BMKFitness Follow Up – Plans and Progress


fitocracyI published my “Leveling Up in Life” post a week ago, and since then, the response I’ve gotten has been incredible. The BMKFitness Fitocracy group I started is up to two hundred members, all supporting one another with encouragement, advice, and friendly competition. It’s been great to see so many people coming together to better themselves, and to help each other.

Even outside the group, I have gotten a number of messages from people over Facebook and Twitter thanking me for sharing my story and helping motivate them to get into shape. I’m thankful that my post was able to positively touch so many peoples’s lives.

“Thank you for your article today. It really means a lot to me because I have been struggling with my weight almost all of my life and I’m sure there are a lot of other magic players who are the same way. I started dieting a little over 2 months ago and I have been going to the gym for a couple of weeks now, I am using a diet from Top Health Journal. I don’t know how much weight I’ve lost because I have been too embarrassed to see what I was at, but I am determined to become healthy and I have seen a lot of progress already. The latest trend of magic players going to the gym and getting fit helped inspire me to do the same for myself and I couldn’t thank the community enough. Thank you for being one of the good guys.”

“I just read your article “Leveling up in Life – Fitness and Gaming” and I just wanted to say that I thought it was really well written, and quite inspiring. You’re somebody who a lot of people who play games look up to, so it’s refreshing to see that you have human concerns like body image just like the rest of us do. I grew up as a heavy kid too, particularly once I got to high school, and it made me feel self-conscious. I’ve gotten into better shape in college, mostly through nutritional changes like cutting out soda (man, soda is the worst apparently), and I’ve tried to exercise, though I know I should more. I just wanted to say it felt nice to relate to you, and I wish you the best of luck in achieving your goals, both in fitness and in gaming. I hope to join you on the quest to get in shape (and maybe on the PT some day,- a boy can dream).”

Not the exact sign I had, but close enough…

My own progress has been great so far. When I was training for wrestling in high school, I had a sign above my bed that said “Get up and train while the competition sleeps.” While my only competition these days is myself, I’ve taken that same philosophy to heart once again. Rather than lay around in bed in the morning trying to get another hour of sleep, I’ve been getting up and heading to the gym as soon as I’m awake. This makes it that much harder to find any excuse as the days goes on to skip my workout, and has the added benefit of giving me more energy throughout the day. And the fact that I’ve been done with my work out several times before I would normally even be getting out of bed means that I’m basically just getting bonus hours in my day. I haven’t missed a day of kettlebell swings yet, and I’ve been looking into buying a heavier one because they’re starting to get easy…

I’ve had similar success sticking to my diet. As I mentioned in my original post, one of the things I love about slow carb is that I don’t feel like I have to deprive myself, because I enjoy so many things that are mainstays of the diet. It’s been particularly helpful that Natalie is on board now, too, since she’s been finding all kind of great recipes to make for dinner. I’m fine with eating ground turkey, beans, and guacamole for every meal, but that doesn’t mean everyone is. I know the diet is going to be a challenge over the next few weeks as I’m traveling for PT testing, and then a Grand Prix and the pro tour itself, but like to think I’m up for it.

But enough about me. A big part of the reason I wanted to write a follow-up to my original post is to help those who want to make changes in their life but aren’t sure how. I intentionally avoided getting too deep into the specifics of any kind of fitness program in my original post, since I didn’t want to overwhelm people with information before they even got started. Being bombarded with too much at once can be intimidating, and it can scare people off.

I linked to the Four-Hour Body book by Tim Ferris in my original article, and I stand by that recommendation, but I wanted to provide some additional resources as well. Thankfully, there are fellow gamers who have gone before me and done much of this work already.

One prominent member of the Magic community who has been a vocal advocate for a healthier lifestyle is Donnie Noland. Donnie is a tournament organizer and store owner from Tennessee who has undergone an impressive transformation over the past few years. I’ve known Donnie for a long time now, and I can say that his commitment to working out has made him look like a completely different person from when we met.


Check out Donnie’s fitness blog!

Don’t take it from me, though: Donnie has chronicled his own experiences and shares his knowledge over at his own blog dedicated to fitness – It’s worth checking out, and he updates it on a regular basis.

