Want to Shed Body Fat and Gain Muscle? Look No Further!

I used this training and diet split for roughly 16 weeks during the spring and summer months earlier this year. The main purpose of this routine was to hold lean muscle mass while lowering my body fat percentage. In 16 weeks I was able to put on roughly 10-15 lbs of lean muscle while maintaining relatively the same body fat percentage.

Obviously, it is advantageous to modify the split to tailor your own personal goals, but this split can be utilized by strength athletes, physique competitors, and all other athletes. I tried to mix traditional weight training movements along with body weight exercises, often in super sets to completely fatigue the muscle and fill it up with blood. Note: if you are interested in gaining size or achieving the old school “aesthetic” physique, you should rely on the mind-muscle connection as opposed to training your ego via heavy weights and max-outs (albeit something I have struggled with until recently).

If you have any questions, message me on facebook or email me at addisoncocoli@gmail.com. I posted this because a few of my friends had asked for some guidance regarding training and nutrition.

Thanks for reading and cheers everyone!

Training Split: 

Day One: Chest, Triceps, and Abs.

Chest:

Incline DB Press (5 x 6-15), superset with dips (leaning forward- to failure). Warmup set of 15, pyramiding higher weight, lower reps for 5 sets.

Flat DB Flyes (4 x 8-12), superset with decline pushups to failure (feet on a bench, hands on the ground).

Flat Barbell Medium Width Bench Press (4 x 10): Grip a little less than shoulder with, TUT style (4 seconds negative, 1 second pause, 2 seconds up).

Cable Crossovers (5 x 20): Squeeze at the top, slow on the negative.

Triceps:

Rope Pushdowns (3 x 10-15): Just to get the blood in the triceps (even though they should be warm by the time you’re done with chest).

EZ-Bar Skullcrushers (3 x 8-12) superset with close-grip presses (3 x 10-15)

Seated One-Arm DB Extensions (4 x 6-20): Pyramid scheme again.

Dips (2 x failure).

Abs:

Cable Crunches (4 x 12-15) superset with Oblique Side Cable Crunches (3 x 12-15 each side).

Seated Jackknifes (3 x 15)

Hanging Leg Raises (3 x 12-15)

Side bends with 45 lb plate (3 x 20 each side).

Day Two: Biceps and Shoulders

Biceps:

DB Curls (5 x 8-20): Warm-up with 30s, then using TUT style reps, go as heavy as possible with a 2 seconds up, one second hold/squeeze, and 4 seconds negative scheme).

DB Side Hammer Curls (3 x 10-12) superset with hammer concentration curls (3 x failure).

DB Preacher Curl superset with reverse barbell curls (3 x 10-15).

EZ-Bar Spider Curls or Incline DB Curls (2 x 10-12)

Shoulders:

Rotator Cuff Warmups (3 x 10-20)

DB Shoulder Press (4 x 6-12): Pyramiding up with TUT style reps, 2 seconds up, one second hold/squeeze, and a 4 seconds negative scheme).

DB Reverse Flys: (3 x 10-12): Use a lighter weight, sit on the bench and raise dumbbells above your head just like a normal shoulder press, but instead, turn the dumbbells to a neutral palms facing each other grip, and do a fly motion with the dumbbells. Squeeze at the bottom and maintain a slight bend in the arms to work the anterior/medial heads of the shoulder. These give a wicked pump.

Seated Side Laterals (4 x 8-15) superset with DB front fraises (4 x failure).

Reverse Pec Dec Flys (3 x 10-15).

Day Three: Legs and Abs

Legs:

Squats (5 x 5-20)

Leg Extensions (4 x 10-12)

Leg Presses (3 x 10-15)

Hamstring Curls (4 x 10-12)

Romanian Deadlifts (3 x 10-12)

Glute-Ham Raise (4 x 20).

Abs:

Cable Crunches (4 x 12-15) superset with Oblique Side Cable Crunches (3 x 12-15 each side).

Seated Jackknifes (3 x 15)

Hanging Leg Raises (3 x 12-15)

Side bends with 45 lb plate (3 x 20 each side).

Day Four: Back and Abs.

Barbell Rows (4 x 6-12)

Close-Grip Pulldowns (3 x 10-12) superset with wide-grip pull-ups (3 x failure).

Seated Row with underhand grip (3 x 8-12)

Hammer Strength Pulldown (Overhand Grip) (4 x 8-12).

Abs:

Cable Crunches (4 x 12-15) superset with Oblique Side Cable Crunches (3 x 12-15 each side).

Seated Jackknifes (3 x 15)

Hanging Leg Raises (3 x 12-15)

Side bends with 45 lb plate (3 x 20 each side).

Usually I’ll do some planking mixed with side oblique raises and lying leg raises. Sometimes I superset each move with pushups to failure just to keep the blood flowing.

Cardio Routine:

Cardio varies a lot to be honest. Some mornings before work I’ll run a few miles on the treadmill at home and do a quick pushup/stability ball workout, then have breakfast.

Other days I do cardio right after the workouts for about 30-45 minutes (I usually do the treadmill or stair master). Sometimes I do HITT for 20 minutes with sprints on the turf (I found this produces the most fat burning while staving off catabolism).

If I have a cheat meal I make sure to do a second cardio session right before bed for 20 minutes or so, just to kick start the fat burning during the night. It has never interfered with my sleep so don’t worry too much about that.

All in all, I think cardio has to be tamed accordingly. If you’re active and playing sports and shit, you probably don’t need much anyway, and you’re already in shape and know about cardio. I guess its just up to you what kind of conditioning you’re looking for (cardio and physique-wise). When I first started doing cardio a lot at the beginning of the year I was doing like 2 hours a day and lost way too much muscle. Once I toned it back to 30 minutes LISS and mixing that with 20 minutes HIIT, I had way more energy and saved a lot of gains by limiting the breakdown of muscle throughout the day.

Diet:

Meal 1: 8 Eggs, 2 cups spinach, half a cup of brown basmati rice, ½ red pepper.

Meal 2: Shake containing 2 scoops Gold Standard Performance Whey Protein, 2 cups spinach, ½ cup steel cut oats, ½ cup unsalted blue diamond almonds, low-fat organic milk (how much depends on how thick you want the shake).

