We talked with Charlie Seltzer in January, 2020.
👋 Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training
My name is Charlie Seltzer. I am a 43-year-old medical doctor and ACSM-certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist. I hold board certification in Internal Medicine and Obesity Medicine.
My practice, located in Philadelphia, focuses on body composition optimization though exercise, nutrition, supplements, lifestyle modification and, when appropriate, medications. There is a fitness studio in the office with a squat pack, 500+ pounds of Pendlay bumper plates and dumbbells up to 100 pounds.
My interest in fitness began when I was an obese teenager, at which time my only exercise was cardio. I got into weight training my freshman year in college, thanks to former personal trainer and current ER physician Del Ferguson. (Thanks, man!) I thought if I got swole, I could get girls. Nah! But it did spark a passion that turned into a career.
I went to college at the University of Pennsylvania. The fall semester of my freshman year, I played golf but couldn’t continue due to the crazy practice schedule and my pre-med requirements. I competed three times in the Mr. Penn Bodybuilding Contest but never placed. Still, I loved the prep and being on stage.
After college, I attended Jefferson Medical College. I worked as a personal trainer for two years before starting my internal medicine residency. Post-residency, I worked as a primary care physician for one year and then started my practice in 2012, which began as two days per week and is now full time.
Throughout my life, I have struggled with my weight, binge eating and severe depression and anxiety. Additionally, in my 2nd year of medical school, I herniated a lumber disks, which kept me out of the gym for almost a year. (I couldn’t walk properly for six months). This has resulted in wild weight swings, with my highest weight being a soft 240 pounds and my competition weight around 150.
I have competed in several natural bodybuilding competitions, with my best placing being a Men’s Open Overall title at a regional OCB show in 2012. I have coached two pro card winners: IFPA Men’s Physique and a WNBF Figure.
⏱ Describe a typical day of training
I am a big believer in high frequency training and nonlinear periodization. Currently, I train my full body four to five days per week, shooting for 10-20 sets per body part per week, and using rep ranges from singles to 20 plus.
I almost always perform one exercise per body part per session. I keep rest periods under 90 seconds, and usually more like 30 seconds to a minute. My last set is usually to failure with an intensity boosting technique at the end, like a static hold, some negatives, rest pauses or strips.
However, due to the volume I have accumulated on the ramp up sets and the short rest periods, I am hitting failure with much lighter weights than I’d be able to use otherwise. I think this is less taxing to my nervous system and allows me to train at higher volumes and frequencies.
I generally like isolation moves for the mid rep ranges (8-12) and compound moves for low reps (1-5) and high reps (15+). My sessions usually last about 45 minutes. This is a new style of training for me, and has been necessary since the paralysis of some of my rotator cuff and serratus anterior (I talk about this below.). I am still evaluating its effectiveness, but I appear to be getting stronger so I will take it and continue for now.
Why the full body, high frequency? Since muscle protein synthesis spikes 24 hours after a resistance training session and returns to baseline pretty quickly thereafter, it makes sense to me to train more frequently. Having put in years of doing and prescribing bro splits, I can tell you this method works much better for most people.
Despite the gym in my office, our staff trainer is almost always training people in there so I cannot often use it. I train at a gym close to my house and another one close to work. I love to train with other people but most often I am solo, as I don’t have set times when I work out.
My training style stays essentially the same regardless of where I am energy balance-wise. Especially in a cut, it is important to continue to attempt to progress to avoid muscle loss. I also believe it is possible to build a little muscle even in a calorie deficit, though it won’t be as significant is if there were a calorie surplus.
My favorite exercise is the traditional deadlift. I just think it is lifting in its purest form. Every workout I include either a squat or a hip hinge move, then train the other side of my leg with either leg curls or leg extensions or glute/ham raises.
My preworkout supplement regimen is caffeine (from a Rock Star Zero or a Bang) about an hour before training, then 10 grams of essential amino (ProSupps HydroBCAAs) acids with 14 grams of a dextrose/maltodextrin blend (I use SweeTARTS.) 30 minutes before workout, another 10 grams EAA during workout, and 40 grams of blended protein (Muscle Matrix by NutraBio) with 1000 mg EPA and 1000 mg DHA.
