The Fat Loss Ninja Interviews Top Strength Coach Nick Tumminello
Nick Tuminello – Author, Contributor to Men’s Health Magazine and T-Nation.com…and overall badass…just sayin.
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Dan: Hey there, my ninjas, it is Dan Go. Today I have a very special guest with me. He is considered to be one of the top strength-and-conditioning coaches in North America, and he is someone that I’m always learning from in regard to new fat-loss exercises.
And I’m talking about, it is none other than Nick Tumminello, and he owns Performance U out in Baltimore. Thank you, Nick, for getting on this call. It’s an honor for you to stop by here and drop on us some knowledge bombs.
Nick: Yeah, well, I’m honored to do it, man. I always enjoy helping out trainers that are willing to listen what I have to say, so… I love fitness and I love sharing knowledge, so I’m happy to do it.
Dan: Awesome. As everybody knows, pretty much, Nick has this YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/performanceu, and this is a channel that I regularly go to to pretty much get exercises, from corrective exercises to fat-loss exercises and also to see 70-year-old grandmas push prowler around. So, Nick, can you give us a background on how you came to be one of the top strength-and-conditioning coaches in North America?
Nick: Well, I dont consider myself top anything; I just consider myself a guy who thinks about exercise a lot, and I’ve got a lot of experience training. I really appreciate that compliment; I’ll take it where I can get it. I mean, I really became a trainer, I would say, probably a big influence from, support from my parents. My mother was a body builder in the ’80s, which I’ve said on several other interviews, so I literally grew up in the gym.
I was six, seven years old, trying to emulate the exercises I saw my mom do. I used to always walk around and tell my friends at school, “My mom could beat up your dad.” That’s what I used to say when I was a little kid; that’s a true story.
You know, I was always real big into athletics, so you put that influence together with a love for sports and movement and muscle, you get someone who always thought they wanted to be a trainer and help other people out to achieve the same benefits that it helped me, which was strength, agility, confidence, athleticism, mental toughness. You name it, that’s what I got for sports and weight training, so if I could help other people with that, that’s what I was gonna do and make money in the process. I think that’s a pretty good gig, so, luckily, we’ve been able to influence a lot of people. I’m very thankful.
Dan: Awesome. Who influences you? I know you said probably in the past, your mom did, but right now who are your main influences when it comes to exercise, when it comes to nutrition, who are the people that you go to?
Nick: Probably the guy I can probably most relate to, who I can pretty much listen to talk all the time is Juan Carlos Santana. He is my mentor and it’s really, really funny because as I was developing as a young guy, I gravitated toward him because we had very similar backgrounds in wrestling and martial arts and whatnot. So, then I really started expanding into Paul Chek and everybody I could learn from, ’cause I came up in the late ’90s.
And then as I started kind of—I never gravitated away from JC, but I was always looking around and finding my own style, and as of recently, I really found—it’s funny how things work out in the beginning ’cause I’ve looked now, as I’ve, you know, I’m no longer a young guy. I’m a more experienced trainer and got my own stuff going, and I look at some of the things that I’ve picked up from JC and things and I go out, you know, he and I really do have a lot more in common than I even realized when I was a teenager, training with him.
So, I would say definitely him for philosophy and exercise, and then for nutrition I would say Alan Aragon. I’ve met Alan. He and I presented twice at the, what’s now called the Fitness Summit; it used to be called the JP Fitness Summit. Alan is always right on the money with stuff; he’s very evidence-based, he’s very reality-based, so I really like Alan’s stuff. And then Dr. Jose Antonio is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever talked to; he’s more of a sports supplements guy. So, those are two of my big go-to guys for nutrition.
Dan: Cool, cool.
Nick: Also Leigh Peele too. I really like Leigh Peele’s stuff.
Dan: Yes, definitely. Leigh Peele, she actually comes out with a lot of great information with regard to training and nutrition. I mean, she’s right up there with, like, Alwyn Cosgrove a little bit.
Dan: Awesome. So, when you see people in the gym, what are the top three mistakes you see people making when they’re going to the gym in regard to, you know, their goal is to lose, say, ten pounds? What would you say their top three mistakes would be?
Nick: Well, this one is pretty much gonna be indirectly not in the gym, but you see a lot of people drive around the parking lot to find the closest parking space to the door and get on the treadmill and walk for 45 minutes or run or get on the elliptical or whatever. I know that sounds kinda funny, but the mistake there is the mind-set that when you’re in the gym, you’re doing activity, but when you’re in life, you’re not burning calories, and they forget that movement is what really is burning the calories. It’s not physically being in the gym and doing something artificial.
