It can be difficult to convince a D or F student to work up to a C, when her expectation is she should effortlessly be an A+ student. Health and fitness isn’t a breeze for anyone. And when you are a D or F student, you have a tough truth to confront. It will take you more work for a longer time than others to have a hope at a B. There is nothing to be gained by quitting. There is nothing to be gained by comparing yourself to an A student. Just work your process.
Years ago, I used to hear this from some clients, in part as a result of me not being clear enough about the expectation: health and fitness are processes. There’s no product. You don’t arrive. Some people are C- students even with great effort and patience. Whereas it might make sense to “take a break” from your language immersion course, however, there is no such thing as “taking a break” from caring for your health. It’s not going to magically improve without effort. And the notion of quitting just because you haven’t achieved the unrealistic product that made no sense to begin with, is flawed at every level.
What we the coaches hear is, “I need to stop seeing the tutor until I begin understanding the homework that I don’t understand.” If you struggle in a college class because the reading assignments and homework don’t make sense to you, the answer isn’t to quit attending the lectures and the tutoring until they make sense. You weren’t ever going to complete the self-study component of the textbook anyway; it definitely isn’t going to happen by abandoning the help of the instructors. For some people, it’s just going to take a very long time, and you may still be a C- student. But at least it’s not an F. You may have to retake and retake the course. But it’s ridiculous to stop practicing scales with your piano teacher simply because you’re messy with them when you try at home. Not every skill and aptitude clicks for everyone. And, when it does click, it certainly is not at the same rate.
Clients have seen me gain 70lbs of muscle and lose 70lbs of fat. That was work, not aptitude. They’ve seen me live this. They’ve seen me work with clients who lose 150lbs. They’ve seen me work with clients who have every possible health challenge imaginable. They’ve seen me drag my butt in to work when I’ve been at the hospital all night, nearly losing my son, REPEATEDLY. They’ve seen me drag my butt in to work when I had left side paralysis, Lyme disease, muscle tears, surgery, or a business loss in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not one success I've had or superhuman outcome came easily or effortlessly. Frankly, based on the trajectory of how a lot of my life played out, I should be disabled and homeless. It's almost nonsense how I ever set all the records I did or had the business success I do. Innate ability was against me. Funding was against me. Market trends were against me. Popularity was against me. People who know me know that whatever BS excuse they have, I or another client of mine have oneS 100X that we aren’t using as an excuse. I KNOW what it means to work harder AND smarter than everyone else and NOT get the reward I “should’ve.” That is no justification for giving up. A lot of success factors are outside of our control. All we can do is keep working our process. I, too, am NOT enthused by the amount of effort it takes me to receive LESS than someone else. Yes. It sucks. But that’s all the more reason we can’t afford to stop trying.
No matter how good an excuse sounds, YOU make the CHOICE to quit. No one makes that choice for you. That is YOUR choice to be below YOUR average. I know it’s not exciting to slave for a C; but at least you get the honor and dignity of having put in the sweat equity, and knowing you did everything WITHIN your control, including having the patience to let something take the amount of time it will require.
Don’t give up. Don’t give in. And sure as hell don’t catch yourself saying, “I give up until I’m good at this.” It’s a process; and, insomuch as it is possible, forget the grades and delete product-thinking from your brain. Just work your process.
When reforming your life, you remove things which are not beneficial. The polite-sounding thing to say when others ask you to have just a little of the former behavior is “I can’t.”
There are several problems with this response:
1.) It’s not true - you can do whatever you want whenever you want however you want.
2.) It’s polite instead of precise - you are using disempowering language to get people off your case, outsourcing responsibility, instead of affirming who you are.
3.) It opens the conversation to test the limits of your ability - “why can’t you?;” “are you sure?;” “how about just a little?;” “life is about balance”.
4.) “Don’t” or “won’t” carries power, reinforces who you are becoming, keeps an eye on excellence as opposed to being average, and reminds your own mind of your intentionality.
Be mindful of these, because they aren't splitting hairs. These distinctions mark the difference between successful and unsuccessful outcomes.
“I HAVE to work tomorrow, so I CAN’T.”
Instead - “I enjoy sleep and being rested for work; so I don’t.”
