Nick Nilsson the Mad Scientist of Muscle

Nick Nilsson fitness authorNick Nilsson, aka the Mad Scientist of Muscle has been on my radar since respected strength and conditioning coach Charles Staley endorsed his methods way back in the long ago. Nick has over twenty years of scientific research and in the trenches experience under his belt and is a frequent contributor to Iron Man Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Men’s Fitness, Maxim and Reps! So I was incredibly excited to have the chance to pick his brain about training and business. Open your mind and dive in!

The Origin of Nick Nilsson

You’ve got over 20 years of training and coaching under your belt. Your stuff is kind of unorthodox so how did you convince your first client to hire you? It’s hard enough for trainers following conventionally accepted methods to do it. What was your breakthrough moment?

The interesting thing with that is when I first started to train people the clients were given to me essentially. When I started doing actual personal training I worked on a cruise ship. So the people who come on the ship; they come in the gym and ask for a personal trainer and I was one of the trainers. Ironically enough I’m actually capable of toning it down, ha ha! So I would run these people through very conventional routines. As I kind of progressed further in my knowledge and got off the cruise ship I started working with people who kind of wanted the unconventional training ideas. A lot of what I do isn’t necessarily unconventional but it takes normal stuff and makes it better. So I can actually do a program to cable rows and dumbbell bench press but the way the training is and the cues that I use are different than what some other trainers use and are very effective. That’s what they were actually seeking out so it was very easy to convince people to do these kinds of things.

Well this is a social media world so people want to be able to say they did something and put it on Instagram or YouTube. Did you do any coaching when you were focused on endurance training?

No that was basically in high school. I never got into the coaching of that aspect of it. Once I got into college I went completely in another direction, I went straight into weight training. I was doing two a day, six day a week workouts; eating 8,000 calories a day. So I went from 145lbs ripped to the bone endurance athlete to like 220. I gained like 75-80lbs in about eight months!

So high school Nick Nilsson was cracking the boiled eggs in the house and all of that. Did you do the squats and milk program?

No I was doing the Bulgarian Burst thing. Serious Growth it was like a high frequency, overtraining and back off and literally I was eating cafeteria food so I was eating a ton of food every day. I calculated it one day and my biggest day was like 8.5, 9,000 calories!

On the Shoulders of Giants

You named Charles Poliquin and I know you worked with renowned strength coach Charles Staley. You mention the great sprinting coach Charlie Francis in your book, Mad Scientist

Nick Nilsson in high school

I was an endurance athlete in high school

Muscle. Some of your techniques are similar to those of the late Vince Gironda specifically your use of high volume sets to force muscle growth. Was he one of your influences as well?

Oh definitely! One of the things I liked about him is he didn’t rely always on what the science looking backwards, but he would kind of look forwards from the science. So he would kind of see where the science was going and get ahead of it. Then in subsequent years, the science would catch up with what he was doing. So that’s kind of the approach I like to take. I’ll read the science and I’ll base my theories on that but I’ll go beyond what’s provable and take it a step further. A few years later I’ll see that everybody’s doing the same thing that I was going after like ten years ago. For example, lactic acid training is a big one right now. I started really focused doing that probably in 1998.

Change is Good

I was going to mention that next. C.T. Fletcher played a huge role in making that popular. He’s obviously got a big personality and he’s got a compelling story—coming back from a heart attack and clinical death. The thing is when people start doing this ultra-high rep training they don’t realize that even though they’re not lifting really heavy for them, they can still fall prey to injuries from pattern overload. Is that why you’re a fan of rotating training modalities?

What I find is if you stick to something too long, your body gets used to it very quickly and the more advanced you are the faster this happens. There are times when I’ll stick to a very simple hypertrophy schedule and I’ll do the same four or five exercises for like six to eight weeks and I get to the point where I literally plateau and I have to change things up! Sometimes it’s from injury because I get overuse injuries from doing the same thing repetitively and sometimes it’s your body just needs to switch and it’s time to change things up. When you’re building strength you do need consistency but you can keep consistency through movement patterns like for example programming back squats, front squats, Zercher squats—all variations of the same kind of movement pattern but hitting the body slightly differently. So there’s definitely a lot of reasons to use those different movement patterns and to keep your body guessing. Not muscle confusion which I actually find to be kind of annoying because you’re confusing your body sure which is good for some things but you do need to show your body what it needs to adapt to at some level or else nothing much is going to happen.

