Two subjects confuse most people: equipment access and results. These misunderstandings are intertwined. Results rely on consistent strategic progression. Progression has little to do with available equipment. And consistency usually decreases as we rely on more access or more equipment. In this past year, we've facilitated thousands of hours of virtual appointments and seen that some of the people whose programs were predominantly or exclusively in-home had the best results. Consistency reigns supreme. Relying on limited equipment makes for greater consistency. Greater consistency means one can compound the progression effect better.
Let me clarify. There are five modes of progression for a single rep of any given exercise: range of motion, instability, explosiveness, pause (in mechanically disadvantageous portions of a movement), and the last one is resistance. The third and fourth are ends of the tempo spectrum. Strength coaches study these modes of progression intently, never getting hung up on equipment. Dan John once said he was his absolute best as a trainer when he only had one single 16kg kettlebell. That’s not because the kettlebell is inherently superior to all equipment or that there’s something magical about 16 kilograms. It’s because as we LIMIT the equipment we must think more precisely about how to appropriately regress or progress movements.
Keep in mind that this is just the single rep. We aren’t even referencing energy systems or workload. If you create more demand in multiple energy systems and/or increase workload, that too is a progression even if resistance is reduced. Exercise “work” can be peripherally defined similar to the physics definition. Work = force X distance. In twenty reps the distance travelled is four times that of five reps (that is, if range is equal). Thus, the workload continues to progress from five to twenty reps (re: physics) all the way up to a 3/4 drop in resistance. Granted, if your range of motion is also greater, technically 20 reps at 1/4 the resistance would be MORE work performed than 5 reps at 4 times the resistance, and the stimulus is GREATER with a 75% reduction in bar weight.
In physiology, however, we have more at play than simply F X D, because with greater range of motion, not only do we increase distance, we also decrease mechanical advantage both at the lever ratios (your femur is "longer", that is, farther from the fulcrum, from an engineering perspective, when in a deep squat versus a partial squat) AND at the lengthening of muscle fiber cross connections (the more the muscle is lengthened or "stretched" the less capacity it has). This is also where we discover that “resistance” is not the same thing as “weight.” The resistance you experience and effective force you must produce at 95 degrees of knee flexion is more than at 85 degrees even though the weight on the bar is the same. Just below parallel versus just above parallel are practically different exercises altogether.
All that said, it’s pretty easy to envision a half squat with 500lbs for 5 reps on a stable surface and stable setup with no pause or explosiveness as actually a huge REgression from a 45lb squat at full range of motion for 20 reps with pause at 90 degrees and a hop at the top. READ THAT AGAIN. Five partial reps with 500lbs is less work, less stimulus, and less application toward human movement than twenty reps with a pause and jump with JUST THE BAR AND NO ADDED WEIGHT. If we make the surface less stable or stagger the stance, the progression may actually be too large to handle for a seasoned athlete who regularly squats 500lbs. In fact, I've seen exactly this. One of my first movement assessments as a new coach in 04/05 was with an advanced athlete who regularly squatted over 500lbs. When I ran him through a circuit WITHOUT ANY WEIGHTS, including an unloaded squat progression-regression sequence, he collapsed at two minutes into the assessment, got up after a few seconds, and went to the restroom to puke.
A 400lb squat at the same tempo on the same surface at the same angle of depth for the same number of reps is indeed a progression from a 300lb squat with all the same variables. But if any other variable is enhanced dramatically, resistance can go DOWN a lot and the progression is still immense.
What happens with most people is they get distracted by vast facilities and a broad array of equipment, never taking the time to understand HOW TO PROGRESS. Ask veteran trainers or long-seasoned strength coaches, and they can provide ample examples of people who kept using heavier weights and more equipment WHILE GETTING WORSE.
Top athletes in the world who make consistent progress have about 5 exercises they frequently train and return to. Most importantly, they’re consistent. The best of the best do not bog themselves down with 700 variations. And they may train for 20 years, day in and out, with nothing but an Olympic barbell.
Contrast that against many influencers. The ones who’ve looked exactly the same for the past 2 years, 5 years, 10 years are continuously uploading hundreds of different routines and exercises. Zero proof of concept. No evidence of improved strength or skills. No substantial athletic PRs for months or years or maybe ever.