So, I think that they really are probably getting so bored with their workouts and doing the same stuff that probably the first mistake is realizing that they need to maybe get involved with a local club sports team. Take up tennis lessons, try to learn how to rock climb and go rock climbing a couple times a week with your friends. It’s more fun, you’ll probably burn more calories, and you’ll be more encouraged to do it on a regular basis anyway. On top of gym stuff.
So, I know that might not be the exact answer you were looking for, but I do think it’s a big deal, which is why a lot of people get stale with gyms. I would say even though I personally use—I know there’s a big, you know, the crunch, sit-up, no sit-ups, whatever—I personally believe if your body moves in that movement, you should strengthen those movements, so we definitely do variations of sit-ups and crunches. That’s beyond the scope of this interview, but I would say people do way too many easy versions of crunches, so they need to find harder versions.
So, for instance, instead of lying down, doing 200 different crunch variations that anybody who’s unfit can lie down and do 50 of, that’s too damn easy and too many reps. Get on a ball, hold a weight plate, increase the range of motion, and do eight and then your abs are shot. Treat your abs like every other muscle in your body. Three sets of eight, three sets of ten, that kind of stuff. So, I would say too much repetitive, easy reps to create a burn or to create a training stimulus, whatever they’re looking for.
And I would also say probably not enough training the muscles that they can’t see in the mirror. We have a simple philosophy, which I actually copied directly from JC Santana: Reverse the sitting position. Most of us sit way too much, and I don’t need a fancy corrective exercise-based assessment or physical therapy-based assessment to tell you that most people are gonna have weak glutes and weak midback muscles and tighter hip flexors and tighter anterior chest and shoulder muscles.
This isn’t rocket science; we sit way too much. So, we do more work on the muscles that tend to get down regulated when you sit—glutes, midback—and we tend to do things that tend to wanna open you up in areas in the front. Basically more back strength and more hip strength emphasis in the programs, which most people don’t do.
Dan: This is actually leading to another question now. You were talking about the abs a little bit, and there’s almost a fight within the fitness industry where people are against crunching and people are saying, you gotta do more stability-type ab exercises like planks, side planks, and whatnot. What’s your take on that, because you did mentioned that you do still get people to do crunching motions because it’s obviously something that we do in life?
So, what is better, doing stability-type ab exercise or doing crunching-type ab exercise or is it both?
Nick: You should do both but I had a realization that I’m getting stability in antimovement, you know, antiflexion, antirotation, anti stuff just doing, anytime I do a unilateral exercise. I mean, if I hold one dumbbell and I’m doing a single-arm overhead press or one kettlebell, well, if I do 12 reps—let’s just make ease on the numbers—10 reps and each rep takes me roughly three seconds—you know, one, one tempo and then a one-second pause in transition; that’s a three-second rep—that’s a 30-second—if I did it in my right arm—that’s a 30-second side plank. It’s actually better than a side plank ’cause I’m standing; it’s more of a functional position. It’s better than a side plank, and I just did 30 seconds of it.
And in order to keep my posture in good form, straight spine, the whole nine yards, why do I need to go down and lie down and do more of that? What I’m not getting from my everyday strength training is I’m not getting a lot of the movement-related stuff, which you need if you’re bending and twisting and doing things in life. So, that’s the kinda way I started to look at it. So, we just make sure we incorporate a lot of unilateral training in our workouts and our general strength work and that normally covers the antilateral flexion, sometimes rotation aspect of things and then you’re getting a lot of linear-type work when you’re doing squats and lunges ’cause you’re resisting the bars and the dumbbells are trying to pull you down toward the ground, so that gets the posterior aspect.
So, that leaves just rotation, so that’s where we pick the exercises from.
So, that’s just kinda how I look at it; I look at efficiency. I’m not gonna do something just for the sake of doing it when I look and I go, “Wait a minute, I’ve already done that. I can get this when I do another exercise and get ’em both done at the same time.”
Dan: Yeah, I’ve actually been, I mean, I literally tore through pretty much all of your videos, and in your workouts and in your exercises yourself, you have people moving and pretty much all different types of movement. You know, front, back, side. Is this kinda like what you’re talking about, like keeping people just moving in different directions and making sure that they’re challenging their bodies in different ways?
