Strong & Sculpted Book Review

The author Brad Schoenfeld is a legend. He has been in the fitness industry for at least 20 years. When he was a personal trainer, back in the 90s, he classified himself as a “rogue scientist”, experimenting with various exercise routines and variables. After writing the highly successful book in 1998 called Sculpting Her Body Perfect  he went back to university and earned a master’s degree in kinesiology and a PhD focused on applied exercise science. He is now a professor in exercise science, internationally renowned fitness expert, and leading authority on body composition training. He leads a lab that executes controlled studies on what he calls “strategies for optimizing body composition” and has authored over 80 peer-reviewed scientific articles.

Now that is a pretty impressive resume! I knew it was a respected book because it was published by Human Kinetics, the biggest and best publishing company in the health and fitness industry. I can always trust a book to be good, honest, have reliable content with the Human Kinetics’s name on it.

Strong and Sculpted: the Total Body Training Program for Shaping Your Ultimate Physique consists of 215 pages, the bulk of it being colour exercise photos with detailed descriptions of the various strength training exercises. The layout is simple and clear and the program is easy to follow. It is definitely a book for all levels of fitness enthusiasts and gives the basics necessary for success.

The book begins with the breakdown of Schoenfeld’s training philosophy. It is informative, yet short. Next he details his Strong and Sculpted program, going through how to apply volume, frequency, load, exercise selection, intensity, and rest.

The meat of the book are the exercises. I really like the way Schoenfeld organized the sections by muscle grouping, which makes it super easy to pick and choose exercises to use for his program. Also, organizing this way gives huge variety in choice of exercises per body part.

Next Schoenfeld explains his program, beginning with the Break-In phase, continuing with the Basic Training phase, moving on to the Advanced Body-Sculpting phase, and finishing with the Peak Physique phase. He concludes with a couple of pages explaining cardio.

His program is based on a undulating periodization model. I have trained using linear/traditional periodization before, but this was my first time trying a nonlinear/undulating program.

According to NASM 6th edition Essentials of Personal Fitness Training textbook periodization is “a systematic approach to program design that uses the general adaptation syndrome and principle of specificity to vary amount and type of stress placed on the body to produce adaptation and prevent injury.” Basically, this means that a periodization program varies the focus of training at regularly planned periods of time to keep your body working to its full potential.

The linear model consists of a large overall plan, called a macrocycle, traditionally within the scope of one year, though I often see offerings of 3-month linear model periodization plans. Within the macrocycle are mesocycles, which are smaller plans normally broken up into 1 month/4 week blocks. Within each month there are weekly mini plans, called microcycles.  Within each mesocycle there is a one constant training variable. For example, one month the focus is on gaining maximum strength, next month power, next month speed, and then having a month to recover and rest. With linear periodization plans often there is a goal, like a competition or track meet, which would be scheduled at the end of the speed/power training month, and right before the much needed light rest month.

The undulating/nonlinear model varies the variables within each given month/week. For example, in the Strong and Sculpted program, a 2-week period starts with training days that work on maximal strength. The training days then switch to working with moderate weight (hypertrophy), and then to performing several endurance (light) strength workouts. Finally the plan goes back to heavy strength and repeats.

I tried a 2-week training period within the Advanced Body Sculpting program. The first two workouts were training for maximum strength: one upper body workout and one lower body workout, and then one day of rest. I loved training heavy. Maximum strength is not something I normally train for, lifting so heavy I can only lift 5-6 reps of the weight. And boy, I definitely recruited new muscle fibres because I felt it for days afterward! The middle part of the 2-week undulating plan was lifting moderate weight (hypertrophy), which is what I normally train for. Lifting with moderate weight should fatigue the muscle within 8-12 reps. One upper body workout, one lower body workout, and then one day of rest. Next, is endurance lifting, which consists of higher reps, (12-20 reps) using lower weight. I am not a big fan of endurance training, so I found that part of the program very boring. When I train for endurance, I usually add that element into my hypertrophy session, often doing a super set (performing two exercises for the same muscle back to back without rest).

When following this program, I strongly recommend adding a solid stretching program. In this book there is little mention of flexibility and it contains absolutely no stretching exercises within it’s program. Schoenfeld gives the topic of stretching one page of space in his entire book, and he mainly focuses on why not to perform pre-exercise stretches. Within that one page he does explain the current research very well. However, I do disagree with this statement from the book: “contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to include a stretching component to your regular routine”. I disagree, from the education I have received, from my own experience, and the experience of my clients.

Flexibility, the normal extensibility of all soft tissues that allow full range of motion of a joint, is hugely important in terms of functional daily living, moving pain-free, and not forming dysfunctional movement patterns around a joint leading to injures (something I am super passionate about, future post!).