Another fitness advocate in the Magic community shares something else in common with Donnie – a love of the #MTGFitness hashtag. After my post went up, I was contacted by personal trainer Joe Stierwalt, who has been working with Brian Braun-Duin, Brad Nelson, and Chris VanMeter in the Roanoke area. He was passionate about the idea of trying to help spread fitness knowledge in the gaming community, and when I offered him a chance to share some of his plan on my site, he was eager to help.

You can find Joe’s #MTGFitness plan below. It’s pretty long and involved, but it’s a great starting point if you’re looking for a guide to get you on the right path. It incorporates the key principles I follow myself in my nutrition and workouts.

If you’re a complete novice, you should definitely look to ease yourself carefully into the weight lifting portions with low weights to learn the appropriate form and to avoid injury. You may feel silly doing lifts with an empty barbell, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I dropped way back down in my squat weight last week to ensure that I was actually doing them with proper form. It’s better than hurting yourself.  Everyone starts somewhere.

So let’s get started, shall we?



Welcome to MTGFitness! This is an ongoing fitness and nutrition plan designed to help Magic players who struggle with being overweight. We do this to maintain accountability and success. As Brian mentioned in his blog post, we follow the 4 hour body slow carb diet plan by Tim Ferris and for exercise, I advise using workout programs designed by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove.

“That’s great! I have always looked up to Brian Kibler, who the heck are you?!”

My name is Joe Stierwalt and I am a certified personal trainer and I work full time for a corporate wellness company. I studied Exercise Science at Wichita State University and I am also a lifelong Magic the Gathering player. Recently, I have been doing what I can to help share information on diet and exercise with other magic players.

Like Brian, I also used to be fat….so I’ve been there. It’s not fun, but it also does not have to be that way. Brian and I are living proof.

Pretty simple. Read the nutrition plan, read the workout plan, and follow them exactly. Read this entire plan and ask questions. You will get results! If this is your first phase you need to complete the Break In Phase workouts. After that, you can choose from Fat Loss, Hypertrophy, Strength and Overall Fitness.
This is the 4 hour body slow carb diet plan by Tim Ferris. It works and is pretty simple. Basically you follow these 5 rules and try to have protein and veggies at every meal.

Rule #1: Avoid “white” starchy carbohydrates (or those that can be white). This means all bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and grains. If you have to ask, don’t eat it.

Rule #2: Eat the same few meals over and over again, especially for breakfast and lunch. You already do this; you’re just picking new default meals.

Rule #3: Don’t drink calories. Exception: 1-2 glasses of dry red wine per night is allowed.

Rule #4: Don’t eat fruit. (Fructose –> glycerol phosphate –> more bodyfat, more or less.) Avocado and tomatoes are ok.

Rule #5: Take one day off per week and go nuts. I choose and recommend Saturday, although it is important to note that if you are travelling to tournaments, it may be more beneficial to choose a different day. Snacking on water and healthy foods throughout a tournament is a plan for success, just ask Brian Braun-Duin, Brad Nelson or Chris VanMeter!

That’s it. Pretty simple. You don’t have to count calories or meal timing. Eat when you are hungry, don’t skip meals, consume lots of veggies!

#Pre and Post Workout Nutrition-
Workout A and Workout B are heavy resistance workouts. On these days consume 20g of protein before and after your workout. You can also drink a shake during if it does not bother your stomach. Directly after your workout you can have carbs too, so a post workout protein shake would be okay. Cardio days do not require special nutrition, stick to the 4 hour body plan.

#Cheat Days

Cheat day Tips:
 Eat 1-2 healthy meals on your cheat day, and whatever you want otherwise. This will help you not feel like total crap. It is also best to do a Resistance Workout ON or the day directly after Cheat Day. You will have a fantastic workout during these times because of the extra carbohydrates you just ate!
One last thing about cheat day/meals: If you have a cheat meal on a day you are not supposed to, do NOT let it derail you. Too often one bad meal leads to another, and you lose motivation. The best way to combat “falling off the wagon” is to get RIGHT BACK ON. Don’t punish yourself by eating more crap food, just go workout, and have a good healthy meal.

