It has become so woven into banal quotes and every day conversation that we lose the wisdom of the advice.
Somebody says, “count your blessings,” and we roll our eyes. Someone says, “be happy for what you have,” and we say, “yeah, yeah, I know.”
But if you actually pause... long pause... and you think about your advantages and even your current problems, there’s a whole litany of greatness you take for granted, including perspective advice. That’s fairly ironic.
For six years, I haven’t worried about “promos” or “closeouts” or “deadlines” or a meeting I “have to” attend. There are greater pressures I’ve faced, ones which non-business-owners would never want to face; but I’ve come to forget how good I have it without the other problems.
Saturdays I spend all day with my family. And yesterday while enjoying that, I had each kid cuddled up to me and my wife by my side. And I thought, “I get this every day.” Because it’s every day, it’s easy to lose the luster, to focus on the challenges, to turn your mind toward what you DON’T have.
Everyone reading this has literacy. Most are able to walk to their faucet and rely on water. Moreover, most aren’t practically concerned that that water will make them ill for a week or leave them dead a few days later. You can log into the greatest information database in human history. You have more reliable heat and shelter than the kings of the past.
There are a great many real issues in the world, many inequities, many wrongs worth fighting to make right. I don’t dismiss that. But, if you only immerse yourself in the battle, you will miss the things already won.
Don’t take for granted the advice “don’t take it for granted.”
People make grand overtures about a language they want to learn, a skill they want to acquire, a body composition goal. They think about where it’ll fit in their week. They’ll picture it. Five years later, no new language, no new skill, no beneficial body composition change.
Gurus tell us memorization right before bed is best. They tell us exercise upon waking is best. Some say exercise in mid morning to afternoon is best based on certain circadian rhythms. If the skill is a sport, obviously when the court or field is available is best. If it’s an instrument, when you have an ample set of free time is best.
How about WHENEVER IT WILL HAPPEN? Philosophers can debate all sorts of theoretical times. But again, five years later, nothing new for most. Ten years later, nothing new. so what’s practical?
And I can tell you from repeated experience observing tens of thousands of gym members and clients, getting additional “free time” doesn’t make it any more likely. In most cases, the more free time someone has, the more they waste. I’ve seen it with retirees, the independently wealthy, trust fund babies, people on sabbatical.
Just find a toe hold. Any old one will do. And put your toe in.
When is best to train? Whenever you will. And never where you won’t.
Strength training is like retirement investment. Regular contributions reap huge rewards. I call it the compounded interest of physiology. Sometimes you can make bigger contributions. Sometimes you make smaller ones. Broad skill practice has broad return. Narrow focus has higher possible yield with higher risk. Regularity creates solid portfolios.
You have one temple. Though we can 3D print new organs for you, some respect should be taken with some sort of regularity.
That said, don’t expect to see linear growth even with linear contributions. Some days you’ll be underrested. Some days you’ll be distracted. Some days you don’t want to show up. Some days the DOW is down. Some days the S&P is up. Sometimes max strength is good for a PR. Sometimes low intensity endurance work is the order of the day. Sometimes commodities are peaked. Some days the dollar is down and aluminum futures are peaked.
There are so many different facets to what we call “fitness” and “health” that it’s immaterial how great you’re doing on any given day. It can’t be linear. The portfolio can’t always outperform. However, on average, as long as you make regular contributions, there will always be a reliable return over the long term.
REASONS TO TRAIN: Sick, Injured, Missing a Limb, Chronic Illness, Low Energy, Depression, Neurodegeneration... All Issues.
Everything people might think are excuses NOT to train are the strongest reasons TO train.
Almost 15 years ago, a client of mine walked into the gym with a cast on her hand and wrist. I was slightly thrown off. She was nonplussed, shrugged, and said, “I figured we could still do 99% of what we normally do.” She was right. Any exercise where that hand would have normally pushed or pulled against a bar, we modified such that I manually resisted in the forearm below the break. She trained harder than before the injury. Her recovery x-Ray showed faster-than-expected healing. Eight weeks later there was no “starting over.” She was more progressed than prior to injury in every lift except Olympic power movements, and only because we had to reintegrate wrist pressures.
A few years later an employee of mine who had actually once been a star client (and a really intriguing case study) broke his wrist and part of one of the forearm bones. We kept his food intake unchanged at 3,800 calories all the weeks he was splinted and directed to avoid activity. I and a few other trainers did manual resistance for every lift he needed to modify. His body composition and athleticism didn’t change AT ALL. He didn’t lose a gram of lean tissue. He didn’t gain one ounce of body fat.
About 4 years ago a client of mine suffered a pretty nasty fall from his bike, messing up one hand/wrist pretty thoroughly. The day he came in after injury, one of the first things we did was a rower sprint... one handed. Then he deadlifted... one handed. Then he did chin ups... one handed. There are piles of research on how the immobilized limb atrophies less or not at all when you train the unaffected side HARD. I call it lobster claw training.
