5×5 4ever!

I really like the 5×5 scheme for strength, quite simply, it straight up works. Progress always happens and when used well I’d defy anyone to not succeed with it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a million and one ways to gain strength and they all work to a greater or lesser degree but for me, 5×5 is one of the best! At its most basic you do 5 sets of 5 reps and a load of around 80-90% of your 1 rep max and gradually push that weight higher. But as we all know, nothing is ever as straightforward as that!


Depending on your energy levels, recovery from your last session and a variety of other factors, your training session quality can be awesome, awful or anywhere in between the 2, and as such a little leeway in your training loads can help a lot.

Lets look at some of the ways to manipulate 5×5 and get you great results…

Feeling strong 5×5 – Great when you start on 5×5 and are conservative in your initial loading, generally I’ll use this when clients go onto 5×5 for the first time. Each set is a little heavier than the last and the next week, the starting load is the load for set 3 in the previous week. Depending on the starting point, this may last up to 4 weeks. Good for building strength and confidence under load.

For example:

Bench press

Week 1

Set 1 – 60kg

Set 2 – 62.5kg

Set 3 – 65kg

Set 4  – 67.5kg

Set 5 – 70kg

Week 2

Set 1 – 65kg

Set 2 – 67.5kg

Set 3 – 70kg

Set 4  – 72.5kg

Set 5 – 75kg

Slow loading increases but good progress quite quickly.

Straight 5×5 – Load up the bar with around 85% of your max and crunch out 5 sets of 5 good reps. Increase the load a little next time, Repeat each session until you cant…

Testing your limits 5×5 – Increase the load if you feel good in the first couple of sets. For example, your training plan says deadlift at 150kg for 5×5,  so your working sets might look like:

150 x5 – felt good,quick off the floor,

150×5 – Still quick off the floor, no issues

155×5 – felt good,

160×4 – slower off the floor, struggled on rep 4

150×5 – Back down and finished strong.

Overall a good increase on your planned 5×5 at 150 (overall volume up) Next time start at 155 and see what happens.

Build up to 5×5 – This is great for really going after bigger numbers, start with a set of 5, increase the load a little for a set of 4, then again for a set of 3, 2 and finally 1. Might look like this:

Week 1

Set 1 – 100kg for 5 reps

Set 2 – 105 x 4

Set 3 – 110 x 3

Set 4  – 115 x 2

Set 5 – 120 x 1

Week 2

Set 1 – 100kg for 5 reps

Set 2 – 105 x 5

Set 3 – 110 x 4

Set 4  – 115 x 3

Set 5 – 120 x 2

This at first doesn’t look like a big increase but when you look at the volume (reps x load) you see a big improvement – 1600 kgs moved in week 1 against 2050 kgs moved in week 2. I would be happy with a 25% increase each week if i could get it!

You continue until you hit 5 reps at each load and then bump the loading up a bit and repeat. It take some time and stalls may happen but you get stronger.

So 4 possible options on 5×5 but remember ,there are a lot more options in how you manipulate the loading to match your training strength on the day. Play around with it, be patient and consistent and watch your strength levels skyrocket!

Stay strong


5 awesome challenges…

I like a good challenge, something to make me push a little harder and push my limits a little further back. I love training, gradual but consistent increases in load and volume to get stronger every week, but sometimes you just want to see what you are capable of with this stronger body that you’ve made!

I’ve picked 5 challenges that I have tested myself with and that you can use to mix up training or test yourself with…


1. Dan Johns 310 lb deadlift challenge. Really, brutally simple. Load the bar with 310 lbs (140kg), set a timer to 30 mins and see how many reps you can do.

My advice is pace yourself, it’s easy early on to get lulled into a false sense of security at how easy it feels and try to crunch out big sets, but trust me, that will come back to bite you in the ass! Last time I did this one I did 3-6 reps every minute then rested for the remainder of the minute. My total was 110 reps.

If you can’t comfortably lift 140kg for 10-12 reps, pick a weight that is around 65-70% of your 1 rep max.


2. Never ending pushups… for bodyweight exercises you can’t go wrong with push ups. This challenge is simple. Start off standing up, then drop down and do a single pushup. Stand back up, then back down for 2 pushups, back up to standing and down again for 3 reps. Keep going, increasing the reps each set until you can’t get a full set out. My record is 14.

