Listen to this interviewThe Bulk Hackers robot can read Ryan's interview aloud for you (playtime 14 minutes and 5 seconds) 🤖
👋 Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training
Hi! My name’s Ryan Rakes aka @tofustrong, I’m 29 years old, born in Northeast Philly, moved to NYC for college about nine years ago and I’ve been living here ever since.
As a full time profession, I work in film and TV as a VFX artist and on-set supervisor, which is also what I went to school for. I have multiple hobbies and projects outside of my full time profession with fitness being a big one, of course.
I also direct, film and edit my own videos, shoot photos, play drums and skateboard (although not as much as I used to!). My girlfriend of four years is a designer and fitness enthusiast also and we collaborate on projects together sometimes as well.
I’ve been seriously working out for over a decade now although I was doing some push ups and pull ups before that occasionally too. I got into lifting because I was always very skinny growing up and basically just got sick of it and wanted to get bigger, stronger and have a better physique. I ended up loving it for a lot of reasons and never stopped since!
I’m a very competitive person but prefer more individual-based activities rather than team sports. I think part of the reason why I took such a liking to lifting because I could throw some headphones on, get in the zone and just lift whenever I wanted to and my only real competition was myself. I also dabbled with powerlifting a bit but wasn’t very successful with it!
My best lifts are a 285 bench, 450 conventional deadlift, 380 squat, 175 strict press and 305 chin up (bodyweight plus 115 lbs) and those lifts were all done at a bodyweight of 180 to 190 pounds.
I never played any sports formally growing up and wasn’t interested in them. All I did was skateboard basically every day from age 14 to 21 so I never had any time or interest in anything else.
⏱ Describe a typical day of training
I’ve tried a ton of different programming structures by now and the one I kept coming back to over the years was more of a full body, five-day a week scheme divided into a volume focused mesocycle and an intensity focused mesocycle.
This is becoming very trendy in the lifting community right now with influencers like Eric Helms, Omar Isuf and Jeff Nippard all touting the benefits of this type of training. I personally love it because it allows me to increase frequency and weekly volume while still keeping my performance for each lift relatively high each day since I’m not hitting any specific body part with multiple exercises in one session.
I also have found that I respond well to slightly higher frequency so this programming works great for me. I usually hit a form of squat three times a week, a hip hinge exercise twice a week, a bench variation three times a week, an overhead press variation two to three times per week and a horizontal and vertical pull (ex: rows, chins) three times a week, abs three times a week and some additional accessories here and there.
Each session is about one to two hours long on average but sometimes I’ll hit some extra work on the weekends since I have more time. A good example of my training can be found on my website, aethixfitness.com, where I have some of my workout programs online for free.
I follow my own custom programming based on the spreadsheets I have uploaded on my website but I’ve had great results following the Smolov Squat Routine, Candito Intermediate Routine, Bulgarian Method, and some of Renaissance Periodization’s training programs.
I find it very easy to stay lean personally and I don’t enjoy bulking much anymore so my bulking/cutting cycles have diminished greatly and I mostly just stay at the same bodyweight, and focus on trying to slowly increase my lifts. I almost always train alone and prefer it that way so I can get in the zone.
For supplements, I take a pea/rice protein powder once a day and five grams of creatine per day. I also just started taking a homemade, stimulant-free preworkout in the morning that consists of 10 grams of beet root powder, eight grams of citrulline malate and two grams of taurine along with a cup of coffee. It tastes absolutely terrible but the pumps are legit!
👊 How do you keep going and push harder?
I’m a very driven and motivated person in general and I like to stay busy. My work schedule can be a bit sporadic sometimes because I also work on-set where my hours can change often but I make sure to get in the gym when I need to. It’s become such a habit for me that it’s just something I do even when I’m exhausted.
I genuinely love training and I love the feeling of accomplishment you get after getting a session in. If I had to offer a tip to someone with motivation issues, I would say just to focus on making it a habit first.
Don’t push too hard until you have the consistency down. Find what you enjoy and do more of that and remind yourself everyday what it is you’re training for. It needs to become part of your lifestyle for it to be truly sustainable in the long term.
I believe that for 99% of people, there is always a little bit of time in your week to give to training if you really want it. Find the best times, start there and don’t let yourself stop! Once these things are in place, then you can focus on pushing yourself more over time.
🏆 How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Right now, everything is really great for me. I struggled with some lower back irritation for almost a year and now I’m back to deadlifting and squatting comfortably and safely, which I am incredibly happy about.
My current goals relating to health and fitness is to maintain a lean body weight and hit some new PRs, finish writing my vegan high protein cook book, which should be finished by the end of this year, and continue building my social media presence.
My other goals include continuing to grow in my professional field, finish a few more of my personal short film projects and just make some more really cool content, in general!
🤕 How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
This is a very important topic to me since I was dealing with a lower back issue for all of last year, basically. I experimented with a lot of different methods to rehab my lower back. I saw about six different physical therapists and I feel that only one of them really helped me with this issue.
I watched a ton of videos dealing with treating lower back pain (shout out to Barbell Medicine for their information on pain management), read multiple books on the topic and tried many different rehab protocols. I wanted nothing more than to be able to squat and deadlift again, at least to some extent.