What I’ve seen since moving to a private space is that 10-to-1 those who train here consistently have performance improvements which absolutely crush the results of gym goers at big facilities. Since expanding more and more into the virtual coaching, I see a linear correlation between program simplicity and outrageous improvements.
The fewer the items, the more intense the effort and focus can be. The more controlled the variables in the modes of progression, the more assured we are of results. This rule has no exception. A guy who once benched 185lbs for 6 reps and now does 225 for 8 may have done nothing other than shorten his range of motion, increase the stability of his setup, and increase the tempo so that he experiences less time under tension. This could be a massive REgression. Add incline, decline, hammer strength, cables, pulleys, and other variants, and he may actually be throwing away his pressing force production capacity each week. Meanwhile, a client who has NO EQUIPMENT can explode with ability when strategically implementing modes of progression. If she started with partial range of motion wall pushups for 20 reps and is now at the floor doing full range of motion single arm SLOWER for 5, we know she is producing more force. We know it’s a PR. We know it will elicit more progress. No gym necessary. No equipment necessary. No distractions.
Or weight loss, fat loss, health, and more.
There was this response you seldom hear any more, “what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?”
People see unrelated changes which happen over the course of time and falsely attribute causation. The price of tea in China also went up EXACTLY linearly with the same change-over-time outcomes you’re attempting to connect. Why not just say the price of tea in China caused this thing?
Don’t just show me statistical change over time. Propose a known, understood, and believable mechanism.
Careful on the “cholesterol CAUSES heart disease” and other seemingly sensible proposals. Just because someone developed heart disease and had a trend up in cholesterol doesn’t mean the latter caused the former. The price of tea in China also went up.
No falsifiable, repeatedly testable, verifiable mechanisms?
Then might as well blame it on the price of tea in China.
You Must Build to Improve
This is the best and most concise explanation people need to hear. She gained 25lbs to look and feel better. And, as she notes, it was all about the lifestyle revision.
This is a reshare. Follow @longtrot500 . I want to be clear that this isn’t a client or close peer. I’m actually not even sure how we initially connected; but her post here is the most accurate and summarized message that men and particularly women of the “I don’t want to get big” persuasion need to hear.
The look and feel and physique which most people pine for is one which will require BUILDING. Especially those who fear gaining a momentary increase in size (mostly perceived, btw), please LISTEN.
A nonstop effort to waste away won’t build anything. By definition, it can’t. There must be seasons of targeted growth and seasons of targeted dearth. Cheers.
One leg? 600lb deadlift.
We have to think BIGGER.
Ask any lifter, any dog-tired grinder who's been at this for over a decade, "what would your lifts be if you lost a leg?" NO ONE would be squatting 435 and deadlifting 600lbs (video here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CKOcRyjlWcb/). NO ONE. And, frankly, if you know anything about bench technique, being down a leg at this body weight, his bench shouldn't be possible either: @that1legmonster
Meanwhile, people whine that they can’t exercise because they tweaked a knuckle.
We all have to think BIGGER.
Could A “Good” Diet Be Bad?
People seem to have a very difficult time differentiating between the value of an idea in theory and its practical outcomes. For example, in some ways it would appear beneficial to focus on plant-based eating. In theory it makes sense. However, in practice, there are some undeniable issues. In a 55,000 person study over a long period, people who focused on plant-based eating had higher incidence of bone fracture: https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/.../s12916-020-01815-3
The central problem, of course, is that MERELY insisting on plants for nutrition has no inherent biological benefit. It can carry huge benefit, especially when contrasted against the behavior of average Americans who would otherwise eat processed garbage. But there is absolutely nothing superior about the micronutrients or macronutrients inside plants from the perspective of chemistry. Moreover, we know that they lack specific human needs, are more difficult to break down and digest, and are rife for food allergies and sensitivities (which are mostly absent in animal based nutrition). Thus, in practice, it doesn’t work out well for many. It doesn’t mean it can’t. It just doesn’t.
Simpletons boil down complex systems into name-calling and dumbed-down summaries which are inherently inaccurate. We see it A LOT in politics. People call themselves capitalists but then want private companies to lose individual control (ie - communism). They say they support free market but never stop to think about how the centrally-controlled military has no element of free enterprise, competition, or capitalist market, price, or buyer controls (ie - socialism). And I see it a lot with regard to dieting.