Short and sweet.


3. Front squat tabatas.  Shorter and sweeter than the pushup challenge, Tabata in this case refers to the 8 rounds of  20 seconds of work/ 10 secs of rest that you will use on this finisher, not the high intensity protocol by Professor Izumi Tabata although the intensity is definitely there!

Like the rest of these challenges, this is brutally simple. Load the bar, front squat for 20 secs, rack it and then 10 secs later, do another 20 secs. Repeat for 8 rounds.

Rules: aim for a minimum of 8 reps per 20 secs of work. And 10 secs rest means you unrack the bar after 10 seconds, not you start your elaborate setup after 10 secs and squat for maybe 15 secs! Be accurate with the timings or you aren’t really doing the challenge!

Oh, and go light, 40 kg is enough! If that is too much this works great with the goblet squat too.


4. Bodyweight for reps. 5 exercises, bodyweight load, as many reps as you can!

Load a bar with your bodyweight, then perform as many of the following as you can in 1 set of each in any order you want:

Romanian deadlift

Hip thrust

Back squat

Bench press

Pull up

Loading: Guys body weight for all exercises, ladies half bodyweight for the bench, full pull ups or 2/3 bodyweight, full bodyweight for everything else.


5. Farmers carry for distance. 5 mins, 40kg in each hand, walk as far as you can! Not much else to say about this one. Pick em up and walk!

Have fun and let me know how you get on!


Stay strong!


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4 of my favourite things…

By things I mean exercises, 4 of my all time favourite exercises for both myself and for my clients, and hopefully 4 that you will incorporate into your programs to get great results!

The list of exercises that are great is long and full of options for all your fitness and strength needs. I’ve picked 4 that I think give the best bang for your buck in the least time and the least fuss. That said, if you ask me this time in a couple of weeks, I’ll probably add another exercise or switch out one for another, but as of right now, this is the list.


1. Deadlift.

The King of lifts. You versus the bar. It comes off the floor or it doesn’t. Simple.

Done well it looks freaking awesome and works pretty much every part of you, done badly and your back will let you know about it. Technique is key, hips back and a below your shoulders. weight towards your heels, grip the bar like you want to crush it, and rip it off the floor.

Check out this fantastic deadlift set up video from Tony Gentilcore at Cressey Performance.

2. Pullups

You versus gravity. Pull yourself up and lower yourself under control, repeat.

Grip, lats, biceps, core all get a workout from these and doing them well gives you major strength gains.

Easier said than done though! My usual progression for clients is:

  • assisted pull up machine, not ideal but helps to build the initial strength and movement pattern needed.
  • Trx pullups from your knees. This allows you to get some assistance from your legs as needed and gain more strength.
  • Eccentric pullups, jump to the top position and slowly lower yourself back down over 5-10 secs.
  • Full pullups


3. Pushups.

Very underrated, underused and mistakenly so. Doing pushups well regardless of your self decided level of ability, is impressive. Unfortunately you are more likely to see this…

Than this…

If you struggle with maintaining good form, start with holding a pushup plank for time, hold the top of the pushup, tighten your lats, push the ground away, tight glutes and abs and your head in a neutral position. Then start on a high incline, and do 3 sets of 8-12 good reps, lowering the incline over time until you reach the floor.

4. Farmers carries.

Pick up a weight, walk with it, put it down. grip, core, hip stability and even a cardio hit. What more could you ask for?!

Stuart McGill, Canadian spinal research legend, has called farmers carries as walking planks as an indication of their ability to improve core strength and stability.

The trick to doing these well is to gradually increase loading over time while maintaining great posture and controlled walking style. At least as much as you can!

Try to stay in a neutral position with your spine in a neutral position and tight midsection, challenge yourself with loads but don’t lose quality of movement. If you can build the load up to betwen 50 and 100% of bodyweight per hand and carry it well for a decent time or distance and I can guarantee you will reap the benefits.


