Diet and exercise programs which don’t fit you are very effective in the beginning. You can mate them with your lifestyle for a short time, because the excitement of results supersedes the realities of sacrifice. One day, however, there is a natural sorting phenomenon where you “fall out of love” with the most effective of programs. It will always happen, even for the best-personally-fit programs. So you will always be confronted with the same question: is this sustainable? Why not ask it in the beginning and save everyone the heartache?
There will come a time in any fitness effort where the dopamine and oxytocin runs low. In psychology and neuroscience this is actually a measured phenomenon with new romantic relationships. For couples, peak concentrations will drop, best case scenario, 18 months after the start. Worst case scenario (and this seems to be linked to the higher the high at the beginning) is 6-12 weeks. Either way, at THAT point, THAT is where maturity BEGINS. You are no longer “high” emotionally. And when you aren’t high is the point where it’s time to grow up and execute beneficial behaviors as a consequence of MAKING fate, not faking mate. “We aren’t a good fit” was always true. But you will either make something work together (ie - mate, match, connect), or you will look for something else.
Thus it is in healthy lifestyle changes. People get a serious high every time they start a new endeavor. There is the excitement of newness and the wonder that comes from new experiences. This is a fleeting motivation. Starter inspiration, perhaps. But it isn’t mature decision-making. People try to recreate the high from the beginning by “resetting,” going on retreats, jumping on a new fad, only to discover that the lull hits anyway.
The doldrums come. That’s a given. You WILL have a day where you don’t get high. Now what?
The number one solution is having this expectation at outset. Part of the reason I and some of my peers have the only long term weight loss and fitness success stories is because we set the expectation, at the beginning, that this is not about getting high. This is about deciding, as an adult, that you are going to incorporate non-self-sabotaging variables into your life... forever.
You won’t see a ten-plus year success story on an infomercial. You won’t read about it in a New York Times bestseller. Their entire strategy IS dopamine high and oxytocin burst. They are very effective at making billions of dollars for the “creator” of whatever idea - but 99+% ineffective for people after the initial high.
What does this mean for the average person? You HAVE to get to “autopilot” on about 50 behaviors. Yes. That’s a lot. That’s why it’s so daunting. But it boils down to about 50 behaviors, most of which are never even covered in ANY health and fitness program.
But as you’ll see, and, if you’re honest right now, as you’ve already learned before, the moment the doldrums hit, you discontinue all 50 behaviors. Think about prior efforts at fitness. You rocked it out... for 3 weeks. You crushed it... for 3 months. You were going pretty strong... at month 18. Then, it didn’t “feel” like a fit anymore. You broke up with yourself.
It may sound like hairsplitting. But it’s helpful simply reminding yourself that health and fitness isn’t always going to be a euphoric ecstasy. It seldom has to be painful drudgery. It always is practical productivity.
So let’s just say you’re in the doldrums right now. You are struggling to “feel” high. Good. You’re growing up. Now think of the four categories wherein those 50 behaviors lie:
1.) sense of support (family, friends, community, mentors)
2.) stress management (creative outlets, daily activity, mindfulness practices)
3.) recovery (sufficiency of rest, sleep, micronutrients, fiber, protein)
4.) integrity (when you say you’ll do something, do it)
Notice I don’t have anything listed about dropping calories low enough or pushing hard enough in workouts.
We could peel layers for days. Obviously, when the four categories aren’t in place, the parochial “eat less, move more” is the only “foundation.” People keep futilely trying to eat less and move more without ever asking “is this sustainable?” And, therefore, you realize what the answer must be.
I encounter this with every single client. I’ve seen it over 10,000 times. I have experienced it personally many times. You “run out of steam.” You “get busy.” You “lose interest.” Yeah. Welcome to adulthood. The fact of the matter is that brutal honesty uncovers active self-sabotage, not situational disadvantage. Take food as a super simple example. The time, effort, and money it takes to be PROACTIVE about available healthy food is LESS than the time, effort, and money it takes to be REACTIVE about food in afterthought. 100% of the time, clients spend less yearly money on food when they obtain a month’s worth of supplements or food delivery or large single-visit farmer’s market, co-op, or Costco trips. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT. It is the unplanned, reactive, afterthought, and frequent “pick something up” trips that sap your time, effort, and money.