“I HAVE to study for this test; so I CAN’T.”
Instead - “I put myself in the best position for success; so I won’t, but thanks.”
You get the idea:
“I CAN’T, because I have kids.”
“I CAN’T eat that.”
“I CAN’T, because of health issue X.”
All of these common responses put you in the victim role. Instead, just say you don’t or won’t. Each responsibility you have is one you continue to choose. It’s not honest, accurate, fair or healthy for me to pretend like I CHOSE (past tense) kids, and am now a victim to complete unwilling obligations or pretend to do what’s best for them. No. I love them and choose them every day, not because I HAVE TO, but because I GET TO. This is a present volition which is critical to communicate to others and your internal self. I don't HAVE TO do a darn thing. I choose this. Right now.
Thus it is with work, school, relationships, personal development, therapy, nutrition, fitness, any area of study, and so on. You DO. You WILL.
You aren’t at the mercy of the fates. “Can’t” is for the fatalists, for those who insist life is happening to them as victims. “Don’t” and “won’t” is for the fate-makers, for the responsibility-takers, for the agents of change.
Researchers developed proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) in the 1970s, and in the late 1980s a dramatic shift in the landscape occurred; acid-reflux medication catapulted into the highest-selling pharmaceutical of all time over the next decade: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discovery_and_development_of_proton_pump_inhibitors. Since then, various digestive cancers have increased by SIXFOLD: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15657344/. Several MASSIVE studies connected PPI medication to a TWOFOLD increase in cancer risk: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29852782/. These findings came on the heels of several already-existing class-action lawsuits against the pharma companies for destroying the kidneys in long-term users of the acid-reflux drugs. To put it in perspective, BEING A SMOKER RIGHT NOW raises your risk LESS for adenocarcinoma than taking a commonly-prescribed acid-reflux medication long-term years ago and discontinuing.
It’s not the first time popular medical advice came to murder us. I’m not even talking about the 20 years of medical recommendations to smoke cigarettes: http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1848212_1777633,00.html. I’m talking RIGHT NOW the third leading cause of death in America is errors made by experts in medicine: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/study_suggests_medical_errors_now_third_leading_cause_of_death_in_the_us. Over 250,000 people in the US die each year because of medical error. Some people hated the implications of these 2018 findings so much that they almost instantly wrote and published “rebuttals” trying to walk back the number into the thousands or tens of thousands. Authors at Yale absolutely couldn’t stand the idea; so they hurriedly wrote opinion pieces which excluded “understandable mistakes” and “questionable connections,” arguing the figure should be closer to 10,000 per year. The first glaring problem with Yale’s indoctrination speech is that we already know thousands of people die every week in America from “properly prescribed medication”: https://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2016-09-27/the-danger-in-taking-prescribed-medications . So, nice try, Yale. But we aren’t falling for it. The second problem is the John’s Hopkins 250,000-death-per-year figure already didn’t include errors like long-term PPI prescription. And, as you’ll see shortly, there are 3 MORE common recommendations which do kill patients but also AREN’T included in these stats; thus, the figure is actually MUCH HIGHER than 250,000, not lower than 20,000. I mean, I get it. If I’m Yale Medical, I don’t want people knowing that 12.5% of surgeries forget a surgical tool inside someone’s body: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retained_surgical_instruments. We wouldn’t want people to start thinking that humans are only human.
Literally, read your label. It’s not even a conspiracy. We used to joke about the ridiculously endless list of unwanted side effects rapidly worded at the end of advertisements for common prescriptions. It’s as if people thought that was ONLY a joke. Cholesterol meds kill your liver. Pain meds kill your kidneys. Anticholinergics (ie - drugs for depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s, bladder, etc.) ruin muscles, age you faster, and cause dementia.
Somehow, the warnings come across as a whisper, even though people take these medications every single day for decades. Ironically, I hear people all the time lament their occasional or even regular use of caffeine or salt. Yeah. About that. Among supercentenarians (people confirmed over 110 years of age), only 1/5th take any prescription (ie - for hypertension or a thinner like aspirin): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2895458/. ALL have caffeine and salt.
