions. To sum things up, a top CrossFit competitor and champion has the strength, technique, coordination, athleticism, recovery, mobility and endurance but their mental clarity and determination to win is their most powerful possession.

To read more unconventional training content like this, please visit the ACADEMY section of the ONNIT website. Click here  to read more.

If you're a trainer, be sure to check out ONNIT's Unconventional Training Certification, also located in the Academy section of their site. It is a great way to differentiate yourself from the pack. #crossfit #unconventionaltraining #grahamholmberg