Try this short, intense workout if you are pushed for time:

A. Deadlifts – 4 sets of 5-7 reps and around 85% of your 1RM,

B1. Pullups 3 sets of as many pullups as you can, supersetted with,

B2. Pushups 3 sets of 10-20

C. Farmers carry – 3 to 6 sets of 20-40m with as heavy a load as you can with good technique.




Train smarter not longer

The title should really be – Train smarter and harder, not longer, but the shorter version sounded better 🙂

There is a tendency for gym goers, particularly beginners, to go into the gym for way longer than needed, doing endless sets of various exercises with weights that are too light and not leaving until exhausted, bored or the gym shuts. Need less to say, their desired results don’t come flooding in…


The problem, as I see it, has a number of factors:

1. No plan to follow.

How many folks do you see in the gym wandering aimlessly from machine to machine, or doing randomly combined exercises and looking lost at the end of a set? My guess is the vast majority. These folks get no results, because they literally have no idea of where they want to get to, never mind how to get there.


Find a plan, (the internet has approximately a gazillion), or get a trainer and follow his or her plan for you. All the way through. Don’t stop after a week and switch to something different. See the plan through and then, and only then,  move on to the next stage of training.


2. Not pushing hard enough.

cute at the end

Training sessions don’t need to have you lying on the floor at the end feeling burst and feeling like you are gonna puke your pre workout all over the floor. However, you should feel like you have done some actual, good, hard work and achieved something during your sessions. If you leave the gym having not broken a sweat or struggled at least a little to get to the end of a set, then you’re not doing yourself any favours.

Challenge your limits. Sweat a little, it won’t kill you to get out of breath and sweat.


3. Not recovering well enough.

Training is awesome, you get stronger, leaner and fitter, it can boost your confidence and mood, and improve you mental strength, whats not to love!? However the stresses you put on your body to enable all these wonderful things needs to be dealt with to allow the adaptations and improvements to be made to allow you to be better able to handle the next round of stresses. This is where good food, good sleep, staying hydrated and foam rolling/ massage etc come in.

Take some time off and your progress will be a lot faster than if you don’t. Trust me when I say that if you don’t, your body will force you to eventually. I usually suggest no more than 2 days training followed by a recovery or active rest day.


Hope this helps you start to make the necessary changes to your training to get the best out of it. Any questions, please just ask!


Stay healthy



Calories in, but how many…?

Last post was on fatloss, and the 6 factors I feel are important when you are looking for fat loss as one of your training goals, you can read it here.


I thought I would break down each of those factors to give more details and info to help you get the most out of it all.

The first factor is diet. This is the most important factor in my opinion, you can train as hard as you want, but if you are eating poorly or eating too much, even of the right foods, you’re fat loss efforts will be thwarted.


out train a bad diet

So, when it comes to your nutrition there are a few factors to consider:

1. Body type.


Most of us are a mix of 2 types, rarely is anyone 100% one type or another, you just need to know what your main type is. Your carb and fat intake will be affected by this factor.

Ectomorphs tend to tolerate carbs pretty well and may find that the carb % is up as high as 50% while fat % may be as low as 20%.

Mesomorphs tend to convert excess cals into lean muscle mass pretty easily and carbs may be around 40% with a little higher fat intake.

Endomorphs tend to have a slower metabolic rate and will store excess cals as body fat and therefore need lower carb intake and slighty higher fat.

You will notice that protein levels don’t change much at all.


2. Metabolic health.

If you have a healthy metabolism then your body will have an ability to use whatever fuel you give it more efficiently and your reaction to excess carbs or fat will be less dramatic. If your metabolic health isn’t so good, you will react more strongly to excess cals and you will hit an excess calorie intake much quicker than normal.

If your base calorie intake is ideally 2000kcals a day and you consistently take in 1300, then over time your body will adapt and slow to expect and use just what it gets. Jumping straight back to 2000kcals would create an excess of cal leading to fat gain.

A slow increase of 1-200kcals per day, allowing approx 2 weeks to allow your body to adapt and have your metabolism gradually return to health.

3.  Working out your numbers.

A simple way to figure out what your intake should be is this:

Weight (or if you have more then around 15kgs to lose, your target weight) in lbs x 11 -13

Take your weight in pounds and multiply by 1.5 to get your protein intake in grams per day

Take 20 – 40 percent of your cals as fat, dividing by 9 to get grams of fat per day

The rest should be made up of carbs.