I just find it fascinating that there is a vilifying sentiment toward the ancient wonder drug of caffeine - the same caffeine which is impossibly cheap and known to have anti-aging effects - while the common medications which assuredly ruin organ health and shorten lifespan are consistently held on a pedestal. Four cups of coffee at once improves mitochondrial function in the heart: https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.2004408. Blue Zones creator Dan Buettner liked to call the inhabitants of Ikaria “people who forget to die”: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/magazine/the-island-where-people-forget-to-die.html. These same people always remember to eat salt and drink caffeine: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23509088/.
I also find it fascinating that salt is somehow a villain, even though you cannot produce a heartbeat without it. You cannot heal tissue without it. You cannot recover. You can’t quell cramps. You cannot fend off infection. You cannot do a damn thing worth doing in life without salt. People lay blame on “age” for their lack of recovery, body aches, and low energy; but take a moment to think about how high your sodium intake was when you were a kid and how low most modern adults are trying to take theirs.
Two items that supercentenarians (people over 110 years old) have in common is caffeine use and higher salt intake. In fact, I can’t find ONE case of someone making it past 100 without coffee or tea or salt. To be clear, every story I’ve ever heard about an incredibly old person passing away is preceded by a little note that the hospital/caretaker removed salt and caffeine from their diet in the months beforehand. Good job, caretakers.
Curious. Isn’t it? Caffeine is proven beneficial. Sodium is required for cellular function. Common medications are proven detrimental. But I can almost guarantee that every person has heard some expert sing the praises of a prescription medication or fifty while vilifying caffeine and salt. Hell, check the websites of some authoritative medical organizations right now and you’ll still read this nonsense anti-science on their official guidelines.
Curious. Isn’t it?
Not really. Common medicine will kill you. But not before it robs you of your health, joy, and pocketbook first.
Here’s a quick and simple way to check your posture from the side. Get close to neutral. Be there as long and as often as you can.
There’s a ton to unpack here; but I basically see most people hold the common position, a severely amplified version of the anterior pelvic tilt. The back is extremely hyperextended/compressed; the abs are extremely lengthened; the hip flexors are supremely short; the hip extensors are long and dead.
There’s no “quick fix.” Become aware. While watching in a mirror from the side, see if you can even get near neutral. Most people can’t, let alone a flexed spine with short abs, contracted glutes, and extended hip. Regularly, I’ll have to have people do a modified lying bridge, a kneeling “cat back” or a wall stand for tactile cues, and they still can’t get near neutral. Not even close.
It’s going to take time. So just first become aware. Start there. With even halfway decent control and mobility, the front of the pelvis ought to be able to face upward with tailbone tucked way under. Most people cannot even get the front of the pelvis to face forward.
I’ve worked with clients who start out with pelvis facing directly down into the ground and wondering, “why does my back hurt all the time?” They’ve learned momentary relief from forward folds and other movements to temporarily decompress the spine; but they still have zero control over glutes, abs, and pelvic positioning (and I won’t get into femoral rotation and a variety of other pertinent layers right now) - so nothing fundamentally changes. Oftentimes, those brief “fixes” actually amplify and worsen the real long-term problem.
It’s complex. Just start with awareness. Work TOWARD control such that you remind the body neutral even exists.
According to recent research: https://today.duke.edu/.../when-taste-and-healthfulness...
When considering a food choice, the brain assesses for its choice FIRST the potential flavor of something, within only 400 milliseconds. Some time later (another 400+ms), it gets around to health considerations. Do keep in mind that an actual choice (or intent of action) is made within 350 milliseconds: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8391416/. Thus, while people BEGIN to contemplate IF they SHOULD have a healthy food, technically the intent to eat the unhealthy food has already been made. The choice is over before you think it’s begun.
Consequently, a lot of food planning advice is actually decent. That is, if you don’t have available in your home unproductive foods, your brain can’t easily trap you into destructive choices. But this does mean a reevaluation of macro purchases and grocery purchases. For example, imagine a person is going to need a mere 150g protein per day to make a stab at fitness. If he or she makes ONE trip to the store for food per week, he or she must obtain 1,050g worth of protein rations for just himself or herself. Anything less, and we can guarantee what is going to happen with execution of program. Average American food shopping doesn’t even get in the ballpark for this, even with weight loss food program deliveries.
