2011 has borne many lessons for me. Here is what I learned in 1 year summarised into a brutally honest and convenient format that will take you 3 minutes, or 0.000006 years to read. Good return on your investment if you ask me.


1) Bulking Fail

After my transformation, I spent the year eating a large calorie surplus, averaging around 4500kcal. I followed these guidelines, except I went against my own advice and made one crucial error: I continued training in the same format as I had during the diet. Very low volume, one or two working sets per muscle group taken to failure.


The result? Got fat. Gained 13kg of bodyweight, with very modest strength gains (even some strength loss in the bench press!) despite how difficult it was to cram in that much food.


I had made such a fundamental oversight in my training, and it caused me to regress, I’d been wasting a lot of my training time and efforts. Oh well, at least I snatched 90kg:
Luckily, editors Jonny and Ben set me back on the right path, after I witnessed their alternate day fasting experiments. They were often eating 10,000kcal on feeding days, equating to around 5000kcal per day, and yet they were losing bodyfat and gaining inches on their chest and back. What was I doing wrong? Volume. 


The reason they could eat so much is that they earned their calories. They were training twice per day with very high volume (see here and here), and therefore had no problems with low appetite. They actually had to stop themselves.


The last few months I’ve been doing just that. Avoiding failure, training with higher volume and frequency, and lifting explosively. My appetite is better than it’s ever been, and eating is no longer a chore. This is the biggest gift after a year of seeing food as an enemy to conquer!


Lesson learned: Train with enough volume and earn your calories. That alone will stimulate your appetite and you’ll have no problem hitting your calorie targets!


2) Ramadan, and The Accidental Cut

Ramadan came at the right time for me. I had an optimised plan (that was surprisingly well received) and I had some chub buffer. I followed the plan as written, trained in the evenings just before sundown, 2-3x/week.



– Retained strength

– Benefitted spiritually from Ramadan while directing the minimal mental energy towards training and diet.

– Lost 7-8kg (kickstarted by illness)


One thing I would change: I’d find a gym that closed after sundown, and train in a fed state. Training dehydrated is the worst thing ever. It’s risky and there’s a noticeable drop in performance.  


3) Competitions

Post-Ramadan, I competed in powerlifting, weightlifting and gymnastics. I’m now ranked 16th unequipped powerlifter in Scotland for this year (lol.. undersubscribed sport).


Videos here:




Gymnastics: This is why I won the men’s division:

“Why do you do gymnastics, Yusef? That’s so gay”
Driving an invisible car around the floor

More gymnastics:



Lesson learned: Compete wherever you can, even if it’s with yourself. It gives a purpose to your training.


4) You won’t die if you miss a meal.

I did alternate day fasting for 12 weeks: 36 hours fast followed by a 12 hour eating period. Gained muscle, lost fat while eating what I wanted. More details to come in our series on fasting.


Lesson learned: If you don’t eat every day, you won’t die!


5) Objectivity

All coaches will tell you that when they train themselves it is a whole different ball-game to training other people. JCDeen writes about this phenomenon here. You’re much less objective with yourself and can fall into traps of laziness, habit, overzealousness and pride. Proximity bias! You’re often too emotionally involved with your own body to make the optimal decisions. The result is that your clients make much better progress than you do, because they’re being monitored from an objective source. Having the PropaneFitness editors to put me right and highlight my mistakes has been invaluable.


We, the editors, coach each other just like we coach our clients. Often the more you learn, the more you realise how much you don’t know, and you start to doubt your decisions. When you put your diet and training in someone else’s hands you will jump in with both feet and make far better results, because there’s no second guessing, no thinking. All you have to do is train and eat!


Lesson learned: Buy a transformation package. (Couldn’t help myself. Really though, get some informed perspective. It’s invaluable.)


Although there have been some major time-wasting mistakes and stupidities, a lesson learned the hard way makes damn sure that you won’t do it again – so I’m grateful for the lessons. There are some other lessons, but I’d better leave them to Ben and Jonny. I can’t just steal all the good ones. You can see the latest in my training log here.


We’d love to hear what you guys have learned in 2011!

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16 responses to “What I Learned in 2011: Yusef

  1. I completely agree about surplus and volume, I gain about 1kg in 7 weeks of smolov despite eating non stop, regular mcdonalds/pizza/kfc binges eating up to 4000 calories in a day, soon a I have laid off the volume and eaten less over the last 3 weeks bw has gone up 2-3kg. Now obviously I haven’t gained 2kg in 2 weeks, but the volume of heavy squatting had suppressed this weight gain despite the amount of surplus calories, so when I took a week layoff to max, and then 2 weeks speed work there has been a re-compensation of bw. Im not saying I should have eaten less over the last 3 weeks, I think it was necessary for recovery and to prepare myself for theft 4 weeks.