Specifically, people have obsessed over the “goodness” of veganism. I did too. In theory, it is a good idea. I will never argue otherwise. For years I tried to make it work. But no matter how diligent I was with filling in the gaps, my system does not respond well to plant-based eating. I cannot get or stay lean. My inflammatory blood markers go up. I ache and feel old. The average person who goes from processed garbage to vegan WILL absolutely benefit, at least at the beginning. Other people who focus on high quality foods and nutrient dense eating won’t gain much benefit on average.
Now pause. I’m not saying anything is good or bad. One thing which works incredibly well for one individual doesn’t for another. There is theory. Then there is practical outcome. We must expand our thinking to stop with the heroes and villains narrative in every single facet of life evaluation.
In stories, heroes and villains make the plot easy to follow. In real life, systems are much grander than that. Let us allow real life to show its grandeur.
How to Read: for Beginners
This is how I see every single online guide to fitness. All of them are filled with a laundry list of crap that appears to contain a lot of wisdom. Cool. 99% of “readers” are illiterate.
Before you gain a significant amount of self-awareness, ALL fitness recommendations amount to the Beginner’s Guide to Reading. Lots and lots of letters. Zero lessons.
Giving people routines and macros when they haven’t spent 5 minutes to understand why they quit every single time previously is like handing Moby Dick to an infant and testing him on literary analysis.
New Year Reformation
Imagine yearning for something which works 8% of the time. That’s not an 8% return on investment, friends. That’s like if for every 100 times you had to drive some place, your car’s engine fired up 8 times and didn’t malfunction on the drive. That’s like if an employee showed up to work once every two weeks and didn’t last the whole shift. That’s like if your spouse came home from work one week after not coming home from work for three months in a row. Not exactly reliable. But some people yearn for this rate of reliability.
If it were anything else in life, stocks, a company, a job, a relationship, with a minimum 92% fail rate, you’d at least think of some alternative route. But with resolutions, for some reason, people just keep lining up to invest in the exact same way over and over again.
Almost half of people try to run their lives with product goalsetting, while, OF those that do, about 8% achieve the product goal: https://thehiresolution.net/the-futility-of-most-new-years-resolutions-why-experts-say-no/ . Think about that. Four percent or less of the populace gets outcomes by virtue of making product goals and resolutions. ALLEGEDLY. I say allegedly for two reasons. One, because this statistic doesn’t include long term maintenance results, mind you. Two, because it turns out any product successes are probably PROCESS goal-setters after all.
That 4% statistic is simply for arrivals. If we run the tape forward 2, 5, or 10 years, uglier numbers emerge. So what we’re really talking about is maybe a 1% success rate even after adding sample bias and ignoring the long term.
When we interview success stories, we find that the product goal was incidental. The successful person had immersed herself in a process, and that process happened to dovetail with the stated product. Thus, we discover that no one achieves via product goal-setting. We only succeed through process goal-setting anyway.
So then, what’s the process you’re working? What allotments does it make for WHO you are? When you “messed up already,” how will you reorganize the process in order to improve outcomes?
Time to reform.
I got this message on Christmas 2020. It’s from one of my clients who is simply a remarkably consistent worker of the steps. Having started as a total novice, he’s now embarking on an athletic future. On the scale, he’s down 80lbs. In composition, it’s more like a 120lb transformation, as he’s gained at least 20lbs of muscle and lean tissue during his journey. That journey began with partial range of motion body weight squats, and is now over 400lb weighted deep squats ATG. And as nice as all those things are, what really MATTERS is moments like this. Something which was once so far off as to be “impossible” or “unbelievable” is now a reality. Theoretical potential was replaced by actualized attainment.
I failed to understand the magnitude of the message until the Sunday afterward when we had our next appointment. I wanted to clarify just exactly what it meant to him. He informed me that over a year ago he wore 4XL and it might fit snugly. What the reader or onlooker might miss is how he is more secure in his future and sticking around for his family. He contracted Covid a little over a month prior to sending this message; and, at least in part due to his tremendous efforts over the past two years which dropped several risk factors, he suffered only very minimal symptoms. So minimal, in fact, that DURING his sickness he set several personal records in lifting. All the while he maintained a conditioning practice with cardio programming WHILE sick with coronavirus.