So we can see that invoking the goodness of fresh food or having consciousness about less-processed items is entirely futile and useless when confronted with in-the-moment choice. The decision to eat something which can’t produce fat loss is made even before the brain begins uploading health considerations.
More succinctly, we cannot eat what isn’t there. We will eat what tastes good to us WHILE in complete knowledge that it shortens and worsens our lives. It’s not even a matter of willpower. It’s a matter of how we make certain items available ahead of time. One homework assignment I’ve had for clients before is to tabulate how many grams of protein, carbs, fat are available in their pantry, fridge, freezer. Even for large families, I find that the TOTAL protein available may be less than 500 grams, which is about what Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson eats in one day. For carbs, even among single people, they just tend to stop tabulating after around 10,000 grams. It doesn’t matter if you have iron will. If the ratio of productive macros is 5:1 in your detriment, what do you think is going to happen? You don’t even have a 50/50 chance at success. You have destined yourself to a statistical and neuroscience impossibility.
We have to change that. Because NO ONE is going to get the 1-3 seconds of health beliefs to precede the 350-400 milliseconds that the decision has been made and the taste has been felt.
Sports Aren’t Clean. Doping IS MORE Prevalent Than Ever. The Top Drugs Can’t Even Be Detected in Lab Tests.
Almost half of competitive athletes are willing to admit to some sort of illicit drug use; and a lot of this admission has to do with underage binge drinking. If nearly half of athletes willingly admit to taking a performance DECREASING substance and place their career prospects or athletic scholarships on the line, how is the public to believe that they would never take a performance INCREASING substance? Some of us were born at night, but not last night.
Amazingly, people think that somehow drug testing and the outing of Lance Armstrong marked some sort of tipping point in sports. Nope. The most powerful performance drugs CANNOT be tested AT ALL. And “clean” athletes are easily doped without their own overt knowledge by coaches and assistants. Watch the documentary Ikarus; and you get a serious wake up call.
Beyond that, the ADMITTED prevalence of drug abuse among athletes is as high as 44%: https://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/ncaa-student-athlete-substance-use-study-executive-summary-august-2014. This is the ADMITTED usage rate. Obviously, many (I’d suspect most) would never admit to it, even in an allegedly anonymous survey. So we can justifiably assume the number is higher. Is it a little higher like a simple majority or is it a lot higher like close to all? That we don’t know. We just know that there’s no way to test for the most powerful drugs.
And there won’t be, ever. The historically-common steroids and stimulants which line the endless lists of banned substances on athletic organization rosters aren’t even the good ones. The best performance enhancing drugs can’t be tested. They have incredibly short windows of detectability or none, even by a secondary marker or metabolite. Moreover, when chemists make a never-before-used PED, clearly there won’t yet exist a test for it. And, of course, none of this takes into account how a program could openly dope youth athletes every year until 7 years before their first Olympics and still honestly pass a polygraph.
Even among known PEDs like insulin, there is no good way to test for its presence even minutes after administration: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2004/jun/24/research.science. This has been under suspicion since at least 2001: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn1129-athletes-may-be-increasingly-abusing-insulin/. The training effect from insulin exceeds anything anyone can get from testosterone or derivatives. In the past 20 years, we are to believe that people who want to win “whatever it takes” decide to simply opt out of using undetectable compounds?
And let’s just say that an athlete is committed to staying “clean,” whatever that means to him or her. A coach can recommend a “nasal spray” before competition, which the athlete genuinely believes is for allergies or breathing, but it’s really just insulin: https://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/64/3/687. The athlete wouldn’t even know. “I just had a good day,” she might think. “Wow; I keep having good days,” she might think. And why would she ever pause to think of herself as a cheater when she’s training her butt off and slaving for her sport?
In the past 10 years, peptides and analogs of hormones have surged into popularity. Since most of them signal the body itself to ramp up its own endogenous production of natural growth factors, there literally can't be a test for many of them. Some sports writers have taken to covering this by focusing on one or two seemingly popular drugs: https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1955231-undetectable-the-new-ped-that-could-be-in-the-olympics-nfl-and-mlb-now. But what the sports commentators don't seem to realize is that the variations on this theme are infinite. There is nothing in the way of making variants of peptides and analogs, and making them super inexpensive, and administering them with no consequences. Decent chemists with at-home labs can keep churning these out. It doesn't take vast state-sponsored research institutes and conspiratorially-crafted deep pockets anymore. It could be your middle-class neighbor with a chemical engineering degree looking to make a small amount of extra money.