If you don’t prevent emotional depression by hitting nutrient sufficiency, you’re ravenous. You think well emotionally-managed people spend MORE time, effort, and money than out-of-control emotional food addicts? Come on. Be realistic. I have plenty of people doing variant fasting techniques, and they’re LESS hungry, LESS emotional, and spending wayyyyyyy LESS on food (and other un-tallied vices).
Or look at exercise. Do you really truly believe that someone who lifts weights 90 minutes per week is spending MORE time than someone who doesn’t? We all have 168 hours in a week. It’s very basic logic. A strong person can complete more in less time than a weak person. That 90 minutes looks like a cost; but it’s actually a dividend payout. Strong people are more efficient with all the other hours in the week. And contracting skeletal muscle is an endocrine power up. You make brain cells more youthful when you exercise. You make organs function better. You are more efficient with everything you do as you train strength. More efficiency means you can attend to the four categories better.
Remind yourself it won’t always be the “falling in love” season. When the doldrums hit, simply work steps - not because you’re high or motivated or excited, but because you’re going to be a grownup and save yourself time and emotional turmoil. Decide to live in a non-self-sabotaging manner. Make fate. Don’t be a fake, mate.
You're Dieting Too Hard
The effort to lose your first 50lbs looks nothing like the effort to lose the last 5.
Ask any person who’s BECOME lean. Ask competitive figure athletes and bodybuilders. Ask people who have dieted down to low single digit body fat. None will tell you that the beginning of a fat loss journey for average Americans should look remotely like what they did to get to trace amounts of body fat.
While you’re losing your first 50-100lbs, you’re doing it all wrong if you’re approaching from the perspective of “don’t have” or restriction, abstinence, avoidance, removal, detox, subtraction, depletion, “can’t,” elimination, deficit or suppression. I have 30 years of obsessing about this, and 15 years of professionally working with tens of thousands of people - I’m telling you that you will NEVER EVER ACHIEVE HEALTHY MAINTENANCE if you begin with that mindset. That’s dieting way too hard way too soon.
I have clients losing 40-70lbs still eating fast food and ice cream every week, alcohol most weeks, and the typical “no-no’s.” I don’t prescribe that. But because we begin with SUFFICIENCY of needed nutrients, the occasional “treat” does nothing to reduce results.
You don’t need to suffer to have basic healthy body comp.
Sure, don’t be eating in a way that is actively trying to give you colorectal cancer and stomach cancer. But in the first 50-100lbs, the first steps should be SUFFICIENCY. Let me be clear: I have yet to do a single initial intake with anyone who is micronutrient sufficient or protein sufficient by World Health Organization standards, let alone weight loss studies and exercise science research.
People are starving on needs even when they’re gorging on crap food. You won’t accidentally hit your B vitamin need for the day no matter how many snickers and McDonalds fries you shove into your pie hole. And as you begin to “diet” by reducing intake, you will not magically get any closer to hitting sufficiency on omega 3s, vitamin A, vitamin K2, fiber, protein, and basically everything that all research has concluded will put the body in a healthy state.
Avoidance doesn’t lead people to MORE micronutrients when all they ever ate was processed food devoid of the nutrients to begin with.
Some day, wayyyyyyy down the line, if you want to go PAST your goal (which I recommend), yes, you will have to eventually approach this from a dearth perspective. You will have to fast. You will have to suffer a little. You will have to restrict. But in the meantime, all you have to do is move a little bit, regularly, and eat like you don’t have a suicidal death wish. Just eat like a 25% rational adult. That’s it. Really. Severe restriction is for the trace body fat road.
In fact, most of the time I discover that people are compressing caloric intake too low too long to make progress. This sounds counterintuitive if you’ve never administered metabolic tests or studied metabolic stress adaptations. But when people who aren’t in an outright fast push their “caloric deficit” beyond 1000 kcal per day for long periods of time, paradoxically they usually get fatter, not leaner. Even if they lose “weight”, a good amount isn’t body fat.