If you follow the Strong and Sculpted program, please stretch your tight muscles before a workout (after your cardio warmup), these are the muscles you know that give you problems as its important to “inhibit” them so your weaker muscles can have a chance to work. Also, stretching will improve your joint’s range of motion before you work the muscles around those joints when lifting weights, resulting in better form leading to less injury, but again, only if that specific joint is tight. Better yet, ask a knowledgable, skilled trainer to give you an postural assessment, anyone certified with ACE NASM would know which assessments to perform. As for your warm-up, use your whole body by performing light to moderate cardio or dynamic stretching exercises (future post!). And after your workout, PLEASE stretch the muscles you have worked, your body will thank you.

So while I only performed the program for two weeks and ended up going back to my much loved Jamie Easonprogram, I enjoyed trying out the Strong and Sculpted training plan. I do think this undulating periodization program definitely has merit, especially to avoid burnout, overtraining, and injuries. I recommend this book to anyone looking to start a solid weight training program, you are in good hands with this reliable strength training program. Most of the exercises need to be performed in a gym, using machines, cables, and dumbbells.

Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Low Carb Shepherd’s Pie

This dish is one of my family’s faves. Months ago, I was logging my macros on my My Fitness Pal app and I came across a mouthwatering video on how to make a low carb shepherd’s pie. Presently, I can’t find a link to the video, but I found the original recipe here.

I don’t know about your kids, but mine are sometimes adverse to vegetables, and trust me, because their mother is a health nut those poor kids are given a LOT of vegetables. The first time I made this recipe I forgot to tell them that the top was made from cauliflower, and the funny thing is they didn’t even know the cauliflower mash wasn’t potatoes!

For the first several times making this I followed the recipe exactly as it states on the My Fitness Pal website, but I didn’t care for the flavour combos. In the end I replaced the bison with extra lean ground beef, because while I would LOVE to always use bison in this recipe, I just can’t afford it at this time. I experimented and came up with a recipe that better fits my family’s taste buds and wallet.

I added more beef to “beef” up the protein grams, I omitted the oil and instead used water for sautéing to lower the fat grams (beef is fat enough IMO), I added frozen sweet peas (a must for shepherd’s pie!), and I took out the other spices and simply added garlic powder, because what doesn’t garlic powder taste good in??

For Cauliflower Mash:

  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into large chunks
  • 1 tbsp avocado oil
  • 1 tsp sea salt

For Meat Filling:

  • 20oz extra lean ground beef
  • 12 cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen sweet peas
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

For Cashew Cheese:

  • 0.5 cup cashews
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 0.5 tsp sea salt

Additional Topping:

  • 1 tsp dried parsley


Preheat oven 400F

For the cauliflower mash:

Cut and wash head of cauliflower and add to steamer. Steam for ten minutes. Add to food processor, along with 1 tbsp avocado oil and 1 tsp salt. Process until creamy.

For the meat filling:

Add ground beef and 1/2 cup water to pot. Saute until cooked through. Add chopped onion and carrots, cook for another 5 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms and frozen peas, cook for another 5 minutes. Add 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp sea salt, 6oz can tomato paste, and 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar and cook until warmed through.

Pour meat filling into 8.5×11″ baking dish and spread. Add the cauliflower mash on top and spread smooth.

For cashew cheese:

Put 0.5 cup cashews, 1 garlic clove, 0.5 tsp sea salt into a small food processor. Chop mixture until it looks like parmesan cheese.

Sprinkle 2 tbsp cashew cheese on top, along with 1 tsp dried parsley.

Place in the middle rack on oven and cook for 30 minutes. Let pie cool for ten minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings. 1 serving: 241 calories, 17g carbs, 11g fat, 19g protein.

BMR, and Why It’s Important

I am at that age (early 40s) where I have many family members and friends trying to lose weight. It’s definitely tough for us to stay slim as we age. One of the main reasons is that we have been steadily losing precious muscle since our early 30s. It’s called sarcopenia. On average, physically inactive people lose 3-5% of their muscle mass per decade, my 6th edition NASM textbook states 5% per decade. That might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Your amount of muscle mass pretty much dictates your BMR.

Your BMR (basal metabolic rate) is the amount of energy expended while at rest. Your muscles burn more calories in order to function, meaning the more muscle mass you have the more energy (calories) your body burns. Pretty cool, eh?

So as we age, it’s important that we exercise. Walking and light aerobics are great for our cardiovascular health (which lengthens our life expectancy), plus it will burn a little extra calories. However, it’s only when we add strength exercises that work our muscles that builds muscle on our bones. Strength training is what changes our body composition— the ratio of lean mass vs our fat mass on our bodies.

Another important factor is our TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). 