Nick: Well, everything’s got a purpose. I don’t just give people movements, but for the most part, yeah, we move in three dimensions. Just because an exercise—I think where people, I think the functional crowd goes a little haywire with it is, they think in order to get three planes of motion, you must be moving in three planes of motion visually, and that’s not necessarily true. I mean, if I stand on a single leg and I do a single-leg squat, yes, my body is moving primarily in a sagittal plane, but if I didn’t control the transverse plane and frontal plane movement, then I would have horrible form. My knee would drop in, my pelvis would rotate. So, I’m getting three-dimensional training because I’m controlling the other two planes.
When you start getting crazy with some of these things, just turning just to turn and just moving sideways just to move sideways, it starts to become its own little silly little act that you would never do anywhere outside of, you know, I’m-a-more-creative-trainer-than-you contest kinda gym. So, you can’t go too far with that, but you do have to embrace the fact that not everything that we do is very, very artificial and always one way type of things.
Sometimes you do need to get people moving in different directions because that’s what we do in life. So, all I try to do, we build a general foundation of strength and movement for people, and then we also have what I call functional movement, which I’m looking to transfer specifically into a movement pattern, and the reason why we do that is to match the force production patterns of whatever they’re trying to get better at. That’s what I consider functional training.
What’s funny to me—I hope I’m not going off on a tangent here, but what’s funny to me right now is, you listen to the get-strong crowd. So, the get-strong crowd talks about the functional crowd, but the functional crowd doesn’t understand true functional training. They think it’s getting * (12:59—unclear) and doing things that look more like Cirque du Soleil acts, which is fun, but I wouldn’t consider that function. Function, to me, is something that’s gonna directly help with something.
So, if you look at somebody who makes fun of the leg extension and they say, “Whoa, unless you’re gonna enter a seated ass-kicking contest, why do leg extensions?” So, I say, “Okay, so what you’re saying is”—I’ve heard that said before—“so what you’re saying is, the exercise, because it looks like a seated ass-kicking contest, that’s the only thing that it’s gonna help? So, what you’re saying is, exercises that look like the movement are gonna help.”
But then they see somebody like me strap a waist belt around a Muay Thai fighter so it resists their hips from going, pulls their hips backward so they have to drive their hips more forward to throw a knee and I say, “This is functional for throwing knees,” and they go, “Oh, that’s functional circus acts; just get ’em strong.” And I go, “Wait a minute now. Which one is it, ’cause the leg extensions just get your legs strong, so it’s functional there? So, okay, well, how do I get strong, what would I do if I say I wanna get better at benching, getting better at the bench press?” “Oh, well, you do two-board press, you do three-board press, four press, all these other movements.”
“So why are they good for the bench?” “Well, they look like the bench, they match movement components of the bench, and they match the same force production patterns of the bench.” “Okay, so what you’re saying is, as I long as I do things that look like bench and feel like bench and have components at bench, it will make me better at bench pressing. But I can’t take that same methodology to every movement in sports or in life?”
So, if I take it into sports and life, I’m just a functional idiot, but if I do it for power lifting, I’m a really smart power lifting coach. We’ve got to get more consistent with this. So, what I’m saying here is this: We’ve taken the mentality of—to me, functional training is basically taking the same concepts that we’ve learned for Olympic lifts, what makes Olympic lifts better and what makes power lifts and just expanded on those to make any movement better that people desire to get better at. Does that make sense?
Dan: Yeah, definitely. That was awesome. You can pretty much tell how passionate you are about the functional training and also just like, kinda like, I guess, differentiating it from what it is and what it really is. In regard to where you train and your training facility, you train everyone from, say, professional athletes to figure competitors to, you know, like we said before, 70-year-old grandmas.
Now, what do you do differently with such a wide spectrum of fitness levels in regard to, say, training protocols, especially for, let’s just say for the average person who works nine-to-five that wants to lose, say, like, 10 to 20 pounds? What would you do for that particular type of person, just like the average person?
Nick: It’s almost the same stuff except the older people do it slower and with less weight.
Dan: Okay, and do you guys do any, say, like pre-movement right before the actual session?
Nick: Okay, so that I would say is probably a little bit different. With them, I’m not doing these big warm-up set we use, where we’re getting them on the floor. I mean, for an 86-year-old person with two knee replacements and a frozen shoulder and all kinds of issues that we deal with, getting them down and up and off the floor again is the hardest exercise they’d probably do that day, so I’m not getting them lying down and doing thoracic mobility and things like that. All these people care about is making sure that every morning they get up, they can still bend over and tie their shoes, walk to the bathroom, get on the toilet, get off the toilet, and not need any help, drive.