If you find yourself being tempted with food throughout the week, have something to soothe your craving DIRECTLY AFTER a hard resistance workout. This will minimize any damage. I personally have a chocolate cookie protein shake after every hard workout. It calms my sweet tooth and gives me the carb/protein ratio I need to rebuild my muscles.

It is not required that you take supplements to achieve success in MTGFitness. However, supplements can provide several benefits if you are eating correctly and working out. Remember they are called supplements because they are SUPPLEMENTAL to diet and exercise. Here is what I recommend in order of importance. They are what I take personally.

Fish Oil- Omega-3 fatty acids. These are essential fats (EFA) that our bodies do not produce. If you eat a lot of fish in your diet, this is not necessary. If you don’t, like me, consider taking a fish oil supplement.  Why: Fish oil does everything! It increases protein synthesis (muscle building) improves cardiac output and stroke volume, which may improve blood flow. It also helps reduces inflammation, which is huge when doing high intensity exercise. Lastly, research has shown EFA’s help curb depression, improve bones and fight cancer. Take it! Suggested Use:  Take 500-1000mg once or twice a day with a meal.

Multivitamins- Vitamins and minerals are essential to healthy living. In a perfect world we would get everything we need from a balanced diet and have no deficiencies. This is rarely the case however.  Supplementing with a daily multivitamin can help shore up deficiencies and provide us with better physical and mental health. Why: Besides what I just mentioned, MV can help reduce the risk of illness and help our bodies recover faster from working out. This alone is worth it. Suggested Use: Take 1 multivitamin twice daily with meals.

Vitamin Dз- Vitamin D is different from other essential vitamins because our body can actually produce it by exposing it to sunlight. It is typical in the United States and other northern parts of the world to be deficient in this however. Vitamin D is essential for the repair, growth and function of bones and plays an important role in calcium absorption and immune function. This is especially important to those of us who work out because calcium plays an important role in muscle building. Why: Vitamin D aids our immune system, improves cognitive function, reduces risk of cancer, aids in losing weight and reduces the risk of heart attack. Good enough for me. Suggested Use: Take 1-3 tablets daily with meals or get 30 minutes of sunlight each day.

Creatine Monohydrate– Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that helps supply energy to cells, particularly muscle cells. It is created in the body in small amounts, but may also be taken in supplementation form. Why: Creatine is the MOST scientifically supported supplement for the last 30 years. Taking creatine allows the body to produce more energy, which allows us to lift more weight, more times. This helps to increase muscle mass, power and strength. Creatine does increase water retention, which is NOT a bad thing considering our muscles are 70% water, but be prepared to notice this on the scale. Suggested Use:  Take 30g with a full glass of water once a day. Avoid taking with caffeine. (Note: Creatine intake may upset your stomach and those with any kidney related issues should avoid creatine. )

Other considerations: Calcium, Whey protein powder (not bars), Probiotics

#Getting Started: Measurements and pictures

Progress in fat loss or muscle growth is not always linear. You may lose 1-2 pounds of fat each week, but you may gain that right back with muscle gain. The scale will be none the wiser! So how do we know if we are reaching our goals? We measure, we document, we track. When it comes to weights and getting stronger, keeping track of the weights we lift and the RPE will guide us in knowing how strong we are getting. To understand how our bodies are reacting, we track that too.

Measurements– Measure the circumference of your neck, chest, biceps, waist (at the belly button) hips (widest part of your bum) your thighs, and your calves. Always flex and measure at the widest point. This way your measurements will always be comparable to the last. Take measure at the start of the program, at the start of each month, and at the end of each phase. (each phase should last 6-8 weeks)

Record your weight on the scale each morning, wearing the same thing and take note of it. This will give you good insight on how the food you eat impacts your body each day. You will notice your weight fluctuate frequently, and that is okay, but throughout the cycle it should steadily decrease.

Body Fat– If you can, ask a trainer or employee of the gym to take your body fat. Have them use calipers if they can, but the electronic device is okay too if that is all they have. These are off by plus or minus 4% so just be mindful of that.