Your TDEE is the overall number of calories your body uses on a daily basis, and it’s based on your BMR plus your activity level throughout the day. So gardening, taking the stairs instead of the escalator, walking the dog, parking the car farther than usual, and intentional exercise (like going for a run, strength training, HITT class) helps increase your TDEE.

Then there are our food choices. While it’s true that a calorie is a calorie, it’s not that simple. The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of energy expended above BMR as a result of the processing of food (digestion) for storage and use. Protein uses more energy (calories) to digest than the other macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, alcohol). And while fat doesn’t use the same amount of energy to digest, it doesn’t spike insulin levels, which studies show is an important factor to the weight debate.

Insulin is a hormone that is secreted from your pancreas in response to two macromolecules: glucose (from carbohydrates) and protein. Insulin takes sugar from the bloodstream and helps it enter the cells to be used for energy or to be stored. It also stops glucose from being released by the liver into the bloodstream.

The rate at which ingested carbohydrate raise blood sugar and its accompanying effect on insulin release is referred to as the glycemic index (GI). Carbohydrates are not all equal, they come in different forms: simple sugars (honey, table sugar), starches (oats, whole grains, yams with skin), and cellulose (fibre from the skins of fruits and veggies). When your body consumes too many high glycemic carbohydrates (note: this can also happen when you consume too many calories too many times), insulin spikes trying to stop the influx of sugar in the blood and so puts glucose (energy) into all cells, including your fat cells. This means that if you eat a meal that is high in simple sugars (processed food) your body pumps out insulin in response to hold onto the energy and store it for later. We don’t want that energy stored in our fat cells (making them bigger!) and we definitely don’t want it stored abundantly on our tummy, hips, and thighs!

I was recently listening to a great talk with Gary Taubes and Dr. Mark Hyman. Taubes is the author of The Case Against Sugar. He says that we weren’t designed to eat the amount of sugar we typically consume. His theory is that the overconsumption of sugar is why over the past 100 years people have been getting fatter. It has something to do with the insulin production in our bodies, making it hard for us to lose weight even though we are watching what we eat. About 1 in 3 people in the USA are prediabetic. Taubes highlighted an interesting observation I didn’t connect before: type 1 diabetics (people who don’t produce insulin at all) are very thin even though they eat a lot of food, even 10,000 calories or more, because it’s the insulin production that stores the energy into our fat cells, of which they don’t have any. Type 2 diabetics (those who over the years produced too much insulin and their bodies have become resistant to it) are overweight and have a difficult time losing weight, no matter what they do. He explains that many of us, perhaps even 50%, are genetically unable to eat the amount of sugar we do, which would explain our weight loss troubles.

This is a very complex topic, I have tried to just touch upon the main takeaways. And really what I have presented here only touches the surface of the findings from new research, as health professionals try to figure out what is causing so many people to struggle with their extra weight. But I think we are getting close, which is exciting, and more studies on the effects of insulin may be the key.

Here are some simple things to try:

Strength train 2-3 times a week to build muscle mass. Start with bodyweight exercises first, and then when it starts to feel easy add hand weights to your program. Even better: join a gym and use heavier weights and machines. If you are a woman, please don’t worry about “bulking” up, I try to lift heavy (for example I shoulder press 20lbs for 12 reps) and I find I get thinner, not bulkier.

Cut out processed sugar from your diet. This one is tough, I know! However, eliminating all added sugar will help your weight loss goals abundantly. One of my daughters struggles with insulin resistance, which is the precursor to prediabetes. We cut out sugar last year, and she naturally lost weight and gained more energy, but we think she will always need to watch her sugar intake to stay healthy.

Eat more protein (on average: 1 gram per 1 pound of body weight). This helps keep the muscle you already have, as well as adding more if you begin to strength train. David Heber MD, PhD gives an amazing talk on Doctor’s Farmacy about our need of protein. Note: you cannot gain more muscle if you don’t strength train.

Fill up on veggies. Having 50% veggies on your plate for lunch and dinner helps with a feeling of satiety and adds much needed fiber and micronutrients (vitamins).

Have a small, no/low sugar treat every day. This may seem counterintuitive when dieting but having just a little yummy goodie keeps the cravings at bay. If I don’t have my four squares of dark chocolate a day, I will cheat BIG time later on.

And lastly, this is one I suggest all the time: log your food intake. Doing this gives you an idea on what you are eating and how much. Calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).

Step 1: weight (lbs) x 10 = BMR

Step 2: BMR x activity factor = TEE . Daily activity factor: very light 1.2 (desk job, not exercising), low active 1.5-1.6 (desk job, light exercise), active 1.6-1.7 (desk job, exercises most days of the week), heavy 1.9-2.1 (physical labour, athlete, vigorous exercise). Example: I weigh 128lbs. 128×10= 1280 calories is my BMR. 1280×1.6= 2048 calories. Which is exactly how many calories I consume daily to maintain my current weight.