This is what these people care about, you know? So, they get their mobility from doing real genuine exercise. So, with them, I would say the way I coach it is probably different because, with them, I try to make it task-oriented. So, instead of saying, “Hey, squat,” I put a water bottle down in front of them and I say, “Hey, pick up this water bottle, and then put it down ten times.”
Dan: That’s awesome. Say for the figure competitor, what are the main aspects of fat-loss programs you use for a figure competitor?
Nick: Okay, well, now we’re talking very, very different. You’re talking about two different types of people. So, figure competitors basically train like body builders. We do a little bit more of an athletic twist to their programs, which it’s tough to get into something like this. When they go into their fat-loss phase, it’s normally eight weeks out to six weeks out depending on how lean they are out of a show.
We’ll just up their steady state cardio and we’ll also throw in some sort of finishers, complexes and we also have a little kind of a secret—it’s not really a secret formula, but a circuit formula that I call the Fat-loss Four, but I don’t wanna give that away. I got an article coming up on that, so I don’t wanna give that one away, but it works quite well.
Dan: Okay, actually, one thing that you mentioned, the finishers. Now, metabolic finishers, why are they so important for a fat-loss program, and why do you add them at the end of your fat-loss programs? That’s probably the main thing. why are they so important?
Nick: Well, first of all, just because I call them finishers doesn’t mean you have to do them at the end. The only reason I call them finishers is that we still, the emphasis for a physique competitor is the way the muscles are developed, basically the shape of their body, so we always start off their sessions with more body building style, weight training. That is the priority and will always be the priority first and foremost.
So, when we’re in a fat-loss phase, we just do more finisher-type movements than when we’re doing the buildup phase, where we’re still doing some conditioning to lay a foundation, but it’s mostly strength training. Toward the fat loss it’s half strength training, half metabolic training.
So, basically, we have three methods of metabolic strength training. We have—I call them the three Cs of metabolic strength training, which we cover this in the Strength Training for Fat Loss DVD. It’s combinations, complexes, and circuits.
So, combinations are a combination of two, three, four, five, six movements all on one exercise, one piece of equipment. So, the two easiest ones I can think about are probably a squat, push, and a press with a barbell. Squat and do an overhead press or a squat and row with a cable. Squat, stand up, row. Those are combination movements. Lunge to step up. You could go nuts with that. Row to deadlift; there’s a lot of things.
A complex is a series of movements strung together. It’s basically like a circuit, all using the same piece of equipment. So most people are familiar with barbell complexes. One of my most favorite things that we’ve done is combine farmer walks with dumbbell complexes, which is probably one of the favorites that we use here.
And then, of course, we have circuits, and everybody knows circuits. That’s just a bunch of exercises strung together with little to no rest, normally for time. So, we like to use those. I like to use those ’cause we can track those. We don’t really do much really, really hard-core interval training like on the Airdyne bike or run sprints. First, we don’t do sprint, ’cause if they tear a hamstring, they’re not competing and then they’re not making money, they’re not getting modeling jobs, so I’m not gonna have a model pull a hamstring trying to act like she’s trying out for the NFL team, you know? So, we try to keep safety in mind.
The other problem with that is, when they’re in the fat-loss phase, they’re eating significantly less carbohydrates. I don’t need to get into any arguments with nutritionists that are listening to this interview. That’s just what they do, it works well. And I’m not even responsible for their nutrition anyway, so if you got a problem with me saying that, don’t take it up with me anyway. I let the nutrition go with a specialist because I’m not a nutritionist. But they’re always on lower-carb diets, so how can I give somebody high-intensity intervals where they’re burning all kinds of sugar, which they’ve already burned up in the weight training, and expect them to not be overtrained when they’re already low-carbed? So, we don’t go crazy on the finishers, and the rest of it is steady state work. So, they’re burning primarily from fat.
Dan: Okay, so the steady state work is just like, say, half an hour on the treadmill or half an hour on the bike kinda thing then, right?
Nick: Yeah, they normally do two-a-days. They normally do one in the morning or evening and then one directly after our weight training as, like, a cool-down.
Dan: Okay, now, for the fat-loss aspect of the figure competitors, what kind of supplements do you put them on? I know you’re not in charge of the nutrition, but do you have an idea of what are the baseline supplements you have your figure competitors go on when they’re in their fat-loss phase?