Meal 3: 8 oz chicken breast, 1 cup basmati rice, ½ red pepper. (This is usually my preworkout meal).

Meal 4: Same as Meal 3.

Meal 5: Same as Meal 2 (minus the carbs). I usually drink this before bed.

Notes:  For years I packed my shake and took it to the gym with me, but I found it took my appetite away. I really value whole food nutrition over shakes, and since I’ve done cardio this year my body burns the food at a higher rate. So for instance, with the 3rd meal, I might eat most of it and pack the rest in my gym bag and eat the remains right after the workout just to stave off hunger and catabolism until I eat my fourth meal 45 minutes later.

The Diet is also pretty instinctive. That’s normally how I eat throughout the week, on the weekends I might eat more or less depending on if I take a rest day or not (also instinctive). For the most part though it stays the same. It’s also how your body deals with the macros. Sometimes I’ll throw in an avocado with the chicken and rice for some healthy fats, it really just depends. You’re bigger than me and have a larger frame so you could obviously eat more than that and stay lean.

Supplements:

Preworkout: PhD Wired ( 2 scoops )

Protein: Gold Standard Performance Whey by ON.

Vitamin D3

CLA

Carnitine (Carnipure liquid, 2 tablespoons daily).

Cellucor Super HD/CLK combo

Intra/Postworkout: Gaspari Aminolast (Lots of BCAA’s, I drink a scoop an hour before my workout, and a scoop immediately after instead of having a protein shake).

Fish Oil (3 grams daily)

Co-Q10 (60 mgs daily)

B Vitamin Stress Complex (2 tabs daily, can buy at any grocery store for cheap).

Pre-Sleep: (10 mgs melatonin mixed with l-theanine).

Taurine (500mgs / twice daily)

L-lysine (500 mgs/twice daily).

Breaking Bad: “Felina” Recap and Response

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SPOILERS: DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE YET TO WATCH THE SERIES FINALE, “Felina”.

Recap: “I did it for me”.

Sunday evening marked the end of Breaking Bad and the gripping storyline that captivated the world over five years ago. I’ll cut to the chase, “Felina” as the final episode is titled, was a masterpiece. Critics from all over the interwebs have taken to their keyboards to boisterously sound-off regarding their own qualms with the finale, but let it be known that it was a true work of art.

Walt is seen hiding out in a snow-covered car right after he escapes the bar seconds before police swarm the area.  Police sirens suddenly creep into frame and Walt becomes still as the old king Ozymandias. He is almost permanently frozen in time as the sirens eventually pass. He struggles to start the engine with a screwdriver, but low and behold as he drops the driver side visor, the keys fall into his lap. He slowly prays out loud, “Just Get me Home…Just Get me Home”. His tone is that of a dying man hoping for one last hoorah, and he is rewarded with such.

We then pan to Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz (possibly a few cabernet bottles deep), arriving at their decadent residence. They don’t notice their old business partner sitting in the shadows of their courtyard and proceed inside. Gretchen turns around as she lights  nice romantic fire, and is shocked to see Walt standing in the foyer, staring at the couples pictures. She lets out a scream and Elliot comes to her side wielding a small knife (if that’s what that thing is called). Walt jokingly says “If we’re going to go that route, you’re going to need a bigger knife”. He calmly has them retrieve his $9 million and has them lay it onto the table and directs them to give the money to Jr. on his 18th birthday, utilizing an irrevocable trust. Just to make sure they do as told, Walt raises his hand and instantly two laser sights appear on the couples chest. Frightened and intimidated, Walt informs them that the “two best hit men west of the Mississippi” are outside and will make sure they deliver the money to his children.  Walt leaves and picks up none other than Skinny Pete and Badger on the side of the road (laser pointers in hand). It was definitely a treat to see these two again, props to Vince for giving them crucial screen time.

We hear the phone ring, the camera pans across a new landscape, and suddenly Skyler comes into view. Marie is on the other end of the phone warning her that Walt is in town and most likely will try to contact her. She seems void of emotion, probably because what we don’t see is Walt standing in the corner of the kitchen, beady eyes fixated on his once wife. He says goodbye, and gives her the lottery ticket which is where “You will find Hank and Steve Gomez”. Walt also admits that he cooked meth for himself, because he was good at it and made him feel alive.

Walt then interrupts Lydia and Todd’s business meeting and claims that he has discovered a new method of cooking the same grade meth, without the methlymine. This gives him access to Uncle Jack’s compound. Both parties have extremely divergent and dissimilar motives, which is what makes the scene so well-written. I was blown away by Cranston’s ability to make minced-meat of such a difficult scene. He glides on camera and just as effortlessly leaves it’s view. Marvelous job, Bryan.

Walt is then seen in the desert, building some kind of machine. It reminds me of a long weekend I once had sitting on the ground, countless pieces in front of me after an Ikea binge. One last glimpse of the New Mexico skyline before dark was a nice touch in this episode, seeing as it was a largely aesthetic bonus to the show. As we enter the compound, Walt is searched and stripped of his keys. It’s clear that no business is going to be discussed. Just as Walt is about to be executed, he calls Jack a liar and claims that Jesse is not dead but rather his business partner. Todd retrieves Jesse and brings him to Walt just so he can see that Jesse is definitely not a partner and instead a slave.  Walt approaches Jesse and tackles him to the ground as he pushes a button on his car keys. The trunk pops open and the M60 machine gun begins auto-firing into the compound with a robotic lever that Walt assembled in the desert (for good measure). As everyone lay dead or dying, Walt shoots Jack in the head (unapologetically) and Jesse strangles Todd.

Walt and Jesse have one more intense stare-off. Walt asks Jesse to “Do it” as he slides him his handgun. Jesse refuses and takes off in a car. Walt receives a call from Lydia on Todd’s cell-phone and asks if she’s feeling under the weather. He then informs her that her stevia was actually ricin. Fittingly, he ends the conversation with a foreshadowing “Goodbye, Lydia”.

Walt, who had been shot in the barrage of flying automatic rifle shells, scans over the lab at the compound and eventually collapses and dies, just as police raid the area. Screen cuts to black.