I have a client who is missing one of her legs. She squats and deadlifts. One of my clients in her 70s did heavy squats on Sunday; she had aortic valve replacement in January, and is a multi-stroke survivor. Another coaching client recently had a shoulder dislocation. With some mods, she isn’t a missing a day of training.
When we don’t move, we don’t stimulate the motor cortex in the brain. When we don’t stimulate the motor cortex, we invite rapid deterioration of the entire brain, including the learning centers: https://www.frontiersin.org/…/10.3389/fnins.2018.00336/full…
We take away gravity, and young astronauts get osteoporosis in a couple weeks. “Rest” in the old sense of the word is nonsense. Spinal degeneration is invoked or accelerated by taking loads off of it. Cartilage in joints deteriorates faster in inactive people than in overactive people. Dr. Terry Wahls reversed her nearly-paralytic multiple sclerosis affliction through movement and nutrition. Brain surgery patients recover faster if they do light aerobic activity within a day of surgery. People with colds and flu fair quite a bit better if they do some very light aerobic activity or weights. When you’re in a state of exhaustion, forcing yourself to do some basic activity actually helps to re-regulate circadian rhythm, hormonal cascades, neurotransmitter balance (mental health), and even the receptors within the citric acid cycle on which we rely for what we call the feeling of “energy” mentally and physically.
Every single legitimate-sounding pretext for inactivity has thousands of counter-examples and powerful scientific counter-arguments. What one person holds up as an excuse NOT to train is a verifiable reason TO train from another perspective.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Maybe it’s because I never paid attention to famous people before and this has just always been a thing. But in the past few weeks I’ve made an effort to share some more posts, and consequently I saw reposts or posts of people with 200k to 1 million followers. To be fair, I’ve never looked closely at someone like that before. But there are at least a few who are out of their dang minds even though they have credentials, apparent experience, and suffixes.
I’m not entirely sure how to explain the phenomenon. It may be that these guys have a sample bias because most of their one-on-one work is with relatively high activity athletes and competitors. But their recommendations for weight loss for the average person are friggin bonkers. The one guy was talking 400g of carbs per day for weight loss for someone around 200lbs.
I just... *shaking my head* ... I don’t even know where to start. Maybe he’s never worked with a sedentary person. Maybe he’s never worked with broken metabolisms. Maybe he’s never worked with clients who aren’t on piles of stimulants and anabolic drugs. Maybe he has very few experiences with older populations. But this DOES NOT WORK even for someone like me with significantly higher than average lean tissue and activity. I know. I’ve tried it. Many, many, many times.
They’re not all bad guys and gals. Though their websites look like a clickbait trap with “Buy It Now” links every other line, I don’t think they’re all clueless underhanded fakes or snake oil salesmen. In fact, the one guy making this outrageous recommendation clearly does know a few things about exercise science. He seems like an otherwise genuine strength coach, focusing on intelligent practices for lifting technique. But for goodness sakes, please don’t listen to this garbage when trying to get lean.
I’ve been thinking about and studying nutrition science for 30 years. Professionally, this is my life of the past 15. And I have come to a point of ZERO ideology. I’m simply a pragmatist. Whatever works works. An average person whose activity is low MAY succeed somehow magically listening to these guys. I’m open to that possibility. But the likelihood is very low. Possible, sure. Probable, no.
I haven’t looked yet, but maybe you should follow their mass gaining tips if you want to lose weight. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Unless you want to change you, and only in the way you desire to change. I’ve seen these contrived moments on weight loss shows where the “trainer” is essentially guilting the person for being who they are. That’s crazy.
The absolute last thing on earth I want is more meatheads and gym rats. Be a techie. Be a Trekkie. Be a poet. Be a musician. Be whoever you are. Love food. Have a drink. Don’t be a fitness fanatic. Don’t care if anyone else wants you to either. Just do what you do.
That said, there is a way to INTEGRATE healthier living into the awesome person you already are. We don’t need to revise you from someone who enjoys pizza into a person who can’t ever let a single simple sugar touch her lips. That’s nonsense.
I want every fitness industry outsider to understand this and please share. I know the people in this industry. Any of them who have a unidimensional message aren’t worthy of your ear or attention. The world is better with the variegated tapestry that is mankind. The more homogeneity people preach in an approach, (ANY approach, not just fitness), the less joy there is, the less creativity, the less breakthrough.
I hear the implied lack of ownership in the way people talk about their efforts:
“I’m probably working out wrong.”
“I eat bad stuff.”
It’s like they see that there is a sphere of “right” and a sphere of “wrong.” One group of people sits neatly within one sphere and one group of people sits neatly in the other. No. Everybody is just tripping their way through life, with varying tactics.
If you want to become more effective at a given endeavor, sure, change the way you think about certain things. Reprioritize. And yes, in some cases, where the vast majority of daily decisions are self-sabotaging, you may want to change a good deal of who you are. If YOU want that, I want that. If you don’t, I don’t.