When you’re trying to get ultra lean, two-a-day training with obvious food prep and a whole litany of foods you don’t have is just fine. That’s what it takes. But for most of the populace, your first 100lbs of body fat loss can come from just being a grown up and exerting basic adult decisions. This needs to begin with sufficiencies, consistently, every day, for the rest of your life. It doesn’t have to be about punishing restrictions and never ever enjoying a single food.
It’s established physiology that you’d do best to either fast completely or incur around 500kcal deficits daily. If you weigh nigh 300lbs, your resting metabolic rate is over 3000. When you stand, lift, or do a 30 minute walk daily, you’ll burn 3500-4500 per day. This means you need to eat 3000+ to lose fat. People are trying to burn 5000 and eat 500. It won’t work. It doesn’t work. Your thyroid crashes. Your injury healing repair time elongates. You stimulate the receptors in fat cells. You gain. Or you lose “weight” comprised exclusively of bone tissue and muscles and organ integrity.
Just work basic mature steps. You’re dieting way too hard way too soon if you’ve got 50-150lbs to lose and you “can’t ever” have things you enjoy. Start with sufficiency and eating in an emotionally grown up way. THEN, you can do subtractions down the road some day.
➡️ 14 Coaching Appts
✅ 2 hours note prep beforehand
🤔 great coach or great “workout-er”?
For years, I’ve posted many days which looked like this on Facebook. The point is simple: real coaches learn more in one day than most influencers do in the course of a week, month, quarter, year, or career. I’ve been at this 15 years. Do the math.
I have a curiosity about fitness celebrities, the ones who’ve never directly managed or coached hundreds of people. If they’ve never paid their dues, never logged valuable experience, never been mentored in a full time professional setting, but are just great “workout-ERs”, why do we care? I was a hobbiest like them too, in the 15 years before I became a professional.
Was Michael Jordan the all-time greatest coach? Did Arnold produce every winningest bodybuilder since his day? Over the years, different people in my network have held up the brag that they hired some elite athlete to train them. My response: 😬. The best teachers I ever had weren’t concurrently taking a full time block of college classes.
Generally I roll my eyes when I see needlessly complicated exercise variations. Mostly, it’s a marketing trick of under-developed trainers to catch public attention. Thus, you see a lot of famous fitness icons doing absolute nonsense, standing in a yoga pose with one leg on a stability ball, twisting with a shake weight in one hand, the hip circle wrapped around their leg and tossing a med ball against a CrossFit gym warehouse wall. Cute. And pointless.
That said, floor wipers and their variants (video for this one here: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bxj69nijhlP/) I’ve returned to for myself or clients for a long time because they're genuinely difficult and fun. The floor wipers alone at 65-85% of your usual bench press weight is an overall body tension monster of a movement. Today I added the bar twist with pauses, which is actually just a rest that looks fancy.
Also, note how I’m flexed in the spine with posterior pelvic tilt. This is the mark of true abdominal control. Pay close attention and you’ll see most people have a huge space under the mid back. They have decent strength in hip flexors but WEAK abs. Work to eliminate that.
I don’t know if people can see these. One which I’ve noticed in recent years is an insight I only get because of the high frequency I get to evaluate certain clients. In that external evaluation performed at high frequency, I can pickup trends which the clients’ medical doctors and people in their personal lives miss.
For example, I have a client who underwent a heart surgery in December. After she graduated from physical therapy, she returned to our appointments. Nothing was unexpected. And she had clearly improved since the three times we visited her at the hospital and therapy. However, about two weeks later her performance across several movements “spontaneously” worsened. ONLY I would be able to see this. I asked her to check with her doctor, as I suspected TIA. When she went to the clinic the following week, her inquiry was shrugged off because she was doing rather well for a woman in her 70s who’d underwent heart surgery. And see: that’s the problem. The clinicians were assessing her based on her age, her condition, and even against personal prior lab levels. They didn’t get to see that she had RELATIVE to her own ability worsened dramatically in the course of a week.