Response: I Still Love Walter White

From the beginning, I seen Breaking Bad as a zero-sum game experiment.  My understanding of the zero-sum game theory is wedged between the lens of political power and international relations, but it also works with this show. Walt’s actions from the very start of this series set up a scenario where nobody actually wins.  Walt taunts, “I won” to Skyler in the series four finale (post Gus annihilation) but in actuality he just survived. There were no true winners in the series at all, and especially none during tonight’s episode.

It’s easy to see how Walt, the Nazis, Lydia, Skyler (Jr/Holly as well), and the Schwartz’s lost, but the true conundrum lies with Jesse’s fate. Although Aaron Paul was largely devoid of actual lines throughout these final episodes, what he doesn’t say is equally telling. For the past few weeks we have seen guilt-riddled skeleton of who Jesse used to be, but as he escaped from the compound he exuded a level of happiness melded with anxiety that not many actors can bring to light. As Jesse ventures to god knows where, viewers are left to ponder. At this point, however, it was too late for redemption. Bryan Cranston called the series finale “unapologetic”, and that is exactly what it felt like. One thing is for certain, Jesse will have to fight like hell everyday for the rest of his life to even attempt to flush these demons from within himself. Jesse didn’t win, he survived too.

“Felina” simply delivered. Everyone was either physically or emotionally dead at the end of the episode. From the opening shot we know exactly where Walt is going and what he plans to do. Breaking Bad took the notion of impending doom and gave it a makeover. The scene involving Gretchen and Elliot was breathtaking and should receive credit as one of Cranston’s best throughout the show. These people, once his friends and partners, are now terrified at the sight of him. He gives them plenty to think about and threatens their lives with distinct precision as he thrusts his arms in the air much like an orchestra conductor.

I’ll  also be perfectly honest, I love Walter White. While many claim he turned into this mastermind, villain, evil person, and sociopath, I see him as a unique character amongst simpler characters. Tony Soprano and Don Draper are relatively simple compared to Walter White. Sure, all three characters struggle with this innate sense of identity (who doesn’t ask “who am i?” from time to time), but Walter’s actions are strictly based off a previously long-dormant, animalistic nature. We all have a little bit of Heisenberg in us, just not composed of illicit drug manufacturing and murder. People do what it takes to survive, it’s that little voice in our heads that says “fight or flight”, it’s a racing heart during an exciting moment, and it’s what keeps people out of dark alleyways during the night. Walter White had a death warrant given to him and he gave the world the finger and went out in his way. To be clear, yes he did completely go off the grid and make a series of very bad choices, but at least he went out on his terms. I guess I make this argument in attempting to see Walter as more than some anti-hero or villain, I see him as someone who did what he had to do. He lied to himself and everyone around him for 5 incredible seasons, but he couldn’t fool us. Walt did it for himself and hearing him utter those words was like eating chocolate cake after years of not having it.

Whether Breaking Bad receives a higher critic score than its competitors is a moot point. It is one of the greatest shows ever created. Viewers and critics alike should take a step back and appreciate the show. It was a rare combination of intelligence and tenacity. It took science (bitch) and made it cool again. The show took a wirly, underachieving high school chemistry teacher and transformed him into a demigod. A way to classify how good a show is, is to pay attention to how you feel afterwards. After “Felina” I somehow made my way onto the sidewalk and took a walk to a local park. I didn’t think, I just walked. There was no amazing recap in my head about the episode, only the fleeting anxiety that my favorite show is now over. When a show can bring about such emotions, it should be deemed great, and that is exactly what Breaking Bad was. Thanks to Vince and the entire cast for a phenomenal 5 years of television, you have redefined what it means to make a great television series. Cheers!

So, You Want to Start a Fitness Journey…

 

Part One:  Defining a “fitness journey”.

For many people, getting “in shape” carries stringent conditions and ideals. Cover models, celebrities and athletes are thrust into our line of sight daily, and yes they look incredible (not you, Miley). People like these should really be serving as strong motivational tools for the person looking to change their lifestyle, instead I fear that they also may dissuade some from giving it a shot because of self-doubt.

Everyone looks in the mirror some days and says I want to change this, or I want to change that. This is commonplace in a society that sadly, judges us on first impressions and initial appearances. However, we also live in a society that promotes equality and change, yet when I scour the interwebs for new training footage or interesting workout/diet tips, I see so much bashing, self-loathing, and downright negativity that makes me think, “shit I wouldn’t want to try and get in shape either if this is the kind of feedback id receive”. This is the root of all that is wrong within the fitness community, and just everyday life in general. I see so much hate going on just in the gym after work that it makes me want to just buy equipment and put it in my garage so I can get my workouts done there.

First lets clarify what a “fitness journey” is. I’ve seen this term used on facebook, twitter, instagram and on the forums on various websites.

Basically, it starts with an initial desire. The desire to change the way you look, eat, feel, or think. Fitness is not solely about physical health, I would argue that the most beneficial aspects of being fit stem from the mental tools you gain during the process. This desire is then translated into eating better and regular exercise. The cycle repeats itself day in and day out, until the “old” you “becomes” a fitter YOU.

I would be lying if I told you that simply eating better and consistently exercising is what a fitness journey is. Your body consumes better food, yes. Your body exercises regularly, yes. The variables largely come into play when dealing with what your mind endures; that is the real journey. Your body changes and looks “better”, but your mind is the architect to the entire project.

In Summation….

Fitness Journey = Idea => Nutrition + Exercise. (The idea you have about how you want to change your body/lifestyle yields the changes in your eating habits and exercise, as they as necessary components for change in this arena).

Part Two: Lets Get You Started

You don’t need a fancy gym pass to start, or amazing cooking skills. All you need is your desire. I wanted to write this towards a general audience, I don’t know what your specific goals are.

1). Start slow, if you are new to fitness or have a fair amount of weight you want to get off of you, go for a brisk walk every single morning on an empty stomach. Start for 20 minutes, then progress at your own pace. This is a journey remember, not a race, you shouldn’t care how long it takes, just that it gets done. Losing weight and becoming fit takes immense amounts of trial and error, if you feel like you aren’t making progress, switch it up! If you can briskly walk for an hour in the morning with minimal breaks, congratulations, it is time to step up your game.