For example:

A 65kg ectomorph would have the following calculation:

65 x 2.2 = 143lbs

143 x 13 = 1859 kcals

Protein – 143×1.5 = 214g per day (856 cals from protein)

Fat – for an ectomorph, 20% of cals = 372cals from fat, divide by 9cals/ g = 41g per day

Carbs – 1859 – (856+372) = 631 cals from carbs or 157g carbs per day.

4. Eat as much of your food from whole sources, lean proteins, vegetables, some fruit, plenty of water. The less processed food you eat, the better.

Any questions, just ask here or on facebook and I’ll answer as quick as I can!


Stay strong



6 basic rules for fatloss

So you’ll notice I said fat loss, not weight loss. What’s the difference you ask??
Simply put, fat loss is reduction in weight through a loss of fat stores around the body and weight loss is a loss of weight from a mix of muscle and fat. Or, put another way, fat loss comes from good nutrition and training, weight loss comes from crash diets and long bouts of cardio.


I’ve put together what I think are the 6 rules to great fat loss results, giving you directions towards the results you are looking for and a way to maintain the body you earn.

1. Diet is key: At its most basic, fat is stored when your body receives more calories (from protein fat or carbs) than it needs. Losing fat, therefore, needs a calorie deficit. It doesn’t need to be massive but there has to be a consistent deficit there. Metabolic health plays a major part but I’ll cover that topic in more depth later. (Edit: you can read more here!)
Your deficit should be moderate to give enough energy to train and recover. You can calculate your calorie needs using this rough guide:
Calories: Target weight in pounds (kg x2.2) multiplied by 11 to 13
Protein: 1 gram of protein per weight in pounds
Fat: 20-30% of cals
Carbs: The remaining cals.

For example: 70kg target weight x 2.2 = 154lbs
Calories = 154 x13 = 2002kcals
Protein = 154g (616kcals)
Fat = 30% of total cals = 600kcals = 66g fat per day
Carbs = 786g carbs (196g per day)
This is your starting point. If it works for consistent fatloss then stick to it until results slow down, and they will. Then you cut a little more (around 10%) and continue.

2. Train smarter, not longer:  If your goal is fatloss you need to focus on big, full body movements such as deadlifts, squats, pull ups and farmer carries. These types of exercises challenge your whole body, multiple muscle groups are put under pressure and you are forced to work hard and burn cals. Isolation work is gonna burn time not fat.

3. Recover well: Training 7 times a week is not going to help you. Less is definitely more in this situation. Sleep, good food, supplements as needed and plenty of water. You need to train hard but the magic happens during recovery.

4. Lift heavy: More muscle burns more calories. Fat is metabolically inactive. It burns no calories, it just takes up space. Muscle on the other hand is metabolically active, it needs energy all the time, more muscle = more energy consumed. Lifting more weight means more muscle, it also takes more energy to do and creates a higher demand for energy during recovery. This video from Mike Nelson explains it brilliantly. Go watch…

Watch here —->   E.P.O.C.

5. Raise your intensity levels: You’re gonna need to work your ever shrinking ass off a bit, sweat and get your heart rate up a bit. Well, a lot. Get out of breath, push yourself, don’t leave the gym looking like you could go another hour.

6. Have fun! This is fun. It doesn’t always feel that way but it is. You are able to get in the gym, move, lift and challenge yourself. Enjoy it. Find exercise styles that you like. You like deadlifts and squats? great, get good at them, learn about them and push your limits. Like Kettlebells, learn from someone who knows kettlebells and get good at them. Like Zumba? oh well, no-ones perfect…

Stay strong


Fixing a broken hinge

Your hips are your powerhouse and the hip hinge is a vital weapon in your movement arsenal, but there are a great many of you that don’t use them too well. Whether it’s a straight leg bend at the waist or staying too upright through a hip movement, you are asking your body to move in a way that can result in damage in the long run.


Good hinge position on the left, not so good on the right. awesome artwork right? Right?!

While repeated poor hip hinge movements may not cause any kind of catastrophic injury, repeated stresses on your back will eventually lead to low back issues limiting you in the future. Lets fix it now and turn you all into badasses!

To illustrate how powerful your glutes and hip movements can be, try this:

Standing long jump test:
First do the the jump by squatting half way down and just using your thighs, straighten your knees explosively and jump as far as you can.
Then, go back to the same start point and this time, dont bend your knees so much but push your hips right back and bend over at the waist, now, throw your hips forward and see how far you can go.