Long story short, after advocating for her for two more weeks, finally experts agreed she’d had a stroke or strokes and/or TIAs.
Likewise, with another client of mine, he had a really meteoric rise in health and fitness when we met three days per week. He did a lot of activity outside of those appointments to boot. He was religious about it. But then, life changed. And in the past two years he’s had some major interruptions to his consistency. Some due to sickness. Some due to travel and events. But I can see a rapid downward trend since the religiosity broke. Unfortunately, his clinicians and people in his personal life (even he) chalk it up to his age and condition. It’s only been two years people. Why did he improve so rapidly up until two years ago, and then when the consistency declined he rapidly worsened since?
I have thousands of these stories. Some were peers. Some were the clients of my employees. Some were just regulars at gyms where I worked. My life is health and fitness analysis, every single day. So I’m tuned into trends for which most people haven’t any focus. In the infrequent moments they pause to look at their health or fitness status, most will attribute it to age or situation, not choices. I don’t dismiss age and situation as PART of the equation. I just know that BECAUSE those are givens, we have to choose to work even harder to counter balance against them.
The fundamental issue is that you are getting weaker and losing lean tissue every day. Every year after age 20-24, your body is losing a pound of bone/tendon/muscle/ligament and replacing it with at least an extra pound of fat. This is a given. We can’t wish it away.
So when we replace intense activity with walking, we opt in for worsening health. When we take a pass on lifting weights, we are praying to get fatter and weaker. When we skip sprints because “I’m too old for that,” the causal relationship is reversed. You get old BECAUSE you skip sprints. You chose to get worse, actively. It’s nothing about which to feel guilt. People get busy. People get on with life. People get distracted. People get confused. But we can’t forget that there was a daily freewill selection of “don’t improve.”
And the more the genetic or environmental factors are stacked against you, the more you’ll have to work against them. Forgoing the effort to protect yourself will result in a defenseless position. It’s slow and sneaky. But it’s happening right now.
And there’s a good chance you can’t even see the long term trend.
Accept in Heart; Reject in Deed
My daughter had a sliver in her foot yesterday. It ached, but was tolerable. However, as she imagined tweezers (which she’s never felt) she was in anguish before we got home. In her mind, the persistent pain of the sliver was better than the relief of getting it out. She was rejecting opportunity based on emotional attachment to “not tweezers.” No matter how much she wanted to go back in time, we can’t. It sounds like an obvious story of a 4 year old’s emotional unwillingness; but I would argue her sentiment was more mature and sensible than the way most adults run their lives.
There is a popular life approach and a far less popular life approach: one has turmoil in the heart while you idly sit; one has peace in heart while you work toward change.
We have other terms for these: talkers and doers; whiners and grinders; the entitled and the earners. And other people have put it more succinctly: get over it!
There’s a chess master who puts it like this:
People see what they think is an advantage. They build an emotional attachment to that perceived moment. Then time moves forward. They stay in the past.
He talks about how people will throw away new possible opportunities and advantages because of a once-imagined advantage which may not even have existed in the first place. These people are stuck running the sentiment anywhere from “but it USED to be” all the way up to “but this is how it SHOULD be.” Have you noticed how similar the phrase “there was a time” is to the phrase “once upon a time”? Yeah. Fairytale stuff.
In tens of thousands of meet-and-greets in the fitness industry I’ve heard it from people who lament the time or money spent from which they ultimately didn’t capitalize. That is, they didn’t actually invest the needed input, and they’re upset that they didn’t win the lottery. They wanted to start a fitness effort six months ago and that time is gone. They wanted to visit the gym they joined, but merely subsidized it for two years. Now, that complaint or guilt is so high in their minds, they are going to actively punish themselves by doing absolutely nothing healthy for themselves while talking a lot about the missed opportunity.