2). Use the mirror AND the scale. Weight fluctuates dramatically, for some more than others. If you see changes in the mirror, that’s wonderful, but do not be discouraged if the scale doesn’t say what you were hoping for. A tip I have found when I tried to lose a fair amount of weight was to weigh myself multiple times a day, if I could, to see that weight is in fact just a number. This number will change, it will go up and down, but it should not come close to ruling how you approach your journey.

3). Pay attention to how your clothes fit. If your jeans are fitting looser, or your t-shirts are becoming less snug, then you’re on to something if you want to lose weight. If you are trying to gain lean muscle, gauging progress via your clothes can be tricky (use the mirror instead).

4). Read muscle magazines with caution. Don’t get me wrong, I love magazines like Men’s Health, Flex, and Muscular Development (I don’t read women’s fitness magazines since well, I’m a guy). These can give great generalized advice regarding nutrition, workout regiments, training tips, or motivational tools, but try and remember that what works for you is what matters. I lost over 70 lbs because I didn’t skip a day  of training or any of my meals for over four months. I trained every body part almost every single day, most people will laugh and call bullshit, but it worked for me. Trial and error is key, here. Try the new “fad” workout that everyone is talking about, it might work, it might not, either way do what you want.

5). You will have bad days, and you will have days where you ask if your sacrifice is worth it. Find motivation in something. It could be simply your own desire, or a picture, a quote, a self-affirmation, a video on youtube, a song,  or something a person said to you. Literally, anything. What motivated me will be far different from what motivated you in all likelihood, so do you and keep pressing on.

6). Nutrition is everything. You spend a portion of your day working out to get your dream body or shed a few lbs, don’t sabotage it by not being prepared to make sacrifices in the kitchen. If you’re shooting for overall weight loss, eat lean and look mean. That means lean means like chicken and turkey, along with vegetables. Throw in some brown rice or sweet potatoes for carbs (but don’t overdo it), everyone is different and trying to assess the importance of each individual carb in a general article like this would be exhausting for us both. If you want to gain lean muscle, eat lean and look mean, as well. You cant go wrong with chicken and rice, just at a higher frequency, invest in a whey protein supplement so you can stay in an anabolic (muscle-building) state throughout the day.

7). The secret to success is that there isn’t one. Consistency wins, period. Staying positive throughout your journey is essential as I briefly alluded to in #5. Seriously though, believe in what you are doing. It sounds so cliché, but if you set your mind to losing 50 lbs, BELIEVE that you can. The strongest mental tool I have ever discovered is the power of visualization. See yourself stepping on the scale achieving your goal, see yourself on the treadmill every day, or running, or whatever your regimen entails. Visualization breeds positivity, and positivity generates progress, isn’t that what we all want in life anyway?

8). Failing is good. If you at some point you don’t achieve what you were hoping for, its ok! Failure is simply another opportunity for you to succeed. If a workout kicks your butt, so what! Get up the next day and focus on beating what beat you. That is the quickest way to progress. Use that failure as motivation, not an excuse to quit.

9). Drink only water. You could write multiple articles about the health benefits of water, but for fitness purposes it’s a simply a must. When you’re dehydrated your body goes into “starvation” mode and actually holds more of that water, hindering your weight loss goals. Stay hydrated all the time. First thing in the morning, drink water. Have your coffee after your water, you’ll notice your stomach wont respond as negatively. Water boosts cognitive function and lubricates your joints, so your mind and body will be on the same page during your workout.

10). Take pictures. You don’t have to post them online obviously, they should be for you. Take pictures every week or two weeks, or if you had a really good day of eating and killed your workout. They serve as motivational tools during this process. It’s a long journey and you are going to need to see some returns on your investment (looking at pictures of the “new” you will boost your morale and increases the likelihood of your success).

Part Three: Why Should You Listen to Anything I Have to Say?

“Yo so are you a CPT (certified personal trainer)?”. No, I am not. I don’t have certs, or multiple degrees in exercise physiology, nutrition, or physical therapy, but don’t give up on me yet. I have been training in the gym since I was 16 years old (currently 23), and have been playing sports all of my life. Going to the gym, training outside, and making healthy progress is my favorite thing to do, and I’m slowly realizing that I could help people achieve their goals; nothing would satisfy me more as a person.

I have had two separate “fitness journeys” in my seven years of training. When I first started working out, my goal was to put on muscle and gain strength. I started at 175 lbs and not being able to bench press 75 lbs, I was painfully weak. By age 19 I had reached a solid 230 lbs in weight and was far from that initial pathetic bench press (my personal best is 425 lbs unassisted and fully paused at the bottom at age 22). My second journey started this January when I got the flu. I lost almost 20 lbs in two weeks and ate maybe twice in that span. I felt horrible, losing all that I had worked for, but I saw it as an opportunity. I got back into the gym, started getting back to my roots of running and playing basketball, small and simple changes. I began eating healthier and mixed with cardio every single day, I lost a little over 72 lbs when it was all said and done.

Everyone asks for “stats”, so I’ll just provide them.

Age: 23

Height: 6 ft.

Weight: 192.3 (this morning after two meals)

Waist: 28 inches.

Current Goal: Lean Muscle Acquisition, Overall Health.

Current “Diet”: Chicken, mixed vegetables, brown rice with a touch of tomato sauce (4x daily), 6 eggs and 2 cup of oats in the morning, 2 tbsp of extra crunchy peanut butter every 3 hours as a snack.

Supplements: Creatine Monohydrate (no, it doesn’t kill), green tea extract (I also drink 3-4 cups of green tea daily, mixed with stevia sweetener at times), coffee and amino acid capsules before workout, and at gaspari nutrition aminolast during my workouts (2 scoops provides over 10 grams in aminos).

Strength/Fitness Feats: 425 lbs flat bench press, 635 raw deadlift, 415 decline bench @ bodyweight of 181.2 lbs (morning weight), 140 lbs one-arm dumbbell clean and press (done last week at 189 lbs). 140lbs dumbbell incline presses for 5 reps @ 182 lbs bodyweight, 180lbs weighted dips for 5 reps (4 45 lb plates wrapped around a weight belt),  150 decline pushups consecutively, 6:10 mile at 225 lbs bodyweight, 710 lbs rack pull (192 lbs), and 30 handstand pushups.

(These stats span over the seven years I have been focused on training). I started putting in body weight movements during the month of March (2013).

I didn’t post any pictures in this article because that just felt so self serving, but there are some progress pics I have on my instagram (addisteven). Follow me!