Let us marvel at the elite athletes. Let us enjoy the Olympians. But let us not be so naive as to believe that what we’re seeing even approaches our idea of “clean.” And really let us not be even more naive to nostalgically look back on the “good ol’ days.” There were no good ol’ days. The 1904 marathon gold medalist doped with strychnine. The ancient Greeks doped with testosterone (yes, they consumed animal sex organs). Cocaine wasn’t regulated in the US until 1914; it didn’t become unpopular until nearly 1950; and even the MODERN drug test for cocaine cannot detect it in a low-dose user after 1-4 days. Thus, let us be careful when comparing ourselves and those around us. And let us be realistic when we see a news story about a supposed positive drug test in an athlete. Really, what we’re probably seeing is someone who didn’t play nice with the right people. I highly doubt what we’re seeing is “the one bad apple” or even one of a few bad apples. We’re simply seeing a sample of people who are under incredible pressure to be the absolute best in the world.
They and those around them are going to do whatever it takes. And the most powerful "whatever it takes" isn't even detectable in a lab test.
“One-third down; Two-thirds to go,” I say. People kept asking how I felt about the upcoming birthday. My dad was 50 years old when I was born; so I guess I feel like I can finally get started on life in only 10 more years. My life plan once marked very specific financial, athletic, and professional points/life achievements AFTER which (presumably it would’ve been around 40) I planned to start having kids. Since I totally mixed up the order, the number no longer means anything to me. I never subscribed to the insane notion that fitness is gifted to the immature and stolen from the mature. Moreover, what I’ve observed in nearly 2 decades of my professional journey in the fitness industry is the precise opposite. I once had a co-worker who daily reminded everyone that we who work in the industry see this evidence all the time: compare a couple dozen dedicated gym-goers in their 40s against a couple dozen in their 20s; and the data sample speaks for itself. If I remember correctly, his exact words were, “the ones you have to WATCH OUT FOR are in their 40s and 50s.”
There are good reasons for this which have to do with trial-and-error, risk, wisdom, application of effort, and averages. There are 4 specific domains in which health and fitness is a lot easier after 40. It’s true that there are some factors which can make it more difficult; but most of those don’t make for good tactics anyway. I’m talking sustainable wellness here:
Everything we want in fitness comes down to IGF or Insulin-like Growth Factor-1. Fat loss. Lean tissue management. It’s IGF. What we think of as "aging" or "loss of ability" is, by definition, accumulated damage concurrent with a diminution of IGF. People like to lay the blame on sex hormones; but that’s very misleading. Testosterone only peripherally affects on-site muscle IGF potential through hepatic signaling. Resistance training is what actually does the trick. It is true that IGF circulating levels tend to decrease over time. But this says very little about how much gets into tissue. Intense muscle contraction gets IGF into lean tissue. And that strength training which accomplishes this doesn’t take much time at all, although it is proven to improve circulating IGF levels by an AVERAGE of 20%: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11283443/. Again, this is the measurement in the blood, which matters less. What actually gets into skeletal muscle tissue is all we really care about; and it is a dramatic uptick from intense training. In fact, in older adults, THE ONLY behavior we know that affects this hormonal axis is intense training for short periods of time: https://www.tandfonline.com/.../10.../13685538.2016.1260108. I'm not even telling you anything you don't know. Take a perfectly healthy and super virile but sedentary slobbish 18 year old male and pit him against a 50 year old woman who has been training sprints and brief heavy weight lifting most days for the past 10 years. You know exactly what is going to happen in a foot race, in any physical feat, in any measure of athletic prowess. IGF doesn't magically shuttle itself into muscle and connective tissue by being young and lazy/untrained. This is just scientific fact. It's biological law.