I tutored a number of a college students on languages when I was finishing my undergrad. I can recall one guy asking to discontinue tutoring UNTIL he started completing all the additional work outside of class. He argued that it wasn’t worth it until he could magically go back in time and study all the hours he hadn’t. At the time, the nonsense struck me as unfamiliar. Now, I realize this is common thinking.
I’ve heard the same thing in fitness, among couples struggling, people lamenting career issues, you name it. The emotional rejection of the current situation is so high that people throw away current opportunities or advantages. They’re so emotionally invested in a past which likely didn’t even exist that anything in the present is “too little, too late.” Lol. What?! All we have is the present. If the present today is too little, too late, you are setting yourself up for a life of disempowered pain. We cannot go back in time. We must go forward.
No matter how indignant you are, the timeline is moving forward. Whatever happened one minute ago is over, even when we continue to feel the ripples long after. Our memories help us recall the past. But it’s still past. Going forward, we can change in deed or we can talk.
It’s a skill set of healing, from a certain point of view. There are people who are skilled at healing (moving into the future); and there are people who reject healing (demand to stay in the past). It’s a well-documented phenomenon that grudge-holders live substantially less healthy and shorter lives.
Thus, you can build the skill. But you have to start with making peace about one thing, anything, something, accepting that it’s over, and in deed grabbing the advantages in front of you. The game moved on. And not just that, it’s continuing to go forward. And not just that, it will keep going forward every single time you think you see a new position of advantage.
I catch myself saying or thinking, “here we go again” when advantage shifts in life. But what is the point of this phrase? No matter how good I had it, that was impermanent. No matter how bad I have it, that too is impermanent. The real experience of advantage or challenge oscillates throughout the day, the week, the year. Only because we create a fictional world in our minds do we feel the advantage or the disadvantage “all the time.” In fact, what does that even mean? Nothing is all the time.
The past is over, and even the present is about to be over. Time to grow up in heart. Change is coming, and opportunity is cropping up. Time to get to work in deed. Indeed.
There Is No Excuse
Every excuse you've ever held up as a pretext for degenerating fitness has stark realities staring them down. This 95+ year-old man, who is legally blind, has missed only one day of workout in 20 years.
This man makes so evident how we must stop with the excuses (video here: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bxez65rDc2Y/). Just put in the work, any work, for goodness’ sake.
I drove past two universities yesterday, marveling at how these college kids on their way across campuses were mostly in worse shape than this man. The societal softness is literal now, with teens and 20s looking and moving worse than those in their 90s.
Sure, relative to each person’s individual experience, age matters. But all that “aging” is is accrued damage. When you treat your body respectfully, it accrues less damage and it reverses some damage. When we lazily and comfortably take for granted “youth,” you’re darn right it’ll be taken away rapidly and vigorously.
There Is Only One Set
I’ve posted a few times recently about the primacy of intensity, and how it is the master of all in exercise science program design.
Pushed on with my own methodology for the past six months of lower body training, and lately by the words of Tom Platz (or CT Fletcher if you prefer), there is only one set... and it’s your set.
This variant exercise of split stance is so profound in how it allows even people with bad anthropometry to overload the glute complex. Paired with the idea of "going all out" in a single set, the results are staggering. I now have clients getting to the 300lb mark, surpassing their squat in some cases. This is the third time I’ve been reliably in excess of 400lbs (video here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BxaR9bKHvcq/). There’s a sort of superpower in knowing “this is it.” One set.
Do keep in mind, however, that with a unilateral exercise like this, it would be best to lead with different sides from week to week. After all, how you set up is all that much more important... when there's only one set.
Build One Particle at A Time
Most of what we’ll take on in life is done a small unit at a time even when a block of time brought in many units. Music will be learned one step at a time. A foreign language vocabulary is built one word at a time. Emotional maturity comes one context or situation at a time. Health and fitness grows one behavioral step at a time.
But a farce prevents that one small unit. The farce is simple: I’m not getting ANYTHING done if I don’t AT LEAST DO ___________ . Fill in the blank here.