Thanks for reading, any and all feedback is appreciated but most importantly I hope I can serve as some kind of motivation for someone to get out there and make their own incredible journey into a real life success story. Take care, all.

Breaking Bad Epsiode Response: “Confessions”

Jesse does not like Hello Kitty. 

But seriously.

SPOILERS: Don’t Read if you have yet to watch the latest episode titled “Confessions” (but lets be honest, you’ve seen it).

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Possibly the last time we see Walt and Jesse having a conversation not involving punches or M60s.

 Five years ago we were introduced to a swirly Walter Hartwell White. As an audience, we donned our gazes upon an epic cluster-fuck of mishaps in one scene. A pair of flying pants, a busted up RV, gas masks, a video camera, corpses, and the ominous sounds of sirens tantalized our senses in the show’s pilot. Walter White frantically speaking into the camera, apologizing for his actions and fearing imminent death or capture, made us ask “what the hell is this on the tv screen”?.

Flash forward to last night, a much different kind of confession takes place. Tenors of fear and uncertainty don’t take hold, instead a cold, calculating machine is placed in front of us. As a society that prides itself in digging deeper into the human mind to find out “why” things happen, the term sociopath was born. If you struggle to come to terms with what that actually is outside of a textbook, “Confessions” eerily gave you a first-hand look. Hank stands in front of the television screen in horror as he witnesses for the first time the monster that his brother-in law truly is. I, like so many viewers, had been waiting not only for the initial Walt-Hank confrontation, but the moment when Hank finally takes a direct hit of Heisenberg himself. While this was not a physical act of violence, it was pure psychological warfare. Walt pinning the entire meth operation on Hank seems ridiculous to some, especially Marie, who pines for her husband to turn the disc over to his superiors. Hank automatically rebuffs, and digs deeper into the rabbit hole, discovering the truth about  how his medical bills and physical therapy sessions were so easily taken care of. The Schraders are now in it too, they just hadn’t known about it.

Probably the most entertaining part of that gut-wrenching scene was the fact that I couldn’t stop thinking about the initial confrontation between Walt in Hank in “Blood Money”. Hank made it clear that he didn’t know who he was dealing with anymore, and Walt warned him to ease up. As iconic as that line will most-likely be once the show has ended, it was full of macho-bravado that I almost didn’t take it seriously at first. Only upon re-watching the episode did I realize how powerful it was. The look on Hank’s face as he gazes into the pixilated version of Walt on his tv screen is priceless. He was perplexed, angry, shocked, but almost coming to terms with what he was seeing. I’d be remised if I didn’t mention how fabulous Dean Norris has portrayed Hank this season. Being given difficult lines with such high expectations doesn’t seem to be a problem for Norris in his portrayal of Hank, but he has taken it to new heights during these last three episodes. This scene seems so important for the emotional development of the two characters going head-to-head. Hank  knows that Walt is Heisenberg, and knows the crimes that Heisenberg has committed. But this is his first hand look at how Walt operates. He is swift, cunning, manipulative, and most of all ruthless. Hank was warned, and now a steaming pile of shit has been served to him, instead of that fresh guacamole that Trent so arduously pushed for.

While classifying Breaking Bad’s seemingly best episodes may seem like a formidable task, I will say that this one ranks as one of the most painful to watch. Seeing Jesse explode at the realization of what “that asshole Mr. White” has been up to was a heart-wrenching scene. These last three episodes have also been ground-breaking for Aaron Paul, not because of what he doesn’t say, but because of how he doesn’t say it. I swear I get depressed whenever Jesse comes on screen nowadays. A character once full of awesome one-liners and boundless energy has been degraded to a pathetic, guilt-ridden corpse, and I feel for him. He remains the one piece of morality left in this story. Hank wants to put Walt under the jail because its his job, lets not forget that. Jesse, after committing murder, cooking illicit drugs, and being completely manipulated by his adoptive father figure is left to pick up the shards of his life. Jesse’s devoid attitude towards a normal life can be summed up best by “Alaska…Alaska is good!”.  As depressing as Jesse has been (understandably so), he still is wise enough to know that no former star meth cook and recent millionaire should be caught dead with a Hello Kitty phone (seriously?).

Some people were initially confused on why Jesse flipped out. Obviously he told Saul it was the fact that Huell lifted his ricin-laced cigarette on Walt’s orders, who then poisoned Brock in order to win the chess match between himself and Gus. However, since we know that Brock was not poisoned with the ricin capsule, and instead with Lily of the Valley, it is merely the full-realization of what Walt has been doing. It is in fact, the last straw. No more hugs will be had between these two as this season wraps up, but we also know that Walt’s house doesn’t get burned down, evident in the non-fire damaged White residence we are thrust inside of in “Blood Money”.

Tidying up loose-ends has been an important part of this show to date, and with a depleted cast (Lydia and Todd though…) the show has receded back to its core value of tackling problem dogs. It seems like we’re in for a bit of turbulence for the next month, because the train that has been going nonstop is about to derail, and in a hurry.

Other Notes

  • So many conspiracy theories exist based onlittle things in this show, which makes it insanely enjoyable to watch. Someone conjured a theory about the bloody paper towel that Todd’s coworker throws in the toilet because of a “lingering camera shot”. You should google it, its hilarious and well-thought out.
  • The music in this show is magical. Deep tenors  and rattles >. The final scene when Walt realizes Jesse knows about his little ricin plan, and the subsequent gasoline “dispersion” upon his home uses some of the best music in the show’s history.
  • Still freaks me out how Walter can simply fake-cry on a dime.
  • Was that a darker shade of purple at the Mexican restaurant Marie?
  • Seriously, so many conspiracy theories, check them out.

The Kevin Ware Tragedy: Coming Full Circle

The Kevin Ware Story: Coming Full Circle

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Louisville teammates surround fallen player, Kevin Ware after he suffered a compound fracture this past weekend versus Duke in the Elite 8.

Watching Kevin Ware’s leg break last weekend during the Elite 8 sent chills down mine, and all of America’s spine. Seeing a young man attempting a routine block on Tyler Thornton’s 3-point attempt from the right wing, and subsequently having his basketball career forever altered represents the uncertainty and risk that all athletes take when they compete.  Kevin Ware’s injury was as freak as it was gruesome; as heartbreaking as it was unlucky.