Nick: Well, yeah. Here’s the thing: I can make recommendations but I can’t tell people exactly. But the thing with supplements, I mean, anything you can buy over-the-counter at GNC that’s been proven safe is never gonna come back badly on me. nobody’s ever gonna come back and say, “Your person got sick or got this disease because they were taking creatine,” or anything like that. I mean, I look at the research, and there’s no research out there that would make me worry about these things.
So, we like to get them on a combination of creatine and beta-alanine, roughly five grams a day of each, three to five grams a day. They stop creatine six weeks out because they could have a hard time cutting water, because the only side effect of creatine is possible water retention—not possible, it normally does happen. So, we cut ’em out about six weeks, sometimes eight weeks out, and then they just stick with the beta-alanine.
And then the typical stuff, fish oils, whey protein supplement unless they’ve got some sort of, they don’t like whey protein for whatever reason or another. What else we got? Branched-chain amino acids, we’re really big on those—BCAA, especially with the high leucine content. I know there’s probably one other one I’m leaving out, but those are pretty much the big rocks I would say.
Dan: Cool, cool. Now, one of the very last questions is: If you’re ever to be stuck on a desert island and could only bring one piece of workout equipment with you, what would it be and why would you bring it?
Nick: Easy answer: JC bands and that’s not because I’m trying to promote JC or anything like that. It’s because I’ve got gravity; gravity lowers me vertically, and I got my body weight and can take care of that. But in order for me to create a load that’s horizontal or diagonal, you need some sort of cable or band apparatus for that. Obviously, you can use momentum, but there’s only so much you can get with momentum, so a JC band would allow me to load the vectors that gravity doesn’t load for me through body-weight training.
Dan: That’s awesome. A very unique answer and I was not expecting that at all. If someone was looking to transform their body, especially in regard to fat loss, which program of your would you recommend, and how can they access it?
Nick: Well, unlike a lot of folks out there, I actually haven’t developed any programs that we’ve made public yet as far as, like, 12-week fat-loss or 12-week muscle-building program. Those are in the works. Actually, you guys will have a very, very big announcement coming up from me soon. It has nothing to do with a product, but you’ll understand why I said that when it comes out.
But those things will happen, because we’ve got about 12 years now of thousands and thousands of programs that I just need to put in a way that anybody can now look at who hasn’t been in my training system and will still understand and be able to utilize. So, those will be coming. But if they’re interested in seeing the complexes, combinations, and the circuits that we use as our metabolic strength training to ramp up the metabolism both during the workout and postworkout, I would check out the Strength Training for Fat Loss DVD. It’s got over a hundred protocols in there that anybody could sprinkle into their workout regardless of setting their equipment. We cover dumbbells, body weight, medicine ball, barbells, bands, core bar, which is one of my vices. What else we got in there? Cables, you name it, kettlebells. You name it, we’ve got complexes, combinations, and circuits that you could apply.
Dan: Awesome. We’re gonna have a link for that right below this interview. And another thing I’m gonna say is that I’ve actually ordered these DVDs for my clients. Not for my clients, actually, for my trainers. So, I’m going to actually order a single DVD for each one of my trainers because I do believe in what Nick’s doing, and the results pretty much speak for themselves. I mean, I’m bringing into my boot camp and the women love it and they’re seeing results, which is awesome. So, Nick, if people want to check out a little bit more of what you have, where can they find it?
Nick: Nicktumminello.com, man. That’s the best way to get a hold of me. I’m constantly updating that with new material, news, and whatnot. I’m always happy to share new stuff we’re doing and stuff that we have been doing that’s battle-tested.
Dan: And one more thing: Everybody should subscribe to Nick’s YouTube channel, which is Youtube.com/performanceu. I’ll have a link for that as well. Every time I get a video from Nick, I pretty much stop everything and I just watch it because, you know, especially if you’re a trainer, you’re always looking for that extra edge and these videos pretty much give it to you. So, Nick, thank you so much for doing this interview; I really appreciate it.
Nick: Well, I appreciate it and I really appreciate your support, your inspiration. It means a lot to me. When I set out to do this, I set out to create solutions, simple solutions that most any and all individuals, regardless of their knowledge or expertise or experience could utilize, and when I get feedback like that from someone like you, that lets me know I should keep doing what I’m doing, so I really appreciate that kinda feedback.
Dan: Awesome, awesome, Nick. Thank you very much. Everybody, this is Dan Go. We have Nick Tumminello. And thank you for being on this interview; we really appreciate it. Take care, guys.