I competed in kickboxing several years ago and I’ve also more recently competed in powerlifting. In both disciplines, one important concept is developing skill in the sport. So how do you advocate balancing the need to switch so you don’t plateau, with the fact that your body needs to be good at a movement you’re going to be judged on?

I haven’t competed in powerlifting or Olympic lifting or anything like that; a lot of what I do is not really geared towards a sport. What I do can get you generally stronger and can improve your technique but I don’t specifically program for powerlifting so I really can’t claim to be an expert in developing the three big lifts. I definitely can’t claim to be an expert in Olympic lifting, I’ve done some basic stuff but I think one of the biggest things is to develop a base of strength. You really do need some level of consistency in those big movements and that jives with powerlifting.

Nick Nilsson Dumbbell Benching

What I do can get you generally stronger

Greasing the Groove

One of my favorite things that I’ve come up with is you take one of the big three lifts and in the course of the second week of the program you actually do about two hundred to three hundred sets of that big lift. You’re probably familiar with the Greasing the Groove concept where you just hammer that one exercise and your nervous system just gets so efficient at it that you can get massive nervous system adaptation to it and you build strength incredibly quickly. Over the course of five days you’d think you’d decrease in strength but the way the program is structured you actually increase in strength even though you’re burying yourself with training volume.

Is that because of the nervous system adaptation?

It’s taking one exercise and laser focusing everything onto that one exercise. You’re getting nervous system adaptation but—it’s almost like a carb load where you’re doing one week of low carb eating, really low calories so you’re setting yourself up for a rebound. Then the second week you overload calories, you overload training volume. Just one big exercise and you just hammer it. So your body knows it has nothing else to adapt to so it adapts incredibly well and incredibly fast to that one exercise. I had one guy who told me he gained 120lbs on his max deadlift over the course of a week!

Wow! I’ve done Greasing the Groove with deadlift when I was trying to get it to 500lbs. I just set up a loaded barbell and every time I passed it I just did three reps and I ended up getting there. There’s limited carryover to other movements because you’re getting skilled at just one lift. So after you program a period of that do you kind of put it to the side and maintain it and then try to bring everything else back up?

That’s pretty much the focus of the next couple of weeks. After that you’re focusing more on everything else. You’re really leaving the deadlift completely alone for a couple of weeks after that because your nervous system is pretty well shot. You actually end up doing a lot of isolation stuff. So  you’re focusing on sarcoplasmic hypertrophy stuff. You’re working on muscle tension and stretch reflex and stretch based movements.  So it’s a very unique program in that respect where every single week is different and you’re targeting different aspects of growth and strength.

Is that in your Mad Scientist Muscle book or one of the more recent ones?

It’s actually in Muscle Explosion.

Another “controversial” technique you advocate is fascial stretching. John Parillo talked a lot about them but some people disputed its effectiveness. There’s no doubt though that the way Arnold did flyes and the way most people do them today is completely different. He also had a lot better chest development than most people, even if you look at today’s bodybuilders.

For a long time I was a big believer in the fascial stretching concept and I’ve actually changed my thinking on that. Whereas I think the actual idea of stretching and loaded stretching is fantastic! But not for the reason that  a lot of people think it is. I think the problem with fascial stretching is fascia is so incredibly tough, so incredibly hard to change. The analogy I like to use is you’ve got a tarp stretched very tightly over four posts and you set a rock on top of that tarp. Think of fascial stretching that you’re doing every once in a while as like setting that big rock on there for two or three minutes.  Take the rock off. You haven’t even made dent in that tarp. However when you do loaded stretching you create such a tremendous anabolic response inside your body that your muscle grows inside the fascia and stretches the fascia continuously from the inside out. So that growth process forces the fascia to stretch over a long period of time rather than during thirty seconds of stretching. So it’s like setting a lighter rock over that tarp but leaving it over a period of years.  It’s going to make a dent in that tarp. I think it does happen; it’s happened to me.  That stretch is setting up a hypertrophy and possibly a hyperplasia response inside your body.