The true story here does not lie in the injury itself. It begins right after the injury (seen by millions across the nation). Instead of writhing in pain and self-absorbed pity as many would have done (myself included), Ware desired to speak to his coaches and fellow teammates. His message? “Just win the game”. As Louisville head coach Rick Pitino reiterated, Ware was concerned about the bigger picture, and with hoping to rally his team to “take him home to Atlanta”, the site of this year’s Final Four and National Title game.

There is no protocol on how to deal with the gruesome injury to a fallen teammate; a brother and close friend. Louisville teammates Russ Smith and Chane Behanan are seen over and over on film sobbing uncontrollably. They realized that, above all, this would be a day that they would remember for the rest of their lives. The air was sucked right out of Lucas Oil Stadium. The atmosphere was one of shocked sadness, not a place where fierce competition was brewing. I saw teammates and fans from both sides bowing their heads in prayer, and many sitting in the stands with hands clasped together covering their mouths; eyes wide open and their emotions on their sleeve. What had happened was unthinkable, yet within the realm of possibility for any athlete competing in a sport.

The true testament lies with Ware, himself. The young man had a compound fracture (his leg broke in two places and was sticking six inches out of his skin). The fact that he put his team’s needs in front of his own, and demanded that they simply “win the game”, speaks volumes to this young man’s character. Often times, college sports are full of young, cocky, and self-righteous athletes that see themselves as larger than life due to their athletic prowess in a given field of competition. Kevin Ware restored my own personal faith, that collegiate athletes still maintain a sense of pride for their craft, and that despite suffering such a traumatic injury, that they could come full circle and shock people.

The young man’s bone was sticking out of his skin. Today he gave an interview with ESPN, showing smiles and sobs alike. He sobbed when discussing his teammates, and gave an ear-to-ear smile when asked about his future and recovery. What Kevin Ware taught me is this, you can face adversity and decide to look at it in one of two perspectives. A). you can sit in the dark and cry because something has happened to you. Conversely (B). you can look at these events and feel challenged to overcome them, and render yourself completely helpless to these occurrences in life as they happen by “chance”, face them and move forward positively.

ESPN showed, on repeat, Ware walking on crutches, with his family behind him, holding the Regional Championship trophy.  Astonishment is one way to look at this situation, or you can look at Kevin Ware as a symbol for everything that is right in sports. The fallen teammate rises to meet the challenges and expectations that so many felt he would not be able to. Time will tell all, but if Ware’s initial reaction to this horrible situation is any indication, look for him to come back and compete better than ever. After all, perspective is everything in not just sports, but in life, and Kevin Ware has a solid grasp on a concept that many fail to ever accept.

TLN’s Final Four Preview: Is Trey Burke Unstoppable?

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Trey Burke is the top performer in this year’s tournament. Can anyone slow him down?

And then there were four. Michigan, Syracuse, Louisville, and Wichita State all have battled valiantly to make it this far in the tournament. There have been blowouts, comebacks, tears (get well soon Kevin Ware), and upsets. These four teams all have the tenacity and fortitude that it takes to be successful at this level of college basketball. They have worked hard all year to get to this point, and this final four will not disappoint.

Michigan vs. Syracuse: My gripe with Syracuse is that they have been pretty inconsistent all year, but in the tournament they have turned it on. Their foot is on the gas pedal, and the play of Michael Carter-Williams has been outstanding. The MCW-TB3 matchup is the storyline of this final four in my opinion. The winner of that battle will most likely play in the championship game. Other than that, here are the story lines to watch in this matchup.

1). Mitch McGary has come out of nowhere and is performing like an All-American. Zeller? Plumlee? No, McGary has been the story of the tournament from a post player’s perspective. I haven’t seen someone put on such dominating performances in the post in quite some time. He handled Jeff Withey extremely well (something I didn’t think he could do) and led the game in scoring/rebounding versus Kansas. He kept them in the game. Against Florida, he scored and rebounded less (11 and 5) but added 5 steals, 2 blocks, and held Florida big man Patric Young to single digits in both points and rebounds. If he can contribute solidly against Syracuse’s monstrous zone, the Wolverines have a shot at appearing in the title game.

2). Can Syracuse Stop Trey Burke? I know I mentioned this above, but Burke is playing at a level you rarely see in college sports. He almost had a triple-double today, but with Burke, stats only tell part of the story (that’s a scary thought). His ability to penetrate and pass the ball out to perimeter shooters (hey Nik Stauskas) means that any kind of defense you play on him might be rendered futile. Yes, Syracuse has long bodies, but Burke is faster than anyone who the Orange will throw at him, meaning it’s up to Burke to win the game for the Wolverines. If the Orange can slow him down a little bit and rattle him, Michigan doesn’t have much of a chance.

3). Syracuse Has to Dictate Tempo: The athleticism of the Orange is their strength and couple that with solid decision-making by Carter-Williams and shot selection  means  that they are a tough matchup for any of the 3 remaining teams in the field. Syracuse, however, has to take it head-on against the Wolverines. They have a smothering defense, and their zone is well-designed and relentless. The Orange need to run, run, run, against the Wolverines, because as we saw against Florida, sitting back in a passive zone only leads to open shots and difficult help-defense situations. Michigan has thrived in those situations. Ever since Burke’s “fab”-ulous shot against the Jayhawks, the Wolverines’ motor has been relentless, the Orange should recognize that and press hard against them if they want to play an extra game.

Prediction: I see Michigan moving on in this final four matchup. The momentum is on their side after that comeback win against Kansas. Trey Burke is the POY, and his play will dictate whether they win or lose, and he has shown no signs of slowing up in his dominating play. I think McGary will be the x-factor, providing solid rebounding and decisions in the low-post. Either Hardaway Jr. or GRIII need to provide an extra lift, because I don’t see Stauskas nailing 6 3-balls again. It should be close due to the athleticism of Syracuse, but when a player is performing like Trey Burke is, I have to go with that team. Michigan 72 Syracuse 66.

 

Wichita State v. Louisville:  I’m relatively speechless after watching both of these teams play in the Elite 8. Wichita State came out swinging, built a big lead, and took haymakers from Ohio State before holding on. Louisville came together as a team after Kevin Ware’s unspeakable leg injury and locked down on the Blue Devils. It’s safe to say both of these teams deserve to be here.