I do not believe in traditional bulking and cutting. I prefer to try to stay relatively lean (it doesn’t always happen) and encourage my patients and clients to do the same. This way, although a little body fat accumulation will happen during a “muscle building phase” (a phrase I prefer to the term “bulking), you can avoid the need for massive cutting and the concomitant loss of muscle that can occur with severe caloric restriction.
Besides, it doesn’t take a giant calorie surplus to provide your body with enough fuel to build muscle. Whether trying to cut or bulk, patience and attention to detail are key. Never rush the process on either end.
👊 How do you keep going and push harder?
I have long struggled with depression and anxiety. I had been stable on the same medications for many years and was in a great spot during the summer of 2017. I weighed 160 pounds (10 pounds off of my contest weight) and was eating over 300 grams of carbs per day and doing no cardio.
The last week of August, I got what felt like the flu. I had horrible body aches, fevers of 105 degrees, and major chills and shakiness. As that resolved, I began to experience some of the worst pain I have ever felt in my upper back and right shoulder.
I was on vacation with my family in Maine and I remember pacing the parking lot for hours at night because the pain was so bad. The day the pain resolved, I suddenly lost the ability to move my right shoulder. I had no idea what was going on.
After consulting Dr. Google, I learned this a classic presentation of Parsonage Turner Syndrome, a rare autoimmune destruction of the nerves of the brachial plexus. Since it is nerve destruction, no physical therapy or EM or anything was going to make it better.
The only prayer is time, and these cases appear to recur not infrequently (which is always in the back of my mind). I couldn’t raise my arm for a year, and couldn’t train upper body for over a year. This resulted in a severe flare of depression, excessive eating and weight gain. This prompted medication changes and more depression, which culminated in high weight of 210 pounds, which I am now fighting back from.
In my case, I still have not regained any use of my infraspinatus and have gotten only partial use back of my serratus anterior and supraspinatus. It appears this is not going to get any better, which significantly impacts my pressing and visually, I have a hole below my scapular spine and major atrophy above it. I do want to compete again, and how this will impact me further remains to be seen.
I am lucky I can do any lifting at all and I try to remember this when I don’t feel like working out. I push harder because I am an older lifter. Older lifters need more volume and intensity to make progress. I am not one to be happy with where I am. And since my limitations and genetic potential can only be assessed in retrospect, I am all in for the foreseeable future.
Consistency in general can be tricky, especially with a family. (I have a wife and kids.) I am lucky enough to have a supportive wife and the ability to sneak out of work to grab a lift if my schedule allows. Otherwise, it can be at 5:30 in the morning or 9:00 at night. You do what you have to do.
🏆 How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Right now, after essentially two and a half years of either not training or barely training, I am back at it consistently. Although, I will likely never be able to press what I used to, my goal is still progression and eventually competing again. The plan is to come down to 160 again, build up food while staying around that weight, then making a call as to when the proper time to compete is.
My five-year health goals are to stay injury free and increase my squat and deadlift maxes, as well as increase muscle mass and continue to try to reach the limits of my genes. I believe that if I stay consistent with training and supplements and hit my macros, it will happen.
Currently, my training is more different than it has ever been in the past. I am playing around with some things and before I share, I want to make sure it is works. Stay tuned on that one.
Professionally, I would like to continue to grow my practice, particularly the medically supervised personal training side. I have done a few speaking engagements and would like to do more. I also would like to expand my TV and online presence (like everyone else in this business).
If I could do this again, I would have ditched the bro splits a long time ago, or never done them in the first place. I also would have adopted a flexible nutrition approach a long time ago. It also would have been nice to know that if I went without protein for three hours and four minutes, I wasn’t gonna go catabolic and lose all my gains, bro.
🤕 How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
I have dealt with injuries throughout my fitness journey, and when possible, I train around them. (Of course, with my Parsonage Turner there was no training around a shoulder that doesn’t move, at least upper body-wise.)
I try to get eight hours of sleep per night, I don’t really drink, and I won’t lift heavy if anything feels off. I have trained my body to recover quickly via high frequency training, but I still take two days off per week. Occasionally, because of work, family, or travel, I may only get four days in the gym.