 I’ve begun to experiment with stretching as part of my workout and I like it a lot! Our mutual acquaintance, IAWA champion James Fuller, once pointed out that it makes a lot more sense to stretch a muscle while making it stronger to offset the weakness that comes with increasing your ROM.  I interviewed my chiropractor and she said the reason most people think chiropractic makes you weaker is you need to train at that new ROM to make yourself strong there.

I would agree with that. I’ve experimented with stretch based exercises and protocols and there’s nothing attacks your muscle fibers more and gets your strength up over an entire range of motion as far as using loaded stretching and stretch exercises that work your muscle over the entire range. One of my favorite movements is an incline dumbbell curl which obviously a huge stretch. The method I like to use for it gets an even deeper stretch on the muscle and it builds strength faster over the full range from there. Instead of sitting on the seat of the bench you actually put your feet on the seat and you slide your body up so your upper back is over the top end of the bench.  You lean back and over and you get a really good arch in your back and this stretches the biceps at the shoulder joint as well in addition to at the elbows.  When you do the exercise you get much more muscle activation and you build strength much more efficiently.

You’ve never competed in powerlifting but what a lot of beginner to intermediate powerlifters (I include myself in this group) need is more muscle. I think that a lot of our gains in the

Nick Nilsson and a mace

About 60 – 70% of my training is normal; I just take assistance work to another level

beginning come from neural adaptation and then we start gaining weight to get a leverage advantage, cut weight to make our weight class and try to carb back up to regain the leverage advantage. Actually gaining muscle is what separates the Elite from the beginners and intermediates. So your technique might be well suited for the accessory portion of a training program. For example, you do your main lift and then every exercise after your main lift would be something that would be within your program. Do you think that would work?

Absolutely! I think that would be a fantastic way to do it. In fact I do like to focus on the big lifts a lot. As crazy, unique and varied as the stuff I like to do is. About 60-75% of my training is relatively normal from the outside looking in. I use a lot of back squats, I use front squats. I use a lot of normal exercises. It’s just that the assistance stuff I take things to a different place. So a lot of what I do is very complementary to what powerlifters would do; it’s just that the accessory stuff is more effective in terms of targeting those muscles.

That’s huge especially if say somebody is three months out from a meet. They want to put on some muscle to get stronger but stay in the same weight class. It just seems to me that your methods are a good way to add muscle, burn fat without destroying yourself with so much cardio that you lose your strength base.

Even though I used to be an endurance athlete I’ve flipped the switch in a way. I don’t do a lot of endurance stuff these days other than long distance loaded carries. I’ll never be a long distance runner ever again. One of my goals when I’m trying to lose fat is to keep my strength. That’s very much in line with what a powerlifter is trying to do as far as put on muscle, lose fat while keeping if not increasing that strength.

Getting Less Fluffy

One of the things I like about your training is how actionable it is. For example, I’m a big fan of your near max interval training.  I’m a combination of a meathead who’s always disliked cardio and a former Marine with two bad knees that get angry after more than three miles of running.   I don’t have that problem with your version of treadmill sprints. Talk about how you came up with that and how you figured out the percentages you needed to use. I’d never thought to use percentage based training on the treadmill before!

The secret sauce that I used to come up with that is I put the treadmill at ten—

Ha ha! Okay, today on the Nick Nilsson show, we’re going to see if we die kids!

Yeah and I wanted to see—the thought process was something I’d been through in college. I’d been through a test where you would have to do progressively higher stair stepping over the course of twenty minutes. It was sort of like a stress test where at the beginning of the test the bottom of the step was relatively low. Then the next minute was like an inch higher. So at the end of twenty minutes the difference between the first step and the twentieth step was pretty significant. There were two variations of the test. In one, you wouldn’t take your pulse. You’d just go straight through for as long as you could until you couldn’t keep up the pace. The second variation was you’d stop and take your pulse for ten seconds so it was giving you a little bit of rest after each time. Even weighing 220lbs I maxed out the test and got all of the way to twenty minutes but when I did the original version of the test I got up to about 14 minutes. So a little bell clicked in my head. What if I could do very fast training but add a little bit of rest time in there. I could get a much higher intensity and a much higher training volume just by taking these little short rest periods. Kind of like Tabata training but you’re not killing yourself in four minutes.

That’s like wind sprints or hill sprints. My brother prefers those. He’ll sprint to the top of the hill and then walk back down. His rest period is the walk back.