1). The emotions of Louisville: So many times we, as people tend to focus on matchups, statistics and game plans in an effort to predict outcomes of athletic events. If, however, you believe that sports provides a deeper outlet for performance, then Kevin Ware’s injury should serve just as large a point of contention for this game. At first, I had no idea what was going on, I saw Tyler Thornton grimacing after he took a 3-point shot, and then saw three Lousiville players down in the middle of the paint. I didn’t see any collision, then they showed it. It’s probably one of the worst injuries I’ve ever seen, ever, and I won’t watch it again. After the injury and subsequent 10 minute game-break, Louisville looked slow, ragged, and simply emotionally drained. After halftime they were a different team, pull of vigor and confidence. I think that confidence will carry over, because now they feel an obligation to win the tournament (not like they haven’t before) for one of their own; a fallen warrior. Look for the Cardinals to come out fast, furious, and sharp.

2). Wichita State’s Ability to Rebound: If the Shockers, and Carl Hall can do this, then they have a fighting chance. I won’t lie, if they don’t rebound the ball, they lose this game. Gorgui Dieng has made such strides in the past year and has become such a force inside (scoring, blocking shots, and rebounding) that I fear for the Shocker’s big men. The Shockers will have to devise a game plan to account for the issues that Dieng presents because if they don’t it could be a long day on the court for them.

3). Louisville’s Press: The Cardinals can lock down the Shockers if they press effectively. The use of it was at times, questionable today against the Blue Devils, due to the ability of Duke’s guards to beat the press with a pass instead of dribbling. Louisville did, however, force Duke into 11 turnovers, so I can’t say it was a futile effort. They should test Wichita State early, and often to see if they can handle the pressure, and Pitino should be ready to abandon the idea of the Shockers are able to beat it, because transition buckets are the Cardinals’ calling card and shouldn’t be used against them.

Prediction: I’m going with Louisville. I love with Wichita State does offensively, and the tenacity they play with on defense, but Siva and Smith are so talented that shutting both of them down simultaneously seems impossible, especially with how well Smith is scoring the ball by penetrating in the lane. I think Louisville comes out firing and running effectively and that by the time Wichita State can devise a plan to slow them down the game will be out of reach. Dieng should be effective down low once again, and maybe Behanan or Blackshear can step up in the absence of Ware to provide some scoring relief. Louisville 82 Wichita State 68.

Championship Game Preview: Michigan v. Louisville

First of all, let’s acknowledge how good of a game this could be. Stellar back court play, coupled with the emergence of two solid big men (Dieng and McGary). They both run, they are both athletic, the only question is who can stop the other? Will Burke handle the pressure effectively? Can Smith score on the rugged Wolverines defense? Will McGary provide support down low to take Dieng out of the game?

I hate to sound like a nuisance but this is where Kevin Ware’s injury , truly effects the Cardinals . The emotions will still be there, but his actual absence from the game will really give the Cardinals a tough time. He has the ability to score when needed, but additionally, he is another solid defender to throw on Trey Burke when Siva/Smith need rest. Without him, both Louisville guards will have their hands full (yes, this is how good I think Trey Burke is).

If Michigan can shoot effectively, and most importantly, handle Louisville’s pressure, they can be crowned national champions, thus avenging the scandal and largely negative press surrounded by the Fab Five booster scandal in the early 90’s.

Prediction: I think Michigan wins a close one. I think Trey Burke gets close to a triple-double, and basks in the glory of a national championship and well-earned POY honors. The game should be extremely close. Last second shot? Maybe, but I’m leaning towards a 5-point Wolverine win. Michigan 75 Louisville 70.

The Preview of the Season: TLN Takes on Mad Men.

TLN’s Mad Men Season Six Preview

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Jon Hamm as “Don Draper”

AMC’s Emmy-Winning, Original Series “Mad Men” kicks off it’s sixth season on April 7th. If you follow the show, then you are just as excited as I am to see how things start off. Director Matthew Weiner has previously stated that the season will be the show’s penultimate and that viewers can expect a plethora of story line activity and development (like we really needed any confirmation).

I’ll admit I never followed the show chronologically until this summer after the fifth season of Breaking Bad wrapped up. I was looking for a show to captivate me in the same way, and got a strong recommendation for Mad Men from many people. I spent almost all hours of the night for a better part of two weeks watching the show and was blown away. The show’s attention to detail is astounding, and the representation of the decades that the show follows, by all accounts, seem to be spot on. Infatuating storylines mixed with largess motifs propel the show into the stratosphere of cable television and firmly supplants AMC’s prowess for developing original series’.

As the season six premiere is upon us, I thought it best to pose potential questions and make some fairly bold predictions for the season. This isn’t sports, and predicting television shows seems almost harder (my last Breaking Bad prediction couldn’t have been further from the truth).

1). Don and Megan Split Up:

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Things aren’t as they appear in the Don-Megan sage.

I know this isn’t what most people want to hear, and honestly I don’t either. Megan (Jessica Pare’) is one of my genuinely favorite characters. She reels Don back from the abyss of alcoholism and depression after his divorce from Betty and drives him into a “happy” state ( a word rarely associated with Don). Towards the middle to the end of the season, we see plenty of instances where the marriage simply is too young or fragile in my mind to continue on. Don has control issues and rarely wants Megan to pursue her own acting career. Even though we begin to see a certain amount of acceptance at one point from Don, he is a controller at heart and won’t be able to sustain such a selfless viewpoint for long. It saddens me because Megan is actually so good for Don. She brings him back to even keel. The best relationships that form aren’t necessarily the ones where two people are actually compatible for each other, but rather how they fill the voids the other lacks (i.e, the balancing effect). Megan put a smile on Don’s face when he needed it most, otherwise, we might be reading Don Draper’s obituary as opposed to discussing the coming of a sixth season. The problem arises when Don has to let go, and allow Megan to leave SCDP to pursue her dream of being a famous actress. A man like Don with so much wealth, prestige, power, and control can’t stand the thought of his wife leaving his domain and venturing out. Yes, it’s sad, but also true, many men still act this way today.  At the very end of episode 13 “The Phantom”, a woman approaches Don, sitting alone at a bar. She gives him the classic “let’s do this look”, and then asks “Are you alone?” Cue the music, no response from Don. Is Don, at that moment truly alone? Has the lust and desire for Megan truly disintegrated at that moment? Will season six be a return to Don’s adulterous and womanizing ways?