    You still need to learn to snatch properly yusef, 100kg is so doable you don’t even realise.

    What I learnt in 2011:
    -anyone can be a lot stronger than I previously thought, 200kg squat is a reasonable goal for anyone who trains hard. My perspective has been shifted over what heavy is. I like to think of it as chinese coaches do, in the first year of lifting their weightlifting athletes aim to lift 60% of the WR for their weight class. You might not be able to do it in just a year, because you are not a chinese weightlifter whose life is dedicated to it, but are you not 60% as good as a WR holder in terms of potential?

    -focus. Don’t screw yourself trying to do several things at once. If you focus hard on deadlift for 6-12weeks your squat or bench or other lifts are not going to magically deteriorate beyond belief. Your form will suck when you get back to them but you will be overall stronger, so when you start training that lift again it will go up. If you want to get lean, put strength on the back burner. If you want to get strong, care less about aesthetics. So many people here start a log saying “I want to get strong” as their only goal then a few pages later comment that they are on a deficit and trying to lose fat. Don’t lie to yourself about your goals. If you want to be lean, do it well. If you want to be lean all year round, and strong simultaneously then do it. But if you just want to get strong, it will happen faster if you are eating enough. How fat you get is up to you. Better to bulk conservatively for a year and get way stronger than bulk rapidly for 8 weeks, get no stronger and a lot fatter then decide to cut because you are fat. Bulking shouldn’t be synonymous with over-eating.

    -Gain some muscle. Enjoy trying to get strong with no muscle on your frame. Look at strength athletes from PL or WL, look at the 60kg or lower classes. See how much muscle they have. They probably have more muscle than most people who start training at 70-80kg. If you weighed 60kg in your mid teens, and you still weigh 60kg now, you should probably add some muscle so you can get a lot stronger. Ive been 80kg since I was about 16-17. Getting heavier made getting my lifts up so much easier this year.


    -Take care of your body. Not by eating well. Not by going to day spas. By breaking up soft tissue adhesions and doing some damn stretching. Too many people say “oh I can’t train atm I have a problem with this” when they haven’t even bothered to look up what it could be. Someone I know stopped training for about 6 months because of a pain in his upper back and shoulder. eventually he got it massaged twice and it went away almost completely. The fact i told him 6 months before he got it fixed to shove a tennis ball in-between his shoulder blades and in his traps… If you have a problem, whether its serious or minor, fix it. So many people saying they can’t train because of this or that. just bullshit if they haven’t done the most basic research on what it could be or even just following intuition. Prime example: knee pain, ever thought about getting all the tightness out of your calves, quads(especially rectus femoris), inner out legs, hams, hips and glutes and seeing if it improves?

    -Your capable of doing a lot more than you think. High volume programmes have shown me your ability to recover increases as you increase the need to recover. The more you train, the more the cells in your muscles that control muscle repair (myosatellite cells) proliferate, in un-damaged muscle they are dormant.

    1. @Ben: Awesome, looking forward to reading it. I think a condensed year is one of the most concentrated forms of wisdom you can find!

  2. Great answers guys, I’m favouriting this thread.

    Particularly mirin:

    -Take care of your body. Not by eating well. Not by going to day spas. By breaking up soft tissue adhesions and doing some damn stretching.


    How fat you get is up to you

  3. I’d like to share my list as well. It’s more of epiphanies than anything. If anything, being in this forum and getting tough love from you guys has led me to this.

    1. I love intermittant fasting, but I can’t do it everyday.

    It, along with lifting, helped rid me of bulimia nervosa and my depression. I’d do it everyday, but sometimes I have breakfast dates with others and I suffer from gastric discomfort at others.

    After I complete my military training, I will definitely still fast from time to time – not a daily 16h fast, but more of JC Dean’s relaxed eating style.

    2. I respond really well to daily training.

    During my 6-week of experimentation with the John Broz-inspired daily squatting, my lower body strength and explosiveness went through the roof. I also ate more but got leaner and bigger.

    I also prefer a daily training schedule. I got up at 5am everyday and had a morning routine (I literally had squats for breakfast). No sessions were missed and I had never been more focused. Pity military training got in the way.

    However, I won’t be continuing with daily training after my army commitments end. I’ll be doing 5/3/1 4 days per week and one session of sprints and jumps on weekdays. This allows for daily training and the conditioning for my vocation and football.

    3. Related to the previous point: I have absolutely no problem with performing squats and deadlifts in the same session. At least now.

    During my daily training sessions, I did light deads 3 days per week and one daily max per week after squatting.

    The results: I hit a new deadlift PR of 95kg and my front squat was not affected at all.

    Furthermore, I didn’t suffer from any of the crippling lower back soreness that I was warned about.