A lot further right? That’s the power of your hip hinge when done right.

A little anatomy first…

The glute max muscle attaches on the ilium along the line of the meeting of the ilium and sacrum, it wraps around and down inserting on the femur. It is responsible for extending the hip and externally rotating the leg. It also acts as a knee stabiliser by acting on the IT band.
glute max


The extension part is primarily what we think about when we look at the hip hinge movement, that is, straightening your hip from a flexed position where the knee is closer to your chest than normal. From an exercise standpoint think deadlift, RDL, hip thrust or KB swing.

Learning the hinge

The way I usually teach the hinge is to use the wall drill. Stand 3 or 4 inches away from a wall with your back to it. Chest up, head forward. Now, push your ass back towards the wall until it touches. Don’t fall back onto it, don’t rest your cheeks on it, just touch it and straighten right back up. Your back should be straight, your knees will bend a little. Now, move forward another 2 inches or so. repeat the movement, hips back, not down, till you bump the wall.

Remember, it’s a hip movement, most of the movement comes from your hips, your knees stay in the same place, they just bend enough to allow you to move your hips the necessary amount. Keep moving further away until you reach a point where you can’t reach the wall any longer and your hands are around knee level.

Well done, that’s the hip hinge. Now go practice.


Your weight should subtly transfer to your heels. Don’t rock back onto them, just shift your weight.

Think brace, not arch for your low back. Maintain a neutral spine.

When you have a load in your hands, work hard to keep your shoulders “back.” Don’t let them get pulled forwards by the weight when you hinge forward.

Keep the bar as close to your shins as you can. Don’t let it float away, tight lats and shoulders down.

Any questions or comments would be welcome, get me here or over on the Facebook page!

Stay strong



Enjoy the process, don’t fixate on the goal

Goals are important. They are hugely important when it comes to achieving anything of value:





Without a goal or set of goals in any given venture, you can’t achieve much of anything.  A clearly defined goal allows a clear path to be followed and progress to be made. The challenge, I believe, is in setting a goal that scares you a little, that isn’t easy to achieve and that pulls you out of your comfort zone enough to create a change that lasts.

I also believe that the process of achieving that goal is  possibly the most important part of the whole thing.

When I started at the gym I work in, I had a mighty deadlift of 140kg (about 308lbs i think) for 3 reps. I was reasonably happy there but I knew I wasn’t anywhere near what can be considered strong in deadlifting circles. I wanted more. So I set myself a target of 200kg, not sure if I could manage it or not and I gave myself a year to get it. So I broke it down to smaller steps, adjusting my programming to find what worked for me and what didn’t,  worked hard and eventually got it.

Once I hit it though, it was, dare I say it, an anticlimax. No balloons, no celebrations, no high 5s from everyone in the gym. It happened and now I’ve just hit 225 on my way to 250kgs.


What I did get from training for that target number was more valuable:

The sense of achievement was minimal, but the lessons learned on what works and what doesn’t have been huge.

Knowing that bad training sessions happen once in a while but its not the end of the world and you bounce right back the next week.

Sometimes you just need to take a week off.

You can always push beyond what you think of as your limits.

That the process of achieving is often more important than the end result because the lessons learned can be used to fuel your journey towards other goals.

People often seem to get caught up in a final result, an ideal body, a perfect weight, a performance measurement or whatever but never give much thought about what it is that gets them there or, at any rate, on their way there.

Without getting too philosophical about the whole thing, learn to enjoy the training process, test your limits, take a week off from heavy lifting now and again, celebrate milestones and have some fun with it all.

Enjoy the process

Stay strong



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4 simple changes to improve your health, fitness and body composition

This Thursday past I was lucky enough to get a trip to a special FitPro event put on for Virgin active Personal Trainers. An awesome opportunity to hear the top speakers of the weekend event presenting to us and to get a preview of the full event. Unfortunately I won’t be at the main event but I intend making sure I do next year!

My favourite speaker of the day was John Berardi of Precision Nutrtion, I intend doing the PN certification when it next rolls around in September so I was pretty excited to hear him talk.

Amongst other things, metabolic flexibility, what is the best diet, diet adherence (long story short – every diet works, adherence and metabolic flexibility being the key to success…more on that later in a separate post!)