2). Peggy Makes Some Kind of Return:

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The Master and the Apprentice.

It’s not like Mad Men to “ex” a character out of the show and leave them out for good. Take Paul Kinsey for example. He was left behind after Sterling Cooper became SCDP, yet returned by way of Harry Crane’s encounter with him after he joined the Krishna Conscious movement. I guess Sal Romano would be the exception, but the series isn’t over yet. The point is, Peggy made too much of an impact on the series not to be involved in some way. The fact that she meets Don in the movie theater by chance in the season finale, shows that she is still lingering on Don’s advice (seeing movies to clear the head). She’s also smoking, something she rarely did before hand. If we could for just a moment, comment on the meteoric rise of Peggy Olson, Don Draper’s secretary to Peggy Olson, chief copywriter with gobs of potential. Peggy represents the little egg that is weak and has to fight hard to hatch. Starting at nothing, and ending up with everything is how her role is best described (that theme is prevalent throughout the entire series). Sure, she got tons of breaks, but luck is a part of success, the harder you work, the luckier you get. All I’m saying is that, I could definitely see SCDP and CGC competing for the same, big account, that could perpetuate SCDP to the upper-echelon of advertising firms, and could also make Peggy’s career infamous if successful. This battle could be drawn out as the “master versus the apprentice” and could either make Peggy’s career, or reawaken Don’s hunger to dominate the ad game once again (keep in mind he went soft, no pun intended, after marrying Megan). It’s an attractive idea primarily due to the master-apprentice motif. The amount of history the two have makes this worth considering, and perhaps it could reunite Don and Peggy permanently.

 

3). What the Hell is Going on With Roger?

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Having fun there Roger? The glasses are a nice touch.

 

Roger (John Slattery) has been on a tear recently. To going to fry parties (tripping on acid), carrying wads of cash to bankroll the agency, divorcing his wife for no real reason, and still not being able to care for his and Joan’s son. All of these things happened. I still can’t get over his acid trip, as it remains one of the highlights of the show. Can I just say that Roger is the best character on the show hands down? Saying Don is just seems like a cop-out, despite how good Jon Hamm truly is (the guy needs to be cast in more productions), but Roger takes the cake. Every 5 minutes of Roger-screen time equals approximately one good Roger-joke. Some of my favorites?

                “I told him to be myself, that was pretty mean I guess”.

                “You know what my father used to say? “Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons, and eventually they hit you in the face.”

                “Roger: She died like she lived: Surrounded by people she answered phones for.

                “A wooden leg…They’re so cheap they can’t even afford a whole reporter”.

Roger has gone from unhappily married, to suddenly happy and dropping acid at his leisure, while still having his name on the door and stacks on stacks in the wallet. Not a bad gig, Roger. My brother and I discussed this over lunch, will Roger just die? I mean think about it, he’s had multiple heart attacks, drinks and smokes, and the guy just keeps going and stays in shape (Slattery is reportedly a health enthusiast). Please don’t go Roger, Mad Men would be a darker place without you. A bigger question remains, however. Is this the season where Roger and Joan finally get to be together? They have a son, they’re both in the midst of divorces. The stage seems prime for these two to link up permanently. Roger’s still completely in love with Joan, and while I wouldn’t say the feelings are fully reciprocated, Joan will eventually think “what if”, and most likely give it a shot. I sense that some serious events would have to precipitate this happening, however. Having Roger and Joan strike up a public romance while in the office would no-doubt cause a stir that would blow Don-Megan’s relationship out of the water. I’d like to see that.

4). Pete Goes Off the Deep End:

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The many confused faces of Pete Campbell beg the question of what’s next for the “Mad Men” star.

Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) started off as the most annoying character in the show, but has grown on me (reluctantly). He’s a hustler and stops at nothing to get what he wants, no matter how dirty the business gets. Side note, my favorite line of the show is when Lane (RIP) calls Pete a “grimy little pimp” in the episode “Signal 30” (pre-ass beating). Pete has tried so hard to live up to Don’s standards throughout the entire show. He climbs the corporate ladder as so many Americans do, thinking his problems will simply dissipate with a fatter paycheck. They don’t, and he struggles to find out who he truly is. Identity is the most overwhelming motif utilized in the series and Pete’s struggle to find his own is a captivating experience. The elevator scene in “Signal 30” juxtaposes Don (the happy, suddenly faithful husband) and Pete (the once faithful/happy husband turned adulterer/ office slugfest coordinator) wonderfully. Pete’s decision to constantly cheat on his wife Trudy (Alison Brie) is a monumental WTF moment for myself.  He has clearly lost his own way in life, and does not know where to turn. I sense season 6 to utilize the theme of “loss” so much clearer than other seasons. This season is all about, “ok we were here in the past, but how can we move completely forward and succeed”. Season 5 bred us perfectly for this. We saw new characters, new relationships, new business, and most importantly, we lost something. Life is all about responding to loss, so how will Pete realize that he has lost himself? I can’t imagine it will be good. As viewers, suicide was thrust upon us with Lane’s hanging, and I can see Pete heading down that direction, only this time, maybe Don Draper can come to the aid and rescue him from the abyss.

5). Fat Betty Stays Fat.

 

6). SCDP Becomes a Major Player:

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The Boys @ SCDP looking quite dapper as always. Will this be the year they make their voice heard?

 Last but not least, I believe that this season will see the agency grow tremendously in size. Not only has Don expressed his desire to expand the agency , but new business has been rolling in steady. I miss the early seasons a lot because of this. As Roger once said to Don, “What happened? The word no used to make you hard”.  “Domineering Don” scenes as I have grown to call them completely warped me into the show in the first place. I can do without all the womanizing and cheating, but Don’s presence as a powerful business-man attracted me to the show. I have a feeling this will return, and that Don’s booze-ridden, cry-fest over the divorce and his wavering feelings towards Megan will soon be over, and that Dapper Don’s ascension to the top of Madison Avenue’s advertising game is only a matter of time.