Pictures- Another good way to document your progress is to take before and after pictures. Have someone help you, or use the mirror to take a “selfie.” Take front and back pictures, preferably with your shirt off. Take side pictures as well. Do this at the start of each cycle and the end to see your progression.

If this is your first cycle with MTGFitness, you need to complete the Break-In Phase workouts.  You can find the Break-In Workouts at the end of this document and you can email or facebook me for a spreadsheet to print off and use.

After the Break-In phase, you can choose workouts from Fat Loss, Hypertrophy (muscle gain), Strength, and Metabolic Fitness. Each program has phases you can go through, but they all start with the Break In.

Every workout in every phase begins with warming up and ends with cooling down.

Warm Up-Do this before EVERY resistance workout.

1)      5 Minutes of any cardio machine, get heart rate above 125 bpm. If possible use a machine that utilizes all 4 limbs.

2)      Self Myofascial release. Use a foam roller and spend 5 minutes “rolling.”  If you don’t have a foam roller at your gym, you can use a tennis ball. Here is a how to video. If you don’t have anything to use, spend 5 minutes stretching. Here is a 5 minute stretching video.

3)      Before the first exercise of the day- In this cycle, squat or deadlift- perform the exercise 8-10 times with little to no weight to warm up the muscles you are about to use.  This does not count as one of your 4 sets.

#RPEFor your first working set, we need to establish your RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion.) 1 on the scale is easy. 10 is nearly impossible. Think of 1 as playing limited with double Pack Rat in your hand and your opponent mulligans to 3 on the play. Now think of 10 as being the opponent playing against that!

When working out, our sets need to be at 7-8. No more, no less. It should be difficult so that you could not do 16-17 reps, but not so hard that you cannot complete all 15.  Complete each set, and after each one, write down how hard it was on the RPE scale of 1-10. If it was less that 7-8, add weight. If it was more than 7-8, take off weight. Repeat for 4 sets total. Rest 75 seconds between each set.

Each workout has AS (alternating sets) for the last 4 exercises. Start with the first exercise- in this case Lunges. Perform 15 reps on one leg, then 15 on the other. If your RPE is less than 7-8 with bodyweight, hold dumbbells in your hands. After both legs, rest 75 seconds and perform Dumbbell Rows, 15 each arm. Rest 75 seconds, and go back to Lunges.

Do the same thing for the other AS (alternating sets) exercises.

Once you have completed all the exercises, you are ready for the cooldown.

#Cool-down-Do this at the end of every resistance workout A & B & C if you have it.

Self myofascial release for 5 minutes. (Or stretching) and then finish with 10-15 minutes of light-moderate cardio on the machine. (If you are short on time, you can skip the cardio machine) If you are light headed or queasy from the workout, walk slowly on the treadmill until you feel better.

The Workout Overview-I will use workout A from Break In Phase for this example. Exercise descriptions will be at the bottom of this plan.

Perform the warm up described in 1 and 2 above. Then go to the squat rack. Perform 8-10 reps with just the bar. Your muscles should be pretty warmed up by now, if not, go ahead and perform another light set.

#Break In Phase Workout Plan
Cardio Days- Do these on days in between Work out A and Workout B, up to 3 times per week.

In this example, a stationary bike is used, but you can use any piece of cardio equipment you like. Just make sure you can do it safely.

Warm up for 5 minutes at a very easy pace.
Heat 1– Go as hard as you can for 1 minute by increasing the resistance to a medium-high number and keeping your pace as steady as you can. By the 45 second mark you should be begging for time to go faster.
Easy1– Go easy for 2 minutes, as slow as you need to go. Keep pedaling, but catch your breath.
Repeat this for 2 more “heats.”

Finally, cool down at an easy pace for 3-5 minutes. Total time around 20 minutes.

If you do Workout A and Workout B 2 times per week, and the above cardio for 2- 3 times per week. You should be RESTING the other day or two. If you feel like you must ABSOLUTLEY been in the gym more than this, you probably aren’t doing the prescribed workouts hard enough. But if you STILL need to be in the gym, you can do slow aerobic cardio of your choosing. Or stretching, or foam rolling. All or okay.

Exercise Descriptions- Ask me for any variations due to equipment or injuries, etc.