People waste a lot of time. Generally, IF people have learned anything from their time on earth, it’s to waste less. And you can see this in any subject. Almost every statistic skews harshly toward 40s, 50s and 60s when we’re talking about building wealth, businesses, and so on. Building athletic capability isn't some fantasy outlier. There’s this lingering lie that age robs us of physical capability; but that isn’t bolstered by science so much as anecdote from the time that’s wasted getting injured or NOT investing in wellness. People who consistently invest get returns. Period.
The reality is that most people are wrapping school, launching careers and families, and generally terrible at time management in their 20s and 30s. It’s not to say that all of that evaporates magically on the 40th birthday. It’s just that people should have a much better idea of what they will consistently do every week by their 40s.
Thus, people are more ready to deal with being in shape in a manner which continues to build year over year. The “on again, off again” schedule which never really worked for most people anyway has died out; and a much more even-handed consistency can take its place. The moderate and low-intensity exercise which exerts no change on the body in older adults becomes more obviously useless. The consistency and progression in intensity is all that ever mattered for skill development and investing. People begin to understand this more palpably when they’ve had enough time to LOSE abilities through complacency and “I’ll get around to it later” thinking. It takes most people some aging to realize that nothing gets around to itself later; and nothing is improved through neglect.
It might’ve seemed to make sense around 25 that you’ll spend precious hours every day exercising. Most people didn’t, and now they see the perfect plan was the enemy of the good lifestyle. Even among those of us who did spend countless hours working out, we tend to have moved on to more valuable life experiences, and probably ones which manage stress better. For us, workouts are a fixture BECAUSE they accompany proper time management, not because they are a temporary mania. We’re simply not going to waste a lot of time on workouts; but we’ll do them consistently and in a manner where the intensity progresses.
Tying into the first reason fitness gets easier after 40, there is this second one: regular exercisers know what works and what doesn’t by this point. I’ve basically spent the past 17 years figuring out how LITTLE to exercise. Most of my experiments have to do with putting in the LEAST in order to yield the MOST. Anathema to my peers, I purposely relegated myself to no more than 90 minutes of exercise per week from January 2013 until July 2013 to see just how fit a person can be with limited investment.
Five years after that, I dropped the number to 27 minutes per week for 5 months. Even now, I perform less than 150 minutes of overt exercise on a high week. And that’s all I want. Because of this, for me anyway, being in shape will be even easier in my 50s. One, I will have gained 10 more years of skill and investment aggregated. And two, when my kids are 10 years older, I’ll have more time to fill with something for myself; and some of that is probably going to go to fitness, as long as it doesn’t lower the intensity.
You see: all that matters to me is figuring out how regular people will live their optimal lives. So I run experiments from which average people can learn. Efficiency always scales. You know what doesn’t scale? Being 20-something and working out 3 times per day to get on a magazine cover. Giving up vast amounts of family time doesn’t scale. I mean, that’s cool and all that people sacrifice relationships and depth of character to add a few reps. But that has ZERO application to basically everyone. Maybe 1 percent of 1 percent of the populace cares about executing an exercise program which places all of life on the back burner.
By 40, a lot of people get this. They know they need to do something to at least lower their risks of all-cause-mortality OR at a bare minimum be capable of crouching down for their grandkids in a few decades from now. And they realize that’s ALL they need to do. Something. So they actually do it. Efficiency means follow-through. The primary roadblock to getting in shape is a false belief that you have to spend more time on it than you will actually spend. People mostly haven’t learned efficiency before 40. Some never do. But if they will, it will usually be around this age.
Pacing Work Ethic
The tortoise and the hare. Tied into efficiency is the long-run on consistency. Some people call all of this “train smarter.” And that’s fair. I just happen to think about it more like pacing while working smarter - a grown-up version of "work harder." No one, including yourself, cares if you work so hard that you break and have to take big steps back. To that point, I don’t get injured anymore. I don’t get hurt. I don’t ache. I place a lot of my self-care around pacing and a different type of work ethic. I had chronic pain from 17 to 27. I still logged a couple significant injuries requiring time off of exercise in my mid-30s. In the past 3 years, ZERO injury AND a number of lifelong personal bests on lifts. I fully anticipate this trend to hold for another 3-4 decades.