If I am with my family on a trip, I will find a gym close by and work out when it is most convenient for everyone and that doesn’t detract from any quality time with my wife or kids. I fit in a hotel gym, I will just make the best of it.
I do not use any recovery aids like massage or steam or sauna. I love all three, but there’s a time issue with massage and my gyms do not have steams or saunas. If I do every get access to one or the other, you can be assured I will use them.
🍎 How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
I count macros and eat what I want as long as it fits. I try to cook at least one meal per day. I’d like to eat more freshly prepared food, but to be honest, I am lazy and at 9:30 at night after everything is done for the house and the kids are asleep and their lunches are made, I really don’t feel like cooking. And I would rather take the four hours on Sunday that I could spend meal prepping for the week and hang out with friends or family or do something fun, like fishing or bowling.
As I am trying to lose fat, I am in a calorie deficit. My current macros are: P 240, C 190, F 53. I eat the same foods whether I am trying to lose or not. It is the amount that varies.
If I know I am going out, I will look at the menu in advance, see what appeals to me the most and then work backwards to make it fit. If I don’t know where I am going, I will save 1000 calories and do as best I can. I like to stay on the leaner side, even when I am trying to build muscle. It doesn’t take that many extra calories.
As I mentioned above, I use Nutrabio’s Muscle Matrix post training, Carlson EPA/DHA, and ProSupps HydroBCAAs. I also take KA: brand magnesium glycinate before bed. I use these particular supplements because they fully disclose their ingredients and they seem to be quality.
I suppose you must take a small leap of faith with any supplement, as it is not feasible to independently test each personal product for purity and potency.
I do not believe in “cheat days.” I think it is far better to just eat what you want and make it work with your goals. I know with my tendency towards binge eating, “the restrict then cheat” (I.e. binge) sets me up in a bad downward cycle.
I eat a pint of protein ice cream every night along with some kind of candy. I have been big into Slim Twin chocolate and vanilla. I will often mix in a chopped up bar. I NuGo dark chocolate pretzel smashed into a pint of chocolate ice cream wins. I find that knowing I have that before bed makes me much less likely to veer from my plan during the day.
I also ingest a pretty large amount of caffeine. I drink a lot of black coffee and Rock Star Zeros. It helps with the fatigue that comes along with having 2 kids, a full-time job and a regular training schedule.
👍 What has inspired and motivated you?
I am a big fan of bodybuilding history, so obviously Pumping Iron was a key in inspiring me and motivating me to build muscle. I do not listen to any podcasts or use Instagram other than to post for the business.
I do have podcast, which I do with personal trainer Jesse Frank. It is called Body Reimage and you can find it at bodyreimage.com
The best piece of advice anybody ever gave me was listen to everything anyone tells you, then analyze it and keep what makes sense and forget the rest.
I continue to be motivated by the desire to improve. I don’t have great genes for bodybuilding. But with hard work and a good plan, I was still able to win a natural open overall. It is what I love about the sport. I beat a ton of bigger competitors just because I outworked them, even though if they were able to work as hard as I did they would have destroyed me.
✏️ Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
Soak up as much information from reputable sources as possible – Cliff Wilson, Layne Norton, Eric Helms, Jeff Nippard, for example – and you will see common themes. Honestly, assess your lifestyle and then adopt habits that fit in your lifestyle.
DO NOT TRY TO MODIFY YOUR LIFESTLYE TO FIT INTO A PLAN. This will usually result in failure over the long run. And rather than trying to overhaul your life overnight, make a series of small changes.
Be consistent and patient, and you will get where you want to be. One more thing: If something is not working for you, CHANGE IT!
🤝 Are you taking on clients right now?
I am seeing new patients and clients in my office in Philadelphia. I also do consulting for out of state clients, though I am more limited in prescribing medications and ordering lab work.
Still, during those consults, I often (actually almost always) provide a list of lab tests I recommend, as well as supplements, medication, nutrition and training ideas.
📝 Where can we learn more about you?
My website: drseltzerweightloss.com
Facebook: Charlie Seltzer, MD