Workout A

Squats- The bar should rest across your upper traps and your knees should be slightly bent. Your feet should be shoulder width apart, or just a bit wider, with your toes pointed straight ahead or angled out slightly.
Push your hips back, as if sitting in a chair, and lower yourself until your upper thighs are parallel to the floor, or your back starts to lose its natural arch, whichever comes first. Keep your head up and your eyes straight.
Push down through your heels, NEVER your toes, to life the weight back up to the starting position. Do not lean forward. Do not lock your knees at the top. VIDEO-

Lunge- Take a step forward with one leg, and lower yourself until your opposite knee nearly touches the floor. Press through your front heel to raise yourself back up, keeping your leg forward. Lower back down on the same leg until all reps are completed, then switch legs.

Dumbbell Row– Hold 2 dumbbells, one in each hand, and bend over slightly at the waist. Keep a slight bend in your knees. Keep your shoulder blades pinched back, but keep your back flat, not arching. Let the dumbbells hand straight down from your shoulders. Pull one dumbbell up to your side, with your elbow finishing above and behind your torso. Repeat all reps on one side, then complete the other side.

Pushups and Swiss ball crunches should be self explanatory, if you are unsure, simply ask.

Workout B

Deadlifts– Be extra cautious on this lift and make sure your form is correct on every single rep. Less weight is more important than messing up your back or hamstrings.
Squat over the barbell on the floor with your feet shoulder width apart and toes pointed forward. Grab it with an overhand grip, or one over and one under with your hands just outside your legs and your arms straight. The bar should be directly under your shoulders. Keep a slight arch in your back and push straight down through the middles of your feet as you straighten your knees. The bar should stay in contact with your legs all the way up. When the bar gets above your knees, push your hips forward as you squeeze your shoulder blades together in back.
Lower the bar carefully back down your legs. I suggest wearing sweat pants or wind pants to protect your shins.  Remember, safety is key. If it hurts your back, stop doing the exercise. Video-

Dumbbell Step ups– Set a box or stack of steps so that its about knee-high. You can start lower if you need to work up to it. Hold a pair of dumbbells at your side. Place your right foot flat on the step and push down through your right heel to straighten your leg and lift your entire body up. Do not push off with your leg on the ground. Set your left foot down on the step. Step back down with your left foot, slowly lowering to the floor. As soon as it brushes the floor, lift again with your right leg. Repeat all reps on right leg, then repeat for left leg.

Dumbbell Press- Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them at the edges of your shoulders, palms facing away from your face. Have a slight bend in your knees, with a split stance for balance. Have one leg in front, one in back, and your spine in the middle, like a tripod. Do not put all your weight in the front or back, simply balance between them. Push the weights straight up over your head, one at a time.  Finish all reps on one side before continuing to the other.

Lat Pulldown- Sit at the lat pulldown machine with your knees at a 90 degree angle and feet flat on the floor. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, hands just outside your shoulders. Lean slightly back and pull the bar down to the top of your chest. Slowly return the bar back to just before the starting position. Keep your shoulder blades back. Repeat for 15 reps.

Reverse Crunch- Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, palms down for balance. Bend your knees to a 90 degree angle directly above your hips. (Or as close as you can bring them) If you are unable to do this, try lifting your legs straight into the air. Contract your ab muscles as your pull your thighs up toward your chest. The action is in your HIPS. Raise your lower back up off the ground using your abs, and then slowly lower back down to the ground. Repeat for reps.

If you do Workout A and Workout B 2 times per week, and the above cardio for 2- 3 times per week. You should be RESTING the other day or two. If you feel like you must ABSOLUTLEY been in the gym more than this, you probably aren’t doing the prescribed workouts hard enough. But if you STILL need to be in the gym, you can do slow aerobic cardio of your choosing. Or stretching, or foam rolling. All or okay.

Join Brian on Fitocracy with his workouts, these workouts, your own, or any combination! The key is not WHAT you do, it’s THAT you do it.

Thanks for listening, good luck Walking the Planes, and Lifting the Weights!

Joe Stierwalt                   

Director of Wellness Strategies

Healthy Company Alliance, Inc



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