This version kind of flips the rest periods with the work periods. So you’re getting say 25 seconds of fast work and then five seconds of rest. So you’re basically giving your body just enough rest to keep going. When I first started doing this I could do essentially twenty minutes of running at ten on the treadmill by taking five or ten second rest periods. It just ripped the fat right off me and it was intense and it felt like I was doing something rather than just walking on the treadmill bored out of my mind.

Speaking of time, you use timed intervals a lot in your training; whether for rest periods or to time the set. Do you have a type of timer that you recommend or can people just get by with a kitchen timer or an app on their phone?

The app on the phone is fine. I’ve used that before. What I actually have in my basement gym is a little $3 made in China kitchen timer that has a magnet on the back that I just stick on whatever piece of equipment I’m working with. It has three buttons, a minute and a seconds and a start/stop and that’s it. I bought it three years ago and it’s still working fine.

The thing that strikes me as a danger of the phone app is first thing you’re messing with your phone. So there’s always the potential distraction from social media or a text or phone call. Then let’s say I’m hitting the bag, the app I use shuts off if I get a call even though I might have turned the ringer off. That’s happened to me more than once, I’m supposedly doing five minute rounds and the round ends up at like six or seven minutes because I don’t realize that a phone call shut off the app! Which screws up the work I’m doing in between rounds too.

Yeah, get a watch or get a kitchen timer. Nothing fancy because the fancier you get the more distracted you’re going to be. I think a kitchen timer with big numbers on it is perfect. It’s magnetic, you can stick it on any piece of equipment—a power rack it’s perfect for that. It’s a loud noise so it’s perfect for that. What I used to do when I trained in a regular commercial gym is I had a digital watch and instead of wearing it on my wrist which would either cut off the blood supply or be too loose and distracting I actually would tie it onto my shoelaces. So I was walking around with a watch tied onto my shoe for probably like five years! Ha ha!

Okay that plus the kind of exercises you like to do would have had the front desk and the “trainers” like “Oh no it’s him again!” So then another way that you use timed rest periods is to superset two disparate body parts like abs and calves. But if someone is training with a partner do you recommend they use two timers or just do “I go, you go style?

It depends on the type of training you’re doing. I like to time my own training say I have a set block of time 15 minutes for example, similar to what Charles Staley did with his Escalating Density Training, only in my version it specifies what reps you have to use and what rest period you have to use. If you’re using partner training you can do this kind of training very easily and use the back and forth because the actual sets taking you only ten seconds to do which is equivalent to about the same amount of rest that your partner is going to get. So you can go back and forth very easily as long as you’re using the same amount of weight.

That works well with curls I think. I do one, you do one, I do two, you do two . . .

That’s effective but once you get into the higher rep ranges, you can lose the internal back and forth. If somebody has better endurance then somebody is getting more rest or a shorter rest period. I’ll be honest with you; I’ve hardly ever trained with training partners. I actually prefer to train alone most of the time rather than with training partners. Just because of that rest period situation or you get distracted by either helping somebody else or talking to somebody else. I’d rather not be distracted. That’s why I love training in my basement! There’s no distractions there!

While there’s strong scientific evidence for your methods, you freely admit that a lot of it is based on your own experimentation. Do you feel more freedom to experiment, even today now that you’ve established yourself because you train alone at home? At a commercial gym there’s always the genius who just got certified, and I used to be him, who’ll come over to tell you how dangerous whatever you’re doing is. Or you need three pieces of equipment at different parts of the gym and somebody doesn’t realize (or doesn’t care) that you’re using all three.

You hit it right on the money. I’ve experienced all of those things when I used to train in commercial gyms. I’ve had somebody tell that they’ve been an instructor for a year; I’d been at it for seven years already and they came to tell me how dangerous I am and I should be banned from the profession.  I was like, “Wow! You haven’t even seen the crazy stuff yet!” When I started training in the basement gym the gloves came off! I have to be careful with it because I have so much freedom in my basement gym, I can set up five exercises ahead of time if I wanted to. Nobody can do that in a commercial so I have to be practical for readers to use in a commercial gym.  To have somebody use the bench press and the squat rack, there’s no way that’s going to happen in a busy gym, you’re going to get kicked out and I understand that. So I try to minimize the amount of different equipment I use too. I try to double task some specific pieces. Especially if I’m doing circuit training. One of the things I like to challenge myself with is, “Okay here’s a 135lb barbell. I’m going to hit everything with it in one continuous circuit, like a barbell complex but maybe using the power rack and maybe throwing a bench in there too, but nothing that requires you to take over four pieces of equipment.