    As Gabriel Galeano, Propane Athlete and friend, once told me, powerlifters squat and deadlift on the same day at meets.

    If I hadn’t experimented with daily training and pushed my limits, I would’ve hindered my progress by giving myself the excuse that squats and deadlifts just can’t be done on the same day.

    4. I hadn’t been even putting in close to the effort required for continued progress.

    Only after constantly gunning for new PRs every day and experiencing true failure multiple times have I learned that many of my lifts could have been muscled up.

    I learned to push past my perceived limits. I learned that sometimes your mind is not your own. It tries to convince you to give up. And in these situations, I remind myself again why I set these goals and what needs to be done.

    Up till then, I had thought I was a badass. Not even close.

    5. I think and read too much and squat too little

    This distracted myself from my goals and led to me wanting to switch programmes every few weeks.

    I also found that despite everything I read, I always came back to the basics in training: the compound movements, progressive overload, consistent training and leaving nothing in the tank with every set are the prime factors in my body and performance improvements.

    I found myself incorporating complicated warm-ups, switching exercises and goals frequently and worrying about whether back or front squats were superior. Or RDLs vs GMs. That kind of minutia only caused my progress to stagnate.

    I’ve since unsubscribed from fitness newsletters. I only follow the select few ones which give me the most valuable information: T-Nation (most articles, especially those by Mike Robertson, Dan John and Eric Cressey), Sean Hyson, Bret Contreras, Anthony Mychal, Ben Bruno, JC Dean, propanefitness and Martin Berkhan. I find that for now, sticking to the basics and being reminded about my training attitude by these people is the best strategy forward.

    Warm-up? DeFranco’s agile 8 and simple 6. Programme? For now, a minimalist programme with only front squats, deads and presses once a week. After my army training ends, I’ll continue with 5/3/1.

    I won’t be analysing every single minute detail about my training from now on, either. Just how I felt, the weights that went up and my goals for the next session. Progress pics will also be up.

    6. I can handle more calories per day than I realised.

    Only when eating about 3000kcal per day did I really grow. And I’m still reasonably reasonably lean.

    7. Life’s too short for regrets. I shall make my 2012 a fruitful one control what I can and not obsess over what I can’t.

  4. I suffer from gastric discomfort at others.

    I did alternate day fasting for 12 weeks, a couple of things helped with gastric issues: lime juice in water to alkalise the body, and gaviscon (not sure what equivalent you’ll have in singapore, a form of antacid) during the fast.

    2. I respond really well to daily training.

    During my 6-week of experimentation with the John Broz-inspired daily squatting, my lower body strength and explosiveness went through the roof. I also ate more but got leaner and bigger.

    6. I can handle more calories per day than I realised.

    Only when eating about 3000kcal per day did I really grow. And I’m still reasonably reasonably lean.

    Daily training is great, but I’ve always thought the weak link in your training was insufficient calories. I know after an eating disorder it must be difficult to get accustomed to more calories but the results have spoken for you. Onwards and upwards.

    As Gabriel Galeano, Propane Athlete and friend, once told me, powerlifters squat and deadlift on the same day at meets.

    I wouldn’t squat and deadlift heavy on the same day if I had a choice. Kind of a moot point about meets since it’s not exactly a normal training day.

    5. I think and read too much and squat too little

    Same here.

    Mike Robertson, Dan John and Eric Cressey), Sean Hyson, Bret Contreras, Anthony Mychal, Ben Bruno, JC Dean, propanefitness and Martin Berkhan.

    That’s really great to hear that you include propane in that list! Got to live up to those guys now.

    I’ll continue with 5/3/1.

    5/3/1 will do good things for you. Just really go for it and pick appropriate assistance movements for the main lifts.

  5. Thanks for the encouragement, Yusef. We actually have gaviscon here in Singapore. Just ran into it at the provision shop and bought it. Let’s see how it goes!

    I understand the concerns about squatting an deadlifting heavy in the same session. After yesterday’s session, my lower back feels extremely sore. I might consider alternating between squats and deadlifts if it gets serious. But since I’m doing the front squat, my lower back isn’t that taxed prior to deads. Foam rolling’s improved it tremendously.

  6. whats was your squat at the end of two weeks btw?

    When you are starting out squatting then deadlifting is fine, as it gets heavier you might not want to do them both in the same session.

    I read too little and squat too little.

  7. If your deadlift form causes you to be barely able to walk the next day I doubt you will be able to put much effort into a squat session for 3-4 days afterwards nowutimsayincuz.

  8. I think there are two reasons for it:

    1. I front squatted instead of back squatting in my daily training experiment. That meant less lower back stress.

    2. I didn’t deadlift heavy for a max single every time. Sometimes, it was just speed pulls at a lighter weight for a triple

    That was interesting information about Andy Bolton’s training. That guy is strong.

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