We can even get into the philosophy of how there is no “you.” The you of 5 minutes ago doesn’t exist. The you of now won’t exist in 5 minutes. Physically, the you of 7-10 years ago doesn’t exist. All the cells, save for some cardiac, neural and optic tissue, has been totally replaced. The same will happen again in 7-10. When you have a new thought, you create new pathways in the brain, even as an older adult. What is the self? It’s not a fixed product. It’s a process.
But whatever “you” is - the wonderful, beautiful aspects of self - let’s have more of that, not less. The unique idiosyncrasies and quirks and interests and thoughts and arts - let us keep all of that.
I don’t want to change you.
I’m not tough. Not even close. People who can’t find food today - they are tough. People without homes - they are tough. People without drinking water - they are tough. People suffering - they are tough.
In the Fall I showed up untrained for a marathon while three days fasted. Because of what I know about physiology, that was relatively easy. It in no way showcases toughness. Staying up through the night with a child whose illness may mark the end, that is tough. Waiting for symptoms to subside - that is tough. Losing people - that is tough. Almost losing people - that is tough.
Whatever it is we do or don’t face, do or don’t attempt, is only as hard as our imagination’s ability to create finite edges. “Will this ever come to an end?” is tough. “This will come to an end” is not so tough. “How will this end?” is tough. “As it should” is not so tough. “No matter what, it’ll be bad” is tough. “No matter how bad, I’ll get back up” is not so tough. “How long must I keep going?” is tough. “I will keep going to the next step” is not so tough.
Physical feats are great metaphors. But they have finite limits by definition. That is not tough. That’s not even close to tough. The difficulties of life don’t have mile markers or time stamps. They don’t have rules of engagement. Some never end. All always change.
That unquantifiable nature is tough. Infinite. Boundless. But we can temper how tough it seems by merely narrowing our vision to the next step. Step, we must, in some direction, somehow, some way, anyway. So, step. And step again. And again. And soon the “tough” has become the “done.” And what is done is not tough.
Toughness is relative.
This young lady came to me after:
* two knee replacements
* incredible weakness/pain in the hips
* arch collapse
* invalidity of the left shoulder
* carpal tunnel
* and a host of other challenges
She had completed:
* physical therapy
* PRP treatments
* Chiropractic work
But when we first met 5 weeks ago she still lacked the strength and mobility to squat unassisted to a 24 inch tall platform. And she could not press a 1lb dumbbell overhead on the left side when we first met.
You can plainly see here that everything is working just peachy. Now, she can press, she can squat, she can deadlift, she can GET UP OFF THE FLOOR WITHOUT ASSIST.
It doesn’t matter if you are 70, 80, 90 years old, never having lifted a weight in your life, with the body seemingly irreversibly deteriorated. You can strengthen. You can regain function. You can improve.
video here: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bu_-X6jHPEy/
1. Where you can get.
2. Around where you can start.
3. Don’t do this please.
Video 1 - how you may one day be able to train abs, if you understand how to train them appropriately (and, if you don’t understand trunk flexion and the difference between hip and spine action, please look back at my prior posts on abs or check the website) - this is a version of the weighted dragon flag; I have 6lb ankle weights on each leg; my primary concern is maintaining the flexed trunk position while changing hip angles in order to lengthen the lever length (increase force need) and decrease the lever length (decrease force need). Another variation would be to fix yourself at the hip and move into and out of maximal trunk flexion. Previously, I showcased that while non-weighted in Secret to Abs, part 1.
Video 2 - with one caveat, this is about where you can start once you’re past the beginner stages. I prefer to keep my legs out in order to lose mechanical advantage, lengthening the lever, and requiring more force. The hip is immobile. The spine is bendin, so there ain’t no pretendin. The distance between ribs and pelvis is closing. Most people can control this if you bend at the knees fully and draw them all the way into the chest while you peel the hips off of the bench. The version I show here would be a several step progression from there.
Video 3 - leg raise - take note of the space between my mid back and the bench. That IS abdomen stretch. So what is a simple leg raise like this doing? Good question. I suppose after 100 to 1000 consecutive reps, I may finally feel the abs because they’ve been stretched for so long. But they aren’t contracting anymore than your bicep is when you hold groceries in your outstretched arm. What is certainly working is the psoas major, minor, and ileacus. And the first has its origin on your T12 through L5 vertebrae. I don’t know about you; but I’d like to work abs and not back pain when I work abs. Likewise, the way people do Roman chair and toes-to-bar is generally NOT intelligent ab training. It’s hip flexor and low back pain tolerance training.
This man in his mid 60s reps out some weighted squats (video here: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bu32sHJHSMw/). Thanks to @jeff.p.zahler for this variant on the Hatfield squat with a barbell anchored in front.
I’ve been increasingly utilizing this particular exercise. And it’s paying dividends. In this particular case, we have a client who has a progressive disease which supposedly makes you inevitably weaker; and yet here he is increasingly stronger. We worked up to 150lbs today with a close spot. I expect 200 soon.