Have you ever had an experiment that ended up surprising you with its results?

Oh all of the time. Today in fact! I was doing something that I call The Crippler because of how effective it is. I was thinking the last couple of days, I haven’t done squats in a long time. It’s been a week or so. I need to do a squat workout. What can I do to ramp things up? It’s an up and down the rack squat session. I started with 135lbs on the bar. Thirty, forty, fifty reps on that. I lost track somewhere around thirty. Anyway, do as many as you can and then take whatever rest it takes you to add five pounds to either side of the bar and then you go again. And then you keep going, kind of like a down the rack dumbbell lateral thing which a lot of people have done but this is starting at a very light weight and progressively increasing the weight until you get to the point where you’re “maxing out”. I’m on a low carb cycle so my endurance and strength are not peaked out but I hit up to 265lbs on the one rep and then I immediately worked back down to 135lbs, dropping ten pounds at a time. The only rest you get is changing the weight so by the time I got back down to 135, I was absolutely miserable! I got maybe 8-10 reps with that but I could feel every muscle fiber in my quads, hamstrings, glutes—even in my calves firing. Using this load and it felt like I had a mountain on my back with 135lbs on there. As you’re working your way up through the different rep ranges you can function at you’re hitting every muscle fiber and every energy system on the way up and on the way down you’re hitting them all again. It just absolutely trashed my legs in a really good way. You’re covering every muscle fiber type, every nervous system activation, every motor unit in about twenty minutes.

YouTube Channel  vs Instagram

Your YouTube channel is much more successful in terms of number of followers than your Instagram feed. Is this because you focus more on YouTube than Instagram or because it’s harder to explain the “why” behind exercises?

A lot of it is because I haven’t focused on Instagram much at all. I started on YouTube quite a while ago and like you said, you can put a lot more on there. You can explain more, go a little bit in depth. You don’t want to go too in depth because then you lose people but there is more opportunity for education on YouTube. A lot of the time with stuff that’s unique like mine, you need to explain why it works and why it’s effective. Whereas on Instagram, you get more rewarded for the flashy stuff. You put a 600-700lb deadlift, that gets more likes than if you post how to do a specific exercise and how to tweak it.  Even though somebody’s going to get more out of my explanation than they would watching somebody deadlift 700 or 800lbs. So I focus more on YouTube. I like to post random stuff on Instagram but I don’t focus on it too much.

How long do you test your ideas before posting the video on social media? And do you post on social media and gather feedback from others before putting an idea into a book?

A lot of times some of the videos I’ve posted on YouTube are the first time I’ve ever done that exercise. Like some of those times I have an idea and I’ll film it and it turns out so good that I know that I’ve got to get it out there. There’s a lot of things that end up in the dustbin to be honest. I’ve deleted a lot of things like, “Okay I did it, it was crap and I’m not posting that!” Like you said, I’ve been training 28 years so I can tell pretty quick if something’s good or not.  There’s some stuff early when I was doing online training that I probably should have given a little more time before I posted it ha ha! There are a few things that I would take back based on experience and looking back but these days I have a much better handle on what is not only going to be effective but useful for people.

So do you ever completely throw away movements or do you just file them away in case you think of a way to make them usable?

I do that all of the time. The phase I’m on right now I’m doing a lot of experimentation. I’m playing around with a lot of different movements. Just last week I did a one arm pushup combined with a dumbbell row at the same time. I had done a few different variations of that and the one I settled on was by far the best but there were a few throwaways where like I could see kind of a progression where I can see where this would be most useful. And the end result was a fantastic exercise that hit my deep core kind of in the lower abdominal area like nothing I’ve ever felt before. And having done this over the last 20 years that’s saying a lot! It only literally requires a dumbbell and a bench. You’re pushing in a one arm push up and doing a one arm dumbbell row with the other arm so all of that torque goes through your lower abdominal area. It’s phenomenal!

When you have a reputation as a mad scientist, people tend to expect your ideas to be outlandish. Do you feel pressure to constantly put out unusual methods to keep viewers coming back?