This isn’t delusional. Dr. Fred Hatfield didn’t set the squat world record at 1,014lbs (460 kilos) UNTIL he was 45. This may come as a shocker to people who don’t work in the fitness industry, but the absolute best outcomes among regular serious exercisers at gyms is well over 40. Mark Sisson has as good or better of a build at 67 years old than he did in his 20s. The reader must also understand that Sisson was training over 30 hours per week in his 20s and now does a short 13-40 minute routine every few days. He was around the 2:18 marathon time back then. Now, he just lifts or sprints. When asked about why he doesn't do any lengthy training or long distance runs anymore, his answer is, "what's the point?" Compare his build now at almost 70 years old to when he was training 30 hours of running in his 20s, and there's a good chance that you too will say the same thing about long duration exercise.
Honesty with Self
How can a young person keep her word about the future? Even to herself? She doesn’t have any context for follow-through. Only with age can we understand best how to be honest about the future. And as we learn this, it keeps getting easier to make larger goals and achieve them. As a youth, we can’t skillfully account for the forthcoming challenges which will thwart our word. I argue young people lack the ability to be honest with themselves about what they will do, because they don’t understand enough about consequences.
Look no further than what the stats are on New Year’s Resolutions and goal-setting, and you quickly discover there is large disconnect between what people tell themselves they will do and what they actually do. Only time and paying attention rectify this. With time we have the opportunity to be honest with ourselves.
Younger people are especially vulnerable to this problem, as they simply don’t have the experience to properly wager risks and benefits. For a kid, everything seems riskless until he breaks an arm, bruises his face, cracks a kneecap. When kids assess benefit, they simply can't wrap their heads around working hard at something for a longer period than they've even been alive. Kids have this magical expectation of reward without slaving for it. Adults ought to know better. By theirs 30s, many do.
Honesty with oneself makes everything easier. A lot easier. It’s not to say many people don’t continue being dishonest with themselves after 40. It’s just less likely. And so the success rate goes up. As the rate goes up, the positive reinforcement improves. As the positive reinforcement improves, buy-in continues, and follow-through on your word gets easier and easier and easier.
Blended into the honesty issue is a popular lie people tell themselves that they “get away” with a whole litany of foolish choices because of youth. No one ever “got away” with anything. They just transferred the balance payment to their future selves. When the future self arrives, payments are due. Eventually the bill comes due. It always comes due.
A mature person - and only a mature person - can handle this. It is the physiological stewardship equivalent of basic financial literacy. Clear your balance (reduce or remove counterproductive food choices). Stop predatory interest (eliminate sedentary behaviors). Get your house in order (prioritize health and wellness). And focus on building the retirement savings (regular progressive strength training).
I don’t actually see how any youth COULD be capable of going toe-to-toe on this with someone more mature. It gets a lot easier to be in shape after 40.
“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
Some people are physically or mentally or emotionally “weak” strictly because of the wrong environment. Seldom do we look at a fish who failed to climb a tree and think, “what a weak-ass pathetic loser.” But society will observe a person with apparent weakness and attribute the failure to that person’s degree of effort or even moral code or value of life. What if they’re just a fish out of water? I’m arguing they are. Hear me out.
I believe most people who fail at lots of levels of life have more greatness in them than all of “The Greats” combined. Why? Because I’ve seen proof once we take them off the tree and place them in their right body of water. I’ve worked with people who START real fitness in their 30s, 40s, or 50s, and who go on to perform greater athletic feats than those who started as child prodigy athletes whom I came to know in high school or college.
NFL wide receiver Tyreek Hill was so proud of his performance on Nordic Leg Curl in his 20s that he posted the video and challenged a lot of peers to try them out:
It’s noteworthy, for sure. A professional athlete repping out 10 near-full range-of-motion Nordics is serious. Other young top athletes and influencers picked up the trend over the past year.
At almost 40 years old, I can do 15 strict ones beyond full range-of-motion (touchpoint is below knee):
I expect to do cleaner ones for 20 reps when I’m in my 50s.