We’ve been working on restoring him for a couple years. The weight loss is nice. The athletic gains are exciting. But his resilience against all challenges is what really matters - a resilience which once seemed impossible, but now is here. Merry Christmas everyone. May your new year bring what really matters into focus.
Every Single Scientific Finding Shows Carb Restriction Outperforms Calorie Restriction
100% of weight loss studies comparing low carb versus low fat contain strong evidence in favor of low carb: https://www.healthline.com/.../23-studies-on-low-carb-and...
In fact, if you look closely, even when we have the low fat group eat fewer calories, low carb is still superior. This flummoxes a lot of people, including advanced professionals in my industry. How is it that you can eat MORE with carb restriction AND get better results?
There are many layers to this, but suffice it to say that hormone signaling supersedes everything. We all know this to such a high degree that our immediate response when seeing a performance that boggles the mind is “steroids.” Why isn’t our first thought, “great job on calorie restriction”? Why did we all insist Lance Armstrong must be on drugs instead of just dieting really hard?
For me personally, I can eat around 4,000 calories per day and lose body fat when abiding by carb restriction and performing less than 90 minutes of exercise per week. I don’t predictably get leaner at any caloric intake if dietary fat is lower and carbs are moderate to high. Literally, ANY intake with moderate-to-high carb just wastes muscle and pushes my body to get fatter. It doesn’t matter if it’s 3,800, 2,600, or down at 1,200 to 1,800. Even when I go to the higher end of activity, 12+ hours per week of workouts, all that happens is I accelerate muscle wasting. I get weaker and fatter. I’ve been proving this for over 16 years, and there are still people who know me and have seen me get absolutely shredded eating blocks of butter and pans of bacon, but who won’t accept the truth.
The hormones in your body that make you leaner are synthesized from fats. That isn’t opinion. That is biochem. Look up human steroidogensis. You don’t synthesize more of these hormones by eating less. That isn’t opinion. That’s biology. You can cut calories as low as you want and you may, in fact, become smaller. You’ll just be a frail feeble version of what you could be.
I’ve coached tens of thousands of hours seeing the same in case studies. The only time I ever see low-fat/moderate-to-high-carb work is in youths, very high activity individuals (ie — exercise purgers) and/or in maintenance for a lean person and/or drug abusers. If you are an adult who isn’t going to burn tons of hours on physical activity, I just don’t see it panning out. If you have 100lbs to lose, anything you do will work for the first 15-40. But the research doesn’t lie: suppressing inflammation is real. Hormone optimization, insulin balance and stress management is the key.
That may require INCREASE in dietary fat intake. It WILL require DECREASE in carb intake.
The Right Reasons
Multiply this email by 1000. Sometimes I don’t even send it. I just stop scheduling someone. I just won’t take their business anymore. They are committed to the wrong reasons.
The chasm cannot be crossed between what my business does and what many people think wellness is or should be. Elev8 Wellness is 100% committed to acting for the right reasons. We know no other way. It is the bedrock of health.
What we do is place people in the best position to develop lifelong wellness. That’s it. That’s all we do. That’s all we’ve ever done. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me, and the only thing justified by the right reasons.
Many people are looking to pay for a workout or a plan. We don’t do that. We’ve never done that. I don’t understand that, and it seems to me to be done for all the wrong reasons.
People are lost. Even people who know me still think I “run a gym.” The business doesn’t contain “fitness” anywhere in the name or formation documents. I don’t own a gym. I don’t run a gym. This is a wellness center. There are no deals, no promotions, no discounts, no sales. We're forging a growth relationship. We aren't executing a pay-for-workout transaction. There's no such thing as cancelling or no-showing. There's no such thing as backing out. There's no such thing as bouncing a check or never following through on your end of the commitment. There's no such thing as us failing to follow-through on our end of the commitment.
You want to shop for exercises? Great. We aren't it. There are all kinds of boutiques which will gladly deliver that while separating you from your cash. You want to change your life? Let's talk.
If you can’t understand high level coaching right now, you aren’t walking the path of personal growth. If you aren’t walking the path of personal growth, you aren’t committed to acting for the right reasons. If you aren’t committed to acting for the right reasons, then you don’t belong here... right now. One day you may. And I pray you will. For the right reasons, I’d wish for nothing else.