The funny thing is I can see where you’re coming from with that question but I don’t feel any pressure. This is the stuff I’d be doing anyways even if I wasn’t posting it. Literally I’m at the point where I can’t stop myself from doing it; it’s all coming out anyway. This is my idea of fun!  I probably have 100-150 videos that are not even processed right now. That if I choose to release them, I have stuff right now that if I stop doing new stuff I have videos for like two or three years. There’s that drive, that creativity to come up with something and have that moment when I’m like I don’t think anybody’s ever done this before; then usually somebody says, “Oh yeah, I think that was popular in the Fifties” Ha ha! So I have to watch what I claim as mine.

I was going to ask you about that. Because you’re a member of the Strongman Archaeology Facebook group that James Fuller started like I am. There are so many cool moves there, like they say, there’s nothing new under the sun, have you ever seen stuff in there and decided to give it a shot?

Oh definitely! I’m a fan of the Zercher squats and the Jefferson Deadlifts especially. I actually at one point thought I’d invented the Jefferson Deadlifts then I posted it and somebody commented, “Yeah I love doing Jefferson Deadlifts!” and I was like, “What? It’s got a name?” Ha ha!

That’s hilarious.

Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff I used to put my name on early in my career and then found out that somebody else had come up with it so I don’t really put my name on stuff anymore unless I do a ton of research on it and I cannot find any instance of someone doing it and even then there’s probably somebody who’s like, “Yeah I’ve tried that when I was messing around in the gym.” But that drive to create is just endless.

What’s cool to me is that you’re actually continuing a legacy even if you didn’t intend to do it, of the oldetime strongmen. They called it “working out” because they were working out how to get strong enough to do this or that; or working out different ways to top a feat they’d previously done. And you’re doing the same thing, figuring out stuff in the lab.

Setting up the Lab

Fitness professionals tend to set up their home gyms differently than us average Joes and Janes. Tell me your thoughts when you began setting up your training lab at home? (Sorry

Nick Nilsson doing a loaded carry with a grappling dummy and a sledgehammer

I do most of my cardio outside as loaded carries

Matt Vincent, don’t sue me for using the term. I loved your book!)

My first priority was adjustable dumbbells. Next was a power rack and a decent barbell set. Because I know that there’s so many things you can do with just a power rack and barbells. You can use a rack in so many different ways than just doing squats. So the primary consideration when I’m getting stuff for my gym is, ”How many things can I do with it?” Barbells, dumbbells, free weights, kettlebells. I do have a cable crossover set up and that’s good for doing a number of things as well. The funny thing is over the years I had accumulated a few more pieces that I’ve actually sold off or given away. Because they were  limited in what I could do with them and they were getting in the way of the other experiments I was playing around with. The biggest example of that is I bought a $3,000 multi station home gym, it had the bench press, the leg press—it had a lot of stuff on it. But I found myself hardly ever using it because it was machines and it was very limiting to me. I ended up just giving it away. I said, “I’m not even going to sell it to you; it’s in my basement and whoever can take it apart and carry it away can have it! It was a great investment in time for me because it took me three days to put it together and now I didn’t have to worry about taking it apart again. I got rid of a big treadmill I wasn’t using. I do most of my cardio outside doing loaded carries so I wasn’t using a treadmill.

That does make sense because you are ultimately designing programs for everybody to be able to do without having to buy a bunch of stuff to replicate your set up. But it does seem that you’d need at least two barbells for what you do and program right?

Ideally yes. There’s a lot of stuff that I recommend having at least two bars with. It’s not 100% necessary—

Well, I remember you demonstrating a movement where you’d hold the sleeves of two barbells for shrugs that way you could get thick bar training at the same time that you were working your traps. Do you know what I’m talking about?

It’s kind of like a modified landmine set up where you have the weight on one end of the bar and you’re standing on the outside of the power rack doing shrugs. That’s fantastic for grip too!

I know you don’t compete but what are some of your PRs?

  • Squat 565lbs, I weighed about 220 at the time.
  • Straight bar deadlift 525
  • Trap bar deadlift 600lbs
  • Bench press 350lbs
  • 315 x 40 reps.