It’s not a brag. It’s an illustration on how consistent training in the right environment supersedes and completely destroys what we think of as “gifted” or “elite.” I’m certainly not going to run a 4.2 forty or out-vertical jump Tyreek, especially given I outweigh him by 60lbs. But my point remains: targeted training in the right conditions brings about performances which are superior to even “gifted” or “elite” standards. And I wouldn’t dare relegate this to athletic pursuits. I strongly believe the greatest musician on earth never had a chance to play, the greatest mathematician never had access to a school, the greatest writer never accessed literacy, the greatest architect died at birth. The greatest greats perished in obscurity, fish attempting to climb trees, or fish with no water. No amount of will and drive and resourcefulness will turn a lock without key, drive a nail without hammer, or run a car without power. Wrong tools don’t become right tools by positive thinking or grit.
Stay with me.
Fish in water.
Fish out of water.
I work with a lot of people who have autoimmune conditions. Onlookers may view some of these people as weak. I definitely hear others or even the individual with the struggle infer as much. Any autoimmune condition is not as obvious of an affliction as a gunshot wound, since the crushing inflammatory triggers are all rumbling underneath the surface. So the average person may even treat those with different inflammatory conditions like they are hypochondriacs or overreacting or exaggerating. But I have to come to view them as the strongest people on earth.
To illustrate, picture a Dwayne Johnson or Jason Mamoa. They are good examples of fish in water, right? Presumably, just something about their Polynesian backgrounds, Samoan and Maori respectively, responds very well to most foods and most physical activity. When foods don’t cripple you and chronic fatigue doesn’t plague you, the outcomes are pretty obvious. There is a positive feedback loop to continue getting athletic levels of protein and nutrient density. There is a positive feedback loop to continue thriving with strenuous exercise and challenging physical feats. Dwell on this long and hard. And contrast against people who have had a well-founded lifelong reinforcement of fear of food. They don’t respond well. They don’t have great nutrient uptake. They have pain and inflammatory triggers from the common foods or pollens or other items in their environments. Physical activity compounds the energy drain. Fish out of water, right? Fish climbing tree. Hell, fish trying to land on the moon.
And I do see this, by the way. I work with people who do begin to thrive as we identify and remove/mitigate the inflammatory triggers. They can develop a newfound positive feedback loop. But I want readers to really understand the massive disadvantage. While a Dwayne Johnson had been getting his fill of hundreds of grams of protein since youth with piles of fish every day, the “scrawny weakling” you’re quick to write-off was getting 3 to 12 grams of incomplete proteins per day via pastas and whole wheat sandwiches; and the kid was struggling to assimilate any of this food anyway while he was developing allergies and asthma attacks from the foods. The fish in water utilized nutrients and activity to DEVELOP. The fish out of water was spending precious physiological resources on rashes or headaches or attention disorders or emotional disorders or joint pain.
And then we have to run the tape forward. Multiply negative reaction by the years on earth. Multiply the positive response by the years on earth. It’s so incredibly unfair, unwise, and unkind to look at these two disparate examples years later and call one “strong” and the other “weak.” One is merely a fish in his proper habitat. The other is trying to climb a tree.
Therefore, I implore the reader to reevaluate “weakness." Let us reevaluate weakness. I don’t see it at all like the typical point-of-view of popular culture. The way I see it is we’ve expected some fish to climb trees and shamed them for their inability. Meanwhile, we heap praise on another fish who is doing nothing extraordinary at all except swishing his tail in placid waters. Well, yeah, of course he is. In fact, as we reevaluate, an idea comes to my mind that a lot of what we term "strength" is really weakness. These thriving "Greats" are perhaps the weakest among us, never having had to beat the odds, so much as simply go with the flow.
Moreover, I want the reader to reflect on himself or herself. There’s this tendency to forget our very real designs. We make-believe that we must be meant for tree-climbing when we’re destined for greatness in swim. We struggle to grab a limb when we could be darting through waves and soaring through surf. There’s a quote that amateurs refuse to abandon their one big bright beautiful idea, while professionals have no problem letting go of theory after theory after theory. It’s a concept echoed by the authors of Strengths Finder, wherein they argue people burn up precious time by applying effort and energy in areas simply not suited for them. And I think there’s something to all of these ideas, namely, that “The Greats” through grand luck tripped and fell into their vocation and their calling and their pond. And “the weak” have put in ten times the effort only to find no pond.
Many who look strong are weak. Many who look weak are strong. Maybe most. Maybe all.
This is a call to action. Let us reevaluate weakness.