Ok. I hear you. An intensive 6-8 hour music practice is more obvious than 30 minutes. A 60 minute workout is more obvious than 5 minutes. A block of memorization for 50-100 new words is more obvious than 3. A more intense period of life is more obvious than a less intense.
I like intense. I advocate for intensives in learning. BUT they are not realistic for most people most of the time. So we are left with a very obvious reality: work one step.
That’s it. Consistently. Persistently. Daily. Mindfully. Build. One particle at a time.
Organ damage and health problems are rife in people who "look fit." In fact, underweight people have a 7.3% higher risk of cardiovascular disease than "normal weight" people: https://journals.lww.com/md-journal/Fulltext/2017/12010/Underweight___another_risk_factor_for.32.aspx. Thus, we have to be careful for what we're giving credit and to whom it's given. Then, we have to be even more careful that we aren't judging ourselves or others harshly by a fallacious standard based on what we think we see when we observe someone who has lower body fat.
There’s a famous speaker who gives some no-holds-barred speeches on mental toughness. I like him. He’s got wonderful insights on overcoming the barriers we put on ourselves. One of my friends and I were discussing some of his great quotes, when my friend said something about the speaker’s incredible strength. My face turned to puzzlement. The speaker is a skinny runner. I said, “even though he’s 15 years younger than you, you do realize that you can out deadlift, out squat, out bench, and, even with regard to endurance, probably out bike him, right?” My friend’s face turned to puzzlement. He said, “I don’t know... he’s pretty ripped.”
Lol. I get it. We all get confused about body composition. Leanness doesn’t equate to ability, certainly not to strength. Pre-existing strength does make the achievement of leanness easier. But pre-existing leanness doesn’t tell us anything about strength performance on external objects. Lean people will have a relatively easier time moving their own body than if they weren’t lean. That’s obvious. But especially in highly trained endurance athletes, their strength with regard to force production outside of their sport specificity is ho-hum compared to a recreational strength athlete. If you ever have to be in a physical fight, your last choice for an adversary should be a highly trained grappler, your next to last choice should be a strength athlete, and your number one choice should be a highly trained endurance athlete.
This conflation is common. People think “low body fat = greatness.” That’s not really how it works. Low body fat = low body fat. Give credit where it’s due; but don’t start gifting credit for something unrelated.
And that conflation is societally problematic. We see an example, a single datum; we confer on it unearned traits; and then we proceed to judge ourselves against a fictional character we just invented in our minds. Low self-worth ensues. We make attempts at rectifying the low self-worth by copying bad programming of the fictional character. That bad programming may have no application, period, let alone for our personal progress.
Take this skinny runner guy, for example. His method was “grind myself into the ground.” He had the genetics or luck or whatever it was to survive really imprudent methodology. Basically everything he did to get himself in shape was inefficient and unnecessarily risky. There are better, safer and less time-consuming techniques. But because he was so stubborn and so hardening himself mentally against pain, he succeeded IN SPITE of flawed technique. This is also why, if you follow him, you’ll notice no mention of structural lifts. He’s too injured and too weak to perform even basic ones. And he’s still young. So his late-in-life health prospects aren’t looking too great.
Nonetheless, people will look at this guy, see he’s got abs, and think, “he’s healthy.” Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Slow down there. He’s tough. He’s enduring. He’s lean. He has some awesome toughness advice. But we haven’t clue one about his muscular strength because he never performs exercises with a heavy load. That aside, how did we leap to healthy? He incurred severe stress fractures and abided by sleep deprivation to achieve outcomes. Excessive overtraining plus sleep deprivation isn’t healthy for anyone. Watch yourself on the logic jumps. We don’t get to attribute traits where none exist.
All would be well and good, except people think of crazies like this guy as an example to emulate. I'm sorry. "Grind yourself into the ground” isn’t really a strategy. It’s what one person who refused to study biology and exercise science SURVIVED. On average, those same techniques WILL NOT WORK for the majority of people AND those techniques will assuredly shorten lifespan. Someone else’s “survive” for the moment does not equal your “thrive” for a lifetime.
For your own physical and mental health, give credit where it’s due, but not where it’s don’t