Knowledge is power and if you really want something, you need to learn more about it. I found the information in the book “Becoming a Supple Leopard” by Dr. Kelly Starrett to be very helpful along with some of Stuart McGill’s protocols for back pain, the information Barbell Medicine provides, Clinton Lee from PhysioStrength in Brooklyn, and surprisingly some of Athlean-X’s videos on YouTube were very helpful too.
I eventually was able to ease back in to deadlifting using the Romanian Deadlift and working with just the bar. I incorporated multiple specific rehab exercises to my warm up routine. Then I incorporated high rep, light, reverse hack squats which didn’t cause pain.
Now I worked back up to RDL’s with 315 and front squats with 225 and I’m EXTREMELY happy about that! I still do the rehab routine every day as part of my warm up and I’ll continue to do so.
To sum it up, I would recommend finding rehab movements that work well for your specific injury, try a lot of them and throw out what doesn’t feel like is helping and keep what is.
Find exercises that cause the least amount of irritation and do those for high reps with light weight and very, very slowly, work up over time based on how the injury feels.
Also, I know it can be difficult for some people, but try to reduce stress as much as possible, drink plenty of water and get at least seven hours of sleep per night. It’s crazy how much these three things affect recovery!
🍎 How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
I’ve been vegan for four years now so I follow a 100% plant-based diet. I was also vegetarian before that for another four years. I’m vegan mainly for moral and environmental reasons, although I do also believe it’s a very healthy diet that has specific health advantages as well.
I count all my calories using the app MyFitnessPal everyday and I have for about six years now. I also occasionally use Cronometer since it also provides a detailed overview of micronutrients as well. I make sure to get about 1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day and at least 70 grams of fat but I prefer to keep that around 100 grams, ideally.
The only supplements I take besides what I mentioned earlier for training performance is B-12 and occasionally zinc. Living in New York City, it’s very easy to follow a plant-based diet. I’m very close to a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and pretty much exclusively shop at those two places for everything I need.
My high protein food staples are lentils, beans, bean pastas, super firm tofu, seitan and tempeh. I may only eat out once a week tops and that’s mainly because I’m very frugal but when I do, there are tons of great vegan restaurants here.
I follow more of an IIFYM approach with eating so if I feel like eating some vegan ice cream or donuts here or there, I don’t worry about it at all as long as it fits my macros occasionally.
I usually eat about three to four servings of fruit and five to six servings of vegetables per day so I’m not too worried about occasional junk food.
👍 What has inspired and motivated you?
I’m very self motivated for the most part but I definitely feel inspired in certain ways from specific people and their work.
I personally love a lot of Mike Israetel’s information on training, which can be found on the website Renaissance Periodization and on YouTube.
Mike Tuscherer has also had an absolutely huge influence on my training with his training philosophies. His information can be found at reactivetrainingsystems.com. Eric Bugenhagen on YouTube is also a huge motivation to me with his raw intensity and just because he’s the man.
I also get really inspired to lift from listening to music in the gym. Most of it is either metal or rap; specifically bands like Emperor, Deafheaven, Burzum, Respire, After the Burial, Wide Eyes, Three 6 Mafia, Denzel Curry, SpaceGhostPurrp, Lil Ugly Mane, Waka Flocka Flame and so many more.
A couple books that I found to be very inspirational also were “The Power of Now,” which my girlfriend recommended to me and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Highly recommend reading these.
✏️ Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
I kind of wasted my first four years in the gym to an extent. I went to Planet Fitness and did a one day per week body part split focused around machines mostly and pretty much just spun my wheels after the initial noobie gains response.
If I could recommend anything to a beginner, I would stress learning GOOD form on the squat, bench, deadlift, pendlay row and overhead press with a barbell. Also, chin ups and push ups, of course!
I would also highly recommend running a strength program made specifically for novices, such as Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5×5, GZCLP, NSUNS LP, Greyskull LP, or any other free novice program. I even have one on my site! Focusing on getting stronger on these core lifts is THE most important thing for building a great physique for men AND women.
For intermediate and advanced lifters, focus on specificity for your own personal goal more. If you care more about physique, throw in a little more isolation work for the medial and rear delts, biceps and so on.
If you care about being super strong, focus a little more on lower reps. Adding more exercise variation also becomes more important at these levels. Experiment with tracking overall volume of your lifts, frequency and intensity and see what works best for you.
There’s a ton of different ways to build a great body and be strong, but overall I recommend working in a large variety of rep ranges (preferably divided into different mesocycles), incorporate different exercise variations fairly regularly, and most importantly, focus on progressive overload over time with every lift.
🤝 Are you taking on clients right now?
I post free workout spreadsheets that I write on my website aethixfitness.com and I also have a free vegan meal plan generator spreadsheet on there as well. For anyone interested in generalized programming, definitely check that out!
For customized programming, I don’t often take online clients since I focus more on just creating free generalized content but if anyone is interested, drop me an email through my website or message me on instagram at @tofustrong and I would be happy to talk about it further!
📝 Where can we learn more about you?
You can learn more about me and check out my content at my website, aethixfitness.com, and on my instagram @tofustrong. I have free training programs and a vegan meal plan spreadsheet on there and I’m also working on a high protein vegan cookbook that will be out later this year so keep an eye out for that!
I also have an AethixFitness Youtube page here but I just started posting there so not much to see yet, honestly!
Feel free to email me at [email protected] or message me at @tofustrong if you want to chat at all. Would love to hear from you, guys!