I’ll be honest that 315 for 40 was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I had to work up to it. I was doing a routine based on what Tom Platz used to do and you know the quads on that guy. My warm up was actually 225lbs x 50 for that. And I blew through 225 x 50 like it wasn’t even there. So I decided to see what I could do with 315 so I took a nice long rest, about ten minutes, put 315 on there and the first twenty reps were like nothing. The next five or six were starting to get hard. Once I got to thirty, I started seeing stars. And then the last ten, I honestly don’t remember doing. I kind of went inside myself; all I remember was the numbers counting in my head. When I got to forty I racked the bar and I couldn’t move for ten minutes.

Nick if you want to kill yourself there are much less complicated ways to do it and they wouldn’t even take that long!

Yeah, I know, I wish I’d gotten that one on video.

Stirring the Pot with Nick Nilsson

Nick Nilsson and a mace

About 60 – 70% of my training is normal; I just take assistance work to another level

Most of us in the West are not balanced. We spend too much time sitting and too much time on our phones. But if you develop yourself so that you’re balanced muscularly do you need to stretch?

I would say no. I’ll be honest with you I don’t stretch at all in terms of what normal people consider stretching. I do a lot of what we were talking about earlier incorporating a lot of stretch based resistance exercises into my training. My goal is not to become hypermobile, I want enough mobility to do the exercises and things I want to do and not be in pain, not be hunched over all of the time. I’m at that point so what I do actually maintains the level I’m at and I’m happy with it. Plus I find regular stretching kind of boring.

But to get to that point did you stretch?

Some basic stuff. To be honest it did affect how I did the exercises I was doing until I got to the point where I realized that I needed to incorporate a lot more stretch exercises and resistance movement training and then that removed the need for me to stretch.

Can ordinary people out train a bad diet or is Michael Phelps living proof the X gene is a thing?

You can out train a decent diet. Unless you have really top notch genetics where you can get away with that. And it depends on your goals. You can out train a bad diet to a certain degree if your goal is not to compete in a physique contest. If your goal is to just look pretty good. If your goal is to progress your physique to a certain level or your strength, your squat, bench and deadlift numbers then you really can’t.

I’ve heard it said that mastery is largely the ability to strip away nonessentials.  As a sneaky throwback to an article I wrote called the Gilligan’s Island Workout, if a plane crash stranded you in a remote location with no weights, and no way to escape, how long would it take for you to come up with a non-bodyweight workout program?

About five seconds!

Really? Remember, you can’t do any pushups, you have to create it with just what’s laying around.

Oh yeah, there’s all kinds of heavy stuff laying around. There’s rocks, there’s trees, there’s garbage. You find a box floating and you fill it up with stuff. You find plastic bags and sand, fill it up now you’re doing sandbag training. You’ve got clothes, tie a pair of pants at the ankles, fill them up with sand, tie the other end up and now you’ve got a nice sandbag with two handles on it. I’d take a log and grab it by the branches and pull it backwards down the beach. Or work it like a snow plow where it’s pushing the sand up in front of it. Or lifting the log, pressing the log and hanging from tree limbs.

I asked that on purpose because one of the things that holds us back is we’re very rules based. Not saying we don’t need rules, but as a reformed offender, I can say that a lot of what holds us back is we tend to say we can’t do X or Y because we don’t have this or that piece of equipment. As opposed to figuring out a way to get it done regardless. Nick this was an awesome interview and I really appreciate the chance to pick your brain.  Give me some links that people can use to follow your training or purchase your books.

I enjoy doing this kind of stuff. You had some good questions!

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Here’s a link to a catalog of all of my books.

About the author

John Greaves III is a writer based in North Georgia with nearly two decades of experience in training at home. A former amateur kickboxing champion, John now competes recreationally in powerlifting. He takes a physical culture approach to training; believing that strength and health need not be mutually exclusive. In addition to his nonfiction work, John has written two fiction books, A Different Kind of Giant and A Little Lesson in Manners that are available on




  • brolic.strength February 23, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    This is an outstanding interview. Also, the magnetic kitchen timer concept is great—I just ordered one that I’ll keep attached to my rack. I love this site.

    • John Greaves III February 24, 2018 at 12:37 am

      Glad you like it and thanks for checking us out! You need to follow Nick on YouTube especially, but also Instagram. He’s got a TON of cool ideas and please let him know that you saw this interview on our site. It will really help us out!

  • Frank DiMeo July 17, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    Great magazine! Lots of relevant information for those who train at home!