Today I want to share what the guys at PN have found to be the most glaring deficiencies in the 30000+ clients they have coached.

The most common nutrient deficiencies that are seen are:

  • Water
  • Essential vitamins and minerals
  • Protein
  • Omega 3 fats

Energy, appetite, strength and endurance, and mood all depend on getting enough of these essential nutrients.When you are deficient on any or all of them things start to break down and you feel crappy. Fixing these 4 areas will quickly have you feeling better, gaining mucsle and dropping body fat.

Your 4 steps are as follows:

1. eat more protein-rich foods to help support and grow lean body mass:

2. drink more liquids such as water, milk juices, teas etc as improved hydration improves performance and recovery;

3.take in more essential fats (through the use of fish oil); and

4. eat more foods rich in the vitamins and minerals needed most, or take a good multi vitamin.

In the case of number 4, I would always recommend that you get those vitamins and minerals from whole foods, but as your diet is likely deficient in these anyway, then a multivitamin takes out the guesswork and ensures you hit you targets!

Now trying all these things at once is a recipe for failure, studies have shown that trying to start or change 3 habits at once has a success rate of all 3 being successfully changed or started at around 10%, 2 habits 35% and if you do 1 habit at a time, your success rate is around 90%.

Pick  the one you can do the easiest and start there, after a week of success with that one add another, building your good habits slowly and ensuring success.

4 simple steps to better health, getting started is really that simple.


Stay healthy!


Supplementary, my dear Watson…

I thought that this week I would have a look at my top  5 supplements available to help your progress, recovery and general health.

What we need to remember when it comes to supplements is that they are just that, supplementary. In other words, they are there to increase the levels of the desired nutrient when there is a deficit in your diet. If you can get everything you need from your diet, then supplements are unnecessary, but on occasionally there are deficits in your diet or extra boosts are required and that’s where supplements come in handy.


steroid protein

erm… no.

Whey protein: Protein supplementation is useful when you can’t make your protein intake through a whole food route, needless to say that the whole food option is always best.

Protein needs for a reasonably active person looking to maintain lean body mass (muscle) whilst losing body fat is around 1.5 – 2 g/ kg of bodyweight.

More sedentary individuals would be closer to around 0.8 – 1.2g/kg and if the person has a lot of fat to drop then use the target weight and not current bodyweight to calculate the numbers.

Bcaa:  Branched Chain Amino Acids, a group of 3 amino acids that have positive effects on muscle when taken at the appropriate times. Evidence from studies show an increase in time to reach fatigue and increased fat metabolisation (presumably from the ability to train for longer…)

Daily intake of around 20g is recommended with most of this, ideally, coming from whole food sources, but if you supplement then around 7.5 – 10g 1-2 hours before training will suffice.


Caffeine: Aaah, coffee! At least that is one of the sources, whether it is in coffee, tea or energy drinks, caffeine has the same form. It acts as a stimulant, increasing endurance, strength and general levels of awesomeness.

Long term consumption can lead to tolerances building up and limiting the awesomeness. Not really a supplement as such, but I’ve included it as it is used extensively both as a pre workout and as an alertness tool. If you find yourself doing everything 3 times faster than normal, then you have probably had too much…


Fish oil: The average diet tends to be high in red meats, eggs and dairy and thereby high in omega 6 fatty acids, ideally there should be a 1:1 ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 fats in the diet for health benefits such as healthier blood vessels and lower risk of diabetes and decreased risk of a variety of cancers. To balance out the omega 3 and 6 ratio, fish oil supplementation is usually necessary unless you are consuming a high fish diet.

Intake should be around around 1g daily as a minimum, although if you are supplementing as a way to combat muscle soreness, 6g per day is recommended, spread aver the course of the day.


Vitamin D: The sunshine vitamin, a micro-nutrient essential for good health. Typically vitamin D is produced from cholesterol synthesised by exposure to UV light from sunshine. Since I am in Scotland and sunshine for any reasonable length of time is rare even in summer time, I always supplement.


scottish summer


Most people aren’t vitamin D deficient but are often below the minimum levels for good health, minimum daily intake should be around 800IUs per day, although supplementation of around 1-2000IUs  per day is recommended.

Stay strong




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